THE SIN OF SCOFFING AT RELIGION EXPOSED
Being the substance of two sermons, preached in Carrs Lane Meeting House, July 16th and August 1st, 1824, by John Angell James.
"Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful."
"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts." 2 Peter 3:3
As in the natural world, the daylight does not prevent the evils injurious to the body, so in the spiritual world, the most perfect revelation of divine truth does not put a stop to the errors and vices which endanger the soul. Even the Christian dispensation (called here the last days), is insufficient, notwithstanding its internal glory and external evidence, to abash the audacious spirit of infidelity, and to silence the scoffing tongue of the scorner.
At the time of Peter's writing this epistle, the disciples of Christ were exposed to the attacks of the Epicureans among the Gentiles, and of the Sadducees among the Jews, both of whom ridiculed the doctrines of the resurrection of the dead, the general judgment, the destruction of the world, and a future state of reward or punishment. From the very frequent allusions made to scorners throughout the Old Testament, it is evident that such characters were by no means uncommon in the Jewish nation; and this atheistical temper still continues to infest the world under the superior light of Christianity. In the language of the text, the apostle with great severity rebukes this profane disposition, and resolves it into its real cause, the unsubdued depravity of those by whom it is indulged; "there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts." As this sin is lamentably common in the present age, I have thought it necessary to call your attention to the subject, and to put you upon your guard against its pernicious influence and impious attacks.
I. I shall give you a representation of the nature of the vice itself, and shall trace it through its various forms and modes of operation. I am not going to set either myself or you, my friends, against the fair, dispassionate, reverential discussion of religious truth. Christianity, notwithstanding her heavenly origin, not only allows—but invites examination, and in this respect stands sublimely opposed to Mohammadanism, which never reasons in its own defense—but prohibits and punishes every attack made upon it, and all investigation of its claims, and builds itself by 'force' on ignorance and credulity; as if aware that the most limited privilege of discussion would end in its destruction. It is not the serious enquirer, or the sober disputant, that I complain of; let his objections be raised against whatever doctrines they may; but the individual who treats the subject with a spirit of levity, derision and contempt; who offer sneers instead of arguments; and stoops to ridicule, rather than to the intellectual reasoning.
In some instances this unhappy and unholy disposition goes so far as to despise every kind of religion, natural as well as revealed, and comes out in the appalling form of atheism, which ridicules the ideas of the existence of a God and a future state; and assigning to man no other period of existence than the present life, takes from him all responsibility, and eventually extinguishes every moral principle of his soul. It has, indeed, been questioned whether such a being as a 'rational atheist' actually exists; without taking upon me to decide this question, I know that many 'practical atheists' are almost everywhere to be found—men who treat all religion with unconcealed contempt, whether they speak from or against conviction, whether they are led into sin by a perverted judgment, or in their impious mirth oppose the ineffaceable sentiments of their own hearts. Having relieved themselves from the restraint of principle and conscience, they look down with affected pity and undisguised scorn upon the poor slaves who consider themselves as acting under inspection and amenable for their conduct. They treat with endless derision the bondage of those whom they represent as voluntarily loaded with the fetters of superstition, who though they have only to assert their liberty to be free, instead of daring to break the chains which artful priests and designing tyrants have imposed upon their minds, are tamely submitting to the imposition, and groveling in abject fear at the feet of their cruel taskmasters. With such men it is matter of constant merriment that any should be so silly as for the reversionary happiness of a future state—to deny themselves the gratification of their appetites, and the indulgence of their propensities in the present world. Their motto is, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Every moral principle, every holy virtue, every religious practice is treated with scorn by them; they deride all who support the claims of piety, and represent everything however vile, impure, or profane—as lawful or indifferent.
In other cases, the scorner appears in the character of a deist, who, while he professes to believe the truth, and to submit to the obligations of natural religion, attacks the system of divine revelation with all the power of his wit, and loads the disciples of Christ with all the weight of his scorn. He reviles the Scriptures as forgeries, and ridicules those who profess to believe them, as fanatics or hypocrites. It is in his eyes the excess of credulity and folly to allow the conscience to be bound, the passions to be restrained, and the life to be guided, by such palpable and refutable impostures. Yet one cannot help wondering at the effrontery of those infidels who talk about the silliness of believing in the Bible, and who represent it as a book capable of enslaving only the weak and credulous. Have they forgotten that this book, in their opinion so easily detected in its falsehoods, and so worthy to be despised for its absurdities, was really admitted to be divine and true by Bacon, Newton, and Boyle; by Milton, Locke, and Johnson. It is curious to hear the flippancy with which many witlings talk of the weakness and credulity of all who believe in the truth of divine revelation, and to see with what scorn they look upon the multitude of believers; a body which, though it embraces very many of the poor and illiterate, yet has comprehended the sublimest poets, the profoundest philosophers, and the most learned scholars that ever lived in the most enlightened ages and in the best informed nations. One would think that such names as those just mentioned had dignity enough to screen themselves, and all associated with them in opinion, from the sneer of contempt. Surely, surely, the very hem of the garment, the extremity of the skirt of such a genius as Bacon, Newton, or Milton, might be a sufficient covering from derision for the multitude of weaker minds who flee to it for a shelter from the charge of credulity and the shower of taunts and sneers with which such a charge is often attended.
But there are many, who, though they have all the malignity of deism, have not its desperate hardihood. They are infidels without avowing it; they despise revelation without professing to reject it; they laugh at it—but do not, because they cannot, argue against it. In the grand conflict between Christianity and infidelity, they carry on a sort of guerilla warfare. They have neither the skill nor the accouterments of regular troops—but they can skirmish, and it is admitted that in a certain way they do much execution. I mean the men who, under a profession of general respect for revelation, are ever busying themselves in finding out, exposing, and ridiculing, what their shallow and unsanctified minds imagine to be difficulties, absurdities, and objections. How will they divert a circle with witty, sarcastic, or ludicrous remarks, upon some of the scripture narratives, or some of the scripture characters. The account of Jonah and the fish, and the sins of David, with other things of a similar nature, are converted by them into matter of endless ridicule.
Two topics there are, necessarily and closely connected with revealed truth, of fearful mystery, of awful gloom, and of dreadful reality, which have been employed, perhaps more than any others, by such scoffers to season their mirth, and to give a relish to their sinful jokes; and these are—the state of punishment prepared for the wicked, and the existence of the devil. Even the purgatorial fire, or disciplinary chastisement, of the Romanists, much more the hell of the Scriptures, a state of eternal torments; and Satan, whether a real existence, or even if he were only a personification of evil; are subjects far too dreadful to become the occasions of merriment and diversion. But, unhappily, the monkish legends of Popery, replete as they are with all that can shock the reason and offend the sober piety of an enlightened Christian, have furnished so many absurd, ludicrous, and monstrous stories on these appalling themes, that the most dreadful of all possible topics have become more than anything, the subject of sport.
