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Christianity and Progress
by Harry Emerson Fosdick
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One would almost say that the first rule for all who believe in a progressive world is not to believe in it too much. Long ago Plato said that he drove two horses, one white and tractable, the other black and fractious; Jesus said that two masters sought man's allegiance, one God, the other mammon; Paul said that his soul was the battle-ground of two forces, one of which he called spirit and the other flesh; and only the other day one of our own number told of the same struggle between two men in each of us, one Dr. Jekyll, the other Mr. Hyde. That conflict still is pivotal in human history. The idea of progress can defeat itself no more surely than by getting itself so believed that men expect automatic social advance apart from the conquest of personal and social sin.

II

Another result of our superficial confidence in the idea of progress is reliance upon social palliatives instead of radical cures for our public maladies. We are so predisposed to think that the world inherently wants to be better, is inwardly straining to be better, that we are easily fooled into supposing that some slight easement of external circumstance will at once release the progressive forces of mankind and save the race. When, for example, one compares the immense amount of optimistic expectancy about a warless world with the small amount of radical thinking as to what really is the matter with us, he may well be amazed at the unfounded regnancy of the idea of progress. We rejoice over some slight disarmament as though that were the cure of our international shame, whereas always one can better trust a real Quaker with a gun than a thug without one. So the needs of our international situation, involving external disarmament, to be sure, involve also regenerations of thought and spirit much more radical than any rearrangement of outward circumstance. To forget that is to lose the possibility of real progress; and insight into these deep-seated needs is often dimmed by our too amiable and innocent belief in automatic social advance waiting to take place on the slightest excuse.

To take but a single illustration of a radical change in men's thinking, difficult to achieve and yet indispensable to a decent world, consider the group of prejudices and passions which center about nationalism and which impede the real progress of international fraternity. What if all Christians took Jesus in earnest in his attitude that only one object on earth is worthy of the absolute devotion of a man—the will of God for all mankind—and that therefore no nationality nor patriotism whatsoever should be the highest object of man's loyalty? That ought to be an axiom to us, who stood with the Allies against Germany. Certainly, we condemned Germany roundly enough because so many of her teachers exalted the state as an object of absolute loyalty. When in Japan one sees certain classes of people regarding the Mikado as divine and rating loyalty to him as their highest duty, it is easy to condemn that. When, however, a man says in plain English: I am an American but I am a Christian first and I am an American only in the sense in which I can be an American, being first of all a Christian, and my loyalty to America does not begin to compare with my superior loyalty to God's will for all mankind and, if ever national action makes these two things conflict, I must choose God and not America—to the ears of many that plain statement has a tang of newness and danger. In the background of even Christian minds, Jesus to the contrary notwithstanding, one finds the tacit assumption, counted almost too sacred to be examined, that of course a man's first loyalty is to his nation.

Indeed, we Protestants ought to feel a special responsibility for this nationalism that so takes the place of God. In medieval and Catholic Europe folk did not so think of nationalism. Folk in medieval Europe were taught that their highest obligation was to God or, as they would have phrased it, to the Church; that the Church could at any time dispense them from any obligation to king or nation; that the Church could even make the king, the symbol of the nation, stand three days in the snow outside the Pope's door at Canossa. Every boy and girl in medieval Europe was taught that his first duty was spiritual and that no nationality nor patriotism could compare with that. Then we Protestants began our battle for spiritual liberty against the tyranny of Rome, and as one of the most potent agencies in the winning of our battle we helped to develop the spirit of nationality. In place of the Holy Roman Church we put state churches. In place of devotion to the Vatican we were tempted to put devotion to the nation. Luther did more than write spiritual treatises; he sent out ringing, patriotic appeals to the German nobility against Rome. It is not an accident that absolute nationalism came to its climacteric in Germany where Protestantism began. For Protestantism, without ever intending it, as an unexpected by-product of its fight for spiritual liberty, helped to break up western Europe into nations, where nationalism absorbed the loyalty of the people. And now that little tiger cub we helped to rear has become a great beast and its roaring shakes the earth.

A superficial confidence in automatic progress, therefore, which neglects an elemental fact like this at the root of our whole international problem is futile; it leads nowhere; it is rose water prescribed for leprosy. The trouble with nationalism is profound and this is the gist of it: we may be unselfish personally, but we group ourselves into social units called nations, where we, being individually unselfish with reference to the group, are satisfied with ourselves, but where all the time the group itself is not unselfish, but, it may be, is aggressively and violently avaricious. Yet to most people our sacrificial loyalty to the nation would pass for virtue, even though the nation as a whole were exploiting its neighbours or waging a useless, unjust war. The loyalty of Germans to Germany may be rated as the loftiest goodness no matter what Germany as a whole is doing, and the loyalty of Americans to America may be praised as the very passport to heaven while America as a whole may be engaged in a nationally unworthy enterprise. The fine spirit of men's devotion within the limits of the group disguises the ultimate selfishness of the whole procedure and cloaks a huge sin under a comparatively small unselfishness.

We can see that same principle at work in our industrial situation. We break up into two groups; we are trades unionists or associated employers. We are unselfish so far as our group is concerned; we make it a point of honour to support our economic class; it is part of our code of duty to be loyal there. But while we are thus unselfish with reference to the group, the group itself is not unselfish; the group itself is fighting a bitter and selfish conflict, avaricious and often cruel. There is no ultimate way out of this situation which does not include the activity of people who have a loyalty that is greater than their groups. Henry George was once introduced at Cooper Institute, New York City, by a chairman who, wishing to curry favour with the crowd, called out with a loud voice, "Henry George, the friend of the workingman." George stood up and sternly began, "I am not the friend of the workingman"; then after a strained silence, "and I am not the friend of the capitalist"; then after another silence, "I am for men; men simply as men, regardless of any accidental or superficial distinctions of race, creed, colour, class, or yet function or employment." Until we can get that larger loyalty into the hearts of men, all the committees on earth cannot solve our industrial problems.

Nor can anything else make it possible to solve our international problem. The curse of nationalism is that, having pooled the unselfishness of persons in one group under one national name and of persons in another group under another national name, it uses this beautiful unselfishness of patriotism to carry out national enterprises that are fundamentally selfish. One element, therefore, is indispensable in any solution: enough Christians, whether they call themselves by that name or not, who have caught Jesus' point of view that only one loyalty on earth is absolute—the will of God for all mankind. This last summer I spent one Sunday night in the home of Mr. Ozaki, perhaps the leading liberal of Japan, a man who stands in danger of assassination any day for his international attitude. Suddenly he turned on me and said, "If the United States should go into a war which you regarded as unjust and wrong, what would you do?" I had to answer him swiftly and I had to give him the only answer that a Christian minister could give and keep his self-respect. I said, "If the United States goes into a war which I think is unjust and wrong, I will go into my pulpit the next Sunday morning and in the name of God denounce that war and take the consequence." Surely, a man does not have to be a theoretical pacifist, which I am not, to see how indispensable that attitude is to a Christian. There is hardly anything more needed now in the international situation than a multitude of people who will sit in radical judgment on the actions of their governments, so that when the governments of the world begin to talk war they will know that surely they must face a mass of people rising up to say: War? Why war? We are no longer dumb beasts to be led to the slaughter; we no longer think that any state on earth is God Almighty. If, however, we are to have that attitude strong enough so that it will stand the strain of mob psychology and the fear of consequences, it must be founded deep, as was Jesus' attitude: one absolute loyalty to the will of God for all mankind. So far from hurting true patriotism, this attitude would be the making of patriotism. It would purge patriotism from all its peril, would exalt it, purify it, make of it a blessing, not a curse. But whatever be the effect upon patriotism, the Christian is committed by the Master to a prior loyalty; he is a citizen of the Kingdom of God in all the earth.

