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The Heavenly Father_ Lectures on Modern Atheism

The Heavenly Father_ Lectures on Modern Atheism
Category: God / Atheism
Title: The Heavenly Father_ Lectures on Modern Atheism
Release Date: 2006-04-14
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 25 March 2019
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Lectures on Modern Atheism.









—"To this deplorable error I desire to oppose faith in God as ithas been given to the world by the Gospel—faith in the HEAVENLYFATHER."

Author's Letter to Professor Faraday (v. p. 193).




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These Lectures, in their original form, were delivered at Geneva, andafterwards at Lausanne, before two auditories which together numberedabout two thousand five hundred men. A Swiss Review publishedconsiderable portions of them, which had been taken down in short-hand,and on reading these portions, several persons, belonging to differentcountries, conceived the idea of translating the work when completed bythe Author, and corrected for publication. Proof-sheets were accordinglysent to the translators as they came from the press: and thus thisvolume will appear pretty nearly at the same time in several of thelanguages of Europe.[Pg iv]

The hearty kindness with which my fellow-countrymen received my wordshas been to me both a delight and an encouragement. The expressions ofsympathy which have reached me from abroad allow me to hope that thesepages, notwithstanding the deficiencies and imperfections of which I amkeenly sensible, reflect some few of the rays of the truth which God hasdeposited on the earth, thereby to unite in the same faith and hope menof every tongue and every nation.


Geneva, May, 1865.


The appearance of this translation so long after that of the originalwork is in contradiction to the foregoing statement of the Author, thatit would appear at nearly the same time with it. The[Pg v] delay has been dueto causes beyond the translator's control—in part to the difficulty ofrevising the press at so great a distance from the place of publication,the translator being resident at Geneva. This latter circumstance causesan exception in another particular as regards this translation, theproposal to translate the Lectures having been made to the Author, andkindly accepted by him, during the course of their delivery at Geneva.

The mere statement by the Author of the numbers, large as they were, ofthose who formed the auditories, can give but a small idea of theenthusiasm with which they were received by the crowds which thronged tohear them, and which were composed of all classes of persons, from themost distinguished savant to the intelligent artisan.

It is not to be expected that the Lectures when read, even in theoriginal, and still less in a translation, can produce the vividimpression[Pg vi] which they made on those, who, with the translator, had theprivilege of hearing them delivered,—the Author having few rivals, onthe Continent or elsewhere, in the graces of polished eloquence; but thesubjects treated are, it is to be feared, of increasing importance, notabroad only, but in England; and in fact one Lecture, the fourth, is ina large measure occupied with forms of atheism which owe their chiefsupport to English authors. In that Lecture the Author shows that thespiritual origin of man cannot "be put out of sight beneath details ofphysiology and researches of natural history," and that these not only"cannot settle," but "cannot so much as touch the question."

The same Lecture is occupied in part by a practical refutation of theprejudice against religion drawn from the irreligious character of manymen of science. The Author's subject has led him in the present work toconfine his illustrations on this head to the question of natural[Pg vii]religion: but the translator will avow that a main motive with him toundertake the labor of this translation has been the wish to prove, inthe instance of the distinguished Author himself, that men ofincontestable eminence as metaphysical philosophers may hold and professboldly their faith in doctrines, which many who affect to guide thereligious opinions of our youth would teach them to despise as theheritage of narrow minds, and to cast away as incompatible with thehighest intellectual cultivation. Such doctrines are those of the falland ruin of man by nature, the necessity for Divine agency in hisrecovery, his need of propitiation by the sacrifice of theGod-Man—l'Homme-Dieu. These truths are explicitly stated by theAuthor in his former course of lectures—La Vie Eternelle,[1] inwhich, while discoursing eloquently on that eternal life which is theportion of the righteous, he does not[Pg viii] shrink from declaring his beliefin its awful counterpart, the eternal condemnation of the wicked.

"The offence of the Cross" has not "ceased," and many finding that theseare the opinions of this Author, will perhaps lay down his book asunworthy of their attention: yet the editor, biographer, and expositorof the great French thinker, Maine de Biran, will not need introductionto the intellectual magnates of our own or of any country. Thetranslator will be thankful, if some of those,—the youth moreespecially,—of his own country, who have been dazzled by the glare offalse science, shall find in this work a help to the reassuring of theirfaith, while they learn in a fresh example that there are men quitecompetent to deal with the profoundest problems which can exercise ourthoughts, who at the same time have come to a conviction,—compatible asthey believe with principles of the clearest reason,—of the truth[Pg ix] ofthose very doctrines which form the substance of evangelicalChristianity. In saying this, the translator is far from claiming theAuthor as belonging to the same school of theology with himself: butdiffering with him on some important points, he has yet believed thatthis volume is calculated to be of much use in the present condition ofreligious thought in England, and in this hope and prayer he commends itto the blessing of Him, whose being and attributes, as our God andFather in Jesus Christ, are therein asserted and defended.

