Nathaniel Hillyer. Egleston.

The North American review (Volume 139) online

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ous religious bodies upon the philosophic speculations, religious
sentiments, and ethical convictions of the American people. In
England there is one Church by law established, and they who
separate from the communion of that Church are all classed
together as dissenters. That there should be anywhere on the
face of the earth a condition of society where there can be no
such thing as a dissenter, is a thought extremely difficult for
some good folks here to grasp. But much harder is the other
notion, which I presume is familiar enough to Americans, that
there should be anywhere no sects. No dissenters, because no
predominant or paramount Christian organization that rejoices in
the " most-favored-nation " clause. No sects, because no Church
recognized as the Church from which the other religious bodies
have cut themselves off. That there should be no bigotry and
exclusiveness, no odium theologicum, no fierce rivalry, no prose
lytizing, in America, as everywhere else, is inconceivable. Theo
logical disputants will cease to wrangle when lawyers learn to
love one another as brethren and doctors differ without asperity;
but among us the situation is extremely embarrassing as between
the Church for with us it is the Church and the non-con
formist, that is, with those who will not subscribe to our Church
doctrine, accept our formularies, or conform to our liturgy.
Here we have a standard by which we try all other Christian
bodies, and we pronounce them more or less orthodox or
denounce them as absolutely unorthodox, in proportion as
they approach or depart from this standard which is tacitly
accepted among us as the established standard. If there were
no Church of England by law established, I believe that a
vast number of people would find themselves quite dazed, quite
lost. To them it would be practically pretty much as if we were
all to awake some fine morning to find that the Home Sec
retary had shut up Greenwich observatory and run away
with the key, having previously taken measures to stop all
the great clocks in the land. We should all of us be going by
our own watches.

Yet somehow in America every man goes by his own watch ;
and if nobody is right, nobody else is likely to consider himself
hopelessly wrong. Here the social position of the clergy of the
established Church is something quite peculiar. There is no
need to dwell upon the fact, but that it is a fact there can be no


doubt. The result is, that the attitude of the clergy * toward all
the religious teachers has always been exclusive ; there has never
"been any cordiality, and very little cooperation. I do not say
this is not deplorable ; I am concerned with facts only. A
supercilious tone is so habitually natural to the clergyman when
speaking or dealing with the dissenting minister, and a tone of
soreness, jealousy, and suspicion on the part of the minister
toward the clergyman seems to us so inseparable from their
relations one to the other, that we in England can hardly bring
ourselves to believe that the Episcopalian and the Independent, the
"Wesleyan and the Primitive Methodist, could meet on absolutely
equal terms, just as officers of two regiments in the same army
can meet at mess and fight valiantly side by side against the com
mon foe. Every now and then we get one of those necessary
evils, the religious newspapers, sent us by kind friends from
America, or we catch a glimpse of an American bishop or
Episcopalian popular preacher. "Was it only a dream, or have I
really, actually, in the flesh, once met with an American arch
deacon? But from these exalted personages and their organs
surprisingly little is to be learned ; and I observe that an ecclesi
astic, let him come from where he may, is a shy creature, ready
enough to listen, but not to talk. He puts himself on the
defensive, and is so very much afraid of committing himself that
you are apt to retire into your interior, too ; just as I have
observed two snails meeting on their evening walk j one at the
approach of his brother shuts himself up in his shell, and the
other tickles at him with his horns for a little while, but ends by
accepting the situation, and shutting himself up also. Eesult, to
all appearance, nothing but two unoccupied snail-shells, inhabi
tants having retired from publicity.

