MARTINEAU

PARTING WORDS


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

James Martineau, an English Unitarian divine, was born at Norwich in 1805. He was educated for the Unitarian ministry at Manchester College, and in 1828 ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in Dublin. Resigning his pastorate in Ireland, he took charge of the Paradise Street Chapel in Liverpool, but on being elected to the chair of mental and moral philosophy in Manchester New College followed it to London 1853, succeeding J. J. Taylor as principal of the institution in 1868.

His sermons, delivered in the course of four years in the chapel of Manchester New College are specimens of combined eloquence and philosophical profundity, yet are, perhaps, most valuable for their ethical quality. He preached in Dublin, Liverpool, and London. He was a lofty and earnest soul, given to mysticism, a master of English style, and has been widely read. He died in 1900.

Lewis O. Brastow, D. D.


MARTINEAU

1805-1900

PARTING WORDS

Peace I leave with you: My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.—John xiv., 27.

This is a strange benediction to proceed from the Man of Sorrows, at the dreariest moment of His life; strange at least to those who look only to His outward career, His incessant contact with misery and sin, His absolute solitude of purpose, His lot stricken with sadness ever new from temptation to the cross; but not strange perhaps to those who heard the deep and quiet tones in which this oracle of promise went forth—the divinest music from the center of the darkest fate. He was on the bosom of the beloved disciple and in the midst of those who should have cheered Him in that hour with such comfort as fidelity can always offer; but who, failing in their duty to His griefs, found the sadness creep upon themselves; while He, seeking to give peace to them, found it Himself profusely in the gift. It was not till He had finished this interview and effort of affection, and from the warmth of that evening meal and the flush of its deep converse they had issued into the chill and silent midnight air, nor till the sanctity of moonlight (never to be seen by Him again) had invested Him, and coarse fatigue had sunk His disciples into sleep upon the grass, that having none to comfort, He found anguish fall upon Himself. Deprived of the embrace of John, He flew to the bosom of the Father; and after a momentary strife, recovered in trust the serenity He had found in toil; and while His followers lie stretched in earthly slumber, He reaches a divine repose; while they, yielding to nature, gain neither strength nor courage for the morrow, He, through the vigils of agony, rises to that godlike power, on which mockery and insult beat in vain, and which has made the cross, then the emblem of abjectness and guilt, the everlasting symbol of whatever is holy and sublime.

The peace of Christ, then, was the fruit of combined toil and trust; in the one case diffusing itself from the center of His active life, in the other from that of His passive emotions; enabling Him in the one case to do things tranquilly; in the other, to see things tranquilly. Two things only can make life go wrong and painfully with us; when we suffer or suspect misdirection and feebleness in the energies of love and duty within us, or in the providence of the world without us: bringing, in the one case, the lassitude of an unsatisfied and discordant nature; in the other, the melancholy of hopeless views. From these Christ delivers us by a summons to mingled toil and trust. And herein does His peace differ from that which "the world giveth"—that its prime essential is not ease, but strife; not self-indulgence, but self-sacrifice; not acquiescence in evil for the sake of quiet, but conflict with it for the sake of God; not, in short, a prudent accommodation of the mind to the world, but a resolute subjugation of the world to the best conceptions of the mind. Amply has the promise to leave behind Him such a peace been since fulfilled. It was fulfilled to the apostles who first received it; and has been realized again by a succession of faithful men to whom they have delivered it.

