Tuesday, April 07, 2009

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

We have left this series for a while, but we do need to continue with Dr. Matheson. We are now in his later years, and we left him enjoying the freedom of Braille and the typewriter. Today it is almost impossible to imagine how a minister in Britain could be totaly blind and live without the sort of technology that helps blind people today - but that is how Matheson lived for most of his life.

The Victorian age made superstars out of preachers, orthodox and unorthodox. Matheson was no exception, he received invitations to preach all over Scotland and even in England. As a matter of principle, as a parish minister, he refused most of them. Once a month, however, he preached away from home and arranged a supply for the St. Bernard's pulpit. On these occasions he usually preached a sermon that his own people had already heard. He was welcomed wherever he went, but in Glasgow, the city of his birth, crowds beseiged the vestry to see the great preacher. While Matheson was blind, he could recognise people easily by their voices, and was even able to recognise the voice of an old friend he had not met for years.
Although he never married, his home was a place where friends and parishoners could expect warm hospitality from the pastor and his unmarried sister who kept house for him. Like most pastors, he was most often found in his study, and there he met with many who came with their troubles and were able to share them with the great pastor.
And it was there that he made a great confession:
"I wrote a book," he said, "To show that evolution, if true, is quite compatible
with orthodoxy, but I have since come to the conclusion that evolution is not
true. I have no more fear of it than I ever had, but I am convinced that in,
say, twenty years it will be regarded as an exploded heresy. I am an unbeliver
in Drummondism.
Henry Drummond triumphantly waves his hand - you can almost see him do it - over
what he thinks is the strongest point in evolution, namely similar things
that in you and me are not of the slightest use, but in animals are of
great utility; his conclusion being, that we were animals forst and that these
things are survivals. My conclusion is not that at all; I would be driven to it
if no other explanation were reasonable. But if I want to make another staircase
in this house, there are two ways in which I can do it. I can begin afresh from
the ground floor or I can start at the first landing. I say that God Almighty
always adopts the latter method, to economise space and time; He makes the new
life start on the top of the old - not grow out of it; and that accords with the
whole analogy of nature. The first stair cannot itself get beyond the first
landing, but another stair may be built upon it. I believe in the eternity of
species [note that the term 'species' here does not mean exactly what modern
scientists mean, but has a broader meaning]; that all differences existed from
the beginning. I don't belive that first there was a trunk, and that this trunk
broke up into branches. I believe the branches were first."
This, then, was his retractations, where he confessed that evolution was not true.
Matheson was not one of those Victorian preachers who thought all fiction was wrong. He found a great deal in the best fiction of the period to encourage him. Dr. (later sir) Robertson Nicoll wanted Matheson to write a novel, but Matheson knew his own limitations best! He did not, however, like religious fiction. He put it this way:
"I am not in favour of it at all, for the simple reason that the novel with a
purpose always conveys to my mind the impression that it is a sermon from
the very outset., and the whole novel becomes a foregone conclusion. Now, I hold
that the sole aim of the novel should be to amuse, as it should be the sole aim
on the drama."
It is a little odd to read a minister saying that he found religious fiction too preachy!
God willing, next time we shall move on to consider the last years of Dr. Matheson.



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