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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8



The recent annual demonstration of the Congregational Union of New South Wales, a flattering six-column notice of which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, afforded the Rev. G. G. Howden an opportunity of incorporating with his presidential address an announcement of his undiminished confidence in the well-known "Evidences" for the truth of the Bible and of Christianity, which, as he believes, will secure these precious verities from the successful attacks of unbelievers to the end of time. He, it is true, confesses himself both distressed and alarmed at the boldness with which men nowadays, "speak of the Gospels as developed from beautiful myths, of the absurdity of a belief in miracles, of the doctrine of a Special Providence as wholly untenable," etc.; at the audacity too, with which religious sceptics are wont to set aside the celebrated theses of Paley, and the still more famous arguments of Butler, as old-fashioned and illogical Yet how comforting to reflect that whole libraries of books have been written in defence of the Divine Revelation, not one of which has been replied to;" and that although the "enemies of the Bible are for ever shouting as if the victory were theirs, . . . the grand old fortress still stands in its own majestic grandeur with a strength that resists the foes of hell, with a beauty that awakens the praise of heaven. . . . They gather about it," do these troublesome but impotent enemies of God's Word, "in their rage and fury; one swears at the architecture as not in accordance with modern taste; another imagines he has discovered a weak part, not seeing the strength that part derives from its connection with the whole; another sends forth his shafts at the wall, from which they fall harmlessly to the ground; while others theorise about overcoming it, and rejoice in their theories as if they were reduced to practice. And so, elated with conceit, they sing their song of victory, when not a stone has been disturbed on the walls of the fortress, and the thousands who enjoy their protection enjoy that protection still." So firm and unshaken, indeed, is Mr. Howden's faith in the "Evidences" which, as he believes, attest the truth of the popular estimate of Christianity and the Bible, that he can well afford to lay aside his weapons, and leave unbelievers to do their worst. Be it so, then. Still, with a view to making the list of Evidences as complete and effective as possible, we would suggest to him the advisableness of associating therewith some account of the tendency of Christianity to perpetuate page 290 itself in spite of the damaging apologies advanced on its behalf by the majority of its accredited defenders. The divinity of Christianity—the divinity of its underlying and imperishable essence—is, we believe, more than established by the dignified persistency with which it pursues its career of conquest, while its professed friends are unconsciously doing their utmost to bring the whole thing into contempt. Mr. Howden, as his address—with its prevailing distrust of, and tirade against, the intellectual tendencies of our age, its whining allusions to some Devil's ditch or other as awaiting the earnest truth-seeker at every turn, and, above all, its insolent procul este profani, as applicable to all heterodox religionists—clearly proves, has yet, with thousands of others, to learn this important lesson. "It is to be remarked," he observes, "that the enemies of the Bible use as their weapons the judgments of carnal and worldly minds, and are unable to discern the spiritual and the heavenly." Perhaps in his next public utterance, he will be good enough to give us some idea as to the exact amount of spirituality that would be required to elevate an unbelieving Martineau to the rank of a believing Mr. Howden.

Inter alia, at the seventh "sederunt" of the late General Assembly of the "Fathers and Brethren" of the Presbytery of New South Wales, was discussed, with becoming gravity, the question of "0the best means of removing hindrances to early dedication to God." The main feature of the Presbytery's machinery for accomplishing this important object is, it seems, its 67 Sunday-schools, comprising 3795 scholars and a staff of 427 teachers. From the Committee's Report, however, we learn that only 49 per cent, of the atter are in "full communion with the Church;" nor could the Rev. J. Bonthorne, in commenting on this "painful fact," understand how any could offer their services as teachers who had not "openly acknowledged their Redeemer;" just as if the teacher's chance of influencing for good the youthful heart and mind were to be measured, not by his moral and intellectual fitness for the task, but by his ostentatious observance of the forms, and his libness in repeating the shibboleths, of an exploded orthodoxy. The Rev. P. N. Mackray considered that the Presbytery should "show practically, hat only the regenerate are the proper subjects for Baptism," and counselled, sccordingly, that the ordinance should be denied to children whose parents were non-communicants; though why these unsprinkled babes should be onsigned hereafter to the fiery fate decreed to them by the Westminster Confession, simply because their parents were not saints of the strict Presbyterian pattern, the reverend gentleman did not deem it necessary to say. Dr. Fullerton also thought that parents soliciting baptism for their children should be required to give evidence of their own regenerate condition. He eared, however, that anything like compulsory action on the part of the Church in the matter would often be sturdily resisted, and, in all probability, result. in numerous secessions from the Presbyterian fold. So, too, thought he Rev. A. Thomson, who—fairly letting the cat out of the bag—contended hat the Kirk ought not to be outdone by any Church in the matter of beating up scholars for its Sunday Schools. This we may readily admit; but is it not astonishing, and pitiable as astonishing, that a conclave of reverend others should, in their united effort to take thought for the religious culture page 291 of the rising generation, entirely lose sight of that religious influence of the Home Circle, from which the holiest results—"the eager outlook into life, deep in its early flush of glory; the opening awe, the thrilling touch of things invisible; the dawning perception of the divineness of truth, and nearness of the living God"—may, under true parental guidance, be expected to spring? To ourselves—and we say it dispassionately—the Sunday-school system, considered as a means for unfolding the religious instincts of childhood, is something more than a failure. It has no doubt shown itself fully equal to the manufacture of multitudes of little saints and sectaries of the several ecclesiastical patterns; but the Churches that organise and carry on Sunday Schools expressly for this purpose have yet to learn that the mind of a child, in being crammed with scraps of catechism, scripture and dogma, is cruelly robbed of its power to rise to the regions of a holy and elevating faith.

Though rigidly orthodox on other religious questions, Lord Shaftesbury, we are glad to see, has resolved to stand aloof from the extravagancies of Sabbatarianism. Unlike Dr. Cairns and the rest of the good people in Melbourne who, if they could, would remorselessly deprive the working man's one day out of seven of all its attractions, he regards Sunday as an occasion for "physical and mental recreation," for "social intercourse and innocent enjoyments," and wishes for no more agreeable spectacle on Sunday afternoon than that of the working man and his family disporting themselves under the open canopy of heaven. Dr. Cairns, again, at the late Sabbatarian demonstration in Melbourne, could name no better reason for the observance of Sunday as a day of rest than the creation of the world in six days, and the Divine Artificer's cessation from labour on the seventh day. Lord Shaftesbury, however, wisely eschewing all such intolerable nonsense, remarks: "Those who are engaged in works of toil, whether it be of the brain or of the hand, call out for repose, and if it be said that rest is necessary for the human mind and the human body, I ask you if ever there was a period in the history of the world, in the history of this nation, when it was more necessary than at the present moment? Is it not an observation of every one that we are living with immense rapidity? Is it not an observation of every one that we are crowding into a year the events of a century? Is it not an observation of every one that the mad competition of trade keeps every one upon tenter hooks, keeps every one in the furnace, keeps every one in such a state of excitement that the nervous system is shaken? Everybody knows that in the days in which we live the moral system, the intellectual system, is more greatly disturbed than ever, owing to the wild competition in every department of trade and art in which men's minds are busily engaged." Seldom, if ever, have we seen the argument for the religious and political observance of the Christian Sunday, apart from all speculations as to its divine origin and authority, more irrefutably stated.