What O’Clock Is It In Religion?

Minot J. Savage

Berry Street Lecture, 1889

 

read before the Ministerial Conference

Boston, Massachusetts

1889

 

Somebody's clear thinking underlies all rational action. Though the actor, in any department of life, may scout creed and theory, and though he may say truly that he neither has nor wishes to have anything to do with either, yet he cannot help himself. Every step he takes, every enterprise he en­gages in, is the result of the attempted em­bodiment of somebody's theory. The far­mer, for example, may plod along in his ac­customed way year after year: he may never have spent an hour in his life in study or thought concerning soils or dressings or crops ; he may do merely what his father did before him; and even that father may have had no theories, but only inherited habits; yet it remains true that somebody thought and experimented, and what has come to be mere custom was once purpose and plan.

 

Apart from some accidental improvement that has been stumbled into, every new step taken is the result of new theorizing, of a reconsideration of the past, of present conditions, and of future possibilities. Such reconsideration is always in order when there is a pause and time to reflect. Par­ticularly is this true in an age like the pres­ent. For, though we talk often enough of this as a "transition time,” I think it is only a few who appreciate that we are pass­ing through the most profound and far-reaching revolution of religious and ethical thought and theory that the world has ever seen. The change from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican theory of the universe was superficial compared with it; though then the alarm was raised that all religious belief was in danger. Even the change from Ju­daism to Christianity was comparatively superficial; for then it was chiefly certain Messianic ideas and certain rites and cere­monies that separated the old and the new.But now what is there that is not involved? God, man, duty, destiny,—all are up for a reconsideration so radical as the world has never known.

 

We often speak of "the duty of the hour.” But, before we can perform it, we need to know the hour. And the difference in the running of the vast multitude of religious clocks is so great that as yet there is no sort of an agreement. For, as Pope says,—we forgive him his grammar in view of the necessity of the rhyme, and for the sake of the force of his thought,

'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none                                                                

Go just alike, yet each believes his own.

We have made one advance since Pope: we have established "standard time” for watches and clocks; but, alas! our "judgments” still run very much as they please. This is not, as I believe, because there is no "Sun time” in religion, but because people are so attached to their old ways of reckoning that they are not willing to admit that their private chronometers are ever wrong. There is a good deal of "human nature” in this; for, when our present standard time was adopted, there were a good many who seemed very much afraid that they would lose something out of the twenty-four hours if they gave up the old methods of reck­oning.

 

As all of us who are here wish, above all things, to do the duty of the hour, it seems to me that we cannot engage in a more profitable task than that of trying to find out just what the hour is; for the hour will tell the duty. You will not impute to me the presumption of attempting to set the time for you, or of claiming that my private watch is the standard. My task is a much more humble one than that. I do not expect to tell you anything that you do not know. I shall only undertake, like the writer of the Second Epistle of Peter, "to stir you up by putting you in remembrance.” I only ask you to glance with me along the pathway of the world's religious evolution, with the one purpose of finding out where we are, what time it is in the world's day, and so to what step of advance we are in­vited by the coming hour.

 

THE DEVELOPMENT OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS.

 

We need to recall to mind at the outset—what we all well know—that the aim, the purpose, of all religious, in all ages, has always been one,—the endeavor on the part of the worshipper to get into more desirable relations with his God. This one thread of common purpose has run through them all, so binding them like beads on one string. This fact gives us an added respect for the first crude and barbaric religions, and sug­gests a deeper harmony underlying all the apparent discords in the fugue of the relig­ious progress of the race, where the same theme continually reappears in the midst of a thousand variations. It will be seen that religion is nothing else but man's eternal search for the secret of life,—"that they might have life, and might have it more abundantly.” It is the endless endeavor for "reconciliation with God.”

 

As this thought is fundamental to our whole theme, perhaps it will be well to make it a little clearer. It is of no importance for us to raise the question as to precisely what was the lowest and so the earliest form of manifestation of the religious life. We may leave that for scientific research to settle at its leisure. For, whether it was worship of fetish or ghost, one point at least is clear. It was the recognition on the part of man of a power not himself, a power invisible and mysterious, that was able to hurt him or to help him. He be­lieved that by certain gifts or rites, certain prayers or praises, he could ward off the wrath of this power or win its favor and assistance. Four points are here involved:

1.   These primeval men had certain ideas as to the nature and disposition of this invisible power.

 

2.   They had certain ideas as to their own nature and so as to the relations in which they stood to this power.

 

3.   They had an ideal of certain better or more favorable relations that might be established between themselves and this power.

 

4.   The outward and active manifestation of their religious life, whatever form it took, was only and always the attempt on their part to establish these better or more favorable relations. This formula will cover and include every religion that the world has ever seen or ever can see. And it is a strik­ing fact, and suggests remarkable parallels, to note that it covers all science as well. Science has its theory of the power not our­selves (whether material or spiritual) out of which we have come and on which our destiny depends. It has also its theory of man, and of his relation to this power. Then it has its theory of a better relation to be established by a wider and higher knowledge. And, last, its hope of civiliza­tion depends on there being brought about a more complete adjustment of man to his environment. So, when Paul talks about "reconciliation to God” and science speaks of "adjustment to the environment,” one is only the religious, the other the secular way, of saying what a deeper analysis reveals as substantially the same thing. For every theist must look on the material world as only the external manifestation of that one Life in which "we live and move and have our being,” the two together making the complete physical and spiritual environment of the whole man.

 

When, then, the early worshipper engaged in any religious act, he was only endeavoring to get into a closer and more helpful rela­tion to his god. How he would do it, what particular act he would perform or what internal disposition he would cultivate, all this would depend on what he thought of his god, and what he imagined he would want him to do. Whether he would sacri­fice an animal or some fruit or his own child; whether he would pray, or chant a hymn, or invent some elaborate ceremonial; whether the service should be in one place or another; whether it should be under the open sky or in some temple; whether it should be under some sacred oak in a valley or on some mountain top,—all this was determined entirely by what he supposed the will of his god. When the barbarian was about to start out on the hunt or to battle with some hostile tribe, he did what he supposed his god desired as the condi­tion of his assistance. When the Jewsthought Yahweh was angry with them, and was punishing them with a pestilence or by giving them over to the Philistines, they did what they supposed their deity desired as the condition of turning away his anger.When the Christians of the Middle Ages were engaged in their crusades for therescue of the holy sepulcher from the hands of the infidel, they did what they supposed God wanted them to do as the condition of success. And, when the crops of our Puritan forefathers were suffering from drought, they did what they supposed God desired as the condition of sending them rain. And so today, however our ideas may have changed, the principle determining human action is forever the same.

 

At first there were many gods to be pleased; and the ways of pleasing, them were many, and sometimes contradictory. The question of morality—that is, of con­duct as between man and man—had not then been raised as having anything to do with pleasing the gods. They were only a sort of invisible sultans, having in their hands the power of life and death and governing according to their own capricious wills. So that religion might be unmoral, immoral or moral, according to the supposed character or wish of the god; for his will superseded all other considerations. Men were not supposed to have any rights as against the supreme power.

 

In the progress of religious evolution, men came, after a time, to think of some one God as supreme, not only over men, but over all other gods as well. Jupiter became the "king and father of gods and men.” Yah­weh also grew to be "King of kings andLord of lords.” Then the lesser deities ceased to exist at all, or became degraded to the position of attendant or inferior spirits.

 

But a process more important than even this, if possible, also went on. God ceased to be thought of as force only, the heavenly despot, and became the ideal and embodiment of righteousness. Men reached the high level of asking, "Shall not the King of all the earth do right?”

 

In the earlier ages there was no need of any devil. The varying characters or the changing caprices of the many gods were sufficient to explain the ills of life as well as its good. But when the people came to believe in one God only, and in him asjust and good, they could not think of him as the author of evil. The existence of a great adversary became to them a philo­sophical necessity as an explanation of phys­ical and moral evil.

 

From this brief review of the origin, growth, and change of religious ideas, it becomes plainly apparent that religion springs out of, depends upon, and adapts itself to the scientific conception of the universe that obtains in any particular age. So it is no accident that the first word of Genesis is a scientific word. It is no acci­dent that all religions start with a cosmog­ony. What kind of a power is this which is not myself? And by what methods does he govern the world and man? These are the first questions, the ones that precede all others. And the shape the religion takes is the answer to these questions. For man must be forever seeking to do that which he really believes God wants him to do, in order that he may gain eternal life. The question of the young ruler who came to Jesus is the one, age-long, always-repeated question of the race. And the answer to it must always depend on what people think about God, their own nature and condition, and so their present relation to God.

THE ESSENTIAL FEATURES OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY.

We have now reached the point where I wish to place before you—what you all know well—the main outlines and essential features of what has been orthodox Christianity for fifteen hundred years. I say fifteen, and not eighteen, because it took two or three centuries for the shifting out­lines to settle into something like fixed re­lations to each other. We need to have those outlines clearly in mind, in order to grasp the full significance of the movements now going on.                                                                                                                                                                                                          

We need not confuse the discussion by raising any of the minor questions, such as the date of creation, the precise nature of Jesus, the changing theories of the atone­ment, or the methods of inspiration. We need only to set down in order those points of Orthodoxy that are so vital a part of the system that, when any one of them is taken away, what is left ceases to be Orthodoxy. What are these points?          

1.        The creation of man and the putting him here on this earth as a place of probation.                                                                                                                                 

2.        The fall of man and his resulting con­dition as lying under the everlasting curse and wrath of God.                                                                                                                                 

3.        The incarnation, life, teachings, suffer­ing and death of the second person of the Trinity as making it possible for God to be "just and the justifier of him who believeth.”                     

 

4.        Everlasting life for those who accept the atonement and everlasting death for those who do not.                 

 

5.        The Bible as a divine revelation, with­out which any such scheme of the universe could never have been known, and would never have been thought of.

