Christian Beliefs and Modern Questions
by Oliver Chase Quick
Student Christian Movement, 1923
The Lectures were delivered during February and March of this year to church people in Newcastle-on-Tyne and North Shields, in preparation for the North Tyneside Crusade to be held in September. It is thought that they may be of interest to a wider circle. They do not, of course, claim to cover the whole field of vital Christian doctrines. The selection of subjects dealt with has necessarily been somewhat arbitrary, and I would ask my readers charitably to judge my little book by what it contains rather than by what it omits. In Lectures III and VI, I have incorporated a certain amount of material derived from my previous volume Essays in Orthodoxy (Macmillan, 1916), which has now for some years been out of print; and Lecture II is partly based upon two articles which I contributed to The Challenge in 1922. In general I have omitted acknowledgments to other writers, lest they should unduly encumber the text of a book in which so little is original.
Oliver C. Quick
I. Belief in God
II. The Power of God and the Problem of Evil
III. The Godhead of Jesus Christ
IV. Christ Our Saviour from Sin
V. The Resurrection and Eternal Live
VI. God’s Judgment of Men
VII. Christianity and Bodily Health
VIII. The Holy Spirit and Modern Thought
Lecture I – Belief in God
Probably we have all of us at one time or another come across some one who said that he did not and could not believe in God at all, and we have found ourselves quite at a loss for convincing answer and argument. In preparing this lecture I have tried to imagine myself confronted by such a person, with the result that I have found myself even more dumb before the unbeliever of my own fancy than I have before the unbeliever in real life. It is not necessarily that the existence of God appears really doubtful to ourselves, but rather that it seems so impossible to give reasons for believing it to one who does not believe already. Yet I am not sure that this very difficulty does not provide us with a starting point for our discussion.
It is clear at any rate that the things which we find most difficult to prove are not necessarily those of which we are really least certain. Suppose we change the question from “Why do you believe that God exists?” to “Why do you believe that other people exist?” or “Why do you believe that these chairs and tables exist?” Quite serious philosophic objections can be urged against the existence both of persons and things; and we should have the utmost difficulty in proving it to one who refused to accept it from the beginning. But I suspect that in this case we should be much too wise to try. We should quite probably retort to the sceptic, “I believe in the existence of things and people, because it is absurd not to. I can’t meet the objections you bring against my belief. But I am at least convinced of this, that the difficulties of believing in the existence of these are as nothing to the difficulties of not believing in it. What alternative do you suggest?” Now, such a reply is not only common sense, but probably, from the philosophic point of view, the best reply that can be made. And a similar reply perhaps represents the most that reason can ever do towards proving the existence of God. The difficulties of believing in God are real and even, in a sense, unanswerable; but they are less than the difficulties of not believing. There is no alternative to belief which is more satisfactory to the reason. If so, that explains why the imaginary unbeliever is so peculiarly difficult to deal with. He is so unanswerable, because he is imaginary, and therefore he has no position of his own which is not purely negative. A real unbeliever has to put forward some alternative to belief in God, and it is the alternative which makes him vulnerable. In apologetics, as in war, the truest defence is often a vigorous counter-offensive.
Let us therefore, for the present at least, dismiss from our minds all idea of setting up impregnable fortifications of argument to shield our own belief in God, and try first to clear the ground of some of the other structures in which men seem to find some sort of shelter for their souls.
These other structures are of two main types, and we will consider first the least pretentious and the most popular, agnosticism. The attraction of agnosticism lies in the fact that it does not claim to be a structure at all, and therefore appears to offer no target. It is more like a dugout than a castle, and dugouts in modern warfare generally afford the better protection. Nevertheless, agnosticism is an intellectual dugout where a man may not stay if he does not want to be buried.
In less metaphorical language, an agnostic is one who professes himself unable either to assert or to deny the existence of God; he cannot believe, because he simply does not and cannot know whether there be a God or not. He maintains a suspension of judgement. This whole position is open to one very elementary and quite fatal objection. Imagine that you are travelling by train from Newcastle to Leeds and are uncertain whether or not you have to change at York. Imagine that you arrive at York in the same uncertainty. You must then do one of two things, with or without preliminary inquiry from some presumably infallible official. Either you get out of the train, in which case you act as though you know that the train does not go to Leeds. Or you stay in the train, in which case you act as though as you know that it does go to Leeds. The one thing you cannot conceivably do is to act as though you do not know whether the train goes to Leeds or not.
The illustration is trivial but sufficient for the present purpose. Real agnosticism in religion is contradicted by every action and every decision of life. A man may act as though there were a God, and he may act as though there were no God; but he cannot act as though he does not know. Either he prays, or he does not; either he tries to follow Christ’s teaching and example, or he does not. He cannot escape the Practical decision; and, if he refuses to make up his mind in theory, his actions will make it up for him in practice, very likely in the wrong way. Our beliefs and our actions cannot really be shut off from one another into watertight compartments. Every belief or thought either starts or stops an action; and every action involves or implies a certain belief or thought. An agnostic is simply one who deceives himself into thinking that his beliefs can be separated from his acts. As he then claims to base his life upon an inconsistency, he cannot any longer be reasoned with. But at least the psychologist can tell him that he is wrong in fact.
Agnosticism, then, can be dismissed. But what of the other alternative to belief in God, the alternative of denial which we call atheism? Atheism is seldom openly professed today. That in itself is a very remarkable fact. For a certain kind of atheism appears so exceedingly plausible, and even in a sense inevitable. This is the atheism which is based on natural science, and is best known by its proper name of naturalism. Natural science takes no account of God in its calculations. It is content to assume the universal existence of natural law. Everything that happens is bound to happen as it does, by a rigid law of cause and effect similar to that whereby the apple falls to the ground. And, treating the world on this assumption, science appears not to find God anywhere. Yet look at all the marvellous and increasing stores of knowledge which it has accumulated; knowledge about the remote past and even about the future; knowledge about the furthest stars and about the inmost workings of man’s mind, knowledge which enables man to perform the seeming miracles of aviation, wireless telegraphy, surgery. Yet though natural science stretches its gaze beyond the solar system and turns it to examine particles so minute that the senses are bewildered at the thought of them, nevertheless it finds no God, but only natural law in all. Do we believe that it will ever come to radically different conclusions? And, if not, why should we persist in maintaining that there is some other reality in the world than that which science can recognise? Is not all talk of God and Spirit an idle speculation? Is it not better to rest simply on the solid facts which science can verify, and to give up our dreams?
With such a strong case to back it up (and, of course, we have only hinted where that strength lies) it is indeed remarkable that naturalism should not have won more universal acceptance. The very remarkableness of that fact is really the refutation of the naturalistic theory. For there is one question which naturalism never has answered, and never will answer. Why are we not all naturalists? Why does naturalism seem to most people so profoundly unnatural? Whence come the amazing power and persistence of those ideas and experiences, called moral and religious, on the strength of which men reject the purely naturalistic view of the universe? These ideas and experiences are facts as real and solid as any others in the world; and undoubtedly they claim to give a certain truth about the world which does not fit in with any purely naturalistic theory. Naturalism is bound to admit the existence of these ideas and experiences as facts, but it is also bound to reject their claim to truth. In other words, while admitting that certain ideas and experiences called moral and religious exist, naturalism contends that we are really mistaken in calling them moral and religious. Morality and religion are false names given to certain ideas and experiences, which really mean something quite different. But obviously you do not explain a thing simply by calling it a delusion. The question only becomes more urgent. How, then, did these quite extraordinarily powerful delusions, called religion and morality, arise? And to this question naturalism gives, and can give, no answer at all.
We must not allow ourselves to have our attention distracted from this central failure of naturalism by the ingenuity with which it seeks to explain moral and religious ideas as not really moral or religious at all. Thus it is said that what we call moral action is really a kind of action which enables the race to survive through the necessary self-sacrifice of individuals. Now it is doubtless true that if all individuals acted in an immoral way, the race would very quickly perish. Morality is essential to the survival of the human race. But nevertheless, when we call an action moral, we mean to say something quite different from saying that it helps the race to survive. Many actions called moral do not help the race to survive at all. Supposing one man tries to save the life of another in danger, with the result that both are killed, the morality of the act is felt to be increased rather than diminished by its failure to preserve life. By morality, therefore, we mean something different from the preservation of the race. It may be that we are mistaken. But how, then, did we come to coin this false idea which we call morality? What is there in a purely naturalistic reality which could give rise to it?
Again, naturalism may try to explain the word “God” as a name which really denotes the “folk-soul” or “spirit of the race,” so that the service of God simply means the duty of serving the whole race and putting the interest of future generations before one’s own. It may be so; but none the less this folk-soul or race-spirit is not what men think they mean when they speak of God. Their idea of God is a delusion. Whence did it come?
Let us pause for a moment to assure ourselves how utterly naturalism must fail to account for the existence of morality in the world. The failure in the case of religion is more obvious and requires less demonstration. A man guided by his moral sense feels that a certain kind of action is right and another kind of action wrong, irrespective of the natural consequences either to himself or even to the world. “How can I do this great wickedness?” he says to himself. “I will not, I cannot; it is wrong, no matter if I perish the next instant, no matter how many people I seem to involve in ruin by refusing. These possibilities strengthen the temptation almost unbearably; but they do not make the wrong thing right. This difference between right and wrong is ultimate and absolute.” Now, how could that feeling arise in a world governed and controlled by nothing but rigid and mechanically working laws of nature, a world which at bottom is neither right nor wrong, good nor evil, but impartially indifferent to the virtue and to the sin which are equally its products? There is simply no cause here to produce the effect.
Naturalism is therefore bound to pronounce morality a delusion. But by calling it a delusion, it only advertises its failure to explain it.
Having thus exposed the weakness both of agnosticism and of atheistic naturalism, we are able to estimate the superiority of belief in God as a principle whereby the world as we know it may be rationally explained. We cannot demonstrate that superiority better than by recalling an illustration used with great effect by Dr Cairns in his book, The Reasonableness of the Christian Faith. He tells a vivid and touching story of a young man laying down his life to save a stranger from drowning in the Moray Firth. “I want you to realise that scene,” he goes on. “You have the whole nature cosmos around you there in symbol, sky and sea and hill and shore, and in the middle of it you have got this deliberate laying of life down” (p. 67). Now, from the point of view of naturalism, the act of self-sacrifice is absolutely out of the picture. Dr Cairns says that naturalism must “interpret the act of self-sacrifice in terms of sky and sea and land, of Nature, in short.” But this cannot be done, if the act of self-sacrifice is to remain real at all. For, from the point of view of strict naturalism there can be no real self, which is really voluntarily surrendered. The act of self-sacrifice, if real, is not of a piece with “nature”; and naturalism must therefore simply leave it alone and unaccounted for, if it does not pronounce it a delusion. But, as Dr Cairns proceeds to point out, you may “turn the whole thing about, and interpret sky and sea and land in relation to this act of heroism. ... If you feel that you stand here in presence of something of absolute worth, then the only possible conclusion must be, that somehow Nature was there in order that the man might do this thing; that in actions of this kind, and the personalities that lie behind them, lies the clue to the riddle of the world, and the manifestation at once of the source from which that world came, and the end towards which it is working.” In other words, while naturalism has no account to give of the act of self-sacrifice, belief in a God manifesting Himself in that act does have some account to give of the nature which formed its conditions and its setting. Belief in a moral God can go some way towards explaining natural law; belief in natural law can go no way at all towards explaining moral action.
Here, then, we touch the firmest ground on which we may contend before the modern world that to believe in God is more reasonable than not to believe in Him. Here we find the explanation of the strange fact that atheism, which seems so firmly based on natural science, has such a weak hold on men’s minds. Naturalism cannot account for the facts after all. Belief in God, with all its difficulties, has the advantage, if the whole range and variety of facts are taken into account. And the God to whom reason points, is the God revealed as justifying and inspiring the noblest acts of human morality.
But here the unbeliever may urge a very strong objection which we are bound to meet. “So far,” he may say, “you have been arguing from the facts of human morality that God must exist. Morality may enable you to infer that somehow God must be controlling the world, just as the movements of heavenly bodies may enable an astronomer to infer that some more distant star exists which he has not yet seen. But even if that be granted for the sake of argument, morality is still not the same as religion. It is the life of religion which claims to bring man into actual communion and intercourse with God. We should expect, then, to find religion bringing men into actual living touch with the God to whom morality points a distant finger. Yet examine the history of human religion, and what do you find? Religious beliefs are infinitely various, utterly inconsistent with one another, often utterly repugnant to morality itself. Think of all the degraded confusion of pagan pantheons. Think of all the mean, unworthy characteristics which men have attributed to their gods, and all the wrongs which they have perpetrated in their name. Think of the mutual contradictions even of the main religious systems of the modern world. Can it be that such a babel of disputing and discordant voices really proceeds from the experience wherein man draws closest to the Divine Goodness, which, you say, controls the world? Religions are the standing refutation of religion.”
Now, if we are to meet this argument fairly, we shall, I think, have to begin by making what looks like a very large admission. The facts to which our critic points are, on the whole, true; and, if the claim of religion were to give us a proved and demonstrated knowledge of God, which no man could reasonably doubt – knowledge, for instance, of the same kind that a proposition of Euclid claims to give about space – then the objection stated would be fatal to it. Knowledge of God which is beyond the reach of reasonable doubt, we do not possess. Everything we say about God is capable of being disputed by honest and intelligent people. And many things said about God, even by believers, we ourselves shall feel obliged to reject. There is no proved or self-evident or universally acknowledged certainty.
But we have to remember that what the highest religion offers us is not knowledge of this kind, but faith. Faith has a certitude of its own; but it is not a certitude which rests on demonstration so complete that it cannot be disputed, or on agreement so universal that it seems a mere paradox to challenge it. St Paul knew more about the certitude of faith than most men. Yet he actually gloried in the fact that to the world at large he and the other apostles seemed to be impostors – ως πλάναι και αληθεις, as deceivers and yet true. And as a matter of fact the highest faith draws its most characteristic glory and power precisely from the fact that it is never very far from paradox itself, and sometimes has to be held by a remnant of believers, or even by isolated individuals, against the world. Time and again the prophet of the noblest faith in God has gone down to his grave in failure and disappointment, clinging to an apparently lost cause. Yet subsequent generations have found the prophet to be right after all; his teaching has spread and waxed in strength, when the scornful jeers of those who counted him a crazy fanatic have either perished from memory altogether, or remain only as a record of the blind perversity of popular judgements. And we feel that faith would be no more faith, if it were not so held; it would lose its own characteristic certainty and power, if it were so certainly proved as to be cogent or indisputable. Suppose the Christian faith concerning God were some day to be accepted among men as universally as any established truth of science or mathematics. Yet, unlike such other truths, it could never become a platitude or a commonplace. Why? Because, if it were held truly, it would be held like faith in a friend, and, however great its certainty, it would, like faith in a friend, involve knowledge incapable of exact demonstration, knowledge which, from the purely logical point of view, involves a risk and a venture. Meanwhile, we may fancy that even in heaven, where faith passes into sight, the deepest joy of knowledge will belong to those souls who can look back on a trust held against all the forces of doubt and error and misbelief. He can never enter into the full meaning of truth, who has not clung to it when to most men it appeared a crazy dream.
