The Power of the Pulpit
A Lay SermonBy H. K. Rusden.
Melbourne: 1877. E. Purton & Co., Printers, 106 Elizabeth-Street, Melbourne.
The Power of the Pulpit.
A Lay Sermon delivered before the Sunday Free Discussion Society, in the Trades' Hall, Melbourne, 28th January1877.
"He feedeth on ashes; his deceived heart hath turned him aside, "that he cannot deliver his soul nor say, Is there not a lie in my "right hand?" Isaiah xliv. 20.
St. Paul—who had far more than Jesus to do with the institution of historical Christianity, is very explicit as to the qualities which he considered to be indispensable in a preacher of the Gospel. He says (1 Cor. i. 21), "it" pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save "them that believe." As David, when about to encounter the giant Goliath, rejected the approved weapons of war, and was afterwards victorious, because—unarmed—he came simply "in the name of the Lord;" so St. Paul conquered the world by knowing nothing save Jesus Christ and him crucified. He proceeds (verse 26), "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not "many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not "many noble, are called. (27) But God hath chosen the "foolish things of the world to confound, the wise; and God "hath chosen the weak things of the world to con-"found the things which are mighty. (28) And "base things of the world and things which are despised, "hath God chosen; yea, and things which are not, "to bring to nought things that are." This is quite explicit—and so are many other texts—as to the kind of instruments which God prefers to do his work, and bear his messages to men. He hides his counsels from the wise and prudent, and reveals them solely unto page 4 babes. St. Paul says also plainly, that even he himself, who was "not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles" (2, Cor. xi. 5), "came Not with excellency of speech or of "wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. (2) For "I determined," he says, "not to know anything among you, "save Jesus Christ and him crucified. (3) And I was "with you in weakness, and in fear and in much trembling. "(4) And my speech and my preaching was not with en-"ticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of "the Spirit and of power. (5) That your faith should not "stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (1 Cor. ii. 1—5.)
* See the Argus for the 12th, 15th, and 16th January, 1877.
So much for their precepts. Now for their practice.
Where did Jesus go for recruits for his band of missionaries? To the college or the university? No! Thence came the scribes and pharisees, hypocrites; to whom the harlots were preferred in his kingdom. Did he import Masters of Arts and Doctors of Divinity from the antipodes? No ! He picked up his bishop (Peter) in the fishmarket, and the rest of the Apostles were neither educated nor respectable. And if Jesus were in Melbourne now, unless he has altered as much as his Church, the place to find him would assuredly be neither in St. James's Cathedral nor at Government House, nor even at Bishopscourt; but rather in the Eastern Market, the Lockup, or the Lunatic Asylum. The Trades' Hall is the only Temple in Melbourne where he would be permitted to do as was his wont,—dispute with all comers, "both" hearing them and asking them questions."
It should—in this aspect—be easy enough to see why the Power of the Pulpit is now so weak. The clergy—in Victoria at least—have far too much of the excellency of man's wisdom. I have the pleasure of knowing several of them, and I can confidently testify to their general ability, their superior education, their respectability, and their wisdom of this world. Their everything in fact which Jesus and Paul asserted that they ought not to have. I, for one, am far from wishing to depreciate the value of these important qualifications for worldly usefulness, but it is nevertheless a fact that for a man to understand sufficiently his own personal position in relation to the great problems of existence, he certainly does not require a classical education, nor an intimate knowledge of all the sophistical nonsense with which religion has been gilded and philosophy mystified. His responsibility bears a strict proportion to his capacities. All he really wants is an average share of plain common sense, and a determination to apply it freely and vigorously to every thing, and every idea, which can be proposed for his consideration.
