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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

A Lesson for the Day

A Lesson for the Day.

Relation should be "a thousand-voiced psalm," from the heart of man to man's God, who is the original of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, and is revealed in all that is good, true, and beautiful. But Religion is amongst us, in general, but a compliance with 'custom; a prudential calculation; a matter of expediency; where by men hope, through giving up a few dollars in the shape of pev-tax, and a little time in the form of church-going, to gain the treasures of heaven and eternal life. Thus Religion has become Profit; not reverence of the Highest, but vulgar hope and vulgar fear; a working for wages, to be estimated by the rules of lots and gain. Men love Religion as the mercenary worldling his well-endowed wife; not for herself, but for what she brings. They think Religion is useful to the old, the sick, and the poor, to charm them with a comfortable delusion through the cloudy land of this earthly life; they wish themselves to keep some running account therewith, against the day when they also shall be old, and sick, and poor. Christianity has two modes of action, direct on the heart and life of a man, and indirect through conventions, institutions, and other machinery; and in our time the last is almost its sole influence. Hence men reckon Christianity as valuable to keep men in order; it would have been good policy for a shrewd man to have invented it, on speculation, like other contrivances, for the utility of the thing. In their eyes the church, especially the church for the poor, is necessary as the court-house or the jail; the minister is a well-educated Sabbath-day constable; and both are part of the great property establishment of the times. They value Religion, not because it is true and divine, but because it serves a purpose. They deem it need-full as the poll-tax, or the militia system, a national bank, or a sub-treasury. They value it among other commodities : they might give it a place in their inventories of stock; and hope of Heaven, or faith in Christ, might be summed up in the same column with money at one per cent.

The problem of men is not first the Kingdom of God, that is, a perfect life on the earth, lived for its own sake; but first all other things, and then, if the Kingdom of God come of itself, or is thrown into the bargain, like pack-thread and paper with a parcel of goods, why very well; they are glad of it. It keeps "all other things" from soiling. Does religion take hold of the heart of us? Here and there, among rich men and poor men, page 313 especially among women, you shall find a few really religious: whose life is a prayer, and Christianity their daily breath. They would have been religious had they been cradled among cannibals, and before the Flood. They are divine men; of whom the spirit of God seems to take early hold, and Reason and Religion to weave up, by celestial instinct, the warp and woof of their daily life. Judge not the ago by its religious geniuses. The mass of men care little for Christianity; were it not so, the sins of the forum and the market-place, committed in a single month, would make the laud rock to its centre. Men think of Religion at Church on the Sabbath; they make sacrifices, often great sacrifices, to support public worship, and attend it most sedulously, these men and women. But here the matter ends. Religion does not come into their soul; does not show itself in their housekeeping and trading. It does not shine out of the windows of morning and evening, and speak to them at every turn. How many young men in the thousand say thus to themselves, Of this will I make sure, a Christian character and divine life, all other things be as God sends? How many ever set their hearts on any moral and religious object, on achieving a perfect character, for example, with a fraction of the interest they take in the next election? Nay, woman also must share the same condemnation. Though into her rich heart God more generously sows the divine germs of Religion; though this is her strength, her loveliness, her primal excellence; yet she also has sold her birthright for tinsel ornaments, and the admiration of deceitful lips. Men think of Religion when they are sick, old, in trouble, or are about to die, forgetting that it is a crown of life at all times; man's choicest privilege; his highest possession; the chain that sweetly links him to Heaven. If good for anything, it is good to live by. It is a small thing to die religiously; a devil could do that; but to live divine is a man's work.

