Friday, November 28, 2008

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day Morning I shall be preaching at Tabor Baptist Church, Llantrisant, South Wales.

Services are at 11.00 AM and 6.00 PM. Further information is on the website.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

'I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain'. George Matheson -XII

Crown Court Church of Scotland, Covent Garden, London, is the oldest Church of Scotland congregation in the English capital. Its most famous minister was Rev. John Cumming (1832-79), who was famous (perhaps infamous) for his sermons on the Book of Revelation and other prophetic passages of the Bible. His death in 1879 left the church anxious to acquire a similarly noted and gifted pastor. So they approached George Matheson, urging on him the advantages of a pastorate in the capital of the British Empire. It would be quite a change from Innellan. The whole congregation in London made the call, but Matheson declined it. it was said that one of the reasons for this was that Matheson wanted freedom to exchange pulpits with other London ministers of other denominations, and the Church at Crown Court (building pictured) had not agreed to this condition. But there were other reasons as well. Away in his remote seaside parish, Matheson could study in quiet. He was still unsure of exactly what he believed, and on one occasion, after he had given a sermon on misssions, he was urged to go to India, only to answer that he was afraid that he would himself be converted to Hiduism if he went! He would remain in Innellan for another six years before being transferred to another capital city.

So Matheson's name was to be kept before the public in articles in magazines such as The Expositor, rather than in a metropolitan pulpit. His study at Innellan became almost a factory of articles, and his secretaries, necessary since Matheson had to dictate his works, worked hard. Some of his work in the period was the sort of 'apologetics' that was produced by Hegelians, reductionist attempts to make the Bible square with Hegel and other late Victorian philosophers. Practically he put the Philosophers above the Bible, and not the other way around.

Matheson was not an anti-supernaturalist at any time. He clung to the idea of immortality, and looked forward to the day that he would see 'the King in His Glory', and would be blind no longer. It was this that would allow him, as he matured and regained faith, to come back to the Bible in the end.

In 1880 he was chosen to give the Baird Lecture for 1881. God willing, next time we shall deal with this and see how he began to write on other matters.


Monday, November 24, 2008

'I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain'. George Matheson -XI

More than two years ago, we left George Matheson in the grip of German 'Higher Criticism' and Hegelian dialectic. Following a crisis of faith, he fled to Hegel's philosophy as a support. It was to prove a rotten one, in the end. He applied Hegel's dialectic of thesis, antithesis and thesis to the history of the Church in a book entitled The Growth of the Spirit of Christianity. It was well received in a world where Hegel was in vogue, but it missed the true history of Christianity, merging everything in an idea of 'progress' that was also fashionable, but wrong. He presented Christianity as subject the the 'law of evolution'. Again, it was fashionable, but it is simply not Biblical, nor is it indeed historical. For we must remember that the 'law of evolution' imagined by the Victorians was one of ever-continued ascent, as expressed in the title of Henry Drummond's book The Ascent of Man.

The greatest, and the most just, criticism of the book was that Matheson had not tested the theory of Hegel's applicability to Christianity, he had assumed it. He had not tried to adapt the theory to the facts, but the facts to the theory. This is a constant criticism of Hegelians, and indeed of Hegel himself. If the facts do not fit the theory - so much for the facts! The present author, as one with a scientific training, is horrified by such a procedure, and so we all should be! Apologists for Hegel tell us that it is surely better to interpret the facts in light of some principle than to leave them as so many data without interpretation, and we would agree. But we would add that a theory that cannot account for the facts is a bad theory, and should be modified or discarded. Our principle is the Biblical one of the providence of the creator God who has revealed himself in the pages of Scripture. It is perhaps this fact-bending Hegelianism that made this George Matheson's least popular book.

Innellan, Matheson's parish, was, like Broughty Ferry, which was very much the Free Church equivalent parish, a resort of the wealthy. Thus it was never without its intellectuals, and Matheson gathered a band of intelligent men around himself there. They would discuss theological and philosophical topics at the Manse. For their part, the villagers were glad to have a famous and rising minister, and ddid not mind in the least that he was almost completely blind. In 1879 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity by the University of Edinburgh. He was presented by the brilliant and conservative Professor Charteris (pronounced 'Charters', and no relation to the Saint author, who assumed 'Charteris' as a pen-name).

In 1880 he received a call to the Crown Court Church in London. God willing, next time we shall see how George Matheson responded.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day evening I shall be preaching at my home Church, Hethersett Reformed Baptist Church.

The Church at Hethersett was founded as a plant from Silver Road Baptist Church in Norwich, an old General Baptist Church. By the grace of God a church founded on Arminian lines is now committed to the Biblical theology of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.

Services are at 10.45 in the morning and 6.30 in the evening.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - Conclusion.

The United Presbyterian Synod considered carefully the question of altering the way theological education was carried out in the Church. While the old system had produced some of the greatest theological minds of the nineteenth century, and the professors had more than proved the possibility of combining deep theological learning with a pastoral charge, the Synod felt that the Church's reputation would be raised still further by a full-tile theological college and faculty. It was decided to open, for the first time in the history of the body, a theological seminary like that already possessed by the Free Church of Scotland in New College. It was resolved that the old Hall should cease to exist at the end of the 1875 session, and that in November 1876 the new Seminary should open with a full staff of professors.

Of the existing faculty, two would never see the new system begin. In 1874 Dr. M'Michael died suddenly. He would be replaced before the opening of the new College. The other man to die before opening was Dr. John Eadie. The brilliant commentator died on 4th June 1876, again, quite unexpectedly. He was at the time of his death the greatest Biblical scholar in Scotland, a man who had entered into the depths of the Word of God. His Greek Text Commentaries and other writings have recently been reprinted by Solid Ground Christian Books, and will amply repay the reader. He combined this deep scholarship with a confessional orthodoxy even greater than that of Dr. John Brown of Broughton Place.

The opening of a theological seminary, as opposed to the old-style Hall, meant that three new Professors had to be elected. They were Mr. Paterson, Professor of Hebrew, Dr. Duff, Professor of Church History, and Dr. Ker, Professor of Pastoral Training. Dr. Harper was elected Principal of the new College.

The United Presbyterian College was moved to its permanent home in the Synod Hall (illustrated above in its later guise as a cinema), in 1877, where it remained until it was dissolved by the union of the United Presbyterian Church and the majority of the Free Church of Scotland to form the United Free Church of Scotland. While it was to boast such brilliant professors as Dr. James Orr, it never really attained to its promise. It was as if the separation of the professors from their pastorates, rather than setting them free, bound them to a more speculative scholarship.

We have said several times that there is no one 'right way' to give theological education. Some men -although they are the exception, not the rule - need little guidance, they learn easily, and all they need is a little advice on what to read. Others - and they are probably the majority - need some more formal education. We feel that the method pursued in the Secession Hall is at least as good as any, that learned men are enabled, whilst retaining their pastorates, to pass on their learning in an academic setting to ministerial students. This has method combines all the advantages of the academic seminary with those of the informal study. Let us not despise seminaries because some have become seed-beds of heresy rather than orthodoxy, but let us seek instead a seminary that keeps Professors and students close to the Church. This is the ideal, Scholarship and pastoral ministry combined, not separated. It is this separation of learning and the pastoral ministry that has given us on the one hand seminaries that overflow with heresy, and on the other ministers who have little learning, and who are as a result mere entertainers.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - XIX.

Apologetics, or the Defence of the Faith, is a vital subject in any theological curriculum today. Every responsible Christian has a shelf of apologetics works. Unfortunately all too often this vital task is left to mavericks outside the oversight of the Church, and to men with little theological training. No field is more open to abuse by the semi-educated, or by those who substitute philosophy for the Bible.

Today we are blessed with a number of excellent Reformed apologists. In the second half of the nineteenth century, things were rather different. For one thing, apologetics in the English-speaking world was entirely dominated by the study of 'evidences' for the Christian faith, for another, the attacks came from German Rationalism in particular, and were dominated by a reductionist version of Christianity, shorn of its miracles, not by radical atheism. The Synod of the United Presbyterian Church faced this situation as they considered the appointment of a Professor of Apologetical Theology. There was only one man in their sights, the Rev. Dr. John Cairns of Berwick-Upon-Tweed (pictured). A brilliant man, Cairns had himself been through the German University System, but was too thoughtful and too grounded in the faith to be led astray by the novelties of German speculation. In May 1867 Dr. Cairns was elected to the post. He was to fill it admirably, the best monument of his labours being his 1880 Cunningham Lectures on the subject of Unbelief in the Eighteenth Century, published by Adam and Charles Black in 1881. In this work he considered unbelief in England and Scotland, France and Germany, analysing the thought of such men as Toland, Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau, Reimarus and Lessing, closing with an overview of nineteenth century unbelief and how it had built on the eighteenth century writers. He closed with a pointed appeal to the students and ministers who heard and read his lectures to maintain the supernatural character of Christianity.

Dr. Cairns strove manfully to vindicate the old Scottish theology, and to show that Christianity is based on a divine revelation, not on human wisdom. The fact that he was the first Cunningham Lecturer not to belong to the Free Church of Scotland shows the regard with which he was viewed beyond the boundaries of his own church.

The United presbyterian Hall functioned well. Its curriculum was equal to that of the schools of the other Scottish Presbyterian Churches, and it had among its faculty some of the best minds in the Scottish Churches. But the United Presbyterian Church Synod, as it considered its position as the third Presbyterian Church in the country, and the only one without a staff of full-time professors, began to think of change once again.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Speaking this Evening

God willing, this evening I shall be speaking at Hethersett Independent Reformed Baptist Church, Henstead Road, on the subject of 'Augustine and the Pelagian Controversy'. The meeting is at 7.30 in the evening.

I am convinced that it is more vital than ever for us to understand what was the basis of this controversy, and what was at stake. The majority of modern churches are either semi-Pelagian (Evangelical), or fully Pelagian (Liberals). Semi-Pelagianism is a compromise that makes God's grace something that is given equally to all, and it is finally unstable. A recent biography of John Taylor of Norwich has stated that Methodists today are more likely to agree with John Taylor's Pelagian view of Original Sin than they are with John Wesley's Augustinian view!

A proper distinction between Law and Gospel is at the heart of the Pelagian controversy. To Pelagius the Bible message was essentially Legal, and indeed the giving of the Law was an act of Grace because we are able to keep it! Augustine, on the other hand, knew that he was a sinner, and clung to the Bible's teaching on Grace. To a Pelagian a saint is someone who does not sin, to an Augustinian he is someone who struggles with sin, but is justified by the grace of God.

That's just a little bit of the substance of the lecture.

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