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all that could be done by general reasoning from the philosophy of the human mind, the light of science, and the analogies of nature, or from the testimonies of reason and natural conscience, has been done by the present generation. It remained only to wait, after the exhaustion of ammunition on both sides, until the smoke of the battle had blown away, and the night of common weariness of the conflict had passed, to see what the effect of the struggle had been, how the fight had gone, and which of the combatants was left in a position of strength and triumph.
Meanwhile, the honest fear of the effect of free inquiry upon practical piety has been slowly abating under the light of experience. The natural apprehension that a loosening of dogmatic opinions, and a radical change of creed, could work injuriously upon the spirit of reverence, softening the sentiment of holy fear and the conscience of duty, has largely given way before the evidence of facts. The decay of an implicit faith has not been accompanied by the crumbling of morals, or the downfall of religious institutions. The influence of the ministry has changed its form, but not lessened its sum. Religious manifestations have altered, but the religious spirit has continued equally operative. Relative to population and wealth, more money is expended in the support of public worship now, in communities where the freest inquiry prevails, than was spent there in the palmiest days of an undoubting uniformity of creed; and none but the prejudiced will deny, that, in a truly reverent spirit and a righteous behavior, those neighborhoods furthest removed in their opinions from the orthodoxy of the Reformation are at least as exemplary as those communities where the old creeds still have undivided sway. It begins to appear to all clearsighted men, that Christianity owes its power and its value to something which cannot be expressed in verbal propositions, which is not contained in any credal statement, or denied in any intellectual dissent; that its life is not identified with the formularies which successive ages have made concerning it; and that the hereditary and fixed attachment of modern civilization to it is independent of the
reasons usually given for it. Whatever critical or scholastic views of the New Testament may prevail, the book itself is more generally if not so exclusively read, and more intelligently and efficiently revered with every age. Whatever notions of Christ's nature and offices may be taken up, his practical influence over men's hearts and lives steadily grows. It increases with those who cling to the old notions; it increases with those who abandon them, and fly to new ones. In short, the state of dogmatic theology gives no idea of the state of practical religion.
But here arises a new question. If the connection between theological opinion and a vital Christian faith is so slight, if men may be good Christians with any theory of Christianity, and if the power and influence of the gospel continues secure and increasing amid all the changes of dogmatic opinion, it may fitly be asked, why any anxiety about theological progress should occupy our hearts, and employ our studies. Let us candidly consider this point.
We have assumed that the devout spirit and the practical Christian faith and life are independent of the dogmatic
creed of ages and sects, that genuine piety and active philan. - thropy are as often associated with one creed as another, and
that the spirit and influence of the gospel are separable from the articles of faith and modes of worship adopted by different ages.
But it is clear that this is a very different assertion from one which should affirm that all creeds are equally in place, equally credible, equally effective at all times and under all circumstances; or that individuals, communities, or eras may interchange creeds with each other to their mutual advantage. The account which men give of religion and of Christianity is drawn from, and is in the measure of, their general intelligence and illumination; the influence of religion is not due to men's intelligence, but to their spiritnal affections, and pious or moral susceptibilities. These sensi- . bilities, it is true, affect their intelligence more directly than their intelligence affects their sensibilities; but they continually re-act upon each other, and, while emotion commonly rules reason in the individual, reason rules emotion in the
race. It is not men's views of religion, but religion itself, that moves their hearts and animates their lives. The theory of the power is not the power itself, any more than the tides are the consequences of our tidal philosophies. But while the sunshine of the Ptolemaic theory, and the sunshine of the Newtonian philosophy, ripens the corn in the same way, we cannot ask the farmer on the Hudson or the Thames to take back the astronomic notions of the ancient husbandman on the Nile. It would not injure his corn, but it would violate his understanding.
There is a steady and irresistible tendency to coherency of views and unity of conception in the human mind; and although religious opinions are the last to move, and the slowest to adjust themselves to the other convictions and experiences of any era or any individual, yet they are indissolubly held under the common necessity of harmonizing themselves with the general contents of the understanding. Theology may be said to have more specific gravity than any other subject of human interest. Religious convictions and usages are always furthest behind the times; older-fashioned than any other portion of the furniture of the mind. And this from the best and most dignified reasons. The most venerable person in every assembly is the last whom the company will consent to see unseated. In proportion as things are precious and sacred, we keep them out of the light, and free from rough handling. Religion, enshrined in its own holiness, resists the examination of the critical faculties, as an anointed king refuses arrest or question. The pious instincts respect the self-reverence that checks familiar approach; and it is only after a thousand apologies, that, yielding to the necessities of the case, reason finally makes bold to open the cell where faith is on her knees, to inform her that the house is on fire, that the flames are rapidly approaching her sanctuary, and that she must die or open her eyes, and change her attitude and place. Who has not watched the tender respect with which some ancient graveyard, originally suitably placed on the outskirts of a young town, but now, by the unexpected growth of the place, brought within the very heart of a great city, is treated by a community whose business convenience and domestic comfort, nay, whose public health and prosperity, are every day vexed and impaired by its vicinity? There lie the ashes of revered founders and benefactors; there cluster sad and tender memories of early days! When some new-comer first dares to hint, that the graveyard ought to be closed against new interments, he is regarded with horror as a heartless utilitarian, When, later, some of the young men begin to suggest its removal, a cry of sacrilege goes up from the elders in every street. When, at last, the city council officially decrees, that the public health and convenience imperatively demand its early obliteration, a storm of opposition is raised, and public discussion only slowly prepares for what every student of civilization must have known from the start, was the predestined result. The tenderest and most sacred prejudices inevitably give way, in the end, to the steady pressure of reason and interest. The graveyard is moved; and the next generation wonders what short-sightedness originally placed it where it was, and what folly detained it there; the following generation forgets that it was ever there; the next disputes the tradition that assigns it such a place.
This vis inertice in religion is far from being a misfortune. It is a genuine and well-founded respect for the essential stability of Christian truth, which discredits and resists easy and rapid changes, even in its external forms. It is not seemly that political constitutions should change with the seasons, or ecclesiastical creeds with the fashions. Age is as essential to the good and potent influence of opinions and usages as to the flavor of wines or the value of proverbs. There must be a very considerable incompatibility between the religious creed of an era, and its living experiences, before there is sufficient reason for disputing or abandoning the old formulas of faith, and hunting up new ones.
The old, with all their defects, have charms and uses which the new, with all their improvements, will not acquire for a century. Like an ancestral house, built for other genera
tions, inconvenient and ugly, too large in some respects and too small in others, full of dark closets and mysterious passages, but rich in associations, surrounded with majestic trees and beautiful for situation, occupying grounds which could not now be purchased for money, and covering a space it would be preposterous to monopolize for private purposes, how long must pecuniary interest, personal convenience, and public necessity protest, before any family of dignity and worth will yield up the decaying, comfortless, and expensive mansion, built by honored ancestors, for the finest and most convenient residence which modern skill can devise ?
It is a wise provision of our nature, that religion, and every thing connected with it, shrinks from change and abhors novelty. Real progress is impossible without some resist
It is the friction between the wheel and the rail that gives the locomotion its power of traction. Oil the track, and the wheels slip, and refuse to draw. Take away man's love for the customary, his respect for the established, and his veneration for the past, and you take out of his composition all the cohesive qualities that make him capable of being slowly reshaped in the image of the future. If the religious . spirit were not powerful enough to secrete an enamel around the soft substance of its convictions, they would never serve to masticate the tough nutriment of life. When these convictions have decayed, and must be drawn out of the soul, let us not wonder, when we think of the service to which they were adapted, what length of root they possess, how hard their shell, nor how painful and reluctant their removal.
Theology has no provision for its own change, never moves of its own motion, nor without resistance and pain; and owes all its alterations and improvement to causes external to itself. And this is no misfortune, but a great boon. Make the religious convictions and emotions as enterprising and curious as the intellectual powers, as fond of variety as the fancy, as bold-winged as the imagination, and man would become like the water-lily broken from its root, floating in a fickle element, reflecting every change in the sky, and with its only fixture to the solid earth torn away,- itself a drift,