what is the meaning of "measure the universe" at this paragraph?

A wise man recognizes that God may be approached from innumerable angles. The minds of men and the spirit of the times vary in their reaction to the great central cause, and one can only insist upon a broad charity both in oneself and in others. It was in this that Irving seems to have been wanting. It was always by the standard of that which was a sect among sects that he would measure the universe. There were times when he was vaguely conscious of this, and it may be that those wrestlings with Apollyon, of which he complains, even as Bunyan and the Puritans of old used to comes plain, had a strange explanation. Apollyon was really the Spirit of Truth, and the inward struggle was not between Faith and Sin, but was really between the darkness of inherited dogma, and the light of inherent and instinctive reason, God-given, and rising for ever in revolt against the absurdities of man.

  • You should understand sect here as referring to "a group of people with non-standard / extreme / dangerous views". The (probably, "one-off") coinage a sect among sects effectively exaggerates that "deviation from mainstream thought" sense (even by the standards of "sects" in general, this one is particularly "unconventional"). Essentially, it's saying that Irving was exceptionally unusual because of his "extreme commitment" (to the idea of being "charitable" to everyone, regardless of how unusual their opinions might seem, as I understand it from a brief scan). Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 17:27

1 Answer 1


The quotation is from History of Spiritualism by Arthur Conan Doyle, vol 1, page 28, where he is writing about Edward Irving. (Text at archive.org)

A few sentences before your quotation, Doyle says:

Here, in Gray's Inn Road, Irving rallied the faithful. It cannot be denied that the Church, as he organized it, with its angel, its elders, its deacons, its tongues, and its prophecies, was the best reconstruction of a primitive Christian Church that has ever been made.

Now regarding your quotation "It was always by the standard of that which was a sect among sects that he would measure the universe":

The sect which is referred to is the group at Irving's church, it is a "sect amongst sects" because it is a narrow branch of a narrow branch of Christianity. Irving applied the standards of this group to everything.

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