Preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on March 17th, 1865, as part of a course of sermons on "The Enduring Conflict of Christ with the Sin that is in the World."
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
THERE is an Apostle of the Lord Jesus who speaks the language of a soldier. He is planning a campaign; nay, rather, he is making war: he glows with the fire of a genuine military enthusiasm. The original Greek which he uses has a vigour and point in it which is lost, to a great extent, in our English translation. He might almost be a Roman general, charged to sustain the honour of the Empire in a revolted province or beyond a remote frontier; he might seem to be illustrating the haughty maxim which defined the duty of an imperial people--
"To spare the vanquished but to crush the proud."
Indeed, it has been urged that the recent history of Cilicia itself may have well suggested this language to St. Paul. The Apostle's native country had been the scene of some very fierce struggles in the wars against Mithridates and the pirates; and we are told that the latter war was only ended, not sixty years before the Apostle's birth, by the reduction of one hundred and twenty strongholds and the capture of more than ten thousand prisoners. [Stanley in loc., who quotes Appian, Bell. Mith., 234-238.] The dismantled ruins may have easily and naturally impressed the boyish imagination of Saul of Tarsus with a vivid sense of the destructive energy of the military power of Rome; but the Apostle of the nations only remembers these earlier impressions to give them a spiritual application. The weapons of his warfare are not carnal; the standard under which he fights is a more sacred sign than that of the Caesar; the operations which he projects are to be carried out in a territory more difficult of conquest than any which kept the conquerors of the world at bay. He is invading the region of human thought; and as he fights for God, he is sternly resolved upon conquest. He sees rising before him the lofty fortresses of hostile errors; they must be reduced and razed. [kaqairounteV, the military term for reducing a fortress. See Wetstein in loc.; Eisner, Obs., p. 152, qu. by Meyer.] Every mountain fastness to which the enemy of Light and Love can retreat must be scaled and destroyed, and all the thought of the human soul which is hostile to the authority of Divine truth must be "led away as a prisoner of war" into the camp of Christ. Truly a vast and unaccountable ambition; a dream--if it were not, as it was, a necessity; a tyranny--if anything less vigorous and trenchant had been consistent with the claims of the Truth of God, or equal to the needs of the soul of man.
The particular opposition to the work of Christ which the Apostle encountered at Corinth was indeed less intellectual in its make than the Galatian Judaism, or than the theosophic angel-worship which was popular at Colossse, or than the sharply-defined heresies of a later time which, as we know from the Pastoral Epistles, threatened or infected the Churches of Ephesus and Crete. St. Paul's Corinthian opponents resisted, depreciated, disowned, beyond everything else, the Apostle's own personal authority. This, however, was the natural course of things at a time when single Apostles well-nigh impersonated the whole doctrinal action of the Church; and feeling this, St. Paul speaks not as one who was reasserting a personal claim of any sort, but merely and strictly as a soldier, as an organ, I might say, as a function, of the truth. The truth had an indefeasible right to reign in the intellect of man. The Apostle asserts that right when he speaks of bringing the whole intelligence of man into the obedience of Christ. Now, as then, Christ's Church is militant here on earth, not less in the sphere of thought than in the sphere of outward and visible action; and St. Paul's burning words rise above the temporary circumstances which called them forth, and furnish a motto and an encouragement to us who, after the lapse of eighteen centuries, fight in the ranks of the same army and against the same kind of foes as he did.
Remark, first of all, that it is "the undue exaltation of intellect" with which the Church of Christ is in energetic and perpetual conflict. With intellect itself--with the thought of man recognising at once its power and its weakness, its vast range and its necessary limits--Religion has, can have, no quarrel. It were a libel on the All-wise Creator to suppose that between intellect and spirit, between thought and faith, there could be any original relations other than those of perfect harmony. Paradise could have been the scene of no such unseemly conflict as that which we are considering; and here, as elsewhere in human nature, we are met by unmistakable traces of the Fall of our first parent. A range of granite mountains, which towers proudly above the alluvial soil of a neighbouring plain and above the softer rocks at its immediate base, speaks to the geologist of a subterranean fire that at some remote epoch has thus upheaved the primal crust of the earth with convulsive violence. And the arrogant pretensions of human thought in the children of Adam speak no less truly of an original wound which has marred the harmony of the faculties of the soul, and has forced the mind of fallen man into an attitude which instinctively disputes the claims of Revelation. But that attitude is no part of the Creator's handiwork; it is due to the creature's own abuse of the perfect freedom of his will. For originally intellect is the ally and discoverer of truth; it finds its highest employment as the instrument of religious truth; and Jesus Christ, Who restores the harmony of our nature, speaks, through His Church, "a wisdom," or philosophy, "among them that are perfect;" a wisdom of which illuminated intellect is the student and guardian, and which amply recognises the high and abundant honour which the Creator has put upon His creature's thought.
