Painted Windows - Studies in Religious Personality
by Harold Begbie
Previous Part     1  2  3  4
Home - Random Browse

Then, writes the interviewer, arose the question of fervour. "Can the City of God be established without some powerful impulse of the human heart? Can it ever be established, for example, by the detached and self satisfied intellectual priggishness of the subsidised sixpenny review, or by the mere violence of the Labour extremist's oratory? Must there not be something akin to the evangelical enthusiasm of the last century, something of a revivalist nature? And yet have we not outgrown anything of the kind?

"To Canon Temple the answer presents itself in this way: Rarer than Christian charity is Christian faith. The supreme realism is yet to come, namely, the realisation of Christ as a living Person, the realisation that He truly meant what He said, the realisation that what He said is of paramount importance in all the affairs of human life. When mankind becomes consciously aware of the Christian faith as a supreme truth, then there will be a realistic effort to establish the City of God. The first step, then, is for the Church to make itself something transcendently different from the materialistic world. It must truly mean what it says when it asserts the morality of Christ. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. The fervour is not to be born of an individual fear of hell or an individual anxiety for celestial safety, but of an utterly unselfish enthusiasm for the welfare of the world."

I should give a false impression of this very interesting man, who is so sincere and so steadfast, if I did not mention the significant fact of his happiness. He has always struck me, in spite of his formidable intellect and a somewhat pedagogic front and the occasional accent of an ancient and scholarly ecclesiasticism, as one of the happiest and most boy-like of men—a man whose centre must be cloudlessly serene, and who finds life definitely good. His laughter indeed, is a noble witness to the truth of a rational and moral existence. His strength is as the strength of ten, not only because his heart is pure, but because he has formulated an intelligent thesis of existence.

He has pointed out that the Pickwick Papers could not have been produced in any but a Christian country. "Satire you may get to perfection in pagan countries. But only in those countries where the morality of Christ has penetrated deeply do you get the spirit that loves the thing it laughs at."


SELBIE, Rev. WM. BOOTHBY, M.A.; Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, since 1909; b. Chesterfield, 24 Dec., 1862; e.s. of late Rev. R.W. Selbie, B.A. of Salford; m. Mildred Mary, 2d d. of late Joseph Thompson, J.P., LL.D., of Wilmslow, Cheshire; two s. one d. Educ.: Manchester Grammar School; Brasenose and Mansfield Colleges, Oxford; incorporated M.A., at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 1904; Hon. D.D. Glasgow, 1911. Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Mansfield College, Oxford, 1889-90; Minister Highgate Congregational Church, London, 1890-1902; Emmanuel Congregational Church, Cambridge, 1902-1909; Editor of the British Congregationalist, 1899-1909; Lecture in Pastoral Theology at Cheshunt College, Cambridge, 1907-1909; Chairman of Congregational Union, 1914-1915; President of National Free Church Council, 1917.



_I make not therefore my head a grave, but a treasure of knowledge; I intend no Monopoly, but a community in learning; I study not for my own sake only, but for theirs that study not for themselves.

I envy no man that knows more than my self, but pity them that know less. I instruct no man as an exercise of my knowledge, or with an intent rather to nourish and keep it alive in mine own head, then beget and propagate it in his; and in the midst of all my endeavour, there is but one thought that dejects me, that my acquired parts must perish with my self, nor can be Legacied among my honoured Friends_.—SIR THOMAS BROWNE.

Mansfield College, Oxford, has been happy in its Principals. Dr. Fairbairn created respect for Nonconformity in the very citadel of High Anglicanism; Dr. Selbie has converted that respect into friendship. There is no man of note or power at Oxford who does not speak with real affection of this devoted scholar, who has been dubbed up there "an inspired mouse."

He is a little man, with quick darting movements, a twinkling bright eye, an altogether unaggressive voice, and a manner that is singularly insinuating and appealing. As it is impossible to think of a blustering or brow-beating mouse, or a mouse that advances with the stride of a Guardsman and the minatory aspect of a bull-terrier, so it is impossible to think of Dr. Selbie as a fellow of any truculence, a scholar of any prejudice, a Christian of any unctimoniousness. Mildness is the very temper of his soul, and modesty the centre of his being.

He is a Hebrew scholar who has advanced into philosophical territory and now is pushing his investigations into the field of psychology. Modest and wholly unpretentious he sets up as no original genius, and is content with his double role of close observer and respectful critic. He is rather a guide to men than a light. He has nothing new to say, but nothing foolish. His words are words of purest wisdom, though you may have heard them before. You feel that if he cannot lead you to the Promised Land, at least he will not conduct you to the precipice and the abyss.

Above everything else he is a scholar who would put his learning at the service of his fellow-men. Education with him is a passion, a part of his philanthropy, a part of his religion. It is the darkness of man, not the sinfulness of man, that catches his attention. He feels that the world is foolish because it is ignorant, not because it is wicked. And he feels that the foolishness of the world is a count in the indictment against religion. Religion has not taught; it has used mankind as a dictaphone.

He has spoken to me with great hope and confidence of the change which is coming over the Church in this matter of religious teaching. Dr. Headlam, the Regius Professor of Divinity, has lighted a candle at Oxford which by God's grace will never be put out. There is now a fairly general feeling that men who enter the ministry must be educated not to pass a test or to prove themselves capable of conducting a service or performing as rite, but educated as educators—apostles of truth, evangelists of the higher life.

