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Emperor, as his divine charter of right to trample out France? Nay, surely, from Joshua's bloody loyalty to his barbaric conception of duty and savage religion up to Jesus' tender teachings of brotherly love involves centuries of evolution.
Or, again, take your Bible historically. Open at Genesis, and in the very stories of creation and the flood a plain English reader will readily recognize compilation from traditions already existing. One story is brief, terse, and simple. The other is more picturesque, with Oriental details and imaginings. One sends the creatures into the ark by twos, the other by sevens. It is evident that whoever prepared the book compiled it. In succeeding history there are allusions to a Book of Jasher forever lost. Come to the Psalms, and the very headings ascribe the ninetieth to Moses, and several to Asaph, and some to unknown writers; and you find that David did not pretend to write all. When you discover that one psalm in the Hebrew is an acrostic, the lines successively beginning with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, we can hardly think of Deity playing with acrostics: we say, Much less did Deity dictate them verbatim. They formed the hymnology of the ancient Jewish Church. We gladly use them. Yet we do not hesitate to winnow them. We omit the imprecations against enemies. When we come to the word, "Moab is my washpot, and over Edom will I cast my shoe," though our Episcopal friends devoutly read it, we perceive no religion in it, and from our book we drop it. Proverbs long ascribed to Solomon's own single hand present scholarship believes to be the collected wisdom of Solomon's court, much of it, perhaps, brought from Egypt and the East, perhaps growing for a thousand years. Jesus himself, whom we exalt as, under God, the supreme spirit of the Bible and the ages,-ah! to begin with, he never wrote a word. He seems to care little for the letter, but supremely for the spirit, which he freely poured forth by deed and influence as by word, even from his baptism to the cross, by his life as well as death. In the words attributed to him
he quotes freely from psalm and prophecy. Some of his noblest words are quoted from Old Testament and Talmud. Sceptics even say there was little original in his teachings. More or less it may be matched in Oriental religious literature. Ah! it was the divine spiritual quality with which he glorified the old religion of the ages, the fresh fires of love he kindled in the world's heart, the purer, clearer sight of God and his fatherly love, and of man and his noble capacity and promise, the brotherly duties of man to his neighbor, all this it was that makes Jesus the leader of men, and puts him on the high pinnacle of our admiration and allegiance. We recognize religion as universal from Hottentot and Hindu up to most advanced Christian. Yet religion becomes special in its purest, finest form as Christianity, the best of all the world.
Inspiration we recognize. What is it? A breathing in, a divine influence, a shining of the Holy Spirit. When a boy of ten, Theodore Parker asks his mother what it is in him that tells him of right and wrong. Some call it conscience, she replies, but I call it the voice of God. This inspiration is universal, found in all souls. It is special in the gift of genius. All men have some sense of beauty. Yet God sends gifted artists, from Raphael to Millet, as leaders, to show us the perfection of beauty. Some sense of music is universal. Apt, gifted souls, like Mozart and Beethoven, unfold rich harmonies hitherto hidden. So all nations pray and worship. Jesus leads us to the mount of vision and of holiness, and teaches the loftiest prayer. In the great Church of God, where under the bending dome of heaven all tribes worship, sun and stars are preachers, and the music of winds and tempests the grand anthems, Jesus leads us, not away from Nature, but to her inner shrines and the lofty hills of spiritual vision, where we join in purer worship, diviner hymns, and devouter prayer.
As all peoples have had their religion, with temple and worship, so have most peoples their Bibles. Eastern nations have their sacred books, collections of sacred thoughts for
centuries growing up among the people, opened only within this generation to the English reader. They are not the direct writings of the great founders and leaders of religion. In no case have the writings been so ascribed, but always to their immediate disciples or remote followers. The great leaders never wrote, but lived and organized and led humanity up and on. In after days, their followers wrote down their life and word for the remembrance and instruction of mankind. This is true alike of Zoroaster and of Buddha, of Moses and of Jesus.
Where, then, do these suggestions lead us? While religion is universal in the heart of man, they show the only difference to be purity and perfection of quality. They bring the whole family of man into the great Church of God. They show our spiritual brotherhood with Japanese and Hindu. Of one blood God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth; and of one spiritual blood, of divine worship and loving brotherhood, the souls of all God's children come together as one family, one church, one heaven. Our Bible thus becomes not God's one and only word to his children, but by its own superior merit simply the best of all the Bibles in the world. It is to displace Buddhism and Confucianism, -not by knocking down and trampling out, but by outgrowing and superseding them, as the noonday sun displaces the morning twilight.
