The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
We are perfectly satisfied that, with a fair field and no favour, the at length terminated controversy between Rabbi Davis and the Rev. John Graham would, if continued, eventually leave the latter, in the judgment of all intelligent and unbiassed onlookers, without even the ghost of a leg to stand upon. But, then, who does not see that no such field is furnished by the columns of a newspaper, and least of all by those of a newspaper of the stamp of the Sydney Morning Herald? Mr. Graham, it is true, assures us, that, "conscious of writing under an All-seeing Eye," he would be the last to treat an antagonist unfairly, or, as he graciously puts it, to "injure a hair of even an arch-heretic's head." We suspect, however, that his conscience, with all its sensitiveness, will not so readily acquit him of designedly levelling arguments—to say nothing of taunts and reproaches—against his "good friend Davis," which, as he must know well enough, the Herald's unimpeachably orthodox editor would not suffer to be dealt with, unreservedly, from the Rabbi's religious stand-point. When, therefore, in our last issue, we asked Mr. Davis to think the matter over before continuing his contest with Mr. Graham, it was assuredly from no misgiving on our part as to the Rabbi's ability to meet and demolish such arguments or accusations as the Minister might advance, but from the feeling that he was entering an arena where, being powerless to return the compliment, a wily opponent, knowing his advantage, could and would smite him on the cheek ad libitum. Uneasy at length under this felt restraint, and further embarrassed, as we gather from his last letter, by a reluctance to say "a single word that might be hurtful to the feelings of his Christian fellow-citizens," Mr. Davis, in reply to Mr. Grahams's hollow rant about "sacrificial expiation through a suffering Messiah," "faith in the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world," etc.,—has, accordingly, to content himself with the quiet but weighty observation, that the Christian orthodox verities of a Triune Deity, Atonement, Mediatorship, Conception by the Holy Ghost, etc., had better be tested by the to this day unanswered and unanswerable Leben Jesu of David Friedrich Strauss and other such works. An enlightened Christendom, again, fume and bluster as may Mr. Graham to the contrary, is in perfect accord with Rabbi Davis when he affirms that the teachings ascribed to Jesus page 226 are in nowise essentially superior to those of "uninspired" sages who taught before and after his time; that the so-called Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament do not in any one instance refer to, and were not at all fulfilled in, the Founder of Christianity; and that there is not the slightest retributive connection between the treatment Jesus received at the hands of his country-men and the national misfortunes by which they were subsequently over-taken. Mr. Graham is, of course, amazingly eloquent on the "one dire crime and mistake" which has caused the "desolation of Israel" for nearly two thousand years. For ourselves, however, we fully believe, with Mr. J. S. Mill, that the mass of evangelical Christians, had they lived in those days, would have acted towards Jesus precisely as the Jews did: and for the rest, we would simply ask upon what principle of equity, either divine or human, a proceeding which secured the redemption of the human race from the wrath of God and everlasting perdition in the only way in which it was to be secured, can be regarded as a crime! Had the Jews, instead of immortalising Jesus by a public crucifixion, contemptuously ignored him, as their Roman masters were disposed to do, and pooh-poohed him back into his original obscurity as an ignorant but well-meaning disturber of the public peace; where then, we are curious to know, would have been the Cross of the Saviour and the "efficacy" of his Atoning Blood? and where, consequently, the Great Salvation which, as is generally believed, alone prevents humanity from rushing headlong into the jaws of the Devil? We challenge Mr. Graham to show that the Jews, so far from having committed a crime in crucifying their countryman, are not, according to the Christian theory of pre-ordained Salvation for the human race by the sacrifice of the just for the unjust, entitled, as the chosen instruments of Heaven for the accomplishment of a divine purpose, to our eternal gratitude.
