Baptist History Homepage

Atheism in Theory and Practice
By J. R. Graves

"God shall send them strong delusion." - II Thessaionians 2:11.

      REASON, as well as revelation, teaches that men may hold opinions which may endanger their eternal salvation. Men are not hi masses hypocrites. There is too much labour in hypocrisy. It requires too much study too much thought to preserve the character - to keep the cloak around so carefully that those about us may not discover our deformity. So the masses of mankind are not hypocrites, and the least of all so in religion. They are governed by their principles, or rather their opinions, since opinions are their principles.

      Men, as a general rule, act according to their principles or opinions, what they believe, or are willing to believe. And since we are governed by our opinions, it is but just that we should be tried for our opinions. We may hold one solitary opinion that will nun the soul. Nor will it avail, at our final trial, how successfully we may have entertained it. It is by the truth alone that we can be saved.

      If sincerity were sufficient at the bar of final

[p. 146]
audit, God would be indifferent to both truth and error. Let us not deceive ourselves, God will not be mocked. What we sow we shall reap; for our beliefs, our opinions, we shall all be condemned or acquitted. The doctrine of the text is most clear. That God gives up the sinner, the incorrigible impenitent one to whom has been offered the plan of salvation again and again, with whom the Holy Spirit has striven until they have known their duty clearly, forcibly and repeatedly. Such an one, God teaches us, He gives over to some strong delusion, to believe a lie, that his damnation might be evident to all. God will be glorified in the sinner. If not in his life, in his death, if not in his salvation in his damnation. Pharaoh -

     Each sinner before me is in imminent danger of being given over of God to some delusion - to believe some lie; and doubtless some one whom I address has been already. If so, for him or her the Sun of Righteousness hath forever set. From his stand no mortal or immortal can move him - nothing but the wind and storm of the last day. For such we have no hopes. 'Tis for the barks that are approaching the reef that we would fire the signal of warning and rear the friendly beacon light. You who are still impenitent are in danger because you answer the character of the text. You refuse to hear the truth, to entertain and embrace and obey it, you have no pleasure in the truth, but are having all your pleasure in sin and unrighteousness. Is it

[p. 147]
not so? Are you taking pleasure in serving God? No, but in doing the will and pleasure of Satan!

     I have come in God's name, as your friend, to tell you in plainness and affection that His Holy Spirit will not always strive; His patience will ere long be exhausted; the Holy Spirit long insulted shall take his everlasting flight,

"And Jesus on the eternal throne no longer intercede."

      Then will you be left to your own devices, to follow the inclinations of your own wicked heart, to believe some lie, and to be the victim of some delusion that is most pleasing to your own impenitent heart - until, so far as concerns yourself, you might as well, and for the sake of others around you far better, be in hell. Your ultimate damnation would be as sure as though the gloom of a thousand midnights were this hour rolling its murky folds between your soul and the throne of mercy and of God. It is my object to discuss and expose some of the popular delusions by which souls are lost.

     Infidelity. The delusion that we shall notice tonight is that of atheism, or infidelity. Infidelity consists in rejecting the Bible as a divine revelation and consequently the whole plan of salvation which it contains; consequently the infidel, in the rejection of all revealed religion, rests his eternal happiness upon the prospect of eternal annihilation!

[p. 148]
Upon the mere chance that his absurdities may prove realities! What a system is that in which he boasts and which he labours to promulgate in society! It destroys the unity and benevolence of the Godhead; veils his moral attributes in darkness, destroys all distinction between virtue and vice, saps the foundations of all piety and religion, blasts every generous stimulant to virtue, and leaves man a poor unfathered, orphaned wanderer on the plains of time, blindly groping his un-piloted way, until he is dashed over the precipice into the darkness and midnight gloom of futurity, covered with the impenetrable shades of eternal night, from whence comes no sound to break the terrific silence of annihilation. Can infidelity or scepticism, that stamps the brow of all ages past with impassive folly and idiocy, be anything else but a strong delusion?

     But I would not overwhelm you with mere declarations, but address your judgment and reason, though I charge you with folly and maniac recklessness and impiety. Let us reason together.

     It is greatly to be desired that there should be a righteous moral Governor of infinite and perfect attributes to control the affairs of this world.

     It would be greatly desired that such a Being, if existing, should give us a revelation of His will and explain to us our duty and destiny.

      How can any candid mind affirm against these propositions?

[p. 149]
     The history of the world shows that men have desired, and so, thoroughly convinced of the fact, have admitted it, and all nations accept some form of religion and worship a god or gods of some sort.

