The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
Castlemaine: Victoria.—We note with unfeigned satisfaction that Mr. G. C. Leech, barrister, of Castlemaine, has entered the field of usefulness as an earnest and scholarly advocate of free thought and unfettered speech on all matters pertaining to religion, and is doing a work in his district which has already borne handsome fruit. It will interest our readers to know that Mr. Leech conducts a religious service every Sunday evening in the Castlemaine Mechanics' Institute, and that the thoughts he utters on these occasions are usually reproduced in the columns of the Castlemaine Representative. From Mr. Leech's lecture of May 15, as reported in that journal, we gladly subjoin an extract or two.page 146
"Long before Abraham left his father's home in Ur of the Chaldees under a strong conviction that there was no hope for his posterity retaining their faith entire in a land of idolatrous tribes, there were men who had exalted notions of a Supreme Almighty Omnipresent Being who is without variableness or shadow of turning; who is above passions of all kinds; too good to err, and too perfect to repent. But among the polytheistic multitudes, these few were lost, and their more correct ideas were carried away in the flood of superstition and error. The God of the Hebrews was the purest representation of divine perfection in those early times, but in that representation there was a great amount of human weakness and even folly. The great law, which seemed inevitable, came to pass, that wherever man made a god he invested that god with his own attributes. The god of the Hebrews was a Majestic Being, but we cannot avoid the momentous conclusion that the All Perfect God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, whom we believe to be without variableness or shadow of turning, who is above all wrath and jealousy, was not depicted by the Hebrews, although their representation approached more nearly to divine perfection than that of any other people. I speak not of the opening pages of Genesis, where, if we accept literally the story of the fall of man, and do not take it in its allegorical and historical sense, but take it in the orthodox manner, we are led to the strange and startling conclusion that the Almighty Creator placed our first parents in the world pure indeed in the first instance, but with proclivities in their nature to sin; that with a knowledge of those proclivities He placed them in temptation when He had a foreknowledge they would yield to that temptation, and drag not only themselves down to ruin but millions also of their posterity! That not only did He place our first parents in the scene of temptation, foreknowing they would yield to that temptation, but that He also knew and predestined a portion of Adam's posterity to be saved and a portion to be lost. This creed is taught and believed in by a large portion of the Protestant Church, and has, indeed, ever since the Great Reformation of Luther—the same theology in fact as was taught by Augustine of Hippo. The catechism of the Church of Scotland runs somewhat thus:—"That whereas all children were made liable to damnation, nevertheless, some were to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. "This was the Augustinian faith, and it is now the faith of the Church of Scotland, to a large extent of the Congregationalists, and, in a modified form, of the Anglican Church. I will not waste your time as reasonable and intelligent men by meeting such a proposition with argument. You must see at once that the almighty, wise and just God would not place his creatures in temptation, foreknowing that they would yield to that temptation, and by yielding be damned. I say that such a theory is God-dishonouring in the extreme, and the most horrid libel ever perpetrated on divine justice, for a God that could so act would not be a God but a fiend. Missionaries are sent into foreign lands to teach this doctrine. I am bold to say that in Africa, with all its darkness and superstition, or any other heathen land, there never was a more diabolical faith propagated. The Arminian creed is more merciful, for it tells us that all men may be saved, but it also tells us that God foreknows all things, and that many will be damned. So that a man without being consulted, or his consent being asked, is launched into this world with those inward proclivities which lead him to commit sin—we are told there is no good thing in him—and that God knows beforehand that he will yield to sin and be for ever lost . . . . . . . Now, I ask you, when you recoil from these and kindred ideas, to do so without being afraid to examine them by the light of reason. He not be afraid though there may be a shrug of the shoulder and a leer of the eye, marking you for a time as an outcast from Society. Do not be afraid for the truth must in the end prevail. Investigate, examine and judge for yourselves, and page 147 if you believe in the ideas and dogmas laid down by the orthodox party, in the name of God adhere and act up to them. But if not, act otherwise by the light God has given you. Do not be afraid to judge for yourselves, because a God has been set up in olden time, surrounded by inconsistent attributes, which attributes, though inconsistent with the true character of Divine perfection, have been rendered sacred by superstition and reverence. When Protestantism was preached in England, Henry the VIII. sent commissioners round to investigate certain statues and images, by which it was said several miracles had been effected. The devotees were in great trepidation lest some