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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20

Sunday Evening Lectures: No. XXXIX. "What is Truth."

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Sunday Evening Lectures: No. XXXIX. "What is Truth."

The following lecture was delivered on Sunday evening last by G. C. Leech, Esq., in the Mechanics' Institute. Subject; "What is Truth?." Reported by Mr E. C. Martin.

For many ages—indeed from time immemorial—there has been ever a restless spirit of inquiry in the human mind. Not only is this a something inevitable to our aspiring nature, but it is essential, absolutely necessary to our true intellectual, moral, and spiritual development! There have been, and there are still, men who evade this spirit of inquiry—men who have for so long time left this great function of the mind unused—that it has almost lost its power of effort. And there are those who stifle it as an inconvenient and troublesome possession. There is yet a lower class of man—the man who says, "let me eat and drink, for to-morrow I die," and who will not therefore listen to the higher voice of the soul. All the powers of the mind and body are given over to sensuous thoughts and sensuous indulgences, and therefore the taste and appetite are averse to the inquiry after truth. There are those—and they are reckoned by millions—in our world who are not sensuous in their thoughts, who are pure-minded, full of a Spirit of charity, to whom all that is sensuous and selfish are abominable and evil things, and yet they also stifle the spirit of inquiry after truth. They prefer to give over their intellectual powers to the government and sway of the priesthood. Such men are to this world, though far nobler than the sensuous multitude, the most disastrous and effectual barriers to the world's advancement, for they give a stamp of decorum and propriety to what they associate themselves to, no matter however effete or retrogressive it may be the opposition of the sensuous is so much a degraded and m an thing, that upon the face of it there appears something abhorent to the higher disposition of the soul. There are those who think a restless spirit of inquiry after truth a power wasted. They say truth is after all, only a metaphysical speculation, a mere abstraction. "Why waste, the valuable hours of life in discussing those questions?" Why should we not think as our fathers thought—worship as they worshipped? Mark you this same spirit has permeated the domain of science. It is the same spirit which would have hushed the voice of Galileo, that would say, see, how under the old system men were able to calculate end foretell with accuracy the recurrence of eclipses. In science, as in all branches, though in a less degree, the spirit of "let it alone has pervaded." When one of the great, scientific giant, of England was about to explore what at that time, a mere, sandy mound, was supposed to be the site of the long buried city of Ninevah the Pacha interrogated hint thus:—Have you no home in the land you came from? "Yes" was the reply, have you a family? "Yes." was again the answer, "but I left them behind to come here in the cause of science." "Then," said the Pacha, "why in Allah's name did you come such a distance?" When afterwards page break the explorer showed the Pacha the old caverns and the memorials from the long buried city, the same answer was given. Not much else could be expected from the dead, effete mind of the Turk, but it is rather startling when it comes from other quarters where it is not expected. There is abroad, in spite of all these conservators of quaintness, mildew, and antiquity, a respless spirit of inquiry, which in religion and science, puts to itself the query "what is truth?" In the narrative I have read to you to night Jesus of Nazareth uses the words "to this end was I bora and for this cause came I into the world," &c, and them Pilate put to him the query, what is truth? He did not ask the question in the hope of receiving an answer or an answer worthy of his notice, but it was the half-cynical, half-mournful query of the probably jaded Epicurean, who had read and heard not a little of the philosophy of the age, and had come to the conclusion that the search after truth was a vain and idle thing. Long ages before Jesus of Nazareth stood before the judgment seat of the Roman Procurator, the minds of men had been endeavouring to solve the momentous question—"What is truth?" In the ancient realm of China the man who, in European language, receives the name of Confucius, had been evolving many of the fundamental truths which now form the basis of a great religion, and an; the springs of a very high philosophy. Caky Amount had been working out a marvellous form of faith which was productive of rest, at least to the Asian mind, and Brahmin ism, had been evolving its mixture of truth and error. In Egypt, Zoroaster was engaged in inquiring into the origin of evil, that strange problem which has perplexed the