Page images
PDF
EPUB

to him, for all men were very generous of that gift; so that at last he had his wallet full of them. And when he halted by the side of the way he would take them out and try them; but nothing ever came of it. Each one seemed excellent by itself; yet when he put them together each one seemed to put out the shining of the others and make all their colours dull. But the desire of finding the one test of truth was so strong within him that for years he persevered in his search. At last he received a clear pebble that had no beauty and no colour. He looked upon it scornfully, and shook his head. “It will only be like the rest,' he said ; but he took it and rode away. Presently, alighting from his horse, he emptied forth his wallet by the wayside, and tried the new touchstone on the others. “Now in the light of each other all the touchstones lost their hue and fire, and withered like stars at morning; but in the light of the pebble their beauty remained, only the pebble was the most bright. And the traveller smote upon his brow: How if it be the truth, he cried, that all are a little true? And he took the pebble, and turned its light upon the heavens, and they deepened about him like the pit; and he turned it on the hills, and the hills were cold and rugged, but life ran in their sides so that his own life bounded; and he turned it on the dust, and he beheld the dust with joy and terror; and he turned it on himself, and he knelt down and prayed.”

I have quoted this because it expresses in pictorial form one of the most important truths to be remembered by all who wish to guide and help the thoughts of their fellow-men to-day. What is the real meaning of the conflict between the “old” and the “new” thought? There is no end to the doubts and difficulties concerning religion which this conflict occasions in the minds of those who allow themselves to think; but the confusion has a meaning. Not, that faith is dying out; but that faith is changing its form, and the old forms are being forsaken. We are tired of seeking the living among the dead, a living faith

[ocr errors]

Tas

am

among the ruins of old creeds; the Lord of Truth beckons us to follow Him into a grander world of larger and more satisfying knowledge. Yet, the seeker after truth may not turn away from all that men have thought about God and duty and eternal life, and treat it as a mere accumulation of “error”; he has to take possession of these “errors,” and find the good that was in them—the truth that made them survive. Olive Schreiner, in her beautiful book called Dreams, represents the truth-seeker as one climbing a mountain with slow, toilsome steps; but this is a false analogy. He has not to scale any height that takes him away from earth; he has to take possession of this earth and enter into it. Stevenson's picture is far more true and real. The true touchstone is not a rival to the others; it is that which makes the others reveal what light is in them. Is it a small thing to realise that every faith which is widely and devoutly believed, from generation to generation, must have some degree of truth in it? It cannot possess all the truth-it may not possess even an important truth-yet

SSA

eason

it has a fragment, worth searching for and preserving. This is, of course, the reason why it is believed — why men cling to it and even fight for it against what seems to be destroying it. And what we want is for old faiths to be recast into new forms, with their deeper meaning shining through more clearly; the form changing, the old spirit remaining to grow more pure and high.

This conclusion must be distinguished from that of mere “indifferentism.” It does not mean that we may

“Prolong and enjoy the gentle resting

From further tracking and trying and testing.”

en.

In his Christmas Eve Browning tells us of a disciple to whom it was granted to hold the hem of Christ's vesture and follow Him in a brief pilgrimage among the faiths of men. And to his surprise he learns that Christ has a share in every expression of human faith,even in the little whitewashed chapel with its narrow-minded, self-satisfied congregation of countryfolk and its shouting preacher,— even amid the magnificent sensuous cere

ev

monies of the mass at St Peter's in Rome,-even in the lecture - room of the German university, whose professor is proving that the life of Christ is only a myth with a deep moral meaning. Not one of these is unvisited by the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter. And so, in a few moments' reverie, the disciple falls into a mood of “mild indifferentism," since all faiths originally had one colour, and differ only as one Light refracted and broken up in various ways :

“This tolerance is a genial mood !
One trims the bark 'twixt shoal and shelf,
And sees, each side, the good effects of it,
A value for religion's self,
A carelessness about the sects of it.
Let me enjoy my own conviction,
Nor watch my neighbour's faith with fretfulness,
Still spying there some dereliction

Of truth, perversity, forgetfulness.” But his enjoyment of this tolerant mood was brief :“I looked, and far there, ever fleeting

Far, far away, the receding gesture,
And the looming of the lessening vesture,
Swept forward from my stupid hand,
While I watched my foolish heart expand
In a lazy glow of benevolence,
O’er the varied modes of man's belief.”

« PreviousContinue »