An easy-going belief in inherent and inevitable progress, therefore, is positively perilous in the manifoldly complex social situation, from which only the most careful thinking and the most courageous living will ever rescue us. The Christian Church is indeed entrusted, in the message of Jesus, with the basic principles of life which the world needs, but the clarity of vision which sees their meaning and the courage of heart which will apply them are not easy to achieve. Some of us have felt that acutely these last few years; all of us should have learned that whatever progress is wrought out upon this planet will be sternly fought for and hardly won. Belief in the idea of progress does not mean that this earth is predestined to drift into Paradise like thistledown before an inevitable wind.

III

A third peril associated with the idea of progress is quite as widespread as the other two and in some ways more insidious. The idea is prevalent that progress involves the constant supersession of the old by the new so that we, who have appeared thus late in human history and are therefore the heirs "of all the ages, in the foremost files of time," may at once assume our superiority to the ancients. The modern man, living in a world supposedly progressing from early crude conditions toward perfection, has shifted the golden age from the past to the future, and in so doing has placed himself in much closer proximity to it than his ancestors were. The world is getting better—such is the common assumption which is naturally associated with the idea of progress. As one enthusiastic sponsor of this proposition puts it:

"Go back ten years, and there was no airship; fifteen years, and there was no wireless telegraphy; twenty-five years, and there was no automobile; forty years, and there was no telephone, and no electric light; sixty years, and there was no photograph, and no sewing machine; seventy-five years, no telegraph; one hundred years, no railway and no steamship; one hundred and twenty-five years, no steam engine; two hundred years, no post-office; three hundred years, no newspaper; five hundred years, no printing press; one thousand years, no compass, and ships could not go out of sight of land; two thousand years, no writing paper, but parchments of skin and tablets of wax and clay. Go back far enough and there were no plows, no tools, no iron, no cloth; people ate acorns and roots and lived in caves and went naked or clothed themselves in the skins of wild beasts." [1]

Such is the picture of human history upon this planet which occupies the modern mind, and one implication often drawn is that we have outgrown the ancients and that they might well learn from us and not we from them.

Christians, however, center their allegiance around ideas and personalities which are, from the modern standpoint, very old indeed. The truths that were wrought out in the developing life and faith of the Hebrew-Christian people are still the regulative Christian truths, and the personality who crowned the whole development is still the Christians' Lord. They are challenged, however, to maintain this in a progressive world. Men do not think of harking back to ancient Palestine nineteen centuries ago for their business methods, their educational systems, their scientific opinions, or anything else in ordinary life whatever. Then why go back to ancient Palestine for the chief exemplar of the spiritual life? This is a familiar modern question which springs directly from popular interpretations of progress.

"Dim tracts of time divide Those golden days from me; Thy voice comes strange o'er years of change; How can I follow Thee?

"Comes faint and far Thy voice From vales of Galilee; Thy vision fades in ancient shades; How should we follow Thee?" [2]

Behind this familiar mood lies one of the most significant changes that has ever passed over the human mind. The medieval age was tempted to look backward for its knowledge of everything. Philosophy was to be found in Aristotle, science in Pliny and his like. It was the ancients who were wise; it was the ancients who had understood nature and had known God. The farther back you went the nearer you came to the venerable and the authoritative. As, therefore, in every other realm folk looked back for knowledge, so it was most natural that they should look back for their religion, too. To find philosophy in Aristotle and to find spiritual life in Christ required not even the turning of the head. In all realms the age in its search for knowledge was facing backwards. It was a significant hour in the history of human thought when that attitude began to give way. The scandal caused by Alessandro Tassoni's attacks on Homer and Aristotle in the early seventeenth century resounded through Europe. He advanced the new and astonishing idea that, so far from having degenerated since ancient times, the race had advanced and that the moderns were better than their sires. This new idea prevailed as belief in progress grew. It met, however, with violent opposition, and the remnants of that old controversy are still to be found in volumes like George Hakewill's five hundred page folio published in 1627 on "the common errour touching Nature's perpetuall and universall decay." [3] But from the seventeenth century on the idea gained swift ascendency that the human race, like an individual, is growing up, that humanity is becoming wiser with the years, that we can know more than Aristotle and Pliny, that we should look, not back to the ancients, but rather to ourselves and to our offspring, for the real wisdom which maturity achieves. Once what was old seemed wise and established; what was new seemed extempore and insecure: now what is old seems outgrown; what is new seems probable and convincing. Such is the natural and prevalent attitude in a world where the idea of progress is in control. Nor can the applications of this idea to the realm of religion be evaded. If we would not turn back to Palestine nineteen centuries ago for anything else, why should we turn back to find there the Master of our spiritual life? In a word, our modern belief in progress, popularly interpreted, leads multitudes of people to listen with itching ears for every new thing, while they condescend to all that is old in religion, and in particular conclude that, while Jesus lived a wonderful life for his own day, that was a long time ago and surely we must be outgrowing him.

That this attitude is critically perilous to the integrity of the Christian movement will at once be obvious to any one whose own spiritual experience is centered in Christ. From the beginning until now the faith of Christian people has been primarily directed, not to a set of abstract principles, nor to a set of creedal definitions, but to a Person. Christians have been people believing in Jesus Christ. This abiding element has put unity into Christian history. The stream of Christian thought and progress has never been twice the same, yet for all that it has been a continuous stream and not an aimless, sprawling flood, and this unity and consistency have existed for one reason chiefly: the influence of the personality of Jesus. Folk may have been Romanists or Protestants, ritualists or Quakers, reactionaries or progressives, but still they have believed in Jesus. His personality has been the sun around which even in their differences they have swung like planets in varying orbits. Take the personality of Jesus out of Christian history and what you have left is chaos.

Moreover, it is the personality of Jesus that has been the source of Christianity's transforming influence on character. Ask whence has come that power over the spirits of men which we recognize as Christianity at its mightiest and best, and the origin must be sought, not primarily in our theologies or rubrics or churches, but in the character and spirit of Jesus. He himself is the central productive source of power in Christianity. We have come so to take this for granted that we do not half appreciate the wonder of it. This personality, who so has mastered men, was born sixty generations ago in a small village in an outlying Roman province, and until he was thirty years of age he lived and worked as a carpenter among his fellow townsfolk, attracting no wide consideration. Then for three years or less he poured out his life in courageous teaching and sacrificial service, amid the growing hatred and hostility of his countrymen, until he was put to death by crucifixion "because he stirred up the people." Anatole France, in one of his stories, represents Pilate in his later years as trying to remember the trial and death of Jesus and being barely able to recall it. That incident had been so much a part of the day's work in governing a province like Judea that it had all but escaped his recollection. Such a representation of the case is not improbable. It is easy so to tell the story of Jesus' life as to make his continued influence seem incredible. None would have supposed that nineteen centuries after his death, Lecky, the historian of European morals, would say, "The simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and all the exhortations of moralists." [4] None would have thought that sixty generations after he was gone, Montefiori, a Jew, putting his finger on the source of Christianity's power, would light upon the phrase "For the sake of Jesus," and would cry: "Of what fine lives and deaths has not this motive been the spring and the sustainment!" [5] None would have thought that so long after Calvary seemed to end forever the power of Jesus, one of the race's greatest men, David Livingstone, engaged in one of the race's most courageous enterprises, breaking his way into the untraveled jungles of Africa, would sing as he went, for so his journal says he did,

"Jesus, the very thought of Thee With sweetness fills my breast"?

