That Brought and Kept Me Near to God

I.

When I was working on the research for my second chapter yesterday afternoon, I followed a lead relating to one Walter Cook, Esq., W.S. – a member of the Lay Association established in 1843 by prominent Church of Scotland members “for carrying on the several Schemes of the Church with undiminished activity” following the Disruption. Although I found little information about Cook, an obscure 1882 text with some basic biographical information on him also had a profile of someone with whom I am very familiar – the subject of my first chapter, Rev. William Muir of St. Stephens. Naturally, I read on to see how a near contemporary would describe him. Although there was nothing paradigm shifting about his theology or ecclesiastical predispositions, there was a note about his first wife – Hannah Black Muir.

William and Hannah were married in 1813 and had a daughter and six sons. By the time they moved to Edinburgh, he was a rising star in the Church, having been awarded both Doctor of Divinity and Doctor of Laws degrees from the University of Glasgow before his thirty-fifth birthday.

But then suffering came. As another contemporary author described it, William Muir was “severely tried in the furnace of domestic affliction.” Between 1822 and 1826 he lost his daughter and three of his sons. Finally, in 1827, Hannah died.

All of these were things I knew. What I did not yet know was where Hannah and the four children who died in infancy were buried. In the note about Hannah from the 1882 sketch of William Muir’s life and ministry, the author revealed the mystery of their final resting place – the northeast corner of Greyfriar’s Kirkyard in the middle of Old Town. When exploring by myself or showing friends around, I’d walked past the grave several times without a clue. The lettering on the stone is hard to decipher in some places, and in others entirely missing after more than a century-and-a-half of exposure to the elements. On the bottom of the stone, the first two verses of 1 Thessalonians 4:14 are fairly visible. That verse – here as with on the stone in what we now know as the King James Version – reads: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”

II.

This past Sunday, my friend Cory Brock took the morning sermon* at St. Columba’s on Ephesians 3:1-14. In these verses, Paul writes to his fellow Christians in Asia Minor that his present suffering in a Roman prison is –in fact – their “glory.”

In the message Cory touched on a number of points, but one in particular which brought to mind the life of William Muir. When considering the nature and role of suffering, he rhetorically asked: “Why are parents burying their children, God? Why are bombs going off in European airports? Why? Why is this a part of the unfolding of history according to your eternal plans and purposes? Why?”

He later concluded by focusing on the purpose of suffering in the Christian life: “When Jesus comes, He brings a great reversal. No longer is suffering simply Satan’s tool to make you hurt, it’s the tool of redemption. Jesus Christ wins by losing. Jesus Christ suffers the most devastating, final death of sin, so that you who suffer temporally would never suffer the final, most devastating death of eternal death. Jesus Christ is the reversal of [the] cosmic view of suffering as being pointless. Suffering is the prelude to glory.”

Through the death of his wife Hannah, his daughter, and three of his young sons, William Muir found in the cross the answers to his own “why.” Though there was no indication of spiritual torpor prior to these tragedies, through them William Muir seems to have undergone a conversion experience. If not redemption, his suffering was at the very least a tool of galvanization. His later poetry reflected – again and again – his personal experience of suffering pushing him toward a greater reliance on Christ, rather than away from God. One poem written sometime later mentioned this explicitly. He wrote:

“Glory be to Thy Mercy’s dealing,

That subdued my rebel feeling.

Glory be to Thy chastening rod,

That brought and kept me near to God.

Glory be to Thy saving grace,

That draws me ‘neath Thy smiling face.”

As with William Muir in days past – through the power of the Holy Spirit – may it be so with us now.

*(To listen to Cory’s sermon: http://sermons.stcolumbas.freechurch.org/sermon/the-mystery-of-the-kingdom)

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The Past Five Months

I’ve now been in Edinburgh for about five months. My expectations of living in Scotland and pursuing doctoral research have been met and surpassed. Though new, challenging, and difficult in many ways, I love it here and thank God for his mercy and provision.

What does typical a week in the life of Andrew look like in Scotland? To give friends back home an idea, it looks something like this:

Monday-Friday: Walk about half an hour to New College around 9:00 a.m. and work* until 1:00 p.m. Eat lunch in Rainy Hall with fellow PhD and Masters students around 1:00 p.m. Back to work from 2:00-5:00 p.m. Walk the half hour back home around 5:00 p.m., relax for a bit, hang and eat dinner with my flatmate, Angus, clean up dinner, have a cup of tea and hit up some Netflix or the like (Angus and I worked our way through Band of Brothers and the first three seasons of Suits), and go to bed.

Saturday: Sleep in, go in to New College and do some work, hang with friends at night.

Sunday: Church (St. Columba’s Free Church) at 11:00 a.m., lunch with church friends at someone’s flat, back for the evening service at 5:30 p.m., and then over to the manse from around 7:00-10:00 p.m. where I help lead the student (American: college) ministry.

Exceptions to the Rule: Tuesday nights some of my friends from church get together to do a pub quiz (American: trivia) at a bar down the road called Lebowski’s. Yes, it is named after the film, and yes, they have an entire menu of white Russians. We quiz from 8:30-11:00ish and have a grand old time. We’ve won twice. Boom. Every other Wednesday night I have City Group, which is the St. Columba’s term for small group. My City Group is great. We have a good time catching up and it’s wonderful to have a place mid-week to study the Word and come together in prayer.

