Transcript of debate in the Northern Ensign for March 3, 1896
THE debate between the Rev. Mr Davidson and Mr C.N. Houston on some of the doctrines taught in the book “Millennial Dawn” took place in Canisbay Free Church on Wednesday evening. The circumstances which led up to the debate are well known to our readers and need not be recapitulated here. A good deal of interest was manifested in the event, and it came off in the presence of an audience which quite filled the church. The weather which had been very stormy for a whole week previously had become settled. The bitterly cold wind had ceased to blow, there was a fine serene sunset, and a clear sky and nearly full moon made night almost as bright as day, while a sharp frost converted muddy roads into as pleasant paths as were ever trod upon by shoe leather. The people gathered to the place of meeting from far and near. A party drove from Wick and another from Halkirk, and other districts beyond the Persian frontier sent contingents – one of those from a distance being the Rev. Mr Brims, Keiss – while the parish itself was, as a matter of course, largely represented. When the audience was assembling the strangers who had taken their seats had leisure to take a look round and mentally express satisfaction with the internal alterations and improvements, in virtue of which it may be said that the church has quite renewed its youth and been removed far and forever from the class of sacred edifices which are characterised as belonging to the barn type. Reflections on this subject were distracted for a time by the appearance of a plump and every way well appointed cat – not black – which inspected the elders’ platform, reserved for the chairman and the debaters; and from thence it sprang up in the direction of the pulpit, where for the rest of the evening it is supposed to have watched the interesting proceedings which were going on below. When the hour came – seven o’clock – almost every seat in the large building was occupied. Dr Macgregor acted as chairman, and discharged the duties of his office with ability and fairness. It was bruited abroad that lively episodes might be looked for before the debate was over, and there was even a rumour that extra police were to be in attendance to make sure that all things should be done decently and in order. One preserver of the public peace was in evidence, but one only, and as might have been anticipated, no occasion arose for invoking his intervention. The chairman kept the audience well in hand. At one juncture when there appeared to be some disposition to interrupt Mr Houston, the doctor said that if anything of the kind happened again he would name the interrupter. This, however, was more easily said than done. In a crowded meeting it will often baffle the keenest-sighted president to “spot” every individual who hisses or interjects an unfriendly remark, and this was found to be the case in the present instance. Therefore at the next threatened outbreak, Dr Macgregor said that if order was not maintained he would leave the chair, and this intimation had the effect for a time of allaying the discordant elements. Personally Mr Houston is held in high esteem in his native parish, but there was evidently something more than curiosity to know about “this new doctrine” of which he appeared as the setter forth. Coupled with the feeling of curiosity there was apparently among some an uneasy suspicion that the doctrine in question marks a perilous deviation from the old paths which they and their fathers before them have hitherto been content to keep in their Zionward pilgrimage, and orthodox religious folk are sensitive to nothing so much as meddling with matters which vitally concern their hereditary beliefs. Mr Houston, however, got throughout a patient hearing, and his arguments were closely followed by the meeting. Both gentlemen paid the audience the compliment of coming to the debate well prepared; and although an hour was allowed each for his opening speech, neither had half exhausted his arguments when time was called. After that, each had half an hour in which to reply, but the time limit was not rigidly insisted on; and it was half-past ten o’clock before the debate came to an end. A full report of the proceedings would fill about fourteen columns, and as that is a much larger order on our space than we can meet, a severely condensed summary must suffice. Mr Houston and Mr Davidson, accompanied by Dr Macgregor, emerged in due time from the vestry, and were quietly received. Mr Davidson read four verses of the 19th Psalm, commencing, “God’s law is perfect, and converts The soul in sin that lies,” and these having been sung, led by Dr Macgregor, Mr Davidson engaged in prayer. Thereafter
Mr Houston said he had pleasure in proposing that Dr Macgregor to take the chair. The doctor was known to them all, and he presumed he would have no interest in favouring one side more than the other. (Applause.)