Take the personality of the Master out of Christian history and we have robbed it of its central moral power.

Moreover, the personality of Jesus has always been the standard of reformation when Christianity has become recreant or laggard or corrupt. A man named John Wilkes started a political movement in England in the eighteenth century, and around him sprang up a party who called themselves Wilkites. These followers of Wilkes, however, went to extremes so wild and perilous that poor John Wilkes himself had to explain to everybody that, as for him, he was not a Wilkite. This lapse of a movement from the original intention of its founder is familiar in history and nowhere is it more clearly illustrated than in Christianity. The Master, watching Western Christendom today, with all our hatred, bitterness, war, would have to say, If this is Christianity, then I am not a Christian. The Master, wandering through our cathedrals with their masses, waxen images and votive gifts, or through our Protestant churches with their fine-spun speculations insisted on as necessary to belief if one is to be a child of grace, would have to say, If this is Christianity, then I am not a Christian. Indeed, just this sort of service the Master always has been rendering his movement; he is the perennial rebuke of all that is degenerate and false in Christianity. Whenever reform has come, whenever real Christianity has sprung up again through the false and superficial, the movement has been associated with somebody's rediscovery of Jesus Christ. Saint Francis of Assisi rediscovered him, and made a spot of spiritual beauty at the heart of the medieval age. John Wesley rediscovered him and his compassion for the outcast, and led the Church into a new day of evangelism and philanthropy. William Carey rediscovered him and his unbounded care for men, and blazed the trail for a new era of expansive Christianity. And if today many of us are deeply in earnest about the application of Christian principles to the social life of men, it is because we have rediscovered him and the spirit of his Good Samaritan. In an old myth, Antaeus, the child of Earth, could be overcome when he was lifted from contact with the ground but, whenever he touched again the earth from which he sprang, his old power came back once more. Such is Christianity's relation with Jesus Christ. If, therefore, the idea of progress involves the modern man's condescension to the Master as the outgrown seer of an ancient day, the idea of progress has given Christianity an incurable wound.

Before we surrender to such a popular interpretation of the meaning of progress, we may well discriminate between two aspects of human life in one of which we plainly have progressed, but in the other of which progress is not so evident. In the Coliseum in ancient Rome centuries ago, a group of Christians waited in the arena to be devoured by the lions, and eighty thousand spectators watched their vigil. Those Christians were plain folk—"not many mighty, not many noble"—and every one of them could have escaped that brutal fate if he had been willing to burn a little incense to the Emperor. Turn now to ourselves, eighteen hundred years afterwards. We have had a long time to outgrow the character and fidelity of those first Christians; do we think that we have done so? As we imagine ourselves in their places, are we ready with any glibness to talk about progress in character? Those first Christians never had ridden in a trolley car; they never had seen a subway; they never had been to a moving picture show; they never had talked over a telephone. There are innumerable ways in which we have progressed far beyond them. But character, fidelity, loyalty to conscience and to God—are we sure of progress there?

To hear some people talk, one would suppose that progress is simply a matter of chronology. That one man or generation comes in time after another is taken as sufficient evidence that the latter has of course superseded the earlier. Do we mean that because Tennyson came after Shelly he is therefore the greater poet? What has chronology to do with spiritual quality and creativeness, which always must rise from within, out of the abysmal depths of personality? Professor Gilbert Murray, thinking primarily in a realm outside religion altogether, chastises this cheap and superficial claim of advance in spiritual life:

"As to Progress, it is no doubt a real fact. To many of us it is a truth that lies somewhere near the roots of our religion. But it is never a straight march forward; it is never a result that happens of its own accord. It is only a name for the mass of accumulated human effort, successful here, baffled there, misdirected and driven astray in a third region, but on the whole and in the main producing some cumulative result. I believe this difficulty about Progress, this fear that in studying the great teachers of the past we are in some sense wantonly sitting at the feet of savages, causes real trouble of mind to many keen students. The full answer to it would take us beyond the limits of this paper and beyond my own range of knowledge. But the main lines of the answer seem to me clear. There are in life two elements, one transitory and progressive, the other comparatively if not absolutely non-progressive and eternal, and the soul of man is chiefly concerned with the second. Try to compare our inventions, our material civilization, our stores of accumulated knowledge, with those of the age of Aeschylus or Aristotle or St. Francis, and the comparison is absurd. Our superiority is beyond question and beyond measure. But compare any chosen poet of our age with Aeschylus, any philosopher with Aristotle, any saintly preacher with St. Francis, and the result is totally different. I do not wish to argue that we have fallen below the standard of those past ages; but it is clear that we are not definitely above them. The things of the spirit depend on will, on effort, on aspiration, on the quality of the individual soul, and not on discoveries and material advances which can be accumulated and added up." [6]

Let any Christian preacher test out this matter and discover for himself its truth. We are preachers of the Gospel in the twentieth century. St. Francis of Assisi was a preacher of the Gospel in the thirteenth century. We know many things which St. Francis and his generation never could have known but, when we step back through that outward change into the spirit of St. Francis himself, we must take the shoes from off our feet, for the place whereon we stand is holy ground. We may not talk in such an hour about progress in Christian character in terms of chronology, for a modern minister might well pray to touch the garment's hem of such a spirit as St. Francis had! When, then, one speaks of outgrowing Jesus, one would do well to get a better reason than simply the fact that he was born nineteen centuries ago. The truth is that humanity has been upon this planet hundreds of thousands of years, while our known history reaches back, and that very dimly, through only some four or five thousand. In that known time there has certainly been no biological development in man that any scientist has yet discerned. Even the brain of man in the ice age was apparently as large as ours. Moreover, within that period of history well known to us, we can see many ups and downs of spiritual life, mountain peaks of achievement in literature and art and religion, with deep valleys intervening, but we cannot be sure that the mountain peaks now are higher than they used to be. The art of the two centuries culminating about 1530 represents a glorious flowering of creative genius, but it was succeeded by over three centuries of descent to the abominations of ugliness which the late eighteenth century produced. We have climbed up a little since then, but not within distant reach of those lovers and makers of beauty from whose hearts and hands the Gothic cathedrals came. Progress in history has lain in the power of man to remember and so to accumulate for general use the discoveries, both material and ethical, of many individuals; it has lain in man's increasing information about the universe, in his increasing mastery over external nature, and in the growing integration of his social life; it has not lain in the production of creative personalities appearing in the course of history with ever greater sublimity of spirit and grasp of intellect. Where is there a mind on earth today like Plato's? Where is there a spirit today like Paul's?

The past invites us still to look back for revelations in the realm of creative personality. Some things have been done in history, like the sculptures of Phidias, that never have been done so well since and that perhaps never will be done so well again. As for the Bible, we may well look back to that. There is no book to compare with it in the realm of religion. Most of the books we read are like the rainwater that fell last night, a superficial matter, soon running off. But the Bible is a whole sea—the accumulated spiritual gains of ages—and to know it and to love it, to go down beside it and dip into it, to feel its vast expanse, the currents that run through it, and the tides that lift it, is one of the choicest and most rewarding spiritual privileges that we enjoy. As for Jesus, it is difficult to see what this twentieth century can mean by supposing that it has outgrown him. It has outgrown countless elements in his generation and many forms of thought which he shared with his generation, but it never will outgrow his spirit, his faith in God, his principles of life: "Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name;" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself;" "It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish;" "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another;" "If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all;" "All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them;" "Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you;" "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth." Take principles like these, set them afire in a flaming life the like of which has never come to earth, and we have in Jesus a revelation of the spiritual world which is not going to be outgrown. Still for the Christian he is Saviour and Lord, and across the centuries in his face shines the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.

IV

Progress, therefore, intelligently apprehended, does not involve that flippant irreverence for the past that so often is associated with it. It offers no encouragement to the chase after vagaries in which so many moderns indulge, as though all that is old were belated and all that is novel were true. The idea of progress has led more than one eager mind to think that the old religions were outgrown; that they were the belated leftovers of a bygone age and were not for modern minds; that a new religion fitted to our new needs alone would do. Suppose, however, that one should say: The English language is an archaic affair; it has grown like Topsy, by chance; it has carried along with it the forms of thinking of outgrown generations; it is not scientific; what we need is a new language built to order to meet our wants. In answer one must acknowledge that the English language is open to very serious criticism, that one can never tell from the way a word is spelled how it is going to be pronounced, nor from the way it is pronounced how it is going to be spelled. One must agree that the English language makes one phrase do duty for many different meanings. When two people quarrel, they make up; before the actor goes upon the stage, he makes up; the preacher goes into his study to make up his sermon; when we do wrong we try to make up for it; and the saucy lad in school behind his teacher's back makes up a face. The English language is fearfully and wonderfully made. But merely because the English language has such ungainly developments, we are not likely to surrender it and adopt instead a modern language made to order, like Esperanto. Say what one will about English, it is the speech in which our poets have sung and our prophets have prophesied and our seers have dreamed dreams. If any do not like it they may get a new one, but most of us will stay where we still can catch the accents of the master spirits who have spoken in our tongue. There are words in the English language that no Esperanto words ever can take the place of: home and honour and love and God, words that have been sung about and prayed over and fought for by our sires for centuries, and that come to us across the ages with accumulated meanings, like caskets full of jewels. Surely we are not going to give up the English language. Progress does not mean surrendering it, but developing it.

We shall not give up Christianity. It has had ungainly developments; it does need reformation; many elements in it are pitiably belated; but, for all that, the profoundest need of the world is real Christianity, the kind of life the Master came to put into the hearts of men. Progress does not mean breaking away from it, but going deeper into it.

Here, then, are the three perils which tempt the believer in progress: a silly underestimate of the tremendous force of human sin, which withstands all real advance; superficial reliance upon social palliatives to speed the convalescence of the world, when only radical cures will do; flippant irreverence toward the past, when, as a matter of fact, the light we have for the future shines upon us from behind. He who most believes in progress needs most to resist its temptations.



[1] James H. Snowden: Is the World Growing Better? pp. 41-42.

[2] Francis Turner Palgrave: Faith and Light in the Latter Days.

[3] George Hakewill: An Apologie of the Power and Providence of God in the Government of the World, or An Examination and Censure of the Common Errour Touching Natures Perpetuall and Universall Decay.

[4] W. E. H. Lecky: History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, Vol. II, p. 9.

[5] C. G. Montefiore: Some Elements of the Religious Teaching of Jesus According to the Synoptic Gospels, p. 133.

[6] Gilbert Murray: Tradition and Progress, Chapter I, Religio Grammatici, IV, pp. 19-20.



LECTURE VI

PROGRESS AND GOD

I

We may well begin our final lecture, on the interplay between the idea of progress and the idea of God, by noting that only faith in God can satisfy man's craving for spiritual stability amid change. The central element in the conception of a progressive world is that men's thoughts and lives have changed, are changing and will change, that nothing therefore is settled in the sense of being finally formulated, that creation has never said its last word on any subject or landed its last hammer blow on any task. Such an outlook on life, instead of being exhilarating, is to many disquieting in the extreme. In particular it is disquieting in religion, one of whose functions has always been to provide stability, to teach men amid the transient to see the eternal. If in a changing world religious thought changes too, if in that realm also new answers are given to old questions and new questions rise that never have been answered before, if forms of faith in which men once trusted are outgrown, man's unsettlement seems to be complete. The whole world then is like a huge kaleidoscope turning round and round and, as it turns, the manifold elements in human experience, even its religious doctrines and practices, arrange and rearrange themselves in endless permutations. How then in such a world can religion mean to us what it has meant to the saints who of old, amid a shaken world, have sung:

"Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou, Who changest not, abide with me!"

This fear of the unsettling effects of the idea of progress accounts for most of the resentment against it in the realm of theology, and for the desperate endeavours which perennially are made to congeal the Christian movement at some one stage and to call that stage final. Stability, however, can never be achieved by resort to such reactionary dogmatism. What one obtains by that method is not stability but stagnation, and the two, though often confused, are utterly different. Stagnation is like a pool, stationary, finished, and without progressive prospects. A river, however, has another kind of steadfastness altogether. It is not stationary; it flows; it is never twice the same and its enlarging prospects as it widens and deepens in its course are its glory. Nevertheless, the Hudson and the Mississippi and the Amazon are among the most stable and abiding features which nature knows. They will probably outlast many mountains. They will certainly outlast any pool.

The spiritual stability which we may have in a progressive world is of this latter sort, if we believe in the living God. It is so much more inspiring than the stagnation of the dogmatist that one wonders how any one, seeing both, could choose the inferior article in which to repose his trust. Consider, for example, the development of the idea of God himself, the course of which through the Bible we briefly traced in a previous lecture. From Sinai to Calvary—was ever a record of progressive revelation more plain or more convincing? The development begins with Jehovah disclosed in a thunder-storm on a desert mountain, and it ends with Christ saying: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth;" it begins with a war-god leading his partisans to victory and it ends with men saying, "God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him;" it begins with a provincial deity loving his tribe and hating its enemies and it ends with the God of the whole earth worshiped by "a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues;" it begins with a God who commands the slaying of the Amalekites, "both man and woman, infant and suckling," and it ends with a Father whose will it is that not "one of these little ones should perish;" it begins with God's people standing afar off from his lightnings and praying that he might not speak to them lest they die and it ends with men going into their inner chambers and, having shut the door, praying to their Father who is in secret. Here is no pool; here is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God.

Consider as well the course of the idea of God after the close of the New Testament canon. The Biblical conception of God in terms of righteous and compassionate personal will went out into a world of thought where Greek metaphysics was largely in control. There God was conceived in terms of substance, as the ontological basis and ground of all existence—immutable, inscrutable, unqualified pure being. These two ideas, God as personal will, and God as metaphysical substance, never perfectly coalescing, flowed together. In minds like St. Augustine's one finds them both. God as pure being and God as gracious and righteous personal will—St. Augustine accepted both ideas but never harmonized them. Down through Christian history one can see these two conceptions complementing each other, each balancing the other's eccentricities. The Greek idea runs out toward pantheism in Spinoza and Hegel. The Biblical idea runs out toward deism in Duns Scotus and Calvin. In the eighteenth century an extreme form of deism held the field and God, as personal will, was conceived as the Creator, who in a dim and distant past had made all things. In the nineteenth century the thought of God swung back to terms of immanence, and God, who had been crowded out of his world, came flooding in as the abiding life of all of it.

