Part 2 of WRN's Church Relationships

8. Robert F. Horton

A near neighbour to Nicoll in Hampstead was R.F. Horton[1], and in the early days of the British Weekly there was mutual appreciation between the two men, with each making use of the other. However, in time, this developed into a certain wariness, even distance. The Lyndhurst Road Congregational Church, Hampstead, had grown from their formation in 1880 and was able to invite a young graduate, Robert Forman Horton, who had been one of the first Nonconformists to achieve the honour of graduating from Oxford. Nicoll found Horton useful in the early stages of setting up the British Weekly, and it was Horton’s Church that was the first church to be written up in the series ‘Prosperous Churches and the causes of their success.’[2] Horton wrote some articles[3] encouraging the younger members of the Nonconformist Churches to embrace the challenges of the new age; this helped define the British Weekly as having a very different standpoint to Spurgeon during the Downgrade Controversy.

However, Nicoll was wary of publishing anything that he thought there might damage the readership of his journals. Nicoll wanted to retain the support the widest range of Christian readers possible. He felt Horton was really seeking to move the debate over higher criticism along too fast. Horton wrote a book, Inspiration and the Bible (1888), and he hoped Nicoll would support and persuade Hodder & Stoughton to publish it. Horton had given some lectures to his Church in Hampstead about the new critical understanding of the Bible.  He was encouraged to publish and submitted his manuscript to S.R. Driver to check that his information was up to date with current thinking. Horton wrote about what happened when he offered the manuscript to Nicoll: “Dr. Robertson Nicoll had invited my co-operation in the starting of the British Weekly, and I had written articles for him that was republished.  I therefore turned to him, and offered the manuscript to be published by Hodder and Stoughton.  He was not prepared to face the peril of publishing a book that might shock the orthodox; probably, he had been too occupied with journalism and the current literature to follow the course of Biblical Scholarship; in any case, with all kindness and courtesy he refused to take the book.”[4] The book did cause a stir and mainly because of the negative emphasis with which Horton had attacked ‘the cast-iron theory of inspiration.’  It even temporarily united Parker and Spurgeon to condemn the book. Nicoll had discerned the negative tone and its lack of emphasis on evangelical theology, which might have made its higher criticism acceptable. Nicoll was concerned with the Downgrade Controversy at that time and to have a hand in publishing Horton’s book at such a time could have hurt the circulation figures of his journals. At that time Nicoll knew that to identify with the book would make it difficult to keep as full a range of Evangelicals as possible on board as readers. Horton possibly realised that though Nicoll was a ‘believing critic’, he retained the hope that the traditional view of the scriptures would be re-established. But as J.D. Jones says of Horton, He [Horton] did great service to our churches by teaching them not to be afraid of the new views of the Bible”.[5] As a sop, Horton Nicoll asked to write a commentary in the Expositor’s Bible Series on Proverbs; generally regarded as a ‘safe’ book. WRN had played a ‘canny’ role, but he felt the need to walk carefully the tightrope between the extremes and his eye always on the readership of the British Weekly.

Both in his An Autobiography (1917) and in his biography (1937) there seems a certain coolness if not antipathy[6] shown towards Nicoll: “To some people he was antipathetic. The reference to Robertson Nicoll at the time of his Twenty-first Anniversary indicates that he had no love for the learned Scot, the religious journalist par excellence.”[7] Yet this impression is muted, if not challenged by a personal letter written by Horton to Lady Nicoll soon after her husband’s death: “It must, however, bring you comfort even in this great sorrow to know what a rich – magnificent life work has been accomplished, and how much he leaves behind which will ‘live and work and serve the future hour.’ I might dwell on many kind services that he rendered to me [and] my work, especially in delighting and instructing our Country Ministers’ Conventions. But these are small compared with the great services which for these forty years he has [been] a standard to the country and to the church. If I were to enlarge on that theme I should weary you.”[8] However, something had obviously miffed him when he wrote his autobiography.


9. James Stalker

Dr. James Stalker[9] – was an old friend to Nicoll, going back to his earliest days in the ministry, but since he outlived Nicoll his interaction with his friend is not so well seen. Nicoll appreciated Stalker as a writer, but more particularly as an able preacher, in fact he was most concerned when his friend left the ministry for the retirement of lecturing at Aberdeen Free Church College.[10] Nicoll did not choose to leave the ministry and preaching he was forced to change. Nevertheless, Stalker maintained his preaching and became particularly well received and thought of in America.

 Stalker was able to reflect back on his friendship with Nicoll: “When he was a minister at Kelso I Preached for him twice on a fast day; we found each other at once; and we have been friends ever since. In some respects he could be a second conscience as a friend, demanding a high standard, but at critical moments his sympathy was deep and his assistance practical. Well do I remember the breakdown in his health, which threw him out of ordinary ministerial work and the searchings of heart as to what was to happen next. He wrote me, as to other friends, about this plan and that, and at last the proposal of a new religious weekly appeared on the horizon. I was among those who judged that it would suit him and he it; but the title he suggested, the British Weekly, would never do. It was enough to sink the craft at the very start – a recollection that has often made me humble since. It must have been amidst the uncertainties and anxieties of this interval that the faith was formed which carried him through difficulties, both personal and public, during the rest of his life, as well as the comprehension of suffering, which made him a true son of consolation … I am one of those who hold that the British Weekly was his greatest contribution. He put into it the heart of a man and the toil of a giant. He aimed at a high level of intelligence, and the response came from every quarter of the Christian world.”[11]


10. Thomas H. Darlow (1858-1927)

Thomas Herbert Darlow[12] became a great friend and confident of WRN and eventually he was chosen to write Nicoll’s biography, which he duly did in 1925. He wrote, “It was my privilege to enjoy my friend’s intimacy for nearly half a life time. As a rule, we met every week and talked for hours without reserve. In these pages I have tried to set down some imperfect impressions of perhaps the most remarkable person I ever knew.” [Preface to Biography]

