History

HISTORY

The page contains a history written in 1975 to mark 100 years since the founding of the Sovereign Grace Mission (an organisation that preceded the SGU).  The SGU itself was founded in 1914 and celebrated its centenary in 2014.


A Brief History
of the Sovereign Grace Union


"To Raise a Testimony" By Philip Tait

The New Testament contains the wonderful news that, though all men have sinned and deserve to go to hell, God has decided that some of them shall be forgiven and admitted to heaven. No-one knows who they are [that is, prior to their conversion], except God himself, who has chosen them to be his people and sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for them, taking the punishment they deserved: God comes to them by His Spirit, convinces them of the truth of the Gospel, and irresistibly leads them to believe it.

These truths are known as "the doctrines of grace", because they tell of God's "grace", his free, unmerited love to countless millions who neither deserved nor wanted salvation. The doctrines were almost forgotten for many years, buried under the dead weight of the Roman Catholic system. But the news is too good to remain a secret, and it was trumpeted across Europe by Martin Luther (1483-1546), John Calvin (1509-64) and others in the great movement we call the Reformation. Sometimes these truths are called "Calvinism", a useful shorthand way of referring to them, but a misleading one, for they were neither invented nor rediscovered by Calvin. He, like many others before and since, found these truths in the Bible and preached them simply because they are biblical.

Calvinism struck deep root in England in the Seventeenth Century, but a steady decline from about the middle of the Eighteenth Century, and the rise of the Anglo-Catholic "Oxford Movement" in the Nineteenth Century produced a long period when these doctrines were known and valued by very few.

In 1875 a small group of likeminded Calvinists in Brighton decided to form a Mission to proclaim these neglected truths. This is the story of the progress of that work over 110 years.

Beginnings

On 5th May 1875 a meeting was held in Brighton for the purpose of forming a Bible Women's Mission "for the dissemination of the principles of Sovereign Grace in Brighton". Nine people were present. When the same nine people met on 18th May, the President, Thomas Lawson, was able to report that a Mrs Dickson had been engaged for the sum of 10s. a week to distribute tracts and The Gospel Advocate magazine. The name "Sovereign Grace Mission" was adopted. Within the first two years the Mission had distributed over 10,000 tracts, and had taken over responsibility for a magazine Lawson edited, The Protestant Echo.

Mission activities continued until about 1902. In the early years at least, a lending library was operated, while distribution of literature continued. Three ministers in particular were associated with the work, A. J. Baxter (Eastbourne), Thomas Bradbury (Grove Chapel, Camberwell, London) and Thomas Lawson (Brighton); the work of the Mission was very largely limited to the areas in which these three men lived.

No annual meetings were held after 1902. Lawson died in 1904 and the Sovereign Grace Mission ceased to function.

In about 1904 William Sykes, Vicar of Hillsborough and Wadsley Bridge, Sheffield, began holding weeknight meetings, evangelistic in purpose, in and outside the National School at Hillsborough. Inspired by the Brighton Sovereign Grace Mission, he called these "Sovereign Grace Union" meetings.

Reports in The English Churchman explain what took place. Advance publicity was by posters displayed outside the school, announcing the subject for the evening, and setting out a few simple doctrinal points. The meetings began at 8 p.m. There was no music; the Bible was read and preaching followed, lasting until about 10 p.m. There were normally two sermons at each meeting. Questions were asked and answered, and controversy was positively welcomed: for example, when Sykes was sent a 23-point attack on the verbal inspiration and accuracy of the Bible, he answered it publicly the following day. Indeed, opposition to error formed a large part of Sykes' work: he once publicised his subject as "Protestant Principles vesus Popish Perversions".

