The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
Castlemaine: Victoria.—At a meeting of the Universalists, held at the Criterion Hall, Castlemaine, on Wednesday, 1st June, 1870, the usual routine business having been disposed of, Mr. Leech said :—"Men and Brethren,—I some time since put into a short and concise form those truths which, at more length, I have been enunciating in my public discourses. This I did, not with the slightest intention of imposing upon others my own belief, but merely that you might have at hand a brief answer, when strangers inquired of you as to what was the nature of my teachings. I submit this form to you to-night, not for your adoption, but merely that you may decide whether it is advisable that it should be printed. Should you come to the conclusion that it would be well thus to deal with the paragraphs in question, it will by no means follow that your individual consciences will be held bound by them. Think not for a moment, I beseech of you, that they are intended as a Creed. No one will be asked to subscribe to them as a test of membership. All will be welcome who have a desire to love God with all their souls and their neighbours as themselves, for it is through these qualities, altogether irrespective of creed, or sect, or nation, that men will begin to enjoy eternal happiness. The moral precepts of all religions inculcate this truth in one form or another, indicating thus a common origin from the Universal and Beneficent Parent." He then read the subjoined statement:—"The following 'Declaration of Principles' is set forth as a general expression of the Teachings of the Universalist Body of Castlemaine, but they are to be interpreted as embodying the opinions of those only who individually accept them :—
First—That there is one God, the Infinite Father of all.
Second—That man, as the offspring of this Infinite Parent, is His highest representative on earth: that Jesus of Nazareth, having fully lived out the divine elements of our humanity, was the most complete embodiment of the Father's goodness which we can contemplate: that each man has, by virtue of God's parentage, within him, an element of divinity, which is ever prompting him to do right, and which will ultimately free him from all imperfections incident to the rudimental or earthly condition.
Third—That man, as a spirit, is immortal: that death is but the birth into page 179 another condition of life, where the soul retains its experiences of the past, and where development or progression is its endless destiny.
Fourth—That the spiritual world is not far off, but is near to, and encompasses us in our present existence.
Fifth—That he who loves the Infinite Father with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself, has begun to enjoy eternal happiness, whatever may be his race, or whatsoever kind may be his religious opinions.
Sixth—That what is called 'evil' is but the corruption of that which was originally good, the latter becoming perverted by our material nature not being sufficiently under the control and guidance of the soul.
Seventh—That the excessive yielding to the material nature is, for the most part, punished in this life, though the soul, after the physical change called 'death,' also suffers therefrom, but these sufferings are not eternal.
Eighth—That Divine inspiration, or the promptings to the human soul from the Infinite Parent, is not a miracle of past ages, but a perpetual fact.
Ninth—That the the Creator in the beginning made natural laws for the government of our world, and these laws have never since been varied, altered, or departed from."
After some discussion this Declaration of Principles was adopted.
Wellington: New Zealand.—A report has reached us of a speech delivered by Mr. J. E. Fitzgerald, on Monday, June 15th, at the opening of the new Presbyterian Sunday School in Willis Street. We gather from this speech that Mr. Fitzgerald is not a Presbyterian by profession, but it assuredly speaks well for the liberality and good sense of this section of the Christian Church in Wellington that they should have invited so advanced a religious thinker, as Mr. Fitzgerald evidently is, to address them on the occasion referred to. A short extract from his really admirable address is all that we can quote. "Formalism," he observed, "is not the only danger to the church of these times. There seems to me to be a spirit of superstition—a spirit of what I call fetish worship, in which all sections of the Christian community are too apt to indulge. I mean the worship of their own special dogmas, or particular forms of expressing and interpreting truth. If Galileo was compelled by the Papal Church to recant, as false, his great discoveries in the motions of the heavenly bodies, as heresy against the faith of the church, have I not seen many a good and pious man in these days set his face hard against the discoveries of modern science, because they seemed to disturb his own peculiar views of the meaning of revealed truth. Geology has had to fight its way against the superstition of the Protestant world, as astronomy of old had to struggle against the ecclesiastical authority of Rome. And now we see the same old spirit evoked to crush the researches in that new science which has made such marvellous strides in our day—I mean the science of philological criticism—a science closely akin to that of geology, because it evokes out of the ruins and relics of the dead and forgotten languages of former ages, evidences of the past history of mankind, just as geology elicits out of the crumbling rocks and broken stones, the physical history of the world which that man has inhabited. I ask not that we shall hastily or rashly accept the conclusions offered to us by modern criticism. I say not that so far as my humble powers extend—and very humble indeed they are—to understand such inquiries, I say not that I accept myself all the conclusions at which these critics have arrived. But I do claim—in the spirit and in the exercise of the same right for which our fathers fought and died at the Reformation, and which they have bequeathed to us—the right of private judgment and of free inquiry—I do claim that scientific research shall not be stifled by, or placed under ban by the lingering superstition of modern Protestantism, any more than by the senile anathemas of Rome. . . . . . . When I have seen how texts of Scripture, strangely misunderstood, have been wrenched from their context, and hurled at the head of approaching criticism, I sometimes feel as if there were a tendency on the part of Protestants to make a page 180 fetish, as it were, of the very Bible itself—and to bestow upon the human words and syllables—those mechanical contrivances which are after all only the vehicle of communicating the will of God to mankind—to bestow upon those mechanical contrivances that reverence which is only due to the truths which those words were intended to convey; a tendency, in one word, to worship the book itself more than the truths which it reveals, or the God who inspired it." Is there a Presbyterian church in Sydney where the foregoing utterances could receive a patient hearing? Hardly, we think.