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Short Biography of Hugh Martin


      Hugh Martin lived from 1822 to 1885, through some of the most interesting, turbulent and consequential years of Scottish church life. He was born in 1822 (although some sources date the year as 1821), and studied in his native Aberdeen. He was a distinguished mathematician while at Marischal College, and studied theology at King's. While listening to a speech by William Cunningham, he was won over to the cause which would result in the Disruption of 1843; Martin's ordination as a Free Church minister took place the following year.

      Hugh Martin's first charge was in the Forfar parish of Panbride, where his famous son -- the future Principal Alexander Martin of New College -- was born in 1857. Martin remained at Panbride until called to Free Greyfriars, Edinburgh, in 1858, where he remained until he retired through ill-health in 1865. James Begg, John Kennedy and Hugh Martin formed a redoubtable triumvirate set for the defence of Calvinistic orthodoxy in a day of compromise and of controversy. Some of Martin's best work appeared in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review, and, in the words of G.N.M. Collins, "in him, penetrating theological insight was matched with warm evangelical fervour".

      Hugh Martin's publications covered both mathematical and theological topics, but the mathematician comes through in the theologian. His works are clear, logical and thorough, as he works through the implications of his argument. He uses the language of mathematics explicitly in places: "this train of thought leans us on the verge of a very great enlargement or (to use the language of geometry) extension of our theorem". He is a shining example of the old Scottish ideal of scholarship and piety combined. The degree of Doctor of Divinity from Edinburgh in 1872 was a fitting tribute to his theological acumen.

      One of his early theological works was Christ's Presence in the Gospel History (1867), published as The Abiding Presence. Martin's starting-point is to conjoin the opening words of Matthew's Gospel -- "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ" -- with the closing promise of the same book -- "I am with you always, even to the end of the world". The Gospel, says Martin, purports to be a history, and is also pregnant with the promise of the presence of Jesus Christ.

      If all we had were the biographical narrative, it would interest us as a record of great words and powerful deeds, but it would only be the record of dead history. And if all we had were the promised presence of Christ, then we could never define the Person whose promise it is to be with us always. The presence gives reality to the biography, while the biography gives manifestation to the presence.

      Martin's work is a powerful directive regarding the handling of the Gospel materials. The late nineteenth century Scottish Church was to wrestle with the burgeoning science of critical Old Testament scholarship, which seemed to re-write the Bible; but New Testament scholarship was not far behind in introducing new approaches to the biblical text, questioning the supernatural element of the miracle stories and championing Jesus as the supreme critic of the Old Testament. The critics made Jesus a child of his times, and in doing so drove a wedge between the historical Jesus and the later theological tradition. The phenomenon known as Christianity was said to have had little to do with the historical Jesus.

      But for Hugh Martin and his evangelical contemporaries, there was no such divergence. True religion is a matter of real communion with God in Christ. And that communion was not merely an association with the post-resurrection church and its witness to the teaching of Jesus. No, says Martin: "you do not deal with reminiscences of Christ -- memories and mementoes of Him, however accurate; conceptions, notions, ideas concerning Him, however true; no, nor even with mere doctrines concerning Him, however truly divine and infinitely precious in their own place as these unquestionably are. You deal with HIM and He with you".

      Martin's point is that Christian faith is neither a vague mystical experience, divorced from the Gospel records, nor a theological experience devoid of experiential reality. It is a real communion with the Christ of the Gospel history. For that reason, he examines several passages in the Gospels -- which he fittingly calls the 'galleries of the King' -- to demonstrate that the coalescence of the Word and the Spirit gives us the living presence of the living Christ.

      So Hugh Martin invites us to take the 'key of faith' and enter the King's galleries. There, according to Martin, we can consider the perpetual testimony of Christ's baptism, the perpetual triumph of his temptation, the perpetual sermon of the synagogue and the perpetual sacrifice of the cross. And, whatever our lot, we can say with confidence that we have Christ's presence in the gospel history with us at every point.

      For Hugh Martin, Christian faith is nothing if not a matter of personal religion, and of personal relationship with the Christ whose story is told in the records of the Gospel. After a century of critical scholarship, and two thousand years of assault on the word and work of Jesus, it is still the case that our faith stands on the truthfulness of the biblical account and the person of the Christ who lived among men two millennia ago.

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