In a letter recently addressed to the Argus, the Rev. James Jeffries, of Adelaide, bewails the estrangement which, while on a visit to Melbourne, appeared to him to exist between the Press and the Pulpit of that city; and the Australasian of August 5th, in an admirable and outspoken article on the subject, not only admits the accuracy of Mr. Jeffries's observation, but is convinced that the estrangement in question is likely to go on increasing. And for the reason, mainly, as our Contemporary remarks, "that the Press sets religion above theology, while the Pulpit sets theology above religion. The latter attaches an exaggerated importance to forms of religious belief, to dogmas, creeds, and ceremonials; while the former looks only to the spirit of religion. . . . . In order that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven, the Press holds that it is absolutely necessary to ascertain what are God's laws as revealed to us in Nature, in our own selves, and in the constitution of Society; and, having ascertained these, the Press seeks to popularise that knowledge, and to apply it so as to promote the health and happiness of men and women individually, to develope the resources of the earth on which we live, to perfect the political institutions of the community to which we belong, to inculcate the morality which underlies all true religion, and to qualify human beings for a higher state of existence hereafter by indicating the path of duty here, and by pointing out the temporal advantages as well as the lasting wisdom of steadily pursuing it. . . . . page 227 The Press keeps abreast or somewhat ahead of the march of average human thought, sympathises with and stimulates the more exalted conceptions of Almighty Wisdom and Almighty Love, which have replaced a good deal which passed for religion in former centuries, and encourages the substitution of an intelligent belief in God's laws for the unintelligent worship of antique dogmas established by sincere but uninquiring minds. The Pulpit on the other hand, with some honourable exceptions, turns its face to the past and its back upon the present. It is afraid of Science; as if there could possibly be any antagonism between God's laws and the Maker of those laws. It denounces Reason; as if the Divine gift were in reality conferred upon mankind by some diabolical Arimanes, and discourages in human beings the growth of that feeling of reverence for their own souls, which naturally expands into a sentiment of reverence for the Creator of the soul." These statements sufficiently indicate our Contemporary's attitude towards the venerable institution which, whatever its influence in bygone times, has, in his opinion, both done its work and had its day. Demur as we may to this sweeping verdict, we must at any rate allow that the Pulpit—partly from the action of constitutional but not, we believe, ineradicable defects, and partly from the increasingly enormous influence exerted in the present day by the several departments of literature—is the merest shadow of the power it formerly was. Maintaining a close and living contact with the realities of thought and feeling, and appropriating the spirit of religion to the disregard of its ecclesiastical husk, the Press is in a position to administer, constantly and directly, to the social, moral, intellectual and religious well-being of Society, while the Pulpit, with its distrust of human nature and fondness for mumbling over antiquated dogmas, is much oftener than not a veritable obstacle in the way of man's progress and improvement. This unfortunate condition of things is too patent to be questioned; and there is little, we believe, to hazard in the conjecture that the decadence of Modern Pulpit Influence will go on increasing until, perchance, with the growth of rational conceptions of God and His government of the Universe, the Ark of religious truth falls into the hands of an entirely new order of custodians.
