The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
The Bible Society in Nubibus
The Bible Society in Nubibus.
Sir,—At the late meeting of the New South Wales Auxiliary Bible Society, the Rev. H. H. Gaud, in commenting on the enormous number of Bibles (the gross total being fifty-seven millions odd) which the Society had thrown into circulation, observed that he knew of no means of ascertaining the good that had been thus accomplished, but that eternity would doubtless disclose it. A suggestive confession, I must say. Does it not betray a suspicion in the minds of even the most orthodox religionists that the Bible after all is not the universal medicine it is generally assumed to be? Surely the next step will be to discover that civilisation should, in the natural order of things, precede Christianisation, or, at least, go hand-in-hand with it; and then, perhaps, the further discovery will be made that Christianity of the evangelical type is, in some respects, as much in need of purification from religious error as the heathen religions it at present so sedulously aims to supplant. Dr. Colenso's sceptical Zulu assuredly does not stand alone. The Hindoo thinks he may as well believe in his Trinity of Brahma, Vishnou and Seva as in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost of the Christian missionary. The Chinese thinks he may as well worship his ancestors as accept the doctrine of Incarnation or Adoration of Saints. The South Sea Islander with difficulty realises the difference between the worship of a stone and that of a crucifix or a piece of bread. Christians are too much in the habit of assuming that their own system is spotlessly pure and true, as that, of the savages they would convert is wholly corrupt and false; whereas the truth of the matter clearly is that Christianity itself is but one of many connected phases of the religious sentiment, all of which, though primarily and inherently good, are liable to suffer debasement. There is, at any rate, a fine catholicity of spirit in Max M¨llcr's observation, that we should sometimes "shut our eyes against many things which are revolting to us in the religion of the Chinese or the wild American, and try to discover, as well as we can, how even in these degraded forms of worship a spark of light is hidden somewhere—a spark which may lighten and warm the heart of the Gentiles, who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, and honour, and immortality."page 119
How, again, can Mr. Gaud expect thoughtful men to assist in promoting a scheme the upshot of which is after all so very problematical? Surely no statesman or man of business would think of hazarding his time, energy and means upon an enterprise a display of the fruit of which was dependent upon the disclosures of an unknown eternity. The Bible enthusiasts are alone required to do this; and, moreover, to shut their eyes to the fact that the Bible, through the false and irrational theories which men have held concerning it, has wrought incalculable mischief to mankind as well as incalculable good. The slave-holder takes his stand upon it; so does the persecutor; so does the witch-burner; so does the Sabbatarian. If eternity alone can disclose the good the Bible has accomplished, it is but too clear that time reveals no small amount of the mischief.
When will ecclesiastics recognise and give honorable publicity to the fact that the Bible is but one of many noble moral text-books which the great Secular Providence has placed at the service of mankind, and that over and above all these is a book—the Book of Nature—upon the pages of which the humblest as well as the highest find no difficulty in tracing the imprimatur of the Supreme? There may we contemplate his love—for he makes his rain to fall on the just and on the unjust: his equity—for retribution as surely follows the sinner as decay follows death: his truth—in the ever unfolding revelations of science: his power and wisdom—for the universe is full of them. When, in a word, shall we be delivered from the superstitions, ancient and modern, that so greviously oppress us, and introduced to the glorious liberty of "the religion of God without priests?"