being equal, the chances are that he will become as rich as the mean herd around bim, who are struggling towards the same goal. For altho riches do sometimes come thrö sudden strokes of fortune both to good and bad, yet they are no respecters of persons. You will not be rich because you are good, nor because you are bad—for material things cannot compensate for moral conditions; seeing that these belong to another and a higher sphere than those. But if you obey the laws which regulate the commercial world, you will win the prizes of commerce, and so become rich by your worldly wisdom. To me, however, these prizes are not worth the great expenditure of life and means which are required to win them. I prefer to husband my resources for higher aims and achievments. I wish to live the life of a true and complete man; and cannot afford to waste my energies upon the acquisition of wealth. I lack few things which I cannot spare; and possess most things that I prize. I made up my mind, in very early life, to chose between the two masters; and do not regret the choice which I made. In the extreme poverty and difficulty which have more than once beset me, some good angel who thought well of my own demon, has opened the prison doors of my distress, and set me at liberty; and thus I discovered that sympathy between souls alone makes friendship possible, and in such case, that riches flow readily enough from the friend who has to the friend who has not. This is the only equality.

Let no one, therefore, upbraid the justice of the universe, if he-a good manfinds himself poor and needy, whilst very indifferent men are well provided for. Let him rather rejoice that he has become a competitor for the crown of life and the rewards of virtue, and that he is companioned in this noble strife by all the best and bravest hearts, which constitute the chivalry of his time. For my own part there is no discord in life, no perplexity or sorrow, which can hold me long in durance. I am attracted from these outward and fleeting contingencies, to the contemplation of that immense beauty which veils the universe, and of that divine essence which is the source and soul of all things—and of which this beauty is but the expression. Hence I learn how petty are my own disquietudes; how unworthy the great soul which is capable of such sublime entertainment. Yet I would have no man shuffle his duties and responsibilities, or meanly skulk from his misfortunes. Let us sincerely grapple with them all, and mark well the lesson they teach us. But on no account should we suffer ourselves to be cast down by them, and crushed beneath their weight. For man is the Lord of his circumstances, when he deals with them in a Lordly manner, and he is only their slave when he turns craven and forgets his rank and heritage. On this, as on other occasions, sincerity is the all availing weapon.

And now let me speak of the practical bearings of sincerity-upon life and conduct. Man has many relations; primarily to truth, and thrö truth to Godand in the next place to society.

The great difficulty is to unlearn. We are so packed and crammed with falsehoods and half-truths in our childhood, that when we come to man's estate, we are puzzled at the discrepancies which exist between the conclusions of our own mind, and these early inculcations--which we have been taught to revere as unimpeachable and sacred. Hence arises that doubt and mistrust of the intellect which marks the theological age in which we live, and is the great barrier of enlighten


ment and progress. It is the necessary consequence of setting up standards of authority from which there can be no appeal. And so long as this authority is admitted there can be no independent thinking. There is no hope therefore of any man until he comes to some kind of settlement with this authority. I, for one, will have no Pope but Truth, and recognize no other authority than the laws she imposes, I am thankful for all the good things and wise opinions I find in books and men, but I accept no dogma, as such; and laugh even at my betters, when they are inclined to ape the Priest and the Oracle, at my expense. I suppose I am not born too late in the world to think for myself; and therefore, in all matters affecting morals and conscience, I will stand or fall by my own convictions. Yet no man is more ready to learn, or more grateful for so high a privilege than I am, whenever a true teacher appears. I have however no patience with theologians, and am a born rebel to their nonsense. When they would tie

to the letter, and to the monstrous impossibilities of their creed, I fly away with my pure angels, as from the presence of blasphemers. And yet I would not speak one harmful word of these men, many of whom I know to be good and true according to the light they have. Still limitation is a grave offence in all who profess to be teachers. Such persons think they have already exhausted the divine inspiration, and have nothing now to do but chew the cud. Whereas the divine nature is never exhausted, but flows forever and ever thrö all ages and men; and the only reason why we have no new revelation is, because no man has yet appeared of a sufficiently pure, large, and receptive nature to receive and announce the divine inspiration. I look for the teacher of a cosmical faith, who shall advance no claims to be worshiped as a god, but shall stand upon the spirit alone; freeing men from the chains of dogma; and annihilating all rewards and punishments in connection with belief and disbelief. For it is a most sure and certain truth that belief and disbelief are not voluntary acts of the mind, but necessitated by the evidence of the case, and cannot therefore be just subjects either of praise or blame. For lack of evidence we may come to a false conclusion upon a given subject, and this conclusion may prove, if we act upon it, detrimental to us; and so far we are held accountable by the eternal nature of things; for the consequences of actions are the experience of mankind. But there can be no moral guilt in any mental conclusion, whatever may be the nature of the subject involved therein. Neither is one subject more sacred than another; for every proposition is allied to truth, and truth is the pure mathematics--the geometry of God.