     The Bible unfolds the character of a perfect God, unlike all the gods, perfectly holy, wise, etc. Will you have a perfect or an imperfect God? This Book claims to be His revealed will. We ask you concerning it. Is it from heaven, or of man? If of man, of bad men or good men? Could wicked imposters have originated such a book? Purely, entirely and perfectly good, perfect above all human productions and human genius, beggaring and casting far into the shade the loftiest productions of earth's intellectual giants - her boasted demi-gods of fame?

     Can a stream rise higher than its fountain? Can unmixed good come out of evil - a clean thing out of an unclean? Look at all human productions, marked with error and depravity. No infidel ever claimed that bad men wrote the Bible. Good men could not, would not, have planned a system of fraud and falsehood and delusion, and palmed it off upon the world as divine. It would be the grossest imposture. It must then be from heaven - and why will ye not believe it?

     But the Bible delineates the character of an infinitely perfect Creator, and enjoins upon all men such action and tempers as might be expected if it were actually from God.

[p. 150]
"That the morality of the Christian Scriptures is perfect, and worthy of Infinite Wisdom, distinguished infidels themselves allow. Lord Herbert, one of the earliest English deistical writers, says that' Christianity is the best religion, and that his own universal religion of nature agrees with Christianity and contributes to its establishment.' Lord Bolingbroke, who wrote largely against the Bible, confesses that 'such moral perfections are in God as Christians ascribe to Him; that Christianity is a republication of the religion of nature, and that its morals are pure.' Admissions substantially like these are made by the Earl of Shaftesbury, Chubb, Tyndal, and other distinguished infidels of Great Britain. The French sceptic, J. J. Rousseau, says: 'If all were perfect Christians, individuals would do their duty; the people would be obedient to the laws; the chiefs just; the magistrates incorrupt; the soldiers would despise death, and there would be neither vanity nor luxury in such a state.' Thomas Paine, with all his daring denial of facts and gross ribaldry respecting the Scriptures, concedes that the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel are genuine; - not thinking that this admission inevitably establishes the truth of nearly the whole of the Old Testament, for the books here mentioned accredit most of the prophetical writings. Mr. Paine also declares that our Saviour was 'a virtuous and amiable man, and that the morality He preached and practiced was of the most benevolent kind.'"
     Christianity produces precisely the same effects upon individuals and communities as might be expected if the system were really from heaven.

     No nation enslaved by ignorance and tyranny

[p. 151]
where the Bible is embraced; and no nation or tribe enjoying social happiness and civil freedom or moral elevation; unless the Bible is reverenced by the mass of the people. No, not one.

     Some have honestly and perseveringly sought to know the truth in regard to Christianity, at the same time living pure and useful lives, without gaming assurance of its divine origin and realizing in themselves its power to change their moral notions.

     The divine Author of the Bible has given us the origin of all infidelity. Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. "For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." Wicked men hate the truth because it condemns them.

     No individual is known ever to have regretted living a devoted Christian life, or to have found the promised consolations of religion delusive in adversity or in the hour of death.

      Infidels and atheists have abjured their systems and deeds in despair.

     It is certainly irrational, and must be dangerous, to reject a religion which is essentially safe, which is ennobling to human nature, which enjoins loyalty and love to supreme excellence, and which seeks to diffuse happiness through the whole earth. It requires nothing unreasonable.

[p. 152]
"It can never be unsafe to live a humble, prayerful, benevolent life. It cannot be but ennobling to strive after purity of heart, and to labour for the greatest good of the whole human family. It is plain that Christianity is true to our individual interests, wants and hopes - true to the interests of the world - true to all our superior relations; and without the evidence which would prove the Gospel true to history, may it not be well affirmed that the infidel has nowhere solid foundation upon which to rest? and that the sceptic is driven by the calm exercise of reason from the last refuge of his wicked disbelief?"
     But what shall we say of downright atheism that rejects both God and revelation! Of that man who can look abroad upon the fair form of outspread nature, "whose garments are the clouds, whose minstrels brooks, whose lamps the moon and stars, whose organ choirs the voice of many waters, whose heroes storms, whose warriors mighty winds, whose orators the thunderbolts of God, - and say with brow and eye unabashed, that it is all, all uncreated, undesigned and unupheld, but a mighty maze of astonishing wonders, beauty and utility resulting from the fortuitous concourse of atoms!