Consider the greatest life of faith which history records. We mar the quality of our Lord’s faith altogether if we suppose that He knew beforehand, as a matter of scientific certainty, all the situations that were going to arise and how God would enable Him to deal with them. The essential character of His faith lies in the trust, which, in spite of appearances, in spite of sudden unforeseen difficulties which would have appalled the unaided reason, was content to go forward more or less in the dark, sure that guidance would be given. Dr Cairns uses very appropriately in this connexion the story of the raising of Jairus’s daughter. Our Lord responds to the father’s appeal and goes with him. Then the news arrives that the child is dead. Our Lord goes on unmoved. If we suppose that He knew from the beginning all that would happen, the glory of that supreme faith in God vanishes altogether. Faith involves a venture. It means holding to a truth, where doubt is not only possible, but even superficially reasonable. All the great achievements of faith are won by taking what are to the reason tremendous risks.
Perhaps at this point we may be accused of throwing reason overboard altogether. Since scientific method fails to extract from the confusions of religious experience any highest common factor which can be presented as a proved and tested knowledge of God, we have taken refuge, it may be said, in praising an irrational spirit of venture in order to conceal our inability to point to any truth solidly established. But this argument does not hold, if faith really has the value which we would ascribe to it. If faith is really the key to the riddle of the world, if with all its ventures and risks and demands for sacrifice it is worth what it costs, then it is reasonable to suppose that a good and loving God can yet have made a world wherein all the doubts and difficulties and confusions of human religion are possible. These possibilities are the price paid for salvation by faith. They do not make the world unreasonable, if in it salvation by faith is also possible and worth the cost. If faith in God is false, there is no way of accounting for the existence and the value of human religion. But if, on the other hand, faith in God is true, it is possible, partly at least, to account for the errors, confusions and crimes into which human religion has fallen.
What Christians mean, then, by belief in God is not something so obviously or so demonstrably true that it cannot be doubted or denied; but rather something which, if it be true, sheds a flood of fresh light upon the facts of the world and enables us to see a meaning in what is otherwise unintelligible. From that point of view Christian faith in God may claim to be the most reasonable hypothesis in the world. It has many difficulties, which it must frankly face and try to meet. It must not shirk any facts. Yet, even if it be held only by the few, and even to them appear a constantly more amazing paradox, it still may find a ray of reason and explanation, where other more natural-seeming theories stumble in darkness. As Mr G. K. Chesterton has taught us, the more closely natural facts are inspected, the less “natural” they appear. We cannot escape paradox if we are true to facts at all; and the most familiar fact in the world, our own human personality, is also the most paradoxical. Reasonably to account for the facts of a world such as ours, we need something as intensely familiar and as inexhaustibly strange as the idea of God.
The marvel of evolution, the constant reaching out of life after higher forms, the vital impulse, which from the beginning shows the behaviour of faith and in the end has brought forth man in all the stupendous absurdity of his reason and of his cosmic ambitions after goodness and God – whence came they? Belief in God Himself supplies the only real attempt at rational explanation which has yet been offered. Nothing is proved. The belief may be all delusion. But to suppose it delusion explains nothing; it only makes the riddle darker. To suppose that there is no God, nothing in the heart and fundamental constitution of things to respond to and justify man’s moral and religious longing and efforts, is perhaps not intellectually absurd; but it is certainly a treachery to man’s moral sense. And if it be contended that the rigid intellectual honesty, without which no truth can be reached, demands a hypothesis which contradicts morality itself – well, at least such a flat self-contradiction forfeits all claim to the support of reason. You cannot leave the fundamental values of truth and moral goodness contradicting one another and still claim to possess any rational philosophy at all. If truth demands honesty, and yet cannot justify morals, what sort of reason do you claim to follow?
If belief in God is true, the world is still mysterious – in a sense, more mysterious than ever – but we have a light in the darkness, some sort of clue in the maze. The history of the world may turn out to be a tragedy, but it is still a great drama, which for that reason justifies itself. If belief in God is false, then we have no light which shows even the possibility of a fundamental reason in things. The world then is not a tragedy, nor a romance, nor even a comedy; it looks like a farce which is too bitter to be amusing. We cannot prove that it is not. From the point of view of logic, il faut parier, as Pascal said; such is the venture of faith. But it stakes its life not on a chance, but on God. And those who make the venture affirm that God inspires it and responds.
Note – A fundamental and widely felt objection to belief in God is not touched on in the foregoing lecture, and, although it seems absurd to single out a particular objection, where so many are perforce ignored, a brief reply to it may be worth making. It is urged that the idea of God is simply a fantasy produced by our own desires and therefore may be ignored. We want to believe in God, and therefore, in spite of facts, we insist on doing so; but the belief is simply the reflection of our own wishes. There are many today who feel that they cannot praise the Name of God, because it is too comfortable. But their objection makes the very common mistake of confusing the desire for an object with the desire for the pleasure or comfort to be derived from it. Thus the desire for food is distinct from the desire for the pleasure derived from eating. The first is properly called hunger, and the second greed. It is obvious that the two are so closely connected as to be in practice never perhaps wholly separable. Hunger always brings with it a certain desire for the pleasure of eating; and greed could not endure without the fundamental desire for food. Yet it is equally obvious that the two desires are distinct, and that hunger is the cause of greed, not greed of hunger. The fundamental instinct for food, which we call hunger, accounts both for the pleasure of eating and for the desire for that pleasure, which we call greed. But no one could contend that the desire for the pleasure of eating (greed) accounts for the existence of the fundamental instinct for food (hunger). It is only the prior existence of the instinct for food which makes eating pleasant. Similarly, the spiritual hunger for God is distinct from all desire for the comfort of religion. And both the comfort of religion and the desire for that comfort can only exist because of the fundamental spiritual instinct which desires, not comfort, but God. Why otherwise should we find religion, and nothing else, comfortable in the world as it is? It is therefore quite legitimate to use the desire for God as evidence for, not against, the reality of God. Why and how should spiritual hunger exist, if there were no real spiritual food? This argument is not, of course, a cogent proof of the existence of God, but it provides evidence in favour of it and a complete answer to the particular objection raised.
Lecture II – The Power of God and the Problem of Evil
There are really two problems of evil, distinct though closely connected. There is the problem of the origin of evil, when we ask, How did evil come into a world made by God? And there is the problem of dealing with evil, when we ask, Can evil be overcome? and, if so, how? and what has God’s power to do with the victory? It is the second problem, not the first, which I propose to discuss. It seems to me the more fundamental and the more important, as well as the less insoluble, problem of the two.
Practically, the problem of dealing with evil is obviously the more important. When something is wrong, the problem of its origin is only of practical importance, in so far as a solution of it is a means to a remedy. But, in the case of evil itself or evil as a whole, there can be no strictly theoretic problem at all. For to treat facts theoretically is to treat them impartially, without taking sides either for or against any; it is to assume an attitude of pure enquiry, which accepts all relevant facts equally. But this means that from the strictly theoretic point of view we must treat all relevant facts as of equal value, that is as identical in respect of goodness and badness. Thus, the theoretic point of view must begin by ignoring the fundamental difference between good and evil, and therefore for it there can, strictly speaking, be no problem of evil at all.
This fundamental truth is disguised by the fact that in respect of particular evil things it is not only legitimate, but often quite necessary, to assume an attitude of pure enquiry and therefore for the moment to ignore their evil character. Thus the pathologist differs from the physician in that the former’s primary purpose is to study disease, the latter’s primary purpose is to heal it. The pathologist therefore does not treat disease as evil, but as the subject of an absorbing study, with the result that he often finds a positive attraction in morbid conditions, which to the layman are simply repulsive. It is well that the pathologist should find some attraction about disease; for otherwise little progress could be made in overcoming it. But no one would dispute that the ultimate purpose and motive of pathology is to overcome disease, and that thus it is only because disease is really and fundamentally evil, that the pathologist is justified for his immediate purpose in ignoring its evil character. When, however, the subject of our problem is not a particular evil thing or class of things, but evil in itself or evil as such, then it is obvious that we cannot assume the theoretic attitude of enquiry without destroying our whole problem at the start. For to treat evil in itself as not evil is an absurdity. To treat evil as evil is to try to get rid of it. So there seems to be only one fundamental problem of evil after all. The problem of origin is subordinate and derivative.
It may nevertheless be contended that the problem of origin, though subordinate, ought to be tackled first. But this plea breaks down on consideration. After all, the fact remains that we know practically nothing about the origin of evil, but we do know something about methods of dealing with it; so it seems reasonable to start with these. It may very well be that if we can discover more of God’s plan and purpose in overcoming evil so as to cooperate with them in faith and hope, we shall in the end, and only in the end, find out how and why evil entered in. The end of a process, not the middle, is the best time for explanations; for then only can the process be viewed as a whole. We can afford to let the problem of origin wait, if we can see enough to pursue with hope the task of reaching the end.
We will therefore address ourselves simply to the question, How does God’s power deal with evil, and what hope have we of its ultimate victory? We will try to meet the old, yet ever fresh, dilemma, “Either God is not wholly loving or not supremely powerful. If He were both, the world could not be as evil as it is. Either He wills to overcome the evil, and cannot, in which case He is not powerful; or else He can overcome the evil, and will not, in which case He is not loving.”
Let us first deal with the antithesis, which the dilemma assumes, between power and love. Here its constructors have shown an insufficient scepticism. They have never really asked themselves the question, what does power mean? In consequence, they unconsciously identify power with force or power of compulsion, and, since it is manifest that God does not compel people to do His will, they conclude that He is not supremely powerful. But the more genuinely sceptical we are about the world, the more clearly we see how little force can actually achieve, and that, when force is used by spiritual beings towards one another, it is invariably a sign not of power, but of weakness.
Power as known in our experience means just effectiveness, and effectiveness is measured by the difference made to a given situation. When we are thinking of the world of matter alone, it is true that power is identical with force. Eruptions and earthquakes are exhibitions of sheer physical force, and the difference they make on our maps is the measure of their effectiveness. The things that men construct with matter are also put up by force, but here the force is directed and controlled by something else, and the effectiveness of the work is measured mainly by other standards and only in very small part by the amount of change in the relative positions of material masses. The architect’s or the engineer’s power is not shown mainly by his capacity to change the position of large masses of stone or metal. It is shown by the beauty or usefulness of what he erects, and no mere use of force can make anything beautiful or useful. The lifting of the great masses of stone to make Durham Cathedral may be a wonderful achievement; but no one would pretend that that is the chief wonder of the building.
But when we come to consider the action of spiritual beings or personalities towards each other, we find that force operates in a wholly negative way. It constructs nothing, it creates nothing; it can only hinder and apparently destroy. And though it may be valuable and even necessary, when it is used against itself to prevent the destruction of spiritual values, its use by spiritual beings towards each other is always a sign of weakness. When we are speaking of spiritual power used for spiritual ends, the greater the power, the less the force employed. This would be almost a truism, if men did not so frequently forget their common sense when they begin to talk theology. Why does a schoolmaster use force to control the boys under him? Because other methods fail, and he is not strong enough to control them without it. Why does the state use force to imprison criminals? Not to do them good – it is only ignorance or cant which could pretend it – but because the state is too weak to protect society otherwise. The severity of judicial sentences is always in direct relation to the fear (i.e. the sense of weakness) in the community. Why did we go to war with Germany? Because to us, in our desperate spiritual weakness, it was the only way of preventing the forcible destruction of what was best in European civilization. It is still an open question whether that war will not end in our total defeat. What is wrong with red revolutions after the French and Russian models? Simply the fact that they are not revolutions at all. They change nothing of real importance permanently or in a constructive sense. Red revolutions are caused by the greed and lust and selfishness of a ruling class. But these qualities are not the property of that class alone. The evil tendencies of human nature belong to humanity as a whole. There is no one class of society, whether aristocracy or proletariat, which can claim a monopoly of original sin. And those destructive tendencies to evil the so-called revolution leaves unchanged or stimulates in larger masses of the people. Nothing fundamental is altered, and one violent upheaval prepares the way for the next, if it does not make the peace of sheer desolation. The most “advanced” of our political thinkers are in reality those who have reacted furthest towards the jungle. The same belief in force is the oldest and least reputable article in a Tory creed.
Surely the greatest spiritual power must be that which is able to change most really, constructively and permanently the spiritual nature which is the source of action. Such, at least, would be the spiritual power which we should naturally judge to be the greatest within our experience. And the greatest spiritual power will be the greatest power in the world, if the world is ultimately controlled and determined by spirit. The more our experience is examined, the more clearly it is seen that such a power can only be the power of what we call love in the noblest sense of that term. The spiritual being which exercises love most universally and completely will of necessity be the most powerful, and, at least towards other spirits, it will use force least.
This conclusion shows that the dilemma we have been discussing is altogether wrongly stated. We must alter the form of the question to be answered. All believers in God will agree that His nature is spirit and that His power is spiritual. Towards men His power is shown in building up a world of human souls in perfect communion with Himself and with one another. That is what God made us for. And that end, if it can be achieved at all, can only be achieved by the power of love, not force. God’s love and God’s power cannot be opposed to one another. His power is simply His love in action. The real question is whether God’s love is power enough to convert the world, and make it what He would have it be. If so, He is indeed almighty. If not, His love and His power fail together. By calling God almighty we must mean that His love is able by its proper operation so to change the whole sum of situations, which we call “this world,” that out of it may rise a world which is really and fully a construction of love, a universe wherein God’s love entirely determines every part and member.
Is it conceivable that such a faith can be true ? Is it not in flat contradiction with the facts of history and life ? In order to vindicate faith in God’s supreme power we shall certainly have in the end to assume that the world of history is not the whole reality, that there is a real other world, into which members of this world may enter when from the point of view of history they are dead and gone and past. But we will not make this assumption to begin with.
First, let us examine the power of love in human experience, remembering always that by the word love we denote no mere emotion or passion or sentiment, but primarily the unselfish will devoted to the good of others.
It will be agreed that love is able, as nothing else is able, to convert, that is, to change the desires and purposes which are the source of action, and thereby also to change the outlook on the world and the interpretation of the world, which make a philosophy. It is the instrument both of moral and of intellectual conversion. It is the instrument of moral conversion, because contact with love inevitably weakens the hold of base and selfish desires, which are rather stimulated and hardened by compulsion. It is the instrument of intellectual conversion, because in the long run a good desire and purpose in life are incompatible with a pessimistic philosophy. Man knows himself to be too small to fight against the universe. If, therefore, the fundamental nature of the universe is evil or indifferent to good, man’s good purposes are foolish, and thereby contradict themselves; for what is foolish cannot be really good. Love is and must be the greatest tutor of an ultimate optimism. It is inseparable from hope.
