The Key of the Kingdom
Berry Street Essay, 1859
Read before the Ministerial Conference
Bedford Street, Boston
May 25, 1859
Brethren, it is remarkable, that, while we, clergy and laity, think so well of ourselves as to be scornfully careless of any undertaking of others to overset or refute us, we yet show our utter freedom from any distinctly corporate superciliousness in the fact that our great question now is whether we really have a name to live and be known by. An individual, born into the world without will of his own, has a right to assume a purpose in his existence; but a voluntary association must furnish an excuse for being. What business has it here? Why on God’s earth should it continue? In regard to an ecclesiastical communion, nominally proposing the highest object conceivable, namely, how to make mankind religious together, the demand must be practically met, which unsympathizing and hostile people, with murder in their eyes, are ever ready to put, why it should not give up the ghost. Even so informal and unorganized a body as ours, that can scatter or join like the flying-artillery, whose surprising evolutions are the marvel of yonder Common, can justify its being only by its influence, its redeeming strength beyond itself. What have we to say to God’s sentinel of progress, as he paces the walls of time, and shouts to us, Who goes there? Does somebody go that can answer as a friend, with a defender’s and deliverer’s true password and signal? Are we a power for God and man?
Truly, I wonder not that Jesus himself, forming the first missionary band for the world’s conversion, should have specified this very test, when to Peter, and afterwards to the other disciples, he signified the work to be done under that conspicuous symbol of power, the key to the kingdom of Heaven. Skillfully as deceptively has the Romish Church, loving images, seized on this so striking one. In apologue, engraving, or picture, who has not seen her favorite Apostle stand at the gate deciding who should go in or must stay out? What a part the figure with the keys, ecclesiastically propagated, and never without some apology for a descendant, has played in her scheme, and in poor copies of it in other pseudo-papacies! We believe in no such design of the Master to appoint official and arbitrary guards for his Church. We hold as illegitimate that splendid proxy for the poor fisherman, who has so long given his absolute sentence or casting-vote among the seven hills to decide the empire of the world.
But the old type of power nevertheless bespeaks its true interpretation, nay, entreats its omnipotent use at our hands. Indeed, it may be questioned whether poetry or parable is equal to producing another emblem of our office so just and comprehensive as the key. Whatever commands ingress or exit anywhere, in the world of matter or of mind, is a key. Thus there is the key of a country, harbor, instrument, military position, policy, language, science. There is it key to everything, and everything opens to him that has the key. We account our own soul a chamber deep, wide, and inaccessible, save to whosoever we choose to suffer to come in. But if any one has an experience like and deeper than ours, if he has thought and felt, known and suffered, in the same directions, with a force and vividness that put our vitality to shame, he has the key to our bosom; all our secrets are at his mercy; he has only, as in the familiar story, with the password of "Open sesame!” to touch the spring, and all the folding-doors of our breast, tight as we have shut them, expand under his finger, like city-gates to a triumphal conqueror. What, then, is that key to the kingdom of Heaven, by our possession and effectual wielding of which alone we can vindicate our place and connection? This is the question I propose, a question for us of life or death, of longer flourishing, or, without any crime in this sort of suicide, self-extinction. I propose it because we as much as Rome are in danger of mistaking the key for this particular gate of the heavenly realm, and it is well to note the mistakes we have made, or of which we should beware.
