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PROVE AND HOLD FAST.
BACCALAUREATE SERMON, JUNE 20, 1880.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. — 1 THESSALONIANS 5: 21. TO “prove" is here, as often, to put to the proof, to
test. Thus “I go to prove them”; “believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits.". The injunction of the text is a word for the times, as well as for all times. It presents to us the liberty, “all things,” the obligation, “prove," the condition, “hold fast,” the legitimate issue, “that which is good,” of putting things to the proof.
I. The liberty of putting to the proof. It is universal. “Prove all things " is the word. We live in an open world. There is no Bluebeard's chamber in God's universe. As divine Providence says, “What will you have ? pay for it and take it,” so it adds : “What will you know ? search for it and find it.” For thousands of years God's book of Nature has been waiting with her pages wide open, saying, “Come and see.” She said it to those who having eyes saw not ; who would see neither how the fire burned nor how the dewdrop formed, that the glacier crept or that the great earth dashed along. But when the seer came, a Priestley, a Wells, a Tyndall, or a Copernicus, she frankly told him her open secret. From her own resources she has even lent him the possible combination whereby he could vastly supplement the narrow
limit of his imperfect senses, and has kindly set such a mark on the elements themselves that he may recog. nize by its own distinctive lines the hydrogen of the distant star.
Nature lures us on to the investigation by the marvelous order that makes investigation possible. It offers itself as no chaos but a cosmos. The reign of chance or disorder would make rational inquiry useless and science hopeless. But now rational system reigns through the universe, and on that supposition and that fact alone science takes her stand. The mind that feels and gropes its way along the line of inquiry is but feebly following the lead of the vaster Mind that made and arranged it all; and every successful struggle of the finite spirit to seize the clew is evidence of the infinite Spirit whose mighty thought it disentangles and faintly apprehends. Rational science of the creation were a chimera but for a rationally framed creation. Man stammeringly spells out the ancient record of God. His only obstacles are his own indifference, indolence, haste, and presumption.
In like manner God's Book and all its contents are open to fair and honest investigation. It is not only open, it is exposed. Its utterances through the centuries lie along conterminous with the lines of secular history, physical research, and metaphysical and moral science. God himself claims supreme love on the ground that he deserves it. No man's heart ever submitted to God but his reason and conscience had submitted first. Abraham was suffered reverently to
ask: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" God says : “Come now, and let us reason together." Christ answered the inquirer: “Come and see,” and the disciple next day told the doubter also: “Come and see.” Christ's reply to John's disciples was: “Go . . . and tell John the things which ye do hear and see"; and to his enemies he frankly said : “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not "; and again, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin.” He once even condescended to submit his person — the spear wound and the nail prints — to the scrutiny of his moody follower; although I have always persuaded myself that the disciple did not subject him to the useless indignity.
It has always been true that “the entrance of his word giveth light,” intellectual as well as moral. From the bottom of the scale to the top, it has been a stimulant of active thought. Scores of races owe their illumination and their whole literature to the missionary of the cross, and many more than a hundred languages have been first reduced to writing to convey the word of God. In the gardens of Christianity not only have the highest forms of thought been quickened to life and kept in bloom, but in its peaceful bowers alone has science achieved its modern triumphs. The sunlight it radiates on every hand becomes in due time so surely and so widely diffused that all attempts, whether of king or pope or people, to arrest the process at some given point have been in vain. Yet the real martyrs of science have been few indeed. All
that you know who have been persecuted by bigoted religionists solely for their discoveries you can probably count on the fingers of one hand.
No doubt good men have been timid enough to dread investigation of sacred things; but if they were also wise and strong, it was not done in their wisdom and strength. Perhaps they sometimes have had this excuse, that their sacred things were handled with superfluous roughness and insolence. But he who is well grounded in his faith will say, these two records are from the same hand. The God of nature is the God of the Word. I fear no conflict. The warfare cannot be between science and the Bible, but may be between sciolists and bigots. Explore as you please, the nearest mote and the farthest star. Search the sources of life or read the records of the past. Delve in the bowels of the earth. Ransack its caverns and its lakes. Upturn its ruins. Cross-question its dialects. Unlock its hieroglyphics. Grapple, if you can, with the infinite and the infinitesimal. Come on with telescope and microscope and spectroscope, with rock hammer and deep-sea dredge, with probe and scalpel, with battery, reagent, and crucible; and whatsoever you shall fairly show in heaven, earth, or sea, that will we cheerfully accept. Show, if you can, that the human race has lived millions of years on this globe; that man is a child of the pithecanthropos at the first remove and of a monera at the twenty-first; that the whole animal world sprang from Bathybius, your primeval sea-slime; that dead matter is endowed with
the power of life and thought, so that the genius of Raphael and of Shakespeare lay “latent and potential” in the primitive “cosmic gas” and “fiery cloud”; that there is but one ultimate element of matter, and but one ultimate kind of force, and indefinite dimensions of space; only prove it all, and we stand ready to accept it. So also with the Scriptures and their several contents. Ithuriel's spear is in your hand, and the range of paradise lies before you. Walk where you please, touch what you will, and spear if you must. But assuredly no right-hearted man will treat with flippancy or insolence those grand forces that have prompted and guided the great company of the world's benefactors, or the spiritual nutriment that has fed and rejoiced the goodly throng with their faces manifestly set toward heaven; and no right-minded man will fail to see that these things carry with them a vast moral presumption. Yet these are all open to be interrogated anew by each successive generation and each individual soul. Only let it be wisely and fairly and thoroughly — yes, thoroughly — done.
For with right comes responsibility, with liberty obligation. And we not only have the permission, but there is laid on us
II. The duty to put all things to the proof; to probe them to the bottom, to test them thoroughly. No shallow pretensions, no hasty presumptions or precipitate conclusions; no capricious reversals of time-honored and world-tested principles in deference to some bold and baseless speculation, some flashy fashion of thought.