Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8



Watch-Night Services are all very well in their way; but it is really a pity that ministers who undertake to improve these occasions should, like Dean Cowper in his midnight sermon preached in Sydney Cathedral on the 31st December, 1869, so invariably treat their hearers to a mere string of the dreariest platitudes on the shortness of human life. No doubt, the flight of time is to us mortals a verity, as indisputable as it is solemn; but there surely must be some better and more impressive way of putting it before the minds and consciences of man than the Dean's method of repeating, over and over again,—in fact, some twenty times in as many minutes,—the Apostle Peter's quite inappropriate declaration about the end of all things being at hand. Why inappropriate ? Simply for the reason that this statement, as the Dean knows, or ought to know, is but one of many which might be selected from the New Testament, expressive of the early Christian belief that the world, in fulfilment of its destiny, was actually about to withdraw from the solar system and return to nothingness. A strange delusion, long since dispelled. If there is anything clear in the teachings of science, or any weight to be attached to an overwhelming balance of probabilities, the dissolution of our globe, instead of being "at hand," is thousands—perhaps millions—of centuries off. One part of the service there was, however, which decidedly, but quite unexpectedly, impressed us: for when the expiring year had but two or three minutes to live, the preacher's exhortation was, at his request, succeeded by a deep silence, broken only by a chorus of watch-tickings, which, to our profane imagination, seemed to say : "Is it not a fact, O ye people, that the oldest of you will, in a few years, be under the turf? By the souls of you then, be up and doing! Renounce your evil courses. Ennoble your lives. Be true, just, manly, generous. Be not over anxious about the future, but make the most of the time you have." Now we think that the Dean, seizing on this or a similar text, might and should have made it clear to us that

"We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths; In feelings, not in figures on a dial;"

and that

"He most lives Who thinks most—feels the noblest—acts the best."

page 2 As it was, the preacher quite lost his opportunity. Quite? Stop a bit. To do him justice, he was once or twice, though but momentarily, on the right tack, as, for instance, when, he said that people ought to pay their debts before giving picnics, or incurring unnecessary expenses of any kind. Not a bad suggestion, it strikes us. Suppose we all adopt it as an earnest of our intention to turn over, with the new year, a new leaf.

We neither laugh at prayer as a superstitious absurdity, nor demur to it as a proposal on the part of ignorant and short-sighted beings to thwart the fixed and unimprovable purposes of the Almighty. Our conviction, on the other hand, is, that prayer, when rightly understood and practised, is defensible both on moral and philosophical grounds. It does seem to us, however, that Goethe's remark about the probability of people who set up piety as an end—instead of regarding it as a means to an end—becoming hypocrites, has some sort of bearing on the noisy flourish of trumpets with which certain reverend gentlemen in Sydney and its neighbourhood announced their intention to spend the opening week of the year in asking God for a long list of specified helps. We have the highest authority—that of Jesus himself—for believing that the secrecy of prayer is favorable to its efficiency. "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut the door." But how can this injunction be squared with an ostentatious, half-column newspaper announcement, calling the attention of the Public to the fact that certain ministers will, at certain times and places, be found praying? It pains us to believe that such proceedings are, on the contrary, but too closely allied to the ways of those Pharisees and others, who, in the time of Christ, loved to parade their worthless piety before men, and thought, among other fatal blunders, that they should be "heard for their much speaking." Exactly so. For their much speaking : just as if the Deity were to be importuned, by public prayer meetings, at the rate of four or five a day, into an approval of sundry pet schemes of ecclesiastical enterprise, and a disapproval of forms of religious thought—"false doctrines"—that the Church chooses to consider heretical! That the published programme was characterised by a certain priestly adroitness, we admit. Masterly was that part of it, for instance, which invited "business men and others" to attend a daily prayer-meeting at the Temperance Hall, "for one hour only," and that the business man's dinner hour,—"one o'clock, p.m.,"—just by way of testing—what a "happy thought" of the clerical mind!—the strength of the business man's spirituality in subduing his carnal appetites! We wonder how many of our business men, hot from the bustle of George Street, were in attendance? But for the conceit, the affectation, the Pharisaic self-righteousness, the insolent familiarity with the Divine nature and ways, which usually give tone to a public prayer-meeting, especially when conducted by ministers, we might have gone to see. Can any of our readers inform us on the point.?

