Saturday, August 18, 2012


Transcript as published in the John O’Groat Journal for March 6, 1896


A PUBLIC theological discussion is rather a rare event in these northern parts, and the debate arranged between Mr C.N. Houston, Wick, and the Rev. Mr Davidson, Canisbay, which came off in the Free Church there on the evening of Wednesday of last week was looked forward to with considerable interest, The discussion had reference to certain teachings of the book “Millennial Dawn,” for the circulation of which Mr Houston acknowledged responsibility, and intimated his willingness to defend its teachings as being scriptural when these were challenged by the Rev. Mr Davidson. When at seven o’clock the principals in the discussion faced the audience they found that every seat in the commodious and comfortable church was occupied. After preliminary praise, and prayer by the Rev. Mr Davidson, Mr Houston moved that Dr Macgregor take the chair. Mr Davidson seconded, and the Doctor, after some remarks, agreed to do so, impressing on the audience the necessity of giving both gentlemen and fair and patient hearing. Truth, he said, could not permanently suffer from anything that was said or done. Vague rumours had been abroad that some lively interruptions might be expected, but, on the whole, throughout the discussion the audience behaved themselves very well, although at one point the interruptions caused some liveliness, and there was a momentary danger of the chairman losing control of the audience. Fortunately, however, he held them very well in hand, and the debate was carried out ably and brought to a satisfactory and becoming conclusion. An hour each was allowed for the opening speeches. The chairman called upon Mr Houston to open the discussion after having read the subject 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 man. It only guarantees for every man an opportunity for 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 began by saying that he appeared before them that night with great pleasure. If they believed the one-half of what he had been circulated regarding him and his beliefs he did not wonder they should have very strange feelings in their hearts. He hoped, however, to be able to disperse some of the most erroneous ideas that might have been crammed into them. The chairman had truly remarked that truth could not suffer permanently. There was no truth held to-day but had a struggle at the commencement. And there was nothing that had been so much opposed as God’s truth. Some of them would remember the controversy that arose over the proposed Revision of the Bible. But they had it now, and there was not so much about it. In 1611 the Authorised Version of the Bible was opposed, and further back Wyclif was opposed for translating the Word of God into the English tongue, and he had made a remark which lived down the ages – that he would make a ploughboy know more of the truth of God than the hypocritical priests of Rome. And so all along there had been the same bitter opposition. But the god of this world, Satan, knew all the time that it was the light – knowledge – that was going to break up his kingdom. It was in his interest to use holy, religious, hypocritical cant to keep it back, and so it had ever been. If therefore they believed all they heard, that he had been disseminating error, he was sorry; for they had known him all his life and knew that he ever sought to do that which was considered right. Some three years ago, he proceeded, he was led to see that there was far more in God’s word than had ever yet been made known. He searched the light that was brought to him, proved it, and found there was not a single point which could be gainsaid by the whole word of God. He accordingly resolved to re-arrange his affairs, and after his brother-in-law’s death he determined, after prayerful and earnest consideration, to give up business and devote his life to the study and proclamation of God’s truth independent of any creed or sect, but just as he had seen it pointed out in that blessed book “Millennial Dawn,” which was the word of God expounded. After that he engaged a man to distribute that little tract “Do you Know.” He was challenged for this by the Rev. Mr Davidson, who had every right to challenge him, but he on the other hand had every right to his own opinions and the expounding of them. God’s truth was every man’s possession; and that was the stage they were at now. The proposition he had to affirm was –

“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 man. It only guarantees for every man an opportunity for life everlasting.”
The last part of that sentence was not exactly according to the book, but Mr Davidson would not take it up in any other way, so let it go. He was glad that Mr Davidson had accepted it even in this form, and here he was to try and make known just a little of what it is to get an opportunity for life everlasting.