The following letter, from The English Churchman of 1910, gives an account of these early SGU activities in Sykes' own words:

SOVEREIGN GRACE UNION
Sir, - Will you kindly allow me once more to express my gratitude to the readers of your valuable paper for sending me their copies, and also for the parcels of literature, during the last twelve months? The time is fast approaching when we recommence our open-air campaign. Last year, from May to September, we held 150 meetings, gave 333 addresses, distributed 20,000 tracts, &c., and 15,000 people were reached. We shall be very thankful for any literature of a distinctively Protestant, Free Grace nature for circulation. We purpose exposing the awful heresies of Romanism, Ritualism, Mormonism, spiritualism, and the recent American importations. We shall specially deal with the Higher Criticism and the New Theology. The remedy - the Gospel of the Grace of God - will of course be put in the forefront.
WILLIAM SYKES
Hillsborough Vicarage, Sheffield, May 9th


Reorganisation

It was the example of Sykes that led Henry Atherton, Bradbury's successor at Camberwell, to reorganise the Brighton Mission as the Sovereign Grace Union, with William Sykes as President and himself as Secretary.
Henry Atherton was born into a Christian home in Wigan in 1875. His father, Peter Atherton, was a verger, churchwarden and Bible class teacher, and worked for a period as an evangelist with the Church Association. As a young man, Henry rejected his parents' faith, gaining a reputation as a gambler and a drunkard. He came home one evening to find a tract on the mantelpiece entitled Where will you spend eternity? He threw it in the fire. But on the way to work the following morning, he met a man who suddenly fell dead at his feet. Seeing a man die so soon after reading the tract bought him under deep conviction of sin, and he was converted several months later.

His first experience of Christian work was speaking to fellow-workers at the colliery where he was employed; later he taught in a Sunday School, and engaged in door to door visitation to encourage parents to send their children. Later still, he began speaking in the open air and holding meetings in people's homes.

The vicar of nearby Lowton, W. Berridge, took an interest in Henry Atherton at this time, and gave him lessons in theology, Latin and Greek. Eventually Atherton went to London to offer himself for missionary service overseas. At the request of Archdeacon Sinclair of St. Paul's Cathedral, he undertook mission work in London and Durham. From Durham he came back to the North-West, and worked under J. W. Bardsley, the evangelical Bishop of Carlisle, a friend of his father, and a man who owed his first promotion in the Church of England to the first bishop of Liverpool, the famous evangelical J.C. Ryle (1816 - 1900). But Atherton was unhappy about the increasing strength of Anglo-Catholicism; he resigned and returned to Wigan to become a teacher. Here he became an active campaigner against Roman Catholicism and Anglo-Catholicism. He wrote to the local papers about these issues, and became Secretary of the Wigan branch of the National Protestant League. For fourteen years he was a travelling evangelist for the Church Association, and then held pastoral charges in Halifax, Oxford and Bolton. It was while he was evangelist at St. Paul's, Halliwell, Bolton that he came to preach at Grove Chapel, Camberwell. The church already had connections with evangelical Anglicans and with Wigan: Thomas Bradbury's father had been a doctor in Wigan, and Bradbury had been a friend of William Sykes, who preached at his funeral. After Atherton had preached at Camberwell on four occasions, a church meeting on 24th October 1912 called him to the pastorate. His ministry at Camberwell, which was to last until his death, began in January 1913.

Atherton personally undertook many different kinds of work at Camberwell - house to house visitation, tract distribution, young people's meetings, and open air work. He accumulated a very large library (which is still at Grove Chapel) and began reprinting old books and writing and publishing pamphlets on matters of topical interest. He was always available to give advice on spiritual questions, in private conversation or by letter, and made his library available to ministers and theological students. He was also associated with the Trinitarian Bible Society and the Ministers' Relief Society and was Deputy Grand Chaplain of the Loyal Orange Institution of England. He was granted the freedom of the City of London.

The formation of the SGU in 1914 gave added impetus to the young people's meetings at Camberwell and to Atherton's writing and publishing activities. At Camberwell, and, to a lesser extent, in other places where the SGU took root, the distinction between SGU activities and church activities tended to become somewhat blurred. Some of the bound volumes of SGU pamphlets now at Camberwell also contain works published by Atherton and printed documents relating to the business of Grove Chapel. The first SGU books and pamphlets were published by, or in association with, C.J. Farncombe & Sons of Ludgate Circus and were available from Farncombe as well as from the Parsonage at Camberwell.


Advance

The first few years of the SGU's existence were years of energetic activity. By the time the first Annual Report was published membership stood at 173, with members in China, France and the United States of America as well as in the United Kingdom. Open-air services were held at Camberwell during the summer, and a "Theological Class" during the winter. The second year of operation saw the distribution of literature (some was sent to the King and to members of both houses of Parliament), and the third saw a membership rise to 250.

