IV. Lastly, Christianity finds it own interpretation in God. We have seen man looking backward and finding the origin of his soul in the Soul that is behind nature. We have seen his religion telling him that he can not live by bread alone, that he can rest only under the shelter of the unseen, that he is infinitely more akin to the invisible than to the visible, that he has a spirit and must therefore hunger for the fellowship of the eternal Spirit. We see Christianity lifting this religious capacity to its highest, and bringing in the divine appeal in its sublimest form. We behold the earth transfigured in this Christian dream, the ladder set that reaches from the dreamer to heaven, and upon it, going up and coming down, the great prayers of the soul and the tender responses of the Most High. To what shall we refer this sublime, transfiguring dream? Is it the delusion of the sleeper, or the whisper of God? Is the ladder set up from the earth, or is it let down from above? Did man shape it out of his abysmal desire, or did God make and establish it out of His love. What can we say of that which is the highest wisdom, the widest sympathy, the divinest love, and the mightiest power in human history? What can we do with that which is the true life of man? Can the trees of the field, as they clap their hands and sing in the freshening breeze, do other than refer it to heaven? And man, as he sees the light of Christ upon the Spirit behind nature, beholds in the gospel that which interprets his highest dreams, feels in Christianity the power to understand and to become his own best self—can he do other than say that his Christian faith is the gift of God? The star in the brook refers you for the explanation of its being to the star in the sky; and the glory of the gospel living in the depths of man's soul has no other origin than the love of God.
The hope of science lies in exploring the natural environment. All material reality is here, and here science has found all her truth, and every season reminds her that inexpressible wonders still wait her search. In the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth are hidden the treasure for which she is to toil. Earth and sea and sky; the waveless depths and the windless heights, and the wide expanse between, now sunlit and again stormswept, are the field of her enterprise and hope. And in the same way the human environment is the region that the spirit must explore. The meaning of humanity must be found in and through humanity. "Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down; or who shall descend into the abyss? that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart." The divine reality offers itself to faith in and through the scope and sweep of life. The order of God is in the life of society. The ideal for man, the method by which it is realized, and the power, are set in the spiritual tissues of the race. If you see no God, no soul, no genuine religion, believe rather that you are blind than that your human environment does not contain them. You are the product of nature. It follows that nature must be great enough to account for you and your race and the Christ who is your race at its best. Back of the nature that gave birth to you, that bore your kind, and brought forth Christ, there must be the sufficient Spirit. You are sure that you can not live by bread alone. You have thoughts that wander through eternity. You can not rest until you rest in God. You are a being made for religion, and again here is the gospel that meets your intelligence with its wisdom, your heart with its love, your will with its moral authority. Nothing puts your being in tune, and nothing rings out the best music that is in you, as the gospel does. It is omnipresent in our civilization, working everywhere to crush the beast and to free the man. It is in a mother's love, the soul of its tenderness; it is in a father's heart as ideal and incentive. The history and the experience and the hope of our homes are transfigured in its light, as if the earth should repose in an everlasting evening glow. Patriotism is alive with its fire, and the new and growing passion for humanity is the great token of its quickening spirit. It is the box of ointment, very precious, which has been broken in society and all Christendom is filled with its perfume. Birth and death, love and sorrow, achievement and failure, human life and its immemorial content, the old room and the dear and dreary things in it, take on new dignity and grace. To detect the new spirit in the old dwelling is the best and most rewarding of all intuitions. To live in the human homestead consecrated by the diffusion of Christ's gospel is to undergo an unconscious conformation to exalted ideals. Because of our Christian civilization, behind every morning is the Father, who makes His sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and who sends His rain upon the just and the unjust. Nature has been lifted into a servant of the divine beneficence. And man's wild but imperishable passion for the unseen has been brought to see its last and best self in the love of Christ. Wherever we look, this gospel is the master light of all our seeing; and once more, is it not light from heaven? We know where to look for the belt of Orion, and clear and grand as the stars that constitute it are the great saving truths which are set in the human sky. There is nothing arbitrary in this sublime faith, nothing that does not rise out of the human order, nothing that is a mere import from the world of fancy or wild belief. The faith is the translation of fact into thought and speech. The eyes of Christ pass over and through the order of the universe, and His vision is our faith. Man is the interpreter of nature; religion is the interpreter of man; Christianity is the interpreter of religion; and God the Father is the interpreter of Christianity.
CHRIST AMONG THE COMMON THINGS OF LIFE
William James Dawson, Congregational preacher and evangelist, was born in Towcester, Northamptonshire, in 1854. He was educated at Kingswood School, Bath, and Didsbury College, Manchester. He has long been known as an author of originality and pure literary style. In 1906 he received the pastorate of Highbury Quadrant Congregational Church, London, and accepted an invitation to do general evangelistic work under the auspices of the National Council of the Congregational churches of the United States. He now resides in this country.
Born in 1854:
CHRIST AMONG THE COMMON THINGS OF LIFE
[Footnote 1: Reprinted by kind permission of Messrs. Fleming H. Revell & Co., New York.]
As soon then as they were come to land they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine.—John xxi., 9, 12.
I can not read these words without indulging for a moment in a reminiscence. Not long ago, in the early morning, while all the world slept, I stood beside the Sea of Tiberias, just as the morning mist lifted, and watched a single brown-sailed fishing-boat making for the shore, and the tired fishermen dragging their net to land. In that moment it seemed to me as if more than the morning mist lifted—twenty centuries seemed to melt like mist, and the last chapter of St. John's gospel seemed to enact itself before my eyes. For so vivid was the sense of something familiar in the scene, so mystic was the hour, that I should scarce have been surprized had I seen a fire of coals burning on the shore, and heard the voice of Jesus inviting these tired fishermen to come and dine.
Now if I felt that, if I was sensible of the haunting presence of Christ by that Galilean shore, how much more these disciples, in whose minds every aspect of the Galilean lake was connected with some intimate and thrilling memory of the ministry of Jesus.
Christ once more stands among the common things of life; the fire, the fish, the bread—all common things; a group of tired, hungry fishers—all common men; and He is there to affirm that in His resurrection He had not broken His bond with men, but strengthened it—wherever common life goes on there is Jesus still.
I. Notice the words with which the story opens, and you will see at once that this is the real clue to its interpretation. "When morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus." A strange thing that! Why did they not know Him? Because they were not looking for Him in such a scene. It had seemed a natural thing, if Jesus should appear at all, that He should appear in the garden, a vision of life at the very altar of death. It seemed yet more probable and appropriate that He should appear in the upper room, that room made sacred by holiest love and memory. If any words of Christ yet lingered in the mind and had power to thrill them, they were surely these words, "Ye shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven," glorified, triumphant, lifted far above the earth and its humble life. And so, if they were looking for Christ at all that morning, I think they watched the morning clouds, expecting Him to come down the resplendent staircase of the sunbeams to call the nations together and vindicate Himself in acts of universal judgment. And behold! Jesus comes as a fisherman standing on the lakeside, busy over a little fire, where the morning meal is cooking; and behold! Jesus speaks, and it is not of the eternal mysteries of God, not of the solemn secrets of the grave, but of nets and fishing and how to cast the nets—the simple concerns of simple men engaged in humble tasks.
No wonder they did not recognize Him. Once more the Son of Man comes eating and drinking, and even the eyes that knew Him best can not see in this human figure by the lakeside the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. They looked and saw but a fellow fisherman, cooking his meal upon the shore, and they knew not that it was Jesus.
II. Think for a moment of the earthly life of Christ, and you will see that it was designedly linked with all the common and even the commonest things of life.
If you or I could have conceived the great thought of some human creature that should be the very incarnation of God, what would have been the shape of our imaginings? Surely we should have chosen for this earthly temple of the Highest some human form perfected in grace and beauty by the long refinements of exalted ancestry; the child of kings or scholars; the delicate flower of life, in whom the elements were so subtly mixed that we should recognize them as special and miraculous—so we might think of God manifest in man. But God chooses for the habitation of His Spirit a peasant woman of Nazareth, humble, poor, unconsidered.
If we could have forecast the training of such a life, how should we have pictured it? Surely as sheltered from the coarseness of the world, delicately nourished, sedulously cultured; but God orders that this life should manifest itself in the house of the village carpenter, out of reach of schools, in a little wicked town, under the commonest conditions of poverty, obscurity, and toil.
If you and I could have imagined the introduction of this life of lives to the world, how should we picture that? Surely we should have pictured it coming with pomp and display that would at once have attracted all eyes; but God orders that it shall come without observation, unfolding its quiet beauty like the wayside flower, which there are few to see and very few to love. Commonness: that is the great note of the incarnation and the purposed feature of Christ's earthly life.
