UNIVERSALISM, A PROBLEM AND A POWER.
Preached before the United States General Convention of Universalists at Providence, R. I., October 23, 1878.
By REV. CHARLES H. LEONARD.
“In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”—St. John i, 4.
Any published review of our Christian year would show, I believe, visible signs of our growth as a church, in all the facilities of education and worship, including those institutions which best embody and express our Faith. In the methods, also, which mark the progress of an intellectual and religious people, we should note, in the same review, a decided advance, especially in the comprehension, amongst ourselves, to say nothing now of others, of our distinctive idea; in the point and breadth of its statement and illustration; and in the force and precision of argument with which all criticism of its position has been met. And he who is called to stand in this place to-day can hardly help the grateful recognition of these facts; and the noble work, also, which has been done in our pulpits all over the land, and by that religious press, which is so powerful an auxiliary of the spoken word of our clergy—a work, in some instance, as masterly as it has been catholic and glorious. The recent representative addresses at the several State Conventions, show that our preachers and lay delegates are alive to the freshest reading of the Creator’s nature, of human history, and human experience, and that they are eager to see and point out the relation of their religion to the thought of the age. Nor is this all. No year of our history, it seems to me, has brought report of greater faithfulness, both as regards criticism of defects that ought to be remedied, and suggestion concerning the richer life, and the more exact methods at which we ought to aim.
And now we are here, in convention assembled, to consult together for good of our Church, and to inquire how best we can advance a great Cause, and make effective the instruments which God has put into our hand. Indeed, the deeper question might be: How shall we enrich our thought, deepen our religious life; at what sources shall we charge our own spirits, and over what lines shall we send the living currents to quicken other souls, to stir them to new endeavor, or rouse them to holier living?
I believe that we are specially interested in these two great aspects of our life as a Christian people, to which allusion has just been made: first, in the life of thought and faith, and love; the life of God in the soul, and of the soul in God—the divine life, of which Jesus is the perfect possessor and the only communicator to us; and, second, in the methods by which the inner life finds expression and investiture in the world where God has placed us, and with regard to that mission which we are set to fulfil. But need I say that this spiritual life has its basis in certain religious ideas and principles; and that those methods are, in a good degree, determined by what is most radical and formative in our belief. I invite you, therefore, to consider some phases of our religion which recommend it to thought, and mark it as an efficient force in human life. The shape which the subject has taken in my own mind is this: Universalism, a Problem and a Power.
I am drawn to this subject because I think we all need to see, first, how large and how real a place our religion occupies in the thought of the world. The questions which interest and move us; the ideas of God and man and destiny for which we stand, and to which, as a Church, we are pledged, are those which are most precious, not only to the hopes of men, but to their speculative and ethical thought. And it has been so from the beginning. The earliest Christian ages thirsted toward a better future, in which they really believed; and the more eminent the representative of the new religion, the more rare the thought of God, and the deeper the trust in Him as a being of love unlimited—which is our fundamental Idea—and in a Saviour, whose mission is commanding and universal extending to the entire race, and including the perfection and the blessedness of each individual of that race. Indeed, Universalism as a problem was the one which most absorbed the best philosophy of the ancient world, without as well as within Christianity. It really gave substance to the New Platonism, for that was a struggle to liberate the divinity within men. It is involved in the Logos doctrine of Philo, and the early Christian Fathers. It was the motive in the generous Optimism of the Alexandrian, and a good part of the Palestinian school. It was the grandest idea suggested by the vast realm open to the vision of the Gnostic. And I cannot think of any great controversy of the Church, which has not, in some way, and often in a very unexpected way, been illumined by the truth of God’s undeclining love, and the results, in the mission of Jesus Christ, which that love will secure for humanity.
