TO INFIDELITY AND BACK
To Infidelity and Back
A Truth-seeker's Religious Autobiography
How I Found Christ and His Church
EVANGELIST HENRY F. LUTZ
Author of "Economic Redemption; or, Hard Times: the Cause and Cure" etc.
"I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them and not forsake them"—Isa. 42:16.
"Slight tastes of philosophy may perchance move one to atheism, but fuller draughts lead back to religion"—Lord Bacon
To the sacred memory of the pioneers of the great Restoration Movement of the nineteenth century, who forsook the religious associations of a lifetime and cheerfully endured poverty, persecution and every hardship in their endeavor to restore Christian union on the primitive gospel, and who held forth a beacon-light that helped me to find the truth in its simplicity as it is in Christ Jesus.
My Soul Struggle in Symbolism
Upon the fly-leaf of my Bible I find the following, which was written shortly after I emerged from the stormy sea of heartrending agony through which I passed in my conflict with sectarianism, rationalism, infidelity and doubt. It was not written for the public, but was simply an effort of my soul to express in a measure, through human symbols, the painful experiences through which it passed. It will seem extravagant language to those who have never had their souls lacerated by doubt and despair. But the sensitive souls who have endured similar experiences will understand, and it is with the hope of reaching and helping them that it is given to the public.
"A TEN YEARS' JOURNEY
From the childhood land of ignorant innocence to the kingdom of Christ: by way of deserts of negation; mountains of assumption; rivers of irony, sarcasm and conceit; bays of contention; gulfs of liberalism; and oceans of infidelity, doubt and confusion—swept by undercurrents of selfish passion, tempests of blind sentiment, maelstroms of fear and despair; covered with black clouds of prejudice and preconceived ideas, dense fogs of theological speculation, gigantic icebergs of indifference, monstrous sharks of procrastination, and ruinous rocks of materialism; through the strait of darkness and absurdity, over the sea of twilight and joy, into the haven of rest.
"In the ship, religion; pole-star, faith in God; rudder, free will; compass, conscience; sextant, rationalism and experience; anchor, hope; guiding chart, creeds and opinions of men vs. the Word of God; pilot, Jesus Christ.
"Motto: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
"Prayer: O God! thou knowest the secret desire of my heart. Thou knowest how earnestly I have sought the truth. God forbid that my life should be a barren waste; that I should so use the powers that thou hast given me that the world shall not be better for my having lived in it. Lord, grant I may ever find the work that thou wouldst have me do. 'Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen."
This, in substance, was my daily prayer for ten long, dreary years; for, while my intellect was in doubt and confusion, my heart continued to cling to God.
One of the clearest expounders of the Scriptures in my acquaintance is the author of this book, who honors me in asking that I write these few lines of introduction. His experience is full of interest. I have listened night after night with profit to his sermons, and he has dug his way in the most painstaking fashion out of the darkness of unfaith into the beauty and strength of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is no institution like the church of God, for it is founded upon the divine Sonship of Jesus, and his Holy Spirit has given to it divine life, so that Isaiah's prophecy lights up the pathway of victory, when it is said: "He will not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set justice in the earth, and the isles shall wait for his law." Its right to advance has been disputed, and, at times in its long history, it appears to have stood timidly doubting its power and right to soul conquest, but this has only been apparent, for every century has brought with it a greater courage, so that in this day believers in Jesus are speaking in the language of every nation on the earth, and hosts of these are as ready to lay down their lives for their faith in Jesus as did Stephen and James and Paul and that host of martyrs whose willing sacrifices gave strength and solidarity to the early church.
The ordinances have naturally suffered at the hands of every invasion, and, in consequence, some of the most devout have not been able to find the path to the ordinances as practiced in the apostolic days, but the skies are brightening, and, without questioning for a moment the sincerity and devotion of those who think otherwise, the Scriptures are being read to-day with more freedom than at any other period in the history of the church, and its ordinances are gradually coming to light in the public mind. God has been patient with us and we must be patient with those who do not think as we do. One of the most important problems now facing us, however, is that all believers shall find a common way for entrance into the church. When that has been done, a long step will have been taken towards world-wide evangelization.
The fields are already white unto harvest. This is the day of opportunity. Christ is waiting on us. If the time was short, like a furled sail, in Paul's day, how much shorter is it in our day! The gospel has been sent to all nations, and God is sending men from all nations to America to hear the gospel, so that the lines are crossing and recrossing each other and are so many prophecies of the fulfillment of the commission of Jesus, when he said: "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
Deciding for Christ and being baptized into him is only a small part of the work that is to be done. Then begins their training into real discipleship, when they are to produce the fruit of the Spirit, which is "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control."
This book is a contribution to that end, and may those who read its pages be brought to yield their best to the glory of Him who is our all.
Baltimore, Md. Peter Ainslie.
This book contains my religious experience in a forty years' sojourn on earth. If any doubt the propriety and value of relating one's religious experience, I would refer them to the case of Paul, who used this method on a number of occasions. However, we should be careful not to make an improper use of this method and preach our experiences in place of the gospel. Paul says: "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:5). We should refer to our experiences simply to help deliver people from human error and center their attention on the gospel of Christ, which alone is the power of God unto salvation.
I do not take any great credit to myself for my experiences recorded in this book, realizing that they were largely the result of my inherited proclivities and religious environment. It must be admitted that the great mass of mankind are what they are in religion, politics, etc., by heredity and environment. This is powerfully impressed upon us by the ministers who give their experience in "Why I Am What I Am." Even the fact that it is natural for me to seek to know what is right for myself, I attribute more largely to my natural hereditary mental bent, than to any particular merit of my own. I trust this book will help us all to realize the danger of drifting with traditionary religion, and thus defeating the revealed truth of Jesus Christ, and the need of searching the truth for ourselves that thus we may be used of God to advance his kingdom of unity and truth. Christian civilization would make much more rapid strides if we all would struggle to find the truth instead of acquiring our ideas through the colored glasses of prejudice and ignorance.
My ancestry on mother's side were German Reformed and on father's side Lutheran. While a boy I lived for three years with Mennonites and attended their church. I attended a Moravian Sunday-school, was taught by a Presbyterian Sunday-school teacher, educated at a Unitarian theological school, graduated from a Christian college and a Congregational theological seminary, and took postgraduate work at a United Presbyterian university. I was born and raised in southeastern Pennsylvania, which may be called "The Cradle of Religious Liberty" in America. For while the colonies to the north and south persecuted people on account of their religious opinions, Penn opened his settlement to all the religiously persecuted in America and Europe. As a result Pennsylvania became a great sectarian stronghold. To-day some twenty denominations have either their national headquarters or leading national center in southeastern Pennsylvania. The reader can readily see how my contact with this Babel of sectarianism affected my religious life and experience.
There are some things that seem too sacred to drag before the public. For years I said very little in my public ministry about my experience with doubt. While, as city evangelist of Greater Pittsburg, I was assisting a minister in a revival, he learned incidentally of my experience with infidelity; and as there were a number of skeptics in the community, he urged me to preach on the subject. The message seemed to do much good to the large audience that heard it. Since then it has been repeated a number of times, and the largest auditoriums have not been able to hold the people who were eager to hear it. This demonstrates that the message supplies a great need, and has encouraged me to prepare this book for the public. The Christian Temple in Baltimore was packed with people, and on account of the jam the doors were ordered closed by the policeman in charge half an hour before time for the service. At Portsmouth, Va., twenty-five hundred were crowded into a skating-rink, and many failed to get admittance. At Halifax, Can., hundreds were turned away. But this has been the experience wherever the sermon has been thoroughly advertised. To illustrate this, I quote from the Harrisonburg (Va.) papers of Jan. 9, 1911, where the sermon was delivered the night before in Assembly Hall, the largest auditorium in the city. About sixteen hundred people were jammed in the hall and many crowded out. It was the largest audience that ever assembled in that city for a religious service.
"Evangelist Lutz says that on every occasion on which he has delivered his address on 'My Conversion from Infidelity,' no matter how large the hall may have been, people have turned away for lack of room. Last night's attendance at Assembly Hall maintained the record. Presumably the hall has never been more closely packed. Seats, stage, box, aisles, windows, doorways, were filled, and many found place in the flies of the theater. A number couldn't find places anywhere and went away. Mr. Lutz is a fine example of evangelist. He has a magnetic personality and a strong, oratorical way of talking, fluent in speech and filled with figurative language and the phrases of his profession."—Harrisonburg Daily Times.
"Evangelist H. F. Lutz spoke last night at Assembly Hall on 'The Story of My Conversion from Infidelity.' The audience showed close attention and earnestness. Many were turned away because of the crowded condition of the hall. Many people from the near-town sections came to attend the service."—Harrisonburg Daily News.
I trust that my bitter experience with rationalism, infidelity and doubt will help to reveal their true nature and thus keep many young men from these dangerous rocks, and will help to deliver many others from this terrible bondage. May the Father graciously bless my humble efforts to win souls to Christ and to help bring about Christian union on the primitive gospel in order to the Christian conquest of the whole world. Henry F. Lutz.
Millersville, Pa., March 28, 1911.
Dedication Soul's Struggle in Symbolism Introduction by Peter Ainslie Author's Preface
PART I.—TO INFIDELITY AND BACK.
Chapter I.—To Infidelity and Back Chapter II.—Parting Message to Unitarian School Chapter III.—Functions and Limitations of the Mind Chapter IV.—Looking Through Colored Glasses
PART II.—FROM SECTARIANISM TO PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY.
Chapter I.—Scriptural Baptism Chapter II.—The New Testament Church Chapter III.—The Church Since the Apostles Chapter IV.—Our Neglected Fields
TO INFIDELITY AND BACK
To INFIDELITY AND BACK.
To Christ by Way of Rationalism, Unitarianism and Infidelity.
I inherited on the one hand a strong religious nature, and on the other a tendency to be independent in thought and to question everything before adopting it as a part of my belief. Ever since I can remember I was a praying boy, and early in life there came to me the desire to devote myself to the ministry of the gospel.
Among my earliest religious impressions were those received by having the story of the Patriarchs and Jesus read to me in German by a saintly old Mennonite for whom I worked on the farm for a year. Among the first things that aroused my reason in religion was the declaration of my Sunday-school teacher that before we are born we are predestined by God either to go to heaven or to hell, and that anything we might do would not alter our eternal destiny. This declaration came like a thunderbolt into my religious life, and stirred up a violent agitation from which it took me ten years to fully deliver myself. I was now about fourteen years old, and already had a desire to measure everything in the crucible of logic or cause and effect, and to accept nothing which did not come within the range of my reason. Looking at things from the standpoint of cause and effect, I was naturally caught in the meshes of fatalism, and this aggravated the religious agitation above referred to.
At this time in my life there arose many religious questions, and the answers I received from religious teachers tended to drive me away from the church rather than to it. I feel to-day that if my case had been clearly understood and the nature and the limits of the finite mind had been patiently pointed out to me, in its relation to faith and revelation, I could have been saved years of agony on the sea of rationalism. But my questions were not answered and my honest doubts were rebuked, so that I was naturally driven out of sympathy with the church and Bible, since I judged that my doubts could not be satisfied because religion itself is unreasonable.
Through the kindness of Christian people the way opened to prepare myself for the ministry. But by this time many religious doubts and perplexities were in the way, and I decided that I would a thousand times rather be an honest doubter out of the church and ministry than a hypocrite in it. Thus my fond hope of entering the ministry had to be given up, and instead I determined to use the teaching profession as a stepping-stone to law, and law as a means of serving humanity.
I was very fond of study, and read scores of books on all kinds of subjects. Emerson was my favorite, and I procured and read his complete works. Gibbon and Macaulay were eagerly read as revealing some of the religious life of the world. Ingersoll, with many others, got his turn. But the book that produced the greatest effect on my life at this time was Fleetwood's "Life of Christ," with a short history of the different religious bodies of the world attached. Through my reading and observations I became greatly perplexed over the religious divisions of the world. I discovered that thousands of people had died as martyrs for all kinds of religions and sects, and that each claimed to have the truth and to teach the right way to heaven. I concluded that since they teach such contradictory doctrines they cannot possibly all be right, although they might all be wrong. I formed a desire to make a thorough study of all the different religious bodies of the world, to find out where the truth is, if there is any in religion. My first information along this line was obtained in the above-named history of the religious bodies of the world. Being of a rationalistic turn of mind, I was naturally very favorably impressed with Unitarianism and its teaching. I sent for a number of their works and read them with great interest. I learned many things that have been a benediction to my life ever since, but you will see later on how far it satisfied my rationalistic proclivities. I learned to my delight that I could enter a Unitarian theological school to prepare for the ministry without first joining a church or signing a creed. For a person in my state of mind nothing better could have presented itself. I determined to go there and make a thorough study of the Bible and all the different religious bodies, and to fearlessly follow the truth wherever it might lead me.
The time came and I entered the school. And a fine school it was from an intellectual standpoint and for the purpose of investigation. I have been a student at six educational institutions since I left the high school, but this was far ahead of the others for the development of the logical and philosophical faculties. Here there was absolutely no restraint to thought; and all kinds of systems and ideas were represented, from philosophical anarchy to socialism and from mysticism to materialism. The moral and spiritual earnestness I expected to find among the Unitarians I did not find, especially among the younger and more radical ones. Its effect, on the whole, was to relax rather than intensify the moral fiber. Their ideals seemed so grand and noble that I thought those possessed with them could scarcely find time to eat and sleep in their zeal to put them into practise; but I discovered that they not only had plenty of time to eat and sleep, but also for dancing, card-playing, theater-going, etc. Many of the young men studying for the ministry often spent a large part of the night in card-playing, and the Sunday-school room served also as a dancing-floor. Unitarians pride themselves upon the high standard of morality among their people and upon the few prisoners you find among their members, but this is due to the character of the people they reach rather than to the restraining influence of their teaching
My reading had given me a wrong impression as to the teaching of Unitarianism. Like many others, I was fascinated and enticed by the writings of conservative Unitarians, whose contention is largely against the bad theology of human creeds; but the present-day teaching of the vanguard of Unitarianism is an entirely different thing. It rejects all the miraculous in the Bible, and, in many cases, even denies the existence of a personal God. All the students were required to conduct chapel prayers in turn. Those who did not believe in a personal God explained that they were pronouncing an apostrophe to the great impersonal and unknowable force working in the universe. I had read Channing, Clark, Hale, Emerson, and other conservative Unitarians, and found much food for my soul, but I discovered that these were considered old "fogies" and back numbers by most of the students in attendance.
But I must tell you of my evolution along the line of rationalism. My rationalistic proclivities were given a free rein. And as a child, when left to run away, will soon stop and return to its mother, so this freedom was the natural cure for my intellectual delusion. To the statement of the creeds, "The Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God," my rationalism replied, that is logically inconceivable, therefore I became a Unitarian. No sooner was I happy in this faith than a Universalist addressed me and said, "If you want to be rational, you must give up your belief in eternal punishment, for God could not give eternal punishment for a finite sin." As a rationalist, what could I do but yield, and so I became a universalist Unitarian. I felt I had at last found the truth, but my peace was short; for a student accused me of being irrational, "because," said he, "an omnipotent, loving God would give an infinitely large amount of good and an infinitely small amount of evil; but an infinitely small amount of evil is not perceptible, evil is perceptible, therefore there is no such God." This was an awful pill and gave a terrible shock to my religious sensibilities, but as rationalism was my guide, I had to follow on or stand accused as a superstitious coward.
Again rationalism declared, through my teachers, that all the supernatural must be eliminated from the Bible as mythical and unreliable, and so I was robbed of my Christ, my God and my Bible. Misguided by rationalism, I thought it my conscientious duty to accept, step by step, the dictates of destructive criticism until the Bible was only inspired to me in religion as Kant in philosophy, Milton in poetry, and Beethoven in music. But when I came to the end of the matter I discovered that my conscience, which had urged me along, was gone also. For I was gravely taught that conscience is merely a creature of experience and education, and that it is right to lie or do anything else so long as you do it out of love. Doubtless you have all heard of the farmer and his wife at the World's Fair who went to see the "Exit." There was nothing in it, and of course they had to pay to get in again. This was my bitter experience with rationalism. I thought I was following a great light, but I discovered there was nothing in it, that I was following an ignis fatuus. Rationalism has indeed proven the "Exit" to multitudes, from the peace, joy and moral security that accompany faith in evangelical Christianity into the desert of doubt, darkness and despair.
But not even here did I find a staying-place. For rationalism, in its bold confidence, led me on and on until it brought me to materialism and absurdity. In going too far, it revealed its true nature and character, and thus led me to see its fallacy and enabled me to get free from its bondage. From atheism it led me to fatalism, and declared that there is no free will and consequently people are not to blame for their sins and shortcomings. If we "shall reap as we sow," it declared that we cannot give anything to anybody and therefore philanthropy is a delusion.
But I taught rationalism in guile one day by which it thoroughly exhibited the absurdity of its teaching. Its continual song was, "You dare not believe what you cannot conceive to be true." So it declared one day, in its bold folly, that an object cannot move in the space in which it is, nor in the space in which it is not; therefore you cannot conceive of an object moving; therefore you cannot move to walk, eat or live. So the conclusion to which my rationalistic guide finally led me was that I must sit down and die or be irrational. Well, this was too much for me. I refused to die, and concluded that rationalism is not a safe guide, and commenced to investigate as to where the difficulty lay.
But before I tell you how I discovered the false tricks of rationalism, let me say that all these things into which rationalism led me were against my strong religious nature, and gave me continual and excruciating pain. I never for a day ceased to pray to God for help; for while my intellect was held in doubt through the bondage of rationalism, my heart held on to God, and thus I was in a mighty conflict. In my despair I cried unto God, and when he had accomplished his purpose concerning me, he set me free. Blessed be his name! Surely "he bringeth the blind by a way that they knew not, and leads them into paths that they have not known. He makes darkness light before them, and crooked things straight, and does not utterly forsake the honest in heart."
Most people have come to their religious and political position by heredity and are held there by inertia. If you can set a person free from this hereditary inertia, you can convert him to almost anything at will; for it is but few who are sufficiently informed on any subject to defend it against an expert, and none are thus qualified on all subjects. So when I entered this school, free from all hereditary ideas, determined to accept every position that I could not refute in argument, you can imagine my experience. At first I was converted from one thing to another by the different students and professors until I was about all the "arians," "isms," and "ists" ever heard of, together with a number of other things for which they have no names as yet.
But how did I discover the fallacy of rationalism? and how was I delivered from its mighty clutches by which it had dragged me from one pitfall to another so ruthlessly? My deliverance came from a source where you would perhaps least expect it. It was through the study of John Stuart Mill's "System of Logic." In it I learned "that inconceivability is not a criterion of impossibility," as rationalism claims. On the other hand, that we know things to be true that are just as inconceivable as that there can be two mountains without a valley between.
Let me introduce a few of these contradictions or inconceivabilities. Before you can reach your mouth with your hand, you must go over half the distance, then half of the rest, then half of the rest, and so on ad infinitum. But you cannot make the infinite number of divisions, and therefore you cannot reach your lips. Again, you cannot conceive of extension of space or time without a limit, nor can you conceive of a limit to space or time. Here conceivability contradicts itself. Furthermore, you cannot conceive of existence without a cause, nor of a cause without existence. To the statement of the believer that, "as the wonderful mechanism of the watch presumes a designer, so the infinitely more wonderful mechanism of the universe presumes God, the infinite designer," Ingersoll replied that this is simply to jump over the difficulty by an infinite assumption. Ingersoll, on the other hand, claimed that the material universe has always existed; apparently unaware that he thus was guilty of the same fallacy of which he accused others, by assuming infinite existence without a cause. The difference is that the believer's assumption gives us a personal God, a kind, loving heavenly Father who provides for the eternal bliss and welfare of his children, while Ingersoll's assumption gives death and darkness and despair.
An object thrown from one point to another is always at some point, therefore it has no time to move from one point to another. And yet we know that it does move, even though we cannot conceive how it can do so. Again, suppose that the hour-hand of your clock is at eleven and the minute-hand at twelve. Now, you cannot conceive how the minute-hand can overtake the hour-hand, although you know by observation that it does overtake it. For by the time the minute-hand gets to eleven, the hour-hand has passed on to twelve, and by the time the minute-hand has reached twelve, the hour-hand has passed beyond it. Every time the minute-hand comes to where the hour-hand now is, the hour-hand has passed beyond. The distance becomes less and less, but theoretically, or in conceivability, the one can never overtake the other.
Through this line of reasoning I learned, clearly and once for all, that inconceivability is not a proof of impossibility; but, on the other hand, that we know many things to be true that are not conceivable to the finite mind, and therefore we must follow truth learned by experience and observation, irrespective of rationalism. In this way the mighty fetters of rationalism that held me in bondage were cut and I was set free to search for the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. I learned the limitations of the finite intellect and the truth of God's word when he says: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." "Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."
After the empirical school of philosophy had taught me that we must follow inductions based on experience and observation rather than rationalism or conceivability, I began to value Paul's admonition, "Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good." If inductive philosophers have often been opposed to religion and the Bible, it is because they have not carried their inductions far enough to cover the entire world of facts. It is admitted by all historians and observers that prayer and faith and religious convictions have been among the mightiest forces at work in the world, and any system of reasoning that does not take these facts into consideration is neither philosophical nor scientific.
To illustrate what is meant by saying that we must follow experience rather than conceivability, let us suppose that you are suffering from a malignant disease and you hear of a medicine that has cured this disease whenever it has been tried, and you know of nothing else that will cure it. Would it not be foolish for you to refuse to use the medicine because you cannot conceive how it produces the cure? It might be discovered later that it was not the medicine, but your belief in its curative qualities, that produced the result. But this would not affect your common-sense duty in the matter. If certain desirable results follow the doing of a certain thing, we are bound to do that thing until we know how to get the good results without doing it.
This reveals the folly and inhumanity of the conduct of some infidels towards religious people. When I was minister of a church in Ohio, I was visited by a noted infidel. After he went on in a tirade against preachers and Christians, I asked him if he was not an unhappy man. At first he denied it; but I called his attention to some of his utterances, and he soon admitted that he was a very unhappy man. But he said he was unhappy because he knew too much, and claimed that Christians were so happy because they were ignorant and deluded. He claimed to be a great lover of humanity, and although, according to his profession, he had no God or conscience or judgment to require it of him, he spent his time in spreading the knowledge and wisdom which made people unhappy by destroying that which he admitted gave people great joy and peace and happiness. Suppose a man should come to town who is as lean as a skeleton and is slowly dying because he is not getting enough nourishment out of the food he eats, and should begin to lecture well-nourished and healthy people for eating the food they are eating. Would we not put him down as a fool? Well, if he would add the claim that we are well fed because we are ignorant and deluded, while he is suffering and dying because he knows too much on the food question, he would be on a par with many of our infidelic friends.
It is said that Beecher and Ingersoll were both present at a banquet in New York City. Ingersoll brought a railing accusation against Christianity. Everybody expected Beecher to reply, but he held his peace until later in the evening, when it became his turn to speak. When Beecher arose he said: "When I came to this hall to-night I saw an old, crippled woman wending her way across the crowded street on crutches. When she had reached about midway, a burly ruffian came along and knocked the crutches out from under her, and she fell splash into the mud." Turning to Ingersoll, he said, "What do you think of that, Colonel?" "The villain!" replied Ingersoll. Beecher, pointing to Ingersoll, said: "Thou art the man! Suffering, heart- broken, dying humanity is wending its way through this world of sorrow and turmoil on the crutches of Christianity. You, sir, come along and knock them out from under them, but offer nothing in their place." It was a crushing blow to Ingersoll and his gospel of despair.
We do not understand how spirit and matter can be inter-related, and we can not conceive that our willing it can move our arm; but this does not deter us from moving, because we know through experience that we can move. We do not understand the philosophy of digestion, and we cannot conceive how bread and butter can have any relation to thought and life; but we know by experience that they do, and we go on eating and living. We cannot conceive how the same grass produces lamb, pork and beef; but we keep on raising stock just the same, because we are guided by facts learned by experience and observation rather than by conceivability. We do reach our mouth, the minute-hand does overtake the hour-hand, objects do move in space, etc., rationalism and inconceivability to the contrary notwithstanding.
Man is a religious being, and we know by experience that religion gives him joy and brings him good. If we had no revealed religion, science and duty would compel us to develop a religious system out of our religious experiences. This is what has actually been done by the different peoples of the earth who know not the revelation of God in the Bible. The secret of the hold that even a false religion has upon people is the fact that it does them good and gives them happiness by exercising the pious emotions of their being, even though it may bring them harm in other ways. Even a religion based on human experience is better than none; for it is better to feed the religious nature on husks than to starve it out altogether. To this agree the words of Paul when he says that God "made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth... that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him." But while man, unaided by direct revelation, can grope in the dark and feel after God, and can invent systems of religion based on experience that are better than none, any man that accepts facts and testimony will soon discover that God has not thus left us in the dark oil religious matters, but has "appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained, whereof he has given assurance unto all men, in that he has raised him from the dead."
It is said that a lawyer and a noted preacher, who was a lecturer, happened to meet at a hotel breakfast-table. The lawyer suspected that his companion was a preacher, and, as he was an infidel, he thought he had a good opportunity to give a thrust at the Bible.
"Excuse me," said the lawyer, "I take it from your appearance that you are a preacher."
"Yes, sir," said the preacher.
"Well, now," said the lawyer, "don't you find a great many contradictions and difficulties you cannot understand in the Bible?"
"Yes, sir," replied the preacher.
"How, then," said the lawyer, "can you continue to believe in it?"
"Why," said the preacher, "do you see what I am doing with the bones of this fish? I lay them aside and enjoy the good of the fish. So with the Bible. I lay aside the things I cannot understand, and feast upon the rich spiritual food it contains, willing to wait until all mysteries shall be removed hereafter."
If the finite mind could understand everything contained in the Bible, it would become worthless as a revelation, for the finite mind could produce it. But since it reveals the infinite mind, we must expect it to contain things that the finite mind cannot understand. We can understand the evidence that it is from God and for our good, and it is reasonable that we should accept its great truths by faith, although we may not now be able to see how all the truths it reveals are consistent with each other. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."
As has often been said, no one can do better than to live the pure, clean, benevolent life that Jesus inculcated and incarnated. If you imitate him in goodness and good deeds, you are pursuing the best possible course, even if the Bible is not true. If, on the other hand, the Bible is true, and you do not live for Christ, you are doomed for ever and ever.
