Henry Rogers


A curious and entertaining paper here reprinted is taken from a

little book called The Eclipse of Faith which, first published in 1852,

by the year I86o had reached a ninth edition, but has now been long

out of print. The author of the book was Henry Rogers, a theologian

and scholar of great repute and influence in his day. Rogers (I8o6-

I877) who was a Congregational minister and a voluminous author and

editor, held in succession various academic offices, among them the

Professorship of English language and literature at University College,

London. He was a man of wide culture and reading, and deep personal

piety. As a Christian apologist he followed the tradition of Bishop

Butler. The Eclipse of Faith is an acute criticism of the many forms

of scepticism prevalent in his day. It called forth a reply from Francis

W. Newman, brother of the Cardinal, which was followed by a rejoinder,

The Defense of the Eclipse of Faith, in 1860. There is a good account of

Rogers and of his work in the Dictionary of National Biography.



I thought I was at home, and that on taking up my Greek Testament

one morning to read (as is my wont) a chapter, I found, to my

surprise, that what seemed to be the old familiar book, was a total blank ;

not a character was inscribed in it or upon it. I supposed that some

book like it had, by some accident, got into its place ; and without

stopping to hunt for it, took down a large quarto volume which contained

both the Old and New Testaments. To my surprise, however,

this also was a blank from beginning to end. With that facility of

accommodation to any absurdities which is proper to dreams, I did

not think very much of the coincidence of two blank volumes having

been substituted for two copies of the Scriptures in two different

places, and therefore quietly reached down a copy of the Hebrew

Bible, in which I could just manage to make out a chapter. To my

increased surprise, and even something like terror, I found that this

also was a perfect blank. While I was musing on this unaccountable

phenomenon, my servant entered the room, and said that thieves had

been in the house during the night, for that her large Bible, which she

had left on the kitchen table, had been removed, and another volume

left by mistake in its place, of just the same size, but made of nothing

but white paper. She added, with a laugh, that it must have been a

very queer kind of thief to steal a Bible at all ; and that he should have

left another book instead, made it the more odd. I asked her if anything

else had been missed, and if there were any signs of people having

entered the house. She answered in the negative to both these questions;

and I began to be strangely perplexed.




On going out into the street, I met a friend, who, almost before

we had exchanged greetings, told me that a most unaccountable robbery

had been committed at his house during the night, for that every copy

of the Bible had been removed, and a volume of exactly the same size,

but of pure white paper, left in its stead. Upon telling him that the

same accident had happened to myself, we began to think that there

was more in it than we had at first surmised.


On proceeding further we found every one complaining, in similar

perplexity, of the same loss ; and before night it became evident that

a great and terrible " miracle " had been wrought in the world ; that

in one night silently, but effectually, that hand which had written its

terrible menace on the walls of Belshazzar's palace, had reversed the

miracle ; had sponged out of our Bibles every syllable they contained,

and thus reclaimed the most precious gift which heaven had bestowed,

and ungrateful man had abused.


I was curious to watch the effects of this calamity on the varied

characters of mankind. There was universally, however, an interest

in the Bible now it was lost, such as had never attached to it while it was

possessed ; and he who had been but happy enough to possess fifty

copies might have made his fortune. One keen speculator, as soon as

the first whispers of the miracle began to spread, hastened to the

depositories of the Bible Society and the great book-stocks in Paternoster

Row, and offered to buy up at a high premium any copies of the

Bible that might be on hand ; but the worthy merchant was informed

that there was not a single copy remaining. Some, to whom their

Bible had been a " blank " book for twenty years and who would never

have known whether it was full or empty, had not the lamentations of

their neighbours impelled them to look into it, were not the least loud

in their expressions of sorrow at this calamity. One old gentleman, who

had never troubled the book in his life, said it was " confounded hard

to be deprived of his religion in his old age " ; and then another, who

seemed to have lived as though he had always been of Mandeville's

opinion, that " private vices were public benefits," was all at once

alarmed for the morals of mankind. He feared, he said, that the loss of

the Bible would have " a cursed bad effect on the public virtue of the



As the fact was universal and palpable, it was impossible that,

like other miracles, it should leave the usual loopholes for scepticism.

