The Frustration of James Fraser

Do you ever get so overwhelmed with the number of different things you should do, that you end up sitting on your hands and doing nothing? That’s me right now.
I’ve been tormented over the past couple of weeks by a series of short reflections I’m supposed to be writing for my elective ‘Reformed Greats’. Each piece is supposed to be a 500-800 word appreciation of a text/author from the Reformed theological tradition. It really isn’t supposed to be very hard but I’m sweating over it. My problem is that I approach each one as though it is a 3000 word essay. I’m currently working on an appreciation of James Fraser of Brea’s 1679 Treatise concerning Justifying Faith and it’s already 3000 words long. Aaagh. I think I need to throw the whole thing out and start again.

James Fraser is an interesting character though. He was part of the Covenanter Movement in Scotland – a group that led opposition to the King’s desire to make the Church of Scotland resemble the Church of England in its government and theology.Bass Rock This particularly focussed on introducing a Prayer Book that resembled the Book of Common Prayer, and of course, forcing the Scots to accept Bishops. The result was a long period of wars, rebellions, and people perpetrating atrocities against each other. The Scottish struggle played a major part in the outcome of the English Civil War in the 1640-50s. After the Restoration of the Monarchy, the 1670’s became known as ‘The Killing Time’ due to the number of field executions by Royal forces of those who could not accept anything less than a Reformed and Presbyterian Church of Scotland. James Fraser was among a group of Covenanter leaders who were imprisoned in the Castle on Bass Rock, a ‘desolate rock of the sea’. During this imprisonment he wrote the Treatise. For large sections of the work he had no reference books or conversation with friends, he relied solely on his Bible. It’s a high cost strategy, but getting yourself thrown in gaol is a very effective way to avoid the pain of having to reference your work.

The section of the Treatise which I’ve read and am supposed to be ‘appreciating’ addresses the extent of Christ’s atonement. It’s entitled, “Appendix: Concerning the Object of Christ’s Death”. Fraser seeks to shed some light on the difficult question of whether Christ died for all people or just for the elect whom he actually redeems. The question is particularly pertinent for Moore Theological College Students. The College has a reputation from defecting from the full Reformed position at precisely this point (we are known as “4 1/2 point” Calvinists because a number of distinguished faculty have not been entirely comfortable with the classic statements of Limited Atonement). I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

What does James Fraser think? Well, if you wanted to find out by reading the Appendix to his Treatise, you’d be in trouble. There are very few copies of his work in print. The nearest library holdings according to WorldCat are in Ireland and Quebec (it’d make a nice present to the College Library if you ever see one in a 2nd-hand bookshop). Fortunately the National Library of Australia has access to a digital reproduction which you can access through the NLA website if you’re a member of the Library.
What’s that, you’re not a member of the NATIONAL LIBRARY!! Shame on you. (Neither was I until last week). The good news is that you can become a member for FREE and they’ll even mail out your library card so you can show off to your friends. Go here.

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