AN INTERESTING LIFE.*
Tins unpretending volume suggests, among other things, one special advantage that Scotland has derived from having been for some time without an all-absorbing ecclesiastical dispute. Those doughty old polemical theologians who played the part of what Chalmers called "tribunes of the people," or wandered over the country from John o' Groat's to the Solway Firth, taking part in this " controversy " or that agitation," were unquestionably worthy men. But it is admitted even by their admirers that, in many cases at least, they did not shine in ordinary pastoral work, and that their addresses were rather pieces of Scriptural patchwork, than original and stimulating sermons,—and for the good reason that they had no time to prepare anything better. But in a time of comparative quietude, even though it be a truce and not a peace, the still small voice of the thoughtful preacher, or of the man who devotes his attention really, and not in name only, to the spiritual wants of his parish, is better heard and is more influential. It is probable, indeed, that more men of the quiet stamp secure the favour of Scotch congregations at such a time. It is to this class that Mr. W. G. Forbes belonged—an Edinburgh clergyman whose career of usefulness was cut short in 1884, and a few of whose sermons have, with a sketch of his life, been published by way of a memorial volume. Apart from their intrinsic merits, these sermons enable us to see the kind of teaching which is to be heard from the pulpits of all the Scotch Presbyterian Churches—Mr. Forbes belonged to the 'United Presbyterian Church, the second of the Scotch Dissenting com- munions —at the present time.
There was nothing of a personal character very eventful in the life of Mr. Forbes, as told briefly, simply, and modestly by a lady relative in this little book. But it is clear that he was above all things a man of absolutely fastidious conscientiousness. It is not only evident that for a period he was " perplexed in faith," but that this perplexity interfered with his professional career. Born in 1838, in Paisley, where his father was a man of business, he entered Edinburgh University when seventeen. Even at that • Memorials of a Brief Minis'rs. Sermons bythe late Rev. William G. Forbes, of Davidson Church, Eyre Place, Edinburgh. With Sketch of Life. Edinburgh : Andrew Elliott. 1886.
early age, it seems he was not without his theological troubles. At all events, his biographer tells us that " daring that winter those difficulties which meet many thoughtful minds when they come
into living personal contact with revealed truth, began to press heavily upon him." In 1860 he began his strictly professional curriculum by entering the Divinity Hall of the United Presby- terian Church in Edinburgh. But ill health compelled him to abandon theological study, and for nine years he was engaged in business in his native town of Paisley. It is plain, however, that he was temporarily alienated from, or out of sympathy with, the orthodoxy in which he had been brought up:— "That his reading led him into labyrinths of speculation, and that doubts and difficulties grew rather than diminished, and clouded for a season his faith, we know from the fact that, true man as he was, and seeking chiefly to be and not to seem, he withdrew at one point from the fellowship of the Church. After an interval of three years, his Minister was made unexpectedly glad one Sabbath by seeing him once more take his place at the Communion-table. No explanation was given. There may have been a crisis of thought and feeling, but more likely he was actuated simply by a new view of the trath he already possessed, and a more childlike acceptance of it."
After a tine, Mr. Forbes was enabled to return to College, but it was not before 1873, or when he was thirty-fire years of age, that he was licensed to preach. The following year, he was ordained to the charge of a congregation in Edinburgh, first as colleague and then as successor to Dr. Davidson, a popular Scotch clergyman, and he ministered to no other congregation than this. Mr. Forbes was happily married, and led a quiet and contented life. To the great regret of his friends and flock, he succumbed to weak health, and perhaps also overwork, in 1884.
Mr. Forbes appears to have been a very reserved man, and not to have spoken much, if at all, on the subject of his religious doubts. Bat, as in the case of most men who leave their fathers' creed for conscience' sake, and return to it for the same reason, such an experience must have had its effect upon his life and teaching. In the nine sermons and addresses which are published in this volume there is no aggression upon dogmatic Scotch theology, no questioning of its familiar doctrines. But, on the other hand, there is no dwelling upon the harsher features of Northern Calvinism. The brighter aspects of Christianity— its faith, its hope, its charity—seem the most important in Mr. Forbes's eyes. Not only so, but he says distinctly :—
" A direction in which we believe the spirit of truth is pointing and leading us, is that of a more comprehensive theology, more widely related to every branch of knowledge, and more in line with the best results of all human thought and inquiry One way of decreasing the assaults made upon Christian truth, and making them less formidable and less stumbling to the weak, lies in more com- prehensiveness. It was because the children of Israel did not them- eelves possess the whole land that they were so long harassed by their enemies. The Canaanites dwelt in the parts they had not conquered, and became as thorns in their side. And so it is usually left to unbelief to show us by attacking us from it, what territory in the truth of God we have left unpossessed."
But, as is shown by the titles of Mr. Forbes's sermons, such as " Solitude," " The Angel Face of Stephen," " To Everything a Season" (this is exceptionally suggestive), and " Spiritual Spring-time," they do not discuss theological problems. They belong to the order of pulpit teaching which is rather happily described in the preface to this volume as " at once Scriptural and individual." They are what used to be known in Scotland as "good Gospel sermons," prepared by a man who never preached above the heads of his congregation , but whose culture and natural delicacy of moral fibre cannot help revealing themselves through his Evangelicalism. While simplicity of style is their chief characteristic, some of them, especially " Everything in Season," are pointed and elegant.