|Vol. III, No. 10
Tebeth 5606, January 1846
The Reform We Need.
“There is no new thing under the sun,” said the wise king; but had he lived in our age, where change succeeds change, and where each new discovery tramples so fast upon the heels of that invention which the last hour gave birth to, that the latter, for the very shame of priority, has to retire abashed to make room for its younger brother: he would rather lave exclaimed, “One day succeedeth another, but in vain doth the sun look for those objects he beheld but yesterday.”
Let one tread the vast and commingled circle of science and art, and at each new step he will be startled at the bold theory, at the simple though wonderful realization. Man speaks! in an instant the chained lightning conveys his message to the extremity of a vast continent. He wills! an agent, too subtle for his senses to perceive, devours space to place countries and seas between himself and his place of departure. He gazes upon the living lights of heaven! he longs to mix with, them, “to sound their depth, to count their number;” they visit his watch-tower, and range themselves within the view of his now no longer limited sight. He wishes to preserve the visible representation of objects! a ray of light instantaneously creates for him a correct copy of nature. He wishes to commingle the thread of the spider with the hue of the rainbow! science and art at his bidding, with almost lightning speed, spread before him, in countless folds, the woof of his desire. He beholds a rare and beauteous shrub! at his bidding it multiplies and blooms in every garden. Does he but desire the warmth and fruits of the tropics during the cold and dismal winter of the dreary North, or the snows of Siberia in the clime of the sun, his magical-lamp which gives light to the age will achieve all this. He mounts through the air, and keeps company with the misty clouds without fear; in a word, he finds himself endowed with apparently limitless faculties, and, with unsatisfied thirst, he swallows up a Jordan in the pursuit of new streams, of new fields where difficulties are to be surmounted, where triumphs are to be achieved. Is it a wonder, then, that, with facilities apparently as limitless as his imagination, man should consider himself capable of working out new systems of theology, separate from, and divested of the cobwebs of antiquity? that, in his eagerness to show himself equal to all things, he should forget or deem obsolete the quaint old saying of a past age:
Thus, whilst the Deity permits the mind of man to take so wide a range in the investigation of nature’s expanse; still he speaks in a voice that comes reverberating from Sinai’s height. “Untaught, unaided by me, thou canst not grasp the immaterial.” “Unaided, thou may st attempt to increase thy spirituality; but thy mind, tossed about upon the tempestuous sea of metaphysics, upon which thou hast dared to launch thy frail bark, will only find safety by keeping a steadfast gaze upon that beacon, whose light stands revealed of old, and whose brilliancy will dispel the gloom of doubt, and enable thee to regain that rock-bound harbour where the proud waves of desolation shall be stayed.”
But say science and art, “Look at what we have achieved in this age; in the knowledge of the past we have dug our foundations, and each succeeding age shall behold our structure rise higher and higher, until, from the crown of our temple, we shall be enabled at one view to read the mysteries of nature, to bound space by our grasp, and to render evanescent life an eternity, by being able to endow ourselves with the lightning speed in thought and action. And say you, that our sister religion shall cling more to earth than ourselves? Say you, that heaven-born, her flight shall be limited, that she shall not soar on equal wing? and at each succeeding age become more spiritual by adding the light of the present to the demi-darkness of past ages, and throw off at last from the system of man its earthy desires, and render each heart a living ark, in which the Most High may find a fit and holy dwelling?” But what says religion? “God has made man of two natures, spiritual and corporeal—the one retrogressive, the other progressive. Retrogressive, because the spirit or soul of man is an emanation of the Supreme Being, and can only strengthen itself, and increase its beauty by retracing its way, or endeavouring to ascend to that mount of spirituality from which it took its source. Progressive, because the spirit or soul of man, possessing from its source all knowledge, having that knowledge obscured by its mortal veil, urges the body through which it can only act, to make attempts to penetrate and develope the mysteries of nature, and a knowledge of the ways of its Maker, so as to provide the only food it can partake of that will satisfy its hunger.” Thus, the offsprings of intellectuality are but the effects of the soul