It is encouraging to know that men, like Neander, Ranke, Presensee, and Professor Fisher, who have dealt most faithfully and successfully with the philosophy of ecclesiastical and dogmatic history, have been glad to recognize this substantive truth, not merely as the dream of Stoic and Gnostic, Montanist and Mystic, but as the one problem most attractive, and most interesting to the thought of thoughtful men, and the one that was oftenest held before the mind. Study of the great heresies, so-called, especially those of the twelfth century, discloses the fact that men were yearning for something better than the mechanical and materialistic interpretations of an Establishment. They could not put up with the vague ideas of the schools, and the hard explanations of the dogmatists; and so they turned to other source of instruction, and looked within themselves, that there they might find their God, and their rest. Men, whom history has left in mid-air, as it were, and covered with a veil so mysterious and obscuring, that her students can hardly make them out as veritable personages, have been brought within the range of natural and common vision, to stand before us in their real character, not as rebels against God, and the spiritual reign of His Son, but as those who could not accept the Church’s representation of God, and the artificial venerations of her prescribed order. Tauler, even, was more practical in his thought and more catholic in his methods than the Church which denounced him as mystical. He could not see God in procession and pageant. The Infinite Spirit was more to his great soul than could be imaged in a crucifix; and he sought the retreats of his own faculties out of sheer discontent with the sensualism and legalism whose dreadful bondage once held him. Now what most attracted this man, and secured the wondnmt* fellowship of one of the noblest choirs of souls that this earth has ever know, was the truth of man’s ultimate perfection as the necessary result of a moral government ordained and presided over by an infinitely wise, and perfectly good Being.
And the problem that so absorbed the soul of the mystic, giving force, consistency and direction to his thinking, was the very one that determined the currents which set steadily towards the Reformation. One of the most remarkable utterances of that far-seeing scholar. Dr. Hosea Ballou, 2d, was his prophecy, spoken in the privacy of his sick-room a short time before he went to heaven, that the future students of our Faith, would find the germ of its truth concerning the soul’s final destiny,—which in this our day seems to have come to full flower,—in the speculative spirit of the Teutonic mind, during the period which immediately preceded the revival of learning, and the great controversies, which liberated the intellect of Europe. And how much like a fulfilment of this great man’s saying, which I have only faintly reported, is the genesis and the history of the idealistic philosophy! This philosophy fastened upon what is within man. Spirit, not sense, was its starting-point. It must have what is substantive. It must begin with what moves at the centre of motion. Its problem was, in reality, the problem of destiny; because, in its view, destiny meant a perfected life, a soul brought at last to live in whole relations to God and His Supreme order. This form of truth was a direct blow at that species of materialism, which sees in religion no higher office than to entice, or else coerce, men over the rough places of earth into the distant and safe immortality; which esteems it the supreme work of Christianity to rescue the human soul from some penal calamity, to wash out out a poison, to charm away a curse, to provide a deliverance which is wholly external, and fix it, at last, in some rewarding glory. In place of all this it brought its own constructive excellencies. Behind all dramatic representations of sin, and judgment and loss; of virtue, of approval, and of gain, it saw the real scenes which are laid in the inner life of mortals. It took man deep into himself, and from that low ground helped him to rebuild his life—and that rebuilt life was the best thing, the chief good, the noblest destiny.
In what way this higher order of thought was represented by a wide fraternity in Europe—in Italy, in France, and in the Netherlands—one of our most pains-taking and devoted scholars has shown in recent numbers of the Universalist Quarterly. And in what way the same order of thought affected the principle, and the methods of the German Reformation, men like Dorner and Matheson have made clear to all students of their pages. The problem has ceased to be the insulated problem of evil, viewed either as a dark obstruction in the way, or as an antagonism to confront the soul’s progress. It was now the deeper problem of the creation, and its final cause. Did it originate in benevolence, and in a desire to produce beings fitted for spiritual glory?” The question of evil opened into the question of moral liberty.
