[Footnote: Read in the Unitarian chapel, Essex-street, London, 1879.]
PHILIPPIANS iii. 15, 16.–Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded; and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by that same.
This is the reading of the oldest manuscripts. The rest of the verse is pretty clearly a not overwise marginal gloss that has crept into the text.
In its origin, opinion is the intellectual body, taken for utterance and presentation by something necessarily larger than any intellect can afford stuff sufficient for the embodiment of. To the man himself, therefore, in whose mind it arose, an opinion will always represent and recall the spirit whose form it is,–so long, at least, as the man remains true to his better self. Hence, a man’s opinion may be for him invaluable, the needle of his moral compass, always pointing to the truth whence it issued, and whose form it is. Nor is the man’s opinion of the less value to him that it may change. Nay, to be of true value, it must have in it not only the possibility, but the necessity of change: it must change in every man who is alive with that life which, in the New Testament, is alone treated as life at all. For, if a man’s opinion be in no process of change whatever, it must be dead, valueless, hurtful Opinion is the offspring of that which is itself born to grow; which, being imperfect, must grow or die. Where opinion is growing, its imperfections, however many and serious, will do but little hurt; where it is not growing, these imperfections will further the decay and corruption which must already have laid hold of the very heart of the man. But it is plain in the world’s history that what, at some given stage of the same, was the embodiment in intellectual form of the highest and deepest of which it was then spiritually capable, has often and speedily become the source of the most frightful outrages upon humanity. How is this? Because it has passed from the mind in which it grew into another in which it did not grow, and has of necessity altered its nature. Itself sprung from that which was deepest in the man, it casts seeds which take root only in the intellectual understanding of his neighbour; and these, springing up, produce flowers indeed which look much the same to the eye, but fruit which is poison and bitterness,–worst of it all, the false and arrogant notion that it is duty to force the opinion upon the acceptance of others. But it is because such men themselves hold with so poor a grasp the truth underlying their forms that they are, in their self-sufficiency, so ambitious of propagating the forms, making of themselves the worst enemies of the truth of which they fancy themselves the champions. How truly, in the case of all genuine teachers of men, shall a man’s foes be they of his own household! For of all the destroyers of the truth which any man has preached, none have done it so effectually or so grievously as his own followers. So many of them have received but the forms, and know nothing of the truth which gave him those forms! They lay hold but of the non-essential, the specially perishing in those forms; and these aspects, doubly false and misleading in their crumbling disjunction, they proceed to force upon the attention and reception of men, calling that the truth which is at best but the draggled and useless fringe of its earth-made garment. Opinions so held belong to the theology of hell,–not necessarily altogether false in form, but false utterly in heart and spirit. The opinion then that is hurtful is not that which is formed in the depths, and from the honest necessities of a man’s own nature, but that which he has taken up at second hand, the study of which has pleased his intellect; has perhaps subdued fears and mollified distresses which ought rather to have grown and increased until they had driven the man to the true physician; has puffed him up with a sense of superiority as false as foolish, and placed in his hand a club with which to subjugate his neighbour to his spiritual dictation. The true man even, who aims at the perpetuation of his opinion, is rather obstructing than aiding the course of that truth for the love of which he holds his opinion; for truth is a living thing, opinion is a dead thing, and transmitted opinion a deadening thing.