As one contemplates a line of development like this, he must be aware that, while change is there, it is not aimless, discontinuous, chaotic change. The riverbed in which this stream of thought flows is stable and secure; the whole development is controlled by man's abiding spiritual need of God and God's unceasing search for man. One feels about it as he might about man's varying, developing methods of telling the time of day. Men began by noting roughly the position of the sun or the length of shadows; they went on to make sun-dials, then water-clocks, then sand-glasses; then weight-driven clocks were blunderingly tried and, later, watches, used first as toys, so little were they to be relied upon. The story of man's telling of the time of day is a story of progressive change, but it does not lack stability. The sun and stars and the revolution of the earth abide. The changes in man's telling of the time have been simply the unfolding of an abiding relationship between man and his world.

So the development of man's religious ideas from early, crude beginnings until now is not a process which one would wish to stop at any point in order to achieve infallible security. The movement is not haphazard and discontinuous change, like disparate particles in a kaleidoscope falling together in new but vitally unrelated ways. Upon the contrary, its course is a continuous path which can be traced, recovered in thought, conceived as a whole. We can see where our ideas came from, what now they are, and in what direction they probably will move. The stability is in the process itself, arising out of the abiding relationships of man with the eternal.

Indeed, the endeavour to achieve stability by methods which alone can bring stagnation, the endeavor, that is, to hit upon dogmatic finality in opinion, is of all things in religion probably the most disastrous in its consequence. Until recent times when reform movements invaded Mohammedanism and higher criticism tackled the problem of the Koran, one could see this achievement of stagnation in Islam in all its inglorious success. The Koran was regarded as having been infallibly written, word for word, in heaven before ever it came to earth. The Koran therefore was a book of inerrant and changeless opinion. But the Koran enshrines the best theological and ethical ideas of Arabia at the time when it was written: God was an oriental monarch, ruling in heaven; utter submission to the fate which he decreed was the one law of human relationship with him; and on earth slavery and polygamy and conversion of unbelievers by force were recognized as right. The Koran was ahead of its day, but having been by a theory of inspiration petrified into artificial finality it became the enemy of all opinions which would pass beyond its own.

When, now, one contrasts Mohammedanism with Christianity, one finds an important difference. For all our temptation, succumbed to by multitudes, to make the Bible a Koran, Christianity has had a progressive revelation. In the Bible one can find all the ideas and customs which Mohammedanism has approved and for which it now is hated: its oriental deity decreeing fates, its use of force to destroy unbelievers, its patriarchal polygamy, and its slave systems. All these things, from which we now send missionaries to convert Mohammedans, are in our Bible, but in the Bible they are not final. They are ever being superseded. The revelation is progressive. The idea of God grows from oriental kingship to compassionate fatherhood; the use of force gives way to the appeals of love; polygamy is displaced by monogamy; slavery never openly condemned, even when the New Testament closes, is being underminded [Transcriber's note: undermined?] by ideas which, like dynamite, in the end will blast to pieces its foundations. We are continually running upon passages like this: "It was said to them of old time, . . . but I say unto you;" "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son;" "The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent;" and over the doorway out of the New Testament into the Christian centuries that followed is written this inscription: "The spirit of truth . . . shall guide you into all the truth." In a word, finality in the Koran is behind—it lies in the treasured concepts of 600 A. D.—but finality in the Bible is ahead. We are moving toward it. It is too great for us yet to apprehend. Our best thoughts are thrown out in its direction but they do not exhaust its meaning.

"Our little systems have their day; They have their day and cease to be; They are but broken lights of thee, And thou, O Lord, art more than they."

Such is the exultant outlook of a Christian believer on a progressive world. If, however, one is to have this exultant outlook, he must deeply believe in the living God and in the guidance of his Spirit. What irreligion means at this point is not fully understood by most unbelieving folk because most unbelievers do not think through to a conclusion the implications of their own skepticism. We may well be thankful even in the name of religion for a few people like Bertrand Russell. He is not only irreligious but he is intelligently irreligious, and, what is more, he possesses the courage to say frankly and fully what irreligion really means:

"That Man is the product of causes which have no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built." [1] Such is the outlook on human life of a frank and thoroughgoing irreligion, and there is nothing exhilarating about it. All progress possible in such a setting is a good deal like a horse-race staged in a theatre, where the horses do indeed run furiously, but where we all know well that they are not getting anywhere. There is a moving floor beneath them, and it is only the shifting of the scenery that makes them seem to go. Is human history like that? Is progress an illusion? Is it all going to end as Bertrand Russell says? Those who believe in the living God are certain of the contrary, for stability amid change is the gift of a progressive, religious faith.

II

It must be evident, however, to any one acquainted with popular ideas of God that if in a progressive world we thus are to maintain a vital confidence in the spiritual nature of creative reality and so rejoice in the guidance of the Spirit amid change, we must win through in our thinking to a very much greater conception of God than that to which popular Christianity has been accustomed. Few passages in Scripture better deserve a preacher's attention than God's accusation against his people in the 50th Psalm: "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself." The universal applicability of this charge is evident to any one who knows the history of man's religious thought. If in the beginning God did make man in his own image, man has been busy ever since making God in his image, and the deplorable consequences are everywhere to be seen. From idolaters, who bow down before wooden images of the divine in human form, to ourselves, praying to a magnified man throned somewhere in the skies, man has persistently run God into his own mold. To be sure, this tendency of man to think of God as altogether such a one as ourselves is nothing to be surprised at. Even when we deal with our human fellows, we read ourselves into our understandings of them. A contemporary observer tells us that whenever a portrait of Gladstone appeared in French papers he was made to look like a Frenchman, and that when he was represented in Japanese papers his countenance had an unmistakably Japanese cast.

If this habitual tendency to read ourselves into other people is evident even when we deal with human personalities, whom we can know well, how can it be absent from man's thought of the eternal? A man needs only to go out on a starry night with the revelations of modern astronomy in his mind and to consider the one who made all this and whose power sustains it, to see how utterly beyond our adequate comprehension he must be. As men in old tales used to take diffused superhumans, the genii, and by magic word bring them down into a stoppered bottle where they could be held in manageable form, so man has taken the vastness of God and run it into a human symbol.

This persistent anthropomorphism is revealed in our religious ceremonies. Within Christianity itself are systems of priestcraft where the individual believer has no glad, free access to his Father's presence, but where his approach must be mediated by a priestly ritual, his forgiveness assured by a priestly declaration, his salvation sealed by a priestly sacrament. This idea that God must be approached by stated ceremonies came directly from thinking of God in terms of a human monarch. No common man could walk carelessly into the presence of an old-time king. There were proprieties to be observed. There were courtiers who knew the proper approach to royalty, through whom the common folk would better send petitions up and from whom they would better look for favour. So God was pictured as a human monarch with his throne, his scepter, his ministering attendants. Here on earth the priests were those courtiers who knew the effectual way of reaching him, by whom we would best send up our prayers, through whom we would best look for our salvation. Nordau is not exaggerating when he says: "When we have studied the sacrificial rites, the incantations, prayers, hymns, and ceremonies of religion, we have as complete a picture of the relations between our ancestors and their chiefs as if we had seen them with our own eyes." [2]

Our anthropomorphism, however, reaches its most dangerous form in our inward imaginations of God's character. How the pot has called the kettle black! Man has read his vanities into God, until he has supposed that singing anthems to God's praise might flatter him as it would flatter us. Man has read his cruelties into God, and what in moments of vindictiveness and wrath we would like to do our enemies we have supposed Eternal God would do to his. Man has read his religious partisanship into God; he who holds Orion and the Pleiades in his leash, the Almighty and Everlasting God, before whom in the beginning the morning stars sang together, has been conceived as though he were a Baptist or a Methodist, a Presbyterian or an Anglican. Man has read his racial pride into God; nations have thought themselves his chosen people above all his other children because they seemed so to themselves. The centuries are sick with a god made in man's image, and all the time the real God has been saying, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself."

