« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
It follows from this vital dependence of our faith in God upon our faith in man that we cannot have a liberal faith in God without a liberal faith in man. And such a faith is quite inseparable from any large appreciation of the course of human history,—the arts men have developed, the tasks they have accomplished, the civilizations they have reared, the inventions and discoveries by which they have subdued the original harshness of the earth, the sciences that have revealed the boundless mystery and order of the world, the heroisms that have sustained good causes and made bad causes almost good by the splendor of their absolute devotion. Nor less this faith sustains itself by visions of the possibilities of human nature projected for us by the exceptional splendor of great deeds which have lit up the centuries, and by such brave fidelities as we ourselves have known, of one substance with the fidelity of Jesus and all great and holy souls, as good as any ever shown by martyrs at the stake, which flame could not destroy or make one fraction less. Why, friends, if the Almighty were not good, but evil utterly, I think that he would soon or late be shamed into all sweet benevolence by the spectacle of human excellence, the golden deeds that men and women have so bravely and so sweetly done. That is a very lovely story which Dr. Abbott tells us about the young girl who came to him wishing to join the church, and he asked her, "Do you wish to be like Christ?" and she answered, “I wish to be like my mother." Oh, happy mother, to deserve that perfect praise! Oh, happy world, in which it is deserved by tens of thousands of each generation! And when Jesus loved to say Our Father! how near was Nazareth to Brooklyn, his thought to that of the dear girl who answered Dr. Abbott in that blessed way! And how tenderly Theodore Parker took up her thought and that of Jesus and blended them in sweet accord in his habitual prayer, "O Thou who art our Father and our Mother"! Thus evermore inextricable is our liberal faith in man and God.
I have shown how far removed from liberal faith in God
may be mere liberal opinion. It may be as far removed from liberal faith in man. In fact, we must go to Calvin for any estimate of human nature so contemptuous and so contemptible as that of certain modern thinkers and reformers, who arrogate to themselves the sole representation of liberal opinion, and who think they have a faith in man so liberal that there is no other that is worthy to be called liberal in comparison. For it is utterly illogical to believe in man as he now is, or as some few hundreds of particular men are, while holding that all the generations of the past and all the present race, some few thousands excepted, have been and are insane and idiotic in their religious mind. Yet that they have been and are insane and idiotic is undeniable if there has been no reality in the religious hopes, beliefs, and aspirations of the past. The hope of the race would be in its extinction if these things were true, and Huxley's comet could not come too soon. But those who have a liberal faith in human nature will not accept as true the railing accusation that has been brought against it by some thinkers of our time, who do not think too much. They will believe that there has always been a reality in religion, however irrational its manifestation. They will believe,
"That the feeble hands and helpless,
Groping blindly in the darkness,
Touch God's right hand in that darkness,"
and by that touch are thrilled with something better than the haughty sciolism of the half-educated intellect, which makes its ignorance the test of others' knowledge, and its self-sufficiency the condemnation of the multitude who, in all ages, have said with the apostle, "Our sufficiency is of God.”
The same apostle said, "I have fought a good fight; I have kept the faith." Now, in this busy, work-day world of ours, we are so circumstanced that we have not only our own faith to keep but that of other men. Doubtless men are not so scientific as they should be in their reasoning from day to day. Doubtless if they understood the logic of induction
better they would not argue from the turpitude of one man or woman, or even a dozen or twenty, to the essential turpitude of human nature and the injustice or indifference of the Almighty. But nothing is surer than that they do argue in this way continually, and that any base or even thoughtless man or woman can do more to destroy the faith of others in a day than Paley's "Natural Theology," or even the best things of Martineau, could do to rebuild it in a year. And, therefore, it is not enough that we shall carefully consider what we can do to make our own faith in God and man more liberal, and sweet, and glad. We must consider also what we can do to make the faith of others after the pattern we ourselves have seen in mounts of vision, haunts of silent prayer; what we must not do, that would, if done, hasten the swift inference from our baseness to the baseness of mankind and to the divine indifference to human good or ill. Happy are they whose goodness daily builds anew, in human hearts, faith in humanity and God!-thrice happy, seeing that it is a divine impossibility that they should do this service to their fellow-men, and not at the same time build up, in ever stronger and more glorious fashion, their own sweet and blessed confidence in all mankind and in him who is over all, God blessed forever.
THE CONTINUING CITY.*
THE Complaint of the New Testament writer that he and his fellow Christians had no continuing city is one that sometimes finds a very literal echo in the modern heart. Schiller's notable saying, There is nothing changeless but change, is nowhere found more true than in the cities of to-day,― miracles of impermanence, the waster and the builder too forever at their work, the march of improvement signalized by perpetual sapping and mining, with upheaval as by earthquake shocks. The cities of Europe are much stabler than our own; but in the most venerable of them all - Rome, the Eternal City of the poet and the rhetorician we found a lively transformation scene was being everywhere displayed. The Appian Way was choked with carts loaded with materials for new buildings destined to replace the old; and when we went to the Fountain of Trevi, and threw in our soldi and drank the water for augury of our return some happy day, they told us that we must not long delay or there would be no Fountain of Trevi pouring its flood of diamonds into the emerald pool below, that some smart new street was going to obliterate it from men's sight forever. I think it has not done so yet.
But of course the New Testament writer was not troubling his spirit over such little things as these. Little he cared for the impermanence of Jerusalem or Ephesus or Antioch or Rome. He looked for a city that had foundations, whose builder and maker was God; a Jerusalem the golden, like that of the Apocalyptic vision coming down from God out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And so it happens that his meaning was not one
*Preached on the first Sunday of the year.
that comes home to us more forcibly or appealingly than our trivial application of his words would have come home to him. Whatever hopes we cherish of new life, new love, new opportunity, upon the other side of death, they reflect no discredit on the world that now is. We shall be satisfied if we find anything there so beautiful and good as the things which here delight us and sustain us, sense and soul. We remember Dr. Holmes's poem, “Homesick in Heaven,” and we wonder if we shall not sometimes be homesick for the dear old mountains of the earth and the multitudinous laughter of the sea; yes, and for the faces and the voices that we knew of old, if they are different there. If different, they cannot be so good, whatever angel-folk may think or say.
"Hours fugitive as precious return! return!
Moreover, we have here a continuing city. So had the New Testament writer, only it did not exist for his imagination; and what does not exist for the imagination does not practically exist at all. It is the City of Dateless Time. How long has been, how long will be, its secret and sublime continuance? Once it began for men as yesterday, and tomorrow it would cease to be. Now the six thousand years of Bible reckoning are not a drop in the bucket to the millions that have come and gone since first the starry tides set toward the centre of the fluid haze and eddied into suns that wheeling cast the planets. And in "the nature of the times deceased," as Shakspere said, "there is a history, the which observed, a man may prophesy with a near aim of the main chance of things as yet not come to life," and know that they will have as free a scope, as boundless a duration, as the things already gone. And in this vast continuance there is no break.
The days and years are correspondent with the earth's revolution on its axis and around the sun; and these obvious motions serve our convenience excellently well, yet have in them as little of the essential quality of time as has a yard