« PreviousContinue »
elaborate than the Catholic church had enforced. The heroic age of the Reformation very speedily passed; and the conflict between the two great hostile parties, though sometimes involving moral elements, became to a great extent a warfare in part of temporal interests and in part of metaphysical systems. Protestantism, in its various branches, upon the whole insisted even more strenuously on soundness of orthodoxy than did Catholicism, for the latter made acceptance of its government and ritual the chief requirement. We have not space here, nor is it necessary to our purpose, to trace the general wave of ecclesiastical power, the growth of secular interests, the partial reconcilement with one another of most of the minor Protestant sects. We have followed, in a very general survey, the historic development of the disposition to consider the acceptance of certain beliefs as indispensable to Christian life and to salvation beyond the grave. It remains only to glance at a very few indications of the influence of this attitude of mind in our own day.
fruits of the fertile human intellect working in its proper freedom. But, unfortunately, the founders of the Reformation, while they lacked the power to suppress these differences, frowned upon them as heretical, and freely affixed the old spiritual anathemas to those who went a little beyond them in their own path.
There is a scene in the early history of the Reformation, not without pathos in itself, but deeply tragical to us who understand its ominous significance. The Swiss leader, Zwingle,-himself an originator in the Reformation, a man of noble character and thoroughly Christian faith,-differed from Luther in his view of the Lord's Supper, he esteeming it only a commemorative ordinance, while Luther gave it a mystical character somewhat approaching the Catholic idea. Their friends brought about a conference between them, and from the largeness of Luther's nature and Zwingle's liberality and kindliness of temper, a good result might well have been hoped. On opposite sides of a table, surrounded by their friends, they argued the matter long, till Luther, taking a piece of chalk, wrote on the table, "Hoc est meum corpus," and refused to yield one iota of what he held to be the plain declaration of Scripture. Any doctrinal compromise being impossible, Zwingle, with tears in his eyes, offered to Luther the hand of brotherly fellowship, but Luther refused to take it, and so they parted. Doubtless, the refusal cost a sharp pang to the great and kindly heart that yet was bound by loyalty to what seemed to it vital matter of Christian faith and human salvation. The real tragedy of the scene lies in the fact that, to so good and great a man as Luther, man's acceptance with God should seem to depend on the right construction of a metaphysical dogma, and an upright and faithful life appear exposed to endless ruin for misconstruing a text of Scripture. And Luther stood not alone in this, but as one in a long line of men who have been influential in human affairs, many of them distinguished by noble and even lovable characters, who have verily thought they were doing God service in insisting upon the acceptance of a particular creed as necessary to an escape from his eternal wrath.
We need not dwell upon the period of the Reformation. Its principal leadersLuther, Calvin, Knox, and their associates set up and imposed upon the Protestant churches by the most solemn sanctions, schemes of doctrine even more minute and VOL. XIV. 53.
A candid comparison of the present state of religious feeling with that which existed three hundred years ago can hardly fail to disclose among its first results a very great mitigation of the severe exclusiveness of orthodoxy. Even the Catholic church, though still in its corporate capacity adhering to its anathema on those who deny its claims, shows in the mass of its members an unmistakable disposition to soften or evade the rigor of its sentence. Very few good Catholics in our day, it is safe to assert, look for the final damnation of their Protestant neighbors in any such confident and vivid way as once was common. Among Protestants, there is no such inexorable insistence on the finer minutiæ of their various creeds as characterized their ecclesiastical ancestors. The modern representatives of Lutheranism would not deny the character of Christians to the followers of Zwingle. The Calvinist and the Arminian, the Baptist and his opponent, the Churchman and Quaker, however firmly each may hold to his own peculiarity, would very rarely deny that divine grace and eternal salvation were amply possible to those who rejected it.
