Infidels of the present day are greatly at a loss for some original vigorous spirit, — one who could skim off old discolored froth, and dive deeper than his predecessors into the stagnant pool, in order to raise a new scum, wherewith to bespatter everything that looks like religion.
“I never gathered from infidel writers, when an infidel myself,” said a good man, “any solid difficulties, which were not brought to my mind by a very young child of my own.” “Why was sin permitted? What an insignificant world is this, to be redeemed by the incarnation and death of the Son of God Who can believe that so few will be saved?”
Time will not allow me to go through the whole of your “negativing sentimentalism.” Seldom have I seen a production so illustrative of the sentiment of a modern writer: “One false principle will lead to a hundred false conclusions.” Were it not that I know you were not in the world when the following was written, I should incline to believe you had helped the poet to the idea:
“As rivers, though they bend and twine,
Still to the sea their course incline;
Or, as philosophers, who find
Some favorite system to their mind,
In every point to make it fit,
Will force all nature to submit.”
I shall, therefore, beg to be excused from “entering the lists” against fancies so ridiculous. There are, however, other sentiments worthy of a passing remark. “If all the world were free-thinkers, — that is, free from the trammels of religion, and the prejudices of an education peculiar to itself,” — what then? “We should have quite a different world from what we have now.”
There is not a doubt of it. Suppose we call up France, with her witnesses. The experiment was tried there; she had a revolution in favor of infidelity; but it clothed her in sackcloth, and drenched her in tears and blood. The civilized world stood aghast. Anarchy and cruelty, assassinations and wholesale murders, were the order of the day. “It turned,” says a writer, “the hand of every man against his neighbor, sparing no age, nor sex, nor rank, till, satiated with the ruin of greatness, the distresses of innocence, and the tears of beauty, it terminated its career in the most unrelenting despotism.” Infidelity had its reign; — thank God, it was short, and confined to that unfortunate country. It was sufficiently long to allow the infinite God to burn a mighty lesson into the heart of thoughtless France, never to be forgotten; long enough to set its bloody type upon the page of history. All civilized nations were compelled to denominate it “The Reign of Terror!” imprecating its return in one universal voice: “O never, while time rolls onward toward eternity, let us again see the crowded prisons, the headless trunks, the spouting life-blood, the maniac features, of a revolution in favor of infidelity!”
You stumble on: “I see nothing to hinder men from being upright and honest, who are infidels in principle.”
But I do.
“Why should they not? Pray, tell me what is there in infidelity so pernicious to sound morals?”
I ask you, in return, what one principle of infidelity can you point out that has not a direct tendency to foster immorality? What law, what threatening, what obligation, or penalty of Christianity, does not infidelity attempt to repel? But take these away, and what rampart is left to withstand the overflowings of wickedness? Has not infidelity renounced every safeguard thrown, around life, property, chastity, and character, by Christianity? And what is offered to the family of man in return? Can you point me to a single principle of infidelity, not involved and centered in that question proposed by ancient infidels, “How doth God know?”
Understand me; I do not say that all infidels are glaringly immoral, though most of them are, and you, know it. Look around your circle and give an honest reply. To attribute “sound morals” to infidelity, is as unphilosophical as to impute effects to causes which never can produce them. Some of your brethren, I allow — and it is a stretch of charity, — may spurn from them all that is mean and dishonorable. If so, the practice has been derived from principles which infidelity ridicules.
“Infidels are willing to think, and let think.” I never yet have found one of that sort.
They are rational, candid men. They have none of that fiery zeal and stubborn bigotry of the Christian party.”
You have either lost your senses, or you mean one thing while you express another. You must know that the facts are just the contrary. But one, who was once of your party, — an a vowed infidel, — thought differently from you. He was well acquainted with infidel writers of all kinds, and especially with the most literary of the tribe. The following testimony was found among his papers, after death:
“What sort of men are infidels? They are loose, fierce, overbearing men. There is nothing in them like sober, serious inquiry. They are the wildest fanatics upon earth, nor have they agreed among themselves upon any scheme of truth and felicity. Contrast the character of infidels with that of real Christians.” Let the writings of infidels and the hard sayings, wild imaginings, and unsettled notions of your acquaintance, bear witness to the above charge.
“Your Bible calls itself ‘a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path.’ But for what purpose has the light of nature been given us? By this I mean the light of reason. This, it is true, is but like moonlight, but by it we can see all we want to see.”
“And of what use is a lamp in moonlight?”
Try if you cannot gather a reply out of the following incident. I shall assist you by a hint or two in brackets. Some years ago, a gentleman accustomed to walk the streets of Philadelphia, U. S., brought a charge against the corporation of that city. It appears that economic body regulated their gas by the almanac and moon. [Reason, or the light of nature.] When the almanac said “there is a moon,” they did not light up. The complainant, returning home one night, had a stumbling time, jeoparding neck and limb. The moon was where she ought to be, but muffled up in thick clouds, and he had to pick his way by flashes of lightning. [Gleams of light from eternity upon the conscience, — flashes of terror from the violated law of God.] Getting into a better temper, as he proceeded with his complaints, he advised, that as moonlight or lightning was such a species of celestial dependence, as not to suit our terrestrial circumstances, better, rather than run the risk of breaking our necks [stumbling into hell], to keep the lamps lighted hereafter, [the Bible], whether we have moonlight [the light of reason] or not. Do you understand me?
You proceed, “Infidels should be men of integrity, as much so as any class of men in the world.”
Yes, but are they so? Should I not rather inquire whether you are in your right mind? Is it possible you can be entirely ignorant of the facts of the case? What is there, I ask again, in your system, calculated to make and keep them such?
“They are free-thinkers and free-speakers, and what are they the worse for that?”
Why did you not add free-doers? Perhaps you have read the following, as it has been published to the world; but facts will bear repeating. A certain gentleman, whose name and place of abode I need not mention, as they are not necessary to the moral of the story, was a great free-thinker, and a free-speaker, too, of his free thoughts. Being an infidel of the first rank, he made no scruple to disseminate his skeptical opinions wherever he could introduce them. Well, his free thoughts, with those of his lady, were so freely and frequently discussed, that the servants became quite as able dispute as the heads of the family. Their free conversations at [the] table fully convinced the servant who waited upon them. Persuaded, as he was, that for any of his misdeeds in this world he should have no after-account to make in another, he made free with as many valuables as he could appropriate without detection. Resolving at last to profit as much as possible from the doctrine, he laid a free hand upon his master’s plate. The free highway was before him, to which he betook himself, free from his master and all obligation whatever, except that of eluding his pursuers. Their movements proving too rapid for the thief, he was caught, brought back with his booty, and examined, in the presence of an assembly, by his deeply-excited master. At first the man was sullen, and would answer no questions; being urged to give a reason for his infamous behavior, he resolutely said: “Sir, I have so often heard you talk of the impossibility of a future state, and that after death there was no reward for virtue, nor any punishment for vice, that I was tempted to commit the robbery.” “You rascal,” replied the master, “had you no fear of the gallows?” “Sir,” said the fellow, looking sternly at his master, “what is that to you, if I had a mind to venture that? You had removed my greatest terror, — why should I fear the lesser?”
It was a powerful conviction of the risk of such, or more dangerous results, which led a certain great infidel abruptly to request a gentleman to be silent on the entrance of servants. When they had disappeared from the room, he apologized, — “If the servants should believe those sentiments, they might probably cut our throats.”
When an infidel asked the opinion of an American statesman on the propriety of taking active measures to advance the principles of infidelity, he said, “Beware how you wake a sleeping lion: if men are so bad under the restraints of Christianity, what will they be without them?” What a horrible scheme, to require such precautions! There is no necessity for anything of the kind with the religion of the Bible. Who can deny its pure and moral tendency? Perhaps you have never read that noble and beautiful epitome of the system you affect to despise: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Phil. 4:8. Surely, sir, you are not unacquainted with the tremendous doctrines which call for such a pure and elevated morality. But could we expect a lower standard than the above, if we are to look for any harmony between principles and practice? Take away a single item from the above catalogue of moral virtues, and a defection from Christian principles glaring and inconsistent will immediately appear. What but the dread sanctions of the doctrines of the Bible could call forth, and sustain, such a lovely exhibition of pure morality in everyday life? A course of conduct this, which must be approved of by men, and also by a holy God, who searcheth the heart. I shall not further contrast infidelity with Christianity. It would be a loss of time to compare night with day, or winter with summer, merely to show that there is a vast difference between them.
There is an abundance of sophistry in what you have advanced against the resurrection and day of judgment. Perhaps you are not aware that centuries ago the same ideas were recorded in a Jewish Talmud, of which the following is the substance:
A crafty man endeavored to perplex a rabbi, thus: The day of judgment comes, and the soul and body appear before the great tribunal. The Supreme Judge is about to pronounce sentence upon both, for sins committed in time. But the soul blames the body for sins perpetrated during life, and the body the soul. Each argues thus: the soul proves it was an innocent party when united with the body, from the fact that, since it was freed by death, it has been flying like a bird through the air, without sinning as formerly. The body charges past sin upon the soul, on the ground that, since the bonds were broken which held them together, it had slept quietly in the earth, without doing good or evil, — senseless as a stone. “Therefore,” said the sophist, I conclude that both soul and body may free themselves from punishment on that day.”
The rabbi, in order to show the fallacy of such reasoning resorted to a parable:
A certain king had a garden of ripe fruit, and appointed two men to watch it. One of them was a bind man, and the other lame. Having a desire, not only to eat a little fruit, but to gather much and share it between them, they entered into a partnership in the business. So the lame man, getting on the shoulders of him who was blind, plucked the fruit, and both partook of it. After a time, the owner came, and inquired for his fruit. The watchmen were called to an account, and charges were brought against them. The blind man said he had no eyes, and therefore could not see the fruit; the lame man said he had no feet, and therefore could not reach it. The king, knowing the guilt of the parties, ordered the lame man to mount on the shoulders of the blind man, and judged and punished them both at once. “Thus,” said the rabbi, “God will put the soul into the body, and judge and punish them both together.”*
Forget not, dear sir, that the proceedings of that day and among those things which have been revealed. That the body shall arise from the grave and be reoccupied by the soul on that great day, and both punished together, is clearly settled in the holy Scriptures.* He who can receive it, let him; he that cannot must answer to the God of the Bible.*
You perceive how flimsy are your arguments, now, even when a poor mortal like myself touches them:
“Frail gossamer, whose fibers span
From shrub to shrub which lightest zephyrs fan
Away, away –!”
But if, on a future day, God shall acknowledge the divine inspiration of that book which you affect to despise, all your sophistical cobwebs must be swept away. Alone? No! but your soul must go down with them into that fire “prepared for the devil and his angels.” Please read, at your leisure Dan 12:2; John 5:28-29, Rev. 20:11-13.
A very short reply will do for your concluding sentiments. The following epitaph, written by a witty man, for the tombstone of one of your brethren, I would recommend for yours when your body is laid in the dust:
“Here lies a dicer, long in doubt;
If death could kill his soul or not;
Here ends his doubtfulness — at last
Convinced, but, oh, the die is cast!”