THE Bishop of Oxford spoke the other day with a solemnity which, if sincere, could not be too deep, of "the miserable voice" which has gone forth to the diocese of Natal "teaching the heathen to distrust the Word of God." "Shall not Christian England," he says, "drown it in a universal declaration of the truths of Christianity?" For our parts we should join with all our hearts to drown any such 'miserable voice.' There cannot be a more evil lesson either to teach or to learn—a lesson more destructive of the spiritual life of man—than distrusting the Word of God. But we never met with a more elaborate lesson in that perilous and destructive art than the Bishop's own speech on the coming of Anti-Christ. It is like one of those artificial, glazed pictures on a papier-mach6 surface in which a Bible subject is made incongruous and ridiculous by the coarse, staring colours stamped into the showy cardboard. If any one can inspire distrust of the Word of God by using great prophecies for the sake of a palpably false and meretricious rhetorical effect, the Bishop's solemn avowal that he hears the footsteps of the great Anti-Christ and sees the outriders of his evil pomp, is more likely to produce that distrust than all the errors ever disseminated concerning the Pentateuch put together. Anti-Christ, he says, is just upon us, with "the moonlight of its semi-intelligence." "The stream flows on under the moonlight shining of its semi-intelligence with the most de- licious smoothness where there is nothing to thwart it." The Bishop of Natal's and other liberal criticisms on the Bible are "the precursing atmosphere which comes before his advent." A "precursing atmosphere" appears to be an atmosphere cursing us in advance, for it seems that it brings with it all sorts of malaria, moral and physical, espe.ially the infection of critical doubt, the cattle disease, and the cholera! "Believing as I believe," said the Bishop, "that there may be heard upon the wind those footfall echoes of the coming of the great Anti-Christ, and that this which we hear whispered here and there, and see spread- ing, we know not how, through the air, is just the precursing atmosphere which comes before his advent, I say it is time, if ever the time was, to be up and doing. There seem to me to be many things which ought to warn us that this is a season when the judgments of the Lord are abroad. Is not the mysterious disease which has attacked our cattle at this moment one of God's writing, written on a nation's wall to warn us to turn to Him ? Look at the newspapers They tell us that men who have studied the subject most cannot tell whether it is an im- ported or indigenous disease." [If they could, the Bishop of course means, the disease would be intelligible, and therefore not a writing on the wall.] "Men of the greatest skill and wisdom tell you to kill at once every diseased subject and hope for the best. Then, again, there is a whisper of the onward march of the pestilence of cholera, now rustling in the breeze of the even- ing, and making men's hearts ache with the fear of what they may find when they wake in the morning. Are not these God's hand- writing on the wall ?" Who does not see the artificial stamp on all this ecclesiastical carving and gilding, with its whispering breezes, its footfall echoes, its precursing atmosphere, its moon- light semi-intelligence, and then,—to carry the thing a little more effectually into the region of ordinary men's thoughts and imagina- tions,—its irrelevant cattle disease, its bewildered veterinary sur- geons, whose ignorance specially constitutes the Rinderpest a "handwriting on the wall," its terrible antitype of a day of judg- ment in the heartbreaking recommendation to graziers to kill at once all infected cattle, and finally its rumour of epidemic cholera and possible collapse,—all of course closely connected with those criticisms on the Pentateuch which Anti-Christ sends in their company to prepare his way. Does the Bishop wish us seriously to believe that by painting in this animated way his vision of the coming of Anti-Christ, and expressing his affect- ing readiness, in the absence of collateral evidence of its truth, to accept the Rinderpest and veterinary ignorance as a con- firmation of that anticipation, he is really doing something to counteract "distrust of the Word of God?" For our own parts we never before met with a worse farrago of hollow and artificial pieties under the drapery of Biblical images. Distrust of the Word of God ! Can any one who ever really attempted to fathom, the meaning of the Apostles when they spoke of the manifestation of Anti-Christ show a deeper distrust of the Word of God than by pouring forth this stream of meretricious rubbish and borrow- ing for it the solemnity of prophetic language? Imagine St. Paul inferring a manifestation of "the man of sin, the son of perdition, who exalteth himself over all that is called God, or that is worshipped," from the threefold phenomenon of a laborious and anxious investigation into the historical authenticity of Exodus, a new cattle disease, and a possible plague ! The "reve- lation of the wicked one," by which St. Paul avows that he means a critical and deadly, if not final, outburst of the deepest moral evil in the human heart against the authority of the divine righteousness,—" the revelation of the wicked one, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and lying signs, and wonders, and all deceivableness of unrighteousness for those that
perish because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved," this it is that the Bishop of Oxford solemnly
identifies with a painstaking and most conscientious investigation which, whether it is distinguished by adequate critical skill or not, is certainly distinguished by a simple "love of truth" of which
the right reverend critic is incapable. And because so laborious a work falls rather flat on an English assembly as an equivalent for Anti.Christ, the Bishop throws us in the cattle plague and Possible Cholera to deepen his background of artificial awe.
