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Agnosticism: A Rejoinder
by [?]

And now, having, as I hope, set myself right with the public as regards the sins of commission and omission with which I have been charged, I feel free to deal with matters to which time and type may be more profitably devoted.

I believe that there is not a solitary argument I have used, or that I am about to use, which is original, or has anything to do with the fact that I have been chiefly occupied with natural science. They are all, facts and reasoning alike, either identical with, or consequential upon, propositions which are to be found in the works of scholars and theologians of the highest repute in the only two countries, Holland and Germany,[65] in which, at the present time, professors of theology are to be found, whose tenure of their posts does not depend upon the results to which their inquiries lead them.[66] It is true that, to the best of my ability, I have satisfied myself of the soundness of the foundations on which my arguments are built, and I desire to be held fully responsible for everything I say. But, nevertheless, nay position is really no more than that of an expositor; and my justification for undertaking it is simply that conviction of the supremacy of private judgment (indeed, of the impossibility of escaping it) which is the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, and which was the doctrine accepted by the vast majority of the Anglicans of my youth, before that backsliding towards the “beggarly rudiments” of an effete and idolatrous sacerdotalism which has, even now, provided us with the saddest spectacle which has been offered to the eyes of Englishmen in this generation. A high court of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, with a host of great lawyers in battle array, is and, for Heaven knows how long, will be, occupied with these very questions of “washing of cups and pots and brazen vessels,” which the Master, whose professed representatives are rending the Church over these squabbles, had in his mind when, as we are told, he uttered the scathing rebuke:–

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
This people honoureth me with their lips,
But their heart is far from me.
But in vain do they worship me,
Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.
(Mark vii. 6-7.)

Men who can be absorbed in bickerings over miserable disputes of this kind can have but little sympathy with the old evangelical doctrine of the “open Bible,” or anything but a grave misgiving of the results of diligent reading of the Bible, without the help of ecclesiastical spectacles, by the mass of the people. Greatly to the surprise of many of my friends, I have always advocated the reading of the Bible, and the diffusion of the study of that most remarkable collection of books among the people. Its teachings are so infinitely superior to those of the sects, who are just as busy now as the Pharisees were eighteen hundred years ago, in smothering them under “the precepts of men”; it is so certain, to my mind, that the Bible contains within itself the refutation of nine-tenths of the mixture of sophistical metaphysics and old-world superstition which has been piled round it by the so-called Christians of later times; it is so clear that the only immediate and ready antidote to the poison which has been mixed with Christianity, to the intoxication and delusion of mankind, lies in copious draughts from the undefiled spring, that I exercise the right and duty of free judgment on the part of every man, mainly for the purpose of inducing other laymen to follow my example. If the New Testament is translated into Zulu by Protestant missionaries, it must be assumed that a Zulu convert is competent to draw from its contents all the truths which it is necessary for him to believe. I trust that I may, without immodesty, claim to be put on the same footing as a Zulu.