The word "peace" denotes the absence of jar and conflict; a condition free from the restlessness of fruitless desire, the forebodings of anxiety, the stings of enmity. It may be destroyed by discordance between the lot without and the mind within, where the human being is in an obviously false position—an evil rare and usually self-curative; or by a discordance wholly internal, among the desires and affections themselves. The first impulse of "the natural man" is to seek peace by mending his external condition; to quiet desire by increase of ease; to banish anxiety by increase of wealth; to guard against hostility by making himself too strong for it; to build up his life into a fortress of security and a palace of comfort, where he may softly lie, tho tempests beat and rain descends. The spirit of Christianity casts away at once this whole theory of peace; declares it the most chimerical of dreams; and proclaims it impossible even to make this kind of reconciliation between the soul and the life wherein it acts. As well might the athlete demand a victory without a foe. To the noblest faculties of soul rest is disease and torture. The understanding is commissioned to grapple with ignorance, the conscience to confront the powers of moral evil, the affections to labor for the wretched and opprest; nor shall any peace be found, till these, which reproach and fret us in our most elaborate ease, put forth an incessant and satisfying energy; till, instead of conciliating the world, we vanquish it; and rather than sit still, in the sickness of luxury, for it to amuse our perceptions, we precipitate ourselves upon it to mold it into a new creation. Attempt to make all smooth and pleasant without, and you thereby create the most corroding of anxieties, and stimulate the most insatiable of appetites within. But let there be harmony within, let no clamors of self drown the voice which is entitled to authority there; let us set forth on the mission of duty, resolved to live for it alone, to close with every resistance that obstructs it, and march through every peril that awaits it; and in the consciousness of immortal power, the sense of mortal ill will vanish; and the peace of God well nigh extinguish the sufferings of the man. "In the world we may have tribulation; in Christ we shall have peace."

This peace, so remote from torpor, arising, indeed, from the intense action of the greatest of all ideas, those of duty, of immortality, of God, fell, according to the promise, on the first disciples. Not in vain did Jesus tell them in their sorrows that the Comforter would come; nor falsely did He define the blessed visitant, as "the spirit of truth"—the soul reverentially faithful to its convictions, and expressing clearly in action its highest aspirings. Such peace had Stephen, when before the Sanhedrim that was striving to hush up the recent story of the cross, he proclaimed aloud the sequel of the ascension; and priests and elders arose and stopped their ears, and thrust him out to death; he had his peace; else how, if heaven of divinest tranquility had not opened to him and revealed to him the proximity of Christ to God, how as the stone struck his uncovered and uplifted head, could he have so calmly said, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge"? Such peace had Paul—at least when he ceased to rebel against his noble nature, and became, instead of the emissary of persecution, the ambassador of God. Was there ever a life of less ease and security, yet of more buoyant and rejoicing spirit than his? What weight did he not cast aside, to run the race that was set before him? What tie of home or nation did he not break, that he might join in one of the whole family of God? For forty years the scoff of synagogues and the outcast of his people, he forgot the privations of the exile in the labors of the missionary; flying from charges of sedition he disseminated the principles of peace; persecuted from city to city, yet he created in each a center of pure worship and Christian civilization, and along the coasts of Asia, and colonies of Macedonia, and citadels of Greece, dropped link after link of the great chain of truth that shall yet embrace the world. Amid the joy of making converts, he had also the affliction of making martyrs; to witness the sufferings, perhaps to bear the reproaches, of survivors; with weeping heart to rebuke the fears, and sustain the faith of many a doubter; and in solitude and bonds to send forth the effusions of his earnest spirit to quicken the life, and renovate the gladness, of the confederate churches. Yet when did speculation at its ease ever speak with vigor so noble and cheerfulness so fresh as his glorious letters; which recount his perils by land and sea, his sorrows with friend and foe, and declare that "none of these things move" him; which show him projecting incessant work, yet ready for instant rest; conscious that already he has fought the good fight, and willing to finish his course and resign the field; but prepared, if needs be, to grasp again the sword of the Spirit, and go forth in quest of wider victories. Does any one suppose that it would have been more peaceful to look back on a life less exposed and adventurous, on a lot sheltered and secure, on soft-bedded comfort, and unbroken plenty, and conventional compliance? No! it is only beforehand that we mistake these things for peace; in the retrospect we know them better, and would exchange them all for one vanquished temptation in the desert, for one patient bearing of the cross! What—when all is over, and we lie upon the last bed—what is the worth to us of all our guilty compromises, of all the moments stolen from duty to be given to ease? If Paul had cowered before the tribunal of Nero, and trembled at his comrade's blood, and, instead of baring his neck to the imperial sword, had purchased by poor evasions another year of life—where would that year have been now—a lost drop in the deep waters of time—yet not lost, but rather mingled as a poison in the refreshing stream of good men's goodness by which Providence fertilizes the ages.

