hat is Secularism
? It is a philosophy of
Secularism and Christianity defined.
life based entirely upon the unassisted operations of human reason. Its aim is to rid the world of pernicious superstitions, and to show men that they ought to be happy and cheerful and make the most of the present ago (sœculum
). It is hostile to religion, and considers Christianity to be a groat, if not the greatest, hindrance to a happy life.
What is Christianity? By Christianity we understand the principles and precepts taught by Jesus Christ for the guidance of the human race. It is a practical philosophy that claims to have "promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."* Its solo aim is the happiness of mankind, and the glory of God.†
Christianity and Secularism are therefore rivals, and naturally we Christian people ask, "What cause brings Secularism into the field?" I answer, (and the answer is mingled with sorrow and shame) the principal causes are two:—
I. The failure of the Christian Church to reach the ideal of Christianity.
Some of you Secularists in your new enthusiasm
Inconsistencies of Christians.
for humanity draw near to the Christian preacher and say,—"We have come to examine the Church as the husbandman, in your Bible, came to examine the fig tree; and our legitimate hopes are disappointed. We look over its history and find again and again that its leaders have denied liberty of thought to their fellow-men, have denounced as blasphemous the triumphant discoveries of science, have left uncared-for the helpless poor, and suffered the grasping rich to go unrebuked. One of our leaders, Voltaire, tells us that no less than 10,000,000 men, women, and children have been wickedly slaughtered under the pretext of Christianity; therefore by its own fruits we judge it, and for its fruits we condemn it." Friends, these things I know, aye, and know more. I know that the first ship which sailed from England on the errand of buying human beings in Africa and selling them in the West Indies, bore the name "Jesus
," and that Good Queen Bess knighted the captain, John Hawkins, for his success, and his crest became a manacled slave.*
And I know a darker deed than that. At the siege of Rouen, the governor of the city, sorely pressed by famine, expelled 12,000 non-combatants. Henry refused to let these pass through his ranks, so they perished by degrees under the walls. During the few weeks that they were there, infants were born, and—O God! is it possible!—the newly-born babe was raised in a basket to the top of the walls,
duly baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, then lowered down to starve on a starving mother's breast.†
These deeds and darker still have been done in the name of the Holy Child Jesus.
But why will you be so unjust, unjust even to
Christianity not to be judged by Christians.
yourselves, as to judge Christianity by Christians, instead of judging Christians by Christianity?
I am not a Freemason, and am therefore ignorant of the theology, morality, and purpose of the Craft. But I know the names of several Freemasons who are intemperate, unkind, and impure. Will the Freemasons present this evening justify me therefore in condemning their Brotherhood? But it is replied, "We expect all these human institutions to be liable to distortion; but if Christianity be a heaven-born philanthropy, sent by God himself, brought by God himself, and maintained by a living inspiration of God, such as is claimed for it, it ought to be, it must
bo, incapable of the horrible abuses which are constantly taking place, or else deny its boasted origin." Friends, is Freedom of Thought
a human institution? You will all permit me to call that a heaven-born gift. It is this power that makes us men. Bees may think, and think truly, but not with liberty. They may not make a square or circular cell, however expert they may be with the hexagon. But we are free to think as we like. And oh! how frightfully has that liberty been abused. Witness the endless list of treasons, con-
spiracies, unjust enactments, and cruel superstitions, all which would have been impossible had we not been free. Yea, even now either we Christians are abusing our reason, or else you Secularists are.
Language is not a human institution. It is a necessity. Deprive us of it, and the next generation will be a mob of half-naked savages. But it has been terribly abused. For men have spoken lies instead of the truth, cursed instead of blessed, and have used it as a vehicle of endless slander, calumny, and malignity.
Life is not a human institution. And life itself has been abused. And the unjust conqueror, the libertine, the drunkard, the harlot, a curse to themselves and a blight to all that they touch, prove that in every generation there are some men and women for whom it would have been better never to have been born. Yet, I hear of no man advocating that for this reason the brain action should be reduced, the tongue cut out, or life annihilated. Why then do you advocate the abolition of Christianity, or deny its utility because of its perversions? The fact is that our peculiar and wonderful Freedom of Will makes us capable of abusing anything and everything, even ourselves, and even Christianity.