Miracles in general, in order to be miracles at all, have been singular or

very rare violations of a general law, witnessed, by a few, on whose

testimony they are received, and in the reception of whose testimony

consists the exercise of that faith to which they appeal. It was evident

that, whatever the reason of this miracle, it was not an exercise of docile

and humble faith founded on evidence no more than just sufficient

to operate as a moral test. This was a miracle which it could not be

denied, looked marvellously like a" judgment." However, there were,

in some cases, indications enough to show how difficult it is to give

such evidence as will satisfy the obstinacy of mankind. One old skeptical

fellow, who had been for years bed-ridden, was long in being convinced

(if, indeed he ever was) that anything extraordinary had occurred in

the world ; he at first attributed the reports of what he heard to the

" impudence " of his servants and dependents, and wondered that they

should dare to venture upon such a joke. On finding these assertions

backed by those of his acquaintance, he pished and pshawed, and looked

very wise, and ironically congratulated them on this creditable conspiracy

with the insolent rascals, his servants. On being shown the

old Bible, of which he recognised the binding, though he had never

seen the inside, and finding it a very fair book of blank paper, he quietly

observed that it was very easy to substitute the one book for the other,

though he did not pretend to divine the motives which induced people

to attempt such a clumsy piece of imposition ; and on their persisting

that they were not deceiving him, swore at them as a set of knaves,

who would fain persuade him out of his senses. On their bringing him

a pile of blank Bibles, backed by the asseverations of other neighbours,

he was ready to burst with indignation. " As to the volumes," he said,

cc it was not difficult to procure a score or two ' of commonplace books,'

and they had doubtless done so to carry on the cheat ; for himself, he

would sooner believe that the whole world was leagued against him,

than credit any such nonsense." They were angry, in their turn, at

his incredulity, and told him that he was very much mistaken if he

thought himself of so much importance that they would all perjure

themselves to delude him, since they saw plainly enough that he could

do that very easily for himself, without any help of theirs. They

really did not care one farthing whether he believed them or not : if

he did not choose to believe the story he might leave it alone. "Well,

well," said he, " it is all very fine ; but unless you show me, not one

of these blank books, which could not impose upon an owl, but one of

the very blank Bibles themselves, I will not believe." At this curious

demand, one of his nephews who stood by (a lively young fellow) was

so excessively tickled, that though he had some expectations from the

skeptic, he could not help bursting out into laughter ; but he became

grave enough when his angry uncle told him that he would leave him

in his will nothing but the family Bible, which he might make a ledger

of, if he pleased. Whether this resolute old skeptic ever vanquished

his incredulity, I do not remember.


Very different from the case of this skeptic was that of a most

excellent female relative, who had been equally long a prisoner to her

chamber, and to whom the Bible had been, as to so many thousands

more, her faithful companion in solitude, and the all-sufficient solace

of her sorrows. I found her gazing intently on the blank Bible, which

had been so recently bright to her with the lustre of immortal hopes.

She burst into tears as she saw me. " And has your faith left you too,

my gentle friend ? " said I. " No,'' she answered, " and I trust it never

will. He who has taken away the Bible has not taken away my memory,

and I now recall all that is most precious in that book which has so

long been my meditation. It is a heavy judgment upon the land ; and

surely," added this true Christian, never thinking of the faults of others,

I, at least, cannot complain, for I have not prized as I ought that

book which yet, of late years, I think I can say, I loved more than any

other possession on earth. But I know," she continued, smiling through

her tears,  that the sun shines, though clouds may veil him for a

moment ; and I am unshaken in my faith in those truths which have

been transcribed on my memory though they are blotted from my

book. In these hopes I have lived, and in these hopes I will die." I

have no consolation to offer to you," said I, for you need none."

