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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8



Another testimony has been added to the essential and characteristic weakness of Protestantism, by the parliamentary and newspaper discussion that has recently taken place in Sydney on the question as to whether religion permits under any circumstances the severance of the marriage bond. The Roman Catholic, whose opinions on the subject are merely the echo of the decisions of his Church, affirms, naturally and consistently enough, that it does not. But the orthodox Protestant, who has neither the sacramental theory of marriage to fall back upon, nor the authority of his individual reason and conscience, but must go, with the Rev. Colin M'Culloch, to the Bible as "the only rule of faith and the sole judge of controversies," is precluded, by the conflicting character of the biblical testimony on the subject of divorce, from consistently arriving at any conclusion at all. We know that the crude and, in many respects, barbarous legislation of Moses allowed a man to "put away his wife" on absurdly insufficient grounds; and we know also that the pure-hearted Jesus, shocked at the usage of his countrymen in this matter, affirmed that nothing would justify a man in putting away his wife but the one ground of her faithlessness. This we hold to be the true view of the divorce question so far as the woman is concerned; but those who accept the Bible as an absolute and unerring standard of truth for the settlement of all controversies, have, in addition to the opposition between the law of Moses and the law of Christ, other and graver difficulties to get over, and among them the fact that the Bible can be quoted (Cor. vii. 1, 7, 8) in disapproval of marriage itself, and (Num. xxxi. 18) in approval of adultery of the most revolting kind. Nothing can, in our opinion, be more absurd or futile than the popular Christian practice of consulting the sentiments and usages of a bygone age for light and guidance on moral and social questions with which, as springing from the exigencies of an existing civilisation, the thought and sagacity of the time are alone competent to deal. What, then, with regard to the question of divorce, are the facts that arrest our attention? Do we not find that in a very large per-centage of the marriages that take place, all considerations of personal fitness and mutual affection are persistently ignored in order to make room for the play of aims and motives which degrade page 250 what should be the most sacred and solemn act of life, to the level of an ordinary business speculation or something worse? Is it not a fact that crowds of girls are at the proper age transferred by their parents to the marriage market, where any man, any loafing scoundrel even, providing he move in the right circle and be of comely exterior, is at liberty to choose from the wares on sale? And can we wonder that marriages thus contracted should so frequently breed domestic misery and estrangement, and faithlessness to the marriage vow? We speak of a state of things which undeniably prevails, and which clearly necessitates a Divorce Court as a partial remedy for the evils engendered by it. New South Wales, we fear, is not, morally speaking, so much in advance of the old country, as to be able, advantageously, to dispense with such a Court, and although the Upper House may, as it probably will, see fit to reject Mr. Buchanan's Bill in its present form, we are persuaded that a wisely-framed divorce law—such as the Legislature will at no distant date find it necessary to pass—would, if judiciously administered, be conducive to the welfare of the community.

With regard to the now celebrated thirteenth clause of Mr. Buchanan's Matrimonial Causes Bill, it does appear to us, after all that has been said in favour of and against it, to involve a step in legislation, the advisability of which may be questioned on both moral and social grounds. The moral culpability of the married adulterer or adulteress is, of course, admitted; but if, in estimating criminal acts, we are to take into consideration the circumstances which tend to their commission, and the results to which they lead, there can, we think, be little doubt that faithlessness on the part of a wife towards her husband is a much greater offence than faithlessness on the part of a husband towards his wife. There is great force, as it seems to us, in the statement by an able contributor to the Herald on this subject, that our social system, which (especially during temporary separations) surrounds the man with temptations, and the woman with safeguards, makes the offence of adultery very different in their respective cases. In view, therefore, of the difference in the physical constitution of the sexes, of the greater demoralising effect of an adulteress in the family or the community than an adulterer, and of the fact that a woman, when she does fall, falls lower than a man, in that her descent is from a higher moral elevation, it is difficult to understand the approval which has been extended to a proposed enactment which, if passed into law, would, we are persuaded, do no good, and, possibly, a deal of harm. It is contended that a woman should, as a matter of justice, be empowered to disconnect herself, if she so please, from her faithless husband. Yet we are told in the same breath, that women do not wish to be thus empowered, and that were they so, not one in a thousand would seek relief from the measure which would thus be rendered practically inoperative. Does not this poor apology for the thirteenth clause, moreover, imply that a general acting upon it on the part of women might, as in our opinion it certainly would, be fraught with evil results both to the family circle and society at large? Circumstances there, of course, are under which the law—that of England, for example—should operate to the release of an ill-used and dishonoured woman from the man who has so falsely sworn to love and protect her; but any Legislature, should hesitate, we think, before rendering divorce a vinculo obtainable by a page 251 wife on the ground of a marital act which, according to Jesus, involves no greater responsibility than an impure desire. For if, as he teaches, to look upon a woman to lust after her is to commit adultery with her in the heart, how many of us who are ranked as models of social propriety would turn out, when tested by this severe standard, to be whited sepulchres full of something worse than dead men's bones!

