Sunday, 23 June 2013


(From the New York Freeman's Journal.)

We are certain to interest most of our readers by  reproducing large extracts from this discourse of Dr. Bellows, at the late "Commencement" of Harvard University. Speaking of the New England Unitarians, he says:—
  Since we began our career, a fact of decisive influence upon our destiny, lies unexpectedly disclosed itself. The underlying principles and sentiments of the Unitarian body have turned out to be the characteristic ideas and tendencies of the religious epoch we live in. Protestantism produced us, not we it. Whatever is good or bad in our spirit and direction, was latent in the Reformation, and is fast becoming patent in the whole product of that world movement. The peculiar identification of Protestant tendencies with our special theology is partly accidental, partly historical ; the tendencies themselves are the great fact. Thus no criticism of Unitarianism is radical, which is not also a criticism of Protestantism ; nor is it possible to understand our position and prospects, without considering from a high point of view the general drift of Protestantism itself. Our eddy, or rapid, is to be explained only by a survey of the main current ; our drought, or freshet, only by an examination of the common watershed. If I say, then, that our pause as a denomination is the pause which Protestantism makes on awakening to the full consciousness of her own tendencies, I shall best express my second and most important idea.
 These tendencies have only recently cleared themselves to view, and are not by the boldest faced with out some concern. Yet it is best to look them full in the front; to acknowledge them for just what they are, and rely upon God and the truth to deliver us from evil at their hands. Permit me, then, for the moment, to state in unqualified, and even in offensive terms, what the logical product of Protestantism is.
   If, then, with logical desperation, we ultimate the tendencies of Protestantism, and allow even the malice of its enemies to flash upon their direction, we may see that the sufficiency of the Scriptures turns out to be the self-sufficiency of man, and the right of private judgment an absolute independence of Bible or Church. No creed but the Scriptures practically abolishes all Scriptures but those on the human heart; nothing between a man's conscience and his God vacates the Church, and with the Church the Holy Ghost, whose function is usurped by private reason ; the Church lapses into what are called Religious Institutions; these into Congregationalism, and Congregationalism into Individualism—and the logical end is the abandonment of the Church as an independent institution, the denial of Christianity as a supernatural revelation, and the extinction of worship as a separate interest. There is no pretence that Protestantism, as a body, has reached this, or would not honestly and earnestly repudiate it ; but that its most logical product is at this point, it is not easy to deny. Nay, that these are the tendencies of Protestantism, is very apparent.
 Let us not be too much alarmed at this statement, assuming it to be true. Tendencies are not always ultimated. They encounter resistance. They meet and yield to other tendencies. The tendencies of an epoch, religious or political, do not decide its whole character. There are forces in humanity. stronger than any epochal powers—the permanent wants, the indestructible instincts of our nature. It is safe, and it ought not to be alarming, to see and confess that the tendencies of political and religious speculation and sentiment, in the Universal Church of our day, are to the weakening of the external institutions of Christianity, the extinction of the ministry, and the abandonment of any special interest in religion, as a separate interest of man, or society. If our Unitarian body understands this better than the inner ranks of Protestantism, it is only because the squadrons behind have pressed it nearer the brink toward which they are unconsciously advancing. With great temporary superiority and advantages, one over another, there is really nothing to choose between the Protestant sects in general direction, and ultimate destinies : logically, and what is more, practically, they are shut up to one conclusion. All alike in this respect, they represent human liberty, self-assertion, and man's power to choose and enthrone his own God. The differences between them are chronological, circumstantial, accidental ; the likeness is logical, essential, and absolute. We need not fancy that our peculiar theology is responsible for the latitudinarianism, the negation, the undevotionality, complained of in the Unitarian body. The same qualities belong to all Protestant sects, to the degree in which their culture and opportunities establish positive and logical relations between their principles and their characters. The Unitarian body, not as being more learned or more thoughtful than other Protestant bodies in its leaders and ministry, but as having a laity on the same intellectual level with its leaders, and no dead weight of mere instinct and affection to drag along with it, has carried out and experienced in its denominational life, what no other Protestant sect has yet been sufficiently conscious of itself, and enough under the dominion of its own ideas, fully to experience. We have shown the world the finest fruits and the rankest weeds of the Protestant soil ; we have most freely felt, and most plainly indicated, the main Protestant current ; and the criticisms we have suffered from our Protestant brethren have owed much of their edge to the anxiety of fellow passengers, bitterly upbraiding the officers of the ship, because they could not resist the force of the stream that set toward the rapids and the precipice. The same sympathy; taking often the form of antipathy, that connects the conservative and historical rank of our own body, with the front-rank of avowed rationalists, connects us all, as the front-rank of Protestantism, with the whole body behind ! and we must pardon the severity of its criticism upon us, when we consider that it is an unconscious self-criticism—a parent's blame of the hereditary taint it has communicated to its child.
