THE CHIEF END OF MAN
GEORGE S. MERRIAM
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
The Riverside Press, Cambridge
BY GEORGE S. MERRIAM.
All rights reserved.
The chief end of man,—to define it anew, and cite the witness of the ages, may seem an audacious attempt, likely to issue in failure or in commonplace. By the scholar this work must often be judged as crude, to the churchman it will sometimes seem mischievous, and to the man of science it may appear to lack solidity of demonstration. But its essential purpose is to utter afresh, though it be with stammering tongue, the message with which the universe has answered the soul of man whenever he listened most closely and obeyed most faithfully.
It is the assurance that Fidelity, Truth-seeking, Courage, and Love are the rightful lords of human life, and its sufficient guides and interpreters. It is the knowledge that as man is true to his best self he finds the universe his friend.
That message the seeing eye reads in the face of earth, and the listening ear hears it in the song of the morning stars. The will finds it as answer to its loyal endeavor. The heart wins it through rapture and through anguish. It is our dearest inheritance, it is our most arduous achievement. It is the sword with which each man must conquer his destiny. It is the smile with which Beatrice welcomes her lover to Paradise.
I. OUR SPIRITUAL ANCESTRY
II. THE IDEAL OF TO-DAY
III. A TRAVELER'S NOTE-BOOK
V. DAILY BREAD
THE CHIEF END OF MAN
It sometimes happens that a man is confronted by a perplexing crisis, before which he is quite at a loss how to direct his course. His familiar rules and habits seem to fail him, and his perplexity approaches dismay. At such a time, if his previous life has been guided by purpose and consideration, he may perhaps help himself by looking attentively back at the steps by which he has hitherto advanced. He recalls other crises, he sees how they were met, and light, it may be, breaks on the path before him, or at least he takes fresh heart and hope.
Some such crisis confronts the thoughtful mind of the world to-day, in the disappearance of the old sanctions of religion. When the idea of an authoritative revelation of divine truth has been finally dislodged, there are moments when moral chaos seems to impend. We are still upheld by old habits and associations, we are borne along by forces mightier than our creeds or negations, and the loyal spirit catches at moments the "deeper voice across the storm," even though the voice be inarticulate. But it is felt that we need to somehow define anew the rule of life. By what road shall man attain his supreme desire,—how can he be good, and how can he be happy?
As the individual seeks help in looking back over his course, so it may help us if we look back a little over some of the significant passages in the movement of mankind. History is to the race what memory is to the individual. One's best treasure is the memory of his happy and heroic hours. The best treasure of humanity is the story of its happy and heroic souls. Let us call before us some of these, and see how they answered the questions we ask.
Following this clew, we run back along the line of what may be called "our spiritual ancestry." Turning naturally to our own next of kin, a child of New England, going back from the teaching of his youth to his fathers and to their fathers, soon finds before him the Puritan. When we study the Puritan it appears that he was a most composite product, and that just behind him, and essential to the understanding of him, is the great mediaeval church. Studying the church, there is nothing for it but to go back to its foundation, and ponder well the one from whose person and teaching it grew. And to know at all the mind of Jesus we must know something of the mind of Judaism, of which he was the child. Indeed, the popular religion of to-day bases itself directly on the Old and New Testaments; so that our lineage must clearly be traced from this as one of its origins. Another ancient line attracts us, by a history which blends with Judaism at the birth of Christianity, and by a literature which is rich in moral treasures. We must glance at some of the landmarks of the Greek and Roman story.
And here our present study may define its bounds. We will not go back to the progress from the animal up to man, nor survey the prehistoric man; nor will we turn aside to the religions of Egypt, Arabia, and the East; and we can but lightly glance at the early Teutonic people from whom we are descended after the flesh. It will sufficiently serve our purpose if we touch a few salient points among our more direct progenitors in the life of the spirit. And, after all, our richest search will be in the years nearest ourselves.
But no version of history simply as history gives an adequate basis for the higher life. That life must be worked out by each for himself, equipped as he finds himself by inheritance and circumstance, and guided largely by the sure and simple laws of conduct which he drew in with his mother's milk. Study and thought may help a little, and so such essays as the present are offered for whatever they may afford. Of all human studies, history, at its best,—the knowledge of whatever of worthiest the past of mankind affords,—such history is of all studies most delightful and inspiring, for it is the contact through books with noble souls—and the touch of a great soul is a natural sacrament. Such history has significance mainly as its events and characters find parallels in the mind that reads. The soul of to-day, catching from the past the voices of prophets and leaders, thrills with a sense of kinship. The story of American independence means most when the reader has fought his own Bunker Hill, and wintered at Valley Forge, and triumphed at Yorktown. The death of Socrates has small significance unless something in the reader's heart answers to his affirmation that "nothing evil can happen to a good man, in living or dying." The life of Jesus and the story of Christianity are most fully understood when life's experience has brought the Mount of Vision and the Garden of Gethsemane, the cross and passion, the resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The interest of the present study is in the illustration of certain great spiritual laws. These are laws of which every man may make proof for himself. He may find instances of their working in any close observation of his nearest neighbor, or in reading his newspaper. He may find the clearest exemplification of them in studying the noblest men and women he has known, or, if his life has been worth living, in recalling the most critical and significant passages of his own experience. The reading of these laws is the latest and finest result of the experience of the race. In their substance, they are acknowledged by all good men. No wholly new path to goodness and happiness is likely to be suddenly discovered; certainly no essentially new ideal of what kind of goodness and happiness we are to seek. The saints and heroes are all of one fellowship, though they do not all speak the same language. In a word, there are certain traits of character which all men whose opinion we value now recognize as supremely worthy of cultivation. To seek to know things as they really are; to fit our actions to our best knowledge; to conform in word and act to the truth as we see it; to seek the good of others as well as our own; to be sympathetic and responsive; to be open-eyed to beauty, open-hearted to our fellow creatures; to be reverent and aspiring; to resolutely subject the lower elements of our nature to the higher; to taste frankly and freely the innocent joys of life; to renounce those joys and accept privation, suffering, death, when duty calls,—such purposes and dispositions as these are unquestionably a true rule of life. The main theme to be illustrated in these pages is that this ideal and rule is in itself an all-sufficient principle. Fidelity to the best we know, and search always for the best, is the natural road to peace and joy, the sure road to victory. It is the key which opens to man the treasury of the universe.
To enforce and vivify this conception,—this interpretation of the key of life as consisting in fidelity to certain ideals of character,—we go back to the memorable examples of the past. We use those examples, partly to show how the spiritual laws always worked, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever; and partly to show how as time advanced the laws have been understood with growing clearness, and applied with growing effectiveness. The same stars shone above the sages of Chaldea as shine above us, but our astronomy is better than theirs. The sages of Greece, the prophets of Palestine, the heroes of Rome, the saints of the Middle Ages, the philanthropists and the scientists of to-day, each made their special contribution to the spiritual astronomy. From age to age men have read the heavens and the earth more clearly, and so made of them a more friendly home. Just as, too, there come times of momentous progress in the physical world; the establishment of the Copernican theory, the discovery of a new continent, the mastering of electricity,—so there are periods of swift advance and discovery in the spiritual life, and such a birth-hour, of travail and of joy, comes in our own day.
In this hasty panorama of the past, then, the effort has been to give real history. But every student knows how transcendent and impossible a thing it is to recall in its entirety and fullness any phase of the past. Even the specialist can but partially open a limited province. So with what confidence can one with no pretensions to original scholarship, however he may use the work of deeper students, express his opinion on any special point in a survey of thirty centuries? If, accordingly, any competent critic shall trouble himself to convict the present writer of error: "This view of Epictetus confuses the earlier and the later Stoics;" or "This account of the Hebrew prophets lacks the latest fruit of research,"—or, other like defect,—acknowledgment of such error as quite possible may be freely made in advance. But, in our bird's-eye view of many centuries, any fault of detail will not be so serious as it would be if there were here attempted a chain of proofs, a formal induction, to establish from sure premises a safe conclusion. Only of a subordinate importance is the detail of this history. We say only: in this way, or some way like this, has been the ascent. The contribution of the Stoic was about so and so; the Hebrew prophet helped somewhat thus and thus. But the ultimate, the essential fact we reach in the Ideal of To-day. Here we are on firm ground. The law we acknowledge, the light we follow,—these may be expressed with entire clearness and confidence. The test they invite is present experiment. Nothing vital shall be staked on far-away history or debatable metaphysics.
In the fivefold division of the book, "Our Spiritual Ancestry" is a bird's-eye view of the main line of advance, which culminates in "The Ideal of To-Day." A more leisurely retrospect of certain historical passages is given in "A Traveler's Note-Book;" thoughts on the present aspect are grouped under "Glimpses;" and "Daily Bread" introduces a homely and familiar treatment.
