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probation as the equivalent of “a chance," and only insisting that it shall be fair, puts human life in a false relation to God, who has revealed himself as the Father of men. Probation may be involved in the idea of a family, but it is not the spirit or end of it; it is simply incidental. The father, indeed, educates his children for future use and responsibility; but only in some indirect sense are they under probation ; they are not reared in an atmosphere of "chance," even though fair, or of an overhanging doom to be averted, but are children in the father's house, reared in hope and love and freedom. We are not here in the world to be tested, but to be trained under God's lessons. Tested we are, but what father puts his household under a test? The question of probation comes to the front only when the proper elements of household life have been eclipsed. And what, then, is probation ? A “ chance," and one at that? Not in such terms is the history of a lost child of God's family described, but as a sheep that the shepherd seeks till he finds. This is paternal, this is God-like, and it is far removed in spirit from the conception involved in such a phrase as 6 chance," whether fair or not, whether one or many. That man is under probation is, indeed, true; it is involved in the possession of a moral nature, and it is to be regarded as such rather than as a condition springing out of sin. Man is under probation, not because he is a sinner, but because he is a moral being, undergoing a formative process. It should, therefore, not be treated in a harsh, doom-like way, but as a gracious feature of a gracious system. No father says to his children, “ You have a chance; it shall be fair; I will not be hard with you ; it will last just so long; if you do not meet the test you may go your own way.” It is, indeed, possible that in a desperate exigency of family-life a father might be forced to say this, but it is not in such guise that a wise and tender parent presents himself to his children. As little is it the aspect of the Heavenly Father before men. Probation is a fact, but it is not a fact to be treated as though it were already a semi-doom.
As to whether there is one probation or more, there is an immense gain to theological thought in getting the subject out of physical and temporal bounds in the region of morals. But is it not plain that when this is done the question whether there is one or more vanishes ? Probation is a continuous state or process till it ends by its own nature. It is one or many, as we choose to regard it, just as education may be regarded as a single or sub-divided process. All discussion of this sort is a mere logomachy. Probation may be divided into as many days, or hours, or distinct moral experiences as one undergoes. It is simpler and more scientific to say that man bas but one probation, but, by its nature, it cannot have any bounds of time, whether of earthly life or world-age. It may, indeed, synchronize with the world-age, but only because that goal of time is postponed till the problem of existence has been solved by every human being. But probation will not be determined by the world-age, but by its own laws. It ends when character is fixed, — if indeed we have any right to use a word so out of keeping with moral freedom, — and it is not possible to attach any other bound or limit to it. And character is fixed in evil when all the possibilities of the universe are exhausted that would alter the character. The shepherd in the parable seeks the lost sheep till he finds it; shall we add to the parable, and say, “or till he cannot find it”? If we do so, it is in view of the fact that the will of man, made in the image of God, is a mystery deep as the mystery of God himself.
Such are some of the features of this fresh movement in the realm of theology, for it can scarcely be called more than a movement, an advance to meet the unfolding revelation of God. It is not an organization, it is little aggressive, it does not herald itself with any Lo here or Lo there, it does not crowd itself upon the thought of the age, it is not keyed to such methods. It has no word of contempt for those who linger in ways it has ceased to walk in; it has no sympathy with those who have forsaken the one way. It does not destroy foundations, nor sap faith, nor weaken motives ; it does not reduce the proportions of evil nor dim the glory of righteousness; it does not chill the enthusiasm of faith, nor hold it back from its mightiest effort of sacrifice. It seeks no conquest represented in outward form, but is content to add its thought to the growing thought of the world, and, if it speaks, content to speak to those who have ears to hear. It makes no haste, it seeks no revolution, but simply holds itself open and receptive under the breathing of the Spirit that has come, and is ever coming, into the world ; passive, yet quick to respond to the heavenly visions that do not cease to break upon the darkened eyes of humanity.