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if told that only a quarter of the population of New England attend the ministrations of the Church? It is undeniable that in the ruling spirit and habits of the age we meet increased indications of declining faith and interest in preaching and public worship, dissent from the prevalent theology, and indifference to its threats or promises. Large numbers of the most intelligent people prefer staying at home with a book and meditation, or roaming in the fields with Nature and God, to attending a service where they will hear little but antiquated metaphysics and effete dogmas, the endless repetition of things that insult their judgment and their sentiment, and are barren of profitable application. This alienation from the established religion, and careless neglect of its forms, will continue to increase so long as the causes of it are permitted to operate. It is already so extensively influential as to afford just grounds for anxiety to every appreciating observer who is a believing and a pious man.
What is to be done to stay this tendency? How can we reinstate Religion in the old thróne of supremacy where once she sat and reigned without a rival? The methods which then gave efficacy to her proclamations now fail. To win back the forfeited allegiance and love of the non-conformists, they must be approached with teachings as rational and genial as their own understandings and hearts. This requirement is not accidental and temporary, but inherent and essential. Discord must sooner or later end: harmony alone can endure eternally. And that system of doctrine which depicts duty as a frowning Nemesis, furnished with sword and scourge, and the earth as the lurid scaffold of Divine vengeance elevated before the roaring mouth of hell, unperverted men must always shudder at with mingled hatred, horror, and unbelief. Only the little coterie of the elect can ever like it. But that system of doctrine which depicts duty as a guiding angel, arrayed in wisdom, benignity, and righteousness, and the earth as a bountiful table of Divine love, preparatory to the feast at which the immortals sit down in the kingdom of heaven, will appeal to kind and candid minds, to unpledged and undiseased thinkers, with powerful persuasion. It is plain that theology must be modified, must throw away its dry husks of incredible dogmas no longer respected, and its bruising-stones of spiritual terrors no longer feared, and feed the waiting appetite of mankind with living bread and palatable fruits. The dead system of instructions which the world has outgrown must be left behind to bury its dead, while those sovereign truths are proclaimed which by their own evidence recommend themselves to the common mind, by their cheering commands stir the common heart, and by their harmony with all that is divine in man bring an echo from the common conscience. The old, proud, rancorous, theological mind, which has animated so many priests to assert the tolerableness of slavery, defend the panders to drunkenness, prop up the gallows, and heartlessly wink at immoral institutions and inhuman customs, must grow humbly and devotedly philanthropic, with a spirit, a principle, and a consecration caught from the manger of Bethlehem, the weary hour by Jacob's well, and the cross of Calvary. Doctrines that denounce nature, contradict reason, and insult life, must be abandoned, while those principles whose intrinsic claims win the assent of common sense, show the broad indorsement of nature, reflect dignity upon man, beauty upon life, and honor upon the Creator, are illustrated by groups of facts and applied in fulfilment of duties. The realities of man's business and bosom, the problems which really engage men day after day, must be handled so as to relieve actual perplexities, and minister to the needs of actual sufferers. There must be arranged and arrayed a system of faith fitted to meet the progressive spirit of the time, - able to stand the critical scrutiny of honest sceptics. In a word, we must have the religion of Jesus, truly understood, freed from pagan additions and morbid perversions, - a religion of life, humanity, nature, a religion of the present, — based on the foundation of eternal truths, penetrating behind the history of past traditions, rising into the sky of future hopes, everywhere permeated and encircled by the one spirit of the living God. Time was when learning and habits of speculative thought were pretty much confined to the ranks of the priesthood. The decrees they fulminated were followed with implicit conformity. It is so no longer. Now the people are awake, greatly emancipated from mental thraldom; and they will observe, reason, and conclude
freely for themselves. It cannot be helped. It is the era of types and telegraphs, when the carrier-birds of the press, in amazing numbers, acclimated to every shore of land and sea, fan and fill the breezes of the world, from pole to pole, with the instructions of their white wings, and when the excitement of thought and news flies far and wide on the red lines of the lightning. The age, in spite of all theological threats and shrieks, is remedilessly plunged into business rivalries, useful arts, material sciences, human philosophies, and social reforms. It is vain to put a ban upon all this, utterly vain. It is the sure destiny of the time, and everything conspires to aid it on; it is the resistless decree of God. In the midst of it all, if sacred things are not to be swallowed up and lost, if we would save religion from decay, the altar from desolation, and the pulpit from bats, preaching, in all its varieties, must somewhat conform its scope and spirit to the altered conditions and demands of the time. It must busy itself more with the realities of the present, set forth the Gospel, not as an isolated deposit of the spirit in Judæa twenty centuries since, but as a living revelation now; must deal more, and that reverently and tenderly, with the sombre and sunlit dreads and desires, the awful gulfs and heights of the woe and bliss of the human heart in its actual relations to life, to nature, to science, and to God. The religious teachers of the world must appreciate and treat, as they never yet have done, the presentness of life, or else, discovered to be faithless to their functions, they will be ousted from their offices, the theologian be displaced by the philosopher, the preacher give way to the lecturer, and the sinking Church disappear before the rising Lyceum.
