It is in this respect that our moral standards, compared with those of Christendom for eighteen hundred years, have in a sense undergone not merely a development but reversal. In that passage upon charity in which the genius of early Christianity wings its highest flight, one note alone wakes no response in us. "Charity beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." Amen! But at "believeth all things" we draw back. For us, the word must read "proveth all things."
So long as moral obligation was based solely on the sanction of a supernatural world; so long as the condemnation of murder and theft and adultery was supposed to rest on the fact that God gave two tables of stone to Moses; so long as brotherhood and hope and trust ascribed their charter to an incarnate Deity, -- so long a belief in the charter and its history seemed the first requirement, the necessary condition of morality. But to the modern mind the first and great commandment is to see things as they are. The foundation of our morality, our happiness if we are to be happy, our trust and worship if we are to have a trust and worship, -- in any event, our rule of life, our guide and law, -- must be, follow the truth. No sect monopolizes that principle. It was orthodox old Nathaniel Taylor who used to bid his students, "Go with the truth, if it takes you over Niagara!"
The question presents itself to man: "Is the Power that rules the universe friendly to me?" It certainly does not offer the kind of friendship which man instinctively asks. It does not give the friendship which saves from pain, which insures ease, pleasure, unchecked delight. Not an indulgent mother, certainly.
The starting-point for getting the question truly answered must be a practical acceptance of the highest rule and ideal known to man. Accepting that and following it, he rises higher and higher. He feels himself in some inward accord with the moving forces of the universe. The prime requisite is for him to obey, to do the right, be the heavens kindly or hostile or indifferent. Just so, long before man knew anything of the general laws of nature, he planted and reaped, struggled for food and clothing, took care for himself, -- he must do long before he comprehends. So he must work righteousness and love, God or no God. And in the summoning voice within him, the play upon him of powers forever urging him to choose the right, -- powers to which he grows more and more sensitive as his effort is earnest, -- in this he comes to recognize some reality which has to him more significance and impressiveness than any other thing in the world.
The working principle of the modern mind is that the universe is orderly. Everything has its place and meaning. Man discerns in his personal life this much of clear meaning, that he is to strive toward the noblest ideal. As he accepts that, the conviction comes home to him that in the highest sense the universe is friendly, for it is attracting, urging, compelling him to the realization of his highest dreams.
The highest intellect is always serene. Shakspere and Emerson stand at the summit of human thought and vision; unlike as they are, both view the spectacle of life with an intense interest, and a great though sober cheer. If we analyze the elements which Shakspere portrays, we might incline to judge that the sadness outweighs the joy. But the impression left by his pages is somehow not sad. Some deeper spirit underlies and penetrates. Back of Lear's heartbreak, Hamlet's bewilderment, Othello's despair, we feel some presence which upholds our courage. It is the mind of the writer, so lofty and wise that it is not daunted by all the terrors it beholds, and which conveys to us its own calm.
In a like mood, we may often look for ourselves on the drama of real life, profoundly stirred by its comedies and tragedies, but not overwhelmed, -- least overwhelmed when our sight is clearest.
The sense of assurance -- not of mere safety from special harm, but the uplift of some unspeakable divine reality -- comes in presence of the grandest scenes of nature, -- mountain or ocean or sunset. They supply an external image, answering to some faculty in the soul. And when through failure of sense or spirit the vision is obscured, the soul becomes conscious in itself of that to which mountain and ocean are but servants, -- the reserve power to endure and to conquer which springs to life at the stern challenge.
The deepest assurance comes not as an intellectual view nor as an impression from the sublimities of nature. It is the outcome of the severest conflicts and the heaviest trials. We cannot explain the process, but we see in others or feel in ourselves this: that out of the hardest struggle in which we have held our ground comes the deepest peace. What serenity is to the intellectual life, that to the moral life is this "peace which passeth understanding," this blending of gladness and love. It is not a passive condition, but of the highest potential energy, -- the parent of all great achievements and patient fidelities.
The soul learns to draw courage, trust, joy, and hope from its resolute encounter with realities, without leaning on any explanation. It is the onlooker only who despairs. Literature, so much the work of on-lookers, exaggerates the depression. Men of action, toilers, helpers, fathers, mothers, saints, -- these do not despair. The world as a whole, and the best part of the world, lives a life of action, feeling, exercise of every faculty, -- which generates courage, strength, tenderness. Under all the confusion and wrong, there are still the deep springs of that same experience, that "peace of God" which always fed the highest life.
There is an experience sometimes felt of perfect assurance, peace, and joy. It is "love which casteth out fear," -- the sense of being "God's child;" it is communion with the Highest.
This is the heart of religion. It is known to "babes and sucklings," unknown to many otherwise very learned people. It speaks with an absolute authority the message of love and peace, of joy and hope.
The mind is wont to clothe this message in some crude form, which serves to convey it to others, but is like the alloy which makes the pure gold workable, yet debases it.
This gladness of the spirit was the gospel of Jesus. He had it as no one ever had it before. His followers caught it. They debased, necessarily, but they spread it. They worshiped it in him, made him their leader, master, and finally their God. They loved him as a present reality, while they treasured the record of his human words. In such exaltation, like the intoxication of a heavenly wine, the untrained mind is creative in its ecstasy; hence the beautifully conceived and easily believed stories of announcing angels, miracles of healing, bodily resurrection.
Then came a long development of dogma and church, -- much of obscuration, much of degeneracy. Through it all survived the truths that love is supreme, and that the law of life is goodness sublimed to holiness.
The revivals of religions have been the rediscovery of the glad truth, freed each time from some accompanying error.
The discovery of Luther was that the soul's life in God was possible outside of the Catholic church. Others had found this, too, but he made it a militant truth, and successfully revolted.
Calvinism was partly a reversion; its emphasis on sovereignty was tyrannical, but it trained the mind in exact and intense thought.
Fox, after long searchings amid sects and parties, made the new discovery again, -- God's spirit given directly, freely to man! Hence a sort of intoxication in the early Quaker, sobering to a sweet religion.
Always, in the various churches, -- Roman, English, Genevan, Lutheran, -- was something of the divine fire, though often hidden and choked.
In the Wesleys, the saving and seeking love of Christ was the form the revival took; and with this went "free grace," as against fatalism which crushed the will.
Edwards had something of the love-element, but it was fettered by his Calvinism. His main service was to stimulate religious thought, which, from a Calvinistic basis, worked out through Hopkins to Channing.
The revival in Liberal Orthodoxy is essentially a recognition of the true character of Jesus, and an idealization and enthronement of this as the sovereign ideal, with a clinging as yet to the supernatural basis, which inevitably grows weaker.
Meanwhile, new "ways into the Infinite" have been opened, -- through nature, as by Wordsworth; through humanity by Emerson.
Science has swept away the whole supernatural machinery with which this inner life of the soul has been connected in men's minds. It finds everywhere order, growth, a present rooted in the past and flowering into the future. Opening immense vistas for the race, it sometimes seems to shrivel the individual to a transient atom.
But still there wells up in the heart of man the mysterious, profound, irresistible gladness in its Divine source, -- the love that casts out fear. We may look at it soberly, assign it place, limit it in a way; it can no longer give us a cosmogony, but unimpaired is its message, "Obey and rejoice!" We correlate its impulse with the sense of moral obligation and the code of ethics which has grown up in the world's sober experience. We learn to cultivate the religious sense more wisely than of old. We make bodily health its minister. We administer and reorganize civil society, instead of confining ourselves to the church. We open our hearts to the revelation of nature and humanity. And we wait patiently the slow coming of the Kingdom; the slow growth of religion in our own character; the slow upbuilding of human societies.
Side by side with this slow process lies always the present heaven into which at times the soul enters and finds perfect peace, -- a peace which embraces past, present, and future, time and eternity. We study and practice obedience, diligence, patience; and at unforeseen moments, under shocks or in highest tranquillity, comes the divine revelation.
The belief that the perfect life had actually been lived by Christ was a help to men whose aspiration felt itself unsuccessful, -- the very height of the aspiration deepening the sense of failure. The mind fastened on an actual and perfect goodness outside of itself. The Stoic ideal kept a man self-watchful, giving him no higher personality to look up to. There was in Christianity the feeling that the perfect life has been lived, and this somehow may help to save me. This was the core of the Atonement. All theories of it -- ransom, substitution, and the like -- were intellectual explanations of the fact of experience.
Forgiveness is the soul's delighted sense that its sin is not mortal. It comes only after sin has been felt as a burden. Conscious of wrong-doing, man feels helpless and even accursed, -- imagines or credits stories of a fall, of measureless guilt, and an endless hell. What gives poignancy to these ideas is the real sense of wrong-doing, which projects a monstrous and exaggerated shadow.
The sense of duty, constantly worked, breeds in sensitive souls the despair of an unattainable perfection. The outward ceremonial does not help or enrich, -- the moral and spiritual ideal tantalizes by its impossibility. This happens even to the strenuously righteous. In the gross wrong-doer, especially if he falls under the ban of society, there is wrought a despair which probably expresses itself in a hardened recklessness.
Among these "lost sheep" came Jesus as a friend. His love divined the deeper soul within them, -- its yearning for the good it had perhaps ceased even to struggle for, -- its untouched possibilities. He said, "Be of good cheer! Thy sins be forgiven thee! Go in peace!" At his word and touch, a new life sprang up in them, -- a new force lifted humanity in its lowest depths.
To this new sense of life out of death Jesus gave the name of Your Father's love. He typified it in the parable of the Prodigal Son. And as the appropriate attitude for this recovered sinner, he set, not merely a glad and thankful acceptance of the gift, but the passing of it on to others. He bound inseparably the receiving and the giving. "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."
Just the experience of the pardoned miser or harlot came to Paul when he saw that in his pride and willfulness he had been persecuting the holy and innocent, yet felt himself reached and loved and restored by that same innocent and holy soul.
The experience was constantly repeated in the early church. It was the most striking of all those genuine "miracles" -- the wonders of spiritual creation and growth -- which were the wealth of the Christian society.
At the most dark and depressing hour of that society; when in gaining dominion it had lowered its purity, and before the barbarian invasion the whole social fabric shook, -- that same miracle of a divine love, realized as a saving and transforming force, was wrought in the great personality of Augustine, and inspired through him anew the life of the church.
The intellectual vestment of this experience -- the form under which the crude thought of these men gave it body and substance -- was the Incarnation and the Atonement. Those doctrines have lasted through all changes, even until this day, because of the pearl of truth cased in their rough shells.
When now we try to express that truth in its simplicity -- finding always a great difficulty in putting in articulate words the deep things of the spirit -- we say that the man who sees and sorrows for and seeks to escape from his wrong deed or habit may come into the consciousness that he will escape, -- may feel with a profound assurance that he is upborne by some power of good which will save him and bless him. He is recoverable; he is lovable; he is loved, and shall be saved. And the way in which that consciousness is awakened is oftenest by the contact of some soul which the sinner reverences as better than himself, which knows his guilt and loves him in spite of it, and declares to him that he shall live and recover. The minister of forgiveness may be a mother or a wife; it may be the sincere priest speaking to the sincere penitent; it may be Christ or Madonna; it may be the unnamed Power whose token is the sunset, or the rainbow, or the voice within the heart.
The especial limitation of Christianity at its birth was the expectation of the speedy ending of the existing order. Hence an indifference to such subjects, belonging to permanent human society, as industry, government, knowledge, the control of the forces of nature.
As to all these, the limitations of Christianity hindered its progress; as to each, the natural and secular world exercised an influence unconfessed or striven against; as to each, the perception was reached that it must be recognized by religion, until in our day the Here and Now takes the foreground in place of the Hereafter. The personal life in its present relations, the human society under earthly conditions, -- these give to us the main field and problem. The hereafter of the individual gives background and atmosphere.
For "holy living and dying" we put simply holy living. To give fullness and perfection to each day, each act, is all and is enough. The thought of death should not swerve or alter a particle. When the last hour of life comes, what retrospect shall we wish? Only to have filled life with the best.
The religious emotion will often and freely personify, and must do so. The highest feeling takes on a quality of love, and love goes to a personal object. It is sometimes as toward one divine friend and God, sometimes toward the one beloved human being, sometimes the Christ, sometimes a universe of living and loving beings. These are distinctions of form rather than of substance, the expression by different minds of the same reality.
To the modern mind, the distinct personification of deity is less natural than formerly. The very vastness of the Infinite, as we conceive it, precludes this definite personalizing of it as a habitual mode of thought or basis of conduct. Yet under lofty and high-wrought emotion, the yearning of the soul toward the Supreme Power often breaks spontaneously into the language of personality. In the exquisite sense of deliverance from sharp trouble, -- when the trouble itself seems more than justified by the heightened gladness, as in Titian's Assumption the face of the Virgin Mother shines in the welcome of that heaven to which the way has led through all earthly and motherly sorrow, -- in such emergence, the heart utters again the very words of the Psalmist: "I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord, O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul! Gracious is the Lord and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with me. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling."
If we would weigh and measure the value of mankind, we have no scales or measures. As much is to be said for the badness of men as for their goodness. Still more impossible is it to trace their individual responsibility for what they are. But the determination of the value of mankind, even the lowest, is by a different process from that of the speculative intellect. Are men worthy of love? Love them, and you shall know! The attitude of love vindicates itself. No one who has heartily given himself to the service of others turns back saying, "They are not worth it."
Encompassing light creates in the developing creature an eye. So encompassing love -- human love -- draws out response in its object, makes it lovable.
One class of truths are certain for all and at all times. These are such as: the excellence and authority of the highest moral ideal; the obligations of purity, truth, and honesty; love as the true attitude; receptivity toward knowledge, beauty, and humor.
There are other perceptions which vary greatly in their frequency and vividness. They are impulses of reassurance, joy, hope, victory. They surpass all other sources of strength and comfort.
They cannot, in their clearness and fullness, be transferred or expressed; they cannot even, by the mind experiencing them, be resolved into intellectual propositions.
They are not peculiar to what we usually call religion. The experience of love between man and woman opens a new world. So does music; so do all the finer forms of happiness.
All these, when they come, are felt as gifts, -- as revelations. They are not within our direct and immediate command.
What relation do they bear to the life which is within our command, -- to our deliberate, purposeful, self-ordered life? First, in that life we cultivate the two traits which fit us for the vision, though they do not command it, -- sensitiveness and self-control.
So no man or woman can foresee whether the love of wedlock shall come to them, but each can render himself worthy of love, and no high experience of love is possible except to one trained long beforehand in purity and unselfishness.
Next, these higher moods, when they come, should be accepted as giving law to the unillumined hours. They do not change, but they intensify, the aim at rightness of life, and they add to it the spirit of courage, of trust, of joy.
The hope of immortality -- the assurance of some good beyond, which we express by "immortality" -- is born from a sense of the value of life. Life is felt to be precious as it is consecrated by the moral struggle in ourselves, and as it is viewed in others with sympathy. We give our moral effort and our sympathy, and these are encountered by the tremendous play of human joys and sorrows, and the result is a sense of life as intensely significant.
The feeling of communion with Christ, with angels and saints, -- its natural basis is the reverence and love for great souls. As such reverence and love is deep, and as death removes the objects, the sense of a continued communion arises spontaneously. No form of our consciousness is more vivid and profound than this. It has a background of mystery, -- mystery scarcely deeper or other than that which envelops the earthly love. What do I love in the friend whom here I see? Is it the individuality, or that higher power of which it transmits a ray?
The sense of this blending of the human and divine does not weaken or perplex our affection for the friend we see; it intensifies and sublimates it. So, in the sense of communion with the unseen friend, it disturbs us not that we cannot say how much is there of the remembered personality, how much of the one eternal deity. The essence of what we loved and love is sure and undying.
