by Rev. Sherman Isbell
Thomas M’Crie (1772-1835) is an example of a Christian who, by making spiritual fidelity his primary consideration, was given a fruitfulness that reached far beyond the limited circle of his weekly responsibilities. When M’Crie’s Scottish Presbyterian denomination, the General Associate Synod, altered its testimony to lay aside some of its doctrinal commitments, M’Crie was one of five ministers who contended for the maintenance of the sworn pledges made by the church’s office bearers. The five ministers, believing that the church had failed to maintain its identity, in 1806 separated themselves and organized the Constitutional Associate Presbytery in order to secure a continuity of testimony. For their action, their former colleagues claimed to depose and excommunicate them.
However, the attention given to these church principles led M’Crie to make the first thorough examination in modern times of the historical setting in which the Scottish Reformed Church had come to hold the convictions now being forsaken by the Associate Synod. The result was M’Crie’s extended Life of John Knox (1811), followed by a similar study on Andrew Melville (1819). M’Crie’s biography of Knox became instrumental in the resurgence of the evangelical Reformed cause within the dominant Presbyterian denomination in his country, the established Church of Scotland. Similarly, when evangelicals had regained the ascendancy in the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, but found themselves faced with abuses by the civil magistrate, M’Crie’s volumes on Melville clarified the principles upon which the evangelicals made a stand in 1843, when a large part of the national church, led by such prominent evangelicals as Thomas Chalmers and William Cunningham, withdrew to form the Free Church of Scotland.
For the remainder of the nineteenth century, the issues defined in the writings of this gentle-spirited scholar were at the forefront of attention in the affairs of Scottish Presbyterianism. His Statement of the Difference (1807) remains one of the finest discussions of the classical Reformed argument that civil rulers have a moral responsibility to exercise their authority on behalf of the true religion. M’Crie’s view of church unions, reflected in his Two Discourses on the Unity of the Church (1821), was that they will be accomplished when the Lord raises each of the uniting churches to yet fuller convictions, rather than by a retreat from the confessional attainments reached in an earlier generation. M’Crie saw unity among Christians as the consequence of God reviving his cause and strengthening belief, rather than of a spreading uncertainty about biblical affirmations. M’Crie was the pastor of the same congregation in Edinburgh from his ordination in 1796 until his death, and briefly conducted the Presbytery’s divinity hall for the training of ministers from 1816 to 1818.
His Lectures on the Book of Esther, published at Edinburgh and at New York in 1838, are rich in description of the experience of the people of God in their sorrows and in the life of faith. The writer is perceptive in setting forth a penetrating biblical analysis of the motives for human conduct. There are many illuminating observations on the principal characters in the canonical narrative, and the whole exposition successfully captures the marvel of the Lord’s care amidst all dangers for those who cast themselves dependently on him.
Rev. R. Sherman Isbell
This introduction was made publicly available by the publishers Solid Ground Christian Books.