Preached in the Church of St. James, Piccadilly, London, on the Third Sunday after Trinity, June 13, 1869.
WHEN St. Paul thus speaks of the work of building up the Church of Christ, he is using a metaphor always intelligible, and specially familiar to his readers, whose fathers must for the most part have watched Corinth rise from its ruins. The Church is here set before us as a public building, inhabited by the Divine Spirit, and constructed out of such materials as the convictions, the hearts, the souls of men. St. Paul is the prudent overseer of the works who has taken particular care that the foundations of the building are sound, and to be relied on. When these are firmly laid, other hands might complete the edifice; and there were at Corinth some who wished to complete it according to their own plans, which differed considerably from those of the Apostle. Whatever these builders might do, the Apostle warns them to beware of tampering with the foundation itself which he had laid. To do so would imperil the entire structure. "As a prudent master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon, But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
As to the whole Catholic Church of Christ, it was already plainly built upon Jesus Christ as its historical foundation. It grew out of the fact of His appearance in the world and ascent to heaven; He was the reason and account of its existence; so that if He had not lived and died, its existence as St. Paul found it, when he entered it at his conversion, would have been inexplicable. In this sense, no man could lay a foundation other than that which was already laid, which was Jesus Christ. It was impossible to undo history; and history was there to say that the Apostolical Church was built on Jesus Christ and on no one else. To insist upon this is not altogether superfluous. A paradox which found favour with some of the earlier moods of German Rationalism went to the effect that St. Paul and not Jesus Christ was the real founder of Christendom. Now the writer of the indignant appeal, "Was Paul crucified for you Corinthians, or were ye baptized in the Name of Paul?" could ever have been seated, by the convictions of any intelligent readers of his Epistles, in his Master's place, might well raise our wonder; if only experience did not prove that of all credulity the easiest is that which is enjoined by unbelief, and of all theories, the wildest, those which are put forward in order to discredit the creed of Christendom. If the Church is built upon the labour of Apostles, as her foundations, the Apostles themselves rested on the Chief Corner-stone. And, indeed, since Schleiermacher, the paradox in question has been discredited wellnigh everywhere. It is one of that great man's many claims to honour, that amid whatever defects of his individual creed, and of the system in which he found himself, he did more than any other writer in his day and country to reassert Christ's true historical relation to the Christian Church.
When St. Paul wrote it was pretty well half a century too late, it is nineteen centuries too late now, to speculate upon a new foundation for the historical fabric of Christendom. The Corinthian teachers could no more touch that than we can; but there is a sense in which a religious teacher may contrive to lay a new foundation. Admitting that Christ is the Founder of the Christian Church, he may deny that the Person of Christ is the fundamental fact in the Christian Religion, the one foundation upon which it is possible to build up the Divine Life in the Church and in the soul. The Corinthian theorists, no doubt, had the highest respect for Jesus Christ; but the essential thing in Christianity, as some of these at least understood and taught it, was a certain degree of observance of the old Jewish law. That was the foundation; and Christ's Person, illuminating His Teaching, His Death, His Resurrection, His Intercession, His Sacraments, was only part of the superstructure. It was more than ornamental; but it was something less than absolutely necessary. In St. Paul's eyes this dislocation was fatal not merely to the beauty and symmetry, but to the very existence of the whole. "Other foundation," he said earnestly, "can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
The truth which is thus before us may be looked at either in its bearings on the form of the Christian Creed and Life, or as governing the convictions and conduct of Christians respecting the various efforts at human improvement which are made in the world around us. Let us take these points in order.
The mistake of the Corinthian teachers, as regards its form, was only possible in the Apostolical age, when as yet the real relations of the Church and the Synagogue were imperfectly defined. But in its spirit, it is a mistake which, under new forms, may reappear, does reappear, perpetually; and we do well to notice one or two samples of "other foundations" against which it is well to guard.
