Finality Of Christianity
( Originally Published 1916 )
IT is time to sum up our results. The study of the background has shown the urgency of the religious problem in the time when Christianity began its westward movement; it has also indicated the kind of religion the age was prepared to accept.
The desire for a right relation with God was the distinctive need of the first Christian century; and while the quest for safe conduct had suggested a moral ideal, it had been unable to furnish power for its realisation. The moral passion of the age was running far in advance of its conscious capacities, and it was this that gave the Apostles their peculiar opportunity, for Christianity was the religion of power. Its power was manifested in the resurrection of Jesus and the creation of the Christian community; and when the intelligence of the first Christians made a rational interpretation of the power necessary, Paul met the need by teaching doctrines. Doctrines are descriptive of function; they show that God has come into human history with a special redemptive purpose in view. Not only did Christianity provide an answer to the original question of safe conduct in its great doctrine of justifying faith, but it also furnished assurance of reasonable progress in holiness, and through the great conception of electing love promised to bring the believer to the goal of his hopes. The net result of the Christian propaganda was to establish the new religion on an historical basis in contact with the growing intellectual and spiritual requirements of the age.
Undoubtedly Christianity had a very practical significance for those early centuries. How great it was may be inferred from Fowler's brilliant study of Roman religious experience. Describing the originality of the new religion, when compared with competitive forces working in its early environment, he says : "The love of Christ is the entirely new power that has come into the world ; not merely as a new type of morality, but as `a divine influence transfiguring human nature in a universal love.' The passion of St. Paul's appeal lies in the consecration of every detail of it by reference to the life and death of his Master, and the great contrast is for him not as with the Stoics, between the universal law of nature and those who rebel against it, not as with Lucretius, between the blind victims of "religio" and the indefatigable student of the rerun natura; not, as in the Aeneid, between the man who bows to the decrees of fate, destiny, God, or whatever we choose to call it, and the wilful rebel, victim of his own passions; not, as in the Roman state and family, between the man who performs religious duties, and the man who wilfully neglects them—between puts and impius; but between the universal law of love, focussed and concentrated in the love of Christ, and the sleep, the darkness, and the death of a world that will not recognise it."
The contrast is not relative, but absolute. It does not lie in the selection of one among several equally available methods of salvation; but in a comparison of a series of efforts whose futility was clearly realised, and a dynamic, functioning in history, and actually capable of transforming life into the image of the Divine Master.
Admitting the truth of this contention, the question may be asked: What has this to do with the modern world? Can we base our faith on the historic Christ, or shall we expect a higher conception to develop? In other words, is Christianity final, or do we look for another religion?
This is an important question, and its answer in part will depend on one's attitude towards religious experience. A man's attitude towards the claims of Jesus Christ will have an important bearing on the interpretation of the Christian tradition. There is an incommunicable element in religious experience that determines one's view of religious truth. The personal equation will often take a leading part in historical interpretations.
Granting this, however, the question as to the finality of Christianity has a meaning for the inteIligence. It can be thought about, investigated, and certain features of the problem will very likely prove decisive. I believe that if one is disposed to be a Christian, one may turn to the problem as it lies in the field of history and reach a satisfactory conclusion on the main point; namely, that Christianity in its historic significance proves itself to be the final religion, and that we need look for no higher, since none other is needed.
The truth of this proposition will become evident if, after indicating what man's fundamental religious needs are and showing that the success of Christianity in the early centuries was due to the fact that it adequately met those needs, it can be proved that the modern man has not changed in respect of his religious necessities, that he is in no important aspect of experience different from the men of past ages. If man's religious needs are the same to-day as they were when Christianity began its westward movement, and if Christianity met the needs of the man of the first century, there is no reason to suppose that it can-not meet the needs of the man of the twentieth century.
Our first inquiry then is to determine what man's fundamental religious needs are. Why is man a religious being? Why is it, that whether we view him in a primitive aspect, or in a highly civilised state, there are inevitable resemblances of spiritual desires and aspirations?
