Now, if this is all, if there is for us only the physical might of nature and the world is only what it seems to be; if there is no other God except such as can be found within this sort of cosmic process, then human life is a sardonic mockery, and self-respect a silly farce, and all the heroism of the heart and the valor of the mind the unmeaning activities of an insignificant atom. The very men who will naturally enter your churches are the ones who have always found that theory of life intolerable. It doesn't take in all the facts. They could not live by it and the soul of the race, looking out upon this universe of immeasurable material bulk, has challenged it and dared to assert its own superiority.
So by this road these men come back to the transcendent God without whom they cannot guard that integrity of personality which we are all set to keep. For here there is no way of believing in oneself, no way of enduring this world or our place in it and no tolerable way of understanding it except we look beneath this cosmic hostility and find our self-respect and a satisfying cosmic meaning in perceiving spiritual force, a conscious ethical purpose, which interpenetrates the thunder and the lightning, which lies behind the stars as they move in their perpetual courses. "Through it the most ancient heavens are fresh and strong." Integrity of personality in such a world as this, belief in self, without which life is dust and ashes in the mouth, rest on the sublime assumption that suffusing material force is ethical spirit, more like unto us than it, controlling force in the interest of moral and eternal purposes. In these purposes living, not mechanical, forces play a major part.
Of course, to all such reasoning the Kantians and humanists reply that these notions of an objective and eternal beauty, of a transcendent and actual Cosmic Being exist within the mind. They are purely subjective ideas, they are bounded by the inexorable circle of our experience, hence they offer no proof of any objective reality which may in greater or less degree correspond to them.
However, there must be a "source" of these ideas. To which the philosophers reply, Yes, they are "primitive and necessary," produced by reason only, without borrowing anything from the senses or the understanding. Yet there is no sufficient evidence that the idea of God is thus produced by any faculty of mind acting in entire freedom from external influence. On the contrary, the idea appears to owe much to the operation of external things upon the mind; it is not then the wholly unaffected product of reason. It is a response no less than an intuition. Like all knowledge a discovery, but the discovery of something there which could be discovered, hence, in that sense, a revelation.
It is not necessary, then, for men to meet their situation in the cosmos by saying with Kant: We will act as though there were a God, although we are always conscious that we have no real knowledge of Him as an external being. In the light of the tragic circumstances of humanity, this is demanding the impossible. No sane body of men will ever get sufficient inspiration for life or find an adequate solution for the problem of life by resting upon mere value judgments which they propose, by an effort of will, to put in the place of genuine reality judgments. Indeed, there is a truly scholastic naivete, a sort of solemn and unconscious humor, in seriously proposing that men should vitalize and consecrate their deepest purposes and most difficult experiences by hypothesizing mere appearances and illusions.
Nor are we willing either to say with Santayana that all our sense of the beauty of the world is merely pleasure objectified and that we can infer no eternal Beauty from it. We are aware that there cannot be an immediate knowledge of a reality distinct from ourselves, that all our knowledge must be, in the nature of the case, an idea, a mental representation, that we can never know the Thing Itself. But if we believe, as we logically and reasonably may, that our subjective ideas are formed under the influence of objects unknown but without us, produced by stimuli, real, if not perceived apart from our own consciousness, then we may say that what we have is a mediate or representative knowledge not only of an Eternal Being but formed under the influence of that Being. Nor does the believer ask for more. He does not expect to see the King in His beauty; he only needs to know that He is, that He is there.
How self-verifying and moving, then, are the appeals ready to our hands. As long as man with the power to question, to strive, to aspire, to endure, to suffer, lives in a universe of ruthless and overwhelming might, so long, if he is to understand it or maintain his reason and his dignity, he will believe it to be controlled by a Spirit beyond no less than within, from whom his spirit is derived. It is out of the struggle to revere and conserve human personality, out of the belief in the indefectible worth and honor of selfhood that our race has fronted a universe in arms, and pitting its soul against nature has cried, "God is my refuge: underneath me, at the very moment when I am engulfed in earthquake shock or shattered in the battle's roar, there are everlasting arms!" There is something which is too deep for tears in the unconquerable idealism, the utter magnanimity of the faith of the human spirit in that which will answer to itself, as evidenced in this forlorn and glorious adventure of the soul. Sometimes we are constrained to ask ourselves, How can the heart of man go so undismayed through the waste places of the world?
But, of course, the preacher's main task is to interpret man's moral experience, which drives him out to search for the eternal in the terms of the "other" and redeeming God. We have spoken of the depersonalizing of religion which paganism and humanism alike have brought upon the world. One evidence of that has been the way in which we have confounded the social expressions of religion with its individual source. We are so concerned with the effect of our religion upon the community that we have forgotten that the heart of religion is found in the solitary soul. All of which means that we have here again yielded to the time spirit that enfolds us and have come to think of man as religious if he be humane. But that is not true. No man is ever religious until he becomes devout. And indeed no man of our sort—the saint and sinner sort—is ever long and truly humane unless the springs of his tenderness for men are found in his ever widening and deepening gratitude to God! Hence no man was ever yet able to preach the living God until he understood that the central need in human life is to reconcile the individual conscience to itself, compose the anarchy of the spiritual life. Men want to be happy and be fed; but men must have inward peace.
We swing back, therefore, to the native ground of preaching, approach the religious problem, now, not from the aesthetic or the scientific, but from the moral angle. Here we are dealing with the most poignant of all human experiences. For it is in this intensely personal world of moral failure and divided will that men are most acutely aware of themselves and hence of their need of that other-than-self beyond. The sentimental idealizing of contemporary life, the declension of the humanist's optimism into that superficial complacency which will not see what it does not like or what it is not expedient to see, makes one's mind to chuckle while one's heart doth ache. There is a brief heyday, its continuance dependent upon the uncontrollable factors of outward prosperity, physical and nervous vigor, capacity for preoccupation with the successive novelties of a diversified and complicated civilization, in which even men of religious temperament can minimize or ignore, perhaps sincerely disbelieve in, their divided life. Sometimes we think we may sin and be done with it. But always in the end man must come back to this moral tragedy of the soul. Because sin will not be done with us when we are done with it. Every evil is evil to him that does it and sooner or later we are compelled to understand that to be a sinner is the sorest and most certain punishment for sinning.
Then the awakening begins. Then can preaching stir the heart until deep answereth unto deep. It can talk of the struggle with moral temptation and weakness; of the unstable temperament which oscillates between the gutter and the stars; of the perversion or abuse of impulses good in themselves; of the dreadful dualism of the soul. For these are inheritances which have made life tragic in every generation for innumerable human beings. Whoever needed to explain to a company of grown men and women what the cry of the soul for its release from passion is? Every generation has its secret pessimists, brooding over the anarchy of the spirit, the issues of a distracted life. We need not ask with Faust, "Where is that place which men call 'Hell'?" nor wait for Mephistopheles to answer,
"Hell is in no set place, nor is it circumscribed, For where we are—is Hell!"
Now, it is from such central and poignant experiences as these that men have been constrained to look outward for a God. For these mark the very disintegration of personality, the utter dissipation of selfhood. That is the inescapable horror of sin. That is what we mean when we say sinners are lost; so they are, they are lost to their own selves. With what discriminating truth the father in the parable of the lost boy speaks. "This, my son," he says, "was dead though he is alive again." So it is with us; being is the price we pay for sinning. The more we do wrong the less we are. How then shall we become alive again?
It is out of the shame and passion, the utter need of the human heart, which such considerations show to be real that men have built up their redemptive faiths. For all moral victory is conditioned upon help from without. To be sure each will and soul must strive desperately, even unto death, yet all that strife shall be in vain unless One stoops down from above and wrestles with us in the conflict. For the sinner must have two things, both of them beyond his unaided getting, or he will die. He must be released from his captivity. Who does not know the terrible restlessness, that grows and feeds upon itself and then does grow some more, of the man bound by evil and wanting to get out? The torture of sin is that it deprives us of the power to express ourselves. The cry of moral misery, therefore, is always the groaning of the prisoner. Oh, for help to break the bars of my intolerable and delicious sin that I may be myself once more! Oh, for some power greater than I which, being greater, can set me free!
