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THE EDUCATION OF THE WORLD.
IN a world of mere phenomena, where all events are bound to one another by a rigid law of cause and effect, it is possible to imagine the course of a long period bringing all things at the end of it into exactly the same relations as they occupied at the beginning. We should, then, obviously have a succession of cycles rigidly similar to one another, both in events and in the sequence of them. The universe would eternally repeat the same changes in a fixed order of recurrence, though each cycle might be many millions of years in length. Moreover, the precise similarity of these cycles would render the very existence of each one of them entirely unnecessary. We can suppose, without any logical inconsequence, any one of them struck out, and the two which had been destined to precede and follow it brought into immediate contiguity.
This supposition transforms the universe into a dead machine. The lives and the souls of men become so indifferent, that the annihilation of a whole human race, or of many such races, is absolutely nothing. Every event passes away as it happens, filling its place in the sequence, but purposeless for the future. The order of all things becomes, not merely an iron rule, from which nothing can ever swerve, but an iron rule which guides to nothing and ends in nothing.
Such a supposition is possible to the logical understanding: it is not possible to the spirit. The human 2heart refuses to believe in a universe without a purpose. To the spirit, all things that exist must have a purpose, and nothing can pass away till that purpose be fulfilled. The lapse of time is no exception to this demand. Each moment of time, as it passes, is taken up in the shape of permanent results into the time that follows, and only perishes by being converted into something more substantial than itself. A series of recurring cycles, however conceivable to the logical understanding, is inconceivable to the spirit; for every later cycle must be made different from every earlier by the mere fact of coming after it and embodying its results. The material world may possibly be subject to such a rule, and may, in successive epochs, be the cradle of successive races of spiritual beings. But the world of spirits cannot be a mere machine.
In accordance with this difference between the material and the spiritual worlds, we ought to be prepared to find progress in the latter, however much fixity there may be in the former. The earth may still be describing precisely the same orbit as that which was assigned to her at the creation. The sea. sons may be precisely the same. The planets, the moon, and the stars, may be unchanged both in appearance and in reality. But man is a spiritual as well as a material creature, must be subject to the laws of the spiritual as well as to those of the material world, and cannot stand still because things around him do. Now, that the individual man is capable of perpetual, or almost perpetual, development from the day of his birth to that of his death, is obvious of course. But we may well expect to find something more than this in a spiritual creature who does not stand alone, but forms a part of a whole world of creatures like himself Man cannot be considered as an individual. He is, in reality, only man by virtue of his being a member of the human race. Any other animal that we know would probably not be very different in its nature 3brought up from its very birth apart from all its kind. A child so brought up becomes, as instances could be adduced to prove, not a man in the full sense at all, but rather a beast in human shape, with human faculties, no doubt, hidden underneath, but with no hope in this life of ever developing those faculties into true humanity. If, then, the whole in this case, as in so many others, is prior to the parts, we may conclude, that we arc to look for that progress which is essential to a spiritual being subject to the lapse of time, not only in the individual, but also quite as much in the race taken as a whole. We may expect to find, in the history of man, each successive age incorporating into itself the substance of the preceding.
This power, whereby the present ever gathers into itself the results of the past, transforms the human race into a colossal man, whose life reaches from the creation to the day of judgment. The successive generations of men are days in this man’s life. The discoveries and inventions which characterize the different .epochs of the world’s history are his works. The creeds and doctrines, the opinions and principles of the successive ages, are his thoughts. The state of society at different times are his manners. He grows in knowledge, in self-control, in visible size, just as we do. And his education is in the same way and for the same reason precisely similar to ours.
All this is no figure but only a compendious statement of a very comprehensive fact. The child that is born to-day may possibly have the same faculties as if he had been born in the days of Noah; if it be otherwise, we possess no means of determining the difference. But the equality of the natural faculties at starting will not prevent a vast difference in their ultimate development. That development is entirely under the control of the influences exerted by the society in which the child may chance to live. If such society be altogether denied, the faculties perish, 4and the child (as remarked above) grows up a beast and not a man; if the society be uneducated and coarse, the growth of the faculties is early so stunted as never afterwards to be capable of recovery; if the society be highly cultivated, the child will be cultivated also, and will show, more or less, through life the fruits of that cultivation. Hence each generation receives the benefit of the cultivation of that which preceded it. Not in knowledge only but in develop. meat of powers the child of twelve now stands at the level where once stood the child of fourteen, where ages ago stood the full-grown man. The discipline of manners, of temper, of thought, of feeling, is transmitted from generation to generation, and at each transmission there is an imperceptible but unfailing increase. The perpetual accumulation of the stores of knowledge is so much more visible than the change in the other ingredients of human progress, that we are apt to fancy that knowledge grows, and knowledge only. I shall not stop to examine whether it be true (as is sometimes maintained) that all progress in human society is but the effect of the progress of knowledge. For the present, it is enough to point out that knowledge is not the only possession of the human spirit in which progress can be traced.
We may, then, rightly speak of a childhood, a youth, and a manhood of the world. The men of the earliest ages were, in many respects, still children as compared with ourselves, with all the blessings and with all the disadvantages that belong to childhood. We reap the fruits of their toil, and bear in our characters the impress of their cultivation. Our characters have grown out of their history, as the character of the man grows out of the history of the child. There are matters in which the simplicity of childhood is wiser than the maturity of manhood, and in these they were wiser than we. There are matters in which the child is nothing, and the man everything, and in these we 5are the gainers. And the process by which we have either lost or gained corresponds, stage by stage, with the process by which the infant is trained for youth, and the youth for manhood.
This training has three stages. In childhood we are subject to positive rules which we cannot understand, but are bound implicitly to obey. In youth we are subject to the influence of example, and soon break loose from all rules unless illustrated and enforced by the higher teaching which example imparts. In manhood we are comparatively free from external restraints, and if we are to learn, must be our own instructors. First come Rules, then Examples, then Principles. First comes the Law, then the Son of Man, then the Gift of the Spirit. The world was once a child under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the Father. Then, when the fit season had arrived, the Example to which all ages should turn was sent to teach men what they ought to be. Then the human race was left to itself to be guided by the teaching of the Spirit within.
The education of the world, like that of the child, begins with Law. It is impossible to explain the reasons of all the commands that you give to a child, and you do not endeavour to do so. When he is to go to bed, when he is to get up, how he is to sit, stand, eat, drink, what answers he is to make when spoken to, what he may touch and what he may not, what prayers he shall say and when, what lessons he is to learn, every detail of manners and of conduct the careful mother teaches her child, and requires implicit obedience. Mingled together in her teaching are commands of the most trivial character and commands of the gravest importance; their relative value marked by a difference of manner rather than by anything else, since to explain it is impossible. Meanwhile to the child obedience is the highest duty, affection the highest stimulus, the mother’s word the 6 highest sanction. The conscience is alive, but it is, like the other faculties at that age, irregular, undeveloped, easily deceived. The mother does not leave it uncultivated, nor refuse sometimes to explain her motives for commanding or forbidding; but she never thinks of putting the judgment of the child against her own, nor of considering the child’s conscience a, having a right to free action.
As the child grows older the education changes its character, not so much in regard to the sanction of its precepts as in regard to their tenor. More stress is laid upon matters of real duty, less upon matters of mere manner. Falsehood, quarrelling, bad temper, greediness, indolence, are more attended to than times of going to bed, or fashions of eating, or postures in sitting. The boy is allowed to feel, and to show that he feels, the difference between different commands. But he is still not left to himself: and though points of manner are not put on a level with points of conduct, they are by no means neglected. Moreover, while much stress is laid upon his deeds, little is laid upon his opinions; he is rightly supposed not to have any, and will not be allowed to plead them as a reason for disobedience.
After a time, however, the intellect begins to assert a right to enter into all questions of duty, and the . intellect accordingly is cultivated. The reason is appealed to in all questions of conduct: the consequences of folly or sin are pointed out, and the punishment which, without any miracle, God invariably brings upon those who disobey His natural laws—how, for instance, falsehood destroys confidence and incurs contempt; how indulgence in appetite tends to brutal and degrading habits; how ill-temper may end in crime, and must end in mischief. Thus the conscience is reached through the understanding.
Now, precisely analogous to all this is the history of the education of the early world. The earliest 7commands almost entirely refer to bodily appetites animal passions. The earliest wide-spread sin was brutal violence. That wilfulness of temper,—those germs of wanton cruelty, which the mother corrects so easily in her infant, were developed in the earliest form of human society into a prevailing plague of wickedness. The few notices which are given of that state of mankind do not present a picture of mere lawlessness, such as we find among the medieval nations of Europe, but of blind, gross ignorance of themselves and all around them. Atheism is possible now, but Lamech’s presumptuous comparison of himself with God is impossible, and the thought of building a tower high enough to escape God’s wrath could enter no man’s dreams. We sometimes see in very little children a violence of temper which seems hardly human: add to such a temper the strength of a full-grown man, and we shall perhaps understand what is meant by the expression, that the earth was filled with violence.