This question may be answered in two ways; either by an analysis of the religious consciousness, or by an interpretation of the religious consciousness as it manifests itself on the field of history. This latter is the better way, and the value of our study of the various phases of the quest for safe conduct lies in the fact that the quest indicates what man's spiritual requirements are. When man's need of God is so urgent as to compel him to seek right relations with Him, we may easily discover the permanent elements of his religious consciousness. The quest for safe conduct indicates that these elements are four: First, a sense of dependence on a higher power; second, a feeling of not being in right relation to this higher power ; third, a desire to overcome this feeling by means of sacrifices and religious rites ; and fourth, a feeling that nothing short of a human life in God can adequately satisfy man's desire for right relation, which tempts him to make God in his own image.
First there is present in religious experience the sense of dependence on a higher power. It does not matter whether the power is thought of as a person, or impersonal force; whether it be conceived under a polytheistic or monotheistic form ; the essential point is that the sense of dependence is back of every religious aspiration. It was the sense of dependence that led primitive man to make the gods in a human likeness, in order that he might be at home in the world. It was the sense of dependence that prompted the primitive religious endeavour.
But religious effort develops moral experience, and its ultimate effect is an increase of moral sensibility that introduces a disturbing element into the religious consciousness : a sense of not being in right relation to the power manifest in nature. This is not a sense of sin, or even of wrong doing, but rather of dislocation and alienation. The sense of dependence draws man towards God, but the sense of alienation drives man from Him. It fills him with a feeling of unrest and insecurity in the presence of the mysterious Spirit who inhabits the universe. He is no longer at home in the world, and he becomes aware of a need of getting through it with credit. He becomes a seeker for safe con-duct. The original desire of primitive man for God becomes clear and explicit; in other words it seeks to find an effective way of getting into right relation with God, and this develops a third element in the religious consciousness.
As the moral sense turns round upon inherited traditions it makes the problem of safe conduct a personal one ; it develops a need for effective methods of propitiating the great Spirit of the universe, and this feeling expresses itself in sacrifices, rituals, efforts to make atonement—in short, in historical manifestations of various kinds. From this primitive passion for an effective relation with God came purifications, ethical struggles, and religious observances, all of which sought to answer the question: How can a man get right with God? This passion was responsible for the prodigal expenditure of time and life in the age-long endeavour to find peace with God. It was back of the noblest ethical speculations of antiquity; but as the moral sense continued to develop, the feeling of alienation increased; and the need of a better knowledge of God developed a fourth element in the religious consciousness: a passion for a human life in God. This desire was not the cause of polytheism, but it was undoubtedly a contributing influence. The notion of an absolute and infinite God was, as we have seen, a very painful one, when unaided by a Divine rev-elation. It almost made the problem of right relation insoluble, because it put God out of touch with experience. It is easy then to understand why primitive man broke up the idea of infinity into a number of parts. By associating them for a season with what was near, local and familiar, he seemed to bring God closer to human need. The tendency to make God in the human likeness was the final outworking of the religious impulse; but it was inevitable that the growing moral sense should introduce a disturbing element into this relation in spite of intense efforts to the contrary. Man was left in uncertainty, because there were always unknown elements, and uncomprehended relationships ; he seemed to dwell on the frontier of an unseen world, and the human spirit, in the absence of severe ethical restraints, and sometimes in spite of them, was tempted to people this unknown region with the creations of its disordered imagination. It was a fruitful source of superstition. The Greeks confessed this sense of inadequacy in the Athenian altar to "Unknown Gods." Lucretius regarded the whole movement as an expression of degrading superstition; and the first Christian century felt the potent spell of the unknown in its fear of daemons and its tyranny of elemental spirits.
But in spite of its vagaries, the passion was the expression of spiritual need. Man needed to find a human likeness in God, if his relation to Him was to prove effective. It was a craving for an incarnation. Man wanted a Deity whose advent was not a chance visit, but a permanent coming into the experience and life of the world.
These four elements: the sense of dependence, the sense of alienation, the passion to atone for wrongdoing, and the craving for a human expression of Deity, make up the religious consciousness of mankind, and were strikingly expressed in the quest for safe conduct, which was the distinguishing feature of religious experience at the time of the westward movement of Christianity.
