ROTHERHAM'S REMINISCENCES - CHAPTER 9
CHAPTER 9. - THE "RAINBOW," - "A CIRCLE OF FRIENDS." 1885-1902. AGE 57-74.
Experiences as Editor of the "Rainbow," 1885-7 - Intercourse with Dr. Leask, Edward White and others - Revised Conclusions regarding Creeds, Christian Union, etc.
A section in "Reminiscences" is entitled "A Circle of Friends." Who these friends were thus singled out for special mention the reader will gather from what follows. My father says:-
"Troubles hard to be borne have undoubtedly contributed to extend my sympathies and widen my outlook. Not less has the spontaneous fellowship which pure Biblical studies are strong to originate drawn out my regard to men whom I had never seen and whose approving. words I had never hoped to deserve. In the retrospect, it seems as though a gracious Providence had permitted sore trials and had lavished unlooked for blessings on purpose to prevent in me an undesirable tendency to religious isolation. Certain it is that in moments of devout exaltation I have almost seen by my side, as if engaged in simultaneous acts of adoration, men between whom and myself there appeared to lie, as a broad barrier of separation, a whole continent of divergence and disparity.
"As far back as in 1868 I was deeply touched by a spontaneous epistle from Dr. James Morison, of Glasgow, saluting me simply because he inferred from my specimen 'Matthew' that I was one who loved his Saviour: this where only criticism was expected.
"About the same time Mr. William Maude, of Birkenhead, a prominent contributor to The Rainbow, made my acquaintance in Liverpool on occasion of a lecture of mine on 'Bible Translation.' He had given my specimen 'Matthew' a favourable notice in the above-named periodical. These beginnings led to a permanent friendship, which took the form of correspondence, co-operation in magazine work, and delightful walks and talks among the quiet haunts of the great
metropolis to which meantime both he and I had removed. Mr. Maude did not so much bring me to decision on the great question of Conditional Immortality as lead me to avow the conviction which had already quietly formed itself in my own mind. I remember replying to some interrogation which he proposed to me in the early days of our correspondence: that I believed man by creation was gifted with contingent, dependent immortality. He readily grasped what I intended by the words 'contingent' and 'dependent,' and was satisfied. That view remains with me, undisturbed to this day. Sometimes, indeed, I vary the expression of it by saying: Man was created, not 'in,' but 'for,' immortality; and by calling attention to the fact, written as with a sunbeam in the third of 'Genesis:' that God was in no haste to immortalise man! Mr. Maude was an accomplished scholar, a deep thinker on Bible themes and on contiguous topics in science and metaphysics. He has long disappeared behind the veil.
"This notice of Mr. Maude reminds me of one who was, I think, the means of bringing us together, namely, the beloved editor of The Rainbow - Dr. William Leask - the memory of whom is to me very precious. It was a rare treat to hear him preach in Maberley Chapel, Dalston. His concise, poetic sentences, crisp and clear, were thrown off at a quiet white heat which made it delightful to listen to them. It was fitting that, at his burial, the Rev. Edward White should discourse on 'The Rainbow round about the Throne,' not failing to utter words of loving appreciation of the departed. It fell to my lot to render Mr. Elliot Stock editorial assistance to keep The Rainbow in existence after Dr. Leask's death; but when I look back on the situation which had been created by the divergent and diverging views of a constituency which had been held together very much by the personal magnetism of the late editor, I am not surprised that this Rainbow was destined to fade out of our skies.
"But how am I to speak of the redoubtable Edward White? I rather think I came to know the man and his preaching before making acquaintance with his great book, 'Life in Christ.' I heard him preach and lecture on several occasions. I remember listening to him one Lord's Day morning on 'The Great Crowd of Witnesses,' when he seemed to carry me straight to heaven's gate. His lectures to the artizans of the
north-west of London were a striking feature in the later years of his ministry. That I should agree with the main burden of his life-long contention concerning Immortality was a foregone conclusion, owing to the trend of my previously formed convictions as indicated in my notice of William Maude.
"In many ways Mr. White's views on this great subject gave me special satisfaction. Nevertheless there was a turn in his handling of it which stirred in me some measure of dissent. The relief which he found in his views of the intermediate state from the terrible hardness of his conclusions as to such as are unsaved in this life, did not, and does not, satisfy me. I am not sure that he definitely dismissed all thought of probation beyond death, but it would have been a joy to me if he had more frankly and fully enunciated it as at least an opinion to be favourably entertained: that, in the very nature of things, as resting on the character of God and the comprehensiveness of the work of Christ, we may provisionally conclude that for every soul of man there must needs be predicated an evangelical preparation for final judgment; and, accordingly, that Christ, not time, is the arbiter of human destiny. But with whatever abatement, my chief feeling towards Edward White is one of admiration and gratitude. We greatly need to-day, as it appears to me, another commanding voice like his, taking up his main contention where he left it, and carrying it forward to yet larger issues.
"Returning to the man, as I was privileged to visit him in his retirement, I recall with satisfaction the favour with which he welcomed the suggestion that the Hilkiah who found in the Temple the lost scroll of the law was no other than the father of the prophet Jeremiah. I can still see him standing in his study, with a Bible dictionary in his hand, waiving aside, as inconclusive, reason after reason to the contrary which he found alleged in the book before him. Edward White was, I believe, a prodigious reader, possessing an extraordinary memory. It is recorded of him that at a meeting of ministers he humorously boasted that he was reading the whole of the ninth edition of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica' as it appeared, and was ready for anyone as far as the letter 'H.' Thanks be to God for His gift to us of so great and good a man as Edward White."
NOTE. - A memorial volume, entitled "Edward White: His Life and Work," was written by Mr. F.A. Freer, and published by Elliot Stock in 1902. The author of this book has done his work admirably, and has supplied a comprehensive record of the life and work of a man of extraordinary versatility and rare ability. In the appendix to the book there are some "Gleanings" from Edward White's "latest notebooks," and these bright, pithy paragraphs are well worth the attention of present-day editors. Unfortunately, Mr. Freer's book is now out of print.
The Translator of the "Emphasised Bible" and author of "Studies in the Psalms" was wont to say to his inner circle of friends that students of his books "would find what they looked for," the fact being that while his views on the future are nowhere obtruded, his permanent joy and satisfaction in the conclusions arrived at after many years of patient thought and study on these subjects could not but occasionally find expression in his writings, if only in a passing sentence. This is particularly the case in the "Psalms Studies," and the exposition of such Psalms, amongst others, as Psalms 8, 37, 49, and 73, may be cited in verification of this statement.
The Rainbow. - Mention has been made of this now long-defunct magazine, and it should be explained that the Rainbow was a monthly magazine of "Christian Literature, with special reference to the Revealed Future of the Church and the World." It was commenced in 1864, and edited for twenty-one years by Dr. William Leask. On the decease of this eminent man Mr. Rotherham was asked by the publishers to give editorial assistance in the carrying on of the magazine, and this he did for three years (1885-7). At the end of this time, for various reasons, this Rainbow, as he says, "faded out of the sky."
The contributors to the Rainbow were for the most part men of mature age and advanced students of prophecy and other Biblical subjects, generally considered difficult and abstruse. The majority of these contributors have long since "disappeared behind the veil."
This section may be fittingly concluded by the insertion of a copy of a letter from Edward White acknowledging the receipt
of a copy of the third edition of the "Emphasised New Testament:-
"The late Rev. Edward White (ex-Chairman of the Congregational Union, author of 'Life in Christ,' 'The Mystery of Growth, etc., etc.) said:-
"Dear Mr. Rotherham, - I thank you very much for your kind remembrance of me in sending your Emphasised New Testament. Of course, I will not venture to offer any criticism suddenly on a work of such immense labour. But this I can say, that always to read a page of it will give a freshness to familiar passages of the New Testament which is itself a great blessing. Indeed, I find in my old age (now nearly 80) that there is no surer sign of the origin of the sacred Scriptures in the world than this wonderful freshness of their pages after a lifetime of consecutive study. Homer and Herodotus wear out - nearly all books that are familiar wear out; but further and growing acquaintance with these Holy Scriptures ever increases their freshness. The dew of this Mt. Hermon on which the Lord has commanded His blessing is always shining, as in an eternal morning. And it does me good to look upon your pages, which shine with the light of a soul on which God has shone. - Ever sincerely yours,
A section in "Reminiscences" is entitled
and the writer says:-
"At length the question arises - How far am I satisfied still to remain in a position taken up more than fifty years ago? There, on the one hand, is the fact that, from 1850 to 1854, I made three changes in my ecclesiastical position - namely, from the Wesleyan Methodist body to the Wesleyan Association, from that to the Baptists, and from the Baptists to the Disciples; and here, on the other hand, is the fact that I appear to have remained stationary ever since - for more than half a century.
"One of two things would seem of necessity to follow. Either in 1854 my mental growth was suddenly arrested or else I have since found space for mental development. It is the simple truth to say that that was the exultant feeling with
which I took up my new position in 1854: 'Now I have found room to grow!' - a most natural feeling, surely, considering that I had no human creed to sign, no promises to make save of absolute, life-long loyalty to Christ. Does it not, on the face of it, look very much as though my new-born exultation had been vindicated?
" But if so, something else follows. It follows that either the pioneers of the movement to which, in 1854, I attached myself had already reached conclusions on all sorts of Biblical subjects sufficiently comprehensive, clear, and convincing to content me for half a century; or else I must have subsequently revised the conclusions provisionally accepted fifty years ago, and perhaps modified some of them.
"The former solution may be at once dismissed, as both untrue in fact and incredible in conception. As a fact, I have revised and re-revised those 'provisional conclusions,' and modified some of them. And then, as to the conception, I submit that it is inconceivable that our pioneers (as for convenience they may for the moment be termed) should have thought out all Bible questions with such thoroughness and accuracy as to come out right in everything, or even in everything of importance, leaving nothing material to be modified by those coming after them.
"It was, for many reasons, impossible for them to do this. They themselves began their reforming careers when comparatively young. Like us, they had to begin their controversial life with provisional conclusions accepted from others, some of them, though seeming to be right, yet imperfectly tested. Besides, many questions had not then been mooted which have since attracted anxious consideration. Not only so, but the discoveries, investigations, and conclusions which now range themselves under the head of 'textual criticism' had scarcely been started then; and the Reformers of 1808 and onward accepted, and occasionally argued, from texts which we now know to be spurious. How was it possible for them to anticipate labours not at that time begun? How, then, could they think out for us problems which had not in those days been raised?
"Probably no three men ever more profoundly moved my theological life than Walter Scott, Alexander Campbell, and
Robert Richardson - all of America. Some men since have furnished me with as much food for thought; but for freshness of theological outlook and strength of Biblical impulse to think for myself on all subjects, the palm must be given to the trio above named. The frankness of this admission, however, sets me free to say that we can afford to smile at John Smith's enthusiasm as he went about the States brandishing the new renderings he found in Alexander Campbell's New Testament, based on Griesbach's readings and on the translations of George Campbell, Philip Doddridge, and James Macknight - works which, in their day, did excellent service, but to follow which nowadays, except very cautiously, would expose one to ridicule. Then again: no pioneer can excel at all points. Alexander Campbell's great merit was that he looked at the New Testament with fresh, clear eyes, and helped us to take off our theological spectacles. But I think he too readily accepted current methods of Old Testament :interpretation, and signally failed to apply those principles of unstrained exposition to the prophecies which, in general, he so successfully brought to bear upon the writings of the Apostles and Evangelists."
Reference has been made in a previous chapter (page 37) to my father's visit to Manchester in 1905, and regarding this experience he says:-
"As I was conscious that I had meanwhile modified some of my views of Apostolic Christianity, though still able to meet and work on the same broad basis as of old, it appeared to me an altogether becoming thing that I should embrace one public occasion for allowing it to be seen how far and in what direction I had modified. The following is an outline of what was then said: the heads are identical with those then advanced, but the filling in is slightly brought up to date.
1. - CHRISTIANITY: A MIGHTY FAITH RATHER THAN A LOGICAL SYSTEM.
"I had in the intervening years heard much of the 'Christian System.' This led me to reflect on what more and more appeared to be the truth - that the Faith of the New Testament is not delivered as a logical system. And that manifestly is the case, as will increasingly appear when the evidence is sought after. Far be it from me to suggest a doubt of the perfection of orderly wisdom with which the entire plan
of Creation and Redemption is ever-present to the Divine mind. But it is surprising, to those who have not yet gone thoroughly into the subject, how little of logical method is discoverable in the way in which any great theme of Revelation is taught in the Bible. Take the subject of the Atonement for human sin effected by the death of Christ - where, in all the Bible, is there given a complete and connected view of the whole subject? Nowhere. Or, turn to the very different subject of Church government, and come down under that head to the ministries authorised in Christian assemblies; and, still further, to the necessary qualification of Elders - everyone knows that several apostolic deliverances have to be carefully pieced together in order to obtain a complete view of the instruction given, and even then one keen-eyed searcher will get an unexpected sidelight helping to the solution of a knotty point where other students find none. I well remember a spirited controversy between two able and honoured brethren as to whether a Christian Bishop must be a married man - one taking the affirmative, the other professing his willingness to be content with the spirit of the apostolic injunctions on this head, so that a man whose governing capacity was proved otherwise than in his own family circle might - other things being equal - be regarded as eligible.
