Alasdair MacIntyre began his 1988 Edinburgh Gifford Lectures as follows:
It is a question of some interest to me, and I hope also to you, whether or not these lectures which I am about to deliver are in fact going to be Gifford Lectures. An answer will emerge only a good deal later, but the point of posing the question at the outset is clear. A Gifford lecturer is someone who is engaged in trying to implement Lord Gifford's will. And Adam Gifford's will is a document from a cultural milieu sufficiently alien to our own that the question of what fidelity to Adam Gifford's intentions would require may be somewhat more difficult than it has often been taken to be. A few early lecturers did explicitly concern themselves with the precise nature of those intentions: F. Max Muller, J.H. Stirling, Edward Caird, and Otto Pfleiderer. But for them a response was not difficult. Disparate as their standpoints were, they shared to some large degree Adam Gifford's presuppositions, just because they were participants with him in a common culture. But after those earliest lectures, with a very few honorable exceptions the attention paid to Adam Gifford's intentions has commonly been at best cursory, perhaps because to do otherwise than to ignore them would have been embarrassing. [1990, p. 9]
That said, some do more than ignore Adam Gifford's intentions, deconstructing his Deed of Trust at the outset. How refreshing, then, to read these opening lines in Alexander Balmain Bruce's lectures:
I feel deeply, and I now desire sincerely to acknowledge, the honour conferred upon me by the appointment to be Gifford Lecturer in this University for this and the next session. I am aware, however, that the best way of showing my appreciation of the privilege is to make a serious endeavour to discharge the duties of the office so as to give some measure of satisfaction to the appointing body. This, God helping me, I will try to do. I enter on my task with diffidence; yet not without hope, certainly with the desire, to treat the subject I am to deal with in harmony with the views of the Founder, as set forth plainly in his Deed of Trust." [p. 1]
Clearly, the times have changed, but why should natural theology be denied the possibility of development granted to theology in general? Of course "Adam Gifford's will is a document from a cultural milieu ... alien to our own," but the fact that a changed ethos means changed ways (see W. Desmond, 1999) makes development possible. In any case, Bruce's attention to the Deed of Trust is exemplary, and his introduction helpful in situating his lectures in the "wide field" [p. 8], i.e. the larger conversation. And what is his theme? Providence, as the title makes clear. And his method? "Through man to God must be the line of proof for us." [p. 9, repeated pp. 14–15] Chapter 2 thus has to do with "Man's Place in the Universe," and Chapter 3, "Theistic Inferences from Man's Place in the Universe." Moving through these general conversations, Bruce explores providence in the individual life (ch. 9), and then three providential methods: election (ch. 10), solidarity (ch. 11), and, in his final chapter, progress by sacrifice (ch. 12).