 Let us not deceive ourselves in respect to the tendencies of Protestantism, as such, by crediting it with the resistance which is constantly made to its logical and spiritual impulses, by the permanent instincts of humanity, or by the still unspent force of past epochs of a diametrically opposed quality. It is not the devout and virtuous class which, in any community or sect, best expresses the animating tendencies of the time and place. Catholic saints do not properly measure and represent the level of Romanism, or its characteristic influence and sentiments, but rather the common people of that Church any and everywhere. And Unitarian saints—of whom, thank God, many as pure and noble as the calendar of any Church can produce, have shed their fragrance upon us and gone up in clouds of glory—do not exhibit the tendencies of our liberal faith. Nor is it the religious portion of Protestantism that shows the influence of Protestantism. Exceptional and marked piety is, in all churches, constitutional ; due to the devout nature of its subjects, independent of the theological opinions or the special era and circumstances with which it is associated. Men and women, pious by nature, are pious as Heathens, Jews, or Christians; as Catholics or Protestants; and it matters little under what religious influences they are brought, or on what times they fall. The religious tendencies of an era are indicated satisfactorily only by the ideas and sentiments that sway the unthinking, unspeculative, unconscious masses. No opinions are efficacious over society at large, which are held as opinions, or voluntarily taken up and inculcated. We inculcate opinions for the benefit of future generations, in which we may hope they will appear as blessed prejudices of the blood. For, as a rule, it is only ideas from which men can not get away, sentiments that are spontaneous, natural, and constant, that exert any shaping and decisive influence over them. "Opinion," says Milton, "is knowledge in the making;" and until it has passed the stage of intellectual effort and conscious will, it is inoperative to any degree worth considering in a large view of things.
 If we would know the religious tendencies of our Protestant age (for I deny the existence of any living Catholic Church in an estimate of the world movements of the time), we must go outside the churches to the vast population, said to be much more than half—perhaps three quarters—of every considerable community, that goes to church no where ; we must notice the deepening hostility of all States to established churches ; the disjunction between science and faith, literature and theology ; the transference of the faith of the people from the church to the school-house; the popularity of all attacks upon the clergy; the acceptance and elevation of those ministers understood to be suspected and and discountenanced by the rest ; the open and extensive sale of infidel books ; the growing use of the Sabbath for recreation—not, as abroad, under the smile of the Church, but in direct contempt of its frown ; the easy conscience of the people in the profound secularity of their lives—indicating their contentment in a condition of alienation from religious relations and ideas ; the frequency of suicide ; the increasing laxity of the marriage bond; the defence of scortatory love—all marked indications of the decay of religious ideas; the peculiar interest attached to preaching in contradistinction to worship, and the necessity of keeping together the church going class by the extra allurements of gifted speech ; the general inculcation of morality on utilitarian grounds ; the excellence, as citizens and neighbors, of an avowedly irreligious class; the popular and applauded hostility of the philanthropy of the day to the churches—the most accomplished orators of the times being high-toned, virtuous, respected men, and virulent assailants of the religious creeds and customs and institutions of the community; the existence of a vast and governing class in this country, felt in all our elections, and more and more shaping our institutions, with whom not only is the higher law in its refined form unknown, but whom religious considerations of any kind seem to sway not at all ; so that an infidel, as such, would not perhaps stand a poor chance as a candidate for the Presidency.  I do not forget that religious or sectarian prejudices exert a considerable influence in our politics. But when we remember how numerous and powerful the great religious sects in our country are, it becomes still more striking to think how large must be the body of citizens, without religious prejudices, that is, for the masses, without religious ideas, when they are the regular reliance of the democratic (which is the logical) party, in all our great elections. I called it, then, an un-religious age — I do not say ir-religious, for that implies active opposition to religion ; not a bad, or an immoral, or a discouraging, or a wicked age—better, doubtless, on the whole, and in respect of the general interests of society than any that has preceded it—but nevertheless characteristically an unreligious age—despite its philanthropy and its throes of sectarian piety, its rights of man, and its self-complacency toward God.
 Nor is this all. It is not only an unreligious age, but is becoming more and more unreligious. For religious institutions and ideas in our day flourish mainly in the strength of their roots in a religious past, a strength which is constantly diminishing. As respect for rank in England, the remnant of an honest aristocratic system, ages in power, is the wholesome vis inertiœ which prevents the democratic instincts of the age in that country from hurrying precipitately to their inevitable goal, so the genuine religiousness of ages gone by, whose flavour lingers in our blood, is the most vigorous support the worship of this age enjoys. Whatever public nourishment, beside, distinctive and essential religion has in our generation, is due to the exceptional devoutness of spirits born out of due time, and to the esprit de corps so characteristic of the day—the love of joint action, the fondness for educational, moral, and ethical institutions, the emulation of communities with each other, the partisan rivalry of sects, and the fact that under the name of religious institutions we sustain a vast and valuable system of adult education, in thought, humanity, and manners. Our churches to a great extent, and constantly more and more so, are lecture-foundations—in which the interest is less and less religious, more and more political, social, and ethical. The one thing the people are interested in is life, themselves, each other, and the relation of the inside to the outside—of man to his dwelling, of man to man, of man to himself. To make a religion out of self-respect, right-living, self culture —to insist that aspiration is worship, that truth is God, that goodness is religion—is the highest ambition of our modern pulpit. I do not say it in blame, nor in scorn ; for under the circumstances it is an honourable ambition, laid upon men by the necessity of justifying their own faith to themselves. God is too sacred a word to be lost out of the language ; worship too holy a thing not to be held on to on some pretence or other; piety too profound and indestructible an instinct to be abandoned ; and therefore the political and social idealism of our age clothes itself in religious phraseology and forms, out of an honest respect for the past, a sincere self delusion, and, what is best of all, under an instinctive or a providential guidance. But to say that the animating and characteristic quality of the American people of the nineteenth century is religion, worship, faith, or that whatever is theological and ecclesiastical in our terms and usages represents a living spirit and not a reverend memory, is more than a just discrimination will allow. On the contrary, the science, philosophy, and literature of the day are busily engaged in creating substitutes for religion —and authorizing the continuance of the names and forms and symbols of worship and faith, after asserting, in more or less obvious language, the irrelevancy of the things themselves.
 * * * * * * *
Yet the actual weakness of positive faith is visible in nothing so much as in the eager welcome yielded, by the professional friends of Christianity, to any succour which the science or literature of the day may see fit to bestow, in charity, upon the Church. The times, indeed, are changed since science and literature were humble suppliants at the Church gate, asking her permission to set up their conclusions within her palings ; and now religion is thankful if geology, scornfully passing by, does not throw her hammer at her head, and literature lampoon her in her own pulpit.
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I have shown, first, the particular, and, next, the general historical reason of the pause of faith ; I wish now to set forth the still more fundamental or psychological reason of this pause—the universal reason.
   III. There are two motions of the spirit in relation to God, his creator and upholder, essential to the very existence of generic or individual man —a centrifugal and a centripetal motion— the motion that sends man away from God to learn his freedom, to develop his personal powers and faculties, relieved of the overawing and predominating presence of his Author ; and the motion that draws him back to God, to receive the inspiration, nurture, and endowment which he has become strong enough to hold. For man, though a creature of faculties, is still more characteristically a creature of capacities; and his capacities must be developed before they can be filled — his vessel shaped before it can be sent to the fountain. He must have freedom, before he can yield obedience; he must possess a will, before he can surrender it ; affections trained to love visible objects, before they can love the unseen Source ; intellectual and moral independence, to make his loyalty significant and his service blessed; accordingly, the origin and history of the race exhibits the care with which God has hidden Himself away from His creatures in the infancy of their existence, lest they should be scorched and shrivelled in the glory of His presence. And yet His whole purpose is to create a race that can live in His conscious society, without losing their individuality and freedom in gaining his inspiration and guidance. The whole vexed question of the tardiness of the great Dispensations, and of the necessity of Revelation itself, is to be solved only in the light of this law, the sistole or diastole, or double motion of our spirits. Man is not made acquainted with God by nature, and God does not come into his earliest stages of existence with distinctness, because spiritual creation must precede spiritual salvation. The first man is of the earth, earthy ; the second man is the Lord from heaven; the first Adam was created a living soul; the second Adam a quickening spirit. Man's creation is not complete at his birth, but continues on in his development as an intellectual and moral being ; and this development is primarily more important than the use to which his faculties are put ; as the life, health, and growth of our children are more important than anything they can do for us, or any affections they manifest towards us in their infancy and youth. If we view the history of the race in a comprehensive way, we shall observe that it has been providentially occupied in all its earlier eras with itself, establishing what may be called its selfhood ; and that what is termed natural religion—which is only an inverted self- worship, in which man makes his own deity to suit his tastes and feelings, and, of course, does not make him too strong for his own self-will—is then the only witness of the living God—a witness so weak as not to interfere with the providential process of setting man up in his own fight and liberty. Revealed religion—the only religion that ever has had authority, or which, by the nature of the case, can have power to awe, restrain, and elevate man, or to overcome the congenital bias of his nature—being something outside of, and independent of, his personality—has necessarily been subsequent to his creation, confined to special representative races and eras ; and has applied itself through the slow form of institutional influences, in order to gain a greater power in the end, because over a more freely and fully developed being, surrendering himself voluntarily to a control which enlarges his true freedom, and accepting a liberty in divine dependence of which his previous independence has been only a fictitious foreshadowing.
 Thus, taking in all history, we may consider the educational orbit of the race as completing itself under natural and revealed religion, as its centrifugal and centripetal forces ; natural religion being, as I have said, in its last analysis, self-worship—and of course intensely favorable to self-assertion, individuality, and self-development, or alienation from God, as a necessary preparation for the worship of God in the end—and revealed religion being the essential condition of emancipation from self and connection with God, as a power outside of and independent of man—or, God coming to possess, and fill, and occupy the soul he has been making for his dwelling.
 But in the domain of revealed religion, and in Christendom, the same centrifugal and centripetal forces continue to act : of course under the modifying influences of revelation. Here, the World re presents the centrifugal, the Church the centripetal force, the world upholding, asserting, and defending Humanity, its freedom, the unimpeded play of its tastes, and faculties, and desires—favoring the development of the utmost energy, enterprise, and individuality ; the Church steadily denouncing humanity as depraved, corrupt, unclean, partial, condemned—its freedom, license ; its independence, rebellion; its only hope of salvation, in and from God. Thus the world and the Church, notwithstanding, or rather because of this disagreement, has each had truth on its side, and each been performing indispensable duties—one making man, and the other saving him ; one giving him a being to be saved, and the other putting salvation into his being ; one making him "a living soul," the other "a quickening spirit." The world, and that portion of the Church which has been with the world in this quarrel, has been mainly right in asserting the dignity and rectitude of human nature; the Church mainly right in asserting the destituteness and depravity of human nature—for one looked at man with reference only to his faculties, the other with reference only to his destiny. One looked at him as a vessel of honor, in the shape originally given it by his Creator, finished and perfect ; the other as a vessel empty, and waiting for a divine fulness, which should prove its true ennobling. There was nothing inconsistent in these ideas. Both were true—and each did justice to the other's real meaning, but not to the other's terms—and greatly as the early discussion touching the import and the fitness of the phrase used to convey the ideas of these opposed parties was needed to clear up the real truth, we can afford now to drop it, if prepared on both sides to acknowledge the halfness of our antagonistic statements.
 And within the Church, as well as within Christendom, these two forces have been at work, under the names of Romanism and Protestantism ; Romanism representing the centripetal force of Christianity, Protestantism the centrifugal ; Romanism standing for external or divine authority, Protestantism for internal liberty and individual freedom ; Romanism representing God's condescension to man, Protestantism man's aspiration toward perfection ; Romanism leading to worship, Protestantism to work. But there is no doubt that Romanism, merely as a religion, has fulfilled its function more perfectly than Protestantism, whose main services have not been to religion, but directly to humanity, and to religion only indirectly. Not that her influences were not vastly, nay, indispensably necessary, even to the ultimate triumphs of faith ; but they have, not been in the way of bringing man's soul more under the idea or the inspiration and sway of God, but rather of conscience, and intellect, and will—a magnificent development of human faculties and powers, but not, as experience proves, adequate to the religious wants of man ; to the peace and rest of the soul, the nurture of the sweet and unselfish affections of the Gospel.
 Is it not plain, then, that as Protestants of the Protestants, we are at the apogee of our orbit; that in us the centrifugal epoch of humanity has, for this swing of the pendulum, at last reached its bound. For one cycle we have come, I think, nearly to the end of our self, directing, self-asserting, self-developing, self-culturing faculties ; to the end of our honest interest in this necessary, alternate movement. We see it to be so well established in Protestantism at large, that it does not need our leadership—that it is so sure to do its work and complete its oscillation independently of us. And we are very weary of the toil it has thrown upon us; the speculation, inquiry, and self-sustaining energy we have put forth under its compulsion. Moreover, having enlarged our faculties, we want a use for them ; having achieved our freedom, we know not what to do with it; having cultivated our wills, consciences, and intellects to the utmost at present possible, they cry out for objects that they do not find. And this is the painful pause—this the suspended animation, seen and felt throughout Christendom—especially throughout Protestant Christendom, and more particularly throughout our own more Protestantized province of the Church. Why is it that the moment we find ourselves in the possession of men whom genius, character, and scholarship, fit to lead us on in our logical career to new victories and the extension of our faith, they almost uniformly become paralyzed by doubts and scruples, and lose their interest in the progress they might assure? It is simply because the small elevation which gives them command of us, reveals to them the absence of any more road in the direction we have been going. Not brave enough, or quite clear enough, to announce this, they allow themselves to seem smitten with sudden indifference to their former interests, and leave the rank and file to blunder on and find out the truth for themselves. Of later years, this has been our almost constant experience as a body. The moment we have given our faith to our leaders, that moment, without changing their allegiance or opinions, they have lost their own faith in themselves and our cause.
 Of course this state of things has been attended with other results. Not a few, less conscious of the unrest, weariness, and dissatisfaction of ultra-protestantism, have pronounced the recoil upon it they began to notice a servile and dangerous retrogradation, and to resist it have rushed on, reckless of consequences, into a still bolder self-assertion. Like the new war-rocket, which, having expended its first force, lights with its last ember a fresh fuse that propels another projectile far beyond the place where it falls itself, Protestantism, which has exhausted its own orbit, flings off into space its eccentric particles, henceforth to be content with a geocentric, not a heliocentric revolution. Thus the school of Mill and the secularists abroad, and the Emersonian and transcendental school at home, acknowledge only one true movement in humanity—the egoistic—the self-asserting and self-justifying movement—which is Protestantism broken loose from general history, taken out of its place in the providential plan, and made the whole instead of the part. Toward this position we have of necessity continually tended, and into this many of our bravest and best spirits have gone to dwell, and all of them have been to visit. And now that the ecclesiastical leaders of ultra-Protestantism begin to be anxious to turn their forces, not back, but round and up, we may expect to see literary and secular leaders arise who will have none of their scruples, because little of their experience, and who will press on and inspirit the flagging ranks—that for a time may take new courage in the hearing of fresh and cheery voices, and seem to themselves to have great victories before them in the old field. Science, art, and culture will place themselves in the van, which the Church lately held but now deserts—and there are not a few who do not quite say, but hint clearly enough to be understood by the wise, that the Church of the future will be the diffusion of a universal intelligence, in which natural laws shall take the place of bibles and prayer-books, and science and art be the high and only priests.
 If however, universal history is to be heeded, if religion be the earliest and latest, the deepest and the highest interest of man, then we may trust that the sense of want, the yearning for rest, the longing for legitimate authority, the expectation of relief, the general feeling throughout the devouter portion of Protestantism of dissatisfaction with the existing attitude of things, with a secret faith that God or Christ is about to interpose for its relief, indicates the conception—I do not say the birth—of a new religious epoch, to be distinguished as much by faith, as the last has been by doubt—an epoch in which the temple that man has been building and beautifying shall be occupied by its Lord—in which the passive side of humanity shall enjoy its long neglected rights ; and when, instead of seeking God as the solar system is seeking the star Aries in the constellation Hercules, He shall seek us, as the shepherd in the parable, leaving the ninety and nine of the flock, sought the lost lamb and folded it in his arms; and in place of self-assertion, self-abnegation and life in God shall again become the type of human experience.
