Page images

hand is against them. And the motive of this plea is an earnest desire that the religious reform which is inevitable, should be kept as far as possible within the Christian lines. Still, a measure of reform which is to avail against revolution, has often to be somewhat drastic; and the first advice which should be offered to our Yeochristian friends is, that they should at once give up the old foundation, for which their modest structure is unfitted, and on which Pandæmonium may so easily be built. But, before entering on their defence, a word of personal explanation is required. Mr. Jill certainly held that a Being who could create hell, would be, strictly speaking, not a God, but the very reverse. Yet, in the chapter by him from which I have quoted, the popular language is repeatedly adopted for the sake of clearness; and to the supposed author of hell, the name “God” is applied. In the present article that example will be followed. It will also be found convenient to assume, unless when the contrary is specified, that the Church is right in pronouncing certain writings to be genuine and certain marvels to be historical. But it must be understood that I am not bound by these assumptions. It should, moreover, be explained that, zealous though I am on behalf of the Neochristians, I in nowise commit myself to either of the recognized forms of Neochristianity,—either to Mr. Tennyson's Christianity without hell, or to Mr. Arnold's Christianity without God. My position will be rendered yet clearer by my adding that I expect the various orthodox sects, with their chronic civil war, to continue in a state of heedlessness not wholly unlike that which the Gospel attributes to the antediluvian world: they will preach, they will write, they will cavil, they will give in to cavils, till science comes and destroys them all. Wherefore, of the Catholic and the orthodox Protestant it may be said, as of Lausus and Pallas, that neither is destined to overwhelm the other, but that mox illos sua fata manent majore sub hoste.

Doubtless, to satisfy Mr. Oxenham personally, the foregoing explanation was not needed ; for he clearly thinks me an honest (if somewhat ravenous) wolf in wolf's clothing, and has even singled me out as the representative of the common enemy into whose hand timid or treacherous friends (seemingly Broad Churchmen) are playing. It is possible that the simplest way of opening our inquiry will be to quote and expand from a former article, a passage from which he has made an extract. “ The wiser among us,” I said, “are seeking to drop hell out of the Bible as quietly, and about as logically, as we already contrive to disregard the plain texts forbidding Christians to go to law, and Christian women to plait their hair,” i or, it might have been added, to be unveiled in Church;

(1) Fortnightly Review, Jan. 1876, p. 125.

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]


bidding all Christians work miracles on pain of damnation ;1 bidding them choose psalms and spiritual songs as a vent for their mirth; forbidding them to jest ;? to take judicial oaths; to hope for exemption from "persecution "3 (in the plain sense which the early Christians attached to that word); to receive interest for loans, or even to receive back the principal ; 4 to be rich, or to ask rich people to dinner;5 to receive an unorthodox person into their house, or even to wish him “God speed.” That this last prohibition was meant literally is proved by the tradition about St. John and Cerinthus; and I have heard an Evangelical divine, only too plausibly, adduce the passage to prove the sinfulness of entertaining Catholics. That some of the other texts I have referred to were not meant literally, is commonly and conveniently assumed. Personally, I could never take this view—not even in my orthodox boyhood, when such texts made life a burden to me; so that my judgment was then vehemently biassed not against, but in favour of, the traditional interpretation of them. That the literal meaning of each of those passages is the true one, still seems to me probable. At any rate, it is certain that, taken collectively, they breathe an ascetic spirit which is in glaring contrast to the smooth and polished Christianity of our day. A popular preacher, complaining of Rationalists that they had no moral standard, once said to me, “When I am in doubt, I refer to my Bible :” almost as if his Bible was unlike other Bibles; certainly as if the Bible was a lucid Encyclopædia of doctrine and morals. Nor did my friend herein go far beyond what is held by most orthodox Protestants. They have forged a vast shield of texts, which they use to their own satisfaction against Romanists (Ingentem clipeum informant, unum omnia contra Tela Latinorum); and therewith they hope to quench the fiery darts of the combined wicked-of Romanists and Rationalists together. Our object, on the other hand, has been to show that the Bible is not such a handbook as they suppose ; and that, in fact, if the way of doctrinal transgressors is hard, that of Bibliolaters is not easy. And if, consciously or unconsciously, orthodox Christians exercise the right of dropping inconvenient texts out of the Bible, they should not be wrath with their Liberal brethren who do likewise ; for the game, in very truth, is one at which two can play. Here, then, is our point. If the Bible contains plain commands which we have a right to disobey, may it not contain plain assertions which we have a right to dis

(1) Mark xvi. 16–18.
(2) Eph. v. 4. Cf. Matt. xii. 36.
(3) 2 Tim. iji. 12.

