Christianity and Progress
by Harry Emerson Fosdick
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The Cole Lectures for 1922 delivered before Vanderbilt University

Christianity and Progress



Professor of Practical Theology in the Union Theological Seminary; Preacher at the First Presbyterian Church, New York


Fleming H. Revell Company


Copyright, 1922, by


New York: 158 Fifth Avenue Chicago: 17 North Wabash Ave. London: 21 Paternoster Square Edinburgh: 75 Princes Street


The late Colonel E. W. Cole of Nashville, Tennessee, donated to Vanderbilt University the sum of five thousand dollars, afterwards increased by Mrs. E. W. Cole to ten thousand, the design and conditions of which gift are stated as follows:

"The Object of this fund is to establish a foundation for a perpetual Lectureship in connection with the School of Religion of the University, to be restricted in its scope to a defense and advocacy of the Christian religion. The lectures shall be delivered at such intervals, from time to time, as shall be deemed best by the Board of Trust; and the particular theme and lecturer will be determined by the Theological Faculty. Said lecture shall always be reduced to writing in full, and the manuscript of the same shall be the property of the University, to be published or disposed of by the Board of Trust at its discretion, the net proceeds arising therefrom to be added to the foundation fund, or otherwise used for the benefit of the School of Religion."


No one who ever has delivered the Cole Lectures will fail to associate them, in his grateful memory, with the hospitable fellowship of the elect at Vanderbilt University. My first expression of thanks is due to the many professors and students there, lately strangers and now friends, who, after the burdensome preparation of these lectures, made their delivery a happy and rewarding experience for the lecturer. I am hoping now that even though prepared for spoken address the lectures may be serviceable to others who will read instead of hear them. At any rate, it seemed best to publish them without change in form—addresses intended for public delivery and bearing, I doubt not, many marks of the spoken style.

I have tried to make a sally into a field of inquiry where, within the next few years, an increasing company of investigators is sure to go. The idea of progress was abroad in the world long before men became conscious of it; and men became conscious of it in its practical effects long before they stopped to study its transforming consequences in their philosophy and their religion. No longer, however, can we avoid the intellectual issue which is involved in our new outlook upon a dynamic, mobile, progressive world. Hardly a better description could be given of the intellectual advance which has marked the last century than that which Renan wrote years ago: "the substitution of the category of becoming for being, of the conception of relativity for that of the absolute, of movement for immobility." [1] Underneath all other problems which the Christian Gospel faces is the task of choosing what her attitude shall be toward this new and powerful force, the idea of progress, which in every realm is remaking man's thinking.

I have endeavoured in detail to indicate my indebtedness to the many books by whose light I have been helped to see my way. In addition I wish to express especial thanks to my friend and colleague, Professor Eugene W. Lyman, who read the entire manuscript to my great profit; and, as well, to my secretary, Miss Margaret Renton, whose efficient service has been an invaluable help.

H. E. F.

New York

[1] Renan: Averroes et L'Averroisme, p. vii.











The supposition that fish do not recognize the existence of water nor birds the existence of air often has been used to illustrate the insensitive unawareness of which we all are capable in the presence of some encompassing medium of our lives. The illustration aptly fits the minds of multitudes in this generation, who live, as we all do, in the atmosphere of progressive hopes and yet are not intelligently aware of it nor conscious of its newness, its strangeness and its penetrating influence. We read as a matter of course such characteristic lines as these from Tennyson:

"Yet I doubt not thro' the ages one increasing purpose runs, And the thoughts of men are widen'd with the process of the suns."

Such lines, however, are not to be taken as a matter of course; until comparatively recent generations such an idea as that never had dawned on anybody's mind, and the story of the achievement of that progressive interpretation of history is one of the most fascinating narratives in the long record of man's mental Odyssey. In particular, the Christian who desires to understand the influences, both intellectual and practical, which are playing with transforming power upon Christianity today, upon its doctrines, its purposes, its institutions, and its social applications, must first of all understand the idea of progress. For like a changed climate, which in time alters the fauna and flora of a continent beyond the power of human conservatism to resist, this progressive conception of life is affecting every thought and purpose of man, and no attempted segregation of religion from its influence is likely to succeed.

The significance of this judgment becomes the more clear when we note the fact that the idea of progress in our modern sense is not to be found before the sixteenth century. Men before that time had lived without progressive hopes just as before Copernicus they had lived upon a stationary earth. Man's life was not thought of as a growth; gradual change for the better was not supposed to be God's method with mankind; the future was not conceived in terms of possible progress; and man's estate on earth was not looked upon as capable of indefinite perfectibility. All these ideas, so familiar to us, were undreamed of in the ancient and medieval world. The new astronomy is not a more complete break from the old geocentric system with its stationary earth than is our modern progressive way of thinking from our fathers' static conception of human life and history.


It will be worth our while at the beginning of our study to review in outline this development of the idea of progress, that we may better understand the reasons for its emergence and may more truly estimate its revolutionary effects. In the ancient world the Greeks, with all their far-flung speculations, never hit upon the idea of progress. To be sure, clear intimations, scattered here and there in Greek literature, indicate faith that man in the past had improved his lot. Aeschylus saw men lifted from their hazardous lives in sunless caves by the intervention of Prometheus and his sacrificial teaching of the arts of peace; Euripides contrasted the primitive barbarism in which man began with the civilized estate which in Greece he had achieved—but this perceived advance never was erected into a progressive idea of human life as a whole. Rather, the original barbarism, from which the arts of civilization had for a little lifted men, was itself a degeneration from a previous ideal estate, and human history as a whole was a cyclic and repetitious story of never-ending rise and fall. Plato's philosophy of history was typical: the course of cosmic life is divided into cycles, each seventy-two thousand solar years in length; during the first half of each cycle, when creation newly comes from the hands of Deity, mankind's estate is happily ideal, but then decay begins and each cycle's latter half sinks from bad to worse until Deity once more must take a hand and make all things new again. Indeed, so far from reaching the idea of progress, the ancient Greeks at the very center of their thinking were incapacitated for such an achievement by their suspiciousness of change. They were artists and to them the perfect was finished, like the Parthenon, and therefore was incapable of being improved by change. Change, so far from meaning, as it does with us, the possibility of betterment, meant with them the certainty of decay; no changes upon earth in the long run were good; all change was the sure sign that the period of degeneration had set in from which only divine intervention could redeem mankind. Paul on Mars Hill quoted the Greek poet Aratus concerning the sonship of all mankind to God, but Aratus's philosophy of history is not so pleasantly quotable:

"How base a progeny sprang from golden sires! And viler shall they be whom ye beget." [1]

Such, in general, was the non-progressive outlook of the ancient Greeks.

Nor did the Romans hit upon the idea of progress in any form remotely approaching our modern meaning. The casual reader, to be sure, will find occasional flares of expectancy about the future or of pride in the advance of the past which at first suggest progressive interpretations of history. So Seneca, rejoicing because he thought he knew the explanation of the moon's eclipses, wrote: "The days will come when those things which now lie hidden time and human diligence will bring to light. . . . The days will come when our posterity will marvel that we were ignorant of truths so obvious." [2] So, too, the Epicureans, like the Greek tragedians before them, believed that human knowledge and effort had lifted mankind out of primitive barbarism and Lucretius described how man by the development of agriculture and navigation, the building of cities and the establishment of laws, the manufacture of physical conveniences and the creation of artistic beauty, had risen, "gradually progressing," to his present height.[3] Such hopeful changes in the past, however, were not the prophecies of continuous advance; they were but incidental fluctuations in a historic process which knew no progress as a whole. Even the Stoics saw in history only a recurrent rise and fall in endless repetition so that all apparent change for good or evil was but the influx or the ebbing of the tide in an essentially unchanging sea. The words of Marcus Aurelius are typical: "The periodic movements of the universe are the same, up and down from age to age"; "He who has seen present things has seen all, both everything which has taken place from all eternity and everything which will be for time without end; for all are of one kin and of one form"; "He who is forty years old, if he has any understanding at all, has, by virtue of the uniformity that prevails, seen all things which have been and all that will be." [4]

When with these Greek and Roman ideas the Hebrew-Christian influences blended, no conception of progress in the modern sense was added by the Church's contribution. To be sure, the Christians' uncompromising faith in personality as the object of divine redemption and their vigorous hope about the future of God's people in the next world, if not in this, calcined some elements in the classical tradition. Belief in cycles, endlessly repeating themselves through cosmic ages, went by the board. This earth became the theatre of a unique experiment made once for all; in place of the ebb and flow of tides in a changeless sea, mankind's story became a drama moving toward a climactic denouement that would shake heaven and earth together in a divine cataclysm. But this consummation of all history was not a goal progressively to be achieved; it was a divine invasion of the world expectantly to be awaited, when the victorious Christ would return and the Day of Judgment dawn.

