Were former days better?

"Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this" (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

It rained last Sunday. I went to Radville to worship. A stretch of the road was under construction. I got stuck. I was late for the service. We lived in Radville many years. For many years there was not any gravel, let alone hardtop, on any road leading into Radville. To get stuck in the gumbo was not an uncommon experience. I know that what is called the “Good Old Days” is largely a myth.

I have just reread a book written by James Orval Filbeck entitled The Christian Evidence Movement. This book shows that at the time of the founding of the American nation Deism and Agnosticism were rampant. The opposition to truth was strong and more successful than it is today, as we are prepared to show. Men arose who challenged and defeated the foes of Christianity. Are we too complacent to do the same thing today?

Opposition to truth was rampant as the American nation was born. Let us look at the truth of this assertion. This is found on page 71 of Brother Filbeck's book. John Adams said on April 21, 1823: “It would be more pardonable to believe in no God at all than to blaspheme Him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin. Indeed, I think every Christian sect gives a great handle to atheism by their general dogma, that without a revelation, there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a God.” In other words, the Bible was not needed.

We quote further from Adams: “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his Father, in the womb of the virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” Brother Filbeck shows by exact quotations that there were many others of the Founding Fathers who were not believers in the Bible as the Word of God, nor in Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of the Father.

I want to show next that this had a profound effect on the thinking of the students in the schools of that day. Yale is one of the oldest and best-known Colleges in the U.S.A. On page 86 of the Filbeck book we have the following to show that the good old days were not different from what we have now. If anything, it was worse. The establishment of American Independence had not been affected without the moral contamination always the result of protracted wars. Licentiousness, both in conduct and sentiment, had followed the footsteps of liberty, and of the exultation of political emancipation, infidel philosophers found ready listeners, when they represented the restraints of religion as fetters of the conscience and moral obligation as shackles imposed by bigotry and priest craft.”

To show how successful the forces of evil were we quote from page 86: “At this critical period in the history of Yale, most undergraduates avowed themselves skeptics....The terrible condition for Christendom is made more evident by the fact that in the fall of 1796 only one freshman was a 'professing Christian': the sophomore class contained none; the junior, one; and the senior only had eight or nine. By the year 1800, it was reported that there were only five students who were members of the college church.”

Nor was Yale the only college so affected. We read the following about Princeton: “in the year 1782 there were only two students in the entire body who professed to be Christians.”

We learn this about Williams College: (The following was written by a member of the first class to graduate from the college): “Respecting the religious state of things in the College during my residence in it, I have no favorable account to give. It was the time of the French Revolution, which was, at that time, very popular with almost all the people in that part of the country. French liberty and French philosophy poured in upon us like a flood; and seemed to sweep everything serious before it.” So great was the flood of infidelity that we read further of still another college: “So great had been the common danger at Dartmouth College that in the class of 1799 only one member would openly make acknowledgment of his belief in Christianity.”

Nor was Adams the only man of the Founding Fathers who embraced the infidelity of the French Revolution. Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, yet Jefferson permitted Dr. Thomas Cooper, a rank infidel, to teach in the University of Virginia until opposition made it necessary that he resign.

We could use many pages to show the terrible religious condition of the country at the time of the War of Independence. Thank God there arose men who met the infidelic challenge and defeated it. Are we brave enough to meet the present challenge? We have more evidence today to show that the claims of the infidel are false than they had then.

The following gives us some idea of what happened as the battle was joined in the “good old days”: “The turbulent wave of French infidelity and aggressive English deism almost simultaneously encroached upon the American continent. As these forces moved in upon the various phases of life, there began a counter move which grew stronger and stronger in zeal and intensity” (page 95).

One of the leaders in this fight was Timothy Dwight, many years President of Yale. I quote from him: “Dwight recognized the significance for mankind of words like Reason and Liberty; but to worship abstract terms seemed to him idolatry as meaningless as that of the heathen who bowed down before a sacred cow or stone. It was beyond his understanding how intelligent man could idolize a bare word, sacrificing at its shrine the very thing which it denoted” (page 97).

As we look at history, the French groaned under oppression, they talked of liberty, but what did they do? They turned their so-called liberty into an orgy of pillage and murder. The Communists talk of liberty for the masses but no force has ever so subjected the masses to abject suffering as the Communists have. Jesus said: “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). True liberty is only found in Christ. Sin always brings bondage and slavery.

I think we can do no better than to quote Mark Hopkins who was president of Williams College from 1836 to 1872. (President Garfield was one of his students and is reputed to have said: “A log with a student at one end and Mark Hopkins at the other is my ideal college.”) Hopkins believed that the evidence was conclusive in favor of Christianity. He contended that Christianity is supported by moral evidence.

If any one would care to look around they can see how true this is. In many things we all stumble but the deeper the faith in the Bible the higher the moral standard. He that would question this must close his eyes to all the evidence around him.

Hopkins further said: “Hume does not take into account the moral government of God at all. This is a great mistake.” Our quotation from Filbeck continues: “He (Hopkins) significantly stated that 'moral government of God is a movement in a line onwards toward some grand consummation, in which the principles, indeed, are ever the same, but the developments are ever new, in which, therefore, no experience of the past can indicate with certainty what new openings of truth, what new manifestations of goodness, what new phases of morals may appear'.”

We follow the reasoning of Hopkins further: “Hopkins took special notice of the question of divine revelation -- a revelation attested by miraculous demonstration; for whatever probability there was that there would be a revelation, the same was there that there would be miracles; because miracles so far as we can see, are the only means by which it would be possible for God to authenticate a communication to man” (page 106).

The assailants change but the battle does not change. We must put on the whole armor of God that we may be able to stand in that evil day. The forces of right are much stronger than the forces of evil but we shall not succeed if we think that we can reach heaven on flowery beds of ease. Others fought and were victorious. There is no question about the outcome if we are strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.

J. C. Bailey, 1979, Weyburn, Saskatchewan

Published in The Old Paths Archive