Religion from the Near End
Jenkin Lloyd Jones
Berry Street Essay, 1887
Read before the Ministerial Conference
May 25, 1887
Note: This text was found among Jenkin Llloyd Jones' papers at Meadville-Lombard's Wiggins Library. It contains many pencil emendations (included here) and most likely represents the version Jones delivered; but he apparently never got around to polishing his fairly rough text for publication. --Paul Sprecher
Lord, it is good for us to be here. – Matt XVII:4
Take any definition of religion you please, only so it be large enough. Put into it the divinest fullness possible to the experience of man. I prefer to interpret religion at its maximum rather than its minimum. Let religion mean the greatest thought of God; the strongest trust in Providence; the closest communion with Jesus; the most loving appreciation of the bible; the serenest confidence in the eternal life, and the loftiest habit of worship that the human soul can know. No other definition will allow my purpose this morning. This is the religion that is sometimes at the end—best realized from the near end. Indeed, it can be realized in its fullness only by him who seeks it from this end of the line. Right here, or nowhere is the gate of heaven for us to day. The best of mediatorial religion is a second hand affair, it is a hearsay, a reminiscence. He who finds more sacredness in distant than in near things; for whom glory settles only on distant shores, morality enforced best by texts and events, springing out of the experience of others, may in some sense be said to have "got religion." But religion has not got him. Religion is still to him a possession, and not being. He may have studied a paper diagram of the new Jerusalem, but he has not yet entered within its gates. He may profess the Christian name, but he has not yet known the religion of Jesus. Jesus' religion if it was any thing was immeditorial. His gospel was rooted in common things: His Bible was the pages of nature, and the experience of peasant's hearts. His speech was redolent with the fragrance of the road side; and his principles were enforced by the experiences of the fishing boat and the sea side: sparrows, lilies, weeds, a mustard plant, and a woman's dough bowl disclosed to him the secrets of the Divine life. It was with such alphabet of earth that he spelled out the lessons of heaven.
Let us see what can be done by beginning at this end of the line. Let us drop all disputed words; confess our doubts and plead our ignorance; omit our pretentious words; throw away the sham beliefs, and even our would-believes. We will stop aping the piety we do not feel, and invoice among our spiritual possessions only those things that really are ours as commodities of soul. When our vocabulary is reduced to the limits of our present possessions, and the sincere experiences of to-day, what have we out of which to frame both religious thought and religious feeling? Present experience, its joy and beauty, the nearest and humblest duty, the simplest act of devotion that finds expression in the kiss we give to a babe, or the delicate awe we feel in the presence of the first flowers of spring. Just these, and nothing more. Count them if you must on the fingers of the one hand, but let us make the most of them. Follow any one of them out in thought, in feeling and in life, and the essentials of religion are ours. Any one of them will lead us unto the Mount of Transfiguration, where with Peter we exclaim, "Lord it is good to be here."
Take the simplest, coldest bit of science, work it out from this end, and we cannot leave it without feeling that we are in league with Eternity and that we are touching directly the infinite God. Sometimes your human certainties are reduced very low, and you say, "I only know that ‘I only know that two and two make four.’” Very well, if you are sure of that let that be for the time being your only confession of faith. Not much of a creed is it? Still, if you hold to it and live up to it, it is creed enough to make a saint of you. Two and two make four always, everywhere. They made four when Zoroaster taught the law of right, one thousand years before Jesus. They made four when the earliest shepherds began to count the stars. They make four to the Esquimaux in his ice hut, for the Australian as he basks in his nakedness under the Tropic calms. "Two and two make four." This is the beginning of that Arithmetic that eventually foretells the eclipse, anticipates the movements of planets, and weighs the earth in its balance. It is the beginning of that integrity that makes commerce possible, trade legitimate, and thrift commendable. To believe that two and two make four, always and everywhere, is to believe that something is settled in this world; and that too, settled by a power other than man. It is to believe that we are law-engirdled, that we live in an ordered universe, and that purpose, and method lie at the root of things, and spring out of the heart of being. Start right here, with the multiplication table, and you come to a religion big enough to insist that you live an honest man, that you do your full duty, that you make yourself worthy a place in the universe that is arranged„ at least according to the multiplication table. To believe in this is to believe in God,—at least, so far as the universality, inflexibility and integrity of the universe is concerned. And do not these form the most fundamental attributes of God? But we have not yet exhausted our text. "Two and two make four,” is a truth touches that mystic law that star rays the snow flake, that polishes into perfect symmetry the facets of the "angled star," that moves the procession of life in pairs, that arranges in perfect symmetry the flowers of the prairie; places the million needles of the pine tree according to the law of a perfect spiral, and show us, as Emerson says, that "Nature loves the number five.” The strength of the bird’s wind is also moulded into beauty. Thus the trigonometry of the goose quill suggests to the engineer how to frame his tubular bridge, through which he leads the thundering commerce of civilization. Thus it is that the simplest formula of Arithmetic leads to the beautiful as well as the useful, and if we do not prove the infidel to its inspiration, we will find ourselves eventually on our knees before the altar it rears; which lo: is also the altar beautiful. The multiplication table leads to honesty, to character. Character in full bloom is ever touched with reverence, is worshipful. Start from this end simply your "two and two make four” and it will roll up into the millions of measured miles through the thousands of counted worlds, that form the vestibule to the uncounted start studded depths of the temple of immensity. It is indeed the near end of infinitude.
