Religion - Refreshment
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
SHORTLY after the Armistice, a group of young people in a town on the banks of the Hudson were discussing the state of the universe (a theme pleasing to younger minds because of its roominess), and they were mentioning factors to be counted upon in the remaking of a shattered world. One spoke of religion, and was abruptly challenged with the question: 'What is there in religion anyhow ?" The eyes of the group turned towards an older man, who somewhat mystified the circle by asking : "What is there in the Hudson River anyhow ?" He went on to answer bis own question by pointing out that what the river does for the territory through which it flows, that the Christian faith does for those whom it reaches. Trampers climbing Mt. Marcy meet the Hudson rising in Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, and slake their thirst from a cooling brook; so believing people discover refreshment in religion. A little farther on its course the brook provides campers with a bathing-pool where they wash themselves, and at its lower end the Hudson receives the filth of New York City from a hundred sewers and sweeps it out into the salt ocean. Thus religion cleanses individuals and communities. Along part of the river's course mills are built, and the stream supplies them with power. Religion has always been found an incalculable reinforcement. Sometimes the power in the stream is transmuted into electricity and carried to light the streets and homes of towns. Faith has found illumination in fellowship with God. The entire valley through which the Hudson flows is made more fertile by the presence of this body of water; and religion is a source of fruitfulness in human life. Upon the river's broader stretches steamers and barges carry freight and passengers; so believers know themselves up-held by their trust. The Hudson forms part of New York's Harbor, affording a quiet anchorage for ships, and opening out through the bay into the vast Atlantic it supplies a passage to the great deep. So religion both furnishes peace to men in search of haven, and an outlet to adventure on the boundless sea. The river beautifies the landscape; and men of faith find life enhanced with loveliness when they are aware of the presence of the living God. The Hudson is a barrier, forming a dividing line between states and sundering those who dwell on opposite banks, but it is also a highway upon which ferries ply and steamers make daily connections between cities miles apart. Religion draws boundaries and separates men, whose convictions compel them to take clearly defined positions; but it also is the great unifier, establishing intercourse between those who else would be without sense of kinship and unconnected. The Hudson, like all rivers, is constantly changing—flowing away to the ocean; but the stream remains a permanent part of the landscape the watershed from the Adirondacks to the Atlantic. So religion is always in flux, seeming about to pass altogether, but forever renewed, an abiding element in human life—the never ceasing outgo of man's heart towards God, because that heart is continually replenished by inspirations from God.
There was nothing novel in this illustration. Centuries ago a psalmist had sung : "There is a river the streams whereof make glad the city of God," and he was thinking of God's presence with His people, for he continued : "God is in the midst of her." And the prophet Ezekiel concludes his description of the redeemed and restored holy land by picturing a miraculous river which emerged from the threshold of the Temple in Jerusalem and brought life whithersoever its waters came.
May I, a provincial New Yorker, crave your indulgence to employ our loved and admired Hudson as a parable, in attempting a fractional answer to the query, What is there in religion ?
We shall narrow the question somewhat,, as though it 'read, What is there in Christian religion? because that faith has the only chance of gaining the attention of students in an American college; and also because, as Dean Inge has well said, "Christianity is not a religion, but religion itself in its most universal and deepest aspects." And we shall further limit our answer, as though the question reead : "What is there in Christian religion which appeals to people of our day?" At Trenton, on the banks of the Delaware, there is a colonial house, equipped with a water-wheel which in George Washington's time ran a grist-mill. To-day the occupants of the house find it more convenient to buy their flour; but the water-wheel is still in operation and generates electricity to light the house. The successive centuries find different uses for their fellowship with the living God. We shall freely draw on all the centuries for illustrations, but we shall look for , illustrations of those experiences which have worth for normal people among ourselves. We shall appeal oftenest to the experiences recorded in the Bible, be-cause its books contain the accounts of discoveries, which were made not only by their first explorers, but which have been repeated by many thousands since in every generation. The reason the Bible remains the authority on the life of God with men is that inconstantly proves its experiences true to age after age of those who employ it as their guide. A river is a continuous flow of water in a well-defined stream. It is the Bible, more than any other institution, which keeps the Christian religion a continuous and clearly recognizable stream of life with God through the centuries. Without it the water of divine life which had its origin in Jesus, collecting in Him from many earlier tributaries, would have become so mixed with alien currents, and would have flowed off into such widely separated river-beds, that it would have lost its identity. The water of life found its banks and its proper channel in the First Century, and the New Testament has held it permanently in its true course ever since. We cannot answer the question, What is there in Christian religion ? without looking first at the experiences contained in the Scriptures and tested and approved by the Church of all the following centuries.