Religion, according to Dr. Selbie, is something to be taught. It is not a mystery to be presented, but an idea to be inculcated. The world has got to understand religion before it can live religiously.

But all education stands in sore need of the trained teacher. Our teachers are not good enough. They may be very able men and women, but few of them are very able teachers. The first need in a teacher is to inspire in his students a love of knowledge, a hunger and thirst after wisdom. But, look at our schools, look at our great cities, look at the pleasures and recreations which satisfy the vast masses of the population! As a nation, we have no enthusiasm for education. This is because we have so little understanding of the nature and province of education. We have never been taught what education is.

With his enthusiasm for education goes a perfervid spiritual conviction that intellect is not enough. He tells the story of an old Scots woman who listened intently to a highly intellectual sermon by a brilliant scholar, and at the end of it called out from her seat, "Aye, aye; but yon rope o' yours is nae lang enough tae reach the likes o' me." Something much more mysterious and much more powerful than intellect is necessary to change the heart of humanity; but when love and knowledge go hand in hand there you get both the great teacher and the good shepherd. Knowledge without love is almost as useless to a teacher as love without knowledge.

In his study at Mansfield, a large and friendly room book-lined from floor to ceiling, with a pleasant hearth at one end of it, where he smokes an occasional pipe with an interrupting fellow scholar, but where he is most often to be found buried in a great book and oblivious of all else besides, this little man with the darting eyes and soft voice is now invading, with sound good sense to save him from nausea or contamination, the region of morbid psychology.

He would perfectly agree with Dr. Inge's characteristic statement, "The suggestion that in prayer we only hear the echo of our own voices is ridiculous to anyone who has prayed"; but he is, I think, much more aware of the power and extent of this suggestion than is the Dean of St. Paul's, and therefore qualifies himself to meet the psychologists on their own ground.

He has confessed to me that in reading Freud he had to wade through much almost unimaginable filth, and he is driven to think that Freud himself is the victim of "a sex complex," a man so obsessed by a single theory, so ridden by one idea, that he perfectly illustrates the witty definition of an expert—"an expert is one who knows nothing else." All the same, Dr. Selbie assures me that his studies have been well worth while, that modern psychology has much to teach us of the highest value, and that religion as well as medicine will more and more have to take account of this daring science which advances so swiftly into their own provinces.

So far as my experience goes no man of the first rank in Anglican circles is preparing himself for this inevitable encounter with anything like the thoroughness of Dr. Selbie, a nonconformist.

He makes it a rule never to interfere with the troubles of another communion; but I do not think I misrepresent him when I say that he regrets the immersion of the Church of England in questions of theological disputation at a time when the true battle of religion is shifting on to quite other ground.

Not many people in Anglo-Catholic circles realise perhaps that to the educated nonconformist all this excitement about modernism seems strangely old-fashioned. Long ago such matters were settled. The scholar nonconformist is no longer concerned with dogmatic difficulties; he has abandoned with the old teleology the old pagan theology, and now, believing in an immanent teleology, in an evolution that is creative and that has direction, believing also that Christ is the incarnation of God's purpose and the revelation of His character, he is pressing forward not to meet the difficulties of to-morrow, but to equip himself for meeting those difficulties when they arise with real intelligence and genuine power.

"If medicine," said Froude, "had been regulated three hundred years ago by Act of Parliament; if there had been Thirty-Nine Articles of Physic, and every licensed practitioner had been compelled, under pains and penalties, to compound his drugs by the prescriptions of Henry the Eighth's physician, Doctor Butts, it is easy to conjecture in what state of health the people of this country would at present be found."

Christendom does not yet realise how greatly, how grievously, it has suffered in spiritual health by having sent to Coventry or to the stake so many theological Simpsons, Listers, and Pasteurs simply because they could not rest their minds in the hypotheses of very ill-educated men who strove to grapple with the highest of all intellectual problems at a time when knowledge was at its lowest level.

It will perhaps rouse the vitality of the Church when it finds twenty or thirty years from now that the great protagonists of Christianity in its future battles with science and philosophy are drawn from the ranks of nonconformity.

Dr. Selbie is certainly preparing his students for these encounters, and preparing them, too, with an emphasis on one particular aspect of the old theology, and a central one, which the apologists of more orthodox communions have either overlooked or find it convenient to ignore.

One of his first postulates is that man inhabits a moral universe, and from this postulate he has no difficulty in moving forward not only to contemplate the hypothesis of immortality, but to confront the difficulty of punishment for sin. In a little book of his called Belief and Life he has the following passages:

In the long last men cannot be persuaded to deny their own moral nature, and they will not be content with a theory of the universe which does not satisfy their sense of right.

And because of this very sense of right they entertain no soft and sentimental notions concerning the universe:

They believe in judgment, in retribution, and in the great principle that "as a man sows, so shall he also reap." They therefore require that room shall be found in the scheme of things for the working out of this principle. They recognise that such room is not to be found in this present life, and so they accept the fact that God hath set eternity in our hearts, and that we are built on a scale which requires a more abundant life to complete it.