The development of this apocalyptic phrasing of hope has been traced too often to require long rehearsal here. If the Greeks were essentially philosophers and welcomed congenially ideas like endless cosmic cycles, the Hebrews were essentially practical and dramatic in their thinking and they welcomed a picture of God's victory capable of being visualized by the imagination. At first their national hopes had been set on the restoration of the Davidic kingdom; then the Davidic king himself had grown in their imagination until, as Messiah in a proper sense, he gathered to himself supernal attributes; then, as a child of their desperate national circumstances, the hope was born of their Messiah's sudden coming on the clouds of heaven for their help. Between the Testaments this expectation expanded and robed itself with pomp and glory, so that when the Christians came they found awaiting them a phrasing of hope which they accepted to body forth their certainty of God's coming sovereignty over all the earth. This expectation of coming triumph was not progressive; it was cataclysmic. It did not offer the prospect of great gains to be worked for over long periods of time; it offered a divine invasion of history immediately at hand. It was pictured, not in terms of human betterment to be achieved, but of divine action to be awaited. The victory would suddenly come like the flood in Noah's day, like the lightning flashing from one end of the heaven to the other, like a thief in the night.

To be sure, this eager expectation of a heavenly kingdom immediately to arrive on earth soon grew dim among the Christians, and the reasons are obvious. For one thing, the Church herself, moving out from days of hardship to days of preferment and prosperity, began to allure with her inviting prospects of growing power the enthusiasms and hopes of the people, until not the suddenly appearing kingdom from the heavens, but the expanding Church on earth became the center of Christian interest. For another thing, Christ meant more to Christians than the inaugurator of a postponed kingdom which, long awaited with ardent expectation, still did not arrive; Christ was the giver of eternal life now. More and more the emphasis shifted from what Christ would do for his people when he came upon the clouds of heaven to what he was doing for them through his spiritual presence with them. Even in the Fourth Gospel one finds this good news that Christ had already come again in the hearts of his people insisted on in evident contrast with the apocalyptic hope literally conceived. For another thing, dramatic hopes of a sudden invasion of the world are always the offspring of desperate conditions. Only when people are hard put to it do they want history catastrophically stopped in the midst of its course. The Book of Daniel must be explained by the tyrannies of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Book of Revelation by the persecutions of Domitian, the present recrudescence of pre-millennialism by the tragedy of the Great War. But when the persecution of the Church by the State gave way to the running of the State by the Church; when to be a Christian was no longer a road to the lions but the sine qua non of preferment and power; when the souls under the altar ceased crying, "How long, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" then the apocalyptic hopes grew dim and the old desire for a kingdom immediately to come was subdued to an expectation, no longer imperative and urgent, that sometime the course of history would stop on Judgment Day.

In all these Greek and Roman, Hebrew and Christian contributions, which flowed together and then flowed out into the medieval age, there was no suggestion of a modern idea of progress, and in the medieval age itself there was nothing to create a fresh phrasing of expectancy. Men were aware of the darkness of the days that had fallen on the earth; even when they began to rouse themselves from their lethargy, their thoughts of greatness did not reach forward toward a golden age ahead but harked back

"To the glory that was Greece And the grandeur that was Rome,"

and their intellectual life, instead of being an adventurous search for new truth, was a laborious endeavour to stabilize the truth already formulated in the great days of the early Church. Indeed, the Church's specific contribution of a vividly imagined faith in a future world, as the goal of the most absorbing hopes and fears of men, tended rather to confirm than to dissipate the static conception of earthly life and history. With an urgency that the ancient world had never known the Christian world believed in immortality and visualized the circumstances of the life to come so concretely that in a medieval catechism the lurid colour of the setting sun was ascribed to the supposition that "he looketh down upon hell." [5] Nothing in this life had any importance save as it prepared the souls of men for life to come. Even Roger Bacon, his mind flashing like a beacon from below the sky-line of the modern world, was sure that all man's knowledge of nature was useful only in preparing his soul to await the coming of Antichrist and the Day of Judgment. There was no idea of progress, then, in the medieval age. Human life and history were static and the only change to be anticipated was the climactic event

"When earth breaks up and heaven expands."


The emergence of modern progressive hopes out of this static medievalism is one of the epic occurrences of history. The causes which furthered the movement seem now in retrospect to be woven into a fabric so tightly meshed as to resist unraveling. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to see at least some of the major factors which furthered this revolutionary change from a static to a progressive world.

Among the first, scientific invention is surely to be noted. Even Roger Bacon, prophecying with clairvoyant insight far in advance of the event, foresaw one of the determining factors of the modern age: "Machines for navigating can be made so that without rowers great ships can be guided by one pilot on river or sea more swiftly than if they were full of oarsmen. Likewise vehicles are possible which without draught-animals can be propelled with incredible speed, like the scythed chariots, as we picture them, in which antiquity fought. Likewise a flying machine is possible in the middle of which a man may sit, using some ingenious device by which artificial wings will beat the air like those of a flying bird. Also machines, small in size, can be constructed to lift and move unlimited weights, than which in an emergency nothing is more useful." [6] So dreamed the great friar in the thirteenth century. When, then, we find the minds of men first throwing off their intellectual vassalage to antiquity and beginning to believe in themselves, their present powers and their future prospects, it is this new-found mastery over nature's latent resources which is the spring and fountain of their confidence. Cardan, in the sixteenth century, marveling at the then modern inventions of the compass, the printing press, and gunpowder, cried, "All antiquity has nothing comparable to these three things." [7] Every year from that day to this has deepened the impression made upon the minds of men by the marvelous prospect of harnessing the resources of the universe. The last one hundred and twenty-five years have seen the invention of the locomotive, the steamship, the telegraph, the sewing machine, the camera, the telephone, the gasoline engine, wireless telegraphy and telephony, and the many other applications of electricity. As one by one new areas of power have thus come under the control of man, with every conquest suggesting many more not yet achieved but brought within range of possibility, old theories of cosmic degeneration and circular futility have gone to pieces, the glamour of antiquity has lost its allurement, the great days of humanity upon the earth have been projected into the future, and the gradual achievement of human progress has become the hope of man.

Another element in the emergence of the modern progressive outlook upon life is immediately consequent upon the first: world-wide discovery, exploration and intercommunication. Great as the practical results have been which trace their source to the adventurers who, from Columbus down, pioneered unknown seas to unknown lands, the psychological effects have been greater still. Who could longer live cooped up in a static world, when the old barriers were so being overpassed and new continents were inviting adventure, settlement, and social experiment hitherto untried? The theological progressiveness of the Pilgrim Fathers, starting out from Leyden for a new world, was not primarily a matter of speculation; it was even more a matter of an adventurous spirit, which, once admitted into life, could not be kept out of religious thought as well. In Edward Winslow's account of Pastor Robinson's last sermon before the little company of pioneers left Leyden, we read that Robinson "took occasion also miserably to bewaile the state and condition of the Reformed Churches, who were come to a period in Religion, and would goe no further than the instruments of their Reformation: As for example, the Lutherans they could not be drawne to goe beyond what Luther saw, for whatever part of God's will he had further imparted and revealed to Calvin, they will die rather than embrace it. And so also, saith he, you see the Calvinists, they stick where he left them: a misery much to bee lamented; For though they were precious shining lights in their times, yet God hath not revealed his whole will to them: And were they now living, saith hee, they would bee as ready and willing to embrace further light, as that they had received." [8] Static methods of thinking are here evidently going to pieces before the impact of a distinctly unstatic world. They were looking for "more truth and light yet to breake forth out of his holy Word" [9] because they lived in a time when new things had been happening at an exhilarating rate and when pioneering adventure and general travel in a world of open avenues were already beginning to have that liberating effect which has increased with every passing century.

Closely allied with the two elements already noted is a third: the increase of knowledge, which, as in the case of astronomy, threw discredit upon the superior claims of antiquity and made modern men seem wiser than their sires. For ages the conviction had held the ground that the ancients were the wisest men who ever lived and that we, their children, were but infants in comparison. When, therefore, the Copernican astronomy proved true, when the first terrific shock of it had passed through resultant anger into wonder and from wonder into stupefied acceptance, and from that at last into amazed exultation at the vast, new universe unveiled, the credit of antiquity received a stunning blow. So far was Aristotle from being "the master of those who know" whom the medievalists had revered, that he had not even known the shape and motion of the earth or its relation with the sun. For the first time in history the idea emerged that humanity accumulates knowledge, that the ancients were the infants, that the moderns represent the age and wisdom of the race. Consider the significance of those words of Pascal in the seventeenth century: "Those whom we call ancient were really new in all things, and properly constituted the infancy of mankind; and as we have joined to their knowledge the experience of the centuries which have followed them, it is in ourselves that we should find this antiquity that we revere in others." [10] For the first time in history men turned their faces, in their search for knowledge, not backward but forward, and began to experience that attitude which with us is habitual—standing on tip-toe in eager expectancy, sure that tomorrow some new and unheard of truth will be revealed.

New inventions, new discoveries, new knowledge—even before the eighteenth century all these factors were under way. Then a new factor entered which has played a powerful part in substituting a progressive for a static world: new social hopes. The medieval age had no expectation of a better social life on earth. Charity was common but it was purely individual and remedial; it did not seek to understand or to cure the causes of social maladjustment; it was sustained by no expectation of better conditions among men; it was valued because of the giver's unselfishness rather than because of the recipient's gain, and in consequence it was for the most part unregulated alms-giving, piously motived but inefficiently managed. In the eighteenth century a new outlook and hope emerged. If man could pioneer new lands, learn new truth and make new inventions, why could he not devise new social systems where human life would be freed from the miseries of misgovernment and oppression? With that question at last definitely rising, the long line of social reformers began which stretched from Abbe de Saint-Pierre to the latest believer in the possibility of a more decent and salutary social life for human-kind. The coming of democracy in government incalculably stimulated the influence of this social hope, for with the old static forms of absolute autocracy now broken up, with power in the hands of the people to seek as they would "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," who could put limits to the possibilities? The medieval age was gone; the modern age had come, and its distinctive note was progress, with new inventions, new discoveries, new knowledge and new social hope.

