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explained, the appetite ceased, and the brimstone business sank to the lowest conceivable ebb. There were the same pulpits, the same preachers, and nearly the same hearers ; but, curiously enough, the latter began to turn up their noses in a very significant manner if the odour of brimstone were introduced by the preacher. It was clearly a fact that brimstone had become spiritually unfashionable, and as the natural consequence it was very rare that a sermon was delivered in which the slightest trace of it could be discovered. As a rule preachers, like drapers, must supply precisely that sort of material which is fashionable among the congregations, and when the brimstone mania had ceased they were compelled to agree with the crowd. Some people foolishly imagine that it is the preacher who gives the law to his hearers; but a little consideration of the facts, and a peep behind the scenes into Dorcas Meetings and Scandal tea-parties, soon serves to drive that error out of the mind. They are rare men who master their congregation. The preacher must 'not offend the chief men and women in the synagogue;' and although the chosen ones are so very “spiritual' they have enough of the old Adam left in their composition to make them love to exercise authority. These chiefs had abandoned their craving for brimstone, and hence, much to the damage of the incompetent, the sermons had to be built up without its aid. Asking a thin-minded parson to build a sermon without a dash of brimstone, is like asking a man to build and finish a house without using any paint. Through the absence of this fiery embellishment the poverty of intellect became apparent. Sermons sank to the dead level of unreadable essays, and the pews became emptier and more empty. Many a long whine was heard about the fine old fashion of preaching damnation and burning in the lake, which compelled people to attend the services; but the highly-refined members of the Churches would not tolerate the restoration of that style; many a preacher mourned over the effeminacy and false delicacy of these latter times, which prevented the liberal use of the brimstone means of grace ; and, finally, as if to recall them to a sense of their condition, at one of the Congregational Conferences, it was roundly asserted that unless the preachers undertook to deal faithfully on this brimstone business with their flocks, there would soon be nobody to preach to, and consequently there would be none to pay the preachers.
Such was the condition of things when an acute young preacher, with an eye to doing a large stroke of business, undertook to deal solely in brimstone, and so unexpectedly great was the demand, that it was soon found necessary to enlarge the establishment, the business meanwhile being transacted at Exeter Hall
. Crowds gathered nightly and received their supply, but, unhappily, although they had it in abundance, still, like the same thing mixed with treacle and taken in boyhood, it did not work many marvellous cures. That, however, was not a matter to vex the dealer ; the demand continued to be large, and the supply never failed. But what made the business thrive so well was the peculiar happy manner of the dealer. He cracked his jokes over the seething pit; he spake of the brimstone-burning with the air of one who thought it quite a trifling matter to burn a few score thousand more or less, and with all the coolness of a North American Indian discoursing upon the sensations of the scalped, he entered into a description of what the roasted would feel. Thousands went to hear what their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, would suffer when in the lake, and then came away to rejoice that from before the foundation of the world their own salvation had been secured.
The 'immense success of this dealer in brimstone, especially in an age of
competition, soon operated to bring others into the same line of business, but none have succeded so well
. Mr. Spurgeon did the thing so happily that none need ever hope to obtain so large a following. His competitors give quite as much brimstone, but they cannot give it with the same unction; they are but second-class imitators, and probably there is not a man in England, except Robson, who should hope to compete successfully with the original
revivalist' of this branch of the spiritual business. If Robson were to take Exeter Hall for 'Spurgeon imitations, there is every reason to believe he would draw immensely, and so far as 'spiritual good' is concerned, we have little doubt that he would achieve quite as much as the original.
After Reginald Radcliffe, Esquire,' the latest edition of Spurgeon introduced to the London public, is the renowned Richard Weaver,' an ex'pugilist,' who began life with pommelling her Majesty's liege subjects, but dropped' that and took up the brimstone line of business, as being far more genteel and exciting. This gentleman has been introduced to London by the Hon, and Rev. Baptist Noel, who, in April last, pressed his merits upon the attention of a large body of ministers and laymen, and urged that he was evidently raised up by the Lord to assist in rebuilding Zion. His meetings are said to be attended by thousands of 'anxious inquirers; but, although we have read his published volume of addresses,' we have not been able to make out what answers they will receive. He begins his services by singing a 'spiritual song’ to the tune of “The king of the Cannibal • Íslands, or some other equally chaste composition. A few weeks back this servant of the Lord' held forth at Exeter Hall, and informed his hearers that they wanted to be held over hell fire for a few minutes, and if that did not
convert them nothing would.” In his published discourses 'hell fire' figures very largely, and it is astonishing to read how many of his old companions are “now in hell.” He knows all about their condition, and is certain that “ the great majority of Londoners will be damned !” This is not very cheering, but probably our friends will be rejoiced to hear that Jesus is even now
waiting to receive’ Richard Weaver--collier and ex-pugilist—'into the mansions of bliss.' They are not few in number who believe that, the mind 'is its own place, and of itself can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.' To such, it will be no slight source of relief, to find that all the bigots are going to one place. We have no passionate desire to spend an eternity with Spurgeon, Weaver, and Company, for unless 80 marvellously changed that their personal identity would be lost, they could not fail to transform a place of blessing into one of bitterness and spiritual pride, into an empire where the despotism of ignorant impudence would be triumphant,
The question has been somewhat anxiously discussed-will the hell-fire and brimstone fever continue ? or are we to view it as a great but expiring effort to save the declining churches ? Our answer is simply this, that all such efforts, and orations, and egotistical assumptions are ephemeral. The common-sense of the country will be outraged, and from this will come the opening for better things. The more Spurgeons and Weavers the better for the progress of freethought. He who stands for orthodox hells and brimstone lakes is the ultimate friend of liberty of thought. There are many entrances into the temple of liberty, but probably none will be more crowded than that through which (they pass who have been compelled to turn away in disgust from the theology of the popular churches,
P, W, P,
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE REFORMATION.-I.
THE DARK AGES.
ONE mighty Law of Progress governs the whole Universe of God. Ever-active, never-ceasing ; though slow and gradual in its processes, yet sure and constant-constant as the roll of the Ages, sure as the march of Time. To the dweller in the valley the constant onward flow of the stream may not be evident, for he sees only in part, knows only that here a stone impedes, and there an obstacle has to be surmounted; he sees only the eddyings, marks the apparent retrogressions of the current, and dwells upon the petty details. But to the far-sighted vision of the watcher on the mountain-summit, who looks along the entire course of the stream, it becomes plain that that course is ever onward into the boundless ocean. Even so with the course of man's civilisation, he who studies the details only may easily arrive at the conclusion, that humanity has advanced by fits and starts, that there has been retrogression here and there, and that the progress, when made, has been by a kind of hap-hazard; but no such thought can enter the mind of him who looks along the mighty Stream of Time from off the mountainpeaks of knowledge, for to him it is very plain that there has been a constant onward progress, and that in very truth an increasing purpose runs' throughout the entire history of man and creation.
Particular ages may stand still and seem to retrogress, but they are only the eddies of the great Time-stream, and nowise affect the ultimate result. So is it with that portion of European history known as the “Dark Ages," which must be looked upon as the necessary preparation to that new and higher civilisation which was to arise out of the ruins of the Old World, and though the progress of the great stream was retarded-retarded by the course the Church took in the matter much longer than would otherwise have beenit afterwards rolled on anew, with increased force and volume, a mightier and a nobler current.
In looking along the course of universal history, there is nothing which arrests the attention of the thinking man more than the recurrence again and again of those apparent retrogressions in the shape of periodical inundations of that outer barbarism which is continually impinging on the borders of civilisation. The “ Dark Ages” which followed the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, must not be looked upon as exceptional or unprecedented in the history of the world. It is true that our knowledge of them is better than of other similar periods occurring beyond the verge, or in the earliest periods, of recorded history. But that there were times in the old world, when effete civilisations were inundated and destroyed by the vigorous efforts of the surrounding barbarism, is a thing quite certain, from the monuments remaining which neither man nor time have been able to destroy.
What are those buried cities of middle Asia, and of central America ? What that wondrous Cyclopæan masonry of Etruscan or Pelasgian races long since passed away? These remains and others, we might mention, all attest a
? high state of civilisation on the part of the peoples who created them, and who, doubtless having degenerated into that effeminacy which results from luxury, became the prey of the stronger and more virtuous barbarian. It is in fact the “Dark Ages” resulting from some such great movement upon which we come at the opening of the Drama of European history. Since then, wave after wave of barbarism has been continually rolling over Europe, impelled from the hardy North--that 'great storehouse of nations.' Goth
Hun, Frank, Lombard, Visigoth, and Vandal, and even the aged Celtic race, - what are all these ? Nay, what are all the barbarian tribes which under different names have figured on the historical arena of Europe? All, originally, dwellers on the great plains of central Asia, who from various causes, in ages wide apart, have been impelled onward to seek new lands. Long ages since, how long we know not, the Celt took up his dwelling in this Europe, then came the Goth, who overran and conquered that portion of Europe now known as France. Here he became Romanised and civilised, a mighty Cæsar having no small part in the work; then, ages after, in the declining days of the Empire, the Frank came, and took up his residence in this same France. And after him in due time Lombard and Visigoth, Ostrogoth and Vandal, came and travelled nearer Rome, and into Spain; and the mediæval history of Europe began.