Take another fragment of science. Turn away if you must from religion and its associate words, but make the most of a drop of water. Note the mystic wedlock of the aerial particles of oxygen and hydrogen. Trace the journey of that drop of water from the unseen gases through lake, vapor, cloud, rain, up again in the green leaf, climbing into the bud of spring, bursting somehow into the imponderable and once more unseen fragrance of the arbutus, and you have again climbed the Mount of Transfiguration. Following the drop of water this way and it reaches to the orbed star, and that way to the nebulous fire mists out of which worlds were rolled; back it leads us to a Genesis millions of years earlier than the earliest Adam, forward to a wild world tamed into a garden, the wilderness transformed into harvest fields, rose gardens where briers once grew, and the desert blooming with lilies. Inevitably is religion the outcome of science, if it is sought from the near end of our lives.
But there are those who will say, "I've no head, and still less of heart for science, ‘two and two are four’ and nothing more to me. Nature is cold and dead, I find no Infinite spirit in your protoplasm, no shaping Providence in your chaos of atoms. The thought of evolving worlds, developing plants, and aspiring organisms do not feed my heart. Evolution is to me soulless and godless." Well! for such I am sorry. I think there must be seething lame in their thinking and sluggish in their imagination, but let them not be discouraged, for all roads lead to Thee, Oh, Thou Infinite and All Sufficient: Let they try Beauty, and to them I would say with the old monk in the poem;
"If you get simple beauty and naught else
"You get about the best thing God invents."
But in getting beauty what do you get? Whence came the delicate tint of the flower? Who moulded its graceful cup, and fringed its golden lips? Compound who can its yellow and green? Put all this on the most godless basis you can, try to blur the marvel by the words, "matter, materialism, law, evolution,” anything but chance. But these words do not lessen one whit the beauty, or reduce the marvel. All the same have the teeming ages groaned in the production of this beauty, not nature alone, but human nature also. Here is the gardener's patience, woman's devotion and child's appreciation. The flower reaches up through the heart of man into the heart of the universe. Sever who can this tendency of nature to ornamentation from the thirst of the human soul for perfection. Will we see beauty here and none in the pursing lips of babyhood? Grace in the flower and none in the hand that trained it? Fragrance in the blossom that sets us at peace with nature, and no helpfulness in the hand that gathered it for us, setting us at peace with human nature. And further; if in the flower we discover a subtle power which in our timidity we may hesitate to name, will we not be impelled to strive to create a bit of beauty somewhere on our own account? Moved either to copy or excel it.
If you are so made that you "love things first when you see them painted," and are so led by the art road to a passion for the beautiful, why that road leads to all the pieties. Again we find religion by seeking it from this end of the line. Take Palissy[‘s] passion for the enamel to beautify a coffee cup, that insatiable hunger for the compound that in fervid heat would yield the polish, that wild intoxication that tore down the rafters of his house that the fires in his kilns might not go out. Look back of that frenzy, and there you will find concentrated all the strugglings of human life that have gone before. The power that refined the barbarities of war, the navigator's courage, conqueror's triumph, the temple at Jerusalem, the pantheon at Athens, the forum at Rome, psalm, prophet's word, poet's song al1 were related to that fiery soul that was mad for beauty; and looking forward that passion that burned in the heart of the Hugeonot potter was one of the many seeds that ripened into the art, the refinement and the culture of today. More religion than this do we find in this story. That unglazed lump of moulded clay presupposes the entire universe. It necessitates molten worlds, moving constellations, geologic aeons, grinding glaciers, polishing waves, everything that we know, and all that we do not know about sunlight, geology, chemistry and astronomy are a part of that lump of clay which Palissy tried to enamel. Aye! the unity of history, the solidarity of the race, the kinship of religion, the chorus of the prophet souls of earth are found in any human heart that is fired with a love of, and a search for the beautiful. Not symbolized there, but there in fact. Given a soul sensitive to color and form, susceptible to harmony, then there is that in a noble building, a pine tree or in the harmony of melody of a chorus, that which wil1 bring religious refinement, strength and sanctity. You remember Ruskin's story of the atheist artist who as he looked up to the waving branches of a magnificent tree found himself whispering reverently for the first time the word "God." When-
"Beauty through my senses stole
"I yielded myself to the perfect whole."
