LECTURE THE FIRST
WHY is it with us in England, that with all our achievements in Science, Literature, and Art; in Government, Industry, and Warfare; in Honour, Religion, and Virtue; with conquests ranging over the whole threefold domain of Humanity, the Physical, the Intellectual, and the Moral, – why is it that the moment we attempt to extend the manifold blessings of our civilisation to the entire mass of our countrymen, we find ourselves at fault and utterly baffled?
Long has the condition of myriads among us been known to be terrible in its degradation. Long have we acknowledged an earnest desire to raise them out of that condition. Measure after measure have we devised and enacted; but none of them, not even the vast Church-establishment of the realm, has proved in any degree commensurate with the evil. At length our efforts have culminated in the elaboration and enactment of one comprehensive scheme; and we have proceeded so far as to have elected as our representatives to carry it into effect, those of us whom, for superior intelligence and energy, we deem best qualified for the task.
Short lived, however, do our exultant hopes promise to
be. The very agents of our beneficent intentions, the School-boards, in whose hands are borne the germs of our redemption and future civilisation, are altogether at such odds within themselves upon some of the leading and most essential principles, that the scheme threatens wholly to collapse in disheartening failure, or to become a perennial source of bitterness and dissension.
Is it not passing strange? Based though our culture has for centuries been, upon one and the self-same book, so far from our having attained any degree of unity thereby, we are divided and rent into sects and factions innumerable and irreconcilable, until it would appear as if the very spirit of that proverbially perverse and stiff-necked people whose sacred literature we have adopted as the rule of our faith and practice, had passed into ourselves and become a constituent part of our very nature.
The greatness of the emergency, – for it is the redemption of our masses from pauperism, ignorance, and barbarism that is at stake, – not justifies merely, but imperatively demands the strenuous collaboration of all who, having the good of their kind at heart, have made this question one of special investigation. It is in no spirit of hasty presumption, – scarcely is it with much hope of wide acceptance, – at least in the present, – that I have responded to the invitation to recite here to-day the conclusions to which my study of the points at issue has brought me. Rather is it that it will be a relief to myself to have thrown off the reflections and results which, in a somewhat varied experience at home and abroad, have accumulated upon me, and to feel that I have done this at the time when there is most chance of their being useful. It is thus that I have prepared my contribution
towards the solution of “the Religious Difficulty” which lies “a lion in the path” of our National Education and all our national improvement, showing as yet not the smallest symptom of discomposure through any “Resolution” of Metropolitan or other School-board.
In all emergencies, whether of conduct or of opinion, where there is doubt and
space for deliberation, it is best to go back to the very beginning of the
matter, and there, in its initial principles, seek the clue which is to conduct
us safely out of our dilemma. It is wonderful sometimes how readily a skein is
disentangled when once the right end of the thread has been found. Our friends
In like manner our difficulties, in regard to popular
instruction, have all arisen through our neglect of a definition. We have not defined to ourselves the precise object of the system of National Education, which, after generations of anxious endeavour, we have at length succeeded in obtaining, and which we are now seeking to bring into operation throughout the length and breadth of the land.
The first step towards obtaining what we want, ever is to know what we want; and since in this case we cannot purchase the article ready-made, but have to fabricate it for ourselves, it is not sufficient to have a bare name for it, or a vague apprehension about it, but we must be conversant with its nature, characteristics, and uses.
Let us further simplify and enlarge the scope of the question, and ask what is the object of all the education, public or private, which we give, or seek to give, to our children? What, in short, is the purpose of education?
Using the term education in its broad sense, and without reference to technical instruction in special subjects, we can only answer, that its purpose is to make children into good and capable men and women by cultivating their intelligence and their moral sense, or conscience.
It follows, if we agree to this definition, that we are bound to reject as worse than useless, any instruction which is calculated to repress or pervert either of those faculties from their proper healthy development.
Those who at first hesitate to acquiesce in this definition, in the belief that education should have a more special object, such as to make good Christians, good Catholics, good Protestants, good Churchmen, or good Nonconformists, must on a little reflection perceive that
they cannot really mean to rank the intelligence and moral sense as secondary and subordinate to such ends, but that they only desire people to be good Christians, good Churchmen, and so on, because the fact of being so would, in their view, involve the best culture of the faculties in question. So that if they believed it did not involve this end, they would abandon their preference for such denominations. That is, they would rather have people to be good men and bad (say) Nonconformists, than good Nonconformists and bad men.
