The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 46
1 Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion.
1 In Prof. Max Müller's Introduction to the Science of Religion some excellent passages occur, embodying the above view of the continuity of religious development.
Principal Caird, nevertheless, ascribes to this imaging of the Unseen a special value and significance. It provides an objective counterpart to religious emotion, permanent but plastic—capable of indefinite change and purification in response to the changing moods and aspirations of mankind. It is solely on this mutable element that he fixes his attention in estimating the religious character of individuals or of nations. 'Here,' he says, 'the fundamental inquiry is as to the objective character of their religious ideas or beliefs. The first question is, not how they feel, but what they think and believe; not whether their religion manifests itself in emotions more or less vehement or enthusiastic, but what are the conceptions of God and divine things by which these emotions are called forth?' These conceptions 'of God and divine things' were, it is admitted, once 'materialistic and figurative,' and therefore objectively untrue. Nor is their purer essence yet distilled; for the religious education of the world still 'advances,' and is, therefore, incomplete. Hence the essentially fiuxional character of that objective counterpart to religious emotion to which Principal Caird attaches most importance. He, moreover, assumes that the emotion is called forth by the conception. We have doubtless action and reaction here; but it may be questioned whether the conception, which is a construction of the human understanding, could be at all page 8 put together without materials drawn from the experience of the human heart.1
The changes of conception here adverted to have not always been peacefully brought about. The 'trans-mutation' of the old beliefs was often accompanied by conflict and suffering. It was conspicuously so during the passage from paganism to Christianity. In his work entitled 'L'Eglise Chrétienne,' Renan describes the sufferings of a group of Christians at Smyrna which may be taken as typical. The victims were cut up by the lash till the inner tissues of their bodies were laid bare. They were dragged naked over pointed shells. They were torn by lions; and finally, while still alive, were committed to the flames. But all these tortures failed to extort from them a murmur or a cry. The fortitude of the early Christians gained many converts to their cause. Still, when the evidential value of fortitude is considered, it must not be forgotten that almost every faith can point to its rejoicing martyrs. Even these Smyrna murderers had a faith of their own, the imperilling of which by Christianity spurred them on to murder. From faith they extracted the diabolical energy which animated them. The strength of faith is, therefore, no proof of the objective truth of faith. Indeed, at the very time here referred to we find two classes of Christians equally strong—Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians—who, while dying for the same Master, turned their backs upon each other, mutually declining all fellowship and communion.
1 While reading the volume of Principal Caird I was reminded more than once of the following passage in Renan's Antéchrist:—'Et d'ailleurs, quel est l'homme vraiment religieux qui répudie complètement l'enseignement traditionnel à l'ombre duquel il sentit d'abord l'idéal, qui ne cherche pas les conciliations, souvent impossibles, entre sa vieille foi et celle à laquelle il est arrivé par le progrès de sa pensée?'
Thus early the forces which had differentiated Christianity from paganism made themselves manifest in details, producing disunion among those whose creeds and interests were in great part identical. Struggles for priority were not uncommon. Jesus himself had to quell such contentions. His exhortations to humility were frequent. 'He that is least among you shall be greatest of all.' There were also conflicts upon points of doctrine. The difference which concerns us most had reference to the binding power of the Jewish law. Here dissensions broke out among the apostles themselves. Nobody who reads with due attention the epistles of Paul can fail to see that this mighty propagandist had to carry on a lifelong struggle to maintain his authority as a preacher of Christ. There were not wanting those who denied him all vocation. James was the head of the Church at Jerusalem, and Judeo-Christians held that the ordination of James was alone valid. Paul, therefore, having no mission from James, was deemed by some a criminal intruder. The real fault of Paul was his love of freedom, and his uncompromising rejection, on behalf of his Gentile converts, of the chains of Judaism. He proudly calls himself 'the Apostle of the Gentiles.' He says to the Corinthians, 'I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they of the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft.' He then establishes his right to the position which he claimed by recounting in detail the sufferings he had endured. I leave it to you to compare this Christian hero with some of the 'freethinkers' of our own day, who flaunt in public their page 10 cheap and trumpery theories of the great Apostle and the Master whom he served.
Paul was too outspoken to escape assault. All insincerity and double-facedness—all humbug, in short—were hateful to him; and even among his colleagues he found scope for this feeling. Judged by our standard of manliness, Peter, in moral stature, fell far short of Paul. In that supreme moment when his Master required of him 'the durance of a granite ledge' Peter proved 'unstable as water.' He ate with the Gentiles, when no Judeo-Christian was present to observe him; but when such appeared he withdrew himself, fearing those which were of the circumcision. Paul charged him openly with dissimulation. But Paul's quarrel with Peter was more than personal. Paul contended for a principle, determined, at all hazards, to shield his Gentile children in the Lord from the yoke which their Jewish co-religionists would have imposed upon them. 'If thou,' he says to Peter, 'being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as the Jews?' In the spirit of a true liberal he overthrew the Judaic preferences for days, deferring at the same time to the claims of conscience. 'Let him who desires a Sabbath,' he virtually says, 'enjoy it; but let him not impose it on his brother who does not.' The rift thus revealed in the apostolic lute widened with time, and Christian love was not the feeling which long animated the respective followers of Peter and Paul.