Not long since, at a meeting of the Anglican Synod of New South Wales, its President, the Bishop of Sydney, jocularly hinted, if we remember rightly, that he himself might be the first to stand before their contemplated Tribunal for the trial of ecclesiastical offenders. Of course no one anticipates any such sensational denouement; but it would be well, perhaps, for his reputation, if his lordship, either in Synod or elsewhere, would furnish an explanation of some curious statements which appear in the speech he delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Colonial and Continental Church Society, recently held in London. Familiar as we are with the large amount of heretical doctrine which a man can nowadays hold consistently with considering himself and with being considered a member of the Church of England—to say nothing of the fact that our journal, which Dr. Barker so sternly denounced on one occasion, is largely and increasingly read and appreciated within the pale of Anglican orthodoxy—we can allow the Bishop's statement about more than half the colonists of New South Wales being members of the Church of England to go for what it is worth. His other statements, respecting the page 228 religious condition of the colony in general and of certain districts in particular, are not, however, to be disposed of so easily. Goulburn, it seems, is to have a new Church, Bishop Barker having undertaken, during his stay in England, to raise money towards its erection. A case of "spiritual destitution" had therefore to be made out, and here it is: "The Bishop of Goulburn," remarked Dr. Barker, "has established in the town of Goulburn—I should rather say Mrs. Thomas has established there, for the credit is due to her—a depôt for the sale of Bibles and other useful books; and that scheme has proved a complete success. In Goulburn there was previously no bookseller's shop; books were only sold by a man who kept a store—in other words, who was a grocer, a draper, an ironmonger, and many other things besides. Well, Mrs. Thomas opened a shop at the corner of two streets in the most attractive style; she herself, with her winning manner has been frequently seen in the shop, superintending the sales, and the result has been that a very large amount of bibles and of very useful literature has been dispersed through the diocese. We value this kind of work the more, because in the Australian colonies those green and yellow backed books, those cheap tales of fiction which are so injurious to the rising generation, have been almost the only books that could be purchased. In fact, the establishment of a depôt like that which I have mentioned is a great comfort and boon." We must ask our readers to compare the first part of this statement with the Yass Courier's flat contradiction, "that for years before Mrs. Thomas opened her depôt, two or three booksellers' establishments existed in Goulburn;" and again with the Goulburn Chronicle's equally contradictory assertion, "that Goulburn had its regular bookseller's shop, which previous to the opening of the diocesan depôt devoted considerable attention to the supply of religious works, some sixteen or eighteen years before Bishop Thomas's arrival." As for the latter part of the Bishop's statement, it may be safely left to the frequenters of the leading booksellers' shops in Sydney or Melbourne to say whether cheap and demoralising tales have been almost the only books that could be purchased in the Australian colonies. It is not of course for us (unworthy that we are) to cavil at or distrust the utterances of "the wisest man in the Archbishop of Canterbury's diocese;" yet his lordship must not be surprised if some "unconsecrated intellects" should find it hard to reconcile the speech we are considering, even with Romans iii. 7 thrown in as a make-weight, with a scrupulous regard for truth, to say nothing of the Scripture injunction that "a bishop must be blameless, and have a good report from those who are without." It may be, too, that captious or matter-of-fact persons, taking another view of the matter, will be found questioning the wisdom of sending one man to England to represent the colony at £1000 per annum, and another to Misrepresent it on a stipend of double that sum.
We notice that the Dalkeith heresy case has at length terminated in the submission of the Rev. M. Ferguson to the decision of the United Presbyterian Synod. He has, it is true, qualified his Peccavi by maintaining that "his liberty as a minister of the Gospel, to speak according to his own light, conscience and sense of responsibility, remains unimpaired;" a position, however, which strikes us as being scarcely consistent with his pledging himself to the Presbytery to believe and teach for the future (1) "that all page 229 who shall ultimately be saved were chosen of God in Christ before the foundation of the world:" (2) "that all who are saved are accepted of God, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, at or before the time of their death; and that none dying unsaved will after death, have an opportunity of obtaining salvation:" (3) "that whatever new revelations of Christ or of the truth are made after death to the saved, are made, not to free them from sin, but to increase their knowledge and blessedness:" and (4) "that, notwithstanding the inability of the will through sin, as taught in our Confession, unbelievers are fully answerable for their rejection of the offer of salvation which the Gospel makes to them." Dr. Cairns, we are told, gave thanks to God for the "harmonious and happy result" thus achieved; the Moderator also expressing his satisfaction that "the Sun of Righteousness had scattered for them an apparently dark cloud;" but to ourselves, the upshot of Mr. Ferguson's originally bold attitude towards the Presbytery is extremely disappointing. Questioning as he did, in the first instance, the right of the reverend fathers to dictate to him as to what happened to the "spirits in prison" during the thirty-eight hours which separated the death of Jesus of Nazareth from his alleged resuscition; their badgering appears to have dragged from him one heresy after another, and to have finally triumphed by fettering Mr. Ferguson with a set of abstruse propositons in speculative theology, which, occupy and interest as they might Milton's fallen spirits when they
Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate;
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute;
And found no end in wandering mazes lost,"
look strange enough when measured against the immediate interests and duties of our daily life, or even against the really deep and solemn problems of human life and destiny which nowadays absorb the attention of emancipated religious thinkers. The Presbytery may perhaps not be aware that these dreadfully deep questions of "election," "grace," "salvation of the elect," and "reprobation of the damned" have recently received on the American side of the Atlantic, from certain theologians of "colour" there, a remarkably straightforward and not unsuggestive solution. We quote from one of their most popular Church hymns:
"Alleluyer I Tanks and Praise !
