« PoprzedniaDalej »
I admitted that I had, and was puzzled what to think of them, or their ultimate object; but that it seemed subversion of all the principles of good government.
“ Doubtless," he replied with strong emphasis. “It is a principle based on lawlessness, probably the offspring of arbitrary misrule and oppression ; and the end, to erect a power which will be the ruin of existing forms of authority, and the substitution of man's own corrupt will, which is the very essence of selfishness.”
“Your observations are of the strongest," I remarked, “and almost amount to a prediction."
“Do you think them unwarranted by the tendency they manifest ?” he inquired.
“ Well, perhaps it is hardly fitting for me to give an opinion; my knowledge being so very limited. But one would think that those in power ought to know how to deal with the matter.
“ Possibly they may be of the same opinion," he returned pleasantly; " and at other times and with other means than those they are likely to employ, might have produced the desired effect. I fear this task will be too great for them now, though I grieve to think so. It is too deeply seated, and the measures almost certain to be adopted by such a power as Russia, are likely to increase the very evil they are meant to exterminate. For my own part, I think there are worse days to come, and that political systems will soon be on their trial, if indeed they are not already in court.”
" Your observations strike me forcibly," said I; "and give shape to some undeveloped fancies that have floated on my mind on this very subject. There is great social unrest in all quarters, domestic, political, and religious ; and certainly there seem to be indications of a coming struggle. But some think that good will grow out of the contest, and that a rich gain will more than compensate for the sufferings of the conflict."
“True," replied my companion. “But what if the result of the conflict be to break up all existing constitutions ; and the expectations of these good people prove, as regards their own lives, baseless as a dream ?"
“ That would be hardly likely, I should think, judging merely from appearances. When one views the love of order so generally manifested in this our own country for instance, it seems almost impossible.”
“And yet, even here is that very unrest plainly observed to which you referred just now."
" True," I rejoined; “bat scarcely tending to the destruction of its own superstructure, I should hope. Does not the unrest arise more from the desire to build up, and upon, and thus improve that already in existence ?"
“Look well at the motive-power, and tell me if ambition and selfinterest be not the largest factors in the movement. If you are convinced of this, will you say that it is likely to succeed in the direction you have indicated ?-nay, can it do so ?”.
“I see your drift, sir, and feel the force of your question," I replied. " But I am rather shy of the presentiments of sensational alarmists; and this, perhaps, has kept me from examining more deeply beneath the surface of things."
"I admire your candour. I have but small regard to sensational statements ; yet it behoves one to watch the signs of the times, and the spirit of the age that precedes a crisis,—and we are surely on the verge of a mighty one. These are by no means obscure, and indicate the direction to which all things are tending. You will forgive me," he added with marked courtesy, “ if I presume that you are connected with the mercantile profession like myself."
I replied that I had been connected with the commercial world for more than thirty years; and was quite at his service, though I scarcely realised that his thought had reference to a trading transaction.
“Thanks," said he, evidently relieved. " You are right in your conjecture. Yet I would be glad if you would cast your thoughts back twenty or thirty years, and then inform me if you have not observed a change in the commercial world, -I mean as to the principle, and the mode of doing business ?"
Allowing for some exceptions, I can answer your question with a decided yes,' and a great change.”
“Do you regard it as an improvement ?”
" On the contrary,” I returned. "I would rejoice to see the princi. ples of that time in fuller operation than they are at present. There were many black sheep, and plenty of loose principle about then; but the bulk of business men in those days were of high principle, and regarded honour and integrity. The spirit of the commercial world is changed, and the number of really bigh-principled men are few.”
" Your experience is my own," said my companion, “only mine is rather more lengthy, stretching over fifty years. From head to foot commercial life is diseased. Now, as we are agreed on this point, may I ask if you have much or any hope of improvement ? or have you observed any safe indications tending that way ?”
“I regret to say, none whatever.” “Do you think it likely to come ?” “ Not without a revolution." " Will that come from within ?" “I doubt it much. The force must, I think, come from without.”
“ Exactly. I am deeply interested in our conversation, but fear you will regard me with some unpleasant feeling by the persistency of the subject, and my frequent inquiries. Say, without reserve, if it be at all disagreeable to you."
