REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

F. D. HUNTINGTON, D.D

SIMPLICITY AND GODLY SINCERITY. 2 Cor. I. 12.

I TAKE these words out from their connection, and present them alone, because the rest of the passage is less suited to my purpose. It is enough to notice that the Apostle mentions these qualities as attributes of the genuine Christian. He thinks the whole Gospel he is set to preach and defend is more likely to get a hearing from the world's common sense, and to lodge itself in the world's convictions, for being presented in the spirit and manner of those traits. Whatever may be his own infirmities and short-comings, he rejoices in the consciousness that he has been honest. Gifts and accomplishments aside, he can say withT)ut immodesty that he and his associates have at least this legitimate claim to confidence, — the testimony of a good conscience that in simplicity and godly sincerity they have had their conversation in the world. Had it been otherwise, the planting

of the Church might have taken damage from their obliquity, and the tardy triumph of the Christian ideas might be chargeable upon the messengers. Such congratulation is not pride, but Christian dignity; not selflaudation, but self-respect, which is the opposite of self-

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 17

laudation ; not boasting, but gratitude to the gi-ace of God.

You will readily recall those aspects of the Christian faith which offer it to us as the Supreme Reality. Real in the positive and eternal objects it reveals ; real in determining our relations to that Original and Infinite Spirit, diffused through all things, creating all, sustaining all, the ground of all life, and thought, and act, and hope ; real in the style of its address, the tone of its appeal, and its whole bearing toward our humanity ; real in its express adaptations of supply and satisfaction to personal and universal wants of human natm-e ; and real in the

palpable ends it proposes, as righteousness, charity, beneficence, for earth and heaven, — Christianity cannot be more viciously misunderstood or foolishly maltreated, than when it is thrust out of the circle of solid interests, and held at the arm's length of suspicion. The Church is a vital, natural, rational, precisely because it is a divine organization. It has its roots in God's miracles precisely because of the depth and intensity of man's need of it. Its fibres are all intertwined with the fibres of human breasts. The cover is not going to be taken off, some time, to show us an ingenious contrivance of mechanical wires, springs, and pulleys, for working up stupendous stage-efiects of Christian impression and Christian history. The tapestry is not going to open, and terrify us with some ghostly apparition. The sun is not going to rise and scatter these sacramental hosts, like airy armies of morning mist and cloud; We stand on substance, or there is' no substance, and the universe itself is spectral.

To this way of welcoming the divine message, there are unquestionably hinderances, partly clinging to the weaker or worse side of human nature, and partly a facti-

2*

18 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

tious result of theologic mismanagement. One of these lihiderances is the invisibleness of the objects of faith, though I suppose the prominence of this cause for religious indifference has been popularly overrated. It would be a sufficient answer to it, that the things most valued, and clung to, and suffered for by men, are not commonly things that can be seen or measured. The sacred ties of friendship are not fastened by the senses. Would you allow me to say. Your friend is nothing but his body ? You never saw the national fame for whose unsullied purity you would die, nor touched nor tasted that fidelity of love whose defence writes half the tragedies of literature. Money itself, the very symbol of material value, is rated — by any but the most sottish cupidity — less for itself than for the imponderable deference, admiration, self-complacency, independence, which it is thought able to buy. In fact, so far from the invisible repelling in-

terest, there is no charm so bewitching as a new theory of its mysteries. The superstition that will pry behind its veil, or listen for its vaguest noises, is one of the most permanent and most absorbing passions of the race. Still, with a portion of mankind, and, in certain materialistic moods, with very many, a degree of dimness does probably invest spiritual things from their being unembodied ; what is seen crowds what is not seen out of thought, and finally out of faith ; heaven remains an abstraction simply because its gates are shut to the senses. Another unrealizing influence strikes religion, from the oppressive disparity between the magnitude of the concerns and the infirmity of the treatment. Reverence fades out, wonder is tamed down, faith is frittered away, with the familiar belittlement of themes vast as infinity, by unworthy hands. The Gospel has to be repeated by

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 19

stammering tongues. Promises that of themselves should thrill all souls with ecstasies of hope, are pronounced in

our flat, insipid speech. "Warnings more tender and awful than a mother's entreaty are uttered in tones that routine and repetition have rendered thin and dry. The wisdom of the All-wise has for its advocates frail judgments, dull insight, and men of like passions with the rest. Shall it never be learned that treasure is none the less treasure because it is in earthen vessels ? In other matters, the enthusiasm of a close, personal interest is not deadened by a dull declamation. A science is hardly held responsible for the eloquence of a lecturer, nor does a tempting speculation go by default if the story of it happens to be brought across the continent by a poor specimen of a man. To make Christianity depend on the power of its preachers, or the skill of theologians, is at once to measure absolute beauty, truth, and good by mortal competency, and to stimulate the pulpit with a spur as foreign from Gospel simplicity as it is insulting to the authority of God. The function of a clergy is not the audacious one of representing the Majesty of Heaven, but to plead generously with the reluctance of men ; not to dole out God's compassion by the petty dimen- ' sions of their intelligence, but to be unpretending heralds of a Christ who makes their weakness his strength, and

even the foolishness of preaching the wisdom of God unto salvation.