But more than the sinner wants to be free does he want to be kept. Along with the passion for liberty is the desire for surrender. Again, then, he wants something outside himself, some Being so far above the world he lives in that it can take him, the whole of him, break his life, shake it to its foundations, then pacify, compose it, make it anew. He is so tired of his sin; he is so weary with striving; he wants to relinquish it all; get far away from what he is; flee like a bird to the mountain; lay down his life before the One like whom he would be. So he wants power, he wants peace. He would be himself, he would lose himself. He prays for freedom, he longs for captivity.
Now, out of these depths of human life, these vast antinomies of the spirit, has arisen man's belief in a Saviour-God. Sublime and awful are the sanctions upon which it rests. Out of the extremity and definiteness of our need we know that He must be and we know what He must be like. He is the One to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, from whom no secrets are hid. Who could state the mingling of desire and dread with which men strive after, and hide from, such a God? We want Him, yet until we have Him how we fear Him. For that inclusive knowledge of us which is God, if only we can bear to come to it, endows us with freedom. For then all the barriers are down, there is nothing to conceal, nothing to explain, nothing to hold back. Then reality and appearance coincide, character and condition correspond. I am what I am before Him. Supreme reality from without answers and completes my own, and makes me real, and my reality makes me free.
But if He thus knows me, and through that knowledge every inner inhibition melts in His presence and every damning secret's out, and all my life is spread like an open palm before His gaze, and I am come at last, through many weary roads, unto my very self, why then I can let go, I can relinquish myself. The dreadful tension's gone and in utter surrender the soul is poured out, until, spent and expressed, rest and peace flood back into the satisfied life. So the life is free; so the life is bound. So a man stands upon his feet; so he clings to the Rock that is higher than he. So the life is cleansed in burning light; so the soul is hid in the secret of God's presence. So men come to themselves; so men lose themselves in the Eternal. There is perfect freedom at last because we have attained to complete captivity. There is power accompanied by peace. That is the gift which the vision of a God, morally separate from, morally other than we, brings to the inward strife, the spiritual agony of the world. This is the need which that faith satisfies. It is, I suppose, in this exulting experience of moral freedom and spiritual peace which comes to those men who make the experiment of faith that they, for the most part, find their sufficient proof of the divine reality. Who ever doubted His existence who could cry with all that innumerable company of many kindreds and peoples and tongues:
"He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay; And he set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God."
Here, then, is the preaching which is religious. How foolish are we not to preach it more! How trivial and impertinent it is to question the permanence of the religious interpretation of the world! What a revelation of personal insignificance it is to fail to revere the majesty of the devout and aspiring life! That which a starved and restless and giddy world has lost is this pool of quietness, this tower of strength, this cleansing grace of salvation, this haven of the Spirit. Belief in a transcendent deity is as natural as hunger and thirst, as necessary as sleep and breathing. It was the inner and essential needs of our fathers' lives which drove them out to search for Him. It will be the inner and essential needs of the lives of our children that shall bring them to the altar where their fathers and their fathers' fathers bowed down before them. Are we going to be afraid to keep its fires burning?
And so we come to our final and most difficult aspect of this transcendent problem. We have talked of the man who is separate from nature, and who knows himself as man because behind nature he sees the God from whom he is separate, too. We have seen how he needs that "otherness" in God to maintain his personality and how the gulf between him and that God induces that sense of helplessness which makes the humility and penitence of the religious life. We must come now to our final question. How is he to bridge the gulf? By what power can he go through with this experience we have just been relating and find his whole self in a whole world? How can he dare to try it? How can he gain power to achieve it?
Perhaps this is the central difficulty of all religion. It is certainly the one which the old Greeks felt. Plato, the father of Christian theology, and all neo-platonists, knew that the gulf is here between man and God and they knew that something or someone must bridge it for us. They perceived that man, unaided, cannot leap it at a stride. We proceed, driven by the facts of life, to the point where the soul looks up to the Eternal and confesses the kinship, and knows that only in His light shall it see light, and that it only shall be satisfied when it awakes in His likeness. But how shall the connection be made? What shall enable us to do that mystic thing, come back to God? We have frightful handicaps in the attempt. How shall the distrust that sin creates, the hardness that sin forms, the despair and helplessness that sin induces, the dreadful indifference which is its expression,—how shall they be removed? How shall the unfaith which the mystery, the suffering, the evil of the world induce be overcome? Being a sinner I do not dare, and being ignorant I do not believe, to come. God is there and God wants us; like as a father pitieth his children so He pitieth us. He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust. We know that is true; again we do not know it is true. All the sin that is in us and all which that sin has done to us insists and insists that it is not true. And the mind wonders—and wonders. What shall break that distrust; and melt away the hardness so that we have an open mind; and send hope into despair, hope with its accompanying confidence to act; change unfaith to belief, until, in having faith, we thereby have that which faith believes in? How amazing is life! We look out into the heavenly country, we long to walk therein, we have so little power to stir hand or foot to gain our entrance. We know it is there but all the facts of our rebellious or self-centered life, individual and associated alike, are against it and therefore we do not know that it is there.
Philosophy and reason and proofs of logic cannot greatly help us here. No man was ever yet argued into the kingdom of God. We cannot convince ourselves of our souls. For we are creatures, not minds; lives, not ideas. Only life can convince life; only a Person but, of course, a transcendent person that is more like Him than like us, can make that Other-who-lives certain and sure for us. This necessity for some intermediary who shall be a human yet more-than-human proof that God is and that man may be one with Him; this reinforcing of the old argument from subjective necessity by its verification in the actual stuff of objective life, has been everywhere sought by men.
Saviours, redeemers, mediators, then, are not theological manikins. They are not superfluous figures born of a mistaken notion of the universe. They are not secondary gods, concessions to our childishness. They, too, are called for in the nature of things. But to really mediate they must have the qualities of both that which they transmit and of those who receive the transmission. Most of all they must have that "other" quality, so triumphant and self-verifying that seeing it constrains belief. A mediator wholly unlike ourselves would be a meaningless and mocking figure. But a mediator who was chiefly like ourselves would be a contradiction in terms!
So we come back again to the old problem. Man needs some proof that he who knows that he is more than dust can meet with that other life from whose star his speck has been derived. Something has got to give him powerful reinforcement for this supreme effort of will, of faith. If only he could know that he and it ever have met in the fields of time and space, then he would be saved. For that would give him the will to believe; that would prove the ultimate; give him the blessed assurance which heals the wounds of the heart. Then he would have power to surrender. Then he would no longer fear the gulf, he would walk out onto it and know that as he walked he was with God.
Some such reasoning as this ought to make clear the place that Jesus holds in Christian preaching and why we call Him Saviour and why salvation comes for us who are of His spiritual lineage, through Him. Of course it is true that Jesus shows to all discerning eyes what man may be. But that is not the chief secret of His power; that is not why churches are built to Him and His cross still fronts, defeated but unconquerable, our pagan world. Jesus was more-than-nature and more-than-human. It is this "other" quality, operative and objectified in His experience within our world, which gives Him the absoluteness which makes Him indispensable and precious. The mystery is deepest here. For here we transfer the antinomy from thought to conduct; from inner perception to one Being's actual experience. Here, in Him, we say we see it resolved into its higher synthesis in actual operation.
Here, then, we can almost look into it. Yet when we do gaze, our eyes dazzle, our minds swerve, it is too much. It is not easy, indeed, at the present time it seems to be impossible to reconcile the Christ of history with the Christ of experience. Yet there would be neither right nor reason in saying that the former was more of a reality than the latter. And all the time the heart from which great thoughts arise, "the heart which has its reasons of which the mind knows nothing," says, Here in Him is the consummate quality, the absolute note of life. Here the impossible has been accomplished. Here the opposites meet and the contradictions blend. Here is something so incredible that it is true.
Of course, Jesus is of us and He is ours. That is true and it is inexpressibly sweet to remember it. Again, to use our old solecism, that is the lesser part of the truth; the greater part, for men of religion, is that Jesus is of God, that He belongs to Him. His chief office for our world has not been to show us what men can be like; it has been to give us the vision of the Eternal in a human face. For if He does reveal God to man then He must hold, as President Tucker says, the quality and substance of the life which He reveals.