I assured my companion that he was not more interested than myself, and begged that he would feel himself at perfect liberty to proceed.
“I am grateful. May I ask,” he continued,“ if you take any interest in watching the aspect of the religious world ?''
“ Very much so. As a lay member, I have been connected with the Congregational body for forty years, joining, while a lad, the Church under the charge of good John Angell James. It would be unnatural not to feel and take some interest in religious matters; and especially, in such very stirring times as we are passing through."
“Very true. You declared on the Lord's side earlier in life than myself. I was brought up in a sleepy town in Cumberland, and all the religion I knew anything about in my early days was of the most cold and formal character, making no impression on the heart, and scarcely influencing the mind. Placed in a mercantile house in London when eighteen years of age, and living in lodgings free from all former restraints, I was exposed to great temptation. I was induced to accompany an acquaintance to Surrey Chapel, and a sermon by good old Rowland Hill was the means of arresting me, and turning me from my follies to • the wisdom of the just.' I worshipped at that church some years into the pastorate of the late Rev. James Sherman. Thanks be to God! the grace He bestowed upon me has not, I trust, proved in vain."
A few pleasant interchanges here took place which drew our hearts closer together as we lovingly recognised our kinship in Christ, when he said,
“I was about to make another inquiry in order to pursue the thread of our conversation. Your experience of the commercial world is similar to my own. May I now ask, What is your impression of the professing Church of to day in its varied organisations, as compared to the time when you became connected with them,—of course taking in with the inquiry its action on its members and the world ?"
“I grieve to answer,” said I," that the change that has come over the Church has not been for the better. Some profess to be quite satisfied, and consider that we have advanced. I cannot endorse their opinion. The spirit that animates the religious world seems to be rather that of a Christianised worldliness than that which prevailed when I first entered as a member. The standard of Christian character has been lowered. Personal godliness is rather discouraged than otherwise by the blending of things secular with things sacred. Fancy bazaars, penny readings, and concert entertainments, tend to a state of heart and mind contrary to the principles of the New Testament. It is true that Christ is preached, and the sinner is invited, but the opportunities of spiritual development in Christian fellowship, are getting more and more rare, while in many movements the presentment is so cold and unreal, that it operates in two ways: it repels those who are earnestly seeking for sympathy, and is regarded with contempt by those who love to gild their lives with a little mere outward religious respectability."
“ Alas! my dear sir, your observations are too true," returned my fellow-traveller, with impressive earnestness. " And another thing that helps to make matters worse is tho position many Christian leaders occupy in relation to politics. In their eagerness to decry and overturn their opponents, they often overstep the bounds of moderation, and not only so, but at times are-unconsciously it may be-guilty of misrepresentation. All this tends, not only to weaken the influence of the Church on the world, but is an injury to the spiritual well-being of the religious community itself; while to many minds their Church becomes a political arena, or war-camp, rather than the resting place of kindred minds, wearied with life's trials and temptations, who are seeking fraternal sympathy and helpfulness, in peace and love with each other in the name of their common Lord. A condition bad for the strong Christian, but almost destructive to the Christian life in the young.”
My good old friend here sighed deeply, and for some moments was silent. I saw a tear start from his eye, and roll gently down his cheek. My own feeliugs were strongly moved, for I had never before given
expression to the thoughts that have long dwelt in my mind. At length he repeated the words slowly, and low, as if communing with his own thought, “ The love of many shall wax cold—the love of many shall wax cold !"
Ah, Lord, how could it be otherwise ?" Turning again to me, he said,
“Yes : I see that you are alive to the sad fact of the decadence of spiritual life, and the worldliness of the Church. What can be said of the men who know it, loudly proclaim the fact, and yet are mixed with those who poison the food of the Church with these elements of destruction, and think good for its members ? You doubtless watch the movements of Ritualism, and its rapid onward march in face of law and wiser counsels. Do you apprehend danger from this source ?"
“I had hoped from the strong Protestantism of the country a reaction would have swept it away root and branch," I replied. “The progress is as marvellous as is the bold perseverance of its leaders; and I cannot augur any good from its advance. It is inimical to the best interest of the Church by calling its members to rest too much on symbol and shadow, to the neglect of the substance of the Gospel, which is the real seat of life. Apart from that it is a demoralising force in the Church of England subversive of order and discipline, and bids fair to destroy it either by the supersession of itself, or breaking down a state organisation altogether.”
" Yes, or in connection with other forces, welded together by the hands of some ambitious political leader, who will make the concession of their supremacy a bid for power. You seo disruption all around, even in the most promising. Your observation is nearer my own than I anticipated ; yet I ought to be more surprised that so many are blind to what is taking place. The apathy of even good people is astonishing. Now I will ask you the same question I did in relation to the commercial position. Do you look for improvement ?"
“I have hoped and prayed that it might come; but I must confess that each year-in spite of the efforts that have been made to create & re-action- the progress is just the reverse of my desires. But it may come even yet.'
“ In such a case, do you think it likely to proceed from within ?”
“ I fear the mass of its followers and supporters are too content with their position to wish for such a thing. I think it can only come by a larger effusion of the Spirit of God, or by a course of trial. For the first, the state of the heart does not give any promise for hope ; but the second may prepare the way for the great outpouring of blessing."
The train here entered a long tunnel, and the noise prevented our further converse for a few minutes. But, Bertram, I ought to ask if I am wearying you ? Bertram.- Nay, Sydney, your conversation with the gentleman,
, excites my deepest interest. I pray you proceed.
Sydney.-- Thanks. My companion soon renewed the subject of conversation.
"I am very much struck by the coincidence of our impressions. But to leave this for the present. I suppose you are interested in the question of education and intellectual progress ?”
“Decidedly so," I replied. “A few years ago there could not have
been a warmer advocate than myself in all that would tend to advance the refinement and intellectual growth of the nation. And so far as my views go in connection with its supposed end, I am of the same mind still. But
“ But you are disappointed with the result and the prospect of both, 80 far," he interposed sadly.
“Well, something in that direction, certainly. The education of our children,” I continued, “ seemed a matter of the utmost importance, both as regards their social condition, and for the purposes of safe govern. ment,—that getting more and more into the hands of the people through their representatives—which, not to support in every way compatible with honesty of purpose, and thoroughness of aim, would be to sin against our light, and the need of the age,—so I thought, at least. But I cannot say that I am pleased with the indications, either in that direction, or the boasted intellectual progress of the age.” “In education," returned my companion, “there is one thing wanted
“ which one man cannot give another. A man may teach a child to read and write, and store his mind with much information, sacred and secular, but he cannot impart that moral principle of rectitude which is based upon the conscious love of goodness for its own sake, as well as the ever-abiding prescience of accountableness. Many of the leaders, indeed, told us, in well-sounding terms, that to ensure all sorts of good in and for the rising generation-moral and otherwise--all that was needed was education, and everything would soon fall into its proper place. • Educate, educate, educate,' they cried, and all will come right.' I remember an incident of a famous lecturer, who had lectured on this subject in most of our large industrial centres, which, though ludicrous, is none the less painful. When I heard of it, I seemed to see an apt illustration of the fallacy of his own argument. He had been eloquently insisting on the advantages the rising generation would derive from the more general diffusion of education. Among them would be found civilised refinement, temperance in the most perfect proportions, and the cultivation of the good and the beautiful; thrift, industry, peace, and prosperity, were to take the place of barbarism, intemperance, sensuality, vice, dishonesty, sloth, and poverty, and so on. In fact, he drew a picture coloured with some of the glowing tints that belong to the millennium. A night or two after, the lecturer was entertained at a dinner given in his honour, and in the small hours of the next morning was found intox. icated and incapable in the streets, and taken home on a wheelbarrow. Thus, in his own person, he gave a practical refutation of his declaration. No, no, my dear sir. Education is good, but good only if it does not stand alone."
“That is exactly where I find the difficulty,” said I. “ The result so far, while in some respects a benefit, is in others more than doubtful.”
“Could you illustrate ?” he inquired.
“ Well, to explain myself broadly, I will put it thus : There was al. ready in existence some discontent with their position in various ranks that make up the lower plane of the middle and the higher one of the working classes, which education, I find, tends to increase. The clerk, the artisan, and the mechanic, are not content with the position they occupy. A selfish kind of envy has set in, and they strive to emulate