1 L'Eglise Chrétienne, p. 450.
With jolts and oscillations, resulting at times in overthrow, the religious life of the world has spun down 'the ringing grooves of change.' A smoother route may have been undiscoverable. At all events it was undiscovered. Many years ago I found myself in discussion with a friend who entertained the notion that the general tendency of things in this world is towards an equilibrium of peace and blessedness to the human race. My notion was that equilibrium meant not peace and blessedness, but death. No motive power is to be got from heat, save during its fall from a higher to a lower temperature, as no power is to be got from water save during its descent from a higher to a lower level. Thus also life consists, not in equilibrium, but in the passage towards equilibrium. In man it is the leap from the potential, through the actual, to repose. The passage often involves a fight. Every natural growth is more or less of a struggle with other growths, in which, in the long run, the fittest survives. In times of strife and commotion we may long for peace; but knowledge and progress are the fruits of action. Some are, and must be, wiser than the rest; and the enunciation of a thought in advance of the moment provokes dissent or wins approval, and thus promotes action. The thought may be unwise; but it is only by discussion, checked by experience, that its value can be determined. Discussion, therefore, is one of the motive powers of life, page 13 and, as such, is not to be deprecated. Still one can hardly look without despair on the passions excited, and the energies wasted, over questions which, after ages of strife, are shown to be mere foolishness. Thus the theses which shook the world during the first centuries of the Christian era have, for the most part, shrunk into nothingness. It may, however, be that the human mind could not become fitted to pronounce judgment on a controversy otherwise than by wading through it. We get clear of the jungle by traversing it. Thus even the errors, conflicts, and sufferings of bygone times may have been necessary factors in the education of the world. Let nobody, however, say that it has not been a hard education. The yoke of religion has not always been easy, nor its burden light—a result arising, in part, from the ignorance of the world at large, but more especially from the mistakes of those who had the charge and guidance of a great spiritual force, and who guided it blindly. Looking over the literature of the Sabbath question, as catalogued and illustrated in the laborious, able, and temperate work of the late Mr. Robert Cox, we can hardly repress a sigh in thinking of the gifts and labours of intellect which this question has absorbed, and the amount of bad blood it has generated. Further reflection, however, reconciles us to the fact that waste in intellect may be as much an incident of growth as waste in nature.
When the various passages of the Pentateuch which relate to the observance of the Sabbath are brought together, as they are in the excellent work of Mr. Cox, and when we pass from them to the similarly collected utterances of the New Testament, we are immediately exhilarated by a freer atmosphere and a vaster sky. Christ found the religions of the world oppressed almost page 14 to suffocation by the load of formulas piled upon them by the priesthood. He removed the load, and rendered respiration free. He cared little for forms and ceremonies, which had ceased to be the raiment of man's spiritual life. To that life he looked, and it he sought to restore. It was remarked by Martin Luther that Jesus broke the Sabbath deliberately, and even ostentatiously, for a purpose. He walked in the fields; he plucked, shelled, and ate the corn; he treated the sick, and his spirit may be detected in the alleged imposition upon the restored cripple of the labour of carrying his bed on the Sabbath day. He crowned his protest against a sterile formalism by the enunciation of a principle which applies to us to-day as much as to the world in the time of Christ. 'The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.'
Though the Jews, to their detriment, kept themselves as a nation intellectually isolated, the minds of individuals were frequently coloured by Greek thought and culture. The learned and celebrated Philo, who was contemporary with Josephus, was thus influenced. Philo expanded the uses of the seventh day by including in its proper observance studies which might be called secular. 'Moreover,' he says, 'the seventh day is also an example from which you may learn the propriety of studying philosophy. As on that day it is said God beheld the works that He had made, so you also may yourself contemplate the works of Nature.' Permission to do this is exactly what the members of the Sunday Society humbly claim. The Jew, Philo, would grant them this permission, but our straiter Christians will not. Where shall we find such samples of those works of Nature which Philo commended to the Sunday contemplation of his countrymen as in the British Museum? page 15 Within those walls we have, as it were, epochs disentombed—ages of divine energy illustrated. But the efficient authorities—among whom I would include a short-sighted portion of the public—resolutely close the doors, and exclude from the contemplation of these things the multitudes who have only Sunday to devote to them. Taking them on their own ground, we ask, are the authorities logical in doing so? Do they who thus stand between them and us really believe those treasures to be the work of God? Do they or do they not hold, with Paul, that 'the eternal power and Godhead' may be clearly seen from 'the things that are made'? If they do—and they dare not affirm that they do not—I fear that Paul, in his customary language, would pronounce their conduct in shutting us out to be 'without excuse.'1
1 I refer, of course, to those who object to the opening of the Museums on religious grounds. The administrative difficulty stands on a different footing. But surely it ought to vanish in presence of the public benefits which in all probability would accrue.
1 In 1785 the first mail-coach reached Edinburgh from London on Sunday, and in 1788 it was continued to Glasgow. The innovation was denounced by a minister of the Secession Church of Scotland as 'contrary to the laws both of Church and State; contrary to the laws of God; contrary to the most conclusive and constraining reasons assigned by God; and calculated not only to promote the hurt and ruin of the nation, but also the eternal damnation of multitudes.'—Cox, vol. ii. p. 248. Even in our own day there are clergymen foolish enough to indulge in this dealing out of damnation,
2 'That public worship,' says Milton, 'is commended and inculcated as a voluntary duty, even under the Gospel, I allow; but that it is a matter of compulsory enactment, binding on believers from the authority of this commandment, or of any Sinaitical precept whatever, I deny.'
