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It is a common question put to those who bave ventured to dispute the authority of the Bible, what they may have to offer for the guidance of mankind in its lieu. Those who make the demand are, however, by no means agreed upon the nature or degree of the authority to be accorded the Bible. Few will be prepared in the present day to allege that every word of its contents is true and divinely inspired. So far, therefore, these, who make the requisition, warrant the task of criticism upon which we embark. If one word in the record may be challenged, any other word, or all words appearing therein, may equally be called in question, and those who give up portions of the Bible have no logical grounds upon which they can object to others giving up the whole.
The test proposed is thus an imperfect one. The Bible is not as one of those great works of the creator, such as the world itself, or any of the heavenly orbs, which may not be impugned. It is fairly impugnable if cause sufficient can be shown for disputing its statements. Its contents have been offered to us for our reasonable acceptance, and we are bound to judge whether they merit this acceptance or not. The condition preliminary that we are not to embark in this inquiry, nor to govern ourselves by its results, without having an adequate substitute to provide for what we part with, is not one that can be admitted into any of the ordinary circumstances of life. I am on a journey, knowing of certain landmarks I should meet with. I pursue a path, and the indications around me prove other than I had to expect. The sun rises, and I find I am going east instead of west. Should
I be warranted in continuing my way until some one might show me a truer path ? Should I not stop and retrace my steps, being satisfied that my first duty was to involve myself no further in error? I have a servant whom a friend discovers to be cheating and robbing me. Do I retain him, and resolve not to part with him, until I may meet with a trustworthy person to take his place? The question then of the reliability of the Biblical statements must be dealt with upon its own merits. If we have before us an erring guide, misrepresenting to us the objects described, the first step we have to take, regardless of consequences, is to cease to submit ourselves to its directions. When misinstructed and misinformed, we at once give up the fallacious instructor. It cannot be imagined that any one in his senses, when thus persuaded, should act otherwise. The objection I am replying to is therefore a hollow one. It is taken by those who accept the Bible as an all-sufficient, all-perfect guide. It is merely the expression of their confidence in this guide. They think so well thereof that they imagine there can be none other.
But it is not everything in the Bible that any of us propose to give up. Our adversaries strive to bind us to such an issue, but do so wrongfully. There are universal truths in the record, which we admit equally with themselves. Whatever speaks of the love of God for his creatures, of his wisdom and power as exhibited towards them in all his works and ways, and every precept inculcating good feeling between man and man, meets with as ready acknowledgment from ourselves as from the biblicists. Our opponents choose, moreover, to suppose that because we do not accept the biblical representations of the supreme being, we deny his existence altogether. They wish it to be understood that they have before them the true divinity, and if we do not acknowledge him as described, they allege us to be without God at all. The mistake is of the same description as that I have previously dealt with. The Bible, with its adherents, is so assured a guide that there can be no other; and the God of the Bible is so thoroughly truly described, that no other description of him can possibly be accepted. The whole is a mere asseveration of satisfaction in the accepted views. We still claim a hearing, if this may possibly be granted us.
Then we are said to be abandoning the old paths, and marking out for ourselves new fangled ways of our own. This is an accusation, like the other objections noticed, depending on what does not affect the merit of the questions to be disposed of. The point is, which is the true path, rather than which is the more ancient one. But it so happens, as the slightest reflection should show, that we stand on an older basis, knowing God without the Bible, than do those who know him only in the Bible. There was an era before Christianity, and before the production of any portion of the Bible, and to the views prevailing in that era we claim to stand allied.
