What is the next thing in this great creed?
"We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the record of God's revelation of Himself in the work of redemption; that they were written by man under the special guidance of the holy spirit; that they are able to make wise into salvation; and that they constitute an authoritative standard by which religious teaching and human conduct are to be regulated and judged."
This is the creed of the Congregational Church; that is, the result reached by a high-joint commission appointed to draw up a creed for their churches; and there we have the statement that the Bible was written "by men under the special guidance of the Holy Spirit."
What part of the Bible? All of it? All of it. And yet what is this Old Testament that was written by an infinitely good God? The being who wrote it did not know the shape of the world he had made; knew nothing of human nature. He commands men to love him, as if one could love upon command. The same God upheld the institution of human slavery; and the church says that the Bible that upholds that institution was written by men under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then I disagree with the Holy Spirit.
This church tells us that men under the guidance of the Holy Spirit upheld the institution of polygamy--I deny it; that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit these men upheld wars of extermination and conquest--I deny it; that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit these men wrote that it was right for a man to destroy the life of his wife if she happened to differ with him on the subject of religion--I deny it. And yet that is the book now upheld in this creed of the Congregational Church.
If the devil had written upon the subject of slavery, which side would he have taken? Let every minister answer. If you knew the devil had written a work on human slavery, in your judgment, would he uphold slavery, or denounce it? Would you regard it as any evidence that he ever wrote it, if it upheld slavery? And yet, here you have a work upholding slavery, and you say that it was written by an infinitely good God! If the devil upheld polygamy, would you be surprised? If the devil wanted to kill men for differing with him would you be astonished? If the devil told a man to kill his wife, would you be shocked? And yet, you say, that is exactly what God did. If there be a God, then that creed is blasphemy. That creed is a libel upon him who sits on heaven's throne. If there be a God, I ask him to write in the book in which my account is kept, that I denied these lies for him.
I do not believe in a slaveholding God! I do not worship a polygamous Holy Ghost, nor a Son who threatens eternal pain; I will not get upon my knees before any being who commands a husband to slay his wife because she expresses her honest thought. Suppose a book should be found old as the Old Testament in which slavery, polygamy and war are all denounced, would Christians think that it was written by the devil?
Did it ever occur to you that if God wrote the Old Testament, and told the Jews to crucify or kill anybody that disagreed with them on religion, and that this God afterward took upon himself flesh and came to Jerusalem, and taught a different religion, and the Jews killed him--did it ever occur to you that he reaped exactly what he had sown? Did it ever occur to you that he fell a victim to his own tyranny, and was destroyed by his own hand? Of course I do not believe that any God ever was the author of the Bible, or that any God was ever crucified, or that any God was ever killed, or ever will be. but I want to ask you that question.
Take this Old Testament, then, with all its stories of murder and massacre; with all its foolish and cruel fables; with all its infamous doctrines; with its spirit of caste; with its spirit of hatred, and tell me whether it was written by a good God. If you will read the maledictions and curses of that book, you will think that God, like Lear, had divided heaven among his daughters, and then, in the insanity of despair, had launched his curses on the human race.
And yet, I must say--I must admit--that the Old Testament is better than the New. In the Old Testament, when God had a man dead, he let him alone. When he saw him quietly in his grave he was satisfied. The muscles relaxed, and the frown gave place to a smile. But in the New Testament the trouble commences at death. In the New Testament God is to wreak his revenge forever and ever. It was reserved for one who said, "Love your enemies," to tear asunder the veil between time and eternity and fix the horrified gaze of man upon the gulfs of eternal fire. The New Testament is just as much worse than the Old, as hell is worse than sleep; just as much worse, as infinite cruelty is worse than dreamless dust; and yet, the New Testament is claimed to be a gospel of love and peace.
Is it possible that: "The Scriptures constitute the authoritative standard by which religious teaching and human conduct are to be regulated and judged"?
Are we to judge of conduct by the Old Testament, by the New, or by both? According to the Old, the slave-holder was a just and generous man; a polygamist was a model of virtue. According to the New, the worst can be forgiven and the best can be lost. How can any book be a standard, when the standard itself must be measured by human reason? Is there a standard of a standard? Must not the reason be convinced? and, if so, is not the reason of each man the final arbiter of that man? If he takes a book as a standard, does he so take it because it is to him reasonable? In what way is the human reason to be ignored? Why should a book take its place, unless the reason has been convinced that the book is the proper standard? If this is so, the book rests upon the reason of those who adopt it. Are they to be saved because they act in accordance with their reason, and are others to be damned because they act by the same standard--their reason? No two are alike. Can we demand of all the same result? Suppose the compasses were not constant to the pole--no two compasses exactly alike--would you expect all ships to reach the same harbor?