But the gate of beauty, as well as the gates previously mentioned may be closed to some. Not finding religion on these lines they would be instructed of reason. They ask of philosophy, "Where is God?" Here certainly, religion is found in fullest measure by those who seek it from this end. The older philosophies try to formulate the universe, to catalogue the attributes of God. The result has a always been confusion, distrust, dogmatism and defeat, because the universe is too big for the mind of man. "Who by searching can find out God?" The mind of man cannot compass the boundless. The immortality man can prove is not the eternal life, because man’s finitude can not be the infinite. The lesser cannot contain the greater. After a long and painful quest there has come a newer philosophy, that which recognizes the limitations of the mind. It ceases its attempt to solve the infinite or to compass the Almighty, and has tried instead to classify the few experiences of the finite, to study God from the man-ward side. From the known it has traveled toward the unknown. Beginning, at this end of the line, lo, every thought taps at a temple door, every passing thought lands the thinking man upon his knees, every sensation places his hands upon altar rails. When man is perfectly willing to confess his ignorance, then knowledge illumines his life with a sense that the unknown is more real than the known, that every known fact impinges upon our senses because there is behind it a greater, unknown verity. Thus every idea that passes through the brain, like every pulse of beauty compels us to bow before the invisible, but real God. Thought pursued in this way from the near end, brings the courage to many, aye, to most—to use the words of religion which under the method that began at the farther end they were compelled to relinquish. But if they take this to heart, they are made religious, which is far better than any over confident use of the words of religion.
But should the lines of reason blur before they reach to the Transfiguration Mount, there are still other roads, that lead that way. Such a road is love. I do not mean at the outset love for
God, if you must frankly confess that you know not where or who He is. ‘Tis still well if you love anything. Your wife, child, pet dog or favorite flower. Be true to the leadings of this love however simple, and it will mellow your life, interpret for you your neighbor's better nature, reconcile you to your enemy, put new beauty into the stars, reanimate the word of prophecy, and wreathe with hope and resignation your graves. "Tell the boys I've got Luck with me now," said the rough miner in Bret Harte’s story, "as he drifted away into the shadowy river that flows forever into the unknown sea, clinging to the body of the frail babe, whose advent had caused vines and flowers to grow around the cabin doors, and taught the miners to wash themselves twice a day." "Tennessee ain't pretty, but she air powerful peart," said Birt Bicey in Craddock's story. The presence of the unkempt little sister persuaded him that he couldn't "afford to be a scoundrel and sech." She followed him blessing, mellowing, ennobling his hard life all through the story, lifting his awful drudgery into the sanctities of worship. "One way of adoring God is to love one's wife," says Victor Hugo. "In thy face have I seen the eternal," said the dying Baron Bunsen to his wife.
Our friend Calthrop, in that famous paper of his, which he gave us at Saratoga last fall, described as you well remember, the contents of one cubic inch of space, which he placed midway between the sun and Sirius, through it he told us there goes dancing in every moment of time the billion "waves of light traveling from the six thousand stars, visible through a great telescope, beside the innumerable planets whose faint light no telescope is fine enough to catch." Through that inch of space constantly pours the "gravitating relations from the twenty million suns in our galaxy, the billion planets, and the uncounted nebulae…. To thoroughly know what goes on in that inch is to know the universe." in this inch he finds "The exactness of God. The economy of God. The beauty of God. and The love of God." If al1 these are found in so material and external an unit, how much more are they to be found in an unit of heart life. Study, as our friend Calthrop studied his cubic inch of space, the confident kiss which a strange babe gave me the other day. Think of the ages of barbaric struggle, the millions of crushed aspirations, unnumbered longings, the struggle of the savage for safety, of the barbarian for shelter, of the pioneer for a lodgement in inhospitable wilds, the statesmen for an ordered commonwealth, the inventor for the amenities and refinements of home, the physician for the condition of health, the educator for the expansion of mind, the moralist for the purity of soul, the religionist for the tenderness of spirit, heart-sick women and passion-disciplined men march in files ages long, through the kiss of that child. Aye, in receiving that kiss I was made heir of all the ages. Not so complicated are the material activities in Calthrop's inch of space, as is the spiritual complexity in that baby's kiss. Looking back, it opens up such a history of the human race as no infidel or atheist can contemplate without religious awe and thanksgiving. Except such infidel and atheists as are made in the would-be homes of religion itself by the preachers, who beginning at the farthest end, teach of an accursed world, of a child that is a doomed fragment of a depraved humanity . From that kiss we may look forward as well as backward. How it reaches into lives that are to be. In it is the beginning of home loves, fireside anxieties, generations of thinking, loving, men and women. Poets, statesmen, inventors, preachers and presidents, in ever increasing number. Warriors and kings, may God grant in ever decreasing numbers, are to spring more or less directly from that child's kiss. It is a deposit of the human heart in the love store of humanity. Forever more it will be somewhat the richer for that impulse towards kindness. God's kingdom is more on the earth for it. How tremenduously religious is the content of that kiss.
