Paper read to Free Church Theological Society, Glasgow.
IT is no small heroism in these times to deal with anything new. But this is a theological society; and I do not need to ask the protection of that name while I move for a little among lines of thought which may seem to verge on danger. One does not need to apologize for any inquiry made in a formative school of theology such as this; for in this atmosphere a seeker after truth is compelled to take up another than that provincial standpoint which elsewhere he is committed to.
The question you will naturally ask at the outset is, What is the new Evangelism? Now that is a question that I cannot answer. I do not know what the new Evangelism is, and it is because I do not know that I write this paper. I write because I ought to know, and am trying to know. Many here, and all the most earnest minds of our Church, are anxiously asking this question, and each who has once asked it feels it to be one of the chief objects of his life to answer it.
Preachers, finding that the things which stirred men's minds two centuries ago fail to do so now are compelled to ask themselves what this means. Do we need a new Evangelism, and if so, what? By the word Evangelism I do not mean to include merely, or even particularly, evangelistic work, evangelistic meetings, or what is comprehended under the general head of revivalism. I mean the methods of presenting Christian truth to men's minds in any form. By the new Evangelism, so far as mere definition is concerned, is meant the particular substance and form of evangel which is adapted to the present state of men's minds. The new Evangelism, in a word, is the Gospel for the Age. To notice the outcry against the mere mention of a Gospel for the Age is unnecessary here. What do we want with a new Gospel? Can the Gospel ever be old? might be asked elsewhere, for this is always cast in one's teeth when he raises those questions, as if by speaking of a new Evangelism he was depreciating the old Gospel. Of course we do not want a new evangel, we state that out at once; but an Evangelism is a different thing, and we do want that; we want that at the present hour, almost above any reform of our time.
I. The need of a new Evangelism.
There are two general considerations which seem to me to prove the need of a new Evangelism.
The first is the threatened decline of vital religion under present methods of preaching. If the Gospel be the power of God unto salvation, we are entitled to believe that wherever it is presented to men's minds it will influence and impress them. If men are not influenced or impressed under preaching, the only alternatives are, either that the Gospel in substance is not the power of God unto salvation, or that the Gospel in form is not presented to them so as to reach them. Either the Gospel cannot save them, or the Gospel does not reach them. We, as Christians, are shut up to the latter. The Gospel is not reaching men. There are hundreds of churches where the Gospel is not reaching men. Every third minister one meets confesses that. The Church, as a whole, admits, for instance, that she is rapidly losing hold of young men as a class. What does that mean? It really means that the Gospel, as presented to them, has ceased to be a gospel; it is neither good nor new. It means that the active thinkers of a congregation, the most hopeful and eager, are failing to find anything there to meet their case. It is not simply that many of them object to religion naturally, which will always be the case, but that those who are looking for a religion do not find it. Many of ourselves know this by our own experience. How long did we not search; on what diverse ministries did we not wait; to what endless volumes did we not turn; before finding a message which our faith could grasp or conscience rest on, and at the same time our intelligence respect? |I like Christianity,| said Hallam, the subject of Tennyson's |In Memoriam,| |because it fits into all the folds of one's nature.| How long was it before we found a form of Christianity which fitted into any of the folds of our nature? From the time they were Sabbath-school scholars onwards, it is the experience of thousands of young men that they find only misfit after misfit in the theological clothes in which they were asked to disguise themselves. If this has been the experience of men who were not simply passive (men who were not simply waiting until religion would, some day or somehow, seize hold of them), but who were searching for religion, what substance is there in the present form of it to captivate the ordinary run of men? Our present Evangelism, as mere matter of fact, is not meeting the wants of the age.
In 1847 Dr. Chalmers found -- and the statistics almost paralyzed him -- that there were 30,000 people in Glasgow who did not go to church. Since then the Free Church has risen; Baptists, Independents, Morisonians, and Wesleyans, have poured their new life into the city. The most complete evangelistic organization in the kingdom, the Christian Union, has been at work. Have Chalmers' 30,000 been sensibly reduced? They have been increased exactly fivefold -- out of-all proportion to the increase of the population. Excluding 100,000 Roman Catholics, there are at present 150,000 non-church-goers in the city. The aspect of affairs in the English towns is notoriously worse. To take a single case. The population of Sheffield is 240,000. It has 60 churches. Allowing 1,000 sitters to each church there would only be accommodation for 60,000 people; not only, therefore, do 180,000 not go to church, but there is no accommodation for them if they were willing. What is the cause of this decline in vital religion? Why is the Gospel not reaching the Age? Because it is not the Gospel for the Age. It is the Gospel for a former Age. Because, in the form of it as used, the Gospel is neither good nor new. It does not fit into all the folds of men's being. It is not in itself bad -- but it is a bad fit.
