Puslapio vaizdai

have been superior. I am not about to try the power of priestcraft, nor to cajole or flatter you into the reception of my views. Let the working men dismiss from their minds the idea, if it exists, of any assumption of a liberal tone for the purpose of winning them. If I speak sentiments free and liberal, it is not because they are adopted as opinions, but because they are bound up with every fibre of my being. I could as soon part with my nature and being, as cease to think and speak freely. Let them not fancy that such language is assumed, as fit for a platform before which they stand. There are those of your own number who will tell you that, in another place, from my own pulpit, not before workmen, but before their masters, before the rich and titled of this country, I have held and hold this same tone, and taught Christianity as the perfect Law of Liberty. They can tell you that it has cost me something, and that I have brought upon myself in consequence no small share of suspicion, misrepresentation, and personal dislike. I do not say this in bitterness; I hold it to be a duty to be liberal and generous, even to the illiberal and narrow-minded; and it seems to me a pitiful thing for any man to aspire to be true and to speak truth, and then to complain in astonishment, that truth has not crowns to give, but thorns; but I

say it in order that you and I may understand each other. Let the men of this association rest assured that they shall hear no cant from me. I am not before them even to preach the Gospel, but to meet them on broad common ground, to speak to them as a man addressing his brother


Again, my purpose to-night is not denunciation. If any man has come expecting to hear Socialism and Infidelity denounced, he will be disappointed. My firm conviction is, that denunciation does no good. Anathemas, whether thundered from church courts, from pulpits, or from platforms, are foolish and impotent. It is the principle of that Book, the spirit of which I desire for my guide throughout life, that the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

Let me explain why I refuse to denounce Infidelity.

I refuse to do so to-night, because it would be ungenerous. You have heard of a place called "Coward's Castle." Coward's Castle is that pulpit or that platform from which a man, surrounded by his friends, in the absence of his opponents, secure of applause and safe from a reply, denounces those who differ from him. I mean to invite no discussion to-night; and just

because there can be no reply, if there were no better reason than that, there shall be no denunciation.

Your chairman has already told you that there is to be no debate; and I will explain to you why I have resolved on this. All topics are the fit subjects of free inquiry; but all are not the fit subjects of public discussion. And this, not because of any weakness in them, or uncertainty respecting their truth; but because of the very delicacy of the matter in question. There are some things too delicate and too sacred to be handled rudely without injury to truth. Nothing is more certain than the duty of filial love; but if it were made a question for discussion in a school debating club, I fancy the arrival at truth would be somewhat questionable. Exactly in proportion as a boy was good, tender, and affectionate, would he feel it difficult, rhetorically or logically, to defend his feelings; he would be conscious of a stammering tongue, and a crimsoned cheek, and perhaps be overwhelmed with confusion. Nor would it require much talent or wit to make his position seem absurd-it would only require a copious flow of ribaldry. For you know the old proverb, that between the sublime and the ridiculous there is but a single step; and the more sacred a subject is, the more easy is it to give it

an absurd aspect. It would be in the power of any bad boy to raise a laugh at the expense of one better and more manly than himself, by representing him as under the guidance of his mother's apron string. In the very same way it would be easy enough to reduce the position of a religious man to one exquisitely ludicrous; loud, rude taunts of spiritual subjection, timidity, support by leading strings, pointed with blasphemy and unscrupulous effrontery, would not demand much superiority of talent, but would effectually cover all chance of arriving at the truth with a cloud of dust. Therefore do I refuse to permit discussion this evening respecting the love which a Christian man bears to his Redeemer, a love more delicate far than the love which was ever borne to sister, or the adoration with which he regards his God, a reverence more sacred than man ever bore to mother. Therefore do I reject the infinite absurdity of a trial of such truth as the existence of a God by a show of hands.

Again, there shall be no denunciation, because infidelity is the vaguest of all charges. None is more freely, or more wantonly, or more cruelly hurled by man against man. Infidelity is often only the unmeaning accusation brought by timid persons, half conscious of the instability of their own belief, and furious against every one whose

words make them tremble at their own insecurity. It is sometimes the cry of narrowness against an old truth under a new and more spiritual form. Sometimes it is the charge caught up at secondhand, and repeated as a kind of religious hue and cry, in profoundest ignorance of the opinions that are so characterized. Nothing is more melancholy than to listen to the wild, indiscriminate charges. of Skepticism, Mysticism, Pantheism, Rationalism, Atheism, which are made by some of the weakest of mankind, who scarcely know the difference between Mesmerism and Mysticism. I hold it a Christian duty, to abstain from this foolish and wicked system of labelling men with names; to stand aloof from every mob, religious or irreligious in name, which resembles that mob at Ephesus, who shouted for two long hours, the more part knowing not wherefore they were come together.

When the most spiritual minds of the sixteenth century protested against Rome, Protestantism was called infidelity. Eighteen centuries ago, the Christians were burned at the stake under the name of Atheists. The Athenians poisoned their noblest man as an Atheist. Only a few weeks ago, I saw one of the most precious works of one of the wisest of the Christian philosophers of England-Samuel Taylor Coleridge-denounced

« AnkstesnisTęsti »