But the Fall did not merely deprive human reason of the light of grace; it so disturbed the original structure of our nature as to make reason generally the slave of passion instead of its master. And therefore the intellect which exalts itself against Revelation is often, in reality, not free intellect, but intellect acting under the secret bidding of an irritated passion. Not that intellect is itself usually conscious that it is thus acting under orders. The passions, like some women, know how to disguise, and even how to recommend their despotism by the graceful movements and gentle courtesies of a well-simulated obedience. Or at best, intellect is but half conscious that it is not free; and therefore it asserts its freedom with that passionate vehemence with which persons who feel their place in society to be a little doubtful are apt to insist upon their social claims. Certainly intellect never vaunts its freedom with such nervous eagerness as when it is in conflict with the Revelation of God. For instance, we do not say to ourselves again and again that we are the champions of free thought when we are engaged in the study of pure mathematics. Mathematics do not touch our moral nature; we suspect nothing; we solve an equation as dispassionately as if we were ourselves pure reason, and nothing else--beings without passion, without conscience, without will, without a moral history. But Revelation, by its every dogma and every precept, at once challenges the activity of will and conscience; and the passions, like those watch-dogs who warn the inhabitants of remote country-houses of the approach of a stranger, sound an alarm within the soul at the first signs of the Coming of the Son of Man. Thus natural intellect meets the heavenly Visitant, sometimes with a movement of sudden sharp irritation, sometimes with a stern but unavowed resolution to resist Him, generally without frankness and real freedom of welcome, like a person who felt it necessary to be upon his guard and to maintain an attitude of secret if not of defiant suspicion.
Look around you, my brethren, and mark the varieties of intellect which enter in various ways into this conflict with religion. There is, first of all, mercenary intellect. This intellect writes or talks at the rate of so much per annum, and on a given understanding. "You take so much, and you write up that minister, you advocate that line of policy, you denounce this institution, you attack that theory, you blacken that public man."--"Done." Necessity, it may be said, knows no law; and there is an unexpressibly sad proverb about poverty, to the effect that it cannot afford to have a conscience. We need not now care to examine that saying too narrowly: some of us perhaps have known cases in which really noble souls have bent to a degradation from which they shrank in secret agony, and from which, long ago, they would have torn themselves away if the comfort and even the life of others near and dear to them had not been dependent on their sad, ignoble toil. Gladly indeed would I here be silent. But when this hired intellect, in bondage to sharp necessity or to the mere spirit of gain, passionately asserts its monopoly of freedom, and even tells us, the ministers of Christ, who have freely entered His service, and who rejoice in what it calls our fetters, that we are not free;--I cannot be surprised, because I understand the situation in which it finds itself; but I must be permitted to protest. Certainly we may admit that conflict with religion under the circumstances is sufficiently natural; it is an expedient for asserting the appearance of freedom, at little cost and with considerable dramatic effect.
Again, look at self-advertising intellect. Here is a vain man, who has a certain power of thought and expression. This intellect is bent on achieving a reputation, no matter how. It will write something startling, or, as it would say, original; it will deny all that has been affirmed, and denounce all that has been held in reverence. When it asserts that this or that Book of the Divine Scripture is but a collection of foolish legends, it will take a certain pleasure in the thought of all the varied perplexity, and vexation, and distress, and bustle, and deliberations, which it will cause among religious persons who chance to meet with its irritating production. Probably it has no wish to cause unnecessary pain; but its object is notoriety, and notoriety is only possible to it under these conditions.
Again, there is sensualised intellect--intellect under the guidance and command of animal passion. This is no fancy species. It were not difficult to point to whole literatures, characterised hy the greatest fertility of thought, and power, and beauty of language, whose entire drift and purpose is to rouse in the imagination and veins of man those fiery passions which are his worst enemy.
