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Review – A consuming fire; the piety of Alexander Whyte

November 2007 | by John Cook

A consuming fire; the piety of Alexander Whyte
Michael A. G. Haykin
Reformation Heritage Books
135 pages; £7.95
ISBN: 978-1-60178-002-7

This slender volume is one of a series of ‘Profiles in Reformed spirituality’ and contains a 16-page biographical sketch of Alexander Whyte (1836-1921) followed by 27 selections from his writings.
Whyte was a minister in the Free Church of Scotland but embraced views contrary to its Reformed confession in welcoming insights from writers like John Henry Newman and in supporting the so-called ‘higher criticism’ that did so much harm to the church. However, he helpfully emphasised the strength and pervasiveness of sin, and the perfect remedy – Christ’s death for sinners.
The choices made from his writings vary. Some are stimulating and helpful but others are disappointing, with a lack of scriptural support. There is a profitable warning drawn from Launcelot Andrews against the danger of neglecting God and the need for a deep experience of one’s own sinfulness.
Whyte acknowledged his indebtedness to Thomas Goodwin and quotes from him: ‘Their indwelling sin is by far the greatest misery of the regenerate’. And speaking to divinity students, ‘God had only one Son, and he made him a minister’. He affirmed that the chief end of man is ‘to glorify God, is to finish the work God has given us, and to go unto God my exceeding joy’.
It is, however, strange in the section on ‘Being watchful’ that he praises the practice of D. L. Moody, since elsewhere he appears to commend Faber and Marcus Dods. If the reader uses discernment he should find profit.

W. John Cook