21 August 1841 “Rabbi” Duncan arrives in Hungary to open Scottish Mission #otdimjh


Prominent Jewish believers such as Alfred Edersheim, Adolph Saphir owed a debt of gratitude to ‘Rabbi’ Duncan and the Scottish Mission. Here is a short survey of his life and work, taken from Ross and Metzger..


The famous Scottish Mission in Hungary began with Duncan’s arrival in Hungary, appointed by The General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland to lead a team of workers. They arrived on August 21, 1841.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 18.25.41

John Duncan mastered Hungarian grammar within a few months and was able to make friends with many of the key people in the Jewish and Gentile communities. These included Chief Rabbi Schwab, the Protestant Archduchess Maria Dorothea, and the Superintendent of the Hungarian Reformed Church the Rev. Torok.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 18.09.28

A major part of Duncan’s chosen missionary strategy was to hold public services each Lord’s Day in English. Among the many wanting to improve their ability to understand that language were numerous Jews, a number of whom began to attend the services regularly. There they were introduced to the claims of the Messiah and the promises of the Gospel. The Rev. and Mrs. Duncan’s “house in Pesth was thrown open to the Jews; they saw all their habits and ways, and had Christianity presented without being forced upon them.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 18.01.20

The list of converts grew almost daily as the Lord blessed the diligence and faithfulness of his servant, who spent whole days in receiving visitors and employing his remarkable conversational and persuasive powers. Amongst those who came to faith were Israel and Adolph Saphir, Alfred Edersheim and Alexander Tomory, to name only four. This time of blessing reached its zenith about the middle of May 1843 when Israel Saphir, aged 63, was baptized with his family, each of whom were able to testify to what God’s grace had done for them.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 18.01.46

The presence of the Holy Spirit was so powerful and the effects of that presence were so widespread that some date the turnaround in the spiritual state of the Hungarian Reformed Church to the time of Israel Saphir’s baptism. The missionaries and the new converts began to exercise a growing {20} influence on the ministers of the Reformed Church, through which they were able to strengthen them in a love for the truth and a spiritual concern for their people.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 18.10.51

This influence prepared the nation for the trials that would soon take place during the fight for independence under Kossuth in 1848-49. In 1849, due to the war of independence, the missionaries of the Free Church of Scotland had to be evacuated. But the work did not terminate. Old Mr. Saphir continued to act on behalf of the missionaries in cooperation with Superintendent Torok. The mission school, although reduced, continued with six or eight teachers and between 300 and 400 children. Mr. Saphir conducted a service in his own room each Sunday. He died in 1864, at the age of eighty-four, “Peacefully resting in Jesus, the Messiah, the Saviour, and the King of Israel.” In 1863 the restrictions were lifted and the Rev. Andrew Moody became the leader of the work, which continued to flourish under the hand of God. The school founded by Philip Saphir became a large and respected institution. In the beginning the teaching was in German and, from 1878 on, in Hungarian. In 1869 they put up their own building at the expense of £6,000 (a large sum at that time) at Hold-u.17. This was soon extended to include a girls’ home. A larger building was constructed for the school in 1910 at Vorosmartyvu.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for this outstanding scholar and lover of your word and people. His example shows us his gracious and gentlemanly zeal, vision and faith. Help us to follow in his example as we share the riches of our faith and heritage. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.


Click to access 2005-03-150-ross.pdf

Click to access mishkan14.pdf


Time for Favour

Scottish missions to the Jews, 1838-1852

Tentmaker Publications

Hardback A5. 346 pages.


Kovács, Ábrahám

The History of the Free Church of Scotland’s Mission to the Jews in Budapest and its Impact on the Reformed Church of Hungary


Series: Studien zur interkulturellen Geschichte des Christentums / Etudes d’histoire interculturelle de christianisme / Studies in the Intercultural History of Christianity – Volume 140

Year of Publication: 2006

Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2006. XVIII, 435 pp.
ISBN 978-3-631-55367-1 pb.  (Softcover)

The Budapest Scottish Mission with its twofold aim, mission to the Jews and initiating an Evangelical revival in the largest Protestant body had played a remarkable, decisive and unique role in the «long 19th century» of the Hungarian Kingdom. This study focuses on how the Scottish Mission implanted British Evangelicalism, German Pietism, voluntary organisations such as YMCA, IFES, WSCF, Sunday School, Women’s Guild, social outreach, medical missions, home mission, personal piety, concepts of mission and evangelisation through their Scottish Presbyterianism into Hungary. The study presents the interaction of Scottish Presbyterians, Orthodox, Neolog (Reform and Conservative) and Status Quo Ante Jews of Hungary, and the Hungarian Reformed Protestants. It also discusses their attitudes to conversion, mission, proselytising, education, assimilation, and nationalism. While discussing the Mission’s aims, the book pays careful attention to church, institutional, and religious histories. In addition to these, local theologies, ideologies and worldviews of the people are scrutinized. Through these issues this study introduces the reader to the daily life of a multicultural community gathered around the Scottish community.

The Rev Prof John Duncan (1796 – 26 February 1870), also known as ‘Rabbi’ Duncan, was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, a missionary to the Jews in Hungary, and Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at New College, Edinburgh. He is best remembered for his aphorisms.

Rev John Duncan’s grave, Grange Cemetery


THE following brief outline of the principal events in the life of Dr. Duncan may be acceptable to readers who are not familiar with the Memoir by Dr. Brown.
Dr. Duncan was born of humble but pious parentage in 1796 at Gilcomston, in the parish of Old Machar, Aberdeen. His father, whose Christian name also was John, was a “plain working shoemaker” and a member of the Original Secession Church. He had several children, but John was the only one who survived the stage of infancy, and he was a weakly boy. “At a very early age an attack of small-pox brought him to the gates of death, and deprived him totally of the sight of one eye,” a defect which was permanent.
At the age of nine he entered the famous Grammar School of Aberdeen, and in i8io, when he was fourteen, he matriculated as a student at the Marischal College and University. Though he gave indications, when quite young, of uncommon powers of mind and intense fondness for books, he did not, owing to his irregular habits of study, shine as a scholar at the University. He pursued however, the usual course in Arts, and took his degree of M.A. in 1814.
Having a desire from his earliest years to become a minister, he appeared in 1813 before the Constitutional Associate Presbytery (Anti-Burgher Secession), and after due examination, was admitted as a divinity student, but he left this body three years later, and joined the Established Church of Scotland.
He then became a member of the congregation of the somewhat eccentric, but eminent preacher of the Gospel, Dr. James Kidd, minister of Gilcomston Chapel of Ease, and Professor of Oriental Languages in Marischal College, Aberdeen.