Here is where He differs immeasurably from even a Socrates. What men want most to believe about Jesus is this, that when we commune with Him, we are with the infinite; that man's just perception of the Eternal Spirit, his desire to escape from time into reality, may be fulfilled in Jesus. That is the Gospel: Come unto Him, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, for He will give you rest. Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again. But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
Now, if all this is true, what is the religious preaching of Jesus, what aspect of His person meets the spiritual need? Clearly, it is His transcendence. It is not worthy of us to evade it because we cannot explain it. Surely what has hastened our present paganism has been the removal from the forefront of our consciousness of Jesus the Saviour, the divine Redeemer, the absolute Meeter of an absolute need. Of such preaching of Jesus we have today very little. The pendulum has swung far to the left, to the other exclusive emphasis, too obviously influenced by the currents of the day. It was perhaps inevitable that He should for a time drop out of His former place in Christian preaching under this combined humanistic and naturalistic movement. But it means that again we have relinquished those values which have made Jesus the heart of humanity.
Of course, He was a perfected human character inspired above all men by the spirit of God, showing the capacity of humanity to hold Divinity. This is what Mary celebrates in her paean, "He that is mighty has magnified me and holy is his name." But is this what men have passionately adored in Jesus? Has love of Him been self-love? Is this why He has become the sanctuary of humanity? I think not. We have for the moment no good language for the other conception of Him. He is indeed the pledge of what we may be, but how many of us would ever believe that pledge unless there was something else in Him, more than we, that guaranteed it? What, as President Tucker asks, is this power which shall make "maybe" into "is" for us? "Without doubt the trend of modern thought and faith is toward the more perfect identification of Christ with humanity. We cannot overestimate the advantage to Christianity of this tendency. The world must know and feel the humanity of Jesus. But it makes the greatest difference in result whether the ground of the common humanity is in Him or in us. To borrow the expressive language of Paul, was He 'created' in us? Or are we 'created' in Him? Grant the right of the affirmation that 'there is no difference in kind between the divine and the human'; allow the interchange of terms so that one may speak of the humanity of God and the divinity of man; appropriate the motive which lies in these attempts to bring God and man together and thus to explain the personality of Jesus Christ, it is still a matter of infinite concern whether His home is in the higher or the lower regions of divinity. After all, very little is gained by the transfer of terms. Humanity is in no way satisfied with its degree of divinity. We are still as anxious as ever to rise above ourselves and in this anxiety we want to know concerning our great helper, whether He has in Himself anything more than the possible increase of a common humanity. What is His power to lift and how long may it last? Shall we ever reach His level, become as divine as He, or does He have part in the absolute and infinite? This question may seem remote in result but it is everything in principle. The immanence of Christ has its present meaning and value because of His transcendence."
[Footnote 40: "The Satisfaction of Humanity in Jesus Christ," Andover Review, January, 1893.]
Preaching today is not moving on the level of this discussion, is neither asking nor attempting to answer its questions. Great preaching in some way makes men see the end of the road, not merely the direction in which it travels. The power to do that we have lost if we have lost the more-than-us in Jesus. Humanity, unaided, cannot look to that end which shall explain the beginning. And does Jesus mean very much to us if He is only "Jesus"? Why do we answer the great invitation, "Come unto me"? Because He is something other than us? Because He calls us away from ourselves? back to home? Most of us no longer know how to preach on that plane of experience or from the point of view where such questions are serious and real. Our fathers had a world view and a philosophy which made such preaching easy. But their power did not lie in that world view; it lay in this vision of Jesus which produced the view. Is not this the vision which we need?
WORSHIP AS THE CHIEF APPROACH TO TRANSCENDENCE
Whatever becomes the inward and the invisible grace of the Christian community such will be its outward and visible form. Those regulative ideas and characteristic emotions which determine in any age the quality of its religious experience will be certain to shape the nature and conduct of its ecclesiastical assemblies. Their influence will show, both in the liturgical and homiletical portions of public worship. If anything further were needed, therefore, to indicate the secularity of this age, its substitutes for worship and its characteristic type of preaching would, in themselves, reveal the situation. So we venture to devote these closing discussions to some observations on the present state of Protestant public worship and the prevailing type of Protestant preaching. For we may thus ascertain how far those ideas and perceptions which an age like ours needs are beginning to find an expression and what means may be taken to increase their influence through church services in the community.
We begin, then, in this chapter, not with preaching, but with worship. It seems to me clear that the chief office of the church is liturgical rather than homiletical. Or, if that is too technical a statement, it may be said that the church exists to set forth and foster the religious life and that, because of the nature of that life, it finds its chief opportunity for so doing in the imaginative rather than the rationalizing or practical areas of human expression. Even as Michael Angelo, at the risk of his life, purloined dead bodies that he might dissect them and learn anatomy, so all disciples of the art of religion need the discipline of intellectual analysis and of knowledge of the facts of the religious experience if they are to be leaders in faith. There is a toughness of fiber needed in religious people that can only come through such mental discipline. But anatomists are not sculptors. Michael Angelo was the genius, the creative artist, not because he understood anatomy, but chiefly because of those as yet indefinable and secret processes of feeling and intuition in man, which made him feel rather than understand the pity and the terror, the majesty and the pathos of the human spirit and reveal them in significant and expressive line. Knowledge supported rather than rivaled insight. In the same way, both saint and sinner need religious instruction. Nevertheless they are what they are because they are first perceptive rather than reasoning beings. They both owe, the one his salvation, the other his despair, to the fact that they have seen the vision of the holy universe. Both are seers; the saint has given his allegiance to the heavenly vision. The sinner has resolved to be disobedient unto it. Both find their first and more natural approach to religious truth, therefore, through the creative rather than the critical processes, the emotional rather than the informative powers.
There are, of course, many in our churches who would dissent from this opinion. It is characteristic of Protestantism, as of humanism in general, that it lays its chief emphasis upon the intelligence. If we go to church to practice the presence of God, must we not first know who and what this God is whose presence with us we are there asked to realize? So most Protestant services are more informative than inspirational. Their attendants are assembled to hear about God rather to taste and see that the Lord is good. They analyze the religious experience rather than enjoy it; insensibly they come to regard the spiritual life as a proposition to be proved, not a power to be appropriated. Hence our services generally consist of some "preliminary exercises," as we ourselves call them, leading up to the climax—when it is a climax—of the sermon.
Here is a major cause for the declension of the influence of Protestant church services. They go too much on the assumption that men already possess religion and that they come to church to discuss it rather than to have it provided. They call men to be listeners rather than participants in their temples. Of course, one may find God through the mind. The great scholar, the mathematician or the astronomer may cry with Kepler, "Behold, I think the thoughts of God after him!" Yet a service which places its chief emphasis upon the appeal to the will through instruction has declined from that realm of the absolutes where religion in its purest form belongs. For since preaching makes its appeal chiefly through reason, it thereby attempts to produce only a partial and relative experience in the life of the listener. It impinges upon the will by a slow process. Sometimes one gets so deadly weary of preaching because, in a world like ours, the reasonable process is so unreasonable. That's a half truth, of course, but one that the modern world needs to learn.
Others would dissent from our position by saying that service, the life of good will, is a sufficient worship. The highest adoration is to visit the widows and the fatherless in their affliction. Laborare est orare. What we do speaks so loud God does not care for what we say. True: but the value of what we do for God depends upon the godliness of the doer and where shall he find that godliness save in the secret place of the Most High? And the greatest gift we can give our fellows is to bring them into the divine presence. "There is," says Dr. William Adams Brown, "a service that is directed to the satisfaction of needs already in existence, and there is a service that is itself the creator of new needs which enlarge the capacity of the man to whom it would minister. To this larger service religion is committed, and the measure of a man's fitness to render it is his capacity for worship." But no one can give more than he has. If we are to offer such gifts we must ourselves go before and lead. To create the atmosphere in which the things of righteousness and holiness seem to be naturally exalted above the physical, the commercial, the domestic affairs of men; to lift the level of thought and feeling to that high place where the spiritual consciousness contributes its insights and finds a magnanimous utterance—is there anything that our world needs more? There are noble and necessary ministries to the body and the mind, but most needed, and least often offered, there is a ministry to the human spirit. This is the gift which the worshiper can bring. Knowledge of God may not be merely or even chiefly comprehended in a concept of the intelligence; knowledge of Him is that vitalizing consciousness of the Presence felt in the heart, which opens our eyes that we may see that the mountain is full of horses and chariots of fire round about us and that they who fight with us are more than they who fight with them. This is the true and central knowledge that private devotion and public worship alone can give; preaching can but conserve and transmit this religious experience through the mind, worship creates it in the heart. Edwards understood that neither thought nor conduct can take its place. "The sober performance of moral duty," said he, "is no substitute for passionate devotion to a Being with its occasional moments of joy and exaltation."
