Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

And he fell far through that pit abysmal,
The gulf and grave of Maguire and Burns,
And pawned his soul for the devil's dismal
Stock of returns:

And yet redeemed it in days of darkness,
And shapes and signs of the final wrath;
When Death, in hideous and ghastly starkness,
Stood on his path.

And tell how now, amid reck and sorrow

And want and sickness and houseless nights,
He bides in calmness the silent morrow,

That no ray lights.

And lives he still then? Yes! Old and hoary
At thirty-nine, from despair and woe,

He lives, enduring what future story
Will never know.

Him grant a grave to, ye pitying noble,
Deep in your bosoms! There let him dwell!
He, too, had tears for all souls in trouble,
Here and in hell."

ART. IV..

RADICALISM AND CONSERVATISM.

An Address to the Graduating Class at the Cambridge Divinity School, delivered July 17, 1865. By ORVILLE DEWEY, D.D.

"Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.”- 1 THESS. v. 21. RADICALISM and Conservatism: these topics are sufficiently indicated by the text, and they will be the subject of my discourse this evening.

"Prove all things." That is, analyze, assay them, as men do coin, to see whether it is pure gold. In other words, search all things; go to the bottom, to the roots, of things; go down to first principles; go to the foundations of truth: do not take things upon trust; do not accept what is propounded to you, whether from pulpit or professor's chair, simply because it is propounded: but understand, know, prove things to be true for yourselves: that is Radicalism. But, having reached

the best conclusion you can, having found what is good, keep, conserve, hold fast to it; keep an unswerving loyalty to it, to the sovereignty of your convictions, to the right principle, in conduct, to the good law in society; hold on to it with a firm hand: that is Conservatism.

This distinction marks two characters or tendencies of mind; and, I think, of all minds. The one inquires, the other accepts. The one says, Why? Why this dogma, custom, law, institution, method of education, method of religious culture? It is not enough that it finds things taught, enjoined, ordained: it goes behind all that, and asks for the reasons and grounds of them. The other takes things as it finds them, and thinks of nothing but using and supporting them. The same difference may be seen in children: the parent knows it. Some are always asking questions, asking for reasons. They say, Why is this, or that? why must I do, or not do, this or that? I think it is natural to all children's minds to do so, though in some it is more marked than in others. But, if the disposition is repelled, the want unsatisfied; if, to the perpetual "Why?" the answer is, "Because it is so," or, "Because you must," then you are likely soon to have before you a conservative little child, not the most promising form of character for the future. And yet, I think it is the character of most men.

But in speaking of grown-up men, in speaking of sects and parties, it would be unfair to apply the words "Radical” and "Conservative," in the extreme sense. This is often done, because men's opponents describe and denominate them, not they themselves. It is singular, that the word "Radical," which, according to etymology, ought to mean simply going down to the roots of things, and therefore the most deepfounded principle, has come to mean the tearing-up of things by the roots. And because it is thus, the Conservative represents his opponent as a rash, reckless, unscrúpulous innovator. On the other hand, the Radical retorts by defining the Conservative as a timid, selfish, obstinate defender of every thing old and established, the enemy of all progress. "Fanatic" and "fogy" are the terms they apply to one another. Now, if this is right on one side, it is right on the other. But both

[ocr errors]

deny it, and justly deny it. Extremists there may be in both parties; but extremists are not the body of any party, any more than exceptions are the body of any rule.

1

When Paul said, "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good," it is evident that he did not conceive that he was requiring things incompatible with each other; and now I maintain, that the qualities in question are not so, by any fair and reasonable definition; that they are but opposite poles of the same harmonious world of thought; that they are not necessarily opposed to each other, in any sense that implicates the integrity or conscience of the contending parties, or that should make them violent opponents.

Nay, the same man may be both radical and conservative; and every healthful mind has both elements in it, convictions, i.e., springing from roots within, guarded at the same time in their growth without, original principles on the one hand, and careful and even distrustful applications of them on the other. Such a mind has ever a debate with itself: but it is a friendly debate; and why may it not be so with communities, with parties? Why may not a man contend, as he does with himself, so with others, in a thoughtful, considerate, and candid frame of spirit?

