A Late-Victorian Minister's Library

The purpose of this article is to indicate some of the material in the library

John P. Vaudry is the pastor at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Wingham, Ontario, and serves on the Issues Committee of The Renewal Fellowship.

Dr. David Perrie (1857-1930) ministered to the people of St. Andrew's, Wingham, Ontario, for 36 years (1894-1930), and was elected Moderator of the General Assembly in 1929. In 1925, when "continuing" Presbyterians held a Congress in St. Andrew's, Toronto, Ontario, just before the momentous disruption Assembly, David Perrie was chosen to preach the opening sermon. Obviously, his ministry was highly valued in his own parish and well beyond.

Dr. Perrie believed in a teaching ministry: his expository preaching had depth and power. Such a ministry could only be sustained by a union of piety and scholarship. Of his hidden life of prayer we know practically nothing. By its very nature the devotional life is personal and private, and David Perrie was a very private man. Of his labour in the study, however, we do know something. We are at least aware of some of the books and periodicals he read and valued.

The purpose of this article is to indicate some of the material in the library of a Presbyterian minister (and leader in the resistance to church union) whose ministry began toward the close of Queen Victoria's reign and who retained much of the older outlook.

Like many Presbyterian clergy of his age, David Perrie was interested in the writings of the 17th century English Puritan divines. The 19th century saw the editing and publishing of a remarkable number of Puritan authors. James Nichol of Edinburgh and other publishers gave the world sets of the works of such notables as Brooks, Charnock, Manton and Sibbes.

Dr. Perrie had sets of two of the most profound Puritans: the 12 volumes of Thomas Goodwin and the 16 volumes of John Owen. Goodwin (1600-1680), the "Atlas of Independency," was vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, until he became a Congregationalist in 1634. He was pastor of churches in London and Holland, and leader of the Independents in the Westminster Assembly (that framed our Confession of Faith). He also served as President of Magdalen College, Oxford, and was friend of Oliver Cromwell.

Goodwin's writings are expository and doctrinal, with major treatments of Ephesians 1 and the Book of Revelation, and of such themes as "Justifying Faith," the "Work of the Holy Spirit," and "Man's Guiltiness Before God." Alexander Whyte once called Goodwin "the greatest pulpit exegete of Paul that has ever lived," and read his works "till they fell out of their original cloth binding" (G.F. Barbour Life of Alexander Whyte D.D. pp.97, 117). Dr. Perrie's copies have not fallen out of the binding, but they look well-worn, bearing witness that he, too, was a lover of Goodwin. Interestingly, some of the works of Thomas Goodwin have been reprinted in our time by the Banner of Truth Trust.

John Owen (1616-1683) is considered by many to be greater than Goodwin as a Reformed theologian. His early views on church polity were moderately Presbyterian, but, like Goodwin, he adopted the Congregational way. Owen was pastor of various churches and was a member of the Savoy Conference, but is best known as Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University in the 1650s. His output was phenomenal: 16 volumes of doctrinal, practical and polemical writings (reprinted in the twentieth century), plus Latin works and a 6-volume Commentary on Hebrews (recently printed).

Owen is the most difficult Puritan to read. J.I. Packer remarks, "There is no denying Owen is heavy and hard to read…. It is trying to the reader to have to go over sentences two and three times to see their meaning, and this necessity makes it much harder to follow an argument" (Introductory Essay to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, p. 25). Owen's austere and lumbering style has probably intimidated many of his admirers: David Perrie's volumes are well-worn but there are also many uncut pages.

Dr. Perrie had a strong interest in history and biography. Among his books we find P. Villari's Life and Times of Girolamo Savonarola. Savonarola (1452-1498), the "meddlesome friar" who exercised a powerful preaching ministry in Florence in the 1490s, was an early voice calling for reform in the Church. He boldly summoned the city's leaders to repentance, championed the cause of the poor, and even denounced the corrupt papal court of Alexander VI. We can easily imagine an embattled early twentieth century church leader being inspired by the faith and courage of this reformer before the Reformers.

Much more inspiring, however, would be William Hanna's biography of Scottish Presbyterian stalwart, Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847). These two attractively bound volumes tell the story of the Kirk minister who was inducted at Kilmany in 1803 as a "Moderate" and then experienced evangelical conversion in 1811, later becoming Minister of the Tron Church, Glasgow, Moderator, Professor of Theology, and leader of the famous Disruption of 1843. Dr. Perrie rarely underlined or made notes in his books, but there are several marks in the margin of Hanna's chapter on Chalmer's conversion. The work of grace leading a person to real faith in Jesus Christ was obviously of special interest.

Another Scots minister admired by Dr. Perrie both as a person and as an author was his older contemporary, Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), Minister of Free St. George's, Edinburgh, for almost 40 years, and then Principal of New College. Whyte's The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, considered by many his best book, is found in Perrie's collection. Whyte was a remarkable man: a strong Calvinist, a fervent evangelist, a mystic, a devoted pastor, a man of wide reading and culture, able to appreciate people very different from himself theologically. "He established a reputation," says J.D.Douglas, "as a graphic and compelling preacher to an extent probably unparalleled even in a nation of preachers" (New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p.1045).

Dr. Perrie's library also contained various tools for serious biblical study. A.T. Robertson's massive New Testament Greek Grammar found a place, as did a much-used copy of J.H. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon. There were commentaries such as the Expositor's Greek Testament and all the volumes of T&T Clark's International Critical Commentary published in his time. The use of these demanding exegetical works (some of them by theological liberals) indicates a minister not only conversant with the original languages of the Bible and committed to exegesis, but one prepared to consider viewpoints quite different from his own.

James Denney of the United Free Church of Scotland is still highly regarded as a theologian of the Cross. At least two of his books were read by David Perrie: Studies in Theology (1895) and Jesus and the Gospel (1913). Denney's "progressive" evangelicalism was clearly of interest to the Wingham minister who had studied at Knox College under an able exponent of conservation evangelicalism like William Maclaren.

Dr. Perrie subscribed to several theological journals, including the popular British Weekly, The Expository Times, and The Hibbert Journal, thus keeping abreast of current thought in theology, philosophy and science. It is striking that these periodicals are all British, reflecting the fact that Canadians of that era still looked largely to the Nonconformist churches of Britain for theological leadership.

This survey of some of the items in David Perrie's library reveals a scholar-preacher rooted in classic Reformed theology and spirituality, yet not unaware of modern thought; a minister of the Gospel who drew on the best available resources from a variety of traditions, but remained a convinced Presbyterian; and an informed churchman who was first a devoted Christian.