Violence was followed by sensuality. Such was the sin of Noah, Ham, Sodom, Lot’s daughters, and the guilty Canaanites. Animal appetites—the appetites which must he subdued in childhood if they are to be subdued at all—were still the temptation of mankind. Such sins are, it is true, prevalent in the world even now. But the peculiarity of these early forms of licentiousness is their utter disregard of every kind of restraint, and this constitutes their childish character.
The education of this early race may strictly be said to begin when it was formed into the various masses out of which the nations of the earth have sprang. The world, as it were, went to school, and was broken up into classes. Before that time it can hardly be said that any great precepts had been given. The only commands which claim an earlier date are the prohibitions of murder and of eating blood. And 8these may be considered as given to all alike. But the whole lesson of humanity was too much to be learned by all at once. Different parts of it fell to the task of different parts of the human race, and for a long time, though the education of the world flowed in parallel channels, it did not form a single stream.
The Jewish nation, selected among all as the depository of what may be termed, in a pre-eminent sense, religious truth, received, after a short preparation, the Mosaic system. This system is a mixture of moral and positive commands: the latter, precise and particular, ruling the customs, the festivals, the worship, the daily food, the dress, the very touch; the former large, clear, simple, peremptory. There is very little directly spiritual. No freedom of conduct or of opinion is allowed. The difference between different precepts is not forgotten; nor is all natural judgment in morals excluded. But the reason for all the minute commands is never given. Why they may eat the sheep and not the pig they are not told. The commands are not confined to general principles, but run into such details as to forbid tattooing or disfiguring the person, to command the wearing of a blue fringe, and the like. That such commands should be sanctioned by divine authority is utterly irreconcileable with our present feelings. But in the Mosaic system the same peremptory legislation deals with all these matters, whether important or trivial. The fact is, that however trivial they might be in relation to the authority which they invoked, they were not trivial in relation to the people who were to be governed and taught.
The teaching of the Law was followed by the comments of the Prophets. It is impossible to mistake the complete change of tone and spirit. The ordinances indeed remain, and the obligation to observe them is always assumed. But they have sunk to the second place. The national attention is distinctly 9fixed on the higher precepts. Disregard of the ordinances is, in fact, rarely noticed, in comparison with breaches of the great human laws of love and brotherly kindness, of truth and justice. There are but two sins against the ceremonial law which receive marked attention—idolatry and sabbath-breaking; and these do not occupy a third of the space devoted to the denunciation of cruelty and oppression, of maladministration of justice, of impurity and intemperance. Nor is the change confined to the precepts enforced: it extends to the sanction which enforces them. Throughout the Prophets there is an evident reference to the decision of individual conscience, which can rarely be found in the Books of Moses. Sometimes, as in Ezekiel’s comment on the Second Commandment, a distinct appeal is made from the letter of the law to the voice of natural equity. Sometimes, as in the opening of Isaiah, the ceremonial sacrifices are condemned for the sins of those who offered them. Or, again, fasting is spiritualized into self-denial. And the tone taken in this teaching is such as to imply a previous breach, not so much of positive commands, as of natural morality. It is assumed that the hearer will find within himself a sufficient sanction for the precepts. It is no longer, as in the law, ‘I am the Lord:’ but, ‘Hath not he showed thee, O man, what is good?’ And hence the style becomes argumentative instead of peremptory, and the teacher pleads instead of dogmatizing. In the meanwhile, however, no hint is ever given of a permission to dispense with the ordinances even in the least degree. The child is old enough to understand, but not old enough to be left to himself. He is not yet a man. He must still conform to the rules of his father’s house, whether or not those rules suit his temper or approve themselves to his judgment.
The comments of the Prophets were followed in their turn by the great Lesson of the Captivity. Then 10for the first time the Jews learned, what that Law and the Prophets had been for centuries vainly endeavouring to teach them, namely, to abandon for ever polytheism and idolatry. But though this change in their national habits and character is unmistakeable, it might seem at first sight as if it were no more than an external and superficial amendment, and that their growth in moral and spiritual clearness, though traceable with certainty up to this date, at any rate received a check afterwards. For it is undeniable that, in the time of our Lord, the Sadducees had lost all depth of spiritual feeling, while the Pharisees had succeeded in converting the Mosaic system into so mischievous an idolatry of forms, that St Paul does not hesitate to call the law the strength of sin. But in spite of this it is nevertheless clear that even the Pharisaic teaching contained elements of a more spiritual religion than the original Mosaic system. Thus, for instance, the importance attached by the Pharisees to prayer is not be found in the law. The worship under the law consisted almost entirely of sacrifices. With the sacrifices we may presume that prayer was always offered, but it was not positively commanded; and, as a regular and necessary part of worship, it first appears in the later books of the Old Testament, and is never even there so earnestly insisted upon as afterwards by the Pharisees. It was in fact in the captivity, far from the temple and the sacrifices of the temple, that the Jewish people first learned that the spiritual part of worship could be separated from the ceremonial, and that of the two the spiritual was far the higher. The first introduction of preaching and the reading of the Bible in the synagogues belong to the same date. The careful study of the law, though it degenerated into formality, was yet in itself a more intellectual service than the earlier records exhibit. And this study also, though commencing earlier, attains its maximum after the captivity; 11the Psalmists who delight in the study of the law are all, or nearly all, much later than David; and the enthusiasm with which the study is praised increases as we come down. In short, the Jewish nation had lost very much when John the Baptist came to prepare the way for his Master; but time had not stood still, nor had that course of education whereby the Jew was to be fitted to give the last revelation to the world.
The results of this discipline of the Jewish nation may be summed up in two points—a settled national belief in the unity and spirituality of God, and an acknowledgment of the paramount importance of chastity as a point of morals.
The conviction of the unity and spirituality of God was peculiar to the Jews among the pioneers of civilization. Greek philosophers had, no doubt, come to the same conclusion by dint of reason. Noble minds may often have been enabled to raise themselves to the same height in moments of generous emotion. But every one knows the difference between an opinion and a practical conviction—between a scientific deduction or a momentary insight and that habit which has become second nature. Every one, also, knows the difference between a tenet maintained by a few intellectual men far in advance of their age, and a belief pervading a whole people, penetrating all their daily life, leavening all their occupations, incorporated into their very language. To the great mass of the Gentiles, at the time of our Lord, polytheism was the natural posture of the thoughts into which their minds unconsciously settled when undisturbed by doubt or difficulties. To every Jew, without exception, monotheism was equally natural. To the Gentile, even when converted, it was, for some time, still an effort to abstain from idols; to the Jew it was more an effort than it is to us. The bent of the Jewish mind was, in fact, so fixed by their previous 12training that it would have required a perpetual and difficult strain to enable a Jew to join in such folly. We do not readily realize how hard this was to acquire, because we have never had to acquire it and in reading the Old Testament we look on the repeated idolatries of the chosen people as wilful backsliding, from an elementary truth within the reach of children, rather than as stumblings in learning a very difficult lesson—difficult even for cultivated men. In reality, elementary truths are the hardest of all to learn, unless we pass our childhood in an atmosphere thoroughly impregnated with them; and then we imbibe them unconsciously, and find it difficult to perceive their difficulty.
It was the fact that this belief seas not the tenet of the few, but the habit of the nation, which made the Jews the proper instruments for communicating the doctrine to the world. They supported it, not by arguments, which always provoke replies, and rarely, at the best, penetrate deeper than the intellect; but by the unconscious evidence of their lives. They supplied that spiritual atmosphere in which alone the faith of new converts could attain to vigorous life. They supplied forms of language and expression fit for immediate and constant use. They supplied devotions to fill the void which departed idolatry left behind. The rapid spread of the Primitive Church, and the depth to which it struck its roots into the decaying society of the Roman empire, are unquestionably due, to a great extent, to the body of Jewish proselytes already established in every important city, and to the existence of the Old Testament as ready-made text-book of devotion and instruction.
Side by side with this freedom from idolatry there had grown up in the Jewish mind a chaster morality than was to be found elsewhere in the world. There were many points, undoubtedly, in which the early morality of the Greeks and Romans would well bear 13a comparison with that of the Hebrews. In simplicity of life in gentleness of character, in warmth of sympathy, in kindness to the poor, in justice to all men, the Hebrews could not have rivalled the best days of Greece. In reverence for law, in reality of obedience, in calmness under trouble, in dignity of self-respect, they could not have rivalled the best days of Rome. But the sins of the flesh corrupted both these races, and the flower of their finest virtues had withered before the time of our Lord. In chastity the Hebrews stood alone; and this virtue, which had grown up with them from their earliest days, was still in the vigour of fresh life when they were commissioned to give the Gospel to the nations. The Hebrew morality has passed into the Christian church, and sins of impurity (which war against the soul) have ever since been looked on as the type of all evil; and our Litany selects them as the example of deadly sin. What sort of morality the Gentiles would have handed down to us, had they been left to themselves, is clear from the Epistles. The excesses of the Gentile party at Corinth (1 Cor. v. 2), the first warning given to the Thessalonians (1 Thes. iv. 3), the first warning given to the Galatians (Gal. v. 19), the description of the Gentile world in the Epistle to the Romans, are sufficient indications of the prevailing Gentile sin. But St. James, writing to the Hebrew Christians, says not a word upon the subject, and St. Peter barely alludes to it.
The idea of monotheism and the principle of purity might seem hardly enough to be the chief results of so systematic a discipline as that of the Hebrews. But, in reality, they are the cardinal points in education. The idea of monotheism outtops all other ideas in dignity, and worth. The spirituality of God involves in it the supremacy of conscience, the immortality of the soul, the final judgment of the human race. For we know the other world, and can 14only know it, by analogy, drawn from our own experience. With what, then, shall we compare God? With the spiritual or the fleshly part of our nature? On the answer depends the whole bent of our religion and of our morality. For that in ourselves which we choose as the nearest analogy of God, will, of course be looked on as the ruling and lasting part of our being. If He be one and spiritual, then the spiritual power within us, which proclaims its own unity and independence of matter by the universality of its decrees, must be the rightful monarch of our lives; but if there be Gods many and Lords many, with bodily appetites and animal passions, then the voice of conscience is but one of those wide-spread delusions which, some for a longer, some for a shorter period, have, before now, misled our race. Again, the same importance which we assign to monotheism as a creed, we must assign to chastity as a virtue. Among all the vices which it is necessary to subdue in order to build up the human character, there is none to be compared in strength, or in virulence, with that of impurity. It can outlive and kill a thousand virtues; it can corrupt the most generous heart; it can madden the soberest intellect; it can debase the loftiest imagination. But, besides being so poisonous in character, it is above all others most difficult to conquer. And the people whose extraordinary toughness of nature has enabled it to outlive Egyptian Pharaohs, and Assyrian kings, and Roman Caesars, and Mussulman caliphs, was well matched against a power of evil which has battled with the human spirit ever since the creation, and has inflicted, and may yet inflict, more deadly blows than any other power we know of.
Such was the training of the Hebrews. Other nations meanwhile had a training parallel to and contemporaneous with theirs. The natural religions, shadows projected by the spiritual light within shining on the dark problems without, were all in reality 15systems of Law, given also by God, though not given by revelation but by the working of nature, and consequently so distorted and adulterated that in lapse of time the divine element in them had almost perished. The poetical gods of Greece, the legendary gods of Rome, the animal worship of Egypt, the sun worship of the East, all accompanied by systems of law and civil government springing from the same sources as themselves, namely, the character and temper of the several nations, were the means of educating these people to similar purposes in the economy of Providence to that for which the Hebrews were destined.
When the seed of the Gospel was first sown, the field which had been prepared to receive it may be divided into four chief divisions, Rome, Greece, Asia, and Judea. Each of these contributed something to the growth of the future Church. And the growth of the Church is, in this case, the development of the human race. It cannot indeed yet be said that all humanity has united into one stream; but the Christian nations have so unquestionably taken the lead amongst their fellows, that although it is likely enough the unconverted peoples may have a real part to play, that part must be plainly quite subordinate; subordinate in a sense in which neither Rome, nor Greece, nor perhaps even Asia, was subordinate to Judea.
It is not difficult to trace the chief elements of civilization which we owe to each of the four. Rome contributed her admirable spirit of order and organization. To her had been given the genius of govern. runt. She had been trained to it by centuries of difficult and tumultuous history. Storms which would have rent asunder the framework of any other polity only practised her in the art of controlling popular passions; and when she began to aim consciously at the Empire of the World, she had already learned 16her lesson. She had learned it as the Hebrews had learned theirs, by an enforced obedience to her own system. In no nation of antiquity had civil officers the same unquestioned authority during their term of office, or laws and judicial rules the same reverence. That which religion was to the Jew, including even the formalism which encrusted and fettered it, law was to the Roman. And law was the lesson which Rome was intended to teach the world. Hence the Bishop of Rome soon became the Head of the Church. Rome was, in fact, the centre of the traditions which had once governed the world; and their spirit still remained; and the Roman Church developed into the papacy simply because a head was wanted, and no better one could be found. Hence again in all the doctrinal disputes of the fourth and fifth centuries the decisive voice came from Rome. Every controversy was finally settled by her opinion, because she alone possessed the art of framing formulas which could hold together in any reasonable measure the endless variety of sentiments and feelings which the Church by that time comprised. It was this power of administering law which enabled the Western Church, in the time of Charlemagne, to undertake, by means of her bishops, the task of training and civilizing the new population of Europe. To Rome we owe the forms of local government which in England have saved liberty and elsewhere have mitigated despotism. Justinian’s laws have penetrated into all modern legislation, and almost all improvements bring us only nearer to his code. Much of the spirit of modern politics came from Greece; much from the woods of Germany. But the skeleton and framework is almost entirely Roman. And it is not this framework only that comes from Rome. The moral sentiments and the moral force which lie at the back of all political life and are absolutely indispensable to its vigour are in great measure Roman too. It is true that the life and power of all 17morality whatever will always be drawn from the New Testament; yet it is in the history of Rome rather than in the Bible that we find our models and precepts of political duty, and especially of the duty of patriotism. St. Paul bids us follow whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report. But except through such general appeals to natural feeling it would be difficult to prove from the New Testament that cowardice was not only disgraceful but sinful, and that love of our country was an exalted duty of humanity That lesson our consciences have learnt from the teaching of Ancient Rome.
To Greece was entrusted the cultivation of the reason and the taste. Her gift to mankind has been science and art. There was little in her temper of the spirit of reverence. Her morality and her religion did not spring from the conscience. Her gods were the creatures of imagination, not of spiritual need. Her highest idea was, not holiness, as with the Hebrews, nor law, as with the Romans, but beauty. Even Aristotle, who assuredly gave way to mere sentiment as little as any Greek that ever lived, placed the Beautiful (τὸ καλόν) at the head of his moral system, not the Right, nor the Holy. Greece, in fact, was not looking at another world, nor even striving to organize the present, but rather aiming at the development of free nature. The highest possible cultivation of the individual, the most finished perfection of the natural faculties, was her dream. It is true that her philosophers are ever talking of subordinating the individual to the state. But in reality there never has been a period in history nor a country in the world, in which the peculiarities of individual temper and character had freer play. This is not the best atmosphere for political action; but it is better than any other for giving vigour and life to the impulses of genius, and for cultivating those faculties, the reason and taste, in which the highest genius can be 18 shown. Such a cultivation needs discipline less than any. And of all the nations Greece had the least of systematic discipline, least of instinctive deference to any one leading idea. But for the same reason the cultivation required less time than any other; and the national life of Greece is the shortest of all. Greek history hardly begins before Solon, and it hardly continues after Alexander, barely covering 200 years. But its fruits are eternal. To the Greeks we owe the logic which has ruled the minds of all thinkers since. All our natural and physical science really begins with the Greeks, and indeed would have been impossible had not Greece taught men how to reason. To the Greeks we owe the corrective which conscience needs to borrow from nature. Conscience, startled at the awful truths which she has to reveal, too often threatens to withdraw the soul into gloomy and perverse asceticism: then is needed the beauty which Greece taught us to admire, to show us another aspect of the Divine Attributes. To the Greeks we owe. all modern literature. For though there is other literature even older than the Greek, the Asiatic for instance, and the Hebrew, yet we did not learn this lesson from them; they had not the genial life which was needed to kindle other nations with the communication of their own fire.
