Conversion of an Infidel Doctor

Somewhere about thirty-five years ago, while I was traveling on the Cumberland District, in West Tennessee, there lived a Dr.----, who was wealthy, and immensely popular as a practicing physician. He had a large practice; he was gentlemanly in his manners, hospitable, and kind. His family were very respectable; his wife was a devoted Christian and a faithful member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. They lived in affluence; they were benevolent and liberal in the support of the Gospel. I was introduced to the doctor and his amiable family at a camp-meeting, which was held a few miles from his residence. Having a few days to rest between my camp-meetings, the doctor and family cordially invited me to spend those rest days at his house, and I consented to do so. When our camp-meeting closed, in company with several other preachers, I repaired to the doctor's habitation. We were received cordially and treated princely. There was everything earthly to make one comfortable. The family, black and white, were called in to family worship night and morning, and when we surrounded their bountiful table we were invited to ask a blessing, and to return thanks. The next morning, after we had breakfasted, as we were seated in the parlor, the doctor informed me that he was a total unbeliever in the Christian religion; that he had read the Bible through and through again and again, and that he could not receive it as a revelation from God; that he liked the morals that the Christian system inculcated; he liked to encourage the Gospel, because of the good moral influence it had upon mankind; that he felt it not only a charity, but a positive duty to support the Gospel; first, because it taught a pious reverence toward God; secondly, because it breathed peace and good will to all mankind; thirdly, because it taught truth, virtue, honesty, and benevolence in all the civil, social, and moral relations of man as he stood accountable to his God, and as he stood connected with or related to all mankind.

Now, my gentle reader, you may well imagine that I felt a little surprised, and that I felt greatly the need of right words, or rather strong arguments and soft words, and, after pausing for a moment, I looked the doctor full in the face and said.

"Doctor, I hope you believe there is a God. Do you?"

"Certainly," was his reply.

"Doctor, do you believe that God is too wise to err, and too good to inflict pain or misery of any kind on his innocent and unoffending creatures?"

"Certainly I do, sir."

"Well now, doctor, will you be good enough, laying the Bible aside, to tell me how a wise and good God could push into existence a race of human beings, subject to all kinds of mental, moral, and physical wretchedness, misery, and woe? If he is wise, just, holy, and supremely good, how could innocent man, coming immediately from the plastic hand of his God, be filled with so many unholy and impure passions as we see human nature heir to?"

"I must confess," said the doctor, "I cannot account for it; it is wrapped in inexplicable mystery."

"Well, doctor, seeing God is supremely good and wise, and seeing that man is limited in all his powers of mind and body, and subject to so much misery and so many errors in judgment and practice, can we not well imagine that God, who is the supreme source of all moral excellence, and whose tender mercies are over all his works, would be moved by the benignant laws of his own eternal nature, after having created man for his own pleasure, with all his liability to err and his susceptibility to evil, would be prompted to give to this feeble race a rule of faith and practice? And what else is the Bible? Nay, would it not throw eternally into the shade all the perfections of God, at whose almighty fiat teeming millions of erring human beings have taken their existence in the world, and who have no power to control or prevent their own existence, if that God should leave these millions to wander in the mazes of animal passion without a well-defined revealed rule of faith and practice?"

The doctor paused, and made a sorry reply. I saw I had made a breach in his supposed impregnable wall, behind which he had intrenched himself, with all his boasted infidelity. I saw there was not a moment to be lost; and with haste I commenced readjusting my battering-rams, that in my next onset I might widen the breach, and enter the citadel, and take my infidel doctor prisoner, and silence all his opposition to truth, when all of a sudden he said, "Mr. Cartwright, I know you are a man of reason and good sense; and I think I can prove to you, beyond the power of successful contradiction, that there is no such thing as experimental religion, and that it is all imagination and delusion."

"Very well, doctor; try it."

"Well, sir," said he, "does not all knowledge, either human or Divine, depend upon sensible evidence?"

"Yes, sir."

"Does not faith, human or Divine, depend on credible evidence?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well," said he, "I will state a plain, unsophisticated case. Suppose you were called upon, as a judge or juror, to decide a case in litigation, and there were five witnesses introduced, all of them honorable, high-minded men, whose veracity was never called in question, and who stood unimpeached and unimpeachable everywhere; whose known integrity and intelligence were admitted on all sides; and suppose a matter in controversy was brought before you, and these five witnesses were introduced as credible evidence; and one of the witnesses deposed to the facts as stated by the plaintiff, A., and then the other four came forward, and with equal clearness deposed to the facts as claimed by the defendant, B. Now, sir," continued the doctor, "all things being equal, so far as the intelligence, truth, and veracity of the witnesses are concerned, how would you decide the case? Would you not instantly decide that all the probabilities and all the possibilities were in favor of the four who deposed to the facts stated by the defendant, and that the one lone witness who deposed to the facts claimed by the plaintiff must, to a certainty, be mistaken?"

I replied, "It is altogether likely I should give judgment for the defendant, B."

"Well, now, sir," said the doctor, "you contend that the Christian religion is an experimental fact, and that all Christians have sensible evidence of a change of heart, which you call religion. Man has five senses, namely, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling. On the united and concurrent testimony of these five senses, or witnesses, all knowledge of experimental religion depends; and all professions of the knowledge of facts that cannot be proved by these witnesses, must be fallacious, and, therefore, a deception. Now, sir," said the doctor, "permit me to ask you a few serious and solemn questions; and I demand honest and unequivocal answers, direct. Did you ever see religion?"

I answered, "No."

"Did you ever hear religion?"


"Did you ever smell religion?


"Did you ever taste religion?"


"Did you ever feel religion?"


"Now, then," said the doctor, with apparent triumph, "I have proved, beyond a doubt, by four respectable witnesses, that religion is not seen, heard, smelled, or tasted; and but one lone, solitary witness, namely feeling, has testified that it is an experimental fact. The weight of evidence is overpowering, sir, and you must give it up."

I paused, and seemed to be astonished, and greatly perplexed; but recovering myself a little, I said, "Doctor, are you willing that your principles and professional practice shall be tested by the same array of testimony as you have adduced to overthrow revealed religion?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, sir, you profess to understand the science of medicine. You have had, and now have, a large and lucrative practice. You profess to have cured various and complicated diseases, and to have relieved and removed many pains, in the complicated forms in which they have attacked the human system; and you have amassed a princely fortune by your successful practice."

"All true," said the doctor.

"Well, sir, do you not know that you have been playing the hypocrite, and practicing a most wretched fraud on the gullibility of the people?"

"No, sir," he replied, very fiercely.

"Why, doctor," said I, "a man of your profound science and research must certainly know that there is no such thing as pain in the human system; and though ignorant people have thought so, yet you know better; and whenever you have visited poor dupes, that thought they were in great pain, and administered medicine to them, and thus persuaded them that you, by your medical skill, had removed their pain, and charged them large bills, you certainly knew you were practicing a fraud on them, and getting their money under a false pretense; for you certainly knew that there was no such thing as pain."

Said the doctor, rather fiercely, "I certainly know no such thing, sir."

I replied, "Well, doctor, I will ask you a few questions if you please, and I demand honest and prompt answers."

"Very well, sir," said the doctor.

"Well, sir, did you see a pain?"

"No, sir."

"Did you ever hear a pain?"

"No, sir."

"Did you ever smell a pain?"

"No, sir."

"Did you ever taste a pain?"

"No, sir."

"Did you ever feel a pain?"

"Certainly I did, sir."

By this time I had well-nigh taken the wind out of the doctor's sails, and his countenance betrayed confusion, but I rallied him, and said, "Do not be alarmed, doctor; four respectable witnesses have testified that there is no such thing as pain in the human system, and but one lone witness has deposed that there is; therefore, the idea of there being pain in the physical system of man is fallacious, and there is no reality in the thing; and you ought to go and restore the money you have taken from them, and acknowledge the fraud you have practiced on them, and do so no more; and I charge you, as an honest man, to do it, and quit those fraudulent practices."

During almost all this conversation with the doctor, his wife and family sat around and listened with profound attention, and I frequently saw the tears coursing down the cheeks of the doctor's wife. The doctor became mute, and remained silent for a considerable time. I turned my conversation to the doctor's wife and children. Just at that moment the Lord, in a very powerful manner, blessed the pious wife of the doctor, and she shouted aloud and blessed God for revealed religion. She ran and threw her arms around her husband's neck, and exhorted him, with streaming eyes and words that burned, to be reconciled to God. I said, Let us all kneel and pray. The doctor fell on his knees and wept like a child, and prayed fervently. The great deep of his heart was broken up, his infidelity gave way, and, for the first time in his life, he wept and prayed. All day after this he seemed to be melted into childlike simplicity. He fled to the woods, and earnestly sought salvation. That night, after prayer, he retired to bed, but not to sleep, for he prayed as in agony; and about midnight God spoke peace to his troubled soul, and we all awoke and got up, and joined in prayer and praise. Such thrilling shouts I seldom ever heard from the lips of mortal man. His conversion was the beginning of a glorious revival of religion in the settlement, and many were the souls saved by grace. Many of the doctor's slaves obtained religion, and many others of the slaves in the neighborhood. The doctor fitted out and sent most of his slaves to Liberia. Thank God that I ever had the privilege of preaching the Gospel to slaves and slaveholders. Religion always makes better slaves and better masters, and will secure the freedom of more slaves than all the run-mad abolitionism in the world. The doctor shortly after was licensed to preach, and lived a pious, useful life. God gave him many seals to his ministry. He has long since fallen on sleep, and gone home to Abraham's bosom, while I am left to linger on the shores of time a little longer; but while I pen this little sketch my heart grows warm with holy fire; and I hope soon to meet the doctor and his lovely family in heaven, with many, very many, of the spiritual children God has given me. Amen.