human mind for so many ages, and in so many ways. It has been ever a subject for amazement, that in a universe apparently controlled and governed by an All Wise and All powerful God, there should be so much evil. Zoroaster propounded the theory that matter was eternal; that in matter there was a natural gravitating tendency, and that after a great lapse of time deity allied himself to matter, and that the inherent gravitating tendency of mater produced what is called evil. Pythagoras, partly Greek and partly Copt, has been most disgracefully misrepresented, probably spitefully calumniated. With his name has been associated the theory of the transmigration of souls—that is that the souls of the lower animals pass to those of the higher, and that the souls of men whose lives have been corrupt pass to the lower creatures. Of this be assured, that Pythagoras never taught such a doctrine. It is merely a caricature of his enemies. The teachings of Pythagoras were not very far off from such teaching?, as you have heard here rom time to time. He never taught that the soul ever passed through a creature lower than man, but that the soul of man passes after the physical change called death to a brighter state of being, and then again passes into an another and higher condition of being, each successive time habited in a more glorious body than its antecedent one. Upon the faiths of the past the religion of Moses was a higher development, and out of Judiasm and the religion of Moses the still higher faith propounded by Jesus of Nazareth sprang. In Judiasm and its offspring Christianity, there grew an evil which was not incident to any other form of faith on earth. When Islamism, in later years followed it took the same erroneous course, namely, the great evil and monstrous egotism of belief that they had attained to the absolute truth, and having attained to truth, in their own opinion they have exhibited an intolerance, cruelty, malevolence, and hate, elsewhere unknown on earth. All this, I repeat, grew out of the mistake that they had attained to absolute and final truth. Truth like all other things in the Universe will progress. There will never be a point in our unending existence beyond which we cannot advance. For us there will be no monotonous eternity. There never will be for us an eternity of sameness. Jesus said "I an the way, the truth and the light." He was right. Every man before him who discovered a truth, might have said the same, and every man who has followed in propounding truth may use the same language:—"I am the way, the truth and the light," The possessor of truth cannot retain it to himself. He is bound by an inevitable law of his being to communicate it to others. They may have to meet buffets, scorn, and contumely, but the possessors of truth must communicate it to others; they must present it to other men. The sorrow and pity is that the foolish idea should have sprung up that any teacher can propound a truth absolute and final. Judiasm believed itself to be the possessor of absolute truth, yet we have all seen how that form of faith has passed through transitions. Christianity copied this belief of infallibility. Trajan, I believe it was who in order to reconcile the then existing differences of the Empire suggested that Jesus should be admitted to the number of the gods. The proposal was scornfully rejected, by the disciples of the Christain church. "None shall share the holy temple." But the idea has been productive of immeasurable disaster. In old times it desolated many a fair land. It was the cause of the Arians and Trinitarians slaughtering each other and it afterwards kindled the fires of the Inquisiton and initiated penal laws in Catholic countries and in Protestant countries against the Catholics. It has been the source of page break malevolence and hate through every age of our world. And now, in these days you hear many voices say, each, "here is truth." First of all when the inquiring man begins to search for truth, the teacher of Christianity says here upon the broad basis of Christianity, may you search for truth. All other forms are spurious inventions and delusions an I when you have been prevailed upon to anathematise all other faiths, when you have summed up enough audacity to consign Plato, Confucius, Zoroaster, Pythagoras, Marcus Aurelius, and parhaps even Chunder Sen to oblivion or everlasting damnation with all other great minis who have dared to think for themselves, when, I say, the mind has gathered enough audacity to do this, and search on Christian ground his true perplexity begins. First of all, by a natural process of the mind he begins to search for truth where he finds a majority. He will, perhaps, look to the older Church at Constantinople, or he may cast his eyes towards the western church, He then says that surely he has found an answer to the question, What is truth?" for he finds that the pontiff professes to be the direct and accredited representative of Christ on earth, the very mouth-piece of