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trine I trace the features of the commandments of God, and mourn that they have been so long obscured and obliterated by the traditions of man.
4. There is still another tradition of man which tends to make of none effect the commandments of God. I refer to prevalent opinions respecting the points on which we shall at last be judged, and by which our future condition will be determined. When we listen to much of the preaching, exhortation, and religious conversation of our times, or when we read many of the books and tracts which are put forth to enlighten the public on these points, what is the impression which is left on our minds as to the account we must render to Him who is the judge of the quick and dead? I ask if it be not the effect of the traditions of our day to lead us to think that we shall be judged as to what is outward, formal, ceremonial, professional, and that, if we are only right here, our future condition will be safe ? Are we members of the true infallible church? Have the hands of an apostolically descended bishop been laid upon our heads ? When we made a Christian profession, did we go down into the water and be wholly immersed in the baptismal tide ? Have we in some period of our lives passed through a mysterious and supernatural change ? Have we yielded assent to the creeds which churches and councils have declared to be the only true faith, with which we are safe, and without which we shall perish everlastingly ? Only look at the amount of zeal and earnestness, time and wealth, learning and eloquence, expended on these and like questions, and then say, is it not a fact that the young and inquiring, the great mass of the unreflecting and uninformed, - yes, and I will not hesitate to add, thousands and thousands of those who ought to know better and to teach better, - do believe that it is these outward, ceremonial, and professional circumstances of life which decide the alternative of our future lot ? Do not the traditions of these times thus turn aside the severity of the day of judgment from the point on which the Scriptures place it, - the real character of man, the goodness of his heart, - the purity and holiness of his life, the strength of his love to God and love to man? In the popular theology of our day, what place is assigned to the Sermon on the Mount, – closing as it does with the plain words, “He that doeth these things is like a man that builds his house upon a rock ” ? Is not all this practically made of little effect by the traditions of man? And so with reference to that remarkable chapter which records the process of the final judgment, - that chapter in which Jesus tells us of the sheep placed on the right hand and the goats on the left, and in which he announces that this division is made by our practising or neglecting the duties of justice, charity, and compassion, - do the traditions of these times hold these virtues up as the great points upon which at last we are to be judged ? Do they not here, also, make the word of God of none effect ? How can the good practical power of such teachings as these be compared with that other doctrine, which sets forth that all a man's rites, forms, ceremonies, beliefs, and church-relations belong only to the outside of his life,
- that at best they are only helps, and should never be regarded as ends, - that in the great day when we must answer for the deeds done in the body, it will not be once asked what ceremonies we observed, with what churches we were connected, what creeds we maintained, but that the dread inquisition will relate to our inmost hearts, and to our common daily lives? Have we been good men, true, pure, and faithful men, maintaining an upright walk before our fellow-man, and a holy walk in the sight of Almighty God? It is to these points that the commandments of God chiefly relate, and how much have these been kept out of sight and pushed aside by the traditions of man !
There are still other examples of a wrong done to God's truth, like these on which I have spoken, but I cannot name them now. Looking to the popular theology of our day as a whole, it seems to me to be characterized by nothing so much as its tendency to benumb and paralyze the moral nature of man, to blunt the conscience, weaken the springs of moral action, and to lower the claims of a practically good life. It presents us with a God whose character it is almost impossible for us to love,
it takes the blame of our sios away from ourselves, and casts them back upon Adam, or refers them to a personal devil who acts the part of a scape-goat, to whom every evil suggestion and act may be imputed, - it strips us of all power to lift ourselves up from our degraded and lost condition, - it makes us the passive instruments of a miraculous agency, working by sovereign, and to us unknown, laws, - it converts religion, from a process of steady and persevering culture, into a thing of fits and spasms, of sudden heats and intervals of spiritual torpor, - it sinks the worth of the works of a good life, and exhausts its chief zeal and strength upon rites, and forms,
and creeds. I know that there have been, and still are, great and good men to whom this theology is dear. I cheerfully bear witness to their piety and virtue, and see in these proofs of a generously endowed nature, which can grow good even under the chilling and depressing influences of such a faith. But when I look abroad through the community, I cannot shut my eyes to the disastrous effects which this theology has produced. There is not a country on the face of the earth which is more full of churches and ministers than ours, or where there is more zeal devoted to the propagation of the prevalent creed. But are we the most honest people on the face of the earth, the most faithful to our trusts and engagements, the most upright in all our business transactions, the most fruitful in all those good works which the Sermon on the Mount enjoins ? I shall not set forth the terms by which the moral character of the men of this generation must be described ; but I will ask, Could any thing better be expected from a theology which brings its sanctions to bear on other things than our common daily life, - a theology which applies the most degrading epithets to the nature of man, and pours the vials of its contempt upon every good moral work which he can do ? And when, from surveying the public at large, we look into the churches of this theology, what do we find ? Is it not a matter well understood, that the standard of moral character there is hardly one whit higher than it is in the world, that professors who are zealous for their creeds are dishonest in their lives, and that few persons will trust any man's integrity any sooner because he is a member of a church ? These are sad truths to re
peat, but what better can be expected of a theology which makes the commandments of God of none effect by the traditions of man ? We need a religion which shall sweep away the inventions which have been mingled with the truth of Jesus, and by which its power has been so much paralyzed. We need a religion which shall fall back upon the practical precepts of the gospel, which shall assign its rightful supremacy to goodness, and which shall direct all its sanctions and energies to make men good. Such a religion our churches need, our country needs, and the world needs. Is it a time to waste our strength on creeds and forms, is it a time to elevate any thing above the claims of a pure and holy life, when such evils prevail as now walk abroad over the earth, when war lifts its bloody hand, and slavery rivets its chains stronger, and intemperance is returning in the might of a restrained but overleaping flood ? Let our prayer be for the prevalence of that religion whose aim is first of all to make men morally good, and which seeks to do this by falling back upon the simple commandments of God, purified and set free from the corrupting traditions of man.