The unhappy prevalence of this mental idolatry is one of the chief causes for the loss of religious faith among the younger generation. They have grown up in our homes and churches with their imaginations dwelling on a God made in man's image, and now through education they have moved out into a universe so much too big for that little god of theirs either to have made in the first place or to handle now that they find it hard to believe in him. Astronomers tell us that there are a hundred million luminous stars in our sky, and dark stars in unknown multitudes; that these stars range from a million to ten million miles in diameter; that some of them are so vast that were they brought as close to us as our sun is they would fill the entire horizon; and that these systems are scattered through the stellar spaces at distances so incredible that, were some hardy discoverer to seek our planet in the midst of them, it would be like looking for a needle lost somewhere on the western prairies. The consequence is inevitable: a vast progressive universe plus an inadequate God means that in many minds faith in God goes to pieces.

III

One of the profoundest needs of the Church, therefore, in this new and growing world, is the achievement of such worthy ways of thinking about God and presenting him as will make the very idea of him a help to faith and not a stumbling-block to the faithful. In the attainment of that purpose we need for one thing to approach the thought of God from an angle which to popular Christianity is largely unfamiliar, although it is not unfamiliar in the historic tradition of the Church. Too exclusively have we clung to the mental categories and the resultant phraseology which have grown up around the idea of God as an individual like ourselves. The reasons for the prevalence of this individualized conception of deity are obvious. First, as we have seen, the growth of the idea of God in Hebrew-Christian thought moved out from a very clearly visualized figure on a mountain-top to those expanded and spiritualized forms which glorified the later stages of the Biblical development; and, second, every one of us in his personal religious experience and thought recapitulates the same process, starting as a child with God conceived in very human terms and moving out to expanded and sublimated forms of that childish conception. Whether, then, we consider the source of our idea of God in the Biblical tradition or in our own private experience, we see that it is rooted in and springs up out of a very human conception of him, and that our characteristic words about him, attitudes toward him, and imaginations of him, are associated with these childlike origins. Popular Christianity, therefore, approaches God with the regulative idea of a human individual in its mind, and, while popular Christianity would insist that God is much more than that, it still starts with that, and the enterprise of stretching the conception is only relatively successful. Even when it is successful the result must be a God who is achieved by stretching out a man.

In this situation the only help for many is, for the time being, to leave this endeavour to approach God by way of an expanded and sublimated human individual and to approach God, instead, by way of the Creative Power from which this amazing universe and all that is within it have arisen. Man's deepest question concerns the nature of the Creative Power from which all things and persons have come. In creation are we dealing with the kind of power which in ordinary life we recognize as physical, or with the kind which we recognize as spiritual? With these two sorts of power we actually deal and, so far as we can see, the ultimate reality which has expressed itself in them must be akin to the one or to the other or to both. He who is convinced that the Creative Power from which all things have come is spiritual believes in God. I have seen that simple statement lift the burden of doubt from minds utterly perplexed and usher befogged spirits out into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For they did not believe that the Creative Power was dynamic dirt, going it blind; they did believe that the Creative Power was akin to what we know as spirit, but so accustomed were they to the Church's narrower anthropomorphism that they did not suppose that this approach was a legitimate avenue for the soul's faith in God.

Nevertheless, it is a legitimate avenue and in the history of the Church many are the souls that have traveled it. The basis for all mature conceptions of God lies here: that the Power from whom all life proceeds wells up in two forms. One is physical; we can see it, touch it, weigh it, analyze and measure it. The other is spiritual; it is character, conscience, intelligence, purpose, love; we cannot see it, nor touch it, nor weigh it, nor analyze it. We ourselves did not make either of these two expressions of life. They came up together out of the Creative Reality from which we came. When a man thinks of the Power from which all life proceeds, he must say at least this: that when it wells up in us it wells up in two forms and one of them is spirit. How, then, when we think of that Power, can we leave spirit out? At the heart of the eternal is the fountain of that spiritual life which in myself I know.

This thought of God does not start, then, with a magnified man in the heavens; this thought of God starts with the universe itself vibrant with life, tingling with energy, where, when scientists try to analyze matter, they have to trace it back from molecules to atoms, from atoms to electrons, and from electrons to that vague spirituelle thing which they call a "strain in the ether," a universe where there is manifestly no such thing as dead matter, but where everything is alive. When one thinks of the Power that made this, that sustains this, that flows like blood through the veins of this, one cannot easily think that physicalness is enough to predicate concerning him. If the physical adequately could have revealed that Power, there never would have been anything but the physical to reveal him. The fact that spiritual life is here is evidence that it takes spiritual life fully to display the truth about creation's reality. As an old mystic put it: "God sleeps in the stone, he dreams in the animal, he wakes in man!"

It was this approach to God which saved the best spiritual life of the nineteenth century. For in the eighteenth century Christianity came nearer to being driven out of business than ever in her history before. She had believed in a carpenter god who had made the world and occasionally tinkered with it in events which men called miracles. But new knowledge made that carpenter god impossible. Area after area where he had been supposed to operate was closed to him by the discovery of natural law until at last even comets were seen to be law-abiding and he was escorted clean to the edge of the universe and bowed out altogether. Nobody who has not read the contemporary literature of the eighteenth century can know what dryness of soul resulted.

Man, however, cannot live without God. Our fathers had to have God back again. But if God were to come back again he could not return as an occasional tinkerer; he had to come as the life in all that lives, the indwelling presence throughout his creation, whose ways of working are the laws, so that he penetrates and informs them all. No absentee landlord could be welcomed back, but if God came as the resident soul of all creation, men could comprehend that. And he did come back that way. His return is the glory of the nineteenth century. In the best visions of the century's prophets that glory shines.

MRS. BROWNING:

"Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees, takes off his shoes."

TENNYSON:

"Speak to Him, thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet— Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet."

COLERIDGE:

"Glory to Thee, Father of Earth and Heaven! All conscious presence of the Universe! Nature's vast ever-acting Energy!"

WORDSWORTH:

"a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air And the blue sky, and in the mind of man; A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thoughts, And rolls through all things."

CARLYLE:

"Then sawest thou that this fair Universe, were it in the meanest province thereof, is in very deed the star-domed City of God; that through every star, through every grass-blade, and most through every Living Soul, the glory of a present God still beams. But Nature, which is the Time-vesture of God, and reveals Him to the wise, hides Him from the foolish."

Moreover, this idea of God as the Creative Power conceived in spiritual terms need not lose any of the intimate meanings which have inhered in more personal thoughts of him and which are expressed in the Bible's names for him: Father, Mother, Bridegroom, Husband, Friend. There is indeed this danger in the approach which we have been describing, that we may conceive God as so dispersed everywhere that we cannot find him anywhere and that at last, so diffused, he will lose the practical value on account of which we want him. For we do desire a God who is like ourselves—enough like ourselves so that he can understand us and care for us and enter into our human problems. We do want a human side to God. A man who had seen in Henry Drummond the most beautiful exhibition of God's Spirit that he had ever experienced said that after Henry Drummond died he always prayed up to God by way of Drummond. We make our most vital approaches to God in that way and we always have, from the time we prayed to God through our fathers and mothers until now, when we find God in Christ. We want in God a personality that can answer ours, and we can have it without belittling in the least his greatness.

