Wednesday, February 25, 2009

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

George Matheson's writings, especially his various volumes of meditations, gave many the impression that the blind minister was something of a recluse. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. He was a standing rebuke to the idea that it is really possible to be 'too heavenly minded to be any earthly use'. He was a man who brought the same devotion that filled those little books into daily life as a pastor, moving among men and women in the slums, sharing their joys and sorrows. It is therefore quite remarkable that his literary output during the years at St. Bernard's was not diminished from what it had been during the Innellan years. Part of the reason for that was that he reduced the range of what he wrote. His contributions to magazines in the St. Bernard's years were more Biblically-based. He remained, at least in the early years of his time in Edinburgh, a theistic evolutionist, working out ways in which a Christian could also go part of the way with Darwin. A book entitled The Psalmist and the Scientist was the tangible result of this. Another significant book was Landmarks of New Testament Morality, in this volume Matheson attempted to set out the morality of the New Testament, dealing with such subjects as 'Motives of Christian Morality' and 'The Christian View of Sin'. In 1890 he published a volume of poetry, Sacred Songs, and about the same time he published what some thought of as his greatest book, The Spiritual Development of St. Paul. The Apostle to the Gentiles has had a great fascination to many of the greatest Christian teachers, from Augustine to Luther to Bunyan to Alexander Whyte - and to George Matheson. The two men had much in common, like Paul, Matheson had a 'thorn in the flesh', and if the speculations of some scholars are correct, in the same part of the flash as well, namely the eyes. They were both men who had been gifted with a great deal of natural ability, and had been brought to consecrate that ability to the service of Christ. Neither man allowed the 'thorn in the flesh' to make him ineffective. In his book Matheson took the opinion that Paul's 'Thorn in the flesh' was a complaint of the eyes. Paul, then, became to him an example of a man who had overcome the very infirmity that he struggled with himself. The fact that Paul 'besought the Lord thrice' to remove the thorn in the flesh seems to have touched something in Matheson. He had himself asked for God to cure his blindness, and the answer had been 'no'. As for the 'Development' of Paul, Matheson did not mean that in an evolutionary way. Quite the reverse, in fact he emphasised what Paul himself does, that the origin of Paul's religious life was from above, not below, and it was supernatural, not natural - the reverse of the position held by naturalistic evolution. It had been by the grace of God that Paul had 'developed', not because of something in Paul. Matheson saw Paul as being made 'perfect through suffering'. Here is the great paradox of Christianity, 'When I am weak, then I am strong':

Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.

My heart is weak and poor until it master find;
It has no spring of action sure, it varies with the wind.
It cannot freely move till Thou has wrought its chain;
Enslave it with Thy matchless love, and deathless it shall reign.

My power is faint and low till I have learned to serve;
It lacks the needed fire to glow, it lacks the breeze to nerve.
It cannot drive the world until itself be driven;
Its flag can only be unfurled when Thou shalt breathe from heaven.

My will is not my own till Thou hast made it Thine;
If it would reach a monarch’s throne, it must its crown resign.
It only stands unbent amid the clashing strife,
When on Thy bosom it has leant, and found in Thee its life.

God willing, we shall continue with Matheson next time.



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