The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
The speeches at the recent annual meeting of the Bible Society were, with one notable exception, singularly free from those absurd attacks on science and scientific men with which theologians of the present day are so apt to make themselves ridiculous. Indeed, to those who seem to think that a spice of invective is essential to earnestness in the cause of the Bible they must read somewhat tame. Ample amends, however, were made by the Rev. G. H. Moreton for any superabundant meekness on the part of his brethren. That excellent divine looks with alarm upon the progress of infidelity in this city, and hints that a course of lectures on Inspiration might prove an effectual antidote—a suggestion which, we fear, his brother ministers are too shrewd to adopt. He has "but too much reason to fear that infidel works were very commonly disseminated amongst us—a species of literature which, under the pretence of providing for free religious inquiry, was actively spreading the gross, blasphemous and oft-refuted errors of Paine and other unbelievers—unhappy men who, in the other world, were doubtless now reaping the reward of their iniquity." Even Calvin himself would hardly venture in these days to burn a man alive for not believing in the Trinity; and his degenerate and halfhearted successors are now doomed to look on with impotent rage at the rapid emancipation of the human mind from the tyranny of priestcraft and superstition. "Lectures on Inspiration" and maledictions against unbelievers are sorry substitutes for the stake, the dungeon and the rack. What is to be done? We can only suggest to Mr. Moreton that, in accordance with a time-honoured device for the extinction of heresy, he should engage the common hangman to burn in front of his church, during the solemn tolling of the bell, a copy of the Free Religions Press. This plan would be quite as effectual for the suppression of free thought as any which Mr. Moreton is likely to devise, and it would certainly be more amusing. At all events no time should be lost, for the "Age of Reason" is rapidly approaching, when a sentence of future damnation by a Moreton upon a Huxley, or a Tyndall, or even a Paine, will be regarded by the indifferent as harmless theological buffoonery, and by the religious as impudent blasphemy. We have, of course, no intention of seriously remonstrating with a man who could utter such silly and atrocious sentiments as those we have quoted above; but we should page 58 like to put a question to some of the reverend gentlemen who were on the platform with him. Does it not occur to them that their characters as ministers of the Gospel are somewhat compromised by their recognition of one who openly sets at nought the teaching of his Divine Master and of that book which they were met specially to exalt? Why did not one of them cry out in the words of Christ, "Judge not, that ye be not judged?" or in the words of James, "Who art thou that judgest another?" or in the words of Paul, "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth." If some Voysey had stood up and thrown some doubt, say on the story of Jonah and the whale, or if he had impugned some barren or mischievous dogma, the whole colony would have rung with a prolonged clerical howl.
In Mr. Alexander Gordon—fitfully discharging those very heavy guns of his through the columns of the complacent Herald—the Council of Education has, to say the least of it, a right plucky antagonist. This gentleman has evidently nailed his colours to the mast and resolved to fight while there's a stick standing. In the Council's action nothing is good. From Dan to Beersheba all is barren. He has made up his mind that no system of Education can be worth anything which does not take cognisance of, and provide for, the religious training (as he understands it) of the child; and as for reserving this religious training for the home circle or the Sunday-school, it is, reasons Mr. Gordon, as if you would give a child no salt six days of the week and an excess of it on the seventh—quite forgetting, in the ardour of attack and the supposed happiness of his illustration, that the flavour of devotion, like that of other luxuries, may be enhanced by less frequent indulgence. Enlarging on this sad deficiency of the existing system, Mr. Gordon goes on to affirm that "nine out of ten parents who value the religious training of their children cannot make use of the Public