OUR SPIRITUAL ANCESTRY
The ideas and sentiments which underlie the higher life of our time may be largely traced back to two roots, the one Greek-Roman, the other Hebrew.
Each of these two races had originally a mythology made up partly of the personification and worship of the powers of nature, and partly of the deification of human traits or individual heroes.
The higher mind of the Greeks and Romans, in which the distinctive notes were clear intelligence, love of beauty, and practical force, gradually broke away altogether from the popular mythology, and sought to find in reason an explanation of the universe and a sufficient rule of life.
The Greek-Roman mythology made only an indirect and slight contribution to modern religion. But the ethical philosophy and the higher poetry of the two peoples belong not only to our immediate lineage but to our present possessions.
A humanity common with our own brings us into closest sympathy with certain great personalities of this antique world. Differences of time, race, civilization, are powerless to prevent our intimate friendship and reverence for Homer, Sophocles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Epictetus.
Homer shows the opening of eyes and heart to this whole wonderful world of nature and of man.
Sophocles sees human life in its depth of suffering and height of achievement. He views mingled spectacle with profound reverence, sure that through it all is working some divine power. Goodness is dear to the gods, wickedness is abhorrent to them. But the good man is often unhappy,—from strange inheritance of curse, or from complication of events which no wisdom can baffle. Yet from the discipline of suffering emerges the noblest character, and over the grave itself play gleams of hope, faint but celestial.
In Socrates, we see the man who having in himself attained a solid and noble goodness, addresses all his powers to finding a clear road by which all men may be led into goodness. He first propounds in clearness the most important question of humanity,—how shall man by reason and by will become master of life?
Plato takes up the question after him, and follows it with an intellect unequaled in its imaginative flight. Plato lighted the fire which has burned high in the enthusiasts of the spirit,—the mystics, the dreamers, the idealists.
Aristotle confined himself to the homelier province where demonstration is possible, and laid the foundation of logic and of natural science.
Lucretius resolutely puts away from him the whole pageant of fictitious religion. He scouts its terrors, and scorns to depend on unreal consolation. He addresses himself to the intellectual problem of the universe, and decides that all is ruled by material laws.
In Epictetus man reverts from the problem of the universe to the problem of the soul. The beauty of the Greek world has faded, the stern Roman world has trained its best spirits to live with resolute self-mastery. The mythologic gods are no longer worth talking about for serious men. But here is the great actual business of living,—it can be met in manly temper, and be made a scene of lofty satisfaction and serene tranquillity.
Epictetus was the consummate expression of that Stoic philosophy in which were blended the clearness of Greek thought and the austerity of the best Roman life. Stoicism reverted from all universe-schemes, spiritual or materialist, to the conduct of human life which Socrates had propounded as the essential theme. The Stoic affirmed that all good and evil reside for man in his own will, and that simply in always choosing the right rather than the wrong he may find supreme satisfaction. Epictetus expresses this in the constant tone of heroism and victory. In the more feminine nature of Marcus Aurelius the same ideas yield a beautiful fidelity along with a habitual sadness.
Stoicism was the noblest attainment of the Greek-Roman world. It was a clear and fearless application of reason to human life, with little attempt to solve the mystery of the universe. It gave an ideal and rule to thoughtful, robust, and masculine natures. It made small provision for the ignorant, the weak, or the feminine. Its watchwords were Reason, Nature, Will.
The distinction of the Hebrew development was that the higher minds took up the popular mythology, elevated and purified it. The Hebrew genius was not intellectual but ethical and emotional. The typical Hebrew guide was not a philosopher but a prophet. Through a development of many centuries the popular religion from polytheistic became monotheistic, and from worshiping the sun and fire came to worship an embodiment of righteousness and of supreme power. An ideal of character grew up—in close association with religious worship and ceremonial—in which the central virtues were justice, benevolence, and chastity. The sentiments of the family, the nation, and the church were fused in one. Its outward expression was an elaborate ceremonial. Its heart was a passion which in one direction dashed the little province against the whole power of Rome; in another channel, preserved a people intact and separate through twenty centuries of dispersal and subjection; while, in another aspect, it gave birth to Jesus and to Christianity.
Jesus was one of the great spiritual geniuses of the race,—so far as we know, the greatest. The highest ideas of Judaism he sublimated, intensified, and expressed in universal forms. Indifferent to the ceremonial of his people, he taught that the essence of religion lay in spirit and in conduct.
The holy and awful Deity was to him a tender Father. The whole duty of man to man was love. Chastity of the body was exalted to purity of the heart. He lived close to the common people; taught, helped, healed them; caressed their children, pitied their outcasts, laid hands on the lepers, and calmed the insane. He brooded on the expectation of some great future which earlier seers had impressed on the popular thought, and saw as in prophetic vision the near approach of the perfect triumph of holiness and love. Overshadowed by danger, his hope and faith menaced as by denying Fate, he rallied from the shock, trusted the unseen Power, and went serenely to a martyr's death.
Jesus had roused a passion of personal devotion among the poor, the ignorant, the true-hearted whom he had taught and called. When he was dead, that devotion flamed out in the assertion, He lives again! We have seen him! He will speedily return! The Jewish belief in a bodily resurrection and a Messianic kingdom gave form to this faith, and unbounded love and imagination gave intensity and vividness. That Jesus was risen from the dead became the cardinal article of the new society which grew up around his grave. His moral precepts, his parables, his acts, his personality,—the personality of one who was alike the child of God and the friend of sinners,—these were enshrined in a new mythology. A society, enthusiastic, aggressive; at first divided into factions; then blending in a common creed and rule of life; a loyalty to an invisible leader; a sanguine hope of speedy triumph, cooling into more remote expectation, and in the finer spirits transforming into a present spiritual communion; a growing elaboration of organization, priesthood, ritual, mythology; a diffusion through vast masses of people of the new religion, and a corresponding depreciation of its quality,—this was the early stage of Christianity. It vanquished and destroyed the Greek-Roman mythology, already half dead. Philosophy strove with it in vain,—there was no real meeting-ground between the two systems. The final appeal of the Stoic was to reason. The Christian theologians thought they reasoned, but their argumentation was feeble save at one point. But that was the vital point,—experience. Christianity, in its mixture of ardor, credulity, and morality had somehow a power to give to common men and women a nobility and gladness of living which Stoicism could not inspire in them. So it was the worthier of the two antagonists that triumphed in the strife.
Ideally, there ought to have been no strife. Christianity and ethical philosophy ought to have worked side by side, until the religion of Reason and the religion of Love understood each other and blended in one. Destined they were to blend, but not for thousands of years. The new religion brooked no rivalry and no rebellion. It swayed the world despotically, but the beginning and secret of its power was that it had captured the world's heart. Its best watchwords were Faith, Hope, Love.
In a word, civilized mankind, having outgrown the earlier nature-worship, and having found the philosophic reason inadequate to provide a satisfying way of life, accepted a new mythology, because it was inspired by ideas which were powerful to guide, to inspire, and to console. For many centuries we shall look in vain for any serious study of human life except in conformity to the Christian mythology.
The Roman world was submerged by the invasion of the northern tribes. There was a violent collision of peoples, manners, sentiments, usages; a subversion of the luxurious, intelligent, refined, and effete civilization; a rough infusion of barbaric vigor and barbaric ignorance. The marvelous conflict, commingling, and emergence of a thousand years, through which the classic society was replaced by the mediaeval society, cannot even be summarized in these brief paragraphs. The point on which our theme requires attention is that the religion of this period had its form and substance in the Catholic church; and of this church the twin aspects were an authoritative government administered by popes, councils, bishops, and priests, and a conception of the supernatural world equally definite and authoritative, which dominated the intellects and imaginations of man with its Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. The visible church and the invisible world of which the church held the interpretation and the key,—this concrete fact, and this faith the counterpart of the fact, were the bases and pillars of the religion of Europe for many centuries.
We are not required to balance the merits and faults of this mediaeval religion. It was a mighty power, so long as it commanded the unquestioning intellectual assent of the world, and so long as upon the whole it exemplified and enforced, beyond any other human agency, the highest moral and spiritual ideals men knew.
Its supremacy was favored by the complete subordination of all intellectual life which was an incident of the barbaric conquest and the feudal society which followed. Even before those events the human intellect seemed to flag. The old classicism and the new Christianity never so wedded as to produce either an adequate civic virtue or a great intellectual movement. In the Dark Ages which followed, learning shrank into the narrow channels of the cloister, and literature almost ceased as a creative force. For almost a thousand years—from Augustine to Dante—Europe scarcely produced a book which has high intrinsic value for our time. When intellectual energy woke again in Italy and then in the North, the ecclesiastical conception had inwrought itself in human thought.
Along with authority and dogmas there developed an elaborate ceremonial, appealing through the senses to the imagination and the spiritual sense. For the multitude it involved a habitual confusion of the symbol with the substance of religion. In an age when the highest minds lived in an atmosphere of profound ignorance, and philosophy was childish, there was wrought out the full doctrine of the Mass and its accompaniments,—a literal transformation of the bread and wine of the sacrament into the body and blood of Christ, powerful to impart a saving grace. The power to work this miracle was the supreme weapon of the priesthood.
We may glance at the mediaeval religion in its culmination in the three figures of Dante, Francis of Assisi, and Thomas a Kempis. A Kempis shows religion fled from the active world with its strifes and temptations, sedulously cultivating a pure, devout, unworldly virtue; feeding on the contemplation of heavenly splendors and infernal horrors; self-centred and inglorious. The opposite type is Frances, a joyful prophet of glad tidings to the poor; ardent, sympathetic, heroic; touched with the beauty of nature and the appeal of the animal creation; exalting simplicity and poverty like an ancient philosopher; seeking the needy and sorrowful like Jesus of Nazareth; but with no spiritual originality like Jesus, no power to create a new religion; strong only to revive the best elements of the traditional faith, and to organize a society which erelong sank back to the general level of the church.
Dante is an embodiment of mediaeval belief in its most sublime and intense phase. He has much of the temper of the Hebrew psalmist, in his tremendous love and hate, his patriotism, his sorrow, his quest for the highest. This vast spiritual passion finds its expression and satisfaction in an invisible world, which promises in a future existence the supreme triumph and reign of a divine justice, wrath, and pity, and for which the visible world is but antechamber and probation. Dante shows the culmination of supernatural Christianity, but he has something further. The guide of his pilgrimage, the star of his hope, the inspiration of his life, is a woman,—loved with sublimation and tenderness, loved better after her death, and felt as the living link between the seen and unseen worlds. Thus at the heart of the old supernaturalism is the germ of a new conception, in which human love sanctified by death becomes the revealer.
In Dante we feel that the projection of human interest to an unseen and future world has reached its furthest limit. The mind of man must needs revert to some nearer home and sphere. And closely following Dante we see in England a group of figures who betoken the return. There is Chaucer, displaying the various energy and joy and humor of earthly life. There is Piers Plowman, showing the grim obverse of the medal, the hardship and woe of the poor. Wyclif insists on a personal religion, whose austere edge turns against ecclesiastical pretense and social wrong; and he applies reason so daringly that it cuts at the very centre of the church's dogma, in denying Transubstantiation. A little earlier we see Roger Bacon making a fresh beginning in the experimental philosophy which had been slighted for centuries. These four are the precursors respectively of the purely human view, as in Shakspere, of the elevation of the poor, of Protestantism, and of natural science.
As pagan mythology, Stoicism, and Judaism all were superseded by early Christianity, as that in turn was succeeded by mediaeval Catholicism, so another stage has brought us to the religion of to-day. The leading features of this last transition may be summarily sketched, we may then glance at certain groups of figures illustrating the advance in its successive periods, and so we shall come to the ideal of the present.
The religious transition of the last four centuries is in one aspect marked by the waning of authority and the growth of individual freedom; and in another aspect it is the substitution for a supernatural of a natural conception, or, we may say, in place of a divided and warring universe, a harmonious universe.
In this double progress toward individual liberty and toward a new way of thought, a conspicuous agency has been the advance of knowledge. Connected with the advance of knowledge has been an improvement of the actual conditions of human life. Meantime the ethical sense and the spiritual aspiration of mankind have asserted themselves, sometimes as slow-working, permanent forces, sometimes in revolutionary upheaval. With change both of material condition and of ways of thought, new forms of sentiment and aspiration have appeared,—a wider and tenderer humanity; a reverence for the order of nature and dependence upon the study of that order for human progress; a consciousness of the sublimity and beauty of nature as a divine revelation; a reliance upon the powers and intuitions of the human spirit as its only and sufficient guides; a rediscovery under natural and universal forms of the faith and hope which were once supposed inseparably bound up with ritual, dogma, and miracle, but which now when given freer wing find firmer support and loftier scope.
Along with these forces has gone the steady push of human nature for enjoyment, for ease, for power; the grasp of man for all he can get of whatever seems to him the highest good. There have been mutual injuries, degradations, retrogressions, such as darken all the pages of human history; the manifest evil which often defies all interpretation, and which only a profound faith can regard as "good in the making."
Together with these influences we must also reckon the special action of strong personalities.
No sharp line can be drawn between these various powers,—their interplay is constant. The main argument of the drama, from the mediaeval to the present phase, may be briefly shown.
Into the world as Dante knew it came Knowledge on three great lines,—opening the material universe, rediscovering a lost interpretation of life, and diffusing the secrets of the few among the many. The astronomers, voyagers, and geographers found out a new heaven and a new earth. The revival of Greek literature gave to the cultivated class a "renaissance," a rebirth, of speculative thought, of intellectual beauty, of delight in human activities for their own sake. It was a new birth in some of the old pagan sensuality, skeptical of heaven or hell; worse than the old sensuality because it trampled down the finer purity which Christianity had bred. In others it was a new birth to the pursuit of moral and social good, inspired by the master spirits of Judaism and early Christianity. Then came the invention of printing, and the aristocracy of intelligence widened rapidly toward democracy.
The foremost men of the new knowledge supported the Catholic church, either as a covert for indulgence or as a spiritual agency to be maintained and purified. The successful rebel against the church was a peasant-priest, who revolted because the moral unsoundness which long had sapped the hierarchy ran at last into open countenance of vice. It was originally a moral revolt, and it was led by a man who knew in his own experience that not only the ethical but the emotional life of the spirit was possible without dependence on the church of Rome. But neither Luther nor any of the reformers were men of spiritual originality. Driven to construct a new creed, they simply worked over the old dogmas, divesting them of the keys of priestly power—the Mass, the confessional, absolution, Purgatory, and the like; and giving infallible authority to the Bible only. A war of creeds followed, mingled with a strife of ambitions and a struggle between the powers of the secular state and of the hierarchy. To men of piety and peace like Erasmus and Melanchthon it seemed as if religion were only a loser by the long period of bloodshed and bitterness that followed. The gain, as we see it, was that half of Europe was wrested from the dominion of the Catholic church; that that church was driven to purify its morals; and that in the Protestant states the liberty which at first was only a change of masters spread gradually, as one sect after another established its foothold, and as the secular temper in the state rose above the ecclesiastical, until the religious freedom of the individual is at last becoming generally and securely established.
Only by this overthrow of ecclesiastical authority was rendered possible that unchecked freedom of intellectual inquiry which has been the great positive factor in modern advance. Step by step men have learned to know the condition, the history, the natural laws of the material world in which they live and the social world of which they are a part. The bearing of this growing knowledge on the conception of the spiritual life has been various,—seeming for a while to lie wholly apart from it; then at times menacing its existence or contracting its scope; again arming it with powerful weapons and enlarging its ideals. Of the latest chapters in the story of science, one has retold the origin of Christianity, divested it of miracle and revelation, and translated it into purely natural and human terms. Another chapter has fixed the general trend of the universe known to man as an ever advancing and broadening movement, under the name of Evolution.
Amid all these changes the Christian church has continued to present its ideals, precepts, incitements; partly affirming them in contradiction of all denial, partly adapting them to the changes of time and thought. The moral and spiritual interpretation of life has not been confined to the church, but has been voiced in each generation by poets, moralists, reformers, statesmen, each after his thought. Out of the conflict and confusion a substantial agreement and harmonious ideal is at last appearing. More clearly and confidently in our day than ever before the universe may be seen and felt by man as a Cosmos,—a beautiful order.
This bird's-eye view will grow more distinct and vivid if we study certain typical figures which group themselves as the representatives of succeeding generations. Our conventional division of centuries will serve as a convenient framework for four groups.
In the sixteenth century we have Sir Thomas More, uniting the highest virtue of the church with the clearest intelligence of the new thought, and setting forth in Utopia the ideal to be sought,—not mere individual salvation, not an ecclesiastical fold, but a human commonwealth of free, happy, and virtuous citizens.
Instead of the peaceful growth of such a society,—made impossible by selfishness, ignorance, and passion,—comes social upheaval and religious revolution, its central figure the burly, heroic, great-hearted Luther; by turns a rebel and a conservative; leading the successful revolt of Teutonic Europe against Rome, but leaving reconstruction to other hands.
Then we have Calvin, the builder of the creed of Protestantism; in its substance little but a symmetrical statement of mediaeval ideas, but resting its appeal not on authority, but logic; or, more exactly, on the authority of a book, which, having no longer an infallible interpreter, must be judged by human reason as to its contents and at last as to its nature and origin. Thus, unconsciously, Calvin initiated a religious democracy and ultimately a religion of reason; while for the time he established a creed more austere and grim than the Catholic. Opposite him stands Loyola, the reviver of Catholicism, infusing it with a new heroism and self-sacrifice; reaffirming and intensifying its authority; scornful of speculation, powerful in organization; zealot, missionary, educator; giving to ecclesiastical obedience an added emphasis, to organization a new force.
For a typical group in the next century, let us take Francis Bacon, leading the human intellect away from abstractions and from other worlds to the close, intelligent study of the material world in which men live. Beside him stands Shakspere, reading the world of humanity with eyes neither biased by creed nor sublimed by faith; portraying with marvelous range the joys, sorrows, humors of mankind; showing on his impartial canvas a true humanity, far different from the fictitious saint and fictitious sinner of the theologian; showing, as with the truth of nature, "virtue in her shape how lovely;" but with no consolation beside the grave, no satisfying ideal for man's pursuit nor rule for man's guidance. Near him we see "the Shakspere of divines," Jeremy Taylor; he, too, is close to the realities of life, but he is planted firm on the belief in a supernatural revelation of God, Christ, and a hereafter, and for those who so believe offers a simple, noble way of "Holy Living and Dying."
In Cromwell is embodied the attempt of extreme Protestantism to mould society and the state by the authority of a supernatural religion. The Puritan creed for which he stands is a mixture of Hebraic and Calvinistic elements; the Puritan temper is at its best heroic and austere, made despotic by its confidence of divine authority, and by its supernaturalism made indifferent to the new science and to the various elements of human nature on which statesmanship must build. Its political sway is brief, its effects on English and American character are lasting.
In the next century the master minds stand outside of Christianity. Voltaire assails the whole ecclesiastical and supernatural fabric with terrible weapons of hard sense and derision. For the target of his arrows he has a church at once corrupt, tyrannical, and weak, and a creed which the best intelligence has outgrown. He heartily scouts the church, dogma, miracle; admits a vague Deity and a possible hereafter, but cares little for them; is fearless, jovial, generous,—a rollicking, comfortable, formidable apostle of negations.
Into the vacuum he creates comes Rousseau, and at his touch there well up again deep fountains of feeling, belief, desire. Rousseau, too, has left behind him the church and its dogmas; but he craves love, joy, action, and finds scope for them. He delights in nature's beauty, and it is the symbol to him of a God in whom there remains of the Christian Deity only the element of beneficence. He exhorts men to return to nature, but it is a somewhat unreal nature, a dream of primeval innocence and simplicity. He idealizes the family relation, and brings wisdom and gentleness to the training of the child. He lacks the Hebraic and Puritan stress on conscience; the mild benevolence of his Deity is somewhat remote from the ethical need of man and from the actual procedure or the universe; Rousseau himself is tainted with sensuality,—a diseased, suffering, pathetic nature, with "sweet strings jangled," worthy of pity and of gratitude.
In France, the highest intelligence was at war with established institutions,—the Encyclopaedists, Voltaire, Rousseau, against the Catholic church and the reigning authorities: on the one side persecution, but growing feeble; on the other side derision or evasion or attack. In England, a large measure of civil and religious freedom gave the intellectual combatants a fairer field and a milder temper. The English genius showed itself as practical, matter-of-fact, and moderate. Supernatural Christianity was attacked and defended; against the assault on the miracles the defense was really a shifting of the ground, and an insistence as by Butler on an ethical order in the observed workings of the world, which gives a sort of analogue and support to the Christian scheme of future retribution. In speculative thought the prevailing school, as in Locke, approached reality from the side of sense-knowledge, till Hume showed how this road led to a denial of miracle and in philosophy to a fundamental skepticism. Berkeley reverted to the ideal philosophy, and there seemed but a continuance of the eternal seesaw of metaphysics.
In Germany, Kant sank his plummet deeper. He found indeed in the working of the pure intellect an outcome of self-contradiction. But he recognized, as the most certain guide to reality which man's inner world affords, the commanding sense of duty,—the "moral imperative;" and through this he found the presence and the authoritative voice of a moral deity.
Goethe lived through a rich and various experience, of book-culture, emotion, conversance with men and affairs, in the attitude of an explorer and observer, unbound by creeds, but open to all teaching from past records or present impressions. The projection of this experience was an ideal of life which gave large scope to all human faculties,—to knowledge, pleasure, passion, service,—under a wise self-control, and with theoretical allegiance to a moral law and a future hope not unlike the law and the hope of Christianity. It was an ideal which appealed only to the man of intellectual habit, and which lacked the note of heroism and self-sacrifice.
It was the opposite quality, the passion of self-forgetful service, which won for Christianity its most notable triumph in this century, in the movement led by John Wesley. In Wesley, Protestantism came back to the rescue of the poor, as Catholicism came back in Francis of Assisi. Among the peasants and colliers of England, among the backwoodsmen of America, swept an uplifting wave of love, joy, and hope.
Jonathan Edwards did Christianity the service of carrying Calvinism to its logical extreme, and showing what it really meant. He started in the New England ministry a strenuous speculation, which was not to rest till it destroyed the foundation from which he worked. The hell as to which comfortable churchmen were getting silent, he painted in such lurid colors that reaction and ultimate revolt were necessities of human nature. The life of holiness and love—in himself a most genuine reality—he defined in such terms of introspection and self-consciousness, that there opened a wide gulf between the forms of religion and the most sturdy and natural virtue of the time.
That sturdy and natural virtue was embodied in Benjamin Franklin,—in all this eighteenth century the best type and herald of the coming development of man. Franklin inherited the characteristic virtue of the Englishman and the Puritan; he started in ground which Puritan and Quaker had fertilized, and when the fire of the early zeal had cooled; he worked out the problem of life for himself with great independence and entire good sense. After a few vagaries and some wholesome buffeting, he determined that "moral perfection" was the only satisfying aim. But instead of proclaiming his discovery as a gospel, he quietly utilized it for his personal guidance. He had a keen eye for all utility; he carved out his own fortune; he early identified his own happiness with that of the people around him, and served the community with disinterested faithfulness through a long life. That unselfish beneficence, of which Goethe thought a single instance was enough to save his hero from the fiend to whom he had fairly forfeited his selfish soul, was the habit of Franklin's lifetime. He found the ample sanctions and rewards of virtue in the present world, though he held a cheerful hope of something beyond. In the study of this world's laws, he saw, lay the best road to human success. He recognized the homely virtues of industry and thrift, on which the young American society had worked out its real strength, and assigned to them the fundamental place, instead of that mystic and introspective piety which the Calvinist made his corner-stone. He took the lead in penetrating the secrets of nature, and not less in moulding and guiding the infant nation. If his virtue was prudential rather than heroic, his prudence was close to that large wisdom which is a right apprehension of all the facts of life. Only the realm of the poet, the mystic, the ardent lover, lay beyond his ken. He stands side by side with the grand and magnanimous figure of Washington,—the twin founders of the American republic.
The complexity and onrush of the nineteenth century may be in some degree made clear if we fix our eyes on certain typical groups of men whom we may classify under the aspects of Knowledge, Philosophy, Literature, Protestantism, Catholicism, Social Ideals, Personal Ideals.
Regarding under Knowledge what may fairly be considered as solid and irreversible acquisition,—the general movement of humanity has received conspicuous interpretation by Darwin, who by most patient investigation discovered at least approximately the path by which man has been developed out of the lower animal forms. Spencer has shown, by a vast generalization of facts, the working throughout all realms of existence known to man of certain common tendencies—of variation and new and specialized formation. Apart from all debatable theories of psychology and metaphysics, he and a host of other students in the same direction have discovered clews by which the growth of human societies and their individual members can be in some degree traced under general laws.
In another department of knowledge the sacred histories of Christianity have been given a new reading by scholars, among whom Strauss, Baur, and Renan are conspicuous. The general result has been to show that these scriptures are purely human documents, and the personages they describe are purely human. Through the gospel histories Strauss ran his critical theory like a plowshare through a field of daisies. He showed especially the genesis of many of these stories by imagination working creations out of Old Testament texts. Baur led the way in discovering by marvelous analysis the composite influences which helped to shape the apostolic histories in the interest of party or of piety. Renan reillumined the scene which his predecessors seemed to convert into a dreary waste, by reconceiving, with erudition illumined by genius and sympathy, the personality of Jesus of Nazareth as a human character, nowise infallible, but a sublime leader of the race. While Christianity has thus been brought to the level of a natural religion, its old-time adversaries, the other world-religions such as Buddhism, Brahmanism, Islamism, have been shown by sympathetic students to be vast upward essays of mankind toward truth and goodness. That no religion is handed down complete from heaven, and that all religions are expressions of human aspiration and effort, is coming to be accepted as axiomatic.
