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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 16

Part III

Part III.

I now go on to discuss what the Bishop implies in the opening paragraph of his pamphlet regarding the Bible itself, viz., that it is necessary for a Christian to believe every statement of it. The subject is one which should hardly have been dragged by the Bishop into a work which is professedly a logical discussion of a different matter: but, as it is there raised, I am surely quite right here in giving my views of it also. In fact the case absolutely demands this, as it is evidently owing to the strong views which the Bishop has on this subject, that he is induced to consider the idea that miracles are against reason, is a fallacious one.

Proceeding then, I find in the words of the author it is averred that, "those who believe in the Divine authority of the Bible accept all its statements": he maintains, therefore, that a belief in the Divine authority of the Bible is contingent on a belief in all its statements; consequently to disbelieve any state- page 32 ment of it is to disbelieve in the Divinity of the book. Now, I cannot avoid thinking that this statement, bearing as it does upon it the mark of a Bishop's high authority, will drive numbers of people to heresy; as a belief in all these statements is impossible to many, a great many, and so these will conclude from the Bishop's opinion, thus expressed, that they do not believe in the divinity of the work containing them; and then in the panic, bewilderment of mind and anger resulting, will throw the whole over. Thus scepticism will, unfortunately, be brought about by the very means taken to prevent it.

The statement is no doubt intended to enforce belief in miracles, but surely for so insignificant an object, it is not required. The object is defeated by the means taken to effect it. I venture here to infer that, had miracles been confined to heathen faiths, we should have his Lordship fighting not for them, as now, but against them; and had nobody been foolish enough to believe he had seen one, we should not have had this question raised at all, to the exclusion of more important ones; but, of course, we must pass through all the trials and phases of our progressive life.

On proceeding, I find the Bishop himself shows signs of uneasiness about these sweeping statements, shall I say in his own words, that he—"feels himself upon slippery ground;" but, any way, knowing it is a matter of notoriety that numerous errors have crept into the Bible, and are openly allowed by his party, to be so, he says "I do not mean to imply that errors have not through the carelessness of copyists, crept into ancient manuscripts," . . . . "The correction of these errors, or imaginary errors, must be left to scholars and learned men." I suppose it is allowed that "error" applies to statements, as any other application of it here is trivial, and does not set forth the case. Here page 33 then, a gentleman who wishes to save his soul is placed in a pretty pickle. The Bible is handed him with the injunction that he must believe all its statements, some being absolutely false, and as a false belief involves a disbelief in truth corresponding with it, he is set to disbelieve truth that he may believe in the divinity of the Bible and so save himself; or, he may have to run after a "scholar or learned man" to help him at those portions his sagacity has spotted for such a procedure. But as, I suppose, scholars differ as well as doctors, he might not get the rights of the thing then. Besides the question present itself—what is the Bible? is it that book we have so named? Is it something as yet hypothetical? or, is it that collection of writings which has been selected from a large stock similar in every respect but that of being inspired as we suppose, or not? Really it seems the Bishop is demanding of us what we cannot give, for want of the proper material, or a knowledge of what the proper material is: and he is besides positively calling upon us to believe every statement of the book we have for the Bible, notwithstanding that he knows, and owns, that parts of it are probably false, or, as I may more truly affirm are positively so. But, this aspect I leave with the remark that, errors in the Bible are not alone those made in the work of copying, as is to be inferred from his mode of speaking of them; but, there is besides a much larger quantity, arising from that of translating these copies into our language.

But all this is nothing to the contradictory affirmaons implied or direct, which appear (in the Bible) not to be referrable in any way to such causes: these are so gross and palpable that it impossible believe both sides. They violate necessary truth, or else necessary faith, and thus "stultify human reason," or theological belief. For instance, it is either necessary truth or neces- page 34 sary faith that God is omnipotent, but he is alleged in this book to have "sought to kill Moses by the way," and we cannot help inferring from what follows this statement that he did not succeed in the design imputed to Him; but how can we reconcile Omnipotent exertion with want of success? The free will of the man had not to be touched, only his poor frail body? Surely to have Omnipotence bounded in this way, is plainly a miracle of miracles, one that towers head and shoulders above those of the common variety; it is a miracle fully equal in size to what is required for the falsification of an axiomatic truth. Has the Bishop understated their power, when he affirmed they cannot contradict necessary truth? or is it that they can contradict necessary faiths in the Biblical statements, It clearly is one or the other.

