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Every well constituted mind must be painfully conscious of this truth, though often without being aware of the cause of its uneasiness, in reading the lives, or contemplating the fame, of men of eminence, and sometimes perhaps of integrity and philanthropy, but destitute of religion. Doubtless a man may have some of the forms of greatness and goodness, without having all; and nothing can be further from my purpose or disposition than to derogate from any form of either, wherever found and however connected. Still when we behold a manifestation of the lower forms of greatness and goodness without the higher, an impression is left on the mind similar to what is universally felt on seeing a foundation laid for a noble structure, and that structure carried up far enough with the richest materials to indicate the grand and comprehensive plan of the architect, which plan however from some cause has been interrupted and broken off midway.
Thus far have I reasoned, as you will perceive, from what consciousness attests and puts beyond controversy respecting the moral and spiritual nature of man. Waiving the question whether any thing exists out of the mind corresponding to our idea of religion in the mind, - waiving the question whether the objects of our faith have a true and real existence independently of the mind itself, still the conclusion, as we have seen, is unavoidable, that this faith has its foundation in human nature, that its developement is a true and real developement of our nature, and that it is absolutely essential to our nature's entire and perfect developement. Whether religion exists independently of the mind or not, we know that to those who have it, it has a true and real existence in the mind ; that it is a source of true and real strength, solace, and hope ; and that men, as men, can truly and really do, bear, and enjoy with it, what they could not do, bear, or enjoy without it. Even, therefore, if the discussion were to stop here, it would follow incontestably, that to disown or neglect religion because of this or that real or supposed logical difficulty, would be to do violence at the same time to both those instinctive desires, from one or the other of which, it is said, a rational being, as such, must always act, - a desire of happiness and a desire of perfection.
III. But the discussion does not stop here.
I maintain, and this is my third and last proposition, that from the acknowledged existence and reality of spiritual impressions or perceptions we may and do assume the existence and reality of the spiritual world ; just as, from the acknowledged existence and reality of sensible impressions or perceptions, we may and do assume the existence and reality of the sensible world.
Most of you, I presume, are apprized of the extravagances of skepticism into which men have been betrayed by insisting on a kind of evidence of which the nature of the case does not admit. Some have denied the existence of the spiritual world; others have denied the existence of the sensible world ; and others again have denied the existence of both worlds, contending for that of impressions or perceptions alone. These last, if we are to believe in nothing but the facts of sensation, and what can be logically deduced from these facts, are unquestionably the only consistent
For what logical connexion is there between a fact of sensation, between an impression or perception, and the real existence of its object, or of the mind that is conscious of it ? None whatever. I do not mean that a consistent reasoner will hesitate to admit the real existence of the objects of sensation. Practically speaking he cannot help admitting their real existence, if he would. Every man, woman, and child believes in his or her own existence, and in that of the outward universe or sensible world ; but not because the existence of either is susceptible of proof by a process of reasoning. Not the semblance, not the shadow of a sound logical argument can be adduced in proof of our own existence, or that of the outward universe. We believe in the existence of both, it is true ; but it is only because we are so constituted as to make it a matter of intuition. Let it be distinctly understood, therefore, that our conviction of the existence of the sensible world does not rest on a logical deduction from the facts of sensation, or of sensation and consciousness. It rests on the constitution of our nature. It is resolvable into a fundamental law of belief. It is held, not as a logical inference, but as a first principle. With the faculties we possess, and in the circumstances in which we are placed, the idea grows up in the mind, and we cannot expel it if we would.
Now the question arises, On what evidence does a devout man's conviction of the existence and reality of the spiritual world depend ? I answer; On the very same.
He is conscious of spiritual impressions or perceptions, as he also is of sensible impressions or perceptions ; but he does not think to demonstrate the existence and reality of the objects of either by a process of reasoning. He does not take the facts of his inward experience, and hold to the existence and reality of the spiritual world as a logical deduction from these facts, but as an intuitive suggestion grounded on these facts. He believes in the existence and reality of the spiritual world, just as he believes in his own existence and reality, and just as he believes in the existence and reality of the outward universe, - simply and solely because he is so constituted that with his impressions or perceptions he cannot help it. If he could, it would be to begin by assuming it to be possible that his faculties, though in a sound state and rightly circumstanced, may play him false; and if he could begin by assuming this as barely possible, there would be an end to all certainty. Demonstration itself, ocular or mathematical, would no longer be ground of certainty. It is said that sophistical reasoning has sometimes been resorted to in proof of the existence and reality of the spiritual world ; and this perhaps is true ; but the error has consisted in supposing that any reasoning is necessary. It is not necessary that a devout man's conviction of the existence and reality of the spiritual world should rest on more or on better evidence, than his conviction of the existence and reality of the sensible world; -- it is enough that it rests on as much, and on the very same. It is enough that both are resolvable, as I have shown into the same fundamental law of belief; and that, in philosophy as well as in fact, this law ought to exclude all doubt in the former case, as well as in the latter.
But how, it may be asked, according to the views here presented, can we account for the fact of such different and conflicting spiritual impressions or perceptions ? If a spiritual world really exists, why do not all men apprehend it alike? Because, I hardly need reply, it is contemplated under such widely different aspects, and by persons whose spiritual faculties and capacities are variously developed, and, above all, because in spiritual things the best people are so prone to mix up and confound their inferences with their simple perceptions. There is nothing, therefore, in the real or apparent diversity of our spiritual impressions or perceptions, which should shake our confidence in the principle that, to a rightly constituted and fully developed soul, moral and spiritual truth will be revealed with a degree
of intuitive clearness and certainty, equal at least to that of the objects of sense. Besides, a like diversity in our views and theories prevails in respect to the material world; but nobody thinks, merely on the strength of this, seriously to raise a doubt whether the material world exists at all. And if it is further urged, that the most spiritual men may sometimes be tempted to say of their religious experience,
“Perhaps it may turn out to be an illusion;” it should be recollected, that this is no more than what they may also, in moments of inquietude and despondency, be tempted to say of all their experience. They may say of all their experience, “Perhaps it may turn out to be an illusion." At this very moment, when I seem to myself to be delivering a discourse on the Christian evidences, before this crowded audience, how do I know but that really I am in my bed at home dreaming about it? We may talk in this way, I know, about dreams, illusions, visions ; but it is certain that, to a well constituted and well ordered mind, it never has occasioned any real doubt or difficulty, nor ever can,
in regard to ordinary life; and for the same reason neither ought it to do so in regard to the life of the soul. Once more. What, according to the doctrine advocated in
. this discourse, shall we reply to those who may affirm that they never had any of our alleged spiritual impressions or perceptions ? Precisely what we should to those who might say that they never had any of our alleged moral impressions or perceptions, any sense of justice, or honor, or disinterested benevolence, or natural affection.
We should reply,-- that we are very sorry for it. If, however, along with their skepticism they evince any love of the truth, any desire or willingness to have their doubts dispelled, any tenderness of conscience or of soul, we may reason with them, and not without some prospect of convincing them, that their want of faith is to be ascribed to or both of the two following causes ;
either to a
vicious or defective developement of their nature, or to their insisting on a kind of evidence of which the subject, from its very nature, is not susceptible. Either, from some defect or vice of their peculiar moral constitution or training, they are not prepared to appreciate the only appropriate or possible evidence in the case ; or, from ignorance of true philosophy, they require the sort of evidence for truths addressed to one faculty, which is available only in regard to truths addressed to another. By insisting on these topics, it is not improbable, that many apparent Atheists may be reclaimed. “ In days of crisis and agitation,” says an eminent French philosopher, “together with reflection, doubt and skepticism enter into the minds of many excellent men, who sigh over and are affrighted at their own incredulity. I would undertake their defence against themselves; I would prove to them that they always place faith in something.
When the scholar has denied the existence of God, hear the man; ask him, take him at unawares, and you will see that all his words imply the idea of God; and that faith in God is, without his knowledge, at the bottom of his heart." *
As for the rest, — the propagandists of atheism, the men who love atheism from eccentricity, or misanthropy, or deadness of soul, - I say it with submission, but I say it with the utmost possible confidence in the wisdom of the course, Let them alone.' Conversion by the ordinary modes of instruction and argument is precluded. Gratify them not with a few short days of that notoriety which they so much covet. Leave them to the natural influences of their system; leave them to the silent disgust which their excesses must awaken in a community not absolutely savage ; leave them to the cant and priestcraft of a few ignorant and interested leaders : and it is not perhaps entirely past all hope that, in this way, some of them may be so far reclaimed as to become ashamed of their cause, ashamed of one another, and ashamed of themselves. Meanwhile, let us hope that a better philosophy than the
a degrading sensualism, out of which most forms of modern infidelity have grown, will prevail ; and that the minds of the rising generation will be thoroughly imbued with it. Let it be a philosophy which recognises the higher nature
* Cousin's Introduction to the History of Philosophy, pp. 179, 180.