The direct consequence of that age-long quest was to intensify the need for a virtue-making power, and to make the question of a right relation with God paramount. The problem was how to translate "gnosis" into "dunamis," knowledge into power and precept into performance. The best thinkers of the age agreed that human nature could not furnish a moral dynamic. Lucretius and Seneca would have accepted Paul's diagnosis : "To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good, I find not." Man could not rise above this position, because he was more or less aware that religious experience as a purely naturalistic affair was in its final stage of evolution. Any further improvement must come from a fresh manifestation of God in human history.
Thoughtful men of Paul's age were keenly aware of dependence but they had little confidence in the familiar methods of adjusting the human spirit to the requirements of the Eternal. And the characteristic longing of the time was for an appearance in historic form of a personal adjuster. This feeling became acute in the last century of the republic. It was stimulated by the failure of the ancient political sanctions, and the outbreak of anarchy and civil strife developed a passion for a strong man who could set the world right. This passion for a personal force finally took the form of the worship of the reigning Emperor; but its intensity is apparent in Virgil's Messianic eclogue. The monotheistic drift of the times tended to give a spiritual character to this aspiration. Men were looking for "the Still, Strong Man of the soul's need: That is why Paul's age was interested in a religion of power.
How then did Christianity adjust itself to the requirements of the religious consciousness? The uppermost need of the times was for a righting power with God. This is clear from that checkered history of human experience, that ceaseless conflict of moral passion and human perversity, so impressively described in the literature of the period. This need made a religion of redemption desirable above everything else. Man wanted a healer and a Saviour, rather than a diagnostician and a reformer. Above all he wanted assurance that God Himself had come in direct contact with human need. Nothing short of an historic manifestation could satisfy the desire for a human life in God. Man did not want a chance visit; he wanted God to come to stay. What then had Christianity to say to this imperious need?
If we have given a just account of the elements in man's religious consciousness, it ought not to be difficult to show how adequately the new religion satisfied them.
In the first place the need for a conception of God on Whom one might depend was met by the revelation of Divine Fatherhood. For centuries men had been trying to formulate this doctrine; the Stoics were especially zealous in this direction, but they could never be assured of it. What they really wanted was a conception of fatherhood based on redemption rather than on providence, and this, speculation could not furnish since an historic answer was required. No philosophic theory of God can satisfy human need; that can be met only by an historical revelation: an actual manifestation in human experience, and this was precisely what the Christian gospel offered. It revealed Divine Fatherhood based on redemptive power and sanctioned by historic performance. And this glorious revelation was sustained at every point by the dynamic Personality of Jesus Christ. The great Spirit of the Universe, the fundamental parent source, was manifested as the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Christ's manifestation was the historic proof of the Divine love. His Presence was evidence of the fact that God was approachable and trustworthy.
The revelation of Fatherhood through Christ brought out the second and third features of Christianity in respect of man's fundamental religious needs. On the one hand the gospel explained the nature of the world's trouble; on the other hand it provided a way of reconciliation.
The Christian doctrine of sin properly diagnosed the world's spiritual distress, yet so far from producing discouragement, as lesser investigations usually did, it always made the diagnosis in connection with the offer of pardon. The sacrificial death of the Saviour was the basis for faith in the righting power of God. Salvation was not suspended on a bare word of forgiveness, but was made as realistic in its redemptive aspect, as was the sense of sin and need; because behind pardoning love was the historic deed of the cross, and the issue of this was a justifying grace which gave the sinner a status with the Most High God which none could dispute. The cross of Christ forever settled the question of adjustment. It was the end of the quest for safe conduct.
But God's grace did something more than this. Not only did it justify the sinner but it also adopted him into the Divine family; and through the renewing and transforming energies of the Holy Spirit made progress in holiness possible, even in the face of the opposition of the flesh, and the increasing complications of life. And back of the several stages of this experience was the Divine purpose, which convinced man that God had come into human life to stay.
And this satisfied the fourth element of spiritual desire, namely the hunger for a human life in God. The incarnation of God in Christ proved the truth of the gospel; it was evidence that the Eternal God had come into man's life as an abiding power; and the experience of the first century, the creation of the Christian community—the purity of its life and fidelity of its testimony under manifold trials and temptations—shows bet-ter than anything in that age, the effectiveness of the new religion. Christianity began in history, it made history, and it promised historic fruits in the future. All that had been dimly discerned or consciously realised of human need in the age-long quest for safe conduct was adequately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The coming of the Saviour was a fresh beginning in the history of the race.