Much unhallowed ridicule is thrown by some on what are considered by us as the most sublime and important doctrines of revelation; I mean the trinity of persons in the Godhead, and the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. I speak not now of those who, in a dignified, dispassionate, and reverential manner, discuss by argument these high subjects. Men of enlarged minds, and of high moral worth there are, who differ from us on these doctrines, and who express that difference in respectful and argumentative language, who disdain to offer a sneer for a reason, and who in the disputant merge not the character of the gentleman; to such opponents we listen with respect, and have only to regret that they err, in our opinion, on subjects of vital importance. Far different is the conduct of others of their party, who substitute, perhaps conveniently enough, ridicule for reasoning, and sneers for arguments. We include the latter only in the company of the scoffers; the former are too dignified to deserve the appellation, and we, I trust, are too candid to asperse them with the imputation.
The scorner will frequently be found avowing his belief in the important articles which I have just mentioned, while, at the same time, he ridicules the only legitimate influence and valuable results of these doctrines. All that deep contrition, that earnestness of soul, that spirituality of mind, that separation from the world, that cautious abstinence from sin, that devout attendance upon religious services which the Word of God enjoins, and the very nature of religion requires—are sometimes treated with the most unrestrained ridicule by men who profess at the same time to be firm believers in all the important articles of the Christian scheme. If the Word of God be true, it is impossible to possess true religion without being earnest; for religion is a thing of the heart; it has reference to eternity; it is a contest for immortality; a trial and preparation for everlasting ages; and to be lukewarm, careless, indifferent, on such a subject, is the most monstrous absurdity.
The anxious, earnest, diligent Christian, is the only consistent one. Yet this is the religion against which the whole artillery of scorn is directed, and every offensive epithet is cast—this is the religion which is designated by the opprobrious names of nauseating cant, disgusting hypocrisy, whining Methodism, and Puritanic fanaticism. We are commanded by the law of our being, as rational creatures, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind; we are enjoined by our divine Lawgiver to strive to enter in at the straight gate; to subdue every guilty passion, and restrain every sinful exercise of the senses; to be pure even in the very inmost recesses of our mind; to make the salvation of the soul the chief object of pursuit; and we are admonished by his apostles to give ourselves to prayer; to be spiritually minded; to set our affections on things above; to mortify the deeds of the body; to avoid the very appearance of evil; to give all diligence to make our calling and election sure. Yet, no sooner does a man comply with these injunctions, or attempt to do so, than he is pointed out by the finger of scorn as an object of ridicule, at whom, as he passes along, everyone may fling the epithet of 'fanatic', and raise against him the silent sneer or the broad loud laugh.
Has not everyone, who, in the present age, dares to be in earnest about religion, subjected himself to attacks of this kind? Has not the term 'saint', that highest appellation which can be given to man or glorified spirit, of kindred meaning with that attribute of the Deity which, as his chosen title, is proclaimed in the continual cry of the cherubim and seraphim, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" has not, I say, this term been bandied about society as a term of reproach? And have not the saints, as they are sneeringly called, been held up to ridicule in all places, from the highest seats in parliament to the benches of the alehouse? Have not senators themselves stooped so low, even amidst the dignity of debate, as to repeat the low jokes of the drunkard's song? Holy Lord God Almighty! what infatuation has come upon the enemies of religion, that abandoning the names of reproach invented by men, they should at length have selected one consecrated by every page of revelation, applied to every being in glory, and ascribed to you by those adoring at your footstool as the greatest of all your perfections! What blindness has fallen upon their understanding, that they can find no term less esteem to affix as a brand upon the character of a good man! What is their perverseness and confusion of judgment, that they should have been thus led to utter the greatest compliments when they intended only the greatest contempt! Mistaken men! learn the meaning of the term before you employ it as a word of reproach. And you objects of their scorn, be it your ambition to deserve the appellation, and your honor to bear it without a blush before the world.
Another way of scoffing at religion (and it is by no means an uncommon one), is to pitch upon the extravagances and imperfections of good men, and to expose them to public ridicule and contempt. It may be their imperfections are only eccentricities, mere dust upon the petals of the flower—but not a canker at its roots, which candor would overlook or conceal, in consideration of the genuine excellence with which they are associated. It is a very easy achievement to make corrupt minds laugh at the most admirable qualities, when they happen to be connected with trivial eccentricity; for he who laughs at the garment, will soon he led by an easy transition to despise the wearer, however respectable. But how hateful is the malignity which delights to throw all the valuable and praiseworthy parts of the character into the shade of one ludicrous trait.
It is a miserable device, which many have had recourse to, to select the 'absurdities of fanaticism' and the 'hollow pretenses of hypocrisy'—as they have been exhibited in some false professors, and thus to raise a prejudice against all genuine religion. We are told that it is not rational piety they deride—but only the disgusting excesses of fanaticism and insincerity. This mask, however, is too ill constructed to conceal the visage, and this veil too thin to disguise the form of the scorner. 'Hypocrisy' in anything needs no effort employed against it to render it hateful, there being no vice which is more generally or more justly abhorred. And as for real 'fanaticism', it may be left to itself, for it will soon expire without any effort to extinguish it. But fanaticism is a term so undefined, that it is a difficult matter to regulate its application; and, on the other hand, the phrase "rational piety" is, with those who use it, like the bed of Procrustes, to which everyone was fitted by violence, either by being stretched or lopped.
"Even admitting that there were opinions so replete with absurdity, and so contradictory to common sense, that it seems below the dignity of reason to undertake the refutation of them, yet of what service can be ridicule even in this case. Whatever gives birth to opinions really monstrous, it is plain that strong prejudice alone keeps them alive, which even impresses on them a sacred character. To endeavor to laugh men out of such prejudices, is to confirm them the more in them; as their conversion is never likely to be brought about by such means as must inspire them with horror. Rather let kindness and persuasion remove the prejudice, and then the error will be dispelled of course."
