The Inworking God
UNDER the charm of his indescribable personality, the little band of disciples for three wonderful years, more or less, had been companioned with Christ. In this time they had come to associate his continual presence with them as indispensable to the realization of their most cherished hopes and intense ambitions. When the fact really came home to them that Christ was about to go bodily and finally from their presence they were grief-stricken, appallingly disappointed.
It was then that Christ said unto them : "It is better for you that I go away. If I go, I will send you another Comforter, and he, the Spirit of Truth, shall take of the things of mine and shall show them unto you. He will guide you into all the truth."
This promise of the Holy Spirit, made by the departing Christ, is one so infinite in significance that its wealth of meaning has hardly yet begun to be understood, much less appropriated in the faith of the Church. The Holy Spirit is God in the world working through the ages the mission and kingdom of Jesus Christ. Christ in his person, in his mission, in the purpose for which he became incarnate, was a being immeasurably larger than was at all apprehended even by those who stood nearest him in the days of his flesh. To interpret this being, and to fulfill his purpose, is the mission of the Holy Spirit even to the end of the earthly ages.
I can but believe that in Christian thought generally a too narrow construction has been given to the mission of the Spirit. We have emphasized his work in producing in the individual, conviction of sin, the penitent purpose, and in setting the seal of divine pardon upon the truly repentant soul. We have extolled the mission of the Spirit in his office of regenerating and sanctifying the life of the believer. We must never give less emphasis to his work in these vital processes of individual salvation.
But the Spirit doing all this does immeasurably more. He is the one vital and adequate agent for directing and effectuating all the processes of Christ's kingdom in the earth. There is no factor of knowledge, of disposition, of beliefs or thought or deeds which shall contribute to the making of Christ's kingdom with which the Spirit has not to do. It is his mission to break down the standards, and to banish the darkness of paganism by the introduction and substitution of Christly ideals, and by the continuous and increasing revelation to mankind of Him who is the Light of the world.
The stress which the apostolic writings, especially those of Saint Paul, lay upon the function of the Spirit in dealing with the moral necessities of mankind, and in making for these necessities the divinest provision, is something little less than amazing. There is no moral need of any soul for which the Holy Spirit does not seek to make instant and adequate response. Saint Paul's conception of the ministry of Christ through the Spirit was so transcendent that he taxed his utmost ability and the capacity of language even to attempt its expression. But aside from his divine and marvelous dealings with the individual soul, it is the mission of the Spirit so to deal with the entire world as finally to bring it under the scepter and dominion of Jesus Christ.
The processes of the Spirit are moral. Whatever standing-room the Spirit may have in man's moral nature, it remains true that all the lower instincts, all the animal, selfish, cruel, and barbarous heredities, will rise in stubborn contest against the Spirit's work in the individual soul. This is the ground of ceaseless conflict. To gain moral supremacy over the individual and in turn over civilization is the Spirit's supreme task with the human world. This mission is so stupendous that beside it all enterprises which may challenge interest are dwarfed. The triumphs of the Spirit over communities and civilizations, historically measured, are by slow advances. Christ himself compared the process to leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal.
In case of the individual the Spirit can come to con-trolling possession only by a process of inworking and transformation which makes man morally and literally a "new creature" in Christ Jesus. The whole category of opposing forces, the progeny of that which Saint Paul depicts as the "carnal mind," that mind which is enmity against God, must be scourged out before the soul shall appear luminous and beautiful with the indwelling Christ. The test of the Spirit's reign in the soul is that one's walk, his daily conduct, the habitual outgoings of his life, shall show conformity to the law of the Spirit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." If a life is Spirit-governed, it will put off anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy. Neither filthy communication nor lies will proceed from the lips of the spiritually minded man. In his relation to his fellows, he will be forbearing, forgiving, and in all things charitable.
