Bishop Colenso Assailed: October 10, 1863

Bishop Colenso Assailed 

by the Rev. H.M. Turner

Christian Recorder: October 10, 1863

Turner reviews Bishop John Colenso's  The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined


Mr. Editor:- I have for some time been reading Bishop Colenso’s attack upon the Pentateuch, to which work he brings arguments colored very highly with mathematical reasonings, and endeavors by a kind of problematic glossiness, to prove the unblatoricalness of these five books, book of five volumes, commonly called the five books of Moses. How far the Bishop of Natal has succeeded in this daring attempt, will be for men of piety and learning to decide; for I do not believe that any other class of men would be very successful in attempting to subvert the design of the work which this learned divine has launched. But it is a most remarkable thing, that a bishop of the Episcopal Church, a church which has given narrow limits to the range of thought, should find in her own bosom, one of her most learned prelates endeavoring to sap the foundation of her existence. A church which places so much stress upon her apostolic succession, and declares that the ministers of every faith and order under heaven, are disqualified for her pulpits, and that one should rise up in her midst, who has vowed his belief and plighted his faith to all of the canonical books, and flaw them here and fault them there, and unqualifiedly contradict them yonder, should, I think, abase that selfish haughtiness, and humble that ungodly pride, which Hew-like, has disenfranchised all of God’s other elect, and claimed the absolute and irreverable right to all of Heaven’s ministerial functions, and the only ones possessing a legitimate right to transmit them to others.

Nevertheless, as we do not intend on this occasion to review the Church of England and her exclusiveness towards other Christian, let us go on with the Bishop of Natal. Bishop Colenso very ingeniously tries to build a bridge from earth to heaven, upon the wrecks of the very instrument he has spent so much labor to destroy. For if the Pentateuch, the foundation of all received revelations, tumbles to the ground, where is he to erect a standard of moral truth, or glean a system of theology, which will meet out the wants of depraved humanity? I believe and every other man who has given any attention to the Mosaic records, that many things in them mentioned, were designed from the first, to be allegorical, for it would be impossible to make out the days of creation; (Hebrew Yom) sun-measured days. Science disputes that even when reduced to school-book simplicity, and God in word, must not dispute God in work. So do I believe that other things mentioned in connection with the flood, the burning of Sodom, Gomorrah, Zeboim, &e., were in the peculiar provincialism of the respective localities, where the events transpired, and I contend that their unliteral portraiture is no barrier to our unreserved acceptation.

I recollect some years ago, when reading Gen. ix. 25: “And he said, Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren,” and then hearing a now succession minister, with his historical lies and pro-slavery logic prove, as I then thought, that the negro race were of the posterity of Canaan; and by virtue of this ancestorial curse, were doomed to perpetual servitude. I took the liberty then of questioning its authentic veracity; but even then I was not so sacrilegious as to doubt the genuineness of the matter in the main, but regarded it as a human corruption. And after I found out that the negro race was not of Canaan, but of Cush, and likely of a portion of the posterity of Mizraim, and that not a single one of Canaan’s children ever went to Africa, but that the malediction was verified in the inflictions of the Israelites, then all doubts were removed. I do not wish to be understood as setting myself as an example for Bishop Colenso. As you might naturally expect, I was prejudiced against that particular passage through the interpretation given to it; but Bishop Colenso appears to be impelled with a desire to disseminate truth, and looking at difficulties which, in course of time, will be understood by every layman, and be explained in harmony with the other sacred books, has attempted to turn the world upside down, because he is puzzled.

Mr. Burgon in his inspiration and interpretation, asserts the orthodox creed to be so binding upon the freedom of thought, that a Protestant believer must accede to the literal rendering of the Bible, so far as to regard in every respect, as he sums it up in the following paragraph:

“The Bible is none other than the voice of Him that sitteth upon the throne, -every book of it,-every chapter of it,-every verse of it,-every word of it,-every syllable of it,-every letter of it,-is the direct utterance of the Most High. The Bible is none other than the Word of God,-not some part of it more,-some part of it less,-but all alike, the utterance of Him who sitteth upon the throne,-absolute,-faultless,-unerring,-supreme.”

