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BY F. W. BOREHAM
She was a sermon-taster and was extremely sensi-
tive to any kind of heresy. It is in his Life of
Donald John Martin, a Presbyterian minister, that
the Rev. orman C. Macfarlane places her notable
achievement on permanent record. He describes her
as *a stern lady who was provokingly evangelical.'
There came to the pulpit one Sabbath a minister
whose soundness she doubted. He gave out as his
text the words: 'What doth the Lord require of
thee hut to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk
humbly with thy God?' 'Weel, we el,' this excellent
woman exclaimed, as she turned to her friend beside
her, 'weel, weel, if there's one text in a' the Buik
waur than anither, yon man is sure to tak' it!'
She thought that text the worst in the Bible.
Huxley thought it the best. Huxley was, as every-
body knows, the Prince of Agnostics. We need not
stop to ask why. obody who has read the story
of John Stuart Mill's boyhood will wonder that Mill
was a skeptic. And nobody who has read the story
126 A Handful of Stars
of Thomas Huxley's boyhood will wonder at his
becoming an agnostic. As Edward Clodd, his biog-
rapher, says, 'his boyhood was a cheerless time. Re-
versing Matthew Arnold's sunnier memories :
o rigorous teachers seized his youth.
And purged its faith and tried its fire.
Shewed him the high, white star of truth.
There bade him gaze, and there aspire.
*He told Charles Kingsley that he was "kicked
into the world, a boy without guide or training, or
with worse than none"; he "had two years of a
pandemonium of a school, and, after that, neither
help nor sympathy in any intellectual direction till
he reached manhood." ' And, even then, as those
familiar with his biography know, he had little
What would Huxley have been, I wonder, if the
sympathy for which he hungered had been ex-
tended to him? If, instead of badgering him with
arguments and entangling him in controversy, Mr.
Gladstone and Bishop Wilberforce and others had
honestly attempted to see things through his spec-
tacles! Huxley was said to be as cold as ice and
as inflexible as steel; but I doubt it. In his life-
story I find two incidents — one belonging to his
early manhood and one belonging to his age —
which tell a very different tale.
The first is connected with the birth of his boy.
It is the last night of the Old Year, and he is wait-
Thomas Huxley's Text 127
ing to hear that he is a father. He spends the
anxious hour in framing a resolution. In his diary
he pledges himself 'to smite all humbugs, however
big; to give a nobler tone to science; to set an ex-
ample of abstinence from petty personal controver-
sies and of toleration for everything but lying; to
be indifferent as to whether the work is recognized
as mine or not, so long as it is done. It is half-past
ten at night. Waiting for my child. I seem to fancy
it the pledge that all these things shall be.' And the
next entry runs :
'ew Yea/s Day, 1859. Born five minutes before
twelve. Thank God!'
Mark that 'Thank God!' and then note what fol-
lows. A year or two later, when the child is
snatched from him, he makes this entry and then
closes the journal for ever. He has no heart to
keep a diary afterwards.
*Our oel, our firstborn, after being for nearly
four years our delight and our joy, was carried off
by scarlet fever in forty-eight hours. This day week
he and I had a great romp together. On Friday his
restless head, with its bright blue eyes and tangled
golden hair, tossed all day upon the pillow. On
Saturday night I carried his cold, still body here
into my study. Here, too, on Sunday night, came
his mother and I to that holy leavetaking. My boy
is gone; but in a higher and better sense than was
in my mind when, four years ago, I wrote what
stands above, I feel that my fancy has been fulfilled.
128 A Handful of Stars
I say heartily and without bitterness — ^Amen, so
let it be !'
'Thank God!' exclaims our great Agnostic when
the child is born.
'Amen!' he says, submissively, when the little one
This is the first of the two incidents. The second
— which is no less pathetic — is recorded by Dr.
Douglas Adam. *A friend of mine,' the doctor says,
'was acting on a Royal Commission of which Pro-
fessor Huxley was a member, and one Sunday they
were staying together in a little country town. 'T
suppose you are going to church," said Huxley.
"Yes," replied my friend. "What if, instead, you
stayed at home and talked to me of religion?" "o,"
was the reply, "for I am not clever enough to refute
your arguments." "But what if you simply told me
your own experience — what religion has done for
you?" My friend did not go to church that morn-
ing; he stayed at home and told Huxley the story
of all that Christ had been to him; and presently
there were tears in the eyes of the great agnostic
as he said, "/ would give my right hand if I could
believe that!" '
This, if you please, is the man who was supposed
to be as cold as ice and as inflexible as steel ! This
is the man for whom the Christians of his time had
nothing better than harsh judgments, freezing sar-
casms and windy arguments! How little we know
of each other! How slow we are to understand!