But should even this road fail, if love, simple human love, like science, philosophy and art, should prove a closed door, there still remains the east Gate of the temple. That through which Jehovah himself passed in the vision of Ezekiel. The gate of duty. The high portal of the sublime "I ought." Do your simplest duty towards your nearest neighbor, if it be but the humblest of your dumb relation, and somehow the bells of heaven will begin to ring in your soul. When the boy withheld the stone that he had raised against the turtle evermore did the voice of God abide with him, making him indeed, a Theodore. A gift of God to the world. "I don't know how to teach my boy his duty towards God," one said to me the other day. "Very well. Teach him his duty to the little bird in nesting time and you have taught him to begin to adjust his relation to the Infinite Father of all who suffer.” Make a woman ashamed of being a partner in the cruelty and sacrilege, that in the name of beauty deprives a meadow lark of its life, that its dead wing may defile the beauty of a woman's brow, and you have done more towards giving that woman a religious love, a soul sensitive to the sanctities of being, a heart beset with a sense of divine nearness, than if you had secured her signature to a creed in which all the holy words are written. If they are written there from the farther end. For that would be but a belief in a God that somebody else discovered. A reliance upon a historic mediator, and a trust in a traditional revelation. The times are growing more religious because men are beginning to find out that the best reve1ation of the Infinite is found through the loyalty of the finite. And that all the sanctuaries of the soul are shut save to those who tread the ways of righteousness. And that all of them are ultimately opened to those who do walk the high way of rectitude. All the shining ones of history have found that the road of morality leads to the mount of spirituality. On duty's highest heights there is ever the shining face, the transfigured vision. I know how wide the distance often is between religion and righteousness, as well as between religion and science, art or love a t the farther end. I admit that in their origin chronologically speaking they were very remote from each other. There was a time when right was synonymous with might, and when religion was full of selfish anxieties and the most tangible element in it was fear. But John Fiske tells us that according to the law of evolution, a difference in degree culminates in a difference in kind. So a growth in morals brings it to religious altitudes, and religion eventually must bloom into the decencies and ripen into the moralities. In its fruition it yields the golden.
But I do not care to argue the point that has been so fully elaborated in the hearing of all of you by Mr. Gannett. I accept his formula—
"Ethics thought out is religious thought.
"Ethics felt out is religious feeling.
"Ethics lived out is religious life.”
To this I would add: Science thought out is religious thought. Science felt out is religious feeling and science lived out is religious life. And so beauty thought out is religious thought. Beauty felt out is religious feeling, and beauty lived out is religious life. And so also reason followed from the near end lands us in religious thought, feeling and life. And is not the same true of love and duty, and any of the great verities of the life that now is?
There are two ways of looking at this tendency to seek religion from this end of things. One is that of a patronizing pity. It is to regard it as a brave effort to make the best of a faithless condition. There are those who think, "This is better than nothing." And to those who work from the center outward they say; "If you can't say God, please to say good." If you have not faith enough to sign the Apostles creed, to accept the bible as preeminent authority, or to confess Jesus as your sole and peculiar master, why then get some religious comfort and inspiration out of science, modern or ancient art, domestic love, or national duty. If you cannot profess the "Christian” name, or declare your "theistic” convictions, still try to lead the "Christian life,” and to obey the Divine laws, for that really is very good.
Well! if the attitude must be an apologetic one I still must champion this position. If the words of every day life, and of Universal experience are smaller words than the words of the creeds, and if souls from imbecility or any other reason, cannot speak the words you deem greater, but who do love to speak their modest equivalents. Those who cannot start from the far end, but are diligent in their search for the sanctities that are close by. I prefer to work with and for them. I choose to stand along side of the neglected, abused and unappreciated soul, who like the Publican in the parable begin the religious life by humbly confessing their limitation. Christendom offers ample accommodation and plenty of fellowship for those who are willing to start from the farther end, to begin with the assertions that end in dogma. I prefer to stand with what some might call the "doctrinal imbeciles” of today, the non-experts in the creed business. Here and hereafter I am willing to take my chances with those who are seeking truth, even though they miss it. Those who believe in righteousness, though they may not know how to formulate it. Those who love the good, even though they dare not personify it. My church is for the unchurched, and my fellowship is for those to whom fellowship is denied.
