Page images

form cannot exist without morality, true that the religious sentiment, when awakened to its best efficiency, must diffuse itself through the moral sentiment, and make the latter one of its most effective instrumentalities. Still, religion and morality are not the same. Religion, when genuine, includes and covers morality, but is more than morality. The ethical sentiment is one of the vital elements of the religious sentiment, but the religious sentiment has other elements of which the ethical sentiment knows nothing. The ethical sentiment may be defined as man's feeling of obligation to serve the right, and morality is the conduct that results from carrying this sense of obligation into practice. In other words, it is obedience to conscience, or to a rational view of what is best for individual and social well-being. But religion is something more than this. Even if we say that practically religion and morality come to the same result, goodness,— it is goodness as seen from different outlooks, as reached by different paths, and as having a somewhat different quality. Matthew Arnold says, “Religion is morality suffused with emotion." This indicates the distinction partially, but does not wholly cover it unless a very large meaning be given to the word “morality, or the emotion be more specially defined as to its cause. No definition of religion, I think, will satisfy the philosophy of the subject which does not in some way denote the contact which the finite mind has with the vitalizing and sustaining Energy of the


[ocr errors]

universe. It is not necessary that the definition should embrace the idea of a personal Deity, not necessary that it should attempt the impossible problem, which most theological systems do attempt, of defining the Infinite; but it must, in order to cover all the facts, in some way recognize the Infinite, in other words, recognize that the human soul is conscious of a life that is not bounded by its material organism nor by any limits which itself can measure, but opens outward into the whole infinity and eternity of things, and is a natural, inherent part of the universal order. I should define the religious sentiment as man's feeling of his connection with the Infinite Life and Order, not in any supernatural way, but by the organic laws of his being; and religion, as the effort to bring his own life into harmony with what he conceives to be the demands of this higher and larger Life. And this rounded religious consciousness is not simple, but is a compound of several elements. Into it enter the idea of causality, the idea of truth, the idea of beauty, the idea of right and goodness. Without taking the ground that these ideas are innate, or forming any theory as to their origin, it is certain that through them the human mind finds itself confessing allegiance to a law of life that is not of its own creation and not bounded by the sphere of its own existence. These perceptions it learns to interpret as indicating the purpose and law of the Infinite Life, and yields itself to them in a joyful endeavor not only to attain harmony and

good for one's self but to serve the universal welfare. This is to be rationally religious. It is to do by intelligent choice and free volition what the plants do by their structure, to make a channel through which the ceaseless energy may work to its ends. But these perceptions thus peering out into the world's infinity of mystery and putting us into relations with things and forces that are illimitable, these perceptions that necessarily stretch back to the sources of all material and mental power and downward or upward to the primal cause of things, are naturally accompanied by emotions of awe, of wonder, of reverence, of adoration, of expectancy, of fear and hope, of solicitude and thanksgiving; and these various emotions, according to the understanding and culture of a people, will take shape in the various outward expressions of religion.

We may see now, I think, how it is that the religious sentiment, though needing the moral sentiment for its perfect development, may yet, since it includes so much more than the moral sentiment, be developed vigorously in some directions without it; and how, under narrow and ignorant views of the world and its powers and of man's relation to them, the religious sentiment should have often developed into crude and superstitious beliefs and revolting practices. These beliefs and practices. vanish away through the influence of better knowledge and culture; but how the root of the religious sentiment itself, which is simply man's feeling of

his relations to the Universal Life, is ever to pass away so long as man is not self-existent and selfderived, but is conscious that his life is related to the whole universe of things, I cannot conceive. The moral sentiment itself is endowed with a grander beauty and a higher majesty when it is thus felt to be one of the vital ligaments by which human life is connected back with the sources of all life, and is commissioned to work out a purpose that is not of self nor of time, but is eternal. The moral sentiment may, indeed, do its work, and do it fairly well, without this consciousness of its high descent and dignified destiny. The man may simply say, "This is duty, and must be done," without any thought as to what duty means in its universal relations, without ever inquiring into the nature of the pressure behind that little word "ought," which gives its authoritative power. When he acts thus, he is simply moral. But when to any person the consciousness comes, whether it shape itself into any formal belief or not, that, through this sense of "I ought," the eternal purpose of the universe presses to accomplish its high ends, and that he is agent of a power and purpose immeasurably grander than his own aims or his life even, then he becomes religious. Then he feels that the will of the universe is at his back. He becomes the subject of superb inspirations and courage and of high heroisms in action. He treads the earth as a master, holding a sovereign hand over its destinies, under the Eternal.

That this powerful sentiment is ever to abdicate its office I cannot believe. That it needs to be lifted to the full loftiness of its functions by enlightenment and culture, removing its abnormal excrescences, I concede and plead for. But human nature is not to be bereaved by its death. The power that built the wonderful cathedrals of the Middle Ages has not vanished nor abated aught of its marvellous and magical capacity, if to-day, instead of cathedrals of stone, it builds its visions of harmony, grandeur, and beauty, its wide hospitalities and generous sweep of human sympathies, into the characters of living men and women. The power which once set in motion the crusades might not be able to raise the smallest army for a like object to-day; but it is not exhausted so long as it summons men and women to nobler heroisms and purer causes. Guided by reason and the moral sense, pervaded and regulated by a wise culture, religious sentiment may be an element in human nature and life as vitally creative to-day as it has ever been in the past. When poetry shall die out of the human soul; when man shall cease to be moved by any of the sublime spectacles in nature; when his heart shall no more be entranced by exhibitions of heroic virtue; when truth shall no longer attract his admiring mind; when all visions of ideal excellence shall fade away from his eager eyes, and he shall no longer stand erect, with eyes lifted upward and forward toward the longed-for light of the better day to come; when the great

« PreviousContinue »