"... And I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man; A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things."
Sometimes he dares to personalize this ultimate and then ascends to the supreme poetry of the religious experience and feels the cosmic consciousness, the eternal "I" of this strange world, which fills it with observant majesty. And then he chants,
"The heavens declare the glory of God, The firmament showeth his handiwork."
Or he whispers,
"Whither shall I go from Thy spirit, Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there, If I make my bed in hell, behold Thou art there, If I take the wings of the morning And dwell in the uttermost parts of the earth, Even there shall Thy hand lead me And Thy right hand shall hold me."
Indeed, the devout religionist almost never thinks of nature as such. She is always the bush which flames and is not consumed. Therefore he walks softly all his days, conscious that God is near.
"Of old," he says, "Thou hast laid the foundations of the earth; And the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure; Yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; As a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed; But Thou art the same, And Thy years shall have no end."
To him nature is the glass through which he sees darkly and often with a darkling mind, the all-pervasive Presence; it is the veil—the veil that covers the face of God.
[Footnote 24: Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, stanza 3, ll. 36-45.]
[Footnote 25: Psalm cxxxix. 7-9.]
[Footnote 26: Psalm cii. 25-27.]
Here, then, we have the contrasting attitude of worldling and believer toward nature, the outward universe. Now we come to the contrasting attitude of humanist and believer toward man, the world within. For why are we so sure, first, of the chasm between ourselves and Nature and, second, that we can bridge that chasm by reaching out to something behind and beyond her which is more like us than her? What gives us the key to her dualism? Why do we think that there is Something which perpetually beckons to us through her, makes awful signs of an intimate and significant relationship? Because we feel a similar chasm, an equal cleft in our own hearts, a division in the moral nature of mankind. We know that gulf between us and the outward world because we know the greater gulf between flesh and spirit, between the natural man and the real man, between the "I" and the "other I."
Here is where the humanist bids us good-by and we must go forward on our road alone. For he will not acknowledge that there is anything essential or permanent in that divided inner world; he would minimize it or explain it away. But we know it is there and the reason we know there is Something without which can bridge the outer chasm is because we also know there is Something-Else within which might bridge this one. For we who are religious know that within the depths and the immensities of this inner world, where there is no space but where there is infinite largeness, where there is no time but where there is perpetual strife, there is Something-Else as well as the "I" and the "other I," and it is that He who is the Something-Else who alone can close the gap in that divided kingdom and make us one with ourselves, hence with Himself and hence with His world.
You ask how we can say, "He's there; He knows." We answer that this "other," this "He" is a constant figure in the experience; always in the vision; an integral part of the perception. What is He like? "He" is purity and compassion and inexorableness. Something fixed, immutable, not to be tricked, not to be evaded and oh! all-comprehending. He sees, his eyes run to and fro in all the dark and wide, the light and high dominions of the soul. If we will not come to terms with "Him," that eternal and changeless life will be the cliff against which the tumultuous waves of the divided spirit shall shatter and dissipate into soundless foam; if we will come to terms, relinquish, accept, surrender, then that purity and that compassion will be the cleansing tide, the healing and restoring flood in which we sink in the ecstasy of self-loss to arise refreshed, radiant, and made whole.
So we reckon from within out. The religious view of the world is based upon the religious experience of the soul. We have no other means of getting at reality. I know that there is Something-more than me and Something-more than the nature outside of me, because we know that there is Something which is not me and is not nature, inside of me. So the man of religion, like any other poet, artist, seer, looks in his own heart and writes. What he finds there is real, or else, as far as he is concerned, there is no reality. He does not assert that this reality is the final and utter truth. But he knows it is his trustworthy mediator of that truth.
Here, then, is an immense separation between religionist and both humanist and naturalist; a separation so complete as to come full circle. We are convinced of the secondary value, both of natural appearances and of the mortal, temporal consciousness. So we substitute for impertinent familiarity with Nature, a reverent regard for what she half reveals, half hides. We interpret her by ourselves. We are the same compound of identity and difference. We acknowledge our continuity with the natural world, our intimate and tragic alliance with the dust, but we also know that we, within ourselves, are Something-Else as well. And it is that Something-Else in us which makes the significant part of us, which sets our value and place in the scale of being.
In short, the dualism of nature is revealed in the dualism of the soul. There is a gulf within, and if only man can span the inner chasm, he will know how to bridge the outer. He must begin by finding God within himself, or he will never find Him anywhere. Now, it is out of this sense of a separation within himself, from himself and from the Author of himself, that there arises that awful sense of helplessness, of dependence, of bewilderment, which is the second great element in the religious life. Man is alone in the world; man is helpless in the world; man ought not to be alone in the world; man is therefore under scrutiny and condemnation; he must find reconciliation, harmony, companionship, somehow, somewhere. Hence the religious man is not arrogant like the pagan, nor proud like the humanist; he is humble. It is Burke, I think, who says that the whole ethical life of man has its roots in this humility. The religious man cannot help but be humble. He has an awful pride in his kinship with heaven, but, standing before the Lord of heaven, he feels human nature's proper place, its confusion and division and helplessness; its dependence upon the higher Power.
[Footnote 27: Correspondence, III, p. 213.]
It is at this point that humanism and religion definitely part company. The former does not feel this absolute and judging Presence, hence cannot understand the spiritual solicitude of the latter. St. Paul was not quite at home on Mars Hill; it was hard to make those who were always hearing and seeing some new thing understand; the shame and humility of the cross were an unnecessary foolishness to them. So they have always been. The humanist cannot take seriously this sense of a transcendent reality. When Cicero, to escape the vengeance of Clodius, withdrew from Rome, he passed over into Greece and dwelt for a while in Thessalonica. One day he saw Mount Olympus, the lofty and eternal home of the deities of ancient Greece. "But I," said the bland eclectic philosopher, "saw nothing but snow and ice."
How inadequate, then, as a substitute for religion, is even the noblest humanism. True and fine as far as it goes, it does not go far enough for us. It takes too little account of the divided life. It appears not to understand it. On the whole it refuses to acknowledge that it really exists, or, if it does, it is convinced of man's unaided ability to efface it. It isn't something inevitable. Hence the pride which is an essential quality of the humanistic attitude.
But the religious man knows that it does exist and that while he is not wholly responsible for it, yet he is essentially so and that, alas, in spite of that fact, he alone cannot bridge it. So he cries, "Wretched man that I am, what shall I do to be saved?" Here is the feeling of uneasiness, the sense of something being wrong about us as we naturally stand, of which James speaks. In that sense of responsibility is the confession of sin and in the confession of sin is the acknowledgment of the impotence of the sinner.
"The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on Nor all your wit nor all your tears, can wash a line of it."
Man cannot, unaided, make his connection with this higher power. The world is at fault, yes, but we are at fault, something both within and without dreadfully needs explaining. So man is subdued and troubled by the infinite mystery; and he cannot accept the place in which he finds himself in that mystery; he is ashamed of it.
Vivid, then, is his sense of helplessness! It makes him resent the humanist, who bids him, unaided, solve his fate and be a man. That is giving him stones when he asks for bread. He knows that advice makes an inhuman demand upon the will; it assumes a reasonableness, an insight and a moral power, which for him do not exist; it ignores or it denies the reality and the meaning of this inner gulf. It is important to note that even as philosophy and art and literature soon parted company with the naturalist, so, to a large degree, they part company with the humanist, too. They do not know very much of an harmonious and triumphant universe. Few of the world's creative spirits have ever denied that inner chasm or minimized its tragic consequences to mankind. Isaiah and Paul and John and Augustine and Luther are wrung with the consciousness of it. Indeed, the antithesis between flesh and spirit is too familiar in religious literature to need any recounting. It is more vividly brought home to us from the nonprofessional, the disinterested and involuntary testimony of secular writing. Was there ever such a cry of revolt on the part of the trapped spirit against the net and slough of natural values and natural desires as runs through the sonnets of William Shakespeare? We remember the 104th:
"Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth, Foiled by these rebel powers that thee array, Why dost thou pine within, and suffer dearth, Painting thine outward walls so costly gay? Why so large cost, having so short a lease, Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend? Shall worms, inheritors of this excess, Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end? Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss And let that pine to aggravate thy store, Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross Within be fed, without be rich no more—"
Or turn to our contemporary poet, James Stephens:
"Good and bad are in my heart But I cannot tell to you For they never are apart Which is the better of the two.
I am this: I am the other And the devil is my brother And my father he is God And my mother is the sod, Therefore I am safe, you see Owing to my pedigree.
So I cherish love and hate Like twin brothers in a nest Lest I find when it's too late That the other was the best."
Here, then, we find the next thing which grows out of man's sense of separation both from nature and from his own best self. It is his moral judgment on himself as well as on the world outside, and that power to judge shows that he is greater than either. As Dr. Gordon says, "Every honest man lives under the shadow of his own rebuke." We can go far with the humanist in acknowledging the failures that are due to environment, to incompleteness, to ignorance; we do not forget the helpless multitude who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; and we agree with the scientist that their helplessness foredooms them and that their fate cannot be laid to their charge. But we go far beyond where scientist and humanist stop. For we know that the deepest cause of human misery is not inheritance, is not environment, is not ignorance, is not incompleteness; it is the informed but the perverse human will. Just as unhappiness is the consciousness of the divided mind, so guilt is this sense of the deliberately divided will. Jonathan Swift knew that; on every yearly recurrence of the hour in which he came into the world, he cried lamentably, "Let the day perish wherein I was born."
[Footnote 28: Songs from the Clay, p. 40.]
The Lord Jesus knew it, too. His teaching, unlike that of Paul, does not throw into the foreground the divided will and its accompanying sense of sin and guilt. But he does not ignore it. He brought it out with infinite tenderness but inexorable clearness in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost boy. The sheep were but young and silly, they did not wish to be lost on the mountain-side; they knew no better; inexperience, ignorance were theirs, and for their sad estate they were not held responsible. For them the compassionate shepherd sought until he found them in the wilds, took them, involuntary burdens, on his heart, brought them back to safety and the fold. The coin had no native affinity with the dirt and grime of the careless woman's house. It was only a coin, attached to anklet or bracelet, having no power, no independence of its own; where it fell, there must it lie. So with the lives set by fate in the refuse and grime of our industrial civilization, the pure minted gold effectually concealed by the obscurity and filth around. For such lives, victims of environment, the Father will search, too, until they are found, taken up, and somewhere, in this world or another, restored to their native worth. But the chief of the parables, and the one that has captured the imagination and subdued the heart of mankind, because it so true to the greater part of life, is the story of the lost boy. For he was the real sinner and he was such because, knowing what he was about and able to choose, he desired to do wrong. It was not ignorance, nor environment, nor inheritance, that led him into the far country. It was its alien delights and their alien nature, for which as such he craved. How subtle and certain is the word of Jesus here. No shepherd seeks this wandering sheep; no householder searches for this lost coin. The boy who willed to do wrong must stay with the swine among the husks until he wills to do right. Then, when he desires to return, return is made possible and easy, but the responsibility is forever his. The source of his misery is his own will.
So the disposition of mankind is at the bottom of the suffering and the division. There is rebellion and perverseness mingled with the helplessness and ignorance and sorrow. No man ever understands or can speak to the religious life unless he has the consciousness of this inner moral cleft. No man will ever be able to preach with power about God unless he does it chiefly in terms of God's difference from man and man's perilous estate and desperate need of Him. Indeed, God is not like us, not like this inner life of ours; this is what we want to hear. God is different; that is why we want to be able to love Him. And being thus different, we are separated from Him, both by the inner chasm of the divided soul and the outer chasm of remote and hostile nature. Then comes the final question: How are we, being helpless, to reach Him? How are we, being guilty, to find Him?
When men deal with these queries, with this range of experience, this set of inward perceptions, then they are preaching religiously. And then, I venture to say, they do not fail either of hearers or of followers. Then there is what Catherine Booth used to call "liberty of speech"; then there is power because then we talk of realities. For what is it that looks out from the eyes of religious humanity? Rebellion, pride? no! Humility, loneliness, something of a just and deserved fear; but most of all, desire, insatiable, unwavering, an intense desire. This passion of the race, its never satisfied hunger, its incredible intensity and persistency of striving and longing, is at once the tragedy and glory, the witness to the helplessness, the revelation of the capacity of the race. The mainspring of human activity, the creative impulse from which in devious ways all the thousand-hued motives of our lives arise, is revealed in the ancient cry, "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God!" That unquenched thirst for Him underlies all human life, as the solemn stillness of the ocean underlies the restless upper waves. The dynamic of the world is the sense of the divine reality. The woe of the world is man's inability to discover and appropriate that reality. Who that has entered truly into life does not perceive beneath all the glitter of its brilliance, the roar of its energy and achievement, the note of melancholy? The great undertone of life is solemn in its pathetic uniformity. The poets and prophets of the world have seized unerringly upon that melancholy undertone. Who ever better understood the futility and helplessness of unaided man, the certain doom that tracks down his pride of insolence, or his sin, than the Greek tragedians? Sophocles, divided spirit that he was, heard that note of melancholy long ago by the AEgean, wrote it into his somber dramas, with their turbid ebb and flow of human misery. Sometimes the voices of our humanity as they rise blend and compose into one great cry that is lifted, shivering and tingling, to the stars, "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!" Sometimes and more often they sink into a subdued and minor plaint, infinitely touching in its human solicitude, perplexity and pain. Again, James Stephens has phrased it for us in his verse The Nodding Stars.
[Footnote 29: Songs from the Clay, p. 68.]
"Brothers, what is it ye mean, What is it ye try to say That so earnestly ye lean From the spirit to the clay.
"There are weary gulfs between Here and sunny Paradise, Brothers! What is it ye mean That ye search with burning eyes,
"Down for me whose fire is clogged, Clamped in sullen, earthy mould, Battened down and fogged and bogged, Where the clay is seven-fold."
Now we understand the tragic aspect of nature and of the human soul caught in this cosmic dualism without which corresponds to the ethical dualism within. This perception of the One behind the many in nature, of the thing-in-itself, as distinguished from the many expressions of that thing, is the chief theme for preaching. This is what brings men to themselves. Herein, as Dr. Newman Smyth has pointed out, appears the unique marvel of personality. "It becomes conscious of itself as individual and it individualizes the world; it is the one discovering itself among the many. In the midst of uniformities of nature, moving at will on the plane of natural necessities, weaving the pattern of its ideas through the warp of natural laws, runs the personal life. On the same plane and amid these uniformities, yet itself a sphere of being of another order; in it, yet disentangled from it, and having its center in itself, it lives and moves and has its being, breaking no thread of nature's weaving, subject to its own law, and manifesting a dynamic of its own."
[Footnote 30: The Meaning of the Personal Life, p. 173.]
The source, then, as we see it, of all human hopes and human dignity, the urge that lies behind all metaphysics and much of literature and art, the thing that makes men eager to live, yet nobly curious to die, is this conviction that One like unto ourselves but from whom we have made ourselves unlike, akin to our real, if buried, person, walketh with us in the fiery furnace of our life. There is a Spirit in man and the breath of the Almighty giveth him understanding. Starting from this interpretation, we can begin to order the baffling and teasing aspects, the illusive nature of the world. Why this ever failing, but never ending struggle against unseen odds to grasp and understand and live with the Divine? Why, between the two, the absolute and the changeless spirit, unseen but felt, and the hesitant and timid spirit of a man, would there seem to be a great gulf fixed? Because we are wrong. Because man finds the gulf within himself. He chafes at the limitations of time and space? Yes; but he chafes more at the mystery and weakness, the mingled deceitfulness and cunning and splendor of the human heart. Because there is no one of us who can say, I have made my life pure, I am free from my sin. He knows that the gulf is there between the fallible and human, and the more than human; he does not know how to cross it; he says,
"I would think until I found Something I can never find Something lying on the ground In the bottom of my mind."
Here, then, can we not understand that mingling of mystic dignity and profound humility, of awe-struck pride and utter self-abnegation, wherewith the man of religion regards his race and himself? He is the child of the Eternal; he, being man, alone knows that God is. "When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou visitest him?" Here is the humility: "Why so hot, little man!" Then comes the awe-struck pride: "Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor." "Alone with the gods, alone!" God is the high and lofty one which inhabiteth eternity, but He is also nigh unto them who are of a broken and a contrite heart.
Here we are come to the very heart of religion. Man's proud separateness in the universe; yet man's moral defection and his responsibility for it which makes him know that separateness; man's shame and helplessness under it. Over against the denial or evasion of moral values by the naturalist and the dullness to the sense of moral helplessness by the humanist, there stands the sense of moral difference, the sense of sin, of penitence and confession. No preaching not founded on these things can ever be called religious or can ever stir those ranges of the human life for which alone preaching is supposed to exist.