Turning from well-established knowledge to theoretical schemes of the universe, the three typical names in this century are Hegel, Comte, and Spencer. Hegel stood for the interpretation of all existence in terms of man's inner world—thought and being are regarded as identical, and the movement of thought, expressed by a new kind of logic, becomes interpreter of the development of the universe. In absolute revulsion from this tendency, Comte in his world-scheme rejected metaphysics and theology alike as belonging to the infantile stage of man, and recognized as legitimate only the "positive" knowledge which science affords. For the emotional and ethical needs of man, he offered "the religion of humanity," with the service of mankind as its worship and woman as its priestess. Spencer, equally discarding the supernatural as matter of knowledge, relegates the distinctively religious emotion to awe before a supreme power wholly inscrutable to man. He sets himself to formulate so far as possible the observed workings of the universe in which man is a part; he makes Evolution the central principle; he finds in Heredity and Environment the great formative influences upon the individual; and he reaffirms as of supreme importance the familiar ethical principles which mankind has discovered in its experiences.
In all these forms, the constructive philosophy of our century has visibly fallen short of the immense volume of old and new truths which it has striven to mould and formulate. The characteristic genius of the time is shown more powerfully on the one hand in the accumulation of specific knowledge, as science; and on the other hand in the imaginative portrayal of human life. The favorite vehicle of imagination has been the novel. If our successors hereafter desire to know how man in the nineteenth century appeared to himself, their best guides will be such as Scott, Hawthorne, Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Hugo, Balzac. It is the children of Bacon and those of Shakspere who are most conspicuous in the work of yesterday. To-day we seem to stand on the threshold of a more inclusive, more profound, more inspiring philosophy.
The Christian church has, like all other institutions, been deeply affected by the time-spirit. In Protestantism, the great developments have been a modification of the creed, and a transfer of energy from the winning of a future salvation to the working out of a present salvation for the individual and for society. The creed has been changed, in spirit more widely than in form, partly under the influence of reason and partly through a reawakening of spiritual and humane feeling. Schleiermacher interpreted Christianity as an emotional and ethical experience, rather than a dogmatic system. In the English church, while one refluent wave swept toward a dogmatic authority and ritualistic splendor like that of Rome, on another side the effort to reconcile the church with modern thought and fit it to modern society was carried farther and farther by Coleridge, Arnold, Robertson, Maurice, Kingsley, and Stanley; till the advance has met a sharp check at the point where rejection of miracle involves a collision with the formularies of worship. In America, a like advance has had the advantage of that more elastic polity which allows to churches of the Congregational order an easier change of creed and worship. The leaders have been, in the Unitarian line, such as Channing, who purified Christianity of its Calvinistic harshness and then of its Athanasian metaphysics; and Parker, who took the great step to simple theism,—Christian in ethics and piety, but purely naturalistic in theology. In the other great branch of the New England church,—for in New England alone has America shown religious originality,—Bushnell in a scholastic way, and Beecher with poetic and popular power, resolved the dogmatic system into a supremacy in the universe of love and holiness, embodied in a deity who became actually incarnated as Christ. Phillips Brooks, exercising a spiritual power of extraordinary purity and intensity, and so unspeculative that he felt no difficulty in the formulae of the Episcopal church, taught a religion in which Christ represents a sublimed and perfect humanity, a realized ideal, the inspiration and helper of men who are his brothers.
In the Catholic church, two Popes stand as representative, Plus IX. and Leo XIII. Under the first, the monarchic system of the church was made complete, and the highest function of the Council, the definition of religious truth, was assigned to the Pope. By Leo XIII. this autocracy is administered in sympathy largely with modern ideas. The church allies itself less with the temporal monarch than with the common people. It throws much of its force into ethical channels. Its characteristic interest is in education, temperance, social reform; and along with these it still ministers publicly and privately to that communion with God in which it places the foundation and secret of human life. Its limitations are that it still claims not only to persuade but to rule—a useful function toward some classes, but impossible toward other classes; that its pretension to infallibility obliges it to misread history; and that its foundation of dogma admits no frank and full reconciliation with modern knowledge.
But to know the full mind and heart of our age, we must again take a survey beyond the church walls. The emotional forces which have moved the world have been largely in the direction of certain social aspirations. The first was for Liberty—freedom from the tyranny of king's and priests. It won its first great victory in America, where the War of Independence and the making of the Constitution marked by a brave struggle and a masterpiece of good sense the consummation of many years' growth of an English shoot in virgin soil. England herself has followed with more unequal steps to a similar result. In France, there was volcanic explosion which convulsed Europe. The other Continental states have variously followed, save Russia, which as yet lies impotent under despotism. Following the substantial success of the effort for Liberty, or blending with it, came the aspiration for a better Social Order. In one phase, this worked toward the consolidation of nations on natural lines of race and history, as in Germany and Italy. In America, the two ideas of universal Freedom and national Union, conflicting for a while with each other, blent at last and triumphed after a mighty struggle. The supreme figure in that struggle was Abraham Lincoln; who in his public capacity illustrated how the most complicated problems of statesmanship find their best solution through good-will, resolution, patience, and homely shrewdness; while in his own life he showed that a man may rise above misfortune and melancholy, unaided by creed or church, working only by absolute fidelity to the right as he sees the right, till he renders to his fellows a supreme service and wins their unbounded love.
The aspiration for Social Order pauses not when it has won national unity and harmony. The principle and the result of the existing industrial system no longer content those who live under it. That system has been stimulated by the enormous material acquisitions which have flowed from invention. It has improved in some degree the condition of most members of society, but with a marked inequality in the improvement, and at the cost of the mutual hostility which unchecked competition involves, and which is fruitful in moral mischief and material waste. The laborer has gained in intelligence by the school and the newspaper; holding the vote, he feels himself one of the masters of the state; sympathy draws him to his own class. The scholar sees that the system of unchecked competition is an outgrowth of conditions which are changing, and which ought to change. The idealist longs for a society which shall effectually seek the highest good of every member, and supplement the hunger for personal advantage with satisfaction in the good of all. The toiler and the idealist unite to seek a more generous and serviceable order in the community, and the tendency is vaguely called Socialism. One conspicuous exponent is Karl Marx, who, with his followers, would make the highly centralized German state the starting-point for a still more authoritative and minute regulation of the community, directed to the equal material benefit of all its members. By a different road a degree of fraternal organization is being attained, through voluntary associations of workingmen, for mutual support as toward their employers, or for independent production or distribution. All definite and dogmatic schemes of social reform prove upon challenge to need adjustment and modification, to fit the actual workings of a society already infinitely complex. It is as the sentiment which for want of a better word we call socialistic works along with that broad and candid study of fact which we call scientific, and toward an ideal in which the material is but an instrument of the spiritual,—that there is solid promise of advance.
With these sentiments of Liberty and Social Order may be named what is sometimes called Philanthropy, or in a broader way of speaking may be named Humanity,—the unselfish passion for the good of others, the ardor of service, to which early Christianity gave outlet in missions, and which now throws itself into reform, education, amelioration in every direction of human need.
More central to man than any social ideal is the personal ideal. For society is but an aggregation of units; state, church, community, family, have their aim and outcome in the individual man; they are serviceable only as through them he becomes good and happy. What new interpretations has this century seen of the personal ideal? They may partly be read in a group of poets of the English-speaking people. Wordsworth, loyal to the forms of the old Christianity, shows life as really sustained and gladdened by simple duty and by the sacramental beauty of nature—one giving the rule of conduct, the other disclosing the divinity of the world. Tennyson gives in "In Memoriam" that interpretation of human life which comes when love is sublimed by death. Browning shows the soul face to face with the doubt, the denial, the dismay, which are added to the foes of human peace in an age which has lost the old faith, and shows the soul victorious over all by its own energy, constancy, and joy. In Whittier, the dogmatic system of Christianity is transformed into a spirit of fidelity, brotherhood, and tender trust. Emerson gives that direct vision of divine reality, seen in nature, in humanity, in the heart's innermost recesses, which is possible to a soul purified by moral fidelity, reverent of natural law, and winged by holy desire.
These have been the prophets of hope and of victory. The dark message of defeat and despair has also had its full expression. Satiety with material good, disappointment of inward joy, the loss of the old objects of adoration and trust, have inspired utterances in every key of gloom, impotence, despondency verging toward suicide. Schopenhauer has formulated a philosophy of pessimism, and through a host of the minor story-tellers and versifiers runs the note of discouragement and abandonment. The most dangerous alliance which besets man is that between Sensuality and Unbelief, whispering together in his ear, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die!" Sometimes unbelief is at the widest remove from sensuality; it may go with pure devotion to truth and thirst for goodness. There are pathetic and noble voices of seekers after God, which when they do not gladden yet strengthen and purify, and which catch at moments an exquisite tone of peace and joy. Such are Clough and Matthew Arnold. We have one moralist of the Spencerian school, George Eliot, who unites a strong ethical sense with a wonderful reading of human nature. Her essential message, told again and again in every book, is, "Life may be ruined by self-indulgence—beware!" If we ask, "But may life be saved by fidelity?" her answer is uncertain. And in her own life we read, with humbled eyes, the defect which marred the note of triumph and deepened the note of warning.
If, again, as to the Personal Ideal, we revert to the basal elements of character,—to the homely, every-day aspect,—to the life not only of the cultivated few but of the mass of humanity,—the new perception has been reached, that Work is the basis of all personal and social virtue. Toil, said the old Scripture, is God's punishment for man's sin. Toil, says the religious enthusiast, is a necessary incident of an existence whose higher exercise lies in spiritual emotion reaching toward a future Paradise. But toil, to modern eyes, is the root which binds man to his native earth, and transmits all the sap which creates flowers and fruit. Intelligent, arduous, thrifty toil is the mother of greatness. "Do the next thing,—do the nearest duty,—labor rather than question,"—is the most articulate note in Carlyle's stormy message. The old charity was to give bread to the hungry; the new charity is to help the hungry to work for their bread. A generation ago it seemed to American reformers that the nation's problem would be solved if once the slaves were freed. They were set free, and then it was seen that the whole question of their future destiny was still to be met. Practical necessity, religious zeal, political schemes, all played their part; but the best answer came through the apostle Armstrong, "Character, wrought out through education and labor." The inherited devotion of Christian missionaries caught the light of personal experience and observation, and a man in whom heroic temper blent with shrewdest wisdom laid the foundation of an education transcending in its aims and results the whole traditional system of school and university. It is an object-lesson of supreme significance. That way lies the future education of our children,—character its aim, nature its chief book, exercise of all the bodily and spiritual powers its method.
Here, then, are the results of our century as they bear on man's higher life. A religion through special revelation has been displaced by a religion which faces all the facts of existence and bases itself on them. Man has found new clews to read the story of his past, and new ways to mould his present and future. The old ethical ideals have been reaffirmed, broadened, purified. The task of building personal life and of ordering society has been set before man in fresh clearness, under heavy penalties for failure and heart-filling rewards for success. It is seen that the humble path of moral obedience issues in celestial heights of spiritual vision. Out of the noblest use of the Here and Now springs the assurance of a Hereafter and the sense of a present eternity. The way to the Highest is open, inviting, commanding. The simplest may enter, and the strongest must give his full strength to the quest.
THE IDEAL OF TO-DAY
The way of the highest life is clear and certain. Its first and last precept is fidelity to the best we know. Its constant process is that fidelity wins moral growth and spiritual vision.
All attempts to demonstrate the nature and attributes of God, all effort to prove by argument that the universe is administered by righteousness and benevolence, are aside from the main road. The real task for man is to order his own life, as an individual and in society. To do that, he needs to understand his own life as a practical matter; he needs to study the procedure of the world in which he stands; he needs to rally every force of knowledge, resolution, sympathy, reverence, aspiration, upon this high business of personal and social living. As he achieves such life, there develop in him the faculties which read sublime meanings in the universe of which he is a part. As he becomes divine, he finds divinity everywhere.
The heart of religion is joy, peace, energy, support under suffering, inward harmony, true relation with fellow creatures, grateful sense of the past, full fruition of the present, glad out-reach to a beckoning future. The way to that life is wholly independent of doubtful argumentation. It lies simply in a whole-hearted conformity to what are known beyond all question as the worthy aims, the just requirements, the righteous laws.
Let us consider somewhat at large the unfolding of this philosophy of life. Let us seek to sympathetically interpret the deepest, most significant working of the human spirit in our time.
Is it not the distinctive note of the thoughtful and honest mind of to-day, as compared with a like mind some centuries ago, that it contemplates more directly the actual procedure of the universe, is less concerned with supernatural personages and transactions, and more attentive to what has happened and is happening in this mundane sphere? The piety of our ancestors contemplated the justice and mercy of God as manifested in the counsels of eternity,—his righteous condemnation of the wicked, and the love-inspired sacrifice of Christ. The philosophy of our ancestors was largely an attempt to map out a world-scheme from man's inner consciousness. The modern thinker, whether he calls himself Christian or not, is inclined to make his essay toward the Supreme Power by way of the observed workings of the universe. And certain general impressions which he thus receives we may distinguish.
That aspect of things which now engages us with the fascination of a new and vast discovery is what we term "Evolution." Its spectacle, on the one hand, prompts a sure and soaring hope. In the sum of things we see a movement upward and still upward,—from unorganized to organized matter, from unconscious to sentient existence, from beast to man, from savage to saint,—and who can say to what height in the coming ages? But on the other hand we see that thus far at least the progress of the favored is at deadly cost to the losers. And we see that parallel with the ascending white line of humanity runs an ascending black line,—the bad man of civilization is in some ways worse than the bad man of savagery. And this complexity of good and evil is recognized at a time when a higher sensibility has made the old familiar pain and sin of humanity seem more than ever intolerable.
Yet the spectacle of creation and of the world, as we see and know it, makes upon us an impression far beyond that of mere perplexity or dismay. It produces a sentiment which we may best call awe. All the great aspects of nature wake in us this reverential emotion. A familiar instance is the effect upon us of the starry heavens. The Psalmist thrilled at that sight,—how much more deeply are we moved, knowing what we know of the vastness and the order! Some like effect on us has the unfolding revelation of the whole process of nature. "I think the thoughts of God after him," said Kepler. Let any man study in some clear exposition the development of the human race from the animal; and the wonder of the process, the unity of design, the unforeseen goals reached one by one, the irresistible impression that the harmony which man's little faculties can discern is but a fraction of some sublimer harmony,—these emotions have in them a surpassing power to humble, purify, and exalt the spirit.
The modern mind addresses itself to the highest reality through the actualities of existence, and of those actualities one most significant phase is the procedure and laws of nature. But there is another and more impressive aspect: it is the inner life of humanity; it is man's own conscious existence, with its struggles, victories, defeats, its agonies and raptures, its mirth, its play, its sweetness and bitterness. This to us is the realm of real existence. In this we are at home. The march of the planets, the evolution of a world, the whole process of nature, is like the view from a window; and, gazing upon it, sits feeling, thinking, aspiring man. His consciousness is environed and conditioned by the surrounding world, but is utterly unexplained by it, wholly untranslatable in its terms. Definite and precise is the language of mathematics, of chemistry, of physical procedure. Mystery of mysteries is the human spirit,—mystery of mysteries and holy of holies. A new sense of the sacredness of human life has been born in this later age. It is our most precious acquisition. Better could we have waited for modern science than for modern humanity. Better could we spare the telegraph and the steam-engine and anaesthesia than that quickened sense of the value of man as man which inspires the deepest political and social movements of to-day. In all sober minds, in all lofty effort,—whatever there may be of despair of God or hopelessness of a personal future,—we see a profound recognition of the solemnity and sacredness of human existence. Through the sad pages of George Eliot, through Emerson's exultant psalm, through the reformer's battle, the socialist's scheme, runs this golden link,—the value of simple humanity.
This, then, we may say is the characteristic attitude of the man of to-day,—before the processes of nature, awe and reverence; before the life of humanity, sympathy and tenderness.
But now rises a heart-moving question. The dearest article of religious faith has been a Divine Power, governing the universe and holding to man an intimate relation involving issues of supreme significance to humanity. At this point modern thought falters. The long-familiar expression of that belief is the assertion of a personal, providential, all-just, and all-loving God. What reason have men assigned to themselves for belief in such a God, while confronted all the time by the fearful spectacle of a world in which sin and misery perpetually mingle with goodness and happiness? What has been the resource of the Christian intellect against that mystery of evil which baffled the questioner in the book of Job, and drove Lucretius to virtual atheism, and left Marcus Aurelius in doubt whether there be gods or not? The resource of the Christian thinker has been his belief that Jesus Christ was God incarnate. Here was a soul which was sinless and holy, which loved sinners so as to die for them; and this was God himself. That belief has been the foundation of Christian theology. It left the mysteries of earth's sorrow and sin unexplained; but it offered the assurance, under a most living figure, that the author and final disposer of the whole was one whose nature was love itself.
When it ceases to be believed that Jesus was God, the corner-stone of this whole structure of belief, as an intellectual conception, is gone. The void is concealed for a while by intermediate theories,—that Jesus was a kind of inferior deity, that he was at least a supernatural messenger. Frankly say that he was a man only, and we have really given up that intellectual ground of confidence in a God on which for many centuries men have stood. And, in that involuntary and most regretful surrender, and in the first impression following it, that the only discernible order is a mechanical order, with no room for worship, no hope of immortality, lies the tragedy of the thinking world to-day. For a multitude of minds, God is eclipsed, and the earth lies in shadow. In shadow, but not in despair. For still there is
"The prophetic soul Of the wide world, dreaming of things to come."
