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Robert Haldane (1764-1842) (2)

March 2014 | by Paul Williams

Last month we learned about the conversion of Robert Haldane and his transformation from Scottish country gentleman to Continental gospel preacher. His arrival in a spiritually lifeless Geneva was to have an enormous impact for God’s kingdom. And God was going to reward his faithful ministry with revival blessing.

Let’s see how the story continues. What was the outcome of this mighty work of God through the ministry of Robert Haldane?

Storm clouds were gathering over Geneva. For while Haldane’s ministry had been a means of great blessing to the 25 young men he led to Christ and taught, it also stirred up antagonism in the hearts of those who were unsympathetic to this new teaching, even within the churches.


As a result, a regulation had been issued, requiring the signature of all prospective ministers wishing to serve in the canton (state) of Geneva, promising that they would forever desist from preaching ‘such hateful and divisive doctrines’ as the divinity of Christ, original sin, effectual calling and predestination.

But these young men converted under the ministry of Haldane felt they could not, in all good conscience, submit to such a regulation. And so they began preaching the gospel of God’s grace in Geneva’s pulpits.

The first to preach publicly this re-discovered gospel of grace was Cesar Malan. He refused to sign the regulation, and he preached in the former pulpit of John Calvin, with Haldane present.

Haldane wrote: ‘This doctrine of salvation, possessed of such incomparable energy, and when carried home to the heart by divine influence, accompanied with such signal effects; this doctrine, which had for so long a period been unknown in the pulpits of Geneva, and which formed such a contrast to what was there held forth in its Arian, semi-Arian, Pelagian, Arminian, insipid nothingness, could not be borne among you.

‘When it unexpectedly burst on you in one of your temples, “to the amazement of the hearers”, it was like a clap of thunder. I shall not soon forget the astonished, chagrined, irritated, indignant countenances of some who were present. Many seemed to say as the Athenians did when Paul preached to them, “thou bringest strange things to our ears”.’

After preaching that sermon, Cesar Malan came down from his pulpit, feeling utterly dejected, and as he walked down the aisle past his wife, noticed that even she could not look at him, such was her antagonism to the truths he preached.

Knowing his sorrow, Haldane ran on ahead of him to his house and, as Malan approached looking so downcast, Haldane took hold of him and said, ‘Thank God the gospel has once again been preached in Geneva’.

In the words of Haldane, the sound of the gospel just preached for the first time by Cesar Malan, was ‘like a clap of thunder’.

Because Malan refused to sign that regulation forbidding the preaching of these ‘hateful and divisive doctrines’, he was as a consequence removed from his ministerial and academic positions, denied all prospects of preaching and driven out of the city of Geneva.


The other men were also refused ordination and forced to flee from Geneva, choosing instead to take refuge in other countries. And yet, as tragic as this may appear, it is a comforting reminder to us that God does indeed overrule such opposition and cause even ‘the wrath of man to praise him’ (Psalm 76:10).

For, in leaving Switzerland, the gospel was now spreading, bringing revival. The very people who were trying to silence the proclamation of the gospel were now the means of its propagation. Like the early disciples, the scattering of these men caused them to become the savour of life to who knows how many men and women. Only eternity will reveal the lasting impact.

These young men, so recently students of Haldane, were now teachers of others, bringing gospel blessing throughout Western Europe. And there was revival — the gospel spread from canton (district) to canton and then country to country.

The work that Robert Haldane did, in bringing the gospel to 25 men, subsequently spread to literally thousands of people in Europe. Further, the fruit of the revival could be seen in those places to which the gospel spread.

Such fruit included the formation of numerous evangelistic organisations between the years 1820 and 1850, including (among others) the Free Churches of Switzerland and France, the Continental Society for Propagating the Gospel in Europe, the Evangelical Societies in Switzerland, and theological schools within those societies in Switzerland.

It also included the publication of evangelical literature within those countries, including Merle D’Aubigne’s five volumes of The history of the Reformation and Robert Haldane’s work on the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. So the revival led to a multiplication of excellent literature, among many other things.


Haldane continued to labour on for Christ, serving in France for two years. But from 1824-36 he became caught up in what became known as ‘the apocryphal controversy’.

The British and Foreign Bible Society did not include the Apocrypha in its English translation of the Bible, but it did believe it was right to include the Apocrypha in the Bibles being distributed on the continent. Their reasons were purely pragmatic, believing that the inclusion of the Apocrypha would make it more acceptable to Roman Catholics, and therefore more likely to be read in predominantly Roman Catholic countries.

The controversy led to several prominent evangelicals signing a statement approving the inclusion of the Apocrypha, including such names as Charles Simeon and Henry Venn. But Haldane argued strongly that no Bible society, whose task it was to distribute the Word of God with nothing else added, should include the Apocrypha.

His arguments prevailed, so that thereafter, for 140 years, the Bible Society’s rules forbade the inclusion of the Apocrypha in the publication of the Bible. That ruling continued until it was changed in 1967.

In 1835, Haldane finally published as a commentary the notes on Romans which he had prepared for the students in 1817.

In his foreword to one such edition, in March 1958, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote: ‘I always find it very difficult to decide as to which is the better commentary on this epistle, whether that of Charles Hodge or this by Haldane. While Hodge excels in accurate scholarship, there is greater warmth of spirit and more practical application in Haldane’.


Haldane kept his old Bible with him constantly, to the end of his days, even as he lay dying. Towards the end of August 1842 he became ill. Asking his doctor what were his chances of recovery, the doctor replied: ‘Mr Haldane, you are a man of firm mind and not afraid of death. I have, therefore, no fear of alarming you when I say that it looks like a last illness’.

The fact is, Haldane had given himself unceasingly to a lifetime of Christian service. He was physically worn out. In these final weeks, he did not allow many visitors, preferring instead to be alone. His brother was one exception. But mentally, he was sharp until he died.

On 12 December 1842, Robert Haldane quietly passed into eternal glory, rejoicing in the faith he had preached, with the words ‘Forever with the Lord, forever, forever’ upon his lips.

His life exemplified beautifully all that he had sought to preach to others. His body was laid to rest in Glasgow Cathedral. And his wife died just six months later, her body being buried in the same vault as her husband.

It was written of Robert Haldane: ‘Mr Haldane was one of those eminent men who leave an impress of their character on the age in which they live; and devoted, as his whole energies from an early period were, to the cause of the Redeemer, and with an efficacy rarely in any age equalled, his is a name which will be remembered among the worthies of the church, when merely worldly fame is gone’ (The Witness).

Paul Williams





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