Wednesday, October 17, 2007

'Through Many Trials' David Brown - XXXII.

We have seen how David Brown corresponded with Cardinal Newman, showing the man who had abandoned his evangelicalism because of a distrust of the Bible that the Bible IS sufficient after all. We noted that Newman was part of a larger trend of Anglicans joining the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time as this development, others were moving away from the teachings of the Bible completely and embracing rationalism as their highest authority. While some abandoned religion entirely, and some tried to transform the existing Churches in their own rationalist image,others set up new 'churches' based on rationalist 'theology' or joined the existing Unitarian congregations. The most important of the Unitarian leaders of the day was James Martineau (1805-1900), the Norwich-born philosopher, lecturer and minister. Unlike Newman, Martineau had been raised a Unitarian and had never believed the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. His pastorates, from 1827-31 in Dublin, 1832-57 in Liverpool and 1859-72 at Little Portland Street, London, were all in Unitarian chapels. While not a convert to Unitarianism, Martineau was one of its most enthusiastic advocates, being Christened by some 'the High Priest of Uniarianism.'

Although at first glance it might seem that two more different men than Newman and Martineau could not be found in all of England, in fact they were alike in many ways. Both men were descended from Huguenots, French Protestant refugees who had fled to England in the 17th century from fierce persecution in their native land. While Newman's Huguenot ancestors had joined the Church of England and retained their Calvinism, the Martineaus had retained their Presbyterianism and abandoned their evangelicalism! In Martineau Brown saw a man who was profoundly impressed by the hymns of the Wesleys, and a man he might be able, under the hand of God, to guide into faith in Christ as more than simply a teacher to be admired, but the Son of God who came to die for ruined sinners.

Both Martineau and Brown were Victorian gentlemen, and their correspondence was carried out in a manner befitting the fact. While Martineau, who, to use his own words, considered "involuntary heresy... but an infirmity and not a sin", could very easily be polite with a man with whom he disagreed (we do not consider there to be such a thing as involuntary heresy and would point our readers to Dr. W.G.T. Shedd's excellent sermon 'Sin in the Heart the Source of Error in the Head' in his volume of 'Sermons to the Natural Man' for a proof of our position), for a staunch Calvinist like David Brown to maintain a tone of charity involved effort. But Brown was convinced that both parts of the phrase 'speaking the Truth in Love' were important - and so they are!
On 23rd June 1881, Martineau, as Principal of Manchester College, London, delivered an address to current and former students on 'Loss and Gain in Recent Theology'. Reading the report of the lecture, Brown saw that Martineau had LOST all that was distinctive of Christianity and GAINED precious little. Though Martineau denied it, the logical end of his 'theology' was an end of all revealed religion, since if God has spoken, man is apparently unable to hear, and that Christ is not the Son of God but a mere man. Martineau protested that "the figure of the historical Christ is, for me, disengaged from the unhistorical elements of the Gospel narratives by a legitimate application of the critical principles." But of course Brown denied that this WAS legitimate. Martineau began by denying the possibility of the miraculous, and so he ended by denying the historicity of the miraculous. He then fondly supposed that this was a 'legitimate application of the critical principles'. No, it was chopping up the Gospels based on his own naturalistic presuppositions! In other words, before Van Til used the expression, David Brown subjected Martineau's lecture to an internal critique!
David Brown, whom we have found to be a presupositionalist before Van Til, urged on Martineau the fact that we are all deeply influenced by our presuppositions, often unconsciously. Certainly Martineau belived that he was unbiassed (a common conceit of the Victorian era), but he was not, because no-one is. Himself a student of Bible criticism, Brown had seen what a subjective tool the so-called 'higher criticism' was, and he had no time for such a game (for game it certainly had become). Unitarianism, he noted, had a downward trend. And indeed it does, down to the pit from whence it came.

God willing, next time we shall consider some of Brown's other contacts, including that with B. B. Warfield of Princeton.



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