What is the religious law, then? It is the law of humility. And what is the religious consciousness? The sense of man's difference from nature and from God. The sense of his difference from himself within himself and the longing for an inner harmony which shall unite him with himself and with the beauty and the spirit without. So what is the religious passion? Is it to exalt human nature? It would be more true to say it is to lose it. What is the end for us? Not identification with nature and the natural self, but pursuit of the other than nature, the more than natural self. Our humility is not like that of Uriah Heep, a mean opinion of ourselves in comparison with other men. It is the profound consciousness of the weakness and the nothingness of our kind, and of the poor ends human nature sets its heart upon, in comparison with that Other One above and beyond and without us, to whom we are kin, from whom we are different, to whom we aspire, to reach whom we know not how.
This, then, is what we mean when we turn back from the language of experience to the vocabulary of philosophy and theology and talk about the absolute values of religion. We mean by "absolute values" that behind the multifarious and ever changing nature, is a single and a steadfast cause—a great rock in a weary land. We have lost the old absolute philosophies and dogmatic theologies and that is good and right, for they were outworn. But we are never going to lose the central experience that produced them, and our task is to find a new philosophy to express these inner things for which the words "supernatural," "absolute," are no longer intelligible. For we still know that behind man's partial and relative knowledge, feeling, willing, is an utter knowledge, a perfect feeling, a serene and unswerving will; that beneath man's moral anarchy there is moral sovereignty; that behind his helplessness there is abundant power to save. Perhaps this Other is always changing, but, if so, it is a Oneness which is changing. In short, the thing that is characteristic of religion is that it dwells, not on man's likenesses, but on his awful differences from nature and from God; sees him not as little counterparts of deity, but as broken fragments only to be made whole within the perfect life. It sees relativity as the law of our being, yes, but relativity, not of the sort that excludes, but is included in, a higher absolute, even as the planet swings in infinite space.
The trouble with much preaching is that it lacks the essentially religious insight; in dwelling on man's identities it confuses or drugs, not clarifies and purges, the spirit. Thus, it obscures the gulf. Sometimes it evades it, or bridges it by minimizing it, and genuinely religious people, and those who want to be religious, and those who might be, know that such preaching is not real and that it does not move them and, worst of all, the hungry sheep look up and are not fed. For in such preaching there is no call to humility, no plea for grace, no sense that the achievement of self-unity is as much a rescue as it is a reformation. But this sense of the need of salvation is integral to religion; this is where it has parted company with humanism. Humanism makes no organic relations between man and the Eternal. It is as though it thought these would take care of themselves! In the place of grace it puts pride; pride of caste, of family, of character, of intellect. But high self-discipline and pride in the human spirit are not the deepest or the highest notes man strikes. The cry, not of pride in self, but for fellowship with the Infinite, is the superlative expression of man. Augustine sounded the highest note of feeling when he wrote, "O God, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." The words of the Lord Jesus gave the clearest insight of the human mind when He said, "And when he came to himself, he said, I will arise and go to my Father."
GRACE, KNOWLEDGE, VIRTUE
I hope the concluding paragraphs of the last chapter brought us back into the atmosphere of religion, into that sort of mood in which the reality of the struggle for character, the craving of the human spirit to give and to receive compassion, the cry of the lonely soul for the love of God, were made manifest. These are the real goods of life to religious natures; they need this meat which the world knoweth not of; there is a continuing resolve in them to say, "Good-by, proud world, I'm going home!" The genuinely religious man must, and should indeed, live in this world, but he cannot live of it.
Merely to create such an atmosphere then, to induce this sort of mood, to shift for men their perspectives, until these needs and values rise once more compelling before their eyes, is a chief end of preaching. Its object is not so much moralizing or instructing as it is interpreting and revealing; not the plotting out of the landscape at our feet, but the lifting of our eyes to the hills, to the fixed stars. Then we really do see things that are large as large and things that are small as small. We need that vision today from religious leaders more than we need any other one thing.
For humanism and naturalism between them have brought us to an almost complete secularization of preaching, in which its characteristic elements, its distinctive contribution, have largely faded from liberal speaking and from the consciousness of its hearers. We have emphasized man's kinship with nature until now we can see him again declining to the brute; we have proclaimed the divine Immanence until we think to compass the Eternal within a facile and finite comprehension. By thus dwelling on the physical and rational elements of human experience, religion has come to concern itself to an extraordinary degree with the local and temporal reaches of faith. We have lost the sense of communion with Absolute Being and of the obligation to standards higher than those of the world, which that communion brings. Out of this identification of man with nature has come the preaching which ignores the fact of sin; which reduces free will and the moral responsibility of the individual to the vanishing point; which stresses the control of the forces of inheritance and environment to the edge of fatalistic determinism; which leads man to regard himself as unfortunate rather than reprehensible when moral disaster overtakes him; which induces that condoning of the moral rebel which is born not of love for the sinner but of indifference to his sin; which issues in that last degeneration of self-pity in which individuals and societies alike indulge; and in that repellent sentimentality over vice and crime which beflowers the murderer while it forgets its victim, which turns to ouija boards and levitated tables to obscure the solemn finality of death and to gloze over the guilty secrets of the battlefield.
Thus it has come about that we preach of God in terms of the drawing-room, as though he were some vast St. Nicholas, sitting up there in the sky or amiably informing our present world, regarding with easy benevolence His minute and multifarious creations, winking at our pride, our cruelty, our self-love, our lust, not greatly caring if we break His laws, tossing out His indiscriminate gifts, and vaguely trusting in our automatic arrival at virtue. Even as in philosophy, it is psychologists, experts in empirical science and methods, and sociologists, experts in practical ethics, who may be found, while the historian and the metaphysician are increasingly rare, so in preaching we are amiable and pious and ethical and practical and informative, but the vision and the absolutism of religion are a departing glory.
What complicates the danger and difficulty of such a position, with its confusion of natural and human values, and its rationalizing and secularizing of theistic thinking, is that it has its measure of reality. All these observations of naturalist and humanist are half truths, and for that very reason more perilous than utter falsehoods. For the mind tends to rest contented within their areas, and so the partial becomes the worst enemy of the whole. What we have been doing is stressing the indubitable identity between man and nature and between the Creator and His creatures to the point of unreality, forgetting the equally important fact of the difference, the distinction between the two. But sound knowledge and normal feeling rest upon observing and reckoning with both aspects of this law of kinship and contrast. All human experience becomes known to us through the interplay of what appear to be contradictory needs and opposing truths within our being. Thus, man is a social animal and can only find himself in a series of relationships as producer, lover, husband, father and friend. He is a part of and like unto his kind, his spirit immanent in his race. But man is also a solitary creature, and in that very solitariness, which he knows as he contrasts it with his social interests, he finds identity of self, the something which makes us "us," which separates us from all others in the world. A Crusoe, marooned on a South Sea island, without even a black man Friday for companionship, would soon cease to be a man; personality would forsake him. But the same Crusoe is equally in need of solitude. The hell of the barracks, no matter how well conducted, is their hideous lack of privacy; men condemned by shipwreck or imprisonment to an unbroken and intimate companionship kill their comrade or themselves. We are all alike and hence gregarious; we are all different and hence flee as a bird to the mountain. The reality of human personality lies in neither one aspect of the truth nor the other, but in both. The truth is found as we hold the balance between identity and difference. Hence we are not able to think of personality in the Godhead unless we conceive of God as being, within Himself, a social no less than a solitary Being.
Again, this law that the truth is found in the balance of the antinomies appears in man's equal passion for continuity and permanency and for variety and change. The book of Revelation tells us that the redeemed, before the great white throne, standing upon the sea of glass, sing the song of Moses and the Lamb. What has the one to do with the other? Here is the savage, triumphant chant of the far dawn of Israel's history, joined with the furthest and latest possible events and words. Well, it at least suggests the continuity of the ageless struggle of mankind, showing that the past has its place in the present, relieving man's horror of the impermanence, the disjointed character of existence. He wants something orderly and static. But, like the jet of water in the fountain, his life is forever collapsing and collapsing, falling in upon itself, its apparent permanence nothing but a rapid and glittering succession of impermanences. The dread of growing old is chiefly that, as years come on, life changes more and faster, becomes a continual process of readjustment. Therefore we want something fixed; like the sailor with his compass, we must have some needle, even if a tremulous one, always pointing toward a changeless star. Yet this is but one half of the picture. Does man desire continuity?—quite as much does he wish for variety, cessation of old ways, change and fresh beginnings. The most terrible figure which the subtle imagination of the Middle Ages conjured up was that of the Wandering Jew, the man who could not die! Here, then, we arrive at knowledge, the genuine values of experience, by this same balancing of opposites. Continuity alone kills; perpetual change strips life of significance; man must have both.