Mr. Buchanan, in replying to the Rev. T. O'Reilly's biblical anti-divorce argument, expressed his astonishment that a divine of the reverend gentleman's standing, should exhibit so lamentable an ignorance of the obvious drift of certain texts adduced by him into the controversy. For ourselves, we are not astonished at it in the least. The glibness in quoting Scripture for which some preachers—the Rev. Thomas O'Reilly, for example—are so famous, is easily mistaken by the shallow-minded for a real acquaintance with the biblical writings; but all discerning persons see in it nothing more nor less than a trick which the preacher, when at his wits' end for something to say, is in the habit of resorting to with a view to the occupation, or, in plain words, to the wasting of time. The voice of the Rev. Thomas O'Reilly is by no means unfamiliar to our ears, and we should be concealing truth did we not say that his superficiality, as an interpreter of the Bible, is truly alarming. At this, all things considered, we cannot, as we have said, feel astonished; but we are astonished and amused too, at the reverend gentleman putting himself forward, in his controversy with Mr. Buchanan, as the friend and champion of the Protestant working man. That his teachings, and views of life and duty, are acceptable to an artisan here and there, we do not question; but that the Protestant working men of Sydney, taken as a class, would regard the amicable advances of a clergyman who, if he could, would deprive them of their weekly day of rest and recreative enjoyment, with other than feelings of distrust, we take the liberty of doubting. To read the newspaper or an instructive book on Sunday, or to invigorate the mind and limbs by a walk in the woods instead of going to church, is a sin, accordingly to Mr. O'Reilly, of no small magnitude. But the Protestant working man, accepting the anti-sabbatarian teaching of Jesus in preference to the irrational sabbatarianism of Mr. O'Reilly, does not think so, and will, therefore, hesitate, we think, before enlisting himself under the banner of a would-be champion, whose views, if carried into effect, would convert the working man's one day out of seven from a blessing to a curse.

It is with no common satisfaction that we chronicle the fact that Dr. Steel, the respected minister of St. Stephen's Church, has announced himself favourable to a revision of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. He admitted, in his recent lecture on this subject, that the Bible contains at least 1,500 inaccuracies—we suspect the number will be found nearer 15,000—of one sort and another, and that these, in justice both to the ordinary reader and the Revealed Word itself, should be expunged from our English version. In making these admissions, however, Dr. Steel earnestly deprecates a too ruthless manipulation of the Sacred Ark which has enshrined for centuries, and enshrines even now, the religious hopes and aspirations of Christendom. He is prepared for a "loving" revision of the text as it stands, by a comparison of it with such of the originals as are accessible to us, but not, it seems, for a page 252 new and searching translation of the originals themselves. The precise drift of this distinction it is, perhaps, not easy to see. If Dr. Steel, in drawing it, would plead for the retention of that charming Anglo-Saxon simplicity of language to which the authorised version is indebted for no small part of its hold upon the hearts of Englishmen, we cordially agree with him. We are quite sure that a translation of the Bible interspersed with long words of Greek and Latin derivation at the cost of the terse Saxonisms which place it within reach of the humblest intellects would secure the approval of no sect or party, and it is not likely, therefore, that any company of scholars appointed for the purpose, would take the responsibility of producing such a translation. But if Dr. Steel, in offering his plea for biblical revision, would limit the revisers to the rectification of a specified number (1,500) of inaccuracies, keeping out of sight the authorship and authenticity of the several books, the absurd and misleading doctrinal glosses contained in the chapter-headings, and the many passages in the Old Testament that are an offence to morality, we at once join issue with him, and say that any such revision would be scarcely worth the labour bestowed upon it. Those who, like Dr. Steel, are prepared to go "thus far and no farther," must not be surprised if they encounter inquirers who, in view of their advances, are strongly impressed with the Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. It is not an amended, Bible that thoughtful men are now-a-days asking for, but a Bible that shall be fairly and honourably adjusted to the religious thought of the age, and which the crucible of modern independent scholarship will soon be called upon to furnish. In offering our comments on Dr. Steel's lecture we take the opportunity of expressing our high admiration for him as a thorough Christian gentleman, whose usefulness in Sydney is only equalled by the modesty which invariably characterises his actions, and whose reluctance to hurt the feelings of the most sensitive unbeliever is so unlike the savage illiberality of some ministers of his own Church in Sydney that we could name. Some time, we suspect, will elapse before another Presbyterian minister announces himself in favour of biblical revision, and a much longer time before one will be found quoting with approval—as did Dr. Steel the other night—from the works of so dreadful a heretic as the late Theodore Parker.