Christ is related to man's spiritual needs as food is to appetite. Truly He is the bread of life. All that was needed to estabish a new life, or a new creation as Paul called it, was to bring man's spiritual appetites into relation with Jesus. This was accomplished in the first century, and developed an experience which neither the demands of intelligence nor the growing opposition of the world could falsify or destroy. So far then as the first century was concerned, viewed as having desires and passions that were common to pre-ceding centuries, Christianity was adequate, and as such was the final religion.
And it is the final religion for us, unless it can be shown that the spiritual needs of mankind have changed since those days. If the religion of the New Testament was adequate for the first century, it is adequate for the twentieth century, unless it can be proved that man's religious requirements have been altered by the progress of civilisation.
There is a general impression manifest in modern opinion and behaviour that would lead one to suppose that man's spiritual requirements are different from those of the past ages; and that if it cannot be maintained that the modern man has outgrown Christianity, at least it can be said that he can afford to reject or modify much that was of value to past centuries. Two things, however, must be distinguished : The attitude towards the fundamental historical significance of Christianity is one thing; the attitude towards theological interpretations and systems of later centuries is quite another thing. Every thoughtful man must interpret truth in terms that he can understand. Every age has its own way of thinking about ultimate questions; and the disposition to think of Christianity in present day concepts need not necessarily lead to the rejection of, or indifference to, fundamental historical revelations. Few men are capable of holding a complete system of religious truth; the best most of them can do is to have a few first class convictions on essential points; and assuredly we cannot make the understanding and acceptance of great theological systems the condition of a valid faith in the historic facts of Christianity.
But unfortunately the modern man imagines that because he can neither understand nor hold complete and systematic views of religion, he must necessarily reject or be indifferent to the fundamental historic significance of Christianity as it is revealed in the New Testament. He becomes a religious impressionist, selecting what he likes and rejecting what he dislikes, and justifies this course, when he thinks of it at all, On the ground that some-how he has attained to such a pitch of development that he no longer needs the stabilising influence of the great past ; and this tendency is the result of the peculiar temperament of the modem world.
For the past four hundred years the world has been steadily drifting away from a spiritual view of life. The renaissance has been the decisive factor in modern civilisation. The revival of learning has had a larger influence on modem opinion than the Protestant reformation; in fact the union of the Protestant principle of the right of private judgment with the freedom of the renaissance is responsible for present 'day indifference to all forms of authority; for the popular contempt of the great past, and particularly for the vitiated notion of truth which identifies reality with consequences, and makes every man the arbiter of his own destiny. The unregulated individualism of the modern world is a symptom of a deeper thing-of an altered conception of values.
This altered conception of values is directly traceable to the age of humanism. The renaissance was the rebirth of man. It was man's fresh discovery of himself, it was also his fresh discovery of this world. The past centuries had for the most part been God-centred; succeeding centuries have very largely been man-centred. Religion was the all but exclusive interest of the world before the revival of learning; it cannot be maintained that it has been the predominant interest since. Before the renaissance man's chief concern was safe conduct. He did not feel altogether comfortable in this world ; there were elements in his experience that reminded him that he was a stranger and a pilgrim, and the interests of the soul were paramount. Since the renaissance man has succeeded in making himself fairly well at home in this world. Prior to the revival of learning man was dominated by the Hebrew ideal of religious exclusiveness : religion was his chief concern, and his business not so much to be at home in the world as to get through it with credit; the era since the renaissance has been dominated by the Greek spirit of humanism. In the former case the ideal of the chief good was one and simple: to en joy the favour of God was the supreme good ; in the latter case the ideal of the chief good is once more composite. Religion was still important, but other things such as science, art, literature, philosophy, politics, worldly position, in one word civilisation, were equally important. In the first instance the world was dominated by the Hebrew ideal of the safe life; in the second in-stance by the Greek ideal of the complete life.
The element of wonder which in past ages used to illuminate the religious experience, has for more than four hundred years increasingly centred it-self on man: on his doings and misdoings, his inventions and discoveries; his achievements and attainments; until it may be said of the modern what Carlyle said of the Greek, that "he is far more at home in Zion than he has any right to be."