(a.) It is, then, Jesus Christ, and not doctrines about Jesus Christ, on which the soul can really build. To say this, is not to disparage the precious guidance of Scripture or Creeds or Councils. Those Apostolical words, these later definitions, which furnish in our day the favourite topic for so much shallow declamation, are, as well-informed and believing Churchmen know, when accepted by the undivided Church, the voice of that Eternal Spirit by Whom the whole Body is governed as well as sanctified. They guard and sustain in Christian thought the Divine Saviour's peerless honour; they forbid, in tones of merciful severity, false and degrading beliefs about Him. Yet He, our living Lord, is the foundation; and no soul can altogether rest upon the formulae which do but uphold and regulate our estimate of His Glory. We prize both Scripture and the Creeds for His sake, not Him for theirs; and to rest upon them, as distinct from Him whom they keep before us, would be like building a wall upon a measuring-rule, instead of upon the block of granite, of which it has given us the noble dimensions.
(b.) Still more true is it that it is Jesus Christ, and not feelings about Him, upon which the soul's life can be built. Feelings are great aids to devotion; they are often, we may trust, special gifts of God, the play of His Blessed Spirit upon our life of affection, raising it towards high and heavenly things. Yet what is so fugitive, so Protean, so unreliable as a feeling? It comes and it is gone; it is intense, and forthwith it wanes; it promises much, and presently it yields nothing but a sense of moral languor and exhaustion that succeeds it. Feeling shouts "Hosanna" to-day, and to-morrow "Crucify;" it would pluck out its right eye for the Apostle of its choice, and then suddenly he is become its enemy because he tells it the truth. We look hard at it, and we see that when it was at its best, some of it at least was physical; that in it nature had perhaps donned a religious guise and was mimicking grace. It may perchance here or there have made obedience easy for a moment; it may have seemed to lend wings to charity; it may have roused us to efforts of which we are generally incapable. But it is much too soft and unsubstantial a thing to be the foundation of a stern life of action and suffering. After all, feeling in any case only points to Jesus Christ; it belongs largely to ourselves; and we cannot extract the foundation-stone of life out of the exhausted quarries of unrenewed human nature; we must go out of ourselves if we would build upon a substructure that will not give way.
(g.) It is Jesus Christ Himself, and not His teaching or His work apart from His Person, which is the true foundation. His work, indeed, can only be appreciated in the light of His Person; His death is at best heroic self-devotion (if it be so much as that) unless His Person is superhuman. If Jesus is only man, or if His Person be left out of view, there is no more reason for reliance on His death than on the death of Socrates. His Sacraments are only picturesque unrealities, unless He Who warranted their power lives and is mighty; apart from His Person, they have no more spiritual validity than an armorial bearing or a rosette. And His teaching cannot be represented as a "foundation" of Christian life which may be substituted for His Person, and enable us to dispense with it, for the simple reason that the persistent drift of that teaching is directly and indirectly to centre thought, love, adoration upon Himself; as though in Him, as distinct from what He said and did, mankind was to find its true and lasting strength, and peace. Doubtless His words are, beyond any others, the stay of the soul; He spake as never man spake. But they are this, not simply because of their intrinsic merit, or rather because of our power of doing justice to it, but because they are His. His Person is the foundation, His teaching relatively to His Person is but part of the superstructure; and when He reveals hell, or proclaims the absolute authority of the Old Testament, serious Christians believe Him just as implicitly as when He pronounces the Beatitudes, simply because it is He Who speaks. In this respect we of to-day are in a different position from His disciples before His Resurrection: they learned devotion to His Person through listening to His words; we who, since Pentecost, have received the faith, believe His words, because we know Whose words they are; His Person is for us the fundamental fact which underlies, explains, justifies, sustains all that is built upon it.
