Lecture VI. The Christian Faith in Its Applications
IN the preceding lecture there was set forth, though briefly and imperfectly, the true Catholic faith concerning the existence and attributes of Almighty God. It now remains to draw our remarks to a close. We have passed together through those places in which, as in a synagogue of Satan, strange doctrines are taught; we have heard the sound of other systems; we have measured the length of their separation from the everlasting truth, and have gauged the depth of that abyss into which they are capable of casting down the mind of him who yields to their solicitations. Emerging at length from those forbidding regions of profane speculation, we have considered in a general way, and with a view to comparison, the leading principles of the Christian faith concerning Almighty God. It is now proposed, by way of a suitable conclusion of the work, to dwell upon the idea of Him as that idea is presented to us in the Church, and to show its practical application in the order of our daily life.
How clear is that idea, and how full! how plain and accessible to the grasp of faith! how capable of meeting all spiritual requirement and necessity! A home-like presence, a familiar neighborhood, a close and true and real relationship. "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul" saith the Lord. But of Him, and of the Father, may we exclaim, using and applying His words, "What shall a man give in exchange for his God." Surely, if bereaved of our simple faith in God,--the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost,--we could never rest content with any of those loose and vague conceptions to which the holy name has been applied. The phantom raised by Philosophy, the shadow evoked by that witchcraft of the subtle understanding, by that magic of the godless imagination,--this phantom, this shadow, is not that in which we have trusted, nor is it He whom we do know.
Perhaps the readiest way of learning how precious, how satisfying is the idea of God, as He hath revealed Himself to us through the Gospel, would be to reflect how much and what we should lose if that idea were lost,--how much of our daily life must go, if that idea were gone.
Imagine, therefore, a state of things which may perhaps arrive before the end of the world; and suppose that the belief in the Holy Trinity, the God of Christianity, had become, for the most part, extinct in the breasts of men. And suppose that in its place there had become established (if aught so shapeless and anomalous can be spoken of as established) the theory of a Universal-Substance-Deity, and the idea of a self-development in that substance as the only mode of life and advance, and as the only assignable reason or explanation of things as they occur and are. And, furthermore, suppose some man, who should be the survivor from a former age of faith, -one who had believed once, but afterwards resigned and renounced his earlier thoughts,-a man who, once a Christian, had outlived his better days, to stand at last avowed a philosophizer and a rationalist. To what should such a man look back? And, as comparing his former with his later self, what should he have lost, and to what extent would his intelligent and conscious existence have been affected by the change? Let us reflect.
And first, to speak of his personal and individual life. From that sphere all idea of a Father, a Protector, a Guide, a Friend, would have utterly faded away. The God of Pantheism is not a Providence over us: it has no thought, no heart, no love, no power. All those conceptions, therefore, in respect to the Deity, would have become extinct in the mind of the man whose case we are considering. In the morning light, as he opened his eyes to it, there would be no sign of a Divine Protection, renewing the days of his life; and though the sun arose never so brightly in the splendors of the east, there would be no logical ground for thankfulness towards any Ruler of the Universe, for the gift of that warm and clear shining. So, too, the song of nature, reviving at the dawn and in the beams of the new day, must be no longer interpreted as if it were a hymn of praise; but the crowing of the cock, the matins of birds, the hum of joyous life, all breaking forth together in full concert, must be accounted but a series of fatalistic occurrences, and not the response of a glad creation to that beneficent Creator from whom it all hath birth. Our Father would have been banished from the dawn and early morning hour, and what was once, and is now, to Christian ears, a cheerful anthem of praise in which it becomes man to bear his part by devotion, thanksgiving, and prayer, would change to a medley of sounds, without a purpose and without an object. But again: this philosopher-religionist must go forth to the duties of the day, nay, not to the duties, there can be no such thing, for where there is no relationship there can be no duty,--he must go forth to his work, with no sense of One who shall work with him; with no invocation of a blessing from any quarter, for there can be no blessing where there is none to speak it. And so, through the twelve hours of the day, he would pursue his course, so far as any power above him might be regarded, alone. No eye to watch, no ear to hear, no hand to show the path; not one in heaven to care for, to mark, to approve, to regard. To his view those heavens must be utterly empty: no angels there, no throne high and lifted up, no paradise, no happy souls in light; nought but a great concavity of self-forming, self-developing material, cold as the ice, pitiless as winter, empty as his own heart. Thus going through the day in solitude, he is overtaken at last by the fall of night; and the night, so falling on that barren day, is the fit and true symbol of the darkness of a universe without a God distinct from itself.
