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My Path to Atheism


Annie Besant




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The Essays which form the present book have been written at intervals

during the last five years, and are now issued in a single volume

without alterations of any kind. I have thought it more useful--as

marking the gradual growth of thought--to reprint them as they were

originally published, so as not to allow the later development to mould

the earlier forms. The essay on "Inspiration" is, in part, the oldest

of all; it was partially composed some seven years ago, and re-written

later as it now stands.


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The first essay on the "Deity of Jesus of Nazareth" was written just

before I left the Church of England, and marks the point where I broke

finally with Christianity. I thought then, and think still, that to

cling to the name of Christian after one has ceased to be the thing

is neither bold nor straightforward, and surely the name ought, in all

fairness, to belong to those historical bodies who have made it their

own during many hundred years. A Christianity without a Divine Christ

appears to me to resemble a republican army marching under a royal

banner--it misleads both friends and foes. Believing that in giving up

the deity of Christ I renounced Christianity, I place this essay as the

starting-point of my travels outside the Christian pale. The essays

that follow it deal with some of the leading Christian dogmas, and are

printed in the order in which they were written. But in the gradual

thought-development they really precede the essay on the "Deity of

Christ". Most inquirers who begin to study by themselves, before they

have read any heretical works, or heard any heretical controversies,

will have been awakened to thought by the discrepancies and

inconsistencies of the Bible itself. A thorough knowledge of the Bible

is the groundwork of heresy. Many who think they read their Bibles never

read them at all. They go through a chapter every day as a matter of

duty, and forget what is said in Matthew before they read what is said

in John; hence they never mark the contradictions and never see the

discrepancies. But those who _study_ the Bible are in a fair way to

become heretics. It was the careful compilation of a harmony of the

last chapters of the four Gospels--a harmony intended for devotional

use--that gave the first blow to my own faith; although I put the doubt

away and refused even to look at the question again, yet the effect

remained--the tiny seed, which was slowly to germinate and to grow up,

later, into the full-blown flower of Atheism.


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The trial of Mr. Charles Voysey for heresy made me remember my own

puzzle, and I gradually grew very uneasy, though trying not to think,

until the almost fatal illness of my little daughter brought a sharper

questioning as to the reason of suffering and the reality of the love of

God. From that time I began to study the doctrines of Christianity from

a critical point of view; hitherto I had confined my theological reading

to devotional and historical treatises, and the only controversies

with which I was familiar were the controversies which had divided

Christians; the writings of the Fathers of the Church and of the modern

school which is founded on them had been carefully studied, and I had

weighed the points of difference between the Greek, Roman, Anglican, and

Lutheran communions, as well as the views of orthodox dissenting schools

of thought; only from Pusey's "Daniel", and Liddon's "Bampton Lectures",

had I gathered anything of wider controversies and issues of more vital

interest. But now all was changed, and it was to the leaders of the

Broad Church school that I first turned in the new path. The shock of

pain had been so! rude when real doubts assailed and shook me, that I

had steadily made up my mind to investigate, one by one, every Christian

dogma, and never again to say "I believe" until I had tested the object

of faith; the dogmas which revolted me most were those of the Atonement

and of Eternal Punishment, while the doctrine of Inspiration of

Scripture underlay everything, and was the very foundation of

Christianity; these, then, were the first that I dropped into the

crucible of investigation. Maurice, Robertson, Stopford Brooke, McLeod,

Campbell, and others, were studied; and while I recognised the charm

of their writings, I failed to find any firm ground whereon they could

rest: it was a many-colored beautiful mist--a cloud landscape, very

fair, but very unsubstantial. Still they served as stepping stones away

from the old hard dogmas, and month by month I grew more sceptical as

to the possibility of finding certainty in religion. Mansel's Bampton

lectures on "The Limits of Religious Thought" did much to increase the

feeling; the works of F. Newman, Arnold, and Greg carried on the

same work; some efforts to understand the creeds of other nations, to

investigate Mahommedanism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, all led in the same

direction, until I concluded that inspiration belonged to all people

alike, and there could be no necessity of atonement, and no eternal

hell prepared for the unbeliever in Christianity. Thus, step by step,

I renounced the dogmas of Christianity until there remained only, as

distinctively Christian, the Deity of Jesus which had not yet been

analysed. The whole tendency of the Broad Church stream of thought was

to increase the manhood at the expense of the deity of Christ; and with

hell and atonement gone, and inspiration everywhere, there appeared

no _raison d'etre_ for the Incarnation. Besides, there were so many

incarnations, and the Buddhist absorption seemed a grander idea. I now

first met with Charles Voysey's works, and those of Theodore Parker and

Channing, and the belief in the Deity of Jesus followed the other dead

creeds. Renan I had read much earlier, but did not care for him; Strauss

I did not meet with until afterwards; Scott's "English Life of Jesus",

which I read at this period, is as useful a book on this subject as

could be put into the hands of an inquirer. From Christianity into

simple Theism I had found my way; step by step the Theism melted into

Atheism; prayer was gradually discontinued, as utterly at variance with

any dignified idea of God, and as in contradiction to all the results

of scientific investigation. I had taken a keen interest in the later

scientific discoveries, and Darwin had done much towards freeing me from

my old bonds. Of John Stuart Mill I had read much, and I now took him up

again; I studied Spinoza, and re-read Mansel, together with many other

writers on the Deity, until the result came which is found in the essay

entitled "The Nature and Existence of God ". It was just before this was

written that I read Charles Bradlaugh's "Plea for Atheism" and his "Is

there a God?". The essay on "Constructive Rationalism" shows how we

replace the old faith and build our house anew with stronger materials.


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The path from Christianity to Atheism is a long one, and its first steps

are very rough and very painful; the feet tread on the ruins of the

broken faith, and the sharp edges cut into the bleeding flesh; but

further on the path grows smoother, and presently at its side begins to

peep forth the humble daisy of hope that heralds the spring tide, and

further on the roadside is fragrant with all the flowers of summer,

sweet and brilliant and gorgeous, and in the distance we see the promise

of the autumn, the harvest that shall be reaped for the feeding of man.


Annie Besant. 1878.



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"WHAT think ye of Christ, whose son is he?" Humane child of human

parents, or divine Son of the Almighty God? When we consider his purity,

his faith in the Father, his forgiving patience, his devoted work

among the offscourings of society, his brotherly love to sinners

and outcasts--when our minds dwell on these alone,--we all feel the

marvellous fascination which has drawn millions to the feet of this

"son of man," and the needle of our faith begins to tremble towards the

Christian pole. If we would keep unsullied the purity of our faith

in God alone, we are obliged to turn our eyes some times--however

unwillingly--towards the other side of the picture and to mark the human

weaknesses which remind us that he is but one of our race. His harshness

to his mother, his bitterness towards some of his opponents, the marked

failure of one or two of his rare prophecies, the palpable limitation of

his knowledge--little enough, indeed, when all are told,--are more

than enough to show us that, however great as man, he is not the

All-righteous, the All-seeing, the All-knowing, God.


No one, however, whom Christian exaggeration has not goaded into unfair

detraction, or who is not blinded by theological hostility, can fail

to revere portions of the character sketched out in the three synoptic

gospels. I shall not dwell here on the Christ of the fourth Evangelist;

we can scarcely trace in that figure the lineaments of the Jesus of

Nazareth whom we have learnt to love.


I propose, in this essay, to examine the claims of Jesus to be more

than the man he appeared to be during his lifetime: claims--be it

noted--which are put forward on his behalf by others rather than by

himself. His own assertions of his divinity are to be found only in the

unreliable fourth gospel, and in it they are destroyed by the sentence

there put into his mouth with strange inconsistency: "If I bear witness

of myself, my witness is not true."


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It is evident that by his contemporaries Jesus was not regarded as God

incarnate. The people in general appear to have looked upon him as a

great prophet, and to have often debated among themselves whether he

were their expected Messiah or not. The band of men who accepted him

as their teacher were as far from worshipping him as God as were their

fellow-countrymen: their prompt desertion of him when attacked by his

enemies, their complete hopelessness when they saw him overcome and put

to death, are sufficient proofs that though they regarded him--to quote

their own words--as a "prophet mighty in word and deed," they never

guessed that the teacher they followed, and the friend they lived with

in the intimacy of social life was Almighty God Himself. As has been

well pointed out, if they believed their Master to be God, surely when

they were attacked they would have fled to him for protection, instead

of endeavouring to save themselves by deserting him: we may add that

this would have been their natural instinct, since they could never

have imagined beforehand that the Creator Himself could really be taken

captive by His creatures and suffer death at their hands. The third

class of his contemporaries, the learned Pharisees and Scribes, were as

far from regarding him as divine as were the people or his disciples.

They seem to have viewed the new teacher somewhat contemptuously at

first, as one who unwisely persisted in expounding the highest doctrines

to the many, instead of--a second Hillel--adding to the stores of

their own learned circle. As his influence spread and appeared to be

undermining their own,--still more, when he placed himself in direct

opposition, warning the people against them,--they were roused to a

course of active hostility, and at length determined to save themselves

by destroying him. But all through their passive contempt and direct

antagonism, there is never a trace of their deeming him to be anything

more than a religious enthusiast who finally became dangerous: we never

for a moment see them assuming the manifestly absurd position of men

knowingly measuring their strength against God, and endeavouring to

silence and destroy their Maker. So much for the opinions of those who

had the best opportunities of observing his ordinary life. A "good man,"

a "deceiver," a "mighty prophet," such are the recorded opinions of his

contemporaries: not one is found to step forward and proclaim him to be

Jehovah, the God of Israel.


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One of the most trusted strongholds of Christians, in defending their

Lord's Divinity, is the evidence of prophecy. They gather from the

sacred books of the Jewish nation the predictions of the longed-for

Messiah, and claim them as prophecies fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.

But there is one stubborn fact which destroys the force of this

argument: the Jews, to whom these writings belong, and who from

tradition and national peculiarities may reasonably be supposed to be

the best exponents of their own prophets, emphatically deny that these

prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus at all. Indeed, one main reason for

their rejection of Jesus is precisely this, that he does not resemble in

any way the predicted Messiah. There is no doubt that the Jewish nation

were eagerly looking for their Deliverer when Jesus was born: these very

longings produced several pseudo-Messiahs, who each gained in turn

a considerable following, because each bore some resemblance to the

expected Prince. Much of the popular rage which swept Jesus to his

death was the re-action of disappointment after the hopes raised by the

position of authority he assumed. The sudden burst of anger against one

so benevolent and inoffensive can only be explained by the intense hopes

excited by his regal entry into Jerusalem, and the utter destruction of

those hopes by his failing to ascend the throne of David. Proclaimed

as David's son, he came riding on an ass as king of Zion, and allowed

himself to be welcomed as the king of Israel: there his short fulfilling

of the prophecies ended, and the people, furious at his failing them,

rose and clamoured for his death. Because he did _not_ fulfil the

ancient Jewish oracles, he died: he was too noble for the _rôle_ laid

down in them for the Messiah, his ideal was far other than that of a

conqueror, with "garments rolled in blood." But even if, against all

evidence, Jesus was one with the Messiah of the prophets, this would

destroy, instead of implying, his Divine claims. For the Jews were pure

monotheists; their Messiah was a prince of David's line, the favoured

servant, the anointed Jehovah, the king who should rule in His name: a

Jew would shrink with horror from the blasphemy of seating Messiah on

Jehovah's throne remembering how their prophets had taught them that

their God "would not give His honour to another." So that, as to

prophecy, the case stands thus: If Jesus be the Messiah prophesied of

in the old Jewish books, then he is not God: if he be not the Messiah,

Jewish prophecy is silent as regards him altogether, and an appeal to

prophecy is absolutely useless.


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After the evidence of prophecy Christians generally rely on that

furnished by miracles. It is remarkable that Jesus himself laid but

little stress on his miracles; in fact, he refused to appeal to them

as credentials of his authority, and either could not or would not work

them when met with determined unbelief. We must notice also that the

people, while "glorifying God, who had given such power unto _men_,"

were not inclined to admit his miracles as proofs of his right to claim

absolute obedience: his miracles did not even invest him with such

sacredness as to protect him from arrest and death. Herod, on his trial,

was simply anxious to see him work a miracle, as a matter of curiosity.

This stolid indifference to marvels as attestations of authority is

natural enough, when we remember that Jewish history was crowded with

miracles, wrought for and against the favoured people, and also that

they had been specially warned against being misled by signs and

wonders. Without entering into the question whether miracles are

possible, let us, for argument's sake, take them for granted, and see

what they are worth as proofs of Divinity. If Jesus fed a multitude with

a few loaves, so did Elisha: if he raised the dead, so did Elijah and

Elisha; if he healed lepers, so did Moses and Elisha; if he opened

the eyes of the blind, Elisha smote a whole army with blindness

and afterwards restored their sight: if he cast out devils, his

contemporaries, by his own testimony, did the same. If miracles prove

Deity, what miracle of Jesus can stand comparison with the divided Red

Sea of Moses, the stoppage of the earth's motion by Joshua, the check of

the rushing waters of the Jordan by Elijah's cloak? If we are told that

these men worked by _conferred_ power and Jesus by _inherent_, we can

only answer that this is a gratuitous assumption, and begs the whole

question. The Bible records the miracles in equivalent terms: no

difference is drawn between the manner of working of Elisha or Jesus; of

each it is sometimes said they prayed; of each it is sometimes said

they spake. Miracles indeed must not be relied on as proofs of divinity,

unless believers in them are prepared to pay divine honours not to Jesus

only, but also to a crowd of others, and to build a Christian Pantheon

to the new found gods.


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So far we have only seen the insufficiency of the usual Christian

arguments to establish a doctrine so stupendous and so _prima facie_

improbable as the incarnation of the Divine Being: this kind of negative

testimony, this insufficient evidence, is not however the principle

reason which compels Theists to protest against the central dogma of

Christianity. The stronger proofs of the simple manhood of Jesus remain,

and we now proceed to positive evidence of his not being God. I

propose to draw attention to the traces of human infirmity in his noble

character, to his absolute mistakes in prophecy, and to his evidently

limited knowledge. In accepting as substantially true the account

of Jesus given by the evangelists, we are taking his character as

it appeared to his devoted followers. We have not to do with slight

blemishes, inserted by envious detractors of his greatness; the history

of Jesus was written when his disciples worshipped him as God, and his

manhood, in their eyes, reached ideal perfection. We are not forced to

believe that, in the gospels, the life of Jesus is given at its highest,

and that he was, at least, not more spotless than he appears in these

records of his friends. But here again, in order not to do a gross

injustice, we must put aside the fourth gospel; to study his character

"according to S. John" would need a separate essay, so different is

it from that drawn by the three; and by all rules of history we should

judge him by the earlier records, more especially as they corroborate

each other in the main.


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The first thing which jars upon an attentive reader of the gospels is

the want of affection and respect shown by Jesus to his mother. When

only a child of twelve he lets his parents leave Jerusalem to return

home, while he repairs alone to the temple. The fascination of the

ancient city and the gorgeous temple services was doubtless almost

overpowering to a thoughtful Jewish boy, more especially on his first

visit: but the careless forgetfulness of his parents' anxiety must be

considered as a grave childish fault, the more so as its character is

darkened by the indifference shown by his answer to his mother's grieved

reproof. That no high, though mistaken, sense of duty kept him in

Jerusalem is evident from his return home with his parents; for had he

felt that "his Father's business" detained him in Jerusalem at all, it

is evident that this sense of duty would not have been satisfied by a

three days' delay. But the Christian advocate would bar criticism by an

appeal to the Deity of Jesus: he asks us therefore to believe that

Jesus, being God, saw with indifference his parents' anguish at

discovering his absence; knew all about that three days' agonised search

(for they, ignorant of his divinity, felt the terrible anxiety as to

his safety, natural to country people losing a child in a crowded city);

did not, in spite of the tremendous powers at his command, take any

steps to re-assure them; and finally, met them again with no words of

sympathy, only with a mysterious allusion, incomprehensible to them, to

some higher claim than theirs, which, however, he promptly set aside to

obey them. If God was incarnate in a boy, we may trust that example as a

model of childhood: yet, are Christians prepared to set this early

piety and desire for religious instruction before their young children

as an example they are to follow? Are boys and girls of twelve to be

free to absent themselves for days from their parents' guardianship

under the plea that a higher business claims their attention? This

episode of the childhood of Jesus should be relegated to those "gospels

of the infancy" full of most unchildlike acts, which the wise discretion

of Christendom has stamped with disapproval. The same want of filial

reverence appears later in his life: on one occasion he was teaching,

and his mother sent in, desiring to speak to him: the sole reply

recorded to the message is the harsh remark: "Who is my mother?" The

most practical proof that Christian morality has, on this head,

outstripped the example of Jesus, is the prompt disapproval which

similar conduct would meet with in the present day. By the strange

warping of morality often caused by controversial exigencies, this want

of filial reverence has been triumphantly pointed out by Christian

divines; the indifference shown by Jesus to family ties is accepted as a

proof that he was more than man! Thus, conduct which they implicitly

acknowledge to be unseemly in a son to his mother, they claim as natural

and right in the Son of God, to His! In the present day, if a person is

driven by conscience to a course painful to those who have claims on his

respect, his recognised duty, as well as his natural instinct, is to try

and make up by added affection and more courteous deference for the pain

he is forced to inflict: above all, he would not wantonly add to that

pain by public and uncalled-for disrespect.


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The attitude of Jesus towards his opponents in high places was marked

with unwarrantable bitterness. Here also the lofty and gentle spirit

of his whole life has moulded Christian opinion in favour of a course

different on this head to his own, so that abuse of an opponent is now

commonly called _un_-Christian. Wearied with three years' calumny and

contempt, sore at the little apparent success which rewarded his labour,

full of a sad foreboding that his enemies would shortly crush him, Jesus

was goaded into passionate denunciations: "Woe unto you, Scribes and

Pharisees, hypocrites... ye fools and blind... ye make a proselyte

twofold more the child of hell than yourselves... ye serpents, ye

generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell!" Surely

this is not the spirit which breathed in, "If ye love them which love

you, what thanks have ye?... Love your enemies, bless them that curse

you, pray for them that persecute you." Had he not even specially

forbidden the very expression, "Thou fool!" Was not this rendering evil

for evil, railing for railing?


It is painful to point out these blemishes: reverence for the great

leaders of humanity is a duty dear to all human hearts; but when homage

turns into idolatry, then men must rise up to point out faults which

otherwise they would pass over in respectful silence, mindful only of

the work so nobly done.


I turn then, with a sense of glad relief, to the evidence of the limited

knowledge of Jesus, for here no blame attaches to him, although _one_

proved mistake is fatal to belief in his Godhead. First as to prophecy:

"The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels:

and then shall he reward every man according to his works. Verily I say

unto you, There be some standing here which shall not taste of death

till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." Later, he amplifies

the same idea: he speaks of a coming tribulation, succeeded by his own

return, and then adds the emphatic declaration: "Verily I say unto

you, This generation shall not pass till all these things be done." The

non-fulfilment of these prophecies is simply a question of fact: let

men explain away the words now as they may, yet, if the record is true,

Jesus did believe in his own speedy return, and impressed the same belief

on his followers. It is plain, indeed, that he succeeded in impressing

it on them, from the references to his return scattered through the

epistles. The latest writings show an anxiety to remove the doubts which

were disturbing the converts consequent on the non-appearance of Jesus,

and the fourth gospel omits any reference to his coming. It is worth

remarking, in the latter, the spiritual sense which is hinted at--either

purposely or unintentionally--in the words, "The hour... _now_ is when

the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear

shall live." These words may be the popular feeling on the advent of the

resurrection, forced on the Christians by the failure of their Lord's

prophecies in any literal sense. He could not be mistaken, _ergo_ they

must spiritualise his words. The limited knowledge of Jesus is further

evident from his confusing Zacharias the son of Jehoiada with Zacharias

the son of Barachias: the former, a priest, was slain in the temple

court, as Jesus states; but the son of Barachias was Zacharias, or

Zachariah, the prophet.* He himself owned a limitation of his knowledge,

when he confessed his ignorance of the day of his own return, and said

it was known to the "Father only." Of the same class of sayings is

his answer to the mother of James and John, that the high seats of

the coming kingdom "are not mine to give." That Jesus believed in the

fearful doctrine of eternal punishment is evident, in spite of the

ingenious attempts to prove that the doctrine is not scriptural:

that he, in common with his countrymen, ascribed many diseases to the

immediate power of Satan, which we should now probably refer to natural

causes, as epilepsy, mania, and the like, is also self-evident. But on

such points as these it is useless to dwell, for the Christian believes

them on the authority of Jesus, and the subjects, from their nature,

cannot be brought to the test of ascertained facts. Of the same

character are some of his sayings: his discouraging "Strive to enter

in at the strait gate, _for_ many," etc.; his using in defence of

partiality Isaiah's awful prophecy, "that seeing they may see and not

perceive," etc.; his using Scripture at one time as binding, while he,

at another, depreciates it; his fondness for silencing an opponent by an

ingenious retort: all these things are blameworthy to those who regard

him as man, while they are shielded from criticism by his divinity to

those who worship him as God. There morality is a question of opinion,

and it is wasted time to dwell on them when arguing with Christians,

whose moral sense is for the time held in check by their mental

prostration at his feet. But the truth of the quoted prophecies, and

the historical fact of the parentage of Zachariah, can be tested, and on

these Jesus made palpable mistakes. The obvious corollary is, that being

mistaken--as he was--his knowledge was limited, and was therefore human,

not divine


·        See Appendix, page 12.


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206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



In turning to the teaching of Jesus (I still confine myself to the three

gospels), we find no support of the Christian theory. If we take his

didactic teaching, we can discover no trace of his offering himself as

an object of either faith or worship. His life's work, as teacher, was

to speak of the Father. In the sermon on the Mount he is always striking

the keynote, "your heavenly Father;" in teaching his disciples to

pray, it is to "Our Father," and the Christian idea of ending a prayer

"through Jesus Christ" is quite foreign to the simple filial spirit

of their master. Indeed, when we think of the position Jesus holds in

Christian theology, it seems strange to notice the utter absence of any

suggestion of duty to himself throughout this whole code of so-called

Christian morality. In strict accordance with his more formal teaching

is his treatment of inquirers: when a young man comes kneeling, and,

addressing him as "Good Master," asks what he shall do to inherit

eternal life, the loyal heart of Jesus first rejects the homage, before

he proceeds to answer the all-important question: "Why callest thou _me_

good: there is none good but one, that is, God." He then directs the

youth on the way to eternal life, and _he sends that young man home

without one word of the doctrine on which, according to Christians,

his salvation rested_. If the "Gospel" came to that man later, he would

reject it on the authority of Jesus, who had told him a different "way

of salvation;" and if Christianity is true, the perdition of that young

man's soul is owing to the defective teaching of Jesus himself. Another

time, he tells a Scribe that the first commandment is that God is

one, and that all a man's love is due to Him; then adding the duty of

neighbourly love, he says: "There is _none other_ commandment greater

than these:" so that "belief in Jesus," if incumbent at all, must come

after love to God and man, and is not necessary, by his own testimony,

to "entering into life." On Jesus himself then rests the primary

responsibility of affirming that belief in him is a matter of secondary

importance, at most, letting alone the fact that he never inculcated

belief in his Deity as an article of faith at all. In the same spirit of

frank loyalty to God are his words on the unpardonable sin: in answer

to a gross personal affront, he tells his insulters that they shall be

forgiven for speaking against him, a simple son of man, but warns them

of the danger of confounding the work of God's. Spirit with that of

Satan, "because they said" that works; done by God, using Jesus as His

instrument, were done by Beelzebub.


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There remains yet one argument of tremendous force, which can only

be appreciated by personal meditation. We find Jesus praying to

God, relying on God, in his greatest need crying in agony to God for

deliverance, in his last: struggle, deserted by his friends, asking why

God, his God, had also forsaken him. We feel how natural, how true to

life, this whole account is: in our heart's reverence for that noble

life, that "faithfulness unto death," we can scarcely bear to think of

the insult offered to it by Christian lips: they take every beauty

out of it by telling us that through all that struggle Jesus was

the Eternal, the Almighty, God: it is all apparent, not real: in his

temptation he could not fall: in his prayers he needed no support: in

his cry that the cup might pass away he foresaw it was inevitable: in

his agony of desertion and loneliness he was present everywhere with

God. In all that life, then, there is no hope for man, no pledge of

man's victory, no promise for humanity. This is no _man's_ life at all,

it is only a wonderful drama enacted on earth. What God could do is no

measure of man's powers: what have we in common with this "God-man?"

This Jesus, whom we had thought our brother, is after all, removed from

us by the immeasurable distance which separates the feebleness of man

from the omnipotence of God. Nothing can compensate us for such a loss

as this. We had rejoiced in that many-sided nobleness, and its very

blemishes were dear, because they assured us of his brotherhood to

ourselves: we are given an ideal picture where we had studied a history,

another Deity where we had hoped to emulate a life. Instead of the

encouragement we had found, what does Christianity offer us?--a perfect

life? But we knew before that God was perfect: an example? it starts

from a different level: a Saviour? we cannot be safer than we are with

God: an Advocate? we need none with our Father: a Substitute to endure

God's wrath for us? we had rather trust God's justice to punish us as

we deserve, and his wisdom to do what is best for us. As God, Jesus can

give us nothing that we have not already in his Father and ours: as man,

he gives us all the encouragement and support which we derive from every

noble soul which God sends into this world, "a burning and a shining



     "Through such souls alone

     God stooping shows sufficient of

     His light For us in the dark to rise by."


As God, he confuses our perceptions of God's unity, bewilders our reason

with endless contradictions, and turns away from the Supreme all those

emotions of love and adoration which can only flow towards a single

object, and which are the due of our Creator alone: as man, he gives us

an example to strive after, a beacon to steer by; he is one more leader

for humanity, one more star in our darkness. As God, all his words would

be truth, and but few would enter into heaven, while hell would overflow

with victims: as man, we may refuse to believe such a slander on our

Father, and take all the comfort pledged to us by that name. Thank God,

then, that Jesus is only man, "human child of human parents;" that

we need not dwarf our conceptions of God to fit human faculties, or

envelope the illimitable spirit in a baby's feeble frame. But though

only man, he has reached a standard of human greatness which no other

man, so far as we know, has touched: the very height of his character is

almost a pledge of the truthfulness of the records in the main: his life

had to be lived before its conception became possible, at that period

and among such a people. They could recognise his greatness when it was

before their eyes: they would scarcely have imagined it for themselves,

more especially that, as we have seen, he was so different from the

Jewish ideal. His code of morality stands unrivalled, and he was the

first who taught the universal Fatherhood of God publicly and to the

common people. Many of his loftiest precepts may be found in the books

of the Rabbis, but it is the glorious prerogative of Jesus that he

spread abroad among the many the wise and holy maxims that had hitherto

been the sacred treasures of the few. With him none were too degraded

to be called the children of the Father: none too simple to be worthy of

the highest teaching. By example, as well as by precept, he taught that

all men were brothers, and all the good he had he showered at their

feet. "Pure in heart," he saw God, and what he saw he called all to see:

he longed that all might share in his own joyous trust in the Father,

and seemed to be always seeking for fresh images to describe the freedom

and fulness of the universal love of God. In his unwavering love of

truth, but his patience with doubters--in his personal purity, but his

tenderness to the fallen--in his hatred of evil, but his friendliness

to the sinner--we see splendid virtues rarely met in combination. His

brotherliness, his yearning to raise the degraded, his lofty piety, his

unswerving morality, his perfect self-sacrifice, are his indefeasible

titles to human love and reverence. Of the world's benefactors he is the

chief, not only by his own life, but by the enthusiasm he has known to

inspire in others: "Our plummet has not sounded his depth:" words fail

to tell what humanity owes to the Prophet of Nazareth. On his example

the great Christian heroes have based their lives: from the foundation

laid by his teaching the world is slowly rising to a purer faith in God.

We need now such a leader as he was--one who would dare to follow the

Father's will as he did, casting a long-prized revelation aside when

it conflicts with the higher voice of conscience. It is the teaching

of Jesus that Theism gladly makes its own, purifying it from the

inconsistencies which mar its perfection. It is the example of Jesus

which Theists are following, though they correct that example in some

points by his loftiest sayings. It is the work of Jesus which Theists

are carrying on, by worshipping, as he did, the Father, and the Father

alone, and by endeavouring to turn all men's love, all men's hopes, and

all men's adoration, to that "God and Father of all, who is above all,

and through all, and," not in Jesus only, but "_in us all_."


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



APPENDIX: "Josephus mentions a Zacharias, a son of Baruch ('Wars of

the Jews,' Book iv., sec. 4), who was slain under the circumstances

described by Jesus. His name would be more suitable at the close of the

long list of Jewish crimes, as it occurred just before the destruction

of Jerusalem. But, as it took place about thirty-four years after the

death of Jesus, it is clear that he could not have referred to it;

therefore, if we admit that he made no mistake, we strike a serious

blow at the credibility of his historian, who then puts into his mouth a

remark never uttered."



-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL






EVERY one, at least in the educated classes, knows that the authenticity

of the fourth gospel has been long and widely disputed. The most

careless reader is struck by the difference of tone between the simple

histories ascribed to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and the theological and

philosophical treatise which bears the name of John. After following

the three narratives, so simple in their structure, so natural in their

style, so unadorned by rhetoric, so free from philosophic terms,--after

reading these, it is with a feeling of surprise that we find ourselves,

plunged into the bewildering mazes of the Alexandrine philosophy, and

open our fourth gospel to be told that, "In the beginning was the word,

and the word was with God, and the word was God." We ask instinctively,

"How did John, the fisherman of Galilee, learn these phrases of the

Greek schools, and why does he mix up the simple story of his master

with the philosophy of that 'world which by wisdom knew not God?'"


The general Christian tradition is as follows: The spread! of

"heretical" views about the person of Jesus alarmed the "orthodox"

Christians, and they appealed to John, the last aged relic of the

apostolic band, to write a history of Jesus which should confute their

opponents, and establish the essential deity of the founder of their

religion. At their repeated solicitations, John wrote the gospel which

bears his name, and the doctrinal tone of it is due to its original

intention,--a treatise written against Cerinthus, and designed to

crush, with the authority of an apostle, the rising doubts as to

the pre-existence and absolute deity of Jesus of Nazareth. So far

non-Christians and Christians--including the writer of the gospel--are

agreed. This fourth gospel is not--say Theists--a simple biography

of Jesus written by a loving disciple as a memorial of a departed and

cherished friend, but a history written with a special object and to

prove a certain doctrine. "St. John's gospel is a polemical treatise,"

echoes Dr. Liddon. "These are written that ye may believe that Jesus

is the Christ, the Son of God," confesses the writer himself. Now, in

examining the credibility of any history, one of the first points

to determine is whether the historian is perfectly unbiassed in his

judgment and is therefore likely give facts exactly as they occurred,

un-coloured by views of his own. Thus we do not turn to the pages of a

Roman Catholic historian to gain a fair idea of Luther, or of William

the Silent, or expect to find in the volumes of Clarendon a thoroughly

faithful portraiture of the vices of the Stuart kings; rather, in

reading the history of a partisan, do we instinctively make allowances

for the recognised bias of his mind and heart. That the fourth gospel

comes to us prefaced by the announcement that it is written, not to give

us a history, but to prove a certain predetermined opinion, is, then,

so much doubt cast at starting on its probable accuracy; and, by the

constitution of our minds, we at once guard ourselves against a too

ready acquiescence in its assertions, and become anxious to test its

statements by comparing them with some independent and more impartial

authority. The history may be most accurate, but we require proof

that the writer is never seduced into slightly--perhaps

unconsciously--colouring an incident so as to favour the object he

has at heart. For instance, Matthew, an honest writer enough, is often

betrayed into most non-natural quotation of prophecy by his anxiety to

connect Jesus with the Messiah expected by his countrymen. This latent

wish of his leads him to insert various quotations from the Jewish

Scriptures which, severed from their context, have a verbal similarity

with the events he narrates. Thus, he refers to Hosea's mention of the

Exodus: "When Israel was a child then I loved him and called my son

out of Egypt," and by quoting only the last six words gives this as a

"prophecy" of an alleged journey of Jesus into Egypt. Such an instance

as this shows us how a man may allow himself to be blinded by a

pre-conceived determination to prove a certain fact, and warns us to

sift carefully any history that comes to us with the announcement that

it is written to prove such and such a truth.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



Unfortunately we have no independent contemporary history--except a

sentence of Josephus--whereby to test the accuracy of the Christian

records; we are therefore forced into the somewhat unsatisfactory task

of comparing them one with another, and in cases of diverging testimony

we must strike the balance of probability between them.