In the Spirit's larger relation to the world the same opposition which controls the unregenerate individual is arrayed against his work, only in the former case this opposition is on a world-scale. In the world-mass the obstacles which the Spirit must overcome are entrenched largely in laws, customs, institutions, all of which, in the revealing light of the Spirit, are increasingly seen as subversive of progress, or as working positive injury to human interests. There is no bondage under which mankind is more helpless than that of custom. A bad custom is a most vicious educator of society. It holds its subjects to limited views, to false standards, and closes their vision to new advances of truth. It has often given the binding force of law to usages which in themselves are utterly destitute of moral worth, usages which in no way have contributed to the values of character. It has often so misdirected the moral sense of whole civilizations as to lead them in the very name of Christ to monstrous perversions of his Spirit. If the moral ideals of an age root themselves in barbarism, then the people of that age, if nominally Christian, will have a barbarous Christianity, a Christianity in whose very name they will commit atrocious out-rages against both God and man.
In a large way, it must be remembered that Christianity, numerically small, began its mission face to face with a solidly pagan world. Its moral successes in its first centuries are a standing marvel in history. It brought such inspiring hopes to, and wrought such divine transformations in, multitudes of lives as to make its progress irresistible.
But the Church born at Pentecost, by reason of its very successes, went under an eclipse of barbarism lasting a thousand years. Its faith was nominally accepted, and its membership nominally espoused by hordes of unregenerate heathen. There were imposed upon its life the philosophies, the usages, the godless policies and strifes of a pagan world. During this long submergence the vital flame of Christianity was never wholly extinguished, but it burned only dimly, fitfully here and there. Above all and around all were the overshadowing traditions and ideals of pagan thought. This paganism had mistranslated and caricatured the very ideals of the gospel. It had foisted upon human credulity base and injurious conceptions of Christianity itself. Thus it had seized the very name under which Christianity had won its greatest victories as the refuge and shelter of philosophies, customs, and conduct which were most subversive of the very spirit and purpose of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
The overcoming of a paganism so well-nigh universal, the emancipation of the human mind from its thought-methods, would be a task both intellectual and moral of prodigious magnitude. It would prove a task for ages rather than for any one generation. Indeed, a priori, it might be asked, how could it be possible that so great a world-paganism should ever be displaced? It was the universal phenomenon with which the world-mind was familiar. In the same way one looking upon, and familiar only with, winter might ask why should winter ever change? But presently, by unobserved approaches, the earth sustains a new relation to the sun. A strange warmth melts the snows, and under the genial touch of new atmospheres the earth teems with life and beauty, and the air is musical with bird-song. And we say, and say rightly, the whole is one of God's miracles.
And so upon the great world-paganism, a paganism intrenched in the inheritances, customs, and traditions of ages, there has come, as the vernal sun in nature, pervasive, illuminating, and vitalizing, a movement of the Divine Spirit which is surely transforming the cold and forbidding winter of human history into the beauty and fruitfulness of a new moral springtime.
We cannot readily overemphasize the greatness of the Spirit's world-processes. The progress of the spiritual enlightenment and transformation of human society is a development which is clearly within the processes of evolution. The development is not always uniform. It is sometimes marked by dynamic outbreaks and up-lifts which might properly be named epochs. Following the long moral night of the Christian ages, there came in successive order such movements as the Renaissance, marked by the revival of learning and the creative awakening of the human intellect; the maritime discovery of new continents, preparing the way for a new world-commerce and a new intermingling of the nations; the invention of printing, an agency for the multiplication and preservation of knowledge, and the prophecy of a world-community of thought; the Reformation of the sixteenth century, a movement vastly emancipating of the human mind from the spiritual tyranny of ages; the movements of free thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which marked a just and triumphant revolt of the human intellect against the bondage of priestcraft, of traditional fables, and of spurious philosophies; the tide of a new spiritual life, as the Wesleyan revival, transforming and uplifting the common life of a nation, and projecting vast and continuous moral movements into all civilizations; the creation and multiplication within the last century of new sciences, em-bracing all departments of human research, covering material nature, the physical, intellectual, and spiritual life of man, bringing to man's vision infinite enlargement of the universe, unmeasured extension in time of creative processes, creating for the human mind new standards of thought, and begetting a new passion for and love of the truth for truth's sake, placing in command of man a universal wealth of new knowledge, and yet a knowledge which is but the prophecy of in-finite intellectual and moral treasures yet to be realized; the growing realization in the present time, through a world-mingling commerce, through a world-diffusion of common intelligence and interests, of the solidarity of man, the world over, in all his material, social, intellectual, and moral needs, all of which is but the sure prophecy of an ever-closer consolidated community of world-interests all these are but signal landmarks set along the way of the world's spiritual redemption.