Dr Young of Edinburgh defined it as a corresponding price – an equivalent of the same kind. Let them now come to the Scriptures and see God’s arrangement with the first man. He described the glory of the garden in which the glorious perfect man was placed – God’s representative on earth – a representative man of what God meant men to be. And had he obeyed God he would have been there forever and ever, for God did not set him there with a trap to fall into. God’s foreknowledge does not clash with His righteous doings. If God did not intend something better for the race he did not think He would have suffered the world to live down in misery for six thousand years if there was no hope. Now Adam had laws laid down to him, and so long as he obeyed he would be lord over the whole earth. But the moment he made any deviation – and sin was just deviation – it was said to him he would die – “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Well he did die in one of God’s “days.” And all his posterity was doomed the same way, and there had not been a man able to redeem his brother. Now he wished them particularly to understand that God meant Adam to live and obey Him. Here now came the Ransom. God does not give or guarantee everlasting life or blessing to any man by His own eternal fiat without a purpose, but He has guaranteed to all an opportunity for life and for blessing. God’s order in Adam was repeated in the case of the Jews – “Choose life that ye may live; refuse my law and it is death.” God does not propose to give eternal life right off without our acquiescence, acceptance, obedience; but neither does He propose to condemn if He has found a Ransom, not one living soul but those who wilfully refuse the Second Adam, the Lord from Heaven. The great principle laid down to Adam was to obey God, and he had the ability to do so. But he did not. Now the Second Adam comes on the scene – the Son of God, the Perfect Man – came and divested Himself of His glory, and the Second Man’s life had to be given for the first man’s life – blood for blood, life for life. And so they read that “as in Adam all die even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Paul beautifully reasoned out the whole transaction in the 5th chapter of the Romans. The Second Adam gave His life for the first and all that was in him, and that would be testified by God to every living soul in due time. That was an arbitrary act of God decreed by Him before the world was. There was therefore no man who could perish but by refusing, after full knowledge and opportunity of knowing and understanding what the Second Adam had done. That was the truth of God; that was the gospel, the joyful message which shall be unto all people. But that did not of itself save any man. There was just this little thing – you have it for nothing on condition you take it. The Son of God by one offering took away sin for ever and made reconciliation with God. Now, then, how many of the sons of men had heard this glorious gospel? The heathen had not heard. It would be a moral impossibility for God to suffer creatures to live on for ever if He had no provision of love and mercy; but He condemned them all in one that He might redeem them in One. Now is there to be a time when God shall show forth what He has done for mankind? Yes. Whosoever will may have life. Two thousand years ago the Jews had an idea that the promise that was made to Abraham was to have a literal fulfilment and that Jacob and all the patriarchs and prophets were to be brought back. Paul said “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?”  But they forgot their life’s history and what they had been taught through the blood of bullocks and goats. They forgot that the world had to be redeemed first before one of them could get it. Christ had to die according to the Scriptures, and but for that they could never possess the land. And they shall possess it, for God had decreed it, and they had been ransomed by the Son of God, and all the earth at the same time. But before that takes place God purposed that the price should be paid two “days” in advance, 2000 years or so before the purchase was taken possession of, and why? That a noble people might be taken out of the world who would just believe all this, and as a reward for their faith and their witnessing to the world and overcoming were to be over yonder and made glorious beings like unto the Son of God. When that people is taken out, after this, declares the Apostle James “I will return and will build again this tabernacle of David...that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles” – after the spiritual sons are first taken out to be joint heirs with their Lord in restoring and blessing the world of mankind. He could prove that from the Word of God. The Jews were gauge. They had a carnal notion that they must be set up, and so they did not receive Him when He came. And when He said “This day your house is left unto you desolate” from that moment they began to receive their double – their period of disfavour, which five or six lines of Bible testimony proved terminated in 1878. Their rise, however, would be as gradual as their fall had been, and after that time was up Jerusalem would be ready to receive Him and not till then.


It was knowledge that would be our condemnation if the favour of God were rejected. Our wills were a factor that God had recognised and if they doubted that or disbelieved it then the Scriptures were broken. God meant man to be a noble being and not a slave, and the awfulness of sin was shown in the destruction of those who fell away and remained impenitent, who had possessed knowledge and opportunity, had tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come. For them was reserved the devouring fire which should devour the adversary. What a responsible thing it therefore was to those who hear and do not obey.


Mr Davidson began by saying that in the time allotted to him he would centre his thoughts and arguments on the latter part of the terms of debate and would do his best to make his position clear and convincing that the “ransom” did not guarantee “another opportunity for life everlasting as taught in ‘Millennial Dawn,’ vol. 1.” He would first, however, by way of argument and answer to Mr Houston’s speech, make one remark. From his letters and his remarks his position seemed to be: there is ransom for all;, then why should not 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 to all the servant girls who into Wick at each term 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 into other shops – by their conduct they showed they had no faith in Mr Houston or his goods – (some hisses) – 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, and they knew that, 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 here was a ransom for all, all did not avail themselves of the glad tidings. Proceeding, he said he had one or two questions to put to Mr Houston, which he might answer or decline to answer. They could not extort an answer.

(The Chairman read the first question) – “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 said he would answer the question in his reply.

Mr Davidson (resuming) said the next question was – “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?” He (Mr Davidson) said Yes; and he ventured to say the meeting would demand straight answers from Mr Houston to these questions. (Applause and “Answers.”)

Mr Davidson, proceeding, said that Mr Houston would make them believe that he was as orthodox as himself (Mr Davidson), but he had to do with the book. He thereupon read lengthy extracts from the volume in question. 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 a second chance will be given to those who have lived in a civilised state and seen or possessed a Bible.


Mr Davidson said he would now read a document signed by 21 persons, including himself – gentlemen who occupied honourable positions and were supposed to be honest and intelligent men. It was 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.