Now, it is in the religious field that this interests us most. We have seen that what we have been doing there of late has been to ignore the fact that reality is found only through this balancing of the law of difference and identity, contrast and likeness. We have been absorbed in one half of reality, identifying man with nature, prating of his self-sufficiency, seeing divinity almost exclusively as immanent in the phenomenal world. Thus we have not merely been dealing with only one half of the truth, but that, to use a solecism, the lesser half.
For doubtless men do desire in religion a recognition of the real values of their physical nature. And they want rules of conduct, a guide for practical affairs, a scale of values for this world. This satisfies the craving for temporal adjustment, the sense of the goodness and worth of what our instinct transmits to us. But it does nothing to meet that profound dissatisfaction with this world and that sense of the encumbrances of the flesh which is also a part of reality and, to the religious man, perhaps the greater part. He wants to turn away from all these present things and be kept secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues. Here he has no continuing city. Always while we dwell here we have a dim and restless sense that we are in an unreal country and we know, in our still moments, that we shall only come to ourselves when we return to the house of our Father. Hence men have never been satisfied with religious leaders who chiefly interpreted this world to them.
And indeed, since July, 1914, and down to and including this very hour, this idealizing of time, which we had almost accepted as our office, has had a ghastly exposure. Because there has come upon us all one of these irrevocable and irremediable disasters, for which time has no word of hope, to which Nature is totally indifferent, for which the God of the outgoings and incomings of the morning is too small. For millions of living and suffering men and women all temporal and mortal values have been wiped out. They have been caught in a catastrophe so ruthless and dreadful that it has strewed their bodies in heaps over the fields and valleys of many nations. Today central and south and northeastern Europe and western Asia are filled with idle and hungry and desperate men and women. They have been deprived of peace, of security, of bread, of enlightenment alike. Something more than temporal salvation and human words of hope are needed here. Something more than ethical reform and social readjustment and economic alleviation, admirable though these are! Something there must be in human nature that eclipses human nature, if it is to endure so much! What has the God of this world to give for youth, deprived of their physical immortality and all their sweet and inalienable human rights, who are lying now beneath the acre upon acre of tottering wooden crosses in their soldier's graves? Is there anything in this world sufficient now for the widow, the orphan, the cripple, the starving, the disillusioned and the desperate? What Europe wants to know is why and for what purpose this holocaust—is there anything beyond, was there anything before it? A civilization dedicated to speed and power and utility and mere intelligence cannot answer these questions. Neither can a religion resolved into naught but the ethics of Jesus answer them. "If in this world only," cries today the voice of our humanity, "we have hope, then we are of all men the most miserable!" When one sees our American society of this moment returning so easily to the physical and the obvious and the practical things of life; when one sees the church immersed in programs, and moralizing, and hospitals, and campaigns, and membership drives, and statistics, and money getting, one is constrained to ask, "What shall be said of the human spirit that it can forget so soon?"
Is it not obvious, then, that our task for a pagan society and a self-contained humanity is to restore the balance of the religious consciousness and to dwell, not on man's identity with Nature, but on his far-flung difference; not on his self-sufficiency, but on his tragic helplessness; not on the God of the market place, the office and the street, an immanent and relative deity, but on the Absolute, that high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity? Indeed, we are being solemnly reminded today that the other-worldliness of religion, its concern with future, supertemporal things, is its characteristic and most precious contribution to the world. We are seeing how every human problem when pressed to its ultimate issue becomes theological. Here is where the fertile field for contemporary preaching lies. It is found, not in remaining with those elements in the religious consciousness which it shares in common with naturalism and humanism, but in passing over to those which are distinctive to itself alone. It has always been true, but it is especially true at this moment, that effective preaching has to do chiefly with transcendent values.
Our task is to assert, first, then, the "otherness" of man, his difference from Nature, to point out the illusoriness of her phenomena for him, the derived reality and secondary value of her facts. These are things that need religious elucidation. The phrase "other-worldliness" has come, not without reason, to have an evil connotation among us, but there is nevertheless a genuine disdain of this world, a sense of high superiority to it and profound indifference toward it, which is of the essence of the religious attitude. He who knows that here he is a stranger, sojourning in tabernacles; that he belongs by his nature, not to this world, but that he seeks a better, that is to say, a heavenly country, will for the joy that is set before him, endure a cross and will despise the shame. He will have a conscious superiority to hostile facts of whatever sort or magnitude, for he knows that they deceive in so far as they pretend to finality. When religion has thus acquired a clear-sighted and thoroughgoing indifference to the natural order, then, and then only, it begins to be potent within that order. Then, as Professor Hocking says, it rises superior to the world of facts and becomes irresistible.
[Footnote 31: The Meaning of God in Human Experience, p. 518.]
The time is ripe, then, first, for the preacher to emphasize the inward and essential difference between man and nature which exists under the outward likeness, to remind him of this more-than-nature, this "otherness" of man, without which he would lose his most precious possession, the sense of personality. Faith begins by recognizing this transcendent element in man and the acceptance of it is the foundation of religious preaching. What was the worst thing about the war? Not its destruction nor its horrors nor its futilities, but its shames; the dreadful indignities which it inflicted upon man; it treated men as though they were not souls! No such moral catastrophe could have overwhelmed us if we had not for long let the brute lie too near the values and practices of our lives, depersonalizing thus, in politics and industry and morals and religion, our civilization. It all proceeded from the irreligious interpretation of human existence, and the fruits of that interpretation are before us.
The first task of the preacher, then, is to combat the naturalistic interpretation of humanity with every insight and every conviction that is within his power. If we are to restore religious values, rebuild a world of transcendent ends and more-than-natural beauty, we must begin here with man. In the popular understanding of the phrase all life is not essentially one in kind; physical self-preservation and reproduction are not the be-all and the end-all of existence. There is something more to be expressed in man without which these are but dust and ashes in the mouth. There is another kind of life mixed in with this, the obvious. If we cannot express the other world, we shall not long tolerate this one. To think that this world is all, leans toward madness; such a picture of man is a travesty, not a portrait of his nature. Only on some such basic truths as these can we build character in our young people. Paganism tells them that it is neither natural nor possible to keep themselves unspotted from the world. Over against it we must reiterate, You can and you must! for the man that sinneth wrongeth his own soul. You are something more than physical hunger and reproductive instinct; you are of spirit no less than dust. How, then, can you do this great sin against God!
How abundant here are the data with which religious preaching may deal. Indeed, as Huxley and scores of others have pointed out, it is only the religious view of man that builds up civilization. A great community is the record of man's supernaturalism, his uniqueness. It is built on the "higher-than-self" principle which is involved in the moral sense itself. And this higher-than-self is not just a collective naturalism, a social consciousness, as Durkheim and Overstreet and Miss Harrison would say. The simplest introspective act will prove that. For a man cannot ignore self-condemnation as if it were only a natural difficulty, nor disparage it as though it were merely humanly imposed. We think it comes from that which is above and without, because it speaks to the solitary and the unique, not the social and the common part of us. Hence conscience is not chiefly a tribal product, for it is what separates us from the group and in our isolation unites us with something other than the group. "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight." So religious preaching perpetually holds us up above our natural selves and the natural order.
Thus man must live by an other-than-natural law if he is to preserve the family, which is the social unit of civilization. Its very existence depends upon modifying and transforming natural hunger by a diviner instinct, by making voluntary repressions, willing sacrifices of the lower to the higher, the subordinating of the law of self and might to the law of sacrifice and love—this is what preserves family life. Animals indeed rear and cherish their young and for the mating season remain true to one another, but no animality per se ever yet built a home. There must be a more-than-natural law in the state. Our national life and honor rest upon the stability of the democracy and we can only maintain that by walking a very straight and narrow path. For the peace of freedom as distinguished from precarious license is a more-than-natural attainment, born of self-repression and social discipline, the voluntary relinquishment of lesser rights for higher rights, of personal privileges for the sake of the common good. Government by the broad and easy path, following the lines of least resistance, like the natural order, saying might is right, means either tyranny or anarchy. Circumspice! One of the glories of western civilization is its hospitals. They stand for the supernatural doctrine of the survival of the unfit, the conviction of the community that, to take the easy path of casting out the aged and infirm, the sick and the suffering, would mean incalculable degeneration of national character, and that the difficult and costly path of protection and ministering service is both necessary and right. And why is the reformatory replacing the prison? Because we have learned that the obvious, natural way of dealing with the criminal certainly destroys him and threatens to destroy us; and that the hard, difficult path of reeducating and reforming a vicious life is the one which the state for her own safety must follow.