It aggravates this unreality, that there is so imperfect an adjustment, in the Christian mind, of the relations between the spiritual world and our present life. By a twofold error, the object of religion has first been represented as personal happiness, and then that happiness has been located in an arbitrary future, not beginning till

20 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

death rids us of bodies. A selfish salvation, with mechanical conditions ! In this sharp-cut division of earth and heaven an artificial antagonism is created, not between good and evil, or sin and holiness, which are the ictual opposites, but between two epochs in a chronological succession, the grave being the partition line. Heaven is wages to be waited for, instead of a nobler play of •^he disinterested life already begun. Two worlds from the same perfect Hand are put into contrary sides of the

scale, and hatred of one of them is made a passport to the other. At once unspiritualizing the motives to piety, and indiscriminately condemning the present, the doctrine repels all natural confidence. Shallow minds recoil from a representation which they instinctively feel to be false, and seek a wretched refuge in unconcern. Add to this, sometimes, a technical phraseology, putting the ¦moving and blessed facts of righteousness and redemption into language which either to educated tastes or to vinsophisticated common sense sounds like both a provincialism in letters and an affectation of theology, and you have another explanation why these ti'anscendent reahties look unreal to so many eyes. This may be no excuse for blunders that study would correct ; but it is an instructive admonition to direct, simple, every-day speech in dealing "with things so supremely real.

After all, however, there does remain a vast, conscious indifference to Christian truth, from sheer and guilty impatience of its control. These realities are purposely thrown into obscurity, because they interfere with indulgence, cross ambition, yoke the passions, chastise temper. They not only ask that we should allow the

spiritual world an inert place in our belief, as we might a new planet or botanic species, but they enter as a

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 21

prohibition and a compulsion. There must be irksome self-denial. This Gospel is something more than an entertaining comer at the table of literary hospitality ; it erects itself into a master of the house ; and lo ! every appetite and lust must obey it on penalty of a judgment. The mouth of slander must be stopped. The jealous competition must relax. The profanity must be renounced. The stubborn, atheistic knees must bend. The arrogant will must cry out of the dust, " Not as 1 will, but as Thou wilt, for Thou alone art holy." So the struggle begins. Depravity fights this benignant master. Rebel passions reject that heavenly coercion Still, the Eternal Voice cannot be put by. What, then if the coward spirit should feign ignorance, and, by keep ing the ineffable glory at a distance, gradually make it as unreal as sin could desire ? Let these bright rebukers

fade from me, and be dim I Is there no magic that can turn substance into shadow ? no chemistry that can transmute facts to phantasms? It appears again, what I said before, that to realize the Christian facts would be to take up the Christian consecration, and enter on the life. Christianity wants nothing so much as a steady look at it, out of honest, seeing eyes.

The question next before us, then, concerns the manner of operation and manifestation of this Christian power, in the lives of its believers, and the conversation of its teachers. The law here appears to be clearly enough pronounced, by the nature of the power itself. A spiritual principle and fact, the very essence and inmost soul of real life, Christianity must be offended and weakened by any other than a look and tone and tem per of reality in its expression. After its first supernat ural incarnation, its agents are men. The organs of its

22 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

movement are human faculties. Then its action ought to be according to the natural working of human powers in their right or normal play. The Christianity that is meant to be developed on earth, beautifying its life and blessing its affections, is not an abstract thing, nor an angelic thing, but a human thing : human, that is, in the sense of actinsr through human conditions in free harmony with the best human forces, though superhuman in its source and sanctions, as in fact humanity itself is : so that the correspondence holds tliroughout. The kind of Christian action and Christian speech wanted for the best exhibition of Christian truth, is that where the word and the deed just follow and obey the meaning of the soul ; where the feeling or conviction of the truth exactly measures, spaces, and shapes the outward profession ; where the disciple holds it an equal infidelity to pretend to more or to less faith than he possesses ; where the spirit of zeal just occupies, fills up, and animates the body of appearance ; where, in fact, the expression is not nicely regulated by a conscious and special reference to its external effect, as being exemplary, but by a certain spontaneous and irresistible impulse of a holy purpose in the breast. The bearing of a religious man, that is, must

be the bearing of a man ivith religion in him and actuating' him; religion, not as a supplement to his manhood, but infused all through it, hallowing and animating it ; religion, not taken on, but circulating within ; not worn, but informing ; not borrowed, but breathed forth ; " simplicity and godly sincerity."

To this Christian reality of living there are two principal opponents : hypocrisy on one side, and indifference on the other. Each needs to be a little analyzed and illustrated.

I

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 23

Hypocrisy, as respects Cluistian qualities, is the general name we give to the disposition that aims to appear better than it is. The hypocrite seeks the credit of

qualities which he not only does not possess, but knows he does not possess : it is a conscious deception. To complete the idea of hypocrisy, there must be a reference to some selfish advantage, as custom for a trader, or votes for a politician, or fame for a scholar. The pretention is not only fraudulent, but the fraud of meanness, — the grossest of all forms of insincerity ; — "the lie," as Bacon says, " that sinketh in." The intensity of Christ's disgust at this temper may be gathered, as from the whole spkit of liis teaching, so especially from the vivid rebukes he gave it in the Hebrew Pharisees. The common instincts of honor accord with the Bible in declaring it the guiltiest of all sins that are not crimes. It is the most fatal enemy that Religion has to confront, and tearing off its mask is her most unwelcome task. Yet superficial critics persist in maldng her chargeable for the very insults it heaps upon her.