Continuing, Mr Davidson said he did not see why he should go on to discuss this solemn doctrine if Mr Houston did not believe in it? He therefore thought it would be better to have plain answers from Mr Houston – yes or no. (Applause.)

The Chairman repeated the questions and Mr Houston said – I will reply in my own way.

The Chairman – Exactly. (To Mr Davidson) – Go on, you have 25 minutes yet.

There being cries of “Answer,” Mr Houston rose and read from Hebrews vi., 4,5,6; and x., 26,27, pointing out that the condemnation was based on rejection after knowledge.

The Chairman – The question is, Is there a second chance for those who are unsaved in this world? (Applause.)

Mr Houston was proceeding to a further explanation, when the discussion was rather marred by the interference of some of the audience.

Councillor Alex. Sinclair held they get a straight answer, yes or no, to the questions. It was truth they wanted not words.

Mr Houston – If Mr Davidson thinks I should answer any proposition he chooses I shall not say “yes” or “no” to an absurdity.

The first question having been read again by the chairman,

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 him 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!”)

At this point there was a short interval during which some exciting conversation took place among the audience.

The discussion being resumed, Mr Davidson said he would now proceed to argue the question. They had, he said, arrived at this knowledge in the course of their debate, that Mr Houston did really believe in a second chance to the unsaved after death.

Mr Houston – Not as you put it.

Mr Davidson said he was not particular about the terms used. He would say “every man” as was stated in the book. He was opposed to the doctrine 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 gave his reasons in considerably length for each of these objections to the doctrine. It is, he said, an ingenuous theory, but 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. He saw not a glimmer of hope from the lips of the Saviour beyond this present life. 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 salvation?” They dare not go beyond what was written. (Applause.) Let Mr Houston now give plan Scriptural warrant for his belief. (Applause.)


Mr Houston, while expressing satisfaction that Mr Davidson had read so much from the book, pointed out that by not completing some of the quotations he had not brought out the author’s true point, which was that a ransom had been given, and that it was only those who came to a clear and distinct understanding of it who would be condemned for refusing it. On an ordinary estimate there had been 142 billions of people born since the time of Adam, and only one billion of them by the most liberal estimate had ever heard of the name of Christ. But the ransom had been given, and if the 141 billions were to be condemned for refusing it that would be illogical and unlike our God. He then quoted from the Confession of Faith showing that the teaching of Mr Davidson’s Church was to the effect that the elect only would be saved, and that the rest of mankind God was pleased to pass by and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin. He did not therefore wonder at Mr Davidson’s vehemence in repudiating the doctrine that the ransom for all must be testified to all in due time, but he asked where were 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 it shall be,” rather bore out his doctrine that as it falls so it shall rise again. Mr Davidson might preach a universal gospel, but the Confession of Faith did not. Mr Davidson was like the blinded Jews of old who thought that all that God was going to do for the world was to be done by them. He said it was only for some men. Then woe betide the multitude, for St Paul argued that no one could be saved but by hearing of and believing on this Name. Christ, however, had tasted death for every man, although that did not excuse sin in any. He read from “Millennial Dawn,” page 145, as follows – “We do not wish to be understood as ignoring the present responsibility of the world, which every man has, according to the measure of light enjoyed, whether it be much or little; whether it be the light of nature or of revelation.” The news of a second chance for all in the Second Adam was the Gospel or glad tidings. God had appointed a day in which He would judge the world, and He would bring back man to it. The Jews would be taken back to the land, yes and the Gentiles also. 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.


Mr Davidson said that he never listened to such a mixture of orthodoxy and heresy, of sense and nonsense, from the lips of any man. That was his opinion and judgment. Mr Houston appeared to have no shadow of doubt in his mind regarding those great and solemn questions respecting 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. God’s command was “Go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” but 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 throughout eternity. He had no ambition to continue this controversy any longer. He freely handed it over to any 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, “to 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. 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 in his concluding speech said it was because the Judge of all the earth would do right that he sought to 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 a 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 also 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. He quoted from Rotherham’s translation the text John xi. – 25,26 – “I am the resurrection and the life. He that liveth and believeth in me though he die shall live again; and no one who lives again and puts faith in me shall in any wise die unto the remotest age. Believest thou this?” 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 wherein 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 had a right of reply but said his last word would be to move a hearty vote of thanks to the chairman. This was seconded by Mr Houston who said that the doctor had acted as chairman in a very fair manner indeed. (Applause.)

The meeting then quietly dispersed, the proceedings having terminated about 10.30. Parties from Wick and Halkirk were hospitably entertained by Councillor Alex. Sinclair, merchant, by the Rev, Mr Davidson, Dr Macgregor and others.


Anonymous said...

What happened to the plump cat?

jerome said...

Well, at least it shows someone has read through this whole series of posts. The John O'Groat Journal reporter obviously had his attention elsewhere at the crucial moment.