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THE PERSONAL EQUATION IN RELIGION.
“ THE PEOPLE, THEREFORE, WHO STOOD BY AND HEARD, SAID THAT
IT THUNDERED; OTHERS SAID, AN ANGEL SPAKE TO HIM.”
N astronomy, the small corrections which must be
rate predictions are called equations. One of these corrections depends on the difference in the observing power of different individuals. One man will note with more accuracy than another the precise moment when any phenom
After all other corrections are made to the fact seen, another must be added on account of this peculiarity in the person seeing it. This is called the “personal equation.”
I propose to speak of what may be called the personal equation in religion.
On the occasion to which our motto refers, some Greeks had asked to see Jesus. This request produced a singular effect on the mind of the Master. He seemed to see, in their coming to him, the evidence of a tendency in other races outside of Judaism to accept the spiritual truths which he had to teach. He saw, at the same moment, that his was to be a universal religion, and that he must die in order that it should come. Not around the person of a living Jesus could Greeks and Romans unite, but around his truth, after he had gone up. Not around a
Jewish Messiah, but around an ascended prophet, men may come together. “Ought I, then,” said Jesus, “to refuse to die, when this very object for which I came can only be accomplished by my death. Let God's truth be glorified, whether I live or die.” Then happened someth ng — we know not what ; me sound in the air — some sudden commotion in the elements - a rushing breezelow roll of thunder. To Jesus it was the voice of God. It was God's answer, “I will,” to his prayer. Yes, just as God is glorified, whether by the roar of thunder or the tender sunshine, as His will is done by storm or calm, so should the life or death of Jesus equally glorify the Father. His life had glorified God ; his death should also glorify him. To the common people it was thunder, and nothing more; to the affectionate disciples, watching the changing expression of their Master's face, it seemed that some angel was speaking to him. To Jesus himself, who saw in all the works of God and all the events of life a spiritual meaning, it signified that all was well ; life or death, storm or calm, seeming failure or apparent success, all should glorify God.
So it is that different people, listening to the same thing, hear different things. The personal equation must always be considered. We must hear, not only with our ears, but with our minds, in order to hear aright. That which is in our mind determines what we hear with our ears.
Two men are listening to a piece of music. One hears in the music the soul of the composer speaking in language of divine melody. While he listens he is caught up to the seventh heaven, and, like Paul, hears unutterable things. The other has no ear for music, and so he observes nothing but a tumult of sound. One hears an angel speaking to him ; the other only hears thunder,
Two persons are listening to a speaker. It is, perhaps,
Fenelon who speaks ; or Channing. They utter, in language of the deepest conviction, the loftiest aspirations of the human soul. One of these hearers has his mind attuned to this celestial strain. It animates him with new life, it awakens new hopes, it creates new convictions, it feeds his heart. The thoughts of the other listener are of the earth, earthy. His soul has never been awakened to the sight of great truths; he has lived only to eat and drink and sleep. One, therefore, hears an angel ; the other only hears thunder.
In like manner, men, looking at the same things, see different things. The personal equation makes the differ
Several travellers, journeying together, reach the summit of a hill, and look down into a valley stretching far away before them. One is an artist, and he sees the picturesque character of the scene. He sees foreground, middle distance and background. He notices lights and shadows; lovely streaks of sunshine on the
green meadow; black shadows on the hills. Another is a lumberer. He notices the timber, and can tell you its quality and value. A third is a geologist, and he sees the stratification of the rocks, the terraces deposited by the retiring waters, or marks of glacial action. A fourth is a general, and he notices at a glance the strategic points, the commanding summits, the opportunities for moving cavalry and infantry. Still another is a historian, and to him the landscape is living with recollections of the past. This is the place where heroes gave their lives for their country ; this ground is hallowed by their courageous devotion and their noble death. Meantime, the horses of these travellers notice nothing but the grass.
People differ from each other in original organization, in education, in circumstances and habits of mind. All
these differences make them see and hear differently. And what is true in everything else is also true in religion. The personal element is to be taken into account here, also.
Some persons, in contemplating nature, see nothing in it but matter and motion, force and law. Others see God. They say:
“These, as they change, Almighty Father, these
Those who see God in nature look with anger on the others, as though they were wilfully ignorant, willingly blind. Atheism seems to them not only a misfortune, but a sin. But it may be an original defect - the deficiency of the religious faculties in their organization. You do not blame me because I have no ear for music — you pity me. It is not my fault, but my misfortune. So, if a man cannot see the divine and infinite element in finite things, that may be his misfortune- a result of defective organization, or the habit of looking only at outward sensible objects; and, if so, he is to be pitied, not blamed.
On the other hand, those who see only force and matter in nature often treat with contempt those who see more. A religious man is to them either a fool or a knave. He is a hypocrite, pretending to believe what is incredible and impossible. But this is as if I, who have no ear for music, should look with contempt on all musical people, ridicule them for going to operas and concerts, and consider them to be hypocrites pretending to find pleasure in a jingle of sounds. Such behavior on my part would be absurd. Since, in all times and all lands, the majority of people have professed to enjoy music and esteem it a high art, I ought to say that the small minority to which I be
long, who see nothing of all this, are probably deficient in our organization. Just so the man who sees nothing divine in nature, and finds no God there, should consider that, in all times and lands, the great majority of men have worshipped the invisible, have adored something above nature - some divine power, behind all causes, as first cause ; before all history, as its origin; below all being, as its support ; within all life, as its efficient motive. The probability, therefore, is that those who do not feel this instinct are defective in their organization on that side.
Perhaps the atheist may say, the belief in God is not a question of instinct and desire, but of truth or falsehood. No matter what our instincts are, we ought not to believe in God, unless we see good evidence of his existence and providence.
True, we ought not to believe in God, the soul and immortality, without evidence. But there are different kinds of evidence ; different objects are perceived by different organs. Visible objects are perceived by the eye, audible objects by the ear, flavors are perceived by the taste, odors by the smell. So mathematical facts are perceived by the mathematical faculty, musical facts by the musical faculty ; past events are perceived by the memory, future events by hope and imagination. When the apostle, therefore, says that spiritual things are spiritually discerned, he speaks in harmony with all experience. Just 'as visible things are optically discerned, and sounds are audibly discerned, so spiritual things are discerned by the spiritual faculty. When that faculty is depressed or defective, spiritual realities do not appear vivid and substantial, but vague and shadowy.
Every phenomenon, every fact, every law, has its own) kind of evidence. You cannot prove the reality of the outer