Then came the whole wonderful dealing with the phenomena of Providence in the history of the world. Here were the sufferings and the crimes of men, so heavy upon them that they were ready to fall down in the way; and myriads did stumble on with their tremendous burden till they fell into the grave that was waiting for them. Then the startled thought of the world began to ask: Will these same burdens have to be carried beyond the line of death and the grave? Here were desolating calamities. Worst of all here were falsehood, selfishness, debased mental and moral powers. Who knows but these will extend to the other world, and deepen and darken forever? Then came the desire so intense even in transcendentalism and theosophy to vindicate the character of God, the maker of all things, and the ruler of the universe. Out of the new mental struggles came the more consistent philosophy, and the riper thelogical [sic] system, of which the first principles and immutable truths were “the rectitude, veracity, purity, benevolence, and, withal, the paternity of the Divine Being.” What if men could not know everything about these truths: what if the truths themselves seemed inconsistent with phenomena of history and human life. Reason compelled men to hold by the truths in the face of all perplexities; and so we have the spectacle of brave souls throwing themselves, in faith and love, upon God’s moral perfections. And such souls were the legitimate precursors of the new protestantism, of that faith of ours, indeed, which is greater, diviner, than any protest, whose principle is distinct, and whose truth concerning God and his government is substantive and fundamental. And where we fail to trace the visible, connecting line in the history of religious thought, we find vast spaces of human life, and human experience irradiated by the truth that is always upper and constant: that “God can neither be nor do anything which is not morally excellent and beautiful, worthy of the approbation, the admiration, and the veneration of all his intelligent creatures;” and surely in one of these great, illumined spaces of history, we find those stalwart, valiant, devoted men, who ought always to be called, and always cherished as the deeply revered Fathers of the American Church Catholic and Universalist—the DeBennevilles, the Mayhews, the Chauncys, the Murrays, the Winchesters, the Balfours, and the Ballous—saintly men, whose words were as simple as the talk of a child, but whose arguments were as strong as the tramp of a giant. No church can die that is built on the truth which these holy men saw, and were inspired to teach: the paternal character of God, of his government, and of his discipline; that man is God,s child, not because God made him, but because he made him in his own image, giving to him a nature like his own: that sin is its own punishment; that probation is purgation, and retribution, restoration. The real problem, which these men ever held before their minds, was the final conquest of evil through Christ and Christianity; and that in which they thoroughly believed as the one great solvent, was the love of God, his paternal character in its new expression and medium of mercy in the One Mediator and Redeemer. They believed with all their souls in the incarnation and the cross as God,s final appeal to the will of man, and as his last method of subduing and restoring him; and of uniting to himself all of his wayward and sinful children.
But why this survey, and recurrent representation? Simply, my brethren, because the most subtile [sic] attack upon our Faith to-day, denies to it substance, and the dignity of a problem. “It is too nebulous for thought.” At best it is but a “hope,” “a longing,” “a sentiment.” Or, if there be any idea at all, it is so held in the solution of feeling that its precipitation is next to impossible. Its only rightful advocacy, it is said, is a kind of poetic eloquence, regardless of logical or ethical grounds, and quite impatient of inductions. The only warrant in Holy Scripture for our truth, it has been said of late on both sides of the sea, is a negation—which turns out to he no warrant at all. Its only natural ground, it is averred, is in the instincts of human nature, and in the general feeling that what everybody wants to be true must be true. It is the growing habit of the times to stigmatize Universalism as the dream of soft temperaments, of kind, but not very thoughtful people—of men who would not find it easy to put two thoughts together to find a third, and to whom vigorous methods in scientific theology are naturally repugnant. It is possible that preachers amongst us have so overworked the consolatory side of Christianity that they have invited this estimate of their doctrine and their work? One thing, I think, is clear: it is our duty to follow the lead of the master spirits of our Church, and present our religion, as we have seen it has been presented, from the side of thought, us the problem which includes both the object and the method of Christianity. For our own large truth is not fully stated when we set forth the object of the Gospel in the final perfection and blessedness of the race, and refuse, or neglect to present and enforce its comprehensive method. In our interpretation of the religion of Christ, it in a whole truth; and any treatment of it is imperfect and ineffective, which does not view it in its full-orbed splendor, balanced in its own proper orbit, and held by the attraction of a vast related system. It it possible, of course, to portray the results of God’s moral government, and so to brace our view of it by argument and illustration, that even a child will see what we think it is. It is possible, also, to present and illustrate the method of religion, enforcing the necessity of repentance, faith, and obedience; and we may do this in such a way that everybody will feel that he ought to repent, seek forgiveness, confide in the Saviour, and obey the law of God. And yet, in each instance we may fail of any real, any genuine product in religious life. and Christian character, not because our story is false, but because we fail to tell the whole of it. We want, therefore, both poles of the great truth of the Gospel, that we may not foster the merest ecstacy [sic] in view of the glorious spectacle of a restored order, on one side; and that we may not leave men in the discouragement of ineffectual moral conflict, on the other. The deepest question of the Christian preacher is: How shall I help souls to become wondrously rich and wise? How shall I help them to overcome their evils, and grow in truth, in law, and in life? How lift them into the obedience and love of God? In all the divine meaning of the soul’s act, how shall I bring to the Father, who “is the first source, and the final satisfaction of a dependent nature?” And I am glad that we, and all of like precious Faith, can answer this question with entire and practical success. How else shall we do, in love to our Master’s cause, than preach a full Gospel as we understand it—the end it contemplates, and the method it provides! Oh, how great is our privilege to tell men that they have a Father, who is the source and the end of their life; that that Father yearns for them in all their sin: and “that He sent his son, to tell them of his love, to live with them, to die for them, to lay his life like a strong bridge out from the divine side of existence, over which they may walk safely into the divinity where they belong,” which is indeed, their true nativity; that they need to have, and that they ought to have faith in that divine Son of God; that if they hope to go to the Father thorough the Saviour, their whole inner being must move in the act; that they must love their Lord, and choose holiness and the heaven which he reveals.
But I must not anticipate what next I want to say. I have spoken to little purpose if I have not helped you to see that Universalism is a question of thought; that we cannot safely cease to deal with it as an idea; and that the faithful presentation of its problem requires that we not only portray the glory in which at last man’s life is consummated, but penetrate to the inward principle from which it starts, and unfold the moral method which marks the stages of its discipline.
In the face of all recent, adverse criticism, we cite the history of thought, as illustrated by great systems of belief, and the most eminent lives, to show that Universalism is not elusive of inquiry; that it presents distinct angles, and points of view; that its relations are intellectual; that everywhere and always it invites analysis, and the most discriminating treatment of its principle.
But what is so clearly a problem, is also a power. That is what a religion ought to be, and it is what Christianity, in its history, in its truth and in its life, really is. Its problem is power because its facts are doctrines, and its doctrines are facts, and its facts and ideas have their consummation in a life, and that life embodies and expresses both the Christian truth and the Christian history; and so Christianity is more than a problem for this reason: it is power and salvation for the soul. And what I have spoken of as a problem, and come now to speak of as a power, is simply our best conception and interpretation of Christianity. The distinctive Faith, which we hold, is no imported or imposed opinion; no mere accident of history or experience: no extemporized expedient to satisfy the restlessness of men, or the morbid hunger of the human faculties. It is so much of the Gospel of Christ as we are able to understand and appropriate. Relatively it is the Christian religion; and in any place where, to-day, or at any time, we use our distinguishing name, the word Christianity could be supplied with no change of our sense of the truth we believe, or of the results which the truth is designed to secure. You well know that no problem has more occupied the various thought of man than the mission of Christ. Somehow this is the hinge of every theological difference: What did Jesus come into the world, to do? Now what I mean, when I speak of Universalism, is the mission of Christ in its four-fold object of bearing witness to the truth, of fulfilling the law, of saving the world, and communicating an abundant life to men; and in its three-fold method, as expressed in the facts of Christ’s life, in the institutions and sacred offices which are a part of his present influence, and in that