William Lloyd Garrison.

Selections from the writings and speeches of William Lloyd Garrison. With an appendix .. online

. (page 18 of 33)
Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonSelections from the writings and speeches of William Lloyd Garrison. With an appendix .. → online text (page 18 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

simply because it is found in that volume, is equally absurd
and pernicious. It is the province of reason to ' search the
Scriptures,' and determine what in them is true, and what
false — what is probable, and what incredible — what is his-
torically true, and what fabulous — what is compatible with
the happiness of mankind, and what ought to be rejected as
an example or rule of action — what is the letter that kill-
eth, and what the s])irit that maketh alive.

There are two dogmas which the priesthood have at-
tempted to enforce, respecting the Bible, from which has
resulted great mischief. The first is — its plenary inspira-
tion : in other words, that the writers of it were, in fact,



only machines, operated upon by a divine power, to com-
municate to the world, in an infallible manner, the contents
of the book : so that it is free from all error. This is
already rejected by many enlightened minds as a monstrous
absurdity, and will be utterly exploded at last. What mi-
raculous endowment was needed to record the fact, that unto
Job were born seven sons and three daughters ; or that Paul
left his cloak at Troas ; or that he was shipwrecked at
Melita ; or that Solomon had six hundred wives and concu-
bines ; or that Samson ' caught three hundred foxes, and
took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand
in the midst between two tails '.? And so of a thousand
other occurrences.

The other dogma is — the Bible is the only rule of faith
and practice ; so that whatever it teaches or allows must
be right, and whatever it forbids must be wrong, independent
of all other considerations. Thus, there is no right princi-
ple or action, in itself; and, but for the parchment, there
would be no test of morality, — no evidence of piety.
Hence, if slavery or war is allowed in the book, it cannot
be wrong ; if a certain number of texts can be found to
sanction a particular crime, then it is no longer a crime, but
a virtuous act, because God has sanctioned it! What contro-
versies have been held over the book, as to whether it is in
favor of this or that form of government ; whether it advo-
cates human liberty, or permits human enslavement ;
whether it is opposed to all war, or only to wars of aggres-
sion ; whether it maintains the inviolability of human life,
or requires the execution of the murderer ; whether it ap-
proves of the moderate use of intoxicating liquor, or enjoins
the duty of total abstinence ! As if monarchy, republican-
ism, slavery, war, the gallows, and alcoholic drink, could
not be settled on their own merits, without an appeal to any
book ! As if God himself could make a lie the truth.


wrong right, cruelty mercy, or poison an innocent beverage !
Can they who appeal to the Bible, as to an infallible au-
thority, for the rectitude of their conduct, have any belief
in absolute justice ?

It is proverbial, that one extreme is very apt to beget
another. The priesthood have imposed on the people the
belief, that the entire Bible is divinely inspired, even every
chapter and verse ; that they are to submit their reason to
its teachings, not its teachings to their reason ; and what-
ever it inculcates or allows, in any portion of it, must be
from God, and therefore right. On the other hand, there
are those who have discarded the Bible as a pious impos-
ture, and denounced it as evil, and only evil. They have not
been satisfied with refuting the foolish dogma of priestcraft,
as to the plenary inspiration of the volume ; but they have
manifested toward it exceeding bitterness and contempt of
spirit, and blinded their eyes as to its real excellence, and
the estimate in which it should be justly held. They seem
unwilling to recognise any thing good in its pages, and treat
it as profanely as the priesthood do idolatrously. Generally,
they have very little acquaintance with it, and have no dis-
position to take it at its true value. They find in it histori-
cal inaccuracies and things incredible, and on that account
condemn the whole work. They are flippant in their talk
about the adultery of David, and the concubinage of Solo-
mon, and affect to be shocked at what they call the obscen-
ity of the book, — though an investigation into their private
character would, in many cases, show them to be any thing
but patterns of virtue. As to those portions of the Bible
which inculcate the most stringent morality, the noblest sen-
timents, the most expansive benevolence, the purest life —
and which contain the wisest admonitions, the best instruc-
tions, the brightest examples, the most cheering prophecies,
and the richest promises — they seldom refer to them, and


take no pleasure in selecting the wheat from the chaff. To
avoid Scylla, they have perished on Charybdis.

