Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE IMMANENCE OF CHRIST

65

We can appreciate the gravity of this error, if we contrast Emerson's view of nature with that of another Puritan, Jonathan Edwards. Edwards escapes from Emerson's moral indifference, and from his blindness to personality in God, by recognizing in nature the presence and working of Jesus Christ, in whom all things were created and in whom all things consist. Edwards writes:

"He who, by his immediate influence, gives being every moment, and by his Spirit actuates the world, because he inclines to communicate himself and his excellencies, doth doubtless communicate his excellency to bodies, as far as there is any consent or analogy. And the beauty of face and sweet airs in men are not always the effect of the corresponding excellencies of the mind; yet the beauties of nature are really emanations or shadows of the excellencies of the Son of God. So that, when we are delighted with flowery meadows and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we see only the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ. When we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see his love and purity. So the green trees and fields, and singing of birds, are the emanations of his infinite joy and benignity. The easiness and naturalness of trees and vines are shadows of his beauty and loveliness. The crystal rivers and murmuring streams are the footsteps of his favor, grace, and beauty. When we behold the light and brightness of the sun, the golden edges of an evening cloud, or the beauteous bow, we behold the adumbrations of his glory and goodness, and, in the blue sky, of his mildness and gentleness. There are also many things wherein we may behold his awful majesty: in the sun in his strength, in comets, in thunder, in the hovering thunder-clouds, in ragged rocks and the brows of mountains. That beauteous light wherewith the world is filled in a clear day is a lively shadow of his spotless holiness, and happiness and delight in communicating himself. And doubtless this is a reason why Christ is compared so often to these things, and called by their names, as the Sun of Righteousness, the Morning Star, the Rose of Sharon, and

66

THE TRUE TRANSCENDENTALISM

Lily of the Valley, the apple tree among the trees of the wood, a bundle of myrrh, a roe, or a young hart. By this we discover the beauty of many of those metaphors and similes which to an unphilosophical person do seem so uncouth. In like manner, when we behold the beauty of man's body in its perfection, we still see like emanations of Christ's divine perfections, although they do not always flow from the mental excellencies of the person that has them. But we see the most proper image of the beauty of Christ when we see beauty in the human soul."

This is the true transcendentalism, which sees in all nature Christ's manifestation of a personal and loving God. But this is plainly not the transcendentalism of Emerson.

Our author said to Dr. William Hague that fresh readings of the Quaker writers had intensified his conviction that we must outgrow externalism. George Fox always remained one of his heroes; though, as Doctor Van Dyke remarks, he was himself "kept sane by his New England sense and humor." He saw how indistinct was the line that separated religious ecstasy from hysterical frenzy. Yet the inner light seemed to him the only medium of divine communication. Why should we not enjoy religion by revelation to us, he thought, instead of getting it through others? This suggests the fundamental defect in Emerson's character. Both Henry James and John Morley have pointed out that Emerson had no sense of sin. He regarded his soul as the unresisting organ of the OverSoul, and serene self-sufficiency characterized all his writing and all his action.) He needed no teacher. His own finiteness and limitation never led him to distrust his own powers; his own sinfulness and guilt never

EMERSON WITHOUT A SENSE OF SIN

67

taught him dependence on a Redeemer. His was not the humility of the little child which Jesus himself exemplifies, and which he makes the condition of entrance into his kingdom. Rather do we find in him a Stoic confidence that all is well, and an ignoring of the evil aspects of life, both in himself and in others. "The riddle of the painful earth "-human sin and shame and death-this has escaped the notice of the Sphinx, and the result is that Emerson lacks sympathy for the fallen and understanding of the world's great need. He had no experience of the Inferno of guilt and retribution, such as a keen conscience gave to Dante, and therefore he could know nothing of the Paradiso of the forgiven, nor of the Purgatorio of repentance and faith that prepares men for blessedness and likeness to God. He thought Dante "a man to put in a museum, but not in his house."

66

Emerson's overgrown self-trust disdained to recognize himself as a sinner. They that are whole need not a physician." He taught that man's shortcoming, is not sin, but only a necessary stage in this progress. It is the "green apple theory" of moral evil. Sin is a green apple, which needs only time and sunshine and growth to bring it to ripeness and beauty and usefulness. But alas! our sin is not a green apple that can be ripened by growth, but an apple with a worm at the heart, whose progress, if left to itself, is toward rottenness and ruin. Sin is apostasy and revolt of man's free will, which only supernatural means can cure. Emerson's false premise that we must look to physics, rather than to ethics, for our interpretation of God's being, leads him to the false conclusion that sin is

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

a necessity in the universe, and that it always results in good. When man's free will is left out of the account, there is no such thing as guilt or just condemnation. In all evil man is ignorantly seeking good:

[blocks in formation]

Out of the good of evil born,
Came Uriel's voice of cherub scorn,
And a blush tinged the upper sky,

And the gods shook, they knew not why.

If these mysterious lines mean only that the forces of the universe are by an omniscient and beneficent will made even in spite of themselves to help the cause of truth and righteousness, they might be regarded as a cryptic declaration of Paul's doctrine that all things work together for good to them that love God. "Write it on your heart," says Emerson, "that every day is the best day in the year." Yes, we reply, if this means that our best days in the past have not exhausted God's power and love. But if it asserts an automatic inclination of evil toward good and that sin

[blocks in formation]

SIN ITS OWN REMEDY

69 That

is its own remedy, it teaches pernicious error. this latter interpretation may be suspected to be the correct one finds some justification in Emerson's poem "The Park":

The prosperous and beautiful

To me seem not to wear

The yoke of conscience masterful,
Which galls me everywhere.

Yet spake yon purple mountain,
Yet said yon ancient wood,

That Night or Day, that Love or Crime,
Leads all souls to the Good.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »