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Genius-it is not too much to say-has an affinity to God. In such natures there are mighty instincts which draw them towards the future and the invisible; and wretched indeed is the mind which ranges the universe, and finds no place of rest!
But further -as the intellect is transcendent, its ambition is excited. The mind is “vital in every part.” It is seized with a passionate thirst for glory, and religion is needed to restrain its wildness. Many are the instances in history of great minds intoxicated, and finally maddened, because they had not that self control which religion gives. The action of the brain becomes fearfully rapid. Faster and faster the spirit whirls. The passions flame like a volcano, until the burning mountain crumbles to ashes.
There is a danger to which excitable and ambitious minds are the most exposed. It is that of INSANITY. God often punishes intellectual pride with madness. When men of extraordinary talent yield the whole force of their minds to unscrupulous selfishness, the vehemence of their passions not unfrequently overwhelms their intellects. Reason totters on her throne, and the great mind becomes a melancholy wreck.
Against this terrible disaster religion is the best security. It is the great balancing and restoring power of the mind. It moderates ambition. It checks the violence of the will. It soothes the agitated breast. While, by its cheerful and hopeful character, it keeps the spirit from sinking into melancholy-a milder madness. There is a mournful argument for religion, in the vast number of the learned and the powerful who, without it, have perished in their pride. For want of this many of the greatest minds that ever existed have gone to utter ruin.
But if this intellectual catastrophe be averted, still more melancholy is the moral retribution which overtakes such a man. Observe a mind like Voltaire's-of infinite subtlety and witpossessing the activity of a disembodied spirit, but prostituting genius to the spread of false and poisonous principles. How perverted becomes the moral nature by this life of evil. The venom is sucked into the blood, and cannot be cast forth.
Awful is the death struggle of such a spirit-proud, daring and defiant. What terrific agony it endures before it goes to judgment. The human mind, when once disordered by a long course of evil, has no power of self recovery. Reason alone saves no man. No matter how lofty the genius, or how vast the knowledge collected in one mind--if that mind breaks away from God, it goes to destruction. If the planet Jupiter once departed from the sun, it would rush to chaos as swiftly as the smallest asteroid that revolves unseen in the heavens. So all life emanates from God, and must revolve around that central sun. A mind that has lost this divine attraction, and begins to waver in its orbit, will drop from heaven like a falling star. Then the relics of the majestic intellect only make more vivid the impending ruinlike the lights of a ship, that flash on dark and angry waves, and show that she is hopelessly in the power of the storm.
Proud Philosophy! How many hast thou destroyed whom religion would have saved. The learned infidel may laugh at the poor cottager who walks by faith, and morning and evening directs his prayer to Heaven. But that poor man, with his simple piety, is more likely to be truly happy, to be kept from daring sins, and to be saved in the great day of judgment, than the man of science with all his philosophy. Genius has left a milJion wrecks
the shore of time. But religion--not one. Where is the man whom religion has undone? What mind has it shattered ? What heart has it broken? Christianity has no such ruined beings to answer for. The grace of God infallibly brings salvation !
But if no such fearful danger impended over the too violent or misdirected action of the mind--still it is easy to perceive that sin destroys the chaste beauty of the soul, and robs the character of an indefinable grace. It makes the motives low and selfish, and even renders the range of thought narrow and limited. It gives to the whole mind a sordid and petty character. Even talent is sure to breed conceit, and to make its possessor pretentious and absurd.
On the other hand, religion, united to genius, imparts to it a spiritual and angelic beauty. It preserves the great from the intoxication of power. It teaches the exalted how to wear their honors with humility.
Then what majesty it gives to the whole man. “Religion," says Daniel Webster, “is an indispensable element in every great human character." True, there have been men of vast capacity--men forcible in action that had not a thought of religion. But I do not believe that all the ages of human bistory ever produced a truly sublime character without this divine inspiration. Approach these heroes of the world, and you always find in them something coarse and low. Religion alone is the inspirer of greatness. It unchains man from the earth. Prometheus is unbound. The soul is led away from itselfaway into infinity-" beyond the solar walk or milky way, Thus religion feeds the intellect with vast conceptions, and the heart with noble examples. It inspires enthusiasm for that which is great and holy. Thus it multiplies resplendent instances of virtue from generation to generation.
Religion then is the great want of all men-of the learned, as well as the ignorant-of the mighty as well as the weak. Every class in society has its peculiar want of it. The poor need it, to keep them from being envious; and the rich, to keep them from being proud. The wretched need it to cheer their sad lot; and the great, to moderate their ambition. It raises the miserable out of the dust, and keeps the favored of Fortune from plunging to perdition. All then alike need religion as their preserver.
All have duties to perform, and temptations to resist. All will find trials in their course through life, which it alone can make supportable.
Why then virtually postpone religion by telling men that they need it to prepare for death? as if they had no use for it until they reached that gloomy shore. This mode of speaking comes from a false idea of religion, as if it were something apart from man himself, and which could be applied to him like extreme unction at the last moment of life. But no-religion is an internal principle-or rather it includes all right principles. It is therefore the regulator of all man's judgment, passions and will-bringing them into harmony with truth and reason.
And is this a thing which can be postponed? Can peace, patience and mercy be deferred? Are a spirit of love and a principle of duty, virtues which it is as well to have years hence as now? Nay, can life go on at all as it ought without these primary conditions of well-being? It cannot be. No-not for an hour. if I delay one hour, then that is an hour lost. If I defer it till to-morrow, then I am deferring so long my happiness. Then I am doomed to pass one more day of misery. Its sorrows I must bear alone. If I have tears to shed, I shall find no comforter. And can I afford to lose even one day of existence ? days so many that I can afford to drag on one after another in weariness and pain.
Thus we attach a value to every passing hour. I acknowledge no pre-eminence of the day of one's death over an ordinary day of life. I cannot understand that religion should be more important at one period than at another; at the hour of dissolution than at this moment. If man's happiness depend on the proper government of his mind, that government is as necessary now as at any future period of existence. I admit that there are certain crises of life-moments of agony, in which ages of suffering are concentrated into an hour; and when the absence of this great consolation may be felt most bitterly. So it may be when the memories and reproaches of a life misspent, rush upon the dying soul.
The moment of death too is unspeakably solemn as the limit of opportunity—the last light of day.
But beyond that I see not that religion is more important at the hour of death than at this hour. Now, and always, and everywhere, it is the great necessity of man.
We see then that the chief argument for religion is, not coming death, but actual life. We need no spectre of a King of Terrors to warn us against taking guilt upon our souls, while these breasts palpitate with a life which guilt may render more terrible than death.
Nay, more. We need not send forward our imagination into a dark eternity to derive additional horrors from that tremendous gloom. Why repeat so often the lamentations of hell, as if here on earth we did not hear weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth? Is there not misery here as well as there?
We will not cross the boundary of this world in search of terrors. Before our eyes is suffering enough to affright us from evil. There is no end to the misery of man. All round the earth comes the wail of millions—lamenting, cursing, and despairing. Yea, in our own breasts has been felt that mortal agony which makes the place of future punishment so fearful. We have already tasted the bitterness of death. Whoever has felt remorse—he knows what hell is. REMORSE—that word of which a dying statesman said, men knew not the meaning—who has not felt its sting? When in a moment of passion we have given way to a burst of fury, venting our rage in a torrent of bitter words, or doing some cruel, but irrevocable act—then comes a reaction. Then arise shame and self-reproach. Then drop the bitter, burning tears. I suppose that every man of sensibility has at times suffered a mental anguish, which, were it perpetual, would lead him to say, It is better for me to die than to live. All that anguish religion would have prevented.
And if we have it now, it will avert such agonies a thousand times hereafter. It is not therefore merely to save your souls in a distant futurity—but to save them now—to deliver them from innumerable woes—that we fly to this great source of strength and of peace.
Why should I defer this great necessity of my being ? Nonot to-morrow, but to-day. I am not willing to suffer one hour of wretchedness which religion would prevent.
Nor would I lose the present happiness it confers. For it is not in heaven alone that it blesses the soul. It has promise of the life that now is as well as of that which is to come. It makes happy beings here as well as there. Religion deepens joy, causing every current of gladness to rush through the heart in a fuller stream. It takes away the feverishness of ordinary pleasure, and breathes over the spirit a holy calm. There is a peculiar countenance which I have never seen but in religious
It is full of sensibility and benevolence. But its chief expression is Peace. No one can look into such a face, and not be fascinated by it. There is a clearness and depth in the eye, as of a lake with no dark and troubled currents beneath. And what meaning in its smile! That gentle radiation of the features passes over the placid countenance like a breath of air, rippling still and tranquil waters. This is the very spirit of the skies, and it bears light and joy wherever it is wasted over the earth.
If this train of thought be just, then the manner in which Death is often presented as an argument for religion, has no force in it. A prominence is given to that event, as if it were not merely a change of existence, but life's final and overwhelming
catastrophe. And indeed it is to be feared, that, though not avowed, such an apprehension creeps into the thoughts, and that good men reason for religion with infidel arguments.
But what is death? Is it a pause of life—a rest of the soul until the resurrection-until the ages of human history shall be complete? Then it is not to be feared. For it suffers nothing. It is still and voiceless. It utters no sound. It feels no pain. How much more fearful is this trembling, throbbing life which now has hold of us. That quivers like a reed shaken by the wind. Not a breath blows upon it but makes it tremble with joy or grief. The chambers of death are silent. All is tranquillity and peace. But the halls of life ring with shouts of conflict -with bursts of passion and of tears. The dead weep no more. The only tears that water the grave, are shed by the living as they stand over the silent dust. Indeed, if death were but a long sleep, we might welcome him as an aged friend, who comes to take us to rest in his arms.
In that slumber and repose there is nothing to be afraid of. The mere departing from the world has in it no terror, except as whatever is enveloped with mystery excites a vague dread. In such cases we fear though we know not what we fear. But mere dissolution has neither joy nor pain. It furnishes no argument for religion. Indeed it proves nothing one way or the other.
But some think to make us start back by describing death as attended with circumstances of physical horror. Certain minds delight to awaken terror, and they labor to collect around death every gloomy image. They love to harrow the feelings of those who hear them by speaking in sepulchral tones of the corpse, and the winding-sheet, and the clod falling on the coffin.
There is a connection in which these images of man's mortality may teach a useful lesson. For example, when we speak of the insignificance of human glory-of the nothingness of earthly grandeur-it is most instructive to point the proud spirit to the hour, when all its greatness will be brought down to darkness and the worm. Then do we find a solemn monitor in graves and tombs. Let not man dream of immortality-he, whose end is destruction—who will soon be given back to the earth—“ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
But when the object is to excite a shudder by presenting to the mind loathsome images of decay-by telling us that our bodies shall be food for worms-it is a vulgar artifice, which can affect only the nervous and the timid. In death, thus viewed, there is nothing truly terrible.
Here is a confusion of ideas, which need to be separated. Men speak of the "cold grave.” But what is cold or heat, where there is no sensation? What means “the dark and narrow tomb," is no eye is opened to discern the absence of light ? Truly, it is no more dark, than if the dead were laid, as they are, among sone tribes of Indians—in the tops of trees. By thus