 

This is essential Orthodoxy; that is, Christianity as it has been popularly held and taught. All these points are essential; for, if you take any one of them away, the whole reason for keeping the rest of them ceases to exist. Give up the old idea of Edenic innocence and probation, and the fall loses its significance. Give up the fall, and there is no call for the stupendous miracle of the incarnation, with all its ac­companiments. Give up everlasting pun­ishment, and what becomes of the scheme that came into existence for the sole pur­pose of saving men from it? Give up the infallible Bible, and there is no reason for supposing that any of the rest is true. For we have today much more rational as well as more merciful ways of explaining the existence of pain and evil, and neither philosophy nor science would ever dream of resorting to such theories, in order to account for the actual condition of the world. And yet I have talked with more than one "orthodox” minister within the year whobelieved no single one of these doctrines in the historic sense of the creeds, though these creeds are still held on high as the banners of the faith. But it is not the attitude of the orthodox toward Orthodoxy that now concerns us. We are now dealing with the liberal religious attitude toward all the great questions involved.

 

Let it now be kept clearly in mind that Orthodoxy is not only a religion, it is also a cosmology, a theory of things; and that the two are inextricably intertwined with each other. At the outset, also, it shut in its own face the door of any change or advance by making all hinge on the claim that its whole scheme of things had been divinely and infallibly revealed. So that Dr. Richard S. Storrs was right in pro­nouncing the idea of a progressive theology an absurdity. For, if the Bible is not understood, it does not reveal anything; and, if it is, then what it reveals is eternal and unchanging truth. The orthodox claim has always been that the Bible re­veals the creation of the world, the creation of man, his nature, his career, his destiny. So Dr. Jonathan Edwards was right in conceiving the entire outline of the world's career as being only "the history of redemption.” According to Orthodoxy, this sums up the reason for the earth's existence. And any true orthodox church must have for its one object and aim the saving of men from the effects of the fall. Anything and everything else is purely incidental.

 

COSMOLOGY AND RELIGION.

 

It was about thirty-six years after our city of Boston was founded that "Paradise Lost” was licensed to be published in the city of London. I mention this date, in order to refresh your memories with the extreme modernness of the series of changes that have given us the new universe in which we are living. The framework of Milton's great epic was the theory of Ptolemy. The poet, indeed, was familiar with what he probably regarded as the "speculations” ofCopernicus,—very much as so many modern theologians regard the teachings of Spencer and Darwin to-day,—for he makes Adamand the angel talk them over. But the angel gives Adam the advice, which has always been dear to the typical theologian's heart, that it is not well to try to know much, and that better than all knowledge is obedience to the constituted authorities.

 

Now this recently created universe of Ptolemy, made to be the probationary home of man until the scheme of redemption should be worked out, and then to be destroyed, was admirably adapted to the use of the poet. It is suggestive of a good many vital questions to consider what Mil­ton could have done with his theme if he had tried to make his story fit the frame­work of the Copernican universe. He would have found it simply impossible to make it at home there. It fits the old universe as a picture fits its frame. But it touches the new one nowhere, and stands in no sort of vital relation to it. This fact greatly emphasizes what I have already said as to the intimate and inevitable connec­tion between the cosmology and the re­ligion.

 

Taking "Paradise Lost,” then, as ourmodern point of departure, let us note cer­tain things that have occurred. In this presence, I need do no more than indicate there; for they are familiar to all scholars, —so familiar indeed that their modernness is apt to be overlooked and their signifi­cance but half appreciated. Three great thought-revolutions have been accomplished, so victoriously, so completely accomplished that there is no possibility of the world's ever taking, in these directions, one back­ward step. These three are a revolution in physics, a revolution in criticism, and a revolution in biology. Before the face of the enormous advances of knowledge inthese three directions, the old earth and the old heavens have fled away, and there is found no place for them. Let us briefly note, not because you do not know them, but merely to mark the line of separation between the old and the new, their reach and their inevi­table consequences.

 

The names of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Young, Franklin, Dalton, Spencer, these and those of their coworkers call to mind the steps forward that have beentaken in physics. The ten concentric, crys­talline spheres of Ptolemy and Milton formed a circle which reached half-way from the floor of heaven down to the domeof hell. When Satan and his hosts were cast out, it took them only nine days to fall past all these spheres and across the inter­vening chaos to the bottom of everything. This indicates the size of the old universe. The earth was fixed at the centre, while the local and visible God held his court just overhead. When now we remember that it takes light three years and a half to reach us from that sun which is our nearest neighbor, and that we stand only on the threshold of sun-lighted pathways that lead on and on to infinity, we get an impression, at least, of the enormous transformation that our thought of the universe has undergone since Boston was founded. What a change it is, and how recent! The baby-house world of Ptolemy has been "put away,”along with other "childish things,” by thegrowing mind of the race. And along with it have been "put away,” also, the God that ruled it and the man that inhabited it.

 

For the revolution in biology, instead of a man created perfect and placed in Eden six thousand years ago, has given us a man starting on the border-line of the animal world perhaps two hundred thousand years ago and developing by natural processes to what we see him today. And the revolution in criticism has completely changed our con­ception as to God's method of working in the origin and growth of religions and their relations to each other. We have no longer one perfect, supernatural religion coming down from heaven, set over against all others labeled natural and false. We are compelled to think of them all as man's attempts to "feel after” and find the God who is "not far from every one of us.” So it is no longer the business of one to con­quer and subjugate all the rest, but rather of all together to grow to unity, as they grow nearer to the truth which is the one revelation of God. In this old universe, it was natural enough to think of God as an ex­ternal and visible king, issuing or revoking arbitrary decrees, as other kings did. It was natural enough to think of his subjects as rebelling against him, as other subjects did. Then it was natural enough to think of him as devising some plan by which, while maintaining his authority, he could pardon such as chose to accept his arbitrary condi­tions. It was natural enough to think of him who had wrought out the plan of salva­tion as interceding for the forgiveness of those who sought it, for his sake. It was natural enough to think of the endless re­jection of those who declined the one and only offer of pardon. It was natural enough to think of interference with the regular order, of miraculous answer to prayer, of a supernatural being taking temporarily the form of a man, and of an infallible revela­tion. All these things fitted into the old universe.

 

It is seen, therefore, how naturally the re­ligious formula we have had in mind all the way along adapts itself to and explains the old religion. First, such was the thought of the universe. Secondly, the popular thought of God was that of an external, arbitrary ruler, whose will made right, and who de­manded absolute obedience on the part of his creatures. But man had fallen into rebellion, and was under sentence, of eternal death. Thirdly, God thereupon devised a scheme of salvation, according to the terms of which he was willing to save those who accepted it. Those who refused simply re­mained "lost,” and went "to their own place.” Fourthly, the practical work of religion necessarily became the attempt to get as many as possible to accept the conditions of pardon. To this one, only end, all relig­ious agencies were necessarily directed. All rites, ceremonies, sacrifices, services, hymns, prayers, sermons, had this one aim in view. All instruction must aim at this. Chari­table work might be done; but it was only incidental. Anything that diverted atten­tion from this one thing was an evil. The world was in rebellion, at enmity with God, so absorption in its affairs was dangerous. The temporary relationships and loves of earth were not to be permitted to interfere. He who doubted or denied this infallible truth was an enemy of souls, and it was merciful to put him out of the way by any necessary means. All these ideas were natural outgrowths and necessary parts of the old universe.

 

But now one of God's age-long hours has struck, and the universe has become a thing of the past. That world has gone. That God has gone. That man has gone. That loss has gone. That salvation has gone. That heaven and hell have gone. The night is past, the sun is risen, and the morning is here. No power can turn back the hand on the great dial of God; and the hand inevitably marks a new hour in God's great day.

 

THE NEW UNIVERSE.

 

Let us wake up, then, and note what o'clock it is in religion, where we are, and what comes next. We are in an illimitable "universe,” of which we can conceive neither beginning nor end. Our "God” is immanent in this universe, its life and soul. Themost distant star is the witness of his power, as the nearest and tiniest flower is of his presence and his beauty. He is nearer to us than breath or thought; he besets us be­hind and before, and lays his hand upon us. His laws are no longer any externally im­posed statutes, but the constituent and vital laws of things, equally inherent and natural in the dust beneath our feet and in the high­est moral life or the loftiest range of spirit. Our "man” is not the wreck of a once per­fect creation, but God's finite child, slowly growing in the midst of an infinite universe, and with an infinite outlook ahead. Our religion, then, if it is to be true, must free itself from the inherited taints, the tattered rags and patches of the outworn scheme; and face and match the unspeakable grandeur of the new universe in which we are living. It is in its failure to do this that I read the secret of the present weakness of the Church and its loss of grip on the vital interest of the earnest men of the world. It has become a venerable antiquity instead of the living power of the living God.

 

It is not, however, the death of religion that we are witnessing, but its renaissance. It is the phoenix that rises from its own ashes and plumes its wings for a loftier flight. But before we are ready to grasp the living work of the living religion of the living God, and meet the needs of the liv­ing man, it seems to me that we need to clear our heads and unburden our hands ofmany things that, while sacred to sentiment and memory, are yet so much a part of the old order that they confuse the popular mind as to our attitude, and so hinder the effectiveness of our work. I think it is true that the great majority of orthodox religionists still look upon Unitarians as being only disciples of "the spirit that denies.” We have not yet made the im­pression, to which we are called by the new revelation that God has vouchsafed to us, of being the leaders in a new forward movement that promises to give the world a more positive and grander religion than the past has ever known. We have not taught them yet that our infidelity is only a larger belief. We have not yet madethem know that the temporary confusion and trouble of the world are only a neces­sary part of the process of readjustment to an unspeakably magnificent enlargement of our mental, moral, and spiritual environ­ment. But, before we are fully prepared for this, is it not necessary that we our­selves turn squarely and completely toward God's new sunrise?

 

THE ATTITUDE OF ORTHODOXY.

 

And first, in order to this, is it not well for us to get and keep a firm grasp on the real attitude of Orthodoxy toward God's real world? It is not only, as many seem to think, a toning down here and there, the wearing off of this sharp corner, the chang­ing of that emphasis, the surrender of someharsher feature. It is that the whole scheme is utterly discredited, and destined to pass away as completely as the world-framework of "Paradise Lost” has disap­peared. It is more than a figure of rhetoric that couples them together; for the story of the poem is the soul of the system. Coming into being for the sole and only purpose of "saving” men from the sup­posed effects of the supposed "fall,” it and the "fall” must go out together. The moral sense of the world was shocked by Mr. Moody's saying, "Morality doesn't touch the question of salvation.” But Mr. Moody was right, on the basis of the old theory. When a man is guilty of high treason, the government does not ask as to whether he pays his debts and keeps on good terms with his neighbors.

