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I have committed great errors, and I have in consequence passed through grievous sorrows; and I would fain do something towards saving those who come after me from similar errors and from similar sorrows: and this is the object of the work before you.
At an early period, when I was little more than sixteen years of age, I became a member of the Methodist society. Before I was twenty I became a local preacher. Before I was twenty-three I became a travelling preacher; and after I had got over the first great difficulties of my calling, I was happy in my work; as happy as a mortal man need wish to be. It was my delight to read good books, to study God's Word and works, and to store my mind with useful knowledge. To preach the Gospel, to turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, and to promote the instruction and improvement of God's people were the joy and rejoicing of my soul. There were times, and those not a few, when I could sing with Wesley—
"In a rapture of joy my life I employ,
The God of my life to proclaim:
'Tis worth living for this, to administer bliss
And salvation in Jesus's name."
And I was very successful in my work, I never travelled in a circuit in which there was not a considerable increase of members, and in one place where I was stationed, the numbers in church-fellowship were more than doubled in less than eighteen months.
In those days it never once entered my mind that I could ever be anything else but a Christian minister: yet in course of time I ceased to be one; ceased to be even a Christian. I was severed first from the Church, and then from Christ, and I wandered at length far away into the regions of doubt and unbelief, and came near to the outermost confines of eternal night. And the question arises,
How happened this? And how happened it that, after having wandered so far away, I was permitted to return to my present happy position?
These two questions I shall endeavor, to the best of my ability, to answer.
CAUSES OF UNBELIEF.
CAUSES OF UNBELIEF.
W came I to wander into doubt and unbelief? 1. There are several causes of skepticism and infidelity. One is vice. When a man is bent on forbidden pleasures, he finds it hard to believe in the truth and divinity of a religion that condemns his vicious indulgences. And the longer he persists in his evil course, the darker becomes his understanding, the more corrupt his tastes, and the more perverse his judgment; until at length he "puts darkness for light, and light for darkness; calls evil good and good evil, and mistakes bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." He becomes an infidel. It is the decree of Heaven that men who persist in seeking pleasure in unrighteousness, shall be given up to strong delusions of the devil to believe a lie.
2. But there are other causes of skepticism and unbelief besides vice. Thomas was an unbeliever for a time,-a very resolute one, yet the Gospel gives no intimation that he was chargeable with any form of vice. And John the Baptist, one of the noblest characters in sacred history, after having proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah to others, came himself to doubt, whether He was really "the one that should come, or they should look for another." Like the early disciples of the Saviour, and the Jewish people generally, John expected the Messiah to take the throne of David by force, and to rule as a temporal prince; and when Jesus took a course so very different, his confidence in hist Messiahship was shaken. And one of the sweetest Psalmists tells us that, as for him, his feet were almost gone; his steps had well-nigh slipped: and that, not because he was eager for sinful pleasures, but because he saw darkness and clouds around the Providence of God: he could not understand or "justify the ways of God to man.”
And there are thoughtful and good men into doubt and unbelief from similar causes.
still who fall The kind of
people who, like Thomas, are constitutionally inclined to doubt, are not all dead. Baxter mentions a class of men who lived in his day, that were always craving for sensible demonstrations. Like Thomas, they wanted to see and feel before they believed. In other words, they were not content with faith: they wanted knowledge. And there are men of that kind still in the world.
And the darkness and clouds which the Psalmist saw around the providence of God are not all gone. There are many things in connection with the government of the world that are hard to be understood,-hard to be reconciled by many with their ideas of what is right. There are mysteries both in nature and in history, which baffle the minds and try the faith of the best and wisest of our race.
