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And flinging up to heaven its sunlight spray,
Of inward strife for truth and liberty.” But there is needed some one to read these storm-signals of the time, to“ tell the age what all its signs have meant.” The great desires and feelings rising out of the heart of nature require great thoughts to keep pace with them and read their meanings; otherwise they can only work blindly and therefore disastrously.
One of these great awakenings of the human spirit took place, with an outburst of new ideas, at the end of the last century —the age of the Revolution. The young, forward-looking ispirits of all lands hailed it as the clear dawn of a brighter day. It is not too much to say, with Renan “ After having groped for many long years in the darkness of infancy, without consciousness of itself, the time came when Humanity, like the individual, took possession of itself, as it were, when it became aware of its own strength, when it felt
itself to be a living unity.” Humanity took its stand as a free moral being, responsible for itself. But why did this awakening have so many evil consequences ? Because the men who guided the new movements did not understand the feeling which caused them as they rose in the heart of the race; their leaders could not read the meaning of this new consciousness of being a living unity. They were the political theorists of the age, the disciples—in politics—of Rousseau and Voltaire; and the better thought of modern times has shown that the political theories of that day were beset with radical and fatal errors. Yet they led the way: as Renan says, history shows us nothing analogous to the fact that we see at the end of the last century, “of theorists, men in no way concerned with actual politics, radically changing the whole of previously received ideas, and carrying a great revolution consciously and deliberately on the faith of their systems.” It is a memorable historical example of a sound feeling guided and interpreted by faulty theories. Humanity still feels itself to be
a living unity. Emerson says there are “accents of the Holy Ghost the heedless world hath never lost," and this is one. But we have better interpreters to tell us what this feeling means; and it would be well if we had as many to tell us what Religion means, by the same process of interpreting man's nature.
We must dwell on the supreme historical example of this law, that the discernment of truth depends on man's discovery of what he is and what he is fitted to be.
The illustration is one which is very tempting to dwell upon, but also very difficult to deal with— the state of things at the time when Christianity began to spread in the world.
The belief of the earliest Christians throughout the Greek and Roman world must have been that living belief of which we have been speaking, which is an element in character and takes its place among the springs of action. Hence our thought may fail to grasp it; and doubtless for this reason not many of the first Christians could have given any sufficient intellectual
account of the power which their acquaintance with the life and teachings of Jesus gave them. We must remember that it was a real power, which many of them gained for the first time. This is true, notwithstanding the numbers of “ perverts" who at the first sign of persecution hastened to sacrifice in the temples of the established religion. To be Christians, men had not merely to say this or that, or go through any routine of action or form of words, for creeds and ceremonies had scarcely begun to arise; nor had they to exercise their reasoning faculties merely, for the great majority of the converts had no intellectual powers above the ordinary level, and were not drawn from the classes who were mentally cultivated; but in order to be Christians and maintain their faith, they had to possess in a high degree that almost indefinable quality which we call strength or force of character, and their hardships and sufferings served to call this forth.
In order to understand why this simple doctrine came to them almost as a new life, let us try to realise the kind of world
in which the first apostles of Christianity went forth. We shall best do this by contrasting it with the classical Greek world—as it was at its best— the Greece which we are thinking of when we speak of Greek architecture, sculpture, or literature. “Greece” was not one, but many States, embracing a number of independent commonwealths. Now, in such a commonwealth, the majority of the “citizens ” — that is, of those who had civic rights—could satisfy themselves by the place and function which they found in its affairs; and they could find guidance for their lives in its laws and customs. And when all the citizens were able to meet together in a general congress to hear the affairs of the State discussed, “public life” meant much more for them than it can ever mean for us; and the part which the citizen took in it gave free play to his best desires and needs. Instinctively he would act on the two characteristic Greek maxims which may be rendered—“learn thine own powers” and “carry none to excess.” The Greek delighted in the beauty and brightness and