But I say a man may and should have in him both tendencies. Thus, there can be no more radical position than his who founds his religion, his philosophy, and all his deepest thinking, upon intuitions, upon original grounds of reasoning in his own nature. But may not this man be, at the same time, a Conservative? Why, he may be conservative, and inflexibly conservative, in holding on to these very intuitions. Woe to him if he does not! He loses every thing if he lets go that firm hold: his anchor does not take ground; and he must float upon the sea, a helpless wreck in religion or philosophy.

-

Radicalism lies in principles; Conservatism, in the application of them. A man may be thoroughly radical in his principles with regard to religion and philosophy, with regard to liberty and slavery, with regard to society and government; and yet he may be very considerate, cautious, and conserva

tive about the application of principles. And there is always danger to be guarded against, in both tendencies. He who contentedly accepts things as he finds them— monarchy, aristocracy, law, Church-order, social ethics, prevailing opinionis liable to become stiff, unyielding, unprogressive; and strong in what is established and respectable, to be hard, intolerant, and obstinate against all proposals of change and improvement. While, on the other hand, the abstract theorist, it may well be feared, though he begins right, may not end right; digging into the grounds of things, he may stop there; he may end in an extreme individualism, and, instead of being a broad and liberal thinker, he may be a mere come-outer; he may sink into his solitary intuitional hole, sucking in the cold and proud fancies of his own brain, sufficed and saturated with himself, rather than plant the healthful tree of faith, which shall rise up into the air, and draw sustenance from the living world, and catch light and revelation from the skies. Or else quitting the privacy of his thought, and applying his views to society, most radicals are reformers too; and it is not uncommon to find a man who demands that his peculiarity shall be a generality for every body else, applying his views, I say, to society, the innovating theorist may reject too much, pull down too much; and, caring for nothing but his own pet idea, may be willing to make a wreck of society, government, religion, in a fanatical revolt against every thing that is established. But still I maintain, that a man may be, in the just sense of the words, at once radical and conservative; and that no other man is a thoroughly and soundly wise man.

The past has nourished

Or if the question be, as it is in this matter, between the old and the new,-between what the past has done for us, and what the future invites us to do, what wise man thinks of discarding the claims of either? us, fashioned us, made us what we are. No past civilization or culture, and we had been heathen and barbarians. The past is venerable with the weight of years and ages. To ignore or scorn it, is as if one scorned or ignored his father. To think of cutting loose from it, is as if one proposed to cut

[ocr errors]

off his youth from his childhood, or his manhood from his youth; or to cut off the flowing river from the head-springs and fountain-lakes that feed it. But to think of stopping all growth and progress, of shutting out from religion or science all new or better views; to say that youth is not to expand into manhood, or that the river is not to flow on, and fertilize new fields, — is an equal folly on the other hand.

But now the main and practical question is, Can these two elements not only co-exist, but co-operate? Can they do this in society, in legislation, in polity, in religion? Can they do so in our own religious body?

First, Can they do so among ourselves? We have lately organized ourselves for work, not as a sect, but as a religious body; aiming, in common with other Churches, to do our part in promoting the common religious weal of our country and the world. Is there any thing in our differences to prevent our carrying out the plan successfully? Is there any thing to prevent our taking friendly hands, and heartily working together? I think there is not. We have in our body what are called Radicals and Conservatives; the left wing and the right wing. The one builds its religion more upon intuitions, upon original data in the soul; the other, more upon outward authority, upon positive and inspired teachings. Now it is true, that if any one held his intuitions to be of such exclusive value that he would believe in nothing else, neither in Christianity nor Church, neither in God nor immortality,— those of a different faith, or rather, who have any faith at all, could not join with him nor work with him. But this is far enough from being the condition of things with us. We all believe in God. We all revere Jesus Christ. We all value Christianity and the Church. But we do not all construe the Gospel in the same way. Some of us believe that Jesus wrought miracles; others do not. Some of us believe that the four Gospels are thoughout a reliable historical record; others doubt or deny it. But both draw from them the precious nurture of the highest life, the great lessons of actual life. Must the agreement go for nothing, and the difference for every thing,-breaking off all communion, all co-operation?

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »