Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

proof of the historic Christ is the fact of Christianity in the world. The fountain cannot rise above its source. The spirit and life from which the records flow must have been at least as lofty as they. The impress of a wonderful life is stamped on the four Gospels; and that life, instead of being less than its recorded minutiæ, by every rational principle must be supposed to be greater, greater in its interior divineness, if less in its exterior adornments. But to bind up the uncertain annals of the life with the eternal truths which were its secret and source, and then to baptize the twain with the one name of Christianity, is to lash together a corpse and a living body. The attempt simply imperils the perpetuity of Christianity in human hearts. If Christianity is to endure for ever as the absolute religion of all ages, it must be as pure and unadulterated Theism, dissociated from the non-essential, and bearing the name of Christ because he stands forth among men as its ideal representative and historic embodiment, the finite man who best images the Infinite God, and thus exhibits most perfectly the essen tial oneness of the human and the Divine.

[ocr errors]

Theism, therefore, first reveals on rational grounds the inestimable value of the historic Christ, and elevates him to the high pedestal from which he is degraded by the popular theologies. If held to be more than man, or endowed with superhuman attributes, he ceases to be a revelation of God, because he then needs to be himself revealed. If proclaimed to be an authoritative Master, at whose feet reason must extinguish her torch, and listen blindly and submissively in the dark, he ceases to be a revelation of man; for he then claims an illumination inexplicable and unattainable by man as man, and profanes humanity by enslaving reason. But if, human purely in birth, endowment, and character, Jesus, nevertheless, most perfectly reveals God as he is, and man as he ought to be, then he is a revelation of surpassing power and worth, and legitimately becomes the profoundest study of all time. His authority is not over the reason, but over the heart: he wins, influences, and attracts, by a holiness and love which must be seen to be truly felt. He comes to us, not as an ac

credited ambassador or official representative of God, bearing despatches from the King of Heaven, indorsed on parchment and sealed with the royal signet-ring, but rather as a miniature of the Heavenly Father, from whose eyes shines forth an inexpressibly tender love, and in the awful beauty of whose features we trace a certain resemblance to ourselves, which gives us faith in our own divine sonship.

The revelation of God in Christ, which Theism alone reconciles with human reason and universal cosmical laws, is no miracle at all, but rather the most supremely natural of all things; for it simply illustrates in its highest intensity a natural likeness between God and unperverted man. Instead of a message to the intellect which can be formulated in words as authoritative instruction, it is a Divine verisimilitude appealing to the heart and the conscience, and manifesting its power as an undefinable but regenerating spiritual influence. On purely theistic grounds, the invaluableness of the life of Jesus to the race and the individual becomes more profoundly evident than on supernaturalistic grounds: it is no longer a perplexing anomaly, baffling all attempts at comprehension, but simply the most luminous illustration of a universal law. There is a dreary mechanism in the idea of a supernatural messenger from God, whose embassy is authenticated by miracles as credentials, and thus addressed to the intellect, the sole judge of credentials and proofs; there is religious power in the idea of a great soul whose message is himself, rather than his words, and who proves his divineness by his irresist ible sway over the conscience and the affections. Theism shakes off the incubus of this mechanism, and seizes the spiritual meaning of a revelation which it discovers to be inexhaustible. It conceives that the knowledge of human nature is the least inadequate knowledge of God; and that this must be studied in all its historic developments, which are evolutions of human possibilities. Thus Theism finds on rational grounds a worth in the Bible and the Christ to which tradition is blind: as the high-water mark of human aspirations, inspirations, and religious life, they are invaluable to every human soul. They know nothing of Theism who ac

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

religies mail, with

much

mcre

[ocr errors]

1865.]

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

173

cuse Theists of irreverence for Jesus, contempt for the Bible, or misappreciation of their message to man. Theists reserve their irreverence for the superstition which adores the shadow and deserts the substance: they believe that spiritual Christianity is simply pure Theism, and as such will infallibly cast off in due time the transient, the irrelevant, and the corrupting.

[ocr errors]

Theism and Christianity.

[ocr errors]

frit...

