Page images

it, has been art of a diseased and degrading kind. It need scarcely be added that art, whether good or bad, can never be more for the majority of men than a source of comparatively rare, fragmentary, and temporary enjoyment. It is for the leisure hour and for the lighter moods and occasions of life; not for times either of heavy toil or heavy trial. It were well that hard-working men valued art more generally and highly than they do, and so enjoyed such power as it possesses,-a real and precious power of its kind,—to refresh those who are weary, and to soothe those who are troubled; but it were ill that they abandoned for it religion. Art is a beautiful flower, but religion is a strong staff. Art is a sweet perfume, but religion is necessary sustenance. Without aid from art the spirit will lack many a charm, but without aid from religion it will lack life itself.

Is it said that nature lies open to the inspection and contemplation of all, and presents the same beauties and sublimities to the atheist as to the theist? It must be answered that the atheist and the theist, so far as they are thoughtful and selfconsistent men, cannot but view nature very differently and feel very differently towards it. To the atheist nature may be beautiful and sublime, but it must be, above all, terrible. Nature stands to him in place of Deity, but is the mere embodiment of force, the god of the iron foot, without ear for prayer, or heart for sympathy, or arm for help. It is immense, it is sublime, it sparkles with beauties, but it is senseless, aimless, pitiless. It is an interminable succession of causes and effects, with no reason or love as either their beginning or end; it is an unlimited ocean of restlessness and change, the waves of which heave and moan, under the influence of necessity, in darkness for evermore; it is an enormous mechanism, driving and grinding on of itself from age to age, but towards no goal and for no good. Says Strauss himself, “In the enormous machine of the universe, amid the incessant whirl and hiss of its jagged iron wheelsamid the deafening crash of its ponderous stamps and hammers—in the midst of this terrific commotion, man, a helpless and defenceless creature, finds himself placed—not secure for a moment, that on some unguarded motion, a wheel may not seize and rend him, or a hammer crush him to powder. This sense of abandonment is at first very awful.” And we may add, the longer it is realised it should grow more and more awful, ever deeper, denser, and darker, until the atheist feels that for him to talk of heartily enjoying nature were a cruel mockery of his own helplessness. We can only be rationally free to enjoy nature when we have confidence that one hand of an almighty Father is working the mechanism of the universe and another guiding his children in the midst of it, so that neither wheel nor hammer shall injure one hair of their heads.

When truth and beauty fail, will the atheist find his virtue suffice? Will morality, when exclusive of service to God, when separated from the thought of God, satisfy and sustain the human heart ? Does atheism meet the claims and supply the wants of conscience ? This is to ask, in other words, if a man will be as strong for duty without as with belief in an almighty and perfect moral Judge and Governor ? And the question is surely one which answers itself. The believer in God has every motive to virtue which the unbeliever has, and he has his belief in addition, which is the mightiest motive of all. It is often hard enough even for the believing man to conquer his passions, to bear the burden which Providence imposes, and to be valiant for the right against wrong ; but how much harder must it be for the unbeliever ? His evil desires are not checked by the feeling that Infinite Justice beholds them and condemns, nor are his strivings after God sustained by the consciousness that the Almighty and All-merciful approves and favours them. When he sees falsehood widely triumphant over truth, vice over virtue, he has no right to expect that it will ever be otherwise. If the highest wisdom and goodness in existence are man's own, the mystery is not that the world is so bad as it is, but that it is not indescribably worse. When sickness and loss come to the atheist they may be patiently and bravely borne, but they cannot be welcomed as they may by one who feels that they are sent to him by supreme wisdom and love to purify and discipline his character, and to work out in him and for him an exceeding weight of glory. It is not for him to say

“Oh! there is never sorrow of heart

That shall lack a timely end,
If but to God we turn, and ask

Or Him to be our friend!”.

And what can he say in its stead? When death enters his home and strikes down some dear one, he hears no Father's voice, sees no Father's hand, feels no consolation of a comforting Spirit, but sits, in a darkness which is unrelieved by a single ray of light, mourning over the work of the senseless energies of nature. When death lays hold of himself, and he knows that there is no escape, he can only yield himself up to a dread uncertainty, or to the cold comfort of annihilation, the hope of being dissolved into the elements of which he was at first compounded-earth to earth, ashes to ashes; mind and heart as well as body to ashes—thoughts, affections, virtue to ashes; all, dust to dust. Is there much encouragement to virtue there?

The atheist may reply, I take from life no moral support which it really possesses; I do not remove God from the world, but find the world without God, and I cannot rest my confidence on what seems to me to be a fiction. He may urge, also, that truth must be accepted, whether it appear to us to be all that is morally desirable or not. But one who answers thus cannot have understood the tenor of what we have advanced. If the atheist be right, of course, it is not he who takes from life any hope, or strength, or charm which truly belongs to it. That truth must be accepted whether sweet or bitter, consoling or desolating, is what no one doubts. But the question is, Can truth and goodness be at variance with one another ? Can the belief of falsehood be more favourable to the moral perfection of mankind than the belief of truth? The most intrepid lover of truth may well hesitate before he answers in the affirmative. It is probably, indeed, impossible to show on atheistical principles why reason and virtue should not be in antagonism—why falsehood, if believed, should not be more conducive in many cases to virtue and happiness than truth; but the conclusion is none the less one which must seem perfectly monstrous to any mind which is not grievously perverted either intellectually or morally. If it were accepted, mental life could have no unity or harmony. For who could decide between the competing and conflicting claims of truth and virtue, of reason and morality? Neither

« PreviousContinue »