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XXVI

EZEKIEL GILMAN ROBINSON AS A

THEOLOGIAN 1

In attempting a sketch of Doctor Robinson's theology, I find myself unable to dissociate the doctrine from the preacher, the administrator, and the man. To him as my teacher and predecessor I owe more than I owe to any one else outside of my own family circle. And since this indebtedness must color all my judgments, it will be best to state frankly, at the start, what the debt was; the reader can then make what allowance he chooses for the personal equation.

Some of my earliest impulses to preach were determined by Doctor Robinson's magnificent bearing in the pulpit when, as a boy, I listened to him in the early years of his work at Rochester. He dealt with great themes, yet he was a master of extemporaneous speech. His lucid, intense, and thoughtful utterance, exact in expression, yet always simply and severely natural, keyed ordinarily to a high intellectual pitch, but tremulous at times with emotion, revolutionized all my ideas of oratory, and I desired to be a minister of the gospel that I might be a public teacher. When I left college, and had to choose a place of seminary training, it seemed to me that no one but Doctor Robinson could teach me how to preach. I began my course full of literature and history, but with small thought of the greater problems of existence. In his classroom I found my intellectual awakening. His searching ques

1 Contributed as a chapter in “ Ezekiel Gilman Robinson: An Autobiogra. phy," published by Silver, Burdett & Co,

. tions, and the discussions that followed, roused my thinking powers as nothing ever had before. It became the pursuit of a lifetime to know the truth.

Of dogmatic instruction in theology, in those years 1857-1859, there was little. His brief dictations constituted not so much a system as a series of suggestions to stimulate inquiry. Our teacher appeared to be feeling his way along, and his great anxiety seemed to be that each of his pupils should feel his own way. Nothing vexed him more than a lazy repetition of traditional formulæ. He often challenged even a correct statement, in order to see whether the utterer understood what he was saying. Aside from the magnetic, inspiring, and transforming influence of his own personality, the greatest service he rendered us was that he taught us to think for ourselves.

As a theologian, he was at this time critical rather than constructive. He represented the tendencies of Brown and Newton, rather than those of Hamilton, from which his predecessor, Doctor Maginnis, had come. Doctor Maginnis, our teacher of theology during the first two years of the seminary's existence, was a Princeton theologian of the straitest sect. But Doctor Robinson at Brown University had been under the influence of President Wayland, who was partly educated at Andover, and was a great admirer of Professor Stuart. At Newton Theological Institution Doctor Robinson had been instructed by Dr. Irah Chase and Dr. Barnas Sears. Doctor Chase taught a theology so unlike that of Princeton that some of our extremely orthodox ministers refused to put their sons under what they regarded as heterodox teaching. Doctor Sears taught but little positive doctrine of any kind. His method was to suggest questions rather than to answer them. Scholarship and discussion were the main features of his classroom. No one of these teachers of Doctor Robinson had been strongly conservative. All had been men noted for independence as well as for thinking power.

Doctor Robinson began his theological teaching in a place where the traditions, though brief, were in favor of an old-fashioned theology. New England thinking was regarded as a sort of free-thinking. Doctor Shedd's realistic interpretations of the old orthodoxy were not yet widely known, even if they had been published. Princeton still claimed to represent the immemorial faith of the church of God. There were elements of the Old School doctrine which Doctor Robinson cherished as his very life. Neither Andover nor New Haven ever made a convert of him. He even seems to have tried, at the first, to use the traditional formulæ of the theology of the Covenants. But it is clear to me that he felt the arbitrariness and externalism of the Princeton system, even though he had not shaken himself wholly loose from it. The lectures which he dictated at this time are cautious statements of the dominant orthodoxy, with its more mechanical features greatly softened down, and with the accompanying suggestion of new points of view which logically imply another and a better faith.

We must remember that he always taught homiletics side by side with theology, and that he deeply felt the responsibility of instructing men who were to repeat his views to all the world with an emphasis and exaggeration of their own. Therefore he made haste slowly. He was no iconoclast. He never intended to break with the old. He regarded theological terms as largely metaphorical, and his aim was to discover the substance that underlay them. He could have subscribed to John Bunyan's couplet:

My dark and cloudy words, they do but hold
The truth, as cabinets encase the gold.

He criticized with great severity the legal fictions of the Princeton school, but he had the deepest reverence for the reality which they sought so unfortunately to express. In fact, I regard the passionate bent toward reality as the central characteristic of his intellectual life. Shows and forms he had small sympathy with. He would get at the inner being. He censured all theologizing that did not go to the heart of the matter. He disdained all conduct that savored of pretense. When he spoke, he would say nothing, or he would say the truth. The truth, as he at the time conceived it, was often biting and galling to those whose views he antagonized. But Doctor Robinson did not spare on that account. Like Stein, the great German, he was proud toward man, but humble toward God.

From 1853 to 1872 he was professor of Biblical Theology in the Rochester Theological Seminary, and from 1868 to 1872 he was its president. During all the years of his professorship, as well as of his presidency, he was the one man who gave name and fame to the institution, and the one man who drew to it students and endowments. Doctors Conant and Hotchkiss and Northrup and Kendrick and Hackett and Rauschenbusch and Buckland were, in those early days, most able coadjutors, and their services were very great. But it is still true that to Doctor Robinson the institution at Rochester owes more of its character and success than to any other single man. The seminary, which at the beginning of his administration in 1853 was absolutely destitute of property or endowments, had, in 1872, resources amounting to $224,000. This increase represents an amount of personal and skilful work on the part of one man which would simply challenge admiration, if it were not so pathetic and incongruous an expenditure of energy. That a thinker and teacher of such mark should have been compelled to turn aside from his proper work in order to solicit rich men's gifts, and to make his own living, not by his week-day instruction, but by his Sunday preaching, is pitiful enough. Yet such are the toils and trials that have gone to the founding of all our great educational institutions.

The institution prospered-prospered so much that Brown University coveted its president, and at last succeeded in drawing him away to another sphere of labor. But this prosperity was purchased at a price. Doctor Robinson had not the time nor the strength which he ought to have had for the maturing and the publishing of his theological system. He was not a ready writer, and systematizing with him was a slow work. His critical faculty was always asserting itself, and was

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