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other hand, I know few worse symptoms of national moral health than a great crowd cheering and doing honour to a villain.
But does no man, I would ask, get beyond the stage of mere anger at crime? I think even very poor aspirants after goodness do so, especially if they are parents. Suppose a man or a woman to have striven for years to bring up a young lad in honesty and religion; to have watched his boyish faults and repentances, his efforts to do well, and his sorrow and shame when he failed. At the end of all, the elder friend hears perhaps that the youth has committed a forgery, or seduced an innocent girl, or has sunk into habits of perpetual drunkenness. What are the feelings with which he receives the sad tidings ? Surely they are very different from mere anger and indignation, and a fierce desire to punish the offender. He will indeed feel (inasmuch as he is human) a horrible shock of surprise and disappointment, and also perhaps some personal resentment that all his good counsels have been thrown away. But beyond all this, and far more deeply, he will grieve that such wickedness should be done, and done by the man he knows so well, whose soul has so often lain bare to him, who was capable of so much better things. He will understand how certain faults in his nature, certain temptations in his lot, have led him on, step by step, till he has been entangled in sin and has fallen so miserably. And then his heart will go out in pity and compassion unutterable towards the unhappy one.
He will know that his condition is infinitely deplorable; that if he repent and feel his guilt he must endure agonies of remorse, and that if he be callous and feel it not, it is so much the worse. He will estimate the man's misfortunes as ten thousand times heavier than if he had lost his health or wealth, or become blind or maimed. And if he be the father or master of the offender, and obliged in some way to visit his transgression with punishment, he will earnestly strive that even in punishing him he may do him good and bring him to a better mind, so as to lead to his restoration to peace and virtue, and entire reconciliation with himself.
Now I challenge those who forbid us to believe in the infinite mercy of God to say which of these three ways of viewing Sin is most godlike-most probably nearest to the way in which God must view it. Will he feel pleasure in it ? Assuredly not ! Will He feel mere anger and wrathful indignation ? I think it was very natural that the old Hebrews, who had just reached that stage themselves, should suppose He did so. But I also think that it is monstrous, for a race who have for two thousand years taken Christ's blessed parable of the Prodigal Son as the very Word of God, to do anything of the kind. I think if we were not caught in the meshes of that wretched Augustinian scheme of theology which makes the Atonement necessary to appease God's wrath, and postulates eternal Hell to compel us to accept it-I think, I say, if it were not for this theology, all Christendom must have long ago come to see that, at the very least, God feels towards a sinner as a Father or a Saint would do, and not as a man less good or wise or merciful,--the great Policeman of the Universe! And remember, when we are presuming to speak of the awful character of God, it is not our business to inquire what it is just possible He may be or do without injustice or cruelty; but what is the very highest, the noblest, the kindest, the most royal and fatherlike thing we can possibly lift our minds to conceive. When we have found that, we may be assured it is the nearest we can yet approach to the truth. By-and-by, when we are loftier, nobler, and kinder too, we shall get nearer to it still. Of all impossible things, the most impossible must surely be that a Man should dream something of the Good and the Noble, and that it should prove at last that his Creator was less good and less noble than he had dreamed. We Theists then, I conceive, are justified (even in this dim world of imperfect and uncertain vision) in holding clearly and boldly, as the very core of our faith, that God loves eternally and unalterably every creature He has made; and that our Sin, while it draws a thick veil over our eyes, and makes it impossible to give us the joy of communion with Him, yet never changes Him; never blackens that Sun of Love in the heavens.
Nor is it only by argument and analogy that we come to this conclusion. The Lord of Conscience who bids us forgive till seventy times seven; the Lord of Life, the Father of Spirits, who reveals Himself to us in the supreme hour of heartfelt prayer; that God whose voice has so often called us back from our wanderings and put it into our hearts to pray, and then has blessed and restored us again and yet again—that God we know is never to be alienated. He is our Guide for ever and ever; Friend, Master, Father, Lord! As physically we live and move and have our being in Him, so morally we live in His bosom, and are surrounded by His love and pity. Poor, froward, rebellious babes, struggling now with the pains of mortality, and now stretching out vain hands of longing to seize forbidden joys-with all our wrestlings and struggles we never fall out of His Arms. They close round us even at our worst. The Calvinists hold, as one of their“Five Points," the “Final Perseverance of the Saints." We Theists believe in that “Perseverance” too, and are persuaded that no human heart which has once known the unutterable bliss of loving God can ever forget it, or cease to yearn to return from every wandering to His feet. But we also believe in the Final Salvation of those who are not Saints, but Sinners—nay, of the very worst and most hardened of mankind. As one of the wisest men I ever knew (the late Matthew Davenport Hill) once said to me, “I believe in the aggressive power of love and kindness, and in the comparative weakness of every obstacle of evil or stubbornness which can be opposed thereto.” We do not think man's evil can, in the long run of the infinite ages, outspeed finally God's ever-pursuing mercy. He must overtake us sooner or later. True, it may be late -very late, before He does so. Not necessarily in this world; not perchance in the next world to come. We may doom ourselves to groan beneath the burden of sin, and writhe beneath the scourge of just and most merciful Retribution-again and yet again-no one knows how long. We may choose evil rather than good, and vileness instead of nobleness, and be ungrateful and sinful almost as He is long-suffering and infinitely holy. But it is almost, not quite! God will get the better of us at last.
Is this indeed a “dangerous creed”? Will men be the worse and harder and more daringly wicked for holding it? My friends, we are all, I fear, very unworthy types of what Theists should be. Nay, I have never yet seen man or woman, not that hero-soul Theodore Parker—not that true saint of God, Keshub Chunder Sen—who altogether and perfectly attained those Alpine heights to which Theism should lift us. But yet even at our weakest, we know that we are not the worse for believing in the infinite goodness of God. Was any one ever the worse for having an earthly father who would grieve, or a mother who would weep and pray for him in his sin, rather than curse him and cast him off? Human nature is bad enough, -I am not disposed to underrate its vices and meanness. But with all my soul I repudiate and reject the blasphemy that it can grow worse for having a better knowledge of God.
The results of a settled faith that we are inevitably destined to become good and blessed, ought obviously