struggling to endow the body with its foreknowledge; science and art but the developements carried higher by each succeeding struggle. Each of them is but a part, a parcel of religion; and whilst they entertain towards her the affectionate and dutiful love of children, they elevate each other, and, together, render man but “little less than the angels.” But let the two latter endeavour to elevate him by their attempts to illuminate the temple of his heart by their creations, unperfected by the innate, the revealed, the untreated light of religion, and they will find that this immortal child will leave the dwelling, now only fit residence for vanity and pride, whose overshadowing growth will darken the cell of joy, and leave it a blank, a desolation. Alas! too late will it be found that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing;” and found, also, when too late, that the brightest achievements of science, the greatest creations of art, the profoundest worldly knowledge, is but little unless used as the adjunct of religion, and the heart that neglects this, will in sorrow wish it had but drunk deeper of that spring whose waters flowed of old, whose waters are still to be fond in their purity by following the path marked out by the ancients, by men upon whom the spirit of wisdom rested, whose leader was God himself. But says the enlightened spirit of the age, “These guides you speak of were steeped in ignorance. What knew they of refinement? Shall we take for our leaders men far behind us in knowledge? men totally unversed in the polite arts, who buried their spirituality (if they had any) in dark forms, in unmeaning observances? who, blinded by the darkness of the age, groped about in the gloom around, and, for fear others would be lost in the search for the spring of immortality, planted a fence around it, and guide-posts to point out the way? But we! we see by the light of the spirit of the are; no need have we of these accessories: our march is right onward, and time is too valuable to be thus frittered away in the search for landmarks. ‘Twas well when the world moved onward with the snail’s pace to look for these; but now it acts with the quickness of thought, and shall time, so precious, be wasted upon forms, upon ceremonies? What guide needs the eagle in his flight towards the sun? needs the wild bird be told how to reach the sunny South? No! he smells the spice-tree from afar, and instinct guides him aright. Is his instinct more true than the promptings of our spirit, that it bears him so surely, so safely to his heaven? and if not, may not our spirit attain loftier flight, and bear us to the empyrean unguided?”
Yes! even so. Is there, then, no difference in our being? He possesses but one nature; no warring of opposite influences feels he in his bosom. His heaven is here. He gazes upon the sun, and approaches towards it: whilst we long for immortality, not evanescent happiness, and untaught know not the road to it. His heaven he finds in the satisfying of immediate wants, his happiness in the joys of the body. But with man,—possession robs the rose of its bloom, the gratification of bodily or mental desires is but as the seed of new wishes, new hopes. He wishes for immortality; but this constant changing of the objects of gratification, constantly puts the road of its attainment out of sight: though it does not stifle the wish, it often substitutes fame here, a sort of semi-immortality, for the more precious gem, and almost impresses the child of genius in his daring realization, that he has indeed created the diamond; though let but the spirit of true religion breathe upon his gem, and he finds it at most but crystallized clay. Let him but be divested of the cobwebs of conceit, which till now have blinded his vision, and the light that he thought had flickered and expired in the dim mist of years, will burst upon him in all its pristine splendour: let him but cast far off the world with its vanities, its pleasures, its cold and polished scepticisms, and purely, intensely, devoutly examine the spirit of the past, and he will find many a sparkling gem in what he deemed mere rubbish, gems to whose lustre he may add much, but whose purity he cannot imitate. He may find, too, under ,the guidance of this spirit of reform, that these guides who lived in ages long gone, by confining themselves exclusively to the study of the law under the guidance of that prophetic spirit which had but just passed away, leaving, like Elijah, its mantle to them, have developed those ceremonies that the statutes had called into being for their preservation, and which, taking their rise during the mission of Moses, have protected the holy law from harm, and preserved its believers from falling away before the fierce blast of persecution, the withering blight of infidelity, the thrusts of hate and bigotry, and prevented Israel from coalescing with surrounding nations.