The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
It is not denied that our criticisms on what is being said and done in ecclesiastical circles are frequently, as events will have it, but never, we hope, unjustly or even censoriously, reprimanding in tone. No such unpleasant necessity, however, awaits us with regard to the address recently delivered by the Rev. John G. Fraser, on assuming office as Chairman to the Congregational Union of New South Wales for the ensuing year. On the contrary, we have to thank Mr. Fraser for the fine catholicity of spirit which pervades his really admirable—we had almost said Channing-like—utterances; for his thoughtful appreciation of the religious demands and yearnings of the age; for his protest against subscription to articles of faith as a basis for church-fellowship; for his outspoken willingness to subserve the ecclesiastical to the moral with a view to the abolition of the sectarian divisions which have hitherto so sadly perplexed and embittered our human relationships; and for his generous and tolerant attitude towards those whom he speaks of—under misconception, we think—as "aiming to destroy Christianity." Mr. Fraser says :—"The conviction is gaining ground that subscription to elaborate creeds affords no real security for unity of belief." Again: "We are all more or less in danger of having Christianity driven out of our hearts by Churchism." And again : "We must be just as regards the excellencies of others, for Christian justice is the first step to brotherly love. . . . I do not hesitate to say that I value Congregationalism highly. I believe its great principle most thoroughly; but I say with all my heart, may the time soon come when the name of Congregationalism may be known no more, if it will hasten the time when men shall say no longer, 'See how Christians can hate each other,' but be able to say with truth once more,—'See how these Christians love.'" With Mr. Fraser's leading principle, which is fairly represented by the statements just quoted, our concurrence is, we need hardly say, both cordial and complete. We emphatically repudiate any and every form of Christianity which, taking its stand on some speciality of doctrine, would limit the range of its sympathies to those who believe, instead of owning its fellowship with the good and noble, irrespective of sect. The wonder is that Mr. Fraser should, in the latter part of his address, so lose sight of this principle as to page 282 treat a denial of the supernatural as a disqualification for the Christian name. He speaks of Rationalism, which he evidently identifies with a repudiation of the supernatural, as the "form of active and direct opposition to Christianity, now most prevalent," and traces it to "man's aversion to spiritual things . . . . . and his still greater aversion to submit himself to their power." What we are to understand by these vague generalities, it is hard to say. But Mr. Fraser must surely be aware that there are multitudes of devout men in the present day to whom the supernatural element of Christianity, as popularly taught, is an insuperable stumbling-block, but whose admiration for the person and work of Jesus is at the same time not less profound than his own. To propose to exclude such from the "Church of Christ" is surely to misread the sublime confession that "In every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him."
A clever advocate's rule of action is a thing proverbial. He will adroitly take this side or that side with equal aplomb, but, as old Trapbois would say, only for a proper consideration. If his religious sympathies are touched, and the doctrines of his church assailed by a side wind, his eloquence is wont to be something above par, and to present at times the nearest approach that may be to sincerity. But somehow or another we live in an age when facts, not opinions, are chiefly dwelt upon, and the however clever and spruce opponent of the Divorce Bill must see how he has given us little else beside a rechauffé of objections far more lucidly, and perhaps even more eloquently, expressed in the pages of our parliamentary Hansard. Still Mr. Dalley's speech is not without merit; and some of its points are especially remarkable, as, for example, where he compliments the venerable prelacy of the Church of England on their cordially uniting with the hierarchy of Rome in what he is pleased to style "conscientious obligations." We feel ourselves unable, not to say indisposed, to follow the honourable gentleman through the farrago of his speech—his onslaught on the current literature of the day, and his moral timidities; but would simply remind him of the celebrated Mrs. Partington, her broom and the Atlantic Ocean. We are given to understand that our worthy advocate is still "fancy free," and since he tells us he "left unsaid much that he would have desired to say," we may charitably suppose his best things would have come last, and so give him the benefit of the doubt. For ourselves the precedent of an old country's legislation has considerable weight. And we are not tempted to forego our opinions of the general advantage of a Divorce Bill though discountenanced by either Roman or Protestant. Church, and however inconspicuous, or even objectionable, the instrument by whom it has been submitted to Parliament.