 

But the moment the ascent instead ofthe fall of man is believed in, that moment Orthodoxy receives its death-blow. It is as dead today as was Paganism when Paulfirst preached at Rome. It is as dead as was Ptolemy's universe when Galileo first saw the moons of Jupiter. And as the priests at Athens, who looked with con­tempt on the "babbler” from Judea, did not delay the clock of God, and as the bishops of Padua, who refused to look at the moons that Galileo's telescope revealed, did not delay the coming change, so no amount of pride in the past, no reaction or revival of old ideas, can have power to turn back, by even one degree, the advancing shadow on the dial of time.

 

In speaking of the old faith as dead, and in so sharply outlining the new, of course it will not be thought that I deny that men have found, and are finding, the real God and the noble life under the old system. Men have always been finding God under all systems. But because some live comfortably under the czar, is that any reason for not liv­ing and dying for freedom for all? The old will live long enough. It will live as long as any considerable part of it helps and comforts mankind. But, nevertheless, is it not true that the good is in spite of, and not because of, the false theories? And, whatever human energy is devoted to keep­ing alive the system, is turned away from the essential things. That which hashelped in the old is not dead, but more vital still in the new. Since this is so, does it not follow that, so long as the orthodox churches remain, it will be just so much time and effort and enthusiasm and pious endeavor directed to false issues, and therefore subtracted from the real work that needs to be done? For the system does not recognize the real source of the world's ills, and so its at­tempts to heal are misapplied. Or, if they do turn to other methods and other aims, itmust be at the cost of loyalty to the system to which they still vow their adhesion. While, then, we should love and keep on good terms with all men, we should, above all, remember the grandeur and glory of our mission. I should be glad to think myself mistaken when, now and then, I fancy I see signs on the part of some Uni­tarians of a willingness to be patronized by the older churches in a way that is a credit to neither side. I say nothing of the carelessness, the lack of seriousness, or the intellectual imbecility of those who send their children to be educated in the old and dis­credited theories; but I refer now to tenders of sympathy on the part of Unitarians, such as a clear headed orthodox minister, or con­vention of ministers, could not honorably ac­cept. I am well aware that not all exchanges of courtesy come under this condemnation. Each side must recognize that, spite of the most radical differences, the other is doing a vast amount of good. And a recognition of this is not only generous: it is justice as well. It is not against this I am pleading. It is only for such a dignified self-respect as shall make us conscious of the great fact that we have more to give than any one else has for us to take; for the two systems can­not live together. And our new and larger revelation is a command of God. We are either nothing, or we are prophets of a new development of religion. If we are right, they must come to us. We cannot go to them. Let us, then, give up the attitude of apologists, and preach the gospel of the new age.

 

THE CHRISTIAN NAME.

 

Concerning one other point do we not need to make our attitude a little clearer before we can be ready for the great work that waits us? How are we Christians? The old scheme that has so long worn the name is passing away beyond recall. In what sense can we keep the name without hopelessly confusing our new universe with the old one? Two things let us bear in mind. First, whatever name we choose to go by, we are in this new world, and the facts of our changed situation are facts. And, secondly, is it not well to recall that Jesus did not originate the system called "Christian,” nor did he give it the name? Neither his honor, then, nor the signifi­cance of his work, is necessarily bound up with the question. We ought to be able to treat it dispassionately. I even think that Jesus belongs to us as he does not to the old churches. For he was the great liberal of his age. And, in the mouth of Paul, his name is the watchword of liberty. In his name, the great apostle led the way out of all narrow limits into the broad world of humanity. And, rightly using it, in a way not to be misunderstood, I would gladly write his name on the banner of our great movement. But, in using it, let us claim him for what he was, and not be mistaken as indorsing the common claim,—a claim that he would not indorse, were he with us today. Let us vindicate his name in being true to our own.

 

I suppose it is largely a matter of defini­tion. A Boston clergyman, referring the other day to a certain list of names of min­isters, said, "There is not a Christian among them: they are all either Jews or Unita­rians.” Let us see for a moment. When a boy, I remember that I used to hear my mother say of a certain Universalist woman, neither "converted” nor a church member; "She is a Christian, if ever there was one.” I suppose she meant only that she was good. Again, those who had been "converted” and had united with the church, I used to hear spoken of as having "become Chris­tians.” Then there is the sense in which the Pope of Rome uses the word, and which would shut out even the gentle-tongued Bos­ton clergyman just referred to. The evan­gelical uses it with a different meaning still, taking his revenge, perhaps, on the pope, by leaving him out under the name of "antichrist.” Once more there is what the Hindu means when he speaks of a Christian. Then, again, there is the Unitarian, who says he is willing to take "the Sermon on the Mount, and the two great Command­ments,” as the substance of his Christianity. In one sense, of course, we are born Chris­tians, and cannot help ourselves if we would. We have entered on the great Chris­tian inheritance: we breathe its spirit and temper.                                                                 

