Religion and Evolution
Berry Street Essay, 1873
Read before the Ministerial Conference
"The law of the spirit of life."— Rom. viii. 2.
WE live in the best possible Universe, because there is, and can be, only one Universe. There is not room for two infinities. One Universe and one Law. Precisely the same physical laws are around Sirius as are around our Earth. Know the law of the dust beneath your feet, and you know the law of the starry vault above your head. Know the law of the knife-blade in your pocket, and you know how God's angel of iron works in all his worlds. Precisely the same spiritual laws are around Sirius as are around our Earth. Know the: spiritual laws that arc around your head and in your heart to-day and you have the key to the Universe of Life. Aye and yet further; the physical and the spiritual Universe, in ways past man's understanding, melt into each other, and make one Universe with one Law for star and worm: one Law for rock, plant, animal, and man: one Law for body and for soul, for earth and heaven, — the Law of that Infinite Spirit of Life, who pervades the whole, and is the Moving Life-Force of the whole. My doctrine, said Confucius, "is one of an All-pervading Unity."
Two great affirmations are welded into one in our text: —
First, that the Spirit of Life acts according to Law: —
Secondly, that, the Foundation of Law is the Spirit of Life.
The first affirmation is the direct opposite of a religious error: the second, of a scientific error. The religious error is, that Life is lawless; the scientific error is, that Law is lifeless.
First, then, for the religious error, which is the lawlessness of Life. Men of the spirit, filled with a zeal for God, not according to knowledge, have in all ages done desperate battle against our first affirmation. If they have been right, then all search after "an All-pervading Unity," is hopeless from the start. We must, therefore, look a little into their assertions, and for that purpose, let us examine the text quoted beyond all others in support of their views. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, yet canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth,— so is every one that is born of the Spirit," said Jesus. In other words, the entrance of the Spirit is forever a beautiful surprise. "God comes to see us without bell," we hear no faintest foot-fall on the floor, yet the Angel of his Presence is with us. One moment ago, we were in the hard old world, whose vulgar lessons we had learned to weariness. But now, as if by magic, trial seems easy to be borne: duty not hard to be done: Heaven is around us, and God within.
To some such noble use as this, this great text has been put in all ages; but I quote it here, rather to point out the ignoble abuse to which it has been subjected. To too many it has conveyed the impression, not of surprise, but of Caprice. If there was one thing in nature which conveyed to our ancestors the idea of pure chance, or pure wilfulness, it was the blowing of the wind. As the vane on the steeple shifted first his way, then that way, without the slightest apparent reason, it was to them the aptest type of the fickleness of fortune, or the caprice of a tyrant's moods. When therefore the movements of the Spirit were compared to those of the wind, it suggested to them the idea, not of the law, but of the lawlessness of the Spirit of Life.
But now, when each day's newspaper tells us the quarter whence the wind will blow: whether the wind will be wet or dry, warm or cold, strong or weak, we are beginning to understand that the wind is fickle only in seeming,— that the movements of the air obey the eternal law as perfectly as the stars in their courses. 'Tis one sign out of the ten thousand that we now see, that there is no chance movement in a universe, where "Nothing is, that errs from Law." Having this thought in my heart, I sat down by that sweet water-fall of Central New York,—as yet unsung, but which one day surely will have its poet, — I sat and saw that all nature was obedient to Law. The blue-bells on the rocky banks budded and blossomed, and nodded their gentle heads, in obedience to Law. The ferns uncoiled their growing fronds, the green leaves rustled, and the branches grew, the sunlight sparkled, and the clouds floated, all guided by Law. I stooped down and picked up the petrified mud of the old sea-bottom, and stood in thought on the shore of that-primeval sea, whose waters saw the first dawnings of life upon the planet. What an infinite number of changes had passed over the earth since those Trenton mollusks and trilobites had revelled in the warm tropic sea! Yet every change for ten million years had all been guided by Law!
Past those scarred and venerable rocks the water leaped and sparkled and dissolved in spray, and the fresh breeze ruffled its surface and tossed the white foam hither and thither. The wind and the water, the two latest born of time, hurrying without a pause past the most ancient monuments of the buried ages! Cunning immortals, youngest in seeming of all God's creatures, and yet the oldest they of all things I saw on earth that day. Those fresh drops of water had helped to deposit that rocky layer, ages on ages ago; were older than the mollusk, older than the trilobite, older than all, save the wind that played with them, the selfsame wind that played with them millenniums ago. Lawless immortals! running, dashing hither and thither, bound seemingly by no law save their own wanton wills! And yet, not tree nor flower, nor cloud, nor rock, nor buried fossil obeyed the Law more perfectly than these twin genii of the water and the air!
"Except a man be born of water and of wind, he cannot see the kingdom of God," was the dark saying of the Seer of old. Let us thank God that to-day we know enough at least to be sure that if that is to be Spirit-born, it does not mean to be born outside of Law.
Man, ignorant, sees Caprice in nature everywhere; Man, instructed, sees Law in nature everywhere. Man, ignorant, sees in the movements of the Divine Spirit, only the caprice of an arbitrary will; Man, instructed, sees Eternal Law forever ruling the Universe of Mind. It is the central task, then, of the spiritual man to-day to reduce the breath of the Spirit of Life to order in men's minds: to show that that Spirit does not blow capriciously upon one, and capriciously refuse to blow upon another: but that the law is, that the Breath of God enters equally two souls equally open, be they far apart in space as the antipodes, far apart in time as the first man and the last. In a word, the spiritual man's special task to-day is to show that in the realm of the Spirit, Life is never lawless.
II. But the spiritual man has, in our day, another, and an almost equally important task, namely, to maintain, with all the force that is in him, that in the realm of Matter as well as of Spirit, Law is never lifeless. It is in this direction that he has to fight the Atheism, or the more common Semi-theism of the day. The Atheist is Man mastered by endless details, and unable to mount to principles. In his best form, he is Man industriously occupied in linking together an endless chain of causes and effects; and so absorbed in this really useful work, as to be often wholly unconscious that the whole chain needs to be accounted for, as well as the fitting in of the links.
The Semi-theist is Man just beginning to discern feebly a difficulty, and taking refuge from his incipient insight in a cloud of vague generalities. "God governs by great General Laws," is his phrase, with which he helps himself over the hard places, and succeeds fairly in at least keeping God at a convenient distance.
I do not purpose, here, to address a word directly to the Atheist; but seeing that only too many hapless souls are stranded to-day on the shallow flats of Semi-theism, suffer me to pause here a moment, to address a word to such.
I confess, that I for one hate this vague talk about General Laws, because it hides from men and women the divine splendor in the midst of whose light they live; because it would substitute a vague sense of the moving of lifeless wheels for the grasp of a Father's hand.
"God governs by great General Laws," you say. Very true, but not in the sense you mean. General Laws do not govern: the Law of Gravitation does not govern. The Force of Gravitation governs. The Law, so called, is merely a verbal expression of the mode of operation of the Living Force that governs.
So, General Laws do not govern for God, instead of God, as go-betweens between us and God. God himself governs, by being alive all over the Universe. The so-called General Laws are only so many verbal expressions of the eternal mode by which his Life, his Living Force, acts upon the Universe.
General Laws do not bring up my children: I bring them up. General laws only express, or should express, the uniform, unalterable wisdom, kindness, forbearance, pity, firmness, justice with which I bring them up. General Laws do not walk up and down the room with my baby in their arms when he is sick, do not put him in the corner when he is naughty and feel twice as badly as he does when he cries in consequence. General Laws do not go on tiptoe through the darkened room where my child that tossed on his fevered bed has just fallen into the blessed sleep which will bring him back to life again. General Laws do not feel the great gap, the huge chasm which a tiny baby grave makes. No! it takes the tender father and mother hearts, the love force that is in those hearts, to do and feel all this. So, General Laws never made an apple fall, a planet spin, a star to rush through the spaces, a nebula to roll itself up into worlds, a galaxy to blaze with awful splendor. No, it takes a Living Force, acting instantaneously, without pause or break throughout the starry spaces, to do all this. So, also in the world of Mind, General Laws do not surround the infant soul with an atmosphere of beauty and wonder; do not inspire youth and maid with the sweet hope of a love that shall be conqueror over Time; do not set the feet of men and women steadfast on the way of Righteousness; do not support the tottering steps of age down toward the Valley of the Shadow; it is not they that whisper to the souls descending into that Shadow, Fear not, for I am with thee!" Have I been so long a time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?" says Jesus in the Gospel. So might the besetting Spirit say to the souls born of His breath, and dwelling in the midst of His bosom.
But enough of this digression. We must now endeavor to give a precise answer to the question, "What is the Law of the Spirit of Life?" In one word, it is Evolution. The Universe is not a skillfully put together piece of mechanism, it is a Growth. 'Tis the great Tree of Life, whose branches are galaxies, and whose buds and blossoms are stars. From the Universe of Yesterday the Universe of To-day is born, evolved by the constant action of the Eternal Force. This is the most tremendous generalization that has ever been reached by human thought. The Scientific Evolutionist is willing to stake his whole theory on every single phenomenon in every department of knowledge. If you can prove to him, beyond a peradventure, that one single thing in the Universe, Star, Planet, Ocean, Rock, Plant, Animal or Man, — or any minutest subdivision of these, — does not absolutely obey the Law of Evolution, then he will agree to give up his whole theory on the spot.
It is this thought that we, as men of Religion, are called upon to meet. There are only two ways of meeting it. The first is of blank denial; which means obstruction, and anathematization in minds of a low order: which means resolute attempt at disproof in minds of nobler strain, or a falling back on faith, if pushed to the wall. The second method is that of frank and cordial acceptance: is to take the dry bones of this gigantic theory, and breathe into them the breath of life. The Scientific Man mere says, "Evolution is the Law." The Religious Scientist says, "Evolution is the Law of the Spirit of Life." In a word, we must fill Evolution full of God.
The Religious Evolutionist is a God-intoxicated man. Show him a single thing in the Universe, Star, Planet, Ocean, Rock, Plant, Animal or Man that has been evolved without God, outside of God, and to him henceforth the Universe is a blank. God, to him, is not, as to the Semi-theist, a useful hypothesis to account for the existence of things, or a useful bugbear to prevent lawless folk from going too far, or a Constitutional King-on-paper whose chief business it is not to interfere, but to let the General Laws take care of things in general. No! God to him is the Eternal Spirit of Life, in whom all things live and move and have their being. The Religious Evolutionist adores the Present God. He sees God everywhere, in everything, around everything. He swims with the fish, He flies with the bird, He runs with the deer. In Him fish swims, bird flies, and deer runs. His force is in the straw that the wind blows past me; in the leaf I trample into dust. He is in the hills and the cattle upon them; in the valleys and the brook that murmurs through them. His way is in the sea, His path in the mighty waters. The clouds of Heaven float in His present Godhead, the continents sleep beneath His present smile. The vast Earth floats silently in the Ocean-depths of His being, the Sun in the Firmament shines glorious by His Present Might. The stars in infinite Space are surrounded and interpenetrated by Him. He is the Tendency by which all things are gently urged to fulfil the Law of their being. He is the Power without and within Man, that makes for Righteousness. He is the Light by which Spirits see; the Warmth which makes hearts glow: he is the Life in which they live. He is All in All.
Well, then, may the Religious Evolutionist smile when you tell him that he has put God further away. Is this indeed so? Look at our conception of God in Creation. It is certainly vaster, more sublime: is it therefore less intimate? Let us see. The old conception was, that God made the stars, as a mechanic makes an engine, from the outside. The grandest thought then possible was that the Almighty Maker,
"From his ample palm
Launched forth the rolling planets into space!"
The conception now is, that the Divine Force, acting around and within the stars, eternally creates and every instant renews their shining; that the burning suns and rolling planets within His very being roll and burn. The Old Conception placed the Eternal on a radiant throne situated in one isolated point in space, while round that throne the obedient heavens wheeled. The New Conception places Him everywhere, in everything, the Primal Source of all motion as of all life. The New Conception makes Infinite Space alive with God,
Passing to the Earth and life upon it, the Old Conception viewed God as creating a single individual, plant or tree, and then letting its infinite number of descendants propagate themselves by so-called "General Laws." God made one oak, and the million million other oaks came by "General Laws." The New Conception bids us view each individual oak on the planet, aye, every branch, twig, fibre, cell, as the instant product of the present Creative Force of God. His Force renews, and His daily renews the oak-life from instant to instant. His Present Force descends from the Sun, and passes along the vast Ethereal Ocean that separates the Orb of Day from Earth, making its billion billion waves the messengers of His Power. Charged with Light, Heat, Electricity, they strike the oak leaf; their force sinks into it. The grand chemical changes, as we call them, which are only so many wave vibrations answering to the great solar wave, are thus incessantly renewed, and thus the oak-tree lives. Did you ever think of the infinitely delicate way in which the oak-tree sucks the moisture from the ground through a million rootlets, how the sap ascends through a million tiny channels into the very heart of the tree, and how thus, in the spring time, every twig and leaf in the monarch of the forest tingles with Life? But the delicacy of this almost infinite subdivision of watery juices is coarse, compared with the intimacy of the Life-Force which causes this juice to flow, these buds to burst, which surrounds and interpenetrates the ultimate atoms themselves: atoms so infinitely small that uncounted trillions must exist in one single cell of the tree.
Well, has our larger thought made the connection of the Divine Creative Force with the life of the oak less intimate? You know it is not so. Why, your thought and mine alike confess that language fails to express that infinite nearness, that intimate intimacy.
Mounting up to conscious life, let us take for example Man's body,— Creation's crown and sum. Just so far as a man is grander than a tree, just so more intimate and subtle is the connection between his body and the force of God.
The Old Conception was that God created two persons, a man and a woman, and that the uncounted millions of their descendants were born by "General Laws;" so that I had to date back my own connection with the Creator, as far as my life was concerned, through a thousand removes. But the Thought of To-day teaches me that God directly created my body from its tiniest germ, and creates it afresh every day, every hour and minute. Every breath I draw derives its life-power immediately from his Present Force. Every pulse in my veins is derived directly from the Throb of his Power that is felt at each moment in every part of the Universe. My flesh, my blood, my very bones, at each instant confess their present need of renewal by his Bounty. The Large Life encircles me round about. Because He lives, I live also.
So much for a general statement of the way in which the Religious Evolutionist looks at things. We have, as yet, made no attempt at an argument: we have simply described a stand-point. For those, who do not feel capable of entering into a detailed analysis, it is enough to know that such attitude is impregnable to all scientific assaults. It gives ample scope for all the phenomena of the Universe: it is in strict accordance with all the phenomena. It becomes, of course, a much more delicate and difficult task to attempt to prove that it is the true explanation of all the phenomena. Suffer me, nevertheless, in all diffidence, to attempt to point out the direction in which such proof will be eventually found to lie.