Well—it may be said, If that is all that is necessary for the people, why will it not also answer in the pulpit; and page 6 why cannot both then go on harmoniously together? Well—why don't they? What are the facts? Why—we find that exactly as common sense increases among the people, so does their respect for the pulpit decline; notwithstanding that at the same time the increase of common sense is really shared more or less by the occupants of the pulpit! and this—which at first sight would seem calculated to keep them in harmony with the people, is the very thing that widens the breach. For though the clergy gain, as I said—common sense at the same time as the people, it appears in their conduct, and not in the pulpit; with the principles of which their practice appears in ever increasing contrast. The growing antagonism is obscured by various causes from the apprehension of the clergy themselves, and the bulk of the people are still slow to appreciate it. But both of them have acquired enough of the wisdom of this world to make them really prefer and rely upon that as the one thing needful. And the people too often—like Jesus—make no allowances for the clergy, aad attribute to hypocrisy in them, what is due simply to habit and association. The more the people have of human wisdom, the less do they care for or tolerate anything else in the pulpit; but the more the pulpit acquires of common sense, the less is it pulpit. The story of the Garden of Eden is true for all time. The pulpit has always said, "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it : for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen. ii. 17.) The people however eat it hungrily, and find that so far from being death to them, it is their life. It agrees with them. They like the taste of Eve's apple, and feel the benefit of the knowledge of good and evil. All they want is more. They have actually ventured to doubt that knowledge is bad for them. The assertion of the pulpit,—which it puts into the mouth of God—that they shall therefore surely die, is proved and admitted to be false. (Gen. iii. 22) They die—if at all before life ceases to be worth living—from ignorance; and without knowledge they never would have lived "as gods knowing good and, evil." They have begun to value and love it,—and therefore to experience the opposite feeling for the pulpit, which calls it "foolish-"ness with God."page 7
This antagonism is plainly radical. It is no wonder that the pulpit feels uncomfortable and anxious; for not only would foolishness even with God give it but a poor living without the help of the people and their forbidden knowledge of good and evil; but it cannot fail to perceive that its very existence is really at stake. Its struggle is for life.
Now there is no other profession which is practised at such an advantage as the clerical; in the preparation for which more pains, wealth, and ability are expended; none in which the worldly rewards are higher, or the inducements to pursue them stronger; preachers have not only every advantage of education and learning themselves, but they have actually had the privilege for many centuries of educating the rising generation to honor and respect them—irrespective of personal desert. They have also immense support from the State and from public opinion; and they have an established organisation, which should enable them to overcome all opposition, and make their supremacy stronger and more overwhelming day by day. But in spite of all this the clergy cannot but feel that they are losing ground. They admit it. They more than suspect that they are even disbelieved. By some they are plainly told so; but can they avoid seeing that even those who profess to believe them, flatly contradict in their practice the principles to which they yield a deferential, a careless, or a hypocritical assent? Are not even some of the clergy sometimes forced to suspect and ask themselves, with Isaiah's god-maker, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"
Those who know the power of habit, association, and interest, in determining action, will not be surprised at the small number of the clergy who think of asking themselves this question, and the smaller number who answer it candidly; and boldly and honorably determine to act upon their new-found consciousness, and cast their lie behind them. The large majority never see it; and assume, as they have been taught, that even to suspect the perfect truth of the principles that they have learned to glory in teaching—would be a sin. So "he feedeth on ashes; his page 8 "deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot "deliver his soul nor say 'Is there not A Lie in my right "'hand?'" Their eyes are blinded, so that they are unable to perceive that their prior duty is to test and prove—before they assume the responsibility of asserting and teaching—Even the Truth Itself. Yet they cannot but feel that they are losing ground with the people, to whose depravity they sometimes attribute the fact. And lose ground they must and will, so long as they call the wisdom of this world—foolishness, and devote their energies to vainly endeavouring to reconcile incompatibilities and to expound impossible ways of "making the "best of both worlds." But as Jesus has told them, "No "man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the "one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one "and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mam-"mon." (Matt. vi. 24.) "For where your treasure is, "there will your heart be also." (Matt. vi. 21.)