Schools." Our own impression is quite the other way. But conceding for the moment Mr. Gordon's assertion, the only inference we can arrive at is that certain parents will not accept a decided advantage because it is unaccompanied by some other advantage of a problematical character. Of course Mr. Gordon is at liberty to earn what laurels he may as the champion of these dissatisfied people, nor shall we further reflect on his gratuitous errantry than by advising him to brush up his logic and look out for worthier clients. Of one thing, at all events, Mr. Gordon ought by this time to feel well-assured—the secular education of the country is being well provided for. It is now for him to show us, briefly, distinctly, and with no misty phraseology, what may be his "adequate religious teaching," and how he would set about it, so as to embrace the religious affections of all classes, and unite them as firmly in one religious harmony and order as the Public Schools Act is uniting them in the great arena of science and intellect. Unless he can give us a measure equally comprehensive—a religious training that shall rouse our energies and engage our affections generally—so that while growing by the former teaching in knowledge, we grow by the latter teaching in virtue; unless he, or may be some other with larger grasp of mind and wider vision, do this, or something like it, it is folly (to use no harsher term) to be for ever carping at an existing benefit, and go peevishly maundering about some religious crotchet, page 59 Two little boys belonging to the Parramatta Roman Catholic Orphan School are convicted of unspeakably disgusting conduct at the dinner table, and receive—justly enough to our fancy, but to the great indignation, as it appears, of some people—a sound flogging. Suppose we substitute for these dirty urchins a pair of well-conducted lads who, for failing to work out the right answer to some problem in algebra to which they have honestly addressed themselves, should be placed by their teacher for a few seconds on a blazing fire! What a stir among the people would there be? What struggles to lynch the ruffianly teacher on his way to court? What an awful lecture from the judge in passing sentence? Yet, if the current creed of Christianity be true, a cruelty of this sort would be as nothing when compared with that of the God who is believed by the mass of Christians to consign good and upright men who, in the honest exercise of their reason are unable to believe as the Church would have them believe, to a pit of ever-lasting fire. How else are we to interpret the declaration which every decorous Churchman will make on Easter Sunday next: "He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity?" Does it not distinctly imply that exert ourselves as we may to solve this infallible mystery—or absurdity, which?—we must either arrive by some theological hocus-pocus at the Church's solution of it, or incur the displeasure of Heaven? There may be tenderness in the hearts of men for the dirtiest of little boys, and even for the blackest of mature sinners, but there can be no tenderness in the heart of God for honest sceptics who cannot thus think on abstruse doctrines which, by the confession of those who drew them up, are incomprehensible to the carnal mind, i.e., to common sense. We are fully aware that this repulsively blasphemous view of the conditions on which men are to escape the "wrath to come" are practically disowned in the common affairs of life. Heresy is no longer a bar to love and marriage between Catholics and Protestants, between a Baptist and a Unitarian. We conduct our business transactions and contract the closest friendships without a shadow of misgiving as to whether the faith of our fellow-creatures is or is not of the saving kind. It is, however, none the less true that the Church still keeps the dogma of Salvation by Belief in her armoury of ecclesiastical weapons, ready to the hand of the bigot as often as he wishes to make his theological assault. In a word, it means either something or nothing. If something, then that something is a horrible cruelty on the part of God which more than justifies the crudest persecutions on the part of man. If nothing, why do Churchmen stoop to the conventional hypocrisy of solemnly repeating at stated times the lying declaration that there is no salvation for men who refuse to make a show of believing what their consciences compel them to repudiate? We pause for a reply.