Geneva, November, 1865.


[1] A translation of this work, by an English lady, has beenpublished by Mr. Dalton, 28, Cockspur street.

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(At Geneva, 17th Nov. 1863.—At Lausanne, 11th Jan. 1864.)


Some five-and-twenty or thirty years ago, a German writer published apiece of verse which began in this way: "Our hearts are oppressed withthe emotions of a pious sadness, at the thought of the ancient Jehovahwho is preparing to die." The verses were a dirge upon the death of theliving God; and the author, like a well educated son of the nineteenthcentury, bestowed a few poetic tears upon the obsequies of the Eternal.

I was young when these strange words met my eyes, and they produced inme a kind of painful bewilderment, which has, I think, for ever engraventhem in my memory. Since then, I have had occasion to learn by manytokens that this fact was not at all an exceptional one, but that[Pg 2] menof influence, famous schools, important tendencies of the modern mind,are agreed in proclaiming that the time of religion is over, of religionin all its forms, of religion in the largest sense of the word. Beneaththe social disturbances of the day, beneath the discussions of science,beneath the anxiety of some and the sadness of others, beneath theironical and more or less insulting joy of a few, we read at thefoundation of many intellectual manifestations of our time these gloomywords: "Henceforth no more God for humanity!" What may well send ashudder of fright through society—more than threatening war, more thanpossible revolution, more than the plots which may be hatching in thedark against the security of persons or of property—is, the number, theimportance, and the extent of the efforts which are making in our daysto extinguish in men's souls their faith in the living God.

This fear, Gentlemen, I should wish to communicate to you, but I shouldwish also to confine it within its just limits. Religion (I take thisterm in its most general acceptation) is not, as many say that it is,either dead or dying. I want no other proof of this than the pains whichso[Pg 3] many people are taking to kill it. It is often those who say that itis dead, or falling rapidly into dissolution, who apply themselves tothis work. They are too generous, no doubt, to make a violent attackupon a corpse; and it is easy to understand, judging by the intensity oftheir exertions, that in their own opinion they have something else todo than to give a finishing stroke to the dying.

Present circumstances are serious, not for religion itself, which cannotbe imperilled, but for minds which run the risk of losing their balanceand their support. Let it be observed, however, that when it is saidthat we are living in extraordinary times, that we are passing throughan unequalled crisis, that the like of what we see was never seenbefore, and so on, we must always regard conclusions of this nature withdistrust. Our personal interest in the circumstances which immediatelysurround us produces on them for us the magnifying effect of amicroscope: and our principal reason for thinking that our epoch is moreextraordinary than others, is for the most part that we are living inour own epoch, and have not lived in others. A mind attentive to thisfact, and so placed upon[Pg 4] its guard against all tendency toexaggeration, will easily perceive that religious thought has in formertimes passed through shocks as profound and as dangerous as those ofwhich we are witnesses. Still the crisis is a real one. Taking intoaccount its extent in our days, we may say that it is new for thegeneration to which we belong; and it is worthy of close consideration.To-day, as an introduction to this grave subject, I should wish first todetermine as precisely as possible what is our idea of God; to inquirenext from what sources we derive it; and lastly to point out, as clearlyas I may, the limits and the nature of the discussion to which I inviteyou.

In asking what sense we must give to the word "God," I am not going topropose to you a metaphysical definition, or any system of my own: I aminquiring what is in fact the idea of God in the bosom of modernsociety, in the souls which live by this idea, in the hearts of which itconstitutes the joy, in the consciences of which it is the support.

When our thoughts rise above nature and humanity to that invisible Beingwhom we speak of as God, what is it which passes in our souls?[Pg 5] Theyfear, they hope, they pray, they offer thanksgiving. If a man findshimself in one of those desperate positions in which all human helpfails, he turns towards Heaven, and says, My God! If we are witnesses ofone of those instances of revolting injustice which stir the consciencein its profoundest depths, and which could not on earth meet withadequate punishment, we think within ourselves,—There is a Judge onhigh! If we are reproved by our own conscience, the voice of thatconscience, which disturbs and sometimes torments us, reminds us thatthough we may be shut out from all human view, there is no less an Eyewhich sees us, and a just award awaiting us. Thus it is (I am seeking toestablish facts) that the thought of God operates, so to speak, in thesouls of those who believe in Him. If you look for the meaning common toall these manifestations of man's heart, what do you find? Fear, hope,thanksgiving, prayer. To whom is all this addressed? To a Powerintelligent and free, which knows us,

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