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- Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit etc. - 5/22 -


piercing outcries, the pathetic appeals, and the close and powerful reasoning with which the poor sufferer--smarting at once from his wounds, and from the oil of vitriol which the orthodox LIARS FOR GOD were dropping into them--impatiently, but uprightly and holily, controverted this truth, while in will and in spirit he clung to it;- -were both dictated by an infallible intelligence?--Alas! if I may judge from the manner in which both indiscriminately are recited, quoted, appealed to, preached upon by the routiniers of desk and pulpit, I cannot doubt that they think so--or rather, without thinking, take for granted that so they are to think;--the more readily, perhaps, because the so thinking supersedes the necessity of all afterthought. Farewell.

LETTER IV.

My dear friend,

You reply to the conclusion of my Letter: "What have we to do with routiniers? Quid mihi cum homunculis putata putide reputantibus? Let nothings count for nothing, and the dead bury the dead! Who but such ever understood the tenet in this sense?"

In what sense then, I rejoin, do others understand it? If, with exception of the passages already excepted, namely, the recorded words of God--concerning which no Christian can have doubt or scruple,--the tenet in this sense be inapplicable to the Scripture, destructive of its noblest purposes, and contradictory to its own express declarations,--again and again I ask:- What am I to substitute? What other sense is conceivable that does not destroy the doctrine which it professes to interpret--that does not convert it into its own negative? As if a geometrician should name a sugar- loaf an ellipse, adding--"By which term I here mean a cone;"--and then justify the misnomer on the pretext that the ellipse is among the conic sections! And yet--notwithstanding the repugnancy of the doctrine, in its unqualified sense, to Scripture, Reason, and Common Sense theoretically, while to all practical uses it is intractable, unmalleable, and altogether unprofitable--notwithstanding its irrationality, and in the face of your expostulation, grounded on the palpableness of its irrationality,--I must still avow my belief that, however fittingly and unsteadily, as through a mist, it IS the doctrine which the generality of our popular divines receive as orthodox, and this the sense which they attach to the words.

For on what other ground can I account for the whimsical subintelligiturs of our numerous harmonists--for the curiously inferred facts, the inventive circumstantial detail, the complemental and supplemental history which, in the utter silence of all historians and absence of all historical documents, they bring to light by mere force of logic? And all to do away some half score apparent discrepancies in the chronicles and memoirs of the Old and New Testaments--discrepancies so analogous to what is found in all other narratives of the same story by several narrators--so analogous to what is found in all other known and trusted histories by contemporary historians, when they are collated with each other (nay, not seldom when either historian is compared with himself), as to form in the eyes of all competent judges a characteristic mark of the genuineness, independency, and (if I may apply the word to a book), the veraciousness of each several document; a mark, the absence of which would warrant a suspicion of collusion, invention, or at best of servile transcription; discrepancies so trifling in circumstance and import, that, although in some instances it is highly probable, and in all instances, perhaps, possible that they are only apparent and reconcilable, no wise man would care a staw whether they were real or apparent, reconciled or left in harmless and friendly variance. What, I ask, could have induced learned and intelligent divines to adopt or sanction subterfuges, which neutralising the ordinary criteria of full or defective evidence in historical documents, would, taken as a general rule, render all collation and cross-examination of written records ineffective, and obliterate the main character by which authentic histories are distinguished from those traditional tales, which each successive reporter enlarges and fashions to his own fancy and purpose, and every different edition of which more or less contradicts the other? Allow me to create chasms ad libitum, and ad libitum to fill them up with imagined facts and incidents, and I would almost undertake to harmonise Falstaff's account of the rogues in buckram into a coherent and consistent narrative. What, I say, could have tempted grave and pious men thus to disturb the foundation of the Temple, in order to repair a petty breach or rat-hole in the wall, or fasten a loose stone or two in the outer court, if not an assumed necessity arising out of the peculiar character of Bible history?

The substance of the syllogism, by which their procedure was justified to their own minds, can be no other than this. That, without which two assertions--both of which MUST be alike true and correct--would contradict each other, and consequently be, one or both, false or incorrect, must itself be true. But every word and syllable existing in the original text of the Canonical Books, from the Cherethi and Phelethi of David to the name in the copy of a family register, the site of a town, or the course of a river, were dictated to the sacred amanuensis by an infallible intelligence. Here there can be neither more nor less. Important or unimportant gives no ground of difference; and the number of the writers as little. The secretaries may have been many--the historian was one and the same, and he infallible. This is the MINOR of the syllogism, and if it could be proved, the conclusion would be at least plausible; and there would be but one objection to the procedure, namely, its uselessness. For if it had been proved already, what need of proving it over again, and by means--the removal, namely, of apparent contradictions--which the infallible Author did not think good to employ? But if it have not been proved, what becomes of the argument which derives its whole force and legitimacy from the assumption?