I. Starting with the Material Universe, the problem there is to prove, that all the Material Laws are founded on the incessant action of the Spirit of Life. Now, confessedly, in Matter God is the Concealed God. He recedes as you strive to search Him out. Nevertheless He recedes not into distance, but deeper and deeper into the heart and core of things: recedes as the atmosphere does, when you strive to grasp it. Though your fingers are empty, clutch as you may, the air is yet around your hand. Its subtle nature has escaped the coarse, material grasp.
In such an investigation, then, we must be prepared for two things.
First, for the inevitable difficulty of grasping such a subject at all; and secondly, for the fact, that if we actually succeed we shall by no means have gained what we long for, namely, an adequate conception of God; but only have reached just so much of the Spirit of Life as is sufficient to account for the phenomena on hand. The Astronomer mere does not need the God of the Soul, the Inspirer of Man's thirst after Righteousness; he only needs so much of the Divine Force as is adequate to account for the starry motions. The Chemist mere does not need the God of Infinite Love and Pity, the Lifter up of the bowed down; he simply needs so much of the Eternal Life-Force as will account for the affinities and repulsions of his molecules and atoms.
With these cautions, we now proceed to ask, Where does Astronomy feel incapable of interpreting its own phenomena without the Force of the Spirit of Life? Gravitation, scientifically speaking, is the Mystery of Mysteries. 'Tis a maxim in science, that it takes time for any Force to pass from one place to another. Sound travels twelve miles a minute. Light travels eleven million miles in the same time: yet, even at this amazing speed, it takes a very long time for light to pass from star to star. But the most delicate astronomical measurements have not been able to discover that it takes the smallest fraction of a second for Gravitation to pass from Sun to Earth. Speaking scientifically, there is no "Aberration" of Gravitation. Gravitation then appears to be independent of Time. If this can be proved to be so, if not an instant is needed for the passage of that Force through the immeasurable spaces of Heaven, then the Astronomer will at last stand face to face with God, because he will stand face to face with a Force that acts in Time, but yet is not limited by Time. But even if it be proved eventually that Gravitation is not absolutely independent of Time, of necessity there must be a Force back of that, that is thus independent. For a Universe absolutely separated itself from itself in all directions by vast Gulfs of Time-intervals would be no Universe at all, but only a huge series of disconnected aggregations. The Unity of the Universe then presupposes such a Force.
But if Gravitation be indeed such a Force, consider the miracle of the Divine Condescension. In Gravitation's arms my body reposes safely. Each smallest movement summons that Force to its aid, and that Force instantaneously responds. The house I live in, the breath I draw, the food I cat, the water I drink, are all rendered secure to me by that. Gravitation besets me behind and before, and lays its hand upon me. The veriest Atheist that ever lived must perforce acknowledge that. But if once it be proved that Gravitation is the Eternal Action of the Divine Will of God acting on Matter, then the last Astronomical Atheist will be dead. Then the neuter lifeless way of putting the tremendous Fact will be seen to be false Science as well as poor Religion. It will change to "Thou." It will be, "Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thy hand upon me!"
But the Chemist needs for his Atoms just what the Astronomer needs for his Stars. Newton expressed only the general thought of science, when he said that there must be Something between any two bodies that mutually influence each other; for otherwise any such mutual action would be inconceivable. You hear my voice, because there is Air between my mouth and your ears: you see Sun or Gas-light, because between them and your eyes there is the Ether. In like manner, between molecule and molecule there must still be something, or else they could not act on each other. Matter of a finer sort can convey force to and from Matter of a grosser sort; but, as we pass through finer and finer states of Matter, we may at last arrive in thought at its final attenuation, the ultimate atom. But there must still be space between any two atoms, or else they would not be two, but one. Now, that space must be completely filled by Something, or else these atoms could not possibly act on each other. But since, by hypothesis, these atoms are the last attenuation of Matter, that Something cannot be Matter, that is, cannot be Substance Divisible. It must, therefore, be Substance Indivisible. But what is Substance Indivisible? You can cut my body into trillions of pieces; but you cannot cut Me into two. Why? Because you have arrived at Spirit: that is, Substance Indivisible. When, then, the Chemist ponders on the problem of the Attraction of the Ultimate Atoms, he must either give it up in despair, as unthinkable; or else rise to the conception of One Infinite Spirit, whose fulness filleth all things.
We now pass out of the realm of Inorganic Matter. It must be admitted that here the doctrine of Evolution is already was good as proved. Science may be said to have already won in her account of the Genesis of Worlds. It was the final victory of the Nebular Theory, when Huggins turned his spectroscope upon the Planetary Nebula in Draco, and the tell-tale lines of Hydrogen and Nitrogen gas shone out upon his eyes.
When we pass to the realm of Organized Life, we are all aware that the conflict of opposing opinions still rages; the battle is not yet quite won. For my own part, however, I have no doubt as to where victory will rest at last. At the outset, then, I endeavor to discharge a brother's duty by stating my deliberate conviction, that Science will be able to hold against all comers her account of the advent and development of Organic Life upon the planet. I believe that she will eventually be able to prove that Life has been developed out of Life from the lowest round of being to the highest; that not only has reptile sprung from fish: bird and mammal from reptile: but that man's body has also been developed as the head of the same grand series: in a word, that Organized Life displays one unbroken series of Birth-succession, that is, of Evolution, from end to end. If you quote honored scientific names that still do not think thus, I ask, Is it not just because at this point, they refuse to think any further? The negative force of the hypothesis has the same immense strength as the Nebular Theory of Astronomy. There is literally nothing deserving the name of Science to put in its place. I think, moreover, that eventually Science will win in her account of the Genesis in Time, the Birth upon the planet, of the Faculties, Qualities, Virtues of Man. Thus, and not otherwise, the material garments which the Soul wears in this Island of Time were woven in the loom of Nature.
Now if any of us should say here, "We are not scientific men, we have not studied these subjects enough to form an opinion upon them," I will simply say to such: For us, as men of the Spirit, the main point to remember is, that the decision of such questions does not rest with us at all. Surely, a very little reflection should suffice to teach us, that the physical antecedents of these bodies of ours belong to the department of Physiology, not of Religion. It is our business, then, to remand all such questions to the keeping of Science. Hers are the facts: hers must also be the methodizing of the facts, and the drawing of conclusions from the facts. All we have got to do is to possess our souls in patience, and to witness manfully for our Truth, which eventually will be found in accordance with all other Truth. But this at least we all ought to learn at once; namely, no longer to shudder at the wrong thing. Shudder at the idea of the bestiality, the greed, the gluttony, the sensuality of the lower animals, if you please, and, if you shudder at them in man too, you cannot shudder too much; but do not shudder at the beautiful mysteries of organization, which make the thoughtful man of science wonder and adore. Do not shudder at the small remnant of a pointed ear in man, which seems to hint its far-off origin in the strata below our feet; shudder rather at the ears which itch for filthiness and foolish talking. Do not shudder at the perforation of the humerus, which still crops out in one out of a hundred men: which once could be seen in one out of four: which was universal in the Quadrumana: shudder rather at the terrible perforations that still pierce the hearts of ninety-nine out of a hundred men.