On examining, then, these four biographies of Jesus, we find a

remarkable similarity between three of them, amid many divergencies of

detail; some regard them, therefore, as the condensation into writing

of the oral teaching of the apostles, preserved in the various Churches

they severally founded, and so, naturally, the same radically, although

diverse in detail. "The synoptic Gospels contain the substance of the

Apostles' testimony, collected principally from their oral teaching

current in the Church, partly also from written documents embodying

portions of that teaching."* Others think that the gospels which we

possess, and which are ascribed severally to Matthew, Mark, and Luke,

are all three derived from an original gospel now lost, which was

probably written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and variously translated into

Greek. However this may be, the fact that such a statement as this has

been put forward proves the striking similarity, the root identity, of

the three "synoptical gospels," as they are called. We gather from them

an idea of Jesus which is substantially the same: a figure, calm, noble,

simple, generous; pure in life, eager to draw men to that love of the

Father and devotion to the Father which were his own distinguishing

characteristics; finally, a teacher of a simple and high-toned morality,

perfectly unfettered by dogmatism. The effect produced by the sketch of

the Fourth Evangelist is totally different. The friend of sinners has

disappeared (except in the narrative of the woman taken in adultery,

which is generally admitted to be an interpolation), for his whole time

is occupied in arguing about his own position; "the common people"

who followed and "heard him gladly" and his enemies, the Scribes and

Pharisees, are all massed together as "the Jews," with whom he is in

constant collision; his simple style of teaching--parabolic indeed, as

was the custom of the East, but consisting of parables intelligible to

a child--is exchanged for mystical discourses, causing perpetual

misunderstandings, the true meaning of which is still wrangled about by

Christian theologians; his earnest testimony to "your heavenly Father"

is replaced by a constant self-assertion; while his command "do this and

ye shall live," is exchanged for "believe on me or perish."


     * Alford.


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206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



How great is the contrast between that discourse and the Sermon on

the Mount.... In the last discourse it is His Person rather than his

teaching which is especially prominent. His subject in that discourse is



Certainly he preaches himself in His relationship to His redeemed; but

still he preaches above all, and in all, Himself. All radiates from

Himself, all converges towards Himself.... in those matchless words all

centres so consistently in Jesus, that it might seem that "Jesus Alone is

before us."* These and similar differences, both of direct teaching and

of the more subtle animating spirit, I propose to examine in detail; but

before entering on these it seems necessary to glance at the disputed

question of the authorship of our history, and determine whether, if it

prove apostolic, it _must_ therefore be binding on us.


I leave to more learned pens than mine the task of criticising

and drawing conclusions from the Greek or the precise dogma of the

evangelist, and of weighing the conflicting testimony of mighty names.

From the account contained in the English Bible of John the Apostle, I

gather the following points of his character: He was warm-hearted to his

friends, bitter against his enemies, filled with a fiery and unbridled

zeal against theological opponents; he was ambitious, egotistical,

pharisaical. I confess that I trace these characteristics through all

the writings ascribed to him, and that they seem to be only softened by

age in the fourth gospel. That John was a warm friend is proved by his

first epistle; that he was bitter against his enemies appears in his

mention of Diotrephes, "I will remember his deeds which he doeth,

prating against us with malicious words;" his unbridled zeal was rebuked

by his master; the same cruel spirit is intensified in his "Revelation;"

his ambition is apparent in his anxiety for a chief seat in Messiah's

kingdom; his egotism appears in the fearful curse he imprecates on those

who alter _his_ revelation; his pharisaism is marked in such a feeling

as, "we know _we_ are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness."

Many of these qualities appear to me to mark the gospel which bears

his name; the same restricted tenderness, the same bitterness against

opponents, the same fiery zeal for "the truth," i.e., a special

theological dogma, are everywhere apparent.


     * Liddon.


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206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



The same egotism is most noticeable, for in the other gospels John

shares his master's chief regard with two others, while here he is

"_the_ disciple whom Jesus loved," and he is specially prominent in the

closing scenes of Jesus' life as the _only_ faithful follower. We should

also notice the remarkable similarity of expression and tone between

the fourth gospel and the first epistle of John, a similarity the more

striking as the language is peculiar to the writings attributed to

John. It is, however, with the utmost diffidence that I offer these

suggestions, well knowing that the greatest authorities are divided on

this point of authorship, and that the balance is rather against the

apostolic origin of the gospel than for it. I am, however, anxious

to show that, _even taking it as apostolic_, it is untrustworthy and

utterly unworthy of credit. If John be the writer, we must suppose

that his long residence in Ephesus had gradually obliterated his Jewish

memories, so that he speaks of "the Jews" as a foreigner would. The

stern Jewish monotheism would have grown feebler by contact with the

subtle influence of the Alexandrine tone of thought; and he would have

caught the expressions of that school from living in a city which was

its second home. To use the Greek philosophy as a vehicle for Christian

teaching would recommend itself to him as the easiest way of approaching

minds imbued with these mystic ideas. Regarding the master of his youth

through the glorifying medium of years, he gradually began to imagine

him to be one of the emanations from the Supreme, of which he heard so

much. Accustomed to the deification of Roman emperors, men of infamous

lives, he must have been almost driven to claim divine honours for _his_

leader. If his hearers regarded _them_ as divine, what could he say to

exalt _him_ except that he was ever with God, nay, was himself God? If

John be the writer of this gospel, some such change as this must have

passed over him, and in his old age the gradual accretions of years must

have crystallised themselves into a formal Christian theology. But if we

find, during our examination, that the history and the teaching of this

gospel is utterly irreconcilable with the undoubtedly earlier synoptic

gospels, we must then conclude that, apostolic or not, it must give

place to them, and be itself rejected as a trustworthy account of the

life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.


The first striking peculiarity of this gospel is that all the people

in it talk in exactly the same style and use the same markedly peculiar

phraseology, (a) "The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things

into his hand." (b) "For the Father loveth the Son and showeth him all

things that Himself doeth." (c) "Jesus, knowing that the Father had

given all things into his hand." These sentences are evidently the

outcome of the same mind, and no one, unacquainted with our gospel,

would guess that (a) was spoken by John the Baptist, (b) by Jesus, (c)

by the writer of the gospel. When the Jews speak, the words still run in

the same groove: "If any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth His will,

him He heareth," is not said, as might be supposed, by Jesus, but by the

man who was born blind. Indeed, commentators are sometimes puzzled, as

in John iii. 10-21, to know where, if at all, the words of Jesus stop

and are succeeded by the commentary of the narrator. In an accurate

history different characters stand out in striking individuality, so

that we come to recognise them as distinct personalities, and can even

guess beforehand how they will probably speak and act under certain

conditions. But here we have one figure in various disguises, one voice

from different speakers, one mind in opposing characters. We have here

no beings of flesh and blood, but airy phantoms, behind whom we see

clearly the solitary preacher. For Jesus and John the Baptist are two

characters as distinct as can well be imagined, yet their speeches are

absolutely indistinguishable, and their thoughts run in the same groove.

Jesus tells Nicodemus: "We speak that we do know and testify that we

have seen, and ye receive not our witness; and no man hath ascended

up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven." John says to his

disciples: "He that cometh from heaven is above all, and what he hath

seen and heard that he testifieth, and no man receiveth his testimony."

But it is wasting time to prove so self-evident a fact: let us rather

see how a Christian advocate meets an argument whose force he cannot

deny. "The character and diction of our Lord's discourses entirely

penetrated and assimilated the habits of thought of His beloved Apostle;

so that in his first epistle he writes in the very tone and spirit of

those discourses; and when reporting the sayings of his former teacher,

the Baptist, he gives them, consistently with the deepest inner truth

(!) of narration, the forms and cadences so familiar and habitual to

himself."* It must be left to each individual to judge if a careful and

accurate historian thus tampers with the words he pretends to narrate,

and thus makes them accord with some mysterious inner truth; each

too must decide as to the amount of reliance it is wise to place on a

historian who is guided by so remarkable a rule of truth. But further,

that the "character and diction" of this gospel are moulded on that of

Jesus, seems a most unwarrantable assertion. Through all the recorded

sayings of Jesus in the three gospels, there is no trace of this very

peculiar style, except in one case (Matt. xi. 27), a passage which comes

in abruptly and unconnectedly, and stands absolutely alone in style

in the three synoptics, a position which throws much doubt on its

authenticity. It has been suggested that this marked difference of style

arises from the different auditories addressed in the three gospels and

in the fourth; on this we remark that (a), we intuitively recognise such

discourses as that in Matt. x. as perfectly consistent with the usual

style of Jesus, although this is addressed to "his own;" (b), In this

fourth gospel the discourses addressed to "his own" and to the Jews are

in exactly the same style; so that, neither in this gospel, nor in

the synoptics do we find any difference--more than might be reasonably

expected--between the style of the discourses addressed to the disciples

and those addressed to the multitudes. But we _do_ find a very marked

difference between the style attributed to Jesus by the three synoptics

and that put into his mouth by the fourth evangelist; this last being a

style so remarkable that, if usual to Jesus, it is impossible that its

traces should not appear through all his recorded speeches. From which

fact we may, I think, boldly deduce the conclusion that the style in

question is not that of Jesus, the simple carpenter's son, but is one

caught from the dignified and stately march of the oratory of Ephesian

philosophers, and is put into his mouth by the writer of his life. And

this conclusion is rendered indubitable by the fact above-mentioned,

that all the characters adopt this poetically and musically-rounded



     * Alford.


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206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



Thus our first objection against the trustworthiness of our historian

is that all the persons he introduces, however different in character,

speak exactly alike, and that this style, when put into the mouth of

Jesus, is totally different from that attributed to him by the three

synoptics. We conclude, therefore, that the style belongs wholly to the

writer, and that he cannot, consequently, be trusted in his reports of

speeches. The major part, by far the most important part, of this gospel

is thus at once stamped as untrustworthy.


Let us next remark the partiality attributed by this gospel to Him Who

has said--according to the Bible--"all souls-are Mine." We find the

doctrine of predestination, i.e., of favouritism, constantly put

forward. "_All that the Father giveth me_ shall come to me." "No man can

come to me except the Father draw him." "That of all _which He hath given

me_ I should lose nothing." "Ye believe not, _because_ ye are not of

my sheep." "Though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they

believed not on him: _that the saying_ of Esaias the prophet _might be

fulfilled._" "Therefore, they _could not believe because_ that Esaias

said," &c. "I have chosen you out of the world." "Thou hast given him

power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to _as many as

Thou hast given him?_" "Those that thou gavest me I have kept and none

of them is lost, but the son of perdition, _that the Scriptures might

be fulfilled._" These are the most striking of the passages which teach

that doctrine which has been the most prolific parent of immorality and

the bringer of despair to the sinner. Frightfully immoral as it is, this

doctrine is taught in all its awful hopelessness and plainness by this

gospel: some "_could not_ believe" because an old prophet prophesied

that they should not-So, "according to St. John," these unbelieving Jews

were pre-ordained to eternal damnation and the abiding wrath of God.

They were cast into an endless hell, which "they _could not_" avoid. We

reject this gospel, secondly, for the partiality it dares to attribute

to Almighty God.


We will now pass to the historical discrepancies between this gospel and

the three synoptics, following the order of the former.


It tells us (ch. i) that at the beginning of his ministry Jesus was at

Bethabara, a town near the junction of the Jordan with the Dead Sea;

here he gains three disciples, Andrew and another, and then Simon Peter:

the next day he goes into Galilee and finds Philip and Nathanael, and on

the following day--somewhat rapid travelling--he is present, with

these disciples, at Cana, where he performs his first miracle, going

afterwards with them to Capernaum and Jerusalem. At Jerusalem, whither

he goes for "the Jews' passover," he drives out the traders from the

temple, and remarks, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I

will raise it up:" which remark causes the first of the strange

misunderstandings between Jesus and the Jews, peculiar to this Gospel,

simple misconceptions which Jesus never troubles himself to set right.

Jesus and his disciples then go to the Jordan, baptising, whence Jesus

departs into Galilee with them, because he hears that the Pharisees know

he is becoming more popular than the Baptist (ch. iv. 1-3). All this

happens before John is cast into prison, an occurrence which is a

convenient note of time. We turn to the beginning of the ministry of

Jesus as related by the three. Jesus is in the south of Palestine, but,

hearing that John is cast into prison, he departs into Galilee, and

resides at Capernaum. There is no mention of any ministry in Galilee and

Judaea before this; on the contrary, it is only "from that time" that

"Jesus _began_ to preach." He is alone, without disciples, but, walking

by the sea, he comes upon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, and calls

them. Now if the fourth gospel is true, these men had joined him in

Judaea, followed him to Galilee, south again to Jerusalem, and back to

Galilee, had seen his miracles and acknowledged him as Christ, so it

seems strange that they had deserted him and needed a second call, and

yet more strange is it that Peter (Luke v. i-ii) was so astonished and

amazed at the miracle of the fishes. The driving out of the traders from

the temple is placed by the synoptics at the very end of his ministry,

and the remark following it is used against him at his trial: so was

probably made just before it. The next point of contact is the history

of the 5000 fed by five loaves (ch. vi.), the preceding chapter relates

to a visit to Jerusalem unnoticed by the three: indeed, the histories

seem written of two men, one the "prophet of Galilee" teaching in its

cities, the other concentrating his energies on Jerusalem. The account

of the miraculous, feeding is alike in all: not so the succeeding

account of the conduct of the multitude. In the fourth gospel, Jesus

and the crowd fall to disputing, as usual, and he loses many disciples:

among the three, Luke says nothing of the immediately following

events, while Matthew and Mark tell us that the multitudes--as would be

natural--crowded round him to touch even the hem of his garment. This is

the same as always: in the three the crowd loves him; in the fourth it

carps at and argues with him. We must again miss the sojourn of Jesus in

Galilee, according to the three, and his visit to Jerusalem, according

to the one, and pass to his entry into Jerusalem in triumph. Here we

notice a most remarkable divergence: the synoptics tell us that he

was going up to Jerusalem from Galilee, and, arriving on his way at

Bethphage, he sent for an ass and rode thereon into Jerusalem: the

fourth gospel relates that he was dwelling at Jerusalem, and leaving it,

for fear of the Jews, he retired, not into Galilee, but "beyond Jordan,

into the place where John at first baptised," i.e., Bethabara, "and

_there he abode_" From there he went to Bethany and raised to life a

putrefying corpse: this stupendous miracle is never appealed to by the

earlier historians in proof of their master's greatness, though

"much people of the Jews" are said to have seen Lazarus after his

resurrection: this miracle is also given as the reason for the active

hostility of the priests, "from that day forward." Jesus then retires

to Ephraim near the wilderness, from which town he goes to Bethany, and

thence in triumph to Jerusalem, being met by the people "for that they

heard that he had done this miracle." The two accounts have absolutely

nothing in common except the entry into Jerusalem, and the preceding

events of the synoptics exclude those of the fourth gospel, as does the

latter theirs. If Jesus abode in Bethabara and Ephraim, he could not

have come from Galilee; if he started from Galilee, he was not abiding

in the south. John xiii.-xvii. stand alone, with the exception of the

mention of the traitor. On the arrest of Jesus, he is led (ch. xviii.

13) to Annas, who sends him to Caiaphas, while the others send him

direct to Caiaphas, but this is immaterial. He is then taken to Pilate:

the Jews do not enter the judgment-hall, lest, being defiled, they could

not eat the passover, a feast which, according to the synoptics, was

over, Jesus and his disciples having eaten it the night before. Jesus is

exposed to the people at the sixth hour (ch. xix. 14), while Mark tells

us he was crucified three hours before--at the third hour--a note of

time which agrees with the others, since they all relate that there

was darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour, i.e., there was thick

darkness at the time when, "according to St. John," Jesus was exposed.

Here our evangelist is in hopeless conflict with the three. The accounts

about the resurrection are irreconcilable in all the gospels, and

mutually destructive. It remains to notice, among these discrepancies,

one or two points which did not come in conveniently in the course of

the narrative. During the whole of the fourth gospel, we find Jesus

constantly arguing for his right to the title of Messiah. Andrew speaks

of him as such (i. 41); the Samaritans acknowledge him (iv. 42); Peter

owns him (vi. 69); the people call him so-(vii. 26, 31, 41); Jesus

claims it (viii. 24); it is the subject of a law (ix. 22); Jesus speaks

of it as already claimed by him (x. 24, 25); Martha recognises it

(xi. 27). We thus find that, from the very first, this title is openly

claimed by Jesus, and his right to it openly canvassed by the Jews.

But--in the three--the disciples acknowledge him as Christ, and he

charges them to "tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ" (Matt. xvi.

20; Mark viii. 29, 30; Luke ix. 20, 21); and this in the same year that

he blames the Jews for not owning this Messiahship, since he had told

them who he was. "from the beginning" (ch. viii. 24, 25); so that, if

"John" was right, we fail to see the object of all the mystery about it,

related by the synoptics.


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We mark, too, how Peter is, in their account,

praised for confessing him, for flesh and blood had not revealed it to

him, while in the fourth gospel, "flesh and blood," in the person of

Andrew, reveal to Peter that the Christ is found; and there seems little

praise due to Peter for a confession which had been made two or three


years earlier by Andrew, Nathanael, John Baptist, and the Samaritans.

Contradiction can scarcely be more direct. In John vii. Jesus owns that

the Jews know his birthplace (28), and they state (41, 42) that he comes

from Galilee, while Christ should be born at Bethlehem. Matthew and Luke

distinctly say Jesus was born at Bethlehem; but here Jesus confesses

the right knowledge of those who attribute his birthplace to Galilee,

instead of setting their difficulty at rest by explaining that though

brought up at Nazareth, he was born in Bethlehem. But our writer was

apparently-ignorant of their accounts. We reject this gospel, thirdly,

because its historical statements are in direct contradiction to the

history of the synoptics.


The next point to which I wish to direct attention is the relative

position of faith and morals in the three synoptics and the fourth

gospel. It is not too much to say that on this point their teaching is

absolutely irreconcilable, and one or the other must be fatally in the

wrong. Here the fourth gospel clasps hands with Paul, while the others

take the side of James. The opposition may be most plainly shown by

parallel columns of quotations:


 "Except your righteousness            "He that _believeth on the_ Son

 exceed that of the scribes and        hath everlasting life."--iii. 36.

 Pharisees, ye shall _in no

 case_ enter Heaven."--Matt. v. 20.


 "Have  we not prophesied in           "He that believeth on Him _is

 thy name and in thy name done         not condemned_."--iii. 18.

 many wonderful works?"


 "Then will I profess unto them... that work iniquity."

 --Matt. vii. 22, 23.


 "If thou  wilt enter into life,       "He that believeth not the Son

 keep the commandments."--Mark          shall not see life."--iii. 36. x. 17-28.


 "Her sins, which are many, are        "If ye believe not that I am he

 forgiven, _for she loved_ much."--    ye shall die in your sins."--viii.

                                       Luke vii. 47. 24.


These few quotations, which might be indefinitely multiplied, are

enough to show that, while in the three gospels _doing_ is the test of

religion, and no profession of discipleship is worth anything unless

shown by "its fruits," in the fourth _believing_ is the cardinal matter:

in the three we hear absolutely nothing of faith in Jesus as requisite,

but in the fourth we hear of little else: works are thrown completely

into the background and salvation rests on believing--not even in

God--but in Jesus. We reject this gospel, fourthly, for setting faith

above works, and so contradicting the general teaching of Jesus himself.


The relative positions of the Father and Jesus are reversed by the

fourth evangelist, and the teaching of Jesus on this head in the three

gospels is directly contradicted. Throughout them Jesus preaches the

Father only: he is always reiterating "your heavenly Father;" "that

ye may be the children of your Father," is his argument for forgiving

others; "your Father is perfect," is his spur to a higher life; "your

Father knoweth," is his anodyne in anxiety; "it is the Father's good

pleasure," is his certainty of coming happiness; "_one_ is your Father,

which is in heaven," is, by an even extravagant loyalty, made a reason

for denying the very name to any other. But in the fourth gospel all is

changed: if the Father is mentioned at all, it is only as the sender of

Jesus, as _his_ Witness and _his_ Glorifier. All love, all devotion, all

homage, is directed to Jesus and to Jesus only: even "on the Christian

hypothesis the Father is eclipsed by His only begotten Son."* "All

judgment" is in the hands of the Son: he has "life in himself;" "the

work of God" is to believe on him; he gives "life unto the world;" he

will "raise" us "up at the last day;" except by eating him there is "no

life;" he is "the light of the world;" he gives true freedom; he is the

"one shepherd: none can pluck" us out of his hand; he will "draw all men

unto" himself: he is the "Lord and Master," "the truth and the life;"

what is even asked of the Father, _he_ will do; he will come to his

disciples and abide in them; his peace and joy are their reward. Verily,

we need no more: he who gives us eternal life, who raises us from the

dead, who is our judge, who hears our prayers, and gives us light,

freedom, and truth, He, He only, is our God; none can do more for us

than he: in Him only will we trust in life and death. So, consistently,

the Son is no longer the drawer of believers to the Father, but the

Father is degraded into becoming the way to the Son, and none can come

to Jesus unless Almighty God draws them to him. Jesus is no longer the

way into the Holiest, but the Eternal Father is made the means to an end

beyond himself.


     * Voysey.


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For this fifth reason, more than for anything else, we reject this

gospel with the most passionate earnestness, with the most burning

indignation, as an insult to the One Father of spirits, the ultimate

Object of all faith and hope and love.


And who is this who thus dethrones our heavenly Father? It is not even

the Jesus whose fair moral beauty has exacted our hearty admiration. To

worship _him_ would be an idolatry, but to worship him--were he such as

"John" describes him--would be an idolatry as degrading as it would

be baseless. For let us mark the character pourtrayed in this fourth

gospel. His public career begins with an undignified miracle: at a

marriage, where the wine runs short, he turns water into wine, in order

to supply men who have already "well drunk" (ch. ii. 10). [We may ask,

in passing, what led Mary to expect a miracle, when we are told that

this was the first, and she could not, therefore, know of her son's

gifts.] The next important point is the conversation with Nicodemus,

where we scarcely knew which to marvel at most, the stolid stupidity

of a "Master in Israel" misunderstanding a metaphor that must have been

familiar to him, or the aggressive way in which Jesus speaks as to the

non-reception of his message before he had been in public many months,

and as to non-belief in his person before belief had become possible.

We then come to the series of discourses related in ch. v. 10.

Perfect egotism pervades them all; in all appear the same strange

misunderstandings on the part of the people, the same strange

persistence in puzzling them on the part of the speaker. In one of them

the people honestly wonder at his mysterious words: "How is it that he

saith, I come down from heaven," and, instead of any explanation, Jesus

retorts that they should not murmur, since no man _can_ come to him

unless the Father draw him; so that, when he puts forward a statement

apparently contrary to fact--"his father and mother we know," say the

puzzled Jews--he refuses to explain it, and falls back on his favourite

doctrine: "Unless you are of those favoured ones whom God enlightens,

you cannot expect to understand me." Little wonder indeed that "many

of his disciples walked no more with" a teacher so perplexing and so

discouraging; with one who presented for their belief a mysterious

doctrine, contrary to their experience, and then, in answer to their

prayer for enlightenment, taunts them with an ignorance he admits was

unavoidable. The next important conversation occurs in the temple,


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and here Jesus, the friend of sinners, the bringer of hope to the

despairing--this Jesus has no tenderness for some who "believed on him;"

he ruthlessly tramples on the bruised reed and quenches the smoking

flax. First he irritates their Jewish pride with accusations of slavery

and low descent; then, groping after his meaning, they exclaim, "We have

one Father, even God," and he--whom we know as the tenderest preacher

of that Father's universal love--surely he gladly catches at their

struggling appreciation of his favourite topic, and fans the hopeful

spark into a flame? Yes! Jesus of Nazareth would have done so. But

Jesus, "according to St. John," turns fiercely on them, denying the

sonship he elsewhere proclaims, and retorts, "Ye are of your father,

the devil." And this to men who "believed on him;" this from lips which

said, "_One_ is your Father," and He, in heaven. He argues next with the

Pharisees, and we find him arrogantly exclaiming: "_all_ that ever came

before me were thieves and robbers." What, all? Moses and Elijah, Isaiah

and all the prophets? At length, after he has once more repulsed some

inquirers, the Jews take up stones to stone him, as Moses commanded,

because "thou makest thyself God." He escapes by a clever evasion, which

neutralises all his apparent assertions of Divinity. "Other men have

been called gods, so surely I do not blaspheme by calling myself God's

son." Never let us forget that in this gospel, the stronghold of the

Divinity of Jesus, Jesus himself explains his strongest assertion "I and

my Father are one" in a manner which can only be honest in the mouth of

a man.* We pass to the celebrated "last discourse." In this we find

the same peculiar style, the same self-assertion, but we must note,

in addition, the distinct tritheism which pervades it. There are

three distinct Beings, each necessarily deprived of some attribute of

Divinity: thus, the Deity is Infinite, but if He is divided He becomes

finite, since two Infinites are an impossible absurdity, and unless

they are identical they must bound each other, so becoming finite.

Accordingly "the Comforter" cannot be present till Jesus departs,

therefore neither Jesus nor the Comforter can be God, since God is

omnipresent. Since, then, prayer is to be addressed to Jesus as God,

the low theory of tri-theism, of a plurality of Gods, none of whom is

a perfect God, is here taught. In this discourse, also, the Christian

horizon is bounded by the figure of Jesus, the office of the Comforter

is sub-servient to this one worship, "he shall glorify me." Jesus, at

last, prays for his disciples, markedly excluding from his intercession

"the world" he was said to have come to save, and, as throughout this

gospel, restricting all his love, all his care, all his tenderness to

"these, whom Thou hast given me." Here we come to the essence of the

spirit which pervades this whole gospel. "I pray for them; I pray not

for the world: not for them who are of their father the devil, nor for

my betrayer, the son of perdition." This is the spirit which Christians

dare to ascribe to Jesus of Nazareth, the tenderest, gentlest,

widest-hearted man who has yet graced humanity. This is the spirit, they

tell us, which dwelt in _his_ bosom, who gave us the parables of the

lost sheep and the prodigal son. "No," we answer, "this is not the

spirit of the Prophet of Nazareth, but" (Dr. Liddon will pardon the

appropriation) "this is the temper of a man who will not enter the

public baths along with the heretic who has dishonoured his Lord."


     * "For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy;

     and because that thou being a man makest thyself God." Jesus

     answered them, "Is it not written in your law, I said, ye

     are gods? If he called them gods unto whom the word of God

     came (and the scripture cannot be broken), say ye of him

     whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world,

     Thou blasphemest, because I said I am the son of God?"


This is the spirit of the writer of the gospel, not of Jesus: the

egotism of the writer is reflected in the words put into the mouth of

his master; and thus the preacher of the Father's love is degraded into

the seeker of his own glory, and bearing witness of himself, his witness

becomes untrue. I must also draw attention to one or two cases of

unreality attributed to Jesus by this gospel. He prays, on one occasion,

"because of the people who stand by:" he cries on his cross, "I thirst,"

not because of the burning agony of crucifixion, but in order "that

the Scriptures might be fulfilled:" a voice answers "his prayer," "not

because of me, but for your sakes." This calculation of effect is very

foreign to the sincere and open spirit of Jesus. Akin to this is the

prevarication attributed to him, when he declines to accompany his

brethren to Judaea, but "when his brethren were gone up then went he

also up to the feast, not openly but as it were in secret." All this

strikes us strangely as part of that simple, fearless life.


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We reject this gospel, sixthly, for the cruel spirit, the arrogance, the

self-assertion, the bigotry, the unreality, attributed by it to Jesus,

and we denounce it as a slander on his memory and an insult to his noble



We may, perhaps, note, as another peculiarity of this gospel--although I

do not enter here into the argument of the divinity of Jesus,--that when

Dr. Liddon, in his celebrated Bampton Lectures, is anxious to prove

the Deity of Jesus _from his own mouth_, he is compelled to quote

exclusively from this gospel. Such a fact as this cannot be overlooked,

when we remember that "St. John's gospel is a polemical treatise"

written to prove this special point. We cannot avoid noting the



We have now gone through this remarkable record and examined it in

various lights. At the outset we conceded to our opponents all the

advantage which comes from admitting that the gospel _may_ be written

by the Apostle John; we have left the authorship a moot point, and

based our argument on a different ground. Apostolic or non-apostolic,

Johannine or Corinthian, we accept it or reject it for itself, and not

for its writer. We have found that all its characters speak alike in a

marked and peculiar style--a style savouring of the study rather than

the street, of Alexandria rather than Jerusalem or Galilee. We

have glanced at its immoral partiality. We have noted the numerous

discrepancies between the history of this gospel and that of the three

synoptics. We have discovered it to be equally opposed to them in morals

as in history: in doctrine as in morals. We have seen that, while it

degrades God to enthrone Jesus in His stead, it also degrades Jesus,

and so lowers his character that it defies recognition. Finally, we

have found it stands alone in supporting the Deity of Jesus from his own



I know not how all this may strike others; to me these arguments are

simply overwhelming in their force. I tear out the "Gospel according to

St. John" from the writings which "are profitable" "for instruction

in righteousness." I reject it from beginning to end, as fatally

destructive of all true faith towards God, as perilously subversive of

all true morality in man, as an outrage on the sacred memory of Jesus of

Nazareth, and as an insult to the Justice, the Supremacy, and the Unity

of Almighty God.




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THE Atonement may be regarded as the central doctrine of Christianity,

the very _raison d'être_ of the Christian faith. Take this away, and

there would remain indeed a faith and a morality, but both would have

lost their distinctive features: it would be a faith without its

centre, and a morality without its foundation. Christianity would be

unrecognisable without its angry God, its dying Saviour, its covenant

signed with "the blood of the Lamb:" the blotting out of the Atonement

would deprive millions of all hope towards God, and would cast them

from satisfaction into anxiety from comfort into despair. The warmest

feelings of Christendom cluster round the Crucifix, and he, the

crucified one, is adored with passionate devotion, not as martyr for

truth, not as witness for God, not as faithful to death, but as the

substitute for his worshippers, as he who bears in their stead the wrath

of God, and the punishment due to sin. The Christian is taught to see in

the bleeding Christ the victim slain in his own place; he himself should

be hanging on that cross, agonised and dying; those nail-pierced hands

ought to be his; the anguish on that face should be furrowed on his own;

the weight of suffering resting on that bowed head should be crushing

himself inta the dust. In the simplest meaning of the words, Christ is

the sinner's substitute, and on him the sin of the world is laid: as

Luther expressed it, he "is the greatest and only sinner;" literally

"made sin" for mankind, and expiating the guilt which, in very deed, was

transferred from man to-him.


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I wish at the outset, for the sake of justice and candour, to

acknowledge frankly the good which has been drawn forth by the preaching

of the Cross. This good has been, however, the indirect rather than the

direct result of a belief in the Atonement. The doctrine, in itself, has

nothing elevating about it, but the teaching closely connected with

the doctrine has its ennobling and purifying side. All the enthusiasm

aroused in the human breast by the thought of one who sacrificed himself

to save his brethren, all the consequent longing to emulate that love by

sacrificing all for Jesus and for those for whom he died, all the moral

gain caused by the contemplation of a sublime self-devotion, all these

are the fruits of the nobler side of the Atonement. That the sinless

should stoop to the sinful, that holiness should embrace the guilty in

order to raise them to its own level, has struck a chord in men's bosoms

which has responded to the touch by a harmonious melody of gratitude

to the divine and sinless sufferer, and loving labour for suffering and

sinful man. The Cross has been at once the apotheosis and the source of

self-sacrificing love. "Love ye one another _as_ I have loved you: not

in word but in deed, with a deep self-sacrificing love:" such is the

lesson which, according to one of the most orthodox Anglican divines,

"Christ preaches to us from His Cross." In believing in the Atonement,

man's heart has, as usual, been better than his head; he has passed over

the dark side of the idea, and has seized on the divine truth that the

strong should gladly devote themselves to shield the weak, that labour,

even unto death, is the right of humanity from every son of man. It is

often said that no doctrine long retains its hold on men's hearts which

is not founded on some great truth; this divine idea of self-sacrifice

has been the truth contained in the doctrine of the Atonement, which has

made it so dear to many loving and noble souls, and which has hidden its

"multitude of sins"--sins against love and against justice, against God

and against man. Love and self-sacrifice have floated the great error

over the storms of centuries, and these cords still bind to it many

hearts of which love and self-sacrifice are the glory and the crown.


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This said, in candi d'homage to the good which has drawn its inspiration

from Jesus crucified, we turn to the examination of the doctrine itself:

if we find that it is as dishonouring to God as it is injurious to man,

a crime against justice, a blasphemy against love, we must forget all

the sentiments which cluster round it, and reject it utterly. It is well

to speak respectfully of that which is dear to any religious soul,

and to avoid jarring harshly on the strings of religious feeling, even

though the soul be misled and the feeling be misdirected; but a time

comes when false charity is cruelty, and tenderness to error is treason

to truth. For long, men who know its emptiness pass by in silence the

shrine consecrated by human hopes and fears, by love and worship, and

the "times of this ignorance God (in the bold figure of Paul) also winks

at;" but when "the fulness of the time is come," God sends forth some

true son of his to dash the idol to the ground, and to trample it into

dust. We need not be afraid that the good wrought by the lessons derived

from the Atonement in time past will disappear with the doctrine itself;

the mark of the Cross is too deeply ploughed into humanity ever to be

erased, and those who no longer call themselves by the name of Christ

are not the most backward scholars in the school of love and sacrifice.


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The history of this doctrine has been a curious one. In the New

Testament the Atonement is, as its name implies, a simply making at one

God and man: _how_ this is done is but vaguely hinted at, and in order

to deduce the modern doctrine from the Bible, we must import into

the books of the New Testament all the ideas derived from theological

disputations. Words used in all simplicity by the ancient writers must

have attached to them the definite polemical meaning they hold in the

quarrels of theologians, before they can be strained into supporting a

substitutionary atonement. The idea, however, of "ransom" is connected

with the work of Jesus, and the question arose, "to whom is this ransom

paid?" They who lived in those first centuries of Christianity were

still too much within the illumination of the tender halo thrown by

Jesus round the Father's name, to dream for a moment that their redeemer

had ransomed them from the beloved hands of God. No, the ransom was paid

to the devil, whose thrall they believed mankind to be, and Jesus, by

sacrificing himself, had purchased them from the devil and made them

sons of God. It is not worth while to enter on the quaint details of

this scheme, how the devil thought he had conquered and could hold Jesus

captive, and was tricked by finding that his imagined gain could not

be retained by him, and so on. Those who wish to become acquainted

with this ingenious device can study it in the pages of the Christian

fathers: it has at least one advantage over the modern plan, namely,

that we are not so shocked at hearing of pain and suffering as

acceptable to the supposed incarnate evil, as at hearing of them being

offered as a sacrifice to the supreme good. As the teaching of Jesus

lost its power, and became more and more polluted by the cruel thoughts

of savage and bigoted men, the doctrine of the atonement gradually

changed its character. Men thought the Almighty to be such a one as

themselves, and being fierce and unforgiving and revengeful, they

projected their own shadows on to the clouds which surrounded the

Deity, and then, like the shepherd who meets his own form reflected

and magnified on the mountain mist, they recoiled before the image they

themselves had made. The loving Father who sent his son to rescue his

perishing children by sacrificing himself, fades away from the hearts of

the Christian world, and there looms darkly in his place an awful form,

the inexorable judge who exacts a debt man is too poor to pay, and who,

in default of payment, casts the debtor into a hopeless prison, hopeless

unless another pays to the uttermost farthing the fine demanded by the

law. So, in this strange transformation-scene God actually takes the

place of the devil, and the ransom once paid to redeem men from Satan

becomes the ransom paid to redeem men from God. It reminds one of the

quarrels over the text which bids us "fear him who is able to destroy

both body and soul in hell," when we remain in doubt whom he is we are

to fear, since half the Christian commentators assure us that it refers

to our Father in heaven, while the other half asseverate that the devil

is the individual we are to dread. The seal was set on the "redemption

scheme" by Anselm in his great work, "_Cur Deus Homo_" and the doctrine

which had been slowly growing into the theology of Christendom was

thenceforward stamped with the signet of the Church. Roman Catholics

and Protestants, at the time of the Reformation, alike believed in the

vicarious and substitutionary character of the atonement wrought by

Christ. There is no dispute between them on this point. I prefer to

allow the Christian divines to speak for themselves as to the character

of the atonement: no one can accuse me of exaggerating their views, if

their views are given in their own words. Luther teaches that "Christ

did truly and effectually feel for all mankind, the wrath of God,

malediction and death." Flavel says that "to wrath, to the wrath of an

infinite God without mixture, to the very torments of hell, was Christ

delivered, and that by the hand of his own father." The Anglican homily

preaches that "sin did pluck God out of heaven to make him feel the

horrors and pains of death," and that man, being a firebrand of hell and

a bondsman of the devil, "was ransomed by the death of his own only and

well-beloved son;" the "heat of his wrath," "his burning wrath,"

could only be "pacified" by Jesus, "so pleasant was this sacrifice and

oblation of his son's death." Edwards, being logical, saw that there was

a gross injustice in sin being twice punished, and in the pains of

hell, the penalty of sin, being twice inflicted, first on Christ, the

substitute of mankind, and then on the lost, a portion of mankind. So

he, in common with most Calvinists, finds himself compelled to restrict

the atonement to the elect, and declared that Christ bore the sins, not

of the world, but of the chosen out of the world; he suffers "not for

the world, but for them whom Thou hast given me." But Edwards adheres

firmly to the belief in substitution, and rejects the universal

atonement for the very reason that "to believe Christ died for all is

the surest way of proving that he died for none in the sense Christians

have hitherto believed." He declares that "Christ suffered the wrath of

God for men's sins;" that "God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ

underwent the pains of hell for," sin. Owen regards Christ's sufferings

as "a full valuable compensation to the justice of God for all the sins"

of the elect, and says that he underwent "that same punishment which....

they themselves were bound to undergo."



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The doctrine of the Christian Church--in the widest sense of that

much-fought-over term--was then as follows, and I will state it in

language which is studiously moderate, _as compared with the orthodox

teaching_ of the great Christian divines. If any one doubts this

assertion, let him study their writings for himself. I really dare

not transfer some of their expressions to my own pages. God the Father

having cursed mankind and condemned them to eternal damnation, because

of Adam's disobedience in eating an apple--or some other fruit, for the

species is only preserved by tradition, and is not definitely settled

by the inspired writings--and having further cursed each man for his own

individual transgressions, man lay under the fierce wrath of God, unable

to escape, and unable to pacify it, for he could not even atone for his

own private sins, much less for his share of the guilt incurred by his

forefather in Paradise. Man's debt was hopelessly large, and he had

"nothing to pay;" so all that remained to him was to suffer an eternity

of torture, which sad fate he had merited by the crime of being born

into an accursed world. The second person of the Trinity moved to pity

by the helpless and miserable state of mankind, interposed between the

first person of the Trinity and the wretched sinners; he received into

his own breast the fire-tipped arrows of divine wrath, and by suffering

inconceivable tortures, equal in amount to an eternity of the torments

of hell, he wrung from God's hands the pardon of mankind, or of a

portion thereof. God, pacified by witnessing this awful agony of one who

had from all eternity been "lying in his bosom" co-equal sharer of his

Majesty and glory, and the object of his tenderest love, relents

from his fierce wrath, and consents to accept the pain of Jesus as

a substitute for the pain of mankind. In plain terms, then, God is

represented as a Being so awfully cruel, so implacably revengeful,

that pain _as_ pain, and death _as_ death, are what he demands as a

propitiatory sacrifice, and with nothing less than extremest agony can

his fierce claims on mankind be bought off. The due weight of suffering

he must have, but it is a matter of indifference whether it is undergone

by Jesus or by mankind. Did not the old Fathers do well in making the

awful ransom a matter between Jesus and the devil?


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When this point is pressed on Christians, and one urges the dishonour

done to God by painting him in colours from which heart and soul recoil

in shuddering horror, by ascribing to him a revengefulness and pitiless

cruelty in comparison with which the worst efforts of human malignity

appear but childish mischief, they are quick to retort that we are

caricaturing Christian doctrine; they will allow, when overwhelmed with

evidence, that "strong language" has been used in past centuries, but

will say that such views are not now held, and that they do not ascribe

such harsh dealing to God the Father. Theists are therefore compelled to

prove each step of their accusation, and to quote from Christian writers

the words which embody the views they assail. Were I simply to state

that Christians in these days ascribe to Almighty God a fierce wrath

against the whole human race, that this wrath can only be soothed by

suffering and death, that he vents this wrath on an innocent head, and

that he is well pleased by the sight of the agony of his beloved Son,

a shout of indignation would rise from a thousand lips, and I should be

accused of exaggeration, of false witness, of blasphemy. So once more I

write down the doctrine from Christian dictation, and, be it remembered,

the sentences I quote are from published works, and are therefore, the

outcome of serious deliberation; they are not overdrawn pictures taken

from the fervid eloquence of excited oratory, when the speaker may

perhaps be carried further than he would, in cold blood, consent to.


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Stroud makes Christ drink "the cup of the wrath of God." Jenkyn says,

"he suffered as one disowned and reprobated and forsaken of God." Dwight

considers that he endured God's "hatred and contempt." Bishop Jeune

tells us that "after man had done his worst, worse remained for Christ

to bear. He had fallen into his father's hands." Archbishop Thomson

preaches that "the clouds of God's wrath gathered thick over the whole

human race: they discharged themselves on Jesus only;" he "becomes a

curse for us, and a vessel of wrath." Liddon echoes the same sentiment:

"the apostles teach that mankind are slaves, and that Christ on the

Cross is paying their ransom. Christ crucified is voluntarily devoted

and accursed:" he even speaks of "the precise amount of ignominy and

pain needed for the redemption," and says that the "divine victim" paid

more than was absolutely necessary.


These quotations seem sufficient to prove that the Christians of the

present day are worthy followers of the elder believers. The theologians

first quoted are indeed coarser in their expressions, and are less

afraid of speaking out exactly what they believe, but there is no

real difference of creed between the awful doctrine of Flavel and the

polished dogma of Canon Liddon. The older and the modern Christians

alike believe in the bitter wrath of God against "the whole human race."

Both alike regard the Atonement as so much pain tendered by Jesus to the

Almighty Father in payment of a debt of pain owed to God by humanity.

They alike represent God as only to be pacified by the sight of

suffering. Man has insulted and injured God, and God must be revenged by

inflicting suffering on the sinner in return. The "hatred and contempt"

God launched at Jesus were due to the fact that Jesus was the sinner's

substitute, and are therefore the feelings which animate the Divine

heart towards the sinner himself. God hates and despises the world. He

would have "consumed it in a moment" in the fire of his burning wrath,

had not Jesus, "his chosen, stood before him in the gap to turn away his

wrathful indignation."


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Now, how far is all this consistent with justice? Is the wrath of God

against humanity justified by the circumstances of the case, so that we

may be obliged to own that some sacrifice was due from sinful man to his

Creator, to propitiate a justly incensed and holy God? I trow not. On

this first count, the Atonement is a fearful injustice. For God has

allowed men to be brought into the world with sinful inclinations, and

to be surrounded with many temptations and much evil. He has made

man imperfect, and the child is born into the world with an imperfect

nature. It is radically unjust, then, that God should curse the work

of His hands for being what He made them, and condemn them to endless

misery for failing to do the impossible. Allowing that Christians are

right in believing that Adam was sinless when he came from his Maker's

hands, these remarks apply to every other living soul since born into

the world; the Genesis myth will not extricate Christians from the

difficulty. Christians are quite right and are justified by facts when

they say that man is born into the world frail, imperfect, prone to sin

and error; but who, we ask them, made men so? Does not their own Bible

tell them that the "potter hath power over the clay," and, further, that

"we are the clay and thou art the potter?" To curse men for being men,

_i.e._, imperfect moral beings, is the height of cruelty and injustice;

to condemn the morally weak to hell for sin, _i.e._, for failing in

moral strength, is about as fair as sentencing a sick man to death

because he cannot stand upright. Christians try and avoid the force of

this by saying that men should rely on God's grace to uphold them, but

they fail to see that this _very want of reliance_ is part of man's

natural weakness. The sick man might be blamed for falling because he

did not lean on a stronger arm, but suppose he was too weak to grasp

it? Further, few Christians believe that it is impossible in practice,

however possible in theory, to lead a perfect life; and as to "offend in

one point is to be guilty of all," one failure is sufficient to send the

generally righteous man to hell. Besides, they forget that infants are

included under the curse, although _necessarily_ incapable of grasping

the idea either of sin or of God; all babies born into the world and

dying before becoming capable of acting for themselves would, we are

taught, have been inevitably consigned to hell, had it not been for the

Atonement of Jesus. Some Christians actually believe that unbaptized

babies are not admitted into heaven, and in a Roman Catholic book

descriptive of hell, a poor little baby writhes and screams in a red-hot



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This side of the Atonement, this unjust demand on men for a

righteousness they could not render, necessitating a sacrifice to

propitiate God for non-compliance with his exaction, has had its due

effect on men's minds, and has alienated their hearts from God. No

wonder that men turned away from a God who, like a passionate but

unskilful workman, dashes to pieces the instrument he has made because

it fails in its purpose, and, instead of blaming his own want of skill,

vents his anger on the helpless thing that is only what he made it.

Most naturally, also, have men shrunk from the God who "avengeth and

is furious" to the tender, pitiful, human Jesus, who loved sinners

so deeply as to choose to suffer for their sakes. They could owe no

gratitude to an Almighty Being who created them and cursed them, and

only consented to allow them to be happy on condition that another paid

for them the misery he demanded as his due; but what gratitude could

be enough for him who rescued them from the fearful hands of the living

God, at the cost of almost intolerable suffering to himself? Let us

remember that Christ is said to suffer the very torments of hell, and

that his worst sufferings were when "fallen into his father's hands,"

out of which he has rescued us, and then can we wonder that the

crucified is adored with a very ecstasy of gratitude? Imagine what it is

to be saved from the hands of him who inflicted an agony admitted to be

unlimited, and who took advantage of an infinite capacity in order to

inflict an infinite pain. It is well for the men before whose eyes this

awful spectre has flitted that the fair humanity of Jesus gives them a

refuge to fly to, else what but despair and madness could have been the

doom of those who, without Jesus, would have seen enthroned above the

wailing universe naught but an infinite cruelty and an Almighty foe.


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We see, then, that the necessity for an atonement makes the Eternal

Father both unjust in his demands on men and cruel in his punishment of

inevitable failure; but there is another injustice which is of the

very essence of the Atonement itself. This consists in the vicarious

character of the sacrifice: a new element of injustice is introduced

when we consider that the person sacrificed is not even the guilty

party. If a man offends against law, justice requires that he should be

punished: the punishment becomes unjust if it is excessive, as in the

case we have been considering above; but it is equally unjust to allow

him to go free without punishment. Christians are right in affirming

that moral government would be at an end were men allowed to sin with

impunity, and did an easy forgiveness succeed to each offence. They

appeal to our instinctive sense of justice to-approve the sentiment that

punishment should follow sin: we acquiesce, and hope that we have now

reached a firm standing-ground from which to proceed further in our

investigation. But, no; they promptly outrage that same sense of justice

which they have called as a witness on their side, by asking us to

believe that its ends are attained provided that somebody or other is

punished. When we reply that _this_ is not justice, we are promptly

bidden not to be presumptuous and argue from our human ideas of justice

as to the course that ought to be pursued by the absolute justice of

God. "Then why appeal to it at all?" we urge; "why talk of justice in

the matter if we are totally unable to judge as to the rights and wrongs

of the case?" At this point we are commonly overwhelmed with Paul's

notable argument--"Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against

God?" But if Christians value the simplicity and straightforwardness

of their own minds, they should not use words which convey a certain

accepted meaning in this shuffling, double sense. When we speak of

"justice," we speak of a certain well-understood quality, and we do not

speak of a mysterious divine attribute, which has not only nothing in

common with human justice, but which is in direct opposition to that

which we understand by that name. Suppose a man condemned to death for

murder: the judge is about to sentence him, when a bystander--as it

chances, the judge's own son--interposes: "My Lord, the prisoner is

guilty and deserves to be hanged; but if you will let him go, I will

die in his place." The offer is accepted, the prisoner is set free, the

judge's son is hanged in his stead. What is all this? Self-sacrifice

(however misdirected), love, enthusiasm--what you will; but certainly

not _justice_--nay, the grossest injustice, a second murder, an

ineffaceable stain on the ermine of the outraged law. I imagine that,

in this supposed case, no Christian will be found to assert that justice

was done; yet call the judge God, the prisoner mankind, the substitute

Jesus, and the trial scene is exactly reproduced. Then, in the name of

candour and common sense, why call that just in God which we see would

be so unjust and immoral in man? This vicarious nature of the Atonement

also degrades the divine name, by making him utterly careless in

the matter of punishment: all he is anxious for, according to this

detestable theory, is that he should strike a blow _somewhere_. Like

a child in a passion, he only feels the desire to hurt somebody, and

strikes out vaguely and at random. There is no discrimination used;

the thunderbolt is launched into a crowd: it falls on the head of the

"sinless son," and crushes the innocent, while the sinner goes

free. What matter? It has fallen somewhere, and the "burning fire of

his-wrath" is cooled. This is what men call the vindication of the

justice of the Moral Governor of the universe: this is "the act of

God's awful holiness," which marks his hatred of sin, and his immovable

determination to punish it. But when we reflect that this justice

is consistent with letting off the guilty and punishing the innocent

person, we feel dread misgivings steal into our minds. The justice of

our Moral Governor has nothing in common with our justice--indeed, it

violates all our notions of right and wrong.


What if, as Mr. Vance Smith suggests, this strange justice be consistent

also with a double punishment of sin; and what if the Moral Governor

should bethink himself  that, having confused morality by an

unjust--humanly speaking, of course--punishment, it would be well to

set things straight again by punishing the guilty after all?


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We can never dare to feel safe in the hands of this

unjust--humanly speaking--Moral Governor, or predicate

from our instinctive notions of right and wrong what his requirements

may be. One is lost in astonishment that men should believe such things

of God, and not have manhood enough to rise up rebellious against such

injustice--should, instead, crouch at his feet, and while trying to hide

themselves from his wrath should force their trembling lips to murmur

some incoherent acknowledgment of his mercy. Ah! they do not believe it;

they assert it in words, but, thank God, it makes no impression on their

hearts; and they would die a thousand deaths rather than imitate, in

their dealings with their fellow-men, the fearful cruelty which the

Church has taught them to call the justice of the Judge of all the



The Atonement is not only doubly unjust, but it is perfectly futile. We

are told that Christ took away the sins of the world; we have a right to

ask, "how?" So far as we can judge, we bear our sins in our own bodies

still, and the Atonement helps us not at all. Has he borne the physical

consequences of sin, such as the loss of health caused by intemperance

of all kinds? Not at all, this penalty remains, and, from the nature

of things, cannot be transferred. Has he borne the social consequences,

shame, loss of credit, and so on? They remain still to hinder us as

we strive to rise after our fall. Has he at least borne the pangs of

remorse for us, the stings of conscience? By no means; the tears of

sorrow are no less bitter, the prickings of repentance no less keen.

Perhaps he has struck at the root of evil, and has put away sin itself

out of a redeemed world? Alas! the wailing that goes up to heaven from a

world oppressed with sin weeps out a sorrowfully emphatic, "no, this

he has _not_ done." What has he then borne for us? Nothing, save the

phantom wrath of a phantom tyrant; all that is real exists the same as

before. We turn away, then, from the offered atonement with a feeling

that would be impatience at such trifling, were it not all too

sorrowful, and leave the Christians to impose on their imagined

sacrifice, the imagined burden of the guilt of the accursed race.


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Further, the Atonement is, from the nature of things, entirely

impossible: we have seen how Christ fails to bear our sins in any

intelligible sense, but can he, in any way, bear the "punishment" of

sin? The idea that the punishment of sin can be transferred from one

person to another is radically false, and arises from a wrong conception

of the punishment consequent on sin, and from the ecclesiastical guilt,

so to speak, thought to be incurred thereby. _The only true punishment

of sin is the injury caused by it to our moral nature_: all the indirect

punishments, we have seen, Christ has not taken away, and the true

punishment can fall only on ourselves. For sin is nothing more than the

transgression of law. All law, when broken, entails _of necessity_ an

appropriate penalty, and recoils, as it were, on the transgressor. A

natural law, when broken, avenges itself by consequent suffering, and so

does a spiritual law: the injury wrought by the latter is not less

real, although less obvious. Physical sin brings physical suffering;

spiritual, moral, mental sin brings each its own appropriate punishment.

"Sin" has become such a cant term that we lose sight, in using it, of

its real simple meaning, a breaking of law. Imagine any sane man coming

and saying, "My dear friend; if you like to put your hand into the fire

I will bear the punishment of being burnt, and you shall not suffer." It

is quite as absurd to imagine that if I sin Jesus can bear my consequent

suffering. If a man lies habitually, for instance, he grows thoroughly

untrue: let him repent ever so vigorously, he must bear the consequences

of his past deeds, and fight his way back slowly to truthfulness of

word and thought: no atonement, nothing in heaven or earth save his own

labour, will restore to him the forfeited jewel of instinctive candour.

Thus the "punishment" of untruthfulness is the loss of the power of

being true, just as the punishment of putting the hand into the fire is

the loss of the power of grasping. But in addition to this simple and

most just and natural "retribution," theologians have invented certain

arbitrary penalties as a punishment of sin, the wrath of God and hell

fire. These imaginary penalties are discharged by an equally imaginary

atonement, the natural punishment remaining as before; so after all we

only reject the two sets of inventions which balance each other, and

find ourselves just in the same position as they are, having gained

infinitely in simplicity and naturalness. The punishment of sin is not

an arbitrary penalty, but an inevitable sequence: Jesus may bear, if his

worshippers will have it so, the theological fiction of the "guilt of

sin," an idea derived from the ceremonial uncleanness of the Levitical

law, but let him leave alone the solemn realities connected with the

sacred and immutable laws of God.


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Doubly unjust, useless, and impossible, it might be deemed a work of

supererogation to argue yet further against the Atonement; but its hold

on men's minds is too firm to allow us to lay down a single weapon which


can be turned against it. So, in addition to these defects, I remark

that, viewed as a propitiatory sacrifice to Almighty God, it is

thoroughly inadequate. If God, being righteous, as we believe Him to be,

regarded man with anger because of man's sinfulness, what is obviously

the required propitiation? Surely the removal of the cause of anger,

_i.e._, of sin itself, and the seeking by man of righteousness. The old

Hebrew prophet saw this plainly, and his idea of atonement is the

true one: "wherewith shall I come before the Lord," he is asked, with

burnt-offerings or--choicer still--parental anguish over a first-born's

corpse? "What doth the Lord require of thee," is the reproving answer,

"but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

But what is the propitiatory element in the Christian Atonement?

let Canon Liddon answer: "the ignominy and pain _needed_ for the

redemption." Ignominy, agony, blood, death, these are what Christians

offer up as an acceptable sacrifice to the Spirit of Love. But what have

all these in common with the demands of the Eternal Righteousness, and

how can pain atone for sin? they have no relation to each other; there

is no appropriateness in the offered exchange. These terrible offerings

are in keeping with the barbarous ideas of uncivilized nations, and we

understand the feelings which prompt the savage to immolate tortured

victims on the altars of his gloomy gods; they are appropriate

sacrifices to the foes of mankind, who are to be bought off from

injuring us by our offering them an equivalent pain to that they desire

to inflict, but they are offensive when given to Him who is the

Friend and Lover of Humanity. An Atonement which offers suffering as

a propitiation can have nothing in common with God's will for man, and

must be utterly beside the mark, perfectly inadequate. If we must have

Atonement, let it at least consist of something which will suit the

Righteousness and Love of God, and be in keeping with his perfection;

let it not borrow the language of ancient savagery, and breathe of blood

and dying victims, and tortured human frames, racked with pain.


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Lastly, I impeach the Atonement as injurious in several ways to human

morality. It has been extolled as "meeting the needs of the awakened

sinner" by soothing his fears of punishment with the gift of a

substitute who has already suffered his sentence for him; but nothing

can be more pernicious than to console a sinner with the promise that

he shall escape the punishment he has justly deserved. The Atonement

may meet the first superficial feelings of a man startled into the

consciousness of his sinfulness, it may soothe the first vague fears and

act as an opiate to the awakened conscience; but it does not fulfil the

cravings of a heart deeply yearning after righteousness; it offers a

legal justification to a soul which is longing for purity, it offers

freedom from punishment to a soul longing for freedom from sin. The true

penitent does not seek to be shielded from the consequences of his past

errors: he accepts them meekly, bravely, humbly, learning through pain

the lesson of future purity. An atonement which steps in between us and

this fatherly discipline ordained by God, would be a curse and not a

blessing; it would rob us of our education and deprive us of a priceless

instruction. The force of temptation is fearfully added to by the idea

that repentance lays the righteous penalty of transgression on another

head; this doctrine gives a direct encouragement to sin, as even

Paul perceived when he said, "shall we continue in sin that grace may

abound?" Some one has remarked, I think, that though Paul ejaculates,

"God forbid," his fears were well founded and have been widely realised.

To the Atonement we owe the morbid sentiment which believes in the holy

death of a ruffianly murderer, because, goaded by ungovernable terror,

he has snatched at the offered safety and been "washed in the blood of

the lamb." To it we owe the unwholesome glorying in the pious sentiments

of such an one, who ought to go out of this life sadly and silently,

without a sickening parade of feelings of love towards the God whose

laws, as long as he could, he has broken and despised. But the Christian

teachers will extol the "saving grace" which has made the felon die with

words of joyful assurance, meet only for the lips of one who crowns

a saintly life with a peaceful death. The Atonement has weakened that

stern condemnation of sin which is the safeguard of purity; it has

softened down moral differences, and placed the penitent above the

saint; it has dulled the feeling of responsibility in the soul; it has

taken away the help, such as it is, of fear of punishment for sin; it

has confused man's sense of justice, outraged his feeling of right,

blunted his conscience, and misdirected his repentance. It has chilled

his love to God by representing the universal father as a cruel tyrant

and a remorseless and unjust judge. It has been the fruitful parent of

all asceticism, for, since God was pacified by suffering once, he would,

of course, be pleased with suffering at all times, and so men have

logically ruined their bodies to save their souls, and crushed their

feelings and lacerated their hearts to propitiate the awful form

frowning behind the cross of Christ. To the Atonement we owe it that God

is served by fear instead of by love, that monasticism holds its head

above the sweet sanctities of love and home, that religion is crowned

with thorns and not with roses, that the _miserere_ and not the _gloria_

is the strain from earth to heaven. The Atonement teaches men to crouch

at the feet of God, instead of raising loving, joyful faces to meet his

radiant smile; it shuts out his sunshine from us, and veils us in the

night of an impenetrable dread. What is the sentiment with which Canon

Liddon closes a sermon on the death of Christ? I quote it to show the

slavish feeling engendered by this doctrine in a very noble human soul:

"In ourselves, indeed, there is nothing that should stay His (God's)

arm or invite his mercy. But may he have respect to the acts and the

sufferings of his sinless son? Only while contemplating the inestimable

merits of the Redeemer can we dare to hope that our heavenly Father will

overlook the countless provocations which he receives at the hands of

the redeemed." Is this a wholesome sentiment, either as regards our

feelings towards God or our efforts towards holiness? Is it well to look

to the purity of another as a makewight for our personal shortcomings?

All these injuries to morality done by the atonement are completed

by the crowning one, that it offers to the sinner a veil of "imputed

righteousness." Not only does it take from him his saving punishment,

but it nullifies his strivings after holiness by offering him a

righteousness which is not his own. It introduces into the solemn

region of duty to God the legal fiction of a gift of holiness, which is

imputed, not won. We are taught to believe that we can blind the eyes

of God and satisfy him with a pretended purity. But that every one whose

purity we seek to claim as ours, that fair blossom of humanity, Jesus

of Nazareth, whose mission we so misconstrue, launched his anathema at

whited sepulchres, pure without and foul within. What would he have said

of the whitewash of unimputed righteousness? Stern and sharp would have

been his rebuke, methinks, to a device so untrue, and well-deserved

would have been his thundered "woe" on a hypocrisy that would fain

deceive God as well as man.


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These considerations have carried so great a weight with the most

enlightened and progressive minds among Christians themselves, that

there has grown up a party in the Church whose repudiation of an

atonement of agony and death is as complete as even we could wish.

They denounce with the utmost fervour the hideous notion of a "bloody

sacrifice," and are urgent in their representations of the dishonour

done to God by ascribing to him "pleasure in the death of him that

dieth," or satisfaction in the sight of pain. They point out that there

is no virtue in blood to wash away sin, not even "in the blood of a

God." Maurice eloquently pleads against the idea that the suffering

of the "well-beloved Son" was in itself an acceptable sacrifice to the


Almighty Father, and he sees the atoning element in the "holiness and

graciousness of the Son." Writers of this school perceive that a moral

and not a physical sacrifice can be the only acceptable offering to the

Father of spirits, but the great objection lies against their theory

also, that the Atonement is still vicarious. Christ still suffers _for_

man, in order to make men acceptable to God. It is, perhaps, scarcely

fair to say this of the school as a whole, since the opinions of Broad

Church divines differ widely from each other, ranging from the orthodox

to the Socinian standing-point. Yet, roughly speaking, we may say that

while they have given up the error of thinking that the death of

Christ reconciles God to-us, they yet believe that his death, in

some mysterious manner, reconciles us to God. It is a matter of deep

thankfulness that they give up the old cruel idea of propitiating God,

and so prepare the way for a higher creed. Their more humane teaching

reaches hearts which are as yet sealed against us, and they are the

John Baptist of the Theistic Christ. We must still urge on them that an

atonement at all is superfluous, that all the parade of reconciliation

by means of a mediator is perfectly unnecessary as between God and his

child, man; that the notion put forward that Christ realised the ideal

of humanity and propitiated God by showing what a man _could_ be, is

objectionable in that it represents God as needing to be taught what

were the capacities of his creatures, and is further untrue, because the

powers of God in man are not really the equivalent of the capabilities

of a simple man. Broad Churchmen are still hampered by the difficulties

surrounding a divine Christ, and are puzzled to find for him a place in

their theology which is at once suitable for his dignity, and consistent

with a reasonable belief. They feel obliged to acknowledge that some

unusual benefit to the race must result from the incarnation and death

of a God, and are swayed alternately by their reason, which places

the crucifixion of Jesus in the roll of martyrs' deaths, and by their

prejudices, which assign to it a position unique and unrivalled in the

history of the race. There are, however, many signs that the deity of

Jesus is, as an article of faith, tottering from its pedestal in the

Broad Church school. The hold on it by such men as the Rev. J. S. Brooke

is very slight, and his interpretation of the incarnation is regarded

by orthodox divines with unmingled horror. Their _moral_ atonement, in

turn, is as the dawn before the sunrise, and we may hope that it will

soon develop into the real truth: namely, that the dealings of Jesus

with the Father were a purely private matter between his own soul and

God, and that his value to mankind consists in his being one of the

teachers of the race, one "with a genius for religion," one of the

schoolmasters appointed to lead humanity to God.


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The theory of M'Leod Campbell stands alone, and is highly interesting

and ingenious--it is the more valuable and hopeful as coming from

Scotland, the home of the dreariest belief as to the relations existing

between man and God. He rejects the penal character of the Atonement,

and makes it consist, so to speak, in leading God and man to understand

one another. He considers that Christ witnessed to men on behalf of God,

and vindicated the father's heart by showing what he could be to the son

who trusted in him. He witnessed to God on behalf of men--and this

is the weakest point in the book, verging, as it does, on

substitution--showing in humanity a perfect sympathy with God's feelings

towards sin, and offering to God for man a perfect repentance for human

transgression. I purposely say "verging," because Campbell does not

_intend_ substitution; he represents this sorrow of Jesus as what he

must inevitably feel at seeing his brother-men unconscious of their sin

and danger, so no fiction is supposed as between God and Christ. But he

considers that God, having seen the perfection of repentance in Jesus,

accepts the repentance of man, imperfect as it is, because it is _in

kind_ the same as that of Jesus, and is the germ of that feeling of

which his is the perfect flower; in this sense, and only in this sense,

is the repentance of man accepted "for Christ's sake." He considers that

men must share in the mind of Christ as towards God and towards sin, in

order to be benefited by the work of Christ, and that each man must thus

actually take part in the work of atonement. The sufferings of Jesus he


regards as necessary in order to test the reality of the life of sonship

towards God, and brotherhood towards men, which he came to earth to

exemplify. I trust I have done no injustice in this short summary to a

very able and thoughtful book, which presents, perhaps, the only view of

the Atonement compatible with the love and the justice of God; and this

only, of course, if the idea of _any_ atonement can fairly be said to

be consistent with justice. The merits of this view are practically that

this work of Jesus is not an "atonement" in the theological sense at

all. The defects of Campbell's book are inseparable from his creed,

as he argues from a belief in the deity of Jesus, from an unconscious

limitation of God's knowledge (as though God did not understand man

till he was revealed to him by Jesus) and from a wrong conception of the

punishment due to sin. I said, at starting, that the Atonement was the

_raison d'être_ of Christianity, and, in conclusion, I would challenge

all thoughtful men and women to say whether good cause has or has not

been shown for rejecting this pillar "of the faith." The Atonement has

but to be studied in order to be rejected. The difficulty is to persuade

people to _think_ about their creed, Yet the question of this doctrine

must be faced and answered. "I have too much faith in the common sense

and justice of Englishmen when once awakened to face any question

fairly, to doubt what that answer will be."