Thus Moses and Jesus come forward as friends of all mankind,— not as if everybody was to be damned who never heard of Jesus, but the unknown God, whom they ignorantly worship, Jesus more fully reveals as the loving Father of all. Thus the mission of Jesus becomes not a bloody purchase of the Father's favor, but leading all souls to the light of truth and the glad day of the Father's loving kindness. So he is not set apart as antagonist and destroyer of the religions of mankind. But he draws near in brotherly fellowship; and, even as he welcomed Nathanael as an Israelite without guile, so would he take by the hand Socrates, Confucius, and Buddha, or their followers, and teach them that God is not
to be worshipped exclusively on Mount Zion or Mount Gerizim, but everywhere in spirit and in truth, and not they who cry, Lord, Lord, but they who do God's will enter heaven. Thus, out from the dark wilderness of superstition and up from the low morass of degraded dogmas, Jesus leads us up and on to the grandest religion of the world. Jesus thus comes, not as a breaking of the world's law and order, but, in the divine education of mankind, a better teacher, to lead us to greener pastures and the freshly flowing waters of the life eternal.
From the popular degradation of Jesus and the Bible, these thoughts glorify him and the record of him as practical helper and leader in the divine evolution of religion among men. The inspiration and authority of our Bible thus centre in the personality of Jesus. It is not of the letter: it is of the spirit. It is seen in Moses and Paul. It comes to its highest expression in the personality, in the life and character of Jesus, the loftiest and best. From the letter, then, with its binding textual technicalities, forever we appeal to the spirit of Jesus, as illustrated by his whole life.
In vain do we look for infallibility in the letter of the Bible. Transcriptions and translations and varying interpretations themselves render this impossible. Even if infallibility were there, we should have to be infallible in our reading. As a matter of fact, how much depends on the reader! Every one seems to find according to the spirit of his search. The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose. One finds the wrath of God, and another his loving kindness. One finds eternal woe, and another the eternal hope. Slavery has been justified by the Bible in its curse upon Canaan, and polygamy can be. Do you know that the Mormons quote the Bible in their favor? On a Mississippi steamer, in my youth, I met a company of Mormons; and, in my questioning, they hurled Scripture at me. Isaiah iv. I says, "Seven women shall take hold of one man." eternal word of God, the Mormons have the gument.
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These suggestions give us larger confidence in the stability and permanence of religion. In dainty drawing-rooms how pitiful to hear callow, young dilettante philosophers debating whether life is worth living, and whether religion is not dying! If all the organs, orchestras, and musical writings were destroyed, man would to-morrow begin again to sing and play. If all the churches and Bibles were destroyed, man would to-morrow begin again to seek God, to worship and serve him.
Bible, Christianity, and Church, then, do not overthrow natural religion. They build upon it: they educate, they perfect it. They are not our masters to tyrannize over us, but our servants to help us. They should not use us: we must use them. Their authority is not arbitrary and despotic, but rational. If the Bible told us to commit theft or murder, we should instinctively repudiate it. Miracles could not make theft and murder seem right. When it tells us to love our brother man, the responsive chord of our better nature is touched, and we say, Yes: that is reasonable, and, being reasonabe, is surely divine. So reason unfolds and grows under the faith that is rational; and we stand securely upon the everlasting Rock, where adverse winds and tempests beat in vain.
How these suggestions stimulate our faith in truth! All truth is God's own, and all truth harmonizes. There can be, then, no real conflict between genuine science and religion. In the very interest of religion, our supreme desire is to learn and know the absolute truth. This alone is eternal, and eternally safe. Alas for the distrust of truth that shames and demoralizes the Church to-day! In theological debates going on around us, we hear it suggested that the creeds are for the ministers, but not for the people. Surely, God's truth is for all souls. One fears to reform the creed. If you begin, where shall you end? Another fears to touch it, lest all topple over like a card house. So lingers the Church timidly under the shadow of Adam, and fears to come out boldly into the daylight and the sunshine.