Nor are the Christian advocates warranted in assuming that they possess an unchanging system. According to their own histories, it was a violent alteration of the relations of God to man when the condition of absence of written law for man's direction was exchanged for the precise and detailed code of divine law said to have been enunciated through Moses, and when a system applicable to the world at large, was abandoned by the Creator of all for special dealings with a chosen people, to the shelving and neglect of all other races. It was another violent change when this dispensation was disallowed as effete and useless, to have its place occupied by a new and “better covenant,” introducing Christianity. The phases of the Christian system I have exhibited in the present volume. We have first a message to the Jews, exclusively, amounting to nothing at discord with the tenets already accepted by them, and a door closely shut against the Gentiles. Then the door is opened, with a struggle between the leading preachers, and the Gentiles are let in ; after which the doctrine undergoes material alteration, and assumes an altogether Gentile complexion. We have in the outset mankind left to make their approaches to the Almighty in any manner they deemed fit; after this they are taught to depend on the blood of bulls and of goats to give him satisfaction ; then some more fervent spirits among the elect people thus taught, saw, nevertheless, that the true sacrifice to make to God was that of the inclinations and the heart, and that physical offerings availed nothing, and were not even desired by him ; after which there came, what we now have among the Christian community, the astounding requisition repeated, that blood alone can wash out sin, and that this must flow from human veins, the innocent, moreover, suffering for the guilty. What was odious in the rites of Moloch, becomes very“ precious ” in what the Christian has to put before the Almighty. Is it possible that a divine director is the author of these ever changing and inconsistent views ? Have we not room to conclude that they are due to human brains, scheming out religious practices in various forms, as, from time to time, active and restless minded men have devised ? And may we not, with all propriety, turn upon our opponents in their pursuit of the ancient paths, and claim from them the recognition of the primeval, and alone sure, sufficient, and insubvertible testimonies—the consciousness of God manifested in his works, physical and moral, and ever acting as the friend of all ?
A third objection taken to us is one that can scarcely be reasonably stated. Our opinions are quarrelled with because they have been arrived at intellectually. Faith, in some way, is to be maintained independently of reason, and yet to be such a faith as can be accounted for reasonably to inquirers. We remain still necessarily in error because we have been reasonably persuaded to what we hold. It is impossible to deal with persons thus disposed. We can only see that we are placed in the wrong because we do not think as our opponents, and that in the apprehension that what they believe will not bear the test of reason, the reasoning faculty itself is to be placed in abeyance. Of course, the battle is at an end, if to be so prosecuted. Each side is warring with weapons the use of which the opposing side disallows. The Christians hold up the Bible as an all-sufficient authority apart from what human thought may judge of it, while we claim to be governed in all our conclusions by the evidences which the perceptive and reflective powers with which we are endowed place before us. One side or the other must eventually give way, and it is happily not difficult to foresee which of the two must, in the nature of things, eventually prevail.
Another difficulty we meet with is to obtain a hearing under any circumstances. There have been objectors to the accepted creed before our time. It is common to allege that we say no more than what has been previously said, and this is ordinarily followed up by the assertion that what has been so said has been already sufficiently answered. I am obliged to describe this as simply evasive. The statement so resorted to is usually made by persons who do not read a word of what we offer for their consideration, or who are unable to answer us if they have perused what we publish. The refuge, it is transparent, would not be sought in silence, if there was any thing effective to be said in defence of the faith we assail. Many refuse us a hearing from mistrust of results, and all have a sense of danger from lending themselves to the ventilation of our opinions. Is it possible that the side who shrink from the discussion are those who are armed with divine truth, and have with them divine support, and that those whom they fear to meet are persons left merely with human resources, of an erring nature ?
But, impeded and avoided as we are, we nevertheless advance, and are thankful for the measure of success which attends the efforts we make to break down surrounding prejudice, and establish truer lines of religious thought. The end we consider to be certain, however long deferred. The task of asserting and defending truth is too easy to miscarry. If we have hit upon the real relations subsisting between the Almighty and the human race, (and without such conviction we have no right to venture to interfere with the faith of others), then it is certain this truth will establish itself in the power of the author of all truth.
After all, whatever the divergences of mankind from one another in the path of religion, it is apparent that all who are in earnest in the pursuit are ever seeking the same ends. The aim is to associate ourselves with the Almighty, to bring every thought in subjection to him, to stay our souls upon him as our ultimate hope. We feel ourselves immeasurably distant from the goal we are striving to reach. We often turn aside from the pursuit before us. Sin obtains ready access to us, and its invasions weaken and alienate us. Still the desire is there to overcome the sin and to re-establish our relations with the acknowledged author of our beings. The whole atmosphere of the discord prevailing is caused by misty views embraced in the endeavour to find the lost path and reassociate ourselves with our maker. The idol is set up to bring God sensibly before the worshiper; the sacrificial blood is poured out to appease him, and wash out the stains of sin ;