spirit of the risen Saviour which is measureless and everlasting—“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.” What our pulpits try to show men is, that Christianity gives truth for the mind, and law for the conscience, and life for the soul; that that truth and that law exist as the necessary stages of a higher success, which the New Testament everywhere points out as the end of all spiritual training. We believe that a soul taught is one that has ideas, doctrines, principles; that a soul saved is one whose yoke of slavery to sense is broken, and whose motives are purified of their baseness; and that a soul quickened into life is one whose ideas, doctrines, opinions, have become convictions whose broken yoke of servitude is taken away, that that of Christ’s authority may be worn in truest freedom, and whose motives have all become new. Christianity, in our view of it, is the very light and warmth of the soul. It has light in itself, and its real glory is in its ability to impart that light. It is not a mere agent entrusted with some mysterious errand. It is not a mere vehicle of influences, which it is constructed to convey to humanity. And it is infinitely more than a report of singular transactions which heaven would have repeated to earth. It is a power, and the power of truth, of law, of personality, of the infused Deity, to, and in, the souls of men; and, as such, it gives shape and momentum to existence, constitutes character, and originates all that is most strong and most beautiful in conduct. And when I preach, and when you, my brethren, preach the Universalist truth, this is precisely what we try to illustrate and enforce. That which is ever before us as the result of all spiritual discipline, is not some safe place, or lofty pinnacle of grace, where souls will rest at last, after they are through with all trouble in this world, but the whole capacity of the soul taken hold of, and used by the Divine Spirit, so that the soul’s essential life is sanctified. That is the end contemplated in the Creation; that is the end for which Jesus lived, and taught, and died; and that it is which comes, at last, as a divine energy in the soul itself—an energy which is not dependent upon circumstance, nor upon any literal transfer, nor upon dying at last, but upon right living every day, and a constant, loving appropriation of the truth and love of God. That truth, by what name soever called, is effective. I do not see the potency or the practical worth to religious ends, of any representation of Christianity which makes it what Mr. Martineau calls “a charm against a bad lineage;” a rescue from a threatened woe; a bridge of escape from exposure and defencelessness on earth, to freedom and protection in the skies. Must we say, over and over again, that our problem is not that? Must we burden discourse with the repetition that what most absorbes [sic] us is not mechanism, but motive; not materialism in this saddest, most delusive phase of its teaching, but the spiritual merit of a soul, that is at one with goodness and God, and whose supreme question is: How shall I live to live? How shall I use my power, and within the range of what influence shall I come, that I may not gain a great deal, but be the right sort of person—a child of God, living in all the measure and movement of my spiritual nature as if I were a child of God?
You are prepared to hear me say, therefore, that Universalism is a power, first, in the basis and form of its teaching. Much of what I would like to say here, is implied in a great deal of what has gone before. And yet I wish that every questioner in regard to the faith that is dear to us, could see how thoroughly and deeply we believe in a higher degree of life. I do not mean now that higher life into which the native and unborrowed faculties of a soul may be wrought. I refer to that sphere of life, that great realm of life, out of which all other life is fed, the realm of truth, which feeds the thought of men; the realm of law, which supplies force for the conscience of the world; the measureless world of love, which is the source of all affection and of the eternal life of all souls. It is the outflow of the very life of God, of his thought, and his love. Nature and humanity are its distinct utterances. Christ is its overflowing Word; and he tells us all that we need to know as spiritual beings; where we are as souls; what, as God’s children, we have to do; and what most real destiny awaits us, and all men. To us Jesus Chris is the perfect and finished representation of the great Invisible; and so we confide in what he said, and accept it as the very word of God. We contemplate the unprecedented facts of his earthly career, and, behold, the unseen and the eternal are disclosed to our faith. We follow the footsteps of his journey here below in the spirit of prayer that our heart be not dim-discerning nor its vision withheld. And when to the sight of mortals, and the interpretation of history Jesus ceases to be a limited person, we believe in him all the more as a limitless spirit, evermore in heaven, and more and more present on earth, in the communion of his church, in all its holy offices, and in the love and faith of all loving and faithful souls.