On the same side of reality, or departing from it in the same direction, as professing more faith than there really is, we find a lifeless formalism. In the former case, Christian vitality had no existence, and the semblance ol it was a pure fabrication. Here it lived once, but has

(gone into decay, and the semblance of it is the surviving shape, when the life has gone out. It is to the credit of human nature that tliis sin, if more frequent, is less enormous. Yet there is no calculating its practical mischiefs, especially in repelling from the Christian ranks the sympatliies and confidence of the young. For, notwithstanding its aberrations, the soul retains this trait of native nobility, that it will knowingly trust none but true men.

24 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

There are two branches of this trespass upon reality : excess of ceremony and excess of dogma.

Like all the great practical interests, religion clothes itself in a dress or form, — institutional customs, modes of worship, ordinances. So long as we inherit forms, and have in our natures an element to which visible ceremonies appeal, this tendency will not be eradicated, though it is constantly being modified. The real argu-

ment for religious forms is found in all civilized usages, — such as the general arrangement of houses, uniformity of fashions in clothing, tokens of recognition, familiar phrases of salutation, the manners of hospitality. Variety amounts to modifying the form, never to abolishing it, — those sects which have started with the idea of abolishing it generally ending in a more rigid formality than the rest. Yet at this very point lies a constant peril to " simphcity and godly sincerity.'' Church history shows a perpetual struggle to keep an honest balance between the spirit to be expressed and the form expressing it, — the faith of the heart and the fashion of the institution. Whenever this proportion is lost, the disorder that we call formality begins. Observance overlays feelings. The faith is not vigorous enough to inform and carry off the institution. The temple is too big for the divinity. Instead of the grace of nature, you have the awkwardness of imitation ; instead of speech, mummery ; instead of expression, grimace ; instead of gesture, beating the air. Either there must be an accession of fresh feeling within, to reinvigorate the old form, or else the old form must be abated, or changed, to suit the changed feeling, or buried for decency's sake. Somehow, at any

rate, the man wiU not enact what he does not believe. That is the one wrong that kills reality and kills respect.

I

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 25

To expect to revive a declining faith merely by multiplying ceremonies, is as hopeless as to multiply pumps in a dry well, or to try to restore the dead by more garments. The life to refill these empty veins must come from another source. It must come, by prayer, from the Spirit of God. No preservation of the dried shell of the cistern will cheat nature into thinking there is a fountain beneath. " SimpHcity and godly sincerity " require that every ceremonial observance should be so adjusted as to convey the j real feeling, and no more, — the real faith, and not an artificial faith or a faith such as may have been felt once. The ceremony was meant for the symbol of a real con-

viction. When we substitute it for the conviction, and let that drop out, going coldly and mechanically through the genuflexion or the manipulation, we destroy reality, and enter on a mocking falsehood. Yet it is just when men find their interest failing, and are alarmed at it, that they are tempted to redouble their assiduity at the ceremony.

A corresponding loss of soul, and sacrifice of reality, take place in respect to creeds, or statements of belief. Too much ceremony is acting more than we beheve: too much dogma is affirming more than we believe. In each case, the expression outruns the sentiment. The salt has lost its savor. No heartless eloquence ever yet stole the secret of a sincere conviction. The reason that the first period when faith is declining, and before it has yet gone over to worldliness or sensuality, is generally marked by a multiplication of dogmatic articles, or definitions, is that the inward consciousness of want alarms the conscience, and the intellect goes to work to supply the deficiency. Theologians grow sensitive, exacting, and controversial. An age of dogmatism is, there-

3

26 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

fore, an age of morbid self-consciousness, when the understanding is trying to do the heart's neglected business.

The common and offensive form in which these unrealities of religious profession appear is cant. The som'ce of all cant seems to be an attempt to speak and act certain things, which the narrow and perverted mind has decided should be the proper utterance of religious emotion, — but with the emotion left out. The best that can be said of it is, that it is not always hypocrisy, but sometimes only stupidity. Of course it is totally inconsistent with spirituality, which is always fresh, always vital, always real. No soul that has been touched with the simple majesty of the Sermon on the Mount, that has sat at the feet of the truthful Jesus, that takes its spiritual draughts from that fountain of which if a man drink he shall never thirst again,

can consent to affront the eternal veracity by offering as a plea for piety, or a prayer to the Father, a hollow phrase, a sanctimonious manner, a technical expostulation, a language caught from the ancient lips of faith, but emptied of all its living significance, and dwindled now into the drivel of make-believe. As soon J could a son ask for his lost mother in the pompous and * stilted terms that memory has learned from some printed dialogue. Let learned unbelief, let sneermg scepticism, let ingenious and sophistical infidelity, accumulate all their arguments upon my child's unfortified intelligence, rather than that this paralyzing cant of an unfelt devotion should creep with its slow poison into the reverence and earnestness of his soul. Paul's justifi- 1| cation of his apostleship, " I believed, and therefore have I spoken," is the only decent pretext for any preaching or any prayer. " Simplicity and godly sincerity."

