Outer Media Of The Inner Spirit
( Originally Published 1896 )
Christianity seeks external expression of its vitality. It takes the shape of worship and of word, of church or kingdom, and of language or literature. It flowers into the highest art of the painter and sculptor. It bursts forth in the wondrous majesty of architecture, in the tabernacle, in the temple, in the subline beauty of the cathedral.-Guizot.
" An abstract Christianity is neither useful nor beautiful."
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.-St. Paul.
The prayer-book can be no substitute for the heart in the work of winning souls to Christ.-Northern Advocate.
It cannot be denied that in this materialistic age we need to draw the distinction more clearly between religion and its forms, between ends and means, between worship itself and the instruments of worship, between art-service and heart-service. The organ is not the tune, nor is the minister the religion he preaches. A man may perhaps lead a devout life without the ordinances of religion, but he will find it extremely difficult and not in harmony with God's ordained plans. " Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God," and " How shall they hear without a preacher?" God is no doubt independent of ordinances, but he has not made us independent of them. Religion does not consist in ordinances, but our spiritual life is so closely connected with them that we cannot despise or dispense with them. The tools with which we dig about and fertilize the tree are no part of the tree, yet are quite necessary to its thrift and fruit-bearing.
Religion itself is a thought, a feeling. It is a condition or state of mind and heart - a reaching out of the thought and affection toward some divinity. True religion is the right development of the soul toward God who is a Personality. "God is love," and He yearns for the supreme love and worship of all his intelligent creatures. An absolute being, an absolute God is inconceivable. Christ summed up the whole of true religion in the one word love - love to God and love to our neighbor, thus fulfilling the law.
Christianity in its essential principle is a life - an invisible, divine, living reality. It is a spiritual power derived directly from God. It is the kingdom of God within us, even his spirit dwelling in us and bearing witness with our spirit that we are his children. In its essence there is nothing material about the Christian religion. Christ's kingdom is a spiritual kingdom ."not of this world." God is a spirit and must be worshiped in spirit and in truth. What is meant by "spirit," soul, heart? Spirit cannot be painted, sculptured, or written down. It is that essential immaterial part of us that loves or hates, thinks or feels, wills or acts. Spirit is the fire and lamp of life - that which cannot die, which resists death when the body succumbs. Science has no instrument delicate enough to pick it up, no microscope keen-eyed enough to detect it, no chemist subtle enough to analyze it. But I have it. It is that which is, now shaping my thought into words on this page. Spirit thinks and feels, and that which thinks and feels must exist. There is no effect without a cause.
We all possess a body and soul, an outer and an inner man. It will not do to neglect or despise either. God gave us each and he would sanctify both. The import-ant question is how to harmonize the outer and inner man.
Christianity has an outward as well as an inward existence which makes it peculiarly adapted to man's two-fold nature. As the human soul must have a physical body through which to manifest itself and perform its behests in this material world, so spiritual religion needs a visible body or outer media through whose agency it max reveal itself to the world and carry on its vast plans and operations for man's salvation. The most spiritual religion must have some outward symbol of faith. The visible church with all its buildings, forms and ceremonies, is not religion; it is only a feeble picture to the world of what is the real kingdom of God. To accomplish anything worthy on earth, it would seem that spirit must be wedded to form. We have failed to see the first good work that any "spirit-hands" have done. All such silly pretentions are not worth a rap. The fraud always appears when the lights are turned on. We are not yet lifted into the realm of pure spirit, but we wonder that some people do not hire a balloon and leave this planet. If we may judge from their heads, they are light enough to float away any day. The forms of religion may remain without the spirit, but the spirit will hardly tarry without the incarnating forms in this material world of ours.
Christ himself found it necessary to assume a body and become Immanuel - God with us, that he might come nearer to us, and so long as we are in the body, let us not cry down form in religion. Christianity must have some outward expression of its inward vitality, and it is folly to attempt to dispense with all -externals in worship, all visible symbols and services. Forms are servicable in religion as barrels are useful in commerce, and as we do not condemn barrels because they are sometimes empty, why denounce all religious forms because we find them sometimes empty? When St. Paul would rebuke those " having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof," he does not mean that religion is to have no form, no regular system, no government, but that a mere form or vain ceremony - a profession alone, without the life and power of practical godliness, without the Holy Ghost, is but a mockery and utterly worthless.
Men have ever been in danger of attaching too much importance to mere forms and religious instruments. The groveling nature of man has been wont to clamor for some medium through which to reach Christ. Systems of metaphysics and systems of ethics have been framed to convey Christian doctrines. While this was going on during the centuries of church history, human speculations as well as heathen philosophies have been mixed up with the truth of Christianity. Primitive Christianity became incorporated with old Roman paganism. Unadulterated religion is a scarce article. One sees very little, if any pure and perfect religion in this world. In its best manifestations, we are apt to see some defect, redundance, or mixture. We may never see it in its absolute purity and perfection till we go where "this corruption shall put on incorruption" and where they worship in temples not made with hands.
Every true Christian feels a pure and steady admiration for God's glorious material universe. He appreciates it because God made it and upholds it by the word of his power. Many material interests necessarily occupy the soul's attention while here in the body. Our present earthly life is made up largely of the material and the formal. Just here lies the danger - lest we lose sight of the spiritual in the material. Just at this point thousands have made shipwreck of faith. Religious men become formal in their worship, then worldly, sensual, greedy after filthy lucre. In the race after material enjoyment, the body is allowed to rule the spirit, the rational is subjected to the animal.