It is no mere earthly paradise that is hinted at in these lines, though to strive for a nobler social order on the earth as a proximate form of the perfect is necessary, but an end and outcome of human toil and struggle unaffected by earthly changes or earthly dissolution, — in truth, a world-city, wherein world-issues are to be gathered up and a world-purpose consummated, and the thought of which is once more to give dignity and the sense of permanence to life.
Do we survive with this good; shall we know in some other state of existence the good we have done in this; shall we meet those for whom we have done, and recognize those whom we love? I know not; and I hold it to be at the best a curious question, albeit one deeply touching these clinging affections that make up so much of the sweetness of human life. The ends of moral perfection are not for our personal satisfaction, but we for them. He who loves not the true and the good better than himself; he who does not put them above all personal attachments ; who does not find in the dearest object of his love a reflection of somewhat above and higher, and not a purely individual possession, — he, however else fortunate or gifted, has never found himself in an act of religious veneration. For this is not man meeting with man, but man bowing before the unalterable, the eternal ideal nature of things; not God, in the ordinary sense of that term, but the God of gods, — something so secret and necessary that were it to cease, the stars would vanish out of the sky, and were it only to cease in human consciousness, human society would relapse into barbaric chaos. Emerson said not long ago: "I see that sensible men and conscientious men all over the world were of one religion, — the religion of well-doing and daring, men of sturdy truth, men of integrity, and of feeling for others. My inference is that there is a statement of religion possible which makes all scepticism absurd."1 It is such a statement of religion that the time needs; and I can hardly believe that personal conceptions of God or immortality will make a necessary part of it, — which is far from saying that men shall be forbidden to entertain them. The certainty and the sanctity of religion lie, to my mind, in man's moral nature. Here alone is, in addition to the may-be or the can-be, the must, — the voice of command, the tone of authority, without which, and without assent to which, religion is but a playing with our opinions or our feelings. We are under orders ; though we are free to obey or not, honor and safety lie only in obedience. And religion will come to us afresh when there is a new perception of this fact, and a new recasting of life and thought and all our human relations in obedience to it.
1 " The Preacher," in Lectures and Biographical Sketches.