Christianity excludes malignity, subdues selfishness, regulates the passions, subordinates the appetites, quickens the intellect, exalts the affections. It promotes industry, honesty, truth, purity, kindness. It humbles the proud, exalts the lowly, upholds law, favors liberty, is essential to it, and would unite men in one great brotherhood. It is the breath of life to social and civil well-being here, and spreads the azure of that heaven into whose unfathomed depths the eye of faith loves to look.
Everywhere the tendency has been to separate religion from morality, to set them in opposition even. But a religion without morality is a superstition and a curse; and anything like an adequate and complete morality without religion is impossible. The only salvation for man is in the union of the two as Christianity unites them.
Faith, then, generically, is confidence in a personal being. Specifically, religious faith is confidence in God, in every respect and office in which He reveals Himself. As that love of which God is the object is religious love, so that confidence in Him as a Father, a Moral Governor, a Redeemer, a Sanctifier, in all the modes of His manifestation, by which we believe whatever He says because He says it, and commit ourselves and all our interests cheerfully and entirely into His hands, is religious faith.
He planted His cross in the midst of the mad and roaring current of selfishness, aggravated to malignity, and uttered from it the mighty cry, of expiring love. And the waters heard Him, and from that moment they began to be refluent about His cross. From that moment, a current deeper and broader and mightier began to set heavenward; and it will continue to be deeper and broader and mightier till its glad waters shall encompass the earth, and toss themselves as the ocean. And not alone did earth hear the cry. It pierced the regions of immensity. Heaven heard it, and hell heard it, and the remotest star shall hear it, testifying to the love of God in His unspeakable gift, and to the supremacy of that blessedness of giving which could be reached only through deaththe death of the cross.
In Christ we see the strength of achievement, and the strength of endurance. He moved with a calm majesty, like the sun. The bloody sweat, and the crown of thorns, and the cross, were full in His eyes; but He was obedient unto death. In His perfect self-sacrifice we see the perfection of strength; in the love that prompted it we see the perfection of beauty. This combination of self-sacrifice and love must be commenced in every Christian; and when it shall be in its spirit complete in him, then will he also be perfect in strength and beauty.
Let the church come to God in the strength of a perfect weakness, in the power of a felt helplessness and a child-like confidence, and then, either she has no strength, and has no right to be, or she has a strength that is infinite. Then and thus, will she stretch out the rod over the seas of difficulty that lie before her, and the waters shall divide, and she shall pass through, and sing the song of deliverance.
Man can have strength of character only as he is capable of controlling his faculties; of choosing a rational end; and, in its pursuit, of holding fast to his integrity against all the might of external nature.
Never was there a time, in the history of the world, when moral heroes were more needed. The world waits for such, the providence of God has commanded science to labor and prepare the way for such. For them she is laying her iron tracks, and stretching her wires, and bridging the oceans. But where are they? Who shall breathe into our civil and political relations the breath of a higher life? Who shall touch the eyes of a paganized science, and of a pantheistic philosophy, that they may see God? Who shall consecrate to the glory of God the triumphs of science? Who, shall bear the life-boat to the stranded and perishing nations.
No, there is nothing on the face of the earth that can, for a moment, bear a comparison with Christianity as a religion for man. Upon this the hope of the race hangs. From the very first, it took its position, as the pillar of fire, to lead the race onward. The intelligence and power of the race are with those who have embraced it; and now, if this, instead of proving indeed a pillar of fire from God, should be found but a delusive meteor, then nothing will be left to the race but to go back to a darkness that may be felt, and to a worse than Egyptian bondage.
Nothing but the cross of Christ can so startle the spiritual nature from its torpor, as to make it an effectual counterpoise to the debasing and sensual tendencies of the race. Favored by temperament and education, individuals may measurably escape; but if the race is to triumph in the conflict between the flesh and the spirit, between the lower propensities and the higher nature, they must, as Constantine is said to have done, see the cross, and on it the motto, In hoc signo vinces. By this sign we conquer.
Of the systems above us, angelic and seraphic, we know little; but we see one law, simple, efficient, and comprehensive as that of gravitation,the law of love,extending its sway over the whole of Gods dominions, living where He lives, embracing every moral movement in its universal authority, and producing the same harmony, where it is obeyed as we observe in the movements of nature.
The moral government of God is a movement in a line onwards towards some grand consummation, in which the principles, indeed, are ever the same, but the developments are always newin which, therefore, no experience of the past can indicate with certainty what new openings of truth, what new manifestations of goodness, what new phases of the moral heaven may appear.
The movement has indeed been slow, and not such as man would have expected; but it has been analogous to the great movements of God in His providence and in His works. So, if we may credit the geologists, has this earth reached its present state. So have moved on the great empires. So retribution follows crime. So rise the tides. So grows the tree with long intervals of repose and apparent death. So comes on the spring, with battling elements and frequent reverses, with snow-banks and violets, and, if we had no experience, we might be doubtful what the end would be. But we know that back of all this, beyond these fluctuations, away in the serene heavens, the sun is moving steadily on; that these very agitations of the elements and seeming reverses, are not only the sign, but the result of his approach, and that the full warmth and radiance of the summer noontide are sure to come. So, O Divine Redeemer, Sun of Righteousness, come Thou! So will He come. It may be through clouds and darkness and tempest; but the heaven where He is, is serene; He is traveling in the greatness of His strength; and as surely as the throne of God abides, we know He shall yet reach the height and splendor of the highest noon, and that the light of millennial glory shall yet flood the earth.
The patriarchal, the Jewish, and the Christian dispensations, are evidently but the unfolding of one general plan. In the first we see the folded bud; in the second the expanded leaf; in the third the blossom and the fruit. And now, how sublime the idea of a religion thus commencing in the earliest dawn of time; holding on its way through all the revolutions of kingdoms and the vicissitudes of the race; receiving new forms, but always identical in spirit; and, finally, expanding and embracing in one great brotherhood the whole family of man! Who can doubt that such a religion was from God?
To be energetic and firm where principle demands it, and tolerant in all else, is not easy. It is not easy to abhor wickedness, and oppose it with every energy, and at the same time to have the meekness and gentleness of Christ, becoming all things to all men for the truths sake. The energy of patience, the most godlike of all, is not easy.
We say, them, that Christianity is adapted to the intellect, because its spirit coincides with that of true philosophy; because it removes the incubus of sensuality and low vice; because of the place it gives to truth; because it demands free inquiry; because its mighty truths and systems are brought before the mind in the same way as the truths and systems of nature; because it solves higher problems than nature can; and because it is so communicated as to be adapted to every mind.
When I see how fragmentary the structure of religious knowledge was left by nature, when I see how inadequate all the labors of man had proved for its completion,and when I look at the glorious and completed dome reared by Christianity, I cannot but feel that other than human hands have been employed in its structure.
You can throw yourselves away. You can become of no use in the universe except for a warning. You can lose your souls. Oh, what a loss is that! The perversion and degradation of every high and immortal power for an eternity! And shall this be true of any one of you? Will you be lost when One has come from heaven, traveling in the greatness of His strength, and with garments dyed in blood, on purpose to guide you homehome to a Fathers houseto an eternal home?