Rev. Professor Hugh M. Cartwright — a tribute
My first memories of Rev. Hugh Cartwright (1943-2011) were as a rather rebellious teenager longing for this rather old-fashioned looking man to finish his rather long communion sermon in Partick Highland Free Church, Glasgow.
I couldn’t understand why my minister would want to bring such an ‘old’ man to the communions, when there were so many younger and livelier preachers around.
But later that evening, in the manse fellowship, I began to see another side to Mr Cartwright. Rather than a stuffy and stiff ‘conservative’, he was friendly, warm and even quite funny at points.
He made a really special effort to talk with as many young people as he could, even though he was only getting grunts in response at times! But I noted his willingness to reach out and keep trying to connect, even in the face of teenage indifference and haughtiness.
Some years later, when the Lord had worked his saving grace into my life, I heard him preach again. This time I was actually listening and began to understand why my minister had been so keen to have Mr Cartwright preach for our congregation.
There was no attempt at oratory or entertainment. He explained the text in as few words as possible, in a simple and plain style, with clear and spiritual applications. But what shone through above all was his earnest sincerity.
He shunned anything that might draw attention to himself or his preaching. His passion was to point people to Christ and just forget about the preacher.
As a young Christian, I must admit I was still rather enamoured with the impressive speaking gifts of others, but I had begun to see a unique power in Mr Cartwright’s preaching, that seemed to depend more on God than on himself or rhetorical devices.
When I became a student at the Free Church College, Mr Cartwright had been appointed Professor of Church History and Principles. His lectures were thorough and full of substance. I don’t think I’ve ever written so much in an hour as I often did in Mr Cartwright’s classes.
As it was just before the age of the PC and laptop, my wrist was often throbbing by the end of class. I’ve still got many of these notes, and I’ve often referred to them in the course of my ministry.
Sadly, these college years were also very controversial years in the Free Church of Scotland. But I can still remember the quiet dignity and consistency of Prof. Cartwright’s life and character from those stress-filled days.
I used to so admire the way Mr Cartwright dealt so calmly and even-handedly with students’ questions. And no professor had such an open door as him. Many a time I would knock and be warmly welcomed into a haven of peace and prayer.
His office became a little Bethel to many of us and he was always quick to turn conversation away from controversial matters to more Christ-centred and profitable topics.
Prof. Cartwright gave every graduating student the gift of a carefully selected book. For me he chose B. M. Palmer on prayer and communion with Christ, which I’ve read and re-read many times.
The topics covered in that book sum up the rare spiritual character of Prof. Cartwright, perhaps we might say ‘a man born out of due time’.
The author is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary,
Grand Rapids, Michigan