"'A vapour eddying in the whirl of chance
And soon to vanish everlastingly.'"

      What shall we think of the intelligence of that man who can lift his eye to the mighty heavens o'er us, which to the eye of devotion seem jewelled
[p. 153]
with the eyes of unnumbered seraphim, but which science tells him are so many suns, the centers of other unnumbered worlds and systems, all moving with inconceivable velocity, nicely balanced upon their own centers and floating upon their own seas - what, I say, shall we think of him who can look upon it all and say that no mind conceived the vast and inexplicable machinery, that no hand omnipotent upholds, guides or governs all? "Sure he hath leaned his idiotic back against Folly's top-most twig." The Holy Spirit pronounces him a fool, and such he is in its most odious sense, for he denies the evidence of his own senses! He will deny in respect to the greater what he is free to admit with respect to the less.

      So I would say to the atheist: "Go out, sir, beneath the arching heavens of night, and gaze upon its stars and constellations, and say, if you can, 'There is no God.' Pronounce that blasphemy, and each star above will reproach you for your unbroken darkness of intellect, and every voice that floats upon the night winds will be a wail to your utter hopelessness and despair. Is there no God? Who, then, unrolled the blue scroll and threw upon its high frontispiece the gleamings of immortality? Who fashioned this green earth, with its perpetual rolling waters and wide expanse of island and main? Who, weak man, paved the heavens with clouds and attuned, amid the banners of storms, the voice of thunders, and unchained the lightnings

[p. 154]
that linger and lurk and flash in their gloom? No God? And yet those thunders are hushed. No God? And yet that lightning leaps, not unlike a sword, from its cloudy scabbard to avenge its God of the insult!

      "Dare you say there is no God, and fear not that the very earth will sink under you, as pressed by a living curse she was no longer able to sustain? You are spared, the heavens and the earth are restrained from your destruction. God has hung His bow of reconciliation upon the clouds, and mercy pleads for you beneath the altar of intercession; and 'because sentence against the evildoer is not executed, speedily your heart is fully set in you to do wickedly.'"

      But notice still further the atheist's folly. He asserts that of which he is profoundly ignorant. Before we are warranted to make the simplest assertion we must know at least two things - the subject and the predicate; water - salt. The atheist knows neither! When he says there is no God in the universe, does he know God, has he seen Him, or His attributes? Or how does he know that He nowhere exists? He may never have seen Him in his own neighbourhood but has he sought for some token of the divinity through all this habitable earth, through the air and sea, and catechized each mute and living thing? And then, on wing of light, has he sought for His footsteps through all the unvisited universe of matter, mind and spirit?

[p. 155]
Ere he can say there is no God, he must have roamed over all nature and seen that no mark of a divine footprint was there. He must have had intimacy with every existing spirit in the universe, and learned from each that never did a revelation of the deity reach it, and have sought, not into the records of one solitary planet, but into the archives of all worlds, and thence gathered that, throughout the wide immensity, not one exhibition of a reigning, living God had ever been made. Before he can deny the existence of God, he must be possessed of the ubiquity and omniscience of the Godhead itself! Oh, I envy not the omnipotent presumption, the worse than maniac folly, of that poor proud short-sighted worm of the dust who can with unblanched face and eye, declare: "There is no God." (Ill: The fly - on St. Peter's Church.)

"Oh! lives there heaven beneath Thy dread expanse?"

      The Atheist's Creed. Did you ever consider the atheist's creed? Tis the embodiment of presumption and delusion:
(1) I believe there is no God, but that matter is God and God is matter; and that there is no matter whether there is any God or not. (2) I believe that the world was not made, but that it made itself, that it had no beginning, and that it will last forever, world without end. (3) I believe that man is a beast, that the soul is the body, and the body is the soul, and that after death there is neither soul nor body. (4)

[p. 156]
I believe that there is no religion, that natural religion is the only religion, and that all religion is unnatural. (5) I disbelieve in Moses. I believe in the first philosophy. I believe not in Matthew, etc., but in Chubb, Toland, Hobbs, Volney, Bolingbroke, Hume, Voltaire and Tom Paine. (6) I believe in all unbelief -
     Such are the articles of his faith from which we may judge of the gloom in which his soul is shrouded, cold, cheerless and dark as the tomb without the promise of a resurrection.