great calamity should befal them for the desecration of their images. There was in one place an image of the Virgin Mary, which it was alleged sometimes wept. By and by, when this was examined, it was found that a recess made in the head, and filled with water, was so cut that on a trembling motion being imparted to the figure, the water flowed in drops, and had the appearance of tears. Many were the like discoveries made. If you honestly investigate and determine for yourselves you will be wiser and better men, and in the name of everything that is honouring to God and man, I ask you which is the most likely to be true—that God intended all His creatures should eventually be happy, or that at the great winding-up of affairs a large proportion of screaming, shivering, helpless souls should be sent to everlasting damnation? Judge between the two, and may God guide you to choose the truth. Now, men and brethren, all things are intended to develope and advance—is religion alone to stand still? Many, many years ago, the Chaldean shepherd began to observe that the starry heavens were not one unalterable wall of spangled lights. He marked that some of the objects were planetary, and that the world itself did move. The solar system was developed, and then the more extended science of astronomy, as now understood, by which it is known that our earth, instead of being the centre of the universe, is only a poor unit in boundless space! So also has the art of healing advanced. At one time a broken limb could not be set or removed. When it advanced a stage the severed limb was thrust into hot pitch to prevent the patient bleeding to death. Now the patient is relieved of all pain by the use of anæsthetics, so that he arises from a painful operation as from a slightly disturbed slumber. The art of chemistry has made alike strides. Shall then the faith of barbarians of 500 years back satisfy our advanced intellects? It is true that God is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. But His creatures, who have kept His word, have not been the same. All the cruel restrictions in law have been removed. Men shrink from taking life, even for murder. Shall love and mercy move onward in all channels but one, and this the noblest of all—the River of God? I do not believe the religion of God will go backwards. I dare say that if Pharaoh had seen the cradle of Moses he would have laughed to scorn the idea that the being who occupied that cradle was destined to do such a mighty work. And the pagans of old never dreamed of wonders to be wrought by the religion of the Babe of Bethlehem."
Judging from these quotations, Mr. Leech's theological stand-point is much the same as our own. We at any rate hail him as a right valuable addition to the ranks of those who regard the intimations of reason and conscience as of incomparably higher authority than the commandments and traditions of men, and wish him our heartiest god-speed.
Sydney: New South Wales.—On Monday evening, April 4, the members of the Unitarian congregation in this city met in Macquarie Street Church for the annual election of officers and the transaction of other business. The Secretary, Mr. H. Gale, presented a hopeful report containing many indications of the Church's progress, and the Treasurer, page 148 Mr. W. Shaw, produced a favourable balance sheet. The President of the Congregation, Mr. A. M. àBeckett, in the course of his address, said :—"We know that many very well-meaning persons think our opinions (at least so far as they understand them) extremely shocking, and that they are perfectly sincere in the expression of their regret that we should adhere to them; such persons, however, should remember that these opinions, or rather convictions are, to us, truths, and that if we were to abandon or sacrifice them, we should truly be what we are often falsely called, infidels.
We freely admit that, in common with all other human beings, we may be in error, and we moreover know that our shortcomings are neither few nor small, but we can at least affirm that we have not yet sunk into so debased a condition as to forsake what we believe to be true and acceptable to our Heavenly Father, to embrace what we feel to be false, merely to secure the favour of men, who might forward our worldly position, and endorse our spurious respectability.
Modest as may seem this small pretension to righteousness, and vile as would be considered any who openly acted in opposition to it, it must be, I think, admitted that even this very obvious path of rectitude is by no means universally trodden. Let us, therefore, be steadfast to our convictions, and without ostentatiously parading, be prepared to assert and maintain them on all suitable occasions, endeavouring to let them have their full influence on our lives and actions. We may thus, perhaps, exert proportionately as great an influence for good as some other churches, many of whose most pious and thoughtful members are themselves often heard to complain, that the true spirit of Christianity is nearly extinguished by the empty forms and ceremonial practices by which it is surrounded and oppressed.
To follow the light that is within us on matters of religion, seems so palpable and inevitable a duty, that of all recorded miracles and strange incongruities of human action, nothing seems more inexplicable or incredible than that any intelligent being having a belief in the existence of a God and a life beyond the grave, should so disgrace his humanity, to say nothing of imperilling his soul, as to use any dissimulation on so solemn a subject as his relation to God and to Eternity."