That the foolish and, as it turns out, unfounded charges of the Protestant Standard against the management of the Sydney Infirmary should have involved a sub-committee of the directors of that institution in "days of searching and anxious inquiry," and the examination of more than thirty witnesses—should in fact, have raised so respectable a "storm in a tea-pot"—will doubtless inspire our unscrupulous contemporary with a sense of his powers as a literary dirt-flinger, and incite him to fresh achievements in the same line. As this precious specimen of a newspaper has no other purpose to serve, no other raison d' être, than the wholesale defamation of the religion of Roman Catholics—a religion at least as respectable as the Scotch Calvinism which Mr. Buckle justly speaks of as the most frightful superstition that has ever cursed our earth—and, with this object in view, never scruples to trace iniquity or mismanagement, wheresoever found, to Romish agency; it does surprise us that the Infirmary Commit fee should have so far parted with their wits as to page 253 attach the slightest importance to the Standard's charges against the institution under their control. Miss Osburn, though a professed Protestant, must, it seems, be a Romanist in her heart, because, forsooth, in her selection of assistants, she refuses to join the proprietors and abettors of the Standard in their venomous crusade against a class of religionists who, if some Protestants had their way, would be hounded from society as unworthy to earn an honest penny, and because, to the horror of these bibliolaters, she ordered certain shattered and vermin-abounding bibles to be burnt! Could bigotry and superstition go further? But putting religion out of sight, it may be worth the Committee's while to consider whether the efficiency of the Sydney Infirmary, from an undue attention on the part of its nursing staff to unimportant matters of detail, is not being damaged. We think—and we are not alone in our opinion—that it is.

We can believe that Miss Osburn's charge of "rebellion" against "Sister Annie," in that she refused, or consented only under protest, to worship God in accordance with hospital regulations, was just the sort of proceeding to put that prim and prudent aspirant to apostolic honours, the Rev. John Graham, who, as spiritual adviser to the under nurse, essayed to extricate her from the difficulty, in a bit of a fix. Unencumbered by the grave responsibilities pertaining to the head of a church stipending its minister at the rate of £ 1,000 per annum, any ordinary person would, if consulted on the matter, have seen, we think, at a glance, that Miss Osburn's conduct towards Miss Miller involved the assumption of an authority which, whether recognised by the Infirmary Committee or not, is clearly false in principle. The head of a nursing establishment, call herself by what high-sounding title she may, has no moral right to compel or to expect the members of her staff to attend divine service at all—still less any particular form of divine service; and Mr. Graham's action in the matter should, therefore, have been prompt and uncompromising. Believing, however, as he does, in the "beatitude of peace-making," and recognising, as he does, "the authority of a Book which declares that a meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price," the exemplary pastor of Pitt Street Church must needs counsel his client to exhibit her Christian meekness in submitting to an insolent infringement of her personal rights, at least until it might be convenient to him "to take the mind of the Board" on the subject. The "beatitude of peace-making" is fine enough in its way; but the "beatitude" of a clear and untroubled conscience, and, if needs be, of being "persecuted for righteousness' sake," though emanating from the same source, is clearly an obstacle in the path of that "meek and quiet" disciple of Jesus—John Graham, the peace-maker! How pleasant, too, to know that we have a mind among us which, modestly shrinking from the noise and glare of the thunder and lightening, can discern, "grandeur as well as beneficence in the noiseless action of sunshine, dew, gravitation" and—soft soap!

