Bonhoeffer uses a similar phrase 'worldly Christianity'. It's J Gresham Machen that I want to line up most closely with. See his Christianity and culture here. Having done commentaries on Proverbs (Heavenly Wisdom) and Song of Songs (Heavenly Love), a matching title for Ecclesiastes would be Heavenly Worldliness. For my stance on worldliness, see 3 posts here.

Bio 05 George Matheson

We recently sang O Love that wilt not let me go setting me thinking on the hymn and its author.
The author
George Matheson (1842–1906) ‘the Blind Preacher’ was Glasgow born and the eldest of eight. His parents were George Matheson, a prosperous Glasgow merchant, and Jane Matheson, his father's second cousin. From childhood he suffered with eye problems and by his late teens was almost totally blind. It did not deter him from an early ambition to enter the ministry. At the Glasgow Academy he gained a competent knowledge of the classics and modern languages, winning many prizes. He went on, in 1857, to Glasgow University, graduating BA (Hons) in philosophy, 1861, and gaining his MA, 1862. At the Divinity Hall he was much influenced by Hegelian John Caird. He gained a BD in 1866.
Licensed by the Glasgow presbytery he assisted Dr MacDuff at Sandyford church, Glasgow for a short while then became minister of Innellan church on the Firth of Clyde, in Argyll, where he remained for 18 years, his preaching gifts rapidly maturing. For a period he grew dissatisfied with the Calvinist theology he was nurtured in and was tempted, he later revealed, to reject religion entirely. Studies in Hegelian philosophy apparently kept him from agnosticism.
With a brilliant memory, he wrote hundreds of articles and many books with the help of a secretary or, later, by braille and typewriter. His first book in 1874 was anonymous. Aids to the Study of German Theology attempted to show liberal theology to be positive and constructive. It passed into three editions in as many years. In 1877 The Growth of the Spirit of Christianity, a two volume philosophical presentation of the history of the church to the Reformation appeared. Natural Elements of Revealed Theology (Baird lecture, 1881) used comparative religion to defend Christianity and the 18812 St Giles lecture was on Confucianism. Can the Old Faith Live with the New? or, The Problem of Evolution and Revelation (1885) argued that accepting evolution would not undermine the faith. He also wrote popular devotional books. My Aspirations (1883) and Words by the Wayside (1896) were both translated into German. His Sacred Songs appeared in 1890, his famous hymn being in the third edition (1904).
In October 1885 he was invited to Balmoral by Queen Victoria to preach for her. She had his sermon on Job published. In 1879 he had declined an invitation to be a minister in London, but in 1886 moved to St Bernard's, Edinburgh, where he was very successful. Despite his handicap, he was a dramatic preacher, many not realising he was blind. In 1897 poor health led him to seek assistance and in 1899 he retired, devoting his latter years mostly to study and writing. He received an honorary DD, 1879 and a LLD, 1902 and in 1890 was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Other theological works include The Psalmist and the Scientist, or, The Modern Value of the Religious Sentiment (1887), popularising views found in Can the Old Faith Live with the new? The Distinctive Messages of the Old Religions (1892). The Lady Ecclesia (1896) is an allegory on the development of the spirit of Christ in the church and the individual. Studies of the Portrait of Christ (Vol 1, 1899; vol 2, 1900), was a popular book, characteristic of him.
His learning was varied rather than profound. He is said to have been more of a visionary than a balanced judge. His strength lay in his 'vivid apprehension of the factors which make the Christian personality, rather than in constructive doctrinal statement'. He has been called 'a conspicuous and effective representative of liberal theology'. Invariably radiant and cheerful, he was a great optimist though sometimes tempted to despair. Never married, he lived with his eldest sister Jane, to whom he attributed much of his happiness and success. She kept house for him, helped him with the parish and wrote essays and early sermons at his dictation.
He died suddenly of apoplexy on holiday in North Berwick in 1906. He was buried in Glasgow. A biography by D McMillan appeared in 1907.
The hymn
He wrote Oh Love that wilt not let me go on the day of a sister's marriage. He always credited Dr Peace who wrote the music for it, with much of the praise for its success. When it appeared in a hymn book for the first time he was asked to change the word 'climb' as in 'I climb the rainbow through the storm' to 'trace' which he willingly agreed to, though some have criticised him for it.
Writing of the hymn's composition Matheson said it was composed
on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882, when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of the family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice rather than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. I have no natural gift of rhythm. All the other verses I have ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a day spring from on high.
Many conjectures have been made as to the 'mental distress' he suffered. Probably because of the opening line it is suggested he had been bitterly disappointed in his hopes of marrying a young woman to whom he had become deeply attached. It is said that she refused to marry because he was blind. If there was such an incident it would surely have occurred years before. Other suggestions are a bereavement or a concern over the inroads of Darwinism into the church. As with Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' we do not know.
Other lines perhaps worth mentioning are the final ones - 'I lay in dust life’s glory dead, And from the ground there blossoms red Life that shall endless be.' I must confess that I always took it to mean 'I lie in dust, life's glory dead,' but, of course, the English words 'lie' and 'lay' have different meanings and Matheson means 'I lay life's glory in the dust' - a much more evangelical thought.

5 comments:

John Calvin said...

Ah, give me that Old Time Hegelianism! Then add a touch of evolution. It's not surprising that all that this fellow was left with was sentimentality. Compare his hymn to the Old One Hundredth that we sang in my day.

Gary Brady said...

Sorry I missed this comment and only saw it now. he doesn't sound too hot does he? I like the hymn though. Snetimental is a little harsh.

John Calvin said...

You're right. I don't really like his hymn but calling it snetimental would be going too far.

Gracie said...

When I worked in Israel over a decade ago, a treasured friend - whom I've since lost touch with - gave me one of George Matheson's poems when I left. All I can remember from it was "show me that my tears have made my rainbow". If anyone can shed any light on what the poem is and where I can get hold of it, I'd be extremely grateful, thanx! Please email me @ gracewitchell@btinternet.com

Gary Brady said...

Success! See latest post!