Jesus and his followers preached,—and with complete success,—against the then endowed clergy, whose conduct presented as glaring a contradiction to their preaching as that of the clergy of to-day. The power of the new pulpit then was fully equal to the demand; though without any advantages of organisation, respectability, or endowment; and without any prospects of preferment or bishoprics. The learned rabbis and wealthy priests had no power in their endowed pulpits to oppose it, and could only ejaculate in amazement—"Behold! the world is gone "after him !" "Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing?" (John xii. 19.) What was the reason? It was their practice and not their preaching that Jesus condemned. He himself professed to preach and to fulfil—the very same law that they preached, not one jot or one tittle of which—he said—could be broken. He reproached them with their inconsistency in practice. "The scribes and pharisees," said he, "sit in Moses' seat; all therefore "whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; "but do not ye after their works, for they say—and do not. "(Matt, xxiii. 2—3.) They make broad their phylacteries "and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the "uppermost rooms at feasts and the chief seats" (i.e., page 9 pulpits) "in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, "and to be called of men Rabbi, Rabbi" (i.e., Reverend.) "But be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your master, even "Christ, and all ye are brethren." (Matt, xxiii. 5—8.) Was there ever a more exact description and condemnation of a clergy,—of a rich clergy in general, and of a Christian clergy in particular? "He sent them to preach "the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick, and he said "unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves "nor scrip, neither bread, neither money, neither have two "coats apiece." (Luke ix. 2, 3.)
What was the result? His preachers—having none of these things, had Power, of which together with their pulpits, they dispossessed their rich predecessors; they carried all before them; and while they were as poor and as ignorant as the people, they had their confidence. They even tried to practise the communism that Jesus taught, though in that of course they failed. But their successors, like their predecessors—acquired wealth, and as their pulpits became swept and garnished, they lost power. Then went they and took to themselves seven other substitutes (such as learning, rhetoric, wisdom, wit, excellence of speech, organisation, and respectability), more disqualifying than the first, and they entered in and dwelt there; and the last state of that [pulpit] was worse than the first.
Now, are not the causes of the power of the pulpit, and of its failure, accurately illustrated by Jesus in the descriptions which I have quoted; of his missionaries on the one hand, and of the scribes and pharisees on the other? Surely there can be no two opinions about it. Doubtless circumstances have somewhat changed, but the most important coincidence and difference have certainly escaped the attention of the Argus and the Bishop. The coincidence is this. The clergy, now as then, preach principles directly opposed to their practice. The difference lies in the fact that the people are not so ignorant now as then, and therefore demand a different style of teacher instead of the pulpit. The antagonism between what the pulpit preaches and what the people require is as great now as ever. The people want no pulpit at all now. When they page 10 were ignorant enough to want a pulpit, Jesus and Paul perfectly met the demand, with preachers as ignorant, who superseded the previous educated inconsistent hypocritical priesthood, and endeavoured to practise the principles which both had taught. Their successors did not attempt it, for the principles had been proved impracticable in, or destructive of, society, as I shall soon show. Now, the people are more enlightened, and require—not only the downfall of the pulpit, but also preachers of new principles adapted to moral practice. Professor Huxley is an example of the sort of preacher now required. He expounds the wisdom of this world which is destructive of the power of pulpits, and which men find as they gain common sense is the one thing needful for their welfare and happiness. The "people are destroyed"—now, as in Hosea's days—"(iv. 6)—" for lack of knowledge." The pulpit preaches ignorance, depravity, and improvidence, while the preachers themselves are seen to respect and value knowledge, self-respect, and prudence. If the clergy were consistent as well as sincere, would they not teach that which they practise, or practise what they teach? the question is—which should it be? Is the preaching or the practice wrong? If they were to preach what is right, would not the pulpit be respected, even though its occupants might by opposite conduct, incur contempt? But I shall show that this is not the case. The clergy are, in my opinion, as a rule, able, intelligent, upright, earnest, if not consistent, men; and it is not Out of the pulpit, but In it, that they are losing ground and earning contempt. Not the men, but what they teach—is defective and wrong; wholly incompatible with the spirit of the time, with the people's needs, and with sound morality. I am satisfied that any clergyman who would descend from his pulpit, and turn his church into a Free Discussion Temple, and give moral, social, and scientific—instead of religious—lectures, inviting free question and criticism on the spot of all that he propounds, would soon regain all the respect and the power than his pulpit has lost, and do more good to himself and to every one else, than could possibly be done by any pulpit teaching of even truth itself.