Such must be, to the man whose position we are tracing in imagination, the experience of any common day of his life, when days run smoothly by. But days do not always keep that even, measured beat. There are emergencies in life, times of crisis, of doubtfulness, of sorrow. There are days when a man needs counsel, and days when he needs consolation. But with the recession of a faith such as Christianity bestows, the Comforter retires and the Counsellor departs away. So he must find that all those fountains of wisdom at which men have been wont to drink are dried, and that all the springs of relief are frozen at the source. In the Substance-Deity of Pantheism there is no personality, and therefore there can be no care, no compassion, no knowledge of our grief. To look to that shapeless and anomalous mass for any sympathy with suffering man, would be vainer than to talk to the electric fluid, or to invoke the vaporous drift of the open sea. Where tears fell fast as rain, they must continue to fall unregarded. Where sorrow bowed herself, scarce half-alive, upon the face or the relics of the loved and lost, there would she be suffered to stay, and there to harden to insensibility or sink in absolute despair. In time of doubt, no Counsellor; in time of trouble, no Comforter; nor any explanation of the riddles of life, nor any alleviation for its distresses. No sense of duty to constrain the rich; no trustful faith, no devout resignation, to mitigate the adverse lot of the poor. And so-to pass from private affairs to those of a wider range--the common, social life must remain in a state of confusion as thorough as that of the individual career, so far as any explanation of its course and intent and object are concerned. As for history, the man who has lost his creed and his faith must also give that up forever. Regarded as an intelligent solution of successive events, history would no longer exist. The world must be regarded as moving on without superintendence: no thought could be less reason able, on this hypothesis, than that of an intelligent agent distinct from the world observing the drift of human affairs, and carrying on good and grand designs through the chances and changes of life. Thus, with the loss of the true faith, and upon the substitution for it of the weak philosophy and the vain traditions of men, there must ensue a gradual but sure disappearance of Almighty God. He withdraws from the life of the individual, from the life of the community, from the life of the nation, from the life of human kind. He ceases, He departs, and men are left alone. No thought, no care, no heart, no love, beyond ourselves. No law, no duty, no crime, no good, no evil. No aim in life, no joy, no hope for the future. No one to be grateful to, none to fear, none to offend. No blessing to ask, no curse to escape. No reward in toil, no fruit in labor; no hand to dry the tears, no ear to hear the prayer. No mission for nations, no honor for states, no object for citizens. No pious dedication of the infant, no creed to teach the child, no blessing of strength and grace for the youth. No divine sanction for the marriage relation, no obligations for hearth and home. No worship for the living, no sacraments, no intercession for the sick, and for the dead no psalm of life and immortality. No grace to say over the daily bread, no invocation ere we lay us down to sleep, no word of thanks for the dawn of another day. All gone. All that speaks of God,--all that implies God, all that breathes of Him, or refers to Him, or derives its signification from Him,--all gone forever, like a dissolving dream. No Father, no personal Friend, no providential Guide, no Wonder-worker, no Inspirer and Hearer of prayer: all lost at once, with the loss of faith in a God distinct from the world, yet near to us; a spirit, yet personally like ourselves; Himself unchanging, and near to us all, as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier,--as the most august, the most complete of all existences, even as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Alas! my brethren, where should we be left with all this gone? And what would that be worth to us which yet remained? Go it must,--all this to which we have held fast, all this in which we have trusted,--if philosophy should supplant faith. There is no faith, save one,- the faith in the Most High and undivided Trinity, "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all." To Him, as to our stronghold, let us turn, and let us cling with firmer grasp to our traditional belief in Him. God is no stranger here; and what we hold and profess concerning Him is no uncertain theory, no doubtful and hesitating experiment. We know Him well; we know Him as we know each other. It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; that hath made us of the dust, that hath fashioned us as the potter mouldeth the clay, so as that we are no part of Himself, albeit He is not far from every