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soling and so reasonable ; which holds forth hopes of a glorious life beyond the grave, while it teaches the most simple, yet the most perfect philosophy of happiness in this life, and discloses truths so grand, yet so probable ?
But let no man think that these Sceptics have been dishonest! Many, of whom history tells, may have been so. But how many others, sincere in their scepticism, have passed a life of gloom and wretchedness, and gone forth into the dark Future, uncheered by a hope or consolation ? Many of them have never told their doubts. But they have honestly and sadly believed that religion was all a delusion ; that they themselves were hurried along, as the sport of some blind Chance or stern Necessity, and that life was only a point of light, soon to be extinguished in the eternal Night of the Grave.
Why is this? Whence arises this unbelief ? Why is it that honest, observing, clear-minded men, have denied the existence of a God, and the truths of the Christian Religion? We propose to answer these questions, as far as they can be answered, by tracing out some of the many forms which Unbelief has assumed in the human heart.
In examining the world's history, we find the abuses of religion prominent among the causes which have led mankind into Infidelity; and especially has this happened at those periods when Thought has received some new impulse. Thus, a long Night of ignorance and oppression has been resting upon the earth, when suddenly the light of Truth breaks in. The wrongs and injustice under which men have suffered, stand out now, disclosed. All things feel the new Morning. Old prejudices and superstitions melt away like mists of the night. Thought springs up with new power, and men begin to examine for themselves. They see that Religious Belief has lost all its purity; that under the garb of the minister of God, Vice has pursued its unhallowed enjoyments, and heartless Ambition toiled for its reward; that, with the aid of religion, Ignorance and Despotism have fastened their heavy fetters on mankind, and that under that holy name, Cruelty has satiated its thirst for blood, and Persecution driven the innocent from home and native land. Is it strange that they doubt the truth of such religion ? And, as they hasten to cast off the fetters which have fastened Mind, what wonder that they burst some of the bonds which should never be broken ? What wonder that they confuse the truths of religion with the errors, the absurdities which attended it? It is at such periods, that bold, ardent minds have arisen, which have toiled, with honest purpose of heart, for the Truth, but have passed over the highest of all truths. They hated thoroughly whatever was false and wrong--and they hated Religion because it seemed a Delusion, the instrument of priests to crush and enslave the mind of man.
Does not even History, with its brief account of human actions, tell us of many such-of men who have never ceased in life their attacks on the Christian faith? Yet it is not from such Scepticism we have much to fear. The Christian Religion has ever risen purer and brighter after such attacks; they have served to free it from its impurities, its blemishes, and the real, the heart-felt in that faith has
been known and confessed again. Still, it is sad, sad to think, that warm, honest hearts have searched through life for truth, and at last been laid in the cold grave without one glimmering of the highest, the holiest of all truths.
Among the numerous systems of Sceptical Philosophy, there is one which, we might suppose, would be condemned by the common sense of mankind. It is a system which would almost deify Matter and give it the qualities of Mind, while it makes the mind-the soul-only the effect of a certain arrangement of particles. And yet this has had supporters, zealous and sincere. From these men, the glorious worlds which move around us, grand tokens of a Creator's power, have called forth no feeling of adoration, no words of gratitude. As they have looked up into the heavens and felt with awe the grandeur of those starry systems, the eternal, unchanging nature of the laws which govern them, they have been impressed with the infinity of Matter; and they have asked themselves why all this may not have thus existed forever? Why need we an Imaginary Cause, which men call God? Why may not these orbs, countless ages back in the shadowy past, have rolled on in the same majestic beauty, the same unchanging order ?
They have turned to earth and attempted to read that strange, mysterious history, written on its rugged surface. Geology has revealed to them what it does not to other minds--a regular, upward development of the animal and vegetable races, as though Matter had wrought itself out into animal forms, till at last it had attained such an organization as to form what we call mind. In their zeal to substantiate their theory, the remotest analogies are made convincing arguments. Because the chemist, by a union of certain substances, can produce agents as mysterious, as rapid in their action, as the workings of thought, and by means of them, can perform many of the functions of life, nay, some have said, can produce even life itself, why should not, say they, the Vital Principle, the Mind, be the effect of a certain mingling of particles?