In fact, it is clear that the harmonists and their admirers held and understood the doctrine literally. And must not that divine likewise have so understood it, who, in answer to a question concerning the transcendant blessedness of Jael, and the righteousness of the act, in which she inhospitably, treacherously, perfidiously murdered sleep, the confiding sleep, closed the controversy by observing that he wanted no better morality than that of the Bible, and no other proof of an action's being praiseworthy than that the Bible had declared it worthy to be praised?--an observation, as applied in this instance, so slanderous to the morality and moral spirit of the Bible as to be inexplicable, except as a consequence of the doctrine in dispute. But let a man be once fully persuaded that there is no difference between the two positions: "The Bible contains the religion revealed by God," and "Whatever is contained in the Bible is religion, and was revealed by God," and that whatever can be said of the Bible, collectively taken, may and must be said of each and every sentence of the Bible, taken for and by itself, and I no longer wonder at these paradoxes. I only object to the inconsistency of those who profess the same belief, and yet affect to look down with a contemptuous or compassionate smile on John Wesley for rejecting the Copernican system as incompatible therewith; or who exclaim "Wonderful!" when they hear that Sir Matthew Hale sent a crazy old woman to the gallows in honour of the Witch of Endor. In the latter instance it might, I admit, have been an erroneous (though even at this day the all but universally received) interpretation of the word, which we have rendered by WITCH; but I challenge these divines and their adherents to establish the compatibility of a belief in the modern astronomy and natural philosophy with their and Wesley's doctrine respecting the inspired Scriptures, without reducing the doctrine itself to a plaything of wax; or rather to a half-inflated bladder, which, when the contents are rarefied in the heat of rhetorical generalities, swells out round, and without a crease or wrinkle; but bring it into the cool temperature of particulars, and you may press, and as it were except, what part you like--so it be but one part at a time--between your thumb and finger.

Now, I pray you, which is the more honest, nay, which the more reverential proceeding--to play at fast and loose in this way, or to say at once, "See here, in these several writings one and the same Holy Spirit, now sanctifying a chosen vessel, and fitting it for the reception of heavenly truths proceeding immediately from the mouth of God, and elsewhere working in frail and fallible men like ourselves, and like ourselves instructed by God's word and laws?" The first Christian martyr had the form and features of an ordinary man, nor are we taught to believe that these features were miraculously transfigured into superhuman symmetry; but HE BEING FILLED WITH THE HOLY GHOST, THEY THAT LOOKED STEADFASTLY on HIM, SAW HIS FACE AS IT HAD BEEN THE FACE OF AN ANGEL. Even so has it ever been, and so it ever will be with all who with humble hearts and a rightly disposed spirit scan the sacred volume. And they who read it with AN EVIL HEART OF UNBELIEF and an alien spirit, what boots for them the assertion that every sentence was miraculously communicated to the nominal author by God himself? Will it not rather present additional temptations to the unhappy scoffers, and furnish them with a pretext of self-justification?

When, in my third letter, I first echoed the question "Why should I not?" the answers came crowding on my mind. I am well content, however, to have merely suggested the main points, in proof of the positive harm which, both historically and spiritually, our religion sustains from this doctrine. Of minor importance, yet not to be overlooked, are the forced and fantastic interpretations, the arbitrary allegories and mystic expansions of proper names, to which this indiscriminate Bibliolatry furnished fuel, spark, and wind. A still greater evil, and less attributable to the visionary humour and weak judgment of the individual expositors, is the literal rendering of Scripture in passages, which the number and variety of images employed in different places to express one and the same verity, plainly mark out for figurative. And lastly, add to all these the strange--in all other writings unexampled--practice of bringing together into logical dependency detached sentences from books composed at the distance of centuries, nay, sometimes a millennium from each other, under different dispensations, and for different objects. Accommodations of elder Scriptural phrases--that favourite ornament and garnish of Jewish eloquence; incidental allusions to popular notions, traditions, apologues (for example, the dispute between the Devil and the archangel Michael about the body of Moses, Jude 9); fancies and anachronisms imported from the synagogue of Alexandria into Palestine, by or together with the Septuagint version, and applied as mere argumenta ad homines (for example, the delivery of the Law by the disposition of angels, Acts vii. 53, Gal. iii. 19, Heb. ii. 2),--these, detached from their context, and, contrary to the intention of the sacred writer, first raised into independent theses, and then brought together to produce or sanction some new credendum for which neither separately could have furnished a pretence! By this strange mosaic, Scripture texts have been worked up into passable likenesses of purgatory, Popery, the Inquisition, and other monstrous abuses. But would you have a Protestant instance of the superstitious use of Scripture arising out of this dogma? Passing by the Cabbala of the Hutchinsonian School as the dotage of a few weak-minded individuals, I refer you to Bishop Hacket's sermons on the Incarnation. And if you have read the same author's life of


Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit etc. - 5/22

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