« ZurückWeiter »
they, perhaps, looked for a time when the sacred right of private judgment should be made universal. The first fathers of New England were much more liberal than their immediate descendants were, and showed much more regard for the consciences of those who differed from them than these did. The first generation that grew up in the wilderness lacked the broadness of view which their fathers had gained by a generous study of science and literature in the universities of England, and by association with the culture and refinement of Europe. The wilderness lacked all these means of smoothing away a harsh theology, and the first sons of New Eng. land grew up to be narrow minded and bitterly intolerant. But the right of private judgment was inherent in the religion and institutions of the Puritans, and it could not be choked out. A few " great-souled men” still nourished the precious germ, and with the progress of the people, religious freedom gained new strength with each generation till it became the dearest of human rights to all the descendants of the Puritans. The men who established this right were Puritans. For this we cannot honor them too much. But let it be remembered that our spiritual freedom was the work of a revolution, a long and arduous. one. It was not brought here ready made, but was wrought out upon our own soil, as much as our political freedom was.
“ The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” This is true now: it was true of the men who lived two centuries ago. Our Puritan ancestors were by no means perfect; but they possessed virtues which ought to make their descendants proud of their lineage. It wou d be a much more pleasant thing to us to recount their many virtues than to write of their faults, as we have done. But when others are speaking of them with intense bitterness, it is our duty to look their errors in the face and see whether they are such as warrant denunciations of special severity. The Puritans certainly did many things in the name of religion for which we offer no excuse. But judging them by their own motives and by the standard of their own aze, we are sure that it is only hatred and prejudice which can single them out as special objects of embittered censure. L. A. 1.
Our subject is life; and our aim, in its development, will be to unfold its significance, that we may thereby awaken a just consciousness of its meaning. We believe that such a consciousness lies at the foundation of all earnestness of purpose, of all faithfulness to duty. We are certain that the existence of this consciousness is necessary to render all exhortations to duty and faithful. ness effective.
Christianity is an important fact. To the mind of the believer it reveals new relations and duties, and calls upon him to be mindful of the one, and faithful to the other. It points to measures of philanthropy, and bids him engage in the same. It demands that he imbibe the spirit and imitate the example of its Revelator. But will not the power of its appeals over the believer be graduated to his consciousness of its importance? If this importance is but feebly realized, will not his response be feeble ? But if, on the other hand, he profoundly realizes its importance, will he not be deeply moved by its appeals ? Most assuredly. Christian earnestness is the offspring of a deep conviction respecting the im. portance of Christianity. The soul, whose convictions upon this matter are dull and superficial cannot be roused to a just sense of its religious responsibilities. That conviction must first be quickened and deepened if we would lay the foundation of an earnest Christian character.
Christianity stands related to its object as life to its duties. Consequently the strength of a man's sense of duty, and his earnestness of purpose, will depend upon the nature of his convictions respecting the significance of life. If his soul is so clouded and benumbed by a dominant animal nature that existence seems more like a dream to him than a reality, he cannot be roused to earnest endeavor. A deep and abiding consciousness of the moral significance of life is a sine qua non to earnesto ness of character, and to successful action. •
We daily witness illustrations of the truth of this posi. tion. How often we meet men who never seem in earnest about any other aims ihan such as are purely selfish,-men who manifest an abiding interest in noihing beyond the calls of their pampered passions. Such are never ennobled by a divine sense of duty. They walk as if in a dream. On the rapid current of life they float without any fixed and manly purpose. They breathe and eat to live, and live to breathe and eat. Thus do they vegetate, for a season, and then die,-dropping below the surface of social life like logs from the surface of the waters which had floated thern, after they had become sufficiently wet and rotten. What is wanting in such men ? We answer, a living consciousness of life's meaning. Make them realize what it is to live, and their souls would rise to a nobler life; and, burning away the clouds which had wrapped them, would shine forth in splendor and power. Occasionally we meet with a nobler representative of our nature. This man is moved by an inward force of soul. To him every thing seems to be invested with interest. He is animated by a lofty purpose, and ennobled by a divine sense of duty. He is characterized by real earnestness of endeavor. His soul is in no dreamy state, but is wide awake. He is not floating a useless, unresisting log upon the sea of life. Sometimes, to be sure, he moves with the current in the prosecution of his purposes. But it is not always thus with him. When ihe social tide seis strongly against his aims, he breasts it with lusty sinews. Wherever we behold him we see a living man. He does sornething while he lives, and will leave behind him, in the work he performs, immortal souvenirs of his memory. What is the cause of this man's earnestness ? What distinguishes him from the other character we sketched ? A deep and abiding sense of life's moral meaning. This ennobling sense renders his existence something more than a dream. It makes him feel that “Life is real, life is earnest.”