It would be a fascinating task to watch these interweaving factors at their work and to trace their commingled influence as slowly their involved significance became clear, now to this man and now to that. The best narrative that has been written yet of this epochal movement is contained in Professor Bury's volume on "The Idea of Progress." There one sees the stream of this progressive conception of life pushing its way out as through a delta by way of many minds, often far separated yet flowing with the same water. Some men attacked the ancients and by comparison praised the modern time as Perrault did with "The Age of Louis the Great"; some men foresaw so clearly the possibility of man's control over nature that they dreamed of terrestrial Utopias as Francis Bacon did in "New Atlantis"; some men, like Descartes, sought to grasp the intellectual conditions of human improvement; and others, like Condorcet, became the fervid prophets of human perfectibility; some, like Turgot, re-examined history in terms of the new ideas; and some, like Saint Simon and Comte, sought to discover the law by which all progress moves. This new idea of life and history came "by divers portions and in divers manners," but no one can doubt its arrival. The life of man upon this earth was no longer conceived as static; it was progressive and the possibilities that lay ahead made all the achievements of the past seem like the play of childhood.

At last, in the nineteenth century, the climactic factor was added which gathered up all the rest and embraced them in a comprehensive philosophy of life. Evolution became a credible truth. No longer a dim conjecture, it was established in biology, and then it spread its influence out into every area of human thought until all history was conceived in genetic terms and all the sciences were founded upon the evolutionary idea. Growth became recognized as the fundamental law of life. Nothing in the universe without, or in man's life within, could longer be conceived as having sprung full-statured, like Minerva from the head of Jove. All things achieved maturity by gradual processes. The world itself had thus come into being, not artificially nailed together like a box, but growing like a tree, putting forth ever new branches and new leaves. When this idea had firmly grasped the human mind, the modern age had come indeed, and progress was its distinctive category of understanding and its exhilarating phrasing of human hope. Then came the days of mid-Victorian optimism with songs like this upon men's lips:

"Every tiger madness muzzled, every serpent passion kill'd, Every grim ravine a garden, every blazing desert till'd,

"Robed in universal harvest up to either pole she smiles, Universal ocean softly washing all her warless isles." [11]


Any one, however, who has lived with discerning thought through the opening years of the twentieth century, must be aware that something has happened to chasten and subdue these wildly enthusiastic hopes of the mid-Victorian age. Others beside the "gloomy dean" of St. Paul's, whether through well-considered thought or through the psychological shock of the Great War, have come to look upon this rash, unmitigated enthusiasm about the earth's future as a fool's paradise. At any rate, no treatment of the idea of progress would be complete which did not dwell upon the limitations to that idea, now definitely obvious to thoughtful men.

As early as 1879, in Saporta's "Le Monde des Plantes," we run upon one serious setback to unqualified expectations of progress. Men began to take into account the fact that this earth is not a permanent affair. "We recognize from this point of view as from others," wrote Saporta, "that the world was once young; then adolescent; that it has even passed the age of maturity; man has come late, when a beginning of physical decadence had struck the globe, his domain." [12] Here is a fact to give enthusiasm over earthly progress serious pause. This earth, once uninhabitable, will be uninhabitable again. If not by wholesale catastrophe, then by the slow wearing down of the sun's heat, already passed its climacteric, this planet, the transient theatre of the human drama, will be no longer the scene of man's activity, but as cold as the moon, or as hot as colliding stars in heaven, will be able to sustain human life no more. "The grandest material works of the human race," wrote Faye in 1884, "will have to be effaced by degrees under the action of a few physical forces which will survive man for a time. Nothing will remain, not even the ruins." [13]

Every suggested clew to a possible escape from the grimness of the planet's dissolution has been followed up with careful search. The discovery of radioactivity seemed to promise endlessly extended life to our sun, but Sir E. Rutherford, before the Royal Astronomical Society, has roundly denied that the discovery materially lengthens our estimate of the sun's tenure of life and has said that if the sun were made of uranium it would not because of that last five years the longer as a giver of heat.[14] Whether we will or not, we have no choice except to face the tremendous fact, calmly set down by von Hartmann in 1904: "The only question is whether . . . the world-process will work itself out slowly in prodigious lapse of time, according to purely physical laws; or whether it will find its end by means of some metaphysical resource when it has reached its culminating point. Only in the last case would its end coincide with the fulfilment of a purpose or object; in the first case, a long period of purposeless existence would follow after the culmination of life." [15]

In a word, men delighted at the prospect of human progress on this planet have made an idol of it, only to discover that on a transient earth it leads nowhere without God and immortality. One disciple of naturalism recently denied his desire to believe in God because he wanted a risky universe. But the universe without God is not risky; it is a foregone conclusion; the dice are all loaded. After the lapse of millions of years which, however long they be stretched out, will ultimately end, our solar system will be gone, without even a memory left of anything that ever was dreamed or done within it. That is the inevitable issue of such a "risky" universe. When scientifically-minded men, therefore, now take a long look ahead, the Utopian visions of the mid-Victorian age are not foremost in their thought. Rather, as one of them recently wrote:

"One is tempted to imagine this race of supermen, of some millions of years hence, grimly confronting the issue of extinction. Probably long before that time science will have perfectly mastered the problem of the sun's heat, and will be able to state precisely at what period the radiation will sink to a level which would normally be fatal to the living inhabitants of the planets. Then will begin the greatest of cosmic events: a drama that has doubtless been played numbers of times already on the stage of the universe: the last stand of the wonderful microcosm against the brute force of the macrocosm. . . . .

"One conceives that our supermen will face the end philosophically. Death is losing its terrors. The race will genially say, as we individuals do to-day, that it has had a long run. But it will none-the-less make a grim fight. Life will be worth living, for everybody, long before that consummation is in sight. The hovering demon of cold and darkness will be combatted by scientific means of which we have not the germ of a conception." [16]

If ever a river ran out into a desert, the river of progressive hopes, fed only from springs of materialistic philosophy, has done so here. At least the Greeks had their immortality and the Hebrews their coming Kingdom of God, but a modern materialist, with all his talk of progress, has neither the one nor the other, nor anything to take their place as an ultimate for hope. Whatever else may be true, progress on a transient planet has not done away with the need of God and life eternal.

Moreover, not only have our twentieth century thought and experience seriously qualified the meaning of progress on this earth by the limiting of the earth's duration; men have come also to distrust, as a quite unjustified flourish of sentimentality, the mid-Victorian confidence in an automatic evolution which willy-nilly lifts humanity to higher levels. Said Herbert Spencer, "Progress is not an accident, not a thing within human control, but a beneficent necessity." "This advancement is due to the working of a universal law; . . . in virtue of that law it must continue until the state we call perfection is reached. . . . Thus the ultimate development of the ideal man is logically certain—as certain as any conclusion in which we place the most implicit faith; . . . so surely must the things we call evil and immorality disappear; so surely must man become perfect." [17] There is no scientific basis whatever for such a judgment. Evolution is not an escalator which, whether or not man run in addition to its lift, will inevitably raise humanity to a heaven on earth. Potatoes in the cellar shooting out long white eyes in search of light are evolving, but they are evolving worse. Upon the basis of a scientific doctrine of evolution, no idolatrous superstition could be much more lacking in intellectual support than Spencer's confidence in a universal, mechanical, irresistible movement toward perfection. The plain fact is that human history is a strange blend of progress and regress; it is the story of the rhythmic rise and fall of civilizations and empires, of gains made only to be lost and lost only to be fought for once again. Even when advance has come, it has come by mingled progress and cataclysm as water passes, through gradual increase of warmth, from ice suddenly to liquid and from liquid suddenly to vapour. Our nineteenth century ideas of evolution tended to create in us the impression that humanity had made a smooth and even ascent. We artificially graded the ascending track of human history, leveled and macadamized it, and talked of inevitable progress. Such sentimental optimism has ceased even to be comforting, so utterly untenable has it become to every well-instructed mind.

To such unfounded faith in automatic progress a valuable counterweight is acquaintance with the life of a man like St. Augustine. As one reads Augustine's sermons one can hear in the background the collapse of a great civilization. One can tell from his discourses when the barbarians began to move on Rome. One can hear the crash when Alaric and his hordes sacked the Eternal City. One can catch the accent of horror at the tidal waves of anarchy that everywhere swept in to engulf the falling empire. "Horrible things," said Augustine, "have been told us. There have been ruins, and fires, and rapine, and murder, and torture. That is true; we have heard it many times; we have shuddered at all this disaster; we have often wept, and we have hardly been able to console ourselves." [18] At last, the empire in ruins, the old civilization tottering to its collapse, Augustine died in his episcopal city of Hippo, while the barbarians were hammering at the city gates. Through such scenes this generation too has lived and has had to learn again, what we never should have forgotten, that human history is not a smooth and well-rolled lawn of soft ascents; that it is mountainous, precipitous, terrific—a country where all progress must be won by dint of intelligence and toil, and where it is as easy to lose the gains of civilization as it is to fall over a cliff or to surrender a wheat field to the weeds. An archeologist in Mesopotamia talked with an Arab lad who neither read, himself, nor knew any one who did; yet the lad, when he acknowledged this, stood within a stone's throw of the site where milleniums ago was one of the greatest universities of the ancient world and where still, amid the desolation, one could dig and find the old clay tablets on which the children of that ancient time had learned to write. Progress? Regress! While history as a whole, from the Cro-Magnon man to the twentieth century, does certainly suggest a great ascent, it has not been an automatic levitation. It has been a fight, tragic and ceaseless, against destructive forces. This world needs something more than a soft gospel of inevitable progress. It needs salvation from its ignorance, its sin, its inefficiency, its apathy, its silly optimisms and its appalling carelessness.


Nevertheless, though it is true that our modern ideas of progress on this earth never in themselves can supply an adequate philosophy of life, and though it is true that they do not dispense with, but rather emphasize, our need of God and immortality and the saving powers which Christians find in Christ, yet those ideas have in them a permanent contribution to the life of man from whose influence the race cannot escape. When we have granted the limitations which disillusioned thoughtfulness suggests concerning progress upon this earth, it still remains true that, in our new scientific control over the latent resources of the earth without and over our own mental and moral processes within, we have a machinery for producing change that opens up exciting prospects before humanity. Never in our outlook upon man's earthly future can we go back to the endless cosmic cycles of the Greeks or the apocalyptic expectations of the Hebrews. We are committed to the hope of making progress, and the central problem which Christianity faces in adjusting her thought and practice to the modern age is the problem of coming to intelligent terms with this dominant idea.

These lectures are an excursion to spy out this land and to see, if we may, what the idea of progress through the scientific control of life is likely to mean and ought to mean to Christianity. If this modern idea is not intelligently guided in its effect upon our faith and practice, it will none the less have its effect in haphazard, accidental, unguided, and probably ruinous ways. If one listens, for example, to the preaching of liberal ministers, one sees that every accent of their teaching has been affected by this prevalent and permeating thought. The God they preach no longer sits afar like Dante's deity in the stationary empyrean beyond all reach of change; their God is here in the midst of the human struggle, "their Captain in the well-fought fight." H. G. Wells may be a poor theologian but he is one of our best interpreters of popular thought and his idea of God, marching through the world "like fifes and drums," calling the people to a progressive crusade for righteousness, is one which modern folk find it most easy to accept. He is a God of progress who undergirds our endeavours for justice in the earth with his power; who fights in and for and with us against the hosts of evil; whose presence is a guarantee of ultimate victory; and whose effect upon us is to send us out to war against ancient human curses, assured that what ought to be done can be done.

As men's thought of God has thus been molded by the idea of progress on the earth, so, too, the Christ they preach is not primarily, as of old, the victim by whose substitutionary sacrifice the race of men has found an open door from the bottomless pit of endless woe to a blessed immortality in Paradise. The modern emphasis is all another way. Christ is the divine revealer whose spirit alone can transform individuals and save society. The sort of character he was, the life he lived, the ideas he promulgated, are the salt that can preserve human life, the light that can illumine the way to a kingdom of righteousness on earth. He himself is the leader in the fight for that kingdom, his sacrifice part of the price it costs, his spirit the quality of life that is indispensable to its coming, and when we think of him we sing,

"The Son of God goes forth to war. . . . Who follows in his train?"

So, too, the Church, as presented by typical modern preachers, is no longer an ark to which, from the flood of wrath divine, the few may flee for safety. If men tried to preach in that way, the message would stick in their throats. The Church is primarily an instrument in God's hands to bring personal and social righteousness upon the earth. When her massed influence overcomes a public evil or establishes a public good, men find the justification of her existence and a first-rate weapon of apologetic argument in her behalf. When wars come, the Church is blamed because she did not prevent them; when wars are over, she takes counsel how she may prove the validity of her message by making their recurrence impossible; and the pitiful dismemberment of the Church by sects and schisms is hated and deplored, not so much because of economic waste or theological folly, as because these insane divisions prevent social effectiveness in bringing the message of Christ to bear influentially on modern life.

Likewise, hope, deeply affected by modern ideas of earthly progress, is not primarily post-mortem, as it used to be. Men believe in immortality, but it seems so naturally the continuance of this present life that their responsible concern is chiefly centered here. The hopes which waken immediate enthusiasm and stir spontaneous response are hopes of righteousness victorious upon the earth. Because men believe in God, they believe that he has great purposes for humankind. The course of human history is like a river: sometimes it flows so slowly that one would hardly know it moved at all; sometimes bends come in its channel so that one can hardly see in what direction it intends to go; sometimes there are back-eddies so that it seems to be retreating on itself. If a man has no spiritual interpretation of life, if he does not believe in God, he may well give up hope and conclude that the human river is flowing all awry or has altogether ceased to move. A Christian, however, has a spiritual interpretation of life. He knows that human history is a river—not a whirlpool, nor a pond, but a river flowing to its end. Just as, far inland, we can tell that the Hudson is flowing to the sea, because the waters, when the tide comes in, are tinctured with the ocean's quality, so now, we believe that we can tell that the river of human history is flowing out toward the kingdom of our God. Already the setback of the divine ocean is felt among us in ideals of better life, personal, social, economic, national. That it is Christianity's function to believe in these ideals, to have faith in the possibility of their realization, to supply motives for their achievement, and to work for them with courage and sacrifice, is the familiar note of modern Christian hope.

The modern apologetic also is tinctured with this same quality. Not as of old is it a laboured working out of metaphysical propositions. Rather, a modern Christian preacher's defense of the Gospel may be paraphrased in some such strain as this: You never can achieve a decent human life upon this planet apart from the Christian Gospel. Neither outward economic comfort nor international treaties of peace can save the day for humanity. Not even when our present situation is described as "a race between education and catastrophe" has the case been adequately stated. What kind of education is meant? If every man and woman on earth were a Ph. D., would that solve the human problem? Aaron Burr had a far keener intellect than George Washington. So far as swiftness and agility of intelligence were concerned, Burr far out-distanced the slow-pacing mind of Washington. But, for all that, as you watch Burr's life, and many another's like him, you understand what Macaulay meant when he exclaimed: "as if history were not made up of the bad actions of extraordinary men, as if all the most noted destroyers and deceivers of our species, all the founders of arbitrary governments and false religions, had not been extraordinary men, as if nine tenths of the calamities which have befallen the human race had any other origin than the union of high intelligence with low desires." Was Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon unintelligent? Caesar and Napoleon—were they unintelligent? Has the most monumental and destructive selfishness in human history been associated with poor minds? No, with great minds, which, if the world was to be saved their devastation, needed to be reborn into a new spirit. The transforming gospel which religion brings is indispensable to a building of the kingdom of righteousness upon the earth.

Wherever one listens, then, to the typical teaching of modern Christians, he finds himself in the atmosphere of the idea of progress. Men's thoughts of God, of Christ, of the Church, of hope, their methods of apologetic, are shaped to that mold—are often thinned out and flattened down and made cheap and unconvincing by being shaped to that mold—so that an endeavour to achieve an intelligent understanding of Christianity's relationship with the idea of progress is in part a defensive measure to save the Gospel from being unintelligently mauled and mishandled by it. Marcus Dods, when he was an old man, said: "I do not envy those who have to fight the battle of Christianity in the twentieth century." Then, after a moment, he added, "Yes, perhaps I do, but it will be a stiff fight." It is a stiff fight, and for this reason if for no other, that before we can get on much further in a progressive world we must achieve with wisdom and courage some fundamental reconstructions in our Christian thinking.

[1] Aratus of Soli: Phaenomena, lines 122-3.

[2] Lucius Annaeus Seneca: Naturalium Quaestionum, Liber VII, 25.

[3] T. Lucretius Carus: De Rerum Natura, Lib. V, 1455—"Paullatim docuit pedetentim progredienteis."

[4] Marcus Aurelius Antoninus: Meditations, IX, 28; VI, 37; XI, 1.

[5] Andrew D. White: A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. I, p. 97.

[6] Roger Bacon: Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturae, et de Nullitate Magiae, Caput IV, in Opera Quaedam Hactenus Inedita, edited by J. S. Brewer, p. 533.

[7] Jerome Cardan: De Subtilitate, Liber Decimusseptimus: De artibus, artificiosisque rebus.

[8] Edward Winslow: Hypocrisie Unmasked, p. 97.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Blaise Pascal: Opuscules, Preface to the Treatise on Vacuum, in The Thoughts, Letters and Opuscules of Blaise Pascal, Translated by O. W. Wight, p. 550.

[11] Alfred Tennyson: Locksley Hall Sixty Years After.

[12] Comte de Saporta: Le Monde des Plantes avant L'Apparition de L'Homme, p. 109.

[13] H. Faye: Sur L'Origine du Monde, Chapitre XI, p. 256-7.

[14] Joseph McCabe: The End of the World, p. 112.

[15] Eduard von Hartmann: Ausgewaehlte Werke, viii, pp. 572-3 (Leipzig, 1904).

[16] Joseph McCabe: The End of the World, pp. 116-117.

[17] Herbert Spencer: Illustrations of Universal Progress, Chapter I, Progress: Its Law and Cause, p. 58; Social Statics, Part I, Chapter II, The Evanescence of Evil, Sec. 4, p. 78 ff.

[18] Louis Bertrand: Saint Augustin, p. 342.




One of the first effects of the idea of progress, whose development our last lecture traced, has been to increase immeasurably man's self reliance and to make him confident of humanity's power to take care of itself. At the heart of the idea of progress is man's new scientific control over life, and this new mastery, whereby the world seems ready to serve the purposes of those who will learn the laws, is the dominant influence in both the intellectual and practical activities of our age. That religion, in consequence, should seem to many of minor import, if not quite negligible, and that men, trusting themselves, their knowledge of law, their use of law-abiding forces, their power to produce change and to improve conditions, should find less need of trusting any one except themselves, was inevitable, but for all that it is fallacious. Already we have seen that a stumbling and uneven progress, precarious and easily frustrated, taking place upon a transient planet, goes but a little way to meet those elemental human needs with which religious faith has dealt. In our present lecture we propose a more specific consideration of this abiding necessity of religion in a progressive world.

How difficult it is to go back in imagination to the days before men grasped the meaning of natural law! We take gravitation for granted but, when Newton first proclaimed its law, the artillery of orthodox pulpits was leveled against him in angry consternation. Said one preacher, Newton "took from God that direct action on his works so constantly ascribed to him in Scripture and transferred it to material mechanism" and he "substituted gravitation for Providence." [1] That preacher saw truly that the discovery of natural law was going to make a profound difference to religion. For ages men had been accustomed to look for the revelation of supernatural power in realms where they did not know the laws. And as men were tempted to look for the presence of God in realms where they did not know the laws, so in those realms they trusted God to do for them what they did not know how to do for themselves.

Then men began discovering natural laws, and every time they laid their hands on a new natural law they laid their hands on a new law-abiding force and began doing for themselves things of which their fathers had never dreamed. Stories of old-time miracles are overpassed in our modern days. Did Aladdin once rub a magic lamp and build a palace? To-day, knowledge of engineering laws enables us to achieve results that would put Aladdin quite to shame. He never dreamed a Woolworth Tower. Did the Israelites once cross the Red Sea dry-shod? One thing, however, they never would have hoped to do: to cross under and over the Hudson River day after day in multitudes, dry-shod. Did an axe-head float once when Elisha threw a stick into the water? But something no Elisha ever dreamed of seeing we see continually: iron ships navigating the ocean as though it were their natural element. Did Joshua once prolong the day for battle by the staying of the sun? Yet Joshua could never have conceived an habitual lighting of the city's homes and streets until by night they are more brilliant than by day. Did Jericho's walls once fall at the united shout of a besieging people? Those childlike besiegers, however, never dreamed of guns that could blast Jerichos to pieces from seventy miles away. Huxley was right when he said that our highly developed sciences have given us a command over the course of non-human nature greater than that once attributed to the magicians.

The consequence has been revolutionary. Old cries of dependence upon God grow unreal upon the lips of multitudes. Sometimes without knowing it, often without wanting it, men are drawn by the drift of modern thought away from all confidence in God and all consciousness of religious need. Consider two pictures. The first is an epidemic in New England in the seventeenth century. Everybody is thinking about God; the churches are full and days are passed in fasting and agonizing prayer. Only one way of getting rid of such an epidemic is known: men must gain new favour in the sight of God. The second picture is an epidemic in New England in the twentieth century. The churches are not full—they are closed by official order and popular consent to prevent the spread of germs. Comparatively few people are appealing to God; almost everybody is appealing to the health commissioner. Not many people are relying upon religion; everybody is relying upon science. As one faces the pregnant significance of that contrast, one sees that in important sections of our modern life science has come to occupy the place that God used to have in the reliance of our forefathers. For the dominant fact of our generation is power over the world which has been put into our hands through the knowledge of laws, and the consequence is that the scientific mastery of life seems man's indispensable and sufficient resource.

The issue is not far to seek. Such has been public confidence in the efficacy and adequacy of this scientific control of life to meet all human needs, that in multitudes of minds religion has been crowded to the wall. Why should we trust God or concern ourselves with the deep secrets of religious faith, if all our need is met by learning laws, blowing upon our hands, and going to work? So even Christians come secretly to look upon their Christianity as a frill, something gracious but not indispensable, pleasant to live with but not impossible to live without. Christian preachers lose their ability, looking first upon their spiritual message and then upon their fellow men, to feel how desperately the two need each other. Religion has become an "elective in the university of life." But religion cannot persist as a frill; it either is central in its importance or else it is not true at all. Its great days come only when it is seen to be indispensable. We may use what artificial respiration we will upon the Church, the days of the Church's full power will not come until the conviction lays hold upon her that the endeavour to found civilization upon a materialistic science is leading us to perdition; that man needs desperately the ministry of religion, its insight into life's meanings, its control over life's use, its inward power for life's moral purposes; that man never needed this more than now, when the scientific control of life is arming him with so great ability to achieve his aims.


As we try to discern wherein man's need of religion lies with reference to the scientific control of life, let us start with the proposition that, when we have all the facts which science can discover, we still need a spiritual interpretation of the facts. All our experiences are made up of two elements: first, the outward circumstance, and second, the inward interpretation. On the one side is our environment, the world we live in, the things that befall us, the kaleidoscopic changes of fortune in the scenery of which our lives are set. On the other side are the inward interpretations that we give to this outward circumstance. Experience is compounded of these two elements.

This clearly is true in ordinary living. Two men, let us say, go to their physicians and are told that they have only a few months to live. This is the fact which faces both of them. As we watch them, however, we are at once aware that this fact is not the whole of their experience. One of the men crumples up; he "collapses into a yielding mass of plaintiveness and fear." Thinking of the event which he is facing, he sees nothing there but horror. That is his interpretation of it. The other man so looks upon the event which is coming that his family, far from having to support his spirit, are supported by him. He buoys them up; he carries them along; his faith and courage are contagious; and when he thinks of his death it appears in his eyes a great adventure concerning which the old hymn told the truth:

"It were a well-spent journey Though seven deaths lay between."

That is his interpretation. As we regard the finished experiences of these two men, we see clearly that, while the same fact lay at the basis of both, it was the inward interpretation that determined the quality of the experience.

This power to transform facts so that they will be no longer merely facts, but facts plus an interpretation, is one of the most distinctive and significant elements in human life. The animals do not possess it. An event befalls a dog and, when the dog is through with it, the event is what it was before. The dog has done nothing to it. But the same event befalls a man and at once something begins to happen to it. It is clothed in the man's thought about it; it is dressed in his appreciation and understanding; it is transformed by his interpretations. The event comes out of that man's life something altogether different from what it was when it went in. The man can do almost anything with that event. For our experiences do not fall into our lives in single lumps, like meteors from a distant sky of fate; our experiences always are made up of the fortunes that befall us and the interpretations that we give to them.

So far as the relative importance of these two factors is concerned, we may see the truth in the application of our thought to happiness. If there is any area in human experience where the outward circumstance might be supposed to control the results, it is the realm of happiness; yet probably nine-tenths of the problem of happiness lies, not in the outward event, but in the inward interpretation. If we could describe those conditions in which the happiest people whom we have known have lived, can any one imagine the diversity of environment that would be represented in our accounts? Let them move in procession before the eyes of our imagination, those happy folk whose friendship has been the benediction of our lives! What a motley company they are! For some are blind, and some are crippled, and some are invalid; not many are rich and fortunate; many are poor—a company of handicapped but radiant spirits whose victorious lives, like the burning bush which Moses saw, have made in a desert a spot of holy ground. If, now, we ask why it is that happiness can be so amazingly independent of outward circumstance, this is the answer: every experience has two factors, the fortune that befalls and the inward interpretation of it; and, while we often cannot control the fortune, we always can help with the interpretation. That is in our power. That is the throne of our sovereignty over our lives.


The deep need of a worthy interpretation of life is just as urgent in a world where the idea of progress reigns as in any other, and to supply that need is one of the major functions of religion. For religion is something more than all the creeds that have endeavoured to express its thought. Religion is something more than all the organizations that have tried to incarnate its purposes. Religion is the human spirit, by the grace of God, seeking and finding an interpretation of experience that puts sense and worth, dignity, elevation, joy, and hope into life.

A body of students recently requested an address upon the subject: "What is the use of religion anyway?" The group of ideas behind the question is not hard to guess: that science gives us all the facts, that facts and their laws are all we need, that the scientific control of life guarantees progress, and that religion therefore is superfluous. But in such a statement one towering interrogation has been neglected: what about the interpretation of the very facts which science does present? Could not one address himself to the question of those students in some such way as this? You say that science has disclosed to us the leisureliness of the evolving universe. Come back, then, on the long road to the rear on which Bishop Usher's old date of creation is a way station an infinitesimal distance behind us; come back until together we stand at the universe's postern gate and look out into the mystery whence all things came, where no scientific investigation can ever go, where no one knows the facts. What do you make of it? Two voices rise in answer. One calls the world "a mechanical process, in which we may discover no aim or purpose whatever." [2] And another voice says:

"The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork." [3]

That is not a difference in facts, upon which we can get our hands. That is a difference in the interpretation of the facts.

Or come forward together to look into that mystery ahead, toward which this universe and we within it are so prodigiously plunging on. Do we not often feel, upon this earth whirling through space, like men and women who by some weird chance have found themselves upon a ship, ignorant of their point of departure and of their destination? For all the busyness with which we engage in many tasks, we cannot keep ourselves from slipping back at times to the ship's stern to look out along its wake and wonder whence we came, or from going at times also to its prow to wonder whither we are headed. What do you make of it? Toward what sort of haven is this good ship earth sailing—a port fortunate or ill? Or may it be there is no haven, only endless sailing on an endless sea by a ship that never will arrive? So questioning, we listen to conflicting voices. One says there is no future except ultimate annihilation, and another voice sings:

"All we have willed or hoped or dreamed of good, shall exist."

That is not a difference in the facts, that eyes can see and hands handle; that is a difference in the interpretation of the facts.

Or from such large considerations come down into some familiar experience of daily life. Here is a man having a hard battle between right and wrong. There is no more impressive sight on earth to one who looks at it with understanding eyes. What do you make of this mysterious sense of duty which lays its magisterial hand upon us and will not be denied? At once various voices rise. Haeckel says the sense of duty is a "long series of phyletic modifications of the phronema of the cortex." [4] That is his interpretation. And Wordsworth:

"Stern Daughter of the Voice of God! O Duty!"

This sharp contrast is not a difference between facts, which can be pinned down as the Lilliputians pinned down Gulliver; it is a difference in the interpretation of the facts.

Or let us go together up some high hill from which we can look out upon the strange history of humankind. We see its agonies and wars, its rising empires followed by their ruinous collapse, and yet a mysterious advance, too, as though mankind, swinging up a spiral, met old questions upon a higher level, so that looking back to the Stone Age, for all the misery of this present time, we would be rather here than there. What can we make of it? Hauptmann's Michael Kramer says "All this life is the shuddering of a fever." And Paul says, "the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ." That is not a difference in the facts. It is a difference in the interpretation of the facts.

Yet once more, come into the presence of death. The facts that human eyes can see are plain enough, but what can we make of it—this standing on the shore, waving farewell to a friendly ship that loses itself over the rim of the world? Says Thomson of the world's treatment of man,

"It grinds him some slow years of bitter breath, Then grinds him back into eternal death."

And Paul says: "This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." That is not a contrast between facts; that is a contrast between interpretations of facts.

Is it not plain why religion has such an unbreakable hold upon the human mind? The funeral of Christianity has been predicted many times but each time the deceased has proved too lively for the obsequies. In the middle of the eighteenth century they said that Christianity had one foot in the grave, but then came the amazing revival of religious life under the Wesleys. In the middle of the last century one wiseacre said, "In fifty years your Christianity will have died out"; yet, for all our failures, probably Christianity in all its history has never made more progress than in the last half century. If you ask why, one reason is clear: man cannot live in a universe of uninterpreted facts. The scientific approach to life is not enough. It does not cover all the ground. Men want to know what life spiritually means and they want to know that it "means intensely, and means good." Facts alone are like pieces of irritating grit that get into the oyster shell; the pearl of life is created by the interpretations which the facts educe.

In this difference between the facts of experience and their interpretations lies the secret of the contrast between our two words existence and life. Even before we define the difference, we feel it. To exist is one thing; to live is another. Existence is comprised of the bare facts of life alone—the universe in which we live, our heritage and birth, our desires and their satisfactions, growth, age and death. All the facts that science can display before us comprise existence. But life is something more. Life is existence clothed in spiritual meanings; existence seen with a worthy purpose at the heart of it and hope ahead, existence informed by the spirit's insights and understandings, transfigured and glorified by the spirit's faiths and hopes. It follows, therefore, that while existence is given us to start with, life is a spiritual achievement. A man must take the facts of his existence whether he wants to or not, but he makes his life by the activity of his soul. The facts of existence are like so much loose type, which can be set up to many meanings. One man leaves those facts in chaotic disarrangement or sets them up into cynical affirmations, and he exists. But another man takes the same facts and by spiritual insight makes them mean gloriously, and he lives indeed. To suppose that mankind ever can be satisfied with existence only and can be called off from the endeavour to achieve this more abundant life, is utterly to misconceive the basic facts of human nature. And this profound need for a spiritual interpretation of life is not satisfied by an idea of temporal progress, stimulated by a few circumstances which predispose our minds to immediate expectancy.


When, therefore, any one asserts the adequacy of the scientific approach to life, one answer stands ready to our hand: science deals primarily with facts and their laws, not with their spiritual interpretations. To put the same truth in another way, science deals with one specially abstracted aspect of the facts; it drains them of their qualitative elements and, reducing them to their quantitative elements, it proceeds to weigh and measure them and state their laws. It moves in the realm of actualities and not in the realm of values. One science, for example, takes a gorgeous sunset and reduces it to the constituent ether waves that cause the colour. What it says about the sunset is true, but it is not the whole truth. Ask anybody who has ever seen the sun riding like a golden galleon down the western sea! Another science takes a boy and reduces him to his Bertillon measurements and at the top of the statistics writes his name, "John Smith." That is the truth about John Smith, but it is not the whole truth. Ask his mother and see! Another science takes our varied and vibrant mental life and reduces it to its physical basis and states its laws. That is the truth about our mental life, but it is not the whole truth. What is more, it is not that part of the truth by which men really live. For men live by love and joy and hope and faith and spiritual insight. When these things vanish life is

"a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."

When a man takes that quantitative aspect of reality, which is the special province of natural science, as though it were the whole of reality, he finds himself in a world where the physical forces are in control. We, ourselves, according to this aspect of life, are the product of physical forces—marionettes, dancing awhile because physical forces are pulling on the strings. In a word, when a man takes that quantitative aspect of reality, which natural science presents, as though it were the whole of reality, he becomes a materialistic fatalist, and on that basis we cannot permanently build either personal character or a stable civilization. It is not difficult, then, to see one vital significance of Jesus Christ: he has given us the most glorious interpretation of life's meaning that the sons of men have ever had. The fatherhood of God, the friendship of the Spirit, the sovereignty of righteousness, the law of love, the glory of service, the coming of the Kingdom, the eternal hope—there never was an interpretation of life to compare with that. If life often looks as though his interpretation were too good to be true, we need not be surprised. Few things in the universe are as superficially they look. The earth looks flat and, as long as we gaze on it, it never will look any other way, but it is spherical for all that. The earth looks stationary and if we live to be as old as Methuselah we never will see it move, but it is moving—seventy-five times faster than a cannon ball! The sun looks as though it rose in the east and set in the west, and we never can make it look any other way, but it does not rise nor set at all. So far as this earth is concerned, the sun is standing still enough. We look as though we walked with our heads up and our feet down, and we never can make ourselves look otherwise, but someone finding a safe stance outside this whirling sphere would see us half the time walking with our heads down and our feet up. Few things are ever the way they look, and the end of all scientific research, as of all spiritual insight, is to get behind the way things look to the way things are. Walter Pater has a rememberable phrase, "the hiddenness of perfect things." One meaning, therefore, which Christ has for Christians lies in the realm of spiritual interpretation. He has done for us there what Copernicus and Galileo did in astronomy: he has moved us out from our flat earth into his meaningful universe, full of moral worth and hope. He has become to us in this, our inner need, what the luminous phrase of the Book of Job describes, "An interpreter, one among a thousand." And in spite of all our immediate expectancy, born out of our scientific control of life, mankind never needed that service more than now.


There is a second proposition to which we should attend as we endeavour to define the need for religion with reference to the scientific mastery of life. Consider why so often men are tempted to suppose that science is adequate for human purposes. Is it not because science supplies men with power? Steam, electricity, petroleum, radium—with what progressive mastery over the latent resources of the universe does science move from one area of energy to another, until in the imagination of recent generations she has seemed to stand saying: all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. With such power to bestow, is she not our rightful mistress? But who that has walked with discerning eyes through these last few years can any longer be beguiled by that fallacious vision? Look at what we are doing with this new power that science has given us! The business to which steel and steam and electricity, explosives and poisons have recently been put does not indicate that humanity's problem is solved when new power is put into our hands. Even the power of wide-spread communication can so be used that a war which began in Serajevo will end with lads from Kamchatka and Bombay blasted to pieces by the same shell on a French battlefield. Even the power of modern finance can be so used that nations will exhaust the credit of generations yet unborn in waging war. How some folk keep their cheap and easy optimism about humanity's use of its new energies is a mystery. We have come pretty near to ruining ourselves with them already. If we do not achieve more spiritual control over them than we have yet exhibited we will ruin ourselves with them altogether. Once more in history a whole civilization will commit suicide like Saul falling on his own sword.