I know a man who says that one of the turning points of his spiritual experience came on a day when for the first time it dawned on him that he never had seen his mother. Now, his mother was the major molding influence in his life. He could have said about her what Longfellow said in a letter to his mother, written when he was twenty-one. "For me," wrote Longfellow, "a line from my mother is more efficacious than all the homilies preached in Lent; and I find more incitement to virtue in merely looking at your handwriting than in a whole volume of ethics and moral discourses." So this man would have felt about the pervasive influence of his mother. Then it dawned on him one day that he never had seen her. To be sure, he had seen the bodily instrument by which she had been able somehow to express herself through look and word and gesture, but his mother herself, her thoughts, her consciousness, her love, her spirit, he never had seen and he never would see. She was the realest force in his life, but she was invisible. When they talked together they signalled to each other out of the unseen where they dwelt. They both were as invisible as God. Moreover, while his mother was only a human, personal spirit, there was a kind of omnipresence in her so far as he was concerned, and he loved her and she loved him everywhere, though he never had seen her and never could. If spiritual life even in its human form can take on such meanings, we need not think of God as an expanded individual in order to love him, be loved by him, and company with him as an unseen friend. Let a man once begin with God as the universal spiritual Presence and then go on to see the divine quality of that Presence revealed in Christ, and there is no limit to the deepening and heightening of his estimation of God's character, except the limits of his own moral imagination.

IV

With many minds the difficulty of achieving an idea of God adequate for our new universe will not be met by any such intellectual shift of emphasis as we have suggested. Not anthropomorphic theology so much as ecclesiasticism is the major burden on their thinking about deity. Two conceptions of the Church are in conflict to-day in modern Protestantism, and one of the most crucial problems of America's religious life in this next generation is the decision as to which of these two ideas of the Church shall triumph. We may call one the exclusive and the other the inclusive conception of the Church. The exclusive conception of the Church lies along lines like these: that we are the true Church; that we have the true doctrines and the true practices as no other Church possesses them; that we are constituted as a Church just because we have these uniquely true opinions and practices; that all we in the Church agree about these opinions and that when we joined the Church we gave allegiance to them; that nobody has any business to belong to our Church unless he agrees with us; that if there are people outside the Church who disagree, they ought to be kept outside and if there are people in the Church who come to disagree, they ought to be put outside. That is the exclusive idea of the Church, and there are many who need no further description of it for they were brought up in it and all their youthful religious life was surrounded by its rigid sectarianism.

Over against this conception is the inclusive idea of the Church, which runs along lines like these: that the Christian Church ought to be the organizing center for all the Christian life of a community; that a Church is not based upon theological uniformity but upon devotion to the Lord Jesus, to the life with God and man for which he stood, and to the work which he gave us to do; that wherever there are people who have that spiritual devotion, who possess that love, who want more of it, who desire to work and worship with those of kindred Christian aspirations, they belong inside the family of the Christian Church. The inclusive idea of the Church looks out upon our American communities and sees there, with all their sin, spiritual life unexpressed and unorganized, good-will and aspiration and moral power unharnessed and going to waste, and it longs to cry so that the whole community can hear it. Come, all men of Christian good-will, let us work together for the Lord of all good life! That is the inclusive idea of the Church. It desires to be the point of incandescence where, regardless of denominationalism or theology, the Christian life of the community bursts into flame.

As between these two conceptions there hardly can be any question that the first idea so far has prevailed. Our endlessly split and shivered Protestantism bears sufficient witness to the influence of the exclusive idea of the Church. The disastrous consequences of this in many realms are evident, and one result lies directly in our argument's path. An exclusive Church narrows the idea of God. Almost inevitably God comes to be conceived as the head of the exclusive Church, the origin of its uniquely true doctrine, the director of its uniquely correct practices, so that the activities of God outside the Church grow dim, and more and more he is conceived as operating through his favourite organization as nowhere else in all the universe. In particular the idea grows easily in the soil of an exclusive Church that God is not operative except in people who recognize him and that the world outside such conscious recognition is largely empty of his activity and barren of his grace. God tends, in such thinking, to become cooped up in the Church, among the people who consciously have acknowledged him. What wonder that multitudes of our youth, waking up to the facts about our vast and growing universe, conclude that it is too big to be managed by the tribal god of a Protestant sect!

The achievement of a worthy idea of God involves, therefore, the ability to discover God in all life, outside the Church as well as within, and in people who do not believe in him nor recognize him as well as in those who do. Let us consider for a moment the principle which is here involved. Many forces and persons serve us when we do not recognize them and do not know the truth about them. This experience of being ministered to by persons whom we do not know goes back even to the maternal care that nourished us before we were born. No mother waits to be recognized before she serves her child. We are tempted to think of persons as ministering to us only when the service is consciously received and acknowledged but, as a matter of fact, service continually comes to us from sources we are unaware of and do not think about.

"Unnumbered comforts to my soul Thy tender care bestowed, Before my infant heart conceived From whom those comforts flowed."

This principle applies to mankind's relationship with the physical universe. Through many generations mankind utterly misconceived it. They thought the earth was flat, the heavens a little way above; yet, for all that, the sun warmed them and the rain refreshed them and the stars guided their wandering boats. The physical universe did not wait until men knew all the truth about it before being useful to men and at last, when the truth came and the glory of this vast and mobile cosmos dawned on mankind, men discovered the facts about forces which, though unknown and unacknowledged, long had served them.

This same principle applies also to man's relationship with social institutions and social securities that have sustained us from our infancy. If a boy knows that there is a Constitution of the United States, he does not think about it. Then maturity comes and he begins vividly to understand the sacrifices which our forefathers underwent in building up the institutions that have nourished us. He recognizes forces and factors of which he had been unconscious but whose value, long unacknowledged, he now gratefully can estimate.

This same principle also applies to our unconscious indebtedness to people who have helped us but whom we have not known. This is a far finer world because of souls who have been here through whom God has shined like the sun through eastern windows, but we can go on year after year absorbing unconsciously the influence of these spirits without ever knowing them. I lived for twelve years in a community to which in its early days a young minister had come, and where for forty years he stood as the central influence in the town's life. He brought it up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. As was said of Joseph in Potiphar's prison, "Whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it." The height of his mind, the unselfishness of his spirit, the liberality of his thought, made all the people gladly acclaim him as the foremost citizen of the town. There is a quality in the town's life yet which never would have been there had it not been for him. Sometimes yet his spirit must brood above that community which for forty years he cherished and must say to people whom he never knew, but who are being blessed by the benedictory influence of his life, what Jehovah said to Cyrus the Persian, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me."

So, from multitudinous sources services flow in upon us that we do not recognize. It should be impossible then to think that God never touches men until men welcome him. Some people seem to suppose that God ministers to men, saves them, transforms them, raises them up and liberates them only when they confessedly receive him. That cannot be true of the God of the New Testament. He is too magnanimous for that. Jesus says a man is unworthy of his discipleship when he serves only the friends who are responsive, that we must serve the hostile and ungrateful, too. Can it be that God is less good than Jesus said we ought to be? We in the churches have drawn our little lines too tight. We have been tempted to divide mankind into two classes, the white and the black: in the Church the white, the saved, who recognize God; outside, the black, the unsaved, the ungodly who do not recognize him. By that division we sometimes seem to imply that those outside the Church are outside the reach of God's transforming grace and power. We are tempted to look for God's activity chiefly, if not altogether, inside the organization that avows him. But that cannot be true. He comes in like the sun through every chink and crevice where he can find a way of entrance. He does not wait to be welcomed. He does not insist on being consciously recognized before he enters a man's life. Rather, through any door or window left unwittingly ajar where he may steal in, even though unobserved, to lift and liberate a life, there the God of the New Testament will come—"the light which lighteth every man coming into the world."

