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Full text of "Principal James Denney, D.D. : a memoir and a tribute : with a portrait"

BK 

92 

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99607 



CAVEN LIBRARY 

KNOX COLLEGE. 

TORONTO 



PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 




I 



Principal James Denney, D.D, 

A Memoir and a tribute 



BY 

T. H. WALKER 



Author of 

"Fellow-labourers: A Ministerial Septuary," 

" Clerical Cameos," "Impressions of Holland," 

Travels in Russia," etc. 



WITH A PORTRAIT 



MARSHALL BROTHERS, LTD. 
LONDON, EDINBURGH, NEW YORK, 



CAVEN LIBRARY 
KNOX COLLEGE 



CO 

ALL 

EVERYWHERE 
WHO ESTEEMED 

Principal James Dennep, D<D., 

THIS VOLUME 

IS DEDICATED 

AS A GRATEFUL MEMORIAL 

OF THE MAN AND HIS 

WORK. 



FOREWORD 

As an Arts Student under James Denney s 
tuition in Glasgow University, where he first 
met the future Principal, the writer of this 
memoir came to cherish a high regard which, 
in later years, developed into great reverence 
for the man. His humility and true piety 
were remarkable, notwithstanding his im 
mense learning and towering intellectual 
superiority. 

Tributes have already been paid to his 
worth and work, and doubtless others will 
be forthcoming. In undertaking the writing 
of this volume, the author wished to have the 
satisfaction of casting a wreath of his own 
upon the mausoleum, already reverently 
hallowed with memorials of affection. The 
attempt has not been made to write an 
exhaustive, elaborate or critical biography, but, 
within limits, to give a picture, as true to 
life as possible, of a many-sided personality 
a man of great talent, power and versatility, 
who impressed his generation, as few have 
done. 

If, at the close of the memoir, the reader 
finds that such a faithful portraiture of 
Dr. Denney emerges, the writing of it will 
not have been in vain. 

T. H. W. 

UDDINGSTON, LANARKSHIRE. 
January, 1918. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

FOREWORD 7 

CHAPTER I 
THE EARLY YEARS . . . . II 

CHAPTER II 
THE STUDENT . . . . 23 

CHAPTER III 
THE THEOLOGUE 31 

CHAPTER IV 
THE PREACHER 39 

CHAPTER V 
THE PROFESSOR 57 

CHAPTER VI 
THE AUTHOR 81 

CHAPTER VII 
THE SOCIAL REFORMER . . . 115 

CHAPTER VIII 
THE MAN OF AFFAIRS .... 133 

CHAPTER IX 
THE LAST PHASE .... 151 



Years 



Principal James Denney, D.D. 

CHAPTER I 
THE EARLY YEARS 

GREAT is the debt which the religious world 
owes to Scotland. If Germany before the 
days of her degeneration sent forth a company 
of intrepid Reformers, and England produced 
an army of noble martyrs, no less has Scotland 
nurtured a band of sturdy confessors and 
theologians, whose outstanding careers are an 
abiding inspiration. The smaller denomina 
tions have not been less fruitful than others 
in giving us great Christian leaders in this 
Northern land " Auld Lichts," Cameronians, 
Burghers, Morisonians, have each had a group 
of devoted men, whose gifts of heart and mind 
added lustre to the Christian Church. While 
their loyalty to their own section was whole 
hearted and uncompromising, they yet loved 
the brotherhood, and in turn their ability 
and goodness commanded the love and respect 
of all who knew them. Of these James Denney, 
who belonged originally to the Reformed 
13 



14 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

Presbyterian or Cameronian Church, is a 
conspicuous example. Writing at the time 
of his death and apparently under strong 
feeling, Sir William Robertson Nicoll said 
of him, " That he was in many respects the 
first man in Scotland, was coming to be 
acknowledged by every one. It is our own 
deliberate opinion that hardly any greater 
loss could have befallen the Christian Church, 
for he seemed destined to guide thought and 
action in the difficult years to come as hardly 
any one could but himself. . . . There is not 
a thought or a memory connected with him 
that does not stir our admiration and love. 
There is none like him none. His loss is 
truly irretrievable." And this great Doctor 
of the Church, in effect and in reality, born 
in Paisley on 5th February, 1856, was of 
Cameronian stock, the sect which had its 
origin in the fierce and bitter controversies 
which took place in Scotland in the latter 
part of the I7th century. 

His parents, worthy members of that 
communion, removed to Greenock when he 
was but four months old, and here his early 
life was spent in association with the Church 
of his fathers. Practically, therefore, a 
Greenock man, Denney had in later years, as 
intimates, two fellow-townsmen, the Rev. A. D. 



THE EARLY YEARS 15 

Grant and the Rev. J. P. Struthers. These 
formed a trinity of kindred souls. Strong 
and grave, yet kindly and loving, they were 
bound each to each by the closest of moral 
and spiritual bonds " Men of the knotted 
heart." Struthers belonged to the Reformed 
Presbyterian Church, although born and 
brought up in the Original Secession body, 
and his genius and consecrated life made a 
profound impression upon Denney. " I have 
never known a man who had so deep a sense 
of the love of God, or who so unmistakably 
had the love of God abiding in him " was the 
latter s testimony concerning his friend. 

For twenty-seven years Struthers " edited," 
rather it should be said, he wrote The Morning 
Watch a vastly different periodical from that 
which bore the same title in Edward Irving s 
day, and surely the most delightful of all 
Sabbath School Magazines. Denney loved 
the Watch, as he loved its editor, and helped it 
too. He once described the Magazine in these 
words : " It is just like reading a letter " ; 
and once, when giving a list of the Hundred 
Best Books, he included The Morning Watch 
as one of the Hundred. The last page of the 
Watch Denney particularly prized, reading 
the monthly as soon as he received it, from 
beginning to end, but usually beginning at 



16 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

the end. The choice combination and illus 
tration of the texts he regarded as wonderful. 
It has been said that to Struthers might 
be applied the words inscribed on Gordon s 
tomb in St. Paul s: "Always and every 
where he gave his strength to the work, his 
substance to the poor, his sympathy to the 
suffering, and his heart to God." Such 
witness is high, but true. The playfulness 
and humour which made Struthers s talk so 
fascinating, and lightened his preaching and 
lecturing, were like sunbeams playing on 
the face of the deep. Perhaps the most 
gifted preacher of his time in the West of 
Scotland and a veritable man of genius, 
Struthers was yet very reserved, very shy, 
very humble, very lovable. A creator of 
pure fun of the whimsical order, he had also 
the touch of sadness that so often accompanies 
a playful wit. He was at once humourist 
and melancholian. He was notable as the 
man who, with characteristic modesty, 
declined the honour of D.D. from Glasgow 
University. He and Denney were to be 
" capped " together, but the latter con 
fessed afterwards to a feeling of relief, as he 
felt himself so unworthy to stand on a parity 
with an already so great and real " Doctor 
of the Church " as Struthers. 



THE EARLY YEARS 17 

The Reformed Presbyterians were proud 
of Struthers, as they had cause to be. He was 
their foremost preacher and expounder of the 
Word. Many of them were "characters" 
in their own way. Small Churches seem to 
be the cradle of such curious folk. Thus 
the Cameronians often used to make great 
sacrifices to attend preachings. Two of them, 
humble but honest and devout men, were 

wont to leave D , their native village, to 

travel to Glasgow, a distance of over twenty 
miles, to hear a minister of their own persuasion. 
In the evening, after service, they travelled 
back half-way, but were obliged to stop in a 
moorland cot till next morning would fit 
them for their journey. On one occasion, 
being more than usually fatigued, one of 
them awakening about the middle of the 
night thus addressed his friend, " John, I ll 
tell you ae thing, and that s no twa if they 
Auld Kirk folk get to heaven at last they ll 
get there a hantle easier than we do ! " 

These old Cameronians were not, however, 
a heavy, sour and joyless people, but the 
opposite. Many of them were possessed of a 
happy and contented disposition ; their sense 
of humour was keen, their estimate of per 
sonal independence was high ; they cherished 
profound religious convictions. The Denney 



i8 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

family continued their connection with the 
Reformed Presbyterian Church in which the 
father, who was a joiner by trade, held office as 
a deacon until the union of the majority 
of the members of that denomination with 
the Free Church of Scotland in 1876, Struthers 
electing to abide by the " remnant " of his 
old church, and thus remaining to the end 
" R.P." But James Denney never forgot 
his obligations to the Church of his fathers. 
Here his earliest religious impressions had 
been received and his first efforts in Christian 
work engaged in. As Sir William Robertson 
Nicoll puts it, he " passed over to the Free 
Church, taking with him his serene but warm 
piety, his instinctive appreciation of dogmatic 
truth, and his hearty interest in the Church 
of Christ." Here he had ample scope for the 
exercise of his gifts. For his class in the 
Sunday School, with scholars only slightly 
younger than himself, he prepared as carefully 
as if he were a preacher to a congregation of 
critical hearers. The influence of his teaching 
in those early days still abides, and is grate 
fully recalled. As a boy he received his 
early education at the Highlanders Academy 
of Greenock. Here he carried everything 
before him, and ere long surpassed in learning 
even his pastors and masters in that somewhat 



THE EARLY YEARS 19 

noted institution. It is interesting to recall 
that at this period of his life he had as fellow- 
scholar in the old Academy, John Davidson, 
the poet, that hapless child of genius, whose 
father was at the time minister of the Evan 
gelical Union Church of Greenock, a man of 
sterling worth and conspicuous ability. 

The two lads also became colleagues as 
pupil teachers in the Academy. And yet 
how different the destiny of each as events 
proved ! Both trained in the evangelical 
religion, and ending their career, the one as a 
master in Israel of the household of faith, 
the other a suicidal victim of vanity and 
unbelief. Davidson, like Denney, was a man 
of considerable gifts. He tried to stem the 
tide of French influence and endeavoured to 
create a new dwelling-place for the human 
imagination. There was, as has been pointed 
out by critics, a distinction between Davidson s 
work while he was still in Scotland and his 
later work. The early dramas are easily the 
best and sanest things he did, as indicating 
an abundance of creative power, a love of 
sunshine and the freshness and daring of 
youthfulness. But a change came when 
Davidson went to London, abandoned teaching, 
and set himself to write for bread. Hack 
work he hated, and came to detest all com- 



20 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

pulsion and to resent intensely the slowness 
of the world to recognize him, or to follow 
him. The last stage of his life was very bitter. 
He claimed to have anticipated Nietzsche. 
He read him and was influenced. The conse 
quence was that he threw himself passionately 
against the world. He lived partly in profound 
despair and partly in turbulence and revolt. 
There was no background of faith to support 
him in view of his failure to win the popular 
success he sought, and felo de se on the cliffs 
of Penzance was the sad result. Davidson s 
meteoric success in London was a surprise 
to his contemporaries in the old Academy, for 
he clearly had little ability as a teacher, nor 
did he then appear to possess anything of 
the genius of greatness ; but the boys of the 
Academy knew instinctively that James 
Denney was destined to make his mark in 
whatever profession he adopted. By nature 
grave and studious, gentle and kindly ; in 
thought and expression, clear and fluent ; 
in work, thorough and inspiring, he made 
a deep impression on the minds and lives of 
his scholars. As he stood before his class, 
in his favourite teaching attitude, balancing 
himself from toe to heel, they felt that to him 
the simplest theme was inexhaustible. Of an 
afternoon, at this period the lad would spend 



THE EARLY YEARS 21 

hours at the bench in the workshop of his 
father s firm Crawford & Denney, joiners. 
Doubtless he would give promise there of 
being as efficient in joinery as in teaching 
and theology. 

Denney having reached the limit of the 
school curriculum, and being still too young 
to begin his course of training as a teacher 
the profession which at the time he had in 
view as his life-work made some acquaintance 
with business affairs in the office of Messrs. 
Liddell & Brown, tug boat agents, Greenock. 
Here* he remained for two years or so and 
practised most assiduously the art of penman 
ship. His handwriting was good, but the 
manner in which he was accustomed to hold 
the pen was awkward, and he felt that he 
must develop a style appropriate for a teacher 
ot the art. About this time H.M. Inspector 
paid a visit to the school in connection with 
an examination of the pupil teachers who 
purposed entering for the Normal Course of 
training. At the close of the ordeal, the 
Inspector summoned the candidates, with the 
exception of Denney, into his room and 
intimated that the papers handed in by the 
latter were in all his (the Inspector s) ex 
perience unsurpassed by any pupils who 
had faced that examination. This was a 



22 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

high compliment to the youth, coming from 
such a quarter. 

But schoolmaster, Denney was not destined 
to be. All the characteristics which distinguish 
the successful minister were already markedly 
present in the youth. His diligence, ability 
and thoughtful earnestness in the work soon 
made him notable above his fellows. He was 
admitted to circles and societies intended 
for far older pupil-teachers. His knowledge 
and learning were so conspicuous that the 
one and only goal now set before him was the 
Christian Ministry. To the attainment of 
this object, therefore, he bent his youthful 
energies. 



Student 



CHAPTER II 
THE STUDENT 

LEAVING the Highlanders Academy after 
four years service as a pupil teacher, young 
Denney matriculated as an Arts Student at 
the University of Glasgow, in November, 1874. 
And here a prodigy appeared. No scholar 
of his time could equal him. In class he 
soon began to answer questions that nobody 
else could answer. His fame was established 
when he underwent successfully the ordeal 
of what is called in Glasgow " The Blackstone 
Examination." A gold medal, the prize founded 
by some old patron of learning, is given 
annually to the student who may profess to 
read the greatest number of Latin books, and 
translate any passage or passages selected 
by the professor, from the whole, correctly. 
Sometimes the ambitious would-be medallist 
would profess seventy or eighty books, say 
twelve of Virgil, six of Horace, ten of Livy, 
five of Cicero, and so forth. When the lists 
were given in, it was found that Denney s was 
prodigious, and when he took his seat on 
25 



26 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

the celebrated " Blackstone," the ebon 
marble chair of antique construction which 
stands in the Humanity class-room, he 
was greeted with applause. The examina 
tion was long and searching, but Denney 
came off with flying colours. The Rev. 
Professor Clow, D.D., a fellow-student in 
Arts in those days, testifies to the impression 
created by the student from Greenock as 
he rose in his place in the class-room at the 
Professor s call. Abnormally pale, almost to 
an oriental pallor, intent in look, direct in 
speech, he soon fulfilled the highest expecta 
tions cherished concerning him. A stillness 
at once fell upon his classmates as, in level 
tones and with perfect enunciation, the lis 
teners heard a translation as loyal to the 
original as it was clean-edged and felicitous. 
Throughout the whole curriculum, Denney 
was his Professor s favourite pupil. The 
Jeffrey and Cowan Gold Medals, as well as 
the Blackstone, came his way. 

For Professor Jebb, who was elected to the 
Greek chair in Denney s second year of Arts, 
the latter ever cherished the highest feelings 
of esteem. In an appreciation of his Pro 
fessor he writes : "I have no hesitation in 
saying that he was by far the best teacher 
I ever knew, and that he made his subject 



THE STUDENT 27 

real and inspiring as few are able to do. What 
impressed the imperfectly prepared students, 
who had to do any work for Mr. Jebb, was the 
precision and finish of all his work for them. 
Most of us had no idea of what translation 
could be whether from Greek into English 
or from English into Greek. His renderings 
of Sophocles, which have since become known 
to all the world, came on us like a revelation. 
He not only did the thing, but created an 
ideal for us by doing it. His interest I should 
say was in the poetry and history rather than 
in the speculative thought of Greece. He 
could not in any sense fraternize with his 
pupils, the main interests of most of them 
being too remote from his own, but he was 
most willing to help those who sought his 
guidance in his own field. After leaving the 
University I assisted him for some years in 
examination work, and know how sincerely 
he was interested in the progress of his men. 
In spite, however, of the sense of distance 
which was never quite overcome or perhaps, 
even because of it he gave many of us 
an idea from which we can never escape, of 
what a scholar can be. His professorship in 
Glasgow was a fortunate episode in the history 
of the University and in the intellectual life 
of its alumni ; and though we could not grudge 



28 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

his return to Cambridge, we felt that it would 
be hard to find any one who could hope to 
fill his place." 

Old students of Professor Jebb will ap 
preciate the justness of the tribute. All of 
us felt deeply the privilege we enjoyed of 
listening to the voice of one who combined 
the utmost fidelity to the Greek tongue with 
a diction that was unparalleled. 

Denney was for a time assistant to Pro 
fessor Veitch in the Logic Class. It was 
here that the present writer, as a student, 
first came into contact with him. What drew 
one s attention to this man with the slender 
frame, the scholar s stoop, the countenance 
" sicklied o er with the pale cast of thought," 
the intent look, the reticent manner, the 
metallic tone of speech, was his character 
rather than his career in Arts, brilliant as that 
had been. A few moments in his presence 
was quite sufficient opportunity to enable one 
to see that this was a " high-souled " man, 
calm in his manner, simple and modest in a 
marked degree, yet strong and determined in 
taking a stand, or advocating a principle a 
man who uttered not sentiments as one who 
must say something, but rather as one who 
had something to say. This was the first and 
abiding impression. It only deepened on a 



THE STUDENT 29 

closer acquaintanceship ; and quite a genera 
tion later, on a casual meeting with him in a 
Glasgow tramway car he was Principal 
Denney then from his demeanour and his 
kindly inquiries, one realized again the 
moral influence which he had exercised over 
the plastic minds of his students in the long 
ago. His method, his thoroughness, his 
patience, his justness, his nice sense of honour, 
his devotion to duty, have left their mark 
on many men, far apart in time and in 
place and in work, but united in a common 
bond of affectionate regard for the memory 
of their old tutor. 

In Professor Edward Caird s Moral Philo 
sophy Class, Denney s phenomenally brilliant 
Arts career culminated in his securing the 
coveted gold medal. While esteeming this 
master in ethics most highly for his own 
and his work s sake, it has been asserted 
that he never accepted Caird s philosophy, 
and though learned in the history of philosophy, 
he declined to tie himself to any system, 
holding that one system gave way to another 
and that Christianity was bound up with 
none of them. 