I will close this part by observing, it appears to me in connection with the late newspaper correspondence here, on miracles, that the statement I have thus examined, is one intended especially for the behoof of those dignitaries of the Church, whose scientific knowledge in asserting itself leads them to make heterodoxical amendments on the Bible, when public opinion demands them. And now to digress a little here, it has been said that an honest man struggling with poverty is the noblest of God's works; well, I think, a scientific clergyman struggling with Biblical facts is the most ludicrous of His works.

It is seldom I laugh, seldom indeed that I want to, and this partly from laziness, partly from the sobering effects of the fear I have of being in the large percentage of the damned, but when I find one absolutely necessary for my health, which is about once a week, when I have leisure to enjoy one and benefit by it, I take a book suitable to the day, that is a theological work, one which attempts to reconcile the Mosaic cosmogony with scientific facts, this is a stimulus page 35 which I find from repeated experiments never fails to produce the desired effect upon me, as also upon others whose minds are sufficiently developed and stocked with scientific truths to enable them to realize the impossibility of such an attempt, and so to appreciate the fun of the thing. A person trying to square the circle, or even a grimacing clown in contortions, is as nothing to it for this purpose.

I have, in conclusion, to make a few remarks concerning the action I have taken in this matter. The above has been written with the utmost consideration and courtesy for the reverend gentleman whose pamphlet I have here examined; if in the earnestness of any conviction and the excitement almost inseparable from controversy, I have accidentally given pain to any one, I here express my sorrow, and would assure such that nobody can have a greater regard for moral and intellectual worth than myself, and I gladly take this opportunity of tendering my most loyal respect to those who, having the fortune to possess these qualities, have further those dignities and substantialities which are their proper accompaniments. It is opinions I am alone combatting, and not individual ones either, but the opinions of a class, which are being constantly forced upon us, and at last has culminated in the production of the Bishop's pamphlet. I do this, as I have freely, because fully possessed of the feeling that errors cannot lessen moral worth, but rather enhance it by contrast; and, as regards intellectual worth errors and inconsistency are so largely and immutably associated with it in the region of orthodox theology, that really such goes for nothing to the man who has taken the trouble to acquaint himself with the benumbing effect, which as a "cold shadow falls" upon those unfortunate beings who are obliged, or choose, to traverse and confine themselves to it.

And now as regards myself more particularly. In page 36 attempting to controvert this pamphlet, I have had to combat the author's idea as to the propriety of a belief in every statement of the Bible, and so as the Bishop would argue, I am an unbeliever in its Divinity. This is a position I neither seek nor want to maintain, for I really desire the very reverse; but a counter reply to the pamphlet could hardly have been made without involving a person in this very unpleasant and unenviable position. It becomes necessary therefore, for such an one if he declines (as I positively do) to have this position forced upon him, to affirm his full and unreserved belief of what the Bible is, to show that as regards his own feelings, the inference of non-belief in the Divinity of this book, from disbelief of particular portions of it, is not a legitimate one. Lest, therefore, anyone should make a mistake in following the Bishop's lead, and so do me a grievous wrong, I here distinctly and emphatically state myself upon this point.

Regarding this book then in its literal sense, I consider, that in greater part, it simply treats of historical matters such as cruel wars, bloody massacres, and curious pedigrees, having little or no interest now, except to Jews; that it is in part a collection of professed wonders, and of broad guesses in cosmogony, all absurdly false; that it is in some parts fearfully immoral, "dangerous to youth:" in other parts blasphemous, if the act of crediting the Holy One with our base passions is blasphemy.

But, on the other hand, and here most of its present vivifying influence resides, it exhibits in its first part the yearnings of a superstitious and semi-civilized people after righteousness and the wages of it. It shows, on the part of the best of this people, that intensity to know and to love God for His own sake, which is characteristic alike of the true hearted poet, and the large souled philosopher. It gives the page 37 thoughts, crude and futile, absurd and erroneous, (as many of them are, both scientifically and theologically) still the thoughts of ancient men striving to break through the ignorance of our race's childhood at a bound, striving to cognize God through the emotions alone, and to realize in life the distorted image thus obtained.

It besides exhibits the behaviour of a warlike, amorous, superstitous and poetic people, progressing from a state of semi-barbarism, by aid of Monotheism, to the civilization of their neighbours, and, consequently, showing on its pages in strange contrast, sometimes appropriate, sometimes grotesque, the sacred song and the sentimental song, the war song and the song of peace, the triumphant song of victory and the wailing melancholy song of despair, in its useless invocations of the supernatural.

This part of the book really is one long history of a family amplifying to a nation by fructification and conquest, and then declining from this, and in their decline ever looking, but unsuccessfully, for a supernatural-deliverer to arrest it, and make them the dominant nation of the earth, in fact, the petted child of the universe.