In selecting a parable as a guide to our answer, we obviously confine ourselves to the very partial presentation of the subject which any one parable suggests. But we have excellent precedent for using a parable, and if it furnishes us with only a few glimpses of the vastest of all themes, it may render those glimpses more clear and intelligible.
Well, then, to our parable. Those who are familiar with the sources of the Hudson River in the Adirondacks know it first as a tiny brook which supplies them with a cool drink as they toil up the tallest mountain in the state. Believing people find religion refreshing. To begin with a few well-known utterances of the Bible, Jeremiah speaks of God as "the Fountain of living waters"; and when, in a despondent mood, he fears that he will miss the usual renewal of spirit, he thinks of the water-courses of Palestine which dry up in summer to the disappointment of expectant travelers, and asks : "Wilt Thou indeed be unto me as a deceitful brook, as waters that fail ?" The best loved Psalm runs : "He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul." Another psalmist employs the same figure of speech: "Thou shalt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures. For with Thee is the fountain of life." Still another, according to the text used by our English translators, pictures a company of singing and dancing worshipers, saying : "All my springs are in Thee." Jesus took up the metaphor in His conversation with the woman at the well in Sychar about living water, and in His saying at Jerusalem: "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." And on the final page of the Bible stands the gracious invitation: "And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will,
let him take the water of life freely," These religious men (and one might multiply similar sayings from both Old and New Testaments) found their contacts with' the Invisible reviving.
It is not a common opinion today that religion is refreshing. Fellowship with the Lord of heaven and earth is looked on as sobering, rendering a man serious-minded, conscientious, burdened with the wrongs and woes of mankind, and awed with the momentous issues which hang upon his own dealings with good and. evil. And it certainly should have this solemnizing result, for in religion only that can help us before which we bow, but Biblical believers found it also exhilarating. They spoke of going unto God their "exceeding Joy," and bade one another "Rejoice in the Lord alway." Both because out siders mistake its essential character, and because insiders often fail to realize what is theirs, a widespread protest has called the Christian faith depressing. The brilliant French novelist, George Sand, speaks wearily of "the Deity of the crucifix." Swinburne puts his feelings on the lips of a pagan addressing Christ after Christianity had been officially proclaimed, at Rome:
'Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey .from Thy breath".
Ibsen makes the Emperor Julian apostatize from a faith which robs life of its zest and thrill : "To thee I make my offering, O Dionysus, God of Ecstasy, who dost lift up the souls of mortals out of abasement." Undoubtedly the French-woman familiar with Roman Christianity, and the Englishman and Scandinavian brought up among Protestants, had some reason for their complaint that religion, as they had seen it, supplied its votaries with no gayety of soul.
But had they listened to contemporaries compelled by skepticism to abandon Christian faith, they might have heard them lamenting a loss of vitality. Ernest Renan, destined for the Roman priesthood and led out of the Catholic Church by doubts, confesses: "Since Christianity is not true, nothing interests me or appears worthy of my attention." No substitute ever takes the place of the discarded religion in his enthusiasm, and the best work of his life is done upon studies connected with the Bible. With a somewhat similar mental experience, Edmond Scherer, a Protestant, writes: "So I see myself carried away by my intellectual convictions towards a future that inspires in me neither interest nor confidence." About the same time, in England, John Addington Symonds complains of his unbelieving state of mind, and comments: "Such skepticism is like a blighting wind : nothing thrives beneath it. How can a man who has not made up his mind about the world and immortality, who seeks and cannot find God, care for politics, for instance ?" And on our side of the Atlantic, one of Yale's foremost graduates, the poet Edward Rowland Sill, who had abandoned his plan of entering the ministry, wrote to a classmate : "People think that a thinking man's speculations about religion interfere with his daily life very little—but how certain conclusions do take the shine out of one's existence." These men of sad lucidity of soul looked forth on an overcast world, where nothing sparkled, and found the heart for vigorous living gone from them.