To mock all religion because of the vices of its false professors, is an action the weakness of which is not exceeded even by its wickedness. If candor be a virtue, what shall be said of that man's conduct, who, because he has proved the falsehood of some mere pretenders to superior sanctity, involves the whole community of Christians in the odious charge of hypocrisy. Would it be fair, would it be reasonable, to ridicule marital fidelity because some, under strong professions of this virtue, have concealed adultery? Or would it be candid, to say that all who make loud professions of loyalty, are traitors in heart because some have been found to be so? Perhaps religion has had no more counterfeits than anything else that is truly excellent; and if it had, this is only a proof of its superior value, for is not what is most valuable most often counterfeited? To scoff at it on this ground, then, is not only the proof of a wicked heart—but also of a weak head. This class of scorners (and it is a very numerous one), is seated in the lowest grade in the school of irreligion, and is composed of the feeblest, youngest children, who, as yet, are unable to lisp in argument, and have only learned to laugh.
But it is now time to enquire WHERE and WHEN the practice of scoffing is indulged in. In the theater, where, besides the mockery of the lessons of religion, which, more or less, runs through the whole context of dramatic representation, plays are acted which were originally written, and are still performed with the design of bringing all scriptural piety into contempt. The theater is the very seat of the scornful, where he sits first as a learner, until he becomes proficient enough to appear in the character of a teacher. It may be very truly affirmed, that if infidels teach men to argue against religion, actors instruct them to laugh at it.
How often the social circle is the scene of this unhallowed sport, and the entertainment of the mirthful party is heightened by profane ridicule. Religion, like her divine Author, when he was led into Pilate's hall to be a laughing stock to the Roman soldiers, is introduced only to furnish merriment for the company. One calls her an impostor, practicing her arts on the credulity of mankind; another holds up the vices of her 'false disciples' as chargeable upon her; a third tells a ludicrous anecdote of one of her sincere and honorable votaries—thus derided by all, with no one to speak on her behalf, she stands, like the Man of Sorrows, the silent object of derision, the swearer's jest, the drunkard's song, yet still majestic and dignified amidst surrounding scorn. How much of tavern and alehouse mirth is derived from this impious source. What a supply of merriment would be cut off from the sons of Belial if religion and all the subjects connected with it were suddenly, by some mysterious power operating upon their minds, either forgotten or dreaded by them.
Infatuated and miserable men! Can you find nothing less sacred than this to give a relish to your wine? Will nothing less poisonous serve for infusion into your cups? Has the social circle no charms or power to please unless the scoffer be there? Has wit no pungency, genius no brilliancy, satire no sting, irony no point, humor no pleasantry, jesting no spirit—except scoffing at religion be practiced? Must the voice of the scorner rouse the slumbering genius of mirth, and is all flat and insipid until his perverted fancy yield the salt? Is it not enough that you can be drunkards and swearers—but you must be calumniators also? and will nothing less serve as the objects of your scandal than piety and the pious? This is, indeed, being in haste to be wicked. You are the very men of whom the prophet speaks, "Woe unto those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope! Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil—that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink. Therefore as fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root shall be rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as the dust; because they have cast away the law of the Lord Almighty, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel."
How saturated with the sin of scoffing at religion are many of the publications, and much of the periodical literature of the present day. How frequently is every moral and spiritual sensibility of the religious mind offended in the course of its reading by some irreverent allusion, profane remark, contemptuous taunt, or unholy witticism connected with religion. Authors and editors, who should know how to cater to the public, pay to the taste of their readers the wretched compliment of supposing that the readiest way to work themselves into favor, is to furnish entertainment founded on distorted views of religion. Popular novelists have attempted to give a charm to their tales by exhibiting piety in union with the extravagances and uncouth phraseology of religionists of the seventeenth century—and metrical writers, taking up the buffoonery of Butler, have endeavored by exaggerating the excesses of injudicious zeal, to perpetuate prejudice against the sincere, though indiscreet piety with which they were associated.
To use the words of an eloquent writer, in reference to the present times, "The dragon has cast forth from his mouth such a flood of heresy and mischief, that Egypt, in the worst of her plagues, was not covered with more loathsome abominations. Creatures which we did not suspect to have existed, have come forth from their retreats, some soaring into the regions of impiety on vigorous pinions, others crawling on the earth, with a slow and sluggish motion, only to be tracked through the filthy slime of their impurities. We have seen writers of every order, from the mighty Polyphemuses of the north, to the contemptible dwarfs, men of every party, infidels, churchmen, and dissenters, a motley crew, who have no one thing in common, except their antipathy to religion, join hands and hearts on the occasion—a deadly taint of impiety has blended them into one common mass, as things the most discordant while they are living substances, do very well to putrefy together. We are not at all alarmed at this extensive combination; it will no doubt do much present and partial mischief—but it will be ultimately productive of much general and permanent good. Mankind will not be long at a loss to determine where the truth lies, when they see on one hand a visible fear of God, a constant appeal to his oracles, a solicitude to promote the salvation of mankind; and on the other, an indecent levity, an unbridled insolence, an unblushing falsehood, a hard, unfeeling pride, together with a manifest aim to render the Scriptures of no authority, and religion of no effect." (Strictures on "Zeal without Innovation," by Mr. Hall.)
Oh, who can reflect without unutterable anguish upon the dreadful prostitution of those stupendous talents, which have lately been withdrawn forever from the world. Alas! that an individual who for his genius was worthy to be associated with Spenser and Milton, should for his infidelity be classed with Voltaire, and Hume, and Paine. That man cannot have one spark of mind who is not willing to confess the transcendent powers of Byron, nor can he have one spark of piety who does not deplore the mischief which those powers have effected in the world of morals. If to pay homage to talents be one of the proofs and noblest exercises of an intellectual nature, it is no less incumbent on a moral agent to worship at the shrine of virtue. While therefore we admire the intellectual beauties of this unequaled author, let us not forget that they were associated with moral deformities no less disgusting and appalling. If splendid talents alone are to be the objects of unmingled admiration, not only when they are destitute of piety and morality—but even when employed against them, who shall measure or limit the raptures with which we should applaud the genius of Satan.
"I regard talents with too sincere an admiration, I love poetry with a devotion too enthusiastic, wantonly to impeach the one or the other—but there are things of higher moment than talents, of dearer concern than poetry. The authority of revelation, the sanctity of religion, the interests of morality, the purity of love, the chastity of woman, the sacredness of honor, and the glow of patriotism, are all of paramount consideration. Society may flourish and be refined without poetic genius—but it cannot exist without virtue, nor be happy without religion; and when poetic genius arms itself against the body politic, and wages war with the human family, I am determined for one, to make common cause with my country, with my species." (See an admirable Sermon just published by Dr. Styles, on the character of Lord Byron's Works, which I most cordially recommend to the perusal of all the admirers of this great but most dangerous poet.)