In his early years Darlow was educated at Clare College, Cambridge, where he acquired his MA and trained for the ministry. Darlow became the minister at Crosby, near Liverpool, where he had Silvester Horne preach for him on an Evangelistic mission from Mansfield College, Oxford. Later, Darlow collaborated with Horne to write Let us Pray (1897) and he had been associated with Horne’s group when he was at Kensington (May 1891). He became the minister of New College Chapel, Hampstead and became an intimate friend and visitor to the Nicolls. Lady Nicoll remembered their meeting in her journal for January 19th 1898: “Mr. and Mrs. Crockett came to stay with us and Miss. and Mr. Darlow dined here.” She writes, The Rev. T. Herbert Darlow, another constant friend of my husband’s ... and came to Bay Tree Lodge at the tea time every Thursday, my husband’s free day, and spent an hour or two with him. When in 1898 he became the literary superintendent of the British and Foreign Bible Society and moved to Northwood he would come on Fridays at 6 o’clock and tea would be carried up to him in the library. It must have been these regular weekly talks extending over thirty years which enabled him to accomplish, after my husband’s death, the difficult task of compiling a comprehensive biography; he had just then retired from his post with the Bible Society and so was at leisure to devote himself to this work.”[13]

Darlow went on to successfully publish the only complete, definitive and authorised biography of Nicoll in 1925. This was published as William Robertson Nicoll: Life and letters, by Hodder and Stoughton. Darlow produced a fine biography, which managed to maintain a warm appreciative view of his subject with a degree of objectivity and candour that is surprising seeing that he produced the biography only two years after the death of his friend. Nicoll’s granddaughter[14] has remarked that initially it was felt to be wanting by the family, but soon became the settled text and interpretation of his life. He manfully sought to engage with Nicoll’s hand writing in his letters to his friends; however he did have Lady Nicoll to help him, and even his family maintain that she alone could ‘decipher’ his hand-writing. Such letters as he found from Nicoll he used, but Nicoll was never a good correspondent.[15]

It is the judgment of this study that Darlow was necessarily acquainted with the latter part of Nicoll’s life (from the mid 90s, when Nicoll was already established) to such an extent that this skewed his portrait in some important respects. First, Darlow paid insufficient attention to the importance of preaching to Nicoll. This was an important element in what made Nicoll a success, and his commitment to encourage vibrant and real preaching was continually breaking out in his articles in the British Weekly. Nicoll was always a preacher. He had, in his early days wanted nothing else, than to be a successful popular preacher, in the mould of such pulpit performers as Spurgeon, Parker, or Whyte. Darlow came to know Nicoll only when he had become a force at Hodder & Stoughton – the last 25 years in particular – and it note worthy here to reflect on Darlow’s own statement about his writing the biography: “For six months I was fortunate enough to obtain the regular help of Miss Evelyn Smith, who had acted as Nicoll’s private secretary from October 1914 down to the end of his life. By her personal knowledge, her skill and accuracy, combined with her sympathetic insight and interest, she rendered invaluable service in the heavy preliminary work which the biography entailed”.[16]

Secondly, Darlow was too close to his friend’s influence to be able to have much reflection and historical perspective and evaluation. Their generation is long past and many of the significant names have gone and been forgotten, so that today there is needed a glossary to explain who they were. However, Nicoll had full-blooded relationships with so many of the great personalities and leaders of his day.

Third, Darlow did not write a hagiography, but he was a close friend and he would be careful, rightly, not to be too incisive, particularly in deference to the family. However, though Darlow was not blind to some blemishes in his friend’s character and his attitudes, there is a need for closer look at his perceived faults. Nicoll could be controversial and was not above upsetting a number of people in his fields of journalism, politics and Church matters. Moreover, in considering Nicoll himself, it has been thought right to discuss his personality and achievements in a fairly ‘no holds barred’ approach. It is the belief that this is the way that Nicoll approached his biographical subjects. He had an extraordinary range of inconsistencies, which baffled acquaintances and friends alike, and he had enormous concern over what was written about him.[17]

Fourthly, there is some information that has come into the public arena that Darlow was unaware of. The appreciation of Nicoll’s overall role in the progress of Hodder and Stoughton as a firm, Nicoll’s contribution to the success and perhaps ultimate failure of Lloyd George to return to power after 1922, these, and other elements of Nicoll’s career call for a wider appreciation of his life and times than Darlow could have hoped to give in 1925. Darlow also had to neglect any more systematic survey and appraisal of Nicoll’s writings. He does give some judicious quotes, and notes from an occasional address or lecture, but made no attempt to appraise the sweep of his publications, save to say that they were much appreciated. The truth is that most of his writing was ephemeral and has passed into the archives, not seen as a candidate for republishing.

Fifth, Darlow did not have time to examine Nicoll’s writings, save in a fairly general and anecdotal way. He is inclined to draw attention to things that folk remembered rather than statements Nicoll made. This tends to buy into the mystique th of ‘WRN’ [WXS1] rather than examine it closely, but in fairness, this would be what the family expected, and he did a good job in this way. Darlow did not know or fully appreciate Nicoll – the ‘Scottish Evangelical Free Churchman’ – and he had become somewhat awed by the ‘Golden Years’ of London (1897-1918). He tends to confuse Nicoll’s Free Church of Scotland status with ‘Free Church Nonconformity. Similarities there are, but they are very different and Nicoll would have made definite distinctions.

Darlow was very interest and supported the Christian Endeavour Movement and for many years he wrote regular articles on the weekly topic work in the British Weekly.

Darlow lived at Northwood, Middlesex where he died in 1927.


