I am not seeking to explain or defend what I am saying. I may try to make it a little more clear before I close. For the moment I am putting before you what I believe to be the truth of very truth. To some I may be speaking in an unknown tongue, but not to all. If there is one here who, with some years behind him, has ever been in serious conference with himself, he knows that there is something radically wrong with himself, which calls for something he is powerless to supply. He knows that the springs of his being have been poisoned, and he has no detergent to make them sweet. It is the fashion in our day to speak of the old description of "hell-deserving sinner" as marred by exaggeration, if not to say morbid. I do not fall into that fashion, for it expresses just what I am—a hell-deserving sinner. When the great Puritan, John Newton, saw a man taken out to be hanged, he said: "But for the grace of God there goes John Newton." It is when the true idea of sin is realized under the convincing power of the Holy Spirit, that the "necessity of the sacrificial work of Christ will be felt, understood, and become the one foundation of human hope."
Do you say that you have felt nothing of this convicting and convincing power? Then I ask: Have you ever passed through an hour of serious inquest with your own soul? Have you ever tried to know yourself even as you are known? The debate cannot be all on one side. A man only knows that he is ignorant through the need of a knowledge he has not got. Before I can persuade you that Christ is your Saviour, you must realize that it is a Saviour you need. Before you can start out for Christ you must come to yourself. And while men make a mock of sin, while they regard it as a matter of indifference, or profess to explain it away under the terms of science and philosophy, we need not wonder that they have so little faith in higher things. We need go no further for an explanation of the thoughtless unbelief which is eating its way like a festering sore to the heart of our modern world. If the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life sum up the totality of our being here, why should that crowd on the artist's canvas be represented as moved by an anguish that touches no chord in its soul; which is, indeed, foreign to its every thought, sympathy, and pursuit? So long as men are indifferent about the very question, Why that anguish? vain is the appeal, "To you is it nothing your Saviour should die?" So long as men are utterly unconcerned about the fact, and nature, and effects of moral evil, then selfishness will remain for men the only recognized law of self-preservation.
And here is where I come into line with the practical side of the Christian evangel. The Cross of Christ is no arbitrary arrangement. It is not the expedient of a system cunningly devised by priest, theologian, or Church. It is the grimmest, sanest, divinest thing ever set up in this human world. The Cross is symbol of the only Power that can enter the lists against selfishness, and enter to throw it. And let me plead with you to think about this: every wrong in the world has selfishness, if not for its root, yet at its root. Cast out the selfishness which is sin, and you cast out the first and the last thing that stands between us and the new heaven and the new earth. Think of this, and you will better understand the anguish of Him who carries the sorrow, and is wounded in the wounds made by man's inhumanity to man. Refuse to think of it, and cease to wonder why countless thousands mourn; why the strong oppress the weak; why might is worshipped as right; why men seem to fear nothing but the hell of not making money. Think of it, and cease to wonder why men's bodies and souls are sacrificed in what is little better than a murderous struggle to exist; why one man has so much more than he earns, and others earn so much more than they have. Think of it and cease to wonder why our age is distinguished by a bad pre-eminence of restlessness, by feverishness, a panting for excitement, and a poisonous atmosphere of pessimism.
The Cross of Christ means the life that lives in unselfish service as against the selfishness that is death and defeat. It means not only individuals and Churches, but the race, redeemed and lifted from the dark and narrow life of self, into the life and light of the kingdom of God. Can we wonder, then, that the rejection of the Cross blasts our beliefs in everything divine and hopeful, and is accompanied everywhere by a "melancholy introspection and lack-lustre view of human life?" Recall then in this connection what I have said about sin, and the relation of Christ's death to the forgiveness of sin. What I am saying now does not include all that is implied in that relation; but see in it what I have just put before you, and you will realize that I am not talking in mere morbid terms, nor in those of theology except so far as it is the theology of life. Long as men are willingly in their sin—which means selfishness in all its deadly forms—can we wonder at the unbelief portrayed on that canvas? Can we marvel why the Christ is still despised and rejected?
It may be asked, and justly, what are the professed followers of Christ doing to convince men of their need of Him as their Saviour; to convince them by lives that are the evidence of triumph over sin? What are Christian people, what are the Churches doing to fight down the wrongs, the hurtful conditions, the curse-centres that degrade men, keep them ignorant, and as by a satanic ingenuity hide the real Christ from those who most need to find Him, and are the least able to oppose the things that make Him so misunderstood and even unknown? How far are we responsible, not only for the deliberately cultivated wickedness of men who choose evil as their good, but for the indifference that passes by only because our lives have never compelled its attention? The Church is a Church but to the extent that it is the organic expression of Christ's life, the visible Body of His soul. What, I ask in all faithfulness, are we doing to make real and living to men the presence of a Lord who is ever suffering in their sin and for it? The artist was well inspired to give his picture a twentieth-century setting. What an amount of grim Calvary there is in Glasgow every day under the shadow of our Churches; ah! and behind the sanction of their power. That is the word that should smite us; it is the word that must be said—behind the sanction of their power.
The world would begin to see Christ, if we ourselves would see Him crucified, not merely in the remote Palestine of the first century, but, I say once more, in this Glasgow of to-day. In the foul slum, in the haunt of shame, in the abode of crime and wretchedness, in the places where children are robbed of their birthright before they know what things mean; in the sweater's den, in the heartless side of business competition, in the drink hells, in frivolous pursuits and brainless amusements, in the insolence of wealth, and the sullenness of poverty—in every place or thing where despite is done to the Divine Humanity. Let us feel that whatever wrong is done to a single human being, throughout the world-wide family of man, is literally done to Jesus Christ, and we shall better understand that central Figure in the artist's picture. Let us see Christ crucified in whatever evil is done, in whatever good is left undone that we could do, and sin will become to us not a term only, not a thing to be excused and explained away, but a real and tremendous horror. We shall feel it to be what it is, a stab struck at the living heart of Jesus Christ. As it has been truly said: "Fellowship with Christ's sufferings will become less of a mystical phrase, and more of a vital fact."
"To you is it nothing, all ye that pass by?" As I sat and looked at that picture, this was the question that oppressed my thoughts. And then the further question forced itself—Why, in so many cases, and to all human seeming, is it just that—nothing? It is not enough to talk of sin, and unbelief, and indifference, outside our life: they are real enough, but do they suggest no responsibility on our part? Let it be a call to prayer, an incentive to unceasing watchfulness lest one should be passing by because there is nothing in us which constrains him, or persuades her, to look and be saved, to look and live.
I said at the opening of this address that I would tell you later why I include it in this series. I am not sure that I can keep my word. What has been said will glance from your mind unless you have, like Luther, and for the same reason, wrestled with the question: "How shall a man be just with God?" But assuming that as yet this is outside your experience, still you know the difference between what may but arbitrarily be called sin, and sin that is what it is called. Believe me when I say that the first, and worst, and nearest of all problems for each man of us, and for societies, is the fact of sin; and that with it no one deals, or can deal, save Him upon whom the chastisement of our peace was laid, and with whose stripes we are healed. What is the exact relation between the death of Christ and the forgiveness of sin no one can tell us; but that there is a relation charged with redeeming power is not a theory about Christianity—it is Christianity.
I read some time ago that a "Van Missioner," who was preaching Unitarianism in the villages of Hampshire, found himself at one of them interrupted by a number of farm labourers, who began to sing—
"What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. It washes white as snow, No other fount I know."
To the modern enlightenment which patronizes Jesus as a teacher and rejects Christ as a Saviour, the theology, or sentiment, in these lines is not so much crude as grotesque. At the best it is but curiously reminiscent of the ignorance of a by-gone day. Doubtless this well-meaning man had much to say worth hearing; but he was talking in the name of religion, and to these villagers there was in it the lack of the one thing, which is the lack of all. Theology apart, these simple folk found in these crude lines the heart of saving truth. It is my conviction that they were right. In this conviction I live, and in it, by God's grace, I trust I may die and live again.
"I do not despise Jesus: with all that is best in me do I reverence Him as one of the world's supreme teachers; but I cannot regard Him as more than that," said a friend to me after reading over the manuscript of this address. "And yet," he added quietly, "if there is anything in Christianity which distinguishes it from any other great religion, it must be near to the place you have been trying to get at."
'WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?'
"What must I do to be saved?"—Acts xvi. 30.
"If any man will do his will, he shall know."—St. John vii. 17.
'WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?'
"When I was well into my teens," said a very intelligent woman to me some time ago, "and for long after I had left them, I listened to preachers and preaching; and such powers as I had I put into my listening, for I wanted to get at something I could hold for sure and real in the promises of religion. I was told Sunday by Sunday to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust in Him, and commit to His keeping my soul's welfare. And as far as I knew what belief meant I believed; and tried to persuade myself that I was trusting Christ. But I was not conscious that it made any real difference in my life; that it gave me anything I had not before. Hence I gradually came to the conclusion that either the preachers could not tell me what it was on which I had specifically to lay hold, or it was useless for me to prosecute my attempt to grasp it."
This woman said what many think, who are as yet within listening distance of our pulpits. They want to understand what they must do and believe, to lay hold of that which can make a difference in their life; which can find in it, or bring into it, something that answers in very truth to what the Bible calls "the power of God unto salvation."
It is, surely, a reasonable thing to ask. As religious teachers we can have no right to plead with people to believe what we are not prepared to help them to understand. Some of you may have reason, as you think, to endorse this woman's testimony as a fair statement of your own experience. Can I help you? Most gladly will I do so if I can.
One thing should be said, as I come closer to the attempt. If you are really anxious to find help, guard against mistaken impressions of what that help should be, or can be. In religion, as in all the deeper places of human life, one great teacher is experience; and you can neither anticipate nor rush experience. A mother says in answer to certain questions of her child: "Wait until you are older and you will find out." That, to the child, is no answer at all; but, while the child is a child, it is the only answer there is.
Divine truth is infallible; but, as it has often been pointed out, there is no human infallible apprehension of divine truth. We have to admit that there may be, and indeed must be, many phases and aspects of saving truth which we cannot comprehend. There are others, again, of which we get only distant and fugitive glimpses as we study the Word of God. But we shall also admit, that these higher reaches of truth are not those alone on which our faith is called to repose. It may seem to many of you, that in my treatment of the subject now before us, I overlook much that is essential to the Christian doctrine of salvation. I may even seem to eliminate the supernatural element from it. A little thought, however, should correct the latter impression. In passing I have only to say, that I am not trying to exhaust this theme, but simply to give it a setting which, I venture to think, is worth consideration.
"What must I do to be saved?"—a question which may be put in two very different states of moral being. It may be asked in a temper merely curious and academic; or it may, as in the case of the text, voice a profound sense of need. If we would be saved, we must realize that we need to be saved. It was when the prodigal "came to himself" that he said: "I will arise and go to my father."