Or had these who condemn Christian faith as banishing life's zest listened to appreciative estimates of an artist, so little Christian by personal conviction as Goethe, they would have found him employing religion to recall his best known character from suicide. Faust, hopeless of probing nature's secrets, oppressed with the misery and paltriness of man's lot, is about to take the poisoned goblet when he hears the Chorus welcoming Easter morning with the hymn: "Christ is arisen!" It takes him back to his earlier and more believing days :
Once Heavenly Love sent down a burning kiss
Without question life is a fatiguing affair, in which idealists are disillusioned, enthusiasts bored into cynics, and the most indomitable souls suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Religion frequently seems to make it a sadder and more impossible undertaking. The Christian has a loftier standard for himself and for society, and if the lower ideals of his neighbors are unattainable, he is more surely doomed to perpetual failure and discouragement. Contact with Christ softens his sympathies and sensitizes his conscience, so that men's woes and his own iniquities become more painful. When he places the cross in the center of his outlook, he is aware that the same forces which accomplished the fell disaster at Golgotha are still active; and for him there is a darkness over all the earth where a loving God is ever in anguish with and for His sinning children. The believer is not spared the strains and disheartenments of other men, and his fellowship with Christ both immeasurably in-creases his sense of responsibility and his consciousness of his own unworthiness. What Christian can view the world of our time with its brutalities surviving from a long obsolete past, with its age-old hatreds fanned into in-tenser flame by the gales of passion which have swept over our generation, with its industrial injustices and racial antipathies, with animalism thinly veiled in much that passes for amusing, and with countless absurdities still taken seriously by an unthinking and stupid public, with-out raising the impatient cry : "O Lord, how long?" There often appears to be a cruel perversity in the universe which cuts off promising careers, allows the well-meaning unwittingly to work harm, couples clever brains with an unscrupulous conscience and a kind heart with a dull head, and into the most wisely contrived and lovingly intentioned plan introduces an unsuspected factor to complicate and defeat it. Again and again frank believers feel disposed to tell the Controller of events: "Thou hast showed Thy people hard things : Thou hast made us to drink the wine of staggering." Our fellow: mortals are frequently a bitter disappointment. Some whom we love and respect, as Hamlet had his mother, display a coarseness or a disloyalty of which we had not dreamed, and then
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
The littleness of men—the trifles which amuse them, their pettiness in their virtues and in their vices--causes us to disparage humanity as a race of Liliputians.
For goodness all ignoble seems Ungenerous and small,
And of all mankind none tire and bore us like ourselves. Back of all our difficulties with circumstances, and behind all our disagreements with people, we discover a chronic offender who is chargeable with almost every blunder and implicated in every folly which brings us defeat and unhappiness. We may be sick of the world and of men, but we are more sick of ourselves.
And the first effect of religion, like that of some meditines, may be to make us feel sicker yet. any persons take their religion in such small doses that they never experience more than this first result. Their acquaintance with God in Christ is just enough to increase their disrelish for the world and people and themselves. That disgust is of itself an advantage it means a growth in conscience. One cannot but honor disgusted men as they grimly combat intolerable conditions, Iay themselves out to serve people to whom they are drawn by no liking, and take themselves sternly in hand. But they are far removed from those who with joy draw water out of the wells of salvation. Mr. Birrell, in his life of Charlotte Brontë, describes her religion as a "robust Church of Englandism, made up of cleanliness, good works and hatred of humbug—all admirable things certainly, but not specifically religions." And he remarks of the brilliant daughters in that Yorkshire rectory that "alone amongst the sisters Anne had enough religion to give her pleasure."
"Enough religion to give her pleasure"—it is its possession in insufficient quantities which has given the false impression that it is not refreshing. When men have enough of it, they find it as reviving as a mountain-brook. Old Franz Joseph Haydn told Caprani that "at the thought of God his heart leaped for joy, and he could not help his music doing the same." And from that glad spirit came the best known interpretations of "The Creation" and "The Seasons."
Religion affects men's physical and mental condition. The publication of William James' Letters disclosed one of the most striking cases, reported in his Edinburgh lectures as from a correspondent, to be an account of his own experience. When he was twenty-eight or there-abouts, he found himself in wretched health, with no congenial task for which his strength was adequate, and tortured with philosophic questions. He was obsessed with a haunting fear of existence and a horror of ending his days in a lunatic asylum.
"In general, I dreaded," he says, "to be left alone. I remember wondering how other people could live, how I myself had ever lived, so unconscious of that pit of in-security beneath the surface of life. My mother, in particular, a very cheerful person, seemed to me a perfect paradox in her unconsciousness of danger, which you may well believe I was very careful not to disturb by revelations of my own state of mind." His terror, he tells us, was "so pervasive and powerful, that, if I had not clung to scripture-texts like `The eternal God is my refuge, etc., Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, etc., I am the Resurrection and the Life, etc.,' I think I should have grown really insane."
There speaks a man ill in body and mind kept going by religion.
Now that we have this chapter in Professor James' per. sonal experience, we read with added interest the paragraph in which he says to his Scottish audience :
"There is a state of mind known to religious men, but to no others, in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and water-spouts of God. In this state of mind, what we most dreaded has become the habitation of our safety, and the hour of our moral death has turned into our spiritual birthday. The time for tension in our soul is over, and that of happy relaxation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present with no discordant future to be anxious about, has arrived. Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality; it is positively expunged and washed away."
During the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, the head of a nurses' training-school in a large city hospital, with many of her usual force in France, found herself obliged to work twenty hours out of twenty-four, and at the end of two weeks she was so worn out that one Saturday night she said to herself: "I must consult a nerve-specialist, or . ." (and she did not know why she suggested the other alternative, for she had not attended religious services in years) "or go to church." The next evening towards eight o'clock one of her nurses saw her slipping out of the hospital and protested that she ought to go to bed; but she walked a few blocks to a neighboring church, had the current of her thought directed by the worship into a new channel, felt herself uplifted, calmed, renewed, and she returned to her work with a freshness of spirit and a repaired will for work.
Religion restores the morale for life. We mentioned the experience of weariness in the struggle for ideals, which gives Christians a disgust with the universe. Matthew-Arnold speaks of the first followers of Christ as "drawing from the spiritual world a source of joy so abundant that it ran over upon the material world and transfigured it." The New Testament for all its stress and strain, its fighting without and fears within, is a jubilant book. No men have ever said harsher things in condemnation of an evil world than the Christian leaders throughout the centuries ; but they are never disheartened for long. Their faith keeps them in high spirits. In the Second Century Clement of Alexandria writes : "Holding festival in our whole life, persuaded that God is on every side present, we cultivate our fields praising, we sail the sea singing." In the Thirteenth Century Francis of Assisi asserts : "The servants of God are, like jugglers, intended to revive the hearts of men and lead them into spiritual joy." In the Sixteenth, Martin Luther declares : "It is impossible for one who hopes in God not to rejoice ; even if the world falls to wreck, he will be overwhelmed undismayed under the ruins." And in our own day an essayist takes up this same strain, and tells the Twentieth Century : "Wherever you have belief, you will have hilarity. If we are to be truly gay, we must believe that there is some eternal gayety in the nature of things. The thing called high spirits is possible only to the spiritual." Behind events which go bitterly wrong and circumstances which seem unconscionably unresponsive to every effort to better them, faith has sight of Him who is primarily accountable for the ongoings of the universe, and whispers : "The Creator of the ends of the earth fainteth not, neither is weary." He is tirelessly at work on a refractory world; if He must wait His time, He lacks neither patience nor persistency; He will not fail nor be discouraged, and He is able to accomplish His goodwill. Believers know how to be still; to remind themselves that God lives and rules; that what He stands they can endure; and that as He perseveres they must bear Him company. They look for the apparently impossible; and if it accords with the mind of Christ, they say quietly: "Behold, it shall come to pass."