Having been delivered from the bondage of rationalism, I found my way back to Christ with comparative ease. If experience and facts are our ultimate guides, then we must trust the testimony of history. With the help of the Bi-Millennial Telescope on the opposite page, and limitless similar testimony, we can trace the existence of the Bible clear to the days of the Apostles. None ever had better means of knowing the facts they bore witness to than the Apostles, and none ever gave stronger proof that they sincerely told the truth as they knew it. The Gospels being genuine and reliable, the life and words and miracles of Jesus they narrate, give sufficient proof of the divinity of Christ to satisfy every reasonable demand of the intellect. This is especially true concerning the resurrection of Christ, on which the proof of Christianity hinges. "He showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs." And if he arose from the dead, he was demonstrated by it to be the Son of God. And if he is the Son of God, then the Bible is the Word of God, for he has endorsed it all. Thus there were restored to me Christ, God and his Word of truth. The thing that robbed me of these was rationalism, but it had been proven false and therefore was ruled out of court.
Unitarians used to tell me that Christ was the Son of God, but we all are sons of God. I now saw that Christ was the Son of God in the special and peculiar sense in which he claimed, or he was a fool. When he was on trial he was asked upon oath whether he was the Son of God or not, and he answered "Yes" when it cost his life to do so. If he meant that he was the son of God in the same sense in which we are, all he would have had to do was to explain and he could have saved his life.
The proof that Christianity is from God as revealed in its effect upon the life of individuals, communities and nations, is so apparent and has been pointed out so often that I will give it but a passing notice. "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself," was Christ's challenge, and millions have verified it in their own religious experience. Nearly all the voluntary educational and philanthropic institutions of the world are supported by Christian people, and the nations of the earth are prosperous, enlightened and influential in the exact proportion as their people are intelligent and consecrated followers of the lowly Nazarene.
It was thus that I found my way back to Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and I never before fully appreciated the words of Jesus, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The truth dawned upon me gradually, but with irresistible force. How often have we been perplexed and in doubt on some great question of truth or duty until finally the solution came to us as if by magic. Through what the psychologists call subconscious cerebration our mind has been working at the great problem even when our conscious attention was given to other matters. I have had a number of such experiences before and since, and, had I not examined them critically, I might easily have been led to believe they were direct revelations from heaven.
For many months the great question had been occupying my mind by day and by night. Finally the solution came as clear as a revelation from God. It wakened me in the still of the night and ravished my soul with peace and joy unspeakable. I arose and took a walk into the country to a mountain spring and back. I shall never forget that night, and the ecstatic joy it brought to me. My religious nature had been outraged so long that when it was set free it returned to its Lord with a violent bound. The fittest words I could find to express my feelings are in the 103d Psalm: "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name."
The question as to what church I should join, or what religious body I should affiliate with, now confronted me and demanded solution. As I already intimated, I was perplexed, and partly led to doubt and confusion by the many different religious bodies, all claiming to be right. One of my objects in entering this school was to make a thorough study of the different religious bodies and their doctrines. One incident that helped me in the solution of this problem was an occurrence in our New Testament Greek class. The professor declared that all Greek scholars of note are agreed that the proper meaning of the word "baptism" in the New Testament is to immerse. As I was raised in a pedobaptist church, this declaration was a great surprise to me, but I looked up the authorities and found that the professor had stated the facts correctly.
We had a class that made a study of the character, government and teaching of the different religious bodies. In this study I was especially impressed with the polity and teaching of the people designated as "Disciples of Christ," or "Christians." I procured their literature and made a thorough study of their position. I naturally found myself in harmony with their teaching. I had myself come to see the folly of enforcing upon all believers the speculative theology of the creeds, and the weakness and waste that result from a divided church. My experience revealed to me the relative value of human wisdom and God's wisdom as found in his Book. The thought of preaching Christ rather than theology, and of restoring the apostolic church in its teachings, ordinances and practices, came to me as a godsend in my condition of mind. I was, however, very slow to act in this matter, as I had been deceived before and it was my desire not to make a mistake again. After a year's consideration and considerable correspondence with one of their preachers, I finally united with the Christian Church at New Castle, Pa. I have been preaching the plea for Christian union on the primitive gospel ever since, and the longer I preach it the more I see its beauty and power.
Having been delivered, through the goodness of God, from this blinding cloud of rationalism, let us take a backward look at it and its chief product—Unitarianism—and let us see what lesson God would teach us through it. Unitarianism, as a church movement, started near the beginning of the last century. It enlisted many of the best hearts, brains and purses of this country. It had Harvard University back of it. It numbered among its followers most of the great poets, historians and prose writers of our country. It has flooded the country with free literature, and has furnished to thousands of ministers its standard works without money and without price. No movement ever seemed to have such mighty agencies back of it to insure its rapid spread. And yet, after a century of effort, what do we see as the result? Only a few hundred churches, most of which are numerically weak and enlist only a certain class of people.
My conviction of the depressing, devitalizing and disintegrating effect of Unitarianism has been intensified through my recent experience in evangelistic work in New England. The rationalistic liberalism of Unitarianism has largely permeated New England Protestantism. It was not an accident that it was in New England, where, to a large body of clergymen, a speaker declared, with applause, that "Protestantism is decaying and will soon be displaced by a new form of Catholicism." Here Protestantism is indeed decaying through its contact with Unitarian teaching, and is already largely displaced by old Catholicism and new Christian Science and other antichristian delusions. Nowhere else did I ever see Protestant churches so saturated with worldly pleasures and so indifferent about the salvation of souls. It was here I had the humiliating experience of sitting in a union Thanksgiving service where the preacher called the Pilgrim Fathers religious fanatics, and spoke of words writers of the Pentateuch put into the mouth of Moses to give them influence with the people. Yet I never saw a sign of disapproval in the audience or heard a word of criticism. It is true he was a Universalist preacher, but that makes it all the worse. To think that Protestantism has so degenerated in a New England city that a preacher who does not believe in the divinity of Christ nor in the inspiration of the Bible should be appointed to represent it on such an occasion. It is enough to make the Pilgrim Fathers turn in their graves and groan for pain. Had present-day Protestantism of New England a fraction of the moral and spiritual earnestness that the Pilgrim Fathers possessed, it might have been spared the abject humility of sprawling in weakness before the same vaunting religious intolerance of Catholicism that through cruel and bloody persecution drove the Pilgrim Fathers to "the bleak New England shore" for safety and religious liberty.
When a prominent Catholic recently aped the Protestant clergymen by declaring that Protestantism is decaying, the preacher at Tremont Temple called it a "damnable lie." This is a hopeful sign, and indicates that the sick man is not dead yet. It shows that at least some think it is not true, or wish it not true; and if enough get a strong desire that it shall not be true, it will not be true. When we renounce rationalism and its products it will not be true.
At a meeting of one of the leading ministerial associations of New England, at which the writer was present, the speaker of the day declared that the church has been claiming too much for itself. The contents of the speech indicated that he had reference to its claim of supernatural power to transform the sinner. He also said he had given up the effort to reconcile the first chapters of the Bible with science. The significance is in the fact that some Protestants acquiesce in such teaching, and that they are in harmony with the doctrines of Unitarianism.
Although its advocates must admit that Unitarianism is a monumental failure in organizing churches, it is their boast that it has powerfully affected other religious bodies. This fact we admit; but as the effect is devitalizing, disorganizing and ultimately demoralizing, we consider the result the crowning shame rather than the crowning glory of Unitarianism.
That the liberal theology resulting from rationalism and championed in this country by Unitarianism is merely negative and destructive, is evidenced on every hand. Dr. Pearson, in the Missionary Review, has recently pointed out its fatal effects in the mission fields, and still more recently it has been compelled to confess its own defeat in Germany, where it originated and where it has found its chief support. The evidence of this is found in the Literary Digest of Feb. 25, 1911, where we find the following:
That "liberal" theology has made an almost utter failure in Germany is asserted by one of its leading spokesmen in a liberal religious organ. It consists too much of mere negation, he thinks, and has no strong faith in anything. The masses have rejected it, and the educated have accepted it only in small numbers. Practically it is a failure, and he demands a reconstruction along new lines, with new ideals and new methods. This courageous liberal is Rev. Dr. Rittelmeyer, of Nuremberg, and he writes in the Christliche Welt (Tubingen). Here are the main points of his argument:
"Let us ask honestly what results modern theology has attained practically. As far as the great masses of workingmen are concerned, practically nothing has been gained. They either do not understand it or they distrust it. All the public discussions and popularization of modern critical views have not found any echo or sympathy among the ranks of the laboring people.