Mr Davidson seconded the motion. In doing so he wished to explain that Mr Houston had the choice of the chairman, and three gentlemen had been named, without, however, consulting them, viz, the Rev. Mr Macpherson, Dr Macgregor, and Councillor A. Sinclair, merchant. Mr Macpherson declined because he had to go from home; and Dr Macgregor also declined on account of his professional duties. He (Mr Davidson) then went to Mr Sinclair, who was willing to take the chair; but Mr Houston preferred the doctor, and that gentleman ultimately consented to undertake the duties of the office. (Applause.)The Chairman asked the audience to give each gentleman a patient hearing. Truth, he said, could not suffer permanently from anything that was said or done, and they had evidence of this in the history of the past and in the record of quarrels on questions of opinion which had taken place. The chairman then read the terms of debate as follows; -
“I, C.N. Houston, affirm that according to the Scriptures, the ‘ransom for all’ given by the ‘Man Christ Jesus’ does not give or guarantee everlasting life or blessing to any more. It only guarantees for every man an opportunity of life everlasting.”
“I, Donald Davidson, affirm that according to the Scriptures, the ‘ransom for all’ given by the ‘Man Christ Jesus’ does give and guarantee everlasting life and blessing to some men. It does not guarantee ‘another opportunity or trial for life everlasting’ as taught in ‘Millennial Dawn,’ vol 1.”
MR HOUSTON OPENS.
Mr Houston introduced his opening speech by saying that he appeared before them that evening with great pleasure. He was one of themselves; they knew him altogether; and he need not therefore make any apology about himself. If they believed half that had been said in connection with this controversy, he could not wonder if they had some curious feelings in their hearts; but he hoped to be able to disperse some of the more erroneous ideas which had been formed and which had possibly been crammed into them. He spoke of the changes which had taken place in various departments of life – changes wrought by science and changes in theological opinion, and remarked on the opposition which everything that was new encountered for a time, although by-and-by it came to be accepted as a matter of course and regarded as indispensible, notwithstanding the deceivableness of Satan’s power in getting people to keep back truth by prejudice and religious hypocritical cant. If people charged him with disseminating error, he was sorry for it; but they had known him all his life, and they knew that he had ever sought to do that which was considered good. He described how he had been led to study the question which was to be discussed that night, and how he found that there was not a single iota of the doctrines which he now believed could be gainsaid by the word of God. After his brother-in-law’s death, he had after prayerful consideration and most earnest thought resolved to give up business and devote his life to the study and proclamation of God’s truth alone, independent of any creed, sect or system, but just as he saw it pointed out to him in that glorious book, “Millennial Dawn,” which is the word of God expounded. He got a person to distribute the sample tract, “Do You Know?” and he had every right to be challenged for doing that; but he had an equal right to hold and expound his own opinions. Truth was every man’s possession’ and that was the stage they were at now. He read the proposition which he was to affirm, and said that the latter part was not exactly according to what was in “Millennial Dawn,” but Mr Davidson would not agree to it in any other way, therefore let it go. When Mr Davidson did at last agree on the terms of debate, he was greatly rejoiced, and he was there that night, as the result, to make known the truth of God. What they had to consider was “the ransom.” And what was the ransom? Dr Young of Edinburgh defined it as a corresponding price – an equivalent of some kind – something that you would not take gold for – you must get back for it the same thing – you life or that thing. He drew a picture of the garden in which Adam was placed. It was arranged by God that Adam should be the father of the race; and a law was given him to keep, but he disobeyed and died, and all his posterity with him. But the Second Adam gave his life a ransom for the first Adam and all in him – and that ransom will be testified by God to every living soul in due time. Therefore no man could perish except by refusing with full knowledge and opportunity the Second Adam’s doings. The heathen had not heard the glorious news of a ransom, but still they are responsible; and God condemns them in one – the first Adam – that he may redeem them all in One, and tell them some time or other what has been done for them. He gave his reasons for believing that this would happen at the end of the present dispensation when according to the beliefs of the Jews and the prophets Jeremiah and Daniel the patriarchs would be brought back to the earth; and Paul said, “Why think ye it a thing incredible that God should raise the dead?” The Jews had carnal ideas, and thought they were to be the power in the earth; but Christ had first to die for their sins, and in virtue of his death they shall yet be taken back to the land and shall inherit the earth and be the power in the world. It is God’s fiat that they shall possess the land because they are ransomed. The ransom was paid two “days” in advance, otherwise two thousand years in advance, and when the time is fulfilled, those counted worthy in the Jewish age will be brought forth and constituted the rulers among men in the day of the world’s trial. This period of about two thousand years is marked off for calling out the church, the Bride of Christ, which is to accompany Him in the work of blessing and restoring the world. The time for their favour began in 1878, at the end of their double – the period of disfavour; and as they took 37 years in falling, they take the same number of years in rising again, which brings us to 1915, at which time they are due to possess the land and be the controlling power. Mr Houston next spoke of the second chance, and said it was a great mistake if any one thought that “Millennial Dawn” teaches that God excuses sin. Men could do nothing without knowledge – knowledge to take of one’s free will the blessing which God has provided and offers. Man is meant by God not to be a slave but a noble being, a king; and in the restoring of the race the awfulness of sin was shown in the destruction of those who fall away and remain impenitent, who have possessed knowledge and opportunity, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come. For them is reserved the devouring fire which shall devour the adversary.