The creature succeeds as its functions and organs become fitted to its environment. Man succeeds as he fits himself to a moral environment. To the undeveloped man the world is full of forces which are hostile or indifferent to his right action; a thousand things distract him from doing right; he is like a creature in a watery world with half-developed fins. But as a man becomes morally developed he finds moral opportunity everywhere, -- finds occasion for service, for admiration, gratitude, reverence, hope. This moral development includes the whole man: he needs a good body; he needs much that only inheritance can supply. His own effort is one factor, not the sum of factors. We must be patient with ourselves, -- accept our inevitable imperfections as part of the grand plan, and find a joy in what is above and beyond ourselves.
Man first solves the problem of his own life, -- finds the key in devotion to the highest ideal of character, -- finds the answer in moral growth following his effort, forgiveness meeting his repentance, human love answering his love, beauty meeting his desire, truth opening to his search, a support and assurance found in emergency.
Then, and only then, he can rightly study the world. For he must first have the standard of values in human life; he must have, too, the utter devotion to truth.
Studying the universe, he learns that man has come into being through the processes of material law, -- that the aeons of astronomy and geology have been working toward his production. He finds that man develops into moral man, with the power of choice and of love; develops into a being loyal and sensitive to duty and to his kind. This type of man tends to become the universal type. Human goodness tends to spread itself. There is a society, living from age to age, of those devoted to the good of man: this sentiment grows purer, more enlightened, more enthusiastic; it is the heart of all reforms, all social progress; no equal power opposes it. It is combated by selfishness, greed, ignorance, violence, but these forces have no spiritual cohesion among themselves, no inner unity; they are destined to fall before the advance of the higher spirit.
Hand in hand with this advancing goodness goes advancing knowledge, growing sense of beauty, greater powers of happiness.
We see thus a power working for good through man, making him its instrument, absorbing him into itself.
The movement is continuous, from the star-mist to the saint.
This is one element in the sum of things. It is the element that man knows best. The lives of the gnat and the tiger he scarcely more than guesses at. Other possible existences than his own there may be, even within this mundane sphere, of which he knows nothing. Of humanity he knows something, and he sees that it is moved toward the goal of perfection.
The power which thus moves it he inevitably identifies with that which he has found urging himself toward goodness, touching him in his best estate with a sense of harmony, and sustaining him in all emergencies. To this Power of Good he devotes himself and trusts himself. His supreme prayer is, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." He seeks to be used by this power for its own ends; better than any wish he can frame must be the end to which it works.
The final product of the world-forces, the flower of the universe, the child of God, is man, in his fidelity, tenderness, yearning. To him belong the saint's aspiration, the poet's vision, the mother's love. And this highest type, by all its finest faculties, reaches toward a hereafter.
The ruling power turns often a harsh face upon its creatures. There is unbounded suffering. There is the perpetual destruction of the individual. Even the moral growth meets obstacles often insurmountable; inheritance limits; circumstances betray; we see sudden falls and slow deterioration; whole races wane.
But we see that evil is somehow a stepping-stone to all our good. Heroism, piety, tenderness, have been born out of pain. The expectation of a hereafter gives hope that no individual moral germ is lost. And we see that the crowning victory of life is the persistence of man's good against the evil; as in the mother whose love the prodigal cannot exhaust; in the Siberian exile who will not despair; in Jesus when before the cross he prays, "Thy will be done." This is faith, this is the soul's supreme act, -- the allegiance to good, the trust in good, in face of the very worst. Man, in that depth feels lifted by a power transcending himself. So, when the beloved is taken by death, the heart, in face of that loss, loves on; feels its love greater than that which has befallen; says, "O Death, where is thy sting! O grave, where is thy victory!"
The best living unites us closely and mysteriously with some greater whole of which we are a part. The three great faculties are knowledge, conduct, love. Knowledge finds always new objects, new connections, a more perfect and wonderful whole. Right conduct brings a sense of being in true relations, -- of fulfilling some high destiny. Love blends the individual with the universal; its successive steps are the highest form of human education.