The modern man has become so accustomed to the development and enjoyment of the material estate that he has forgotten his real relation to it. He is in reality a tenant, but he acts as if he owned it. His tenancy is limited at that, and in spite of his deep satisfaction with this present world, he is just as much a stranger and pilgrim as were his ancestors, only he does not know it—yet. To one who takes a long view of life there is some-thing profoundly pathetic in the present day complacency. One hundred years hence all that will be left of this proud complex of material possession and restless desire, so far as we are concerned, will be a number of spiritual entities we call souls face to face with the eternal God.
The present age differs in many important particulars from past ages, but the difference is not so great as some suppose. In science and invention, in the exploitation and development of the material estate, and in the cultivation of its productive resources the age excels all past times. But it cannot be maintained that our intellectual and moral progress has kept pace with material development. Our distinctive achievements belong to the externals of life ; they do not materially alter the inner constitution of mankind. The things that make for the cultivation of the mind and spirit are inherited from the past. We still go to Greece for the best philosophy; to Rome for our laws, and to the renaissance for our artistic and literary ideals; and apart from scientific and material achievements, everything we have of religion, culture, and civilisation came from the past. The modern world is penny-wise-and-pound-foolish. It ranks the achievements of civilisation above the transforming power of true religion, because its interest is chiefly in this world. But civilisation is not the same thing as progress. Civilization deals with the externals of life, but no more alters the inner constitution of human nature than clothes can transform character. Still the modern man imagines that because he is successful in the control of material forces, he must have outgrown the needs of past ages and nowhere is this delusion more common than in current opinions on religion.
Socrates used to say of the craftsmen of his day that "they did as a rule know something about their own trades, but unfortunately on the strength of this bit of knowledge, they fancied that they knew a great many other things of which they were ignorant, such, for instance, as how to govern an empire." And many a modem thinks that because he can make a tin can better than his neighbour, he is capable of settling the affairs of the universe. The church today is suffering from lay exploitation; from the irresponsible attentions of many whose only claim to notice is that they have made a success in a material direction. Such men never suspect their fallibility; neither do they question their attitude towards religion. They act as if somehow their fundamental spiritual needs were different from those of past ages, and endeavour to begin the religious experience de now, without the regulative influence of the great past. The age is suffering from what Hugh Black calls "unregulated idealism." It is passionate, hopeful, enthusiastic—fine qualities in any age ; but it is singularly lacking in straightforward common sense views of human nature. This peculiar temperament usually issues in a demand, if not for a new religion, at least for a Christianity modified to suit the requirements of an augmented sense of personal importance. The old-fashioned man was content to remain subordinate to God; the man of the present day desires an equal partnership. With one religion means the service of God by man; with the other the service of man by God. And the difference at bottom is one of values. One derives his notion of value from his relation to God; the other values God in relation to human enterprises.
But there is another side to this question. Present day society is becoming aware of instability in spiritual matters. The century that has excelled past ages in the realisation of material desires, is distinguished by a soul discomfort that is al-most as acute as that of the first century. There is a feeling of unrest abroad. The discontents of today are not those of poverty but of prosperity. The discontents of prosperity are spiritual. Many are becoming aware of the futility of success, of the emptiness of material possessions ; full barns do not always make peaceful minds; and there is a soul hunger abroad which nothing tangible seems to satisfy. The truth is the modern world is beginning to feel the need for safe conduct. A dim sense of a pilgrimage is coming in to disturb material contentment, and the modern man is not so much at home in the world as he used to be.
This unrest, offspring of spiritual distress, although vague and inchoate, is still insistent in its attitude towards certain things. For many years the modem man has been very impatient with theology; it is now evident that he is beginning to be dissatisfied with philosophy; else how account for the popularity of such anti-intellectual notions as those of Eucken, Bergson and William James? How shall we explain the vogue of conceptions which set aside the intellect in favour of blind in-stint or make the sole test of truth a conformity with immediate desires, except on the assumption that the modern man is beginning to realise the need for peace, and is in a special hurry to get it?
And in the wild riot of religious congresses, mass movements, sociological pilgrimages, vice crusades and revivals which have distinguished the modern world in recent years, two things are clear: the modem man is very indifferent to guiding principles, and tremendously in love with power.
The religious experience of the average man is for the most part made up of impressions and impulses, more or less influenced by mass move ments, the meaning of which he does not understand, simply because he will not take the time to think them out. Up to recent times he did not believe it necessary; but signs are not wanting to show that he is beginning to think seriously about them. He is as impatient as ever with abstract explanations, but he would like plain answers to such questions as God, the soul and immortality; and in so far as he is conscious of having definite needs, he would like to know something of Jesus Christ and the way of salvation. In the main he lacks convictions, but at least he knows the need and the desirability of power.
The want of power in the higher phases of experience is the most characteristic sign of the times. Man's conspicuous successes in a material direction have served to convince him of the lack of power in the domain of the spirit. He sees power functioning in visible efficiency and in world civilisation. It is the magic word in business. And he demands it in religion because it is in spiritual matters that he feels the lack of it. He often looks for it in the wrong place; he is more interested in quantitative manifestations than in invisible and spiritual expressions. Still the impressive feature of the present situation is that many are in quest of spiritual power: some from egoistic and others from altruistic motives.
The egoistic manifestation is seen in the syncretic tendency which mixes historical Christianity with other elements : such for example as Christian Science and the New Thought cults. Man's complex needs tempt him to look for complex remedies. As much as he desires simplicity he finds it difficult to trust it in the religious world. This is a revival in a somewhat different form of the old ascetic impulse. In ancient times many sought to escape the opposition of the world by selfish seclusion, "far from the madding crowd"; in these days many try to escape the reality of life, by fleeing to these syncretic cults, and by surrounding themselves with a cloud of misty conceptions, think themselves free of the world's distress. But this is a passing phase. There is no enduring power in the unreality of mental anæsthesia. No religious enterprise founded on selfishness can last, and when conscience awakes it will make short work of these futile delusions.
The altruistic quest for power is manifest in the social passion of the time. This is a noble enterprise, inspired by a desire to humanise social relations and moralise the forces that are responsible for much of present day misery. So far from being selfish, the social passion is the expression of self-sacrifice, and is worthy of all commendation. Only it frequently makes the mistake of dealing with effects rather than causes is too much interested in a study of symptoms and not enough concerned with remedies. Undoubtedly the social passion is a by-product of Christianity, but at present it has all the defects of a movement led by novices, rich in idealism, but poor in ideas; and serious minds are beginning to realise that there is something wrong with the social programme. In spite of the best intentions it re-mains a programme; it lacks power, and many are becoming aware of the need of a personal relation to Jesus Christ, as the sole condition of success in the social enterprise. The social needs of the age offer a very fruitful field for work, but the social passion is not a dynamic. That must be looked for in another region entirely.
Where shall man look for power? What can give him a dynamic relationship with the eternal God? Obviously he cannot hope to get it from modern philosophy, for apart from such frankly anti-intellectual attempts as those of Bergson and Eucken, there is little left but speculations concerning the problem of knowledge, and the capacities or limitations of the mind. Present day philosophy rarely touches the problem of reality, save in the interests of an unstable materialism. And even though it attempt to deal with reality in a spiritual way, it is never concrete; it is always above the comprehension of the plain man.
And if one turn to ancient systems, which, of course, means Greek philosophy, one will learn as Burnet truly observes that "Greek philosophy is based on the faith that reality is divine, and that the one thing needful is for the soul, which is akin to the divine, to enter into communion with it. It was in truth an effort to satisfy what we call the religious instinct." 3 In other words Greek philosophy will teach us that our needs are spiritual, but the fact that the quest for safe conduct led into a blind alley is a demonstration of the futility of philosophy to satisfy them. Philosophy is a good mental discipline but it cannot set us right on such a question ; its best service is to convince us that we have gone wrong. Philosophy is a barometer, and man needs a compass. It can warn us of weather changes, but it cannot direct our course. The Greeks went as far as possible in the direction of God ; modern philosophy has not advanced a step beyond them; and it is probably too late in the day to expect any help from this source.
One can get even less help from science, for science is exclusively interested in phenomena; it has no jurisdiction over the religious aspect of life, because it cannot enter, as science, into the noumenal world. At best we must agree with Paulsen when he says that "whatever temple science may build there will always need to be hard by a Gothic chapel for wounded souls."
Man's wounded spirit is in quest of this Gothic chapel. He will not find it in the domain of science; neither will he long trust himself to the half-and-half schemes that go by the name of "vitalism," "creative evolution," or "pragmatism" ; and there seems nothing left but to re-examine his fundamental spiritual requirements and see if after all he cannot find an adequate solution in historic Christianity.
The religious needs of the modern man differ in no important particular from those of past generations. Under all the mutations of life and variations of culture he remains just man. There has been no essential change in the inner constitution of man. He has the same imperious sense of dependence on the power manifest in the universe; the same feeling of not being in right relation to this power; the same dominant passion to find a righting power in some form of ethical struggle, and the same intense longing for a human life in God, which characterised past ages. If we frankly admit these things we shall be able to see how man's fundamental religious needs are satisfied by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The modern passion for power in life ought to enable us to understand the originality of Christianity. It is the religion of power, of historic events and spiritual performances, because it reveals the truth that God Himself has entered man's experience with a special redemptive purpose in view. Jesus Christ is a supernatural Person, whose power is shown in the creation of a new life and the evolution of a community of representative persons; and this power, working through the gospel, becomes intelligible when we understand some of its functions. Herein lies, I think, the immediate significance of Christian doctrine. Undoubtedly the doctrines of Christianity are revelations of objective truth, but they are also descriptions of function; they tell us how. the divine power is working in individual experience.
What is needed is a better understanding of the functional significance of Christian power. How does the power of Christ connect with human desire? The connection is made by faith. Christianity is the religion of grace, because it suspends the futile struggle to attain salvation on the basis of human merit and freely bestows it through the merits of Jesus Christ. The gift of salvation is communicated to the individual through faith. Where there is faith there is power. Faith is the whole nature of man coming into contact with the whole nature of God. Faith in Christ means union with the life and power of Christ. There are three elements in it.
First there is the element of intellectual receptivity : a willingness to assent to religious truth on testimony of others. Of course we are obliged to receive our information concerning the Saviour from others. In part it comes from the revelation of the New Testament, and in part from the force imparted to this revelation by the life and example of Christians. The facts of Christianity are of such a nature as powerfully to impress a receptive mind with their truth and importance.
But all these facts centre in a Person. The facts and truths of religion exist in order to the revelation of a Personal Saviour; and from intellectual receptivity there develops the disposition to trust oneself to the power of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to contemplate His perfect life, to consider the unique character of His moral consciousness, and, above all, to open the soul to the healing power of His sacrificial death, without feeling that here in human history is the end of all spiritual quests. The sense of alienation from God, the feeling of confusion about our relations to the Infinite and Eternal, end with our acceptance of Jesus Christ. We love persons, we trust persons, and we believe in persons. Christianity is the religion of a Person, and trust is the putting of the life with all its past, present and future needs into the hands of the Son of God.
But there inevitably arises from the disposition to trust a third element, a willingness to accept the authority of Christ as the law of life and conduct. Faith is the consent of the will to Christ as Master and Lord. It is the deliberate acceptance of His personal dominion over life; and the natural expression, of course, is obedience. The man of faith does not stop with imitating Christ; he obeys Him, and he believes in His authority for the sake of those aspects of His personality, which man cannot imitate.
These elements of belief, trust and obedience are always present in the act of faith; but they are not necessarily distinct in operation. Faith itself is one and simple; it unites man's fundamental needs to the purpose of God in Christ in such a way as to make the divine power effective in the individual experience.
And it is from this point of view that we can realise the finality of Christianity. Man consciously or unconsciously believes in power; the modern world appreciates power in all directions, notably in the spiritual realm. But power is causal ; it works in history and produces events. The supreme evidence of divine power in this world lies in the historic significance of Jesus Christ; that power is communicated through faith in the gospel, and works itself out in vivid expressions of peace, purity and freedom in individual life. What more then can we want of finality than this? If our needs are the same as those of past ages, and the gospel is the same historically, what more can we require than a revival of faith in this historic dynamic?
