Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Abiding Presence by Hugh Martin

Christian Focus Publications have republished The Abiding Presence by Hugh Martin (1822-85), one of my favourite Scottish theologians. The book was originally published in the nineteenth century under the title Christ's Presence in the Gospel History (of which I have a copy, signed by the author) and republished in the twentieth century by the Free Church of Scotland, with the title changed to The Abiding Presence (of which I also have a copy, but not signed by the author). The new edition has a biographical introduction by Sinclair Ferguson.

Martin's book is concerned with how Christians should read the Gospels (they are more than mere historical records providing information). In order to read them correctly we need the presence of the Spirit to make the Gospel narratives personal and precious to us as we meditate on them. We need the Spirit's help in order that the stories about Jesus becomes means of communion with Jesus. Martin takes several instances from the Gospels -- the baptism of Jesus, the temptation of Jesus, his sermon in a synagogue in Nazareth, his work on the cross -- and helps us regarding how we should read these accounts for our spiritual benefit. Such experiences by us reveal to us the divine origin of the Bible and also enable us to have what Martin calls 'real religion'.

In 1865, John (Rabbi) Duncan of the Free Church College, Edinburgh, wrote regarding this book:

‘I am charmed with your work Christ’s Presence in the Gospel History. I have perused it with intense delight, and I trust not without profit, which I hope will be increased by a new and oft-repeated perusal. In a treatise so suggestive, there are of course some thoughts which would require to be more thoroughly pondered before they be either received or rejected.

‘I think its republication peculiarly appropriate at the present time, as leading the reader at once to the centre of questions which at present engage the eager, and in some cases the anxious thoughts of many minds. The attention is immediately directed to, and steadily fastened on, Emmanuel -- the only-begotten Son of the Father who hath declared him -- teaching “by his Word and Spirit the will of God for our salvation”. From this centre, light and life are seen and felt to radiate in every direction. The Word given by inspiration of the Spirit harmonizing with the life communicated by the Spirit in conversion, sanctification, and consolation, which he, the Spirit, applying the Word, communicates, maintains, and perfects; the continued presence of Christ himself with his Church by the Word and Spirit; the indwelling of Christ in believers and their indwelling in him, by his Word and Spirit, and their consequent conformation and conformity to him; the baseless rationalism or fanaticism of all claims to spirituality not accordant with and founded on the testimony of the Spirit of Christ (of Christ by his Spirit) authoritatively speaking in holy scripture; the utter incredibility to any one who knows by experience what it is “to believe on the name of the only-begotten Son of God, and believing to have life by his name”, that this blissful communion could be enjoyed through a medium less sure and perfect than the Word, all given by inspiration of God; these and similar trains of thought are beautifully brought out, and presented in a way fitted to promote soundness in the faith, i.e. both the doctrine which is according to godliness, and the godliness which is according to doctrine.’

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