Byron was the inveterate enemy of
Christianity—sometimes opposing it by the most blasphemous metaphysical
speculations, which like dark thunder clouds, darted their flashes against
its deathless interests; while at others, he exposed it to the ridicule of
witlings and the mirth of fools, in all the malignity of scorn and derision.
II. I shall consider the CAUSES of scoffing.This vice has less to plead in excuse for itself than almost any other that the depravity of man can lead him to commit. It is at once the greatest crime, and originates in the least temptation. When Satan urges men on to other sins he presents the lure of some appropriate gratification; to ambition he offers the prospect of honor; to avarice, injustice, or extortion, riches; to lust, sensual indulgences; to malice, revenge; but to the scorner he offers neither riches, nor honor, nor sensuality; nothing, literally nothing—but the laughter of fools, and "the reputation perhaps of having said with sarcasm—which no wise man would have said at all." The scorner is a poor, silly hireling, who serves the devil for nothing; of whom it may be emphatically said, "the wages of his sin is death," nothing but death; his broad farce ends in the deepest tragedy, since it terminates in the eternal perdition of the miserable performer. "What folly," says Tillotson, "is that for a man to offend his conscience to please his humor, and for his jest, to lose the two best friends he has in the world, God and his own soul."
What then is the cause of this vice? There are many subordinate and proximate ones. Of these, pride and a high opinion of self takes the lead. There is no disposition more apparent in the scoffer than this; "proud and haughty scorner," says Solomon, "is his name." Neither that splendor of evidence amidst which religion reveals and proves her celestial origin, nor the assent of the greatest and best of men in all ages to its truth, is sufficient to convince such an individual that it is worthy of his regard. The reverence of ages, and of nations, is not enough to check his scorn, or to awe him into respect. His conduct is dictated by a disgusting conceit of his own powers, united with an insufferable contempt of the talents of others.
Scoffing is sometimes the result of a prevailing and indecent levity of mind, an habitual and indulged frivolity, which alike indisposes and unfits a man for any serious pursuit; an unbridled disposition to convert everything, not excepting the most solemn and momentous subjects, into matter of mirth and ridicule. There are people who scarcely ever have a season in which wisdom is the regent of the soul; but whose whole character and life are abandoned to the dominion of folly, and whose time to laugh is the whole period of their waking existence.
A silly affectation of novelty, combined with a wish to be thought superior to the terrors of superstition, leads in many cases to the sin of ridiculing piety. Not a few are persuaded to engage in the practice for the sake of indulging a talent for wit or humor. A talent for genuine wit as distinguished from burlesque, is a rare accomplishment; and still rarer is its proper application. When employed in confounding error, and abashing wickedness, it is invaluable; but how shocking is it to see this gift of heaven turned against its Divine Author, by being employed to ridicule his image. Yet this is the most beloved and valued accomplishment of the scoffer; to raise the laugh, and secure applause, he loses no opportunity, spares no character, and excepts no subject. To throw off the sparks of wit he would not scruple to "set his tongue on fire by hell." Dangerous and destructive sport! Such flames are more easily kindled than extinguished, and often consume the individual who ignites them.
Many are led on to assume the character of a scorner, by the power of fashion and the contagion of evil company; so dangerous is it to associate with the wicked, and so difficult to resist the influence of example. Many an individual has been emboldened to scoff while in company, who when alone, has trembled at the recollection of his sin.
Inability to attack religion in any other way induces some to assail it with their scorn. This is an easy method of manifesting their hatred—the pigmy mind that cannot wield an argument can throw a sneer; and he who could as soon hope to fly as to reason, may still have talent enough to laugh, or to retail the jokes which others have formed—and indeed, as men when their minds are heated by their passions, say things more clever than they could utter in their cooler moods—so people of dull intellect when irritated by dislike of piety, do really utter sayings of greater cleverness than they could otherwise aspire to.
But the chief source of scoffing is that which the apostle has mentioned in the text, "Scoffers, walking after their own lusts." Jude has traced the sin to the same source, "But beloved, remember the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how they told you there would be mockers in the last time walking after their own ungodly lusts."
It was said by an infidel of former times, that when reason is against a man, then a man will be against reason—and it may with equal, if not with greater propriety, be said, that when religion is against a man, then will a man be against religion. The truths and the precepts of Scriptural revelation are enemies to pride of intellect, and depravity of heart; and it is matter of little surprise that they who cannot be reconciled to humility and purity, should scorn the system which enforces such virtues. As those children in a school who have most to fear from a master's displeasure, are the most ready to treat him with ridicule behind his back, and as the whip will be generally treated with most merriment by those who are most in danger of its lashes, so they who have most to dread from religion will be more forward than others to scorn it; and they who are in the greatest danger of the quenchless fire, will like other madmen, be the first to sport with the flames.
True religion frowns upon every sin; rebukes, accuses, and condemns every sinner. A man cannot swear, or take the name of God in vain, or break the Sabbath, or indulge in the least act of uncleanness—but true piety—this representative of God in our world—censures the sin, and threatens the sinner. Like the angel of the Lord resisting the hireling prophet in his path, it opposes itself to the transgressor in his way, and with a drawn sword and a voice of thunder, exclaims, proceed at your peril. Interrupted, perplexed, and resisted in his iniquitous career; rendered uneasy, and less capable of enjoying his lusts, the sinner becomes angry, and like a evil youth impeded in lawless sport, he derides his monitor, and abuses him with ill names.
And for the same reason the scorner derides the righteous—their example is a constant reproof, accusation, and condemnation of him. Their holy conduct wounds his conscience, just as sunbeams do the weak and disordered eye—he cannot go on so easily in his sins while they are present; hence he hates them, as Cain did Abel; but being restrained by the laws from offering violence to their persons—he vents his rage in scoffs and sneers upon their character.
The sum of the whole matter is this—a man says there is no God, because he wishes there were none—he scorns spiritual religion, because spiritual religion condemns him—he is an infidel because he is a sinner—he is a scoffer because he is an infidel. This then is the true and ultimate source of scoffing, an unrenewed, unsanctified mind; a heart that hates God, and abhors his image. Some men would scoff at religion no more if they could exchange Christianity for the mythology of Greece and Rome. Give them but the profligate Jupiter and Venus to patronize their uncleanness; and the drunken Bacchus to sanctify their inebriety; and the laughing Momus to consecrate their folly; in lieu of the Holy Lord God, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity—and they would find it no difficulty to live in terms of good fellowship with such a religion as this. But the religion of the Bible is too humbling for the pride of their intellect, too holy for the corruptions of their heart, too strict and too rigid for that liberty in which they would indulge in their lives, and they cannot endure it—and being unable to confound it by logic, or overwhelm it by eloquence, they treat it with derision.