Disguise it as we may, Christianity is effecting a radical "change of base" in these latter days. The spirit of the moder age is a little too strong for human manipulations: attempts to control it only re-illustrate the truth of the old story of King Canute and the sea. The authority of the Bible, as the ultimate ground of religious belief, is absolutely destroyed for modern thought; and another must be found, for religion is indestructible. Outward authority, superior to reason, is a dream of the dark ages; and infallible authority, whether outward or inward, is only a factitious want of superstition. The soul was not meant to run on inevitable railroad tracks. The liability to err is a part of its constitution, and a part of the plan of God's providence. The soul itself, taken in its nature, history, development, and prophetic latencies, is the only possible basis of a rational theology. Jesus spoke "with authority," the authority of an illumined soul trusting itself as a word of God; and when, in later times, Christianity slipped its moorings, and anchored to the Church, the Bible, or to Jesus himself, it forgot its own inherited law, and made a fatal "change of base" which modern Theism is destined to reverse and rectify.

In taking the soul itself as the ultimate ground of religion and court of appeal, Theism but returns to the Christianity of Jesus himself, and of every other pure and devout Theist; it but reforms a corruption of the historical Church. Thus built on the eternal rock, what has religion to fear from the assaults of false criticism, science, or philosophy? They can but shiver their Damascus blades against the everlasting granite. On the soul alone can be reared a theology rational alike in its basis, its method, and its results. Mankind needs this rational theology, which, like a powerful engine, shall

[ocr errors]

crush the quartz of history, and sift out from the debris the gold of universal truth. We cannot quench our spiritual thirst with the dry sand of facts. The visions of the poet are a thousand-fold truer than the uncertain chronicles of the historian, or the dreary figures of the statistician. Mere events, facts, are dead: they were true once; but when we say, "They have happened," their truth vanishes into the omnivorous jaws of the past. What we want is something that is always true, as true now as two thousand years ago. We want truth that can survive the disintegrations of time, the loss or corruption of manuscripts, the sharp tooth of oblivion, the corroding touch of suspicion. The soul is an ancient palimpsest, from which you have but to erase the trivialities of superstition and the ugly blots of sin, in order to discover, in the chirography of a Divine Penman, the great truths of love, duty, immortality, God. These are the same yesterday, today, and for ever, and burn in our hearts with the fire of eternal youth. These are religion, Theism, Christianity, or what you will, quite independent of the records of antiquity, altogether unpropped by human affidavits. The barren crags of fact will do for the soul to be born on; but, when the young eagle is fledged, it must trust to the pure atmosphere of the universal and eternal to support its pinions in a Godward flight. The transient is of importance only as enveloping the permanent. Great thoughts are few, their embodiments many he is wise who disregards the shifting, and clings to the immutable. Theism is simply Christianity emancipated from the false, the trivial, the non-essential, the temporary, the accidental: to set them in antithesis or distinction is to misconceive them. Unless Christianity can be rid of the barnacles which foul the hull of the noble ship, Rational Religion must take passage in some other craft, and sail the great ocean of time under another flag than that which now gladdens her eyes.

3

ART. II. — LYMAN BEECHER.

Autobiography, Correspondence, &c., of Lyman Beecher, D.D. Edited by CHARLES BEECHER. With illustrations. In two volumes. 12mo. pp. 563, 587. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1864.

It seems to have been decided that every thing relating to the Beecher family, both in life and in record, should be strikingly characteristic, if not unique. The memorial which the surviving members of it have contributed, to extend more widely and to perpetuate the well-deserved repute of their honored father, is, in some respects, an exaggeration of the peculiarities which distinguish them. As a tribute of their own affection, and as a setting-forth of their own reasons for regarding him as one of the most marked and serviceable men in his time and calling, the volumes before us may be received with entire approbation. We are led to admire the perfect simplicity and frankness of their tone and contents. They are eminently honest and trustworthy; free from all attempts at dressing up, explaining away, or apologizing for either the homely or the grotesque matters which abundantly strew their pages. The whole man whom they portray and disclose to us wins our warm love and our full respect. He was a noble specimen of a man, and would have been such in any sphere or calling in life. Sincere and sound to the very core of his heart; unselfish, devoted, earnest in purpose, and entire in his consecration of heart, time, and ability, to the best service of others in the widest range through which he could exercise great gifts,—he was a model Christian minister and pastor. His home, with his family around him, — and such a family, must have been a scene where enjoyment and improvement wrought the warp and woof of life into the noblest fabric possible, amid the contingencies of an earthly existence. His children would have been justified in contributing to his honored and revered memory the daintiest and most elaborate garland which their gratitude and imagination could fashion. But in perfect har

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »