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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55

Sir James Martin on Christianity

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Sir James Martin on Christianity.

The Christian Evidence Society may be congratulated upon having tempted the Chief Justice to come before the public in the capacity of a defender of the national faith. For Christianity is the national faith in New South Wales. Apart from the numerous and powerful voluntary associations of Christians, the very laws under which we live, according to our highest judicial authority, "at many points recognise Christian truth, and throughout are saturated with Christian precepts." From this point of view, it is true that Christianity is part of the law of the land. Sir James Martin asserted so much not long ago upon the bench of the Supreme Court, and it was natural that he should not only reassert this fact upon the platform of the Christian Evidence Society, but also claim that he "could be in no way better employed, as the chief administrator in this colony of laws based upon Christianity, than in thus publicly joining with those who wish again to call to mind the proofs of its truth." And there can be no question as to the value of his Honor's attitude and advocacy. We remarked the other day that the church of the future in Australia must build itself upon the intellectual and spiritual assent of a free people; and hence there is an imperative necessity for eloquence, scholarship, logic and earnestness on the part of those who undertake to expound and defend the creed of Christendom.

That the occupant of the highest position in our society, and who must be a man of exceptional capacity, can influence the popular acceptance or rejection of Christian dogma, is beyond doubt. Sir James Martin is more than the chief administrator of our laws. A long, honorable and distinguished career at the Bar and in the Legislature invested him with an Australian reputation as one of the ablest men who have ever entered public life, or honored the profession of the law in this colony. Human nature would have to undergo a miraculous change before the example of a gifted and cultured and experienced man like Sir James Martin accepting religious doctrine which is confessedly beyond the analysis and perfect comprehension of reason could be ineffective. In all ages and in all societies the example in such matters of the largest natured men tells upon the belief and conduct of their neighbors. Into the theological questions raised by Sir James Martin on Tuesday night it is not our province to enter; but it does come fairly within the broad scope of journalism to notice the Chief Justice's clear endorsement of the national faith, and to approve his outspoken condemnation of the selfish secularism which would be such a miserable substitute for the old belief. "Notwithstanding," said Sir James, "that the Christian dogmas are, humanly speaking, so incomprehensible, they have been accepted as true by the greatest intellects, and they have moulded for good the daily life, and been the means of hope and consolation under all trials, of countless millions of people during more than sixty generations."

It is easy to cheer the Chief Justice's eloquent laudation of the national religion, but it is not so easy to support his specific attack upon "Judges in the Supreme Court in a Christian community" who "publicly throw discredit upon Christianity itself." His Honor was careful to protect the intellectual independence of the occupants of the bench. "That those learned gentlemen should, after such inquiry as their well-trained minds had enabled them to make, have come to the conclusions which they have laid before the world, is a thing of which no one ought to complain." It is to the laying of their views before the world that Sir James objects. "Respecting, as I do, their sincerity, I with all humility crave leave (I hope, without offence) to say that in my opinion they have in so acting fallen into error." It may be reasonably conjectured that this criticism is particularly intended for Mr. Justice Higinbotham, whose heterodox lecture in the Scots' Church, Melbourne, led to the Rev. Charles Strong's virtual severance from the Victorian Presbyterian Church, and for Mr. Justice Williams, the author of that rather boyish book, Religion without Superstition. A section of the Victorian Press will delight to find an ally in the Chief page break Justice of New South Wales; but the majority of critics in the sister-colony, while holding that many of the views put forth by the lecturer and author were unsound, admitted that Judges in the Supreme Court were under no re-striction of silence. A restriction of silence upon theological questions is a dangerous one to impose upon any man in a free community. It may be quite true that the laws under which we live are saturated with Christian precepts; but it is just as true that the Supreme Court administrators of those laws are not called upon to deliver theological rulings from the bench, and, therefore, it is difficult to understand why they may not freely print their theological opinions. It ought, we think, to be the privilege of every Australian to make whatever contribution it pleases him to the religious controversies of the day. For a Judge to have to resign his place on the bench before delivering a heterodox lecture, or printing a heterodox book, would be a greater evil than the inconsistency, more theoretical than practical, of a sceptic interpreting and administering laws admittedly saturated with Christian precepts.

Nor can we agree with Sir James Martin's denunciation of the people who desire to see the abolition of oaths in Courts of Justice. We do not think the Legislature has conceded anything to "the insolent vanity of atheists." Concessions have been made either to the growing toleration of Christians towards men who are troubled with conscientious scruples, or to the growing conviction of Christians themselves that oaths are unchristian. The elevation of the simple "Yea, yea," and "Nay, nay," which the Founder of Christianity commended should be a very possible consequence of the abolition of oaths; and a condition of society in which truth is spoken without the aid of an oath is surely preferable to one in which the oath is necessary in the interests of truth.

We said yesterday that his Honor made a thinly-veiled reference to the Sydney School of Arts. Speaking of the more or less voluble and self-sufficient secularist orators of the platform and the stump, he said :—"In some instances they have gained a footing in so-called educational institutions, partly supported by public funds, and presided over by high public functionaries, and their efforts are directed, not to discussion with the intelligent for the purpose of resolving honest doubts, but with the deliberate design to unsettle the belief of the ignorant, and encourage in the masses a spirit of resistance to all authority." A great deal of this criticism fits the Sydney School of Arts most accurately. For some time past the "free-thought" party have strenuously sought practically governing ascendancy in this institution. The debating society in connection with it might as well set itself to prove the falsity of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England as to spend its time upon subjects which are usually discussed by the orators of the Sunday night gatherings in the theatres. The free thought party are as much a sect, and are as bitterly and intolerantly sectarian, as the narrowest of religious denominations, and they have no right to attempt to run a State-aided and professedly unsectarian institution like the School of Arts in their own sectarian interests. Sir James Mabtin's words may be taken as words of warning by the members of the Sydney School of Arts who recently showed so eager a desire to retain the Liberator in the reading-room. There is a limit to even Christian toleration.