"And how about the educated classes? It has long since been the boast and hobby of advanced theology that it, and it alone, will satisfy the religious longings of the educated man who has broken with the traditional dogma and doctrines of orthodox Christianity. But what are the actual facts in the case? It is a fact that there are a considerable number among the educated who thankfully confess that they can accept Christianity only in the form in which it is taught by the advanced theologian. But how exceedingly small this number is! A periodical like the Christliche Welt, the only paper of its kind, has not been able to secure more than five thousand subscribers, although its contributors are the most brilliant in the land of scholars and thinkers; while periodicals that are exponents of the older views are read by tens and even hundreds of thousands. There are whole classes of society among the educated who are antagonistic to liberal tendencies in religion. Among these are the officers in the army and the navy, practitioners of the technical arts and of engineering, and almost to a man the whole world of business. It is foolish to close our eyes to these facts."
What is the matter? asks this writer. What is the weakness of liberal and advanced theological thought? These are some of the answers:
"One trouble is that modern theology has entirely grown out of criticism. Its weakness is intellectualism; it is a negative movement. We can understand the cry of the orthodox, that advanced theology is eliminating one thing after the other from our religious thought, and then asks, What is left? True, we answer, God is left. But is it not the case that the modern God-Father faith is generally a very weak and attenuated faith in a Providence, and nothing more? And on this subject, too, we quarrel among ourselves, whether a God- Father troubles himself about little things only or about great things too, such as the forgiveness of sins. We do the same thing with Jesus. We speak of him as of a unique personality, as the highest revelation of the Father, and the like, but always connected with a certain skeptical undercurrent of thought; but we do not appreciate him in his deepest soul and in the great motives of his life. He is not for modern theology what he is for orthodoxy, the Saviour of the world and the Redeemer of mankind."
Quite naturally this open confession of a pronounced liberal attracts more than ordinary attention. The liberal papers, including the Christliche Welt itself, pass it by without further comment, but the conservatives speak out boldly. Representative of the latter is the Evangelische Lutherische Kirchenzeitung, of Leipzig, which says:
"The psychological and spiritual solution of Rittelmeyer's problem is not so hard to find. The soul of man can not live on negations. To stir the soul there must be positive principles and epoch-making historical facts, such as are offered by the Scriptural teachings of Christ and his words. There can be religious life only where there is faith in him who is the truth and the life. Liberal theology has failed because it has nothing to offer."
Dr. Harnack, its great high priest, found it an unsatisfying portion, and, doubtless influenced by its failure, has resigned and turned his energies into other channels.
Unitarianism appeals almost entirely to the head and but little to the heart. It supplies a kind of abnormal stimulant to the intellect, but usually freezes out the emotions. It is like the arctic regions, where they have six months of light, but no heat, and where consequently there is no growth of any kind. It is broad, but really superficial and shallow. It is like a piece of rubber stretched over a wide surface; it is wide, but it becomes very thin. Emerson seemed to recognize how shallow rationalism makes people when he declared that "a small consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds—little philosophers, little statesmen and little divines." The finite mind cannot see the consistency of the great and deep truths of life and God. To try to deal with these great questions with human logic is like manipulating a circle with a break in it. Each reasoner calls attention to the break in the circle of logic of others, but dexterously manipulates his own circle so as to hide its missing link.
Rationalism is a delusion and a snare, and, when followed to its logical conclusion, leads to absurdity and death. Fortunately, most people who are tainted with this disease do not follow it to its legitimate conclusions. Through preconceived and inherited ideas and sentimental inertia, they are held to their moorings. But, unfortunately, their pupils are not always thus protected. Many preachers who are held in their place by religious habits and associations, give expression to rationalistic ideas that take lodgment in the minds of young men who are not surrounded with religious habits and associations to hold them; and who, following these rationalistic ideas to their logical conclusion, are led to doubt and confusion. I believe that hundreds of thinking young men have been led away from Christ and the church in this way, all because they and their teacher did not recognize the true character of rationalism and the proper functions and limitations of the finite intellect. Mansel gives a proper diagnosis of rationalism in the following words:
"The rationalist . . . assigns to some superior tribunal the right of determining what (in revelation) is essential to religion and what is not; he claims the privilege of accepting or rejecting any given revelation, wholly or in part, according as it does or does not satisfy the conditions of some higher criterion, to be supplied by human consciousness." Rationalism proceeds "by paring down supposed excrescences. Commencing with a preconceived theory of the purpose of a revelation, and of the form which it ought to assume, it proceeds to remove or reduce all that will not harmonize with this leading idea." "Rationalism tends to destroy revealed religion altogether, by obliterating the whole distinction between the human and the divine. If it retain any portion of revealed truth, as such, it does so, not in consequence, but in defiance, of its fundamental principle."
But while many ministers are not much injured apparently by their rationalistic taint, many others are, and all are more or less. Eternity alone will reveal how much faith in God's Word, and therefore in God himself, has been weakened or destroyed by this dread mental disease. Look at the destructive ravages of rationalistic criticism of the Bible. The Unitarians have completed this work and have eliminated all the supernatural from the Divine Record. But it is the preachers in the evangelical churches who are following the Unitarians afar off in this matter, that are doing the most damage to the faith of Christ's followers. I have been there, and know how Unitarians look at this matter. They point to these evangelical preachers as an evidence that the entire religious world is rapidly coming to their position. On the other hand, they look at these preachers with pity and contempt because they do not follow the thing to its logical conclusion, and drop the Bible entirely as a supernatural revelation. And I believe the Unitarians are right in this. The same fundamental reasons that led the rationalistic critics in the evangelical churches to their present conclusions will inevitably and logically lead to the Unitarian conclusions, whenever preconceived ideas and inherited prejudices are sufficiently relaxed. When I first studied this question of destructive higher criticism so called (it is often hire criticism) from the rationalistic standpoint and under rationalistic guides, its conclusions seemed the most reasonable thing on earth. I wondered that I had not seen it myself long before, and I looked with pity upon the deluded victims who did not see it. But after I was delivered from rationalism and my eyes were opened, I commenced to study the other side of the question and discovered where I was deceived.
Let me give you a few samples of the reasoning of rationalistic criticism as exhibited by its strongest advocates. Where it says that Jesus walked upon the water, we were gravely informed that Jesus did not walk upon the water at all. It happened to be a foggy morning and the disciples were deceived; he was really walking on the shore. Where it says "one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side," we were informed that the Greek word here means primarily to prick as with a pin, to pave the way to belittle the wound of Jesus, despite the fact that the narrative adds, "straightway there came out blood and water." The purpose of this was to make way for the theory that Christ did not die on the cross, but was simply in a lethargy, and when he came to in the tomb he pushed the stone away, and this so frightened the soldiers that they took to their heels, thinking it was a ghost, while Christ escaped to the mountains, where he lived secretly the rest of his life and finally died a natural death. All this without a scrap of historical basis, and despite the express declaration of the narrative that an expert, who was sent by Pilate to ascertain if he was dead, reported that he was. This is so contrary to the facts of the narrative, and the character of Jesus and his disciples, that it is harder to believe it than any miracle recorded in the Bible. Why these ridiculous and absurd conclusions, despite the historical facts? Simply because of the necessity to get rid of the supernatural at the mandates of rationalism. To preserve such puerilities, the manuscripts were kept in a fire-proof vault lest fire should destroy them. The claims of destructive criticism are so absurd and ridiculous, when looked at from a truly scientific standpoint, that I confine myself in this book to exposing the erroneous viewpoint of rationalism, believing that when that is done any one can easily see that there is nothing in it. Besides, its quibblings have been often and ably exposed by competent authors and their works are accessible to all. That any one who claims to believe the Bible should give his time to teaching innocent and uninformed children and adults the conclusions of rationalistic criticism seems almost too absurd to believe; and when it is done under the pretense of honoring the Bible, it is but another illustration of how our moral and intellectual vision can be warped and distorted when we look through the colored glasses of rationalism and bias.
It is said that a minister kept telling his congregation that different parts of the Bible were myths, legends, etc., and not historical. One of his members cut out of her Bible every section he said was not true. When he made a pastoral call she showed him her mutilated Bible. Upon his remonstrance, she replied that he had said that these parts were not reliable, and so she did not want them as a part of her Bible. He was shocked at his own vandalism.
I have shown that the same rationalistic objections that are brought against facts revealed in the Bible can be brought against facts revealed in nature. The only sensible thing to do is to recognize the limitations of our finite intellects and accept all well- authenticated facts, whether revealed in the Bible or in nature. We must learn that in the very nature of things our finite minds cannot fully grasp and comprehend the infinite. Therefore we have God's revelation in the Bible, which, though not the product of the human intellect, fully satisfies its every reasonable demand.
We have also learned that man has by nature strong religious emotions, which, if exercised, give great joy and peace. Even unguided by revelation, they grope after God with the help of the finite intellect. These emotions are blind and were never intended to give us light. They are a source of great joy and power, but must be guided and filled by divine revelation to be properly exercised. The neglect of this fact has led to all kinds of mysticism and fanaticism. And while this is better and more helpful than cold rationalism, it is nevertheless an unsafe guide, and does more harm than good to humanity. Faithfulness compels me to say that, as rationalism, so mysticism has found its way into the evangelical churches and has done much to rob God's Word of its power and to divide Christ's followers into warring camps. The religion that does not thoroughly enlist, exercise and sanctify the human emotions is not worth having; but we are not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits by the Word of God. Let us lay aside our "think-so's" and "feel-so's," and let us turn to the revelation that comes from above, that our intellects may be flooded with light and our emotions may be submerged in God's love, so that our entire being—body, mind and soul—may be filled, occupied and sanctified to the glory of Christ.