 Even the intimations of the destructive philosophy of the positivists, which ends in a ritual of worship, and the application of the Hamiltonian metaphysics to orthodoxy, which puts the reason of religion as the mean product of two extremes of absurdity, seem to be lending unwilling testimony to the same yearning for a settled and externalized faith.
 Who can believe, or who, intimately acquainted with the inner life of this age, desires to believe that the nineteenth century, however important in its place, is to be indefinitely continued ? or that the spirit and temper of this inventive, bustling, irreverent, and self-asserting time, is to govern the whole future? a time in which knowingness, curiosity, wit, covetousness, and publicity, external accomplishments, arts, and achievements, have so largely taken the place of the deeper passions and richer experiences of the soul ; and in which conjugal love, parental care, filial reverence, domestic quietude, true friendship, spiritual art, poetic imagination, and private peace, seems so lamentably in abeyance. Man's body, tasked by this quick time, is furrowed with the lash, begs for mercy ; his his nerves have come to the surface with the unnatural strain ; his spirits fagged, or unduly stimulated, send him hopping or maudlin to the mad-house, or dig him an early grave. Meanwhile his proud work is to moor the hemispheres side by side with his metallic cable ; to decant the oceans with the syphon of his Isthmus canal ; or to swallow the continent when he flings towards the Pacific his iron rod. His insolent pleasure is to dance over dread Niagara on the showman's rope, or to hang above it in the slippery clouds, till he dwindles it to a ripple. His architecture, gay with emulative cost, covers cheerless homes ; his churches, splendid with sectarian rivalry, shelter unworshipping hearts. His philanthropic assemblies, crowded and frequent, breathe violence and hatred, while they advocate the rights of man, and rebuke the Church in the tones of Mephistopholes. An age, that has to be busy to save itself from knowing its own destitution ! to which leisure is a burden and solitude a calamity ! What is there that we can desire to see perpetuated in the peculiar spirit—I do not say in the institutions, achievements, or victories—of an age like this ? And when this spirit which now animates the highest and most influential classes of society, and produces the self-criticism, the disintegrating individualism, the pride that kills hospitality, and the strain of social emulation which makes elegant fortresses of men's homes ; the esoteric want behind the exoteric abundance ; when the cold polish, the brilliant surface, the dead enthusiasm of the best and most characteristic products of the nineteenth century, come to strike downwards and to be seen in connection with the inferior culture, the more vulgar tastes, the coarser grain of the masses, as they surely will, we may then perhaps discover the origin of the alarming symptoms of our national life, its vulgar credulity, and as vulgar infidelity, its denial of so many things that are false ; its unspirituality and spiritism ; its no faith in the Old Testament, and interest in the Mormon Bible and the "Spiritual Telegraph."
  Nobody acquainted with that portion of the modern literature of all nations which indicates the inward yearnings of our instant humanity, can fail to acknowledge the omnipresence of a dissatisfied, expectant, and thoroughly bewildered spirit. The cultivated mind of the rising generation, whether in England or America—that of young men and women who will help largely to form the next age—is not so much aggressive or progressive as in a painful equipoise which forbids healthful motion—melancholic, sad, astray or afloat. What Lamartine says so well of one of his characters, "Il fut ne fatigué," may be said of the most intellectual and spiritual portion of our youth of both sexes. The inherited thought of a Protestant epoch of three centuries is born tired, in the meditative mind of our generation. As a necessity of this state of things, the Protestant Church has lost its hold of the two ends of society—the cultivated and the uncultivated end—of the head, because it is under the dominion of paralyzing ideas, which leave faith a fiction and worship a mockery ; of the foot, because it is no longer controlled by that authority which a living and satisfied faith can alone put into the wills and into the actions of the governing classes. The infidelity of our age is not commonly an insolent, self-satisfied, flippant criticism of evidences, or a sour and bitter assault upon Christianity, although we still have that. It is, in the cultivated classes—and with frightful frequency there—a silent, thoughtful, sad consciousness that the soul has no faith, and possesses no religion except the religious sentiment, and knows no God and no Saviour.

 Freeman's Journal 3 December 1859,

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