But is not this a mean and graceless attitude towards those who work religion from this end? Shall we not rather say that those who work from the near end lay hold of the big end, the faith end of religion? It is that without which all words are worthless. The spirituality of religion lies in the appreciation of the near sanctity, God, heaven, hell, immortality and revelation are in the present tense; or else they are nowhere and nothing. He who does not believe that "two and two make four" is a part of the infinite truth of God, needs a creed to tell him that there is a God at all. He who is not conscious of first hand contact with the Divine, who does not feel the spirit of the universe pulsing in his spirit, who does not find every inch of space, every thought throb, every heart beat, every love longing, and right doing impulse, trembling with religious power must need the formal authoritative assurance of conferences. He needs to legislate into use the words "Christianity,” "theism,” "God.” But he who does feel all this will be glad to subordinate all words to the verities they stand for, because he believes in and loves the verity. Plenty of people [are] willing to confess their faith in God, who have not yet confessed him in their practice. True religion has but little to offer mankind if it is not eventually to teach that the highest and not the lowest way of spelling the Divine name is with a double "o". If it is not going to make men ashamed to serve God in a way that will bruise man. Attempt to honor the father by injuring the child.
"Yes, write it in the rock, Saint Bernard said,
"Grave it on brass with adamantine pen!
"Tis God himself becomes apparent, when
"God's wisdom and God's goodness are displayed,
"For God of these his attributes is made." -,
"Well spake the impetuous Saint, and bore of men.
"The suffrage captive; now, not one in ten
"Recalls the obscure opposer he outweighed.
"God's wisdom and God's goodness!—Ay, but fools
"Mis-define these till God knows them no more.
"Wisdom and goodness they are God!—what schools
"Have yet so much as heard .this simpler lore!
"This no Saint preaches, and this no church rules;
"Tis in the desert, now and heretofore.
The rosary of the ultimate religion is not yet formed, but when it is we may be sure the spring bud, the drop of water, the painter's passion and the musician's ecstasy, woman's love, and baby's smile, the hand that holds the plow or swings the hammer, the conscience that does the right, will be beads in that rosary, and each bead will tell a prayer, and every prayer will fertilize the spiritual life of men.
Let us now attend to another phase of this problem. There are those who will admit the possibility of the individual finding his religious nature awakened and ripened by living from the near end, but who question the possibility of social organic religious life based on things near. They tell us when we come to organize we must use some of the far end words. Men and women cannot be held together, or at, least they cannot make church life potent and coherent by making the nearer end the greater end, the seeming small things the essentials., and the universal experiences of shuffling lads the grounds of an unified and inspiring fellowship. These friends like Peter on the Mount would fain build a tabernacle for the figures that float in the air, rather than those who stand upon the ground. Thus it is that churches have been organized to shield the doctrine of the Trinity, to shelter an authoritative bible, to hold the dogmas of immersion, election, and even the grim terror of eternal punishment; hoping that by the perpetuation of these remoter words religion night be served and conserved in the world. Churches have been founded upon a revelation that belongs to the past, and a bliss that is to come, a Lord that spoke eighteen hundred years ago, and a joy that awaits on the other side of death's gate. Their calendar of saints is made up of dead folks, and if we are to believe the hymn-book their hearts are ever yearning for mansions beyond the skies. All this is an attempt to organize religion from the farther end. It has resulted in churches separated by a wide chasm from the needs and most of the realities of the life that now is. It is indeed apart from much of the holy living, and the holy yearnings of to day. Many of the healthiest impulses and the noblest thoughts of current life about us are compelled to go unchurched. They have no place in the costly piles that are to be seen on our street corners, with -
"Sad slate roof aloof,
"From human fellowship so far."
Piles that cast their chilly shadows a thwart society f or six days in the week. With doors locked against hungry heart and vacant mind, churches so costly that there is left but little funds, either natural or spiritual to be expended in that which ought to be the chief business of a church. Churches so elegant that they must not be soiled by the grimy feet of earth's plodders. Churches built from the far end of religion, only he who can pronounce the shibboleth, or properly accent the doctrine has a right to a seat in them. The good missionary must not go back to speak comforting words to hungry Heathen if he has a little hope that a chance may yet be given the Pagan grandfather of his convert. The church must be tested by its word, and its life, not by its life with or without words. All this is organizing religion from the farther end, from the life that is not yet interpreted. In the interests of a world into which we are not yet ushered, upon doctrines which many very dear and useful people cannot accept. Creeds which another age his written, revelations vouchsafed to other souls. It is organized from the farther end of social excellence, of Financial extravagance or architectural pretension. I do not deny the possibility of finding religion from the farther end, nor that utility and blessedness may and does come from the same, but I do insist that there is greater need of and larger returns in store for those who undertake to organize it from the nearer end of life. Let us see what can be done by beginning with things close by. Let us admit, as I think we ought, that thirty out of any thirty-nine articles that are offered us by the churches are beyond our comprehension, and elude our proofs. We may not know about Apostolic Successions, or learn about theistic assertions or Christian preeminence, but we have great interest in the story of the Good Samaritan, and the Golden Rule takes hold upon us. The beatitudes awe us and make us ashamed of ourselves. The allusion to a "cup of cold water” appeals to us. Pity for the hungry, compassion for the outcast and sympathy for the desolate - these things we do understand. We know that there are homesick boys and tempted girls in our cities; wayward young men and flippant young women; husbands that are hard to their wives; and wives that are selfish in their homes; children neglected though draped in silks.