Slowly emerges a new conception. In the lowest depth of his spirit man has found that, in Robertson's words, "it is better to be true than to be false, better to be pure than to be sensual, better to be brave than to be a coward." By that sure and simple creed man lives through his darkest day. When the tree seems dead, that root lives. And presently there grows from it a nobler tree.
The turning-point from the old thought to the new is this: We see that the imperative task set to every man is not to understand the universe plan, but to live his own life successfully. It will quite suffice for most of us if we can each one do justice to the possibilities of his own existence. Those possibilities are something more than breathing and eating, sleeping and waking, toil and rest. Among his possibilities each man hopes are included contentment, joy, peace. At least there must be possible for him some right conformity to the conditions in which he is placed, some noble and spiritual satisfaction, some imparting of good to his fellow creatures. There is for him some best way of life, which it is his business to find and to follow.
And as he finds and follows it,—as he fills out the best possibilities of his own being,—so he must come into the truest relation possible for him with this whole mysterious frame of things we call the universe. As he is himself at his best, so he will get the best, the widest, the truest impression of the whole in which he is a part.
This, then, is the rational and hopeful way of addressing the supreme problem,—the problem, for the individual and for mankind, of a happiness and a success which shall be rooted in the true nature of things and the real order of the universe. We are not to start with any supposed comprehension of the general plan, whether as revealed by miracle or thought out by wise men. We are simply to live our own lives according to the best knowledge we have, the highest examples we know, the most satisfying results of our own experience. And, with whatever discipline and enrichment this process of right living may bring us, we are to hold our whole natures open, attentive, percipient to the world about us, and accept whatever shall disclose itself.
The two processes—right living and clear vision—blend constantly and intimately. We may distinguish them in our thoughts, but there is constant interplay between life and sight.
The business of living,—how infinitely complex it is, how endlessly laborious, yet how simple and how sure! Its central principle, we may say, is the right fitting of one's self to his surroundings. Modern science has learned that for every creature the condition of success is adaptation to its environment. We may use that way of speaking to express the prime necessity of man. His environment is a vast complexity of material, social, and spiritual realities.
There is for him a true way of adapting himself to these surrounding facts. He has somehow found it out in the long existence of the race; he has seen it more and more clearly. This true way is expressed by what we call right principles of conduct. It is such traits as we name courage, truth, justice, purity, love, aspiration, reverence. It includes the study of natural laws and conformity to them. It includes the search for knowledge, both for its use and for its own joy. It includes the delighted gaze upon beauty of every kind.
Whoever follows this ideal—and just as far as he follows it intelligently and earnestly—finds certain results. Whenever he acts, he finds set before him a right way to follow rather than a wrong. So from every situation he may draw strength. So he may continually find peace,—often peace won through struggle, but the deeper for the struggle. The love of beauty finds beauty everywhere. The love of living creatures finds objects everywhere, and love given brings love in response. This higher life gives joy,—not constant, alternating with sorrow; but the joy is incomparably sweeter and purer and higher than any other course of life yields, and the sorrow has such nobility that we dare not wish it absent from the mingled cup we drain. And always through joy or sorrow may come moral growth—development of character.
There is no exemption to be won from suffering, none from fear. Pain, weakness, bereavement, death,—these things must come, and we must sometimes tremble before them,—no divine hand will pluck them away. But in our fear we learn a deeper strength.
These are the gifts with which Life answers our faithful service. The brave, the gentle, the peace-makers, the pure in heart, the forgiving, the patient, the heroic, are blessed,—incomparably enriched.
This is what we know of the relation of the One Power to ourselves,—that it asks the very highest and best we can give, and returns our service with the best and highest we can receive. This is what that power we name God is to us.
This is the same reality which has been apprehended under the figure of a personal God, a Heavenly Father, or a Christ. To many, those figures still express it. But those to whom the Deity is not thus personified may no less fully and vividly apprehend the divine Reality.
And further, this whole conception stands no less in stead the persons and the hours when the conscious sense of Deity fails altogether. This conception makes the essence of religion to be conformity to the homely facts about us, in the relations of fidelity, sympathy, and service. When one has no conscious thought of God, or cannot reach such thought if he tries, he can always exercise love, sympathy, admiration, self-control,—and that is enough.
The limitations of our knowledge imply everywhere a background of mystery. But that mystery is at once a stimulus to our inquiry and a prize set before our longing. In some respects it is only a challenge to search, and the horizons of knowledge forever widen before the explorer. At other points the veil never lifts, but all longing, aspiration, unsatisfied hunger, inarticulate yearning, "groanings which cannot be uttered," reach out to and lay hold on this realm of mystery. It is not an adamantine wall that encircles us, it is the tender mystery of the sunset or the starry heavens.
So of the mystery of death. The veil is not lifted, but it stirs before the breath of our prayers and hopes. The deepest fear in man is the fear of death, and that fear is conquered in him by something greater than itself. Even on the natural plane man is seldom afraid of death when it comes; it is rather the distant image that appalls him. Before the reality some instinct seems to bid him not to fear. Every noble sentiment lifts men above the dread of death. For their country on the battlefield, for other men in sudden accidents and perils, men give their lives instinctively or deliberately.
It is personal love to which death seems to menace irretrievable and final disaster. But it is personal love to which comes the divinest presage. Some voice says to our yearning heart, "Fear nothing, doubt nothing, only live!"
From our birth to our death we are encompassed by mystery, but it is a mystery which may, if we will have it so, grow warm, luminous, divine.
So, by simple fidelity, man may find within himself harmony, victory, and peace. When now, from this standpoint, he looks out on the universe,—and from no other standpoint can he hope for any clear vision,—what does he most clearly discern? These three aspects,—Order, Beauty, Life.
As he opens himself to these three aspects and actively conforms himself to them,—as he studies, obeys, and reveres the Order, as he perceives and rejoices in the Beauty, as in sympathy and service he merges his personal life in the multiform Life,—so he grows in the impression of a divine harmony and unity pervading all things. So he becomes aware of a Cosmos,—a universal order of beauty and of love. He becomes aware of it only as he becomes voluntarily and consciously a part of it. Only through the fidelity of his moral life does he feel beneath his feet a sure foundation. Only as his soul glows a spark of love does it recognize the celestial ether in which it is an atom.
At every moment and on every side we are in touch with the realities of being.
We live and move in a world of orderly procedure, to which we may adapt ourselves with growing intelligence and purpose.
Both the animate and inanimate creation is clothed in forms which minister to the sense of beauty; and the more that sense is cultivated in us, the more universally do we recognize beauty, and the more profound is its appeal to our consciousness.
In our social existence we come in touch with other souls, each with its actual or potential wealth of being, and each inviting our sympathetic response.
These—order, beauty, conscious existence—are the impact on us of the universe. The right apprehension of these and the active response to them constitute the true exercise of our own nature; and it is through that exercise that we know Life,—the one Life,—and know it to be divine.
These three aspects,—order, beauty, our fellow-lives,—let us dwell for a moment on each in turn.
An amazing stimulus to man's powers has come in the discovery that he may penetrate and follow to an indefinite extent the actual procedure of the Universe. We are only on the threshold of our discoveries. We are just beginning to see where they have their highest application. We have been harnessing the steeds of power to the service of our physical wants. We are just beginning to understand that they are to be made the ministers of building up a complete manhood. The theologian has sought to demonstrate that all natural processes work in the service of a divine righteousness. In place of any such demonstration, we are finding the true exercise of knowledge in applying for ourselves the processes of nature to the fulfillment of our noblest purposes.
We are just now at the transition point between the old and the new conception of divine Power. The old conception was: "The Almighty is a merciful father. If his children ask anything, he will give it: the weapon of desire is prayer." The new perception is: "The Almighty moves in lines which we can partly discern. By putting ourselves in line with that Power, we make it helpful: the weapon of desire is intelligent effort. Through our wills works the divine Will."
"With the great girdle of God, go and encompass the earth!"
It is moral fidelity which apprehends the true application and significance for man of that regular procedure of nature which environs and conditions him. And this Natural Order, in turn, requires the moral sense to humbly and obediently go to school to it. "You want to be good?" says Nature. "You dare to believe that even I in my mightiness am set to help you to be good? Then study my processes, and conform to them!" A new set of commandments is being written in the sight of men,—commandments learned but slowly and often transgressed, even by those whose wills are pure and whose hearts are loving. Thou shalt sufficiently rest! How perpetually in these days is that commandment broken, and with what woeful penalty! The practical basis of all religion is the religion of the body. The body politic, too, the social organism, has its code of natural laws, intelligible, imperative. And every new discovery yields guidance and utters command. "Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened!"
