The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4
Lecture XX. Objections Considered
Lecture XX. Objections Considered.
Clerical hostility to the scientific education of the people—Intellectual cultivation not only not adverse to practical Christianity, but favourable to its reception—Instance of the Hindoos—Mistaken views of religious persons in former times with respect to witchcraft—The Pope's method of averting cholera by a religious procession—Clerical hostility to Phrenology and the doctrine of the natural laws—These the allies, not the foes, of Christianity—Conclusion.
In concluding these Lectures, I beg your attention to a denouncement of the whole course of study in which we have been engaged, which appeared in the prospectus of The Christian Herald.* "All sorts of literary machinery, newspapers, lectures, treatises, magazines, pamphlets, school-books, libraries of knowledge, for use or for entertainment, are most diligently and assiduously set in motion, if not for purposes directly hostile to the gospel, at least on the theory that men may be made good and happy without the gospel; nay, though the gospel were forgotten as an old wives' fable. It were well if they who know the wretched infatuation of such views were alive to the importance of at least attempting to set similar machinery in motion for the production of a religious impression." The prospectus continues—"It is impossible, even if it were desirable, to check the current of cheap popular literature: but it may be possible, through faith and prayer, to turn it more nearly into a right channel." The impossibility of checking, is here assigned as the paramount reason for attempting to direct the current; whence we may infer that these respectable divines would have stopped it if they could. Let us inquire, therefore, with becoming deference, but with the freedom of men who have the privilege of thinking for themselves, into the grounds of these opinions and charges.
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the views of faith and doctrine entertained by our condemning censors are all sound; and let us suppose an angel to be sent from heaven to teach a celestial choral symphony to men, in order to prepare them, on entering the realms of bliss, to join in the strains of their new abode: This might be conceived, without imagining the angel to create new faculties—his object being only to elevate, quicken, and improve those that exist in human nature. This would be an illustration of the relation in which supernatural truths would stand to the moral and intellectual faculties of man. The truths of Scripture would not create new powers and organs in us; they would only purify, exalt, and guide those which we previously possessed. I observe farther, that, in this case those individuals who possessed the largest and the best cultivated organs of Tune and Time, would be in the best condition to profit by the angelic teacher's instructions; and I ask whether those individuals who enjoy the most vigorous and best exercised moral and intellectual faculties will not, by parity of reason, be best prepared to profit by the lessons of Scripture?
How would it strike you, then, if the angelic teacher were to reproach the human professors of music, whom he found on earth instructing their pupils in the best music which they knew, and teaching them the practice of the art,—with the offence of treating the divine symphony as an old wives' fable? They might most reasonably answer, "O angel of light, we and our pupils are humble men, and we do not enjoy the gifts of inspiration. We cannot cause the solemn organ to roll forth its pealing strains, until we have studied its stops, and accustomed our mortal fingers to press its keys. We cannot make the dorian flute breathe its soft melodies, until we have learned its powers, and practised the delicate movements without which it yields only discordant sounds. We mean no disrespect to your heavenly air, but we mortal men cannot produce music at all until the mental faculties and bodily organs, on which musical skill depends, have been trained to the art, and we are now instructing ourselves in our own humble way. We are exercising our mental faculties and our physical powers, to bring them into a condition to hear, feel, comprehend, and execute the exalted duty which you assign to us. Do not, then, reprimand us for acting according to our nature; help and encourage us, and you will discover that those of us who have most assiduously studied and practised our earthly music will most readily and successfully acquire your heavenly strains."
* The Christian Herald was a cheap weekly periodical, conducted by members of the Church of Scotland, and devoted exclusively to religion. The prospectus was issued in January 1836. It has since ceased or changed its title.