(d.) In the same way, Jesus Christ Himself, and not His Example, is the foundation of the soul's life. It is impossible to separate Christ's Example from the consideration of His Person; the estimate we form of it must vary with our belief about Himself. Take His condescension, to which St. Paul has so especial a devotion. If He is only the son of Joseph and Mary, if He existed for the first time when He first drew breath in the manger of Bethlehem, His Condescension is at least not greater than that of princes and philosophers, who have bent the knee before Him, and who have for His sake spent their lives in teaching the ignorant and in relieving the poor. If Christ be merely human, much of what Christians believe to be His condescension is but an acceptance of His natural circumstances. But when St. Paul reveals to the Philippians the secret of his own enthusiasm on the subject, he sets out by saying that He Who bent Himself to the life of a slave and to the death of a felon, had before existed in the Form of God, and did not make an illicit claim when He claimed an equal share in the Divine Prerogatives with the Father.1 In the light of this truth His Example is indeed a moral power, so great, that, as the mind dwells on it with patient reverence, it might well seem irresistible. But it is this, because to be understood it must be referred to His Person; because He Who condescended so low was what He was, is what He is; because to be appreciated His Person, even more than His words or His acts, must be distinctly before us.
In modern times much skill has been expended in attempting to make an essential extract of Christ's words or actions from the pages of the New Testament, leaving the question of His Personality out of view, as if it did not really affect the substance of the Gospel. What Christ was, or is, men say, cannot matter, if we can possess ourselves of His Teaching, and profit by His Example. In this sense, Fichte observes that merely historical truth about Christ can only make a man wise, not happy. "If any one," he urges, "is really united to God, and is in God, it is a matter of indifference to him by what means he attained this: and it would be a very useless and perverse employment to be ever recalling to mind the means instead of living in the thing itself. If Jesus," he continues, "could return to the world, it might be expected that He would be perfectly contented to find Christian teaching ruling in the minds of men, whether His merit in the matter were acknowledged or slighted." [Anweisung zum seligen Leben, qu. by Luthardt.] In the same sense Strauss asserts that "if it were Christ's purpose to make the world entirely free, it must also have been His will to make it free from Himself, that God might be all in all." [Der Christus des Glaubens, p. 217.] And if Christ is merely human, and His Person, therefore, of no exceptional importance, it is impossible to deny the justice of these remarks. A high-minded, disinterested man will be anxious, after doing his best for his fellow-creatures in his day and generation, whether as a teacher or a philanthropist, to withdraw as far as possible from the notice and memory of men. In exact proportion to his moral elevation is his sincere anxiety to escape from all merely personal distinction, as from that which too easily might taint the disinterestedness and purity of his life and work. At the bottom of this feeling in us lies the profound sense of our imperfection and nothingness before God; and Our Lord sanctions it by making service, not position, the measure of true greatness among His Apostles; by selecting the widow and her mite for especial honour; and by His counsel not to let the left hand know what the right hand doeth. We understand this, like all other deep moral teaching, only so far as we endeavour to act upon it. If it gives us any real pleasure to see our names in subscription lists, or in the newspapers; or to hear that we are being talked about; if no sense of "deep remorseful fear," as the poet of the Christian Year expresses it, on the score of what we know about ourselves, turns such notice into genuine penance; then we may be disposed to think and speak of this feeling as morbid: then,--but not otherwise.
And if Christ imposed His Person, and not merely His maxims, upon the thought and heart of the world, this departure from the ordinary instinct of high human goodness must have depended upon the fact that such a course was necessary. It implies that Christ's Person was, in His own estimate, of even more importance to mankind than His teaching or His philanthropic activity; and that apart from His Person neither His actions nor His words could be justly appreciated. To say that it only implies that He was sinless, is to forget that the absence of active sin does not destroy that consciousness of imperfection which a creature, as such, must feel before the awful sanctity of God. Something else is meant by the moral fact before us, by this startling spectacle of Holiness in human form putting itself forward to court the homage of minds and hearts throughout all time.
All is surely and sufficiently explained, if only we believe with the Apostle that Jesus Christ is "over all, God Blessed for ever." To make Christ the foundation of the soul's life, would be to interpose a creature between its deepest sanctities and its Maker, unless Christ Himself were God. A purely human Christ might conceivably be the architect, or even the scaffolding of the Spiritual Temple; he could not be its One Foundation. It is the Divine Christ of St. Paul Who is that One Foundation: Whose words have absolute authority; Whose example carries resistless weight; Whose redemptive work saves us, if we will, to the uttermost, from our strongest enemies, from sin and death; Whose grace and power are not matters of antiquarian interest, but living and perpetual facts in the Sacraments of His Church;--Who is the solid foundation of our life and hope. It is His living Person wherein Christians are rooted, and upon which they are built up; certain that from Him they can draw all needful nourishment, and that upon Him they can rest with unwavering trust.