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 27

Godly sincerity. The other danger to reality in a re-

ligious life and conversation, besides that of its not being religiously real, is that it will not be really rehgious. If there is one false tendency to pretend to more faith than is felt, there is another, not to let feeling have its free and natural way. If some men speak more than is honest of religion, others have no religion to speak honestly of ; and the one class is as far from godly sincerity as the other. Never imagine that a diluted, indifferent, halfworldly character is a more genuine or more conciliating sort of character than one that is decidedly, thoroughly, and zealously Christian. If that is the opinion of men of the world, as they are called, then men of the world do not know the world they are of. There is no fascination on earth like that of disinterested and steady enthusiasm. Every class of men will pay it at least a secret homage. When you would win the confidence and interest of thoughtless persons to the Christian life, do not introduce them to professed disciples, who keep their Christianity as far as possible in the background of their daily interests, and have practised the art of living so near the boundary of righteousness as to fraternize with the levities and ambiguities and sharp practices outside. You might better hope to engage a young man's interest

in knowledge by being a little ignorant, or in work by being a little idle, or in philosophy by being a little foolish, than try to make him respect religion by meeting him half-way and being a little irrehgious. I think there is a deep, silent loyalty in most men's hearts for that inspired maxim, — "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." Even in the most careless breast I suspect there is a notion which might express itself something like this : " No ; I am not, I frankly confess it,

28 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

on Christian ground ; I hope 1 shall be ; I know I ought to be ; but whenever I am, it shall be a Christianity that is thorough, that is definite, that is positive, that is in earnest ; I want that or no rehgion at ail ; no lukewarm, sluggish vacillation between God and Mammon ; I would rather be Mammon's altogether, and know my master: and wherever I see an earnest, consistent, whole-hearted Christian, there I find the mightiest argument for the Gospel." So it is that godly sincerity becomes a silent

missionary everywhere, and converts more hearts to Christ than all loud and loquacious temporizers and compromisers with the passions and fashions of the world.

For two reasons, my friends, — for our own soundness of heart, and for the recommendation of the Gospel to others, — we want a type of Christian character that is simple in its spkituality, and real in all its manifestation. Nothing is surer to consume the health and vigor of the soul, than the constant acting of an unfelt part, — like the pretender, on the one hand, or the constant denier of his holiest aspirations, the unrepenting worldling, on the other. There is a reflex influence from every tone and gesture of insincerity, which strikes back and debilitates the moral energies. Utter what you do not believe, and you will have less and less capacity for believing anything. Pretend what you do not feel, and feeling will die out. The retribution is dreadful, and sure, and works by an inevitable law. Or if you stifle the religious life that really wakes and rises within you, denying it air and light, you forfeit no less the blessing of the candid and sincere.

Then a ministry unquestionably gains power, just in the degree it drops factitious methods and weapons, and abides by the simple instruments of genuine convictions.

1

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 29

We all know the narcotizing tendency of official repetition. Pray for the preacher, then, that he may be delivered from its lethargy. God will never suffer it to be irresistible. Remember that it is in the power of any audience, by a responsive and wakeful assistance, to neutralize it, and almost to compel from their minister the heartiness they prize. Besides, you yourselves are, in some sense, to be ministers of heavenly truth. For Christ or against him all of you are living, speaking, acting, every day. Does the immortal cause take hinderance from your falsity, or furtherance from the reality of your righteousness ?

The exigencies of the Church, the mixtures of sects, the progress of theology, all point out the style of life that is wanted now, to gain, for the ideas and the spirit of our common faith, a fair and cordial reception. It is a life that flows evermore from the divine spring of a living and personal communion with the Father, and goes to help every brother, and to bless every neighbor; that, while it is hid with Christ in God, walks among men with the tenderness and dignity of the Son of Man ; that asks no deference for its profession, but professes simply because it cannot help telling its trust, owning its gratitude, honoring the Master ; that by open and solemn reverence for the times and places of God's worship obeys the manliest of instincts, and by consecration to the Church confesses the inmost obligation of conscience ; that finds an exercise for its Christian principle in all the companies, associations, resorts, employments, of the world, and a temple for its praise in every scene of joy ; that brings an added grace to all the innocent amenities and hopes of youth, and sets a more splendid crown on the saintly head of age ; that sanctifies society and kneels in the closet ; that hallows study and guards homes, and is not

30 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

afraid to show its sacred spirit of justice and moderation in places of sinless amusement; and that everywhere bears with it this meek, brave testimony, that by " simplicity and godly sincerity " it has had its conversation in the world.

God has graciously relieved us of all concern about the special shape our Christian life shall put on, that we may be the more undivided in our care for its spirit. Have the soul of goodness, and it will fashion its own form, hour by hour. The best profession of righteousness is being righteous. The best form of godliness is the form most naturally taken by the power thereof. The best temper of church or clergy is " simplicity and godly sincerity." The best bearing for a believer, making confession of his faith, is the bearing with which he comes out of the closet of a lowly and solemn communion with his God. The best posture of dignity is the attitude that

yields most friendly service to needy men. The transcendent and majestic posture of the Son of God was when he leaned to wash his followers' feet.

"When this last, most spiritual, and most evangelical reformation comes, Christianity will have gone out from cloisters, from creeds, from clerical confinements, into the open field and broad experience of the people and the age. But it will never be by breaking the strictness of its commands, nor lovv^ering the standard of its holiness. For there is no entrance within the gates of a holier Future, save the new and living way which Christ hath consecrated ; nor is there any other name than His given under heaven among men, whereby labor or learning, wisdom or simplicity, rich or poor, can be saved.

