Friday, 1 May 2015

The Suburbs of Heaven, The Diary of Murdoch Campbell

The Suburbs of Heaven (2014), The Diary of Murdoch Campbell, edited by David Campbell, Covenanters Press, 160pp

Reviewed in the April 2015 issue of The Record of the Free Church of Scotland

A long time ago, when I was a new Christian, I was aware of the name of Rev. Murdoch Campbell, and that for two reasons. First, his several books, although written by a Free Church minister, had managed to get over the very high walls erected by the denomination in which I spent my childhood and youth and were read eagerly by its people. Second, after Campbell retired, he lived near an elder of the congregation in which I was converted, and he could not make any sense of Campbell’s mysticism. Later I realised that the first denomination shared Campbell’s Highland and Celtic spirituality, whereas the elder in the second denomination did not. I suspect that the same two reactions will re-appear with regard to this book.

Some will read the extracts from the diary with a sense of spiritual nostalgia and appreciate what they say because they describe circumstances that are gone and spiritual experiences that no longer seem to exist, even in the Scottish Highlands. Others will read about some of the experiences and wonder what is the connection between mysticism and Christian encounters with the unseen world – especially when the person describing his experiences was known for having a close walk with God – and how they enable a sinner to live with God on his journey together through this world. His unusual awareness of God speaking to him in dreams and of his awareness of praying while asleep will raise the eyebrows of some. Of course, when they do, they should recall that Andrew Bonar, himself not a Highlander, once found himself trying to form new Greek words in his sleep in order to express the love of Christ.

The extracts reveal a man honest with himself, yet willing to mention and sometimes detail his experiences for the benefit of others, including the prominent in the land, as Campbell did when writing to encourage Winston Churchill during the Second World War. Many times in the diary he records how Bible verses came to him with such power that he was aware they were conveying special, indeed specific, instructions and comforts from God. Moreover, his confidence regarding the post-millennial view of the future, and the spiritual comfort he received through thinking about it, may surprise those who regard it as an unsound interpretation.

Some of his details refer to his efforts in the pulpit such as him having mental freedom in preaching whilst his heart remained unmoved, and what added to the problem was that his listeners on that occasion seemed unmoved as well. He comments about times when prayer was hard and other times when he found it a pleasant experience. There are references to spiritual conflicts within and the power of the adversary. Occasionally he details meetings with kindred spirits who shared his awareness of God’s presence. Now and again he gives his assessment of a book he has been reading.

The diary refers to his family and to his friends, mainly fellow ministers and elders. There are notes of gladness when he records having met or heard of individuals blessed through his ministry. Statements of concern about the direction in which the national Church was travelling seem prophetic when looked at from our standpoint.

All this and more is found in this diary and yet it is not a large volume. Yet it has much to say about how we can interact with God in and through his Word. So I would recommend it to all, but especially to those who are finding their spiritual journey dull and flat. For the clear effect of reading this volume is that it describes one who walked with God, but does it in such a way that his readers can think, ‘So can I.’

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