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THE LIFE OF THOMAS SCOTT
Several weeks ago, I gave two lectures on the life and ministry of John Newton. Today, the man is mostly known for his hymn, Amazing Grace. The song is popular art at its best, but John never thought of himself as an artist. He was a pastor and a saint. His pastoral work won many to the Lord, as he preached the Gospel to thousands and wrote for a hundred times that many.
But if Newton was a fine pastor, he was a better saint. If he won many by what he did, he won far more by what he was. One of them was named Thomas Scott. This afternoon, the Lord willing, I'll tell you his story.
BIRTH AND YOUTH
Thomas Scott was born in 1747 in Lincolnshire. His father grazed cattle for a living-and it wasn't much of a living for the family because there were so many kids: 13 in all! Mr. Scott, it seems, was a decent enough man, but-as far as we know-he was not a Christian and he could not read. As for Mrs. Scott, we don't know the state of her soul, but she was literate and she taught her son to read the Bible.
At ten years old, Thomas was sent to boarding school, and for five years never came home or saw his parents. If this sounds heartless to us, it is, but it was fairly common at the time. Without making too much of it, it makes me think Mr. Scott was not the warmest of fathers.
But, as I said, he was a decent man, and when Thomas was about fifteen, he was sent to the apothecary for medical training. Thomas had a real knack for this, but he and the boss fell out with each other, and he was sent home-and back to grazing cattle.
Scott was not a lazy young man, but he did not like working with his hands and hoped to find some place he could work with his head. At the time, there were three ways of doing this: medicine, law, and the ministry. The first two were hard and time consuming, but the ministry? Thomas Scott thought that would be an easy way to make money with enough time to follow his real interest: scholarship.
Hoping for a cushy job in the pastorate, Scott applied to the Bishop for ordination. The first question the man asked him: Can you read Greek and Latin? Yes, he could, he could read them very well. The Bishop was duly impressed, but there was something about the young man that rubbed him the wrong way.
He might be a Methodist!
By, 'Methodist', he didn't mean the denomination we know by that name. He meant: an Evangelical (at best), or more likely, a fanatic.
The leading Methodists at the time were George Whitefield and John Wesley. The men differed in some key ways, but they agreed on one thing-and this is what made them so offensive to the bishop and most Anglicans at the time: You must be born again. Being moral was not enough; believing the Apostles' Creed was not enough; being baptized was not enough. To be saved, God had to save you by a work of Almighty Grace.
The bishop shied away from Thomas Scott because he feared he might be one of them.
This is interesting, because-at the time-Scott was as un-Evangelical as a man could be. Not only didn't he feel the need for a New Birth, he didn't even believe that Jesus Christ is God! Yet there was something about him that made the Prelate think he was be a bit too enthusiastic for God.
This reminds me of Caiaphas, the high priest of Israel, who-in plotting to kill the Lord ironically prophesied-
It is expedient that One should die for the people.
With time, Scott won over the Bishop. He doesn't say how he did it, but based on what he objected to, I suppose he persuaded him that he was not-and never would be-an Evangelical. In any event, he was ordained to the ministry of the Church of England in 1772 and served in it-for good or bad-until his death nearly fifty years later. For most pastors, ordination is a high point in their lives. Looking back on it, though, Scott saw it was the worst moment of his-
As far as I understood the controversies, I was nearly a Socinian and Pelagian and wholly an Arminian: yet, to my shame, be it spoken, I sought to obtain admission into the ministry of a Church whose doctrines are diametrically opposed to all three.while I was preparing for this solemn office, I lived as before in known sin, and in utter neglect of prayer.Thus with a heart full of pride and wickedness, my life polluted with many unrepented, unforsaken sins; without one cry for mercy, one prayer for direction or assistance or a blessing upon what I was about to do.
. after having concealed my real sentiments under a mask of general expressions, after having subscribed to articles directly contrary to what I believed, and after having blasphemously declared in the presence of God, and of the congregation.I judged mysfelf to be inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take that office upon me (not knowing or believing there was a Holy Ghost).
It's not easy to say where he was most to be blamed. He was a heretic who denied the Deity of Christ and the Personality of the Holy Spirit, along with the inspiration of the Bible and the miracles it recorded (including the big one: the Resurrection of Christ). This is what he means by Socinian. Pelagian means he believed that man could save himself by being good-and without the grace of God or the death of Christ!
He was also a hypocrite swearing an oath to God that he did believe in the Trinity, salvation by grace, the authority of the Bible, and so on.
He was a conniver (or, maybe 'liar' is the word I'm looking for), using what he calls general expressions to cover up his true beliefs.