In corroboration of their faith, it may be said, as John Stuart Mill used to argue, that wherever belief in the future has been strong and vivid, it has made for human progress. There is no doubt that the deterioration of religion and the more material views of life so prevalent just now are due to the loss of faith in the future.

Religion, he says, can never live or be effective within the narrow circle of time and sense. Nevertheless he has the courage to say: "The future life, like the belief in God, is best treated as an hypothesis that is yet in process of verification."

But this hypothesis explains what else were inexplicable. It works. And, confronting the hypothesis of immortality, he insists that a future life must embrace retribution. "As a man sows, so shall he also reap." Immortality is not to be regarded as a sentimental compensation for our terrestrial experience, but as the essential continuity of our spiritual evolution. "For many, no doubt, it will mean an experience of probation, and for all one of retribution."

He sees clearly and gratefully that "the moral range of the work of Christ in the human soul, His gifts of grace, forgiveness, and power, lift men at once on to the plane of the spiritual and fill their conception of life with a new and richer content." But he does not shut his eyes to the fact of the moral law, and with all the force of his character and all the strength of his intellect he accepts "the great principle that as a man sows, so shall he also reap."

In this way Dr. Selbie prepares his students, not only to meet the intellectual difficulties of the future, but to stand fast in the ancient faith of their forefathers that the moral law is a fact of the universe. He helps them to be fighters as well as teachers. They are to fight the complacency of men, the false optimism of the world, the delusive tolerance of materialism. There is no need for them to preach hell fire and damnation, but throughout all their preaching, making it a real thing and a thing of the most pressing moment, must ring that just and inevitable word, Retribution. In a moral universe, selfishness involves, rightly and inevitably, suffering—suffering self-sown, self-determined, and self-merited.

He is the last man in the world from whom one would expect such teaching to emanate. He seems, in his social moments, a scholar who is scarcely aware of humanity in his delicious pursuit of pure truth, a man who inhabits the faery realm of ideas, and drinks the milk of Paradise. But approach him on other ground and you find, though his serenity never deserts him, though he is always imperturbable and unassertive, that his interest in humanity and the practical problems of humanity is as vivid and consuming as that of any social reformer.

There, in Oxford, among his books, and carrying on his duties as Principal of Mansfield College, Dr. Selbie, back from holidays spent in watching the great working world and listening to the teachers of that world, finds himself not alarmed, but anxious. The voice of religion, he feels, is not making itself heard, and the voices of churches are making only a discord. Men are going astray because they have no knowledge of their course, and the blind are falling into the ditch because they are led by the blind. How is this dangerous condition of things to be remedied?

He replies, By the teachers.

What we need at this hour above all other needs is the great teacher, one able to proclaim and explain the truths of religion, and filled with a high enthusiasm for his office. We need, he tells me, men who can restore to preaching its best authority. At the present time preaching has fallen to a low ebb because it is despised, and it is despised because it has lost the element of teaching. But let men recover their faith in the moral law, let them see that retribution is inevitable justice, let them realise that the life of man is a progress in spiritual comprehension, let them understand that existence is a great thing and not a mean thing, and they will feel again the compulsion to preach, and their preaching, founded on the moral law and inspired by faith in the teaching of Christ, will draw the world from the destructive negations of materialism, and wake it out of the fatal torpors of dull indifference.

Happy, I think, is the church which has such a teacher at the head of its disciples. Though its traditions may not reach far back into the historic twilight of ignorance, the rays of the unrisen sun strike upon its banners as they advance towards the future of mankind.


CANTERBURY, Archbishop of, since 1903; Most Rev. Randall Thomas Davidson, D.D., D.C.L., LL.D.; Prelate of the Order of the Garter, 1895-1903; G.C.V.O., cr. 1904; Royal Victorian Chain, 1911; Grand Cross of the Royal Order of the Saviour (Greece), 1918; Grand Cordon de l'Ordre de la Couronne (Belgium, 1919); First class of the Order of St. Sava (Serbia), 1919; b. 7 April, 1848; s. of Henry Davidson, Muirhouse, Edinburgh, and Henrietta, d. of John Swinton, Kimmerghame; m. Edith, 2d d. of Archbishop Tait of Canterbury, 1878. Educ.: Harrow; Trinity College, Oxford (D.D.), Curate of Dartford, Kent, 1874-77; Chaplain and Private Secretary to Archbishop Tait of Canterbury, 1877-82; to Archbishop Benson, 1882-3; Examining Chaplain to Bishop Lightfoot of Durham, 1881-83; Sub-Almoner to Queen Victoria, 1882; one of the six preachers of Canterbury Cathedral, 1880-83; Dean of Windsor and Domestic Chaplain to Queen Victoria, 1883-91; Clerk of the Closet to Queen Victoria, 1891-1901; to H.M. the King, 1905-3; Trustee of the British Museum from 1884, Bishop of Rochester, 1891-95; Bishop of Winchester, 1895-1903.



Let us be flexible, dear Grace; let us be flexible!—HENRY JAMES.

. . . the Archbishop recalled both to the gravity of the issue.—LORD MORLEY.

Because of his great place and his many merits, both of heart and head, and also because his career raises the question I desire to discuss in my Conclusion, I have left the Archbishop of Canterbury to the last of these brief studies in religious personality.

