Wednesday, April 08, 2009

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

After eleven years at St. Bernard's, Edinburgh, George Matheson felt that his strength was diminished to the point that he could no longer bear the burden of the ministry. He had been a minister of the Church of Scotland for thirty years, and now he felt the time had come for him to lay down the parish ministry for the ministry of the pen.
All preachers are influenced by others, some are just more conscious of it than others. One of the great influences on Matheson, particularly in his Edinburgh ministry, was Dr. Joseph Parker of the City Temple, London (illustrated). When arker died unexpectedly in 1902, Dr. Matheson wrote a tribute for The British Weekly, which was then the pre-eminent nonconformist newspaper. Surely this is a wonderful example of Christian unity, the Church of Scotland minister writing a tribute to a Congregational pastor who had attacked the Church of Scotland in the past. Parker's preaching showed Matheson that preaching could be less formal, and still effective. Reading Parker today, he seems incredibly Victorian, but of course we have to remember that he was a Victorian, preaching to Victorians! Matheson did not copy Parker, it is perhaps rather that Parker's preaching gave him the confidence to be himself in the pulpit.
Matheson's work at St. Bernard's was extraordinary. Like Spurgeon, he was a pastor and a preacher, and yet he was also a writer. And like Spurgeon, he was worn out by the work. Unlike Spurgeon, he had never had a strang constitution, and so in 1896 he wrote to the Session Clerk of St. Bernard's to resign the pastorate. The result was a surpise to no-one but Matheson - the congregation pleaded with him to stay. In January 1897 he withdrew his resignation and instead applied to the Presbytery for a colleague and successor. The colleague was to take over much of the work, leaving Matheson to devote himself to preaching and writing. The Rev. J. J. Drummond of Jedburgh was elected and appointed. He worked well with Matheson, and the ministry was blessed to both men. But in March 1899 Matheson wrote again to resign with effect from the end of July that year. His body could no longer take the strain, and Mr. Drummond became the full minister at St. Bernard's. Thus Matheson achieved a smooth transition of ministry.
He was sorely missed, but he had made his decision. In November 1899 there was a special farewell meeting for Dr. Matheson. He was loved as a pastor, and that is surely a good sign. The man who had found it hard to get a church because there were fears that his blindness would hamper his work as a pastor had proved to be one of the best pastors of his age.
God willing, next time we shall look at Dr. Matheson's retirement.



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