Page images
PDF
EPUB

on the top of the world—all the stars shine for me. But he loves just as well the little boy, black as my coat, born this hour in some wigwam of South Africa, and will take just as special care thereof, and has made the Universe a chariot of fire to translate that little black Elias to heaven withal; he also stands on the top of the world and has a life-estate in the sun and moon and every star. Nay, God takes just as good care of the mouse which gnaws the grocer's cheese to-day, nor never for a moment neglects the little aphis now sucking this leaf; nor the parasitic animalcule which feeds on the aphis, the atomy of an atomy. They also stand on the top of the world, this great Celestial Sphere whereof God is both centre and circumference. Consciousness of that God, the Cause and Providence of all the world, it fills me with such delight as all the world besides can never give! I wonder any one who ever opened half an eye inwardly, could dream that Religion is unnatural to man, that Piety is not welcome to our innermost as are these roses welcome to the Spring. For what I say of me is also true of you, if not of each, why, certainly, of most—'tis true of Man, if not of men.

In great Italian towns, all winter long, you shall see men and women, too old, perhaps, for work, yet not quite poor enough for professional beggary, wrinkled as Egyptian mummies ; they crawl out of their hovels and creep through the cold darkness of the lanes they live in, and, screened from the wind under the wall of some great church, palace, or monastery, they nestle all day in the yellow sunshine of the sky, so happy in that light which gives them also necessary warmth do those venerable babies seem, blest by that great star which shines forever on them, though six and ninety million miles away! In New England or Pennsylvania, when the spring thaws out the farm-house, and, speck by speck, the dry earth appears green with healthy grass, and the fresh smell of the ground, such as you find it at no other time, comes up a wholesome breath, some pale, little tall girl, toddling about the narrow kitchen all winter long, looking thin and peaked, comes out to revel in the sunshine and the new grass. The breath of the ground is the inspiration of health to her; the eye, dim and sunken just now, ere long glows like the morning star in that young heaven, and the pale cheek has the bloom of the ruddy clover in it too. : By-and-bye, the mother, careful and troubled about many things, tells the neighbors at meeting on Sunday, “ O, Jinnie's quite another girl now the spring's come from what she was in February and March. The winter went hard with her, poor thing; I and her father begun to think she'd melt away before the snow did! I think she'll get along nicely now!" What the sun is to the sickly girl whom winter pent up in the narrow house, and to the lazzaroni at Naples, whose poverty allows him no nearer fire and light, that is the Religious Consciousness to you and me; yes, to all men in all lands, in every age save the rudest of all.

I do not see how any one can live without it; I think none ever does.

As the body on the material world, so the soul must live on God, that aniversal motherly bosom to warm and feed mankind. All over the world do you find the sweet and holy flower of Piety springing out of the ground of humanity, common as grass on the earth, or stars above it. Early literature is full of religion. Man's first psalm is of God; so little babies first of all things say Mamma, Papa. Theology is the oldest of all science —this queen mother of many knowledges. Amid all the babble of shrewd, noisy tongues, this language of heaven, spoken in a still small voice, is yet understood of all mankind. Civilized people have their Bibles, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Hebrew, Christian, Mohammedan, writ with pens, but yet thought inspired of God. The savage also has his Bible, far older, yet not writ with pens. Mr. Cartier, who went among the North American Indians in the sixteenth century, says: “A day seldom passes with an elderly Indian, or others who are esteemed wise and good, in which a blessing is not asked or thanks returned to the Giver of all life, sometimes audibly, but most generally in the devotional language of the heart.” Another missionary amongst them says, when the Indian party broke up their winter encampment, they went to the spring which had furnished them water, and thanked the Great Spirit who had preserved them in health and safety, and supplied their wants. “You then witness the silent, but deeply impressive communion which the unsophisticated native of the forest holds with his Creator."

“Every human heart is human,
And even in savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings,
For the good they comprehend not;
And the feeble hands and helpless,
Groping blindly in the darkness,
Touch God's right hand in that darkness,
And are lifted up and strengthened."

Do not think that God knows only such as “know Christ,” or Moses. He is no respecter of persons. The footsteps of religion, you see them in the dew of the world's early morning; they are deeply set in the primeval rock of human history. How multitudinous are the conceptions of God, all meant to satisfy the soul which longs for Him! The appetite for food, the instinct for dress, how many experiments they make! Humanity could not dispense with one of them.

“ The lively Grecian in a land of hills,

Rivers and fertile plains and sounding shores," “ Could find commodious place for every God."

"In despite
Of the gross fictions chanted in the streets
By wandering rhapsodists, and in contempt.
Of doubt and blind denial, hourly urged
Amid the wrangling schools, a SPIRIT hung,

Beautiful vision, o'er thy towns and farms,
Statues and temples and memorial tombs ;
And emanations were perceived ; and acts
Of immortality, in Nature's course,
Exemplified by mysteries that were felt
As bonds on grave Philosopher imposed
And armed warrior; and in every grove
A gay or pensive tenderness prevailed,
When Piety more awful had relaxed,"
" And doubtless sometimes a thought arose
Of Life continuous, Being unimpaired:
That hath been, is, and where it was and is,
Then shall endure-existence unexposed
To the blind walk of mortal accident;
From diminution safe, and weakening age,
While man grows old and dwindles and decays;
And countless generations of Mankind
Depart, and leave no vestige where they trod."

Trust me, none is wholly without God in the world. Even in the wickedest of men there must be yet some line of light lying along their horizon, where the great Heavenly Sun, unseen, unknown, refracts his rays in the dense air, and, stooping down, touches with fire the edge of their little kingdom of earth; at least some little Northern Light of superstition, which is also a dawn, flickers in their cold, cloudy sky: else in their Arctic winter, even piratical murderers or manstealing dogs would go mad at feeling such Egyptian darkness, and would die outright.

But yet there are, certainly, great differences among men in respect to their internal Consciousness of Religion. In our great towns there are millionnaires; also are there paupers, beggars there. What an odds between these devotees of money! So are there likewise paupers of religious consciousness, clad with but a few rags of pious experience, rudely stitched with an oath or'a inomentary aspiration, pasted together here and there with religious fear—a covering all too scant—and through the loops and rents of this spiritual raiment the bitter winds of life blow in upon the smarting soul. There are also great Capitalists of Religion, Millionnaires of Piety and Morality, whose long life industriously spent in holy feeling, holy thinking, holy work, has given them a great real and personal Estate of Religion, whence they have now a daily income of spiritual delight. This triumph of the soul you often find in men of no outward distinction, sometimes furnished with but little learning-the religious their only spiritual wealth. But the highest religious delight is not found in these monsters of piety, only in well-proportioned characters, when all the faculties are fully grown and trained up well. For the religious is a mixture likewise of all other joys, and, like manna, "hath the taste of all in it."

It is not fair to expect much religious experience in the Child. Reverence for the All-in-All, gratitude for his genial providence, the disposition to trust this Divine Mother, and to keep the laws of conscience, that is all

we should commonly look for at an early age. The fair fruits of religion come only at a later day, not in April or May, but only in September and October. Nay, there are winter-fruits of religion, which are not fully ripe till the trees bloom again, and the grandfather of fourscore years, sees the little plants flowering under his shadow; not till then, perhaps, are the great rich winter pears of religion fully perfect in their luscious ripeness.

Yet the religious disposition is a blessed thing, even in childhood. How it inclines the little boy or girl to veneration and gratitude—virtues, which in the child are what good breeding is in the full-grown gentleman, giving a certain air of noble birth and well-bred superiority. There is a Jacob's ladder for our young pilgrim, whereon he goes up from his earthly mother, who manages the little room he sleeps in, to the dear Heavenly Mother, who never slumbers nor sleeps, who is never careful and troubled about any thing, but yet cares continually for the great housekeeping of all the world, giving likewise to her beloved even in their sleep. In the child it is only the faint twilight, the beginnings of religion which you take notice of, like the voice of the bluebird, and the Phæbe, coming early in March, but only as a prelude to that whole summer of joyous song, which, when the air is delicate, will ere long gladden and beautify the procreant nest.

Painful is it to see a child whose religious culture has been neglected; the heavenly germ attempting growth, but checked by weeds, which no motherly hard plucks up or turns away. More painful to see it forced to unnatural hot-bed growth, to be succeeded by helpless imbecility at last. Worse still to find the young soul cursed with false doctrines, which film over the eye till it cannot see the Sun of Righteousness rising with such healing in his beams, and make life a Great Dark Day, hideous with fear and devils, and amazed with the roar of greedy hell! Such ill-entreated souls often grow idiotic in their religious sense, or else, therein stark mad and penned up in churches and other asylums, mupe and gibber in their hideous bereavement, thinking "man is totally depraved," and God a great ugly devil, an almighty cat, who worries his living prey, tormenting them before their time, and will forever tear them to pieces in the never-ending agony of hell! It is terrible to hear the sermons, hymns, and prayers, which these unfortunates wail out in their religious folly or delirium. To cause one of these little ones to offend in that way, it were better that a millstone were hanged about the father or the mother's neck, and they were drowned in the depths of the sea. I say it is but the beginning of religion that we find'in the tender age; twilight or sunrise, seldom more. The time of piety is not yet. Blame not the little tree; in due season it will litter the ground with purple figs.

In later years you see the flowers of religion, you taste the fruit of its gladdening consciousness of God. In early manhood there are temptations of instinctive passion, which clamors for its object, and cares but little with what its hungry maw is fed. In later manhood, there are temptations of ambition, a subtler and more deceitful peril. I know nothing but religion that is commonly able to defend us from either; this is strong enough for each, for both together.

Young Esau is hungry; the pottage is savory. Desire from within leagues with Occasion froin without. “No other eye is on me,” quoth he. His pulses throb; the lightning, the earthquake, the fire of passion, pass with swift tumultuous roar along his consciousness. But the nice ear of Conscience listens to the still sinall voice of Duty, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” He turns him off from her snare, charm she never so wisely, and if he fail of the pottage, he is not poisoned with the wild-gourds stirred therein ; with chaste hand he keeps his birthright of integrity. “Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his ways?" asks young Esau, but from his religious soul the an. swer straightway comes: “By taking heed to the law of Duty, clearly writ and plain to read." He drinks clean water out of his own sweet spring, and thirsts no more for the tepid tanks of vice, dirty and defiling. His natural passion is directed by its natural master, and what is so often the foe of youth becomes his ally and invigorating friend.

In a later day more dangerous lusts invade the maturer man. Jonas is alone in his place of business now. It is late; all the clerks have gone home, the shutters are closed, the fire smoulders low in the grate. The gas is thriftily turned down; by the dim light I cannot see whether the counting-room opens into factory, grocery, haberdashery, warehouse, or bank. I but distinctly see the desk-symbolic furniture for all the five, with many more—and an anxious man heavy with long.continued doubt. It is the man of business in his temptation-nay, his Agony and Bloody Sweat. Not Jesus in the New Testament legend was more sorely teinpted of another Devil. “Shall I attempt this plan?” quoth he. What it is appears not-importing Coolies, or African slaves, cheating the government or the people—this only is clear, he intends some great wrong to other men. “I can do it—'twill certainly succeed—no man shall find it out. Then wealth is mine—that is Nobility in a Democracy: with it comes the Power, the Respectability and the Honor it bestows." They flit before him-a great city house wheels into line; a great country house follows, flanked with wide lawns and costly gardens—a whole world of beauty. He sees such visionary entertainments, new flocks of wealthy friends, obsequious clergymen, communing at any table where Success breaks the bread and fills the cup, no matter if but shew bread and wine of iniquity. He tastes the admiration of men who worship any coin, and care not if it bear the laureled head of LIBERTY, a Northern fair-faced maid, or only a Southern Vulture swooping down upon its human prey. He anticipates the wealthy marriage of his modest girls. He sees posts of

« PreviousContinue »