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settled materialism is “bitter and abominable, arid and icy to our hearts.” And there are few sadder or more “haggard” things than the last days of John Sterling, when having once for all said, “Adieu, O church, in God's name adieu," three years later, in the last stages of consumption, he wrote to his nearest friend, — whom he would not see, “On higher matters there is nothing to say. I tread the common road into the great darkness. Certainty, indeed, I
Certainty, indeed, I have none." For when one who has deliberately parted with all the consoling hopes of the gospel looks through the high cliffs that part this sea of life from the great unknown ocean of eternity, he may well sing with a deeper pathos than the poet's :
Break, break, break,
The firm and positive faith, rationally formed, carries rest. We see a semblance of it even in the “Kismet of the Moslem, the “fortunes” of Cæsar, and the “destiny" of Napoleon ; but the reality in the “good Providence " of the trusting child of God. The sailors on the Mediterranean were amazed by John Howard's perfect calmness under the pirate's attack; and equally amazing was the coolness with which at the end of the voyage he shut himself up in a plague hospital at Venice. He was on his high errand of mercy; and the secret of his calmness may be read in his journal : "O God, my heart is fixed, trusting in thee.”
“Where,” said the pope's legate to Luther at the beginning of his stormy career, “where will you find a resting place ?" “Under heaven,” said Martin Luther. From the vortex of the tempest in its fury he exclaimed : “O crafty Satan! But Christ is abler than thou.” And two days before the end of all he wrote: “Grace and peace in the Lord, dear Catherine. I have one that takes care of me better than thou, or any of the angels could, one who is seated at the right hand of God Almighty.” He had marched through life to his own hymn, Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott.
In recent and peaceful times there have been few nobler exhibitions than the composure of Thomas Arnold, under the tremendous storm of public and private obloquy that for four years beat mercilessly around his head, till “ even his personal acquaintances,” says Dean Stanley, “began to look upon him with alarm, some dropped their intercourse altogether, hardly any were able fully to sympathize with him, and almost all remonstrated. He himself was startled," continues Stanley, "but not moved." He bore all in silence, adhered to his principles, and held on his way. The clew to his composure may be read in his journal, ten years later, written on that last night before his sudden death : “ Above all, let me mind my own personal work — to keep myself pure and zealous, and believing.” And the issue of that personal work, the English world now knows by heart. Priceless is the value of such a faith in God and the right.
III. A strong positive faith is the source of power.
And here we must distinguish between a faith worthy to be so called; that is, a deep conviction having a high object and a rational basis on the one hand, and a mere blind determination, a willful fixedness of purpose prompted by low aspirations, and founded on no true principle, it may be on positive wrong. There is not seldom seen such a willful purpose, and it has its transient power like the force of the bull or the bulldog, when the one shuts his eyes and dashes on, and the other shuts his teeth and clings till death. Yet the bulldog has but his day, and the bull in the arena is slain at last.
Similar is the fate of the willful and wrongful combination. Every "ring ” breaks up at last. It fails to bind the right cause or cripple the right man. In the long run Cromwell and Washington, Lincoln and Gladstone are sure to win against their defamers and assailants. Truth and faith and courage walk through unhurt.
The nearest approach to the power of a worthy faith may be seen in the influence of the chief illusions of life and the controlling force of its higher enterprises. Wealth on the brain binds a man, as Rothschild said he would bind his son, “mind, soul, heart, and body,” and wins it, if it can be won. So politics, fame, pleasure. Did the disillusioning process which comes at the end come at the beginning, what a collapse would the world show !
It is the strong conviction of the greatness and worth of science that has wrought such results, sending its Pliny into the deadly fumes of Vesuvius and its Franklin to the fatal ice-cliffs of the north, keeping a Herschel and Darwin on perpetual watch upon the heavens or the earth, a Davy or a Pasteur in courses of lifelong experiment. Hence the long patient struggles of the inventor, often in poverty; hence the great achievements for the world's benefit amid discouragement, doubt, and ridicule. This spirit has dredged the ocean, tracked the glacier, climbed Chimborazo, pierced the dark continent, and weighed the far-off planet. How has a sense of the grandeur of his sphere moved the hand and fired the heart of the great artist as he has said to himself: “I paint for eternity.” The greatness of his country has loomed up on the sight of the patriot till he would die on the battlefield or pine in the hospital; and America free and America freed is the double monument of that mighty conviction.
These things bear pondering. There are sermons in them — theologies. They point us upward to the higher faith— the highest. For if allegiance to truth and right in their subordinate forms, as loyalty to science and to country, can work such achievements, what should be the power of the supreme allegiance? Accordingly the world has seen that the difference between a heart vitalized with a great faith in God, and a heart empty of all faith in God or goodness, is the difference between the green valley of the Nile and the desert through which it lies. What one grand achievement, what one great benefaction have all the blank doubt, skepticism, or agnosticism since the world began brought to the world ? Which of the myriad charities have they organized and maintained ? What nation have they lifted ? What community have they purified ? What vicious circle have they reformed ? What one blasted character have they regenerated ? What soul have they raised to the heights of godlike magnanimity? Yea, what enduring monument of highest genius have they erected ? From nothing, nothing comes. Zero multiplied by millions is zero still. Darkness cannot give light. The vacuum of the heart is an exhausted receiver to the life. When Brutus could say at Philippi, “O virtue, I have followed thee through life and found thee at last but a shade," let him fall on his sword.
The best things of paganism have been found where it approached nearest the verities of true religion. The pyramids are perpetual monuments of a belief in immortality. The finest statuary, the noblest temples, the highest poetry sprang from the time when the heavens were real to men. The greatest oration of Demosthenes derives its chief momentum from the almost Christian grandeur of its moral attitude. In the dark ages of the Church those splendid cathedrals and noble paintings embody the deep religious sentiment. And in modern times if it be true, as one said, that “an institution is the lengthened shadow of some man, as the Reformation of Luther, Quakerism of Fox, Methodism of Wesley, Abolition of Wilberforce,” it