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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

[part I]

This evening I shall endeavor to fulfil the promise made in my Lecture on Rationalism, that I would verify, by illustrations drawn from the Bible itself, all that I have said against the doctrine of its infallibility.

I do not ask for your indulgence so much as for your pity, in having to perform a task which must deprive me more than ever of the esteem of many good men.

At the outset, I must confess that it is an odious and a thankless task to have to show up the faults of a venerable book which has been the fruitful source of blessing and happiness to countless millions of our race, and which is to me, this very day, both dear and precious. The very faults which I have to hold up for your censure are by no means exceptionally bad, when considered in the light of those times in which they occurred. Some of them are common human blemishes, which any of our best men in the 19th century might have fallen into, had they lived and written in those early times. Nay, I am not sure that in every period throughout those 2.000 or 3,000 years supposed to be covered by the Biblical writings, the Bible writers were not always in advance of their own times, and that their views of God and of duty were not at each successive point superior to those which prevailed in other nations around them. Thus what now appears to us faults were, by comparison, originally great page 2 merits, whereby alone the books of the Bible obtained their supremacy over the literature of the world. To illustrate this, let me remind you of the story of Abraham offering up Isaac. We will criticise it from another point of view by and by. At this moment, I ask you to look at it in the light of those times in which Abraham lived. The narrative, at least, assures us that the Patriarch resisted the temptation to offer up his son as a burnt offering; and in overcoming it, Abraham most surely made a protest against the horrible human sacrifices Which prevailed around him, and which he so narrowly escaped imitating. Bad as things seem to be, and really are, in some of the Bible records, it is more than probable they were not nearly so bad as much that went on among the Gentile races which were coeval with the personages in the Bible histories. Moreover, the Bible contains so much that is true and beautiful, so much that will never perish so long as men aspire to virtue and communion with God, that the whole world would be a loser if its pages were to be closed forever, and its precious words forgotten. In proper hands, and read in a reasonable common sense manner, by persons whose minds are absolutely free from superstitious reverence for it, the Bible may still be, and I hope ever will be, a source of delight and instruction—a text-book of praise and worship, and a treasury of examples of all that good men admire.

My opponents, then, will not accuse me of approaching this subject without due reverence for what is really reverend, or without a becoming tenderness for those pious feelings which have thrown a halo around this venerable book—feelings in which I myself share, and which I should be sorry to lose.

This present work is forced upon us by those who have placed the Bible before us in a false light, who have made claims of Divine origin and authority for the book which the book does not make for itself, and who have foolishly and suicidally affirmed that, if the Bible be not infallibly true from beginning to end, it is of no value at all.

Our opponents are not all agreed in their views of the Bible, but I shall endeavor to answer them all at once. Their leading positions are the following:—

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Some Revelationists affirm that the Bible is all true from beginning to end, that "every letter, every word," and so on, has been written under the direct inspiration of God, and is, therefore, of one uniform Divine authority throughout.

This class I shall endeavor to answer by showing that there are absolute and irreconcilable contradictions between one part of the Bible and another part; and that in the Bible there are downright falsehoods. One such instance, of course, would be sufficient to overthrow the position taken by this class. Another class of Bibliolators affirms that though there may be errors in science, history, chronology, and geography, in the Bible, yet on one point it is absolutely and invariably true, namely. in its religious and moral teaching.

This class will be answered by showing that the religious and moral teaching in the Bible is not uniform nor coherent, but in some places contradictory of itself, and that some of the religious teaching is degrading to God, and some of the so-called moral teaching is degrading to man.

Another class, driven from both of these positions, has finally taken refuge in that part of the Bible which relates the history of Jesus Christ, and they affirm that, although the Bible is full of errors, scientific, historical, etc., and even religious and moral, yet the teachings and life of Jesus were absolutely perfect, without the slightest blemish or defect. This class will be answered by my illustrating, from the Gospels, certain moral blemishes in the character and life of Jesus, and even in parts of his teaching, as reported in the Gospels themselves.

But I beg you to observe, and especially desire any opponents who may be present to observe, that the whole and sole aim of this Lecture is to refute the ideas that the Bible is infallible and that Jesus was no less than the Almighty God. I stand here tonight with this single purpose; I do not come here to make men love the truths of the Bible less than they did before, or to regard with diminished homage the noble life and beautiful teaching of Jesus himself. I at tack only the extravagant notions that the Bible is all true, that its moral and religious teachings are infallible, and that Jesus was more than man and free from every human blemish.

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My arguments will be addressed to your reason, your consciences, and your hearts. "I speak as unto wise men; judge ye what I say."

First of all, I would warn all the spectators in this contest against the tactics of orthodoxy. They will be told that all these objections to the Bible are old, and have been answered over and over again. To this my reply is, that I have searched in vain for any satisfactory answers to them, and have never found them; my reputation and my future prospects as a teacher of religion are at stake in this evening's work. I offer these as a pledge that I am going to speak honestly of the Bible, and not wilfully to misrepresent any part of it; and also that I am not going to make myself a laughing-stock by bringing forward objections which have really been already satisfactorily answered. Another of the orthodox manoeuvres is not to allow us to take the words of the Bible as they stand, but they insist on altering an ugly passage by the change or withdrawal of a word or two so as to get rid of a difficulty that cannot otherwise be overcome. The school represented by the Rev. F. D. Maurice is eminently skilful in this manipulation of texts. In my opinion, if this be permissible, then any text may be made to give any meaning, and the greatest possible comfort may be drawn from an Athanasian Creed. The attempt to alter and modify passages in the Bible should at once be recognized as an admission that those passages are not God's word, which of course it would be impious to tamper with or attempt to improve.

I may be called very narrow and arbitrary, but I insist upon keeping close to the plain sense of the words in our authorized Bible, which the ministers of religion of all denominations put, without any warning, into the hands of every one who can be got to read it. Revision of translation is no doubt necessary, and, if conducted fairly, would in many instances be unfavorable to orthodoxy. But until we have a new authorized version, we must use the old one.

I will give you the book, the chapter, and the verse for every quotation which I shall make. I cannot render myself "infallible" for the occasion, or else I surely would; but I may safely say, that page 5 if a wiser head or a keener eye than my own should discover a blunder or two in my remarks, those few possible blunders will not detract more than a grain from the weight of the crushing evidence which will still remain.

If all my quotations but one could be explained and harmonized satisfactorily, and that one irreconcilable contradiction or moral blemish remained, it would be enough to accomplish my task of refuting the infallibility of the Bible. My work divides itself into the following sections, though here and there they may unavoidably overlap one another:—
(1)I shall adduce a few illustrations of contradiction pure and simple.
(2)I shall cite passages of Scripture which attribute to God feelings or conduct unworthy of Deity.
(3)Passages which directly or indirectly inculcate wrong-doing or bad motives in man.
(4)Passages from the Gospels illustrating the human error and infirmity of Jesus; inconsistent with the idea of His being God.