MR DAVIDSON’S OPENING – A CATECHETICAL INTERLUDE.The Chairman said they would all agree that they had listened to a very eloquent discourse from Mr Houston, He would say no more than that. It was now Mr Davidson’s turn to speak for an hour. (Applause.)
Mr Davidson, who was received with renewed cheering, said he wished to centre his thoughts on the latter part of the proposition which he was to affirm, viz., “another opportunity or trial for everlasting life,” as taught in the first volume of “Millennial Dawn.” But he would first make one remark by way of answer to Mr Houston’s speech. From his letters and his present remarks his position seemed to be, there is a ransom for all, then why not should all receive blessing through that ransom? No doubt it was a little difficult to reconcile these two positions; but he (Mr Davidson) would endeavour to make it clear by a simple illustration. Mr Houston was a draper in Wick, and being in that line of business, he was quite willing and fully competent to supply all the servant girls who came into Wick at each terms with bonnets and dresses. (Laughter and some hisses.) But he supposed he was not exaggerating or stating what was untrue when he said that many of these persons when they went into Wick did not go into Mr Houston’s shop and buy bonnets and dresses notwithstanding his willingness to supply these articles. Many of them went to other shops – in which they were perhaps mistaken, but it was a fact. He could sympathise with Mr Houston in that position, for he was in the same position himself as regards spiritual matters. There was a ransom for every one in Canisbay, but alas, many would not come and avail themselves of it. The god of this world had blinded their minds, and that explained why though there was a ransom for all, all did not avail themselves of the glad tidings. Mr Davidson went on to say that before proceeding to discuss his proposition he had one or two questions to put to Mr Houston, and he might answer them now or he might decline to answer them. He would put the questions through the chairman. The first was, “Does Mr Houston sincerely believe that according to the Scriptures all who are unsaved in this present life will get a second chance or another opportunity for life everlasting after death?” To that he (Mr Davidson) said No.
Mr Houston – I will answer that question afterwards.
Mr Davidson – You will think about it. I have another question and Mr Houston may answer it or not; but I venture to say that the meeting will demand answers from Mr Houston to these two questions – answers that will be plain and straight. (Applause.) If not intelligible and straightforward answers are given, I have no power to extort them; but if such answers are not given we will have something to say. My second question is, “Does Mr Houston acknowledge that the book ‘Millennial Dawn’ teaches the doctrine of a second chance or another opportunity of life everlasting to the unsaved after death?” I say Yes. (A voice, addressed to Mr Houston, “Answer!”)
The Chairman – Mr Houston does not need to answer the question now unless he chooses.
Councillor Sinclair – I think it would save time if the questions were answered now. (Applause.)
Mr Houston – I have no objection to answer them now, but it would lead the meeting to straighter issue if Mr Davidson would go on with his address. (Cries of “No!” and cheers.)
The Chairman thought it would be better if Mr Houston reserved his answers until a later stage.
