The Anxiety of Infidels

A visitor, some years ago, when commenting upon the concluding article of the infidel’s creed, “I believe in all unbelief,” remarked, that it might have been better expressed thus: “I believe in all absurdity, that I may justify my unbelief in the Scriptures.” Your ingenuity reminds me of the sentiment of another: “If a man will bring me arguments against the Bible, I will thank him; if not, I shall invent them.”

If you are satisfied with your principles, why such anxiety to discuss them? Surely you cannot imagine I should become a better man by believing as you do; nor can I well conceive how you could suppose that my soul would improve the safety of its condition by adopting your opinions. In no way could they be essential to my happiness, unless a complete change should take place in the honesty of my mind, and in the character of my morals. I feel perfectly willing to walk in the paths of righteousness. There is nothing in sin desirable. Would it not, then, be quite foolish in me to throw up my hopes of immortality, which make me cheerful and happy? Nay, it would be madness to jeopardize my soul for nought; post to hell without excuse; and place myself under the possible necessity of being damned. It is not to be wondered that moles and bats love their dark receptacles, and hate the light and the sun. It is their nature to do so. But is this a good reason why the innocent and happy birds of heaven should hate the sun and his beams, and forsake the cheerful atmosphere to burrow in the earth, or flap their little wings amidst cobwebs and darkness?

A gentleman in America who had escaped from this snare of the devil, remarked to me one day: “Two things may be said of infidelity: 1. It is certain we can gain nothing by it; and 2. We may lose everything through it.”

Is it not a fact that you have serious misgivings as to the truth of your system? An anxiety to gain your point in an argument is not against my surmise; in this feeling there may be much of pride and selfishness, if not infernal malice.

Is it not easy to conceive how a man may desire a thing to be true, although at heart he may doubt its truth?

I remember hearing of a case which happened, it was said, not far from where I had charge of a congregation. An individual, who by a course of sin, had rendered Universalism, or a disbelief of future punishment, essential to his happiness, was driving a yoke of oxen along the highway; a neighbor of his, coming up behind him, overheard the following soliloquy: “I believe that Universalism (another name for infidelity) is true. I do believe it is true. Yes, I do; and yet, I would give that yoke of oxen to be assured of its truth.”

You say, “From whence but from the Bible originated those strifes and contradictions of opinion which have distracted Christendom?”

But a writer some years ago insisted that dissensions in religion flow from nothing else than ignorance of grammar! Would it be wise in you to assert that the sun is the cause of all the wickedness and misery perpetrated beneath his beams, because he affords men light to work out the disorders of their nature, while he renders their infamous conduct visible? Is there a man in these kingdoms who would agree with you in saying that we should be better off without the sun; therefore, let him be blotted out of the heavens altogether? If an individual miss his way in “broad daylight,” is it likely he could. succeed any better amidst the darkness of night? Ancient and modern paganism have long since answered this question. Permit me to inquire from what quarter the dissensions of infidelity have arisen, — I have never yet found two of your writers agreed. Each has a system of his own, widely different from all the rest. Christians differ, it is true, upon some minor points; but they perfectly agree in all the essential doctrines of Christianity.

To your other objections against the Bible, I shall let a poet reply:

“What none can prove a forgery, may be true;
What none but bad men wish explode, must” [be true].

“The greater part of professors of religion are hypocrites.”
I wonder you have not branded them all.
“I have seen none that I could trust, — never.”

Probably not. Your father and mother were not Christians, I presume; if they were, what a sad impression have they left upon your mind! Perhaps you had forgotten them. A message from the death-bed of either might affect you as much as a similar event impressed one quite as bad as yourself. He had long renounced Christianity, and, while wandering in foreign parts, was the victim of infidelity. His pious mother was mourning and praying for her deluded son. Her last days were greatly embittered by reflecting on his dangerous errors. She was taken with sickness unto death, but her dying moments were employed in repeating his name, and dictating her last request, that he would abandon his infidelity, and return to the religion of his Saviour. After her death, his sister, to whom the document had been committed, forwarded it to her brother. The letter reached him across the seas; and shortly after that another, containing news of the death of that lovely sister. “These two voices came upon me,” he said, “as it were from the tomb.” One death seemed to be the interpretation of the other in such a way as to strike him with a force that was irresistible. But hear his own words: “I became a Christian. I did not yield, I allow, to supernatural illuminations; but my convictions of the truth of Christianity sprang from the heart. I wept, and I believed.”

You say, “I never look down upon one of your Christians without a feeling of contempt.”

Accept the reply I heard a good man give to a similar bravado in America: “Look down upon a Christian! — were you to look as low as hell, you could not see a Christian. You must look aloft to behold him: he is above you.”

“I have not, it is true, associated much with those who have made any great pretensions to religion.”