Really his reverence of Melbourne is quite shocking. He talks of the dressing and undressing of young ladies at some recent confirmation at St. Kilda as he would speak of a female athlete, or some Spartan nudity. The white uniform of the confirmed, together with the absence of mantles and shawls, is too much for him. All this white robing is, so we are told, "a silly kind of symbolism." His reverence does not approve of symbolism except in his charges and addresses, when, by his peculiar method of handling his subject, it carries its own antidote in irrelievable dulness. The Bishop is well aware of the common practice in England of wearing white dresses and flowing veils page 283 during confirmation. He gives, however, no heed either to clime or circum-stance; but sic volo sic jubeo seems to be the motto, and the growth of true holiness is to be henceforth patent to the episcopal eye under modest merino or a homely gingham. This conduct of the prelate's in giving pain to another is unquestionably no part of that charity that thinketh no evil. It is nothing else than petty tyranny in its most oppressive form—rude to the sex of those whose girlish age and devotional approach should have taught him reverence; out of all taste in its implied reflection on the parents who sent them up or the teachers who had prepared them; and, lastly, not at all in conformity with that oath at consecration "to teach or maintain nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation but that which he shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the same." As for the authority by which Confirmation is administered, the less said about it the better. It does the recipient no harm, if it does him no good. No one need be confirmed in order to receive the communion, for all the glosses in the Church Catechism or elsewhere. And as for the imposition of hands in Confirmation, it is after all but an imposition of another kind which, however fondly clung to hitherto by the episcopate, has most assuredly its only basis cither on the laisser aller principle, on respectable prejudice, or on simple ignorance.
It will be remembered that our last number contained an article on Old Testament Morality, the main object of which was to show that the prevalent habit of regarding the whole of the Scriptures as moral and religious lessons sent by God is inconsistent with a belief in the benevolence of the Deity, with the teaching of Jesus, and with the dictates of our reason and conscience. Whether our view is right or wrong it is at all events in harmony with John's words—"the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Yet for this attempt to prove that the work of Christianity is sadly impeded by the shackles of Judaism, that singular paper, the Protestant Standard, denounces us in language as energetic, if not as sublime and poetical, as that of the prophets of old. Of argument, it is almost needless to say, our contemporary offers nothing. With the exception of some not very complimentary observations on the writer, whom he describes as a "blasphemer," an "infidel," and a "slogger," the notice consists of a number of quotations from our article, judiciously garbled, perhaps on Bishop Burnet's principle that "too much light is hurtful to weak eyes." We do not complain of attacks of this kind which will certainly serve rather than injure our cause, but we are totally at a loss to understand what objection—such as would satisfy a reasonable man—can be urged against the views we have put forward. For instance, the editor of the Standard is indignant at our assertion that Jehovah—the God whom we suppose he identifies with one of the persons of the Trinity—instigated the Jews to rob the Egyptians of their jewellery, and afterwards to slaughter the unoffending Canaanites. Now he either believes this, or he does not. If not, then he must admit that the Bible is unreliable as a history. If he does—be it so. But surely atheism is preferable to such a creed.
Some three months ago an event took place which has thrown all sound churchmen in England into a state of unprecedented consternation. Indignation meetings have been held, protests have been sent in to Convocation, page 284 dismayed priests have been rushing frantically into print, and all utter the same cry of anger, sorrow, shame, and despair. And what, it will be asked, is the occasion of all this godly hubbub? Have the clergy suddenly become alive to the scandals which disgrace their church—such as its chronic internal discord, its well-endowed sinecurism, its open and shameless trafficking in the cure of souls, or the shocking atheism of some of its deans and chapters, who previous to the election of a bishop pray for divine guidance in their choice, knowing well that it is Gladstone and not God whom they must and will obey? No—far worse than this : the ancient abbey of Westminster has been desecrated! To have buried within its precincts the Unitarian Charles Dickens was indeed a cruel blow, but there followed something yet more fearful. A living Unitarian, Dr. Vance Smith, one of the scholars appointed to revise the New Testament, has with his colleagues partaken of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper at its altar! To add to the agony of these champions of the "honour of their incarnate Lord" several of the bishops seem rather gratified than otherwise at this "insult to the redeemer and the Archbishop of Canterbury unmistakeably snubs them. True they have themselves admitted to the Eucharist some who illustrate a Christlike life mainly by contrast, but then salvation is by faith, not by works of the law, and that regular communicant, Lord Steyne, though loose in his morals, is a sound homoousian, whereas, this son of Belial, Dr. Smith, is a notorious homoiousian. A calamity like this is not to be repaired by ordinary means, so a writer in the Church Times proposes that a special service be held on a day appointed by the leading clergy of the Catholic party. "in reparation to the great dishonour done to the Blessed Sacrament in Westminster Abbey."......Or "perhaps in the present case," says the same writer, "a day of fasting and humiliation would be more suitable." For ourselves, we do not hesitate to say that the sacramental inauguration in Westminster Abbey of a purely literary work, was a clear indication that the Revisionists were, in at least one respect, unfitted for the task they were chosen to accomplish, and that Dr. G. V. Smith would have done himself great credit if instead of humbly accompanying the great ecclesiastics to Westminster Abbey to manipulate bread and wine prior to the splitting of Greek particles, he had stoutly pro-tested against the proceeding as wholly uncalled for.