one of us, albeit He is through all, and in us all. But He who created us, and in whom we live and move and have our being, knows us, and observes, and has intimate and familiar acquaintance with everything about us, from first to last. There is no human knowledge to be compared with His ill fulness; there is no discernment to be named in the same breath with His for precision. His thought embraces us and all our concerns, and His eye follows and investigates our every step. He, moreover, is our true home, -the One for whom we were made,- He whose glory is the end of our existence, and without whom the nations are as nothing, yea, less than nothing and vanity. All our strength is in Him, and from Him is all our hope. When He thought good so to do, He created us. And when we had fallen He redeemed us. And now that Ile has made us His own, He sanctifieth us. There is nothing upon earth so sure as the hallowed round of doctrine, truth, and usage, known as His revelation. It is all authentic; it cannot change or fail. While the statute books of nations have become antiquated and obsolete, the Holy Scriptures remain ever firesh and ever new. While the nations perish and cease, the Church still stands and renews her youth; for God is in the midst of her, therefore shall she not be removed. He is no vague dream, no impersonal substance. It was His Son, eternal like Himself, who dwelt here among us, and was called Jesus Christ; it was He who was nailed, ill ancient time, upon a cross, and who died thereon; it was He that was buried, that rose again of a Sunday morning in the sweet spring-time, and afterwards ascended to heaven. In the Redeemer of men there was, of course, a personality as perfect and complete as there can be in men themselves; and that personality was the same which was from the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, the person of the eternal Sonl of God, eternal as to all the past, eternal as to the future. This is He whom we have believed. And while we recognize Him, hour by hour, in this mniortal life, as, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, its Author, its Ruler, its Sustainer; so does this recognition ascend to a higher pitch of marvel and joy than any tongue could avail to express, when we contemplate the wonder of our redemption. For us He died; for us He gave Himself a sacrifice; and freely hath He thereupon given us all things to make that redemption available, to make that sacrifice our acceptable ransom. Ours is the whole system of grace,--a system adapted to all people and to every place and time, and bespeaking the Lord God in the most amiable and blessed of relationships, the Father, the Friend, the lover of His creatures. When we find comfort in the reception of the holy sacraments of the Church, it is because they are the links between Him and our souls. When, at the reading of His Holy Word, our hearts do burn within us, it is because His voice is speaking to our ears, because His spirit is communing with our spirits, because our eyes are fastened on the very syllables which His good hand hath penned. When, in the sanctity of the first day of the week, there comes refreshment to the weary spirits and bodies of those who then may rest, it is because that day is the everlasting prophecy to man of the Sabbath of God's eternity. When, seeking the calm shelter of the house of prayer, we forget, for a space, the din of the world, it is because we feel that He is there with whom it is good for man to be alone. The relief of confession of sin; the sweetness of acts of penitential discipline; the strength which slides down from above into the soul and spirit, in answer to humble, persevering prayer; the conscious joy in acts of mercy and love; all these, and the hundred more of such like emotions, are what they are, simply because God is what He is, and because we believe what He has told us of Himself, and because we know that He saith true. Ours, then, in so far as we are Christians, is the undying confidence in Him which alone can support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations, the realization of His presence, the experience of His power, the thrilling, sensitive response to the calls of His Holy Spirit, the trust in His strength, the veneration for His wisdom, the rejoicing acquiescence in His will. We make of Him an acquaintance, we picture Him to ourselves as a friend, we think of Him as of a neighbor; in Christ, He is become to us a wise, a good, a great, a glorious, a perfect man. There can be no vagueness in such a faith in God. There can be no wavering in principles such as these. There can be little doubt as to the future, -as little as there is of mistrust in the present. We know our calling. We can see ahead a long way. We look not to the future as a blank. It is an ocean, over which we have not yet spread our sail; but the Bible is our chart, and our faith is the compass, and we shall not fear as we launch forth.