Again, there is the self-reliant or cynical intellect, too independent to be mercenary, too proud to be vain, too self-respecting to be the slave of sense; yet just as little free as the most mercenary, or vain, or sensualised thought, since it is the slave of a sublime egotism, although its slavery is well disguised, and its own cold, clear, incisive energy passes among men for the very bloom and majesty of perfect intellectual freedom. We need not examine other varieties; nor may we forget that here and there among the earnest opponents of the Gospel there are to be found elect souls with a pure and devoted love of truth--souls whom adverse circumstances have for a while bewildered and misled, but whose true home is in the camp of Christ. These have not yet found the road to Damascus; but we may safely leave them to the love and providence of the Good God. But with or without them, it is plain that we are in presence of a body of active thought, not the less vigorous because it works for hire, or for vainglory, or for sensual delight, or for some refined or magnificent ambition; not the less vigorous because it is a slave; but which, as being enslaved to powers who are instinctively opposed to the Gospel, is certain to find itself, sooner or later, in conflict with the living, working power of that Gospel among the thoughts and hearts of men.
It is noteworthy, and indeed it is implied in the language of the Apostle, that intellectual opposition to Revelation, except on great occasions, and under the leadership of distinguished captains, does not usually meet us Christians in the open field. I do not, indeed, forget Celsus, or Porphyry, or Voltaire, or Strauss; but look at scepticism in the second generation, or as it meets you in everyday life, and you will find that its instinct is to take refuge on natural heights, or behind artificial earthworks; that it screens itself under the cover of some false principle, or of some unwarrantable assumption. To "cast down these imaginations" may be less exciting than the whirl and noise of a general engagement; but it is the everyday and practical aspect of the conflict which we are considering. And if with limited time, and in so vast a field, it is here necessary to resign one-half, or more than one-half, of the outline before us, I shall proceed briefly to notice one or two of the leading false principles and assumptions which now oppose the work of Jesus Christ our Lord in the souls of men. Much will be thereby lost to the subject in the completeness of speculative treatment; more, I humbly think, will be won, if any one Christian who hears me is better enabled to understand and to take his part in the unceasing and mighty struggle between human error on the one side, and the Truth which came from heaven eighteen centuries ago on the other.
(a.) Now a primary characteristic of sceptical intellect is its unwillingness to make room for faith, to acknowledge the true province and sphere of Revelation. Intellect assumes itself to cover the whole field of thought; it grudges the admission that there may exist a higher world beyond its ken, and over which it has no purchase or power of vision. Above the world of mere sense there is the world of reason and natural thought: that is granted. But it is tacitly assumed that there is no world beyond; and that although man is notoriously a threefold being, composed of body, soul, and spirit, yet that spirit, his highest and most ennobling characteristic, has no object-matter beyond that which can be ministered to it by the natural intelligence of the soul. Intellect feels itself humiliated if it be supposed to be debarred from the sight of any spiritual fact; and as not more than a few facts of a strictly spiritual character are dimly discerned even by the élite of natural intelligences, men deem it essential to the supposed dignity of their reason to deny the existence of an order of things which un-illuminated reason does not see. Yet in the study of the natural world we find no such unworthy sensitiveness as to the power and range of the bodily organ of sight. Look towards the heavens, and ask the astronomer whether beyond the stars and suns that reveal themselves to his most powerful telescopes there are stars and suns which his instruments cannot enable him to detect; and he will tell you that by his observations he can determine the existence and movements of such purely invisible bodies with the unerring certainty of mathematical reason. Ask him whether there are yet other bodies in the infinitude of space too remote to be apprehended by the penetrating gaze even of his formulae; and he will reply, not merely that the existence of such bodies is possible, but that the analogies of his science lead him to regard it as nothing less than certain. Ask, on the other hand, the entomologist, whose microscope has discovered to him the strange forms which people each drop of water, or each fraction of a cubic inch of atmo-sphere, whether he has yet reached the last term, the most minute embodiment of the principle of life, and he will hesitate to assume that he has yet done more than ascertain the existence of an order of creatures who may be as very monsters in the eyes of an invisible population of beings around and beyond them. It is no discredit to the organs of sense, that even when thus stimulated and strengthened by a scientific apparatus, they fail us at a point when we cannot but feel that beyond their ken there lies a world which a higher power than sense must discover, and which