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PAST MASTERSPAST MASTERS

James S. Stewart

By David L. Larsen
Few smaller areas of the world have ever seen the prodigous renaissance in Biblical preaching that Scotland saw in the 18th and 19th centuries. With her divinity halls filled with converts from the Great Awakening and the Moody evangelistic crusades. Scotland saw the early dissipation of this era of immense promise through destructive higher criticism and Darwinian naturalism. The slow and tortured death of a dynamic church in Scotland has been tragic, although the light still shines in places like the Tron Church in Glasgow, the Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh, and other evangelical congregations.

One of the brightest exceptions in this picture of decline was James S. Stewart (1896-1990), called by many "the most outstanding modern Scottish preacher."

The spiritual pilgrimage

Born in Dundee, Stewart's father was converted under D.L. Moody, sold his business and became a well-known Bible teacher for the YMCA. Stewart earned degrees at St. Andrews and Edinburgh and did graduate study at Bonn in Germany. Although he assisted H.R. Mackintosh in translating Schleiermacher into English, he agreed with his mentor that Schleiermacher did not take revelation seriously.

Before the merger in 1929, he served several churches in the United Free Church and subsequently pastored the prestigious North Morningside Church in Edinburgh (Church of Scotland) from 1935 to 1946. The impact of his preaching was widespread. He is remembered as being "unimposing and shy," but very effective in the pastoral letters he wrote to members and friends of his flock.

In 1947 he moved on to become Professor of New Testament at New College, Edinburgh, for 22 years. During these impactful years he traveled widely and served his fellowship as Moderator of of the General Assembly (1963-64). Although a convinced socialist, his views never obtruded into his pulpit ministry. Professor Richard Longenecker recalls his brilliant blending of "rigorous scholarship, reverential reading of the Scripture and effective communication of the Gospel."

The scholarly production

Like few others, his pastoral years saw rich and scholarly production. His Bible Class handbook on Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ (1933) sold more than 100,000 copies in the United States. His prose style was stately but lucid. His Cunningham Lectures in 1935 were published as A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of St. Paul's Religion. This is an exceedingly rich and rewarding study in which he follows Deissmann's "Christ-mysticism" -- seeing that at the center of Paul's theology is the believer's union with Christ.

When he was young he was under the spell of James Denney, whose definition of faith he often quoted: faith is self-surrender to God in Christ. He saw so clearly that Paul's was a "conversion-theology" and that the Apostle was deeply into apocalyptic and into the doctrine of the two ages.

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