Agreeing, then, that the object of education is the development of the intellect and moral sense, we shall, no doubt, further agree that the best chance of successfully cultivating those desirable qualities which we designate virtues, lies in impressing the mind while young with the most elevated and winning examples of them, and guarding it from any familiarity with their opposites; and that it is because we deem such qualities to be best, that we regard the Deity as possessing them in the Infinite, and hold up as a pattern of life the most perfect example of them in the finite.
Yet, though agreeing both in the object and method of education when thus plainly put before us, so ingeniously perverse and inconsistent are we that we first refuse to agree upon any common system of instruction whatever, and then we insist upon neutralising or vitiating such instruction as we do agree upon, by mingling it with teaching which is at once repressive of the Intellect, and injurious to the Moral Sense.
The sole impediment to the success of our efforts, the rock upon which all our hopes of rescuing the mass of our countrymen from ignorance and barbarism are in danger of being dashed, consists in the unreasoning and indiscriminate
veneration in which the Bible is popularly held among us. Impelled by that veneration, we hesitate not to degrade our children’s view of Deity by familiarising them with a literature in which He is represented as feeble, treacherous, implacable, and unjust; and confound at once their Intelligence and Moral Sense, by compelling them to regard that literature as altogether divine and infallible.
Strange infatuation and inconsistency, if, after toiling for years to obtain an effective system of national education, we either abandon the task as hopeless, or insist upon accompanying it by teaching which involves a fatal outrage upon the very intellect and conscience which it is the express purpose of that education to foster and develop!
Before considering the action of the School-boards, I must advert for a moment to the principle of their constitution.
There is this difference between Government by Representation and Government by Delegation. It is the duty of the mere delegate to vote on any given question precisely as a majority of his constituents may instruct him. The deliberative function rests with them. He is their faithful, but unintelligent instrument. The representative, on the contrary, is selected on account of his superior faculties or attainments, to go on behalf of his constituents to the headquarters of information, and there, in conference with other selected intellects, form the best judgment in his power; his constituents determining only the general principles and direction of his policy.
The School-boards which are charged with the determination of our new educational system, having been selected on this principle of representation, we are entitled to look to their superior intelligence to supplement popular deficiencies; to be superior to popular prejudices; to be teachers, and, if need be, rebukers, rather than followers and flatterers of the less instructed masses: and it is due to such bodies that we carefully examine the methods by which they propose to deal with existing difficulties.
Those difficulties turning exclusively upon Religion, one great step towards their solution has been gained by the agreement to exclude from the common schools such minor subjects of difference as the creeds and catechisms of particular denominations. The Bible remains, the sole stumbling-block and rock of offence.
The London Board may be taken as representative not only of the largest and most intelligent body of constituents, but also of all the other School-boards. I propose, therefore, to deal with the propositions by which the members of that Board have sought to meet the “religious difficulty.” They are six in number
1. That the Bible be excluded altogether, on the ground that its admission is inconsistent with religious equality.
2. That the Bible be admitted and read, but without note or comment.
3. That the Bible be read for the purpose of religious culture, at the discretion of the teacher.
4. That the teacher’s discretion in the use of the Bible be so restricted as to exclude the distinctive doctrines of any sect.
5. That no principle respecting the use of the Bible
be laid down, but that each separate school be dealt with by itself.
6. That the Bible be read with such explanations in matters of language, history, customs, &c., as may be needed to make its meaning plain; and that there be given such instruction in its teaching, on the first principles of morality and religion, as is suitable to the capacities of children; always excluding denominational teaching.
The Fifth Resolution, “that no principle be laid down,” aptly describes the condition of the question up to that point. In the absence of a definition of its object, it was impossible for the Board to lay down any principle for its guidance. In the absence of any controlling definition, it could only look back to its constituents to see what they would bear from it. And looking to the confused mass of public opinion and prejudice in the absence of any light of one’s own, is like shutting one’s eyes to avoid seeing the dark.
Travelling one day by a railway on which there are several tunnels, I observed that whenever the train entered a tunnel, a little boy who sat next to me, immediately pressed his hands over his eyes, and buried his face in the cushions. To my inquiry why he did this, he answered that it was because he was afraid of the dark. I asked him whether it was not just as dark to him when his face was buried in the cushions. He said yes; but he had not thought of that, and he would not know now what to do. I could not bear to deprive him of his faith, however unenlightened, without giving him another. A lamp was burning in the roof of the carriage, too dim in the broad daylight to have attracted his attention, yet bright enough to dispel the gloom of
the tunnel. I suggested that, instead of covering his face, he would do better to keep his eyes fixed on the lamp. The little fellow brightened with joy at the thought; and during the rest of the journey, the instant we entered a tunnel, there he was, no longer fearful and burying himself in deeper darkness, but steadfastly looking to the light that shone above him.
“Look to the light!” is no bad maxim even for those who have to determine grave questions for the benefit of others. We have but to “look to the light” of the definition we have already agreed upon, and difficulties fly like darkness before the approaching dawn. Even the difficulties themselves, like Daphne before the Sun-god, are apt to turn into flowers for our delectation.
The Sixth Resolution, that proposed by Dr. Angus, and supported by Professor Huxley, is the first that shows any consciousness that there is a light to which we may look for encouragement and guidance. “That instruction should be given in the Bible on the first principles of morality and religion.” According to our definition, Education consists in the cultivation of the Intelligence and the Moral Sense. This is the light on which the gaze must be so steadily fixed, that no conflicting influences shall be capable of diverting our attention. Interpreted by it, the Bible itself bears witness to the way in which it should be used. Here, in full accordance with it, is one of its utterances, “God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation, he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.” (Acts X, 34-5.) Acting in this spirit, our School-boards will be no respecters of authors or books, but in every writing that, and that only, “which feareth God and worketh righteousness,” shall be accepted by them. Here is another,
also on the positive side: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. IV, 8.) And another seems to define that Scripture or writing, as alone given by a holy inspiration, which “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim. III, 16.) And on the negative side we have “Refuse profane and old wives’ fables;” (1 Tim. IV, 7.) “not giving heed to Jewish fables.” (Titus I, 14.) “But all uncleanness let it not be once named among you;” “for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” (Eph. V, 3, 12.) And one more on the positive side. “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. X, 31.)
Yet with these plain rules for our guidance, not one of the resolutions proposes to place any restriction upon the use of the Bible by the children. One, indeed, proposes to exclude it bodily from the schools, the good and the evil together, but upon grounds in no way connected with its fitness for the perusal of youth. And even the resolution finally accepted by the Board, while ambiguously proposing “to give from the Bible such instruction in the principles of religion and morality as is suitable to the capacities of children,” ventures on no protest against the Bible as it now stands being put into the hands of children at all.
The fact is, that the members have allowed themselves to be so exclusively guided by the “winds” of popular “doctrine,” that they “have omitted the weightier matters of the law” of morality, and “passed over judgment and the love of God.”
The reason is not far to seek. A representative body would not be representative were any wide interval to intervene between its own intelligence and attainments and those of its constituents. The latter can be guided in their selection only by the light they possess; not by that which they do not possess. Wherefore, for the School-board to have passed any more radical Resolution than that which it did pass, would have been for it to have made itself, not the representative, but the independent superior of the body which elected it. The primary defect, therefore, lies with the people at large. It is the vast amount of bigoted ignorance and superstition still remaining among us that constitutes the real obstacle to any sound system of national education. It is the elders who require to be instructed, before we can begin to teach the children. It is true that a transition has begun. But every step of the progress from the old to the new, from darkness to light, is so vehemently opposed by the vested interests of the dead past, that the patience of those who believe in the possibility of progress may well be exhausted, and their faith quenched in despair.
To be effectual, therefore, remonstrance must be addressed to the people at large, rather than to their representatives on the School-boards. The transition of which I spoke as having already begun, is the transition from a morality affecting to be based upon theology, to a religion really based upon morality, and, consequently, to a sound system of morality. This transition must attain a far more advanced stage in its progress before the School-board can even begin to carry out the Resolution
it has passed. It is absolutely impossible to “give from the Bible, instruction in the principles of morality and religion suitable to children,” until the popular theory respecting the Bible, and the theology based upon it, is so vastly modified as to amount to an almost total renunciation of that theory. The absolute and irreconcilable antagonism between what is called Biblical Theology and the modern principles of “Religion and Morality,” cannot be too distinctly asserted or loudly proclaimed, if we sincerely desire our children to have an education really consisting in the development of their intelligence and moral sense.
Valuing the Bible highly as I do, for very much that is very valuable in it, it is no grateful task to have to search out and expose the characteristics which render it an unsuitable basis for the instruction of children, whether in morality or in religion. Such exposure, however, being indispensable to the solution of the problem of our national education, to shrink from it would be to abandon that problem as insoluble, that education as impossible.
Bearing always in mind our definition of the purpose and method of education, namely the development of the intelligence and moral sense by the inculcation of “the true, the pure, and the honest,” – bearing in mind also the fundamental fact in human nature, that man’s view of Deity inevitably reacts upon himself, tending to form him in the image of his own ideal, – it is self-evident that to familiarise children with the imperfect morality, the coarse manners and expressions, the rude
fables, and the degrading ideas of Deity, appertaining to a people low in culture – such as were the Israelites – and to confound their minds and consciences at the most impressible period of life by telling them that such narratives and representations are all divinely inspired and infallibly true, – is to utterly stultify ourselves and the whole of the principles by which we profess to be actuated in giving them an education at all. Did we find any others than ourselves, say South Sea savages, putting into the hands of their children, books containing coarse and impure stories, detailing the morbid anatomy of the most execrable vices, extolling deeds prompted by a spirit of the lowest selfishness, exulting in fraud, rapine, and murder, and justifying whatever is most disgraceful to humanity by representing it as prompted or approved by their Deity, and so making Him altogether such an one as themselves, – surely we should say that they must indeed be savages of the lowest and most degraded type, and sad proofs of the utter depravity of human nature.
In investigating from our present point of view the contents of this most read, yet most misread, of books, we must dismiss from our minds any idea that its most objectionable features are amenable to revision or retranslation. The faults thus removable are but as freckles upon the skin compared with a constitutional taint. For it is the spirit as well as the letter of a large portion of it, that whether “for reproof, for correction, or for instruction in righteousness,” is hopelessly in fault: and the spirit of a book is of infinitely greater importance than its superficial details.
Palpable to the eyes of all are the hideous tales of
(XXXVII.) the massacre of the Shechemites; (XXXIV.) the Levite of Ephraim; (Jud. XIX.) David and Bathsheba; (2 Sam. IX.) Amnon and his sister; (XIII.) and whole chapters in Leviticus and the Prophets. That such things should be in a book given freely to children to read, and that they should be expected notwithstanding to grow up pure and uncontaminated in mind and habit, is one of those anomalies in the British character which makes it a hopeless puzzle to the world. Who can say that much of the viciousness at present prevalent among us, is not attributable to early curiosity being aroused and stimulated by the obscenities of the Old Testament? To put the Bible as it is into the hands of our children, is not only totally to bewilder their sense of right and wrong, – it is to invite familiarity with the idea of the worst Oriental vices.
Even in the case of those vices being mentioned only to be denounced, the suggestion is apt to remain, and the denunciation to be disregarded. It notoriously is injudicious to put into the minds of children faults of which they might never have thought themselves, for the sake of admonishing them against them. It is related somewhere that a catalogue of offences punishable by law was once posted in the Roman forum as a warning to the citizens; but that this was followed by such a vast increase in the number and variety of the crimes committed, that it was found advisable to remove it. I myself know an instance of a pious mother sending her daughter to a boarding-school, having first written in her Bible a list of the chapters and passages which she was not to read. It is remarkable how popular in the school that particular Bible became. The other girls were always borrowing it. There is no reason to suppose that boys would have acted differently.
It is true that the particular instances I have adduced may not be immoral as they stand in the Bible, but they are assuredly provocative of immorality in children who read them. A far more serious indictment against the Bible as a handbook of moral instruction must be founded on its habit of representing the Deity as a consenting party to some of the worst actions of its characters nay, so unreliable is it as a basis of anything whatever, that after thus characterising the Deity, it deals in strong denunciations against those “who not only commit such things themselves, but have pleasure in them that do them;” (Rom. I, 32.) thus, by direct implication condemning the Deity Himself. If it be desirable to impress upon children the belief that only those “who fear God and work righteousness are acceptable to him,” it is to stultify the whole principle of their education to represent Him to them as an eastern monarch, selecting his favourites by caprice, and independently of any merit or demerit on their part. Yet the entire Bible rests upon the idea that so far from being an equal Father of all, “whose tender mercies are over all His works,” (Ps. CXLV, 9.) the Almighty selected out of all mankind one race to be “His own peculiar people,” (Deut. XIV, 9.) and out of that race certain individuals to be His own peculiar favourites, and this in spite of the most glaring defects in their characters and conduct; and sustained those whom He had thus chosen through the whole course of their misdeeds.
Thus, Abraham is said to have had “faith,” and this faith is said to have been “imputed to him for righteousness;” (Rom. IV, 22.) but how far was his actual conduct righteous, and how much faith did it imply? Assured by repeated promises of the divine favour and protection,
as well as of a great posterity through his then childless wife Sarai, he twice voluntarily prostituted her to Pagan chieftains, pretending that she was only his sister. And we read that “the Lord plagued,” – not the liar and poltroon who thus degraded his wife, and entrapped the kings, whose hospitality he was enjoying; – not the wife so extraordinarily ready to “obey her husband in all things;” (it appears that her age was about sixty-five on one occasion, and ninety on the other); – but “the Lord plagued Pharaoh and Abimelech with great plagues because of Sarai, Abraham’s wife,” and in the case of the latter, would only grant forgiveness upon the intercession of Abraham, saying, “for he is a prophet.” (Gen. XII, 20.) Isaac, we read, copied the twice committed fault of his father, in passing off his wife Rebekah as his sister upon another king, and was divinely blessed notwithstanding. In short, in all three transactions, out of the whole of the parties to them, Abraham, Isaac, Sarai, Rebekah, the three kings, and the Deity, those only who indicate the possession of any moral sense whatever are the Pagan kings, who show it in no small degree, and these alone are punished; while Abraham and Isaac retain the divine favour throughout, the former being honoured by the distinctive title of “Friend of God.” (James II, 23.)
The selfishness and cowardice of Abraham are still farther illustrated by his treatment of Hagar and Ishmael. There is no reason to doubt the perfect truthfulness of the Bible narrative in respect to him. But when it goes on to represent the Deity as encouraging him in his cruel and unfatherly conduct to his son, and bidding him follow the lead of a frivolous and heartless wife; – “In all that Sarai hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice;” (Gen. XXI, 12.) then our moral sense is
offended, and we refuse to identify the God of Abraham with the God of our own clearer perceptions.
The utter indifference of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” to any moral law whatever, reaches its climax in the history of Jacob. A liar and a trickster from early youth, yet constantly enjoying the presence and approbation of God, who finds no word or sign of reproach wherewith to touch his conscience or arouse his fears, – such is the patriarch whom the Bible sets forth as one of God’s especial favourites, because, forsooth, he had “faith.” In presence of this mystic quality, right and wrong sink into absolute nothingness; and that most fatal of all impieties, a total divorce between the will of God and the moral law, finds its plea and justification. It is little that I would give for the moral sensibility of the child who could read without a pang of indignation and a tear of pity the tale of this ingrained blackleg’s atrocities; his taking advantage of his rough, honest-hearted brother’s extremity of exhaustion through hunger to extort from him his birthright; (Gen. XXV.) his heartless deception of his poor, blind old father; (XXVII.) his repeated cheats, thefts, and falsehoods against his father-in-law; (XXX, &c.) and the divine confirmation to him of the blessings thus fraudulently acquired; “yea, and he shall be blessed,” and constant assurance of the divine presence and approbation.
It is without a word of repudiation that the Bible acquiesces in Jacob’s degradation of the Deity to a huckstering or bargaining God; a God, too, who can be got the better of in a business transaction. For, “Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in
peace; then shall the Lord be my God; and this stone which I have set for a pillar shall be God’s house; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” (XXVIII, 20, &c.)