 

One thing, at least, is clear. Beyond all intelligent question, Jesus shared the intellectual limitations of his time. None of the most zealous churches, none of those who bow lowest at the mention of his name, ever even dream of such a thing as attempt­ingto put in practice most of his social or economic theories. He had not a word to say to help settle any of the great intellect­ual problems of the world. And there is no hint, not merely of his knowing any­thing about the kind of universe in which we are actually living, but even of his an­ticipating that the world would ever be called on to face its present problems. The sublimity of his character, then, and the significance of his work, are to be found chiefly in the moral and spiritual attitude of his soul toward God and man. Nothing can be finer than this. Combine this spirit with the scientific method and the best knowledge of the growing world, and, if the result can be called Christianity, I, for one, will rejoice with my whole soul to wear the name of Christian. But no church has yet been founded on the spiritual attitude of Jesus. And the systems of thought that have been called by his name have been systems not constructed out of the materials of his teaching, and not predominantly characterized by his spirit or temper.

 

HINDRANCES OF PHRASE AND FORM.                                                             

 

But, whatever we call it, we are in a kind of universe such as Jesus apparently never thought of; and, under cover of the sentiment, the love, the reverence, that so fitly attach themselves to his name, there still linger on, in our ecclesiastical usage, ideas, forms, phrases, assumptions, that do not fit into the universe as we know it, and that seem to me to hinder clear conceptions of our real situation and vital work. I refer to a few of these with much hesitation; for I am aware that not only older, but better men will differ from me. Still, I must be true to what seems to me the logic of our situation.                                                                                                                                  

 

1.  However lofty the niche we assign to Jesus, and however glorious his work, still he is not, in any intelligently accepted sense of the words today, either our "Savior” or our "Redeemer.” Jesus never used them of himself; and they belong to a system of theological thought that not only we nolonger believe, but which is squarely in the way of what we do believe. The English tongue is capable of clearly expressing the deepest and highest truth we are ever likely to grasp; and a new form of words that is true is more sacred than any old form that conveys a meaning that contradicts our faith. Since we do not believe that man is "lost,” the words that not only imply the false position, but obscure the true one, ought to be avoided. If we say we mean that man is lost, in the sense that he is out of the right road, then two things: first,  we  know that that is not what people under­stand us to mean by the word; and, sec­ondly, it follows that not Jesus only, but all those who help men to find the way, are saviors.

 

2.  Then ought we any longer to close our prayers with the words, "for Christ's sake,” or those of similar import? An Oriental sultan may choose his favorite for prime minister, and, while refusing petitions on the ground of mercy or justice, may grant them for his favorite's sake. But do we still so think of God? And does not that whole conception of prayer even pass away with the old universe of which it was a. natural enough part? I cannot help think­ing it an imputation against the character of God and Jesus both. The whole ortho­dox picture of Jesus as interceding inheaven, and of God as being prevailed on so to be kindly and good, is it not repulsive to our sense of mercy and justice both? Had it not better die with the theory to which it belongs?

 

3.  And along with these shall we not leave behind us the whole scheme of Messianism, and all that goes with it? To us Jesus is not the "Messiah” in the Jewish sense. He is not the "Messiah” in any his­toric Christian sense. Do we still look for his "coming” in any sense that justifies our clinging to any of the fragments of the worn-out theory? That whole idea be­longed to the other universe, not to the one we are living in.

 

4.  Having given up the infallibility of all books, shall we not have also to give up the infallibility of all men? The record is hopelessly confused and contradictory. If Jesus is infallible, whose Jesus, which Jesus? The Jesus of the last of Mark is not the Jesus of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

 

At the dedication of Unity Church in Chicago after the fire, I was to read the Scripture lesson. As our good Dr. Furness was to preach, I asked him what I should read. Having selected a chapter of John, he ran his finger down the page, and, pointing out a certain verse, said, "Don't read that: Jesus never said that.” But, as its senti­ment was quite in accord with much at­tributed to him, I could not see why he "never said that,” except that Dr. Furness could not bear to think that his Jesus enter­tained any such feeling. But have we a right to pick and choose, and so make a Jesus "in our likeness”? If so, is it not our own infallibility we are believing in, and not that of Jesus at all?

 

Have we any better right to think of any man that ever lived as perfect? Old Father Taylor was once asked if he thought anybody else had ever lived as good as Jesus; and he replied,—orthodox as he was, —"Yes, thousands of them.” In the sense in which he meant it, perhaps thousands have been "perfect.” But, beyond the fact that we actually know so little about the daily personal life of Jesus, it seems to me incongruous to think of any person as either infallible or perfect, when we think of all men alike as groping their way along the dimly lighted pathway of an infinite universe. Such ideas belonged to the old universe: they do not belong to the new. Iwould by no means be understood as wish­ing to sweep away all the forms, rites, symbols, rituals, and phrases that are satu­rated with the religious spirit and conse­crated as vehicles of religious life by centu­ries of sacred association. The most ofthese, indeed, are human, and belong to all reverent souls. Most of them are older and larger than the System of which I have been speaking. I would drop only such as distinctly imply a theory we cannot honestly hold. So much seems to me to be de­manded by clear thought and perfect sin­cerity. But all that are vital, that arehuman, that belong to the permanent in re­ligion, these I would keep and cherish. In­deed, a larger, grander ritual may rightly be ours in the years to come. But let it be vital, and grow out of permanent religious needs.