The second part is infinitely superior, both in tone and structure, to the first, but still is sadly deficient in consistency, and unfortunately for the present age is thickly interspersed with miraculous tales. But all this can never obliterate the brightness of that glorious spirit of humanity which runs through it—can never to all eternity prevent him who will, seeing in its principal historic character an unique model of transcendant moral worth—a being surcharged with Divine love, and in his glorious person our highest manifestation of God, a hero indeed, battling single-handed against hypocrisy in high places, against religious shams, against all the narrow dogmas of his day, for page 38 the sake of the All Father, and for ourselves. Alas! that the history of such a life should be so marred by the inaccuracies of those biographers who wrote it, that at present it is more a mark for criticism than for morality and philanthrophy.

This as to the literal meaning of a large portion of the Bible—a book which we are called upon to believe, as to its "every statement"—a wonderful unique medley of fact and fiction, lofty poetry and the plainest, the meanest of prose, and partaking in its tone of the lowest immorality, and the highest virtue. But what if, for all this, there is a Divine element permeating it evenly throughout! if there is an infinite, a hidden meaning underlying it or enfolded in its literal sense, one which our present most popular Christian teachers have failed to comprehend, or form the least conception of! That there is this running through it as a silver thread, binding it altogether in one harmonious coherent whole, appeare certain to me, if it is a Divine book. For surely the Infinite One would never talk twaddle; a book written or inspired by Him must have an infinite meaning running through every part of it. Having these opinions, it is proper I should state them unreservedly, and I hope, that, by this, the flood of opprobrium, which has no doubt been setting strongly, but unjustly, toward me of late will be stemmed.

This internal or plenary sense, then, of the Bible is actually acknowledged, and even now promulgated by certain unpopular theologians, and creeds have been constructed in harmony with this internal sense, one of which is the Swedenborgian, Acccording to these persons, the literal sense of the Bible is quite subordinate, to this internal sense, and frequently, especially in the older portions, was never intended to be accepted as true; the whole of the Bible being said by them to have been written according to some law of correspondence, supposed to obtain between earthly and page 39 heavenly things. Although, of course, my opinion is worth little on theological questions, still, if I might offer it to our champions of Christianity, I would state that it appears to me, that if their religion is to stand and the Bible as we have it to be preserved other than as a relic of antique literature, it must be by the aid of doctrines somewhat similar to those I have here in part described. These are, I may say, pre-eminently christian, and, for theological ones, philosophical, so much so, that they compare with our popular ones, as Protestantism does with Romanisim, or civilization wtih barbarism, or as the modern steam engine does with the old stage coach.

I would not, however, like to be thought of as associating myself with doctrines so heterodox as these, or any of the same kind, but I feel compelled most respectfully and earnestly to advise our religious teachers of the popular creeds in their endeavour to preserve something of them, to study doctrines of a similar nature to these I have noted, in place of foolishly attempting to confound modern science by the use of ancient fables and allegories. I also, feel compelled to remark further, that an attempt to realize the life they inculcate would prevent those unchristian fulminations against people who cannot control their belief, and whose wretched fate therefore as doomed victims of eternal wrath, shonld rather evoke some of the commiseration and pity inculcated by a creed professedly humane than those anathemas and revilings which these unfortunate people now get.

And here, I feel bound to remark, that we can never be held to any theological creed which from structural defects is incapable of expansion or development correlative with that of the human mind, or which as to its tenets dares not or will not admit of rational, of scientific discussion; for progress is the watchword and the life of philosophy whatever direc- page 40 tion or subject she takes, fixity the watchword, the death, of such creeds.

Philosophy will not, cannot be stultified by self-immolation on the altar of dogma, from the stepping stone of fact, upon the wings of faith—a faith indeed—she flies over all those petty boundaries which formal creeds impose, and in her free and glorious career is only barred by the Infinite. Woe to any monstrous concoction of superstition and ignorance darkening the air and disputing her right to rise. For if in carrying us to those regions of upper space she has run counter to any thing of this sort, (to use the celebrated words, slightly modified, of the great Stephenson, in answer to the petty obstructionists of his time) "it would be a bad job for" her opponent.

No, philosophy leaves such unnatural and artificial limitations of thought as dogma sets, to those who dare not or cannot think; to those who prefer walking by night, and so require check ropes and safety-lights. Death to dogma is her war cry. Philosophy as now developed cannot adjust her huge form to the habiliments of any fixed creed, nor repress her growth to a determinate size, nor stay her course to suit a laggard in the race. Having broken away from these in her youth after infinite difficulty, she cannot give her hand to any such theological creed now. It is not for this she has passed through the throes of a bloody birth and left her martyrs on the road of her progress; from experience she knows what it is to be a slave, she forgives but she cannot forget. Herself comprehending the sum of all certified experience, and the faith which builds on this, the proper repertory of every fact known as fact, of every known truth—and of which theological truth forms indeed as yet, but a very minute portion—how can she say to this, or that, or indeed to any part, thou art the greater; would not this be a violation as it were of some "geometric axiom."

page 41

She stands aloof from all sects in the conscious strength which truth gives, courting no encounter, but, on the other hand, fearing none; yet, in putting away the "cursed thing," she yearns with an infinite tenderness for those who still partake of it, excusing every fault of the head, and making due allowance for accident of birth, or the enslaving effect of circumstances. No, philosophy will neither prostitute her-self to such creeds, not even the comprehensive, philosophical and moral one I have alluded to, nor go back to swaddling clothes to suit those who cannot or will not keep pace with her growth. And as to this Bible, which it has been attempted to palm upon her as a very repertory of scientific knowledge, she will not have belief in an ancient faith that violates all the experiences which have been accumulated and recorded for her, and so have science proved a delusion and a snare. Thus she rejects the literal sense of the Word as a whole, that rock ahead on to which our present creeds, like cumbrously appointed, and fated ships, are now rushing to their destruction. In doing this she cannot be passive, she is assailed upon this point, therefore she must fight on it, and in so doing this, is certainly performing for true religion a very great kindness, since if this literal sense is indeed a veil which hides an internal one, the sooner will this veil be lifted and the Divine language appear, the sooner will "the book" prove worthy of its reputed Author. When this is acomplished depend upon it she will be the first to do it homage.

And here, as the most fitting opportunity, I must beg to deprecate the strange theological fallacy that philosophy is antagonistic to true religion. She does certainly set her face mildly, but determinately against all spurious religion and its pseudo-truths; indeed, she would not be true to herself were she not to do this. But on the other hand, she yearns with an page 42 infinite tenderness for all that is lovely, all that is good, and most heartily appropriates within her ample folds every truth presented to her, whether of a theological, ethical, or physical nature.

In the high position of trust she now holds with human destiny almost in her hands, and love and duty prompting her, there is nothing suits her so well as to be like unto the faithful shepherds of old "watching their flocks by night," the first "to know the glad tidings;" nothing that pleases her so well as to be able with the wise men of Herod to lay her treasures at the feet of new-born truth and worship it. Why then these revilings of her? Wherefore this insensate conduct of theology towards her? Why does religion curse philosophy and run the terrible risk of dying by her own hand? For curses, the refuge of the weak or the venom of the malignant, have never yet been of any avail: like "chickens they always go home to roost," and those who indulge in them harbour within their breasts a spark from hell, which may, at any moment, burst into flames and consume every good feeling they possess.

In conclusion, I am aware that these opinions are not popular; were they popular, I should not have had any occasion to state them, and as I shall in all probability never appear before our little circle again in the character of a religious teacher, one which neither befits me nor is, in accordance with my tastes, I will crave my reader's kind attention a little longer for some further remarks.

I will then here state, that these opinions, however they may be spurned, are the result of careful and dispassionate inquiry; after due consideration, and with due consideration, I state them. I take upon myself the onus of their expression simply for the sake of truth, and for those noble ones who in search of it, and in the legitimate exercise of their genius, are page 43 traduced, anathematized, and made marks for derision; and I do so under the profound conviction that to remain any longer a passive spectator of the mortal fray now going on—between doctrinal religion in its present phase, and science in its now truly grand development—would be cowardice indeed, a reproach to the manes of the mighty dead, dastardly behaviour to those who in the midst of tremendous labours for us have, in the serial unfolding of the results of these, to bear the burden and heat of the day, a poor acknowledgment in truth, of what we owe alike to those who have gone before, and those who now represent us. Knowing that it is the duty of a man suffering under strong religious convictions to confess them publicly ere the grave can prevent him, I have taken the opportunity which the Bishop's pamphlet afforded me of doing so. Nor has the opportunity come too soon. I am not ashamed to own I have been greatly tortured by seeing the one-sided game played, which we have had here of late, and have longed in the absence of those attacked to take it up for them, feebly equipped as I am, even though at the cost of much trouble, at some pecuniary loss, and at the risk of being misunderstood, and abused, as only a dogmatist can abuse, when under cover of a pseudonym.

