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rance of its required proceedings shall not save a man from those gravest of consequences. He ought to have informed himself; and the graver the matter the more culpable the neglect; yes, the graver the matter, often, as in case of a last will and testament, the more rigid the demand. And in the sphere of moral delinquencies, of a man mature in age and sane in mind the court never inquires, Did he know the exact law or penalty ? The murderer might plead that he had never read the statute, or that he supposed the penalty to be not death but imprisonment; but it would be idle breath. The foreign thief and robber are not asked before receiving sentence whether they were familiar with the phraseology of our laws. Enough that they knew that they were doing wrong; and this is assumed and not proved. Should they bring witnesses to show their matured convictions that the rights of property are a fraud, or that polygamy and adultery are a part of their religious system, the prison is none the less their destination. Having sound faculties, they are held responsible for their right use.
Human tribunals necessarily and continually explode the principles of the skeptic. In truth it would break up human society were not men in a multitude of cases held responsible for what they ought to have known. A being endowed with intellectual and moral eyesight, and in the presence of his highest truths, relations, and obligations, shutting his eyes and pleading blindness, can be allowed that plea neither by God nor man.
(2) It is right and proper to hold men responsible
for their religious principles, furthermore, because these principles are so largely determined adversely by their inclinations and will. It has been sometimes hastily asserted, as by Lord Byron and by many others before and since, that our opinions are entirely beyond our control. But whatever semblance of truth there may be in the affirmation arises chiefly from the confusion of facts with opinions. Facts are not in our power; but there being facts, it is to a great degree in our power whether we receive or reject them. Truth we can neither make nor unmake, but we embrace or we can oppose it. Truth is not under our control, but our moral inclinations do marvelously control our opinions of the truth.
It is a conspicuous influence that runs through all ordinary life, this emotional and voluntary bias one way and the other, this willingness to believe here, this willfulness to disbelieve there. Whose cause is not rightful? Whose enemy is not hateful? Whose sins are not venial? Whose case is not exceptional ? How comes it that so many a young man has rushed reckless on to ruin, denying all danger when every other eye saw the danger, and the bones of the dead, as it were, lay bleaching in his sight? How comes it that so many a fair girl has thrown herself blindly into the arms of one whom all men knew and her friends proved to be a worthless wretch ? “I will not believe it " is her resolute reply. “They told me, but I would not believe,” is the voice of her unavailing sorrow. Ay, “will not” is the word. There is a will in the case that refuses to look or even to see; that hearkens to the one side and turns away from the other; that distorts, perverts, misconstrues; that makes the whole mind and man uncandid, unreasonable, impregnable, inaccessible. “I will not,” once said an able and prominent man when three wise and good men urged him to a step of which every one but himself saw the propriety and necessity. “If you and all Europe and Asia and America should urge me to do this thing, I will not do it.” And they saw it was true. Yet within three years of that time the providence of God shut him up in deep humiliation to the very course which all the angels of God could not persuade him to take.
Now this thing which so constantly takes place in common life still more certainly and constantly occurs in the field of religion. Men can set themselves successfully to resist the truth :
(1) They can banish the whole subject, or, what amounts to the same, refuse it all earnest attention. This fact was strikingly illustrated in the eighteen years' labors of David Nelson to bring skeptical men, of whom he had been one, to the acknowl. edgment of the truth. Eminently successful whenever it was possible to gain a hearing for the gospel, he yet encountered invariably at first an apathy that would never of itself move towards the light, often a positive unwillingness hard to be overcome, and not seldom a dogged and final refusal to hear. Is it not the condition described in the proverb, “a price in the
hand of a fool to get wisdom," but "he hath no heart to it"?
(2) If not absolutely excluding the whole subject, men can deliberately recoil from all unwelcome truth and court palatable error. A young student, determined to cast off the restraints of religion, delivers himself up to the reading of the ablest skeptical writers, from Strauss upward and downward; he, a callow stripling, unfledged in knowledge and intellectual grasp and strength, throws himself unprotected into the talons of these veteran vultures with their vast resources of knowledge and of skill, and is it for one moment doubtful what shall be the poor sparrow's fate? When a man whose scheme and course of life render it indispensable that God should not punish hereafter, refraining from all honest interrogation of nature or the Scriptures, yields his mind only to that pleasant song in all its variations, “Ye shall not surely die," can it be doubtful, with his interests and his purposes, his heart and his hearing only in one direction, and all else shut out, that this concentrated motive power will propel his settled views in the same direction ? When a man, conscious of sin already, listens consentingly and constantly to those persuasions fitted to pacify him in his guilt, does not the whole history of sin and crime prove both the possibility of his success and of his final mistake and disaster ? Did ever any man wish for annihilation but a bad man?
(3) If the truth and its evidences are before them, men may refuse to see the evidence that makes against
them, or may weigh it as unfairly or superficially as though they saw it not. Thus the Jews refused to receive Jesus on the same kind of evidence on which they had received Moses, but more and better. They admitted his miracles, and denied his divine commission. They saw his miracles and sometimes denied the testimony of their senses and sometimes ascribed them to Satan. They dismissed the gift of tongues as the effect of new wine. Was this all innocent candor?
The same spirit can be traced in all subsequent times; not the least notable in some most noted men. David Hume was in his day one of the acutest men in Europe; yet he made an argument against miracles which, to say no more, involved an equivocation of terms, a virtual begging of the question, and a principle which would render it impossible to prove any new fact of science; and when, apparently sensible of his dilemma, he finally admits that there might possibly be a miracle which could be proved, he yet instantly adds that should such miracle “be ascribed to any system of religion” we are authorized to "reject it without any further examination." Shall we call that fair dealing in the acutest man in Europe? When Ernest Renan pictured the Son of Man as a “delicate and joyous moralist," intoxicated with the life of nature “on the banks of the Sea of Tiberias,” “traversing Galilee in the midst of a perpetual holiday,” “in rustic pomp,” “much pleased with the little ovations of the children who formed a young guard of his innocent royalty," then the dreamer of “a fantastic kingdom of