Long enuff we've born our crosses;
Now we's de superior race,
We's gwine to heaven afore de Bosses.
Alleluyer I Praise de Lord!
We is nearer to de Lord
Dan de white folks and dey knows it;
See de glory gate unbarred—
Walk up darkies, past de guard—
Bet a dollar he don't close it!
Walk in darkies troo de gate,
Hark! de kullered angels holler,
Go'way, white folks, ye're too late,
Black's de winning kuller. Wait
Till de trumpet blows to foller."
What a transition from the blinding mists of Scotch metaphysical theology to the jubilancy of natural feeling! But can the Kirk improve upon the view taken by these "darkies" of the mysteries of the world to come? We doubt it.page 230
Our journal is indebted to Mr. J. G. S. Grant, of Dunedin, whose communication will be found in its Correspondence department, for a criticism, which, while respectful and even appreciative, is, at the same time, sufficiently slashing. His platform, it seems, is that of "philosophical theism," and from it he announces that our half-and-half method of procedure, which he considers too broad for Christians and too narrow for Theists, is inconsistent with sound philosophy, and therefore fated to fall through. "Jesus," says Mr. Grant, "did not write the rambling utterances attributed to him." Have we ever said that he did? Have we not, on the contrary, repeatedly maintained that the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John, attribute statements to Jesus which, so far from committing them to manuscript, he did not even utter? Why not publish, then, asks our philosophical friend, an "expurgated" Gospel, and give people an opportunity of studying the Jesus you really revere? For the reason, is our reply, that the human mind, when unembarrassed by false and misleading theories of biblical interpretation, is quite equal to the task of disconnecting the historic Jesus from the cloud of fable in which the New Testament writers, reflecting the ignorance and superstition of their day and people, have so unfortunately enveloped him. Mr. Grant's distrust of the mythological element in both Testaments is assuredly not greater than our own. We submit, however, that, in proposing as he does on that account to "throw the whole overboard," the offence against philosophy is not on our side but on his. Common sense, to say nothing of philosophy, would see little to admire in the destruction of a mixed heap of chaff and grain which might and should have been submitted to the winnowing process. So with the Scriptures. To treat them as unworthy of our respect and admiration, because Christians have superstitiously disallowed the numerous errors and blemishes which they exhibit in common with other ancient writers, were, we think, to perpetrate a folly per se, as well as a signal injustice to the Scriptures themselves. So, too, with Christianity. Are we to reject it as a wholesale delusion, because the name of its founder has, by ignorant bigots or designing priests, been associated with crimes and corruptions for which Jesus himself is in nowise responsible? Surely not. Our Dunedin correspondent refuses to hear of Jesus as "the noblest human soul that has yet worn flesh," at least until we have drawn "a clear line of demarcation between the spurious and genuine utterances attributed to him by the writers of the Gospels." Just as if all the criticism in the world were able to accomplish this clearly impossible task! Where is the student of Plato's Dialogues who will in every instance undertake to say when that eminent master of philosophy is stating his own opinions, when the opinions of Socrates, or when he is stating opinions which might possibly be entertained by some third person? With Mr. Grant we readily admit the difficulty, nay, the impossibility, of discriminating between the spurious and genuine utterances attributed to Christ by the writers of the New Testament; we must, however, emphatically disown his "throwing-the-whole-overboard" principle as one which, if generally applied, would simply "expurgate" every ancient work out of existence. "An expurgated Gospel" is no more called for than an expurgated Heroditus or Livy; and we are strongly disposed to believe that, could the common sense of the uninformed and the lens of a scholarly criticism be allowed to operate page 231 as freely on the writings of the New Testament as on the works just alluded to, the Jesus of history—the Jesus who, early consecrating himself