 

FACING THE FUTURE.

 

These, then, only as hints as to the atti­tude we are called on to assume by the grander facts of the greater revelation of God. I cannot help thinking that not only is "liberal” Orthodoxy a nondescript that has no place in clear thought, but that much that rejoices in the name Unitarian has not quite squarely faced the truth of the modern world.

But now the past is out of date,

The future not yet born,

sings Matthew Arnold. I suppose it is in­evitable that the world should pass through these phases. There must be twilight be­tween night and morning. As there is no end of "legal fiction,” as Sir Henry Maine calls it, by means of which old formulas are stretched to cover legal cases that the old law-makers never had in mind, so perhaps we cannot escape that theological fiction that interprets into old forms and phrases a thousand things they were never meant to include. But, as fast as we can, ought we not to regard the grand sincerity of Jesus, and put our "new wine into new bottles”? We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by making our work so clear and ex­plicit that it shall call to itself the clear heads and earnest hearts of the world. As our loved Unitarian poet sings,—

Be ours to mark with hearts unchilled

The change an outworn age deplores;

The legend sinks, but faith shall build

A fairer throne on new-found shores.

On considering this point, of our squarely facing the future and coming frankly and bravely out into the new universe, with one of our own members the other day, he expressed the opinion that the great thing that stood in our way was not any question of accepting the past again, but the more important one of confidence in the future. He thought a great multitude of liberals, even large numbers of the ministers, have so little confidence in a permanent basis for practical religion that this accounts for the backward look or the pause of hesitation. He thought a greater service than making clear our attitude toward the past would be a setting forth of adequate grounds for trust in the coming. But to do this would call for at least another essay.

 

For myself, a distrust of the future, of its being safe to hear the call that bids us go on, is the only infidelity I fear. There is nothing to be gained by going back, even if a clear-headed and honest man could go. If there be no God in the future, then therecertainly is none in the past. For one, I am convinced that we are on the eve of a grander renaissance of faith than the world has ever known. And, this time, it is to be a faith in "a city that hath founda­tions.” If it took two centuries for the pop­ular mind to readjust itself to the physical change from the Ptolemaic to the Coperni­can universe, let us not think it strange if it takes time for us to go through the pres­ent unspeakably vaster revolution. But let no one who believes in God hesitate when the command is heard, "Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.” In any case, however we feel, or whether we rise to the occasion or not, the new knowl­edge of the universe is here, the new knowl­edge of God is here, the new knowledge of man's relation to God is here, the new knowledge as to what needs to he done to better that relation is here. And the task assigned to the Church is to assist in bring­ing about that better relation.

 

THE CHURCH OF TO-DAY.

 

We are living in a time when the Church is losing its grip on the brain and con­science as well as the heart and reverence of the great world. The older branch of the Church commands only a traditional and perfunctory respect in those countries where once it dominated in the field of practical conduct as well as the airy regions of what is called "faith.” Nor in Protes­tant lands is it much better. It is a by-word that the strength of the churches is in the women and the children, and no longer in the men. It is well known that business or social reasons, a love for fine music or vigorous oratory, have more to do with the attendance of the men who do go than any conviction that the churches represent the supreme truth or stand for the supreme needs of strong men. All sorts of devices are resorted to in order to get people to church; and neither the average minister nor the average parishioner has any real belief that it is at all necessary to his soul's "salvation.” It is only, in some indefinite way, "a good thing.”                       

               

All the efforts to help matters out by softening a disagreeable doctrine or enriching the service by an elaboration of the ritual, all the superficial plastering of weak spots or patching of ecclesiastical robes, seem to me most pathetic confessions that the real life and the great purpose are gone. Was it any of these sorts of things that conquered the Roman Empire, climbed on the throne of the Caesars, subdued and re­shaped barbaric peoples, faced the lions in the arena, and went to heaven with a song on hissing wings of flame? Did Paul seek an audience by advertising a new tenor or by any display of robes or ritual? Decorate your life if you will, but get your life first. No decoration can revive a corpse. Like a dressed up and bejeweled bambino,it only makes it ghastly.

 

In those days that are called the "ages of faith” there was no trouble in getting people to go to church. For the Church held in its hands, not only the keys of the kingdom of heaven, but also, and as well, the conditions of all earthly welfare, prosperity, and happiness. It matched the world's finest intellect. It matched the world's grandest conscience. It matched the world's warm­est heart. It matched the world's noblest aspiration. It held out the world's mostinspiring hope. It could say, "Come unto me, and I will show you the path of life.” But now how is it? The newspaper, sci­ence, art, literature,—these are all outside the Church, and are disputing with it for supremacy. Is the remedy then to go back? We cannot go back. And it is those who are looking back that are exaggerating the evil. Let us see what has happened and is happening.

