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James MacGregor: Preacher, Theologian & Defender of the Faith

By J. W. Keddie
April 2017 | Review by Paul Relf
  • Publisher: Lulu.com
  • ISBN: 978-1-32623-555-0
  • Pages: 216
  • Price: 9.00
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Book Review

This book will interest those who enjoy Christian biographies or follow church history. It focuses on theological issues as well as the life of its subject. Indeed, Macgregor was primarily a theologian, and the title aptly sums him up.

He was born in Scotland in humble circumstances, but became professor of theology at possibly Scotland’s foremost seminary of theology in Edinburgh, in 1861. He was, in the words of a contemporary, ‘gifted with a vigorous intellect’.

He lived from 1829 to 1894, spending most of his life in Scotland. He emigrated with his family to New Zealand in 1881, where he lived until his death. With his wife, Grace, he had ten children.

MacGregor was born into a God-fearing family. He was greatly influenced at a Free Church day school and grounded in the Bible and Reformed doctrine. He was a Presbyterian and a Calvinist.

In addition to his spoken ministry, he wrote many books. An early title was Christian doctrine — a textbook for youth. He was an admirer of Charles Hodge’s Systematic theology and you can sense his biblical convictions in his stand against error. A heart for unity, when difficult issues arose, is equally apparent.

It was a church-going age. A congregation of 200 members was deemed small. Outside the church, there was social change through urbanisation, the industrial revolution and the rise of Darwinism. In the Free Church and elsewhere, biblical truth was subject to debate.

In his lectures, papers and books, Macgregor defended the faith. Examples included explaining the ‘Gospel offer’ in relation to the atonement, defending psalm-singing in his own church circles and standing against biblical criticism in the William Roberts Smith case.

Following ill health in MacGregor’s family, they moved to New Zealand in 1881. Macgregor took charge of Columba Church, Oamaru, where he ministered from 1882 until his death. He continued to defend the faith, writing books on Christian apologetics, including three large works in the last four years of his life.

This biography is well worth reading and relates the life of a godly man and eminent theologian, who, as one of his students said, ‘made theology part of himself’.

Paul Relf

Chatham

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