Beloved brethren, the words which have now been said respecting that future towards which we are hastening, recall the necessity of finding a conclusion for these studies and, perhaps, rambling thoughts. How, then, shall the conclusion be made? By reflecting on the conclusion itself; on the conclusion of any earthly career, as it must appear upon the pantheistic hypothesis, or upon the analogy of the Christian religion. We have thought together of that dismal system which denies the personal God; which makes the universe eternal; which views God and the universe as substantially one; which regards all visible things, and man himself, as but evolvings of the primal substance, as but phenomena in a fated sequence of development. That system would be dismal when studied at every advantage,--by a man in full health, and rich, and free from care and responsibility, and at the hour of noontide, and amid scenes of outward prosperity and peace. Even then, the system would be almost oppressive in some yet uncomprehended awe and mystery of prophetic failure. How, then, must it appear, if all these circumstances should be reversed? How must these tenets sound, when spoken to the heart of poverty, of pain, of grief? How, finally, must this cup of consolation taste, when presented and offered to the lips of the dying? Go to the man whose hour is come that he should depart out of this world, and speak to him, in the name of this philosophy, such message as it can convey; and if there be a shadow darker than the shadow of death, these tender mercies of the pantheistic creed shall pour that hopeless shadow, broad and still, upon his forehead and upon his soul. There is no light beneath that shade; there can be no dawn beyond. Go to the man whose hour is come, and tell him that all is over forevermore; that he has played his part in the fatal sequence, and now must disappear eternally; that he was but a portion of the absolute substance, a manifestation for a moment, an evolution, and that the gulf which vomited forth the atom is about to engorge it again. Tell him that his whole course here on earth has been but a dream; that his consciousness was but the consciousness of a deepheaving matter; that whether that portion which he calls himself shall ever appear again in realized form or conscious shape is utterly beyond the power of prediction; that life and time are but "an everlasting shore, that tumbles in the godless deep;" and that for him there now remains but this,
"To drop, head-foremost, in the jaws
Of vacant darkness, and to cease;"
tell him all this, the gospel of Pantheism, and then withdraw, lest the curse follow fast upon your footsteps from the lips of despair and death. Yet not, perhaps, the curse; perhaps the blessing,-yea, the blessing upon you, who, in thus exhibiting the last resources of Philosophy, in thus revealing in the most critical time her utter incompetency as a guide or a comfort, have been the means of awaking the soul from its delusion, and breaking the spells of Satan, though at the eleventh hour of life. Many a man who, through long and hardened years, has had no better hope than such as this, at the close of all hath yet, and, let us trust, not too late, recoiled from the awful emptiness in the face of which he had dwelt, and flung himself, in mortal extremity, in anguish of spirit, at the throne of the Father, and at the feet of the Great High Priest. Oh what peace and joy is there in believing! What perfect confidence in the will and power of the Christian's Saviour, of the Christian's God! And what calm triumph, in the final hour, over any and all fears of death! "Preciosa in conspectu Domini mors sanctorum ejus:" Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. For them, the past life is a dear, a sweet reality: for there they walked with Him; there had they experience of His power; there they learned to love Him, and there they were made ready by grace for all that is to come. Dear are the friends they met; dear those whom they leave; nor is the parting over-sorrowful for nature to support, since presently they that are Christ's shall meet again. And if the past be real, (Oh very real and very sweet that past of a Christian life!) what shall be said of the future? No "vacant darkness" there, but the full and warm light of paradise. No awful emptiness, but the house of many mansions resounding eternally with the voice of joy. The Father's house, the doors therein open, the pathway thither paved with pure gold, and the angels of Heaven descending, and ascending thereon! The Lord, standing above, proclaiming to all salvation, and unto all peace. The children thronging thither to the feast of eternal days. This is the vision of holy death. All fear cast out in perfect love; all doubt dismissed in the filial confidence of the heart. Then the comfort of the Holy Communion, the body and blood of the Lord; the refreshment of prayer; the hopeful "farewell," being but for a little time; the commendation of the soul, made by the minister of the gospel of Christ. And then the stillness,--the stillness which is such on our side alone; which, on the other, is no stillness, but the blending together of the praises of the rejoicing hosts on high. And then the temporary sleep of the body in the care of our Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life. [See Note H.]
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! high and undivided Trinity! To Thee, God in Three Persons, be ascribed all glory and praise! To Thee, O Father, do we owe all praise, for that Thou hast made us! To Thee, O Son, do we owe all praise, for that Thou, when we were dead, didst make us to live again! To Thee, O Holy Spirit, do we owe all praise, for that Thou dost convert us, and renew us day by day! In that great name standeth evermore the hope of the world; in that great name standeth our eternal life. And long after the prophecies have failed, and the tongues have ceased, and the knowledge hath vanished away, shall be proclaimed, yea, forever and forevermore,
"Lo! this is our God! We have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation."