"THE LORD'S FREEMAN."
" rrtHE truth shall make you free," said Christ. "Beware 1. of that freedom !" has been through all the ages the comment of ecclesiasticism. "'We do not claim it," cry the upholders of authority, "and look what we have accomplished without!" From time to time brave men have clamoured for their birthright of liberty. They are clamouring now. Yet even to-day in how many Churches and in how many hearts is the servile warning Rounding, "Beware of mental liberty, beware !" Which of us has not heard it in his own ? For it is not the Levites only who would take away the key of knowledge. Science has also her obscurantists. "Let that range of facts alone," cry the bigots of materialism. "Look where we point, and you will see as much as is good for you. It has sufficed us, and heaven knows we have served our generation. Let it suffice you. What ails you that you want to judge for yourselves what is right P" they ask in unconscious parody of the question of Christ. "It is retro. grade, all this gazing into heaven and groping among old-world myths and traditions. We see nothing where you imagine so much. Keep behind us, and we will show you the way." Once more the voice of Christ counsels rebellion. "Can the blind lead the blind? " Then, though they make less show, there still exist both inside and outside the Churches a powerful school of moral obscurantists. "Take heed that the light which is in thee be not darkness," said Christ. "Beware of that light!" they warn the world. "It is apt to show things quite out of proportion unless kept shaded. If too many people walked by its naked flame, they would turn the world upside down. It is a useful light under suitable bushels. A very simple arrangement of the shades will enable any man to see his way to serve both God and Mammon," they explain, stopping their ears to the eternal non possumus of the uncompromising Gospel. "And good men have done it in the past," they urge, quoting Moses like the Pharisees before them. But Christ allows no man to take shelter in the shades of the past. Things were sufferable in a harder generation which are not sufferable now, He taught.
But it may be said : "Do you think that it is every man's duty to take to pieces the creed in which he was brought up, in which he has found strength, consolation, and a guide of life, and prove or disprove it item by item to his own satis- faction or dissatisfaction ?" By no means ; but he must not stand in the way when other men would do so. If as he considers his creed he is able to exclaim with Hezekiah, "0 Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit," then he knows it by its fruits to contain sufficient spiritual truth for his sustenance. Take a parallel instance in the physical world. If a man is in good health, and attributes his health to a given manner of life, it is not necessary for him to study therapeutics unless be likes. But he should not advise a friend with a constant headache or a bad cough to a similar indifference, much less condemn the doctors who study to prove all things. To do so is the act of a fool or a bigot. And if he himself begins to feel uneasy, to suffer physical pain and discomfort, to doubt whether his theory of health will hold water, surely he should not refuse to examine his condition or to take advice of the learned. If he is so senseless as to act thus, he will probably lose first his physical peace, then his physical courage, then his physical health, and last of all his life. The same thing is true in spiritual matters. One may, of course, encourage little doubts and scruples by thinking about them, just as one may imagine little aches and pains; but, broadly speaking, the best hope for the cure of doubt lies in inquiry. It may be very hard to investigate the beliefs of our childhood, but their power is gone when we suspect them, and it may return on investigation. There is no suggestion in the Gospel that it is a virtue to suppress thought, and as it were break' the will of the mind by forcing it to accept what it instinctively rejects. Indeed, we are told that all sincere men desire light. "He that doeth truth cornett: to the light." We cannot, of course, hide from ourselves that the Evangelists did in certain instances and in the most transparent good faith ask us to accept explanations of events which reason to-day forbids us to accept. But honest belief in a mistaken theory is no reflection on any man's sincerity. Men followed the light long before they knew that the earth went round the sun. The Apostles knew that Christ did rid the souls of men of those wild and evil impulses which they personified as devils, and they misinterpreted certain coincident phenomena. Again, there are doctrines to be found in the Epistles which strike many Christian consciences nowadays as incompatible with Christ's conception of a perfect God. This is a difficulty; but faith would surely lead us to suppose that such a scruple is inspired. We can hardly imagine that God would tempt us to error by means of a moral scruple arising from zeal for His glory. The bare suggestion of divine deceit approaches to blasphemy. Such a theory would overthrow the whole of Christ's teaching. "God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar !" the Christian must exclaim in presence of such a theory.
Those votaries of physical science who guide their lives upon principles of utilitarian morality may fairly claim the same justification for their attitude as we have claimed for the adherent of a past orthodoxy. It is certainly not for the upholders of liberty to call them to repentance. But we may say without intolerance that these ostensible devotees of light are less excusable than any other set of people when they suppress those misgivings which might lead to religion, or scoff at others who desire to investigate them.
Once more, are there not many people who, while devoutly believing in some form or other of the Christian faith, are horribly troubled by doubts as to whether Christian morality as Christ taught it is really that sanction for things as they are which such a vast crowd of worshippers take it to be,— whether the time-honoured explanations which we put upon the startling paradoxes of Christ are the true explanations, or whether we do not very often make His words of none effect by our tradition P No man, we think, will be able to read one of those editions of the New Testament in modern English which have lately given so much offence to religions con- servatism, and not be horribly shaken by some such doubts as we have suggested. He is very likely to come away sorrowful like the young man in the Gospel,—hampered by moral indecision.
We must never overlook the fact, so frequently insisted on by our Lord, that the sincere pursuit of light entails much sacrifice, and, indeed, in some sense a great risk. Very often, no doubt, a man may find he has gained more than he has lost,—an assurance that the existence of God and immortality do not depend on dates and authorships or on historical and scientific verdicts ; that the revelation of Christ is not dependent upon its exact mode of transmission to us ; that if God ever inspired men. He inspires them still, and that we may obtain faith not only by the record of other men's inspiration, but by our own. On the other hand, it is only an optimistic form of obscurantism to deny that many men who inquire devoutly and with their whole minds, and follow the light of conscience in every particular of life, do not always obtain the religious assurance for which they long. Neither is it a certainty that the most sincere student of spiritual matters, starting from the materialist position, may not return to it. If there were no mischance there would be no heroism. These things happen, and we must open our eyes to them. As Christians, we can only say that for the full destruction of that "religion for hirelings" which, with its emblems of the bait and the scourge, threatened at one time to turn Christianity into a police force, it was necessary that certain good men should serve God for naught as an object-lesson to the Churches that the Holy Spirit needs the help of neither goad nor reward in impelling men to goodness. But the fear of such a fate—and it is a sad one—should no more deter a brave man from inquiry than the chance of death by accident should deter him from an active life. The support of an infallible authority resident either in a Church or a volume has in the providence of God been taken from the vast majority of thoughtful Christians. It is hard for •those who kick against the pricks and will not see the signs of the times. Surely it is better to go forward with what courage we may, believing that while we follow the light of reason and conscience no commandment of men can cut us off from the fellowship of Christ, and able to say with John Wesley; "If I die, I die at Thy door ; if I sink, I sink in Thy ship." If Christ's words are true, whoever does this is "the Lord's freeman," delivered from the powers of darkness, and needing to call no man master upon earth.