Thursday, October 11, 2007

'Through Many Trials' David Brown - XXVIII.

David Brown was the greatest ornament (if such a word can be rightly used of such a practical man) of the Free Church College, Aberdeen. But there was one man who, for a time, seemed to challenge him in that place. That man was William Robertson Smith (see sidebar for a link to our past series on him). Smith was a brilliant man without a doubt, but his very brilliance became a snare to him. Often this is the case, Satan uses men's talents and abilities as snares. PRIDE is his great wepon, and to some it is an intellectual pride.
Robertson Smith was the son of a well-respected country pastor, a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, like David Brown, and a graduate of New College. His abilities in the Hebrew language had led the 1870 General Assembly to take the unparalelled course of appointing him to the Chair of Hebrew and Old Testament at the Free Church College, Aberdeen at the end of his theology course. This very act contributed to the young scholar's downfall. Without the grounding the pastoral ministry had given David Brown and the other Free Church professors, he WAS an ivory tower academic.

David Brown liked Robertson Smith as a man. He was a likeable enough young fellow at first, and David Brown was no narrow-minded bigot. He was a scholar himself of international fame, and he enjoyed the company of learned men. Though Robertson Smith had studied in Germany, Brown knew men like John Cairns of the United Presbyterian Church who had done the same and not been ill-affected by it, and he himself saw the usefulness of Biblical criticism of the textual kind, comparing manuscripts to get to the purest form of the text.

But in 1875 the third volume of the 9th edition of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica' appeared, containing an article on the Bible by Robertson Smith. It contained opinions on the dates and compositions of books of the Old Testament that were quite contrary to what the Free Church as a whole held, and identical to some of the most extreme views of the German liberals. It was essential for the Free Church to act, and as a member of the College Committee, Brown was at the centre of the firestorm of protest that sprang up.
In summary, the views of Robertson Smith were:
1. The Levitical laws did not date from the time of Moses, but from a later date.
2. Deuteronomy contains mention of institutions and arrangements that did not exist in the time of Moses.
3. This is accounted for by the assumption that Deuteronomy is not a historical document, but the claim to be one is a literary device.
4. This method was legitimate and is not at odds with the full inspiration of the book.
5. This method was not a sort of fraud.
The College Committee as a whole was not impressed, and eventually it was concluded that a formal charge of heresy should be brought.

God willing, next time we shall continue with this saga.



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