We are quite accustomed to regard all these as movements with which the historian familiarly deals as steps in human progress. But who shall tell us how much the Holy Spirit had to do in inspiring the human mind for the discovery of, and in directing human activities for, the development of these great movements? There should be no Christian doubt that the Holy Spirit through the centuries has steadily wrought by means of these movements for the bringing in of Christ's kingdom upon the earth.
But, however wonderful may appear the advances already realized, in considering the Spirit's mission as a developing process, we must see that the world is as yet only at some of the way stations, perhaps early ones, along the line of true spiritual progress. It is the mission of the Spirit to take of the things of Christ and to show them unto men. Christ did not utter all the truth. He did not give specific statement to some truth, probably a large volume of truth, which may finally require application in working out the world's redemption. Let it be granted that in his recorded teaching there are contained the formative germs of all moral, spiritual, and social truth which may be finally required for human advancement. He did not attempt to develop these germs upon the thought of his generation. This would have been even to Christ a task impossible. There was no sufficient development of intellectual apprehension, of spiritual discernment, of world-thought, of receptive capacity, to which he could have made appeal for the fully developed view of his coming kingdom. Among his last statements to his disciples was : "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of Truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth."
The knowledge of Christ's kingdom is now vastly richer than was, or could have been, true for the men of Christ's own time. But if Christ in the flesh were with us to-day, he would still say to this generation, as he said to his own, "There are yet many things necessary to my kingdom, but ye cannot receive them now." The Spirit of truth, he must still work on in preparation for those further and higher developments of the Kingdom for which present human enlightenment is not ready.
Christ, for instance, did not once give direct utterance in condemnation of slavery. There can be no doubt of the utter incompatibility between the spirit of his kingdom and the institutions of slavery. The triumph of Christ's kingdom could mean nothing less than the destruction of all slave systems. Yet, it has required eighteen centuries of developed Christian thought to abolish slavery from civilization. With the growth of moral knowledge the world will be just as sure to condemn and to cast out other evils which are now domesticated in human society. There exist many social, mercantile, and political practices, many ideals, prejudices, tempers, which at present are either cherished or tolerated in what passes as good society, all of which will be rebuked and displaced under the standards of more perfect Christian knowledge. Happily for such a prediction, the spiritual education of the world, the application of Christian thought to the great realms of social, mercantile, and political activities, is a process now of rapid development and of wide movement.
This is an age of bewildering enrichment in knowledge, in science, in invention, in its creation of gigantic mercantile enterprises and industries. The combined effect of all these and kindred factors is to give to the age a distinctive place in human history. But with the ad-vent of such an age one great fact to be observed is that the welfare of man as an individual, the weal of the social and industrial organism as a whole, were never so sought and studied as now. The final test of values in all thought, science, art, industrial and capitalistic enterprises, turns on the decision as to whether these factors are promotive of human welfare, whether they serve in the last resort the physical, the intellectual, and moral betterment of mankind.
There is such a fact as a divine pragmatism. Of all the wealth of modern appliances, appliances which have given us in these days a distinctive world, nothing receives unreserved approbation except that which con-tributes real values to man's individual and collective life. Final judgments of values are attained only by most severe and sifting processes. Tests as exacting as any known in the physical laboratory under the dry and white light of science are applied to all thought and to all activities which appeal for the social or moral betterment of society. It requires only a discerning study of these testing processes to discover that they are governed by ethical and spiritual judgments. The Divine Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is never absent from their operations.