I cannot believe that even in America the priests of the
Roman Church would ever assume any other than a haughty
bearing toward all other Christian teachers. Theirs is either
the Church, or it is nothing. But how do all the rest behave to
one another ? Are they all, in point of fact, merely ministers of

*It has been only of late years that any Christian ministers other than those
ordained by the bishops of the Church of England have been called " clergy
men" among us. The non-conformists were always called "ministers" or
"preachers." I find myself driven to use the words "clergy" and "minis
ters " in the old way, to avoid conveying a wrong impression to my readers.


their respective congregations ? How about proselytizing ? It
is comparatively easy to draw up a constitution that shall keep
up a certain amount of* discipline among the officers of any
force; but it is quite another thing to keep control over the
rank and file when they are all volunteers. Such a regiment as
that famous one of Artemas Ward's, " composed exclusively of
commanders-in-chief ," would hardly be found a successful organ
ization in the church militant. Are the clergy of all denomina
tions held by all denominations in equal esteem f Do they
" love as brethren," or do they bite and " devour one another " ?

These are some of the questions I find myself continually
asking when I turn my thoughts toward the magnificent coun
try and the great nation on the other side of the ocean. I do
not believe a man could get any answer to them, satisfactory to
his own mind, except by personal observation. He must for a time
live among living men, and see them at their daily tasks, to
understand their life even a very little. It is too much the
habit of travelers to take their theories with them. I, for my
part, have none. If I ever carry out the wish of my life, I shall
start as a naturalist does who goes to make collections with
empty cases, note-books, and apparatus not too ready to
generalize, but very anxious to learn. The probability is, I
shall never go at all. But others more fortunate than I may,
perhaps, be able to enlighten my darkness and inform my
ignorance, and it may happen that the hints I have thrown out
may be suggestive to them.

As to the big cities, with their colossal warehouses and
enormous trade, their gigantic hotels and prodigious growth,
they possess for me no attraction. There is something dreadful
to my mind in losing my personality in a surging multitude
and being absorbed in a crowd. To find myself unable to hear
my own voice because steam-hammers are pounding all
round me, and iron wheels are keeping up a ceaseless din,
annihilating articulate speech, that seems to me horrible. I
shrink from these things. I should be found creeping into out-
of-the-way places, prying into schools and colleges and univer
sities, begging that nobody would notice me, while I might be
permitted to notice everybody. Sometimes I should put very
impertinent questions about the wonderful endowments that I
hear Americans believe in firmly, just when we are beginning to


have lost our faith in their value. Sometimes I should even
venture to inquire about the war the war the one war
that reflected only imperishable glory upon both sides the
one civil war in the world's history that ended with the
grandest of all triumphs, freedom to the oppressed, without
one single act of vengeance inflicted upon the beaten side.
Sometimes but I am in danger of treading upon perilous
ground, in danger of saying too much, in danger of making
some one growl out suspiciously, " When you do come, if ever
you do, you'd better keep out of my way ! "

A few days ago, I was turning over an old volume of
''Punch," when I was attracted by a cartoon that may be
familiar to some of my readers. A mighty coal-heaver, his
day's work done, is leaning against one of the many posts to be
found in the region of the Seven Dials, his hands in his pockets,
his lips pipeless, his eyes staring at vacancy. By him stands an
exquisitely dressed clergyman, tall, slim, gentle, refined, who
has blandly laid his extended hand upon the other's brawny
shoulder. Says the clergyman, "My friend, I want to go to
Exeter Hall." Says the coal-heaver, "Then why the dooce
don't you go ? " Was it that the good man did not know his
way ? or was he suffering from a little tightness in the chest ?



ALL religious people believe in a new life as the condition of
spiritual peace and contentment, of that tranquility of soul in
which is supreme felicity. Whatever may be their philosophy
of the matter, the substantial facts are evident The predomi
nance of desire over duty, of passion over principle, of impulse
over disciplined character is before our eyes every day. The
distance between the sinner and the saint, between the willful
man and the man whose will is consecrated to universal ends, is
a gulf which cannot be filled up by any rubbish of ordinary good
sense. Many years ago, an extreme rationalist, a Unitarian of the
school of Theodore Parker, an advanced transcendentalist. spoke
of " sacrifice n as " the all-sufficing joy n in language glowing with
emotion. Jonathan Edwards could not have surpassed in con
viction this teacher of naturalism undisguised and triumphant.
They who have thought much on the subject, have read what
the theologians said, have pondered the texts of scripture, have
looked at the commentaries, and have analyzed the processes of
experience, are little wiser than the rest of mankind. When the
professor in the divinity school taught us that the meaning of
the Greek word /xeTavoeite which the common version translates
"Kepent ye v was exhausted by the rendering, "change your
minds," a veil seemed to fall from before our eyes. The mystery
was withdrawn. The whole " change " was reduced to the level
of common experience. The process was a purely mental one,
going on within the domain of intellect, and no more inexpli
cable than other modifications of thought. But a moment of re
flection was enough to make it clear that this merely verbal
suggestion threw no light into the recesses of the problem.
Even Mr. Andrews Norton's substitution of the word " reform "
for the language used in King James's version, did not help one
out of the difficulty. Nothing is more incomprehensible than