When the Israelites reach the Promised Land, their “sacred history” consists of little beside perpetual butcheries. The more directly they are represented as being under divine guidance, the more sanguinary is their career. Slaughter of men, women, children, infants at the breast. None spared, none, except, sometimes – and mark the exception made by the followers, not of Mahomet, but of Jehovah – the unmarried girls. Every sentiment of humanity and mercy is accounted an unpardonable weakness. Jehovah appears as a savage patriot-God, approving impurity, treachery, murder, and whatever else was perpetrated on the side of his “chosen people.” A Bushman of South Africa being once asked to define the difference between good and evil, replied, “It is good when I steal another man’s wives; evil when another man steals mine.” Such is precisely the standard of right and wrong laid down by the Bible in respect to the Israelites and their neighbours. Can we wonder that recent moralists have written to vindicate the Almighty from the aspersions cast upon his character in the Bible. (1)
In all the events of the late dreadful war upon the Continent, probably no single incident caused such a thrill of horror as that of the wounded German soldier who staggered from the field of battle into a peasant’s cottage, and fell fainting upon the bed, and only lived long enough to tell his comrades how that the women of the cottage had taken advantage of his helpless condition to pick out his eyes with a fork. Possibly the French
woman had heard of the blessing pronounced upon Jael for a similar act. Possibly she had learned from “Sacred History” that the most revolting perfidy and cruelty become heroic virtues when exercised upon one’s own side. And were not we Europeans of to-day, with all our faults, infinitely in advance of those bad times, we too might find a patriot-poet rivalling the utterances of the “divinely-inspired” Deborah, to laud the French tigress as the Jewish one was lauded, detail with rapturous glee every particular of the fiendish deed, and mock the wretched victim’s mother watching and longing in vain for her murdered son’s return.
Nay, the conduct of her whom the Bible pronounces as “blessed above women,” was even more flagrant in its utter heinousness than that of the French woman. For the husband of Jael had severed himself from the hostile peoples; “there was peace between Jabin, the King of Hazor, and the house of Heber, the Kenite;” and he dwelt, a friendly neutral, in a region apart. The general Sisera, moreover, utterly beaten and discomfited, had fled expressly to Jael’s tent for safety, knowing the family to be friendly, and she had invited him in with assurances of protection. “Turn in, my lord, fear not.” (Jud. IV.)
While Abraham is described as “the friend of God,” to David is awarded the honour of being styled “a man after God’s own heart;” (1 Sam. XIII, 14; Acts XIII, 22.) “who turned not away from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only “in one particular instance. (1 Kings XV, 5.) In order to see how little the Bible is fitted for the instruction of children in respect of a moral sense, let us brush aside for a moment the halo with which the name of David is surrounded,
and read his history for ourselves. It is through want of doing this, that a popular writer has recently described his life as uniformly “bright and beautiful up to the time of his one great sin.” (1) Yet, his career, soon after the intrepid act which first brought him into notice, was one of rebellion and brigandage. Collecting all that were in debt, distress, and discontent, (1 Sam. XXII, 2.) he organised them into bands of freebooters to levy blackmail upon the farmers. One of these, named Nabal, when applied to on account of David, boldly and naturally answered, “Who is David and who is this son of Jesse? there be many servants now-a-days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be?”
However, Abigail, the wife of Nabal, touched by her servant’s account of the gallantry of the band, took of her husband’s stores and gave liberally to them. Upon this David assured her that, but for her conduct, he would not have left even a dog of Nabal’s household alive by next morning. A few days afterwards Nabal died; the Bible, as if to remove any suspicion of foul play, stating that “the Lord smote him;” when David immediately took Abigail to be his own wife. (1 Sam. XXV.)
When the great contest took place between the Philistines and the Israelites, in which the latter were utterly routed, and Saul and Jonathan, David’s bosom friend, were slain, David with his forces stood aloof, unheeding the peril of his countrymen. (1 Sam. XXX.) The crown thus devolved upon Ishbosheth the son of Saul, who was supported by eleven out of the twelve tribes. David,
not accept their choice, even though the whole strength of
On one occasion, after defeating the Moabites, David, we read, assembled all the people of that nation on a plain, made them lie down, and divided them into three groups with a line. Two of these groups he put to death, and the other he reduced to slavery. (2 Sam. VIII, 2.) The conquered Ammonites he treated with even greater ferocity, tearing and hewing some of them in pieces with
and saws, and roasting others in brick-kilns. (XII, 31.) His luxury and
voluptuousness equalled his cruelty. Having had seven wives while he ruled over
It appears that there was then in
Old age and infirmity wrought no amendment in the truculent spirit of David; a spirit so truculent as to make it morally impossible that he could really have been the author of any of those psalms which in after ages it pleased his countrymen to ascribe to him; excepting only, perhaps, the more ferocious of them. He has been called, “the Byron of the Bible,” which, after what has just been stated, seems exceedingly unfair to Byron.
Early in David’s career of blood, one Shimei had, in generous indignation, cursed him for his murder of the sons of Saul. (2 Sam. XVI.) He had afterwards begged forgiveness and received it. (XIX, 16-23.) Yet David’s last instructions to Solomon were in this wise – “Behold thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I came to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the Lord, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now, therefore, hold him not guiltless . . . but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood. So David slept with his fathers.” (1 Kings II, 8-10, &c.) And Solomon “commanded Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, which went out and fell upon Shimei, that he died.” (46.) “And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David, his father.” And “the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ask what I shall give thee. And Solomon said, Thou hast shown unto thy servant David, my father, great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee: and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne. . . . And God said unto him . . . if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then will I lengthen thy days.” (1 Kings III.)
The mystery of these astounding utterances is not far to seek. History in those days was the work of the sacerdotal class. To support and subserve that class was then, as it has been, for the most part, ever since, to be pronounced, “beloved of the Lord,” no matter how evil the individual really was, or how derogatory to the divine
honour it might be to have such a preference ascribed to it. To have “faith” in the priests counterbalanced and condoned any quantity of wicked “works.” Their standard of right and wrong, good and evil, was that of the Bushman. Whatever was for them was good; whatever was against them was evil. It is, then, for us seriously to ask ourselves whether, when we set before our children as a fit object of worship such a being as the Bible represents the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Samuel, David, and Solomon, to have been, we are ministering towards the end we have in view in giving to them an education; or whether, in place of raising them in the scale of being, we are not rather ministering to the total degradation in them of the human soul.
(18:1) E.g. Theodore Parker in America, and Dr. Perfitt in England.
(20:1) Miss Yonge, in Musings on the Christian Year.
The character of Jesus is as variously drawn in the New Testament as that of the Deity in the Old; and those who desire the children in our schools to recognise in him the perfect man and infallible Teacher, should, to be consistent, be the very last to wish them to read the New Testament “without note or comment.” Too often it happens that the explanatory lessons with which the Scriptures are accompanied, are utterly pernicious, and even blasphemous. This very year, a youth who has been for some years a student in one of the wealthiest of our public foundation-schools, was required to give some instances of human feeling on the part of Jesus. Of the value, whether intellectually or religiously, of the education given at that school, we may judge by his answer. Of the tender sympathy shown by Jesus towards all who were suffering; of his unselfish devotion to the cause of the poor and the depraved; of his noble indignation against injustice and oppression; of his intense sense of a personal Father in God, and instinctive detestation of all sacerdotal interference; – of all these so eminently human characteristics, our scholar said nothing. The result of his compulsory attendance at the school chapel every morning, and at two full services every
Sunday, beside much other Scripture instruction, was to impress upon him the belief that whatever is human is bad, and whatever is bad is human. He concluded, therefore, that by human feeling on the part of Jesus, an instance of something bad was intended. And he actually sent up for answer, as a solitary instance of human feeling on the part of Jesus, the story of his losing his temper, and cursing a fig-tree for being barren when it was not the season for figs! (Mark XI, 13, 14, 21.)
As any explanations which accompany the reading of the Old Testament should be contrived to disabuse children of the notion that the Deity could ever have been such a being as is there described, so in reading of Jesus in the New Testament they should be told that there are indications of a better man than the Gospels make him, peeping out through the corrupted text. “It is impossible that such love and devotion as followed him throughout his life could ever have been won by a hard, unjust, or intolerant character.” Yet he is represented as more than once addressing his admirable and devoted mother in a rough, unfilial tone; (John II, 4; Luke II, 4.) and launching most uncalled for reproaches at a gentleman of whose hospitality he was partaking, on the occasion of a woman coming in and washing his feet with her tears, and wiping them with her hair. (Luke VII, 32-50.)