These sentences briefly, but not inadequately, I hope, indicate the ground of our teaching; and we should naturally expect a corresponding peculiarity in the form of the truth which rests upon such a basis. What, then, is our teaching concerning God? What form does that truth take in the teaching of our Church? About all that the world overhears in the recurrent speech of her teachers, is, that God is Love; that He is our Father: that He watches over all his children; and that He never leaves or forsake them be they never so prodigal. But Universalism sees that in this form of its truth there is room for misconception. Love, even, may be capricious; and if that be possible, then the step is easy towards a caprice, which springs from a lack of love, if not from what is just its opposite. And if such caprices are possible, favoritism is possible, and may result in the loving providence of the Almighty. So our theology sees that the truth that God is Love, wants another truth, viz: that God is Law. Here is this voiceless magnificence and order amid which we stand; and here, too, on the open page of the Gospel, are the sayings of Jesus about sun, and rain, and lillies, and sparrows. Each has its place, its office, its appointed order, its peculiar care; and nothing in ever forgotten. There is divinity of Law, then, as well as divinity of Love. But to say that God is Love, and that God is Law, is not to give the full form of the truth we hold. Love and Law look like opposites, and are, indeed treated as antagonisms. In our thought, however. Love and Law are one, just as in the living man, spirit and body are one. When spirit and body exist as two there is death: So the true expression is, not Love and Law but Love in Law: the spiritual power of love working in and through all the legal forces of the universe. While it is true, therefore, that our life is set in law, we can never cease to feel that it is encompassed by God.
What, again, is the precise form of our truth concerning man and duty? Man is God’s child, and man’s brother, and he is called to exercise love and self-sacrifice. He is to do to others as he would have others do to him. Where these truths are not carried out there is death in men and in society. And yet in the endeavor to carry them out we see every day how much we need the qualifications, the explanations of our ordinary life. I must love my neighbor, my brother man: that is the very truth of God. I must always try to do good to my brother man: that is binding duty. But in obeying this principle, I have to confess to and abide by social laws, and recognize all the help that comes to brotherly love, and the great charities of the world, and the noblest self-sacrifice, from the disclosure of science, and those mighty agencies in life, which so promptly do our bidding and help us to fulfil the commands of the Gospel. So the form of the moral truth, which we illustrate, comes, in its spiritual part, as the absolute truth of Jesus; and in its material part as the contribution of the age in which we live.
The conclusion is this: A teaching which has its basis in the absolute truth of Christ, and a form at once authoritative and practical, is a power to inspire, enlighten, and save men. And I haven’t said a word about immortality and the soul’s greatness, accountability, permanence. I can only add with all the authority which comes from conviction, that the first of these great truths colors all the rest, especially when it is penetrated with the grand meaning of destiny; and so is designed and fitted to let the soul out into liberty, and power, and greatness.
I have just one point more to which these last words have brought us: The religion that is a power in the basis and form of its teaching is clearly a power in the substance of that teaching. In the light of what is going on around us in the world of thought, especially in the light of current controversies, we may safely emphasize what is substantive, most real, and fundamental in our belief. If any doubt ever comes over our life in regard to the mastery of our truth, that doubt never reaches to the substance of it. That is a centre which remains unmoved, by all the tides which sweep around it. What I refer to now is no metaphysical subtlety. I simply call you to remember, that truth has elements that are fundamental in human nature. Or, to state it in another way: We say to all men, who quarrel with our ideas and with the basis and form of the truth we hold,—who destroy with one hand, while they reach out the other empty of good, or even the promise of good, to their fellow mortals,—we say to all these persons: You cannot fight against God; and though you may repress, you cannot exterminate the spiritual instincts. The truth we preach has its authority in elements that are ineradicable, and indestructible. How nobly, indeed, in these days are great and good minds, like Murphy, and Thomas Griffeth, and Dr. Young of Edinburgh, pleading for the intuitions of the soul as “the most indubitable verities.” “If the Creator be wise, if he can have no intention to deceive, if he be infinitely true and infinitely kind, these intuitions may be relied on as His very voice, and in the most intelligible and direct form in which he can speak to us.” And in these he does speak to us of accountability, of unending life, and of an undeclinable good and blessing.