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REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. BY F. D. HUNTINGTON, D. D.,

SIMPLICITY AND GODLY SINCERITY. 2 Cor. I. 12.

I TAKE these words out from their connection, and present them alone, because the rest of the passage is less suited to my purpose. It is enough to notice that the Apostle mentions these qualities as attributes of the genuine Christian. He thinks the whole Gospel he is set to preach and defend is more likely to get a hearing from the world's common sense, and to lodge itself in the world's convictions, for being presented in the spirit and manner of those traits. Whatever may be his own infirmities and short-comings, he rejoices in the consciousness that he has been honest. Gifts and accomplishments aside, he can say withT)ut immodesty that he and his associates have at least this legitimate claim to confidence, — the testimony of a good conscience that in simplicity and godly sincerity they have had their conversation in the world. Had it been otherwise, the planting of the Church might have taken damage from their obliquity, and the tardy triumph of the Christian ideas might be chargeable upon the messengers. Such congratulation is not pride, but Christian dignity; not selflaudation, but self-respect, which is the opposite of self-

1

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 17

laudation ; not boasting, but gratitude to the gi-ace of God.

You will readily recall those aspects of the Christian faith which offer it to us as the Supreme Reality. Real in the positive and eternal objects it reveals ; real in determining our relations to that Original and Infinite Spirit, diffused through all things, creating all, sustaining all, the ground of all life, and thought, and act, and hope ; real in the style of its address, the tone of its appeal, and its whole bearing toward our humanity ; real in its express adaptations of supply and satisfaction to personal and universal wants of human natm-e ; and real in the palpable ends it proposes, as righteousness, charity, beneficence, for earth and heaven, — Christianity cannot be more viciously misunderstood or foolishly maltreated, than when it is thrust out of the circle of solid interests, and held at the arm's length of suspicion. The Church is a vital, natural, rational, precisely because it is a divine organization. It has its roots in God's miracles precisely because of the depth and intensity of man's need of it.

2

Its fibres are all intertwined with the fibres of human breasts. The cover is not going to be taken off, some time, to show us an ingenious contrivance of mechanical wires, springs, and pulleys, for working up stupendous stage-efiects of Christian impression and Christian history. The tapestry is not going to open, and terrify us with some ghostly apparition. The sun is not going to rise and scatter these sacramental hosts, like airy armies of morning mist and cloud; We stand on substance, or there is' no substance, and the universe itself is spectral.

To this way of welcoming the divine message, there are unquestionably hinderances, partly clinging to the weaker or worse side of human nature, and partly a facti-

2*

18 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

tious result of theologic mismanagement. One of these lihiderances is the invisibleness of the objects of faith, though I suppose the prominence of this cause for religious indifference has been popularly overrated. It would be a sufficient answer to it, that the things most valued,

3

and clung to, and suffered for by men, are not commonly things that can be seen or measured. The sacred ties of friendship are not fastened by the senses. Would you allow me to say. Your friend is nothing but his body ? You never saw the national fame for whose unsullied purity you would die, nor touched nor tasted that fidelity of love whose defence writes half the tragedies of literature. Money itself, the very symbol of material value, is rated — by any but the most sottish cupidity — less for itself than for the imponderable deference, admiration, self-complacency, independence, which it is thought able to buy. In fact, so far from the invisible repelling interest, there is no charm so bewitching as a new theory of its mysteries. The superstition that will pry behind its veil, or listen for its vaguest noises, is one of the most permanent and most absorbing passions of the race. Still, with a portion of mankind, and, in certain materialistic moods, with very many, a degree of dimness does probably invest spiritual things from their being unembodied ; what is seen crowds what is not seen out of thought, and finally out of faith ; heaven remains an abstraction simply because its gates are shut to the senses. Another unrealizing influence strikes religion, from the oppressive disparity between the magnitude of the concerns and the infirmity of the treatment. Reverence fades out, wonder is tamed down, faith is frittered away,

4

with the familiar belittlement of themes vast as infinity, by unworthy hands. The Gospel has to be repeated by

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 19

stammering tongues. Promises that of themselves should thrill all souls with ecstasies of hope, are pronounced in our flat, insipid speech. "Warnings more tender and awful than a mother's entreaty are uttered in tones that routine and repetition have rendered thin and dry. The wisdom of the All-wise has for its advocates frail judgments, dull insight, and men of like passions with the rest. Shall it never be learned that treasure is none the less treasure because it is in earthen vessels ? In other matters, the enthusiasm of a close, personal interest is not deadened by a dull declamation. A science is hardly held responsible for the eloquence of a lecturer, nor does a tempting speculation go by default if the story of it happens to be brought across the continent by a poor specimen of a man. To make Christianity depend on the power of its preachers, or the skill of theologians, is at once to measure absolute beauty, truth, and good by mortal competency, and to stimulate the pulpit with a spur as foreign from Gospel simplicity as it is insulting

5

to the authority of God. The function of a clergy is not the audacious one of representing the Majesty of Heaven, but to plead generously with the reluctance of men ; not to dole out God's compassion by the petty dimen- ' sions of their intelligence, but to be unpretending heralds of a Christ who makes their weakness his strength, and even the foolishness of preaching the wisdom of God unto salvation.