Our own population are more enlightened than the people of these countries, but they still continue too ignorant of natural science, and particularly of the philosophy of mind. As neither they nor their clerical teachers appear to give due effect to the truth which I am now expounding,—that Christianity requires cultivated faculties before it can produce its full beneficial effects,—I beg leave to illustrate this proposition a little more in detail.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, divines and the people at large, both in England and Scotland, were in full possession of the Scriptures. The reformation was completed, and printing was in active operation; yet, in these centuries, clergymen sitting as judges condemned old women to the flames as witches. What was the cause of this barbarity? At that time there was neither physical nor mental science; the phenomena of nature were supposed to be under the influence of magicians, of evil spirits, and of the devil; and these unhappy women, the victims of ignorance, cruelty, and superstition, were believed to be in league with the powers of darkness. It was the dawn of physical science which opened up the creation to the human intellect, and revealed it as the vast domain of God; whereas, before that dawn, ignorant divines, with the Bible in their hands, had mistaken it for the realm of the devil. It was science that delivered the clergy and their flocks from the practice of cruelties, from which the unaided Bible had not sufficed to protect them. It is no disparagement to the Bible to say this, because it was never intended to supersede the study of God's will as revealed in the records of creation; and, in falling into superstition, the clergy and people were suffering the penalty of having omitted to discharge that duty to God and to themselves.
Again; I mentioned to you at an early stage of these lectures, that when Rome was threatened with cholera, in the year 1835, the Pope and Cardinals carried a black image of the Virgin in solemn procession through the streets; while our public authorities, in similar circumstances, cleaned the whole city from filth, purified the alleys and confined courts by fumigation, provided wholesome food and clothing for the poor, and organized hospitals for the reception of the sick. What was the cause of this difference of conduct? Will our clergy represent the cause of this proceeding of the Italians to have been solely their want of the Bible? This may have been one cause; but it is notorious, that both in our own country and in Protestant Germany, although the laity enjoyed the Scriptures, they continued superstitious, fierce, and cruel, until human science dawned on their minds, and co-operated with the Bible in developing the spirit of Christianity. The Roman clergy and people were ignorant of physiology and the laws of the animal economy, and their dull minds perceived no connection between the disease and the condition of their bodies. Edinburgh, on the contrary, was the seat of an enlightened school of medicine, and her leading men discerned the connection between impure air, filth, low diet, and deficient clothing,—and disease of every kind. They therefore, although as ignorant as the Pope himself of the special causes of the cholera, knew how to act in conformity with the general principles of health. They were aware, that whatever tended to promote the strength of the body and the tranquility of the mind, would serve to abate the virulence even of an unknown disease, and the result corresponded with their principles. Here the procession of the Virgin would have been regarded as a mockery of the human understanding, and an insult to the majesty of heaven. But how have we come to entertain views so much more rational than those of our Roman brethren? Not by exclusively studying the Scriptures; because the Pope and Cardinals who prescribed that procession certainly possessed the Scriptures, although they may have withheld them from their flocks; but by the study of the anatomy and physiology of the body, and the laws of the animal economy in general. It will be admitted that the citizens of Edinburgh acted the more purely Christian part in this emergency. Yet their superior knowledge of physical science was one great cause of their superior Christian practice. Why, then, should our clerical guides charge us with contempt of the Bible, because we teach the people the very knowledge which serves to render them willing, able, and intelligent co-operators with the plans of Providence in the natural world; which guards their minds from becoming the slaves of superstition; and which, by cultivating their moral and intellectual faculties, renders them apt learners of the precepts of Christianity?
But I am led to believe that Phrenology and the doctrine of the natural laws have specially attracted the displeasure of these clerical guides, and that phrenologists are considered to be particularly chargeable with the sin of aiming at making men "good and happy without the gospel." It is agreeable to find that we are charged with no worse offence, than attempting to make men "good and happy," even although our method of doing so be disapproved of. I admit that I do not teach the gospel in these lectures; neither do professors of Chemistry and Anatomy teach it in their courses. But the reason is, that it is the duty of the clergy themselves, and not that of the professors of natural science, to teach the gospel to the people.