First, criticism is not the key. The ability to show or put other believers or denominations in the wrong, will never lift up for them or us those everlasting doors to let the King of glory in. I preach no disallowing of criticism. It is indispensable. It has a province of no despicable importance. To detect and eliminate error, to assay in the hotter than chemist’s furnace the strange mixture that would pass for truth and separate the most fine gold, to watch at our post against the intrusion of real heresy (for there is such a thing), and own and honor falsely stigmatized heretics as perhaps the best believers, to clear away the rubbish of ages from the avenue, and mark the pilgrim’s path, may be the worthy function of criticism; but it is not to open or occupy the very kingdom of Heaven. We, of that majestic plural, applied by editors, politicians, and preachers to ten thousand things, defines anything as here by me pronounced— we are regarded and charged as being, by way of excess, if not of excellence, the critical sect. Of course the whole body of dissenters are critics of the old establishment. Such as we, who are here assembled, the comers-out from Protestantism and cream of Independency, have had to do a peculiar critical work, not yet finished; and our manifold trenchant strokes have hardly, I fear, according to our name or nickname, been always considered Liberal. I shall not abnegate or despise our rational origin and lineage. I will not affront the dead whose spirits live. We began with a sort of Kant’s "Critique of Pure Reason” in theology. We have done a noble and needful work thus. There has never been a finer criticism than we have supplied.
But criticism, necessary as it may be, and great as are the themes for its handling, documents of the faith, authorships, periods, tongues, translations, history of the Church, creeds of Christendom, and enlightenings or sophistications of philosophy, — criticism altogether is but the preliminary and lowest, properly religious exercise of our nature. In our pulpits, periodicals, debates, conversation, have we not now relatively too much of it? Everything can be criticized, even God himself. Reasoning has been defined as stating that, the opposite of which can be stated equally well. We suspect not our own inclinations. Nobody is so surprised as a censor to be told he is censorious. But it is a bad mind, whose chief attitude or instinctive tendency is to find fault, pick flaws, and throw stones. Pardon me, if I illustrate personally the criticism I condemn! It may be lawful to use its edge on ourselves.
But let us not own or keep criticism as a predominant characteristic. So it were a fatal criticism to ourselves indeed! We shall not gain the ear of the world or the heart of man by it. Criticism is the action mainly of the negative understanding. The understanding of man alone can never attain unto faith. The understanding separately, and in its own virtue alone, is not a believer. The negative may be a necessary brace for the positive; but the purely negative understanding is an infidel. Goethe, who has painted the most real devil any artist has given us, with what profound discernment makes his devil to be a denying spirit! What but this critical and over-particular, vitriolic spirit, in private life, generates a thousand questions about little affairs, quarrels with others’ manner of doing everything or with what they do, and insists on having everything its own way, complains that the door or the curtain, a book or a table-cloth, is not at just such a place or poise or angle, indeed is the chief bane of social and domestic joy, and has destroyed more happiness than the thunder-cloud of war muttering again over Europe! The Psalmist warns us not to fret ourselves even because of the wicked; and to dispute and wrangle all the time, even against error and errorists, is an unfruitful bestowment of the noble powers of man.
In the lower creation the noisy, irritable, objecting tribes, or specimens of a tribe, have the meanest rank in our esteem; and we value even a beast according to its positive character, shown in substantial perceptions and warm attachments. In passing a country estate one may observe — as I speak from experience—it is commonly the little dogs that run barking at his heels, and will not endure any foreign and unfamiliar life in sight; while the large ones of loftier breed, as with such grave demeanor they slowly perambulate the premises, seem very well to understand and decline to molest his peaceable purpose, and courteously accord a decent and well-behaved stranger’s honest right to the road. Would that intellectual creatures had always grace and magnanimity enough at least not to contest with each other the simple right of way! We have, however, known men who rarely opened their mouths but to assail, to argue against, and, in the phrase I remember for thirty years to this day, from the mouth of a fellow-student, to doubt extensively any proposition. Criticism may be a club, a pruning-knife, an axe to clear the forest and fell trees that are in the way, or a fire to burn the baser growth and underbrush; but it is not the key. The mere mention of some names would at once reveal the gulf between the critic and the believer; for example, a modern and an ancient, one, Strauss and Paul.
