This hardback set was originally published by the Wodrow Society in the nineteenth century with the title Select Biographies; the contents were edited by William K. Tweedie (1803-63), a Free Church of Scotland minister in Edinburgh who not only functioned as an editor but was a popular author on various topics.
The volumes contain accounts of the lives of several well-known Covenanting ministers (John Welsh, Patrick Simson, John Livingstone, David Dickson, William Guthrie and James Fraser of Brae) as well as shorter items, some by outstanding women, which indicate the high quality of Protestant spirituality that was found during that period in Scottish history.
While each of the various items has its own significance, the records of two individuals highlight the importance of these volumes. Volume 1 is largely taken up with John Livingstone (autobiography, letters, sermons, addresses, and an intriguing collection of incidents experienced by several ministers) and Volume 2 by the Memoirs of Fraser of Brae (written by himself, and a recognised masterpiece of spiritual self-reflection that is comparable to Bunyan’s Grace Abounding).
Livingstone was a Lowlander and Fraser a Highlander from Ross-shire, but whether that distinction mattered at the time is doubtful. While some readers find self-analysis by others a difficult genre to read, the writings of these men, and others in the volumes, should lead us to ponder the life of God in the soul of man (to use Scougal’s well-known title).
Of course, there is much more than self-analysis in these volumes. In addition we read stirring accounts of men and women who suffered much for Christ, yet retained a deep attachment to his cause. Moreover, the preachers whose ministries are recounted saw powerful movements of the Spirit, and much can be learned from their emphases.
The volumes are a reminder that profound spiritual experiences, movements of the Spirit in conversions, and powerful opposition to the true church, which today we tend to identify with other parts of the world, was at one time the lot of the church in Scotland. Although at times written in a manner difficult for modern readers, the volumes are worth persevering with, and are recommended for those who wish to read spiritual classics from Scotland’s privileged past.