No branch of study came amiss to Denney. 
Even in Mathematics, as Professor Clow 
indicates, he held his place, although he used 



30 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

to say with a smile, that, like Macaulay, he- 
looked about for a footrule when certain 
questions were asked ! He closed his Arts 
course by taking a double first in Classics 
and Mental Philosophy the most distin 
guished student of his time. When he 
graduated with such high honours, it was 
said of him that he could have occupied with 
distinction more than one of the Chairs in the 
Arts Faculty of his Alma Mater. Such a 
Chair, indeed, seemed the appropriate goal 
of his brilliant scholastic course. But no ! 
Theology, the "Queen of the Sciences/ claimed 
him, and whatever philosophy and literature 
may have lost, the Church of Christ has grandly 
gained by his submission as a student to her 
regal sway. 



^heologue 



CHAPTER III 

THE THEOLOGUE 

NOT until five years had elapsed did Denney 
enter upon the study of theology proper in 
the Free Church College, Glasgow, now the 
United Free, an institution notable for the 
eminence of its professoriate, including as it 
did such men as Drs. Douglas, Lindsay, 
Candlish, Bruce, with Henry Drummond 
as teacher of Natural Science. On account 
of its methods of preparation, probably no 
other Church in the world has a better equipped 
ministry than the United Free Church of 
Scotland. There is a marked distinction 
between men so intellectually trained in this 
Church and others who enter the ministry 
upon easier terms, yet the preacher, like the 
poet and the prophet, must be born as well 
as trained. The pastoral instinct, for example, 
must ever find its best development in the 
school of experience. With some students 
it is easier to acquire than assimilate, and 
the preoccupation of a severe training may 
c 33 



34 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

occasionally restrict the faculty of judgment 
and the intuition of tact. 

Denney, as a clear, far-seeing thinker, was 
at a later day the initiator of the movement 
towards a more modern equipment for our 
future ministers. He recognized that to the 
men and women of this age the message of the 
pulpit too often is no evangel. The reason, 
in great measure, is found in the fact that, 
according to the present method of theo 
logical training, the message sounds unreal 
not a voice living, eager, and arrestive, but 
an echo indistinct and ineffective. He saw 
that the means and the end in ministerial 
training had fallen out of relation to each 
other. He held that the existing systems in 
divinity halls were too academic. It was not 
so much ministerial training that was given 
nowadays as theological education ; it was 
not ministers that were being made so much 
as Bachelors of Divinity ! Thus Denney dis 
tinguished between the trained theologian 
and the minister of Jesus Christ. The sphere 
of research for the former as a specialist may 
be the critical analysis of the hexateuch, or 
tracking the intricacies of the synoptic prob 
lem ; but the latter should be instructed in 
the Christian religion, in the spiritual and 
moral condition of the world, in the intellec- 



THE THEOLOGUE 35 

tual, social, and economic phenomena amid 
which men have to live and on which the 
ministry may cast the light of the Christian 
revelation, rather than be asked to spend 
much time over questions in theological 
science which have little relation to the voca 
tion of the preacher. 

Denney entered his theological Alma Mater 
at a somewhat more mature age than is usual 
with students, but he had the benefit of a 
fine mental furnishing, and here, as at the 
University, he maintained his reputation as 
the foremost student of his time. In the 
intervening years he had not been idle, ful 
filling the conditions attached to the holding 
of the Clark Scholarship, tutoring at the 
University, and in general equipping himself 
fully for the work of the Theological College 
A Continental tour also made about this 
period, when he sojourned for a considerable 
time in Germany, in the congenial company 
of his intimate friends Professor (now Sir) 
Henry Jones, Glasgow University, and Pro 
fessor Hugh Walker, Lampeter College, Wales, 
served to widen his mental outlook. In the 
Glasgow College, in due course, Denney came 
under the stimulating influence of Professor 
A. B. Bruce, who was ever to him " the true 
master of his mind " So much was he im 



36 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

pressed by Bruce, and so warm an admirer 
was he of his work, and especially of his 
Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, that 
he remarked concerning his teacher, " He 
let me see Jesus ! " Bruce held Denney in 
equally high regard, and on one occasion, it is 
recorded, called upon him to give an exegesis 
of a passage in Colossians to a class of senior 
students, and the class, so far from resent 
ing the liberty, felt themselves honoured, 
Denney in the course of his theological 
curriculum had a spell of what might be 
termed Broad Churchism, but when he and 
his Professor came to the cross-roads, Bruce 
took one way and Denney another. 

While reticent as to his own spiritual history 
and experience, he was ever an evangelical 
believer. His thorough scholarship, his 
exegetical insight, his firm grasp of the great 
doctrines of the Christian faith, were all 
subservient to that. 

Denney did a wise thing when as student 
he became also missionary to the Rev. (now 
Dr.) John Carroll of Free St. John s Church, 
Glasgow. His special sphere of labour was 
in East Hill Street schoolroom, Gallowgate. 
Here he found a moral and spiritual clinic 
under the superintendence of the minister, 
who, it is said, was almost forced at the ime 



THE THEOLOGUE 



37 



into acceptance of the pastorate of St. John s 
by Denney, who only agreed to become his 
assistant on condition of his taking up that 
work. In East Hill Street he carried on the 
Mission with the diligence, ability, and success 
that might have been anticipated in such a 
strenuous worker. On the conclusion of his 
term of office, a Men s Class which he had 
originated and taught, presented to him 
a large parallel edition of the revised 
New Testament, and a handsome walking- 
stick, gifts of regard which he very highly 
prized. During this novitiate Denney lodged 
in Grafton Street, Glasgow. The "digs" 
were oftentimes the scene of memor 
able Nodes AmbrosiancB, particularly when 
Mr. Carroll and his elder Mr. Salmon (a 
well-known Glasgow architect and chosen 
friend of Denney, in whose social intercourse 
the latter delighted) would drop in of an 
evening and exchange sentiments regarding 
most things in heaven and on earth, or even 
under the earth ! 

This period of Denney s career was marked 
by his first contribution to theological 
literature, written at the suggestion, it is 
said, of Professor Bruce. It was anonymous, 
and took the form of a trenchant review of 
Professor Drummond s Natural Law in the 



38 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D 

Spiritual World, and was intended to counteract 
the teaching of that work. The criticism 
was a wonderfully able one, and altogether 
the brochure, which bore the title " Natural 
Law in the Spiritual World, by a Brother 
of the Natural Man," was a remarkable 
production, when it is remembered that 
Denney but a short time before had sat at 
Drummond s feet as one of his students. 
Afterwards, it is believed, Denney revised 
certain of his strictures on Drummond s work, 
to the author of which, like many more, he 
felt indebted for giving to the Christian 
public a fresh and stimulating volume. 

Another early literary venture was his 
joint editorship with Professor Bruce of the 
Union Magazine, in which many suggestive 
theological articles appeared, fruits of a 
sympathetic collaboration of master and 
pupil. Undoubtedly Denney, like other stu 
dents, owed much in the way of intellectual 
stimulus to Bruce, although in most matters, 
without either undue self-depreciation or self- 
assertion, he could be trusted to take his own 
line. But to the younger man it was matter 
for justifiable pride, and more than a co 
incidence, that he should be called upon to be 
Bruce s successor both in his congregation 
and in his Chair in the Glasgow College. 



Preacher 



CHAPTER IV 

THE PREACHER 

ON the completion of his University and 
Theological Hall training, and when he had 
become Bachelor of Divinity, Denney was 
duly licensed by the Presbytery of Greenock. 
Immediately thereafter, in 1886, in his 3ist 
year, he was unanimously called to be minister 
of East Free Church, Broughty Ferry, in 
succession to the Rev. A. B. Bruce, D.D., 
who had been appointed to the Chair of 
Apologetics in Glasgow College. Broughty 
Ferry is a desirable place of residence. Save 
for the old Castle to which it owes its origin, 
and is indebted in turn for its own remarkable 
prosperity to Dundee, the town is wholly 
modern. It consisted a century ago of only 
a few poor fishers huts. But the pleasant 
site, fine air, and social amenities have marked 
it out for " Dundee s Country House," and 
its sloping links have year by year become 
more thickly studded with the handsome 
villas of the merchant-princes of the jute 
Metropolis. The "Jute Lords," and other 
representative men in the multiform com- 



42 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

mercial concerns, which have made the city 
what it is to-day, constituted a not incon 
siderable portion of Denney s congregation. 
Highly favoured are the residents in this town 
of many mansions, in their lot and heritage, 
as also in their charming outlook over the Tay, 
and the emerald slopes of Fife. But still more 
privileged were they in their religious oppor 
tunities in Denney s time. 

Memories of Thomas Dick, the author of the 
Christian Philosopher, who spent his last 
twenty years in Broughty Ferry, still linger 
round the place. Otherwise the mental 
atmosphere is stimulating ; and to Denney the 
sphere of service was most of all attractive 
because he had in Dr. Bruce s famous treatise 
on " The Training of the Twelve " a high 
standard of pulpit exposition set before him 
by which to test his own work from week 
to week. A very brief period sufficed to prove 
to his people that they possessed in their 
young minister a scholar and preacher whose 
learning and force were equal to those of 
his eminent predecessor. The years as they 
passed added to his reputation. He preached 
"Christ and Him crucified" with an ever- 
increasing power. The effect was patent in the 
tense stillness and deep absorption with which 
he was listened to by his interested congrega- 



THE PREACHER 43 

tion. With no adventitious aids such as 
gesture or declamation, but ever making use 
of the fitting and telling phrase, he showed 
at once how profoundly he could think and 
also strive after pulpit lucidity. He had the 
faculty of making himself understood by the 
common people the folk "whom God must 
love so much because He made so many of 
them " ! At times his sermon was neither 
doctrinal nor critical, exegetical nor academic. 
This erudite theologian was not afraid, on 
occasion, to preach in non-professional 
fashion. He could meet his hearers on the 
lowest planes of thinking, so that the most 
unlearned among them might be able to 
apprehend all that was said. His literary 
products showed how profoundly he could 
think, his sermon often indicated how 
anxiously he would strive after parrhesia 
pulpit boldness as well as pulpit brightness. 
Such discourses were popular in the truest 
sense. They were of what is called the 
appellative-argumentative order. The preacher 
was, so to speak, running along a double 
line of rails, simultaneously arguing in order 
to reach the intellect and also appealing so 
as to touch the conscience. There was the 
impact of mental force, the sermon at the 
same time having the effect of a moral 



44 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

inculcation on the hearer. Perhaps emo 
tionalism at times was lacking, that rare 
quality in any preacher which sets the heart, 
of the speaker and hearer alike, throbbing with 
sympathy. In this particular, Denney might 
occasionally show the defect of his qualities 
even in a high order of pulpit discourse. The 
only stricture that even the acutest critic 
could pass in such a case was the comparatively 
mild one, that the power was greater than 
the pathos. Indeed his wife used to tell him 
laughingly that there was not enough pathos 
in his sermons. Even she, however, could 
not gainsay the fact that there was a deep 
evangelical warmth and tone. It is manifest 
here, in a sermon on the text " Blessed is 
he, whosoever shall not be offended in me " 
(Matt. xi. 6). 

" There are many people who seem to spend 
their whole life I mean their whole religious 
life in a kind of process of negotiation with 
Jesus. Jesus has said, Strait is the gate 
and narrow is the way that leadeth unto 
life, and they want to argue it with Him. 
They want to negotiate with Jesus, see if 
there cannot be some kind of compromise 
made for them, whether for their particular 
case the strait gate cannot be made wide, 
whether for their particular benefit and use the 



THE PREACHER 45 

narrow way cannot be made broad, and they 
are all their lives long trying as it were to 
get special terms from Jesus for themselves. 
Dear friends, there is nothing, there is nothing 
at all in that kind of negotiation. That is 
not the way our Lord deals with men. The 
love of Christ is infinite and the love of Christ 
is infinitely inexorable. He never lets down 
His terms, He never makes the strait gate 
wide, He never makes the narrow way broad, 
He never makes the pearl without price 
cheap, He never asks less than everything, 
and happy is the man who comes to see that 
and to understand that that is the only way 
to life. When our Lord speaks to His dis 
ciples, what does He say ? What man who 
is going to build a tower does not sit down 
first and count the cost whether he is able 
to finish it ? That is what the Christian 
life is like. It is like going to build a tower ; 
it is not like building a hut or a coal cellar, 
or building a cottage even, it is like building 
a tower a magnificent structure, something 
that will cost a great deal and that a man 
should not begin unless he feels it is in him 
to go through with. 

Or again, He says about the same thing, 
What king going to make war with another 
king will not sit down first and see whether 



46 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

he is able with ten thousand to meet him 
that cometh against him with twenty 
thousand ? What is the king doing who 
is compared to a Christian ? He is a king 
going to make war ; he is not a king going 
to get a ride round the garden before break 
fast or any little thing like that, which he 
does not need to think about or that it does 
not matter much whether he does it or not. 
It is like going to war, prepared to give his 
life, and going to do the greatest thing and 
taking the greatest risk that a king could 
take. And to be a Christian is to be like that. 
No man should do it, no man should feel he is 
doing the kind of thing that Jesus asks unless 
he feels he is doing an unimaginably great 
thing, taking the greatest risk and taking 
it for the greatest prize. There is no kind 
of joy even in earthly relations like the joy 
of losing everything to get everything, giving 
the whole of one s self to get the whole of 
another ; and it is the whole-hearted com 
mittal of the life to Christ and the whole 
hearted renunciation of everything that keeps 
it for His sake, it is on that that this happy 
benediction is pronounced, Happy is he, 
whosoever shall not be offended in Me. The 
word blessed used in these benedictions 
of Jesus always denotes the highest kind of 



THE PREACHER 



47 



happiness, the happiness on which God con 
gratulates man, and God wishes joy. God 
pronounces joy over the man who can give 
up everything to win Christ. . . 

" Many people are offended because Christ 
requires men to become His debtors for a 
debt which they can never repay. In one 
way of it the Christian life always begins with 
a great humiliation. Christ comes to us as 
One without whom we cannot take the first 
step in the new way of life ; even to begin 
it we must be infinitely and for ever indebted 
to Him. How do we need to begin ? All we 
sinful men need to begin with the forgiveness 
of sins. Now when we think of it, when we 
think of the forgiveness of sins, what are we 
to say ? We cannot earn it, we cannot claim 
it, we cannot take it for granted, we must go 
into debt for it, and we must go into debt 
to Christ. That is the very heart of the 
Gospel. Christ brings the forgiveness of sins 
and He brings it at an unspeakable cost. 
Christ died for the ungodly : in whom we 
have redemption through His blood, even the 
forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the 
riches of His grace/ Now, that, strange to 
say, is the thing that many people cannot get 
over ; there is the sharp edge of the stone of 
stumbling by which they are repelled They 



48 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

cannot humble themselves to be Christ s 
debtors for this unspeakable gift. No man 
ever was made happy, no man ever will be 
made happy by refusing to come under this 
obligation to Jesus, by resolving to be in 
dependent of Him and to maintain his 
independence ; and on the other hand 
blessedness comes, blessedness certainly comes 
and surely comes, to the man who stands at the 
Cross of Christ and says : 

Nothing in my hand I bring, 
Simply to Thy Cross I cling. 

" I say there is no doubt in the least that 
the happiest, the most joyful hearts in this 
world are the hearts that have attained, that 
the gladdest songs are those that spring from 
lips inspired by that great surrender and that 
great blessing to Him that loved the souls 
of men, and washed us in His blood/ 

Thou, O Christ, art all I want, 
More than all in Thee I find. 



I stand upon His merits, 
I know no other stand. 

" These are the authentic voices in which 
human souls have uttered the deepest blessed 
ness that human souls can know, and it is 
the blessedness of those who are not offended 
in Christ because He wishes to put them in 
His debt. Oh, that anybody who has been* 



THE PREACHER 



49 



holding back from Christ in that kind of 
reserve or reluctance or pride, anybody who 
has been doing that, may lay these things to 
heart and consider whether he is going in a 
way in which blessedness lies. Blessed is 
he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me. 

Denney was ever a true preacher of the 
Word. He had no ambition to be known 
as the " popular " preacher. Ah, that blessed 
word " popular," how potent it becomes in 
certain quarters. It is recalled how even the 
distinguished Principal John Caird, when first 
settled in the quiet rural parish of Errol, where 
he laid the foundations of his fame, could not 
be said to be a favourite with some at least 
of his parishioners. The church building 
was much too large for the people who attended, 
and the young divine suggested the boarding 
up of a portion of the premises. This, however, 
was opposed by an irate elder who sought to 
impress his views on the minister by saying, 
" We ll maybe get a mair pop lar preacher 
when ye re awa ." No more than Caird at 
first, did Denney draw crowds to hear him 
like Chalmers or Spurgeon, of both of whom 
he was a profound admirer ; and he would 
say at times that he had no desire to be a great 
but only a useful preacher. Yet never did he 
mount the sacred rostrum without the genuine 

D 



50 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

preacher s earnestness of purpose and intensity. 
He had veracity of utterance a special air 
of truthfulness seemed to distil from him. 
The pulpit was his throne, and from thence 
he spoke with authority to men the great things 
of God. His one volume of published sermons, 
The Way Everlasting, gives evidence at once 
of his theological insight and practical wisdom, 
and also of his quiet yet intensive power. 
The style, as has been said, cuts clean as a 
blade of Damascus. 

He wrote once to a friend : "In the course 
of my Bible studies I have come to have a 
great faith in the obvious, and to feel that 
what we have got to do in preaching is 
not to be original, but to make the obvious 
arresting. And truly, few present-day 
preachers could arrest mind and heart and 
conscience as he could. Even his first written 
work, by which the Church at large began to 
estimate his power as an expositor, was not only 
replete with fine scholarship, but throbbed with 
spiritual passion. It was in the fifth year of 
his ministry that he issued his volume on the 
Epistles to the Thessalonians, and a little later 
the one on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 
both in the " Expositor s Bible " Series. They 
were preached largely to the Broughty Ferry 
congregation. These works show Denney to 



THE PREACHER 51 

be, what in every sense he was, the scholar, 
thorough, accurate, impartial, critical, but 
also far more than that. He was a great 
moral and religious force, an eminent Christian 
doctor of his generation, a kind of national 
conscience to his ministerial brethren in all 
the Churches. What was said about a cele 
brated preacher may be said about Denney. 
" His inmost spirit has been busy with 
the New Testament doctrines, as one who 
lived in the presence of great subjects, 
subduing him, restraining him, calling for self- 
recollection and sober words." He " toiled 
terribly " and at length arrived at a style 
of writing which was the acme of lucidity. 
Thus too he came to speak with a readiness, 
clarity and keenness which were almost 
unexampled. For years he wrote none of his 
sermons, and one might listen to him in critical 
mood and yet fail to note a sentence un 
finished, a phrase incomplete or a word 
misplaced. It was in this way that he came 
to be the unique teacher, theologian, and 
leader that he proved himself. He had a perfect 
passion for preaching the Gospel of righteous 
ness. 

