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Title: A Voice from the Fire - A Sermon occasioned by the public burning of the Bible at Kingstown, by the Redemptorist Fathers, on the 5th of November, 1855
Author: Wallace, Robert
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1855 John Robertson edition by David Price.



                          A VOICE FROM THE FIRE:


                                 A Sermon

                            OCCASIONED BY THE

                PUBLIC BURNING OF THE BIBLE AT KINGSTOWN,

                       BY THE REDEMPTORIST FATHERS,

                      ON THE 5TH OF NOVEMBER, 1855.

                                * * * * *

                               PREACHED BY
                         THE REV. ROBERT WALLACE.

                                * * * * *

                                 DUBLIN:
                    JOHN ROBERTSON, 3 GRAFTON-STREET.

                                  1855.

                                * * * * *

                                 DUBLIN:
                       PRINTED BY WHITE, BROTHERS,
                             45 Fleet-street.



A SERMON.


    “And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard
    the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.
    And he declared unto you his covenant which he commanded you to
    perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of
    stone.  And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes
    and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over
    to possess it.  Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves, for ye
    saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you
    in Horeb, out of the midst of the fire, lest ye corrupt yourselves,
    and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the
    likeness of male or female.”—DEUT. iv. 12–17, _the passage on the
    outer page of the fragment taken out of the Fire_, _and given to the
    Preacher upon the spot_.

    “GOD who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past
    unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto
    us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, and by whom
    also he made the worlds.  Therefore we ought to give the more earnest
    heed to the things which we have heard.  For if they escaped not who
    refused him who spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we
    turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.”