We should then begin with worship. A church which does not emphasize it before everything else is trying to build the structure of a spiritual society with the corner stone left out. Let us try, first of all, to define it. An old and popular definition of the descriptive sort says that "worship is the response of the soul to the consciousness of being in the presence of God." A more modern definition, analyzing the psychology of worship, defines it as "the unification of consciousness around the central controlling idea of God, the prevailing emotional tone being that of adoration." Evidently we mean, then, by worship the appeal to the religious will through feeling and the imagination. Worship is therefore essentially creative. Every act of worship seeks to bring forth then and there a direct experience of God through high and concentrated emotion. It fixes the attention upon Him as an object in Himself supremely desirable. The result of this unified consciousness is peace and the result of this peace and harmony is a new sense of power. Worship, then, is the attainment of that inward wholeness for which in one form or another all religion strives by means of contemplation. So by its very nature it belongs to the class of the absolutes.
Many psychologies of religion define this contemplation as aesthetic, and make worship a higher form of delight. This appears to me a quite typical non-religious interpretation of a religious experience. There are four words which need explaining when we talk of worship. They are: wonder, admiration, awe, reverence. Wonder springs from the recognition of the limitations of our knowledge; it is an experience of the mind. Admiration is the response of a growing intelligence to beauty, partly an aesthetic, partly an intellectual experience. These distinctions Coleridge had in mind in his well-known sentence "In wonder all philosophy began; in wonder it ends; and admiration fills up the interspace. But the first wonder is the offspring of ignorance; the last is the parent of adoration." Awe is the sense-perception of the stupendous power and magnitude of the universe; it is, quite literally, a godly fear. But it is not ignoble nor cringing, it is just and reasonable, the attitude, toward the Whole, of a comprehensive sanity.
Thus "I would love Thee, O God, if there were no heaven, and if there were no hell, I would fear Thee no less." Reverence is devotion to goodness, sense of awe-struck loyalty to a Being manifestly under the influence of principles higher than our own. Now it is with these last two, awe and reverence, rather than wonder and admiration, that worship has to do.
[Footnote 41: For a discussion of these four words see Allen, Reverence as the Heart of Christianity, pp. 253 ff.]
Hence the essence of worship is not aesthetic contemplation. Without doubt worship does gratify the aesthetic instinct and most properly so. There is no normal expression of man's nature which has not its accompanying delight. The higher and more inclusive the expression the more exquisite, of course, the delight. But that pleasure is the by-product, not the object, of worship. It itself springs partly from the awe of the infinite and eternal majesty which induces the desire to prostrate oneself before the Lord our Maker. "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." It also springs partly from passionate devotion of a loyal will to a holy Being. "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters and as the eyes of a maid unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord." Thus reverence is the high and awe-struck hunger for spiritual communion. "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?"
There is a noble illustration of the nature and the uses of worship in the Journals of Jonathan Edwards, distinguished alumnus of Yale College, and the greatest mind this hemisphere has produced. You remember what he wrote in them, as a youth, about the young woman who later became his wife: "They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that great Being who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this great Being in some way or other invisible comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything except to meditate on Him. Therefore if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards and cares not for it and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections, is most just and conscientious in all her conduct, and you could not persuade her to do anything wrong or sinful if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this great Being. She is of wonderful calmness and universal benevolence of mind, especially after this great God has manifested Himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about from place to place singing sweetly and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure, and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have some one invisible always conversing with her."
Almost every element of worship is contained in this description. First, we have a young human being emotionally conscious of the presence of God, who in some way or other directly but invisibly comes to her. Secondly, we have her attention so fixed on the adoration of God that she hardly cares for anything except to meditate upon Him. Thirdly, as the result of this worshipful approach to religious reality, we have the profound peace and harmony, the summum bonum of existence, coupled with strong moral purpose which characterize her life. Here, then, is evidently the unification of consciousness in happy awe and the control of destiny through meditation upon infinite matters, that is, through reverent contemplation of God. Is it not one of those ironies of history wherewith fate is forever mocking and teasing the human spirit, that the grandson of this lady and of Jonathan Edwards should have been Aaron Burr?
Clearly, then, the end of worship is to present to the mind, through the imagination, one idea, majestic and inclusive. So it presents it chiefly through high and sustained feeling. Worship proceeds on the understanding that one idea, remaining almost unchanged and holding the attention for a considerable length of time, so directs the emotional processes that thought and action are harmonized with it. If one reads the great prayers of the centuries they indicate, for the most part, an unconscious understanding of this psychology of worship. Take, for instance, this noble prayer of Pusey's.
"Let me not seek out of Thee what I can find only in Thee, O Lord, peace and rest and joy and bliss, which abide only in thine abiding joy. Lift up my soul above the weary round of harassing thoughts, to Thy eternal presence. Lift up my soul to the pure, bright, serene, radiant atmosphere of Thy presence, that there I may breathe freely, there repose in Thy love, there be at rest from myself and from all things that weary me, and thence return arrayed with Thy peace, to do and bear what shall please Thee."
This prayer expresses the essence of worship which is the seeking, through the fixation of attention, not the delight but rather the peace and purity which can only be found in the consciousness of God. This peace is the necessary outcome of the indwelling presence. It ensues when man experiences the radiant atmosphere of the divine communion.
The same clear expression of worship is found in another familiar and noble prayer, that of Johann Arndt. Here, too, are phrases descriptive of a unified consciousness induced by reverent loyalty.
"Ah, Lord, to whom all hearts are open, Thou canst govern the vessel of my soul far better than can I. Arise, O Lord, and command the stormy wind and the troubled sea of my heart to be still, and at peace in Thee, that I may look up to Thee undisturbed and abide in union with Thee, my Lord. Let me not be carried hither and thither by wandering thoughts, but forgetting all else let me see and hear Thee. Renew my spirit, kindle in me Thy light that it may shine within me, and my heart burn in love and adoration for Thee. Let Thy Holy Spirit dwell in me continually, and make me Thy temple and sanctuary, and fill me with divine love and life and light, with devout and heavenly thoughts, with comfort and strength, with joy and peace."
Thus here one sees in the high contemplation of a transcendent God the subduing and elevating of the human will, the restoration and composure of the moral life. Finally, in a prayer of St. Anselm's there is a sort of analysis of the process of worship.
"O God, Thou art life, wisdom, truth, bounty and blessedness, the eternal, the only true Good. My God and my Lord, Thou art my hope and my heart's joy. I confess with thanksgiving that Thou hast made me in Thine image, that I may direct all my thoughts to Thee and love Thee. Lord, make me to know Thee aright that I may more and more love and enjoy and possess Thee."
One cannot conclude these examples of worshipful expression without quoting a prayer of Augustine, which is, I suppose, the most perfect brief petition in all the Christian literature of devotion and which gives the great psychologist's perception of the various steps in the unification of the soul with the eternal Spirit through sublime emotion.
"Grant, O God, that we may desire Thee, and desiring Thee, seek Thee, and seeking Thee, find Thee, and finding Thee, be satisfied with Thee forever."
I think one may see, then, why worship as distinct from preaching, or the hearing of preaching, is the first necessity of the religious life. It unites us as nothing else can do with God the whole and God the transcendent. The conception of God is the sum total of human needs and desires harmonized, unified, concretely expressed. It is the faith of the worshiper that this concept is derived from a real and objective Being in some way corresponding to it. No one can measure the influence of such an idea when it dominates the consciousness of any given period. It can create and set going new desires and habits, it can minish and repress old ones, because this idea carries, with its transcendent conception, the dynamic quality which belongs to the idea of perfect power. But this transcendent conception, being essentially of something beyond, without and above ourselves can only be "realized" through the feeling and the imagination, whose province it is to deal with the supersensuous values, with the fringes of understanding, with the farthest bounds of knowledge. These make the springboard, so to speak, from which man dares to launch himself into that sea of the infinite, which we can neither understand nor measure, but which nevertheless we may perceive and feel, which in some sense we know to be there.
