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venerable array of the great and good whose names are recorded on earth and whose home is in heaven. And over us there seems to hover to-day a great cloud of witnessess — spirits of the just made perfect. It is good to be here. I only pray that the new arm may not prove too weak to bear the banner in this great procession of the ages.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES.
BACCALAUREATE SERMON, JUNE 23, 1878.
And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. — John 8:46, 24.
JT seems at first quite singular that the elements of
morality and religion should be perpetual themes of disputation. The facts of science, once settled, accumulate as a fund. The skill of one generation is transmitted to another, and every invention becomes a stepping-stone to other inventions. Practically there are no “lost arts.” But in the domain of religion first principles even continually have to be settled anew. The storms of controversy, if not the tide of time, wash up on the shore those rudimentary things which have their proper resting place on the ocean floor of life. The process accords, no doubt, with the law of personal obligation. Each human being confronts the great questions of duty for himself. He must meet them in person; he must individually abide the consequences. It is right therefore that he judge and decide for himself. We may not complain of the earnestness or the rigidness of his questioning. Whenever his aim is to know and to do, his inquiry is both legitimate and commendable.
But these questionings may be pushed in a way that is not legitimate. The end may be to deny the truth and escape obligation. The best judgments of the
best men may be cross-questioned in the spirit of antagonism. We may come not so much eager to gain the wisdom of the wise as to prove their folly. There is an air of brilliancy and bravery in characterizing the highest maxims of the past as ancient dogmas and obsolete superstitions; an aspect of breadth, liberality, and glory in breaking with creeds, formularies, and settled opinions of whatever kind, to range in all the freedom of sentiment or, as the case may be, of indif. ference; and our generation has made large contributions to this kind of latter-day glory. Philosophic skepticisms are supplemented by theological surrenders. We have driven before the wind and drifted in the fog long enough once more to take our soundings, correct our compass, and set our sails by some celestial observation.
And here at length we find our celestial observation. He, the Son of God that came down from heaven and is in heaven, solemnly assures the men who hear him that they must believe him to be what he professed to be, believe his representations of himself and his work, and so accept him, or die in their sins. And he presses them even sternly—“If I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God's words. Ye therefore hear them not because ye are not of God.” The fact that is clearly involved in these sayings of our Lord is
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MEN FOR THEIR RELIGIOUS
the responsibility varies with the opportunity. The possessor of the gospel is answerable for more than the Jew, and the Jew than the Gentile ; but every man within his sphere is held responsible by his Maker for accepting the divine truth that lay fairly before him. It will also be understood that we speak chiefly of fundamental principles. Vital consequences hinge on vital points, although fullness of blessing comes from fullness of acceptance. We will therefore proceed to consider first the necessity, secondly, the propriety, and thirdly, the revealed fact that God will hold men thus responsible.
I. There is a necessity that God hold men responsible for their religious principles. If he would exercise any government over either conduct or affections, he must require substantial rectitude of religious views. A man cannot be wrong in the fundamentals of belief and be right in the fundamentals of religious character and life.
For, in the first place, the life and conduct will inevitably sink to the level of the deepest convictions. Men assimilate to their ideals, not always upward, but always certainly downward. A man whose views of excellence are degrading must be a degraded man. Alexander with Achilles for his model, and Charles of Sweden with Alexander for his, will be men of war. The Greek city where Venus was the patron goddess was noted for luxury and licentiousness; and the modern devotees of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, might be expected to be what they are, professional murderers. It was certain that the old Spartan ideal must form, as it did, a nation of unlettered and stubborn fighters. When the Chinese mandarin Ting folded his arms and told the French traveler that “women have no souls,” we know how it happened that missionaries found that two fifths of all the infant daughters around Amoy were destroyed at birth. The man who holds it right to falsify when his interest requires it you are sure will live up, or down, to his principle. One who maintains the theory of “ free love” is a moral leper who shall never taint the air of your home. And could we find a being whose settled convictions reversed all the obligations of the decalogue, we should find a fiend. To expect a right life and conduct with fundamentally wrong standards is a practical absurdity.
But, further, the affections will be honorable or dishonorable to God as are the views they involve; and he must require right views if he demands an acceptable love. A generation ago there was heard from a brilliant man in a Boston pulpit the notorious statement that “the only true God hears the prayer, whether called Brahma, Pan, or Lord, or called by no name at all,” and that “many an Indian who bowed down to wood and stone, many a grim-faced Calmuck who worshiped the god of storms, many a Grecian peasant who did homage to Phoebus Apollo, many a savage with his hands all smeared over with human sacrifice . . . shall sit down in the kingdom of God with Moses and Socrates, and Zoroaster and Jesus.” But the