The scientific control of life, by itself, creates more problems than it solves. The problem of international disarmament, for example, has been forced on us by the fear of that perdition to the suburbs of which our race has manifestly come through the misuse of scientific knowledge. Humanity is disturbed about itself because it has discovered that it is in possession of power enough to wreck the world. Never before did mankind have so much energy to handle. Multitudes of people, dubious as to whether disarmament is practical, are driven like shuttles back and forth between that doubt, upon the one side, and the certainty, upon the other, that armament is even less practical. The statisticians have been at work upon this last war and their figures, like the measurements of the astronomers, grow to a size so colossal that the tentacles of our imaginations slip off them when we try to grasp their size. The direct costs of this last war, which left us with more and harder difficulties than we had at the beginning, were about $186,000,000,000. Is that practical? At the beginning of 1922 almost all the nations in Europe, although by taxation they were breaking their people's financial backs, were spending far more than their income, and in the United States, far and away the richest nation on the planet, we faced an enormous deficit. Is that practical? In this situation, with millions of people unemployed, with starvation rampant, with social revolution stirring in every country—not because people are bad, not because they impatiently love violence, but because they cannot stand forever the social strain and economic consequence of war—what were we doing? We were launching battleships which cost $42,000,000 to build, which cost $2,000,000 a year to maintain and which, in a few years, would be towed out to sea to be used as an experimental target to try out some new armour-piercing shell. I wonder if our children's children will look back on that spectacle and call it practical. In 1912 the naval expenses of this country were about $136,000,000. In 1921 our naval expenses were about $641,000,000—approximately five times greater in nine years. So over all the earth war preparations were pyramiding with an ever accelerating momentum. And because any man can see that we must stop sometime, we have been trying desperately to stop now; to turn our backs upon this mad endeavour to build civilization upon a materialistic basis, bulwarked by physical force; to turn our faces toward spiritual forces, fair play, reasonable conference, good-will, service and co-operation.

Yet how hard it is to make the change effective! Long ages ago in the primeval jungle, the dogs' ancestors used to turn around three times in the thicket before they lay down, that they might make a comfortable spot to nestle in, and now your highbred Pekingese will turn around three times upon his silken cushion although there is no earthly reason why he should. So difficult is it to breed beasts and men out of their inveterate habits. So hard is it going to be to make men give up the idea that force is a secure foundation for international relationships. Yet somehow that change must be made. They are having trouble with the housing problem in Tokyo and the reason is simple. Tokyo is built on earthquake ground and it is insecure. You cannot put great houses on unstable foundations. One story, two stories, three stories—that is about as high as they dare go. But in New York City one sees the skyscrapers reaching up their sixty stories into the air. The explanation is not difficult: Manhattan Island is solid rock. If you are going to build great structures you must have great foundations. And civilization is a vast and complicated structure. We cannot build it on physical force. That is too shaky. We must build it upon spiritual foundations.

There are those who suppose that this can be done by progress through the scientific control of life, and who treat religion as a negligible element. Such folk forget that while a cat will lap her milk contentedly from a saucer made of Wedgwood or china, porcelain or earthenware, and will feel no curiosity about the nature of the receptacle from which she drinks, human beings are not animals who thus can take their food and ask no questions about the universe in which it is served to them. We want to know about life's origin and meaning and destiny. We cannot keep our questions at home. We cannot stop thinking. If this universe is fundamentally physical, if the only spark of spiritual life which it ever knew is the fitful flame of our own unsteady souls, if it came from dust and to dust will return, leaving behind no recollection of the human labour, sacrifice and aspiration which for a little time it unconsciously enshrined, that outlook makes an incalculable difference to our present lives. For then our very minds themselves, which have developed here by accident upon this wandering island in the skies, represent the only kind of mind there is, and what we do not know never was thought about or cared for or purposed by anyone, and we, alone in knowing, are ourselves unknown.

The consequence of this sort of thinking, which is the essence of irreligion, is to be seen on every side of us in folk who, having thus lost all confidence in God and the reality of the spiritual world, still try to labour for the good of men. They have kept one part of Christianity, its ideals of character and service; they have lost the other part, which assures them about God. In a word, they are trying to build an idealistic and serviceable life upon a godless basis. Now, the difficulty with this attitude toward life lies here: it demands a quality of spirit for which it cannot supply the motive. It demands social hope, confidence, enthusiasm and sacrifice, and all the while it cuts their nerves. It tells men that the universe is fundamentally a moral desert, that it never was intended even to have an oasis of civilization in it, that if we make one grow it will be by dint of our own effort against the deadset of the universe's apathy, that if, by our toil, an oasis is achieved, it will have precarious tenure in such alien and inhospitable soil, and that in the end it will disappear before the onslaught of the cosmic forces; yet in the same breath it tells men to work for that oasis with hope, confidence, joy and enthusiastic sacrifice. This is a world view which asks of men a valorous and expensive service for which it cannot supply the driving power. Yet many of our universities are presenting just that outlook upon life to our young men and women. The youth are being urged to fight courageously and sacrificially for righteousness upon the earth, and at the same time they are presented with a view of the background and destiny of human life similar to that which Schopenhauer expressed: "Truly optimism cuts so sorry a figure in this theatre of sin, suffering, and death that we should have to regard it as a piece of sarcasm, if Hume had not explained its origin—insincere flattery of God in the arrogant expectation of gain." [5]

What this generation, which so disparages religion and like the ancient Sadducee calls its good right arm its god, will ultimately discover is that the fight for righteousness in character and in society is a long and arduous campaign. The Bible says that a thousand years in God's sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. It certainly seems that way. It is a long and roundabout journey to the Promised Land. Generations die and fall by the way. The road is white with the bones of pilgrims who attained not the promises but saw them and greeted them from afar. Some Giordano Bruno, who gives himself to the achievement of mankind's high aims, is burned at the stake; centuries pass and on the very spot where he was martyred a monument is built with this inscription on it: "Raised to Giordano Bruno by the generation which he foresaw." This is exhilarating when the story is finished, but in the meantime it is hard work being Giordano Bruno and sacrificially labouring for a cause which you care enough for and believe enough in and are sure enough about so that you will die for it. When such faith and hope and sacrifice are demanded one cannot get them by exhortation, by waving a wand of words to conjure his enthusiasm up. Nothing will do but a world-view adequate to supply motives for the service it demands. Nothing will do but religion.

One wonders why the preachers do not feel this more and so recover their consciousness of an indispensable mission. One wonders that the churches can be so timid and dull and negative, that our sermons can be so pallid and inconsequential. One wonders why in the pulpit we have so many flutes and so few trumpets. For here is a world with the accumulating energies of the new science in its hands, living in the purlieus of hell because it cannot gain spiritual mastery over the very power in which it glories. Here is a world which must build its civilization on spiritual bases or else collapse into abysmal ruin and which cannot achieve the task though all the motives of self-preservation cry out to have it done, because men lack the very elements of faith and character which it is the business of religion to supply.


We have said that when science has given us all its facts we still need a spiritual interpretation of the facts; that when science has put all its energies into our hands we still need spiritual mastery over their use. Let us say in conclusion that, when science has given us all its power, we still need another kind of power which it is not the business of science to supply. Long ago somebody who knew the inner meaning of religion wrote:

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul."

That last phrase sums up one of the deepest needs of human life. We are in constant want of spiritual repair; we are lost without a fresh influx of inward power; we desperately need to have our souls restored. A young British soldier once came in from the trenches where his aggressive powers had been in full employ and, having heard one of the finest concert companies that London could send out, he wrote in a letter to his family: "I have just come down from the trenches, and have been listening to one of the best concerts I ever attended. It makes one feel that perhaps there is a good God after all." The two aspects of life which that soldier discovered in himself all men possess. One takes us to life's trenches; the other throws us back on some revelation of grace and beauty that we may be sure of God. With one we seek aggressively to master life; with the other we seek receptively to be inspired. Every normal man needs these two kinds of influence: one to send him informed and alert to his tasks, the other to float his soul off its sandbars on the rising tide of spiritual reassurance and power. Every normal man needs two attitudes: one when he goes into action determined to do his work and to do it well, and the other when he subdues his spirit to receptivity and with the Psalmist cries,

"My soul, wait thou in silence for God only; For my expectation is from him."

When science has given us all the power it can, we still need another kind of power which science cannot give.

Whatever else the scientific control of life may have accomplished, it has not saved mankind from the old and devastating problems of trouble and sin. So far as individual experience of these is concerned, there is little discernable difference between two thousand years before Christ and two thousand years afterward. Still disasters fall upon our lives, sometimes as swift in their assault as wild beasts leaping from an unsuspected ambush. Still troubles come, long drawn out and wearying, like the monotonous dripping of water with which old torturers used to drive their victims mad. Still sins bring shame to the conscience and tragic consequence to the life, and tiresome work, losing the buoyancy of its first inspiration, drags itself out into purposeless effort and bores us with its futility. Folk now, as much as ever in all history, need to have their souls restored. The scientific control of life, however, is not adequate for that. Electricity and subways and motor cars do not restore the soul; and to know that there are millions upon millions of solar systems, like our own, scattered through space does not restore the soul; and to delve in the sea or to fly in the air or to fling our words through the ether does not restore the soul. The need of religion is perennial and would be though our scientific control over life were extended infinitely beyond our present hope, for the innermost ministry of religion to human life is the restoration of the soul.