So, if we deal first with worship, we are merely beginning at the beginning and starting at the bottom. And, in the light of this observation, it is appalling to survey the non-liturgical churches today and see the place that public devotion holds in them. It is not too much, I think, to speak of the collapse of worship in Protestant communities. No better evidence of this need be sought than in the nature of the present attempts to reinstate it. They have a naivete, an incongruity, that can only be explained on the assumption of their impoverished background.
This situation shows first in the heterogeneous character of our experiments. We are continually printing on our churches' calendars what we usually call "programs," but which are meant to be orders of worship. We are also forever changing them. There is nothing inevitable about their order; they have no intelligible, self-verifying procedure. Anthems are inserted here and there without any sense of the progression or of the psychology of worship. Glorias are sung sometimes with the congregation standing up and sometimes while they are sitting down. There is no lectionary to determine a comprehensive and orderly reading of Scripture, not much sequence of thought or progress of devotion either in the read or the extempore prayers. There is no uniformity of posture. There are two historic attitudes of reverence when men are addressing the Almighty. They are the standing upon one's feet or the falling upon one's knees. For the most part we neither stand nor kneel; we usually loll. Some of us compromise by bending forward to the limiting of our breath and the discomfort of our digestion. It is too little inducive to physical ease or perhaps too derogatory to our dignity to kneel before the Lord our Maker. All this seems too much like the efforts of those who have forgotten what worship really is and are trying to find for it some comfortable or attractive substitute.
Second: we show our inexperience by betraying the confusion of aesthetic and ethical values as we strive for variety and entertainment in church services; we build them around wonder and admiration, not around reverence and awe. But we are mistaken if we suppose that men chiefly desire to be pleasantly entertained or extraordinarily delighted when they go into a church. They go there because they desire to enter a Holy Presence; they want to approach One before whom they can be still and know that He is God. All "enrichments" of a service injected into it here and there, designed to make it more attractive, to add color and variety, to arrest the attention of the senses are, as ends, beside the point, and our dependence upon them indicates the unhappy state of worship in our day. That we do thus make our professional music an end in itself is evident from our blatant way of advertising it. In the same way we advertise sermon themes, usually intended to startle the pious and provoke the ungodly. We want to arouse curiosity, social or political interest, to achieve some secular reaction. We don't advertise that tomorrow in our church there is to be a public worship of God, and that everything that we are going to do will be in the awe-struck sense that He is there. We are afraid that nobody would come if we merely did that!
What infidels we are! Why are we surprised that the world is passing us by? We say and we sing a great many things which it is incredible to suppose we would address to God if we really thought He were present. Yet anthems and congregational singing are either a sacrifice solemnly and joyously offered to God or else all the singing is less, and worse, than nothing in a church service. But how often sentimental and restless music, making not for restraint and reverence, not for the subduing of mind and heart but for the expression of those expansive and egotistical moods which are of the essence of romantic singing, is what we employ. There is a great deal of truly religious music, austere in tone, breathing restraint and reverence, quietly written. The anthems of Palestrina, Anerio, Viadana, Vittoria among the Italians; of Bach, Haydn, Handel, Mozart among the Germans; and of Tallis, Gibbons and Purcell among the English, are all of the truly devout order. Yet how seldom are the works of such men heard in our churches, even where they employ professional singers at substantial salaries. We are everywhere now trying to give our churches splendid and impressive physical accessories, making the architecture more and more stately and the pews more and more comfortable! Thus we attempt an amalgam of a mediaeval house of worship with an American domestic interior, adoring God at our ease, worshiping Him in armchairs, offering prostration of the spirit, so far as it can be achieved along with indolence of the body.
So we advertise and concertize and have silver vases and costly flowers and conventional ecclesiastical furniture. But we still hold a "small-and-early" in the vestibule before service and a "five o'clock" in the chapel afterward. Sunday morning church is a this-world function with a pietized gossip and a decorous sort of sociable with an intellectual fillip thrown in. Thus we try to make our services attractive to the secular instincts, the non-religious things, in man's nature. We try to get him into the church by saying, "You will find here what you find elsewhere." It's rather illogical. The church stands for something different. We say, "You will like to come and be one of us because we are not different." The answer is, "I can get the things of this world better in the world, where they belong, than with you." Thus we have naturalized our very offices of devotion! Hence the attempts to revive worship are incongruous and inconsistent. Hence they have that sentimental and accidental character which is the sign of the amateur. They do not bring us very near to the heavenly country. It might be well to remember that the servant of Jahweh doth not cry nor lift up his voice nor cause it to be heard in the streets.
Now, there are many reasons for this anomalous situation. One of them is our inheritance of a deep-rooted Puritan distrust of a liturgical service. That distrust is today a fetish and therefore much more potent that it was when it was a reason. Puritanism was born in the Reformation; it came out from the Roman church, where worship was regarded as an end in itself. To Catholic believers worship is a contribution to God, pleasing to Him apart from any effect it may have on the worshiper. Such a theory of it is, of course, open to grave abuse. Sometimes it led to indifference as to the effect of the worship upon the moral character of the communicant, so that worship could be used, not to conquer evil, but to make up for it, and thus sin became as safe as it was easy. Inevitably also such a theory of worship often degenerated into an utter formalism which made hyprocrisy and unreality patent, until the hoc est corpus of the mass became the hocus-pocus of the scoffer.
Here is a reason, once valid because moral, for our present situation. Yet it must be confessed that again, as so often, we are doing what the Germans call "throwing out the baby with the bath," namely, repudiating a defect or the perversion of an excellence and, in so doing, throwing away that excellence itself. It is clear that no Protestant is ever tempted today to consider worship as its own reason and its own end. We are, in a sense, utilitarian ritualists. Worship to us is as valuable as it is valid because it is the chief avenue of spiritual insight, a chief means of awakening penitence, obtaining forgiveness, growing in grace and love. These are the ultimates; these are pleasing to God.
A second reason, however, for our situation is not ethical and essential, but economic and accidental. Our fathers' communities were a slender chain of frontier settlements, separated from an ancient civilization by an unknown and dangerous sea on the one hand, menaced by all the perils of a virgin wilderness upon the other. All their life was simple to the point of bareness; austere, reduced to the most elemental necessities. Inevitably the order of their worship corresponded to the order of their society. It is certain, I think, that the white meeting-house with its naked dignity, the old service with its heroic simplicity, conveyed to the primitive society which produced them elements both of high formality and conscious reverence which they could not possibly offer to our luxurious, sophisticated and wealthy age.
Is it not a dangerous thing to have brought an ever increasing formality and recognition of a developed and sophisticated community into our social and intellectual life but to have allowed our religious expression to remain so anachronistic? Largely for social and economic reasons we send most of our young men and young women to college. There we deliberately cultivate in them the perception of beauty, the sense of form, various expressions of the imaginative life. But how much has our average non-liturgical service to offer to their critically trained perceptions? Our church habits are pretty largely the transfer into the sanctuary of the hearty conventions of middle-class family life. The relations in life which are precious to such youth, the intimate, the mystical and subtle ones, get small recognition or expression. A hundred agencies outside the church are stimulating in the best boys and girls of the present generation fine sensibilities, critical standards, the higher hungers. Our services, chiefly instructive and didactic, informal and easy in character, irritate them and make them feel like truculent or uncomfortable misfits.
A third reason for the lack of corporate or public offices of devotion in our services lies in the intellectual character of the Protestant centuries. We have seen how they have been centuries of individualism. Character has been conceived of as largely a personal affair expressed in personal relationships. The believer was like Christian in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. He started for the Heavenly Country because he was determined to save his own soul. When he realized that he was living in the City of Destruction it did not occur to him that, as a good man, he must identify his fate with it. On the contrary, he deserted wife and children with all possible expedition and got him out and went along through the Slough of Despond, up to the narrow gate, to start on the way of life. It was a chief glory of mediaeval society that it was based upon corporate relationships. Its cathedrals were possible because they were the common house of God for every element of the community. Family and class and state were dominant factors then. But we have seen how, in the Renaissance and the Romantic Movement, individualism supplanted these values. Now, Protestantism was contemporary with that new movement, indeed, a part of it. Its growing egotism and the colossal egotism of the modern world form a prime cause for the impoverishment of worship in Protestant churches.