we explore as best we may under the guidance of inference. Nor need Reason be jealous if she herself cannot always satisfy--if as we ascend the mountain of thought she reaches a stage at which she must leave us in sheer bewilderment to the perilous guidance of imagination, unless she is content to intrust us to the well-attested authority, to the practised eye, and to the sure guardianship of divine faith. Reason, indeed, can do much, even beyond the province in which she confessedly reigns. She can prove to man that he possesses an immaterial soul, that his will is really free, that deep in his secret heart there is the mysterious but indelible law which distinguishes right from wrong. Reason, as she studies human society, can formulate the principles of justice and order, which are essential to its permanency; she can even reach a certain knowledge of the First Cause of all; she can demonstrate His existence by two or three lines of argument; she can infer that He is One, that He is a personal Being, that He is infinite in His perfections, and unfettered in His action and His will, and that His creatures are under the strongest possible obligations towards Him. Certainly, Reason is peculiarly happy, if without the (at least) indirect guidance of a supernatural Revelation she can reach as far as this; and she knows well that each step of her advance is certain to be disputed. But she can penetrate no further, and her highest conquests do but suggest problems which she cannot solve, and afford glimpses of a world on which she may not presume to enter. She has at best discovered enough to make life a dreary mystery, and the prospect of death a frightful nightmare. What knows she of the Inner Life of God, as He has opened it to us believing Christians in the august doctrine of the most Holy Trinity? What can she tell us concerning the real nature and effect of sin, concerning the law of its action, and the law of its removal? What can she propose on the all-important and pressing question whether any and what communion is possible between the soul and God? What, in other words, has she that can meet the needs of the soul of man, as they are met by the Christian doctrines of the Atoning Death and mediatorial work of Jesus Christ, of the work of the Holy Spirit, the power of penitence, the power of prayer, the power of the Sacraments? Certainly she has her own sphere and province; we may not ignore it; we may not depreciate it in the supposed interests of faith, as if faith could only reign when reason was insulted; but she must accept her providential place; she must make room for faith; she must act as its hand-maid, not as its substitute; or her pride will surely pre-pare for her a terrible chastisement. There is no saying how low an intelligence may fall, which, persevering in its determination to rise no higher than itself, voluntarily immerses itself in its own dark prison-house, and sinks deeper and deeper into the abyss as it madly flies from the knowledge and love of the Infinite God.
(b.) But when the possibility, the need, and even--to take a long stride--the fact, of a supernatural revelation has been admitted, the rebellious intellect of man renews the conflict at a point beyond. "At least," it is urged, "a stipulation must be made as to the contents of Revelation: Revelation must not include mysteries. Whatever may be revealed, it shall not elude our full mental grasp; we will assume ourselves to possess a verifying faculty which shall eliminate from Revelation all that wears the air of mystery, since mystery is inconsistent with that intellectual dignity which becomes us men, even when we are listening to the Most High God."
I might indeed insist, with Bishop Butler, on the unreasonableness of determining beforehand what a Revelation from God ought or ought not to contain, since we are in no position to speculate with any success or safety upon such a subject. But I will ask a simple question; What, my brethren, do you mean by mystery? You have, it may be, invested the word with some damaging sense that does not in reality belong to it. Mystery, you think, is but another name for a confused statement, or for a contradiction, or for an impossibility, or for a purely unintelligible process, or for something which is believed on no sufficient grounds whatever, or for a reverie of the heated religious imagination. No, believe it, a mystery is none of these things. A mystery is a truth, a fact, but a hidden truth. We see some truths directly, just as in the open air we gaze with the bodily eye upon the sun shining in the heavens. We know other truths indirectly, just as we know that the sun is shining from the ray of sunlight which streams in at the window of the room in which we are sitting. Now a mystery is a truth of the latter kind; it is apprehended as true, it is not comprehended; it does not lie on the surface of things, it cannot be seen in itself, it can only be known from the evidence or symptoms of its presence. Yet the evidence, whatever it be, proves to us that the truth is there; and the truth is not the less a truth because it is itself shrouded from our direct gaze. Thus St. Paul speaks of the mystery of the Incarnation and of the mystery of the calling of the Gentiles when alluding to the fact that these divine purposes were hidden for ages in the mind of God, and at length revealed; and he speaks of marriage as a great mystery, meaning that it embodies a secret correspondence to the union between our Lord and His Church, which does not lie upon