Such are the solemn sanctions under which God has entrusted us with the
Book of Life; nor can these sanctions be considered too weighty by any
who rightly appreciate that gift.  Next to the gift of God’s incarnate
Son and of his Blessed Spirit, we rank the Book divine.  We are thankful
for the Church and its ordinances and means, and if we may distinguish
between the Church and its ministers, we are thankful for them too; but
we value the Sacred Volume above all institutions, however sacred, and
above all men of whatever character.  It is not our intention at this
time to elaborate arguments for the necessity of a divine revelation;
suffice to say, that without one we could have no certainty in matters of
faith, and no authorised standard in matters of morality.  That “the
world by wisdom knew not God” is proved by the history of all nations,
ancient and modern.  The classic times of Greece and Rome were as
destitute of correct knowledge of the true God as were the times most
distant and barbaric, while the highest culture of arts and science did
nothing whatever for pure morality; God, therefore, for his own glory and
man’s good, condescended to speak from heaven, and give us a revelation
of his will.  It was necessary that this revelation should be a written
one: for in matters of such importance no man could be satisfied with its
transmission by tradition.  Tradition never did and never can transmit
any dictate of either God or man with certainty.  What tradition can do
as a medium of supplying knowledge from the past may be seen in the case
of those nations which bordered the kingdom of Israel—whose fathers,
descending from the patriarchs, must have had some knowledge of both
God’s character and his claims; yet these nations had forgotten all, and
lapsed into the most contemptible idolatry.  It may be seen, in the case
of the Israelites themselves.  How simple and correct the views which
Abraham their father entertained of God, and yet so completely did his
descendants forget all this during their sojourn in Egypt that Moses
found it necessary to ask the Lord by what name he should speak of him to
them.  The uncertainty of tradition may be further seen by a reference to
the days of our Lord, when we find that by it the elders made void the
law of God.  Tradition is often at fault in its very origin.  Look at one
which rose among the disciples themselves.  The Saviour, before ascending
to heaven, informed Peter of the manner of his death, on which this
Apostle was curious to know what should be the lot of John, who was
coming up at the time.  The Lord did not think it wise to satisfy that
curiosity, and said, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that
to thee, follow thou me.”  Then went this saying abroad among the
brethren, that that disciple should not die; yet the sacred historian
tells us, that for this tradition there was no foundation in fact.  And
who among us could tell in this day what were the doctrines of our own
glorious Reformers, if their teachings had not been placed upon record?
Whether, therefore, the dictum be inspired or uninspired, it cannot with
any certainty and authority be transmitted through the medium of
tradition.  God, therefore, not only spoke from heaven, but commanded
that the Scriptures should be “_written for our learning_.”  But the
passage before us not only speaks of a record of the teachings and
commandments of God, it also informs us that in the absence or neglect of
that record men will be not merely ignorant of God’s character, but
corrupt themselves, and fall into idolatry.  It therefore seems to teach
with great force the tendency of our nature to some religious system, and
to us it appears plain that whether we trace that tendency to traditions
of the past, to some law of the mind, or to the “light which lighteneth
every man that cometh into the world,” the fact itself is indisputable.
Man every where seems to feel a need of something beyond himself to which
to look, on which to lean—the object of his hope, or the object of his
dread.  And where is it that men do not realize the warning of the text,
that without the Word of God they will corrupt themselves and set up
images, the likeness of male or female, or some other thing.  Perhaps,
indeed, no age of the world, and no portion of the human race, could more
fully verify the fact than the times in which we live, and the men whose
conduct is the occasion of these remarks.  They have not thought it
needful to consult the Word of God to remember his TEN commandments, and
have therefore forgotten that God is not represented by any similitudes,
and have made to themselves images, the likeness of male and of female.
There is, indeed, so striking a discrepancy between the text and the
worship of images that it can surprise no one that those who practise the
one should renounce the other.  No one can be pleased with that which
bears testimony against conduct he is not prepared to abandon.  “_Every
one that doeth evil hateth the light_, _neither cometh to the light_,
_lest his deeds should be reproved_.”  But since the right course is to
abandon the practice, not to insult the witness, this discrepancy is not
a mitigation but an aggravation of the conduct of which we complain.  We
need not say that we refer to the burning of the Holy Bible in open day,
very near the place in which we are met, and under the eye of Roman
Catholic and Protestant.  We are aware that from policy or shame the deed
has been denied, and, therefore, our first business will be to place
before you the evidence upon which our charge rests.  On Monday last,
about half-past ten o’clock in the morning, having heard that Bibles were
being burned in the yard of the Roman Catholic Chapel, we proceeded to
the spot; there, at the lower end of the chapel, and in sight of every
one that passed up or down the street, we saw a large heap of cinders
from books or paper.  Around the edges of the heap there were patches of
flame.  A number of persons, one of them a boy in the dress of an
acholyte, stood round the fire.  They were kicking books, that were
evidently small pocket Bibles, into the fire.  One of these persons
turned round and said, “_We are burning Bibles_,” and asked, “Have you
any more to bring?”  And then, to leave no doubt upon our mind, took up a
portion of one out of the fire before our eyes and placed it in our
hands.  This fragment you now behold, and from its first page we have
selected the text.  Can evidence like this be disputed or set aside?

