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then they do not personally affect us, except that they are intellectually interesting. The moment any disputed point touches our affections, our fortunes, or our well-being here, we never rest till we have decided it, so far as regards probability; and then, if we have any common sense, we act upon our decision. The man who
he knows that he is dying, that he has been told of a medicine which may restore him, but as it is impossible to be quite certain about it, he will not make inquiry concerning it, is considered a weak fool.
This at least is how the matter strikes me. To chance (if one may so say) the existence of God and the awful facts of Immortality, Judgment, and Salvation, appears to me simple folly. I must make up my mind to accept or deny them as motives of action, if I am to be contented and happy. Absolute scientific demonstration is indeed unattainable. We cannot know personally that there is another life after this, until we have entered upon it; but the existence of a Personal God, which makes immortality so vitally important, is a question not so entirely beyond our experience, and it is one which every reasoning being is surely bound to consider with the utmost earnestness of purpose that he can command.
The “if' is such a tremendous “if.' The probability involves such unspeakably awful consequences. Who and what are we that we should dare to treat it as a matter which may be left undecided ? For it is not as if we were presented with a blank page on which we are free to inscribe whatever may suggest itself to our feeble intellect. There are certain facts, perfectly undeniable, which meet us at the outset of our examination, and cannot be put aside. The universal belief of mankind, and the mysterious adaptations of nature, commonly known as Design, must be received as some evidence of the existence of a Divine mind. Apart from all other considerations, they constitute a probability which surely lays the burden of proof upon the Atheist, and calls upon him to disprove, absolutely and conclusively, the Being of a Personal God. If he cannot do so, then on the lowest ground of human wisdom, he is bound to order his life according to what he has reason to consider the Laws of that God.
And thus arise the great questions connected with definite religious beliefs of some kind. May they also be left ? If they profess to be God's truths, may we live without inquiring into them. I am not attempting now to decide which of the various creeds of mankind is true. I am only arguing that to put them aside is unreasonable.
Even if there be only the lowest degree of probability that one religion is more true than another, we must be called upon to act upon that probability. If we cannot pray the Christian's prayer, because our minds are not fully convinced, we can at least pray hypothetically-0 God-if there be a God-help me! O Saviourif there be à Saviour—have pity on me! O Spirit of Truth—if there be a Holy Spirit-enlighten me!'
It is the temper of mind which calmly overlooks probabilities that 80 surprises me—not that which is perplexed, yet inquires, and strives to do what seems most likely to be right, however uncertain the right may be.
I sometimes have tried to imagine in my own mind the kind of excuse which the moral, kind-hearted, philosophical Agnostic might make when summoned to the Presence of God.
I suppose it would be very much what the Chinaman made to the Abbé Huc. "Life,' he might say, 'was all-important, its interests were absorbing. I found that men might be benevolent and just upon grounds of expediency and humanity; and benevolence and justice being the chief virtues essential for the support of the morality necessary for human happiness, there was no need to trouble myself about religion, and therefore I left it.' This argument, it must be remembered, is based on the assumption that morality bas no claim upon us, except so far as it conduces to what we deem happiness; whereas, in its highest sense, morality includes the duties arising from the various relations in which thinking beings are placed towards each other; and in this sense our relation to the Eternal God, whom Christians regard as Father, Saviour, and Sanctifier, is, upon the supposition of His existence, as much a part of morality as the duties involved in the relations of father and child, or of brother and sister. But putting aside this consideration, the excuse may to some sound reasonable. The only awkward doubt is—will it be received ?
As I said before, if there were no such thing as religion in the world, if no one had ever heard of a God, if it were quite a new idea that there was such a Being, there might be some force in it, though even then the abstract argument for such a mighty fact would surely demand consideration. But looking at the case as it stands, it does appear perfectly unaccountable that men and women, clever and sensible in other respects, should be able to persuade themselves that such reasoning can, with the slightest degree of probability, be accepted.
God forbid that I should venture to judge and condemn. "To his own master' each man must stand or fall. But the case presses upon my mind more and more strongly the longer I live, and the greater evidence I have, that there are hundreds, probably thousands of persons at the present day who are contenting themselves with Agnosticism as a refuge—so they look upon it-from Atheism.
I would say earnestly to young persons, use your intellect, and judge by the rules of conmon sense. Is it wise, can it be quite safe, to put aside, on the plea of non-proven, what the vast majority of mankind have always accepted ? Does it satisfy you to do so? Are you quite sure that when you come to the verge of Death you will have no misgivings?
It is one thing to say that we have honestly examined, and have been convinced by sound and indisputable reasoning, that the existence of a Personal God, and the fact of man's responsibility to Him, are delusions of the human brain; it is quite another thing to say that we felt sure beforehand there was no sufficient evidence, and therefore we did not trouble ourselves to inquire into it. Not to inquire, is practically to reject. So strange it is to see how persons can accept, where religion and duty are concerned, pleas and arguments which they would laugh at if produced in other cases !
Which of us would allow a servant to bring forward as an excuse for a neglect or omission, “I heard others say that such or such an order had been given; but I was sure they could not be certain about it, and therefore I made no inquiry.' And yet this is the kind of excuse for the neglect of religion which Agnostics will have to bring before God, if there is a God, and if,—as mankind somehow obstinately persist in thinking probable, we are one day to stand before His Judgment-seat.
It is all easy enough now, I dare say. There are people who seem to be quite happy in their conclusions, and others gather round them, and if they have misgivings, find support and forgetfulness in the fact of increasing numbers. And their principles are on the surface, not only simple and humble, but tolerant and benevolent. We don't reject religion--oh, no! we respect and admire it so far as it contributes to morality. It would indeed be presumptuous in us to condemn it, for no doubt in past ages it has been of great use, and even now it must be upheld as a kind of police force which overawes the ignorant; but accepting it for oneself is quite a different matter. We can accept nothing without scientific demonstration.'
This language is all very well now. The majority of those who are filling the ranks of Agnosticism are comparatively young, or if not young, they are immersed in the interests of a world which offers employment and attraction of an absorbing character; but there is such a thing as growing old, as being able to say, if I live ten years longer I shall be looked upon as quite superannuated, and if I live only five I must expect to be comparatively weak and helpless, and if my name were to appear in the first column of the Times' to-morrow, people would only say: 'Miss So-and-so is dead, I should not have thought she was quite so old, but I see she was seventy,' and then they would turn to another subject, and Miss So-and-so's death would be accepted as quite natural, an event which no one could wonder at. How does life on earth look when one has reached that age of seventy?
The far-off past is very dreamy, almost phantom-like. The near future looks—what shall I say?--very blank ? very dark? That depends on the view we take of it. If there is an impenetrable wall before one, blocking it up, I candidly own it is very dark. Sometimes I try to bring it before me, as Miss Martineau is said to have done when, blind and deaf, she sat waiting for annihilation. But my mind VOL. 14.
as absolutely refuses to contemplate what is meant by annihilation, as what is meant by nothing. Everything seems against it, instinct, reason, historical tradition. A friend of mine was once asked when a girl what nothing was, and she answered, something black.' That is the nearest idea I can form of annihilation, and I cannot reconcile myself to it. I suppose there are persons who can. Of one thing I am tolerably sure, it is only by turning aside from it. They start with the determination to accept ouly that which can be demonstrated, and the fact of death, the one thing above all others, which so far as sight goes is open to demonstration, they refuse to look at.
• There may be another world- or there may not be—who can tell? Therefore put the question aside. Such seems to me a fair statement of the Agnostic principles. But at seventy the principle fails to give support. One must then look at Death. It stares one in the face. It meets one at every turn. And the human instinct revolts from annihilation. There are as obstinate questionings' connected with the end as with the beginning of life, and though Agnosticism will not recognise them, yet we old people must. The opiates of business, and pleasure, and affection, are ceasing to have any absorbing power over us. With the possibility of Immortality, the words 'it may or it may not be' can no longer be accepted. We demand, we cannot help demanding, a well-grounded conviction one way or the other. If we are absolutely certain that with death we cease to be—well and good; the question which will then naturally arise, must be, is it worth while to live any longer? and this will be answered by each individual according to his circumstances. But if we are not certain, if there is any doubt, even if it only amount to possibility, much more if there is anything which may be called probability, then in obedience to the highest reason and the calmest common sense, there must not be a moment lost in searching fully into the matter, and acting, as in every other case of probability, in accordance with the dictates of prudence. There are those who say that the happiness of Eternity is at stake. We may laugh at them, but they still repeat it, and we cannot stop them, and we do not like to hear them say
it. Suppose---only suppose they may be right!
• OUR YOUNGEST.'
BY AN ELDER SISTER.
• A thought lay like a flower upon my heart.' Few would care to prefix, as the motto of a happy life, Gertrude de Lagaraye's words: Crooked and sick for ever! Crooked and sick!' Yet of the career before us, of a deformed woman, quiet and unobtrusive, often physically suffering, happiness was the prevailing characteristic.
Adela Dundas was born in Edinburgh on St. Matthias' Day, 1840, the youngest of five daughters. She seemed destined to be her parents' comforter, replacing an infant sister who had died a year before. Up to three years old, nothing could be prettier in face and form than this little maiden. She, and a brother two years younger, the last, and therefore by birthright the family pets and playthings, were, with their deep blue eyes and sunny curls, as pretty a babypicture as could be desired. But there came a damp summer afternoon, a cold, scarcely noticed, but developing into inflammation of the lungs, and after a year of intense suffering, the little girl rose from her sick-bed, hopelessly deformed, one lung destroyed, and a curvature of the spine, distorting and crippling for ever the tender little frame. It was during the long convalescence of this illness that parents, doctor, nurses, friends, observed the singularly charming disposition of the baby-invalid. Never resisting, even though writhing and sobbing under painful surgical treatment—and chloroform was then unknown-she got up her spirits at every intermission of pain, and responded to each endeavour to please and amuse her, by pictures, stories, songs, etc. Submission to the inevitable was the key-note of Adela's life, and with her powers of mind, and strong native common sense, it is probable that under any circumstances she would have made the best of what could not be avoided. Thanks be to God, that in the training of a Christian home, His baptized child learnt to see in the inevitable'a merciful heavenly Father, and to know that in simple acceptance of His Will, her crippled life need not be a sad, useless, unprofitable thing.
As she got stronger, my first very vivid recollection is of her intense love of animals. As a great part of our life, including all her childhood, was spent in the country, it was possible to gratify her insatiable desire for pets. Her dogs were in endless succession, Skye terriers the best loved; then kittens, bantams and doves, donkeys and ponies, rabbits, sundry owls bestowed by friendly gamekeepers, and at one time a jackdaw, as insolent and thievish a specimen of his