The early reformers emphatically asserted the freedom of Christians from Sabbatical bonds; indeed Puritan writers have reproached them with dimness of vision regarding the observance of the Lord's Day. 'The fourth Commandment,' says Luther, 'literally understood, does not apply to us Christians; for it is entirely outward, like other ordinances of the Old Testament, all of which are now left free by Christ. If a preacher,' he continues,' wishes to force you back to Moses, ask him whether you were brought by Moses out of Egypt? If he says no; then say, How, then, does Moses concern me, since he speaks to the people that have been brought out of Egypt? In the New Testament Moses comes to an end, and his laws lose their force. He must bow in the presence of Christ.' 'The Scripture,' says Melanchthon, 'allows that we are not bound to keep the Sabbath, for it teaches that the ceremonies of the law of Moses are not necessary after the revelation of the Gospel. And yet,' he adds, 'because it was requisite to appoint a certain day that the people might know when to assemble together, it appeared that the Church appointed for this purpose the Lord's Day.' I am glad to find my grand old namesake on the side of freedom in this matter. 'As for the Sab- page 19 bath,' says the martyr Tyndale, 'we are lords over it, and may yet change it into Monday, or into any other day, as we see need; or may make every tenth day holy day, only if we see cause why. Neither need we any holy day at all if the people might be taught without it.' Calvin repudiated 'the frivolities of false prophets who, in later times, have instilled Jewish ideas into the people. Those,' he continues, 'who thus adhere to the Jewish institution go thrice as far as the Jews themselves in the gross and carnal superstition of Sabbatism.' Even John Knox, who has had so much Puritan strictness unjustly laid to his charge, knew how to fulfil on the Lord's Day the duties of a generous, hospitable host. His Master feasted on the Sabbath day, and he did not fear to do the same on Sunday. 'There be two parts of the Sabbath day,' says Cranmer. 'One is the outward bodily rest from all manner of labour and work: this is mere ceremonial, and was taken away with other sacrifices and ceremonies by Christ at the preaching of the Gospel. The other part of the Sabbath day is the inward rest or ceasing from sin.' This higher symbolism, as regards the Sabbath, is frequently employed by the Reformers. It is the natural recoil of the living spirit from the mechanical routine of a worn-out hierarchy.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century, demands for a stricter observance of the Sabbath began to be made—probably in the first instance with some reason, and certainly with good intent. The manners of the time were coarse, and Sunday was often chosen for their offensive exhibition. But if there was coarseness on the one side, there was ignorance both of Nature and human nature on the other. Contemporaneously with the demands for stricter Sabbath rides, God's page 20 judgments on Sabbath-breakers began to be pointed out. Then and afterwards 'God's judgments' were much in vogue, and man, their interpreter, frequently behaved as a fiend in the supposed execution of them. But of this subsequently. A Suffolk clergyman named Bownd, who, according to Cox, was the first to set forth at large the views afterwards embodied in the Westminster Confession, adduces many such judgments. One was the case of a nobleman 'who for hunting on the holy day was punished by having a child with a head like a dog's.' Though he cites this instance, Bownd, in the matter of Sabbath observance, was very lenient towards noblemen. With courtier-like pliancy, which is not without its counterpart at the present time, he makes an exception in their favour. 'Concerning the feasts of noblemen and great personages or their ordinary diet upon this day, because they represent in some measure the majesty of God on the earth, in carrying the image as it were of the magnificence and puissance of the Lord, much is to be granted to them.'
Imagination once started in this direction was sure to be prolific. Instances accordingly grew apace in number and magnitude. Memorable examples of God's judgments upon Sabbath-breakers, and other like libertines, in their unlawful sports happening within this realm of England, were collected. Innumerable cases of drowning while bathing on Sunday were adduced, without the slightest attention to the logical requirements of the question. Week-day drownings were not dwelt upon, and nobody knew or cared how the question of proportion stood between the two classes of bathers. The Civil War was regarded as a punishment for Sunday desecration. The fire of London, and a subsequent great fire in Edinburgh, were ascribed to page 21 this cause; while the fishermen of Berwick lost their trade through catching salmon on Sunday. A Nonconformist minister named John Wells, whose huge volume is described by Cox as 'the most tedious of all the Puritan productions about the Sabbath,' is specially copious in illustration. A drunken pedlar, 'fraught with commodities' on Sunday, drops into a river: God's retributive justice is seen in the fact. Wells travelled far in search of instances. One Utrich Schrœtorus, a Swiss, while playing at dice on the Lord's Day, lost heavily, and apparently to gain the devil to his side broke out into this horrid blasphemy: 'If fortune deceive me now I will thrust my dagger into the body of God.' Whereupon he threw the dagger upwards. It disappeared, and five drops of blood, which afterwards proved indelible, fell upon the gaming table. The devil then appeared, and with a hideous noise carried off the vile blasphemer. His two companions fared no better. One was struck dead and turned into worms, the other was executed. A vintner, who on the Lord's Day tempted the passers-by with a pot of wine, was carried into the air by a whirlwind and never seen more. 'Let us read and tremble,' adds Mr. Wells; At Tidworth a man broke his leg on Sunday while playing at football. By a secret judgment of the Lord the wound turned into a gangrene, and in pain and terror the criminal gave up the ghost.
