Progress of Human Thought
OF NEW YORK.
PRESS OF CASE, TIFFANY AND COMPANY.
THE theme I have ventured to handle may justly challenge the attention of the thinker and the scholar. It is grave; grave perhaps beyond precedent upon occasions like this, when hope and joy sparkle in young manly hearts, and you expect to hear only what shall swell the general tide of buoyant feeling. I appear before you upon a brief summons; and have felt myself compelled to offer you what lay uppermost in my own mind. Time spent in the choice of a subject, would have been time lost in the preparation of it.
In days when all things are settled, when men see with the eye of faith, and work with the heart of love, when the chief interests of our humanity seem or are really securing their appropriate attention, it may be highly desirable to seek every opportunity to present to academic bodies either ideal forms, or pictures of human life, or discussions in the field of pure literature or science. Our time obviously is different. Its demands are earnest; for the days, if not evil are lowering; clouds have gathered everywhere around and above the horizon; distress has seized earnest thinkers; incertitude and doubt among students have become oppressive; the iron of despairing unbelief is touching the vitals of the age; the bleeding heart of it quivers in every fiber. And in the meanwhile, material splendor and luxury threaten to dry up the sources of intellectual and spiritual aspirations in our midst.
It is a solemn hour in the history of the world. Much that calls itself faith wears a sickly hue; institutions of a thousand years totter as if about to fall; a new era is struggling into life; new thoughts have come to the birth—and the question is, is there strength to make them available for good?
We can never understand this present time with its tragic antagonisms, [3/4] unless we are able to consider the past. We can never control the evils that have come to the surface of our feverish life, unless we can discern what has been done by generations long since gone. The contemptuous self-conceit and arrogance of the quacks and empirics of this day, who talk of the past as if it were a chaos of stupid and hopeless imbecility, is, of all tempers, the one most incapable by constitutional defect of doing anything for the good of man or the glory of God. Much as a "dead conservatism" should be hated, this its natural opposite must be exorcised, if we can hope ever to live and thrive manfully by the grace of God.
In every era, especially when principles and doctrines of theology receive shocks and undergo modifications of statement, a sort of instinct has drawn men to a study of the life of primitive Christianity. In matters of reform, in the readjudication of controverted questions in the restoration of discipline, appeals have been made in every variety of shape to this period of Church history. Scarcely a theological interest can be named, standing at all within the limits of the old faith, which does not claim consideration and acceptance among men on the score of its sympathy with primitive Christianity. It has itself in this way become a battle-field, just as the Bible: disputants weary of scriptural contests, have sought relief in trying their respective temper and learning on this ground.
You may readily believe that in going back to this period, upon such an occasion as this, I do not seek to become a party to any theological conflict. This is not the hour for strife, unless it be with unbelief and evil; and for that, every hour is the hour. It is an hour, however, when we may calmly review the great strength which primitive Christianity displayed in the sphere of thought.
You have often thought of what it destroyed, when it came into collision with the old religions of the civilized world; how as with a finger of fire, it touched the decaying body of the old mythology, and scattered its ashes to the winds. There is something inexpressibly solemn and grand in the contest between the young gigantic power and those old religious forms which had been sacred to Greek and to Roman in the day of their strength; which surviving their virtue, at last fell to pieces only when the light of the newly told truth poured its rays upon the dead heart concealed beneath them.
You have often thought of this; of what it destroyed. What did it save? Or rather what was it in the old Christianity which enabled it to assume into its own intellectual life, two such diverse types of thought as the Greek and Hebrew?
 To form any notion at all adequate, of the immense power requisite to effect such a result, it is necessary to allude to the generic differences between these two elements or constituent factors of the Old World. A great gulf rolled between them. With the Greeks, man was beyond doubt the central figure—the central thought. The gnwqi seauton tells the story of the efforts of the Greek mind whether in the domain of history, of philosophy or of poetry, including the drama. Even the religion of Greece was the apotheosis of humanity; her divinities were personifications of the attributes of humanity. Finding her gods amid the clouds of a past into which history could not penetrate, she took them without reference to the character of the moral attributes they disclosed. Brute force, cunning, trickery, selfishness, lust, were in full play in the bosom of the divine family of Olympus. Association with Homer's gods would damage a man's morals. The deity was but an enlargement of humanity. "The mystical element," says Carl Ottfried Mueller "so essential to religion, in which we augur and feel the divine existence as something infinite, and absolutely different from humanity, which never admits of representation but only of indication, although never completely banished, (a thing not possible among a religious people,) was however thrust into the background, especially by poetry." The poets, indeed, did not make gods for the Greeks; they embodied the traditions of their day, and gave definite form to the popular belief; not discerning in the mean while that the deifications of humanity—that clothing the gods with the infirmities of man—while attributing to them a power altogether superhuman, necessarily acted as a check upon the growth of a pure morality. For where no ideal exists toward the realization of which aspiration ever tends, the actual man as he is encountered in every-day life, is viewed as the perfection of humanity; and in this way nothing beyond or above the actual in morality is aimed at. Yet this very characteristic of the Greeks shows how profound was their sense of the sacred destiny, of the divine-given attributes of man.
