Another, and the chief difficulty, is the fact that the great mass, even of educated minds, have never been trained to use the rules of language in the interpretation of the Bible as they do in common life. Although it is the great and distinctive principle of Protestantism that every man is to form his own creed, and to interpret the Bible for himself, responsible not to man but to God alone, the common people have not been trained properly to use this right and privilege. And this is not because it is not as easy and practical a matter as any other duty requiring intellectual culture, practical exercises, and an honest desire for the truth. In consequence of this, much that is only figurative in the Bible has been received as literal, and repellent doctrines thus established.
It is probable that no one thing could so effectually promote unity of opinion among churches, and consequent harmony of action, as the proper training of the common people in the nursery and school-room to use the laws of language with the Bible as they do in common life. Such training would also bring confidence and peace to minds so extensively perplexed by supposed contradictions as to its teachings. It was by this method that the writer overcame difficulties, and gained such confidence and peace as can be secured in no other way. Without stating the results of her own efforts in interpreting the Bible, a few examples will follow, to illustrate the position that any woman of ordinary capacity can find relief and comfort by the same method.
We will take, first, the great question of this life. What are our dangers in the future life, and what must we do to be saved from them?
The following is a brief statement of the views of mankind on this question. Among the heathen, especially among the wisest and best, it was held that the virtuous would fare better after death than the wicked. The seventy-third Psalm shows in most terrific language the misery of the wicked, and as clearly the blessedness of the righteous at death, as believed by the Jews in all ages.
Among Christian nations, a large class have no definite opinions on this question, but by their practice assume that there is no danger at all, and so give all their thoughts and aims to the things of this life.
A large class who profess to obtain their opinions from the Bible hold that, either at death or at some period after, all mankind will be forever good and happy in heaven.
Another large class hold that a portion of mankind will, at death, go to everlasting misery, to be tormented with literal fire and brimstone, and that all the rest will finally go to heaven; but previously the good must suffer temporary punishment for sins committed here - this period of suffering being more or less diminished by penances, and by the sacrifices and good works of Jesus Christ and the good on earth.
Another class believe that at death every human being passes directly to perfect happiness in heaven, or to dreadful sufferings in hell which are never to end. One part of this class hold that the punishment is literally existing forever in fire and brimstone, and the other part hold that the suffering will be the natural result of an endless character that insures misery, and that the language of the Bible expresses this figuratively.
Finally, another class hold that, in the life to come, happiness and misery depend on character; that a portion of our race in this life forms one that insures immediate and endless happiness at death; that another portion form a character that involves great suffering after death; and that in some cases this character is perpetuated forever, involving consequent endless suffering. But they claim that the Bible nowhere teaches that with all mankind character is fixed at death. Instead of this, what intervenes between death and the final day, when the righteous and wicked are to be re-clothed in bodies and forever separated, is left in wise darkness.
But the most striking fact in these diverse opinions is, that Christian sects all agree that the number who will escape from whatever dangers there may be, depends upon the self-denying labor and sacrifices of the followers of Jesus Christ.
In view of these facts, the first duty of every housekeeper, of every mother, and of every teacher, is to decide which of these views as to the dangers awaiting us all at death are taught by Jesus Christ and his apostles. For if it be true that scholars, children, and servants must be trained to selfsacrifice and self-denying labor, in order to save themselves and their fellow-men from dreadful risks and dangers in the life to come, all the practical duties of daily life will be diverse from the methods pursued by those who believe in no such dangers.
To illustrate this, suppose several families recently settled near a deep, unexplored wood in a new country. The children ramble in its shades, and every day find new beauties and curiosities to attract them farther into its reserves. On a certain day a man arrives from a distant place, all torn and bleeding in efforts to reach them. He tells them that there is a frightful ravine in the unexplored depths; that pleasant but slippery paths lead to it; that it is the resort of fierce and cruel animals, which come forth and roam through its beautiful shades, and that there is no safety but in keeping the children from entering these dangerous woods.
Now these points would be clear to common sense: first, that the man, though an entire stranger, is a benevolent person, because he evidently has suffered severely to save; next, that he tells what he believes is the truth, or he would not encounter this suffering; and lastly, as he says he has long lived in that vicinity, that he has had the means of knowing the truth, and his representations are to be received as true.
Suppose, then, one family have perfect faith in this messenger, they will use every possible precaution to avoid the dangers revealed. Suppose another family is skeptical about the danger, and yet has some fear it may be true, they would use some care, and yet not be so anxious and earnest as the family which had perfect faith. Suppose another family to have no belief at all as to the danger, they would allow their children to roam as before, and give no care or thought to the matter. This illustrates the position that belief in danger modifies all rules of duty, and that faith is proved by men's conduct or works.