In 1915 a week-long conference was held at Camberwell under the auspices of the SGU. The papers given were published under the tittle Our Benefits in Christ; similar conferences were held at Camberwell every year until 1958, and many of the papers were published. I have in my possession a battered copy of the 1929 conference papers, a historic volume in its own right, as it was one of the books of the Beddington Free Grace Library before it moved to London in 1944 and became the Evangelical Library. The book starts with the address of the president and Secretary, the President's being read for him, as he was too ill to attend, and the conference sermon, preached from 2 Cor. 8v9 by J.K. Popham of Brighton, the editor of The Gospel Standard. Two topics were considered by the conference: "The love of God manifested in Grace" and "The Reformed Faith, commonly called Calvinism". On the love of God, the papers dealt with its origin, its nature, its manifestation, its application and its eternal enjoyment; on the Reformed faith, Atherton gave a paper on its basic principles, and other speakers dealt with it as a religious, moral, political and evangelising force. Six special addresses were also given on related subjects.

The conference report reveals a very significant fact about the SGU at that time, that its base of support was very narrow: with the exception of Atherton himself and a speaker from the Netherlands, all the speakers were Anglicans and Strict Baptists: and, with only one exception, all the British speakers were officers of the SGU. The denominational base has widened over the years; for example, the speakers at the 1949 conference included Independents and Presbyterians as well as Anglicans and Strict Baptists. It is still the policy of the committee to involve representatives of as many different denominations as possible.

Atherton also made use of SGU meetings to promote the books he wished people to read. He would stand up at the tea table to recommend a book, and the son of one of the committee members would go round the tables selling the book.

1929 saw an SGU tour of historic Protestant sights in the Netherlands; and the 1932 conference was designated the "International Conference of Calvinists", with speakers from England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Scotland and South Africa. Further international conferences were held in 1934 (Amsterdam), 1936 (Geneva) and 1938 (Edinburgh). The 1940 conference, which was due to be held in Germany, was cancelled. There were attempts after the war to restart the international conferences, but the records are rather confused. Conferences were held in 1948 (Amsterdam), 1953 (Montpellier) and 1955 (Detsmold, Germany). According to the SGU's magazine, it was agreed on the last occasion, rather oddly described as the "sixth" conference, to form an "International Reformed Association for Faith and Action". Thereafter there is no mention of any international activities.

The International Association for Reformed Faith and Action still exists, though it traces its origins to the 1953 conference at Montpellier. Its interests, however, are rather different from the SGU's, and there seem to have been no joint ventures.

Atherton was an active preacher and lecturer, many of his preaching tours being on behalf of the SGU. For example, he spent September 1922 in an SGU lecture tour of the North of England and the Midlands: this tour was long remembered, and was mentioned in his obituary in a Wigan newspaper. He continued to campaign vigorously on behalf of reformed and Protestant causes, but overwork was beginning to affect him. From 1920 to 1924 he had E. J. Peacock to assist him in his secretarial duties, and by 1930 his poor health had led to a noticeable decline in the number of meetings held. William Sykes died that year, and William Walmsley of Manchester succeeded him as President. A year later Walmsley stood down, and Atherton took the opportunity to resign as Secretary and become President. He died on 25th April 1933.

The activities of the SGU in the first twenty years of its existence were largely the result of the vision and energy of Henry Atherton. He gave the Union its shape - a voluntary association of likeminded Christians committed to proclaiming and defending the doctrines of free and sovereign grace through publications, meetings, lectures and conferences organised not only by the main committee but also by branch committees (known since 1947 as "auxiliaries", but still "branches" in the rules) working in a specific locality. The first branches were at Bow (1914), East London, based at Poplar (1915), Pemberton (1915), Melbourne, Australia (1915), Birmingham (1916), Blackburn (1916), Bolton (1916), Harborne and Folkestone (1917-18), Horley (1917-18), Leicester (1917-18) and Sheffield (1917-18).

