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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8



It neither disconcerts nor surprises us to find that the Free Religions Press has aroused the ire of its opponents and, in some quarters, the anxiety of its well-wishers, on the score of its aggressive and even iconoclastic attitude towards doctrines and institutions usually accounted sacred. So far, indeed, from wishing to correct this impression, we are prepared deliberately to endorse it. We have already specified the sort of work to which our Paper is dedicated, nor is it likely that we shall be turned aside from it by the outcries of the superstitious or the misgivings of the timid. It is our conviction that the stuff usually taught in the churches as Christianity is glaringly at variance both with the religion of Christ and with the highest and devoutest ultra-ecclesiastical thought of the hour. We are further persuaded that but for the despicable hypocrisy of people who, both by word and deed, make a show of believing what they do not believe, backed by the want of ability and sincerity in the clergy themselves, the present false and unwholesome condition of things would not exist for another day. Hence the severity and the vehemence, as some may think, of our hitting. Far be it from us—if only in the remembrance of the doubt and darkness which once beset our own path—to take pleasure in paining those who conscientiously accept doctrines—false though they be—with which may be entwined their tenderest memories of earth and their dearest hopes of heaven. Still, we do not feel ourselves called upon to respect, or to be tender with, any man's errors, when, by a plain, unvarnished statement of the truth, couched, as it may be, in strong and trenchant phraseology, there is every prospect of his sense of divine things being based on the rock of consciousness instead of the shifting sands of tradition. We have our case of weapons—rebuke, remonstrance, denunciation, ridicule, &c.—nor shall we scruple to use them, as the surgeon uses his knife to relieve by giving pain, as they are severally required. Orthodox Christians do not object to strong and cutting language when used against the heretical minority, but it must not, it seems, be used against themselves. Preachers of the stamp of Mr. Moreton are at liberty to gloat in their pulpits and at public meetings over the hell-torments of men who have rendered unquestionable service to humanity and passed to their account, and anathematise unbelievers to their heart's content; while page 90 the heterodox, in their allusions to the orthodox, are expected to be deferential and mealy-mouthed as may be. For ourselves, we shall say our say in our own fashion, and, for the rest, would ask our readers whenever our words fall heavy upon them, to diminish their weight, or try to do so, by loving truth more and their own opinions less.

Before proposing his amendment for the excision of the word Christian from the Preamble to the Unitarian Land Bill, Mr. John Campbell, as he himself probably now sees, should have taken the trouble to sound his colleagues of the Upper Chamber. Had he done so, his mean and narrow conception as to what constitutes a Christian would have escaped a somewhat undignified airing, involving the surrender of his amendment, amid a perfect volley of remonstrances, in deference to the unanimously-expressed conviction of legislative councillors that a division upon it would be much to their discredit. We can imagine Mr. Campbell's perplexity and annoyance at finding himself suddenly isolated from his compeers by his bigoted definition of the religion of Jesus. It may, however, be some consolation to him to reflect that his proposal to unchristianise Unitarians, had it been submitted to a religious instead of a legislative conclave—say to the members of an Anglican or Presbyterian Synod—would have encountered a very different reception, and, perhaps, been adopted nem. con. Assuredly a matter of the smallest consequence, so far as Unitarians are concerned, especially when we remember that, in the eyes of the majority of Christian professors, there is hardly a living thinker of eminence who is entitled to cross the periphery of their little circle, with its bristling chevaux de frise of absurd dogmas and vulgar cants. Clear, too, is it, beyond question, that but for the rational view of Christianity which Unitarians and others are enabled to submit to the consideration of those who are disposed to throw the whole thing overboard, the popular Christianity of our day would, by the aforesaid eminent thinkers, be emphatically disowned as the untenable superstition it undoubtedly is. So much for the gratitude of Mr. John Campbell and Co.