The second general consideration is based, not on the effects of Evangelism, but on its nature. The very nature of truth demands from time to time a new Evangelism. At the opening of this college, we heard (Prof. Bruce's introductory lecture) that a Scotch divine at the Presbyterian Council in Philadelphia found himself rebuked for using the phrase, |Progress in Theology.| Theology, he was eloquently reminded, was behind us. He was pointed to the Standards of his Church. There is no more unfortunate word in our Church's vocabulary than |Standard.| A standard is a thing that stands. Theology is a thing that moves. There must be progress in everything, and more in theology than in anything, for the content of theology is larger and more expansive than the content of anything else. I do not say we are to give up the idea involved in the word Standard. We certainly never can. But standards must move. The sole condition of having them with us at any particular place or time is that they should move with us according to place or time. The word Standard, as applied to theology, is in some respects an unfortunate term. Buffon's Natural History was a standard. Linnaeus' Vegetable System was a standard. But they are not standards now. They were places for the mind of Science to rest on in its onward sweep through the centuries; but the perches are not needed there now, and they are vacant. These books stand like deserted inns on the roadside which gave hearty meals and shelter in their day, but which the race (with no disrespect to Linnaeus and Buffon) has long since passed. When the English fought Waterloo, they did not leave their standard at Bannockburn -- they brought it up to Quatre Bras; and if our standard was made for Holland, or Rome, or Geneva, we must bring it up to Germany, and Paris, and the Highlands. But there is something deeper than progress in theology; there is progress in truth itself. |Truth is the daughter of Time.| It is surely unnecessary to insist on this, for it is true of all kinds of truth, in the natural as well as the spiritual sphere. Nature is all before our eyes, as truth in the Bible is all before our eyes. But we do not see it all; every day we are seeing more. The firmament was not all mapped by astronomers at once. Since Calvin's time many a new star has been discovered. The stars were there before. Space was there before, but a new order is seen in it, new material for thought, new systems, especially a new perspective. To take another illustration: when we were children we could not understand how, if God made the world, He had made it so ugly; why everything in nature was brown, or dun, or green, and grey. Why was the sky not scarlet like the inside of our trumpet, or a good hearty blue, with unicorns on it like our drum? We thought, as we looked at the lichens and washed-out azure, that, by some oversight, God had forgotten to put the colour in. We know now why God did not put the colour in. We know that Nature wears the colour of the future. It is painted for the highest art. Vermilion is for the savage, blue with unicorns for the child, the neutral tints for the world's maturity -- the developed taste. The colour was in Nature all along, but the world's eye was not full grown. The Greeks had almost no colour-sense at all; and if Mr. Ruskin sees what Homer did not see, it is not because it was not to be seen, but that the faculty was not developed.
The higher art has grown; it sees in the colouring of Nature a beauty which must increase till the evolution of mind and eye pronounces and sees all perfect. It is so with Truth; the truth-sense, like the colour-sense, grows. Truth has her vermilion, and her high art olives and sage-greens. |When Solon was asked,| says Plutarch, |if he had given the Athenians the best possible laws, he answered that they were as good as the people could then receive.| When we were given our system of truth, it was as good as the people could receive -- perhaps as good as their teachers could give. But we can receive more now; our taste demands sage-green, and we cannot live on vermilion. If it be objected that this argument renders the Bible itself effete, the answer is that the Bible is not a system. It is the firmament; its truth is without form, therefore without limit. It is a book of such boundless elasticity that the furthest growth of the truth-sense can never find its response outgrown. And it is in this elasticity that one finds a sanction for a new theology to be the basis of a new Evangelism. It encourages a new theology; the prospect and possibility of that is written in every epigram and paradox, in the absence of anything propositional or bound. The view we are to take, therefore, of the old theologies is not that they are false, but simply that they are old. Those who framed them did in their time just what we want to do in ours. The Reformation did not profess to create new truth; it was not a re-formation, but simply a restoration -- a restoration of the first theology of the New Testament, as much of it as could then be seen. At the time, probably, it was a restoration, and had all the strength and grandeur of the first theology, with all its vividness and life. Probably it was suited to the wants of the time, and moved the hearts of preacher and people.
We, too, can still preach it, but to some of us it has a hollow sound. If we would confess the honest truth, our words for it are rather those of respect than enthusiasm; we read it, hear it, study it, and preach it, but cannot honestly say that it kindles or moves us. When we wish to be kindled or moved, driven perhaps to prove whether we are capable of being kindled or moved, we leave the restoration and go back to that which was restored.
Restoration can only retain its hold vitally and powerfully for a limited time. It is essentially an accommodation for a certain age. If that age has changed, it no longer accommodates me, it incommodes me. What was the new theology of the seventeenth century is the theology of the nineteenth century only on one condition -- that the age has not grown. If it has, in the nature of things it no longer accommodates me. It is not bad, simply a bad fit. The then new theology, the very adaptation possibly that was needed, becomes now old doctrine, a mere old skull, an old skull with the juices dry. This is the source of what is called dry preaching. It is a once glorious truth disenchanted by time into a faded, juiceless form.
Such then is the general effect of Time on Truth. As the serpent periodically casts its skin, so Truth. The number of times it has cast its skin marks the number of stages in its forward growth. Many of the shelves of our theological libraries are simply museums of the cast skin of Truth. The living organism has glided out of them to seek a roomier vestment. This is no disrespect, I repeat again, to the old theology. For the present vestiture in turn must take its place on the shelf. Nor does it imply that no beauty exists there, nor that to many some of the old doctrines may not prove even to-day a fountain of life. They do do so. Many volumes of theology have never been outgrown; many of the Puritans, for instance, have not only never been outgrown, but it is difficult to conceive how they can be. To take again the analogy from colour. The sage-green does not necessarily destroy the vermilion, though it renders many of its combinations old-fashioned. Some forms of truth in like manner may have reached their ultimate expression, certainly they may, though this is not so clear as that some have not. To sum up, the demand for a new theology, therefore, as the basis of a new Evangelism is founded upon the nature of Truth. It is not caprice, nor love of what is new. It is the necessity for what is new. It is in the nature of things.
I have next to bring some more specific charges against the old theology -- the old theology, that is to say, as represented in the ordinary preaching of the day. And lest I should be accused of caricaturing the doctrines in question, let me say that the rendering which follows represents the impression made as matter of fact by these doctrines upon myself. I do not implicate the whole Evangelism, nor do I speak directly for any one else; but I cannot more honestly illustrate the teaching of what was to me the current Evangelism -- the pabulum, namely, supplied by the ordinary country pulpit, by the evangelist's address, by the Sabbath-school teacher, and in a limited sense by religious books and tracts -- than by stating the sort of religious ideas which these fostered in myself. For convenience I select three as samples, taking them in theological order. I limit myself likewise to a very few sentences with regard to each, more particularly (1) as to the theological conception and (2) as to the ethical effect.