He reaffirms His fraternity in common life. The disciples could not imagine that as possible; nor can we. And why not? For two reasons, one of which is that we have forgotten the dignity of common life.
1. Dignity is for us almost synonymous with some kind of separation from common life; it dwells in palaces, not in cottages; it inheres in culture, but is inconceivable in narrow knowledge; and to the great mass of men it is, alas! the attribute of wealth, of fine raiment, of social isolation. But we have not learned even the alphabet of Christ's gospel unless we have come to see that the only true indignity in human life is sin, meanness, malevolence, and small-heartedness; and that all life is dignified where there are love, purity, and piety in it, whatever be its social category.
I read the other day that it is probable that the very mire of the London streets contains that mysterious substance known as radium, the most tremendous agent of light and heat ever yet discovered by man; so in man himself, however low his state, there is the spark of God, an ember lit at the altar fires of the Eternal, and it is because we forget this that we forget the dignity of common life. For we do forget it. We may make our boast that a single human soul is of more value than all the splendors and immensities of matter; but in our actions we treat the boast as a mere rhetorical expression. There is nothing so cheap as men and women—let the lords of commerce answer if it be not so. But Christ acted as tho the boast were true. He deliberately inwove His life into all that is commonest in life. He has made it impossible for us, if indeed we have His spirit, to think of any salient aspect of human life without thinking of Him. Where childhood is, there is Bethlehem; where sorrow is, there is Gethsemane; where death is, there is Calvary; where the toiler is, there is the poor man of Nazareth; and where the beggar is, there is He who had no place where to lay His head. There is not a drop of blood of Christ, nor a throb of thought in our brains that is not thrilling with the impact of this divine life of lives. And so the true dignity of life is this, that Christ is in all men, faintly outlined it may be, defaced, half-obliterated, but there, and the Church that forgets this has neither impulse nor mandate for Christ's work among men.
2. And then, again, there is a second reason: we have not learned to look for Christ among the common things of life.
"Let us build three tabernacles," said the wondering disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the speech betrayed a tendency of thought which was in time to prove fatal to the Church.
The Christ without a tabernacle, the free, familiar Christ of the lake or the wayside was everybody's Christ; but the moment Christ is shut up in a church or a tabernacle He becomes the priest's Christ, the thinker's Christ, the devotee's Christ, but He ceases to be the people's Christ.
I remember five years ago standing in the great church of Assisi, which has been erected over and encloses the little humble chapel where Francis first received his call. You will scarcely be surprized if I confess that I turned with a sense of heart-sick indignation from the pomp of that splendid service in the gorgeous church to the thought of Francis, in his worn robe, going up and down these neighboring roads, touching the lepers, calling them "God's patients," pouring out his life for the poor; and I knew Christ nearer to me on the roads that Francis trod than in that church, which is his mausoleum rather than his monument. And as I felt that day in far-off Umbria, so I have felt to-day in England; my heart goes out to Catherine Booth; to Father Dolling, to these Christs of the wayside, and it turns more and more from the kind of Christ who lives in churches and nowhere else. My brethren, you will let me say that we do but make the church Christ's prison when we forget that all the realm of life is His. Oh, you good people, you do love your church, but often think and act as tho the presence of Christ can be found nowhere else. Lift up your eyes and see this risen Christ, a fisherman upon the shore, busy in no loftier task than to have a meal prepared for hungry fishermen. Unlock your church doors, let Christ go out among common people; nay, go yourselves, for it is here that He would have you be. Remember that wherever there is toil, there is the Christ who toiled; and there you should be, with the kind glance, the warm hand-grasp, and the loving warmth of brotherhood.
Christ stands amid the common things of life; where the fire is lit, there is He; where the bread is broken, there is He; where the net of business gain is drawn, there is He; and only as we learn to see Him everywhere shall we understand the dignity and the divinity of human life.
III. "And Jesus said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes."
Here is another strange thing. Christ knows more about the management of their own business than they do. They had toiled all night and caught nothing; is not that a significant description of many human lives? "Children, have ye any meat?" asks that quiet Voice from the shore, and they answer "No." Is not that yet more pathetically significant? All the heartbreak and disappointment of the world cry aloud in that confession. Oh, I could fill an hour with the mere recital of the names of great and famous people who have toiled through a long life, and as the last gray hour came over their dim sea of life, "brackish with the salt of human tears," have acknowledged with infinite bitterness that they have caught nothing. Listen to the voice of Goethe, "In all my seventy-five years I have not had four weeks of genuine well-being;" to the confession of our own famous poet,
My life is in the yellow leaf, The flowers, the fruits of love are gone; The worm, the canker, and the grief Are mine alone.
to the ambitious and successful statesman who says, "Youth is folly, manhood is struggle, old age regret"; to one of our most brilliant women of genius in our own generation, wife of a still more brilliant husband, who cries, "I married for ambition, and I am miserable." Surely there is some tragic mismanagement of the great business of living here. Oh, brother, is it true of you, that after all the painful years happiness is not yours? You have no meat, no food on which the heart feeds, no green pasture in the soul, no table in the wilderness, and the last gray day draws near and will find you still hungering for what life Has never given you.
Learn, then, that Christ knows more about the proper management of your life than you do. "Cast your net on the right side of the ship," speaks that quiet Voice from the shore. And you know what happened. And it is so still. Just because Christ stands among the common things of life, He knows most about life, and, above all, He knows where the golden fruit of happiness is found and where the secret wells of peace.
And to some of us whom God has called to be fishers of men the issue is yet more solemn. We have the boat and the nets, all this elaborate organization of the Church, but have we caught anything this year? Where is the draft of fishes? Where are the men and women saved by our triumphant effort? I will make my humble confession this morning, that for five-and-twenty years I have cast the net, but only lately have I found the right side of the ship; only lately have I discovered how easy it is to get the great draft of fishes by simply going to work in Christ's way. I do not believe in the indifference of the masses in religion; the indifference is not in the masses, but in the churches. You will never catch many fish if you stand upon the shore of cold respectability and wait for them to come; launch out into the deep and you will find them. Go for them—that is Christ's method. Compel them to come in, for remember Christ's ideal was, as Bishop Lightfoot so nobly put it, "the universal compulsion of the souls of men." And if your experience is like mine, you will find that there is strangely little compulsion needed to bring men and women to Christ. I stood but lately in a house where fifty fallen women lived; I went there to rescue three of its unhappy inmates. When the moment came to take these three women from their life of sin, their comrades lined the passage to shake my hand; there were tears and prayers, and messages like these, "Be good. You'll be a good woman," "We wish we had your chance"; and these poor souls in their inferno wished me "a happy New-year." Compulsion! There was small need for compulsion there! I believe I could have rescued all of these fifty women at one stroke had I known where to take them. But to the shame of the Free Churches in London I confess that, with the exception of the Wesleyans and the Salvation Army, I do not know a single Free Church Rescue Home in London. And I put it to you this morning whether you can any longer tolerate that omission? I ask you whether you really want a great draft of fishes, for you can have them if you want them. Christ knows the business better than you do; and if you will come out of the cloister of the church and seek the people in His spirit, I promise you that very soon you will not be able to drag the net for the multitude of fishes.
IV. "And Jesus said unto them, Come and dine."
Dine on what? Not the fish which they had caught. They had caught one hundred and fifty-three great fishes; but notice Christ's fire was kindled before they came. Christ's fish was already laid thereon, and all they had to do was to come and dine. It is all you have to do, all the churches have to do. Did not Christ so put it in the parable of the Great Supper?—"Come, for all things are ready." Is not the last word of Scripture the great invitation?—"The Spirit and the Bride say, Come, and whosoever will, let him come, and take of the water of life freely." Many a church can not say to a hungry world, "Come and dine," because it will not let Christ prepare the meal. It will not live in His spirit, it has no real faith in His gospel, it does not understand that its true strength is not in elaborate organization or worship, but in simple reliance on His grace. And so there is the table covered with elaborate confections, which are not bread, and when it says, "Come and dine," men will not come, for they know that there is nothing there for them. Let Christ prepare the meal and all is different then. When He says, "Come and dine," there is "enough for each, enough for all, enough for evermore." And as Jesus spoke, I think there flashed upon the memory of these men the scene when Jesus fed the five thousand, and by that memory they knew their Jesus. No one else ever spoke like that, with such certainty and such authority. And the same Voice speaks even now to your hunger-bitten soul, to your famished heart, "Come and dine."
V. "Then Jesus taketh bread and giveth them, and fish likewise."
There is no mistaking the act; it was a sacramental act. Here, upon the lake shore, without a church, without an altar, the true feast of the Lord was observed. For what does the Holy Supper, which is the bond and seal of the Church's fellowship, stand for, if it is not for this, the sanctification of the common life? Bread and wine, the commonest of all foods to an Oriental, are elements indeed, because they are necessary to the most elementary form of physical life, things used daily in the humblest home. By linking Himself imperishably with these commonest elements of life, Christ makes it impossible to forget Him. Once more the thought shines clear, Jesus among the common things of life.