Our next duty will be to consider, the _wickedness_ of the deed.  In
doing this we wish you to observe, that God threatens with severe
punishment those persons who merely do not receive the truth in the love
of it; still more severely such as will not hear, who turn away the
shoulder or stop the ear; but most of all the men who dare to treat his
commandment with contempt.  Now we say that the act complained of was one
that treated the Word of God with the utmost contempt possible.  The
burning of a book is every where, and from time immemorial has been,
looked upon as the worst brand that can be stamped upon its character.
In the times of the Apostles we read of some who, when converted from
their evil practices, brought their curious books of occult arts and
burned them as evidence of their detestation of the books and the
sincerity of their conversion.  The burning has been sometimes conducted
by the hands of the common executioner.  With the knowledge of these
facts, and that the deed should be regarded in this light, the Holy Book
of God was, in this nineteenth century of the Christian Era, committed to
the consuming flame by the authority of the Redemptorist Fathers.  It
must not be pleaded, as any mitigation of the daring impiety, that it was
the Protestant version that was burned: for many Roman Catholics of high
authority have admitted this version to be the Word of God, and the
difference between it and the Douay version, in all essential matters, is
not such as to allow any candid man of either creed to hesitate to
confess that either is the Holy Bible.  This deed was done under the most
aggravating circumstances.  It would have been great rebellion against
God to have burned his Word alone in one’s own chamber; but in that case
the insult would not have been so emphatic or so daring.  It was done
before the face of many Protestants, and under such circumstances that it
must come to the knowledge of all Protestants in the town, if not
throughout the kingdom.  It was an act not merely calculated to insult
their creed, but to provoke them in the highest degree.  The Book of God
was burned in revolting association.  To increase the ignominy of our
Lord’s crucifixion he was placed between two thieves; malefactors who,
according to their own admission, suffered justly.  “He was numbered with
transgressors.”  On the same principle, to make the odium cast upon the
precious volume more complete, it was placed in the same heap with the
worst productions of infidelity and licentiousness.  This outrage upon
Protestant feeling was committed at a time when it became all men who
loved their country to unite in seeking its welfare.  Amidst the
hardships and dangers of war, and when we were looking forward with hope
to see our country fully resuscitated from the dreadful consequences of
pestilence and famine.  Thus we find in every point of view, and by all
its accompaniments, the deed was one of daring impiety and provocation.
What judgments may be expected to follow.  Can any one suppose that God
will not visit for these things? that he will not be avenged for such a
deed as this.  “Because I called and ye refused; I will laugh at your
calamities and mock when your fear cometh.”  This seems specially to
apply to individuals.  “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall
add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man
shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall
take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and
from the things which are written in this book.”  This seems to refer to
the Church.  “Because they received not the love of the truth that they
might be saved, God shall send them strong delusion—that they should
believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth,
but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”  This evidently applies to such as
knowingly turn from the true to a false system.  What God will do unto
the nation that turns away from and despises the holy Word of God may be
seen in such threatenings as the following: “If thou wilt not observe to
do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou
mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, The Lord Thy God, then the
Lord will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even
great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sickness, and of long
continuance.  And it shall come to pass that as the Lord rejoiced over
you to do you good, and to multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over
you to destroy, and to bring you to nought.”  All these judgments are
threatened against the rejection of the Word—in fact, the mere neglect of
it: public insult never seemed to be contemplated at all.  The only
instance upon record, in any wise resembling the deed we are speaking of,
is that of Jehoiakim, who burned the roll containing the prophecy which
God had commanded Jeremiah to utter against Jerusalem.  And for this
burning God threatened the king with early death; informed him he should
have the burial of an ass; should have no man to sit upon his throne, and
that the nation he ruled over should be visited with wasting desolation.
Now, to all these judgments is the nation liable that can be guilty of a
crime like this.  All who approve of the deed, or who do not protest
against it, must be in danger of God’s displeasure; and we remember that
Bible burning was practised just before the judgments of 1846.