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THE whole Christian scheme turns on the assumption of the inherent

necessity of some one standing between the Creator and the creature,

and shielding the all-weak from the power of the All-mighty. "It is a

fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;" such is the

key-note of the strain which is chanted alike by Roman Catholicism, with

its thousand intercessors, and by Protestantism, with its "one Mediator,

the man Christ Jesus." "Speak _thou_ for me," cries man to his favourite

mouthpiece, whoever it may be; "go thou near, but let me not see the

face of God, lest I die." The heroes, the saints, the idols of humanity,

have been the men who have dared to search into the Unseen, and to gaze

straight up into the awful Face of God. They have dashed aside all that

intervened between their souls and the Eternal Soul, and have found it,

as one of them quaintly phrases it, "a profitable sweet necessity to

fall on the naked arm of Jehovah." Then, because they dared to-trust Him

who had called them into existence, and to stretch out beseeching hands

to the Everlasting Father, they have been forced into a position they

would have been the very first to protest against, and have been made

into mediators for men less bold, for children less confiding. Those

who dared not seek God for themselves have clung to the garments of the

braver souls, who have thus become, involuntarily, veils between

their brother-men and the Supreme. There is, perhaps, no better way of

demonstrating the radical errors from which spring all the so-called

"schemes of redemption" and "economies of Divine grace" than by starting

from the Christian hypothesis.


We will admit, for argument's sake, the Deity of Jesus, in order that we

may thus see the more distinctly that a mediator of any kind between

God and man is utterly uncalled for. It is mediation, in itself, that

is wrong in principle; we object to it as a whole, not to any special

manifestation of it. Divine or human mediators, Jesus or his mother,

saint, angel, or priest, we reject them each and all; our birthright

as human beings is to be the offspring of the Universal Father, and we

refuse to have any interloper pressing in between our hearts and His.


We will take mediation first in its highest form, and speak of it as if

Jesus were really God as well as man. All Christians agree in asserting

that the coming of the Son into the world to save sinners was the result

of the love of the Father for these sinners; _i.e._, "_God_ so loved the

world that _He_ sent His Son." The motive-power of the redemption of the

world is, then, according to Christians, the deep love of the Creator

for the work of His hands. This it was that exiled the Son from the

bosom of the Father, and caused the Eternal to be born into time.

But now a startling change occurs in the aspect of affairs. Jesus has

"atoned for the sins of the world;" he "has made peace through the blood

of his cross;" and having done so, he suddenly appears as the mediator

for men. What does this pleading of the Son on behalf of sinners imply?

Only this--_a complete change in the Father's mind towards the world_.

After the yearning love of which we have heard, after this absolute

sacrifice to win His children's hearts, He at last succeeds. He sees His

children at His feet, repentant for the past, eager to make amends in

the future; human hands appealing to Him, human eyes streaming with

tears. He turns His back on the souls He has been labouring to win; He

refuses to clasp around His penitents the arms outstretched to them so

long, unless they are presented to Him by an accredited intercessor,

and come armed with a formal recommendation. The inconsistency of such a

procedure must be palpable to all minds; and in order to account for

one absurdity, theologians have invented another; having created one

difficulty, they are forced to make a second, in order to escape from

the first. So they represent God as loving sinners, and desiring to

forgive and welcome them. This feeling is the Mercy of God; but, in

opposition to the dictates of Mercy, Justice starts up, and forbids any

favour to the sinner unless its own claims are first satisfied to the

utmost. A Christian writer has represented Mercy and Justice as standing

before the Eternal: Mercy pleads for forgiveness and pity, Justice

clamours for punishment. Two attributes of the Godhead are personified

and placed in opposition to each other, and require to be reconciled.

But when we remember that each personified quality is really but a

portion, so to speak, of the Divine character, we find that God is

divided against Himself. Thus, this theory introduces discord into the

harmonious mind which inspires the perfect melodies of the universe. It

sees warring elements in the Serenity of the Infinite One; it pictures

successive waves of love and anger ruffling that ineffable Calm; it

imagines clouds of changing motives sweeping across the sun of that

unchanging Will. Such a theory as this must be rejected as soon as

realised by the thoughtful mind. God is not a man, to be swayed first

by one motive and then by another. His mercy and justice ever point

unwaveringly in the same direction: perfect justice requires the same

as perfect mercy. If God's justice could fail, the whole moral universe

would be in confusion, and that would be the greatest cruelty that

could be inflicted on intelligent beings. The weak pliability, miscalled

mercy, which is supposed to be worked upon by a mediator, is a human

infirmity which men have transferred to their idea of God.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



A man who has announced his intention to punish may be persuaded out

of his resolution. New arguments may be adduced for the condemned one's

innocence, new reasons for clemency may be suggested; or the judge may

have been over-strict, or have been swayed by prejudice. Here a mediator

may indeed step in, and find good work to do; but, in the name of the

Eternal Perfection, what has all this to do with the judgment of God?

Can His knowledge be imperfect, His mercy increased? Can His sentence be

swayed by prejudice, or made harsh by over-severity?


But if His judgment is already perfect, any change implies imperfection,

and all left for the mediator to do is to persuade God to make a change,

_i.e._, to become imperfect; or, God having decided that sin shall

be punished, the mediator steps in, and actually so works upon God's

feelings that He revokes His decision, and--most cruel of mercies--lets

it go unnoticed. Like an unwise parent, God is persuaded not to punish

the erring child. But such is not the case. God is just, and because He

is just He is most truly merciful: in that justice rests the certainty

of the due punishment of sin, and, therefore of the purification of the

sinner! and no mediator--thanks be to God for it!--shall ever cause to

waver for one instant that Rock of Justice on which reposes the hope of



But the theory we are considering has another fatal error in it:

it ascribes imperfection to Almighty God. For God is represented as

desiring to forgive sinners, and this desire must be either right or

wrong. If it be right, it can at once be gratified; but if Justice

opposes this forgiveness, then the desire to forgive is not wholly

right. Theologians are thus placed in this dilemma: if God is

perfect--as He is--any desire of His must likewise be flawlessly

perfect, and its fulfilment must be the very best thing that could

happen to His whole creation; on the other hand, if there is any barrier

of right--and Justice _is_ right--interposed between God and His desire,

then His Will is not the most perfect Good. Theologians must then choose

between admitting that the desire of God to welcome sinners is just, or

detracting from the Eternal Perfection.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



It is obvious that we do not weaken our case by admitting, for the

moment, the Deity of Jesus; for we are striking at the root-idea

of mediation. That the mediator should be God is totally beside the

question, and in no way strengthens our adversaries' hands. His Deity

does nothing more than introduce a new element of confusion into the

affair; for we become entangled in a maze of contradictions. God, who is

One, even according to Christians, is at one and the same time estranged

from sinners, pleading for sinners, and admitting the pleading. God

pleads to Himself--but we are confounding the persons: one God pleads to

another--but we are dividing the substance. Alas and alas for the creed

which compels its votaries to deny their reason, and degrade their

Maker! which babbles of a Nature it cannot comprehend, and forces

its foolish contradictions on indignant souls! If Jesus be God, his

mediation is at once impossible and unnecessary; if he be God, his will

is the will of God; and if he wills to welcome sinners, it is God who

wills to welcome them. If he, who is God, is content to pardon and

embrace, what further do sinners require? Christians tell us that Jesus

is one with God: it is well, we reply; for you say he is the Friend of

sinners, and the Redeemer of the lost. If he be God, we both agree as to

the friendliness of God to sinners. You need no mediator between you

and Jesus; and, since he is God, you need no mediator with God. This

reasoning is irrefragable, unless Christians are content to assign to

their mediator some place which is less than divine; for they certainly

derogate from his dignity when they imagine him as content to receive

those whom Almighty God chases from before His face. And in making this

difference between Jesus and the Father they make a fatal admission that

he is distinct in feeling from God, and therefore cannot be the One God.

It is the proper perception of this fact which has introduced into

the Roman Church the human mediators whose intercession is constantly

implored. Jesus, being God, is too awful to be approached: his mother,

his apostles, some saint or martyr, must come between. I have read a

Roman Catholic paper about the mediation of Mary which would be accepted

by the most orthodox Protestant were Mary replaced by Jesus, and Jesus

by the Father. For Jesus is there painted, as the Father is painted by

the orthodox, in stern majesty, hard, implacable, exacting the uttermost

farthing; and Mary is represented as standing between him and the

sinners for whom she pleads. It is only a further development of the

idea which makes the man Jesus the Mediator between God and man. As the

deification of Mary progresses, following in slow but certain steps

the deification of Jesus, a mediator will be required through whom to

approach _her_; and then Jesus, too, will fade out of the hearts of

men, as the Father has faded out of the hearts of Christians, and this

superstition of mediation will sink lower and lower, till it is rejected

by all earnest hearts, and is loathed by human souls which are aching

for the living God.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



We see, then, that mediation implies an absurd and inexplicable change

in the supposed attitude of God towards man, and destroys all confidence

in the justice of the Supreme Ruler. We should further take into

consideration the strange feeling towards the Universal _Heart_ implied

in man's endeavour to push some one in between himself and the Eternal

Father. As we study Nature and try to discover from its workings

something of the characteristics of the Worker therein, we find not only

a ruling Intelligence--a _Supreme Reason_, before which we bow our heads

in an adoration too deep for words--but we catch also beautiful glimpses

of a ruling Love--a _Supreme Heart_, to which our hearts turn with a

glad relief from the dark mysteries of pain and evil which press us in

on every side. Simple belief in God at all, that is to say, in a Power

which works in the Universe, is quite sufficient to disperse any of

that feeling of fear which finds its fit expression in the longing for

a mediator. For being placed here without our request, and even without

our consent, we have surely, as a simple matter of justice, a right to

demand that the Power which placed us here shall provide us with means

by which we can secure our happiness. I speak, of course, as of a

_conscious_ Power, because a blind Force is necessarily irresponsible;

but those who believe in a God are bound to acknowledge that He is

responsible for their well-being. If any one should suggest that to

say thus is to criticise God's dealings and to speak with presumptuous

irreverence, I retort that the irreverence lies with those who ascribe

to the Supreme a course of action towards His creatures that they

themselves would be ashamed to pursue towards their own children, and

that they who fling at us the reproach of blasphemy because we will not

bow the knee before their idol, would themselves lie open to the charge,

were it not that their ignorance shields them from the sterner censure.

All good in man--poor shallow streamlet though it be--flows down from

the pure depths of the Fountain of Good, and any throb of Love on

earth is a pulsation caused by the ceaseless beating of the Universal

Father-Heart. Yet men fear to trust that Heart, lest it should cease

beating; they fear to rest on God, lest He should play them false.

When will they catch even a glimpse of that great ocean of love which

encircles the universe as the atmosphere the earth, which is infinite

because God is infinite? If there is no spot in the universe of which

it can be said, "God is not here," then is there also no spot where love

does not rule; if there is no life existing without the support of the

Life-Giver and the Life-Sustainer, then is there also no life which is

not cradled in the arms of Love. Who then will dare to push himself in

between man and a God like this? In the light of the Universal Reason

and the Universal Heart mediation stands confessed as an impertinent

absurdity. Away with any and all of those who interfere in the most

sacred concerns of the soul, who press in between the Creator and His

offspring; between the heart of man and the parent Heart of God. Whoever

it may be, saint or martyr, or the king of saints and martyrs, Jesus of

Nazareth, let him come down from a position which none can rightly hold.

To elevate the noblest son of man into this place of mediator is to make

him into an offence to his brethren, and to cause their love to turn

into anger, and their reverence into indignation. If men persist in

talking about the need of a mediator before they dare to approach God,

we must remind them that, if there be a God at all, He _must_ be just,

and that, therefore, they are perfectly safe In His hands; if they begin

to babble about forgiveness "_for the sake of Jesus Christ?_ we must

ask them what in the world they mean by the forgiveness of sin?" Surely

they do not think that God is like man, quick to revenge affront and

jealous of His dignity; even were it possible for man to injure, in any

sense, the Majesty of God, do they conceive that God is an irascible and

revengeful Potentate? Those who think thus of God can never--I assert

boldly--have caught the smallest glimpse of _God_. They may have seen

a "magnified man," but they have seen nothing more; they have never

prostrated themselves before that Universal Spirit who dwells in this

vast universe; they have never felt their own littleness in a place so

great. How _can_ sin be forgiven? can a past act be undone, or the hands

go back on the sun-dial of Time? All God's so-called chastisements are

but the natural and inevitable results of broken laws--laws invariable

in their action, neither to be escaped or defied. Obedience to law

results in happiness, and the suffering consequent on the transgression

of law is not inflicted by an angry God, but is the simple natural

outcome of the broken law itself. Put your hand in the fire, and no

mediator can save you from burning; cry earnestly to God to save you,

and then cast yourself from a precipice, and will a mediator come

between you and the doom you have provoked? We should do more wisely if

we studied laws and tried to conform ourselves to them, instead of

going blundering about with our eyes shut, trusting that some one will

interpose to shield us from the effects of our own folly and stupidity.

Happily for mankind, mediation is impossible in that beautiful realm of

law in which we are placed; when men have quite made up their minds that

their happiness depends entirely on their own exertions, there will at

last be some chance for the advancement of Humanity, for then they will

work for things instead of praying for them. It is of real practical

importance that this Christian notion of mediation should be destroyed,

because on it hang all the ideas about trusting to some one else to do

our own work. This plan has not answered: we judge it by results, and

it has failed. Surely we may hope that as men get to see that prayer has

not succeeded in its efforts to "move the arm which moves the world, to

bring salvation down," they may turn to the more difficult, but also

the more hopeful task, of moving their own arms to work out their own

salvation. For the past, it is past, and none can reverse it; none

can stay the action of the eternal law which links sorrow with

transgression, and joy and peace with obedience. When we slip back on

our path upward, we may repent and call on God or man for forgiveness

as we list, but only through toil and suffering can the lost way be

recovered, and the rugged path must be trodden with bleeding feet; for

there is none who can lift the sinner over the hindrances he has built

up for himself, or carry him over the rocks with which he has strewed

his road.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



Does the sentimental weakness of our age shrink from this doctrine, and

whimper out that it is cold and stern? Ay, it is cold with the cold

of the bracing sea-breeze, stringing to action the nerves enfeebled by

hot-houses and soft-living; ay, it is stern with the blessed sternness

of changeless law, of law which never fails us, never varies a hair's

breadth. But in that law is strength; man's arm is feeble, but let him

submit to the laws of steam, and his arm becomes dowered with a giant's

force; conform to a law, and the mighty power of that law is on your

side; "humble yourself under the mighty hand of God," who is the

Universal Law, "and He shall lift you up."


So much for mediation. We turn with a still deeper repugnance to study

the Christian idea of "Salvation." Mediation at least leaves us

God, however it degrades and blasphemes Him, but salvation takes us

altogether out of His Hands. Not content with placing a mediator between

themselves and God, Christians cry out that He is still too near them;

they must push Him yet further back, they must have a Saviour too,

through whom all His benefits shall filter.


"Saviour," is an expression often found in the Old Testament, where it

bears a very definite and noble meaning. God is the Saviour of men from

the power of sin, and although we may consider that God does _not_ save

from sin in this direct manner, we are yet bound to acknowledge that

there is nothing in this idea which is either dishonouring or repulsive.

But the word "Saviour" has been degraded by Christianity, and the

salvation He brings is not a salvation from sin. "The Lord and Saviour,

Jesus Christ" is the Saviour of men, not because he delivers them from

sin, but "because he saves them from hell, and from the fiery wrath

of God." Salvation is no longer the equivalent of righteousness, the

antithesis of sin; in Christian life it means nothing more than the

antithesis of damnation. It is true that Christians may retort that

Jesus "saves his people from their sins;" we gladly acknowledge the

nobleness and the beauty of many a Christian life, but nevertheless this

is _not_ the primary idea attached by popular Christianity to the word

"salvation." "Being saved" is to be delivered out of "those hands of

the living God," into which, as they are taught by their Bible, it is

so fearful a thing to fall. "Being saved" is the _immediate_ result of

conversion, and is the opposite of "being lost." "Being saved" is being

hidden "in the riven side of Jesus," and so preserved from the awful

flames of the destroying wrath of God. Against all this we, believers in

an Almighty Love, in a Universal Father, enter our solemn and deliberate

protest, with a depth of abhorrence, with a passion of indignation which

is far too intense to find any adequate expression in words. There is no

language strong enough to show our deeply-rooted repugnance to the idea

that we can be safer anywhere or at any time than we are already here;

we cannot repel with sufficient warmth the officious interference which

offers to take us out of the hands of God. To push some one in between

our souls and Him was bad enough; but to go further and to offer us

salvation from our Maker, to try and threaten us away from the arms of

His Love, to suggest that another's hands are more tender, another's

heart more loving than the Supreme Heart,--these are blasphemies

to which we will not listen in silence. It is true that to us these

suggestions are only matters of laughter; dimly as we guess at the

Deity, we know enough not to be afraid of Him, and these crude and

childish conceptions about Him are among ourselves too contemptible to



     "Non ragione di lor, mai guardo e passo."


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



But we see how these ideas colour men's thoughts and lives, how they

cripple their intellect and outrage their hearts, and we rise to trample

down these superstitions, not because they are in themselves worth

refuting, but simply because they degrade our brother-men. We believe in

no wisdom that improves on Nature's laws, and one of those laws, written

on our hearts, is that sorrow shall tread on the heels of sin. We are

conscious that men should learn to welcome this law, and not to shrink

from it. To fly from the suffering following on broken law is the last

thing we should do; we ought to have no gratitude for a "Saviour" who

should bear our punishment, and so cheat us out of our necessary lesson,

turn us into spoiled children, and check our moral growth; such an offer

as this, could it really be made, ought to be met with stern refusal.

We should trust the Supreme so utterly, and adore His wisdom with a

humility so profound, that if we could change His laws we should not

dare to interfere; nor ought we, even when our lot is saddest, to

complain of it, or do anything more than labour to improve it in

steadfast obedience to law. We should ask for no salvation; we should

desire to fall--were it possible that we _could_ be out of them--into

the hands of God.


Further, is it impossible to make Christians understand that were Jesus

all they say he is, we should still reject him; that were God all they

say He is, we would, in that case, throw back His salvation. For were

this awful picture of a soul-destroying Jehovah, of a blood-craving

Moloch, endowed with a cruelty beyond human imagination, a true

description of the Supreme Being, then would we take the advice of Job's

wife, we would "curse God and die?" we would hide in the burning depths

of His hell rather than dwell within sight of Him whose brightness would

mock at the gloom of His creatures, and whose bliss would be a sneer at

their despair. Were it thus indeed--


     "O King of our salvation,

     Many would curse to thee, and I for one!

     Fling Thee Thy bliss, and snatch at Thy damnation,

     Scorn and abhor the rising of Thy sun.


"Is it not worth while to believe," blandly urges a Christian

writer, "if it is true, as it is true, that they who deny will suffer

everlasting torments?" No! we thunder back at him, _it is not worth

while_; it is not worth while to believe a lie, or to acknowledge as

true that which our hearts and intellects alike reject as false; it is

not worth while to sell our souls for a heaven, or to defile our honesty

to escape a hell; it is not worth while to bow our knee to a Satan or

bend our heads before a spectre. Better, far better, to "dwell with

everlasting burnings" than to degrade our humanity by calling a lie,

truth, and cruelty, love, and unreasonableness, justice; better to

suffer in hell, than to have our hearts so hard that we could enjoy

while others suffer; could rejoice while others are tormented, could

sing alleluias to the music of golden harps, while our lyrics are echoed

by the anguished wailing of the lost. God Himself--were He such as

Christians paint Him--could not blot out of our souls our love of truth,

of righteousness, of justice. While we have these we are _ourselves_,

and we can suffer and be happy; but we cannot afford to pay down these

as the price of our admission to heaven. We should be miserable even as

we paced the golden streets, and should sit in tears beside the river

of the water of life. Yet _this_ is salvation; _this_ is what Christians

offer us in the name of Jesus; _this_ is the glad tidings brought to

us as the gospel of the Saviour, as the "good news of God;" and this we

reject, wholly and utterly, laughing it to scorn from the depths of

our glad hearts which the Truth has made free; this we denounce, with a

stern and bitter determination, in the name of the Universal Father, in

the name of the self-reliance of humanity, in the name of all that is

holy, and just, and loving.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



But happily many, even among Christians, are beginning to shrink from

this idea of salvation from the God in whom they say they place all

their hopes. They put aside the doctrine, they gloss it over, they

prefer not to speak of it. Free thought is leavening Christianity, and

is moulding the old faith against its will. Christianity now hides its

own cruel side, and only where the bold opponents of its creeds have not

yet spread, does it dare to show itself in its real colours; in Spain,

in Mexico, we see Christianity unveiled; here, in England, liberty is

too strong for it, and it is forced into a semblance of liberality. The

old wine is being poured into new bottles; what will be the result? We

may, however, rejoice that nobler thoughts about God are beginning to

prevail, and are driving out the old wicked notions about Him and His

revenge. The Face of the Father is beginning, however dimly, to shine

out from His world, and before the Beauty of that Face all hard thoughts

about Him are fading away. Nature is too fair to be slandered for ever,

and when men perceive that God and Nature are One, all that is ghastly

and horrible must die and drop into forgetfulness. The popular

Christian ideas of mediation and salvation must soon pass away into the

limbo of rejected creeds which is being filled so fast; they are already

dead, and their pale ghosts shall soon flit no longer to vex and harass

the souls of living men.



-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL







SOME time ago a Clergyman was proving to me by arguments many and

strong that hell was right, necessary and just; that it brought glory

to God and good to man; that the holiness of God required it as a

preventive, and the justice of God exacted it as a penalty, of sin.

I listened quietly till all was over and silence fell on the reverend

denunciator; he ceased, satisfied with his arguments, triumphant in the

consciousness that they were crushing and unassailable. But my eyes were

fixed on the fair scene without the library window, on the sacrament

of earth, the visible sign of the invisible beauty, and the contrast

between God's works and the Church's speech came strongly upon me. And

all I found to say in answer came in a few words: "If I had not heard

you mention the name of God, I should have thought you were speaking of

the Devil." The words, dropped softly and meditatively, had a startling

effect. Horror at the blasphemy, indignation at the unexpected result of

laboured argument, struggled against a dawning feeling that there must

be something wrong in a conception which laid itself open to such

a blow; the short answer told more powerfully than half an hour's



The various classes of orthodox Christian doctrines should be attacked

in very different styles by the champions of the great army of

free-thinkers, who are at the present day besieging the venerable

superstitions of the past. Around the Deity of Jesus cluster many

hallowed memories and fond associations; the worship of centuries has

shed around his figure a halo of light, and he has been made into the

ideal of Humanity; the noblest conceptions of morality, the highest

flights of enlightened minds, have been enshrined in a human personality

and called by the name of Christ; the Christ-idea has risen and expanded

with every development of human progress, and the Christ of the highest

Christianity of the day is far other than the Christ of Augustine, of

Thomas à Kempis, of Luther, or Knox; the strivings after light, after

knowledge, after holiness, of the noblest sons of men have been

called by them a following of Jesus; Jesus is baptized in human tears,

crucified in human pains, glorified in human hopes. Because of all this,

because he is dear to human hearts and identified with human struggles,

therefore he should be gently spoken of by all who feel the bonds of

the brotherhood of man; the dogma of his Deity must be assailed, must be

overthrown, because it is false, because it destroys the unity of God,

because it veils from us the Eternal Spirit, the source of all things,

but he himself should be reverently spoken of, so far as truthfulness

permits, and this dogma, although persistently battled against, should

be attacked without anger and without scorn.


There are other doctrines which, while degrading in regard to man's

conception of God, and therefore deserving of reprobation, yet enshrine

great moral truths and have become bound up with ennobling lessons; such

is the doctrine of the Atonement, which enshrines the idea of selfless

love and of self-sacrifice for the good of humanity. There are others

again against which ridicule and indignation may rightly be brought to

bear, which are concessions to human infirmity, and which belong to the

childhood of the race; man may be laughed out of his sacraments and out

of his devils, and indignantly reminded that he insults God and degrades

himself by placing a priesthood or mediator between God and his own

soul. But there is one dogma of Orthodox Christianity which stands

alone in its atrocity, which is thoroughly and essentially bad, which is

without one redeeming feature, which is as blasphemous towards God as

it is injurious to man; on it therefore should be poured out unsparingly

the bitterest scorn and the sharpest indignation. There is no good human

emotion enlisted on the side of an Eternal Hell; it is not hallowed by

human love or human longings, it does not enshrine human aspirations,

nor is it the outcome of human hopes. In support of this no appeal

can be made to any feeling of the nobler side of our nature, nor does

eternal fire stimulate our higher faculties: it acts only on the lower,

baser, part of man; it excites fear, distrust of God, terror of his

presence; it may scare from evil occasionally, but can never teach good;

it sees God in the lightning-flash that slays, but not in the sunshine

which invigorates; in the avalanche which buries a village in its fall,

but not in the rich promise of the vineyard and the joyous beauty of

the summer day. Hell has driven thousands half-mad with terror, it

has driven monks to the solitary deserts, nuns to the sepulchre of the

nunnery, but has it ever caused one soul of man to rejoice in the Father

of all, and pant, "as the hart panteth after the water-springs, for the

presence of God"?


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



It is only just to state, in attacking this as a Christian doctrine,

that, though believed in by the vast majority of Christians, the most

enlightened of that very indefinite body repudiate it with one voice.

It is well known how the great Broad-Church leader, Frederick Denison

Maurice, endeavoured to harmonize, on this point, his Bible and his

strong moral sense, and failed in so doing, as all must fail who would

reconcile two contradictories. How he fought with that word "eternal,"

struggled to prove that whatever else it might mean it did _not_ mean

everlasting in our modern sense of the word: that "eternal death" being

the antithesis to "eternal life" must mean a state of ignorance of

the Eternal One, even as its opposite was the knowledge of God: that

therefore men could rise from eternal death, aye, did so rise every

day in this life, and might so rise in the life to come. Noble was

his protest against this awful doctrine, fettered as he was by undue

reverence for, and clinging to, the Bible. His appeal to the moral sense

in man as the arbiter of all doctrine has borne good fruit, and his

labours have opened a road to free thought greater than he expected or

even hoped. Many other clergymen have followed in his steps. The word

"eternal" has been wrangled over continually, but, however they arrive

there, all Broad Churchmen unite in the conclusion that it does not,

cannot, shall not, mean literally lasting for ever. This school of

thought has laid much stress on the fondness of Orientals for imagery;

they have pointed out that the Jewish word Gehenna is the same as Ge

Hinnom, or valley of Hinnom, and have seen in the state of that valley

the materials for "the worm that dieth not and the fire that is not

quenched:" they show how by a natural transition the place into which

were thrown the bodies of the worst criminals became the type of

punishment in the next world, and the valley where children were

sacrificed to Moloch gave its name to the infernal abode of devils. From

that valley Jesus drew his awful picture, suggested by the pale lurid

fires ever creeping there, mingling their ghastly flames with the

decaying bodies of the dishonoured dead. In all this there is probably

much truth, and many Broad Churchmen are content to accept this

explanation, and so retain their belief in the supernatural character

of the Bible, while satisfying their moral sense by rejecting its most

immoral dogma.


Among the evangelicals, only one voice, so far as I know, is heard

to protest against eternal torture; and all honour is due to the Rev.

Samuel Minton, for his rare courage in defying on this point the opinion

of his "world," and braving the censure which has been duly inflicted on

him. He seems to make "eternal" the equivalent of "irremediable" in some

cases and of "everlasting" in others. He believes that the wicked will

be literally destroyed, burnt up, consumed; the fact that the fire is

eternal by no means implies, he remarks, that that which is cast into

the fire should be likewise eternal, and that the fire is unquenchable

does not prove that the chaff is unconsumable. "Eternal destruction" he

explains as irreparable destruction, final and irreversible extinction.

This theory should have more to recommend it to all who believe in

the supernatural inspiration of the Bible, than the Broad Church

explanation; it uses far less violence towards the words of Scripture,

and, indeed, a very fair case may be made out for it from the Bible



It is scarcely necessary to add to this small list of dissentients from

orthodox Christianity, the Unitarian body; I do not suppose that there

is such a phenomenon in existence as a Unitarian Christian who believes

in an eternal hell.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



With these small exceptions the mass of Christians hold this dogma, but

for the most part carelessly and uncomprehendingly. Many are ashamed of

it even while duteously confessing it, and gabble over the sentences in

their creed which acknowledge it in a very perfunctory manner. People

of this kind "do not like to talk about hell, it is better to think of

heaven." Some Christians, however, hold it strongly, and proclaim their

belief boldly; the members of the Evangelical Alliance actually make the

profession of it a condition of admittance into their body, while many

High Church divines think that a sharp declaration of their belief in

it is needed by loyalty towards God and "charity to the souls of men." I

wish I could believe that all who profess this dogma did not realize

it, and only accepted it because their fathers and mothers taught it to

them. But what can one say to such statements as the following, quoted

from Father Furniss by W. R. Greg in his splendid "Enigmas of Life:" I

take it as a specimen of Roman Catholic _authorized_ teaching. Children

are asked: "How will your body be when the devil has been striking it

every moment for a hundred million years without stopping?" A girl of

eighteen is described as dressed in fire; "she wears a bonnet of fire.

It is pressed down all over her head; it burns her head; it burns into

the skull; it scorches the bone of the skull and makes it smoke." A

boy is boiled: "Listen! there is a sound just like that of a kettle

boiling.... The blood is boiling in the scalded veins of that boy. The

brain is boiling and bubbling in his head. The marrow is boiling in his

bones." Nay, even the poor little babies are not exempt from torture:

one is in a red hot oven, "hear how it screams to come out; see how it

turns and twists about in the fire.... You can see on the face of this

little child"--the fair pure innocent baby-face--"what you see on the

faces of all in hell--despair, desperate and horrible." Surely this

man realized what he taught, but then he was that half-human being--a



Dr. Pusey, too, has a word to say about hell: "Gather in mind all that

is most loathsome, most revolting--the most treacherous, malicious,

coarse, brutal, inventive, fiendish cruelty, unsoftened by any remains

of human feeling, such as thou couldst not endure for a single hour....

hear those yells of blaspheming, concentrated hate as they echo along

the lurid vault of hell."


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



Protestantism chimes in, and Spurgeon speaks of hell: "Wilt thou think

it is easy to lie down in hell, with the breath of the Eternal fanning

the flames? Wilt thou delight thyself to think that God will invent

torments for thee, sinner?" "When the damned jingle the burning irons of

their torment, they shall say, 'for ever;' when they howl, echo cries,

'for ever.'"


I may allude, to conclude my quotations, to a description of hell which

I myself heard from an eminent prelate of the English Church, one who is

a scholar and a gentleman, a man of moderate views in Church matters,

by no means a zealot in an ordinary way. In preaching to a country

congregation composed mainly of young men and girls, he warned them

specially against sins of the flesh, and threatened them with the

consequent punishment in hell. Then, in language which I cannot

reproduce, for I should not dare to sully my pages by repeating what

I then listened to in horrified amazement, there ensued a description

drawn out in careful particulars of the state of the suffering body in

hell, so sickening in its details that it must suffice to say of it that

it was a description founded on the condition of a corpse flung out on

a dungheap and left there to putrefy, with the additional horror of

creeping, slowly-burning flames; and this state of things was to go

on, as he impressed on them with terrible energy, for ever and ever,

"decaying but ever renewing."


I should almost ask pardon of tender-hearted men and women for laying

before them language so abominable; but I urge on all who are offended

by it that this is the teaching given to our sons and daughters in the

present day. Father Furniss, Dr. Pusey, Mr. Spurgeon, an English Bishop,

surely these are honoured names, and in quoting them I quote from the

teaching of Christendom. Nor mine the fault if the language be unfit for

printing. I _quote_, because if we only assert, Christians are quick to

say, "you are misrepresenting our beliefs," and I quote from writers of

the present day only, that none may accuse me of hurling at Christians

reproaches for a doctrine they have outgrown or softened down. Still, I

own that it seems scarcely credible that a man should believe this and

remain sane; nay, should preach this, and walk calmly home from his

Church with God's sunshine smiling on the beautiful world, and after

preaching it should sit down to a comfortable dinner and very likely

a quiet pipe, as though hell did not exist, and its awful misery and

fierce despair.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



It is said that there is no reason that we should not be contented in

heaven while others suffer in hell, since we know how much misery there

is in this world and yet enjoy ourselves in spite of the knowledge.

