ST JOHN III.8,
The wind bloweth whither it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
It is often asked -- men have a right to ask -- what would the world have been by now without Christianity? without the Christian religion? without the Church?
But before these questions can be answered, we must define, it is discovered, what we mean by Christianity, the Christian religion, the Church.
And it is found -- or I at least believe it will be found -- more safe and wise to ask a deeper and yet a simpler question still: What would the world have been without that influence on which Christianity, and religion, and the Church depend? What would the world have been without the Holy Spirit of God?
But some will say: This is a more abstruse question still. How can you define, how can you analyse, the Spirit of God? Nay, more, how can you prove its existence? -- Such questioners have been, as it were, baptized unto John's baptism. They are very glad to see people do right, and not do wrong, from any well-calculated motives, or wholesome and pleasant emotions. But they have not as yet heard whether there be any Holy Spirit.
We can only answer, Just so. This Holy Spirit in Whom we believe defies all analysis, all definition whatsoever. His nature can be brought under no terms derived from human emotions or motives. He is literally invisible; as invisible to the conception of the brain as He is to the bodily eye. His presence is proved only by its effects. The Spirit bloweth whither it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but thou canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth.
Such words must sound as dreams to those analytical philosophers who allow nothing in man below the sphere of consciousness, actual or possible; who have dissected the human mind till they find in it no personal will, no indestructible and spiritual self, but a character which is only the net result of innumerable states of consciousness; who hold that man's outward actions, and also his inmost instincts, are all the result either of calculations about profit and loss, pleasure and pain, or of emotions, whether hereditary or acquired. Ignoring the deep and ancient distinction, which no one ever brought out so clearly as St Paul, between the flesh and the spirit, they hold that man is flesh, and can be nothing more; that each person is not really a person, but is the consequence of his brain and nerves; and having thus, by logical analysis, got rid of the spirit of man, their reason and their conscience quite honestly and consistently see no need for, or possibility of, a Spirit of God, to ennoble and enable the human spirit. Why need there be, if the difference between an animal and a man be one of degree alone, and not of kind?
We answer: That there is a flesh in man, brain and nerves, emotions and passions, identical with that of animals, we do not deny. We should be fools if we did deny it; for the fact is hideously and shamefully patent. None knew that better than St Paul, who gave a list of the works of the flesh, the things which a man does who is the slave of his own brain and nerves -- and a very ugly list it is -- beginning with adultery and ending with drunkenness, after passing through all the seven deadly sins. And neither St Paul nor we deny, that in this fleshly, carnal and animal state the vast majority of the human race has lived, and lives still, to its own infinite misery and confusion; and that it has a perpetual tendency, whenever lifted out of that state, to fall back into it again, and perish.
But St Paul says, and we say: That crushed under this animal nature there is in man a spirit. We say: That below all his consciousness lies a nobler element; a divine spark, or at least a divine fuel, which must be kindled into life by the divine Spirit, the Spirit of God. And we say that in proportion as that Spirit of God kindles the spirit of man, he begins to act after a fashion for which he can give no logical reason; that by instinct, and without calculation of profit or loss, pleasure or pain, he begins to act on what he calls duty, honour, love, self-sacrifice. But what these are he cannot analyse. Mere words cannot define them. He can only obey that which prompts him, he knows not what nor whence; and say with Luther of old: |I can do no otherwise. God help me.|
And we say that such men and women are the salt of the earth, who keep society from rotting; that by such men and women, and by their example and influence, direct and indirect, has Christendom been raised up out of the accursed slough into which Europe and, indeed, the whole known world, had fallen during the early Roman Empire; and that to this influence, and therefore to the Holy Spirit of God alone, and not to any prudential calculations, combined experiences, or so-called philosophies of men, is owing all which keeps Europe from being a hell on earth. And we say, moreover, that those who deny this, and dream of a morality and a civilization without The Spirit of God, are unconsciously throwing down the ladder by which they themselves have climbed, and sawing off the very bough to which they cling.
Duty, honour, love, self-sacrifice -- these are the fruits of The Spirit; unknown to, and unobeyed by, the savage, or by the civilized man who -- as has too often happened -- as is happening now in too many lands, on both sides of the Atlantic, is sinking back into inward savagery, amid an outward and material civilization.
Moreover -- and this appears to us a fair experimental proof that our old- fashioned belief in A Spirit of God, which acts upon the spirit of man, is a true belief -- moreover, I say: It is a patent fact, that wherever and whenever there has been a revival of the Christian religion; whenever, that is, amid whatsoever confusions and errors, men have begun to feel the need of the Holy Spirit of God, and to pray for that Spirit, a moral revival has accompanied the religious one. Men and women have not only become better themselves; and that often suddenly and in very truth miraculously better: but the yearning has awoke in them to make others better likewise. The grace of God, as they have called it, has made them gracious to their fellow-creatures; and duty, honour, love, self-sacrifice, call it by what name we will, has said to them, with a still small voice more potent than all the thunders of the law: Go, and seek and save that which is lost.
In no case has this instinctive tendency to practical benevolence been more striking, than in the case of that great religious revival throughout England at the beginning of this century, which issued in the rise of the Evangelical school: a school rightly so called, because its members did try to obey the precepts of the Gospel, according to their understanding of them, in spirit and in truth.
