Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/503

This page has been validated.
487
CORRESPONDENCE.

CORRESPONDENCE.

HOW A PHILOSOPHIC SKEPTIC WAS RECONCILED TO RELIGIOUS FAITH.

IT has not been usual to regard Herbert Spencer as a reconciler of skeptical minds with religious verities; nevertheless he has labored with great power and earnestness to attain this end, and there has been varied and pointed evidence that this labor has not been thrown away. A letter recently published in the Chicago Times states a quite remarkable case of reconversion to Christianity, under the influence of the study of "First Principles." There have probably been many similar cases, though not so conspicuous, and it is not unlikely that there will be a great many more. Perhaps it would be well for our evangelical friends not to overlook this circumstance; and, when they have battered away at hardened old disbelievers in religion with the customary weapons to no purpose, to buy a copy of "First Principles," and, having mastered it, to try Spencer's short method as a last resort. The letter referred to relates to the return of the late Judge Alfred W. Arrington from what is termed "modern infidelity" to the Christian faith, largely through the influence of Mr. Spencer's book. The writer—Mr. C. C. Bonney—was an intimate personal and professional friend of Judge Arrington, and was familiar with the matter of which he writes. Mr. Arrington died in Chicago, December 31, 1867. The communication to the Times is as follows.—Ed.:

"Mr. Editor: The Times of last Sunday contained a letter written by the late Judge Arrington in 1832, about the time of his renunciation of revealed religion. It is due to his memory that his final return to his early faith be as widely published. In the memoir prefixed to his poems, published after his decease, Mrs. Arrington sketches briefly his religious career, showing him in youth an eloquent preacher, in manhood a truth-seeking skeptic, and at the close of his life a convinced and satisfied Christian. She says:

"'At the early age of eighteen years he commenced to preach, and at that time exhibited an oratoric power that resembled the inspiration of an Italian improvisatore. He drew large audiences, and excited the greatest enthusiasm. He continued to preach for several years at intervals, until he lost his childhood's faith; and, after fruitless attempts to find peace in other communions, ultimately abandoned revealed religion. He afterward sought in philosophy a solution of his intellectual difficulties; but, of course, with only partial success. He, however, never abandoned his search for truth. The different systems of metaphysics, from the Indian philosophers down to the latest schools of English positivism, were as familiar to him as the alphabet. The principles of the physical sciences were fully mastered, and their relations to each other and to human life. He sought in every quarter for the knowledge that would enable him to create a sound philosophy of life and morals. . . .

"'The works of Herbert Spencer had a most happy effect upon his mind. He studied them with the greatest delight, and professed to find in them the possible union of science and religion. . . .
"'For some time previous to his last illness, his aggressive skepticism had entirely disappeared, and in various ways he manifested, not only a respect for Christianity, but a strong desire for the gift of faith. This solace was, however, denied him till he lay upon his death-bed, when, to use his own words, "Like a flash of light, every cloud disappeared and the vision of Jesus Christ was vouchsafed me." '

"I may add to the foregoing extracts that after this event he called his wife to his bedside, and said, among other things: 'Promise me, Leora, that you will assure my friends, especially my professional brethren, some of whom may have been misled by my skepticism, that when I returned to my faith in the Christian religion my mind was not enfeebled by disease, but that my intellect was as clear and strong as ever, and that it was not merely an assent to my early faith, but a conviction as clear as the light of the truth of the supreme miracle of the incarnation. To believe that is to believe all.'

"These are the words as I recall them, and as I believe, if his voice could reach us, he would ask to have them given to the public. His return from infidelity to faith began with his reading of 'The Unknowable,' and particularly the chapter on 'The Reconciliation,' in Herbert Spencer's 'First Principles.'

"I procured and read Mr. Spencer's book at Judge Arrington's urgent request, and learned its effect on his mind in subsequent conversations.

"Some enterprising publisher should give us a new edition of Judge Arrington's writings, with a more ample and detailed sketch of his life than has hitherto appeared. He was a man of extraordinary intellectual