Darlow’s other BOOKS


The Clerical Life: a series of letters to ministers by John Watson, M. Dods, T.C. Edwards, J. Denney, T.H. Darlow, T.G. Selby, W.R. Nicoll, J.T. Stoddart, James Denney, Marcus Dods and Thomas Charles Edwards (1898)

God’s Image in History [Missionaries in Africa]

Let us Pray: A Handbook of selected Collects and Form of prayer for the use Free Churches –THD. wrote with Silvester Horne (James Clark, London 1897)

Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture In the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society 3 volumes - edited Darlow, T H; Moule, H E (BFBS 1903)

The upward calling (H & S, 1905)

Via sacra (H & S, 1911)

Letters of George Borrow to the British and Foreign Bible Society (Morgan & Scott, 1911)

A Fountain Unsealed (1911) – may have just written the introduction

God's Image in Ebony Darlow & Temple W (1912) [Missionaries in Africa]

Holy Ground [1920]

At Home in the Bible (Hodder & Stoughton, London 1923)

On Thousand and One Bible Problems (1925)

The Life and Letters of William Robertson Nicoll (1925)

Frances Ridley Havergal: A Saint of God: A New Memoir with a Selection of hymns (Nisbet, 1927)


11. Dinsdale T. Young

In Dr. Dinsdale T. Young[18] Nicoll recognised a powerful preacher[19] from a similar mould as Spurgeon. Nicoll encouraged Young to publish volumes of his addresses and also to write articles for the British Weekly. Invariably such articles[20] described the Wesleyan Conferences[21] or other subjects, such as his summer holidays. Young, in turn, was most appreciative of Nicoll’s service to the Church as editor of the British Weekly: “Many a time I have seen a suggestive text, say, in the British Weekly, of a given Thursday, and I have preached upon it the next Sunday on absolutely different lines.”[22] Also, “Though I have been compelled in these pages to refrain from mentioning living men, yet gratitude of no ordinary quality compels me to add in this department of literature two names: Dr. Alexander Whyte, and Sir. W. Robertson Nicoll. Their allusions to Preaching have always stimulated me in high degree.”[23]

Young brought his own assessment after Nicoll’s death: “A great pillar of the Church has fallen. Its massiveness and its beauty have alike rejoiced me for many long years … many will attest his literary genius, his political influence, [and] his wonderful editorial faculty. I would the rather acclaim his splendid loyalty to the evangelical faith. How grandly true he ever was to the supreme doctrine of Christianity – the Atoning Sacrifice! … I know that he was very solicitous concerning the preaching of the Gospel of the Atonement in the churches … Closely associated with this was his deep delight in C.H. Spurgeon. Sir William once told me that it was his custom to read one of Spurgeon’s sermons every evening. In those wonderful discourses he found the replenishment of his soul. He had a delightful enthusiasm for preaching. I never read a pronouncement of his on that subject that did not find a response in my judgment and did not rekindle my ardour for that ‘royal ordinance’ … What a fascinating literary style God had blessed him! My heart sinks when I think of that deft and delightful pen being laid down forever … Sir. W. Robertson Nicoll has been a fountain of inspiration to preachers. They have had no such literary friend these forty years. To what splendid teachers he has introduced us! I should be forever his grateful debtor if only because by him I first came under the spell of Dr. Alexander Whyte … I ventured on one occasion to say to Sir William that I thought his greatest discovery, amid his many great discoveries, was Dr. Denney. He instantly replied, ‘I believe you are right’.”[24]


12. Arthur Samuel Peake

A.S. Peake[25] was another young scholar encouraged by Nicoll to write for the Expositor and who became a good friend. Peake was a member of the Primitive Methodists, who was among the first Nonconformists to graduate from Oxford. He shared with Nicoll a high regard for W.R. Smith as well as sharing the similar convictions about the Old Testament. They exchanged frank letters about scholarship, with Nicoll expressing some of his concerns: “I have read with the greatest care and benefit your extremely able criticisms … I do not know anything so good, so stimulating, and so full of knowledge and thought. Having said this, I hope you will not think me too presumptuous in going on to say more. It always impresses me that with you every question is open. Now I cannot think that they should be so. Some questions are closed, else how can we be set for the defence of the Gospel? We are not set for the provisional acceptance of certain views and the candid consideration of everything urged against them. I see many things that more or less disquiet me.”[26] Nicoll goes on to point out to express his concern about his own observations of a lack of spiritual behaviour amongst students at Mansfield College, Oxford, and even amongst Peake’s own students at Whitechapel. “I feel very deeply that if the Primitive Methodists lose their evangelistic power they will lose their savour. You cannot in the circumstances make them great scholars or great literary men, whatever you do … forgive me for bothering you with this, but you have a great trust committed to you. The moulding of the Primitive Methodists will be much in your hands, and I want you to think it over … You would not believe what hosts of letters I get, and do not print, about the kind of thing that is preached in many of our chapels just now, especially by the younger men.”[27] Nicoll always maintained his concern for the next generation of preachers.

On another occasion, Nicoll counselled the younger scholar: “At the same time you know I am old fashioned, and that I do not altogether sympathise with you. I do most strongly sympathise with you up to the point of endeavouring to support critical questions and theological questions as far as possible, and allowing a free discussion in criticism. At the same time you must pardon me for saying that I do think it a mistake that you take no opportunity, in writing, to show that you hold the great truths that have made Primitive Methodism ...  I think criticism very dangerous unless it is accompanied by a strong and positive element of teaching. You must not be cross with me for saying this. If you needed it I would give you what help I could, but still I feel as I have said”[28] Peake protested that he did try to combine his acceptance of literary criticism with a warm evangelical piety. In his reflections on Nicoll’s concerns for him he wrote, “Criticism for myself has never been anything more than a means to an end. It is not merely that critical problems attract me much less than some other biblical problems, but that I regard them as far less fundamental. My own mind has always been far more concerned with the history of the religion than with the analysis and dating of documents, though it is indispensable to get your documents in their right order if the history of the religion is to be reconstructed. But I do not regard the problem of the Pentateuch or the Synoptic problem as intrinsically more interesting than the Homeric problem. It was natural of course that in the popular mind the issues raised by higher criticism should be more prominent just because they were so obvious and lay so much more on the surface. But if I am remembered by anything after I am dead, I hope it will not be as a student of biblical criticism, but as an interpreter of the great personalities of Scripture and their contributions to religious thought.”[29]  Nicoll appreciated Peake and was always interested in his Pauline studies and invited Peake to contribute to The Expositor’s Greek [New] Testament, Nicoll offered him any one of the Pauline Epistles and Peake chose Colossians.

