The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53
In assenting to the request that I should write a Preface to this reprint from the popular N. A. Review (March, 1881), I feel that no arduous task is being assumed. The author and the subject of the following pages need but little introduction.
John Fiske——Who has not heard of the brilliant American Spencerian? What library, making any pretensions to completeness, is without his volumes? The principal of these, "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy," is one of the best works on Evolution; marked by acute thought, affluence of knowledge, thorough scholarship, and unrivalled perspicuity of exposition.
The subject of Mr. Fiske's critique—Mr. Joseph Cook, is as widely, if less honorably known. A few years since, he flashed, a comet, across the theological firmament of America, where, by the brightness of his shining, all other luminaries were threatened with speedy and eternal eclipse. But his career in that country, if dazzling, was not very long. He crossed to Britain where, to audiences more or less appreciative, he has lectured over a hundred times. The next spheres selected by Mr. Cook upon which to shed his illuminations, seem to be India and the Colonies. Mr. Cook's mission, it would appear, is to bolster up Orthodoxy in religion by the aid of science, and to rout the hosts of modern Heresy. Loud are the exultations of many of his admirers over the polemical success of this 'malleus hereticorum.' Not only do they advertise him as "a leader of the religious thought of the nation, armed at all points to resist assaults upon the faith," but they add the assurance that he has "exposed the sophistries of Emerson, Theodore-Parker, and J. F. Clarke, of Darwin, Spencer, Tyndall, and Huxley; hushed Ingersoll, and turned the people of Boston from their heresies." Others, while admiring, have been less emphatic in equating this champion's achievements with the entire discomfiture of Infidelity.
After an unbiassed perusal of Mr. Cook's works, I am constrained page ii to acquiesce largely in Prof. Fiske's verdict. I find a great deal of foliage, but little root, much superficiality, little insight into, or apprehension of principles; and a most pretentious massing together of often inconsequential propositions. It is true there is considerable ingenuity displayed; but that very ingenuity—causidical dexterity, I might call it—is itself provocative of distrust. "The language of truth," says a Greek poet, "is artless, and no subtle expositions are needed by a just cause, for it has an intrinsic reasonableness; but a false cause, weak in itself, requires skilful doctoring." Mr. Cook is generally best when he deals with subjects distinct from science and theology; his remarks on politics and political economy being often interspersed with good sense, though even these are not without much that is mere "blatherskite." Mr. Cook's friends will acquit me of vulgarity, when I assure them that the phrase is not mine, it is Mr. Cook's (v. Lecture on Future Punishment). Far be it from me to invalidate by any word of disparagement Mr. Cook's crusade against atheistic Materialism; but I fear nothing will militate so much against his success in that direction as his own tactics.
It need scarcely be remarked that the lecturer's philippics against Advanced Thought have had no effect upon the master-minds of that phase of intellectual development. Mr. E. W. Emerson writes that his father, Ralph Waldo Emerson, "never reads Mr. Cook's lectures." Dr. Shadworth Hodgson and Prof. Bain attend with befitting respect to the objections of Dr. Ward against their Necessitarianism. Herbert Spencer does not ignore a critic like Prof. Green or James Martineau, Nor does Dr. Tyndall flinch from crossing swords with the last named distinguished Christian philosopher. Prof. Huxley does not hesitate to review Virchow; and Dr. Vance Smith is ever ready to contend for Unitarianism against theologians like Liddon and Farrar. But these men have no word for the fulminations of Mr. Cook. At the same time, it must not be supposed that the Boston champion has been allowed undisturbed possession of the controversial arena. James Freeman Clarke has subjected his labored proofs of the Trinity, Atonement, etc., to a searching analysis. Col. It. G. Ingersoll, when attacked by Mr. Cook, "came to Boston and replied before the largest audience ever assembled in that city." In England, Mr. Cook was courteously challenged to a public discussion by Charles Bradlaugh; this discussion, however, was declined, on the plea of a desire not to advertise Infidelity! Dr. W. Hitchman and other freethought lecturers have also devoted some attention to his arguments.page iii
Before closing this Intoduction, it may be well to give a sort of précis of Mr. Cook's conclusions on some interesting points of theological speculation.
I. Spiritualism. Mr. Cook's knowledge of this subject seems to have been acquired chiefly through the medium of books, and one remarkable séance at the house of a well known Spiritualist. Mr. Cook is satisfied that many of the phenomena called spiritual are genuine and are produced by psychic force, but he is undecided whether that force is under the control of men exclusively, or under that of both spirits and men,—the theory adopted by Crookes and Zollner.
II. The Trinity. Mr. Cook's propositions on this subject are:-1. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God; 2. Each has a peculiarity incommunicable to the others; 3. Neither is God without the others; 4. Each with the others is God.
III. Total Depravity. By this, Mr. Cook means "the utter disar-rangedness of man's faculties previous to regeneration."
IV. Atonement. "We are assured that "The Atonement consists in the substitution of Christ's voluntary sacrificial chastisement for man's punishment. Guilt may mean either one of two very different things. It signifies sometimes personal blameworthiness; at others, liability to suffer to maintain the honor of a violated law. It is in this latter sense of the word that we are taught that guilt was taken off from sinners and placed upon our Lord." "Angels cannot understand how God could have condescended to make an Atonement; but there is no other screen known under Heaven or among men, by which the black past can be separated from our consciences and from God's face. A screen does not remove, it only hides; the black past remains, but it is hidden." Mr. Cook mentions the following as among popular misrepresentations of the doctrine: "That God punishes by substitution; that the Atonement involves a transfer of moral qualities from person to person; and that it saves, irrespective of character, whoever has faith."
V. Future Punishment. Its endlessness Mr. Cook infers from the endlessness of sin. Sin, when continued, blinds the judgment, he argues, so that truth becomes unwelcome. The soul may permanently lose the desire to be holy. The human being may become wilfully impenitent.
The punishment, however, does not befall the majority of humanity; nor is it physical. Mr. Cook's definition of perdition is, "permanent dissimilarity of feeling with God, and its consequences."page iv
From such expositions of the foregoing topics, it will be seen how far this lecturer is amenable to the charge of "maintaining Orthodoxy by abandoning it." That "Orthodoxy" will live for many a day without Mr. Cook's advocacy is likely enough; but one feels less confidence in predicting that it will long survive it.
To controvert the positions of Mr. Cock is not the object of this Introduct, else many reasons could be adduced to justify the belief that Mr. Joseph Cook has not yet scaled the heights of all wisdom and knowledge nor attained a perfect comprehension of the Divine Counsels.
I may state that on the interesting subject of Eschatology, the investigative reader will derive valuable assistance from a study of the works mentioned below.
It is, perhaps, fitting to add that in introducing these pages there is no intention to impugn the sincerity and earnestness of Mr. Cook's motives; it is only his methods that excite animadversion.
Restitution of All Things, by Rev. A. Jukes. (1873)
Mercy and Judgment, by Rev. F. W. Farrar, D.D. (1881)
What is the Truth as to Everlasting Punishment? by Rev. F. N. Oxenhain, M.A. (1881)