Sir W. Robertson Nicoll has told us that 
Denney was reticent in regard to his spiritual 
history, "but," he says, "we believe that his 



52 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

wife, who gave him the truest and most perfect 
companionship, led him into a more pro 
nounced evangelical creed. It was she who 
induced him to read Spurgeon, whom he had 
been inclined to despise. He became an 
ardent admirer of this preacher and a very 
careful and sympathetic student of his sermons. 
It was Spurgeon perhaps as much as any one 
who led him to the great decision of his life 
the decision to preach Christ our righteous 



ness. 



These men, Spurgeon and Denney, were 
great Puritans both that they were the 
last of the race we are loth to admit and 
each was master of a pure Saxon style of 
speech. Each also had learned to write with 
a majestic sense of simplicity, precision, and 
directness, and with a resolute limitation of 
ordinary statement by the severity of facts. 
And to one good woman too early taken, 
a l as | w ho made his home-life so happy, is 
largely due the credit of the evangelical basis 
of her husband s thinking, teaching, and 
preaching. Mary Carmichael Brown s memory 

a very precious one and too sacred a topic 

to be written of here is indeed blessed. 

In Broughty Ferry, Denney the scholar, so 
well read, and the teacher, so deeply thought, 
gave himself to the plain and simple duties 



THE PREACHER 53 

of the pastorate with a faithfulness and 
appetency which won the regard, not only of 
his own congregation, but of the general 
community as well. He had the qualities of 
the true Christian pastor, simplicity and 
modesty in a marked degree, manliness in 
taking a stand or in advocating a principle, 
nobility and unselfishness of disposition. To 
his intimates he was the truest, warmest, 
and tenderest of friends. Albeit he showed 
none of those social embellishments that make 
a man popular among his fellows. At times 
a remarkable restraint, not to say coldness, 
manifested itself in his demeanour. 

He was ever ready to serve a ministerial 
brother of his own Church or of any other 
Church on the smallest occasion, and in 
the humblest sphere. The Rev. Kirkwood 
Hewatt, M.A., late of Prestwick, writing in 
this connection of the modesty, simplicity, 
and unpretentiousness of Denney, after he 
had become the famous preacher and divine, 
says : 

" Let me give an instance. Some time 
ago there preached for me at Prestwick an 
eminent divine who apparently believed in the 
Philosophy of Clothes, for he brought with 
him a portmanteau in which was a varied 
assortment of ecclesiastical wearing apparel. 



54 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

Of the inventory I remember the following : 
A pulpit gown, a long cassock reaching to 
his heels, a cincture, a university hood, and 
bands. There was also a large, handsome 
sermon-case, as if such alone were worthy 
of the manuscripts it contained. Quite an 
elaborate toilet, with many glances at the 
mirror, was necessary before the great man 
was ready for the services of the day. In 
spite, however, of all this tailoring, millinery, 
and finery, he preached well. Later I had 
occasion to be associated with Dr. Denney 
in the conducting of services in a church in 
Glasgow. He was to take the morning and 
I the evening service. I attended the church 
in the earlier part of the day, and was with 
the Doctor in the vestry before the service. 

" He was dressed as an ordinary layman, 
the white tie alone differentiating him. 
I thought perhaps he intended to preach 
just as he stood before me, but almost at the 
last moment he took down from a peg a plain 
Geneva gown which he saw hanging there, 
and thus clothed upon, with no glance at 
any mirror, in due time followed the church 
officer to the pulpit. But as he proceeded 
with the service in his earnest way the simple 
attire appeared to add to the deep im 
pression he was making on the congregation." 



THE PREACHER 55 

James Denney preached incessantly through 
out his strenuous career generally twice 
every Sabbath. During the Brought y Ferry 
ministry, despite all his literary efforts, which 
must have made considerable inroads on the 
time at his disposal, he gained, as we have 
seen, the reputation of being a faithful pastor, 
who took a keen and intelligent interest in 
the general welfare of every member of his 
congregation even in the " lambs of the 
flock." 

A large part of Denney s pulpit work, as 
was fitting, went to the production of his 
first published volumes. It is well for the 
religious public that it is so preserved. For 
it is on record that when he left Broughty 
Ferry for the Chair of Systematic Theology 
in Glasgow, he made a bonfire of all his written 
sermons up to that date Such a holocaust 
has parallels. Sir W. Robertson Nicoll, when 
concluding his ministry at Kelso, on leaving 
for London to start the British Weekly, did 
the same with his sermon MSS. It was at 
the request of Sir William, who was at the 
time editor of the " Expositor s Bible," that 
the minister of Broughty Ferry gave his first 
two volumes to the public, Denney may have 
been but following his mentor s lead in the 
burning of the sermons. There is certainly no 



56 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

historic parallel in the incident referred to in 
Acts xix. 19. There the documents committed 
to the flames and reduced to ashes were worth 
"fifty thousand pieces of silver." They were 
famous in the ancient world. Literature of 
the kind had a special worth. It was supposed 
to be invested with a mystic virtue. Like 
Denney s sermons, the MSS. were calculated 
to awaken many a tender association and 
thrilling incident in life. Notwithstanding 
that and here is the only correspondence in 
the case conscience would have them go. 
Prudence might have pleaded, " Keep them 
but do not use them any more, or, if you do 
not keep them, publish them and give the 
proceeds to the poor." No ! Conscience is 
deaf to such pleadings, and her stern voice 
fulminates " Burn them, burn them ! " 



I 



Professor 



CHAPTER V 

THE PROFESSOR 

JAMES DENNEY S preaching power had now 
begun to win him fame even of an international 
kind. While minister in Broughty Ferry he 
was invited to deliver a course of theological 
lectures to the students of Chicago Theological 
Seminary, one of the " schools of the prophets " 
of outstanding merit in the States. The 
lectures were published at the request of the 
Faculty of that institution, and few books 
have exercised a more potent influence through 
out the religious world. The lectures when 
delivered attracted crowded audiences and 
gave rise to the keenest discussion. The 
University of Chicago set its hall-mark on their 
remarkable freshness and power, laureating 
this new teacher with its Doctorate of Divinity, 
a degree most rarely conferred on any 
preachers, either American or British. The 
distinction brought Denney still more prom 
inently before the ministry and membership 
of his own church, and he was thus marked 
conspicuously for the first vacant Chair in any 
59 



60 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

of the Colleges. The opportunity came when 
he was appointed to succeed the late erudite 
Dr. James Candlish in the Chair of Systematic 
Theology in Glasgow Free Church College, 
but it was not without a pang of regret that 
Denney left his attached congregation in 
Broughty Ferry for the even more responsible 
work of being a teacher of teachers in the 
great city of the West. This man who was 
now, above others, making for our Scottish 
scholarship a name and a fame throughout 
the civilized world, realized that it was through 
the opportunity given him by this congre 
gation that he had been enabled to build the 
rich and noble edifice of his great learning. 
The eleven years spent in his first pastorate, 
he once told a friend, were the happiest years 
of his life. In a very reverend and beautiful 
sense his successor in the Broughty Ferry 
congregation, the Rev. Frank Cairns, has said, 
" Dr. Denny was minister of the East Church 
till the day of his death." Never a year passed 
without his appearing in his old pulpit. But 
the call of his Church to the larger service 
was imperative, and Denney entered upon 
his great task, now recognized as one of 
the most distinguished theologians of his 
generation, possessing that remarkable com 
bination of qualifications even for a professor 



THE PROFESSOR 61 

great scholarship, deep spiritual insight, 
keen critical power, and a unique gift of 
lucid and effective statement. He responded 
to the summons of his Church with the full 
intention of making not merely scholars and 
ministers, but also believers. For this was 
a very true, profound, and noble Christian 
gentleman who made his advent within 
the Glasgow College walls. It was seen that 
resolution, collectedness, consciousness of equip 
ment were salient features of his character, 
together with a quiet finality of tone. His 
presence in the classroom at once created a 
feeling of the reality of the innermost, 
deepest and most sacred things in religion 
the holiness and love of God, the riches of the 
great salvation, the authority and decisiveness 
of the voice of Christ, the ineffable worth 
and incomparable happiness of the Christian 
life, the wonder of the immortal hope. 
Little marvel that students began to be 
attracted to the Glasgow College by the com 
bined fame of Dr. Denney and Dr. George Adam 
Smith, who was then in the Hebrew Chair, and 
who had by this time attained an enviable 
fame. Young men of different nationalities, 
eager and aspiring, were to be found sitting 
at the feet of these peerless teachers. Side 
by side have been seen Jew, Indian, Japanese, 



62 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

Italian, men from the States and Canada, 
Englishmen, Irishmen and Welshmen as well. 
Every foreign student took at least one 
session under Denney. Post-graduates, too, 
were to be seen amongst the number, men 
who had given up a year of active ministry 
to gain the stimulus of work and the enrichment 
of mind which every diligent student received 
in Denney s class. In the College his personal 
influence as a spiritual force was great. He 
was a living conscience among the men. 
A favourite phrase of their professor was 
" creating a conscience," and this he did 
himself. For even more prominent than his 
teaching was the high standard of duty and 
responsibility he set up for those who would 
be ministers of Jesus Christ. He demanded 
honest preparation from his students. To the 
man who skulked he could be terribly severe. 
On occasion, the whole class has feared and 
trembled, and been sorry for the student 
who came under his lash. And yet there 
was no temper shown. He did not storm 
or rage as others would have done. He let 
his class see when anything displeased him, 
but only in a stern, quiet way. Consequently 
there never was inattention, as there might 
be in the case of other teachers. All was 
tenseness and alertness, and no one dared 



THE PROFESSOR 63 

to take liberties lest he should bring down 
>a severe rebuke on his own devoted head. 
For the professor could reprimand and 
criticize severely, and be very caustic, some 
times almost mercilessly so, as when he referred 
to a certain hapless wight as " not having 
the ghost of a glimmering of an idea of what 
he is talking about/ 

On the other hand, Denney would praise 
.also, with frank and full generosity. To 
anything that indicated patient toil he gave 
unstinted commendation. 

Students sometimes felt rather shy of 
Dr. Denney, and were overawed by him, 
,and possibly he was a little shy himself. 
There was even at times a suspicion of coldness 
and distance between professor and student. 
When the reserve was overcome, however, 
the professor showed himself intensely human. 
He was friendly and genial in the side-room, 
or when he was " at home " to the men. Many 
thought differently of Denney after an evening 
spent in his study. He had the knack of 
making the students open their minds to him 
in private. They always found him kind and 
patient and considerate when they broached 
spiritual or intellectual difficulties. If his 
answers failed to satisfy, he yet left the im 
pression of his sympathy with the questioner. 



64 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

At the College he was the final court of appeal 
in all matters pertaining to theology. " What 
is Dr. Denney s view ? " was quite a common 
query when some knotty problem was under 
discussion in the lobby or at the dining-table 
in the hall. He was Sir Oracle among the 
men. With all the ardour of hero-worshippers 
they reckoned the final word unspoken till 
he had had his say. His judgment, ever 
weighty, carried with it universal respect. 
With all his great gifts he was one of the most 
modest of men, simple to a degree in his 
manner, and wholly free from pretentiousness 
of any kind. He never tried to shine in 
society, but could appraise it at discretion. 

The Rev. Robert McKinlay, M.A., East 
Kilbride, recalls how Dr. Denney once told, 
with great good humour, a story of Spurgeon 
and his love for the weed. Mr. McKinlay 
had himself related a tale on this subject to 
the professor, and the latter, by way of rejoinder, 
said, " I know a better one. An old lady met 
Spurgeon one day, and remonstrated with him 
about his smoking. Spurgeon replied, I do 
not see any harm in it as long as one does not 
smoke to excess/ And pray, Mr. Spurgeon,. 
what would you call smoking to excess ? 
Then came the withering retort, Madam,, 
smoking two cigars at once ! " This story 



THE PROFESSOR 65 

Denney told with extreme relish and abandon. 
It recalls that other about Spurgeon being 
quizzed as to his alleged tobacco smoking 
propensities by some quid, nunc, who was met 
with the rejoinder from the famous preacher, 
" Friend, I cultivate my own garden and 
burn my weeds ! " Denney himself had a 
very strong sense of humour, in spite of his 
tense and keen nature. No one could be 
lighter in touch and more genial or a propos 
than he, say in an after-dinner speech or at 
some informal function. His deep humanness 
and humour were a constant revelation to those 
who were admitted to his friendship. 

These features came out in his conversation, 
and also, as for instance, in an hour of relaxa 
tion from severer studies, over a game of whist 
his chief recreation even to the last a pastime 
in which he maintained not only a keen interest 
but a certain facility in play. As an out-door 
diversion, and doubtless for health s sake, he 
had recourse to cycling in his later years, but 
did not persevere in this, probably finding 
it a rather independent and solitary sort of 
sport. He did much walking, even refusing 
to take cabs or tramcars on Sundays for 
far-off preaching engagements, in the city or 
suburbs. Only latterly, when constrained by 
weather or physical inability, did he use 





66 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

these means of conveyance on the sacred day. 
His brisk, sharp pace, and purposelike air 
when on duty or business intent, were con 
spicuous upon the streets of Glasgow. 

Professor James Moffatt, D.D., says that 
people sometimes spoke of Denney as a great 
force, but those who knew him could not think 
of him as a force : he was human ; a grave, 
rich, generous personality, who never talked 
down to you, who gave you of his best, who 
never domineered, who came to move as easily 
among many men as he did among many books, 
and who impressed you with the conscious sense 
of being far more than anything he said or did, 
or wrote, no matter how you admired those 
products of his mind. And similarly the 
Rev. Professor Carnegie Simpson, D.D., of 
Westminster College, Cambridge, testifies: 
" There was no kind of ignorant narrowness 
about Denney. He was as critical as he was 
conservative, and knew when to be agnostic, 
as when to be dogmatic ; all his thinking had 
moreover the spacious and furnished background 
of not merely ample philosophical, theological 
and critical knowledge, but also a really wide 
humanistic culture. His acquaintance with 
letters was remarkable. He knew authors 
through and through, and could appreciate all 
types. I have heard him in one mood quote 



THE PROFESSOR 67 

whole passages of Dante or the Greek tragedians ; 
in another, reel off with not less than passion 
verses of Catullus. It needs, however, more 
than mere reading to make the true humanist ; 
and Denney had more. He had the really 
experiencing mind. He knew more than what 
authors had said about life ; he knew what 
human life really is and means." 

While theology, as we have seen, was the 
chief concern of Dr. Denney s life, it therefore 
by no means summed up his abounding in 
tellectual interest. His joy was to revel in 
the great literature of the world, a joy expanded 
beyond the usual range, because of his superb 
linguistic acquirements. " He loved Homer 
and Shakespeare, Goethe and Burns, Burke 
and Johnson. The great humorists were his 
constant refreshment. A literary lecture from 
his lips had the savour and sympathy of a 
true humanism no less than the unerring 
appreciation of moral aims. It cannot be 
doubted that had Dr. Denney given himself 
to literature, his insight and faculty of 
expression would have produced work of 
enduring value." 

It was indeed a great treat to hear him 
lecture on such a topic for instance as " Samuel 
Johnson." The present writer recalls such 
an experience, on a dull November afternoon 



68 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

in the hall of a West End Church, in Glasgow, 
where Denney was announced to speak. There 
were but a handful of people present, the 
gathering being under the auspices of a Ladies 
Literary Society connected with the congrega 
tion. But the smallness of the audience had 
apparently no effect upon the lecturer. He 
handled his theme con amore. In lucid and 
convincing style, with an abandon that was 
refreshing to witness, he dealt with the out 
standing features of the great Essayist s career. 
None present could fail to be impressed by 
his grip of the subject in hand or be in doubt 
of his meaning, for on this and all such public 
occasions he wielded " the power that flows 
from the correspondence of word with thought." 
But it was in the Professor s chair that 
Dr. Denney was seen at his greatest and best. 
Here he proved himself to be one of the fore 
most champions of the most central doctrines 
of our Faith the Divinity and the Atoning 
Sacrifice of our Blessed Lord. For three 
years he taught the class of Systematic 
Theology in his College, but in 1900, as a conse 
quence of the union of the Free Church of 
Scotland with the United Presbyterian Church, 
he was transferred to the Chair of New Testa 
ment Language, Literature and Theology, 
thus succeeding the late Professor A. B. Bruce,, 



THE PROFESSOR 69 

his immediate predecessor in the pastorate 
at Broughty Ferry. It has been pointed 
out that as his philosophical equipment made 
him a fitting successor to Candlish, so his 
classical attainments designated him, in the 
year of the Union of the Churches, as worthy 
to carry on the work of Bruce in the Chair 
of New Testament Language and Literature. 

His colleague, Professor Clow, writes : " For 
this Chair of New Testament Exegesis he was 
uniquely prepared. Wide as was the range 
of his reading in all literature, as his apt quota 
tions from many languages gave evidence, and 
thorough as was his mastery of the whole 
round of theological scholarship, he was 
essentially a man of one book. That book- 
was the New Testament. Its history, its 
sources, its authors, and especially the Gospel 
writers, and Paul as their interpreter, called 
forth from him all his powers, with a deep 
joy in their exercise. To state the problem 
of a great passage, to trace and lay bare the 
writer s thought, to expound the doctrines 
and apply the message to the lives of men, 
was a visible delight to him, as it was a devout 
fascination to his students. The proposal 
made later, by those who did not know him 
well, to transfer him back to the Chair of 
Systematic Theology, because of his out- 



70 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

standing competence, evoked from him a 
keen protest. He lived in and loved the 
world arid personalities disclosed by the New 
Testament of Jesus Christ, his Redeemer." 
This is a just estimate. Denney s interests 
gathered especially round the Atonement of 
his Lord and Master. In the class room he 
ever emphatically declared " the unsearch 
able riches of Christ." The doctrine of the 
Atonement was central to his system. 

