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Universality of Religious Thought.

1.—If there is a foundation for the doctrine of an Absolute Religion, then we shall find intimations and evidences of moral and religious thought in all lands; and though separately considered they may bear the marks of imperfection and weakness, yet they will be found harmonizing in one general tendency, and contributing to one great result. Before the time of Moses there were men,—Enoch, Abraham and Noah may be mentioned as examples,—who were inwardly taught, and who communicated valuable religious-truth to others.

The respect and even reverential homage shown by Abraham to Melchisedek, in relation to whom it was said, he was without father or mother, in other words, without genealogical or historical record, may be regarded as incidentally revealing the fact of a religious character and position. The Absolute Religion, abstractly considered, has its foundation in the nature and relation of things; but the truths contained in it find their practical realization and their expression in the thoughts, lives, and history of individuals. Melchisedek was one of these persons. The Egyptians had a religious system. And it is not unreasonable to suppose that Moses may have received some important religious ideas from this remarkable people, among whom he was brought up and educated. The authorship of the first five books of the Bible is ascribed to Moses; but a careful examination of the first part of Genesis in the original Hebrew shows, in the view of many learned men, that he made use of and incorporated into his work certain historical documents written by other persons of an earlier date; but who they were or to what land belonging, is now unknown.

2.—The labors of the learned are greatly perplexed in ascertaining who was Job, and to what land or people he belonged. But the intuitions of the readers of his wonderful poem can affirm boldly, in default of the records of personal history, that, though unknown and mysterious as Melchisedek, he was nevertheless a man of thought, of vast poetic imagination, and filled with inspirational teachings coming from above. In the latter days of the Hebrew commonwealth, and greatly separated in certain particulars of belief and practice from the great mass of the Jewish people, whole sects made their appearance, who may be described as seekers after divine knowledge and as truly inspirational. The history of the Essenes and Therapeutæ, as it is given apparently from living and reliable sources, by Philo and Josephus, reveals facts of moral and religious insight and culture which are explainable only on the ground that the Living Principle of the universe, moved by the necessity involved in the universality of His great loving nature, has imparted to many solitary and praying hearts, whose religious position has not been generally recognized, some preparatory portions of the truths of the everlasting Gospel. At a still later period in history, in the Neo-Platonic school of Alexandria, which pursued its investigations to a considerable extent outside of the pale of Christianity, there are thoughts and aspirations, which remind one of the sublime meditations, and the deep spiritual experiences of the Almarics and Dinantos of the middle ages, with all the light and development they had received from the teachings of the New Testament.

3.—It was in those ancient days and in periods exceedingly remote, and in another part of the world, that other teachers, under the blooming shade of Indian forests, and among them the mysterious Sakya-Mouni, made their appearance. Millions have been influenced by the teachings of this remarkable man. A prince, with all that wealth and political position could contribute to his personal happiness, and yet so deeply impressed with the wants and miseries of men, that he retired into the most solitary places, and aided by the preparation of many years of abstinence and prayer, came forth a humble and beneficent teacher of practical principles, which the more enlightened piety of the present age is compelled to respect. And so, in like manner God had mercy on the Persians and the Chinese; and in order that there might not be need of another deluge and of other fires of Sodom and Gomorrah, kindled the light of truth, feeble though it may have been, in the bosoms of Zoroaster and Confucius. The connection of the Persians with the Hebrews, which was in part owing to a harmony of religious thought, is a matter of great interest. The second Temple was built under Persian authority and with Persian aid. In Persia where the religious ideas in relation to God, approximated to those of the Hebrews, the opinion was widely prevalent that a great religious teacher and deliverer was to come. And at the appointed period the “Wise Men” as they are called, who were probably persons belonging to the select and honored class of Persian Magi, came from that distant land to do homage to the child of Bethlehem.