She quoted many of the passages which have been, through all ages,

the chief stay of sorrowing humanity ; and I thought the words of

Scripture had never sounded so solemn or so sweet before.  I shall

often come to see you," I said,  to hear a chapter in the Bible, for you

know it far better than I."


No sooner had I taken my leave than I was informed that an old

lady of my acquaintance had summoned me in haste. She said she

was much impressed by this extraordinary calamity. As, to my certain

knowledge, she had never troubled the contents of the book, I was

surprised that she had so taken to heart the loss of that which had,

practically, been lost to her all her days. Sir," said she, the moment

I entered, "the Bible, the Bible." "Yes, madam," said I,  this is

a very grievous and terrible visitation. I hope we may learn the lessons

which it is calculated to teach us."  I am sure," answered she,  I

am not likely to forget it for a while for it has been a grievous loss to

me." I told her I was very glad. "Glad!" she rejoined.  Yes,''

I said,  I am glad to find that you think it so great a loss, for that loss

may then be a gain indeed. There is, thanks be to God, enough left

in our memories to carry us to heaven/' " Ah ! but," said she,  the

hundred pounds, and the villainy of my maid-servant. Have you not

heard ? " This gave me some glimpse as to the secret of her sorrow.

She told me that she had deposited several bank-notes in the leaves of the

family Bible, thinking that, to be sure, nobody was likely to look there

for them.  No sooner," said she,  were the Bibles made useless by

this strange event, than my servant peeped into every copy in the house,

and she now denies that she found anything in my old family Bible,

except two or three blank leaves of thin paper, which she says she

destroyed ; that if any characters were ever on them they must have

been erased, when those of the Bible were obliterated. But I am sure

she lies ; for who would believe that heaven took the trouble to blot out

my precious bank-notes? They were not God's word, I trow.'' It was

clear that she considered the  promise to pay " better by far than any

 promises " which the book contained.  I should not have cared so

much about the Bible," she whined, hypocritically,  because, as you

truly observe, our memories may retain enough to carry us to heaven "

-a little in that case would certainly go a great way, I thought to myself

 and if not, there are those who can supply the loss. But who is

to get my bank-notes back again ? Other people have only lost their

Bibles." It was, indeed, a case beyond my power of consolation.

The calamity not only strongly stirred the feelings of men, and

upon the whole, I think, beneficially, but it immediately stimulated

their ingenuity. It was wonderful to see the energy with which men

discussed the subject, and the zeal, too, with which they ultimately

exerted themselves to repair the loss. I could even hardly regret it,

when I considered what a spectacle of intense activity, intellectual and

moral, the visitation had occasioned. It was very early suggested that

the whole Bible had again and again been quoted piecemeal in one

book or other ; that it had impressed its own image on the surface of

human literature, and had been reflected on its course as the stars on

a stream. But alas ! on investigation it was found as vain to expect that

the gleam of star-light would still remain mirrored in the water, when

the clouds had veiled the stars themselves, as that the bright characters

of the Bible would remain reflected in the books of men when they

had been erased from the book of God. On inspection, it was found that

every text, every phrase which had been quoted, not only in books of

devotion and theology, but in those of poetry and fiction, had been

remorselessly expunged. Never before had I had any adequate idea

of the extent to which the Bible had moulded the intellectual and moral

life of the last eighteen centuries, nor how intimately it had interfused

itself with habits of thought and modes of expression ; nor how naturally

and extensively its comprehensive imagery and language had been

introduced into human writings, and most of all where there had been

most of genius. A vast portion of literature became instantly worthless,

and was transformed into so much waste paper. It was almost impossible

to look into any book of merit, and read ten pages together,

without coming to some provoking erasures and mutilations, some

hiatus 'Valde deflendi, which made whole passages perfectly unintelligible.-

Many of the sweetest passages of Shakespeare were converted

to unmeaning nonsense, from the absence of those words which his

own all but divine genius had appropriated from a still diviner source.

As to Milton, he was nearly ruined, as might naturally be supposed.

Waiter Scott's novels were filled with perpetual lacunae. I hoped it

might be otherwise with the philosophers, and so it was ; but even here

it was curious to see what strange ravages the visitation had wrought.

Some of the most beautiful and comprehensive of Bacon's Aphorisms

were reduced to enigmatical nonsense.


Those who held large stocks of books knew not what to do. Ruin

stared them in the face ; their value fell seventy or eighty per cent.

All branches of theology, in particular, were a drug. One fellow said

that he should not so much have minded if the miracle had spunged

out what was human as well as what was divine, for in that case he

would at least have had so many thousand volumes of fair blank paper,

which was as much as many of them were worth before. A wag

answered, that it was not usual, in despoiling a house, to carry away

anything except the valuables. Meantime, millions of blank Bibles

filled the shelves of stationers, to be sold for day-books and ledgers so

that there seemed to be no more employment for the paper makers in

that direction for many years to come. A friend, who used to mourn

over the thought of palimpsest manuscripts-of portions of Livy and

Cicero erased to make way for the nonsense of some old monkish

chronicler-exclaimed, as he saw a tradesman trudging off with a

handsome morocco-bound quarto for a day-book, " only think of the

pages once filled with the poetry of Isaiah, and the parables of Christ,

sponged clean to make way for orders for silks and satins, muslins,

cheese, and bacon I " The old authors, of course, were left to their

mutilation ; there was no way in which the confusion could be remedied.

But the living began to prepare new editions of their works, in which

they endeavoured to give a new turn to the thoughts which had been

mutilated by erasure, and I was not a little amused to see that many,

having stolen from writers whose compositions were as much mutilated

as their own, could not tell the meaning of their own pages.

It seemed at first to be a not unnatural impression that even those

who could recall the erased texts as they perused the injured books who

could mentally fill up the imperfect clauses-were not at liberty

to inscribe them ; they seemed to fear that if they did so the characters

would be as if written in invisible ink, or would surely fade away. It

was with trembling that some at length made the attempt, and to their

unspeakable joy found the impression durable. Day after day passed ;

still the characters remained ; and the people at length came to the

conclusion that God left them at liberty, if they could, to reconstruct

the Bible for themselves out of their collective remembrances of its

divine contents. This led again to some curious results, all of them

singularly indicative of the good and ill that is in human nature. It

was with incredible joy that men came to the conclusion that the book

might be thus recovered nearly entire, and nearly in the very words of

the original, by the combined effort of human memories. Some of

the obscurest of the species, who had studied nothing else but the Bible,

but who had well studied that, came to be objects of reverence among

Christians and booksellers ; and the various texts they quoted were

taken down with the utmost care. He who could fill up a chasm by the

restoration of words which were only partially remembered, or could

contribute the least text that had been forgotten, was regarded as a

sort of public benefactor. At length, a great public movement amongst

the divines of all denominations was projected to collate the results of

these partial recoveries of the sacred text. It was curious again, to see

in how various ways human passions and prejudices came into play.

It was found that the several parties who had furnished from memory

the same portions of the sacred text, had fallen into a great variety of

different readings ; and though most of them were of as little importance

in themselves as the bulk of those which are paraded in the critical

recensions of Mill, Griesbach, or Tischendorf, they became, from the

obstinacy and folly of the men who contended about them, important

differences, merely because they were differences. Two reverend men

of the synod, I remember, had a rather tough dispute as to whether it

was twelve baskets full of fragments of the five loaves which the five

thousand left, and seven baskets full of the seven loaves which four

thousand had left, or vice versa: as also whether the words in John

vi. 19, were " about twenty or five and twenty," or " about thirty or

five and thirty furlongs."


To do the assembly justice, however, there was found an intense

general earnestness and sincerity befitting the occasion, and an equally

intense desire to obtain, as nearly as possible, the very words of the lost

volume; only (as was also, alas I natural) vanity in some; in others,

confidence in their strong impressions and in the accuracy of their

memory; obstinacy, and pertinacity in many more (all aggravated as

usual by controversy), caused many odd embarrassments before the

final adjustment was effected.