But—he would have to reverse his teaching in nearly every particular. He would have to teach that wisdom is page 11 not to be repudiated and contemned, but learned and practised; let whosoever will call it foolishness. He must teach that forgiveness of error—which is impossible in nature, should be so in morals; and that there could be no more pernicious fallacy than the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. He must on the contrary teach the fact that any human action can be no more divested of its natural consequences than it can itself be undone when past; and that men can never learn to be moral, until they clearly apprehend that acts are good or bad solely as they necessarily produce good or bad results. He must teach the grave moral duty of taking earnest careful "thought for the "morrow;" of being humanly provident and prudent; and that reliance on divine providence—is culpable improvidence. He must teach that it is as immoral to love our enemies—or the bad, as to hate the good—who should be our friends; and that the first duty of man as a social rational being, is to mark his sense of moral good and evil as plainly as possible on every occasion, and to love or hate accordingly. So far from teaching "Judge not—that ye be not judged," he must teach that it is no less a duty to judge others freely, than to invite judgment of oneself. He must teach that faith, if a theological virtue, is really an intellectual vice. He must teach that a man's supreme duty is to Himself; and that if he so act as to attract to himself,—by prudence, the goods of this world; by beneficence, the good will of other men; by social activity—the respect of society; by temperance—the blessings of health and long life; and by intellectual exercise—the highest pleasures of which the human mind is susceptible; no one will ever think of asking him to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others; and this world will become so important and agreeable to him that he will have neither time nor inclination to trouble himself about another,—which he would notwithstanding be none the less fitted to enjoy. He must teach that if we all do the very best for ourselves, physically, morally, and intellectually, we cannot possibly do better for our neighbours. If he learn to teach and practise this, he will inevitably learn and teach too, that the pulpit never could accomplish 100th part of the good or produce a tithe of the pleasure, that is to be gained by the power of Free Discussion, which is in- page 12 definitely multiplied by every addition to the number of its participants.
To farther illustrate the utter incompatibility between the teaching of the pulpit and the moral duty of man (and the practice of most clergymen also), I will just ask you to imagine Bill Sykes brought up before Mr. Sturt for murdering Nancy; and Mr. Sturt saying to him, after the case had been proved—"Go in peace, Bill, thy sins are for-"given thee. God's grace is sufficient for thee." And when called to account by the Executive Council for his neglect of duty,—saying—" Let him that is without sin "among you cast the first stone." This sounds absurd. Yet Mr. Sturt believes—or thinks he believes—that if he does not forgive the trespasses of others, neither will his heavenly father forgive him his trespasses. And he is also bound to do it by the golden rule which is so irrationally admired; and which—if practised, would be the destruction of Society. "Do to others as ye would that others "should do to you." Mr. Sturt—in Bill Sykes' place, would of course desire to be let go in peace, and well he knows it. But this does not apply to Mr. Sturt alone, nor even only to every magistrate in the colony. No constable in the police force could arrest any criminal, or do his proper duty for a day, were he to act in accordance with the leading principles of Christianity. And ice only pay magistrates and constables to act for us, because we happen to be otherwise engaged. We could not delegate this duty, if it were not really our own.
Imagine our new bishop (Dr. Moorhouse) trying to be perfect even as his father in heaven is perfect, insisting upon substituting his innocent only son upon the gallows for the next murderer to be hanged at the gaol! I fancy I see him—urging Sir Samuel Wilson, Mr. Austin, Mr. Hy. Miller, and Mr. Clarke, to sell off all they possess and give it to the poor, that they may have treasure in heaven ! Would those good Christians comply with his request? Is there now so much power in the pulpit?