The objection is sometimes raised — ' The Bible is like a
fiddle ; you can play any tune on it you please.' Then, if
the tune be discordant to [the ear of humanity, the fault
must be in the player, rather than in the instrument. Shall
the instrument therefore be broken in pieces ? Let those
pervert it, to vile uses, who are so inclined ; on them rest
the responsibility. I believe it can be made to discourse
most excellent music, and therefore set a high value upon it.

The Bible does not change, but the interpretations of the
Bible are constantly fluctuating. Those interpretations are
generally in accordance with popular opinion and the spirit
of the interpreters. Men who are warlike, — men who
deem it no sin to enslave their fellow-men, — men who are
for retaliating injuries done to them, — men who are fond of
a ceremonial religion, — naturally interpret the Bible in ac-
cordance with their views ; while men of an opposite spirit
construe its language in favor of perfect goodness and uni-
versal love. Even if we admit the plenary inspiration of
the volume, nothing is gained by the admission ; for, after
all, it remains an open question, what does this inspired
book teach? — and, in answering the question, those who
most devoutly believe in its inspiration, disagree as widely,
even on points of practical morality, as do those who reject
the doctrine.

- I have lost my traditional and educational notions of the
holiness of the Bible, but I have gained greatly, I think, in
my estimation of it. As a divine book, I never could un-
derstand it ; as a human composition, I can fathom it to the
bottom. Whoever receives it as his master, will necessarily
be in bondage to it ; but he who makes it his servant, under
the guidance of truth, will find it truly serviceable. It must
be examined, criticised, accepted or rejected, like any other


book, without fear and without favor. Whatever excellence
there is in it will be fire-proof; and if any portion of it be
obsolete or spurious, let that portion be treated accordingly.

Why should any wonder that some minds, keenly sensi-
tive to the slightest outrage to humanity, and receiving the
pulpit interpretations of the book as sound, grow morbidly
averse to the Bible ? Think of identifying the Cros?? of
Christ, the Prince of Peace, with the Sword of the biood-
stained Warrior, who, though an Orthodox clergyman, could
make w^adding of Watts''s Psalms and Hymns, and seize an
opponent by his whiskers with one hand, while he ' pom-
melled him soundly with the other' ! — and then in his pulpit
attempt to justify the act from this text — ' And I contended
with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and
plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God ' ! ! —
[Nehemiah xiii. 23.] ' From this very applicable passage,'
says his eulogist, and the writer of his memoir, (Rev. Dr.
Murray, of Elizabethtown, N. J.,) 'he preached a serious,
exculpatory discourse, placing himself right before his peo-
ple, and silencing all opposition to his proceedings' ! ! ' He
was one day preaching to the battalion — the next, march-
ing with them to battle ' ! ! A Soldier of the Cross !

I am fully aware how grievously the priesthood have per-
verted the Bible, and wielded it both as an instrument of
spiritual despotism and in opposition to the sacred cause of
humanity ; still, to no other volume do I turn with so much
interest, no other do I consult or refer to so frequently, to
no other am I so indebted for light and strength, no other is
so identified with the growth of human freedom and pro-
gress, no other have I appealed to so elTcctively in aid of
the various reformatory movements which I have espoused ;
and it embodies an amount of excellence so great as to
make it, in my estimation, the book of books.


Prisoner ! within these gloomy walls close pent -

Guiltless of horrid crime or venial wrong —
Bear nobly up against thy punishment,

And in thy innocence be great and strong !
Perchance thy fault was love to all mankind ;

Thou didst oppose some vile, oppressive law ;
Or strive all human fetters to unbind ;

Or wouldst not bear the implements of war : —
What then ? Dost thou so soon repent the deed ?

A martyr's crown is richer than a king's !
Think it an honor with thy Lord to bleed,

And glory 'midst intensest sufferings !
Though beat — imprisoned — put to open shame -
Time shall embalm and magnify thy name.

/rEBinm nf tji^ Mini.

High walls and huge the body may confine,

And iron grates obstruct the prisoner's gaze,
And massive bolts may baffle his design,

And vigilant keepers watch his devious ways :
Yet scorns th' immortal mind this base control !

