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THE SPIRIT OF SCEPTICISM.
In considering that form of spiritual death which is manifested by the more open opponents of spiritual truth, such as atheists, sceptics, and others, it is necessary to notice another class, namely, those who appear to be simply indifferent to all religion.
These latter may conform to, and follow certain recognised religious ordinances in a formal and perfunctory manner, and their doing so might seem to class them with religious formalists; but, unlike the latter, they place but little value on religion, and conform to it rather in obedience to popular opinion and fashion. They may perhaps think, that in doing so, they are also performing a religious duty which, somehow or other, may benefit them in the future; and some may place a higher value on this duty than others, and, in this way, the latter may blend into the class referred to in the last chapter, between whom, and the wholly irreligious, there may be all degrees. The wholly irreligious also may be either simply indifferent to all religion, whether formal or spiritual, or be, in a greater or less degree, opposed to both, until they also blend into the open opponents of religion. In considering, therefore, the class of the indifferent, it is necessary to remember that their extremes blend into these others, and that it is only those in whom indifference predominates who are here referred to.
All men by nature are, practically, wholly psychical, or natural, with a moral capacity as yet undeveloped, or a conscience which, until it is awakened and educated, is in a dead or quiescent state. When this is the case, the man is simply part of nature, and lives wholly in and for the present, and, although influenced by natural affection, seeks in all other circumstances his own good, and is indifferent to that of others. Conscience, as pointed out, is an anomaly, and has no meaning to man regarded as wholly natural, and therefore in those in whom the law of the flesh is strongly predominant, its voice is never heard.
It is true that, except in isolated instances, and amongst the criminal classes, or in savage nations, this is never wholly the case, but there may, nevertheless, be many, even among the better classes of a Christian country, of whom it is more or less true. On the remainder of the community the moral precepts of Christianity will have weight, and will insensibly. quicken the consciences of the larger proportion of the individuals in it. But even when this is the case, not only may the law of the flesh be dominant in spite of conscience, but the conscience itself may only be influenced by those precepts which refer to man's relations with his fellow-men, and be wholly unaffected by those deeper spiritual truths which do not relate to the present world.
The flesh, or natural man, not being subject to the law of God, but wholly opposed to it, it is necessary, in order to prepare man for a higher state of existence, that he should recognise the evil of the natural state, and die to it, and Christianity is the method designed by God to enable man to do this, by lifting him in spirit above the present state of things. Therefore the Christian is said to be delivered from this present evil world' (Gal. i. 4), to be crucified to it (Gal. vi. 14), to overcome it (1 John v. 5), and to 'crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts' (Gal. v. 24). But this is the death of the natural man, who will not of himself commit such suicide, and, therefore, until the conscience is fully awakened, and, through it, the spirit is renewed and girded with the powers of the world to come, the demands of Christianity can only appear gloomy and repulsive.
Moreover, until the conscience is thus awakened, these demands will also appear absurd and impossible. It is only by the conscience that the nature and evil of sin is recognised, and, therefore, those in whom it is unawakened, will neither recognise nor admit the evil in themselves, or in the world, and the necessity of forsaking all things, and of dying to the present state of things, will seem uncalled for and useless. It will seem foolishness to them.
Yet, underlying this, there is an inward consciousness in most people, that many of their natural inclinations are opposed to the law of righteousness; and the sin and unrighteousness in the world, however it may be ignored, is an evidence of the evil in human nature, and is simply the open expression of those evil thoughts and desires of which each is conscious. This inward consciousness, even although it may be unacknowledged by the mind, gives a weight and significance to the demands of Christianity, which it is felt would burden the conscience with a sense of ill desert, were they faced and accepted, and therefore the natural man shrinks from doing so.
Hence it will be found that, while many will gladly listen to, and appreciate sermons, or conversations, about the moral duties of man to his fellow-men, they will yet evince the greatest repugnance to anything which forcibly brings before them the nature and necessity of repentance unto life, and the uselessness of mere outward religion, of the necessity of a great change to be wrought in them, of dying to the world, of living by faith in things which are unseen, of looking forward to a future life and to the coming of the Lord. The introduction of such topics appears so unseemly, and impertinent to the interests and relations of life, that they are never mentioned under ordinary circumstances, and even very religious' people will shrink from them, and gladly change the conversation, if at any time they are introduced. Because also they are foolishness to the unawakened conscience, they will be treated with scorn and ridicule by many, and there will often be an animus in that scorn, proportionate to the inward consciousness of their truth.
Such must be the characteristics of those who are indifferent to spiritual truth. They may be moral, and respectable in their human relations, but their conversation is in the world, they “walk according to the course of the world,' 'fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind,' and are by nature the children of wrath,' because 'alienated from the life of God’ (Eph. ii. 1-3, iv. 18). There may be degrees in this alienation among them, and those whose consciences most fully recognise the claims of justice, mercy, and truth, in their human relations, will certainly be most ready to listen to, and accept deeper spiritual truths. Many also have never been brought into contact with that truth, and might be far from indifferent to it if it was forcibly brought before them. The characteristic of the really indifferent is that, when they hear the truth, it makes little, if any, impression on them, and, being naturally repulsive to them, they put it out of their minds. They • hear the Word, but understand it not,' and therefore speedily forget it’ (Matt. xiii. 19).
It is to be observed, however, that they do not wilfully
reject the truth, nor is their conscience hardened against it, as it is in the case of the self-righteous. They simply turn away from it because it is unpalatable, and it is their ease, and prosperity, and interest in the world which make it so (Prov. i. 32). They are thus, so to speak, in a negative state, and should anything occur to weaken, or destroy their present contentment, then, no doubt, the ears of many would be opened to the truth (Job xxxvi. 8, 10); for, as before pointed out, it is the affections, and not the reason, which oppose so insuperable a barrier to spiritual knowledge and belief.
In the case of the openly wicked, hostility to spiritual truth might be expected to take a more definite and pronounced form, and this is often the case. A person cannot go on in a course of open wickedness, unless he shuts out from his mind every truth which condemns it, and which brings before him the thought of judgment to come. Conscience, continually aroused, would poison the pleasures of sin, and make life intolerable, and therefore such persons will not only do everything to silence conscience, .but will often manifest the most bitter hostility to any religion which insists, at all, on the necessity of righteousness, and would be glad to believe that all religion was a lie.
Yet, strange to say, the most complete irreligion and reckless sin may sometimes cover a more than halfawakened conscience, and such persons are frequently more open to the force of spiritual truth than even the most moral and conscientious of the merely indifferent. For the very magnitude of the evil in them, thus brought to light, and their powerlessness to withstand it, arouses conscience, convinces of sin, and prepares them to welcome the hope of deliverance. This is only an illustration of the principle, that the manifestation of the evil of sin is necessary, before its power can be destroyed. Like bodily disease, it is the inward malady that kills, but