The pattern of branch activity over the years has been varied. Branches appear and disappear with astonishing speed in the notices in SGU publications. The early branches were, in the main, an extension of the activities of the churches on which they were based. Their concerns were holding meetings and distributing literature. The East London branch held children's meetings, and the Pemberton branch distributed literature to wounded soldiers in a military hospital in their area. The mid-1920s saw local conferences at Brighton, Cambridge, Eastbourne and London, and local conferences have been organised from time to time since.

The mid-1950s saw a change in auxiliary activities. The auxiliaries increasingly became a focus of inter-church activity in areas where Calvinistic churches are few or weak or separated by long distances. When the churches grow stronger, the auxiliaries weaken; when the churches are strong enough not to need outside help, the auxiliaries close.

The Brighton Sovereign Grace Mission and the Sheffield Sovereign Grace Union had been basically evangelistic in their orientation. This is not an emphasis that has ever wholly disappeared from the SGU, but under Atherton its main work became the proclamation and defence of the great but neglected doctrines of the Reformation. Since 1970, virtually all the energies of the SGU have been in this direction.

Under Atherton, the SGU took to sending literature to prominent politicians, and on occasions writing to them. Sometimes this was linked with the publication of booklets, frequently to expose the pretensions of Rome and refute her doctrines. In 1927 the SGU committee became involved in the parliamentary campaign against the proposed new Prayer Book, and in a successful effort to defeat the Thornton Rust Bill. Thornton Rust is a village in Wensleydale, Yorkshire. This parliamentary bill was an attempt to change the doctrinal terms of the trust of a Calvinistic church and school there. Atherton had several interviews with the Charity Commissioners about the matter. He persuaded them that there were still Calvinists in England and that a Calvinistic minister could be found for Thornton Rust. E.J. Peacock went to view the Trust property and speak to the trustees. Within a year, the SGU was represented on the trust, and the SGU's nominee, Rev. A. Hammond, was minister and schoolmaster at Thornton Rust.

One distinctive characteristic of the SGU as Atherton conceived of it, which remains to this day, is its strictly non-denominational basis. The SGU does not take, and never has taken, a position on issues outside the central questions of the doctrines of grace. There are many issues over the which Calvinists disagree - the free offer, baptism, establishment, the text of the New Testament, to name but four - but these are not the concern of the SGU, which exists to give Calvinists a common platform for the proclamation of the doctrines of grace, whatever other differences they may have. Thus when in 1948 a Rev. D. A. MacFarlane criticised the SGU for not holding "the general call of the Gospel" the committee refused to be drawn into a dispute which was no business of the SGU. The question arises today in the form of discussion over the "free offer" of the Gospel; but the SGU has no opinion on the matter. The pages of its magazine are open to all who hold the doctrines of grace, regardless of their position on this or any other subsidiary matter.

One of the supporters of the SGU in its early years was William Sinden, the Minister or Regent Street Chapel, Finsbury Park. Sinden had been one of the founders of a not dissimilar organisation, the Calvinistic Protestant Union, in 1887: others involved included A.J. Baxter of Eastbourne and Thomas Lawson of Brighton, the founder of the Sovereign Grace Mission. Sinden was Secretary of the CPU until his death in 1925. The CPU was taken into the SGU in 1945.

In 1886 Sinden founded a quarterly magazine to publicise the activities of the Society for the Relief of necessitous Protestant Ministers, their Widows and Orphans, commonly known as "The Ministers' Relief Society". Peace and Truth, as it was called, was intended for local distribution only, but soon attracted attention from other parts of the country. In 1917 he gave Peace and Truth, which until then had been his personal property, to the SGU, the only condition being that the Relief Society had the use of the inside front cover of the magazine for advertising. The arrangement was that Sinden would provide material for the first six pages - though he sometimes used less - and the SGU the remaining ten; for some years this was reflected in the title, which appeared in the form Peace and Truth and Sovereign Grace Union Record. Sinden died in December 1925: the last issue to contain his contribution appeared in January 1926. Peace and Truth is still published quarterly by the SGU and contains, as it always has, a variety of devotional, theological and historical articles, together with book reviews, comments on the contemporary scene, and news of the SGU.


