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its plain and serious business, is passing;-their contemporaries, in every line, are starting before them in the road of honor, of fortune, or of usefulness; and nothing is now left them but to concentrate all the vigor of their minds to recover the ground which they have lost. But if this last energy be wanting, if what they "would," they yet fail to "do," what, alas! can be the termination of the once ardent and aspiring mind, but ignominy and disgrace!-a heart dissatisfied with mankind and with itself; a conscience sickening at the review of what is passed; a failing fortune; a degraded character; and, what I fear is ever the last and the most frantic refuge of selfish and disappointed ambition,— infidelity and despair.
It is ever painful to trace the history of human degradation, and it would even be injurious to religion and virtue to do it, if it were not at the same time to exhibit the means by which these evils may be prevented. Of the character which I have now attempted to illustrate, the origin may be expressed in one word; it is in the forgetfulness of duty, in the forgetfulness that every power, and advantage, and possession of our being, are only trusts committed to us for an end, not properties which we are to dispose of at pleasure; in the forgetfulness that all our imaginary virtues are "nothing worth," unless they spring from the genuine and permanent source of moral and religious obligation.
Wherever, indeed, we look around us upon general life, we may every where see, that nothing but the deep sense of religion can produce either consistency or virtue in human conduct. The world deceives us on one side-our imaginations on another, our passions upon all. Nothing could save us; nothing, with such materials, could hold together even the fabric of society, but the preservation of that deep and instinctive sense of duty, which the Father of nature hath mercifully given to direct and illuminate us in every relation of life; which is "none other" than his own voice; to which all our other powers, if they aim either at wisdom or at virtue, must be subservient; and which leads us, if we listen to it, to every thing for which we were called into being, either here or hereafter.
We have heard, indeed, cf men who affected to hold fast by the tenets of natural religion, while they repudiated those of divine revelation; but we have never been so fortunate as to see and converse with one of them whose creed, select, and circumscribed, and palatable as he had made it, seemed to have any serious footing in his mind, or any practical influence on his life; who could restrain his sneer at piety the most untinctured with enthusiasm; or who could check his speculations, however hostile to the system he had affected to embrace; or who worshipped the God in whose existence and attributes he acknowledged his belief; or who acted with a view to that immortality for which he allowed that the soul of man is destined.
It is true the votaries of infidelity are often placed in cir cumstances which constrain them to hold such language, and maintain such a deportment, as by itself might indicate the presence of Christian principle. They are frequently not at liberty to give that full play, and that unreserved publicity to their unbelief, in which, however, it is naturally disposed to indulge, and in which it would undoubtedly manifest itself, were it free to operate at large. And you may not therefore, at particular times, and in particular situations, perceive any marked distinction between them and the devoted followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
They may have a family, and in the tenderness of parental affection, and with the conviction that what they regard as altogether false may contribute as much to the virtue and happiness of their children as if it were altogether true, they may shrink from any declaration of infidelity within the domestic circle. They may acknowledge, in the season of their own distress, or they may suggest, amid the distresses of their friends, those considerations to which the mind, when softened or when agitated by affliction, naturally clings, even though it has no habitual conviction of their truth, and no proper title to the consolation which they afford. They may be driven by bodily anguish, or by impending danger, to utter the language of a piety, which, till that moment, was a stranger even to their lips, just as the mariner has been known, amidst the perils and horrors of a shipwreck, to cry for mercy from that God whose existence he had never before confessed, but by his pro
faneness and his blasphemies. Or they may even be strongly and insensibly induced to accommodate themselves to prevailing customs, and to pay an outward homage to the faith of the New Testament, by occasionally attending its institutions, though they are all the while regarding it as a mere harmless fable, if not as a contemptible or a pernicious superstition.
But look at them when placed in those circumstances which put no such restraints upon what they may say and do as the enemies of Christianity; observe them when the pride of intellect tempts them to display their learning or their ingenuity in contending against the vulgar faith-or when they have a passion to gratify which needs the aid of some principle to vindicate its indulgence-or when they have nothing to fear from giving utterance to what they think and feel-or when they happen to be associated with those among whom the quality of freethinking prevails— observe them as to the language which they employ, and the practice which they maintain with respect to religion, in the ordinary course and tenor of their lives; and then say what positive proofs they give you of the reality or of the efficacy of those religious principles which they profess to have retained, after putting away from them the doctrine of Christ.
Say, if instead of affording you positive proofs of such rem'anent and distinctive piety, they are not displaying daily and inveterate symptoms that God, and Providence, and immortality, are not in all their thoughts. Say, if you have not seen many a melancholy demonstration of that general irreligion which we have ascribed to them as the consequence of their throwing off the dominion of the Gospel. And say if you have not been able to trace this down through all the gradations of infidelity, from the speculative philosopher, who has decided that there is no Savior, till you come to the fool, who says, in the weakness and the wickedness of his heart, that there is no God.
It is amidst trials and sorrows that infidelity appears in its justest and most frightful aspect. When subjected to the
multifarious ills which flesh is heir to, what is there to uphold our spirit, but the discoveries and the prospects that are unfolded to us by revelation? What, for this purpose, can be compared with the belief that every thing here be low is under the management of infinite wisdom and goodness, and that there is an immortality of bliss awaiting us in another world? If this conviction be taken away, what is it that we can have recourse to, on which the mind may patiently and safely repose in the season of adversity? Where is the balm which I may apply with effect to my wounded heart, after I have rejected the aid of the Almighty Physician?
Impose upon me whatever hardships you please; give me nothing but the bread of sorrow to eat; take from me the friends in whom I had placed my confidence; lay me in the cold hut of poverty, and on the thorny bed of disease; set death before me in all its terrors; do all this,-only let me trust in my Savior, and I will "fear no evil,"—I will rise superior to affliction, I will "rejoice in my tribulation." But let infidelity interpose between God and my soul, and draw its impenetrable veil over a future state of existence, and limit all my trust to the creatures of a day, and all my expectations to a few years as uncertain as they are short, and how shall I bear up, with fortitude or with cheerfulness, under the burden of distress? Or where shall I find one drop of consolation to put into the bitter draught which has been given me to drink? I look over the whole range of this wilderness in which I dwell, but I see not one covert from the storm, nor one leaf for the healing of my soul, nor one cup of cold water to refresh me in the weariness and the faintings of my pilgrimage.
The very conduct of infidels, in spreading their system with so much eagerness and industry, affords a striking proof that its influence is essentially hostile to human happiness. For what is their conduct? Why, they allow that religion contrib ́utes largely to the comfort of man, that in this respect, as well as with respect to morality, it would be a great evil were it to lose its hold over their affections,—and that those are no friends to the world who would shake or de
stroy their belief in it. And yet, in the very face of this acknowledgment, they scruple not to publish their doubts and their unbelief concerning it among their fellow-men, and with all the cool deliberation of philosophy, and sometimes with all the keenness and ardor of a zealot, to do the
very thing which they profess to deprecate as pernicious to the well-being and comfort of the species. Whether they are sincere in this profession, or whether they are only trifling with the sense and feeling of mankind, still it demon'strates the hardening influence of their principles; and from principles, which make those who hold them so reckless of the peace and order and happiness of their brethren, what can be reasonably expected, but every thing which is most destructive of human comfort?
It is true, the infidel may be very humane in the intercourse of life; but, after all, what dependence can be placed upon that humanity of his, which deals out bread to the hungry, and clothing to the naked, and yet would sacrifice to literary vanity, or to something worse, whatever can give support in trial, and consolation at death? He may sympathize with me in my distress, and speak to me of im mortality, and, at the very moment, his constitutional kindness may be triumphing over his cold-blooded and gloomy speculations. But his speculations have shed a misery over my heart, which no language of his can dissipate, and which makes his most affectionate words sound in my ear like the words of mockery and scorn.
He has destroyed me, and he cannot save me, and he cannot comfort me. At his bidding I have renounced that Savior in whom I once trusted and was happy, and he now pities me; as if his most pitying tones could charm away the anguish of my bosom, and make me forget that it was he himself who planted it there, and planted it so deep, and nourished it so well, that nothing but the power of that heaven, whose power I have denied, is able to pluck it
Yes, after he has destroyed my belief in the superintending providence of God,-after he has taught me that the prospect of a hereafter is but the baseless fabric of a vision,
after he has bred and nourished in me a contempt for that sacred volume which alone throws light over this be nighted world, after having argued me out of my faith by his sophistries, or laughed me out of it by his ridicule,-after having thus wrung from my soul every drop of consolation, and dried up my very spirit within me,-yes, after having accomplished this in the season of my health and my pros perity, he would come to me while I mourn, and treat me like a drivelling idiot, whom he may sport with, because he has ruined me, and to whom, in the plenitude of his com