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The world's advances in great ideas commonly imitate the movement of a pendulum. Conquest of a great principle is rarely made and held fast in its healthy and balanced mean till the human mind has swung forth and back between its correlative extremes. Often successive vibrations occur before the popular faith gravitates to the exact truth and rests there. Indeed, exact truth, rounded with astronomical precision, without an excrescence or a bulge anywhere, is nevei* realized in popular thought on a subject vital to the world's progress. Approximations to the perfect crystal globe are all that our mental laboratory achieves. This vibratory phenomenon has been amply illustrated in the history of religious beliefs. For instance, to our logic, the unity of God seems inevitable. But the world did not make assured conquest of it till after the popular reason had swung loose and often between faith in gods innumerable, and faith in no God at all. Hebrew faith, even with the aid of divine illumination and angelic auxiliaries and miraculous theophanies, did not rest in monotheism, till, after many oscilla3X
82 My Study: and Other Essays. tions, it had been forced back from the ethnic mythologies by servitude under pagan despotism. Till then, its history is a succession of lapses and
reforms and relapses and recoveries. It covers centuries with wrecks of faith and retributive catastrophes. The spiritual idea of Christ came to its maturity in a similar way. It did not get possession, even of the chosen twelve, until the crucifixion before their very eyes wrenched out of them the notion of an Oriental monarchy and a golden age. Masters in Israel were ignorant of the first principles of a spiritual kingdom. They sought in the twilight to solve the doubts in which their minds swung back and forth, between the letter and the spirit of prophecy. It should seem that men are not competent to become the pioneers of a great spiritual idea, till they have themselves in some sort lived through the opposite error. We know nothing but our experience. Turning to the practical working of Christianity, we observe there the same phenomenon of oscillatory progress. Is salvation by the heart's faith, or by the vigil and the scourge ? The way to heaven hung suspended Ifor ages, like Mahomet's bridge in mid-air, between the antipodes of faith and works. The history of those centuries of twilight discloses a surging sea of mingled doubt and superstition, on which honest inquiry was " driven by the winds and tossed." Comparatively few found anchorage in the truth. They
Vibratory Progreu in Religious Beliefs. 88 were driven to its discovery by the monstrosities which burrowed in the monasteries of Europe, and flaunted their vileness in open day at Rome. John of Goch, John of Wesel, John Wessel, John Huss, John Wickliffe, — five of the saintly name, — rep-
resent a goodly succession of men, who, together with fraternities of believers like " The Brethren of the Common Lot," were impelled into a truer faith and a purer life by the putrescence of false and unclean things around them. But half a century must elapse after the latest of the five before. Luther could command the world's hearing. Suppose that the demoralization of the age had been but half so stupendous as it was. What would have been the sequel ? o Luther and no reform. Half-grown evils do not compel revolutions. They create, not Luthers, but such men as Erasmus. His principle respecting the degeneracy . of the times was, " Evils which men can not remedy they must look at through their fingers." To compel the growth of thoroughbred reformers, error must have time to come to a head. It must ulcerate. In the divine economy, the detective feature is never suspended. Evil must declare itself by acting out its character to the full before it dies. Hence came the revolting extreme of Tetzel's mission to Germany, so insolent to the common sense, and so offensive to the indignant conscience of men. A Christian missionary must become a " spiritual hawker," as Froude calls him, whose business was to sell " passports to the easi-
84 My Study: and Other Essays. est places in purgatory." That created the new faith by enforced re-action. Without such detection of wrong at its worst, Luther would not have risen to his full stature, and stood erect, a free man, when half-way down the steps of Pilate's staircase. He would have toiled on cringing knees to the bottom. He would have earned his
thousand years of release from purgatory, and gone back to his cell at Erfurt, a shaven monk, to tell his beads, and patter Latin prayers to the end of his days. In some things the extreme begat an extreme. Luther and his compeers swung loose from some truths. An iconoclastic faith is rarely an eclectic and well-balanced faith. The destructive force is not commonly the rebuilding force. In the vision of St. John, the angels who were commissioned to devastate sea and land did that and nothing else. They bore in their hands nothing but the golden vials of the wrath of God. Moral revolutions tend to the same insulation of service. The men who pull down are not the men who build up, and with the evil some good is left in ruins. So it was with the work of the reformers: the destructive force was in the ascendant. Perhaps the most splendid illustration of the vibratory principle in modern Christian history is the recoil from monastic seclusion to the daring activity of Christian missions. It is doubtful whether this self-diffusive type of Christianity could have come into being when it did, but for
Vibratory Progress in Religious Beliefs. 86 the self-centered type which preceded it. The theory of the world's conversion is intrinsically one of the most startling of historic ideas. It is no wonder, that when Alexander Duff first broached the project of missions to India, before the reverend Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, he was received by good and able men, even men of large foreseeing vision, with a pause of incredulous silence. It is no wonder, that, when a few humble
students of theology from the hills of Berkshire begged of the General Association of Massachusetts to send them on a mission somewhere to the heathen, the wisest men present shook their heads in doubt whether the public sentiment of the churches would bear so novel and hopeless an adventure. o wonder is it, that the classic mind of Edward Everett derided the enterprise in strains of silver eloquence. It was a wild idea. Is it not to this day the most original idea in history ? Some secret power must have projected it into human thought. What was that power? It was the Spirit of God, using . to his own purposes the inevitable recoil of regenerate mind from the extreme of monastic individualism. The nature of things forbade that immense bodies of men, inspired by the power of an end- ( less life, should either stagnate or ferment in the faith of the cloister for ever. Relics of that faith filled Protestant Christendom in the form of an intense selfhood in religious life. The theory of salvation appeared to be, "Even'
86 My Study: and Other Essayt. man for himself." The electric elements of Christian theology had no outlet in any large-hearted, Christ-like action proportioned to their expansive power. They were pent up in the cells of individual being. They were like a spiral spring coiled up and riveted. Believers were still breathing a cloistral atmosphere. They were hermits in their religious tastes. The chief business of their religion was self-examination. That duty was more frequently than any other one inculcated by the pulpit. Christians lived with finger ever on
the spiritual pulse. Men and women of unusual devoutness, who now would be district missionaries, then wrote diaries of their fluctuating moods. They wrote marvelous stories of their conflicts with the Devil. Meetings for religious conference were largely given to narratives of their "experience." It was not in the nature of things that that style of Christian living should be prolonged without variation beyond the time when the Christian mind found it out. Men must find out both the good and the evil of it. Good men must live it through till they learned it by heart. Then the re-action to something more self-forgetful and adventurous was inevitable. What form could that re-action take more natural than the magnificent development of Christian missions? A missionary map i of the world was the new symbol of Christianity which was sure to come. The swing of the pendulum was to be reversed.
Vibratory Progress in Religious Beliefs. 87 It has become a commonplace, now, that ours is the age of missions. Philanthropic activity has reached a commanding altitude of success. The world no longer laughs at it. Silvern orators no longer entertain gentle and perfumed hearers with predictions of its failure. It has no occasion now to ask for the world's respect : it commands the world's admiration. But what is the sequence ? Is it not that signs are beginning to appear that this, too, must undergo revision ? Perils are looming up on the not distant horizon, which are the natural product of an age of vigilant and inventive expansion. We are lapsing into an unthoughtful
style of religious life. The meditative graces seem to be waning. Christian work takes precedence of Christian reflection. A man is estimated by what he gives rather than by what he is. Wealth is assuming an undue importance in the worth of individuals and of churches. Gold is morally, as well as by troy weight, a heavy metal. The outlook is ominous, when, in any large fraternity of believers, the leaders take their leadership by right of property rather than by right of mind. It is never so in heroic ages. Then the right to lead depends on the force of character, which creates the power to lead. We need to learn by heart Sir William Hamilton's aphorism, " There is nothing great in this world but man, and nothing great in ' man but mind." From such a condition of things, one peril often comes without premonition. It is a break, one or