If we pass to the bearings of the Apostle's doctrine upon efforts at human improvement around us, it is obvious to remark that to nothing can it apply with more urgency and directness than to the sacred work of education. Education is the most important department of the self-maintaining activity of the Church of Christ. By education the Church takes possession of her place and share in the coming age; by it she hands on to the minds and hearts and hands of another generation the treasure of faith and love and duty which came to her nineteen centuries ago, and of which she is the trustee in the interests of humanity. If she had nothing better in her keeping than a human speculation about God, there would be a certain degree of immodesty and violence in this uninterrupted effort to cramp and mould the otherwise free thoughts and aspirations of a future time within the narrow formula) of the past. But to possess a Revelation from heaven is to be already in advance of the highest efforts of human religious genius; and to communicate it is the first duty which its guardians owe to human ignorance and to human suffering. "He made a covenant with Jacob, and gave Israel a law which He commanded our forefathers to teach their children; that their posterity might know it, and the children which were yet unborn; to the intent that when they came up they might show their children the same; that they might put their trust in God; and not to forget the works of God, but to keep His commandments."
Education, then, is necessary, not merely to the well-being, but to the very existence of the Church; could she cease to educate she would cease to live; she would die out from among men by a process of inevitable exhaustion. And if the Church of Christ is to educate to any purpose, Jesus Christ must be just as much the foundation of her teaching in the school as of her teaching from the pulpit; He must be the one foundation on which she builds, whether it be the fabric of intellectual truth or the fabric of moral character.
What this practically means we shall perhaps best decide by contrasting it with some doctrines about education which, with greater or less distinctness, are emerging nowadays more and more prominently into view.
I. There is the theory which would identify education with the communication of Useful Knowledge, as it is termed; that is to say, of knowledge of such subjects as enable boys and girls to make their way in life, without entering on the great questions of man's origin and destiny. This idea of education is put forward with many motives, which need not now be analysed; suffice it to remark that it certainly is not based upon the one foundation whereon alone Christians can consent to build. It ignores Jesus Christ altogether, and of set purpose; and in doing so, it inflicts upon education itself the gravest injury. First of all, it abandons the true idea of education, as the art of making the most of the whole man that can be made of him, the art of training, exercising, unfolding, perfecting all his faculties, moral, spiritual, and even bodily, as well as mental. It substitutes for this grand conception the narrow aim of communicating certain sorts of knowledge, useful under certain transient circumstances, to his mind. By its very phrase "useful" knowledge, it begs at the outset an enormous question, as to what knowledge is really useful, or most useful to man;--a question which can only be answered when it is decided whether man does or does not exist in an eternity where his happiness depends upon his conduct in time. Thus even its intellectual aim is a very narrow and poor one. It keeps the pupil's eye off all the great horizons of human thought and interest, because in resting on them it would be obliged, either definitely to accept, or explicitly to reject, the Christian creed. It merely supplies matter for conjecture on the subjects of deepest concern to a human being; it offers nothing in the way of guidance or satisfaction; and as to morals, if it is consistent, it abstains from all interference, except so far as the law of the land, or the lowest of conventional standards, may oblige; it allows a boy to "take care of himself."
Christians can have no objection to giving the very best instruction that can be given in this so-termed useful knowledge; but they cannot admit that it is an adequate substitute for the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ to teach a boy algebra, or history, or the languages, or the art of reasoning. Nor can the heart and will be safely left to parents and clergymen, while the whole real training of the intellect is made over to the secular schoolmaster. The secular schoolmaster is too likely, in the long-run, to be in England what he generally is in France; and secular educationists who are strongly opposed to teaching the definite Christian Creed, do not always object, at least violently, to a systematic depre-ciation of all Christianity whatever, on the part of the teacher of useful knowledge. But even if the secular Educator be a silent Christian--silent under the con-straint of the system he administers--the effect upon the boy's mind is disastrous; the tree of knowledge, of partial knowledge, is planted by other hands than those which plant the tree of life. The silence of the master, to whom the boy is conscious that he owes the full expansion of his mental powers, more than counterbalances the mother's voice, who "is no doubt so good, but of course not really educated." And when this division between intellect and heart is complete in the soul, it is not difficult to predict the consequences.