Now, is there no chance for organizing religiously for the help of these? Can we not unite men and women together as compactly upon a purpose to help humanity to save the least, as upon a conclusion about God? Can we not find a bond of union in our needs as strong as in your creeds? Is there not a beauty of fellowship in diversity, as in uniformity, and more helpful? Religion organized from the near end of life will undertake to serve the world that now is. It will go in quest of truth, it wil1 be a pledge of righteousness, it will stand for present sanctities. Organize religion from this end and you will have a church of the Holy Endeavor, a church of the Sacred Certainties. It will be a church of the Blessed Beginnings; a school of the spirit; a primary department of the celestial university. I admit that this is as yet an unsolved problem, because it has as yet scarcely been tried.
But I do profoundly believe that when religion begins systematically by to organize itself upon the near verities and the present needs of this human life, that now as then will come the true Catholic church, that in the breadth of its territory the number of its communicants, and the majesty of its history, may yet outrival the Church of Rome. I believe this because
1—Such a church will be planted upon the most universal elements in human nature - the head and heart hunger of humanity. Few have possessions; all have needs. The Pharisee's prayer - "God I thank Thee that I am not as the rest of men, I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I get," necessarily belongs to the 1iturgy of the few. God grant that they may still become less. But the Publican's prayer; "God be merciful unto me a sinner"- is the prayer universal. It belongs to the ritual of humanity the round world over. God grant that its soft murmurings may yet be heard.
2—I believe it again because of the great number who already in spirit belong to just this church. Perhaps the largest—and one is tempted to say—the noblest church in Christendom to day is the unchurched. It certainly freely speaking contains the highest and the lowest in our communities. The best and the wickedest are to day found outside the pale of the conventional churches. The man who does his own thinking, who is his own missionary, administers his own charities, is seldom the man who is very far inside the church without us out West. When this man finds his neighbor in the spirit, and these two find the third, and the third finds the fourth - then the Church of the Holy Beatitudes is begun. And it will continue to increase until it includes all those who have to give, and those who have needs.
Of course the church organized in the interests of religion from the near end must have its own methods. Its members will not be tied together like a bundle of tacks, with a creed string, however fine or strong. But they will be drawn together like the iron filings that cling to the magnet that is drawn through them, yielding to the beautiful law of polarity, held there by the Divine attractions, the spiritual affinities of the soul. This is as persistent, and as safe as the chemical affinity that locks the atoms in each other’s embrace. In the East, the true shepherd country, the shepherd always goes before, the sheep following. He ever leads, he never drives the flock. It is left for the clumsy and hasty men of the West to invent the harsh and tiresome methods of driving the herd. So the true spiritual shepherd that would fold souls by organizing religion from the near end will ever lead, and never drive.
3—I believe in this possibility again because of the great amount of work there is now being done on these lines. Why this modern complexity of humanitarian reform and fraternal organizations, what is the meaning of all these kitchen and kindergarten associations, temperance societies, white and red cross leagues, prison congresses, women's clubs, lodges, etc., with their wearisome waste of human tissue in the way of presidents, secretaries, by-laws and assessments? W all know that from fifty to seventy per cent of the strength of such organizations is necessary to overcome the friction of the machine, leaving but thirty per cent of energy left to do the work for which the machine is organized. But even at such a cost they are indispensable at present, because they alone dare undertake the work for which the church should exist, but which the churches of the land refuse to take up, because they are not organized from the near end. Witness the clumsy waste of money in our country. Millions of money are invested in the buildings that dot our cities, towns, and country cross-roads; dedicated to religion, but are sealed to seventy-five per cent of the real work which religion ought to do; thus necessitating this tiresome set of instrumentalities in order to do the work which the churches ought, but will not do.
More radical and perplexing than the problems of labor and capital to day is the problem of how to get the churches of the land to work religion from the near end. To do the work which alone justifies churches, viz: Enlarging the life of man and adjusting it to its place in tits universe.