Let us, then, address a few observations on this solemn subject to all
classes in the land.  And, first, to Roman Catholics themselves, at
least, to such as have any moderation and candour.  Surely there must be
many among them who do not approve the deed.  We would ask the men of
intelligence, and rank, and property—men who are anxious for the welfare
of their country, and who especially desire the social amelioration of
the poorer classes.  What do these men expect from the burning of that
book which more than any other teaches the principles of industry, and
leads, under God, to the exercise of self-reliance?  What do those men
hope from the deed, who have publicly acknowledged that the difference
between Ulster and other parts of Ireland in these respects is traceable
to the circulation of the Bible alone?  We ask such Romanists as have any
interest in literature, what they think of the burning of a book that has
done more for the advancement of true learning than all others put
together?  We ask the men of that creed who profess liberal principles,
what they think of the burning of a book which is the Magna Charta of our
privileges—the palladium of our civil and religious liberty?  Above all,
we ask those who have any interest in piety or morality, do they consent
to ignore a book which is the source of the one and standard of the
other?  Now, it will not do for such Roman Catholics as these to say,
they did not do the deed, and were not cognizant of it.  It was done
under the direction of their clergy; and, until they protest against the
deed, they must be held answerable for its results.  Suppose the deed to
have been done—if I may venture upon such a supposition—by a minister of
any Protestant community, would not every minister and every man of that
community throughout the kingdom be held accountable for the outrage?
And we do not hesitate to tell the Roman Catholics that their Protestant
fellow countrymen can place no confidence in any profession of moderation
or liberality till they wash their hands of an enormity such as this.  We
have been informed that during the visit of these men many persons from
the different Protestant bodies have joined the Church of Rome.  Whether
this be so or not, we have no means to determine, and God forbid that we
should interfere with the fullest exercise of the understanding or
liberty of conscience, but if there have been any who, from levity of
disposition or sinister motives, have forsaken the teaching of the
Scriptures, and have aided in this deed or given it their countenance, we
dare not address to them other language than that of this holy book: “For
if we sin wilfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the
truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin; but a certain fearful
looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the
adversaries.”

Lastly, we address ourselves to Protestants: and what duties devolve on
them in this case?  We hope no one will be so foolish as to say—none.
The persons concerned in this act are our fellow-subjects—our next-door
neighbours—and with whom we are brought into contact every day in the
duties of life; it is therefore impossible to consider ourselves mere
disinterested hearers or spectators of the deed.  As citizens, as
Christians—and, above all, as lovers of the Bible, we are deeply
concerned therein.  Let us, then, first of all, thoroughly appreciate its
real character.  There must be no blinking the question or softening it
down; there could be no real charity or generosity in this, but a mere
extenuation of a dreadful crime.  We must apprehend the danger of living
in contact with a system that could sanction it, and rouse ourselves to
action.  We must not, indeed, transfer the hatred we bear to the act to
those who committed it.  This may be hard; but the Gospel requires it.
There must be no anger, malice, or revenge—nothing inconsistent with the
utmost charity, the love of God and man.  But while we must think
nothing, feel nothing, do nothing, which charity forbids; all that
charity allows, all that it demands, is expected from us now.  The love
of country—the love of learning—of liberty, religion, and of God—calls us
to wake to action.  All that we can do by prayer, by personal effort, by
the multiplication of evangelical agencies, is forced upon us now.
Especially, what a lecture does this read us on union among ourselves,
union among all evangelical denominations.  In view of transactions like
this what are our differences—can they be worthy one unbrotherly thought.
Let us love our several systems much, but our Saviour more; let us wish
well to our party, but long more eagerly for the salvation of our
country.  Let us unite to press upon all men more fully the great
doctrine of the Reformation and of the Bible—justification by faith
alone.  Let us agree to declare throughout the length and breadth of the
land that he that hath the Son hath life.  He that hath the Son as the
foundation of his faith—he that hath the Son within him as the hope of
glory—that hath the Son before him as the pattern of his life—he,
whatever his creed or his party, hath life; he lives “by the faith of the
Son of God” on earth, and is passing to the fuller life in heaven.
“But,” on the other hand, “he that hath not the Son hath not life;” he
that hath not the Son in these respects, with whatever church he stands
connected—whatever opinions he subscribes—whatever forms he
practises—hath no real life on earth, and can have none in heaven.
Should God of his infinite mercy, as the result of these doings, give us
that grace, that will unite us more closely among ourselves, give us more
singleness of eye in our efforts, and supply us with greater zeal for the
salvation of our fellow-countrymen—what was intended by the Redemptorist
Fathers as the laying of the topstone of their triumph may turn out the
loosening of a stone in the mystic building, and accelerate the period
when heaven and earth will unite in the cry—“BABYLON THE GREAT IS
FALLEN!”





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