2. There are those who would take a lamer view of the scope of education. Their formula is "Develop nature." Give all that you mean by nature free, unrestricted play. "Natural thought, natural feeling, natural impulse; these are the saplings which education should water and foster. Let them grow at will; aid their growth; do not prune and twist what you will only spoil. If they expand into a jungle; what matters it? The great thing is to avoid mannerisms and artificialities. Let a boy think and feel as he likes; let him do what he likes, with due respect to the policeman; and let education confine itself to augmenting his stock of mental and physical power, instead of attempting to give him a direction."
This theory, in forms very variously modified, has many apologists among us at the present day; but it may be doubted whether any of them is so consistent or so eloquent in its advocacy as was the celebrated son of the Genevese watchmaker in the last century. As the apostle of natural freedom, of unconventionally, of doing what you like and because you like it, Rousseau is unrivalled. According to Rousseau, it was not merely the still subsisting feudalism, the still dominant Church, the old society with all its tyrannies and corruptions, that was fatal to the well-being and happiness of the people. The very arts and sciences were great culprits; man is really happy only in the state of pure nature; civilisation brings with it only moral decline and the worst evils of corrupt society. With Rousseau this was no mere passionate rhapsody; it was a serious conviction. He would prove it historically by pointing to the nations of antiquity: in Egypt, Greece, Rome, the moral qualities of patriotism and courage declined as the arts of civilisation advanced; Spartan morals were at once ruder and purer than those of Athens. He would prove it psychologically by tracing to each branch of knowledge some attendant form of moral decay: astronomy has been the source of superstition; eloquence, of ambition; geometry, of avarice; ethics, of self-complacency. Without the sciences, man would never have been the prey of paradox; without the arts, he would never have been enervated by luxury. Rousseau feels that it is impossible to recede too far from the eighteenth century civilisation of France: he taxes his original and fervid eloquence to describe a so-termed state of nature, in which man lives without education, "just as he came from the hands of nature;" in which innocence, simplicity, personal freedom, equal rights, are seen in their perfection:--an ideal state which once was real, and to which society must return, if it would be saved from the miseries and vices which thicken around the steps of advancing civilisation. Rousseau was consistently enthusiastic in his praises of the Hottentots and other savages; they had at least escaped all the mischiefs that came with culture; they were an anachronistic relic of primitive virtue. Rousseau's "Emile" was naturally condemned by the then Archbishop of Paris; his theory of society was encountered by the polished and withering sarcasms of Voltaire; but, for all that, Rousseau was in harmony with much that belonged to his age, and, in turn, he influenced it to an extent which it is difficult for an Englishman at the distance of a century to understand.
But between Rousseau and the echoes of Rousseau on the one hand, and Jesus Christ on the other, there is a vital difference. It is not that Rousseau would give man freedom, while Jesus Christ would enslave him; it is that Rousseau ignores the real facts of human nature, while Jesus Christ insists upon recognising them. Rousseau maintains that man is born good; the Gospel that he is born with a taint of inherited corruption. Rousseau will have it that all the evil which a man learns is taught him from without; our Lord rules that "out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies;" just as the Old Testament had proclaimed the human heart to be deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and man to be shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin. Here, then, is simple contradiction as to a fact of the greatest importance; and whether we analyse a single human soul, a single child's character, or whether we look to the opinion which society has instinctively formed about its component units by the precautions which it takes in elaborating government and in enacting law, we cannot doubt which is in harmony with experience. Rousseau had scarcely sunk into his grave, when his dream of the perfectibility of nature was rudely answered by the atrocities of the Revolutionary Terror; perpetrated, as many of them were, while the idyllists of theophilanthropy were still chanting the praises of a theory which contributed at least as much as any political doctrine to deluge France with blood.
It is enough for a Christian that such a theory lays another foundation than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came because nature had been tried and found wanting. It was crushed to the very earth by a depressing sense of weakness; it was already responsible for centuries of crime. How could the fabric of truth be reared upon a very quicksand of inconclusive guesses? How could the edifice of virtue be supported on a morass of moral rottenness and vice? Jesus Christ came to be the foundation of man's new life precisely because nature was thus incompetent and demoralised; and it is only when He, Who is the real foundation, has invigorated it by His regenerating touch, that nature, renewed and purified, can furnish stones for the building which is based on its Restorer.
3. Here a more cautious form of opinion presents itself. Grant, it says, that education cannot be narrowed down to the idea of communicating useful knowledge, and that, practically, it is very unwise to leave human nature to develop itself. But cannot an intellectual training be sufficiently supplemented by the moral idea of duty? Duty, that which has to be done, whether by the head or by the hands; duty, that for the sake of which, anything must sometimes be suffered;--this looks like a moral idea, sufficiently fertile and strong to serve as a good working foundation for education and life. So it seemed to those professional moralists of the heathen world, the Stoics; so it is in the judgment of the ordinary practical unspeculative Englishman. "England expects every man to do his duty," is a saying which, apart from its association with a magnificent moment in our history, is exactly suited to strike a chord in the heart of a people like ourselves, impatient of theories, and eager for some visible fruits of moral convictions. Among no other people of Europe has the idea of duty, in its abstract, unanalysed, unsupported form, exercised such sway and empire, as has been the case during the last 150 years in England; nor can we wonder, if at the present day it appears to furnish many a teacher with the moral leverage which he wants in order to do his work. "Teach a child to do his duty;"--that, at any rate, may pass for a sensible, working fundamental rule in education; a formula which will cut short a great deal of useless irrelevant discussion; a practical receipt which keeps clear, on the one hand, of Utopian dreams about the absolute perfection of child-nature, and, on the other, does not enter, even by a single word, upon the thorny questions which are said to lie inside the dreaded frontier of theology.
Nor is it my business, or my intention, to throw scorn upon a principle which, rightly understood, lies close to the heart of every true Christian. If, however, the idea of "duty" is to be put forward as a good practical substitute for religious belief, the question must be asked, "What is duty?" That which we, each of us, have to do, is the answer. But, why have we to do what we have to do? Here Religion would reply, Because God bids us do it. But since this would at once raise the grave question, What do we know about God? and the abstract idea of duty is to be kept quite clear of theology; the answer is, Because our circumstances obviously prescribe it. But why are we bound to recognise, or still more to obey, any such dictation on the part of "our circumstances"? Why, for instance, may we not steal if we want to steal, and find that we can steal with impunity? Here two schools of moralists, each of them unusually and ostentatiously dispensing with God, come forward to give an answer. You must not steal, says the Utilitarian moralist, because, taking a wide view of the interests of human society, it is obviously a bad thing for those interests that you should steal, even if it should not turn out that dishonesty is a bad policy for your personal self. You must not steal, insists, with higher reason, the Intuitionalist, because there is within you an original perception of right and wrong, which, whether you will or not, must condemn your doing so. To measure duty by general utility, sharply observes the Intuitionalist, is "profoundly immoral;" such a rule might condone some of the worst excesses of which our nature is capable. To measure duty by the moral sentiment, dryly remarks the Utilitarian, is unspeakably foolish; it is, in reality, to appeal to the ever-varying taste of the latitude and the age, while the appeal is professedly addressed to a transcendental faculty, the existence of which cannot be scientifically proved.
The idea of duty, it must be admitted, is here in a fair way to evaporate altogether; but it will probably be urged that a child, who knows when he is whipped and when he gets a prize, will not wander into the controversy between the Intuitionalists and the Benthamites. True; but you wish by the idea of duty to give a child that which will lead him to do right under all circumstances. And an abstract principle is not strong enough to do this: a child must rest upon the concrete and the personal. A child's common-sense tells him that duty implies a law to be obeyed, and that a law implies a lawgiver. Who is this lawgiver whose enactments are to be obeyed always, and at all costs? You name God; you cannot help it. But then the question arises, If God, the Holy and the Mighty, has given a law, in conscience, or elsewhere, has man kept it? And if man has not kept it, is God indifferent to the neglect, or powerless to notice it, or unable to reconcile the justice of His government with the presumable yearnings of His Fatherly compassion? Thus we reach the One true Foundation through the questions which the idea of duty cannot but raise. "What the (moral) law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh (that is, sinful human nature), God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
4. But here a last desperate effort is made to lay a new foundation. "Anything to escape from definite Christianity!" It is admitted that something less abstract, less cold, less remote from the heart than the idea of duty is wanted for Education; that aspirations towards a higher world, and that some sort of sanction from above must be provided for. But this, it is argued, can be done very well without committing yourself to a definite creed.
Extract the pure spirit, the genuine essence of religion from the dregs of dogmatic ages and systems, and place your extract at the service of humanity. All that a boy wants (I am quoting words that have been used of late) is a "vague and general notion of religious duty." Now I make bold to assert that advice of this sort is not so much the product of serious thought as of embarrassing circumstances. On the one hand there is a clear practical perception of the moral fruitfulness and force of religion in human life; on the other, there is disbelief, secret or avowed, in the soul-constraining truths which evoke and sustain religious life in the soul. But what God has joined together man cannot put asunder; and it is just as impossible to have religion without some sort of theology as to enjoy the sunshine without the sun. Religious vitality is strongest when the objects of faith are most clearly presented to the soul; just as the light and heat of the sun are stronger in a clear sky than when the sun is partially or wholly overclouded. A religious feeling directed towards the vague and the indefinite is not a thing to influence grown-up men at all seriously; to children it is simply unintelligible. This is not owing to the undeveloped condition of childish intellect; it is that herein children represent the common-sense of mankind, unsophisticated by theories arising out of the conflict between unbelief on the one hand and man's practical interests on the other.
Let us see how the theory of vague religious earnestness works in practice. It does not like the Creeds, or the doctrinal parts of the Prayer Book; it still, however, reads the New Testament, and it directs especial attention to the moral beauty of Christ's Human Character. An intelligent boy meets with the words, "When the Son of Man shall come in His Glory, and all His Holy Angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the Throne of His Glory." His master knows that no serious critical reasons can be alleged for denying either that Jesus Christ spoke these words, or that by the phrase "Son of Man" He meant Himself. The boy asks, if he thinks at all, whether this is a serious prediction; and perhaps his master goes so far as to say that it is only an allegory. But, supposing it to be an allegory, asks the boy, what is it which is allegorised? One thing, most assuredly, among others, it must be replied; namely, that Jesus Christ, at some time or other, in some way or other, is the Judge of all human beings. If the allegory does not mean this, it means nothing, or it is altogether misleading. But if it does mean this, how does such a statement by Jesus Christ about Himself fit in with the character of a good man? The boy has heard of many good men, and he knows some; but he has never heard of any who talked about himself in this way! What right had Jesus Christ thus to speak? . . . We know the true answer to that question; but it cannot be given without dealing a fatal blow to the theory of vague religious feeling. That theory is, in truth, just as little at home in the New Testament as it is at home in the Creeds; and the questions which are naturally asked by a thoughtful child demonstrate its impotence just as well as a clear philosophical analysis.
The new educational foundations, then, which it is often proposed to lay in our time, will not suffice for the work of Christian education. "Useful Knowledge" alone will not do, because it leaves two-thirds of human nature altogether untouched. It says nothing to the heart and conscience, almost nothing to the will; whereas education should deal with man as a whole. Nature will not do; because what is wanted is something higher and purer than nature, something distinct from it. Duty will not do; because duty, if detached from the idea of God, is strangled in a conflict between opposing moral theories, and, besides, is too abstract and official an idea to control the heart, that is, the expansive and motive power, in man. Religion in the vague sense of the term will not do, because religion cannot exist apart from its Object. To be religious in any sense you must know God; to be religious in the Christian sense you must know Jesus Christ, both God and Man. If I do not mention dogmatic Deism, this is because it scarcely claims to be an educational basis: objections to Christianity in our day are, as a rule, objections to any serious Theism.