And so this brings us, then, to the real reason for our devotional impotence, the one to which we referred in the opening sentences of the chapter. It is essentially due to the character of the regulative ideas of our age. It lies in that world view whose expressions in literature, philosophy and social organizations we have been reviewing in these pages. The partial notion of God which our age has unconsciously made the substitute for a comprehensive understanding of Him is essentially to blame. For since the contemporary doctrine is of His immanence, it therefore follows that it is chiefly through observation of the natural world and by interpretation of contemporary events that men will approach Him if they come to Him at all. Moreover, our humanism, in emphasizing the individual and exalting his self-sufficiency, has so far made the mood of worship alien and the need of it superfluous. The overemphasis upon preaching, the general passion of this generation for talk and then more talk, and then endless talk, is perfectly intelligible in view of the regulative ideas of this generation. It seeks its understanding of the world chiefly in terms of natural and tangible phenomena and chiefly by means either of critical observation or of analytic reasoning. Hence preaching, especially that sort which looks for the divine principle in contemporary events, has been to the fore. But worship, which finds the divine principle in something more and other than contemporary events—which indeed does not look outward to "events" at all—has been thrown into the background.
It seems to me clear, then, that if we are to emphasize the transcendent elements in religion; if they represent, as we have been contending, the central elements of the religious experience, its creative factors, then the revival of worship will be a prime step in creating a more truly spiritual society. I am convinced that a homilizing church belongs to a secularizing age. One cannot forget that the ultimate, I do not say the only, reason for the founding of the non-liturgical churches was the rise of humanism. One cannot fail to see the connection between humanistic doctrine and moralistic preaching, or between the naturalism of the moment and the mechanicalizing of the church. "The Christian congregation," said Luther, child of the humanistic movement, "should never assemble except the word of God be preached." "In other countries," says old Isaac Taylor, "the bell calls people to worship; in Scotland it calls them to a preachment." And one remembers the justice of Charles Kingsley's fling at the Dissenters that they were "creatures who went to church to hear sermons!" It would seem evident, then, that a renewal of worship would be the logical accompaniment of a return to distinctly religious values in society and church.
What can we do, then, better for an age of paganism than to cultivate this transcendent consciousness? Direct men away from God the universal and impersonal to God the particular and intimate. Nothing is more needed for our age than to insist upon the truth that there are both common and uncommon, both secular and sacred worlds; that these are not contradictory; that they are complementary; that they are not identical. It is the church's business to insist that men must live in the world of the sacred, the uncommon, the particular, in order to be able to surmount and endure the secular, the common and the universal. It is her business to insist that through worship all this can be accomplished. But can worship be taught? Is not the devotee, like the poet or the lover or any other genius, born and not made? Well, whether it can be taught or not, it at least can be cultivated and developed, and there are three very practical ways in which this cultivation can be brought about.
One of them is by paying intelligent attention to the physical surroundings of the worshiper. The assembly room for worship obviously should not be used for other purposes; all its suggestions and associations should be of one sort and that sort the highest. Quite aside from the question of taste, it is psychologically indefensible to use the same building, and especially the same room in the building, for concerts, for picture shows, for worship. Here we at once create a distracted consciousness; we dissipate attention; we deliberately make it harder for men and women to focus upon one, and that the most difficult, if the most precious, mood.
For the same reason, the physical form of the room should be one that does not suggest either the concert hall or the playhouse, but suggests rather a long and unbroken ecclesiastical tradition. Until the cinema was introduced into worship, we were vastly improving in these respects, but now we are turning the morning temple into an evening showhouse. I think we evince a most impertinent familiarity with the house of God! And too often the church is planned so that it has no privacies or recesses, but a hideous publicity pervades its every part. We adorn it with stenciled frescoes of the same patterns which we see in hotel lobbies and clubs; we hang up maps behind the reading desk; we clutter up its platform with grand pianos.
It is a mere matter of good taste and good psychology to begin our preparation for a ministry of worship by changing all this. There should be nothing in color or ornament which arouses the restless mood or distracts the eye. Severe and simple walls, restrained and devout figures in glass windows, are only to be tolerated. Descriptive windows, attempting in a most untractable medium a sort of naive realism, are equally an aesthetic and an ecclesiastical offense. Figures of saints or great religious personages should be typical, impersonal, symbolic, not too much like this world and the things of it. There is a whole school of modern window glass distinguished by its opulence and its realism. It ought to be banished from houses of worship. Since it is the object of worship to fix the attention upon one thing and that thing the highest, the room where worship is held should have its own central object. It may be the Bible, idealized as the word of God; it may be the altar on which stands the Cross of the eternal sacrifice. But no church ought to be without one fixed point to which the eye of the body is insensibly drawn, thereby making it easier to follow it with the attention of the mind and the wishes of the heart. At the best, our Protestant ecclesiastical buildings are all empty! There are meeting-houses, not temples assembly rooms, not shrines. There is apparently no sense in which we are willing to acknowledge that the Presence is on their altar. But at least the attention of the worshiper within them may focus around some symbol of that Presence, may be fixed on some outward sign which will help the inward grace.
But second: our chief concern naturally must be with the content of the service of worship itself, not with its physical surroundings. And here then are two things which may be said. First, any formal order of worship should be historic; it should have its roots deep in the past; whatever else is true of a service of worship it ought not to suggest that it has been uncoupled from the rest of time and allowed to run wild. Now, this means that an order of worship, basing itself on the devotion of the ages, will use to some extent their forms. I do not see how anyone would wish to undertake to lead the same company of people week by week in divine worship without availing himself of the help of written prayers, great litanies, to strengthen and complement the spontaneous offices of devotion. There is something almost incredible to me in the assumption that one man can, supposedly unaided, lead a congregation in the emotional expression of its deepest life and desires without any assistance from the great sacramentaries and liturgies of the past. Christian literature is rich with a great body of collects, thanksgivings, confessions, various special petitions, which gather up the love and tears, the vision and the anguish of many generations. These, with their phrases made unspeakably precious with immemorial association, with their subtle fitting of phrase to insight, of expression to need, born of long centuries of experiment and aspiration, can do for a congregation what no man alone can ever hope to accomplish. The well of human needs and desires is so deep that, without these aids, we have not much to draw with, no plummet wherewith to sound its dark and hidden depths.
I doubt if we can overestimate the importance of giving this sense of continuity in petitions, of linking up the prayer of the moment and the worship of the day with the whole ageless process so that it seems a part of that volume of human life forever ascending unto the eternal spirit, just as the gray plume of smoke from the sacrifice ever curled upward morning by morning and night by night from the altar of the temple under the blue Syrian sky. We cannot easily give this sense of continuity, this prestige of antiquity, this resting back on a great body of experience, unless we know and use the language and the phrases of our fathers. It is to the God who hath been our dwelling place in all generations, that we pray; to Him who in days of old was a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night to His faithful children; to the One who is the Ancient of Days, Infinite Watcher of the sons of men. Only by acquaintance with the phrases, the petitions of the past, and only by a liberal use of them can we give background and dignity, or anything approaching variety and completeness, to our own public expression and interpretation of the devotional life. If anyone objects to this use of formal prayers on the ground of their formality, let him remember that we, too, are formal, only we, alas, have made a cult of formlessness. It would surprise the average minister to know the well-worn road which his supposedly spontaneous and extempore devotions follow. Phrase after phrase following in the same order of ideas, and with the same pitiably limited vocabulary, appear week by week in them. How much better to enrich this painfully individualistic formalism with something of the corporate glories of the whole body of Christian believers.
But, second: there should be also the principle of immediacy in the service, room for the expression of individual needs and desires and for reference to the immediate and local circumstances of the believer. A church in which there is no spontaneous and extempore prayer, which only harked backward to the past, might build the tombs of the prophets but it might also stifle new voices for a new age. But extempore prayer should not be impromptu prayer. It should have coherence, dignity, progression. The spirit should have been humbly and painstakingly prepared for it so that sincere and ardent feeling may wing and vitalize its words. The great prayers of the ages, known of all the worshipers, perhaps repeated by them all together, tie in the individual soul to the great mass of humanity and it moves on, with its fellows, toward salvation as majestically and steadily as great rivers flow. The extempore and silent prayer, not unpremeditated but still the unformed outpouring of the individual heart, gives each man the consciousness of standing naked and alone before his God. Both these, the corporate and the separate elements of worships are vital; there should be a place for each in every true order of worship.