The discipline of Asia was the never-ending succession of conquering dynasties, following in each other’s track like waves, an ever moving yet never advancing ocean. Cycles of change were successively passing over her, and yet at the end of every cycle she stood where she had stood before, and nearly where she stands now. The growth of Europe has dwarfed her in comparison, and she is paralysed in presence of a gigantic strength younger but mightier than her own. But in herself she is no weaker than she ever was. The monarchs who once led Assyrian, or Babylonian, or Persian armies across half the world, impose on us by the vast extent and rapidity of their conquests; but 19these conquests had in reality no substance, no inherent strength. This perpetual baffling of all earthly progress taught Asia to seek her inspiration in rest. She learned to fix her thoughts upon another world, and was disciplined to check by her silent protest the over-earthly, over-practical tendency of the Western nations. She was ever the one to refuse to measure Heaven by the standard of earth. Her teeming imagination filled the church with thoughts ‘undreamt of in our philosophy.’ She had been the instrument selected to teach the Hebrews the doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul; for whatever may be said of the early notions on this subject, it is unquestionable that in Babylon the Jews first attained the clearness and certainty in regard to it which we find in the teaching of the Pharisees. So again, Athanasius, a thorough Asiatic in sentiment and in mode of arguing, was the bulwark of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Western nations are always tempted to make reason not only supreme, but despotic, and dislike to acknowledge mysteries even in religion. They are inclined to confine all doctrines within the limits of spiritual utility, and to refuse to listen to dim voices and whispers from within, those instincts of doubt, and reverence, and awe, which yet are, in their place and degree, messages from the depths of our being. Asia supplies the corrective by perpetually leaning to the mysterious. When left to herself, she settles down to baseless dreams, and sometimes to monstrous and revolting fictions. But her influence has never ceased to be felt, and could not be lost without serious damage.
Thus the Hebrews may be said to have disciplined the human conscience, Rome the human will, Greece the reason and taste, Asia the spiritual imagination. Other races that have been since admitted into Christendom also did. their parts. And others may yet have something to contribute; for though the time for discipline is childhood, yet there is no precise line beyond which all discipline ceases. Even the grey-haired 20man has yet some small capacity for learning like a child; and even in the maturity of the world the early modes of teaching may yet find a place. But the childhood of the world was over when our Lord appeared on earth. The tutors and governors had done their work. It was time that the second teacher of the human race should begin his labour. The second teacher is Example.
The child is not insensible to the influence of example. Even in the earliest years the manners, the language, the principles of the elder begin to mould the character of the younger. There are not a few of our acquirements which we learn by example without any, or with very little, direct instruction—as, for instance, to speak and to walk. But still example at that age is secondary. The child is quite conscious that he is not on such an equality with grown-up friends as to enable him to do as they do. He imitates, but he knows that it is merely play, and he is quite willing to be told that he must not do this or that till he is older. As time goes on, and the faculties expand, the power of discipline to guide the actions and to mould the character decreases, and in the same proportion the power of example grows. The moral atmosphere must be brutish indeed which can do deep harm to a child of four years. But what is harmless at four is pernicious at six, and almost fatal at twelve. The religious tone of a household will hardly make much impression on an infant; but it will deeply engrave its lessons on the heart of a boy growing towards manhood. Different faculties within us begin to feel the power of this new guide at different times. The moral sentiments are perhaps the first to expand to the influence; but gradually the example of those among whom the life is cast lays hold of all the soul,—of the tastes, of the opinions, of the aims, of the temper. As each restraint of discipline is successively cast off, the soul does not gain at first a real, but only an apparent freedom. The youth, when too old for discipline, is not yet strong enough to guide his life by 21fixed principles. He is led by his emotions and impulses. He admires and loves, he condemns and dislikes, with enthusiasm. And his love and admiration, his disapproval and dislike, are not his own, but borrowed from his society. He can appreciate a character, though he cannot yet appreciate a principle. He cannot walk by reason and conscience alone; he still needs those ‘supplies to the imperfection of our nature’ which are given by the higher passions. He cannot follow what his heart does not love as well as his reason approve; and he cannot love what is presented to him as an abstract rule of life, but requires a living person. He needs to see virtue in the concrete, before he can recognise her aspect as a divine idea. He instinctively copies those whom he admires, and in doing so imbibes whatever gives the colour to their character. He repeats opinions without really understanding them, and in that way admits their infection into his judgment. He acquires habits which seem of no consequence, but which are the channels of a thousand new impulses to his soul. If he reads, be treats the characters that he meets with in his book as friends or enemies, and so unconsciously allows them to mould his soul. When he seems most independent, most defiant of external guidance, he is in reality only so much the less master of himself, only so much the more guided and formed, not indeed by the will, but by the example and sympathy of others.
The power of example probably never ceases during life. Even old age is not wholly uninfluenced by society; and a change of companions acts upon the character long after the character would appear incapable of further development. The influence, in fact, dies out just as it grew; and as it is impossible to mark its beginning, so is it to mark its end. The child is governed by the will of its parents; the man by principles and habits of his own. But neither is insensible to the influence of associates, though neither finds in that influence the predominant power of his life.22
This, then, which is born with our birth and dies with our death, attains its maximum at some point in the passage from one to the other. And this point is just the meeting point of the child and the man, the brief interval which separates restraint from liberty. Young men at this period are learning a peculiar lesson. They seem to those who talk to them to be imbibing from their associates and their studies principles both of faith and conduct. But the rapid fluctuations of their minds show that their opinions have not really the nature of principles. They are really learning, not principles, but the materials out of which principles are made. They drink in the lessons of generous impulse, warm unselfishness, courage, self-devotion, romantic disregard of worldly calculations, without knowing what are the grounds of their own approbation, or caring to analyse the laws and ascertain the limits of such guides of conduct. They believe, without exact attention to the evidence of their belief; and their opinions have accordingly the richness and warmth that belongs to sentiment, but not the clearness or firmness that can be given by reason. These affections, which are now kindled in their hearts by the contact of their fellows, will afterwards be the reservoir of life and light, with which their faith and their highest conceptions will be animated and coloured. The opinions now picked up, apparently not really, at random, must hereafter give reality to the clearer and more settled convictions of mature manhood. If it were not for these, the ideas and laws afterwards supplied by reason would be empty forms of thought, without body or substance; the faith would run a risk of being the form of godliness without the power thereof. And hence the lessons of this time have such an attractiveness in their warmth and life, that they are very reluctantly exchanged for the truer and profounder, but at first sight colder wisdom which is destined to follow them. To almost all men tins period is a bright spot to which the memory ever afterwards 23 loves to recur; and even those who can remember nothing but folly—folly too which they have repented and relinquished—yet find a nameless charm in recalling such folly as that. For indeed even folly itself at this age is sometimes the cup out of which men quaff the richest blessings of our nature—simplicity, generosity, affection. This is the seed time of the soul’s harvest, and contains the promise of the year. It is the time for love and marriage, the time for forming lifelong friendships. The after life may be more contented, but can rarely be so glad and joyous. Two things we need to crown its blessings—one is, that the friends whom we then learn to love, and the opinions which we then learn to cherish, may stand the test of time, and deserve the esteem and approval of calmer thoughts and wider experience; the other, that our hearts may have depth enough to drink largely of that which God is holding to our lips, and never again to lose the fire and spirit of the draught. There is nothing more beautiful than a manhood surrounded by the friends, upholding the principles, and filled with the energy of the spring. time of life. But even if these highest blessings be denied, if we have been compelled to change opinions, and to give up friends, and the cold experience of the world has extinguished the heat of youth, still the heart will instinctively recur to that happy time, to explain to itself what is meant by love and what by happiness.
Of course, this is only one side of the picture. This keen susceptibility to pleasure and joy implies a keen susceptibility to pain. There is, probably, no time of life at which pains are more intensely felt; no time at which the whole man more ‘groaneth and travaileth in pain together.’ Young men are prone to extreme melancholy, even to disgust with life. A young preacher will preach upon afflictions much more often than an old one. A young poet will write more sadly. A young philosopher will moralize more gloomily. And this seems unreal sentiment, and is 24smiled at in after years. But it is real at the time; and, perhaps, is nearer the truth at all times than the contentedness of those who ridicule it. Youth, in fact, feels everything more keenly; and as far as the keenness of feeling contributes to its truth, the feeling, whether it is pain or pleasure, is so much the truer. But in after life it is the happiness, not the suffering of youth, that most often returns to the memory, and seems to gild all the past.
