You well observe in a recent article that the public is becoming accustomed to the strange vagaries on the Bible which men of learning and high position in the Church seem so constantly falling into.
I should be glad to express, through the medium of your columns, what appears to me the secret of all this; and I the rather desire to do so, because I am myself a monument of the delivering power and mercy of God in this very matter.
It is very observable that almost all the men who have thus notoriously erred from the way of truth are men of some ind of eminence in natural ability. .. the errors of such men as Heath, and especially Bishop Colenso, cannot be attributed to any confusion of mind as to things which differ--their eminent honours at Cambridge forbid our taking that view. Besides, I know from past experience in the same gloomy school, that the possession of very considerable natural acumen does not in the least degree aid a man whose mind is perplexed about the foundations of Bible truth.
As to the objections urged by the above gentlemen to the generally-received views of Scripture, and the doctrines which flow so immediately from its simple and spiritual acceptance as the Word of God, they know as well as we do that they are hackneyed and as old as our fallen nature, but then that does not remove them; they cannot receive the simple accounts of Scripture, because they have not Divine faith.
I remember when I first began to read the Bible (and I thought I was sincerely seeking the truth) I was miserable because I could not believe it; I dared not reject any statement I found there, but I could not fully believe it was true. My own history was just this:--I had read and studied deeply in mathematics, had mastered every fresh subject I entered upon with ease and delight; had become accustomed (as every exact mathematician must do) to investigate and discover fundamental differences between things which seem to the uninitiated one and the same; had seen my way into physical astronomy and the higher parts of Newton’s immortal ‘Principia,’ and been frequently lost in admiration of his genius till St. Mary’s clock warned me that midnight was past three hours ago. I had, in fact (as we say), made myself master of dynamics, and become gradually more and more a believer in the unlimited capabilities of my own mind! This self-conceited idea was only flattered and fostered by eminent success in the [university’s] Senate House, and by subsequently obtaining a Fellowship at Trinity, and enjoying very considerable popularity as a mathematical lecturer.
It would have spared me many an hour of misery in after days had I really felt what I so often said, viz., that the deeper a man went in science, the humbler he ought to be, and the more cautious in pronouncing an independent opinion on a subject he had not investigated or could not thoroughly sift. But, though all this was true, I had yet to learn that this humility in spiritual things is never found in a natural man.
I took orders, and begun to preach, and then, like the Bishop among the Zulus, I found out the grand deficit in my theology. I had not the Spirit’s teaching myself, and how could I without it speak ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’?
In vain did I read Chalmers, Paley, Butler, Gaussen, &c., and determine that, as I had mastered all the other subjects I had grappled with, so I would the Bible, and that I would make myself a believer. I found a poor, ignorant old woman in my parish more than a match for me in Divine things. I was distressed to find that she was often happy in the evident mercy of the Lord to her, and that she found prayer answered, and that all this was proved sincere by her blameless and harmless walk amongst her neighbours; whilst I, with all my science and investigation, was barren, and unprofitable, and miserable--an unbeliever in heart, and yet not daring to avow it, partly from the fear of man, but more from a certain inward conviction that all my sceptical difficulties would be crushed and leaped over by the experience of the most illiterate Christian.
I was perfectly ashamed to feel in my mind like Voltaire, Volney, or Tom Paine. I could claim no originality for my views; and I found they were no comfort, but a constant source of misery to me.
It may now be asked how I came ever to view Divine truth differently. I desire to ascribe all praise to Him to whom power belongeth; I desire to put my own mouth in the dust, and be ashamed, and never open my mouth any more, because of my former unbelief. I cannot describe all I passed through, but I desire with humility and gratitude to say, I was made willing in a day of Christ’s power. He melted down my proud heart with His love; He shut my mouth for ever from cavilling at any difficulties in the written Word; and one of the first things in which the great change appeared was, that whereas beforetime preaching had been misery, now it became my delight to be able to say, without a host of sceptical or infidel doubts rushing into my mind, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’
Oh, I am quite certain no natural man can see the things of God; and I am equally certain he cannot make himself do so. ‘It was the Lord that exalted Moses and Aaron,’ said Samuel; and, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am,’ said St. Paul; and so, in a modified and humble sense, I can truly say.
It used to be a terrible stumbling-block to me to find so many learned men, so many acute men, so many scientific men, infidels. It is not so now; I see that God has said, ‘Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble’; I see, as plainly as it is possible for me to see anything, that no natural man can receive the things of the Spirit of God. Hence I expect to find men of this stamp of intellect coming out boldly with their avowals of unbelief in the written Word of God. The only answer I an give to them is: ‘God has in mercy taught me better’; and never do I sing those beautiful words in the well-known hymn but I feel my eyes filling with tears of gratitude to the God of all compassion--
‘Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God.’
So it was with me; so it must be with any one of them if ever they are to know the truth in its power, or to receive the love of the truth that they may be saved.
I feel very much for the young of this generation, remembering the conflicts I passed through in consequence of the errors of men of ability.
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