Edward Payson Archive

Selected Thoughts

Natural Religion

I know that those who hate and despise the religion of Jesus because it condemns their evil deeds, have endeavored to deprive him of the honor of communicating to mankind the glad tid­ings of life and immortality; I know that they have dragged the mouldering carcass of paganism from the grave, animated her lifeless form with a spark stolen from the sacred altar, ar­rayed her in the spoils of Christianity, re-enlightened her extin­guished taper at the torch of revelation, dignified her with the name of natural religion, and exalted her in the temple of reason, as a goddess, able, without divine assistance, to guide mankind to truth and happiness. But we also know, that all her boasted pretensions are vain, the offspring of ignorance, wickedness and pride. We know that she is indebted to that revelation which she presumes to ridicule and condemn, for every semblance of truth or energy which she displays. We know that the most she can do, is to find men blind and leave them so; and to lead them still farther astray, in a labyrinth of vice, delusion and wretchedness. This is incontrovertibly evident, both from past and present experience; and we may defy her most eloquent advocates to produce a single instance, in which she has en­lightened or reformed mankind. If, as is often asserted, she is able to guide us in the path of truth and happiness, why has she ever suffered her votaries to remain a prey to vice and igno­rance? Why did she not teach the learned Egyptians to abstain from worshipping their leeks and onions? Why not instruct the polished Greeks to renounce their sixty-thousand gods? Why not persuade the enlightened Romans to abstain from adoring their deified murderers? Why not prevail on the wealthy Phcn­nicians to refrain from sacrificing their infants to Saturn? Or, if it was a task beyond her power to enlighten the ignorant mul­titude, reform their barbarous and abominable superstitions, and teach them that they were immortal beings, why did she not, at least, instruct their philosophers in the great doctrine of the immortality of the soul, which they earnestly labored in vain to discover? They enjoyed the light of reason and natural reli­gion, in its fullest extent; yet so far were they from ascertaining the nature of our future and eternal existence, that they could not determine whether we should exist at all beyond the grave; nor could all their advantages preserve them from the grossest errors and most unnatural crimes.

What would you say of a man who should throw away his compass, because he could not tell why it points to the north? or reject an accurate chart, because it did not include a delinea­tion of coasts which he never expected to visit, and with which he had no concern? What would you say of a man who should reject all the best astronomical treatises, because they do not describe the inhabitants of the moon, and of the planets; or who should treat with contempt every book which does not an­swer all the questions that may be asked respecting the subject of which it treats? Or, to come still nearer to the point, what would you say of a man, who, when sick of a mortal disease, should refuse an infallible remedy, unless the physician would first tell him how he took the disease, how such diseases first entered the world, why they were permitted to .enter it, and by what secret laws or virtues the offered remedy would effect his cure? Would you not say, a man so unreasonable deserves to die? He must be left to suffer for his folly. Now, this is pre­cisely the case of those who neglect the Bible, because it does not reveal those secret things which belong to God. Your souls are assailed by fatal diseases, by diseases which have destroyed millions of your fellow creatures, which already occasion you much suffering, and which, you are assured, will terminate in death unless removed. An infallible Physician is revealed to you, in the Bible, who has, at a great expense, provided a certain remedy; and this remedy he offers you freely, without money and without price. But you refuse to take this remedy, because he does not think it necessary to answer every question which can be asked respecting the origin of your disease, the introduc­tion of such diseases into the world, and the reasons why they were ever permitted to enter it. Tell me, you exclaim, how I became sick, or I will not consent to be well. If this be not the height of folly and madness, what is?

We have not the smallest reason to suppose that, if God had revealed all those secret things which belong to him, it would have made it more easy than it is now, to know and perform our duty. Suppose, for instance, that God should answer all the questions which may be asked respecting the origin of moral evil, and its introduction into the world; would this knowledge at all assist us in banishing evil from the world, or from our own bosoms? As well might we pretend that a knowledge of the precise manner in which a man was killed would enable us to restore him to life. Or, should God inform us of the manner in which divinity and humanity are united in the person of Jesus Christ, would this knowledge assist us in performing any one of the duties we owe the Saviour As well might we pretend that a knowledge of the manner in which our souls are united to our bodies, would assist us in performing any of the common actions of life.

The Bible tells us that an enemy came and sowed tares. Now, if any man chooses to go farther than this, and inquire where the enemy got the tares, he is welcome to do so; but I choose to leave it where the Bible leaves it. I do not wish to be wise above what is written.

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