Imágenes de páginas

them so, not for want of purpose, that his ideals have fallen short of the perfect; and with every growth of character, in ancient or modern times, he has hastened to repaint the divine picture. Seriousness and reverence possess him as he looks up, and the powers that are called into exercise are not his meanest but his best, and the materials he seeks to build into his great vision are the highest intimations of life and nature. At that moment if ever he is a poet, and rises above himself. A study of the Greek Pantheon, for example, will reveal to us the rarest flowering and fruitage of the Greek genius. The fine spirit of that nation created nothing so exalted as the objects of its faith and worship. A beauty and divinity not of mortals are embodied in the Apollo as he moves forth in the garments of light and awakens music, the "rolling melody" of bird song, the wild notes of the shepherd's reeds, the enchanting sweetness of the harp, the cheering or pathetic strains of the cantatrice; and as he aids poets to their "fine frenzy," and bears to men many a graceful gift. Equally worthy is the vision of Pallas guarding the treasures of wisdom; of Themis. a noble spirit moving abroad among men with scales of judgment in her hand, and having her eyes closed that she may be impartial in her verdicts; and of Nemesis, following close in the footsteps of Themis to dispense the just awards, good to the good and evil to the evil. The Pantheon was not, of course, even in its total array of divine ideals, a complete anticipation of the manifold perfections of the New Testament Everlasting Father; but it rose in great glory and power before the Greek people, and made heroes and poets and some of the noblest souls of the ages.

It was a light and a lure; and the nation finally fell from her


high place, not through devotion to her altars but by neglect of them. Ever is man's idea of God his best idea. In some of its details it may not be worthy of him, because some taint of passion or tinge of a low tradition may steal into his thought, but in the sum of its attributes it will rise above him, and crown his life as the sky rests over the earth. And it is for this reason that religion ever has been and ever will

be the power above the race to lift it up and fill it with reverence, courage, hope, and virtue.

Let us now approach this great vision of faith that is so impressive in its total presence, and observe how some of its special aspects befriend morals. In itself a synthesis, it admits of analysis. And as we study it, part by part, we shall find that the one law of its influence for good is only the weaving together of many laws. Of these let us glance at four. 1. The influence of the high rank to which religion assigns man. 2. The overpowering majesty of the moral laws as they appear in connection with God. 3. The disclosure of a divine government of rewards and punishments under which good has a destiny and evil a doom. 4. The awakening of a sense of gratitude and obligation in the presence of Providence.

1. Some one has said that "when Gustavus Adolphus, of Sweden, saw before him the destiny of king, his heart and mind began to live in a nobler atmosphere." A sense of rank and of a great opportunity reacted on all that was great and good in the young man, and he turned his face from all lower paths and sought to climb to the level to which he had been called. In like manner it cannot fail to make a vast difference with the moral aspirations of a man, whether he feels himself to be a child of the skies and heir to all the æons and perfections, or only a son of protoplasm and an inheritor of a grave not far away from his cradle. It is fatal to turn life into a debate on the past, and especially if in that past there are nothing more than "gelatinous ooze" and its evolutions. A bath in preadamite mud, a rehearsal of the annals of the cave and jungle, and a study of the family register with baboons at the head of the list, is not so elevating a task as it is possible for man to engage in. We may grant the romance and wonder of the atheistic scheme of evolution, and feel some stir in the pulse of gladness that we were thrown out by the self-revolving wheels at so late a stage of the process. To see matter thus go about spinning this marvellous web into which are finally woven the golden threads of life and

intelligence and affection itself its own motor and loom and pattern-maker and minder is a sight with which the magician and his hat holds no comparison. To observe the formless groping after forms, the dead arising unaided into life, that which has neither head nor tail taking a notion to differentiate itself into these marked extremities, the stomachless getting hungry and making for itself a stomach, the things that have no heart beginning to fall in love and creating that tender and heroic organ,- all that is wonderful enough to suit any opium eating oriental or Arab touched to revery by his evening pipe. Aladdin's lamp is outdone. But still is this a downward look into material depths; and so poor a product is man that even while he is gazing in wonder at the magical evolution, death may touch him with its dissolving finger and all is over with him. How low and evanescent a being is he, thus whirled into a mere animated bubble on the flowing river of matter! His origin and his end are alike uninspiring. But set him into relations with a God as his source, and show him his path as running, not over an abyss of darkness into which he will inevitably fall at an early day, but under a realm of light and glory into which he is destined to rise; draw the curtain that he may look on the great scene of immortality and perfection, and by as much as he is thus lifted up in rank will he naturally feel moved to adopt an order of life befitting his station. A son of God, alive to his relations, must feel an ennobling sense of lineage and heirship that is denied to him who regards himself as only a son

of dust.