Plato, as a philosopher, might rule the poets out of his republic, because they darkened the popular mind and prevented by their fantasies an open recognition of the one great Creator; but then as now, the poets touched the popular heart as the philosophers could not. And only when the genius of the Hellenic race drooped his wings, did the hope of the philosophers—that faith in the traditional deities of the land might disappear—find its fulfillment. That, however, in the worst of shapes. For when faith in those gods vanished, then [5/6] followed a night of deeper moral death. When the people could laugh at the satires of Lucian, who played with the old mythology, as some of the French playwrights of our day, with the Christian religion—they had become utterly without God. In ceasing to deify humanity, to assert its connection with the Divine, they lost faith alike in God and man. And bad as may be our large cities in this nineteenth century of grace, there is every reason to believe that the corruption of the civilized world when the Gospel was first preached surpassed anything now seen or practiced.
Still this was the characteristic mark of the Greek consciousness, making the Greek mind what it was, a longing to know the destiny of man and to solve the riddle of his life; a deep sense of the sacredness of his powers; a dim, unconscious foreshadowing of the true communion of man with God, and yet withal the passionate cry as of despair, as if the soul like the moth of our American summers must draw near to the light only to perish! When we pass from the Greeks over to the Hebrews we find ourselves in a different atmosphere; we discover thought revolving around a different center; we observe morals resting upon a different basis. Hear O Israel; Jehovah our God is one Lord. The absolute I AM, who rode upon a cherub and did fly; who did fly upon the wings of the wind; who made darkness His secret place, and His pavilion round about Him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies; who thundered in the Heavens and gave His voice hailstones and coals of fire; He was the awful and awe-inspiring center of Jewish thought. While a species of instinct led the Greek to represent his gods as colossal men, the Hebrew under a sacred sense of the Infinite Being of the Most High, thought it an abomination to liken Him to any creature. Under the teachings of God Himself, he learned that His thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways. Instead of the "Know thyself," we hear "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." Such was the overpowering intensity with which they were permitted to seize the idea of the sublimity and sovereignty of God, that they have put their words into the mouths of men for all time to come. Man was deemed as nothing before Him. "Behold the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are crumbled as the small dust of the balance. Behold He taketh up the isles as a very little thing." Yet withal Israel was His chosen and Jacob His beloved. But for reasons well known they moved socially and politically in a narrow circle, and their great idea could never, as it stood in their consciousness, be carried over into the heart of the world.
 Here you perceive two distinct forms and also centers of thought, in the two great portions of the human race, whose intellectual influence has survived the downfall of the Old World. They were the flower of their respective continents. Asia in vain seeks to find any tribe or family equaling the Hebrews in the sublimity of their idea of the Absolute, and Europe points with pride to the Greeks as bearing the glory of her intellect—the brightest jewel in her coronal. All that was richest in the Japhetic and Shemitic families of the earth reached its bloom in these two respective branches thereof. Providence gave them the empire of the mind and soul. Yet really they stand over against each other. As great characteristics of life, creating and embodying high thoughts, finding words wherewith to utter the hidden feelings of the heart, they did not flow toward each other in the way of natural development. Each moved in a distinct sphere. Each had a life of its own. And moreover, as time rolled on, the inspiration of the one ceased and the creative genius of the other expired.
At the birth of Christ these characteristics of the two races respectively seemed lost. Hebrew and Greek alike retained but the memory and cherished but the sound of those mighty thoughts and ideas which had ennobled the souls of their progenitors. Yet even then, had any man at Athens ventured to assert that in the space of fifty years a power would arise which could by any conceivable process absorb into itself the philosophy and dialectics of Greece, as well also as the substance of the divine ideas of the Hebrews, he would have been deemed mad. In the estimation of a Greek, a Jew might be supposed by long intercourse and association with the Greek mind to imbibe somewhat of the spirit of its culture. The appearance of a Philo—a man who would endeavor to clothe the theology of the Hebrews with the drapery of Greek forms—might have been predicted; but that Greece herself should ever feel the presence of a power greater than herself—a power which would enter into the heart of her literature, and lay hands upon it and transplant it, this was a thought entirely beyond the range either of his suspicions or of his fears.
And to the Jew no thought could be more abhorrent than that the kingdom of God could be aught else than an expansion of the Mosaic system, with a mighty sovereign at the head of it. That the Gentiles could ever find a home in that kingdom otherwise than by becoming Jews and forsaking all that they had acquired from the traditions of their own lands, was a sheer impossibility.
 Yet Christianity falsified the expectations of the one and exposed the vanity of the other. Plato and Aristotle found a home in the bosom of Christendom. It shewed itself a power such as the world had never seen, making of twain one new man, so that David and Homer, Socrates and Solomon, the glory of the Greek mind and the sacred treasures of Hebrew inspiration, have been taken up into a higher sphere of life and have been made subservient to the progress of man in a style utterly beyond the anticipations of any of the worthies of the Old World.
Now here is a conquering power that immortalized, fructified its spoils. She gained a foothold upon the earth, and snatching the treasures of European thought, and of Hebrew God-given inspiration, clasped them to her bosom, aye, bore them aloft in her hands, and thus saved them from the wreck and ruin of a falling world. Wheresoever she has gone and rested she has carried them with her, that the noblest voices of the Old Time might still live and be heard—that new kingdoms and commonwealths might feed upon their thoughts and drink in their wisdom.
Now, when Christianity touched the soil and breathed the atmosphere of the Gentile world for the first time, she came in contact with it as it then stood. The thinking she encountered was Greek. But to gain her victory, she did not in any antiquarian or bookish fashion apply herself to the ethics of Aristotle or the republic of Plato; she did not seek inspiration at the foot of Helicon, or strive to appear in the mantle of Sophocles. As it then was and moved, she met it. All the cities of Asia Minor in which Paul preached and where he planted churches were especially Greek. But the prevalent habit of thought was not the living product of the old Greek genius. This, as we have already observed, had expired. It was, however, notwithstanding all modifications, the same mind essentially, with the same delicacy of perception, the same subtilty, the same power of playing upon words and of running away into the clouds upon fancies and similes. Standing in the confines of Asia, with the blood of that continent in its veins, it had caught the wild, uncouth, half mystical, half licentious spirit of the East in its decline, which, though demoralized, true to its original race-impulse to seek the Invisible, endeavored in confused way to connect God and man by endless and arbitrary aeonic generations and graduated hierarchies descending from heaven to earth. Using the Greek language and proud of its Greek genealogy, it retained its knowledge of that literature. It understood Plato, perhaps, as well as Voltaire comprehended [8/9] Shakespeare. It loved to play with and upon the words of the old philosophers, especially of Plato, as the American Puritans of the second generation played with the words of the sacred prophets in their sermons. Its critical efforts took the form of quips and conceits not altogether unlike many of the scholastic questions of the middle ages. It sought inspiration in ecstatic elevation of the physical frame, as some of our modern religionists, and hoped to seize the Divinity amid undefined emotions void of all thought. Half theistic, half pantheistic, both by turns and neither long, it would change its color as the chameleon without calling any true moral ideas into life or opening any new thoughts to the mind.
These Graeco-Asiatics remind us here of the Jews their cotemporaries, who had their rabbinic lore, their Talmud, their endless comments upon Scripture devoid of all truthful conception, busying themselves only with the outer integuments of prophecy, finding the wisdom of God in the inflexions of nouns and verbs, in the arrangement of sentences, in anything and everything except the true ethical sense of the sacred writers.
