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The Essays which form the present book have been written at intervals during the last five years, and are now issued in a single volume without alterations of any kind. I have thought it more useful—as marking the gradual growth of thought—to reprint them as they were originally published, so as not to allow the later development to mould the earlier forms. The essay on "Inspiration" is, in part, the oldest of all; it was partially composed some seven years ago, and re-written later as it now stands.
The first essay on the "Deity of Jesus of Nazareth" was written just before I left the Church of England, and marks the point where I broke finally with Christianity. I thought then, and think still, that to cling to the name of Christian after one has ceased to be the thing is neither bold nor straightforward, and surely the name ought, in all fairness, to belong to those historical bodies who have made it their own during many hundred years. A Christianity without a Divine Christ appears to me to resemble a republican army marching under a royal banner—it misleads both friends and foes. Believing that in giving up the deity of Christ I renounced Christianity, I place this essay as the starting-point of my travels outside the Christian pale. The essays that follow it deal with some of the leading Christian dogmas, and are printed in the order in which they were written. But in the gradual thought-development they really precede the essay on the "Deity of Christ". Most inquirers who begin to study by themselves, before they have read any heretical works, or heard any heretical controversies, will have been awakened to thought by the discrepancies and inconsistencies of the Bible itself. A thorough knowledge of the Bible is the groundwork of heresy. Many who think they read their Bibles never read them at all. They go through a chapter every day as a matter of duty, and forget what is said in Matthew before they read what is said in John; hence they never mark the contradictions and never see the discrepancies. But those who study the Bible are in a fair way to become heretics. It was the careful compilation of a harmony of the last chapters of the four Gospels—a harmony intended for devotional use—that gave the first blow to my own faith; although I put the doubt away and refused even to look at the question again, yet the effect remained—the tiny seed, which was slowly to germinate and to grow up, later, into the full-blown flower of Atheism.
The trial of Mr. Charles Voysey for heresy made me remember my own puzzle, and I gradually grew very uneasy, though trying not to think, until the almost fatal illness of my little daughter brought a sharper questioning as to the reason of suffering and the reality of the love of God. From that time I began to study the doctrines of Christianity from a critical point of view; hitherto I had confined my theological reading to devotional and historical treatises, and the only controversies with which I was familiar were the controversies which had divided Christians; the writings of the Fathers of the Church and of the modern school which is founded on them had been carefully studied, and I had weighed the points of difference between the Greek, Roman, Anglican, and Lutheran communions, as well as the views of orthodox dissenting schools of thought; only from Pusey's "Daniel", and Liddon's "Bampton Lectures", had I gathered anything of wider controversies and issues of more vital interest. But now all was changed, and it was to the leaders of the Broad Church school that I first turned in the new path. The shock of pain had been so! rude when real doubts assailed and shook me, that I had steadily made up my mind to investigate, one by one, every Christian dogma, and never again to say "I believe" until I had tested the object of faith; the dogmas which revolted me most were those of the Atonement and of Eternal Punishment, while the doctrine of Inspiration of Scripture underlay everything, and was the very foundation of Christianity; these, then, were the first that I dropped into the crucible of investigation. Maurice, Robertson, Stopford Brooke, McLeod, Campbell, and others, were studied; and while I recognised the charm of their writings, I failed to find any firm ground whereon they could rest: it was a many-colored beautiful mist—a cloud landscape, very fair, but very unsubstantial. Still they served as stepping stones away from the old hard dogmas, and month by month I grew more sceptical as to the possibility of finding certainty in religion. Mansel's Bampton lectures on "The Limits of Religious Thought" ...
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