When the Apostles spoke of an Anti-Christ who was then par- tially manifested and fighting the last death-struggle with Christ, and whose perfect manifestation was delayed, or "let," as St. Paul implies, by the better and sounder elements which still lingered in the resisting Jewish law and Roman statesmanship, they were talking of something very real and visible to their own eyes, as they watched the last healthy life gradually deserting the worn-out Jewish and Roman institutions, and transferring itself to the faith of Christ. The old society, they said, must be worse before it could be better,—that is, the good that was left in it must completely desert it, till it became pure and simple Anti-Christ,—sensualism, pride, malice, cruelty, hypocrisy, unalloyed, and then it would fall beneath the arm of the Lord. We certainly should be far from denying that what the Apostles said about "Anti-Christ" and the "man of sin," as they ins-
personated the evil principle which countermined the Christian Gospel, has no application to the present day, — though it assuredly was not, when first said, predictive, but descriptive language. Of course wherever a thoroughly evil principle is beginning to come out in its nakedness of evil, but is not yet quit of alloying elements of good, then we have a mani- festation of Anti-Christ partially begun, but hindered or " let " by the better elements associated with it. So it was no doubt in that Southern Confederacy, built on the "corner-stone," not of Christ, but of slavery, for the virtual success of which the Bishop of Oxford, some two years ago, under the form of a prayer for peace, directed his clergy to pray. If ever in our time there has been a manifestation of Anti-Christ, it has surely been in the deliberate attempt to reconstruct a new society on the basis of a cruelty and a sin. But speaking generally, the language of the Apostles about Anti-Christ cannot have any clear application to states of society in which good and evil are so closely interlaced,—intermingled as the wheat and thd tares, which were to grow together till the harvest, —as they are now. The peculiarity of the present state of society, in this country at least, intellectual no less than moral and social, is that there is no clear field of battle between good and evil, that every such battle is on a small scale, within
the most restricted limits, always hampered by the danger of destroying good in the attempt to uproot evil, and, wherever successfully fought, preceded, and necessarily preceded, by the longest and minutest study, in order to discriminate the good from the evil elements. Our time—here in England at least—is not a time when any sincere man can profess to be hearing "the foot- fall echoes of the great Anti-Christ." It is the sifting time which so long precedes any such final struggle—and not indeed an advanced stage of that sifting time. If there be any vestige of Anti- Christ at all, it is in the religious insincerity which affects to see him in the anxious labours of honest men to distinguish truth from falsehood in every field, whether that of science, history, or spiritual creed. Ours isran embarrassed and complicated age, with young tares amidst the thickest wheat, and young wheat amidst the thickest tares, and the two often very difficult to distinguish from each other. The only unalloyed evil that we can distinctly discern
in the present day is the insincere attempt to ignore this state of things, and pretend, with the Bishop of Oxford, that Anti-Christ is at the bottom of all the apparent tolerance, and charity, and fearless investigation of the present day, simply because these look so little like Anti-Christ, and Anti-Christ is so sure to dis- guise himself. The dogmatists will not see candour or the sincere love of truth, even where it exists and is conspicuous, and prefer instead to suppose that it is the disguise of some subtle evil. There is no doubt a charm in the clear hand-to-hand conflict with definite evil such as we of the present day, who have a very different task before us, and a much more tasking if much less perilous one, can only too well appreciate. But this is just what men who talk like the Bishop of Oxford do not feel. As a poet of our day has written :— "Oh that the armies indeed were arrayed ! oh joy of the onset !
Sound thou Trumpet of God ! Come forth, Great Cause, to array us ! King and leader appear ! Thy soldiers sorrowing seek thee !
Would that the armies indeed were arrayed ! Oh where is the battle ?
Neither battle I see, nor arraying, nor King in Israel,
Only infinite jumble, and mess, and dislocation,
Backed by a solemn appeal, For God's sake do not stir there !' " Those who wish to persuade themselves that the Bishop of Natal, Dean Stanley, and the rest are of the train of Anti-Christ, do not really feel this charm. These rhetorical flourishes are the artifices by which they attempt to steel them- selves and their adherents to the clear evidence of what is candid and earnest in their opponents' creeds. If they did not stimulate themselves by getting up fictitious panics—which they know to be fictitious—of the "footfall echoes of the great Anti-Christ," they would be obliged to look closer at their opponents' thoughts, and to admit that mach therein is very true and worthy to be known. If they believed what they say, if Dr. Wilberforce genuinely held that an honest belief on evidence of the late growth of the Pentateuch into its present shape is a pure lie of the great Deceiver's in league with evil men, would he not set about exposing the lie, and showing the wicked motives closely linked together in its publication, in- stead of talking about "moonlight semi-intelligence," "foot-fail echoes," and "handwritings on the wall?" There is no more hollow and ordinary clerical affectation than this of attri- buting Satanic guile and fraud to everything that looks simple and charitable, as an excuse for not fighting with it hand to hand. Those who cry out 'Anti-Christ' directly they see something they do not choose to encounter, are nearer to the spirit of de- lusion of which they speak so freely than they are aware. No one who makes -Anti-Christ a rhetorical climax for something personally offensive to himself, can enter for a moment into that Apostolic spirit which wished to see the evil stripped bare, only that it might better know it for evil and secure the triumph of good. An equally truthful spirit applied to our present world would recognize at once that no passages of the Bible have less that is suitable to our day than these about Anti-Christ,—that ours is a day of small things, of confused good and evil, of evil at the heart of good, of good at the heart of evil, of faith in doubt and doubt in faith, of purity in sensualism and sensualism in purity, of selfishness in self-denial and self-de nial in selfishness,—in short one of the days of trial, and not yet a day of judgment.