Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

APPENDIX No. IV.

THE SPIRIT IN WHICH CHRIST'S RELIGION CLAIMS

TO BE APPROACHED.

THE Rev. Dr. H. W. Bellows, of New York, whose justly lamented death about two years ago was felt by the ‘Liberal Christians' of America to be a national loss, in his Restatements of Christian Doctrine (New York : Appleton & Co.), says: “The gospel, as a religion, asks from men, who hope to profit by it, the same childlike spirit now it did in the early times. It appeals no more to the inquisitive and speculating, the logical and reasoning faculties, now than then,—not because the finest understandings, the most scientific minds, can refute it, or that it has anything to fear from them, but neither has it anything to hope from them. We make a great mistake when we suppose Christianity to be on trial, or that God has submitted His gospel, any more than His other universal gifts and mercies, to human reason, to decide for or against it. He planted Christianity in the moral world, just as He planted wheat in the natural, to grow, with or against the consent of men ; to be a great and unspeakable blessing to those accepting it, to do vast services for society, to cheer and save men. And here it is, doing its work. Sceptics and infidels do nothing to overthrow it : they only overthrow themselves by their assaults. Philosophic believers and learned apologists do nothing to uphold it: they merely satisfy their own minds, and may satisfy the minds of a few others, by their investigations. But we might just as well think the stars shone by the permission of astronomers, or spring came by leave of the almanac, or conjugal and family life existed by social contrivance, or poetry were a trick of fanciful scholars, or truth the result of an agreement among philosophers, as to think religion, and the Christian religion, a conclusion of learned theologians and writers on evidences, and the best wisdom to which religious thinkers had arrived. Christianity came into the world by nobody's leave, and it stays here by nobody's leave. It sprang up a living fountain, by the Word of God, out of the heart of Christ; and it has flowed on a river by its own Divine affluence, fed from the will and the love and the wisdom of God. There is, indeed, not only no harm, but great good, in examining its origin and early circumstances, the genuineness of its records, the secondary causes of its spread ; but all such examinations, when successful and favourable, have been made by men already believers in it—by those who had felt its power and loved its sacred influence. An impartial, unprejudiced explorer of its truth never existed, and never could exist. The man who could say it was a matter of absolute indifference to him whether Christ were an impostor or a prophet, whether the gospel were true or false, would be a man not to be believed, or, at any rate, not to be trusted with such an inquiry. It is impossible, with respect to matters intimately connected with the affections and the moral and spiritual nature, not to have the intellect and the judgment anticipated by the heart and the great instincts. There are glorious prejudices, holy and awful truths, which precede all ratiocinations; and he who pretended to examine into the reality of his own existence without a prejudice in favour of it, or into the reality of right and wrong as fundamental distinctions of the utmost significance, or into the existence of virtue, or the genuineness of Christ's character, or the holiness of God, with the same sort of candour and uncommitted judgment with which he explored the evidences for and against a scientific theory, or a historical hypothesis, or a matter of literary criticism, would be so obviously self-deluded, and out of just relations with himself and truth, that we should at once pronounce his inquiry worthless, and his conclusion vain. It being settled, then, that the great thing the gospel wants, is not our testimony for its sake, but our submission for our own,-not to triumph over our doubts, but over our affections, that it may bless our lives and characters,-you will appreciate the godly jealousy it has of mere curiosity, and criticism, and acumen, and intellectuality, and why it tells us still that we must become like little children, if we would know and feel its power and become heirs of its kingdom. We, in our conceit, imagine that it is because religious truth and Christian faith are afraid of our knowledge and criticism, and shrewdness, and knowledge of the world, that it asks us to lay them aside when we come into its presence. It is not afraid of what these will do to its prejudice, but what they will do to our injury. It does not want them dazzling our eyes, and dangling their superficial impertinence before our higher and holier powers. It wants to speak to our deep moral instincts, our permanent and sacred affections, our spiritual nature ; and therefore it bids our noisy logic and lip-wisdom, our intellectual attainments, all be quiet, that our souls may receive its simple and sublime communications, and feel its glorious power. After we have caught its lesson, and drunk in its spirit, we may try it as we please, by history, science, philosophy, and it shall stand every test; but none of these shall help us in advance. There is no denying that this is precisely the course which superstition and imposture, delusion and folly, would take, if they were seeking possession of the human soul. They would say : Unless you believe before you examine, you cannot receive the testimonies we have to offer ; unless you will exclude the prying, curious, suspicious temper you bring for your protection against imposture, you will see and hear nothing, you will learn and know nothing. And the reason why they say this, and why this counsel has dangerous influence in the case of superstition, is because it has lawful power in the case of genuine truth. Superstition addresses a sound principle when she makes this appeal, but uses it in a perilous way. Let me illustrate the distinction. An exquisite picture Murillo's Madonna, if you please—is to be exhibited, and you are taken into a room to see it, in which the light is carefully shut out from all quarters but one, and from that only just so much admitted as the artist knows to be suited to the revelation of its highest beauty. In this precise light you see its wondrous loveliness, and feel its charming and exalting truth. You recognise the painter's claim to his great reputation. Again : a picture-dealer wishes to give a fictitious appearance of age, merit, value, to a pretended original. But he, too, wants the light excluded, the special quantity only admitted, and the picture looked at only in a very carefully arranged way. He aims to deceive, and succeeds. Are you, therefore, to deny that a special light and a carefully-directed light is essential to the perception and enjoyment of the picture of real merit? And so it is plain enough that the spirit of confidence, frankness, and simplicity, in which alone the highest truths are to be seen, is the spirit most open to abuse, and of which error takes most advantage. But until a rich soil is undervalued because it is favourable to weeds, or a sweet disposition because it is easily betrayed, or a believing spirit because it is taken in with facility, we must not deny that a childlike docility is a proper condition for the reception of the gospel, because it is an equally natural condition for the reception of that which is only imaginary and unreal. In an age of light and thought and criticism, of shrewdness and common sense, the best results of worldly experience and intellectual culture are those which teach us not to rely upon such experience and culture for our deepest and most saving convictions. It is very certain that wisdom, which is the bright, consummate flower of knowledge, is very like, in its tastes and even its conclusions, to that unconscious simplicity or docility of mind which precedes all knowledge. The wise old man is again a child. He has the humility, teachableness, modesty, and faith of a child. How beautiful and touching it is to see the soul, which has been strained out of its place by worldly experience, the biasses of party and the pride of opinion, settling back, with the relaxed efforts of a weakened bodily vigour, into the more natural feelings and childlike opinions of youth! I know that we are sometimes accustomed to attribute this return to early tastes and feelings to a decline of the faculties, to the loss of intellectual vigour, to weariness and weakness of mind. But what is that strength of mind worth which merely sustains us in unnatural and eccentric postures of thought? what that originality which separates us from homely and universal truths ? what that brilliancy which is due to the sparks struck out by our conflict with wisdom? How plain is it to riper souls, that half the smart and noisy and striking thought of the world is false and hollow, while the unshowy, sober, and substantial sense dwells with the unpretending and the unobserved! Moral qualities are infinitely more essential to the perception and estimate of facts, than intellectual qualities. It is desirable, indeed, to have acuteness, sagacity, discrimination, in the observer ; but how much more to have candour, the love of truth, and the strictest scrupulosity in stating it. What philosophers, or men