It is at all times gratifying to find a minister of religion standing forward as the advocate of a high-toned morality, as, for example, when the Bishop of Sydney secured the prominent mention of his name in the Legislative Chamber as that of an unflinching opponent, on moral and social grounds, of the Matrimonial Causes Bill. It strikes us, however, that there have been occasions on which Dr. Barker might have flung his episcopal influence into the scale of morality to far greater advantage than in opposing a measure to assimilate the law of this colony to that of England, especially as the proposed enactment was calculated to satisfy the Bishop's love of justice and of humanity by conferring upon the woman the same power and privileges with respect to the sacredness and inviolability of the marriage vow, which the law of England confers upon the man alone. When it is remembered that a notorious actress, for many years connected with the management of London theatres was, not long since, to be seen moving in select social circles, and that, still more recently, persons upon whom the gravest imputations have been openly cast have moved in the same circles—can this be said to be a state of society which could be deteriorated by the enactment of a measure page 91 such as the Upper House, much to its discredit, has temporarily quashed? All honour, at the same time, to those members who exhibited their honest appreciation of that justice to women which the proposed Act was calculated to confer, and to that member especially, who, though opposed to the Bill on religious grounds, averred that offenders against morality, whether sentenced by the law or not, should be punished, by the force of public opinion, with exclusion from all decent society. So long as gentlemen who, though known debauchees, are received into the domestic circle of persons of good repute, and allowed to occupy a position of quasi respectability, no episcopal or other protest can be too distinct in the way of reducing such persons to their proper social level The fact is, that as a community we are not, in the matter under consideration, nearly so exemplary as we might be. We may not, perhaps, be really more immoral than the people of other cities, but our numbers being limited, and our social defects comparatively well-known to each other, we cannot affect an ignorance which it might be possible and convenient to assume in a more extended sphere. Under these circumstances, the countenance shown by many to social defaulters gradually begets a familiarity with, and, perhaps, finally, a participation in, practices from which we should in the first instance have sternly recoiled. Public opinion can alone supply the requisite remedy; for whilst adulterers, liars and swindlers (known as such) can be received into decent society, mere episcopal protests in other directions, or the passing of the best Divorce measure, will do nothing for us. We have, at least, the right to demand that the men with whom we associate shall be honourable and truthful, and the women honest and virtuous; and, further, to insist that all known transgressors shall, in the recently outspoken words of a member of the Legislative Council, "be utterly excluded from all respectable society."

Mr. Irby, the antiritualist, is, it seems, disposed to rejoice with the Australian Churchman over the Sydney Morning Herald as "one of the best things we have in the colony." There can be no doubt of it, at least if the comfort and convenience of a community are in anywise enhanced by the publication of a cheap and well-printed chronicle of passing events. It has, however, often struck us that the Sydney Morning Herald is in one respect not a bit better than it should be; and the fault we complain of may, we think, be traced to the ecclesiastical atmosphere that is known to pervade its editorial chamber. In sending a copy of the first number of the Free Religious Press to the Herald, in common with the other newspapers of the colony, the most we expected was a short notice stating that such a Magazine had taken its place among the prints of Sydney. No such notice, however, was vouchsafed. But in reviewing Mr. Wilson's Songs and Poems a week or two later, the Herald, as if under obligation to say what it did not care to say openly, took occasion to inform its readers, that "here, as elsewhere, ephemeral literature" is occasionally produced, against which as mere "duckweed on the surface of a pool, having neither substance nor value," it was unnecessary to direct "the elaborate artillery of a microscopic criticism," with the view of clearing "such sorry stuff away." "Even when the spirit of colonial literature," says our Reviewer, "may be found resembling a deleterious extract from weeds of a ranker growth, it does not follow that it will be judicious to give the pre- page 92 cious decoction that emphatic condemnation it may seem to demand, lest the mischievous qualities of the preparation should become more widely known, and so should, possibly, prove to be more actively injurious." Exactly so. We can easily believe that a heavy bombardment of the little Press by the big Herald would have served us to the extent of a good many advertisements, but what we complain of is, that our contemporary, not content with shirking the awful responsibility of naming us by name, should yet, slily but pointedly, snub us as a "precious decoction" of the most deleterious and contaminating description. We wish and mean to be courteous to the Herald, but reciprocity of this feeling is quite out of the question so long as the leading journal assumes, as it notoriously does assume, a censorship in matters religious to which we are not at all disposed to bow. Not long since the Herald refused to insert an advertisement announcing that at a certain time and place the members of the Sydney Secular Society met for the discussion of social and religious questions; yet there is hardly an issue of the Herald which does not inform the more silly and superstitious of its readers where, and by what eminent Professor, they can have their "future revealed;" or the more rowdy and dissipated of its readers, where a "Free-and-Easy" is to be held; or some misguided girl, of the spot where at set times she may enjoy surreptitious interviews with some scapegrace of a lover; and so on. Surely there is some inconsistency about the insertion of these and similar advertisements and the refusal to advertise the meetings of the Sydney Secular Society, or to notice the advent of the Australian Free Religious Press. For ourselves, we mean to go-ahead, and, as we increase in popularity, the Herald may perhaps be tempted to recognise our respectability, and greet us with its "smile sardonic."

