« AnteriorContinuar »
But, sin rushing in upon it with its deranging and ruinous power, disturbed the inner harmony of its being, and tore it from its right relations to itself, and its God as the source of its life. Death was the immediate and dreadful result, and the full realization of this with all its horrors, was avoided only by the regeneration of that life in the person of our Saviour Jesus Christ. In Him-and eternal praises to his adorable namewas our human life raised from its degradation to the enjoyment of its intended communion with God. He was the perfect revelation of the Divine will towards man. He is the perennial fountain from which emenates the stream of true history, which flows forth to reanimate the world and cleanse it from all its pollution.
Humanity as thus redeemed, goes forth into the world to leaven it with its own sanctified life, and purge out the corruption of sin. This involves a process, and this process is what we mean by true history. In assimilating it to its own image, it must come into immediate collision with it, and grapple with it in the midst of its corruption. Hence we have conflict; for they are antagonistic interests. The steady progress of assimilation is ever and anon interrupted by obstacles interposed by sin, and these must not be avoided, but seized hold upon and demolished. Thus do we find the onward flow more or less retarded, until its energies may be brought in sufficient measure to bear for the destruction of these evil impediments. The surmounting of these, constitutes the historical problem of the age to which they belong. These vary in magnitude, and in the amount of historical force necessary to overcome them. Many resist with a feebler power, and the stream of history bears them away with but little agitation; others again make stubborn and determined opposition, rallying to their support mighty agencies at their command in the evil world, and thousands of deluded advocates. Here is progress for a season held in check. The stream is thrown back upon itself and recoils in confusion from its contact upon the impediment. But still steady to its heavenly mission, its mighty powers are brought gradually into requisition, until at length the evil is
overmastered, and yields amid the crash and destruction of a revolution, while ruin and death mark the triumphant course of a victorious history. In such an event do we discern an epoch. Such was the overthrow of the old Roman civilization -such the Reformation of the sixteenth century-such the founding of our American liberties.
As just remarked, redeemed humanity, as the vitalizing energy of all true progress in the world, enters in the accomplishment of its mission, into the world in the midst of its corruption. It plunges to the very depths of its misery, that it may rescue it from the wildest of its wanderings. Its relation to the life of the natural world, must not be conceived of as an outward force acting upon it, but rather as having entered into this, so as to become to it a vitalizing principle. Its action is like leaven, transforming the whole mass into its own image, and purging out all uncongenial elements. As these foreign elements are brought under the eradicating power of this divine principle of history, conflict is the immediate issue; and in proportion as the action of this principle grows in intensity, does the conflict grow fiercer until its mastery is fairly gained. It must be borne in mind that human nature, in the inner temple of its life, is the scene of this strife. Now the dominant tendency of this nature, as it reveals itself in the form of thought, feeling and corresponding action-in a word, its animus in the midst of the conflict, is at any given period what we mean by the Spirit of the age.
With this definition we are prepared to enquire, What is the Spirit of the age in which we live, its historical relations and significance?
The present period must not be supposed to hold a fortuitous relation to the history of past ages. It is but its proper outbirth and natural fruit-the legitimate result which has thus far been reached, in the ever advancing solution of the problem of human life. So too the Spirit of the present age is not something accidental. It is rather the legitimate state of thought and feeling to which the world has been conducted by the conflict carried on in its bosom, between its own
natural corrupt life, and the redeemed humanity which has been brought to a living union with it, by the incarnation of the Second Person in the Trinity, and which is progressively transforming it into its own holy image. To solve the proposed question satisfactorily, we must take a very cursory retrospect of past history, marking well its under current, and the steady advancement of this towards the goal of its ultimate design.
The terrible result of man's fall was not only to break up the inner harmony of his nature, but as already said, to sunder it from its right relations to the source of its life and being. Thereby did he deny his allegiance to his God; and instead of peacefully revolving in the lawful orbit of his being, round. his beneficent Creator as his true centre, he seized the reins of government in his own rebellious hands, and sought to order his own steps. Self-will came to be the rule of his actions, and self, the great centre around which he would have the whole world besides to move. In this attitude of rebellion, self was arrayed as the rival interest over against God. This was treason not only against his Creator, but equally against the constitution of his own nature. For only as humanity rests humbly and freely as a dependent upon God, is it true to its own inward necessities and law. To reclaim it from this false position both to its Maker and the inherent law of its own being, was the problem, the solution of which we have seen to be the burden of an advancing history.
This state of alienation from God involved for man the most abject slavery; standing as he did subject to the most imperious demands of allegiance and yet stripped of the last vestage of ability to comply. The law of his being which was but the will of God concerning him, even reiterated its threatening challenge to obedience, while he possessed no power to give a favorable response. In vain did self struggle to escape from its dominion, or seek to establish its antagonistic claims. This was the false position-this the bondage to a violated law— this the spiritual slavery from which he was to be redeemed.
Freedom, however, in its true sense, does not involve ex
emption from the authority of law; this is rather its very first integral element. Only as the demands of the law of our being are fully met can we be said to be free. Our bodies, for illustration, are never free, never healthy, never exempt from pain and suffering, only as every organ acts in most rigid obedience to its controlling law. Let but the organic law fail of its demands in any particular, and the whole system suffers from the derangement-sickness and death will be the inevitable consequences. The planet as it wheels its majestic rounds in the infinitude of space, and ever rejoices in its unfettered freedom, finds this very enjoyment in the most unvarying obeisance to the glowing centre of its motion. Sundered from its lawful and necessary relation to this, all is confusion, all disharmony, all wild unmeaning bondage. In every department of created existence does this principle hold, that authority is indispensable to freedom to the extent to which, in its several departments, it may be capable.
Deliverance then from this bondage of a blind self-will and restoration to the attitude of obedience to the organic law of our nature, is the first step towards human freedom. And this precisely is the course which we find the stream of history to have taken, as it flowed in the beginning from its living source, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Prior to his advent, the whole order of the world was preparative-all tended to make man sensible of his helplessness and bondage, and prepare his stubborn spirit for the introduction of that divine principle of life, which was to constitute the positive element of all future history. When then this divine leaven was incorporated in the lump of humanity, its first out-goings were in the direction of emancipation from the slavery of self, and restoration to obedience to the will of God, as this was embodied in the law of this redeemed humanity of Christ. This tendency was not, however, confined to the institutions of religion, strictly so called. It extended itself abroad also into the department of government. This was inevitable. For if Christianity would authenticate its claim as the world-religion, it must penetrate as deep and reach as far as the ruin from which it would deliv
er man. Not that the state must be subject to the outward domination of the Church, but that inasmuch as the life of true history is none other than our nature raised to its true relations to its author, in proportion as this would leaven the whole mass of the human world, must it enter as the controlling element into every department of its life. Government consequently gave evidence of the regenerating power of the Christian life in the course of a few centuries after its revelation in the world, and ever since has its development exhibited the presence of this new principle.
The first settled tendency then, after Christianity attained a proper consciousness of its contents and mission, was in the direction of discipline. And accordingly did the institutions. of both Church and State take their shape. In the department of government, the form was that of monarchy. Nor was this a fortuitous occurrence. Human nature was at this period in its infancy, and as a consequence, incapable of self-government. Just as in the case of the child. If left without the restraints of the family and the school, his growth would be in the direction of self-will, and insubordination to all authority, whether human or divine, and would never reach the ability of self-government. It is only as the perverse tendency of his nature is held under constraint, and self reduced to the attitude of submission to higher authority and law, that he will ultimately be prepared, as he passes the limits of his minority, for the enjoyment of this prerogative. So too as regards the State. What the family and the school are to the individual during his minority, government is to humanity as a general life, during the like period of childhood.
It was about the period of the introduction of modern civilization, when the old Roman culture gave way before the tide. of barbaric life, as it rolled in from the north, that the necessity of this disciplinary tendency of history became most palpably apparent. If the world was not to recede, and the toil of ages be forever lost-if humanity was not to be lost to the last sense of responsibility, and given over to the unending conflicts of individual and selfish caprice, it must be brought