No chains can bind it, and no cell enclose :
Swifter than light, it flies from pole to pole,

And, in a flash, from earth to heaven it goes !
It leaps from mount to mount — from vale to vale

It wanders, plucking honeyed fruits and flowers ;
It visits home, to hear the fireside tale.

Or in sweet converse pass the joyous hours :
'Tis up before the sun, roaming afar,
And, in its watches, wearies every star !


(Claims unit ^^nsitinn nf tljB (ClBrgt[.

I VENERATE such preachers as Paul, and Peter, and others
of the apostolic school, who were the ' fanatics ' and ' disor-
ganizers ' of their times ; who bargained with no body of
men when, where, how, or for what pecuniary inducement,
they should utter their testimonies against sin and sinners ;
who never consulted a corrupt public sentiment, in order to
avoid persecution ; who had no salary to lose or to be dimin-
ished by a too plain utterance of the truth ; who never claim-
ed to be above or distinct from the laity in the congregation
of believers, but every one prayed or prophesied in order,
all standing on the same platform of equality. But the mod-
ern clergy are not their successors, and may urge no apos-
tolic claim to private veneration or popular respect. Dr. Gan-
nett extracts all the ' divinity ' from them, in putting them
into the same category with lawyers and physicians. Pie says,
with an air of satisfaction that is almost ludicrous — ' There
are as many poor lawyers and poor physicians, as there are
poor preachers.' Possibly ; but of what benefit are they, as
classes, to mankind ? ' We expect that only a few will be
eminent in their several employments. The ministry need
not dread a comparison, in this respect, with other profes-
sions.' Indeed! But the 'other professions' claim to be
human, not divine. The clergyman talks of being the ' sent
of God,' an ambassador of Christ — of being filled with the
Spirit, and delivering what he has had communicated to him
from above ; but neither the lawyer nor physician lays
claim to any thing beyond what he himself can originate
and perform. Hence, on the ground of special inspiration,
the clergy ought to throw into the shade all other profes-
sions. To say that ' there are more merchants who fail in
their business, than there are ministers who fail in their scr-


mens,' is a queer defence — a very secular one, at least, for
' a heavenly calling.' But the defence ends not here: —
* Many of our preachers are obliged to prepare at least one
sermon a week, and some of them two, or even more, the
year through. Now, I ask the man whose flippancy is ever
berating the pulpit, if he would lay the same requisition on
the public orator or legal advocate ? . . . No, he would be
ashamed to make such a demand of any one but a minister.
Why, then, in the name of justice, should he make it of the
minister, who is but a man, at best, and not often made of
finer mould than other men ? ' What does the reader think
of this .'' The minister is but a man, at best. Remember
that ! Next, he is no more divinely assisted than the lawyer
or the physician, and therefore is to be measured by the
same standard. Remember that ! It is a ' doctor of divin-
ity ' who voluntarily takes the witness's stand. But the wit-
ness has a very short memory ; for he proceeds to affirm
that ' preaching is the highest exercise of the human pow-
ers . . . Enter the pulpit as' if it were the loftiest position
you could take on earth ... If you would choose the most
honorable service, if you would exercise the highest function
within the reach of man, if you desire to place yourselves
in the most enviable position on earth, enter the ministry.'
And so it becomes a divine calling again, and is no longer
secular, like that of the lawyer or physician. Now, this
•shuffling from one standard to another cannot be allowed.
If the clergy are to be judged simply as men, let them claim
nothing of divinity ; if they are superhuman, heaven-inspir-
ed, let them be tried by a superhuman test.

As to the loftiness of the pulpit, though the old-fashioned
mode of erecting it was somewhat elevated, the weather-
cock on the spire finds a more lofty position than the pulpit
occupant, but both commonly indicate which way the wind


The preacher, we are told, ' must apply Christianity to
the habits and practices of the age in which he lives, even
as the guager applies his rule to the vessel he would meas-
ure, or the assayer his test to the metal he would prove.'
Very good ; but where is the clergyman, in regular standing,
who dares to be thus faithful ? And where one Abdiel is
found, are there not scores of the fraternity, who, to avoid
difficulty, refuse to say aught about ' the habits and practices
of the age,' except to uphold them ?

