Page images

world with unheard of things. It is a religion that was meant to be kept going, and forever adjusting itself to the new world in which it is to operate. When it ceases to effect changes by changing itself into effects, and becomes a worker of the past instead of the present, we must class it among the effete. Can Methodism, like a newspaper, keep up to date, and appear now and then in a new issue ?

Other churches are doing something to create sensations which are to perpetuate their life. The Episcopalians have taken largely to ritualism, and many are arrested by its appeals to the dramatic in men. Processions, variegated costumes, gongs, lively music, and other theatrical displays attract the listless by an æsthetic sensaticnalism. This lively acting is new to Episcopalianism; and its newness strikes the class for which it is intended. The infusion of extreme highchurch doctrines also adds to the curiousness of Episcopalianisın. A class who profess to have Christ's body present on the altar, and to effect great changes by saying words or making signs over objects, like the old witches, will always attract attention from some. In their discussions over the right use of symbols, pots and kettles, there is an endless opportunity not to agree ; and the issues are so simple that every one can understand and argue them. The Roman Catholics create like sensations by going still farther and attracting inen by their very irrationalism. The incredulous challenges attention, and has a certain fascination for belief when boldly persisted in. The claim of infallibity and demand for the surrender of the intellect to authority is powerful from its audacity. The doctrines of Romanism are in general a contempt for sense and reason, and if a church claimed that there was no earth. there would be men who would covet the faith to believe it. The very despair of men feeds a large religious hope, and the Catholic Church reaps a rich liarvest from the startlingness of its paradoxes. Sceptics who can believe nothing in Christianity will often accept something out of it, if it can be found more incredible thau what we now have. Mormonism makes a like sensation by its polygamy; and its decided newness

keeps it before the world. It is a religion about which everybody must think ; and in thinking about anything some will become fascinated with it. Mormonism offers gratification.competence and power, and makes promises unknown in any other system. It comes with pretensions to a new revelation, and an ever-present Divine direction. It sets its devotees apart from the world, and has in its new Zion all the elements of a permanent sensation.

The independent churches have a like capacity for sensation in their heresies. They are the only bodies that can with safety start anything new in doctrine; and they are digging up and throwing upon the world much that is startling. Nearly all progress in theology comes from this class; and, while maintaining no great organization, they keep themselves before the world by their investigations. They are, perhaps, the most influential class in theology, modifying all the churches, and working changes beyond their limits rather than within them. Heresy is newer than the Gospel to most, and attracts attention where Orthodoxy will not. And so every other body that is making headway in religion is a getter-up of sensations, either of intelligence or ignorance, of wisdom or folly, of virtue or vice. And so it has been in the past.

Sensations have accompanied all great movements. Christianity itself was a sensation when it first struck the earth ; and its newness carried it till it swept the civilized world. It had a new God, a new heaven, a new hell, a new worship, and a new social life, — something new to believe and to do. It was not unlike early Methodism in the number and variety of its interest-creating agencies. The Papacy was similarly sensational when it first arose with its ambition to rule the world, and construct an empire within an empire that should outlast all governments. The elaboration of a grand ritual, and the wedding of Paganism with Christianity, became a power when the primitive religion of simplicity had ceased to attract as a novelty. Mohammedan. ism came with a still greater sensation, wedding the more primitive licentiousness and warfare of Asiatic barbarisin with

European civilization. There was enough in this system to startle the world, and the sensational in it has hardly yet died out. The Reformation was sensational as re-creating the whole church, and re-organizing all the powers of Germany. It was a new idea, calling for action on the part of every man, priest and king, - a sensation which lasted a hundred years,

, and hardly subsided after a thirty years' war. And finally, when the Reformation as a sensation was dead in all the countries of Europe, Methodism came as an inspirer of life to Protestantism, with all the appliances to excite and maintain attention which I have indicated. It came in the line of great sensations, or movements having the sensational necessarily in them; and it is the last religious movement that has attracted the general attention of the world. The only question now is whether it is done as a sensation, or whether it can rally to keep itself up as such, and if so, what it further needs for this. Christianity (as a whole), Protestantism(as a whole), the Papacy and Mohammedanisin are each vigorous and keeping the attention of mankind. Can Methodism do this ? and what must it do to so perpetuate itself?