"Or, once more, take the subject of the Future - surely every Bible reader must know that we have to be content with glimpses given here and there in the Holy Scriptures. From all of which the lesson is, that as there is no revealed 'Christian System' logically developed and arranged, so surely must any systematised exhibit, as such, be a human production. Let me not for a moment be misunderstood. Instead of saying, 'Therefore, we must needs resort to human creeds and systems of a later age, I would say, 'Therefore, let us be content with the Divine simplicities of the primitive age, and refrain from being so very exacting in the direction of confessional precision or ritual uniformity."
2. - THE CHRISTIAN CREED: A CONFESSION RATHER THAN A DEFINITION.
"It would scarcely be possible to find more that is vital to Christianity expressed in a few words than in the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16). It is, of course, true to say that in this confession - the admitted parent of all
confessions of the Christian faith - truth and fact are expressed with sufficient clearness for practical purposes. But it is equally undeniable that there is in it no exact and exhaustive definition of either the Messiahship or Divine Sonship of Jesus. If, then, we wish to get back to primitive simplicity, let us realise what it is. It is here; and not in the Nicene or Athanasian creed."
3. - THE CHRISTIAN COVENANT: WRITTEN ON HUMAN HEARTS BEFORE IT WAS WRITTEN ON PAPER (2 COR. 3).
"The first Epistles that were written were living epistles, just as the personal Christ was before any Gospel written about Him. In Christianity men are before books. The marks made by means of the Holy Spirit are more indelible than any, even the most Divine, marks made with ink.
"What then? Why, everything must be judged accordingly. Let us learn, upon emergency, to make straight for the essence of things, so far as we know it. Christ in human hearts is the greatest fact in history since the personal manifestation of the Son of God."
4. - THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH: AN ORGANISM RATHER THAN AN ORGANISATION.
"This is best seen in Church inception and in Church consummation. Two or three coming together into the name of Christ form the Church in its inception; but to speak of the organisation of two or three would be incongruous. Again, the consummation of the Church will be realised only when the whole body of Christ-indwelt souls is uplifted by resurrection and transformation into heavenly position as the Bride of the Messiah.
"These glimpses of the Church as an organisation are implemented by the ideal conception of the Church given us by the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 4), where he not only affirms that Christ is the Head of the Church, but expressly teaches that it is by growth out of the Head and life-force mutually shared by the members of the Body that it realises its own upbuilding in love. Intermediately, some amount of organisation may legitimately and helpfully come in; for to say, for example, that, after Titus had set a Church 'in order,' it was in no sense organised, would be a prejudiced representation. Still, the Church local existed before it was organised; and for anything that appears to be contrary, the Church glorified may find the
instinct of its Divine organisation capable of dispensing with officialism of every kind. These observations are designed mainly to emphasise my conviction that, over well-nigh the entire area of Christendom, the propensity to organise has become abnormal and mischievous. According to its Divine Ideal, the Church is instinct with the highest conceivable corporate life. In proportion as that ideal is reached, organisation is needless. The moral is: Do not drive organisation so hard; and do not set up artificial standards of judgment as to the possibilities of being still owned by Christ, notwithstanding organic failure."
5. - CHRISTIAN UNITY BEFORE CHRISTIAN UNION (JOHN 17).
"What our Lord prayed for was Unity, manifesting itself in Union; but Unity first - yea, Invisible Unity first. 'As Thou, Father, art in Me ; and I in Thee,' was unity in its deepest spring; but it was for a time, to unpurged eyes, invisible. Who, save those whose eyes had been opened, could see that Jesus and the Father were one as, indeed, only such eyes can see it even now. That the invisible unity has to become visible is true - true of Christ, true of His people, 'that the world may believe,' 'that the world may know.' The revelation will come. But, meantime, what of the reality? Is that non-existent? Let me beg of those who have never considered the matter in this light to ponder what answer they ought to return to the searching question: Has this pathetic prayer of Jesus been left wholly unanswered for nineteen hundred years? Surely this is a question which might give us pause before we quite wear out our platitudes concerning Christian Union.
"Personally, I believe the liberation of thought indicated above would, if accepted, be of unspeakable benefit all round. May our Father's richest blessing be on all hearts that are permitting His love to draw them more and more closely together! But let us understand what it is for which we are praying and working. If it is mainly for outward uniformity, the question that the teaching of history enforces is whether that would not be a greater curse than a blessing.
"I am glad to perceive that some of my immediate brethren are hesitating before they accept outward union in place of inward unity. If they would only let the Second Advent flash its light upon their theological path, methinks they would have a decisive note to utter."
JOSEPH BRYANT ROTHERHAM INDEX