Friday, September 29, 2006

Marcus Dods - Victorian Emergent? IV.

Marcus Dods attended New College in the enthusiasm after the Disruption of 1843. But the reality of a call to the ministry can be years of 'probationership', life as a prospective pastor, preaching around churches seeking a pastorate. So it was with Marcus Dods. From 1858 to 1864 he was a minister without a settled charge. Sometimes he would be called as a 'temporary pastor', to take an extended series of services. One of the earliest of these places was Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There he stayed, desperately unhappy in a room in a "dingy brick house, one of a series of dingy brick houses, which series is one of a grand collection of dingy brick houses, the name whereof is Newcastle" (letter dated 18th November 1858). Not surprisingly, Dods was not called to that church!
1859 was another year of disappointments. In a letter to his sister Marcia Dods wrote: "Mr. Miller thinks I would be pretty sure of a call from the Baptists, if I professed my doubts as to the efficacy of infant Baptism - but that, unfortunately, is one of the few points on which I am rather inclined to be dogmatic" (letter dated 17th March 1859). In another letter from the same place (31st March 1859) he said: "I wish Dr. Cunningham was here for a week; he would go back and append some fierce denunciations to his lecture on the Arminians. Everybody here almost is Arminian, and won't get out of it."
His constant companions in those early years were the 'Olney Hymns' and Augustine's 'Confessions'.
After Newcastle came Hexham, and then he returned to Edinburgh, where 'Rainy's' (the Free High Church) was the family church. Marcus Dods was kept busy, however, preaching elsewhere.
"Were I to tell certain friends of mine what I am," he wrote to Marcia, "they would aghast hold up their hands and say 'You in the Church!' Tell me, if you can, if this is honest, this way of life." (May, 1860). He was also irritated by the General Assembly, declaring that if he had to be an ecclesiastical statesman "it would kill me."
It was also at this time that he began to contemplate what many p;eople regard as his greatest service to the Church (whether this outweighs his disservice to her is another matter), a new edition of the Works of Augustine. In a letter to Marcia dated 14th June 1860 he wrote: "I can't understand why Augustine's 'Confessions' are not UNIVERSALLY read; they seem to me to be just THE biography, and I am strongly inclined to write a new translation. I know it could be no better than others, but there ought to be lots circulating, and I don't know of any circulating at all."
He suffered terribly with indwelling sin. There are some tortured passages in the 'Early Letters' that are written in tears, like Romans 7. If this series was more general I would give all of them. However, this one must suffice:
"Whatever Paul says of the law in the 7th of Romans I have found true of the ministry; no doubt it is holy in itself, but in me it has revealed and EXCITED an amount of sin that has slain me. Other people with stronger natures may have, doubtless have, endured more, but I could not have endured more misery than I have since I began to preach. When I look at the two years as a whole, I cannot but wonder how I have got through it so long. The mercy is it comes pieve by piece... I know that no man's sufficiency is of himself, but I can't ACCEPT; to-day I do it, and to-morrow I am unable..." (letter to Marcia, 26th June 1860).
But things were soon to change. Just two days later Mr. Clark (of T. & T. Clark) approached him after he had preached, asking Dods to write an article for the 'North British Review', a magazine that Clark had just taken over.
Marcus Dods was launched as an author.

His theological career continued, of which more, God willing, next time.



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