Thoughts On Religion At The Front - Ch. 18
( Originally Published 1917 )
THERE is also the objection that the view implied in the preceding pages leaves out or passes over too lightly our need as sinners in the sight of God all Holy. Is not our need for forgiveness to impel us towards God ? Is not our need-our need in anxiety, our need in guiltiness—to be a motive in our religion ?
Yes, a motive, but not the motive. It is a question of order. What must come first is not our need, whether as anxious or guilty, but God's need, or else our religion will be at the level of natural religion and below the Christian level. It is because men are poor towards God and think coldly and ungenerously of Him that they are riot worrying about their sins.' Men are not sorry for sin (except with the seedy remorse of ' the morning after') until their sin has come into contact with love. The more vital a young man is, the less will he brood in self-regard over his wrongdoing. " Anyhow, I have lived," he will say. But if it comes home to him what his wrongdoing has done to another who loves him, then he begins to be sorry.
" I didn't care," he will say, "for myself. I had my fling. But now I see that what I did has broken my mother's heart. I wish to God I hadn't done it."
Our religion must begin from God.
It must spring out of love fuller and more hungry than our desirous hearts.
It must spring out of love, not—how could it ?—out of our love for God, but out of His love for us. If God's love for us, manifested in the utterly real and suffering love of Jesus, and in no insipid fancy of our sentimental moments, wins its way past our guard and over the barriers of self, hatred of sin and sorrow for sin will follow. But it is a question of order : first, what God is second, what we are. The more vivid the first is to a man, the more inevitable his candid consciousness of the second. The more he is taken captive by the assurance that God is his Father, the more glaring it will be to him that he is an unworthy son. And the more men set out to give effect to their sonship in service for the kingdom of God, the more they will realise their strange impotence. The dreadful hiatus between aspiration and performance, between acknowledged and realised ideals will widen. The eager impulse to disregard self and to serve God with love and praise and joy, will be found horridly at variance with a natural and rooted impulse towards selfdevotion and indulgence. The worship and praise of God, not only in thought and word but in deed, will stumble and fall short of its goal—and then the tears of tragic failure will start and the cry of despair ring out. It was so with Peter in the porch and Paul beaten down in bondage under the Law. " Who shall deliver us from the body of this death?" think there is no fear but that, if we do set out to put into practice our inheritance as sons of God, we shall come to the Cross of Christ in genuine "Rock-of-ages" fashion, bringing nothing to it in the end, except our lovelessness.
His, after all and in fact, was the one, free, utterly loving and obedient offering of self to the Father. He did something others could not do—He died for them, and in Him and through Him alone did they come unto the Holy Father. I cannot work it out here, but along this way I seem to travel home into the great evangel of the Atone-Only, I plead, this propitiatory work of Christ must come second in the imagination, and His Love - of - God-revealing work first. And I think in the course of the history of Christianity an inversion has conic about. In hymns and liturgies the prima facie and predominant emphasis seems rather to rest on our sinfulness than on God's goodness. Before they do anything else the Prayer Book, as it is at present used, asks men to embark on the overloaded phrases of the General Confession. I know that this may be justified by arguing that the Prayer Book assumes that the other parts of the Christian religion are in the minds of ' the faithful' members of the Church. But this assumption is unwarranted as regards the mass of soldiers whom we keep on inviting to use the more or less mutilated forms of Morning and Evening Prayer.
And even when we come to the Eucharist, though everything can be found in it, I often wonder whether there the Church has not come to lay more stress upon the Cross as the offering for sin than as the disclosure of the Divine pity for the sinner. If so, is it that too much has been taken for granted, namely, the Love of God which alone can evoke sorrow for sin and be worthy of the offering for sin ?
Has familiarity tended to disguise and overlay the wonder-compelling revelation of God ? In the Eucharist has He been thought of rather as the Father sitting back in reception of placation, than as the Father Who, while we are a great way oft runs out to fall on our neck and bring us home ?
I think that a re-ordering is needed.
For Christianity, stressed as it appears to be at present, will never catch the souls of men. I think of the flying boys who, more than any one else, are winning our battles (I have been chaplain to a squadron of them for a little time). They are far from unsinful, but they will nevertheless, I am sure, not begin with the avowal " that there is no health in them"; they will not sing "that they are weary of earth and laden with their sins." For as they live almost gaily and unconcernedly on the edge of things, they know that that is not the primary truth about themselves. Yet Christ, if in Him they see the all-hazarding and all-enduring Love of God, can win the love and worship of their eager hearts. He can catch hose living creatures alive.
There must be a re-ordering and simplification and correction of emphasis. It is possible, now that historical science is unravelling the Bible and Church history, and extricating from their many levels and complexities what is simple and specific in the glorious truths of God and of man in Christ. Some exaggerations must be sloughed off. I think a little of the sepia, for instance, that was in the brush of Paul must be washed away. Has not he, or rather have not the great men of his school, over-obsessed us with the dogma, derived from Scriptural literalism, of human corruption flowing from Adam ?
There is, by contrast, a more radiant and yet as realistic view of the world as Christ saw it, to be recovered. Some of His glories, dimmed by the veil of inadequate conceptions in the minds of His witnesses, will shine as never before, as the Holy Spirit takes of Him and shows it unto us.