More admirably, I think, because more entirely, than any of the other men I have attempted to study, Dr. Davidson sums up the virtues of Anglicanism. He stands, first and foremost, for order, decency, and good temper. If he has a passion it is for the status quo. If he has a genius it is for compromise. Lord Morley, who knows him and respects him, describes him as "a man of broad mind, sagacious temper, steady and careful judgment, good knowledge of the workable strength of rival sections." Pre-eminently the Archbishop is a practical man.

I know not out of how many crises he has contrived, both as a fisher of men and a good shepherd, to lift the Church of England by hook or by crook.

When he was a youth a serious accident threatened to destroy his health and ruin his prospects. A charge of gunshot struck him at the bottom of the spine. The shot still remain in his body, and every autumn he is visited with an attack of quasiperitonitis which reduces him to a sad state of weakness. For long weeks together—once it was for a whole year—his diet is restricted entirely to milk foods.

In spite of this grave disability, I am inclined to doubt if there is a harder worker in any church of the world. Dr. Davidson's knowledge of the Church of England, not only in these British Islands but in every one of the Dominions, is a knowledge of the most close and intimate nature. He knows the names and often the character of men who are working in the remotest parishes of the uttermost parts of the Empire. He knows also their thousand difficulties and is often at pains to relieve their distresses. This devotion has an ideal origin. He has cherished the dream all his life that the Church of England, so sane, so moderate, so sensible, and so rightly insistent on moral earnestness, may become, with the growth and development of the British Commonwealth, the greatest of all the Christian Churches—greater, more catholic, than Rome.

To this end he has worked with a devotion and a strain of energy which only those immediately about him can properly appraise.

Such is the exhaustion of this labour that when he can find time to take a day off he spends it in bed.

His policy has always been to keep men reasonable, but with no ignoble idea of living a quiet life. His powers of persuasion, which have succeeded so often in making unreasonable men temporarily reasonable, have their source in the transparent sincerity of his soul. No one who encounters him can doubt for a moment that the Primate is seeking the good of the Church of England, and seeking that good because he believes in the English Church as one of the great spiritual forces of civilisation. No one, I mean, could think that he is either temporising for the sake of peace itself or that his policy of moderation masks a secret sympathy with a particular party. Clear as the sun at noon is the goodness of the man, his unprejudiced devotion to a practical ideal, and his unselfish ambition for the reasonable future of the great Church of the English nation.

He gives most of us the feeling of a very able man of business, an ideal family solicitor; but there is a quite different side to this character. He is by no means a mystic, as that word is usually understood, but he is a man who deeply believes in the chief instrument of the mystic's spiritual life, that is to say, in prayer. He is not a saint, in the general acceptance of that term, but his whole life is devoted with an undeviating singleness of aim to effecting the chief ambition of the saint—a knowledge of God in the hearts and minds of men. Because he believes that the best method of achieving that consummation, having regard to the present level of human intelligence, is by moderate courses, one must not think that he is lukewarm in the cause of religion. With all the force of his clear and able mind, he believes in moderation. Anything that in the least degree savours of extravagance seems to him impolitic. He does not believe in sudden bursts of emotional energy; he believes in constant pressure.

In my intercourse with him I have found him eminently sane and judicial, cold towards excessive fervour, but not cold at all towards ardent faith, inclined perhaps to miss the cause of spiritual impatience, constitutionally averse from any understanding sympathy with religious ecstasy, but never self-satisfied, intolerant, or in the remotest fashion cynical. Always he expresses his views with modesty, and sometimes with healthy good-humour, disposed to take life cheerfully, never moved to mistake a molehill for a mountain, always quietly certain that he is on the right road, whatever critics may care to say about his pace.

It is perhaps unreasonable to expect height and depth where there is excessive breadth. The Archbishop might make a bad captain, but he could have few rivals as an umpire. He is an admirable judge if an indifferent advocate.

His grave earnestness is balanced by a conviction that humour is not without a serious purpose. He looks upon life in the average, avoiding all abnormality, and he sees the average with a genial smile. He thoroughly appreciates the oddities of English character, and would ask with Gladstone, "In what country except ours (as I know to have happened) would a Parish Ball have been got up in order to supply funds for a Parish Hearse?"

His attitude to the excitements and sensations of the passing day may be gathered from a simple incident. During the most heady days of the War, that is to say, days when people made least use of their heads, I encountered him at the country-house of a well-known statesman. One morning, while we were being lined up for a photograph, the boar-hound of our host came and forced himself between the Archbishop and myself. "What would the newspapers say," exclaimed the Archbishop in my ear, "if they knew that his name is—Kaiser!"

In this manner he regards all sensational excitement of every kind. When people are tearing their hair, and the welkin rings with such affrighting cries as Downfall and Crisis, the Archbishop's rather solemn and alarmed countenance breaks up into a genial smile. It is when people are immovable in otiose self-satisfaction, when the air is still and when lethargy creeps over the whole body of humanity, that the face of Dr. Davidson hardens. There is nothing he dreads more than apathy, nothing that so stimulates his policy of constant pressure as inertia. Ndengei, the supreme deity of the Fiji Islands, the laziest of all the gods, has the serpent for his effigy. "The Devil tempts the busy man," says a Turkish proverb, "but the idle man tempts the Devil."

One of those who has worked with the Archbishop for many years, although his views are of a rather extreme order and his temperament altogether of the excessive kind, said to me the other day, "When Randall Davidson went to Canterbury, I told those who asked me what would be the result of his reign. He will leave the Church as he found it. I was wrong. He has done much more than that." He went on to say that there was now a far greater charity between the different schools than existed at the beginning of the century, and that if unity had not been attained, at least disruption had been avoided.

One of the most eloquent and far-sighted of the Evangelicals puts the matter to me in this fashion: "It is possible that fifty years hence men may ask whether he ought not to have been constructive; but for the present we, his contemporaries, must confess that it is wonderful how he keeps things together."

"Pull yourself together!" was the admonition addressed to a somewhat hilarious undergraduate. "But I haven't got a together," he made answer.

If it be true that a house divided against itself cannot stand, then we must admit that Dr. Randall Davidson is not merely one of the Church's greatest statesmen, but a worker of miracles, a man whom we might expect to take up serpents and drink any deadly thing.

But it will be safe to keep the Archbishop's reputation in the region of statesmanship.

The reader, I hope, will not think me either pedantic or supercilious if I insist that no word is more misused by the newspapers, indeed by the whole modern world, than this word statesmanship. It is a word of which the antonym is drifting. It signifies steersmanship, and implies control, guidance, direction, and, obviously, foresight. Now, let us see how this word is used by those who are supposed to instruct public opinion.

The settlement of the Irish Question was hailed as a triumph of British statesmanship. One of the Sunday newspapers of the higher order acclaimed Mr. Lloyd George as the greatest statesman in the history of England and perhaps the greatest man in the world. But it needs only a little thought, only a moment's reflection, to realise that this welcome settlement was a triumph, not of statesmanship, but of murderous brutality. There would have been no paens if there had been no volleys, no triumph if there had been no violence.

Statesmanship was defeated in the eighties, and those who defeated it, those who exalted prejudice and racialism and intolerance above rationality and foresight, are now among those whom the world salutes as immortal statesmen. In truth, they have bowed the knee to violence.

By the same power, and not by reason, the Government extended the franchise to women. Statesmanship held firmly on the contrary course till the winds of violence rose and the rain of anarchy threatened to descend in a flood of moral devastation.

Look closely into the great achievements of the Washington Conference and you will find that the nations are not voluntarily seeking the rational ideal of peace, but are being driven by urgent necessity into the course of reason. Statesmanship would have disarmed the world before 1914. It was only after 1918 that the spectre of Universal Bankruptcy drove the poor trembling immortals who pass for statesmen to embrace each other as heroes in search of an ideal. Humanity has achieved nothing noble or glorious in the last thirty years; it has been driven by the winds of God into every haven which has saved it from shipwreck.

With a clear understanding of the meaning of the word statesmanship, one may ask with some hope of arriving at an intelligent answer whether Randall Davidson is a great statesman.

Under his rule a divided and distracted Church has held together; but religion has gone out of favour. During his reign at Lambeth there has been a sensible movement towards reunion; but the nation is uninterested. If the Romanists have been less rebellious, the Evangelicals have lost almost all their zeal. If the Church still witnesses to the truth of Christianity, it is with all her ancient inequalities thick upon her, turning her idealism to ridicule, and in the midst of a nation which has become steadily more and more indifferent to the Church, more and more cynical towards religion.

If there is peace in the Church, there is little of that moral earnestness in the life of the nation which in past times laid the foundations both of English character and of English greatness. We are becoming swiftly, I think, a light and flippant people, the only seriousness in our midst the economic seriousness of our depressed classes. It is not to any other class in the community that the zealot can address himself with an evangel of any kind. Only where a sense of bitterness exists, a sense of anger and rebellion, can the idealist in these dangerous times hope for attention.

The Bishop of Manchester preached some few weeks ago a sermon to the unemployed of that city. He was asked at the end of his sermon if the workers could get justice without the use of force. He replied, "It all depends what you mean by force." And at that the congregation shouted, "Murder." They were to have concluded the service with the hymn, "When wilt Thou save Thy people?" Instead, it concluded with the singing of "The Red Flag."

Now let us ask ourselves what might have been the course of religious history during the last twenty years if Dr. Randall Davidson, instead of contenting himself with composing clerical quarrels, had used his high office to control the Church and to steer it in the direction of greater spiritual realism.

Suppose, for example, that after presiding over a conference of warring Churchmen, he had turned to one of the champions of a party, and had said to him, in the manner of a true spiritual father, "I have something to ask of you. What was the first command of our Risen Lord to the apostle Simon Peter?" He would have been obliged to answer, "Feed My lambs." "And the second command?" And he would have been obliged to say, "Feed My sheep." "And the third command?" And again he would have been obliged to say, "Feed My sheep." Then, what had they all said if the Primate had turned to both sides and admonished them in these words, "My brothers in Christ, I think there would now be no disputation among you if instead of concerning yourselves with the traditions of men you had rather given yourselves entirely to obeying the commandment of our Risen Lord"?

But the question would remain, With what food is the flock to be fed?

Is it possible to give an answer to this question which will not open again the floodgates of controversy? If that is so, then those of us who acknowledge the moral law had better abandon Christianity altogether, and set ourselves to construct a new and unifying gospel of ethics from the works of the moralists. For the world is torn asunder by strife, and contention is the opportunity of the wolves. Humanity has begun to apprehend this truth. It has begun to find out that disarmament is practical wisdom; and now it is beginning to wonder whether counsels of perfection may not serve its domestic interests with a higher efficiency than the compromises effected by unprincipled politicians. It is in the mood to listen to a teacher who speaks with authority; but in no mood to listen to a war of words.

If religion cannot speak with one voice in the world, it had better adjourn, like the plenipotentiaries of Sinn Fein and the representatives of the British Government, to a secret session. It must come to an understanding with itself, an agreement as to what it means, before mankind will recover interest in its existence.



The fashion of this world passes away, and it is with what is abiding that I would fain concern myself.—GOETHE.

The breadth of my life is not measured by the multitude of my pursuits, nor the space I take up amongst other men; but by the fulness of the whole life which I know as mine.—F.H. BRADLEY.

We are but at the very beginning of the knowledge and control of our minds; but with that beginning an immense hope is dawning on the world.—"THE TIMES."

The Ideal is only Truth at a distance.—LAMARTINE.

It is curious, if Christianity is from heaven, that it exercises so little power in the affairs of the human race.

Far from exercising power of any noticeable degree, it now ceases to be even attractive. The successors of St. Paul are not shaping world policy at Washington; they are organising whist-drives and opening bazaars. The average clergyman, I am afraid, is regarded in these days as something of a bore, a wet-blanket even at tea-parties.

Something is wrong with the Church. It is impious to think that heaven interposed in the affairs of humanity to produce that ridiculous mouse, the modern curate. No teacher in the history of the world ever occupied a lower place in the respect of men. So deep is the pit into which the modern minister has fallen that no one attempts to get him out. He is abandoned by the world. He figures with the starving children of Russia in appeals to the charitable an object of pity. The hungry sheep look up and are not fed, but the shepherd also looks up from his pit of poverty and neglect, as hungry as the sheep, hungry for the bare necessities of animal life.

This is surely a tragic position for a preacher of good news, and a teacher sent from God.

If the Christian would know how far his Church has fallen from power, let him reflect that, even after the sorrow and desolation of a world conflict, there is no atmosphere in Europe rendering the savagery of submarine warfare unthinkable—utterly unthinkable to the conscience of mankind.

Mr. Balfour and Lord Lee make a proposal to end this devilish warfare; the French oppose; newspapers open a crusade, here against France, there against Great Britain; the vital interests of humanity are at stake; the door will either be opened to disarmament or closed against peace for another fifty years; and Christ is silent—the Church does not lift even three fingers to bless the cause of peace.

Why is the Church so powerless? Why is it she has so fatally lost the attention of mankind?

Is it not because she has nothing to give, nothing to teach? Morals are older than Christianity, and sacramental religions as well. Men feel that they cannot understand the immense paraphernalia of religion and its unnatural atmosphere of high mystery; it is so tremendous a fuss about so very small a result. If God is in the Church, why doesn't He do more for it, and so more for the world? The revenues of religion are still enormous. What do they accomplish?

Men who think in this way are not enemies of religion, any more than the Jews who came to Jesus were enemies of Judaism. They deserve the respect of the Church. Indeed, it is in finding an answer to their challenge that the Church is most likely to find a solution to her own problem. But that answer will never be found if the Church seeks for it only in her documents. There is another place in which she must look for the truth of Christ, a truth as completely overlooked by the modernist as by the traditionalist: it is in the movements of the soul, in the world of living men.

I believe that there are more evidences for the existence of Christ in the modern world than in the whole lexicon of theology. I believe it is more possible to discern His features and to feel the breath of His lips by confronting the discoveries of modern science than by turning back the leaves of religious history to the first blurred pages of the Christian tradition. I believe, indeed, that it is now wholly impossible for any man to comprehend the Light which shone upon human darkness nearly two thousand years ago without bringing the documents of the Church to the light which is shining across the world at this present hour from the torch of science.

"Why seek ye the living among the dead?"

For twenty years I have followed this clue to the meaning of Christ and the nature of His message. I have seen Darwinism, the very foundation of modern materialism, break up like thin ice and melt away from the view of philosophy. I have seen evolution betray one of its greatest secrets to the soul of man—an immanent teleology, an invisible direction towards deeper consciousness, an intelligent movement towards greater understanding. And I have seen the demonstration by science that this visible and tangible world in its final analysis is both invisible and intangible—a phantasm of the senses.

I may be allowed perhaps to recall the incident which first set me to follow this clue.

One day, when he was deep in his studies of Radiant Matter, Sir William Crookes touched a little table which stood between our two chairs, and said to me, "We shall announce to the world in a year or two, perhaps sooner, that the atoms of which this table is composed are made up of tiny charges of electricity, and we shall prove that each one of those tiny electrons, relative to its size, is farther away from its nearest neighbour than our earth from the nearest star."

I have lived to see this prophecy fulfilled, though its implications are not yet understood.

The Church does not yet realise that physical science, hitherto regarded as the enemy of religion and the mocker of philosophy, presents us now with the world of the transcendentalists, the world of the metaphysicians, the world of religious seers—a world which is real and visible only to our limited senses, but a world which disappears from all vision and definition directly we bring to its investigation those ingenious instruments of science which act as extensions of our senses.

Every schoolboy is now aware that a door is solid only to his eyes and touch; that with the aid of X-rays it becomes transparent, the light passing through it as water passes through network, revealing what is on the other side. Every schoolboy also knows that his own body can be so photographed as to reveal its skeleton.

But the Church has yet to learn from M. Bergson the alphabet of this new knowledge, namely, that our senses and our reason are what they are because of a long evolution in action—not in pure thought. We have got our sight by looking for prey or for enemies, and our hearing by listening for the movement of prey or of enemies. Our reason, too, is fashioned out of a long heredity of action, that is to say an immemorial discipline in an existence purely animal. So powerful is the influence of this heredity, so real seems to us a physical world which is not real, so infallible seem to us the senses by which we fail to live successfully even as animals, that, as Christ said, a man must be born again before he can enter the Kingdom of God—that is to say, before he can behold and inhabit Reality.

At the head of this chapter I have set a quotation from a leading article in The Times on the recent lectures of M. Coue. It is now eighteen years ago, treading in the footsteps of Frederic Myers, that I discussed with some of the chief medical hypnotists in London and Paris the phenomena of mental suggestion. It was known then that auto-suggestion is a force of tremendous power. It was stated then that "an immense hope is dawning on the world," but not then, not even now, is it realised that this awkward term of "auto-suggestion" is merely a synonym for the more beautiful and ancient words, meditation and prayer.

We know now that a man can radically change his character, can uproot the toughest habits of a lifetime, by telling himself that his will is master in his house of life[9]. And we think that we have made this discovery, forgetting that Shakespeare said "The love of heaven makes us heavenly," and that Christ said, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled," and "All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive," or, as Mark has it, "What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them," and "According to your faith be it unto you."

[Footnote 9: At Nancy even a lesion has been cured by suggestion.]

With our present knowledge of the universe and of the human mind, it is at last possible for us to perceive in the confused records of the New Testament the nature of Christ's teaching. He loved the world for its beauty, but He penetrated its delusions and breathed the air of its only reality. "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." "He that hath ears to hear let him hear."

His world was always the world of thought. The actual deed of sin was merely a physical consequence; the cause was spiritual: it was an evil thought; to harbour an evil thought is to commit the sin. He looked into the hearts of men, into their thoughts, and there only He found their reality. All else was transitory. All else would see corruption and die. The flesh profiteth nothing. But the thought of a man—that is to say the region now being explored by the psycho-analyst, the psycho-therapeutist, and the psycho I know not what else—this was the one region in which Jesus moved, the region in which He proclaimed his transvaluation of values, a region of which He was so complete a master that He could heal delusion at a word and disorder by a touch.

One does not perhaps wholly realise, until one has read the muddied works of modern psychology, how sublime was the soul of Jesus. It might be possible to infer His divinity from the simplicity of the language and the white purity of the thought with which He expressed truths of the profoundest significance even in regions where so many fall into unhealthiness. "No man can serve two masters"—is not that the teaching of the modern hypnotist in dealing with "a divided self"? "Set your affections on things above"—is not that the counsel of the sane psycho-analyst in treating a diseased mind? "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you"—is not this the message of M. Coue, the teaching of auto-suggestion?—that teaching which makes us say at last that "an immense hope is dawning on the world."

And, in sober truth, we may indeed believe that this immense hope is dawning on the world; the hope that mankind may recognise in Jesus, Who called Himself the Light of the World, the world's great Teacher of Reality.

Here we approach that unifying principle which was the object of our quest in setting out to explore the chaos of opinion in the modern Church.

Is it not possible that the Church might see the trivial unimportance of all those matters which at present dismember her, if she saw the supreme importance of Christ as a Teacher? Might she not come to behold a glory in that Teaching greater even than that which she has so heroically but so unavailingly endeavoured to make the world behold in the crucified Sacrifice and Propitiation for its sins?

Is there not here the opportunity of an evangel, the dawning of an immense hope on the world?

But let the Church ask herself, before she abandons her labour of expounding doctrines concerning the Person of Christ, whether she is quite clear as to the teaching of Jesus. "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven."

Read St. Mark, the earliest, the least corrupted, of the narratives. It is a declaration of a new power in human life, and a record of its achievements. It is this, and nothing else. The one great word of that gospel is Faith—not faith in a formula or an institution, but faith in the absolute supremacy of spirit. Faith in spirit means power—power over circumstance, power over matter, power over the heredity of our animal origin. Jesus not only sets men free from the prison-house of material delusion, as Plato and others sought to do; He teaches them the way in which alone they can exercise spiritual dominion.

There were two things to which He set no limits: one, the love of God, and the other, the power of Faith.

Let all the schools in the Church revise their definition of the word faith, and unity will come of itself. Faith, as Jesus employed that term, meant making use of belief—belief that the spiritual alone is the real. Faith is the action of the soul. It is the working of a power. It is mastery of life.