Genuine preaching, then, first of all, calls men to repentance, bids them turn away from their natural selves, and, to find that other and realer self, enter the straight and narrow gate. The call is not an arbitrary command, born of a negative and repressive spirit. It is a profound exhortation based upon a fundamental law of human progress, having behind it the inviolable sanction of the truth. Such preaching would have the authentic note. It is self-verifying. It stirs to answer that quality—both moral and imaginative—in the spirit of man which craves the pain and difficulty and satisfaction of separation from the natural order. It appeals to a timeless worth in man which transcends any values of mere intelligence which vary with the ages, or any material prosperity which perishes with the using, or any volitional activity that dies in its own expenditure. Much of the philosophy of Socrates was long ago outmoded, but Socrates himself, as depicted in the Phaedo, confronting death with the cup of hemlock in his hand, saying with a smile, "There is no evil which can happen to a good man living or dead," has a more-than-natural, an enduring and transcendent quality. Whenever we preach to the element in mankind which produces such attitudes toward life and bid it assert itself, then we are doing religious preaching, and then we speak with power. Jesus lived within the inexorable circle of the ideas of His time; He staked much on the coming of the new kingdom which did not appear either when or as He had first expected it. He had to adjust, as do we all, His life to His experience, His destiny to His fate. But when He was hanging on His cross, forgotten of men and apparently deserted by His God, something in Him that had nothing to do with nature or the brute rose to a final expression and by its more-than-natural reality, sealed and authenticated His life. Looking down upon His torturers, understanding them far better than they understood themselves, He cried, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." That cry has no place in nature; it has no application and no meaning outside the human heart and that which is above, not beneath, the human heart, from which it is derived. There, then, again was the supernatural law; there was the more-than-nature in man which makes nature into human nature; and there is the thing to whose discovery, cultivation, expression, real preaching is addressed. Every time a man truly preaches he so portrays what men ought to be, must be, and can be if they will, that they know there is something here
"that leaps life's narrow bars To claim its birthright with the hosts of heaven! A seed of sunshine that doth leaven Our earthly dullness with the beams of stars, And glorify our clay With light from fountains elder than the Day."
[Footnote 32: J.R. Lowell, Commemoration Ode, stanza IV, ll. 30-35.]
Such preaching is a perpetual refutation of and rebuke to the naturalism and imperialism of our present society. It is the call to the absolute in man, to a clear issue with evil. It would not cry peace, peace, when there is no peace. It would be living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of both joints and marrow, quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Following this insistence upon the difference from nature, the more-than-natural in man, the second thing in religious preaching will have to be, obviously, the message of salvation. That is to say, reducing the statement to its lowest terms, if man is to live by such a law, the law of more-than-nature, then he must have something also more-than-human to help him in his task. He will need strength from outside. Indeed, because religion declares that there is such divine assistance, and that faith can command it, is the chief cause and reason for our existence. When we cease to preach salvation in some form or other, we deny our own selves; we efface our own existence. For no one can preach the more-than-human in mankind without emphasizing those elements of free will, moral responsibility, the need and capacity for struggle and holiness in human life which it indicates, and which in every age have been a part of the message of Him who said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father, which is in heaven, is perfect."
Therefore, as we have previously corrected the half truth of the naturalist who makes a caricature, not a portrait of man, we must now in the same way turn to the correcting of the humanist's emphasis upon man's native capacity and insist upon the complementary truth which fulfills this moral heroism of mankind, namely, the divine rescue which answers to its inadequacy. Man must struggle for his victory; he can win; he cannot win alone. We must then insist upon the doctrine of salvation, turning ourselves to the other side of the humanist's picture. Man cannot live by this more-than-natural law unaided. For not only has he the power to rise above Nature; the same thing gives him equal capacity to sink beneath her, and, when left to himself, he generally does so. The preacher does not dare deny the sovereignty of sin. Humanism hates the very name of sin; it has never made any serious attempt to explain the consciousness of guilt. Neither naturalist nor humanist can afford to admit sin, for sin takes man, as holiness does, outside the iron chain of cause and effect; it breaks the law; it is not strictly natural. It makes clear enough that man is outside the natural order in two ways. He is both inferior and superior to it. He falls beneath, he rises above it. When he acts like a beast, he is not clean and beastly, but unclean and bestial. When he lifts his head in moral anguish, bathes all his spirit in the flood of awe and repentance, is transfigured with the glorious madness of self-sacrifice, he is so many worlds higher than the beast that their relationship becomes irrelevant. So we must deal more completely than humanists do with the central mystery of our experience; man's impotent idealism, his insight not matched with consummation; the fact that what he dares to dream of he is not able alone to do.
For the humanist exalts man, which is good; but then he makes him self-sufficient for the struggle which such exaltation demands, which is bad. In that partial understanding he departs from truth. And what is it that makes the futility of so much present preaching? It is the acceptance of this doctrine of man's moral adequacy and consequently the almost total lack either of the assurance of grace or of the appeal to the will. No wonder such exhortations cannot stem the tide of an ever increasing worldliness. Such preaching stimulates the mind; in both the better and the worse preachers, it moves the emotions but it gives men little power to act on what they hear and feel to the transformation of their daily existence. Thus the humanistic sense of man's sufficiency, coupled with the inherent distrust of any notion of help from beyond and above, any belief in a reinforcing power which a critical rationalism cannot dissect and explain, has gradually ruled out of court the doctrine of salvation until the preacher's power, both to experience and to transmit it, has atrophied through disuse.
Who can doubt that one large reason why crude and indefensible concepts of the Christian faith have such a disconcerting vitality today is because they carry, in their outmoded, unethical, discredited forms, the truth of man's insufficiency in himself and the confident assurance of that something coming from without which will abundantly complete the struggling life within? They offer the assurance of that peace and moral victory which man so ardently desires, because they declare that it is both a discovery and a revelation, an achievement and a rescue. There are vigorous and rapidly growing popular movements of the day which rest their summation of faith on the quadrilateral of an inerrant and verbally inspired Scripture, the full deity of Jesus Christ, the efficacy of His substitutionary atonement, the speedy second coming of the Lord. No sane person can suppose that these cults succeed because of the ethical insight, the spiritual sensitiveness, the intellectual integrity of such a message. It does not possess these things. They succeed, in spite of their obscurantism, because they do confess and meet man's central need, his need to be saved. The power of that fact is what is able to carry so narrow and so indefensible a doctrine.
So the second problem of the preacher is clear. Man asserts his potential independence of the natural law. But to realize that, he must bridge the gulf between himself and the supernatural lawgiver to whose dictates he confesses he is subject. He is not free from the bondage of the lower, except through the bondage to the higher. Nor can he live by that higher law unaided and alone. Here we strike at the root of humanism. Its kindly tolerance of the church is built up on the proud conviction that we, with our distinctive doctrine of salvation, are superfluous, hence sometimes disingenuous and always negligible. The humanist believes that understanding takes the place of faith. What men need is not to be redeemed from their sins, but to be educated out of their follies.
But does right knowing in itself suffice to insure right doing? Socrates and Plato, with their indentification of knowledge and virtue, would appear to think so; the church has gone a long way, under humanistic pressure, in tacit acquiescence with their doctrine. Yet most of us, judging alike from internal and personal evidence and from external and social observation, would say that there was no sadder or more universal experience than that of the failure of right knowledge to secure right performance. Right knowledge is not in itself right living. We have striking testimony on that point from one of the greatest of all humanists, no less a person than Confucius. "At seventy," he says, "I could follow what my heart desired without transgressing the law of measure." The implication of such testimony makes no very good humanistic apologetic! Most of us, when desire has failed, can manage to attain, unaided, the identification of understanding and conduct, can climb to the poor heights of a worn-out and withered continence. But one wonders a little whether, then, the climbing seems to be worth while.
[Footnote 33: Analects, II, civ.]
But the doctrine usually begins by minimizing the free agency of the individual, playing up the factors of compulsion, either of circumstance or inheritance or of ignorance, as being in themselves chiefly responsible for blameful acts. These are therefore considered involuntary and certain to be reformed when man knows better and has the corresponding strength of his knowledge. But Aristotle, who deals with this Socratic doctrine in the third book of the Ethics, very sensibly remarks, "It is ridiculous to lay the blame of our wrong actions upon external causes rather than upon the facility with which we ourselves are caught by such causes, and, while we take credit for our noble actions to ourselves, lay the blame of our shameful actions upon pleasure." "The facility with which we are caught"—there is the religious understanding there is that perversion of will which conspires with the perils and chances of the world so that together they may undo the soul.
[Footnote 34: Ethics, Book III, ch. ii, p. 61.]
Of course, as Aristotle admits, there is this half truth lying at the root of the Socratic identification of virtue and knowledge that every vicious person is ignorant of what he ought to do and what he ought to abstain from doing in the sense that what he is about to do could not be defended upon any ground of enlightened self-interest. And so, while he finds sin sweet and evil pleasant, these are delusive experiences, which, if he saw life steadily and whole, he would know as such. But one reason for this ignorance is unwillingness to know. Good men do evil, and understanding men sin, partly because they are misled by false ideas, partly, also, because, knowing them false, they cannot or will not give them up. This is what Goethe very well understood when he said, "Most men prefer error to truth, because truth imposes limitations and error does not."
And another reason is that when men do know, they find a deadly and mysterious, a sort of perverted joy—a sweet and terrible and secret delight,—in denying their own understanding. Thus right living calls for a repeated and difficult exercise of the will, what Professor Babbitt calls "a pulling back of the impulse to the track that knowledge indicates." Such moral mastery is not identical with moral perception and most frequently is not its accompaniment, unless observation and experience are alike fallacious. Thus the whole argument falls to the ground when we confess that possession of knowledge does not guarantee the application of it. Therefore the two things, knowledge and virtue, according to universal experience, are not identical. Humanists indeed use the word "knowledge" for the most part in an esoteric sense. Knowledge is virtue in the sense that it enables us to see virtue as excellent and desirable; it is not virtue in the sense that it alone enables us to acquire it.
Who, indeed, that has ever lived in the far country does not know that one factor in its fascination was a bittersweet awareness of the folly, the inevitable disaster, of such alien surroundings. Who also does not know that often when the whole will is set to identify conduct with conviction, it may be, for all its passionate and bitter sincerity, set in vain. In every hour of every day there are hundreds of lives that battle honestly, but with decreasing spiritual forces, with passion and temptation. Sometimes a life is driven by the fierce gales of enticement, the swift currents of desire, right upon the jagged rock of some great sin. Lives that have seemed strong and fair go down every day, do they not, and shock us for a moment with their irremediable catastrophe? And we must not forget that before they went down, for many a month or even year they have been hard beset lives. Before that final and complete ruin, they have been drifting and struggling, driven and fighting, sin drawing nearer and nearer, their fated lives urged on, the mind growing darker, the stars in their souls going out, the steering of their own lives taken from their hands. Then there has been the sense of the coming danger, the dark presentiment of how it all must end when the "powers that tend the soul to help it from the death that cannot die, and save it even in extremes, begin to vex and plague it." There has been the dreadful sense of life drifting toward a great crash, nearer and nearer to what must be the wreck of all things. What does the humanist have to offer to these men and women who know perfectly well where they are, and what they are about, and where they would like to be, but who can't get there and who are, today and every day, putting forth their last and somber efforts, trying in vain to just keep clear of ruin until the darkness and the helplessness shall lift and something or someone shall give them peace!
Now, it is this defect in the will which automatically limits the power of the intellect. It is this which the Socratic identification ignores. So while we might readily grant that it is in the essential nature of things that virtue and truth, wisdom and character, understanding and goodness, are but two aspects of one thing, is it not trifling with one of the most serious facts of human destiny to interpret the truism to mean that, when a man knows that a contemplated act is wrong or foolish or ugly, he is thereby restrained from accomplishing it? Knowledge is not virtue in the sense that mere reason or mere perception can control the will. And this is the conclusion that Aristotle also comes to when he says: "Some people say that incontinence is impossible, if one has knowledge. It seems to them strange, as it did to Socrates, that where knowledge exists in man, something else should master it and drag it about like a slave. Socrates was wholly opposed to this idea; he denied the existence of incontinence, arguing that nobody with a conception of what was best could act against it, and therefore, if he did so act, his action must be due to ignorance." And then Aristotle adds, "The theory is evidently at variance with the facts of experience." Plato himself exposes the theoretical nature of the assertion, its inhuman demand upon the will, the superreasonableness which it expects but offers no way of obtaining, when he says, "Every one will admit that a nature having in perfection all the qualities which are required in a philosopher is a rare plant seldom seen among men."
[Footnote 35: Ethics, Book VII, ch. iii, pp. 206-207.]
[Footnote 36: Republic, VI, 491.]
It would be well if those people who are going about the world today teaching social hygiene to adolescents (on the whole an admirable thing to do) but proceeding on the assumption that when youth knows what is right and what is wrong, and why it is right and why it is wrong, and what are the consequences of right and wrong, that then, ipso facto, youth will become chaste,—well if they would acquaint themselves either with the ethics of Aristotle or with the Christian doctrine of salvation. For if men think that knowledge by itself ever yet produced virtue in eager and unsated lives, they are either knaves or fools. They will find that knowledge uncontrolled by a purified spirit and a reinforced will is already teaching men not how to be good, but how to sin the more boldly with the better chance of physical impunity. "Philosophy," says Black, "is a feeble antagonist before passion, because it does not supply an adequate motive for the conflict." There were few men in the nineteenth century in whom knowledge and virtue were more profoundly and completely joined than in John Henry Newman. But did that subtle intellect suffice? could it make the scholar into the saint? Hear his own words:
"O Holy Lord, who with the children three Didst walk the piercing flame; Help, in those trial hours which, save to Thee, I dare not name; Nor let these quivering eyes and sickening heart Crumble to dust beneath the tempter's dart.
"Thou who didst once Thy life from Mary's breast Renew from day to day; O might her smile, severely sweet, but rest On this frail clay! Till I am Thine with my whole soul, and fear Not feel, a secret joy, that Hell is near."
So, only when we include in the term "knowledge" understanding plus good will, is the humanist position true, and this, I suppose, is what Aristotle meant when he finally says, "Vice is consistent with knowledge of some kind, but it excludes knowledge in the full and proper sense of the word."
[Footnote 37: Culture and Restraint, p. 104.]
[Footnote 38: Ethics, Book VII, ch. v, p. 215.]
Now, so finespun a discussion of intricate and psychological subtleties is mildly interesting presumably to middle-aged scholars, but I submit that a half truth that needs so much explanation and so many admissions before it can be made safe or actual, is a rather dangerous thing to offer to adolescence or to a congregation of average men and women. It cannot sound to them very much like the good news of Jesus. Culture is a precious thing, but no culture, without the help of divine grace and the responsive affection on our part which that grace induces, will ever knit men together in a kingdom of God, a spiritual society. As long ago as the second century Celsus understood that. He says in his polemic against Christianity, as quoted by Origen, "If any one suppose that it is possible that the people of Asia and Europe and Africa, Greeks and barbarians, should agree to follow one law, he is hopelessly ignorant." Now, Celsus was proceeding on the assumption that Christianity was only another philosophy, a new intellectual system, and he was merely exposing the futility of all such unaided intellectualism.
[Footnote 39: Origen, contra Celsum, VIII, p. 72.]
It is, therefore, of prime importance for the preacher to remember that humanism, or any other doctrine which approaches the problem of life and conduct other than by moral and spiritual means, can never take the place of the religious appeal, because it does not touch the springs of action where motives are born and from which convictions arise. You do not make a man moral by enlightening him; it is nearer the truth to say that you enlighten him when you make him moral. "Blessed are the pure in heart," said Jesus, "for they shall see God. If any man wills to do the will, he shall know the doctrine." Education does not wipe out crime nor an understanding mind make a holy will. The last half of the nineteenth century made it terribly clear that the learning and science of mankind, where they are divorced from piety, unconsecrated by a spiritual passion, and largely directed by selfish motives, can neither benefit nor redeem the race. Consider for a moment the enormous expansion of knowledge which the world has witnessed since the year 1859. What prodigious accessions to the sum of our common understanding have we seen in the natural and the humane sciences; and what marvelous uses of scientific knowledge for practical purposes have we discovered! We have mastered in these latter days a thousand secrets of nature. We have freed the mind from old ignorance and ancient superstition. We have penetrated the secrets of the body, and can almost conquer death and indefinitely prolong the span of human days. We face the facts and know the world as our fathers could never do. We understand the past and foresee the future. But the most significant thing about our present situation is this: how little has this wisdom, in and of itself, done for us! It has made men more cunning rather than more noble. Still the body is ravaged and consumed by passion. Still men toil for others against their will, and the strong spill the blood of the weak for their ambition and the sweat of the children for their greed. Never was learning so diffused nor the content of scholarship so large as now. Yet the great cities are as Babylon and Rome of old, where human wreckage multiplies, and hideous vices flourish, and men toil without expectancy, and live without hope, and millions exist—not live at all—from hand to mouth. As we survey the universal unrest of the world today and see the horrors of war between nation and nation, and between class and class, it would not be difficult to make out a case for the thesis that the scientific and intellectual advances of the nineteenth century have largely worked to make men keener and more capacious in their suffering. And at least this is true; just so far as the achievement of the mind has been divorced from the consecration of the spirit, in just so far knowledge has had no beneficent potency for the human race.
