Thursday, October 09, 2008

Martin on the Atonement: A Commendation by Sinclair Ferguson

The good folks at Reformed Academic Press sent me some of their books today. The book I'm most looking forward to reading is Hugh Martin on The Atonement: In Its Relations to the Covenant, the Priesthood, the Intercession of our Lord. Donald Macleod writes the introduction, and comments: "Martin's work is unsurpassed as a synthesis of orthodoxy and originality. It sets forth the same doctrine as Hodge, yet the atmosphere is completely different. It scintillates and sores and sets standards of brilliance all its own."

I've heard wonderful things about this book, but having not read it, I cannot adequately encourage you to pick up a copy. So I decided to ask another great Scottish preacher if he'd explain to us who Martin was and why this is an important book. I was delighted that he graciously agreed to write up the following:
Hugh Martin (1822-1885) lived at a remarkable time in Scottish Church history—akin perhaps to the days of the Puritans in seventeenth century London when, from this vantage point, it seems as if a great preacher could be found in every district of the city. In mid-nineteenth century Edinburgh, theological giants walked the streets: Thomas Chalmers, William Cunningham, James Buchanan, James Bannerman, George Smeaton. Pastors of great theological acumen, poetic soul, deep spiritual acumen and passionate hearts for Christ had also lived and studied here—men like Robert Murray M ‘Cheyne, Andrew and Horatius Bonar and many others.

Among these giants, but partly hidden in his own day, and almost completely obscured in later history, was Hugh Martin. The first young man to be licensed as a preacher of the gospel by the newly-born Free Church of Scotland, he served as minister of Panbride from 1844 -1858. Called to Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh he served for only another five years before ill health forced his early retirement. But his fruitfulness did not cease. Indeed his lasting contribution to the church lies in the books he thereafter penned. These included studies on The Prophet Jonah (1866) and a work on The Westminster Doctrine of Inspiration (1877).

It is, however, Martin’s trilogy of studies on the person and work of Christ that have had the most lasting appeal: Christ’s Presence in the Gospel Narrative (1860), The Atonement (1870), and The Shadow of Calvary (1875).

Taken together these three books (all of which have been reprinted) constitute a remarkable study of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The first and last of the studies focus on exposition of the Gospel narrative, and are magnificently Christ-centered. The second volume is in fact a composite work of materials Martin had written in various previous contexts.

The Atonement is the work of an exceptional mind characterized by deep thought and a striking originality set within the compass of a biblical orthodoxy.

Martin was in fact exceptionally gifted intellectually (he published A Study of Trilinear Coordinates in1867 and also served as a University Examiner in Mathematics in his spare time!). It is clear from his works on Christ that he not only loved his Savior dearly, but also thought deeply about him. For all his familiarity with the Christology of the Church, his work does not merely pour old wine into old wineskins. There is something striking, fresh, thought-demanding, about his whole approach.

I enthusiastically commend Martin’s works--not only for their immediate value, but because they have the capacity to challenge readers to think much of Christ as they read the Scriptures.

We live in a time when long, thoughtful, and loving meditation on Christ seems to be rare. The dominant tendency is to read the Bible to find out about ourselves rather than about Christ—to explore even the Gospels to find where we can “find ourselves” in the Gospel story (“are you like Joseph, Nicodemus, or perhaps the blind man?”). That has a place—but it is subordinate to finding Christ in the Gospel story and fixing our eyes upon him. After all, Jesus IS the Gospel story!

“Martin on the Atonement” as this work has often been simply known, is therefore a work to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” It will re-focus you on Christ; it will make you think long and hard, because it is probably different from any book on the work of Christ you have ever read. In the process of reading it will do you much good, and stimulate you to harder, more devoted, more biblically-rooted, reflection on the glory of the Savior.

What could be better?

Sinclair B Ferguson
First Presbyterian Church
Columbia, South Carolina.
Hugh Martin's The Atonement is available at WTS for 30% off.