« PreviousContinue »
moral, and spiritual complications - I might almost say, confusions. What Paul said of a certain disorderly church might be now applied on a broader scale : “Every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.” Certainly the arena of modern thought — I mean the deeper thought - offers to the young spectator a somewhat forbidding aspect. It seems like the prophetic destiny of Ishmael. The conflict ranges from the constitution of an atom up to the existence of our God. And almost every question between may be called, if not debatable, yet debated, ground. The scene would be comic if it were not tragic. A lively satirist thus sharply describes a single section of the modern Babel - the once popular “transcendental" section:
With uncouth words they tire their tender lungs,
Ever” “ the ages” in their page appear,
sage” may scan,
Blind as a mole and curious as a lynx,
But, as I said, the scene is not comic, but tragic rather. It is pitiable to see men in the highest stage of civilization, just as in the lowest stages of savagism, groping for the primal truth — searching for first principles and finding not — asking at noonday for light — perishing of hunger and thirst, when in the Father's house there is bread enough and to spare. Men of training and renown are seen casting doubts over every proposition that concerns existence, relations, and obligations, and, perhaps, more than all, on what belongs to the sphere of religion. God, his entire nature and character, duty as such, immortality, retribution, miracle, prophecy, inspiration, redemption - are they not all great battlefields? The books that for three thousand years have alone shed light and quickening power over a lost race are they not the chief target for incessant assault? Is there a theme connected with their form and contents on which the greatest talents have not been strained to their utmost tension to cast doubt ?
" I have read in the marvelous heart of man,
That strange and mystic scroll,
Beleaguers the human soul.
In Fancy's misty light,
Portentous through the night.
The spectral camp is seen,
Flows the River of Life between.”
II. What, then, are some of the chief duties of these times - duties which the men of understanding, the true Israel — will be prompted to perform?
It is folly to stand dazed and dazzled by the tumultuousness of the moment - to be made dizzy with the whirl or blinded by the blaze. There are those who, in a time when they should plant themselves on their firmest foothold, seize the opportunity and guide the drifting masses, themselves vacillate in helpless uncertainty or shut their eyes in feeble agnosticism — the epilepsy and the palsy of mind and heart.
1. The first of these duties of the men of understanding to the times is to enter into a genuine sympathy with the present. Here our lot is cast. We might have desired to live in another age — golden or iron - and to have dealt with some different order of things. But we must live and work in this generation, meet all these issues, stand or fall in this very conflict. It has been well said: “There are old men that were always old, and young men that are always young.” It behooves us to belong to the class of perpetual youth. The world itself in which we live is, in a sense, always young. Each generation comes on in new callowness. And this old world is perpetually in its boyhood, rollicking, heedless, tumultuous, and blundering on, calling for sympathy, forbearance, and often pity. It has its bonfires of excitement, epidemics of opinion, fashions of taste, contagions of unwisdom, like so many sports and diseases of childhood. Ten thousand elderly people shout and throw up their hats over a ballot and a nomination. The staid and tranquil fly off in sudden tangents of frenzy. A company of educated and presumably wise men join hands and leap together into a chasm of folly. One hundred thousand Chinese strike terror into fifty millions of Americans. There are enthusiasms, vagaries, freaks; prejudices, obstinacies, piques, predilections ; idols of the cave and idols of the market. “ All the toys that infatuate men and which they play for are the selfsame thing with a new gauze or two of illusions overlaid," and tricked out in many a novel form.
Now he that would do good to such a generation, must take the generation as he finds it. He must therefore come to it with a breadth of equipment and versatility of training by which he shall be thoroughly in it, if not wholly of it. He must stand in such sympathetic relations to it as completely to understand it. He must feel the full force of the current he attempts to check or to turn. He must be neither monk nor Jesuit, neither priest nor Levite; but a neighbor, a good Samaritan that comes where the victim is. The more completely like a bird he feels in every bone the air in which he floats, so long as he does not inhale its poison too, the more successfully will he wing his flight on the message of love, while he takes in the whole scene below. He will appreciate its burdens and perplexities; feel the pulse of its thinking, while not catching its fever; follow the track of its inquiries and the line of its studies, without falling into its ruts; recognize every new type of its doubtings, while himself full of faith ; will be patient with its errors, lenient to its boastings; and will rejoice in its novel attainments and surprising discoveries. And especially he will look with a friendly eye on every new acquisition of true science, and bid the scientist God. speed. Said the so-called "sage of Concord,” with his keenness of insight and his tinge of exaggeration : “ All power is of one kind, a sharing of the nature of the world. The mind that is parallel with the laws of nature will be in the current of events, and strong with their strength. One man is made of the same stuff of which events are made, can predict them. Whatever befalls, befalls him first. The secret of the world is the tie between person and event. The
times,' the age' - what is that but a few profound persons, a few active persons who epitomize the times?” So too let me ask, what is the secret of success but for each man to be ready when his opportunity comes. It was a wiser than the Concord sage who said : “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; . . . to them that are without law, as without law, . .. that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake.” The most thorough insight, sympathy, appreciation such as that of the great apostle to the Gentiles such as comes from breadth of mind and heart is required of him who would do the most good to his generation.