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what their respective bearing is upon the intensely practical work of a minister of Christ. This inquiry will open the whole subject of Æsthetic Religion, and will put it in contrast with the religion which is practical ; it will give us side by side, the religion of beauty, and the religion of power.
I. The Religion of Beauty. What have we to do with our subject, taken from the side of tasteful arrangements and elegant proprieties? That we can not altogether exclude such things is obvious. Within certain bounds they may be employed with good effect. God has given us a sense of the fitness of things to which he himself is perpetually ministering, and which it is right to gratify to a certain extent, even in the immediate affairs of his worship. There is no objection to be made to the embodying of a religious conception even in a pure work of art; it may rather be taken as one of the fine tributes which Christianity has won from the better side of human nature, that the noblest monuments of this kind of genius have been wrought out from Christian themes.
A proper indulgence of our sense of the beautiful even in the homely round of common life has its uses. It helps to make our every day work something of a pleasure as well; it weaves a golden selvedge on the web of honest toil; it decks the cabin door with paint, and the wall with a picture or two; and by such little devices it beguiles our weary way, and carries to the heart of the worn worker a sense of home. And as to the introduction of the same element into our religious affairs, we may not only defend it upon the general ground of its naturalness and usefulness, but also upon express divine authority. One portion of the service of the sanctuary, the music, stands almost exclusively in this realm; nor will it ever be possible to rule out from our Christian assemblies these appeals to our sense of the agreeable, until we have either abrogated the exhortation to sing unto the Lord, or else fallen into a fashion of singing never contemplated by the Psalmist and the Apostles. God designs public worship to present some attractions for unspiritual minds; music is one of these among others; and as we clearly see from what he does, that God himself delights in outward beauty, so it can certainly do no harm to bring something of that quality with our public offering, in addition to the always
grand requisite, " the beauty of holiness.” Some preaching may be done in this way, not as rendering other preaching unnecessary, but as pleasantly colleagued with it in a subordinate relation. Lessons of faith and hope have more than once been powerfully uttered by the silent 'marble, and charity and love have beamed on the soul in the glowing colors of the canvas. It is true that this is, for the work of saving men's souls, an inferior kind of preaching; but it can reach some men's hearts better than almost anything else; and under its gentle tuition the way may be prepared perhaps for the more regenerative instrumentality. The proper teaching of religion may even border upon the dramatic at times; for what else are the very sacraments of the church but a simple scenic representation of those truths we most need to lay to heart : " Take, eat, this is my body”!
It would not therefore be well to divorce our religious services from these appeals to the imagination and the asthetic susceptibilities, even if that were possible; but, it is not possible unless we expunge something from human nature, and something from the Bible as well. The endeavor should be, simply to keep things in their proper order : Truth the queen, and Art the beautiful handmaid waiting upon her, the queen herself on the throne, and the handmaid kneeling at her feet. It is only the reversing of this order to which objection is here made, that turning of things upside down in which it becomes more an object to present our services in good taste than either to please God or save men.
It is one of the common evils of this misarrangement, that the feeling awakened by art alone is mistaken for the genuine sentiment of the renewed mind. It plays off a counterfeit ; men are deceived by it as they could not be were the Gospel set before them in greater simplicity. Where one's mind is greatly exalted, whether by some work of art, or by some overpowering natural scenery, he easily glides into a sort of religious fervor, expressing himself in terms borrowed from the vocabulary of Christian worship. And if an appeal is made to the same class of sensibilities through some service of religion itself, the delusion is often complete. The long drawn aisle and fretted roof, the pealing organ and the dim religious light, are elements
which, with a few accessories, are capable of being wrought up into an almost overpowering appeal; and yet, as any one can see, it would be an appeal quite separate from the conscience, from repentance, and from faith in the Redeemer of men. Persons with as little of the Gospel in their hearts as any that ever lived, have occasionally developed a susceptibility to religious impressions of this sort that has been quite remarkable. Byron could write poetry on scriptural themes, and sometimes wrote it well; and there are passages even in his worst productions, that shine out like letters of gold amid the mingled smut and gall in which he commonly dipped his pen. And there was poor Shelly toowhat shall we call him ? Atheist or madman ? who now and then had his religious feeling greatly wrought upon, and dashed off lines that a prophet might have written.
Now it is just such feeling that goes with many people for genuine worship, repentance, faith and love, those solid and essential qualities, to which the art arrangements of religious service shonld be always tributary, being put quite in the background. The sensibilities are moved, but the conscience is not purged, there is enough of sentiment, or perhaps it were better to say sentimentalism, but the will is not subdued, nor the life set right, nor the heart turned to God. The world is growing full of Christians made in that way, a living illustration of the fact that some things are "made in vain."
