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where every longing shall be satisfied. To grapple with facts at hand keeps the nerves of the soul at their tension; to contemplate visions afar relaxes the muscles of the mind; and so we instinctively prefer the latter. Again, we are so constituted that we feel the little discomforts and annoyances, the evils, of the present far more sharply than we do its privileges and enjoyments; in the now, pleasures relatively dwindle, and pains dilate; and so we escape from the present and flee into the past and the future. This is the coward's artifice to get his ease; the hero takes another way, rising up where he is, and with girded loins and trimmed lamp making the present what he would have it. Furthermore, we idealize the past, and recall it in the placid moonlight of romance, set off in the forms of the imagination, and seen through the haze of softening regrets and holy tears. Its domain, so sweetly peaceful, whence most of the evil has been eliminated, and where all the good has been touched with consecration, contrasts with the turmoil and hate of the present. Its realm allures the timid: for the hideous shapes of fear cannot enter where all is unchangeably done and fixed. Then, too, hope paints the future with fairy colors, and fills it with scenes of beauty and peace, with golden visions of triumph and joy, which fascinate us from the dull hues, the leaden routine actually around us. It must always delight man, when weary in the hurrying rivalries and disgusted with the thin indifference of society, in thought and feeling to steal awhile away into love's own clime, and lave his fevered brow with the cordial of faith's cool and lambent air.
Indolence, timidity, remembrance, and anticipation thus frequently tend with conjoined force to lead us to an unjust and injurious depreciation of the present. Remorse, too, over the folly and sin of wasted years, often drags one's thoughts back against his will, and fastens them in the upbraiding past. Such a fostered habit is evil; it unmans one, enervates the virtuous energies of his soul. To wander much among the wrecks of past foolishness, or to rake much among the charnel bones and ashes of past wickedness, is bad, and not useful. When one dwells regretfully on what he has lost, and is thus led to despair at what he now is, or to repine at what he now has, he perverts the use of the past, which is not to weary or sicken
us of the present, but to warn and instruct, rouse and strengthen us to a greater zeal of fidelity in it. In like manner, when a contemplation of the future bedims the brightness or hides the claims of the present, it is abused. It should animate us to a worthy employment of the gifts and discharge of the duties of the present, that we may appropriate its treasures.
“ If used to reconcile convictions with delay,
To-morrow is a poisonous lie:
To-morrow is a wholesome truth.” But to the now-mentioned natural influences to make us neglect the actual moment — making the past and future two magnetic poles, the present a central point of indifference — is to be added the artificial and graver effect of that false and morbid theological doctrine of the present life, with which religious literature is saturated and preaching deeply tinged and tainted. Of course reference is made to the dogmas of total depravity, unconditional reprobation, Satanic agency, a lapsed and discordant creation, and an interminable hell, — doctrines which disenchant the heart of its ingenuous trust, strip the world of its glory, empty our life and labors of all that is divine, quench the orbs of the spiritual firmament in their sockets, and rifle mercy and sovereignty alike from God's divided throne. The wholesale condemnation which these principles launch upon the entire present, as if a blasting curse were breathed through every part, to cleave to it until the purging conflagration, — this scornful abandonment of human nature to utter alienation and evil, — this unreserved surrender of the whole solemn scene of natural life, with all its toils and amusements, all its agonies of remorseful crime and ecstasies of aspiring faith, all its noble wrestlings for virtue and sweet amenities of kindness, to the dominion of the Devil, - this most unfortunate theological habit, so widely diffused, so tenaciously rooted, is a falsehood which has effected immense injury, both in lowering the average standard of morals and in weakening the popular hold of religion.
It has tended to realize itself, to make life become what it was represented as being. Any prophecy, firmly believed, works in numerous ways to get itself fulfilled. Let men credit any given doctrine, and, by always taking it for granted, by acting in accordance with such supposition, they will exert a various power to bring common character and experience, to bring things and events, into unison with it. Say that man is perfectly corrupt, earth naturally a scene of unmixed evil from which God is sequestered in a distant heaven, and, so far as your statement has effect, it will be to create its own proof, and gradually fetch itself true. Man finds that for which he seeks, and loses that about which he is incredulous. He overlooks what he disbelieves in, and sees what he expects. If he does not believe in a native power to be good and acceptable, he will not strive much to recognize such ability in others, or to exert it in himself. If he believes selfish vice universal and unmitigated, he will discern blasphemy in the prayers of a saint, he will spy corruption in the ministry of a seraph. If he thinks God has ebbed from the present, and Satan flooded it, he will perceive no trace of divinity in it, no light of heaven on it. That stiff separation and hostility between the earthly and the heavenly, between the natural and the supernatural, made now for ages in the teachings of the prevailing theology, pronouncing all that inherently belongs to this world and to this life ungodly and excommunicate, has therefore done great harm, by actually divorcing the sacred from the secular, holiness from business, the Sabbath from the week, the calls of moral duty from the sanctions of religion, the common sphere and soul of man from the Providence and Spirit of God. What a gross error this is! Do we most please the Great Architect and honor the universal temple by scornfully vilifying its earthly porch ?. Were it not better to put the shoes from our feet in the entry, consider the very threshold holy, and hang the vestibule all over with votive wreaths, before bowing our heads to advance into the celestial adytum ? .
Another pregnant evil resulting from that theology which thus separates God and religion from the natural interests of the present life, and even sets up a factitious opposition between them, is unbelief. Proclaim the doctrine, that God, having made the world and placed us in it, having made the emulations of society and the labors of time a necessity of our nature and position, having showered innumerable blessings on us, and surrounded us with trials to train us in righteousness and faith, has then withdrawn his presence and his sanctions from the scene, and laid an interdict on it, so that what we are and what we discern and what we pursue, in the sphere of nature, is all alike forfeit of his love, and alien from his attributes, and wrecked from his laws, and hateful in his sight, a devilish mass of ruins, - say this, and you provoke dissent and nourish scepticism in all independent thinkers. The picture offends the unperverted common-sense of man, and shocks his devoutest instincts. A system fundamentally composed of such views cannot meet the flash of reason and stand the charge of conscience. The preaching of such principles produces a powerful reaction in earnest and free minds against the entire religion to which they pretend to belong. In some it awakens aggressive disbelief; in more it creates general doubt, indifference, non-adherence to the creed and customs of the established church. Experience often shows examples of both these results. It is easy to see that this would naturally be so; that the scheme of doctrine which describes this world as the scene of a drawn battle between Satan, who possesses it, and God, who invades it, — the teaching which makes religion a thing apart from nature and man, to be mechanically introduced and supernaturally engrafted from abroad, — would cause two directions and degrees of unbelief in two classes of persons. A strong and devout thinker will probably revolt, and say: “ These things are not so. The world is God's handiwork, and in it his will may be wrought out. Man is God's child, and may anywhere, by obedience, purity, and aspiration, acceptably approach him without the intervention of a vicarious atoner. The life of pure nature, as developed through progressive culture, is divine. Truth is religion.” Rejecting the preacher's mediæval notions for higher conceptions, he will withdraw his heart from the Church in faithful sadness. On the other hand, when an ignorant, sensual man is told that to be religious is to renounce and despise himself, trample on the prizes of earth and time, and wage an uncompromising, spiritual war with the present state, the declaration is so unreasonable, and at the same time he is so devoid of any better
theory, that he will probably rush to the extreme of denial, and say: “ There is nothing in it. It is all an imposition. Religion is the device of designing priests. As for me, give me the full range of what the present world affords, and then let me sleep. This is wisdom, for such is fate. All the rest is cant.” And he withdraws from the Church in “infidel” rebellion. If all men acted from within with sturdy honesty, a great many in every community would follow one of these two courses. The reason that no more do rise into open non-conformity, is to be found only in the fact that most persons make no real inquiry into these subjects, but tacitly yield themselves to the influence of tradition, prescription, and fashion. But notwithstanding the tremendous power of usage and passive drifting thus exerted, there actually is, all through Christendom, a deep, latent unbelief. This is proved by the common and spreading indifference to theological appeals, and desertion of ritual performances, as well as by various other indications not to be mistaken. The master-cause of it, one can make no doubt, is primarily the unreasonableness and cruelty of the priestly teachings. They are generally harshly unnatural, often utterly incomprehensible, and sometimes incredibly absurd. Men cannot really believe them, feel no spontaneous interest in them, derive no decided benefit from them, and so, at last, will pay but little attention to them. Unless the cause be checked, and theology grow rational, and preaching be adapted to the living wants of humanity, it threatens the universal decay of the current religion, and the general loss of hallowed usages. In the great cities, the temples of public worship, taken as a whole, are less and less frequented; in fact, in many places half of them are becoming empty. In London, vast churches, once thronged, now contain audiences of six or seven persons, — and those the intimate friends of the preacher, — to listen to elaborate courses of sermons delivered by the most accomplished men in the profession. A large majority of the inhabitants of Great Britain, it is estimated from a Sunday census expressly taken by order of Parliament not long ago, pay no observance to the religious ordinances of Sunday. In Germany the decadence has been said to be still greater. And what would the Puritan Fathers say,