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order to show this, let me ask your attention to the distinction
between necessary and contingent truths; that is, between truths which
have an intrinsic validity, which always were and cannot by any
possibility be otherwise than true, and truths which were made true,
which began to be, and the opposite of which might have been.
Mathematical truth is necessary and absolute truth, - not made truth even
by the ordinance of the Supreme Being, but truth from the very nature of
things, truth co-eternal with God. Omnipotence cannot make two and two
five, or render the sum of the angles of a triangle more or less than
two right angles, or construct a square and a circle of both equal
perimeter and equal surface. In our conception of mathematical truth we
are conscious that it must have been true before all worlds, and would
be equally true had no substance that could be measured or calculated
ever been created. Every mathematical proposition is an inherent
property or condition of the infinite space identical with the Divine
omnipresence, or of the infinite duration identical with the Divine
eternity.

Moral truth is of the same order, not contingent, but necessary,
absolute. This is distinctly declared in one of the most sublime bursts
of inspiration in the Hebrew Scriptures. If you will trace in the book
of Proverbs the traits of Wisdom as personified throughout the first
nine chapters, you will find that it is no other than a name for the
inherent, immutable, eternal distinction between right and wrong. It is
this Wisdom, who, so far from confessing herself as created, ordained,
or subject, proclaims, "Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his
way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the
beginning, or ever the earth was.... When he prepared the heavens, I
was there.... When he appointed the foundations of the earth, then I was
by him, AS ONE BROUGHT UP WITH HIM; and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing always before him."

It is only on the principle thus vividly set forth that we can affirm
moral attributes of the Supreme Being. When we say that He is perfectly
just, pure, holy, beneficent, we recognize a standard of judgment
logically independent of his nature. We mean that the law of fitness,
which He promulgates in the human conscience, and which is our only
standard of right, is the self-elected law of his own being. Could we
conceive of omnipotence and omniscience devoid of moral attributes, the
decrees and acts of such a being would not be necessarily right.
Omnipotence cannot make the wrong right, or the right wrong; nor can it
indue either with the tendencies of the other, so that the wrong, that
is, the unfitting, should produce ultimate good, or the right, that is,
the fitting, should produce ultimate evil. God's decrees and acts are
not right because they are his; but they are his because they are right.
On no other ground, as I have said, can we affirm moral attributes of
him. If his arbitrary sovereignty can indue with the characteristics of
right that which has no intrinsic fitness, beauty, or utility, then the
affirmation that He is holy, or just, or good, is simply equivalent to
the absurd maxim of human despotism, "The king can do no wrong." It is
only when we conceive of the abstract right as existing of necessity
from a past eternity, and as a category of the Divine free-will and
perfect prescience, in which the creation had its birth and its
archetypes, that holiness, justice, and goodness, as applied to the
Divine character, have any meaning.

We thus see that our ethical conceptions underlie our theology, and
that, however explicit the words of revelation may be as to the Divine
nature, he alone can understand them, who recognizes in his own heart
the absoluteness and immutableness of moral distinctions. How many
Christians have there been in every age since the primitive, who, in
using the terms _just_ and _holy_ with reference to the Almighty, have
employed them in an entirely different sense from that in which they are
applied to human conduct, and with regard to supposed dispositions and
acts, which in man they would call unjust and cruel! And this simply
because they have attached no determinate meaning, but only a
conventional and variable sense to ethical terms, and have imagined that
arbitrary power could reverse moral distinctions, or that God could
impose on man one law of right, and himself recognize another.

We have thus seen that theology is indebted to the fundamental
principles of ethics for the most luculent demonstration of the being,
omnipotence, and omniscience of God, and for the clear conception of his
moral attributes.

