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that he himself was personally the bread of life. He intended nothing more, than that his religion, the system of doctrine and morals which he taught in his discourse, was the bread of life. For so did he afterwards explain his language; as you will see, on looking into the latter part of this chapter. 'He that eateth me,' said Christ, 'even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven.' Some of the disciples, misunderstanding the expression, exclaimed, This is a hard saying; who can bear it?' Now comes the explanation Christ replied, Doth this offend you?.... It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.' This, then, was his real meaning: that the words which he spoke, the religious sentiments he conveyed, were the bread of life.
The first train of thought which our text suggests, is rather general Religion is, to man, the bread of life. It is as necessary, absolutely as necessary, to his mental wants, as bread is to his corporeal. He is so constituted, that he can no more deny himself the enjoyment of it, and still be at ease, than he can refuse food without suffering. His very nature craves it, with a longing deep and irrepressible, that lives on through all life, surviving the changes of circumstance, and unextinguished even when smothered by the engrossing cares of earth.
On this important point, there is, I think, a manifest error in the speculative divinity of the day. We have been taught that mankind are, by nature, wholly opposed to religion, so utterly hostile to all its principles, that nothing short of almighty, creating power, can produce within them a pious disposition. Such is the hypothesis of the schools. But how does this comport with reality? Turn your attention now, my friends, from all theories whatsoever, to simple matter of fact; and you will perceive, at once, that mankind as naturally seek the consolations and support of religion, as they seek those provisions that relieve their hunger. It must, indeed, be confessed, that in the choice of the heavenly sustenance, they often mistake, just as they do in the selection of their daily food. In both cases, they frequently choose the deleterious instead of the wholesome; and their tastes may even become so vitiated, as to prefer the poisonous to the nutritious. But religion, as well as food, of some kind, they must have; and
nothing under heaven can effectually divert them from the pursuit. If you doubt this, contemplate the human race as it ever has been, and as it now is. Look back into the ancient times of Chaldea and Persia, of Egypt, Greece and Rome; and as far as the light of history discloses the prospect, there is a universal cloud of incense rising from ten thousand altars, ascending from all the habitable earth, a testimonial that man had his God, and sought communion with him. Or, turn your eye to later times: survey the whole peopled globe; and wherever you look, you still find man the same religious being. Civilized or savage, barbarian or philosopher, his wishes and his hopes still point, either direct or trembling, to his polar star in heaven. Wherever he roams, and wherever he dwells, on the heights of the Andes, in the depths of our western wilderness, on the burning desert of Africa, in the frozen regions of the Arctic world, or amid the new discovered isles of the South, he recognizes the Power above him, and pays his adoration. So universally is this impulse of our common nature felt and indulged! So universally is man, in point of fact, a religious being!
I may be told, however, that there are exceptions to this general statement; that there have been those who studiously discarded all religion, and managed to live without God in the world. Very true, very true. And there have likewise been as many, perhaps, who, sundering every tie of society, secluded themselves in caves and deserts, from all human intercourse. But what do these exceptions prove? Certainly, not the fallacy of the general rule. Who will attempt to maintain, from such instances, comparatively so few, that man is not, by nature, a social being, in the one case, or a religious being, in the other? Notwithstanding these individual eccentricities, the constituted laws of our minds still hold true to their original purposes, compelling us to associate with our fellow-creatures, and likewise to seek refuge in the guardianship of our Maker.
I know indeed, that now and then, extraordinary geniuses appear, if so we may call them, who profess to discover that all religion is groundless; and who would persuade us that we have no Maker, unless it be the rich mud of Egypt, or some other very prolific soil. Casting their deep and clear glances. through nature, they seem happily to penetrate the amazing secret, that there is no indication whatsoever, of a God in the
universe. The stupendous machinery of the heavens, with all its planets and suns, the infinitely diversified scene of earth, with all its forms of beauty, its principles of life, its creatures of instinct and of boasted reason, become, in their eyes, but a fortuitous mass of matter, existing without design, and governed without a presiding intelligence. Most fortunately has it happened, that all parts of this vast and complicated system, from the worlds on high that move in boundless space, down to the plants that grow beneath our feet, have chanced to operate with consummate order, for some thousands of years, — with the same order, indeed, as if there had been a God to direct them. In the better judgment, however, of these profound inquirers, all this has taken place, without calculation, without even a conscious Agent; but by means of certain perfect laws instituted by no author, and sprung from blind chance, like the rest of the affair. This wonderful creature, man, seemingly the production of wisdom, sinks at once, under their scrutinizing look, into a mere clod of flesh, that comes into a certain shape, thinks, acts, eats and drinks, for a few days, and then perishes forever. We are but brutes, curiously organized; there is no returning existence for us; hopes for the future, we have none; the present is all uncertainty; our being is without further aim; and even while we live, there is no superior Power on which our weakness may rely. Such are their valuable discoveries.
And actuated, as they aver, and we must allow them to understand their own motives, actuated by the noble ambition of enhancing our happiness to the utmost, they bring us these glad tidings. They obtrude them on our dull and stupid ears. They force upon us the cheering news, that we are Fatherless; that there is no help for us in the soul-less universe; that we are liable, every instant, to sink into an eternal gulf of non-existence. But, it is remarkable that, by the great mass of people, their gratuitous labors of love, though perseveringly repeated, are still coldly received. The hopes and the views of religion are too deeply cherished in our natures, to yield even to the earnest persuasions of these our benefactors. I appeal to yourselves, ye friends of our race, ye atheists and professed skeptics! who go about, letting the light of your doubts shine before men, and who spend your precarious existence in the attempt to orphanize creation, - have you not found mankind strangely to prefer their hopes of immor
tality, and their confidence in a supreme Ruler, to all your more profound instructions? I do not ask you to let them enjoy this solace in quiet, during the few days they are to live; for this, I well know, your philanthropy cannot permit. But I appeal to you, whether, even of the number you have succeeded in proselytizing, you have not been obliged, at first, to conceal the ultimate tendency of your insinuations, from the larger part; and whether, at last, they do not generally recede with horror from the full development of your views! If so, one may be allowed, perhaps, to suggest, that the attempt, however kindly intended, is utterly hopeless. It is certainly unbecoming the character of grave and enlightened philosophers, to exhaust all their efforts, in an absurd project of radically changing human nature.
It may be worth the while, my hearers, to inquire, what is the occasion of that religious propensity, so universally observable in man? It is not enough to say, that he beholds convincing evidence of the being and government of a God. If this were all, he might indeed assent to it as an abstract truth, yet feel no great interest in the fact. Now, what are the reasons that render this conviction so dear to his heart? Why does he cherish it, through all climes and ages, as the sacred treasure of his soul?
We have only to look into the circumstances of his existence here, and we shall at once have our answer. Living amid conflicting elements, that he knows himself unable to manage; exposed perpetually to dangers that he cannot avert, the consciousness of his weakness compels him, absolutely compels him, to seek refuge in superior power. How else can he, for a moment, attain the assurance of security? Full well does he know, that no mortal skill nor might can avail to all his imperious necessities; and he rejoices to find an arm that is strong enough to support and protect him, whatever be his circumstances, of life or of death. He is almost blind to the future. He cannot penetrate it, with certainty, to the extent even of a single hour; and what perilous chances are gathering in the shades, and crowding unseen around him, no human foresight can discover. From this distressing ignorance of his own fortune, there is but one way to turn for relief. He must turn to the protection of all-seeing, infinite wisdom. When he feels himself under the care of an unerring Guide,
his fears are soothed and dispelled, like those of an infant on being received into the arms of its parent.
It is difficult to conceive the horrible sense of utter helplessness and destitution, that would sink down upon our hearts, like the deadening oppression of an incubus, did not the idea of a superintending Guardian afford relief. We should literally be orphan creatures, amid an unsheltered, abandoned universe, reaching after protection, grasping for some permanent security, and finding nothing but cruel despair. Nor is this all. There would stand perpetually before us the blackness of darkness forever, ready to swallow us up, at every step of our progress. We know that we must die. This reflection steals, in spite of us, into much of our lives, and mingles with our gayest scenes. Successful or unsuccessful in our petty pursuits, prosperous for the present or unfortunate, the hour of doom comes steadily on, that sweeps us from this narrow stage of action; and where are we? Who can bear to look into an infinite chasm of nonentity? Who can endure that this sunny existence should go out, like a flash, in everlasting extinction? Who can lay down this animated, thrilling being, and become but a lump of hard clay, a mass of dry dust, thoughtless and senseless forevermore? Death itself is dreadful enough. To part with all that has engaged us upon earth, is hard, even while hope points to reviving life beyond the dying struggle. But to extinguish that hope, is to annihilate the universe to us. No wonder, then, that we cling to the promise of immortality, which like a glorious morning shall follow the night of the grave. No wonder that we regard, with unspeakable interest, that overruling Providence, which is our only possible security, and which alone can afford us adequate protection, amid our weakness and ignorance.
And he who would explode all religion, whatever be his motives, and rob us of its support and consolation, is, in reality, striving to do us an injury, compared with which all the evils under the sun are nothing. He is, at the best, but a thoughtless speculator, who, for the sake of a curious experiment, springs the tremendous mine on which he and ourselves. stand, and with one blast of his wonder-working alchymy, sends us all to destruction. Leave us the hopes of existence; leave us faith in our God and Father; suffer us still to repose on the only foundation, that is stable and unchanging. Say what we will, it is no favor to deprive us of the bread of life,