Monday, December 22, 2008

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

The Baird Trust was established in 1873 for “the mitigation of spiritual destitution among the population of Scotland and secure the upbringing of the young”. One of the main elements of its work was the Baird Lecture, which was often, but not always, apologetic in nature. The Baird Trust website has the text of most of the lectures, except, strangely enough, that given by Matheson. Entitled The Natural Elements of Revealed Religion, the lectures did have an apologetic thrust. The aim of the lectures was to ascertain to what extent the doctrines of revealed religion had a basis in the instincts of the human mind.

Of course, as Christians, we firmly believe that, as one God is the author of human nature and the Bible, true religion will not be something that has no relation to the way that we are made. Though fallen, we retain in some measure the image of God. So Matheson treads the same path as Bishop Butler in his Analogy, showing the the Christian religion meets all the deepest needs of natural religion. Now, the modern Presuppositionalist holds this approach to be mistaken, at worst it misleads, and even at its best it is insufficient.

How does one define 'natural religion'? That question is the first one that presents itself to one doing what Matheson sought to do. For there is not just one 'natural religion', but there are 'gods many and lords many'. 'Natural religion' is therefore, like the text that is used to produce our Bible translations, an artificial construct. Just as you will never find an ancient manuscript that reads just like the UBS 4th edition or the Textus Receptus, so there is no-where a tribe that practices what the philosophers and theologians call 'natural religion'. Matheson's method was to analyse the religions that existed before Christ and to find out what they sought. He found that they tried to answer three main questions, What is God? What is His relation to humanity? and Is His Glory consistent with the existence of moral evil? We may say that Matheson's definition of the instincts of natural religion is summed up in Augustine's words: "Lord, Thou has made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.'

Where are the answers to these questions to be found? not in natural religion, but in Scripture. In the doctrine of the Trinity we find the answer to the question as to God's nature. In the Incarnation he finds the final answer to the question of God's relation to man, and in the Atonement the question of God's glory and moral evil is answered. The lectures were delivered in old St. George's Church, Edinburgh (pictured), and instantly hailed as something new. The building was not crowded, but those who were there were deeply impressed by the blind scholar.

We have not been able to obtain a copy of this work, so must go on second-hand reports. It is unlikely that Matheson was completely orthodox in the lectures, as he was not himself that at the time. But it launched him on the Edinburgh public. Other books, of a different kind, would follow. God willing, we shall survey these next time.



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