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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

An Optimist’s Faith

By Orville Dewey (1794–1882)

[From Autobiography and Letters of Orville Dewey, D.D. 1884.]

I SAY, and I maintain, that the constitution of the world is good, and that the constitution of human nature is good; that the laws of nature and the laws of life are ordained for good. I believe that man was made and destined by his Creator ultimately to be an adoring, holy, and happy being; that his spiritual and physical constitution was designed to lead to that end; but that end, it is manifest from the very nature of the case, can be attained only by a free struggle; and this free struggle, with its mingled success and failure, is the very story of the world. A sublime story it is, therefore. The life of men and nations has not been a floundering on through useless disorder and confusion, trial and strife, war and bloodshed; but it has been a struggling onward to an end.

This, I believe, has been the story of the world from the beginning. Before the Christian, before the Hebrew, system appeared, there was religion, worship, faith, morality, in the world, and however erring, yet always improving from age to age. Those systems are great steps in the human progress; but they are not the only steps. Moses is venerable to me. The name of Jesus is “above every name;” but my reverence for him does not require me to lose all interest in Confucius and Zoroaster, in Socrates and Plato.

In short, the world is a school; men are pupils in this school; God is its builder and ordainer. And he has raised up for its instruction sages and seers, teachers and guides; ay, martyred lives, and sacrificial toils and tears and blood, have been poured out for it. The greatest teaching, the greatest life, the most affecting, heart-regenerating sacrifice, was that of the Christ. From him I have a clearer guidance, and a more encouraging reliance upon the help and mercy of God, than from all else. I do not say the only reliance, but the greatest.

This school of life I regard as the infant-school of eternity. The pupils, I believe, will go on forever learning. There is solemn retribution in this system,—the future must forever answer for the past; I would not have it otherwise. I must fight the battle, if I would win the prize; and for all failure, for all cowardice, for all turning aside after ease and indulgence in preference to virtue and sanctity, I must suffer; I would not have it otherwise. There is help divine offered to me, there is encouragement wise and gracious; I welcome it. There is a blessed hereafter opened to prayer and penitence and faith; I lift my hopes to that immortal life. This view of the system of things spreads for me a new light over the heavens and the earth. It is a foundation of peace and strength and happiness more to be valued, in my account, than the title-deed of all the world.