Subscribe now

The Pastor of Kilsyth: The Life and Times of W. H. Burns

By Islay Burns
November 2020 | Review by Jeremy Walker
  • Publisher: Banner of Truth Trust
  • ISBN: 978-1-84871-871-5
  • Pages: 312
  • Price: 12.50
Buy this book »

Book Review

This is a slow-burn biography about what often looks like a slow-burn life. First published in 1860, its approach can seem ponderous. Some elements might bewilder anyone but a two-hundred year old Scotsman.

So why persevere with the book? Because it is at once so far removed from us and so close to us. Our age loves fireworks. We feed on explosions. We idolise men who burst onto the scene in a shower of sparks, only to fizzle out as damp squibs; or who spin into a tornado of fleshly flame before self-combusting in destructive flare-ups. We applaud globe-trotting uber-pastors of mega-churches who speak to teeming hordes of fanboys.

Most of us do not, and will not, live such lives, or observe them close at hand. In truth, these are not the lives to which we should aspire, even if the Lord should thrust prominence upon us. William Hamilton Burns, the subject of this biography, was a man who moved not so much on the margins as on his appointed course, which rarely brought him centre stage.

The story traces this life in a time of doctrinal laxity and spiritual lukewarmness. Primed by a godly family for faithfulness and preserved in his path by the Lord, Burns embraced his calling and his opportunities. He preached and he pastored, he lived and worked among his people as a true under-shepherd, knowing and being known by them. His was a largely ordinary life employed in using God’s ordinary means of grace.

The book describes a season in which the Lord blessed those ordinary means to an extraordinary degree, with the joys and challenges which that brought. It also tells of sacrifices made for the sake of the gospel in the Disruption of 1843, out of which the Free Church of Scotland was formed. A short selection of addresses and sermons is included. Especially useful is the one on how to conduct a revival. (Short answer: ‘You don’t; God does – though we may and must seek his blessing by his appointed paths.’)

So why persevere with the book and with the life? Because this is the story of a man who proves why pastors should persevere. It is the ministry most of us will either exercise or receive, not seeking man’s camera and spotlight, but living under the eye and smile of the Lord. It is a tale of faithfulness over the long haul, in holy habits of ministerial usefulness. Even allowing for a son’s affection in the author’s gaze, the life burnished is one of spiritual gold, and for that reason it shines.

Jeremy Walker

Crawley

Book Reviews

Read our latest book reviews

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
God’s design for women in an age of gender confusion
Sharon James

Is our belief in male headship culturally outdated, and should we see alternative ideas of marriage as ‘progress’? Is it possible to be born into the wrong body, and is sexual freedom good for women? Does Scripture show us a…

See all book reviews
Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
Christ Victorious: Selected Writings of Hugh Martin
Hugh Martin

Hugh Martin (1822–1885) was one of those 19th century Scottish theologians whose published works have stood the test of time. With good reason, for his works are consistently sound, reverent, edifying, and challenging to mind and heart. This is a…

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
God’s design for women in an age of gender confusion
Sharon James

Is our belief in male headship culturally outdated, and should we see alternative ideas of marriage as ‘progress’? Is it possible to be born into the wrong body, and is sexual freedom good for women? Does Scripture show us a…

Sexuality and Identity (trilogy)
Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
Sexuality and Identity (trilogy)
Owen Strachan

These three punchy books address pressing issues: what the Bible teaches about lust (on desire), about homosexuality (on Biblical sexuality) and about transgenderism (on identity). The trilogy approach keeps each book short and focused while dovetailing effectively. Each book has…