4.—If we look in other directions we find the same remarkable fact, that everywhere great moral and religious truths more or less clearly make their appearance. Of those who received something of this heavenly illumination among other peoples and in other times, is it too much to say that Homer, a great reality, although a man as much unknown as Melchisedek and Job, was reached by some scattered rays. Let the man of deep moral intuition read the works of that prince of poets, particularly the Odyssey, not to settle points of geography or primitive history, but to learn the facts and methods of human action and the principles which lay at its foundation; and he will meet with moral problems, and with moral and spiritual suggestions, the origin of which can find an explanation only in such views as have now been presented. It is said of Plato, that he visited Egypt and studied at Heliopolis; and the remains of ancient art reveal to the astonished eye of the modern traveler, that the City of the Sun may have had attractions even for such a mind as Plato’s; but those who have deeply pondered the import of his writings, will be slow to believe that the teachings of Egyptian priests wholly superseded the higher and better teachings, which fall in mercy everywhere from the universal presence and the universal operation of the great Living Principle. And we may speak of Socrates, the light of Athens, whose scientific and moral doctrines were illustrated by the genius of Plato; the memory of whose sufferings and death for the truth, is not recalled even in these late days without the greatest sympathy and sorrow. The doctrine of the Grecian dramatists, particularly Æschylus, is, that evil deeds are followed by retribution; and that Jupiter, whom they regarded as the highest ruling power in human affairs, distributes to every one according to the good or evil character which attaches to his doing,—a reality so great, that its freedom can never be touched by arbitrary power, and which holds in its own hand the height and the degradation of its measureless destiny. It may justly be asserted, that man with all his liabilities to a morally evil course, is worthy of a high degree of reverential respect, and is always an object of the deepest interest so long as he holds in his bosom the possibilities and seed of immortality. Whatever may be said of his actually sinning or of his liability to sin, it is still true that he is a child of God, born in the image of God. Nor is it inconsistent with this great truth that he was, is, and necessarily must be subjected to law. It cannot be otherwise. And especially is he subjected to that wide-reaching and eternal law which God himself cannot modify or repeal without a violation of his own moral nature, that so far as he comes in contact with them, he must respect the position and practically and fully recognize the rights and claims of any and all beings and things in the universe. This law, which carries with it the sanctions of happiness or suffering, resolves itself into another equally clear to our intuitional convictions, that inasmuch as it can be fulfilled only in one way, he must place himself in the keeping of the Infinite Mind; and by a second and grander birth be
born, or if it be preferred, be intellectually and affectionally expanded out of the limitations and necessary imperfections of self-hood, so that seeing with God’s eye and feeling with God’s heart and acting in God’s will, who is both the originating and the conservative force of the universe, he can become the child of God in the higher and eternal sense. So that the new or second birth which changes man’s centre from the one to the all, and from man to God, so far from being the opprobrium of theology, is its culmination and its crown of honor. And if it is inconsistent with that mistaken and pretended philosophy, which makes man a materialism and death an eternal sleep, is not inconsistent with philosophy of a higher and diviner origin.

5.—And again what controversies have existed, what mental battles have been fought, over the supposed and alleged contradictions of the Trinity. But the difficulty was, that humanity, struggling out of the depths of the sensuous and limited, had not reached that higher position, where it could recognize the mighty and world-renovating truth of the Motherhood of God.

And if under the biblical name of
Wisdom or the Word, hidden somewhat for wise purposes until the fulness of time, there is an eternal Motherhood as well as eternal Fatherhood, then it is no offense to the highest reason to assert, that there is and must be either actually or potentially, in posse or in esse, an eternal Son. And in that Sonship linked to the Infinite by a divine affiliation, happy will it be if we too, in the expansion and completion of the second Birth, shall find ourselves included.

6.—Other things might be mentioned. The doctrine of salvation by faith for instance, on the basis that salvation in its essential nature is a mental state and not a locality, so far from being a pretentious mystery and theological figment, has its foundation in well ascertained mental principles. Salvation in its true sense is impossible in any other way. And if it be asked how it was possible that Christ and his unlettered followers, the most of whom had no especial advantages of education, became so richly gifted in philosophical verities, I answer that the philosophy of the human mind was first hidden in the Infinite Mind, and that the simplicity and truth of their hearts fitted them as nothing else can fit men, to become apt and successful disciples in the inward teachings of the eternal God.