to the service of truth and virtue, nobly stood aloof from and rebuked the iniquities of his ago and people, who denounced and defied a corrupt and selfish hierarchy, who yearned and laboured, aye, and sacrificed his life, for the advent of a purer public morality and the rise of a higher national creed; the Jesus, in a word, who, without being himself faultless, made by his virtues such an impression on his contemporaries as to lead them, in their enthusiasm, to invest him with the attributes of a God—would receive from Mr. Grant, as from thousands of others occupying similar positions, the respect and admiration to which he is entitled. Who can compute the mischief for which the dogma of Biblical Inspiration is thus clearly responsible?
Urged to it, as he informs the reader, by the pressing solicitations of friends, and in the hope also that the placing of his manuscript in the hands of the printer may be "blest to scatter doubt and strengthen faith," the Rev. John Graham has seen fit to publish his lecture, delivered not long since at the request of the Sydney Young Men's Christian Association, on "The Inspiration of the Scriptures," together with a preliminary statement of what he conceives to be the question at issue between believers and disbelievers in Biblical Inspiration. And, in the course of it, he asks: "Has our Great Father spoken distinctly and authoritatively to His children? And is the book we call the Bible, the Book of God, really and truly His inspired Word? Is it the lamp He has given us to shine in dark places till our path emerges into the perfect day. Or is it no more than a work of erring man, whose laws are but good advice, and whose doctrines are but happy guesses or opinions? If it be not supernaturally inspired, then, clearly, our world contains no book that has valid claims to supernatural inspiration; and it is then worse than a merely harmless book; it is false and deceptive; for its writers claimed to speak surely and authoritatively The Word of the Lord. If it be not inspired, then the great Father has only spoken by the dumb signs of creation; and though his children have cried in agony—'Speak Lord,'—the Lord hath not spoken; silence, terrible silence, hath sealed His lips! The Father of fathers is deaf and mute. And then His children wander in a chilling wilderness that hath not heard His articulate voice. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ this is not our dreary creed. We once hovered on the brink of this abyssmal depth, as others do now; but we were delivered; and the noon-day sun is not to us more clearly the work of God, than is the Bible His word, and Jesus Christ the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth." At least some of our readers will, we think, peruse these strange utterances with astonishment, if not with pain. As for the confession with which they conclude, we can truly say we should be the last to disturb the religious tranquillity of mind which, in the case of any man, has been won at the cost of vanquished doubts and exorcised fears. It may be that Mr. Graham is, as he declares himself to be, in the fullest enjoyment of the strength and serenity of soul which just and fearless persons arc, as the reward of their mental and moral integrity, alone permitted to realise. We sincerely hope it is so. Still, from what we know of Mr. Graham, the suspicion will haunt us that, instead page 232 of having been "led up of the Spirit into the Wilderness" of Doubt, there to debate within himself for more or less than forty days the claims of Conscience versus Creed, he may have professionally visited the dismal region in question, armed cap-à-pie with the "Evidences," just to have his orthodoxy tested, and with a made-up resolution, in the event of its college-manufactured props proving shaky, or of the conflict waxing at all hot, to retreat as speedily as possible. Be this, however, as it may, it is scarcely satisfactory to learn that the pastor of Pitt Street Church, was "delivered" from the abyss of speculative merely to be engulfed in the slough of practical atheism in which, to judge from the Introduction to his lecture, he at present unmistakeably wallows. Though an avowed believer in a God, Mr. Graham, by his own confession, can regard the far-stretching and ineffably glorious Universe as a mere "chilling wilderness that hath not heard His articulate voice," whereas, on the other hand, he can turn to a set