The Insufficiency of Infidelity

Has my infidel reader never read the story of one Aristoxenus, the musician? So great was his admiration of his profession that he defined the human soul to be nothing more than a harmony. You, from a baser motive — love of sin — define your soul to be “a part and parcel” of materialism.

“This ardent hope, this fond desire,
This longing after immortality,”

I consider to be the universal feeling of our race, with the exception of an unfortunate few, — those to whom, by a wicked course of life, immortality has been rendered undesirable. Look at the inferior animals; there is not one desire in their nature for which a benevolent Creator has not made a provision. A desire for immortality is one of the “leading passions” of man. Has the Author of our being left this wholly unprovided for?

Do you think, my friend, that I misunderstand your character? I never can lose sight of the fact, that there is nothing in infidelity for which any intelligent man would seriously contend a single moment, unless necessitated to do so by irregular morals.

If it be the fact that you desire “to live on terms of amity with vice,” then, in order to sin without disturbance, “till nothing moves your consistency in ill,” the readiest way is to “harden your heart in the forge of bad principles,” and school it on “the anvil of despair,” till it bids defiance to the strokes of conscience.

I feel inclined to apply to your lengthy lucubrations [lucubrations = 1 nocturnal studies or meditations. 2 (usu. in pl.) literary writings, esp. of a pedantic or elaborate character. — Oxford Dict.] the sentiment of a witty individual: “The burning of a little straw may hide the stars of heaven, but the stars are still be there, and will presently reappear.” Your bundle of infidel straw, kindled by a spark from your own forge, has indeed, raised considerable smoke; and it aspires and spreads along the heavens, and threatens to cast into eternal obscurity every sacred star of truth. Lest you would increase your sin by caviling at the declaration of your Maker in the Bible, I shall employ “the dying breathings” of one of your repenting brethren to blow away some of the smoke. May God make his sad and mournful end an eternal blessing to you! The thought has just struck me that you would not be offended, if I preface it with the following lines, with which I doubt not you are familiar:

“Sure ’tis a serious thing to die, my soul!
What a strange moment must it be, when, near
Thy journey’s end, thou hast the gulf in view!
That awful gulf, no mortal e’er repassed,
To tell what’s doing on the other side.
Nature runs back, and shudders at the sight,
And every life-string bleeds at thought of parting:
For part they must; body and soul must part;
Proud couple! linked more close than wedded pair.
This [the soul] wings its way to its Almighty Source,
The witness of its actions, — now its Judge;
That [the body] drops into the dark and noisome grave,
Like a disabled pitcher, of no use.”

Upon the bed of his last sickness lay a dying sinner. His character may be best learned by attending to his bitter complainings when approaching that “awful gulf,” from whence he never returned:

“My physician tells me I must die, and I feel that he tells me the truth. In my best hours, and in my worst, death has been perpetually upon my mind; it has covered me like a dread presence; weighed me down like an ocean; blinded me like a horrid vision; imprisoned my faculties as with bars and gates of iron. Often and often, when, in saloons, alive with mirth and splendor, I have seemed the gayest of the inmates, this thought and fear of death have shot through my mind, and I have turned away sick and shuddering. What is it, then, to approach the reality? to feel it very near, — nay, close at hand? stealing on, and on, and on, like the tide upon the shore, not to be driven back till it has engulfed its prey? What is it to apprehend the approach of the time when you must be a naked, guilty, trembling spirit, all memory, and all consciousness, never again for a single moment to sleep, or know oblivion from the crushing burden of the ‘deeds done in the body’?

“The dying may, indeed, be in a place of torment, — in hell, — before the time; and the remembrance of past life, stripped of all its deceptions, shriveled into insignificance, may appear, in connection with eternity, but as a tiny shell tossed on the broad black surface of an ocean; then again, the intense importance of that very insignificant fragment of time, and the intense remembrance of all that occupied it; — its schemes, and dreams, and sins, and vanities, sweeping across the mind, in solemn order, like a procession of grim shadows, with death waiting to embosom all. O! well may I smite upon my breast, and cry, with all but despair: ‘Woe is me for the past! Woe, woe, for the past!’ Every dream is dissolved, — every refuge of lies is plucked from me, — every human consolation totters beneath me, like a bowing wall; and all the kingdoms of the world, and all the glory of them, could not bribe from my soul the remembrance of a single sin. Ambition, pleasure, fame, friendship, lie around like wrecks; and my soul is helpless in the midst of them, like the mariner on his wave-worn rock.”