In addition therefore to the pure Greek and pure Hebrew types of mind, we have here before us this third, which historically is the confluence of the two after the glory of each had departed. And this confluence is very noticeable, well worthy our study as a rude, unsuccessful, yet natural prefiguration of what followed in the course of time under the plastic power of the Christian religion. It strove to connect God and man, to raise man up to God, yet with signal ill-success. It led also the forlorn hope when an effort was made to stem the progress of Christianity, by reviving zeal in the service of the old gods of Greece and Rome. It is, moreover, a noticeable phenomenon as regards the origin of the Christian religion. If Christianity be the mere natural product of the ages, the child of Time only, then obviously it is the offspring of the marriage of the East and West on the soil of Asia Minor. For the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. Nor is it possible to resist this conclusion. Of Jewish birth and of Greek education, with a Hebrew soul in a Greek body, it must rank as the legitimate, necessary child of the age that first witnessed its appearance. On the hypothesis of its earthly origin, this is its genealogy. And this is what unbelieving thinkers and scholars are trying to make the world believe. A more extraordinary perversion of history has scarcely ever been made; a more prodigious demand upon the credulity of men never [9/10] been attempted than this. You all know that when the mind of a nation or of races has no longer strength to soar upward and carry with it the substance of the legacy of its great dead, when it finds its occupation in lifeless imitation or galvanized caricatures of its accredited teachers and prophets, its moral pulse becomes feeble also. It is intent chiefly upon provender; it eats and drinks and goes abroad for amusement. It resigns itself to every species of pleasure whereby it enervates its sinews and deadens its conscience. All honorable ambition perishes; all strength to dare and to suffer for the right forsakes them. Thus East and West coming together, poured into the cities of Asia Minor but the concentrated poison of their respective evil propensities and sensuality. Take Ephesus; by the side of its magnificent temple, known and honored as one of the wonders of the world, grew up schools of magic; nature worship and demon worship, wild fancies were everywhere rampant; effort to comprehend the mystery of the world in a metaphysical style active; the people torturing themselves in the mean while to invent new pleasures, becoming more and more obtuse to the claims of pure morality—what with its mixture of population and of creeds presents itself to the mind as the possible basis of a community like the "Church and Saints" which was formed there? Whence came their faith so simple as to provoke the laughter of their fellow-townsmen? From what source did they draw the purity of their virtues which was a living protest against the heated, pampered, debased godlessness around them? Consider Neo-Platonism on its Heathen side, having indeed some distinguished representatives, and Gnosticism as a religious development of those times; the one a dilution of the old Greek philosophy with foreign and those Eastern elements added to it; the other a wretched caricature of Christianity, as immoral as Heathenism itself then was, both of them products of manifest historical causes—both of them suffering under moral paralysis—they show us what the times were made of. They are full and sufficient exponents of the natural creative power that was in them. It is absurd to suppose that a world-transforming, world-conquering power could have been the offshoot of their thought, that it could have been originated by them. No, it was not their work. The little Christian communities in the midst of all those cities looked upon the world around them as dead in trespasses and sins; they abhorred their practices; they abstained from their pleasures; they moved in a world of ideas, and felt the power of motives which they neither understood nor cared for. It is sufficient here to point only to the [10/11] manifest impossibility of the Graeco-Asiatic mind to have begotten Christianity. Its face was turned away entirely from the path opened by the Christian church. It only shows the profound spiritual necessities of the entire world, and that the gospel came at the right moment, in the fullness of time. Its own efforts were a mad attempt to unite East and West in one; the product of its activity was a grotesque philosophy and a depraved ethics, both in utter contrast to the material furnished us by Christianity.
To rise above this, to be what it vainly aspired to be, this was at once the posture and power of Christianity. She appeared and worked her way into the heart of a worn-out world, and defies any attempt of unbelieving hands to compress her within the mere natural development of the thought and activities of the age that first felt her presence. It was not her mission to save the dying political and social institutions of the Old World. But how did she carry herself? Upon what did she plant herself so as to be in the sphere of thought, the great conservatrix of the wealth both of Europe and of Asia?
Manifestly not upon any doctrine in the ordinary acceptation of the term, i. e., not upon any formal statement of truths addressed simply to the logical faculty; not as a philosophy or pure doctrine to be authenticated by a mere logical apparatus. Upon nothing of the sort. Moral practices inculcated by her had been in an occasional way proclaimed among the Jews by their prophets and among the Greeks by their philosophers. To both of them, honesty, goodness, benevolence, rectitude and chastity were familiar topics. Nor had the memory of such duties become entirely obliterated, much as the practice of them had become neglected. The cardinal principle of Christian ethics, that a man should love all men, even his enemies, struck the world as a new commandment. It was placed upon a basis absolutely new; yet Plato had come as near this truth as was possible for any one not a Christian. He maintained that a just man would not injure even his enemies, and this in opposition to the reigning sentiment of the heathen world. And as an instance of his fine religious sentiment, in a passage of the Republic, speaking of the effects of a life of vice upon the conscience and soul, he described aged sensualists as having a fear of death, suffering frightful dreams, and enduring "a bad hope"—an expression so like that of Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians, who declared of the Heathen that they had no hope—as to suggest the thought of its presence to the mind of the Apostle while he was writing. Nor still farther was it the [11/12] immortality of the soul, nor the sovereignty of the one God—both of them equally familiar with the moral thoughts to which I have referred.