With the Unitarian movement that started at the beginning of the last century, with so many human instrumentalities back of it, let us compare the Apostolic church which was started in the first third of the first century by a handful of poor, illiterate and despised Galileans. Although the wealth and culture and political power of the world were all against them, at the end of the century we are told that they numbered five hundred thousand.
Again let us compare with Unitarianism, this modern movement for the restoration of primitive Christianity which started somewhat later than Unitarianism. Its reproach in the eyes of men—that it has no literature—is its glory in the eyes of God; for the Bible is its literature. Its work has been done chiefly among and through the common people. At the end of the century it numbered among its adherents more than a million and a quarter. While sectarian churches numerically much stronger report meager increases and even decreases, it reports an average of over forty thousand increase for the last several years.
The experiences narrated in this chapter have made real to me the belief that God is in every act of our life. That through his loving care, "all things work together for good to them that love God." When I think of how, in his providence, he took me away from the community and religion of my early neighbors and brought me in a mysterious way to a religion and people I had never heard of, I am overwhelmed with the evidence of his hand in it.
To the honest doubter I would say, take courage, my brother, the Lord will lead you, in his providence, to the way, the truth and the life. I can testify that he brings the spiritually blind by a way that they knew not and leads them in paths they have not known. He makes darkness light before them and crooked things straight, and will not forsake them if they continue to sincerely seek for light until he has accomplished his purpose concerning them and brought them to the feet of Jesus.
To those out of Christ I will say, that I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. After having tried both, I have found a hundred times more real pleasure in than out of Christ. And while I am yet tied to clay and suffer many things through the weakness of the flesh, so that I groan within myself and long to be entirely delivered from this bondage of death, yet I am filled with love, peace, joy and power through the earnest of the Spirit dwelling in me, and I serve Jesus patiently, waiting for the hope set before me, even the coming of our Saviour, when this corruptible, mortal body shall be changed into the likeness of the glorified body of Jesus, and I shall be with him and shall be like him. Oh, how this hope fills my being with love and joy unspeakable! Will you come and accept this salvation? In the Saviour's name, who died to purchase it for you, we bid you come. Come while it is called to-day!
MY PARTING MESSAGE TO THE UNITARIAN SCHOOL.
During my third year at the Meadville Unitarian Theological School, after I became thoroughly convinced that the Unitarian position was untenable, and I had found my way back to Christ, it so happened that it was my turn to read a paper and to preach to the school, as the members of the higher classes preached before the school in turn. In these parting messages I frankly and sincerely presented my change of viewpoint, and argued against the Unitarian position as strongly as I could at the time. The school is open, on equal terms, to anybody wishing to study for the ministry, no matter what their views, or what religious body they belong to. Everybody is supposed to be perfectly free to hold and express his honest religious opinions. In the spirit of this generosity, I patiently listened to all the school could offer me in presenting what it believed to be the truth, and gratefully accepted every help it could give me in my search for the truth. I felt I was acting in entire harmony with the spirit of the founders of the institution when I used the knowledge and culture imparted to me in kindly contending for the truth as I saw it, even when it was against the truth as held by the teachers of the school.
Most of my sermon on "The Proper Method of Inquiry in Religion" has been lost or mislaid. But I have the paper read before the school, and the last part of the sermon. I give these here because it shows how the matter looked to me at that time, and how I treated it in the presence of the keen, intellectual audience of students and professors.
The professor of homiletics, who read and criticised all sermons before they were preached, rather took me to task for my bold attack upon Unitarianism, but he admitted to me that, although he had preached and taught it for more than a score of years, there were yearnings in his soul that it did not satisfy. The sermon was listened to with great respect and sympathy, especially by the more conservative students. About ten years later I received a letter from a young Unitarian minister in Massachusetts who referred to the sermon, and said he had never forgotten it, but was often reminded in his experience of how true it was, especially in what I said about the coldness and fruitlessness of Unitarianism.
Although the matter in this paper and sermon is largely the same as that in the previous chapter, I present it because, as the line of thought is out of the ordinary and somewhat difficult to the general reader, its repetition in this conversational style will help to get a better grasp of the deadly delusions of rationalism. Truth usually has to be repeated in various ways before it gets a thorough hold upon the average mind. Therefore "precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little and there a little" (Isa. 28:10).
A Religious Discussion Between Mr. Liberal, Mr. Orthodox and Mr. Freethinker.
SCENE.—Ocean of Life. STEAMBOAT.—Experience.
[The three above-named persons had made each other's acquaintance, and had engaged in discussions with each other on several occasions. They now seat themselves in a group on deck and enter upon the following discussion.]
Mr. Liberal—The great objection to your religion, Mr. Orthodox, is that it violates reason and conscience. To be more specific, let us consider a few instances. There is your doctrine of eternal punishment, in which you ascribe fiendish qualities to our dear heavenly Father such as the most savage human being could not be capable of. Then, take your doctrine of the Trinity, around which most of your dogmas cluster, and we see at once that it violates the simplest postulates of reason. I know that you will answer that these are all mysteries which are to be accepted on faith. But it is perfectly clear that there is no mystery about it. It is as clear as daylight that three cannot be one. You talk about mysteries which we must accept by faith, but all such talk is nonsense and ignores our sacred reason. The idea of getting over all difficulties by declaring them mysteries, and exhorting your opponents to leap over them by the exercise of faith, is truly, as some one has said, "a touchstone for whole classes of explanations based on no evidence." You orthodox people are the cause of all the infidelity that is afloat in the land. People come in contact with your irrational and ridiculous claims, and, taking them as religion itself, they throw overboard the whole business, the good with the bad. What we need is a pure and simple religion that will satisfy man's reason and conscience as well as his heart. And we do not have to go far for such a religion, for we find it in the liberal faith which it is my privilege to represent. Let us compare our grand, simple and rational beliefs with your irrational, absurd and mysterious products of the Dark Ages, and see what a contrast there is between them. Instead of your "Son is God, Father is God, Holy Spirit is God; yet there are not three Gods, but only one," we have the simple faith in one heavenly Father—all- powerful, all-wise and all-good. No mystery about it. It would be absurd to suppose that such a God could punish his children to eternity, or that He would require the suffering of the innocent to enable him to forgive the guilty. Then, of course, we reject all the absurd dogmas clustering around your conception of the Trinity. The simple belief in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man is enough for us. Instead of your endless punishment, we have the reasonable belief that the Father punishes simply to bring us good, so that our joy may be greater. This is all perfectly simple, and can be understood by the uneducated man as well as by the philosopher.
Mr. Orthodox—It is an easy thing to make charges; and, as they are usually made in sweeping terms, it frequently requires hours of time and much explanation to answer the charges made in a few minutes, even when the charges are false. I shall endeavor to defend myself, but must beg you to give me sufficient time to make myself understood. In the first place, I claim, as you say, that you cannot understand all the mysteries about religious doctrines. They must, to a large extent, be accepted by faith. And I claim that it is more reasonable to accept them by faith than to reject them on the ground that you cannot understand them. This may seem ridiculous to you, but wait until I explain myself further. Take eternal punishment. You say that man is a free agent, and that through his free agency he is able to bring evil and punishment upon himself. You say that God has so ordained because it is best for man that he should be left free, even though he becomes liable to suffer because of it, as it will be for his final good. In other words, you claim that God does punish his children for their own good. It seems perfectly just to you that God should punish a person because he is a free agent, but when we say that man can bring eternal punishment upon himself through his free agency, then you think it ridiculous, although the principle is exactly the same and the only difference is that of degree. But I see that I must be more general in my statements or I will not get far. You bring a host of other charges against us, either directly or by implication. You say that yours is a pure and simple religion that can be understood by uneducated people as well as by philosophers. Here we get at the very heart of the difference between us. It is true that your doctrines are very simple, but that is their chief demerit. They are simple, but the facts that they attempt to deal with are very complex. To declare that religious problems are simple is to go counter to the expressed opinions of the great thinkers of all ages. Such questions as evil, good, life, immortality, free will, God, and a host of others, are decidedly complex.