In the instructive anecdotes by Edward Jesse, we are told of a poodle, whom its master taught and disciplined to distinguish false notes in music, either of an instrument or a voice, till the creature became so thoroughly acquainted with and attentive to discords and other musical barbarisms, as to signalize their occurring, slight as was ever the mistake, in any performance, by a most expressive and emphatic yell. At concert or opera in the town of Darmstadt, in Germany, the notes of prima donna, or of violin, clarinet, hautbois, or bugle, must be in perfect tune, or this new sort of critic would sound forth her remonstrance outright on the spot, till she became a terror to all middling composers, and a perfect nightmare to the imagination of all poor singers and players. But we are not informed that the faculty of the little brute went any further. It did not get beyond the department of the negative understanding. We do not learn that she could create or take part in the execution of a symphony. She could make no harmony, but only fire out with anger at such as violated it. She was no key to the great masters, Beethoven and Mozart, but only a sort of live tuning-fork to set or correct the pitch for any, piece. The curious circumstance — an undoubted fact — may teach us that fault-finding is no high, sufficient, and saving motion of the human mind. It may suggest the possibility of our spending ourselves as cynics in condemning what comes short or is exceptionable in those whose actual merits and achievements for God’s glory and his children’s welfare far outstrip our own. It may convince some, whose utterance in the ear of the community is one prolonged or repeated, however powerful objurgation, that it is no panacea for our temper or others’ cure to devote ourselves altogether or chiefly to what is evil and sinful and out of joint. It should persuade us all, that, while we seek and would direct to the kingdom of Heaven, criticism in not the key.
But there are finer keys, which yet cannot pierce the wondrous lock, or make the door of the kingdom give way. Criticism is not wholly negative. When it affirms, it rises. The yea of criticism is science. Its affirmation of divine things is theology. But I need not say of this noblest of sciences, whose matchless benefit is to tell God’s truth toward us, how little it possesses, and how the dissensions of its professors have disgusted the mind of the age. Not theological, but natural science interests the young and stirring intelligence of our own land. Not a few minds, that belong to or would naturally fall within our domain, seem trying to substitute science for religion. But it cannot be; and I deem it of consequence to say, natural science is not the key of the kingdom of Heaven. It is the key to the kingdom of Nature; but the kingdom of Nature and the kingdom of Heaven, however doubtless potentially coincident in the mind of God, are not, to any ordinary human apprehension, the same. Admitting no theory which opposes them to each other, declaring their real inseparableness and mutual pervasion, I must also aver that, in no common conception yet formed of them do they unite. The human soul, according to the powers it puts forth, has the choice to be in one or the other. In the possible, but rare ecstasy, that lifts and melts clearly together all its manifold capabilities, an individual mind may be both at once. But with the vast majority, a million to one, the practical limits of human faculty or voluntary attention make science only the outer court of the temple; and how grossly plain it is, that many prefer to inhabit the vestibule, and not proceed into the sanctuary! Well, now, as of old, might we speak of philosophy as a porch, each school having its own entry or anteroom where it lives, caring not to sit in the inner chamber, or stand with bare head and worship under the glorious dome of the building! See what large part, not only of the general crowd of students and neophytes in learning, but of the most eminent names in various departments, are incurious of the great — yea, that greatest — problem of our relation to the Infinite, and even protest against the introducing of tiny religious considerations, as an incongruity, nay, as apostasy from science, and would rule them out from their tribunal! A man of unsurpassed eminence in original research, whose name has been in all our mouths and ears, himself a noble exception to this remark, speaking of those able physical philosophers abroad, whose censure he was momentarily expecting for having presumed to find in the forms of nature the thoughts of God, made for them this apology, — that he did not think they after all meant to resist the notion of it Deity, but that they were so absorbed as to drop down exhausted each in his own furrow, and so were indisposed to pursue any track of investigation to its end in homage and faith to the Most High.
But, thank God! no sharply drawn line of any specialty of science is prerequisite to this end! No minute abstrusity of microscopic examination commands the goal. Every stalk that grows in the field, every straw that lies on the threshing-floor, the wing of every bird that flies in heaven, and every fin that oars the deep, furthers us just as well! The creeping, chirping, gliding, flashing myriad life I see in my walk answers, and is enough. It may be queried whether the author himself of the Essay on Classification owes his religious pen so much to any logic the sole, inalienable property of his own research, as he does to the loftier instinct of his generous and disinterested and religiously constituted soul, still acting when reasoning is weary and not suffering him to be weary, though the links sometimes drop, before he arrives at his Source, where all may be at rest; for we simple and ignorant people, as well as the wise and learned, want to get into the kingdom too!
But, with weariness from intellectual effort, and disuse of the surpassing energies, natural science is manifestly no key to the kingdom of Heaven. Indeed, there is a way of looking clearly, and, after a fashion, thoroughly, at the facts of nature, without ever so much as touching the borders of kingdom. It is to view those facts, as the senses show them, superficially related to each other, and, as calculation may disclose them, adapted to certain successive appearances and results, with a plea of ignorance that they have any beginning, purpose, or spiritual bond,— nay, branding as sheer presumption any pretence to a knowledge of their cause. This is that so-called positive science, to which the French Comte has given a name, but which has many professors and very many practitioners who would not care openly to take his lead. The real principle, the idol of so many, it is truly the weakest and most unnatural of all the superstitions of these times. It is a far worse superstition than the spiritualism you may despise. Key to the kingdom of Heaven indeed! There is no kingdom of Heaven on this ground at all. What need of a key without a door? 0, what bitterness in sorrow, hopelessness of the future, worldliness in the present, and utter absence from God with thousands of men, --it may be our fellow-citizens,--arise thus!
But the facts of outward nature need not be —nay, it is not according to the nature of the soul that they should be — contemplated in this isolated and mechanical way. A man who should attempt a perfect exploration of the human frame by a survey purely of its cutaneous and muscular surfaces, having first carefully cut the nerves that conduct to the battery, and convey the wonderful, incomprehensible spiritual electricity of the brain, would succeed as well as do such disowners of all creation’s commencing and design. There however, another reason beside this partial perception, why mere natural science is no key to the kingdom of Heaven; namely, that the kingdom of Heaven is not a kingdom of the perceptions only, high or low, but of sentiments, resolutions, actions also. It is not simply admiring the will, — O the perfect, the beautiful will of God, as he goes forth in his chariot, to give and execute his own general orders through the universe! It is, moreover, conforming ourselves, our heart and will and life, in all moral diligence and patience, to his most particular pleasure concerning us,—you and me,—in our whole sphere and destiny; and this is a sanctity of aspiration, a sublimity of endeavor, a worth of attainment, that no science whatsoever can reach, but which must bring heart, soul, and spirit, as they verge on supernatural forces, into play.
Instances of wisdom and goodness, to suggest an originating mind, and to be fuel for worship or material for a house of prayer, are plenty on every hand all around. Science multiplies them and discovers in them unsuspected abundance and startling novelty. But science, furnishing timber, is not the architect of the temple. The revering heart must build the shrine in which it worships; and the facts without the feeling are not that shrine, more than the cloth and colors are the flag, until Patriotism, even now it may be in Italy, with her hand weaves it, or silver in the mine or vault is a vessel on your communion-table, or gold of Peru is the ring no prince could buy from my finger.
Science is the positive understanding, a most precious gift, an indispensable ability, in its place no wise to be disparaged, to be well honored with all instruments, costly furnishings, ample conservatories, collegiate chairs, — to be cordially thanked for its abundant contributions to enrich our language, illustrate our ideas, and, if not to create or awaken, yet to subserve with multifarious hints and satisfactions the supreme feelings of the soul. But, though it reach the pole and pierce the centre, it is not the key for which we search. If we apply it, the lock will not yield.