Viewing this tendency of the time, discerning men will agree in one remedy for the evil, and that is, an unveiling of Divine elements and sanctions all about us in the present, until humanity, starting from the stony pillow of tradition, in the midmost wilderness of secularity, cries, with awe-touched lips, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not !” If we would not have life become a mere mixture of physical drudgery, exasperated emulation, and final sensuality, a piece of clattering mechanism instead of a calm process of spirit, we must infuse into it and spread over it the glory of the
Ideal, which is the presence of God, by contemplating it with the use of those artistic faculties, and in the light of those spiritualizing associations, which to the meditative imagination and the romantic heart do so purify and adorn the past, so paint and crowd the future; we must not let these noble powers merely roam as idle vagrants in dim and far-off spheres, but call them home and make them do divine service in the clear kingdom of present experience, spreading here,
“In one great calm, one undivided plain,
And iris-tinted forms of hope's domain." So far as the unreasonableness and inconsistencies of the popular representations of religion, scornfully trampling on men's moral instincts and blasting their unquestionable interests, have provoked dissent and fed unbelief, society is left unprotected against that materialistic enterprise which is fast threatening to absorb the regards of mankind.
A degrading worldliness can be counteracted in no way so well as by showing that it is a mistake, a pernicious piece of self-cheating; that the world and its toils are not all earthly and sensual, but have a spiritual basis and a heavenly import; that only faith and genius, purity and devotion, can truly apprehend and enjoy even the present. Strange it is that the priesthood, now for so long, should have assailed and calumniated nature and life, as if they could
“ Only paint the next world's bliss
On the sable ground of this ": failing to perceive how true it is, -- and how much it lies in their own interest to get the truth appreciated, — that the earth is to be equipped as the ally and portal of heaven, and not to be stigmatized as its forfeit and foe, to be regarded as its typifying precursor, not its hostile foil; that our pleasant possessions are to be treated as God's gifts, and not as Satan's enticements; that the objects of the great time-scene are symbols of spiritual good, and not intrinsic exhibitions of evil ! To neutralize excessive worldliness, the world itself should be made a monitor of death and eternity, life itself a religion wherein obedience to law is fealty.to God, and performance of duty, preparation for heaven. We must abolish the popular view which regards religion as descending on the fair landscape of the world from without, like a thunder-cloud, black with command, and ablaze with threat; and establish the wiser view which recognizes religion as rising from within the divine order of field and city and sky, like the incense of flowers, the hum of men, and the spectacle of the rainbow.
The arena of to-day — where ambition, avarice, love, hate, and all the most powerful passions are contending — draws the active lives of most men into its strife by an interest which, in the radiance of its fairy prizes, pales the thin dreams of yesterday and to-morrow. If now a reverential insight can reveal and evoke from the very .soil of that arena, from the very bosom of that strife, the verdure and bloom of a sacred poetry, the cooling streams of holiness and spirituality, — all naturally springing from within, — how much better to do so than to deny that any such inherent alleviations of the barren aridity are there, and then send the slaves of ignorance on a distant expedition to some fancied oasis of foreign authority, there to pluck a few withered flowers of theory, and thence to fetch in the skins of tradition a few vapid draughts of belief! The religion which was revealed in old time, and sealed with ratifying sanctions, was not thereby artificially created then, but exists afresh, inheres for ever, in the intrinsic facts and relations of God's world and creatures.
Religion is not a bomb, to be shot into the godless camp of the soul from the fortress of sacerdotal dogma, to explode, and rend the sensibilities with extra-natural terrors and expectations. It is a germ of principle and feeling, to be developed and assimilated into a pious spirit and a regulated character. It is not a strange addition, projected from heaven into man's career through the world, but it is the right spirit and order of that career itself. Let no one suspect and avoid religion, then, as something extraneous and unscientific, arbitrarily foisted into the system of things, and working disjointedly there; but let him cultivate his soul, and think and live his way in to it, and up to it, as the heart and the halo of experience, as the very flower and summit of nature, as the last perfection and glory of life, where Christ blossoms from the top