Rev. Angus Stewart
modified from an article first published in 2004 in the
a magazine for
Protestant Reformed young people)
On 8 October, 1973, I was born the second child and
oldest son of Ronnie and Lorna Stewart. Shortly thereafter I was
baptized in the Church of Ireland. My time in the Church of Ireland left
me with two indelible impressions. First, I found church very dull and
boring, and indeed it was for the true gospel was not preached there.
Second, I thought that salvation was by man’s works and that I was
As a young teenager, like the others my age, I
entered confirmation classes preparatory to receiving the Lord’s Supper.
After a few weeks I left the classes because I did not think that I was
a Christian, and so partaking of Communion would be hypocritical.
Growing up in the state school system, and especially
as I progressed through high school, I unconsciously imbibed the
unarticulated message of public education: God is irrelevant; man can
understand the world without God; science gives us real knowledge;
religion is a joke.
As I got older, I began to do those things that
unbelieving boys do at that age. This disturbed me. Maybe I wasn’t a
good person. And what if the Bible is true and there really is a place
of eternal punishment for the wicked? I felt that I was coming to a
crossroads. If there was no God, then I should press on with my worldly
pleasures and suppress my fears. But what if Jesus really was the Son of
I decided that I should examine biblical prophecy to
see if Jesus Christ was the One predicted in the Old Testament. My
mother, who is a Christian, gave me some books on prophecy and the end
times. As I read I became convinced that Christ was the fulfilment of
prophecy and that He was coming again. But I could not believe in Him
because I loved the world and was afraid of what my friends would think.
As Jesus said, "How can ye believe, which receive honour of another?"
That summer when on holiday in Portrush on the north
coast of Northern Ireland, I met four young men in the Faith Mission, a
second-blessing, lay-preaching group. One of them was an Arminian,
another a Calvinist, and the other two were nearer the former. (These
theological evaluations, you understand, I make with the benefit of
hindsight.) Through attending their meetings and asking questions, I
became more and more convinced of my sin and misery. I experienced the
bondage of the will, that though I knew that I must repent and believe
to be saved, I could not will it. The truth that God especially used to
convert me was that of election. The Calvinist explained that God
eternally chooses some and not all, and that only the elect are given
faith. This truth staggered me and humbled my proud mind. Yet people
think that preaching election is a hindrance to evangelism!
In September, I returned for my last year at high
school fearful of what my friends would think of my becoming a
Christian. I read the Bible with zest, in part to be able to witness to
them. Their questions and comments led me to read Christian books more
diligently. Also the young man God used in my conversion wrote me
letters, visited me and encouraged me in the Christian life. He spoke of
God’s sovereign grace and recommended Calvinistic literature. At the
time I thought he was a bit too insistent but I’m glad he persisted!
As a young babe in Christ, I was not able to explain
what was wrong with the Methodist church I was attending. I found that I
derived more benefit reading the Bible in the pew while the minister was
preaching than listen to his sermon. Always keen to learn more about
God’s Word, I attended lectures on the Old Testament and on the New
Testament at the Methodist theological college. There I heard of the
several "authors" of the Pentateuch, the various "Isaiahs" and Gospel
source criticism. Though I was unable to recognise it at the time, the
Methodist church was blighted with higher criticism, ecumenism,
Arminianism, feminism and Charismaticism.
So when I heard of a local Free Presbyterian Church
of Ulster, I started to attend it, and, a few months later, I became a
member. The preaching there was much clearer flowing from a confidence
in the inerrancy of Scripture. In that church I received much help, for
which I am thankful, though I also fell into the errors of lay-preaching
By this time, I was studying at Queen’s University,
Belfast, in N. Ireland, where I ended up doing a degree in Biblical
Studies. The courses were largely shaped by the concerns and methods of
higher criticism. But they had some value in that they gave me further
incentive to read the Scriptures and to develop answers to the critics.
My university course was not very demanding so I attended other Queen’s
lectures on philosophy and history and some night classes, and sat in on
classes at the Reformed Presbyterian College.
As I continued reading Reformed literature, I began
to see the shortcomings of the Free Presbyterian Church including its
Arminianism, its baptistic theology and its disregard for the regulative
principle of worship. I tried to divorce myself from some of the
departures of the denomination on the basis that things in my
congregation were better. The hymns caused me problems, for I could no
longer sing the Arminian parts. I read G. I. Williamson’s The Singing
of Psalms in the Worship of God and became increasingly troubled
about singing human poems in God’s public worship, for if this booklet
was right then I was personally engaging in sin.
