The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
A warning, in the shape of "Urgent Appeals to the Unsaved to flee from the wrath to come and lay hold on eternal life, "by the Rev. G. Sutherland, of Dunedin, has reached us, and appears, if only for the sake of putting those into whose hands this book may fall upon their guard, to demand a word or two of comment. The author has a fair notion of his position and responsibilities as a Christian minister in "these southern regions," which he would fain see pervaded by "the pure religion of heaven . . . . . a religion of principle, heart and life," and weaned from "the world with its gigantic grasp of wealth on the one hand, and of pleasure on the other." Had we nothing, indeed, but his Preface, from which we quote, to draw conclusions from, we should say that Mr. Sutherland was decidedly above the ordinary run of preachers in his conception of the scope, and his estimate of the capabilities, of the pastoral office; and further, that the members of his congregation were fortunate in being tended by a shepherd entertaining so sensible a view of "the pure religion of heaven" as to bring it within the region of moral principles, and the faithful, disinterested discharge of duties which confront us in Time instead of confounding it with the profession of certain dogmatic beliefs, stimulated by rapturous anticipations of joys that may or may not be in store for us in Eternity. On turning, however, from our author's prefatory observations to the "Appeals" themselves, the reader is at once translated to a theological atmosphere which, to any but the rigidly orthodox, must appear stifling and even pestilent. Mr. Sutherland's Christianity, in truth, is of the lowest conceivable type, and would, as it appears to us, be much more consistently professed by a worshipper of Odin or Juggernaut than by a disciple of Him who preached the Sermon on the Mount and propounded the parable of the Prodigal Son. He conceives of man as a naturally depraved and miserable wretch whose only chance of deliverance from the wrath of God and an eternity of suffering, is in his grovelling reliance on the blood of Christ as the divinely-appointed sacrifice for the sins of mankind; of God, as a stern, inexorable autocrat offering salvation to men on terms which, if rejected, will involve them in the ever-accumulating terrors of his vengeance; and as for the Universe, Mr. Sutherland can only regard it as a sort of stage whereon the great drama of Paradise Lost and Regained is being played out to its denouement of a general conflagration and a final division of souls between the Lord of Heaven and his rival of the Bottomless Pit. On these lurid and exciting topics the reverend gentleman evidently loves to dwell, and that, too, with a repulsiveness of illustration and a glibness of phraseology which are unspeakably painful to more refined spiritual tastes. Truth to say, there is hardly one of the 260 pages over which the page 107 "Appeals" extend, that is not blotched by a blasphemy or blurred by a threat of hell-fire. In one place the Deity is compared to a cunning and bloodthirsty leopard; in another, to a furious bear anxious to "rend the caul" of the sinner's heart; in another, to a devouring lion; and in another he is described as driving sinners into hell while the devil drags them on before. We are willing to believe that Mr. Sutherland is not unaccustomed to speak to his people of the Almighty as a God of love whose goodness and mercy are over all his works, but how conceptions of this order are to be reconciled with such delineations of the Supreme Being as we are about to quote, confounds our sense of consistency.
"God says that he will fear; that he will rend; that he will devour. These expressions surely have some meaning. Must we not interpret them as indicating that God will handle his foes with great wrath and determined energy? The time for reasoning, expostulation and entreaty is now over; mercy and forbearance give place to justice, and God suffers the full consciousness of the sinner's guilt and peril to burst upon him. Agony the most intense now seizes him. His soul is torn with anguish. Conscience stirs the fires of imagination, and the most terrific pictures of interminable woe are held up before him. Every feature is distorted, every faculty distracted, and above the loudest waillings of despair rise unceasing self-criminations. This heart-rending is not the bare effect of the full realisation of guilt before God, but is also the result of the positive curse of God, a spiritual infliction which terribly lacerates the soul. Pronounced accursed, he is driven from the presence of the Lord, and violently thrust down to hell. There the flames of perdition surround him—they consume him—they everlastingly feed upon him. Thus our God, who is a consuming fire, devours his enemies. O is it not a fearful thing to fall unpardoned, unholy, hell-deserving into the hands of the living God."
Undoubtedly, at least if we are to think of the Almighty as the savage and remorseless fiend which the debauched imagination of the author of "Urgent Appeals" has here pourtrayed him. In nowise reluctant, however, to finish his picture of the final judgment Mr. Sutherland is, it seems, in a position to inform us that to the sinner thus sentenced
"The infernal hosts will afford neither help nor sympathy. On them, as accursed, the same resistless stroke shall fall, and notwithstanding their great superiority in might, they sink to the same depths of perdition as their deluded victims of Adam's race. The heavenly hosts will proffer neither counsel nor support. On the contrary, they will be actively employed in the punishment of the wicked. Whither will the condemned turn? The fires of vengeance rage ail around. One avenue is open—it is the descent into hell. Down this burning passage the lost soul is hurried, and the smoke of the pit hides from our view the unutterable horrors which now overwhelm him."
Our author, again, in his zeal for genuine orthodoxy, is careful to disclaim connection with those namby-pamby Christians who, "carried away by mistaken and partial views of the divine character, deny a place of future punishment." To trace the hell of the false and ungodly soul to the stings of conscience, which, with the shuffling off of this mortal coil, and the translation of our spiritual consciousness to other and purer spheres page 108 of existence, may become indefinitely cutting, is, in his opinion, to trifle with God's revealed Word, and to set at naught its clearest affirmations. Hell, thinks Mr. Sutherland, to be worthy of the name, must be local and tangible; must have its material masses of flame wherewith to fasten and feed on the material bodies of the damned. He informs us that
"The body is a constituent part of the human person. Hence the human being is not complete in a disembodied state. Neither redemption nor damnation is perfect till after the resurrection. The body must go to share the bliss or woe of the soul. . . . . The torments of hell shall be so far material as to affect a material body. A fire there is, unquenchable, eternal, fitted to torture, but not consume—a fire so penetrating as to reach the inmost recesses of the soul, and throw its flaming folds around them, and yet so material as to feed upon the reformed material body. O horror of horrors! a human being, body and soul, enveloped in the unquenchable flames of Jehovah's wrath!"
But a truce to these blasphemies. We have devoted more of our space than was at first intended to Mr. Sutherland and these precious "Appeals" of his; but we have, at all events, fulfilled a duty in not allowing his execrable version of the Christian religion to be promulgated in "these southern regions" without a challenge and a protest. We hold his views of God, of man, and of the relation subsisting between the two, to be as false as they are abominable; and all the more so, as being propagated in the name of him whose pure and exalted religious philosophy was as far removed from the popular Christianity of modern times, as pole is from pole.