The seizure of an unlicensed still on the premises of a reputedly respectable mercantile firm would scarcely call for comment in this journal but that rumour will have it that the establishment of Messrs. Thame and Walker is by no means the only one in Sydney where illicit distillation and other such page 254 dishonourable trade practices have been carried on. We do not question—we on the contrary rejoice to believe—that there are tradesmen and merchants among us, whose business transactions are as free from trickery, as their consciences are from reproach, and who, sooner than stoop to acts unworthy of their manhood, would calmly encounter the most depressing contingencies of the mercantile calling, including poverty itself. The fact, however, is at least as unquestionable that Sydney, like other cities, abounds with men in whom the sense of honour has been extinguished by the lust of gain, and for whom, accordingly, no transaction can be too nefarious, providing it turn in money. No doubt these knaves have their view of the ends of human existence, and aim to compass them with a zeal and assiduity which, if turned upon legitimate undertakings, would do them boundless credit; but, alas! that their soul-destroying thirst for lucre should blind them to the fact that life without honour is only so much infamy, as its fraudulent successes are only so much irreparable loss. Disheartening, too, is it to reflect that the tricksters we speak of are but too often of the class who, for the accomplishment of their ends, make great pretensions to piety, and scandalise religion by using it as a cloak for their disreputable practices. These remarks are not aimed specially at Messrs. Thame and Walker, who are probably neither better nor worse than many Sydney tradesmen whose frailties have escaped ventilation at the Police Court. We do think, however, that the leading member of the firm, who has the reputation of being a smart business man, should have suppressed his whining regret at having fallen into a temptation which he probably never made an effort to resist. He might, too, while he was about it, have expressed regret at having led others into temptation—the still-worker, for example, by a lure of £5 per week; and who, for want of the bail which his employers had no difficulty in procuring for themselves, is now. shabbily enough, recruiting his spirits in the Darlinghurst limbo.

But there are illicit literary stills in operation, it seems, as well as those for the production of new rum. For, as we learn from a lengthy correspondence in the Dunedin Evening Star, the Rev. Robert Scrimgeour, Presbyterian Minister of that city, has been detected in the publication of a long passage from Professor Ferrier's "Institutes of Metaphysics" as his own. Mr. Scrimgeour's self-exculpatory explanation is, that in sending his communication to press he forgot to insert the inverted commas. we agree, however, with Mr. Robert Stout, the reverend gentleman's chief antagonist, that his defence, all the circumstances of the case being taken into consideration, is at least open to suspicion; and that it would have looked much better, and have been deemed more satisfactory by his friends, had it taken the form of a frank and clear-the-breast-of-it confession that the temptations besetting us in this sublunary state of existence are sometimes too strong for even an ecclesiastic to resist. That illicit stills of the Scrimgeourean type are often worked with impunity over long periods of time, we have abundant grounds for believing. We at any rate know of two Presbyterian clergymen—one stationed in Sydney and the other in the Hunter district—who have exhibited an audacity in their literary plagiarisms which in the case of the one that was moved some time since to administer an "Antidote to Unitarianism" did not stick at appropriating almost word for word, and publishing as his own production, a page 255 sermon preached by the Rev. Mr. Melville, in his capacity of "Golden Lecturer," at the Church in Lincoln's Inn Fields. A fraud of some dimensions was suspected at the time, but the discovery of it came too late for prompt exposure. We counsel the divine in question to be more cautious in administering "antidotes" for the future, and to prepare them, if possible, from his own repertory of drugs.

In applying to the Rev. George Fairfowl Macarthur for a subscription in aid of the erection of a new Wesleyan Church, the Rev. Mr. Dash, of Parramatta, must indeed, have been amusingly ignorant of his man. That the honoured Principal of King's School is characteristically closefisted we by no means wish to insinuate. His benevolence on ordinary occasions may, for aught we can say to the contrary, be unexceptionable. Doubtless to one in want of bread he would be found offering something better than a stone; but it may be questioned whether so dogged and imperious a believer in priestly rights and apostolic succession as the Rev. G. F. Macarthur notoriously is, could treat an act of familiarity towards him on the part of an unauthorised teacher of religion as anything less than an insult. Instead, therefore, of privately informing Mr. Dash that he had nothing to give, it became a point of duty with Mr. Macarthur to caution all good churchmen, in a letter to the editor of the Cumberland Times, against "assisting a cause which is not only diametrically opposed to the teaching of their own Church, but also to the teaching of Holy Scripture," and to lecture nonconformists of every typo upon the sin of standing aloof from the one true Church of Christ. It would, we think, take a much cleverer man than Mr. Macarthur to defend these ridiculous assumptions without making a fool of himself, and we abstain, therefore, from dissecting the pompous rigmarole of ecclesiastical precedents and Latin quotations with which he attempts to bewilder his readers, and to deprive them of their common sense. Parramatta, however, in the person of Mr. W. L. Jones—-whose spirited utterance we have great pleasure in transferring to the pages of the Free Religious Press—is more than able to hold this high and mighty divine in check. "I feel it my duty," says Mr. Jones, "to vindicate truth against any violation of its sanctity. I claim this privilege not because I make any pretension to religion, for I profess to be nothing more or less than a good, upright and honourable man, which I consider of paramount importance, and I hold spiritual communion with none but my Maker, the Great Architect and Creator of the Universe; thus I repudiate all sectarian denominations, or, properly speaking, all ecclesiastical toll-bars on the high road to Heaven. I certainly was baptised and confirmed in the doctrines of the Church of England, until experience and mature age convinced me of its errors, and of the deception of its ministers. And moreover I find that, contrary to the injunctions of Christ, the religions of the present day are little more than gigantic systems of collecting money, for Christ exhorted his disciples to take neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in their purses, nor shoes on their feet, nor a second coat. I question very much if Mr. Macarthur, or any other minister, would have courage enough to humble himself so much as to ride on the colt of an ass as Christ did; on the contrary, they must have the gayest of buggies and carriages, and their associates the opulent and wealthy, or the êlite of the land, except on collecting occasions, instead of being page 256 with publicans and sinners, as Christ was, for the purpose of doing good." What a new "lesson for the day" have we here, if Mr. Macarthur and the preaching class generally would but "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it."

We have recently been much interested by two communications from very intelligent inquirers relative to Unitarianism—one from a Catholic priest, addressed to the Unitarian Herald; the other from a Sydney correspondent addressed to ourselves. Both correspondents seem to be under the impression that their position is antagonistic to Unitarianism; but this appears to us to be a mistake in both cases. Liberally suggestive of doubt and difficulty they doubtless are, but at the same time they indicate an undercurrent of thought so much in unison with our own, that we cannot deny ourselves the pleasure of ranging them with that portion of the church militant that is distinguished by the Unitarian standard. The Catholic priest, it is true, whilst enunciating pure Unitarianism, cannot avoid indicating a parting fondness for the old flame that assuredly he is about to abandon; but this will all be over so soon as he satisfies himself that he has had the felicity to form an acquaintance more worthy of his regard. "If," says the priest, "the Unitarian organisation can gladly and bond-fide open its membership to such persons as believe in a Supreme Being, holy, just and merciful: who governs us by general laws which he does not violate; one of those laws being that he aids with a special help the soul of whoever asks that grace. That these truths and the great principle of the excellence of piety, justice, charity, self-restraint, moderation, generosity, fortitude, are certain to us through our consciousness, and through the almost universal consciousness of mankind; but that all these need to be brought out by training and to be encouraged and intensified by public and private teaching and by public and private acts of religious worship, &c., &c., it will afford a resting place for men who, profoundly religious, full of faith and earnestness, still are embarrassed by the difficulties of the historic religion." We certainly can see no reason why persons of this description should not find a resting place in the Unitarian ark, and with unfeigned pleasure we extend to them the right hand of fellowship. We can cheerfully and unreservedly subscribe all that has been advanced, and with reference to both correspondents we may briefly say that the growing disposition to dissever truth from its ancient concomitant, State Church authority, has not been discouraged by Unitarianism. On the contrary, we are of opinion that the truth can speak for itself and needs not foreign aid for its vindication. It comes with its own credentials, and anyone of ordinary education and average intelligence may determine the merit of those credentials without the assistance of the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury. We accept the teachings of Jesus Christ: at the same time we do not hold even his teachings as above or beyond criticism. The Apostle Paul we hold in the highest estimation. As Isaiah amongst the prophets so was Paul amongst the apostles. A nobler heart than his never palpitated in a human breast, whilst his devotion and labour in the propagation of the truth are unparalleled : at the same time we are not blind to the fact that he is not at all times strictly accurate as a reasoner, and we cannot subscribe everything he advances merely because he is a great and good man, a genuine page 257 noble of nature. We hold the Bible to be the best of books, but we claim the privilege, notwithstanding, of deciding for ourselves as to its plenary inspiration. We believe in a future and better state of existence; but we may have arrived at the conclusion by a road that may not be deemed altogether orthodox. In a word, we are merely inquirers after the truth, like our correspondent., "W. 13.," and we can assure him that if he pursue his inquiries rationally and manfully, he will find that Unitarianism is equal to the solution of tougher doubts than any that he has given utterance to, and a sure road to the peace of God which passeth all understanding.