What many thinkers reckon to be his greatest 
work, bears the suggestive title The Atonement 
and the Modern Mind. He proposed that 
subscription to the Westminster Confession 
of Faith should be abandoned in favour of a 
Scriptural Confession, such as " I believe in 
God, through Jesus Christ, His only Son, 
our Lord and Saviour." This statement of 
Dr. Denney, profound yet simple, has been 
more quoted than any other of his. It is 
symbolic of the Church s unity of faith. It has 
even now accomplished more than perhaps 
he knew, in quickening a general desire for 
a modification of the Church s Standard into 
a formula at once vital, essential, unspeculative, 
and religious. From the sympathetic recep 
tion rendered by Churchmen generally to 
Dr. Denney s plea for a simple undogmatic 
creed for Scotland, is it too much to hope that 



THE PROFESSOR 71 

the project may some day soon materialize ? 
More of our young men of fine intellect might 
be led to embrace the Christian ministry as 
a calling were the case for the creed thus 
simplified. The students who came under 
Professor Denney s teaching must have realized 
a discrepancy between the Church s practice 
and profession on this vital question. 

Recalling impressions of the professor s 
pregnant teaching on the doctrine of the 
Atonement, the Rev. Robert McKinlay, M.A., 
writes : " One thinks of him pre-eminently as 
the great exponent of the Cross. Many of his 
comments on the subject are simply unfor 
gettable. He was speaking once of the 
tendency of some Protestants to minimize 
the Cross. If I had the choice/ said he, 
between being such an one and a Roman 
Catholic priest, I had rather be the priest 
lifting up the Cross to a dying man, and saying, 
" God loved like that ! " It was said with 
such a quiet intensity that it burned itself 
upon the mind ineffaceably. 

" Again he was speaking of the Mass and the 
Roman Catholic accretions to the Cross. He 
maintained that even in the Mass human souls 
found the virtue of the Cross. Then he 
added, Gentlemen, the Cross is such a thing 
that even when you bury it, you bury it 



72 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

ALIVE. The very ground seemed to open 
at our feet, and a flaming Cross came up 
and stood over us, and we were overawed and 
thrilled, and said, in heart if not in speech, 
How dreadful is this place. This is none 
other but the house of God, and this is the 
gate of heaven. 

" After they had left the College Dr. Denney 
was most generous in helping his students 
and preaching for them. It was a great 
occasion when he came down and stayed at 
the Manse. The present writer had the 
privilege of listening to two sermons, one 
glorious Sabbath day. The style was the 
style of absolute simplicity, but wonderfully 
moving and penetrating. He could, as few 
men can, dredge the silt of the soul, and probe 
its depths. When he spoke of Jesus receiving 
sinners, I remember still the suppressed 
passion twitching the muscles of the lips, and 
moving in the face, and revealing itself in a 
sentence which was almost explosive and 
shattering in its stark but living simplicity 
and reality. 

"Whatever the future may bring with regard 
to his theological impression of the Cross, it 
will find few greater lovers of the Cross than 
Dr. James Denney. Whatever fuller know 
ledge modern psychology may give us of the 



THE PROFESSOR 73 

problems associated with the person of the 
Messiah, it will not give us a man who was 
more passionately devoted to Jesus Christ, 
one whose whole nature in fuller measure 
thrilled to the mention of the name of Jesus, 
the Friend of publicans and sinners. 

" Of the Christ of the Cross, Dora Greenwell 
has said : 

" His feet have tracked the crimson stains 
That lead up from the halls of dread. 

" These words might now be applied to this 
great servant of Jesus Christ. No doubt he has 
come into the true secret of that Cross, where 
there is no longer Calvinist or Arminian, 
Protestant or Papist, Churchman or Dissenter. 
The Cross is such a tree that it grows and over 
shadows, and brings all under its wide and 
benevolent embrace." 

Thus Dr. Denney s own thought ever centred 
in the New Testament, and from that position 
he was not to be moved. " The New Testa 
ment is not simply a document to be examined 
under the microscope of the scholar ; it is the 
record of an abounding life, which in a hundred 
varying accents of love and gratitude bears 
tribute to the Christ who redeemed it and 
reconciled it to God." It was his standard for 
judging all systems of theological thinking. 
The system is right if it has the spirit of the 



74 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

New Testament pervading it ; wrong if it is 
alien thereto. Impressively he would urge 
upon the men of the College the not-to-be- 
disputed value and authority of its teaching. 
This essentially. On other questions he might 
be broad-minded, and be willing to travel far 
in the company of scholars and critics with 
many of whose views he sympathized. But 
he had the faculty of caution, and the men 
were certain that their teacher had not reached 
his advanced position without deep and 
anxious study or the assurance that he was 
right. For convinced he was on every subject 
that he spoke on, and he invariably carried 
conviction with him. He never was afraid 
to cross swords with any theologian if he 
considered him to be on wrong lines. Ritschl 
occasionally came in for some heavy castiga- 
tion, and yet, like most present-day religious 
thinkers, he himself was much influenced by 
Ritschlianism. What was good in a man s 
thinking, his mind readily assimilated ; it 
as readily tossed off all that was unworthy or 
seemed to be so. Dealing with dogma as he 
did, the dogmatic temper occasionally made 
him appear to his students to be somewhat 
" narrow " ; they perhaps could not help 
thinking he was so at times. His absolute 
justice, fearless courage, and keen penetration 



THE PROFESSOR 75 

of all sham and pretence made him the " living 
conscience " to the College. Even more 
prominent than his teaching was the high 
standard of duty and responsibility he set 
up for those who would be ministers of Jesus 
Christ. Being dead he yet speaketh, and 
the candour, sympathy and earnestness im 
parted to his student auditors will continue 
to tell powerfully upon the Church for many 
years to come. 

The much-lamented demise, in 1914, of the 
Rev. Principal Thomas M. Lindsay, D.D., 
LL.D., who for forty years was identified with 
the Glasgow College, led to the appointment 
of Dr. Denney as his natural successor in the 
Principalship. He was himself a product of 
the College, the first student from among its 
alumni to be appointed a Professor within 
its walls. The institution was proud of the 
fact that it had trained a man of such out 
standing scholarship, and above all of devout 
faith and of such absolute and adoring devotion 
to his Lord. When the General Assembly 
met in 1915, it was found that there had been 
a most remarkable concensusof opinion through 
out the Church as to this appointment. The 
name of Professor Denney was the only one 
sent up by the Presbyteries. When the 
venerable Dr. George Reith rose to nominate 



76 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

him, he felt he had an easy task. In a hearty 
and eulogistic speech, he briefly portrayed 
the prominent characteristics of his nominee, 
and remarked that Dr. Denney had not only 
broken the record by being the first Professor 
who had come out of the Glasgow College, but 
once again the record was about to be broken 
by their appointment of him to the Principal- 
ship. The nomination was seconded by Sir 
David Paulin, and there followed one of those 
remarkable demonstrations which ever live in 
the memory of all who are privileged to take 
part in them. The proposal was received 
with acclaim, and the whole Assembly rose 
to its feet whilst the newly-elected Principal 
was introduced to the house, escorted by his 
proposer and seconder. It was a magnificent 
and moving spectacle that was only intensified 
by the humble bearing of the man on whom 
was conferred this spontaneous tribute. In 
a few brief sentences he indicated his willingness 
to accept the appointment, an intimation that 
was received with loud and prolonged applause 
on the part of the Assembly. Thus he took 
the highest honours with his accustomed 
simplicity and modesty, and made at the time, 
in reply to a message of congratulation, the 
characteristic remark, " The chief joy of such 
things is the demonstration they give of the 



THE PROFESSOR 77 

amount of goodwill there is in the world." 
It was in such serene temper that the late 
revered Principal Rainy was accustomed to 
take the manifestations of generosity and 
distinction that fell to his lot. 

The present writer happened to return to Glas 
gow from the Assembly on its closing night in 
the same railway compartment as Dr. Denney. 
Being there for the day in his official capacity 
as chairman of the Congregational Union of 
Scotland and as guest of the Moderator he had 
received much kindness and hospitality at the 
hands of United Free Churchmen, and especially 
from Professor McEwen, whose Moderator s 
breakfasts constituted the early diurnal round. 
We had just listened to the closing address of 
the Moderator who, alas ! in such a brief space 
of time was to be called away the echoes of 

" Pray that Jerusalem may have 
Peace and felicity," 

were still ringing in our hearts, and the 
homeward way was taken, brightened by 
lively conversation. In the carriage, Principal 
Denney, with his honours fresh upon him, sat im 
mediately opposite to the writer, and one could 
not fail to notice the placid look on the fine 
countenance. But he seemed to prefer to listen 
to the talk of others, rather than be communica 
tive himself. The hour of the railway journey 



78 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

quickly passed, but the touch of humanity came 
out at its close, when, as hurried farewells were 
being said at Queen Street, Denney insisted on 
one of his old students, who was of the company, 
sharing his taxi-cab, their journey westward 
lying in the same direction. A small matter, 
one might say ! But it showed the man. 

The Principalship was the crowning honour 
of Denney s career. It came to him within 
two years of his lamented demise, but it left 
unspoiled his noble simplicity of nature. 
No man held in slighter regard the avidity 
for place and power so manifest in these 
days, or gauged more accurately the value 
of the mere externalities of life. And no 
man cared more for the realities. Natural 
and unaffected he pursued his way, undertaking 
and fulfilling great tasks, and small, as occasion 
called; never found wanting in loyalty to his 
Church, in fidelity to principle, in devotion to 
his Saviour and Master. Such things, I repeat, 
make known to us the man. They were touches 
of beauty in the high calling of his earthly 
ministry ; they have added lustre to his memory 
now that he has gone from us to the higher 
service. 
4i He had ten talents and he used them all, 

Courage to face and fight his Captain s foes ; 

Patience to wait for dawn at eventide, 

Strength to endure the conflict to life s close. 



THE PROFESSOR 79 

Vision to scan the grand Invisible, 
A heart in tune with the Eternal plan, 
A soaring soul, a steadfast, eager will, 
To right the wrongs of every fellow-man. 

Passion for toil, for truth, for native beauty, 
He showed what all our mortal hours may be, 
A walk with God, in joy-transfigured duty, 
Beneath Love s waving flag of Liberty. 

Lord help us now, Thy poor one-talent men, 
Bravely to spend their one as he spent ten ! " 



Author 



CHAPTER VI 
THE AUTHOR 

FROM what has been written, it is evident that 
in his own department of theology James 
Denney was facile princeps. In the sphere 
of New Testament studies he found his life- 
work, and gained an influence and authority 
acknowledged far beyond the bounds of his 
own Church or land. He was said to know 
thoroughly seven different languages. The 
classical and literary scholarship which he 
brought to bear upon his sacred studies was 
in the highest degree technically complete. 
It was noteworthy that he could quote the 
New Testament with as much ease in the 
original as in English. He had won his way 
into, and dwelt continuously in, the passion 
of the great experience that beats behind it. 
He exulted in its freedom. Not only an 
intense desire for exact scholarship, but a 
determination to reach the very heart of Gospel 
word or incident, was characteristic of the 
man. His fine appreciation of the exact value 
of the Greek and English tongues brought 
83 



84 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

Denney to the level of the great expository 
writers like Westcott, Alford, Lightfoot and 
others. 

In the fifth year of his ministry at Broughty 
Ferry he made his first big venture in 
publishing, It took the form of a volume 
on the Epistles to the Thessalonians. This 
and a companion volume, on the second 
Epistle to the Corinthians, issued a little 
later, comprised much of his expository pulpit 
teaching. Not only fine scholarship but 
spiritual passion characterize these works, which 
were given to the public by their author at 
the request of Sir William Robertson Nicoll. 
Dr. Marcus Dods, that noted and scholarly 
exegate, had written the companion volume 
of this series on First Corinthians, and Denney s 
work had necessarily to bear comparison 
with that of Dr. Dods. The younger man s 
production stood the test. It showed him 
at once to be the competent linguist, the 
capable expositor, and the reliable historian. 
Thessalonians consists of expositions preached 
regularly from week to week, bearing the 
stamp of the preacher s intense individuality, 
but omitting the critical element of divergent 
interpretations. Second Corinthians reveals 
his true exegetical power. In the introduc 
tion, he argues ably and conclusively for the 






THE AUTHOR 85 

immediate dependence of the Second Epistle 
to the Corinthians on the First. Then the 
exposition is entered upon, after the manner 
that has always been familiar in the Scottish 
Church, under the special title of " lecturing/ 
One of the most appreciated features of this 
volume is the emphasis laid upon the cir 
cumstances which called the letter forth, 
and of the people to whom it was written, 
till we actually seem to know them, and live 
among them. 

It was the intrinsic merit of these two volumes 
that secured the attention of the senators of 
Glasgow University, who gave Denney at the 
early age of 39 their honorary Doctorate of 
Divinity. Then the young author s power 
began to win for him a more than national 
reputation. His volume found a ready public, 
especially in America, and resulted, as already 
indicated, in an invitation to the author, in the 
early part of 1894, to deliver a course of 
lectures to the alumni of Chicago University. 
The lectures attracted crowded audiences, and 
evoked keen discussion. It was the one on 
Holy Scripture that mainly, perhaps entirely, 
caused the " fluttering " in the ecclesiastical 
dovecots. The reason we may never know, for 
when in the autumn of that year the lectures 
were published under the title of Studies in 



86 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

Theology, it was found that this particular 
lecture had been written over again by the 
author, who had now made it the only one in 
the volume that is difficult to read. The others 
constitute most profitable reading, as if Denney 
had made his own the art of making systematic 
theology human. 

In his Life of Gladstone, Mr. Morley 
tells how the excitement of his viva voce 
examination for the degree culminated when 
the examiner, after satisfying himself about 
Gladstone s mastery of some point in theology, 
said, " We will now leave that part of the 
subject " ; and the candidate, carried away by 
his interest in the subject answered, "No, 
sir ; if you please, we will not leave it yet." 

This keen intellectual interest in theology 
characterized Dr. Denney to the last working 
day of his life. " We will not leave it yet." 
It was no quaint, old-world fancy that made 
theology the " queen of the sciences " to him. 
Her royal title could not be disputed. After 
natural science had explored the physical 
universe, and psychology had disentangled the 
working of the mind, and metaphysics had 
investigated the first principles of Nature and 
thought, theology was necessary to give man 
his ultimate conception of the universe. As 
all roads led to Rome, so all true knowledge, 



THE AUTHOR 87 

in Dr. Denney s view, leads to God, in and 
through whom positive science becomes in 
telligible. 

Hence at theology he worked with all the 
ardour of an explorer. Had he lived to be a 
hundred years of age he could never have 
become a " fossil." What he gave to his 
students and readers was his latest thought 
at the time, but they had no guarantee that 
his position would be exactly the same a year 
hence. True to the evangelical faith, convinced 
and strong in his assertion of the deity of our 
Lord and the reality and efficacy of the Atone 
ment, he was not the man to be content with 
a traditional statement of these doctrines. 
His keen, restless mind was constantly search 
ing into the deep things of God, and he who 
could not always satisfy himself with his 
theories was the last man to ask others to 
accept them as final. " We will not leave it 
yet," he seemed to say, especially to the men 
whom he trained for the ministry, but also to 
all readers of his books. 

It is certainly no suggestion of any " New 
Theology " in these Studies that fascinates 
the reader, nor any expectation of novelty 
to come. The salient chapters of the book 
deal with the doctrine of the Atonement. 
There is undoubtedly a candid acceptance- 



88 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

of modern criticism but this is conjoined 

with absolute loyalty to the central doctrines 

of the faith " once for all delivered to the 

saints." The meaning of the Cross is the 

same as Denney learnt it at his mother s 

knee. Like others he had travelled far since 

then, but fetching his circle, while making 

sure of his centre first, he had now returned, 

and whatever Sturm und Drang, or Wander jahre, 

he may have experienced, of these there is here 

no sign. This is seen to be the merit shall 

we say the miracle ? of the book. And 

yet in circles on both sides of the Atlantic 

our author caused some soreness to too 

sensitive orthodoxy. The Studies constituted 

an essentially conservative volume, in many 

of its chapters pleasing even the ultra-orthodox 

section of his own Free Church, but not all. 

Of course, by this time the days of heresy 

hunts had well-nigh spent themselves in that 

communion, and only murmurs of dissent 

were manifest when Denney was proposed 

as Professor in the Glasgow College. For 

years afterwards, however, references to his 

attitude towards the Scriptures and the 

doctrines of the Church were common, and 

once, at all events, called forth an important 

pronouncement from himself. It happened in 

this way : 



THE AUTHOR 89 

An interesting discussion took place in 
December, 1904, at the monthly meeting of 
the Glasgow United Free Church Presbytery 
(the union between the Free and United Pres 
byterian Churches having been consummated 
In 1900), when the Rev. John Buchan moved 
" That in view of the attacks now being 
made on our creed, this Presbytery overture 
the General Assembly to re-affirm the Church s 
belief in the infallibility of Holy Scripture 
and the doctrines of the Confession as hitherto 
received among us." In doing so, he said it 
was from no factious spirit that he had tabled 
this motion that the Assembly should be 
overtured as re-affirming the doctrine of the 
Church. It was solely because he had among 
his people some who were very seriously 
disturbed in this connection. He thereafter 
referred to a case of difficulty in his own congre 
gation. One of his workers was in trouble in 
regard to leaving the Church, and, on being 
reasoned with, said, " How can you expect 
me to remain in the Church when one of its 
accredited teachers denies the Davidic author 
ship of the noth Psalm ? " At the end of 
a somewhat lengthy address, Mr. Buchan said 
that since he had given notice of his motion 
the Convocation had met, and his object had 
been gained much more quickly than by waiting 



go PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

for the Assembly. He therefore begged to 
withdraw his motion 

Professor Denney, after some discussion, was 
allowed to make a statement. He said that 
he was the teacher referred to in connection 
with the authorship of the noth Psalm. He 
asserted that Christ did not teach anything 
about the authorship of the psalm. He spoke 
of the authorship of the psalm as every one else 
in His time would have spoken. He taught 
that He was what He was, that He was the 
Christ, not in virtue of a particular relationship 
to David, but in virtue of a particular relation 
ship to God. That was what Christ was 
teaching. Professor Denney, continuing, said 
that for his own part he was convinced that 
the psalm did not belong to the age of David, 
for the reasons that would convince him of any 
other question of the same kind, and that 
conviction did not touch in the least his 
assurance of the unique relationship between 
Christ and the Father. If the motion had been 
pressed he frankly confessed he would have 
moved a direct negative, on the ground that 
to ask the General Assembly to affirm the 
doctrine of the Church would be to ask the 
Assembly to affirm something that people 
who read those words would not take in the 
same sense. There were people to whom 



THE AUTHOR 91 

infallibility of Holy Scripture meant that we 
had the authority of Jesus for ascribing the 
noth Psalm to David. 