I say, deliberately, of every one who does realise the misery of this

world and remains indifferent to it, who enjoys his own share of the

good things of this life, without helping his brother, who does not

stretch out his hand to lift the fallen, or raise his voice on behalf of

the down-trodden and oppressed, that that man is living a life which is

the very antithesis of a Divine life--a life which has in it no beauty

and no nobility, but is selfish, despicable, and mean. And is this the

life which we are to regard as the model of heavenly beauty? Is the

power to lead this life for ever to be our reward for self-devotion

and self-sacrifice here on earth? Is a supreme selfishness to crown

unselfishness at last? But this is the life which is to be the lot of

the righteous in heaven. Snatched from a world in flames, caught up in

the air to meet their descending Lord, his saints are to return with him

to the heaven whence he came; there, crowned with golden crowns, they

are to spend eternity, hymning the Lamb who saved them to the music

of golden harps, harps whose melody is echoed by the curses and the

wailings of the lost; for below is a far different scene, for there the

sinners are "tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the

holy angels and the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment

ascendeth up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night."


It is worth while to gaze for a moment at the scene of future felicity;

there is the throne of God and rejoicing crowds: "Rejoice over her, thou

heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets," so goes out the command, and

they rejoice because "God has avenged them on her," and again they

said "Alleluia, and her smoke rose up for ever and ever." Truly God

must harden the hearts of his saints in heaven as of old he hardened

Pharaoh's heart, if they are to rejoice over the anguished multitude

below, and to bear to live amid the lurid smoke ascending from the

burning bodies of the lost. To me the idea is so unutterably loathsome

that I marvel how Christians endure to retain such language in their

sacred books, for I would note that the awful picture drawn above is not

of my doing; it is not the scoffing caricature of an unbeliever, _it is

heaven as described by St. John the divine_. If this heaven is true I do

not hesitate to say that it is the duty of every human being to reject

it utterly and to refuse to enter it. We might even appeal to Christians

by the example of their own Jesus, who could not be content to remain in

heaven himself while men went to hell, but came down to redeem them from

endless suffering. Yet they, who ought to imitate him, who do, many

of them, lead beautiful lives of self-devotion and compassion, are

suddenly, on death, to lose all this which makes them "partakers of the

Divine Nature," and are to be content to win happiness for themselves,

careless that millions of their brethren are in woe unspeakable. They

are to reverse the aim of their past lives, they are to become selfish

instead of loving, hard instead of selfless, indifferent instead of

loving, hard instead of tender. Which is the better reproduction of the

"mind of Christ," the good Samaritan tending the wounded man, or the

stern Inquisitor gloating over the fire which consumes heretics to the

greater glory of God? Yet the latter is the ideal of heavenly virtue.

Never will they who truly love man be content to snatch at bliss for

themselves while others suffer, or endure to be crowned with glory while

they are crowned with thorns. Better, far better, to suffer in hell and

share the pains of the lost, than to have a heart so hard, a nature

so degraded, as to enjoy the bliss of heaven, rejoicing over, or even

disregarding, the woes of hell.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



But there is worse than physical torture in the picture of hell; pain is

not its darkest aspect. Of all the thoughts with which the heart of man

has outraged the Eternal Righteousness, there is none so appalling, none

so blasphemous, as that which declares that even one soul, made by the

Supreme Good, shall remain during all eternity, under the power of

sin. Divines have wearied themselves in describing the horrors of the

Christian hell; but it is _not_ the furnace of flames, _not_ the undying

worm, _not_ the fire which never may be quenched, that revolt us most;

hideous as are these images, they are not the worst terror of hell. Who

does not know how St. Francis, believing himself ordained to be lost

everlastingly, fell on his knees and cried, "O my God, if I am indeed

doomed to hate thee during eternity, at least suffer me to love thee

while I live here." To the righteous heart the agony of hell is a far

worse one than physical torture could inflict: it is the existence of

men and women who might have been saints, shut out from hope of holiness

for evermore; God's children, the work of his hands, gnashing their

teeth at a Father who has cast them down for ever from the life he might

have given; it is Love everlastingly hated; good everlastingly trampled

under foot; God everlastingly baffled and defied; worst of all, it is

a room in the Father's house where his children may hunger and thirst

after righteousness, but never, never, can be filled.


      "Depart, O sinner, to the chain!

      Enter the eternal cell;

      To all that's good and true and right,

      To all that's fair and fond and bright,

      To all of holiness and right,

      Bid thou thy last farewell."



Would to God that Christian men and women would ponder it well and think

it out for themselves, and when they go into the worst parts of our

great cities and their hearts almost break with the misery there, then

let them remember how that misery is but a faint picture of the endless,

hopeless, misery, to which the vast majority of their fellow-men are



Christian reader, do not be afraid to realise the future in which you

say you believe, and which the God of Love has prepared for the home of

some of his children. Imagine yourself, or any dear to you, plunged

into guilt from which there is no redeemer, and where the voice cannot

penetrate of him that speaks in righteousness, mighty to save. In the

well-weighed words of a champion of Christian orthodoxy, think there is

no reason to believe that hell is only a punishment for past offences;

in that dark world sin and misery reproduce each other in infinite

succession. "What if the sin perpetuates itself, if the prolonged misery

may be the offspring of the prolonged guilt?" Ponder it well, and, if

you find it true, then cast out from your creed the belief in a Jesus

who loved the lost; blot out from your Bible every verse that speaks of

a Father's heart; tear from your Prayer-books every page that prays to a

Father in heaven. If the lowest of God's creatures is to be left in the

foul embraces of sin for ever, God cannot be the Eternal Righteousness,

the unconquerable Love. For what sort of Righteousness is that which

rests idly contented in a heaven of bliss, while millions of souls

capable of righteousness are bound by it in helpless sin; what sort of

love is that which is satisfied to be repulsed, and is willing to be

hated? As long as God is righteous, as long as God is love, so long is

it impossible that men and women shall be left by him forever in a

state to which our worst dens of earth are a very paradise of beauty and

purity. Bible writers may have erred, but "Thou continuest holy, O Thou

worship of Israel!" There is one revelation that cannot err, and that

is written by God's finger on every human heart. What man recoils from

doing, even at his lowest, can never be done by his Creator, from whose

inspiration he draws every righteous thought. Is there one father,

however brutalized, who would deliberately keep his child in sin because

of a childish fault? one mother who would aimlessly torture her son,

keeping him alive but to torment? Yet this, nothing less,--nay, a

thousand times more, for it is this multiplied infinitely by infinite

power of torture,--this is what Christians ask us to believe about our

Father and our God, a glimmer from the radiance of whose throne falls on

to our earth, when men love their enemies and forgive freely those who

wrong them If this so-called orthodox belief is right, then is their

gospel of the Love of God to the world a delusion and a lie; if this is

true, the teaching of Jesus to publicans and harlots of the Fatherhood

of God is a cruel mockery of our divinest instincts; the tale of

the good Shepherd who could not rest while one sheep was lost is the

bitterest irony. But this awful dogma is not true, and the Love of God

cradles his creation; not one son of the Father's family shall be left

under the power of sin, to be an eternal blot on God's creation, an

endless reproach to his Maker's wisdom, an everlasting and irreparable



-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



No amount of argument, however powerful, should make us believe a

doctrine from which our hearts recoil with such shuddering horror as

they do from this doctrine of eternal torture and eternal sin. There is

a divine instinct in the human heart which may be trusted as an arbiter

between right and wrong; no supernatural revelation, no miracle, no

angel from heaven, should have power to make us accept as divine that

which our hearts proclaim as vile and devilish. It is not true faith

to crush down our moral sense beneath the hoof of credulity; true faith

believes in God only as a "Power which makes for _Righteousness_" and

recks little of threats or curses which would force her to accept that

which conscience disapproves. And what is more, if it were possible that

God were not what we dream, if he were not "righteous in all his ways

and holy in all his works," then were it craven cowardice to worship him

at all. It has been well said, "that to worship simple power, without

virtue, is nothing but devil-worship;" in that case it were nobler to

refuse to praise him and to take what he might send. Then indeed we

must say, with John Stuart Mill, in that burst of passion which reads so

strangely in the midst of his passionless logic, that if I am told that

this is justice and love, and that if I do not call it so, God will send

me to hell, then "to hell I'll go."


I have purposely put first my strong reprobation of eternal hell,

because of its own essential hideousness, and because, were it ever

so true, I should deem myself disgraced by acknowledging it as

either loving or good. But it is, however, a satisfaction to note the

feebleness of the arguments advanced in support of this dogma, and to

find that justice and holiness, as well as love, frown on the idea of an

eternal hell.


The first argument put forth is this: "God has made a law which

man breaks; man must therefore in justice suffer the penalty of his

transgression." This, like so many of the orthodox arguments, sounds

just and right, and at first we perfectly agree with it. The instinct

of justice in our own breasts confirms the statement, and looking abroad

into the world we see its truth proved by facts. Law is around us on

every side; man is placed in a realm of law; he may-strive against the

laws which encircle him, but he will only dash himself to pieces against

a rock; he is under a code which he breaks at his peril. Here is perfect

justice, a justice absolutely unwavering, deaf to cries, unseducible

by-flatteries, unalloyed by favouritism: a law exists, break it, and

you suffer the inevitable consequences. So far, then, the orthodox

argument is sound and strong, but now it takes a sudden leap. "The

penalty of the broken law is hell." Why? What common factor is there

between a lie, and the "lake of fire in which all liars shall have their

part?" Nature is absolutely against the orthodox corollary, because hell

as a punishment of sin is purely arbitrary, the punishment might quite

as well have been something else; but in nature the penalty of a broken

law is always strictly in character with the law itself, and is derived

from it. Men imagine the most extraordinary "judgment." A nation is

given to excessive drinking, and is punished with cattle-plague; or

shows leanings towards popery, and is chastised with cholera. It is as

reasonable to believe this as it would be to expect that if a child fell

down stairs he would be picked up covered with blisters from burning,

instead of his receiving his natural punishment of being bruised.

Why, because I lie and forget God, should I be punished with fire and

brimstone? Fire is not derivable from truth, nor is brimstone a stimulus

to memory. There is also a strange confusion in many minds about the

punishment of sin. A child is told not to put his hand into the fire,

he does so, and is burnt; the burning is a punishment, he is told; for

what? Not for disobedience to the parent, as is generally said, but for

disregarding the law of nature which says that fire burns. One often

hears it said: "God's punishments for sin are not equal: one man sins

once and suffers for it all his life, while another sins twenty times

and is not punished at all." By no means: the two men both break a moral

law, and suffer a moral degradation; one of them breaks in addition some

physical law, and suffers a physical injury. People see injustice where

none exists, because they will not take the trouble to distinguish

what laws are broken when material punishments follow. There is nothing

arbitrary in nature: cause and effect rule in her realm. Hell is then

unjust, in the first place, because physical torture has nothing in

common with moral guilt.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

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It is unjust, secondly, because it is excessive. Sin, say theologians,

is to be punished infinitely, because sin is an offence committed

against an infinite being. Of course, then, good must logically be

rewarded infinitely, because it is duty offered to an infinite being.

There is no man who has never done a single good act, so every man

deserves an infinite reward. There is no man who has never done a single

bad act, so every man deserves an infinite punishment. Therefore every

man deserves both an infinite reward and an infinite punishment,

"which," as Euclid says, "is absurd." And this is quite enough answer to

the proposition. But I must protest, in passing, against this notion of

"sin against God" as properly understood. If by this expression is only

meant that every sin committed is a sin against God, because every sin

is done against man's higher nature, which is God in man, then indeed

there is no objection to be made to it. But this is not what is

generally meant by the phrase. It usually means that we are able, as it

were, to injure God in some way, to dishonour him, to affront him, to

trouble him. By sin we make him "angry," we "provoke him to wrath;"

because of this feeling on his own part he punishes us, and demands

"satisfaction." Surely a moment's reflection must prove to any

reasonable being that sin against God in this sense is perfectly

impossible. What can the littleness of man do against the greatness of

the Eternal! Imagine a speck of dust troubling the depths of the

ocean, an aphis burdening an oak-tree with its weight: each is far

more probable than that a man could ruffle the perfect serenity of God.

Suppose I stand on a lawn watching an ant-heap, an ant twinkles his

feelers at me scornfully; do I fly into a passion and rush on the insect

to destroy it, or seize it and slowly torture it? Yet I am far less

above the level of the ant than God is above mine.


But I must add a word here to guard against the misapprehension that

in saying this I am depriving man of the strength he finds in believing

that he is personally known to God and an object of his care. Were I

the ant's creator familiar with all the workings of its mind, I

might regret, for its sake, the pride and scorn of its maker shown by

its-action, because it was not rising to the perfection of nature of

which it was capable. So, in that nature in which we live and move,

which is too great to regard anything as-little, which is around all and

in all, and which we believe to be conscious of all, there is--I cannot

but think--some feeling which, for want of a better term, we must call

a desire for the growth of his creatures (because in this growth lies

their own happiness), and a corresponding feeling of regret when they

injure themselves. But I say this in fear and reverence, knowing that

human language has no terms in which to describe the nature we adore,

and conscious that in the very act of putting ideas about him into

words, I degrade the ideas and they no longer fully answer to the

thought in my own mind. Silent adoration befits man best in the presence

of his maker, only it is right to protest against the more degrading

conceptions of him, although the higher conceptions are themselves far

below what he really is. Sin then, being done against oneself only,

cannot deserve an eternity of torture. Sin injures man already, why

should he be further injured by endless agony? The infliction of pain

is only justifiable when it is the means of conveying to the sufferer

himself a gain greater than the suffering inflicted; therefore

punishment is only righteous when reformatory. But _endless_ torture

cannot aim at reformation; it has no aim beyond itself, and can only

arise, therefore, from vengeance and vindictiveness, which we have

shown to be impossible with God. Hell is unjust, secondly, because its

punishment is excessive and aimless. It is also unjust, because to avoid

it needs an impossible perfection. It is no answer to this to say that

there is an escape offered to us through the Atonement made by Jesus

Christ. Why should I be called on to escape like a criminal from that

which I do not deserve? God makes man imperfect, frail, sinful,

utterly unable to keep perfectly a perfect law: he therefore fails,

and is--what? To be strengthened? by no means; he is to go to hell. The

statement of this suffices to show its injustice. We cavil not at the

wisdom which made us what we are, but we protest against the idea which

makes God so cruelly unjust as to torture babies because they are unable

to walk as steadily as full-grown men. Hell is unjust, in the third

place, because man does not deserve it.


To all this it will probably be retorted, "you are arguing as though

God's justice were the same as man's, and you were therefore capable

of judging it, an assumption which is unwarrantable, and is grossly

presumptuous." To which I reply: "If by God's justice you do not mean

justice at all, but refer to some Divine attribute of which we know

nothing, all my strictures on it fall to the ground; only, do not commit

the inconsistency of arguing that hell is _just_, when by 'just' you

mean some unknown quality, and then propping up your theories with

proofs drawn from human justice. It would perhaps tend to clearness in

argument if you gave this Divine attribute some other name, instead of

using for it an expression which has already a definite meaning."


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



The justice of hell disposed of, we turn to the love of God. I have

never heard it stated that hell is a proof of his great love to the

world, but I take the liberty myself of drawing attention to it in this

light. God, we are told, existed alone before ought was created; there

perfect in himself, in happiness, in glory, he might have remained,

say orthodox theologians. Then, we have a right to ask in the name of

charity, why did he, happy himself, create a race of beings of whom the

vast majority were to be endlessly and hopelessly miserable? Was this

love? "He created man to glorify him." But was it loving to create those

who would only suffer for his glory? Was it not rather a gigantic, an

inconceivable selfishness?


"Man may be saved if he will." That is not to the point; God foreknew

that some would be lost, and yet he made them. With all reverence I say

it, God had no right to create sentient beings, if of one of them it can

ever be truly said, "good were it for that man that he had never been

born." He who creates, imposes on himself, by the very act of creation,

duties towards his creatures. If God be self-conscious and moral, it

is an absolute certainty that the whole creation is moving towards

the final good of every creature in it. We did not ask to be made; we

suffered not when we existed not; God, who has laid existence on us

without our consent, is responsible for our final good, and is bound by

every tie of righteousness and justice, not to speak of love, to make

the existence he gave us, unasked, a blessing and not a curse to us.

Parents feel this responsibility towards the children they bring into

the world, and feel themselves bound to protect and to make happy those

who, without them, had not been born. But, if hell be true, then every

man and woman is bound not to fulfil the Divine command of multiplying

the race, since by so doing they are aiding to fill the dungeons of

hell, and they will, hereafter, have their sons and their daughters

cursing the day of their birth, and overwhelming their parents with

reproaches for having brought into the world a body, which God was thus

enabled to curse with the awful gift of an immortal soul.


We must notice also that God, who is said to love righteousness, can

never crush out righteousness in any-human soul. There is no one so

utterly degraded as to be without one sign of good. Among the lowest and

vilest of our population, we find beautiful instances of kindly feeling

and generous help. Can any woman be more degraded than she who only

values her womanhood as a means of gain, who drinks, fights, and steals?

Let those who have been among such women say if they have not been

cheered sometimes by a very ray of the light of God, when the most.

degraded has shown kindness to an equally degraded sister, and when the

very gains of sin have been purified by being; poured into the lap of a

suffering and dying companion. Shall love and devotion, however feeble,

unselfishness and sympathy, however transitory in their action, shall

these stars of heaven be quenched in the blackness of the pit of hell?

If it be so, then, verily, God is not the "righteous. Lord who loveth



-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



But we cannot leave out of our impeachment of hell that it injures man,

as much as it degrades his conceptions of God. It cultivates selfishness

and fear, two of his basest passions. There has scarcely perhaps been

born into the world this century a purer and more loving soul than that

of the late John Keble, the author of the "Christian Year." Yet what a

terrible effect this belief had on him; he must cling to his belief in

hell, because otherwise he would have no certainty of heaven:


     "But where is then the stay of contrite hearts?

     Of old they leaned on Thy eternal word;

     But with the sinner's fear their hope departs,

     Fast linked as Thy great name to Thee, O Lord;


     That Name by which Thy faithful hope is past,

     That we should endless be, for joy or woe;--

     And if the treasures of Thy wrath could waste,

     Thy lovers must their promised heaven forego."


That is to say in plain English: "I cannot give up the certainty of

hell for others, because if I do I shall have no certainty of heaven for

myself; and I would rather know that millions of my brethren should

be tormented for ever, than remain doubtful about my own everlasting

enjoyment." Surely a loving heart would say, instead, "O God, let

us all die and remain unconscious for ever, rather than that one soul

should suffer everlastingly." The terrible selfishness of the Christian

belief degrades the noblest soul; the horror of hell makes men lose

their self-control, and think only of their personal safety, just as

we see men run wild sometimes at a shipwreck, when the gain of a minute

means life. The belief in hell fosters religious pride and hatred, for

all religious people think that they themselves at least are sure of

heaven. If then they are going to rejoice through all eternity over

the sufferings of the lost, why should they treat them with kindness or

consideration here? Thus hell, becomes the mother of persecution;

for the heretic, the enemy of the Lord, there is no mercy and no

forgiveness. Then the saints persuade themselves that true charity

obliges them to persecute, for suffering may either save the heretic

himself by forcing him to believe, or may at least scare others from

sharing his heresy, and so preserve them from eternal fire. And they

are right, if hell is true. Any means are justifiable which may save man

from that horrible doom; surely we should not hesitate to knock a man

down, if by so doing we preserved him from throwing himself over a



-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



Belief in hell takes all beauty from virtue; who cares for obedience

only rendered through fear? No true love of good is wrought in man by

the fear of hell, and outward respectability is of little worth when the

heart and the desires are unpurified. We may add that the fear of hell

is a very slight practical restraint; no man thinks himself really bad

enough for hell, and it is so far off that every one intends to repent

at the last and so escape it. Far more restraining is the proclamation

of the stern truth that, in the popular sense of the word, there is no

such thing as the "forgiveness of sins;" that as a man sows, so shall he

reap, and that broken laws avenge themselves without exception.


Belief in hell stifles all inquiry into truth by setting a premium

on one form of belief, and by forbidding another under frightful

penalties.. "If it be true, as it is true, that all who do not believe

this shall perish everlastingly, then, I ask, _is it not worth while to

believe?_" So says a clergyman of the Church of England. Thus he presses

his people to accept the dogma of the Deity of Jesus, not because it

is-true, but because it is dangerous to deny it. And this-difficulty

meets us every day. If we urge inquiry, we are told "it is dangerous;"

if we suggest a difficulty, we are told "it is safer to believe;" and

so this doctrine of hell chains down men's faculties and palsies their

intellects, and they dare not seek for truth at all, lest he who is

Truth should cast them into hell for it.


It may perhaps be said by many that I have attacked this dogma with

undue vehemence, and with excessive warmth. I attack it thus, because I

know the harm that it is doing, because it saddens the righteous heart

and clouds the face of God. Only those who have realised hell, and

realising it, have believed in it, know the awful shadow with which it

darkens the world. There are many who laugh at it, but they have not

felt its power, and they forget that a dogma which is only ludicrous

to them is weighing heavily on many a tender heart and sensitive brain.

Hell drives many mad: to others-it is a life-long horror. It pales the

sunlight with its lurid flames; it blackens the earth with the smoke of

its torment; it makes the Devil an actual presence; it transforms God

into an enemy, eternity into an awful doom. It takes the spring out of

all pleasures; it poisons all enjoyments; it spreads gloom over life,

and enshrouds the tomb in horror unspeakable. Only those who have

felt the anguish of this nightmare know what it is to wake up into the

sunlight, and find it is only a disordered dream of the darkness; they

only know the glorious liberty of heart and soul, with which they lift

up smiling faces to meet the smile of God, when they can say from the

depths of their glad hearts, "I believe that God is Light, and in Him is

no darkness at all; I believe that all mankind is safe, cradled in the

everlasting arms."


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL






THERE is a certain amount of difficulty in defining the word

Inspiration: it is used in so many different senses by the various

schools of religious thought, that it is almost necessary to know the

theological opinions of the speaker before being quite sure of his

meaning when he talks of a book as being inspired. In the halcyon days

of the Church, when faith was strong and reason weak, when priests had

but to proclaim and laymen but to assent, Inspiration had a distinct and

a very definite meaning. An inspired man spoke the very words of God:

the Bible was perfect from the "In the beginning" of Genesis to the

"Amen" of Revelation: it was perfect in science, perfect in history,

perfect in doctrine, perfect in morals. In that diamond no flaw was

to be seen; it sparkled with a spotless purity, reflecting back in

many-coloured radiance the pure white light of God. But when the

chemistry of modern science came forward to test this diamond, a

murmuring arose, low at first, but irrepressible. It was scrutinised

through the microscope of criticism, and cracks and flaws were

discovered in every direction; then, instead of being enshrined on

the altar, encircled by candles, it was brought out into the searching

sunlight, and the naked eye could see its imperfections. Then it was

tested anew, and some bold men were heard to whisper, "It is no diamond

at all, God formed in ages past; it is nothing but paste, manufactured

by man;" and the news passed from mouth to mouth, until the whisper

swelled into a cry, and many voices echoed, "This is no diamond at all."

And so things are to-day; the battle rages still; some maintain their

jewel is perfect as ever, and that the flaws are in the eyes that look

at it; some reluctantly allow that it is imperfect, but still consider

it a diamond; others resolutely assert that, though valuable for its

antiquity and its beauty, it is really nothing but paste.


To take first the really orthodox theory of inspiration, generally

styled the "plenary" or "verbal" inspiration of the Bible. It was well

defined centuries since by Athenagoras; according to him the inspired


writers "uttered the things that were wrought in them when the Divine

Spirit moved them, the Spirit using them as a flute-player would blow

into the flute." The same idea has been uttered in powerful poetry by a

writer of our own day:--


     "Then thro' the mid complaint of my confession,

     Then thro' the pang and passion of my prayer,

     Leaps with a start the shock of His possession,

     Thrills me and touches, and the Lord is there.


Scarcely I catch the words of His revealing, Hardly I hear Him, dimly

understand; Only the power that is within me pealing, Lives on my lips

and beckons to my hand."


The idea is exactly the same as that of the Pagan prophetesses: they

became literally possessed by a spirit, who used their lips to declare

his own thoughts; so orthodox Christians believe that it is no longer

Moses or Isaiah or Paul that speaks, but the Spirit of the Father that

speaks in them. This theory is held by all strictly orthodox believers;

this and this only is from their lips, inspiration; hard pressed on the

subject they will allow that the Spirit inspires all good thoughts "in

a sense," but they will be very careful in declaring that this is only

inspiration in a secondary sense, an inspiration which diners in kind as

well as in degree from the inspiration of the writers of the Bible. By

this mechanical theory, so to speak, it is manifest that all possibility

of error is excluded; thus, when Matthew quotes from the Old Testament

an utterly irrelevant historical reference--"when Israel was a child,

then I loved him and _called my son out of Egypt_", as a prophecy of the

alleged flight of Jesus into Egypt, and his subsequent return from that

country into Palestine--we find Dr. Wordsworth, Right Reverend Father

in God, and Bishop of Lincoln, gravely telling us that "the Holy Spirit

here declares what had been in His own mind when He uttered these words

by Hosea. And who shall venture to say that he knows the mind of the

Spirit better than the Spirit Himself?" Dr. Pusey again, standing

valiantly, after the manner of the man, to every Church dogma, however

it may be against logic, against common sense, against reason, or

against charity, makes a very reasonable inquiry of those who believe

in an outward and supernatural inspiration, and yet object to the term

verbal. "How," he asks, "can thought be conveyed to a man's mind except

through words?" The learned doctor's remark is indeed a very pertinent

one, as addressed to all those who believe in an exterior revelation.

Thoughts which are communicated from without can only become known

to man through the medium of words: even his own thoughts only become

appreciable to him when they are sufficiently distinct to be clothed

in words (of course not necessarily _spoken_ words); and we can only

exclude from this rule such thoughts as may be presented to the mind

through mental sight or hearing: e.g., music might probably be composed

mentally by imagining the _sounds_, or mechanical contrivances invented

by imagining the _objects_; but any argument, any story, which is,

capable of reproduction in writing, must be thought out in words.

A moment's thought renders this obvious; if a man is arguing with a

Frenchman in his own language, he must, to render his arguments clear

and powerful, _think_ in French. Now, if the Bible be inspired so as to

insure accuracy, how can this be done except through words; for many

of the facts recorded must, from the necessity of the case, have been

unknown to the writers. Suppose for a moment that the Biblical account

of the creation of the world were true, no man in that case could

possibly have thought it out for himself. Only two theories can

reasonably be held regarding this record: one, that it is true, which

implies necessarily that it is literally true and verbally inspired,

since the knowledge could only have come from the Creator, and, being

communicated must have come in the form of words, which words being

God's, must be literally true; the other, that it ranks with other

ancient cosmogonies, and is simply the thought of some old writer,

giving his idea as to the origin of the world around him. I select

the account of the Creation as a crucial test of the verbal theory of

inspiration, because any other account in the Bible that I can think of

has a human actor in it, and it might be maintained--however unlikely

the hypothesis--that a report was related or written down by one who had

been present at the incident reported, and the inspiration of the final

writer may be said to consist in re-writing the previous record which he

may be directed to incorporate in his own work. But no one witnessed

the creation of the world, save the Creator, or, at the most, He and

His angels, and the account given of it must, if true, be word for word

divine; or, if false--as it is--must be nothing more than human

fancy. We must push this argument one step further. If the account was

communicated only to the man's _mind_, in words rising internally to

the inward ear alone, how could the man distinguish between these

divine thoughts rising in his mind, and his own human thoughts rising in

exactly the same manner? Thoughts rise in our minds, we know not how; we

only become conscious of them when they are there, and, as far as we can

judge, they are produced quite naturally according to certain laws. But

how is it possible for us to distinguish whence these thoughts come?

There they are, ours, not another's--ours as the child is the father's

and mother's, the product of their own beings. If my thought is not

mine, but God's, how am I to know this? it is produced within me as my

own, and the source of one thought is not distinguishable from that of

another. Thus, those who believe in the accuracy of the Bible are step

by step driven to allow that not only are words necessary, but spoken

words; if the Bible be supernaturally inspired at all, then must God

have spoken not only in human words but also in human voice; if the

Bible be supernaturally inspired at all, it must be verbally inspired,

and be literally accurate about every subject on which it treats.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL


Unfortunately for the maintainers of verbal inspiration, their theory is

splendidly adapted for being brought before the bar of inexorable fact.

It is worth while to remark, in passing, that the infallibility of

the Bible has only remained unchallenged where ignorance has reigned

supreme; as soon as men began to read history and to study nature,

they also began to question scriptural accuracy, and to defy scriptural

authority. Infallibility can only live in twilight: so far, every

infallibility has fallen before advancing knowledge, save only the

infallibility of Nature, which is the infallibility of God Himself.

Protestants consider Roman Catholics fools, in that they are not able to

see that the Pope cannot be infallible, because one Pope has cursed

what another Pope has blessed. They can see in the case of others that

contradiction destroys infallibility, but they cannot see the force of

the same argument when applied to their own pope, the Bible. Strong in

their "invincible ignorance," they bring us a divinely-inspired book;

"good," we answer; "then is your book absolutely true, and it will

square with all known truth in science and history, and will, of course,

never be self-contradictory." The first important question which arises

in our minds as we open so instructive a book as a revelation from on

high, refers naturally to the Great Inspirer. The Bible contains, as

might indeed be reasonably expected, many statements as to the nature

of God, and we inquire of it, in the first place, the character of its

Author. May we hope to see Him in this world? "Yes," answers Exodus.

"Moses in days gone by spoke to God face to face, and seventy-four

Israelites saw Him, and eat and drank in His presence." We have scarcely

taken in this answer when we hear the same voice proceed: "No; for God

said thou canst not see my face, for there shall no man see me and live;

while John declares that no man hath seen Him, and Paul, that no man

neither hath nor can see Him." Is He Almighty? "Yes," says Jesus. "With

God all things are possible." "No," retorts Judges; "for He could not

drive out the inhabitants of the valley, _because_ they had chariots of

iron." Is He just? "Yes," answers Ezekiel. "The son shall not bear the

iniquity of the father; the soul that sinneth _it_ shall die." "No,"

says Exodus. "The Lord declares that He visits the iniquity of the

fathers upon the children." Is He impartial? "Yes," answers Peter. "God

is no respecter of persons." "No;" says Romans, "for God loved Jacob and

hated Esau before they were born, that His purpose of _election_ might

stand." Is He truthful? "Yes; it is impossible for God to lie," says

Hebrews. "No," says God of Himself, in Ezekiel. "I, the Lord, have

deceived that prophet." Is He loving? "Yes," sings the Psalmist. "He

is loving unto every man, and His tender mercy is over all His works."

"No," growls Jeremiah. "He will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy on

them." Is he easily pacified when offended? "Yes," says the Psalmist.

"His wrath endureth but the twinkling of an eye." "No," says Jeremiah.

"Ye have kindled a fire in His anger that shall burn for ever." Unable

to discover anything reliable about God, doubtful whether he be just or

unjust, partial or impartial, true or false, loving or fierce, placable

or implacable, we come to the conclusion that at all events we had

better be friends with Him, and surely the book which reveals His will

to us will at least tell us in what way He desires us to approach Him.

Does He accept sacrifice? "Yes," says Genesis: "Noah sacrificed and God

smelled a sweet savour;" and Samuel tells us how God was prevailed on to

take away a famine by the sacrifice of seven men, hanged up before the

Lord. In our fear we long to escape from Him altogether and ask if this

be possible? "Yes," says Genesis. "Adam and his wife hid from Him in the

trees, and He had to go-down from His heaven to see if some evil deeds

were rightly reported to Him." "No," says Solomon. "You cannot hide from

Him, for His eyes are in every place." So we throw up in despair all

hope of finding out anything reliable about Him, and proceed to search

for some trustworthy history. We try to find out how man was made. One

account tells us that he was made male and female, even in the image of

God Himself; another that God made man alone, and subsequently formed

a woman for him out of one of his own ribs. Then we find in one

chapter that the beasts were all made, and, lastly, that God made "His

masterpiece, man." In another chapter we are told that God having made

man thought it not good to leave him by himself, and proceeded to make

every beast and fowl, saying that he would make Adam a help-meet for

him; on bringing them to Adam, however, none was found worthy to mate

with him, so woman was tried as a last experiment. As we read on we find

evident marks of confusion; double, or even treble, accounts of the same

incident, as, for instance, the denying a wife and its consequences.

Then we see Moses fearing Pharaoh's wrath, and flying out of Egypt to

avoid the king's wrath, and not venturing to return until after his

death, and are therefore surprised to learn from Hebrews that he forsook

Egypt by faith, _not fearing_ the wrath of the king. Then we come across

numberless contradictions in Kings and Chronicles, in prophecy and

history. Ezekiel prophecies that Nebuchadnezzar shall conquer Tyrus, and

destroy it and _take all its riches_; and a few chapters afterwards it

is recorded that he did accordingly attack Tyrus but failed, and that as

he got _no wages_ for this attack he should have Egypt for his failure.

In the New Testament the contradictions are endless; Joseph, the

husband of Mary, had two fathers, Jacob and Heli; Salah is in the same

predicament, for although the son of Canaan, Arphaxad begat him. When

John was cast into prison, Jesus _began_ to preach, although He had been

preaching and gaining disciples while John was still at large. Jesus

sent the Twelve to preach, telling them to take a staff, and yet bidding

them to take none. He eat the Passover with His disciples, although He

was crucified before that feast. He had one title on his cross, but

it is verbally inspired in four different ways. He rose with many

variations of date and time, and ascended the same evening, although He

subsequently went into Galilee and remained on earth for forty days.

He sent word to His disciples to meet Him in Galilee, and yet suddenly

appeared among them as they sat quietly together the same evening at

Jerusalem. Stephen's history contradicts our Old Testament. When Paul

is converted, his companions hear a voice, although another account says

that they heard none at all. After his conversion he goes in and out at

Jerusalem with the Apostles, although, strangely enough, he sees none of

them, except Peter and James. But one might spend pages in noting these

inconsistencies, while even one of them destroys the verbal inspiration

theory. From these contradictions I maintain that one of two things must

follow, either the Bible is not an inspired book, or else inspiration is

consistent with much error, as I shall presently show.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



I am quite ready to allow that the Bible _is_ inspired, and I therefore

lay down as my first canon of inspiration, that: "Inspiration does

not prevent inaccuracy." I turn to the second class of orthodox

inspirationists, who, while allowing that verbal inspiration is proved

impossible by many trivial inconsistencies, yet affirm that God's

overruling power ensures substantial accuracy, and that its history

and science are perfectly true and are to be relied on. To test this

assertion, we--after noting that Bible history is, as has been remarked

above, continually self-contradictory--turn to other histories and

compare the Bible with them. We notice first that many important

Biblical occurrences are quite ignored by "profane" historians. We

are surprised to see that while the Babylonish captivity left marks on

Israel which are plainly seen, Egypt left no trace on Israel's names

or customs, and Israel no trace on Egypt's monuments. The doctrine of

angels comes not from heaven, but slips into Jewish theology from the

Persian; while immortality is brought to light neither by Hebrew prophet

nor by the Gospel of Jesus, but by the people among whom the Jews

resided during the Babylonish captivity. The Jewish Scriptures which

precede the captivity know of nothing beyond the grave; the Jewish

Scriptures after the captivity are radiant with the light of a life

to come; to these Jesus adds nothing of joy or hope. The very central

doctrine of Christianity--the Godhead of Jesus--is nothing but a

repetition of an idea of Greek philosophy borrowed by early Christian

writers, and is to be found in Plato and Philo as clearly as in the

fourth Gospel. Science contradicts the Bible as much as does history;

geology laughs at its puny periods of creation; astronomy destroys its

heavens, and asks why this little world took a week in making, while the

sun and moon and the countless stars were rapidly turned out in twelve

hours; natural history wonders why the kangaroos did not stay in Asia

after the Deluge, instead of undertaking the long sea voyage to far

Australia, and enquires how the Mexicans, and Peruvians, and others,

crossed the wide ocean to settle in America; archaeology presents its

human bones from ancient caves, and asks how they got there, if only

six thousand years have passed since Adam and Eve stood alone in Eden,

gazing out on the unpeopled earth; the Pyramids point at the negro

type distinct and clear, and ask how it comes that it was so rapidly

developed at first, and yet has remained stationary ever since. At last,

science gets weary of slaying a foe so puny, and goes on its way with a

smile on its grand, still face, leaving the Bible to teach its science

to whom it lists. Evidence so weighty crushes all life out of this

second theory of inspiration, and gives us a second rule to guide us in

our search: "Inspiration does not prevent ignorance and error." We may

pass on to the third class of inspirationists, those who believe that

the Bible is not given to man to teach him either history or science,

but only to reveal to him what he could not discover by the use of his

natural faculties--_e g._ the duties of morality and the nature of God.

I must note here the subtilty of this retreat. Driven by inexorable fact

to allow the Bible to be fallible in everything in which we can test its

assertions, they, by a clever strategic movement, remove their defence

to a post more difficult to attack. They maintain that the Bible is

infallible in points where no cannonade of facts can be brought to bear

on it. What is this but to say, that although we can prove the Bible

to be fallible on every point capable of proof, we are still blindly to

believe it to be infallible where demonstrated error is, from the nature

of the case, impossible? As regards the nature of God, we have already

seen that the Bible ascribes to him virtue and vice indifferently. We

turn to morality, and here our first great difficulty meets us, for when

we point to a thing and say, "that is profoundly immoral," our opponents

retort, "it is perfectly moral." Only the progress of humanity can prove

which of us is in the right, though here, too, we have one great fact on

our side, and that is, the conscience in man; already men would rather

die than imitate the actions of Old Testament saints who did that which

was "right in the eyes of Jehovah;" and presently they will be bold

enough to reject in words that which they already reject in deeds. Few

would put the Bible freely into the hands of a child, any more than

they would give freely to the young the unpurged editions of Swift and

Sterne; and I imagine that the most pious parents would scarcely see

with un-mingled pleasure their son and daughter of fifteen and sixteen

studying together the histories and laws of the Pentateuch. But taking

the Bible as a rule of life, are we to copy its saints and its laws?

For instance, is it right for a man to marry his half-sister, as did the

great ancestor of the Jews, Abraham, the friend of God?--a union, by the

way, which is forbidden by Jewish law, although said to be the source of

their race. Is the lie of the Egyptian midwives right, because Jehovah

blessed them for it, even as Jael is pronounced blessed by Deborah, the

prophetess, for her accursed treachery and murder? Is the robbery of the

Egyptians right, because commanded by Jehovah? Are the old cruel laws

of witchcraft right, because Jehovah doomed the witch to death? Are

the ordeals of the Middle Ages right, because derived from the laws

of Jehovah? Is human sacrifice right, because attempted by Abraham,

enjoined by Moses, practised by Jephthah, efficacious in turning away

God's wrath when Saul's seven sons were offered up? Is murder right

because Phineas wrought atonement by it, and Moses sent his murderers

throughout the camp to stay God's anger by slaying their brethren? Is

it right that the persons of women captives should be the prey of the

conquerors, because the Jews were commanded by Jehovah to save alive the

virgins and keep them for themselves, except the sixty-four reserved for

himself? Is the man after God's own heart a worthy model for imitation?

Are Jehu's lying and slaughter right, because right in the eyes of

Jehovah? Is Hosea's marriage commendable, because commanded by Jehovah?

or are the signs of Jeremiah and Ezekiel the less childish and indecent

because they are prefaced with, "thus saith Jehovah?" Far be it from me

to detract from the glorious morality of portions of the Bible; but if

the whole book be inspired and infallible in its moral teaching, then,

of course, one moral lesson is as important as another, and we have no

right to pick and choose where the whole is divine. The harsher part of

the Old Testament morality has burnt its mark into the world, and may

be traced through history by the groans of suffering men and women, by

burning witches and tortured enemies of the Lord, by flaming cities and

blood-stained fields. If murder and rapine, treachery and lies, robbery

and violence, were commanded long ago by Almighty God; if things are

right and wrong only by virtue of His command, then who can say that

they may not be right once more, when used in the cause of the Church,

and how are we to know that Moses speaks in God's name when he commands

them, and Torquemada only in his own? But even Christians are beginning

to feel ashamed of some of the exploits of the "Old Testament Saints,"

and to try and explain away some of the harsher features; we even hear

sometimes a wicked whisper about "imperfect light," &c. Good heavens!

what blasphemy! Imperfect light can mean nothing less than imperfect

God, if He is responsible for the morality of these writings.


So, from our study of the Bible we deduce another canon by which we may

judge of inspiration:


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



"Inspiration does not prevent moral error." There is a fourth class of

inspirationists, the last which clings to the skirts of orthodoxy, which

is always endeavouring to plant one foot on the rocks of science, while

it balances the other over the quicksands of orthodox super-naturalism.

The Broad Church school here takes one wide step away from orthodoxy,

by allowing that the inspiration of the Bible differs only in degree and

not in kind from the inspiration common to all mankind. They recognise

the great fact that the inspiring Spirit of God is the source whence

flow all good and noble deeds, and they point out that the Bible itself

refers all good and all knowledge to that one Spirit, and that He

breathes mechanical skill into Bezaleel and Aholiab, strength into

Samson's arms, wisdom into Solomon, as much as He breathes the ecstacy

of the prophet into Isaiah, faith into Paul, and love into John. They

recognise the old legends as authentic, but would maintain as stoutly

that He spoke to Newton through the falling of an apple, as that He

spoke of old to Elijah by fire, or to the wise men by a star. This

school try and remove the moral difficulties of the Old Testament by

regarding the history recorded in it as a history which is specially

intended to unveil the working of God through all history, and so to

gradually reveal God as He makes Himself known to the world; thus the

grosser parts are regarded as wholly attributable to the ignorance of

men, and they delight to see the divine light breaking slowly through

the thick clouds of human error and prejudice, and to trace in the

Bible the gradual evolution of a nobler faith and a purer morality.

They regard the miracles of Jesus as a manifestation that God underlies

Nature and works ever therein: they believe God to be specially

manifested in Jewish history, in order that men may understand that He

presides over all nations and rules over all peoples. To Maurice the

Bible is the explainer of all earth's problems, the unveiler of God, the

Bread of Life. There is, on the whole, little to object to in the Broad

Church view of inspiration, although liberal thinkers regret that, as a

party, they stop half way, and are still trammelled by the half-broken

chains of orthodoxy. For instance, they usually regard the direct

revelation of morality as closed by Jesus and His immediate followers,

although they allow that God has not deserted His world, nor confined

His inspiration within the covers of a book. To them, however, the Bible

is still _the_ inspired book, standing apart by itself, differing from

all other sacred books. From their views of inspiration, which contains

so much that is true, we deduce a fourth rule:


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"Inspiration is not confined to written words about God." From a

criticism of the book, which is held by orthodox Christians, to be

specially inspired, we have then gained some idea of what inspiration

does _not_ do. It does not prevent inaccuracy, ignorance, error, nor

is it confined to any written book. Inspiration, then, cannot be an

overwhelming influence, crushing the human faculties and bearing along

the subject of it on a flood which he can neither direct nor resist. It

is a breathing--gentle and gradual--of pure thoughts into impure hearts,

tender thoughts into fierce hearts, forgiving thoughts into revengeful

hearts. David calls home his banished son, and he learns that, "even as

a father pitieth his children, so is the Lord merciful unto them that

fear Him." Paul wishes himself accursed if it may save his brethren,

and from his own self-sacrificing love he learns that "God will have

all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Thus

inspiration is breathed into the man's heart. "I love and forgive, weak

as I am; what must be the depth of the love and forgiveness of God?"

David's fierce revenge finds an echo in his writings; for man writes,

and not God: he defaces God by ascribing to Him the passions surging

only in his own burning Eastern heart: then, as the Spirit moves him to

forgiveness, his song is of mercy; for he feels that his Maker must be

better than himself. That part of the Bible is inspired, I do not deny,

in the sense that all good thoughts are the result of inspiration, but

only as we share the inspiration of the Bible can we distinguish between

the noble and the base in it, between the eternal and that which is

fast passing away. But as we do not expect to find that inspiration,

now-a-days, guards men from much error, both of word and deed, so we

should not expect to find it otherwise in days gone by; nor should we

wonder that the man who spoke of God as showing His tender fatherhood by

punishing and correcting, could so sink down into hard thoughts of that

loving Father as to say that it was a fearful thing to fall into His

hands. These contradictions meet us in every man; they are the highest

and the lowest moments of the human soul. Only as we are inspired to

love and patience in our conduct towards men will our words be inspired

when we speak of God.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



Having thus seen what inspiration does not do, we must glance at what

it really is. It is, perhaps, natural that we, rejecting, as we do,

with somewhat of vehemence, the idea of supernatural revelation, should

oftentimes be accused of denying all revelation and disbelieving all

inspiration. But even as we are not atheists, although we deny the

Godhead of Jesus, so are we not unbelievers in inspiration because we

refuse to bend our necks beneath the yoke of an inspired Bible. For we

believe in a God too mighty and too universal to be wrapped in swaddling

clothes or buried in a cave, and we believe in an inspiration too mighty

and too universal to belong only to one nation and to one age. As the

air is as free and as refreshing to us as it was to Isaiah, to Jesus, or

to Paul, so does the spiritual air of God's Spirit breathe so softly and

as refreshingly on our brows as on theirs. We have eyes to see and

ears to hear quite as much as they had in Judea long ago. "If God

be omnipresent and omniactive, this inspiration is no miracle, but a

regular mode of God's action on conscious Spirit, as gravitation

on unconscious matter. It is not a rare condescension of God, but a

universal uplifting of man. To obtain a knowledge of duty, a man is not

sent away outside of himself to ancient documents for the only rule of

faith and practice; the Word is very nigh him, even in his heart, and

by this word he is to try all documents whatever.... Wisdom,

Righteous-ness, and Love are the Spirit of God in the soul of man;

wherever these are, and just in proportion to their power, there is

inspiration from God.... Inspiration is the in-come of God to the

soul, in the form of Truth through the Reason, of Right through the

Conscience, of Love and Faith through the Affections and Religious

Element.... A man would be looked on as mad who should claim miraculous

inspiration for Newton, as they have been who denied it in the case of

Moses. But no candid man will doubt that, humanly speaking, it was a

more difficult thing to write the Principia than to write the Decalogue.

Man must have a nature most sadly anomalous if, unassisted, he is

able to accomplish all the triumphs of modern science, and yet cannot

discover the plainest and most important principles of Religion and

Morality without a miraculous inspiration; and still more so if, being

able to discover by God's natural aid these chief and most important

principles, he needs a miraculous inspiration to disclose minor

details."* Thus we believe that inspiration from God is the birthright

of humanity, and to be an heir of God it needs only to be a son of man.

Earth's treasures are highly priced and hard to win, but God's blessings

are, like the rain and the sunshine, showered on all-comers.


     "'Tis only heaven is given away;

     'Tis only God may be had for the asking;

     No price is set on the lavish summer;

     June may be had by the poorest comer."


          * Theodore Parker.


If inspiration were indeed that which it is thought to be by the

orthodox Christians, surely we ought to be able to distinguish its

sayings from those of the uninspired. If inspiration be confined to the

Christian Bible, how is it that the inspired thoughts were in many cases

spoken out to the world hundreds of years before they fell from the

lips of an inspired Jew? It seems a somewhat uncalled for miraculous

interference for a man to be supernaturally inspired to inform the world

of some moral truth which had been well known for hundreds of years to

a large portion of the race. Or is it that a great moral truth bears

within itself so little evidence of its royal birth, that it cannot be

accepted as ruler by divine right over men until its proclamation is

signed by some duly accredited messenger of the Most High? Then, indeed,

must God be "more cognizable by the senses than by the soul;" and then

"the eye or the ear is a truer and quicker percipient of Deity than the

Spirit which came forth from Him."* Was Paul inspired when he wished

himself accursed for his brethren's sake, but Kwan-yin uninspired, when

she said, "Never will I seek nor receive private individual salvation;

never enter into final peace alone?" If Jesus and the prophets were

inspired when they placed mercy above sacrifice, was Manu uninspired

in saying that a man "will fall very low if he performs ceremonial acts

only, and fails to discharge his moral duties"? Was Jesus inspired when

he taught that the whole law was comprehended in one saying, namely,

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself?" and yet was Confucius

uninspired when, in answer to the question, "What one word would serve

as a rule to one's whole life?" he said, "Reciprocity; what you do not

wish done to yourself, do not to others." Or take the Talmud and study

it, and then judge from what uninspired source Jesus drew much of His

highest teaching. "Whoso looketh on the wife of another with a lustful

eye, is considered as if he had committed adultery."--(Kalah.) "With

what measure we mete, we shall be measured again."--(Johanan.) "What

thou wouldst not like to be done to thyself, do not to others; this

is the fundamental law."--(Hillel.) "If he be admonished to take the

splinter out of his eye, he would answer, Take the beam out of

thine own."--(Tarphon.) "Imitate God in His goodness. Be towards thy

fellow-creatures as He is towards the whole creation. Clothe the naked;

heal the sick; comfort the afflicted; be a brother to the children of

thy Father." The whole parable of the houses built on the rock and on

the sand is taken out of the Talmud, and such instances of quotation

might be indefinitely multiplied. What do they all prove? That there is

no inspiration in the Bible? by no means. But surely that inspiration

is not confined to the Bible, but is spread over the world; that much

in all "sacred books" is the outcome of inspired minds at their highest,

although we find the same books containing gross and low thoughts.

We should always remember that although the Bible is more specially

a revelation to us of the Western nations than are the Vedas and the

Zend-Avesta, that it is only so because it is better suited to our modes

of thought, and because it has-been one of the agents in our education.


     * W. R. Greg.


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The reverence with which we may regard the Bible as bound up with

many-sacred memories, and as the chosen teacher of many of our greatest

minds and purest characters, is rightly directed in other nations to

their own sacred books. The books are really all on a level, with

much good and much bad in them all; but as the Hebrew was inspired to

proclaim that "the Lord thy God is one Lord" to the Hebrews, so was the

Hindoo inspired to proclaim to Hindoos, "There is only one Deity, the

great Soul." Either all are inspired, or none are. They stand on the

same footing. And we rejoice to-believe that one Spirit breathes in all,

and that His inspiration is ours to-day. "The Father worketh hitherto,"

although men fancy He is resting in an eternal Sabbath. The orthodox

tells us that, in rejecting the rule of morality laid down for us in the

Bible, and in trusting ourselves to this inspiration of the free Spirit

of God, our faith and our morality will alike be shifting and unstable.

But we reck not of their warnings; our faith and our morality are only

shifting in this sense, that, as we grow holier, and purer, and wiser,

our conception of God and of righteousness will rise and expand with our

growth. It was a golden saying of one of God's noblest sons that "no man

knoweth the Father save the Son:" to know God we must resemble Him,

as we see in the child the likeness of the parent. But in trusting

ourselves to the guidance of the Spirit of God, we are not building the

house of our faith on the shifting sand; rather are we "dwelling in a

city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Wisely was

it sung of old, "Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but

lost that build it." Vain are all efforts of priestly coercion; vain

all toils of inspired books; vain the utter sacrifice of reason and

conscience; their labour is but lost when they strive to build a temple

of human faith, strong enough to bear the long strain of time, or the

earthquake-shock of grief. God only, by the patient guiding of His love,

by the direct inspiration of His Spirit, can lay, stone by stone, and

timber by timber, that priceless fabric of trust and love, which shall

outlive all attacks and all changes, and shall stand in the human soul

as long as His own Eternity endures.




-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL






IN every transition-stage of the world's history the question of

education naturally comes to the front. So much depends on the first

impressions of childhood, on the first training of the tender shoot,

that it has always been acknowledged, from Solomon to Forster, that to

"train up a child in the way he should go" is among the most important

duties of fathers and citizens. To the individual, to the family, to the

State, the education of the rising generation is a question of primary

importance. Plato began the education of the citizens of his ideal

Republic from the very hour of their birth; the nursing child was taken

from the mother lest injudicious treatment should mar, in the slightest

degree, the perfection of the future warrior. On this point modern and

ancient wisdom clasp hands, and place the education of the child among

the most important duties of the State. The battle at present raging

between the advocates of "secular" and "religious" education--to use the

cant of the day--is a most natural and righteous recognition of the vast

interests at stake when Church or State claims the right of training the

sons and daughters of England. No one has yet attempted to explain why

it should be "irreligious" to teach writing, or history, or geography;

or why it should "destroy a child's soul" to improve his mental

faculties. It is among the "mysteries" of the faith, why it is better

for our poor to leave' them to grow up in both moral and intellectual

darkness, than to dissipate the intellectual darkness by some few rays

of knowledge, and to leave the moral training to other hands. If we left

a starving man to die because we could only give him bread, and were

unable to afford cheese in addition, all would unite in declaiming at

our folly: but "religious" people would rather that our street Arabs

grew up both heathens and brutes, than that we should improve their

minds without Christianizing their souls. Better let a lad grow up a

thief and a drunkard, than turn him into an artizan and a freethinker.

There can scarcely be a better proof of the unreasonableness of

Christian doctrine, than the Christian fear of sharpening mental

faculties, without binding them down, at the same time, in the chains

of dogma. Only a religion founded on reason can dare to train children's

minds to the utmost, and then leave them free to use all the power and

keenness acquired by that training on the investigation of any religious

doctrine presented to them. We, who have written Tekel on the Christian

faith, share in the opinion of the Christian clergy, that man's carnal

reason is a terrible foe to the Christian revelation; but here we begin

to differ from them, for while they regard this reason as a child of

the devil, to be scourged and chained down, we do homage to it as to the

fairest offspring of the Divine Spirit, the brightest earthly reflection

of His glory, and the nearest image of His "Person"; we would cherish

it, tend it, nourish it, as our Father's noblest gift to humanity, as

our surest guide and best counsellor, as the ear which hears His voice,

and the eye which sees Him, as the sharpest weapon against superstition,

the ultimate arbiter on earth between right and wrong. To us, then,

education is ranged on the side of God; we welcome it freely and gladly,

because all truth, all light, all knowledge, are foes of falsehood, of

darkness, of ignorance. If we mistake error for truth a brighter light

will set us right, and we only wish to be taught truth, not to be proved



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Most liberal thinkers agree in recognizing the fact that the duties of

the State in the matter of education must, in the nature of things, be

purely "secular:" that is to say, that while the State insists that the

future citizen shall be taught at least the elements of learning, so as

to fit him or her for fulfilling the duties of that citizenship, it has

no right to insist on impressing on the mind of its pupil any set of

religious dogmas or any form of religious creed. The abdication by the

State of the pretended right of enforcing on its citizens any special

form of religion, is not at all identical with the opposition by the

State to religious teaching; It is merely a development of the very wise

maxim of the great Jewish Teacher, to render the things of Caesar

to Caesar, and the things of God to God. To teach reading, writing,

honesty, regard for law, these things are Caesar's duties; to teach

religious dogma, creed, or article, is entirely the province of the

teachers who claim to hold the truth of God.


But my object now is not to draw the line between the duties of Church

and State, of school and home; nor do I wish to enter the lists of

sectarian controversy, to break a lance in favour of a new religious

dogma. The question is rather this: "What are the limits of the

religious education which it is wise to impose on the young? Is any

dogmatic teaching to be a part of their moral training, and is the

dogmatism against which we have rebelled to be revived in a new form?

Are the fetters which we are breaking for ourselves to be welded

together again for the young limbs of our children? Are they to be fed

on the husks which have starved our own religious aspirations, and which

we have analysed, and rejected as unfit to sustain our moral and mental

vigour? On the other hand, are our children to grow up without any

religious teaching at all, without a ray of that sunshine which is

to most of us the very source of our gladness, and the renewal of our



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I think the best way of deciding this question is to notice the gradual

development of the childish body and mind. Nature's indications are a

sure guide-post, and we cannot go very far wrong in following her hints.

I am now on ground with which mothers are familiar, though perhaps few

men have watched young children with sufficient attention to be able to

note their gradual development. The first instincts of a baby are purely

personal: the "not-I" is for it nonexistent: food, warmth, cleanliness,

comprise all its needs and all our duties to it. The next stage is

when the infant becomes conscious of the existence of something outside

itself: when, vaguely and indistinctly, but yet decidedly, it shows

signs of observing the things around it: to cultivate observation, to

attract attention, slowly to guide it into distinguishing one object

from another, are the next steps in its education. The child soon

succeeds in distinguishing forms, and learns to attach different sounds

to different shapes: it is also taught to avoid some things and to play

with others: it awakes to the knowledge that while some objects give

pleasure, others give pain: so far as material things go, it learns

to choose the good and to avoid the evil. This power is only gained by

experience, and is therefore acquired but gradually, and after a time,

side by side with it, runs another lesson; slowly and gradually there

appears a dawning appreciation of "right" and "wrong." This appreciation

is not, however, at first an appreciation of any intrinsic rightness or

wrongness in any given action; it is simply a recognition on the child's

part that some of its acts meet with approval, others with disapproval,

from its elders. The standard of its seniors is unquestioningly

accepted by the child. The moral sense awakes, but is completely guided

in its first efforts by the hand of the child's teacher, as completely

as the first efforts to walk are directed by the mother. Thus it comes

to pass that the conscience of the child is but the reflex of the

conscience of its parents or guardians: "right" and "wrong" in a

child's vocabulary are in the earliest stages equivalent to "reward"

and "punishment;" its final court of appeal in cases of morality is the

judgment of the parent.*


     * The moral sense does show itself, however, in very young

     children, in a higher form than this; for we may often

     observe in a young child an instinctive sense of shame at

     having done wrong. But the moral sense is awakened and

     educated by the parents' approval and disapproval. This may

     be proved, I think, by the fact that a child brought up

     among thieves and evil-livers will accept their morality as

     a matter of course, and will steal and lie habitually,

     without attaching to either act any idea of wrong. The moral

     sense is inherent in man, and is in no way _given_ by the

     parent; but I think that it is first aroused and put into

     action by the parent; the parent accustoms the child to

     regard certain actions as right and wrong; this appeals to

     the moral sense in the child, and the child very rapidly is

     ashamed of wrong, as wrong, and not simply from dread of

     punishment. I would be understood to mean, in the text, that

     the wish for reward is the first response of the child to

     the idea of an inherent distinction between different

     actions; this feeling rapidly developes into the true moral

     sense, which regards right as right, and wrong as wrong.


     I append this note at the suggestion of a valued friend, who

     feared that the inference might be drawn from the text that

     the moral sense was implanted by the parent instead of

     being, as it is, the gift of God.


It is perhaps scarcely accurate to call this motive power in the child

a _moral_ sense at all; still, this recognition of some thing which

is immaterial and intangible, and which is yet to be the guide of its

actions, is a great step forward from the simple consciousness of outer

and material objects, and is truly the dawn of that moral sense which

becomes in men and women the test of right and wrong. So far we have

considered the growing faculties of the child as regards physical and

moral development, and I particularly wish to remark that the moral

sense appears long before any "religious" tendency can be noted. There

is, however, another side of the complete human character which is very

important, but which is slow in showing itself in any healthy child; I

mean what may be called the _spiritual_ sense, in distinction from the

moral; the sense which is the crowning grace of humanity, the sense

which belongs wholly to the immortal part of man: the outstretched hands

of the human spirit groping after the Eternal Spirit; the yearning after

that all-pervading Power which men call God. I know well that in many

precociously-pious children this spiritual sense is forced into a

premature and unwholesome maturity; by means of a spiritual hot-house

the summer-fruit of piety may be obtained in the spring-time of the

childish heart. The imitative instinct of childhood quickly reproduces

the sentiments around it, and set phrases which meet with admiration

flow glibly from baby-lips. But this strongly developed religious

feeling in a child is both unnatural and harmful, and can never, because

it is unreal, produce any lasting good effect. Yet is it none the less

true that, at an early age, differing much in different children, the

"spiritual sense" does show signs of awakening; that children soon begin

to wonder about things around them, and to ask questions which can only

find their true answer in the name of God. How to meet these questions,

how to train this growing sentiment without crushing it on the one hand,

and without unduly stimulating it on the other, is a source of deep

anxiety to many a mother's heart in the present day. They are unable

to tell their children the stories which satisfied their own childish

cravings: no longer can they hold up before the eager faces the picture

of the manger at Bethlehem, or dim the bright eyes with the story of the

cross on Calvary; no longer can they fold the little hands in prayer to

the child of Nazareth, or hush the hasty tongue with the reminder of

the obedience of the Virgin's son. To a certain extent this is a loss.

A child quickly seizes the concrete; the idea of the child Jesus or the

man Jesus is readily grasped by a child's intellect; the God of the Old

Testament, the "magnified man," is also, though more dimly, understood.

These conceptions of the childhood of humanity suit the childhood of the

individual, and it is far more difficult for the child to realize the

idea of God when he is divested of these materialistic garments. Yet I

speak from experience when I say that it is by no means impossible to

train a child into the simplest and happiest feelings as regards the

Supreme Being, without degrading the Divine into the human. By one name

we can speak of God by which He will be readily welcomed to the child's

heart, and that is the name of the Father. Most children are keenly

alive to natural beauties, and are quick to observe birds, and flowers,

and sunshine; at times they will ask how these things come there, and

then it is well to tell them that they are the works of God Thus the

child's first notions of the existence of a Power he cannot see or feel

will come to him clothed in the things he loves, and will be free from

any suggestion of fear.* Even those who regard God from the stand-point

of Pantheism may use natural objects so as to train the child into a

fearless and happy recognition of the constant working of the Spirit

of Nature, and so guard the young mind against that shrinking from, and

terror of God, which popular Christianity is so apt to induce. The lad

or girl who grows up with even the habit of regarding God as the calm

and mighty motive-power of the forces of Nature, changeless, infinite,

absolutely trustworthy, will be slow to accept in later life the crude

conceptions which incarnate the creative power in a virgin's womb, and

ascribe caprice, injustice, and cruelty to the mighty Spirit of the



     * The ordinary shrinking of a child from the idea of a

     Presence which he cannot see, but which sees him, will not

     be felt by children whose only ideas about God are that He

     is the Father from whose hand come all beautiful things. In

     any home where the parents' thoughts of God are free from

     doubt and mistrust, the children's thoughts will be the same;

     religion, in their eyes, will be synonymous with

     happiness, for God and good will be convertible terms.


There is a deep truth in the idea of Pantheism, that "Nature is an

apparition of the Deity, God in a mask;" that "He is the light of the

morning, the beauty of the noon, and the strength of the sun. He is the

One, the All... The soul of all; more moving than motion, more stable

than rest; fairer than beauty, and stronger than strength. The power of

Nature is God... He is the All; the Reality of all phenomena." The child

fed on this food will have scarcely anything to unlearn, even when he

begins to believe that God is something more than Nature; "the created

All is the symbol of God," and he will pass easily and naturally on from

seeing God in Nature to see Him in a higher form.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



Of course, as a Theist, I should myself go much further than this: I

should speak of all natural glory as but the reflection of the Deity,

or as the robe in which He veils His infinite beauty; I should bid

my children rejoice in all happiness as in the gift of a Father who

delights in sharing His joy with His creatures; I should point out that

the pain caused by ignorance of, or by breaking natural laws, is God's

way of teaching men obedience for their own ultimate good: in the

freedom and fulness of Nature's gifts I should teach them to see the

equal love of God for all; through marking that in Nature's visible

kingdom no end can be gained without labour and without using certain

laws, they should learn that in the invisible kingdom they need not

expect to find favouritism, nor think to share the fruits of victory

without patient toil. To all who believe in a God who is also the Father

of Spirits such teaching as this comes easily; as they themselves learn

of God only through His works, so they naturally teach their children to

seek Him in the same way.


The questions, so familiar to every mother, "Can God see me?" "Where is

God?" can only be met with the simple assertion that God sees all, and

is everywhere. For there are many childish questions which it is wisest

to meet with statements which are above the grasp of the childish mind.

These statements may be simply given to the child as statements which it

is too young either to question or to understand. Nothing is gained

by trying to smooth down spiritual subjects to the level of a child's

capacity; the time will come later when the child must meet and answer

for itself all great spiritual questions; the parent's care should be to


remove all hindrances from the child's path of inquiry, but not to give

it cut-and-dried answers to every possible question; religion, to be

worth anything, must be a personal matter, and each must find it out for

himself; the wise parent will endeavour to save the child from the pain

of unlearning, by giving but little formal religious teaching; he cannot

fight the battle for his child, but he can prevent his being crippled by

a fancied armour which will stifle rather than protect him; he can give

a few wide principles to direct him, without weighing him down with



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But even the most general ideas of God should not be forced on a

childish mind; they should come, so to speak, by chance; they should be

presented in answer to some demand of the child's heart; they should

be inculcated by stray words and passing remarks; they should form the

atmosphere surrounding the child habitually, and not be a sudden "wind

of doctrine." Of course all this is far more troublesome than to teach

a child a catechism or a creed, but it is a far higher training. Dogma,

_i e_., conviction petrified by authority, should be utterly excluded

from the religious education of children; a few great axiomatic truths

may be laid down, but even in these primary truths dogmatism should be

avoided. The parent should always take care to make it apparent that he

is stating his own convictions, but is not enforcing them on the child

by his authority. So far as the child is capable of appreciating them,

the reasons for the religious conviction should be presented along with

the conviction itself. Thus the child will see, as he grows older, that

religion cannot be learned by rote, that it is not shut up in a book, or

contained in creeds; he will appreciate the all-important fact that free

inquiry is the only air in which truth can breathe; that one man's faith

cannot justly be imposed on another, and that every individual soul has

the privilege and the responsibility of forming his own religion, and

must either hear God with his own ears, or else not hear Him at all.