Is it not clear, then, that preaching must deal again, never more indeed than now, with the religion which offers a redemption from sin? This is still foolishness to the Greeks, but to those who believe it is still the power of God unto salvation. Culture is not religion. When the preacher substitutes the one for the other, he gives stones for bread, and the hungry sheep go elsewhere or are not fed. It is this emasculated preaching, mulcted of its spiritual forces, which awakes the bitterest distrust and deepest indignation that human beings know. They are fighting the foes of the flesh and the enemies of the spirit, enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, standing by the open graves of their friends and kindred, saying there, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." And then, with all this mystery and oppression of life upon them they enter the doors of the house of God and listen to a polite essay, are told of the consolations of art, reminded of the stupidity of evil, assured of the unreality of sin, offered the subtle satisfactions of a cultivated intelligence. In just so far as they are genuine men and women, they resent such preaching as an insult, a mockery and an offense. No, no; something more is needed than the humanist can offer for those who are hard-pressed participants in the stricken fields of life.
Religious preaching, then, begins with these two things: man's solitary place in nature, man's inability to hold that place alone. Hence two more things are necessary as essentials of great preaching in a pagan day. The clear proclamation of the superhuman God, the transcendent spirit who is able to control and reinforce the spirit of man, and the setting forth of some way or some mediator, through whom man may meet and touch that Spirit so far removed yet so infinitely near and dear to him. It is with these matters that we shall be occupied in the next chapter.
THE ALMIGHTY AND EVERLASTING GOD
If the transcendent element in man which endows him with the proud if tragic sense of personality is the first message of the preacher to a chattering and volatile world, and the second is the setting forth of what this endowment demands and how pitiably man fails to meet it, then the third message is of the Rock that is higher than he, even inclusive of his all, in whose composed and comprehensive Being his baffled and divided person may be gathered up, brought to its own consummation of self. The rivers that pour tumultuously to their ocean bed, the ascending fire ever falling backward but leaping upward to the sun, are poor figures to express the depth and irresistible urge of the passion in man for completeness, for repose, for power, for self-perception in self-expression, for victory and the attainment of the end. Conscious and divided spirit that he is, man turns away, sooner or later, with utter weariness and self-disgust from the nature which pleases him by betraying him, which maims his person that he may enjoy his senses, and reaches out after the other-worldly, the supernatural, the invisible and eternal Hope and Home of the Soul.
Humanism which bids men sufficiently find God within themselves, if they think they need to find Him at all, seems not to comprehend this passion of pride and humility, this inner perception of the futility and the blunder of the self-contained life. Life is so obviously not worth its brevity, its suffering, its withheld conclusions, its relative insignificance, if it must thus stand alone. All that can save it, preserve to it worth and dignity, maintain its self-respect and mastery, is to find that abundant power without which confesses, certifies and seals the divinity within.
How foredoomed to failure, then, especially in an age when men are surmounting life by placating it, enjoying it by being easy with themselves—how foredoomed to failure is the preaching which continues in the world of religion this exaltation of human sufficiency and natural values, domesticating them within the church. It is to laugh to see them there! It means so transparent a surrender, so pitiable a confession of defeat. If anything can bring the natural man into the sanctuary it is that there he has to bring his naturalness to the bar of a more-than-natural standard. If he comes at all, it will not be for entertainment and expansion but because there we insist on reverence and restraint. If church and preacher offer only a pietized and decorous naturalism, when he can get the real thing in naked and unashamed brutality without; if they offer him only another form of humanistic living, he will stay away. Such preaching is as boresome as it is unnecessary. Such exercise of devotion is essentially superfluous and a rather humorous imposition upon the world. The only thing that will ever bring the natural man to listen to preaching is when it insists upon something more-than-the-natural and calls him to account regarding it; when it speaks of something different and better for him than this world and what it can offer. "Take my yoke upon you" is the attractive invitation, "make inner obeisance and outward obedience to something higher than thy poor self."
It is clear, then, that these observations have a bearing upon our preaching of the doctrine of God. There is a certain illogicality, something humorous, in going into a church, of all places in the world, to be told how like we are to Him. The dull and average personality, the ordinary and not very valuable man, can probably listen indifferently and with a slow-growing hardness and dim resentment to that sort of preaching for a number of years. But the valuable, the highly personalized people, the saints and the sinners, the great rebels and the great disciples, who are the very folk for whom the church exists, would hate it, and they would know the final bitterness of despair if they thought that this was so. Either saint or sinner would consider it the supreme insult, the last pitch of insolence, for the church to be telling them that it is true.
For they know within themselves that it is a lie. Their one hope hangs on God because His thoughts are not their thoughts, nor His ways their ways; because He seeth the end from the beginning; because in Him there is no variableness, neither shadow that is caused by turning; because no man shall see His face and live. They, the sinners and the saints, do not want to be told that they, within themselves, can heal themselves and that sin has no real sinfulness. That is tempting them to the final denial, the last depth of betrayal, the blurring of moral values, the calling of evil good and the saying that good is evil. They know that this is the unpardonable madness. In the hours when they, the saints and sinners, wipe their mouths and say, "We have done no harm"; in the days when what they love is ugliness because it is ugly and shameless, and reckless expression because it is so terrible, so secretly appalling, so bittersweet with the sweetness of death, they know that it is the last affront to have the church—the one place where men expect they will be made to face the facts—bow these facts out of doors.
No, we readily grant that the religious approach to the whole truth and to final reality is like any other one, either scientific, economic, political, a partial approach. It sets forth for the most part only a group of facts. When it does not emphasize other facts, it does not thereby deny them. But it insists that the truth of man's differences, man's helplessness which the differences reveal, and man's fate hanging therefore upon a transcendent God, are the key truths for the religious life. It is with that aspect of life the preacher deals, and if he fails to grapple with these problems and considerations, ignores these facts, his candlestick has been removed.
The argument for a God, then, within His world, but also distinct from it, above its evil custom and in some sense untouched by its all-leveling life, is essential to the preservation of human personality, and personality is essential to dignity, to decency, to hope. The clearest and simplest thing to be said about the Hebrew God, lofty and inaccessible Being, with whom nevertheless His purified and obedient children might have relationships, or about the "living God" of Greek theology, far removed from us but with whose deathless goodness, beauty and truth our mortality by some mediator may be endowed, is that the argument that supports such transcendence is the argument from necessity. It is the facts of experience, the very stuff of human life, coming down alike from Hebraic and Hellenic civilization, which demand Him. Immanence and transcendence are merely theistic terms for identity and difference. Through them is revealed and discovered personality, the "I" which is the ultimate fact of my consciousness. I can but reckon from the known to the unknown. The world which produced me is also, then, a cosmic identity and difference. In that double fact is found divine personality. But that aspect of His Person, that portion of the fact which feeds the imaginative and volitional life, is the glorious and saving unlikeness of God—His unthinkable and inexpressible glory; His utter comprehension and unbelievable compassion; His justice which knows no flaw and brooks no evasion and cannot be swerved; His power which may not be withstood and hence is a sure and certain tenderness; His hatred of sin, terrible and flaming, a hatred which will send sinful men through a thousand hells, if they will have them, and can only be saved thereby; His love for men, which is what makes Him hate their sin and leads Him by His very nature as God to walk into hell with the sinner, suffering with him a thousand times more than the sinner is able to understand or know,—like the Paul who could not wish himself, for himself, in hell, but who did wish himself accursed of God for his brethren's sake; like Jesus, who, in Gethsemane, would for Himself avoid His cross, but who accepted it and was willing to hang, forsaken of God, upon it, for the lives of men, identifying Himself to the uttermost with their fate. Yes; it is such a supernal God—that God who is apart, incredible, awful—that the soul of humanity craves and needs.