Nor can there be any doubt as to what must be their natural judgment of the spirit of one who could describe his own mission in these terms: “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever will deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace, but a
sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” (Matt. X, 32-36.) Hardly will they reconcile this with the promise of his birth-song, “On earth peace, good-will toward men;” (Luke II, 14.) but will hastily conclude that the angels were sadly misinformed. And when they read that one who is elsewhere described as “going about teaching and healing” among a people who were “perishing for lack of knowledge,” uttered to his disciples such words as these, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but unto others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand;” (Luke VIII, 8.) and read further, “Therefore they could not believe, because he hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them; “ (John XII, 39, 40.) – and from these fearful utterances, turn to the declaration, that this same Jesus had received “all power in heaven and earth;” (Matt. XXVIII, 18.) and that he “came not to judge but to save the world;” (John XII, 27.) came especially “to seek and to save that which was lost;” (Luke XIX, 10.) it will be no wonder if their souls finally succumb to despair, and they cry to their teachers, “Be merciful: take away from us this book, if you dare not explain to us its meaning.”
I shall conclude the present lecture by pointing out the notable contradiction apparent between the Bible
and the fact of the world’s present existence. The New Testament contains scarcely a passage of any length that does not make some allusion to the near approach of the end of the world.
We may conceive the perplexity of children when after reading in ordinary history the events of the eighteen hundred years, with their piteous tale of cruelty and oppression, disease and death, they open their Bibles and read that, all those centuries ago, men were summoned to repent because “the kingdom of heaven was then “at hand;” (Matt. IV, 17.) and find that by “the kingdom of heaven” was meant, not merely a social or moral regeneration, though the phrase is sometime used in this sense, but the personal second coming of Christ, and end of all things. That both the Baptist and Jesus preached thus: that the twelve apostles were sent forth to preach thus; (X, 7.) that the seventy were charged with injunctions to announce to the inhabitants of any city on their entry, “the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you;” (Luke X, 8-11.) that Jesus represented himself as a nobleman who had gone into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return; and instructed his disciples in these terms, “Occupy till I come;” (XIX, 13.) that this was the kingdom for which Joseph of Arimathea “waited;” (XXIII, 51.) unto which Paul prayed that he might be preserved; (2 Tim. IV, 18.) charging Timothy to “keep the commandment. . . . . until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Tim. VI, 14.)
How bewildering to the youthful intelligence, to perceive the world still going on much in its old track, slowly elaborating its own destiny, and to find in the records of its history no trace of the dread phenomena
which they read in their Testaments were to portend and accompany the return of
the Son of Man and of God, – the darkened sun, the falling stars, the bloodshot
moon, the roaring sea, the myriad hosts of heaven, the voice of the archangel,
and the trump of God; the judgment of the quick and dead, the wailing of the
lost, and the gathering of the elect from the four winds of heaven, the
resurrection of those who slept, the ecstasy of “we who remain,” as Paul said, (1
IV, 15-17.) when “caught up to meet the Lord in the air,” on his “coming in the
clouds of heaven with power and great glory;” (Matt. XXIV, 29-35.) for which all the
disciples ere bid to watch; (Mark
XIII, 37.) and which some of them were still to be alive on earth to see. For
Jesus had said, “Verily I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand
here now which shall not taste of death till they have seen the kingdom of God
come with power.” (Matt.
XVI, 28; Mark XI, 1; Luke XIX, 27.) “Immediately after the tribulation of those days:” and, “Verily say unto you,
this generation shall not pass away, until all these things shall be fulfilled.”
(Matt. XXIV, 29, 35.) Add, too, the
assurance of the angels to the disciples as they stood watching the Ascension,
that he should return “in like manner;” (Acts I, 11.) add the declaration of Peter
that “the end of all things is at hand;” (1 Pet. IV, 7.) add the admonition of Paul
to the Romans, “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our
salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at
shortly come to pass;” and concluding with the declaration, “Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” – a book which, claiming to be the fine utterance of divine truth, is charged with dire curse against any who should add to it; instead of saying, rather, “to be continued, so long as God continues to work in man,” – add, I say, to all that has been set fort these and the yet other numerous similar intimations of the then expected rapidly approaching end; set children to read them “without note or comment,” but with the belief which they will inevitably acquire, from the fact of the Bible being put into their hands without information to the contrary, – the belief that it must therefore be all infallibly true, that God did speak, the Lord did say, all the things therein ascribed to him; and then, if they retain any particle of intelligence whatever, most surely they will have but a confused idea of God, a confused idea of man, and a confused idea of the relations between them; a confused idea of right and wrong, a confused idea of faith and fact; or rather, we may confidently declare, a false and pernicious idea of all things whatsoever, in heaven and earth, from beginning to end.