Mistrust not that professional envy of a different calling moves me. I disparage not, I am glad to honor, the great names of science, such as that of the patriarch who, in a foreign land, has just gone to his grave, with tears of sorrow falling from eyes of admiration in every part of the world over aches so nobly alive for near ninety years. But will even the German Humboldt touch the human soul as long and deep as the German Luther? No, because not with science is the key of the kingdom! Such a man as La Place thought he exhausted the virtues of science. Yet that which believers in a spiritual world pointed at was to him no more than a painted door. It happens naturally enough to a thousand scientific men! "An undevout astronomer is mad.” Why is he more mad than the commonplace, if he be an impious observer? I do not know why he is. Do we not see enough in every street to see God? Science has now her day. She celebrates her trophies; she is our pride. Let us award her own meed of honor. But, nevertheless, while Science is the cry, the catchword, the enthusiasm of the sceptical, and a fashion even with the unspiritual-minded and shallow-hearted, we must say, hers is not the key. It is delightful to hear her claiming to preach. But not she preaches. The soul of man preaches through her as a handsome mouthpiece. Deeper words than she can penetrate, defend the safe that holds our chief treasure. At best, at the underpinning, not the portal, is her place.
It goes hard with me to confine her scope or nature; nor will I, save where she confines it herself. But I suppose we shall not differ or doubt that she can do something, nay, no small part of her function, and very marvelously too, with merely terrestrial elements. She can, on a sudden, transfigure around us what is of the earth, earthy, and fetch down to us her bright overshadowing cloud, so that we shall wish for tabernacles to abide in under it, though neither Moses nor Elias nor Christ is there, — not as if she were repelling, yet not recognizing and receiving the supernal majesty. The man of transcendent imagination may leave religion, God, and heaven out. Shakespeare, another name for an imagination so peerless and under his control, that he could make of it light or lightning by turns and just as he pleased, has by a foremost modern 4.1
I do not mean to say, therefore, a life of sheer inutility or unmitigated injury was that they led. The merciful God - indeed so much more merciful than any man that preaches his mercy!— does not annihilate his creatures; he does not lift up his hand and swear they are not fit to live, because they have not yet got the key of his kingdom. Even religion is not the whole of man. Our follies and sins subtracted, forgiven, or revenged, the residue of innocence and right God will graciously somehow accept and use, whether his creatures in doing it have at the time had Him directly in front and in the eye of their mind or not. There is more than one clef in the great scale of creation's genuine music. God's house, above and below, has many mansions, each opening to its own key. But genius must be more than genius, before it can move the bolt that bars from all profane intrusion what we call the kingdom of heaven. In Homer, in Dante, in Milton, in Wordsworth, more than genius there was:
"Up to the hills they lift their eyes!”
In height, if not in breadth, they exceed their brethren, as they ascend the Olympus, the Zion, they survey, where the threshold and citadel of the empire stand.
Not irrelevant to our case are these hints. Is it immodest to say that genius has nowhere a higher mark than in many with whom we sympathize, and not a few whom we reckon in our ranks? It is for us to consider how far genius is still divorced from devotion, how far the chambers of our imagery, spacious and handsome as they may be, are occupied with forms undivine, to what extent any of our finest word-artists, in their splendid pages disallowing religion, leave out what is greater than anything they put in, — and whether the so awkwardly styled Transcendental movement therefore in my measure fails, in religion, of the fruit it ought to produce. Certainly, if we rely on any merely literary superiority, or boast as the peerless first of men for our imitation the most brilliant thinkers, who are without the unction of the Holy Ghost, the kingdom will be closed to us. The dazzling butterfly floats in sunshine, and sees but a few inches; and, keen and successful as we may be elsewhere, we shall only, with our short-sighted gayety, fumble at the door. I may then be forgiven the interrogation, whether many of us are not endeavoring to make that general literature, which is the great product of genius, our permit and introduction into the kingdom of Heaven. It will never carry us in!