the surface; and the clergy are "stewards of the mysteries of God," that is to say, specially of the Sacraments, each of which is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace," although the presence of the inward grace is inferred not necessarily from experience, but always from our Saviour's promise. Certainly in Religion we are surrounded by mysteries, that is to say, by truths, of the presence of which we are aware, but the internal nature and complete range of which we cannot fully comprehend; and I may add, that the wonderful world in which we men live, whether the higher world of faith be open to our gaze or not, is a very home and temple of transcendent mysteries. You walk to-morrow afternoon into the country, and you note how here and there the swelling buds, or the first fresh green of the opening leaf, reminds you that already the spring is about to re-enact before your eyes the beautiful spectacle of her yearly triumph. Everywhere around you there are evidences of the movements of a mysterious power which you can neither see, nor touch, nor define, nor measure, nor understand. This power lives speechless, noiseless, unseen, yet energetic in every bough above your head, in every blade of grass beneath your feet. It bursts forth from the grain into the shoot, from the branch into the bud, and leaf, and flower, and fruit; it creates bark, and fibre, and height, and bulk, and grace of form and lustre of colour; it is incessant in its labour, it is prodigal of its beauty, it is uniformly generous and bountiful in its gifts to man. Yet, in itself, what is it? You give it a name; you call it vegetation: and perhaps you are a botanist, you trace and you register the variety of its effects and the laws of its movement. But, after all, you have only labelled it; and though it is so common, it is not in reality familiar to you; and though you have watched it unthinkingly from your childhood upwards, and perhaps see in it nothing particular now, you may well pause in wonder and awe before it, for of a truth it is a mystery. What is it in itself, this power which is so certainly around you, yet which so perfectly escapes you when you attempt to detect or to detain it in your grasp; what is it, this pervading force, this life-principle, this incomprehensible yet most certainly present fact, but an assertion of the principle of mystery which robes the soil of God's earth with beauty, that everywhere it may cheer the faith and rebuke the pride of man? Yes, when s next you behold the green field or the green tree, be sure that you are in the presence of a very sacrament of nature, since your eye rests upon the outward and visible 1 sign of an inward and wholly invisible force.
Or look at those other forces with which you seem to be so much at home, and which you term attraction and gravitation. What do you really know about them?
You name them: perhaps you can repeat a mathematical expression which measures their action; but, after all, you have only named and described an effect; you have not accounted for, you have not penetrated, you have not unveiled its cause. Why, I ask, in the nature of things, should such laws reign around us? They do reign, but why? what is the power which determines gravitation, where does it reside, how is it to be seized, apprehended, I touched, examined? There it is: but there, inaccessible to your keenest study, it remains veiled and buried; you confess a presence which you cannot analyse. And you yourselves,--fearfully and wonderfully made as you are,--what are you but living embodiments alike in your lower and your higher natures, and in the law of their union, of this principle of mystery? The power which feels and moves in your bodies eludes the knife of the anatomist as he lays bare each nerve and each muscle, that contributes to the perfection of feeling and movement. Yet how much more utterly mysterious is your human nature when we examine its higher aspects; when we analyse thought, and personality, and the marvellous mystery of language, whereby thought takes nothing less than a physical form, and passes by means of a sensible vehicle from one immaterial spirit to another! Truly, if it were possible to linger here, it would be hard to terminate this catalogue of mysteries, so extraordinary, so familiar, so near to us always and everywhere, yet always and everywhere so above our comprehension. But I forbear.
My brethren, you will pardon me if I say that to object to the presence of mystery in Revelation is at least irrational. Surely, as we mount in the scale of being, we must expect an increase both in the number and magnitude of these hidden truths; and when we reach His throne Who is the Summit and the Source of all, we can hardly suppose that because He has deigned to lay bare to us the secrets of His Nature and the laws of His action upon our life, that His Revelation will differ from that natural world which reflects Him in that it will discard this principle of mystery. Yet when it is no longer a secret objection against the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity, or of the Incarnation, or of original sin, or of the Satisfaction which Jesus offered on the Cross, or of the efficacy of the Sacraments, that these doctrines in various ways embody, as they do, the principle of mystery; the soul has succeeded in casting down an imagination--an entrenched fortress--which too often exalts itself against the knowledge of God; it is, so far, in a fair way to bring its whole thought into the obedience of Christ.