But there is another great cause for the existence of Secularism, or to speak more correctly, for the opposition to Christianity, viz:—
II. A determination to get rid of everything supernatural, and to explain everything mysterious.
Objections to Mystery considered.
This determination is in the minds of some of the
modern leaders of thought. It is quite understandable, quite natural. Now Christianity is full of mystery: attempts have been made to exorcise from it all that is miraculous and to save the residuum: but the attempts have proved abortive. Christianity must be taken as Divine, or totally rejected. And Secularists have been irritated in the presence of deep mysteries such as the Trinity in Unity, the Atonement, and the miraculous life and career of Jesus Christ. Their platform is to reject all that is inexplicable as fabulous: and their creed is, "Miracles do not happen."*
But lest you should be allured by this apparently short and easy road to truth, let me point out that these leaders have proved that there is only one way of getting rid of mystery, and that is by shutting your eyes: for when we remind them that the historical testimony for the truth of the Gospels is irrefragable, they say, "We have nothing to do with historical testimony, but only with scientific demonstration:" for, "It is contrary to reason that these things should be true, but not contrary to reason that testimony should be false." Now let mo respectfully point you Secularists to mysteries which you do not escape by rejecting Christianity.
I. The greatest mystery of all is Jesus of
Nazareth. For though it was once maintained by Strauss that Jesus was but a myth, and infidels once triumphantly denied that such a man ever lived, to-day that assertion is never made by a scholar,
whatever his creed. I might point you to Baur and Renan, but will content myself with quoting Mill, whose testimony you will be prepared to take without further support:
Mill's Testimony to Jesus.
It is of no use to say that Christ, as exhibited in the Gospels, is not historical. Who, among his disciples or among their proselytes was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and character revealed in the gospels? Certainly not the fishermen of Galilee, and certainly not St. Paul; still less the early Christian writers, in whom nothing is more evident than that the good which was in them was all derived. About the life and sayings of Jesus there is a stamp of personal originality, combined with a profundity of insight, which, if we abandon the idle expectation of finding scientific precision where something very different was aimed at, must place the Prophet of Nazareth, even in the estimation of those who have no belief in his Inspiration, in the very first rank of the men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast.*
Well then, Jesus lived. Rejecting the Christian explanation of his Divine nature and mission, explain Him!†
(a.) You know that the Jews were a most bigoted and exclusive race, and He was a Jew; yet he had a heart as wide as humanity, and founded a religion which is acceptable to every nation under the sun. Buddhism and Mohammedanism number their millions, but are confined to the East; what chance would these religions have in Europe, America, and Australia? but the religion founded by an exclusive Jew is accepted among every known people. It is a mystery.
You know that when He came into the world, manual labour had not the dignity which
now we claim for it: yet His biographers do not hesitate to publish that He earned his livelihood as an artisan. When He came into the world it was a degradation and a sin for a Rabbi to speak with a woman in a public place.*
—He made women his companions in toil. When He came into the world, religious teachers devoted their attention exclusively to ritual. He glorified God solely by blessing humanity. Whence this originality? An originality that led Him to break down caste and eat with publicans? The originality of His great moral statements which are now the bases of all healthy civilization? Even if you say that these great statements can be found in ancient books, and were made before his time; books, by the way, to which He could never have had access—you only prove, that He, unschooled, was as wise as all the wise men before his day put together: and He taught these truths with an authority that every one of his predecessors and successors have failed to exert, and with a conciseness and lucidity which has charmed the simple, and astonished the learned. Whence hath this man this wisdom?
Look at His character. You know that virtues are of two classes, active and passive: and that he who excels in one class does so because he is deficient in the other; so much so, that we have a proverb to the effect that every virtue has its corresponding vice. The active man, if baulked, becomes irritable: the gentle passive sufferer fails
in activity. But Jesus excelled in both: and shewed "How sublime a thing it was to suffer and he strong," and yet was so active that at times his voluntary work gave him no leisure to eat.*
He was a lamb in innocence—a God in dignity. He made the most extravagant claims—yet was a man of wondrous modesty. Well might Rousseau say, in comparing Jesus with the greatest of the ancients, "If the life and death of Socrates were those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus are those of a God."