In accounting for the power of any phenomenon, we must seek it in those properties which are peculiar to itself, which make it different from others, and not in those which it shares in common with them. Christianity has always taught these truths of doctrine and practice which had been proclaimed in manifold style before her day. They were not the secrets of her power, though they may have been witnesses of her truth. They did not cause the Heathen world to hate her, nor did they alone baptize the Church with the spirit of martyrdom and sacrifice. Something must have lain behind all these particulars, in her life, therefore, to have made the reassertion of them of any practical force among men. All particular doctrines of Christianity, all moral ideas then known, must in some way have been placed upon a fresh basis, have been grouped around a new center, otherwise they would have continued inoperative as before. A hardened conscience can scarcely be roused by the sound of truth just in the form with which it is familiar. It must be seen in a new light. What could Paul have accomplished in Rome or Ephesus, by preaching to the gay pleasure-seeking crowds in the streets, upon honesty and benevolence? or by delivering lectures on the immortality of the soul, upon such a basis as the ordinary opinion of the day might furnish him?
But the new and necessary central fact to make the moral duties already known to men, once more potent, was brought to light. It was a great life-giving reality which as it became known, could enable the Church to gather up into herself the fragmentary ideas which in powerless isolation had been floating about upon the mind of the world. That central fact was a new thing. It was the secret of her might; yet an open secret read of all men who might choose to heed it. It made Christianity what it was—may be named the differential quantity of Christianity. It lay at the foundation of her life, and alone can explain the work she has wrought whether as regards men's minds or their hearts. It was this—God manifest in the flesh, actually come; actually dead for the redemption of man; actually risen again for the life of man. God manifest in the flesh, come to be the great restorer of the world, and to gather together in one the scattered portions of the human family, whereof the kingdom He founded—His Church—was at once the witness as well as [12/13] the great symbol and exponent. God manifest in the flesh, to make men perceive and know their common brotherhood in Him—to establish the great, the universal law of love for all, utterly irrespective of race, of country, of social condition, of age. God manifest in the flesh, ascended now on high, but about to come again as the Lord and Sovereign of man, to judge the quick and the dead.
This was the truth which not only revealed a new life to the world, but it clothed once more with life the recognition of those well known moral duties dormant then in the torpid heart of humanity. It alone could so bring moral and spiritual truth to bear upon the conscience as to terrify men in view of their sins and cause them to ask what they must do to be saved. It did not come to them in the shape of an abstract doctrine, nor as a learned academic attempt at the fusion of the fragments of the world's thought, but as a great awful reality for men to trust in and to live by. It was addressed first and foremost to the conscience, as the new covenant of the Most High God, as the work of His grace and love for the spiritual emancipation of enslaved humanity. Rousing the moral man into life, it begot by the mighty power of the Spirit, the life of faith, whereof love was the great product. Jesus Christ formed for the primitive Church the immediate personal object of obedience and love: all duties God ward and man ward flowed from their recognition of Him as the Divine-human redeemer and restorer of man, as the judge of quick and dead. The entire ethics of Christianity sprang into life with marvellous vigor and rapidity. The Church and the Churches felt the power of Jesus Christ in binding them together: their life is explained by their faith in and love toward Him as their Head and King.
And so, Christianity appears first in history as a society of persons avowing allegiance to "One Jesus;" binding themselves together as brethren of Him even, who was their king, because though God He had worn the garment of their nature and died to open the gates of heaven to all believers. All that was peculiar and new in their life sprang from this one source: their patience under suffering, their unparalleled charity, their spirit of sacrifice leading them to die rather than disown their faith in Him.
When a great idea or truth gains an entrance into the minds of men, they can never foresee the full extent of its power, nor foretell the limits of its growth in the world, nor anticipate the forms under which it shall be manifested in the future. They accept it as present [13/14] reality, a truth at hand for them and for their day. They will doubtless think of its future, but it is somewhat as a father thinks of the future of his child; they can form no adequate conception of what it will do, of the customs and institutions it may destroy, of the idols it may throw down, of the blessings it may impart. When the first Christians lived and suffered, and prayed to Christ and sang hymns to Him; when they brake bread and drank of the cup in remembrance of Him; the supposition that Christianity, the Church, working out her faith in the Incarnation, would gather into herself the substance of the world's thought, did not occur to them. Of all men then on this earth, they as a body, cared least for this world's literature. It was as much as they could do to keep together and bear witness to the powers and prerogatives of their ascended King. To preserve old literatures, to be the great link of connection between two worlds—this they did not think of. Their thought like all thought that lives was concerning their deepest exigencies, as they arose from time to time. They had a work to do for Christ: they had to care for each other. To acquire the consistency of form was their necessity. I need not say how they did their work; what difficulties they overcame; what sorrows they bore. Nor need I state here, how as the body of believers grew into organized shape, the common consciousness gathered with marvellous freshness and strength around Jesus Christ as the manifestation of God in human flesh for the redemption of man.
The apprehension of the Incarnation did not then begin primarily as a thought, but as a principle of life. It strikes us first as a spiritual rather than as a mere intellectual fact. Yet it did soon become a thought, as also the well-spring of thought. It became necessary to explain the faith, to defend it on the right hand and on the left, to cleanse it of the alloy of heresies. When necessity aroused the mind of the Church and she began to think, her chief thought was of Him who already was enthroned within her heart. His person formed the center of her intellectual life. But the constitution of His person brought to light these two factors, God and Humanity, each of which had been in an isolated condition, the center respectively around which Hebrew and Greek had revolved. It could be set forth as appealing with equal power to both. Each type of mind, each habit of thought, found what was wanting in itself. It came as the key-note to the mystery of the world; the key-note after which both had longed, but which neither had found. God and humanity! [14/15] not in any mechanical or forced juxtaposition but in living, real union and communion; not in a way to blot out either from the mind, but to make faith in and apprehension of both, possible; not as Judea or Greece or Asia Minor singly had conceived, but in a deeper and altogether new way, whereof each had entertained but fragmentary anticipations.
That thought then was no patchwork, no syncretistic effort resulting in an flange partly of gold and brass and iron, and partly of clay; no compromise between Greek and Jew; but the product, the reflection of a great power who in Himself made of the twain a new man.
The more the thinking men of the Church sought to exhibit the true meaning of Christ's person, under the guidance of Scripture and in the bosom of Christ's institutions, the deeper and more varied were the chords they struck. Nothing that could tell upon the welfare of man was foreign to their real sympathies. The preponderating influence of the Greek mind in the Church became very marked, after the destruction of Jerusalem. The old efforts of heathen Greece once more gained a hearing. They saw that forth from that source flashed imperishable truths, though in fragmentary grandeur. Plato was loved, because he had given utterance to much with which they as Christians could sympathize. The literature of Greece became the property of the Christian Church because it had a human voice, because it was the record of human struggle and aspiration, which could be satisfied and explained only by Him who was the desire of all nations. Standing upon the reality of the Incarnation, all the past became lit up to them. It threw light upon the one hand, deep into the bosom of eternity, and on the other, down into the darknesses of human life, of time and the world, and while they learned to think of man as man apart from all distinctions of race and tribe, they were but feeling in their speculations the power of that principle which their religion proclaimed as the law of its practice. They aimed at the universal in thought, while the gospel was carried from land to land and preached to men because they were men. Because she read the history of man in the light of the Incarnation, the Christian Church became the reservoir into which all the thought of the past that could live, discharged itself, to be her possession, to furnish proof of the reality of her world-wide instincts and of her world-embracing destiny. She found in the Old Testament not only a record of the dealings of God with His covenant people to whom Christ was promised, but words wherewith to [15/16] express her thoughts of the majesty and infinite being of God—she found in the philosophy and dialects of Greece forms wherewith to reproduce her thought of the destiny of man by faith in her ascended Lord. With her knowledge of the Incarnation and its scope she could not while active, be other than universal in her aspirations.
Nor is this all: she accepted Christ as God manifest in the flesh according to the Scriptures. While claiming for Him a position altogether peculiar, and asserting the real union of the divine and human in His person, she attributed perfection to His human nature. The full ideal of humanity it was thought, was embodied in Him. The reality of His power as Mediator and Redeemer, rested not merely upon divine appointment: it flowed forth also from the very constitution of His person. In setting forth therefore the posture and person of Jesus Christ, the Christian mind laid the basis of its anthropology on the one hand, and found an irresistible motive to exhibit systematically the doctrine of the Trinity, on the other. Now its theory of man was grounded entirely upon Christ. And it is not hazarding too much to say that all subsequent speculation upon man down to this present day, has felt the direction imparted to the subject by the early Church. The characteristics of human nature, its constituent elements, the powers of man, his condition moral and intellectual, all took their color in the mind of the Church from this central fact.
The Incarnation thus furnished not only the stand-point, but also the material for Christian thought. It gathered the meaning of humanity from Christ. It proclaimed the sacredness of our being: it did not dare to limit the glory or the growth of redeemed, believing human souls. It declared the eternal communion of man with his Maker by faith. At the same time it allowed the fact of sin, of a fall, to enter largely into its view. Dimmed by sin, ruined, it avowed that human nature could be restored only by Christ; that the pathway to light and glory was the pathway of faith in Him; that by nature the course of man was from deep to deep in the way of guilt, but that by grace, it was from one degree of blessedness to another.
Such was the form which Christian thought of man took: marvellous in its simplicity as contrasted with the wild notionalism that clouded the atmosphere around it. You may be disposed to ask whether the early Christian thinkers were all men of genius. No such thing. This is not claimed in their behalf. You will find the characteristic faults of the later Greek mind in much that they have [16/17] left, the faults of their age, weak allegorizing at times, unreal fancies, useless subtleties, yet nevertheless striking upon their path, in a style which shows how completely amid a decadent world, Christianity appeared as a new form of life. With many of their forms of thought, however, we have nothing to do. Their processes of argument, their peculiarities of time and person, have ceased as factors in the life of later Christendom: but the core and heart of their conception must be ours: the substance of their intellectual toil and aims must be ours, if we shall be and continue Christian thinkers. The path they struck upon must be followed up, unless we wish to spend our days in beating the air or in embracing the clouds.
Christianity, then, from her cardinal fact gathered together the scattered fragments of the world's thought and revealed the principle of their reconstruction. She put a new interpretation upon God and upon human nature, by which she not only consecrated the truths uttered in the past, but she furnished material and the true point of view for speculative thought for all time. Material for all time, in her general conception of God and humanity as they met in the person of Jesus Christ. Yet times change, and the revolutions of the ages call constantly for fresh elaborations, for new applications of the Truth, such as shall be suited to the style and tone of their activities. Hence, if it shall be operative, the Truth must not be repeated each successive age by word of mouth simply, as a school-boy's lesson: its substance must be seized and reproduced in fresh forms by those whose mission is to study, to think of and to make it known.
Especially does this concern us at the present day, which with "its intensities of hope and fear" is displaying a restlessness in the sphere of thought equalled only by its disposition to hazard speculative experiments. It becomes us to see that the Incarnation which was the basis of the intellectual life of the early Church, is the truth-basis, the great central idea for all ages, for this as for the past, and also for the future. It carries in itself the substance of the intellectual destiny of the world. It is the great lodestar of human thought. All speculation of God and of Man which can not be adjusted in harmony nor brought into sympathy with it, perishes as untimely fruit. It is the test of the worth and life of all such speculation. To ignore it, is sure to land the mind either amid the wastes of Pantheism or else barren platitudes. Two styles of thought now laboring for and claiming the heart of this nineteenth century, verify these assertions.
 On the one side there are men now losing sight of humanity and its life. They are filled with the idea of the Absolute—are God-intoxicated, as Novalis said of Spinoza. They see nothing but Absolute Being. It rises before them as a bald, bleak mountain, whose base covers the world, whose summit is lost to sight. There it stands. No life is seen under its awful shadows, no vegetation blooms upon its granite slopes. Dismal winds, echoes as of despair, howl eternally round about it. To touch it is to perish: to dash against it and be annihilated is the inevitable doom of man.
Or if they turn away from their idol which they can not love, which stifles and overpowers them in itself, they will contemplate it in another form as somewhat which never is and is always becoming (werdendes.) Of this, man is but a passing manifestation: in obedience to it, he goeth forth to his labor until the evening of his days; is then removed and made food for worms. That is the end of him. Some thought, some word or deed of his may live, but himself is swallowed up, reabsorbed into the absolute all. He comes to vanish as a dream of the night: he lives only to be destroyed. Oh give me the Heathenism of Greece with its beautiful forms, before the Pantheism of this day, which denying the personality of the Absolute, becomes a devouring monster, destroying all sense in man of his freedom here, of his life hereafter.
On the other hand we meet with men who idolize humanity without God; who are vehement in their adoration of the light of reason; who with swelling rhetoric avow their convictions of the sacred destiny of man; who discourse finely of the good of the heroic, of the divine; yet by denying the existence of sin as a universal fact, and refusing to believe in a historic revelation, lose themselves in generalizations miserably empty, the moment they attempt to set forth human nature in its relation to the Divine. They find the Divinity only within them; yet they advance scarcely a step beyond the better Greeks of old in their thought of communion with the great God, in their apprehension of human destiny. Such men may indeed exhibit spiritually much that is better than any of their speculations; there may be a certain mildness and beauty of character all attractive to a genial Christian; yet we are and have been considering simply the form and worth of their theory of human nature. This concerns us here and not their character. In no view of life which they can claim as their own, do they exhibit any facts not explicitly perceived in the old world of Heathenism. Their ethics [18/19] though clad in brilliant forms after all, are scarcely a whit better than the frigid morality of the last century. If here and there we can discern gleams of a higher inspiration, it springs from somewhat belonging to the life of Christianity in its historic sense. The thoughts which belong to their own system, may sparkle and dazzle, but as artificial fire-works, they expire in their own flash, they die in their birth. "One may preach of the good, of the noble, of the beautiful and of the divine, but without a personal incarnate God in the heart, it is but a distant Aurora borealis glittering above a field of snow, beneath which the frost does not melt and no flowers bloom."