The Reverend Principal of Newington College—to judge from the remarks he made at the laying of the foundation stone of the new Wesleyan Church at Ryde, Parramatta River—is evidently a little uneasy in his mind as to the future of Methodism. The Establishment, he said, had threatened to re-absorb—"swallow up"—her truant offspring. Mr. Fletcher, however, page 3 assuring himself, is convinced that the Church of England is gastrically unequal to the feat. "And if she were," he adds, with a vigorous, but scarcely elegant thrust of rhetoric, "she would be as restless and uncomfortable after it as the whale which swallowed up Jonah, and would certainly find no rest until Methodism were vomited out." We are not so sure of that. Surely a Church with a stomach capable of assimilating such opposite theological systems as those of Dean Close and the Rev. Charles Voysey, and all that comes between them, ought to find no difficulty in digesting so tame and consanguineous a morsel as the sect to which Mr. Fletcher belongs. It may come to that: who knows ? But whether it does or not, the religious tendencies of the age afford the clearest indications that a re-reformed Christianity is already in existence, and daily waxing in power and influence, which will, in the fulness of time, swallow up all the existing Christian sects; and that too, without experiencing any of the uncomfortable sensations felt by the whale—does Mr. Fletcher really believe this absurd fiction?—after swallowing Jonah. Sound reforms, however, have, like good stomachs, a discriminative as well as an assimilative faculty,—the one, indeed, involving the other,—so that established systems of doctrine are not allowed to pass away without bequeathing to newer and truer systems their imperishable ingredients. How pitiful, thrice pitiful, in face of this great law, are the short-lived isms and ologies we so perversely think of as immortal!

On another matter—that of the pressing necessity for a sweeping legislative interference with the traffic in alcoholic drinks as at present carried on—our concurrence with Mr. Fletcher is both cordial and complete. His address on this subject, delivered in the Temperance Hall, in December last, and since printed in the newspapers, is an admirable summary, temperately as well as tersely written, of all that need be said, and perhaps can be said, on behalf of the proposed enactment of a Permissive Law, prohibiting the common sale of intoxicating liquors in any city or district where two-thirds of the inhabitants may record their votes in favour of its adoption. A loud cry has been raised—chiefly by those, we suspect, who have vested interests in the liquor traffic—against the proposed measure as an unwarranted interference with, and infringement of, personal liberty; but John Stuart Mill, our great master on such subjects, is unassailably right when he affirms, that "Whenever there is a definite damage, or a definite risk of damage, either to an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of morality or law." True, too, is Mr. Fletcher's remark that "the bitterest enemy of this measure would relax his opposition, if the plausible demon of intemperance had lured away a child or a friend to that abyss, fringed it may be with many flowers of poesy, attractive it may be with much perverted sweetness of music and of good fellowship, that, deep and dark abyss of drunkenness into which so many fall, and from which too few return at all, or return injured and degraded in life." In a word, the principle—we do not pledge ourselves to details—of the Permissive Bill has our approval, and will at all times receive our earnest support.

