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Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Common Complaint.

S. M. Houghton, born in 1899 and now deceased, was an ardent preserver of Puritan wrings and former Editor of Banner of Truth. His reminiscences provide a helpful insight into the extent to which a person can enter Christian ministry with an inconsistent doctrine of God and the gospel. Further, he examples the thinking of many who entered ministry at the beginning of the last century.

I provide an extract of his reminiscences herewith:

"As a youth - and I think that the experience that I now mention was completely typical of the era - I became enamoured of evolution. It had a strong appeal for me, and seemed to me to dovetail with the bare smattering of science that I had been taught. Precisely how it reached me I do not remember, but it was certainly strengthened by the books of a writer whose name is not by any means forgotten in these nineteen-seventies. I refer to Henry Drummond whose reputation in religious quarters was extremely high in my time of adolescence. He was by repute a Christian gentleman of the highest academic qualifications, active in evangelical circles - had he not played a considerable part in the Moody campaigns ? - and one well able to show how the Gospel of Christ could come to terms with evolution and the new scientific and philosophical ideas that were sweeping across the academic, not to say the ecclesiastical world with hurricane force. The strength and influence of Drummond's personality in his own day, particularly in student circles, were immense. Born in 1851, student of divinity at New College, Edinburgh, devoted to his own particular brand of evangelism, he was appointed lecturer in Natural Science at the Free Church College, Glasgow, and later became a Professor of Theology. In academic circles he moved with the greatest ease. His addresses and writings won widespread attention. In 1883 appeared his Natural Law in the Spiritual World, a work which went through many editions. George Adam Smith, Drummond's biographer, assures his readers that 'the clear and simple style' of the book 'is charged with an enthusiasm, and carries a wealth of religious experience which captures the heart, and tempt the thoughtful reader to become indifferent to almost every prejudice which the introduction has excited in his mind'.

Drummond's book represents the attempt to bridge the gulf between the former belief in creation as based upon Scripture, and early Scripture in particular, and the teachings of Darwinism expounded first in 'The Origin of Species' [1859] and continued in such works as 'Darwin's Descent of Man' [I87l], The titles of Drummond's chapters indicate the general character of his book - Biogenesis, degeneration, death, eternal life, environment, conformity to type, parasitism. It aimed at reconciling Darwinism and Christianity; but in working out his thesis Drummond virtually abandoned the old foundations of belief and framed a philosophy of the Gospel which ill accords with 'the faith once delivered to the saints'.

Drummond's 'Natural Law', followed, in the order of my reading, by his 'Tropical Africa' and his 'Ascent of Man', made an immense appeal to me, and gave me the idea that evolution was the key to spiritual problems, in fact the key to unlock the mysteries of religion. My scientific knowledge was scanty and superficial, but I had much interest in such phenomena as mimicry in nature and in all theories which set out to show that one species developed from another. 'Tropical Africa' fanned the flame. I was certainly gullible. It would indeed almost be true to say that the Gospel in which, at that time, I believed, was evolution. As I write I cannot help but set down a line from John Newton's autobiographical poem: 'Alas, I knew not what I did'. Such was my enthusiasm that I virtually resolved to offer myself as a candidate for the Wesleyan ministry, and further, to offer myself as a missionary of the same Church to work in the Africa described by Drummond.

Houghton goes on to say, at length, how for some time held an untenable link between evolution and the atoning work of Jesus Christ and actually commenced ministry as a Wesleyan preacher unconverted. Some time later, God intervened and, as Houghton put it, "In other words, my conversion intervened, and with my conversion, by the grace of God, other forces came into operation which drew me, ere long, into religious company of a very different type, and changed the entire course of my life." The change included rejection of evolution as a valid explanation of origins and incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is apparent to me that there are many clergy within the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney bound to the dark path once walked by S. M. Houghton.

Sam Drucker

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