Cunningham, William

NPG D34429; William Cunningham by William Henry Egleton, after Henry Anelay

1805-1861 DNB 35


Books  (8)

Discussions on Church Principles: Popish, Erastian and Presbyterian,  Buy  1863, 565 pages, with a four page preface by James Buchanan and James Bannerman

Many people are aware of Bannerman’s Church of Christ, which positively expounds the doctrine of the Church from scripture.  Cunningham’s work is more polemical, against the errors of alternative views.  Both are needed.  This is his main work on Church writings, a subject too often neglected in our day.

Lectures on Non-Intrusion: On the Objects, Nature, and Standard of Ecclesiastical Authority, 1839, 52 pages

Delivered during the ten year Non-Intrusion controversy (of the State intruding into the affairs of the Church) that led up the the Disruption in 1843.

Historical Theology, vol. 1,  vol. 2  Buy  1863, 664 & 636 pages, with a 6 page preface by James Buchanan and James Bannerman

A classic, the first historical theology you should go to.  Many history books are simply a rehashing of a well-worn narrative, Cunningham instead thought that the most valuable part of Christian history was in the lessons learned as truth, error and God’s revelation are sifted through the ages.

The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation,  Buy  1862, 608 pages, with a four page preface by James Buchanan and James Bannerman

Here Cunningham is at his best, church history and the principles of the Reformation being his life’s work.

Strictures on the Rev. James Robertson’s Observations upon the Veto Act, part 1: Legal and Scriptural branches of the argument1840, 134 pages,

Evangelicals in the Church of Scotland were able to pass the Veto Act in the Church in 1834, which upheld the Biblical principle that ministers could not be forced onto a congregation by the civil government.  The Veto Act was overturned in the civil courts in 1838, leading to a battle between Church and State which culminated in the Disruption of 1843.  Robertson was a moderate minister in the Church of Scotland whose Observations upon the Veto Act, 1839, criticized it and sought for its removal in the Church.  Cunningham here defends the Veto Act, contrary to the civil government.  May such courage be given to us today when the church often blindly follows the will of Caesar instead of the will of God.  

Theological Lectures: on subjects connected with natural theology, evidences of Christianity, the canon and inspiration of Scripture,  Buy  1878, 625 pages

This collection of lectures in its subject matter forms an extended exposition of the first chapter of the Westminster Confession.  Cunningham “had bestowed much care and labor upon their composition and revision, and that he had attached a special value to them as the first-fruits of his professional labors.”


Book of Sermons 

Sermons from 1828-1860  Buy  1872  472 pp.  with a 27 page preface by J.J. Bonar, with an account of Cunningham’s conversion and life.


Individual Sermon 

‘Faith Unites us to Christ’  HTML,  Buy  from Sermons 1828-1860, 1872, 8  paragraphs


Chapters From His Own Books  (12)

The Arminian Controversy, from his Historical Theology, vol 2 ch. 25, p. 383-525

‘The Church of the First Two Centuries: the Doctrines of Grace’  from his Historical Theology, Ch. 7, 6 paragraphs

The Eutychian ControversyHTML,  Buy  from his Historical Theology, 1863, p. 311-315

The Heresies of the Apostolic Age, from his Historical Theology, vol. 1, ch. 5, p. 121-133, of the Banner of Truth edition

An Introduction to Theological Studies,  Buy  chapters 1-7 of his Theological Lectures, 100 pages

‘The Reformers: Lessons from their History’  HTML, from his The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, Banner of Truth, 1967 edition, pp 600-608.

The Relation Between Church and State  HTML  Buy  1851, published afterwards in 1863 in his Discussions on Church Principles

The Sacramental Principle, HTML, from his Historical Theology

The Socinian Controversy, from his Historical Theology, vol 2, ch. 23, p. 155-236

The Westminster Confession on the Relation Between Church and State  HTML  1843, from a pamphlet published in May 1843, immediately before the Disruption of the Church of Scotland, entitled, “Remarks on the Twenty-third Chapter of the Confession of Faith as bearing on existing Controversies”, published later in his Discussions on Church Principles, ch. 8

Many people today charge the original Westminster Confession of 1646 with Erastianism (that the State is over the Church).  This is a charge made out of ignorance.  The Confession teaches against Erastianism, but does teach the Biblical and historic reformed doctrine of the Establishment Principle.  American Presbyterianism, though it denies the Establishment Principle, yet owes its life to it, as the Westminster Assembly was originally called to sit by the Parliament (civil magistrate) of England.  Cunningham vindicates the original Confession.


Chapters from Others’ Books

The Nature and Lawfulness of Union Between Church and State  HTML  1835, 70 pp.  from Lectures on the Nature and Lawfulness, Duty and Advantages of Civil Establishments of Religion, a collection of essays by various authors

Isaiah 49:23 says of the Church, “and kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers.”  In what sense is this truth of scripture to be understood?  Find out here. 



Calvin and Servetus, 1825, with a four page introduction by editor James Gracie 

The best article on the issue of the Genevan civil courts putting the anti-trinitarian blasphemer and fugitive Michael Servetus to death



‘Letter to John Hope, Esq., Dean of Faculty, Occasioned by his Letter to the Lord Chancellor on the Present Claims of the Church of Scotland’  (Edinburgh: 1839)

On this letter against patronage in Scotland, see the blurb under ‘A Layman’s Letters’ under the ‘Related’ section below.



The Opposition of the Westminster Assembly to Popery, Prelacy and Erastianism, 1843, 11 pages, starting on p. 52 of Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Westminster Assembly of Divines: held at Edinburgh, 1843, Containing the Addresses and Conversations  Buy  158 pp.

‘Speech Covenanting at the 1847 General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland’  1847  excerpted from Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, Held at Edinburgh, May 1847  (Edinburgh: John Greig & Son)  In order to view the document better, rotate it in your PDF reader clockwise and then magnify it larger as needed.  Robert Candlish’s speech is first on p. 247 for five pages, then William Cunningham’s is on p. 252, for three pages.

The two speeches by Cunningham and Candlish eventually gave rise to the 1851 Act of the Free Church which outlines the Free Church position on the National Covenant (1638), Solemn League and Covenant (1643) and the Revolution Settlement of 1689.  The result was that the vast majority of the original Secession Church (for example, J.A. Wylie, Robert Shaw, Thomas M’Crie the younger, etc.) who came from a tradition that strongly emphasized maintaining the Scottish covenants, determined to join the Free Church.



Anonymous – A Layman’s Letters to the Rev. William Cunningham  1839  three letters with two notes, 32 pp.  Cunningham, a minister in Edinburgh at the time in the Church of Scotland, had written a letter to John Hope, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, critiquing a certain writing of his.  These three layman letters publicly critique (attack) Cunningham’s letter.  

These letters concern the issue of patronage (civil patrons, or magistrates, putting forward ministers to congregations in church elections), which Cunningham is against.  Specifically the historic and legal warrant for patronage (or lack thereof) between the Glorious Revolution of 1689 and the official institution of patronage in Scotland in 1712 is taken up.  Patronage was one of the major factors that led to the Disruption of 1843 in Scotland that gave birth to the Free Church.  Here is an important window into those tumultuous years. 

Life of William Cunningham  Buy POD  1871  540 pp.  by Robert Rainy, D.D., and the late Rev. James Mackenzie

The major life of Cunningham, written by later prominent Free Churchmen