And yet, a very little examination will show that even in our modern Protestant churches an immense influence is exerted by the idea-held either as a definite belief or a vague but powerful sentiment—that
in the doctrine of substitutional atonement. It is impossible to find fault with him personally for narrowness or uncharitableness. Not only is he wholly kind and helpful in his spirit, but to his mind the scheme of theology in which he has been trained represents a definite, positive, unalterable set of facts; and these "facts" have to him a literal unquestionable reality which is not only unattainable but almost inconceivable to minds of a more speculative and philosophical cast. He honestly presents his view of the moral universe, and to his mind it is as clearly impossible to escape endless ruin except by faith in the literal shedding of Christ's blood for human transbred,gressions, as to walk across the North River dry-shod. Beyond doubt, this intensely literal and absolutely unquestioning belief—– which in its fullness is simply impossible to most men who have received as much education as the average minister-is one source of Mr. Moody's power over a very large class. It is equally clear that it must be wholly unfavorable to any genuine and searching inquiry into the truth of the doctrines taught; for it is idle to tell a man he may freely examine the truth of a statement, but if he concludes it is not true he will be damned. And, while Mr. Moody undoubtedly does great good,-much more good than his imitators are likely to do,—it must be recognized that along with this goes a steady, quiet repulsion of a large class of minds from the Christianity which is thus presented. Thoughtful people are not any better necessarily than unthoughtful; but in the long run it is the thoughtful class that draws into its wake the entire community. It seems worth the consideration of those clergymen who are accepting Mr. Moody's style of work not merely as good in its place, but as the sole or main work of the church-whether they are not endangering the future and permanent success of their cause for the sake of visible present results.
well-founded hope of future salvation is
At the very antipodes from Dr. Newman's type of character is that of Mr. Moody. He is without scholarly taste or training, supremely indifferent to abstractions, intensely practical, bound by the closest ties of sympathy and mutual understanding to the common people. And Mr. Moody (in this not unlike Dr. Newman) shows not a single trace of the bitter and malign qualities by which the odium theologicum is fed. The whole stress of his preaching is in the line of the cheerful, buoyant and hopeful sentiments. Yet Mr. Moody teaches plainly and constantly that the only way to be saved is through belief
To recur from these special instances to general facts, we have apparent at this time on the one side, a strange disposition to turn the intensely active thought and the vast disclosure of new facts which characterize this age in the direction of earnest, serious scrutiny into religious truth. Such questions as these regarding the nature and authority of the Scriptural writings, the cosmogony which has heretofore been a corner-stone of theology, the traditional teaching of a literal eternity of future punishment;
questions yet more fundamental than these; inquiries as to the existence and essential nature of the deity; whether there is a moral governor of the universe; whether there is possible to man any sure knowledge of his Maker, or any spiritual communion with a Heavenly Father; whether there is a life beyond the grave; whether, in a word, the faiths which have been the dearest treasure of suffering humanity are outworn and mischievous delusions, or the expression of eternal truths which are to take on new glory with advancing knowledge, these and similar questions are pressing upon thoughtful and earnest men with an irresistible demand for fearless consideration and candid answer. And over against this class of facts we have this other: the great body of professional teachers of religion are under the powerful influence of an inherited feeling that to disbelieve a certain general system of doctrine is to incur the risk of perdition; and are bound in conscience by that belief to give no countenance to any inquiry which is not pledged in advance to lead to the old conclusions. This statement by no means exhausts the grounds of theological conservatism; its force is strengthened by broader and by narrower considerations; by a natural recoil from the temporary weakening of straightforward moral energy that is inevitable when the mind is in a questioning and transitional state; and also by that less disinterested dread of change which inheres in all great "vested interests" like the church. But under all such considerations, giving heaviest weight and sharpest edge to the church's opposition to unlimited freedom of inquiry, lies this ancient, deep-rooted belief or feeling,-seen most distinctly in a man like Mr. Moody, that certain doctrinal statements are a divinely constructed bridge which offers the only way across a fiery gulf to a heavenly refuge.
We need not further describe the two cooperating forces; nor need we dwell on the peril which their opposition implies the danger of a religion afraid to examine its own foundations, drifting toward insincerity, cowardice, self-seeking, and the loss of the noblest religious qualities; and on the other side the danger of a philosophy chilled and deadened by want of the devout and reverential spirit which the church fosters, and becoming meager and unspiritual by severance from the great historical embodiment and representative of Christian faith, and hope, and love. The danger is evident enough: where lies the prospect of escape?
It lies, apparently, in the growing development within the church of that conception of religion in which character is central and supreme. The difficulty disappears when the church accepts its Master's definitions of religion. Humility, purity, hunger and thirst for righteousness; love to God and love to man; absolute trust in the Power that rules the universe; the spirit of brotherhood toward all mankind,-these ideals are in perfect consonance with the spirit of the most fearless truth-seeking; they supply to it the firmest basis and the noblest motives.