If, after all, Evolution prove to be true: that is, if it prove to be, after all, God's Plan of building His worlds: will it not be a little humiliating to some of us to remember that we once protested against it as unworthy and degrading, and, like Alphonso of Castile, put ourselves into the position of offering the Creator advice?
I think, however, that many of us are beginning to feel that it is no longer wise or right for the spiritual man to remain ignorant either of the results or methods of Science; especially now that Science is approaching more and more nearly the House of Life. It is impossible to do our full duty to the Rising Generation, without a personal knowledge of these great problems, which God himself has set to this Generation, and which it is Man's duty to try to solve, not to shirk. We cannot prevent bright young minds from reading Huxley, Spencer, and Darwin, and surely we would not, if we could. Yet, whoso reads, rises from the book inside the New Age, with all its doubts and difficulties; and those difficulties we surely ought to be able to help them to meet.
We, I think, shall live to see the Doctrine of Evolution victorious all along the line; and, if this be so, our business as preachers will be to fill that Idea full of God. We must show that the Evolution of Life does not mean blind Matter doing the work of Living Force; but means God creating his Worlds through the Consenting Wills of all his Creatures: inspiring the bird with love of Beauty and of Song, and so gently impelling the whole Race of birds to progress: inspiring the Quadrumana with social affections: with care for the weak, the young, the aged of their number, and so laying deep the foundations of Human Society, and organizing nerves which one day shall throb to Human Virtues.
Man, in his blindness and conceit, has supposed that he alone was capable of heroism, of self-sacrifice, of Progress, of Inspiration. But one day it will be seen that all the Ascents of Life were taken with Pain, and that man has a host of lowly benefactors, whose very names he has held in derision.
One word here before proceeding further. No one, I suppose, really doubts that we are now living strictly under the Law of Evolution. The stand-point of the Non-Evolutionist is that one given Fern, Oak, or Elm: or two Elephants, Bears, or Human beings, were created by Special Interference; he admits that all the remaining trillions of each Species have come by Evolution. The Evolutionist differs from him simply by adding to the sum total of trillions the one Oak, or the two Bears left out of the series. In fact he is attempting to do for Physiology what Lyell did for Geology, when he claimed that the changes now going on in the Earth's crust were enough to account for the whole series of Geologic changes. Since, then, all alike admit that Evolution is the universal Law of Life To-day, it certainly seems wise for us all to study its workings a little
It is, of course, impossible on such an occasion as this, to dwell upon more than one or two features of this great subject. I ask your attention to one.
See what Unity, what deep and world-wide meaning this thought gives to the vast succession of the Geologic Ages.
The old Geology gave us a huge aggregate of unconnected Epochs. Creation and Destruction followed each other in endless repetition, and apparently to little purpose. Each new Creation, being supposed entirely independent of all its successors, as well as all its predecessors, might just as well have occurred at one place as another of the series.
But now we are beginning to see that in Geology, the Law of the Spirit of Life is, that Life is created by Life; that the larger Life of each To-morrow was created through the expansion of the lesser Life of each Today; that therefore each epoch in Geology was as necessary to its successor as a parent is to a child; that each Epoch contained in itself a complete Epitome of all the gains the past Epochs had made; and transmitted by direct birth-succession to its successor the vast heritage of the Past and the vast Promise of the Future. In this view
"The Dragons of the Prime
That tare each other in their slime,"
beat out to our cars "a mellower music" than they did to our fathers. Through those fierce combats strength, swiftness, courage, the sharp eye, the ready limb, the mighty lungs, were generated, and transmitted down along the ages:
"Not a worm cloven In vain."
Now if this be true, the Geologic records of the Past contain the history of all the organs we use to-day. It took millions of years to make the eyes we see by: the ears that hear: the hands that grasp: the feet that walk: the tongue that speaks: the brain that thinks. Aye, and every step of progress toward this was taken by and through a Living Organization. To each step the Consenting Will of some Living Creature was necessary, as well as the ever-fresh influence of the Spirit of Life.
But now let us look a little more closely at the mode of this transmission. If Life is forever evolved out of Life, Progress upward must be secured by the fact that "what is organically acquired is organically transmitted."
In yonder microscopic human germ are concealed the title-deeds to the whole inheritance of the Past. Well, you must either dismiss this as unthinkable, or concede that the divisibility of matter is so well nigh infinite, that in that tiny germ the ultimate atoms, and particles compounded of those atoms, are so arranged as to register the memories and experiences of millions of years. If this transmission were only seen in man, you might remand it to the realm of Spiritual mystery. But it is universal, and only more mysterious in man, because the amount of Being transmitted is vaster. Take a Fern, say the common Brake. A tiny Spore falls to the ground, takes root, and grows. In due time, an exact picture of the parent fern is produced. That is, the atoms in the seemingly formless Spore were so arranged, that, of necessity, when the frond first appeared it was coiled up; when it expanded, it divided into three divisions; that, at maturity, the edges of its pinnules would double back, and that spores would be formed in the shelter thus afforded. Each shade of color; the whole contour; the whole arrangement of frond, pinnules, veins, cells, was prophesied in the germ.
Now it is upon this great Truth that the grand discovery of the first half of the nineteenth century is founded. I mean the Persistence of Species. Let us never ignore or undervalue this immense generalization; nor ever be ungrateful to the great minds that secured it for us. Look at its achievements. It has mapped out the strata for us over the face of the whole Earth. Systematic Geology depends upon Palaeontology; and Palaeontology rests upon the Persistence of Species. If I pick up Isotelus Gigas anywhere in the world, I know I am in the lower Silurian series. When Professor Hartt picked up Spirifer Mucronatus in the yet unknown strata of South America, he knew he was in Devonian.
But a yet more careful examination of the Strata points at a yet deeper and more all-pervading Law. Spirifer Mucronatus is but one of an immense number of Spirifers, very properly marked out as distinct Species. But take two, say Spirifer Medialis, and Spirifer Macronotus. Hall has in his collection hundreds of these. The distinction is perfectly marked in the typical specimens of each; but you can lay on the table a series of linking forms in such a way that the two species melt into each other. Prof. Hall knows more about such things than any other living man, and he is convinced that this process can be continued indefinitely.
I myself asked one of the best authorities in the world if he did not think it probable that all the Spirifers might eventually be traced back to Spirifer Lynx of the Trenton; and he answered, "Yes," and added that his own studies in the Palaeozoic rocks compelled him to believe in the transmutability of species.
But how can one and the same Law produce both Persistency and Change? Let us see. Take our Fern again. It contains all the qualities of the Parent Fern. If, through an immense Past, there was absolutely no tendency to vary from the type, then no such tendency is transmitted; if there was a slight tendency, a slight tendency is transmitted; if a large or increasing tendency, then a large or increasing tendency is transmitted. If you say this is imagination, then go and dig up a brake, and put it into the hands of a scientific gardener. He will put it into new conditions; sow its spores, and watch those that tend to vary; and in ten years will send you a pot containing a fern you would not even recognize. Human skill in ten years can do as much as unaided nature in a million.
Cuvier said, forty or fifty years ago, that he would listen to the Development hypothesis, when its defenders could show him the linking forms between the Palmotherium and the Horse. His devoted pupil and worthy successor, Owen, writes, forty years after, that it must be acknowledged that now Cuvier's demand is completely met, by the linked succession of Palmotherium, Paloplotherium, Anchitherium Hipparion and Equus. The three functional toes of Palmotherium gradually grow smaller all along the series, till in Hipparion they are lifted high above the central toe; while in Equus they are simply rudimental. This one salient instance is itself a sufficient answer to those who keep asserting that no linking forms exist between our domestic animals and those of Tertiary times.
