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pendent of the human agencies by which it has been preserved, so that of Christ in the gospel He had for mankind. The great moral truths which He taught, the great standard of ethics which He established, in their mere enunciation carry a conviction needing no other corroboration whatever. Through the whole rings out with unmistakable clearness, “God is our Father, God is love."
His messengers may be fallible, but about His message is no uncertainty or doubt whatever.
PAGANISM AND ITS CULTS.
183. No doubt reflection of the times themselves, a deepening gloom settles upon mankind, and his beliefs become ever darker and more dismal. Is there any God in the world, any God that delights in aught but the misery of the nations? As with many a poor savage of our time, the unknown but added horrors and yet more horrors to the present existence. In Egypt but one idea obsessed every man, woman, and child—the Day of Judgment. It communicated itself to the Greek, and his sunny naturalness in religion gave way to the terror of the hour when his soul should have to make answer to Pluto for its works on earth. On the horrors of Hinduism we need not dwell. Siva was the dominating deity, first and last to be appeased. Buddhism was one long note of despair, and even the Jew had not escaped the prevailing infection. The Old Testament presents but one phase of his belief. Whatever his religion at the beginning, it now also had developed into extreme Pharasaism, in which a dread of the future played no little part. This we know precisely from the writing of Josephus, which, whilst speaking of Jewish beliefs, yet gives a very clear idea of Greek and pagan views in general as well.
“Now, as to Hades, wherein the souls of the righteous and unrighteous are detained, it is necessary to speak of it. Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished, a subterraneous region, where the light of the world does not shine, from which circumstance—that in this place the light does not shine-it cannot be but there must be in it perpetual darkness. This region is allowed as a place of custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute to them temporary punishments agreeable to every one's behaviour and manners.
“In this region there is a certain place set apart as a lake of unquenchable fire wherein we suppose no one hitherto hath been cast; but it is prepared for a day, afore determined by God, in which one righteous sentence shall be deservedly passed upon all men; when the unjust, and those that have been disobedient to God, and have given honour to such idols as have been the vain operations of the hands of men as to God Himself, shall be adjudged to this everlasting punishment, as having been the causes of defilement, while the just shall obtain an incorruptible and never-failing kingdom. These are now, indeed, confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined. For there is one descent into this region, at whose gate we believe there stands an archangel with an host; which gate, when those pass through that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls, they do not go the same way, but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns sung by the angels appoined over that place unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world, not constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see and rejoice in, the expectation of those new enjoyments which will be peculiar to every one of them, and esteeming those things beyond what we have here. With whom there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold, nor any briers there, but the countenance of the fathers and of the just which they see always smiles upon them while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven which is to succeed this region. This place we call the bosom of Abraham.
“But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand by the angels allotted for punishment, no longer going with a good will, but as prisoners driven by violence, to whom are sent the angels appointed over them to reproach them, and to threaten them with terrible looks, and to thrust them still downwards. Now those angels that are set over these souls drag them into the neighbourhood of hell itself; who, when they are hard by it, continually hear the noise of it, and do not stand clear of the hot vapour itself; but when they have a nearer view of this spectacle, as of a terrible and great prospect of fire, they are struck with a fearful expecta
Galilee, light is the world,
tion of a future judgment, and in effect punished thereby. And not only so, but when they see the place of the fathers and of the just even hereby are they punished; for a chaos deep and large is fixed between them, insomuch that a just man cannot be admitted nor can one that is unjust-if he were bold enough to attempt it-pass over it."
Thus the universal dread—the religious miasmaborn of the nether world, and in which the one only ray of light is the teaching of that far-away prophet of Galilee, who would have none of such horrors and would see in God our Father alone. In all ages it has been contended that fear of consequences is the best sanction for moral conduct; that the doctrine of hell is a good workable proposition, as men deem a workable proposition, to ensure here the observance of the proprieties; and in this theory justification has always been found for the terrifying in beliefs. But not so Christ. He will be party to no reign of terror. He asks to reign as King of Love or not at all. It is liberty He has come to bring——“My truth shall make you free.”
