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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: The Presbytery of Jerusalem

Looking Back

Friday February 20

Looking Back: The Presbytery of Jerusalem

Published in 1940, Dr Norman MacLean celebrates the centenary of the Church of Scotland's mission in Palestine and its worldwide influence. He also looks forward to the proposed formation of the Presbytery of Jerusalem.


"The Presbytery of Jerusalem"


IN the year 1839, the Church of Scotland sent to Palestine a Commission to enquire into the condition of the Jews and the possibility of beginning a mission to them in the Holy Land.

These men, here in Palestine, saw visions and dreamed dreams. On the shore of the world’s most historic lake, there is the massive Church of Scotland hospital as the first fruit of that mission of enquiry. And in Nazareth and Damascus, there are hospitals, supported by the Edinburgh Medical Mission, which had their beginning as a by-product of that enquiry.

A Camel and…

But, strangely enough, the greatest result of that century-old Commission was achieved not in Palestine but in Hungary, and the story how that came about is as romantic as any in all the annals of the missions. The way it came about was that Dr. Black fell from a camel and was so injured that he had to return home. Dr. Keith took charge of Dr. Black on that journey home by way of Constantinople and the Danube.

When they reached Budapest, they were greatly struck by the beauty of the city and by the great multitude of Jews in the streets. They got in touch with a Rabbi, who invited them to begin a mission. “Send us a missionary and we will reason with him,” was the challenge. But the ban of the Austrian Empire lay on all Protestant missions, and the great archducal palace on the banks of the Danube seemed to frown on the two Scots. Yet it was out of that palace that there came the “help of the Lord against the mighty.”

In their inn, where they tarried, the two doctors of divinity fell ill. They were in a sad plight; aliens in a strange land where Jew and Gentile alike frowned on their faith – the Jew because it was Christian, and the Gentiles because it was reformed.

…a Princess

In the great palace, the Archduchess Maria Dorothea, a princess of the Lutheran House of Wurtemberg, heard of their plight. She was a deeply devout woman and by great good fortune she head read a book written by Dr. Keith and immediately she charged herself with the care of the two Scotsmen. Her heart leaped for joy when she heard of their desire to start a mission in Budapest. She got the ban on Protestant missions abolished, and the Church of Scotland began the mission to Jews in Budapest.

One of the books which I most frequently consulted in other days was The Life of Jesus the Messiah, by Edersheim. Anyone who has read it knows that the author was a giant in learning and a saint in piety. Now Edersheim was one of the first converts of that mission in Budapest. There must have been many many thousands who have thus been enriched by the Church of Scotland through the pen of Edersheim.

Budapest – New York – China

There is even a more wonderful story than that. A poor Jew, named Lederer, was converted by the mission and afterwards went to New York. There he became a city missionary and brought a poor Jewish boy in to the Church, who became a minister of the American Episcopal Church, and was sent to China. He rose to be bishop, and translated the Old Testament into Mandarin and so paved the way for the gospel in China…

This is truly a world of wonder and mystery. A Scotsman falls from a Camel in Palestine, and from that there came in a marvellous chain, link by link, the most moving “Life of Jesus” that has ever been written, and the Old Testament made an open book in China.

“The Presbytery of Jerusalem”

The latest fruit of that ancient Commission manifested itself in Haifa on 25th November last. On the evening of that day, six ordained ministers of the Church of Scotland met in the Lutheran Church to induct the Rev. John Gray as the first Church of Scotland minister in Haifa. And these six ministers resolved to petition the General Assembly to establish a Presbytery of Jerusalem in Palestine.

And here in Jerusalem is the most beautiful church erected in these days, and a home ready prepared for the Presbytery of Jerusalem. And so the dream of those who planned the Scots Memorial as a centre for the Churches from Alexandria to Beyrout is coming true. The Presbytery of Jerusalem will pass on to the remotest age the influence of a Scots Commission, now a century old. That is the fruit of their labours which these saintly men would have most desired. It is a centenary celebration worth of them.

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