I have often watched the incoming and the outgoing of the tide, as, day and night, it flows in the beautiful valley of the Mystic, which sleeps at the base of College Hill. It is wonderful how quick that little creek is to feel all the pulses of the great sea, which is out of sight beyond the hills that help shape the city’s harbor; and I have as often thought: What a symbol is this of the deep that is within us, in its relation to the deep of God and the spiritual world! Evermore the tides within our own mind and heart, answer to the call, and the movements of the infinite of truth, and the infinite of love in God. So I will not question about the reality and the power of our truth so long as I know that, in its elements, it is as much a part of God as the water of the inlet is a part of the sea. I take leave, therefore, to repeat: that men may put our truth of the efficient love of God to the strain of exegetical and scientific methods; they may say that Revelation is silent on the great question of moral destiny, and that sin and virtue are a kind of double testimony against the hypothesis of the final recovery of all souls; and yet God exists as the ground of all things, and, also, “as the formative force in all things, prescribing and producing what they are to become;” and the soul exists as the child of God. Like Him in capacity, of course we may become like Him in character. And if we were formed for God no one can be at rest until he is on his way to God-likeness. To this end God communicates Himself. To this end He speaks to us and listens to us. To this end He disciplines us: and He does all to the ultimate purpose of spiritual oneness, the assimilation of us to His image. This is the substance of our teaching, and, as such, it must be a power in life and in character. Its efficiency is in the fact that it belongs to the moral sentiments, appeals to them, aims to quicken and enfold them, “and will not let them go until they are brought out into the disposition and the life.”
And here, dear brethren, I cannot help thinking of that which is deeper than any fact or expression to which, as yet, I have referred: I mean the power of personality. This, to us, is the highest sense of substance. It is the power of freedom, of purpose, and of devotion to one great end. This personality is absolute in Christ, and so his power is absolute. It is the power of sacrifice. In the worlds which outwardly appear, we see the power of force; in Christ, the power of sacrifice. There, in all the wonderful creation, the Creator astonishes my eye; here in the person of His Son,—in his life, and in his death—the Heavenly Father touches and transforms my heart. Oh, this is the summit of power as interpreted by the religion we preach! the sorrowing love of God in Christ! the enduring patience of the Cross! Do not allure us with the clear, cold light of the impersonal reason. No, we want thee, O Jesus, Son of the Everlasting Father—who does speak to us in the language of human love; who does come to us in all our inward trouble and shame; who does help us in all our inward conflict, and when the load of sin is heaviest upon us! We believe in thee; we believe in thy cross; we believe in thy glory; and we see all humanity elevated in thy elevation. At the foot of thy cross, we ask for, we want no other sanctions than what there thou dost give us. We see the very heart of God in all thy sufferings, and we hear the pleading of His love in all thy accents of mercy and forgiveness; and we own thy power, and yield our life to thee, O Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!
It was in my plan to show that our Faith is a power, reaching all grades of life, individual and social, penetrating all education and all activities; that in its theological principle, it is a determining force affecting all the great expressions of existence; that in its ethical principle it is a restraining and conserving force, affecting all the domesticities of life; that in its practical principle it is a uniting and reconciling force, bringing distant things together, enabling us to see them as one, and so directing and controling [sic] ideas, sentiments, conduct, that their distinct lines converge upon common centers. But before all this I must pause.
What better now, can I do than ask: What is our relation to our problem, and how best shall we contribute to the efficiency of the truth we believe, and the church which embodies and expresses it? First of all, we are to remember that the problem belongs to us. It is the bequest of History. Not ours exclusively, we are yet responsible for its illustration and solution. Others may view it at a distance: we must take it close to our lives and studies. Others may hold it admiringly before the thought, and praise its beauty; we must open it to its heart, exhibit what it holds, and faithfully deal with its contents. We are to be its students rather than its devotees. Above all we are to be its servants, remembering that it touches, at every point, the great circle of things; and sheds its light over all intellectual and moral districts. Let our clergy feel its fascination and its command in the retreats of their most studious hours. Let our pulpits become charged with its vigor, and powerful with its persuasions. Invest every fresh centre and lovely group in our Sunday schools, with the charm of its teaching and its learning. Kindle anew its light upon our hearthstones, and write anew its name upon the walls of our dwellings. Let it be to us the one great subject of thought; the one object which invites our zeal, and gives us motive in all realms of moral endeavor. Our churches and our institutions are built on it; and so every directing spire ought to publish its vindication, and every open door of learning ought to solicit the freest and the largest illustration of its law and method. Then all that it is as a problem, will go forth to live as a power.