And then there comes one last touch in the beautiful story. While these things happened, the day was breaking. Is there one of us long tossed on sunless seas of doubt, long conscious of failure and disappointment in life? Are there those of us whose sorrow lies deeper than that which is personal—sorrow over our failure in Christ's work, pain over a life's ministry for Christ that has known no victorious evangel? Turn your eyes from that barren sea to Him who stands upon the shore; He shall yet make you a fisher of men. Turn your eyes from that bleak, dark sea of wasted effort where you have fared so ill; it is always dark till Jesus comes, it is always light when He has come. There is a new day breaking for the churches—a day of widespread evangelistic triumphs that shall eclipse all the greatest triumphs of the past, if we will but go back to Christ's school and learn of Him how to save the people. And to each of us He says to-day: "I am the living bread; I am the bread of life come down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever." "Come and dine." Will you come?
ASSURANCE IN GOD
GEORGE ADAM SMITH, divine, educator and author, was born at Calcutta in 1856, and educated at New College, Edinburgh, Scotland. He is at present professor of Old Testament Language, Literature and Theology in the United Free Church College, Glasgow. He is author of "The Historical Geography of the Holy Land," "Jerusalem, the Topography, Economics and History from the Earliest Time to A.D. 70" (1908). He is generally regarded as one of the most gifted preachers of Scotland.
Born in 1856
ASSURANCE IN GOD
Preserve me, O God.—Psalm xvi., 16.
The psalmist lived in a period when belief in the reality of many gods was still strong, and when a man who would follow the one true God had to prefer to do so against the attractions of other deities and against the convictions of a great number of his fellow countrymen that these deities were living and powerful. That stage of religion is so distant from ourselves that we may imagine the psalmist's example to be of no practical value for our faith, yet in such an imagination we should be very much mistaken indeed, for, to begin with, consider how much you and I to-day owe to those believers who so many centuries ago rejected all the gods that offered themselves to the hearts of men except the true God, and who chose to cleave to Him alone with all that passionate loyalty which breathes through these verses. But for them you and I could not be standing where we are in religion to-day. As the eleventh of Hebrews reminds us, we are the spiritual heir of such believers. It is to their struggles and their faith and their victories that we greatly owe it that we have been born into an atmosphere in which no religious belief is possible to us save in one God who is Spirit and Righteousness and all Truth.
That, then, was the great choice that the psalmist's faith was turning to—a choice that was no mere assent to a creed that had been fought for and established by previous generations of believers. It was the man's own proving of things unseen and his own preference of those against the crowd and a system of things seen, palpable, and very powerful in their attraction for the senses of humanity. But we are not to suppose that the rival deities, from which this man turned to the unseen God, were to his mind or to the mind of his day the heap of dead and ugly idols which we know them to be. They were not dead things that he could kick away with his feet that these believers had to reject when they sought the living God, but things which he and his contemporaries felt to be alive and powerful; powerful alike in their seduction and in their vengeance. They were believed to be identical, as you know, with the forces of nature; they were supposed to be indispensable to the welfare of the individual and of society, and they were fanatically supported at the time by the mass of this man's own countrymen; so that to break from them in those days meant to abandon ancient opinions and habits, to resist many pleasant and natural temptations and to incur the hostility, as was believed, of the powers of nature, to break with customs and with rites that had fortified and consoled the individual heart for generations and been the support and sanction of society and of the state as well. Yet this man did it. From all that living crowd and system, from all those visible temptations and terrors he turned to the unseen, fully conscious of his danger, for he opens his Psalm with a great cry, "Preserve me, preserve me, O God!" but yet deliberately, and with all his heart: "I have said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord." I have no goodness, no happiness, that is outside Thee or outside the saints that are in the land, "the excellent in whom is all my delight." Here we touch another great characteristic of all true faith which is full of example to ourselves. It is remarkable how, when a man really turns to God, he turns to God's people as well, and how he includes them in the loyalty and in the devotion which he feels toward his Redeemer. His confidence and the sensitiveness of his faith in and toward God become almost an equal confidence and an equal sensitiveness toward his fellow believers. So it is throughout Scripture; you remember that other psalmist who tells us how he had been tempted to doubt God's providence and God's power to help the good man—"does God know and is there knowledge in the Most High? Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain and washed my hands in innocency." The psalmist immediately adds: "If I had spoken thus, behold I had dealt treacherously with the generation of God's children." If I had spoken thus, denying God, I had dealt treacherously with the generation of God's children. Unbelief toward God meant to him treason toward God's people; and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews affirms the same double character of true faith when he emphasizes just these two points in the faith of Moses: "choosing to suffer affliction with the people of God," and "enduring as seeing Him who is invisible," and God Himself through Jesus Christ has accepted this partnership of His people in our loyalty—"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me." I do not believe in the full faith of any man who does not extend the loyalty he professes to God to God's people as well, who does not feel as sensitive to his brethren on earth as he does to his Father in heaven, who does not practise piety toward the Church as he does toward her Head, or find in her fellowship and her service a joy and a gladness which is one with his deep joy in God, his Redeemer. Nay, is it not just in loving people who are still imperfect, often disappointing, and far from their ideal it may be, that in our relations to them we are to find the greater proof and test of our religious faith? In these days such a duty is unfortunately more complicated than with the psalmist. The lines between God's Church and the world is not so clear as it was to him, and the Church is divided into many and often hostile factions. All the more it becomes the test of our religion if our hearts feel and rejoice in the fellowship of God's simpler and more needy and more devoted believers, however unattractive they may otherwise be.
Consider the way in which the psalmist reached this pure faith in God and in His people. A factor in the process was distaste for the ugly rites of idolatry—"Their drink-offerings of blood will I not offer." Idolatry always develops a loathsome ritual. Sometimes it is cruel and sometimes it is horribly unclean, but it always debases the worshiper's mind, confuses his conscience, and hampers his freedom and energy by the burdensome ceremonies it imposes upon them. Standing afar off from them as we do, and knowing that there is no heathen religion but has something good in it, we are apt to think that it does not in the least matter how crude or how material a nation's faith be if only it be faith in something more powerful than themselves, if it satisfy their consciences and have some influence in disciplining society and helping the individual to control himself. But you have only to see idolatry at work, and at work with the habits of ages upon it, to recognize how terrible it can be in its identification of sheer filth and cruelty with the interests of religion, and how it at once demoralizes and paralyzes its adherents. To see it thus is to understand the passionate horror of these words: "Their drink-offering of blood will I not offer."
It is, however, no mere recoil from the immoral which started the spring of this psalmists's faith in God. That faith was formed on personal experience of God Himself. In simple but pregnant phrases the psalmist tells us how sure he has become, first, of God's providence in his life; secondly, of God's intimate communion with his soul. God, he says, had been everything in his life. One does not know whether the psalmist was a prosperous man or a poor one; the inference that he was prosperous and rich has sometimes been drawn, but wrongly drawn, from one of the verses of the Psalm. His indifference to that is clear, but what he did have he knew he had from God. God, he says, is all his happiness and all his strength—"The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup; thou maintainest my lot." Whether poor or prosperous he could say: "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage." Now that assurance of divine leading is not analyzable, but we know that it does grow up solid and sure in the experience of simple men who have put their trust in God, who have felt life to be a commission from Him and who have done their duty obeying His call. With such men "all things work together for good." Tho life about them shake and darken, they feel their own solidity and have light enough to read the future. Tho stript and stark, they feel the Lord Himself to be the portion of their inheritance and of their cup. The portion of my inheritance the Lord is, i.e., the little bit of land that fell to each Israelite as his share in the promised inheritance of the nation. "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance," as we might say in our Scotch language, "The Lord is my croft and my cup," so they find in Him all the ground and the freedom they need to do their work, fulfil their relationships, and develop their manhood.