(g.) But there is a third line of resistance upon which the reason of man falls back in its opposition to revealed truth. It grants that a Revelation has been given; it allows that portions at least of the revealed truth are mysteries--mysterious still, although their existence is revealed. But, at least, it exclaims, Revelation shall not be dogmatic. If she is still to meet with public acceptance, Christianity must abandon the pretension to offer a fixed, sharply defined body of truth to the acceptance or rejection of the soul of man. Let the religion of Jesus only come to the men of our time as a finished poem; and they will read, they will learn, they will love it.
They will not inquire too accurately whether it be literally true; nor will it put such force upon their thought and will as to make any violent or serious change in the natural current of their life. They will indeed be much as they would have been without it; and yet it will exercise a kindly, gentle sway over thought and society; it will breathe upon human character a soft yet elevating influence; and if it exacts little intellectual homage, and exerts no tangible moral force, yet at least it will have the merit of provoking no keen resistance. Such, we are told, must be the religion of our day: intellect has condemned the principle of dogma, and religion is accordingly bidden to accommodate herself to the changed circumstances and imperious necessities of the time.
On close inspection it will, I think, be found that the dislike of clear doctrinal statements is only a disguised form of opposition to the truth which those statements embody. If, for instance, a man believes in the existence of one Supreme Being, he has no objection to saying explicitly that there is One God. It does not occur to him that in making that statement he is guilty of an intellectual narrowness, or of a want of perfect good taste; nor supposing him to be a serious theist, does he hold it necessary presently to balance his profession of belief in God by some other statement which shall reduce it to the level of an uncertainty. Yet to say that there is One God is to make an essentially dogmatic statement. Every man who makes that statement intelligently, knows that it has a tremendous bearing on the belief of millions, alas! of the human race at this very moment. Yet the man makes the statement for the simple reason that he has no doubt of the truth which it embodies. If, then, he presently hesitates to say that Jesus Christ is truly God as well as truly Man, or that the Death of Jesus on the cross was a Propitiatory Offering for human sin, it is, I apprehend, because he does not believe the truths which are thus stated in human language. If he urges that a dogmatic statement is more or less unsatisfactory in that, owing to the imperfection of human speech, it leaves unanswered, or rather it suggests, many concomitant questions; I reply that this is no less true when you assert the Unity of God than when you assert the Godhead or the satisfaction of Jesus Christ. If he dislikes dogma because, forsooth, dogma is the "stagnation," or the "imprisonment," or the "paralysis" of thought, I pass by the substance of his objection for the moment, only to observe that it applies to his statement that there is One God, just as much as to any other proposition in the Nicene or Athanasian Creeds. When he confesses that there is One God, he voluntarily renounces the right and the wish to entertain the idea of two gods or of many gods; just as when we Christians profess our belief in the atoning virtue of our Saviour's Death, or in the mighty regenerating power of His Baptism, we renounce with all our hearts the desire to suppose that the Death of Jesus was a mere martyrdom, or that Baptism is a graceful, but, speaking spiritually, a useless piece of ceremonial. In either case faith finds in the dogmatic statement its support; in either case unbelief can see in the statement which it disbelieves nothing but a fetter or a prison wall. Faith hails in dogma the regulation of its thought, not its stoppage, not its imprisonment, not its petrification; just as the mathematician finds in the axioms which are the base of his science the fixed principles which guide his onward progress, not the tyrannical obstacle which enthralls and checks him. And unbelief decries dogma, not because dogma is really an impediment to faith, but because it is faith's true and trusty friend. The real crime of dogma is that it treats as settled and certain that which unbelief would fain regard as doubtful or false. If you believe a thing to be true, you have no objection to saying so; and when Christianity is warned not to be dogmatic, it is irresistibly implied, that however beautiful she may be, she must not assume to be absolutely true.
Here is the third "high thing which exalts itself against the knowledge of God" in this our day and country, namely, the dislike of fixed doctrinal statements. Observe that I am not denying that false dogmas have been and are proposed to the faith of this or that body of Christians. I admit that even true dogmas may be proposed by incompetent authority. But these are questions of detail; and the point before us is a broad question of principle. If, with the Apostle, we believe in the everlasting Gospel, we rejoice with him to proclaim its truth; nay, more, when he exclaims, "Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed," we answer tenderly, seriously, firmly, "Amen."