What, however, does Phrenology teach? It teaches the organs, functions, uses, and abuses of each of our faculties; it shews us that the moral and intellectual powers are given to guide our inferior feelings; and it informs us that we must observe the organic laws in order to preserve our brains in health, otherwise our mental powers will be impeded and deranged in their action. It leads us, in short, to study ourselves, and our relations to the external world, and to practise the duties thence discoverable, as acts of obedience to the will of God. The result is, that instead of being lost in a mist of vague notions of what constitutes sin, and what righteousness, our disciples are enabled to distinguish good from evil, in the uses and abuses of their faculties: Instead of wandering amidst dark superstitions, and mistaking the natural impulses of the propensities for suggestions of the devil, and those of the moral and religious sentiments for direct influences from heaven, they recognise the true sources of both, and use the natural, and, therefore, the most successful means, to subdue the former, and to sustain, regulate, and direct the latter. They are taught to avoid the inconsistency of praying to God for health, or other benefits, while they blindly neglect every law of physiology on which health, or the realization of their other desires, depends. We urge the imperative necessity of first obeying God's laws of health, established in our constitution, and his other natural laws related to the objects prayed for; and then, and then only, to venture to ask him for his blessing and his benefits. Instead of seeing in the external world only a vast confusion of occurrences, in which sometimes the good triumph, and sometimes the wicked,—in which the imagination is bewildered, and the moral affections disappointed in not recognising God page 115 —they are taught to study the different objects and beings in nature; to trace their relations and laws; to mark their uniformity of action, their beneficial applications, as well as their noxious influences; and to regulate their own conduct accordingly. Their eyes are thus opened to the magnificent spectacle of a world full of the wisdom and goodness of God, specially adapted by Him to man's moral and intellectual powers, pervaded in every department by an intelligible and efficient government, and the whole tending regularly and systematically to favour virtue, and to punish vice. They recognise the duties of temperance and activity,—of moral, intellectual, and religious cultivation,—of affection to kindred,—of the love of mankind, and of God,—and, above all, of obedience to God's will,—to be engraven on their bodily and mental constitutions, and to be enforced by the external creation. Is it, then, treating the gospel as an old wives' fable, to teach the people such knowledge as this? Is it "a wretched infatuation," on our part, thus to prepare the mind, by a pure, invigorating, and elevating cultivation, to receive, profit by, and practise, the precepts of that very gospel itself? And what are these divines themselves doing?
I find, in a review of the Christian Herald in a London Newspaper,* the following remarks on this subject: "The natural world is too interesting to the human intellect to be quietly laid on the shelf, or to be forgotten as an old wives' fable, and inquiring minds will continue to study it in spite of denunciations such as those now cited. If the divines do not connect Christian theology with philosophy and science, they will every year find a spirit gaining strength against them, which will ultimately compel them to follow this course, at whatever trouble and disappointment to themselves. In this Journal (the Christian Herald) they treat the whole material creation with exactly the same neglect with which they accuse the authors of worldly literature and science, of treating Revelation; and with less show of reason. Scientific writers are entitled to say that this world comes first, and that, in unfolding its philosophy, they are preparing the way for the clergy to teach the doctrines that relate to futurity. But the clergy, in proceeding at once to the concerns of the next world, begin at the end. They proceed to tell the people how to reap the harvest, without teaching them how to cultivate and manure the soil, and how to sow the seed." These remarks are so directly applicable to the point under consideration, that I cannot add to their force. I only remark, further, that I have hitherto abstained from retaliation for the condemnation poured out against these lectures from the pulpit† and the press; and all that I now do is, respectfully to beg of you to consider, whether, if it be a truth in nature, that large, energetic, and well-exercised moral and religious organs are necessary to vigour of mind, and that obedience to God's natural laws is necessary to the profitable reception and practice of Christianity, divines would not be better employed in inquiring patiently into the truth of these propositions,—and if they find them to be true, in teaching and acting in accordance with them, and encouraging others to do the same,—than in shutting their eyes against the palpable light of God, and denouncing us as unfaithful to His cause, when only they themselves are ignorantly vilifying His institutions.