I thought so; and I doubt whether you have ever been under circumstances to test the honesty and piety of a real Christian.

“But, I have been an observer of the great mass of your good Christians.”

Nominal Protestants; but I presume you do not know the difference: you are not careful about nice distinctions between nominal and real Christians.

“Appearances or pretensions to religion always put me on my guard. The garb of Christianity is generally put on for the sake of advantage, — to cover some dark and villainous design. Were I a lonely traveler, I should be suspicious of the stranger whose mouth was full of Scripture. A sudden acquaintance with one maintaining silence upon such subjects would not so much alarm me.”

Sir, I cannot follow you through all your dark insinuations. The last few sentences confirm your own admission, that you have never associated much with Christians. They tend, also, to confirm my assertion, that you have never been placed in circumstances adapted to prove to you which you would prefer, — a man “whose mouth was filled with Scripture,” or one who maintained a sullen silence upon such subject. If you have not had experience upon such matters, it is wished you will profit by that of one of your brethren in America. The circumstance was not without its effect, when made known to the public. Two men, belonging to one of the States of New England, were traveling together into the western country on business. One was an infidel the other a Christian. The skeptic on almost every occasion intruded his injurious opinions; as if to prove himself the very character described by the poet:

“The sprightlier infidel, as yet more gay,
Fires off the next idea in his way;
The dry fag-ends of every obvious doubt,
And puffs and blows for fear they should go out;
Boldly resolved, against conviction steeled,
Nor inward truth nor outward fact to yield;
Urged with a thousand proofs, he stands unmoved,
Fast by himself, and scorns to be out-proved;
To his own reason loudly he appeals,
No saint more zealous for what God reveals.”

When sorely pressed, he had still one resource always at hand, – — to denounce religion as an imposture, and professors as hypocrites; asserting that he felt “particularly exposed in the company of Christians, and took especial care of horse and purse when the saints were around him.

They traveled westward, far into the wilderness. One night their situation was very trying; and, for a time, they had no other prospect than to ride on till morning, or sit down, exposed to the inclemency of the weather. Having money about their persons, they dreaded robbers more than the wild beasts of the forest. Riding onward, they discovered a poor little hut; alighted went in, and looked around. The house was as comfortless within as without; and the inmates were not at all prepossessing. An elderly man, his wife and two sons, were the family; hardy, rough, and sunburned. Although made welcome, they were suspicious. “These coarse people,” they thought, “seem kind, but this may be to deceive us, and put us off our guard. The place is lonely; just fit for scenes of robbery and blood, and no help at hand, in case of extremity.” Our travelers communicated their fears to each other. The skeptic was greatly agitated, and expressed fears that this might be the last night of their existence. Aware that to proceed would not lessen the danger, they agreed thus between themselves: “An apartment has been offered us; we shall secure the door, have weapons of defense ready, one shall sleep while the other keeps watch, and, in case of extremity, we will sell our lives as dearly as possible.” Having settled their plans, they joined the family at supper, after which they proposed to retire. The old man requested them to wait a little … and after a short pause said that it had been his practice in better days, and he continued it still, to call his family together before they retired to rest, in order to commend them to God in prayer; and, if the strangers had no objections, he should attend to it before they separated. The Christian rejoiced to find a brother in the wilderness, and the skeptic could not well conceal his satisfaction with the proposal. The family Bible was brought forward, and no dust had gathered upon its lids, although age had set its mark upon it. The old man selected a passage for the night, read it reverently, after which they all prostrated themselves before God, when the aged man’s voice was raised in earnest supplication for divine protection.

“When such a man, familiar with the skies,
Has filled his urn where these pure waters rise,
And once more mingles with us meaner things,
‘Tis even as though an angel shook his wings, -The
balmy influence is diffused around,
And tells us where his treasures may be found.”

He was evidently a man of prayer, and it was quite as plain that his was a cottage where prayer was wont to be made. The travelers were not forgotten. He prayed that they might be preserved on their journey, and at the close of life’s journey they might have an eternal home in heaven. After prayer they retired, and, according to previous arrangement, the infidel was to take the first watch; but instead of priming his pistols, and bracing his nerves for an attack, he was for wrapping himself in his great coat and blanket, as quietly as if he had never thought of danger. His friend reminded him of their dismal apprehensions, and inquired how he had come so suddenly to lose them. The infidel felt the force of the question, and of all that it implied. He frankly acknowledged the cause, — that he felt himself as safe as at a New England fireside, and should do so in any house forest where the Bible was read as that old man read it, and prayer offered up as the old man prayed. Now, my dear sir, until you are placed under similar circumstances, or until you can explain satisfactorily to yourself how such a change could take place in that infidel’s mind without a conscious acknowledgment of the truth and power of the religion of the Bible, I cannot allow you, unrebuked, to deal in those unfair insinuations against the character of the Bible Christians.