We are to be saved from what? and into what are we to be saved? In other words, not only must old things pass away, but all things must become new. From what, I repeat, are we to be saved? There is but one answer to the question: We are to be saved from sin by being delivered from the power of evil; and sin is the wilful assertion of our self-will against the holy will of God. The sense of sin may vary in different people; it may vary with the moods of the same personal experience. There are people who appear to be quite callous about the evil within them and the evil they do. But just as our moral nature is educated, just as we grow in sympathy with the divine will, do we become increasingly sensitive to the distance there is between what we are, and do, and the holiness of Him who is a consuming fire. We feel that the Apostle was neither morbid, nor did he exaggerate the actual situation when he cried: "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
It has been said that the "only way to be saved from sin is to cease to sin." And it is true that a man cannot, at the same time, sin in any given direction, and cease from that sin. But it is also true that he may cease from sin in the sense of not doing certain things, and yet be the greater sinner in the sight of God, because of the motive which acts as his deterrent or restraining force. I have seen men repent of their sin, as the process was called, when I have had no faith in it whatever. They were not repenting of their sin, but lamenting the cost of its indulgence.
We must do more than cease to do evil things only because evil has its price; we must learn to do well by learning to love all that is meant by well. There is no escape from evil except through love of good. The Christian salvation, which means the saving of the whole self-hood of man, is a positive thing from its inception into its endless development. Where it is repression it is that there may be expression. This, I imagine, is what Robert L. Stevenson must have meant when he said "We are not damned for doing wrong, but for not doing right." Christ, he contends, "would never hear of negative morality; 'thou shalt' was ever His word, with which He superseded, 'thou shalt not.'" According to Stevenson—I do not say he is right, but I do quote his words as worth attention—we are not damned so much for yielding to evil, as for not getting into our life its oppositive virtue; some content vital enough to cast out the evil, and to keep it out. To go on fighting some besetting sin is only to repeat, for the most part, an experience many of us know but too well. It almost invariably ends one way. In weariness and despair we ask: "Why should we war with evil? It is more than our test, it is our fate; let us take what sweet we can before it becomes all bitter." Which is but another way of saying: "Evil, be thou my good."
Mark well, then, our next step. It is not enough to tell us that we must conquer the wrong by doing the right. The question is this: Is there any power, anything in what is called saving grace, which is adequate to the struggle on our part, and which appropriated can make us, to use the Apostle's description, "more than conquerors"?
There is; and I will try, first, to tell you what it is, and, secondly, how we may realize it. It is—call it by what name we may for the moment—that which casts out the mean, the ignoble, and the selfish, by filling out life with the great, the noble, and the unselfish. It is, in a word, the salvation which means the "highest character and blessedness, which we, individually and collectively, are capable of reaching and realizing." Let us, then, call it what it is—the power of God unto salvation. And how are we to get it into our possession? The answer is, it needs no getting in. Potentially it is there. "The kingdom of God is within you," says Jesus, and it is ours to bring it out in all its actual reality. It is the greater which includes the less, of the gracious possessions God has put in our being, and of which we know so little because we do not work these inward mines: "Work out your own salvation, for it is God that worketh in you."
Some one makes a great inventor say: "Anybody might have done it, but the secret came to me." Do you believe the first part of this statement? Would you hold me true in saying that anybody might have anticipated the discovery of wireless telegraphy? There are times when the world appears to halt for want of some new thing, or for want of some one to put new meaning into the old. And when the fulness of time has come, the secret, which has been sleeping through centuries of men, awakes in a man. He is the chosen of Providence to deliver unto us that which he also has received.
What is true of a few in the endowment of what we call genius, may be true of us all in the power of God unto salvation. When we were "made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth," the Maker of us all put a part of Himself into the mysterious substance. "Let each man," says Browning, "think himself a thought, an act, a breath of God." There is evil in our nature; but evil can mar us only so far as we allow it to become sin. It is in victory over evil that we find character and make. There is evil in our nature, but there is also a germ of God which He can touch into immortality and glorify with the very splendour of His own image and being. When that germ is quickened into life, we are, in the language of theology, converted; as it develops and becomes the more life and the fuller, we are, in the same language, sanctified and made meet for the Master's use.
Is there anything mysterious in this; anything we may not understand? Christ did not think so, if we may judge from His conversation with Nicodemus. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." Our Lord, if I understand Him aright, tells this master of Israel that there is nothing more wonderful about this new birth than there is about a new affection or a new love. And what cannot love do? No one enters our life except through love. They may influence it profoundly, but that of itself gives no admittance to the heart. What, I ask again, cannot love do? Have we never known lives changed, and indeed transformed by a new affection? I have seen love work miracles; and so far from not believing in such miracles within their sphere, I believe in nothing else. But does that which wakes love put it there? Is some new thing added to life? Rather let us say that it is life coming to its own; just finding what was already there. This may be what the Psalmist means when he speaks of deep calling to deep. The deep in man answers to the deep of attraction which appeals to it. If man was conceived in the image of God, then God is immanent in man. This is not to say that this immanence is equal to, or implies the whole content of what is known as Christian salvation. It is true that the "eye and the brain must be there before the light can be perceived or any object interpreted." But it has been pointed out with equal truth that the "eye would be useless did not the light come to it, and that the brain would have nothing to work on, were not objects from without brought for our perception."  Which means that immanence alone would be powerless apart from some transcendent influence. Unless this be so, what are we to say of the multitudes which sit in darkness and the shadow of death? Our salvation is in the answer of the life immanent to the life transcendent, and the connecting and combining power is the Holy Spirit.
But what, in the next place, is our part in this matter? How is this power to come? How, to use a better term, are we to realize it? Have we to wait for something, or have we to do something to make it a real experience?
A youth, let us say, or a girl, is beginning to learn music, to play the violin or the piano. At first it is drudgery, and its immediate results are a trial unto all that are in the house. The parent or teacher says: "Persevere, obey instructions, and as you pass through routine into the soul, the task will soon be lost in the pleasure." The beginner may not believe it; but granted the facility is there, and determination to bend to the task of learning, and the reward comes. That which is within is brought out, and by the only way it can be brought out: "Stir up the gift that is in thee."
