« ForrigeFortsett »
MYSTERIES ON MYSTERIES.
searching the Scriptures, and exploring Nature, in pursuit of truth,—that when I advocated infidel views, I advocated them believing them to be true, and believing that truth must be most conducive to the virtue and happiness of mankind. True, appearances were against me; but I felt myself bound, even when an unbeliever, to "walk by faith,"-by faith in principles which I supposed myself to have found to be true. My life, even in my worst condition, was a life of self-sacrifice for what I regarded as eternal truth. When I gave up my belief in a Fatherly God, and my faith in a blessed immortality, I believed myself to be making a sacrifice at the shrine of truth. I thought I heard her voice from the infinite universe demanding the surrender, and conscience compelled me to comply with the demand. I felt the dreadful nature of the sacrifice, but what could I do?
I remember the words I uttered, and I remember the mingled emotions which filled and agitated my soul, on that occasion. I was distressed at the terrible necessity of giving up the cherished idols of my soul, yet I was filled for a moment with a strange delight at the thought that I was doing my duty in compliance with the stern demands of eternal law, and the dread realities of universal being. And I hoped against hope that the result would all be right.
I weep when I read the strange words which I uttered on that dark and terrible occasion. I said to myself, "The last remains of my religious faith are gone. The doctrines of a personal God, and of a future life, I am compelled to regard as the offspring, not of the understanding, but of the imagination and affections. It is no easy matter to wean one's-self from flattering and long cherished illusions. It is no easy matter to believe that doctrines which have been almost universally received, and which have been so long and so generally regarded as essential to the virtue and happiness of mankind-doctrines, too, which have mingled their mighty influences with so much of the beautiful and sublime in human history, and which still, to so many, form all the poetry and romance, almost all the interest and grandeur and blessedness of human life, have no foundation in truth. To persons who believe in a
Fatherly God, and in human immortality, pure naturalism is terribly uninviting. It was always so to me. I well remember the mingled horror and pity with which, when a Christian, I regarded the man who had no personal God, and no hope of a future life. I remember too how I wrote or spoke of such. I mourned over them as the most hapless and miserable of all living beings. Yet I myself have come at length, by slow degrees, after a thousand struggles, and with infinite reluctance, to the dread conclusion, that a personal God and an immortal life are fictions of the human mind. Yet existence has not quite lost its charms, nor life its enjoyments. There is something infinitely grand, and unspeakably exciting and elevating in the consciousness of having made a sacrifice of the most popular and bewitching of all illusions, out of respect to truth. It was an enviable state of mind which prompted the grand and thrilling exclamation, "Let justice be done, though the heavens should fall." And that state of mind is no less enviable which can sustain a man in the sacrifice of God and immortality at the shrine of truth. Such a sacrifice, accompanied, as it must be in the present state of society, with a thousand other sacrifices of reputation, friendships, popular pleasures, and social favor, is an exercise of the highest virtue, a demonstration of the greatest magnanimity, and is accompanied or followed with an intensity of satisfaction which none but the martyr-spirit of truth can conceive. It is often said by Christians, that the reason why persons doubt the existence of God and a future life is, that they have good cause to dread them; or, as Grotius expresses it, that they live in such a way that it would be to their interest that there should be no God or future life. This was not the case with me. My unbelief came upon me while I was diligently striving in all things to do God's will. My virtue outlived my faith.
"Born of Methodist parents, and reared under Christian influences, and a Christian myself, and even a Christian minister for many years, I was brought slowly and reluctantly, in spite of a world of prejudices, and in spite of interests and associations and tastes all but almighty in their influence, to the conclusion, that pure, unmixed
Naturalism alone accorded with what was known of the present state and the past history of the universe. I say I was brought to these conclusions in spite of a world of opposing influences. While a Christian, all that the world. could promise or bestow seemed to be within my reach. Friends, popularity, wealth, power, fame; and visions of infinite usefulness to others, and of unbounded happiness to myself in the future, were all promised me as the reward of continued devotion to the cause of God and Christianity. As the reward of heresy and unbelief, I had to encounter suspicion, desertion, hatred, reproach, persecution, want, grief of friends and kindred, anxious days and sleepless nights, and almost every extreme of mental anguish. Still, inquiry forced me into heresy further and further every year, and brought me at length to the extreme of doubt and unbelief.”
FINISH UP WITH HOLY LOVE.
It was, then, in no light mood that I gave up my faith in God, and Christ, and immortality. The change in my views was no headlong, hasty freak. It was the result of long and serious thought-of misguided, but honest, conscientious study. And hence I have sometimes thought, and am still inclined to think, that God had a hand in the matter-that He led me, or permitted me to wander, along that strange and sorrowful road, and to pass through those dreary and dolorous scenes, and drink so deeply of so dreadful a cup of sorrow, for some good end. "He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him," and perhaps he may turn our errors also to good account. I am not disposed to believe that my life has been a failure. It may, for anything I know, prove to have been a great success. educated largely by their mistakes," says one. It hardly seems likely that God would suffer a well-intentioned, though weak and erring child, to ruin either himself or others for ever. God is good, and the future will justify His ways, and all His saints shall praise Him.
My business meanwhile is, to do what I can to promote the interests of truth, and the welfare of mankind. I must, so far as possible, redeem lost time. I have a thousand causes for gratitude, and none for complaint. I am very happy, in general; as happy as I desire to be, and as happy, I expect, as it is good for me to be. I sometimes
feel as if I were too happy. And I certainly never ask God to make me more happy. I ask Him to make me wiser, and better, and more useful, but not more happy. At times my cup of joy runs over. It is strange it should be so, yet so it is. But joy and sorrow are often found in company. Paul says of himself, "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." The author of Ecce Deus says, "The good man's life is one unbroken repentance. Throughout his life he suffers on account of his sins. What, then of joy ?" he asks: and he answers, "It is contemporaneous with sorrow. They are inseparable. The joy that is born of sorrow is the only joy that is enduring." It may seem strange, but it is true, the last year of my life has been the happiest I ever experienced.
A FEW OF THE LESSONS I HAVE LEARNED ON MY WAY THROUGH LIFE.
And now for a few of the lessons which I have learned on my way through life.
1. One, alas! is, that it is very difficult to bring young people to benefit by the experience of their elders. It would be a happy thing if we could put old men's heads on young men's shoulders; but no method of performing the operation has, as yet, been hit upon. It might answer as well, if old men could empty their heads into the heads of the young. But this is a task almost as difficult as the former. The heads of the young are generally full of foolish thoughts, and vain conceits, and wild dreams of what they are to be, and do, and enjoy in the days to come, with large admixtures at times of more objectionable materials; so that there is no room for the counsels and admonitions of their elders. Then there are some who do not like to be counselled or admonished. Having set their minds on the attainment of a certain object, they are unwilling to listen to any but such as commend their course, and encourage them with promises of success. There are
others who think they have no need of counsel or admonition. Counsel and admonition are proper enough for some people, but they are not required in their case, they imagine. They do not exactly think themselves beings of a superior order, beyond the reach of ordinary dangers; but they act as if they thought so. In words they would acknowledge themselves to be but men, liable to the common frailties of their race; but their conduct seems to say, "It is impossible we should ever err or sin as some men do: we are better constructed, and are born to a happier lot." Their purpose is to do right, and it never enters their minds that they can ever do wrong. And if you tell them that they are in danger of becoming intemperate, or skeptical, or of falling into any great error or sin, they feel hurt, and say, Do you suppose we are dogs that we should do such things?" Dogs or not, when the time of trial comes, they do them. And then they discover, that men are not always so wise, so good, or so strong as they suppose themselves; that people may be the subjects of weaknesses of which they are utterly unconscious, till assailed by some unlooked for temptation; and they mourn at the last, and say, "How have we hated instruction, and despised the counsel of the Holy One." And now they see that the strongest need a stronger one than themselves to shield them, and that the wisest need a wiser one than themselves to guide them, if they are to be kept from harm.
We have no disposition to be severe with such persons, for we belonged to the same unhappy class ourselves. It never once entered our minds in our earlier days, that we could ever fall away from Christ. We saw that others were in danger, but we never supposed we were in danger ourselves. We preached from the text, "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall," and we pressed the solemn warning on our hearers with the greatest earnestness; but we never applied it to ourselves. We supposed ourselves secure. And if any one had told us that we should one day cease to be a Christian, and above all, if any man had said that we should fall into unbelief, and be ranked with the opponents of Christianity, we should have thought him insolent or mad. Yet we know what followed. We cannot therefore deal harshly with our too