Vol.1. Springfield, Mass., April 12, 1899. No.4
A weekly publication of Sermons, Essays and Addresses, in exposition of the Universalist Faith and practice, issued by Rev. Charles Conklin at 14 Lafayette St., Springfield, Mass.
Subscription price 50 cts. per year. Single copies 2 cts. 10 or more copies 1 cent each. 110 for $1. 250 for $2. 500 for $3.50.
UNIVERSALIST BELIEF IN THE BIBLE
Theories about the Bible are not so important as the facts concerning the Bible, and the truths which the Bible contains.
There are three classes of Bible readers. First, are those who proclaim that every sentence of it is perfect and holy, given us directly of God; to doubt which is unspeakable sin. Secondly, are those who search for its mistakes, dwell on its errors of science, scoff at the moral weakness of some of its characters and ridicule the claim of infallibility set up by its champions. Thirdly, are those who study it with free minds and open hearts; whose thought is not fettered by tradition and whose feeling is not dulled by criticism; who see the mistakes in the Bible and see its thousand-fold greater virtues; who appreciate its power over the lives of men and would come into fellowship with its inspiring genius.
Universalists were among the pioneers of this third class. It does not occur to us that the Bible needs any special pleading-any exaggeration of its claims or any hiding of its faults. It has merits to carry its own faults with, even as a great battleship is victorious notwithstanding its barnacles and its bilge water.
Hamilton and Lincoln were not without their weaknesses-which we neither parade nor deny. They had such majesty of intellect, they were so richly endowed with moral conviction, their greatness rises so clearly and sublimely above their shortcomings, that the whole world may know all about them. We should seem to doubt their abilities and their honesties if we denied their weaknesses. We should consider it a like slender confidence in the Bible if we feared to confess that it contains an error.
By its fruits you shall know it. What the Bible has done shows what the Bible is.
Every nation in history, every church in history, every age, that has been a Bible-reading nation or church or age, has borne the fruit of its Bible-reading in personal virtue, in public morality, in political freedom, in popular education, in the spirit of brotherhood, in the sanctity of home life, in the general uplift of character and the forces which make for universal progress.
The ancient Hebrews were Bible-readers and Bible-writers. They were the most highly moralized people of their day. Their domestic and social relations had an abiding atmosphere of purity nowhere else to be found. They were the first to outgrow and denounce and put away the vice of polygamy and the crime of slavery. They led the world in declaring that the worship of God was the love of goodness, and that salvation for man was to do good and be good.
The early Christians were Bible-readers and Bible-writers. They were moral reformers beyond compare. They made conscience the voice of God in the soul. They demanded perfect cleanliness of heart and conduct. The cardinal virtues of honesty and truthfulness and sobriety and chastity were the fundamental requirements of their religion. They proclaimed the absolute brotherhood of man, and they practiced the doctrine. They sent forth a spirit of ethical sanctity and human kindliness which transformed the Roman empire.
When the later church, the so-called Christian church, the church of the popes, ceased to be a Bible-reading church, all the old crimes and vices of the empire came back into it.
When the Italian renaissance came, as a wondrous awakening of the mind, as a brilliant revival of learning; when art and literature and music and science came to this reborn Italy, but came without the Bible,- there was no moral reformation. An age of the most remarkable intelligence that ever flashed upon the world, with no Bible reading, left Italy unregenerate, besotted, helpless and dying in her vices.
When Erasmus and Luther and Melangthon made Germany a Bible-reading nation it rose from the slime of the middle ages, with a washing of regenerated morality, and set out on that vast forward march which has placed it in the forefront of civilizing and refining powers.
With an open Bible in every home, and with texts of Scripture woven into its daily speech, the liberty of little Holland defied the tyranny of great Spain; fought through seas of blood to those principles of justice and equality which made the Dutch republic the teacher and inspirer of the modern world.
When Puritanism set all England to reading the Bible the shameless vices which England had copied from Italy were shamed back into the darkness; the tyranny of kings and the contempt of the aristocracy for the common people were effectually disposed of. It was Cromwell's Bible, more than the sword of Cromwell, which gave political freedom. and social order to the English yeomanry.
France undertook to rebuke her tyrants -with the sword alone, and without using the Bible, and every new reformer, from Danton to Napoleon, became in his turn a -worse tyrant than any they had slain.
Scotland for the last four centuries has been the most enthusiastic Bible-reading country in Christendom, and Do other country in the world with such disadvantages of soil and climate ever made such progress in civilization. Arid, stormy. frozen, rocky, heathery, boggy Scotland has stood for moral principles which were as firm as Ben Lemond and as clear as Loch Katrine. Her people have been in the front rank of great leaders in scholarship and literature and philosophy and practical invention and finance. You never hear of an English parliament being called upon to do something for poor Scotland. . England has enough to do to keep Scotland from buying her up.
Well, here was our own New England, with its bleak hills and its thin soil, with sand heaps and stones and swamps and horrible winters, but with its ever-present and perpetually studied Bible-and what else had it, along with its Bible? It had a moral character, a sense of justice and truth and purity, which will be the glory of this nation as long as the nation endures.
It had popular education, with high schools and academies and colleges and universities gleaming all over it like gems on the robe of en Oriental princess. It had a people who lived in homes, and owned their homes, and loved the sacredness of home. It had the cleanest literature, and some of the noblest, that ever was written; for not a line of which any mother needs to blush. It had the principles of liberty and the spirit of patriotism and the genius for social order, the freedom of speech and the obedience to authority, which are the lasting foundations of good government.