Religious tests having received notice to leave the schoolroom arc, it would appear, to be provided with an asylum in the kitchen. At a meeting recently held at the Central Police Court—a most improper place, by the way, for any display of sectarianism—Captain Scott proposed to form an institution where "girls between the ages of ten and twelve, belonging to all Protestant denominations, might be taught to read, write, cipher, sew, wash, iron and cook." A cynic would be inclined to say that the proceedings evinced quite as much selfishness as philanthropy; quite as much regard for the domestic convenience of mistresses as for the virtue and well-being of their servants; and a great deal more (implied) hatred of the Pope than love of Christ. Ministers of religion are perpetually groaning over the spread of Atheism among the masses; but is it to be wondered at that plain, straightforward men, not accustomed to profound reasoning, should, when they see the bigotry and intolerance of many of those ministers, turn their backs on them in disgust and cry out, How much happier the world would be without any religion at all?

A dispatch has recently been received from the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the subject of Official Oaths. Now we certainly do not object to the simplification of oaths, but we venture to go a little further, and should like some champion of things as they are to give a really sound reason why official oaths should not be simplified off the face of the Statute Book page 93 altogether. We do not lay much stress on the inconsistency of Christians repeatedly taking oaths in opposition to the express command of their Master to "Swear not at all," for this inconsistency is only one of a multitude of such which make European Christianity, A.D. 1870, little else than a burlesque of the principles and practice of Christ and the Apostles. What warranty, for example, is there in the New Testament for the enthronement of Christian Bishops at the rate of some thousands sterling per annum, with the title of "my lord" to boot; for deans and canons, for benefices sold in the market as valuable property, for many things in fact which would have astonished Paul the tent maker, or the fishermen Peter and John. But—to keep to the subject before us—what is the use of the oath of allegiance? Of all the numbers who swear allegiance, from the Member of Parliament down to the youngest lad, who, in going through this piece of antiquated formality, has to bite his lips and pinch himself to suppress a disposition to giggle, is there one who thereby feels himself at all more bound by an oath to keep the laws of the realm? Or is the carpenter, the butcher, or the baker absolved from allegiance because he takes no oath? We trow not. Does any one suppose that this or any other oath ever stood in the way of ambition or intrigue? Is not history strewn with broken vows? From the days of Harold who, upon the bones of the Saints, swore allegiance to William the Conqueror, and broke his oath at the first temptation, to the days of Napoleon III., who swore to guard the Constitution, which he deliberately swept away within three years, what bold designing man was ever kept under by an oath? It is probable that Cromwell and his com-patriots were just as sincere in their allegiance to Charles I. as Falkland and Wentworth; yet is there abundant room for rejoicing that no scruples about oaths hindered them from raising the standard of rebellion. It may be said, what harm is there in an oath? We cannot but think that mere formality in solemn things is always bad, and this swearing, regarded as a mere preliminary to official duties, is sure to degenerate into a mere form. Religion itself is with multitudes a mere form, a something to be reserved for Sundays; and, as the habit of formality spreads, what is to hinder honesty, morality and chastity from becoming mere formality also? Surely it is time for us to make an effort to sweep away these old and bedraggled remnants of antiquity and try to get back to something like honesty and simplicity of life and manners.