Again, Phrenology shews that moral and religious sentiments, enlightened by intellect, have been intended to guide the inferior faculties of man; and by the study of political economy you will discover that the whole relations of the different members of the state, and also of different nations, towards each other, uniformly produce good when they are framed in accordance with the dictates of these superior faculties, and evil and suffering when they deviate from them: that is to say, when the laws of any particular people approach to the closest conformity with the dictates of benevolence and justice, they become most beneficial to the whole public body, and when they depart from them, they become most injurious; also, when a nation in its treaties and relations with foreign states, acts on the principles of benevolence and justice, and limits its own exactions by these principles, it reaps the greatest possible advantages, while it suffers evil in proportion as it attempts to gain by selfishness, rapine, force, or fraud. These truths, I say, are rendered clear by the combined sciences of Phrenology, which proves the existence, nature, and objects of our moral faculties, and Political Economy, which unfolds the effects on human welfare of different political, economical, and legislative institutions and systems of action. I appeal to every man possessed of common understanding, whether teachers of such doctrines are or are not preparing the public mind for the practical development of that grand Christian condition of society, in which all men shall endeavour to act as brothers, and love their neighbours as themselves. Nay, not only so, but I request you to consider the futility of teaching these sublime precepts to a people left in the mazes of selfishness, which is their inevitable condition until their minds be imbued with the truth, that the world is actually constituted in harmony with the dictates of the moral sentiments of man.
Your time will not permit me to extend these remarks farther; but nothing would be more easy than to trace the whole circle of the sciences, and shew how each of them, by unfolding the will of God in its own department, is, in truth, a pioneer to the practical development of Christianity.
It is true that we do not carry them forward to these applications in our lectures, and I presume this is the ground of the charge against us: But why do we not do so? Because it is the peculiar and dignified province of the clergy themselves so to apply them. Would you reproach the ploughman, who in spring tilled, manured, and sowed your field, because he had not in spring also, and with his plough for a sickle, reaped the crop? Equally unreasonable and unfounded is this charge against us. We are the humble husbandmen, tilling, manuring, and sowng the seeds of knowledge in the public mind, and to the clergy is allotted the not less important change of tending the corn in its growth and reaping he golden harvest.
* The Courier of 17th March 1836.
† While these lectures were in course of being delivered, one of the ministers of Edinburgh preached against them.
Here, then, I conclude this course of lectures. It has embraced a mere sketch or outline of a mighty subject, and has been chargeable with many imperfections. I feel much gratified by the kind attention with which you have followed my observations. If they have conferred pleasure or instruction, my object will have been gained. If they shall prove the means of exciting your minds to follow out the study for your own improvement, I shall feel the highest satisfaction. I have spoken plainly and forcibly what appeared to myself to be true. If I have sometimes fallen into error (as what mortal is free from liability to err?) I shall be anxious to obtain sounder and juster views; but if I have in other instances given a more correct exposition of the order of the divine government of the world, and the principles of natural religion, than you previously possessed, I hope that, trusting in the power of truth, you will neither be startled at the novelty, nor offended by the consequences, of the ways of Providence, which I have expounded. You know your own position. You are the first popular audience in this city to whom the truths and the consequences of the new philosophy of mind discovered by Dr Gall have been unfolded; and you are aware that in every age the most useful and important truths have had to contend with violent prejudices when first promulgated. You have an admirable rule, however, prescribed to you for your guidance, in the advice given by Gamaliel to the high priest of the Jews. "If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it." (Acts, v. 38.) If I have truly interpreted to you any of the works and ways and laws of the Almighty, his arm will give efficacy to my instruction: If I have erred, my words will come to nought: In either event truth will triumph, and we shall all become wiser and better.
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