This hints to us the answer to the question, Have we to do something that salvation may become a known and felt reality? We have to do something. We have to do, as we are told by Him who only can tell us what it is we have to do: "Will to do the will," says the Christ, "and ye shall know." And if we are really seeking a basis of assurance in His saving power, we ought surely to take Him at His word, when He tells us how to find it. It is not first through assured belief that we become sure of Christ, it is by doing Christ's will that we become sure of our belief. Have we to explain to a child the mechanism of its limbs before it can attempt to walk? The impulse comes, and the child walks, that is all. But the child has to walk to know that it can walk.
But what, you ask me, are we to say about sudden conversions, of which we once heard so much, and which we are still taught to seek and expect? What, I ask you, about those sudden flashes of insight which at times seem to reveal in a moment a way out of difficulties which for years we have sought in vain? A man told me lately about a period in his life when through drink and betting he was reduced from a prosperous man to a wreck in body and means. "I was down," he said, "low as a human creature could get in this world." He was converted to God, and from the very hour his change came, he declared that his craving for drink, and mania for gambling, dropped out of his being, as a piece of dead matter falls away from a living organism. And there are such cases, thank God, but we must not make our teaching about them misleading by making it despotic. As in the instances of sudden insight, we do not because we dare not say they are general, deny that they occur. The soul-development on its immortal side is, for the most part, gradual and slow. The life-faculty is there, but it often means hard work, patient waiting, and great faith, to realize its presence and bring out its power.
 It has been said that modern psychology confirms scientifically this method of seeking and finding the truth. It teaches that action has often to precede thought and feeling. If this is the word of psychology, it is really in accord with the method of Jesus. Practically all His teaching is addressed, not so much to the intellect or to the emotions, but to the will. He does not put doing and believing in opposition; in actual life they are really indistinguishable parts of a healthy spiritual growth. But our Lord does put doing before knowing, as He puts religion before theology, and life before the understanding of life. His unmistakable object is to constrain men to take action, rather than to wait for emotion, or even for intellectual confidence and conviction.
As a matter of experience, we find at every turn on the road of life we have to do things we do not want to do, to secure the things we want to have. Necessity does not humour us, and that is the reason the world owes so much to necessity. We may be very "superior" about dogmatism in theology, but well for us that dogmatism will have no such nonsense in life. It is just doing the duty that tasks us most, whatever our feeling about it, which makes the difference between the worthy and the unworthy in character; between the numerals and the ciphers in the human world. It is doing, not what we would, but as we ought which changes reluctance into interest, and the sense of futility into the joy of achievement. It is doing what we know to be true which illumines its ever-lasting significance. "You could write stories which people would read," said Lecky repeatedly to George Eliot. She did not believe him, and, strange as it may seem, she had almost a morbid shrinking from making the attempt. But she did make it, and we know with what results. The attempt to write a story had not only to precede the belief that she could write one, it had to reveal the gift.
And so Jesus, who came to manifest God, says to you and me: My brother, My sister, there is that in you which, brought out and cultivated, can achieve in you the highest order and quality of life in this world, and fit you for whatever environment lies beyond. Believe me. Just take me at my word when I say to you, will to do my will, and doing it you shall come to love it—and that is to be saved; for it is to be at one with the Father in me. Leave your past, however unworthy it may be. What I have done and suffered for you has atoned for all. Do your part, and you, too, shall testify: "I live, and yet not I, but Christ that liveth in Me."
This, then, is my position; and whether or not it answer to fact and to Scripture, I leave with your judgment. I ought to have accomplished something if I have made myself understood. It probably overlooks much that many of you hold to be integral to the nature and meaning of salvation. I have only to repeat, that what has been advanced is a setting of this great subject; and I venture to urge it upon your consideration. It now remains for me to notice very briefly one or two further questions as I draw to a close.
What, I may be asked, are we expected, as young people, to understand about the doctrines and dogmas of Christianity as necessary to an intelligent religious faith? And what about feeling or emotion, which is usually represented as a vital part of the driving power of Christian life and conduct? Well, speaking for myself, I make no pretension to the lofty disregard of doctrine which in so many quarters seems to be regarded as the hall-mark of enlightened thinking. We do well to beware of a so-called "breadth," which is but a pet euphemism for thinness.
But after all, we can hold a thing for true, and yet find no explanation of it which quite satisfies us. Theories about the heavens have come and gone, but the stars remain. Christ was, before creeds gathered about Him; and it is because He is, that men must formulate doctrine to explain Him. I have long had the conviction that in religion nothing really matters but the Spirit of Christ. This is not to say that if we have, or claim to have, the Spirit of Christ, it makes no difference whether we do, or do not, believe in the "historical Christ." To my thinking such a position is nonsense. We may as well talk about an effect without a cause. Spirit must needs clothe itself with body. The "external may come in at different points of the process, but the internal without the external cannot exist." I am simply saying, that everything we need to know in a general sense about Christian doctrine becomes intelligible and reasonable, not when we approach Christ through our doubts and difficulties about doctrines, but our doubts and difficulties through Christ. In Him is life, and the life is the light of men. I care not for the moment what dogmas about Christ you accept or reject; I ask you to think, and then say, what heaven worth entering, of state or place, could close against us, were we in the Spirit of Christ walking in the footsteps of Christ?
Then about feeling: Is there one of us who can say, that he, or she, has never had the impulse that should lead to Christian decision? Long as we make it possible for God to appeal to us, He will find His own way. From Him is the impulse, whichever way it comes, but it is ours to put it in practice. But just as we do not wait for feeling to take us out to earn our bread, and keep a roof over our head, so it is a far nobler thing to turn to God from a sense of duty, and conscience, and spiritual need, than it is to depend upon feeling to make us do, what not to do, with or without feeling, is our loss and our shame.