Religion repairs our weariness with our fellow-mortals. Faber voiced a common mood in his lines, entitled, Low Spirits:
Fever, and fret, and aimless stir,
The light and air are dulled with smoke;
And he passes to a less common mood, but to one familiar to those who seriously use their religion.
Sweet thought of God ! now do thy work
The very thinking of the thought,
Oh, there is music in that thought
A contemporary, who loathed Father Faber's ecclesiastaieism, bears witness to the same experience of renewal when, out of sorts with the obtuseness of conscience and hardness of heart of men who should have been better, he reminds himself of God. In the Diary of the Earl of Shaftesbury for May, 1854, are the following entries:
"Great anxiety about Bill for relief of Chimney Sweepers. Have suffered actual distress through solicitude for prevention of these horrid cruelties.
"The Government in the House of Commons threw out the Chimney Sweepers Bill, and said not a word of sympathy for the wretched children, nor of desire to amend the law.
"Very sad and low about the loss of the Sweeps Bill.
The Collar of the Garter might have choked me; I have not, at least, this or any other Government favor against me as a set-off to their insolence and oppression. I must persevere, and by God's help so I will; for however dark the view, however contrary to all argument the attempt, however painful and revolting the labor, I see no Scripture reason for desisting; and the issue of every toil is in the hands of the Almighty."
And when one has to do with some petty, cranky, touchy individual, who tries one's nerves and strains one's en-durance, there is no refreshment comparable to the recollection of Calvary. From its summit flows a river of devotion down to this unpromising man; and as, with St. Paul, we call him "the brother for whose sake Christ died," we are renewed with the love that beareth, believeth, hopeth, endureth all and never faileth.
Religion restores a man's respect for himself. All of us know times when we cannot find names bad enough to characterize what we are in our own eyes. We speak of ourselves as "beasts." A psalmist once used that epithet of himself : "So brutish was I and ignorant; I was as a beast before Thee." Arid the particular kind of animal he had in mind was a thick-skinned, clumsy, hideous creature, like the hippopotamus (Behemoth). The biographies of the saints of every communion contain uncomplimentary opinions of themselves ; and it is their own awkwardness constantly foiling their desire to be serviceable, their unmanageableness even in the hands of God like hulking, stupid brutes, their personal unattractiveness as representatives of the Divine, that disgusts them. "I was as a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee : Thou hast holden my right hand." To think of God's unfailing presence, evidencing His continuing regard, renews self-respect.
And even more remarkable is the refreshment men have found in their religion when wearied with God. A French archbishop, in a letter of spiritual counsel, advises his correspondent : "If you are bored by God, tell Him that He bores you." And instinctively believing souls go to God in an appeal against His own dealings with them, and find their spirits heartened. Job's speeches are the classic instance, in which this sufferer turns from the God who seems to be his enemy to the same God whom he can not help feeling to be on his side. Against God he strengthens himself in God. One finds a similar experience in two tragic scenes. Euripides, in a sublime attempt to bring home to his countrymen the horrors of war, pictures the Trojan women after the sack of their city, enslaved by their conquerors and about to be carried away from their loved native-land to Greece. He shows us their woeful figures sitting disconsolate among the ruins while their captors announce to whom each is allotted; and he makes his climax of sorrow that heart-rending scene when Hector's little son, Astyanax, is torn from his mother's embrace and flung from the walls. The old grandmother, Hecuba, looks out on the ships lying at anchor, and re-calls how they breast the storms until at last
Too strong breaks the o'erwhelming sea : lo, then
And while acknowledging the calamity as from God, she has tried to pray, but the gods appear helpless:
Ye Gods.... AIas ! why call on things so weak
And she addresses her prayer :
Thou deep Base of the world, and Thou high
It may be reading too much into the drama of doubting Euripides to see these women in their unrelieved gloom drawing any renewal from religion; but it is significant that they try to find comfort in God and that the prayer becomes praise. We set beside these desolate women out-side the walls of sacked Ilium another tragic group of women outside the walls of Jerusalem, watching afar off a Sufferer in mortal agony upon a shameful cross between two thieves, while His mother stands beneath Him, broken with sorrow. The scene in the Gospels gives the same sense of cruel disaster, the same suffering of the innocent for the guilty, the same turning to God in puzzled questioning at His dealings : "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me ?" And here surely we find the refreshment that religion brings, the renewal in God against God. The Sufferer waiting upon God renews His strength, and goes triumphantly through death.