Plain as is the distinction between the Instinct of the brute and the Mind of man, they can overlook it and see only the gradual growth of mind, from the first faint spark of Reason in the brute, to the Intellect, bright and clear, in the mature man. Behold, say they, how the mind gradually arises in the infant, as its organization becomes complete ; how it matures with the body, suffers injury when the body is harmed, and grows weak as that decays, until at last it seems to flicker and go out when the substance which supported is exhausted—when the organization of which it was the result has been separated or destroyed ! But have not these men seen in themselves, in the operations of their own minds, anything of the soul, anything of an existence separate from the body? The answer presents but too common a picture of the human mind. The desire of supporting a Theory has shut out the Truth from their sight. Let men only have some favorite system to advance, however candid or clear-sighted they may be on other subjects, and they can believe anything, no matter how strange or absurd ; whether it be that Mind does not exist, or that there is no Material
World around us. Such a Belief, or any other which would do away with the distinction between Mind and Matter, can never hold a wide influence with mankind. It may have a few supporters among the learned, but the common sense of every man will tell him, that he has that within him which men call Mind, differing in every quality from the Material World without.
For such errors, we can feel little compassion, as they hardly seem like the errors of honest, truth-seeking minds; but there is another kind of unbelief, so sad, so dark, that we may well pause over it with pity. It springs up in the hearts of those who have been bowed down heavily under the burden of misfortunes, who have passed a life of continued suffering, till at last, in bitterness of heart, they have doubted the being of a God who could permit such misery. And there is much in life, which, to a gloomy mind, would seem inconsistent with the government of a merciful Being. How much that is sad and painful! There is no eye that has not been moistened by the tear of sorrow, no heart that has not felt some bitter pang. From how many sufferers, from how many in pain, and want, and sorrow, do groans of anguish arise towards Heaven! How many are crushed down in bondage! How many suffering from war, and pestilence, and disease! How many are there, whose dark, gloomy lives seem hardly to have known one gleam of pleasure, one ray of hope! Men have seen all this, but they have overlooked the good mingled in every cup of evil; they have forgotten the bright light of heaven, still shining behind the dark clouds of sorrow and suffering ; they have neglected the object of all these troubles—to fit men by trials here for a happier state above—and in sadness and gloom they have settled into the belief that there was no God, no Being above, who could allow such misery among his creatures. Lise has appeared to them like a hard, sorrowful Pilgrimage to the tomb, with no sympathizing eye above, no hope of happiness beyond ; and they themselves have looked forward with real longings to the hour
, when they could rest their weary and aching hearts forever in the peaceful grave.
Gloomy and desparing as is this unbelief, it is not the worst. There is another species of Scepticism, the most deadly which can creep into the human soul.
It starts not from excitement—is not fustered by pride ; but is the result of calm, deliberate reasoning and observation. Here, too, the Sceptic is honest. He has seen the weakness of human nature, how easy it is for men to delude themselves; he knows how seldom entire faith can be put in any human Belief. The most opposite questions in politics and morals, he observes, are supported, each by its party, in full assurance of the truth and with almost unanswerable arguments. How easily are the most clear-sighted deceived! How many false religions, with their array of miracles and arguments, have arisen, in which candid, clear-sighted men have put the most unwavering confidence ; for which they have suffered and died! Can any one ever be sure of attaining the truth? Is it not the wisest, the most philosophical course, in the few days we have on earth, to settle down into a state of doubt, to resolve to believe nothing?
Such, perhaps, has been his reasoning. And so thorough is his doubt, so entire his distrust of whatever is beyond his own experience, that hardly any evidence could shake his unbelief. All external testimony to the truths of the Christian faith, he would mistrust; all internal evidence would seem to him as the natural effects of a Delusion. The many sweet assurances of the truth of Religion to a believer, the consolation in affliction, the Faith, the Hope, the Change of heart, working as they do, by known laws of mind, can be no arguments to the Sceptic of Divine influence. He may acknowledge that the Christian religion is the best superstition which has ever existed, that it contains the most perfect system of morality yet invented by man, but he believes it none the less a delusion.
As he looks around among his fellow-men and sees them pour out their hearts in worship to this Imaginary Cause, he pities them sincerely, while he would not, for worlds, shake their belief. He knows how closely the happiness and moral welfare of society are interwoven with this Christian system, and he is careful how he makes the least attempt to subvert it.
He settles down into a state of quiet, though unshaken doubt. And indifferent to all human matters, but what affect his present comfort; placing no confidence in anything, except his own judgment, he floats down the tide of human life. Death has no terrors for him. With the most thorough indifference he looks forward to that solemn moment, when either the darkness of that unknown Future shall be all dispelled, or its shades close around him forever. And at last, with the same placid Unbelief he sinks away from life, as into a pleasant slumber, which shall be dreamless and unending,
Heaven defend the man, around whom such a Night of Scepticism is gathering! Not alone because its gloomy shades shut out all that is bright and cheering beyond the grave; not alone because they settle about his path here, hiding many a beauty and consolation ; but because it is a darkness that covers his soul. His is a Doubt, an Unbelief, which has eaten to the heart's core. It has destroyed all Trust, all generous sympathy with his fellow-men, all admiration for what is truly lovely and noble in human character. Mankind seem like the poor victims of a delusion, and their purest virtues, their faith and hope in the hours of adversity, their struggles against temptation and sin, their love and gratitude towards their Maker, only as the foolish, mistaken feelings which a superstition has called forth. With no belief in man's relations to an Infinite Being and a Future Life, he cannot feel the fearful importance of our few actions here. Life seems to him only an idle game of a few days, where each man is seeking but one object—to gain his own selfish ends. Wo to that age in which such Unbelief begins to fill the mind of men ; for it is the sincerest kind of Scepticism. It makes no parade, no bluster. Far better if it did ; far better if it set forth some Theory, for then, as with the scepticism of the Materialist, men would see its fallacy, or doubt its sincerity. Far better if it made open, earnest attacks on religion, for from that we might hope Truth would spring. But this steals over a people with the silent, terrible influence of a pestilence. It removes from mankind all fear of punishment after death, and the vicious give themselves up to their foulest passions. It blots out all hopes of a happier life beyond the grave, and the sorrowful, the despairing seek relief in suicide from every trouble. It teaches no fixed Belief, but inculcates a universal Doubt and Indis. ference; and the result is a Heartlessness and Insincerity, worse than the worst Belief.
What a strange, dark picture of the human heart, do these systems of Unbelief present !
We see Prejudice obscuring the view of Truth to clear-sighted men; we see reasonings and speculations on Religion, no matter how strange or absurb, followed out, till they are at last believed; we see Despair urging the soul on into gloomy Infidelity, and universal Doubt penetrating the heart, till it has consumed all that is generous and earnest and sincere, and implanted a heartless, chilling Unbelief.
Yet it is a consolation to the Believer, that none of these forms of Scepticism have had any lasting influence. Many of them, the common sense of mankind has condemned, and all have been found by experience, unsuited to the wants of man. The human mind cannot rest on Unbelief—it must have some Religious Faith. There are longings of the soul, feelings of love, and gratitude, and reverence towards a Creator and Benefactor, which can never find an object in such a system.
Through all this open attack and secret infidelity the Christian Religion has still maintained its place. Experience has shown that every system or theory, which would seek the highest happiness, the highest moral welfare of society, by means apart from this faith, must fail
. They have all yielded to that most simple, yet most perfect Philosophy of happiness contained in the instructions of the Teacher of Nazareth.
But it is a mournful reflection, that any of our fellow beings have thus lived in ignorance of the most solema truths; that they have rejected the brightest hopes, the most soothing consolations, ever offered in life! And oh! how much more sad to think, that they must all appear at that bar, where the piercing light of Truth shall be undimmed by the clouds of Error or Prejudice ; where the government of God, which they have denied on earth, shall be all explained, and Universal Doubt be replaced by fearful Certainty !