« AnteriorContinuar »
never reached His love. The only thing they have recognised under that name is so limited, so capricious, and so unreasonable, as to be altogether beneath contempt. Instead of representing God's tender mercies as “over all His works,” they have made Him care only for a few, and for these few simply in order that by them His own isolated glory might be promoted. From a narrow conception like that of justice, it is impossible to deduce a broad conception like that of love. To make the attempt is like trying to extract the whole from the part, the greater from the less. On the other hand, we can scarcely fail to see that the idea of justice follows necessarily from that of love, is, in fact, included in it. A father worthy of the name must evidently be just—that is, must deal with his children according to their deserts. Similarly, from the fact of punishment we cannot prove love; for punishment may be inflicted out of hate : but love necessarily involves the possibility of punishment. A father worthy of the name must punish his children when their welfare demands this discipline. The doctrine of God's Fatherhood, then, does not destroy any wholesome dread of retribution. On the contrary, the very intensity of the Infinite Father's affection makes it certain that no sin will be overlooked, but that every delinquency will be followed by the consuming fire of suffering, in order that the sinner himself may, if possible, be made perfect. So that you see the broad idea of Fatherhood necessarily involves the narrower ideas of justice and of punishment.
After all, however, the fear of punishment, though a help to right-doing, is not the only, nor is it the greatest, help. We may be terrified away from the bad, but we may be also attracted and charmed towards the good. “If for every rebuke,” says Ruskin, “that we utter of men's vices, we put forth a claim upon their hearts; if for every assertion of God's demands from them, we could substitute a display of His kindness to them; if side by side with every warning of death we could exhibit promises of immortality; if, in fine, instead of assuming the being of an awful Deity, which men are sometimes unable to conceive, we were to show them a near, visible, all-beneficent Deity, whose presence makes the earth itself a heaven, I think there would be fewer deaf children sitting in the market-place.” Ruskin is right. Men may be more easily drawn than driven. Even punishment itself, when it is seen to proceed from love, becomes attractive,irresistibly attractive. But unless, or until, this
origin can be discovered for it, it may have a hardening rather than a subduing influence. Strong, brave, high-spirited men will be inclined to resist, even unto death. It is impossible
“ By tyrannous threats to force them into faith.” According to the old classic legend, when Jove seemed to be hurling his thunderbolts in a tyrannical and unjust fashion, the Titans endeavoured to scale heaven and wrest them from his grasp. So it will ever be. Supposing that the strongest Power in the universe were not good but evil, not God but devil, there would always be
“Souls who dared look the Omnipotent Tyrant in
His everlasting face, and tell Him that
Those who are endowed with true nobility of soul will be but little influenced by fear. But if you can bring to bear upon them motives of admiration, of gratitude, of affection, you may do with them almost what you will. Hence a belief in the Fatherhood of God is the strongest and the best stimulus to right-doing.
The words of our text involve almost the whole of practical religion. It is impossible to overrate the value of the work which succeeds in instilling them into young minds and hearts, not as a dead intellectual dogma, but as an active principle, permeating the whole of life. In the heyday of youth and health and pleasure, men may feel self-sufficient; they may not recognise their need of the Infinite Father. But they will not always be young and well and happy, and what then? What then? As Burns truly says—
“When ranting round in pleasure's ring,
Religion may be blinded ;
It may be little minded.
But when on life we're tempest-driven,
And conscience but a canker,
Is sure a noble anchor."
There will come to many of the children now in our homes and schools, seasons of affliction, when they will be well-nigh crushed beneath the burden of life, when its dull monotony or poignant anguish will make them yearn for the rest and peace of death. There will come to most of the children of the rising generation, seasons of fierce mental conflict, and dense spiritual darkness, when they will feel painfully conscious of the mystery of existence, and painfully unconscious of any satisfactory solution for the mystery. Faith for them, believe me, will be no easy
matter. Scarcely a week will pass but they will read in some newspaper or review ingenious and powerful attacks, not only upon orthodoxy, but upon religion in general,—not only upon Christianity, but even upon theism. They will not be able, like so many of their predecessors, to believe that they believe everything which has been handed down to them upon authority. In the agony of scepticism many of them may be driven for the moment to think, with Schopenhauer, that the universe is an egregious blunder, that life is a horrid mockery, that there is nothing desirable but annihilation. We tremble as we picture to ourselves the voyage of these little ones over life's wild waste of waters. Yet we need not despair. We, too, perhaps have been overtaken by the same terrible tempest, and enveloped in the same blackness of darkness. Through the storm, however, there have come echoes, faint but passing sweet, of the music of our childhood. There have thrilled through us memories of the time when we were first taught, by the lips of some gentle teacher, to say, “Our Father.” And we have taken courage; hoping even against hope, that after all there may be a meaning and a use in our calamity, that the tempest may be but wafting us more swiftly to