Do not wait for feeling. Begin your part in the work of your own salvation. If feeling carry you into decision, and it sometimes does, well and good. But for one case where feeling leads to decision there are probably a score where feeling must be made by what follows decision. Take care of doing, and feeling will take care of itself; and as we rejoice in its inspiration, we shall realize that, perhaps for the most part, it can come no other way. To have the joy of doing good, we must do good. We cannot have the tonic and bracing sense of vigour by saying we will climb the mountain. It is when we have scaled its heights that we have the experience of a new physical creation.
Why wait, then, for what is waiting for us? The Divine Spirit is universal and infinite. It is the mother-soul of the universe, with eternal power and sweetness and beauty, and glory, shining down upon all men, stimulating them to be nobler, to go up higher. And when we accept the influence of the Holy Spirit seeking the divine in us, and co-operate with it, we have found the answer to the question: What must I do to be saved?
Does any one say, I ask again, that he has never had this impulse? As truly can he say that he has never felt the sun. Let him take heed. The sun sets, and it is night. There can be a night of the soul—the darkest, blackest, most hopeless night of all.
"He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." To be saved is to live; and only to the life above us can the life within us respond. Out of Christ we do not live; we but exist. And existence at its highest estate has no power inherent in it to cast out the selfishness and death that build a hell's despair, in what might be the kingdom of heaven in our human life and world. Do we want to be saved? Do we desire life? Then pray, and begin at once to do what our heart and conscience tell us the Christ would have us do. Will to do the will, and doing it we shall enter, gradually at first, and then with more royal progress and joy unspeakable, into the truth of His word: "Because I live, ye shall live also."
 Rev. W. L. Walker.
 Dr. Lyman Abbot.
DOES GOD HAVE FAIR-PLAY?
"Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God."—Deut. vii. 9.
DOES GOD HAVE FAIR-PLAY?
A professor in one of our colleges, who is an acknowledged authority on the prophets of the Old Testament, gave a course of lectures lately on his own subject to a summer school of theology. His aim in one of these prelections was to show how the prophet Jeremiah developed himself by debate and discussion with God. At its close an elderly clergyman, shaking the lecturer by the hand, said to him: "I was delighted to hear what you said about Jeremiah. I myself have for forty years preached the right and duty of men to stand up to their Maker."
It was, to say the least, a crude way of expressing himself; but the man had a meaning, and I think I know what it was. We may, to a large extent, have grown out of the old Calvinistic representation of God; but its reflex influence abides in a greater degree than we perhaps realize. This representation puts its emphasis, not so much upon the Fatherhood as upon the Sovereignty of God. It holds man responsible for the moral quality of his actions to God; but all reference to man's claims upon God are met with the stern question: "Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?"
Whatever the Apostle may have meant, this question has been used to support an intolerable position, and the clergyman spoke out his revolt against it. His divinely implanted instinct of justice assured him that a God, who is to command our intellectual confidence and heart-trust, must, while exercising the prerogatives of a Sovereign, accept the responsibilities of a Father. Family life would break all to pieces if we as fathers did not carry our recognition of the claims and rights of children past a severe, however just, parental authority and control into the larger realm of wise liberty and undoubted affection. And it is out of the best and highest we know of our relations to one another, that we are to understand what we ought to be to God, and what God has promised to be to us.
For God not only affirms His responsibility to us, He challenges us to say, whether, having done our part, we have weighed His part in the balance and found it wanting. It is the declaration of the Scriptures from beginning to end, that the Lord our God is a faithful God. Through the mouth of one of His prophets He confronts us with a question which, were it not His own question, would hurt us as almost profane: "What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they have gone far from me?"
We need not shrink, therefore, from talking reverently about the responsibility of God, for He asks us to build our trust, not only in His promises, but upon our experience of the faithfulness with which He has kept His promises. What, then, is our testimony? Has God been faithful to us; and if so, are we justified in assuming that the same faithfulness is the experience of others?
"Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God." Take this affirmation on its lowest grounds—as touching material things. It is not said that man does not live by bread, when it is said that he lives not by bread alone. We may insist upon it, that material concerns are not worthy to be compared with the things of the spirit; but this does not affect the truth, that while we are on this planet we must have material things. Jesus has told us that, "Our Heavenly Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask Him." It does not follow that the things we desire are the things we need. Christ does not pledge the divine faithfulness to our desires; it is pledged to our needs.
And how is it redeemed, even in the case of the latter? Think for a moment of the poverty there is amid all our plenty. Think of the evils and misery that are the consequence as well as the cause of poverty. There are thousands of men, and women, and children dying every year in India from want and sheer starvation. We are told that, in each case, a penny a day would mean comparative plenty. They are God's creatures, willing, and indeed eager, to work themselves to skin and bone for a penny a day, and they cannot earn it. Think again of the untold human beings nearer home, locked in a warfare from which there is no discharge but death; the grim struggle for a bare existence, with its chances at every turn of sickness, accident, no work, and then the abyss. When we have reckoned off the probable proportion of those who have done much to make the conditions in which they find themselves, we have a large percentage of people who are no more responsible for the poverty and suffering they have to endure than they are responsible for the fact that they are in the world which uses them so harshly.
For my part I can offer no explanation of these things, that can give a sensitive heart and an honest mind more than a very moderate degree of satisfaction. There are communities, and even races of people, whose existence in this world appears to have no immediate relation to their own personal happiness and well-being. They come and pass away as phases of what we must believe is an evolution towards higher things. But this is the question: Have they who compose this lonely and sombre procession no claims upon their Maker in the meanwhile?