But love’s power to convert goes deeper even than this. It can not only change men’s desires from evil to good and men’s views from gloom to cheerfulness; it can also, by a mysterious alchemy peculiar to itself, bring good out of evil, make evil itself, in spite of itself, subserve the purposes of good, and so turn its own apparently greatest defeats and failures into the occasions of its greatest victories. It is this peculiar capacity to triumph through failure, to win by being rejected, which makes love still a claimant to almightiness in a largely evil world. Every other kind of power has its more or less definable limitations. But it is obviously impossible to assign any definite limit at all to a power which is able to make defeat itself the means of victory. It is not merely that love can “convert” its persecutors, but that it is able to convert their very sin to serve its own purpose, so that its influence is always extending backwards over the past and changing it in value, as well as extending forwards to determine the future.
This apparent miracle is achieved through the two natural laws of the spiritual world, that self-sacrifice is the strongest and most effective weapon of love, and that the greatest victories of evil are necessarily the occasions and opportunities of the greatest self-sacrifice. It is a simple truth of fact that the lives which have had the most inspiring influence for good in human history have been lives of self-sacrifice, that their self-sacrifice was manifested in and because of their apparent failure, and that the evil forces which brought about their failure have therefore contributed directly to their influence for good.
What is the greatest crime, the greatest triumph of evil, the greatest failure of goodness in human history? The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. What is the event in history which has changed most lives from evil to good and is the cause of deepest joy and thankfulness in human hearts? The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That is the paradox on which our argument rests. The Cross is the very symbol of defeat, humiliation, helplessness. And St Paul called it the power of God. For “the weakness of God,” as he said in one of the most profound and daring epigrams in literature, “is stronger than men.” Consider what will have happened, if one day lives inspired by the Cross of Christ convert the whole earth to be ruled by the love of which it is the expression. All the evil which led up to the Cross, all the hypocrisy and treachery and blindness and self-seeking and cowardice which left Jesus to face His defeat in solitude and have similarly treated Christlike men since history began – all will have played their part in creating the triumph of the love they sought to slay; for, by depriving it of all defence, they will only have thrust into its hands its most deadly weapon, self-sacrifice. If God’s power is almighty and able to vanquish evil at all, that is how it works. We believe in it, because there seems to be no assignable limit to what love can do in changing spiritual situations.
But, it will be said, there is an obvious flaw in the whole argument. Even supposing – and a most improbable supposition it is – that there were ever to come a time when the whole world is Christian, the glorious and happy state of things then could not afford any sort of justification or valid reason for the infinite misery which would have gone to produce it. Why should some hypothetical generation in the dim and distant future alone be blessed? How does it help us, even if we might believe that in these evil times we are creating the opportunity for, or possibly sharing in, a self-sacrifice which shall one day win the world? If God cannot save us nor our brethren of the past, if we are simply the cannon fodder necessary for some far-off cosmic victory, neither His power nor His love amount to very much after all.
The objection is very pertinent. It shows that in the end, as we have already said, we must look beyond the world of history and time in order to vindicate our faith in the power of God’s love. But now we should be able to do so without seeming simply to be appealing to the other world against this one. It is always wrong to increase our demands upon heaven simply because earth seems hopeless, as a bankrupt gambler, having nothing more to lose, may wildly increase the stakes in a last desperate hope of recovering all with a final throw. That Christian theology takes this reckless course is a not uncommon charge, and one which, though not justified, is useful as a warning. We appeal to “heaven” simply to complete a process of which we believe we see the beginnings on earth, beginnings which themselves give promise of completion and stimulate the faith which is the substance of things hoped for. In this world of history we see that the greatest apparent victories of evil are of necessity the opportunities also for the greatest victories of the goodness which works through the self-sacrifice of love. In our experience we can point to partial, yet very real and wonderful, victories which love has so won; and their nature is such as to give promise of yet more wonderful victories which we cannot see as yet and in this world never shall. What we have seen of the power of love to overcome through failure suggests at least that the last word and the ultimate control is with a loving God. It is not therefore wholly arbitrary to assume that death itself, which time brings to all, may be the very defeat of love which, beyond time, is the means of its most glorious victory. In a subsequent lecture we shall say more of the Christian doctrine of resurrection. It is enough to notice here that no belief in God’s power can be satisfactory without it, and that a close consideration of the way in which love’s victories are won makes it seem less farfetched and arbitrary than its critics imagine.
Three types of physical pain provide us with possible symbols for the evil and misery of the world – the growing pain, the pain of hopeless disease, and the pain of birth. Evolutionism tries to account for the evil of the world as a growing pain, and the attempt breaks down. Pessimism regards it as the pain of hopeless disease, and the result is despair of love and reason alike. Christianity believes that the power of God’s love is able to convert the evil of the world into the pain out of which a new world is being born – a pain which is in a sense necessary to the birth, since the life of the new world springs from sacrifice, and sacrifice is conditioned by evil, but a pain which is swallowed up in joy when the sacrifice is complete.
Lecture III – The Godhead of Jesus Christ
We come now to the central paradox of Christian faith in God. How can we identify any being properly called Divine with the historic man Jesus Christ? What exactly can we mean by the tremendous assertion that Jesus is God?
I want as frankly as I can to face some of the main difficulties of this question. But, before doing so, it may be well to indicate briefly the general value which Christians of practically all schools find in this doctrine of our Lord’s Divinity, especially when it is considered in relation to modern perplexities.
In the first lecture we emphasized the confusion which arises from the infinite variety of religious experiences and beliefs. The confusion is worse confounded in modern times by the entire freedom with which all sorts of religious views may be expressed, and by the enormously increased opportunities for expressing them publicly. The result is a widespread bewilderment, a witches’ Sabbath of religious cranks and quackeries, hardly paralleled by the not altogether dissimilar conditions which prevailed under the Roman Empire in the early days of the Church’s life. Where can the plain man find truth in such a babel of conflicting voices? We do not all find a satisfying answer in accepting any of the various claims to infallibility, which try to win confidence for themselves by the self-confidence of their assertions. But we all feel acutely the need that we should be able to point to someone or something in the world and say, “Here at least we see God Himself. Here is something we can use as a test and touchstone of truth and error. Here is something firm and final on which our souls can rest.” This is exactly what the life of Jesus Christ appeared to His apostles to be. However emphatically they proclaimed the message of a living Spirit of God, present and working in the human soul, they did not leave their converts wholly, as we should say, to the guidance of their own spiritual experience. Spirits were to be tested by the confession that Jesus was Lord, or that Jesus Christ was come in the flesh. The writer to the Ephesians speaks of learning Christ and being taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus.
Now evidently we can only use the life and teaching of Jesus as a test for all spiritual experience of God, if we believe that Jesus does perfectly and uniquely mirror the nature of Him who controls and determines the universe. We must say that in His whole treatment of men and things, alike in what He regarded as important and in what He dismissed as trivial, in what He praised and in what He blamed, in what He said and in what He did, He shows us not merely His own estimation of the world, but God’s. To use an expressive modern phrase, Jesus in a unique sense must have for us the value of God. Christians everywhere feel that to treat Jesus Christ as having the value of God is what alone can satisfy the special religious needs of the modern world. Thus it is that we find some of our most liberal theologians insisting on the truth of the Johannine words: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Here we have defined one great meaning which Christians attach to the doctrine of the Incarnation, and also one great reason for their belief in it. We mean by the doctrine, that the whole estimation and treatment of men and things which are characteristic of Jesus are equally characteristic of God – this man’s estimation and treatment are also God’s. We believe the doctrine, because it alone seems to satisfy the religious need of the time.
But this line of argument, even were it expanded into volumes instead of pages, as it ought to be and has already been expanded by eminent writers, cannot, of course, exhaust the meaning of the Incarnation, and never seems quite to penetrate to the roots of the problem and its difficulties. These difficulties it rather seems to shirk. How do we actually justify ourselves in saying that this man Jesus, the carpenter-prophet of Nazareth in Galilee, who lived for about thirty years under the early Roman Empire, was and is God? To say “He has the value of God,” is all very well; but, except to a pragmatist, it is no real answer to the question. It may be true; but, if it is true, it compels us to say more. Jesus cannot really have the value of God, unless He is God; and, if He is God, how precisely is He different from a supremely good man? Unless we can point to some difference in nature, and make it intelligible, talk about divine value is mere evasion.
Let us make a fresh start, and go back to the New Testament. What was it that first led men to think and speak of Jesus not merely as the Christ, the Messiah, the promised and heaven-sent deliverer of God’s people, but as actually Himself Lord and God? Nothing probably that our Lord said or did during His ministry on earth was by itself enough for this. The full belief was the product of the Resurrection, and still more of the spiritual experience which the Christians dated from the day of Pentecost. One thing stands out clearly from the New Testament record as a whole. The primitive Christian Society believed with intense conviction that Jesus, whom His disciples had acknowledged as Messiah before His death, had risen from the dead, had returned to God from Whom He had come forth, and was not only to “come again” in the future, but was even now coming back to His followers through His Spirit, guiding, strengthening and giving them a new sense of holy and joyful fellowship with God, and, in God, with one another. The Christians possessed this glorious new gift of the fellowship in Christ, which had broken down all barriers and brought a living contact with God in and through the love which was the supreme characteristic of the new life. Jesus, during His ministry, had shown and taught them much about this new life. But they never grasped its meaning in actual experience until His visible presence was removed. Now they knew that His connexion with this life or “way,” as they sometimes called it, was much closer and more intimate than that of a mere teacher and prophet who had told them about it. He Himself had now actually imparted this life and was imparting it. In a mysterious sense He was Himself the life. In keeping their fellowship of love with one another and with God, they were, as they came to express it, in Jesus Christ. All this was the fruit of the death which had seemed to mark so complete a failure of His mission and their hopes.
Such was the experience which compelled the first Christians to formulate new thoughts about the relation to God of Him Whom they had already known both as Messiah and by the more mysterious title of His own choosing, Son of Man. No doubt remembered sayings of His came back to them, with a new light thrown upon their meaning. And the general conclusion, which memories and present experiences combined to force upon them, was this, that in Jesus Christ God Himself had all along been present and working as in no other man. In the whole life of Jesus Christ God Himself had acted, He had done something supreme to save from sin and death those who in a sinful and dying world would accept salvation. And so intimately was this action of God bound up with the life, death, resurrection, ascension, spiritual presence and ultimate return of Jesus, that it became impossible any longer to think of Jesus only as a miraculously inspired prophet or as a man raised from the dead. Even such thoughts left Him too far separate from God Himself. He Who had so wonderfully joined God with men in eternal fellowship by overcoming the barriers of death and sin, He Who was now through the Spirit the living Guide of that fellowship itself – He could never have been any other than Himself the Eternal Son or Word of God, given to the world and for the world by God and by Himself.
Or we may reach the same conclusion by a slightly different route. The whole life of the Christian fellowship depended on the self-giving of love. It was self-giving and self-spending that Jesus had preached as the true life, the gateway of the Kingdom of God, the price of its purchase. Now He had carried His own self-giving to its fullest completion in death and beyond death in risen life. He was imparting the power and the joy of it to the society of His followers. This self-giving, they now knew, was the life of salvation from God. How could they resist the conclusion that it had all sprung from a great act of self-giving and self-humbling love on the part of God Himself?
Man the apostles always knew their Lord to have been and nothing could ever detract from or falsify that knowledge. But thus they came to see that the deepest meaning of His life and person could never be expressed in terms of mere manhood. That life and person were originally and eternally divine. God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. In this God commended His love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ was the grace of One Who, though He had possessed from eternity the full riches of Godhead, nevertheless for our sakes became poor. So in their own lives Christians were called to share the mind of Him Who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.
Such were the thoughts, springing from the soil of direct experience, which ultimately grew into the doctrine of two natures, Godhead and manhood, in one Person, Jesus Christ. Now, therefore, we are able to state a second and more fundamental meaning which Christians attach to the doctrine of our Lord’s Deity. It is not merely that the man Jesus Christ has for us the value of God. He rightly has for us that value, because His earthly life, leading up to its consequences in the Christian fellowship, represents the great historical act of God’s love for the salvation of the world. The life remains the life of a man; but in its deepest reality it is essentially more. Differently from any other in history, this life presents something which God did, not man, something which God gave, not man achieved; and, since the act and the gift are those of love, which means self-giving, we must assert that in Jesus Christ, given to men and for men, is the very self of God. The main evidence for this lies in the fruits borne by the earthly life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus in the experience of men who follow Him.
What, then, we have to do in order to meet difficulties, is to analyse a little further the meaning of the life of Jesus as the great historic act of God’s love for man. This is the thought which will govern our attempts to interpret it. And, following a little further the clues which we have already drawn from the New Testament, we can at once reach certain statements concerning the essential nature of Christ’s earthly life. In it God for man’s sake was content to put Himself at man’s level, to stand at man’s side, to see the world with man’s eyes, to face man’s difficulties and temptations with man’s own faculties and equipment, and to suffer to the full man’s sorrows and disappointments. And all this for three great purposes: (1) that He might show to man the character of His own divine being; (2) that He might make clear to man what man’s fellowship with God is like and how it may be won, and (3) that He might give man the power to win it. Or, in other words, the divine purpose in the life of Jesus can be represented as double. It was (1) to reveal God’s nature in such a human way that man could understand and appreciate it, and (2) to reveal the possibilities of manhood in such a divine way that man might find the power to realise them.
Can we along these lines interpret the earthly life of Jesus Christ, without falling into sheer self-contradiction and nonsense? We come to the difficulties at last; and formidable they are.
Clearly we must think and speak of Jesus Christ as being both God and man at once. The contradiction is apparent. And yet on the apparent contradiction hangs the double value which has made Christ’s life a gospel. Wherever Christian doctrine has lost its gospel and been found spiritually unsatisfying, its failure has been a failure to preserve together both natures of our Lord’s person, divine and human, and to preserve them in their full unity. Whenever the manhood is neglected or explained away, the Christian’s pattern and example is lost, and orthodoxy of faith or worship is substituted for the imitation of Christ. Whenever the Godhead is neglected or explained away, we must write the word Ichabod even over the human example of Jesus’ life, because the mysterious glory of God’s saving condescension has departed from it. So-called orthodoxy has often taught men to worship Christ instead of following Him. Unitarianism, on the other hand, loses all the inspiration of the faith that God became as one of us to serve and suffer with us out of the love He bore us.
But it is equally possible to miss the point of the Christian gospel by separating the Godhead and manhood in our Lord, even while we affirm that He was both God and man. This tendency to separate, while condemned in the Church’s formularies, nevertheless still strongly influences the thought of many orthodox and conservative church people. There are many who still think of Jesus Christ in the flesh as possessing as it were two minds or two consciousnesses, the one human, the other divine, either of which He could use at will, so that during His ministry He may be said to have done and said certain things as God not man, and other things as man not God. Thus the whole meaning of the Incarnation is seriously impaired. For such a being, possessed of two separate organs of thought and action and using both in desultory fashion, could not really be fully man at all, and therefore not truly incarnate God. For to say that Christ is incarnate God means that in Him Godhead acts through manhood, not apart from it. He cannot therefore have laid aside His full manhood, in order to say and do certain things. Nor, if He had done so, could Christianity keep its gospel. For that gospel teaches that in Jesus Christ Godhead took up manhood wholly into itself by penetrating, as it were, down to the very bottom of it, so that the humblest and most ordinarily human acts of Christ were lifted on to the highest and most glorious level, because it was God Who did them, and thereby sanctified and redeemed all the commonplace of the manhood which He used. The permeation of the manhood by the Godhead is destroyed by any theory which holds them apart in separate consciousnesses; but it is absolutely essential to the idea of a true Incarnation. Thus it was that our Lord became the author and giver to men of a new humanity which He, God, had sanctified and uplifted from the bottom by descending into the very depths of its ordinariness. Hence all the difficulty and the contradiction. But hence also all the glories of the Christian experience, which has still found it possible to worship Christ as God and Saviour, while it sets out for that reason to take as its pattern in faith and conduct Jesus the carpenter-prophet of Nazareth.
But our minds cannot rest in a mere contradiction, however fruitful of good it may have been in human life. We must try to make intelligible to ourselves what manner of person Jesus Christ really was, and how, while being truly and completely human, He yet is different from all other men in being God. We cannot, of course, hope to understand exactly. For if Christ’s person be divine indeed, we still have only imperfect human faculties wherewith to measure it, and therefore it will certainly elude our measurement. Nevertheless, there is an understanding less exact but more precious than comprehension, an understanding which receives more help from pictures and symbols which are known to be incomplete, than from nicely calculated explanations which leave nothing to mystery.
Our minds may find pictures and symbols to help them, if we will first remember what the New Testament so clearly teaches, that the life of the Son of God is strictly eternal, and that when we say that Jesus is the Son of God we must mean that His sojourn in our flesh is not all His life, but only, as it were, one incident or act, which we must interpret as belonging to the wider whole which stretches altogether beyond our vision. It seems certain that, if our Lord had not risen again and not given to the Church a new experience of fellowship in Him and in God, He would never have been known as God at all. And, if we would know Him as God in the flesh, we must not only seek to know Him “after the flesh,” i.e. as one figure in human history, but try to take into account all that we may rightly say He has done for men both in the flesh and through the Spirit.
So regarded the earthly life of Jesus from His birth to His ascension is comparable, though of course at a distance infinitely great, to one act of a human life which extends both before and after the act itself. A human personality may express itself wholly in a single act, and yet the act obviously does not exhaust the personality, which goes on living and acting both before and afterwards. When the whole personality seems to be so expressed in a single act, we call the act supremely characteristic of the person. Again, if the supremely characteristic act be also effective and achieve its purpose, it needs the less to be repeated; it has been done once for all. Let us now try to regard the earthly life of Jesus as the supremely characteristic and effective act of the Eternal Son or Word of God. It was then something done once for all, never to be repeated, and the full character of the Son of God went into it – in Jesus dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead. But what is the character of the Godhead? It is the character which we can only describe by the word love, unworthy though we have made the word by other uses. God’s motive and purpose in creation was to make a universe which should perfectly express and reflect and satisfy throughout His nature of love. That was why He created man and gave him freedom. But, man having gone astray, what would be the characteristic act of God’s love towards him? Just the utter condescension, the unimaginable self-limitation, which placed God as a man at man’s side to suffer with him and for him, and so to bring him back.
Observe the importance of this line of thought. The self-limitation and self-humiliation which straitened God the Son wholly to the scope of manhood no longer seem to conflict with the truth that the fullness of Godhead dwelt in Jesus as man. The fullness of Godhead is the fullness of love, and it is just that love which is most characteristically shown in the fact that Jesus was a man and limited by His manhood. The completeness of the limitation is the measure of the divine sympathy. And therein, as St John’s inspired insight perceived, the divine glory is not discarded, but revealed.
How then shall we say that Jesus Christ in the flesh was still different from a mere man, however good? Let us take another human illustration. Suppose a learned professor of some science wishes to teach a child the elements of the subject in which he is an expert. If his teaching is to be ideally good, the first essential must be that he put himself at the child’s point of view, so that he sees things with the child’s eyes and feels the child’s perplexities. In other words, he must in some degree take on himself the nature of the child. And this will involve a very real self-limitation. He must put out of his mind the problems with which he has been grappling for his forthcoming book; he must forget the language of his classic article in the latest technical encyclopedia. He must put himself back at the beginning of the subject, that he may guide another beginner along the first stages of his journey. And yet the one thing he must not forget is the way to go. His own more recondite knowledge will not occupy his attention; yet it will reveal itself surely and clearly in the certainty with which he surmounts the initial obstacles and avoids the easy-looking bypaths which lead to nothing. The exposition of a teacher less expert could not be at once so simple and so true to the deepest principles of the science.
May we not in all reverence imagine to ourselves that what the human professor may do in a very small and imperfect degree, the Son of God did perfectly, completely and once for all? He descended infinitely far to take man’s nature wholly upon Him and literally to become man. In His flesh, then, He was not conscious of anything of which human faculties, so placed and so conditioned at that particular point of time and space, could not have made him conscious. He learned about the world and about God as a man learns through his human faculties, bodily and mental. He was tempted through those faculties as a man is tempted. He guided and directed His life by a faith in God which was genuinely human, not by a divine knowledge quite outside man’s scope. Yet by means of developing human faculties He trod man’s path to God, taught about God, knew God, knew Himself as God’s appointed man, all with an undeviating sureness such as no mere man could have shown. In all He said and did He was through human faculties taking up manhood on to a new level of life whither no mere man could have raised it. Just as our own human mind in the body, limited by the body and using bodily means, can train and enable the body to perform new feats and acquire new habits, so the Son of God in humble manhood, limited by it and using it, was raising it to new and glorious capacities. He showed us what can be done with common manhood, when God has taken hold and taken charge.
Do we seem now to be putting the life of Jesus quite beyond the reach of our imitation? Are we falling into the snare of making Him a unique being Who is simply to be worshipped at a respectful distance? No, respect of that kind is really blasphemy. It ignores the fact that what Jesus did with manhood and in manhood He enables us to do, if we will take Him for our Lord. That was the purpose of His life. He died and rose and ascended to shed abroad the living spirit of His divine manhood among men. True, we cannot imitate Him by ourselves. It is not enough to study His words and acts as those of a teacher long passed away, and so try to follow them. We must study those words and acts rather in order to pray His living self to take hold and to take charge of us, and, in so far as we do so with our whole soul, the respectful distance vanishes in the utterly humble self-effacing joy of fellowship with Him. “I follow after,” said His great apostle, “if that I may apprehend that for which also I have been apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
Lecture IV – Christ our Saviour From Sin
Two principal words used in the New Testament to express the idea of sin are: (1) parabasis, which is translated by the word “transgression” derived from its literal equivalent in Latin; (2) hamartia, which is translated “sin” and means literally “missing the mark,” though it commonly bore the meaning of sin even in classical Greek. The distinct idea underlying each word corresponds to a fundamental experience of what sin means to us. (1) It gives us a sense of having disobeyed some law of right which exists independently of us. (2) It gives us a sense of grievous failure, of having fallen utterly short of our own true nature and ideal. According to the different temperaments of individuals and races one or other of these two aspects is the more strongly felt. To the Hebrew, sin was primarily a transgression of God’s laws. To the Greek it was primarily a failure to realise ideal manhood. In Christianity the two aspects are brought together. Perfect manhood can only be realised by perfect obedience. Self-realisation and self-sacrifice go together. The iron law which imposes self-surrender is one with the love which bestows eternal life. To refuse the obedience is to reject the crown.
But Christianity, by bringing a new revelation of what manhood may be and is meant to be, has given to sin another and still more fundamental meaning as well. True human life is a communion and fellowship of men with God and with one another. Sin therefore, whether you speak of it in terms of transgression or in terms of failure, is ultimately a breach or a rejection of fellowship. It is the selfishness or self-will which cuts itself off. In the Christian sense it may be defined as self-isolation. The erring sheep is the isolated sheep. And isolation leads to a miserable death in the end. This, from the Christian point of view, is the penalty of sin. The sheep separated from the shepherd and the flock is bound to die. The branch cut off from the tree must wither. If true life is fellowship, isolation spells death. The penalty of sin is not the execution of any arbitrary sentence which can be severed from the sin itself. In the life of the Church excommunication is represented as the punishment for the gravest sin. So it is. But properly it is the sinner who excommunicates himself. The Church can but declare what he has done; it can add nothing to the penalty. It is the sin which is mortal, not the Church’s decree.
Sin being self-isolation and its penalty the death which must ensue, it follows that the remedy for sin is, in the strict sense of the word, atonement. It means restoration to fellowship. And when we ask how Christ is our Saviour from sin, what we really want to discover is how the life and death of Jesus Christ restore men to the family of God, and enable them to live together as His children.
How is the family life to be restored when one of the children has gone wrong, been disobedient and selfish, and cut himself off from the fellowship? Two things we should say at once are necessary. Forgiveness on the part of the father and repentance on the part of the child. Both are equally necessary, neither by itself can achieve anything. How can any child repent effectively, if the father is not willing to forgive? He may feel he has done wrong and wish he had not, but that feeling by itself will only increase his sense of separation. Nothing he can do will wipe out the past. Suppose the case of a son who has stolen his father’s money. He may restore the money, but he cannot by himself restore the fellowship he has broken. The more he feels his sin the more the intolerable sense of shame will make it impossible for him to live at home, apart from some definite act of forgiveness on the father’s part. And here we may notice that it is impossible for any sinner to claim to have put things right again and balanced the account by bearing the punishment for his sin himself. We cannot sin without making others suffer. We can never bear all the penalty of our own sins; and we can never measure the extent of the evil consequences for which we have made ourselves responsible. And therefore we are always dependent on the free forgiveness of others to restore us to the fellowship we have broken. The son who has forged his father’s name on a cheque may put the money back, but he cannot pay for the grief he has caused nor for the harm he has done to others, whom he has almost certainly involved in his sin. Even if he gives himself up to the police and undergoes imprisonment, that will not put things right. No action from the side of the sinner alone can restore the fellowship that has been broken. Even penitence, which is willing to bear the penalty of sin, is not enough by itself.
But neither can any action on the part of the father who has been wronged suffice by itself. A father from whom his son has stolen money can forgo all claim to restitution, and exact no punishment for the wrong that has been done. But to remit punishment does not by itself bring the forgiveness which restores fellowship. The son may simply be encouraged to think that his wrongdoing did not matter, and in that case remission of penalty does more harm than good. It would be easy enough for men to live together in Christian fellowship, if to abolish punishments for wrongdoing were all that was necessary. But, apart from penitence on the part of wrongdoers, the only result would be to encourage the idea that there is no vital and abiding difference between doing wrong and doing right, and this would make Christian fellowship more impossible than would the rigid exaction of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It is inherently impossible to forgive one who is quite impenitent.
And here we are brought up against the central difficulty of atonement in all situations where sin has gone at all far and made a really serious breach. One chief result of serious sin is to warp the sinner’s judgement and to blunt his conscience. The warped judgement and blunted conscience are early stages of that spiritual disease which naturally springs from sin and in the end leads to spiritual death. The sinner who has cut himself off from the fellowship of the family is naturally suspicious of those who are still within it. He is afraid of his father. He dare not face him. He is more and more apt to misjudge his motives and to attribute to him the evil which he has allowed to rule in himself. He loses his clear perception of the difference between right and wrong. It is the pure in heart who see straight in moral questions. But the sinner’s heart is not pure, and his moral vision becomes more and more distorted. So he becomes more and more incapable of truly repenting. His sin becomes part of himself; it acts as a sort of creeping paralysis in his moral and spiritual nature; and it becomes harder and harder for him even to will to get rid of his sin and to turn back towards the fellowship he has forsaken. And yet apart from repentance he cannot be restored.
For atonement, then, to be effective it is necessary that forgiveness and repentance should go together. The one must answer the other. But the first problem and the central difficulty is to make the sinner forgivable. Forgiveness can answer penitence and restore the penitent, but how create the penitence in one whom sin has made apparently incapable of it?
There is only one solution of the problem. And it lies in what has seemed to many the unfairest and the most unjust consequence of sin, the suffering of the innocent for the guilty. If the sinner can be made to realise afresh that the members of the family which he has wronged are so desirous to have him back in their fellowship that they are actually ready to suffer and are suffering because of his sin, then, if he is not utterly lost, his conscience may wake again, he may be stirred to see in a new light the hatefulness of his sin and the terribleness of its consequences, and he may be enabled to make the act of will to get rid of his sin, which is the essence of repentance. Thus, out of the worst and most unjust consequence of sin, there appears the one chance of atonement. It is not just the remission of punishment which can ever bring the sinner back, because that does not show him what a hateful thing sin is; nor can he learn the hatefulness of sin from any penalty which he himself suffers. But when he sees the person whom he has wronged suffering because of the sin and because of the desire to bring him back, then he may repent, and then he can be forgiven without any suggestion that the sin did not really matter. Thus have many sinners been restored since the world began; and such was the plan which we believe God’s love devised for the forgiveness and restoration of sinful humanity as a whole. The whole purpose and method of that great Atonement is stated in the pregnant sentence of St Paul: “In this God commended His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Consider the application of this plan of Atonement to the Cross of Christ. In our Lord on the Cross we see the love of God suffering and willing to suffer to the uttermost for the sins of man. In our Lord on the Cross we see the most terrible consequence of human sin, the suffering of the innocent for the guilty. And that sight has been and will remain the most powerful force on earth to stir man to repentance, to make him realise the hatefulness of sin and the glory of love, and so to enable him to be forgiven and to be taken back into a fellowship with God more intensely realised because of his exile from it.
We may say that the suffering of our Lord on the Cross is unjust. Human sin had set justice at naught, and the Divine love, which does not calculate in terms of justice, was willing to accept the consequences. This world is not just, as men count justice, i.e. the good do not have all the good things, and the bad the bad things. We may comfort ourselves with the reflection that, were it so, the really best in human nature would be impossible. But we may not say that our Lord’s suffering is inconsistent with a moral view of the world. Immorality is that which confuses the distinction between good and evil. And this innocent suffering is the only thing which has shown and can show sin in all the true colours of its hideousness.
From this point of view let us consider the various special words which the Bible and Christian tradition have applied to the atoning death of Christ, and try to see more clearly in what sense we may interpret and justify them.
(1) Redemption or ransom. The idea is that of a price paid to set a slave or captive free. Our Lord said that He gave His life as a ransom for many, and the same language is, of course, frequently used in the Bible. Later this language was made the basis of an elaborate theory of the Atonement, wherein the Cross of Christ was represented as a price paid by God to Satan in order to deliver man from bondage to him. Of course, no modern thinker would attempt to represent the Atonement thus as a kind of transaction between God and Satan. It is doubtful how far those who put forward the idea ever intended that it should be pressed in a literal sense. But to us the scriptural words redemption and ransom still stand for the precious truth that the forgiveness, restoration and liberation of man’s soul were not achieved by God without cost, a cost represented by the death of Christ on the Cross. The fact that it cost God so much to bring man back is the very inspiration of Christian penitence and the very ground of our conviction that God’s love indeed has made us His own.
The cost was more than that of mere bodily death. The words on the Cross suggest to us that, in some mysterious way we can never understand, the Son of God Himself had to undergo the sense of that separation from God which is terrible, inevitable consequence of sin. That suffering, too, was an element in the cost of redemption, and by it was bought our glorious right to say that the Son of God has traversed even the gulf which man’s sin has set between himself and God. The Son of God has joined the sinner even in his self-chosen exile from the family, and therefore not even our sin can really utterly separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(2) Satisfaction. This word occurs several times in our prayer book. “Satisfaction for the sins of the whole world”: “through the satisfaction.” The use of the word springs from the idea that sin involves man in a debt to God which has somehow to be paid before the sin can be wiped off the slate and the debtor given a fresh start. Sinful man could not pay his debt, because everything he could give was tainted and spoiled and had lost value. Man’s sin had as it were so debased his currency, that the same cause which brought about the debt made payment impossible. The whole system of Old Testament sacrifices was an attempt to provide something like an unblemished victim which man could offer to God in reparation, or in discharge of his debt. But the really unblemished victim was never found until our Lord offered His own perfect and sinless manhood. That is the complete satisfaction of the debt – it has squared man’s account.
I do not think that we can wholly justify this way of speaking of the Atonement. Probably the use of the word satisfaction, today at least, does more harm than good. It suggests that God demanded payment of all that was due, whereas in our Lord’s teaching He appears always as the great Forgiver of debt to those who forgive their debtors, the one Person in the Universe who does not exact reparations.
Of course, we may say truly that Christ’s life and death created the conditions on which alone the full forgiveness and restoration of man were possible; and they were not possible if the sinless manhood had not suffered on behalf of the sinful. That is the meaning we must attach to the word satisfaction when we use it. But we ought not to mean that our Lord’s suffering squared man’s account with God by paying his debt in full. To say that is to dishonour the love of God. And in that respect we part company with some traditional theories, which were probably responsible for the use of the word satisfaction in reference to our Lord’s death.
(3) The word propitiation is scriptural, and on the whole less open to objection. The idea of propitiation naturally takes its colour from the character of the God to be propitiated. If God is thought of as an arbitrary and capricious potentate, methods of propitiation will take a very unworthy form. If God is love, penitence will be sufficient propitiation; and its aim will be not so much to win God’s favour, as to win unimpeded access to God and the life which is in perfect fellowship with Him. But Christ’s death is the only thing which makes perfect penitence possible, and His crucified Life in us, and our life in Him, is that which gives us unimpeded access to God and restores us to fellowship. We may therefore truly speak of His death as a propitiation, though we must recognise and avoid the heathen, and even the merely Jewish, associations of the word. When we speak of Christ’s death on the Cross as the propitiation for our sins, we mean properly that only in the penitence which His death stirs in us, and only in the power which His crucified Life communicates to us, we can, in spite of our sins, draw near boldly and claim the life of fellowship with God.
This leads me to some final remarks on the idea of Christ’s death as the all-sufficing sacrifice, and on the mystical use of language about His blood. Wrong ideas about the real meaning of Jewish sacrifices have been responsible here for many mistakes both on the side of orthodoxy and on the side of its critics. The purpose of Jewish sacrifices in which an animal was killed was to offer an unblemished victim to God. The people were defiled with sin; they endeavoured to offer a life which was undefiled. Now the life was thought to reside in the blood. (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:11.) The blood of the victim then having been shed, it was sprinkled on the offerers in token that the unblemished life was communicated to them. Hence the language of scriptural mysticism about the sprinkling of the conscience with the blood of Christ. The Jewish sacrifice was incomplete and ineffective apart from the sprinkling of the blood which contained the life. And hence to the apostolic theologians the sacrifice of Christ was incomplete and ineffective, unless His life, as it were set free through death, flowed out into, and was absorbed by, the souls on whose behalf He had offered Himself.
This line of thought brings us to a profoundly true and scriptural conception of Christ’s death as the atoning sacrifice. It is to be thought of primarily and chiefly not as a substituted, but as an enabling sacrifice. Christ’s manhood was not offered instead of ours, so as to pay our debt to God. His sacrifice of Himself does not in any sense make our self-sacrifice unnecessary. His blood was shed so that it might be sprinkled on our hearts. His life was offered, passed through death and rose again, so that this same identical life in all the power of its perfect self-sacrifice might be shed abroad in the lives of men. It enables us to offer ourselves as a holy, lively and reasonable sacrifice to God. When we say that the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin, we mean that His life through His death flows out into us with all the fullness of its loving power, so that we may be made like to Him.
Lecture V – The Resurrection and Eternal Life
I. It is very important to notice at the outset that, when we say we believe in life after death, we may have in our minds either one of two quite distinct ideas or doctrines.
(1) The thought of life after death may concern itself simply with the nature of the human soul or personality or ego, or whatever name we like to give to the essential self of a human person. Does the soul perish when the body dies? Or does it in some way retain its identity and go on existing? That is a perfectly definite and intelligible question to ask; but it has no special connexion with religion. It is quite possible to have a belief in God, and yet no belief in the survival of the human soul. Such, for instance, was the creed of the Sadducees in our Lord’s time.
Again, it is quite possible to have no belief in God, and yet to believe in the survival of the human soul. Such is the creed of at least one distinguished philosopher now living. This question of survival can be, and often is, treated simply as a matter for scientific enquiry. This is the method known as psychical research. The term “spiritualist” is ambiguous, as it is sometimes used for one who holds that psychical research establishes the survival of the soul after death, and sometimes for one who builds on this conviction a system of religious belief and practice. Spiritualists of all kinds, however, seek to prove the truth of their views about survival by establishing communication with the departed through more or less scientific means. Opinions differ as to their success, though the judgement of science as a whole is still strongly inclined to be adverse. But, even were communication with the departed fully acknowledged as a fact, it would still not necessarily have any special religious value at all, that is, it need not have any more direct value for religion than any other fresh discovery of science. There is nothing necessarily religious about the experience of communication with a departed soul.
(2) But the whole question of life and death and afterlife may be treated quite differently, if we begin by taking a religious standpoint. Practically all religions attribute some kind of immortality to their God or gods; and all again indicate some way in which men may draw near to God, either merely to win His favour, or, on a higher level, to live in some sort of communion with Him. Any idea of real communion between God and man involves some notion of a kinship between man’s nature and God’s, a kinship either existing from the beginning, or acquired by man, or bestowed by God. All higher religion tends to insist upon and to develop this thought of communion depending upon kinship, and thus the belief inevitably arises that man may be made in some way partaker even of the deathlessness or eternity which are properly God’s. Thus we arrive at the religious doctrine of eternal life for man. It is not based upon the nature of the human soul considered in and by itself, but upon a certain relation of the human soul to God. It does not tell us merely of any continued existence of the human soul after death, but of the possibility of man’s possessing a higher kind of life, life with God and in God, imperishable because akin to God’s. This doctrine therefore cannot be supported by any evidence except that of religious experience. It rests wholly and fundamentally upon faith in God. It is, of course, quite conceivable that communication with the departed might have an important influence on our religious experience and faith. But so have many other kinds of knowledge. Meanwhile it is clear that no amount of evidence of communication with the departed could by itself either prove or destroy the religious doctrine of eternal life.
We have then discovered two radically distinct ways of conceiving life after death, the one reached by scientific enquiry, the other by religion. The first is interested in the survival of the human soul as such; the second in man’s partaking of the deathless life of God. It is convenient to use the word “survival” for the first or scientific concept, and the term “eternal life” for the second or religious. Let us be quite sure of the difference between them. The doctrines of survival and of eternal life do not, of course, conflict with one another. But neither implies or necessarily involves the other, except in so far as eternal life is impossible for a soul which cannot survive death. All souls might survive death; yet there might be no possibility of eternal life for any. On the other hand, there might be no general or necessary survival for all; yet there might be a possibility of eternal life which includes survival for those who attain it.
II. What does the Bible teach?
(1) Let us begin with the Old Testament. Like most primitive peoples the Hebrews from the earliest times held a belief in some sort of survival for departed souls. But it was survival of the same kind that is depicted in the poems of Homer – a vague and shadowy existence in a place below the earth, which the Jews called Sheol, an existence to which no particular value could be attached and no one certainly looked forward with any kind of hope. It meant, as the psalmist says, being out of remembrance and cut away from God’s hand. It could not be described as life at all; it seems to have been believed in chiefly because of the difficulty of conceiving sheer annihilation.
But later Judaism superimposed upon this belief another of quite a different kind. After the Captivity the Jews, partly in order to comfort themselves for the wrongs and miseries of the present, began to look forward with a passionate intensity of longing to a great future day when Jehovah would suddenly intervene from heaven, and either establish a glorious reign of the Messiah upon earth, or else bring the whole world to an end in judgement and reward with everlasting happiness the persecuted righteous in a sphere of existence not exactly to be defined. Now it naturally seemed intolerable to the pious conscience that the faithful Jews, who suffered and perished before God’s Kingdom came, should be excluded from all share in its joy and glory. Therefore many teachers came to affirm that the souls of the righteous should then return from Sheol and rise from the grave with bodies renewed to live and reign with Jehovah for ever. As a natural consequence the belief also arose that some at least of the wicked should also rise to receive the final judgement of God. But there was no clear or generally received doctrine of a universal resurrection; and the Sadducean party among the Jews continued to deny the resurrection altogether.
Clearly the later doctrine of resurrection is quite different from the earlier doctrine of survival, and approaches much more nearly to what we called a doctrine of eternal life. It is essentially a religious doctrine. The resurrection depends on an act of God, who thus at the last rewards the righteous by enabling them to reign with Him for ever. It does not depend on any inherent quality of human nature as such. Nor could it be proved or refuted by any evidence which spiritualism, either ancient or modern, could provide. This Jewish doctrine of resurrection, on the other hand, falls short of being fully a doctrine of eternal life, in that its promise is purely and strictly for the future. It speaks only of a reward for righteousness at the last day, not of a righteous life, which, because it means fellowship with God, is here and hereafter necessarily imperishable.
(2) The effect of New Testament teaching is to reaffirm the Old Testament doctrine of resurrection and to convert it into a full doctrine of eternal life, which nevertheless has this peculiar feature, that it remains a doctrine of resurrection, and does not become one of mere immortality. In the doctrine of general survival the New Testament is conspicuously uninterested. There are passages which speak of a universal resurrection; and these certainly assume some kind of general survival as the condition of resurrection. But survival is no part of the New Testament gospel. It never bids us hope or rejoice, because our souls are by nature bound to survive death. On the contrary, it teaches very plainly that survival, if it be universal, may lead to the resurrection of condemnation, not to that of true life. The eternal life which the New Testament offers as its gospel, is not continued existence, but a particular kind of existence, namely life in fellowship with God. Continued existence, or survival, is no blessing and has no value in itself; there is nothing particularly desirable about it, except in so far as it may be a means to something more and something different, namely eternal life.
It is just here that the New Testament appears to part company altogether with modern spiritualism. Spiritualism seems to assume that survival is a good thing in itself. It offers survival as a gospel, and undertakes to prove its truth. That is where its whole point of view differs from that of Christianity. From the Christian point of view the one test of the value of communication with the departed is whether or not it brings us into closer communion with God, and helps us to lay hold on eternal life. By its fruits in this respect it must be judged. And spiritualism as a religious force must be judged by its willingness to accept and carry out this test. It must abandon all attempt to represent survival itself as a religious gospel.
III. It remains to define more closely the nature of eternal life as it appears in the New Testament.
(1) We have already noticed its entire dependence upon God, rather than on any property of human nature. When our Lord gave His reason for believing that the dead rise, it was simply a direct appeal to God. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Therefore to be truly God’s is to live and not to die. St John expressed the same thought exactly when he said “He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” For the same reason eternal life cannot be merely future, not merely a life after death. It is always simply fellowship with God, and fellowship with God may be present as well as future. Eternal life is the only true life here and hereafter.
(2) Nevertheless – and here we have to face one of the difficult complexities of the New Testament gospel – eternal life in the Christian sense is a resurrection life, not simply an immortality. This was made plain by the resurrection of Jesus Christ Himself. What did the resurrection appearances mean to the apostles? Not simply that our Lord’s spiritual personality had survived death. The belief that souls could survive death and appear in visible presence afterwards was by no means unknown in the heathen world; and if the resurrection gospel had only meant something of this kind, there is no reason why it should have excited any scandal or attracted any particular attention. The resurrection appearances meant not that our Lord’s spirit or soul had survived His body’s death, but rather that, because He had altogether in soul and body submitted to death, He had been altogether, in soul and body, restored.
This distinction, though of great importance, is somewhat subtle and demands close consideration. It determines an essential difference between heathen doctrines of immortality and the Christian doctrine of eternal life through resurrection. The heathen world had its hopes of immortality which, on their highest level, came near to reaching a true gospel of eternal life in God, though often no doubt they were more closely akin to primitive magic. But the immortality, which heathen gospels promised, consisted essentially in avoiding death, and was a promise to part only of what we should call the human personality. The soul, it was taught, possessed an immortal or divine element; and this might be developed and separated from the perishing life of the body, and liberated through the dissolution of the body in death. Much of the man was by nature mortal, and this must perish. Some vaguely defined element was by nature immortal, and this, remaining unaffected by death, might inherit eternity. The gospel of Jesus was radically, though subtly, different. “Die to live” was the central idea of His teaching, enforced not only in the direct exhortations of Mark 8:34 to 37, etc., but also in those parables of which the immediate moral is “spend all to win all.” In our Lord’s teaching there is no question of reserving, as it were, part of the personality from death in order that that part may survive; it is a question of spending the whole in service unto death, in order that, through the completeness of giving and spending, the true and whole eternal life may be won. This law of dying to live, as the apostles knew, the Lord had not only preached but perfectly exemplified in His own person. His death and resurrection meant something more than, something different from, the liberation of His spiritual self from a worn out vesture of flesh and blood. Throughout life His whole self, soul and body, had been dedicated and surrendered to do God’s will and serve His brethren. The surrender was fulfilled and completed in the physical and mental agony which terminated on the Cross. And because the surrender had been whole and complete unto death, so also was the restoration whole and complete in His rising again to life. Nothing in Him had been kept back from death, or had passed it by, escaping its horror and desolation. “My soul,” He had said, “is exceeding sorrowful even unto death.” And because He had passed wholly through death, He had been wholly restored. As His death had been more than just bodily, so His recovered life was more than just spiritual. It was the complete man who had died and risen, and risen because He had died. The enduring sign and seal of the completeness of the risen life was the fact that He bore upon Him the marks of His surrender to death. “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.” The eternal wholeness of His manhood is for ever characterised by its sacrifice; it is its death which made it what it is.