Peake is certainly perceived as a major influence on the Church scene in his day and as a promoter of liberalism in biblical scholarship, even one who used his influence to save the British Church from a Liberal - Fundamentalist battle. Nicoll always encouraged him and in turn Peake applauded Nicoll: “As editor of a religious newspaper, Nicoll had all the qualities essential to success …He had an uncanny instinct for what would interest the public. His ecclesiastical and political principles were well defined and held, the former especially, with not a little rigidity. He had read a great deal of theology and was especially well versed in the mystics, and he kept in touch with the developments of biblical scholarship. His knowledge of literature was very extensive, and he moved familiarly over rarely trodden by-ways.”[30] Peake’s friendship helps in understanding and contextualising Nicoll’s view of the theological scene.



13. John Henry Jowett

John Henry Jowett (1864-1923) was a Yorkshire born Congregationalist, and trained at Airedale College, Edinburgh University and Mansfield College, Oxford. He came to particular prominence when he was chosen to succeed R.W. Dale at Carrs Lane, Birmingham. As a Congregational Preacher Jowett became something of a phenomenon in the popular acclaim he achieved. For Nicoll, he became the ideal replacement for the aging Alexander Whyte. This began with the odd devotional article or sermon and became weekly regular occurrence during the First World War.

In 1896 Jane Stoddart did one of her interviews with Jowett, just after he had succeeded R.W. Dale at Carrs Lane, Birmingham[31]. He spoke of the early influences on his life and ministry: “The desire to be a preacher was born in me, but it was Dr. Mellor[32] who first transformed the wish into a definite purpose.” At Airedale College A.M. Fairbairn and Archibald Duff were a great help and influence on his development as a minister. But it was, “as a student in Edinburgh, Jowett now learned from Henry Drummond that there is no necessary dichotomy or division between Christianity and culture, and that the most persuasive evangelist attempts an individual approach to every human soul.”[33] Davies also observed, “He concentrated on style, for by it poets and preachers insinuate their way into the human heart and stir the impulses of admiration and awe. In sum, experience – if only he were observant – would provide him with a deeper knowledge of human callings and motivations … there is one curious absence in his years of training: although these were years of theological turbulence Jowett never seems to have gone through a crisis of intellectual doubt. This must be attributed to the liberal evangelicalism of the ministries he attended; but it left him ill equipped for, and even apparently uninterested in, the task of reaching the intelligent outsider. His task, therefore, would always be to edify the convinced rather than to convince the doubting.”[34] In Stoddart’s interview she found that Scotland had a special place in his life and that the ministry of Alexander Whyte would always remain an inspiration.

It was in 1910 that Nicoll himself introduced Jowett to his readers, and by that time Jowett had been fifteen years at Carrs Lane, Birmingham, and had a confirmed and an established reputation. “I spent last Sunday in Birmingham. In the morning I went to Carrs Lane Chapel and heard Dr. Jowett preach … This was the first time I had heard Dr. Jowett preach from his own pulpit, and I shall never forget the occasion … Of the startling wealth and beauty of Dr. Jowett’s diction, the incisiveness of his contrasts, the overwhelming power of his appeals, it is impossible for me to write adequately. Excellent and inspiring as are his published sermons, one has to hear him in order to understand the greatness, and I had almost said the uniqueness, of his influence. In Dr. Jowett everything preaches, and it is a voice of great range and compass, always sweet and clear through every variety of intonation. The eyes preach, for though Dr. Jowett apparently writes every word of his sermons, he is extraordinarily independent of his Manuscript. The body preaches, for Dr. Jowett has many gestures, and not one ungraceful. But above all, the heart preaches. I have heard many great sermons, but never one at any time, which so completely seized and held from start to finish a great audience … Above all preachers I have heard Dr. Jowett has the power of appeal. That the appeal very deeply moved many who were listening was obvious, and no doubt it moved many who gave no sign. At times the tension of listening, the silence, and the eagerness of the crowd were almost oppressive. It was all very wonderful and very uplifting.”[35]  This began an association Jowett was to have with the British Weekly, which only ended with his death in 1923.

Nicoll did not develop a close relationship with Jowett, but he appreciated that Jowett personified many of the emphases and attitudes that he had written about and advocated over the years. He regretted Jowett’s decision to leave Carrs Lane and take up pastoral of Fifth Avenue (Presbyterian) Church, New York. The whole call and settlement was a field day for the papers, and Jowett seemed to be caught in an extraordinary tug-of-war. It took two tries but after sixteen fruitful years in Birmingham, Jowett felt that the new opportunities of New York were right for him.

Nicoll noted all the happenings, but he found that in 1912 Jowett was invited the give the Yale Lectures on Preaching. He extolled the book of the lectures[36], which as it happens was published by Hodder & Stoughton. “His book will rank with the best on the list because he has chosen to be himself, to take his own point of view, to expound his own thoughts in his own style … we are fascinated by many of the self-revelations here. [1] Dr. Jowett tells us that in his study, when preparing his sermons, he seeks to look at his themes from other men’s point of view, and he has followed this practice for many years...[37]

         [2] He has a conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching or ready for writing out until its theme can be expressed in a short, pregnant sentence, as clear as a crystal. The finding of the sentence is the hardest and most fruitful labour done in his study …

          [3] He keeps in the circle of his mind half a dozen men and women very varied in their natural temperaments and very dissimilar in their daily circumstances – real men and woman he knows … He asks himself how he can relate the truth to each …

          [4] It is to be carefully and thoughtfully noted that that man who is at present the most popular and influential preacher in the English-speaking world harks back to the Evangelical mystics, and draws deeply from preachers like M’Cheyne and Andrew Bonar...

          [5] To Dr. Jowett preaching is ordained with divine promises, and it is because of these that we may fitly and hopefully assail the human mind … when the Holy Spirit goes with the living Word; it is possible for the Church to make head against the world. It is only thus that the Word can conquer. It is only in the power of the Holy Ghost that the Divine message is received …

           [6] It is the way of prayer that the Holy Spirit is received. There have been great Pray-ers, and they have never failed completely. So far as we can tell, the great ‘Pray-ers’ have been few, but it is open to every to follow their example. Dr. Jowett puts this instancy of prayer first among the qualifications of the preacher …

           [7] It follows that in Dr. Jowett’s judgment true preaching is the exposition of the Scriptures in the power of the Holy Ghost. It is the Bible, which the preacher must study. Every young preacher amid all his other reading should be always engaged in the comprehensive study of some one book in the Bible …

           [8] The Christian preacher is charged with a message. It is a message by which he himself lives. It is a message, which possesses him. It is in proportion as he is full of the message and held by it, firmly and vividly, that he is able to resist the stream of tendency, and to make men think and hear and believe and obey. The consciousness of that message from God, and of the human spirit to which it addresses itself, is the master thought of his thinking. The preacher who understands it, who believes it, will look upon preaching as an agency chosen by Divine wisdom to do work which cannot otherwise be done.”[38]

Jowett not only had a fruitful American pastorate, but also was still receiving calls to prestigious churches in Britain, such as free St. George’s Church, Edinburgh, and Richmond Hill Congregationalist Church, Bournemouth.[39] When the war came Jowett felt, increasingly an exile from Britain. It was in January 1915 that Jowett began to write a regular weekly column for the British Weekly. For Nicoll these articles filled the place where the regular contribution that had come from Alexander Whyte. Jowett’s early articles covered aspects of prayer[40], but then became inspirational and always devotionally supportive to the country at war. Porritt wrote of these articles, “Some of his best original work went into these articles. They were not sermons, but totally independent productions prepared during his early morning studies, and written ‘currente calamo’ and at a sitting.”[41] These articles certainly prepared the way with the Nonconformist public, but his call was to take the pulpit of Westminster Chapel, London. Actually the first London Church to approach him was the City Temple, where R.J. Campbell had resigned in 1915, but it was the Westminster Chapel leaders, who were losing G Campbell Morgan who made the call to Jowett to return and take their pulpit. Many individuals, including Lloyd George, then Prime Minister sent a personal letter. “It was stated in the American Press that King George V ‘Commanded Jowett’s return: but the statement was utterly erroneous.”[42]

Jowett seemed to attempt too much, he even broke with his policy of avoiding controversy and it was only in, what proved to be his final years, did he begin to preach on social and political issues. His health broke down and he was forced to resign from Westminster Chapel in 1922. He died the following year: “His death was felt all the more poignantly in the nation because he was stricken at a time when all his mental and spiritual powers were at their zenith.”[43]

Nicoll was ailing also at this time, dying just some weeks before Jowett, so made no assessment. But Jowett embodied so much of what Nicoll wanted to see in a preacher, and in fact as far as the emphasis on devotional literature was concerned, share the same outlook. Horton Davies seeks to sum up Jowett’s impact: “At a time when all the notable pulpits of America and England were rife with argument, Jowett led his people into the quietude of the Upper Room. While other ministers noisily debated the reconstruction of doctrine and the so-called ‘New Theology,’ or the reconstruction of society according to the imperatives of the ‘Social Gospel,’ Jowett stressed the culture and discipline of the devotional life. While the majority of ministers and members concentrated on the activism that estimates by statistics, Jowett concentrated on the individual cure of soul by the means of meditation … His determination to concentrate on devotional preaching was neither dully conservative nor deliberately antiquarian. He abhorred the triviality of the merely topical sermon that owed more to the newspapers than the Word of God. He considered that the discussion of the hypothetical and variable conclusions of Biblical and historical criticism in the pulpit were turning ministers and people into critics rather than into convinced and covenanted disciples. ‘When life is a picnic,’ he stated acidly, ‘we play with theology: when life is a campaign we grope for a religion.’”[44]

Jowett did appreciate Nicoll and wrote his own ‘Personal Tribute’: “I place the front-page article in the British weekly, written when Dr. Nicoll was in his prime, as one of the great formative forces in the religious mind of the last generation. Amid all the confused and confusing sounds of those uncertain days, his word was like a trumpet. It kept thousands in the road … I think of Dr. Nicoll’s greatest contribution to the religious life of our day it is the Cross, which comes first into sight. He was one of the foremost champions of the Evangelical faith … and if I may pass behind this public stage to more private and personal matters I would mention two gifts, which Dr. Nicoll had pre-eminently. He had the gift of encouragement and he had the gift of comfort … at two or three times in my own life that living word has come to me. Can I ever forget the letter he sent me a year ago when, in broken health, I laid aside my work? There was the suggestion of myrrh about it, as though the word of healing had come through the recollection of personal pain and sorrow …Dr. Nicoll had that gift, as I knew full well, and it was perhaps one of the richest gifts in all his richly dowered soul.”[45]


14. John D. Jones of Bournemouth

John Daniel Jones was born in 1865 at Ruthin, Denbighshire, in Wales on the day after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. His father, Joseph David Jones, a Welsh schoolmaster and musician, was determined to name him Lincoln because of his admiration for the President, but one of the grandmother’s objections prevented this and he was given the good Welsh names which he bore through life, John Daniel. His boyhood years coincided with a golden age of Welsh preaching. The pulpit was the predominant factor in Welsh life. Every Welshman was a sermon-taster, and great preachers were the idols of that day. Jones' father died of overwork at the early age of forty-three. Seven years later his mother married again, to D.M. Brymer, a Congregational minister in Chorley, Lancashire. There J.D. Jones went to the Grammar School until in 1882, when he won a scholarship to Owen's College, now Manchester University, where he took his degree in 1886. He went on to spend three years in theological studies at Lancashire Independent College, Manchester, and a year at St. Andrews in Scotland, where twenty-five years later he was to receive his first honorary doctor of divinity degree.

On January 2 1889, he was ordained and became pastor of Newlands Congregational Church in the Cathedral City of Lincoln. In July of the same year he married and learnt the dynamics of family life as well as those of a church. He matured almost suddenly. The apprentice had become a master craftsman and his style and methods as a preacher underwent no change though the passing years and riper experience merely added depth and enrichment to his sermons.

In those days it was his habit to memorize his sermons but as an insurance against any momentary lapse of memory, he carried his manuscript in his pocket when he entered the pulpit. He abandoned the practice before he left Lincoln because he found the labour of memorizing was an unprofitable tax on his brain. Afterwards he read his sermons; he doubted that many of his listeners would detect it, for he never allowed the written page to come between the preacher and the congregation. His memory was so good that a glance at a fresh page recalled its exact phrasing. By this reliance upon manuscript he sacrificed an early natural gift of eloquence, but he escaped the snare that often befalls extempore preachers of having to go on saying something until they have something to say. Jones believed that preaching as ‘a man – a real man speaking real things out of real experience’. A penetrating critic of sermons and preachers, George Jackson, has said that the three qualities that endeared J.D. Jones to readers and hearers alike were: (1) a faith that never wandered far from the central things; (2) ease and simplicity in expounding it; and (3) an appealing winsomeness in commending it. All three qualities were developed during his first ministry at Lincoln.