Thomas Huxley's Text 129
But the text ! It was in the course of his famous
— and furious — controversy with Mr. Gladstone
that Huxley paid his homage to the text. He was
pleading for a better understanding between Re-
ligion and Science.
'The antagonism between the two,' he said, 'ap-
pears to me to be purely fictitious. It is fabricated,
on the one hand, by short-sighted religious people,
and, on the other hand, by short-sighted scientific
people.' And he declared that, whatever differences
may arise between the exponents of ature and the
exponents of the Bible, there can never be any real
antagonism between Science and Religion them-
selves. 'In the eighth century before Christ,' he
goes on to say, 'in the eighth century before Christ,
in the heart of a world of idolatrous polytheists, the
Hebrew prophets put forth a conception of religion
which appears to me to be as wonderful an inspira-
tion of genius as the art of Pheidias or the science
of Aristotle. "What doth the Lord require of thee
but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk hum-
bly with thy God?" If any so-called religion takes
away from this great saying of Micah, I think it
wantonly mutilates, while if it adds thereto, I think
it obscures, the perfect ideal of religion.'
And it was on the ground of their common ad-
miration for this text — the worst text in the world,
the best text in the world — that Mr. Gladstone and
I30 A Handful of Stars
Professor Huxley reached some kind of agreement.
ot to be outdone by his antagonist, Mr. Gladstone
raised his hat to the text.
'I will not dispute,' he says, 'that in these words
is contained the true ideal of discipline and attain-
ment. Still, I cannot help being §truck with an
impression that Mr. Huxley appears to cite these
terms of Micah as if they reduced the work of re-
ligion from a difficult to an easy program. But
look at them again. Examine them well. They are,
in truth, in Cowper's words:
Higher than the heights above,
Deeper than the depths beneath.
Do justly, that is to say, extinguish self; love mercy,
cut utterly away all the pride and wrath and all the
cupidity that make this fair world a wilderness;
walk humbly with thy God, take his will and set it
in the place where thine own was wont to rule.
Pluck down the tyrant from his place ; set up the true
Master on His lawful throne.' In the text — the
worst text in the Bible ; the best text in the Bible —
Mr. Gladstone and Professor Huxley find a trysting-
place. We may therefore leave the argument at
The words with which Huxley fell in love were
addressed by the prophet to a desperate man — and
Thomas Huxley's Text 131
that man a king — who was prepared to pay any
price and make any sacrifice if only, by so doing,
he might win for himself the favor of the Most
High. 'Wherewith shall I come before the Lord
and how myself before the high God?' he cries.
*Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with
calves a year old? Will the Lord he pleased with
thousands of rams or with ten thousands of rivers
of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgres-
sion, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?'
*My firstborn!' — we have just witnessed a father's
anguish on the death of his firstborn. But Balak,
King of Moab, is prepared to lead his firstborn to
the sacrificial altar if, by so doing, he can secure the
favor of the Highest.
And the answer of the prophet is that the love of
God is not for sale. And, if it were for sale, it
could not be purchased by an act of immolation in
which heaven could find no pleasure at all. F. D.
Maurice points out, in one of his letters to R. H.
Hutton, that the world has cherished two ideas of
sacrifice. When a man discovers that his life is
out of harmony with the divine Will, he may make
a sacrifice by which he brings his conduct into line
with the heavenly ideal. That is the one view. The
other is Balak's. Balak hopes, by offering his child
upon the altar, to bring the divine pleasure into line
with his unaltered life. 'All light is in the one idea
of sacrifice,' says Maurice, 'and all darkness in the
other. The idea of sacrifice, not as an act of obedi-
132 A Handful of Stars
ence to the divine will, but as a means of changing
that will, is the germ of every dark superstition.'
Heaven is not to be bought, the prophet told the
king. 'He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of thee hut to do
justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with
Equity ! Charity ! Pie ty !
Do something! Love something! Be something!
Do justly! Love mercy! Walk humbly with
These, and these alone, are the offerings in which
heaven finds delight.
I cannot help feeling sorry for the lady in the
Scottish church. She thinks that Balaam's brave
reply to Balak is the worst text in the Bible. And
she is not alone. For, in his Literature and Dogma,
Matthew Arnold shows that she is the representa-
tive of a numerous and powerful class. 'In our
railway stations are hung up,' Matthew Arnold
says, 'sheets of Bible texts to catch the eye of the
passer-by. And very profitable admonitions to him
they generally are. One, particularly, we have all
seen. It asks the prophet Micah's question : Where-
with shall I come before the Lord and bow myself
before the high God? And it answers that ques-
tion with one short quotation from the ew Testa-
ment : With the precious blood of Christ.' Matthew
Thomas Huxley's Text 133
Arnold maintains that this is not honest. By cast-
ing aside the prophet's answer, and substituting an-
other, the people who arranged the placard ally
themselves with the lady in the Scottish church.