Let the Church realise that Jesus taught this power of the soul. Let her begin to exercise her own spiritual powers. And then let her understand that she is in the world to teach men, to lead the advance of evolution, to educate humanity in the use of its highest powers.

A knowledge of the sense in which Jesus employed the word Faith is the clue to the recovery of Christian influence.

This is the suggestion which I venture to submit to the Church, at a moment in history when the harsh and brutal spirit of materialism is crushing all faith out of the soul and leaving the body no tenant but its appetites.

I do not think any observant man can deny that the whole "suggestion" of the modern world is of an evil nature, that is to say, of a nature which fastens upon the mind the delusions of the senses, making it believe that what it sees is reality, persuading it that the gratification of those senses is the end and object of existence. The wages of this suggestion is death—the death of the soul.

How far the world is gone from sanity, and how clearly science endorses Christ's teaching, may be seen in the modern craze for unhealthy excitement, and in the medical condemnation of that morbid passion. A well-known doctor in London, Sir Bruce Bruce-Porter, has lately condemned Grand Guignol as intensifying the emotion of fear or anxiety—"Take no heed"—and has declared anger, or any violence of feeling, to be a danger—"Love your enemies"—pointing out that "the experiment of inoculating a guinea-pig with the perspiration taken from the forehead of a man in a violent temper has resulted in the death of the guinea-pig with all the symptoms of strychnine poisoning."

Science is the one voice that condemns in these days the self-destroying madness of a world set on seeking to live habitually in the lower life. Sometimes journalism may light a candle of reason in our darkness, as when The Times recently pointed out in a leading article that the half-humorous interest of the world in the murderer Landru had its rise in a profound instinct of the human spirit, namely, that horror must be laughed at if it is not to be feared—to fear it is to be overwhelmed by it. This instinct is "an unconscious refusal to believe in the ultimate reality of evil; it is the predecessor of the scientific spirit which says that evil is something to be overcome by understanding it."

Out of such a lethargy as that which now holds her captive, I do not think the Church can be roused except by the trumpets of war. Let her, then, consider whether there is not here, in this world of false values, of low ambitions, of mean pleasures, of dark materialism, and of perilous superstitions, a world to be fought, as the doctors fight it, and the best kind of newspapers, if only for the sake of posterity, a world against which it is good to oppose oneself—the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness.

What is the good news of Christianity if it is not the news that "the spiritual alone is the real," that there is freedom for human life and mastery for the human soul, that faith in the spiritual is power over the material? Even in the tentative form which M. Bergson uses to reveal the reality of the spiritual world there is such joy that one of his interpreters can exclaim:

Here we are in these regions of twilight and dream, where our ego takes shape, where the spring within us gushes up, in the warm secrecy of the darkness which ushers our trembling being into birth. Distinctions fail us. Words are useless now. We hear the wells of consciousness at their mysterious task like an invisible shiver of running water through the mossy shades of the caves. I dissolve in the joy of becoming. I abandon myself to the delight of being a pulsing reality. I no longer know whether I see scents, breathe sounds, or smell colours. Do I love? Do I think? The question has no longer a meaning for me. I am, in my complete self, each of my attitudes, each of my changes. It is not my sight which is indistinct or my attention which is idle. It is I who have resumed contact with pure reality, whose essential movement admits no form of number.

How much greater the joy of him who knows that Reality is God, and that God is Father.

The open secret flashes on the brain, As if one almost guessed it, almost knew Whence we have sailed and voyage whereunto.

Let us suppose that the whole Church of Christ was engaged in teaching men this high mystery, this open secret, that all such great associations as the Christian Students' Movement, the Adult Sunday School Movement, the World Association for Adult Education, and all the numerous Missionary Societies throughout the whole earth—let us suppose that the entire Church of Christ was at work in the world teaching Christ's teaching, educating men, bringing it home to the heart and mind of humanity that "life is mental travel," that it is in our thoughts we live and by our thoughts we are shaped, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, that all terrestrial values are radically false, that to hunger and thirst after anything is to get it, that the power of "the dominant wish" is our fate, that in love alone can we live to the full stature of our destiny, that the Kingdom of God is within us, that the engine of faith has not yet been exerted by the whole human race in concert, that conquests await us in the spiritual world before which all the conquests of the material world will pale into insignificance, that we are spirits finding our way out of the darkness of an animal ancestry into the Light of an immortal inheritance as children of God; let us suppose that this, and not dogma was the Voice of the Church; must we not say that by such teaching the whole world would eventually be rescued from our present chaos and in the fulness of time be born again into the knowledge of spiritual reality?

I believe it is only when a man realises that in its final analysis the whole universe is invisible, and ceases to think of himself as an animal and becomes profoundly sensible of himself as a spirit, and a spirit in communion with a spiritual reality closer than hands and feet, that it is possible for him to fulfil the two great commandments on which hang all the Law and the Prophets. And without that fulfilment there must always be chaos.

If the Church will not teach the world, modern science will inspire philosophy to take up anew the teaching of Plato, and the world will go forward into the light, but with no creative love in its soul to save it from itself. "If therefore," said Christ, "the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness."


Previous Part     1  2  3  4
Home - Random Browse