Thursday, June 08, 2006

"I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain" George Matheson, IX.

It would be a good thing if this could be as arcadian a post as the last few, but it will not be. Even in such an idyllic place as Innellan the 19th Century caught up with George Matheson. This was the period of the Victorian Crisis of faith, and while men like Charles Haddon Spurgeon and J.K. Popham might be immune Matheson, trained in a theological institution where the latest philosophic speculation, direct from Germany, were taught, was not. Let Matheson tell the story:

"At one time, with a great thrill of horror, I found myself an absolute atheist. After being ordained at Innellan, I believed nothing; neither God nor immortality. I tendered my resignation to the Presbytery, but to their honour they would not accept it, even though a Highland Presbytery. They said I was a young man, and would change. I have changed. Without hypocrisy I preach all the old doctrines and use all the old forms, but with deeper meaning. My theological sympathies are in favour of breadth, but not negation. It is a great mistake to suppose that there is any advantage, or disadvantage, in being broad or narrow, long or short, high or low. The question is, what is it that is broad? Is it broadcloth or broad shoulders? Therefore I do not value an opinion simply because it is a negative opinion, and different from use or wont. I am as broad as can be, but it is a broad positive."

What is 'a broad positive?' we may well ask. The answer is that it means George Matheson did not discard the theology of his forefathers, at least, he did not deny that it was true. However, he interpreted it through a framework of German philosophy. He loved to listen to men like Pfleiderer and Lichtenburg being read. In short, Matheson's 'broad positive' meant abandoning the old Calvinism of Presbyterian Scotland in favour of the rationalising philosophy of liberal Lutheranism.

Next time, God willing, we shall see what the effect of this theological change in Matheson was.



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