A THEISTIC FESTIVAL.
ONE of the most striking features in the study of comparative religion is the recurrence of certain marked spiritual phenomena in communities separated from each other by so many theological and historical antecedents that conscious imitation is out of the question. The very curious parallels between the ecclesiastical systems of Buddhism and Roman Catholicism are well known, and a still more interesting parallel has been traced by Sir Alexander Grant (" Oxford Essays," 1858), between the peculiarities of the early Stoics and of Anglo-Saxon Puritanism. Another of these spiritual parallels has just been brought to our notice by a remarkable scene which recently took place at Calcutta at the anniversary festival held by the Brahtno-Somaj in the last week of January. We are accustomed to think of non-Christian Theists as a rationalistic and somewhat cold-tempered species of thinkers, not undevout, probably, in a quiet way, but unstirred by religious passion, and rather inclined to despise the definite faiths and personal prayers which are the life of Christian hearts. But although the Brahmo community may very probably comprise some such types of Theism, the prevalent spirit of its devotion, as shown in its public proceedings, is so entirely different from this, that it goes even beyond the average types of Western Christianity in its passionate religious enthusiasm, and in its power of realizing the present personality of a beloved and loving Lord. We condense the following account of a Brabmo festival from the Indian Mirror. The festival opened, on Sunday, January 22, with a morning service at the Mandir (or church) of Keshub Chtmder Seu, which
was marred by an incident of painful interest to those present.
With a view to heal the long-standing schism between the con- servative and the progressive sections of the Brahmos, the pulpit had been offered on this occasion to the aged leader of the con- servatives, Debendro Nath Tagore. Unfortunately, he showed himself unequal to the position, and after speaking for some time under much constraint, he suddenly departed from the subject of his sermon, "and fell to vilify Christ and Christianity in the most intemperate language," and to abuse Keshub "for his supposed Christian tendencies." Had it been any other speaker, he "would have been immediately checked then and there," for it is a standing rule of the institution that "no sect shall be vilified, ridiculed, or hated ;" but under the peculiar circumstances of the case, the congregation thought it sufficient to send in a written protest afterwards, vindicating their principles. But "the in- tense pain which the conduct of Baboo Debendro Nath caused them at the very opening of their season of sacred joy," seems to have been overpaid by the subsequent results of their own spon- taneous course. Hundreds of Brahmos had assembled from different parts of the country, "to bear witness unto the Truth, and rouse their slumbering countrymen with the words of a stirring hymn composed for the occasion ;" and in the afternoon the annual procession took place, from Keshub's house to the Mandir. Before starting, they assembled in the courtyard, and "prayed heartily, humbly, and with fervent faith. Long did they stand there singing and praying, while a vast concourse of people gathered and pressed them on every side." At last they moved out, the whole procession apparently numbering two or three thousand, all dressed in white. They carried white flags, which bore these inscriptions in Sanskrit :—" One only without a second," "Truth will triumph," " Only Divine grace availeth," "East and Vest" (the last motto bearing reference to the sym- pathy evoked here by Keshub's visit, "and the union of England and India in the bonds of love "). As they walked, they sang in chorus their new missionary hymn, "0 hasten to the Father's Temple of Grace!" "In the midst of this band, prominent by the peculiar dignity of his bearing, walked slowly Keshub Chunder Sen, barefooted and bareheaded," his face beaming with radiance ; while beside him were the other nine Brahmo missionaries, some of whom had lately returned from distant and trying labours. When they reached the Mandir, it was already so full that it was with difficulty that Keshub could reach the pulpit. While the service, described as very impressive, proceeded within, the hundreds who were obliged to remain outside gave utterance to their enthusiasm in hymns :—
" They stood in groups far and near along the streets which surround the church, with flaming torches in their hands, and sang so sweetly and touchingly that hundreds stood about them listening with fond eagerness. The blazing jets of gas in the Mandir, the music, the chorus, and the prayers stream out to them with a pleasing indistinctness ; the humble light of their torches, the holy and joyous sounds of their hymns reach us in the hall; there is blessed mutual response which struck the inmost chords of all hearts. The whole town seems to be resplendent with a mysterious glory, as if the hosts of heaven had descended on earth, and all men and women shouted with them the nameless charms of the Father's grace. The strange emotions of the time it is not possible to describe ; all that can be said is that they were never experienced before. When the service ended, and we issued out of the Mandir, we found the brethren still singing. The congregation joined the various groups, and they went round the city into different quarters [of, the native town] to proclaim the name of the merciful Father On Monday morning the congregation reassembled in the Mandir with renewed hope and happiness. It was manifest that a powerful stream of spiritual sympathy pervaded the whole place, that the spirit of God was near every worshipper's heart. Very bad and hard-hearted men were melted to tears of love and humility which they could not resist ; noble aspirations and resolves came into the soul uncalled, heavenly views of the future, of all men and women as one loving family, dawned before the wondering sinner's eye; and when the minister preached his brief and powerful precepts on that subject, the scene seemed to belong more to heaven than earth. Nobody could feel what it was, whether it was the sermon, the hymns, or any other part of the service, but sure it is that when it concluded, and the sunkeertun [or popular hymn] in the body of the hall announced with wonderful power and enthusiasm the salvation of sinners by the utterance of the Merciful Name, many a sinful heart felt he was saved."
Such are some of the more salient features of this Theistic festival. The likeness and the unlikeness which they bear to the parallel phases of Christian enthusiasm afford food for much interesting reflection. One point alone can we now indicate, viz., that such Theism as this, whatever may be its relation to histori- cal or dogmatic Christianity, is clearly based on a full belief in Revelation, in the truest sense of that word. And whatever the Oriental Theists may still have to learn from us, we English Christians have certainly not a little to learn from them.—S. D. C.