Imagine the clergy sending a deputation round to the mercantile men of Melbourne, or only to the most piouspage 13 Christians among them, those who reckon their calling and election sure,—to take no thought for the morrow, and to cast all their care upon their heavenly father; would they not seem to our merchants as they that mock or are insane? I would ask the most pious of all my Christian readers whether, if assaulted by a rough in the street tonight, he would ask him to hit him on the other cheek, and present him with his coat and cloak also?* Would he not rather give him in charge, and prosecute to conviction? And if he didn't, would lie not be neglecting his bounden duty to society?
But this question is not one of a few precepts, though those I have alluded to are the most important and distinctive of Christianity. The whole general rule of conduct—of clergy as well as Christians in general, is now not only positively anti-Christian, but essentially irreligious,—absolutely atheistic. We—every one of us—now,—clergy, bishop, governor, and all, rely upon human providence alone, really and truly; and do not trust at all in divine providence; and the Church is supported merely from habit and association, and not from practical conviction. All of us are ready to stigmatise real reliance upon God's providence as being—what it is in fact—improvidence, and much more likely to lead to the Insolvent Court than to heaven. Who now really relies upon the nightly guardianship of God and his holy angels? No one. Prayers are cheap, or surely they would be disused; for we all take care in practice (and so does the bishop), to pay wages to a constable, to give money for a watch-dog, to buy locks for our doors, to incur the expense of mosquito curtains, and to insure our lives and houses. This indispensable human providence practically demonstrates that we have all really discarded God and his providence; the utter inutility of the fiction having been gradually proved as we have discovered substitutes that answer the same purpose infinitely better.
* Matt. v. 39, 40.
The clergy are, I think, less in fault than the people How can we possibly expect the clergy to recognise the delusion by which they make a good living (and which therefore is to them so far no delusion) when the people don't—who have to find the money? Too few there are who can confidently and truthfully say that they have ever even asked themselves the question—" Is there not a lie in my right hand?"
For the sake of precision I will recapitulate the steps of my argument. I have shown that according to the highest religious authorities, a pulpit—to have power—must be without excellency of speech, wisdom, respectability, and wealth. Therefore the clergy of to-day, prevail nothing with the people against Professor Huxley, &c., just as the chief priests prevailed nothing against Jesus and Paul. The difference between Jesus's time and ours is—that the people know more now than they did then. When they were ignorant, miserable, and poor, they had no confidence in any preacher that had not the same characteristics. Now that they have acquired knowledge enough to make them desire more, they want no ignorant ascetic pulpit, but teachers with knowledge and ability, who teach—not foolishness, self-distrust, ignorance, improvidence, poverty, and depravity; but self-respect, wisdom of this world, prudence, and energy. They will have none who say and do not; who exhort to faith instead of to understanding; none who teach what would be inimical to the physical and moral well-being of society. Religion—inasmuch as it depreciates and prohibits knowledge, comfort, worldly happiness—for the chance of a larger quantity of a hypothetical future life,—I have shown to be accurately antagonistic to morality; which I define as the most profitable worldly conduct. All agree that it is neither immoral nor foolish to use a mosquito curtain; but to how many is it given to discern that having actually got one, it is impious as well as stultificatory to pray to God to do for us what we have thus completely done for ourselves? what we know, if we did nothing, could not save us from a page 15 mosquito? If those who both work and pray, get what they want, how are they to discover by which process they get it? Those only who have tried working without praying, and vice versâ, are in a position to judge And before we can judge, we must learn. We are all really Atheists now, though only some of us are yet aware of it. I have shown why we all have already unconsciously, but really, discarded religion; and that we are now as it were one by one waking up to the consciousness of having done so. Some who are shocked at this conclusion now, would be far more shocked to learn the fact, that it is only by an inconsistency which—if conscious—would be dishonesty, that they are prevented from accepting it as logical and true. I may remark that the excellency of speech which St. Paul depreciated and prohibited, though he cultivated it himself, is one thing that the people want much, and can best secure by the simple means of exercising their intellects in Free Discussion.