One Law, then, of the Spirit of Life produces both the Persistence and the Mutability of Species; and in a complete view of Nature these two stand together. The Human Embryo remembers most distinctly that large part of the Past which is immediately behind it, and which differences it from that which is more remote. Yet it does not wholly forget the day when fishes breathed by gills. Aye, it even remembers how mollusks and protozoa lived. Yet, of course, the last experience so transcends the former ones, that it is absurd to deny that, in one point of view, the difference is immensely greater than the similarity: that it is absurd to exaggerate the similarity at the expense of the difference. Young Evolutionists are apt to run into such extravagances: and, through their forgetfulness of the mighty part which the Persistence of Species has played, and still plays, they often make a mere mush and jumble of Evolution. Even such writers as Huxley, in his "Protoplasm," are, perhaps, not quite clear of one-sidedness in this respect. Certainly Huxley only stated half the truth when he reduced all Life to a common basis of Protoplasm. 'Tis true, with a difference! The Ape's protoplasm is the same as the mollusk's, plus the vast sum of vertebrate memories; of millions of years of fish, reptile, and mammal life. My protoplasm is the same as the Ape's, plus at least one hundred thousand years of Human Memories. My protoplasm has all the Human Ages photographed upon it. My protoplasm remembers the terrible struggle for life of the primeval man: remembers the weird gloom of the primeval Forest, and the strange aspect of a Nature as yet unknown: remembers the fierce animalism, so essential to existence then, but which is Original Sin in us Now: remembers the wild joy of battle, the lust of conquest, the gloom of dejection, defeat, and failure. Aye! and my protoplasm remembers the human skies of a hundred thousand summers: the human awe of the vast Heavens above: remembers the Human Aspiration toward the Spirit of Life, which has been Man's Guiding Angel for a hundred thousand years. In a word, my protoplasm is a complete register of all that has happened to my ancestors, human and animal, for ten million years: yet, surely, the last hundred thousand or so are of more special importance to me, as a man, than all the other millions. My kitten walks on the top of the tall thin fence in my yard fearlessly, and without fall; because she has a million generations of cats behind her, who all had to conform their motions to the Law of Gravitation. My baby knew how to suck and swallow when he came into the world, for the whole life of the Mammalia was behind him. But my baby will soon, please God, show that he has the Human Civilization of ten thousand years behind him: that the thought of Greece, that the civilization of Rome is in his brain: that the Religious aspiration of Central Asia, Egypt, Judaea, and of his own grand and glorious Christendom, have all aided to mould the organism which he is to use for the expression of his soul's adoration.
Thus, then, the long ascent of Life culminates in Man, and thus, at last, the Full Purport of the Law of the Spirit of Life stands revealed. Think of it, doubting friend. To-day there are some five hundred millions of men's heads: none without some capacity for thought: some that seem, as in a vast Dome, to comprehend an Image of the All. To-day there are some five hundred millions of women's hearts: none without some capacity of loving: some that seem to hold in one small breast a whole Heaven of love and tenderness. They came out of the Invisible into the Visible, did they not? Well, in that Invisible, out of which this vast Stream of Thought and Love bath flowed, must there not be an Infinite Divine Reservoir of Thought and Love? Yes, in Matter God may be the concealed God. In Mind, He is the Revealed God. Just so much Life as there is, just so far is the Master of Life revealed!
Ineffably fine is the action of the Spirit of Life,— only a still Presence among the atoms, yet the Worlds are made, and the Morning Stars sing together; only a gentle, imperceptible impulse given to Organic Life, yet in obedience to that impulse Life mounts the mighty Ladder of Being, and Man is reached at last; only a still; small voice in man, gently urging him toward the Better, yet moved by that silent Persuasion Man climbs slowly up the Hills of God, till the Heavenly City opens its gates to him at last.
We have now passed out of the consideration of the lower phenomena to that of the higher. Not only has man's body come by Evolution: all things human have been developed and transmitted by the same Law of the Spirit of Life. You can study the workings of the Law in all things man has done or achieved: in Law, Government, Art, Science, Literature; or finally, in Man's highest Achievement, — in Religion. All things Human then are a Growth. You yourself know beforehand that this will prove to be so, while, you are opening any book on the History of any people, or of any art or science. You have no idea that the art of painting sprang at once full armed from the head of some Raphael or Michael Angelo. You know beforehand that you will have to begin with the scrawl of some savage on a smooth rock, or his scratch on the tusk of a mastodon. Ship-building did not begin with a Cunard Steamship: it began with the hollow trunk of a tree, on which some hunted savage dared to trust himself to the waters.
Just so, any one who attempts to trace out to its first origin his own Religious pedigree, cannot fail to discover that Religion is a Growth. The merest outline of such an attempt is sufficient to show this. Our dear good Protestant fathers traced back an unbroken Religious Consciousness only as far as Luther and the Reformation. A millennium and a half of the Catholic Church was to them a blank. But, if there had really been such a Time-vacuum, the Thought of Jesus would never have come down to them at all. Religion is a Living Force, and requires Life, continuous Life, to pass it on. There is a deep truth in Apostolical Succession. Break a single link in the sacred chain of Life-communication, and the Divine Electricity cannot pass. You must trace your Christianity through an unbroken chain of living souls, straight to the heart of Jesus himself, before you can account for your own Christian experiences, But Christianity itself claims to be the direct offspring of Judaism. And Judaism, too, has a history. Not only do we find that it, as well as Christianity, was profoundly modified by Greek thought and Roman polity: not only did it receive a vast accession of ideas from Persia and the religion of Zoroaster; but at the very outset of its religious history, two thousand years before Christ, we find that when Israel was but a nomad tribe incapable of national life, it was put under the training of the most cultivated, highly civilized and most religious nation then existing on the earth. If, then, we wish to trace out our Religious Consciousness yet further we must accept the aid of the noble army of scholars who are translating for us the sacred books of Egypt, India, Persia and China. They are revealing to all the world that all through the centuries, back into the dim and far-off Past, the Ever-present Spirit was at work gently leading the souls of his Asiatic and African children toward Himself. Faith in the Unseen, and the grand Hereafter, is found carved in stone on Egyptian monuments, or buried as the most sacred treasure in the coffins of their dead. 'Tis enough to move mankind to tears, to spell out the heart's unutterable longing for immortality in hieroglyphics whose secret perished two thousand years ago, but which loving labor has deciphered again. It enlarges the range of our religious consciousness to find that the History of the Faith, that casts a glory over the graves of our beloved ones, dates back, at least, to the valley of the Nile five thousand years ago.
But we must go further yet. The student of Language shows us that we must journey back into times long before the first dawn of History, if we would find the origin of the sacred Words that are in our mouths to-day: shows us that we can still listen to the stammering lips of the utterly forgotten fathers of the Race,—and if our ears are keen enough can yet hear the words in which they spoke out their worship. The Open Secret was whispered even into the Wild Man's ear. Awe and Reverence date so far back, that they are lost in the Night of Ages.
