Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats…
It would seem hardly to be expected, where ample means of religious knowledge are enjoyed, that such a state of mind should be a common thing. Of those who are educated under religious light, and who are led in early life to accept Christianity, a very considerable number sooner or later reach a state in which they are disposed to question almost anything pertaining to religion. More commonly this crisis arrives in advanced youth, or on the verge of manhood. Up to that time the mind has been content to take as truth, on the authority of others, and with but little question, whatever may have been taught it. It has acquiesced, without serious difficulty, in the statements of parents and teachers as to what were the claims of duty. But now there comes a change. Of the views and impressions which childhood entertained on a variety of subjects, advancing years and knowledge have shown many to be erroneous. In this state of mind the inquirer is inclined to question everything, as he once was to believe everything. He has found a few things, or, if you please, many things, to be false, and so he is afraid to believe that anything is true. He passes, by a not unnatural process, from the extreme of credulity to the extreme of scepticism. At this point one of three things must happen: either the mind must become utterly lost to truth, and settle itself on the ultimately fatal grounds of false opinion; or it must drift on unfixed, full of uncertainty, or, it must lay hold of the strong cable of sound evidence, and deliberately cast anchor on the sure foundations of the truth. There are doubtless some who do succeed in confirming themselves in falsehood beyond the chance of recovery. We are sure, also, that there are those who gain a hold on truth which nothing can relax, and which permanently sets their hearts at rest. But how large a number fall into the intermediate class, the class of perpetual doubters! — and are carried about by diverse and strange doctrines, always catching at a new absurdity to relieve the weariness of dwelling on the last. What can be more deplorable than this unnatural, this morbid bewilderment of the soul? Such a state is, of all things, to be dreaded.
1. For, in the first place, it must needs be an exceedingly unhappy state. To all minds that have received even a moderate degree of cultivation, it is a source of positive pleasure to have, on all important subjects, clear views and well-defined opinions. So, on the contrary, it is painful to the sound mind to grope about in the "everlasting fog" — to be threading backward and forward the mazy labyrinths of vague inquiry, which chases shadows and catches at emptiness, finding nothing solid on which it can rely. This, we say, is the constitutional law of the mind, let the subject about which it inquires be what it may. But if the matter in question be one on the right understanding of which great consequences are depending, there must be, in addition to the doubtfulness, the pain of anxious apprehension. The fear of what calamities may soon or late, result from failure to ascertain the truth, will often haunt the mind and mingle more or less with all its thoughts. Religion, it is clearly seen, if it be anything, is of the highest imaginable interest; and to miss the truth in such an affair, may, it cannot but be felt, involve irreparable loss, disaster that nothing can retrieve. Here is a most effectual cause of disquiet to the soul.
2. It is also evident, still further, that a state of chronic scepticism tends greatly to enfeeble both the character and the mind. A strong mind presses on to a decision. It is content only when getting at results, A sceptical habit — observe I do not say a season of temporary questioning, but a chronic habit of doubting — most generally indicates a want of mental energy to lay hold of evidence and to appreciate its force; a lack of the strength of mind required in order to rise above the prejudices that tend to warp the judgment. It betrays an intellectual feebleness already existing and likely to perpetuate itself. For when the mind has been allowed, and rather encouraged, to wander among the mists of doubt; to look rather after difficulties, than after proofs; it seems to become incapable of logical deduction and unsusceptible to the effect of evidence. It will also be true that in proportion to this loss of force and intellect, there will be likewise a loss of general force of character. He who is unable to decide with promptness, will not be able to execute with vigour. The habitual vacillation of the mind will be sure to exhibit itself in a feeble, time-serving, irresolute course of action. There is yet another evil result of the habit of mind in question.
