“WHERE DID HE GET THAT LAW?”
In a city of one of the Northern States lived a lawyer of eminence and talents. He was notoriously profane. He kept a negro boy, at whom his neighbours used to hear him swear with awful violence. One day this gentleman met an elder of a Presbyterian Church, who also was a lawyer, and said to him, “I wish, Sir, to examine the truth of the Christian religion. What books would you advise me to read on the evidences of Christianity?”
The elder, surprised at the inquiry, replied, “That is a question, Sir, which you ought to have settled long ago. You ought not to have put off a subject so important to this late period of life.”
“It is too late,” said the inquirer, “I never knew much about it, but I always supposed that Christianity was rejected by the great majority of learned men. I intend, however, now to examine the subject thoroughly myself. I have upon me, as my physician says, a mortal disease, under which I may live a year and a half or two years, but not probably longer. What books, Sir, would you advise me to read?”
“The Bible,” said the elder. “I believe you don’t understand me,” resumed the unbeliever, surprised in his turn: “I wish to investigate the truth of the Bible.”
“I would advise you. Sir” repeated the elder, “to read the Bible. And I will give you my reasons. Most infidels are most ignorant of the Scriptures. Now, to reason on any subject with correctness, we must understand what it is, about which we reason. In the next place, I consider the internal evidence of the truth of the Scriptures stronger than the external.”
“And where shall I begin?” inquired the unbeliever. “At the New Testament?” “No,” replied the elder; “at the beginning – at Genesis.”
The infidel brought a commentary, went home and sat down to the serious study of the Scriptures. He applied all his strong and well-disciplined powers of mind to the Bible, to try rigidly, but impartially, its truth.
As he went on in his perusal, he received occasional calls from the elder. The infidel freely remarked upon what he read, and stated his objections. He liked this passage – he thought that passage touching and beautiful – but he could not credit a third.
One evening the elder called, and found the unbeliever at his house, walking the room with a dejected look, his mind apparently absorbed in thought. He continued, not noticing that any one had come in, busily to trace and retrace his steps. The elder at length spoke:
“You seem. Sir,” said he, “to be in a brown study. Of what are you thinking?” “I have been reading, replied the infidel, “the
moral law.” “Well, what do you think of it?” asked the elder. “I will tell you what I used to think,” answered the infidel. “I supposed that Moses was the leader of a horde of banditti; that having a strong mind, he acquired great influence over superstitious people; and that on Mount Sinai he played off some sort of fireworks, to the amazement of his ignorant followers, who imagined, in their mingled fear and superstition, that the exhibition was super-natural.”
“But what do you think now?” interposed the elder. “I have been looking,” said the infidel, “into the nature of that law. I have been trying to see whether I can add anything to it, or take anything from it, so as to make it better. Sir, I cannot. It is perfect.” “The first commandment,” continued he, “directs us to make the Creator the object of our supreme love and reverence. That is right. If He be our Creator, Preserver, and Supreme Benefactor, we ought to treat Him, and none other, as such. The second forbids idolatry, that certainly is right. The third forbids profanity. The fourth fixes a time for religious worship; and if there be a God, He ought surely to be worshipped. It is suitable that there should be an outward homage, significant of our inward regard. If God be worshipped it is proper that some time should be set apart for that purpose, when all may worship Him harmoniously and without interruption. One day in seven is certainly not too much, and I do not know that it is too little. The fifth defines the peculiar duties arising from family relations. Injuries to our neighbour are then classified by the moral law. They are divided into offences against life, chastity, property, and character. And, said he, applying a legal idea with legal acuteness, “I notice that the greatest offence in each class is expressly forbidden. Thus the greatest to life is murder, to chastity, adultery; to property, theft; to character, perjury. Now the greater offence must include the lesser of the same kind. Murder must include every injury to purity, – and so of the rest. And the moral code is closed and perfected by by a command forbidding every improper desire in regard to our neighbours.
“I have been thinking,” he proceeded, “where did Moses get that law? I have read history; the Egyptians and the adjacent nations were idolaters; so, were the Romans; and the wisest and the best Greeks or Romans never gave a code of morals like this. Where did Moses get this law?, which surpasses the wisdom and philosophy of the most enlightened ages? He lived at a period comparatively barbarous, but he was given a law in which the learning and sagacity of all subsequent time can detect no flaw. Where did he get it? He could not have soared so far above his age as to have devised it himself. I am satisfied where he obtained it. It came down from heaven. I am convinced of the truth of the religion of the Bible.”
The infidel – infidel no longer – remained to his death a firm believer in the truth of Christianity.
Friendly Companion. 1922.