Stacks Image 905


Explanation of existing practical Methods of Teaching.

1.— If the Christian religion, it will be said by some, has thus a philosophical basis and is in fact the absolute and eternal religion, why should it not in the first instance, and always, be presented in that light, instead of being presented and pressed upon men in the way in which it commonly is. In other words, admitting that the Gospel is a philosophy, in the sense of having a philosophical and permanent foundation, it is objected, that it is not proclaimed and preached as a philosophy. And it is intimated and urged in relation to the method of teaching it, that it ought to be otherwise than it is.

2.— The answer to this objection is this. There is a great difference between philosophy, whether it be the philosophy of religion or any other form of philosophy, in itself considered, and in the essentialness of its own nature, and the mode or manner of teaching such philosophy to those who have hitherto not received it. The truth is always the same; and philosophy, when we discriminate between the semblance and the substance, can never be a variation from the truth; but the capacity of receiving the truth in all its length and breadth is not always the same. There is a great difference in this respect; and the method of teaching, if it be a true and available method, will have relation not only to the thing taught, but to the present condition and the capacity of receiving on the part of those to whom instruction is to be communicated. The geometries of Euclid and Legendre and the physical philosophy of Newton, at least in its mathematical principles, are the eternal truth; they stand the same from age to age; but the method of teaching, including the times and manner of teaching, is not identical with the thing taught; and it is well known, that we do not teach geometries and other forms of the higher mathematics to children, because there are other things more fitted to their yet weak and undeveloped capacity, and which may be considered as preparatory to the reception of the higher and more abstruse forms of truth.

3.— And somewhat in accordance with this view, the preacher who has God for his guide in the instructions he gives, will first address men in accordance with the facts in the case, namely, as being in the first form of life, or that form which we have denominated self-hood, and as being the subjects of all those errors and sins, which must necessarily result from a continuance of that form of life, to the rejection of the light and truth of a higher form of life. In other words, the first object of the true preacher, taking men as he finds them, in the possession not only of an outward written law, but of a law written upon the heart and yet living in the violation of that law, will be to convince them of sin. And having secured this, the second object, otherwise they would be left “in the condition of misery which always results from a consciousness of sin, will be to disclose to them the possibility and the method of forgiveness. And therefore he points the sinner to Jesus; in other words to God “manifest in the flesh;” to God brought within the limits of humanity and revealed in his essential nature, and earnestly desiring the return of sinners to Himself.

4.— But this view of God revealed to man in the infinitude of his love, of God clothed in humanity and in humanity suffering upon the Cross, will be of no avail (such are the laws of the mind that it is not possible that it should be of any avail,) without faith or belief. And hence it is, that the preacher of the Gospel who is divinely guided, having first pressed the fact of sin, is led now to press with equal earnestness the matter of faith. If the sinner fully believes in God as a God of forgiveness and love, which he is enabled to do only by directing his thoughts to the great and wonderful facts, which make up the history of the incarnation and the Cross, then the misery attendant upon his transgression passes away; and so far as forgiveness is concerned, he becomes reconciled to God.

5.— And then, without undertaking to narrate minutely all the steps in the process, the question arises in the mind of the reconciled offender, how is it possible for me to be kept in the right path in the future. And accordingly the preacher, pursuing the true logical method by harmonizing his instructions with the condition and wants and receptivity of the sinner, reminds him again of the universality of the law,—a law not only extending to all existences, but necessary and eternal and universal in its obligations,—and teaches him, that its claims can be met only in one way, namely, by placing his freedom and power of will,—not annulling them but freely placing them, in the keeping and guidance of the divine will; and thus virtually and practically, and yet with no loss of his own personality and freedom, making himself one with God.

6.— It is only when the mind is brought to this position that it learns, (and it learns it then from its own inward experience,) that the Christian religion, as full of wisdom as it is of mercy and love, is the true and the only Absolute Religion.

And it may be added here, that it is important for various reasons to remember, that the path of religious knowledge, when it aims at the foundation of things, is in this direction, and can be found nowhere else. Obey and learn. Be ye followers of Christ, that ye may know the truths of Christ. Open thine eye to the light, that thou mayest see the things that the light reveals. When the soul has experimentally gone through with the spiritual processes, which the unchangeable truth requires, it will be found that this experimental knowledge will reveal and establish, beyond the power of any argument antecedent to such experience, not only the truth itself, but the immovable rock of its eternal foundation.

7.— Go on, then, preachers of the Gospel and all who labor for the extension of the truth, surrounded as you are by those who are in ways of darkness and error, and proclaim to them their sin in order that they may be convinced of sin. Proclaim to them repentance, which includes not only a knowledge of sin, but sorrow for sin, and a change from sin. And as all sin, whatever its specific form, is, in its relations and ultimate results, a sin against God; proclaim God, not in the first instance in the universality and incomprehensibleness of his existence, but God “manifested in Christ” and thus brought into the intimacy of human relations, as ready and willing to forgive. Proclaim not only the fact and freeness of this great forgiveness, but also and with all the holy earnestness which is appropriate to your divine ministry, the fact of simple faith, as the only possible means by which such forgiveness can be practically recognized and made available as a principle of renovation to the soul. Proclaim and show the necessity of the constant presence and in-dwelling of the Spirit of God. Proclaim the absolute surrender of the human will to the divine will, as necessary to continuous and universal obedience and to the removal of all obstacles to the operation of God’s spirit. Proclaim union with God, even as Christ and God are one, as the great practical and unchangeable result of divine teachings when fully received and realized.

And thus shall it be seen and known, when the soul has ascended as it were after the manner of Jacob’s ladder by successive steps, to the mount of angelic vision, that the great plan of salvation which annihilates sin by a love that has its expression in letters of blood, and which attracts and consolidates human freedom with the harmonies of the universal will, is not a mere dogmatism, but ascending far beyond and above the contingencies of time and place, is absolute, universal and eternal.