You may smile at these recitals, but is there not a survival of John Wells still extant among us? Are there not people in our midst so well informed regarding 'the secret judgments of the Lord' as to be able to tell you their exact value and import, from the damaging of the share market through the running of Sunday page 22 trains to the calamitous overthrow of a railway bridge? Alphonso of Castile boasted that if he had been consulted at the beginning of things he could have saved the Creator some worlds of trouble. It would not be difficult to give the God of our more rigid Sabbatarians a lesson in justice and mercy, for his alleged judgments savour but little of either. How are calamities to be classified? Almost within earshot of those who note these Sunday judgments, the poor miners of Blantyre are blown to pieces, while engaged in their sinless weekday toil. A little further off the bodies of two hundred and sixty workers, equally innocent of Sabbath-breaking, are entombed at Abercarne. Dinas holds its sixty bodies, while the present year has furnished its fearful tale of similar disasters. Whence comes the vision which differentiates the Sunday calamity from the week-day calamity, seeing in the one a judgment of heaven, and in the other a natural event? We may wink at the ignorance of John Wells, for he lived in a pre-scientific age; but it is not pleasant to see his features reproduced, on however small a scale, before an educated nation in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Notwithstanding their strictness about the Sabbath, which possibly carried with it the usual excess of a reaction, some of the straitest of the Puritan sect saw clearly that unremitting attention to business, whether religious or secular, was unhealthy. Considering recreation to be as necessary to health as daily food, they exhorted parents and masters, if they would avoid the desecration of the Sabbath, to allow to children and servants time for honest recreation on other days. They might have clone well to inquire whether even Sunday devotions might not, without 'moral culpability' on their page 23 part, keep the minds of children and servants too long upon the stretch. I fear many of the good men who insist on a Judaic observance of the Sabbath, and who dwell upon the peace and blessedness to be derived from a proper use of the Lord's Day, generalise beyond their data, applying the experience of the individual to the case of mankind. What is a conscious joy and blessing to themselves they cannot dream of as being a possible misery, or even a curse, to others. It is right that your most spiritually-minded men—men who, to use a devotional phrase, enjoy the closest walk with God—should be your pastors. But they ought also to be practical men, able to look not only on their personal feelings, but on the capacities of humanity at large, and willing to make their rules and teachings square with these capacities. There is in some minds a natural bias towards religion, as there is in others towards poetry, art, or mathematics; but the poet, artist, or mathematician who would seek to impose upon others not possessing his tastes the studies which give him delight, would be deemed an intolerable despot. The philosopher Fichte was wont to contrast his mode of rising into the atmosphere of faith with the experience of others. In his case the process, he said, was purely intellectual. Through reason he reached religion; while in the case of many whom he knew this process was both unnecessary and unused, the bias of their minds sufficing to render faith, without logic, clear and strong. In making rules for the community these natural differences must be taken into account. The yoke which is easy to the few may be intolerable to the many, not only defeating its own immediate purpose, but frequently introducing recklessness or hypocrisy into minds which a page 24 franker and more liberal treatment would have kept free from both.1
1 'When our Puritan friends,' says Mr. Frederick Robertson,' talk of the blessings of the Sabbath, we may ask them to remember some of its curses.' Other and more serious evils than those recounted by Mr. Robertson may, I fear, be traced to the system of Sabbath observance pursued in many of our schools. At the risk of shocking some worthy persons, I would say that the invention of an invigorating game for fine Sunday afternoons, and healthy indoor amusement for wet ones, would prove infinitely more effectual as an aid to moral purity than most of our plans of religious meditation.
The Puritans, when they came into power, followed the evil example of their predecessors. They, the champions of religious freedom, showed that they could, in their turn, deprive their antagonists of their benefices, fine them, burn their books by the common hangman, and compel them to read from the pulpit things of which they disapproved. On this point Bishop Heber makes some excellent remarks. 'Much,' he says, 'as each religious party in its turn had suffered from persecution, and loudly and bitterly as each had, in its own particular instance, complained of the severities exercised against its members, no party had yet been found to perceive the great wickedness of persecution in the abstract, or the moral unfitness of temporal punishment as an engine of religious controversy.' In a very different strain writes the Dr. Bownd who has been already referred to as a precursor of Puritanism. He is so sure of his 'doxy' that he will unflinchingly make page 26 others bow to it. 'It behoveth,' he says, 'all kings, princes, and rulers, that profess the true religion to enact such laws and to see them diligently executed, whereby the honour of God in hallowing these days might be maintained. And, indeed, this is the chiefest end of all government, that men might not profess what religion they list, and serve God after what manner it pleaseth them best, but that the parts of God's true worship [Bowndean worship] might be set up everywhere, and all men compelled to stoop unto it.'
There is, it must be admitted, a sad logical consistency in the mode of action advocated by Dr. Bownd and deprecated by Bishop Heber. As long as men hold that there is a hell to be shunned, they seem logically warranted in treating lightly the claims of religious liberty upon earth. They dare not tolerate a freedom whose end they believe to be eternal perdition. Cruel they may be for the moment, but a passing pang vanishes when compared with an eternity of pain. Unreligious men might call it hallucination, but if I accept undoubtingly the doctrine of eternal punishment, then, whatever society may think of my act, I am self-justified not only in 'letting' but in destroying that which I hold dearest, if I believe it to be thereby stopped in its progress to the fires of hell. Hence, granting the assumptions common to both, the persecution of Puritans by High Churchmen, and of High Churchmen by Puritans, had a basis in reason. I do not think the question can be decided on à 'priori grounds, as Bishop Heber seemed to suppose. It is not the abstract wickedness of persecution, so much as our experience of its results, that causes us to set our faces against it. It has been tried, and found the most ghastly of failures. This experimental fact overwhelms the plausibilities of page 27 logic, and renders persecution, save in its meaner and stealthier aspects, in our day impossible.