I was particularly struck with the varieties of reading which mere

prejudices in favour of certain systems of theology occasioned in the

several partisans of each. No doubt the worthy men were generally

unconscious of the influence of these prejudices ; yet, somehow, the

memory was seldom so clear in relation to those texts which told against

them as in relation to those which told for them. A certain Quaker had

an impression that the words instituting the Eucharist were preceded

by a qualifying expression "and Jesus said to the twelve, Do this in

remembrance of me," while he could not exactly recollect whether or

not the formula of baptism was expressed in the general terms, some

maintained it was. Several Unitarians had a clear recollection that in

several places the authority of manuscripts, as estimated in Griesbach's

recension, was decidedly against the common reading ; while the

Trinitarians maintained that Griesbach's recension in those instances

had left that reading undisturbed. An Episcopalian began to have

his doubts whether the usage in favour of the interchange of the words

" bishop " and '' presbyter " was so uniform as the Presbyterian and

Independent maintained, and whether there was not a passage in which

Timothy and Titus were expressly called "bishops." The Presbyterian

and Independent had similar biases ; and one gentleman who was

a strenuous advocate of the system of the latter, enforced one equivocal

remembrance by saying, he could, as it were, distinctly see the very

spot on the page before his mind's eye. Such tridts will imagination

play with the memory, when preconception plays tricks with the

imagination! In like manner, it was seen that while the Calvinist

was very distinct in his recollection of the ninth chapter of Romans,

his memory was very faint as respects the exact wording of some of

the verses in the Epistle of James; and though the Arminian had a

most vivacious impression of all those passages which spoke of the

claims of the law, he was in some doubt whether the apostle Paul's

sentiments respecting human depravity, and justification by faith alone

had not been a little exaggerated. In short, it very clearly appeared

that tradition was no safe guide ; that if, even when she was hardly a

month old, she could play such freaks with the memories of honest

people, there was but a sorry prospect of the secure transmission of

truth for eighteen hundred years. From each man's memory seemed

to glide something or other which he was not inclined to retain there,

and each seemed to substitute in its stead something that he liked



Though the assembly was in the main most anxious to come to a

right decision, and really advanced an immense way towards completing

a true and faithful copy of the lost original, the disputes which arose,

on almost every point of theology, promised the world an abundant crop

of new sects and schisms. Already there had sprung up several whose

names had never been heard of in the world, but for this calamity.

Amongst them were two who were called the " Long Memories "

and the " Short Memories." Their general tendencies coincided

pretty much with those of the orthodox and Rationalists.


It was curious to see by what odd associations, sometimes of

contrast sometimes of resemblance, obscure texts were recovered,

though they were verified, when once mentioned, by the consciousness

of hundreds. One old gentleman, a miser, contributed (and it was all

he did contribute) a maxim of prudence, which he recollected, principally

from having systematically abused it. All the ethical maxims,

indeed, were soon collected ; for though, as usual, no one recollected

his own peculiar duties or infirmities, every one, as usual, kindly

remembered those of his neighbours. Husbands remembered what was

due from their wives, and wives what was due from their husbands.

The unpleasant sayings about" better to dwell on the housetop," and

the perpetual dropping on a very rainy day," were called to mind by

thousands. Almost the whole of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes were contributed,

in the merest fragments, in this way. As for Solomon's

" times for every thing," few could remember them all, but everybody

remembered some. Undertakers said there was a " time to mourn,"

and comedians that there was a " time to laugh " ; young ladies innumerable

remembered there was a " time to love " ; and people of

all kinds that there was " a time to hate " ; everybody knew there was

a " time to speak " ; but a worthy Quaker reminded them that there

was also a " time to keep silence."