As, from this bunch of keys hanging at the girdle of the soul, we try one after another in vain on the mysterious door, if some warm-hearted persons now exclaim, 0 surely that labeled humanity is the particular one we must select to undo the fastenings! The answer is, No, not even humanity by itself and born of itself alone. Man must be accosted and led in a higher name than his own, before he can command the seat for which he was made. Human beings, recognizing only themselves and their fellows in their common existence and rights, considering God, in the language of one of these man-worshipping philosophers, but one of their ideas, may enter a sort of earthly kingdom, but not a heavenly. They may propose to build a sensual paradise, no better than the poor old preliminary one in Asia, which theologians regret and make such moan over, and we are so well rid of! They may excite a far worthier zeal for reform and freedom, still conjuring only in their own high and mighty name. But their love, if merely human, will by opposition be inflamed and cankered with malignity; not owning the Father in all his children, they will not hesitate to wrong some in righting others; and their appeal to any higher authority, if they condescend to this as a minor and infrequent appendage in their argument, will lie less to the merciful precepts of the Gospel, than to all the wrathful denunciations they can pour out from the Old Testament as vials on the head of their foes.
To all the humanity we have, certainly let us cling! It is our hope of deliverance from bondage. It is the romance of real life in a money-loving age and land. Imperfect as are its temper and instruments, it is the vision of better things, without which the people would morally perish. Yet let us implore it not to deny its own nature and become inhumanity. Terrible indeed is the provocation of general iniquity and private unconcern to the benevolent heart. But the benevolent heart, beating in its own strength alone, when resisted becomes ruthless. The flesh seems turned to stone. The very soul of tenderness and mercy has become like the storm-beaten crags, pitiless as the teeth of battle raging across the sea, and unrelenting as the grave. Then it tolerates no difference of opinion. It condemns all thoughts and plans but its own as sins. Every however honest dissenter must have his character stained. Hark! what sounds fall from the platform orator's tongue!
"At every word a reputation dies!”
I know the holy motive the reformer pleads. But may it not be queried whether an unscrupulous public personality is a righteous instrument, especially when it is known the objects of bitter charges or sheer vituperation will never be indecent enough likewise to retort on those who seem, like blind Polyphemus in his cave, seeking fresh subjects for an all-devouring mouth? Blessed be the Lord, there is abundant proof that humanity is destined to vanquish this fanaticism, which appeals to the low love of scandal and coarse common enjoyment of personal abuse! Philanthropy, is the glory of our day. I greet it with all my heart. Is it as yet, however, a Christian, or only a Hebrew philanthropy, which mostly prevails? Humanity will be the last, sweetest fruit on the tree of life; but from the root of divinity it must grow. Science is higher than criticism, genius is higher than science, and humanity is higher than them all; but as the independent, all-sufficient working-force it is too frequently made, it is not the key, — it, breaks in the hand that would twist and drive it home to the opening of the kingdom of Heaven.
Once more, Self-culture is not the key. We have talked of it as for a human creature the all-inclusive sufficient and saving thing. There may be for it a place subordinate to higher aims. But as a primary motive it can never answer to the dignity of our nature or the end of our life. To be mainly occupied with self in any way in unfolding our abilities, or even in cherishing our virtues and putting away our sins, is for us to be selfish men. Self is not the true point of departure to reach the destiny of an immortal being, point as it may to the pride and pleasure and power of such as desire to be high in this world. Self-culture the most refined may be a key to success, to social honor, to the fashion, the senate, or the club, but not to the kingdom of Heaven. Like executive officers, of whom we read in royal stories, we must receive the key of the kingdom on our knees. Even dumb animals, dimly aware of the authority of their leaders, kneel to receive their charge and burden; and the waiting, receptive, obedient posture alone supremely becomes the human soul. If anything is clear on the page of Scripture, or in the eye of reason, it is that what we let God do with us, and not what we do for ourselves alone, can naturalize us as citizens in his realm. Not to hinder, but simply to open the way for his Holy Spirit, is our highest wisdom.
The key is that sublimest of all experiences and realities, — the consciousness of God in the human soul, arising from a capacity in our constitution as real and legitimate as understanding, imagination, or social affection, while in its function above their range. Whoever has this in himself, and can speak to it in others, holds the key. Pope, cardinal, priest, technical father in God, or congregational minister, has no exclusive installation or stewardship. Ours, if we will, is the office of the key. Is it discharged? I speak now of our ministerial brotherhood in the relation of each member to his parochial charge, and in our common concern for the salvation of mankind. By no abstract or accidental method have I forged my discourse. Rather I trust you have observed, that a steady look at the character of our constituency has been my guide. We, lay and cleric, are a critical, scientific, imaginative, humane, and cultivated - are we also a strongly religious body? Not less but more religious should we be for our other acquirements and gifts, as a presiding officer must have discretion proportioned to the might and multitude he is to control. I have not reasoned upon our doctrinal peculiarities; they may be discussed enough on other occasions; and the question of strength and prevalence, for one or another among the sects, is not which carries its logical point here or there, but which is most profoundly, and to the heart of the world persuasively, sensible of feeling after and finding God. This sensibility, in some form, explains the power of every living and victorious church. Not opposition to the sale of indulgences, but justification by faith reared at first the Protestants; the demand for holiness inspired the Methodists; and from a vision of the inner light, the Quakers in their rapture, while it lasted, threw a trance on the world. The race we belong to is loyal, and will hear, if we have aught to say.
One may scorn the errors and coarse conceptions of the divine nature in the mass of men; yet if he speak from no vantage-ground of superior piety in himself, but is without God in the world, all his intellect and wit, polished manner, and good society, are lighter than vanity in the scale against the rudest simplicity of prayer. We shall never prove our cause by getting the laugh on our opponents, or by ridiculing them from our own self-conceit. God will not open heaven to us for having turned everything on earth into a joke. A religion in earnest was the praise of a particular order of disciples. There is no other religion!
In holding forth a religious consciousness for the key of the kingdom, I take the broadest ground on which thinkers the widest apart, theoretic and concrete, can meet. But have not some of us erred, in supposing that most of this religious consciousness of course and necessarily exists in those interested least in the written records, standing monuments, and actual services of our faith? To whom did Christ assign this key of the divine consciousness, but to those who saw in him the Son of God? Doubtless they, and not the unbelievers in Judaea, had the strongest internal sense of deity! So it may be doubted whether such now as care least for the Bible, in a discriminating use of its books,— for the Church, as a fellowship of faith and love, - for the Sabbath, as an opportunity, for ordinances and exercises of worship,- are those in whom a consciousness of the Almighty is deepest and most alive. No, the key is grasped and used by those who in all ways of joint fellowship, as well as private faithfulness, show themselves organs of the holiest feeling, unconscious and lowly shekinahs of Him who says, I AM,— their ministry bright as Moses from Sinai with the presence of the Lord, when he wist not that his face shone. Brethren, are we not too scattered and manifold in our activity? We would not be partial and fanatical. But should our universality be a meddling with all things in their separate earthly qualities, or a spreading through all of the celestial temper of which we are in trust? Should not the trumpet, blown for us, be a recheat from our false scent of vague generalization,— perhaps after some that confound good with evil, — from the speculative optimism that counts all for the best,— 0, all is for the best! —ending in the indifference of a bootless chase and the quietism of an objectless life?
In a fancy of some golden futurity to roll in on fatal wheels, or in a conceit of our ability, it is easy to say, "Off, you lendings!” to all the bonds of what we brand as a dead past. But the past is not dead. We should not be alive if it were! It is present. I sit at evening by my hearth-stone yonder, while the rough organist under the window grinds out of his wooden box, with its soiled green cover, some mechanical tune: and, lo! the tune is not made in the street there! I hear it come singing or wailing like the wind from far-off ages and lands. It takes me up, on its more than eagle's pinions, and bears me away from the pavement to scenes of suffering and heroic triumph, where those whose blood I inherit, and feel running now in my veins, conquered or fell, lay in the dungeon or bled under the axe; and I am touched with inspiration from old continents and departed yet imperishable centuries in the life of God and man. These spiritual melodies, too, these wondrous, sweet, many-voiced harmonies from the great organ indeed of God's Word, find an ear in the heart. They quicken that consciousness of an eternal Author, which, fainter or clearer, we share with all our kind, and whose vigorous pulse and stroke will open the kingdom of Heaven.