I do not believe that one human soul will fail of absolute, abundant, and rich compensation, in those eternal years that are at God's right hand. I have a word to say about this later, but for the present I may say that I answer many questions by my conviction that what we call death does not end all. Columbus is reported to have said: "I must have another continent to keep the earth's balance true." And I must have the personal conscious future, which is to right the wrongs of the ages, if I am to believe and preach the faithfulness of God. But we must guard against an impatience which is our littleness. In the immense times of the Almighty, every dark mystery of human being can move away, and leave the "sky of Providence at last, arching over the soul with not a cloud to dim its stars." For my present faith I hold it true with one who trusts—
"That nothing walks with aimless feet, That not one life shall be destroyed, Or cast as rubbish to the void, When God hath made the pile complete."
When any man confronts me with the inequalities of our human lot, with the suffering many have to endure from causes they have not instituted, and circumstances over which they have no control, I may be, and often am, obliged to make him a present of much that he has to urge. But there are two things to be said, on the other side, which I can only briefly indicate, and ask you to work them out in your own mind.
I affirm as the first of the two, that the good in our life far outweighs the evil. When all is said, happiness is the rule of our normal experience, and not misery. We hear much, for example, about the suffering which is part of the order of the animal creation; how a stronger beast feeds upon a weaker, and is in turn the prey of another stronger still. While again we are told that the joys of these myriads of sentient creatures are immeasurably greater than their pains. They have pleasure more than sufficient to justify their call into existence, in spite of the drawbacks to their happiness incident to the conditions of their existence.
I am satisfied that the latter representation is true of the animal world, as I am convinced that it is true of the human. Let what may be said to the contrary, life is a mighty boon. When men bring in a verdict of unsound mind in a case of suicide, the instinct may have more to do with it than the order of evidence on which the verdict is based. We have to conclude that a man was insane before he could lay violent hands on himself. Look back upon our life, we who have travelled some distance into it, and let us say whether so far we do not account it a blessing to have lived and to be living. We have had our hard lines, and we have known the pleasant places; we have had our sorrows, and we have had our joys; we have been under the clouds, and we have lived in the sunshine. Nay, I dare go further and say, that for a day we have had of the former, we have had a week of the latter.
It is a narrow and unworthy conception of happiness to invest all our chances of it in the accident of circumstances. There is some force in the saying, that heaven is here or nowhere. If we have any thought of happiness worth turning into a fact, our life may be filled with it though the hardest possible circumstances be surrounding us. Not where we are, but what we are, makes our much or little whether of good or ill. It is an ungrateful proceeding to go through life consuming as much as possible of the fruits of a gracious present, and yet with only plaints and complaints about the legislation which tempers the blessings with the little severity needed to teach us what the blessings are.
Some one has remarked that it is the whole tragedy, and ultimately the whole power of the Christian religion, that it is attacked from every side. It is accused of faults that are hopelessly inconsistent with each other. One day it is charged with making man too responsible; the next, with not making him responsible enough. The truth is, that we need not try to make man too responsible in order to make him responsible enough. It has often been pointed out, that the Christian religion is by turns optimistic and pessimistic. St. Paul is pessimist enough where he says: "For I know that in me—that is, in my flesh—dwelleth no good thing." But who so optimistic as the same Apostle when he declares: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
Much of the secret of it, under God, is in a cultivated and consecrated will. Every matter, says Epictetus, has two handles, and you can choose which handle you will take. Every man has in him some promise of the gradual supremacy of character over the accidents, happenings, forces and factors of circumstances. These may be his tests; they need not be his fate. "The real vital division of the religious part of our Protestant communities," says Wendell Holmes, "is into Christian optimists and Christian pessimists." I would rank myself among the former and say again, that the good in the conditions of our life far outweighs the ill. And while maintaining this position, I would also, as the second of the two things to be urged, have us face the question, Who is responsible for the ill there is?
George Meredith, in a reference to this subject, declares that no man can think, and not think hopefully. Whether or not this be true in the case of every man who thinks, this can be said—it ought to be true. Instead of multiplying words to no profit over the old question, Why all this misery and suffering? let us think for a moment in another direction, and we shall perchance be encouraged to think hopefully.
It has been said that human wisdom has arrived at no juster and higher view of the present state, than that it is intended to call forth power by obstruction; the power of a life that is perfect and entire, by the responsibility of choice between the things that make or mar it. If God can rank in us nothing higher than character, and if character on the man side can be achieved only out of right choice translated in its kindred action—then it must follow that the power to choose the right is the power to choose the wrong. Which means in the fewest words, that sin, and all the ills and suffering that proceed out of its selfishness, are the issue of this possibility of fatal choosing. If it be asked: "Why the possibility at all?" I answer that without it men would cease to be men and become something else; and what that something else would be need not enter into our speculation. It is because we can do wrong that we can do right; and if we think about this, may we not think hopefully?
It is the fashion in our day to write and talk as though heredity, and the effects of the accumulation of heredity, were somehow sinister enough to drape the heavens in black, and silence all the songs of the angels. This law, we are told, can have no moral interpretation consistent with freedom and responsibility. The more than tendency of much that is being written and said is to depress the mind with a sense of the relentless force of general laws and influences, and to diminish in the individual the conviction of his power to contend against them. I would avoid dogmatism about this matter and simply say that this seems plain to me: for one drawback we meet along the pathway of inheritances, we have a very legion of resource and help through the gains of time, and of the race. The penalties we have to pay for transgression against law are not a just indictment of the law, they are the penalty of its transgression; a by-product, which is always a decaying product as the character of the race heightens.
The purpose of God in us is character, and once we have it, established in divine grace and ensphered in the human will of a sufficient number of us, we shall soon make our new and better world. Without this character we may hope for nothing, with it we need despair of nothing.