We have noticed that the moral sense awakes before the religious (I must

state my repugnance to these terms, although I use them for the sake of

clearness; but morality _is_ religion, although religion is more than

morality, and the so-called religion which is not morality is worthless

and hateful). There remains then to consider what we will call the

second side of religion, although it is by far its most important side.

True religion consists not only in feelings towards God, but also in

duties towards men: the first, noble and blessed as they are, should, in

every healthy religion, give place to the second; for a morally good man

who does not believe in God at all, is in a far higher state of being

than the man who believes in God and is selfish, cruel or unjust. Error

in faith is forgiveable; error in life is fatal. The good man shall

surely see God, although, for a time, his eyes be holden; the evil man,

though he hold the noblest faith yet known, shall never taste the joy of

God, until he turns from sin, and struggles after holiness. Faith first,

and then morality, is the war-cry of the churches; morality above all,

and let faith follow in good time, is the watch-word of Theism; so,

among us, the principal part of the religious training of our children

should be morality; religious feeling may be over-strained, or give rise

to self-deception; religious talk may be morbid and unreal; religious

faith may be erring, and must be imperfect; but morality is a rock which

can never be shaken, a guide which can never mislead. Whether we are

right or wrong in our belief about God, whether we are immortal spirits

or perishable organizations, yet purity is nobler than vice, courage

than cowardice, truth than falsehood, love than hate. Let us, then,

teach our children morality above all things. Let us teach them to love

good for its own sake, without thought of reward, and they will remain

good, even if, in after life, they should, alas! lose all hope of

immortality and all faith hi God. A child's natural instinct is towards

good; a tale of heroism, of self sacrifice, of generosity, will bring

the eager blood flushing up to a child's face and wake a quick response

and a desire of emulation. It is therefore well to place in children's

hands tales of noble deeds in days gone by. Nothing is easier than to

train a child into feeling a desire to be good for the sake of being so.

There is something so attractive in goodness, that I have found it more

effectual to hold up the nobility of courage and unselfishness before

the child's eyes, than to descend to punishment for the corresponding

faults. If a child is in the habit of regarding all wrong as something

low and degrading, he quickly shrinks from it; all mothers know the

instinctive ambition of children to be something superior and admirable,

and this instinct is most useful in inculcating virtue. Later in life

nothing ruins a young man like discovering that morality and religion

are often divorced, and that the foremost professors of religion are

less delicately honourable and trustworthy than high-minded "worldly

men;" on the other hand, nothing will have so beneficial an effect on

men and women entering life, as to see that those who are most joyful in

their faith towards God, lead the purest and most blameless lives. "Do

good, be good" is, as has been well said, the golden rule of life;

"do good, be good" must be the law impressed on our children's hearts.

Whatever "eclipse of faith" may await England, whatever darkness of most

hopeless scepticism, whatever depth of uttermost despair of God, there

is not only the hope, but the certainty of the resurrection of religion,

if we all hold fast through the driving storm to the sheet-anchor of

pure morality, to most faithful discharge of all duty towards man to

love, and tenderness, and charity, and patience. Morality never faileth;

but, whether there be dogmas, they shall fail; whether there be creeds,

they shall cease; whether there be churches, they shall crumble away;

but morality shall abide for evermore and endure as long as the endless

circle of Nature revolves around the Eternal Throne.




-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL






ONE is almost ashamed to repeat so trite an aphorism as the well-worn

saying that "history repeats itself." But in studying the course taken

by the advocates of what is called "revealed religion," in seeing their

disdain of "mere nature," their scornful repudiation of the idea that

any poor natural product can come into competition with their special

article, hall-stamped by heaven itself, I feel irresistibly compelled

to glance backwards down the long vista of history, and there I see

the conflict of the present day raging fierce and long. I see the same

serried ranks of orthodoxy marshalled by bishops and priests, arrayed

in all the splendour of prescriptive right, armed with mighty weapons

of authority and thunderbolts of Church anathemas. Their war-cry is the

same as that which rings in our ears to-day; "revelation" is inscribed

on their banners and "infallible authority" is the watchword of their

camp. The Church is facing nature for the first time, and is setting her

revealed science against natural science. "Mere Nature" is temporarily

getting the worst of it, and Galileo, Nature's champion, is sorely

pressed by "revealed truth." I hear scornful taunts at his presumption

in attacking revealed science by his pretended natural facts. Had they

not God's Own account of His creation, and did he pretend to know more

about the matter than God Himself? Was he present when God created the

world, that he spoke so positively about its shape? Could he declare, of

his own personal knowledge, that it was sent hurtling through space in

the ridiculous manner he talked about, and could he, by the evidence of

his own eye-sight, declare that God was mistaken when He revealed to man

how He "laid the foundation of the earth that it never should move at

anytime?" But if he was only reasoning from the wee bit of earth he

knew, was he not speaking of things he had not seen, being vainly

puffed-up in his fleshly mind? Was it probable, _à priori_, that

God would allow mankind to be deceived for thousands of years on so

important a matter; would in fact--God forgive it!--deceive man Himself

by revealing through His holy prophets an account of His creation

which was utterly untrue; nay, further, would carry on the delusion for

century after century, by working miracles in support of it--for what

but a miracle could make men unconscious of the fact that they were

being hurried through space at so tremendous a rate? Surely very little

reverence, or rather no reverence at all, was needed to allow that God

the Holy Ghost, who inspired the Bible, knew better than we did how

He made the world. But, the theologian proceeds, he must remind his

audience that, under the specious pretext of investigating the creation,

this man, this pseudo-scientist, was in reality blaspheming the Creator,

by contradicting His revealed word, and thus "making Him a liar." It

was all very well to talk about _natural_ science; but he would ask this

presuming speculator, what was the use of God revealing science to us if

man's natural faculties were sufficient to discover it for himself? They

had sufficient proofs of the absurdities of science into which reason,

unenlightened by revelation, had betrayed men in past ages. The idea of

the Hindoo, that the world rested on an elephant and the elephant on

a tortoise, was a sad proof of the incapacity of the acutest natural

intellect to discover scientific truth without the aid of revelation.

Reason had its place, and a very noble placer in science; but it must

always bow before revelation, and not presume to set its puny guesses

against a "thus sayeth the Lord." Let reason, then, pursue its way with

belief not unbelief, for its guide. What could reason, with all its

vaunted powers, tell us of the long-past creation of the world? Eye hath

not seen those things of ages past, but God hath revealed them to us by

His Spirit. A darkness that might be felt would enshroud the origin of

the world were it not for the magnificent revelation of Moses, that "in

six days God created the heaven and the earth." He might urge how our

conceptions of God were enlarged and elevated, and what a deep awe

filled the adoring heart on contemplating the revealed truth, that this

wonderful earth with its varied beauty, and the heavens above with their

countless stars, were all called forth out of nothing within the space

of one short week by the creative fiat of the Almighty. What could this

pseudo-science give them in exchange for such a revelation as that? Was

it probable, further, that God would have become incarnate for the sake

of a world that was only one out of many revolving round the sun? How

irreverent to regard the theatre of that awful sacrifice as aught less

than the centre of the universe, the cynosure of angelic eyes, gazing

from their thrones in the heaven above! Galileo might say that his

heresy does not affect the primary truths of our holy faith; but this is

only one of the evasions natural to evildoers--and it is unnecessary

to remark that intellectual error is invariably the offspring of moral

guilt--for consider how much is involved in his theory. The inspiration

of Scripture receives its death-blow; for if fallible in one point, we

have no reason to conclude it to be infallible in others. If there is

one fact revealed to us more clearly than another in Holy Scripture, it

is this one of the steadfastness of our world, which we are distinctly

told, "cannot be moved." It is plainly revealed to us that the earth was

created and fixed firmly on its foundations; that then there was formed

over it the vast vault of heaven, in which were set the stars, and in

this vault was prepared "the course" for the sun, spoken of, as you will

remember, in the 19th Psalm, where holy David reveals to us that in the

heavens God has made a tabernacle for the sun, which "goeth forth from

the uttermost part of the heaven, and runneth about unto the end of

it again." Language has no definiteness of meaning if this inspired

declaration can be translated into a statement that the sun remains

stationary and is encircled by a revolving earth. This great revealed

truth cannot be contradicted by any true science. God's works

cannot contradict His word; and if for a moment they appear mutually

irreconcileable, we may be sure that our ignorance is to blame, and that

a deeper knowledge will ultimately remove the apparent inconsistency.

But it is yet more important to observe that some of the cardinal

doctrines of the Church are assailed by this novel teaching. How could

our blessed Redeemer, after accomplishing the work of our salvation,

ascend from a revolving earth? Whither did He go? North, south, east, or

west? For, if I understand aright this new heresy, the space above us

at one time is below us at another, and thus Jesus might be actually

descending at His glorious Ascension. Where, too, is that Right Hand of

God to which He went, in this new universe without top or bottom? How

can we hope to rise and meet Him in the air at His return, according to

the most sure promise given to us through the blessed Paul, if He comes

we know not from what direction? How can the lightning of His coming

shine at once all round a globe to herald His approach, or how can the

people at the other side of the world see the sign of the Son of Man in

the heavens? But I cannot bring myself to accumulate these blasphemies;

all must see that the most glorious truths of the Bible are bound up

with its science, and must stand or fall together. And if this is so,

and this so-called natural science is to be allowed to undermine the

revealed science, what have we got to rely upon in this world or in the

next? With the absolute truth of the Bible stands or falls our faith in

God and our hope of immortality; on the truth of revelation hinges all

morality, and they who deny to-day the truth of revealed science

will tamper tomorrow with the truth of revealed history, of revealed

morality, of revealed religion. Shall we, then, condescend to accept

natural science instead of revealed; shall we, the teachers of

revelation, condescend to abandon revealed science, and become the mere

teachers of nature?


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



Thunders of applause greeted the right reverend theologian as he

concluded--he happened to be a bishop, the direct ancestor in regular

apostolical succession of a late prelate who inherited among other

valuable qualities the very argument which closed the speech above

quoted--and Galileo, the foolish believer in facts and the heretical

student of mere nature, turned away with a sigh from trying to convince

them, and contented himself with the fact he knew, and which must surely

announce itself in the long run. _E pur si muove!_ Fear not, noble

martyr of science: facts alter not to suit theologies: many a one may

fall crushed and vanquished before the Juggernaut-car of the Church, but

"God does not die with His children, nor truth with its martyrs;" the

natural is the divine, for Nature is only "God in a mask." So, looking

down at that first great battle-field between nature and revelation I

see the serried ranks break up and fly, and the excommunicated student

become the prophet of the future, Galileo the seer, the revealer of the

truth of God.


It is eternally true that nature must triumph in the long run.

Theories are very imposing, doubtless, but when they are erected on a

misconception the inexorable fact is sure to assert itself sooner or

later, and with pitiless serenity level the magnificent fabric with

the dust. It is this which gives to scientific men so grave and calm an

attitude; theologians wrangle fiercely and bitterly because they wrangle

about _opinions_, and one man's say is as good as another's where both

deal in intangibles; but the man of science, when absolutely sure of his

ground, _can afford to wait_, because the fact he has discovered remains

unshaken, however it be assailed, and it will, in time, assert itself.

When nature and revelation then come into contact, revelation must go to

the wall; no outcry can save it; it is doomed; as well try and dam the

rising Thames with a feather, as seek to bolster up a theology whose

main dogmas are being slowly undermined by natural science. Of course

no one nowadays (at least among educated people, for Zadkiel's Almanac

I believe still protests on Biblical grounds against the heresy of the

motion of the earth) dreams of maintaining Bible, _i e_., revealed,

science against natural science; it is agreed on all hands that on

points where science speaks with certainty the words of the _Bible must

be explained so as to accord with the dictum of nature_; _i e._, it

is allowed--though the admission is wrapped up in thick folds of

circumlocution--that science must mould revelation, and not revelation

science. The desperate attempts to force the first chapter of Genesis

into some faint resemblance to the ascertained results of geological

investigations are a powerful testimony to the conscious weakness of

revealed science and to the feeling on the part of all intelligent

theologians that the testimony graven with an iron pen on the rocks

cannot be contradicted or refuted. In fact so successfully has science

asserted its own preeminence in its own domain that many defenders of

the Bible assert loudly, to cover their strategic movement to the rear,

that revelation was not intended to teach science, and that scientific

mistakes were only to be expected in a book given to mankind by the

great Origin of all scientific law. They are freely welcome to find

out any reasons they like for the errors in revealed science; all

that concerns us is that their revelation should get out of the way of

advancing science, and should no longer interpose its puny anathemas

to silence inquiry into facts, or to fetter free research and free



But I challenge revelation further than this, and assert that when the

dictates of natural_ religion_ are in opposition to those of revealed

_religion_ then the natural must again triumph over the revealed.

Christianity has so long successfully impressed on human hearts the

revelation that natural impulses are in themselves sinful, that in "the

flesh dwelleth no good thing," that man is a fallen creature, thoroughly

corrupt and instinctively evil, that it has come to-pass that even those

who would be liberal if they dared, shrink back when it comes to casting

away their revelation-crutches, and ask wildly _what_ they can trust

to if they give up the Bible. Their teachers tell them that if they let

this go they will wander compassless on the waves of a pathless ocean;

and so determinedly do they fix their eyes on the foaming waters,

striving to discern there the trace of a pathway and only seeing the

broken reflections of the waving torches in their hands, that they do

not raise their heads and gaze upwards at the everlasting stars, the

silent natural guides of the bewildered mariner. "Trust to mere nature!"

exclaim the priesthood, and their flocks fall back aghast, clutching

their revelation to their bosom and crying out: "What indeed is there to

rely on if this be taken from us?" Only God. "Mere" God indeed, who is

a very feeble support after the bolstering up of creeds and dogmas,

of Churches and Bibles. As the sunshine dazzles eyes accustomed to the

darkness, as the fresh wind makes shiver an invalid from a heated room,

so does the light of God dazzle those who live amid the candles of the

Churches, and the breath of His inspiration blows cold on feeble souls.

But the light and the air invigorate and strengthen, and nature is a

surer medicine than the nostrums of the quack physician.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



"Mere" God is, in very truth, all that we Theists have to offer the

world in exchange for the certainties of its Bibles, Korans, Vedas, and

all other revelations whatsoever. On points where they each speak with

certainty, our lips are dumb. About much they assert, we confess our

ignorance. Where they know, we only think or hope. Where they possess

all the clearness of a sign-post, our eyes can only study the mistiness

of a valley before the rising sun has dispelled the wreathing clouds.

They proclaim immortality, and are quite _au fait_ as to the particulars

of our future life. They differ in details, it is true, as to whether

we live in a jewelled city, where the dust is gold-dust and the gates

pearls, and spend our time in attending Sacred Harmonic Societies with

an archangelic Costa directing perpetual oratorios, or whether we lie in

rose-embowered arbours with delights unlimited, albeit unintellectual;

but if we take them one at a time they are most satisfactory in the

absolute information afforded by each. But we, we can only, whisper--and

the lips of some of us quiver too much to speak--"I believe in the life

everlasting." We do not pretend to _know_ anything about it; the belief

is intuitive, but is not demonstrable; it is a hope and a trust, not an

absolute knowledge. We entertain a reasonable hope of immortality; we

argue its likelihood from considerations of the justice and the love

which, as we believe, rule the universe; we, many of us--as I freely

confess I do myself--believe in it with a firmness of conviction

absolutely immovable; but challenged to _prove_ it, we cannot answer.

"Here," the revelationists triumphantly exclaim, "is our advantage; we

foretell with absolute certainty a future life, and can give you all

particulars about it." Then follows a confused jumble of harps and

houris, of pasture-field and hunting-grounds; we seek for certainty

and find none. All that they agree in, _i e_., a future life, we find

imprinted on our own hearts, a dictate of natural religion; all they

differ in is contained in their several revelations, and as they all

contradict each other about the revealed details, we gain nothing from

them. Nature whispers to us that there is a life to come; revelation

babbles a number of contradictory particulars, marring the majesty of

the simple promise, and adding nothing reliable to the sum of human

knowledge. And the subject of immortality is a fair specimen of what is

taught respectively by nature and by revelation; what is common to all

creeds is natural, what is different in each is revealed. It is so with

respect to God. The idea of God belongs to all creeds alike; it is the

foundation-stone of natural religion; confusion begins when revelation

steps in to change the musical whisper of Nature into a categorical

description worthy of "Mangnall's Questions." Triune, solitary, dual,

numberless, whatever He is revealed to be in the world's varied sacred

books, His nature is understood, catalogued, dogmatised on; each

revelation claims to be His own account of Himself; but each contradicts

its fellows; on one point only they all agree, and that is the point

confessed by natural religion--"God is."


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



From these facts I deduce two conclusions: first, that revelation does

not come to us with such a certainty of its truth as to enable us to

trust it fearlessly and without reserve; second, that revelation is

quite superfluous, since natural religion gives us every thing we need.


I. Revelation gives an uncertain sound. There are certain books in the

world which claim to stand on a higher ground than all others. They

claim to be special revelations of the will of God and the destiny of

man. Now surely one of the first requisites of a Divine revelation is

that it should be undoubtedly of Divine origin. But about all these

books, except the Koran of Mahomet, hangs much obscurity both as regards

their origin and their authorship. "Believers" urge that were the proofs

undoubted there would be no room for faith and no merit in believing.

They conceive it, then, to be a worthy employment for the Supreme

Intelligence to set traps for His creatures; and, there being certain

facts of the greatest importance, undis-coverable by their natural

faculties, He proceeds to reveal these facts, but envelopes them in

such wrappings of mystery, such garments of absurdity, that those of

His creatures whom he has dowered with intellects and gifted with subtle

brains, are forced to reject the whole as incredible and unreasonable.

That God should give a revelation, but should not substantiate it, that

He should speak, but in tones unintelligible, that His noblest gifts of

reason should prove an insuperable bar to accepting his manifestation,

are surely statements incredible, are surely statements utterly

irreconcileable with all reverent ideas of the love and wisdom of

Almighty God. Further, the believers in the various revelations all

claim for their several oracles the supreme position of the exponent of

the Will of God, and each rejects the sacred books of other nations as

spurious productions, without any Divine authority. As these revelations

are mutually destructive, it is evident that only one of them, at the

most can be Divine, and the next point of the inquiry is to distinguish

which this is. We, of the Western nations, at once put aside the Hindoo

Vedas, or the Zendavesta, on certain solid grounds; we reject their

claims to be inspired books because they contain error; their mistaken

science, their legendary history, their miraculous stories, stamp them,

in our impartial eyes, as the work of fallible men; the nineteenth

century looks down on thee ancient writings as the instructed and

cultured man smiles at the crude fancies and imaginative conceits of the

child. But when the generality of Christians turn to the Bible they lay

aside all ordinary criticism and all common-sense. Its science may be

absurd; but excuses are found for it. Its history may be false, but

it is twisted into truth. Its supernatural marvels may be flagrantly

absurd; but they are nevertheless believed in. Men who laugh at the

visions of the "blessed Margaret" of Paray-le-Monial assent to the

devil-drowning of the swine of Gadara; and those who would scorn to

investigate the tale of the miraculous spring at Lourdes, find

no difficulty in believing the story of the angel-moved waters of

Bethesda's pool. A book which contains miracles is usually put aside as

unreliable. There is no good reason for excepting the Bible from this

general rule. Miracles are absolutely incredible, and discredit at once

any book in which they occur. They are found in all revelations, but

never in nature, they are plentiful in man's writings, but they never

deface the orderly pages of the great book of God, written by His own

Hand on the earth, and the stars, and the sun. Powers? Yes, beyond our

grasping, but Powers moving in stately order and changeless consistency.

Marvels? Yes, beyond our imagining, but marvels evolved by immutable

laws. Revelation is incredible, not only because it fails to bring proof

of its truth, but because the proofs abound of its falsehood; it claims

to be Divine, and we reject it because we test it by what we know of

His undoubted works, for men can write books of Him and call them His

revelations, but the frame of nature can only be the work of that mighty

Power which man calls God. Revelation depicts Him as changeable, nature

as immutable; revelation tells us of perfection marred, nature of

imperfection improving; revelation speaks of a Trinity, nature of one

mighty central Force; revelation relates interferences, miracles, nature

unbroken sequences, inviolable law. If we accept revelation we must

believe in a God Who made man upright but could not keep him so; Who

heard in his far-off heaven the wailing of His earth and came down to

see if things were as bad as was reported; Who had a face which brought

death, but Whose hinder parts were visible to man; Who commanded and

accepted human sacrifice; Who was jealous, revengeful, capricious, vain;

Who tempted one king and then punished him for yielding, hardened the

heart of another and then punished him for not yielding, deceived a

third and thereby drew him to his death. But nature does not so outrage

our morality and trample on our hearts; only we learn of a power and

wisdom unspeakable, "mightily and sweetly ordering all things," and

our hearts tell of a Father and a Friend, infinitely loving, and

trustworthy, and good. The God of Nature and the God of Revelation are

as opposed as Ormuzd and Ahriman, as darkness and light; the Bible and

the universe are not writ by the same hand.



II. Revelation then being so utterly untrustworthy, it is satisfactory

to discover, secondly, that it is perfectly superfluous.



-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



All man needs for his guidance in this world he can gain through the use

of his natural faculties, and the right guidance of his conduct in this

world must, in all reasonableness, be the best preparation for whatever

lies beyond the grave. Revelationists assure us that without their books

we should have no rules of morality, and that without the Bible man's

moral obligations would be unknown. Their theory is that only through

revelation can man know right from wrong. Using the word "revelation"

in a different sense most Theists would agree with them, and would

allow that man's perception of duty is a ray which falls on him from the

Righteousness of God, and that man's morality is due to the illumination

of the inspiring Father of Light. Personally, I believe that God

does teach morality to man, and is, in very deed, the Inspirer of all

gracious and noble thoughts and acts. I believe that the source of all

morality in man is the Universal Spirit dwelling in the spirits He has

formed, and moving them to righteousness, and, as they answer to His

whispers by active well-doing--speaking ever in louder and clearer

accents. I believe also that the most obedient followers of that inner

voice gain clearer and loftier views of duty and of the Holiest,


and thus become true prophets of God, revealers of His will to their

fellows. And this is revelation in a very real sense; it is God

revealing Himself by the natural working of moral laws, even as all

science is a true revelation, and is God revealing Himself by the

natural working of physical laws. For laws are modes of action, and

modes of action reveal the nature and character of the actor, so that

every law, physical and moral, which is discovered by truth-seekers and

proclaimed to the world is a direct and trustworthy revelation of God

Himself. But when Theists speak thus of "revelation" using the word as

rightfully applicable to all discoveries and all nobly written religious

or scientific books, it is manifest that the word has entirely changed

its signification, and is applied to "natural" and not "supernatural"

results. We believe in God working through natural faculties in a

natural way, while the revelationists believe in some non-natural

communication, made no one knows how, no one knows where, no one knows

to whom.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



Where opposing theories are concerned an ounce of fact outweighs pounds

of assertion; and so against the statement of Christians, that morality

is derived only from the Bible and is undiscoverable by "man's natural


faculties," I quote the morality of natural religion, unassisted by what

they claim as their special "revelation."


Buddha, as he lived 700 years before Christ, can hardly be said to

have drawn his morality from that of Jesus or even to have derived any

indirect benefit from Christian teaching, and yet I have been gravely

told by a Church of England clergyman--who ought to have known

better--that forgiveness of injuries and charity were purely Christian

virtues. This heathen Buddha, lighted only by natural reason and a pure

heart, teaches: "a man who foolishly does me wrong I will return to him

the protection of my ungrudging love; the more evil comes from him the

more good shall go from me;" among principal virtues are: "to repress

lust and banish desire; to be strong without being rash; to bear insult

without anger; to move in the world without setting the heart on it; to

investigate a matter to the very bottom; to save men by converting them;

to be the same in heart and life." "Let a man overcome evil by good,

anger by love, the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth. For hatred

does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love; this is an

old rule." He inculcates purity, charity, self-sacrifice, courtesy, and

earnestly recommends personal search after truth: "do not

believe in guesses"--in assuming something at hap-hazard as a

starting-point--reckoning your two and your three and your four before

you have fixed your number one. Do not believe in the truth of that to

which you have become attached by habit, as every nation believes in the

superiority of its own dress and ornaments and language. Do not believe

merely because you have heard, but when of your own consciousness you

know a thing to be evil abstain from it. Methinks these sayings of

Buddha are unsurpassed by any revealed teaching, and contain quite as

noble and lofty a morality as the Sermon on the Mount, "natural" as they



Plato, also, teaches a noble morality and soars into ideas about the

Divine Nature as pure and elevated as any which are to be found in the

Bible. The summary of his teaching, quoted by Mr. Lake in a pamphlet

of Mr. Scott's series, is a glorious testimony to the worth of natural

religion. "It is better to die than to sin. It is better to suffer wrong

than to do it. The true happiness of man consists in being united to

God, and his only misery in being separated from Him. There is one God,

and we ought to love and serve Him, and to endeavour to resemble Him

in holiness and righteousness." Plato saw also the great truth that

suffering is not the result of an evil power, but is a necessary

training to good, and he anticipates the very words of Paul--if indeed

Paul does not quote from Plato--that "to the just man all things work

together for good, whether in life or death." Plato lived 400 years

before Christ, and yet in the face of such teaching as his and

Buddha's,--and they are only two out of many--Christians fling at us the

taunt that we, rejectors of the Bible, draw all our morality from

it, and that without this one revelation the world would lie in moral

darkness, ignorant of truth and righteousness and God. But the light

of God's revealing shines still upon the world, even as the sunlight

streams upon it steadfastly as of old; "it is not given to a few men in

the infancy of mankind to monopolise inspiration and to bar God out of

the soul.... Wherever a heart beats with love, where Faith and Reason

utter their oracles, there also is God, as formerly in the heart of

seers and prophets."*


     * Theodore Tarker.


It is a favourite threat of the priesthood to any inquiring spirit: "If

you give up Christianity you give up all certainty; rationalism speaks

with no certain sound; no two rationalists think alike; the word

rationalism covers everything outside Christianity, from Unitarianism to

the blankest atheism;" and many a timid soul starts back, feeling that

if this is true it is better to rest where it is, and inquire no more.

To such--and I meet many such--I would suggest one very simple thought:

does "Christianity" give any more certainty than rationalism? Just

try asking your mentor, "_whose_ Christianity am I to accept?" He will

stammer out, "Oh, the teaching of the Bible, of course." But persevere:

"As explained by whom? for all claim to found their Christianity on

the Bible: am I to accept the defined logical Christianity of Pius IX.,

defiant of history, of science, of common sense, or shall I sit under

Spurgeon, the denunciator, and flee from the scarlet woman and the cup

of her fascinations: shall I believe the Christianity of Dean Stanley,

instinct with his own gracious, kindly spirit, cultured and polished,

pure and loving, or shall I fly from it as a sweet but insidious poison,

as I am exhorted to do by Dr. Pusey, who rails at his 'variegated

language which destroys all definiteness of meaning.' For pity's sake,

good father, label for me the various bottles of Christian medicine,

that I may know which is healing to the soul, which may be touched with

caution, as for external application, and which are rank poison."

All the priest will find to answer is, that "under sad diversities

of opinion there are certain saving truths common to all forms of

Christianity," but he will object to particularise what they are, and

at this stage will wax angry and refuse to argue with anyone who shows

a spirit so carping and so conceited. There is the same diversity in

rationalism as in Christianity, because human nature is diverse, but

there is also one bond between all freethinkers, one "great saving

truth" of rationalism, one article of faith, and that is, that "free

inquiry is the right of every human soul;" diverse in much, we all agree

in this, and so strong is this bond that we readily welcome any thinker,

however we disagree with his thoughts, provided only that he think them

honestly and allow to all the liberty of holding their own opinions

also. We are bound together in one common hatred of Dogmatism, one

common love of liberty of thought and speech.


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It is probably a puzzle to good and unlearned Christians whence men,

unenlightened by revelation, drew and still draw their morality. We

answer, "from mere Nature, and that because Nature and not revelation is

the true basis of all morality." We have seen the untrustworthiness of

all so-called revelations; but when we fall back on Nature we are

on firm ground. Theists start in their search after God from their

well-known axiom: "If there be a God at all He must be at least as


good as His highest creature;" and they argue that what is highest and

noblest and most lovable in man _must_ be below, but cannot be above,

the height and the nobleness and the loveableness of God. "Of all

impossible thing, the most impossible must surely be that a man should

dream something of the Good and the Noble, and that it should prove

at last that his Creator was less good and less noble than he had

dreamed."* "The ground on which our belief in God rests is Man. Man,

parent of Bibles and Churches, inspirer of all good thoughts and good

deeds. Man, the master-piece of God's work on earth. Man, the text-book

of all spiritual knowledge. Neither miraculous or infallible, Man is

nevertheless the only trustworthy record of the Divine mind in things

pertaining to God. Man's reason, conscience, and affections are the only

true revelation of his Maker,"** And as we believe that we may glean

some hints of the Glory and Beauty of our Creator from the glory and

beauty of human excellence, so we believe that to each man, as he lives

up to the highest he can perceive, will surely be unveiled fresh heights

of righteousness, fresh possibilities of moral growth.


     * Frances Power Cobbe.


     ** Rev. Charles Voysey.


To all men alike, good and evil, is laid open Nature's revelation of

morality, as exemplified in the highest human lives; and these noble

lives receive ever the heavenly hall-mark by the instinctive response

from every human breast that they "are very good." To those only

who live up to the good they see, does God give the further inner

revelation, which leads them higher and higher in morality, quickening

their moral faculties, and making more sensitive and delicate their

moral susceptibilities. We cannot, as revelationists do, chalk out

all the whole range of moral perfection: we "walk by faith and not by

sight:" step by step only is the path unveiled to us, and only as we

surmount one peak do we gain sight of the peak beyond: the distant

prospect is shrouded from our gaze, and we are too fully occupied in

doing the work which is given us to do in this world, to be for ever

peering into and brooding over the world beyond the grave. We have light

enough to do our Father's work here; when he calls us yonder it will be


time enough to ask Him to unveil our new sphere of labour and to

cause His sun to rise on it. Wayward children fret after some fancied

happiness and miss the work and the pleasure lying at their feet, and

so petulant men and women cry out that "man that is born of woman... is

full of misery," and wail for a revelation to ensure some happier life:

they seem to forget that if this world is full of misery _they_ are put

here to mend it and not to cry over it, and that it is our shame and our

condemnation that in God's fair world so much sin and unhappiness are

found. If men would try to read nature instead of revelation, if they

would study natural laws and leave revealed laws, if they would follow

human morality instead of ecclesiastical morality, then there might be

some chance of real improvement for the race, and some hope that the

Divine Voice in Nature might be heard above the babble of the Churches.


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And Nature is enough for us, gives us all the light we want and all that

we, as yet, are fitted to receive. Were it possible that God should now

reveal Himself to us as He is, the Being of Whose Nature we can form

no conception, I believe that we should remain as ignorant as we are

at present, from the want of faculties to receive that revelation:

the Divine language might sound in our ears, but it would be as

unintelligible as the roar of the thunder-clap, or the moan of the

earthquake, or the whisper of the wind to the leaves of the cedar-tree.

God is slowly revealing Himself by His works, by the course of events,

by the progress of Humanity: if He has never spoken from Heaven in human

language, He is daily speaking in the world around us to all who have

ears to hear, and as Nature in its varied forms is His only revelation

of Himself, so the mind and the heart alone can perceive His presence

and catch the whispers ot His mysterious voice.


     Never yet has been broken

     The silence eternal:

     Never yet has been spoken

     In accents supernal

     God's Thought of Himself.


     We are groping in blindness

     Who yearn to behold Him:

     But in wisdom and kindness

     In darkness He folds Him

     Till the soul learns to see.


     So the veil is unriven

     That hides the All-Holy,

     And no token is given

     That satisfies wholly

     The cravings of man.


     But, unhasting, advances

     The march of the ages,

     To truth-seekers' glances

     Unrolling the pages

     Of God's revelation.


     Impatience unheeding,

     Time, slowly revolving;

     Unresting, unspeeding,

     Is ever evolving

     Fresh truths about God.


     Human speech has not broken

     The stillness supernal:

     Yet ever is spoken

     Through silence eternal,

     With growing distinctness

     God's Thought of Himself.