88 My Study: and Other Essays. many, in the solidity of that groundwork of belief which must always underlie permanent growth. Great action must be built on great thought. Breadth of expansion must be grounded in profound beliefs. Diffusive force must spring from concentrated character. A man can do only to the limit of what he is. Beyond that, all is makeshift. Are not these underground foundations loosening ? In other words, do not the signs of our times indicate that this busy, mercurial style of Christian
activity needs to be weighted with more consolidated thinking? Central doctrines of our faith seem to be jostled out of place underneath. Though not sunk out of sight, they lie loose and inert. They can support none but a rickety superstructure. The structure we are building leans out of plumb, like the Tower of Pisa. It is not their fault, but their misfortune rather, that our laity, on whom we rely for leadership in Christian enterprise, no longer hold the independent convictions which their fathers had, the fruit of their own theological reading and reflections. Said one of them at a juncture of affairs at which his official position called for an opinion of a doctrine in theology, " The clergy must take care of j that : I go with the majority." Did he not represent the attitude of multitudes of intelligent and earnest laymen? Yet, in the present drift of the age, what other attitude can they hold ? The problem is not of ensy solution. Yet tliib
Vibratory Progress in Religious Beliefs. 89 attitude of dependent faith, in which a man stands erect only when wedged in a crowd, is fraught with immense peril. An inherited belief, flanked on all sides by the forces of stimulant and daring inquiry, invites doubt. The doctrinal beliefs of clergymen are always open to the suspicion of professional narrowness. Under such conditions the ancestral faith of laymen seems made for skepticism to sport with. Many minds thus situated are preparing, when temptation crowds hard, to doubt every thing but the theorems of Euclid. Errors floating in the atmosphere may captivate the most enterprising minds, and drift them nobody knows where, unless a more thoughtful piety
is superadded to that of this philanthropic and grand, but hurried and distracting, missionary business. We all need the constructive and tonic influences of solitude. So much solitude, so much character. We specially need a new infusion of theological thinking among the leaders of our laity. * We need a class of laymen who will take time to think out for themselves the fundamentals of the faith they profess. Few they might be in numbers, but an unconscious aristocracy in power over popular thought. Without some such auxiliaries to the clergy to steady the popular faith, and to act as conductors of electric thinking from the pulpit to the pew, we may by and by find our churches quaking in secret at phantoms of doubt, which they dare not speak of, and yet can not get
40 My Study: and Other Essay*. rid of. This is the peril of a « missionary age which is that and nothing more. Worst relapses follow most splendid advances. Best things are susceptible of most fatal perversions. Does not the pendulum now need the touch of an unseen hand? But we need not quake nor croak with pessimistic fears. The Tower of Pisa leans a long while without toppling over. While the Church remains in her formative age, the look of her condition will be that of transitionary movement. Much of her vitality will go to rectifying abuses, repressing inordinate tastes, and re-adjusting mistaken or exaggerated beliefs. Opinion will traverse wide spaces from extreme to extreme. The movement will often resemble the ponderous swing of the
pendulum of an astronomical clock of huge dimensions. Her character will seem to consist of tendencies rather than of fixed qualities and consolidated principles. These tendencies will be variable, now to one extreme, then to its antipodes. The popular faith may never appear to repose securely at the one spot at which lies the exact and balanced truth. Yet, such a look of things should quicken the courage of thinking men. It is cheering to know that no extreme has the inheritance of longevity. Error does not belong to a long-lived species. It carries in its bosom a momentum towards decay. Its doom is to die in the process of the popular recoil to its opposite. Every transition from end
Vibratory Progress in Religious Beliefs. 41 to end may bring popular thought under a more potent magnetism from absolute truth. Truth, pure and simple, is the resultant of intemperate advances and indignant rebounds. Only by such oscillatory progress does the popular mind seem able to achieve final and complete mastery of great ideas. But, so sure as the pendulum is to find its point of rest, as sure is the collective belief in matters of great moment for ever to approximate the point of pure truth, without excess and without deficit. Grand advances towards this may be achieved by one generation. It needs only the leadership of devout thinkers, inspired of God, to be its pioneers.
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