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by the only true rule, his agreement with, or departure from the word of God. His writings have considerable merit for raciness, brilliancy, and variety. His lectures on the Epistles to the Corinthians certainly exhibit a proof that expository preaching is not necessarily dull. It were we ll if the Bible were expounded in course from the pulpit, if expounded truly, much more than it is. It were well, too, if ministers would learn to trust themselves to preach, not without preparation, but without a manuscript.
His sermons may
contribute something toward so desirable an improvement. But whoever reads them to find solid and sound instruction in respect of the fundamental doctrines of our holy religion, or to quicken and invigorate the pulsations of true spiritual life, will find but little to reward him.
Mr. Robertson's life is a sad one to contemplate. By his natural endowments, both physical and intellectual, his means of culture and his position of influence, he ought to have been a powerful instrument in the advancement of evangelical knowledge and vital godliness in the world. His local popularity, his present fame, and the influence of his published works, may seem to many enough to satisfy the loftiest ambition, and to prove him an extraordinary benefactor to his race. But he departed from the fundamental truths of Christianity (if indeed he had ever rightly apprehended them) and gave himself to the inculcation of the most pernicious errors. The influence of these errors was very
his leading him to discard the works of evangelical authors for those of such men as Newman, Martineau, and Carlyle, Emerson, Parker, and Channing, and to forsake the fellowship of those who believed and adorned the doctrines of God our Saviour, for that of sceptics and free-thinkers. As regards the true character and ends of the Christian ministry, therefore, his career must be deemed a failure. By the efforts of a certain school of errorists, his works may be kept before the public for a few years, but they are not destined to permanence. His fame must necessarily be of short continuance.
Of the causes of his failure, a few are very palpable. One was the excessive morbidness which pervaded his feelings, his thinking, and his intercourse with mankind. It seems to have
character, resulted partly from a delicate nervous organization, which rendered him unduly sensitive; partly from a disposition to indulge in reveries, which made him uncertain and vacillating; and partly from the strong passions which made him intense in his likes and dislikes, gloomy in his disappointments, and conceited in his opinions. It discolored his life, preyed upon his energies, and contributed to the ruin of his health and to his early death; and yet it was one of the elements that occasioned his popularity with his hearers and with his readers.
Another was the ever present consciousness that he was not in the profession of his choice. Born of a military family, “rocked and cradled to the roar of artillery,” his predilections for military life were hereditary, and amounted to an unconquerable passion. To this he looked forward during his childhood and youth. For it he spent several years in preparatory study, while waiting in vain for a commission. And when at last, at the earnest solicitation of his father, he consented to adopt the profession of the ministry, it was with an almost crushing feeling of reluctance. A sense of disappointment followed him through all his subsequent life. It is frequently manifested in his sermons and in his letters. According to his own account he "could not see a regiment manœuvre, nor artillery in motion, without a choking sensation."
A third was a deficient education. His whole collegiate and theological course of study was comprised in three years at the University of Oxford. Even this wanted system, being largely optional instead of prescribed. He afterwards regretted that he had not submitted to be guided by his instructors, and lamented that the church of England furnished no facilities for a "systematic preparation for the ministry.” His discipline at Oxford was evidently impaired by his contact with Tractarianism, which occupied his mind prematurely, and, in spite of all his objections to some of its features, sowed the seeds of those doubts which in subsequent years developed into such a complete revolution of his theological views. This deficiency in his education is apparent in the structure and style of his sermons, and in his processes of reasoning. The claim that he was a master in logic,” and an exemplification of Schiller's maxim that “you do not know a subject thoroughly until you can play with it,”
is a specimen of that sheer nonsense into which the adulations of friendship are so apt to degenerate. Sophistry and rhetorical dash are characteristics which no candid and discriminating reader can deny. There is no evidence that the writings of Plato, Aristotle and Edwards "had passed like the iron atoms of the blood into his mental constitution.” He has shown himself incompetent, not only to solve, but also to apprehend, in clearness and consistency, the fundamental problems of Christian theology. By his own admission, his system was vague.
