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pened somewhat in this way. A man was violently goaded by vindictiveness to desire the ruin of an enemy, or by want or avarice to long for gold, or by passionate love to covet the possession of the person he loved. At the same time he entertained, undoubtingly, the dangerous belief that there was a Power always at hand ready to gratify his desires at the price of a penalty to be paid only in the distant future. If we attempt to realize the terrible ever-present temptation which such a belief would offer, I think it will appear only too natural that in some moment when his longings were most vehement, the tempted wretch
“I will be revenged”-or“ I will be rich”I will gain the woman I love—even if I lose my soul! I will give myself to the Devil for ever, if he will do for me what I want!" Supposing after this, by some perfectly natural chance, the man did obtain his end, his enemy fell sick or died, a little money unexpectedly came in his way, or the woman he loved returned his passion,-from that moment he would inevitably conclude Satan had accepted the bargain, and fulfilled his part of the contract. There was no more retrocession possible. He was no more free to draw back and give up his coveted gains. Hell had hold of him by a bond which could never be broken. He was the servant of Sin, outlawed from God and Heaven and the society of the good and innocent, and destined, without hope of pardon or reprieve, to pass, whenever his new Master chose to call him, to the realms of everlasting torture and despair. What, I ask, would be the result on a man's character of finding himself so doomed ? I think that after the first flush of gratified passion had subsided, the poor deluded wretch must always have felt creeping over him a horror such as no experience of our lives can render altogether comprehensible. Even the fact of his success (being at the same time the pledge that the barter was actually made) must have brought with it a thrill of unspeakable awe. Then as time went on, and the gratified desire sank down among his
passions, while natural affections and harmless interests resumed their ordinary sway, there would begin a period of unmitigated agony. No innocent pursuit could be followed, no pure affection cherished, no kindly action performed, for the man would know that he would be an object of loathing and horror to the nearest and dearest did they understand his real condition, and that none would take a gift from his hand. Every allusion made by those around him to religion, the memory of his own innocent childhood, the spectacle of death and interment, would each be like a fresh lash of despair. By degrees, I believe, even a very bad and irreligious man, finding thus every avenue to good closed to him, would begin to envy every beggar by the wayside, every dying sufferer in the hospital, nay, every criminal going to the gallows, who was not like himself utterly and eternally shut out from God and goodness. Of course the belief in the futility and hopelessness of any repent
ance on his part, the idea that the Fiend would laugh were he to attempt to pray, would finally drive him into absolute recklessness and hardness of heart. He would say, “Evil, be thou my good,” and give himself up to such gross pleasures, such malignity, cruelty, perfidy and blasphemy, as his miserable heart might choose in its despair. Looking back after the lapse of ages to the historical proofs that our fellow-men have actually gone through this hideous torture, we feel now as if the nightmare must have been more than the brain of man could bear, and that the having caused such direful woe must be added to the long list of terrors, persecutions and asceticisms, which go farther, perhaps, than Christians commonly imagine, to counterbalance the benefits which humanity has received from their creed. If the faith which had its origin in the pure spirit of Christ, but which so soon became corrupted, has indeed bound up many a broken heart, it has also assuredly broken many; in monasteries and nunneries, in the dungeons of the Inquisition—aye, and in Protestant homes, whence guiltless and believing souls have been driven into madhouses under the terrors of the Unpardonable Sin.
But for us, who neither believe it possible to sell our souls at all, nor in a Devil to whom we might sell them, is there any lesson in this sad old story? I think there must be one, for we believe exactly the reverse of that hideous doctrine which drove these poor wretches to destruction. Our faith teaches us that our only Lord is Goodness itself impersonated; and that we are not
“sold” to Him by any act of our own, not even ciled” to Him by any Atonement or Mediator, but are His by birthright and by nature, His as the child belongs to its parent, His as a man's thought is his own. We are each of us Thoughts of God. We owe our being to having been in that Infinite Mind; and, as the author of the Book of Wisdom says, “Never wouldst Thou have made anything hadst Thou not loved it.” The Creator cannot be disgusted with His creature's infirmities, or wearied of his weakness, or ready to abandon him because of his sin, for He has understood it all from the first, and in His book were all our transgressions written when as yet there were none of them, and we hung as innocent babes upon our mothers' breasts.
I know that this faith is held by us in the very teeth of scores of passages in the Bible, and of the denunciation of ten thousand orthodox divines. Nay, there are some even among those who have left orthodoxy far behind, who yet hold that it is both a false and especially a dangerous creed to teach men that God loves them always, and that they are certain to be saved (to use the much misapplied old phrase) at last. Let us inquire more carefully how this may be, seeing that, in a great measure, the practical side of our religion depends on our sense of the matter.
I think it will be found that Sin looks very differently in proportion as we regard it from its own level, or from a little higher up, or from a region still farther above it. The man who is quite on a level with the sin, who is
himself cruel, unchaste, deceitful, dishonest, drunken, hears always of another falling into his sin with a certain evil pleasure. As we say, it “keeps him in countenance, and prevents him feeling shame. He finds no jests so diverting as those which tell of cheats and drunken brawls, adulteries and filth. A large mass of literature, from the old story of Gil Blas and Fielding's novels down to the latest French romances, prove how widespread is this taste for tales of vice, this propensity to “ rejoice in iniquity.”
But when a man has begun in earnest to try and amend his own life, and has learned to hate his own sins, he ceases to find anything amusing or ridiculous in the sins of others. His feeling about them becomes one of righteous anger, if the offence involve cruelty or perfidy; of disgust and loathing, if it be one of sensual vice. He wishes heartily that justice may be done on the offender, and beyond this he has no feeling towards him but contempt and abhorrence. Fortunately the majority of people in every civilized community have attained at least so far as this point; and it is, so far as it goes, a very sound standing-ground, and one infinitely superior either to the pleasure of the grossly wicked, or to the sentimental softness and laxity about crime, which is one of the evil fashions of our day. I confess, when I hear of a mob being with difficulty prevented from tearing to pieces some monster who has committed an act of dastardly cruelty, I cannot altogether regret the exhibition of righteous popular indignation; and on the