The combat over Sunday continued, the Sabbatarians continually gaining ground. In 1643 the divines who drew up the famous document known as the Westminster Confession, began their sittings in Henry the Seventh's Chapel. Milton thought lightly of these divines, who, he said, were sometimes chosen by the whim of members of Parliament; but the famous Puritan, Baxter, extolled them for their learning, godliness, and ministerial abilities. A journal of their earlier proceedings was kept by one of their members. On the 13th of November 1644 he records the occurrence of 'a large debate' on the sanctification of the Lord's Day. After fixing the introductory phraseology, the assembly proceeded to consider the second proposition: 'To abstain from all unnecessary labours, worldly sports, and recreations.' It was debated whether 'worldly thoughts' should not be added. 'This was scrupulous,' says the naive journalist, 'whether we should not be a scorn to go about to bind men's thoughts, but at last it was concluded upon to be added, both for the more piety and for that the Fourth Command includes it.' The question of Sunday cookery was then discussed and settled; and, as regards public worship, it was decreed 'that all the people meet so timely that the whole congregation be present at the beginning, and not depart until after the blessing. That what time is vacant between or after the solemn meetings of the congregation be spent in reading, meditation, repetition of sermons,' &c. These holy men were full of that strength already referred to as imparted by faith. They needed no natural joy to brighten their lives, mirth being displaced by religious exaltation. They erred, however, in making themselves page 28 a measure for the world at large, and insured the overthrow of their cause by drawing too heavily upon average human nature. 'This much,' says Hallam, 'is certain, that when the Puritan party employed their authority in proscribing all diversions, and enforcing all the Jewish rigour about the Sabbath, they rendered their own yoke intolerable to the young and gay; nor did any other cause, perhaps, so materially contribute to bring about the Restoration.'
From the records of the Town Council of Edinburgh, Mr. Cox makes certain extracts which amusingly illustrate both the character of Sabbath discipline and the difficulty of enforcing it. In 1560 it was among other things decreed that on Sundays 'all persons be astricted to be present at the ordinary sermons as well after noon as before noon, and that from the last jow of the bell to the said sermons to the final end.' In 1581 the Council ordained that 'proclamation be made through this burgh, discharging all kinds of games and plays now commonly used the said day, such as bowling in yards, dancing, playing, running through the high street of hussies, bairns, and boys, with all manner of dissolution of behaviour.' The people obeyed and went to church, but it seems they chose their own preachers. This gala-vanting among the kirks was, however, quickly put an end to; for in 1584 it was ordained 'that all freemen and freemen's wives in times coming be found in their own parish kirk every Sunday, as also at the time of the Communions, under the pain of payment of an unlaw for every person being found absent.' In 1586 the Council 'finds it expedient that a bailie ilk Sunday his week about, visit the street taverns and other common places in time of sermon, and pones all offenders according to the town statutes.' Vaging (strolling) in page 29 the High Gate was also forbidden, and no bickering in the streets was to be allowed. Dickson, the town trumpeter, 'to be warded and put in the irons for passing on the Sundays at his own hand to the May-plays at Kirkliston.'
These restrictions, applying at first to the time of divine service only, were afterwards extended to the entire Sunday. Sabbath profanation resembled hydraulic pressure, and broke forth whenever it found a weak point in the municipal dam. The repairing and strengthening of the dam were incessant. Proclamation followed proclamation, forbidding the practice of buying and selling, the opening of eating and coffee-houses, and prohibiting such sports as golf, archery, row-bowles, pennystane, and kaitchpullis. The gates of the city were ordered to be closed on Saturday night, and not to be opened before four o'clock on Monday morning. At the time these edicts were published the Provost complained of the little obedience hitherto given to the manifold acts of council for keeping the Sabbath. A decree on January 14, 1659, runs thus:—'Whereas many both young and old persons walk, or sit and play on the Castle hill, and upon the streets and other places on the Sabbath Day after sermons, so that it is manifest that family worship is neglected by such, the Council appoint that there be several pairs of stocks provided to stand in several public places of the city, that whosoever is needlessly walking or sitting idly in the streets shall either pay eighteenpence sterling penalty or be put in the stocks.' The parents of children found playing are fined 6d. a head. 'And if any children be found on the Castle hill after supper, to pay 18d. penalty or to be put in the stocks.' Even this drastic treatment did not cure the evil, for thirty years later the edict against page 30 'vaging' on the Castle hill had to be renewed. At the same time it was ordered that the public wells be closed on Sunday from 8 A.M. till noon; then to open till 1 P.M., and afterwards from 5 P.M. None to bring any greater vessels to the wells for the carrying of water than a pint stoup or a pint bottle on the Lord's Lay. Our present sanitary notions were evidently not prevalent in Edinburgh in 1689. Mr. Cox remarks that 'these ordinances were usually enacted at the instance of the clergy.' It would have been well had the evils which the Scottish clergy inflicted on their country at the time here referred to been limited to the stern manipulation of Sabbath laws.1
1 In Massachusetts it was attempted to make Sabbath-breaking a capital offence, but Governor Winthrop had the humanity and good sense to erase it from the list of acts punishable with death. In the laws of the colony of New Plymouth, presumptuous Sabbath-breaking was either followed by death or 'grievously punished at the judgment of the court,'
The term 'nonsense,' which has just been applied to the views of creation enunciated by the Westminster Assembly, was used, as already stated, in reference to our present knowledge, and not to the knowledge of three or four centuries ago. To most people the earth was at that time all in all, the sun and moon and stars being set in heaven merely to furnish lamplight to our planet. But though in relation to the heavenly bodies the earth's position and importance were thus exaggerated, very inadequate and erroneous notions were entertained regarding the shape and magnitude of the earth itself. Theologians were horrified when first informed that our planet was a sphere. The question of antipodes exercised them for a long time, most of them pouring ridicule on the idea that men could exist with their feet turned towards us, and with their heads pointing downwards. I think it is Sir George Airy who refers to the case of an over-curious individual asking what we should see if we went to the edge of the world and looked over. That the earth was a flat surface on which the sky rested was the belief entertained by the founders of all our great religious systems. Even liberal Protestant theologians stigmatised the Copernican theory as being 'built on fallible phenomena and advanced by many arbitrary assumptions against evident testimonies of Scripture.'1 Newton finally placed his intellectual crowbar beneath these ancient notions, and heaved them into irretrievable ruin.