Granted then for a moment that we had but a little more of this God-fibre running through our individual and our collective life, such an experience as physical want would become but a memory of a hideous past. This good old mother-earth can yield us, not only enough to go round, but enough to go round in generous abundance. Why is it that a few have so much more than they can use, and so many have less than they need? Do we think that God wills it? Can we conceive of it as having any part in the economy of the Kingdom which Jesus came to establish on the earth? It is not God, but our selfishness that wills it; a selfishness that has its length of days and its malign power in the widespread folly and culpable ignorance that play into its hands.
Think again for a moment about the effects on society as a whole of the intemperate use of strong drink. They are incarnated in horrors, look where we will. The injuries which simply swarm out of our licensed temptations to drunkenness are not exceptional and irregular; they are, as one of the most eminent of our publicists has said, "uniform as the movements of the planets, and as deadly as the sirocco of the desert or the malaria of the marshes." There is not a profession round which drink has not thrown the spell of its sorcery; scarcely a household that has not been despoiled by its leprous pollution. And who is responsible for it? Does any one doubt that if the Christian Churches looked at this accursed traffic through the eyes of God, and attacked it with faith in His omnipotence, that we could not break its back within the next ten years?
Long as we are content merely to run the eyes of our intelligence over the episodes of this great battle of wrong against right; to mark down its critical moments, and to analyse its issues while careful above all things not to implicate ourselves in the agonies of its crises, then let us not challenge the faithfulness of God for wrongs and sorrows brought into the world, and kept here by our selfishness. Those of us who have part or lot in this selfishness—and most of us have—let us, at any rate, play the game, and accept our own responsibility.
I do not wonder at the severity there is in the human world; for hard as it falls in places, it is yet the sign-manual of its uplifting and hope. We sometimes talk bitterly about the crucifixions in our life; but believe it when I say, that a world without them would be a dark and terrible vision. If we could do evil with impunity, if its punishment were a mere peradventure, it would mean that evil was the heart of the world. We may be profoundly thankful that wrong and suffering are cause and effect which nothing can break. Were it not so, it would mean that under skies dark and pitiless, a brutal scramble to survive would be the law, as in the animal world it is said to be the instinct. I know that many come into the world and leave it, never having had the chance to be all they might have been in more gracious circumstances. But I can trust them with Him who is too wise to err, and too good to be unjust.
This, then, is as far as I have got with the general merits of the subject before us. To say there are experiences in the lives of individuals, and even of communities, which we cannot explain, is no proof that the universe is immoral. I submit to you, that the good in our lot infinitely outweighs the ill for which we are not directly responsible; and that the consequences of the ill for which we are directly responsible are intended to chastise it out of existence.
May I counsel you to think about what has been said? Remember there are some things God cannot do for us, and yet leave us men. He cannot make a better world without the consent of our individual obedience and the co-operation of our will. I should, I trust, be the last man to ask people to be content, or even patient, with things as they are in the life that now is, on the assumption merely that they are to be better in the life that is to be. I do not say that heaven is here or nowhere; but I do believe that it ought to be here, in its degree, as truly as anywhere else. If we can think of contempt as part of the Being of God, surely this must be His feeling for much of the wrong and suffering that finds a place in the human world. It is so gratuitous, so insensate, so unnecessary. Is it not a terrible reflection upon some of us, that after the Cross has been silently teaching the world these well-nigh two thousand years, it can yet be said with some show of reason, that the two forces that keep society, as we know it, together, are the ignorance and the patience of the poor? Why should they be so long ignorant? Why should they be so chronically patient? The sorrow of God must be, not only that they suffer, but that they are so patient under it as to make it scarcely distinguishable from content. And why are they so patient? This is the question God is asking through every thoughtful and humane man of us; and one day—man with God speed its coming—we shall be numerous enough, and in earnest enough, to establish some real harmony, some true correspondence, between the inner dignity and the outward lot of the individual, and, through him, of the community. In the meantime, then, instead of asking, how can God be God and permit wrong to be in the world? let us face the truth, however it may smite us, the truth that wrong is in the world for this reason—that we permit it.
Growing out of what has been advanced, suffer me to press the subject a little further, under one or two statements. I purpose to do little more than indicate them, and to ask for them your good consideration.
God is faithful: therefore good must be possible. I was talking some time ago with a very intelligent man, who has a well-known name in the world of letters, and he said to me: "I admit that we have made something that answers to progress in material things, but I deny that we have made any advance in moral attainment. A few rise above the average level, for the rest it is the old story of cycles of abortive effort with no lasting good to the race. We may theorize and idealize as we like," he went on to say, "but Bebel is right when he tells us that 'every man is the product of his times and the instrument of his circumstances.'"
It was talk that exactly expresses much of the "time-spirit" of our modern day. It is a doctrine with no God in it, and no invisible world. It assumes that man has no vision and no volition; that he is a mere billiard-ball in the game of existence, which goes whithersoever the cue of blind fate sends it. That one man rises, and another falls, is neither the virtue of one nor the vice of the other, but the necessity of both. We follow the better if we have the accident of certain gifts, or we take hold of the worse, if we have not. In either case we are no more responsible for our direction than we are responsible for the fact that we have to take a direction at all.
I shall not build up words in trying to answer this position. I can conceive of no man who has some conscience left, however he may seek a refuge from himself in this doctrine of moral irresponsibility, who, at the soul of him, does not know it to be a lie. We commonly use the terms evil and sin as interchangeable; and in doing so we are apt to fall into confusion. Evil is, as it were, embedded in our nature; and for that we are not accountable. Sin, as I have said before, is in yielding to the evil, and that is our responsibility. St. Paul speaks of the evil he found in his nature, and while he admits its malignant power, he does not represent himself as powerless to contend against it. He accepts no responsibility for the fact that evil is there; but he does accept responsibility for what he does with it, or what it does with him.
"Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus, Another thing to fall."
I know with any man the power of evil in my heart; and while it may come, as it were, in spite of myself, I can determine the question as to whether it shall stay. It is the vilest heresy of our day to preach and believe that circumstances can absolve us from our duty; or that they can prevent us from following the right. The battle is hard, at times very hard, but what battle is not hard that is worth winning? Put religion out of the question, and do we find that the prizes of the world offer us easier terms?
It is the greatness of the Christian religion, that it not only tells us what it were good to do, but it offers to us the power to do it. The great teachers of the world have said to their disciples: "Accept our ideas"; Christ says: "Accept Me." "He makes everything centre in His Own Personality." And the men who have helped to make what so far in our human world is grand and glorious, have shown us that Christ's word is a real word, meaning a real thing.
One who has the right to testify has told us that, when we do the will of God as if it were our own will, we realize that God is doing our will as His own. There is a great truth in this. We so often fail because ours is a broken obedience. We expect God to do His part, while we keep back part of the price of our own, and what response we have is the sense of being mocked in ourselves. We have to find out that we cannot serve two masters. However we fall short in practice, the intention must be all for God, or it will be none. But let us be genuine co-workers with Him in this great work of personal character-building; and we find that we have a power not ourselves, and infinitely greater than ourselves. Our achievements are not so much a question of gift, as of dynamic. They are not in the machinery, but in the driving power.
"How is it"—was a question recently asked concerning one of the most useful men in the Christian ministry—"that with his obvious limitations he has accomplished so much?" And the answer was: "Because he has made it possible for God to use him for all he is worth." Failure is impossible in the man who can say: "I live, and yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." We cannot explain the power; but it is there, and we all may have it by obedience to the conditions through which it can be given. "I have been down deep in the hell of moral failure," writes one, "and by the grace of God I have come out of it. I may not be able to explain His grace to the satisfaction of others; but will others explain me to my own?" Our lives may be the living evidences of this power. The world asks for no more; the world will accept no less. Our day, we are told, has ceased to believe in such miracles. It were truer to say that it has ceased to believe in anything else.
Goodness is possible; and not to achieve it is to defeat the purpose for which we were born into this world. Let us believe in goodness. Let us learn to love goodness because it is goodness. Let us say, and live our word, that there are no charges we can pay which we are not prepared to pay to be, and to do, that which is possible to us—and God will not fail us. Any man who is putting out all his strength in work and prayer to build up his higher nature need have no devil-fear that his strength will not be equal to his day. He may not be able to choose his circumstances; but he can show that he, and not the circumstances, is the master. He can offer to the world the living proof that the triumph of good is possible to him whose power is the faithful God.
And once more: Because He is faithful who has promised, we may safely leave the issues of our life in His keeping. If by the help of God we are trying to do the will of God, nothing else really matters. The crooked places of to-day will be made straight to-morrow. After all, it is not more knowledge we need, but more power to use the knowledge we have. Much of our unrest only means that we want to know more than the silent God sees fit to tell us. We know enough for the wise ordering of life; and the highest, holiest thing any of us can do, is to do the wisest and best we know, in whatever honest sphere circumstances have placed us. The riddles of the universe, and the perplexities and heartache which come out of our attempts to reconcile much that we know and see with the rule of an Almighty, an all-wise and faithful God—these will be here long after we are gone. We must just take the Master at His word when He says: "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter."
"We cannot," says a wise teacher, "take up a drop of water, and find in that drop the flow of the tides, and the soft and then loud music of calm and storm. To see the ocean we must grasp it in all its rocky bed, bordered by continents." So before the very present troubles of life, we cannot see all the government of the faithful God. It has boundaries wider than these. Human life is but a fraction of the sum of life. The tides of the mind, the music and the tumult of human waters, cannot be heard and felt in this drop of existence.
We may believe that the moral government of the world is in the hands of Him whose love and law are both the same; and we may, at the same time, have to recognize the fact, that so many suffer grievously from forces they have not called into being, and which they are almost helpless to control. We may have to reconcile as best we can, a general Providence, with much apparent severity in its particular operation. Unless this be understood, some parts of this address will appear inconsistent with each other. I leave this order of suffering—not its causes—with the responsibility of God; and, for myself, I am persuaded that our last word about it will be one of praise, and not of reproach—
"Right for a while may yield to wrong, And virtue be baffled by crime, But the help of our need and the might of our creed Are faith, patience, courage, and time."
But to say that the faithfulness of God cannot be fully measured now is not to say that it cannot be measured at all. Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, and our life will not only come out right at the end, it will come out right all the way. The lesson for us to learn is to labour and to wait; to give God and ourselves space to work in. Whether God is in His heaven or not, of this I am sure, that, given time, right always comes to its own, and all wrong, sooner or later, is defeat and disaster. Time forgets nothing, it omits nothing which God requires at our hands. It may not be ours to choose our task, but we can choose to do it well. What is really everyday religion is to do common things in an uncommon spirit. There is nothing for us in the world that needs a lie; nothing that excuses us from the wise admonition—
"Count that day lost whose low descending sun Views by thy hand no worthy action done."
Then let us just go on doing the highest we know, and the best we can. The reward may not seem to be to-day, nor yet to-morrow; but we shall see that it was everyday and all the way, when we look back upon it from the shores of the life eternal. Let us trust the faithful God, and we shall be taught to regard the troubles that test, and the limitations that perplex us, as the agents of His Providence through the courses of time. And as we see in each new revelation of His goodness and mercy towards us an added circle of splendour in His halo of light, we shall learn to say of ourselves, and the race of which we form a part—
"The God of Truth and Love, The Ancient Friend of man, Makes every age an onward stage, And has, since time began; Sing ye praises, oh, sing praises, God has a glorious plan."