I have seen every now and then in our newspaper correspondence revilings and mutterings against scientific thought and those who represent it. I have seen that characterized as "dangerous," as "infidelity," as "stuff and nonsense," which ministers directly to our material welfare and in its higher sphere positively forbids atheism, by enlarging our conceptions, by shewing the oneness of purpose and the consistency which runs throughout creation, and which as much as can be done, raises us to a knowledge of God, and does this in such a tremendous and convincing manner, in such a variety of ways, that our mind staggers page 44 under the realization of the Truth, and becomes awe stricken by its grand its overwhelming array; so that perforce we cry out "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." Or if perchance we have been before at all unbelieving we cry out with Thomas Didymus, when disbelief with him was no longer possible—"My Lord and my God." I have seen men, who, by the aid of faith, geuius and daring combined, have thus under Providence been the instruments for the discovery of truths of this nature, reviled and bespattered with every opprobrious epithet for merely stating these discoveries and generalizing from them; men who would not injure any useful thing purposely, and who are anxious, and professedly so, to provide in their unfoldings of intellectual truths for the emotional side of human nature; men who perchance while their traducers ply at their evil work are toiling for them, possibly endeavouring to give a finishing touch to some grand and useful labour for their benefit, or initiating another series of discoveries.

I have seen and heard a great philosopher reproached, merely because in his inaugural address to the British Association at Belfast, as the exponent of a high philosophy, in the spirit of justice and veneration for the noble far-reaching intellects of ancient times, he reproduced their thoughts in the exact langnage of modern science, and supported them by those teeming facts which this science had placed at his disposal; and because in this he had to claim for matter a more noble use, and a higher destiny than some are as yet willing to accord it: because of this, I have seen and heard such an one reviled with every opprobrious epithet: as if forsooth we, the sport of circumstances, the ephemeral creatures of the hour, as if we know all about matter, this our eldest-born, born in the earliest dawn of time; what it should be, and what it should not be; as if we page 45 know where matter leaves off and man begins: this matter, this external world, the very existence of which, according to the Bishop's own admission, cannot be proved; one would surely think that with such a very imperfect acquaintance on our part with matter as this admission implies, no person would be so foolish and ill-natured as to rate those who theorize upon it in any other than the usual way.

The fact of it is, we do not know what we are quarrelling about, whether, indeed, there is really anything to quarrel about; yet, as I say, a person stating an opinion upon it, other than the current one, gets into bad repute, and is lashed with the whip of scorn. Not that the lash, as applied by those mistaken people who use it, affects such men, except only as indicating on the part of these flagellators, that inappreciation of truth, that ungratefulness for favors received, which will make despondent the most powerful intellect, and the most affectionate nature; must it not seem to these men that, like illbred hounds, we snap at the hand that feeds us, and then whine for more. But the memories and the deeds of such men will live and and bear fruit, when those of their traducers will have been long forgotten, or, if remembered, remembered only to point a moral to obstructionists of the future.

Through all this, however, it must ever be a source of congratulation, an occasion for gratitude to them and to us, that the impregnable position has been won which we now have the fortune to occupy; won for us, though it has been at a fearful cost of life, and by so much suffering; that the bloody part of progress is nigh over; that the rack, the stake, and the dungeon of the inquisition are now things of the past; that we live our happy life in an age which, though using the lash freely in the figurative sense as I have shown, still, to the demands of philosophy and humanity, restricts the use of it in the literal one, to its proper object, page 46 that is the back of the human brute who lets loose his savage instincts upon society.

And now without intending any disrespect to the Bishop, in regard to the construction of the closing paragraph of his pamphlet, I would fain use it to model mine by, as with a few slight substitutions, this one very aptly conveys what I desire to close mine with. "I have no confidence in the potency of arguments such as I have used, even though advanced with ten-fold the ability to which I could lay any claim, to draw any human heart from" superstition, to believe in "God as He is," and, therefore, against "miracles," knowing, as I do, how hard it is for any one cradled in superstition to trust to God and look it bravely in the face. "All that I have ventured to hope I might do in these few pages is, to guard the young and unwary against being led away from the faith of" experiential philosophy "by the positive assertions, made with such astonishing audacity, by many modern" theologians that miracles are not opposed to reason. "The arrogant manner in which," pietists and priests "whose writings make patent their very imperfect acquaintance with mental" and physical "science practically assert their own infallibility on" physico-theological questions, "although it may appear almost ludicrous to some persons, not unfrequently staggers the" simple "and too often leads them to acquiesce in their dogmatical assertions. My object has simply been to show that the positive statements referred to are not altogether trustworthy, If through the blessing of God what I have writien should produce even this effect in the mind of any one of my readers, I commend him to God," and to active, thoughtful, loving search after Him, "for His thorough confirmation in the faith" *; that consistent, glorious, elevating, and true faith, which holds to a God who "changes not" and to the immutability of His laws.

* Appendix, B.