The Rev. Samuel A. Eliot, D.D., spoke in Appleton Chapel last evening, on the general subject of the nature of Christianity. He said in part: "Christianity has been variously defined as a belief or creed, to be judged largely from an intellectual point in view, or as a life, to consist of good works. Both definitions seem inadequate, for the nature of Christianity includes both and has an additional element. This may perhaps best be referred to as a feeling, inherited or spontaneous, of which faith and good works are but the fruit.
This feeling or emotion is and has always been the most potent influence in the social life of the world. The modern influence, to be sure, is against this spirit, thanks to the prominent position which science has taken of late years. Imagination and poetry are scoffed at and reduced to the tests of analyzation. No one can deny that a spirit of plain reality is most invigorating; the question is whether science is the real end in all that some of its followers would have us believe?
The flower may possibly be a mere combination of grass, a whiff of vapor; but it is not also far more? What is to be said of its beauty, of the mystery surrounding its growth? The cross itself is but a couple of beams; but does this tell of it as a refuge for the sinner, as a triumphant emblem of faith? Surely this faith is the real thing, worth having, not the power to analyze that of others. Science has its place, but it has also its limitations. For one thing, the spiritual life cannot be weighed or measured by science; the pure in heart alone can see God.
To repeat, then, emotion and feeling will outlast argument. The parts of the Bible which have always had the most influence are those which contain passages of great beauty and mystery; and in the teachings of Christ we see the same truth. His power came largely from the fact that He spoke to those about Him in parables; and all the parables of Jesus were full of poetic inspiration.
Perhaps the best lesson to be drawn from this is the value of living our lives as free as possible from the commonplaceness of every day existence. All of us live more or less with what we hope to be or to do, rather than with what we are; and these so-called dreams are among the best realities of life. The triumphs of science itself have been gained by great men who dared to dream and go beyond the limits of actual fact and knowledge.
The great danger in this gospel of emotion is that we shall mistake sentimentality for true feeling. Sentiment is always reserved and unconscious; sentimentalism is self-conscious and shallow, with an eye only for the picturesque. Emotion must not be overdone, but without it our lives would be cold and spiritless.