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most stem of the race, and lays his earthly hand in the heavenly hand of God, reaching down thence to lift a redeemed humanity up. However much we emphasize miracle and revelation, let us remember still that they are the mere utterance, not the essence, the form, not the contents, of the Divine communication. They are the post and index, not the road and journey. Which is better, to worship the Paternal Providence itself, which lets no sparrow fall unnoticed, or to worship Christ's declaration of that Providence? The Bible at the best is but the verbal expression of religion: the receptacle, home, and substance of religion itself are in man and the world. Is not the reality more and diviner than the exposition ? Christ did not come to import a foreign, nor to manufacture a new religion, but to reveal and enforce the domestic and eternal one. And as surely as year follows year, life will grow atheistic in the conduct and real thoughts of men, unless they learn, as they have not yet generally learned, to recognize God in the present, to see him in all things, and to feel that all things are in him ; and thus to knit the living links of communication between their weakness and his strength, their ways and his will. In spite of all argument to the contrary, and all exhortation, honest thinkers will say: “If there are no natural pictures in this nook and corner of creation to attract the notice of God's eye, then the boundless sky holds none. If no sorrows or pleasures, no virtues of human hearts, no sacrifices laid on the altar in love and tears, can win his presence and sympathy, then he cares for no creatures. If he is not in this world to keep and guide it, if things here get along thus well without him, then he is not necessary anywhere, and there is no God.” To have any genuine faith at all in God, you must behold him here and now.
Believe that he fills, governs, delights, the universe, not identifying him with any beings or things, but connecting him with all of the great surrounding PRESENT. Perceive him smiling in the flush of its beauty, bountiful in the stores of its harvest, regnant in the course of its laws, active in the changes of its phenomena, immanent in the live foundations of its existence, vocal in the commands of conscience, playing in the visions of genius, working in the struggles of virtue, and, clothed with allurement, hiding in the awful recesses of mystery. Let this mode of thought prevail, — and religion, springing from omnipresent truth, in robust requisitions and graceful usages, hallowing with a Divine presence and sanction all the daily scene of humanity, will have a self-evidencing validity which none can question, and encircle an indefeasible empire which nothing can outreach.
Truth and expediency unite, therefore, in asking a studious attention to the urgent and comprehensive immediateness of human life. Several considerations will throw light on the genuineness and the importance of this demand. In the first place, what open-eyed observer can fail to see that man is here to apply the means and secure the ends of this world and life? Removed hence to another range of existence, he will be called on there to improve other opportunities, either for the winning of other purposes or the further prosecution of these. If, therefore, he neglects to gather the wealth and achieve the aims of the present state while he is in it, the chance may never be offered him again, and he may be obliged to go through eternity destitute of some of the conditions of nobleness and progress now alone attainable by him. It is also plain, that in the destiny of the individual man each present moment is a fresh crisis. It is a new hinge of freedom whereon the results of the past and the beginnings of the future are perilously poised. The contingence of its turning this way or that, may redeem a wasted, or annul a faithful past; may prepare a blessed, or lead to a dreadful future. How, then, dares attention waver from the present ?
It is likewise obvious that the present is the only place where man can act at all. He has come out of the past, and not yet gone into the future, and cannot act where he is not. In the very spot and instant where he now stands, he must, with his eye on God, plant the lever of his will, and hoist the globe of his fortunes. The one question for man to ask is, “ What am I to do?” But as to the past, all he can do is to profit by its experience, and that must be done in the present: and as to the future, all he can do is to prepare for its coming, and that must be done in the present. He is completely im
potent, except here and now. How, then, can anything compare with the present in the pressure of its beseeching importance ? Man yields to a false concern when he asks himself, with anxious curiosity, “Where shall I go after death ?” The only questions of real importance are, what sort of a man he is now, what are his capacities and fitnesses, what motives constrain him, what organizing principles have supremacy in his soul; when summoned to other spheres and lives, what sort of a being has he to carry there, and what destiny and experience will it necessitate. According to his ruling affection and occupation, each day is bearing him on to the heaven or the hell which his character creates
The magnitude and intensity of the actual interests of the present cannot easily be exaggerated, because life now is really as inclusive as we can conceive. All that ever did occur, or that ever will, is, in essence, now occurring here. The history of this hour is the history of eternity. We cannot even imagine anything as having been in the past, or as yet to be in the future, save by combining the rudiments and working on the elementary hints possessed by the present. Creation, modification, destruction, progress, are here. Righteousness, iniquity, reward, retribution, are here. Beauty, deformity, love, terror, anxiety, peace, - at least, the conscious opening germs of them all, — are here. Knowledge, ignorance, bliss, agony, success, failure, the bloom and blight of the real, the magic form and motion of the ideal, are here. Watching angels winnow the holy atmosphere of prayer with their hovering pinions, here. God is here. What can there ever be anywhere that is not in essence and bud now here? Time contains eternity. Earth holds both hell and heaven. These in their future localities and adjudications mean but the aggravated continuation, the further development, of the present. A penetrative gaze and open feeling would lift up the warning horrors of the one, and bring down the inviting splendors of the other, and transfuse them through and reflect them over the intervening present. That needs to be done. It would be wise and most profitable to do it. It would teach us that, to avoid an infernal future, we must tear the growing roots of hell out from the soul now; that, to secure a celestial future, we must plant the imperishable seeds of heaven in the soul now. Future results spring from present beginnings.
