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CAUSES OF UNBELIEF.
5. Then again: the divisions of the Church, and the uncharitable spirit in which points of difference between contending sects are discussed, and the disposition sometimes shown by religious disputants to impugn each other's motives, to call each other offensive names, and to consign each other to perdition, are occasions of stumbling to some.
6. And again: many advocates of Christianity, more zealous than wise, say more about the Bible and Christianity than is true, and attempt to prove points which do not admit of proof; and by their unguarded assertions, and their failures in argument, bring the truth itself into discredit. Others use unsound arguments in support of the truth, and when men discover the unsoundness of the arguments, they are led sometimes to suspect the soundness of the doctrine in behalf of which they are employed. The pious frauds of ancient and modern fanatics have proved a stumblingblock to thousands.
Albert Barnes says, "There is no class of men that are so liable to rely on weak and inconclusive reasonings as preachers of the Gospel. Many a young man in a Theological Seminary is on the verge of infidelity from the nature of the reasoning employed by his instructor in defence of that which is true, and which might be well defended: and many a youth in our congregations is almost or quite a skeptic, not because he wishes to be so, but because that which is true is supported by such worthless arguments."
7. Again; theological students sometimes adopt erroneous principles or unwise methods of reasoning in their search after truth, and do not discover their mistake till they are landed in doubt and unbelief. They find certain principles laid down by men in high repute for science, and adopt them without hesitation, not considering that men of science are sometimes mad, fanatical infidels, and that they manufacture principles without regard to truth, for the simple purpose of undermining men's faith in God and religion. Writers on science of one school tell you, that in your study of nature, you must be careful never to admit the doctrine of final causes; or, in other words, that you must never entertain the idea that anything in nature was meant to answer any particular purpose. You must, say they, if you would be a true philosopher, shut out from your mind all idea of de
sign or contrivance in the works of nature. You must just look at what is, and not ask what it is for. You may find wonderful adaptations of things to each other, all tending to happy results; but you must never suppose that any one ever designed or planned those adaptations, with a view to those happy results. You must confine yourself entirely to what you see, and never admit the thought of a Maker whom you do not see. You must limit your observations to what is done, and not dream of a Doer. You may see things tending to the diffusion of happiness, but must not suppose that there is a great unseen Benefactor, who gives them this blessed tendency. And if you feel in yourself a disposition to gratitude, you must treat it as a foolish, childish fancy, and suppress it as irrational.
A sillier or a more contemptible notion-a notion more opposed to true philosophy and common sense,—can hardly be conceived. How any one could ever have the ignorance or the impudence to propound such an unnatural and monstrous absurdity as a great philosophical principle, would be a mystery, if we did not know how infidelity perverts men's understandings, and, while puffing them up with infinite conceit of their own wisdom, transforms them into the most arrant and outrageous fools.
Yet this monstrous folly has found its way into books, and papers, and reviews, and, through them, into the minds of some Christian students; and when the madness of the notion is not detected, it destroys their faith, and makes them miserable infidels.
Some adopt the principle that reason is man's only guide, -that reason alone is judge of what is true and good, and that to reason every thing must be submitted, and received or rejected, done or left undone, as reason may decide. This sounds very plausible to many, and there is a sense in which it may be true; but there is a sense in which it is fearfully false; and the youth that adopts it, and acts upon it, will be likely to land himself in utter doubt, both with regard to religion and morals. There are numbers of cases in which reason is no guide at all,—in which instinct, natural affection, and consciousness are our only guides. You can never prove by what is generally called reason alone, that man is not a machine, governed entirely by forces over
which he has no control. You cannot therefore prove by what certain philosophers call reason, that any man is worthy of reward or punishment, of praise or blame, of gratitude or of resentment; or that there is any such thing in men as virtue or vice, according to the ordinary sense of the words. The ablest logicians on earth, when they take reason alone as their guide, come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as liberty or moral responsibility, in the ordinary acceptation of the terms, but that all is fixed, that all is fate, from eternity to eternity. They accordingly come to the further conclusion, that there is no free, voluntary Ruler of the universe,—that there is no Almighty Judge and Rewarder, that there is neither reward nor punishment, properly speaking, either in this world or in the world to come. They become atheists.
CAUSES OF UNBELIEF.