Only through moral fidelity is the higher meaning of Beauty won. It is the pure in heart who see God. The beauty of the human form is, on the one side, uplifting to the soul, sacramental, as if it were the shrine of a divinity. On the other side, it blends with the instincts which when unchecked in their play degrade humanity. Plato pictures the two mingled elements as two steeds yoked together, the one black, unruly, down-plunging, the other white, celestial, up-mounting, while Reason, the charioteer, strives to rule them. The nobler interpretation is slowly acquired by mankind. There are great, sometimes catastrophic, lapses; there are periods when art and literature become the servants of the earthly instead of the heavenly Venus. We still look far forward to
"The world's great bridals, chaste and calm."
Yet, little by little, the ennobling aspect of human beauty becomes a familiar perception, is wrought into a habit, is transmitted as an inheritance. Whoever achieves in himself the victory of personal purity is helping to open the eyes of mankind.
The material world becomes instinct with majesty and with sweetness to the eyes that can see. It is a revelation of which Wordsworth and Emerson are the prophets in literature, but which is written no less in many a heart quite untaught of books. The face of Mother Earth is the book in which many a man and woman and child read lessons of delight, spelled in letters of rock and fern, of brook and cowslip, of maple leaf and goldenrod. Such lessons mean little save to the pure and humble.
The distinctive voice of nature's gospel is a voice of joy. Mixing freely with humanity, we encounter the almost perpetual presence of trouble. But turning to forest and mountain and sea and sky, we are confronted with gladness ineffable. Still "the morning stars sing together and the sons of God shout for joy." Can our religion find no other emblem than the cross,—the instrument of torture? Mankind has pondered long the lesson of sorrow: dare it enter the whole inheritance of sonship, and taste the fullness of joy? Reality which thought and word cannot convey is bodied forth to us in music and in natural beauty. Music is the deepest voice of humanity, and beauty is the answering smile of God. When the poet-philosopher has crowded into verse all that he can express of life's meaning,—of the subservience of evil to good, the "deep love lying under these pictures of time,"—he invokes at the last the very look of earth and sea and sky as the best answer:—
"Uprose the merry Sphinx, And crouched no more in stone; She melted, into purple cloud, She silvered in the moon; She spired into a yellow flame; She flowered in blossoms red; She flowed into a foaming wave; She stood Monadnoc's head.
"Thorough a thousand voices Spoke the universal dame, 'Who telleth one of my meanings Is master of all I am.'"
Yet is the chief exercise of our life through relation with our fellow-lives. If the sublime joy of nature's companionship could be made constant, at the price of isolation from our kind, the price were a thousand-fold too great. And it is through true and sympathetic relation with other lives that we chiefly come into conscious harmony with the universe. It is in a right interplay with mankind that we get closest to the heart of things.
"God is love." So I am told: how shall I interpret it in my experience? Is it a proposition to be believed about some being throned above my sight? If I exercise my mind in that direction, if I weigh and balance and sift the intellectual evidence, I may toil to a doubtful conclusion. But let me, issuing forth from my ponderings, put myself into kindly relations with my fellow beings,—let me so much as pat affectionately the head of the honest dog who meets me on the street,—and a thrill like the warmth of spring touches my chilled intellect. Let me, for a day only, make each human contact, though but of a passing moment, a true recognition of some other soul, and I feel myself somehow in right relation with the world. "He that loveth knoweth God, and is born of God."
At the heart of all love is an instinct of reciprocity. It may or may not get a return from its immediate object, but somehow it opens the fountains of the universe. The heart that loves finds itself, it scarce knows how, beloved.
Such, then, is the process, and such the revelation. The first step, the constant requirement, the unsparing hourly need, is obedience to the known right. The sequence is an ever-widening sense of a sweet and celestial encompassment.
The man rightly practiced in all noble exercises of life—in moral fidelity, in reverence and sympathy, in observation and conformity to the actual conditions of the world about him—will find pouring in upon him a beauty, a love, a divinity, which fill the soul with a heavenly vision. And that soul, in whatever of extremity may come to it, has under its feet the eternal rock.
Through the serious literature of to-day runs a bitter wail,—the cry that life is sad and dark and cruel. Sad and dark and cruel it is, until one meets it sword in hand. The great Mother will have her children to be heroes. She tests them, frightens them, masks herself sometimes in terror. Face the terror, drive straight at the danger, and the mask dissolves to show the celestial smile, the "all-repaying eyes."
The road is an arduous one. The aged philosopher, you remember, was asked by a youthful monarch, "Tell me if you please in a few words what is the final fruit and outcome of philosophy?" The philosopher answered him, "Cultivate yourself diligently in all virtue and wisdom for thirty years, and then you may be able to partly understand the answer to your question."
It is an arduous road, but it leads to reality. All short and easy answers to the supreme question dissatisfy after the first flush. The confidence of the dogmatic answer, we soon discover, has no sufficient authority to back it. The glib theoretical answer leads us, after all, to a Balance of Probabilities. That is the best God that theoretic philosophy can give us. It may be better than nothing. But who can love a Balance of Probabilities? Who can feel the hand of such a deity as that when his hand gropes for support in face of temptation, disaster, heartbreak?
We are told, "It may suffice for the strong and saintly to bid them 'Prove for yourself that the universe is good;' but what kind of gospel is this for the weak, for the child, for the average man and woman?" The answer is: The vast majority of mankind always have lived and always will live largely by reliance on some person or some body of persons or some social atmosphere of opinion. That authority of the church which has availed so much is just the confidence of a crowd in the leadership of certain men to whom they are accustomed to look up. In the order of nature, always the leaders will lead. What the strong and saintly receive with vivid impression and profound assurance, the mass who feel their influence will accept a good deal on their authority. The child will catch the faith of its father and mother. But, further, in its very nature, that method of approach to the highest reality which requires only goodness and open-heartedness and love is available to the little child and to the simplest mind. When Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peace-makers, the pure in heart, they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness," every one understood him.
But it may be asked, Does this attitude bring man face to face with a personal God? Personal he will be to some: to many the only solid and adequate expression of a real being is a personal being. Nay, to many only a human personality means anything. A great preacher and poet of our day once said that he never thought of God except under the figure of Christ,—a human figure in some human occupation and attitude. Let Divinity body itself as Christ to minds so constituted. Let others invoke "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." But impose no constraint and lay no ban on those to whom, as Carlyle says, "the Highest cannot be spoken of in words. Personal! Impersonal! One! Three! What meaning can any mortal, after all, attach to them in reference to such an object?" It is not these forms of thought that are essential. What is essential is a way of living access to the Highest.
The adequate conception—the keynote—must be one that is sufficient alike for the every-day mood, for the exalted hours, and for the emergencies. That keynote is given in this truth: that there is no moment so dull or so hard but one can ask himself, What is the best the situation allows? and conform to that; can open his eyes to some beauty close at hand; can enter sympathetically into some neighboring life.
We prescribe to ourselves certain attitudes, and strive toward certain ideals. But the supreme hours are those in which there flow in upon our consciousness the inshinings and the upholdings of some unfathomed Power. We are led, we are carried. We feel, we know not whence nor how, a peace that passeth understanding and a love that casteth out fear.
This is the substance of that religious experience in which throughout the ages the heart of man has found its deepest support and encouragement. The experience has clothed itself to the imagination in the garb of this or that creed or climate. It is liable to debasements and counterfeits, but no more liable than all other noble emotions and experiences. Sometimes there is the culmination of a moral struggle, and the whole course of life receives a new direction. Sometimes there is an illumination and joy and peace. It is an exaltation of the soul in which gladness blends with moral energy. No chapter of human life is written in deeper letters than those which tell of victory over temptation, strength out of weakness, radiance beside the grave, through this divine uplift.
There is another experience, more common, less dependent on individual constitution, which bears an inward message of soberer tone but of like import. It is the peace which attends the consciousness of right-doing. Wordsworth personifies it as the approval of Duty, "stern daughter of the voice of God:"—
"Stern Lawgiver! Yet thou dost wear The Godhead's most benignant grace; Nor know we anything more fair Than is the smile upon thy face."
The faithful child of duty, whatever his creed, whatever his temperament, is naturally the possessor of a steady, calm assurance. Somehow, he feels, it is well.
Reasonings about immortality lead to little result. Convinced or unconvinced, we profit little by a mere opinion. We speculate, doubt, reject, or hope; and in either case the moral conduct of life is, perhaps, not much affected. But there come hours when to love and aspiration the heavenly vision opens, and the sense of its own eternity thrills the soul.
The crying need of the heart is always a present need. No promise of a far-away satisfaction is sufficient for it. And answering to just that need is the experience, sometimes given, that the human love once ours is ours still in its fullness,—some richer fullness even than that of days gone by. There are hours in which the heart's voice is,