We note with much pleasure that the Vicar and other clergy of Stratford-on-Avon have entered upon a vigorous crusade against that scandal of modern civilisation—that mockery of woe—the conventional funeral. "With a view," they say, "first to Christianise, secondly, to cheapen, our funerals, and to emancipate the poor, the rich, and those poorest of the poor, the respectable gentry of limited means, from the miserable thraldom of public opinion under which they groan, and to abolish that stringent undertakers' ritual which they seem powerless to shake off, the clergy of Stratford-on-Avon have adopted three measures which they hope will gradually effect a change for the better." These are, briefly, to do away with (1) expense and pomp of conveyance, (2) feasting in the house of the deceased, and (3) the burdensome and costly black appendages, and presents of gloves, scarfs, etc., to the officiating clergyman. What thinking being could fail to be horror-stricken on beholding for the first time the ghastly procession of mutes, plumes, and page 285 black carriages wending its way to the churchyard? What trace can be discovered in all this of Christian faith in the resurrection of the just? What even of real sorrow for the departed? It tells of little else than blank despair, or hypocrisy of the most revolting kind. The destroying angel will indeed seldom come without bringing sadness and sorrow, but to a sensitive mind the tyranny of the "funeral ritualists" invests death with many artificial horrors. It is a remarkable fact that the protest of the Stratford elergy was almost immediately followed by the publication of Charles Dickens' will, which contains the following passage bearing on the subject, and shewing that "unconsecrated intellect" may sympathise heartily with a genuine Christian work. "I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner. That no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial, that at the utmost three plain mourning coaches be employed, and that those who attend my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hatband, or other such revolting absurdity."
The readers of the Herald have recently been treated to an exhibition of theological child's-play in the form of letters upon that apparently exhaustless topic, the Beast of the Revelation. But the only impression such effusions are likely to leave on the mind of anyone who has the patience to wade through them is that the Apocalypse is a work of surpassing importance, given for our spiritual guidance, but that no two interpreters can agree with regard to its drift. Dr. Barry, for example, disgusted at the "sensational charlatanism" of the "uninspired prophets" who bewilder and delude the weak-minded by their "absurdities and contradictions purporting to be based on scripture," vigorously protests against identifying Louis Napoleon or any other modern celebrity with the "Beast" which the Seer of Patmos had in his mind's eye when, with the evils that had befallen his country as well as his faith pressing heavily upon his soul, he allegorically threatened Imperial Rome with the impending vengeance of insulted heaven. So far Dr. Barry is no doubt in the right. It strikes us, however, that his charge against Mr. Baxter and others of "tampering with Holy Writ" may fairly be turned on himself when, after scouting the notion that the Apocalypse contains allusions to Louis Napoleon, he naively attempts the quite as unaccomplishable feat of finding allusions to Jesus of Nazareth in the Old Testament. "His first coming," says Dr. Barry, "is the grand theme of the Old Testament." And again : "Our faith in the Messiah rests largely on the fulfilment of that which went before, of type, of vision, or of verbal promise—'to Him give all the prophets witness.'" Now we may presume Dr. Barry's faith in truth to be greater than even his faith in the Messiah, and, in the interest of truth, we, therefore, request him to name a "single Old Testament prediction," as Mr. W. R. Greg forcibly puts it, "clearly referring to Jesus Christ, intended by the utterers of it to relate to him, prefiguring his character and career, and manifestly fulfilled in his appearance on earth." This, we are persuaded, he cannot do, at least without a misrendering of the obvious import of language—without a "tampering with Holy Writ"—which, if resorted to in the case of any other book, would promptly be treated with the contempt it deserves. Another writer in the Herald, Presbyter Anglicanus, maintains that the Apocalypse foretells the destruction of Jerusalem, and page 286 when asked how this can be, seeing that the latter event, as Dr. Barry affirms, occurred more than twenty years anterior to the date of the Apocalypse, boldly maintains that St. John wrote his mysterious work in A.D. 67, and has the impudence to quote, in support of his assertion, Ewald, De Wette and L¨cke,—German critics who deny altogether the authenticity of the book! Presbyter Anglicanus might, we think, prove his case much more neatly in some such style as the following :—The Apocalypse clearly points to the overthrow of Jerusalem, and therefore must have been written before it; and the fulfilment of its predictions shortly afterwards affords a triumphant vindication of its prophetic character. Carnal men may not be convinced by this reasoning, which is by no means uncommon among divines, but they should remember that the symbol of orthodox logic is the circle.
