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I help a weak and poor man, I enrich my individual and spiritual being. If I bestow from a mere gush of feeling, I receive no permanent spiritual benefit; if from a bad motive, I impoverish my own heart. Acts, then, which appear the same thing in form, differ widely, considered in the religious bearings. There is the morality of impulse, the morality of selfishness, and the morality of principle, or religious morality. The motive of the firstnamed, we obey instantaneously, and it may do good, just as we draw our hands from the flame, and thereby obey a law of our physical nature, tho we act without any consideration of that law. A great deal of the morality in the world is of this kind.
It may do good, but has no reference to the law of rectitude. It is impulsive, and, therefore, does not indicate a steadfast virtue, or a deep religious life. For the very impulsiveness that leads to the gratification of the sympathies, leads to the gratification of the appetites, and thus we often find generous and benevolent characteristics mixed with vicious conduct. Then, as I have said, there is the morality of selfishness. In this instance, I may perform many good actions from sheer calculation of material profit. I may be benevolent, because it will increase my reputation for philanthropy. I may be honest, because honesty is the best policy." But is this the highest, the religious sanction of morality?
No; the morality of the religious man is the morality of principle. The motive in his case is not "I will,” or “I had better,” but “I ought.” He recognizes morality as a law, impersonal, overmastering the dictates of mere self, and holding all impulses in subservience to the highest good. The morality of impulse is uncertain. The morality of policy is mean and selfish. The morality of religion is loyal, disinterested, self-sacrificing. It acts from faith in God, and with reference to God.
But another trait separates the religious from the merely formal moralist. It consists in the fact that with him, "morality," as we commonly employ the term, is not all. Piety has its place. His affections not only flow earthward, but turn heavenward. He not only loves his neighbor as himself, but he loves the Lord, his God. He not only visits the widows and the fatherless in their affliction, but he keeps himself unspotted from the world. With him, toil is prayer, and contentment is thanksgiving, because he infuses into them a spirit of devotion, which he has cultivated by more solitary and special acts. With him it is a good thing to live honestly, industri. ously, soberly; but all life is not outward, is not in traffic and labor, and meat and drink. There is an inward world, to which his eyes are often introverted—a world of spiritual experience, of great realities, and everlasting
sanctions a world behind the veil-a holy of holies in his soul, where rests the Shekinah of God's more immediate presence; yea, where he meets God face to face. And it is this that directs his public conduct. The orderly and beautiful method of his life is not the huddled chance-work of good impulses, is not the arithmetic of selfishness; but it is a serene and steady plan of being projected from the communion of the oratory, and the meditation of the closet.
Again, I say, let us not depreciate morality. Let us condemn that ostentatious piety which lifts up holy hands to God, but never stretches them out to help man; which anoints its head with the oil of sanctity, but will not defile its robes with the blood of the abused, or the contact of the guilty; which is loud in profession and poor in performance; which makes long prayers, but devours widow's houses. Let us condemn this, but remember that this is not real religion, only its form; as often, the kind deed, the honest method, is not true morality, only its form. Of both these departments of action let it be said: that these we have done, and not left the other undone. Let us recognize the perfect harmony, nay, the identity of religion and morality, in that One who came from the solitary conflict of the desert, to go about doing good, and who descended, from the night prayer on the mountain, to walk and calm the troubled waves of the sea.
But those who rest in a mere routine of kind and prudential deeds need the deeper life and the inner perception which detects the meaning and gives the sanction to those deeds. Such need the vital germ of morality-the changed heart, the new birth.
And as I have spoken of a subordinate yet somewhat distinct class who may be ranked under the general head of seekers after religion in philosophy, let me here briefly allude to some with whom religion is a matter of mere sentiment and good feeling. Such are easily moved by the great doctrines of the New Testament. They are affected by the sermon; they have gushes of devout emotion during the prayer. But with them, religion is not a deep and steady pulse of divine life. Prayer is not a protracted aspiration-is not a habit. They feel well towards God, because they consider Him a good-natured, complacent being; but they do not meditate upon the majesty of His nature, upon His justice, and His holiness.
From the doctrine of immortality they draw consolation, but not sanctity. They regard it as a good time coming, but it furnishes them with no personal and stringent applications for the present. They need a more solemn and penetrating vision; a profounder experience in the soul. They need to be born again.
Then, again, there are those who may be called amateurs in religion. That is they are
curious about religious things. They like to speculate about it, to argue upon its doctrines and to broach or examine new theories. They go about from sect to sect, and from church to church, tasting what is novel in the reasoning, or pleasing in the manner of the preacher; in one place to-day to hear an orator; in another to-morrow to hear a latterday saint; it is all the same thing to them. All they want with religion is entertainment and excitement. They are Athenians, ever seeking some new thing. They smack at a fresh heresy as if they were opening a box of figs, and are as delighted with a controversy, as a boy with a sham-fight. They have no fixt place in the Church universal. They are liberalists, without any serious convictions, and cosmopolites without any home affections. In fact, to them religion is a sham-fight-a matter of spectacle and zest-not a personal interest, or an inward life. They would seek Jesus by night, because they hope to learn something wonderful or new, and would be started to hear His solemn words tingling in their hearts: “Ye must be born again!”
Nay, my friends, would not these solemn words startle many of us? It may be, we have never made any inquiry concerning religion-have never even come to Jesus, as it were, by night. Such, with their barks of being drifting down the stream of time, have never guessed the meaning of their voyage, or