Yes, the consciousness of God is the key. I shall not attempt to prove my conviction that the soul can have this immediate consciousness. I would as soon try to prove the sunrise! I only affirm it its the great fact known unto man. I rejoice in a platform so large, back of the dogmatic statements that distinguish particular bodies, and which, unlike sectarian or political platforms, can never be quite deserted or torn down. I maintain, however, that this consciousness of absolute religion depends for being quickened, unfolded, and reinforced on special appearings of the Deity without as well as within. From that honest and dear brother of ours, now seeking health in far-off lands and seas, who proclaimed absolute religion as purer and stronger apart from the supernatural demonstrations of the Gospel, I affectionately differ. His toil will be a success, his scheme a failure. There is room for miracle and intuition too, — not for one thing alone, but for several things,— in the chamber of Heaven's working in the world and the human breast. History and direct inspiration have both their place. There is a stint still for doctrine as well as sentiment to do, as doctrine becomes comprehensive without ceasing to be clear. Let us earnestly from the Rock of Ages hew out and set forth our belief, remembering that no mere criticism of others' belief was ever a key either to heart of man or the kingdom of God. No, beneath all statements, the consciousness of God everywhere burning into steady transparent flame is the key to a greater paradise than that from which, as we read in Genesis, the fiery waving sword shut Adam and Eve.
"Thou art the best philosophy, thou bleeding Lamb of God!”
We seem to be divided on the question of more or less form in our service. Let us have such form as we can animate and no more than the divine consciousness will animate through the worshipping body, but not make ceremony our key. It was not ceremony that Jesus meant was the key. Common consciousness of God is the only key to the kingdom.
Brethren, let us justify our existence by showing and using the key. Not Hercules, with his knotty stick in the lairs of monsters to destroy, but Apollo at the gates of morning with opening light, be our representative fable. Let us offer the tests and signs of our consciousness of God in our value, not as slaves to the letter, for the great Bible and all good words, worshipful days and holy rites, till all speech become love, all expression aspiration, and life a sacrament. Let the sense of Deity in us so appear and grow, as to lift and sanctify into endless sacrifices of joy all other exercises of our nature, critical, scientific, imaginative, self-regarding, or humane, till latent holy longing become universal fact. Through the swarm of angels a cloud-compelling spiritualism would raise, let us see the Parent-mind uneclipsed; while the incidents of the life of Christ display the Most High, as the tints and shades in the stereoscope show so perfectly the magnificent proportions of temples of purity and towers of strength. Light banterers in sacred matters, ballooning rhetorical aeronauts, or "careful and troubled about many things,” let us not be; but serious, yet smiling devotees of our work. Then we shall bear the key, entering and leading others into the kingdom, which no one can approach alone without helping up his fellows, — into the reality, if not the profession or always the name, of what is meant by discipleship of Jesus and being children of God; and the great problem which agitates us, how we shall be religious together, will be solved.
If in time, any one say that in this discourse I have made the key itself to be the kingdom, I will allow, the key is as near to the kingdom as any key is to the space it opens. I will answer, that the kingdom itself is but a figure of that undescribed and indefinable blessed reality, which yet the New Testament names, and I would set forth. I will cite the variety of figures in Scripture applied to the same thing,— Christ himself being called the way and the door, the shepherd and the lamb. Rather let me dissolve all symbolism in a prayer that its deepest meaning may be realized and fulfilled in ourselves. Nevertheless, to such as would fondly reduce everything to man as the measure of the universe, I must maintain the fundamental proposition taught by true philosophy, as well as Christianity and common sense, that man can be truly conscious not of himself only, but of the world, of his fellow-creatures, and —O privilege of our nature!— of the Infinite Being, God; and that his consciousness with others of God, made predominant, is his only title to heaven.