Here, then, is one of the most serious questions, which presses for answer: How shall we preserve, and direct this power in our Church? I reply, by social loyalty and personal fidelity. If we are inefficient to day, it is because our energies are scattered, or else untried. We seem to believe in churches, but not singly in the Church. It seems easier for us to go off on some adventure of our own, than to gather, as one great people, around a common centre. Is it too sweeping a statement to say that we have little idea of authority and discipline? We think it in accordance with the genius of our religion to be democratic; and, in our practice, that means, I fear, individualism, and not reciprocity and unity. In regard to work and worship, we resolve on method, and formally provide method, and then, too often, rebel against it. Fault enough, I suppose, could be found with our polity; but I suggest that the way to improve our polity is to use it. If our tendency is toward a stricter Congregationalism, we shall find it out, and perfect our government, on the line of faithfulness. If our tendency is toward Episcopacy, no precipitation of that can surprise or disturb us so long as we ar[e] only eager to use existing facilities to the best ends, and solely for the advancement of the Christian Cause. We agree in thought; and no Church in the world is more truly filled with, and encircled by, the spirit of fraternity; but our faults are in the direction of individualism. We want more social loyalty.
In pointing out this one fault, however, I do not mean to decry individuality. Individualism is disintegration and dissolution; but true individuality is consistent with the highest unity. The chemist does not complain because the atoms are decided. The more decided they are, as atoms, the better they combine. And human souls combine fast together all the more and all the better on account of their separate truth, and faith, and love. Is it combination merely that we want? That is easily secured: and there is many an infamous conspiracy [sic]! The great want is good men,—the incarnation of living truth and love in living men, and these living men banded together in vital compact, and this compact held by one divine attraction. So what I accent finally is personal fidelity. I plead for openness and boldness in regard to our religious ideas. “God loves responsible men,” some one cried when a great cause was imperilled [sic]. I believe it. God loves responsible men in the church, and delights to keep them in the full endowment of strength and liberty. And again I plead for personal fidelity in all those methods, which express the power of our religion. We cannot afford to be indifferent to the modes and procedures which make a church a working power in this world.
The albatros [sic], the naturalists tell us, is so large of wing that it cannot lift itself from any flat surface upon which it may have fallen. It is not that its wings are small and weak, but because they are large and strong, that the bird must needs be lifted a little. When that is done, the great wings have space and freedom. Then they smite the air, and the wondrously endowed creature mounts to the sky and the sun. It seems to me that it is a good deal so with us and the truth which is our entrusted care. It is not that we are weak in aspirations of love. It is not that our truth lacks a certain self-sustaining quality, but because its possibilities are so great, that it needs to be lifted a little from the level of life whereon we lie. Now such help we have in those expedients and methods, which are a part of the instituted and organized life of a great church. If we will only loyally accept these helps we shall know a gladder flight, a nobler freedom, in the ampler air and light of God. I repeat, then, that we cannot afford to neglect these great agents if we expect to conserve our power and do anything with it. Oh, for more of what I must call the self approving dignity of personal fidelity in our church—to all that is rare and fine in thought: to all that is exalted in life; and in all that is helpful in administration. Then we are invincible against all incursion and all suggestion of danger.
My brethren, to what, in these last words, shall I more fitly call you than to that enlargement and freedom of soul which comes of utter fidelity to religion, viewed both as a problem and as a power—a religion, that is, which has life in itself, and whose real glory is in its ability to impart that life.