*I work in a postgraduate study room called Torrance, named after the late T.F. Torrance, a preeminent Scottish churchman and theologian. Last semester I worked mostly on gathering and reading secondary literature in relation to my topic in order to narrow down my research into something workable for a thesis. I did, and my thesis will be a study of the continuation of evangelicalism within the established (state) Church of Scotland between 1843 and 1914. Why? In 1843 the ‘Disruption’ split Scottish presbyterianism into two main groups: The Church of Scotland and the seceding Free Church of Scotland. Most of the Free Churchmen were Evangelicals, so it has largely been assumed that evangelicalism in Scottish presbyterianism was mostly a Free Church distinctive. However, evangelicalism continued to be a presence within the Established Church throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and on into the next. By looking at religious periodicals, personal writings such as journals and correspondences, General Assembly minutes, and other church-related records, I hope to trace and analyze this evangelical continuation and pay particular attention to areas such as missions, women’s involvement, revival, and theological changes in relation to Calvinism and biblical criticism. My supervisor thinks this will be a workable thesis and fill a gap in the scholarship of both evangelicalism and Scottish Church history. Lord willing, it will.

That being said, I’ve only just left the safety of barrier islands and am now about to embark on the open sea. But the ship’s company is better than imagined, and the wind seems to be at our back.

So stay tuned.

.

Pre-Departure Thoughts

SAM_0338

Dear Friends &c.,

On Friday, I’m getting on a plane and moving my life to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Some thoughts and some details before I head out.

Thoughts

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,

There is no shadow of turning with Thee;

Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not

As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Thomas O. Chisholm penned these words in 1923. They, and the rest of the hymn, quickly became a favorite among American churches. My grandmother, Quincy Marshall Mills Jones, was also born in 1923. Chisholm’s hymn became a favorite of hers as well. At her funeral in 2010, we sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness”.

More often than not, I am faithless. In the shadow of other idols, my devotional life, my prayer life, and my communal Christian life languish on the periphery. I have doubts, I have fears, I am a sinner, and I sin.

Eternally, God is faithful. As I grapple with understanding what is good, true, and beautiful – especially on the precipice of a major life change – I cling to the fact that He has been, is, and will be faithful.

In Christ, He has been faithful. In Christ, He is faithful. In Christ, He will be faithful. I have been saved by grace through faith. I owe nothing to my salvation. “My anchor holds within the veil.” He looks at me and says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest. Follow me, as I usher in the Kingdom of God.” He looks at my sin and says, “It is finished.” He looks at my life and says, “Abide in me, and you will bear much fruit.”

In my current pursuits, He has been faithful. A year ago I had no idea whether or not I’d be accepted to any PhD program, let alone Edinburgh. I had no idea whether or not I’d be able to hack it doing a two-semester MA thesis at Gordon-Conwell.

Lastly, through the stewardship and generosity of the very grandmother who treasured Chisholm’s lyrics, He has been faithful to provide financially so that an acceptance to Edinburgh could be realized in my impending matriculation.

Everything I have – everything – is a gift. Even when I am faithless, God is faithful.

I appreciate your prayers as I enter this new season.

Details

New Address: PLEASE write me letters. I want to be a letter guy. Thankfully, I have an address set up for the flat I’ll be sharing with my friend Angus. I move in 8 September.

Andrew M. Jones

Flat 5, 7 Caledonian Road

EDINBURGH EH11 2DA

UNITED KINGDOM

New Phone: I’ll be able to send and receive texts from my old iPhone (404-625-1355) for a few weeks while I get my new one set up with a SIM and a plan.

Best way to contact me will probably be Facebook messages for the time being.

First Few Weeks Activities

30 Aug. – 2 Sept. I’ll be staying with Angus’ parents and setting up shop

3 Sept. – 6 Sept. I’ll be in the Highlands at a conference, probably making you jealous on Instagram.

8 Sept. – 14 Sept. I’ll be participating in my orientation activities at the University

15 Sept. Term starts, Jesus take the wheel.

I’ll be back with a post around then.

Until Then,

AMJ

Basics, Preliminary Thoughts, Explanations

Basics

Me: Andrew Michael Jones. Christian, son, brother, uncle, friend, reader, writer, thinker, questioner, laugher, Southerner, Scotiaphile, hopeless romantic.

Life Till Now: Marietta/Roswell, GA 1989-2008 – Wheaton College, Illinois 2008-2012 – St. Andrews, Scotland 2011 – Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary 2012-2014 – University of Edinburgh, Scotland 2014-2017 (Lord willing).

Faves: “O Brother! Where Art Thou?” – Josh Ritter – “Hot Fuzz” – The Avett Brothers – “The Tree of Life” – Kings of Leon – “Parks and Recreation” – Ryan Adams – “Rev” –  CHVRCHES – “The West Wing” – Flight of the Conchords

Preliminary Thoughts

So here we are. I folded. I want this blog to serve primarily as a way for my friends and family from the United States to stay connected and up to date with my goings on for the next few years, as I pursue PhD studies in Ecclesiastical History at the University of Edinburgh.

Explanations

What will this blog contain? Basically just personal musings on life, faith, and culture that I think are worth sharing as I research my doctorate, experience life in a new city, country, and continent, make new friends, see old friends, and most critically, walk out and work out my faith in Jesus Christ.

The blog title? It comes from the last line of a favorite prayer of mine from Arthur Bennett’s The Valley of Vision. Entitled “Continual Repentance”, the last piece reads:

Grant me never to lose sight of

The exceeding sinfulness of sin,

The exceeding righteousness of salvation,

The exceeding glory of Christ,

The exceeding beauty of holiness,

The exceeding wonder of grace.

So there it is. When I arrive in the fall, I hope to post at least once every two weeks for the duration of my studies.

Until Then,

AMJ