Dr. Gannett thinks otherwise. He says, ' it is an old
slander, that the clergy always oppose social advancement,
and it is a slander which every popular movement since the
Reformation has refuted ' ! To this general assertion, I enter
a general denial, and wait for the proof. With much assur-
ance, he says — 'Look at the relation they sustain to the
reforms of the day, moral, political, or social ; always ready
to examine their claims, (!) sometimes compelled to pro-
nounce the schemes of ardent philanthropists unsound or dan-
gerous, but more often prompt to give their assistance, (!)
and not seldom found among the foremost and firmest friends
of the enterprise ' ! Now, these assertions are as far remov-
ed from the facts in the case, as the North is from the South
pole. Take the question of slavery, for example. The
reducing of three millions of the inhabitants of this country
to the awful condition of chattels is an act of impiety and
cruelty so monstrous, that the clergy should have needed no
solicitation to induce them to cry out against it in thunder
tones. Yet, to this hour, as a class, their sympathy and co-
operation are notoriously with the slaveholders, with whom
they are in religious fellowship ; they seek to cover the abo-
litionists with shame and infamy ; their meeting-houses are
closed against those who wish to inculcate the doctrine, that
slaveholding is, under all circumstances, a sin against God.
Indeed, the history of the anti-slavery movement will prove


the struggle for the overthrow of slavery to have been as
directly with the clergy of the land, as with the actual hold-
ers of slaves at the South. The facts are on record, and can
never be effaced. I admit that there have been, and that
there are, exceptions to the general rule — clergymen who
have done, and are doing, much toward liberating those who
are in bondage ; but these only serve to confirm the rule.
The manner in which they have been treated by their cleri-
cal brethren generally, of the same denomination, and by the
churches, has been contemptuous and most unchristian.
Will the successor of William Ellery Channing pretend
that he, or the Unitarian clergy, countenanced Dr. Chan-
ning in his efforts to awaken pity for the slave, and shame
for the existence of slavery ? When and where has he
uttered a single word of encouragement to those who have
borne the heat and burden of the day in the cause of the
oppressed ? When has he allowed an abolitionist to occupy
his pulpit ? What Unitarian clerical man-stealer from the
South would he exclude from it ? How was the lamented
FoLLEN treated in his day ? How has John Pierpont been
treated ? What approbation has Theodore Parker receiv-
ed from the clergy for his faithful anti-slavery testimonies —
his apostolic boldness in grappling with popular sins.? For
how many years did not Samuel J. May stand up among the
Unitarian clergy almost alone, in his earnest and Christ-like
advocacy of the cause of negro emancipation — being deem-
ed an intolerable troubler of Israel .''

I appeal to those who are struggling to carry forward the
reforms of the day, as to their experience and knowledge of
clerical influence. Friends of peace, of moral reform, of
non-resistance, of the abolition of the gallows, of woman's
rights, of land reform, of social reorganization, &c. &c., are
you not ready to testify, that you find the clergy hindrances
rather than helps ?


Practical righteousness is what the age needs, and what
should most deeply concern those who are qualified to act
the part of instructors and guides. This is not within the
pale of polemic divinity. At least, religious controversies
are well nigh interminahle, and seldom of any value, because
they generally relate to the past, rather than to the present,
to an orthodox creed, rather than to a pure life, to ' words,
words, words,' rather than to ideas and practices. Doctrinal
assaults, however vigorously made, are easily parried or
returned ; but, when judgment is laid to the line, and right-
eousness to the plummet, and the church,of whatever name,
is convicted of immorality, then her power is broken, and
every blow of the reformer is felt. If T had arraigned the
clergy or the church on account of their peculiar tenets, they
would have rejoiced to meet me in a polemic encounter, and
text for text would they have hurled at me with spirit and
skill. But I measured them by the unerring standard — ' By
their fruits shall ye know them.' I demonstrated their posi-
tion, in regard to slavery, war and other crimes, to be time-
serving and corrupt — convicted them of ' striking hands with
thieves, and consenting with adulterers' — showed their
identity with those of old, who were full of their sabbaths
and solemn assemblies, their fastings and prayers, their
tithing of mint, anise and cummin, while they were strength-
ening the bands of oppression, binding heavy burdens upon
men's shoulders, shedding innocent blood, and stoning the
faithful witnesses for God. In this manner they have been
humbled ; on this ground they cannot stand. A free
platform is ofTcrcd to them, but they shrink from an
encounter before the people, conscious that they are justly