It aggravates this unreality, that there is so imperfect an adjustment, in the Christian mind, of the relations between the spiritual world and our present life. By a twofold error, the object of religion has first been represented as personal happiness, and then that happiness has been located in an arbitrary future, not beginning till

20 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

death rids us of bodies. A selfish salvation, with mechanical conditions ! In this sharp-cut division of earth and heaven an artificial antagonism is created, not between good and evil, or sin and holiness, which are the ictual opposites, but between two epochs in a chronological succession, the grave being the partition line. Heav-

6

en is wages to be waited for, instead of a nobler play of •^he disinterested life already begun. Two worlds from the same perfect Hand are put into contrary sides of the scale, and hatred of one of them is made a passport to the other. At once unspiritualizing the motives to piety, and indiscriminately condemning the present, the doctrine repels all natural confidence. Shallow minds recoil from a representation which they instinctively feel to be false, and seek a wretched refuge in unconcern. Add to this, sometimes, a technical phraseology, putting the ¦moving and blessed facts of righteousness and redemption into language which either to educated tastes or to vinsophisticated common sense sounds like both a provincialism in letters and an affectation of theology, and you have another explanation why these ti'anscendent reahties look unreal to so many eyes. This may be no excuse for blunders that study would correct ; but it is an instructive admonition to direct, simple, every-day speech in dealing "with things so supremely real.

After all, however, there does remain a vast, conscious indifference to Christian truth, from sheer and guilty impatience of its control. These realities are purposely thrown into obscurity, because they interfere with indulgence, cross ambition, yoke the passions, chastise temper. They not only ask that we should allow the

7

spiritual world an inert place in our belief, as we might a new planet or botanic species, but they enter as a

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 21

prohibition and a compulsion. There must be irksome self-denial. This Gospel is something more than an entertaining comer at the table of literary hospitality ; it erects itself into a master of the house ; and lo ! every appetite and lust must obey it on penalty of a judgment. The mouth of slander must be stopped. The jealous competition must relax. The profanity must be renounced. The stubborn, atheistic knees must bend. The arrogant will must cry out of the dust, " Not as 1 will, but as Thou wilt, for Thou alone art holy." So the struggle begins. Depravity fights this benignant master. Rebel passions reject that heavenly coercion Still, the Eternal Voice cannot be put by. What, then if the coward spirit should feign ignorance, and, by keep ing the ineffable glory at a distance, gradually make it as unreal as sin could desire ? Let these bright rebukers fade from me, and be dim I Is there no magic that can turn substance into shadow ? no chemistry that can transmute facts to phantasms? It appears again, what

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I said before, that to realize the Christian facts would be to take up the Christian consecration, and enter on the life. Christianity wants nothing so much as a steady look at it, out of honest, seeing eyes.

The question next before us, then, concerns the manner of operation and manifestation of this Christian power, in the lives of its believers, and the conversation of its teachers. The law here appears to be clearly enough pronounced, by the nature of the power itself. A spiritual principle and fact, the very essence and inmost soul of real life, Christianity must be offended and weakened by any other than a look and tone and tem per of reality in its expression. After its first supernat ural incarnation, its agents are men. The organs of its

22 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

movement are human faculties. Then its action ought to be according to the natural working of human powers in their right or normal play. The Christianity that is meant to be developed on earth, beautifying its life and blessing its affections, is not an abstract thing, nor an angelic thing, but a human thing : human, that is, in the

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sense of actinsr through human conditions in free harmony with the best human forces, though superhuman in its source and sanctions, as in fact humanity itself is : so that the correspondence holds tliroughout. The kind of Christian action and Christian speech wanted for the best exhibition of Christian truth, is that where the word and the deed just follow and obey the meaning of the soul ; where the feeling or conviction of the truth exactly measures, spaces, and shapes the outward profession ; where the disciple holds it an equal infidelity to pretend to more or to less faith than he possesses ; where the spirit of zeal just occupies, fills up, and animates the body of appearance ; where, in fact, the expression is not nicely regulated by a conscious and special reference to its external effect, as being exemplary, but by a certain spontaneous and irresistible impulse of a holy purpose in the breast. The bearing of a religious man, that is, must be the bearing of a man ivith religion in him and actuating' him; religion, not as a supplement to his manhood, but infused all through it, hallowing and animating it ; religion, not taken on, but circulating within ; not worn, but informing ; not borrowed, but breathed forth ; " simplicity and godly sincerity."

To this Christian reality of living there are two principal opponents : hypocrisy on one side, and indifference

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on the other. Each needs to be a little analyzed and illustrated.

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REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 23

Hypocrisy, as respects Cluistian qualities, is the general name we give to the disposition that aims to appear better than it is. The hypocrite seeks the credit of qualities which he not only does not possess, but knows he does not possess : it is a conscious deception. To complete the idea of hypocrisy, there must be a reference to some selfish advantage, as custom for a trader, or votes for a politician, or fame for a scholar. The pretention is not only fraudulent, but the fraud of meanness, — the grossest of all forms of insincerity ; — "the lie," as Bacon says, " that sinketh in." The intensity of Christ's disgust at this temper may be gathered, as from the whole spkit of liis teaching, so especially from the vivid rebukes he gave it in the Hebrew Pharisees. The common instincts of honor accord with the Bible in

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declaring it the guiltiest of all sins that are not crimes. It is the most fatal enemy that Religion has to confront, and tearing off its mask is her most unwelcome task. Yet superficial critics persist in maldng her chargeable for the very insults it heaps upon her.

On the same side of reality, or departing from it in the same direction, as professing more faith than there really is, we find a lifeless formalism. In the former case, Christian vitality had no existence, and the semblance ol it was a pure fabrication. Here it lived once, but has (gone into decay, and the semblance of it is the surviving shape, when the life has gone out. It is to the credit of human nature that tliis sin, if more frequent, is less enormous. Yet there is no calculating its practical mischiefs, especially in repelling from the Christian ranks the sympatliies and confidence of the young. For, notwithstanding its aberrations, the soul retains this trait of native nobility, that it will knowingly trust none but true men.

24 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

There are two branches of this trespass upon reality :

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excess of ceremony and excess of dogma.

Like all the great practical interests, religion clothes itself in a dress or form, — institutional customs, modes of worship, ordinances. So long as we inherit forms, and have in our natures an element to which visible ceremonies appeal, this tendency will not be eradicated, though it is constantly being modified. The real argument for religious forms is found in all civilized usages, — such as the general arrangement of houses, uniformity of fashions in clothing, tokens of recognition, familiar phrases of salutation, the manners of hospitality. Variety amounts to modifying the form, never to abolishing it, — those sects which have started with the idea of abolishing it generally ending in a more rigid formality than the rest. Yet at this very point lies a constant peril to " simphcity and godly sincerity.'' Church history shows a perpetual struggle to keep an honest balance between the spirit to be expressed and the form expressing it, — the faith of the heart and the fashion of the institution. Whenever this proportion is lost, the disorder that we call formality begins. Observance overlays feelings. The faith is not vigorous enough to inform and carry off the institution. The temple is too big for the divinity. Instead of the grace of nature, you have the awkwardness of imitation ; instead of speech, mummery ;

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instead of expression, grimace ; instead of gesture, beating the air. Either there must be an accession of fresh feeling within, to reinvigorate the old form, or else the old form must be abated, or changed, to suit the changed feeling, or buried for decency's sake. Somehow, at any rate, the man wiU not enact what he does not believe. That is the one wrong that kills reality and kills respect.

I

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 25

To expect to revive a declining faith merely by multiplying ceremonies, is as hopeless as to multiply pumps in a dry well, or to try to restore the dead by more garments. The life to refill these empty veins must come from another source. It must come, by prayer, from the Spirit of God. No preservation of the dried shell of the cistern will cheat nature into thinking there is a fountain beneath. " SimpHcity and godly sincerity " require that every ceremonial observance should be so adjusted as to convey the j real feeling, and no more, — the real faith, and not an arti-

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ficial faith or a faith such as may have been felt once. The ceremony was meant for the symbol of a real conviction. When we substitute it for the conviction, and let that drop out, going coldly and mechanically through the genuflexion or the manipulation, we destroy reality, and enter on a mocking falsehood. Yet it is just when men find their interest failing, and are alarmed at it, that they are tempted to redouble their assiduity at the ceremony.

A corresponding loss of soul, and sacrifice of reality, take place in respect to creeds, or statements of belief. Too much ceremony is acting more than we beheve: too much dogma is affirming more than we believe. In each case, the expression outruns the sentiment. The salt has lost its savor. No heartless eloquence ever yet stole the secret of a sincere conviction. The reason that the first period when faith is declining, and before it has yet gone over to worldliness or sensuality, is generally marked by a multiplication of dogmatic articles, or definitions, is that the inward consciousness of want alarms the conscience, and the intellect goes to work to supply the deficiency. Theologians grow sensitive, exacting, and controversial. An age of dogmatism is, there-

3

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26 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

fore, an age of morbid self-consciousness, when the understanding is trying to do the heart's neglected business.

The common and offensive form in which these unrealities of religious profession appear is cant. The som'ce of all cant seems to be an attempt to speak and act certain things, which the narrow and perverted mind has decided should be the proper utterance of religious emotion, — but with the emotion left out. The best that can be said of it is, that it is not always hypocrisy, but sometimes only stupidity. Of course it is totally inconsistent with spirituality, which is always fresh, always vital, always real. No soul that has been touched with the simple majesty of the Sermon on the Mount, that has sat at the feet of the truthful Jesus, that takes its spiritual draughts from that fountain of which if a man drink he shall never thirst again, can consent to affront the eternal veracity by offering as a plea for piety, or a prayer to the Father, a hollow phrase, a sanctimonious manner, a technical expostulation, a language caught from the ancient lips of faith,

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but emptied of all its living significance, and dwindled now into the drivel of make-believe. As soon J could a son ask for his lost mother in the pompous and * stilted terms that memory has learned from some printed dialogue. Let learned unbelief, let sneermg scepticism, let ingenious and sophistical infidelity, accumulate all their arguments upon my child's unfortified intelligence, rather than that this paralyzing cant of an unfelt devotion should creep with its slow poison into the reverence and earnestness of his soul. Paul's justifi- 1| cation of his apostleship, " I believed, and therefore have I spoken," is the only decent pretext for any preaching or any prayer. " Simplicity and godly sincerity."

REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 27

Godly sincerity. The other danger to reality in a religious life and conversation, besides that of its not being religiously real, is that it will not be really rehgious. If there is one false tendency to pretend to more faith than is felt, there is another, not to let feeling have its free and natural way. If some men speak more than is honest of religion, others have no religion to speak honestly of ; and the one class is as far from godly sincerity as the

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other. Never imagine that a diluted, indifferent, halfworldly character is a more genuine or more conciliating sort of character than one that is decidedly, thoroughly, and zealously Christian. If that is the opinion of men of the world, as they are called, then men of the world do not know the world they are of. There is no fascination on earth like that of disinterested and steady enthusiasm. Every class of men will pay it at least a secret homage. When you would win the confidence and interest of thoughtless persons to the Christian life, do not introduce them to professed disciples, who keep their Christianity as far as possible in the background of their daily interests, and have practised the art of living so near the boundary of righteousness as to fraternize with the levities and ambiguities and sharp practices outside. You might better hope to engage a young man's interest in knowledge by being a little ignorant, or in work by being a little idle, or in philosophy by being a little foolish, than try to make him respect religion by meeting him half-way and being a little irrehgious. I think there is a deep, silent loyalty in most men's hearts for that inspired maxim, — "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." Even in the most careless breast I suspect there is a notion which might express itself something like this : " No ; I am not, I frankly confess it,

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28 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

on Christian ground ; I hope 1 shall be ; I know I ought to be ; but whenever I am, it shall be a Christianity that is thorough, that is definite, that is positive, that is in earnest ; I want that or no rehgion at ail ; no lukewarm, sluggish vacillation between God and Mammon ; I would rather be Mammon's altogether, and know my master: and wherever I see an earnest, consistent, whole-hearted Christian, there I find the mightiest argument for the Gospel." So it is that godly sincerity becomes a silent missionary everywhere, and converts more hearts to Christ than all loud and loquacious temporizers and compromisers with the passions and fashions of the world.

For two reasons, my friends, — for our own soundness of heart, and for the recommendation of the Gospel to others, — we want a type of Christian character that is simple in its spkituality, and real in all its manifestation. Nothing is surer to consume the health and vigor of the soul, than the constant acting of an unfelt part, — like the pretender, on the one hand, or the constant denier of his holiest aspirations, the unrepenting worldling, on the other. There is a reflex influence from every tone and gesture

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of insincerity, which strikes back and debilitates the moral energies. Utter what you do not believe, and you will have less and less capacity for believing anything. Pretend what you do not feel, and feeling will die out. The retribution is dreadful, and sure, and works by an inevitable law. Or if you stifle the religious life that really wakes and rises within you, denying it air and light, you forfeit no less the blessing of the candid and sincere.

Then a ministry unquestionably gains power, just in the degree it drops factitious methods and weapons, and abides by the simple instruments of genuine convictions.

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REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS. 29

We all know the narcotizing tendency of official repetition. Pray for the preacher, then, that he may be delivered from its lethargy. God will never suffer it to be irresistible. Remember that it is in the power of any audience, by a

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responsive and wakeful assistance, to neutralize it, and almost to compel from their minister the heartiness they prize. Besides, you yourselves are, in some sense, to be ministers of heavenly truth. For Christ or against him all of you are living, speaking, acting, every day. Does the immortal cause take hinderance from your falsity, or furtherance from the reality of your righteousness ?

The exigencies of the Church, the mixtures of sects, the progress of theology, all point out the style of life that is wanted now, to gain, for the ideas and the spirit of our common faith, a fair and cordial reception. It is a life that flows evermore from the divine spring of a living and personal communion with the Father, and goes to help every brother, and to bless every neighbor; that, while it is hid with Christ in God, walks among men with the tenderness and dignity of the Son of Man ; that asks no deference for its profession, but professes simply because it cannot help telling its trust, owning its gratitude, honoring the Master ; that by open and solemn reverence for the times and places of God's worship obeys the manliest of instincts, and by consecration to the Church confesses the inmost obligation of conscience ; that finds an exercise for its Christian principle in all the companies, associations, resorts, employments, of the world, and a temple for its praise in every scene of joy ; that brings an

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added grace to all the innocent amenities and hopes of youth, and sets a more splendid crown on the saintly head of age ; that sanctifies society and kneels in the closet ; that hallows study and guards homes, and is not

30 REALITY IN RELIGIOUS MANIFESTATIONS.

afraid to show its sacred spirit of justice and moderation in places of sinless amusement; and that everywhere bears with it this meek, brave testimony, that by " simplicity and godly sincerity " it has had its conversation in the world.

God has graciously relieved us of all concern about the special shape our Christian life shall put on, that we may be the more undivided in our care for its spirit. Have the soul of goodness, and it will fashion its own form, hour by hour. The best profession of righteousness is being righteous. The best form of godliness is the form most naturally taken by the power thereof. The best temper of church or clergy is " simplicity and godly sincerity." The best bearing for a believer, making confession of his faith, is the bearing with which he comes out of the closet of a lowly and solemn communion with his

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God. The best posture of dignity is the attitude that yields most friendly service to needy men. The transcendent and majestic posture of the Son of God was when he leaned to wash his followers' feet.

"When this last, most spiritual, and most evangelical reformation comes, Christianity will have gone out from cloisters, from creeds, from clerical confinements, into the open field and broad experience of the people and the age. But it will never be by breaking the strictness of its commands, nor lovv^ering the standard of its holiness. For there is no entrance within the gates of a holier Future, save the new and living way which Christ hath consecrated ; nor is there any other name than His given under heaven among men, whereby labor or learning, wisdom or simplicity, rich or poor, can be saved.

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