« AnteriorContinuar »
in the character of their benevolence. And any more just estimate of the duties of man to man has been preceded and caused by a fuller appreciation of this doctrine. Thus slavery has existed from the earliest times, and from time to time, in one part of the world or another, the rigors of bondage have been relaxed. But always fear has extorted this increased freedom, or the hope of greater profit has bribed the masters to grant it. It is not till almost our own day, that slavery has been seriously protested against as a wrong. We need not go to the Heathen world; go back but a few centuries among Christian nations, and the idea that the serf or the slave should be liberated because it was a violation of duty before God and man to hold him in bondage, would have been met with scoffs and jeers, or utter indifference. Now, so wonderful is the change, it is the idea of the moral wrong involved in the institution, which is shaking and subverting its foundations over the world. And yet the whole force of the moral argument and appeal against slavery as a violation of the duty which man owes to man, is derived from the increased and growing appreciation of the doctrine of human brotherhood—that all are children of one God. It is this doctrine that makes clear and enforces the duty. Annihilate belief in this doctrine, and the duty expressed in the words, do to others as you would be done by, would be empty of meaning. The religious doctrine is the root of the moral duty, and you cannot cut away the first, without destroying the second. As well might you expect the aged elm that overhangs the streets, and which with every spring bends over the dusty way its cool arch of leaves, to flourish, if the roots below are cut away, as that society should rest under the shade of a living morality, after respect for the doctrines of religion is gone.
Nay; if a preacher were compelled to confine himself to one class, the development of doctrines, or a mere didactic enforcement of the moral duties of religion separate from its doctrines, it can hardly be doubted that he should choose the former. The doctrines include its duties, and if they be really understood and felt and yielded to, the duties will follow, just as the rains among the hills cannot flood the fountains without making the streams in the valleys below swell within their banks. Why is it that there is need of such repetition of the claims of a thousand minor duties? Because we do not properly estimate the foundations on
which they rest. Were the great doctrine of religion, that God is a righteous moral Governor, who loves goodness and abhors evil, under whose reign sin is always evil and the only evil, really received - were our minds thoroughly penetrated with it did we feel the overawing solemnity of the truth, we should hardly need further instruction. Who would go greatly astray whose soul was adequately filled with this truth? One great doctrine becomes the suggester and enforcer of a thousand duties. One great principle contains in itself a thousand rules, and, well understood, is better than all the rules. In fact, we need the formal rules, chiefly, because the principle is absent. In a city, in the darkness of night, a myriad of lamps are lit. They stand at every corner, and their feeble glare shines and helps on the passenger from square to square. Yet all together but imperfectly light up the dark length of streets. And when the dawn breaks and the sun rises, these myriad lamps grow dim and worthless. In the fuller light of day, they not only are not needed, but, thin and pale, they disappear. Such is the relation between particular rules and great principles. There are a thousand wise maxims and proverbs, useful in their place and not to be neglected, but we need them, chiefly, because we do not appreciate the great truths in which they originate. Let these great doctrines be estimated aright and let the mind and heart be penetrated with them, and the mechanical guidance of maxims shall not be needed, for the living direction of principles will take their place.
Again; you cannot separate doctrines from morality, for the motives and sanctions of Christian duties are to be found in the Christian doctrines. Strike away the doctrines of religion, and you annihilate nearly every motive for any virtue that involves any real sacrifice of worldly interest or personal gratification. During the reign of terror, the French Convention passed a decree that terror and virtue should be the order of the day. It was easy enough by a simple decree to let loose a wild and grisly terror over the fair realm of France; but virtue to a people who have really and generally given up their belief in God, in immortality, in accountability, the word has no meaning. Among such a people, if the existence of conscience be acknowledged at all, it will be regarded as a disease of mind. Without any belief in God, retribution, immortality, why
should one make sacrifices to the call of duty? Sacrifices, when all is so soon over· to labor and suffer for the good of others, to peril happiness and life, when in a few years or days existence will be ended - what an absurdity! The natural and reasonable language of such men is, if their appetites are strong, let us eat and drink and enjoy, for tomorrow we die; or if their passions are strong, — let us gain fame, wealth, power, and enjoy, for to-morrow we die. Nay; it is faith in immortality and in the righteous government of God, that gives a meaning to all the nobler qualities of the soul. If these doctrines are not true, what is the worth of disinterestedness, justice, truth, further than they are requisite as a passport to the pleasures and profits of life? All beyond is idle and profitless. But if man is immortal, and these virtues eternal and the source of all blessedness and hope, then they acquire an infinite value, and no men have been so wise as they who have sacrificed ease, comfort and life itself, rather than lose one jot or tittle of truth, kindness, or integrity; no man wiser than he, whose heroic and constant soul enabled him under the executioner's axe to say, 'it is not necessary for me to live, but it is necessary for me to speak the truth.' If these doctrines are not true, nothing is more flat, fallen and worthless than all the ends and aims that good men propose to themselves. It is the doctrine of immortality that spreads the arch of heaven over the earth. It is this, and the doctrine of the righteous government of God, that lift up the virtues till their worth appears infinite-till the humblest grace of soul appears of more value than the glare and gold of empires till over the wastes of earthly life the moral virtues rise up like mountain pinnacles, on which the sun's rays rest when all is the darkness of evening in the valleys below. Thus these doctrines enforce morality, by giving to it a higher value.