Jones created a reverent atmosphere in the pulpit. His diction was simple and direct. His preaching had intellectual force and spiritual power. His voice had a haunting beauty: soft, musical, with a just detectable Welsh accent and that resonance that made him easily heard whenever he spoke. JD sought to exercise a positive ministry of encouragement and comfort from the Scriptures. Jones concentrated on being a pastor to his people at Richmond Hill, Bournemouth and he resisted calls to other pulpits, even in America, with the idea of replacing Jowett in New York and also the offer of becoming the principal of his old seminary at Lancashire College. Here he had the support of W. Robertson Nicoll, who referred approvingly of Jones decision in the columns of the British Weekly and also wrote to him. “I feel sure you were guided wisely yet I know that the decision must have presented great difficulties. But from the day I began to think about these things up till now, I have always held that the pastorate is the highest office open to a minister. In my own Church – the Free Church of Scotland – the great ambition in my day of promising young men was to get a professorship. Over and over I have known eminently successful pastors get into Theological Professorships and fail. For example, my old minister Dr. Laidlaw of Aberdeen, one of the best preachers I ever heard made a complete and lamentable mess of the Theological Chair at Edinburgh --- I remember my friend Dr. Stalker, who had a very large and successful Church in Glasgow, accepted a Professorship at Aberdeen where there are only about twenty-five students. I happened to meet principal Rainy shortly after and said to him that I thought it was a great pity. ‘Oh,’ says Rainy, ‘it is an honourable retirement’”.[46] The Lancashire College repeated their invitation in 1921 and at one time he was asked to stand for parliament, but replied with Nehemiah 6, v3; “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down”.

Jones formed relationships with many key people in the church scene, including W. Roberson Nicoll. Nicoll had views that he shared with JD, as with regard to the concern both men shared over the views of church reunion publicized by John H Shakespeare[47] and even differences of approach over Lloyd George could not spoil their friendship.[48] Jones believed that Nicoll had great influence amongst the Nonconformists: “The importance attached to his judgments was due to the fact that they were regarded as being the expression of the Nonconformist mind”.[49] Jones sensed that Nicoll was not quite one with the Nonconformists who followed him. “The truth is Nicoll never quite rid himself of a sense of superiority to the English Nonconformist”.[50] Jones cited from a letter to Nicoll: “In spite of your disclaimer you do speak for us. Many of us feel that you are our most potent voice in the public press”.[51]

Jones wrote of Nicoll; “He was one of the most extraordinary men I have ever known ... he never was and never could be what is known as a ‘popular’ preacher. But there was always great stuff in his sermons”.[52] Jones admired his skills, even ‘genius’, as a journal and editor. He had first hand acquaintance with Nicoll’s extraordinary memory and his knowledge of magazine literature, which would have included not so well known preachers and literary people, quite forgotten by most people, but Nicoll followed up his interest in biographical details of lesser known ‘useful’ people. Jones was amazed that one so gifted and methodically able as Nicoll, could, on occasion be very absent-minded and forgetful. Nicoll liked to talk and always with his pipe at hand: “I used to think he got through more matches than tobacco”.[53] Jones says he even saw Nicoll, at a dinner in Bournemouth, absent-mindedly drinking coffee from a colleague’s half-consumed cup having pointedly refused to have any coffee for himself. Jones summed up: “A brilliant, gifted, but in some respects [a] strange man was Robertson Nicoll. But he was always good and kind to me and I shall always keep him in affectionate memory”.[54]


J.D. Jones suffered his own times of sorrow, for in July 1917, while preaching in Torquay his wife became seriously ill and died before he was able to get back to her. The six years later, his only son died in the Gold Coast, Africa, where he had been working in the administration of a plantation. In September 1933, Jones remarried and was able to travel with his wife and daughter. He and his wife retired to Wales in 1937, where Jones continued to preach, while his health remained robust. However in August 1941, anaemia began to tire him from over exerting himself. “D. Martyn Lloyd Jones visited him at Mrs. Jones’ request, to share the word that he could not get better, and Jones accepted the news with his usual poise and courage”.[55]

On April 19 1942 Jones died and he was buried in Bournemouth, where his grave bears the epitaph: “John Daniel Jones, Preacher of the Gospel. ‘Simply to Thy Cross I cling’”.[56]



The Way into the Kingdom, or thoughts on the Beatitudes (1900, reprinted 1907, 1934, etc)

The Glorious Company of the Apostles: Being studies in the characters of the Twelve [Sermons] (1904)

Elims of Life and other sermons (1904)

Reason Why for Congregationalists (1904)

Christ’s Pathway to the Cross (London, James Clark, 1905)

The Gospel of Grace (1907)

The Game of Life, talks with boys and girls (London, Thomas Law, 1907)

Things most surely Believed (1908)

The Hope of the Gospel (1911)

Our Life beyond (1911-Second Impression)

The Unfettered Word, A series of readings for the quiet hour (1912)

The Gospel according to St Mark (1913)

The Gospel of the Sovereignty and other sermons (1914)

The Great Hereafter: questions raised by the Great War concerning the destiny of our dead (1916)

The Validity of the Congregational Ministry (1916)

If a Man Die (19170

The Lord of Life and Death [on John11] (1919)

The King of Love [A Commentary on the 23rd Psalm] (1922)

The Reformation: its Message for Today (1924)

A Plea for preaching: Address from the chair of the Congregational Union (1924)

The Greatest of These [Addresses on 1 Corinthians 13] (1925)

 The Greater Call: An address from the chair of the Congregational Union (1925)

Watching the Cross (1926)

The Inevitable Christ (1928)

Richman Hill Sermons (1932)

Morning and Evening [Sermons] (1934)

Keep Festival: sermons on the great occasions of the Christian year (1939)