Thus the Christian gospel of eternal life by resurrection was inherently different from heathen gospels of eternal life by mere immortality. It was different, just because it assigned a positive and essential value to death. The humiliation and death of Christ were no less a part of the Christian gospel than His resurrection and glorification. And therefore the true Christian’s aim and hope were not at all to avoid or escape death with any part of himself, but rather in the power of Christ to share Christ’s death in order that he might be partaker also of His resurrection. For the Christian also completeness of surrender was the gateway to fullness of life. The growth of the plant from the seed seemed to St Paul a natural analogy, just because that which is sown “is not quickened except it die.” True, the human spirit surrendered through Christ to God might enjoy, even on this side of bodily death, a foretaste of resurrection and eternity. But the completeness of resurrection life could not be attained apart from the death of the flesh and blood. The whole man must die to be restored.
Thus, to the Christian, eternal life is not life apart from death, nor life merely after physical death, but life through death, completed both through the death of the body and through the self-surrender of the spirit. Spiritualism is not really Christian, if it tries to teach that death can be ignored or in its deepest reality eluded, or has not an essential part to play in constituting that very kind of human life which we call eternal.
(3) Finally, since eternal life is simply the life which is one with Christ’s in fellowship with God, it follows that what absolutely contradicts it is not death, but sin. Christ Himself died, but He knew no sin. It is sin, not death, which is the real enemy of true life, to be fought without truce or compromise.
Here, too, spiritualism is apt to upset our sense of proportion, and seems often to lead back to the heathenism which Christianity superseded. The heathen world of old, more than our world today, was in bondage to the fear of death. Different reasons for this may be conjectured. For one thing, the average length of life was much less then than now. But, whatever the cause, men’s minds seemed to have been obsessed with the shortness of the allotted span of earthly existence, and they clutched eagerly at any straw which might offer a faint promise of longer survival. “Tell us how to escape death,” was the demand they made on their professors of religion and philosophy. The mystery religions provided magic rites and secret knowledge to satisfy the craving. Many philosophers, Stoics and Epicureans, attacked in different ways the craving itself, and tried to teach a frame of mind which could rise above it and view the inevitability of mortal fate without rebellion, if not with absolute indifference. But the Christian gospel changed the situation by telling men that they had mistaken their true aversion. They thought it was death against which their soul revolted. But Christ had shown that death might be the very gateway of the life they really coveted. What gave death all its real power to hurt and harm was sin. Overcome sin, and death, still to be gone through, has no terror left. The sting of death is sin.
Such was the paradox which Christianity flung upon the ancient world; and martyrs proved its truth. Our faith may halt behind theirs; but we need not forget what it is that we profess. The issues of death can be left to God. It is sin against which we have to rally every spiritual power which we possess or can make ours. And as we begin through Christ to overcome sin, so, and so only, do we begin to feel even here on earth that the sting of death is drawn.
Our discussion has left untouched many much debated and important problems of life beyond death. The difficulties connected with the ideas of a resurrection body and of a so-called “intermediate state” are unsolved. The possibilities of communication with departed souls remain dark and doubtful. But these are minor matters after all. We have been trying to see more clearly the essential features only of the Christian gospel of resurrection. We may sum up our conclusions thus. The Christian gospel speaks of eternal life, not mere survival. This eternal life is a certain kind of life, not life after death, but life in communion with and in dependence on God. It is won through the spending of the self in God’s service. It is therefore only completed through death. Its essential nature is a wholeness of human personality in perfect fellowship with God and men, created by a whole self-giving for God and men, in the power and after the example of Him Who is both God and man.
Note – It is perhaps worth while to append a few remarks upon belief in the resurrection of the body, which still seems to be the subject of a good deal of misunderstanding. It ought not to be necessary to state that no educated Christian today, whether “orthodox” or “modernist,” believes that our resurrection will consist in a reassembling of the identical particles of matter which now compose our mortal bodies. All agree that what we mean by the resurrection of our bodies is the restoration beyond death of our full, proper and individual personalities, with everything necessary to their complete functioning, so that they may finally inherit eternal communion with God. Controversy concerns only the question how far this belief is consonant with, or opposed to, the faith of the primitive Church as declared in the Creeds.
This latter question raises a difficult problem of historical scholarship. It seems clear on the whole that what is to us a crude and materialistic interpretation of bodily resurrection was commonly held in the early Church, but that it was never universal. St Paul is a clear witness on the side of the more spiritual view, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, and evidence is not wanting that there were always those who accepted the assertions of the resurrection “of the body” or “of the flesh” only in a non-materialistic sense. For further information reference may be made to Dr Darragh’s book, The Resurrection of the Flesh (S.P.C.K., 1921), which provides a complete history of the doctrine and all the materials for judgement.
It is, of course, always easy to charge modern orthodoxy with interpreting the creeds in a non-natural sense which older orthodoxy excluded. But it is not easy to determine exactly what the early Church meant to affirm as essential to her faith. We have to remember that at that time the rigid modern opposition between mind and matter was unknown. A very slight study of the New Testament is sufficient to show that the word “flesh” there generally includes much more than what we mean by the material body, and often stands for what we should call “natural life” or “natural humanity” or even “human personality considered apart from God.” The word “body” is also frequently used in a not strictly material sense. What the Church was chiefly concerned to oppose by teaching the resurrection of the body or the flesh, was a type of religion which made such a rigid separation between the spiritual and the natural life of man, that the natural life was regarded either as an evil thing to be got rid of, or as a thing irrelevant to spirit and to be indulged with impunity. We may therefore claim at least to preserve the fundamental meaning and value of the doctrine of bodily resurrection.
Lecture VI – God’s Judgement of Men
The whole circle of ideas associated with what we call “the Last judgement” forms a very perplexing subject, the reconsideration of which is of vital importance for modern religion. The doctrine of the divine Judgement is one to which the rule corruptio optimi pessima is specially applicable. Its perversion has resulted in some of the most terribly unchristian and unhealthy teaching which has ever been connected with the name of Christianity. Nevertheless its essence stands for a great foundation truth of all moral religion, viz. the eternal and absolute difference between right and wrong, manifested in abiding differences between the consequences of right and wrong action. The prevailing confusion, however, between the true doctrine of Judgement and its perversion makes it peculiarly difficult to disentangle and present clearly what it is that we really ought to believe.
We must begin by recognising that popular ideas of the Judgement, which are often identical with the ideas of the theologians of the last generation, are chiefly influenced, not by what is distinctive of Christianity, but by late Jewish beliefs which were evolved at the end of Old Testament history, were developed in the period between the close of the Old Testament and our Lord’s coming, and formed part of the religious notions current in the generation to which Christianity was originally preached.
The Jews, during and after the return from the Captivity, were eagerly expecting a great national restoration. Their hopes were kindled by prophecies such as those of the later chapters of Isaiah, which belong to the period of the return. They knew themselves to be the people of Jehovah, beside Whom there was no other God, and to possess a religion better and holier than any other in the world. They naturally thought that God was at last coming to their rescue, and was about to vindicate His sovereign power and His choice of them by making them plainly in the eyes of all men the first and greatest nation upon earth. The immediate result of these hopes was bitter disappointment. The Jewish nation passed from the dominion of one conqueror to another, suffering horrors of oppression and persecution in many ways worse than any which had been their lot during the period of exile. Nothing seemed to go right in this world for the loyal, strict Jews, who felt that they were the people whom Jehovah ought naturally to save and to protect. Some gave up their strictness, “cut down their hopes,” and were content to try and make the best of the world as it was. A few, whose experience is reflected in some of the noblest of the psalms, found the essence of religion in a personal communion between the soul and God, which no external circumstances could destroy. But many more saved their loyalty and their faith by picturing to themselves a great day of vengeance. Living in times of violence they endured in the hope that God would suddenly turn the violence of the times against their enemies. And, as the natural course of events seemed less and less likely to bring such a result as they looked for, they came to stake more and more upon a supernatural intervention of God from heaven.
Thus the Jewish doctrine of the Last judgement was conceived. Pictures of it vary. The most detailed are to be found in documents which were written either in the century before, or even shortly after, our Lord’s birth, documents which only in recent years have attracted the attention of historical scholarship. Illuminating extracts from these documents, and a discussion of their significance, are to be found in Miss Dougall’s and Mr Emmet’s recently published work, The Lord of Thought. In spite of variations, there are certain constant features in these Jewish visions of the Last Day. The Judgement of God consists in a wholesale distribution of rewards and punishments. The righteous are received into everlasting happiness, the wicked dismissed to everlasting torment. The wicked are many more in number than the righteous. Only a very few are saved, and pleas for mercy on behalf of the vast majority are unavailing. The visions conjured up are often so horrible, that even the human feelings of the seers themselves are shocked by what they are bidden to describe. But all protest is silenced in the name of unrelenting justice.
These Jewish pictures of Judgement have obvious affinities with much that we read in the book of Revelation, and have also influenced the imagery which is employed in some of the sayings about Judgement recorded in the Gospels. The first Gospel shows the traces of this influence most clearly, and many scholars think that in some passages it has coloured the record which this Gospel gives of our Lord’s own words, and that He did not use some of the expressions attributed to Him. However that may be, it is being increasingly recognized that the traditional form of the Christian belief in the Last Judgement has been largely determined by purely Jewish ideas, the evidence for the existence of which has recently been recovered in the documents already mentioned. Reading some of these documents one might almost imagine that the authors are describing the very scene depicted either in fresco or in stained glass on the west walls of many of our churches.
Now, so long as our conception of the Judgement remains essentially Jewish, the objections to it raised from a Christian point of view will remain insuperable. These objections are, in the main, two:
(1) How can we reconcile the Christian doctrine of God’s love with this wholesale distribution of vindictive torments? In no way, of course. The pictures of vindictive torment are derived from a pre-Christian idea of God, and cannot survive the gradual Christianization of theology which begins with the dogma of the Incarnation.
(2) How can we preserve the pure, unselfish motive for goodness, love responding to love, if we think of heaven as a mere system of rewards which have no necessary connexion with that which is rewarded? Again, in no way. Christian theology, thinking of heaven in Jewish terms, has, at its own highest level, very properly disparaged it. “My God, I love Thee,” wrote St Francis Xavier in his well-known hymn, “not because I hope for heaven thereby.” The heaven he conceived was Jewish, and therefore he very rightly regarded it as unworthy of a Christian saint’s serious consideration. But why Christian theology should continue to cumber itself with a Jewish heaven is not so clear.
No wonder, then, that the doctrine of the Last Judgement is altogether discredited by most people. Nevertheless, this general discrediting is a disaster to true religion. Inevitably it suggests that there is no absolute, abiding, and utterly vital difference between doing right and doing wrong. It ministers to the grossest superstitions concerning an easygoing and irrational Deity, whose chief function is to override the consequences of human sin and folly. It has degraded faith in God’s love to a vague assumption that “Pish! He’s a good fellow and ‘twill all be well.” It encourages that tendency to shirk and to disbelieve in critical decisions, which is a distinctive characteristic of “the modern mind” and shows itself alike in the shortage of ordination candidates and in the demand for slacker marriage laws. The need is not to abandon the doctrine of Judgement, nor even to weaken its severity. The need is thoroughly to redeem it from ideas which are purely Jewish and not really Christian.
In this task we may perhaps derive some help from an analysis of the meaning of the word judgement as it is used in common speech. Here it has two main senses: (1) the legal, and (2) the general.
(1) In the legal sense the word judgement is properly applied to the second of three stages belonging to all judicial procedure. Though, strictly speaking, it denotes the second stage only, it is closely connected with the other two. The first stage is the trial. The essential purpose of the trial is discrimination. The series of events and actions concerning which the trial is held are, to begin with, more or less confused and obscure. The aim of the trial is to make clear what really happened, especially with a view to distinguishing between good and evil in the conduct of the parties concerned, so that guilt shall not be confused with innocence, but each shall stand out plainly in its true colours. The second stage is the judgement proper, which in criminal cases is called the verdict. This simply declares the result of the trial. It states on whom the guilt rests, and what its nature is. In proportion as the trial is successful, the nature of the judgement or verdict is determined beforehand. If the trial has made the whole case clear – which is the purpose of the trial – it is evident that only one verdict is possible for an honest jury, and no time need be spent in deliberating upon it. The third stage is the assigning of the penalty. In criminal cases this is called the sentence, and is quite separate from the verdict. In civil cases the assigning of the penalty, or the assessment of damages, is generally combined with the judgement, but it nevertheless remains quite distinguishable from the judgement proper. The function of the sentence is to make the verdict effective. A declaration of guilt, followed by no penalty, seems essentially incomplete because not carried out into any action. Nevertheless, it is evident that, if the temper of society as a whole were morally sounder and more strongly Christian than in fact it now is, judicial sentences might be greatly reduced, or altogether omitted as a formal part of legal procedure. If the social conscience were on a high enough level, the loss of self-respect and reputation through being declared guilty might be punishment enough for the criminal; the sentence could be safely left to public opinion. Harsh judicial sentences are always connected with an undeveloped or unhealthy condition of the public conscience. They register society’s fear of its criminals.
(2) In the general sense the word judgement may be used of all kinds of considered statements. Here again the word properly stands for the second stage of a threefold process, in which the three stages are analogous to those of judicial procedure. All considered statements are preceded in our minds by a certain sifting of evidence, of which our judgement gives the result. If we are truthful, the nature of the judgement is wholly determined by the evidence, and there is no scope for arbitrary choice. Again, all judgements influence action and tend to have some practical effect on our conduct, which effect corresponds to the carrying out of a sentence in judicial procedure. Some judgements influence conduct more obviously than others, and these are called “practical”; but in fact no judgement is so purely theoretic as not to influence conduct at all. Agnosticism, as we saw in Lecture I, is impossible even as a theory, just because it is literally impossible to act upon it. A pure theory is a pure negation.
Now the whole doctrine of God’s Final Judgement is confused, because we do not interpret the word “judgement” in a strict enough sense, but confuse it with the other stages of a legal or mental procedure, with which we habitually connect it. Thus, when we think of the Last Judgement we tend to picture to ourselves “a great assize”. We imagine a whole trial before a divine judge, Who is conceived nevertheless in the likeness of a man. We think of pleadings, evidence, accusation, defence. We assume almost without knowing it, that the judge may be swayed to mercy, or else remain implacable and finally deliver a sentence which might have been less severe, if only He had been willing to temper justice with compassion. Thus we either conceive God’s justice as ruthless, or His mercy as annulling in the end the difference between right and wrong.
All this is fundamentally mistaken. Consider our Lord’s two great parables of the Last Judgement, namely that of the Wheat and Tares and that of the Sheep and Goats. In neither is any hint of any kind of trial or assize at the Last Day. At that day it is assumed that the trial has already taken place. Evil has been already discriminated from good. Each appears plainly in its true colours. There is no longer any chance of mistaking wheat for tares. The sheep and goats stand clearly separate. No further trial can be held, no further pleas brought forward. There can be only judgement and sentence. And there can only be one. There can be no possible or conceivable alternative. The God of love and truth would contradict His own nature, if He did not pronounce the evil to be evil and the good to be good. Again, His judgement, since it is final, must be completely effective. He must reject all that is evil, and receive all that is good into eternal fellowship with Himself. The Judge’s sentence must be “Depart” to the evil and “Come” to the good. There is no alternative, if God’s nature is goodness.
This way of conceiving the Last judgement is not open to the objections which compel the Christian to reject the old fantasies of Jewish imagination.
(1) There is nothing vindictive about such verdict and sentence; nothing inconsistent with love. There is no need to picture tortures for the wicked ensuing on their condemnation. Condemnation there must be, absolute, final, irrevocable. There can be no other end for evil. But, if the condemnation be final, there is no need to imagine any punishment beyond it. The harsh punishments that follow on human condemnations are the fruit of man’s fear and the tokens of his weakness. Such things cannot be attributed to God. God’s final rejection of evil is all that damnation means, and we cannot look beyond it. The Christian must believe in the eternal damnation of what is evil; but that is not to accept any doctrine of everlasting punishment following upon condemnation. It is a great pity that the word “damnation” has been restricted to a special and technical use in theology. It represents a Greek word in the Bible, which means “condemnation” and nothing more. But it is in vain that the revisers of the English Bible have used the word condemnation only in translation, if the thought of damnation as meaning something different remains in the popular mind to conjure up ghastly possibilities. The misapprehension would be more effectively removed, if the word “damnation” were consistently used in the Bible, and the word “condemnation” were consistently dropped. Much would be done to clear away misunderstanding, if, for instance, Luke 6:37 were to read “Damn not, and ye shall not be damned.”
(2) Again, if final rejection by God is the inevitable fruit of sin, so final communion with God is the inevitable fruit of goodness. God must in the end take the good into perfect fellowship with Himself. But true human goodness, as Christ has shown, means unselfishness; there is no other kind. It is therefore in the end impossible to seek heaven, which is communion with God, from a selfish motive. If we attempt to do so, we only show that we do not know what heaven means, and are seeking something which is not heaven at all. No doubt, while we are still a mixture of good and evil, and still undergoing a process of development and change, our ideas and motives are more or less confused; we neither understand nor follow goodness perfectly, and even our best actions may be infected with some taint of sin. But, in the final Day, discrimination is complete. And in so far as we are ever fit and able to enter heaven, no selfish motive can have place in our hearts.
What, then, of the trial which precedes the Judgement of the Last Day? It is going on now, continuously. As we live, we are being tried. By every decision we take we are discriminating ourselves in the sight of the Divine Judge, and are appearing more definitely either on the side of good or on the side of evil. Every action is more or less decisive and critical. Most of all when we think we are judging others, we are really being judged ourselves. That is a familiar truth. If a man pronounces the plays of Shakespeare or the music of Beethoven to be dull stuff, he appears to be passing judgement on Shakespeare or Beethoven, but we know that really Shakespeare or Beethoven is judging him, and showing him to be incapable of seeing and following what is good in art. So, when Pilate thought he was judging our Lord, he was really being judged by Him. From that time onwards the acceptance or rejection of Christ has been the most critical action in the lives of men, and, as they judge Him, they are continually being judged and discriminated by Him. This is the truth which impressed itself so deeply on the mind of St John. The trial is now proceeding, our trial, the trial of civilization, the trial of the world.
In one point the parallel from the procedure of a human law court breaks down completely. In a law court the trial concerns a series of events which is already past. God’s trial of human lives proceeds concurrently with the lives themselves; the trial, as it were, runs along with the actions that are being tried. Thus it is always possible for us to change sides, to alter the character of our actions, even while our trial is taking place. That, in fact, is what the Judge is always helping us to do. We do not appear before a hostile, nor even an impartial, court. It is Christ Who judges us; it is Christ also Who is our Paraclete and Advocate. His love helps us to appear in the best light, even while His truth refuses to confound evil with good or light with darkness.
Nevertheless the trial must have an end. We must finally either accept or reject Christ, and He must finally either accept or reject us. In the final Judgement mercy is as impossible as vengeance. For mercy can only be shown to those who, though evil now, have some possibility of improvement. Towards unchangeable evil mercy is meaningless.
All discussions about the Power and the judgement of God must end with a contradiction for Christian faith, which is insoluble by our limited understandings. If God is Love, He must will that all souls should be finally saved; but He cannot save any soul by force, against its own will, and as judge He must utterly reject any soul that finally exercises its freedom to choose evil instead of good. We must then admit the possibility that a soul may finally reject, and be rejected by, the love of God. This must be a possibility; for otherwise there is no ultimate and absolute difference between right and wrong. But it need be no more than a possibility. For it must be also possible that in the end all souls should accept the Divine love and choose the good. That all souls will be saved, therefore, is a Christian hope; but it cannot be a Christian dogma. We must regard all souls as saveable; but we dare not go further towards what is called universalism. The entrance to eternal life is a narrow gate; and few at present seem to be finding it. Yet there is room in it for all; and many that are last shall be first. We must leave the possibilities open.
Lecture VII – Christianity and Bodily Health
The relations of Christianity to bodily disease make a very interesting and in some ways rather a tragic story. The Church’s teaching on this subject has undoubtedly undergone considerable fluctuations. Various religious and theological doctrines current in different periods of history have complicated the problem, and made it difficult to say with precision how far we ought to regard disease as evil in the full sense. The Jews looked upon health and prosperity as the normal reward of righteousness, and, in so far as they did so, naturally regarded ill-health as the result of sin, and as therefore not in accordance with the will of God. On the other hand, they held firmly that disease was sent by God as a punishment for wrongdoing. These two points of view were partially combined by supposing that God allowed evil powers to torment the ungodly. Christianity at first seemed identified with the view that disease was the work of evil powers to be overcome in the power of Christ. But from the first this gospel was modified by the doctrine derived from the Old Testament that God chastises the sons Whom He receives, and that disease may be part of the chastisement. Then again, a one-sided interpretation of the doctrine of the Cross led to the view that bodily suffering on the earth ought even to be actually sought and welcomed as a means of being made like to Christ, and thus Christianity at times seems to be contaminated with the radically non-Christian idea that the body is evil by nature and exists only to be mortified. We have therefore three possible views of disease in general, which, however radically they seem to differ, are nevertheless constantly passing into one another. (1) Disease is simply an evil to be fought and overcome. (2) Disease is a divine punishment for sin, which has to be accepted with penitence. (3) Disease is part of a necessary mortification of the bodily life, and the suffering which it brings is actually a token of spiritual salvation, for which we ought to be thankful. All these views have in various times and circumstances been taught within the Christian Church, and it is small wonder if Christians today are in doubt how they really ought to think and pray about bodily diseases.
If we consider carefully our Lord’s teaching and actions as recorded in the Gospels, we can hardly resist the conclusion that in the main He took the first view. It is abundantly clear that He treated diseases as the work of evil powers, and that the characteristic work of the Kingdom of God was to cast them forth and conquer them. He claimed to cast out devils by the finger of God, and to show by that fact that the Kingdom of God was come upon men. “Thy faith hath saved thee” He said again and again to those whom He healed; and the words are sometimes translated, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” Salvation meant being made whole, and the whole man included body as well as spirit. Bodily health was the appropriate organ of spiritual health, and those whom Jesus cured were to go in peace in glad confidence of the wholeness of their salvation. There is no good evidence that our Lord ever regarded diseases as a chastisement sent by God for sin. In the fourth Gospel He is represented as rejecting the idea that a man’s blindness was due either to his own sin or his parents’; rather the blindness was an opportunity for the power of God to show itself by healing him.
On the other hand, our Lord does suggest certainly that bodily disease, being evil, is of a piece with sin, that, in general, physical miseries are to be traced to sin as their cause, and that sin necessarily has results in the body as well as the soul. It is wrong to think of disease as a punishment for sin. Rather sin and disease are different manifestations of one power of evil. They hang together. Sin is the root cause of the trouble. The forgiveness of sins and the healing of the soul will react on the bodily condition, and in the end the work of the Kingdom of God is to bring a complete health by destroying the powers of evil at their source. Thus, I think, is to be explained the connexion between the forgiveness of sin and the healing of disease.
The early Church certainly in the main followed the new gospel of Jesus. Works of bodily healing were a normal manifestation of spiritual power, and cures through prayer and faith, combined sometimes with unction, were regularly practised. It was, however, inevitable that those brought up in the Jewish tradition should fail to grasp quite firmly the new kind of connexion which our Lord had taught as existing between sin and disease, and should slip back sometimes into thinking of disease as God’s punishment. St Paul never regarded his “thorn in the flesh” as sent by God, even when he was told that it was not to be removed. It was a messenger of Satan. But when he told the Corinthians that it was because of their scandalous treatment of the Communion that many among them were sickly, no doubt many would think of the sickness as a divinely sent punishment, and thus tend to return to the older and less Christian view. St Paul does speak of glorying in infirmities and sufferings of the body, and may seem to approach to the third of the views we mentioned, viz, that such things are in themselves good for us. But it is only in so far as he triumphs over them in Christ’s power that he glories in them. He does not rejoice, as an extreme ascetic might, because his body is incapacitated, but because the transcendent power of Christ enables him to do his work in spite of the weaknesses of his body.
The changed attitude of the Church in the Middle Ages may be ascribed to a variety of causes. We need not go into them, for they do not directly concern us. It is enough to say that the Church ceased to regard bodily health as a normal consequence of faith and a right spiritual relation to God. Certain movements in the Church, like the Franciscan, did a noble work among the sick and poor, and we must never forget that public hospitals are of Christian and mediaeval origin. Nevertheless it was the work of mercy rather than the work of healing on which the Church laid stress. It regarded almost solely the value of the loving-kindness shown in caring for the sick; it did not attach any spiritual importance to curing them, except in rare cases of “miracle.” It did not consequently attempt to grapple as a whole with the appalling problems of social distress and impossible conditions of life, which darkened human existence during the centuries preceding the Reformation. It did not seek or hope to get rid of disease or even materially to diminish it; it tried at most to alleviate by charity some of the distress which it caused. It taught meanwhile in the main either that disease was a visitation of God’s wrath on the sinfulness of man, or that bodily sufferings were a means whereby salvation might be won in the next world. This earthly life, this bodily existence, it regarded as irremediably evil and past redemption. Nothing is more significant than the fact that the sacrament of unction, originally intended for healing, came to be reserved strictly for use at the point of departure.
The Renascence marked a vigorous reaction at almost every point against the exaggerated other-worldliness of mediaevalism. To a great extent this world took the place of the next as the centre of man’s interest in art, literature and philosophy. But the Reformers of religion were in some ways more conservative. They condemned, indeed, the exaggerated asceticism which seemed to regard it as a positive merit to leave the body uncared for and unhealthy. But they did not attempt to challenge the idea that diseases were sent by God in judgement, and were therefore to be submitted to with resignation. The Office for the Visitation of the Sick in the Prayer book certainly assumes that we are to look on disease as sent by God.
Modern times have produced something like a revolution, in which Christian Science has led the way. Mrs Eddy’s study of the Scriptures convinced her that the healing of the body ought to be a normal part of the work of the Christian religion, and that, if our Lord’s methods were used by faithful disciples, cures no less wonderful than His could be wrought today. She and her followers acted on this principle, and, whatever may be said in criticism of their methods, at any rate results were achieved sufficiently remarkable to attract the attention both of science and of the Churches all over the world. Christian Science may be said to be true to our Lord’s teaching in that, while it denied the doctrine that disease was a divine penalty for human sin, it nevertheless regarded it as of a piece with sinfulness, and as a natural result both of sin and error; and held that it could be overcome by establishing a right relation between the soul and God. Christian Science demonstrated once more the power of an ardent and living faith in God to react upon bodily conditions, and suggested that the health of the body ought to be included in the Christian scheme of salvation. In doing this it has performed a most important service both to religion and to science.
At the same time the actual teaching and methods of Christian Science are open to grave objections, both from the scientific and the Christian point of view, objections which are fatal to the claims of Christian Science in the form in which they have been put forward by actual members of that sect.
(1) To take the Christian objection first. Christian Science teaches that the true faith which cures all disease is one which holds that disease belongs simply to the material world, which world is both evil and unreal. God is pure spirit and perfection; but, being so, He cannot even have that contact with evil and imperfection which is involved in knowing it. God therefore simply cannot be aware of the evil material world, nor of our imperfections and errors. This philosophy is simply impossible for the Christian. It destroys the whole idea of God coming down into the sinful world to save it, and the whole doctrine of atonement wrought through sympathetic suffering, which lies at the very heart of the Christian belief in God’s love. Christian science lacks altogether, if it is true to its philosophy, the very noblest inspiration of Christian service. So serious is this lack, that it may well be doubted if it would be worth while to abolish even all the disease in the world at the cost of losing what seems to be the chief joy and glory of the Christian faith.
(2) Scientific criticism takes another line. Fresh investigation of the whole subject of faith healing has revealed the remarkable power of what is called autosuggestion. It has been demonstrated that strongly held convictions dominating the personality tend in a wonderful way to produce the bodily sensations appropriate to them. Thus, if I can acquire a strong faith that I am healed and that disease has no power over me, the symptoms of any disease I have, the pain and discomfort, will be greatly diminished and may even disappear. Now, in many nervous or functional disorders, where the harm is mainly a matter of sensation and does not go really deeper than its symptoms, this sort of faith suggestion will often really cure. But if the harm goes deeper and is really of an organic nature, it may be the worst thing possible that the symptoms should disappear, if the underlying cause remains. And in these cases treatment by faith suggestion is really dangerous. Suppose I have an attack of appendicitis and succeed in getting rid of the pain by the autosuggestion or faith that there is nothing the matter with me. If the attack is a very slight one, it may pass off and I shall think that I have cured myself. But if the attack is serious, the mischief may develop without my feeling it, and by the time the symptoms become too strong for my powers of suggestion, it may be too late to save my life by an operation which would have been quite successful at an earlier stage. Now the whole belief of Christian science in the unreality of evil, pain and material things, makes such a powerful suggestion to those who hold it, that they may be able to resist and ignore the symptoms of disease to an almost incredible extent. And in the case of minor ailments the result is often no doubt a complete cure. Yet in the case of serious trouble the very success of the suggestion which removes the symptoms may be the sick man’s death warrant.