Let no one, therefore, be scared from the investigation of truth by any anathema of priest or layman; nor shrink from proclaiming his convictions at fit and convenient seasons.-For I hold such shrinking to be a dishonor done to the soul, and to the genius of civilization. Why shall not I maintain my right as a man to think and speak, as well as my orthodox neighbors ? I see that orthodoxy is old and crazy, that it is not a true thing but a mere semblance; and shall I succumb to it because it is respectable ? There is nothing respectable but truth. Nevertheless, it is neither policy nor wisdom to thrust one's opinions upon an ignorant and unwilling company. I have enough of chivalry in me to break a lance for truth, when I see it attacked by armed per




sons who are skilled in their weapons; for in this case there is honor in the combat; and I believe with John Milton, that truth was never yet worsted in a fair and open encounter. But I am no Quixote against windmills. I can very well afford to leave leaven to the old women, who, indeed, know more about it than I do, and have already secured their places amongst the praying and psalm singing benchers. It is not worth wbile to disturb such illusion as this, which is certainly cheering and consoling enough to the elect people. But in my study, or in friendly and sincere converse with my fellows, I am obliged to confess that the future condition is a dark unbroken problem. Still I have an infinite faith in God—whose are all spirits and worlds—and know that whatever he shall determine respecting the hereafter state of the soul-whether it be absorption in him-annihilation-or separate immortality—will be well.

I can no longer trust the claims to exclusive revelation in religion which have been made by various peoples, in various ages and climes. And the sincere student who desires to have a large and catholic faith, will do well to investigate these claims, and make himself master of the idea upon which they are founded. There is not so wide a difference between the religions of the civilized world as most people are apt to imagine, or as the theologians teach us. For the religion of every cultivated people is based upon man's duties and responsibilities to God and to his fellow creatures. It is the form in which religions are cast which constitutes the main difference between them. In all truly essential matters they are alike: that is to say, they all inculcate the purity, holiness, justice, love, omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience of the supreme being, and the duty devolving upon men to become like him in his moral attributes, to love and worship him. The imperfections lie in the details of these religions—and there is certainly a broader humanity in some than in others. Thus the Indian system of Castes mars one of the most sublime annunciations of the religious idea in the world, viz. that of the Kreeslma in the Geeta, which will be found amongst these essays. The teachings of Zoroaster are not open to this charge, and are as human and beautiful as that of Confucius. A treatise on Providence, edited by Synesius, and preserved amongst the writings of Plotinus, lets us into the secrets of Egyptian theology, and shows us in the most perfect fable extant, how deeply the Seers of that ancient people had studied the moral government of God, in relation to the affairs and conduct of men. The book of Job, which was carved in hieroglyphics on the rocks of Aden, ages before it was deciphered and gathered into a literary form, is the record of a dead and forgotten religion, which shone in the genial light of the morning of time; and every one knows how modern it is; and how true to the deepest Christian experience! The Triads of the Ancient Druids —an abstract of which I shall append to these papers-are likewise as true to day as they were at the time of their composition; which time, to say the least of it, was long anterior to the Christian Era. And these sacred books, where the most sublime doctrines are taught—where the most philosophical speculations find room—where the problems of life, death, immortality and eternity—are opened ; where future rewards and punishments are proclaimed, and the doom of the righteous and wicked immutably fixed—these books, I say, are worthy to be read, not as mere literary scriptures, but as the bibles of mankind. We shall then have wider views of the idea of revelation, and come perhaps to the conclusion


that the soul is one and the same, all the world over; and that what we call exclusive revelation is a mere chimera.

Let us be sure that we are not the only wise, and that wisdom will not die with us. Every people have their own revelation, their own truth and wisdom. The Sabeans worshiped God as he shone thrö the starry windows of heaven; and the good angel of mankind revealed to them the astral laws and the art of rythmical melody, as the reward of their contemplative picty. For there is in all worship a mystical power which makes the spirit wise, and opens up to it the secrets of heaven and earth. The ancient Brahmins, who adored the divine nature which they saw in all objects alike—and who were so impressed with its ineffable grandeur that they considered it a kind of blasphemy to pronounce the sacred name Om--were possessed of a spiritual insight, and a profound metaphysical science, which none but a deeply religious people could have attained to. Indeed all the great and lasting books which have come down to us thrö the ages are imbued with the spirit of worship. Let us then open our hearts, and receive these heathen worshipers as brethren. It would be a strange thing indeed, if God had left the world without any mcans of salvation until the era of Christianity, and altho I reverently how before the shrine of the holy Jesus, and rejoice with unspeakable joy at the glad tidings he proclaimed to the world, still I accept his gospel as the last and highest from God, and not as the first. For men were dear to the Father from the beginning, or be was no Father, but a capricious maker and preserver of men for the sake of experiment only. I cleave however to the godlike, and not to the godless theory; and declare with St. Paul, that every man shall be judged by the light and knowlege which he has.