A Lecture was recently given at Newtown by the Rev. G. H. Holmes on "Some presumptive evidences of a Divine Revelation." If we are to trust the notice of it which appeared in the Herald on the following day, it took a theologico-metaphysical turn and abounded in startling aphorisms, so suggestive that it would be utterly impossible to do justice to more than one at a time. Let us take the following as a specimen. "Man," says the lecturer, "requires absolute certainty on religious matters; and this implies page 60 a revelation." Now, let us grant for the moment that the order of Nature is so capricious or malignant that the finger of God can only faintly be traced in it; let us assume that rival claims on the part of Mahomet, Zoroaster and Buddha have been satisfactorily disposed of, as well as all doubts about the authenticity and genuineness of any chapter or verse in the Bible. We now propose to apply a crucial test to the "certainty" theory. "Justification by faith only" is, according to the most orthodox Christian teachers, the sole condition of future happiness. Mr. Holmes will allow then that a more awful question than the following cannot be conceived: Is the doctrine of Justification by Faith true, or is it not? What docs Revelation say? The Apostle Paul unequivocally and with characteristic energy answers in the affirmative. (Romans iii. and iv. also Galatians iii. 16). He denies any merit in good works, and quotes the case of Abraham as an instance of a man justified by faith only. The Apostle James (ii. 14-26) vehemently opposes and almost ridicules Paul's views. He says that the man who upholds justification by faith only is a "vain man," and maintains that Paul's conclusions concerning the justification of Abraham were quite erroneous. Does not the trumpet here give a somewhat uncertain sound, and that too in the most momentous crisis of the battle? And have not the teachers of the Christian flock differed more and more widely in each succeeding epoch, from the days of Paul and James to those of Dr. Cumming and Pius the Ninth? Nay, let us glance for a moment at a single section of the Church, that in whose communion John Wesley lived and died. Dr. Temple, Dr. Pusey and Dr. MacNeile are all prominent members of it. They profess to hold the same doctrines, to believe the same creeds, and to offer up the same prayers every day. Surely we might here expect to find some certainty and unanimity. Yet, what is the fact? Dr. Pusey says in effect that the elevation of Dr. Temple to the See of Exeter is the admission of a wolf into Christ's fold; while Dr. MacNeile asserts that both Dr. Pusey and Dr. Temple are lepers; the former being the worse leper of the two, for he has a sound spot (hatred of rationalism) and may therefore deceive the unwary, while Dr. Temple being leprous all over, can impose upon no one. So much for the certainty we are likely to obtain from Revelation and its orthodox expositors.
"Cast-off Clothes for Australia!" We observed some time since an advertisement thus headed in a London newspaper, and were not a little amused at the idea of a consignment of old clothes from London, swarming with its tens of thousands of squalid paupers, to Australia, where such quantities of used-up wool and cotton are allowed to rot. An anomalous proceeding, it will be admitted; but not more so than that of the Australian statesman who obstinately clings to his old-world prejudices, though cognisant of the fact that Englishmen of the progressive stamp are resolutely casting them to the winds. Surely the spectacle of our old friend, the Flying Pieman, perambulating Sydney streets in the faded glories of a Belgravian livery suit, and beneath a gorgeously-craped hat, is hardly less absurd than that of legislators striving to force notions upon Society—as was the case in the New South Wales Upper House on occasion of the second reading of the Cemeteries' Bill—which are plainly opposed to the spirit of the time. For ourselves, we care page 61 little for the petty details of this Bill, and take our stand upon the general principle that our pitiful distinctions Wesleyan and Baptist, Catholic and Protestant, Gentile and Jew, ought not to be carried to a place where such differences should be absorbed in the solemn consciousness that the Departed have gone to a sphere of existence where isms are quite unknown. Eighteen hundred years have elapsed since Paul told the Galatians that under Christianity "there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free," and sharply rebuked their punctilious observance of matters which were really of no consequence. Could the Apostle revisit our world, with what disgust—to select one out of our many stupidities—would he contemplate the ostentatious funeral show, the formal procession of melancholy cabs, the ghastly undertakerism, in a word, with which, clogging and disfiguring so simple an act as the burial of a kinsman or a friend, we convey our dead to the particular consecrated patch of soil which most strongly appeals to our sectarian proclivities. Just as if "the sod is not as holy before as it is after some miserable priest undertakes to mumble over it his benedictions. But the great evil of consecration is, that it is only another word for separation. It divides Christians; it outrages humanity; it falsifies scripture : 'The rich and the poor meet together in the grave; the Lord is the Maker of them all.' Yes, it answers, but he has not made them all Churchmen; so they shall not all lie down in the dust together. The rich and the poor may meet; but not the Churchman and the Dissenter. Can that institution be called either National or Christian which thus causes the intolerance of its distinctions and divisions beyond the limits of our mortal being, and asserts them in the face of that great teacher of universal charity, Death? Is it worthy to be called a Church at all? In some, at least, of its doings, and this amongst them, it has more resemblance to a whited sepulchre."