And when men cannot be induced to seek it because of its intrinsic worth, still they enforce it. The doctrine of Retribution; let it be declared in any authentic voice from heaven, that there is no retribution-vice has nothing to fear, virtue nothing to hope beyond the grave,—and where would be the morals of mankind? It is this doctrine which, like the vast but unheeded power of gravitation in the natural world, keeps down the swelling passions, the unregulated appetites of men, checks the excesses of power, and puts a curb on selfishness. It is a mighty sea-wall, built
out in front of the harbor of life. If so many are wrecked now within these sheltered and protected waters, what would be the fate of man if all lay open and exposed to the breaking sea of temptation? Wo unto the world, when the only motives to truth and justice, and the only restraints on human appetite and selfishness, are to be found in calculations of worldly interest. The final hour is striking. As in Jerusalem, in her last days of despair, the voice of the departing angels must soon be heard proclaiming, Wo! wo! for the hour is come.
Very much, certainly, is said in the New Testament, respecting the moral duties of life, and the final purpose of all its doctrines is to establish righteousness on the earth. Even in the Epistles of Paul, large portions of them are occupied with enforcing the common duties of morality. But he did not speak of them alone. He had first preached Jesus and the resurrection. "For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised." "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, inasmuch as ye know that your labor shall not be in vain in the Lord." He did not leave the duty to stand alone. It was the doctrine, that gave authority to the duty. Morality spake with authority, because it came forward under the awful sanction of a resurrection and a righteous judgment. Nothing would be so powerless as any preaching which should attempt to separate morality from those doctrines of religion, in which they find their root and support. There must, of course, be many exceptions, but the prevalent, average morality in common life will rise no higher than the prevalent, average religious faith. Though they seem to be separate, one is the result of the other. Thus the child goes down to the wharf, and sees the tide rise inch by inch, creeping up the side of the ancient piers. The stranded boat at length floats, and the ship that swayed over in its bed is lifted up by the in-coming waves. The child sees nothing wonderful in this, and does not dream that the rising waters reach beyond the bay on which he lives. But the better instructed man knows, in order that the tide may come into this retired inlet, and float the boat which lay on the sands, that the whole abyss of ocean must be stirred, that a mighty tide over the whole length of the VOL. XXXVII. — -4TH S. VOL. III. NO. I. 11
earth, following invisible skyey influences, must move in majestic and resistless march, circling the globe. That the waters may rise a few inches higher against this sunken pier, in this narrow inlet, the unfathomed and boundless sea must be moved and swell to a corresponding height. So it is with the duties of morality. In order that the humblest of them, in the humblest home of Christendom, may rise above what is required by worldly interest and selfish gratification, all the powers of the spiritual world must be moved, and pour in a swelling tide of motive on which the soul may be upborne, and on which it may be sustained. If morality be better than a low worldliness, it is owing to the influx and nearer approach to the souls of men, of those great truths which rule over the realm of soul, and connect the conscience on earth with a God in heaven.
To leave this topic for another;-the importance of Christian doctrines is seen in their relation to devotional feeling. Devotion, a true and right devotion, depends very much on their hearty reception and appreciation.
What is devotion? A devout mind is one which dwells much among the solemn realities which those doctrines reveal; to which God and immortality, and all heavenly graces and excellencies are realities to be adored, and sought; which dwells not, like the eye of the astronomer, among the stars alone, but among those realities which shall endure when suns and stars fade away forever. A devout mind is one which is filled and fed and sanctified and moved, in all its springs of love and hope, by these great truths of heaven. The temple of devotion is reared from these truths, and its august dome resounds with words of immortality, heaven and God.
Strike its doctrines out of the New Testament, and Christian devotion is gone; its object and inspiration, its quickening breath and kindling soul, gone. It is because men believe that there is a God, and a heaven, and an immortal life, and regions of purity and peace, that they rear temples and bow in worship. It is under this sky of faith alone that devotion springs and grows.
On the other hand, -acting both as cause and effect, it requires a devout and reverential state of mind to understand and appreciate these truths. The truth to be understood, and the mind to understand, must in some degree correspond to each other. Thus while the study of poetry