of ancient documents, written for the most part by no one knows whom, and exhibiting incontestable marks of human error and infirmity, as establishing the truth of His existence beyond question of doubt. He says, in effect, "I have studied the wonders of the Earth, and the still greater wonders of the Heavens, and am after all uncertain as to whether there be a God; but I can consult His Word, and at once be assured that He is, seeing that, as the Word narrates, He wrestled with one patriarch (Gen. xxxii.), took supper with another (Gen. xvi.), ineffectually sought to take the life of a third (Ex. iv. 24), and was on many other occasions seen in bodily shape and heard speaking with 'articulate voice.'" Mr. Graham can implicitly believe in the God who, on the authority of traditions utterly discredited by Reason and History, is said to have conversed with Moses on Horeb and the Apocalyptic Seer in Patmos, but not, it seems, in the (to him) "mute" and "terribly silent" Being of whose power, wisdom and goodness all Nature is (to souls that have any vision for divine things) an ever-present and all-glorious epiphany. Mr. Graham pronounces the creed of the Theist "dreary;" but who does not see that his own creed, as embodied in the Christianity which persistently explores the past for a God who no longer dwells and operates in the present, is essentially atheistic?
Dr. Wazir Beg has sent us another letter, printed in this issue, which, without at all depriving us of our temper, necessitates our decision that this gentleman must either mend his literary ways, or be denied access for the future to the pages of the Free Religious Press. Our journal is open to any correspondent, no matter how orthodox or how sceptical, who, while employing such courtesy of address as its editor has a right to expect, is prepared to discuss, in an earnest and straightforward manner, any social or religious question of the day. It is, however, but too clear that Dr. Beg can do neither. In applying, unjustly applying, such epithets as "coarse," "ribald," "scurrilous," etc., to our style of writing, and in arrogantly taxing us with ignorance of the commonest words and phrases, he clearly disqualifies himself for the arena we have thrown open to the public; and as for his mode of dealing with an argument, or of meeting an accusation, we leave our readers to say whether the contemptible evasions and silly conceits with which Dr. Beg's communications abound do not indicate the vain and insincere spirit page 233 which, we fear, is his leading characteristic. Our original charge against him was, that he had disgraced his pulpit by an offensive and pharisaical allusion to Unitarians; and all he could do in reply was, by taking cover under a mere interchange of pronouns, to insinuate his disavowal of a proceeding of which we know him, beyond question of doubt, to have been guilty. We told him that his priestly airs and affectations of superior sanctity were an insult to the noble-souled Master he professes to serve; and, instead of promptly taking heed to his ways, he has since done nothing but apishly jabber about our being—whereas we merely said that he was not—" a Christian of the pattern of the Nazarene." We questioned the ability of this paragon of learning and piety, even when assisted by the "God's grace" he so ostentatiously relics upon, to prove the truth of a palpable absurdity: a doubt which, in his present letter, he distorts into a denial on our part of divine influence altogether. With so insincere and unprincipled a disputant it is, in truth, hard to keep on amicable terms. His sophistical quibblings and trumpery hair-splitting definitions, accord as they may with the tastes of his own flock, are decidedly out of place in the pages of our journal. We are further compelled to say that such clumsy efforts at self-defence as he seems capable of, instead of removing, do but confirm our low estimate of Dr. Beg as a public representative of the conventional Christianity which is much more the curse than the blessing of our age, and on account of which we have felt it our duty, in the interests of true religion, to rebuke him. And for that matter, indeed, we are fully persuaded that, should the Master come among us again, and set about another purification of a corrupted and corrupting temple, our reverend friend at the other end of the town would be one of the first to wince under the "scourge of small cords."