If, then, any one wishes to write the Religious History of the Race, he must begin at least as far back as the history of the Primeval Man: and show how the Law of the Spirit of Life, acting on the Human Heart, has produced all the phenomena of Religious history from that day to this. And to this great task he must bring two great qualifications. First, he must have a profound sense of the deep Unity, which underlies all differences in Religion; be they caused by Time, Race, Climate, Condition, Church or Sect. That is, he must devoutly believe that the phenomena of Religion obey the Law of Evolution. Secondly, he must have sense enough not to ignore the vast importance of Species in Religion; nor to make the egregious mistake of supposing that all Species are equally important or unimportant, as the case may be. Otherwise he will certainly, as I said before, make a mere mush and jumble of Religious Evolution.
It is easy to see, that never before our own day could such a Religious History have been written: not only because there was not knowledge enough in the world for the colossal task; but also because, before our own day, the first qualification of such a historian never could have been attained. Never before have men been adequately conscious of this "All-pervading Unity" in Religion. Such a conception as is embodied in the grand phrase, "The Sympathy of Religions," was entirely foreign to the consciousness of our fathers. This great Thought, old as Eternity, is in one sense new to the world. It is emphatically God's gift to the nineteenth century. As the Greeks considered all mankind barbarians except themselves, so our ancestors divided the world into Christians and Pagans. Till within the last forty years Mahomet was held to be the greatest and most lying Impostor known to History. It is but yesterday that anything has been known of the religion of India and China. Let us, then, reverently thank God for the light of this glorious truth, which our eyes are the first to see clearly. Let us rise to the level of the grand Prophecy of the Hour. Truly a large and liberal Gospel is fitting for the lips of those whose eyes behold the Eternal Spirit descending into the souls of all his Children. We, of all men, should be the last to constitute ourselves examining Chaplains to the Holy Ghost, or dare to reject, in self-appointed Council, a candidate whom God has already ordained.
But since the grand Conception of the Sympathy of Religions is new, it has not yet got itself adjusted in our scheme of Thought. It has not yet got itself into the heads of millions, who spasmodically fight against it, believing it to be of the Devil: and, on the other hand, many of its most earliest advocates seem at present to have become so intoxicated by it, as to be in danger of losing their balance altogether. In other words, they are liable altogether to lose sight of the second condition: which I have ventured to style the perception of the importance of Species in Religion.
It is not a mere accident, surely, which makes Radical Religionists tend toward Evolution, and Conservatives cling to the idea of the absolute separation of Species.
We must, then, defend the glorious thought of the "Sympathy of Religions" against two opposite classes; 1st, against its foolish Enemies, and, 2d, against its foolish Friends.
Its foolish Enemies are those who stubbornly refuse to see or acknowledge any Religious Inspiration whatever, except what is found within the covers of the Bible.
I. We are to say to its foolish Enemies, We refuse to read, as you would bid us, the lives of holy men of other names, for the poor purpose of belittling their Inspiration. We will not read Confucius, in order not to find the golden rule. We will not study Buddha's life, for the purpose of not seeing glorious self-sacrifice in it. We will not pick all the holes we can in the garments of Socrates, Epictetus, Marcus Antoninus, in order to show how much better our own clothes are. Nay! we will study them, and teach others to study them, in order to find out the good word which God spake by them: to thank Him that, in elder days, and in other climes than ours, His Spirit was not far from men: but that, in every age, "he that feared Him and worked Righteousness, was accepted of Him." Good people timorously ask: "Is it really true that Confucius gave the Golden Rule?" as if, if you answered "Yes," it would go far to shake the very foundation of their belief in all Revelation. Imagine an astronomer becoming alarmed for the very foundations of Astronomy, because a Chinese observer had made a true observation of the stars twenty-five hundred years ago! Now, it so happens that, not far from Confucius' time, a sharp Chinese eye was watching the Heavens on a given night, and noticed that the planet Mercury was close to the star now called β [BETA] Scorpii. Now, when the observation was discovered in the Chinese annals, were astronomers frightened? Nay! they were overjoyed. Forthwith they calculated backward the place of Mercury for more than two thousand years —say eight or ten thousand revolutions—and found that on that very night Mercury was within a degree of that very star! proving, by this one observation, that the orbit of Mercury had not materially changed in more than two thousand years.
So let us rejoice when any clear eye sees any atom of God's Truth. One more witness added to the sacred band. One more testimony that God is not far from every one of us!
"Or look at it in another light;" we might say to such: "There are, we are told, some four hundred million Chinese now living in China; that gives us one thousand two hundred million in a century; gives, we will say, twenty-five billions of Human Souls since Confucius' time. Now, if it could be proved to you, that to no single soul of these twenty-five billions had God ever revealed Himself; that He had suffered that mighty multitude to live on in Darkness and the shadow of Death without one effort to send them Light; that he had allowed them to sin and suffer, to hate and injure each other, without one attempt to teach them the divine Law of Life, would it not go far towards making you a believer in blank Atheism? 'What sort of a God is this,' you might justly say, ‘who allows His own children to wander generation after generation through the wilderness of Life, without once troubling Himself to teach, guide, and enlighten? If He has so utterly neglected this immense mass of Human Beings — beings just as capable, by their power of thought, of understanding His Revelation as I am myself— how can I believe that He can care for me, or reveal Himself to me?' So far, then, from its shaking your belief in Divine Inspiration, it should strengthen it greatly, to find that God taught to Confucius, and to billions of Chinese through him, that Love to the Neighbor was the Golden Rule of Life."
When once we have really grasped the mighty thought, that it is God who created the Heavens and the earth, that it is God who is the Father of all Human Souls, past, present, and to be, and that all Human Souls are, therefore, equally dear to Him, because equally his offspring, it then becomes simply impossible to believe that uncounted millions of Human Beings were ever so utterly abandoned by His Spirit, that "their whole religion was falsehood, their whole worship a farce, their whole life a mockery."
"An honest study of the religions of the world will teach us that it was not so; will teach us that there is no religion which does not contain some truth. Nay, it will teach us more; it will enable us to see in the history of the ancient religions more clearly than anywhere else, the Divine Education of the Race," the true God in History!
"If, then, we are forbidden to read in the history of the whole human race the daily lessons of a Divine Teacher and Guide; if there is no purpose, no increasing purpose in the succession of the Religions of the World, then we might as well shut up the godless book of History altogether, and look upon man as no better than the grass which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven."
Surely it were a strange cause for dejection and discouragement to find that God was so much more adorable than we had thought that His Spirit was so much nearer to the soul of man; that His efforts to help, teach, guide, and console mankind were so incessant, so universal, so many-sided, instead of having been so intermittent, so partial, so narrow, so fenced within arbitrary and technical limits! Fancy being distressed just because God has blessed so many men in such various ways; just because his Spirit has shown itself so utterly regardless of names and places and arbitrary methods, and has forever gone to work to get at the hearts of men by any and every gate left open for Him to enter!
"We have in our hands Scriptures," says Emerson, " of such worth and significance, that a man might well travel over land and sea to make them known. But fast as he journeys, he will see that the Spirit travels faster than he; is there already before him!" 'Tis of little use his going to foreign climes, unless he expects to find there the self-same truths he carries with him.
