Friday, October 12, 2007

'Through Many Trials' David Brown - XXIX.

After long discussion, Robertson Smith had demanded a heresy trial to clear his name. David Brown, now principal at Aberdeen, had begun to examine his young Professor's views. Brown knew Smith too well to suspect him of knowingly trying to undermine the Bible, but he also remembered his old friend Irving and his errors. Edward Irving had never meant to undermine the sinlessness of Christ, but he had done so. In other words, a man's good intentions did not necessarily protect him from error. David Brown took no pleasure in thus examining the views of his brilliant young colleague, but he knew it had to be done. If he was willing to confront error in other Churches, he could not give his own denomination a free pass. In that he acted as a good man ought to, confronting error whedrever it could be found, and not assuming the worst of those whose teachings he saw were dangerous. It is a sad fact that the vast majority of heretics have imagined they were upholding, not undermining, the Gospel. History tells us that Christ has often been wounded in the house of his friends.
The question, then, that faced David Brown, was this: Did Robertson Smith's views really involve the practical denial of the inspiration of Deuteronomy? Smith was a young man, Brown now an elder statesman of the Church. Smith's reading had been affectively confined to German higher-critical works, Brown's embraced a wide circle of theology - a fact necessitated by his teaching responsibilities. Smith had never held a pastorate and had spent much of his life in an academic setting, Brown was an experienced minister who had worked with both rural poverty and urban wealth. In other words, in practically every field David Brown was Robertson Smith's superior - a man does not live seventy years as eventful as Brown's without learning something, and David Brown was commited to a learned ministry.
Our readers are referred to the past series on Robertson Smith for the full details. Suffice to say that Robertson Smith finally fell by his own hand. Just a few days after he had been admonished and reinstated to his office, another volume of the Encyclopaedia appeared containing an article on 'Hebrew Language and Literature' that was even more advanced in tone than the article 'Bible'. Yet Smith had said nothing about this article during the trial! He was removed from office by the next General Assembly.
If his biographers give us a true picture of Robertson Smith, he was an arrogant young man who thought that because he had read deeply modern German authors, he was above all criticism. He looked on the aged Principal Brown with something bordering on contempt, as a senile old fossil who wanted to uphold the traditional views. He did not consider that David Brown and his other critics might have very good reasons for holding their positions. David Brown, it must be remembered, had himself struggled with unitarianism and German rationalism whilst a student. He had come to his views on the Bible by study and investigation, not a blind faith. He saw that Robertson Smith's problem was not too much learning, it was too little - the young man had only read books of one school, and that a school that tended to put unsupported speculations into the place of fact. The 'Higher Criticism' was an attempt to reconstruct the history of the Biblical texts, not using external evidence, but internal. Unfortunately the process was entirely subjective. Different critics came up with entirely different histories of texts, and all without any hard evidence at all. David Brown had seen this in his reading and determined to be very cautious of it. He studied the Higher criticism closely, and it was because of this deep study that he utterly rejected it. David Brown was committed to scholarship - and the true scholarship that upholds the truthfulness of the Bible.

God willing, next time we shall look at Principal Brown's other controversy that ran alongside the Robertson Smith case - the Revised Version of the Bible.



Post a Comment

<< Home