the moral process of reformation. To change one's mind per
manently and resolutely; to take a new view of human nature
and human life, of Providence and duty, of the world of causes
and affairs ; to turn about and face in the opposite direction, is
an altogether unaccountable thing. The consequences of it are
momentous j the motive powers that lead to it are concealed.
Why does anybody do it ? How is the event brought about ?
The questions cannot be answered ; the problem cannot be solved.
Possibly, at some future time, when the spiritual laws are un
derstood, when the modes of action in the nervous system are
scientifically traced out, we shall be able to reach some rational
conclusion on this subject. But at present we are in the dark.
Evangelical doctrines do not bridge the chasm, or tell us why
the lightning flash, the example, the book, the sermon, the word
spoken in public or private, wrought such great effects in par
ticular instances, while in other cases they were so utterly
inoperative. The assumption of supernatural influence makes
the matter no clearer. To jump at a theory is not to explain a
fact. The efficient cause is as remote as ever. To say that God
keeps his own counsel and does what he has a mind to, is simply
to throw the mystery further back, and to evade a difficulty that
cannot be confronted. No question is answered, and another
theme is introduced no less intricate than the one immediately
in hand. The abyss is simply deepened. Problem is heaped on
problem, yet the original problem is as far from solution as
before; if possible farther, for mystification is added to pro

" Draw, if thou canst, the mystic line,

Severing rightly his from thine,

Which is human, which divine."

The anxiety that is associated with this phase of religious
experience has been made intense by the Protestant system of
religion in which the present generation was instructed. This
system swept away at a stroke the appliances by which the
Church of Rome sought to effect a reconciliation between the
soul and Christ, and substituted an inward experience for an
outward observance. To make this consciousness vivid, it was
necessary to present a sharp contrast between the state from
which one was delivered and the state into which it was desir
able that one should be brought. The merciful provision of
purgatory was removed. The misery of the earthly lot was


exaggerated, the blessedness of heaven was exalted. The con
dition of the sinner was painted in the blackest colors. Horrors
were heaped around the bed of death. Hell was made more
dreadful, and was stretched over a larger expanse. Human
nature was described as being utterly depraved. Human occu
pations were pronounced useless, if not worse than useless.
Human virtue was suspected. The possibility of natural good
ness was called in question. Motives were subjected to cruel
suspicion under an assumption that

" The trail of the serpent was over them all."

The devil was presumed to be active everywhere and to have
a hand in all that transpired among men. The tempter was
omnipresent, sure of the sinners, trying to get possession of the
saints. There was no release from the duty of incessant vigi
lance. The business of introspection could not be suspended for
a single moment. The soul was always diving into itself, taking
itself to pieces, examining its own condition, debating whether
it belonged to Christ or to Satan, doubting whether it was a
candidate for heaven or for hell. The wound of sin was kept
ever open. It was impossible to forget. To be glad was impi
ous. To be easy-going, natural, careless, gay, was wicked.
Animal spirits were proof of guilt. There was no instinctive
happiness, no spontaneous felicity, however much appearances
might indicate the contrary. This old-fashioned analysis of
motives may be correct ; possibly there may be no such thing as
pure disinterestedness in the world (though some cases occur
which look astonishingly like it, as for example the conduct
of the chief engineer of the " State of Florida," and the heroic
behavior of responsible sailors at wrecks) ; but this need not
trouble us if we dismiss the notion of a standard of supernatural
excellence, and of the final condemnation of all who do not attain
it. So long as our estimates of virtue are based on visible facts
no confusion need ensue 5 it is only when it becomes a pious
duty to discredit entirely human goodness that one demurs.