The period of youth in the history of the world, when the human race was, as it were, put under the teaching of example, corresponds, of course, to the meeting point of the Law and the Gospel. The second stage, therefore, in the education of man was the presence of our Lord upon earth. Those few years of His divine presence seem, as it were, to balance all the systems and creeds and worships which preceded, all the Church’s life which has followed since. Saints had gone before, and saints have been given since; great men and good men had lived among the heathen; there were never, at any time, examples wanting to teach either the chosen people or any other. But the one Example of all examples came in the ‘fulness of time,’ just when the world was fitted to feel the power of His presence. Had His revelation been delayed till now, assuredly it would have been hard for us to recognise His Divinity; for the faculty of Faith has turned inwards, and cannot now accept any outer manifestations of the truth of God. Our vision of the Son of God is now aided by the eyes of the Apostles, and by that aid we can recognise the Express Image of the Father. But in this we are like men who are led through unknown woods by Indian guides. We recognise the indications by which the path was known, as soon as those indications are pointed out; but we feel that it would have been quite vain for us to look for them unaided. We, of course, have, in our turn, counterbalancing advantages. If we have lost that freshness of faith which 25would be the first to say to a poor carpenter—Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God—yet we possess, in the greater cultivation of our religious understanding, that which, perhaps, we ought not to be willing to give in exchange. The early Christians could recognise, more readily than we, the greatness and beauty of the Example set before them; but it is not too much to say, that we know better than they the precise outlines of the truth. To every age is given by God its own proper gift. They had not the same clearness of understanding as we; the same recognition that it is God and not the devil who rules the world; the same power of discrimination between different kinds of truth; they had not the same calmness, or fixedness of conduct; their faith was not so quiet, so little tempted to restless vehemence. But they had a keenness of perception which we have not, and could see the immeasurable difference between our Lord and all other men as we could never have men it. Had our Lord come later, He would have come to mankind already beginning to stiffen into the fixedness of maturity. The power of His life would not have sunk so deeply into the world’s heart; the truth of His Divine Nature would not have been recognised. Seeing the Lord, would not have been the title to Apostleship. On the other hand, had our Lord come earlier, the world would not have been ready to receive Him, and the Gospel, instead of being the religion of the human race, would have been the religion of the Hebrews only. The other systems would have been too strong to be overthrown by the power of preaching. The need of a higher and purer teaching would not have been felt. Christ would have seemed to the Gentiles the Jewish Messiah, not the Son of Man. But He came in the ‘fulness of time,’ for which all history had been preparing, to which all history since has been looking back. Hence the first and largest place in the New Testament is assigned to His Life four times told. This life we emphatically 26call the Gospel. If there is little herein to be technically called doctrine, yet here is the fountain of all inspiration. There is no Christian who would not rather part with all the rest of the Bible than with these four Books. There is no part of God’s Word which the religious man more instinctively remembers. The Sermon on the Mount, the Parables and the Miracles, the Last Supper, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Cross on Calvary—these are the companions alike of infancy and of old age, simple enough to be read with awe and wonder by the one, profound enough to open new depths of wisdom to the fullest experience of the other.
Our Lord was the Example of mankind, and there can be no other example in the same sense. But the whole period from the closing of the Old Testament to the close of the New was the period of the world’s youth—the age of examples; and our Lord’s presence was not the only influence of that kind which has acted upon the human race. Three companions were appointed by Providence to give their society to this creature whom God was educating; Greece, Rome, and the Early Church. To these three mankind has ever since looked back, and will ever hereafter look back, with the same affection, the same lingering regret, with which age looks back to early manhood. In these three mankind remembers the brilliant social companion whose wit and fancy sharpened the intellect and refined the imagination; the bold and clever leader with whom to dare was to do, and whose very name was a signal of success; and the earnest, heavenly-minded friend, whose saintly aspect was a revelation in itself.
Greece and Rome have not only given to us the fruits of their discipline, but the companionship of their bloom. The fruits of their discipline would have passed into our possession, even if their memory bad utterly perished; and just as we know not the 27man who first discovered arithmetic, nor the man who first invented writing—benefactors with whom no other captains of science can ever be compared—so, too, it is probable that we inherit from many a race, whose name we shall never hear again, fruits of long training now forgotten. But Greece and Rome have given us more than any results of discipline in the never-dying memory of their fresh and youthful life. It is this, and not only the greatness or the genius of the classical writers, which makes their literature preeminent above all others. There have been great poets, great historians, great philosophers in modern days. Greece can show few poets equal, none superior, to Shakspeare. Gibbon, in many respects, stands above all ancient historians. Bacon was as great a master of philosophy as Aristotle. Nor, again, are there wanting great writers of times older, as well as of times later, than the Greek, as, for instance, the Hebrew prophets. But the classics possess a charm quite independent of genius. It is not their genius only which makes them attractive. It is the classic life, the life of the people of that day. It is the image, there only to be seen, of our highest natural powers in their freshest vigour. It is the unattainable grace of the prime of manhood. It is the pervading sense of youthful beauty. Hence, while we have elsewhere great poems and great histories, we never find again that universal radiance of fresh life which makes even the most commonplace relics of classic days models for our highest art. The common workman of those times breathed the atmosphere of the gods. What are now the ornaments of our museums were then the every-day furniture of sitting and sleeping rooms. In the great monuments of their literature we can taste this pure inspiration most largely; but even the most commonplace fragments of a classic writer are steeped in the waters of the same fountain. Those who compare the moderns 28with the ancients, genius for genius, have no difficulty in claiming for the former equality, if not victory. But the issue is mistaken. To combine the highest powers of intellect with the freshness of youth was possible only once, and that is the glory of the classic nations. The inspiration which is drawn by the man from the memory of those whom he loved an admired in the spring-time of his life, is drawn by the world now from the study of Greece and Rome. The world goes back to its youth in hopes to become young again, and delights to dwell on the feats achieved by the companions of those days. Beneath whatever was wrong and foolish it recognises that beauty of a fresh nature which never ceases to delight. And the sins and vices of that joyous time are passed over with the levity with which men think of their young companions’ follies.
The Early Church stands as the example which has most influenced our religious as Greece and Rome have most influenced our political and intellectual life. We read the New Testament, not to find there forms of devotion, for there are few to be found; nor laws of church government, for there are hardly any; nor creeds, for there are none; nor doctrines logically stated, for there is no attempt at logical precision. The New Testament is almost entirely occupied with two lives—the life of our Lord and ‘the’ life of the Early Church. Among the Epistles there are but two which seem, even at first sight, to be treatises for the future instead of letters for the time—the Epistle to the Romans and the Epistle to the Hebrews. But even these, when closely examined, appear, like the rest, to be no more than the fruit of the current history. That early church does not give us precepts, but an example. She says, Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ. This had never been said by Moses, nor by any of the prophets. But the world was now grown old enough to be taught by seeing 29the lives of saints, better than by hearing the words of prophets. When afterwards Christians needed creeds, and liturgies, and forms of church government and systems of theology, they could not find them in the New Testament. They found there only the materials out of which such needs could be supplied. But the combination and selection of those materials they had to provide for themselves. In fact, the work which the early church had to do was peculiar. Her circumstances were still more peculiar. Had she legislated peremptorily for posterity, her legislation must have been set aside, as, indeed, the prohibition to eat things strangled and to eat blood has been already set aside. But her example will live and teach for ever. In her we learn what is meant by zeal, what by love of God, what by joy in the Holy Ghost, what by endurance for the sake of Christ. For the very purpose of giving us a pattern, the chief features in her character are, as it were, magnified into colossal proportions. Our saints must chiefly be the saints of domestic life, the brightness of whose light is visible to very few. But their saintliness was forced into publicity, and its radiance illumines the earth. So on every page of the New Testament is written, Go and do thou likewise. Transplant into your modern life the same heavenly-mindedness, the same fervour of love, the same unshaken faith, the same devotion to your fellow-men. And to these pages accordingly the church of our day turns for renewal of inspiration. We even busy ourselves in tracing the details of the early Christian life, and we love to find that any practice of ours comes down horn apostolic times. This is an exaggeration. It is not really following the early church, to be servile copyists of her practices. We are not commanded to have all things in common, because the church of Jerusalem once had; nor are we to make every supper a sacrament, because the early Christians did so. To 30copy the early church is to do as she did, not what she did. Yet the very exaggeration is a testimony of the power which that church has over us. We would fain imitate even her outward actions as a step towards imitating her inner life. Her outward actions were not meant for our model. She, too, had her faults: disorders, violent quarrels, licentious recklessness of opinion, in regard both to faith and practice. But these spots altogether disappear in the blaze of light which streams upon us when we look back towards her. Nay, we are impatient of being reminded that she had faults at all. So much does her youthful holiness surpass all that we can show, that he who can see her faults seems necessarily insensible to the brightness of her glory. There have been great saints since the days of the apostles. Holiness is as possible now as it was then. But the saintliness of that time had a peculiar beauty which we cannot copy; a beauty not confined to the apostles or great leaders, but pervading the whole church. It is not what they endured, nor the virtues which they practised, that so dazzle us. It is the perfect simplicity of the religious life, the singleness of heart, the openness, the child-like earnestness. All else has been repeated since; but this never. And this makes the religious man’s heart turn back with longing to that blessed time when the Lord’s service was the highest of all delights, and every act of worship came fresh from the soul. If we compare degrees of devotion, it may be reckoned something intrinsically nobler, to serve God and love Him now when religion is colder than it was, and when we have not the aid of those thrilling, heart-stirring sympathies which blessed the early church. But even if our devotion be sometimes nobler in itself, yet theirs still remains the more beautiful, the more attractive. Ours may have its own place in the sight of God, but theirs remains the irresistible example which kindles all other hearts by its fire.31
It is nothing against the drift of this argument, that the three friends whose companionship is most deeply engraven on the memory of the world were no friends one to another. This was the lot of mankind, as it is the lot of not a few men. Greece, the child of nature, had come to full maturity so early as to pass away before the other two appeared; and Rome and the Early Church disliked each other. Yet that dislike makes little impression on us now. We never identify the Rome of our admiration with the Rome which persecuted the Christian, partly, indeed, because the Rome that we admire was almost gone before the church was founded; but partly, too, because we forget each of these while we are studying the other. We almost make two persons of Trajan, accordingly as we meet with him in sacred or profane history. So natural is it to forget in after life the faulty side of young friends’ characters.