* * * * *

We will now consider the reciprocal obligations of ethics to theology;
and, in the first place, to Natural Religion. Pure theism attaches the
Divine sanction to the verdicts of conscience, makes them the will, the
voice of God, enforces them by his authority, and elevates the
conception of virtue by establishing a close kindred between the
virtuous man and the Ruler of the universe. And this is much, but not
for many. It has raised some elect spirits to a degree of excellence
which might put Christians to shame. It has conjoined virtue with lofty
devotion and earnest piety in a Socrates and a Marcus Antoninus, and
refined it into a rare purity, chasteness, and tenderness of spirit in a
Plutarch and an Epictetus. But on the masses of mankind, on the worldly
and care-cumbered, on the unphilosophic and illiterate, it has exerted
little or no influence. Moreover, while among the virtuous men of
pre-Christian times and beyond the light of the Jewish revelation, we
recognize some few of surpassing excellence, we find not a single
ethical system, or body of moral precepts, which does not contain
limitations, deficiencies, or enormities utterly revolting to the moral
sense of Christendom. Thus Plato had lofty conceptions of virtue, but
there are directions in which his precepts give free license to lust and
cruelty; and even Socrates sanctioned by his unrebuking intimacy and
fondness the leaders and ornaments of the most dissolute society in
Athens.

The acme of extra-Christian piety, and consequently of moral excellence,
is presented in the writings and lives of the later Stoics, whose
incorruptible virtue affords the only relief to our weariness and
disgust, as we trace the history of Rome through the profligacy of the
declining commonwealth and the depravity of the empire. We find here the
Simeons and Annas of the Pagan world, who, though with the fleshly arm
they embraced not the Son of God, needed but to see him to adore and
love him. Yet in nothing was Stoicism more faulty than in its exalted
sense of virtue. For it had no charity for sin, no tolerance even for
the inferior forms of goodness. It was the ethics of the unfallen. It
proffered no hope of forgiveness; it let down no helping hand from the
heavens; it uttered no voice from the eternal silence; it opened no
Father's house and arms for the penitent. In Moore's "Lalla Rookh" the
Peri, promised forgiveness and readmission to Paradise on condition of
bringing to the eternal gate the gift most dear to heaven, returns in
vain with the last drop of the patriot's blood. Again, when she brings
the expiring sigh of the most faithful human love, the crystal bar moves
not. Once more she seeks the earth, and bears back the tear of penitence
that has fallen from a godless wretch melted into contrition by a
child's prayer; and for this alone the golden hinges turn. Stoicism
could boast in rich profusion the patriot's blood, could feed the torch
of a love stronger than death; but it could not start the penitential
tear, - it failed of the one gift of earth for which there is joy in
heaven.

Let us rise, then, from the purest philosophy of the old world to
Christianity in its ethical relations and offices.

Christianity, as a revelation, covers the entire field of human duty,
and gives the knowledge of many fitnesses, recognized when once made
known, but undiscoverable by man's unaided insight. The two truths which
lie at the foundation of Christian ethics are human brotherhood and the
immortality of the soul.

1. _Human brotherhood._ The visible differences of race, color, culture,
religion, customs, are in themselves dissociating influences. Universal
charity is hardly possible while these differences occupy the
foreground. Slavery was a natural and congenial institution under Pagan
auspices, and the idea of a missionary enterprise transcends the
broadest philanthropy of heathenism. We find indeed in the ancient
moralists, especially in the writings of Cicero and Seneca, many
precepts of humanity toward slaves, but no clear recognition of the
injustice inseparable from the state of slavery; nor have we in all
ancient literature, unless it be in Seneca (in whom such sentiments
might have had more or less directly a Christian origin), a single
expression of a fellowship broad enough to embrace all diversities of
condition, much less of race.[16] Even Socrates, while he expects
himself to enter at death into the society of good men, and says that
those who live philosophically will approach the nature of the gods,
expresses the belief that worthy, industrious men who are not
philosophers will, on dying, migrate into the bodies of ants, bees, or
other hard-working members of the lower orders of animals.

[Footnote 16: The verse so often quoted from Terence, "Homo sum; humani
nihil a me alienum puto," will probably occur to many as inconsistent
with my statement. The sentiment of this verse is, indeed, as it stands
by itself, truly Christian; but in the Comedy from which it is quoted,
so far from having a philanthropic significance, it is merely a
busy-body's apology for impertinent interference with the concerns of
his neighbor.]

The fraternity of our entire race - even without involving the mooted
question of a common human parentage - is through Christianity
established, not only by the Divine fatherhood so constantly proclaimed
and so luculently manifested by Jesus, but equally by the unifying
ministry of his death as a sacrifice for all, and by his parting
commitment of "all the world" and "every creature" to the propagandism
of his disciples. Though the spirit of this revelation has not yet been
embodied in any community, it has inspired the life-work of many in
every age; it has moulded reform and guided progress in social ethics
throughout Christendom; it has twice swept the civilized world clean
from domestic slavery; it has shaken every throne, is condemning every
form of despotism, monopoly, and exclusiveness, and gives clear presage
of a condition in which the old pre-Christian division of society into
the preying and the preyed-upon will be totally obliterated.

2. _The immortality of the soul_, also, casts a light, at once broad and
penetrating, upon and into every department of duty; for it is obvious,
without detailed statement, that the fitnesses, needs, and obligations
of a terrestrial being of brief duration, and those of a being in the
nursery and initial stage of an endless existence, are very wide
apart, - that the latter may find it fitting to do, seek, shun, omit,
endure, resign, many things which to the former are very properly
matters of indifference. Immortality was, indeed, in a certain sense
believed before Christ, but with feeble assurance, and with the utmost
vagueness of conception; so that this belief can hardly be said to have
existed either as a criterion of duty or as a motive power. How small a
part it bore in the ethics of the Stoic school may be seen, when we
remember that Epictetus, than whom there was no better man, denied the
life beyond death; and in Marcus Antoninus immortality was rather a
devout aspiration than a fixed belief. In the Christian revelation, on
the other hand, the eternal life is so placed in the most intimate
connection with the life and character in this world as to cast its
reflex lights and shadows on all earthly scenes and experiences.

Christianity, in the next place, makes to us an ethical revelation in
the person and character of its Founder, exhibiting in him the very
fitnesses which it prescribes, showing us, as it could not by mere
precepts, the proportions and harmonies of the virtues, and
manifesting the unapproached beauty, nay, majesty, of the gentler
virtues, - _virtutes leniores_, as Cicero calls them, - which in
pre-Christian ages were sometimes made secondary, sometimes repudiated
with contempt and derision.

It is, I know, among the commonplaces of the rationalism and secularism
of our time, that the moral precepts of the Gospel were not original,
but had all been anticipated by Greek or Eastern sages. This is not
literally and wholly true; for in some of the most striking of the
alleged instances there is precisely the same difference between the
heathen and the Christian precept that there is between the Old
Testament and the New. The former says, "Thou shalt not;" the latter,
"Thou shalt." The former forbids; the latter commands. The former
prescribes abstinence from overt evil; the latter has for its sum of
duty, "Be thou perfect, as thy Father in heaven is perfect." But the
statement which I have quoted has more of truth in it than has been
usually conceded by zealous champions of the Christian faith; and I
would gladly admit its full and entire truth, could I see sufficient
evidence of it. The unqualified admission does not in the least detract
from the pre-eminent worth of Him who alone has been the Living Law. So
far is this anticipation of his precepts by wise and good men before him
from casting doubts on the divinity of his mission upon earth, that it
only confirms his claims upon our confidence. For the great laws of
morality are, as we have seen, as old as the throne of God; and strange
indeed were it, had there been no intimation of them till the era of
their perfect embodiment and full promulgation. The Divine Spirit,
breathing always and everywhere, could not have remained, without
witness of right, duty, and obligation in the outward universe and in
the human conscience. So, struggling through the mists of weltering
chaos, were many errant light-beams; yet none the less glorious and
benignant was the sun, when in the clear firmament he first shone,
all-illumining and all-guiding.