Since Religion is thus regarded or disregarded by men, we find that talent and genius, getting insight of this, float off to the market, the workshop, the senate, the farmer's field, or the courthouse, and bring home with honour, the fleece of gold. Meanwhile, anointed dulness, arrayed in canonicals, his lesson duly conned, presses, semi-somnous, the consecrated cushions of the pulpit, and pours forth weekly his impotent drone, to the blest with bland praises, so long as he disturbs not respectable iniquity slumbering in his pew, nor touches an actual sin of the times, nor treads an inch beyond the beaten path of the Church. Well is it for the safety of the actual Church, that genius and talent forsake its rotten walls, to build up elsewhere the Church of the first-born, and pray largely and like men—Thy kingdom come. There is a concealed scepticism among us, all the more deadly because concealed. It is not a denial of God,—though this it is whispered to our ear is not rare,—for men have opened their eyes too broadly not to notice the fact of God, everywhere apparent, without and page 314 within; still less is it disbelief of the Scriptures; there has always been too much belief in their letter, though far too little living "of their truths. But there is a doubt of man's moral and religious nature; a doubt if righteousness be so super-excellent. We distrust Goodness and Religion, as the blind doubt if the sun be so fine as men tell of; or as the deaf might jeer at the ecstatic raptures of a musician. Who among men trusts Conscience as he trusts his eye or ear? With them the highest in man is self-interest. When they come to outside goodness, therefore, they are driven by fear of hell, as by a scorpion whip; or bribed by the distant pleasures of heaven. Accordingly, if they embrace Christianity, they make Jesus, who is the archetype of a divine life, not a man like his brothers, who had human appetites and passions; was tempted in the flesh; was cold, and hungry, and faint, and tired, and sleepy, and dull—each in its season—and who needed to work out his own salvation, as we also must do; but they make him an unnatural character; passionless; amphibious not man and not God; whose holiness was poured on him from some celestial urn, and so was in no sense his own work; and who, therefore, can be no example for us, goaded as we are by appetite, and bearing the ark of our destiny in our own hands, It is not the essential element of Christianity, love to man and love to God, men commonly gather from the New Testament; but some perplexing dogma, or some oriental dream. How few religious men can you find, whom Christianity takes by the hand, and bads through the Saharahs and Siberias of the world; men whose lives are noble; who can speak of Christianity as of their trading, and marrying, out of their own experience, because they have lived it! There is enough cant of Religion, creeds written on sanctimonious faces, as signs of that emptiness of heart, "which passeth show," but how little real Religion, that conies home to men's heart and life, let experience decide.

The Christianity of the Church is a very poor thing; it is not bread, and it is not drink. The Christianity of Society is still worst; it is bitter in the mouth and poison in the blood. Still men are hungering and thirsting, though not always knowingly, after the true bread of life. Why shall we perish with hunger? In our Father's house is enough and to spare. The Christianity of Christ is high and noble as ever. The religion of Reason, of the Soul, the Word of God, is still strong and flame-like, as when first at dwelt in Jesus, the chiefest incarnation of God, and now the pattern-man. Age has not dimmed the lustre of this light that lighteneth all, though they cover their eyes in obstinate perversity, and turn away their faces from this great sight. Man has list none of his God-likeness. He is still the child of God, and he Father is near to us as to him who dwelt in his bosom. Conscience has not left us. Faith and hope still abide; and love never fails. The Comforter is with us; and though the man Jesus; no longer blesses the earth, the ideal Christ, formed in the page 315 heart, is with us to the end of the world. Let us then build on these. Use good words when we can find them, in the church or out of it. Learn to pray, to pray greatly and strong; learn to reverence what is highest; above all learn to live, to make Religion daily work, and Christianity our common life. All days shall then be the Lord's day; our homes, the House of God, and our labour, the ritual of Religion. Then we shall not glory in men, for all things shall be ours; we shall not be impoverished by success, but enriched by affliction. Our service shall be worship, not idolatory. The burthens of the Bible shall not overlay and crush us; its wisdom shall make us strong, and its piety enchant us. Paul and Jesus shall not be our masters, but elder brothers, who open the pearly gate of truth and cheer us on, leading us to the tree of life. We shall find the Kingdom of Heaven and enjoy it now, not waiting till death ferries us over to the other world. We shall then repose beside the rock of ages, smitten by divine hands, and drink the pure water of life as it flows from the Eternal, to make earth green and glad. We shall serve no longer a bond slave to tradition, in the leprous host of sin, but become free men, by the law and spirit of life. Thus like Paul shall we form the Christ within; and like Jesus, serving and knowing God directly, with no mediator intervening, become one with Him. Is not this worth a man's wish; worth his prayers; worth his work; to seek the living Christianity, the Christianity of Christ? Not having this, we seem but bubbles,—bubbles on an ocean, shoreless and without bottom; bubbles that sparkle a moment in the sun of life, then burst to be no more. But with it we are men, immortal souls, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.—Parker.