You can never prove by reason that a woman ought to love her own child better than the child of another woman. You cannot prove by reason that she ought to love it at all. You may say no children would be reared if mothers did not love their children, and even love them better than the children of other mothers. But how will you prove that children ought to be reared? Can you show that the mother will confer any advantage on her child, or secure any advantage to herself, or any one else, by rearing it? Can you prove that it will not be a torment to her, that it will not bring her to want, and shame, and an untimely death? The fact is, a mother's love, a mother's partiality for her own child, is not a matter of reason. The hen loves her chickens, the she bear loves its cubs, the mother dog loves its whelps, and the ewe loves her lambs, without any regard to reason. Their affections and preferences are governed by something infinitely wiser than reason; infinitely higher, at least, than any reason that man can boast. And men love women, and women love men, and men and women marry and form new families, not at the bidding of reason, but under the influence of instincts or impulses that come from a wisdom infinitely higher than the wisdom of the wisest man on earth. And so it is with many of our beliefs. They are instinctive; and reason, when it becomes reasonable enough to deserve the name, will advise you to cherish those instinctive beliefs as your life, in spite of all the infidel philosophy and reasoning on earth.
But even honest and well-disposed men of science sometimes form bad, defective, or one-sided habits of thought and judgment unconsciously, which render it impossible for them to do justice either to Nature or Christianity as revelations of the character and government of God. And these faulty habits of thought and judgment, and the anti-Christian conclusions to which they lead, pass on from men of science to literary men ; and literature is vitiated, and books and periodicals which should lead men to truth, cause them to err. Thus skeptical principles pervade society. They find advocates at times even among men who call themselves ministers of Christ. The consequence is, that well-disposed, and even pious young men, are perplexed, bewildered, and some who, like John the Baptist, were "burning and shining lights," become "wandering stars, and lose themselves, for a time at least, amidst the "blackness and darkness" of doubt and despair.
ANOTHER CAUSE OF UNBELIEF-BAD FEELING.
THERE are several other causes of doubt and unbelief which we might name, if we had time; but we have not. There is one however which we must notice, because it had considerable influence in our own case; we refer to the bad feeling which sometimes takes possession of the minds of Christians towards each other, or of the minds of ministers towards their brother ministers.
You are aware, perhaps, that if you scratch the skin, and introduce a little diseased animal matter to the blood, it will gradually spread itself through the system,and in time poison the whole body. And if you do not know this, you know, that if you take a little leaven, and place it in a mass of meal, and leave it there to work unchecked, it will in time leaven the whole lump. And as it is with things natural, so it is with things spiritual. If you allow a little leaven of bad feeling to get into your minds towards your fellow
Christians or your brother ministers, and permit it to remain there, it will in time infect your whole soul, impair the action of all its faculties, and after alienating you from individuals, separate you first from the Church, and then from Christ and Christianity.
ANOTHER CAUSE OF UNBELIEF.
There is a passage in the Bible which says that judges are not to take gifts; and the reason assigned is, not that if a judge accepts a present he will, with his eyes open, wilfully condemn the innocent or acquit the guilty; but that " a gift blindeth the eyes," even "of the wise," so that he is no longer able to see clearly which is the guilty and which the guiltless party. And there is another passage in the Bible which says that "oppression driveth a wise man mad.” The feeling a man has that he has been wickedly, cruelly treated, excites his mind so painfully and violently, that it is impossible for him to think well of the character or views of his oppressor, or of any party, institution, or system with which he may be connected.
As some friends of mine were canvassing for votes one day, previous to an election, they came upon a man who could not, for a time, say for which candidate he would vote. At length a thought struck him, and he said, "Who is John Myers going to vote for ?" "Oh," said my friends, "he's going to vote for our man." "Then I'll vote for the other man," said he, "for I'm sure Myers will vote wrong." Myers had swindled him in a business transaction; and his feelings towards him were so strong, and of so unpleasant a kind, that he could not think anything right that Myers did, nor could he think anything wrong that he himself did, so long as he took care to go contrary to Myers.
It is very natural to smile at such weakness when we see it in others, and yet exhibit unconsciously the same weakness ourselves under another form. There are some Christians who, when their minister pleases them well, are quite delighted with his discourses. They are "marrow and fatness" to their souls. And every sermon he preaches seems better than the one that went before; and they feel as if they could sit under that dear good man for ever. But a change comes over their feelings with regard to him. While going his round of pastoral visits some day, he passes their door, but calls at the house of a richer neighbor a little lower