Of course, here again, as throughout these discussions, we are returning to a form of the old dualism. We cannot seem to help it. We may construct philosophies like Hegel's in which thesis and antithesis merge in a higher synthesis; we may use the dual view of the world as representing only a stage, a present achievement in cosmic progress or human understanding. But that does not alter the incontestable witness of present experience that the religious consciousness is based upon, interwoven with, the sense of the cosmic division without, and the unresolved moral dualism within the individual life. It is important enough to remember, however, that we have rejected, at least for this generation, the old scholastic theologies founded on this general experience. Fashions of thought change with significant facility; there is not much of the Absolute about them! Nevertheless we cannot think with forgotten terms. Therefore ours is no mechanically divided world where man and God, nature and supernature, soul and body, belong to mutually exclusive territories. We do not deny the principle of identity. Hence we have discarded that old view of the world and all the elder doctrines of an absentee creator, a worthless and totally depraved humanity, a legalistic or substitutionary atonement, a magical and non-understandable Incarnation which flowed from it. But we are not discarding with them that other aspect of the truth, the principle of separateness, nor those value judgments, that perpetual vision of another nature, behind and beneath phenomena, from which the old dualism took its rise. It is the form which it assumed, the interpretation of experience which it gave, not the facts themselves, obscure but stubborn as they are, which it confessed, that we have dropped. Identity and difference are still here; man is a part of his world, but he is also apart from it. God is in nature and in us; God is without and other than nature and most awfully something other than us.
Indeed, the precise problem of the preacher today is to keep the old supernatural values and drop the old vocabulary with the philosophy which induced it. We must acknowledge the universe as one, and yet be able to show that the He or the It, beyond and without the world, is its only conceivable beginning, its only conceivable end, the chief hope of its brevity, the only stay of its idealism. It was the arbitrary and mechanical completeness of the old division, not the reality that underlay the distinction itself, which parted company with truth and hence lost the allegiance of the mind. It was that the old dualism tried to lock up this, the most baffling of all realities, in a formula,—that was what undid it. But we shall be equally foolish if now, in the interests of a new artificial clearness, we deny another portion of experience just as our fathers ignored certain other facts in the interests of their too well-defined systems. We cannot hold to the old world view which would bend the modern mind to the support of an inherited interpretation of experience and therefore would not any longer really explain or confirm it. Neither can we hold new views which mutilate the experience and leave out some of the most precious elements in it, even if in so doing we should simplify the problem for the mind. It would be an unreal simplification; it would darken, not illumine, the understanding; we should never rest in it. Nor do we need to be concerned if the intellect cannot perfectly order or easily demonstrate the whole of the religious life, fit each element with a self-verifying defense and explanation. No man of the world, to say nothing of a man of faith or imagination, has ever yet trusted to a purely intellectual judgment.
So we reject the old dualism, its dichotomized universe, its two sorts of authority, its prodigious and arbitrary supernaturalism. But we do not reject what lay behind it. Still we wrestle with the angel, lamed though we are by the contest, and we cannot let him go until the day breaks and the shadows flee away. It would be easier perhaps to give up the religious point of view, but for that ease we should pay with our life. For that swift answer, achieved by leaving out prime factors in the problem, we should be betraying the self for whose sake alone any answer is valuable. It does not pay to cut such Gordian knots! Our task, then, is to preach transcendence again, not in terms of the old absolutist philosophy, but in terms of the perceptions, the needs, the experience of the human heart and mind and will which produced that philosophy.
Nor is this so hard to do. Now, as always for the genuinely religious temperament, there are abundant riches of material lying ready to its hand. It is not difficult to make transcendence real and to reveal to men their consummate need of it when we speak of it in the language of experience and perception. What preaching should avoid is the abstractions of an archaic system of thought with all their provocative and contentious elements, the mingled dogmatism and incompleteness which any worked-out system contains. It is so foolish in the preacher to turn himself into a lay philosopher. Let him keep his insight clear, through moral discipline keep his intuitions high, his spirit pure, and then he can furnish the materials for philosophy.
Thus an almost universal trait of the religious temperament is in its delight in beauty. Sometimes it is repressed by an irreligious asceticism or narrowed and stunted by a literal and external faith. But when the religious man is left free, it is appropriate to his genius that he finds the world full of a high pleasure crowded with sound, color, fragrance, form, in which he takes exquisite delight. There is, in short, a serene and poetic naturalism, loosely called "nature-worship," which is keenly felt by both saints and sinners. All it needs for its consecration and perfection is to help men to see that this naturalism is vital and precious because, as a matter of fact, it is something more than naturalism, and more than pleasure objectified.
Recall, for instance, the splendors of the external world and that best season of our climate, the long, slow-breathing autumn. What high pleasure we take in those hushed days of mid-November in the soft brown turf of the uplands, the fragrant smell of mellow earth and burning leaves, the purple haze that dims and magnifies the quiescent hills. Who is not strangely moved by that profound and brooding peace into which Nature then gathers up the multitudinous strivings, the myriad activities of her life? Who does not love to lie, in those slow-waning days upon the sands which hold within their golden cup the murmuring and dreaming sea? The very amplitude of the natural world, its far-flung grace and loveliness, spread out in rolling moor and winding stream and stately forest marching up the mountain-side, subdues and elevates the spirit of a man.
Now, so it has always been and so men have always longed to be the worshipers of beauty. Therefore they have believed in a conscious and eternal Spirit behind it. Because again we know that personality is the only thing we have of absolute worth. A man cannot, therefore, worship beauty, wholly relinquish himself to its high delights, if he conceives of this majestic grace as impersonal and inanimate. For that which we worship must be greater than we. Behind it, therefore, just because it seems to us so beautiful, must be something that calls to the hidden deeps of the soul, something intimately akin to our own spirits. So man worships not nature, but the God of nature; senses an Eternal Presence behind all gracious form. For that interprets beauty and consecrates the spell of beauty over us. This gives a final meaning to what the soul perceives is an utter loveliness. This gives to beauty an eternal and cosmic significance commensurate to its charm and power. As long as men's hearts surge, too, when the tide yearns up the beach; as long as their souls become articulate when the birds sing in the dawn, and the flowers lift themselves to the sun; so long will men believe that only from a supreme and conscious Loveliness, a joyous and a gracious Spirit could have come the beauty which is so intimately related to the spirit of a man.
But not all saints and sinners are endowed with this joy and insight, this quick sensitiveness to beauty. Some of them cannot find the eternal and transcendent God in a loveliness which, by temperament, they either underrate or do not really see. There are a great many good people who cannot take beauty seriously. They become wooden and suspicious and uncomfortable whenever they are asked to perceive or enjoy a lovely object. Incredible though it seems, it appears to them to be unworthy of any final allegiance, any complete surrender, any unquestioning joy. But there are other ways in which they, too, may come to this sense of transcendence, other aspects of experience which also demand it. Most often it is just such folk who cannot perceive beauty, because they are practical or scientific or condemned to mean surroundings, who do feel to the full the grim force and terror of the external world. Prudence, caution, hard sense are to the fore with them! Very well; there, too, in these perceptions is an open door for the human spirit to transcend its environment, get out of its physical shell. The postulate of the absolute worth of beauty may be an argument for God drawn from subjective necessity. But the postulate of sovereign moral Being behind the tyranny and brutality of nature is an argument of objective necessity as well; here we all need God to explain the world.
For we deal with what certainly appear to be objective aspects of the truth, when we regard ourselves in our relation to the might of the physical universe. For even as men feed upon its beauty, so they have found it necessary to discover something which should enable them to live above and unafraid of its material and gigantic power. We have already seen how there appears to be a cosmic hostility to human life which sobers indeed those who are intelligent enough to perceive it. It is only the fool or the brute or the sentimentalist who is unterrified by nature. The man of reflection and imagination sees his race crawling ant-like over its tiny speck of slowly cooling earth and surrounded by titanic and ruthless forces which threaten at any moment to engulf it. The religious man knows that he is infinitely greater than the beasts of the field or the clods of the highway. Yet Vesuvius belches forth its liquid fire and in one day of stark terror the great city which was full of men is become mute and desolate. The proud liner scrapes along the surface of the frozen berg and crumples like a ship of cards. There is a splash, a cry, a white face, a lifted arm, and then all the pride and splendor, all the hopes and fears, the gorgeous dreams, the daring thoughts are gone. But the ice floats on unscarred and undeterred and the ocean tosses and heaves just as it did before.