Some dry parts of the laws of Moses were recovered by the memory

of jurists, who seemed to have no knowledge whatever of any other

parts of the sacred volume ; while in like manner one or two antiquarians

supplied some very difficult genealogical and chronological

matters, in equal ignorance of the moral and spiritual contents of the



As people became accustomed to the phenomenon, the perverse

humours of mankind displayed themselves in a variety of ways. The

efforts of the pious assembly were abundantly laughed at ; but I must,

in justice, add, without driving them from their purpose. Some

profane wags suggested there was now a good opportunity of realizing

the scheme of taking  not " out of the Commandments, and inserting

it in the Creed. But they were sarcastically told that the old objection

to the plan would still apply ; that they would not sin with equal relish

if they were expressly commanded to do so, nor take such pleasure in

infidelity, if infidelity became a duty. Others said that if the world

must wait till the synod had concluded its labours, the prophecies of

the New Testament would not be written till some time after their

fulfillment ; and that if all the conjectures of the learned divines were

inserted in the new edition of the Bible, the declaration in John would

be literally verified, and that  the world itself would not contain all

the books which would be written."


But the most amusing thing of all, was to see, as time made man

more familiar with this strange event, the variety of speculations which

were entertained respecting its object and design. Many began gravely

to question whether it was the duty of the synod to attempt the reconstruction

of a book of which God himself had so manifestly deprived

the world, and whether it was not a profane, nay, an atheistical, attempt

to frustrate His will. Some, who were secretly glad to be released from

so troublesome a book, were particularly pious on this head, and exclaimed

bitterly against this rash attempt to counteract and cancel the

decrees of heaven. The Papists, on their part, were confident that the

design was to correct the exorbitancies of a rabid Protestantism, and

show the world, by direct miracle, the necessity of submitting to the

decision of their church and the infallibility of the supreme Pontiff;

who, as they truly alleged, could decide all knotty points quite as well

without the Word of God as with it. On being reminded that the

writings of the Fathers, on which they laid so much stress as the vouchers

of their traditions, were mutilated by the same stroke which had demolished

the Bible (all their quotations from the sacred volume being

erased), some of the Jesuits affirmed that many of the Fathers were

rather improved than otherwise by the omission, and that they found

these writings quite as intelligible and not less edifying than before.

In this, many Protestants very cordially agreed. On the other hand,

many of our modern infidels gave an entirely new turn to the whole

affair, by saying that the visitation was evidently not in judgment, but

in mercy ; that God in compassion, and not in indignation, had taken

away a book which men had regarded with an extravagant admiration

and idolatry, and which they had exalted to the place of that clear

internal oracle which he had planted in the human breast ; in a word,

that if it was a rebuke at all, it was a rebuke to a rampant " Bibliolatry ."

As I heard all these different versions of so simple a matter, and found

that not a few were inclined to each, I could not help exclaiming, " In

truth the devil is a very clever fellow, and man even a greater blockhead

than I had taken him for." But in spite of the surprise with which I

had listened to these various explanations of an event which seemed to

me dear as if written with a sunbeam, this last reason, which assigned

as the cause of God's resumption of his own gift, an extravagant admiration

and veneration of it on the part of mankind-it being so notorious

that those who professed belief in its divine origin and authority had

(even the best of them) so grievously neglected both the study and the

practice of it-struck me as so exquisitely ludicrous that I broke into a

fit of laughter which awoke me. I found that it was broad daylight,

and the morning sun was streaming in at the window and shining in

quiet radiance upon the open Bible which lay on my table. So strongly

had my dream impressed me, that I almost felt as though, on inspection,

I should find the sacred leaves a blank, and it was therefore with joy

that my eyes rested on those words, which I read through grateful tears :

" The gifts of God are without repentance."


The name of Canon R. H. Sheppard is intimately associated with

the work he accomplished at St. Martin-in-the-Fields,andaninteresting

account of his years there has been written by the Rev. R. J. Northcott,

one of the clergy of the Church. Dick Sheppard and St. Martin's,

with an introduction by the Rev. Pat. McCormick (Longmans Green

& Co., 3s. 6d. net), is a tribute to the personality of a man who endeared

himself to a wide circle of friends, and it tells of the services

which he rendered to many of all classes who realized the depth of his

love and sympathy with all forms of distress.