Among the items of intelligence brought by the last European mail, there is one which seems almost too good to be true. We refer to the movement for a new Translation of the Bible. We need not say that the cause of rational religion will have everything to gain and nothing to lose by such a revision of the Old and New Testaments. We shall, however, be much surprised if this proposal for a new authorised version of the Scriptures does not produce a marked effect upon the position of the Established Church of England. For what is the condition of that body at present? As regards the higher and more educated classes it is divided into three distinct sects—the High Church, rallying zealously round the Book of Common Prayer, especially the Liturgy and the Rubrics; the Low Church, whose stronghold is the Thirty-nine Articles; and the Broad Church, whose forte seems to be to treat the page 94 Bible as any other book, and religion itself as a normal product of human nature. But far beneath these turbulent waves of controversy, there are still depths where little light comes and no motion is felt. Here are found the majority of the rustic population and the shopkeeping class, whose religious faith—if faith it may be called—is a blind, unhesitating worship of the exact words of the English Bible. These are they who find a strange delight in its very words and phrases, upon whose minds no argument makes so powerful an impression as that "there is Scripture for it and who, on any sudden emergency, consider no guidance so trustworthy, no advice so worthy of adoption, as a suggestion derived from the first words presented to their eyes in a Bible opened at random. Now let us imagine the effect upon these superstitious devotees, of having a new Bible put into their hands, with some of their well-known texts entirely changed, or at least presented in a new and strange dress. Take, for example, the oft-quoted passage from Job, "I know that my Redeemer liveth," &c.—words which are solemnly recited by every Anglican clergyman as he precedes a corpse to the grave, and which have been indelibly impressed on the memories of thousands by Handel's exquisite melody. If our new Bible is to be anything but a delusion, the admission must be made that these words have no reference whatever to a "Redeemer" in the ecclesiastical sense; that, in fact, the passage, as it stands in the authorised version, is both mistranslated and misunderstood. Again, what hair-raising sermons have been preached from the text, "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned." Yet this passage must either be omitted in a revised Translation, or, at, least, marked as of very doubtful authority. There is also the story of the woman taken in adultery, which has more than once turned up in the recent debates on the Matrimonial Causes Bill; but this, too, must either be cancelled or marked as doubtful. So, too, with the spurious passage (I John v. 7) for which there is no authority whatever, but which, nevertheless, we have heard deliberately adduced in a leading church in Sydney as a clear proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. Now, when the uneducated and the half-educated find these and other familiar phrases omitted, or altered, or branded as equivocal, will they not consider themselves to have been hitherto egregiously deceived, and that too in regard to the object of their most implicit devotion? And will not their astonishment when they are once awakened to the truth be just in proportion to the depth of their slumber? We expect it will. Yet it must come. Old Bible or New Bible, the people are learning now to read for themselves, so that between the popular desire for "more light," and the clerical yearning for more darkness, or for a "dim religious light" at most, we do not think that the position of the thorough-going partisans of the Anglican Establishment is just now at all auspicious or strong.

