|Walter Scott||Finished Life (1844)|
|"THE BIBLE, I SAY THE BIBLE, ONLY, IS THE RELIGION OF PROTESTANTS."--CHILLINGWORTH.|
|VOL. I.||PITTSBURGH, WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 1844.||NO. 2.|
For the Protestant Unionist.
The divine image of perfection! finished life! What transcendant thoughts! and on what lofty ideas are the perpetuity and unity of the moral universe pitched! How high and glorious the destiny of man! Has man's personality been transferred to the Godhead in Christ?--then shall the element of personality in Godhead be also in turn transferred to and through Christ. How conquering and triumphant these truths! how delightful the assurance that man shall finally be as God, in purity, holiness, loveliness and glory!--A great master in literature, lays it down that the highest object of philosophy is the restoration of God's image in man, and that the great object of the philosophy of history is to trace historically, the progress of this restoration; that God will by his all-powerful providence ultimately accomplish this.
Let us separate--let us thrust apart the grand elements of history--society and religion, or the state and the church--and endeavor to penetrate deeper into the secret; let us if possible in this way obtain a clearer perception of the object of the philosophy of history and true Christian life. Society and Religion are two different systems; the one is of God, the other of man, and they work directly and finally to two distinct and ulterior ends. In regard to them, may it not be laid down then as fact, that it is of the essence of society to mould and form us into an image and feature of character merely human, while the end of religion is to stamp us with the impress of divinity itself? If it is the case, and it might very readily be proved true, then some corollaries of very grave importance are deducible from these premises.
1. Perfection, or finished life, belongs not to the category of human society as such. It is not the office of men and civil governments to impart to us a divine image. These, may and do guarantee to us life, liberty and other modified rights of society--but they communicate to men no divine nature. Indeed we very appropriately look neither to government or any other foreign source for the perfection of our nature, but to the lineaments and love of excellence which we feel to be laid deep in our hearts, when cleansed by the blood of Christ, the Spirit of our God, and the principles and moral forces of the kingdom of Heaven within us.
2. It is if the image of God is the element of moral purity in the religious system, and it is is the office of religion in particular, and not civil governments, to impart this highest feature of goodness to men, then also it must be a duty of profoundest obligation with every follower of Christ to estimate religion and his own character as the most precious and valuable of all things--founding the latter deep in the principles of the holy gospel and solemnly preserving it untainted by every possible legitimate means in his power.
3. It follows from these premises, that it is the prerogative of each of the followers of Christ, to become the artificer or architect of his own character under Christ; and to fashion his behavior as to such a dye and form of righteousness and the holiness, as shall commend him to God and his Messiah.
4. Finished life, or perfection of character, being the grand pursuit in life, it becomes the prerogative of the disciple also to indulge the hope, that in the successful use of the Bible, and the privileges and appliances of religion, he shall at last reach the everlasting.
One thing in religion, therefore, is necessary, and that constitutes its ulterior design--conformity to the divine nature. And that this should be its main design, might be argued from divers sources. First.--Man bore and wore this image at the beginning. Second. He lost this at the fall. Thirdly.--The new Testament affirms this in divers scriptures, and records the renewal of our nature, or the image of Him who created us, as the thing indicated in the manifestation of Christ in flesh, whether living or dying. Lastly.--It is the theme of Christ's great intercessor anterior to his death for our sins, "that they all may be one, as we are one."
Christ then is the visible image of the invisible God, and the model of finished life. And the grand purpose of God in calling men to the gospel is to conform to this life--this image. And to them who are the called according to this purpose--to those who come to God through Christ, in order that their behavior may be moulded into a feature of loveliness and divine perfection, "all things," the apostle says, "work together for good."
Man's moral nature finds its perfection in the control and equipoise of three grand laws, viz.:
1st. That of his individuality or personal existence, commonly known as self-love.
2d. The law of society or of regard for the rights of others, call philanthropy.
3d. The law of religion--reverence or complacence by which he admires the Divinity and is enabled to transfer his glorious attributes into his own character.
The first of these is conservative of life; the second is the guardian of his reputation with man, and the third the arbiter of his true character before God. So that the love of ourselves, our neighbor, and of God, are the great moral instincts of our spiritual constitution. But as the tendency of fallen man is more directly towards the finite than the infinite--towards flesh and self, rather than God and our neighbor--finished life is therefore to be eliminated only by a strict and vigilant regard to the equipoise between the finite and infinite as they struggle within us--between our own rights and duties--between ourselves, our fellows, and our God.