The Rev. Dr. W. Ross Taylor, at this stage, 
said that he did not think they should enter into 
a general discussion, and after some remarks 
from other speakers in the same direction, 
Professor Denney said he would just state 
that it was quite possible for him to profess 
his faith in the infallibility of Scripture. He 
believed if a man committed his mind and 
heart humbly and sincerely to the teaching 
and guidance of the Holy Scripture, it would 
bring him right with God and give him a know 
ledge of God and of eternal life. But literal 
accuracy and inerrancy were totally different 
(things ; and they did not believe in that at all. 
It was no use employing a form of words that 
would mislead people into thinking they did 
believe it. They believed in the Bible as 
something that if they committed themselves 
to, it would infallibly bring them to the 
knowledge of God and eternal life in Jesus 
Christ. 

Thus Denney proved himself a sane and 
open-minded champion of essential orthodoxy 
and held that { it could be commended to 
the reasonable modern mind. ^ He was a keen 
critic o^ the Ritschlian " value judgments " 



92 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

theory in which the criterion of any doctrine 
was not so much " Is it true ? " as " Is it 
useful ? " He was evangelical to the core, 
and fervently evangelistic in his insistence on 
the necessity of power rather than eloquence 
and smartness in preaching or teaching. As 
a theologian his mental poise and tolerance 
towards schools of thought from which he 
differed radically, made him, it is true, suspect 
to certain ultra-orthodox evangelicals. He 
hated, with a perfect hatred, surface generaliza 
tions and rule-of-thumb methods of avoiding 
patient working to established conclusions. 
He wanted to be sure that he knew what he 
knew most of all to be sure of Christ. Ever 
making Him the centre of the circle of his 
thought, he argued for a serious doctrine of 
the person of Christ, that could be reconciled 
with the phenomena of personal and col 
lective Christian experience. He was no mere 
mental gladiator, as his friend the enemy 
at times suggested. His supreme desire always, 
was not to win controversial victories, but to 
confirm the faith of men in the impregnable 
Rock, Christ Jesus. Less and less did he 
put his trust in credal and confessional attempts, 
whether of Nicaea or Westminster, to limit 
Christ to the mental outlook of a school or 
an age. Hence his proposal, embodied in 



THE AUTHOR 93 

the concluding section of his book Christ and 
the Gospel, that creed subscription should 
be abandoned in favour of a comprehensive 
and Scriptural confession of faith, which should 
bind the members of the Church to the Christian 
attitude to Christ, and to nothing else. He 
recognized that it was neither wholesome nor 
Christian for men to teach doctrines in defiance 
of a formulated creed to which they had 
adhibited their signature, and which no longer 
expressed their living faith. Even Declaratory 
Acts did not give the necessary relief. We 
search in vain through the Gospels for any 
creed that our Lord imposed. The Church 
should either re-write her creed or give us a 
simpler one expressed in terms which cease 
to irritate and to which a man can honestly 
affirm. 

Surely it is not beyond the wit or province 
of a General Assembly, met in solemn con 
clave, to approve some such creed as Denney 
suggested, enabling those who desire to 
avail themselves of the provision to have 
the right to substitute it for the old. 
There should be no question of the " dead 
hand " of the I7th century theologian holding 
it back. 

According to our modern thought, no one 
has the right to fetter property for all time 






94 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

far less the human mind; and the owner 
of the " dead hand," if he were here to-day, 
would probably be a convert to liberal opinion ! 

The Church will speak with the note of 
authority, and command the respect of a 
democratic age only, when she stands before 
men spiritually free. Her ministers will not 
win attention from the coming generation 
unless they are delivered from every suspicion 
of unworthy motive of reserve. The Church 
must believe in the presence of the Spirit of 
Christ which is the spirit of truth in the 
world to-day and in the future as in the 
past. 

Dr. Denney s proposal that creed subscription 
should be abandoned in favour of a compre 
hensive and Scriptural confession of faith, 
which, as he suggested might be " I believe 
in God through Jesus Christ, His only Son 
our Saviour," was based on the view that 
a man s or a Church s Christology was a thing 
apart from a vital personal faith, and if the 
faith were real the theological interpretation 
of it might be infinitely variable. That there 
was a good deal of ultra-orthodox discussion, 
and criticism of his personal confession of 
faith, as contained in the final sentences of 
his book Christ and the Gospel, goes without 
saying. His words are : " What Christ claims 



THE AUTHOR 95 

and what is His due is a place in the faith of 
men. ... To be true Christians we are thus 
bound to Him ; but we are not bound to 
any one else. . . We are not bound to any 
man s or to any Church s rendering of what 
He is or has done. We are not bound to any 
Christology or to any doctrine of the work 
of Christ." 

What above all things Denney sought for, 
was a doctrine that would preach. The 
evangelist," he remarks suggestively, "is in 
the last resort the judge of evangelical theology. 
If it does not serve his purpose it is not true/ 
Hence he envied, as he would assert on occasion, 
the Roman Catholic priest, who can preach 
with the crucifix in his hand. 

The Rev. Professor George Jackson, B.A., 
of Didsbury College, Manchester, writes : 

" Denney s great work has been done as a 
Christian theologian, and as an interpreter of 
Christian truth in terms of the modern mind. 
Speaking for myself, I do not know any man 
of his generation who has done so much for 
the revitalizing of evangelical theology and, if 
I may so say, for making it preachable. 
Very much that has gone by the name of 
theology in the past had been merely a matter 
of words and names, of definitions and proof 
texts a jacket of sun-dried pellets which its 



96 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

students could find no use for when they 
stood up in the presence of living men and 
women. But, as Denney himself once told me, 
he did not take the smallest interest in a 
theology which could not be preached. 

" Nature and grace had joined hands to make 
of Dr. Denney an almost ideal teacher of the 
religious teachers of this generation. He had,, 
to begin with, the glow and passion of the true 
evangelist. He held that the first, if often 
forgotten, duty of the Church is to evangelize, 
and that to that end all its best energies must 
be bent. I shall never forget how he emptied 
all the vials of his scorn on the head of some 
unlucky minister who had excused himself for 
giving what he called a simple evangelical 
address because he had not had time to pre 
pare a proper sermon. As if, said Denney, 
there was any task that could so tax the 
strength of the Christian preacher as to preach 
the love of God, and so to preach it that men 
should commit themselves to it. . . . 

" To all his great gifts of mind and heart was 
added a gift of style rare in writers of any 
kind, but especially rare in the realmof theology. 
Perhaps it is only a man who was brought up 
on the dull and stodgy theological handbooks 
of a generation ago who can appreciate to 
the full the clear, incisive, trenchant pages 



THE AUTHOR 



97 



of Denney s Studies in the same subject. 
After reading them one is tempted to wish 
that it were a law of the Church that no man 
should be suffered to teach theology who had 
not first given evidence of his power to write 
lucid and idiomatic English." 

To many, Denney s two volumes, The 
Death of Christ: its place and interpreta 
tion in the New Testament, and The Atone 
ment and the Modern Mind, have proved the 
most valuable of modern books on a central 
theme, because written in such close agreement 
with the New Testament . He is the outstanding 
modern author, who has accomplished more 
than almost any other in bringing this genera 
tion back to the rational view of the Atonement. 
His significant saying that not Bethlehem, but 
Calvary, is the centre of gravity in the New 
Testament is worthy of emphasis. While 
some critics have not unnaturally felt that 
these works set forth the Atonement as consisting 
of the death of Christ, rather than in the death 
of Christ, yet one feels in reading them that 
they have been written, so to speak, with his 
life s blood. 

He could say with Frederick W. Robertson 
of Brighton, "We have deliberately chosen 
the Cross for our portion, and it is no marvel 
if some of its blood is sprinkled on us. 



98 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

The Cross is dear, come how or when it 
will." 

Denney was sure of his ground. He was 
ever the Christ-intoxicated man, and what 
he wrote or told out with unequalled passion 
was this, that in the Cross, we see Jesus 
Christ in his sinlessness, dying the death of 
the sinful. There is the majesty and wonder 
of the Divine grace at man s disposal in 
the great Sacrificial Life. "All that sin 
meant for us all that in sin and through 
it had become ours God made His, and 
He made His own in death . . . God s 
righteousness is demonstrated at the Cross, 
because there, in Christ s death, it is made once 
for all apparent that He does not palter with 
sin ; the doom of sin falls by His appointment 
on the Redeemer. And it is possible, at the 
same time, to accept as righteous those who 
by faith unite themselves to Christ upon the 
Cross, and identify themselves with Him in 
His death ; for in doing so they submit in 
Him to the Divine sentence upon sin, and at 
bottom become right with God." Both in 
his writing and preaching, Dr. Denney con 
tinually emphasized the truth that at Calvary 
there was judgment of sin, as well as revelation 
of Divine love. A thought to which he delighted 
to give expression was this, that while some 



THE AUTHOR 



99 



say, God is love, therefore He requires no 
Atonement, the New Testament says, God is 
love, therefore He provides the Atonement. 
Only in this way is there found a Divine 
righteousness which " puts the ungodly in the 
right." 

Thus Calvary was ever the central point 
in Denney s theology. Like the great apostle 
of the Gentiles, his motto was, " I determined 
not to know anything among you, save Jesus 
Christ, and Him crucified." He derived 
inspiration from the sublime conception of 
Christ on the Cross, and in thoughts that 
breathed and words that burned, he poured 
out for the benefit of his fellows the convictions 
it quickened in his mind. One of his latest 
written statements was one of his most 
suggestive in this respect : " The apostles 
did not imagine the atoning power of the 
death of Jesus it is too great for imagination. 
They did not invent it to cloak the offence of 
the Cross ; it is too great to be a theological 
contrivance. No, but a new truth rose on 
their horizon as they looked on the perfect 
sacrifice of Jesus the truth of truths, beyond 
all telling wonderful that sin-bearing love 
is the supreme and final reality of the 
universe, and that here it is incarnate once 
for all. From Christ on His Cross, a goodness 



ioo PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

put forth its hand and touched them, which 
outweighed all the sin of the world, and made 
it impotent ; henceforth they believed in God 
through Him." True words, grand words, 
worthy to be written in letters of gold ! 

In Gospel Questions and Answers we have 
an admirable example of Denney s method 
as a preacher, at once scholarly and devout. 
Here we get an idea of how supreme was 
his faculty for making the New Testament 
intelligible as the record and deposit of an 
overwhelming experience of redemption, and 
for generating the conviction in the reader s 
mind that the Gospel incarnate in Jesus 
is the only thing that matters in the 

world. 

A most weighty volume by Dr. Denney is 
Jesus and the Gospel; a study of Christianity 
in the Mind of Christ. The reasoning here, 
in spite of certain critical concessions which 
some good people regretted, but which were 
doubtless indications of the author s frankness, 
and of his spirit of fearlessness is masterly 
and convincing. It was the very strength 
with which Denney held fast to the things 
at the centre that freed him from all anxiety 
as to what was happening along the circum 
ference. Every argument he uses in the book 
is charged with an extraordinary intenseness 



THE AUTHOR 101 

of religious feeling, which acts with a kind of 
compelling power upon the reader. 

Other writings of Denney include a volume 
of sermons entitled Eternal Life, the last work 
published in his lifetime, and dealing with 
problems arising out of the great European 
War. All of these works passed into several 
editions. The question has been asked, why 
was it that a book by James Denney should 
command so large a constituency in all parts 
of Christendom, waiting to receive it ? The 
answer is that no one can handle and 
ponder treatises of his without knowing that 
they contain nothing cheap, nothing mean, 
nothing wrought without toil of heart and 
brain, nothing unworthy of the great scholars 
and divines of his own native land in whose 
succession he stands. 

Referring to Dr. Denney s " precious com 
mentary " on the Epistle to the Romans, a 
contribution to the second volume of the 
Expositor s Greek Testament, Sir W. Robertson 
Nicoll describes it as " perhaps the very best 
piece of work he has ever accomplished." 
" We have," he says, " a certain mournful 
pride n thinking that we did something to 
induce him to come forward as an author. 
At that time he had made up his mind He 
was to preach the Cross of CHRIST on the 



IO2 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

one hand its power to save, and on the other 
its sharpness and sternness, its imperious calls 
to duty and self-denial. From this preaching 
of the Cross he was never moved, but as time 
went on, he became more and more master 
of a style which did justice to the great thought. 
It was his deep conviction that want of style 
prevented almost all Scottish theological books 
from reaching the first rank. Indeed he held 
that MacLeod Campbell s treatise on the 
Atonement was the only classical theological 
book that came from Scotland. Like Dale 
he drilled himself in Burke. " 

There was much in Denney that recalled 
Dale, and the older man recognized with joy 
a true fellow soldier. It cannot be said that 
Dr. Denney rose into poetry, or that his 
imagination was highly developed. There was, 
however, a deep evangelical tone in his writings. 
He learned to write with self-command, a 
majestic sense of simplicity and precision, a 
resolute limitation of general statement by the 
severity of facts. This serious clearness, this 
grasp of his own thoughts, is perhaps most 
plainly seen in his chief book, Jesus and the 
Gospel. What was said of a great preacher 
may be said about Denney. " His inmost 
spirit had been busy with the New Testament. 
He preached New Testament doctrines as one 



THE AUTHOR 103 

who lived in the presence of great subjects, 
subduing him, restraining him, calling for 
self-recollection, and sober words. By dint 
of constant labour, he arrived at a style which 
was the perfection of lucidity." 

It is a matter of deep satisfaction that 
the Cunningham Lectures on the Theology of 
Paul on which Dr. Denney was engaged 
when his illness came upon him were in such 
a forward condition as to ensure publication 
shortly after his death. Here we have an 
important presentation of the great fact of 
Christian thought and experience with which 
it deals. In this posthumous work there comes 
into play, the writer s qualities of clear and 
careful thinking, critical judgment and devotion 
to the evangelical faith, which had already 
gained for him distinction as an expounder of 
Chrsitian doctrine, Starting out historically, 
the author indicates the consciousness of 
tension that has always existed between 
man and his environment, and that the 
opportunity of Christian thinkers has been 
to explain that tension and to prove that in 
the Gospel there is a power which can remove 
and transcend it. In working out his theme, 
he emphasizes the need for the death of Christ, 
whilst giving place to the importance of Christ s 
example and the redemptive power of the 



104 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

perfect life, and finds in the cross the most 
signal instance of God s reaction against sin. 
The end of reconciliation is the acceptance 
of the mind of God with regard to sin, of love 
as the law of life and the exercise of reconciling 
power in human existence. 

The volume as a whole will match with the 
other works that Dr. Denney has left behind 
him. It is a fine testimony to his industry, 
piety and consecrated scholarship. The 
lectures deal with the Christian Doctrine 
of Reconciliation. The contents comprise : 
The Experimental Basis of the Doctrine ; 
Reconciliation in the Christian Thought of 
the Past; The New Testament Doctrine 
of Reconciliation ; The Need of Recon 
ciliation ; Reconciliation as achieved by 
Christ ; Reconciliation as realized in Human 
Life. The Rev. Principal Alexander Whyte, 
D.D., LL.D., says : " I do not know any modern 
book that has so much preaching power in it 
as this book has. And no old book, however 
true and powerful, will speak to preacher and 
hearer in our days as Dr. Denney s Recon 
ciliation will speak." Here it may suffice to 
say the author does himself justice again, in the 
domain of Dogmatic, as he had already proved 
his supreme merit in his chosen field of New 
Testament Theology. 
Although some may reckon his published 



THE AUTHOR 105 

contributions to Systematic Theology some 
what meagre, it should be remembered that, 
especially towards the close of his career, 
Dr. Denney furnished many such doctrinal 
articles to Religious Encyclopaedias and the 
high-class Theological and Religious magazines 
of the day. A memorable series of papers, 
for example, appeared on the Theology of 
the Epistle to the Romans in the Expositor 
for 1901, while for a consummately able study 
in Biblical Theology the reader s attention is 
directed to the article " Holy Spirit," in 
Hastings well-known Dictionary of Christ 
and the Gospels. 

Denney had already received the degree of 
D.D. from Glasgow University, his Alma 
Mater ; little wonder that from other quarters 
also, his great abilities as a theologian should 
receive full recognition. Princeton and 
Aberdeen Universities likewise conferred their 
doctorate upon him. It is recalled with 
what extreme gratification Denney regarded 
his selection for the degree by the Northern 
Scottish University in the year of the celebra 
tion of its 45oth anniversary. At the great 
Strathcona banquet on that occasion, Marconi 
of wireless fame was unable to be present, and 
it was Dr. Denney who was called upon to 
fill the seat of the clever inventor. 

Many contributions to general literature 



io6 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

as well as theology came from his gifted pen. 
His knowledge of English literature was, 
to say the least, uncommon, almost uncanny, 
in its exactness. Towards the close of his 
career he remarked to a familiar friend 
that if Shakespeare s tragedies were lost, he 
could replace them from memory ! With the 
literary productions of the eighteenth century 
particularly he had a most intimate acquaint 
ance. That was one of the delights of being 
in Denney s company of an evening. For a 
staid theologian he had a catholic taste in 
literature, and while toying with a lighted 
cigarette doing penance thereby that he 
might become all things to all men he would 
surprise his friends with interests and 
sympathies in that direction which the mere 
scholar or divine would never have suspected. 
Thus, he would dilate on the pleasure he had 
experienced in dipping into St. Bernard, and 
contrariwise how much he had been dis 
appointed in Aquinas and the Puritans. The 
classics were ever his delight to talk about, and 
yet when in his last illness, he wanted some 
light literature to ease his mind in the tedium 
of the sick-room, he found the relief in "Q s" 
fiction which especially caught his fancy, 
in such works as Troy Town, The Delectable 
Duchy, and others of a like kind. In fiction, 



THE AUTHOR 107 

however, Dickens was ever first favourite 
with him. 

