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sense and imagination, then all defence is removed, and the blinded conscience easily yields to sceptical arguments.
The process may be gradual, both in the individual and in the community, the person accepting, and surrendering opinions one by one, so that the alarm which a sudden change would produce is avoided. It is astonishing how easily people will exchange one religious opinion for another when the latter equally satisfies their fears with regard to the future, and when those fears, or a religious temperament, rather than love of the truth, are the root of their religious belief, and when the change is supported by the recognised religious authorities. If these, or a portion of these, lead the way, and alarm is not excited by too sudden and sweeping a change of opinion, there is nothing to prevent the gradual failure of Christian faith amongst those whose belief is based on human authority, and whose conscience has been blinded to its deeper truths.
The effect of the preponderating importance attached to outward religion has, in short, gradually assimilated the spiritual state of the community, or of a large portion of it, to that of those Roman Catholic peoples, in whom superstition and false religion prepared the way for the spread of infidelity. In this way the indifference of a large portion of the indifferent has been changed to hostility, and with these influences silently at work, there is nothing to prevent the ranks of the sceptic being daily recruited from them. Is not the process, indeed, taking place before our eyes ? And if so, then, in spite of the seeming religion and morality of many, we may yet perchance see, and not so long hence, both in this country and on the Continent, a general rejection of Christianity.
Yet such a change will only be the open manifestation of that hostility to the truth which had before been
latent. The preaching of Christ only called forth the natural enmity of the human heart to the truth in the case of the Jew. So also in the case of those peoples who, previous to the Reformation, and while ignorant of the Bible, gave their cordial support to a perverted Christianity which accorded with their natural inclinations, but who, directly the Bible was presented to them, burnt both the book itself and the teachers of its doctrines with as little hesitation as the Jewish world of the time of Christ clamoured for the crucifixion of the Word made flesh.'
So in this country. The most zealous religionist who ignores, and in his heart is opposed to, all the more spiritual doctrines of Christ is already an unbeliever, and, with the general failure of belief around him, will merely exchange his secret repugnance for an open hostility : while those who are still indifferent to the truth will exchange their indifference for an equally careless acceptance of the arguments which deny it, and which relieve them of the secret restraint it has hitherto imposed upon their conscience.
The effect, in short, would be a winnowing process, separating the community into distinct camps, forcing many hitherto indifferent, but conscientious, to a decision in favour of Christianity, and many of its hitherto adherents into the ranks of unbelief; and when this has been accomplished, the profession of Christianity will no longer be a nominal one, but, as in apostolic times, a real expression of belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. If we regard, however, the warnings and predictions of the New Testament, the believers must be expected to be comparatively few, and perhaps, like the seven thousand men in the days of Elijah the prophet, they may be more or less unknown to each other, and, at any rate, too weak and insignificant to make their voice heard ; while many, who in their hearts may by no means be opposed to Christianity, may be completely
silenced and without a reply to the arguments of unbelief.
If this comes to pass, and the moral restraint hitherto exercised by Christianity is removed from the mind of the majority, a reign of lawlessness must set in, and revolution must sooner or later be the inevitable result. * For although self-interest may keep the better classes on the side of law and order, it will not do so with the masses, who, as far as they can see, have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by the overthrow of society; and with power in their hands, and unrestrained by moral principles, they will be only too easily influenced by the arguments of agitators, when backed at any time by depression of trade and scarcity of food. If so, the events of the French Revolution may repeat themselves even in this country.
The result of a rejection of the truth is to harden and sear the conscience against it, and such must be the effect on all, in proportion as they have come face to face with it and have wilfully rejected it. But this will not be the case with all. The offence to human pride, and the impatience of moral restraint, called forth by the doctrines of Christianity, may lead the large body of the indifferent to follow the opinions of the day without seriously weighing the arguments in their support; yet this will not destroy the voice of conscience in them. On the contrary, the very overthrow of Christianity will be just what will most powerfully awaken the conscience of many in this country. For three hundred years the word of God has become increasingly known, and its truths recognised in England, and although those who have rebelled against the restraint exercised by its ex
* Is it not plain that this lawlessness already exists, and is spreading with the spread of scepticism, and that the former is dependent on the latter, and is the necessary consequence of weakening, in any degree, the restraint of conscience ?
hortations and warnings of judgment to come, and its condemnation of human pride and self-confidence, may rejoice when they see it seemingly dead and powerless before them, yet it is just at such a time, when they have no longer an enemy to fight against, that its silent voice will again appeal to their conscience with daily increasing force; and this will receive additional emphasis from the growing lawlessness which must follow its overthrow. If, then, the witnesses of the truth should again make their voice heard, and circumstances should occur throwing a powerful light upon, and confirming its statements, then it may be that thousands will accept it, not nominally as before, but with all their hearts.
Many may think this aspect of the existing tendencies of the age unwarranted and overdrawn. The thoughtful reader will draw his own conclusions; and those who believe the warnings and predictions of Christ and the apostolic writers, may not consider the picture exaggerated, and will perhaps recognise its accordance with what prophecy has foretold concerning the time of the end.
IF such a triumph of unbelief as that described in the last chapter were to take place, it would be a manifestation of the depth and reality of man's spiritual death, and an evidence of the truth of those warnings concerning the blindness and hostility of the world to spiritual truth. Yet this blindness and hostility is not wholly characteristic of man by nature, but is rather the result of a gradual process.
He is indeed born in sin, and in a state of alienation from God, and shrinks in consequence from truth which condemns his pride and the desires of the flesh; but he does not and cannot reject it, when fairly placed before his mind, until his conscience has been hardened, and his mind fortified against it, by the means which have been described. But because spiritual truth is unpalatable, and the errors which neutralize its force are palatable, he is always more inclined to listen to the latter, and is thus liable to be led, through its influence, by those pleasant and plausible paths which lead to that death which is eternal. For, as we have seen, there are errors which tend to deepen and complete the state of spiritual death in which man is born. It is the completion of this death, or the nature of death eternal, which has now to be considered.