Welcome back to another episode of 5 Minutes in Church History. On this episode, we are talking about James Buchanan, a Scottish theologian who spans the nineteenth century. This is not the James Buchanan who was the fifteenth president of these United States.
Our James Buchanan was born in Paisley. Paisley, of course, was a vital weaving city in Scotland, and it gave its name to the paisley pattern. Buchanan, growing up there, studied briefly in Paisley, and then he moved on to Glasgow, and then to Edinburgh. At Edinburgh, he studied under Thomas Chalmers.
And in 1827, at the age of twenty-three, he was ordained into the Church of Scotland. A few years later, he moved into a larger church. He was a compelling pastor and his congregation grew rapidly. From 1828 to 1840, he pastored the church in North Leith. During this entire time while his church was growing, he was in poor health. Much of the pastoral work was carried on by assistants, and so Buchanan could devote himself to study and to his ministerial preparation.
In 1840 he went to St. Giles in Edinburgh, St. Giles Cathedral. This was a famous church. This was where John Knox served as pastor during the time of the Reformation coming to Scotland. It is there in old town Edinburgh, and for three years, Buchanan was in the pulpit at St. Giles.
Then came along a very significant moment in Scottish church history. In 1843, we had the Disruption, or the Great Disruption. About 450 ministers broke away from the Church of Scotland. It was probably about a third of the total ministers, and they became ministers of a new denomination, the Free Church of Scotland.
Thomas Chalmers, Buchanan’s mentor, was appointed the first Moderator of the Free Church. This group saw itself not as a split, but as the continuation of the original of the Scottish church, back to the Reformation. These ministers and their churches, James Buchanan among them, did not leave their denomination so much as their denomination left them.
A year later, in 1844, Princeton College, all the way across the Atlantic, there in New Jersey, gave Buchanan an honorary doctorate. And in 1845, he was appointed a professor of apologetics at New College, Edinburgh. New College was founded in 1843, and yes, it was founded because of the Disruption, and it was founded to serve this new denomination. There Buchanan served as a professor, first as a professor of apologetics. Then in 1847, when Thomas Chalmers died, Buchanan became professor of theology. He would hold that post until 1868.
He had many afflictions through his life. He suffered poor health throughout his life. And by 1868, he was so ill, and he was mostly deaf, that he retired from teaching. Two years later, in 1870, James Buchanan died.
He had married. He had two children with his first wife, a son and a daughter. And then back in 1832, his first wife died. He remarried and with his second wife, he had another daughter. She died just a few years before him in 1867.
In addition to his family and his teaching and his preaching, he left behind quite a literary legacy of books. From his personal physical sufferings and the loss of his first wife, he wrote two books on affliction. He wrote a book on the Holy Spirit. He wrote a couple books on apologetics. And in 1867, he published his classic text on justification. He titled it The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture. It’s a great book, a classic text. In fact, I think we ought to take a look at it together next week, and so we will do that together. But this week have been talking about the book’s author, James Buchanan, the nineteenth century Scottish theologian. That’s James Buchanan. I’m Steve Nichols, and thanks for joining us for 5 Minutes in Church History.