Sections: General Index   Present Section: Index   Work: Index   Next: Chapter 2



(p. 1)









            FOR a mind at once candid, impartial, and duly instructed, there can be but one opinion as to the issue of the long-drawn-out controversy between Orthodoxy and Agnosticism respecting the Bible. Orthodoxy has been worsted at every point, and henceforth the Bible of orthodoxy is, alike as regards its history, its science, its morality, and its religion, a discredited book; and to Agnosticism belongs the credit of having demolished what has long been a stumbling-block and an offence to the human mind and conscience, and a barrier to human progress and well-being.

            But this is not to say that the Bible itself has been disposed of, but only the Bible of orthodoxy, the Bible considered as literal, historical truth. It is on this ground that Agnosticism has met, and fought, and discomfited orthodoxy; but on this ground alone. And there remains another ground and another standpoint from which to regard the Bible, which is no other than that insisted on by the Bible itself, but of which neither orthodoxy nor Agnosticism has taken the smallest account; and the consequence is that, while Orthodoxy has laid itself open to the charge of having presented the Bible in a light which, not being that of the Bible, is a false light, Agnosticism has made the mistake of supposing that it has disposed of both Orthodoxy and the Bible, when all it has disposed of is a presentation

(p. 2)

of the Bible which, by inverting, distorting, or mutilating its meaning, has concealed the Bible from view. This is a mistake which – as will appear when we come to define the true standpoint of the Bible – is, singular as it may seem, due, not to any defect of perception arising out of the hostility of Agnosticism to Orthodoxy, but to its participation in the very characteristic which has ever been the bane of Orthodoxy, and herein to its failure to be consistent and thorough in its rejection of the methods of Orthodoxy.

            Now, the standpoint from which Orthodoxy and Agnosticism alike have regarded the Bible, in being the literal and historical, is the materialistic standpoint; and the standpoint on which the Bible itself insists as its proper and only one is the spiritual and mystical; and this is the standpoint which, in order to be consistent and thorough in its opposition to Orthodoxy, Agnosticism should have adopted. Instead of being content with attacking Orthodoxy on its own ground, and assuming that its work was done when a victory had been gained there, it should have consummated its task by showing what is the true ground, and how completely Orthodoxy has lost sight of it. By this means, and this only, it would have gained a crowning victory over Orthodoxy. But, as above intimated, it is not in the nature of things that Agnosticism should be able to recognise this ground. For, in common with Orthodoxy, Agnosticism is a mode of Materialism, and incompetent, therefore, to discern what is spiritual and mystical. “The natural,” or materialistic, “man” as Paul so truly says, “knoweth not the things of the spirit, nor can receive them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Hence, first, the failure of Orthodoxy and Agnosticism alike to discern the true standpoint of the Bible; and, next, the mistake of Agnosticism in supposing that it had disposed of the Bible when it had disposed only of the Orthodox presentation of it. The materialistic standpoint gone, there was for Agnosticism no other. This, then, is the first count in the judgment to be passed upon the controversy under consideration: that, so far from the Bible having been disposed of by the victory of Agnosticism over Orthodoxy, the Bible

(p. 3)

has not really been in question at all in the matter, but has remained as absolutely untouched by either side as if it were some totally different book that was under discussion. And all that has been in question, and which has really been disposed of, is the orthodox and literal acceptation of the Bible, which, so far from being that admitted by the Bible, is emphatically and repeatedly repudiated by it. So that both parties have set aside the Bible’s own account of itself, and substituted an account which the Bible expressly disclaims, and contended alone over this, leaving the Bible still to be interpreted, still to have justice done to it, still to have its proper place and function determined. And so inadequate have been the methods employed in its elucidation, whether for attack or for defence, that neither side has endeavoured to ascertain either the standpoint from which it was written, the system of thought which underlies it, or the sense in which its special terms were employed and are to be understood. To state the case in short: the Bible was written by mystics for mystics, and from the mystical standpoint; and it has been interpreted by materialists for materialists, and from the materialistic standpoint. And, whereas from the latter and false standpoint it deserves the worst that its foes have said of it, from the former and true standpoint it contains a system of thought and rule of life founded in the nature itself of existence, verifiable by human faculty, and such as by their observance to enable man to turn his existence to the utmost account in the long run, by making of himself the best that he has it in him to be. Such is the thesis to the establishment of which these chapters will be devoted.

            Stated in short, then, the contention to be established is that, whereas Orthodoxy has substituted the shell of the nut of religious truth for the nut itself, and, disregarding its indigestible and innutritious character and the fatal consequences of its ingestion into the system, has insisted on its being swallowed whole; Agnosticism has contented itself with ridiculing and vilifying, and finally throwing away the nut in question, without having attempted, by cracking it, to ascertain the nature

(p. 4)

of the kernel. And the behaviour of both sides alike is due to that materialistic tendency which ever exhibits itself in recognising the outer and lower element of things – the form, the appearance, and the letter, to the exclusion of the substance, the reality, and the spirit; due, this is to say, to what the Bible calls idolatry, and the worship of false gods – in short, to superstition. For, consisting, as does Materialism, in the preference of the external and apparent to the inner and real, of the illusion to the substance, of the symbol to the verity implied by it, Materialism is idolatry and superstition; and, in so far as the present age is the most materialistic of all ages, it is the most idolatrous and superstitious of all ages. And, inasmuch as Orthodoxy was the first offender, by reason of its materialisation of mysteries purely spiritual, it is to the Church’s fall that the world’s fall is due.

            Man is not naturally materialist, if only because he finds in himself that for which the materialistic hypothesis fails utterly to account – his consciousness of things moral and spiritual. And from a really spiritual religion – one that appealed at once to head and heart, mind and soul, intellect and moral conscience, and satisfied the needs of both these regions of his nature – he would never have recoiled. But “the woman” – who in one aspect of the parable stands for the Church – by inclining to the things of sense, to the letter as against the spirit, “the woman tempted him and he did eat,” and the result has been the world’s fall, in our time, into depths of materiality never before reached. The “garden” of a perfect doctrine and rule of life has been forfeited for the wilderness of confusion and strife; the Cain in man – the sense-nature symbolised by the “fruits of the ground” – has killed the Abel in man, the intuitional faculty symbolised by the “lamb” of a pure and guileless spirit; and the priests of a fallen, because materialistic, science have followed the priests of a fallen, because materialistic, religion, and shed innocent blood upon what ought to be the pure altars of the Lord of both religion and science. Thus, for the typical sin of the age – the wholesale, ruthless torture of highly-organised and sensitive creatures on the plea of

(p. 5)

scientific research, a practice by its sanction of which, more than any other, modern society has shown the demonising effects of Materialism – orthodoxy is primarily responsible, seeing that it represents but the extension to another plane of the sacerdotal principle of seeking salvation through the blood and agony of others, instead of by self-amendment. Similarly, the substitution by orthodoxy of the letter for the spirit, of the form for the reality in the sphere of religion, has led to the like substitution in the sphere of morals, until it has come that the form of man is preferred to the man, the body to the character, the material vehicle to its spiritual content, and the latter, which is really the man, is sacrificed to the former, which is but his phenomenal capsule. And, meanwhile, the indefeasible truth that the human form to be valid must, like any other mere form, be filled up – must have the man inside it – is utterly discarded and rejected. This, and all other indications of the limitation of perception, through which the world is suffering, are directly traceable to the action of orthodoxy in setting aside Scripture’s own account of itself and preferring the “letter that kills” to the “spirit that gives life.” Now, that which first and foremost the letter kills is the faculty of spiritual perception in those who trust in it. Hence the prayer of David, “Open thou mine eyes that I may behold the wondrous things out of thy law.”



Sections: General Index   Present Section: Index   Work: Index   Next: Chapter 2