him who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the light." But when he begins a close scrutiny he finds a start ling difference between the Sovereign Pontiff and Jesus Christ the meek and lowly. He finds that Rome, speaking in a strong clear voice of authority says she will not be weighed in the scale or tried in the crucible of reason. She says it is not true that there is and has been only one mediator between Goo and man. Protestant Christanity says the one and only way by which you can reach Gad is through the man Chris: Jesus, that God can only be reached by the God man. There are other mediators, says Rome. The mother of God has weight with her son. I have heard that many Catholics believe that Alary does not intreat but commands herson. An I there are mediating saints innumerable. Catholicism says there are three degrees in the hereafter the one, the upper and brighter is so pure and radient that it can hardly be reached by any except through purgatorial fires. The lowest state is prepared for those who are fit for nothing better than eternal torment. Protestant ism says there are only two degrees after death—a place of peace and holiness or one of unutterable woe and pain. They aver that it is absolutely necessary that you should go to the one or the other, after death. Men and Brethren is that true? Is there any such arbitrary distinction to be found by the nicest analysis of the relations of lite. Go to any Church, go out into the market places, and will you find one race ripe and fit for eternal glory, and the other fit only for eternal damnation? If I were driven to either alternative, I would prefer going to the Church of Rome, but as I am not driven to either alternative I to be neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic in this respect. Let us examine this arena, where it is said, we must search for truth. Jesus of Nazareth on the night before he was crucified, feasting in gentle and loving union with his disciples said—This do in remembrance of me. I have little doubt he meant this—To morrow I shall pass away, but every recurring anniversary bring your souls into affinity with mine, and you will feel in your midst try tender loving spirit. Let us see what Christianity means by this? Home says after the prayer of consecration, when the wafer is lifted, here is the veritable body of Christ. This wine in this cup is not wine—this broad is not bread—your senses may tell you that they are, but they are not. They say it is the veritable blood and body of Christ. In the Anglican Church they say that the sub-stance is not changed, but that Christ is really present.—A little further removed, the nonconformists say that Christ is not really present, but that he is present in spirit. Whither shall the seeker after truth go? and which shall the searcher for truth accept? These are but a few of the marvellous discrepancies to be found in the churches professing to have absolute truth! The priest of high [unclear: Anglicanism]—that is, neither Protestant nor Catholic, but is aping the one while he seeks to retain a shred of the other—says, "Here is truth; we have put away the follies and iniquities of Rome, while we retain its pure truths; go not to her doors, and, above all, pass not to the low Church of Geneva. It is better to go to Rome," they tell us, "than go to not conformity." Then if the great question is once decided between Catholicism and Protestantism, think not that the struggle of the inquirer is over. There is another question just as great to settle as the quarrel between Home and Luther. There is the momentous dispute of Calvinism and Armenianism—the question of whether a man is preordained to everlasting damnation, or predestined to eternal life or whether he is altogether a a free agent; and let me tell you upon a high authority that this controversy is more important than any other. When Canning was debating in the House of Commons the master of endowing Popery, he said he was no Roman Catholic but a Protestant by birth and education, but he did not hesitate to say that the doctrine of Calvanism—that God preordained men to eternal destruction—was tenfold more dishonoring to God than any tenet of the Church of Rome. Where then is the searcher to find absolute truth? Where can he rest and be thankful? When Home speaks with authority there is something venerable and respectable in her voice. She is at least bold and consistent. I have page break some little respect for a despot though I may hate him; and though we may abhor and revolt against an ecclesiastical policy which, from the lips of the Pope who reigned before the present one (who is now running away from his pursuers) declared the right of private judgment to be a damnable heresy and an accursed thing, we cannot help having some respect for a system so old and gigantic. Perhaps we may be tempted to smile when we remember that the old man who has declared himself infallible—(and who is epileptical)—is hardly holding his own against the nation