Representing no society or body of people on earth —
speaking only my own sentiments, on my own responsibility,
on the platform of free discussion, not of technical anti-


slavery — I am free to declare, that my objections are not
to the ' abuses ' of the priestly order. It has no abuses ;
it is, in itself, an abuse. Mankind cannot tolerate it
safely. It is the sworn foe of Progress, a mountainous
obstacle in the pathway of Humanity. It was unknown to
primitive Christianity ; it derives no authority from the

For as cogent reasons, 1 seek the overthrow of every
church, which, simply by virtue of its organization, or its
creed, claims to be divinely instituted — the church of Christ,
and thus makes the evidence of piety to consist in joining it,
or acknowledging the validity of its claims. There never
yet was a divine human organization. Associations are not
of heaven, but of men. They are no positive test of char-
acter. To join them is no certain proof of piety ; to refuse
to be connected with them, nay, to advocate their dissolu-
tion, is no evidence of an irreligious or heretical state of
mind. ' A breath can make them as a breath has made ' —
and unmake them too. Men shape them as they do their
coats, their hats, or their dwellings, according to their own
taste and convenience. None may say to another, without
daring presumption, ' You must connect yourself with our
church, or with some other, or you are not a Christian.'
The Church of Christ is not mutable but permanent, and
therefore not a formal organization. No one can be voted
into it, no one expelled from it, by human suffrages. They
are grossly deceived, who imagine that, because they have
joined a body calling itself the church of Christ, therefore
they are members of the true church. Our Protestant
churches are nearly all based on a false foundation — the
foundation of Rome itself — and with Rome are destined to

For these views, however, no Anti-Slavery society in the
land is responsible ; nor is it the purpose of any such society


to promulgate or sanction any doctrine or sentiment which
does not relate strictly to the abolition of slavery. The Amer-
ican Anti-Slavery Society has sacredly adhered to its one
great object, leaving all other question, whether relating to
Church or State, to be settled by its members on another
platform, on their individual responsibility. It arraigns no
man for his religious or political opinions, beyond insisting
on the duty of giving no countenance to slaveholding.
With a ministry, or church, or government, or party, that is
faithful to the cause of the slave, it has no controversy, but
is ever ready to give credit to whom credit is due.

The grave, dear sufferer, had for thee no gloom,

And Death no terrors when his summons came :

Unto the dust returns the mortal frame,
But the Soul spurns the bondage of the tomb,
And soars to flourish in immortal bloom I

Thou hast attained, at last, thy glorious aim —

Heaven and its joys — through faith in Christ's dear name.
Why should we grieve, then, at thy early doom?
If thy freed spirit be indeed at rest,

And singing sweetly in another sphere;
If, as we trust, thou art among the blest,

Ilcdccmed from all tliat made life painful here ;
Songs of rejoicing far become us best.

For light resplendent beams around thy bier !


Since the commencement of the nineteenth century, the
Spirit of Reform has been developed in a shape, and to an
extent, unknown to all preceding ages — Reform, not per-
taining merely to local abuses or wrongs, not marked by
degrees of latitude or longitude, but making man the ob-
ject of universal solicitude, aside from all considerations of
party, sect, education, condition, and clime — Reform, not
for the overthrow of any one particular evil, but for the re-
moval of all those burdens and disabilities under which
mankind are groaning in agony of spirit — Reform, not
animated by the spirit of revenge, not armed with weapons
of steel with which to cleave down tyrants and usurpers,
but relying for its success on the utterance of truth, and the
enforcement of right, on the weakness of injustice, and the
cowardice of crime — Reform, to the conservative, timid
and faithless, never so daring in its aspect, and unhallowed
in its purposes, as now ; to the believing, the true-hearted
and clear-sighted, never so serene in its spirit, disinterested
in its design, and beneficent in its operations.

• The poor crushed bondman hears it, and upspringeth

To burst his shackles, and once more be free ;
And shouts aloud, until the echo ringeth

Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonSelections from the writings and speeches of William Lloyd Garrison. With an appendix .. → online text (page 18 of 33)