It is thus that the moral sentiment gives a great peace to the soul. Things often seem so bad about us that we are tempted to think evil cleaves to the nature of things. With all the boasted progress of the modern world in industry and inventions, things seem little better for the mass of men. The spectacle of debasement and misery among large classes in the very centres of our civilization and culture, is almost maddening to a sensitive nature, and easily breeds despair. If all this suffering and wrong are necessary, there is no escape from the conclusion that this is a black and cruel world we live in ; and the only way to live and to have any contentment is to harden one's heart and keep out of suffering one's self. But suffering and wrong are not necessary; they might as well not be as be, nay, they never would be if men listened to the promptings from on high that visit them. Suffering and wrong are foreign to the nature of things, they are contradictory to it, they exist despite it. The Heart of the world is sound ; and would we but give way to it in our own hearts, the face of society might be as fair as Nature is in her most joyous moods. We have not to make the world over, but only ourselves. In the midst of our work we can adore, and pass into that central peace which laps the world about, and which all our heat and worry cannot disturb, nor man's extremest faithlessness mar. If man does not do the good, he cannot have peace, that is all. An ethical religion is nowise concerned with the justification of the order of society as it is ; it has little in common with the weak optimism that sometimes passes current as religion ; it must oppose those canting economists who say that there being no such thing as chance, the Christian must regard present social conditions as the best possible, else they would not be consistent with the orderings of a wise Providence. If a man is given a task, and is not faithful to it, the result cannot be the best possible. The integrity and sanity of things nowise requires a justification of the present order of things. The high God commands to almost all the mighty of this world, and to many more besides, to do differently from what they do; and as long as they do not obey, they are off the track appointed for them, and the integrity of things is only concerned in forever bringing them to nought. Where did Jesus find peace as he confronted the order of society in his day ? In the thought of a judgment that should destroy it. Oh, Friend, curse thyself, curse thy neighbor and society about thee, but not the fundamental arrangement of things ! bless that; thou canst not dream so high as it makes possible. Heard already are the voices which if thou and all wouldst hear, the dread chaos and anarchy that now dishearten thee would pass away.
Out of all this high spirit of faith and obedience, and as the issue of it all, is bred a great hope. Our current doctrine of immortality is weak; it has little moral fibre in it. That august possibility for valorous and virtuous souls is made the property of all alike; and no drivelling saint or damnable sinner but imagines he or she is going to live again, and live forever. There was never such effrontery. We have reason to believe there is another life, if there are souls worthy of it. The mystery is that wicked, frivolous, selfish men and women live out their natural term of life here ; the gods are surely gracious and long-suffering to permit it; and when death brings to an end their vain career, 't would seem the part of piety to let them rest in eternal forgetful-ness. But for the good the heart conjectures a better fate. The good are simply those who respond to the demands which the invisible world makes upon them. They only are good who are so because they must be, because a divine necessity constrains them, because they could not hold up their heads if they were unfaithful, because in such a case they would feel like traitors to the trust the universe had assigned to them. The value of a faithful soul is beyond all estimation. Duty is that by which we link ourselves to absolute being, and by which absolute being links itself in turn to us. Perishing man looks aloft and sees the imperishable, and with every moral act the imperishable becomes a part of him. No atom, no tree, no animal, no man incapable of self-surrender, has this worth and incomparable dignity. The stars in heaven are not so grand as man living in obedience to the moral sentiment, and dying when it is " better not to live." Yet there is no caste in virtue. In this lore, in this imperishable wealth, the great of this world have no monopoly. The dignity that dignifies the highest is within reach of the lowliest.
The savage Patagonian, the obscure reformer, martyrs and heroes who died in nooks and corners of the world, and all who loved and did the right, are the stars that shine in this firmament; and all others count for nothing. This world will pass away; the generations of men are going, and sometime will all be gone; nothing in Nature or that belongs to Nature stays ; there is nought permanent or everlasting outside the blessed Powers that are over all and in all. Yet a high presentiment arises in the breast that out of all the countless personalities that have been or shall be born on " this bank and shoal of time," there shall be some accounted worthy to share with these blessed Powers their own eternity. Such a faith is too great for demonstration; it rests on the cumulative suggestions and inspirations of the moral sentiment. But it is that kind of immortality which has supreme interest for the morally serious man. That we are inherently immortal I can discover very little reason for supposing; that any authority, whether of holy book or holy church, could settle the question for us seems like an offence to reason. Our personal affections and desires of reunion do not appear to be a solid foundation; Jesus says not a word in their favor, though he does speak of those who shall be "accounted worthy to attain to that world and the resurrection of the dead." 1 That science can ever give us proof of immortality seems improbable, since science, save in its purely formal aspects, deals with the sensible (that is, with what may be observed or experimented upon); and immortality is a truth, if it be one, of the super-sensible. The doubtful vistas of Spiritualism make the other world but a poor faded copy of this, with immortal cats and dogs as well as human beings, until that life seems more feeble and ineffectual even than this. What reason for the perpetuation of an old worn-out show ? For my part, I would rather leave death begirt with all its solemn and touching mystery, and simply trust that somehow transcendent issues will be worked out through it. There is no thought of reward for the good in what I say. As the good are so for goodness' sake, so their high destiny must come unbought and unsought.
1 Luke xx. 35.
Such are some of the lessons of the moral sentiment as they have made themselves felt in my own mental experience, and such is something of what I conceive would be the gist and scope of an Ethical religion. Ethics is not a closed circle, so that when one has forborne to cheat and paid his debts, he is at the end of it. It starts with the lowest uses of earth, but covers the highest and widest flights of the spirit of man. To plant oneself on the fundamental verity, and then allow its natural suggestions and implications to have an unhindered development in one's mind and in one's life, seems to me one of the most important and inspiring tasks of the present day.
What a prospect is that which Emerson held out! " There will be a new church," he said, " founded on moral science ; at first cold and naked, a babe in a manger again, the algebra and mathematics of ethical law,the church of men to come, without shawms or psaltery or sackbut. But it will have heaven and earth for its beams and rafters. science for symbol and illustration ; it will fast enough gather beauty, music, picture, poetry. Was never stoicism so stern and exigent as this shall be. It shall send man home to his central solitude, shame these social supplicating manners, and make him know that much of the time he must have himself to his friend. He shall expect no co-operation, he shall walk with no companion. The nameless Thought, the nameless Power, the super-personal Heart, he shall repose alone on that. He needs only his own verdict. No good fame can help, no bad fame can hurt him. The Laws are his consolers ; the good Laws themselves are alive, they know if he have kept them, they animate him with the leading of great duty and an endless horizon." 1
1 " Worship," in Conduct of Life.