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and to the peril of an endless woe. They are quite other men in regard to all else; they fear the veriest trifles, they foresee them, they feel them; and the very man who spends so many days and nights in rage and despair for the loss of office or for some imaginary insult to his honour, is the same who, without disquiet and without emotion, knows that he must lose all by death. It is a monstrous thing to see in one and the same heart and at the same time this sensibility to the meanest, and this strange insensibility to the greatest matters. It is an incomprehensible spell, a supernatural drowsiness, which denotes as its cause an all powerful force.
There must be a strange revolution in the nature of man, before he can glory at being in a state to which it seems incredible that any should attain. Experience however has shown me a large number of such men, a surprising fact did we not know that the greater part of those who meddle with the matter are not as a fact what they declare themselves. They are people who have been told that the manners of good society consist in such daring. This they call shaking off the yoke, this they try to imitate. Yet it would not be difficult to convince them how much they deceive themselves in thus seeking esteem. Not so is it acquired, even among those men of the world who judge wisely, and who know that the only way of worldly success is to show ourselves honourable, faithful, of sound judgment, and capable of useful service to a friend; because by nature men love only what may prove useful to them. Now in what way does it advantage us to hear a man say he has at last shaken off the yoke, that he does not believe there is a God who watches his actions, that he considers himself the sole master of his conduct and accountable for it only to himself. Does he think that thus he has brought us to have henceforward confidence in him, and to look to him for comfort, counsel and succour in every need of life? Do they think to delight us when they declare that they hold our soul to be but a little wind or smoke, nay, when they tell us so in a tone of proud content? Is this a thing to assert gaily, and not rather to say sadly as the saddest thing in all the world?
Did they think on it seriously, they would see that this is so great a mistake, so contrary to good sense, so opposed to honourable conduct, so remote in every respect from that good breeding at which they aim, that they would choose rather to restore than to corrupt those who might have any inclination to follow them. And indeed if they are obliged to give an account of their opinions, and of the reasons they have for doubts about Religion, they will say things so weak and base, as rather to persuade the contrary. It was once happily said to such an one, If you continue to talk thus you will really make me a Christian." And the speaker was right, for who would not be horrified at entertaining opinions in which he would have such despicable persons as his associates!
Thus those who only feign these opinions would be very unhappy were they to put force on their natural disposition in order to make themselves the most inconsequent of men. If, in their inmost hearts, they are troubled at their lack of light, let them not dissemble: the avowal will bring no shame; the only shame is to be shameless. Nothing betrays so much weakness of mind as not to apprehend the misfortune of a man without God, nothing is so sure a token of an evil disposition of heart as not to desire the truth of eternal promises, nothing is more cowardly than to fight against God. Let them therefore leave these impieties to persons who are so ill-bred as to be really capable of them, let them at least be men of honour if they cannot be Christians, and lastly, let them recognise that there are but two classes of men who can be called reasonable; those who serve God with their whole heart because they know him, or those who seek him with their whole heart because they know him not.
But as for those who live without knowing him and without seeking him, they judge themselves to deserve their own care so little, that they are not worthy the care of others, and it needs all the charity of the Religion they despise, not to despise them so utterly as to abandon them to their madness. But since this Religion obliges us to look on them, while they are in this life, as always capable of illuminating grace, and to believe that in a short while
they may be more full of faith than ourselves, while we on the other hand may fall into the blindness which now is theirs, we ought to do for them what we would they should do for us were we in their place, and to entreat them to take pity on themselves and advance at least a few steps, if perchance they may find the light. Let them give to reading these words a few of the hours which otherwise they spend so unprofitably: with whatever aversion they set about it they may perhaps gain something; at least they cannot be great losers. But if any bring to the task perfect sincerity and a true desire to meet with truth, I despair not of their satisfaction, nor of their being convinced of so divine a Religion by the proofs which I have here gathered up, and have set forth in somewhat the following order . . .
Before entering upon the proofs of the Christian Religion, I find it necessary to set forth the unfairness of men who live indifferent to the search for truth in a matter which is so important to them, and which touches them so nearly.
Among all their errors this doubtless is the one which most proves them to be fools and blind, and in which it is most easy to confound them by the first gleam of common sense, and by our natural feelings.
For it is not to be doubted that this life endures but for an instant, that the state of death is eternal, whatever may be its nature, and that thus all our actions and all our thoughts must take such different courses according to the state of that eternity, as to render it impossible to take a single step with sense and judgment, save in view of that point which ought to be our end and aim.
Nothing is more clear than this, and therefore by all principles of reason the conduct of men is most unreasonable if they do not alter their course. Hence we may judge concerning those who live without thinking of the ultimate goal of life, who allow themselves to be guided by their inclinations and their pleasures without thought or disquiet, and, as if they could annihilate eternity by turning their minds from it, consider only how they may make themselves happy for the moment.
Yet this eternity exists; and death the gate of eternity, which threatens them every hour, must in a short while
infallibly reduce them to the dread necessity of being through eternity either nothing or miserable, without knowing which of these eternities is for ever prepared for them.
This is a doubt which has terrible consequences. They are in danger of an eternity of misery, and thereupon, as if the matter were not worth the trouble, they care not to examine whether this is one of those opinions which men in general receive with a too credulous facility, or among those which, themselves obscure, have yet a solid though concealed foundation. Thus they know not whether the matter be true or false, nor if the proofs be strong or weak. They have them before their eyes, they refuse to look at them, and in that ignorance they choose to do all that will bring them into this misfortune if it exist, to wait for death to verify it, and to be in the meantime thoroughly satisfied with their state, openly avowing and even making boast of it. Can we think seriously on the importance of this matter without being revolted at conduct so extravagant ?
Such rest in ignorance is a monstrous thing, and they who live in it ought to be made aware of its extravagance and stupidity, by having it revealed to them, that they may be confounded by the sight of their own folly. For this is how men reason when they choose to live ignorant of what they are and do not seek to be enlightened. I know not," say they .
FOR THE GENERAL INTRODUCTION.
'O doubt is then a misfortune, but to seek when in doubt is an indispensable duty. So he who doubts and seeks not is at once unfortunate and unfair. If at the same time he is gay and presumptuous, I have no terms in which to describe a creature so extravagant.
A fine subject of rejoicing and boasting, with the head uplifted in such a fashion Therefore let us rejoice; I see not the conclusion, since it is uncertain, and we shall then see what will become of us.
Is it courage in a dying man that he dare, in his weakness and agony, face an almighty and eternal God?
Were I in that state I should be glad if any one would pity my folly, and would have the goodness to deliver me in despite of myself!
Yet it is certain that man has so fallen from nature that there is in his heart a seed of joy in that very fact.
A man in a dungeon, who knows not whether his doom is fixed, who has but one hour to learn it, and this hour enough, should he know that it is fixed, to obtain its repeal, would act against nature did he employ that hour, not in learning his sentence, but in playing piquet.
So it is against nature that man, etc. It is to weight the hand of God.