The susceptibility of youth to the impression of society wears off at last. The age of reflection begins. From the storehouse of his youthful experience the man begins to draw the principles of his life. The spirit or conscience comes to full strength and assumes the throne intended for him in the soul. As an accredited judge, invested with full powers, he sits in the tribunal of our inner kingdom, decides upon the past, and legislates upon the future without appeal except to himself. He decides not by what is beautiful, or noble, or soul-inspiring, but by what is right. Gradually he frames his code of laws, revising, adding, abrogating, as a wider and deeper experience gives him clearer light. He is the third great teacher and the last.
Now the education by no means ceases when the spirit thus begins to lead the soul; the office of the spirit is in fact to guide us into truth, not to give truth. The youth who has settled down to his life’s Work makes a great mistake if he fancies that because 32he is no more under teachers and governs his education is therefore at an end. It is only changed in form. He has much, very much, to learn, more perhaps than all which he has yet learned; an his new teacher will not give it to him all at once. The lesson of life is in this respect like the lessons whereby we learn any ordinary business. The barrister, who has filled his memory with legal forms and imbued his mind with their spirit, knows that the most valuable part of his education is yet to obtained in attending the courts of law. The physician is not content with the theories of the lecture-room, nor with the experiments of the laboratory, nor even with the attendance at the hospitals; he knows that independent practice, when he will be thrown upon his own resources, will open his eyes to much which at present he sees through a glass darkly. In every profession, after the principles are apparently mastered, there yet remains much to be learnt from the application of those principles to practice, the only means by which we ever understand principles to the bottom. So too with the lesson which includes all others, the lesson of life.
In this last stage of his progress a man learns various ways. First he learns unconsciously by the growth of his inner powers and the secret but steady accumulation of experience. The fire of youth is toned down and sobered. The realities of life dissipate many dreams, clear up many prejudices, soften down many roughnesses. The difference between intention and action, between anticipating temptation and bearing it, between drawing pictures of holiness or nobleness and realizing them, between hopes of success and reality of achievement, is taught by many a painful and many an unexpected experience. In short, as the youth puts away childish things, so does the man put away youthful things. Secondly, the full-grown man learns by reflection. He looks inwards 33and not outwards only. He re-arranges the results of past experience, re-examines by the test of reality the principles supplied to him by books or conversation, reduces to intelligible and practical formulas what he has hitherto known m vague general rules. He not only generalizes—youth will generalize with great rapidity and often with great acuteness—but he learns to correct one generalization by another. He gradually learns to disentangle his own thoughts, so as not to be led into foolish inconsistency by want of clearness of purpose. He learns to distinguish between momentary impulses and permanent determinations of character. He learns to know the limits of his own powers, moral and intellectual; and by slow degrees and with much reluctance he learns to suspend his judgment and to be content with ignorance where knowledge is beyond his reach. He learns to know himself and other men, and to distinguish in some measure his own peculiarities from the leading features of humanity which he shares with all men. He learns to know both the worth and the worthlessness of the world’s judgment and of his own. Thirdly, he learns much by mistakes, both by his own and by those of others. He often persists in a wrong cause till it is too late to mend what he has done, and he learns how to use it and how to bear it. His principles, or what he thought his principles, break down under him, and he is forced to analyse them in order to discover what amount of truth they really contain. He comes upon new and quite unexpected issues of what he has done or said, and he has to profit by such warnings as he receives. His errors often force him, as it were, to go back to school; not now with the happy docility of a child, but with the chastened submission of a penitent. Or, more often still, his mistakes inflict a sharp chastisement which teaches him a new lesson without much effort on his own part to learn. Lastly, he learns much by contradiction. The collision of society compels him 34to state his opinions clearly; to defend them; to modify them when indefensible; perhaps to surrender them altogether, consciously or unconsciously; still more often to absorb them into larger and fuller thoughts, less forcible but more comprehensive. The precision which is thus often forced upon him always seems to diminish something of the heartiness and power which belonged to more youthful instincts. But he gains in directness of aim, and therefore in firmness of resolution. But the greatest of his gains is what seems a loss: for he learns not to attempt the solution of insoluble problems, and to have no opinion at all on many points of the deepest interest. Usually this takes the form of an abandonment of speculation; but it may rise to the level of a philosophical humility which stops where it can advance no further, and confesses its own weakness in the presence of the mysteries of life.
But throughout all this it must not be supposed that he has no more to do either with that law which guided his childhood or with any other law of any kind. Since he is still a learner, he must learn on the one condition of all learning—obedience to rules; not indeed, blind obedience to rules not understood, but obedience to the rules of his own mind—an obedience which he cannot throw off without descending below the childish level. He is free. But freedom is not the opposite of obedience, but of restraint. The free-man must obey, and obey as precisely as the bond-man; and if he has not acquired the habit of obedience he is not fit to be free. The law in fact which God makes the standard of our conduct may have one of two forms. It may be an external law, a law which is in the hands of others, in the making, in the applying, in the enforcing of which we have no share; a law which governs from the outside, compelling our will to bow even though our understanding be unconvinced and unenlightened; saying you must, and 35making no effort to make you feel that you ought; appealing not to your conscience, but to force or fear, and caring little whether you willingly agree or reluctantly submit. Or, again, the law may be an internal law; a voice which speaks within the conscience, and carries the understanding along with it; a law which treats us not as slaves but as friends, allowing us to know what our Lord doeth; a law which bids us yield not to blind fear or awe, but to the majesty of truth and justice; a law which is not imposed on us by another power, but by our own enlightened will. Now the first of these is the law which governs and educates the child; the second the law which governs and educates the man. The second is in reality the spirit of the first. It commands in a different way, but with a tone not one whit less peremptory; and be only who can control all appetites and passions in obedience to it can reap the full harvest of the last and highest education.
This need of law in the full maturity of life is so imperative that if the requisite self-control be lost or impaired, or have never been sufficiently acquired, the man instinctively has recourse to a self-imposed discipline if he desire to keep himself from falling. The Christian who has fallen into sinful habits often finds that he has no resource but to abstain from much that is harmless in itself because he has associated it with evil. He takes monastic vows because the world has proved too much for him. He takes temperance pledges because he cannot resist the temptations of appetite. There are devils which can be cast out with a word; there are others which go not out but by (not prayer only, but) fasting. This is often the case with the late converted. They are compelled to abstain from, and sometimes they are induced to denounce, many pleasures and many enjoyments which they find unsuited to their spiritual health. The world and its enjoyments have been to them a source 36of perpetual temptation, and they cannot conceive any religious life within such a circle of evil. Sometimes these men are truly spiritual enough and humble enough to recognise that this discipline is not essential in itself, but only for them and for such as they. The discipline is then truly subordinate. It is an instrument in the hands of their conscience. They know what they are doing and why they do it. But sometimes, if they are weak, this discipline assumes the shape of a regular external law. They look upon many harmless things, from which they have suffered mischief as absolutely, not relatively, hurtful. They denounce what they cannot share without danger, as dangerous, not only for them, but for all mankind, and as evil in itself. They set up a conventional code of duty founded on their own experience which they extend to all men. Even if they are educated enough to see that no conventional code is intellectually tenable, yet they still maintain their system, and defend it, as not necessary in itself, but necessary for sinful men. The fact is, that a merciful Providence, in order to help such men, puts them back under the dominion of the law. They are not aware of it themselves—men who are under the dominion of the law rarely are aware of it. But even if they could appeal to a revelation from heaven, they would still be under the law; for a revelation speaking from without and not from within is an external law and not a spirit.
For the same reason a strict and even severe discipline is needed for the cure of reprobates. Philanthropists complain sometimes that this teaching ends only in making the man say, ‘the punishment of crime is what I cannot bear;’ not, ‘the wickedness of crime is what I will not do.’ But our nature is not all will: and the fear of punishment is very often the foundation on which we build the hatred of evil. No convert would look back with any other feeling than deep gratitude on a severity which had set free 37his spirit by chaining down his grosser appetites. It is true that the teaching of mere discipline, if there be no other teaching, is useless. If you have only killed one selfish principle by another you have done nothing. But if while thus killing one selfish principle by another you have also succeeded in awaking the higher faculty and giving it free power of self-exertion, you have done everything.