He was an impenitent man who never prayed.
If he had been self-deceived, you'd have to cut him some slack-regret his ordination, but not strongly condemn him for taking it. But there's the rub: He was not self-deceived. He knew what the ministry was supposed to be, but he didn't care because the work was easy and the pay was good.
Knowing what kind of man Thomas Scott was at his ordination, it's not hard to guess what kind of pastor he became. He was appointed to a couple of villages near Olney (where Newton lived). For the next few years, he spent nearly all of his time in the study.
This might be a good thing, if he had studied to know God and to bless His People. But he didn't! Scott threw himself into his studies in order to win a reputation as a scholar and to beat men like John Newton in debate. In a word: he studied for himself.
By this time, John Newton was already a famous man. If Scott wanted to be somebody, what better way to do it than to make a fool of the old preacher? To help him prepare for the debate, he sneaked into John's church one day, only to be shocked at the man's rudeness.
I was fronting the pulpit and verily thought Mr. Newton looked full on me when he came into the desk; and when he named his text, to my great astonishment, it was this, 'Then Saul (who was also called Paul) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, and said, "O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord/?"' (Acts 13:9).
From this day on, Scott not only looked down on him as a fool, but hated him as an enemy. Years later he found out Newton had not seen him and prepared the sermon without knowing Thomas Scott would be there!
I wonder why Thomas Scott took the text so personally. I think he was offended because he knew it fit him--that, despite being a minister, he was also a child of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness and a perverter of the right ways of the Lord?
In any event, from that day on, he began writing letters to Newton on disputed questions, hoping to draw him into debates which, being the smarter and better educated man, Scott was sure to win.
John Newton, however, was a hard man to argue with. He read the letters and answered them with charity and good humor. He told Scott what he believed, but he would not quarrel with him. As this took all the fun out of his letters, Scott quit writing them. Years later he said of this time-
I entered indeed into a correspondence with Mr. Newton. My intention, however, was not to learn from him, but to dispute with him; and when he waived controversy, I dropped the correspondence, and utterly neglected his letters. From that time, I avoided his company, and all the while I declined hearing him preach.
Thomas Scott could get away from Newton and his preaching and his letters, but he couldn't get away from his holiness. An old couple living in Scott's parish became gravely ill and-not being called for-he didn't go see them, and then they died. This didn't bother him much, but what did is the news that Newton had dropped in on them several times in their last days. He wrote of his feeling at the time-
Immediately my conscience reproached me with being shamefully negligent, in sitting at home within a few doors of dying persons, and never going to visit them.This reflection affected me so much, that without delay, and very earnestly, yea, with tears, I besought the Lord to forgive my past neglect.
Don't get him wrong: he was not a Christian at the time, but by quietly showing him what a pastor was, Thomas Scott began to see what he was not. Without really believing in God, Scott cried out to Him-and was heard.
The next person to have an impact on our man was Mrs. Jane Kell, a young widow. After a christening one day, Scott played cards with the dear lady, won all her money, and.she didn't get mad! Scott, on the other hand, was a hot-tempered man, and had she beat him, he would have gone off like a volcano!
He so admired Mrs. Kell that he soon made her Mrs. Scott! Writing to a friend, he described his bride in words I hope you brothers won't imitate-
She seems to possess whatever can render woman amiable: beauty excepted.
What Mrs. Scott lacked in beauty she made up for in wisdom. Thomas was far from wealthy and very much dependent on his patrons, who were not Evangelical men. Up to now, he had preached his sermons largely to please them. Until one day his wife said-
Only act according to the dictates of your conscience; we shall doubtless be provided for.
The pastor took her advice and got serious about doing right whatever the cost.
READING THE BIBLE
It wouldn't be long until it cost him dearly. Seeking a higher office in the Church he had to re-subscribe the Articles of Faith, which he did not believe. At his ordination, he had done it without a qualm, but now he would 'follow the dictates of conscience'.
The Articles plainly teach the doctrine of the Trinity, which it says-
May be proved by certain warrants of the Holy Scripture.
Scott did not believe in the Trinity, and he wouldn't say he did. This bewildered his friends, at first, and then made them mad. But Scott didn't care. If the Trinity is certainly taught in the Holy Scriptures, he would have a look see.
For two years he hit the books-or, rather, the Book-with a seriousness he had never had before. As he read it, he saw that all the things he once denied and ridiculed were true-
My boasted reason I have discovered to be a blind guide, until humbled and enlightened and sanctified by the Spirit of God.Thus hath the Lord led me, a poor blind sinner, in a way that I knew not.and hath brought me to a place of which I little thought when I set out.
It wasn't long before the man who once spent all his time in the study got a feel for the pulpit. Scott was a first-rate preacher, both to average people, and to the ones well above average. A leading attorney went to church every week, he said-
For professional improvement, as well as for religious edification.
Here, too, his wife was a great help. He would prepare his sermons early in the week and read them to her. Though well-educated herself, she insisted he take out all the big words and hard-to-follow arguments. After four or five tries, he would satisfy her by-
Exchanging words unintelligible to labourers and lace-makers, for simpler language.
Scott became such a respected man, preacher, and pastor, that, when John Newton left his church for London, it called Thomas Scott to replace him. When you remember the great love and respect they had for John, Thomas must have been quite a man himself. Of his preaching William Carey said-
If I know anything of the work of God in my soul, I owe it to the preaching of Mr. Scott.
From Olney he went to London to serve as a chaplain in a the Lock Hospital, whose full name was-
The Lock Hospital for Persons Afflicted with the Venereal Disease.
Here his knowledge of theology and medicine were combined, and as he healed many souls with the Word, he also helped many bodies with practical advice on diet, exercise, and medical treatment.
If all of the patients loved him, the Board of Directors was less than unanimous in their praise. This was a Christian Hospital and-as unlikely as it sounds to us-the Directors were all strong Calvinists. When Scott preached through Ephesians 1-3, they loved the man, for he taught what the chapters said on Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and so on.
But when he got to chapters 4-6, they were not so happy. For these pages deal with the believer's duty. Because Scott told believers to do things-like walk circumspectly and love their wives, the leaders charged him with Arminianism.
This was nonsense, of course. The 39 Articles of the Church of England are clearly Calvinistic, and-after perjuring himself when he was a young man-Scott would never do it again. He studied the Articles, understood them, believed them, and taught them. To prove his Calvinism, he preached a sermon on Election and Perseverance. The Governors agreed with him here, but kept dogging him to tone down the duties, to which Scott replied-
Gentlemen, you possess the authority to change me for another preacher whenever you please, but you have no power to change me into another preacher.
The Directors gave in and Scott remained chaplain for sixteen years. During which time he ministered at the hospital, and taught in various London churches, including one that loved him so dearly they started a new service to accommodate his schedule-at six o'clock in the morning! 300 came every Sunday to hear him!
CHURCH MISSIONARY SOCIETY
If preaching was his main work these years, it was not the only thing he did for the Lord. He, John Newton, Charles Simeon, and other Evangelical Anglicans formed the Church Missionary Society, which promoted missions in India and all over the world.
The young Thomas Scott wanted to be a scholar for himself. After coming to Christ, his love for learning was not diminished in the least; it was re-directed to the glory of God. For twenty-one years he worked on a massive commentary on the whole Bible.
Well into middle age, he had sold only a small fraction of the books. When he needed money to pay off his debts, he sold all the books he could at a bargain price. Needing more money still, he sold the copyright for L2,000. By the time he died, the man who bought the copyright had sold L200,000 worth of his books.
By his death, his commentary had sold more copies than any other in English, except for Matthew Henry's.
The last few years of his life were spent in another pastorate, where he died in harness, in 1821, at seventy-four years of age.
THE FORCE OF TRUTH
The Commentary that was widely read in his day and through the 19th Century, has not aged well, and while there's nothing wrong with it, it is probably not worth the money you'd have to pay to get it. I had a chance to buy it once, and passed on it. You know when I pass on a book, it's not worth the money!
His other book, however, is worth the money. It's a small paperback called The Force of Truth. My copy was published by The Banner of Truth in 1984. I think it's still in-print.
The book is made up of three parts, the first two of which are on his life before Christ and after. Part III is what the book is really about-and where the title comes from-The Force of Truth.
What changed Thomas Scott from the proud, contrary, and heretical man that he was to the humble, loving, and orthodox man he became?
He tells us it was not (1) his religious background. Though he grew up in the Church of England, he had never heard the Gospel; it was not (2) his personality, for he was a dishonest and quarrelsome man; it was not (3) John Newton or other Evangelical Christians. Though they helped him come to faith, they did not bring him because he mostly stayed away from them, and when he had to meet them or hear their sermons, he highly critical.
What changed Thomas Scott? Two things: the Word of God and prayer. He studied the Bible and He prayed for the Lord to open his eyes to its message. Which He did, not only to the changing of Scott's theology, but to the changing of his whole life.
If his advice is not flashy, it is true: Read the Bible, pray for understanding, and you will know Christ and His will for your life. As our Lord Jesus Christ said-
Sanctify them through Thy truth;
Thy Word is truth.
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