No. Other foundation can no Christian consent to lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. As the Truth, He consecrates and welcomes all efforts to acquire solid truth, all departments of real human knowledge. As the Perfect Man, He ennobles nature, He reinvigorates it with more than its ancient strength, He redeems it from its degradations and its shame. As the real and Living-Legislator of the world, He imparts to the idea of duty, point and strength. Duty is but the passionate and practical sense of loyalty towards Himself. As "fairer than the sons of men" in His Condescension and in His Glory, as the Redeemer from sin and death, He makes religious feeling a permanent and practical force in the soul: the soul believes, acts, suffers, hopes, perseveres; exclaiming, "Who shall separate from the love of Christ?"
The future of education in this country is a question infinitely more important than any one other of the anxious questions which are under discussion at this present time. Nothing, as I believe, would cut out by the roots the Christian faith of the English people so effectually as a system of compulsory secular education; the influence of parents and pastors would be no match whatever for the secular educator, for reasons which have been hinted at. And two powerful currents are running in this fatal direction. There are those who ask for a really national system of education, with a view to making it secular. There are others who consent, more or less unwillingly, to the prospect of a secular system, in their passionate desire for a national one. Nothing that could fall from a Christian pulpit could have weight with the first of these classes; but of Christians who lend name or influence to the latter demand, I would ask as earnestly as I can--Which is really most for the good and happiness of man, a uniform system of instruction in such knowledge as is only serviceable for this world, or a less uniform effort to base the thought and life of the coming generations on the One Foundation, Jesus Christ our Lord? It seems to me that Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters must agree with members of the English Church, so far as to admit that our deepest differences are insignificant in presence of a dreary materialism which utterly ignores the other world; and that, until we can once more worship around the same Altars, no union can be more certainly blessed by God, or beneficial, in the highest sense, to man, than a union among all who name the precious Name of our Redeemer to resist to the very utmost all attempts at imposing a system of compulsory secular education on the people of this country.
And, certainly within a narrower sphere, the present duty of Churchmen is clear enough. While we have time, let us do what we can to strengthen and extend our present system; to make the secular teaching it administers more thorough; and the religious teaching more definite, more constraining, more attractive, more affectionate, more capable of leaving upon the souls of children and young people an ineffaceable impression. Would that all who take part in the sacred work of teaching in Christian schools may rise to understand the great dignity, the extreme responsibilities of their task! Would that of the thousands who, in this metropolis, lavish their gold upon baubles, with which some short fifty years hence they will have parted for ever, might do something more worthy of Christ our Lord towards making education really Christian, and more nearly adequate to the wants of our vast populations!
The Annual Report of the schools of this Parish states that it is with the utmost difficulty that the Treasurer is able to procure the funds necessary for carrying on a work of such vital importance to society and to the Church; and that, but for the munificence of a generous nobleman, the balance-sheet of this year must have exhibited a very serious deficit. [St. James's, Piccadilly.] Brethren, permit me to say that these things ought not to be so. The schools for which I am pleading have an importance which is not merely parochial; the parish to which they belong invests them with a large measure of public interest; and from their success or their failure will be argued that of the system, of which, by reason of their position and associations, they are such conspicuous representatives. Give freely to them, then, to-day, in the Name and for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. As you believe that He is the One Foundation of our real and highest life, of our soundest knowledge, and of our most precious hopes; as you would bear your part in bequeathing to the generations who will walk these streets when we lie in our graves waiting for the judgment, that truth about God, about man, about Himself, which Jesus Christ lived and died to teach us; do not be found wanting on an occasion, which so deeply concerns His interests and honour, the truest well-being of your fellow-creatures, and your own Christian consistency.