The doctrines which they held are a matter not for us, but for God and their own souls. The deeds which they did are matter for us, and for all England; for they have left their mark on the length and breadth of the land. They were inspired -- cultivated, highborn, and wealthy folk many of them -- with a strange new instinct that God had bidden them to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit the prisoner and the sick, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to preach good tidings to the meek. A strange new instinct: and from what cause, save from the same cause as that which Isaiah assigned to his own like deeds? -- Because |The Spirit of the Lord was upon him.|
Yes, if those gracious men, those gracious women, did not shew forth the Spirit and grace of God with power, then there is either no Spirit of God, no grace of God; or those who deny to them the name of saints forget the words of Him Who said: By their fruits ye shall know them; of Him Who said, too: That the unpardonable sin, the sin which shewed complete moral perversion, the sin against the Holy Spirit of God, was to attribute good deeds to bad motives, and say: He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils.
Yes, that old Evangelical School may now have passed its prime. It may now be verging toward old age; and other schools, younger and stronger, with broader and clearer knowledge of dogma, of history, civil and ecclesiastical, of the value of ceremonial, of the needs of the human intellect and emotions, may have passed it in a noble rivalry, and snatched, as it were, from the hands of the old Evangelical School the lamp of truth, to bear it further forward in the race. But God forbid that the spiritual children should be ungrateful to their spiritual parents, though God may have taught them things which their parents did not know.
And they were our spiritual parents, those old Evangelicals. No just and well-informed man who has passed middle age, but must confess, that to them we owe whatsoever vital religion exists at this moment in any school or party of the Church of England; that to them we owe the germs at least, and in many cases the full organization and the final success, of a hundred schemes of practical benevolence and practical justice, without which this country, in its haste to grow rich at all risks and by all means, might have plunged itself ere now into anarchy and revolution. And he must confess, too, if he is one who has seen much of his fellow-creatures and their characters, that that school numbered among its disciples -- and, thank God, they are not all yet gone home to their rest -- some of the loveliest human souls, whose converse has chastened and ennobled his own soul. Ah, well --
The old order changeth, giving place to the new;
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
And new methods and new institutions have arisen, and will yet arise, for seeking and saving that which is lost. God's blessing on them all, to whatsoever party, church, or sect they may belong! Whosoever cast out devils in Christ's name, Christ has forbidden us to forbid them, whether they follow us or not. But yet shall we not still honour and love the old Evangelical School, and many an Institution which it has left behind, as heirlooms to some of us, at least, from our mothers, or from women to whom we owed, in long past years, our earliest influences for good, our earliest examples of a practical Christian life, our earliest proofs that there was indeed a Spirit of God, a gracious Spirit, Who gave grace to the hearts, the deeds, the very looks and voices of those in whom He dwelt; Institutions, which are too likely some of them to die, simply from the loss of old friends?
The loss of old friends. Yes, so it is always in this world. The old earnest hearts go home one by one to their rest; and the young earnest hearts -- and who shall blame them? -- go elsewhere; and try new fashions of doing good, which are more graceful and more agreeable to them. For the religious world, like all other forms of the world, has its fashions; and of them too stands true the saying of the apostle: That this world and the fashion thereof pass away. Many a good work, which once was somewhat fashionable in its way, has become somewhat unfashionable, and something else is fashionable in its place; and five-and-twenty years hence something else will have become fashionable; and our children will look back on our ways of doing good with pity, if not with contempt, as narrow and unenlightened, just as we are too apt to look back on our fathers' ways. And all the while, what can they teach worth teaching, what can we teach worth teaching, save what our fathers and mothers taught, what the Spirit of God taught them, and has taught to all who would listen since the foundation of the world, |shewing man what was good:| and what was that -- |What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?|
Ah! why do we, even in religious and moral matters, even in the doing good to the souls and bodies of our fellow-creatures, allow ourselves to be the puppets of fashions? Of fashions which even when harmless, even beautiful, are but the garments, or rather stage-properties, in which we dress up the high instincts which God's Spirit bestows on us, in order to make them agreeable enough for our own prejudices, or pretty enough for our own tastes. How little do we perceive our own danger -- so little that we yield to it every day -- the danger of mistaking our fashion of doing good for the good done; aye, for the very Spirit of God Who inspires that good; mistaking the garment for the person who wears it, the outward and visible sign for the inward and spiritual grace; and so in our hearts falling actually into that very error of transubstantiation, of which we repudiate the name!
Why, ah why, will we not take refuge from fashions in Him in Whom are no fashions -- even in the Holy Spirit of God, Who is unchangeable and eternal as the Father and the Son from Whom He proceeds; Who has spoken words in sundry and divers manners to all the elect of God; Who has inspired every good thought and feeling which was ever thought or felt in earth or heaven; but Whose message of inspiration has been, and will be, for ever the same -- |Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God|?
Could we but utterly trust Him, and utterly believe in His presence: then we should welcome all truth, under whatever outward forms of the mere intellect it was uttered; then we should bless every good deed, by whomsoever and howsoever it was done; then we should rise above all party strifes, party cries, party fashions and shibboleths, to the contemplation of the One supreme good Spirit -- the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and hold to the One Fashion of Almighty God, which never changes, for it is eternal by the necessity of His own eternal character; namely, -- To be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect; because He causes His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and His rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.