The Christian Ambassador (1854-1878)

a Quarterly Review and Journal of Theological Literature

Tim Macquiban 2020
Tim Macquiban 2020

This influential quarterly magazine started around 1854 under the editorship of Rev. Colin C McKechnie and ran continuously until 1878 when it became the Primitive Methodist Quarterly Review and produced as part of his role as the Connexional Editor. The Englesea Brook library has 7 bound volumes covering issues 1-10 (1863-72) and 13-16 (1875-78).

Colin McKechnie had a significant influence over the intellectual culture of the Primitive Methodists in the late 19th century.  He, along with his Superintendent at South Shields, Thomas Southron, inaugurated a Preachers Association for the Sunderland District which did much to stimulate reading and study among the ministers and lay people. To these were given papers entitled Counsels to Young Ministers (by TS) and Christian Ministers and Politics (by CCM)  A more learned ministry needed material and resources to help this self-improvement alongside the more formal theological training started in the 1860s. He was associated with the founding of the ‘Christian Ambassador and Quarterly Review’ and edited it from 1855 to 1896. He was Connexional Editor during the period 1876-1887 and did much to revolutionise the connexional magazines, lifting them to a higher literary level.

What did the volumes contain which were not to be found in the ongoing Primitive Methodist Magazine? There were more scholarly articles of greater length covering a variety of topics relating to bible and theology, Christian history, preaching, missions and contemporary issues in society. Here is a snapshot of what is contained:

  1. Biblical material: this included picking up on contemporary issues of biblical criticism, featuring examinations of the doctrine of Inspiration (particularly in the light of Bishop Colenso`s work) and Christology in response to Renan`s Life of Jesus and his St. Paul.
  2. Theological themes resonating with Methodism, eg. Justification by Faith and the Witness of the Spirit (by Joseph Petty), Entire Sanctification (JB), Election (TG) and Future Punishment, Dale on the Atonement,  as well as some apologetic and anti-Catholic material relating to Mary, the Mother of God, John Henry Newman, Papal Infallibility, Rationalism, Darwinism, and other anti-Christian Philosophy and modern heresies.
  3. Worship and Preaching, including thoughts on Women Preaching, Expository and Popular Preaching, Holiness and the connection of the Spirit with Prayer
  4. Figures from Christian history, mostly Protestant, Puritan divines and Evangelicals, ranging from Zwingli and Milton, Matthew Henry and to Methodist luminaries including Richard Watson, Adam Clarke, William Clowes (a review of the biography by William Garner, James Everett (a review of the biography by Richard Chew) and John Petty (a review of the James Macpherson biography)
  5. Contemporary issues such as day schools and government provision/grants, the right use of wealth and possessions and beneficence, the physical effects of alcohol, the contagious diseases acts.
  6. Literature: articles on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the novels of George Eliot (Adam Bede), Oliver Goldsmith and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
  7. Missions, including articles on India and missionary policies, The castes of India, Africa and Christianity, and an article on Henry M Stanley, the African explorer.

In view of the contemporary impact of BLACK LIVES MATTER, it is important to note a critical article in the 1877 volume attacking American attitudes to “the Negro”, denouncing so called Christian attitudes towards people of colour and defending the claim of black people to full rights in society. Almost 250 years later parts of the USA are still coming to terms with the inherent racism within that land, some of whose effects are still being experienced in our own.

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