'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.
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