Decline

After Atherton resigned as Secretary, he was succeeded by W.B. Burbridge as "Acting Secretary" "for the time being". "For the time being" turned out to mean 30 years. The office and bookroom, previously in the parsonage at Camberwell, were moved to Ludgate Circus. These were destroyed in an air raid in December 1939. The Aged Pilgrim's Friends Society provided temporary accommodation, but the SGU soon took office space of its own in Ludgate Hill. Despite the war, meetings continued to be held, and Peace and Truth and other SGU publications continued to appear.

The committee even started activities during the war. A monthly prayer meeting in the City of London was started in 1942 and lasted until 1963. The same year the committee formed a sub-committee, the "Vigilance Committee", to watch on matters of public interest, such as legislation on the subject of education: these were the years leading up to the passing of the 1944 Education Act, and in 1945 the SGU published some pamphlets on syllabuses in Religious Instruction as required under the Act.

After the war, the SGU continued in much the same way. Peace and Truth announced a new two-tier committee system, with a General Council, consisting of the vice-presidents, branch representatives and "others willing to serve" settling general policy, and an Executive Committee responsible for the day to day administration. This arrangement probably did not comply with the rules, and is never mentioned again. Another attempt ten years later to change the administration by including representatives of the auxiliaries on the committee also foundered quickly. The publication of books and pamphlets and the magazine continued, and the Vigilance Committee continued to keep an eye on public affairs and contact the appropriate public figures when issues of spiritual importance came up. Outwardly, nothing changed.

Nothing changed. But that was the problem. The office administration became increasingly out of touch with the needs of the SGU, and Peace and Truth, the basic design of which dated from 1936 and had looked old-fashioned in 1945, scarcely changed until 1963. As early as 1949, problems began to appear. Miss Harris, the Secretary's full-time assistant, was in poor health, and Peace and Truth appeared only once in 1949, once in 1950, twice in 1951 and once in 1952. A slightly smaller format was adopted in 1953, and the issues numbered in a "New Series" starting at No. 1. Three issues were published in 1953, four in 1954 and three in 1955; but after that quarterly publication was resumed for a few years.

By now the orignal supporters were dying. There was new support for Calvinistic doctrine from other quarters, notably The Banner of Truth, mentioned in Peace and Truth in 1956 as "A most timely publication which we warmly commend". The SGU no longer had a near-monopoly in the proclamation of the doctrines of grace. By the late 1950's it was losing members, and was badly in debt. Problems with the production of Peace and Truth began to recur. Only two issues appeared in 1960, one in 1961 and one in 1962.

A new Secretary, David Ellis, was appointed in 1963. A more modern style was adopted for Peace and Truth, which was produced three times in 1963 and quarterly thereafter. Membership increased fairly rapidly: about 430 new members joined in the period 1963-65. The practice of writing to public figures was resumed, and the letters were printed in Peace and Truth. New auxiliaries were formed, new local conferences were organised, an Australian representative was appointed, and for a while there was a branch in the USA. Early in 1965 the office and bookroom were moved to Redhill, and a full-time assistant, Miss Valerie Streeter, engaged.

But more problems were to follow. Financially, the SGU remained very insecure. David Ellis fell ill in 1969 and resigned from the Secretaryship; Valerie Streeter married and moved away from Redhill. The work was carried on by temporary helpers; and, amazingly, publication of Peace and Truth was not affected.

The committee asked K.F.T. Matrunola, a former Scottish Baptist minister then living in Suffolk, to examine the state of affairs at Redhill. During 1969 he became Secretary in succession to David Ellis, and as a result of his work and recommendations, far-reaching changes were made. The office and bookroom were closed; the SGU withdrew from the book trade altogether, although one of the committee members handled second-hand books for a while. Administration was carried out from the Secretary's home in Suffolk and later, when he became minister of Salem Baptist Chapel, in Portsmouth.


Recovery

Kenneth Matrunola's work was as fundamental to the development of the SGU as Henry Atherton's. In some ways, the pattern of activities emanating from the manse at Portsmouth in the early 1970s was very similar to that emanating from the parsonage at Camberwell in the 1920s; in others it was radically different.