Yes, I understand, it seems to you severe, this last, this crowning exigency of Divine Truth. Yet the prejudice against dogma is the last stronghold of the enemy; it is a position from which he must be dislodged at any cost, or your previous victories may soon be forfeited. Surely it is of little avail to grant that a Revelation has been given, and even that this heavenly gift is replete with mystery; if no one truth revealed may be stated in terms as absolutely certain; if the point, the power, the effect of no one mystery may be presented to the vision of the believing soul. If Religion is to be a practical thing, it must depend, not upon beautiful thoughts, but upon matter-of-fact certainties. Its truths must come to us in a form in which we can carry them with us, and bring them to bear upon our motives in the hour of temptation. When tempted we need something solid to fall back upon; not a picture, not a mist, not a view, not an hypothesis, but a fact. For eighteen centuries Christianity has responded to this supreme necessity of the soul of man; and we may be sure that if she had done otherwise, she would long ago have ceased to command interest at the hands of those who seek in Religion, not an amusement for the passing hour, but a kind friend, with a firm hand, who will guide them through the changes and chances of this mortal life to the gate of that other world which we must all, in whatever guise, reach at last.
You may naturally ask, my brethren, what place in a Lenten course of sermons can reasonably be found for considerations so abstract, so apparently removed from the immediate and pressing wants of the penitent and struggling soul, as some of the foregoing have been. I can only reply by pointing to the actual circumstances of our own day, and especially in this place. Penitence presupposes at least a certain measure of faith; and faith is proscribed by that undue exaltation of intellect which leaves no room for it, and which denounces the principles of mystery and dogma. Before a man can kneel with a broken and contrite heart at the foot of the Cross of the Redeemer of the world, these high things which exalt themselves against the knowledge of God must be levelled, and his thought must be brought into the obedience of Christ. The great conflict which rages between the pride of natural intellect and the claims of faith, is fought out on no remote or imaginary battle-field. Every thoughtful mind, in this our distracted and anxious day, is the scene upon which these hostile principles engage in fierce and deadly combat. And upon the issue of that combat to many a man who hears me, may depend I nothing less momentous than the salvation of his soul and his place in eternity. There are many who are shielded from coarse forms of outward temptation, and whose passions have never risen up with impetuous fierceness to break the resolution or to mar the purity of their spiritual life. Happy, indeed, are such privileged souls; and yet it may be that their probation still turns upon the question whether or no they will make a sincere act of intellectual submission to the Reason, the Love, of their God. Assuredly the loftiest created intellect may submit to that Reason without degradation; the most blameless soul will need in its day of trial at the bar of Infinite Purity the tenderness of that pardoning Love. A time must quickly come when the struggle which yet waxes fierce will have ceased for ever: when the hopes, and watchwords, and theories, and enterprises which dazzle the eye as it gazes on the busy tangled scene will have passed, with the generation which has projected them, into the silence of eternity. "And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day." Beyond the weakness and agony of the last sickness, beyond the darkness and corruption of the grave, there rises the vision of a Throne of judgment and of an everlasting world. Think of it well, brethren, and take your parts. Believe it, there is a submission of thought which is not slavery; and there is a haughty mental independence which, alas, knows itself to be anything but true freedom. They do not really suffer defeat who make their submission to God: they who, while opposing Him, seem to conquer, can win but a perilous and shortlived victory. On this side is Paul, first a persecutor, then an Apostle; and Justin, once a philosopher, then an Apologist and Martyr; and Augustine, who out of a sensualised heretic and freethinker, is raised by divine grace to be a Saint and Doctor of the universal Church. On that side is Julian, Emperor and Apostate, with endowments of character and gifts of intellect so calculated to win our highest interest and admiration; yet ending a reign in which rare accomplishments, and consummate address, and vast political power had been vainly employed against the Gospel with the despairing confession, "Thou hast conquered, O Galilaean." [Theod. iii. 25]
Life indeed is too short to exhibit the full results of human action; but men frequently anticipate another world with a keen presentiment which is not loss than tragical. Assuredly intellect has her rights, her privileges, her duties, her triumphs. Yet faith gazes ever upon a sure inheritance, for which all else, if need be, may well be sacrificed, since all else will one day pass away. "God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."