1 Such was the view of Dr. John Owen, who is described by Cox as 'the most eminent of the Independent divines,'
1 Cox, vol. ii. p. 211, note.
1 Theophilus Brabourne, a sturdy Puritan minister of Norfolk, whom Cox regards as the founder of this sect, thus argued the question in 1628: 'And now let me propound unto your choice these two days: the Sabbath Day on Saturday or the Lord's Day on Sunday, and keep whether of the twain you shall in conscience find the more safe. If you keep the Lord's Day, but profane the Sabbath Day, you walk in great danger and peril (to say the least) of transgressing one of God's eternal and inviolable laws—the Fourth Commandment. But, on the other side, if you keep the Sabbath Day, though you profane the Lord's Day, you are out of all gun-shot and danger, for so you transgress no law at all, since neither Christ nor his apostles did ever leave any law for it.'
Large and liberal minds were drawn into this Sabbatarian conflict, but they were not the majority. Between the booming of the bigger guns we have an incessant clatter of small arms. We ought not to judge superior men without reference to the spirit of their age. This is an influence from which they cannot escape, and so far as it extenuates their errors it ought to be pleaded in their favour. Even the atrocities of the individual excite less abhorrence when they are seen to be the outgrowth of his time. But the most fatal error that could be committed by the leaders of religious thought is the attempt to force into their own age conceptions which have lived their life, and come to their natural end, in preceding ages. History is the record of a vast experimental investigation—of a search by man after the best conditions of existence. The Puritan attempt was a grand experiment. It had to be made. Sooner or later the question must have forced itself upon earnest believers possessed of power, Is it not possible to rule the world in accordance with the wishes of God as revealed in the Bible?—Is it not possible to make human life the copy of a divine pattern? The question could only have occurred in the first instance to the more exalted minds. But page 36 instead of working upon the inner forces and convictions of men, legislation presented itself as a speedier way to the attainment of the desired end. To legislation, therefore, the Puritans resorted. Instead of guiding, they repressed, and thus pitted themselves against the unconquerable impulses of human nature. Believing that nature to be depraved, they felt themselves logically warranted in putting it in irons. But they failed, and their failure ought to be a warning to their successors.
Oh! bloodiest picture in the book of time!
The mind sits in sackcloth and ashes while contemplating the scenes so powerfully described by Mr. Lecky in his chapter on Magic and Witchcraft. But I will dwell no further upon these tragedies than to point out how terrible are the errors which our clergy may commit after they have once subscribed to the creed and laws of Judaism, and constituted themselves the legal exponents and interpreters of those laws.1
1 The sufferings of reputed witches in the seventeenth century, as well as those of the early Christians, might be traced to panics and passions similar in kind to those which produced the atrocities of the Reign of Terror in France.
1 Melanchthon writes finely thus: 'Wherefore our decision is this: that those precepts which learned men have committed to writing, transcribing them from the common reason and common feelings of human nature, are to be accounted as no less divine than those contained in the tables of Moses.'—Dugald Sewart's translation. Hengstenberg quotes from the same reformer as follows: 'The law of Moses is not binding upon us, though some things which the law contains are binding, because they coincide with the law of nature.'—See Cox, vol. i. p. 389. The Catechism of the Council of Trent expresses a similar view. There are, then, 'Data of Ethics' over and above the revealed ones.
These reflections, which connect themselves with reminiscences outside the Sabbath controversy, have been more immediately prompted by the aspersions cast by certain Sabbatarians upon those who differ from them. Mr. Cox notices and reproves some of these. According to the Scottish Sabbath Alliance, for example, all who say that the Sabbath was an exclusively Jewish institution, page 40 including, be it noted, such men as Jeremy Taylor and Milton,' clearly prove either their dishonesty or ignorance, or inability to comprehend a very plain and simple subject.' This becomes real humour when we compare the speakers with the persons spoken of. A distinguished English dissenter, who deals in a lustrous but rather cloudy logic, declares that whoever asks demonstration of the divine appointment of the Christian Sabbath 'is blinded by a moral cause to those exquisite pencillings, to those unobtruded vestiges, which furnish their clearest testimony to this Institute.' A third writer charitably professes his readiness 'to admit, in reference to this and many other duties, that it is quite a possible thing for a mind that is desirous of evading the evidence regarding it to succeed in doing so.' A fourth luminary, whose knowledge obviously extends to the mind and methods of the Almighty, exclaims,' Is it not a principle of God's Word in many cases to give enough and no more—to satisfy the devout, not to overpower the un-candid?' It is of course as easy as it is immoral to argue thus; but the day is fast approaching when the most atrabilious presbyter will not venture to use such language. Let us contrast with it the utterance of a naturally sweet and wholesome mind. 'Since all Jewish festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths,' says the celebrated Dr. Isaac Watts, 'are abolished by St. Paul's authority; since the religious observation of days in the 14th chapter to the Romans, in general, is represented as a matter of doubtful disputation; since the observation of the Lord's Day is not built upon any express or plain institution by Christ or his apostles in the New Testament, but rather on examples and probable inferences, and on the reasons and relations of things; I can never pronounce anything hard or severe upon any fellow-Chris- page 41 tian who maintains real piety in heart and life, though his opinion on this subject may be very different from mine.' Thus through the theologian radiates the gentleman.
1 To this latter class belong in an especial manner the writings of Sir William Domville, whose son, the excellent Honorary Treasurer of the Sunday Lecture Society, is carrying out practically and efficiently the views of his father.
Bishop Blomfield also condemns resorting to tea-gardens on Sunday. But we may be sure that it is not the gardens, but the minds which the people bring to them, which produce disorder. These minds possess the culture of the city, to which the Bishop seems disposed to confine them. Wisely and soberly conducted—and it is perfectly possible to conduct them wisely and soberly—such places might be converted into aids towards a life which the Bishop would commend. Purification and improvement are often possible, where extinction is neither possible nor desirable. I have spent many a Sunday afternoon in the public gardens of the little university town of Marburg, in the company of intellectual men and cultivated women, without observing a single occurrence which, as regards morality, might not be permitted in the Bishop's drawing-room. I will add to this another observation made at Dresden on a Sunday, after the suppression of the insurrection by the Prussian soldiery in 1849. The victorious troops were encamped on the banks of the Elbe, and this is how they occupied themselves. Some were engaged in physical games and exercises which in England would be considered innocent in the extreme; some were conversing sociably; some singing the songs of Uhland; while others, from elevated platforms, recited to listening page 43 groups poems and passages from Goethe and Schiller. Through this crowd of military men passed and repassed the girls of the city, linked together with their arms round each other's necks. During hours of observation I heard no word which was unfit for a modest ear; while from beginning to end I failed to notice a single case of intoxication.1
It may appear uncivil and inappropriate for a person invited to come amongst you as I have been, to seek to establish contrasts with other countries unfavourable to your own; but let me take an extract from an account of Scotland written by a Scot, a short time prior to the date of my visit to Dresden. 'A tree,' says this writer, 'is best known by its fruits. What are these in the present instance? The protracted effort to enforce a stern Sabbatical observance per fas et nefas has no doubt evoked an exceedingly decorous state of affairs on Sunday; but in a great measure only so far as external appearances are concerned. Puritanism with its uncompromising demands has had a sway of three centuries in Scotland; and yet at this moment, in proportion to the population, the amount of crime, vice and intemperance is as great, if not in some details greater, than it is in England. But the most frightful feature of Scotland is the loathsome squalor and heathenism of its large towns. The combination of brutal iniquity, filth, absence of self-respect, and intemperance visible daily in the meaner class of streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow fills every traveller with surprise and horror.'2
1 The late Mr. Joseph Kay, as Travelling Bachelor of the University of Cambridge, has borne strong and earnest testimony to the 'humanising and civilising influence' of the Sunday recreations of the German people.
2 Great changes for the better have been made since 'Edinensis' wrote the pamphlet here quoted.
Here we touch the core of the whole matter—the appeal to experience. Sabbatical rigour has been tried, and the question is: Have its results been so conducive to good morals and national happiness, as to render criminal every attempt to modify it? The advances made in all kinds of knowledge in this our age are known to be enormous; and the public desire for instruction, which the intellectual triumphs of the time naturally and inevitably arouse, is commensurate with the growth of knowledge. Must this desire, which is the motive power of all real and healthy progress, be quenched or left unsatisfied, lest Sunday observances, unknown to the early Christians, repudiated by the heroes of the Reformation, and insisted upon for the first time during a period of national gloom and suffering in the seventeenth century, should be interfered with? To justify this position the demonstration of the success of Sabbatarianism must be complete. Is it so? Are we so much better than other nations who have neglected to adopt our rules, that we can point to the working of these rules in the past as a conclusive reason for maintaining them immovable in the future? The answer must be, No. My Sabbatarian friends, you have no ground to stand upon. I say friends, for I would far rather have you as friends than as enemies—far rather see you converted than annihilated. You possess a strength and earnestness with which the world cannot dispense; but to be productive of anything permanently good, that strength and earnestness must build upon the sure foundation of human nature. This is that law of the universe spoken of so frequently by your illustrious countryman, Mr. Carlyle, to quarrel with which is to provoke and precipitate ruin. Join with us then in our endeavours to turn our Sundays to better account. Back with page 45 your support the moderate and considerate demands of the Sunday Society, which scrupulously avoids interfering with the hours devoted by common consent to public worship. Offer the museum, the picture-gallery, and the public garden as competitors to the public-house. By so doing you will fall in with the spirit of your time, and row with, instead of against, the resistless current along which man is borne to his destiny.