Such overstatements as have been mentioned, with others
like them, are unavoidable. They are simply essential to render
startling the opposition between nature and grace. This is not
the place to enter into metaphysical or theological discussions,
or to give a history of opinions ; but it is timely to say that such
exaggerations cloud the issue they pretend to elucidate. They


raise many queries, but answer none. To speak of proving an
overstrained doctrine is to misapprehend the point presented.
That it is overstrained is evidence of its unreasonableness. It
cannot be maintained that religious men, without regard to their
race or creed, entertain the " evangelical " faith in regard to con
version. The argument from scripture is vitiated by several
considerations. The assumption of scriptural infallibility is fatal
to it at the outset. The fact that scripture texts are differently
interpreted vitally affects the immediate question. The circum
stance that theological prepossessions may determine the mean
ing attached to texts that the reader's thought may be imposed
upon passages in the Bible, is of prime importance in getting at
the true sense, for to take for granted the truth of theological
opinions is to prejudge the whole case under debate. The
appeal to consciousness is unavailing, for the simple reason that
there can be no consciousness except of what is in the mind at
any particular moment. The sinner cannot be conscious of the
experiences of the saint, or the saint of those of the sinner ; and
neither can be conscious of the passage from one condition to
the other. Besides, the consciousness of both sinner and saint
may be artificial, the misery of the former, the ecstasy of the
latter being magnified to meet the requirements of the creed,
which must not be received in advance of demonstration. The
natural feelings of men have been so completely overlaid that it
is impossible to discover them. Not until one puts aside frankly
and altogether the Protestant idea of a sharp, essential antago
nism between the " natural " and the " spiritual n man, can one
arrive at a scientific estimate of the value of moral conduct ; and
this implies a radical change in the method of judging character,
an absolute rejection of the cardinal principles which underlie
the Protestant system of religion as well as of theology.

The Roman Catholic theory is more gracious to human nat
ure. Of course it starts from the same points. The perfection
of Adam before the Fall, the inspiration of scripture, the need
of supernatural grace, the contrast between nature and spirit,
are all accepted as first truths, beyond denial or dispute. But
this being conceded, the doctrine of conversion is more reason
able. There is more definition, more qualification, more allow
ance of psychological facts, a closer approximation of natural
and supernatural goodness, an extension of the time of proba
tion, an increase of the "means of grace," an absence of the


prying curiosity, which is the great tormenting feature in the
Protestant system. Its inquisition, however fiendish, is not
spiritual, nor are its visible flames as cruel as the self-torturing
fires that Protestants kindle and exult in as tests of the spiritual
life. Has one duly considered such agonies as John Bunyan
to name a man whom all have heard of encountered? This
kind of auto da fe Romanism does not encourage j and is, so far,
in accord with a rational view of goodness.

The Council of Trent declared that man preserved all his
natural powers after the Fall, having lost the benefit of the
divine grace only j that free will remained, " not wholly extinct,
though weakened and bowed down." " All men lost innocence
by Adam's prevarication." Anselm taught that original sin con
sisted in the privation of righteousness; Augustine, that its
essence was concupiscence. Saint Thomas Aquinas, on the
whole, agreed with Anselm, and maintained that concupiscence
alone was not sin, but must be joined with unrighteousness that
is, with evil purpose to constitute sin. Aquinas, too, contended
that natural happiness was possible to unbaptized infants.
Romanism did not proscribe the pursuits or the pleasures of this
world, but in as far as they were simply natural, smiled on
them. In a word, man was left as he was, it being assumed that
by supernatural aid alone could he attain his full stature as a
" spiritual " creature, or enter into cordial communion with God.
The Romanist insists on human inability, on the shortness of
man's tether, on the limitations to all mortal endeavor ; and this
is an enormous concession, bringing the Catholic doctrine very
near to what a scientific psychology will regard as the truth of
the case, namely, the imbecility of the will under ordinary mo
tives. Extraordinary motives cannot, as yet, be accounted for,
and may be dismissed, at present, from the strictly rational
view. That, under existing circumstances, average human nat
ure cannot be expected to rise into transcendent heights of
virtue may be admitted. At the same time, at any moment
influences may be excited that will lift commonplace characters
to the mountain-tops of excellence. It is usually supposed that
such influences come only or chiefly to believers in the Christ, to
members of the church, to disciples of the accepted creed j but
this supposition is altogether gratuitous, inasmuch as those who
discard the creed entirely feel the emotions described by the
converted who have "experienced religion. 77 People, extraor-