Such a conception of religion will not ignore the fact that intellectual beliefs have a direct bearing on character. But it will find in that fact the incentive to earnest and fearless essays toward true belief; not thinking of the Divine Ruler as watchful to smite even barest error with eternal wrath, but heartily accepting the word that they who seek shall find.
The question of how far and how fast the church is actually coming to this conception of a religion of character is one to which it is best not to give a too sweeping or confident answer. But it is to be noted, first, that the radical renovation and purification of an historical religious system is by no means impossible. Other religions than Christianity have experienced some degree of such a regeneration; but this capacity peculiarly belongs to the genius of Christianity, and is one secret of its strength. The Protestant Reformation, with all its limitations and drawbacks, was a notable instance of the self-purifying power of Christianity; the moral and spiritual renovation of the Catholic church, which was the counter-stroke to the Protestant revolt supplied another instance, though with a larger infusion of unworthy elements; and both before and since that period there have been not a few cases where either the whole church, or an important branch, has roused from corruption and lethargy to purer life and fresh conquests. It seems not over-sanguine to find in the signs of our times many indications yielding hope of another and a profound regeneration of the religious spirit. These indications point to the identification of religion with personal character, character at once in its simplest and largest sense; as right-doing,-the faithful, patient pursuit of all moral excellence; as aspiration and toil toward a perfect manhood, a manhood firmly planted in fidelity to all human and earthly relation
ships, and bound by conscious and vital kinship to the spiritual power of the universe. This religion, when fully developed, will recognize goodness as the one thing needful; it will find the noblest employment for all lofty and spiritual faiths in applying them to produce integrity, purity, love, joy, peace, in the lives of men; it will find in such fruit the best approval of the faiths that nurtured it; it will, let us hope, by making men morally better, and purifying their minds of the animalism, bitterness and selfishness that dim the moral vision, enable them to discern as by intuition the great spiritual realities about which we question, thus making good the promise that the pure in heart shall see God. While a religion of character will thus be in the strongest sympathy with spiritual faith, it will not condemn any man, whatever his belief, who in his life is pure and benevolent, it will not be afraid to accept the teaching of Jesus, that the supreme test-question is whether we have ministered to the hungry, the naked, the sorrowful, and the sinning. It will affirm without reservation that the only real heresy is wrong-doing.
It may be asked on what grounds there can be based any hope that the church at large is likely to accept such a conception, of religion. We would by no means be understood as giving an altogether confident or positive expression to such a hope. The elements of ceremonialism and dogmatism are very strong; they often display a fresh vitality that might astonish us, did we not reflect, first, that these elements have for many centuries been worked deep into the blood and bone of Christendom; and, next, that they have a powerful ally in human nature, which finds great ease and attractiveness in a religion that says "Don't try to reform yourself; don't labor painfully to be good; you have only to believe and be safe." It is not impossible that such conceptions of religion, and the kindred conception which makes ritual and sacrament, rather than belief, the substitute for character, may for a long time predominate in the Christian church. Such a result would indicate a future that is painful to contemplate, but is not therefore impossible. But, on the other hand, there is a tendency in the church a tendency broader and deeper than the surface shows-more and more to give to character the first and supreme place. This tendency exists even in denominations which are in their organization most highly ecclesiastical and dogmatic. In these de
nominations there are a great many religious teachers who, occupying various attitudes toward the theological systems of their churches, agree in making it the grand aim of their work to promote right living in their hearers. The best and most influential of these workers are not polemic; they have seen the unfruitfulness of doctrinal controversies; they have no desire to break with the churches to which they are bound by habit not only, but by affection and usefulness. They make far less noise than the champions of tradition, to whose voices anxiety and apprehension give a kind of shrill vociferousness. They constitute no party or sect; they have no shibboleths; they differ widely among themselves on questions of theology. But they are working in an almost unrecognized fraternity, whose common object is to make Christianity a living power in the hearts and lives of men. They are open-minded to all new light; they look to science as a friend rather than a foe; they accept it as their business to use all truth old or new in making stronger, sweeter, better men and women. We can take no census of these workers, nor can we weigh and estimate the influence of their spirit among the conflicting forces of the time. But we may remember that "the Kingdom of God cometh not with observation," and in the very quietness of this work we may see a hopeful omen.