That men might be really prepared to enter on another life and state when this life and state end, one is tempted sometimes almost to believe it would be good if the vision could be made true which an Oriental thinker in fancy saw. One Genius flew aloft with a torch, and burned up heaven; another descended with a vase, and extinguished hell; so that only the present world was left to solicit, task, and educate the energies of man.
Why should we employ the falsities of distance to lend enchantment to the view, when a deeper observation of truths will do it so much better? An increase of insight, a touch of wonder, a gush of sensibility, a halo of pious belief and feeling, are what we need to transform the halting plod of our daily prose to the musical march of a lyric rhythm, to distil into the bitterness of affliction a sweet flavor of religious use, and to array our dusty tasks in the blended hues of romance. The general acquisition of such a power within, and adoption of such a view without, would do more than all other human means to regenerate mankind and embellish life. It would do as much to advance the world, as the five knotty points of the prevalent theology, and kindred agencies, have done to retard it. It would tell men to walk as rich kings of the planet, not crouch as obsequious courtiers of heaven; to live as enfeoffed lords of time, not cling as vermin parasites of eternity. Indeed, an earnest study of human life, our present life, by analysis of its facts, induction of its phenomena, and generalization from its experiments, is the only way to improve it, and make it what it should be; to correct its abuses, abolish its evils, multiply its blessings, diffuse its happiness, and develop its latent possibilities. And to turn public attention comparatively away from remoter and meaner themes, and earnestly engage it in this most appropriate, most fruitful study, would be one of the direct results of an adequate recognition of the importance of the present. In other aims we may be deceived, disappointed, mocked; but to purify the contents and improve the environments of the present life, is a purpose certainly worthy, and sure to be rewarded. In this
study it shall be that man will learn the lessons whose guiding wisdom and inspiring motives he most needs. Then he will travel fast in the paths of progress. Perceiving that he is now in the present, to seek and seize the purposes of the present, perceiving that God owns the earth, and that he by that sure title is a freehold tenant on the estate of time, he will look about him with new eyes and a new heart. And straightway he will begin to see that all his duties, in perfect harmony with all his interests, direct him to mingle his soul's divinest feelings with life's lowliest toils, and endeavor out of the blocks of its cheapest opportunities to hew and build the achievement of his sublimest ideals.
Such a concentration upon the present is no culpable neglect of the past, but is its just issue and use; because the past bequeaths and empties itself into the present, and survives in no other way. Neither in a hearty entrance on the affairs of the present do we by any means forget or sink the future; but acting in the life that now is with a cherished faith in a higher hereafter, we draw forth in all their fulness the genuine uses of that belief. Those uses are as follows. It imparts a dignity to the temporary scenes of the present. It lets us already move in the sweep of its august extent, and dwell beneath the vastness of its overarching grandeur. It furnishes a motive to fidelity in the arduous struggles of the present. Promising us an everlasting existence under the discriminating oversight of God, it gives a strong incitement to the culture of noble virtues in humble circumstances, in silence and secrecy. It affords a consolation in the bitter griefs of the present. In the ear of the desponding bewailer it whispers that calamity is but for a night, and that joy comes with the morning; and so by its music and balm it sweetly comforts the sad heart. It yields a pleasure amidst the decaying insufficiencies of the present. When palling satiety follows fulness, or disappointment advances, and fatal defect is discovered, — when the flower fades, and the end of earth approaches, — then it is a blessed boon to be able to enjoy the thought of another sphere ready to welcome the captive who is about to fly from his broken cell. It ministers strength to do, resolution to bear, resignation to wait. Thus we see that none of the uses