Most of you here are Liberals; perhaps Radicals, perhaps even Democrats or Republicans. I am a Conservative. I deprecate insurrections and revolutions, though, having their archetypes in nature, they are to be expected from time to time. The first requisite of true conservatism is foresight. Humanity grows, and foresight secures room for future expansion. In your walks in the country you sometimes see a wall built round a growing tree. So much the worse for the wall, which is sure to be rent and ruined by the energy which it opposes. We have here represented not a true, but a false and ignorant conservatism. The real conservative looks ahead and prepares for the inevitable. He forestalls revolution by securing, in due time, sufficient amplitude for the national vibrations. He is a wrong-headed statesman who imposes his notions, however right in the abstract, on a nation unprepared for them. He is no statesman at all who, without seeking to interpret and guide it in advance, merely waits for the more or less coarse expression of the popular will, and then constitutes himself its vehicle. Untimeliness is sure to be the characteristic of the work of such a statesman. In virtue of the position which he occupies, his knowledge and insight ought to be in advance of the public knowledge and insight; and his action, in like degree, ought to precede and inform page 46 public action. This is what I want my Sabbatarian friends to bear in mind. If they look abroad from the vantage-ground which they occupy, they can hardly fail to discern that the intellect of this country is gradually ranging itself upon our side. Statesmen, clergymen, philosophers, and moralists are joining our standard. Whether, therefore, those to whom I appeal hear, or whether they forbear, we are sure to unlock, for the public good, the doors of the museums and galleries which we have purchased and for the maintenance of which we pay. But I would have them not only prepare for the coming change, but aid and further it by anticipation. They will thus, in a new fashion, 'dish the Whigs,' prove themselves men of foresight and common sense, and obtain a fresh lease of the respect of the community.
As the years roll by, the term 'materialist' will lose more and more of its evil connotation; for it will be more and more seen and acknowledged that the true spiritual nature of man is bound up with his material condition. Wholesome food, pure air, cleanliness—hard work if you will, but also fair rest and recreation—these are necessary not only to physical but to spiritual well-being. The seed of the spirit is cast in vain amid stones and thorns, and thus your best utterances become idle words when addressed to the acclimatised inhabitants of our slums and alleys. Drunkenness ruins the substratum of resolution. The physics of the drunkard's brain are incompatible with moral strength. Here your first care ought to be to cleanse and improve the organ. Break the sot's associations; change his environment; alter his nutrition; displace his base imaginations by thoughts drawn from the purer sources which we seek to render accessible to him. For two centuries, I am page 47 told, the Scottish clergy have proclaimed walking on Sunday to be an act of 'heaven-daring profaneness—an impious encroachment on the inalienable prerogative of the Lord God.' Such language is now out of date. If we could establish Sunday tramways between our dens of filth and iniquity and the nearest green fields, we should, in so doing, be preaching a true gospel. And not only the denizens of our slums, but the proprietors of our factories and counting-houses, might, perhaps, be none the worse for an occasional excursion in the company of those whom they employ. A most blessed influence would also be shed upon the clergy if they were enabled from time to time to change their 'sloth urbane' for healthy action on heath or mountain. Baxter was well aware of the soothing influence of fields, and countries, and walks, and gardens, on a fretted brain. Jeremy Taylor showed a profound knowledge of human nature when he wrote thus:—'It is certain that all which can innocently make a man cheerful, does also make him charitable. For grief, and age, and sickness, and weariness, these are peevish and troublesome; but mirth and cheerfulness are content, and civil, and compliant, and communicative, and love to do good, and swell up to felicity only upon the wings of charity. Upon this account, here is pleasure enough for a Christian at present; and if a facete discourse, and an amicable friendly mirth, can refresh the spirit and take it off from the vile temptation of peevish, despairing, uncomplying melancholy, it must needs be innocent and commendable.' I do not know whether you ever read Thomas Hood's 'Ode to Rae Wilson,' with an extract from which I will close this address. Hood was a humorist, and to some of our graver theologians might appear a mere feather-head. But those who have read page 48 his more serious works will have discerned in him a vein of deep poetic pathos. I hardly know anything finer than the apostrophe in which he turns from those
That bid you baulk
A Sunday walk,
And shun God's work as you should shun your own;
. . . . . . .
Calling all sermons contrabands
In that great temple that's not made with hands;
to the description of what Sunday might be, and is, to him who is competent to enjoy it aright:—
Thrice blessed, rather, is the man, with whom
The gracious prodigality of nature,
The balm, the bliss, the beauty, and the bloom,
The bounteous providence in every feature,
Recall the good Creator to his creature,
Making all earth a fane, all heav'n its dome!
To his tuned spirit the wild heather-bells
Ring Sabbath knells;
The jubilate of the soaring lark
Is chant of clerk;
For choir, the thrush and the gregarious linnet;
The sod's a cushion for his pious want;
And, consecrated by the heaven within it,
The sky-blue pool, a font.
Each cloud-capp'd mountain is a holy altar;
An organ breathes in every grove;
And the full heart's a Psalter,
Rich in deep hymns of gratitude and love!
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