2. It was said by Cicero that "a divine morality is one and the same at Athens and Rome and Alexandria and far Babylonia; and he might have added, at all the planets and in the most distant cycles of time. It is in connection with a Deity that the moral laws assume aspects the most majestic and commanding, in the presence of which man may well fall on his knees in veneration and give himself to obedience as the most fitting and worthy service. From the theistic point of view moral principle is a part of infinitude, and

arrests and engages the soul by its greatness; while under atheism it can appear as only a weed out of the earth, a mortal dictate, a conventionality. It was claimed by Thomas Hobbes, the famous English atheist, that the will of the king is its highest expression. An atheistic communist finds its best utterance in the clamor of the rabble. And every atheist might fitly claim that his own whim is as moral as the whim of another or many others. For atheism is the deification of self in the last analysis, and therefore the denial of all absolute and universal standards. It is only religion that recognizes and honors these, and that has a lofty and immutable virtue to enforce.

3. Religion also surrounds the moral laws with high and effective sanctions and defences by associating with them the presence of an Approver and an Avenger. There is nothing more natural to man than the sense of a radiance about his path when he follows the lead of virtue, and of a shadow when he yields to the lure of vice. He is conscious of a mystical light or cloud falling about him as he acts from one or another motive. If he is true and keeps the law, he feels the universe has a sunny face to turn toward him; but if he is false and disobedient, there appears on the general scene of hills and vales and ocean and stars a knit brow and a reproving eye. There is on the part of the race this spontaneous and inevitable deference to a hidden Lover of the good and Hater of the bad, and virtual concession that the world is under a moral administration. "There are some who deny a Ged," said Plutarch, "to ease themselves of the fear of him;" while it was a profound remark of Plato that " "they who have atheism in the life are the most eager to seek it in a creed." The moral ones are ever glad to take note of this unsleeping eye and moral presence. But the recognition of it seems to be a necessity alike with the good and the bad; and to declare it to be a mere phantom and not a reality is to employ words that refuse to stand to their proper meanings. And what the human instinct thus intimates, religion hastens to proclaim and urge in the interest of an improved conduct.

By her altars, and from the housetops, and at the street corners, she announces that it is well with the righteous, while the wicked are like barks tossed on wild seas. She seeks with kindled eloquence and patient toil to magnify and enforce the idea that thus drifts in upon man in his best and worst hours, that the universe is pledged from behind the stars to reward the holy and punish the sinful. She strives to develop this universal sense of a compensating Presence hovering about the paths of life, into a morally saving conviction that there can be no slip in the knot that ties together virtue and blessing and sin and woe.

4. Religion also reaches the conscience and awakens the moral motives by its appeal to the heart. If the blessings of life are cast up from below, then there is no One to thank for them, and no One to serve with gratitude and virtue as a just return. We have only to gather them into our arms and go our way. But if they are the gifts of God to us, as they appear to the spiritual vision, then do they impose an obligation that few souls can observe and not feel the moving of the deeper nature to compensate favor with obedience. It was long ago said by Socrates that "gratitude is the mother of obedience;" and in child and adult this saying passes daily into blessed fulfilments. Hence the view of the divine goodness is one that can hardly fail to lead the soul to repentance and incite it to constant good works.


The Chaldæo-Assyrian Doctrine of the Future Life; -according to the Cuneiform Inscriptions.

THE current conceptions respecting the Future Life, among the populations who had attained a civilization so renowned as that, which anciently flourished in the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris, attach to themselves no little interest

« AnteriorContinuar »