In January of the year in which he passed 
away, he contributed to the Glasgow Herald, 
on editorial suggestion, a brilliant article 
for the poet s anniversary day, entitled " Burns 
and Present Distress." Denney was an 
authority on Burns, as on some other poets, 
and had lectured on the subject. But in the 
production in question he took a fresh survey. 
It was very opportune. After indicating that 
the Great War had brought into relief many 
aspects hitherto unnoticed, of almost every 
thing, and might perhaps even give a fresh 
turn to the speeches at Burns clubs, he went 
on to indicate that this poet s sense was an 
even more wonderful thing than his genius, 
indicating as it did a finality both of insight 
and expression. A more sensitive man, indeed, 
never lived nor spoke. But as the strongest 
sense may at times be deflected or tainted, so 
it was with Burns. 

"A poet is the natural representative of the 
natural man, and has an instinctive delight 
in the natural virtues. He likes the goodness 
which is untaught, spontaneous, generous, 
independent of reflection and comparison. 
He suspects the goodness which is self-conscious, 
which knows that it is not conforming to 



io8 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

widely accepted standards, but deliberately 
protesting against them. This non-conforming 
conscience is his bete noire, and he assails it 
with all the resources of his genius. As it 
readily lapses into Pharisaism, his task is not 
difficult. If he is magnificently superior to it, 
as Shakespeare was, he may mock it with 
genial humour, and never do goodness any 
harm. Because thou art virtuous, shall 
there be no more cakes and ale ? But if 
he is not so magnificently superior if the 
non-conforming conscience of his society is 
powerful enough to insult him still more, 
if it is powerful enough to reach his own 
conscience and to convince him of real faults 
then the humour, if the poet can still command 
it, is apt to be savage rather than genial, and 
the good sense loses its balance. 

" This explains a good deal in Burns. It was 
unfortunate for him that in indulging his satirical 
sense, he got into false relations with himself and 
with a higher law than that of ecclesiastical 
courts or social conventions. He cultivated 
a kind of moral bravado which is just as 
much hypocrisy as the hypocrisy of Holy 
Willie, and not less prejudicial to genuine 
goodness. You know/ he wrote to a 
friend, that I can sin, but dare not lie. 
But when a man s sins are open beforehand, 



THE AUTHOR 109 

when he flaunts them in everybody s face 
with conscious defiance, it is snatching a 
reputation for virtue very cheap to say that 
he dare not lie about them. To lie about 
them, to pretend that they are not there, 
is the one thing which he has put out of 
his power. It is the melancholy fact that 
Burns practised this miserable moral atti 
tudinizing all his life. He did it about 
drinking, and he did it about his unspeakable 
relations to women. He sometimes exhibits 
the painful spectacle of the Pharisaism of 
profligacy the prodigal son, not penitent, 
but swaggering round the farm with a great 
spread of moral shirt-front, as though he were 
setting an example to his cold-blooded brother. 
Of course this was not how he thought of 
himself in his heart of hearts ; in the most 
moving poem of his first volume, the Bard s 
Epitaph a history, as Wordsworth calls 
it, in the shape of a prophecy he completely 
drops the bravo and speaks the final humble 
truth. Nobody who reads it will judge him. 
But the bravado had been there, and its effects 
both on himself and others were deplorable." 

Then turning by antithesis to Shakespeare, 
of whom Denney was a kind of hero-worshipper, 
ever regarding him as a great spiritual gift 
to the world, and quoting Sir Walter Raleigh s 



no PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

estimate of him as " the creed of England " 
(more, of course, in regard to the spirit of his 
teaching than in mere verbal similarities) 
he described this as a felicitous thought, and 
true even when it is tested in detail. 

SHAKESPEARE THE CREED OF ENGLAND. 

"There is a long gallery of drinkers in Shake 
speare, every one drawn to the life ; people like 
Stephano, Sir Toby, Pistol, Cassio, the third 
part of the world/ Lepidus, and many more. 
There is no savour of Puritanism in the way 
in which they are depicted, yet no one could 
say the impression they make on the mind is 
other than morally wholesome. They express 
the creed of England about drinking, and it 
is a sound and manly creed. But who would 
venture to say as much for the representations 
of drinking in Burns ? Making every allowance 
for the element of extravagance without which 
drinking songs could not be written at all, 
and prizing above all price the humour of 
the opening stanzas in Death and Doctor 
Hornbook/ and much besides, we must 
reluctantly admit, that our national poet has 
provided us with a far less wholesome creed 
than Shakespeare has made authoritative for 
our neighbours. And there is no denying 



THE AUTHOR in 

that his practice squared with his creed. He 
drank to the last. He drank, as he said him 
self, when with every bout he gave away a 
slice of his constitution. If repentance could 
trammel up the consequences of evil we might 
urge that he repented. But what is his own 
description of the case Whiles, but aye 
ower late, I think braw sober lessons. 

And thus Denney pungently applied the 
principle to the present distress arising from 
the war: 

" One can hardly help wondering to-day, 
whether in this, Burns is to prefigure the 
fate of his people. There were two things 
in which he was always absolutely sincere, 
and in which he never posed more than pose 
is inevitable in idealizing. The one was 
the incomparable value of a pure and happy 
family life ; the other was his love of country. 
Both are signally illustrated in the Cottar s 
Saturday Night/ which, though both its 
merits and its popularity are to a large extent 
conventional, is yet, as Lockhart truly says, 
that one of all his poems, the exclusion of which 
from the collection would be most injurious 
to the character of the man. But his patriotism 
and his sense for home did not save him from 
the ignoble elements of his creed, and though 
they are still powerful among us, it seems 



112 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

uncertain whether they will save the 
nation." 

Referring to a speech made by a prominent 
statesman lately in the House of Commons, 
a deliverance which created a deep impression 
and in which were rehearsed the " too lates " 
of a previous Administration, Denney in a 
concluding paragraph pertinently asks, " Is he 
going to add to the number, the last and most 
fatal, by deferring the day of reckoning with 
the power which wrecked the life of Burns, 
which is ceaselessly wrecking characters and 
homes, and is capable, if let alone, of wrecking 
the country ? " 

It was a powerful plea, and timely as powerful, 
and, as was to be expected, called forth much 
public criticism. The Bulletin, a Glasgow 
illustrated daily, came out with a clever cartoon 
on Burns and Denney, giving a capital likeness 
of the Principal, and headed, " Wha daur 
meddle wi Burns ? " while underneath ran 
the legend, " Principal Denney has been com 
paring the miserable moral attitudinizing of 
Burns with the wholesome moral effect of 
Shakespeare s pictures of drunkards." The 
accompanying sketch represented Denney 
affectionately embracing the Bard of Avon 
on his pedestal, as he exclaims, " Lay the 
proud usurper low/ while, as if the action 



THE AUTHOR 113 

suited the word, the bust of Burns lay prone 
below. 

In the foreground an indignant crowd, 
presumably of Burns admirers, is prominent, 
for the most part looking daggers and shaking 
wrathful fists ! 

The reference to the foregoing article on the 
national poet and his influence is historically in 
teresting, from the fact that it was the last that 
Dr. Denney ever penned. A few days later 
he contracted what proved to be his fatal 
illness. He rallied for a time, but he never 
really recovered. It will not be forgotten 
that the final public pronouncement of this 
far-seeing and intrepid Christian statesman 
and thinker, was a powerful plea for the sobriety, 
freedom and righteousness of his nation. 



H 



Social 
Reformer 



CHAPTER VII 
THE SOCIAL REFORMER 

IN the later years of his life, particularly, 
Dr. Denney was called to leadership in great 
vital causes. He was a man marked out for 
this. In social questions generally he had 
taken a deep interest, and on these had spoken 
with authoritative voice. Party politics he 
eschewed, although scanning with keen eye 
the administration of public affairs. With 
regard to other engrossing questions in which 
the clergy usually find scope for their activities, 
he practised a studied reserve, but on the 
great Temperance question his mind was 
made up. Doubtless in the later days, as the 
war weighed heavily upon his heart, and he 
was more and more convinced of our nation s 
righteous cause, this one desire became regnant 
with him that the nation should be worthy 
to win the victory. The evil of the drink 
traffic at such a fateful hour, roused his energies 
to white heat, and he spoke as with a tongue 
of fire. When weaker men hung back through 
indifference or cowardice, in relation to this 
pressing reform, he pointed the way. Those 
117 



n8 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

impassioned addresses of his on prohibition, 
will be long remembered by his grateful 
followers. He became almost at once a tem 
perance stalwart, sound, courageous and able 
on this question. Although he had long been 
an advocate of total abstinence, his sympathies 
for many years were with those who advocated 
a reformed public-house. He was one of the 
few outstanding men in Scotland who sup 
ported what is called " disinterested manage 
ment." But circumstances were too strong 
for Denney. A turn of events the stress and 
strain of the war made him a prohibitionist, 
and thereafter alike by his rich gifts of voice 
and pen, he rendered memorable service in 
bringing home the urgency of this question 
to the people and the Government of the 
land. He shared in the general regret that, 
while the nation was practically united as to 
the urgent necessity of prohibition as a war 
time measure, Parliament had more than once 
missed an opportunity of putting the luxury 
of drink a deadly luxury for so many sorely- 
tried brothers and sisters of humanity upon 
an equality with luxuries which are infinitely 
less harmful. 

It is related of Thomas Clarkson that when 
he was toiling earnestly for the emancipation 
of the slaves and for the abolition of the slave 



THE SOCIAL REFORMER 119 

trade, William Wilberforce, a much more 
apparent and respectable, but possibly a less 
earnest labourer in the same cause, called 
upon him one Sabbath morning, and found 
his table strewn with the everlasting corre 
spondence concerning the emancipation, and 
Clarkson labouring at it. Wilberforce said 
to him, " My dear Clarkson, do you ever 
remember that you have a soul to be saved ? " 
And Clarkson said, " My dear friend, I can 
remember nothing now but those poor negroes." 
It certainly was the answer of a thoroughly 
rapt enthusiast and illuminative of a whole 
character. So Denney, in all his active 
propaganda against the drink, was really 
remembering nothing but the souls held in 
thrall by drink s power. His hatred of 
liquordom as a barrier to the extension of 
the Kingdom of God, sprang from devotion 
to his Master, and regard for those He came 
to save. He knew that again and again a 
measure of prohibition might have been passed, 
and would have been accepted almost without 
a murmur. And even when semi-starvation 
was well within the range of possibility, and 
drastic curtailments were being made in every 
direction, there was the spectacle of the liquor 
trade still ranged among the necessities of the 
national life. Indeed, right thinking men like. 



I2O PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

Denney, willing to make the greatest sacrifices 
themselves, and only asking to be called upon 
to make them, were staggered and amazed 
when they saw first one Prime Minister and 
then another (with a record of splendid work for 
temperance) virtually acknowledging the right 
of beer and spirits to a place, however reduced, 
in the category of national needs. There 
might be secrets and compacts known only 
to those in the inner circle of the national 
administration, but to a man of Denney s 
calibre the attitude of the Government on 
this all-important question suggested weakness, 
amounting to criminal folly, if not indeed to 
treason. Above all, in the light of Scriptural 
declarations he had definitely made up his 
mind on the subject. He recognized the fact 
that God never upbraided man for attempting 
too much in the interests of human weal. 
On the contrary, He approves of the bold 
daring of men struggling for the right against 
oppression and wrong, and again and again 
incites to such action. " Quit yourselves like 
men, and fight." " Deal courageously and the 
Lord shall be with you." The energizing power 
of such appeals roused Denney, as centuries 
before the lion-like spirit of John Knox had 
been stirred when, despite the timid counsels of 
wavering friends and the threats of implacable 



THE SOCIAL REFORMER 121 

foes, he preached that memorable sermon in 
St. Andrews which finally confirmed the 
Reformation. We are told " that his audience 
quailed under his solemn denunciations while 
he urged on all according to their station to 
remove the abominations" against which he 
protested "before the fire of the Divine 
wrath should descend and consume what 
man had refused to put away." It was 
the ennobling appeals of the Almighty which 
fired the spirits of Reformers and Martyrs in 
all ages, and which have lit up with imperish 
able glory the page of Scottish History. 

The Rev. William Muir, B.L., B.D., Home 
Mission Secretary of the United Free Church 
of Scotland, a worthy fellow-labourer in the 
Temperance cause, writing with reference to 
the part Dr. Denney took in connection with 
the demand for prohibition during the period 
of the war and demobilization, says, " He was 
always so far-seeing and fearless, and there 
was always such an element of finality in all 
he said, that every utterance of his was a 
genuine contribution to his theme whatever 
it was. But in connection with the agitation 
for prohibition, there was an element of passion 
in his summons to the nation and his appeal 
to the Government which gave him an alto 
gether unique place in the crisis. His was 



122 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

the clarion call to righteousness, and he became 
a great national leader, with far-reaching 
influence. His earnestness and moral en 
thusiasm, his scorn for every subterfuge, 
and his outlook at once spiritual and imperial, 
did much to lift the movement above every 
thing which tended to mere partisanship or 
petty provincialism. Even those who knew 
him best and to whom in his humility he turned 
as if they were experts, were amazed not 
merely at the thoroughness with which he threw 
himself into the movement, but at the mastery 
of detail which he showed throughout. It 
jbecame increasingly manifest that he had 
not merely the public instinct of the true leader 
of men, and the insight which enabled him 
to go straight, to the essential and relevant, 
but that he had an eye for intricacies of 
argument and subtleties of motive, which 
enabled him to meet the enemy at every point 
with an absolute sureness of touch. The 
student and recluse proved himself a match 
for the journalist and the man of the world. 
He saw both the wood and the trees. He 
was loyal alike to the universal and the 
particular. He gave his time and his strength 
to the conflict so prodigally, that probably 
he was less fit than he would otherwise have 
been to fight the disease which laid him low. 



THE SOCIAL REFORMER 123. 

He gave himself for sobriety, freedom, and 
God. It is our unspeakable sorrow that he 
has passed away before the crowning day; 
and if that is ever to come, it will only be 
through those who remain being loyal as he 
was to duty, and above all to Christ, who 
gave Himself for us/ 

Denney had little experience of political 
propaganda before he threw himself into 
the movement for prohibition during the 
war. Consequently when he became sure 
that the Government was playing fast and 
loose, he said so. He was delightfully out 
spoken this man of pure soul, of clear-eyed 
vision, and with a burning sense of the wrong 
done by a traffic from which are derived 
" great revenues without right." Hence he 
could not be gainsaid. Some might dislike 
him for it, they might even denounce him, but 
they could not ignore him. A very plain man, 
a very straight man, refusing to be mealy- 
mouthed, in words of judgment, he would 
arouse others to the seriousness of this burning 
question of the hour. There was something 
cosmical about the movements of Denney 
at this time. He seemed to be allied to the 
natural powers. He was a force to be reckoned 
with in public affairs, albeit his method of 
persuasion with those in the " seats of the 



124 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

mighty " was no more successful than the 
ordinary " let s pretend " mode which is more 
consecrated by political custom. He realized 
that old Adam is even yet too much for 
young Melancthon. And still there was 
the spectacle of a nation practically united 
as to the urgent needfulness of prohibition 
as a war-time emergency ! Yes, practically 
united, for of course there are exceptions to 
every rule and principle, like that gentleman 
whose preoccupation was so intense that, in 
a convivial company on one occasion, he 
suddenly burst into weeping, and on being 
questioned as to the fons et origo of his tears, 
answered in a voice broken by sighs and 
hiccoughs" It s the National Debt ! They ll 
never pey it aff ! " That he himself had done 
his best was evident, but it was in the thought 
of how little one man can do as a revenue- 
producer that his mind sought refuge from 
the ominous well-being of a too perfect ebriety. 
He had become a burden-bearer. His case 
is typical, and it has become more and 
more so since the days when a man could 
forget the shabbiness and craziness of his own 
little waggon, by hitching it to a fiery comet, 
and let his wife and children go begging, while 
he sped to the rescue of his country, so " sair 
hauden doon " by financial burdens ! 



THE SOCIAL REFORMER 125 

In view of the moral as well as financial 
questions involved, our responsible legislators 
ought to have answered the clamant demand 
for prohibition by a clear statement of their 
position on the subject, so that the nation 
might know where it stood. Public life would 
benefit if more men like James Denney would 
emerge from their studies and say exactly what 
they think upon vital questions of the hour. 
Thus the stress and strain of the war having 
made him a prohibitionist, as such, both by pen 
and voice, he rendered distinguished service to 
the proletariat and to the Government as well. 
He wrote with discrimination a New Year 
tract for the Scottish Temperance League , 
entitled " Where Temperance Work is Wanted," 
which attained an immense circulation. 

In February, 1916, he preached the annual 
sermon of the League to a large audience in 
St. Andrew s Hall, Glasgow. In May he gave 
a wonderfully telling speech at the joint 
Temperance meeting of the Churches in the 
Assembly Hall, Edinburgh, while his article 
on State Purchase, appearing originally in 
The British Weekly, and which has been circu 
lated by tens of thousands, was epoch-making. 

State Purchase, which he defines as necessarily 
involving State management, would, he argues, 
tend to the steady multiplication of Government 



126 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

departments and civil servants, and thus be 
an undoubted menace to the independence 
of Parliament and to purity of administration. 
Again, he declares : 

"The need of the country is urgent and 
immediate, and any scheme of purchase would 
be elaborated with difficulty, fiercely contested 
at every step, and carried if it were carried 
at all after prolonged delay, during which the 
present fatal evils would continue unchecked. 
It would put an enormous additional re 
sponsibility on the shoulders of a Government 
which is already weighted far beyond its 
strength, and needs nothing less than a new 
field for the display of administrative incapacity. 
It would insensibly alter public sentiment with 
regard to the trade, and rehabilitate a business 
which the common conscience and its own 
inevitable fruits had at last succeeded in ex 
hibiting in its genuine and baleful character. It 
would threaten, at least in Scotland, the liberty 
which Temperance Reformers have secured 
by fifty years persistent toil, and it is difficult 
to resist the impression that those who refuse 
to combine it with the 1920 Act are trying to 
get behind that Act, which was an agreed Act, 
and to get better terms for the trade than 
have been already settled for it by the law. But, 
above all, it is irrelevant wickedly and 



THE SOCIAL REFORMER 127 

maddeningly irrelevant to the necessities of 
the hour. 

" State Purchase is being put forward as an 
alternative to prohibition, but no one knows 
better than its advocates that it is no alternative. 
If all licences were in the hands of the State 
to-morrow, would the consequences of the 
drink trade be affected in the slightest ? Would 
there be less liquor consumed, and less in 
efficiency resulting from it ? Would there be 
less waste of food and transport, or less employ 
ment of men in an industry which only 
debilitates and impoverishes the nation ? 
Would there be less money wasted in drink 
and more contributed to the War Loan ? 
There is only one answer to these questions. 
It does not matter a straw whether the trade 
is managed by a State Department or by its 
present owners ; as long as the common sale 
of intoxicating drink is continued, no matter 
under what auspices, we shall suffer as we are 
suffering to-day. 

" In this matter the Government is on its trial. 
Long ago Mr. Lloyd George spoke the truth 
about the third and most dangerous of our 
enemies the lure of the drink and he has 
never withdrawn what he said. He was not 
able then to deal with it, but he is able now. 
A Government which could not deal with it, 



128 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

instantly, effectively, and for the emergency 
of the war conclusively, would have no title 
to exist. It would stand condemned as a 
Government without moral sense or moral 
courage, the slave of an interest and an appetite 
to which the nation was being sacrificed. And 
it cannot be said too strongly that State purchase 
does not deal with it at all. Prohibition 
does, and to offer State purchase as a substitute 
for prohibition is to insult the common sense 
of the country, and to outrage the common 
conscience. If the Government, after all that 
has happened, refuse prohibition, they are 
deliberately prolonging the war ; they are 
deliberately nursing inefficiency and waste ; 
they are deliberately working for famine at 
home and defeat in the field, and deserving it. 
And if instead of prohibition they offer the 
illusory and irrelevant measure of State purchase 
homeopathy when the one salvation is in 
surgery they will be guilty of a betrayal 
of the vital interest of the nation which, even 
to Mr. Lloyd George, will never be forgiven/ 
In his sermon to the Scottish Temperance 
League on " Insincerity in a Time of National 
Crisis," Principal Denney was equally emphatic. 
He declared that the lesson of the text, " If 
I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will 
not hear" (Psalm Ixvi. 18), was that of sincerity 



THE SOCIAL REFORMER 129 

and consistency in prayer. "If we appealed 
to God to take our side we must be unreservedly 
on His side. Otherwise we mocked God, 
and God is not mocked. The one prayer in 
which we all united at this moment was the 
prayer for victory, and it concerned us to 
know what sincerity here implied. It implied 
that our interest in victory should not be 
pitched too low. People who resented the 
war only because it disturbed a life to which 
they wanted to return a life in which God 
and the soul and the spiritual good of the 
community had no place, and in which they 
would still have no place if victory came 
could not pray so as to be heard. God was 
not bringing the nation through this awful 
experience but for purification and uplifting, 
and to shirk this was to forfeit the right to 
pray. The auspices under which they met 
led them to think of insincerity in relation to 
the national sin of intemperance and its 
disabling effects. 

"The head of the nation, they gratefully 
acknowledged, had not been insincere. But 
the King s example could not move either the 
House of Commons or the Town Council of 
Glasgow to equal sincerity, and by their 
frivolous treatment of a grave responsibility, 
our representatives had lost their title not only 



130 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

to be heard by God but to be respected by men. 
All the truth on this question was obvious, 
and all the modes of insincerity were transparent. 
Victory depended on strength, yet we tolerated 
in all our cities, liquor-sodden slums, in which 
a pitiful sediment of what should be human 
life accumulated, in which vitality was 
low and the death-rate high, and asked victory 
on these terms. Let us deal sincerely first 
with the liquor problem and the housing 
problem : they would never be solved apart/ 

After pointing out that victory depended 
on Moral strength, and further upon Industrial 
strength, the preacher, in measured and 
impressive accents, continued : 

" There was a final insincerity to be guarded 
against in the use of the phrase for the 
period of the war. It was properly applied to 
inconveniences to which we submitted, like the 
darkening of the streets, but was quite in 
applicable to matters of right and wrong. If 
it was wrong now to make huge profits out of 
the nation s need, without caring what they 
cost, it would be wrong after the war. If 
workshop customs were suspended now, because 
they had made idleness a fine art, they should 
be suspended permanently. It was honourable 
to get all you could for your work, but demoral 
izing to give the least you could for your wages. 



THE SOCIAL REFORMER 131 

If the prohibition of the common sale of 
intoxicants was right now, for the reasons 
indicated, it was always right. And we would 
not be able to pray for victory without mocking 
God till we made it our object to clear this 
evil from the life of the nation, not for the 
period of the war but for ever." 

In view of such strong and incontrovertible 
evidence, how statesmen should still trifle with 
a stupendous evil in a fashion which frustrated 
and forbade prayer, Denney could not under 
stand. 

He saw how the Government preached 
economy night and day, stopped the importation 
of luxuries, urged the growing of vegetables on 
unoccupied patches in the Lothians and else 
where, the rearing of pigs and poultry in the 
Hebrides saw, too, how millions of bushels of 
precious grain go into the breweries and dis 
tilleries of the land, and over 200,000,000 of 
money drain away in intoxicants without the 
Government thinking it worth while to interfere. 
In Denney s eyes it would all have been very 
ludicrous if it had not been tragical. As a 
nation, he declared, " We opened our veins 
to bleed ourselves white, and prayed for 
strength ! " And in view of the tragedy, for 
it still faces us, well might a writer in a con 
temporary journal put the question to the 



132 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D,D. 

British public, " Is there truth in the supposi 
tion that the secret party funds, subscribed 
by the liquor interests, dominate the position 
is it graft hideous graft that is prolonging 
the life of this food-destroying monopoly, 
and that calls the tune the Government shall 
play?" 

Social Reformers of different shades of 
political opinion still await a clear answer 
to a query at once so plain and pertinent. 



Man 

of 
Affairs 



CHAPTER VIII 
THE MAN OF AFFAIRS 

THERE was no other man, in his combination 
of gifts, quite like James Denney in the United 
Free Church of Scotland. In a Church, 
happily still affluent in preachers, scholars 
and theologians, he was primus inter pares. 
In fact, in any assemblage gathered for religious 
and moral ends, he was generally reckoned the 
leading spirit. A powerful personality and 
driving force, a master in the art of clear-cut 
incisive speech and fearless in his championship 
of any cause, he was not, in the conventional 
sense, a Church leader. He had been trained 
in quite another atmosphere. But he led in a 
far wider sense and wielded a far more powerful 
influence that those whose penchant is the 
ecclesiastical forum. 

It was because of this that the loss to his 
own Church through his untimely demise 
created a feeling akin to consternation. For 
he was not only a deep thinker and accom 
plished theologian by nature and study, but a 
great administrator also, and a very straight- 
135 



136 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

forward and sane diplomat. Thus he had come 
to impress himself upon the life of the Church 
as no man had done since " the brave days 
of old/ when Rainy was chief of the clan. 
There was something of the clannishness of a 
family in the old Free Ch urch of Scotland, and 
the cause of it was affection for the chief. 
Here Denney was successor to Rainy, as Rainy 
was to Chalmers. Of co urse, there were marked 
dissimilarities between the two former. The 
one had gifts which the other had not. Their 
environment had been different in the for 
mative period of life, but each was dux in the 
literal sense, in his own sphere. When Rainy 
passed away, and then Dr. W. Ross Taylor, 
great ecclesiastics both, it was seen that Denney 
turned from scholasticism to questions bearing 
more directly upon the work and welfare of 
the United Free Church. He had had a share 
in the negotiations which culminated in the 
union of Free Church and United Presbyterian 
Church, in 1900, and in the years immediately 
prior to the outbreak of the war, he gave 
himself unsparingly to the work of the con 
ference between the members of the Church 
of Scotland and his own Church, with a view 
to their ultimate amalgamation. Dr. George 
Reith, Denney s friend and pastor in his later 
years, described him as without exaggeration 



THE MAN OF AFFAIRS 137 

the hope of the Church. He had done magnifi 
cent work for his denomination, but he was, 
when taken, comparatively speaking, still in 
the midst of his days. He (Dr. Reith) did 
not think there was a man in the Church to 
whom the Church looked rather than to 
Dr. Denney to guide them in the future, and 
especially through the complex and intricate 
questions which would arise in the course of 
the negotiations on Union. He had heard 
it said by a minister of the Church of Scotland, 
" If Dr. Denney advocates Union, there will 
be union ; if Dr. Denney is opposed to Union, 
there will be none." That might be an 
exaggeration, but it showed the estimation in 
which he was held in the sister Church and how 
widely he was trusted ; and also how great was 
his capacity for impressing his views, and the 
weight of his personality, on those outside 
his ecclesiastical communion. The crowning 
honour of Moderatorship of the General 
Assembly would assuredly have come to him 
had he lived. There was keen expectation 
among his fellow-churchmen that the following 
Assembly would have seen his appointment 
to the post of honour, already so worthily won. 
As Convener of the Central Fund, his work 
can only be described as brilliant. Here his 
great administrative qualities had full play. 



138 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

And this was the surprising thing about 
Denney, that the man who had been known 
as the profound scholar, the distinguished 
preacher, the accomplished teacher, should 
also prove himself the man of affairs, endowed 
with the tactful business art and manifesting 
unbounded public spirit. It has been pointed 
out, how as chairman in committee work, he 
was ideal. Ever patient and courteous, 
he listened to all views. He disregarded 
irrelevancies with an instinct that was deadly 
in its accuracy, and cut down through all 
entanglements to the real issue. Then he 
came to a decision, and to this he adhered 
with unflinching determination. He always 
spoke with authority the authority of know 
ledge, and of clear judgment, certainly, but 
also the authority of a manifest sincerity and 
impartiality. He was, however, far more to 
the Central Fund than an ideal Chairman of 
the Committee. By his personality, enthusiasm, 
and his unwearied service in the country, he 
had lifted the Fund into the central place in 
the life of the Church which it ought to have. 
Many realized its importance just because 
they saw that it was important to a man 
like Dr. Denney. It was a matter of sincere 
gratification to the Convener that in the year 
before he died the minimum stipend of 200 



THE MAN OF AFFAIRS 139 

to every minister of the church was so nearly 
attained. This has been the aim of the 
Committee for long by no means an ex 
travagant one in these days of costly living, 
when every minister is feeling the pinch. 
It was especially the cause of the rural pastor, 
the appeal of the country manse that came 
straight home to the heart of Denney. He 
realized that these are they upon whom the 
brunt of the righting falls. If there are wounds 
and suffering to be endured, they endure them ; 
and the distress incurred by many a minister 
of the Presbyterian Church and his family 
as a result of the " narrow circumstances of 
the house " is very real and great. The best 
monument his beloved Church could erect to the 
memory of Dr. James Denney would be to 
raise the equal dividend all over the Church 
to at least 200 as in this year of his passing 
from us, and to keep it raised. 

In the care of the Churches which thus fell 
upon him, Denney shouldered the burden 
loyally. There is a certain wistfulness evident 
in the recorded remark of such a man of 
so great gifts, who took up the routine of 
ecclesiastical work of his denomination at the 
call of duty. A ministerial friend was talking 
with him one day about Principal Marcus 
Dods, and reported that Dr. Dods had felt 



140 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

in his later years that one of the mistakes of 

his life had been that he had not taken a greater 

share in the work of the Churches courts and 

committees, Dr. Denney said with animated 

emphasis, " This is most interesting. It is 

the most interesting thing I have ever heard 

about Dods." Adds the chronicler, " It looked 

as if he had recognized in the mind of another 

great scholar a process of development that 

had been a reality for his own. Even giants, 

however, must leave something to other men, 

and the fact remains that while Dods lived 

to be 75, Denney has gone at 61. " To what 

purpose is this waste ? " is often thought and 

sometimes said, when men of such outstanding 

gifts as his take up the burden of the ecclesiastic. 

Of course, his high position brought many 

calls for Denney s services among the Churches, 

and he never refused, if fulfilment were within 

his power. Hence the things which men 

expect to find were sought in him wise, 

practical judgment, keen moral vision, and the 

power of seeing further than themselves in 

an emergency. By many a country manse 

fireside, his rare insight and quaint humour, 

his tact and sensibility, his quiet and ready 

sympathy rendered him a welcome guest. 

For nothing that was human was alien to this 

great Doctor of the Church. Thus to many 



THE MAN OF AFFAIRS 141 

a struggling pastor of a humble flock, dis 
couraged and depressed, came Denney, and 
left behind him such a gracious influence as 
heartened the man and caused a new light 
to shine in his eyes. 

To the mistress of the manse also Dr. Denney 
made appeal as guest. The following note 
from one gives a glimpse of this, showing his 
human side. 

" It was decided. The great man had agreed 
to come. That was splendid for the church, 
but rather appalling for me. He would be our 
guest, and I had no maid. My husband had 
been a student under him, and I had an 
impression that he was an austere man who 
would be difficult . He had no children. Would 
our two terrors annoy him ? He came, straight 
from the many honours heaped on him by the 
Assembly of May 1915. How simple he was : 
so pleased with the arrangements made for 
his comfort. In a few minutes the children 
and he were friends. Was this Dr. Denney ? 
This man who was like a child with them. Was 
this the great man whose coming we had 
feared? He left on Monday morning, and 
our hearts were sore at the parting, for in that 
brief week-end he had made us love him. In 
our garden there is a spot hallowed by the 
memory of him sitting there at rest through 



142 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

the long summer Sunday between the services. 
I cherish, too, as one of my most precious 
possessions, the beautiful, courteous letter of 
thanks which he, so busy a man, found time 
to write to me." 

There was ever the expression of this fine 
trait in Denney s character his deep interest 
in the welfare of others less favourably placed 
than himself and scores of the smaller United 
Free congregations of Scotland are his debtors. 
It is gratefully recalled how, in the privacy of 
the manse, this man whom some were inclined 
to regard as on a plane aloof and remote from 
themselves, and with an air of puritanical 
austerity of life and mind, would strive to draw 
his humbler confreres out of their diffidence 
and reserve ; how he would labour to discover 
their special interests, the books that had 
influenced them, and then to talk of these, for 
he was emphatically a " Bookman," knowing 
and understanding them all. While his 
interests were many-sided, his table-talk on 
books was especially luminous and informative 
Thus, in a South of Scotland country manse, 
the conversation at one point turned on the 
relative merits of fast and slow reading of a 
book. Denney favoured the fast readers, 
holding that fast reading, and the ability to 
remember, almost always went together. He 



THE MAN OF AFFAIRS 143 

looked on fast reading as an indication of a 
quick intellect, and on slow reading as denoting 
a sluggish one, and cited Carlyle and Macaulay, 
famous as fast readers, as instances in point. 

Apropos of the question of unbelief, which 
came up in the course of conversation, he told 
a story of Jowett, Master of Balliol, which, 
though perhaps not new, may be worth 
repeating. A student came to Jowett one 
morning and told him that he was troubled 
with religious doubt. " In fact," said the 
student, " I regret to confess that I don t 
believe in God ! " " You don t believe in 
God!" said Jowett. "No sir," said the 
student, hoping that the great man would 
clear away his difficulties. But Jowett s reply 
was crushing. " Believe in God, sir/ said 
Jowett, " by to-morrow morning, or leave the 
college ! " 

The incident reminds us of the attitude of 
the late Professor A. B. Davidson to a young 
divinity student proud of his doubts. It is 
referred to by his biographer. Davidson could 
say very incisive things as well as Jowett. The 
youth, who was fond of airing his scruples and 
unbeliefs on every possible occasion, called 
on Dr. Davidson. A tone of unreality dis 
closed itself in his recital of his difficulties and 
perplexities, and the result was rather a chilling 



144 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

reception. The Professor sat in silence. He 
accompanied the student to the door when he 
left. There the young man looked up to the 
sky and said, " It s a lovely evening." " Oh ! " 
said Davidson incisively, with some trace 
of astonishment, "are you sure of thai?" 

Sarcasm is the legitimate weapon against 
pretentiousness and sham, and Denney was 
a master of the art. His rapier was keen and, 
when needful, skilfully handled. " From the 
deliberating pause," says one of his former 
students, " which almost invariably preceded 
these strokes, we felt that he was ever con 
scious of its danger, and almost feared its 
power. 

" Once when counselling us against its use 
in the pulpit, he quoted Carlyle, Sarcasm is 
the language of the devil. Then came the 
pause, and the faint smile and quiver of the 
lip, which always made the class expectant. 
And one might almost say it was Carlyle s 
mother-tongue/ The class was convulsed 
first one wave of laughter, then a second laugh. 
The first was our homage to the quaintly 
worded pungency of the retort ; the second laugh 
was at the Professor himself. He saw it 
and smiled a very human, self-amusing smile. 
He had hoisted himself with his own petard." 
Denney, it has been said, wrote no paradoxes ; 



THE MAN OF AFFAIRS 145 

to him all epigrams had falsehood written on 
their face. There may be some justice in the 
criticism that he liked to have everything about 
him just a little clearer than things are. So 
completely was he equipped in scholarship, 
and in such full command of all his weapons 
and these ever at their keenest and brightest 
that he could detect any flaw in an opponent s 
argument with almost supernatural quickness. 
He was an anti-sciolist, and for the man or 
student of superficial knowledge he had a 
profound contempt. Fools he never suffered 
gladly, as some of the tribe know to their cost. 
In irony he could be as scornfully severe as 
Johnson himself. Even to his intimates, in 
the course of talk, his pertinent " Why ? " or 
" Why not ? " dropping from his lips like 
explosive bullets, not only compelled attention 
but had a shattering effect on all arrogance, 
pretence and subterfuge. Wool-gathering " 
was at a discount. Mental force had to 
be quickly mobilized in the bracing and vital 
mental atmosphere which Denney as a con 
troversialist created. 