In the course of his argument against the "day-year" theory of interpretation, Presbyter Anglicanus refers to a large number of prophecies which have beyond all doubt been already fulfilled. The following may be taken as a specimen :—"When God said, Ye shall wander in the wilderness forty years, he uttered a prophecy which, as every body knows, was literally fulfilled." Verified predictions of this kind are, it is said, so numerous that they ought to set at rest the question of the inspiration of the books in which they are contained. We doubt, however, whether our orthodox divines have ever brought forward as clear a case of prophecy fulfilled to the letter as some which were uttered by an old hermit in the ninth century. Thus in a divine trance this old recluse exclaims (see Thomson's Alfred) :
"In this Edward's time
That pod-like youth remark, his eldest hope
Who gives new lustre to the name he bears—
A hero ere a man. I see him now
On Cressy's glorious plain!
A captive king, the rival of his arms,
I see adorn his triumph!"
How literally this wonderful prophecy was fulfilled in the Black Prince everyone acquainted with the barest outlines of English history well knows. Again, the hermit tells us that a great queen shall arise who
... ..."Shall raise Britannia's naval power,
Shall greatly ravish from insulting Spain
The world-commanding sceptre of the deep."
With these examples before him who will dare to assert, that the gift of prophecy, as well as of working miracles, had died out in the dark ages, or that the author of the "Seasons" was not an inspired writer?
Since our last issue the Rev. Charles Clarke, of Melbourne, has on several occasions preached to large and approving audiences in Sydney, and we desire, in the remarks we are about to make, to do him justice. He is in truth a preacher of merit. His rhetorical powers are undoubtedly considerable. His vocalisation, though thin, is extremely musical, and his delivery, if occasionally marred by affectation, is always telling. He has a tolerably firm and comprehensive grasp of poetic imagery, and his command of apt and appropriate language happily exempts him from the trick—so common among ordinary preachers—of indiscriminately quoting from the Bible for want of something better to say. It may be that a bediamonded finger and an enormous bunch of charms suspended from the waistcoat button-hole—suit as they may the stage-actor or the street-dandy— page 287 are scarcely consistent with the office of the Christian preacher; but these little conceits may, in the case of Mr. Clarke, be overlooked on the score of his sensible repudiation of that time-honoured inanity—the white tie. As for his theology, it seems to be of the sort generally known in orthodox circles as "winning." His message or theme is not of the Eternal Wrath which relentlessly pursues the hardened sinner beyond the confines of this life into the unutterable terrors of the next, but of the Everlasting Love which tenderly yearns for the redemption of the erring, and has its one grief in the refusal of the sinner to avail himself of the proffered salvation. This sort of Christianity is, of course, incomparably superior to the hell-fire rant which unfortunately still forms the entire stock-in-trade of so many preachers, and is therefore calculated to do a deal of good. As preached, however, by Mr. Clarke, it is sadly weakened and vitiated by his inordinate Christ-worship. We are not forgetting that the Trinitarian theory involves the investment of Jesus with divine attributes and honours; but what we complain of is that with Mr. Clarke—to judge from the five or six sermons he preached in Sydney—it deifies Jesus to an extent, and in a manner, which seriously deflects the thoughts and affections of the worshipper from God himself as the proper object of adoration. The prayers we heard him offer up in Bathurst-street Chapel were addressed not to God through Jesus, as is usual in Trinitarian places of worship, but to Jesus directly, and with little if any allusion to God at all. Again, in his sermon delivered in the same Chapel, based on the words, "The Master is come, and calleth for thee," Mr. Clarke eloquently descanted upon Jesus as (1) our strength, (2) our insight, (3) our assurance, (4) our peace—as, in a word, our everything; but he had nothing to say—the deity, in fact, was not alluded to from end to end of his discourse—of the solemn and mysterious relationship subsisting between the spirit of man and the dread ineffable Spirit of the Universe which must be both understood and felt before worship can become a veritable communion with the Unseen, and a veritable preparation for the duties and responsibilities of life. Now, we cannot help thinking that many Trinitarian Christians will agree with us when we say that Christ-worship, when carried to this pitch, becomes a serious religious offence. For our own part, we go further and say that it involves an idolatrous substitution of the creature for the Creator—of the shadow of being for its substance.