In some cases there is reason to
believe that scoffing may be traced up to fear, united with dislike. The
scorner secretly trembles at the idea of a God, and of a judgment to come.
In spite of himself he fears that there may be a reality in religion, and if
there is—what is to become of him! The poor creature, like a scared child
whistling as he passes through a graveyard to keep up his courage, or
laughing at the story of a ghost, to conceal the palpitations of his heart,
ridicules true religion to allay, if possible, the rising alarms of his
conscience, and to avoid the terrors of his affrighted imagination. May I
not appeal to some who read this for the truth of what I say, when I affirm,
that the sneering countenance is oftentimes the impious mask of a cowardly
heart and of a trembling conscience.
III. Let me now exhibit to you the CHARACTER of this vice of scoffing.
1. Scoffing is IRRATIONAL.Do not think that there is anything manly or courageous in the conduct of the scorner. It is a practice in which the weakest and silliest of mankind have indulged; to which the drunkard, when his reason is half drowned in his cups, and he himself is reduced to a driveler, resorts for his sport; to which brainless fops and witless heads have had recourse, as the easiest way to gain a measure of reputation as clever people. Religion, whether taken as a whole or regarded in its component parts, is a subject of infinite importance; it involves the present duties and the eternal destinies of the universe—it respects man as an immortal creature, and influences his happiness for everlasting ages. Compared with this, the most momentous questions which have interested, agitated, and divided the greatest geniuses and the profoundest intellects—are subjects of small and evanescent importance. To sport with such a thing is consummately, preposterously absurd, and the scoffer stands upon the confines of idiocy! No argument is necessary beyond his own act to prove that he is a fool; nor is any eloquence necessary to illustrate his folly. One need not do anything more to proclaim the greatness of a man's absurdity, than to say that he scoffs at religion. Admitting that a man has proved to his own satisfaction that there is neither a God nor a future state, there is something so horribly dreadful in his calamitous discovery, so gloomy and so wretched in his system, that instead of looking with derision on those of an opposite sentiment, he should be appalled and affrighted by the terrors of his own. An infidel ridicule others! What, when he has blotted out the idea of a powerful Creator, a wise Governor, a merciful Benefactor of the human race, and substituted in his place the misrule of 'blind chance'—when he has sunk heaven and all its glories in the gloom of annihilation—that man find leisure from the misery of his own reflections—to laugh at others who are cheering themselves with the consolations of religion!
An atheist, if he has any sense of moral beauty, instead of being pleased with his creed, should start back with horror and affright from the progeny of his mind; and if he has any pity, instead of holding it up to the caresses of the world, should conceal it from observation, and restrain its operation as a demon born to curse mankind. Miserable creature! where is your rationality? where is your humanity? You cannot plead conscience for disturbing the lovely vision; for upon his own principles an atheist can have no conscience.
Nay, a scoffing temper is irrational, as it perfectly unfits the mind for the investigation of true religion—it has its origin either in pride or levity; both of which disqualify us for the investigation of truth. A man given to merriment and scorn is ever seeking for wit, not for truth; and will be so bent upon the former as most willingly to sacrifice the latter. Such a person is impatient and incapable of cool and sedate reflection. The calm exercise of the judgment is essential to our arriving at just opinions; and to expect calmness of judgment to be coupled with a disposition for scorn, is to expect that a feather will be still amidst a violent gust of wind. Ridicule is neither the test of truth in others, nor the way to obtain it for ourselves.
2. Scoffing is CRUDE and UNCIVIL.Though we may oppose the convictions of others, we ought not to do so with vulgarity and sarcasm. Politeness demands that we treat those who differ from us with respect. "Be courteous to all," is a maxim of good breeding, and is essential to the well being of society. Now there is nothing more at variance with courtesy than scoffing and sarcasm. A decent respect is due to every man's convictions on the subject of religion, though they may be erroneous. "Whoever, therefore, instead of refuting errors by reason and kindness, will treat in a contemptuous manner, that which in the eyes of others bears a sacred character, can only occasion scandal where he should attempt reformation, and must show himself to be equally a stranger to good sense and to good manners." The scoffer, then, is not only not a Christian—but he is not even a gentleman; and is not merely unfit company for the wise and the good—but is fit only to associate with the very offscouring of the earth. His society is a nuisance to all except to men of like propensities—he is not only guilty in the sight of God—but offensive in the eyes of the better classes of his fellow creatures.
3. Scoffing is a most CRUEL and INHUMAN sin.A man who is really in earnest on the subject of religion, attaches to his opinions an infinite importance. They are of more value in his eyes and are dearer to his heart than all he possesses upon earth. He would not only part with the last farthing of his property—but the last drop of his blood, rather than give them up. He is prepared for martyrdom—but not for apostasy. His sentiments may be erroneous in the opinion of others; but in his eyes they appear with the radiance of immutable truth; they may be entirely visionary—but they are beheld by him as eternal realities. Convince him if you can, that he is in error—but insult him not with mockery. This is more cruel than to scoff at the deformed child which the mother holds in her arms and presses to her heart. Every man believes that there is a sanctity in his religious opinions; he considers them as a voice from the excellent glory; a response from the heavenly oracle; the very word of God; and to him it is the desecration of everything sacred, to hear them converted into matter of unhallowed scorn. Every jest that is thrown at his religion is a dagger piercing him to the heart, and the words of the scorner's tongue are sharper than drawn swords. Even admitting that he is in error, and that error is a deformity of mind, derision is not the way to remove it; and is not one whit more lawful, or one whit less cruel, than sporting with bodily deformity.
Pity it and cure it if you can—but do not laugh at it. The scoffer has not the pity of a barbarian or a brute. Did he but consider how many there are, who amidst the vicissitudes and the trials of life, have no ray of consolation from any other source to fall upon their dreary path; no other shelter from the storms of time; no other hope amidst the wreck of fortune, than religion—would he follow them to their last refuge, and attempt to drive them by unhallowed scorn even from thence?