Yet, on the other hand, it by no means follows that Christian Science has not made a most important rediscovery of neglected powers of faith and prayer, which, if they were developed along more fully Christian and scientific lines, might do incalculable good. The main charge against Christian Science is not that it employs suggestion, but that it employs suggestions which are in fact untrue. The indiscriminate suggestion that pain and disease are unreal does great harm, because it is false. But hardly less harmful is the suggestion that disease is a chastisement sent by God. That suggestion also does harm for the same reason in the end, viz, because it is not true.
Christ, science and Christian Science are at one in teaching that our religious faith affects our bodily condition more than we thought, and that a true religious faith may be of incalculable service in the healing of the body. The day is over when a materialistic science seemed to assert that the world of spirit and mind was an unreal fiction, and that no conditions which did not wholly belong to the body were worth a doctor’s attention. The day is over also when religion seemed to assert that unhealthy conditions in the body were sometimes sent by God, and therefore ought to be endured rather than remedied. There is no reason why science and religion should not at last frankly join hands, instead of looking at each other with scarcely veiled suspicion, and together prosecute a great work of human healing. The work will not be accomplished merely by making men believe that disease is not a reality, nor by any process of simple suggestion that what we should like to believe is true. Scientific psychotherapists are more and more tending to condemn methods which cure by the falsely simple means of inculcating the idea that the evil is nonexistent. Make believe is a childish but a dangerous game; and it is most dangerous when it ceases to be a game at all, and is taken seriously under the names of pragmatism, autosuggestion or Christian Science. Thus the practice of mere suggestion or autosuggestion is being very largely superseded, or at least supplemented, by the practice of psychoanalysis, which aims at first helping a patient to probe a psychic and nervous disorder to its roots, before it will bid him think no more of it. This is a branch of healing which it is not for amateurs to dabble in. But, however harmful it may be to pretend that bodily disorders are unreal or can always be healed by a simple act of religious faith, it seems that before long it may be generally accepted that an ultimate and sure belief that the Divine will is entirely on the side of bodily as well as of merely spiritual health, is a most potent force for healing body as well as spirit. The recognition of the part that faith plays in healing is gaining ground, and to our children some of the cures which our fathers called miraculous may seem to be commonplace.
Finally, let us try to define some general conclusions as to the Christian way of regarding bodily health and disease.
1. God wills the health of the body. He does not send disease.
2. To have a true and confident faith in God’s loving will is a foundation of health in the fullest sense. That faith is spiritual health, and it also creates conditions favourable to bodily health.
3. Nevertheless, true Christian faith always puts the health of the spirit first. It seeks first the Kingdom of God. We shall lose everything in the end, if we allow faith in God to be treated as a mere means of bringing health to the body. On the other hand, to aim first at putting the soul in a right relation to God is, in the long run, to secure health for the body as well. In saying this, religion does not disparage or conflict with the work of science. For a full faith in God’s loving will must stimulate us to search out all the methods of His working. It will not demand easy shortcuts to bodily health; and it will not expect any full conquest of disease, except through a fuller knowledge and more spiritual service of God. For religion, sin is always the first enemy to be destroyed.
4. The fundamentally unhealthy conditions of human life and all their consequences in disease and suffering cannot be cancelled at a stroke. We can only gradually by faith and hope lighten the burden which the world’s alienation from God has laid upon it. The consequences of the Atonement must gradually reverse the consequences of the Fall. And meanwhile, looking at the Cross of Christ, we see that one great means whereby the world’s burden of pain and suffering is loosened and ultimately thrown off, is the faithful, hopeful shouldering of the burden. That burden we must not seek to escape in an imperfect world. The very health which comes from the glad confidence of faith is meant to strengthen us to bear the burdens of others’ suffering. That is how the Atonement works. It saves from suffering through suffering. It is because God has divided the kingdom of pain and sorrow against itself, that that kingdom cannot stand. But the burden of pain should be borne as one which the world’s sins, not God’s goodness, has bound upon us. We accept it, because God Himself accepted it, and has thereby shown us that the submission of the love which accepts is one with the power of the love which more than conquers. The kingdom and the patience, the royalty and the suffering, of Jesus are one love; and in both, as St John says, He makes us His companions.
Lecture VIII – The Holy Spirit and Modern Thought
Let us make it plain at the outset that this lecture is not an attempt to deal with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as a whole. We are to consider only that particular aspect of the doctrine which seems to form an appropriate conclusion to our series of discussions, that aspect, namely, which directly concerns the problem of the faith and modern thought.
This problem of the conflict between religious tradition and new knowledge is just now particularly urgent and acutely felt. That is not to be wondered at, considering the almost overwhelming additions to our knowledge of the world which the last century has brought. But we do well to remember, none the less, that the general problem does not belong to one age or one religion alone. It is present in all times of great moral and intellectual activity. It weighed upon men’s minds in the days of the great Hebrew prophets, in the Athens of Socrates, Aristophanes and Plato, in the rise of Buddhism and of Confucianism, and in countless other epochs less known to fame. It is a common problem of human life. It has threatened many religions; yet always religion has gained strength from facing it, and we have to face it now calmly and courageously in the particular form in which it presents itself to our age.
The Christian religion, no doubt, is bound to be specially sensitive and alive to the conflict of which we are speaking. Christian minds feel it with peculiar pain. Let us ask why and how this is so, in the hope that, where the struggle is particularly keen, the true principle of reconciliation is to be sought.
Christianity accentuates the conflict between traditional religion and modern thought, because it is its nature to take both sides at once, and therefore for it the conflict is apt to become a sort of civil war in the spiritual life.
(a) Christianity is supremely the religion of tradition. It depends, as no other religion depends, on a final complete revelation of God which has taken place in the past. Other religions have sacred scriptures, ancient stories and doctrines about the gods, systems of sacrifice and rules of conduct handed down from many generations. But Christianity claims to be the trustee of a final revelation of God in one particular human life. This fact gives to the tradition of the Christian faith a quite peculiarly rigorous claim. Religious traditions which demand only conformity, conformity can satisfy. Creeds which require, not mere conformity, but the assent of mind and heart and will, are infinitely more exacting. They are the property of the higher religions only; and the credal tradition of Christianity is not only the highest, but also the most exacting of all. It cannot be otherwise.
(b) But Christianity is supremely also the religion of modern thought. Further than any other religion it has pressed the doctrine of a Spirit of God given to all members of the Church, and also universally to all men, guiding, helping, enabling them to meet new situations and to find new truth. It has emphasized with added meaning Old Testament sayings about the Spirit. “The word of God is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” “Thine ears shall hear a voice behind thee saying ‘This is the way, walk ye in it,’ when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” It has taught that religious traditionalists rejected the Messiah whom their tradition promised, because He came in an unlooked for way, and they were deaf to the Spirit Who was His Witness. It is an essential part of the Christian religion to say that modern thought must be listened to. For the Spirit, because He is the Living Spirit of God among men, always works in fresh ways, which trust in mere tradition cannot discern.
Christianity therefore does intensify the conflict. There is a certain tension between tradition and modern thought, which is essential to its life. Yet it does proclaim also the principle of reconciliation between them. It teaches that the Spirit Who moves and guides us in the present is sent by Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God Himself, to be His own Interpreter and Witness. It is unnecessary to quote texts to show how fundamental is that truth in the Christianity of the New Testament. It is the Spirit Who is always pointed to as the Witness and Interpreter of Christ, both by mighty works and by inward inspiration.
The problem of traditional faith and modern thought is, therefore, in Christianity, seen to be the problem of holding together in harmony the truth of the historic Incarnation and the truth of the living presence of the Spirit. Most of the trouble between the “orthodox” and “modernist” parties in the Church arises from the fact that the two sides of Christian truth have been separated and set against each other. The orthodox, holding to the historic Incarnation, are apt to interpret their tradition in a rigid way, which leaves no room for the fresh ideas and points of view which the Spirit suggests. The modernists, holding to the doctrine of the Living Spirit, are apt to interpret their freedom in a loose and hasty way, which seems to assume that the latest fashion is always inspired, and that the revelation handed down from the past is nothing but an irksome yoke. We shall always have two parties, a Right and a Left, in the Church’s theology; but, if they are Christian parties, they ought to be able to recognise that the difference between them is only one of emphasis and need not be magnified into one which threatens breach of communion.
What does it mean to be true to the Gospel both of the Incarnation and of the Living Spirit?
(1) If we are true to the Spirit, we shall never be afraid of novelty, never angry or shocked at a thing just because we are not used to it. It is a tragic fact that Church people so often do behave thus, tragic because the Church is the creation of the Holy Ghost and yet seems sometimes to be identified with what is not very different from resistance to Him. “Ye stiff-necked and unbaptized in heart and ears” – St Stephen’s reproach, with the alteration of a single word, might have been delivered against some who have honestly prided themselves on being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. We must not allow ourselves to shirk that disquieting truth.
Consider the lessons of the primitive Church. It looked primarily for guidance not to any code of rules nor even back to the life of Jesus in the flesh, but rather inward and upward to the Spirit and to the Risen Christ. Therefore it was ready, though with much hesitation, to accept fresh truth and to make new departures. How else can we read the moral of the great controversy about circumcision and the admission of Gentiles? Neither St Paul, nor his opponents, so far as we know, made their main appeal to any directions Jesus had given before His Ascension, nor certainly did they regard an established constitution as settling the matter beyond further argument. They relied on being guided by Christ in the present, and they actually accepted in the end an apparent innovation of which the chief champion was one who did not belong to the original body of apostles and had received his apostleship in a very exceptional manner.
Or consider the lesson of nature. It is not the heavily armoured, slow-moving creatures who are really successful in the struggle for existence and help forward the development of life; rather it is the quick, adaptable creatures, those who are able to respond more sensitively and more variously to their environment. It is this same principle of adaptability which really defines the superiority of reason over instinct. To call man, as distinct from other animals, rational is to give an abstract name to the concrete difference, which is this, that man alone uses tools and clothes. Tools and clothes are symbols of reason because they are signs of adaptability. A creature that lives by instinct has a bodily covering suited to the particular climate to which it is native. An animal happy in the Arctic circle cannot live on the equator, nor an animal happy on the equator, in the Arctic. But a human traveller can change his clothes and his diet and live, uncomfortably, in both. Similarly, human work done with tools may be in certain particular cases very inferior to the work instinctively done by creatures who use only their own bodily mechanism. No manmade machinery can rival the craftsmanship of the spider in his own particular art. The superiority of tools lies in the fact that they open up to man a vastly greater variety of livelihoods than is possible for the spider, because they make his work infinitely more adaptable. Instinct fails in conflict with reason, because it is too highly specialised, and clings too much to a particular groove, to meet the new situation and respond to the unexpected call. That is why rational creatures can always devise traps to catch instinctive creatures, because the latter are the slaves of habit, and the habits, once known, can be used to destroy them. St Paul speaks of the Christian having his feet shod with the preparedness of the gospel of peace. The picture he has in his mind is apparently that of a well-shod, lightly moving fighter who is able to take up a new position quickly in order to avoid a blow or gain an opening for attack. The natural law of progress through adaptability has its analogue on the spiritual plane.
The first duty of the Christian Church, then, is to look for the present guidance of the Spirit, to be ready for change and novelty, quick to respond to the new situation, and to follow where He leads. She must not be a David, so encased and protected in a Saul’s armour of organisation and custom, that she cannot move outside the camp to take up the Philistine’s sudden challenge.
To us, who are not of the Roman obedience, it seems that a capital error of Romanism is to have identified the Spirit’s guidance of the Church with the infallibility of a particular official, who must, of course, be bound by the previous decisions of all his infallible predecessors. So the ever accumulating weight of binding precedent makes fresh departures harder and harder, and limits adaptability more and more; and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the very charter of the Church’s freedom, resembles rather a statute of mortmain binding her to the past. Yet, even so, Rome does recognise competent authority in a living person, and therefore is in better case than some who apparently claim to be governed by a law of more or less ancient tradition, which permits them no court of appeal, interpretation or dispensation they can regard as valid.
If we would be true to the gospel of the Holy Spirit as we find it in our Lord’s life and in the New Testament as a whole, we must be prepared to recognise His work wherever it appears, in unlikely places and by unexpected instruments, and to follow His call, even when it does not exactly echo our own preconceived ideas. One of the last charges our Lord gave to His disciples was to watch, to be vigilant and on the alert, because His future revelation of Himself would be such as to take men by surprise.
(2) And yet, of course, all this is only one side of the truth after all. For the religion of the Incarnation there must always be appeal to the past. God was made man in Jesus Christ; and one great evidence that the Church has indeed been guided by His Spirit is the fact that the Incarnation and the Atonement, the reality of God’s love suffering in manhood for man’s salvation, taking upon itself manhood to deliver it, are still the centre of her faith. It is this truth of God’s love which the Church has recorded in her Bible, enshrined in her Creed, and safeguarded by the organisation which secured the continuity of the apostolic teaching. It is, after all, the Church’s organisation to which we owe the Christian truth which enables us to criticise it. And we can never be loyal to the Spirit at all, unless we remember that He is both the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of the Christian Fellowship which Pentecost created. His work can never be to take us away from, or beyond, Jesus Christ, God in man, nor to set us outside the body of the fellowship, which all down the centuries has kept alive, chiefly always in its humblest members, the witness to what Christ has done for men. The Spirit can show us deeper meaning in the life of Jesus. He can help us to apply its teaching and example anew to changed circumstances in the light of fresh discoveries to which He Himself has shown the way. He can lead us further into the mystery of Christ’s Risen Presence. But His work is always known by its loyalty to Jesus Christ, once for all Revealer of God and Saviour of men at a particular time and place in the history of the world.
Today, when spiritual experience grows confused and so many false teachers seem to be leading astray even the very elect, so that we hardly know where to turn for truth, we must keep clear our belief in Jesus Christ come in the flesh, in order to be able to test what is really the work of God’s Spirit, and what is not. To weaken the doctrine of the historic Incarnation is to confuse the doctrine of the Spirit. The result is a vague theory of divine immanence which simply mocks the spiritual need of man. The Christian faith, in its rigidity and its adaptability, in its definiteness and its breadth, hangs together as a whole, and, whole and undefiled, it is judging our partial understandings.
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