II. To its foolish friends, on the other hand, we must say, "The belief in the Sympathy of Religions does not consist in having sympathetic relations with, and loving appreciation for, every Religion under Heaven,—except Christianity. It does not mean a large and generous appreciation of Mahomet and his work, and a small and ungenerous estimate of Jesus and his work. It does not mean sympathy for the Buddhist, harsh judgment for the Christian: loving study of the Confucian Analects, contemptuous neglect of the Bible: joyful recognition of Zoroaster or Pythagoras, quiet ignoring of Moses or Elijah: an artist's eye for the grand portraits of Plato or Socrates, and the eye of a sign-painter, or the slate-pencil of a school-boy's caricature, for Paul or John.
Certainly, it would seem to be a curious way of inaugurating the Sympathy of Religions, to begin by decrying, belittling, and declaring corrupt beyond the possibility of Reformation, the only Religion you are familiarly acquainted with. You are a member of a large and widely-scattered. Family. You feel that they are too isolated from each other: that they ought to be better acquainted: you write them a generous circular, inviting them all to a real hearty Family Reunion, and, to show that you are thoroughly in earnest about inaugurating the new Era of Peace and Good-will, you begin the good work by turning your own father, mother, brothers and sisters out of doors! Is not this a little like sending out all our Religious Sympathy to Borrioboolah Gha and so having none left for home use?
The Sympathy of Religions, again, does not mean the instant pulling down of your own house, and forthwith inhabiting that of your neighbor. You would catch cold in a Chinese Pagoda; the dance of the Dervishes would certainly make you sick; and the incense floating in an Indian Temple would send you to sleep. The Parthenon is noble, the Saracen arch and minaret have a slender grace all their own. But the Christian Cathedral was also built by men, and has a grandeur that is its own and not another's.
It is not, again, the proposing to all men in general to pull down instantly every Religious House in existence, and to inaugurate a Universal Camping-Out, until such time as a new House shall be built, capable of containing all men under one Roof. Millions of feeble constitutions would die under the process; and, even if the work should ever be completed, it would then but feebly imitate that Temple of God already builded: whose Floor is the Earth, whose Roof the Sky, and whose Light the Stars; and wherein it is our business to see to it that the thousand shrines of men's worship shall stand in friendly fashion, side by side.
The Sympathy of Religions, then, truly means a large-hearted, most magnetic sympathy with all Religious truth everywhere: a delight in knowing that God loves the souls of His Chinese, as well as those of His Americans: a joyous consciousness that His Presence is gently approaching the hearts of all men, is on the watch to uplift all souls on the wide earth.
Standing firmly in our own place, encamped with those Religious Influences in the midst of which God has set us, and valuing them deeply, as we ought, we are, nevertheless, to be just as steadfastly prepared to rejoice that His Word has come to Chunder-Sen, or Kung-fu-tse, as to Henry Ward Beecher, or to Dr. Channing. Above all, we are not to patronize the Spirit-born of any land. Let us make an interchange of spiritual wealth with those of other names. We can give them much; they can also give something to us. Ours is, confessedly, the Central Stream; but it is Heavenly Water that has flowed up their Channels also. We must not ask them to give up all of God and Truth they know, before we will consent to give them anything we know. We must not ask them to think scorn of their own sacred names before we recount to them the list of ours. We have our stand-point, we must allow them to have theirs. Their sacred books are exotic to us; for the self-same reason, though the lesson is a hard one for us to learn, ours are exotic to them.
If, then, a Chinese were to say to me, " I give up Confucius and Mencius,— they were all very well for my benighted ancestors, but I have outgrown all that, and am free to accept whatsoever conclusions you Europeans have arrived at," I should say to him, "Friend, where did you get your Religious Constitution? How comes it, that you were born susceptible to these fine influences? You did not produce yourself, did you? Why! you are steeped in Confucius and Mencius! You are the product of two thousand years and more of Confucianism.. You stand, morally and religiously, just where you do stand, because, age after age, the men of your race, guided by these heroic souls, aspired after Benevolence and Righteousness. Shame on you, for your ingratitude to those whose labor, and sorrow, and struggle, and aspiration made you what you are. You ask me for the great thoughts God has sent to our Race. You are in no fit state to receive them. Like your own Mencius, our Heaven-sent Teachers have had but two topics, 'Benevolence and Righteousness.' If you are deaf to the inspired words of the prophets of your own race, why should you be aided by those of ours? I will not show you my gallery of the sacred Portraits of the Saints God has sent to us — least of all the grand Picture which hangs in the centre of my Hall of Faith — until you have repented of your disgraceful indifference to those whom God sent to you."
In these somewhat ungrateful days it is peculiarly needful steadfastly to keep in remembrance our spiritual ancestry, and to recognize, with all gratitude, the thousand gifts we have inherited from them. One of the many signs that Scientific is far in advance of Religious Thought, is, that Science is already conscious that the Past is absolutely essential to the Present; while in Religion, many of the brightest minds we have seem busied in doing all they can to sever the all-too-few links of consciousness which still bind us to the Religious Past. It were devoutly to be wished that we could put a little more scientific precision into our Religious Thinking. In that case it would not take us long to discover that our finest Intuitions and loftiest Aspirations have a History, and that many a hard fight had to be fought, and many a noble victory won, before it was possible that they could even enter our brains.
What, then, is the method of Science? Fully assured that all the causes which produced the Present lay hidden in the Past, she follows the trail backward, and at last constructs a series of linking forms, which binds all existing organizations to those which existed ages on ages ago.
How, then, would Science deal with any fine gift, if the question of its origin was the subject of her investigations? Take, as an example, one of the very finest gifts of organization: a delicately sensitive Musical Sense. Physiologists tell us that the so-called fibres of Corti, in the inner Ear, consist of innumerable little tuning-forks, each vibrating to one delicate shade of sound, and to no other. In the Musician's ear, some three thousand tuning-forks are all ready, tremulously to answer every conceivable modulation; while, in the savage, immense numbers are only rudimental, and many seem altogether to be wanting. Now, suppose some musical artist to be bragging about the infinite delicacy of his ear, saying that the ancients were nobodies, and that music began with him, what would Science say to him? "Friend; how did you get that ear of yours?" "From my mother." "And she?" "From hers." "And the grandmother?" "I know not. But she also had an ancestor faithful to the gift of song; and that one, another; and that other, a third, and so on, till we are lost in primeval antiquity." It would serve such conceited artist right, could Science prove to him distinctly that he was directly descended from some gallinaceous bird of olden time, who strutted about to show his grand feathers, and lifted up his voice, to exhibit the strength and purity of its tone to the admiring ladies of his race.
As an antidote, then, to the overweening Religious conceit, which is the bane of the advanced thought of the present day, I invite you to study scientifically the pedigree of your Religious Emotions.
I am sure that the Science of the Future will be able to prove that every delicate harp-string in your nerves and brain that vibrates to the sublimest emotions, to the sense of duty, to the idea of God, to the blessed hope of Immortality, and by means of which alone you convey magnetically these thoughts to others,—that is, bring them into the sphere of Time and Sense,— has been slowly fabricated for you by loving hands in the forges of the Past. What searching for the precious silver in the bowels of the earth: what heat of fiery trial: what strong wind of Faith: what water of bitter tears it took before these sweet-sounding strings were possible. Shame on you, if in base ingratitude you forget your benefactors of a thousand generations; if you say, "But our Christian ancestors were so superstitious, so childish, so astray in so many things, and then look at me, with my clear light. Is my Faith really the lineal descendent of theirs?"
