« PreviousContinue »
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 Mohammedanism 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 advocatec, 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. A 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 Methodism for it. It would be as suicidal to follow Unitarianism as Episcopalianism for power. Rationalism, besides, has uot in it the elements of sensation The people are lew 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 Methodisın. The loosening of dogma 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 simply lead to uneducated scepticism, like that of the French Socialists. This is very different from a mildly rational theology, like Arminianism, which is 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 adjustments. 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 needlul changes without bein:: cut off as an imovator. We need a charity to tolerate difference, as well as a wisdom to foresce the nseful. A chureli's unchangeableness should not stand in the way of its effectivene:s, or its general features of its special opportunities. Modern sensations must obviously be small.
The great 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
dency to reaction. The only possible great movement now is toward reunion, which is not sensational.' The bringing about of agreements does not agitate men like the bringing about of differences. The activity of the church is in its dividing rather than its reuniting, the latter being growth or accretion, which is slow and not convulsive.
Another difficulty preventing great uprisings is the circumstance that the people have the facts as soon as the preacher, so that there is not the ignorance necessary for universal movements. By relying on the press instead of the pulpit for information, men anticipate movements and discuss them as laymen as ably as do ecclesiastics. No class can come to another class with anything very new in religion ; and since we are acquainted with events in their causes long before they occur, we are not the subject of surprises so much as formerly; and important matters do not receive universal attention at once, which is necessary for sensational movements. Such world wide awakenings as those of Wesley, Luther, Huss, and Peter the Hermit, would be impossible now.
Modern sensations will, therefore, be generally individual rather than connectional, identified witin a man or event rather than a denomination, and will have only a proportionate maynitude. They may, however, for that reason be more numerous, so that church interest becomes thereby distributed Instead of Methodism, Presbyterianism and Catholicism, the sensations are Beecher, Moody, Prohibition, or some other subject affecting mainly a congregation or a day. One may make a sensation of himself if he cannot of his church (which now approaches other churches and is too much approached by them). Sensational preaching, sensational services, and sensational Sunday school and pastoral work are among the means for this. He must be a poor clergyman who cannot do something to interest his people ; and if the people of every congregation are interested the whole will be interested, and the benefits of a great organization measurably attained with out reliance on the organization. Since the individualizing of Christianity the individuals themselves must get up the inter
est instead of relying on the whole. There is no end of possible sensations calculated to hold the children, from whom memberships may be formed. In fact, keeping the people instead of gaining them, is the line in which effective church work is now to be done ; a change which becomes necessary when a church is once established, and the masses as a whole have been swept in. The church having the new generation must see to not letting them go. It becomes in this age conservative instead of aggressive. If Methodism did not let its children (all, it would not need to convert very many. Nursery work would dispense with revival work. The Roman Church makes its progress by holding its own - its natural increase. It is only the first age of a church that need be its missionary age. The following ages should be educational. Methodism makes the mistake of keeping up too exclusively its revival agencies when it has already revived the people, instead of changing itself into a sensational upbuilding church.
The Relation of Memory and Conscience.
Tas essential condition of that state which we call Heaven, is invariably assumed to be one of perfect happiness. But if our individual Consciousness is unchanged by our entrance upon another stage of existence, we cannot reflect upon this conception of perfect happiness without encountering the question, What is to be done with the memory of things painful to recall? Those theologies which teach the endless misery of some souls, have a double difficulty to meet in the continuous action of memory; their dogma must give rise not only to unhappiness in the remembrance of past evil, but of past good.
A variety of reconciling theories have been offered, none of which sees satisfactory. To say that,