Consider finally the mystery of his success. He, when he was poor, despised, and unknown, calmly talked with the utmost assurance of the time when His gospel should be preached throughout the whole world.†
That time has come. The empire that tried, condemned, and killed Him, has crumbled away; the kingdom of Jesus numbers hundreds of millions. To use the words of Napoleon Bonaparte to Count Montholon,‡
"Alexander, Ceasar, Charlemagne, and myself have founded great empires: but upon what did the creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded his empire upon love, and to this very day millions would die for him." Now this is an open field. You may try and do what Jesus did. Will you, any of you, the best of you, take your stand in Duke-st., and select twelve "trusty men and true," and give them a message to deliver to the world,
promising that in 1800 years their names shall he household words in the heart of Africa; and that in every city of the world a temple shall be reared in your name? No! you are not fool enough. And was Jesus a fool? Yea, a fool, an enthusiast, an imposter—or a God. Which of the mysteries do you prefer?
But even were there no Jesus, and no Bible to explain, Science is daily proving that we live, move, and have our being in mystery. In our own day, as never before, we witness great men peering into the dark with keenest vision, hoping to find some solution, and everywhere with aching eyes turning away,—baffled. For who has solved the mystery of Life
? Its conditions, its phenomena, we know,
but what is it?
Would you like to know? Then, you shall. A most clear-headed Secularist has solved the mystery: "Life is the connexus of the
organic activities." But a greater Secularist thinking that this might be not quite clear enough, has given us another definition of charming perspicuity, "Life is the definite combination of heterogenous
changes, both simultaneous and successive, in correspondence with external co-existences and sequences." I think you will agree with me that an explanation of Life is yet to come.
And who has solved the mystery of our origin?
Do you answer "The Evolutionist"? Then let me catechize you.
Whence is matter?
It is eternal.
Do you consider life, as we know it, progressive?
Looking backward, therefore, we shall see a narrower, smaller, and less perfect life?
Then, if we recede far enough, we shall come to a time when there was only inert matter, which though it might possess "the promise and potency of every form of life," was inactive, and chaotic?
I ask then in the words of Dr. Dallinger, "What gave matter that rhythmic throb which has produced from chaos the larynx of the nightingale and the mind of man?" I wait for your answer.
It is true that 23 years ago, Professor Huxley thought that he had found the connecting link between organic and inorganic matter, that is the origin of life, "In a shining heap of jelly at the bottom of the sea."* It is true that Bastian announced his discovery, by experiment, of "Spontaneous Generation:" but what is the verdict of Science now? "I (Professor Tyndal) affirm that no shred of trustworthy experimental testimony exists to prove that life in our day has ever appeared independent of antecedent life."
And is not the Freedom of the Will
as great a mystery, as these already mentioned? Henry Sidgwiek, a champion against Christianity, says: "The Freedom of the Will presents itself to me as an unsolved problem; the question must be set
aside as hopeless."†
And Charles Darwin writes: "Free-will is a mystery insolvable to the Naturalist."
But why do I dwell on these things? Not only to shew you that the rejection of belief in a Creator involves thinkers in hopeless confusion; not only to shew that he who rejects Christianity has rejected but one mystery out of a legion; but chiefly to shew that Christianity, if Divine, ought to have its mysteries. Seeing that our claim is that both the book of Nature and the Bible have the same author, it is to be expected that as the former abounds in mystery, the latter should not be rejected because it does the same. Absence of mystery would be a probable proof against its Divine origin.
And now, after this, perhaps, too lengthy introduction, for I was anxious to try and remove preliminary obstacles, let us enter the heart of our subject.
Secularism is a rival of Christianity. It desires
True Christianity is best Secularism.
to make men happy and to make the best of this life, and therefore
desires the death of Christianity. But I undertake to shew that Christianity leaves no room for Secularism in the world. That is, that it already occupies the whole programme of Secularism, and can do the work better, infinitely better, than any rival philosophy: in short, I will prove that Christianity is
secularism par excellence
. And will therefore ask you to view Christianity in its relationship to the present life under the three following heads:—