Presuming that the importance of a just consciousness of life's significance is now presented, we pass to the practical question, What can awaken this consciousness? How can we most effectually secure it? There are many considerations which naturally contribute to this end, some of which we now proceed to unfold.
oring of this consideo show both in
We lobserve, in the first place, that the moral signifi. cance of this existence of ours is indicated by the nature of its Author. The character of its Author certifies its importance. It is an easy matter to show both the reasonableness and weight of this consideration. Let us suppose that while exploring the ruins of some Grecian temple, we should discover, amid ihe rubbish, a group of statuary. We examine the same carefully to ascertain, if possible, its sculptor, and the idea which he aimed to embody in marble. But in this attempt we fail, for we find no name inscribed thereon, and we can discern no clue to the sculpior's purpose. The work has a value in our estimation, nevertheless. Its completeness certifies that it is the production of no tyro. While contemplating our discovo ery, a connoisseur approaches, and after gazing for a moment, with rapt interest upon the work, he affirms that Phidias was its author. There can be no doubt upon this point, for it bears the impress of his genius. We hear the announcement, and accept it as authoritative. But has this revelation any effect upon our estimate of the value of the discovery ? Most certainly. It adds to its value in our estimation. We regard it now as the product of an immortal master. Though ignorant still of the idea ernbodied therein, we are certain it is no chance production,-no meaningless work. Genius, like its author's, certifies the significance and value of its crea. tions.
Let us apply this illustration. Whose creation are we? who is the Author of our existence? What intelligence planned, and created, this mysterious organism of ours ? A greater than Phidias. Our creator is God, the builder of this wondrous universe. He who made all things, and who made nothing in vain, is our Maker. Does not this consideration impress us with a deeper sense of life's sig. nificance ? Justly do we prize the efforts of morial genius. Great is their significance in our estimation. But what, after all, are its noblest productions ? Nothing more than imperfect imitations of God's matchless arche'types. The landscape is more beautiful than any copy that ever glowed upon canvass. The broad sublimity and the restless majesty of ocean no pencil ever copied. The gorgeous hues of sunrise and sunset surpass the powers of the painter's art. And the sculptured marble, which a master has finished, is but a feeble representation of God's inimitable original. And yet the genius of a morial master imparts deep significance to his work. How much greater ihe significance of that which God has created ? God, who made the varied landscape, the heaving sea, and the sparkling firmament. To that God we owe our existence. He made us, and placed us amid other displays of his matchless skill. Let us reflect upon the character of our Author until our sense of life's mcan. ing feels the full power of the consideration.
To this consideration we would merely add another. It exists in the nature given us by our Creator. If we truly knew ourselves, we should be profoundly impressed with a sense of life's meaning. Let us then briefly exam. ine our structure, and note ihe varied powers we possess. But we will first premise that the perfectness of, and the finish given to, any production of a master, evidences, not only his skill, but his interest in his work. We know that he would not exert his genius, nor waste his time, upon an insignificant object. The completeness of his work would certify its significance and value. In the same way does this structure of ours declare the deep meaning of existence. .
Man, regarded merely as a physical organism, stands at the head of all the works of God on this earth. All other beings acknowledge his superiority, to him they accord supremacy. There is something in his form and features which evidences a higher effort of creative skill than any other material organism displays. But this wonderful structure is not man, nor does it constitute his most valuable inheritance. Independent of that with which it is associated, it has,. comparatively, but little value. It is only the frame in which a soul is set the casket in which a mind is enshrined. Of that soul, of that mind, we would now think, keeping in memory the perfection of the material organization in which they are placed, and through which ihey act upon the outward world. We approach this higher creation-this inner and subtler organism impressed with a sense of its inestimable worih. We derived this impression from the marvellous mechanism of the material structure in which