dinary people perhaps, who belong to no religious communion
in or out of Christendom, in their philosophy and in their lives
attest the reality of interior states of spiritual ecstasy. All peo
ple, whether gifted or not in other respects, may enjoy, more or
less habitually, these transports, which, whatever be their true
explanation, are certainly independent of ecclesiastical and of
doctrinal antecedents.

Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his lecture on " Worship," uses
the following language :

"Every man takes care that his neighbor shall not cheat him. But a day
comes when he begins to care that he do not cheat his neighbor. Then all
goes well. He has changed his market-cart into a chariot of the sun. What
a day dawns when we have taken to heart the doctrine of faith ! to prefer, as
a better investment, being to doing, being to becoming, logic to rhythm and
to display, the year to the day, the life to the year, character to performance,
and have come to know that justice will be done us j and if our genius is
slow, the term will be long."

The same writer, in the lecture on " Fate," says :

" The revelation of thought takes man out of servitude into freedom. We
rightly say of ourselves, we were born, and then we were born again, and
many times. We have successive experiences so important that the new
forgets the old, and hence the mythology of the seven or the nine heavens.
The day of days, the great day of the feast of life, is that in which the inward
eye opens to the unity in things, to the omnipresence of law ; sees that what
is must be and ought to be, or is the best. This beatitude dips from on high
down on us, and we see. It is not in us so much as we are in it. If the
air come to our lungs, we breathe and live ; if not, we die. If the light come
to our eyes, we see ; else not. And if truth come to our mind, we suddenly
expand to its dimensions, as if we grew to worlds. We are as lawgivers ;
we speak for nature, we prophesy and divine."

Mr. James Parton, a man of different mental constitution from
Mr. Emerson, a man who breathes a different intellectual atmos
phere, in his biography of Benjamin Franklin, has a chapter
entitled, "Regeneration," in which he discusses his subject's
spiritual condition, and gives his own explanation of it. Dr.
Franklin, as we all know, was not a saint. He was not what
might be called an angelic man. He was not a church member.
He was by no means " evangelical" in his belief. As a youth
he was a deist, nor is it probable that he ever wholly discarded
the belief of the unbelievers. The litany that he composed at
the age of twenty-two does not read in the least like the litany


of the Episcopal Church. But he lived in the main according
to rational principles, soberly, sedately, continently, humanely.
He preferred reason to impulse. His was a life of usefulness
and of service to his fellow-men, not an emotional or ecstatic
life (his temperament did not allow that), not a life of interior
joy, not a life of contemplation or of spiritual experience ; but
an honest, well-intentioned, high-purposed life, pitched on an
elevated key. I think we should have reason to congratulate
ourselves if the majority of men were as good as he was, were
actuated by motives as generous and noble, were so enlightened
in their self-love.

Is not this the substance of the matter ? Do not Mr. Emer
son's words convey the entire truth ? Allowing for differences
of temperament and susceptibility in men, and for various modes
of expressing the same feeling, can we declare that the supremacy
of reason over instinct is not all that is essential to the doctrine

Online LibraryNathaniel Hillyer. EglestonThe North American review (Volume 139) → online text (page 32 of 60)