Mr Davidson was quite willing that this course should be adopted. He said he thought he would make it clear to their minds that the doctrine of a second chance was plainly taught in “Millennial Dawn.” Mr Houston would have them believe that he was as orthodox as himself (Mr Davidson), perhaps more so; but it was not so much with Mr Houston as with the book that he had to deal; and he asked them to bear with him when he read extracts from its pages. The extracts were to the effect that the Scriptures do not teach that death ends all probation; that the heathen and infants will assuredly have an opportunity of being saved in the age or dispensation to come, when all that are in their graves shall come forth, and when they shall have a hundred years of trial during the millennial time; and Mr Davidson further maintained that the book teaches that under certain conditions a second chance will be given to those who have lived in a civilised state and possessed the bible.
A TESTIMONY CONCERNING A SECOND CHANCE.
Mr Davidson said he would now read a document signed by twenty-one persons, including himself – gentlemen who occupied honourable positions and were supposed to be honourable and intelligent men. The document is as follows: -
“We, the undersigned, having read the book ‘Millennial Dawn,’ vol. 1., are decidedly of opinion that it plainly teaches the doctrine of a ‘second chance’ or ‘another opportunity’ of life everlasting to every man after death. (See pages 105, 108, 111, 129, 130, 140, 144, 150, 151, 158, 159, 160, 161.)
James Macpherson, E.C. minister of Canisbay.
Alex. Sinclair, C.C., Canisbay.
Andrew Munro, teacher, Canisbay.
Alexander G. Macgregor, medical doctor.
James Sutherland, elder, inspector of poor.
George Manson, elder, Duncansbay.
David Kennedy, elder, Freswick.
Alexander Dunnett, elder, Brabster.
David Nicholson, deacon, Seater.
John Simpson, deacon, Moy.
Francis Sutherland, deacon, John O’Groats.
William Dunnet, elder, Huns.
William Steven, elder, Gills.
George Malcom, deacon, Gills.
Matthew Dundass, deacon, Duncansbay.
Geo. T. Mackenzie, schoolmaster and deacon, Freswick.
Arthur M’Connachie, divinity student, Zion Chapel, Wick.
Daniel Sutherland, accountant, Wick.
Alex. S. Fullarton, teacher, Wick.
A. Phimester, clothier, Wick.
Donald Davidson, Free Church Minister, Canisbay.
Mr Davidson proceeded to say that he did not see the need of going on with a discussion of this doctrine of a second chance if Mr Houston did not believe in it. Why discuss points on which they were agreed? It would be better to hear Mr Houston himself give plain, definite, intelligible answers to the questions which had been put through the chairman, and leave it to him to say whether thee need be further discussion. (Applause.)
The Chairman informed Mr Davidson that he had still twenty-five minutes to speak.
DEBATE DEVELOPS INTO LIVELY DISCUSSION.
Mr Houston rose and commenced his reply when Mr Davidson asked for a plain yes or no to the question whether there is a second chance for all who are unsaved in the present life.
Mr Houston claimed the right of reply in his own way.
The Chairman – Mr Houston is entitled to do that.
Mr Davidson – Certainly. Go on.
Mr Houston read from the Epistle to the Hebrews concerning those who sinned after having received the knowledge of truth. The point, he said, was based on knowledge, and knowledge was the ground of condemnation. There was no more sacrifice for sin, but God does purpose to give knowledge. (“Question!”)
The Chairman – The question is, Is there a second chance for those who are unsaved in this world? (Hear, hear and cheers.) Is there a second chance for those who go into the other world, both for those who have heard and those who have not heard the gospel. That is the point. (Cheers and cries of “Yes” or “No.”)
Mr Houston – I won’t answer that. (Hisses and general disturbance, which brought from the chairman an imperative demand for order.)
Councillor Sinclair – I don’t see the use of coming here to discuss the subject if these questions are not answered. (Applause.)
Mr Davidson – I said before that I could not extort answers from Mr Houston unless he chose to give them.
Councillor Sinclair – It is a fraud altogether. (Laughter, hisses and cheers.)
The Chairman – There is another half-hour for each side.
Councillor Sinclair – Is it truth we want and not words. (Applause.)
The Chairman – Mr Houston may give us a lot of texts but leave us in the mist. (Applause.)
Mr Houston – If Mr Davidson wishes me to say yes or not to an absurdity I will not answer that.