The above is all that I feel inclined to oppose, at present, to your theories. To me it is awfully conclusive. You may smile at my weakness, but I never felt a stronger determination in all my life to live — if it were for no other regard than my death-bed scene — a holy and a blameless life. What has been one man’s case may be mine, — yours. That which caused a capacious mind -a man of such splendid talents and acquirements — to tremble and be dismayed, may affect both you and myself though of far inferior talents, if unprepared. O, sir, think of these things in time! Prepare to meet thy God! “Sure, it is a solemn thing to die, my soul.” The dying man spoke of the thought and fear of death having darted across his mind in the gayest assemblies; that they followed him everywhere, and attended him as a presence, in his best and worst hours. Has not every sinner living something of this apprehension, more or less? Are you never annoyed with anything of the kind? If not just now, have there been no such visitations in past life; no such secret, unaccountable intrusions, which have thrown their shadows across your soul, and awakened feelings which you could not allay, — created an uneasiness which has not easily subsided? “Man, know thyself;” — an accomplishment [is] this, quite as necessary for you as for the heathen who had it inscribed over the door of his temple.

You put me in mind of a spider, running up and down, hither and thither, with a little thread; wasting its own body, and wearing out its vitals, to make a curious web. No sooner is it finished, than the besom [broom], with one wild sweep, destroys the gay and airy fabric, and often, along with it, the unfortunate spider. Your web of sophistry will one day be torn to pieces, either by the besom of truth, wielded by the Holy Spirit; or by death, the most emphatic and conclusive of all preachers. Job 8:14 is worth your attention; and the effects of your principles are very strikingly noticed in Isaiah 59:4, 5.

All you have written only goes to prove the truth of the testimony of one now with God, who, in his day, looked closely into your principles. “Infidelity grounds its existence on the fancied cheats it discovers in religious creeds, without having one original virtue to entitle it to respect. It is a system of negatives, — if system that may be called, whose only boast is, that it discovers errors in revelation, and hence assumes a title to credit, by instructing its votaries to disbelieve. Under the influence of this pure negation of excellence, it promotes its interests by the irritation of those passions which it should be the business of our lives to subdue, and fortifies itself in those strange commotions which it contributes to raise.”

There is a pretty and poetic sentimentalism in your views of death. Had you flourished in the days of a certain old poet, I fear his rude grapples would have disturbed your ideas. I question now whether your flowers can bear the following, although little more than half a blast:

“Strange to tell,
Bold sinners rant it all the way to hell;
Like fish that play in Jordan’s silver stream,
They bathe in sensual lusts, and never dream
Of that dead sea to which the stream doth tend,
And to their pleasure puts a fatal end!”

I admit that real repentance may not visit the death-beds of your characters; but I cannot allow you to say, without contradiction, that remorse and terror never pay such a visit in their last hours. There is no necessity to go back to hardened Nero, who cried out, in desperation, “Have I no friend nor enemy to rid me out of my pain?” Nor to Julian the Apostate, who is reported to have taken into his hand some of his own blood, and flung it into the air, exclaiming, “Thou hast conquered me, oh Galilean!” — meaning Jesus Christ. The conduct of pagan bravadoes in extremity, given by a heathen writer, is quite illustrative of that of your modern infidel heroes, in the hour of death. Hear the testimony of this heathen:

“When the Grecian forces hotly pursued us, and we must needs venture over the great water Strymon, frozen then, but beginning to thaw, when a hundred to one we had all died for it; with mine own eyes I saw many of those gallants, whom I had heard before so boldly maintain there was no God, every one upon their knees, with eyes and hands lifted up, begging for help and mercy, and entreating that the ice might hold till they got over.”

It is not to be denied that some of your sort die in a calm; but it only goes to prove that sentiment, “Their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost.” Job 9:20. “They retain their hope to the last,” says a commentator, “and the last breath they breathe is the final and eternal termination of their hope. They give up their hope and their life together.”