(1) THE CONCEPTION OF GOD as fostered by the old Evangelism.
The chief characteristic of the conception of God to me was its want of characteristic. The figure was too vague for any practical purpose. It was not a character. One could form no intelligent figure of God, for so far as it could be formed it was the God of the Old Testament. The Incarnation, i.e., contributed nothing. The Old Testament believer, I need not remind you, was very helpless as to a personal God. Each man, practically, had to make an image of God for himself. He was given a name, and a set of qualities -- Holiness, Justice, Wisdom, and others, and out of this he had to make God. The consequence was that the great majority made it wrong, and worshipped they knew not what. One great purpose of the Incarnation was to change all this. It is to give us a new, defined, intelligible Figure of God. |The Son of God is come.| said John, who saw most fully the meaning of the Word made Flesh -- |The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him.|
The old Evangelism had little benefit here from the incarnation in this respect. It never got this understanding. God remained unchristianized in it. The Figure came no nearer. God remained Jehovah, the I AM that I AM. He was not God in Christ, God made intelligible by Christ, God made lovable by Christ, but God Eternal, Unchangeable, Invisible, therefore Unknowable; and in the nature of this cloud-God, the outstanding element was Vengeance -- Anger, the ethical effect of which is obvious. A man's whole religion depends on his conception of God, so much so that to give a man religion in many cases is simply to correct his conception of God. But if man's natural conception of God, which is of a Being or of a Force opposed to him, a Being to be appeased, be not corrected, his religion will be a religion of Fear. God therefore was a God to be feared, an uncomfortable presence about one's life. He was always in court, either actually sitting in judgment or collecting material for the next case. He was the haunting presence of a great Recorder,
|Who was writing now the story
Of what little children do.|
The reiteration that God was Love did nothing to dispel this terrible illusion. We cannot love God because we are told, for Love is not made to order. We can believe God's love, but believing love is like looking at heat. We cannot respond to it. To excite love, we need a person, not a doctrine -- a Father, not a deity. To be changed into the same image we must look at the glory of God, not in se, but in the face of Jesus. The old Evangelism was defective in not exhibiting God in the face of Jesus. It exhibited God in the nailed hands of Jesus; this is an aspect of God, an essential aspect, but not God. Next --
(2) THE CONCEPTION OF CHRIST.
If the conception of God was vague, the conception of Christ was worse. He was a theological person. His function was to adjust matters between the hostile kingdoms of heaven and earth.
I do not acquit myself of blame here, and I hope no one else has an experience so shocking, but until well on in my college course, and after hearing hundreds of sermons and addresses on the Person and Work of Christ, the ruling idea left in my mind was that Christ was a mere convenience. He was the second person in the Trinity, existing for the sake of some logical or theological necessity, a doctrinal convenience. He was the creation of theology, and His function was purely utilitarian. This might have been theological, but it was not religious. Religion said, |Christ our Life.| Theology said, |Christ our Logic.|
This is a painful confession, but it is far more painful to think of its basis. It is impossible to believe that in these sermons I was not presented with the true aspects of Christ's life and character. But it is also almost impossible to believe that these were insisted on with anything like the same frequency or reality as the aspect I have named. What moves an attentive mind in a sermon is its residual truth, not the complementary passages, not the squarings with other doctrines, but that truth on which the whole theme is strung, the vertebral column which, though hid, is the true pillar of the rest. Now the residuum to me -- and it is surprising how unerringly this betrays itself and stands nakedly out from all mere words -- was always this. Whatever other points were thrown in, whatever devout expressions were mixed with it, whatever appeals to the affections, this was the prominent half-truth, and therefore whole error.
This is the explanation, I think, of the fact, now pretty well acknowledged, that the old theology made almost nothing of the humanity of Christ. In such a body of divinity clearly there was little room for so mundane a thing as humanity. The arrangements in which Christ played a part were looked at almost exclusively from the Divine and cosmical standpoint. The question was, how God could forgive sin, and yet justify the sinner; how God could do this and that, as if we had anything to do with it. Such a divinity necessarily wanted humanity, the humanity of man as well as the humanity of Christ. Man was a cypher, the mere theological unit, the x of doctrine (his character, his aims, his achievements, his influence, were neither here nor there) and an unknown quantity, one of the parties in the proposition. And it was not necessary for this theological unit to have a humanitarian Christ, except as to the mere identity of flesh, and this was requisite only to complete the theological proposition.
The emphasis on the humanity of Christ, which, happily, has now crept into our best teaching, marks more distinctly perhaps than anything else the dawn of the new Evangelism. Still, it must be confessed that in influential quarters the revival of this doctrine is viewed even yet with no inconsiderable alarm The newer Lives of Christ, for instance, in which the humanity is conspicuously developed, are constantly assailed as Unitarian, and within the last fortnight a Life of Christ has been given to the world, from the preface to which one can almost gather that the author's object is to provide an antidote to the erroneous tendencies of these works.
Men fail to see that it was God Himself who conceived this wonderful idea of a humanitarian Christ. When God does anything, He never does it by halves. When He made the Word flesh, when He made Jesus a Man, He made a Man, and it is just because He carried out His idea so perfectly that Unitarianism is possible. When we say Man, then let us mean Man. It is a mistaken scruple even to minimize His Humanity. In our zeal for the doctrines of the Atonement we are really robbing God of His doctrine of the Incarnation.
