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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
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Burns Thoughts

The Very Reverend Dr John Chalmers in his timely article in the January edition of Life and Work (‘Flawed Nature’) makes the observation that, in the times of Robert Burns, ‘Scotland was trapped in the clutches of an insensitive theology’, which was challenged by Burns.

Dr Chalmers refers to a number of poems, in which Burns spoke out trenchantly against the ways of the Church, and he refers in particular to verses of Holy Willie’s Prayer.

The background to that poem was a long running dispute between Gavin Hamilton, a friend of Burns, and the local Church.

Hamilton was not to be intimidated and he took the case to the Presbytery of Ayr and the Synod of Glasgow.

The local Church came off second best at both of these levels within the Church’s hierarchy.

Burns resolved to come to come out in support of his friend and wrote the poem, Holy Willie’s Prayer.

Willie Fisher, an elder in the Mauchline Church of which the Reverend ‘Daddy ‘ Auld was the minister, is described in the poem as being at prayer and, in addition to his many invocations to God, expresses his strong conviction that God had picked him out as one of the Elect, who was predestined to be saved.

The poem delighted the New Lichts, the liberal-minded members of the Church, and caused consternation among the Auld Lichts.

I believe that Burns, in his satirical attacks within the verses of Holy Willie’s Prayer and in other poems, such as ‘Address to the Unco Guid’, was, not in the main, criticising the Church, but rather the hypocrisy and intolerance displayed within it. Ian W Thomson, Lenzie

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