This return to the teaching of discipline in mature life is needed for the intellect even more than for the conduct. There are many men who though they pass from the teaching of the outer law to that of the inner in regard to their practical life, never emerge from the former in regard to their speculative. They do not think; they are contented to let others think for them and to accept the results. How far the average of men are from having attained the power of free independent thought is shown by the staggering and stumbling of their intellects when a completely new subject of investigation tempts them to form a judgment of their own on a matter which they have not studied. In such cases a really educated intellect sees at once that no judgment is yet within its reach, and acquiesces in suspense. But the uneducated intellect hastens to account for the phenomenon; to discover new laws of nature, and new relations of truth; to decide, and predict, and perhaps to demand a remodelling of all previous knowledge. The discussions on table-turning a few years ago, illustrated this want of intellects able to govern themselves. The whole analogy of physical science was not enough to induce that suspension of judgment which was effected in a week by the dictum of a known philosopher.
There are, however, some men who really think for themselves. But even they are sometimes obliged, especially if their speculations touch upon practical life, to put a temporary restraint upon their intellects. 38They refuse to speculate at all in directions where they cannot feel sure of preserving their own balance of mind. If the conclusions at which they seem likely to arrive are very strange, or very unlike the general analogy of truth, or carry important practical consequences, they will pause, and turn to some other subject, and try whether if they come back with fresh minds they still come to the same results. And this may go further, and they may find such speculations so bewildering and so unsatisfactory, that they finally take refuge in a refusal to think any more on the particular questions. They content themselves with so much of truth as they find necessary for their spiritual life; and, though perfectly aware that the wheat may be mixed with tares, they despair of rooting up the tares with safety to the wheat, and therefore let both grow together till the harvest. All this is justifiable in the same way that any self-discipline is justifiable. That is, it is justifiable if really necessary. But as is always the case with those who are under the law, such men are sometimes tempted to prescribe for others what they need for themselves, and to require that no others should speculate because they dare not. They not only refuse to think, and accept other men’s thoughts, which is often quite right, but they elevate those into canons of faith for all men, which is not right. This blindness is of course wrong; but in reality it is a blindness of the same kind as that with which the Hebrews clung to their law; a blindness, provided for them in mercy, to save their intellects from leading them into mischief.
Some men, on the other hand, show their want of intellectual self-control by going back not to the dominion of law, but to the still lower level of intellectual anarchy. They speculate without any foundation at all. They confound the internal consistency of some dream of their brains with the reality of independent truth. They set up theories which have 39no other evidence than compatibility with the few facts that happen to be known; and forget that many other theories of equal claims might readily be invented. They are as little able to be content with having no judgment at all as those who accept judgments at second hand. They never practically realize that when there is not enough evidence to justify a conclusion, it is wisdom to draw no conclusion. They are so eager for light that they will rub their eyes in the dark and take the resulting optical delusions for real flashes. They need intellectual discipline—but they have little chance of getting it, for they have burst its bands.
There is yet a further relation between the inner law of mature life and the outer law of childhood which must be noticed. And that is, that the outer law is often the best vehicle in which the inner law can be contained for the various purposes of life. The man remembers with affection, and keeps up with delight the customs of the home of his childhood; tempted perhaps to over-estimate their value, but even when perfectly aware that they are no more than one form out of many which a well-ordered household might adopt, preferring them because of his long familiarity, and because of the memories with which they are associated. So, too, truth often seems to hiss richer and fuller when expressed in some favourite phrase of his mother’s, or some maxim of his father’s. He can give no better reason very often for much that he does every day of his life than that his father did it before him; and provided the custom is not a bad one the reason is valid. And he likes to go to the same church. He likes to use the same prayers. He likes to keep up the same festivities. There are limits to all this. But no man is quite free from the influence; and it is in many cases, perhaps in most, an influence of the highest moral value. There is great value in the removal of many indifferent matters 40out of the region of discussion into that of precedent. There is greater value still in the link of sympathy which binds the present with the past, and fills old age with the fresh feelings of childhood. If truth sometimes suffers in form, it unquestionably gains much in power; and if its onward progress is retarded, it gains immeasurably in solidity and in its hold on men’s hearts.
Such is the last stage in the education of a human soul, and similar (as far as it has yet gone) has been the last stage in the education of the human race. Of course, so full a comparison cannot be made in this instance as was possible in the two that preceded it. For we are still within the boundaries of this third period, and we cannot yet judge it as a whole. But if the Christian Church be taken as the representative of mankind it is easy to see that the general law observable in the development of the individual may also be found in the development of the Church.
Since the days of the Apostles no further revelation has been granted, nor has any other system of religion sprung up spontaneously within the limits which the Church has covered. No prophets have communicated messages from Heaven. No infallible inspiration has guided any teacher or preacher. The claim of infallibility still maintained by a portion of Christendom has been entirely given up by the more advanced section. The Church, in the fullest sense, is left to herself to work out, by her natural faculties, the principles of her own action. And whatever assistance she is to receive in doing so, is to be through those natural faculties, and not in spite of them or without them.
From the very first, the Church commenced the task by determining her leading doctrines and the principles of her conduct. These were evolved, as principles usually are, partly by reflection on past experience, and by formularizing the thoughts embodied 41in the record of the Church of the Apostles, partly by perpetual collision with every variety of opinion. This career of dogmatism in the Church was, in many ways, similar to the hasty generalizations of early manhood. The principle on which the controversies of those days were conducted is that of giving an answer to every imaginable question. It rarely seems to occur to the early controversialists that there are questions which even the Church cannot solve—problems which not even revelation has brought within the reach of human faculties. That the decisions were right, on the whole—that is, that they always embodied, if they did not always rightly define, the truth—is proved by the permanent vitality of the Church as compared with the various heretical bodies that broke from her. But the fact that so vast a number of the early decisions are practically obsolete, and that even many of the doctrinal statements are plainly unfitted for permanent use, is a proof that the Church was not capable, any more than a man is capable, of extracting, at once, all the truth and wisdom contained in the teaching of the earlier periods. In fact, the Church of the Fathers claimed to do what not even the Apostles had claimed—namely, not only to teach the truth, but to clothe it in logical statements, and that not merely as opposed to then prevailing heresies (which was justifiable), but for all succeeding time. Yet this was, alter all, only an exaggeration of the proper function of the time. Those logical statements were necessary. And it belongs to a later epoch to see ‘the law within the law’ which absorbs such statements into something higher than themselves.
Before this process can be said to have worked itself out, it was interrupted by a new phenomenon, demanding essentially different management. A flood of new and undisciplined races poured into Europe, on the one hand supplying the Church with the vigour of fresh 42life to replace the effete materials of the old Roman Empire, and, on the other carrying her back to the childish stage, and necessitating a return to the dominion of outer law. The Church instinctively had recourse to the only means that would suit the case—namely, a revival of Judaism. The Papacy of the Middle Ages, and the Papal Hierarchy, with all its numberless ceremonies and appliances of external religion, with its attention fixed upon deeds and not on thoughts, or feelings, or purposes, with its precise apportionment of punishments and purgatory, was, in fact, neither more nor less than the old schoolmaster come back to bring some new scholars to Christ. Of course, this was not the conscious intention of the then rulers of the Church; they believed in their own ceremonies as much as any of the people at large. The return to the dominion of law was instinctive, not intentional. But its object is now as evident as the object of the ancient Mosaic system. Nothing short of a real system of discipline, accepted as Divine by all alike, could have tamed the German and Celtish nature into the self-control needed for a truly spiritual religion. How could Chlovis, at the head of his Franks, have made any right use of absolute freedom of conscience? Nor was this a case in which the less disciplined race could have learned spirituality from the more disciplined. This may happen when the more disciplined is much the more vigorous of the two. But the exhausted Roman Empire had not such strength of life left within it. There was no alternative but that all alike should be put under the law to learn the lesson of obedience.
When the work was done, men began to discover that the law was no longer necessary. And of course there was no reason why they should then discuss the question whether it ever had been necessary. The time was come when it was fit to trust to the conscience as the supreme guide, and the yoke of the medieval 43discipline was shaken off by a controversy which, in many respects, was a repetition of that between St. Paul and the Judaizers. But, as is always the case after a temporary return to the state of discipline, Christendom did not go back to the position or the duty from which she had been drawn by the influx of the barbarian races. The human mind had not stood still through the ages of bondage, though its motions had been hidden. The Church’s whole energy was taken up in the first six centuries of her existence in the creation of a theology. Since that time it had been occupied in renewing by self-discipline the self-control which the sudden absorption of the barbarians had destroyed. At the Reformation it might have seemed at first as if the study of theology were about to return. But in reality an entirely new lesson commenced—the lesson of toleration. Toleration is the very opposite of dogmatism. It implies in reality a confession that there are insoluble problems upon which even revelation throws but little light. Its tendency is to modify the early dogmatism by substituting the spirit for the letter, and practical religion for precise definitions of truth. This lesson is certainly not yet fully learnt. Our toleration is at present too often timid, too often rash, sometimes sacrificing valuable religious elements, sometimes fearing its own plainest conclusions. Yet there can be no question that it is gaining on the minds of all educated men, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, and is passing from them to be the common property of educated and uneducated alike. There are occasions when the spiritual anarchy which has necessarily followed the Reformation threatens for a moment to bring back some temporary bondage, like the Roman Catholic system. But on the whole the steady progress of toleration is unmistakeable. The mature mind of our race is beginning to modify and soften the hardness and severity of the principles which its early manhood had 44elevated into immutable statements of truth. Men are beginning to take a wider view than they did. Physical science, researches into history, a more thorough knowledge of the world they inhabit, have enlarged our philosophy beyond the limits which bounded that of the Church of the Fathers. And all these have an influence, whether we will or no, on our determinations of religious truth. There are found to be more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in the patristic theology. God’s creation is a new book to be read by the side of His revelation, and to be interpreted as coming from Him. We can acknowledge the great value of the forms in which the first ages of the Church defined the truth, and yet refuse to be bound by them; we can use them, and yet endeavour to go beyond them, just as they also went beyond the legacy which was left us by the Apostles.
In learning this new lesson, Christendom needed a firm spot on which she might stand, and has found it in the Bible. Had the Bible been drawn up in precise statements of faith, or detailed precepts of conduct, we should have had no alternative but either permanent subjection to an outer law, or loss of the highest instrument of self-education. But the Bible, from its very form, is exactly adapted to our present want. It is a history; even the doctrinal parts of it are cast in a historical form, and are best studied by considering them as records of the time at which they were written, and as conveying to us the highest and greatest religious life of that time. Hence we use the Bible—some consciously, some unconsciously—not to override, but to evoke the voice of conscience. When conscience and the Bible appear to differ, the pious Christian immediately concludes that he has not really understood the Bible. Hence, too, while the interpretation of the Bible varies slightly from age to age, a varies always in one direction. The schoolmen found purgatory in it. Later students found enough to condemn 45Galileo. Not long ago it would have been held to condemn geology, and there are still many who so interpret it. The current is all one way—it evidently points to the identification of the Bible with the voice of conscience. The Bible, in fact, is hindered by its form from exercising a despotism over the human spirit; if it could do that, it would become an outer law at once; but its form is so admirably adapted to our need, that it wins from us all the reverence of a supreme authority, and yet imposes on us no yoke of subjection. This it does by virtue of the principle of private judgment, which puts conscience between us and the Bible, making conscience the supreme interpreter, whom it may be a duty to enlighten, but whom it can never be a duty to disobey.
This recurrence to the Bible as the great authority has been accompanied by a strong inclination, common to all Protestant countries, to go back in every detail of life to the practices of early times, chiefly, no doubt, because such a revival of primitive practices, wherever possible, is the greatest help to entering into the very essence, and imbibing the spirit of the days when the Bible was written. So, too, the observance of the Sunday has a stronger hold on the minds of all religious men because it penetrates the whole texture of the Old Testament. The institution is so admirable, indeed so necessary in itself, that without this hold it would deserve its present position. But nothing but its prominent position in the Bible would have made it, what it now is, the one ordinance which all Christendom alike agrees in keeping. In such an observance men feel that they are, so far, living a scriptural life, and have come, as it were, a step nearer to the inner power of the book from which they expect to learn their highest lessons. Some, indeed, treat it as enjoined by an absolutely binding decree, and thus at once put themselves under a law. But short of that, those who defend it only by arguments of Christian 46expediency, are yet compelled to acknowledge that those arguments are so strong that it would be difficult to imagine a higher authority for any ceremonial institution. And among those arguments one of the foremost is the sympathy which the institution fosters between the student of the Bible and the book which he studies.
This tendency to go back to the childhood and youth of the world has, of course, retarded the acquisition of that toleration which is the chief philosophical and religious lesson of modern days. Unquestionably as bigoted a spirit has often been shown in defence of some practice for which the sanction of the Bible had been claimed, as before the Reformation in defence of the decrees of the Church. But no lesson is well learned all at once. To learn toleration well and really, to let it become, not a philosophical tenet but a practical principle, to join it with real religiousness of life and character, it is absolutely necessary that it should break in upon the mind by slow and steady degrees, and that at every point its right to go further should be disputed, and so forced to logical proof. For it is only by virtue of the opposition which it has surmounted that any truth can stand in the human mind. The strongest argument in favour of tolerating all opinions is that our conviction of the truth of an opinion is worthless unless it has established itself in spite of the most strenuous resistance, and is still prepared to overcome the same resistance, if necessary. Toleration itself is no exception to the universal law; and those who must regret the slow progress by which. it wins its way, may remember that this slowness makes the final victory the more certain and complete. Nor is that all. The toleration thus obtained is different in kind from what it would otherwise have been. It is not only stronger, it is richer and fuller. For the slowness of its progress gives finis to disentangle from dogmatism the really valuable 47principles and sentiments that have been mixed up and entwined in it, and to unite toleration, not with indifference and worldliness, but with spiritual truth and religiousness of life.
Even the perverted use of the Bible has therefore not been without certain great advantages. And meanwhile how utterly impossible it would be in the manhood of the world to imagine any other instructor of mankind. And for that reason, every day makes it more and more evident that the thorough study of the Bible, the investigation of what it teaches and what it does not teach, the determination of the limits of what we mean by its inspiration, the determination of the degree of authority to be ascribed to the different books, if any degrees are to be admitted, must take the lead of all other studies. He is guilty of high treason against the faith who fears the result of any investigation, whether philosophical, or scientific, or historical. And therefore nothing should be more welcome than the extension of knowledge of any and every kind—for every increase in our accumulations of knowledge throws fresh light upon these the real problems of our day. If geology proves to us that we must not interpret the first chapters of Genesis literally; if historical investigations shall show us that inspiration, however it may protect the doctrine, yet was not empowered to protect the narrative of the inspired writers from occasional inaccuracy; if careful criticism shall prove that there have been occasionally interpolations and forgeries in that Book, as in many others; the results should still be welcome. Even the mistakes of careful and reverent students are more valuable now than truth held in unthinking acquiescence. The substance of the teaching which we derive from the Bible will not really be affected by anything of this sort. While its hold upon the minds of believers, and its power to stir the depths of the spirit of man, however much 48weakened at first, must be immeasurably strengthened in the end, by clearing away any blunders which may have been fastened on it by human interpretation.
The immediate work of our day is the study of the Bible. Other studies will act upon the progress of mankind by acting through and upon this. For while a few highly educated men here and there who have given their minds to special pursuits may think the study of the Bible a thing of the past, yet assuredly, if their science is to have its effect upon men in the mass, it must be by affecting their moral and religious convictions—in no other way have men been, or can men be, deeply and permanently changed. But though this study must be for the present and for some time the centre of all studies, there is meanwhile no study of whatever kind which will not have its share in the general effect. At this time, in the maturity of mankind, as with each man in the maturity of his powers, the great lever which moves the world is knowledge, the great force is the intellect. St. Paul has told us ‘that though in malice we must be children, in understanding we ought to be men.’ And this saying of his has the widest range. Not only in the understanding of religious truth, but in all exercise of the intellectual powers, we have no right to stop short of any limit but that which nature, that is, the decree of the Creator, has imposed on us. In fact, no knowledge can be without its effect on religious convictions; for if not capable of throwing direct light on some spiritual questions, yet in its acquisition knowledge invariably throws light on the process by which it is to be, or has been, acquired, and thus affects all other knowledge of every kind.
If we have made mistakes, careful study may teach us better. If we have quarrelled about words, the enlightenment of the understanding is the best means to show us our folly. If we have vainly puzzled our 49intellects with subjects beyond human cognizance, better knowledge of ourselves will help us to be humbler. Life, indeed, is higher than all else; and no service that man can render to his fellows is to be compared with the heavenly power of a life of holiness. But next to that must be ranked, whatever tends to make men think clearly and judge correctly. So valuable, even above all things (excepting only godliness) is clear thought, that the labours of the statesman are far below those of the philosopher in duration, in power, and in beneficial results. Thought is now higher than action, unless action be inspired with the very breath of heaven. For we are now men, governed by principles, if governed at all, and cannot rely any longer on the impulses of youth or the discipline of childhood.50
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