of science and learning, could have filled the place of the Apostles in reporting the life of Christ? They would have obtruded their theories and schools of philosophy, and tried to make a fine and striking and coherent story out of the case; and what would have become of that inimitable portrait of Christ and Christianity we now derive from their transparent sketch ?- illiterate, unskilful, broken, and confused, but with the most precious proofs of nature, reality, and genuineness in its very defects. My brethren, it is so with the understanding and reception of the religion of Jesus Christ. If you desire to know what this blessed gospel is, to receive it, understand it, and live in and from it, you must approach it in the spirit of little children. You must lay aside your pride of understanding, your worldly wisdom, and dearly-bought experience. They belong to a quite different class of pursuits—are valuable only in a very different sphere from that of religious experience. If, after eighteen centuries' experience of its fruits, we have not made up our minds to trust Christianity,—if we are disposed to be wary of it, and to stand on our reserved rights,—we are practising the same folly that a bright and confident youth would be guilty of, who should go to see the masterpieces of art, architecture, sculpture, painting, and at once set up his raw taste and judgment against the testimony of time,stand before the Apollo, or the Moses of Michael Angelo, or the Transfiguration, or the Parthenon, not to correct his own ignorance, form his own taste, and drink in the humbling lessons of beauty and truth they embody, but to indulge his self-opinion, criticise their defects, and dispute the verdict of ages. Is it to lay aside reason, to shut the eyes and open the ears, to bow to mere authority, that we are recommending in respect to our religious faith? Not at all. The reason is never so sound and active, the eyes never so clear, the judgment never so reliable, the man never so much in possession of all his powers, as when he says to himself, I am a child before God-an ignorant, dependent child, who feels his profound need of instruction, his inadequacy, by mere self-directed thought, to penetrate the secrets of faith, hope, and charity ; and who thankfully, humbly, trustingly opens his soul to the lessons of the Great Master. We do our souls despite, we really disparage and despoil them of their highest worth, when we deny them the sagacity to know and take their humble place in the presence of a Personage

« ÎnapoiContinuați »