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Here we take our stand. We mount guard by the old citadel where are stored the world's historic treasures of goodness, purity, and truth, and demand the countersign. Make good your claims, say we, before you ask admittance. And this is what many a modern philosopher least desires. He forestalls complete investigation. He carries the unskillful by storm. He asks men to take his hypothesis for proved fact. He demands permission to walk through our fair hereditary domain, our Holy Land, saying, “I take away the old stone landmarks and you can be guided by my beautiful will-o'-the-wisp."
The realm of thought, especially moral and theological thought, is overrun with speculations and foregone conclusions. A daring theory is a more showy thing than a sober fact. Your balloon that floats up in the air draws all eyes away from the solid earth ; the one a pellicle of gas, the other the home of all living things. Equally prevalent is bold assertion and denial. Men tell what must be and what cannot be ; what God never has done and never will do, and what he must do and will do.
And as to the nature of valid and invalid evidence, what confusions are abroad! We seem drifting in some quarters toward the notion that not much is known except what has been seen through a lens, dissected by a surgeon's knife, or tested by a reagent or a blowpipe, or by some criterion as narrow; as though the interior, the spiritual facts of my being were not the most ultimate and peremptory of all my knowledges ! It is also true that a multitude of facts to which socalled scientific tests cannot be applied are quite as certain as those to which they can. That there is such a city as Peking, though I never saw it or conversed with any one who has seen it, and that there was such a man as Alexander the Great, though he died twenty-two hundred years ago, I am as well assured as of the geological history of the earth. I could stake anything on those facts. And of the great facts of my inner experience am I not quite as certain, to say the least, as of the existence of the man who denies them?
Observe too how tenuous often is the line of separation between what men call knowledge and faith – that knowledge being so largely but faith, while our Christian faith so easily and constantly becomes experienced fact, immediate knowledge. Consider for a moment how much of our knowledge and our science is to each man but simple and unverifiable testimony; how much that perhaps could be, never is, verified ; how much is but inference and hypothesis ; and how in the last analysis the basis of it all is faith, confidence in our faculties, that they do not deceive us. There must be faith, almost boundless, in other men's senses and testimony. How little that the most learned man thinks he knows has he verified for himself! He takes it on trust, and that not always especially select. I observe, for example, that a very famous writer in a famous scientific book rests his case on the statements of at least four hundred and forty different writers testifying not to the same, but mostly to separate, facts. It certainly is a robust faith that boldly relies on all these various known and unknown persons. What do most of us who are called educated men know directly about such things as the photosphere of the sun or about the planet Neptune? I know immeasurably better what Christ's gospel has done for myself and my fellow men. I believe in Neptune; I know the gospel.
When I look forth and see what theories of nature have been demolished within a century and what radical questions are still looming up on the horizon, one is almost ready to ask with the old philosophers, “Do all things flow?” In strong contrast stands the firm and quiet hope, the foundation of which is in the humblest breast and cannot be shaken while God is there. I remember how an able skeptic harangued a crowd from the steps of a city courthouse and how, when he had finished, they shouted to a humble evangelist who was present, then an almost unknown man: “Up and answer him!” “I have not time to go into all that matter if I could,” was his quiet reply, “ but I will do this, my friends: I will tell you what the Lord has done for my soul.” And when he had told the simple story he needed no other argument. Let us never forget that the fundamental verities of religion are verifiable by any and every man, while even the great facts of science are not all verifiable by any one man whatever. Put it to the proof.
A similar error that needs continually to be probed is when men speak of laws of nature as accounting for
certain facts and phenomena, and forget that all law is a dead thing except as made and enforced by a power behind. A law of nature is but a mode or method in which some power acts. What is that power behind ? — that is always the question. Yet this barren word “law” seems to be the unknown god which some men worship.
Another idol, more popular, equally needing to be tested because quite as hollow, as held by some, but not by all, is evolution. If this be held only as the mode in which the Creator has gradually wrought the system of the world and of life, not immediately, but mediately, it is surely harmless; only we may demand the actual proof. But when a man answers the question of absolute origin by saying that all beings were evolved from lower forms he tells me nothing of origin but only of method. What is the force back of this method of working hidden by your empty word ? These marvelous qualities and faculties, these wonderful adjustments and harmonies — whether made at a stroke or opened out through the ages — I ask who made them, not how, nor how long. Thus I gaze on the magnificent cathedral of Cologne and I ask who designed and built it. You answer me, It took six hundred years and many stages of progress. Out upon you, trifler! I tell you it was a surpassing genius devised that finest Gothic building in the world, none the less so though it took six hundred years to carry out the design, and the dull workmen have forgotten his very name. Who built it, I ask you, tell me, who? And you answer me again, Six hundred years and many
stages of labor. You remind me of Wordsworth's Johnny Foy. When men under the cover of a word endeavor to hide the mighty wisdom, skill, and power that have exerted and asserted themselves in all this infinite complexus of contrivances and correspondences, connecting each with each and everything with all, till the little dimmest telescopic star stands related to my eye, and that to all the activities of my frame and the emotions of my soul as well as to the whole outer world, they abdicate, so far forth, the throne of rational thought.
But for its tendencies and applications one might smile at the notion sometimes advanced in this connection, which would annihilate the dividing line between the man made in the image of God and the animal, asserting a natural transition from the one to the other. Without entering on the deeper defects and insuperable difficulties of the notion and the absence of actual evidence, one or two facts are level to the lowest apprehension. One is that from his earliest appearance and faintest traces upon earth man enters
a man, with his weapons, implements, and ornaments, master of the brute creation. Another, that in all his subsequent wanderings his pet animals have followed him, watched him, and shared his companionship and teachings for thousands of years, with greater strength and keener senses; yet never in their companionship or their freedom making an implement, using a weapon, or uttering a connected proposition. Nothing through the ages can make the brute less