Methodism should not, for its self-perpetuation as a power, take up old sensations or others' sensations. A new ritual, or conformity to what has succeeded in other churches, which is sometimes advocated, would be an abandonment of its peculiar strength to take on a peculiar weakness. Ritualism is only the tail end of Episcopalianism and Catholicism, and we cannot raise a sensation by doing more feebly what others are doing more strongly. A non-ritual church will never succeed by ritual better than a ritual church. The Catholic and Episcopal churches have gotten out of ritualism all there is in it, and Methodism could never get up a grander or more elegant ritual. It would have to change its entire nature first, and to adopt a less attractive ritual would be only to make a less attractive church. For the power of ritual is in its attractiveness as a dramatic appeal. The only effect of a ritual service would be to feed those other churches, and not to increase Methodism. Giving men a taste for ritual will send them where they can get more of it, and get it better. The Episcopal thus feeds the Catholic Church, the ritualists being a passage-way from Protestantism to Romanism. The Catholic Church feeds the theatres, which can outdo all religion in dramatic effect; so that this church stands as a passage-way from Christianity to the world. Catholicism also revives Paganism, which was still more grandly ritualistic than Christianity can ever be with its one God and no sacrifices. Græco-Roman renaissance is not more incredible in religion than in art. For while Catholicism inclines to its ceremonies, Rationalism inclines to its poetic conceptions as expressive of modern Naturalism. Christianity has nothing to gain by ritualism whose powers are shared mainly between the stage and Paganism.

Nor can Methodism take up Rationalism as a new power. That has already been exhausted as a sensation by the Liberal Christians. A Methodist preacher is not apt to say anything new in this field ; and should the Methodist Church liberalize, it would only appear to the world as following in the train of others. There are already liberal churches enough, where liberalism can be gotten more pure and strong, so that none would think of applying to Metliòdism for it. It would be as suicidal to follow Unitarianism as Episcopalianism for power. Rationalism, besides, has not in it the elements of sensation The people are few who can be interested in its problems and distinctions. It requires a culture which the masses have not, and the result is not calculated to work on the active powers like the emotional doctrines of Methodism. The loosening of doyma has little other effect than to put men out of the power of dogma. Men require strong convictions to act; and doubt, which is the essence of liberalism, does not give strong convictions. The Methodist as a liberal church would be very weak, as it has not in its masses the power to do the thinking of linerals. It would imply lead to uneducated scepticism, like that of the French Socialists. This is very different from a mildly rational theology, like Arminianism, which a popular theory. The Rationalism of Common Sense Methodism already has; that of Philosophy it can never attain.

The sensations which are to revive Methodism must be new and arise from current events.

Every great reformation has sprung from present needs, and movements will not spread except by current impulse. The successful church will always be sensitive to men's modern wants, discerning the signs of the times, and imbued with the spirit of the age. It must be adapted to the Now, and keep up with history. Its sensations must accordingly be frequent and frequently changing. They must be dropped as soon as squeezed dry. The new must be sought, not as mere novelty, but as a closer adjustment to the latest existing wants, which is newness enough. The world itself creates a demand for such a church, and its success is natural and spontaneous.

For this purpose liberty must be given to the church both to experiment and make new adjustinents. A cast iron system, stereotyped to work only in one way, and to so work for all time, will not admit of the needed changes. A church must provide for self.modification, and be capable of a vast amount of internal change without loss of identity. The growing is always changing ; and men must ever be on the !ook out for the advantages of the new. In a great system the problem is how to allow each his entire individuality, so as to seek needful changes without being cut off as an imovator. We need a charity to tolerate difference, as well as a wisdom to foresce the nseful. A church's unchangeableness should not stand in the way of its effectivenes, or its general features of its special opportunities.

Modern sensations must obviously be small. ideas have all been thought, and the great movements generally attempted. Anything grand now contemplated will likely have been anticipated. The great revolutions and reformations have all been made, and there is no demand for any now. What the sixteenth century left undone has been supplemented by subsequent reformations within the Reformation. There is now a church founded on almost every great idea, and some on very small ideas. The present is not a church-forming age, but, encountering a limit to further individuation, has a ten

The great

« PreviousContinue »