84. We begin to understand the almost insuperable difficulties this new gospel had to face when we realize how much these ancient faiths found roots deep down in human nature itself. And entrenched in ritual and ceremonial, they were proof to any change that mere reasoning could try to effect. Here and there a few philosophers might challenge some particular absurdity, but usually only then to find some esoteric meaning to give it a rational explanation. And more, doubters themselves, they did little to enlighten the people. The smaller minds amongst them prided themselves on the superiority of their exclusive knowledge, which they would not cheapen by communicating, whilst the sterner intellects—much then as nowbelieved it was well for the mob to be credulous, as religion, false or true, was an essential sanction of society. That a society could even be conceived where love would prove a higher stabilizing influence they never even considered. Amongst us we have those harping on the beauty and freedom of thought of those times, and who would see in such limited thought the whole religious atmosphere of those very superior (?) ages. As a matter of fact, it was but the belief of a few individuals, and which did little to leaven the mass as a whole. The epigram of Gibbon that “the people thought all religions equally true; the philosophers all equally false; and the magistrates all equally useful,” must be limited to one very short period of man's history, and then there was no such general indifference as he would seem to suggest. As a whole the past was more passionately religious then our own, and for the same reasons, intensified by general and local conditions. And for all their proud boast, not even the philosopher of those days—nor of these either, for that matter—could ever rise altogether superior to his cradle creed. Beliefs are formed long before the reason comes into play, and hence the herd instinct-a theory so much to the fore to-day. And beliefs thus formed persist in the individual, and in the family, and in the nation. And it was these which the new philosophy of Christ had to challenge and surmount.
And as we must remark, these old beliefs were buttressed and fortified by facts, experiences, logic, and reasoning hard to be gainsaid. And yet, as we have before observed, whilst the one we find dragging man down and down, the other we see making him a better, holier, and higher creation. The fact is undoubted. The explanation we shall not attempt to give. It belongs to that part of our nature which is beyond words.
85. And these old religions were the playing upon the fears and passions of the human race, of fears and passions made articulate, and given form and body. A tremendous foundation. That Christ's teaching should not immediately displace them is no matter of surprise.
And first amongst these fears is that of death itself. Life would put it from it. Nothing is more marked than the horror which every living animal-man included—has for the dead of its own species. And we would put the dead from us—we would bury it from out our sight. And along with this is the instinctive dread that the dead, as dead, may return to haunt the living; a dread purely temperamental and a matter of feeling, but one from which no man, however intellectual, is wholly free. A creepy horror does oppress when in the presence of death. It is no less real that we know that it is wholly unreasonable. As for those who get over this feeling, like the embalmers of olden times, or the undertakers of these days, they are the pariahs of society, and there is always a feeling of repulsion to them. In the presence of death, the death of the lowliest, the head is bowed, and consciously or unconsciously for such dead some prayer is said. In the presence of death all distinctions vanish; in its hour rich and poor, wise and foolish, high and low alike are one. With the weak the strongest tremble, with the humblest the proudest bow. Individually we may wish to cling to some dear one—it seems so much for ever good-bye-although we are assured our dear one is no longer there. But along with it all is the feeling that somehow the spirit which has just left its body still hovers near and lingers round it. And this the reason for many a grand funeral. We cannot help but feel that the deceased is sharing in the honours paid him. We put it off with the pretence that we wish to please surviving friends and relations, but this is only a secondary thought-it is the spirit itself that we would gratify. It is an effort to believe that it is not with us as its body is. And thus it is if we would trace the first foundation of some church or temple; we shall find that it has been built on some site where a saint or hero has already found interment. Burial places precede, do not follow, building. The building is erected that followers may be near where the spirit of the departed may most certainly be found. As such places grow and extend, their origin may be lost; but it is to some demi-god, hero, or saint who has there found his last resting-place that the sanctity of