Rev. James Philip
James Philip, minister emeritus of Holyrood Abbey Church, Edinburgh, died on Thursday 12 March. He was a ‘prince in Israel’.
With William Still, his younger brother George, and Eric Alexander, he was at the forefront of the recovery of biblical, expository preaching in the Church of Scotland. Generations of students, and others, sat under his Spirit-anointed ministry in Holyrood.
For almost six years in the 1970s I was privileged to sit under his ministry, during my theological studies at Edinburgh University. After a week of often arid theological lectures, it was a benediction to attend Sunday services at Holyrood and the Saturday evening prayer meeting.
I still look back with unbounded thankfulness for the privilege of hearing this man of God pray and preach the word. Jim prayed with a heavenliness that brought us into God’s presence and preached with such grace and power that it often felt that heaven had come among us.
James Philip read arts and classics at Aberdeen University and graduated MA in 1942. He was called up for service in the RAF and saw active service in the Far East. At the end of the war, he resumed studies in divinity at Christ’s College, Aberdeen, in preparation for ordination in the Church of Scotland.
It was during his MA studies that Jim first met William Still, and thus began a lifelong friendship and fellowship in Christian ministry that lasted over half a century. In 1948, Jim served as assistant to William Fitch in Springburnhill in Glasgow (where he first met Eric Alexander), and in the following year he was called to a charge in Gardenstown on the Moray coast.
There were times in those early years in Gardenstown when conversions to Christ were a daily occurrence. On one occasion his brother George asked him why he was looking downcast; Jim replied, ‘I haven’t seen anyone come to Christ in two weeks’!
In 1958, Jim was called as minister of Holyrood Abbey Church in Edinburgh. The church was in the poorest of spiritual conditions, but, under God, and through Jim’s preaching and praying ministry, it was transformed into a beacon of faith and evangelical light.
In his forty years at Holyrood, James Philip preached through the Scriptures, Sunday by Sunday and Wednesday by Wednesday. His preaching was expository, systematic, and deeply experiential. On one memorable occasion I was so moved and humbled by its power that I decided to walk home to my student digs rather than take the bus. As I walked, I prayed, ‘Lord, if you ever call me to preach the gospel, I want to preach like that man’. What gripped me was the power of the truth and the intense, Christ-centred passion of the preacher.
James Philip was a shy, at times retiring, man, but in the pulpit the Lord gave him wings. Nothing more caused him to soar than when he was preaching Christ and his cross. At a time in Scotland when the evangelical gospel was often derided and mocked, he unashamedly preached the substitutionary, propitiatory, sinner-saving death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This whole-souled commitment to the apostolic gospel is perhaps best seen in his seminal, if brief, commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, entitled The power of God.
Here we encounter the gospel in its fullest and ripest expression. Not a ‘new perspective’ on Paul, but rather the ‘old perspective’ explained and applied in accessible language – and hiding deep scholarship.
For fifty years James Philip laboured valiantly to see the Church of Scotland return to its Reformed roots. He was an unashamed Calvinist of the best sort: Christ-centred, gospel-motivated, intensely human. At the funeral service in Holyrood, Jim’s younger brother George made this remark: ‘Throughout his ministry, Jim never departed from the centrality and priority of preaching’.
James Philip is survived by his wife Mary, son William (minister of St George’s Tron, Glasgow), daughter Jennifer, and their children; and by his brother George (retired minister of Sandyford Henderson Church, Glasgow) and sister Moira.