The Chairman – Mr Davidson says that “Millennial Dawn” teaches that after death there is a second chance for every man who is unsaved. I think Mr Houston should say yes or no whether he believes that that doctrine is taught in the book.
Mr Houston – That is true, but I dare not acquiesce in a proposition that is not stated as it is stated in “Millennial Dawn.” You have heard the extracts read from the book, and I might as well ask you what you think.
Mr Charles Dunnet, Gills – Do you not believe in “Millennial Dawn?” (Laughter and cheers.)
Mr Houston – Every word of it. Mr Houston said he would give an illustration. When a man was flogged on board ship, a doctor stood by and stopped the punishment if he saw that the culprit had not sufficient life and sense to make his conscious of what he was getting. If God had provided a ransom which was as far reaching as the evil that is in the world, would it be just or fair that poor creatures should be cast into destruction because they had heard something about the ransom but did not fully understand and acquiesce in it? That would be doing what the law of this country would not do; and that was his answer. (A voice, “Not straight!”)
Councillor Sinclair – Put the question again.
The Chairman – I understand Mr Houston declines to answer it,
Mr Houston – I believe no living soul will be condemned except those who have had full knowledge, according to the question.
Mr Davidson – that is not according to the question.
Mr Houston – No one will be condemned, is my answer.
The Chairman put to Mr Houston the second question as to whether the book teaches and he believes that there will be a second chance or another opportunity to the unsaved after death.
Mr Houston – Most distinctly – to all and sundry.
The Chairman – That there will be an opportunity for life everlasting for the unsaved after death?Mr Houston – Yes; but the manner of putting the question has a contingency in it. (Laughter.) The gospel has been preached for nearly two thousand years, and there is no second chance for those who have heard and rejected it; but the ransom secures eternal life to all who will have it, either here or hereafter. (“Oh, oh!” laughter and booing.)
Mr Davidson – May I take it that Mr Houston sincerely believes that there will be a second chance or another opportunity given to the unsaved after death?
Mr Houston – Most distinctly, but I object to the word unsaved, as that implies that they had had an opportunity.
Mr Davidson (offering Mr Houston a document) – Will you put your initials to it?
Mr Houston – I would not word it in that way.
MR DAVIDSON’S REASONS OF DISSENT.Mr Davidson said he was opposed to the doctrine of a second chance for four reasons - (1), Because it is unphilosophical and unreasonable; (2), Because it is a doctrine which is repugnant to Christian thought and feeling; (3), Because it is highly dangerous to morality; and (4), Because it is wholly unwarranted by Scripture. Mr Davidson dwelt at considerable length on each of these objections to the doctrine. It is, he said, an ingenious theory, but it is a theory spun out of a man’s own brain. It is a human speculation and therefore has the value only of a human speculation. He demanded plain Scriptural warrant for the doctrine; and it lay with Mr Houston to find the proof. Such proof, he maintained, could not be found. The Scripture doctrine is, “Now is the day of salvation;” and no one of the human race could answer the question, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” Let Mr Houston now stand up and give the Scripture proofs which he demanded. (Applause.)
Mr Houston objected that Mr Davidson had not read the whole of the passage in “Millennial Dawn” which implied that there will be a second chance to some of those who live in a state of civilisation. He repeated that it was only those who have had a clear realisation of the terms of the ransom who will be condemned for refusing it. He read from the Confession of Faith with regard to election and predestination; and considering that that was the creed of Mr Davidson’s church, he did not wonder at his vehemence in repudiating the doctrine that the ransom for all must testified to all in due time, he asked where was the justice and consistency, and where was the Scripture, for condemning men for not accepting a ransom which was never offered to them or which they were foreordained to reject. The words “As the tree falls so shall it lie,” bore out his doctrine that as it falls so shall it rise again. No man would be condemned until he had had a full and fair opportunity of accepting the eternal life which God had provided for him. Mr Davidson preaches a universal gospel.
Mr Davidson – I do.