It is very noticeable that both the Pantheism and the so-called Spiritualism of this day destroy the very ideas in behalf of which they contend. A personal God and glorified humanity both vanish from their embrace. They see, they hold neither truthfully. An avenging Nemesis disposes of all unreal thought. Half-truths beget whole falsehoods. Ideas severed from their organic connection produce monsters. It is a startling, almost a miraculous fact, that the Incarnation of the Word of God can not be denied without degrading the Omnipotent into a devouring Phantom or into a shadowy abstraction: that it can not be denied without converting man into a demi-god in utter violation of his own self-consciousness, or into a sheer earthish creature whose mission is to eat and drink because tomorrow he must die.
The ability to set forth human nature, its powers, its condition, its destiny, so as to make the representation correspond with the historical man and with the facts of consciousness, is denied him who refuses to see in Jesus Christ the Son of God in human nature. No matter how fine his genius, he either stops miserably short of or goes beyond the truth. If oppressed with the idea of the sin and selfishness of man, he sees no ground for his possible victory over it and final glory; or if he be drawn to the glorious side of humanity, he will refuse to acknowledge and look fairly upon its darkened side of sin and guilt. Poets, indeed, whose gift is to produce pictures of life, may portray man as under the influence of motives and powers, which bring into light the varied and antagonistic elements of his being; a Goethe may say many wonderful things of man, and yet care no more for the God of Christendom than for the Jupiter of Greece. Naturalists too and mathematicians may follow their respective occupations and a denial of the Incarnation may not be felt in their labors, because those labors do not concern man in the particulars which the Incarnation brings to view. An atheist may be [19/20] a good mathematician, so removed is such science from theories of the powers and destiny of humanity. But he who aims to be a philosopher, who aspires to the task of exhibiting man and his powers—every one who with any fixed purpose seeks to satisfy himself and to still the questionings of his own soul concerning itself, must inevitably meet with the fate of the unsuccessful voyager, if he set aside the mystery of Godliness—God manifest in the flesh.
The truth is indeed revenged in the monsters and specters, in the void and chaos, begotten by a denial. The reality of the Incarnation, its claim to form the basis and stand-point of our modern intellectual life, are asserted with tremendous emphasis by the manifest distraction around us now. All the phases of philosophy now extant are found violating the true order of life, are found contradictory to the deepest consciousness of man just in so far as they are at war with this fact. It is the wheel upon which all false theories of human nature are broken; thought becomes more dismal, or else carries on its face the hectic of fatal consumption, in proportion to the degree with which it is carried away from this the center of its equilibrium. It is indeed the great centripetal and centrifugal power of human thought. It attracts the mind to itself only to send it forth and onward with new vigor. It teaches man to see humanity as it is—fallen in sin: it indicates the pathway to blessedness and life. It brings out into the strongest light the depth of his moral misery; it proclaims his sacred endowments and gifts of reason and will; it declares not only the possibility, it shows us how actually there may be communion between man and God. It opens to the thinker the manifold wants of humanity; it bids him to labor for their solution. The light of his reason appears thus as the hope of his soul. The core of the faith is the germ of His knowledge. While Jesus Christ is the hope of penitent sinners therefore, He is also the Sun to that mind which will read human nature aright, which will understand history, which will consecrate itself to the work of human well-being and progress.
Such is the relation of the Incarnation to the progress of human thought. God forbid that this age should refuse to see it. God grant that the mind of the Church and the heart of the Church alike, may speedily be aroused to the truth of it, so that while she proclaims it with unfaltering voice to the mind of the world, she may embody it in her practice, and hasten the coming of that day when by faith in Him, all men may declare and act upon their common brotherhood.
CATALOG OF OFFICERS AND MEMBERS OF
THE CONNECTICUT BETA OF THE PHI BETA KAPPA,
WHICH RECEIVED ITS CHARTER JUNE 16th, 1845
REV. SILAS TOTTEN, D. D. elected 1845, retired 1845.
RT. REV. GEORGE BURGESS, D. D. elected 1845, retired 1847.
PROF. DUNCAN L. STEWART, M. A. elected 1848, retired 1851.
REV. THOMAS M. CLARK. D. D. elected 1851, retired 1853.
PROF. JOHN BROCKLESBY, M. A. elected 1853.
PROF. DUNCAN L. STEWART, M. A. elected 1845, retired 1848.
RT. REV. JOHN WILLIAMS, D. D. elected 1848, retired 1853.
GURDON W. RUSSELL, M. D. elected 1853.
PROF. JOHN BROCKLESBY, M. A. elected 1845, retired 1853.
REV. PROF. A. JACKSON, M. A. elected 1853
REV. PROF. A. JACKSON, M. A. elected 1845, retired 1853.
NATHAN M. BELDEN, M. A., Tutor, elected 1853.