Page images

for instance, who may be believers in the scientific doctrines of evolution and a natural divine immanence, and have parted company with the Hebrew conception of Jehovah, how we can harmonize with. such modern beliefs our usage or any usage of the old Hebrew words, or how turn for truth or for comfort to the lines which picture the Eternal Power as the tender shepherd of mankind,— when inquiries like these press us, we ought not to evade nor blink them as if fearing some dire result, but be ready to give a reason for the faith or, if it be that, for the non-faith which may be in us. There is no result in religious things more dire than that intellectual tampering with truth which becomes insincerity in utterance and fraud in action.

Taking, then, such an utterance as the Twentythird Psalm as one of the most noted high-water marks in the ancient expression of religious sentiment, what shall we say for it in the light of those rational views of religion which the new science of this century has been shaping? On the answer to this question will depend, perhaps, certain momentous issues, as whether these new scienceshaped views of religion will be merely critical, or positively and creatively religious. Will they remain on the plane of analytical religious philosophy merely, or will they be capable of nourishing the impulse to worship? I do not mean necessarily worship at fixed places and times, but that worship which is in spirit and truth and resolute noble purpose; and, what is more, will these new

[ocr errors]

scientific views of religion give impulse to that consecrated and persistent action which will result in the continued moral progress and spiritualization of mankind? On these several and searching questions the discourses on the specific portions of the Psalm may throw some helpful light. But, primarily, the theme has such a large unfolding into the whole question of the relation of science. to sentiment, and of sentiment as an essential factor of religion, that a prior consideration of these points will be helpful.

And, first of all, it must of course be borne in mind that we are here using the word "sentiment " in the sense given by the dictionaries as its first and most usual meaning; namely, as that function of the human mind which manifests itself in mental feeling, emotion, or inward sensitiveness to impressions from certain ideas or from outward things, as distinguished from the ideas themselves. and from the faculty of mental perception and judgment. The term "sentiment," especially in the plural form, is sometimes used as a synonyme for "opinions," or mental views. But this is not a meaning with which we are now dealing.

A second point to be kept clearly in mind is that, when we are considering the present applicability of any past form of religious expression, whether it be an institution or usage, a work of art or a piece of literature, we must make a broad distinction between the expression of sentiment and the expression of beliefs or opinions.

On this distinction the whole question of adaptation to present use may depend for decision. For instance, the Hebrew-Christian Bible is a book of the most varied contents and texture. Large portions of it purport to be narratives of events, historical, biographical, cosmological. Other portions consist largely of dogmas, opinions, beliefs, and ecclesiastical regulations. These dogmas, opinions, beliefs, and regulations have to a large extent been passed by, outgrown. They belonged to their time, but have little use at the present time except for material toward a history of human beliefs and institutions. And, in every case, the question of their truth or error is to be submitted to the more enlightened reason of modern times. Of the narrative portions a large part has been proved to be unhistorical, legendary, mythical; and these parts can have no present use for ethical or spiritual profit, except that the legend is often morally suggestive. But, again, large portions of the Bible consist of religious poetry, prophetic preachings, ethical and spiritual precepts, the utterances of sage and seer. In these portions the religious or moral sentiment is spoken from and spoken to. And just in proportion to the height and purity of the poetic insight and the spiritual vision do these parts keep a permanent religious value and take their places as religious classics for the spiritual edification of mankind. Even in these utterances, beliefs of the time, no longer accepted by rational judgment, may mingle;

but they occur incidentally only, making a part of the setting of the gem, but not the gem itself: they are not the chief thing conveyed to our minds or touching our hearts. And herein we may find the proper rule for discrimination. Where the religious sentiment (including the ethical) so predominates over beliefs and opinions that it is not the latter which chiefly impress us, but the impress comes from the sentiment itself, and where that sentiment brings to us high solace or ennobling inspiration, there we have a Scriptural utterance, whether from the Hebrew-Christian Bible or any other religious literature, which carries its own proof of its continued spiritual value. Applying this rule to the Twenty-third Psalm, in my opinion it would abundantly meet the test. Beliefs may change, dogmas be discarded; but in the purest expressions of the religious sentiment there is a reality of truth which never becomes obsolete.

The correctness of this position with regard to the point under discussion is confirmed by noting that a similar relation exists between sentiment and doctrine, or belief, in other matters where sentiment is the chief ground of appeal. We may listen with edification and delight to a fine execution of the classical oratorios, though we may not accept the theology that inspired them and the words of which may still go with them. For music is an art which finds and addresses a sentiment which is underneath all words; and, when the art rises high enough, it may express that sentiment

with such magical enchantment as to cause for the time being forgetfulness of the false words it uses. So Dante's great poems continue to find charmed readers, who discard the theological conceptions which his lofty muse used as the framework of her subtle art. And this is true of poetry in general. It is not necessary that the thought of a poem should be strictly modern to keep it alive, if only the thought be subordinated to sentiments or to certain fundamental principles of conduct which have common and perpetual vitality in human experience, and these sentiments and principles are touched by the wand of genuine poetic genius. Even the quaint plantation songs of the Southern negroes, with but a fig-leaf of thought and making use of the crudest imagery, have often power to draw our tears because of the pathos of sentiment with which they are charged. Yet, before leaving this point, it ought to be added that, when we have not only the richness of sentiment and the fine artistic genius, but, combined with them in any literary or musical composition, a range of ideas which are acceptable to our intellects, then there is additional gratification, since more of our mental faculties are addressed. Emerson and Browning have been poets who have particularly given to their admirers this third pleasure: they have been poets of to-day's thought. And not infrequently it is their thought which carries along a rough or halting verse. Still, it is not the thought which will decide the question of their permanence in the

« PreviousContinue »