(3) A third point to notice is, The old Evangelism in its CONCEPTION OF SALVATION, and of religion generally. The characteristic to notice here is that religion was not so much a question of character as of status. Man's standing in the sight of God was the great thing. Was he sheltered judicially behind Christ, or was he standing on his own merits? This is a vital question to ask, certainly, but the way in which legal status was put sanctioned the most erroneous notions as to religion and life. Salvation was a thing that came into force at death. It was not a thing for life. Good works, of course, were permitted, and even demanded, but they were never very clearly reconcilable with grace. The prime end of religion was to get off; the plan of salvation was an elaborate scheme for getting off; and after a man had faced that scheme, understood it, acquiesced in it, the one thing needful was secured. Life after that was simply a waiting until the plan should be executed by his death. What use life was, this one thing being adjusted, it were hard to say. It was not in the religious sphere at all. The world was to pass away, and the lust thereof, and all time given to it, all effort spent on it, was so much loss, like putting embroidery upon a shroud.
When a preacher did speak of character, of the imitation of Christ, of self-denial, of righteousness, of truth and humility, the references theologically were not only not clear, but were generally introduced with an apology for enforcing them at all. Nine times out of ten, too, the preacher took them all back under the last head, where he spoke of man's inability and the necessity of the Holy Spirit. The ethical effect of even weakening the absolute connection between religion and morality is too obvious to be referred to, so I shall pass on.
Having now given samples of the teaching of the old Evangelism, I need not take up the time to complete its circle of theology, for the doctrines indicated rule and colour all the rest. No doubt what has been said up till now is more or less commonplace to most of you, and (with regard to the more) I now proceed to attempt something more constructive, for which, however, all that has gone before has been a somewhat necessary preparation. In what follows I can only hope to indicate what dimly seem to me to be the lines upon which a new, intelligent, and living Evangelism must be built up.
II. What I am most anxious to do here is to arrive at principles. I make no attempt to sketch portions of a detailed theology, such as one might wish to see taking the place of some of the old doctrines. That will all come in time; i.e., if it ought to come. It is the principles which are to guide us in constructing the new Evangelism that are the true difficulty. We have all our own opinion as to special points of contrast, and, as we think, of improvement; but what outstanding general truths are to regulate the movement as a whole? I fear I shall only have time to refer to two.
(1) Perhaps the most important principle, in the first place, is that the new Evangelism must not be doctrinal. By this is not meant that it is to be independent of doctrine, but simply that its truths as conveyed to the people are not to be in the propositional form. With regard to doctrine, to avoid misconception, let me say at once we must recognise it as one of the three absolutely essential possessions of a Christian Church.
The three outstanding departments of the Church's work are criticism, dogmatism, and Evangelism. Without the first there is no guarantee of truth, without the second there is no defence of truth, and without the third there is no propagation of truth. Criticism then, in a word, secures truth, dogmatism conserves it, and evangelism spreads it. Now, when it is said that preaching is not to be doctrinal, what is meant is this. When Evangelism wishes to receive truth, so as to expound it, it is to refer to criticism for information rather than to dogmatism. And when it gives out what it has received, it is neither to be critical in form, nor doctrinal.
To deal with this in detail. When Evangelism wishes to receive truth in order to expound it, it is to refer to criticism for that truth rather than to dogmatism. This simply means that a man is to go to a reliable edition of the Bible for his truth, and not to theology.
Why should he take this trouble? Does not theology give him Bible truth in accurate, convenient, and, moreover, in logical propositions? There it lies ready made to his hand, all cut and dry; why should he not use it? Just because it is all cut and dry. Just because it lies there ready made in accurate, convenient, and logical propositions. You cannot cut and dry truth. You cannot accept truth ready made without its ceasing to live as truth. And that is one of the reasons why the current Evangelism is dead.
There is in reality no worse enemy under certain circumstances to a true Evangelism than a propositional theology, with the latter controlling the former by the authority of the Church. For one does not then receive the truth for himself; he accepts it bodily. He begins, set up by his Church with a stock in trade which has cost him nothing, and which, though it may serve him all his life, is just as much worth exactly as his belief in his Church. One effect of this is to relieve him of all personal responsibility. This possession of truth, moreover, thus lightly won, is given to him as infallible. There is nothing to add to it. It is a system. And to start a man in life with such a principle is a degradation. All through life, instead of working towards truth, he is working from it, or what he is told is it.
An infallible standard is a temptation to a mechanical faith. Infallibility always paralyzes. It gives rest, but it is the rest of stagnation. Men make one great act of faith at the beginning of their lives -- then have done with it for ever. All moral, intellectual, and spiritual effort is over; and a cheap theology ends in a cheap life. It is the same thing that makes men take refuge in the Church of Rome and in a set of dogmas. Infallibility meets the deepest desire of man, but meets it in the most fatal form. All desire is given to stimulate to action; much more this, the deepest, -- the hunger after truth. Men deal with this desire in two ways. First, by Unbelief, -- that crushes it by blind force; second, by Infallibility, -- that lulls it to sleep by blind faith. The effect of a doctrinal theology is the effect of infallibility. The wholesale belief in a system, however grand it may be, grant even that it were infallible -- the wholesale belief in this system as the starting point for a working Evangelism is not Faith, though it always gets that name. It is mere credulity. There is a vital difference between Faith and credulity. Realize what it fully amounts to, and you will see how much, besides this, there is in the religion of this country which falls before the distinction. There is no real religious value in this belief; for it is more belief in a Church than in truth. It is a comfortable, credulous rest upon authority, not a hard-earned, self-obtained personal possession Truth never becomes truth until it is earned. The moral responsibility here, besides, is nothing. The Westminster Divines are responsible, not I. And anything which destroys responsibility, or transfers it, cannot but be injurious in its moral tendency, and useless in itself.
It may be objected, perhaps, that this statement of the paralysis, spiritual and mental, induced by infallibility applies also to the Bible. The answer is that though the Bible is infallible, the infallibility is not in such a form as to become a temptation. And that leads to a remark as to the contrast between the form of truth in the Bible and the form in theology. In theology, as we have seen, truth is propositional, tied up in neat parcels, systematized and arranged in logical order. In the Bible, truth is a fountain. There is an atmosphere here, an expansiveness, an infinity. Theology is essentially finite, and it only contains as much infinite truth as can be chained down by its finite words. The very point of it is, that it is defined, otherwise it is no use.
To the practical question. There are few minds which can really take truth in this theological form. Truth is a thing to be slowly absorbed, not to be bolted whole. In this country we have been so accustomed to get and give our truth in the propositional form, that many congregations do not recognise it if stated in the ordinary language of life. But this is the only living language. And the failure to catch sight of the truth when clothed in this language means that it has not been comprehended before as a substance, but as a form.
|Two or three days ago, I dined,| says Lynch in |Letters to the Scattered,| |with a little child whose mamma had prepared for him a very wholesome and delightful pudding. what is in it?' said the child. There's an egg in it,' said the mother. Where's the egg?' asked the child, after close and incredulous inspection. It is mixed with it,' she explained.|
|There are many grown men and women,| adds Lynch, |that unless they see the very form of a doctrine will not believe they can have the nutriment of it. They ask, Where's the egg?' and if you say it is mixed with it -- the doctrine of Atonement, or of Justification, or Sanctification -- and was diffused through the whole of what was said, they shake their heads suspiciously. They will have nothing to do with such preaching, or such books, or such people.|
There is nothing truer, certainly, than that in this country people at once suspect adulteration if you do not present them with the actual egg, shell and all. But what I am trying to show is that this demand is a mistake, and defeats its own end. The truth is Nature never provides for man's wants in any direction, bodily, mental, or spiritual, in such a form as that he can simply accept her gifts automatically. She puts all the mechanical powers at his disposal, but he must make his lever. She gives him corn, but he must grind it. She prepares coal, but he must dig it; and even when she grows him apples and plums, ready-made fruits, he has at least to digest them, and in most cases he had better cook them. A law of nature like this, we are justified in carrying by analogy into the region of the spiritual. A man can no more assimilate truth in infallible lumps than he can corn. Though it be perfect, infallible, yet he has to do everything to it before he can use it. Corn is perfect, all the products of Nature are perfect, and perfection in Nature corresponds to infallibility in truth. But perfect though they are, few of the products of Nature are available as they stand. So with Truth. Man must separate, think, prepare, dissolve, digest, work, and most of these he must do for himself and within himself. If it be replied that this is exactly what theology does, I answer, it is exactly what it does not. It simply does what the greengrocer does when he arranges his apples and plums in the shop-windows. He may tell me a Magnum Bonum from a Victoria, or a Baldwin from a Newtown Pippin; but he does not help me to eat it. His information is useful, and for scientific horticulture absolutely essential. Should a sceptical pomologist deny that there was such a thing as a Baldwin or mistake it for a Newtown Pippin, we should be glad to refer the said pomologist to him. But if we were hungry, and an orchard were handy, we should not trouble him. This brings us back to the original proposition then, that the new Evangelism as a provision for the hunger of men's souls is not to be doctrinal. Their truth is to be given them, not in infallible lumps, but as a diffused nutriment. Truth is an orchard rather than a museum. Dogmatism will be very useful to us when scientific necessity makes us go to the museum. Criticism will be very useful in seeing that only fruit-bearers grow in the orchard and neither weeds nor poisonous sports. But truth in infallible propositional lumps is not natural, proper, assimilable food for the soul of man; and therefore a propositional theology is not the subject-matter of Evangelism.
(2) So much for exposition of the nature of the truth with which Evangelism is concerned. The second principle to which we now turn refers to a matter of equal moment -- the faculty which deals with truth. And I might sum up what is to be said under this head in this proposition -- The leading Faculty of the new theology is not to be the Reason. The previous proposition deals with the form of truth. This is meant to elucidate the principle of arriving at truth. It is a deeper question, and strikes at a fundamental difference between the old and the new theology.
The old theology was largely a product of reason. It was an elaborate, logical construction. The complaint against it is that, as a logical construction, it was arrived at by a faculty of the mind, and not by a faculty of the soul. On close scrutiny it turns out to be really nothing more nor less than rationalism.
The doctrine of the Atonement, for instance, and the whole federal theology is an elaborate rationalism. The common way of presenting salvation is the most naked syllogism: |I believe. He that believeth hath everlasting life, therefore I have everlasting life.| I do not pause to point out that a theology of this sort may be received by any one without any spiritual effect whatsoever being produced. It does not take a religious man to be a theologian; it simply takes a man with fair reasoning powers. This man happens to apply these powers to doctrinal subjects, but in no other sense than he might apply them to astronomy or physics. I knew a man, the author of a well-known orthodox theological work which has passed through a dozen editions, and lies on the shelves of all our libraries. I never knew that man to go to church, nor to give a farthing in charity, though he was a rich man, nor to give any sensible sign whatever that he had ever heard of Christianity. It is equally unnecessary to point out that if reason is the exclusive or primary faculty in theology, theology itself breaks down under rigid tests at almost every point. Its first principle, for example, that God is, contains a distinct contradiction, as has been repeatedly pointed out. Many philosophers, therefore, in being presented with theology as the expression of the Christian religion, have had no alternative but to become atheists. The reasoning faculty then cannot be the organ of the new Evangelism, for its conclusions are philosophically assailable. But I am not dealing here with philosophy, and it is not to be understood that I am using terms -- Reason, for instance -- in any particular philosophical sense. I am looking at the question exclusively from its practical side. And the question I ask myself is, |When I apprehend spiritual truth, what faculty do I employ?| When I say it is not the reason, I do not purposely make the distinction between the Understanding and the Reason, which Kant and his followers, for example, do in philosophy, and Coleridge in religion, making the Understanding the logical faculty and the Reason the intuitive faculty. I use the word in its ordinary working sense, meaning by it, if you like, the logical understanding of the writer's mind.
What faculty do I employ, then, in apprehending spiritual truth? What is the primary faculty of the new Evangelism if it is not the Reason? Leaving philosophical distinctions aside again, I think it is the IMAGINATION. Overlook the awkwardness of this mere word, and ask yourself if this is not the organ of your mind which gives you a vision of truth. The subject-matter of the new Evangelism must be largely the words of Christ, the circle of ideas of Christ in their harmony, and especially in their perspective. Sit down for a moment and hear Him speak. Take almost any of His words. To what faculty do they appeal? Almost without exception to the Imagination. And this is the main thing I wish to say to-night. I do not merely refer to His parables, to His allusions to nature, to the miracles, to His endless symbolism -- the comparisons between Himself and bread, water, vine, wine, shepherd, doctor, light, life, and a score of others. But all His most important sayings are put up in such form as to make it perfectly clear that they were deliberately designed for the Imagination.
You cannot indeed really put up religious truth in any other form. You can put up facts, information, but God's truth will not go into a word. You must put it in an image. God Himself could not put truth in a word, therefore He made the Word flesh. There are few things less comprehended than this relation of truth to language.
|Was stets und aller Orten
Sich ewig jung erweist
Ist in gebundnen Worten
Ein ungebundner Geist.|
The purpose of revelation is to exhibit the mind of God -- the ungebundner Geist. The vehicle is words, gebundnen Worten. What words? Words which are windows and not prisons. Words of the intellect cannot hold God -- the finite cannot hold the infinite. But an image can. So God has made it possible for us by giving us an external world to make image-words. The external world is not a place to work in, or to feed in, but to see in. It is a world of images, the external everywhere revealing the eternal. The key to the external world is to look not at the things which are seen but in looking at the things which are seen to see through them to the things that are unseen. Look at the ocean. It is mere water -- a thing which is seen; but look again, look through that which is seen, and you see the limitlessness of Eternity. Look at a river, another of God's images of the unseen. It is also water, but God has given it another form to image a different truth. There is Time, swift and silent. There is Life, irrevocable, passing. But the most singular truth of this, as suggested a moment ago, is the Incarnation. There was no word in the world's vocabulary for Himself. In Nature we had images of Time and Eternity. The seasons spoke of Change, the mountains of Stability. The home-life imaged Love. Law and Justice were in the civil system. The snow was Purity, the rain, Fertility. By using these metaphors we could realize feebly Time and Eternity, Stability and Change. But there was no image of Himself. So God made one. He gave a word in Flesh -- a word in the Image-form. He gave the Man Christ Jesus the express image of His person This was the one image that was wanting in the image-vocabulary of truth, and the Incarnation supplied it.
God had really supplied this image before, but man had spoilt it, disfigured it to such an extent that it was unrecognisable. God made man in His own image; that was a word made flesh. From its ruins man might have reconstructed an image of God, but the audacity of the attempt repelled him, and for centuries men had forgotten that the image of God was in themselves.
How, then, do you characterize that irreverent elaboration of theology which attempts to show you in words what God has had to do in the slow unfolding of Himself in history, and by that final resort, when words were useless, of incarnating the Word, giving us the manifestation of a living God in a living Word. These doctrines stand apart. They are above words. It is a mockery for the Reason to define and formulate here, as if by heaping up words she could drive the truth into a corner and dispense it in phrases as required. It is just as clear as a simple question of rhetoric, that Christ's words were positively protected against the mere touch of reason. They were put up in such form in many cases as to challenge reason to make beginning, middle, or end of them. Try to reason out a parable. Try to read into it theology, as our forefathers often did; or dispensational truth, as certain erratic theologians do to-day, and it becomes either utterly contemptible or utterly unintelligible.
You see a parable, you discern it; it enters your mind as an image, you image it, imagine it. I am the Bread of Life. With what faculty do we apprehend that? We look at it long and earnestly, and at first are utterly baffled by it. But as we look it grows more and more transparent, and we see through it. We do not understand it; if we were asked what we saw, we should be surprised at the difficulty we had in defining it. Some image rose out of the word Bread, became slowly living, sank into our soul, and vanished. The peculiarity of this expression is that it is not a simile. |I am like bread.| Christ does not say that. I am bread -- the thing itself. And that faculty, standing face to face with truth, draws aside the veil, or pierces it, seizes the living substance, absorbs it; and the soul is nourished.
Besides the parable, the metaphor, and the metaphor which is no metaphor, Christ has two other favourite modes of expression. These are the axiom and the paradox. The axiom is the basis of certainty; the reason is inoperative without it, but it is not apprehended by reason. It is seen, not proved. Again, therefore, we are dealing with the Imagination. The paradox is the darkest of all figures. |He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life shall find it.| What can reason make of that? It is an utter blank; it absolutely repels reason. But for that very cause it is the richest mine for the imagination. It is not the darkest figure, but the lightest, because the rays come from exactly opposite sides, and meet as truth in the middle. The shell of words, once burst, reveals a whole world, in which the illuminated mind runs riot, and revels in the boundlessness of truth.
Had the reason been able to sink its shaft, it might have brought up a nugget. Theology would have gained another proposition, another neat parcel, and there would have been the end of it. As it is, it is without end, limitless, infinite truth, incapable in that form of becoming uninteresting, unreal, included in a human phrase. It is this sense of depth about Christ's words which is the sure test of their truth. They shade off, every one, into the unknown, and the roots of the known are always in the unknown. Omnia exeunt in mysterium. Dogma is simply an attempt to undo this. It takes up the sublimest truth in its fingers with no more awe than an anatomist lifts a muscle with his forceps, turns it about, dissects it, determines the genus and species of the organism to which it belongs, and marks it down |described| for all future time. We know all about it -- all about it. We see the whole thing quite clearly; it is as simple as the frog's muscle. The new Evangelism can never deal with truth in this way. It will never say that it sees quite clearly. It may remain ignorant, but it will never presume to say there is no darkness, no mystery, no unknown. It will sound truth, it will go fathoms further perhaps than the reason can go, but it will come back saying we have found no bottom. It is not all as clear as the old theology; it has that dimness of an older theology which sees through a glass darkly, which knows in part, and which, because it knows in part, knows the more certainly that it shall know hereafter.
The want of apprehension of the quality of truth by-much of the propositional theology is in nothing better evidenced than by this mistake as to its quantity. It robbed it at once of the infinite and the supernatural. The soul-food was taken out of the truth, and the husks thrown to the intellect. As a faculty, then, the reason is not large enough to be the organ of Christianity. It has a very high and prominent place to play in Christianity, but prima facie it lacks the first and the second qualities of a religious faculty. The first of these qualities is that just mentioned, largeness and penetration. The second is universality. All men cannot reason, but all men can see. In the rudest savage and in the youngest child, the imagination is strong. And Christ addressed His religion to the most unlettered, to the youngest child. He boldly asserted that His religion was for the youngest child. He directly appealed again and again to the child-spirit. |Except ye become as a little child, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.| To object to this that Christ was speaking to the Oriental mind is of course beside the mark. Christ was not an Oriental speaking to the Oriental, He was the Son of Man speaking to man in the universal language of truth. I have already apologised for using this word Imagination, but I think I have made clear the idea. I am not concerned longer, therefore, about retaining it. I am not sure that it is the right word. You might perhaps prefer to call it faith or intuition, or the spirit of discernment, or a subjective idealism, but the name is of no moment. The idea I have tried to make clear is that this is the faculty which works with the eyes, as contrasted with reason, which works with the hands. The old theology manipulates truth, the new is to discern it. As preachers our aim must be, not to prove things, but to make men see things.
This conclusion with regard to the faculty of the new Evangelism is derived simply from observation. It contains the crucial point of the whole question, and I have little more to say except in support of it. But I need scarcely remind those of you who are in any way conversant with German philosophy that distinctions closely corresponding to this have been drawn in philosophy, and long indeed before the German philosophers arose. The later form of this philosophy filtered into English literature early in this century, and at once awakened profound interest, and, it is fair to say, alarm. Through such men as Coleridge and the Hares it was easily traced to its source in Schelling and Kant. But that Schelling and Kant, Fichte and Hegel had differentiated this faculty, or something like this faculty, in the philosophical sphere, was against it. The new influence for the time was quenched. The unfortunate thing with the English neo-Platonists was that they paid too little attention to the practical aspects of truth. Had Coleridge done this, had Maurice and Hare done this more, we should have been farther on to-day with the new Evangelism. These men, and especially Coleridge, were far too transcendental in their metaphysics to be the prophets of the new Evangelism, but with many other errors they held the germ of a very great truth. With Coleridge the imagination was a synthesis of the reasoning power and the sensing power. His definition is |that reconciling and mediatory power, which, incorporating the reason in images of sense, and organizing (as it were) the flux of the senses, by the permanent and self-circling energies of the reason, gives birth to a system of symbols harmonious in themselves, and consubstantial with the truths of which they are the conductors.| Again he says |the grounds of the real truth, the life, the substance, the hope, the love, in one word the faith, these are derivatives from the practical, moral, and spiritual nature and being of man.|
I do not stop to inquire here as to where Coleridge's version of |the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world| leads. The new Evangelism doubtless will have its apologetics when it exists. Nor do I enter upon the question as to how far this light exists in every man, or how far it is true that those only who are born again can see the kingdom of God. These are particular applications which may just now be passed over. But I should like to go on with the general subject by adding another quotation, this time from science, bearing upon the general subject.
In I870 Professor Tyndall wrote an address entitled, |On the Scientific Use of the Imagination.| The motto or text of this address is taken from a paper read before the Royal Society some years ago by its then president, Sir Benjamin Brodie. It says: |Physical investigation, more than anything besides, helps to teach us the actual value and right use of the imagination -- that wondrous faculty which properly controlled by experience and reflection becomes the noblest attribute of man; the source of poetic genius, the instrument of discovery to science, without the aid of which Newton would never have invented fluxions, nor Davy have decomposed the earths and alkalies, nor would Columbus have found another continent.| Then Tyndall goes on to say: |We find ourselves gifted with the power of forming mental images of the ultra-sensible; and by this power, when duly chastened and controlled, we can lighten the darkness which surrounds the world of the senses. There are Tories even in Science who regard Imagination as a faculty to be feared and avoided rather than employed.| But |Imagination becomes the prime mover of the physical discoverer. Newton's passage from a falling apple to a falling moon was at the outset a leap of the Imagination. In Faraday the exercise of this faculty preceded all his experiments . . . . In fact, without this power our knowledge of Nature would be a mere tabulation of co-existences and sequences.| If Tyndall claims so much for the scientific use of the Imagination, what may we not claim for the religious use of it? What is not possible to an Imagination guided by reason and illuminated, as we hold it may be, and is, by the Spirit of God? |Without this power,| we might almost paraphrase from Tyndall, |our knowledge of religion must be, or is, a mere tabulation of co-existences and sequences.| There is one preacher to whom, from his printed sermons, I have many times been much beholden and from whom I also quote a sentence. I do not stay to characterize the sermons of Horace Bushnell, but he has long been to me a representative man of the new Evangelism, although I knew nothing of him, of his life, of his methods of thought or work. But the other day he died, and his life was written. There I have found, to my great amazement, that Bushnell's method of looking at truth is defined by himself as an exercise of the Imagination. He has actually published an article, which appears in America bearing this title, |The Gospel a Gift to the Imagination.| Permit me to quote a sentence or two from the biography. Bushnell is speaking in propria persona. |The Christian Gospel is pictorial. Its every line or lineament is traced in some image or metaphor, and no ingenuity can get it away from metaphor. No animal ever understood a metaphor. That belongs to man. . . . All the truths of religion are given by images, all God's revelation is made to the imagination, and all the rites, and services, and ceremonies of the olden times were only a preparation of draperies and figures for what was to come, the basis of words sometime to be used as metaphors of the Christian grace. Christ is God's last metaphor!' the express image of God's person! and when we have gotten all the metaphoric meanings of His life and death, all that is expressed and bodied in His person of God's saving help, and new-creating, sin-forgiving, reconciling love, the sooner we dismiss all speculations on the literalities of His incarnate miracles, His derivation, the composition of His person, His suffering, plainly transcendent as regards our possible understanding -- the wiser we shall be in our discipleship. . . . If we try to make a science out of the altar metaphors, it will be no gospel that we make, but a poor dry jargon -- (rather) a righteousness that makes nobody righteous, a justice satisfied by injustice, a mercy on the basis of pay, a penal deliverance that keeps on foot all the penal liabilities.| One passage more. |There is no book in the world that contains so many repugnances or antagonistic forms of assertion as the Bible. Therefore, if any man please to play off his constructive logic upon it, he can easily show it up as the absurdest book in the world. But whosoever wants, on the other hand, really to behold, and receive all truth, and would have the truth-world overhang him as an empyrean of stars, complex, multitudinous, striving antagonistically, yet comprehended, height above height, and deep under deep in a boundless score of harmony -- what man soever content with no small rote of logic and catechism, reaches with true hunger after this, and will offer himself to the many-sided forms of the Scripture with a perfectly ingenuous and receptive spirit, he shall find his nature flooded with senses, vastnesses and powers of truth such as it is even greatness to feel.|
Gentlemen, after the old Evangelism, this is a new world to live in. There is air here. Take the Gospel as a gift to the Imagination, and you are entered into a large place. It is like a conversion. We read the Bible before with a key. A lamp was put in our hands with which to search for truth -- rather to search for Scripture proofs of a truth thrust down our throats. We were not told the Bible was the lamp. I once saw an hotel-keeper on a starlit night in autumn erect an electric light to show his guests Niagara. It never occurred to the creature that God's dim, mystic starlight was ten million times more brilliant to man's soul than ten million carbons. When will it occur to us that God's truth is Light -- self-luminous; to be seen because self-luminous? When shall we understand that it has no speech nor language, that men are to come to the naked truth with their naked eyes, bringing no candle? The old theology was luminous once. But it is not now. |Election,| says Froude in |Bunyan,| |Election, conversion, day of grace, coming to Christ, have been pawed and fingered by unctuous hands for near two hundred years. The bloom is gone from the flower. The plumage, once shining with hues direct from Heaven, is soiled and bedraggled. The most solemn of all realities have been degraded into the passwords of technical theology.| It is from this that we are to emancipate ourselves, and, God helping us, others. We have a Gospel in the new Evangelism which for a hundred years the world has been waiting for. We have a Gospel which those who even faintly see it thank God that they live, and live to preach it. But I am not quite done yet. What will be, what are, the main hindrances to the acceptance of the new Evangelism? They are mainly two.
(1) Unspirituality and (2) Laziness.
(1) All formal religions are efforts to escape spirituality. It matters not what the form is -- ritual, idols or doctrine, the essence of all is the same -- they are devices to escape spiritual worship. The carnal mind is enmity against God -- hates any spiritual exercise or effort. This is at the bottom of the perpetuation of the old theology. There is nothing a man will not do to evade spirituality. Do we not all know moods in which we would rather walk twenty miles than take family worship? And there are moods in which men find it of all efforts least easy to come into contact with living truth. This is always difficult: to know His doctrine, a man must do the will of God. The supreme factor in arriving at spiritual knowledge is not theology, it is consecration. But for years and years -- and it is one of the saddest truths in this world -- a preacher may go on manipulating his theological forms without the slightest exercise of religion, unknown to himself, and unnoticed by his people.
(2) The second obstacle is laziness. To make doctrinal sermons requires no effort. A man has simply to take down his Hodge, and there it is. Every Sabbath, though not formally expressed, he has the same heads. And the people understand it, or at least they understood it twenty years ago when he preached, and preached well and with real heart, in the bloom of his early ministry. But for years now he has been a mere mechanic, a repeater of phrases, a reproducer of Hodge. And the people -- they too are spared all effort. They are delighted with their minister. He in these days preaches the Gospel.
A caution may be necessary. In His exhaustless wisdom, in speaking on these subjects the Lord Jesus said: |No man having tasted the old wine straightway desireth new.| We can speak of these things broadly to one another here, but we cannot with too much delicacy insinuate the new Evangelism upon the Church. The old is better, men say; and if any man really feels that it is better, I do not know that we should urge it upon him at all. There are many saints in our Churches, and if the old wine is really their life-blood, we can but wish them Godspeed with all humility. Younger men will come to us, too, when our wine is old and the sun has set upon our new theology; but to the many who are waiting for the dawn, and these are many, our evangel may perhaps bring some light and fulfil gladness and liberty.
Least of all have we anything to do with wilfully destroying the old. Christ was never destructive in His methods. It was very exquisite tact, a true understanding of men and a delicate respect for them, that made Him say, |I came not to destroy but to fulfil.|