In this resplendent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life. The grass grows, the buds burst, the meadow is spotted with fire and gold in the tint of flowers. The air is full of birds, and sweet with the breath of the pine, the balm-of-Gilead, and the new hay. Night brings no gloom to the heart with its welcome shade. Through the transparent darkness the stars pour their almost spiritual rays. Under them one seems like a young child, and the huge globe one’s toy. The cool night bathes the world as with a river, and prepares one’s eyes again for the crimson dawn. The mystery of nature was never displayed more happily. The corn and the wine have been freely dealt to all creatures, and the never-broken silence with which the old bounty goes forward, has not yielded yet one word of explanation. One is constrained to respect the perfection of this world, in which our senses converse.
But when the mind opens, and reveals the laws which traverse the universe, and makes things what they are, then shrinks the world at once into a mere illustration and fable of the mind. What am I� and What is� asks the human spirit with a curiosity new-kindles, but never to be quenched.
The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of space, and not subject to circumstance. Thus in our souls there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. One who does a good deed, is instantly ennobled. One who does a mean deed, is by the action contracted. If one is at heart just, then in so far is one God; the safety of God, the majesty of God do enter into us with justice.
See how this rapid intrinsic energy worketh everywhere, righting wrongs, correcting appearances, and bringing up facts to a harmony with thoughts. Its operation in life, though slow to the senses, is, at last, as sure as the soul. By it a person is made the Providence to oneself, dispensing good to one’s goodness, and evil to one’s sin. Character is always known. See again the perfection of the law as it applies itself to the affections and becomes the law of society. As we are, so we associate. The good, by affinity, seek the good; the vile, by affinity, the vile. Thus of their own volition, souls proceed into heaven, into hell.
These facts have always suggested to us the sublime creed, that the world is not the product of manifold power, but of one will, of one mind; and that one mind is everywhere active, in each ray of the star, in each wavelet of the pool; and whatever opposes that will, is everywhere balked and baffled, because things are made so, and not otherwise. Good is positive. Evil is merely privative, not absolute; it is like cold, which is the privation of heat. All evil is so much death or nonentity. Benevolence is absolute and real. So much benevolence as we have, so much life have we. For all things proceed out of this same spirit, which is differently named love, justice, temperance, in its different applications, just as the ocean receives different names on the several shores which it washes. Whilst one seeks good ends, one is strong by the whole strength of nature. In so far as we stray from these ends, we bereave ourselves of power; our being shrinks out of all remote channels, and we become less and less, until absolute badness is death.
The perception of this law of laws awakens in the mind a sentiment which we call the religious sentiment, and which makes our highest happiness. This sentiment is divine and deifying. It is the beatitude of humanity, It makes us illimitable. Through it, the soul first knows itself. It corrects the capital mistake of the infant human, who seeks to be great by following the great, and hopes to derive advantages from another,-by showing the fountain of all good to be in each of us, and that we, equally with everyone else, are an inlet into the deeps of Reason. When one says “I should;” when love warms one, when one chooses, warned from on high, the good and great deed, then deep melodies wander through our soul from Supreme Wisdom.
Then we can worship, and be enlarged by our worship; for we can never go beyond this sentiment. In the sublimest flights of the soul, righteousness is never surmounted, love is never outgrown.
This sentiment lies at the foundation of society, and successively creates all forms of worship. Humanity fallen into superstition, into sensuality, is never quite without the vision of the moral sentiment. The expressions of this sentiment affect us more than all other compositions. This thought dwelled always deepest in the minds of people in the devout and contemplative East; not alone in palestine, where it reached its purest expression, but in Egypt, in Persia, in India, in China. Europe has always owed to oriental genius, its divine impulses. And the unique impression of Jesus upon humanity, whose name is not so much written as ploughed into the history of this world, is proof of the subtle virtue of this infusion.
Meantime, whilst the doors of the temple stand open, night and day, before every person, and the oracles of this truth cease never, it is guarded by one stern condition; this namely; it is an intuition. It cannot be received at second hand. Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul. What someone announces, I must find true in me or wholly reject. The doctrine of the divine nature being forgotten, a sickness infects and dwarfs the constitution. Once the person was all, now we are an appendage, a nuisance. And because the indwelling Supreme Spirit cannot wholly be got rid of, the doctrine of it suffers this perversion, that the divine nature is attributed to one or two persons, and denied to all the rest, and denied with fury. The doctrine of inspiration is lost; the base doctrine of the majority of voices, usurps the place of the doctrine of the soul. Miracles, prophecy, poetry, the ideal life, the holy life, exist as ancient history merely; they are not in the belief, nor in the aspirations of society; but when suggested, seem ridiculous.
These general views find abundant illustration in the history of religion, and especially in the history of the Christian Church. As the Cultus, or established worship of the civilized world, it has great historical interest for us. I shall endeavor to discharge my duty to you, on this occasion, by pointing out two errors in its administration, which daily appear more gross from the point of view we have just now taken.
Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of humanity. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God Incarnates himself in humanity and ever more goes forth anew to take possession of our world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion,”I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or see thee, when thou thinkest as I now think.” But what a distortion did his doctrine and memory suffer in the same, in the next, in the following ages. The understanding caught this high chant from the poet’s lips, and said, in the next age, “This was Jehovah come down out of Heaven. I will kill you if you say he was a man.” The idioms of this language, and the figures of his rhetoric, have usurped the place of his truth; and churches are not built on his principles, but on his metaphors. Christianity became a Mythus, as the poetic teachings of Greece and of Egypt, before. He spoke of miracles; for he felt that life was a miracle, and all that one does. But the word miracle, as pronounced by Christian Churches, gives a false impression; it is monster. It is not one with the blowing clover and the falling rain.
He felt respect for Moses and the prophets; but no unfit tenderness at postponing their initial revelations, to the hour that we are now; to the eternal revelation of the heart. Thus was he a true man. Having seen that the law in us is commanding, he would not suffer it to be commanded. Boldly, with hand, and heart, and life, he declared it was God. Thus is he, I think, the only soul in history who has appreciated the worth of humanity.
1. In this point of view we become very sensible of the first defect of historical Christianity. Historical Christianity has fallen into the error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. As it appears to us, and as it has appeared for ages, it is not the doctrine of the soul, but an exaggeration of the personal, the positive, the ritual. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the ” person” of Jesus. The soul knows no persons. It invites everyone to expand to the circle of the universe, and will have no preferences but those of spontaneous love. But by this eastern monarchy of a Christianity, which indolence and fear have built, the friend of humanity is made the injurer of humanity. The manner in which his name is surrounded with expressions, which were once sallies of admiration and love, but are now petrified into official titles, kills all generous sympathy and liking. All who hear me, feel, that the language that describes Christ to Europe and America, is not the style of friendship and enthusiasm to a good and noble heart, but is appropriated and formal- paints a demigod, as the Orientals or the Greeks would describe Osiris or Apollo. One would rather be a “pagan, suckled in a creed outworn”, than to be defrauded of our human right in coming into nature, and finding not names and places, not land and professions, but even virtue and truth foreclosed and monopolized. You shall not even be a human. You shall not own the world; you shall not dare, and live after the infinite Law that is in you, and in company with the infinite Beauty which heaven and earth reflect to you in all lovely forms; but you must subordinate your nature to Christ’s nature; you must accept our interpretation; and take his portrait as the vulgar draw it.
That is always best which gives me to myself. The sublime is excited in me by the great stoical doctrine, obey thyself. That which shows God in me, fortifies me. That which shows God out of me, makes me a wart and a wen. There is no longer a necessary reason for my being.
The divine bards are the friends of my virtue, of my intellect, of my strength. They admonish me, that the gleams which flash across my mind are not mine, but God’s; that they had the like, and were not disobedient to the heavenly vision. So I love them. Noble provocations go out from them, inviting me to resist evil, to subdue the world; and to Be. And thus by his holy thoughts, Jesus serves us, and thus only. To aim to convert someone by miracles is a profanation of the soul. A true conversion, a true Christ, is now, as always, to be made by the reception of beautiful sentiments. It is a low benefit to give me something; it is a high benefit to enable me to do somewhat of myself. The time is coming when everyone will see, that the gift of Food to the soul is not a vaunting, overpowering, excluding sanctity, but a sweet, natural goodness, a goodness like thine and mine, and that so invites thine and mine to be and to grow.
2. The second defect of the traditionary and limited way of using the mind of Christ is a consequence of the first; this namely; that the Moral Nature, that Law of laws, whose revelations introduce greatness-yea, God himself, into the open soul, is not explored as the fountain of the established teaching in society. We have come to speak of the revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead. The injury to faith throttles the preacher; and the goodliest of institutions becomes an uncertain and inarticulate voice.
It is very certain that it is the effect of conversation with the beauty of the soul, to beget a desire and need to impart to others the same knowledge and love. If utterance is denied, the thought lies like a burden on us. Always the seer is a sayer. Somehow our dream is told; somehow we publish it with solemn joy: sometimes with pencil on canvas; sometimes with chisel on stone; sometimes in towers and aisles of granite, our souls worship is builded; sometimes in anthems of indefinite music; but clearest and most permanent, in words.
Courage, piety, love, wisdom, can teach; and everyone can open their doors to these angels, and they can bring us the gift of tongues. But the man who aims to speak a as books enable, as synods use, as the fashion guides, and as interest commands, babbles. Let them hush.
From the views I have already expressed, you will infer the sad conviction, which I share, I believe, with numbers, of the universal decay and now almost death of faith in society. The soul is not preached. The Church seems to totter to its fall, almost all life extinct. On this occasion, any complaisance would be criminal, which told you, whose hope and commission it is to preach the faith of Christ, that the faith of Christ is preached.
The test of the true faith, certainly, should be its power to charm and command the soul, as the laws of nature control the activity of the hands- so commanding that we find pleasure and honor in obeying. The faith should blend with the light of rising and setting suns, with the flying cloud, the singing bird, and the breath of flowers. But now the priest’s sabbath has lost the splendor of nature; it is unlovely; we are glad when it is done. We can make, we do make even sitting in our pews, a far better, holier, sweeter, sabbath for ourselves.
I once heard a preacher who sorely tempted me to say, I would go to church no more. People go, thought I, where they have to go, or no one would have entered the temple in the afternoon. A snow storm was falling around us. The snow storm was real; the preacher merely spectral; and the eye felt the sad contrast in looking at him, and then out of the window behind him, into the beautiful meteor of the snow. The true preacher can be known by this, that he deals out to the people his life- life passed through the fire of thought.
It seemed strange that the people should come to church. It seemed as if their houses were very unentertaining, that they should prefer this thoughtless clamoring. The prayers and even the dogmas of our church, are like the Zodiac of Denderah, and the astronomical monuments of the Hindus, wholly insulated from anything now existent in the life and business of the people. They mark the height to which the waters once rose.
With whatever exception, it is still true, that tradition characterizes the preaching of this country; that it comes out of memory and not out of the soul; that it aims at what is usual, and not at what is necessary and eternal; that thus historical Christianity destroys the power of preaching, by withdrawing it from the exploration of the moral nature of humanity, where the sublime is, where are the resources of astonishment and power. The pulpit in losing sight of this Law, loses its reason, and gropes after it knows not what. And for want of this culture, the soul of the community is sick and faithless.
I think none of us can go with our thoughts about us, into one of our churches, without feeling, that what hold the public worship had on us is gone, or going. It has lost its grasp on the affection of the good, and the fear of the bad. I heard a devout person, who prized the sabbath, say in bitterness of heart,”on Sundays, it seems wicked to go to church.”
My friends, in these two errors, I think, I find the causes of a decaying church and a wasting unbelief. And what greater calamity can fall upon a nation, than the loss of worship. Then all things go to decay. Genius leaves the temple, to haunt the senate, or the market place. Literature becomes frivolous. Science is cold. The eye of youth is not lighted by hope of other worlds, and age is without honor.
And now my brothers and sisters, you will ask, what in these desponding days can be done by us? The remedy is already declared in the ground of our complaint of the church. We have contrasted the church with the soul. In the soul, then, let the redemption be sought. The stationariness of religion; the assumption that the age of inspiration is past, that the Bible is closed; the fear of degrading the character of Jesus by representing him as human; indicate with sufficient clearness the falsehood of our theology. It is the office of a true preacher to show us that God is, not was; that God speaks, not spoke. The true Christianity ,- a faith like Christ’s in the infinitude of humanity-is lost. None believe in the soul of a human, but only in some man or person old and departed.
And now let us do what we can to rekindle the smoldering, nigh quenched fire on the altar. I confess, all attempts to project and establish a Cultus with new rites and forms, seem to me in vain. Faith makes us and not we it, and faith makes its own forms. All attempts to contrive a system are as cold as the new worship introduced by the French to the Goddess of Reason- today, pasteboard and filigree, and ending tomorrow in madness and murder. Rather let the breath of new life be breathed by you through the forms already existing. For, if once you are alive, you shall find they shall become pliant and new.
The remedy to their deformity is, first, soul, and second, soul, and ever more, soul. A whole popedom of forms, one pulsation of virtue can uplift and vivify. Two inestimable advantages Christianity has given us; first; the Sabbath, the jubilee of the whole world; whose light dawns welcome alike into the closet of the philosopher, into the garret of toil, and into prison cells, and everywhere suggests, even to the vile, the dignity of spiritual being.
Let it stand forevermore, a temple, which new love, new faith, new sight shall restore to more than its first splendor to mankind. And secondly, the institution of preaching, � the speech of man to men, � essentially the most flexible of all organs, of all forms. What hinders that now, everywhere, in pulpits, in lecture-rooms, in houses, in fields, wherever the invitation of men or your own occasions lead you, you speak the very truth, as your life and conscience teach it, and cheer the waiting, fainting hearts of men with new hope and new revelation?
I look for the hour when that supreme Beauty, which ravished the souls of those eastern men, and chiefly of those Hebrews, and through their lips spoke oracles of all time, shall speak in the West also. The Hebrew and Greek Scriptures contain immortal sentences, that have been bread of life to millions. But they have no epical integrity; are fragmentary; are not shown in their order to the intellect. I look for the new Teacher, that shall follow so far those shining laws, that he or she shall see them come full circle; shall see their roundness complete grace; shall see the world to be the mirror of the soul; shall see the identity of the law of gravitation with purity of heart; and shall show that the Ought, that Duty, is one thing with Science, with Beauty, and with Joy.