In the name of social decency, of morality, and of religion itself, we protest, earnestly protest, against the pious, or rather impious, farce recently enacted, page 4 under the management of the Rev. Messrs. Carson, Jenkyn and Hartley, and the Rockhampton gaol officials, at the execution of the murderer Archibald. Is it right that a man, under sentence of death for the commission of a foul crime, should be allowed to walk to the scaffold with a bunch of flowers in his hand and place them in his coffin? Or that he should be drilled by his spiritual advisers into a programme of pious utterances which, under the circumstances, were simply blasphemous? "Thanks be to God I am climbing to Heaven." "I meet my death as a Christian." "I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year. I am going to spend mine with the Saviour in joy." Then the Rev. Mr. Carson's prayer : "Into thy merciful hands, O God, we commend the soul of thy servant, now about to be severed from the body. Receive him, we beseech thee O God, into the arms of thy mercy. Let not his faith waver, nor his hope fail. Let him die in peace, rest in hope, and rise in glory." Now, observe. We do not say—far from it—that a condemned criminal should not, as one placed in a very awful and trying position, be treated with consideration, nay, with all tenderness. we do not say he should not be accessible to such religious and other influences as may tend to discipline his mind and conscience for the dread ordeal through which he is about to pass, so that friends may take comfort from, and he himself find hope in, his death. But we do say that the practice of surrendering a poor condemned criminal into the hands of a set of priestly inquisitors, empowered to experiment with his soul to any extent they please, is a species of moral vivisection in itself revoltingly unjustifiable, and fraught with results—these Rockhampton proceedings, for example—which call for an indignant protest from all right-minded persons. In the spectacle of a criminal who shows a genuine sorrow for his misdeeds, and, while bowing to the decrees of our human justice, is prepared to face the Supreme Justice in the consciousness that it can do nothing wrong, there will always be something touching, and oven dignified. But for the spectacle of the murderer of Mr. Halligan, stalking to the gallows, bunch of flowers in hand, prating of his saintship, and regularly primed for the occasion by his priestly attendants, who speak of him as a "Servant of the Lord, about to enter Glory,"—there can be no other description than that of a burlesque of justice and an outrage on the sanctities of religion. We go further, and say, that to send a poor wretch, like Archibald, into the next world, under the impression that "grace," reliance on the merits of Christ, and the rest of it, have released him from the ineffaceable and eternal consequences of his crimes, is to subject him to the cruelest of delusions. As a man leaves this world, so will he begin the next. But for any priest to undertake so to remould and theologically infiltrate a man, as to transform him, in the course of a few days, from a systematic villain into an exemplary servant of the Lord,—is to pledge himself to an absurdly unaccomplishable task. Ministers of religion should look, and look at once, to this matter. It is, we think, a serious one.

Who is Daniel P. M. Hulbert? We are curious to know. We have read, or tried to read, his literary exercitations in the Sydney Morning Herald, on subjects ranging from the primeval chaos to the recent Papal Syllabus, and have come to the conclusion—shared, as it is, by the doughtiest bookworms of our acquaintance—that more unintelligible and oldwomanish utterances page 5 than Daniel P. M. Hulbert's have seldom if ever found their way into print. It is, however, a relief to know that readers of the Herald are no longer to be bored with this gentleman's wearisome rigmarole. The leading journal, suddenly waking up, has got rid of its enterprising correspondent by politely handing him over to "our friend, the editor of the Australian Churchman." What a mercy 'tis that the Herald's editorial eye now and then loses its film.

If it be an offence against morals and manners to slander one's neighbour and refuse to make honourable reparation when called upon to do so, then is Mr. William Macleay, to say the least of it, a very ungenerous man. His reported public allusions to Mr. Davies as a political loafer who obtained his living on doubtful terms, should, at the request of that gentleman, have been promptly disclaimed or apologised for. But Mr. Macleay has a code of ethics of his own. To the feelings or the reputation of others, he is besottedly indifferent. What his imperial lips have once spoken, that he never retracts. There is at least one gentleman—how many more we cannot say—in Sydney, of the highest standing as a scholar and a citizen, who, in the remembrance of certain unhandsome, and to this day unrecalled, aspersions cast upon his character, in the legislative chamber, by Mr. Macleay, can sympathise with Mr. Davies. Such conduct is, in our opinion,—can there be two opinions on the point ?—quite indefensible; and we counsel Mr. Macleay, kindly but strongly counsel him, as he values his good name, to abstain from it for the future.

We observe that the Australian Churchman has been lecturing Unitarians on their "superfluity of naughtiness" in theological matters. To be a Unitarian, according to the Churchman, is to be of those who have renounced "the essential and fundamental truths of the Christian religion, the final atonement for sin on Calvary, and the incarnation of the Son of God." Another characteristic of these troublesome heretics, the Churchman goes on to say, is that they deliberately twist and mutilate the Scriptures in order to squeeze out of them "a Christianity without a Christ, a Revelation without anything supernatural, and a Salvation without an atonement." These feeble explosions scarcely merit notice; we shall at any rate reserve our metal until threatened by a decidedly stronger broadside. It is to be regretted that Christians should be so prone to assume the truth of what they wish to be true, and then resent and anathematise the fairest proposal to test the stability of their theological erections as savouring of the unpardonable sin. This is precisely the Churchman's method. But if the editor of that journal will but descend from his lofty platform, and, instead of piteously whining over those who, on religious matters, cannot see as he sees, try what can be said on behalf of the so-called essential and fundamental truths of Christianity in the way of fair argument, we may be able to show him, before we are many numbers old, that their foundation is anything but the solid and immovable rock of truth. In these days of fearless research among the theological lumber of past times, and when the religion of Jesus is in such a fair way of being disassociated from the superstitions which have so long encrusted it, it is simply absurd to talk of such tottering dogmas as Atonement by vicarious suffering, and Incarnation by the supernatural birth of page 6 the son of Joseph and Mary, as essential and fundamental truths which a man must either accept or be unchristianized. Unitarians revere Jesus; not, certainly, as a God, but as the man who of all others has most fully proved, and most heroically lived out, the divine elements of our humanity. Their Christianity, then; is not a "Christianity without a Christ," but a Christianity without the errors and superstitions which will soon belong to what Mr. Buckle terms "the draff and offal of a bygone age."

That a man of Dr. Badham's social standing and literary attainments should, under the influence of a singularly unbridled temper, so sadly forget and degrade himself in the eyes of the public, is indeed to be deplored. Dr. Badham's estimate of the value of Greek and Latin studies—eminent as he undoubtedly is in this department of learning—would, under ordinary circumstances, have received the most respectful attention. As it is, his surly and disrespectful treatment of those who are entitled to give an opinion on such subjects, to say nothing of his over-bearing contempt for the "yapping crowd" of mortals who help to pay his salary, at once excludes him from the lists. It seems probable then, that the professor will for the future be allowed to flourish his Partingtonian mop—for Dr. Badham must be aware, that in his extravagant estimate of classical learning, he stands almost alone among his literary compeers—unchallenged and unnoticed. We fear, too, that his doctrine of the fine disciplinary effect of such learning on the various faculties of human nature, will hardly make converts in face of the fact that the "foremost classic of Europe" is the most violent tempered man in the Australian colonies.