3. And there are matters in connection with Christianity to try the faith of men. Like its great Author, when it first made its appearance, it had "neither form nor comeliness" in the eyes of many. It neither met the expectations of the selfish, proud, ambitious Jew, nor of the disputatious, philosophic Greek. To the one "it was a stumbling-block," and to the other "foolishness." And there have been men in every age, who have been unable to find in Christianity all that their preconceived notions had led them to expect in a religion from Heaven. There are men still, even among the sincerest and devoutest friends of Christianity, who are puzzled and staggered at times by the mysterious aspects of some of its doctrines, or by some of the facts connected with its history. They cannot understand, for instance, how it is that it has not spread more rapidly, and become, before this, the religion of the whole world. You tell them the fault is in its disciples and ministers, and not in Christianity itself. But they cannot understand why God should allow the success of a system so important to depend on faithless or fallible men. Nor can they understand how it is that in the nations in which the Gospel has been received, it has not worked a greater transformation of character, and produced a happier change in their condition. How is it, they ask, that it has not extinguished the spirit of war, destroyed the sordid lust for gain, developed more fully the spirit of self-sacrificing generosity, and converted society into one great brotherhood of love? How
is it that the Church is not more holy, more united, and more prosperous,-that professors and teachers of Christianity do not exhibit more of the Christian character, and follow more closely the example of the meek and lowly, the loving and laborious, the condescending and self-sacrificing Saviour whose name they bear? They are amazed that so little is done by professing Christians to save the perishing classes; that so many of the churches, instead of grappling with the vice and wretchedness of our large towns, turn their backs on them, build their churches in aristocratic neighborhoods mostly, and compete with one another for the favor of the rich and powerful. They cannot understand how it is, that churches and ministers do not exert themselves more for the extinction of drunkenness, gambling, and licentiousness, and for the suppression of all trades and customs that minister to sin. It startles them to see to what a fearful extent the churches have allowed the power of the press, which once was all their own, to pass out of their hands, into the hands of selfish, worldly, and godless adventurers. These matters admit of explanation, but there are many to whose minds the explanation is never presented, and there are some whom nothing will relieve from perplexity and doubt but a grander display of Christian zeal and philanthropic effort, on the part of the churches, for the regeneration of society.
4. Then the religion of Christ is not, as a rule, presented to men in its loveliest and most winning, or in its grandest and most overpowering form. As presented in the teachings and character of Christ, Christianity is the perfection of wisdom and goodness, the most glorious revelation of God and duty the mind of man can conceive: but as presented in the creeds, and characters, and writings of many of its teachers and advocates, it has neither beauty, nor worth, nor credibility. Some teach only a very small portion of Christianity, and the portion they teach they often teach amiss. Some doctrines they exaggerate, and others they maim. Some they caricature, distort, or pervert. And many add to the Gospel inventions of their own, or foolish traditions received from their fathers; and the truth is hid under a mass of error. Many conceal and disfigure the truth by putting it in an antiquated and outlandish dress.
CAUSES OF UNBELIEF.
The language of many theologians, like the Latin of the Romish Church, is, to vast numbers, a dead language,-an unknown tongue. There are hundreds of words and phrases used by preachers and religious writers which neither they nor their hearers or readers understand. In some of them there is nothing to be understood. They are mere words; meaningless sounds. Some of them have meanings, but they are hard to come at, and when you have got at them you find them to be worse than none. They are falsehoods that lurk within the dark and antiquated words. I have heard and even read whole sermons in which nine sentences out of ten had no more meaning in them than the chatter of an ape. Perhaps not so much. I have gone through large volumes and found hardly a respectable, plain-meaning sentence from beginning to end. And wagon loads of so-called religious books may still be found, in which, as in the talk of one of Shakespeare's characters, the ideas are to the words as three grains of wheat to a bushel of chaff; you may search for them all day before you find them; and when you find them they are good for nothing. When I first came across such books I supposed it was my ignorance or want of capacity that made it impossible for me to understand them; but I found, at length, that there was nothing in them to understand. There are other books which have a meaning, a good meaning, but it is wrapped up in such out-of-the-way words and phrases, that it is difficult to get at it. Men of science have not only discarded the foolish fictions of darker ages, but have begun to simplify their language; to cast aside the unspeakable and unintelligible jargon of the past, and to use plain, good, common English, thus rendering the study of nature pleasant even to children; while many divines, by clinging to the unmeaning and mischievous phraseology of ancient dreamers, render the study of religion repulsive, and the attainment of sound Christian knowledge almost impossible to the masses of mankind. And all these things become occasions of unbelief. "So long as Christian preachers and writers are limited so much to human creeds and systems, or to stereotyped phrases of any kind, and avail themselves so little of the popular diction of literature and of common life, so long must they repel many whom they might convince and win." Dr. Porter, President of Yale College.