Consider, for illustration, the many people in this generation who have given up active relationship with the Church and assured faith in God. They may even call themselves agnostics. Would it not be true to speak to them like this: You have not succeeded in getting rid of God. There is a flame in your heart that will not go out. You try to say there is no God and then you go out under the stars at night and you begin to wonder how such a vast, law-abiding universe could come by accident, as if a man were to throw a font of type on the floor and by chance it should arrange itself into a play of Shakespeare. Strange universe, without God! You try to say there is no God and you pick up a book: a life of Phillips Brooks or David Livingstone or Francis Xavier, and you begin to wonder that, amid these whirling stars and solar systems, a race of men should have emerged with spiritual life like that which we possess, with ideals that beckon us, conscience that warns us and remorse that punishes us! You cannot easily think that this long spiritual struggle and achievement of the race is an accident struck off unwittingly like sparks from falling stones in a material world without abiding meaning. Or you try to say there is no God, and then you are married and your first baby is born and there wells up in your heart that purest love that man can know, the feeling of a parent for a little child. And you cannot help wondering how a man can walk about the world with love like that in the center of his life, thinking that there is nothing to correspond with it in the reality from which his heart and his baby came. You try to say there is no God, and then you begin to grow old and the friends you love best on earth pass away, as Carlyle said his mother did, like "the last pale rim or sickle of the moon which had once been full, sinking in the dark seas." You cannot help wondering whether great souls can be so at the mercy of a few particles of matter that when these are disturbed the spirit is plunged into oblivion! You never really have gotten rid of God. There is a flame in the center of your heart which you cannot put out. If there were no God it would be easier to disbelieve in him than it is. You cannot get rid of him because the best in you is God in you. The flame is he and there in the center of your life, recognized or unrecognized, he is burning up as best he can.

This principle of God's unrecognized presence applies to a special group of people that has been growing rapidly in the last few years: the men and women who give themselves with high spirit to human service in science or philanthropy but who never think of attributing their service or love of truth to religious motives. To this group belong many of our scientists. They give themselves no rest, seeking for truth which will help human need. In obscure and forgotten laboratories to-day they search for remedies for ancient, lamentable ills. They make it a point of professional honour not to take profit for themselves when they have succeeded, but to give freely to the world the knowledge they have achieved. The pulpit has often quarreled with the scientists. Let the pulpit honour them for their amazing outpouring of service to the world. To this group also belong many of our philanthropists, to whom sacrifice for the common weal has become the moral equivalent of war. Yet often these men and women, useful public servants of the generation as they are, do not know God. They are great spirits. Let us not pretend that they are not. They are making a deep and beneficent impress upon their own times, and our sons and our sons' sons will rise up to call them blessed; yet they do not know God. What are we to say of such men and women? You know what some people do say about them. They use them as arguments against religion. They say, See these fine men living without God. That is an utter fallacy. They are not living without God. They only think they are. They are the supreme examples of the work of the unrecognized God. One wishes that those men and women would recognize God. God can do much more through responsive than through unresponsive lives. But we may not say that they are living without God. There, in the center of their life, in the ideals they work for, in the service they render, in the love they lavish, in the mission that has mastered them, there is God.

Some time ago I wandered down Broadway, in the small hours of the morning, with one of the prominent citizens of the community. At the heart of his life is the passion to be of use. Because his character is stalwart and his ability great, the scope of his service is far wider than the capacity of most of us. Amid the hurrying crowds and the flashing lights of Broadway we talked together hour after hour about God and immortality. He said that he could not believe in God. He wistfully wished that he could. He was sure that it must add something beautiful to human life, but for himself he thought that there was no possibility except to live a high, clean, serviceable life until he should fall on sleep. All the way home that night I thought of other people whom I know. Here is a man who believes in God. He always has believed in God. He was brought up to believe in God and he has never felt with poignant sympathy enough the abysmal, immedicable woes of human-kind to have his faith disturbed. He never has had any doubts. The war passed over him and left him as it found him. The fiercest storm that ever raged over mankind did not touch the surface of his pool of sheltered faith. How could one help comparing him with my friend who could not believe? For he, in high emotion, had spoken of the miseries of men, of multitudes starving, of the horrors of war, of the poor whose lives are a long animal struggle to keep the body alive, of the woes that fall with such terrific incidence upon the vast, obscure, forgotten masses of our human-kind, and out of the very ardour of his sympathy had cried: "How can you believe that a good Father made a world like this?"

Now, I believe in God with all my heart. But the God whom I believe in likes that man. Jesus, were he here on earth as once he was, would love him. I think Jesus would love him more than the other man who never had faced human misery with sympathy enough to feel his faith disturbed. This does not mean that we ought contentedly to see men ministered to by a God whom they do not recognize. It is a pity to be served by the Eternal Spirit of all grace and yet not know him. In Jean Webster's "Daddy Long Legs," Jerusha Abbott in the orphanage is helped by an unknown friend. Year after year the favours flow in from this friend whom she does not know. She blossoms out into girlhood and young womanhood and still she does not know him. One day she sees him and she does not recognize him. She has always thought of him as looking other than he does, and so even when she sees him she does not know him. Suppose that the story stopped there! It would be intolerable to have a story end so. To be served all one's life by a friend and then not to know him when he seeks recognition is tragedy. So it is tragedy when God is unrecognized, but behind that is a deeper tragedy still—people who believe in God but who have thoughts of him so narrowly ecclesiastical that they themselves do not perceive his presence, acknowledged or unacknowledged, in all the goodness and truth and beauty of the universe.

Such an enlargement of the idea of God to meet the needs of this new world is one of the innermost demands of religion to-day. When a man believes in the living God as the Creative Power in this universe, whose character was revealed in Christ and who, recognized or unrecognized, reveals himself in every form of goodness, truth and beauty which life anywhere contains, he has achieved a God adequate for life. To such a man the modern progressive outlook upon the world becomes exhilarating; all real advance is a revelation of the purpose of this living God; and, far from being hostile to religion, our modern categories furnish the noblest mental formulae in which the religious spirit ever had opportunity to find expression. We who believe this have no business to be modest and apologetic about it, as though upon the defensive we shyly presented it to the suffrages of men. It is a gospel to proclaim. It does involve a new theology but, with multitudes of eager minds in our generation, the decision no longer lies between an old and a new theology, but between new theology and no theology. No longer can they phrase the deepest experiences of their souls with God in the outgrown categories of a static world. In all their other thinking they live in a world deeply permeated by ideas of progress, and to keep their religion in a separate compartment, uninfluenced by the best knowledge and hope of their day, is an enterprise which, whether it succeed or fail, means the death of vital faith. To take this modern, progressive world into one's mind and then to achieve an idea of God great enough to encompass it, until with the little gods gone and the great God come, life is full of the knowledge of him, as the waters cover the sea, that is alike the duty and the privilege of Christian leadership to-day.

In a world which out of lowly beginnings has climbed so far and seems intended to go on to heights unimagined, God is our hope and in his name we will set up our banners.



[1] Bertrand Russell: Philosophical Essays, II, The Free Man's Worship, pp. 60-61.

[2] Max Nordau: The Interpretation of History, p. 217.

THE END

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