Men hard pressed though the week with the drudgery of business, and the intense routine of material concerns need the intellectual variety, the social lift, moral elevation and spiritual refinement which active persis tent, continuous co-operation with a church working from the near end would bring. In such cooperation they would find larger returns for the time and money invested, than is possible in their masculine lodges, clubs, labor unions, etc. One of the most alarming, as well as most hopeful signs of the times, is this growing eagerness of women to multiply their feminine organizations for social objects of reform and culture. I do not believe that these women's clubs with their social jealousies and ambitions, and easy honors can do as much for their members, intellectually or spiritually as the same amount of capital in time and money invested in a church working from the near end, where men and women combine and enlarge the boundaries of life in every direction, can do for them. I said it was both alarming and hopeful. Alarming because it threatens to withhold from the church the brain power of women, and leave it continuously the victim of women’s sweet heart and hand life, which however sincere, will miss the larger blessing unless there go with it a head 1ife also. One of the sad spectacles of the day is to find women in the "club,” complacently denying, or counteracting the doctrines of the church to which they lend their Sunday presence, from which they draw, or think they draw, their religious life. On week day, in their "study classes” they grapple with the master of thought, the problems of reform, and call it "club work.” On Sunday they try to persuade their husbands to endure preaching, which the husbands do not believe in and which the wives cannot justify. They will sell tickets for parish entertainments that have in then neither much dignity of intellect or sincerity of spirit. They knit fancy work for the Fair, and serve as shop girls at the Bazaar, and they call it church work. May God forgive them for the confusion. That was "church work,” this is too cheap to be called "club work.” But it is also a hopeful sign of the times, because it shows woman rising into the full stature of womanhood. A woman with a head as well as a heart. Who has thoughts as well as feelings. A woman who dares think, and in the thinking finds her spirituality growing, her tenderness and helpfulness increasing. It is a hopeful sign because one of these days woman will acquire that self reliance, that honesty and sincerity of the intellectual life, that will enable her to convert her husband, make her wise enough to find ways of carrying into the church that which belongs more in the church than anywhere else; her deepest thought and her most dignified purposes. Nothing will save woman's mind from being "womanish” except free and frequent contact with manly intellects and hearts, on the highest sides of life. And no thing will save men’s minds and hearts from becoming "mannish” (and mannishness must be counted something quite as uncomplimentary to say the least, as "womanishness”), except contact with womanly grace and refinement in the interest of the perennial things. I recognize the value of your lodges, unions and clubs, within certain limits; but I am saddened when I think of men who must necessarily spend eight or ten hours a day in close contact with men none too pure of speech or of breath, and then are led to give many of their evening hours and spare energies into the exclusively masculine enjoyments, to the neglect of those renewals which only come in mixed company, where not only men and women, but old and young mingle their common life for the enlargement and enjoyment of all. Now this estrangement and unnatural divorce is inevitable in the atmosphere of churches that seek to solve religion at the far end of things. That say to growing women "You must not think too much on these things," and to independent men, "You must believe, even though you do not understand." But the church that organizes from the near end, that is a holy quest for the deed, rather than an iron pledge for the word, will change all this. It will make again the church building the center of the neighborhood life, however humble in its exterior, It will again be the cathedral,— The one house with an open door all the week around. Not a Seventh but a seven day movement is needed in our Churches. Such a church will remember, that wherever there is a search for the thoughts of Job, Dante, Goethe, Browning or Emerson; wherever there is an attempt at softening the hard life of the poor, to elevate the ignorant, to train awkward fingers of little children, or to put beauty into dreary homes, there is the real, legitimate work of the church. For such work trustees will neither begrudge gas nor coal. Women will not shield their carpets, and parishes will say to their ministers, "see to it that you develop to the maximum the intellectual, moral and spiritual resources of your people, however it may be with your sermon. Then the church will stand once more for living faith, for high thought, and real conviction. It will be the rallying point of the community of which it is a center. It will be the joyous home of thought, art and fraternity and for all this it will be the better home for worship. Prayer will be the more tender. Psalmody the more lofty. And religion again will clothe itself with the pomp of ritual, the power of symbolis. It will inspire painter, sculptor, architect, musician to make their contribution, that will add to the potency of the church that makes Character preeminent. Its untrammeled gospel of truth, righteousness, love and the aspirations connected therewith will with resistless force bud and bloom into Deity’s name, which blossoms will ripen into the fruit that is both the though and the love of God.
I am not dealing in impractical rhapsodies. Let the churches of our city but dedicate the humblest nook in their building as a shelter corner ever open and lighted, warm in winter and cool in summer, with the refreshments of books, papers and innocent games; accessible to whoever may come; then, they will wage a winning warfare with the sins of the local saloons. And until they do thus array themselves they are in actual league with the dram shop and its kindred degradation. The traffickers in run can afford to pay a generous stipend to the minister for every night he keeps his shop closed, because the guests he turns away will find hearty welcome at the door way of that dram shop, which under existing circumstances is only half devil's door way. The hearty welcome, the human fellowship, the opportunity of man to meet man in the companionship that lessens the solitudes of life, so much of this as is free from greed and coarseness is God's own work though it be in a saloon. Oh! what might not the churches of America do if they committed themselves primarily to the gospel of the Golden Rule, dedicated themselves to the high piety of character, instead of devoting so much time to the pinch beck sanctities of exclusiveness, sectarian rivalry, denominational ambition and word exacting rather than life demanding standards.