And religion is a source of refreshment always at hand. It is not like mountain air or sea breezes to which one must travel ; it is "the brook in the way" of which men drink and lift up the head. You will, perhaps, forgive a New Yorker another local allusion, if I refer to lines in which a minor poet puts this accessibility of the reviving water of religion, entitled On a Subway Express.
I who have lost the stars, the sod,
A figment in the crowded dark,
You that 'neath country skies can pray,
We have been speaking of the fellowship of God as refreshment; many believers go further and call it stimulant. In pre-christian faiths, lower and higher, communion with the unseen excites and releases the emotions, and exalts men as with the wine of gladness. Plutarch has left us a description of the effect of the cult with which he was familiar:
"Nothing gives us more joy than what we see and do ourselves in divine service, when we carry the emblems, or join in the sacred dance, or stand by at the sacrifice or initiation. . It is when the soul most believes and perceives that the god is present, that she most puts from her pain and fear and anxiety, and gives herself up to joy, yes, even as far as intoxication and laughter and merriment. . . In sacred processions and sacrifices not only the old man and the old woman, nor the poor and lowly, but `the thick-legged drudge that sways her at the mill,' and household slaves and hirelings are uplifted by joy and triumph. Rich men and kings have \always their own banquets and feasts—but the feasts in the temples and at initiations, when men seem to touch the divine most nearly in their thought with honor and worship, have a pleasure and a charm far more exceeding. And in this no man shares who has renounced the belief in Providence. For it is not abundance of wine, nor the roasting of meat, that gives the joy in the festivals, but also a good hope, and a belief that the god is present and gracious, and accepts what is being done with a friendly mind."
There is a devout man's testimony to the stimulus which his feelings receive in fellowship with Deity. And the New Testament thinks of the filling with the Spirit as a substitute not for water, but for wine. To view life as Jesus saw it ruled by the heart of a Father like Himself, to be caught by His vision of a world remade to conform to that Father's mind, to be baptized into His passion to bring that vision to pass, and to look forward confidently to sharing its realization forever in the Father's many mansions, is not only to be cooled and freshened in one's exhaustion, but to be set a-tingle to go, despite every fatigue and discouragement, and keep devoting one's last ounce of energy to a cause which claims us altogether. Bliss Carman has voiced this exhilarating quality in religion :
Lord of my heart's elation,
The many instances quoted of men to whom faith opened the Fountain of life have surely served to illustrate a final point that religion makes the believer him-self a refreshing person. "He that believeth on Me, from within him shall flow rivers of living water." In a disillusioned period, when hearts are sick with hope deferred, when the frightful sacrifices of a world bled nigh to death have issued in paltry results, when the most ardent appear jaded, he whose fellowship with God keeps him of good heart, confident that all needed resources are at hand in the most near lord of all, seems like a stream from the everlasting hills to his thirsty and drooping comrades. In a shifting world, where opinions are in flux, customs changing, and restlessness is an infection in the air, he who is steadfastly sure of God towers like a giant rock, and men shelter themselves beside him. Religion, provided a man has enough of it, makes him "as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."