The Model Prayer [the Lord’s Prayer]

The Power to Endure (1940)

Three Score years and Ten: The Autobiography of J.D. Jones (1940)

The Ideal Church Member (new edition 1955, with additional chapters)

The Gospel of God and other sermons (1942)


15. George Herbert Morrison of Glasgow

Dr George Herbert Morrison[57] – was minister and one time moderator of the Free Church General Assembly. Nicoll appreciated and found good use for him; Nicoll wrote of Morrison, “The tenderness and compassion of his appeal lingers with us still. As a counsellor he was the wisest, the kindest and the safest one could seek … everyone who had his friendship was inwardly proud of the honour. To be seen in his company was a great distinction.”[58] Morrison was appreciated as an outstanding preacher and for his writing, which was always sermonic and devotional, which was seen in his contributions to the British Weekly. In his biography of Morrison Gammie wrote, “Special mention must … be made of his connection with the British Weekly. In its Scottish edition for eleven years he wrote the weekly article on the Sunday School Lesson, and a series of these was included in his volume entitled The Footsteps of the Folk, published in 1904. In more recent years his weekly devotional article in the British Weekly has been one of the attractions of that journal.”[59] Nick Needham has written, “His evangelical theology is perhaps most clearly and economically stated in his The Significance of the Cross (1923), which expounds and defends the penal substitutionary nature of the atonement.”[60]


16. David Smith

David Smith[61] – took over, in Nicoll’s later years, the place of answering reader’s problems in his own column.[62] Smith appears to have been a man in Nicoll’s own mould, in that he was delicate in health and a great reader, with a tendency to love the mystics. David Smith was known as an accomplished preacher, but Nicoll found him a reliable, acceptable and polished columnist for the British Weekly, and his longevity as a contributor, speaks for its self of Nicoll’s appreciation of Smith’s work. Lady Nicoll remembered David Smith, Professor in the Irish Presbyterian College, Londonderry, in her memoirs. He visited the family at the Old Manse in Lumsden: “He moved marvellously considering how handicapped he was by his lameness. His ill health seemed to have the right influence upon him, and to fellow suffers he always had a cheering and stimulating message. What my husband wrote of the blind Dr .George Matheson might also be written Dr. David Smith: - ‘He believed, like St Paul, that in each condition there is a divine spring of help, and that, however calamitous one’s circumstances may be, it is possible so to alter oneself as to make them an aid and not a hindrance in the progress of the spirit. He grandly transformed what seemed to others mere wounds and pangs and fetters into strength and gladness and freedom.’”[63]

Alexander Gammie[64], also, became a good friend to Smith and appreciated his abilities as a preacher as well as a writer. After Smith’s death Gammie wrote, “With all his gifts as scholar and mystic, theologian and preacher, Dr. Smith had no greater gift than that of his personality … Dr. Smith was the guide and counsellor of so many people all over the world in their difficulties of faith and conduct that his passing leaves a sad blank.”[65] Nicoll also knew and used a man of fine spiritual calibre.



[1] Robert Foreman Horton (1855-1934), ministered at Lyndhurst Road Congregational Church, Hampstead. He wrote a number of times for the British Weekly: ‘An appeal to wavering Nonconformists’ (Oct 21 1887); ‘On the need of maintaining a Nonconformity as such’ (Nov 11 1887); ‘The Testimony of the Free Churches’ (Dec 2 1887) – all supportive of Nicoll position in the ‘Downgrade Controversy’ – also ‘The Sanctification of the Intellect’ (Feb 26 1891); ‘Dr. [John] Watson’s theology’ (Nov 15 1900) etc

[2] British Weekly, Dec 31 1886.

[3] Horton, R.F.: ‘An Appeal to wavering Nonconformists’, British Weekly Oct 21 1887; ‘On the need of Maintaining a Nonconformity as such’, British Weekly Nov 11 1887; ‘The Testimony of the Free Churches’, Dec 2 1887.

[4] R.F. Horton: An Autobiography, (Hodder & Stoughton, London 1917) 86.

[5] Jones, J.D.: Three score Years and Ten (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1940) 296

[6] If there was chagrin behind any coolness in their relationship, it could simply have been that Nicoll did not use Horton nearly as much as Horton thought he should/could have.

[7] Peel A. & Marriott J.A.R..: Robert Foreman Horton (Allen & Unwin, London, 1937) 325.

[8] Horton: Letter to Lady Nicoll: May 5 1923: Aberdeen University Archives, Nicoll Papers, MS 3518, Box 4.

[9] James Stalker (1848-1927) – Minister of the Free Church, which he left to become Professor of Church History in the Free Church College at Aberdeen (1902-1924). He wrote a number of devotional books on Scriptural subjects. “He was aware of contemporary critical theories but preferred to write on a less scholarly level.” Marshall, I H: Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, op cit 790

[10] Nicoll: cited by Darlow: op cit 370. “I have always held that the pastorate is the highest office open to a minister … I remember my friend Dr Stalker, who had a very large and successful church in Glasgow, accepted a professorship at Aberdeen College where there are only about 25 students. I happened to meet Principal Rainy shortly after, and said to him that I thought it a great pity. ‘Oh’, said Rainy, ‘it is an honourable retirement.’”

[11] Stalker, James: ‘Personal tribute’, British Weekly, May 10 1923

[12] Thomas Herbert Darlow (1858-1927 not only written many articles for the British Weekly, but was also a close personal friend, in fact one of that select group with whom Nicoll could enjoy a ‘twa some crack’.


[13] Nicoll, C. R.: Under the Bay Tree (Private Circulation) 79

[14] Mrs Prudence Kennard, WRN’s granddaughter in conversations with the author.

[15] Only some of Nicoll’s letters (72) to Marcus Dods are in the Nicoll Papers in Aberdeen University Archives (MS 3518/ 32)

[16] Darlow: op. cit. Preface vii

[17] This later concern can be demonstrated even to his gathering folders of newsprint, not only containing reviews or mere mentions of his books, but also any published reference to him!