The policy of the committee in the 1970s was to avoid controversy about politics or Roman Catholicism, and to emphasise the doctrines of grace. The Vigilance Committee was abandoned, and when, at the 1974 Annual General Meeting, the question of a forthcoming change to the law which would make it possible for a Roman Catholic to become Lord Chancellor was raised, the committee refused to take a position on the question, and suggested that members concerned about the matter write as private individuals to members of Parliament. For financial reasons, publishing books was out of the question, but Peace and Truth, which Kenneth Matrunola edited for most of his time as Secretary, was developed as a theological and devotional magazine very much like Sinden's pages in the early years. An article on tracts in 1972 sparked off an attempt to get into the business of publishing evangelistic tracts, another activity which had been characteristic of the SGU in the 1920s, but this petered out. Specialised agencies better equipped for this task were already beginning to appear.

Kenneth Matrunola resigned in 1974. He left the SGU fitter and stronger than it had been at any time since the war, and laid the foundations of the remarkable resurgence in SGU activity of the past ten years. His successor as Secretary and (after just two issues had been prepared by someone else) Editor was Anthony Tait, the minister of a Baptist church in Southend-on-Sea. Under his editorship, Peace and Truth, and with it the whole image of the SGU, was transformed.

A large page size was adopted for the new-style magazine, with the type in double columns. Productions by photographic methods made it possible to include illustrations on a scale never attempted before: virtually every article was accompanied by a photograph or a drawing. The articles, which were generally short, covered a wide range of topics, and the whole magazine was lively in presentation and content. The number of subscribers rose, though not by as much as might have been hoped, while a survey of readers' opinions in 1978 produced too small a response to be at all useful.

The financial position of the SGU was transformed in the years 1975-85 by the receipt of three substantial legacies. The money received was used to finance an essay competition in 1982, and to resume book publishing in 1985. The purpose of the essay competition was to encourage new writers, and the winning entries were published in Peace and Truth.


The SGU Today

For many years the doctrines of grace were virtually unknown in England: the Sovereign Grace Union stood almost alone. This is no longer the position. There are many Calvinistic churches in the country now; and there are several publishers of Calvinistic literature. The recurrent crises of the SGU since the last war have been largely the consequence of a revival of interest in the doctrines of grace such as Atherton and his associates longed to, but never did, see. What is the place of the SGU in this changed situation? Indeed does it have any place? Or is its work completed?

The SGU has always defined its purpose in a list of "Aims and Objects". The future of the SGU is bound up with the question of whether these remain legitimate and necessary aims. The first aim of the SGU is To further the proclamation and defence of the Doctrines of Free and Sovereign Grace. This is the overall purpose for which the SGU exists. The doctrines themselves are defined in a brief basis of faith, but the most important sentence is the one that comes at the end: "In reference to the above, consult the XXXIX Articles of the Church of England, the Westminster Confession, the Savoy Declaration, and the Baptist Confession of 1689." There are other sound statements of doctrines that could be added to the list. The critical point is that the SGU is strictly non-denominational: it provides a forum for Calvinists who are divided on other issues to express their common faith and proclaim their common Gospel. In this it is probably unique, and it is essential that the SGU clings tenaciously to it: without it the SGU has no reason to exist.

The second aim is To print and reprint literature expounding such doctrines. Today, this is done mainly through Peace and Truth, although other publications are issued occasionally. Though the need for sound Calvinistic literature is not as urgent as it was in the early years, Peace and Truth continues its ministry it penetrates into places where denominational magazines do not go, and circulates among readers who cannot read a more theological magazine or afford a more expensive one.

The third aim is To encourage publishers to issue such literature and to help its circulation by purchase and distribution to Clergy, Ministers, Christian Workers, Theological Students, Members of Parliament, and others. This may be considered along with the fifth aim, To circulate tacts, pamphlets and books, maintaining the Doctrines of Grace, which may be presented to the Union for that purpose, and to print and circulate such tracts, etc., for which any person, or Society, undertakes to provide the funds. In their present form, these paragraphs are probably obsolete. The distribution of literature on a complimentary basis is prohibitively expensive, and its impact is small. The last time it was used by the SGU was for the launch of the new-style Peace and Truth in 1975. The circulation of literature to members of Parliament implies a particular view of the relationship of the church and state which is not held by all members of the SGU, and would be better omitted. One very important activity carried out under these paragraphs is the provision of bookstalls by the auxiliaries.