I answer, "No, my friend; your Faith is the result of direct Contact with God and eternal things; but the conditions of constitution, which, in the beginning, made such Contact possible to you, steeped in Time as you are, were gained for you mainly by your Christian and Jewish ancestors. You may quote Plotinus and Mencius upon me, to show they, too, had the like. But I ask again: When you came upon your thought in Plotinus or Mencius, did you not bring your thought to the book? Did you not meet it there with a glad surprise? What I want to know is, where you first got it? At your mother's knee, in the Church, or Sunday-school, in the books written by the wisest heads and noblest hearts in Christendom, or floating about in the spiritual atmosphere eighteen Christian centuries have generated around your head." I rejoice to think of the clear light by which at last we see; of the splendid brain- and heart- and nerve-instruments we now possess; but this royal inheritance did not come down to us by chance. It was heaped up for us by the loving labor of millions of dead hands; and if ingratitude for gifts received be ever base, it is doubly base here, where the gift is of the heart's best blood, of the spirit's noblest sacrifice. If the horse — his stately limbs pawing the ground, and his nostrils scenting the battle from afar,—were to deny indignantly that it was possible that he could be descended from that great, clumsy, three-toed Palmotherium of Tertiary times, Science would at once answer by proving the descent through five generations, and might add, "Ungrateful wretch! to ignore those very ancestors, whose efforts to run made the strength and beauty of the very limbs you are so proud of: whose heaving chests fabricated your mighty lungs!"
Let such ingratitude, then, be far from us. Let us, rather, delight to think that we are debtors for all that we have, and are, and aspire after, to all the Past. And if any of us feels keenly that his conscience is not clear in this regard, let him, for the good of his soul, make a pilgrimage to the graves where his sainted dead lie buried, and ask of the dust that sleeps below to be forgiven!
While, then, it is of high importance to a lover of the Truth to place himself in right relations with every brother soul in every land, and under every name, who knew the Right and loved it, and if need were, suffered for its sake: to us, the spiritual sons of Christian and Jewish sires, it is of special importance that we should keep in grateful memory our own lineage in the spirit.. The old Hebrew prophets are our brothers. Are you a Reformer? So were they. Are you a Radical? They were the Radicals of their time. Are you a Conservative? They preserved the best thought of the elder ages, and with loving hands transmitted it to us. Are you Spirit-born? So were they. Are you inspired to utter the Laws of Heaven? So were they. Do you desire to do your uttermost to make the Right, the True and the Good triumph? So did they.
It is of high importance, again, that we recognize joyfully our spiritual ancestry in all the Christian ages. Feel a throb of sympathetic joy, as you see the lean, wild-eyed monk lift the crucifix against the lawless, lustful baron, and dare him to trample on the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Let St. Benedict and St. Francis, Bernard and Hildebrand, Luther and Savonarola, be more than names to you; feel that they are our brothers in the Spirit. Finally, in this category of loyalty to brother souls, the central word to us of Christian lineage is that worthy name by which we are called. It seems to me that the most Radical Religionist in Christendom, who remembers the "rock from which he has been hewed," ought to take a just pride in saying, "I am a Christian, not only because I believe that the Essence of Christianity is Love to God and Love to man, but also because I believe that the great heart of Jesus loved the Cause that my heart loves with such force of loving, that it had power to inaugurate that Mighty Brotherhood of devoted minds, which in all after ages has been the true, the only Christian Church. Reverently I thank this noble brother-soul for the splendid provocation to holiness that the sight of his consecrated life has given to me. In the order of Time he comes before. I follow after. Before my eyes saw the light of day, his
' Eyes within his eyes beheld
Heaven's numerous hierarchy span
The mystic gulf 'twixt God and Man'
Before my heart beat, his heart had vowed to live and die for man. Before my hands could lift the cross, he had hung upon it. Before my soul could know the Father, he had rested forever in his bosom. What height of human nobleness the Infinite Father reserves in store for me and for all his earthly children, in the far ages, I know not. But I know that Jesus, at least, longed with a mighty longing to attain that height. What depths of self-surrender lie concealed in the Divine possibilities of the heart I know not; but I know that Jesus at least joyously gave himself away: flung aside fame and a career and life itself, that his brothers in time to come might be blessed and healed by the sight of his sacrifice. In him, then, I recognize, at least, a splendid hint of the life I long to live. Across the centuries I feel his brother hand stretched to grasp mine; across the waves of Time I hear his voice saying, ' Brothers, let us together go home to God'!"
Surely the most Radical Religionist, that understands at all the grand meaning of the word "Christendom," could at least feel toward him, as Tennyson felt toward his dead friend:
"Dear Friend, far off, my lost desire,
So near, so far in woe and weal;
O then most prized when most I feel
There is a lower, and a higher.
Sweet Human hands and lips and eye,
Dear Heavenly Friend that cannot die,
Mine, mine, forever, ever mine!
Strange Friend, past, present, and to be!
Loved deeplier, darklier understood!
Behold! I dream a dream of good,
And mingle all the world with Thee."
When the Hour strikes, as strike it will from time to time every loyal heart, for the service of the Commemoration Benefactors, the name of Jesus must to us forever stand the first.
But, in conclusion, the Central Lesson we have got to learn from this sublimely slow process of Evolution is that the Amelioration of Human Society is of necessity a process of Growth. Most of us remember the time when we believed that if only some obnoxious institution were got rid of, millions of people would instantly find themselves immensely better and happier. O how we hoped the Abolition of Slavery would lift all America to see the Vision of the Lord! And so it did, for one blissful moment. But the next we found that our organisms were the same as before: the same weakness, greed, indolence were there; and only by the steadfast toil of whole Generations: only by invoking God's best Blessing on Birth and Marriage: only by steadfastly bringing his Spirit of Knowledge and Love to bear on the hearts of men, women and children by an education continued age after age could the work ever be done.
Finally, brethren, how can this Spirit of Life vindicate the glory and beauty of the Law of Growth in us? How can we ourselves become living Stories of this Living Building? The Last Word is Consecration. By giving up our whole selves to the free working of the Law.
Long ages ago, when God was building his America, it fell on a day that all the Beasts of the field and the Birds of the air and the Fish of the sea were gathered together before the Lord. And the Lord said, "Who will go up and build for me a Florida Barrier against the Stormy Atlantic, so that my Tropic Mexican Sea may bask in Eternal Smiles?" And all the Beasts and the Birds and the Fishes said, "We will go up." And the Beasts brought huge trees of the forest and rocks of the soil, and the Birds wove the twigs together with their beaks: and the Fish covered them with sand and slime. But it fell on a day that, just when they had finished their barrier, the Ocean rose in his might, and tossed their vast labor with huge scorn away. And it was so, that, when once again all Creatures appeared before the Lord, they kept silence from very shame. But out of that silence there arose a tiny voice: so small and weak, that only the ear of the Lord, who ever bends it down close to hear the cry of his feeblest creature, could hear it. Now the voice was the voice of the Corals, and they said, "We will go up." And the Lord said, "Go up, and prosper, for I have delivered it into your hands." And so Florida was builded. The Beasts were strong, but they gave the work of their hands alone. The Corals were small and weak, but they gave themselves!
Brothers and Sisters! to the grand, slow work of building up and transmitting a Grander and more Glorious Life, let us consecrate not only our work, but ourselves. Let us give to that work every limb of the body and every faculty of the mind, each throb of the heart, each aspiration of the soul. Then and then only can the Law of the Spirit of Life have free course, and be glorified in us!
 Max Muller, Science of Religion