But, of course, the final thing to say is the first thing. Whatever may be the means that worship employs, its purpose must be to make and keep the church a place of repose, to induce constantly the life of relinquishment to God, of reverence and meditation. And this it will do as it seeks to draw men up to the "otherness," the majesty, the aloofness, the transcendence of the Almighty. To this end I would use whatever outward aids time and experience have shown will strengthen and deepen the spiritual understanding. I should not fear to use the cross, the sacraments, the kneeling posture, the great picture, the carving, the recitation of prayers and hymns, not alone to intensify this sense in the believer but equally to create it in the non-believer. The external world moulds the internal, even as the internal makes the external. If these things mean little in the beginning, there is still truth in the assertion of the devotee that if you practice them they will begin to mean something to you. This is not merely that a meaning will be self-induced. It is more than that. They will put us in the volitional attitude, the emotional mood, where the meaning is able to penetrate. Just as all the world acknowledges that there is an essential connection between good manners and good morals, between military discipline and physical courage, so there is a connection between a devotional service and the gifts of the spiritual life. Such a service not merely strengthens belief in the High and Holy One, it has a real office in creating, in making possible, that belief itself.
We shall sum it all up if we say in one word that the offices of devotion emphasize the cosmic character of religion. They take us out of the world of moral theism into the world of a universal theism. They draw us away from religion in action to religion in itself; they give us, not the God of this world, but the God who is from everlasting to everlasting, to whom a thousand years are but as yesterday when it is past and as a watch in the night. Thus they help us to make for ourselves an interior refuge into whose precincts no eye may look, into whose life no other soul may venture. In that refuge we can be still and know that He is God. There we can eat the meat which the world knoweth not of, there have peace with Him. It is in these central solitudes, induced by worship, that the vision is clarified, the perspective corrected, the vital forces recharged. Those who possess them are transmitters of such heavenly messages; they issue from them as rivers pour from undiminished mountain streams. Does the world's sin and pain and weakness come and empty itself into the broad current of these devout lives? Then their fearless onsweeping forces gather it all up, carry it on, cleanse and purify it in the process. Over such lives the things of this world have no power. They are kept secretly from them all in His pavilion where there is no strife of tongues.
WORSHIP AND THE DISCIPLINE OF DOCTRINE
If one were to ask any sermon-taster of our generation what is the prevailing type of discourse among the better-known preachers of the day, he would probably answer, "The expository." Expository preaching has had a notable revival in the last three decades, especially among liberal preachers; that is, among those who like ourselves have discarded scholastic theologies, turned to the ethical aspects of religion for our chief interests and accepted the modern view of the Bible. To be sure, it is not the same sort of expository preaching which made the Scottish pulpit of the nineteenth century famous. It is not the detailed exposition of each word and clause, almost of each comma, which marks the mingled insight and literalism of a Chalmers, an Alexander Maclaren, a Taylor of the Broadway Tabernacle. For that assumed a verbally inspired and hence an inerrant Scripture; it dealt with the literature of the Old and New Testaments as being divine revelations. The new expository preaching proceeds from almost an opposite point of view. It deals with this literature as being a transcript of human experience. Its method is direct and simple and, within sharp limits, very effective. The introduction to one of these modern expository sermons would run about as follows:
"I suppose that what has given to the Old and New Testament Scriptures their enduring hold over the minds and consciences of men has been their extraordinary humanity. They contain so many vivid and accurate recitals of typical human experience, portrayed with self-verifying insight and interpreted with consummate understanding of the issues of the heart. And since it is true, as Goethe said, 'That while mankind is always progressing man himself remains ever the same,' and we are not essentially different from the folk who lived a hundred generations ago under the sunny Palestinian sky, we read these ancient tales and find in them a mirror which reflects the lineaments of our own time. For instance,..."
Then the sermonizer proceeds to relate some famous Bible story, resolving its naive Semitic theophanies, its pictorial narration, its primitive morality, into the terms of contemporary ethical or political or economic principles. Take, for instance, the account of the miracle of Moses and the Burning Bush. The preacher will point out that Moses saw a bush that burned and burned and that, unlike most furze bushes of those upland pastures which were ignited by the hot Syrian sun, was not consumed. It was this enduring quality of the bush that interested him. Thus Moses showed the first characteristic of genius, namely, capacity for accurate and discriminating observation. And he coupled this with the scientific habit of mind. For he said, "I will now turn aside and see why!" Thus did he propose to pierce behind the event to the cause of the event, behind the movement to the principle of the movement. What a modern man this Moses was! It seems almost too good to be true!
But as yet we have merely scratched the surface of the story. For he took his shoes from off his feet when he inspected this new phenomenon, feeling instinctively that he was on holy ground. Thus there mingled with his scientific curiosity the second great quality of genius, which is reverence. There was no complacency here but an approach to life at once eager and humble; keen yet teachable and mild. And now behold what happens! As a result of this combination of qualities there came to Moses the vision of what he might do to lead his oppressed countrymen out of their industrial bondage. Whereupon he displayed the typical human reaction and cried, "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharoah or that I should lead the children of Israel out of Egypt!" My brother Aaron, who is an eloquent person—and as it turned out later also a specious one—is far better suited for this undertaking. Thus he endeavored to evade the task and cried, "Let someone else do it!" Having thus expounded the word of God (!) the sermon proceeds to its final division in the application of this shrewd and practical wisdom to some current event or parochial situation.
Now, such preaching is indubitably effective and not wholly illegitimate. Its technique is easily acquired. It makes us realize that the early Church Fathers, who displayed a truly appalling ingenuity in allegorizing the Old Testament and who found "types" of Christ and His Church in frankly sensual Oriental wedding songs, have many sturdy descendants among us to this very hour! Such preaching gives picturesqueness and color, it provides the necessary sugar coating to the large pill of practical and ethical exhortation. To be sure, it does not sound like the preaching of our fathers. The old sermon titles—"Suffering with Christ that we may be also glorified with Him," for instance—seem very far away from it. Nor is it to be supposed that this is what its author intended the story we have been using to convey nor that these were the reactions that it aroused in the breasts of its original hearers. But as the sermonizer would doubtless go on to remark, there is a certain universal quality in all great literature, and genius builds better than it knows, and so each man can draw his own water of refreshment from these great wells of the past. And indeed nothing is more amazing or disconcerting than the mutually exclusive notions, the apparently opposing truths, which can be educed by this method, from one and the same passage of Scripture! There is scarcely a chapter in all the Old Testament, and to a less degree in the New Testament, which may not be thus ingeniously transmogrified to meet almost any homiletical emergency.
Now, I may as well confess that I have preached this kind of sermon lo! these many years ad infinitum and I doubt not ad nauseam. We have all used in this way the flaming rhetoric of the Hebrew prophets until we think of them chiefly as indicters of a social order. They were not chiefly this but something quite different and more valuable, namely, religious geniuses. First-rate preaching would deal with Amos as the pioneer in ethical monotheism, with Hosea as the first poet of the divine grace, with Jeremiah as the herald of the possibility of each man's separate and personal communion with the living God. But, of course, such religious preaching, dealing with great doctrines of faith, would have a kind of large remoteness about it; it would pay very little attention to the incidents of the story, and indeed, would tend to be hardly expository at all, but rather speculative and doctrinal.
And that brings us to the theme of this final discussion. For I am one of those who believe that great preaching is doctrinal preaching and that it is particularly needed at this hour. The comparative neglect of the New Testament in favor of the Old in contemporary preaching; the use and nature of the expository method—no less than the unworshipful character of our services—appear to me to offer a final and conclusive proof of the unreligious overhumanistic emphases of our interpretation of religion. And if we are to have a religious revival, then it seems to me worshipful services must be accompanied by speculative preaching and I doubt if the one can be nobly maintained without the other. For we saw that worship is the direct experience of the Absolute through high and concentrated feeling. Even so speculative and, in general, doctrinal preaching is the same return to first principles and to ultimate values in the realm of ideas. It turns away from the immediate, the practical, the relative to the final and absolute in the domain of thought.
