A Brief Biography of Rev. James Begg, D.D.
JAMES Begg was born a "son of the manse" at New Monklands, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on 3rd October 1808. While his father joined the Established Church and was minister in New Monklands for over 40 years, all his father's family were Covenanters and would not enter the "parish" Church. At an early age, James came to regard these relatives in the highest esteem for their steadfastness in religion. He thus felt honoured to have Cameronian blood in his veins. "Their conduct and determination gave me even then a strong impression of the importance of fixed principles." 1
This early impression developed throughout his life into a resolute adherence to the principles and standards for which the Free Church of Scotland stood. Men like Hugh Watt, Dr. Brown of St. John's, Dr. Stevenson MacGill, Dr. Andrew Thompson and Dr. Thomas Chalmers contributed to Begg's early education.
His solid attachment to the principles of the Free Church led him to separate in 1843, and Begg took a leading role in the early years of the Free Church.
Begg was ordained in 1830, and was preaching assistant in North Leith and then minster of churches in Maxwelltown, Dumfries; Lady Glenorchy's Church, Edinburgh; Paisley, Glasgow; Liberton, Edinburgh – all congregations of the established Church of Scotland. Then from the Disruption in 1843 until 1883 (when he died), Begg was minister of the Newington Free Church, Edinburgh.
Dr Begg wrote and spoke on innovations in worship, social issues, missions, education, ministerial training, Sabbath observance and much more.
In July 1851 the first edition of The Bulwark appeared. Begg was its leading force, and was its editor for 21 years. It was his boast that although he wrote uncompromising articles, and although the Romanists were constantly on the watch, yet they never found opportunity to libel him, such was his honesty.
He also wrote frequently to The Witness, Hugh Miller's newspaper, and formed a monthly magazine called The Watchword committed to exposing the propriety of unbiblical ecumenism.
So far as unscriptural novelties in worship were concerned, he was consistent to the end. He summed up his own position by saying that he "was neither in favour of surplices, nor liturgies, nor organs nor any other innovations whatever (that deviated) from the simple and Scriptural customs of our forefathers."
Begg's steadfast position was unpopular with some then and may be so today, but he stood foursquare on the reformed understanding of the Bible. Much of his unpopularity was due to his sincere adherence to his ordination vows, but he saw clearly his cause, his Gospel, his calling; as he said in the Assembly of 1870, "Come what will, I trust to die an honest and consistent man." Begg died in September 1883.
1 Memoirs of James Begg, D.D., by Rev. Thomas Smith, D.D., page 4.