      Oh, can it be that there is one before me willing to exchange all the sublime principles and glorious hopes of the Bible for such a creed? As for myself, I am ready to say, with Phillips:

"Neither Tom Paine, nor all the venom-breathing brood, shall swindle me from the Book where I have learned these precepts. The combined powers of infidelity and atheism have assailed in vain for eighteen hundred years to disprove its authenticity. It is a book of history undeniably authenticated; it is a book of miracles incontestably avouched - a book of prophecy confirmed by past, as well as present fulfilment, - a book of poetry, pure, natural and elevated even to inspiration, - a book of morals such as human wisdom never framed for the perfection of human happiness. I will abide by the precepts, admire the beauty, and as far as in me lies, practice the mandates of this sacred volume: and should the ridicule of earth and the blasphemy of hell assail me, I shall console myself by the contemplation of those blessed spirits who, in the same holy cause have toiled and shone and suffered. In the

[p. 157]
goodly fellowship of the saints, in the noble army of martyrs, in the society of the good and great and wise of every nation and age, will I be associated in my error, if religion indeed be a delusion."
     If I err with the luminaries I have chosen for my guides, I confess myself captivated with the loveliness of their aberration. If they err, it is in a heavenly region. If they wander, it is in fields of light. If they aspire, it is at all events a glorious daring, and rather than sink with infidelity into the dust, I am content to cheat myself with their visions of eternity. It may be but a delusion, but then I err with the prophets and the apostles, with the disciples of philosophy and virtue, with men who drank deep at the fountain of human knowledge, but who dissolved not the pearl of their salvation in the draught. I err with Bacon, the great Bacon, fraught with all the learning of the past and almost prescient of the future. I err with Milton, rising on an angel's wing to heaven, and like the bird of morn soaring out of sight amid the music of his grateful piety. I err with Locke, whose pure philosophy only taught him to adore its source, whose warm love of genuine liberty was never chilled into rebellion with its author. I err with Newton, whose starlike spirit shot athwart the darkness of the spheres, too soon to reascend to the home of its nativity. With men like these I shall remain in error, nor shall I desert those errors even for the drunken deathbed of a Paine or the
[p. 158]
delirious war whoops of the surviving fiends who would erect his altar on the ruins of society.

      The religion of the Bible should be embraced for what it secures here of personal happiness, for morality, for virtue, and for the regulation and well-being and happiness of society. Had it nothing but a bare probability to support it, or even if there be no hereafter, all that we are as a nation and as individuals above the degraded heathen of earth we owe directly to the influence of the Holy Bible. It should be embraced were it only possible that its teachings might be true. But it is true, the Bible is true, and Christianity is a reality. God hath written its proof on the living tablets of a thousand hearts, which its power has redeemed from the love and dominion of sin. Though every existing system of human faith and all philosophy prove a dream, and all the speculations of science but the unsubstantial pageants of a vision, yet will religion prove a reality. It cannot be over-thrown by all the revolutions of time, nor will it fade through the countless ages of eternity. It will stand alone amid the vanishing away of all things earthly. Yes, and when the great globe itself shall be on fire and these elements melt with fervent heat, and the earth and all that is therein shall be burnt up, these glorious truths shall stand a rock of ages to the soul, unmoved and imperishable, amid its ruins, and survive in the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds.

[p. 159]
      But what is the atheist's influence in society? No man liveth to himself or dieth to himself. No man was ever satisfied with holding a faith or creed alone. Propagation is the fixed law of mind and matter. The infidel labours industriously to gain, from the young and old, adherents to his creed, a creed which is the poisoned chalice of hell, the communion cup of devils, the dagger of the second death to every one that receives it. If "one sinner destroyeth much good," what shall we say of the motives, object and influence of a propagator of infidelity? What design employed the intellects, the pens, the tongues, the influence of Hume and Hobbes, of Voltaire and Volney, of Newport and Tom Paine? The same that engages and delights the sceptic, the deist, the infidel or atheist, who walks your streets, who mingles in the walks of society, a moral upas tree, whose breath scents your very atmosphere with pestilential death.

      He labours, with the infidels of ages past and present, to do what? To blot from the world the only moral chart by which the population can be guided, to eclipse the only light of earth and mantle it in more than Egyptian darkness, to cloud and extinguish the only star of hope and drape our skies in sackcloth, to dry up every fountain of human happiness; and to convert the greenness of earth into barrenness, and to fan it with the sirocco and simoon of the desert; to make the present all recklessness, and the future all hopelessness; the

[p. 160]
maniac's revelry and the fiend's imprisonment. To bring about all this is the labour of that man who denies the inspiration, rejects the commands or refuses to obey the precepts of this precious Book.