Christ, then, is the oracle of the Father, and the grand practical exponent of the divine character. And for a man to make himself like him--gentle, meek, condescending, gracious, humane, merciful, holy, harmless, undefiled and separated from sin--is a real art--a divine art. Let us not be confounded at this affirmation, but first ask, what is art? Lord Bacon says "it is the imposition of a new nature"--a most skillful definition of art, truly. For what is crystal, a gold chain, a diamond lace, or silver chalice, but the product of art by the imposition of a new character on the material out of which it is fabricated? Every one knows the art of engrafting--the imposing of a new fruit on an old or otherwise useless tree. The formation or perfection of our nature in Christ then becomes a question of art--namely: Whether the divine nature can be engrafted on the human? Whether the fruit of the second Adam can grow and ripen on the decayed and wild stock of the first? In Christ it can; out of him it cannot. The argument of the former and affirmative of these truths, are the following:
1. The stocks, though not one and the same, are nevertheless homogeneous. We were made like him at first.
2. God had ordained that we shall be partakers of the divine nature through the promises of the gospel-- 2 Peter 1 c.; Eph. 4 c.
3. He has threatened and will certainly punish all who hearing of his great salvation refuse to be conformed to his great purpose. 2 Thess. 1 c.
4. The analogy of other arts teaches its possibility, and is designed to illustrate it. All the art in the universe indeed works to this point. God has put the image of his power, wisdom and goodness upon matter and nature, and he would have us transfer all of them into our own life, and thereby give to them a "local habitation and a name" in our souls; that, matter and nature being thus spiritualized, all things as it were might in man be rendered vocal of his praise now and forever. But the whole art will be better understood, because more perfectly brought within the grasp of our understanding, by a practical illustration. If therefore we would see the divine in the human--the heavenly in the earthly--the spiritual in the animal--the eternal in the temporal--Deity in ourselves, let us first look at it in Christ.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In Christ then we see God in the flesh dwelling among us! In Christ we behold Finished Life--the Divine nature--God in humanity. In Christ we see all the attributes of character which make life in the flesh blissful, desirable and admirable. To prefer excellence to excelling, and not please ourselves; to see in our fellow men a common nature, and exercise towards them a common morality; to thrust downwards and backwards the ambitions of fame and wealth and power, and merge selfishness in benevolence; to be gentle, humble, meek and holy, is no every-day character, and yet it is the very character for every day; and this was Christ's character--he was God dwelling among us; and these are the virtues and graces of life that made him desirable, admirable and blessed. The divine life is every day life in Christ; and the person who lives it may indeed be said to dwell among us; while monks and nuns, and friars, and anchorites, and recluses, and religious persons of all creeds and countries, who do not live this life, may not inappropriately be said to dwell not among, but away from, us; or they lurk rather than live, among us--they know us but do not love us. They see us but do not speak to us. They speak, but not frankly--they live with the finite rather than the infinite--with men rather than God, and with themselves more than all others.
The life of Christ is the true element of rational, spiritual and divine unity among his people, and where this vantage ground is gained, men rush into each other's fellowship like kindred drops. If we look abroad over the Christian world, we shall see that it is the symbol of mere visible union--the union of aggregation that supply the matter and material of popular discord: for where did ever two Christians oppose and insult each other's dearest feelings purely because each of them was too like Christ? Is it the life of Christ that causes us to contemn each other's profession either as it respects systems or order? When we look at ourselves and at the finished life of God in Christ, we are for the moment humbled. Our party theology, however, flatters us more, and therefore we look more to it; for were we to lose it we should too generally lose our all.
But the life of Christ is, like Christ, strong and beareth all things; rich and seeketh not its own; blessed in itself and endureth all things from others; it is grand and envieth not; a solid and not a bubble, and therefore built up, not puffed up; it vaunteth not itself because it cannot be excelled. Oh! it is all triumphant, glorious, beautiful, heavenly and eternal.
["Finished Life." The Protestant Unionist, 1 (November 6, 1844): 5.]
ABOUT THE ELECTRONIC EDITION
Walter Scott's "Finished Life" was first published in The Protestant Unionist, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 6, 1844. The electronic version of the essay has been produced from microfilm of the newspaper.
Inconsistencies in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and typography have been retained.
Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.
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Created 1 February 2002.
|Walter Scott||Finished Life (1844)|
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