Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

tration of combustibles on a given point, and the dropping of a single spark, to produce an explosion which shall shake kingdoms and continents. The Bible only, as a Revelation from God; its sanctifying influences, its salutary restraints, its reverend sanctions, its rules of present action and of future judgment, and the numerous institutions which are its offspring, and which pour through the social body their regenerating or their regulative influence—these only can, with certainty, bring and keep mankind within the bounds of wellordered, and peaceful, moral and virtuous society.

Let us make the most favorable supposition, which the case admits. Suppose that the Bible had never been written, or that no light, direct or reflected, had ever shone from Revel. ation upon the human mind; and that, in such a condition, Reason, instead of falling under the darkness of an universal Fetichism, might have reached by conjecture, or reduced to probability, the following notions : that there is a God; that He is to be worshipped; that piety and virtue are important parts of our duty to Him; that the soul is immortal ; and that there will be future rewards to the good, and future punishment to the evil; (though this is granting what can by no means be claimed, yet, for the argument, let it be supposed ;) what would have been the practical effect of the whole with out the rules, and sanctions, and fuller light peculiar to a Revelation? Where would have been the certainty to faith of any one of those notions ? Where amid the dark wilderings of the soul, conld it have found a satisfying assurance of the divine favor, or relief to the agonies of an awakened conscience? Where could it have found any fixed standard of truth and duty ? Where, in a word, could it have found a recnperative power to restore mankind from their lapses into general degeneracy?

The mere ethics, or morals, of the Bible itself, if they had been proposed as the speculations of human Reason, and if they had never been accompanied by the solemn sanctions, and never associated with the higher truths, which are peculiar to a revelation from God—would have had little or no effect in reforming the errors, the vices, and the disorders of society. The great power of the Bible--the heavenly temper of

that “Sword of the Spirit”-lies in the fact that it is an alleged and believed revelation from God; that its teachings are clothed with a divine authority; and that its sanctions of future blessedness, or of future woe, have issued from the perfect justice, and will be enforced by the changeless truth, of God. Take away these sanctions and this certainty, and you leave the Bible - as the wily Philistine left Samson when shorn of his marvellous locks-powerless.

Look at the ancient heathen, who had no well-accredited revelation from God, or nothing more than the faintly reflected light of such a revelation. They felt the need, and therefore fabled to have received the light of a directer revelation. They could not govern men without, at least, the supposed sanctions of a higher than human power.

Is it said that, since their times, men have grown more civilized, more enlightened, more rational, and hence, more manageable? In many countries, we reply, this is not the fact, as we shall see before we close. In some countries, we admit the fact, but inquire what has wrought the change? and to this inquiry, we apprehend, no sufficient answer can be given, short of that which admits, that a divinely accredited revelation from God, in all its direct and in all its collateral influences on civilization, learning, and science itself, has achieved the work. Take away all that the Bible has ever done, directly and indirectly, and it may be believed that even these humaner nations would revert to the heathenism of ancient Greece and Rome, if not to the barbarism of uncivilized races.

In the Bible lie three great ideas, which, to the rejectors of revelation, are peculiarly distasteful: the universal sinfulness of man, the doctrine of an atonement, and the eternity of future retributions. And yet, without these, as certainly revealed truths, the Bible would be practically a weak book. Without the first, it would leave the very head-spring of this world's miseries-sin-not only open, but pouring forth unchecked ruin. Without the second, it would leave the deepest moral and religious wants and sympathies of our nature un. touched; and without the third, it would have no power over

VOL. VI.-41

the conscience and the conduct of the lawless offender. Take them with all their accompanying sanctions away; and then, while the future Senecas and Platos of our race, the Socrates, the Epictetus, or the Tully of posterity, were philosophizing about the beauty of virtue, and the probabilities of moral science, the great mass of their contemporaries, heedless of their unsanctioned speculations, and following some new-born Epicurus of the age, would be plunged in the pleasures and the debaucheries of life; or, unknowing the philosophy of any school, would lie sunk in the darkness of ignorance and in the defilements of vice.

Even if we could encourage the belief that mere unaided Reason could do something towards correcting the evils of our nature, and carrying the race in the direction of perfectness; yet we may argue that it would not; and the argument may be rested on well-known facts, and on well-founded inferences.

When Skepticism, following the leadings of mere Reason, has rejected Revelation, it is never found, from year to year, and from age to age, devoted to the work of giving instruction in morals and natural religion, to all classes, high and low, in public and in private, for the purpose of blessing the poor and of saving the lost. It never supports a great body of laborers, and a vast system of institutions, for the purpose of carrying the seeds of moral light, the principles of saving truth, to the masses, and of planting these seeds for growth in the lower soils of our common humanity. It never can do these things. On its hypothesis, there is no sufficient motive. Man's indomitable love of money, ease, and power, can never be brought to yield to such a course of voluntary, painful, and persevering effort and sacrifice, by any feebler or less ascertained considerations than those which are peculiar to the Bible as a Divine Revelation; and which, bringing all the truths of God and all the sanctions of eternity to bear on the conscience, the understanding, and the will, put into the mind a new and conquering power, which enables it to resist the selfishness and the sinfulness of nature, and thus fixes in it the mainspring of a divine inovement for the moral and spiritual regeneration of the world. The rejecters of the Bible will indeed engage warmly in argument for the sake of converting men to their opinions ; but when their arguments have ensnared the minds of their victims; when, under their teaching, weaker intellects or more depraved hearts have burst away from all moral restraint, and are rushing downward on a fearful career in vice toward utter ruin; then the hands that have wrought their fall are folded in quiet inaction; the tongue whose wiliness hath beguiled them is silent; it hath no words of sweet persuasion or of holy power to stay them in their desolating course, much less to raise them up, and restore them as blessings to mankind. That tongue is still, and the beguiled ones plunge down to deep perdition. No man was ever made better by rejecting the Bible; but myriads have been ruined by its rejection, and ruined withont an effort on the part of their seducers to restore and save them.

It is nothing to say that some skeptics are moral men and good members of society; for the question at once arises : What has made them such ? and the answer is ready: Not their skepticism; they have either received a Christian education, or, at least, lived amid the kindly influences of Christianity; and have had their moral sympathies and susceptibilities first called forth, impressed, and fixed under the great and benign system of society, and of institutions, which Christianity has reared. Here is the secret. Their early characters have been formed and developed in a Christian community, or by influences antecedent to their unbelief. Skepticism never improved a man's moral character. Its own tendencies are a loosener of moral restraint, and a nurse to careless habits of life. It can not muster enough of force and motive to secure that amount of patient effort, and self-denying sacrifice, which the moral culture and religious elevation of a race require.

But, that mere human ethics, studied out by reason alone, amid conjectures and probabilities, or in the light of natural intuition, consciousness, and conscience, would be insufficient for the guidance of the soul, the government of life, and the well-being of society, may be inferred from the fact, that the ancient heathenism, with all its ethical and metaphysical philosophy, indebted as that philosophy may have been for its

most vital conceptions to some early, however faint, outshinings of the light of the elder Scriptures, never effected, nor even sought, a thorough general revival from a state of moral declension and degeneracy. That old paganism never knew, never dreamed of any thing analogous to the Protestant Reformation. When early Christianity had expelled that paganism from a large part of the earth, and when, with a sort of stealthy instinct, the expelled power had gradually crept back, and succeeded in filling the Church, for long centuries, with the darkness of heathen corruptions and debasements, there was still found in Christianity an unextinct, unextinguishable spark of life, a potent, undying energy, which, collecting itself for the effort, was able again to drive out the mighty evil, and to raise up nations into moral life and strength. And it is worthy of special note, that this vast revival took place at the time when the Bible, after having been long kept from the people, locked up in the mysteries of dead languages, was once more brought to light and given to men in their vernacular tongues ! But paganism-with its ethics and philosophies, the conjectures and probabilities of Reason, speculating in the dark, or with no light but that of natural intuition, consciousness, and conscience-never thought of effecting such a recovery as this ; and if it had, it would certainly have failed, because it had no recuperative principle, no divine sanctions, no standard of authority, which was acknowledged to be obligatory on every conscience, to which therefore a great public appeal might be made, and by the rules and decisions of which, the public conscience and the public conduct might be raised to light and life, to the health and activities of general purity and virtue.

The same point may be illustrated by a more modern instance. Half a century ago, our own nation had, on one point, fallen into a state of deep degeneracy. I allude to what may, with some propriety, be termed the Intemperance of the nation. Now, what began, and has thus far carried forward, the work of reformation from this debasing vice? We reply, the disclosed facts of the case have been thrown upon Christianized consciences. The sanctions of eternal truth, the

« ElőzőTovább »