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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 42

9.—Our Duty not to Decline

page 15

9.—Our Duty not to Decline.

Mr Stout is anxious that the members of his Association, or sect, be "burning and shining lights." They are to regard it as their "duty to show that a disbelief in the popular creeds does not lessen their respect for what is right and just." We will try to pick out the meaning; it is vague and most difficult to analyse, yet I presume there is a general meaning to be culled from it. I shall paraphrase it thus—It is incumbent on us who have cast off, or discarded, the beliefs of the community in general, to evince by our conduct that we have not thereby become less respectful to those principles which we individually deem to be right and just. That, at least, would be a wise policy. If they could not walk up to this poverty-stricken sense of duty, hope for their Society's progress might soon die out. This little sermon is a cruel tell tale. They are urged to bear in mind the duty they are under to exert themselves to prevent their sinking below their former standard of moral rectitude. It is a virtual admission that there is a tendency under their principles to sink, and they are urged to fortify the weak part, lest they themselves break through and expose the flaw to those whose eyes are surrounding them. I should have expected an exhortation to endeavour to gain a higher level—to show a more perfect respect for the right and just—if the preacher had a conviction that his "non creedo" was more excellent than the popular beliefs. But evidently, sensible of the danger to which his party is exposed, he exhorts to vigilance against a fall. His cry is not the noble "Excelsior," but the humble "beware of pitfalls." He points, not to "Saint Augustine's ladder," urging its ascent, but with eyes fixed on the ground, and perplexity in his mind, he calls to his companions "the ground is treacherous, your duty is to show that you can get through without losing your shoes, or soiling your garments." So long as they escape degrading themselves below their former selves they walk up to the requitements of their "duty." There is here no aspiration after a purer or more perfectly virtuous life; no incentive to outgrow the old stateby reaching "forward to that which is before." The word is not "let us strive to become better and wiser men," but "let us watch we do not become worse men." Unworthy motto!