 

By her theory of infallibility and her unwillingness to keep step with God's advancing revelation, the Church tied herselfforever, and bound up her destiny with a petty scheme of things. Science, philoso­phy, literature, the ethical ideal,—all these kept on growing. They outgrew the baby-house universe of the Church. And, since the Church could not confess herself wrong, she could only turn and curse modern civili­zation as the enemy of God. And all the while it is God's own larger word that all these differing phases of thought and life are proclaiming.

 

Why is it that there is no place in the Church for a man like Huxley? Is it because he is less strenuous in his morality than the average bishop? Is it because he is irreverent,— more so than the average minister who makes a jest of the devil and hell? Is it because, in his pride of intellect, he is unwilling to bow to the truth? The truth is the one thing he wishes to bow to. No, friends, the average church is not big enough for a whole man to get inside of. Instead of its being a copy of the "vision shown on the mount,”—the vision of thereal universe shown on the loftiest mountof humanity's highest intellect and moral outlook,—it is only a petty scheme measured to fit the ignorance and cruelty of a barbaric age. Men have to go outside of it, in order to find room to grow to the full stature of a divine manhood.

 

If the Church is to be only a convenience, a "good thing,” an attachment to life, a lect­ure room, a concert hall, however sacred, or merely a charitable association, then let us write "Ichabod” over its doorway and leave it in peace. If it is ever again to be "the power of God and the wisdom of God,” it must make itself large enough to match the real universe once more. It must tower domelike above the loftiest intellect; it must overawe the grandest conscience; it must include the largest heart; it must guide the practical life; it must hold out the loftiest hopes to man.

 

I fully believe—because I believe in God—that, when we have fully entered into and made ourselves at home in the modern uni­verse, when we have grasped its religious and ethical import, we shall see the grand­est Church that the world has ever known. The most that science can do is to help us see our way. The most that art can do is to decorate and beautify our house of life. The most that music can do is to give word­less voice to the unutterable emotions and aspirations of the soul. The most that lit­erature can do is to cultivate our taste and furnish us resting-places along the pathway of life. But the Church, if true to her mis­sion, is the minister of God in creating life. The Church should make manhood and womanhood. All other things only servethem after they are made. As in the Mid­dle Age the Church was the universal pa­tron, and made all things else her servants, so shall it be once more. Let the Church but grasp the great and divine truths that God has laid ready to her hand, and once again may she say to all men: "Come unto me, for I hold the keys of the secret of life. Come unto me, and learn what kind of a world you live in what kind of God rules this world, how you stand related to him, and how you may get into better relations! Here, in the knowledge of the real God, is the secret of all physical life, of all mental life, of all moral life, of all spiritual life. Here, in the knowledge of the real God, is the key to the solution of all social, all eco­nomic problems, to all prosperity, to all happiness. To whom also but unto me can you go, for I speak the words of eternal life!”

 

The Church is either this, or it is nothing. It must be this, or else, like a Middle Age castle, become only a moss-grown ruin, an interesting relic of a bygone time. But it must become this; if not in our hands, then in some other. For it takes only a defini­tion of religion to show it to be of the immortals. So long as the universe lasts, and there is a man in it capable of feeling and thinking about the relation in which he stands to it, so long religion must endure. And the call of God now is to us to become the exponents of a religion in keeping with his latest revelation. Ours are the princi­ples, of intellectual freedom and growth, that fit us for the task. We have a "gospel” to preach: the older churches have not. For, were their doctrine true, it ought to be accepted with bowed heads and burdened hearts. But ours is indeed the glad tidings of God.

 

Let us, then, look up and catch the in­spiration of the coming day. Let us build a house of all peoples, fronting every quar­ter of the heavens and whose gates shall not be shut at all.

 

O church of our ideal,

     The human, the divine,

With what a peerless lustre

      Thy haunting towers shine!

Thou drawest our souls to thee
                 As draws our eyes a star;

And still we follow after

      Where thou dost lead afar!

 

Thy walls sink deep, firm grounded

      Within the soul of man,

Who ever seeks to copy .

      Thy one eternal plan.

Our faulty work may crumble
               And be the scorn of men,

But still, with new endeavor,

      We'll rise and build again!

 

The trusts of all past ages

      Have gone into thy walls

The hope of ages coming

      For thy completion calls.

By all that’s grandly human,

      By all that is divine,

In living and in dying,

      Our hearts, our souls, are thine!

 

            Within thy sacred portals

               There comes to us the trust
          That, though our bodies perish,

               A man is more than dust.
          Still upward, upward climbing,

               Beneath thy starry dome,
          We see, high o'er the darkness,

                 Shine out the soul's true home!

 

The one age-long search of man, then, is the search for the secret of life. The changes and readaptations are necessary stages of growth. Nothing is lost; for all partial truths are taken up into the com­pleter statements. The world is not old, and hastening to decay. Humanity, like young Hercules, has only strangled a few serpents in its cradle. Its labors and con­quests are still ahead. So, while others talk of the night's coming, "in which no man can work,” we will answer the ques­tion as to what o'clock it is in religion, that it is only morning. The great day of God and man is before us; and its light shall but be merged into the glory of that country of which it is said, "Thy sun shall no more go down.”