The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69
III. Its Sufficiency
III. Its Sufficiency.
And now Christianity and Secularism must part company. Hitherto we have endeavoured to bring them together, and have found in the two important walks considered that Secularism lagged halting behind. But we must go on; for we have not yet touched the whole of life: inadequate wages, shelterless homes, want of food, are not the sum of human miseries: when these evils are remedied, as, in the name of God, they shall be, there yet remain the stern realities of Sorrow, Sin, and Death.
We enter these cheerless chambers, and bid Secularists accompany us. But they linger at the threshold and refuse to come in. Some indeed mockingly laugh, others are silent in their impotence, the better few shed tears—but all turn away. In the face of these facts and problems which occupy so much of our thought and life—Secularism is absolutely dumb. Its repertory is empty. No wonder that the infidel, Hume, exclaimed in a time of sorrow. "I am confounded with that forlorn condition in which I am placed by my philosophy. I see on every side dispute, contradiction, and distraction. I turn my eye inward and find nothing but doubts"*
Christless philosophies fail the human heart in the night of sorrow.
* Scripture Doctrine Illustrated, p 15.
The late Princess Alice had for some time been listening to Strauss and yielding to his atheistic philosophy. But when her sorrow came, (for her son Prince Fritz fell from a lofty window on to the pavement below, and, a few hours after, died in his mother's arms) then Strauss was even as a broken reed. For she writes, "The whole edifice of Philosophical conclusions which I had built up for myself, I find to have no foundation whatever nothing of it is left; it has crumbled away into dust. What would become of us if we had no faith in God?"*
* Letters of Princess Alice, by Mary Gladstone.
Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.
But how shall I show the sufficiency of Christianity in the time of sorrow? For the evidence is bewildering by reason of its wealth. I can only appeal to your own observation, memory, and reading. We have sufferers in this district, whom I need not name, but known to you all, whoso religion has sustained them for long years in bodily pain, with a fortitude and cheerfulness which have excited the wonder of many, and the admiration of all. In the realms of suffering, other than bodily-pain, he who needs proof that Christianity is "a very present help in time of trouble," many have it daily. Held down in cruel, wicked poverty, thousands of Christian men have heroically suffered rather than sin, and have, during a whole life-time, possessed the spirit of Bishop Hooper, who imprisoned in Gloucester gaol for conscience's sake, spent the last week of his life in writing a commentary on the twenty-third Psalm, and walked to the stake singing, "Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."
Christian ministers, specially in other lands, see page 38 Christian men and women die in surroundings and circumstances most pitiful, through no fault of their own, and in every land we see Christians die from painful diseases,* yet invariably there is present the lightsome spirit which helped Sir Walter Raleigh to say to his executioner, who suggested another position for his head on the block, "It matters little how the head lies so long as the heart is right."
What think you is the most exquisite agony of which a human being is capable? To my mind it is Injustice. There is no tragedy on earth equal to that of a good man imprisoned, beaten, and sentenced to death for a crime of which he is innocent; and who goes down to death gagged, unable to move the brand of guilt from his guiltless name.
* Two days after this sermon was preached, Ada Parker, the daughter of one who was in the congregation, passed away at the age of sixteen. I saw her three weeks before her death, when she had realized that there was no hope of her recovery—and observing that she was very bright and cheerful, joining in laughter with some friends present, I said: "Ada, you must have a great deal of common-sense philosophy to make you so merry?" She replied in a tone almost of reproof: "I've something more than that, Mr. Garland." On my last visit, the day before she died, she was in bed fighting for breath; but between her paroxysms of coughing and panting, she showed the same buoyant cheerfulness, and spoke with a quiet self-possession of her departure nigh at hand. Twenty-four hours after, her parents, brothers and sisters stood by her, saying farewell. She had ever been a dutiful daughter and kind sister, and her relatives were cut to the heart as they saw her life flickering like the dying flame of a candle:—they could only weep, and she said, with broken breath: "I don't like—to see—you—crying. Jesus—is taking-care of—me—and he will—take—care—of you;" and almost immediately expired. We looked on the placid face of the dead and sang,
"Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on thee;
Leave, oh! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me,"
and thanked God that death was not for her a cold leap into the dark, nor for her relatives the blackness of despair.
Every student of history knows how often Christians have figured in that tragedy, and knows how they behaved. Even like unto Paul and Silas, who, thrust into the inner dungeon of a Philippian gaol, with their feet fast in the stocks, with their hacks bruised by the lictor's rod, "at midnight sang praises unto God, and the prisoners heard them."
Yea even like to the patriot who was condemned as a traitor, and calmly faced the opprobrious death with the truth:
I shall rise from my grave hereafter,
To prove that I was never false.
John S. Mill says that "The one grand loss endured by the Sceptic is the hope of Futurity."* Aye, a loss too horrible to endure, even in thought in such a life as this, replete with tragedies, and a life where fathers and mothers must bury their dead out of their sight and are sustained by the truth, "He shall not come to me, but I shall go to him."
I must tax your patience a little longer and ask you to consider the problem of "Sin." You know-how much crime in many forms there is in the world, and the suffering arising therefrom: and nothing exists without a cause: the cause thereof is sin. "What shall I do to be saved?" is a question as relevant therefore to every thinking man, as, "What shall we eat and drink and wherewithal shall we be clothed?" We ask Secularism if it can suggest a remedy for sin, and it replies:
* Three Essays on Religion, p 120.
(2). Sin is the result of surroundings; improve these, and sin necessarily ceases. But we reply that in surroundings of equal wealth there are good men and bad men: in surroundings of equal poverty there are likewise the both.
(3). There is no remedy. This is the ultimatum of Secularism. Mr J. C. Morison, a late brilliant sceptical writer, says in his last book that the world is divided into two classes, good men and bad men; and that it is as impossible to make a bad man into a good man, as it is to turn a goat into a sheep. He suggests, though he does not enter into particulars, that bad men must be treated like a bad breed of cattle, that is, exterminated.
What a hopeless, helpless thing is Secularism.
Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and to save the lost. And he has done it. I point to men and women in every section of the Christian church, who have proved that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation: I point to the Salvation Army and to similar organizations for the saving of the "submerged tenth," and find the drunkard has abandoned his cup, the harlot her shameful course, and the outlaw his unlawful practices, and by tens of thousands testifying what the grace of page 41 God has done for them.
I point to Foreign Missions, to which already reference has been made, and content myself here with an anecdote of Charles Darwin. When he visited Tierra del Fuego in the year 1832, he found the inhabitants to be the lowest human type; their language seemed to him but a gurgling in the throat; and their cannibal instincts so refined that in times of poverty they ate up the old women before they thought of killing their dogs. Woe to the shipwrecked crew that landed on their shores: the watery deep was more merciful. Thither in due time went the Christian missionary. There by the year 1872, Bishop Stirling had so changed the whole face of affairs that when Admiral Sullivan told Darwin in 1881 of the great kindness the Fuegians who were trained by the missionaries shewed to the crews of shipwrecked vessels, Darwin was astounded and became a subscriber to the Society's funds.* Here is proof that Christianity not only can point to a better life, but what is greater, can dispose the heart to seek it.
* Thoughts at Fourscore, by T. Cooper, p 326.