In 1817 Duncan entered the Theological Hall of the Established Church, and completed his course in divinity in 1821, but for several years after this date he hesitated to take license as a preacher, being unable, as he then was, honestly to subscribe the Westminster Confession of Faith. He bore testimony at a later time that he ‘‘ was an atheist,” when he entered the Theological Hall, and that, altbough he lost his atheism under the teaching of Dr. Mearns, one of the professors, and “danced with delight on the Brig 0’ Dee” at the thought, he was still Christless.”
At length he succeeded in overcoming his scruples as to the subscription of the Confession, – “acted the hypocrite,” as he used to confess with shame, and grief in after years – and was licensed by the Presbytery of Aberdeen on the 24th of June, 1825.
In the following year, the Rev. Dr. Caesar Malan, of Geneva, an honoured and zealous servant of Christ, visited Aberdeen on an evangelical tour. John Duncan, then under deep mental depression, came through the influence of David Brown (afterwards his biographer), into personal conversation with Malan about his soul’s concerns, with the result, by the Spirit’s blessing and power, that he experienced ‘‘ the great change” of conversion to Christ.
Two years afterwards, in1828 be passed through a further spiritual experience which owing to its profound depth and thoroughness he called his “second conversion.” He acknowledged indebtedness during this season to the Rev. Gavin Parker, Dr. Kidd, and the writings of Dr. Love, Dr. Owen, and Hermann Witsius, the Dutch divine. Mr. Duncan at this period was unsettled as to his preaching engagements, but in 1830 he was chosen minister of the Chapel of Persie, in the Parish of Bendochy, situated on the eastern border of Perthshire. Here be laboured (without ordination) with much acceptance and usefulness for ten months.
His fame as a profound, deeply-taught preacher of God’s Word, began to be spread abroad. In July, 1831, through the influence of Mr. Hugh Mackay, “one of the most estimable men in Glasgow,” who came to know, and highly value Mr. Duncan’s preaching as of a rare, spiritual order, he was brought to that city in the capacity of English Assistant to the Rev. Robert Clark of the Duke Street Gaelic Chapel. His work was to deliver an English Lecture every Sabbath Afternoon This service attracted the attention of deeply exercised Christians who, as Dr. Brown says, “hungered, for the deeper and richer things of the Bible, and were different to manner, if the matter suited them. With such, and they were a growing few, one service from him (including the prayers as well as the Sermon) was worth many elsewhere. At length his friends increased to such an extent that an effort was made to have him “settled over a congregation his own.”
They secured a large school-room in West Nile Street, where he began to conduct regular services every Lord’s Day. Providentially at this time, a Church Building Association was started in Glasgow, through whose help Mr. Duncan’s adherents were enabled to take steps towards building a new Church in the district of the Cowcaddens, being known as the Milton Parish Church. Before the building however, was begun, Mr. Duncan was ordained by tb Presbytery in the Barony Parish Church as minister of the Milton congregation on the 28th April, 1836. He was introduced to the pastoral charge by the Rev. Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Macdonald of Ferintosh, “the apostle of the North.”
Two years before this time another eminent preacher of the Gospel the Rev. Jonathan R. Anderson, began his useful and honoured ministry in Kirkfield Chapel, and Mr. Duncan and he esteemed one another highly in the Lord.
Early in 1837 Mr. Duncan married an excellent Christian lady, Miss Janet Tower, of Aberdeen, who proved a valuable helpmate, but who lived only a little more than two years thereafter, passing away, it is pathetic to relate, as a consequence of the premature birth of her second child. This sad dispensation occasioned him deep sorrow and exercise of spirit. He could adopt in sincerity the language of the Psalmist

“At the noise of thy waterspouts,
deep unto deep doth call;
Thy breaking waves pass over me,
Yea, and thy billows all.”

During Mr. Duncan’s ministry in Glasgow, there were several Courses of Lectures delivered by ministers of the Established Church. According to Dr. Brown’s Memoir, Mr. Duncan took a lecture in three of these courses. Two of his lectures one on Protestantism, and another on “The Work of the Holy Spirit in connection with the Conversion of the Jews” -appear in the present volume. (Gleanings..)A third lecture, or sermon, which came in between these two was, “one of a course of Sermons on the Ten Commandments— his one being on the Third Commandment” (Brown). The present writer, after extensive research, as he has already stated in the preface, has not found any trace of this lecture.
In October, 1839, a vacancy occurred in the Hebrew Chair of the University of Glasgow. Mr. Duncan addressed a remarkable letter of application to the authorities, but although his linguistic attainments were very great, unexcelled perhaps by any scholar in the country, he failed to secure the chair. The application, however, was the means of bringing him into public notice, and in the following year, 1840, his Alma Mater the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen, conferred on him the degree of LL.D.
About this time much interest in the conversion of the Jews was aroused in the Church of Scotland, and among other steps taken to advance this good cause was the appointment of Dr. Duncan who was well known for his deep interest in Israel, as first Missionary to the Jews from the Church of Scotland. He was loosed from his pastoral charge on the 7th October, 1840, and was publicly designated to his new office on the 16th May, 1841, in St. George’s Church, Glasgow. About a month later he set out, along with two young missionaries for the appointed field, Pesth in Hungary, accompanied also by his second wife (a worthy widow lady whom he had lately married), and their two daughters. There he carried on a striking and memorable mission, much owned of the Lord in the conversion of Jews such as the Saphirs, who became notable witnesses for Christ.
Dr. Duncan remained in Pesth for upwards of two years, (with the exception of a short time at Leghorn, Italy), until a few months after the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in May, 1843. He and the other missionaries joined the Free Church, and be was invited borne to fill the chair of Hebrew and Oriental Languages in the new Free Church College. He accepted the invitation, though reluctantly leaving his missionary work, and arrived in Scotland at the beginning of November, 1843, when “He had immediatly to enter on the work of his chair”
Dr. Duncan occupied this chair for twenty-seven years from 1843 till his death in 1870. He had the benefit of assistant Hebrew Tutor from 1850 to 1858, and in 1863 colleague and successor (Rev. A. B. Davidson) was appoint whose duty it was to take entire charge of the Junior Class and of the Senior, whenever Dr. Duncan should be unavailable for his own work. Early in November, 1850, the present New College Building was opened and inaugurated, among addresses by the Principal and Professors, Dr. Duncan delivered a notable one on “The Theology of the Old Testament,” which is published in the present collection. Though not prominent in ecclesiastical courts, he took a lively interest in all movements in connection with the Church, and wh he was a member of the General Assembly, he enter occasionally into the discussions. Wide and catholic in his general sympathies towards all who bore the image of Christ, he was at the same time strongly attached to the principles of his own Church as settled in 1843, and could brook no departure. While on good personal terms with many of the brethren who advocated union with the UP. Church in his time, he made it plain that he was a decided Anti-Unionist.
His most interesting and impressive appearances, however, were in connection with the annual Jewish Report. At several Assemblies he delivered highly animated and elevated addresses, marked by genius and spiritual power, on the subject of the evangelisation of the Jews and these addresses, as taken from the Assembly Bluebook are now collectively published for the first time. During his long residence in Edinburgh, there was one sphere of usefulness which he occupied to the great spiritual advantage of many, namely, that of occasionally assisting ministers of congregations in the services of the sanctuary. His preaching was greatly followed by, and much blessed to exercised souls, seeking “the bread of life”.
Dr. Duncan’s bodily vigour began to decline some years before his death, but his mental ability continued much the same to the end, abundant illustrations of which, and of his rare spiritual exercises, may be seen in the Memoir.(By David Brown) About the middle of January, 1870, his physical strength, due to heart weakness, went markedly down, and towards the end of the month, be ceased to attend the College. He gradually became weaker until he peacefully passed away on the morning of the 26th February, to join the ransomed throng before the throne. His remains were buried in the Grange Cemetery not far from those of Dr. Chalmers, Dr. Cunningham, Dr. Jas. Buchanan, “ and many other friends in Christ,” and his tombstone bears the following suitable inscription :—

Professor of Hebrew and of Oriental Languages in the Free Church College, Edinburgh.
An Eminent Scholar and Metaphysician,
A Profound Theologian,
A man of tender piety and of a lowly loving spirit.
Born 1796. Died 1870.

In this brief, historical outline, there is no attempt made to give a pen portrait of Dr. Duncan in the many aspects of his mental and spiritual character, or in the general habits of his life. A man of profound genius and vast learning, he was, by God’s grace, the humblest of Christians, sitting at the feet of Jesus, and desiring above everything else to be found in Him, clothed with His righteousness, and filled with His Spirit, “ accepted in the Beloved.”
Remarkably absent-minded, in regard to the common things of life, he was intensely exercised about the higher and eternal realities, and though frequently tried with doubts and fears, he was also frequently admitted into the secret of God’s pavilion, and knew the joy that is “unspeakable and full of Glory,” Coming forth as a consequence richly anointed with the Spirit, and almost like an inspired prophet, proclaiming to his fellow-sinners, and to the household of faith, “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
This entry was posted in otdimjh and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.