The main cause of his failure, however, was a deficient experience of the truths of evangelical religion. This deficiency is painfully apparent throughout his “Life and Letters,” as well as in his sermons. The reader may look in vain for any account of his experience of what the Saviour described as being "born of the Spirit,” and as having "passed from death unto life.” We are told of “his deep religious feeling,” as one of the reasons why "the church was proposed to him as a profession" by his father; and of “his realization of Christ as his Saviour" while at the University, as "the cumulative result of many years of prayer and struggle.” But we are told of “his religion, before it had consciously taken a distinctively Christian form,” partaking of the nature of "the old religion of chivalry.” At Winchester he prescribed to himself a course of austerities and outward observances, and read « books of devotion." Such religion, however, the biographer says, “weakened everything he wrote," so that his "letters of this time are scarcely worth reading.". Passages from one or two written prayers are given, which indicate a desire to live in consecration to Christ; but by themselves they prove no more than similar extracts from the writings of notoriously irreligious
“It is impossible not to feel,” says Mr. Brooke, “when he got rid of all this, and felt its fruitlessness and its antagonism to the true spirit of the life of Christ, how he sprang from a dwarf into a giant.” It is obvious enough that he “got rid of all this,” but not that he passed into such an improved spiritual state. Judging by the scriptural rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” it is almost impossible not to feel that he sadly degenerated. Certainly he came to hate the doctrines which he had once adopted as fundamental to religion. He also came to hate those who continued in the faith and exemplification of those doctrines. His biographer admits that, “If there was any intolerance in his nature it oozed out here.” He himself declared : “As I adore Christ, exactly in that propor tion do I abhor that which calls itself Evangelicalism. I feel more at brotherhood with a wronged, mistaken, maddened, sinful chartist, than I do with that religious world.” After he departed from their faith, he could hardly speak of evangelical Christians except in language surcharged with gall. In reading his language concerning them, one is painfully reminded of the Apostolic declarations : “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother, abideth in death. .. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen ?” The Unitarian type of piety was much more congenial to Robertson. “What care I,” said he, “if Dr. Channing adores, saying that he does not adore.” It was not very complimentary, however, to speak of Channing's biographer's piety as “immeasurably below his.” This dislike of the evangelical portion of Christendom was aggravated rather than mitigated by time. About two years before his death, without provocation, and in a letter of calm advice to a young man respecting his studies, he deliberately declared that “religious people are generally the weakest of mankind.” It must have been a strange piety, that manifested itself spontaneously in contempt and hatred of those who manifest most the spirit of Christ. And the secret of its strangeness may be found in the fact, stated by himself as “the result of a scrutiny,” that his love for Christ was, “not because of any reference to his love for me, which somehow or other never enters into my mind.” The contrast of such an experience with the Apostle's is significant; “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. . . We love him, because he first loved us."
The sermons of Mr. Robertson are to be classed with the most dangerous of modern religious publications. His acknowledged excellences only render his defects the more potent. His readers are liable to be deceived, as he doubtless deceived himself, by a style which was rambling and diffuse, and over
loaded with rhetorical illustrations; and also by the indefiniteness and brevity of his statements in regard to points which he wished to enforce in opposition to sentiments commonly received. The poison is sugаred over so deeply as to be liable to be taken with relish and without suspicion, except by “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” He talks a great deal about Christ, but for the 'most part without the proper name. He seems to have had a morbid preference for the pronouns “He,” “His," and “Him.” He talks also much of the cross, but for the most part means not the cross of final and atoning suffering, but the cross of lifelong privation and rejection. When he speaks of Christ he generally means, not the Son of God in union with a human nature, but the Son of man as the "blossom of our cominon humanity." It is on account of such a style that many read him with approval and delight, misunderstanding his meaning; and are surprised when at length they detect the deception.
Perhaps some who have read these works may think that this article is too disparaging. His defects, however, have not been exaggerated. Much more might have been extracted on the points examined, of the same kind as these quotations. On several other topics his sentiments are at variance with the Scriptures. On almost every important doctrine he is inconsistent with himself. Numerous sentences might be quoted which, taken alone, would prove him to have been substantially orthodox. But these do not neutralize his errors. It is not necessary to quote them in order to estimate him fairly. Many of his statements, which seem correct in themselves, are seen to be erroneous in the light of the context, and of other declarations on the same subjects. His defects are largely in excess of his excellences, and therefore his works are to be condemned rather than commended. The unsound portions taint all the rest.
That which seems to be in accordance with God's word is in effect but the disguise under which that which is contrary to God's word pleads for a charitable construction. His false position as a minister, his employment of technical terms in unusual senses, and his occasional strictures upon Universalists and Unitarians and Tractarians, constitute just that advantage which errorists so much desire in the work of