But beside this barbarian element, there had been another active cause at work. Priestcraft, which in the early time had seized Christianity, used it for its own vile purposes, and ultimately buried it beneath Sacerdotalism and Theology, had allied itself with the despotism of thc Roman Cæsar, and created the State-Church. With a double-dyed murderer and villain for its patron, with ambition, craft and dissimulation, as the principal traits in the character of its ministers, who shall marvel that the State-Church rapidly became the curse of the Roman world ? Itself enslaved the souls of the people, and lent its aid to bring them into a deeper slavery to the State; and so both in body and soul thenceforward men were enslaved. The Church, thus, instead of being, what it might have been, a grand moral influence to stay the downward progress of the ages, became only an additional element in the universal ruin. A deeper degradation fell upon the devoted Roman people; a spiritual death-palsy seized them; and at the very time when they needed spiritual guidance the most, a hireling priestly body were contending for pelf and power, setting men by the ears for their own aggrandisement, preaching what they called religion at the point of the sword, setting up falsehood in the place of truth ; in short, degrading man and libelling God.
So it was the Church, assisted by the State, buried Religion out of sight, and set up in its place a sacerdotal and theological system. Or, shall we say they buried it? Say rather they attempted the impossible task, and failed in it. Ere a century had elapsed from the creation of the State-Church, morality and common sense had, in the person of Pelagius, entered its protest against the work of Priestcraft, and sought to remove the theological graveclothes in which Christianity had been attired. Pelagius opposed with all the might of his genius the doctrines of human depravity and original sin, which had now become cardinal points in the theology of the Church. He again called attention to the great principle of Christianity, that religion is not sound belief so much as a life of goodness and purity; he taught that man is bis own redeemer, and that good works are not “ filthy rags
and “account” in the sight of God. Of course this teaching was received with a howl of indignation by priests and theologians, and though for a time Pelagianism held its ground, it was ultimately overthrown. Nor was this result wonderful in a superstitious and priest-led world, and at a time when the outlying barbarism was rapidly closing in upon the Roman Empire; a time fulì of misery and foreboding of the future, when the minds of men were concentrated on other objects than theology, and, emasculated by the spiritual despotism under which it had lived so long, the intellect of mankind" lay prostrate beneath the feet of the priest.
5 of no ." Truth
It was in opposition to Pelagius that Augustine, the great Church father of the West, propounded his celebrated theories of election, and reprobation, and salvation by faith, in which lay the after Calvinisms and other developments of doctrine which still form the stronghold of Priestcraft and the sorrow of every reasonable mind. Thus, once more, theology triumphed, and darkness ever thicker, and denser, closed down upon a world of misery. A solemn and melancholy time in the history of humanity was this which marked the last effort of reason to emancipate itself from priestly fetters, ere those dark and dreary centuries which men call the “ Dark Ages” were ushered in upon a ruined and suffering world, and the Priest became supreme. But Pelagianism was not dead—“the seed was sown—to ripen in its season." is a seed which, once sown, can never be destroyed : and this truth which Pelagius taught was again to reappear ; but alas ! to become in the hands of Priests transformed into a lie. Out of this truth the Church, afterwards elaborated the doctrine of Indulgences ; and it was because a bastard Pelagianism thus served the turn of Priestcraft that the doctrine of Augustine became the creed of the Reformation. The truth of Pelagius in its purity must be worked out by a New Reformation.
Instead of educating a barbarian into a civilised humanity, the Church fettered the intellect, encouraged superstition, and gradually landed Europe in the night of the “ Dark Ages.” The Reformation began when mankind awoke to a sense of its degradation. Through ages the intellect struggled to regain its freedom. Many were the unknown heroes' who suffered - for the cause of Reform, mighty were the efforts made by Priestcraft to retain its power and influence, and cruel the means used by the Church to attain this end. But that Law of Progress which bespeaks the hand of God in history was too strong for them; and men working with this law behind them, gradually sapped the foundations on which the Church of Priestcraft had reared itself. At last came Luther to give that blow to the Spiritual Despotism from which it has never recovered; but it would be most unjust to the humanity, prior to Luther's time, not to recognise the fact that they had made a preparation for him--an injustice, however, frequently committed. It will be our duty in these articles, after in the first instance briefly depicting the character and influence of the Church of the “ Dark Ages," to show how the chains which Priestcraft had riveted for humanity wcre broken, and the Mediæval Night cleared away before the Dawning of a New Day-how the prostrate intellect of Europe shook off the lethargy of ages and commenced a
In doing this, we shall often have occasion to show that true religion has been usually found without the Church; and even when it has made its appearance within it, has ever found itself ultimately in virtual opposition to it. The history of the Reformation is the record of one long war on the part of the Church with the religious spirit which sought to carry out into daily life and action the dictates of conscience, and essayed to find God without the help of the Priest. It is a gross error to suppose that the Church, in any form in which it has hitherto existed, has had anything in common with Religion, for no sooner had the Reformers of the sixteenth century set up a Church, than the war began again—with a difference however. The difference being this, that the Church was no longer in the same position as before, and the Priesthood less powerful to trample the rights of man underfoot.
JAS. L. GOODING.