he has accursed and the King he has excommunicated. Yet, withal this, there is some-thing about the Roman Church, with its time honoured institution, its austere rights. Its sublime music, its moss and ivy covered ruins over half the world, and its majestic cathedrals, to command respect. But when we see a thing like Protestantism, divided into [unclear: infioitiss mal] sections, demanding that we shall bow down to it, we should be inclined to be angry if it did not too much provoke the other sense of the ludicrous. We find the most august and dignified of all the Protestant churches the Anglican communion, even in it sown land, in its native seat, backed and aided by the strong power and majesty of the law with the most powerful sovereign at its head we find it a minority and only to be found elsewhere in a few isolated places. In the United States it is the smaller of the Protestant churches. It is outnumbered by Presbyterianism, and vastly out numbered by Wesleyanism. Then in the Lutheran ran faith I learn that four fifths of the clergy are rationalalistic. In Geneva the chair of John Calvin, who burnt Servctus, is occupied by a Unitarian teacher, and Presbyterianism, the most revolting of all the forms of faith to high advanced thought, has hardly the majority in a country where it sprang up and was nurtured. Now, men and brethren, you see we cannot accept the invitations of all these Religionists—we cannot say who is right, and then fore we prefer to go elsewhere in search of what is called truth. There are fundamental and eternal principles Of truth, truths that have been truths and will be truths to all eternity. They have been found in some form or other, in every faith and truth is love to God, the beautiful and true, and love to our neighbour—faith in the fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man. And when Jesus of Nazareth commended those two great commandments he said nothing new. Judiasm taught it fifteen centuries before, and Confucius taught it in the ancient realm of China. The Aphorisms of Buddhism furnished similar precepts and that religion reckons more millions than any other faith. But in all the details that go to work out those truths there is endless progression. Jesus of Nazareth taught 2000 years ago that love to God and man were the highest duties. The whole forces of his soul went out in love to man. He, with all his heart and soul, disseminated this doctrine and sealed his testimony with his blood. We can say no more in latter days, but as the world has changed in many things, so must the details of eternal truths be altered and modified to govern the daily life of men. Men and brethren, remember this that truth is not a mere metaphysical question. Jesus of Nazareth said "the truth will make you free." It has broken off the shackles of the slave, but there is a worse bondage than that of material slavery. There is a direful bondage unto base and sensual habits, and truth ought, to make us free from this. The new faith of earth declares in an un-compromising way against war and violence of every kind and against sacerdotalism. Its faith is to be comprehended in this:—Every man in the beginning, that is each individual man, is born into this world of probation without any impress on his mind—a blank sheet of paper on which lines may be written for good or for evil: and all impressions of good or evil come from without. It is but an old fable to teach that man is born in sin—in fact there is no such tiling as what is theologically called sin. No matter how the balance may have been disturbed all will be right in the end. For the most part a violation of the law receives now and here its due punishment: but there is no such thing as vindictive punishment—that is in the orthodox sense. God is not vindictive, and docs not punish His creatures in a vindictive way. We believe that after the change called death there is no such tiding as punishment in the sense of torment and pain. Sin on earth brings with it inevitable consequences but the worst and most evil and sensual of mankind will, in the end fulfil the great purposes of the Creator, and be holy and happy for ever. We believe it not only by reason, but by the deep inward convictions of our own souls, and by the teachings of all ages, coming in form or other from the Soul of the universe to the soul of man. We believe that reason confirms us in these tilings. It is according to reason that God is supremely good, that none of his works shall fail, that all his matures shall live for blessing holiness, and peace. We believe that this life may begin here and not in the dim future: not in an unknown sphere, but now and at this moment may we begin to realise the life of God. But remember that, before we begin to realise this life, we must fulfil the precepts of Jesus, and abstain from all sensuous appetites, live purely and uprightly, and the truth will then make us free indeed.

Printed by Messrs. J. J. and E. Wheeler, Published by Mr H. Bamford, Castlemaine