The fourth aim is To hold Conferences and Meetings to re-affirm the old truths in these days of apostasy and declension. Conferences and meetings are needed less, and held less, than in Atherton's day. Yet the need does remain: SGU meetings provide an opportunity to introduce Christians to the doctrines of grace, and to enjoy fellowship across denominational boundaries. Meetings are announced in Peace and Truth.

The final aim of the SGU gives the title to this leaflet: To raise a testimony against the evils of Priestcraft, Popery, Ritualism, Arminianism, Rationalism, Liberalism, and Higher Criticism. Paragraphs like this, which define a position negatively, are dangerous. They can degenerate into a list of "enemies", and they can get out of date, as the fashion in heresies changes. Yet, taken in a proper frame of mind, this paragraph defines more clearly than any other what the business of the SGU is.

"Priestcraft, Popery, Ritualism": the first thing to which the SGU is opposed is unreformed Christianity. Probably all three terms were originally envisaged as having reference to trends in the Church of England; but together they constitute a repudiation of all priestly systems. Individuals within those systems are not condemned: otherwise objective consideration of pre-Reformation Christianity would be impossible, and the SGU would be in no position to offer help to true believers trapped in priestly systems and unable to find the way out.

"Arminianism": any theological scheme that makes the will of man the effective cause of his eternal salvation may be described as Arminian. More specifically, two forms of the doctrine which deny the Reformation principle of salvation by grace can be distinguished. High-church Arminianism teaches justification by faith but adds to that faith the necessity of works of a ceremonial or ritual nature; evangelical Arminianism teaches justification by faith alone, but makes the source of faith out to be the will of man. Both are errors. The SGU repudiates them, and affirms the historic Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone through grace alone.

"Rationalism, Liberalism" (until 1984, "Rationalism, German Neology"): these are the trends in modern philosophy and theology. Rationalism is the belief that man is the measure of all things, that there is no reality beyond what man can appreciate. Theological liberalism (not to be confused with political Liberalism or economic liberalism) is the reduction of theology to a man-made system of morality. Rationalism and liberalism are equally denials of the Gospel.

"Higher Criticism": lower or textual criticism is the science of determining the exact text of a work of literature. As applied to the Bible, with its multiplicity of manuscripts, it is a very complicated matter, and it is inevitable that difference between Christians will arise: the SGU is therefore neutral on textual questions. Higher criticism is the art of determining the date, author and literary form of a work of literature. Legitimate subjects for biblical higher criticism will include the differences of emphasis between Kings and Chronicles, the date and authorship of Job, or the light thrown on Acts by our knowledge of the Roman Empire. But too often higher criticism is made the excuse for discrediting the Scriptures, and denying the trustworthiness of its writers, even to the extent of saying that they lied about their identities. Such criticism is utterly subversive of the true Gospel. It cannot be ignored, but it must be answered. The Word of God is true, and can and must be shown to be true.

All these errors are rampant at the end of the Twentieth Century, just as they were when the SGU was formed in 1924. There has been a great revival in Reformation doctrine in the past thirty years; but there is still work to be done. And as long as old errors persist, or find new names and present themselves as newly-discovered truths, there will be a need for the kind of non-sectarian, interdenominational testimony that societies like the Sovereign Grace Union can give.


Author’s Acknowledgements

Many people have helped me with material about the past history of the SGU : E. Ager, H. J. Appleby, D. Burbridge, Mrs J. Cole, Miss E. Couchman, W. Gellion, J. Hougton, K. W. H. Howard, H. J. Jarvis, Rev. D. Jones, M. R. Kimmitt, Mrs M. Leech, Mrs W. Lock, E. Milligan, J. H. Mockford, Rev. I. Murray, J. North, P. Rand, H. Salkeld, C. Sleeman, B. Snell, P. Turner, D. Underwood and Mrs I. White. If I have missed anyone out, my thanks to them also. Particular thanks are due to Desmond Roberts for the loan of his priceless collection of backnumbers of Peace and Truth, which greatly simplified my task, to my father who first interested me in the work of the SGU, to my wife, for putting up with me while I was writing this and for typing the final version, and above all to K. F. T. Matrunola, without whose sterling work in the early 1970s this leaflet would have been not a history but an obituary.

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