Christianity was a feminine religion in its virtues, as purity and tenderness; and also in its attitude of pure dependence, submission, petition. The masculine elements have not been duly recognized as religious, even when having a great place in the actual working of things, -- self-reliance, physical hardihood, civic virtue, the pursuit of truth.
In her subject state, woman has learned piety. She brings that as she emerges into her free state, her gift to man, as his to her is strength and self-reliance.
The moral power of the dogmatic systems has been very limited. They pretended to all knowledge and all power, but they have only gone a little way to sweeten and purify human life. The "enthusiasm of humanity" advances society farther in a decade than the old religion did in a century.
We are taught by scientists the extreme slowness with which races have improved. But do we know how fast races or families can improve if brought in contact with the most helpful influences of other races or families? Has that experiment ever been fairly tried? Do not results with hardened convicts, with Indian and pupils, suggest that there may be an immense acceleration of moral progress?
Different classes of minds require different religions. A multitude require the pictorial faith and the absolute authority of the Catholic church. A great many require the divine-human figure of Christ. A certain class of minds will be pantheistic. To some the wonders of the physical world will be the most impressive revelation. Natures strong in spiritual insight will be transcendentalists. Those in whom personal affection is profound will have the gospel of "In Memoriam" and Lucy Smith. Active, serviceable, unimaginative men will often be content with a cheerful agnosticism. Some, after pushing their inquiry to the farthest, and keeping it united with right living, will rest in "devout and contented uncertainty."
The advance of knowledge has been the great fact of the world's intellectual life for the past century.
The increase by this means of material good; the upward push of the people, strengthened by knowledge and by prosperity won through knowledge; the widening and deepening of human sympathy, -- these are the great social facts.
The imminent situation is that knowledge has destroyed the old religious basis, and is only just beginning to construct a new religious cultus. Socially, the common people seem on the point of a great advance, while the too eager push for material good brings temporarily a moral injury.
Among the constructive forces are: a knowledge of man and the world which enables us to build on broader foundations than Jesus or St. Francis; a vivified sense of humanity which gives the emotional force which is always the strongest dynamic factor; and a new sense of natural beauty which feeds the religious life and imparts peace.
The immediate future is uncertain, -- the barbarian invasion and the religious wars may have a parallel in another period of disasters. But the large onward movement is clear, and the personal ideal was never at once so reasonable and so ardent as now. Though storms should rise high, faith and hope may hold fast, remembering that
"all the past of Time reveals
Democracy is just a continuation of the upward push which out of the mollusk has made man. Altruism is not the only nor the primary upward force. Before it and along with it goes the individual's struggle for his own betterment, -- the outreach, first, of hunger and sex; then toward finer forms of pleasure; then of moral aspiration. Democracy, socialism are an effort for common betterment; the egoistic merges with the altruistic impulse.
The mind must be held open to the free winds of knowledge. If they can shake the foundations, let them. And just as one's personal courage must often tremble before personal risks, so there must sometimes be intellectual tremors.
If in the ardent temper and sweet spirit of the New Testament we try to discriminate as to what phases of human conduct receive the chief stress, we find the strongest emphasis is on brotherly love and chastity. The ethical service of the Christian church has been greatest in the direction of these two qualities. What it has done for purity is beyond our power to measure. And it is just at that point that even yet the struggle of humanity to emerge from the bestial condition seems most difficult and doubtful. Some writer has remarked that Christianity apparently introduced no really new virtue into human society, with the exception of male chastity. Shakspere in one sonnet gives tremendous expression to the evil of lust, with this conclusion: --
"This all the world doth know; yet none know well
Christianity, in a way of its own, opened a gate out of that hell. The gate was the power of a pure spiritual affection. Paul describes, in language that strikes home to-day, the war of flesh and spirit. For him, its conclusion is: "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" At the crisis there rises in his spirit the consciousness, vivid as a personal presence, of that great, pure, loving soul; and temptation falls dead. Augustine relates more fully a like experience. The turning-point of his life comes when, still bound after long struggles by a sinful tie, there comes to him the message, "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." The church has not confined itself to a single form of influence. It has invested the command to purity with the sanction of a divine behest; has used threats and penalties; has employed asceticism, often with most disastrous results; has appealed variously to the spiritual imagination with legend and story. The fresh blood of the Northern peoples has come in to reenforce the spent and struggling morality of the South. A romantic conception of love has blended nature's two great forces -- sense and spirit -- instead of setting them in opposition, and has invested wedlock with its true sanctity, in place of the false exaltation of celibacy. And, under various influences, the relation of the sexes has upon the whole been so far heightened that we see this at the end of two thousand years, -- that marriage, which Paul himself looked upon as a kind of necessary evil, is recognized as the best guardian and teacher of purity.
The connection between the two most strongly marked phases of Christian morality -- between love and purity -- is not an arbitrary or accidental one. It is an ideal affection that best masters the sensuous nature. In the words of "Ecce Homo," "No heart is pure that is not passionate; no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic."
The modern attitude has two broad differences from early Christianity. Man addresses all his energy to understanding and controlling the forces of nature, instead of regarding them as alien or hostile and his own salvation as a matter of supernatural relation.
And his relation with the Infinite and the Hereafter is far more various, subtle, intimate.
Epictetus gives the heaven of the conscience, Jesus of the heart, Emerson of the intellect.
Man's problems now are to find the physical and the social heaven, -- to rightly correlate the spirit with the body and the earth, and to more perfectly organize society.
The modern man, instead of appealing to Jehovah or Christ, grasps the powers of nature and of life as they are put into his own hands. Walter Scott writes in his journal, in a sharp exigency: "God help -- no, God bless -- man must help himself."
"Love God and man; what higher rule can there be?" we are asked. But the actual work of the modern man is widely different from what Jesus or Paul perceived. To understand natural forces and ally himself with them; to rightly order that vastly complex organism, the state; to frankly enjoy the pleasures of the healthy body; to discern the beauty of the surrounding world; to reproduce beauty in art; to relish the humor of the world, -- these are aims which would have sounded strange to Paul, to Jesus, or to Epictetus.
To seek the best, not for ourselves alone but for others, even at cost to ourselves; to control our lower natures by our higher natures; to feel a relation with the Supreme, -- these were the aims and inspirations of the earlier Christianity; and they remain, but with enlarged and new application.
Science has not penetrated to the inner secret of life, which is best reached by other approaches. But it has enormously affected all thinking by the discovery of Evolution. The recognition of growth -- a gradual, causal process -- in mankind's whole advance, alters the entire face of history and prophecy. Just as it eliminates supernaturalism from the past, so it guides present progress and inspires while it moderates anticipation of the future.
There grows the sense of some unfathomable unity. Creator and creature are not sharply separated, as by the theologians: they are even more closely united than the "father" and "son" of Jesus. So, too, the unity of humanity -- of all souls -- until the idea of personal immortality blends with some dimly conceived but greater reality.
It is impossible to portray under a single image the ideal of to-day, because many ideals coexist. There is infinite difference of moral development, as many characters as there are men; the variety of the spiritual world is like that of the material world, and the diversity gives richness and charm. And the forward movement of the ages is immeasurably complex. Yet certain broad movements are traceable.
"Do right and fear nothing," was the word of Stoicism.
"God is holy; be ye holy," was the word of Hebraism, growing clearer, stamping itself by institutions and inheritance.
"God is love; love ye," was the word of Christianity. The life of Jesus was the symbol of that idea, and gave impulse and law to the new society.
It was in keeping with the Stoic doctrine of Providence, but it came through the imagination to the heart, more powerful than the calm utterance of reason.
The Christian sense of sin was the intense force to rouse the ancient world from its easy-going content. It was necessary that purity should become a passion. The dogma of depravity was the intellectual exaggeration of this. A God who died to save men from sin and hell was its natural counterpart.
When the church had worked under the control of these ideas for fifteen hundred years, there woke again in mankind the sense of joy, beauty, knowledge, as good in themselves and God-given. Humanity was only half ripe for this truth, and again the austere impulse reasserted itself in Calvinism, in Puritanism, in the Jesuits. But knowledge, joy, naturalness, went on growing; they have changed the conception of religion itself, turning it to the sense of a present as well as a future fruition.
The sense of human suffering comes in our day to full realization. The best impulse of the time throws itself against that, as formerly against sin. Just as the evil of sin was overstated and became an exaggeration and terror, so the sense of human suffering is often overstretched and becomes pessimism. But, essentially, a fresh and powerful enthusiasm assails the evils of mankind. It aims to educate and elevate the whole being, -- to save men. It has in science a new instrument.
The old hope of some speedy millennium is gone. We see that the general advance must be slow. But we also see that the imperfect condition is not so terrible as it was once supposed: it does not incur hell; it does not imply total depravity; it may even serve as stepping-stone to higher things.
All the higher phases of man's nature point together. The highest thought says, "All is well;" the deepest feeling, "God is love;" the human affection realizes its immortality; the seeing eye finds universal beauty; the profoundest yearning enfolds the promise, "I shall be satisfied."
We may follow the story by another thread.
A human society inspired and bound together by the highest traits, consciously ensphered in a divine power and inspired by it, -- this is the ideal which has been reached toward and grown toward through all the ages.
Its primitive germ was Israel's hope of a splendid national future.
In Jesus this expanded into the Kingdom of God among men, -- that is, the perfect reign of goodness, love, and the human-divine relation of son and father. He looked for its realization by miracle, and when that failed said, "Thy will be done," and died, trusting all to the Father.
His followers, at first under the dream of his second coming, settled into a society bound together by common rules and ideals. The Catholic church was born and grew. Mixed with all human elements of imperfection, it advanced a long way toward the goal, then divided its sway with new energies.
In the political and social life of Europe, and especially of England, there slowly grew up a population fit for self-government in place of government by the few.
Thomas More foresaw prophetically a community which should realize the loftiest vision, and whose bond should be human and social, not theologic.
The Puritan tried to enforce the will of God, as he understood it, by authority, -- to build a commonwealth on Hebrew lines. He failed, in England and America, but stamped his character on both peoples.
Then came the essay of the Quaker toward a reign of peace.
Next, the Wesleyan movement, quickening the English heart and conscience, and sending the wave which did in a degree for the West of America what Puritanism and Quakerism did for the East.
Then the uprising in France, -- the passionate aspiration for "liberty, equality, fraternity," -- at war with Christianity, instead of at one with it like English freedom, and working great and mixed results.
We see the American republic, founded by a blending of hard common sense, experience, devotion, and widening purpose, and best typified in Washington.
In Lincoln the problem of the American commonwealth -- to maintain unity, yet purify itself -- and the problem of a human life are both solved by the old virtues, honesty, self-rule, self-devotion.
The present movement of the world is toward a nobler social order. It is to lift the common man upward, on material good as a stepping-stone, toward the height of the saint and seer. This is the better soul of democracy, the noble element in politics, the reformation in the churches, the bond of sympathy with Christ.
Along with this goes a new personal ideal, exemplified in Emerson, -- accepting the present world as the symbol and instrument of a celestial destiny. "Contenting himself with obedience, man becomes divine."
In the Gospel history, the figures of the woman and the child take a high place. In Jesus himself the feminine element blent with the masculine. Medieval religion and art found their best symbol in the figure of the mother clasping her babe. Our modern time is giving freedom to woman and recognizing her equality with man, and we are learning that the secret of the world's advance lies in the right training of children under natural law. So the sentiment which grows up in the natural relations of life is elevated by religion, then developed and perfected by freedom and by science.
For us the practical problem is the cultivation of the religious nature along with the other elements of a complete manhood. We are not obliged by intellectual process to create a religious sentiment in ourselves. We inherit that sentiment. It is like the sense of purity or of beauty, -- beyond demonstration, except the demonstration of experience. We need only to supply the right conditions for its education and application.
The belief that the spiritual life was dependent on certain institutions and beliefs was the key to the ecclesiastical tyranny of the past. We have virtually escaped that tyranny. Now, in the atmosphere of freedom, we cultivate the spiritual life, and it proves deeper and fairer than ever before.