But in practical ethics a revelation of duty is but a small part of
man's need. According to a Chinese legend, the founders of the three
principal religious sects in the Celestial Empire, lamenting in the
spirit-land the imperfect success which had attended the promulgation of
their doctrines, agreed to return to the earth, and see if they could
not find some right-minded person by whose agency they might convert
mankind to the integrity and purity which they had taught. They came in
their wanderings to an old man, sitting by a fountain as its guardian.
He recalled to them the high moral tone of their several systems, and
reproached them for the unworthy lives of their adherents. They agreed
that he was the very apostle they sought. But when they made the
proposal to him, he replied, "It is the upper part of me only that is
flesh and blood: the lower part is stone. I can talk about virtue, but
cannot follow its teachings." The sages saw in this man, half of stone,
the type of their race, and returned in despair to the spirit-land.

There is profound truth in this legend. It indicates at once the mental
receptivity and the moral inability of man, as to mere precepts of
virtue. It is not enough that we know the right. We know much better
than we do. The words which Ovid puts into the mouth of Medea, _Video
meliora, proboque, deteriora sequor_ ("I see and approve the better, I
pursue the worse"), are the formula of universal experience. We, most of
all, need enabling power. This we have through Christianity alone. We
have it: 1. In the Divine fatherhood, as exhibited in those genial,
winning traits, in which Jesus verifies his saying, "He that hath seen
me hath seen the Father," - a fatherhood to feel which is to render glad
and loving obedience to the Father's will and word; 2. In the adaptation
of the love, sacrifice, and death of Christ to awaken the whole power of
loving in the heart, and thus by the most cogent of motives to urge man
to live no longer for himself, but for him who died for him; 3. In the
assurance of forgiveness for past wrongs and omissions, without which
there could be little courage for future well-doing; 4. In the promise
and realization of Divine aid in every right purpose and worthy
endeavor; 5. In institutions and observances designed and adapted to
perpetuate the memory of the salient facts, and to renew at frequent
intervals the recognition of the essential truths, which give to our
religion its name, character, and efficacy.

* * * * *

Thus, while right and obligation exist independently of revelation, and
even of natural religion, Christianity alone enables us to discern the
right in its entireness and its due proportions; and it alone supplies
the strength which we need, to make and keep us true to our obligations,
under the stress of appetite and passion, cupidity and selfishness,
human fear and favor.

Morality and religion, potentially separable, are yet inseparable in the
will of God, under the culture of Christ. It used to be common to place
the legal and the evangelical element in mutual antagonism. Nothing can
be more profane or absurd than this. That which is not legal is
evangelical only in name and pretence. That which is not evangelical is
legal to no purpose. The religious belief or teaching, which lays not
supreme stress on the whole moral law, is an outrage on the Gospel and
the Saviour. The morality, which rests on any other foundation than
Jesus Christ and his religion, is built on the sand, the prey of the
first onrush or inrush of wind or wave. "What therefore God hath joined
together, let not man put asunder."




CHRISTIANITY:

WHAT IT IS NOT, AND WHAT IT IS.

By G. VANCE SMITH.


I.

In looking back upon the past history of Christianity, it is easy to
trace the existence of two very different ideas of the nature of that
religion. Their influence is discernible in what may be termed its
incipient form, in perhaps the earliest period to which we can ascend,
while it has been especially felt during the last three hundred years,
as also it materially affects the position and relations of churches and
sects at the present moment. From obvious characteristics of each, these
ideas may be respectively designated as the _ritualistic_, or
sacerdotal, and the _dogmatic_, or doctrinal. It is scarcely necessary
to add, that the two have been constantly intermingled and blended
together, acting and reacting upon each other, and either supporting or
else thwarting each other with singular pertinacity. Neither of them is
found, in any instance of importance, existing wholly apart from the
other, so as to be the sole animating principle of a great religious
organization. The nature of the case renders this impossible.
Ritualistic observances cannot be rationally followed without dogmatic
beliefs. The former are the natural exponents of the latter, which
indeed they are supposed to represent and to symbolize. Nor can
doctrinal creeds, again, wholly dispense with outward rites and forms.
Even the most spiritual religion requires some outward medium of
expression, if it is to influence strongly either communities or
individuals. It must, therefore, tacitly or avowedly adopt something of
the dogmatic, if not of the ritualistic, idea, although this may not be
put into express words, much less formed into a definite creed or test
of orthodoxy.

A common factor of the greatest importance enters into the two
conceptions of Christianity just referred to, though not perhaps in
equal measure. I allude to the moral element, which may also be denoted
as the sense of duty, - duty towards God and towards man. It may, indeed,
be said to be a distinguishing glory of Christianity, that it can hardly
exist at all, under whatever outward form, without being more or less
strongly pervaded by the moral spirit of which the ministry of Christ
affords so rich and varied an expression. It is true, however, that the
ritualistic idea has constantly a tendency to degenerate into a mere
care for church observances, devoid of any high tone of uprightness and
purity in the practical concerns of ordinary life. It is a common thing,
in that great religious communion of Western and Southern Europe which
is so strongly animated by this idea, to see people in the churches
ceremoniously kneeling in the act of prayer, while all the time they are
busy, with eager eyes, to follow every movement in the crowd around
them. In certain countries, many of the ritualistically devout, it is
well known, have no scruple in practising the grossest impositions upon
strangers; a statement which is especially true of those lands that in
modern times have been governed and demoralized beyond others by the
influence of the priestly class, with their religion of material
externalities. A Greek or an Italian brigand, it is said, will rob and
murder his captive with a peaceful conscience, provided only that he
duly confesses to the priest, and obtains his absolution. This last is a
gross and, happily, a rare case. But, equally with the more innocent
acts, it illustrates the natural tendencies of ritualistic Christianity
among various classes of persons. In ordinary civilized society, such
tendencies are kept powerfully in check by other influences. Hence it is
not to be denied that, throughout the Christian world, devotional
feeling and the sense of duty are usually deep and active in their
influence, and that the practical teachings of Christ, directly or
indirectly, exercise a potent control, whatever may be the ritualistic
or the dogmatic idea with which they are associated.

The ritualistic conception now spoken of offers us a Christianity which
secures "salvation," by the intervention of a priest, - a man who,
though, to all outward appearance, but a human being among human beings,
yet alleges, and finds people to believe, that he can exercise
supernatural functions, and has the power of opening or closing the
gates of heaven to his fellow-men. It is needless to say how large a
portion of Christendom is still under the influence of this kind of
superstition, or how pertinaciously the same unspiritual form of
religion is, at this moment, struggling to establish itself, even in the
midst of the most enlightened modern nations.

Nor is it necessary here to argue, with any detail, against the notion
of its being either inculcated upon us within the pages of the New
Testament, or enforced by any legitimate authority whatever. Probably
no one who cares to hear or to read these words would seriously maintain
that the Gospel of Christ consists, in any essential way, in submission
to a priesthood, fallible or infallible, in the observance of rites and
ceremonies or times and seasons, or in a particular mode or form of
church government, whatever doctrines these may be supposed to embody or
to symbolize. Such things have, indeed, variously prevailed among the
Christian communities from the beginning. Generation after generation
has seen priests, and Popes, and patriarchs, and presbyters, without
number. These personages have decked themselves out in sacred garments,
assumed ecclesiastical dignities and powers, and sought, many of them,
to heighten the charm and the efficacy of their worship by the aid of
altars and sacrifices, so called, of prostrations, incense, lamps and
candles, and many other such outward accessories. But are such things to
be reckoned among the essentials of Christian faith or Christian
righteousness? Does the presence or the blessing of the Spirit of God,
to the humble, penitent, waiting soul of man, depend upon any thing
which one calling himself a priest can do or say for us? Will any one,
whose opinion is worth listening to, say that it does?

The teaching of Christ and his Apostles is, in truth, remarkably devoid
of every idea of this kind. So much is this the case, that it may well
be matter of astonishment to find men who profess to follow and to speak
for them holding that in such matters there can be only one just and
adequate Christian course, - that, namely, which commends itself to
_their_ judgment! It is evident, on the contrary, - too evident to be in
need of serious argument, - that the very diversities of opinion and


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