Mr. Edwin Fesche of Westminster, Md., is a steady contributor to Focus (see his column on “The Current Scene”). In this brief article he provides some interesting insights into the lives of two men whose divergent paths represent the difference between mere religion and vital Christianity.
The last century produced two men whose influence and example made an impact on Christianity in their day and on into ours. Both men were, within a year, the same age. Each man stood at the extreme ends of the Christian spectrum. We are referring to Cardinal John Henry Newman and John Nelson Darby.
The Cardinal turned from bright prospects in the Anglican Church of England and became a Roman Catholic. Darby, a curate of the same church, left that connection; nor did he find any other that measured up to what he saw of the church in the New Testament. He consequently became a separatist of the first order. To him any countenancing of evil in doctrine or morals called for personal removal; otherwise, defilement could come from association. In fact, Darby coined an adage to express his conviction, “Separation from evil is God’s principle of unity.” The Cardinal was equally concerned about church unity and in his famous apology states his reasons for becoming a Romanist. In the main, it was his search for a visible unity which he could only find to his satisfaction in the Roman Catholic Church.
Both men were accomplished scholars and motivated by their matured convictions. The Cardinal was impressed by outward claims and appearances. We doubt whether his sincerity could be challenged. On the other hand, Darby went directly to the Scriptures and acted solely on what he concluded they had taught him.
Just before Newman made his dramatic change, he went to Italy to interview the Pope, but saw only his legate. His return to England involved him in a short passage in an orange boat to Marsailles, France. The vessel was becalmed and took considerably longer than expected to make port. Annoyed by the delay and possessed with the great pros and cons that were going through his mind, Newman quieted himself and wrote his well-known hymn, “Lead Kindly Light.” Obviously, that light led him into the bosom of Rome. Since then these words have been on the lips of many who find their way confusing. One has only to read Corrie Ten Boom’s, The Hiding Place, to discover that those distraught people found the words fitted into their situation. The hymn strikes a chord in every religious heart. Its charm is emotional and hardly doctrinal; a Unitarian could sing it.
Four years later, in 1837, Darby wrote on the same theme. We will quote some of his lines.
Rise my soul! Thy God directs thee;
Stranger hands no more impede:
Pass thou on! His hand protects thee,
Strength that has the captive freed.
Light divine surrounds thy going;
God Himself shall mark thy way;
Secret blessings richly flowing,
Lead to everlasting day.
Though thy way be long and dreary,
Eagle strength He’ll still renew:
Garments fresh and foot unwary
Tell how God hath brought thee through.
Compared with Newman’s hymn Darby’s is little known. It will only strike the chord of those who truly feel themselves to be “strangers and pilgrims” with the Father’s house as the ultimate rest.
Saint Paul, stating his situation before his conversion, said, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus” (Acts 26:9). Some persons appear to possess a natural bent toward a religiously oriented life. They are attracted to historic claims, impressive ritual, family associations and sometimes monkish disciplines. Paul describes the latter as “a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body.” The margin paraphrases the remainder of the verse, “which really do not honor God, but only satisfy the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). One of Satan’s arch wiles is to deceive us into thinking we are doing God’s service when actually we are only unduly religious.
Those who have read the history of the Reformation find it hard to have much sympathy for Rome. There are some good reasons for believing that Rome is “the mother of harlots” in Revelation 17 and to heed the positive call, “Come out from her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).
The Cardinal, in our humble judgment, calls into question his particular “kindly light.” Better is the light of Scripture that calls for a separation from vessels of dishonor and a path that invokes the “reproach of Christ.”