Mr Houston replied that the Confession of Faith did not, notwithstanding the many passages of Scripture which were in the same terms as the one which says that Christ Jesus is the propitiation not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. He proceeded to say that the doctrine of a second chance was the good news which would be unto all people. God had appointed a day in which He would judge the world, and he would bring back man to it, as the Jews would be taken back to the land and remain on it to all eternity. He (Mr Houston) had come to them that night, and it was at their peril whether they received or rejected the glorious truth which he had to tell them about. It would take a little while to make everything clear to them – (laughter, and a voice, “Yer gettin’ more into the mist”) – but what he had stated was God’s word and could not be gainsaid.
A MIXTURE OF ORTHODOXY AND HERESY.
Mr Davidson said, with respect to Mr Houston’s remarks, that he had never listened to such a mixture of orthodoxy and heresy – (laughter) – of sense and nonsense, from the lips of any man. (Renewed laughter.) That was his opinion and judgment. Mr Houston appeared to have no shadow of doubt in his mind regarding those great and solemn questions regarding the state of the heathen, the offer of the gospel and the doctrine of election. He (Mr Davidson) had arrived at no such condition of certainty; and he would like to be a little more humble. He could not reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s free will while he was placed in the condition in which he was. God was not in duty bound, as a mere matter of justice, to send him the Gospel; and he might have been made an ape, a horse or a worm instead of a human being. If he were cast into hell, he could not say nay. If God had sent him the Gospel, he could only consider it a marvellous act of mercy, condescension and love on His part, for which he trusted to praise Him through all eternity. He had no ambition to continue this controversy any longer. He freely handed it over to any other party who might take his place in answering Mr Houston. He would tread his path humbly and confidently, assured that God in his own time would bring all things to light. His answer as to the present and future condition of the heathen was that a great sin and guilt lay upon the Christian Church for not obeying the command, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature;” but he had this satisfaction to his own mind, that unto whom much is given of them much is required. He believed that there would be various degrees of punishment when the day of judgment comes; and that it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for the cities where the feet of the Saviour trod, that saw and heard and rejected Him. He dare not go beyond God’s word. He left those matters which were not intended to be solved in the hands of Him who, being a God of justice and love, will not punish any individual beyond what he deserves; and if he, a simple member of the human race, got strict justice meted out to him, he, at least, would have no reason to complain. (Applause.)
MR HOUSTON’S LAST WORD
Mr Houston said that it was because the Judge of all the earth would do right that he sought be there that night; and he was there because he wished to show forth what was a Scriptural, Godlike, philosophical and true doctrine. (A voice, “You’ve no Scripture for the second chance.”) Mr Davidson said he had spoken some nonsense. Well, he was not alone in that; for it was written that the very wisdom of God had appeared foolishness to men. Mr Davidson said that he (Mr Houston) had not a shadow of doubt; but why should he doubt? for if God’s word said that a ransom is given to all, for all it is. Mr Davidson might seem to be charitable; but when his Church declared against God’s word that only a certain elect number are saved and that the rest are passed by, he thought it behoved men who sought to maintain the honour of God to see, if God had given a ransom, that that ransom ensures what it says, and that it will be declared to all. The problem of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility was solved by that doctrine – that God has appointed a day whereby he will judge the world, so that every man who ever lived shall hear the voice of the Son of God. God’s sovereignty in the ages and dispensations was fixed and true and man’s free will was true also.
Mr Davidson proposed a vote of thanks to the chairman for the admirable way in which he had performed his duties. He was pleased to see such a good congregation, and he would be glad if they all came out again next Sabbath. (Laughter and applause.)
Mr Houston seconded the motion, and said the chairman had acted very fairly. He also thanked the audience for the very patient hearing which they had given himself. He may have talked a lot, but he had only said half what he might have done. (Applause and laughter.)
The meeting then dispersed. Hospitality to strangers was generously dispensed by the Rev. Mr Davidson, Dr Macgregor, Councillor Sinclair and others.
The Wick party reached home shortly after 1 a.m., after a comfortable drive in Mr Sinclair’s covered ‘bus, which was carefully piloted by Mr Hugh Falconer.
Immediately following the above report, the column continued with A CRITICISM ON THE CANISBAY DISCUSSION (by one who was present) which was reproduced in full in ZWT reprints 1965.