The supreme need of the time is a disposition to believe in Jesus Christ. The only practical way of testing the efficiency of Christianity is to try it. If we defer belief until we have scientific certainty of the truth of all its propositions, we shall of course remain unbelievers. If, on the contrary, however, we recognise the fact that Christianity appeals to the whole man, not simply to his intelligence but also to the heart and the will, then we shall be disposed to act as if it were true, and the result will be the conviction that it is true. The real question, after all, is as Browning puts it:
"'What think ye of Christ,' friend? when all's done and said. Like you this Christianity or not? It may be false, but will you wish it true? Has it your vote to be so, if it can?"
The New Testament is full of such appeals. Faith begins with the willingness to venture on Christ's bare word. Consent with the will and you will be able to assent with the mind. Truth and obedience walk together, and the fruit of both is trust. The man who is willing to act as if historic Christianity were true will be able eventually to appeal to the facts of his life against what-ever objections of a speculative kind that may be urged against it, because the disposition to obey Christ always enlarges the experience that faith begins. Religious experience has two sides; it is partly human and partly divine. The human aspect is concerned with facts, beliefs, and actions, with developed principles and convictions. The divine aspect has to do with a regenerating dynamic, working into our lives, beneath the thresh-old of consciousness, certain spiritual potencies. The problem of religious growth turns on how religious beliefs are to be related to these subconscious potencies in such a way as to develop them into conscious activities. We make this important connection through faith. We assent to certain religious truths, we begin religious experience by consenting to act on them, and obedience calls up the divinely given potencies from below the threshold of consciousness, and they become conscious energies expressing themselves in character and behaviour.
Such is the simple but effective way one may become experimentally acquainted with the Divine Reality which has been the object of every religious quest, and which in the dynamic Personality of Jesus Christ has adequately and finally made known its redemptive significance to a world in need of peace.
The conclusion to which I wish this book to point concerns itself with the present duty of the Christian Church. That duty I conceive to be a very simple one. The modern church has many opportunities of directing and controlling the by-products of Christianity; it is important that it endeavour to understand what these opportunities are and do its full share in their realisation; but it must not allow itself to be diverted from its main business; neither must it permit this age to forget what that business is. The fundamental duty of the Church is an adequate presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unquestionably an adequate presentation would include its application to the social problems of the age; but there is a deeper aspect, fundamental to all the rest. I mean its dynamic significance. The present age is intensely interested in power; it sees power working in visible ways. It will eagerly believe in spiritual power when it finds the church actively engaged in a passionate advocacy of the claims of Jesus Christ. The time is sick of judges and amiable religious philosophers, and is eager for the voice of the advocate. The gospel must be preached with a tremendous confidence in its efficiency and finality, but in order to do this we must know what the gospel is. Especially must we appreciate its causal significance. The church must instruct its members in the functional aspect of doctrines ; it must explain the operation of the Christian dynamic in such a way as to put behind the faith of the individual the courage of rich and deep conviction. Our business in this life is not simply to hold or enjoy a faith, but to propagate a faith; and faith can be propagated only when it is supported by ideas. The ideas of faith are expressed in its doctrines, the functional interpretations of the historic power in which faith centres. Ideas are the hooks of faith which attach themselves to the world's intelligence; they are the barbs of faith which goad the world to-wards a spiritual experience. We need a revival of the sort of radical thinking that goes down to the roots; and the deeper one goes into human history the profounder grows the conviction of the reality of Christianity. The weakness of present day religion lies in superficial opinions; its real strength is in deep convictions ; but deep convictions are impossible without root thinking, and root thinking is radical thinking in the best sense of that term.
Christianity was conceived in the open—the thing was not done in a corner and the church has nothing to fear from honest investigation. On the contrary, it must answer the characteristic demand of the age for evidence of its dynamic significance, and that answer I believe lies in an adequate presentation of historic Christianity.
The twentieth century is as ready for a gospel of power as the first century was; and when we advocate that gospel with the intellectual vigour, passionate conviction and constructive energy which characterised that age; when we can give convincing evidence of its power in our own experience; above all, when we can prove the loyalty of our lives to the Lord of Glory by an enthusiastic personal service of the world's spiritual needs, we shall again see the Christian Dynamic functioning in history, as it did when first it illuminated the darkness and transformed the life of the ancient world.