It is, however, with the psalmist's second reason for his faith we have most to do. "I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons." This man held close communion with God. Is it not great to find the testimony of a brother man coming down all through those ages, from that dim and distant past, clear and sure as to this, that he had God's counsel and that God kept communion with him? God had spoken to this man and shown him His will. Yes, he had received what we call inspiration and revelation, and had proved the truth of these in his life. They had led and they had lifted him. Nor had they come to him as many men falsely suppose revelation and inspiration exclusively have come to mankind, by means, namely, that were extraordinary and miraculous. The psalmist tells us of no vision of angels, of no voice from heaven. The Lord had not appeared to him in dreams nor by any marvelous signs; on the other hand, he tells us simply that the divine counsel of which he was so sure, and which he passes on to us, came to him through the workings of his inner spiritual life. That is what he means by the emphatic statement "yea, my reins instruct me in the night seasons," which he adds parallel with the thought, "I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel." According to the primitive physiology of this man's nation and times, the reins of a man fulfil the same intellectual function which we, with our larger knowledge, know are discharged by the brain. This was how God's revelation came to this brother of ours, through the working of his mind and conscience, but it was in the night seasons that they worked, not in the day and in the sunshine, but in the night when a man is left to himself with only this advantage to his thought: that like the blind he is yet undistracted by the influences which are seen. When he lies down he thinks soberly and quietly about himself and about life and about God, and about the great hidden future that is waiting for him. He was communing with God, who had made his brain and used it as an instrument of revelation. In these thoughts God was communing with man through his reason and through his conscience. You and I are always contrasting God's providence and His grace. We are always attempting to oppose reason and revelation; to this man they were one. God's great grace had come to him through God's own providence, and God's revelation was ministered to him through the reason with which he had endowed the creature He had made in His own image. This psalmist's chief and practical help to us men and women today is that he became sure of God not because of any miracle or supernatural sign, on his report of which we might be content indolently to rest our faith, but in God's own providence in his life and in God's quiet communion with him through the organs God Himself has created in every one of us. For all time, whether before or after Christ, these are the chief grounds and foundations of faith in God. So it was in the Old Testament—"stand in awe and sin not," "commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still," "be still and know that I am God." So with Christ, "for the kingdom of heaven cometh not with observation, but the kingdom of heaven is within you," and so with Paul, "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ." "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ... that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with might by his spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, to the end that ye being rooted and grounded in love may come to apprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height and to know the love of Christ."
God's guidance of his life, first of all, produces in a man a great sense of stability. "I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved." He who has found God so careful of him, he whom God hath regarded as worth speaking to and counseling and disciplining, will be certain that he shall endure, provided he is sure of his own loyalty. The life so loved of God, so provided for, and in such close communion with the Eternal is not, can not be the creature of the day, and this assurance stands firm in face of even death and the horrible corruption of the body. The psalmist refuses to believe that he is to dwell in the horrible under-world forever—either himself or any of God's believers. "Thou must not, thou wilt not leave my soul in sheol, thou must not, thou wilt not suffer thy loved ones to see the pit." To this man it is incredible, and our hearts bear witness to the truth if we have had any experience of God's blessing and guidance. To this man it is incredible that the life God has cared for and guided and spoken to and brought into such intimate communion with himself can find its end in death. Those whom God has loyally loved and who have loyally loved God—for this word badly translated "holy" in the psalms really has that actual significance—those whom God has loyally loved and who have loyally loved God shall never die. As He lives so shall they; they shall never be absent from His presence. Be the future unknown and unknowable, be we ourselves incapable of conceiving the processes by which this mortal shall put on immortality, or where heaven is, or what eternity can possibly be to those who have never lived outside time, yet that future is secure and its immortal character is indubitable—where God is there shall His servants be, and because He is there their life shall be peace and joy, and because He is eternal it shall last forevermore. That thought is the whole of the hope and argument. We are assured of the future life because we have known God, and as we have found Him to be true to us and proved ourselves true to Him.
THE BIBLE VS. INFIDELITY
Frank Wakely Gunsaulus was born at Chesterville, Ohio, in 1856. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1875. For some years he was pastor of Plymouth Church, Chicago, and since 1899 pastor of Central Church, Chicago. He is also president of the Armour Institute of Technology. He is a fascinating speaker, having a clear, resonant voice, and a dignified presence. His mind is a storehouse of the best literature, and his English style is noteworthy for its purity and richness. He is the author of several books and is in popular demand as a lecturer.
Born in 1856
THE BIBLE VS. INFIDELITY
[Footnote 1: Preached as an impromptu reply to R.G. Ingersoll. Printed from an unrevised stenographic report.]
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.—I Cor. xiv., 10.
Ours is a voiceful era. Perhaps, as the ages come and go and man's life grows richer, its questions more restless for answer, its moral supports called upon to bear heavier interests of faith, its enterprises more often and searchingly compelled to defend themselves, the voices of time will be increasingly potent and worthy of his attention. A singularly suggestive collection of messages fills the air today, and all of these voices speak of one theme—the Bible.
Anarchy, which is always atheistic, holds its converse in the places of evil which this book's message would close forever; the foes of that civilization builded on its laws and stimulated by its hopes asks us to condemn it as worthy only of caricature, vituperation, and hate. Let us find a path of duty today, not refusing to listen to any of these voices, but asking that other voices also may help us to the truth.
The preacher's message is a book called the Bible. That is only the literary form of his message—telling its history. Even that form, which is much less divine as paper and ink are less lofty in the scale than humanity, has worked wonders. To-day, the Bible offers the nineteenth-century infidel as testimony of the influence it has. It has force enough to make infidelity preach tearfully and well about man, woman, and child. Skepticism did not do so well until the Bible came. The Bible has furnished the eloquence of infidelity with such a man as Shakespeare to talk about; no student of literature could imagine Shakespeare without the Bible and the Bible's influence upon him as he created his dreams. It furnished an Abraham Lincoln for an orator to compare favorably with incomplete ideas of Almighty God; but it seems to have been unable to show the critic that Christian ideas of Almighty God made Lincoln so love the Lord's Prayer that he wanted a church builded with this as its creed. It would seem that any general denunciation or humorous caricature of a book which has worked such an amazing effect in literature as has the Bible would be tempered by some recognition of the fact that these other minds—poets, orators, sages, and scientists—have found illumination and help in its pages. Liberal Christianity will be intellectually broad. Certainly the greatest of modern pagans, Goethe, will not be accused of favoritism toward the Bible, yet he said: "I esteem the gospels to be thoroughly genuine, for there shines forth from them the reflected splendor of a sublimity, proceeding from the person of Jesus Christ, of so divine a kind as only the divine could ever have manifested upon earth." The Earl of Rochester saw that the only liberalism which objects to the Bible, in its true uses, is the liberalism of licentiousness; and he left this saying: "A bad heart is the great argument against this holy book." And Faraday, weeping, said: "Why will people go astray when they have this blest book to guide them?"
If we turn to literature we encounter many such liberal thinkers as Theodore Parker, who calmly informs us: "This collection of books has taken such a hold upon the world as has no other. The literature of Greece, which goes up like incense from that land of temples and heroic deeds, has not half the influence of this book. It goes equally to the cottage of the plain man and the palace of the king. It is woven into the literature of the scholar and colors the talk of the street." That is the voice of the liberalism which includes rather than excludes.
These were men not of the band of evangelical Christian preachers, who are roughly classed as a set of persons unable to tell the truth about the Bible, for fear they may lose their means of subsistence; these are men who know the true mission of the Bible. It is not to furnish a picture of life in the time of Moses such as life ought to be, a portrait of a David for the imitation of men, a statue of a warrior in a time of barbarism who shall command my obedience to his commands now, an idea of God wrought out in ignorance and darkness, which has no self-development within it. The mission of the Bible is to furnish a humanly written account of a people, just as human as we, in whom, by divine inspiration, the soul of truth so lived and worked as to develop, in gradual course, by laws, by hopes, by loves, by life, a living, and, at last, perfectly authoritative ideal of righteousness, but more than all a gradual growth of such moral power as would be commanding in the redeeming self-sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ. Every page of the Old Testament was only preparatory, as the thorny bush is preparatory for the rose. Christ is the end of the long, weary human history that leads to Him. If the laws of Sinai had been enough, there never would have been a Calvary. No one for a moment dreams that the God of nature could have brought forth such a fruit as the life and ideas of Jesus without a tree of such a history, a tree rooted in the ground, storm-twisted, gnarled, and valuable only for its fruit. We are not asked to eat the roots and bark and branches; only the fruit has an appeal to us. Its appeal is to our hunger, its authority lies in the fact that it satisfies our hunger.
It has satisfied the hunger of men whose liberalism came from their being made liberally. Large and capacious souls of mighty yearnings are they. They stand in contrast with the puny critics who assert that the Bible fails to feed them, because they have never tasted its nourishment.
Liberal Christianity, separating itself from the dogmatism which would make Christianity a book religion, worshiping a literary idol rather than loving a human revelation of the divine, knows it is not an ignorant lot of men and women who have received most from the Bible and spoken most gratefully of its message. When we think of sending the Bible to barbarism, with the hope of creating in its stead civilization, we can look into the face of John Selden, one of the most illustrious of English lawyers, when he says: "I have surveyed most of the learning that is among the sons of men, yet at this moment I can recall nothing in them on which to rest my soul, save one from the sacred Scriptures, which rises much on my mind. It is this: 'The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blest hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us that he might redeem us unto himself, a peculiar people zealous of good works.'" Liberal religion must include Selden. We will not be deterred from giving the Bible to heathenism of any kind when we remember that Sir William Jones has left these words: "The Scriptures contain more true sublimity, more exquisite beauty, and finer strains of poetry and eloquence than could be collected from all other books that were ever composed in any age or in any idiom." Liberal religion must be as broad as Sir William Jones.
This is a very needy world, and many are the institutions of evil that need to be changed for institutions of goodness. If we are to believe the eloquence of hopeless unbelief, we ourselves will only be the slaves of a fatalism which says that man is but a result of forces; that what we call crime is but a part of the necessary course of things, and that there is no such thing as moral responsibility. This makes all reform or efforts at staying the tide of evil useless. Oftentimes the heart of the man who has ceased to read his Bible gets the victory over this dreadful philosophy, and it is not remarkable that the skeptic becomes the exponent of freedom, charging like a host of war upon all institutions of slavery. Liberal theology puts its one hand on the dogmatist who tells him to accept literal infallibility, and its other on the sincere lover of men who has lost his Bible entirely. And liberalism says: It is in just such moments that we trust our Bible the most, and we remember that William Wilberforce, who lifted the chains from the bondmen, has said: "I never knew happiness until I found Christ as a Savior. Read the Bible! Bead the Bible! Through all my perplexities and distresses I never read any other book, I never knew the want of any other." We are certainly not despising the science which is worthy of a name, nor are we forgetting any proposition which has found a place in the world's thought, if we look into the face of Sir John Herschel, who tells us that "all human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truths contained in the holy Scriptures." It is truly no part of wisdom for us to conclude that for scientific reasons we ought to forsake our Bible when Professor Dana avers: "The grand old book of God still stands; and this old earth, the more its leaves are turned and pondered, the more will it sustain and illustrate the sacred Word."
Surely it is not the hour dogmatically to withdraw this book, which has proved the basis of civilization. Professor Lyell, the great English geologist, tells us: "In the year 1806 the French Institute enumerated no less than eighty geological theories which were hostile to the Scriptures, but not one of these theories is held today." Bacon's remark is still true: "There never was found in any age of the world either religion or law that did so highly exalt the public good as the Bible." And John Marshall and Prince Bismarck agree with Daniel Webster when he says: "If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity." There is not an anarchist in America who does not clap his hands when he hears a Bible with the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount denounced. Indeed, the civilization in which we stand, as compared with the barbarism out of which we have been led by the Bible, would make William Henry Seward's assertion only a mild statement of the truth when he says: "The whole hope of human progress is suspended on the ever-growing influence of the Bible." I prefer lawyers like these to lead American public opinion. Part of the service of these men has been that they have shown theology that the Bible is not a set of texts on a dead level of authority and equal value, but the revealing, slow and sure, of an inspiration obeyed by a certain people in the realm of morals like that inspiration obeyed by another people in the realm of art, and its test is: Does the Bible's ultimate message, its crowning commandment of Christ's life and love, produce goodness in morals? just as the test of the long revelation of beauty in his ancestors and the Greek is, does its ultimate commandment produce goodness in art.
Christianity does not ask: "What think ye of the Bible?" It asks: "What think ye of Christ?" There the throne is set, and so majestic is His glory that the moment we come into His presence we are judged. The Judge of the earth has taken His place in thought, history and hope. He is not on trial, and He asks no question as to what man thinks of the book which has enthroned Him in literature. The test is placed in my conduct and yours; each may say with Michael Bruce, who left these words on the fly-leaf of his Bible:
'Tis very vain of me to boast How small a price this Bible cost; The day of judgment will make clear 'Twas very cheap or very dear.
Shall we go forward with our Bible or backward without it? Infidelity has always forgotten that, so far as it has an eye for liberty and humanity, the Christianity not of sects but of the Bible has furnished it and trained it. The liberalism which puts its Bible aside will acknowledge that a Christless humanity culminated in Rome. Skepticism is often eloquent when it tries to show how much "fragments of Roman art" had to do with the making of modern civilization. Now, as Rome marks the height to which humanity without a Bible ascended, it would seem that this would be just the point where free and untrammeled thought and the fullest intellectual liberty would be found. Right there, where a Christless race was supreme, ought to be the place where the liberty abounded which the religion of Christ is said to destroy.
Whose program for the production of intellectual and spiritual liberty can liberals accept? Hoarse is the cry: The Bible is to be cast out. We look and behold men who have these opinions sitting on the throne of the Caesars. Now, one would suppose the intellect of that whole realm would have fair play. There was no Bible there to fetter or to annoy. This ought to be the halcyon age for "the liberty of man, woman and child." These rulers have the same dignified abhorrence for all kinds of religion. The skeptic Lucretius says: "The fear of the lower world must be sent headlong forth. It poisons life to its lowest depths; it spreads over all things the blackness of death; it leaves no pleasure unalloyed." I match the Roman with the phrase of a recent orator of this school who spoke of the soldiers dead, as now "sleeping beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless palace of rest." There was no window in the grave when more illustrious and original skeptics talked about it. Modern infidelity has many expressions on the future after death which sound like the old Roman distich, "I was not, and became; I was, and am no more."
Its orator, bending over the body of his dear brother, said nothing more touching than did Tacitus over the grave of Agricola, as he wrote: "If there is a place for the spirits of the pious; if, as the wise suppose, great souls do not become extinct with their bodies; if"—oh, that age of "if" ought to have been an age when every brain was free and no thought or sentiment were a chain. The Bible of Christianity was not powerful enough to throttle anybody. Its pages were not all written; its authors were hunted and outcast. Morals, too, ought to have been all right, for we are told that they are independent of God and Christ.
But what is the fact? Strangely enough, in that age, when nearly every monarch, or poet, or philosopher was a humorous skeptic and they had no Christian religion to "bind their hands," in an age when nothing but this sort of infidelity was supreme, Seneca, to whom connoisseurs in ethics blandly turn when they grow weary of the strenuous Paul or the pensive John, Seneca, while he wrote a book on poverty, has a fortune of $15,000,000, with a house full of citrus tables made of veined wood brought from Mount Atlas. While he framed moral precepts which we are besought to substitute for the Sermon on the Mount, he was openly accused of constant and shameless iniquity, and was leading his distinguished and tender pupil, Nero, into those practises and preparing him for those atrocities which Seneca himself had upon his own soul while he wrote his book on clemency. At that hour the Bible Christianity offered to the world's heart and aspiration, not a book, not a theorist of morals, but a man for the leadership of humanity, and, of that Man the literary and calm French skeptic says: "Jesus will never be surpassed." In the age of Rome, when people were not burdened by churches or Bibles, Lucian says: "If any one loves wealth and is dazed by gold; if any one measures happiness by purple and power; if any one brought up among flatterers and slaves has never had a conception of liberty, frankness and truth; if any one has wholly surrendered himself to pleasure, full tables, carousals, lewdness, sorcery, and deceit, let him go to Rome." There was no Bible either to preach against it or to interfere with it. These things were the product then, as they are now, of infidelity. Whenever the world wishes a civilization so barbarous as that, the reviler of the Bible must create it, for they have the applause of evil and the good-will of crime. In the age of Rome, when this skepticism was the creed of the State, Nero got tired of the goddess Astarte, and murdered his own brother, his wife, and his mother, and the senate was so affected with the same opinion that they heard his justification and proceeded to heap new honors upon him. He threw the preacher Paul into jail, but there Paul wrought out the impulse of Europe. In the age when the great Livy said that "neglect of gods" had come, Caligula let loose his imperial frenzy, and every stream of blood that could be sent toward the sea carried its red tide. In that age when, like later eloquent critics, Ennius said that he did not believe that the gods thought of human beings, "for if the gods concerned themselves about the human race the good would prosper and the bad suffer," the courtesan was kept for pleasure and the wife for domestic slavery. In that happy age of unbelief, when Menander sung "the gods do not care for men," "the homes were," according to Juvenal, "broken up before the nuptial garland faded"; and according to Tertullian, "they married only to be divorced." Friends exchanged wives; infanticide and other hellish crimes were common. This is what that spirit, in its purity, did for the home, when there was no Bible to read at its hearthstone and no New Testament to put into the hands of young lovers departing to make a new rooftree.
Labor will some day be too liberal to give up its Bible. In that age, when "God was dead"; in that age, when "the gods had abdicated"; they said, "the mechanic's occupation is degrading. A workshop is incompatible with anything noble." The curse of slavery had blotted the name of labor, and they agreed that "a purchased laborer is better than a hired one," and thousands of prison-like dwellings rose to conceal the myriads of slaves. In that age Nero, who had the same opinion about God which the vaunting spirit which calls itself liberal has today, had a "golden house" as large as a city, with colonnades a mile long, and within it a statue of Nero 120 feet high. That is what the theory of infidelity did for labor and the working man when it was on the throne. Do you wonder that from that day to this the "carpenter's son" of the Bible has been scoffed at by this infidelity?
In that age, when the theories of infidelity ruled, the gladiators made wet with their blood the great enclosure of the arena. The women and timid girls of Rome gave lightly the sign of death. The crowd shook the building with applause as the palpitating body was dragged by a hook into the death-chamber, and slaves turned up the bloody soil and covered the blood-dabbled earth with sand that the awful amusement might go on. All this was allowed by infidelity in its purity, before it had been influenced by the Christian's Bible into believing that such things are atrocious.
Oh, when I hear infidelity prate of the horrors of slavery and defend a Godless theory of the State, I remember that those who had it in its purity did not regard the slave as a man. When I read the story of slavery and hear an exponent of free thought say, "The doctrine that woman is a slave or serf of man—whether it comes from hell or heaven, from God or demon, from the golden streets of the New Jerusalem, or the very Sodom of perdition—is savagery pure and simple," I say, "That is so, but just that was the ruling idea when infidelity was on the throne of Rome." And only where the Bible has gone and triumphed has woman the privileges which are thus praised.
When I hear it said: "Slavery includes all other crimes. It is the joint product of the kidnaper, pirate, thief, murderer, and hypocrite. It degrades labor and corrupts leisure. To lacerate the naked back, to sell wives, to steal babes, to debauch your soul—this is slavery," I answer: "That is so," and I add that all these and a thousand other damnable features of slavery were seen in Rome when the whole Roman people felt and spoke about the message of the Bible just as your type of liberalism does today.
To all this wretched state of man what offers came from Seneca, whom skepticism quotes as a moralist? Why, he said: "Admire only thyself"; and when he saw that a man must get out of himself, he said: "Give thyself to philosophy." Not philosophy, but the power of the Bible's Christ has lifted man upward to his highest life.
If ever anti-Christianity had a chance to show its beauty, it was when it was at its supreme strength, and when Christianity was a babe in the manger; and these are only suggestions of the hell it dug for man at Rome. You say that it was not what skepticism is at the present day, and I acknowledge that it is so. Why? Because nineteen centuries have rolled like waves of light between, and Christ has improved it in spite of itself. Never had the world so good a chance to see what almost absolute skepticism and unbelief could and would do for the liberty of the human soul as then. But when the thrones of Rome were occupied with men who held the same opinion of the Bible as he does today, what was the freedom of the race?
The scene all comes back. Here is a little, obscure set of poor people who follow the words and life of the son of a carpenter. They are powerful in nothing that Rome calls power. But Rome says that they shall not think that way. Celsus, from whom our less scholarly skepticism is ready to borrow arguments, was not enough for the new thought in the arena of debate, and they cried for another arena. Let us remember that unbelief, in its purity at that date, was so offended at nothing as at the fact that the Church said: "Christian justice makes all equal who bear the name of man," and that Paul said: "There is neither bond nor free, but ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Nothing so offended the representative of free thought in that period as the fact that a rich Roman, in the time of Trajan, having become a Christian, presented freedom to his 1,250 slaves on an Easter day. And, in all that time, when poor Christians with the funds of the Church were privately buying the freedom of slaves, I do not find that a base liberalism believed in liberty. Neither did it believe in freedom of thought. It is the blossom of egotism; it has nothing to which it bows; it beholds no majesty to which it can look up. It is sublime self-conceit, and it has no hesitancy in telling the whole human race that at its grandest moments it has been wrong. This egotism dared to become active in Rome, and it asked the Christians, in the person of the Emperor, to worship him, and to strew incense about him. "I will honor the Emperor," said Theophilus, "not by worshiping him, but by praying for him." Such men as that infidelity kindly put to death. Around their quivering limbs the infidelity of that day made the fagots to flame, and it taught the red tongues of cruel death to creep about their smoking bodies.
Men who believed that the Bible's influence was what infidelity says it is, made the funeral pyre for Polycarp, the populace bringing fuel for the fire, and while the flames made a glory of their lambent glare, he cried out: "Six and eighty years have I served him and he has done me nothing but good, and how could I curse him, my Lord and Savior. If you would know what I am, I tell you frankly, I am a Christian." He did his own thinking, and was brave enough to avow his opinion, for which hate of Christianity duly burned him. This was the way infidelity treated free speech. In that way it unchained the soul of Polycarp. Infidelity's idea of Christianity sent the martyrs of Numidia and Paulus out of the world while they were praying for their murderers. Who believed in freedom then? Infidelity's idea of the message of the Bible followed the Christian like a wild beast, and in the catacomb of Calixtus drew from the pursued soul the pathetic exclamation: "Oh, sorrowful times, when we can not even in caves escape our foes!" And all this was true, because they said, "Recompense to no man evil for evil"; "Pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you."
This spirit of hate has had at least one holiday at the expense of Christian faith. On the night of the 18th of July, 64, Rome was swept with fire. Six days and nights it raged. Ruined was the world's metropolis and excited were the wo-stricken people. Nero, whose opinions of Christianity, by the way, were wonderfully like the orator's, was king, and the people suspected that this royal monster did it. Men told of how he exulted over the sea of flame as he watched it from the tower of Maecenas; and whatever the truth of this may be, it is certain that for the rage of the people Nero must have a victim, and Tacitus tells us that he charged the Christians with the crime. Then opened in Rome the awful carnival of bloodshed that the orator never mentions, in which horrible modes of torture and excruciating methods of producing pain vied with each other in satisfying the demands of death. Women bound to raging bulls and dragged to death were not without the companionship of others who, in the evening, in Nero's garden, were coated with pitch, covered with tar, bound to stakes of pine, lighted with fire, and sent to run aflame with the hatred of Christianity. Through the crowd of sufferers a gentleman, who was ultra-liberal as the orator, drove about, fantastically attired as a charioteer, and the people were wild with delight. Domitian had the same ideas, and severe were his persecutions of the new heresy. This was the day on which infidelity was so full of the love of freedom that it cried: "The Christians to the lions!"
And so I might recount to you how for hundreds of years the Church found out how early and unchristianized infidelity loved freedom of thought. To a type of liberals, it has for years seemed a joy to go to the places in the old world and note how intolerant the Church has been. Now I suggest to any one that he go and visit some of the places where men who thought of Christianity as negativism thinks showed their faith and its fruits. Let him go to the Colosseum and ask the winds that moan over its ruins what they know of the history of infidelity. The winds will hush in that wreck of stupendous magnificence, and with an eloquence gathered from seventeen centuries they will tell him a story that will cause a flow of tears, for much of infidelity is of noble heart. They will tell him how the marble seats were crowded with thousands; again will sweep upward the shout of the excited throng; before him there will lie a half-dead Christian martyr, and near that pool of blood will stand a lion who has satiated his horrid thirst.
They will tell him how infidelity made that splendid place a temple of the furies, how it laughed and yelled and applauded, as it amused itself with that spectacle of horror. They will tell him how the underground passages served to keep and cage wild beasts, and how those who then hated Christianity starved the fierce lion until his eyes rolled in hot hunger and his teeth were sharpened with its agony. They will tell him how the infidelity of that day put balls of fire on the backs of the lions, and how the madness of their passion was increased by scattering hated colors about, tearing the beasts with iron hooks and beating them with cruel whips. They will tell how the Christian was made to fight these infuriated beasts without weapons, while infidelity was frantic with applause. It said "no" to the torn body yonder, that was mangled and supplicating in blood for life. I would have him stand there until, in after years, in a nobler strain than that of Byron, he could say:
And thou didst shine, thou rolling moon, upon All this, and cast a wide and tender light, Which softened down the hoar austerity Of rugged desolation.
* * * * *
Till the place Became religion, and the heart ran o'er With silent worship of the great of old! The dead but sceptered sovereigns who still rule Our spirits from their urns.
So long as I know what this book has been and done, so long as man's history will not allow me to risk the interests of society with the infidelity which has so often demoralized it, so long will I yearn to get the Bible and its message to all men. It has been our world's best book. With this book as inspiration and resource, William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale were so to continue and complete the task of The Venerable Bede and John Wyclif as to make an epoch in the history of that language to be used by Shakespeare and Burke—an era as distinct as that which Luther's Bible so soon should mark in the history of a language to be such a potent instrument in the hands of Goethe and Hegel. For this very act of heresy, Tyndale was to be called "a full-grown Wyclif," and Luther "the redeemer of his mother-tongue." With the Bible, Calvin was to conceive republics at Geneva, and Holbein to paint, in spite of the iconoclasm of the Reformation, the faces of Holy Mother and Saint, and in spite of the cruelty of the Church, scripturally conceived satires illustrating the sale of indulgences. With that book Gustavus Vasa was to protect and nurture the freedom of the land of flowing splendors, while Angelo was transcribing sacred scenes upon the Sistine vault or fixing them in stone. Reading this book, More was to die with a smile; Latimer, Cranmer, and Ridley to perish while illuminating with living torches, and the Anabaptist to arouse the sympathies of Christendom by his agonies. With this book in hand, Shakespeare was to write his plays; Raleigh was to die, knight, discoverer, thinker, statesman, martyr; Bacon to lay the foundation of modern scientific research—three stars in the majestic constellation about Henry's daughter. With this Bible open before them the English nation would behold the Spanish Armada dashed to pieces upon the rocks, while Edmund Spenser mingled his delicious notes with the tumult of that awful wreck.
This book was to produce the edict of Nantes, while John of Barneveld would give new life to the command of William the Silent—"Level the dikes; give Holland back to the ocean, if need be," thus making preparation for the visit of the Mayflower pilgrims to Leyden or Delfthaven. Their eyes resting upon its pages, Selden and Pym were to go to prison, while Grotius dreamed of the rights of man in peace and war, and Guido and Rubens were painting the joys of the manger or the sorrows of Calvary. His hand resting upon this book, Oliver Cromwell would consolidate the hopes and convictions of Puritanism into a sword which should conquer at Nasby, Marston Moor and Dunbar, leave to the throne of Charles I, a headless corpse, and create, if only for an hour's prophecy, a commonwealth of unbending righteousness. With that volume in their homes, the Swede and the Huguenot, the Scotch-Irishman and the Quaker, the Dutchman and the freedom-loving cavalier, were to plan pilgrimages to the West, and establish new homes in America. With that book in the cabin of the Mayflower, venerated and obeyed by sea-tossed exiles, was to be born a compact from which should spring a constitution and a government for the life of which all these nationalities should willingly bleed and struggle, under a conqueror who should rise from the soil of the cavaliers, and unsheath his sword in the colony of the Puritans.
Out of that Bible were to come the "Petition of Right," the national anthem of 1628, the "Grand Remonstrance," and "Paradise Lost." With it, Blake and Pascal should voyage heroically in diverse seas. In its influence Jeremy Taylor should write his "Liberty of Prophesying," Sir Matthew Hale his fearless replies, while Rembrandt was placing on canvas little Dutch children, with wooden shoes, crowding to the feet of a Jewish Messiah.
Its lines, breathing life, order, and freedom, would inspire John Bunyan's dream, Algernon Sidney's fatal republicanism, and Puffendorf's judicature. With them, William Penn would meet the Indian of the forest, and Fenelon, the philosopher, in his meditative solitude. Locke and Newton and Leibnitz would carry it with them in pathless fields of speculation, while Peter the Great was smiting an arrogant priest in Russia, and William was ascending the English throne. From its poetry Cowper, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning would catch the divine afflatus; from its statesmanship Burke, Romilly, and Bright would learn how to create and redeem institutions; from its melodies Handel, Bach, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven would write oratorios, masses, and symphonies; from its declaration of divine sympathy Wilberforce, Howard, and Florence Nightingale were to emancipate slaves, reform prisons, and mitigate the cruelties of war; from its prophecies Dante's hope of a united Italy was to be realized by Cavour, Garibaldi, and Victor Emmanuel. Looking upon the family Bible as he was dying, Andrew Jackson said: "That book, sir, is the rock on which the Republic rests"; and with her hand upon that book, Victoria, England's queen, was to sum up her history as a power amid the nations of the earth, when, replying to the question of an ambassador: "What is the secret of England's superiority among the nations?" she would say: "Go tell your prince that this is the secret of England's political greatness,"
Beloved friends, when spurious liberalism, with all her literature, produces such a roll-call as this; when out of her pages I may see coming a nobler set of forces for the making of manhood, then, and only then, will I give up my Bible; then, and only then, will I cease to pray and labor that it may be given to all the world.
GOD THE UNWEARIED GUIDE
Newell Dwight Hillis was born at Magnolia, Iowa, in 1858. He first became known as a preacher of the first rank during his pastorate over the large Presbyterian church in Evanston, Illinois. This reputation led to his being called to the Central Church, Chicago, in which he succeeded Dr. David Swing, and where from the first he attracted audiences completely filling one of the largest auditoriums in Chicago. In 1899 he was called to Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, to succeed Dr. Lyman Abbott in the pulpit made famous by the ministry of Henry Ward Beecher. By his strong personality and mental gifts he draws to his church a large and eager following. His best known books are "A Man's Value to Society," and "The Investment of Influence."
Born in 1858
GOD THE UNWEARIED GUIDE
[Footnote 1: By permission of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Copyright, 1905.]
Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God, &c.—Isaiah xl., 1-31. He shall not fail, nor be discouraged.—xliv., 4.
This is an epic of the unwearied God, and the fainting strength of man. For splendor of imagery, for majesty and elevation, it is one of the supreme things in literature. Perhaps no other Scripture has exerted so profound an influence upon the world's leaders. Luther read it in the fortress of Salzburg, John Brown read it in the prison at Harper's Ferry. Webster made it the model of his eloquence, Wordsworth, Carlyle and a score of others refer to its influence upon their literary style, their thought and life. Like all the supreme things in eloquence, this chapter is a spark struck out of the fires of war and persecution. Its author was not simply an exile—he was a slave who had known the dungeon and the fetter. Bondage is hard, even for savages, naked, ignorant, and newly drawn from the jungle, but slavery is doubly hard for scholars and prophets, for Hebrew merchants and rulers.
This outburst of eloquence took its rise in a war of invasion. When the northern host swept southward, and overwhelmed Jerusalem, the onrushing wave was fretted with fire; later, when the wave of war retreated, it carried back the detritus of a ruined civilization. The story of the siege of Jerusalem, the assault upon its gates, the fall of the walls, all the horrors of famine and of pestilence, are given in the earlier chapters of this wonderful book. The homeward march of the Persian army was a kind of triumphal procession in which the Hebrew princes and leaders walked as captives. The king marched in the guise of a slave, with his eyes put out, followed by sullen princes, with bound hands, and unsubdued hearts. As slaves the Hebrews crossed the Euphrates at the very point where Xenophon crossed with his immortal ten thousand. In the land of bondage the exiles were planted, not in military prisons, but in gangs, working now in the fields, now in the streets of the city, and always under the scourge of soldiers. When thirty years had passed the forty thousand captives were scattered among the people, one brother in the palace, and another a slave in the fields. Soon their religion became only a memory, their language was all but forgotten, their old customs and manner of life were utterly gone. But God raised up two gifted souls for just such an emergency as this. One youth, through sheer force of genius, climbed to the position of prime minister, while a young girl through her loveliness came to the king's palace. One day an emancipation proclamation went forth, from a king who had come to believe in the unseen God who loved justice, and would overwhelm oppression and wrong. The good news went forth on wings of the wind. Making ready for their return to their homeland, all the captives gathered on the outskirts of the desert. It was a piteous spectacle. The people were broken in health, their beauty marred, their weapon a staff, their garments the leather coat, their provisions pieces of moldy bread, and their path fifteen hundred miles of sands, across the desert. To such an end had come a disobedient and sinful generation!
In that hour, beholding these exiles and captives, a flood of emotions rushed over the poet; he saw those bound who should conquer; he saw that men were slaves who should be kings. Then, with a rush, an immeasurable longing shivers through him like a trumpet call. Oh, to save them! To perish for their saving! To die for their life, to be offered for them all! In an abandon of grief and sympathy, he began to speak to them in words of comfort and hope. At first these exiles, dumb with pain and grief, listened, but listened with no light quivering in the eye, and no hope flitting like sunshine across the face. Their yesterdays held bondage, blows and degradation; their tomorrow held only the desert and the return to a ruined land. Then the word of the Lord came upon the poet. What if the night winds did go mourning through the deserted streets of their capital! What if their language had decayed and their institutions had perished? What if the farmer's field was only a waste of thorns and thickets, and the towns become heaps and ruins! What if the king of Babylon and his army has trampled them under foot, as slaves trample the shellfish, crushing out the purple dye that lends rich color to a royal robe? "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people." Is the way long and through a desert? "Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill shall be made low." Has slavery worn man's strength to nothingness until he is as weak as the broken reed and the withered grass? The spirit of the Lord will revive the grass, trampled down by the hoofs of war horses. Soon the bruised root shall redden into the rose and the fluted stem climb into the tree. And think you if God's winds can transform a spray and twig into a trunk fit for foundation of house or mast of ship, that eternal arms can not equip with strength the hand of patriot?
Is the Shepherd and Leader of His little flock unequal to their guidance across the desert? "Behold the Lord will come with a strong arm; he shall feed his flock like a shepherd and he shall gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom." What! Man's hand unequal to the task of rebuilding Jerusalem? Hath not God pledged His strength to the worker, that God whose arm strikes out worlds as the smith strikes out sparks upon the anvil? Is not man's helper that God who dippeth up the seas in the hollow of His hand? Who weighs the mountains with scales and the hills in the balance? What! Thine enemies too strong for thee? Why, God looketh upon all the nations and enemies of the earth as but a drop in the bucket. He sendeth forth His breath, and the tribes disappear as dust is blown from the balance. Then the trumpet call shivered through these exiles. "Hast thou not known? Have the sons of the fathers never heard of the everlasting God, the Lord, Creator of the ends of the earth? Fainteth not, neither is weary!" Heavy is the task, but the Eternal giveth power and strength. Even tho young patriots and heroes faint and fall, they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. While fulfilling their task of rebuilding they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Oh, what a word is this! What page in literature is comparable to it for comfort! Wonderful the strength of the warrior! Mighty the influence of the statesman! All powerful seems the inventor, but greater still the poet who dwells above the clang and dust of time, with the world's secret trembling on his lips.
He needs no converse nor companionship, In cold starlight, whence thou can not come, The undelivered tidings in his breast, Will not let him rest. He who looks down upon the immemorable throng, And binds the ages with a song. And through the accents of our time, There throbs the message of eternity.
And so the unwearied God comforted the fainting strength of man.
Primarily, this glorious outburst was addrest to the exiles as heads of families. The father's strength was broken and his children had been crusht and ground to earth. The ancient patrimony was gone; he had gathered his little ones in from the huts where slaves dwelt. He was leading his little band of pilgrims into a desert. But the prophet spoke to the exiles as to men who believed that the family was the great national institution. With us, the family is important, but with these Hebrew exiles the family was everything. For them the home was the spring from whence the mighty river rolled forth. The family was the headwaters of national, industrial, social and religious life. Every father was revered as the architect of the family fortune. The first ambition of every young Hebrew was to found a family. Just as abroad, a patrician gentleman builds a baronial mansion, fills it with art treasures, hangs the shields and portraits of his ancestors upon the walls, hoping to hand the mansion forward to generations yet unborn, so every worthy Hebrew longed to found a noble family. How keen the anguish, therefore, of this exile in the desert! What a scene is that of the exiles upon the edge of the desert. Darkness is upon the land and the fire burns low into coals. Worn and exhausted, children are sleeping beside the mother. Here is an old man, lying apart, broken and bitter in spirit—one son stands forth a dim figure—looking down upon his aged parents, upon the wife of his bosom and upon his little children. Standing under the stars, he meditates his plans. How shall he care for these, when he returns to his ruined estate? In the event of death, what arm shall lift a shield above these little ones? What if sickness or death pounce upon a home as an eagle upon a dove, as wolves upon lambs, or as brigands descend from the mountains upon sleeping herdsmen!
Every founder of a family knows the agony of such an hour! We are in a world where men are never more than a few weeks from, possible poverty and want; little wonder then that all men seek to provide for the future of the home and the children. But to the exile standing in the darkness, with love that broods above his babes, there comes this word of comfort: God's solicitude for you and yours will not let Him slumber or sleep! God will lift up a highway for the feet of the little band of pilgrims. The eternal God shall be thy guide in the march through the desert. His pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night shall stand in the sky; He shall lead the flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the little ones in His arms, and carry the children in His bosom. And if the father fall on the march, the wings of the Eternal shall brood the babes that are left. His right arm shall be a sword and His left arm a shield. The eternal God fainteth not, neither is weary. Having time to care for the stars, and to lead them forth by name, He hath time and thought also for His children. What a word is this for the home! What comfort for all whose hearts turn toward their children! What a pledge to fathers for generations yet unborn! This truth arms every parent for any emergency. For God is round about every home as the mountains are round about Jerusalem, for bounty and protection.
But the sage was also thinking of men whose hopes were broken, and whose lives were baffled and beaten. These exiles, crossing the desert, might have claimed for themselves the poet's phrase, "Lo, henceforth I am a prisoner of hope." Like Dante, they might have cried, "For years my pillow by night has been wet with tears, and all day long have I held heartbreak at bay." For these whose glorious youth had been exhausted by bondage, life had run to its very dregs. Gone the days of glorious strength! Gone all the opportunities that belong to the era when the heart is young, the limitations of life had become severe! Environment often is a cage against whose iron bars the soul beats bloody wings in vain!
How many men are held back by one weak nerve, or organ! How many are shut in, and limited, and just fall short of supreme success because of an hereditary weakness, handed on by the fathers! How many made one mistake in youth in choosing the occupation and discovered the error when it was too late! How many erred in judgment in their youth, through one critical blunder, that has been irretrievable, and whose burden is henceforth lasht to the back! In such an hour of depression, Isaiah assembles the exiles, and exclaims, "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people. Tho your young men faint and be weary, tho the strong utterly fail, yet God is the unwearied one; with his help thou shalt take thy burden, and mount up with wings as eagles; with his unwearied strength thou shalt run with thy load and not be weary, and walk and not faint." For this is the experience of persecution and the reward of sorrow, bravely borne that the fainting strength of man is supplemented by the sure help of the unwearied God.
Therefore, in retrospect, exiles, prisoners, martyrs, who have believed in God seem fortunate. The endungeoned heroes often seem the children of careful good fortune and happiness. The saints, walking through the fire, stand forth as those who are dear unto God. How the point of view changes events. Kitto was deaf, and in his youth his deafness broke his heart, but because his ears were closed to the din of life, he became the great scholar of his time, and swept the treasures of the world into a single volume, an armory of intellectual weapons. Fawcett was blind, but through that blindness became a great analytic student, a master of organization, and served all England in her commerce. John Bright was broken-hearted, standing above the bier, but Richard Cobden called him from his sorrow to become a voice for the poor, to plead the cause of the opprest, and bring about the Corn Laws for the hungry workers in the factories and shops. Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.
Let the exile say unto himself: "Your warfare is accomplished; your iniquity is pardoned; the Lord's hand will give unto thee double for all thy sins that are forgiven." The great faiths and convictions of the prophets and law-givers, your language and your laws and your liberties, have not been destroyed by captivity; rather slavery has saved them. At last you know their value; in contrast with the idolatry of the Euphrates, the jargon of tongues, the inequality of rights, the organization of justice and oppression, how wonderful the equity of the laws of Moses! How beautiful the faith of the fathers! How surely founded the laws of God. Henceforth idolatry, injustice and sin became as monstrous in their ugliness as they were wicked in their essence. Everything else might go, but not the faith of the fathers. Persecution was like fire on the vase; it burned the colors in. Little wonder that the tradition tells us that for the next hundred years, at stated periods, all the people in the land came together, while a reader repeated this chapter on the unwearied God and the fainting strength of man that had recovered unto hope, men whose hopes had been baffled and beaten.
The thought of an unwearied God is also the true antidote to despondency. The ground of optimism is in God. When that great thinker described certain people as without God and without hope, there was sure logic in his phrase, for the Godless man is always the hopeless man. Between no God anywhere and the one God who is everywhere, there is no middle ground. Either we are children, buffeted about by fate and circumstances, with events tossing souls about in an eternal game of battledore and shuttlecock, or else the world is our Father's house, and God standeth within the shadow, keeping watch above His own. For the man who believes in God, who allies himself to nature, who makes the universe his partner, there is no defeat, and no death, and no interruption of his prosperity. Concede that there is a God, and it follows as a logical necessity that He will not permit any enemy to ruin your life and His plans. For a man who holds this faith it follows that there can be no defeat, or failure. Indeed, the essential difference between men is the difference in their relation toward God. Here are the biographies of two great men. Both are men of genius, both are marvelously equipped, but their end was, oh, how different. One is Martin Luther, who stood forth alone, affirming his religious freedom, in the face of enemies and devils thick as the tiles on the roofs of the houses. The few friends Luther had shut him up in a fortress to save his life, but Luther mightily believed in God. With the full consent of his marvelous gifts, he surrendered his life to the will of God. Knowing that his days were as brief as the withering grass, he allied himself with the Eternal. In his discouragement he read these words, "The Everlasting God fainteth not, neither is weary." In that hour Martin Luther shouted for joy. The beetling walls of the fortress were as tho they were not. Victorious he went forth, in thought, ranging throughout all Germany. And going out, he went up and down the land telling the people that God would protect him, and soon Germany was free.