His directness of style in speech, while it 
tended to lucidity, sometimes, it must be 
confessed, made him brusque and " short " 
as a man with men. His abruptness may 
even have brought him disfavour in certain 

K 



146 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

quarters. He was nothing if not direct- 
circumlocution in any circumstances had no 
quarter from him. And yet it might be truly 
said that his heart was tender, if his words 
were strong. His pastor in College and 
Kelvingrove Church, Dr. Reith, has testified 
how, beneath what sometimes seemed a stern 
exterior, there were springs of deep and tender 
feeling. 

Those who were accustomed to listen to 
his frequent prayers at the weekly devotional 
gatherings knew they were in the presence 
of a man to whom his Saviour was a living 
reality, and whose very name he would not 
pronounce without an obvious throb of 
emotion and subdued tones of pathos, witness 
ing to the touch of Christ s spirit on his own. 
All his brilliant gifts were laid humbly and 
lovingly at the feet of his Lord. 

Members of the congregation, too, were aware 
how loyal Principal Denney was to the duties 
expected from a member and office-bearer, 
and how thoroughly he identified himself with 
the work and worship of this particular church, 
just as if far wider interests did not claim his 
concern. That was entirely characteristic of 
the man. No elder was more faithful than 
he in the discharge of the common work 
belonging to that office. It was, Dr. Reith 



THE MAN OF AFFAIRS 147 

adds, disconcerting at first, perhaps, to the 
preacher to have that calm, earnest look fixed 
on him, kept without faltering on him, whatever 
the spiritual provision at command. And yet 
that steadfast gaze emptied the preacher of 
all desire to be anything he was not and could 
not be, threw him back on the glory of his 
message and inspired him to endeavour to 
rise to the greatness of the opportunity that 
was his. 

Dr. Denney employed his rich gifts to 
further many good causes which lay near 
his heart. It was only on rare occasions that 
he went so far afield as London to speak or 
preach all the wide range of his own Church 
made its special appeal to him, but he never 
declined an invitation beyond it, if fulfilment 
were in his power. 

Those, for instance, who heard the Principal 
some years ago when he preached the annual 
sermon of the Baptist Missionary Society at 
Bloomsbury Chapel still treasure the thrilling 
message which he delivered on the occasion. 

He had put all denominations in debt to 
his scholarship and spiritual insight, and 
people listened to him as they only listen 
to a man who is wholly devoted to the highest 
ends. But as we have seen, it was to the 

interests of his own United Free Church 
K* 



148 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

supremely that Denney gave his time and 
strength. He loved it to the last. A regular 
attender of the Presbytery and Assembly as 
well as of the Kirk Session, those most closely 
associated with him, realized how deep and 
practical was his interest in everything 
which tended to the greater efficiency and 
enterprise of the work of that Church, and 
how his inventive mind was always thinking 
out improvements in organization. 

He enjoyed much his intimate relationship 
with the laymen of the Church. His written 
correspondence with them rarely failed to 
contain some sentence apt and wise on the 
most commonplace topics. In Presbytery he 
would sometimes let himself go, to the great 
delight of his auditors. If a subject came up 
that interested him, whether bearing upon 
Church polity, aggressive work, social reform 
or theology, he was ready for the fray. The 
debate in Glasgow Presbytery on the election 
of women to the Deacons Court is still recalled, 
and how Denney, by opposing the idea, failed 
for once to carry popular opinion with him. 
On that tense face was the look of battle, and 
from the pursed lips came the swift central 
word which set things in the light in which 
he at least clearly saw them. Indifference 
to public opinion when himself convinced on 



THE MAN OF AFFAIRS 149 

any point, regardlessness of consequences 
fearlessness, that was the crowning glory of 
the man. " Gentlemen," he would say to his 
students, with glowing ardour, " I beseech 
you to remember that there are in every con 
gregationeven the humblest men and 
women of ripe Christian experience whose 
shoe latchet you are not worthy to unloose." 
He knew whereof he testified, and conscience 
was ever in him a burning passion. There 
was such sensitiveness to all that is high and 
worthy, that his extraordinary mental gifts 
were heightened by it. So he came to be 
spoken of by men of different sorts and con 
ditions as the " conscience " of Scotland 
incarnate. They had in mind his profound 
and passionately experimental faith in Jesus 
Christ as Saviour and Lord, his essential 
character of such goodness and devotion, his 
zeal for his brethren s well-being, his patriotic 
impeachment of the liquor interest as a curse 
calling for suppression not merely " for the 
period of the war," but for ever, and his 
whole-hearted and serious approval of the 
Allies cause. A veritable Greatheart, worn 
out at length with ungrudging service, there 
was no man whose verdict was more eagerly 
looked for on questions of the hour, religious, 
social or political. In his laborious day he 



150 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

accomplished a many-sided work and left a 
name to be long and gratefully remembered. 
He stands in the true line with Paul and 
Augustine, with Calvin and Chalmers, of those 
who have taught the Church to say, " Unto 
Him be the glory, both now and for ever. 
Amen." 



Vhe 
Last 
Phase 



CHAPTER IX 

THE LAST PHASE 

JAMES DENNEY was pre-eminently a man of 
God, and bore about with him an atmosphere 
of saintliness ; he seemed like one who always 
walked on the confines of another world, and 
viewed, with a certain aloofness, the affairs 
about which most of his contemporaries 
busied themselves, God took him the God 
with whom he closely walked not weight of 
years, disease, or even death, but God. And 
he walked closely with man as well. From 
the viewpoint of his friends it can be truly 
said that no one could be long in his com 
pany without being conscious of a quickened 
spiritual life and a deepened earnestness of 
purpose. His friends believed that he died 
because he gave himself so generously to the 
demands of God s cause. Certainly it was 
this " conscience " for his fellows in his many- 
sided work that will keep his name alive. 

And thoii art worthy, full of power, 
As gentle, liberal-minded, great. 
Consistent, wearing all that weight 
Of learning, lightly like a flower. 

153 



154 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

The strain of recent years, the carrying on 
of the work of the College in war time, the 
burden of the Central Fund Convenership 
where his personality, enthusiasm and anxious 
and unwearied toil counted for so much, and 
latterly his ardent advocacy of prohibition, 
had altogether proved a greater expenditure 
of nervous energy than one man could bear. 
Continually spending himself and being spent 
in the service of God and man, his friends 
seemed to take it for granted that he was 
capable of any exertion. He was of this mind 
himself, until the breaking point came. And 
then, the pity of it all ! Alas ! for falling trees 
and broken columns. The loss is terrible. 

He held his place 

Held on through blame, and faltered not at praise, 
And when he fell in whirlwind, he went down, 
As when a kingly cedar, green with boughs, 
Goes down with a great shout upon the hills, 
And leaves a lonesome place against the sky. 

His friend and colleague, Professor Moffatt, 
testifies concerning this, in a fine appreciation 
written for The British Weekly : 

" The death of his two most intimate friends, 
the Rev. A. D. Grant and the Rev. J. P. 
Strathers, meant more to Dr. Denney than he 
would ever allow others to guess, for he held 
his feelings on this and other sacred intimacies 
in a noble reserve. But one had the impression 
that he felt somewhat lonely in his later years, 






THE LAST PHASE 155 

especially after his wife s death. He had 
strong and happy family affections, and he 
admitted others to his friendship with generous 
freedom ; there was nothing of the recluse or 
of the morbid laudator temporis acti about 
him. But when the ranks of a man s con 
temporaries are thinned, and the old friends 
and comrades fall, it is not possible for their 
places to be filled. His colleagues, Professor 
Orr and Principal Lindsay, left him. Other 
work took Professor George Adam Smith 
away, and with him an intellectual and moral 
stimulus of which he would speak sometimes 
with a singular note of intensity. Meantime 
he threw himself into the service of the Church 
beyond even the range of his own subject, 
developed business qualities which surprised 
some who only knew him from his books, and 
became one of the real leaders of public opinion 
in the country. The care of the churches 
fell upon him, and he shouldered it loyally. 

" There came unsought to him that position in 
which men expect wise judgment, moral vision, 
and the power of seeing further than them 
selves in a difficulty. Influence of this kind 
is never exerted without a drain upon life, 
of which a man is hardly conscious. Some 
thing goes out of him as he gives his sympathy 
and counsel, and Dr. Denney grew grey under 



156 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

the mounting responsibilities with which he 
was honoured. But there was no abating of 
his spirit. It seemed to those whom he led 
that every fresh demand revealed something 
more in him, and one of our keenest regrets 
to-day is that we shall miss him in the coming 
readjustment of the Scottish Churches, a 
problem for which he had acquired some of the 
qualities which are essential and rare ; there 
was a sense of confidence in his judgment which 
made his words tell far and wide, in quarters 
where the ecclesiastic would not command 
a following. We counted on him as a factor 
in the solution. Here and even more in his 
College, what he said, what he was, mattered 
as little else did. Now he has been withdrawn 
from us in the very ripeness of his strength and 
influence. What that means not even those 
who were at his side can realize yet." 

It does seem tragic that just at the crucial 
moment when a mind keen and original like 
his was most needed by his fellow country-men, 
he should be lost to us. 

Principal Denney was seized with illness, 
one day in the month of February, while 
lecturing to his class. Preaching at Kirkin- 
tilloch on the Sunday previous, and motoring 
home in an open car, he had evidently caught 
a chill, the effect of which he was not able 



THE LAST PHASE 157 

to throw off. From that first illnessthe 
only one in the whole course of his professional 
career he never rallied, though he made 
a brave effort to resume his work. His un 
wonted cross he bore with patience, only 
lamenting the resultant breaking off of preach 
ing and other public engagements. From 
his sick room he wrote on this wise to his 
friend Sir W. Robertson Nicoll, with whom 
he had enjoyed an intimate association lasting 
unclouded for 25 years : 

" I am counting on the open air, which 
I had not breathed for seven weeks or so, to 
set me up again. I don t know what was 
wrong with me : I just collapsed suddenly 
and completely like the one-hoss shay in 
O. W. Holmes, and I have spent all these 
weeks in painfully gathering myself in bits 
out of the debris. I am past the point of 
despair now, but when I shall be able to do any 
kind of work with body or brain I cannot fore 
see. I have been a little astonished at the 
people who condoled with me on having to 
postpone the Cunningham Lectures : the 
things I am sore at being unable to help are 
the temperance cause and the Central Fund." 
For a time he seemed to be throwing off 
his iUness, thanks to expert medical skill 
and efficient nursing. On the shores of the 



158 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

Gareloch, whither he repaired for change of 
air and scene, he walked about for days in 
the spring sunshine, but little betterment came. 
His evenings were brightened by the visits and 
genial talk of such resident neighbours as the 
Rev. Dr. W. L. Walker of Lochanbrae and 
the Rev. Walter E. Ireland, United Free 
Church manse. Returning to the city, and 
confined to his room latterly, for many weary 
weeks, he was allowed to see very few friends , 
but he had his books, and it was hoped that 
six months of total rest might restore him. 
To the last he was devoted to work. 

The Greek Testament was constantly in 
his hand, and his notebooks were close by. 
There he was, his fertile brain planning new 
lectures, or with a privileged visitor, more 
suo, talking theology, discussing the contents 
of Professor Gwatkins library, summing up 
Tertullian and other Fathers of the Church, 
even as he gasped for breath. The physical 
discomfort he bore bravely, his mind as keen 
as ever. To a friend he remarked, " My 
doctor tells me I am improving, but " and a 
little, grim smile hovered for a second on his 
lips " I don t feel the witness of that in 
myself as yet." Still there seemed some 
hope of his getting better. But a few days 
before the end came he had a collapse, and 



THE LAST PHASE 159 

he felt that he had finally lain down to die. 
While he lingered on the Border-land it was 
evident that the atoning death of the Lord 
Jesus Christ was all and in all to him. He 
felt that the ministry of atonement in his case 
was perfected. There was no outstanding debt . 
" Jesus paid it all." In the one commanding 
sacrifice for human sin, Calvary had left nothing 
for him to do. Years before he had declared 
these words to be his article of faith, 

" Bearing shame and scoffing rude, 
In my place condemned He stood 
Sealed my pardon with His blood," 

and now in the hour and almost in the article 
of death, he was filling up that which was 
behind of the afflictions of Christ. The suffer 
ings needed a herald. The Gospel required 
an evangelist. The work of Calvary must 
proclaim itself in the sacrificial saint. 

James Denney s mission had consisted in 
making the evangel known to Christendom 
for this man was a good gift of God to all 
the Churches, and there was not a branch of 
spiritual activity that had not been enriched 
and encouraged by his inspiring words, as 
well as by the example of his devoted life. 

At length came the timely relief of the Last 
Messenger. The strong spirit passed to its 
reward. As the tidings of his demise were 



160 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

carried through the city and spread to the most 
distant corners of the land there was general 
sorrow. All denominations united in lamenting 
the loss of one whose labours had been 
accomplished not in the service of sect or party, 
but to advance the truth which is the heritage 
of the whole Catholic Church. In a simile 
that Dr. Denney himself had used, regarding 
the departure of another sainted minister 
of Christ, his death was like the going out 
of a bright light ; a darkness that could be 
felt descended with it on many a heart. But 
heaven was so near to him and so real, that 
he would very likely have thought it wrong 
to speak thus, and with all our sorrowful 
remembrance of him, we thank God with 
full hearts for giving us such a man, such a 
Christian, and such a friend. And as we glorify 
God in him, we pray that the true apostolic 
and saintly succession of God s great and 
gifted ones may never cease until this weary, 
time-worn world has passed through all the 
phases of its travail and its discipline, and is 
merged in the shadowless light, and the in 
effable love of the Eternal. 

The funeral took place on Friday, the i5th 
June, 1917. A private service at the house, 
15, Lilybank Gardens, was conducted by the 
Rev. G. A. Frank Knight, M.A., College and 



THE LAST PHASE 161 

Kelvingrove Church, of which Principal Denney 
was an office-bearer. A public service was 
afterwards held in the College, where he had 
given such distinguished service. In front of 
the platform, on a catafalque covered by a purple 
pall, lay the oak coffin, on which rested many 
beautiful floral tributes. The Rev. Professor 
Forrest, Moderator of the Glasgow Presbytery 
of the United Free Church of Scotland, presided, 
and the service was conducted after the severely 
simple Presbyterian form, those taking part 
including the Rev. Principal Iverach, Aberdeen ; 
the Rev. Professor H. A. A. Kennedy, Edin 
burgh; the Rev. Professor George Milligan; 
and the Rev. Dr. George Reith. 

The large company of mourners assembled 
from far and near, representative of various 
sections of the public religious, academic, 
social, and civic reflected the high and wide 
spread esteem entertained for the distinguished 
theologian. Within the building there were 
many manifestations of the feeling of profound 
sorrow which pervaded the whole community. 
The gathering was one of men and women 
whose hearts were deeply moved. At the 
close of the service, to the strains of Handel s 
immortal March, the coffin was borne to the 
hearse, and the funeral procession to the 
Western Necropolis was formed four deep. 



1 62 PRINCIPAL JAMES DENNEY, D.D. 

It was a wonderful and spontaneous expression 
of the hold Dr. Denney had taken on the 
affections of the people. A service at the 
grave-side in " God s acre," within sight of 
the city he had loved and served so well, was 
conducted by the Rev. Dr. John S. Carroll 
and the Rev. Professor Mackintosh. All that 
was mortal of James Denney rests by the 
side of his wife, and the tombstone is inscribed, 
" Because I live, ye shall live also/ On that 
lovely June afternoon, when the songs of the 
birds were in the air, the flowers in their 
sweetest bloom and the glorious sunshine and 
warmth flooding everything, all nature seemed 
to typify the grandeur of the new life to which 
the spirit had attained, and the touching 
prayer of committal tended to raise the thoughts 
of the mourners to the God of all comfort ; 
confirmed their faith in Him who is the 
Resurrection and the Life, and recalled to 
mind the words of the Immortal Dreamer 
" The pilgrim they laid in a chamber whose 
window opened towards the sunrising ; the 
name of that chamber was PEACE ! where 
he slept till the break of day." 



In rneitioriam : James Denncp, 

JUNE u, 1917. 
BY REV. W. R. THOMSON, B.D. 

Friend, who hast fallen mid the din of war, 
Take now thy portion of the soldier s sleep ; 
For thou, God s sentry, didst thy vigil keep, 

Nor watched with idle eye the strife from far. 

Naught trivial found a home within thy mind, 
Nor any baseness in thy spirit s place ; 
Self s spectre fled the daybreak of thy face 

To herd in dark confusion with its kind. 

The light of thought enthroned upon thy brow 
Its splendid largesse flung upon our way ; 
God s benison to one who loved the day, 

Whose riches did us poorer men endow. 

And when the shadow fell, and bugles shrill 
Blew war s fierce challenge all about the land, 
Who more than thou, at Duty s high command. 

Didst toil to fortify the nation s will ? 

Who more than thou didst toil to feed the flame 
Of high resolve ? to keep inviolate 
Our troth with those to honour dedicate 

Who reap on fields of death a deathless fame ? 

Ah, silent now that voice of quiet power, 
And dark the eye that kindled at the call 
Of God within, and stilled beneath the pall 

The valiant heart that held faith s endless dower. 

Blow the Last Post across the soldier saint, 
Give to the wind and sun our sor ow deep; 
Friend, take thy portion of the soldier s sleep, 

Thou who didst march God s way and didst not faint. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY. 

-- 

PRINCIPAL DENNEY was the author of the 

following Works : 

i. On Natural Law in the Spiritual World, by a 
Brother of the Natural Man, 1882. 

a. The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 1892. 

3. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1894. 

4. Studies in Theology : Lectures delivered in 

Chicago Theological Seminary, 1894. 

5. Romans: a contribution to the second volume 

of the Expositors Greek Testament, 1900. 

6. The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpreta 

tion in the New Testament, 1902. 

7. The Atonement and the Modern Mind, 1903. 

8. Jesus and the Gospel: Christianity Justified 

in the Mind of Christ, 1908. 

9. Gospel Questions and Answers, 1911. 
10. The Church and the Kingdom, 1911. 
n. Factors of Faith in Immortality, 1911. 

ia. The Literal Interpretation of the Sermon on 
the Mount, 1911. 

13. The Way Everlasting, 1913. 

14. Eternal Life, 1915. 

15. War and the Fear of God, 1916. 

16. The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation, 1917. 






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