3. It is very liable to impair the love of truth, and to lower the estimate set on it by the judgment. Truth has been well defined to be " the reality of things." To know truth is to know things as they are. On having a right understanding especially of those things that directly relate to us, our highest welfare essentially depends. Nothing therefore, in fact, is so precious to us as truth. God has, accordingly, given the mind an instinctive love of truth, a natural desire to know things as they are. It is an important end of education to strengthen this desire, and give it a right direction: and observation and experience show that, in respect to many subjects at least, it is, on the other hand, capable of being weakened, and almost or quite destroyed. It is found, for example, especially easy to repress the instinctive desire to know, when there is occasion to apprehend that the knowledge of the truth might be for any reason painful; and this is the case invariably in respect to sinful man when he inquires about religion. While on this, as on other subjects, he feels the natural desire for knowledge, there are conscious reasons growing out of his own character which prompt him to resist this desire, and rather to shrink from full and certain knowledge, than to seek it. He is inclined to indulge himself in something. The question, Is it right? suggests itself. If he presses the inquiry, he may find himself obliged to deny his inclination; and he will be very likely for this reason not to press it. The appetite for truth may yield to the stronger appetite for self-indulgence which now has possession of the mind. In every such case, of course, the love of truth must necessarily be weakened. There will be less appreciation of its value than before; and if the oftener the love of truth is repressed for such a reason, the feebler it becomes, it must finally be destroyed. But this is what is happening all the while in the unsettled, wavering, and doubtful mind.
4. It remains only to say finally, that a state of sceptical uncertainty is attended with great danger as regards its last result. To doubt about anything is, of course, to admit the possibility that it is true. To doubt about the claims and obligations of religion is to allow that we are not sure that these are not founded in reality. But while those who are floating on the sea of doubt, confess, by their very uncertainty, that the teachings of religion may quite possibly be true, they are sure to act, in the main, as though certain they were false. It needs no words to show that if you live as though the truths of religion were mere dreams, and it shall finally turn out that they are great realities, you are undone inevitably, and that for ever. This, then, is the amazing peril of resting in a dubious, unestablished frame. Even those who do this cannot but perceive that they run the unspeakably awful hazard of a wretched, lost eternity. Religion and godliness, according to their view of things, hang trembling in equal balance. How much to be deprecated and dreaded is a position that involves continually the danger of a fall from which there is no recovery I Here, then, are weighty reasons for regarding it as a very serious evil to be in habitual doubt in regard to the truths and duties of religion — reasons which make it appear in the highest degree desirable that the heart should be established. Of course it follows that nothing should be done by any thoughtful person to favour such a state, but that, on the contrary, diligent and resolute effort should be made to avoid or escape it. Do any of you find the impressions of your childhood giving way, in some degree, so that you feel disposed to question them and to demand on what foundation they are based? You see with what seriousness you should regard the crisis. Never, in all your life, has there been a time when you so greatly needed the counsel of your kindest, most faithful, and judicious friends. Yes! Believe it, my intelligent young friend — the poor wayfaring man, who wanders homeless and friendless over the wide world, finding never a voice of greeting nor a resting-place in which he may take up his abode, is far less an object of compassion than he whose soul is driven about perpetually in the chaos of confused and dubious thought, where all is dim and shadowy, and can find nothing that is stable; who as to the highest and most vital questions of his being, has established nothing, and positively believes nothing! Rather than suffer yourselves to slide into such a state, it were wisdom to suspend all other business, to shut yourselves up in the chamber of meditation and research, and to bend the undivided energies of your minds on this one work of reaching conclusions which will satisfy; and this with humble, earnest prayer to the Father of lights for that Divine illumination without which spiritual things are never clearly seen by any of mankind. You can have satisfaction on all really vital questions if you will. You may plant yourselves, if you will do it, where, though floods come, and the tempests beat, and the refuges of error are all swept away, you can stand calmly and in serenity of soul, and feel your foundations firm. Believe it — nay rather, make the experiment for yourselves, and know it with a happiness that cannot be described. There is light — and you were made to see it. There is reality — and you were made to find it. There is religious truth — and you, you may grasp the inestimable treasure, and make it your own blessed and permanent possession.
(R. Palmer, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.