(1) Luke vi. 34, 35. These and the other texts against usury were taken literally, until the needs of civilisation refuted them.

(5) Luke xiv. 12, 13. VOL. II. N.S.




believe? Thus the Neochristian would be in no lack of orthodox precedents, if he contended that the statements about hell were Oriental hyperboles; or that they were an extra deterrent mercifully given to the Jews in their low state of piety, or rather of culture and civilisation-an adaptation to the hardness of their hearts, or perhaps to the softness of their brains; or that they were a needful concession to a prevailing superstition: for the Bible was written a Judæis, ad Judæos, apud Judæos ; and superstition, like nature, non nisi parendo vincitur. Perhaps, indeed, it will be objected that our analogy between disobeying Divine commands and disbelieving Divine assertions does not hold. Let us, then, give an example of each kind. It is plainly declared that the observance of the Sabbath -an observance binding in regard to the day, the obligations, and the penalties——was to be perpetual, and for ever. And this perpetual ordinance, originally imposed on Israel, extends to all who have. adopted Israel's law. It is also affirmed that the house, kingdom, and throne of David should be established for ever. Compare these two statements with the statement that hell is to be perpetual. If, by a prophetic license, perpetual means transitory in regard to the Sabbath and the Hoụse of David, why not in regard to hell ? Or (what is much the same thing), if we may give a non-natural interpretation to two of these propositions," why not to the third ?

Impartial readers will probably think that I have already made out my case; but, as the subject is very important, and as the prejudice about it is inveterate, I will carry the inquiry somewhat deeper. To reasonings like the above it is commonly objected that (according to the Bible) God can neither lie nor repent. . Now, it is obvious that this objection is at once refuted by the fact that it proves the biblical veracity from the Bible, making the Bible arbiter in its own cause. But I will let this pass, as I wish as far

(1) Sir J. Fitzjames Stephen says (Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, p. 315) that some scriptural commands are “understood by those who believe in the supernatural authority of Christ as a pathetic overstatement of duties . . peculiarly liable to be neglected.” Every argument that can be used to justify such a "pathetic overstatement” of duties will serve to justify a pathetic overstatement of the penalties whereby those duties were enforced.

(2) Ex. xxxi. 16, 17.
(3) Matt. v. 18. Cf. Matt. xxiv. 20.

(4) Thus, it commonly maintained that the throne of David spiritually survives in Christianity. To test this interpretation, let us put a parallel case, which we can consider impartially. One was told at school that Virgil's Imperium sine fine dedi is a signal instance of an uninspired prophecy failing. Yet it might be at least as plausibly urged that the Roman dominion survives in the Papacy, as that the Davidic throne survives in Christianity. But to any such pitiful misinterpretation of Virgil's words & sufficient answer would be that, before the Roman Empire ceased, no one dreamt of so explaining the poet's meaning. Even so we may ask, Did the Jews, before the time of Nebuchadnezzar, dream of spiritually evaporating the plain prediction about David ?

