The Pointed Finger: The Honest and Painful Question That Should Haunt Evangelicals

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The indifference with which those who are called evangelical regard the eternal welfare of the great mass of humanity is perfectly appalling…

With their views of the limits of probation, and the conditions of safety, I cannot express my astonishment at their serenity and deliberation. If I am not mistaken –and I am almost sure that I am not –this is the doctrine of the orthodox churches. All men are born depraved; they are, by nature, children of wrath, deserving the everlasting displeasure of God. In his mercy, the Most High has appointed one and only one means of escape from endless misery. It is a belief in the doctrines of certain teachings, including the Trinity, salvation by faith in the merits of Christ alone, and the never-ending punishment of those who die unconverted.

Without this peculiar faith, and this peculiar conversion, no man can escape hell. All sects who do not find these doctrines in the Bible –however strenuously they may insist that they are Christians, and however earnestly they may strive to believe all that Christ said, and to imitate the Savior’s example, are in dangerous and fatal error.

The doors of Christian Associations have been and ought to be slammed in their faces. In common with other unconverted men, they are beyond the pale of “evangelical” sympathies and hopes. Such are the conditions of salvation was laid down by the orthodox churches. And mark what vast numbers of mankind must be now writhing in torment; and note, also, the myriads of the living who are within a few days or years of endless ruin!

Nine-tenths of the human race have never heard the name of Christ. Four- fifths of the present inhabitants of the United States are outside of the “evangelical church,” with no valid hope of heaven. This number includes not only the worldly and the vile, but some whose “mere morality” is unexceptionable. There, among the hopeless, are a number of great national figures, in whom we hold in great respect. It is hard to have them lost, but the essential doctrines of orthodoxy cannot be made to exempt them from outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Much as evangelical individuals may desire it, the salvation of such persons cannot be admitted without impeaching the absolute necessity of dogmas that they have rejected.

A few nights ago, as I was walking toward the center of the city, I saw flames pouring out of the chimney of a house on Howard Street. In a moment, cries of “fire” resounded in every direction, and the quick clang of several alarm bells soon aroused half the town. I was glad to note this interest in the welfare of property. If the burning of a few cheap tenements excites a commotion, who can paint the horror, what pen can describe the deep, bitter, wide-spread anguish which attends the conviction that human souls are to be consumed  by lack of orthodox belief and conversion, consigned to utter, and endless and hopeless misery? How must the believers in such a creed should be wrung with a sorrow too great for words! Surely, they can never be so heartless as to smile or jest.

The charms of gay and happy life are not for them. Oh, no! The thought of God’s ‘terrible wrath fills the universe with gloom. Every believer wears sack-cloth and ashes, and his tears are his meat, day and night. He thinks of lost relatives and friends, and bewails their hopeless fate, He cannot enter the street, or sit by his own fireside, without encountering some of that vast multitude who are elected to perdition! Such, I say, is the natural consequence of a belief in the popular theology, embraced by an affectionate man, who cares for the souls of his brethren.

But, my friends, have you ever witnessed this concern? I think I have not. A few persons have told me that they feel it all; but they have rare skill in concealing their emotions. Many of the believers in these fearful creeds are quite cheerful men, some are right jolly even. Concern for the utter ruin of four-fifths of the immortal souls around them, does not prevent considerable attention to business, or an occasional resort to festive scenes. Orthodox ministers have been seen to smile! Orthodox laymen have been heard to laugh! They do not manifest much pity for their unfortunate friends, whose lot is the inevitable fate of the heretic. Instead of warning us of our awful danger, they inquire about the price of wheat, and ask us “who is mayor?” Instead of weeping rivers of tears, and heaving long and countless sighs, they invite us to their parties, and insist upon our having a good time.

I confess I do not understand this. I am certainly in fatal error, or I am not. I do not like the general cheerfulness that prevails. It is not kind; it is not considerate. I could not go to a funeral and there smile and laugh. If my neighbor were to be hanged tomorrow, for murder, it would be a dark day for me. And how can the believers in exclusive creeds and catechisms be so untimely in their mirth, and so heartless in their indifference.

Is the eternal welfare of millions of people of little consequence? Can they contemplate millions of millions of long, weary years of hopeless misery, without a shudder? When I am sick, these orthodox friends ask kindly about my health. If I were naked and hungry, I know they would clothe and feed my body. Why, then, are they so regardless of my spiritual interests? Why does no man care for my immortal soul? It is in vain that I hear “courtesy prevents us from intruding unpleasant topics upon your attention. We are too polite to disturb your repose.” This is mockery indeed. When we know that they would drive men back from a broken bridge, and drag delicate women from the beds of a burning house, we cannot think that courtesy will excuse silence about periled souls. No, no; one of two things must be true: Our evangelical neighbors, while they believe that the vast majority of the human race are destined to destruction, are determined not to let the fate of neighbors or friends interfere with business, or diminish pleasure, because none of them care for our souls; or, while they assent to terrible dogmas, from which these awful conclusions can be logically deduced, they do not thoroughly believe what they have subscribed, and in spite of their names and callings, are really liberal Christians, permitting every man to interpret the Scriptures for himself, and trusting that God really doesn’t mean what he says, and that the mercy of God, and the patience of God, instead of being limited to ten, or twenty, or seventy years of a man’s life, is in fact, infinite and endures forever….

A sermon preached by T. J. Mumford, March 7, 1855
Adapted and liberally edited for thought and sense. –An honest and thoughtful parody against Evangelicals

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