4. Scoffing is a most HARDENING vice.It marks a dreadful progress in the career of sin, a peculiar boldness of iniquity, and plainly proves that the transgressor is still going forward to greater obduracy of heart. That man who can allow himself the liberty of scoffing at religion, as a whole, or any part of it; either at any particular doctrine or any pious practice; who can allow himself to sneer at the righteous, or divert others with anything pertaining to their character or conduct, has a conscience which is already partially benumbed, and which will soon be seared as with a hot iron. Nothing so rapidly hardens the heart as this; nothing closes so fast the avenues of moral perception, nor so completely petrifies the spiritual sensibilities. The mocker will soon be past feeling. Neither the terrors of God's justice, nor the loveliness of God's mercy make any impression on his heart—to admonish him is nearly a hopeless task. The sacred writers speak of a scorner as almost irreclaimable.
5. But its impiety in the sight of God surpasses all description.True religion is at once the production, the offspring and the image of Deity; and to scoff at religion therefore, is to scoff at God. When we ridicule a volume, we ridicule its author; when we laugh at the features of a portrait, we despise the artist; and to treat either piety or the pious with derision, is to throw our scorn at the heavens, and to insult the Deity. It is a sin to mock our fellow-creatures; our parents, for instance; or our governors. All loyal men join in reprobating the attempt to bring the monarch of the realm into contempt—to ridicule the vices of a bad king would be an offence against the well-being of the state—but to hold up to insult the virtues of a good one, is an outrage upon all loyalty and morality.
How then shall we set forth the enormity of scoffing at God. Rash, impious, and puny mortal! Can you find no other being to make the object of your contempt, than Jehovah? Go, select some human genius sublime as Milton; some philosopher profound as Newton; some reasoner powerful as Bacon; some philanthropist benevolent as Howard; call up the mightiest of the dead from their graves; or go and perform your apish tricks before their marble sepulchers. And where the wise and the great, and the good, never stand but with mute admiration and solemn awe—shoot the sneering lip, and point the finger, and utter words of scorn. This would be innocent and wise compared with scoffing at God, even as he is seen in the piety of the lowest of his saints.
Did you ever think of the Divine Being? Has one most solemn thought of him ever penetrated your soul? And without such thoughts, what is reason, what is mind, what is man? If you have thought of God, through what defect or infatuation of mind, or what depravity of heart, or what searedness of conscience, have you been able to bring yourself to scoff at the Self-existent, Eternal, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient Spirit—at whose voice the very pillars of the earth tremble, and before whom the angels veil their faces, as if unable to look upon his all holy brightness? Would you have scoffed had you been at Sinai? "If it were a thing we might be allowed to imagine, that the Divine Being were to manifest himself in some striking manner, as by some resplendent appearance at midnight, or by rekindling on an elevated mountain the long-extinguished fires of Horeb, and uttering voices from amidst those fires—would you ridicule him then?"
Miserable man! stop your sport; first ask if it be lawful and safe. Think against whom your scoffing is directed. Consider the attributes of Deity; think of all his glories and all his claims, and then ask which of them may be innocently and safely converted into matter of buffoonery. Be instructed that it is both safer and wiser to stand by the crater of a volcano, and laugh at the streams of burning lava as they are disgorged upon the mountain; or to place yourself under the cloud surcharged with a thousand thunderbolts, and laugh at the forked lightnings as they flash, than to mock at piety. For this is to mock at God, whose name should never be pronounced but with reverence, and the most distant thought of whom should never be presented to the soul without awing it at once into the posture of devotion.
6. Scoffing is a CONTAGIOUS and INJURIOUS vice.Scorners are the chief instruments of Satan, the promoters of his cause, his most zealous apostles, his most able advocates, and his most successful emissaries. Not content with perishing themselves, their object is to drag others into the vortex of their own ruin. They are a moral plague, the destruction that wastes at noon-day; their breath is pestilential, and they carry an infected atmosphere about with them, which multitudes of the unwary inhale—and perish! Of all characters on the face of the earth, none is to be more shunned and dreaded than the witty man, who, by a perversion of his talents, turns the gifts of heaven against their Author. A person of humor, possessing a talent for mimicry, irony, and satire, who employs his powers to ridicule true religion for the entertainment of others, is the most dangerous and destructive enemy to moral and religious feeling, that walks the earth. His prototype is found nowhere but in the representation which our great bard has given of the serpent which tempted Eve. Of such an individual beware; his name is Apollyon—the destroyer!
IV. But it is time now to consider the PUNISHMENT of the scorner.It is not uncommon, I believe, for those who are not thoroughly hardened in their sin, to feel even in this world some compunction of conscience after a season of profane scoffing. Are there, tell me, scoffers, no midnight scenes of terror and self-reproach, when your head rests not on your pillow, and your conscience sleeps not in your bosom; when the recollection of your wicked jests and profane jokes is like the sting of a scorpion? How will this be increased on the bed of death. Ah! there, in spite of yourselves, you will be serious—fools you may live—but depend upon it, fools you will not die. Or if, like the infidel Hume, you should go joking through the dark valley of the shadow of death—the stoppage of your pulse will be the end of your merriment forever! Let me present you with a few passages of holy writ, and let scoffers read them with attention:
"Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest—this shall be the portion of their cup!"
"How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster."
"Surely he scorns the scorners; but he gives grace unto the lowly."
"Judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the back of fools."
"Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because you have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us—for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves."
Do you wish to experience what is included in these fearful denunciations? It is not in my power completely to unfold them, or to tell how angry God is with such people now, and how heavily he will inflict his wrath hereafter. But this much I can say—all that is contained in that fearfully comprehensive—but commonly abused word, "hell"—the wrath of God, remorse of conscience, and eternal despair—are the chief ingredients of this cup of torment. I cannot conceive of any character with whom Jehovah will be so awfully severe as the scoffer; his is the loftiest height of vice, and his will be the lowest depth of punishment. God's patience in bearing with such impious creatures is astounding; and his justice in punishing them will be in proportion. Oh! let me be anything in the day of judgment, rather than a scoffer. He will be no mocker then. No! I see him hanging down his head like a bulrush; the haughtiness of his spirit all gone; trembling with consternation and dismay, he stands the object of divine scorn and indignation. His wit, his irony, his mimicry, avail him nothing there. He cannot play the buffoon amidst the fearful solemnities of the last judgment. Oh no! The poor trembling creature finds 'seeing God' a far different thing from scoffing at him. He is now at the tribunal of the Judge of the whole earth, waiting his eternal destiny, with certain and dreadful presages of what it will be. He is no longer surrounded with a circle of applauding listeners, who laugh at his wit; he no longer hears the inspiring chorus of folly; instead, he is before the tribunal of the God whom he insulted—on one side he sees the men looking on him with horror, whose ruin he accelerated by his scoffs; and, on the other, the holy objects on whom his scorn was vented. Yes, and how is he confounded at the latter.