Under this divine guidance the race is not only appropriating an ever-enlarging wealth of knowledge, but is continuously growing into clearer moral vision, steadily being lifted up from animal and material tastes to the plane of moral and spiritual judgments. Man as a being of unlimited intellectual and moral possibilities is taking, in the world's thought, a place of ever-enlarging values. New standards of human worth are being everywhere lifted up, and in their presence institutions and distinctions built on lines of caste, slavery, race hatred, wealth, learning, social rank, are all felt to be unworthy barriers if separating men from active sympathy with, or service to, their fellow men. God is gradually teaching all civilizations bearing the name Christian that man, whatever his race, environment, condition, is a creature of such divine possibilities as to dwarf all material values and artificial distinctions as between men. And so everywhere, and with accelerated movement, there is a growth of humane feeling, an enlarging sense of human brotherhood, and a higher valuation of any service rendered in the interests of humanity.
So true is this that the ideal heroes of the age, the men and women who take the first place in human esteem and gratitude, are those who give themselves in most generous and unselfish service for mankind. Among the rich, not those who have the greatest fortunes are honored, but they who devote their wealth to greatest human service; among those of privileged life in any sphere, not they who dwell in the spirit of exclusiveness or selfishness, but they who use their superior strength in giving hands to the weak and in uplifting the less privileged these are they who wear the imperishable crown of human gratitude. Our historic heroes are the men and women who really give, not their belongings, but themselves to the service of their fellows.
If we scan the rostrum of the ages for the names of those whom the race ranks as the noblest of its sons, names that will never die out of human gratitude, it will be discovered that all are names of unselfish, unsordid, and non-mercenary lives. Luther, standing alone for a great truth against the throned powers of Europe; Kepler, fighting his toilsome way to master the laws of planetary motion; Milton, blind and lonely, writing the great epic of Puritanism; John Howard, giving his life to improve the condition of prisoners; Florence Nightingale, moving like an angel of consolation through the Crimean hospitals; Wilberforce and George Peabody, using unstintedly their wealth and themselves in missions of philanthropy; Abraham Lincoln, emancipator and martyr; Livingstone, threading the malarial wilds of Africa to carry the gospel to its barbarous hordes; the Morrisons, the Careys, the Judsons and the Bashfords, giving themselves in consuming zeal for the redemption of heathen races; General Booth planting civilization over with Salvation Army camps for the rescue of the poor and perishing these, and an immortal multitude of others, were filled with a heaven-born passion of service.
But the very qualities in these typical characters which command for them the abiding love and admiration of mankind are those which class them one and all, as being in near kinship to the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Christ, whose qualities it is the office of the Spirit to show to the world, is more and more hailed in human thought not only as the supreme moral leader but as the most exalted servant of humanity. Christ as revealer emphasized as very chief truths the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. His entire life was characterized by a continuous outpouring of service for human needs. His love was utterly unselfish, with-out self-seeking. That he might show his perfect human sympathy, he put himself in helpful contact with the most abject and outcast of human kind.
In order that he might pay the last pledges of what-ever of judgment, redemption, or atonement, which may have been involved in his mission to the world, he stopped short of no service, no sacrifice which those pledges required. He emptied himself of the divine glory, became poor, was homeless, lived as a servant of servants, and finally along a path of agony more bitter than was ever traversed by any other mortal, he went to death upon the cross.
The standards of thought, of motive, of service, of sacrifice, of flawless loyalty to God and truth, as revealed in this peerless life, are receiving ever-increasing welcome and hospitality, are more and more recognized as the necessary standards for the final civilization. And so it is coming to pass in these later days, with ever-accelerated movement, with ever-increasing numbers, and in large constructions, that men are hailing the "Golden Rule" as containing in itself the final solution of the racial, the social, and industrial misadjustments of the world.
The moral movements of this age as inspired and marshaled by the Holy Spirit are vital and vast beyond any classification. The ideals of Jesus Christ are being embodied in thought, in literature, in philanthropy, in legislation, in industrial and social philosophies as never before. And so it is sublimely true that the in-working God is commanding ever-augmenting agencies of human service to the consummation of that
... far-off divine event
( Originally Published 1914 )
The Inworking God
Divineness Of Man
The Abiding Church
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