They evidently think Balaam's reply to Balak the
worst text in the Bible. But is it? Is it good, is it
fair, is it honest to strike out the real answer and
to insert in its place an adopted one? I wish to
ask the lady in the Scottish church — and the people
who prepared the placard — two pertinent questions.
My first question is this. Is the deleted text —
the worst text in the Bible — true? That is ex-
tremely important. Does God require that man
should do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with
Himself? Is it not a fact that heaven does insist
on equity and charity and piety? Can there, indeed,
be any true religion without these things? Do they
not represent the irreducible minimum? If this be
so, is it not as well for that Scottish minister to
preach on that terrible text, after all? And, if this
be so, would not the original answer to the ques-
tion be the best answer for the placard?
My second question is this. Even from the
standpoint of 'a stern lady who is provokingly evan-
gelical,' is it not well for the minister to preach on
that objectionable text? The lady is anxious, and
commendably anxious, that the pulpit of her church
should sound forth the magnificent verities of the
Christian evangel. But will a man desire the sal-
vation which the ew Testament reveals unless he
134 A Handful of Stars
has first recognized his inability to meet heaven's
just demands? In a notable fragment of autobiog-
raphy, Paul declares that, but for the law, he would
never have known the meaning of sin. It was when
he heard how much he owed to the divine justice
that he discovered the hopelessness of his bank-
ruptcy. It was when he listened to the Thou shalts
and the Thou shalt nots that he cried, 'O wretched
man that I am : who shall deliver me ?' It was Sinai
that drove him to Calvary. The law, with its stern,
imperative demands, was, he says, the schoolmaster
that led him to Christ. The best way of showing
that a stick is crooked is to lay a straight one be-
side it. This being so, the lady in the Scottish
church, and the compilers of Matthew Arnold's
placard, must consider whether, in the interests of
that very evangelism for which they are so justly
jealous, they can afford to supersede the stately
passages that make men feel their desperate need
of a Saviour.
This, at any rate, is the way in which Micah
used the story of the conversation between Balak
and Balaam. By means of it he sought to reduce the
people to despair. And then, when they had fallen
upon their faces and covered themselves with sack-
cloth, he made one of the noblest evangelical pro-
nouncements that the Old Testament contains : 'He
pardoneth iniquity because He delighteth in mercy:
Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the
sea/ But the people would never have listened hun-
Thomas Huxley's Text 135
grily to that glad golden word unless they had first
realized the sublimity of the divine demand and the
incalculable extent of their shortcoming.
We each have a blind spot. We see truth frag-
mentarily. If only the excellent lady in the Scot-
tish church could have seen, in the minister's text,
what Huxley saw in it ! But she didn't ; and, be-
cause she was blind to its beauty, she called it 'the
worst text in the Bible!' And if only Huxley could
have grasped those precious truths that were so dear
to her ! But he never did. He could only shake his
fine head sadly and say, 'I do not know !' 'I would
give my right hand,' he exclaims, 'if I could believe
that!' Mr. Clodd adorns the title-page of his Life
of Huxley with the words of Matthew Arnold : 'He
saw life steadily and saw it whole.' That sad shake
of the head, and that passionate but melancholy
exclamation about giving his right hand, prove that
the tribute is not quite true. Huxley, as he himself
more than half suspected, missed the best.
When Sir George Adam Smith, in his Book of
the Twelve Prophets, comes to this great passage
in Micah, he prints it in italics right across the page :
What doth the Lord require of thee hut to do
justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with
This, says Sir George, is the greatest saying of
136 A Handful of Stars
the Old Testament; and there is only one other in
the ew which excels it :
Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy
laden, and I will give you rest.
Huxley had eyes for the first, but none for the
second; the Scottish lady had eyes for the second,
but none for the first; but they who 'see life steadily
and see it whole' will stand up to salute the majesty
It is customary for the Presidents of the United
States to select the passage which they shall kiss
in taking the oath on assuming the responsibilities
of their great office. President Harding had no
hesitation in making his choice. He turned to this
great saying of Micah. 'What doth the Lord re-
quire of thee hut to do justly and to love mercy and
to walk humbly with thy Godf The lady in the Scot-
tish church would frown and shake her head, but
the President felt that, of all the texts in the Bible,
that was the best.
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