Conversing one day with a missionary in Quebec, he told me the following well-attested fact: In a tavern, a number of men were standing, talking upon various subjects, among whom was an infidel of the foulest character. A gentleman of his acquaintance, turning to him, said, “I have heard, sir, that you deny the existence of a God, of a devil, and of a hell. Is it so?” The man replied, “I believe there is a place of rest, and that place is the grave; but no man, while I live, shall ever persuade me there is a hell.” These words had scarcely passed his lips when his head dropped, and reclining upon the shoulders of one of his companions, all was silent! When they laid hold of him, he was a corpse!

The dying hours of a certain great poet of the present century would seem to make in your favor; though it evidently appears he was on the point of yielding. A little before death, he asked, with deep emotion, “Shall I sue for mercy?” A few minutes after, he mustered fortitude to exclaim, “Come, come, — I must resume my bravery, and die like a man!” To these instances may be opposed the testimony of another. His wife, seeing him in great distress, said, “My dear, you appear as if your heart were breaking.” He replied, “Let it break; let it break; but it is hard work to die;” and added, with a piercing look, “Lord, have mercy! Jesus, save!” and expired.

On the bed of his last illness lay one of your brethren, in a certain town. The door opened, and a companion who had first led him into the path of vice entered. The dying infidel, recovering himself for a moment, recognized him with a bitter smile saying, “Behold thy work; thou hast done this!” The wretch approached, and began to pour into his ear his sophistical arguments. Whatever effect they might have had upon the man in health, they had lost all their efficacy upon him in this awful hour. Turning a face pale with rage, he cried, “Leave me! Begone! You have poisoned my existence; you have directed my soul to hell; and dare you, in this hour, torture your victim?” The man slunk away rebuked, and left the room, perhaps, in his turn, to die the same miserable death. The poor infidel raved, swore, and blasphemed, till the nurse, unable to bear the horrible scene, fled, and left him to die alone.

The sullen silence of a death-bed is a poor argument for the triumphs of infidelity. It is not till such men are past speaking that their terrors, perhaps, begin. Some years ago, a bad man fell into a certain river; he was not permitted to remain there till the “vital spark” had fled, but was with difficulty restored to consciousness. He was asked what his feelings were when drowning. “The most horrible,” said he, “you can conceive. All the sins I ever committed rushed at once into my mind, and conscience portrayed the whole to me; yea, I beheld the flames of hell kindled before me.”

Before I sailed for this country [England], when in the State of Massachusetts, a man of God, in whose veracity I had the most perfect confidence, related to me an account of a couple of deaths which had taken place. The first had carried out your principles to their true results. “I often conversed with him,” said my friend, “and urged him to renounce his infidelity. The last time I saw him, he got very angry:

“As if the legion-fiend his soul possessed,
And a whole hell were worrying in his breast;
And frenzy fired the bold blasphemer’s cheek,
He looked the curses which he could not speak.'”

“Were it not,” said he, “that you are an old man, I would certainly horsewhip you.” “I am glad,” answered my friend, “that anything saves me from your vengeance; but hear me.” He grew worse and worse, till God could apparently restrain his wrath no longer. He was struck with death at an unexpected hour. His agony of mind was greater than that of his body. He felt himself cited to appear before the eternal Judge. His diseased body could not live, but his disconsolate soul understood too well the risk of dying. His refuges of lies failed him, under the convincing arguments of death. Finding death unavoidable, he hastened to be away. It is not for me to say whether, even then, the Spirit of God was still not striving to the uttermost; but you know, sir, it is possible for a man

“To feel his heart can bleed, yet not repent;
To sigh, yet not recede; to grieve, yet not relent.”

Terror and distraction increased to such a degree that he entreated his physician to kill him. Receiving, of course, a prompt refusal, he turned to some of his neighbors, beseeching them to dispatch him. But he died.

The second case was that of a surgeon, a man of talents. He had not, it seems, the cold privilege allowed such a character by a poet:

“He that will be cheated to the last,
Delusions, strong as hell, shall bind him fast.”

That guilt, which had stood its ground so long against the threatenings of God, was arrested suddenly by death; and, with very little warning, he found himself on the very verge of time, just on the point of appearing before his justly-offended Maker. The frequent gleams of remorse -transient, it is true — which he had experienced when in health, had now kindled into a flame of mental agony. He had by some means arrived at a certainty that he must not entertain another prospect than that of spending an eternity its hell. The scene was one which cannot be described. Visitors fled in terror from his room. Only one wicked Universalist had the courage to remain with him. But he could not, after the surgeon’s death, be persuaded to relate the terrific utterances connected with his last breathings.

Ah! sir, your principles should yield you much advantage, with a great deal of comfort through life; for I assure you there is nothing in them to afford you consolation in a dying hour.

That was a true saying of an old divine, that God was longer in destroying Jericho than [in] creating a world. When Adam and Eve had sinned, it was not before the cool of the evening that the voice of the Lord God was heard in the garden. But it was the voice of God “walking,” not running, affording, even then, an illustration of those attributes of his nature, “Merciful gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.” An old writer has somewhere said that “Justice pursues the enemies of God with leaden wings, but that it will lay hold of them sooner or later with hands of iron.”

A few years ago, in the winter, a large sleigh-stage started with twelve persons from Hoboken, opposite New York, for the city of Albany, on the Hudson river. Among the passengers was a most interesting young lady, deeply devoted to God, on her way to be married to a missionary in Persia. There were also an elderly gentleman, from the state of Ohio, and a young man; but all strangers to each other.

Sleigh-riding, in that country, is a very pleasant and animated method of traveling. All were in a pleasant mood, enjoying the scenery. Passing through several towns and small villages, it was remarked, “What an aspect of comfort and respectability is evident in places which are graced by the spire of a church!” The elderly person alluded to said that he had traveled and seen much in his time, but he would give it as a fruit of his observation, “Wherever there was a church, and stated minister, the people five or six miles round were more orderly, sober, and circumspect, than were those who did not enjoy such a privilege.”

This brought the young whiskered gentleman fully out. He was just returning from college, where he had been preparing for one of the learned professions. As the old friend had intruded religion, he would give his opinion. “Priestcraft, witchcraft, and all the crafty doctrines of Christianity,” said he, “were only devised to scare the ignorant. The laws of Lycurgus are far superior to those of Moses. There is nothing to be feared from death; at the most, it is nothing more than a leap in the dark.”

The weather set in very bad, with rain in abundance, during several hours. At every tavern, while the horses drank water, the driver helped himself to rum. The winter road led them unto the bosom of the Hudson, covered with ice; and when upon its surface, they discovered their danger. Late rains had affected the ice, and the horses were up to their knees in snow and water. A deep and powerful river ran beneath them, with bold and craggy shores on either hand. A heavy snowstorm came on; the risk of plunging into air-holes was evident to all. The heads of the horses could scarcely be seen through the storm; and the man of the whip drove on, declaring he neither feared death nor the devil.

All felt, should the ice give way (and it was becoming worse and worse), their destruction was inevitable.

The distress of the young infidel was not to be concealed. He trembled from head to foot, but was silent.

The young lady appeared pale and thoughtful, as she opened a small traveling-basket, and took out a little red book, turned over a few pages, and fixed her eye upon a passage. After a few moments, she closed the book, and shut her eyes. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” The paleness disappeared from her cheek, and a glow of heavenly peace and confidence suffused her beautiful countenance.

God was gracious to them; and, as they proceeded up the river, a way of escape from their peril opened. While changing horses at the hotel, one of the party asked her very politely, but with an interest she appreciated, what it was she found in the little book which seemed to have such a happy effect upon her mind. “The book, sir,” said she, “is named ‘Daily Food for Christians,’ being a text for every day in the year. The one which gave me so much comfort was the text for this day: “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people, from henceforth, even forever.” Ps. 125:2

We may say of the infidel, and all who travel in the paths of wickedness, “The way of transgressors is hard.” None who have ever faithfully walked in those [the ways] of righteousness have found them contrary to that other declaration of the Holy Ghost: “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”

He that has light within his own clear breast
May in the center sit, and see bright day;
But he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts,
Benighted walks, under the mid-day sun;
Himself is his own dungeon!”