[18] Dinsdale T. Young (1861-1938) Methodist Preacher and having trained at Headingly College, Leeds [1882], held successful pastorates in Birmingham, York, Manchester, Edinburgh, but it was in London that he made his mark, at Queens Street, Holborn [1904], Wesley’s Chapel, City Road [1906-1914] and Westminster Central Hall [1914, remaining there for 23 years]

[19] Here there was a Scottish connection, for Young spent three years at Nicolson Square Church, Edinburgh: “I was favoured with a romance of manifold prosperity. Immediately the church filled to overflowing alike on Sabbath mornings and evenings. So it remained during my ministry there. I, on several occasions, had the remarkable experience of having more people excluded than could be crowded into the building … when I closed my ministry in Edinburgh the Lord Provost (Sir Robert Cranston) presided at a dinner with which I was farewelled. The Synod Hall was taken for my last two Sunday evening services and was densely crowded.” Young, Dinsdale T.: Stars of Retrospect (Hodder & Stoughton, London 1920) 64

[20] “Another very happy literary pursuit of mine has been the writing of sketchy articles concerning my summer holidays, and other subjects. Many of these have appeared in the British Weekly, The Methodist Times, and other papers. I have been simply amazed, and that not seldom, at the gratitude of readers has often almost drawn my tears. From distant lands I have received messages of thanks, especially for sketches in the British Weekly.” Young, Dinsdale T.: Stars, ibid 165.

[21] “For several years I wrote, in, a series of sketches of the Wesleyan Conference. It involved early rising and late sitting up during the sessions of the Conference, but my friends who read the sketches abundantly rewarded me by their warm appreciation.” Young, Dinsdale T: Stars, ibid 166

[22] Young, Dinsdale T.: Stars, ibid 118

[23] Young: ibid 180

[24] Young, Dinsdale T.: ‘Personal Tribute’, British Weekly, May 10 1923

[25] Arthur Samuel Peake (1865-1929) was a Primitive Methodist biblical scholar and writer, after graduating from Oxford; he was a lecturer at Mansfield College, Oxford; Hartley College, Manchester (1892); Rylands Professor at Manchester University (1904). He worked and achieved a widespread acceptance of literary criticism, which he combined with a broadly traditional theology. He always remained a layman and worked for the re-union of the British Methodist Churches. Peake is perhaps best remembered for his one volume commentary on the Bible, which he edited in 1919.

[26] Nicoll letter to Peake, cited Darlow: op cit 343-4

[27] Nicoll: letter to Peake, ibid 344-5

[28]Peake: Reflections and Appreciations, op cit 20

[29] Peake: ibid 21-2

[30] Peake: ibid 25-6

[31] Stoddart [Lorna]: ‘Interview with J.H. Jowett’, British Weekly Feb 13 1896

[32] Dr. Enoch Mellor, minister of the Square Congregational Church, Halifax, Jowett “never met, shook hands, never exchanged a word”, but Jowett said later that “he had always modelled himself as a preacher upon Dr. Mellor” [Porritt: Jowett, op cit 14]

[33] Davies, Horton: Varieties of English Preaching 1900-1960 (SCM Press Ltd, London 1963) 40.

[34] Davies, Horton: ibid 41

[35] Nicoll: ‘A Sunday in Birmingham’, British Weekly, Dec 22 1910

[36] Jowett, J.H.: The Preacher: His Life and Work (Hodder & Stoughton, London 1912)

[37] Examples are cited as, Newman, Spurgeon, Dale, Bushnell, Maclaren and Alexander Whyte

[38] Nicoll: ‘Dr. Jowett’s Yale Lectures’, British Weekly, Oct 17 1912

[39] Porritt, Arthur: John Henry Jowett Ch MA DD (Hodder & Stoughton, London N/D [c1924]) 154-6

[40] Examples: ‘The sin of prayerlessness’, ‘The treasury of prayer’, etc.

[41] Porritt: Jowett, op cit 227

[42] Porritt: Jowett, ibid 180

[43] Davies, Horton: Varieties, op cit 53

[44] Davies, Horton: ibid 35, 37

[45] Jowett, J.H.: ‘Personal Tribute’, British Weekly, May 10 1923

[46] Nicoll, W.R.: cited Jones, J.D.: Three Score Years and Ten (London, Hodder & Stoughton 1940) 260-1

[47] Ibid., 208-211

[48] Ibid., 232-235

[49] Ibid., 235

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid., 236

[53] Ibid., 237

[54] Ibid.

[55] Wiersbe, Warren W.: 50 People Every Christian should know, (Grand rapids, Michigan, Baker Books, 2009) 293

[56] Ibid

[57] George H. Morrison (1866-1928) was Glasgow born and educated for the ministry and known for his ability as a preacher and a writer of devotional literature. He was associated with fruitful ministries in Thurso First, Caithness, Dundee, and Wellington Church, Glasgow. “It fell to Dr. Morrison to preach the first sermon on the wireless [radio] in Scotland.” Gammie, A.: Preachers I have heard, (Pickering & Inglis Ltd, London) 180

[58] Nicoll: cited Gammie, A.: George H. Morrison: The Man and His Work (James Clarke & Co Ltd, London) 16.

[59] Gammie, A.: George H. Morrison, ibid 170

[60] Needham, Nick: ‘George Herbert Morrison’, Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology, op. cit. 608-9

[61] Professor David Smith (died 1937) Scottish Preacher, New Testament scholar and writer, who became a Professor in the Irish Presbyterian Church after being passed over by Scottish colleges. “Dr. Smith’s name will live by reason of his published works and perhaps most surely by the first and last which came from his pen: The Days of His Flesh and The Disciples’ Commentary of the New Testament. The first was undertaken at the request of the late Sir. William Robertson Nicoll, that great discoverer of new talent.” Gammie, Alexander: Preachers I Have Heard (Pickering & Inglis Ltd, London N/D [c1945]) 20

[62] ‘The Correspondence of Rev. Professor David Smith DD’

[63] Nicoll, C.R.: Under the Bay Tree, op cit 234-5

[64] Gammie, Alexander (died 1951) was a leading religious journalist and for a time he was the Scottish Correspondent of the British Weekly, but was better known for his articles in the Glasgow Evening Citizen. He wrote several biographical studies.

[65] Gammie, Alexander: Preachers I Have Heard, op. cit., 23.

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