Now, obviously, then, devout services and doctrinal preaching should go together. No high and persistent emotions can be maintained without clear thinking to nourish and steady them. There is in doctrinal preaching a certain indifference to immediate issues; to detailed applications. It deals, by its nature, with comprehensive and abstract rather than local and concrete thinking; with inclusive feeling, transcendent aspiration. It does not try to pietize the ordinary, commercial and domestic affairs of men. Instead it deals with the highest questions and perceptions of human life; argues from those sublime hypotheses which are the very subsoil of the religious temperament and understanding. It deals with those aspects of human life which indeed include, but include because they transcend, the commercial and domestic, the professional and political affairs of daily living. We have been insisting in these chapters that it is that portion of human need and experience which lies between the knowable and the unknowable with which it is the preacher's chief province to deal. Doctrinal preaching endeavors to give form and relations to its intuitions and high desires, its unattainable longings and insights. There is a native alliance between the doctrine of Immanence and expository preaching. For the office of both is to give us the God of this world in the affairs of the moment. There is a native alliance between expository preaching and humanism which very largely accounts for the latter's popularity. For expository preaching, as at present practiced, deals mostly with ethical and practical issues, with the setting of the house of this world in order. There is also a native and majestic alliance between the idea of transcendence and doctrinal preaching and between the facts of the religious experience and the content of speculative philosophy. Not pragmatism but pure metaphysics is the native language of the mind when it moves in the spiritual world.
But I am aware that already I have lost my reader's sympathy. You do not desire to preach doctrinal sermons and while you may read with amiable patience and faintly smiling complacency this discussion, you have no intention of following its advice. We tend to think that doctrinal sermons are outmoded—old-fashioned and unpopular—and we dread as we dread few other things, not being up to date. Besides, doctrinal preaching offers little of that opportunity which is found in expository and yet more in topical preaching for exploiting our own personalities. Some of us are young. It is merely a polite way of saying that we are egotistical. We know in our secret heart of hearts that the main thing that we have to give the world is our own new, fresh selves with their corrected and arresting understanding of the world. We are modestly yet eagerly ready to bestow that gift of ours upon the waiting congregation. One of the few compensations of growing old is that, as the hot inner fires burn lower, this self-absorption lessens and we become disinterested and judicial observers of life and find so much pleasure in other people's successes and so much wisdom in other folk's ideas. But not so for youth; it isn't what the past or the collective mind and heart have formulated: it's what you've got to say that interests you. Hence it is probably true that doctrinal preaching, in the very nature of things, makes no strong appeal to men who are beginning the ministry.
But there are other objections which are more serious, because inherent in the very genius of doctrinal preaching itself. First: such preaching is more or less remote from contemporary and practical issues. It deals with thought, not actions; understanding rather than efficiency; principles rather than applications. It moves among the basic concepts of the religious life; deals with matters beyond and above and without the tumultuous issues of the moment. So it follows that doctrinal preaching has an air of detachment, almost of seclusion from the world; the preacher brings his message from some pale world of ideas to this quick world of action. And we are afraid of this detachment, the abstract and theoretical nature of the thinker's sermon.
I think the fear is not well grounded. What is the use of preaching social service to the almost total neglect of setting forth the intellectual and emotional concept of the servant? It is the quality of the doer which determines the value of the deed. Why keep on insisting upon being good if our hearers have never been carefully instructed in the nature and the sanctions of goodness? Has not the trouble with most of our political and moral reform been that we have had a passion for it but very little science of it? How can we know the ways of godliness if we take God Himself for granted? No: our chief business, as preachers, is to preach the content rather than the application of the truth. Not many people are interested in trying to find the substance of the truth. It is hated as impractical by the multitude of the impatient, and despised as old-fashioned by the get-saved-quick reformers. Nevertheless we must find out the distinctions between divine and human, right and wrong, and why they are what they are, and what is the good of it all. There is no more valuable service which the preacher can render his community than to deliberately seclude himself from continual contact with immediate issues and dwell on the eternal verities. When Darwin published The Descent of Man at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, the London Times took him severely to task for his absorption in purely scientific interests and hypothetical issues. "When the foundations of property and the established order were threatened with the fires of the Paris Commune; when the Tuileries were burning—how could a British subject be occupying himself with speculations in natural science in no wise calculated to bring aid or comfort to those who had a stake in the country!" Well, few of us imagine today that Darwin would have been wise to have exchanged the seclusion and the impractical hours of the study for the office or the camp, the market or the street.
Yet the same fear of occupying ourselves with central and abstract matters still obsesses us. At the Quadrennial Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church held recently at Des Moines, thirty-four bishops submitted an address in which they said among other things: "Of course, the church must stand in unflinching, uncompromising denunciation of all violations of laws, against all murderous child labor, all foul sweat shops, all unsafe mines, all deadly tenements, all excessive hours for those who toil, all profligate luxuries, all standards of wage and life below the living standard, all unfairness and harshness of conditions, all brutal exactions, whether of the employer or union, all overlordships, whether of capital or labor, all godless profiteering, whether in food, clothing, profits or wages, against all inhumanity, injustice and blighting inequality, against all class-minded men who demand special privileges or exceptions on behalf of their class."
These are all vital matters, yet I cannot believe that it is the church's chief business thus to turn her energies to the problems of the material world. This would be a stupendous program, even if complete in itself; as an item in a program it becomes almost a reductio ad absurdum. The Springfield Republican in an editorial comment upon it said: "It fairly invites the question whether the church is not in some danger of trying to do too much. The fund of energy available for any human undertaking is not unlimited; energy turned in one direction must of necessity be withdrawn from another and energy diffused in many directions cannot be concentrated. Count the adjectives—'murderous,' 'foul,' 'unsafe,' 'deadly,' 'excessive,' 'profligate,' 'brutal,' 'godless,' 'blighting'—does not each involve research, investigation, comparison, analysis, deliberation, a heavy tax upon the intellectual resources of the church if any result worth having is to be obtained? Can this energy be found without subtracting energy from some other sphere?"
The gravest problems of the world are not found here. They are found in the decline of spiritual understanding, the decay of moral standards, the growth of the vindictive and unforgiving spirit, the lapse from charity, the overweening pride of the human heart. With these matters the church must chiefly deal; to their spiritual infidelity she must bring a spiritual message; to their poor thinking she must bring the wisdom of the eternal. This task, preventive not remedial, is her characteristic one. Is it not worth while to remember that the great religious leaders have generally ignored contemporary social problems? So have the great artists who are closely allied to them. Neither William Shakespeare nor Leonardo da Vinci were reformers; neither Gautama nor the Lord Jesus had much to say about the actual international economic and political readjustments which were as pressing in their day as ours. They were content to preach the truth, sure that it, once understood, would set men free.
But a second reason why we dislike doctrinal preaching is because we confound it with dogmatic preaching. Doctrinal sermons are those which deal with the philosophy of religion. They expound or defend or relate the intellectual statements, the formulae of religion. Such discourses differ essentially from dogmatic sermonizing. For what is a doctrine? A doctrine is an intellectual formulation of an experience. Suppose a man receives a new influx of moral energy and spiritual insight, through reading the Bible, through trying to pray, through loving and meditating upon the Lord Jesus. That experience isn't a speculative proposition, it isn't a faith or an hypothesis; it's a fact. Like the man in the Johannine record the believer says, "Whether he be a sinner I know not: but one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."
Now, let this new experience of moral power and spiritual insight express itself, as it normally will, in a more holy and more useful life, in the appropriate terms of action. There you get that confession of experience which we call character. Or let it express itself in the appropriate emotions of joy and awe and reverence so that, like Ray Palmer, the convert writes an immortal hymn, or a body of converts like the early church produces the Te Deum. There is the confession of experience in worship. Or let a man filled with this new life desire to understand it; see what its implications are regarding the nature of God, the nature of man, the place of Christ in the scale of created or uncreated Being. Let him desire to thus conserve and interpret that he may transmit this new experience. Then he will begin to define it and to reduce it, for brevity and clearness, to some abstract and compact formula. Thus he will make a confession of experience in doctrine.