as possible to meet orthodoxy on its own ground : ék TOû Otópatos σου κρινω σε. The Bible, then, asserts that God neither lies nor repents. But, in the very same chapter, God is described as repenting: hence it might be argued that the biblical statement on this head, so far from proving that there are no biblical misstatements, adds to their list one misstatement the more. But this difficulty also I will not press. An orthodox person would probably meet it by saying that the Divine word, like nature, half reveals and half conceals the soul within ; we can see God only through a glass darkly, or rather through a pseudoscope, -immortalia mortali sermone notamus; hence there is no inconsistency in supposing that God does not really repent, but that to our finite reason he can only be revealed as repenting. Well, let this explanation stand, only let us observe that in the Hebrew verse—that rime de pensées, as M. Renan calls it — lying and repenting are coupled together. The Divine incapacity of misrepresentation is announced in the same breath, and placed in the same category, with the Divine incapacity of repentance. And yet, humanly speaking, God does repent. Is it, then, impious to inquire whether, humanly speaking, God may not misrepresent? Nay, further: according to the only notion that we can form of repentance, a repentant man must either err when he repents, or have erred in doing that for which he repents. Surely this reasoning mutatis mutandis applies to a repentant Deity. Perhaps an illustration will best set forth our meaning. We are told that God repented of the good work of creating man. Therefore, his beneficent decrees do not resemble the laws of the Medes and Persians. Why, then, must we assume that his maleficent decrees resemble those laws ? If it repented God of creation, may it not repent him of the intention of damnation ?

But it is not only out of the Bible that eternal punishment is defended. The burden of proof is attempted to be thrown on the assailants of that doctrine. The doctrine, it is said, is rendered antecedently probable by the analogy of nature. In nature the wages of sin accumulate till death ; a sinful act never ceases injuriously to affect the sinner; but whatever occurs in nature must be permitted, if not ordained, by God: and the presumption is that his supernatural government bears some analogy to his natural; and, therefore, that the punishment of sin, which has no end in this world, will likewise have no end in the next. Now, this reasoning, which is substantially that of Butler, could not be fully examined without discussing the argument of the first chapter of the Analogy, and

[ocr errors]

(1) 1 Sam. xv. 11, 29. In this singular chapter a still more startling contrast occurs : Samuel (v. 22) expresses the noble sentiment that “ to obey is better than sacrifico;" yet, at that very moment, he was meditating the most hideous of all sacrifices—a human sacrifice (v. 33).

even the fundamental assumption on which the Analogy rests. This is not the place for such a discussion ; so I will merely remark that natural forces are in themselves neither moral nor immoral, but outside morality; but, when they are personified and judged by a moral standard, they are found to be recklessly immoral. Hence, if we start with the assumption that the course of nature is in harmony with God's direct and deliberate action, we may go on to defend the foulest superstition that ever cursed mankind. If whatever exists (including Nero's government 4) is “ordained of God," theft and adultery must be so ordained. If, then, God's natural procedure is a sample of his supernatural, what right have Christians to condemn the actions attributed to Jupiter, which were, humanly speaking, immoral? Nor is it only civilised Jupiters, ancient or modern, that may claim the benefit of such a plea. The plea is equally applicable to those “puny godlings of inferior race

»? whom savages worship, nay, even to Bhowanee, the goddess of murder. Hence, when Shelley indignantly denied that

· The God of nature and benevolence had given
A special sanction to the trade of blood,"

his indignation was partly reasonable, partly not. That the god of benevolence should have sanctioned such a trade is, of course, impossible; but that the god of Nature, the ordainer of all the abominations that occur in Nature, should have done so, is in nowise impossible, but just what we might have expected. Nor, again, are we left to conjecture as to the employment of the analogical aid to faith in support of religious systems which we now justly condemn. On the contrary, we know that, when Pagan orthodoxy was giving way, such Pagans as Plutarch and some of Lucian's interlocutors propped it up with arguments not unlike those wherewith the disciples of Butler now prop up Christian orthodoxy. So that, after all, Butler's and Mansel's sanctuary is a too catholic Pantheon-a veritable “ shrine of all saints and temple of all gods”-where mutually destructive theologies seek a common refuge. It is, however, with such attributes as those of Hermes Dolios that we are specially concerned. If it was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart, we may assume that it is often, if not always, God who hardens the liar's heart; in every such case Deus fallit per alium; analogy, therefore, points to the presumption that sometimes Deus fallit

But this is not all. That the sun travels from east to west, that the earth is approximately a flat surface, that the blue sky is a solid vault (orepéopa)—these are delusions which the plan of the universe has done its very best to foster, which are common to

per se.

(1) Rom. xiii. 1.

(2) Dryden's Persius.

« EelmineJätka »