The inversion of the divine order of the two elements in question also degrades our holy faith. Where the outward becomes the leading thought, the inward and the spiritual are of course somewhat neglected; and the outward is a leading thought wherever a sense of dramatic propriety, or of literary refinement, or of architectural magnificence, is any way taken for religious feeling. In such a case, the question asked by the preacher will be, not so much how to convict men of sin, but how to give a happy expression to some fine thought or theme; and as to the other parts of service, the prayer and praise, the one will naturally settle into a studied propriety without the slightest gush of feeling, while the other will be wrought up on pure artistic principles, till it is as incomprehensible to the mass of the worshippers, as if performed in an unknown tongue. What should be worship will become acting, only it will be very poor acting because it will be so excessively unnatural. It sometimes really seems as if a Christian assembly were ashamed of the old cross, and were seeking to wrap it round with a garniture which should conceal its plainness. It is as if we had erected that symbol, not in its own sublime simplicity, or garlanded with some pleasant flowers which the hand of love had twined upon it, but decked and bedizzened with all fantastic trumpery, till you could not guess whether it were a cross at all. The ministry of the beautiful in worship is changed to a ministry for the worship of the beautiful; the finger-post that should point our way to the celestial city, arrests our steps and becomes our shrine ; and we fall into much the condition described by the imperial ambassador who said, as he was falling asleep during service at St. Petersburg : "Won't you wake me up when they come to the subject of God.”
This Esthetic Religion also reveals a remarkable affinity with certain low views of practical godliness. You always lose an important safeguard of personal righteousness, when you dull a man's sense of sin, or his sense of the justice of God; nor does it make the case any better that this dulness is produced as it may be, by a too exclusive cultivation of a perfectly legitimate element of the true faith. Where the elegant proprieties of public service are put too prominently forward, religion sometimes stands arrayed in vestments so elaborately wrought and thickly folded, as to leave nothing but the dress for your admiration; and, indeed, when her cheek grows pale, and her form wasted by neglect, these dashy ornaments are usually the more piled on, as if on purpose to conceal the growing evil. Let a man lose his spirituality of mind, and yet be obliged to conduct a public service, and he most naturally betakes himself to prepared forms, and an impressive ceremonial. That covers his imperfection, and is the same in all kinds of weather; that encourages him with the notion of communion with God, when all real communion has been broken off'; and thus his mind is kept in a happy delusion which a single breath of extemporaneous exercise would scatter.
And these things, which are so naturally resorted to by men already in a state of spiritual degeneracy, reveal other peculiarities of the same general character. What is taken up as a covering for the evil is often equally a cause of it. On this point we have several very eminent historical examples. The case of the ancient covenant people is one of these. For such a people as the Hebrews, something entertaining, dramatic, showy, sensuous, was quite in place; for they were not only an oriental race but a primitive one, with much of the taste and habit of childhood. So God directed for them a liturgical service. It was set forth, however, under the most careful restrictions, and with the expectation constantly before them, that they should outgrow it by and by, and come up to a worship much more simple and spiritual. And yet with this expectation and with these safeguards, the liturgy at length entangled them. Those splendid forms drew off their attention from the spirit which they embodied ; the corruption began early and spread wide; the soul of religion forsook the beautiful body that had been prepared for it, and like a corpse in ballroom apparel, there lay the dead church, going fast to corruption, with all that magnificent vesture on, the patterns of which were worn in heaven. Perhaps that gorgeous ceremonial was not the sole cause of corruption among the Jews; but it has been well noticed, how closely that ancient people have been followed with respect to deterioration and decay, by those professedly Christian communions, which have also most closely copied their religious forms.
It is not necessary, perhaps, to linger at greater length on this side of our subject. The tendencies of an Esthetic Religion will be more clearly perceived by taking up a contrast. Let us place over against it, therefore,
II. The Religion of Power. There is strength in the sanctuary; and there is a kind of religion in the world, of which strength is the foreinost feature. Something of strength is found in the Æsthetic Religion. There have been systems of paganism even, which by their pomp and pageantry, have swayed the populace almost at will; and, where the same things have been skilfully combined with certain elements of the Christian faith, the effect has been quite astonishing. The religion of art forms has usually a vast amount of worldly wisdom to aid it, the children of this world lending to it those qualities in which they have always shown themselves superior