All this was particularly difficult for me because I
believed from the time of my conversion that I was called to preach the
gospel. But how could this be if I could no longer give 100% allegiance
to the church of which I was a member?
Around this time, I came into contact with the
Covenant Reformed Fellowship (CRF) through a fellow student who was from
Ballymena. We called in with Mr. Callender (the CRF bookstore manager at
the time) and picked up some Protestant Reformed pamphlets. I started to
attend some of the CRF meetings. Rev. Hanko answered my questions. I met
his family and was amazed: family worship and young girls who knew
Reformed theology. I had not met the like in Northern Ireland!
In the summer of 1996, I attended the British
Reformed Fellowship Conference in Ashburnham, England, on "The Church."
The lectures spoke to me of my need to join a Reformed church. A
discussion with Prof. Hanko one evening settled it for me.
I resigned from the Free Presbyterian Church, citing
in my letter various articles in the Westminster Standards from
which the church had departed, and joined the Covenant Protestant
Reformed Church (CPRC) which had constituted by then. The preaching
opened my eyes to sovereign grace, the covenant, the sacraments, the
church, the three marks of the church, the confessions, worship,
After concluding four years at Queen’s and managing a
filling station/supermarket for a year, I studied for four years at the
Protestant Reformed Seminary. Many family members and friends did
not see why I needed to go to a seminary in America: "Are none of the
colleges in the UK good enough?" When I returned many came to
The four years in Grand Rapids were the most peaceful
days of my Christian life. For the first time, I was in an environment
that was truly Reformed, where I was not engaged in debates with
unbelievers and professing Christians of various theological
persuasions. Highlights of my seminary training were the courses on
Reformed Dogmatics, Church History and History of Dogma. One man in
England recently wrote that the Protestant Reformed Seminary "probably
represents the last bastion of Reformed teaching, which contends for the
whole counsel of God." Young people, treasure and pray for your
While at seminary, I found a wonderful wife, an
answer to many prayers. I had little idea when we married of Mary’s many
talents. I would not be able to serve in the ministry without her.
On 4 July, 2001, I was ordained as the minister of
the CPRC in N. Ireland with Rev. Gritters bringing God’s Word. The first
year of my ministry was very difficult and yet it was a very rewarding
and blessed year. I knew that there were problems in the congregation
before I came but I didn’t know how serious they were. A spirit of
delusion was abroad in the church. Were all our doctrines really true,
and if so were they important? The apostasy came to a head when the
elders decided that members no longer had to confess the Three Forms
of Unity, merely the Apostles’ Creed as it is explained in
the relevant articles of the Heidelberg Catechism. They
understood that this would also mean the end of our sister church
relationship with the Protestant Reformed Churches.
At a special congregational meeting the majority of
the male confessing members voted for the disbanding of the church. "A
little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (I Cor. 5:6). The disbanding was
a relief because we could not go forward with office-bearers and members
who no longer believed that the doctrines of the church were "the true
and complete doctrine of salvation" ("Form for the Public Confession of
Faith"). It was disappointing, though, that the preaching and doctrines
of the church meant so little to so many.
Young people, your calling is to "Buy the truth, and
sell it not" (Prov. 23:23). Do not let pressure from friends or family,
or the allurement of advancement and popularity in this world or in the
church, tempt you to give up so much as one iota of God’s truth! It is
too precious, for it is through the truth that we know the Triune God in
Jesus Christ! Times of sifting come in the lives of individuals and
families and churches. The Scriptures teach that "there must be also
heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest
among you" (I Cor. 11:19). Only those "rooted and built up in [Christ],
and stablished in the faith as ye have been taught" (Col. 2:7) will
stand. The rest will be "carried about with every wind of doctrine"
(Eph. 4:14). They and their children will depart.
In the last two years, I have had the joy of seeing
Jesus Christ build His church here and the saints growing in grace. With
the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship founded on the Reformed
faith without compromise or concession, unity and peace have returned.
In the will of Christ, the disbanding of the CPRC was the way forward.
You, as the
youth of the Protestant Reformed Churches, must be convinced that
Protestant Reformed churches and missions need to maintain distinctively
Protestant Reformed doctrines—the truth of God’s Word—even though the
battle is hard and the cost is high. Labouring for the Reformed faith is
labouring for a worthy cause, a cause to which you must be dedicated
heart and soul.