IT is impossible for those who study the deeper religious; problems of

our time to stave off much longer the question which lies at the root

of them all, "What do you believe in regard to God?" We may controvert

Christian doctrines, one after another; point by point we may be driven

from the various beliefs of our churches; reason may force us to see

contradictions where we had imagined harmony, and may open our eyes

to flaws where we had dreamed of perfection; we resign all idea of a

revelation; we seek for God in Nature only; we renounce for ever the

hope (which glorified our former creed into such alluring beauty) that

at some future time we should verily "see" God, that "our eyes should

behold the King in his beauty" in that fairy "land which is very far

off." But every step we take onwards towards a more reasonable faith

and a surer light of Truth leads us nearer and nearer to the problem of

problems, "What is That which men call God?" Not till theologians have

thoroughly grappled with this question have they any just claim to

be called religious guides; from each of those whom we honour as our

leading thinkers we have a right to a distinct answer to this question,


and the very object of the present paper is to provoke discussion on

this point.


Men are apt to turn aside somewhat impatiently from an argument about

the Nature and Existence of the Deity, because they consider that

the question is a metaphysical one which leads nowhere; a problem the

resolution of which is beyond our faculties, and the study of which

is at once useless and dangerous; they forget that action is ruled by

thought, and that our ideas about God are therefore of vast practical

importance. On our answer to the question propounded above depends our

whole conception of the nature and origin of evil, and of the sanctions

of morality; on our idea of God turns our opinion on the much-disputed

question of prayer, and, in fact, our whole attitude of mind towards

life, here and hereafter. Does morality consist in obedience to the will

of a perfectly moral Being, and are we to aim at righteousness of life

because in so doing we please God? Or are we to lead noble lives because

nobility of life is desirable for itself alone, and because it spreads

happiness around us and satisfies the desires of our own nature? Is our

mental attitude to be that of kneeling or standing? Are our eyes to

be fixed on heaven or on earth? Is prayer to God reasonable and helpful,

the natural cry of a child for help from a Father in Heaven? Or is it,

on the other hand, a useless appeal to an unknown and irresponsible

force? Is the mainspring of our actions to be the idea of duty to God,

or a sense of the necessity of bringing our being into harmony with the

laws of the universe? It appears to me that these questions are of such

grave and vital moment that no apology is needed for drawing attention

to them; and because of their importance to mankind I challenge the

leaders of the religious and non-religious world alike, the Christians,

Theists, Pantheists, and those who take no specific name, duly to test

the views they severally hold. In this battle the simple foot

soldier may touch with his lance the shield of the knight, and the

insignificance of the challenger does not exempt the general from the

duty of lifting the gauntlet flung down at his feet. Little care I

for personal defeat, if the issue of the conflict should enthrone more

firmly the radiant figure of Truth. One fault, however, I am anxious

to avoid, and that is the fault of ambiguity. The orthodox and the

free-thinking alike do a good deal of useless fighting from sheer

misunderstanding of each other's standpoint in the controversy. It


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appears, then, to be indispensable in the prosecution of the following

inquiry that the meaning of the terms used should be unmistakably

distinct. I begin, therefore, by defining the technical forms of

expression to be employed in my argument; the definitions may be good or

bad, that is not material; all that is needed is that the sense in which

the various terms are used should be clearly understood. When men fight

only for the sake of discovering truth, definiteness of expression is

specially incumbent on them; and, as has been eloquently said, "the

strugglers being sincere, truth may give laurels to the victor and the

vanquished: laurels to the victor in that he hath upheld the truth,

laurels still welcome to the vanquished, whose defeat crowns him with a

truth he knew not of before."


The definitions that appear to me to be absolutely necessary are as



_Matter_ is used to express that which is tangible. _Spirit (or

spiritual_) is used to express those intangible forces whose existence

we become aware of only through the effects they produce.


_Substance_ is used to express that which exists in itself and by

itself, and the conception of which does not imply the conception of

anything preceding it.


_God_ is used to represent exclusively that Being invested by the

orthodox with certain physical, intellectual, and moral attributes.


Particular attention must be paid to this last definition, because the

term "atheist" is often flung unjustly at any thinker who ventures

to criticise _the popular and traditional idea_ of God; and different

schools, Theistic and non-Theistic, with but too much facility, bandy

about this vague epithet in mutual reproach.


As an instance of this uncharitable and unfair use of ugly names, all

schools agree in calling the late Mr. Austin Holyoake an "atheist," and

he accepted the name himself, although he distinctly stated (as we find

in a printed report of a discussion held at the Victoria Institute) that

he did not deny the possibility of the existence of God, but only

denied the possibility of the existence of that God in whom the orthodox

exhorted him to believe. It is well thus to protest beforehand against

this name being bandied about, because it carries with it, at present,

so much popular prejudice, that it prevents all possibility of candid

and free discussion. It is simply a convenient stone to fling at the

head of an opponent whose arguments one cannot meet, a certain way of

raising a tumult which will drown his voice; and, if it have any serious

meaning at all, it might fairly be used, as I shall presently show,

against the most orthodox pillar of the orthodox faith.


It is manifest to all who will take the trouble to think steadily, that

there can be only one eternal and underived substance, and that matter

and spirit must therefore only be varying manifestations of this one

substance. The distinction made between matter and spirit is then

simply made for the sake of convenience and clearness, just as we may

distinguish perception from judgment, both of which, however, are alike

processes of thought. Matter is, in its constituent elements, the same

as spirit; existence is one, however manifold in its phenomena; life is

one, however multiform in its evolution. As the heat of the coal differs

from the coal itself, so do memory, perception, judgment, emotion, and

will, differ from the brain which is the instrument of thought. But

nevertheless they are all equally products of the one sole substance,

varying only in their conditions. It may be taken for granted that

against this preliminary point of the argument will be raised the

party-cry of "rank materialism," because "materialism" is a doctrine of

which the general public has an undefined horror. But I am bold to say

that if by matter is meant that which is above defined as substance,

then no reasoning person can help being a materialist. The orthodox are

very fond of arguing back to what they call the Great First Cause. "God

is a spirit," they say, "and from him is derived the spiritual part of

man." Well and good; they have traced back a part of the universe to

a point at which they conceive that only one universal essence is

possible, that which they call God, and which is spirit only. But I then

invite their consideration to the presence of something which they

do not regard as spirit, _i e._, matter. I follow their own plan of

argument step by step: I trace matter, as they traced spirit, back and

back, till I reach a point beyond which I cannot go, one only existence,

substance or essence; am I therefore to believe that God is matter only?

But we have already found it asserted by Theists that he is spirit only,

and we cannot believe two contradictories, however logical the road

which led us to them; so we must acknowledge two substances, eternally

existent side by side; if existence be dual, then, however absurd

the hypothesis, there must be two First Causes. It is not I who am

responsible for an idea so anomalous. The orthodox escape from this

dilemma by an assumption, thus: "God, to whom is to be traced back all

spirit, _created_ matter." Why, am I not equally justified in assuming,

if I please, that matter created spirit? Why should I be logical in one

argument and illogical in another? If we come to assumptions, have not

I as much right to my assumption as my neighbour has to his? Why may he

predicate creation of one half of the universe, and I not predicate it

of the other half? If the assumptions be taken into consideration at


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all, then I contend that mine is the more reasonable of the two, since

it is possible to imagine matter as existing without mind, while it is

utterly impossible to conceive of mind existing without matter. We all

know how a stone looks, and we are in the habit of regarding that

as lifeless matter; but who has any distinct idea of a mind _pur et

simple?_ No clear conception of it is possible to human faculties;

we can only conceive of mind as it is found in an organisation;

intelligence has no appreciable existence except as-residing in the

brain and as manifested in results. The lines of spirit and matter are

not one, say the orthodox; they run backwards side by side; why then, in

following the course of these two parallel lines, should I suddenly bend

one into the other? and on what principle of selection shall I choose

the one I am to curve? I must really decline to use logic just as far as

it supports the orthodox idea of God, and arbitrarily throw it down

the moment it conflicts with that idea. I find myself then compelled

to believe that one only substance exists in all around me; that the

universe is eternal, or at least eternal so far as our faculties are

concerned, since we cannot, as some one has quaintly put it "get to

the outside of everywhere;" that a Deity cannot be conceived of as apart

from the universe, pre-existent to the universe, post-existent to the

universe; that the Worker and the Work are inextricably interwoven, and

in some sense eternally and indissolubly combined. Having got so far, we

will proceed to examine into the possibility of proving the existence

of that one essence popularly called by the name of _God_, under the

conditions strictly defined by the orthodox. Having demonstrated, as I

hope to do, that the orthodox idea of God is unreasonable and absurd,

we will endeavour to discover whether _any_ idea of God, worthy to be

called an idea, is attainable in the present state of our faculties.


The orthodox believers in God are divided into two camps, one of

which maintains that the existence of God is as demonstrable as any

mathematical proposition, while the other asserts that his existence

is not demonstrable to the intellect. I select Dr. McCann, a man of

considerable reputation, as the representative of the former of these

two opposing schools of thought, and give the Doctor's position in his

own words:--"The purpose of the following paper is to prove the

fallacy of all such assumptions" (i e., that the existence of God is an

insoluble problem), "by showing that we are no more at liberty to deny

His being, than we are to deny any demonstration of Euclid. He would be

thought unworthy of refutation who should assert that any two angles of

a triangle are together greater than two right angles. We would content

ourselves by saying, 'The man is mad'--mathematically, at least--and

pass on. If it can be shown that we affirm the existence of Deity

for the very same reasons as we affirm the truth of any geometric

proposition; if it can be shown that the former is as capable of

demonstration as the latter--then it necessarily follows that if we are

justified in calling the man a fool who denies the latter, we are

also justified in calling him a fool who says there is no God, and in

refusing to answer him according to his folly." Which course is a very

convenient one when you meet with an awkward opponent whom you cannot

silence by sentiment and declamation. Again: "In conclusion, we believe

it to be very important to be able to prove that if the mathematician be

justified in asserting that the three angles of a triangle are equal to

two right angles, the Christian is equally justified in asserting,

not only that he is compelled to believe in God, but that he knows Him

(sic). And that he who denies the existence of the Deity is as unworthy

of serious refutation as is he who denies a mathematical demonstration."

('A Demonstration of the Existence of God,' a lecture delivered at the

Victoria Institute, 1870, pp. I and II.) Dr. McCann proves his very

startling thesis by laying down as axioms six statements, which, however

luminous to the Christian traditionalist, are obscure to the sceptical

intellect. He seems to be conscious of this defect in his so-called

axioms, for he proceeds to prove each of them elaborately,

forgetting that the simple statement of an axiom should carry direct

conviction--that it needs only to be understood in order to be accepted.

However, let this pass: our teacher, having stated and "proved"

his axioms, proceeds to draw his conclusions from them; and as his

foundations are unsound, it is scarcely to be wondered at that his

superstructure should be insecure, I know of no way so effectual to

defeat an adversary as to beg all the questions raised, assume every

point in dispute, call assumptions axioms, and then proceed to reason

from them. It is really not worth while to criticise Dr. McCann in

detail, his lecture being nothing but a mass of fallacies and unproved

assertions. Christian courtesy allows him to call those who dissent from

his assumptions "fools;" and as these terms of abuse are not considered

admissible by those whom he assails as unbelievers, there is a slight

difficulty in "answering" Dr. McCann "according to his" deserts. I

content myself with suggesting that they who wish to learn how pretended

reasoning may pass for solid argument, how inconsequent statements

may pass for logic, had better study this lecture. For my own part, I

confess that my "folly" is not, as yet, of a sufficiently pronounced

type to enable me to accept Dr. McCann's conclusions.


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The best representation I can select of the second orthodox party, those

who admit that the existence of God is not demonstrable, is the late

Dean Mansel. In his 'Limits of Religious Thought,' the Bampton Lectures

for 1867, he takes up a perfectly unassailable position. The peculiarity

of this position, however, is that he, the pillar of orthodoxy, the

famed defender of the faith against German infidelity and all forms

of rationalism, regards God from exactly the same point as does a

well-known modern "atheist." I have almost hesitated sometimes which

writer to quote from, so identical are they in thought. Probably neither

Dean Mansel nor Mr. Bradlaugh would thank me for bracketing their names;

but I am forced to confess that the arguments used by the one to prove

the endless absurdities into which we fall when we try to comprehend the

nature of God, are exactly the same arguments that are used by the

other to prove that God, as believed in by the orthodox, cannot exist.

I quote, however, exclusively from the Dean, because it is at once novel

and agreeable to find oneself sheltered by Mother Church at the exact

moment when one is questioning her very foundations; and also because

the Dean's name carries with it so orthodox an odour that his authority

will tell where the same words from any of those who are outside the

pale of orthodoxy would be regarded with suspicion. Nevertheless, I

wish to state plainly that a more "atheistical" book than these Bampton

Lectures--at least, in the earlier part of it--I have never read; and

had its title-page borne the name of any well-known Free-thinker,

it would have been received in the religious world with a storm of



The first definition laid down by the orthodox as a characteristic of

God is that he is an Infinite Being. "There is but one living and true

God... of _infinite_ power, &c." (Article of Religion, 1.) It has been

said that _infinite_ only means _indefinite_, but I must protest against

this weakening of a well-defined theological term. The term _Infinite_

has always been understood to mean far more than indefinite; it means

literally _boundless_: the infinite has no limitations, no possible

restrictions, no "circumference." People who do not think about the

meaning of the words they use speak very freely and familiarly of the

"infinitude" of God, as though the term implied no inconsistency. Deny

that God is infinite and you are at once called an atheist, but press

your opponent into a definition of the term and you will generally find

that he does not know what he is talking about. Dean Mansel points out,

with his accurate habit of mind, all that this attribute of God implies,

and it would be well if those who "believe in an infinite God" would try

and realise what they express. Half the battle of freethought will be

won when people attach a definite meaning to the terms they use. The

Infinite has no bounds; then the finite cannot exist. Why? Because in

the very act of acknowledging any existence beside the Infinite One you

limit the Infinite. By saying, "This is not God" you at once make him

finite, because you set a bound to his nature; you distinguish between

him and something else, and by the very act you limit him; that _which

is not he_ is as a rock which checks the waves of the ocean; in that

spot a limit is found, and in finding a limit the Infinite is destroyed.

The orthodox may retort, "this is only a matter of terms;" but it is

well to force them into realising the dogmas which they thrust on our

acceptance under such awful penalties for rejection. I know what "an

infinite God" implies, and, as apart from the universe, I feel compelled

to deny the possibility of his existence; surely it is fair that the

orthodox should also know what the words they use mean on this head,

and give up the term if they cling to a "personal" God, distinct from

"creation."--Further--and here I quote Dean Mansel--the "Infinite"

must be conceived as containing within itself the sum, not only of all

actual, but of all possible modes of being.... If any possible mode can

be denied of it... it is capable of becoming more than it now is, and

such a capability is a limitation. (The hiatus refers to the "absolute"

being of God, which it is better to consider separately.) "An unrealised

possibility is necessarily (a relation and) a limit." Thus is orthodoxy

crushed by the powerful logic of its own champion. God is infinite;

then, in that case, everything that exists is God; all phenomena are

modes of the Divine Being; there is literally nothing which is not God.

Will the orthodox accept this position? It lands them, it is true,

in the most extreme Pantheism, but what of that? They believe in an

"infinite God" and they are therefore necessarily Pantheists. If they

object to this, they must give up the idea that their God is infinite

at all; there is no half-way position open to them; he is infinite or

finite, which?


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Again, God is "before all things," he is the only Absolute Being,

dependent on nothing outside himself; all that is not God is relative;

that is to say, that God exists alone and is not necessarily related to

anything else. The orthodox even believe that God did, at some

former period (which is not a period, they say, because time then was

not--however, at that hazy "time" he did), exist alone, _i e._, as what

is called an _Absolute_ Being: this conception is necessary for all who,

in any sense, believe in a _Creator_.


     "Thou, in Thy far eternity,

     Didst live and love alone."


So sings a Christian minstrel; and one of the arguments put forward for

a Trinity is that a plurality of persons is necessary in order that God

may be able to love at the "time" when he was alone. Into this point,

however, I do not now enter. But what does this Absolute imply? A simple

impossibility of creation, just as does the Infinite; for creation

implies that the relative is brought into existence, and thus the

Absolute is destroyed. "Here again the Pantheistic hypothesis seems

forced upon us. We can think of creation only as a change in the

condition of that which already exists, and thus the creature is

conceivable only as a phenomenal mode of the being of the Creator."

Thus once more looms up the dreaded spectre of Pantheism, "the dreary

desolation of a Pantheistic wilderness;" and who is the Moses who has

led us into this desert? It is a leader of orthodoxy, a dignitary of the

Church; it is Dean Mansel who stretches out his hand to the universe and

says, "This is thy God, O Israel."


The two highest attributes of God land us, then, in the most thorough

Pantheism; further, before remarking on the other divine attributes, I

would challenge the reader to pause and try to realise this infinite and

absolute being. "That a man can be conscious of the infinite is, then,

a supposition which, in the very terms in which it is expressed,

annihilates itself.... The infinite, if it is to be conceived at all,

must be conceived as potentially everything-and actually nothing; for

if there is anything in general which it cannot become, it is thereby

limited; and if there is anything in particular which it actually is, it

is thereby excluded from being any other thing. But again, it must also

be conceived as actually everything and potentially nothing; for an

unrealised potentiality is likewise a limitation. If the infinite can

be" (in the future) "that which it is not" (in the present) "it is by

that very possibility marked out as incomplete and capable of a higher

perfection. If it is actually everything, it possesses no characteristic

feature by which it can be distinguished from anything else and

discerned as an object of consciousness." I think, then, that we must be

content, on the showing of Dr. Mansel, to allow that God is, in his

own nature--from this point of view--quite beyond the grasp of

our faculties; _as regards us he does not exist_, since he is

indistinguishable and undiscernable. Well might the Church exclaim

"Save me from my friends!" when a dean acknowledges that her God is a

self-contradictory phantom; oddly enough, however, the Church likes

it, and accepts this fatal championship. I might have put this argument

wholly in my own words, for the subject is familiar to every one who has

tried to gain a distinct idea of the Being who is called "God," but I

have preferred to back my own opinions with the authority of so orthodox

a man as Dean Mansel, trusting that by so doing the orthodox may be

forced to see where logic carries them. All who are interested in

this subject should study his lectures carefully; there is really no

difficulty in following them, if the student will take the trouble of

mastering once for all the terms he employs. The book was lent to me

years ago by a clergyman, and did more than any other book I know to

make me what is called an "infidel;" it proves to demonstration the

impossibility of our having any logical, reasonable, and definite idea

of God, and the utter hopelessness of trying to realise his existence.

It seems necessary here to make a short digression to explain, for

the benefit of those who have not read the book from which I have been

quoting, how Dean Mansel escaped becoming an "atheist." It is a

curious fact that the last part of this book is as remarkable for its

assumptions, as is the earlier portion its pitiless logic. When he ought

in all reason to say, "we can know nothing and therefore can believe

nothing," he says instead, "we can know nothing and therefore let us

take Revelation for granted." An atheistic reasoner suddenly startles

us by becoming a devout Christian; the apparent enemy of the faithful

is "transformed into an angel of light." The existence of God "is

inconceivable by the reason," and, therefore, "the only ground that can

be taken for accepting one representation of it rather than another

is, that one is revealed and the other not revealed." It is the

acknowledgment of a previously formed _determination_ to believe at any

cost; it is a wail of helplessness; the very apotheosis of despair. We

cannot have history, so let us believe a fairy-tale; we can discover

nothing, so let us assume anything; we cannot find truth, so let us take

the first myth that comes to hand. Here I feel compelled to part company

with the Dean, and to leave him to believe in, to adore, and to

love that which he has himself designated as indistinguishable and

undiscernable; it may be an act of faith but it is a crucifixion of

intellect; it may be a satisfaction to the yearnings of the heart, but

it dethrones reason and tramples it in the dust.


We proceed in our study of the attributes of God. He is represented as

the Supreme Will, the Supreme Intelligence, the Supreme Love.


_As the Supreme Will_. What do we mean by "will?" Surely, in the usual

sense of the word, a will implies the power and the act of choosing.

Two paths are open to us, and we will to walk in one rather than in the

other. But can we think of power of choice in connection with God? Of

two courses open to us one must needs be better than the other, else

they would be indistinguishable and be only one; perfection implies that

the higher course will always be taken; what then becomes of the power

of choice? We choose because we are imperfect; we do not know everything

which bears on the matter on which we are about to exercise our will; if

we knew everything we should inevitably be driven in one direction, that

which is the _best possible course_. The greater the knowledge, the more

circumscribed the will; the nobler the nature, the more impossible the

lower course. Spinoza points out most clearly that the Divinity _could

not_ have made things otherwise than they are made, because any change

in his action would imply a change in his nature; God, above all, must

be bound by necessity. If we believe in a God at all we must surely

ascribe to him perfection of wisdom and perfection of goodness; we are

then forced to conceive of him--however strange it may sound to those

who believe, not only without seeing but also without thinking--as

without will, because he must always necessarily pursue the course which

is wisest and best.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



_As the Supreme Intelligence_. Again, the first question is, what do

we mean by intelligence? In the usual sense of the word intelligence

implies the exercise of the various intellectual faculties, and gathers

up into one word the ideas of perception, comparison, memory, judgment,

and so on. The very enumeration of these faculties is sufficient to show

how utterly inappropriate they are when thought of in connection with

God. Does God perceive what he did not know before? Does he compare one

fact with another? Does he draw conclusions from this correlation

of perceptions, and thus judge what is best? Does he remember, as we

remember, long past events? Perfect wisdom excludes from the idea of God

all that is called intelligence in man; it involves unchangeableness,

complete stillness; it implies a knowledge of all that is knowable;

it includes an acquaintance with every fact, an acquaintance which has

never been less in the past, and can never be more in the future. The

reception at any time of a new thought or a new idea is impossible

to perfection, for if it could ever be added to in the future it is

necessarily something less than perfect in the past.


_As the Supreme Love_. We come here to the darkest problem of existence.

Love, Ruler of the world permeated through and through with pain, and

sorrow, and sin? Love, mainspring of a nature whose cruelty is sometimes

appalling? Love? Think of the "martyrdom of man!" Love? Follow the

History of the Church! Love? Study the annals of the slave-trade! Love?

Walk the courts and alleys of our towns! It is of no use to try and

explain away these things, or cover them up with a veil of silence;

it is better to look them fairly in the face, and test our creeds by

inexorable facts. It is foolish to keep a tender spot which may not

be handled; for a spot which gives pain when it is touched implies the

presence of disease: wiser far is it to press firmly against it, and,

if danger lurk there, to use the probe or the knife. We have no right

to pick out all that is noblest and fairest in man, to project these

qualities into space, and to call them God. We only thus create an ideal

figure, a purified, ennobled, "magnified" Man. We have no right to

shut our eyes to the sad _revers de la medaille_, and leave out of our

conceptions of the Creator the larger half of his creation. If we are

to discover the Worker from his works we must not pick and choose amid

those works; we must take them as they are, "good" and "bad." If we only

want an ideal, let us by all means make one, and call it _God_, if thus

we can reach it better, but if we want a true induction we must take

_all_ facts into account. If God is to be considered as the author of

the universe, and we are to learn of him through his works, then we

must make room in our conceptions of him for the avalanche and the

earthquake, for the tiger's tooth and the serpent's fang, as well as for

the tenderness of woman and the strength of man, the radiant glory of

the sunshine on the golden harvest, and the gentle lapping of the summer

waves on the gleaming shingled beach.*


     * "I know it is usual for the orthodox when vindicating the

     moral character of their God to say:--'All the Evil that

     exists is of man; All that God has done is only good.' But

     granting (which facts do not substantiate) that man is the

     only author of the sorrow and the wrong that abound in the

     world, it is difficult to see how the Creator can be free

     from imputation. Did not God, according to orthodoxy, plan

     all things with an infallible perception that the events

     foreseen must occur? Was not this accurate prescience based

     upon the inflexibility of God's Eternal purposes? As, then,

     the purposes, in the order of nature, at least preceded the

     prescience and formed the groundwork of it, man has become

     extensively the instrument of doing mischief in the world

     simply because the God of the Christian Church did not

     choose to prevent man from being bad. In other words, man is

     as he is by the ordained design of God, and, therefore, God

     is responsible for all the suffering, shame, and error,

     spread by human agency.--So that the Christian apology for

     God in connection with the spectacle of evil falls to

     pieces."--Note by the Editor.


The Nature of God, what is it? Infinite and Absolute, he evades our

touch; without human will, without human intelligence, without human

love, where can his faculties--the very word is a misnomer--find a

meeting-place with ours? Is he everything or nothing? one or many? _We

know not. We know nothing._ Such is the conclusion into which we are

driven by orthodoxy, with its pretended faith, which is credulity, with

its pretended proofs, which are presumptions. It defines and maps out

the perfections of Deity, and they dissolve when we try to grasp them;

nowhere do these ideas hold water for a moment; nowhere is this position

defensible. Orthodoxy drives thinkers into atheism; weary of its

contradictions they cry, "there is _no_ God"; orthodoxy's leading

thinker lands us himself in atheism. No logical, impartial mind can

escape from unbelief through the trap-door opened by Dean Mansel: he

has taught us reason, and we cannot suppress reason. The "serpent

intellect"--as the Bishop of Peterborough calls it--has twined itself


firmly round the tree of knowledge, and in that type we do not see, with

the Hebrew, the face of death, but, with the older faiths, we reverence

it as the symbol of life.


There is another fact, an historical one, still on the destructive side,

which appears to me to be of the gravest importance, and that is the

gradual attenuation of the idea of God before the growing light of true

knowledge. To the savage everything is divine; he hears one God's voice

in the clap of the thunder, another's in the roar of the earthquake,

he sees a divinity in the trees, a deity smiles at him from the clear

depths of the river and the lake; every natural phenomenon is the abode

of a god; every event is controlled by a god; divine volition is at the

root of every incident. To him the rule of the gods is a stern reality;

if he offends them they turn the forces of nature against him; the

flood, the famine, the pestilence, are the ministers of the avenging

anger of the gods. As civilisation advances, the deities lessen in

number, the divine powers become concentrated more and more in one

Being, and God rules over the whole earth, maketh the clouds his

chariot, and reigns above the waterfloods as a king. Physical phenomena

are still his agents, working his will among the children of men; he

rains great hailstones out of heaven on his enemies, he slays their

flocks and desolates their lands, but his chosen ure safe under his

protection, even although danger hem them in on every side; "thou shalt

not be afraid for any terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by

day; for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the sickness

that destroyeth in the noon-day. A thousand shall fall besides thee, and

ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee....

He shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his

feathers." (Ps. xci., Prayer-Book.) Experience contradicted this theory

rather roughly, and it gave way slowly before the logic of facts; it is,

however, still more or less prevalent among ourselves, as we see when

the siege of Paris is proclaimed as a judgment on Parisian irreligion,

and when the whole nation falls on its knees to acknowledge the

cattle-plague as the deserved punishment of its sins! The next step


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



forward was to separate the physical from the moral, and to allow that

physical suffering came independently of moral guilt or righteousness:

the men crushed under the fallen tower of Siloam were not thereby proved

to be more sinful than their countrymen. The birth of science rang the

death-knell of an arbitrary and constantly interposing Supreme Power-.

The theory of God as a miracle worker was dissipated; henceforth if God

ruled at all it must be as in nature and not from outside of nature; he

no longer imposed laws on something exterior to himself, the laws could

only be the necessary expression of his own being. Laws were, further,

found to be immutable in their working, changing not in accordance with

prayer, but ever true to a hair's breadth in their action. Slowly, but

surely, prayer to God for the alteration of physical phenomena is being

found to be simply a well-meant superstition; nature swerves not for our

pleading, nor falters in her path for our most passionate supplication.

The "reign of law" in physical matters is becoming acknowledged even by

theologians. As step by step the knowledge of _the natural_ advances,

so step by step does the belief in _the supernatural_ recede; as the

kingdom of science extends, so the kingdom of miraculous interference

gradually disappears. The effects which of old were thought to be caused

by the direct action of God are now seen to be caused by the uniform and

calculable working of certain laws--laws which, when discovered, it is

the part of wisdom implicitly to obey. Things which we used to pray for,

we now work and wait for, and if we fail we do not ask God to add his

strength to ours, but we sit down and lay our plans more carefully.

How is this to end? Is the future to be like the past, and is science

finally to obliterate the conception of a personal God? It is a question

which ought to be pondered in the light of history. Hitherto the

supernatural has always been the makeweight of human ignorance; is it,

in truth, this and nothing else?


I am forced, with some reluctance, to apply the whole of the above

reasoning to every school of thought, whether nominally Christian or

non-Christian, which regards God as a "magnified man." The same

stern logic cuts every way and destroys alike the Trinitarian and the

Unitarian hypothesis, wherever the idea of God is that of a Creator,

standing, as it were, outside his creation. The liberal thinker,

whatever his present position, seems driven infallibly to the above

conclusions, as soon as he sets himself to realise his idea of his God.

The Deity must of necessity be that one and only substance out of which

all things are evolved under the uncreated conditions and eternal laws

of the universe; he must be, as Theodore Parker somewhat oddly puts

it, "the materiality of matter, as well as the spirituality of spirit;"

_i e._, these must both be products of this one substance: a truth which

is readily accepted as soon as spirit and matter are seen to be but

different modes of one essence. Thus we identify substance with the

all-comprehending and vivifying force of nature, and in so doing we

simply reduce to a physical impossibility the existence of the Being

described by the orthodox as a God possessing the attributes of

personality. The Deity becomes identified with nature, co-extensive

with the universe; but the God of the orthodox no longer exists; we may

change the signification of God, and use the word to express a different

idea, but we can no longer mean by it a Personal Being in the orthodox

sense, possessing an individuality which divides him from the rest of

the universe. I say that I use these arguments "with some reluctance,"

because many who have fought and are fighting nobly and bravely in the

army of freethought, and to whom all free-thinkers owe much honour, seem

to cling to an idea of the Deity, which, however beautiful and poetical,

is not logically defensible, and in striking at the orthodox notion of

God, one necessarily strikes also at all idea of a "Personal" Deity.

There are some Theists who have only cut out the Son and the Holy Ghost

from the Triune Jehovah, and have concentrated the Deity in the Person

of the Father; they have returned to the old Hebrew idea of God, the

Creator, the Sustainer, only widening it into regarding God as the

Friend and Father of all his creatures, and not of the Jewish nation

only. There is much that is noble and attractive in this idea, and it

will possibly serve as a religion of transition to break the shock of

the change from the supernatural to the natural. It is reached entirely

by a process of giving up; Christian notions are dropped one after

another, and the God who is believed in is the residuum. This Theistic

school has not gained its idea of God from any general survey of nature

or from any philosophical induction from facts; it has gained it only

by stripping off from an idea already in the mind everything which is

degrading and revolting in the dogmas of Trinitarianism. It starts, as

I have noticed elsewhere, from a very noble axiom: "If there be a God at

all he must be at least as good as his highest creatures," and thus

is instantly swept away the Augustinian idea of a God,--that monster

invented by theological dialectics; but still the same axiom makes

God in the image of man, and never succeeds in getting outside a human

representation of the Divinity. It starts from this axiom, and the axiom

is prefaced by an "if." It assumes God, and then argues fairly enough

what his character must be. And this "if" is the very point on which the

argument of this paper turns.


-------Cardiff Theosophical Society in Wales-------

206 Newport Road, Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24-1DL



"If there be a God" all the rest follows, but _is there a God at all_

in the sense in which the word is generally used? And thus I come to the

second part of my problem; having seen that the orthodox "idea of God is

unreasonable and absurd, is there any idea of God, worthy to be called

an idea, which is attainable in the present state of our faculties?"


The argument from design does not seem to me to be a satisfactory

one; it either goes too far or not far enough. Why in arguing from the

evidences of adaptation should we assume that they are planned by a

mind? It is quite as easy to conceive of matter as self-existent, with

inherent vital laws moulding it into varying phenomena, as to conceive

of any intelligent mind directly modelling matter, so that the

"heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his

handy-work." It is, I know, customary to sneer at the idea of beautiful

forms existing without a conscious designer, to parallel the adaptations

of this world to the adaptations in machinery, and then triumphantly to

inquire, "if skill be inferred from the one, why ascribe the other to

chance?" We do not believe in chance; the steady action of law is not

chance; the exquisite crystals which form themselves under certain

conditions are not a "fortuitous concourse of atoms:" the only question

is whether the laws which we all allow to govern nature are immanent in

nature, or the outcome of an intelligent mind. If there be a lawmaker,

is he self-existent, or does he, in turn, as has been asked again and

again by Positivist, Secularist, and Atheist, require a maker? If

we think for a moment of the vast mind implied in the existence of a