See what is already accomplished in direction where the churches unanimously lead. The Chautauquan study classes, superficial in their methods, faulty in their systems, still do more towards whetting the appetites of men and women for the better things in literature and art, and of elevating the public tastes of our communities than any college in the land. They are enabled to do this work because in some clumsy fashion they have gone into partnership with the churches of our country. Plenty of fanaticism and zeal unguided by knowledge in the Y. M. C. A. movement of Christendom. Yet in most of our Western communities their rooms represent the center of humanities, and their work for and with the young men and women of America is immeasurable and grand. Spite of similar limitations the greatest temperance force in this country to day I think is that represented by the W. C. T. U. The power of both these movements is found in the fact that they are in league with organized religion. They avail themselves of the machinery of the churches. These attempts however clumsy to begin at the near end to lift the world into manliness succeed so well that – many fears notwithstanding – it is also moving the world towards godliness also. Let our churches begin at the near end. If they did but offer a drink of ice water to every sun parched boy and tired laborer that passes their door this summer the would so deepen their piety, enlarge their spirituality, that they would forget all about Andover controversy, creed quarrels and sect disputes, that now so dissipate energies that might be directed to divine ends. "Whosoever shall give one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward.” There is no missionary work except home missionary work. The potency of spirit ever radiates from the possessor of spirit. That is the true missionary center where the missionary is. The best location for a church is where the live man is. "Where McGregor sits is the head of the table.” Potency is not in the dollars, nor in plans or schemes of organization, but always in the living voice, the throbbing heart, the thinking brain, the helping hand. The Holy Spirit cannot be communicated through Boards and Committees, any more than it can through the finger tips of surpliced Bishops. But wherever a mother is comforted, a wavering father soul is stayed, wherever a hungry soul is fed with the Bread of Life, wherever hand clasps hand for a long pull, a hard pull and a pull altogether for the purpose of making the bad a little less bad, and the good a little better, there is the foundation of a church that will stand, though it be a s frail a thing as the bower which the shepherd boy built to shelter the loving Buddha. Like the branch of that Lota tree which the boy stuck in to the ground, it will grow into a great tree, million leaved and still green as the story goes, though the gentle Prince for whose momentary shelter it was meant has been dead twenty-three hundred years. The church that begins to build from the near end must broaden, deepen, heighten on lines that end only where God ends. Let it begin now and it will last as long as time lasts. Begin here, touch the parched lips of a fainting brother with a cup of cold water, and it will start a wave of blessedness in the Waters of Life, that will go on in ever increasing circumference, the limits of which will be rimmed only by Eternity.
A word further and I am done. What name is this religion, and are these churches to be known by? There are those who will confess an admiration for the ideal, perhaps admit the possibility of realizing it, but who deny the right to apply to such a religious movement the name "Unitarian" or the word "Christian.” I love both words. In a 1arge but very real way I believe I have a right to both, but I shall contend for neither. It is more to me that I should stand for religion as it touches me from the near end of being, than that I should stand for any name under religion. I prefer to contend for the thing rather than for the label. And if there be a dispute about labels I will not even insist upon my right to wear either tag. I believe that the word "Unitarian” sanctified by the thought of Channing, intensified by the great heart earnestness of Theodore Parker, humanized by the great philanthropic movements of this century, conspicuously that which is wrought by the freedom of men, spiritualized by the lofty teachings and serene faith of Emerson, and holding in its very composition the root word of modern thought and universal religion, Unity is destined to become a word that will cover that great religious movement that begins a t the near end of things. I believe further that we now have a right to so interpret it, that as a matter of fact it does represent such a movement to day, but if I am mistaken, if it turns out that the Unitarian church is to cry "Halt.” And if the majority of those who wear the name now should insist on driving a creed peg somewhere, or on wearing a given badge, then, all I have to say is, so much the worse for Unitarianism. So much the more need of a movement in religion such as I have tried to sketch. So much the harder will I work if strength be given me for a religious movement that is larger and broader than any that the word Unitarian, or even the word Christian have ever yet stood for in history. So much the more earnestly should we pray for strength to ward off the danger still extant which Lessing foresaw over a hundred years ago. The clamor for a name, even to the confusion of the thing
"Christianity, not manhood, is their pride,
E’en that which from their founder down has spiced
Their superstition with humanity,
‘Tis not for its humanity they love it.
No; but because Christ taught, Christ practiced it.
Happy for them he was so good a man.
Happy for them that they can trust his virtue.
His virtue? Not his virtue, -but his name,
They say, shall spread abroad, and shall devour
And put to shame the names of all good men.
The name, the name is all their pride.”
No, not the Name, not the Name, but the Thing, the Thing. Let religion start from the near end, be true to its beginnings, then work outward and upward on all the lines of thought, feeling, knowledge, aspiration, aye! shame, ignorance and defeat and find that they all lead to the same Mountain of Transfiguration where the raiment of the mortal becomes white with immortal light, and the face of man shines with the radiance of God. Then the soul without Peter's limitations will be enabled to exclaim wherever it may be "Lord it is good for us to be here.”