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Religion Given - Part 2

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



And certainly we need not go far about to prove that conduct, or `righteousness,' which is the object of religion, is in a special manner the object of Bible-religion. The word `righteousness' is the master-word of the Old Testament. Keep judgment and do righteousness ! Cease to do evil, learn to do well! these words being taken in their plainest sense of conduct. Offer the sacrifice, not of victims and ceremonies, as the way of the world in religion then was, but : Offer the sacrifice of righteousness. The great concern of the New Testament is likewise righteousness, but righteousness reached through particular means, righteousness by the means of Jesus Christ. A sentence which sums up the New Testament and assigns the ground whereon the Christian Church stands, is, as we have elsewhere said, this : Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. If we are to take a sentence which in like manner sums up the Old Testament, such a sentence is this : O ye that love the Eternal, see that ye hate the thing which is evil/ to him that ordereth his conversation right shall be shown the salvation of God.

But instantly there will be raised the objection that this is morality, not religion ; morality, ethics, conduct, being by many people, and above all by theologians, carefully contradistinguished from religion, which is supposed in some special way to be connected with propositions about the Godhead of the Eternal Son, or propositions about the personality of God, or about election, or justification. Religion, however, means simply either a binding to righteousness, or else a serious attending to righteousness and dwelling upon it. Which of these two it most nearly means, depends upon the view we take of the word's derivation ; but it means one of them, and they are really much the same. And the antithesis between ethical and religious is thus quite a false one. Ethical means practical, it relates to practice or conduct passing into habit or disposition. Religious also means practical, but practical in a still higher degree ; and the right antithesis to both ethical and religious, is the same as the right antithesis to practical : namely, theoretical.

Now, propositions about the Godhead of the Eternal Son are theoretical, and they therefore are very properly opposed to propositions which are moral or ethical; but they are with equal propriety opposed to propositions which are religious. They differ in kind from what is religious, while what is ethical agrees in kind with it. But is there, therefore, no difference between what is ethical, or morality, and religion ? There is a difference ; a difference of degree. Religion, if we follow the intention of human thought and human language in the use of the word, is ethics heightened, enkindled, lit up by feeling; the passage from morality to religion is made when to morality is applied emction. And the true meaning of religion is thus, not simply morality, but morality touched by emotion. And this new elevation and inspiration of morality is well marked by the word ` righteousness.' Conduct is the word of common life, morality is the word of philosophical disquisition, righteousness is the word of religion.

Some people, indeed, are for calling all high thought and feeling by the name of religion; according to that saying of Goethe : He who has art and science, has also religion.' But let us use words as mankind generally use them. We may call art and science touched by emotion religion, if we will ; as we may make the instinct of self-preservation, into which M. Littré traces up all our private affections, include the perfecting ourselves by the study of what is beautiful in art; and the reproductive instinct, into which he traces up all our social affections, include the perfecting mankind by political science. But men have not yet got to that stage, when we think much of either their private or their social affections at all, except as exercising themselves in conduct; neither do we yet think of religion as otherwise exercising itself. When mankind speak of religion, they have before their mind an activity engaged, not with the whole of life, but with that three-fourths of life which is conduct. This is wide enough range for one word, surely; but at any rate, let us at present limit ourselves in the use of the word religion as mankind do.

And if some one now asks : But what is this application of emotion to morality, and by what marks may we know it?—we can quite easily satisfy him ; not, indeed, by any disquisition of our own, but in a much better way, by examples. ` By the dispensation of Providence to mankind,' says Quintilian, `goodness gives men most satisfaction."

That is morality. `The path of the just is as the shining light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.' That is morality touched with emotion, or religion. ' Hold off from sensuality,' says Cicero ; ' for, if you have given yourself up to it, you will find yourself unable to think of anything else.' That is morality. Blessed are the pure in heart,' says Jesus Christ ; ' for they shall see God.' That is religion. ' We all want to live honestly, but cannot,' says the Greek maxim-maker . That is morality. ' O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death !' says St. Paul. That is religion. ' Would thou wert of as good conversation in deed as in word ! ' 6 is morality. 'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven,' 7 is religion. ' Live as you were meant to live ! ' is morality. ' Lay hold on eternal life ! ' is religion.

Or we may take the contrast within the bounds of the Bible itself. Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty,' is morality. But My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work,' is religion. Or we may even observe a third stage between these two stages, which shows to us the transition from one to the other. ' If thou givest thy soul the desires that please her, she will make thee a laughing stock to thine enemies ;' —that is morality. ' He that resisteth pleasure crowneth his life ; ' —that is morality with the tone heightened, passing, or trying to pass, into religion. ' Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;' —there the passage is made, and we have religion. Our religious examples are here all taken from the Bible, and from the Bible such examples can best be taken ; but we might also find them elsewhere. 'Oh that my lot might lead me in the path of holy innocence of thought and deed, the path which august laws ordain, laws which in the highest heaven had their birth, neither did the race of mortal man beget them, nor shall oblivion ever put them to sleep; the power of God is mighty in them, and groweth not old !' That is from Sophocles, but it is as much religion as any of the things which we have quoted as religious. Like them, it is not the mere enjoining of conduct, but it is this enjoining touched, strengthened, and almost transformed, by the addition of feeling.

So what is meant by the application of emotion to morality has now, it is to be hoped, been made clear. The next question will probably be : But how does one get the application made? Why, how does one get to feel much about any matter whatever ? By dwelling upon it, by staying our thoughts upon it, by having it perpetually in our mind. The very words mind, memory, remain, come, probably, all from the same root, from the notion of staying, attending. Possibly even the word man comes from the same ; so entirely does the idea of humanity, of intelligence, of looking before and after, of raising oneself out of the flux of things, rest upon the idea of steadying oneself, concentrating oneself, making order in the chaos of one's impressions, by attending to one impression rather than the other. The rules of conduct, of morality, were themselves, philosophers suppose, reached in this way ;-the notion of a whole self as opposed to a partial self, a best self to an inferior self, to a momentary self a permanent self requiring the restraint of impulses a man would naturally have indulged ;—because, by attending to his life, man found it had a scope beyond the wants of the present moment. Suppose it was so ; then the first man who, as `a being,' comparatively, `of a large discourse, looking before and after,' controlled the native, instantaneous, mechanical impulses of the instinct of self-preservation, controlled the native, instantaneous, mechanical 'impulses of the reproductive instinct, had morality revealed to him.

But there is a long way from this to that habitual dwelling on the rules thus reached, that constant turning them over in the mind, that near and lively experimental sense of their beneficence, which communicates emotion to our thought of them, and thus incalculably heightens their power. And the more mankind attended to the claims of that part of our nature which does not belong to conduct or morality, properly so called (and we have seen that, after all, about one-fourth of our nature is in this case), the more they would have distractions to take off their thoughts from those moral conclusions which all races of men, one may say, seem to have reached, and to prevent these moral conclusions from being quickened by emotion, and thus becoming religious.





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