They are largely inscrutable and have always been considered so. And yet all the complex realities of life and death which have defied the theologians and philosophers of all ages, you now tell us are very simple, and you carry the simple solution around with you only too glad to give it free to everybody. Why is it that all of the thousands of worried and distressed souls don't come flocking to you? Why is it that the philosophers and thinkers don't come rushing in from all directions, to get from you the truths they have so long sought after? Why is it that the uneducated masses do not come to you and accept your simple doctrines which they can so easily understand? I know that you are ready with a charge of ignorance, prejudice, self-interest, etc., but I claim that as a rule your charges do not charge. You, believing in an all-wise, all-good and all-powerful God, who is Truth itself, must believe in the triumph of truth; and here I agree with you. I believe that just as soon as truth is brought in contact with error the latter will have to vanish just as sure as the darkness vanishes when a light is brought into a room. Error may apparently linger because of peculiar circumstances which we are ignorant of, but as soon as truth has a fair chance of coming directly in contact with error, the victory is won. I claim, therefore, that the reason that your explanations are not accepted, is because they do not explain. Your doctrines offer protection to a small part of the man, but leave all the rest exposed to the cold and inclement weather. The uneducated do not accept your doctrines because they belie their own experiences.
Mr. Freethinker—I hope you will pardon me for interrupting you, Mr. Orthodox. You are getting too hot. I think it will be better for you to cool off before you continue, and in the meantime I will have my say. That is the greatest objection I have to you religionists— you are all fanatics. You get an idea into your head, and then think that the continuance of the world depends upon you thrusting it into everybody's face. Of course you are willing to suffer for your doctrines, and even to die for them if need be, but that is the way with all fanatics. Your foolish notions give occasion for amusement to cool-headed free thinkers, who see perfectly well that they are all the result of self-delusion. I believe in keeping perfectly cool; in always keeping the head as high above the heart as it is in the body. I don't believe in attacking a man from behind while he is engaged by another in front, but, during the time Mr. Orthodox is cooling off, I wish to show you, Mr. Liberal, wherein I differ from you. Your great appeal is to reason, and I agree with you entirely on that point; but I don't arrive at your conclusions. You have been fixing your eyes on the monstrous outrage of reason in your brother's position so steadfastly, and yours is so much more in accordance with reason, that it is not surprising that you should have failed to see the irrationality of your own position. Furthermore, you have had a great deal of inherited prejudice to overcome, and a man cannot be expected to get rid of all those at once, especially when they have reference to the heart or feelings. You say that your God is all-good, all-wise and all-powerful. The inevitable, logical conclusion from that is that such a God would give his children an infinitely small amount of evil and an infinitely large amount of good. But such is not the case; therefore, to keep that jewel of rationalism which is so dear to you, you must give up your belief in such a God. Just wait a minute! I know that you are ready to give a lot of quibbling that will satisfy some people who follow their prejudices and inherited feelings, but I defy the whole world of logicians to show that such a conclusion is less logical than the claim that there can be three in one. You say that it is in the nature of things that God must give us evil that we may enjoy good the more afterwards. But if you clear yourself from all prejudice, you will see that this is the old method of the ostrich of putting its head under the sand and imagining that its entire body is protected. Nay, even worse than that, you don't even protect your head. Any man that gives clear sweep to his reason will see that if God must comply with certain conditions, then he is not all-powerful If he is all-powerful, he can give us all good without any evil, and if he is all-good it would logically follow that he will do so. Then, again, while affirming that man is a free agent, you at the same time claim that every effect must have a cause, or that something cannot come out of nothing. Now, the reconciliation of these two facts has ever defied the reason of mankind. And those that have adopted the belief in free will have confessed that reason did not lead them to that conclusion, but experience. On the other hand, the logical conclusion is inevitable that man cannot be free. I know that people have endeavored to satisfy themselves to the contrary, and I know that some have really succeeded in deceiving themselves so far as to believe that they could logically hold to it; but I declare that they have never succeeded in convincing any unprejudiced mind, and I defy any logician to prove that the conclusion of free will as consistent with eternal causation, is less absurd than that two and two make five.
Again, you preach that what a man sows, that also shall he reap. If that is true, then no person can really give him anything; therefore philanthropy is a delusion. Now, then, Mr. Liberal, you want to be reasonable and drop the false position to which your inherited prejudices have held you, and adopt my views, which are thoroughly simple and entirely consistent and logical. Belief in God is the product of superstition, and belief in free will is a self-delusion. I know that you will appeal to intuition in this case, but that is only a scapegoat for deluded and illogical minds to hide behind. You see that my conclusion is not only simple and logical, but it is really more beautiful than your complex affair, and you will see it as such after you succeed in overcoming your inherited prejudices. There is no God. The universe is governed by blind law; at least, that is all we know about it. We are evolved from the lowest forms of organic life. What about conscience? Well, that is a matter of education. Of course we should follow it, because it is a safer guide than our present judgment, since it represents the judgment of all our ancestors. Utility is our only standard of right and wrong in morals, and we follow utility because we are not free and are therefore compelled to do so.
Mr. Orthodox—If you are through, Mr. Freethinker, I will now continue. But I must consider myself your opponent as well as Mr. Liberal's. In the first place, I must admit that you are thoroughly consistent with yourself as far as you go. But, my dear fellow, where does your consistency lead you to? You claim to be a freethinker, and yet you conclude that you are an entire slave and even think as you do because you cannot help it.
I stated at the beginning of my reply to Mr. Liberal that many religious facts must be accepted without thoroughly understanding them, and claimed that it is reasonable to so accept them. I will now endeavor to explain myself more fully. It seems to me that if anything has been proven, it is that our logical reason is not always a safe guide. For example, we cannot conceive of an end to divisibility of space; and therefore we cannot conceive how we can reach a given point. Now, practice gives the lie to this conclusion, and if some rationalist should follow his reason here, he would conclude that he can never get a piece of food into his mouth; or, in other words, the logical conclusion would lead to starvation. I know that some will deny this as a logical conclusion to get out of the difficulty. But I could never see it as otherwise than logical, and I have a goodly list of thinkers who have reached the same conclusion before me. Again, it is admitted by all thinkers of all ages that our reason tells us that there cannot be existence without beginning, or, on the other hand, there can be no beginning of existence without something existing before to cause its existence.
The conclusion is that inconceivability is not an infallible proof of the absence of a fact, and that we must follow our experience even if it conflicts with our reason. This is what we claim to do in religion. Whether experience is the sole source of knowledge is a question we need not discuss here. It is certainly the only safe method in most things. For example, I wish to know what will cure a certain disease. Suppose that I find a medicine that has cured every case in which it has been administered. Would it not be irrational for me to refuse to use that medicine because I cannot conceive how it effects the cure? Of course it might be possible that the medicine did not effect the cure; that it was the belief in its curative power that produced the effect. Cases have frequently occurred where a thing was for a long time believed to be the cause, while future investigation proved that it was some other attendant circumstance that was the real cause. But if our experience is that a given medicine cures a certain disease invariably, and that no other known medicine will cure it, we would be foolish not to use that medicine. The same is true in religion. If we wish to accomplish certain results and we have found a way in which those desirable results can be brought about, and know of no other way to bring them about; it would be irrational not to adopt that way, or follow out the requirements of that theory. I told you, Mr. Liberal, that your theory or doctrine was too simple. This is still more true of our friend, Mr. Freethinker. You claim to hold very broad, liberal and enlightened views. But although they are broad, they are not deep enough. They are stretched out over the surface merely, and thus hide from your view the great ocean of reality below. Yes, you have an abundance of light, but not enough heat. In the polar regions they have six months of light in one stretch, but no one would think of starting a garden there, as there is not enough heat. To the cold reason of some bachelor it is perfectly clear and indisputable that the young lover is a deluded fool and should follow his reason by never marrying. But I fondly believe that young lover sees the true worth of one human soul, and gives us an idea of the worth we shall see in all souls when we shall cease to see through a glass darkly. As the bachelor does not touch the reality in his case, so I believe that our friend, Mr. Freethinker, does not touch the great ocean of reality in religion. We are convinced by experience that man is free, and that nevertheless eternal causation does exist. We believe these to be two co-ordinate truths and we are willing to wait until we can solve the mystery; but in the meantime we wish to make use of the practical belief in both truths. People are convinced that there is a God who deals out exact justice; yet they are also convinced from experience that there is a God who is love who forgives the penitent sinner. That one God can possess both of these qualities seems as impossible as that three Gods can be in one God. And yet people are convinced that no other theory will explain their complex experiences, and that living according to no other theory will enable them to get the desirable results that they know from experience that they do get. They may be mistaken; but it will be time enough to consider that when some one has a theory that will account better for all their various experiences. Well, you see my point and I shall apply it no further. You see it is simply the principle that the empirical school of philosophy claims to employ, but which many of them employ only in the physical realm and fail to carry into the spiritual or religious realm. They must admit that religious convictions are and have been among the strongest, if not the strongest, motive powers in the world's history. And thus their philosophy of life leaves out the greatest pleasures and mightiest incentives to action found in life.
But Mr. Liberal and his friends would tell us that this all refers to theology. That doctrines are of no account. That what we want is works. Exactly, but don't you see that if after the afore-said experience you should not form the theory that the given medicine cures the given disease and act in accordance with the theory, the result would probably be death instead of health and life? The question is, is it true to experience? Does it accomplish what it purposes to accomplish better than any other theory, and can that result be accomplished only by following the said theory? According to many authorities, most if not all of our physical actions are performed according to a theory based on induction as to facts in the physical world. Thus we arrive at the conclusion that food nourishes our body because it has always been found to do so. In the same way many people have, through experience and facts, come to believe in God who guides them and nourishes them spiritually.