I am tired of listening to the immense claims which short-sighted men put forth in behalf of Christianity. It is a beautiful, divine, and blessed religion, but I do not desire to lose my individuality in it. I accept its teachings for food and disciplinebut I have my own flights and beatitudes, and cannot sit for ever at the feet of any Gamaliel. I would wing my own way thrö the infinite, and see God for myself. Perhaps, if I am worthy, I also may bring back good tidings of great joy to all people. It is at all events certain that the soul, with its immense responsibilities, was not given us that it might feed on traditions, but for the liigh and sublime purpose of trying to discover and to accomplish our destiny. Truth itself is tradition to me, unless I can fit my soul--by the grace of God, as St. Paul has it—to receive it, and by this means make it mine. For it is the soul which vitalizes all things, and this is the mission of the soul. Hence I wipe my hands of all creeds, doctrines, forms and ceremonies, and will deal with the Maker at first hand. My light, by God's help, shall be my own and not borrowed from the lamps of other men. The sincerity I preach to others, therefore, I practice myself.

I must leave this religious phase of my subject, however, and speak for a short time upon the secular bearing of it--as it relates to society. And first of all let me repeat what I have before said, viz. that sincerity is always necessary, and the best weapon and defence a man can have. It stamps the character, and gives its possessor a moral power and influence which there is no resisting. Deal always sincerely with men, and they will respect your thought and way, even if you be opposed to all which they hold most sacred. And this respect is natural and involuntary. For men love virtue in others, even tho they possess it not themselves; but I never knew a sycophant pardoned. It has sometimes happened in my own experience that I have come to esteem men with whose views I have no sympathy-whom I have never seen, and with whom I am unacquainted otherwise than by their writings—and this solely on account of their evident earnestness and sincerity of purpose. For example, I have lately become acquainted with G. J. Holyoake thrö the pages of the ‘Reasoner,' a journal devoted to the strange, and to me inexplicable, purpose of proving that there is no God. And I confess to esteem this man as highly as any I have yet known. He is evidently sincere in his work; and all his writings are marked by great candor, charity, lovingkindness and forbearance to his opponents. He abuses no one-but enters into the field of speculation like a hero of the old chivalry, ready to do battle singlehanded against all his enemies. I respect the manifest virtues, and admire the courage, of this champion against the faith of all the world; altho Atheism is to me the most fatal delusion, and destructive of all the highest and noblest aspirations of the human soul, and the best interests of the human race.

But sincerity need not be loud and offensive, in order to manifest itself adequately. There is danger in all extremes, and whenever we run from the middle course we are sure to violate some hidden law, which will as surely revenge itself upon us.

If I have any truth to state, I let the simple statement suffice me; knowing that declamation will not add to, or subtract from, its force. In early life my love of truth led me into all sorts of exaggerated and antagonistic expression, which not only gave my opponents an advantage over me, but made them my personal enemies, and came nigh indeed to falsify the very truth for which I was contending. It is the fault of youth, which has more fire than prudence, more wit than wisdom. Now I perceive, that altho sincerity is a brave and noble virtue-courtesy and respect for the feelings of others are likewise good. Not that I would defer too much to these feelings, or even spare them at all, if the legitimate statement of any truth I hold can injure them :—but neither would I wantonly offend them. The sincere Jesus was as gentle as a little child, and the secret of his teaching was love. No doubt when great errors are to be overthrown in the epochs of revolution-enthusiasm will master our polite rhetoric, and furnish the spirit with words which shall not only be battles--as in the case of Luther-but conquests. Luther was the most offensive man then living in Europe. He had no foe that could match him in denunciaton and fierce burning invective. His abuse of Erasmus is the Billingsgate of literature; but it is genuine love at the bottom, and so looking at him with the historical eye, we can afford to acquit him. But great occasions call forth great passions, both good and bad-as well as great thoughts and deeds; and the necessity of the case must always be the apology for transgression: but in everyday life the citizen is better than the warrior, and far more estimable. Put yourself in no false relation with any man and if you feel called upon to tell unpalatable truths, do so in a gentle and loving spirit. For by thus appealing to the highest nature of the person with whom you converse, you pass noiselessly over the abyss of his prejudices and passions, and stand front to front with his soul-upon which ground alone are faith and truth possible. I cannot understand why men should not deal sincerely with each other at all times; or why Christian and Infidel should not meet together and learn to respect the law which each obeys, Are our own opinions infallible that


« VorigeDoorgaan »