Look at those nations which are without the Bible-Turkey, Persia, China: look at those countries with a so-called Christianity, which is not a Bible-reading Christianity-Spain, Italy, Russia, south Ireland, South America; and see what a difference it makes whether the life of a people is grounded in Scripture!
We need not worry about the mistakes in a book which has traveled down through the centuries and the nations with that kind of influence; and the absence of which from any age or country is as the absence of sunlight.
Is the Bible a book or a literature? In form it is a literature; in spirit it is a book.
It is in sixty or seventy parts. It was written by forty or fifty men. It contains history and biography' and mythology and poetry and tradition and hero stories and drama and practical philosophy and political addresses and plans of government and national statistics and theological disquisitions and liturgies and sermons and prayers and hymns and pastoral letters and prophetic vision: and moral teaching. The time of the writing covers at least fourteen centuries. It is a collection. Indeed, it is two collections. It looks like two literatures. Quite correctly, it is what we have left of two literatures.
The New Testament is what remains of apostolic writing. Perhaps the apostles wrote a hundred times as much as we have in the New Testament. Here are the books, letters, fragments, which were preserved. The Old Testament, with the apocrypha, comprises practically all that is left of Hebrew writing on all subjects prior to the time of Christ. The Hebrew people must have written a thousand times as much as we have here. Here are only such portions as have been preserved from the mold and fire and loss of the centuries.
A very important fact is that much of the Bible is of a fragmentary nature, as if a few leaves, here and there, had been saved from the general wreckage of complete books. These bits and pieces, of two literatures, gathered from the waste of fourteen centuries, are set in order and bound in a single volume, and we call it a book. Here is the marvel of it-these fragments actually read like a book. There is one vast spirit, the spirit of religion, brooding over them all, infusing them all with its own genius, and subduing them all do its own high purpose.
"The Bible is not an inspired record; it is a record of inspiration."
Thus wisely speaks our good Dr. Adams. By these fragments we understard that the Hebrews had no other kind of writing than religious writing. Whether they wrote history or philosophy or drama, it was religious. They studied nothing else than the religious problem. The early Christians, coming after them and inspired by them, studied nothing else. That persistent study of the centuries could not fail of its reward. The habit of thought and feeling, in an entire race, for more than forty generations, was a religious habit.' God requires conditions. He always meets and fills the condition. He inspires those who are prepared to receive inspiration. Here was an age long culture that produced a nation of the prepared. Into such open-mindedness and earne st-heartedness the divine truth beamed, as the sunlight floods a room when blinds and curtains are withdrawn. We need not wonder that the scattered. fragments from the literature of such a people became a Holy Scripture for the rest of the world.
The Bible is the world's treasury of religious expression.
Whoever would pray in secret; whoever would join in public worship; whoever would write a devotional service; whoever would voice the feeling of reverence and trust, or speak the majesty and the holiness and the love of God; whoever would put his divinest aspirations into words; whoever would use 'the language of penitence, or express his joy at being forgiven, or tell the immortal hopes which rise within him; whoever would illustrate amoral truth, or impress men with the loftiest principles, or explain the secret workings of conscience, or set forth the ideals of life, or impress the eternal meanings of life, or picture a redeemed world, will find the language of the Bible, its illustrations and instances, its exhortations and visions, a hundredfold better suited to his task than any possible speech of his own, or than forth man's go-1liest aspirations, and mirrors every celestial purpose that struggles and mounts and attains, as truly as ever Shakespeare held up the glass to the human passions. It pictures the soul in every divine mood, in every great posture of longing and hope, in every phase of high determination and happy conquest, as accurately as the old masters painted and carved all the fine attitudes of the body. In this Bible history of the spirit, we see our own souls in "the far-flung battle line;" dragged out in the darkness; returning, bruised and torn, but with new courage; fighting their way upward against fearful odds, but fighting on, and despairing not; rallying, going forward, planting their colors farther front; growing, greatening, purifying, in every heroic effort; triumphant and radiant, at last, on their throne of holiness.
This Bible, which contains so great revelation, will be the world's guide as long as men love goodness and live reverently and feel the pulse of immortal yearning.
This leaflet is one of a weekly series designed to present, in concise form the Universalist views of all the great religious and social questions of the day. Writers of exceptional ability will present these papers. They are convenient in shape for conveyance and distribution. It is hoped that their low price will enable all interested to purchase them in large quantities for widespread diffusion. The publisher will make liberal discounts upon orders of generous proportions.
The reader is reminded that the Universalist Publishing House, 30 West St., Boston, Mass., is the denominational headquarters for Universalist and other liberal religious books, for all kinds of Sunday School Literature, and for the denominational organ, The Universalist Leader, edited by Rev. F. A. Bisbee, D. D., one of the finest religious newspapers in the world. Send for a specimen copy and mention this leaflet.
The ministry of the Universalist Church offers a field of great usefulness to those who would benefit the world by preaching its hopeful and edifying gospel. There are Universalist Theological Schools at St. Lawrence University, Canton, N.Y., Tufts College, near Boston, Mass. and at Lombard University, Galesburg, Ill. The Deans of these respective schools, if addressed, will furnish full information as to courses of study, terms of admission, living expenses and the financial means employed to help deserving students.