If now we judge by fruits rather than by doctrines, or rather judge our doctrines by their fruits, I claim that the orthodox doctrine is superior to yours, Mr. Liberal. In the first place, you admit that the lower ignorant classes you cannot reach, and you are greatly surprised that they do not eagerly accept your simple doctrines. It is not the whole, but the sick, that need a physician. A religion that cannot help those that need the greatest spiritual help cannot be the religion of Christ. But let us suppose that an intelligent foreigner who does not understand our language nor know our doctrines should attend our respective churches and see the result produced— the pleasure taken in coming and receiving our spiritual medicine. And making allowance for all other differences, should observe which helps most to make life worth living, and which makes the most and best changes in the character of its adherents. He would have no trouble to discover that orthodoxy ministers more to the needy soul than your simple faith.
You, Mr. Liberal, talk about making infidels of people and drawing them away from the church, but I believe it would have been fortunate for you if you had not mentioned this subject; because you, according to the confession of your own men, have driven more people from the churches than any religious body having a similar numerical strength. You tell people to use their reason, and after you have drawn them out of the orthodox churches by that bait, they see that they must go further than your position to satisfy what you call reason, and they find large numbers among you ready to lead them to that logical conclusion. It seems that the advocates of your liberal faith have always believed that they were on the verge of accomplishing great victories by drawing the multitudes to them; but as with the victim of tuberculosis, who imagines he is getting better all the time, it is always expectancy and never realization. If it is prejudice that prevents the spread of your belief, then it ought to grow most in New England, where it has largely worn away prejudice. But the facts seem to be that there it is growing the least comparatively; while out West, where it is a novelty and meeting with opposition, it is making the most progress. A person is almost tempted to conclude that if it were not for the opposition of some mistaken people, who do not realize your real error, your progress would come to an end at once.
I believe, Mr. Liberal, that Mr. Freethinker has the best of you because he vanquished you according to your own method of inquiry. But you are more nearly right according to the true method of inquiry. You see it is the proper method of inquiry that I am contending for. A person with the wrong method of inquiry in his head will only be repulsed by poking dogmas at him and nothing can be done with him until he has discovered the fallacy by following his method to absurdity, its natural conclusion. After that he may be induced to follow the empirical method of inquiry with a demonstration that experience and well-authenticated testimony are to be followed rather than rationalism.
What follows is the last part of the sermon on "The Proper Method of Religious Inquiry." Text: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."
It is not only important that we should appeal to our own experience in trying to discover what is true in religion, but we should also take into consideration the experiences of others. If a man, who is partially color blind, should base a science of color on his own experience, it would necessarily be partial or incomplete. So if a class of men, with certain peculiar traits, should build up a system of theology on their religious experiences, it would necessarily be partial and not adequate for universal application. Suppose, for example, that a number of persons with large reasoning powers, cold temperaments, and very little religious feeling, should build up a religious system on their experiences. Is it not perfectly clear that it would be partial and narrow? It would make no allowance at all for people of strong religious experiences. While it might be of some use to these few people, it would never help the great bulk of humanity who need the help of religion the most. To say that a religion is not for the common people is to admit that it is narrow and not true to universal human nature. Certainly it is not Christian, for the common people heard Jesus gladly; and they ever will hear gladly any one who preaches a religion that is true to their own religious experiences.
In trying to discover what is true in religion, we should also carefully examine the religious experiences of all ages, as recorded in their religious writings. I shall here quote from an authority on this point, because I think it of much value, and because it is not probable that the writer was influenced by prejudice and preconceived ideas. I shall quote from John Stuart Mill's "System of Logic," page 477: "There is a perpetual oscillation in spiritual truths, and in spiritual doctrines of any significance, even when not truths. Their meaning is almost always in a process either of being lost or of being recovered. Whoever has attended to the history of the more serious convictions of mankind—of the opinion by which the general conduct of their lives is, or as they conceive ought to be, more especially regulated—is aware that even when recognizing verbally the same doctrines, they attach to them at different periods a greater or less quantity, and even a different kind of meaning. The words in their original acceptation connoted, and the propositions expressed, a complication of outward facts and inward feelings, to different portions of which the general mind is more particularly alive in different generations of mankind. To common minds, only that portion of the meaning is in each generation suggested, of which that generation possesses the counterpart in its habitual experience. But the words and propositions lie ready to suggest to any mind duly prepared to receive the remainder of the meaning. Such individual minds are almost always to be found; and the lost meaning, revived by them, again by degrees works its way into the general mind.
"The arrival of this salutary reaction may, however, be materially retarded by the shallow conceptions and incautious proceedings of mere logicians. ... These logicians think more of having a clear, than of having a comprehensive, meaning; and although they perceive that every age is adding to the truth which it has received from its predecessors, they fail to see that a counter process of losing, truths already possessed, is also constantly going on, and requiring the most sedulous attention to counteract it."
But, as a matter of fact, people have, as a rule, followed their experiences in everything, despite the sneers and ridicules of the would-be wise. People have planted their vegetables during the increase of the moon despite all ridicule and laughter. And in due time the wise men came to their position, declaring that the sunlight reflected by the moon helps the growth of vegetation. People in all ages have believed in faith cure under one form or another to the utter amazement of the intelligent physicians who made fun of them and pitied their ignorance. But now, through the facts discovered by hypnotism and other means, the scientists are coming around and admitting that the old women were right, that the people really did get help from faith cure.
In religion, too, people have followed their experience, despite the sneers, ridicule and protests of wise men. And, on the whole, I have no doubt that they are better off than if they had listened to the persons who showed them that their beliefs, from a rationalistic standpoint, are false; and at the same time offered them beliefs that were about as ridiculous from a logical standpoint, and which left out all the power and good of their own system of belief.
THE FUNCTIONS AND LIMITATIONS OF THE MIND.
The objections made to faith are by no means an effect of knowledge, but proceed rather from ignorance of what knowledge is.—Bishop Berkley.
No difficulty emerges in theology which has not previously emerged in philosophy.—Sir Wm. Hamilton.
The human mind inevitably and by virtue of its essential constitution finds itself involved in self-contradictions whenever it ventures on certain courses of speculation.—Mansel.
In the last two chapters I presented the reasons that led me to infidelity and back to Christ, as they appeared to me while in the thick of the conflict and soon after. In this and following chapters I wish to present the matter in the light that has come to me on the subject up to the present date.
As will be noticed in the previous chapters, the external causes that drove me to infidelity were the theology of creeds, sectarianism and the apparent difficulties in the Bible and in religion. But the real underlying cause was rationalism, or a failure to recognize the proper functions and limitations of the finite intellect. In later chapters, I shall show how I overcame the difficulties about creeds and speculative theology and how I solved the problem of sectarianism by turning to Christian union on the primitive gospel. In this chapter I wish to speak more definitely of rationalism or the subjective cause of my infidelity. For, after all, the whole matter resolves itself into a question of psychology, or science of the mind. What is the profit of reading numerous books on the subject, pro and con, so long as we are reading the books through colored glasses that deceive our vision and lead us to apply false tests as to what the truth in the matter is?
There must be some matters that require our prayerful and serious consideration, when we observe how the most talented, scholarly, devout and honest of all ages have been divided into warring camps on questions of religion, politics, medicine and science. Certainly truth is not divided; and there must be some mysterious, deceptive mental pitfalls that have caused this Babel of confusion. When we count the cost of this warring conflict of the choicest spirits of the earth in waste, failure, suffering, bloodshed and death, and contemplate the gain in prosperity, progress, happiness and conquest over ignorance and evil, that would have resulted had all the good been enabled to see alike, and thus unite on the truth, we cannot fail to be impressed with the fact that this is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, theme that has ever engaged the attention of mortal man. Well may we ask with Pilate, "What is truth?" Or perhaps the more important question, "How can we discover what is truth?" What is there in the nature of the mind that side-tracks the wisest and best in their effort to know the truth? Why was Paul, the conscientious, intellectual giant, so deceived that he "verily thought he was doing God service" while destroying the best and holiest thing that had ever come to earth? Why did Cotton Mather and other saintly, scholarly Christians martyr innocent saints as witches? Why did devout patriots of the North and South slaughter each other in cold blood? Why were the scientific theses written at Harvard during forty years, all found out of date by Edward Everett Hale? Why are the intelligent and consecrated hosts of Christ wasting three-fourths of their men and money through sectarian divisions? Why are the intelligent, patriotic citizens of America divided into two camps on free silver and other issues when the truth and their interest are one, and by a united effort they could carry every election for truth and righteousness? Common sense asks, Why? The interests of humanity ask, Why? Love and compassion ask, Why? I believe we must find the answer chiefly in the failure to understand clearly the nature and functions of the mind.