Everything in that day will combine to fill him with consternation; yet, methinks, neither the voice of the archangel, nor the trumpet of God, nor the dissolution of the elements, nor the face of the Judge itself, from which the heavens will flee away, will be so dismaying and terrible as the sight of the saints of the most high God, whom having spurned, ridiculed, and mocked in the days of their humiliation, he will then behold with amazement, united with their Lord, covered with his glory, and seated upon his throne. How will he be astonished to see them encompassed with so much majesty. How will he cast down his eyes in their presence. How will he curse his folly in treating them with so much ridicule, and forming such an inadequate idea of their principles and of their character.
"Then shall the righteous man stand in great boldness before the face of such as have afflicted him, and made no account of his labors. When they see it, they shall be troubled with terrible fear, and shall be amazed at the glory of his salvation, so far beyond all that they looked for. And they, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, shall say within themselves—This was he whom we had sometimes in derision, and a proverb of reproach. We fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honor. How is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints."
And then, who shall tell the secrets of his prison, or conceive of what the scorner shall endure in the dark world of hell. There will be no saint near him there on whom to utter the effusions of his ridicule; no piety shall there offend his eyes; far as heaven is from hell shall these be removed out of his way. He has only to wait a little longer until he has reached the destiny on which his crime is impelling him, and he will inhabit a world where the hated, persecuted form of piety will trouble him no longer. Will he assuage his own agonies, or divert the companions of his misery with merry jokes upon the saints? Not one flash of wit will for a moment relieve the darkness of eternal night; not one sally of humor resist the oppression of eternal despair. Hell itself, will be no longer a subject of merriment when its torments are really felt; the burning lake, when the soul is plunged in its fiery billows, will be found something else and something worse than a mere scene of merriment for a wretched imagination to sport in; and devils, when the spirit is subjected to their tyranny, as tormentors, will be no longer images of laughter.
In the bottomless pit the scorner shall learn, if he learns not before—that there is truth in the Bible, and reality in religion. Poor creature! will he then seek relief from present remorse in looking back upon the scenes of his past life! Alas! alas! those scenes are the very sources of his anguish. Yes, the recollection of those jests, and witticisms, sarcasms, and anecdotes, intended to make piety appear ridiculous, and the saints to appear contemptible, will fill him with torture a thousand times more intolerable than the venom of serpents and the stings of scorpions. Oh, for some Lethean draught to enable him to forget the past, and to convert it into a dreary blank! (Lethe was a mythical river in Hell whose waters cause drinkers to forget their past.) But even this would be insufficient, while near him were the miserable specters of those whom his scoffing helped on to perdition. Will they inspire him there with their shouts of applause? Will they there remind him of the diversion he afforded them in their mirthful hours, when he made them, in spite of their own convictions of its wickedness, laugh at religion? will they honor him as the best wit in all the gloomy regions of eternal night? What when he has been accessory to their damnation? No! instead of applauding the courage of their ringleader as they once did, will load him with imprecations, and, with their last breath, curse the author of their ruin!
Scorner, beware, you are playing a
desperate game! Your soul is the stake, your loss is certain, hell will be
the consequence! The objects of your attack are open to conviction—but are
invulnerable to scorn. They have no prejudice which fortifies them against
argument; but against the shafts of ridicule they are armed at every point,
and calmly and silently leaving you to exhaust your quiver of its last
arrow, will let your harmless weapons publish your defeat, and then, amidst
the consciousness of innocence and of victory, content themselves with
saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
By way of IMPROVEMENT,
1. "Let no man think the worse of religion, or any of its doctrines, because some are so bold as to despise them; for it is no disparagement to any person or thing to be laughed at; but only to deserve to be so. The most grave and serious matters in the world are liable to be abused." "A sharp wit may find something in the wisest or holiest man, whereby to expose him to the contempt of injudicious people. The gravest book that ever was written may be made ridiculous by applying the sayings of it to a foolish purpose. A jest may be obtruded upon anything; and therefore, no man ought to have the less reverence for the principles of religion, because profane wits can cast jokes upon them. Nothing is more easy than to take particular phrases and expressions out of the best book in the world, and to abuse them by forcing an odd and ridiculous sense upon them. But no wise man will think a good book foolish for this reason—but the man that abuses it; nor will he esteem that to which everything is liable, to be a just exception against anything. At this rate we must despise all things; but surely the better and the shorter way is to despise those who would bring anything worthy into contempt." (Tillotson's sermon on Scoffing at Religion.)
2. I shall lay down some means of securing ourselves and our religion against the attacks of the scorner. The first that I would recommend is, an enlightened and enlarged acquaintance with the evidences of the truth of revealed religion, and of those particular doctrines, duties, and practices which we believe that it contains. No man is more likely to be attacked and vanquished by scorn, than he who has derived all his religion from 'imitation'—and holds nothing by 'personal conviction'. Our hope can then only be an anchor to the soul when it is held fast by the cable of conviction—this only can keep us safe amidst the winds of false doctrine, the gusts of ridicule, and the raging tempests of infidelity. Let us feel the force of the evidence by which religious truth is commended to our judgment, and experience a deep impression of it upon the heart, and we shall then be defended against the craft of sophistry and the sting of laughter. The scorner attacks in vain the man who inwardly knows and loves the truth—and is able to give a reason with meekness for the hope that is in him.
Let us seek that courage and decision which will enable us unblushingly to avow our attachment to religion, or to any of its opinions or practices, in the face either of ridicule or rage. There is a disposition, and it is both an enviable and a useful one, which the apostle calls "boldness in the faith." My brethren, adopt no sentiment until you have examined it. Try everything by Scripture, "examine all things, and then hold fast that which is good." Be sure that the shield of faith is on your left arm, and the sword of the spirit in your right hand, and then without a blush or a fear, avow the name of your great Captain; raise the battle cry of your cause, stand by your colors, and bid defiance to your enemies. Say, like Nehemiah in reply to the threats of his enemies, "Should such a man as I flee." Neither crouch in abject submission to any human authority, nor creep in silent fear of any human rage or scorn. Say in the language of our eloquent essayist, "This is my conviction and determination. As for the phantoms of fear, let me look them in the face; they will find I am not made of trembling materials; I shall firmly confront everything that threatens me in the prosecution of my purpose, and I am prepared to meet the consequences of it when it is accomplished. I am above 'custom' and 'opinion'. I am not to be intimidated by reproaches, nor would your favor and applause be any reward for the sacrifice of my object. As you can do without my approbation, I can certainly do without yours; it is enough that I can approve myself; it is enough that I can appeal to the best authority in creation. I have something else to do than to trouble myself about your mirth. I care not if the whole neighborhood laughs in a chorus; I would be sorry indeed to see or hear such a number of fools—but pleased enough to find that they did not consider me one of their number. Amuse themselves as they may by continuing to censure or to rail, I must continue to act." My brethren, thus act under the terrors of that fearful passage, "Whoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
Cultivate all the dispositions, and practice all the duties of a holy life. It is an invention and trick of infidelity, too shallow however to impose upon the mind of a thinking man, to make religion answerable for the vices which have been committed by its false professors, and to reproach whole systems of opinions, and whole bodies of believers, with the misconduct of a few individuals. Aware how little can be said against the evidences of Christianity, the spirit of error has tried to raise an argument from the vices of its professors; and in this it must be at once confessed and lamented, that it has been but too successful. The materials of the argument have been too readily found, and over those who wished to be convinced that religion was all a trick, the sophism has been too easily victorious. Let us then deprive the scorner of this his only weapon, and drive him from this his last resource.
Let us exhibit Christianity in its constituent parts, as made up of love to God and love to man; in all its symmetry and beauty and force, as comprising "whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report." Let us leave no ground of objection, no matter of reproach—but what shall be found in us touching the law of our God. Like an unclouded sun, shining forth in a clear atmosphere, let our religion be seen, neither veiled by a cloud of suspicion, nor dimmed by a mist of imperfections. To the scoffs of the scorner let us present a blameless character, a holy life, and it shall be like a man's opposing a shield of brass to a serpent, at which the reptile may hiss—but in which he can find no entrance, either for his venom or his tooth.
"Let not ridicule intrude itself into matters of controversy between Christians themselves, as it seems to carry in it a spirit directly contrary to the religion they profess; as it lays both parties open to the scoffs of their common enemies; and as it can only show at last, not which has the most righteous cause—but which has the keenest pen. Experience may teach us some of the mischiefs of this practice, for instances may be given wherein men have set out in a dispute on matters of importance, and have seemed to promise much success therein from their debates, while they were confined to argument and directed by moderation; until raillery and ridicule having supplanted reasoning, the point in question was no longer in view; what was before a friendly contest for truth—became a spiteful trial for wit; and from a difference of opinion—grew an irreconcilable hatred in the heart. So much more likely is ridicule to perpetuate quarrels, than to decide a dispute."
Let us beware of indulging the most distant approach to this impious and injurious practice in our social fellowship, our habitual conversation, and our remarks upon each other. Let us cherish to the uttermost "that awe which warns us how we touch a holy thing." The name of God should never be uttered, but with reverence. Religion should never be introduced, but with respect. A light and a frivolous manner of speaking on sacred subjects is very criminal; how much more that profane practice of adapting the inspired language of Scripture to the ordinary occurrences of life. A Mohammedan never picks up by chance a fragment of the Koran without marks of reverent respect; and yet some professing Christians employ the words of the Holy Spirit to season a jest or give smartness to retort. If there is any truth in religion, it is the most solemn thing in the world; and as such let it he treated, especially by those who profess to know its nature and submit to its claims.
3. If we ever find it impossible to ward off the attacks of scorn, and to avert the scoffs of the profane, then let us bear them with unruffled meekness. Consider that no new temptation has happened to you. It has been the lot of the righteous in every age to be the butt of ridicule to the wicked. "I am become the song of the drunkard," said Job. "You make us," complained the Psalmist, "a bye word to the heathen. We have become a reproach and a derision to those who are around us." The apostle tells us of some that "endured trials of cruel mockings." Tertullian informs us that in his time the heathens painted the God of the Christians with the most grotesque emblems, to signify that though they pretended to learning, they were illiterate and silly people. But why speak I of the servants, when the Master himself could affirm, "Reproach has broken my heart." He "who was in the form of God and thought it not robbery to be equal with God," was treated in the days of his incarnation, with every species and every degree of impious derision. They spit in his face, they clothed him with badges of mock royalty, they put into his hands a reed for a mock scepter, and placed a crown of thorns upon his head, in mockery of his claims to a diadem—and surely one sight of the Man of Sorrows, as he appeared in the hall of Pilate, or on the hill of Calvary, is enough to make a Christian willing to become, in a good cause, the laughing stock of the world. If then, for the sake of religion you are exposed to this honorable trial, bear it patiently; return not railing for railing. Impatience, petulance, and vexation, only encourage the scoffer to continue his attacks. Nothing will cause him so soon to cease his raillery, as to perceive that you are insensible to it.
"It is an admirable thing, when by heroic fortitude, a man is able to sustain the looks of scorn or an unrestrained shower of taunts and jeers with perfect composure, who shall immediately after, or at the very time, proceed on the business which provokes all the ridicule. This invincibility of temper will often make even the scoffers themselves tired of the sport; they begin to feel that against such a man, it is a poor kind of hostility to laugh—for there is nothing people are more mortified to spend in vain than their scorn."
Consider it, as you well may, your honor to be thus persecuted for righteousness sake—next to the admiration of the wise and the godly, the richest laurel that can adorn your brow is the scorn of fools. The praise of the wicked is censure—and their satire praise. Every feeble mind can scoff—but only the wise man can bear it well. It was a saying of Chrysostom's, that the scorner is below a man—but the man who bears scorn patiently is equal to an angel. Instead of indulging in revenge, exercise forgiveness! You have reason rather to be grateful to the scoffer, than to be angry with him—his foul breath, though it seems to tarnish your reputation for awhile, yet being gently rubbed off by the hand of love, shall only prepare it for a brighter luster. He has brought you already under the influence of the beatitude, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake—for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, and for my sake." And it shall be proved hereafter that he was the occasion of adding one more gem to the crown of glory which shall adorn your brows with unfading honor! Pity him, for he is indeed more an object of your pity than of your contempt. Pray for him, for none more needs your prayers. Tell him that if he needs bread—you will feed him; if he is naked—you will clothe him; if he is sick—you will minister to him; if in prison—you will visit him; and that if there should be a moment when his conscience shall awake from its slumbers, and the pang of remorse shall be felt in his bosom, you will hasten to the scene of his contrition, with the consolations of the Gospel; that you will be the first to thank God for his conversion, and to hail him as a brother.
Thus prove to the scoffer that the religion which is the object of his contempt has at least the excellence, that it subdues the turbulent and irascible passions, teaches its possessor not only to pity sorrows—but to forgive iniquities practiced against himself, and implants the godlike disposition of returning good for evil.