     Who can picture a madness so revolting as deism or infidelity, or sin so black with guilt or mountain-high, as that in which the infidel is proud to boast? What course to death so terrible, so dark?

     The atheist's death. If such the sceptic's life and influence, what shall we say of his death? Is there anything in infidelity to smooth the bed of death, to lay the downy pillow of hope and comfort beneath the head of the sufferer, or to cheer his sinking spirit with bright visions of blessedness and immortality? The terrible and frightful deaths of the princes and apostles of infidelity are known too well for me to repeat.

     Hobbes was tormented with the thought that his room was haunted with the demons of the pit impatient to drag him away.

     Voltaire died in horror, and exclaimed: "I am abandoned by God and man." To his infidel physician he exclaimed: "Doctor, I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months." He replied: "Sir, you cannot live six weeks." The prince of infidels exclaimed: "Then I shall go to hell, and you will go with me!" and died.

      Tom Paine spent his last hour alternately cursing God and praying to Christ for "Help!"

[p. 161]
     Emerson crawled about the floor, at one time praying, and at another swearing.

      Newport's last words were: "Oh, the insufferable pangs of hell and damnation!" The poet has sketched the closing hour of one:

"So there in yonder fancy haunted room
What muttering curses tremble through the gloom
When pale and shivering and bedewed with fear,
The dying sceptic felt his hour draw near.
From his parched tongue no meek hosanna fell,
No bright hope kindled at his faint farewell.
As the last throes of death convulsed his cheek
He gnashed and scowled and raised a hideous shriek,
Rounded his eyes into a ghastly glare,
Locked his white lips - and all was mute despair."

     I have shown you the creed, the character, the poisonous influence of the infidel in society, his awful guilt, and you have seen the horrors of his closing hours. You start back in horror from the disgusting spectacle of human depravity - you shudder at the thought of your being smitten with such awful idiocy yourself. The father and the mother are pressing the children nearer to them to preserve them from contact, and to shield them from the conversation and association of the infidel. But I have an awful and solemn message to deliver to you impenitent sinners tonight. You, sinner, each one of you before me, are this night already a practical atheist! You are in practice
[p. 162]
what the atheist is in theory - an atheist! You repudiate his theory, but adopt his practice. Should no one hear you speak, they could discover no difference between you and the most downright and outright atheist. But you are more inconsistent than the atheist. He practices according to his theory, and you contrary to yours. He is at least consistent with himself, and you are, of all persons, the most inconsistent.
(1) You are a Christian in theory and an atheist in practice. The atheist hates the idea of a God. You hate God Himself. Your heart this night is enmity against God.

(2) The atheist lives as though there were no God. And so do you; you are regardless of His laws; you have trampled them a thousand times beneath your feet. Though He has spoken to you and you have not regarded Him; though He has commanded you, you have not obeyed. You have said by your practice to the world and to your families: "There is no God."

(3) The atheist lives without God here, and so do you. He dies without hope, with his moral sky convulsed with the darkness of a horrible tempest of coming wrath; he yields his ghost amid the glare of lightnings and grumbling thunders, and the shrieks of damned spirits who wait to drag his spirit to the bar of God. And your death will be no less terrible.

(4) The atheist will be punished from God

[p. 163]
hereafter, and no less punishment will overtake your own soul. As you have practiced the rebellion and impenitence and recklessness here, you will take up your abode together with all the enemies of God "where the worm dieth not." Be not deceived, dear friends - then atheism and the boldest infidelity is no greater sin; the universe knows no greater guilt than willing, wilful and continued impenitence like your own! No mortal can commit a sin more heinous and more aggravating than to despise and reject Jesus Christ. Refuse to submit to Him and to resist and insult the drawings and warnings of the Holy Spirit as you have done your whole life long, and He will ere long give you up to some strong delusion.
     Strange and mingled feelings of anger and contempt for the speaker may this hour, this moment, be swelling your breasts. Turn your thoughts from the "vessel of clay." I care not what you may think of me, or how you regard me. I have spoken with my eye upon the bar of God. I speak the honest sentiments of my soul, the deep convictions of my conscience, when I say that you are practical atheists. Go from this sanctuary, go to your chambers, go to your pillows, with this question upon your soul: "Am I a practical atheist?" Settle the question between your own soul and its God in the stillness of this night's watches, and tell me if you can tell one shade of difference between your practice and that of a profound infidel's.

More J.R. Graves Sermons
Baptist History Homepage