Now, while the bold and daring attack of Bishop Colenso is highly criminal, yet no man trying to keep pace with the times, can sanely concur with Mr. Burgon. God carried the church through the Patriarchal and Mosaic dispensation to educate the world for a higher manifestation of his glory. Had he from the very fall of Adam, enforced all his eternal requirements on us, who would have been saved? Equally so, had he in the process of preparing man to comprehend his eternal truths, whether physical, mental, or moral. I ask again, who would have been sufficiently adapted to their reception? It was the policy of Heaven (and wise it was) to take man by grades, thus preparing them for one, before introducing them to another. It was then needless, way back in the gloomy past, to speak with men in philosophical terms. Technical or scientific language might have answered very well for the days of science and philosophy, but how many thousands, yea, millions would have lived, read, and died, without even comprehending the extent of the narrative. Still, the Bishop can’t see the policy of Heaven, and the great stretch of mercy to manifest in this modus operandi. Suppose that Prof. S.G. Brown had lived in the days of Moses, and had been called upon to make a speech to the tribes of Israel, and instead of saying, ‘Hear, O Israel, my doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the showers upon the grass. Because I will publish the name of the Lord; ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is a rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.’ Deut. xxxii: 2-4.  Suppose, I say again, instead of using the above, he had made a speech upon organic agencies, and took up the microscopic animalcules or infusoria by saying that the rapidity of their multiplication is most astonishing, that one individual of the hydatina scuta having been known to increase in ten days to 1,000,000 and, in eleven days, 4,000,000, and in twelve days to 10,000,000 of other species, that one individual was capable of becoming 170,000,000,000 in four days. That this rapid multiplication was effected by eggs, buds, and spontaneous division into two or more parts, each one of which very soon became a perfect animalcule. That this accounted for their wide diffusion and sudden appearance in countless numbers; that they were found in the waters, upon the land, and in the fluids of living healthy plants and animals, and that only the hard shelled left traces of existence, &e., &e. Suppose he had then said, ‘O, Israel, see what wonders God performs; look at his greatness and his wisdom, and see his truthfulness in their perpetration.’ I ask Bishop Colenso, while Brown would have been philosophically correct, what tendency would it have had in raising up the minds of that enslaved people to a due appreciation of that God whose universally wrought wonders speaks his glory only in proposition to our comprehension. Then I hold, that to accede to Mr. Burgon’s idea of Protestant faith in the Holy Scriptures would be to attempt to swallow what our better judgment could not accept.

Bishop Colenso says in the preface Vol. II, page 5th, that while engaged translating the Bible in the Zulu tongue, when he came to the flood, “I have a simple-minded, but intelligent native,-one with the docility of a child, but the reasoning power of mature age, look up and ask, “ Is all that true? Do you really believe that this happened thus? that all the beasts and birds, and creeping things upon the face of the earth, large and small, from hot countries and cold, came thus by pairs, and entered the ark with Noah? And did Noah gather food for them all, for the beasts and birds of prey, as well as the rest?”

My heart answered him in the words of the prophet, ‘Shall a man speak lies in the name of the Lord? Ezek. Xiii: 3 I dare not say so.’ The Bishop then blames his knowledge of geology, as the ground of his doubts, which had been greatly increased since leaving England, the strongest argument of which he drew from the volcanic hills which existed to such immense extent in Auvergne and Languedoc. That must (according to his opinion) have existed long before the Noachian Deluge, &c. The fiery craters and the antagonistic elements of which, I presume he thinks, would by the conclusion preached by them, have waked up Milton’s “chaos.” Had the Bishop been sufficiently versed in the science of Geology, or known that Geology had not determined the age of the world, when volcanic eruptions first began, and in chronology, known that the time of the Deluge may be far anterior to the common-draw conclusion. He might have in the greatness of his original genius hewn out a path, in which both he and the deluge could have gone in company. Besides granting the flood was not universal, suppose it extended just so far as the human family had peopled, can that impeach the Mosaic narrative? By no means. No more than the taxation of Caesar Augustine through the world, as mentioned, destroy the narrative of the actual taxation of the Roman Empire.

(To be Continued)

Washington, Oct. 3rd, 1863