Further, it is to be remembered that "Christianity" and "the church" are no longer convertible terms. The church, as an organization, has immense moral power; in the very principle of organization it builds on the social element which is among the strongest forces of human nature; and among its instrumentalities there are many which are most admirably adapted to move and control men. It includes measureless influences of sympathy, memory, association; no comprehensive out-look toward the future of religion can fail to take large account of the organized church. But, after all, we shall find at the present day some of the purest and most beneficent aspects of Christianity outside of the pale of any church. The imposition of a creed at the church-door seems to shut out some of the sincerest and most spiritual men and women; and though the church loses them, they are not lost to the community. Of the great moral reforms of our day, some, like the temperance movement, have been taken under the care of the church; but others, like the anti-slavery cause, and the present
effort for political reform, have had to find leaderships elsewhere. Some of the greatest achievements of the practical Christian spirit, in thought and life, have been wrought under the indifference or hostility of the church. It must be said that toward these dangers in our commercial and political society which give most concern to thoughtful men, the church, as an organization, fails to display any such sensitive apprehension and energetic opposition as she shows toward church innovations in philosophy. Not unnaturally or illogically, from her traditional stand-point, she is far more enthusiastic in the work of "saving souls" than in that of purifying the government, or raising the standard of public and private morals. It would not be unjust to add that those denominations and those churchmen who are most serviceable in these directions are to a great extent by no means exclusively-those who are under the open ban, or at least the
marked suspicion of the ecclesiastical majority, as of unsound or doubtful orthodoxy. Many times before now the "heretics" have been the salt that kept life in the church, and it may be so again.
I BECAME a member of Congress on the 4th of March, 1869, at a time when a great many changes were about to be made in the offices of the country. Andrew Johnson had succeeded in filling the larger part of them with Democrats, or with such Republicans as indorsed his policy, and when General Grant became President it was universally expected that most of these heads would drop into the basket.
EXPERIENCE IN POST-OFFICE APPOINTMENTS.
Nearly all the post-offices were to be considered vacant, and I was asked to make recommendations of postmasters to be appointed in my district. It was known to every office-seeker in the state that I would be asked to do this, and I was literally overwhelmed with applications. I saw that I must go through all those papers and undertake the difficult task of providing berths for more than one hundred patriots, and that I must select them from a thousand applicants, each of whom supposed himself just the man above all others who had earned and ought to have the place, and who was, besides, the direct instrument by which I became a member. Most of these applicants were very profuse in the expression of their good-will toward me, in which some of them, I doubt not, were sincere; perhaps nearly all thought they were.
But, after all, the church is not Christianity. Even if the church should fail to recognize the supremacy of character, and thus wed faith to free thought, we may still look with hope to that large and vital Christianity which is nobly expressed in literature, and more nobly expressed in countless humble lives, to meet the emergency. As Abraham left the land of his fathers, as the children of Israel marched through the wilderness to the promised land, as the Pilgrim Fathers turned their backs on the Harlem Meer and the Zuyder Zee to build a new nation in the free West, so man still leaves behind him the old abodes that he has outgrown, to find a home larger, fairer, nearer to God.
But when one of them, who was then in Washington, wrote home to a friend with what pride he had seen me rise in the House, and how ably I had spoken; and when the friend copied the paragraph and sent it to me, I could not help suspecting that there was a little "ring," for both the writer and his friend were applicants for office, while the fact was, I had not yet risen in the House or attempted to speak at all! To the honor of this army of applicants it must be said that only three of them ever offered any bribe of money to secure an office. One of these wanted a route agency, and wrote me that he was poor, but that if I would secure him the place, he would give me a hundred dollars. His letter was put in the grate and never answered. Another visited me in person and applied for an Indian agency, but he said he did not want that I should work for him for nothing, and I could have a thousand dollars if I procured him the place. His application was never presented to the department, nor his name mentioned by me in connection with an appointment. Another, with whom I had a personal acquaintance that had prepossessed me in his favor, sent me word by letter that he would give me fifty dollars if I would secure him