The peace of Christ, thus inherited by His disciples, and growing out a living spirit of duty and of love, contrasts not merely with guilty ease, but with that mere mechanical facility in blameless action which habit gives. There is something faithless and ignoble in the very reasonings sometimes employed to recommend virtuous habits. They are urged upon us, because they smooth the way of right; we are invited to them for the sake of ease. Adopted in such a temper, duty after all makes its bargain with indulgence, and is not yet pursued for its own sake and with the allegiance of a loving heart. Moreover, whoever has true conscience sees that there is a fallacy in this persuasion; for whenever habits become mechanical, they cease to satisfy the requirements of duty; the obligations of which enlarge definitely with our powers, demanding an undiminished tension of the will, and an ever-constant life of the affections. It can never be, that a soul which has a heaven open to its view, which is stationed here, not simply to accommodate itself to the arrangement of this world, but also to school itself for the spirit of another, is intended to rest in mere automatic regularities. When the mind is thrown into other scenes, and finds itself in the society of the world invisible, suddenly introduced to the heavenly wise and the sainted good—what peace can it expect from mere dry tendencies to acts no longer practicable and blameless things now left behind? No; it must have that pure love which is nowhere a stranger, in earth or heaven; that vital goodness of the affections, that adjusts itself at once to every scene where there is truth and holiness to venerate; that conscience, wakeful and devout, which enters with instant joy on any career of duty and progress opened to its aspirations. And even in "the life that now is," the mere mechanist of virtue, who copies precepts with mimetic accuracy, is too frequently at fault, to have even the poor peace which custom promises. He is at home only on his own beat. An emergency perplexes him, and too often tempts him disgracefully to fly. He wants the inventiveness by which a living heart of duty seizes the resources of good, and uses them to the last; and the courage by which love, like honor, starts to the post of noble danger, and maintains it till, by such fidelity, it becomes a place of danger no more. It is a vain attempt to comprize in rules and aphorisms all the various moral exigencies of life. Hardly does such legality suffice to define the small portion of right and wrong contemplated in human jurisprudence. But the true instincts of a pure mind, like the creative genius of art, frames rules most perfect in the act of obeying them, and throws the materials of life into the fairest attitudes and the justest proportions. He whose allegiance is paid to the mere perceptive system, shapes and carves his duty into the homeliest of wooden idols; he who has the spirit of Christ turns it into an image breathing and divine. Children of God in the noblest sense, we are not without something of His creative spirit in our hearts. The power is there to separate the light from the darkness within us, and set in the firmament of the soul luminaries to guide and gladden us, for seasons and for years; power to make the herbage green beneath our feet, and beckon happy creatures into existence around our path; power to mold the clay of our earthly nature into the likeness of God most high; and thus only have we power to look back in peace upon our work, and find a Sabbath rest upon the thought that, morning and evening, all is good.

But the peace which Christ left and bequeathed was the result of trust, no less than toil. However immersed in action, and engaged in enterprises of conscience, every life has its passive moments, when the operation is reversed, and power, instead of going from us, returns upon us; and the scenes of our existence present themselves to us as objects of speculation and emotion. Sometimes we are forced into quietude in pauses of exhaustion or of grief; stretched upon the bed of pain, to hear the great world murmuring and rolling by; or lifted into the watch-tower of solitude, to look over the vast plain of humanity, and from a height that covers it with silence observe its groups shifting and traversing like spirits in a city of the dead. At such times our peace must depend on the view under which our faith or our fears may exhibit this mighty "field of the world"; on the forces of evil, of fortuity, or of God, which we suppose to be secretly directing the changes on the scene, and calling up the brief apparition of generation after generation. And so great and terrible is the amount of evil, physical and moral, in the great community of men; so vast the numbers sunk in barbarism, compared with the few who more nobly represent our nature; so many and piercing (could we but hear them) the cries of unpitied wretchedness, that with every beat of the pendulum wander unnoticed into the air; so dense the crowds that are thrust together in the deepest recesses of want, and that crawl through the loathsome hives of sin; that only two men can look through the world without dismay; he, on the one hand, who suffering himself to be bewildered with momentary horror, and in the confusion of his emotions, to mistake what he sees for the moral chaos, turns his back in the despair of fatalism, crying, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die"; and he, on the other, who, with the discernment of a deeper wisdom, penetrates through the shell of evil to the kernel and the seed of good; who perceives in suffering and temptation the resistance which alone can render virtue manifest, and conscience great, and existence venerable; who recognizes, even in the gigantic growth of guilt, the grasp of infinite desires, and the perseverance of godlike capacities; who sees how soon, were God to take up His omnipotence, and snatch from His creature "man" the care of the world and the work of self-perfection, all that deforms might be swept away, and the meanest lifted through the interval that separates them from the noblest; and who therefore holds fast to the theory of hope and the kindred duty of effort; takes shelter beneath the universal Providence of God; and seeing time enough in His vast cycles for the growth and consummation of every blessing can be patient as well as trust; can resign the selfish vanity of doing all things himself, and making a finish before he dies; and cheerfully give up his life to build up the mighty temple of human improvement, tho no inscription mark it for glory, and it be as one of the hidden stones of the sanctuary, visible only to the eye of God. Such was the spirit and the faith which Jesus left, and in which His first disciples found their rest. Within the infinitude of the divine mercy trouble did but fold them closer; the perversity of man did but provide them to put forth a more conquering love; and tho none were ever more the sport of the selfish interests and prejudices of mankind, or came into contact with a more desolate portion of the great wastes of humanity, they constructed no melancholy theories; but having planted many a rose of Sharon, and made their little portion of the desert smile, departed in the faith that the green margin would spread as the seasons of God came round, till the mantle of heaven covered the earth, and it ended with Eden as it had begun.

Between these two sources of Christian peace, virtuous toil, and holy trust, there is an intimate connection. The desponding are generally the indolent and useless; not the tried and struggling, but speculators at a distance from the scene of things, and far from destitute of comforts themselves. Barren of the most blest of human sympathies, strangers to the light that best gladdens the heart of man, they are without the materials of a bright and hopeful faith. But he who consecrates himself sees at once how God may sanctify the world; he whose mind is rich in the memory of moral victories will not easily believe the world a scene of moral defeats; nor was it ever known that one who, like Paul, labored for the good of man, despaired of the benevolence of God.

Whoever then would have the peace of Christ, let him seek first the spirit of Christ. Let him not fret against the conditions which God assigns to his being, but reverently conform himself to them, and do and enjoy the good which they allow. Let him cast himself freely on the career to which the secret persuasion of duty points, without reservation of happiness or self; and in the exercise which its difficulties give to his understanding, its conflicts to his will, its humanities to his affections, he shall find that united action of his whole and best nature, that inward harmony, that moral order, which emancipates from the anxieties of self, and unconsciously yields the divinest repose. The shadows of darkest affliction cannot blot out the inner radiance of such a mind; the most tedious years move lightly and with briefest step across its history; for it is conscious of its immortality, and hastening to its heavens. And there shall its peace be consummated at length; its griefs transmuted into delicious retrospects; its affections fresh and ready for a new and nobler career; and its praise confessing that this final "peace of God" doth indeed surpass its understanding.