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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8



In examining the sacred writings, (for which there is claimed a supernatural exemption from all the imperfections that distinguish other religious writings,) we find, in the Old Testament, the most foolish fables of a dark age superstitiously recorded, occasionally, even, false morals inculcated, and the lowest motives to virtuous action suggested. * * * * * * * witchcraft and magic spoken of in the same terms as by our forefathers in England three centuries ago. We find, as has been often observed, a code of barbarous and ferocious laws, of which God is assumed to be the direct author, and the unrelenting administrator. In the New Testament records (waiving all critical objections to their authenticity and genuineness) we find errors in fact, errors in reasoning, doubtful meanings, and unintelligible allusions to forgotten events—the same Jewish fables—devils going bodily into swine and conversing in human language—miracles, in spite of the orthodox explanations and glosses, precisely similar to those of the middle ages—we find recording the belief of these "inspired persons" in the approaching end of the world, which was not accomplished. * * * * * * We find, every evidence of human infirmity, both in the writers and in the record, that can possibly be conceived, and yet we are to believe, on their authority, facts the most repulsive to common sense,—that the order of nature was changed, and the law of gravitation suspended in the valleys of Palestine, and that God himself specially inspired them with false philosophy, vicious logic and bad grammar. This is, certainly, the popular notion of the inspiration of the Scriptures, and the great mass of the Christian world are at this moment, instead of worshipping God, worshipping the Bible—putting the assumed record of God's will before the "inward witness" of his spirit! But can such a belief as this long survive in an age of intellectual inquiry? A juster and more rational idea of God's dealings with us is fast spreading through the Christian world. The sublime philosophy of the Gospel teaches us that the Spirit of God is poured upon all flesh. The "inspired" followers of Christ, being blessed with Eastern imaginations, could easily discover the Divine Messenger in the form (or more strictly speaking, descending after the manner) of a dove, or as "cloven tongues of fire;" but modern wisdom teaches us to look for it in a less palpable form. The human soul has sympathy and comprehension for the God dwelling within us, but the spiritual idea is degraded and lost by association with a material substance. When the bosom swells with virtuous emotion, or the eyes fill with tears of tenderness, we feel the presence of a higher nature, and need no other revelation of the present God. Even in the mixed and motley crowd of a theatre, gathered together for the mere indulgence of the senses, the heroic sentiment, the tender word, the simple trait of fidelity or of honesty, will often touch some chord of sympathy lying deep in the common heart, producing a virtuous harmony far more sincere, more profound, and more universal, than is elicited by the most gorgeous display of a religious ceremonial, or the highest exhibition page 23 of pulpit eloquence. If we look, in our best moments, into the deep of our hearts, we find, amidst much confusion, the indestructible elements of the Divine nature. And what is the origin of this everlasting instinct? Is it an old revelation handed down to us by religious systems, (for all religious systems have actually embodied it) from age to age from the earliest time? Is morality a tradition, the source of which is hidden from us in the mist of time, or is it the natural growth of the human heart, a part of the nature a holy God has imparted to his creatures? The last is by far the most rational hypothesis. The instinct of conscience is absolutely universal—the man is yet to be born who has never blushed—in the lowest depths of human degradation "the still small noice" is sometimes heard.—Foxton.