The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible. A newspaper scribe who enjoys the privilege, now and then, of finding himself and followers up to their necks in the ditch, has recently been jubilant over the superiority of his deglutitionary powers, and pours no small amount of contempt on Unitarians because their capacity for swallowing fiction is decidedly less than his own. He believes, without difficulty, the story of the snake that talked and reasoned so effectually as to lead to Adam and Eve being page 95 expelled from Paradise. The liberties taken by Joshua with the sun and solar system he has carefully stowed away in the repertory of his credibles; and he can out-whale the whale himself by swallowing the account of his swallowing Jonah. The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible is the war-cry of this belligerent, and we surely must have been at his elbow the other day when he offered a deposit at the Bank. Handing a slip, accompanied with a purse, to the receiving teller, he requested that the contents might be placed to his credit. The clerk then began counting the coin, returning one every now and then with the remark that it was bad. "Oh!" said the depositor, "I don't do business that way. All or none is my principle. The purse, the whole purse, and nothing but the purse is my system; and if you will not take all, you will take none." The clerk stared, as well he might, and returned the deposit, his astonishment exploding, as the applicant reached the door and became invisible, with the exclamation, "Why, the man is quite a fool!" Now, for ourselves, we follow, in matters religious, the teller's practice at the Bank. We gladly receive theological coin of the genuine metal and right ring, and accept it as one of God's choicest mercies; but the base article we reject even if offered by the tallest archangel that ever blew a trumpet, and nail it to the counter of the Free Religious Press as a warning to dealers in the contraband and fictitious.

"I am very glad," said the Bishop of Sydney, in the course of his address of welcome to the new Bishop of Bathurst, "to think that the hour has arrived when the torch of Divine Truth may be passed over by me to younger hands;" and, with all due respect for his lordship, and best wishes for his increasing happiness and usefulness, we must say that we share his satisfaction in the matter of his contemplated retirement from active episcopal duty. It is quite true, as he observes, that the Church has arrived at a very important era of its history; and it is for this very reason that Society stands in pressing need of religious teachers both morally and intellectually qualified to deal with the religious crisis through which our Christianity is now passing. That the reverend gentlemen who assembled in Phillip Street the other day are in nowise qualified for this great work is clear both from their address to the new Bishop and from the accompanying speech of the Metropolitan. Bishop Barker welcomes Bishop Marsden, "who has come to take the overseership of the flock of Christ in the Bathurst district, . . . having been consecrated in Westminster Abbey to this high and important office by several bishops of the Church of England." And what of that, pray? We are quite aware that consecration in the old Abbey is reckoned an essential feature of the noli episcopari ceremony; but does any one in his senses suppose that this consecration can add to a man's moral or intellectual attainments, or even to his efficiency as an overseer of souls? The Bishop, again, is careful to let us know that at Dr. Marsden's consecration several bishops were in attendance. How many, we are not informed; but the statement is at all events suggestive of a curious rule-of-three sum, the fourth term of which refers to the number of mitres that would be required to consecrate, adequately and efficiently, a Ralph Waldo Emerson, or a John Stuart Mill. "We hail in you"—we are now quoting from the address—"another chief pastor, to preside over a new Australian diocese, in which Christ's sheep are scattered abroad, too many of page 96 them at present without a shepherd, to lengthen the cords and strengthen the stakes of our beloved Church; to uphold the true faith, once, for all, delivered to the saints, and to carry the Gospel and its holy ordinances to the distant regions of the West, that souls may be saved, and a Divine Head glorified." Of the metaphysics of this passage, including the "cords," the "stakes," and the "glorified head," we say nothing. They are simply beyond us. We are quite sure, however, that it exhibits a blindness or an indifference to the religious aspects and yearnings of the age, and a callous determination to stick at all hazards to obsolete symbols of faith, which, at a time when the very existence of the Church is imperilled by the obtuseness of its accredited leaders, are pitiable and ominous enough. We wish we could look to the new Australian Bishop of Bathurst as the inaugurator of a better order of things. But he, too, comes among us "as an overseer of Christ's sheep in the Western districts, many of whom are without either fold or shepherd," there to labour in "the Lord's vineyard" and "win souls for Christ." We wish we could rejoice in the prospect of the Church in this and other parts of the world being speedily blessed with guides and teachers consecrated by genius, earnestness, and a stalwart, upstanding piety, to the task of making manlier men and more womanly women of us, and to the release of our souls from the bondage of false and unlovely creeds. This consummation may be nearer than we think. We, at all events, wish these would-be pastors of ours to know that we are not the sheep they take us to be, or, if they will treat us as such, that we shall ere long peremptorily discharge our incompetent or faithless overseers and adjourn to fatter and more wholesome pastures.