In this fact lies the failure of that type of naturalism which endeavours to keep religion as a subjective experience and denies the reality of an objective God. If we are not already familiar with this attempted substitution we soon shall be, for our young people are being taught it in many a classroom now. One of the basic principles of this new teaching is belief in the spiritual life but, when one inquires where the spiritual life is, he discovers that it is altogether within ourselves—there is no original, creative and abiding Spiritual Life from whom we come, by whom we are sustained, in whom we live. Rather, as flowers reveal in their fragrance a beauty which is not in the earth where they grow nor in the roots on which they depend, so our spiritual life is the mysterious refinement of the material out of which we are constructed, and it has nothing to correspond with it in the source from which we sprang. Nevertheless, the new naturalism exalts this spiritual life within us, calls it our crown and glory, bids us cultivate and diffuse it, says about it nearly everything a Christian says except that it is a revelation of eternal reality. Moreover, it is difficult to differentiate from this outspoken group of professed naturalists another group of humanists who do retain the idea of God, but merely as the sum total of man's idealistic life. "God," says one exponent, "is the farthest outreach of our human ideals." That is to say, our spiritual lives created God, not God our spiritual lives. God, as one enthusiastic devotee of this new cult has put it, is a sort of Uncle Sam, the pooling of the idealistic imaginations of multitudes. Of course he does not exist, yet in a sense he is real; he is the projection of our loyalties, affections, hopes.

It should go without saying that this idea of God has about as much intellectual validity as belief in Santa Claus and is even more sentimental, in that it is a deliberate attempt to disguise in pleasant and familiar terms a fundamentally materialistic interpretation of reality. The vital failure of this spiritualized naturalism, however, lies in the inability of its Uncle Sam to meet the deepest needs on account of which men at their best have been religious. This deified projection of our ideals we made up ourselves and so we cannot really pray to him; he does not objectively exist and so has no unifying meaning which puts purposefulness into creation and hope ahead of it; he does not care for any one or anything and so we may not trust him; and neither in sin can he forgive, cleanse, restore, empower, nor in sorrow comfort and sustain. A god who functions so poorly is not much of a god. Once more, therefore, one wonders why in a generation when, not less, but more, because of all our scientific mastery the souls of men are starved and tired, the Church is not captured by a new sense of mission. It is precisely in a day when the active and pugnacious energies of men are most involved in the conquest of the world that the spirit becomes most worn for lack of sustenance. To be assured of the nearness and reality and availability of the spiritual world is a matter of life and death to multitudes of folk to-day. There could hardly be a more alluring time in which to make the Holy Spirit real to the world. For the supreme moral asset in any man's life is not his aggressiveness nor his pugnacity, but his capacity to be inspired—to be inspired by great books, great music, by love and friendship; to be inspired by great faiths, great hopes, great ideals; to be inspired supremely by the Spirit of God. For so we are lifted until the things we tried to see and could not we now can see because of the altitude at which we stand, and the things we tried to do and could not we now can do because of the fellowship in which we live. To one asserting the adequacy of the scientific control of life, therefore, the Christian's third answer is clear: man's deepest need is spiritual power, and spiritual power comes out of the soul's deep fellowships with the living God.

Such, then, is the abiding need of religion in a scientific age. To be scientifically minded is one of the supreme achievements of mankind. To love truth, as science loves it, to seek truth tirelessly, as science seeks it, to reveal the latent resources of the universe in hope that men will use them for good and not for evil, as science does, is one of the chief glories of our race. When, however, we have taken everything that science gives, it is not enough for life. When we have facts, we still need a spiritual interpretation of facts; when we have all the scientific forces that we can get our hands upon, we still need spiritual mastery over their use; and, beyond all the power that science gives, we need that inward power which comes from spiritual fellowships alone. Religion is indispensable. To build human life upon another basis is to erect civilization upon sand, where the rain descends and the floods come and the winds blow and beat upon the house and it falls and great is the fall thereof.

[1] Andrew D. White: A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. II, p. 16.

[2] Quoted in the Hibbert Journal, Vol. III, January 1905, p. 296.

[3] Psalm 19:1.

[4] Ernst Haeckel: The Wonders of Life, p. 413.

[5] Arthur Schopenhauer: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Zweiter Band, Kapital 46, Von der Nichtigkeit und dem Leiden des Lebens, p. 669.




Our last lecture started with the proposition that the dominant influence in the intellectual and practical activity of the modern age is man's scientific mastery over life. This present lecture considers one of the consequences of this primary fact: namely, the humanitarian desire to take advantage of this scientific control of life so to change social conditions that mankind may be relieved from crushing handicaps which now oppress it. For the growth of scientific knowledge and control has been coincident with a growth of humanitarian sentiment. This movement for human relief and social reform, in the midst of which we live, is one of the chief influences of our time. It has claimed the allegiance of many of the noblest folk among us. Its idealism, its call to sacrifice, the concreteness of the tasks which it undertakes and of the gains which it achieves, have attracted alike the fine spirits and the practical abilities of our generation. What attitude shall the Christian Church take toward this challenging endeavour to save society? How shall she regard this passionate belief in the possibility of social betterment and this enthusiastic determination to achieve it? The question is one of crucial importance and the Church is far from united on its answer. Some Christians claim the whole movement as the child of the Church, born of her spirit and expressing her central purpose; others disclaim the whole movement as evil and teach that the world must grow increasingly worse until some divine cataclysm shall bring its hopeless corruption to an end; others treat the movement as useful but of minor import, while they try to save men by belief in dogmatic creeds or by carefully engineered emotional experiences. Meanwhile, no words can exaggerate the fidelity, the vigour, the hopefulness, and the elevated spirit with which many of our best young men and women throw themselves into this campaign for better conditions of living. Surely, the intelligent portion of the Church would better think as clearly as possible about a matter of such crucial import.

At first sight, the devotee of social Christianity is inclined impatiently to brush aside as mere ignorant bigotry on the Church's part all cautious suspicion of the social movement. But there is one real difficulty which the thoughtful Christian must perceive when he compares the characteristic approach to the human problem made by the social campaign, on the one side, and by religion, on the other. Much of the modern social movement seems to proceed upon the supposition that we can save mankind by the manipulation of outward circumstance. There are societies to change everything that can be changed and, because the most obvious and easy subjects of transformation are the external arrangements of human life, men set themselves first and chiefly to change those. We are always trying to improve the play by shifting the scenery. But no person of insight ever believed that the manipulation of circumstance alone can solve man's problems. Said Emerson, "No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character." Said Herbert Spencer, "No philosopher's stone of a constitution can produce golden conduct from leaden instincts." Said James Anthony Froude, "Human improvement is from within outwards." Said Carlyle, "Fool! the Ideal is in thyself, the impediment too is in thyself: thy Condition is but the stuff thou art to shape that same Ideal out of." Said Mrs. Browning:

"It takes a soul, To move a body: it takes a high-souled man To move the masses even to a cleaner stye: ..... Ah, your Fouriers failed, Because not poets enough to understand That life develops from within."

Now, religion's characteristic approach to the human problem is represented by this conviction that "life develops from within." So far from expecting to save mankind by the manipulation of outward circumstance, it habitually has treated outward circumstance as of inferior moment in comparison with the inner attitudes and resources of the spirit. Economic affluence, for example, has not seemed to Christianity in any of its historic forms indispensable to man's well-being; rather, economic affluence has been regarded as a danger to be escaped or else to be resolutely handled as one would handle fire—useful if well managed but desperately perilous if uncontrolled. Nor can it be said that Christianity has consistently maintained this attitude without having in actual experience much ground for holding it. The possession of economic comfort has never yet guaranteed a decent life, much less a spiritually satisfactory one. The morals of Fifth Avenue are not such that it can look down on Third Avenue, nor is it possible anywhere to discern gradation of character on the basis of relative economic standing. It is undoubtedly true that folks and families often have their moral stamina weakened and their personalities debauched by sinking into discouraging poverty, but it is an open question whether more folks and families have not lost their souls by rising into wealth. Still, after all these centuries, the "rich fool," with his overflowing barns and his soul that sought to feed itself on corn, is a familiar figure; still it is as easy for a camel to go through a needle's eye as for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. When, therefore, the Christian, approaching the human problem, not from without in, but from within out, runs upon this modern social movement endeavouring to save mankind by the manipulation of outward circumstance, his cautious and qualified consent may be neither so ignorant nor so unreasonable as it at first appears.

As an example of manipulated circumstance in which we are asked to trust, consider the new international arrangements upon which the world leans so heavily for its hopes of peace. Surely, he would be a poor Christian who did not rejoice in every reasonable expectation which new forms of co-operative organization can fulfil. But he would be a thoughtless Christian, too, if he did not see that all good forms of international organization are trellises to give the vines of human relationship a fairer chance to grow; but if the vines themselves maintain their old acid quality, bringing out of their own inward nature from roots of bitterness grapes that set the people's teeth on edge, then no external trellises will solve the problem. It is this Christian approach to life, from within out, which causes the common misunderstanding between the social movement and the Church. The first thinks mainly of the importance of the trellis; the second thinks chiefly about the quality of the vine.

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