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Nor were these pages written in the fond hope of influencing professional free-thinkers, agnostics, and other avowed enemies of Christianity, who will not learn lest their knowledge might compel them to do well, who trade in blasphemy, who glory in their infidelity, and who earn for themselves a cheap reputation by coarsely caricaturing every doctrine and tradition that Christians hold dear. Every scoffer at religion is the Thersites of the Christian camp. Such characters are found in every age; and they were aptly described over eighteen centuries ago by the Apostle as "ungodly men denying the only Sovereign Ruler, and our Lord Jesus Christ, blaspheming whatever things they know not; and what things soever they naturally know, like dumb beasts, in these they are corrupted; feasting together without fear, clouds without water which are carried about by the winds, autumnal leaves without fruit, raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own confusion, wandering stars to whom the storm of darkness is reserved forever."1
These men profess to have discovered in the revealed Scriptures, contradictions and absurdities and legislative enactments unworthy of the wisdom and justice of a Divine Lawgiver. They judge every thing from their own narrow standpoint without regard to the circumstances of time and place in which the Scriptures were written. They will offer more objections to Christianity in an hour than
1 Jude I.
could be reasonably answered in a month. While avowing their ignorance of many of the physical laws that govern the universe and that regulate even their own bodies which they see and feel, they will insist on knowing everything regarding the incomprehensible Deity and His attributes. In a word, they will admit mysteries in the material world that surrounds them; but mysteries in the supernatural world, they will not accept. They will deny any revealed truth that does not fall within the range of human experience and that is not in accordance with the discovered laws of nature. But to reject a dogma on such grounds cannot be approved by philosophy or sound sense.
Had a man living in the last century, been told that the day was near at hand when one could travel with great rapidity by steam over land and water; when a message could be conveyed in a few seconds around the globe; when lightning would be so chained and subdued as to be made to diffuse a soft and steady light in our streets and parlors; when we could whisper to a friend a hundred miles away and our voice even be recognized by him, he would have laughed at prophecies so bold, and declared them the ravings of a visionary. He would, by the light of his experience and common sense, have pronounced such things physically impossible. And yet we are all witnesses of these phenomena which are daily occurring around us.
Now, if new and startling secrets are daily revealed in the material world, surely it is rash to reject a
fact of Christian faith on the sole ground that it appears to be out of harmony with recognized laws, or is not confirmed by the experience or observation of mankind.
A man should have some acquaintance with the unseen world before undertaking to pass judgment on the phenomena that govern it:
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
This little volume is affectionately addressed to a large, and I fear an increasing class of persons who, through association, the absence of Christian training, a distorted education, and pernicious reading, have not only become estranged from the specifie teachings of the Gospel, but whose moral and religious nature has received such a shock that they have only a vague and undefined faith even in the truths of natural religion underlying Christianity.
These deserve more pity than blame. They have. never shared in the Christian heritage of their fathers, or they were robbed of it before they had the moral and intellectual vigor to resist the invader, or they quietly surrendered their inheritance before they could appreciate its inestimable value. They do not boast of their spiritual darkness and moral obliquity. They make no parade of their irreligion. They feel unhappy in their deprivation.
Some of them not questioning our sincerity, nor quite denying the objective truth of our Christian profession, contemplate us with secret envy. But
as they fancy that the atmosphere of faith would be oppressive to them, because it involves sacrifices hard to flesh and blood, they make no efforts to acquire it. Their disease is partly mental doubt, but still more moral cowardice.
Others of them honestly imagine that, in accepting and professing.the truths of Christianity, we are in a state of happy delusion, and they pity us.
There are others, I think, who as honestly persuade themselves that we do not believe what we preach; and they very naturally despise us.
The men of whom I speak, have but a dim and hazy view of the first principles of religion.
To lead them back to the Christian fold by starting with an appeal to the divine claims of Christ, to the value of the soul, the voice of conscience, the importance of salvation, the glory of heaven or the sufferings of the reprobate, is to assume as granted facts which they do not accept. It is like commencing the house at the roof instead of at the foundation. As grace is founded on nature, so the knowledge of supernatural religion must rest on natural religion. We waste our time in trying to build up the edifice of faith in men in whose souls the foundations of natural truth have been undermined.
What is to be gained in exhorting men to worship the Trinity until the misgivings they have about the existence of a personal God are removed?
What will it profit us to admonish them to submit to the inscrutable decrees of Providence, if they
do not admit a superintending Providence, but look upon all events that happen as the result of physical laws or of blind chance?
There is little to be gained in quoting Scripture to men who imagine that many facts of Scripture are controverted by the deductions of science.
In vain do we strive to persuade men to be solicitous about the salvation of their souls, so long as they are seduced into the belief that they have no soul or spiritual being, and maintain that their mental conceptions are mere modifications of the brain.
Before we can persuade them to listen with docility to the voice of conscience, we must first convince them that conscience is the voice of God, and not, as they imagine, the prompting of a timid nature, or the outcome of education.
Before we can succeed in urging men to keep the Commandments, the distinction between virtue and vice, which is well-nigh obliterated from their hearts, must be made clearly manifest.
And we are preaching to deaf ears in rebuking sin and in exhorting men to resist their evil inclinations, till we get them to admit that man enjoys moral freedom, and disabuse them of the false notion that sensual desires were given us to be gratified, and that it is neither expedient nor possible to resist what a cotemporary writer calls "the divine rights of passion."
1 Robert Elsmere.