Earnestness, especially religious earnestness, is always praiseworthy; and it is for this very reason that we wish to have a friendly word of expostulation with so earnest a man as Dr. Turner, the London Missionary Society's principal representative for some years past in the island of Samoa. The speech this gentleman delivered in the Pitt-street Congregational Church was in itself a testimony to his zeal and enthusiasm in the Missionary cause; it was, however, very seriously marred by certain statements to which we desire to call the attention both of Dr. Turner and the Public. In the first place, then, he quite fails to understand the attitude of "politicians," "men of science," "time-serving editors," and others, towards associations that have been organised for carrying Christianity into uncivilised countries, and whose "incoherent revilings" on this subject are clearly traceable, Dr. Turner thinks, to the fact that the "carnal mind is enmity against God." This latter point we shall not trouble ourselves to discuss. We wish him, however, to understand that the opposition he complains of is directed not to the Missionary cause itself, but to the style in which it is carried on. That savages must, under any circumstances, be greatly improved and elevated by being brought into contact with refined and educated Europeans is, of course, beyond cavil. But the fact is, that the ordinary Missionary sadly diminishes the civilising and humanising influence he might exert by unduly fixing his attention on the affairs of the next world to the manifest depreciation and neglect of the purely secular affairs of this. His avowed aim is not to fit his converts for earth by teaching them the useful arts and ennobling refinements page 7 of civilised life, but to prepare them for heaven by indoctrinating their minds with the dogmas that he considers necessary to salvation. So low, indeed, is the type of Christianity which the Missionary generally carries with him to his work, that the alleged Christianising of an uncivilised country often amounts to the mere uprooting of one superstition by the planting of another. Hence an enormous waste of means and power; nor do we hesitate to say that one-tenth of the annual income of the London Missionary Society would, in the hands of an enterprising corporation of honest and honorable men, but without any particular pretentions to piety, accomplish far finer results in ten years than the Society, with all its resources, is likely to accomplish in a hundred. Dr. Turner himself is fully aware of this purely secular aspect of the Missionary cause, only that he subordinates it to another aspect which he considers "infinitely higher." What this infinitely higher aspect is, may be gathered from his remark, that "there are now in heaven some 50,000 Polynesians who, if we could ask them, would tell us they were led to a knowledge of Christ by the London Missionary Society." Some fifty thousand! What a host! But would Dr. Turner care to complete his statement by affirming that the untold millions of Polynesians who never heard of Christ or of the London Missionary Society are not in heaven ? Is he so ignorant of the religion of the Master he professes to serve, and whose one message to his fellow-men was that of the Universal Fatherhood of God, as to declare, with a cold-blooded theological effrontery which almost makes us shiver, that these poor savages are, by no fault of their own, at this moment writhing in the flames of an everlasting hell? If so, we can only say that his God is not ours, even as we fearlessly assert that any sort of atheism is to be preferred to a theism so truly horrible. But Dr. Turner is also very deep in the ways and counsels of the Almighty. He has, it seems, not the slightest doubt that the great tidal wave which a year or two since devastated the coast of Peru, destroying some 20,000 people and unhousing 40,000 more, was a Divine judgment on that country, directly and judicially administered, for its participation in the Polynesian slave traffic. And Queensland, according to this Prophet of the Lord, will, for the same crime, be the next to experience "the frown of the Almighty," in the shape, we presume, of another tidal wave or some equally terrible convulsion of nature. We, for ourselves, predict that men who deal in human flesh, or engage in any other kind of unjustifiable traffic, are tolerably safe to experience in the end the strong arm of our secular justice. But what can be said for the justice—to say nothing of the fatherly loving-kindness—of a God who, for the sins of a few guilty persons, would deliberately destroy, or reduce to a misery worse than death, thousands upon thousands of innocent women and children! Our Prophet's explanation is that God—his God—is a "God of Vengeance." Oh fie! fie! Dr. Turner. We are ashamed of you. We are quite sure that Jesus, were he among us to-day would be more than shocked at such a doctrine; and is it not lamentable to think that men professing to be animated by his spirit should attribute vindictiveness and other low human passions to the Great Being whom Jesus speaks of as causing his rain to fall on the evil as on the good, and as loving and blessing his children even when immersed in their follies and their sins. What an elevating theology for people whose professional business it is to enlighten the heathen !

page 8

A Baby Show is, in our opinion, an essentially immoral exhibition, and we shall abstain, therefore, from joking on the subject. Indeed, we must own to our surprise that the parents of as many as seventy children should have been betrayed by a bait of "five guineas and a silver tea service" into so gross a sacrifice of the finer feelings of their nature. It is hardly creditable to us as a community that a proceeding of this kind should have been allowed to pass off without a word of remonstance from the Public Press.