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But this sympathy cannot stand alone and without support. Therefore
2. Another primal duty of the men of understanding is to maintain reverence for the past much as we may rejoice in all the good that has newly come, yet never so as to despise or forsake the greater good from which it has grown. Here is our weakness. We are not necessarily magnified by living in a progressive and remarkable age.
We may boast of our great surroundings, when they leave us as small as he who stood for the first time by our great cataract and wrote to his village journal, “When I gazed on this mighty waterfall I was proud of my country — and proud of myself.” As all the waters of Niagara could pour into his soul no more than his pint cup was able to contain, so we are in danger of forgetting that all the modern activities and expansions can elicit from us and in us no higher thought than belongs to the quality of our characters.
On intellectual grounds we may not despise the days that are gone. The singular educational facilities of
. our day find only a mind of given capacity to receive; and that capacity substantially the same a hundred years ago as now. And though the tools and appliances are vastly improved, the skill of the workmen and the worth of the product are more nearly equal than we may be ready to admit. In their diverse surroundings there has hardly been a greater general than Hannibal, a profounder philosopher than Aristotle, perhaps but one greater tragedian than Æschylus, — and
he born more than three hundred years ago, greater architect than the designers of the Parthenon or of the Cologne Cathedral, no more masterly oration than that for the Crown. And are there going forth from these halls in the present generation men of more ponderous power or more matchless skill for all the masculine work of life than fifty or seventy years ago ? We may not despise the intellectual past; we are but branches from its banyan, its Ygdrasil trunk. The men of the present, indeed, are too often loaded down with embarrassment of riches. Facts bury principles. Knowledge kills thought. Theory outruns evidence. Figures change to fiction. The most patient of observers is how often the poorest of reasoners ! The indefatigable student not seldom divests himself of his manhood and his common sense, to dive in the ocean of learning and lie tangled among the weeds at the bottom.
We cannot despise the intellectual past, much less the moral and the spiritual past. To cut loose from that is for the nerve to cut off from the spinal cord. All the forces for good have been working continuously till now.
The world's wisdom has been maturing. Its experience has been ripening. Its fruitage has been gathering. Its seed has been sowing for grander harvests to come. “Other men labored, and we have entered into their labors as good men as we, and, it may be, better laborers. The virtue of the world has stood valorously for the right. Its intelligent piety has dealt manfully with its living problems. The roots
of the Church run down into the soil of two thousand or four thousand years. It is ours to profit by all this accumulated wisdom and experience, and to draw from it, as at once storehouse, treasury, and arsenal. The wisest man is he who is fullest of the wisdom of the past; the foolishest, he who has no wisdom but his own.
And, above all, the past comes to us freighted with that wisdom of God once the hidden wisdom and a mystery, but now long known as the open secret of what goodness and truth the world contains. No man can lay claim to have “understanding of the times” who fails to reverence that gospel for the part it has played in the past, as the prophecy of its work in the future; and that gospel, too, in what is called its evangelical and even in part its Puritan interpretation. It is neither obsolete nor obsolescent. The smartness of the age may affect to disparage it; but in the very home where your earthborn philosopher avers that its force is wholly spent perchance it suddenly asserts, under his eye, its mighty hold of human hearts -- its power to relieve, to console, to sustain, to inspire, to upheave, to reform, to revolutionize. Those very doctrines that have for ages stood out as salient points of attack will continue to prove, rightly held and defended, each a bastion of the ancient stronghold of God, and an engine of attack upon the sin and folly of the times. Unless all experience is at fault, it is the only fundamental hope for to-day. And be sure that in our own times, as in our Saviour's, the scribe
well instructed will bring out of his treasure “things new and old ”; but they will be the same old eternal truths in their ever-new garbs and applications. We must love, reverence, and cling to the sacred past, with opinions that are clear and convictions that are positive and firm.
3. But another great duty of the leaders of thought is to have faith in the future. We may not look with despondency even on the times in which we live, nor on their prospects. We see present evils and dangers because they are near. But we never inquire wisely why the former days were better than these ; for they were not. 'Tis distance gilds them with the halo, or tinges them with cerulean. On the whole, the Church has steadily grown stronger, society has grown better. Doubtless as good men live as those who have gone to heaven. As great men are at work as those who sleep in the dust. To think otherwise proves not so much the want of greatness in the men as the want of discernment in us. Few are wise enough to read their contemporaries or to see greatness in its working attire. Men are not canonized till after death. But as the great and good one by one seem to be passing away, we may evermore take up that old palace shout, “ The king is dead — long live the king !”
Much more, when we look toward the future we may look with confidence and hope — yes, with never a doubt. For beyond all the barriers in the landscape between, the eye rests on the promise of God like some vast white mountain peak brightly glowing in the utmost horizon. “ All the great ages,” says Emerson, the rationalist, “have been ages of belief.” And so all highest achievements have been works of faith. The apostle believed and therefore he spake ; the toiler believes and therefore he toils on. He falters and he rallies; he errs and he rectifies; he is baffled and he redoubles; he is criticized and he succeeds. And critics, in the words of Beaconsfield, “critics are the men that have failed.”
If this be so in secular enterprise, how much more in Christ's kingdom! For in its center lies the divine force coöperating and anticipating. “So is the kingdom of God,” said its Monarch, “as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how ... first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” God helps him, works in advance of him, works while he sleeps. He sows the seed and puts in the sickle; God gives the harvest.
Amid whatever agitation of the times, it is the privilege of understanding Israel to hold on the even tenor of its way and its work. For the message comes sounding in our ears from Israel's ancient monarch, “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him ; and he shall bring it to pass." The absolute certainty of success maintains our working power and is one guaranty of our victory. “I never am beaten,” said one,