Supernatural And Natural
IN endeavouring to divine the trend of thought, hope and purpose by which the soul of Jesus was prepared to hear and to interpret the supreme call which came to Him in vision immediately after His baptism, the preceding chapter ventured to what some readers may have regarded as undue lengths in the way of reading back into Jesus' unrecorded years the principal elements of the thought and attitude characteristic of His days of publicity. But there was one feature of His later insight which resisted this treatment, and for the antedating of which no sufficient ground, nor even any plausible excuse, presented itself. An instinctive application of the principle that an effect cannot be greater than its cause had led apocalyptic thought to take for granted that if God made use of an intermediary in bringing to pass the transcendent "age to come," this intermediary must needs be a supernatural figure, like the eschatological " Son of Man," rather than the human king or leader of earlier Messianic prophecy. Every probability of the case requires us to suppose that before His baptism Jesus shared this very natural apocalytical assumption. We may permit ourselves to surmise, if we are so inclined, that His mind had not wholly escaped occasional awe-struck premonitions of the call that was to come to Him. Such a surmise, however, if we entertain it at all, must remain the purest conjecture. But it is by no means equally conjectural, on the contrary it appears a self-evident presumption, that in such moments of premonition, if He ever experienced them, Jesus would instinctively picture Himself as receiving, along with the call to the transcendent Messianic achievement, a corresponding transmutation of His physical nature. Now the actual event seemed to falsify this very natural anticipation ; it seemed to contradict the apocalyptical assumption that if " the age to come " was to be realized through a Messianic intermediary, he must be a supernatural figure. The actual event must therefore, in this most important respect even if in no other, have introduced a new element into the thought of Jesus. With-out any consciously perceptible change of His physical constitution or natural endowments, He found Himself appointed as the instrument of what was to be at once the consummation of universal history and the inauguration of a new cosmic order ! It has already been suggested above that we may perhaps recognize an echo of the impression of awe and wonder which this discovery made upon Jesus in that much discussed phrase, "the mystery of the Kingdom " (Mark iv. 11), by which at a later date He described the inner meaning of parables which dealt with the manner of the Kingdom's approach. But there lies to hand a less hypothetical kind of evidence to the heart-searching occasioned by this discovery.
I refer to the inner necessity under which Jesus found Himself of immediately seeking solitude in the wilderness,' and to the story of the temptations by which He was there beset. I can see no adequate reason for questioning the historical basis of the narrative here, either in respect of the nature of the temptations described or of the occasion to which they are referred. Their character seems particularly appropriate to the situation as we have conceived it. They do not turn upon any doubt in Jesus' mind of the reality of that Messianic vocation perhaps not altogether unforeseen which had now been laid upon Him ; they turn instead upon what was a consequence of the quite unlooked-for manner in which the call had come. Since the Messiah had now been anointed, " the last days" must have begun. But since the Messiah appointed had not undergone any transmutation of His natural constitution, so surprising a contradiction of apocalyptical expectation raised the question whether the good counsel of God did not also intend for "the last days" a programme very different from the apocalyptical, in other respects than Jesus had already foreseen. It is on this question that the temptations hinge. They reflect the necessity under which Jesus felt Himself of considering afresh the way in which the Messiah and Servant of Jehovah should prosecute His mission in view of the unexpectedly in-conspicuous manner in which " the last days" had dawned. In the inward struggle which the story symbolically describes we witness the crucial stage of the process by which "the last days," originally pictured of a Jehovah who was an inaccessible King and Judge, gave place to "last days" worthy of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is not the place for entering on any detailed consideration of the temptations recorded.39 Their outcome does not seem to have been any mapping out of a complete Messianic programme, but simply a clarification of the principles by which Jesus' immediate duty was to be determined. To the end of His earthly ministry He appears to have regarded as merely postponed that sensible metamorphosis of His natural constitution which had not taken place at the hour of His call, and to have expected that through death and resurrection, if not before, He would become manifestly what already He was really the eschatological " Son of Man." For true faith, however, it is enough that light should be granted for one step at a time. Before Jesus returned from the wilderness His immediate path had become clear to Him, at least in its ruling principles.
It was as a lowly Son in whom the Father was well pleased that He had been chosen to be God's Messiah ; and both the quality for which He had been chosen, and the outwardly inconspicuous estate in which He had been left, indicated the nature of the task that must lie immediately to His hand. He had been chosen as a Son whose filial loyalty and comprehension had made Him long, as never man had longed before, to end the alienation of the men and women around Him from the Father who was eager to spend Himself upon them and to admit them to His unreserved fellowship. He had been chosen as a Son whose sympathy with the Father's pity made Him know that God was not slack concerning His glorious promises, and raised to passionate intensity His desire to relieve the miseries which He saw on every side. He had been chosen as a Son whose vision of what the Father can make possible to him that believeth had stirred Him to dreams of becoming to His own generation the Suffering Servant of Jehovah, and so winning for them the New Covenant, and the Kingdom which should crown that Covenant. And, chosen thus as the one true Son of the Father, He had been left outwardly undistinguished, a plain Man among men, accessible, homely, comprehending, set apart only by that sure commission which was still a secret between Himself and His Father. Was it not clear, then, that in the meantime His mission was to the individual to as many individuals as He could reach, and that its burden was not judgment and governance, but redemption ? (cf. Luke iv. 17-21). When, in the wisdom of God, the time should arrive for Him to exercise on the grand scale the judicial and cosmic Messianic functions, His Father would suitably endow Him for that transcendent rôle. But in the immediate present His task was something different. It was above all to evoke in the men and women around Him that spirit of faith, of submissive expectancy and the will to obey, without which there could be for them no participation in the New Covenant and the Kingdom. For such time as His mission continued to be thus a mission to the individual, it would be only in the service of this undertaking that the supernatural agencies of "the last days" were at His call. They were to be used as a help in overcoming the alienation of men from God by vividly exhibiting His true Fatherliness. And since it was as lowly Son that Jesus had been called to the exercise of these powers, they were to be employed in the spirit in which a son who enjoys frank fellowship with his father makes use of his father's resources with confiding freedom but not irresponsibly, with loyal respect for his known wishes and with a mind ever open to fresh indications of his will. But never might they be employed for purposes of mere stage effect, or for building up an organized following that rested on any foundation short of an intelligent, purposeful surrender of heart and will. Moreover, miracle-working could be, at the best, only an auxiliary instrument in what was, for the present, the task of the Servant-King. Its principal method must be that of a direct endeavour, by personal service and by the illumination of mind and soul, to win men's allegiance to Himself and to the Father whom He represented.
Even yet, however, we have not exhausted the influence on Jesus' thought of the discovery that, although approved by His Father and sent forth with the Messianic commission, He was being left in untransfigured obscurity. In the influence of this discovery we may find, I think, a clue to the main motive of the secrecy which Jesus maintained and enjoined regarding His Messianic claim. This secrecy has caused modern interpreters of His career much perplexity and heart-searching ; and it is by its proffered solution of this puzzle, much more than by learned linguistic difficulties regarding the title " Son of Man," that some colour has been lent to the far-fetched theory that Jesus' Messianic self-consciousness, at any rate in its fully developed form, does not date back to His baptism. But this is by no means the only solution that has been propounded. The motive for secrecy has been sought in avoidance of a premature collision with political authority, or in the teacher's instinct for a graded method and for rejection of ambiguous terms ; and it has even been contended that both the claim and its secrecy were posthumous inventions. But does there not lie to hand a much more direct and obvious explanation? May not Jesus' primary motive for the secrecy have been simple loyalty to His Father's indicated will ?
Contrary to all expectation the Father, in choosing and anointing His Messiah, had left Him veiled in the obscurity of an untransmuted human constitution. It was not for the Son to give away the secret. If the Father had wished that men should be helped to believe in the near approach of the Kingdom by knowing that the Messiah was come, He would have made that Messiah conspicuous to ordinary apprehension. Since He had not done so, He must wish their faith to tread a different road. Not even, there-fore, to the question of the Baptist's messengers would Jesus answer with a plain affirmative. By allowing His Messiah to continue for a time as a homely Man among homely men, the Father was able to use Him in a lowly mission to the individual soul. The Son must do nothing that might obstruct or cut short that mission. When this sowing of the seed was over, and the time for harvesting arrived, the Father Himself would lift the veil. Do we wonder, then, at the words with which Jesus hailed Peter's confession ? " Flesh and blood bath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven " (Matt. xvi. 17). Do we wonder at the emotion with which He greeted it ? The Son had loyally allowed the veil to remain drawn, but the Father Himself had begun to lift it. Surely, then, the hour must be drawing near when, in place of the commission to sow, the Messiah would receive the commission to reap.40 It is in no way strange that Jesus' feeling should have been deeply stirred.
While we may see, in a loyal acceptance of the Father's indicated will, the primary source of Jesus' strict reserve about His Messianic claim, we need not therefore suppose that this reserve failed to commend itself to His own judgment as well. Without keeping close the secret it would have been impossible for Him to aim, as He did, at leading the faith of men along the path by which His own faith had travelled to its final illumination and certainty. In a vague general way men believed that God was gracious and ready to bestow on them that which it was good to have. In a vague general way they believed also that the Kingdom of God was a boon which it would be good for them to receive there and then. Jesus therefore began His teaching by asking men to count it certain, on no other evidence than the witness with which their hearts responded to His assurance, that the Kingdom of God must be at hand. In this way He challenged them to an act of living faith by bringing them up against what, in the preceding chapter, was described as the incisive " either, or " of genuine, practical religion. He forced to a head the issue between a merely formal creed and a creed sincerely and strenuously believed, by calling upon men to count actually true what, in their heart of hearts, they believed ought to be true, and to count it actually true for no proffered reason other than the felt moral and spiritual necessities of the case. Had He proclaimed Himself the arrived Messiah, He would have been diverting their attention from the simple and faith-challenging spiritual issue regarding the Kingdom to curious reasonings about His own credentials.
For similar reasons Jesus used miracle, not in ways designed to afford proof that " the last days " had really arrived, but with a view to strengthening men's hold on their commonly expressed belief in the goodness and power of God. Let them only take that belief in literal earnest, and it would compel them to face for themselves the "either, or" of faith. If they held to that belief in God's goodness and power, vitalized as it would be by His miracles of compassion, they would find themselves under the necessity of either expecting God to grant them the pictured "age to come" at once or else of admitting that such a gift would be no true boon. Then, as this dilemma began to sink home, Jesus betook Himself to parabolic teaching, directed to evoking and guiding their own reflections on the kind of " age to come " that would be really worthy of the Father, and on the preparation of heart that was needed before an immediate bestowal of the Kingdom could be for themselves a real boon after all.
Toward the apocalyptical aspects of that Kingdom of whose near advent Jesus was labouring to evoke a tense and practical expectation, I have argued that His own mental attitude was intrinsically, even if unself-consciously, one of hypothesis, ranging from mere conjecture to confident anticipation. But there were two apocalyptical features of His outlook which were for Him in no degree conjectural. These were His own Messianic dignity and the complementary truth that " the last days" were matter of present fact. The proof of this assertion is His own conduct.
Of His claim to be Messiah and eschatological "Son of Man" He was so certain that, rather than disavow it when challenged, He was willing to be condemned to death. And of the accomplished advent of " the last days" He was so certain that, although we have no credible evidence of His ever having undertaken, before the vision at His baptism, to work a miracle, after that event He never hesitated to act upon the belief that the supernatural agencies of " the last days" were at His beck and call. These two epoch-making convictions He laid hold of, in vision, by faith ; by faith He acted upon them, without waiting for sensuous confirmation ; and it was along the pathway of simple faith that He led other men forward towards fitness for their spiritual apprehension.
Now it is here that we strike at last the critical parting of the ways between the supernaturalism of apocalypse and the supernaturalism of Christianity. I have dwelt, at what may have seemed to be excessive length, upon the comparative unpreparedness of Jesus' mind for one feature of the grand event for which He had longed and prayed for its intangibleness. Without perceptible metamorphosis of His humanity a Man had become Messiah. Without audible trumpeting the portentous "last days" had supervened. I have tried to trace the impression which this unexpected dénouement made upon Jesus. If even such a one as He had to seek the solitude of the wilderness in order to adjust Himself to the new discovery, do we wonder at the degree in which it baffled the apprehension of His generation? The mind of Jesus quickly responded to the significance of that which had come to pass. It appealed to the essential spirituality of His whole outlook, and with spontaneous intuition He fell loyally into line with its practical implications. For a soul in which the apocalyptical had never been more than a handmaid of the spiritual, the necessary adjustment cost no painful wrench. Nevertheless an adjustment was necessary ; and if I have dwelt upon the necessity which even Jesus felt for an adjustment of His conceptions, it has been in order to quicken a realization of the radical contrast between the supernaturalism of Christianity and the super-naturalism of the less spiritual apocalyptic of Jesus' contemporaries, and a realization of the painful readjustments of conception demanded of them by the Christian message.
We are now free to face the task of seizing and developing the significance of the new point of view, the first emergence of which these pages have been laboriously tracing. And, to begin with, we may try to state it in quite general terms. What had happened was that the mind, first of all of Jesus, and then of the earliest Christian generation, found itself summoned to accept and act upon the sensuously uncertified belief that the existing epoch was no longer "the present age" of apocalyptical conception, but had become, instead, " the last days." What had happened was, further, that in proportion as this paradoxical belief was frankly accepted and acted upon, the existing epoch began to find room, within the even tenor of its days, for unprecedented phenomena both of the inner life and of outward occurrence. This is what had happened. But what did the happening mean ?
Our modern instinct will be to attempt forthwith to strip this revolution in belief and experience of its time-form. We shall feel disposed to say : What had really happened, although it was apprehended as the emergence of a new cosmic epoch, was not a change in the cosmos, but an epoch-making change in men's thought about the cosmos. Never had God been actually so passive and aloof as He had been pictured by the dualistic pessimism of apocalypse. Always He had been redemptively or supernaturally active, in whatever ways the meagreness of human faith permitted. The real novelty was in man and not in the principles of God's cosmic self- manifestation. In the person of Jesus there had come to maturity a new receptiveness of human faith, which opened to God's ever-active energy of redemption new channels of self-expression.
Now, if we give rein to this impulse to translate the temporal into terms of the timeless, we shall only be following the example of the tendency perceptible in the Johannine theology. But at the outset the spiritual revolution which developed into what we call Christianity was content to construe the temporal temporally or historically. Let speculation wait ! For practical purposes " the last days" were a new phenomenon, calling for eager practical exploration rather than leisurely interpretation. The gift of Jesus to His age was not primarily a fresh reading of long familiar fact, but was access to a new plane of experience. He did not proclaim that " the present age" of the apocalyptists was, and had always been, a fiction. He taught men, instead, that " the last days " had arrived ; and, by an unfaltering activity of faith in the Father who had given Him this message, He made the teaching true, and ushered in what was experimentally a new kind of world, characterized by a widened reach of possibility. He taught that in this new age the Father both exacted and rendered attainable an unprecedentedly inward and spontaneous type of goodness ; and with joyful surprise those who looked trustfully to the Father, in the new way which Jesus taught them, found bubbling up in their hearts transformed affections and impulses, which made this impossibly exacting morality begin to become a light yoke and an easy burden, as Jesus had paradoxically described it. But further, Jesus taught men that all things are possible to him that believeth ; and those who faced, with a faith like Jesus' own, the exigencies of the life to which their share in the new age committed them, discovered that the boundaries long ago mapped out by wordly-wisdom as the limits of the practicable had become absurdly out of date. Both within and without there were "new heavens and a new earth "—new not in line and colour, as fancied by apocalypse, but new in range of potency, new not in the prosaic obviousness of completed fact, but in their glamour of a challenge unheard of and a promise without end.
To this New Testament note of an objectively new era inaugurated by Jesus we must never fail to do justice. But if we take care to do it justice if we take care to remember that the travail of the ages, by which the eternal willingness of God becomes at length effectual, is quite as significant, theologically and metaphysically, as the eternity of that willingness if we never allow ourselves to forget that God Himself was the source of that new receptiveness of human faith which opened, for His unresting energy of redemption, fresh channels of expression, then we may permit our thought, for its own legitimate purposes, to strip away the time-form from the revolution-making creed which Jesus proclaimed. Something new had really occurred ; but we are doing nothing more out of the way than to regard this historical event from a permissible and useful angle of vision, when we say that what had arrived had always been present implicitly, and that it was only the unpreparedness of man that had prevented it from emerging into the light of day. It was only this human unpreparedness that had rendered not altogether untrue the apocalyptists' despondent way of picturing the present as a redemption-less age of evil. Always God had been willing to act supernaturally or redemptively, to the utmost limit of man's receptiveness. Now at last, through the filial consciousness of Jesus, there was being mediated to the human race that responsive faith which would render the eternal willingness of God effectual in unprecedented manner.
We have spoken of this way of stating the case as though it consisted in stripping the message of Jesus of its time-form, or its tendency to express eternal truth as a temporal event. This message was : "' The last days' have arrived (or, as He preferred to word it, The Kingdom of God is at hand) ; therefore act as this new occasion demands of you." Of this message we are giving the translation : " If only you will act as though ' the last days' were here, you will find that they become present fact ; and if long ago you had acted thus, you would have found them fact long ago ; for their actuality depends on faith and not on the lapse of time." To describe this translation, however, as venturing to strip from the message of Jesus its time-form is almost too strong an expression. For if it does involve something of that kind, the truth is that Jesus began this process of translation Himself. Our translation does no more than reaffirm that striking injunction of Jesus to His disciples : " All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them " (Mark xi. 24). Having behind us, then, so strong a warrant for our reading of the essential or timeless significance of Jesus' message, we may advance with confidence to the task of deriving from it a general view of the difference between the supernaturalism, Christianity and the supernaturalism of apocalyptic.
The critical point of divergence lies in the respective conceptions not of the supernatural, but of the natural. Both for apocalyptic and for original Christianity the supernatural was the redeeming, and was supernatural because it was redemptive. By Christianity, indeed, the boons which were to be supernaturally mediated were conceived more spiritually than by apocalyptic. But the primary sense in which, both by Christianity and by apocalyptic, God's bestowal of these boons was looked upon as a supernatural act, was that these boons meant escape from a bondage of thwarted effort and hope deferred which had long been familiar, and which was so universal as apparently to be grounded in the very nature of things.41 On the other hand, when we turn from the conception of the supernatural to that of the natural, we find between Christianity and apocalyptic a difference which is of primary importance.
As a first step towards expressing this difference we may say that it reveals itself in the respective senses in which the bondage from which redemption was sought was regarded as " grounded in the very nature of things." By apocalyptic the grounding was assumed to be radical the powers immediately controlling the whole present course of nature and history were believed to be definitely hostile to man's true good. On the other hand, the message of Jesus, in what I have claimed to be its essential or timeless significance, tended to see the root of the bondage from which redemption was needed not in the existent nature of things as a whole, but primarily in one part of that nature of things, namely, the character of man. Jesus " never ceased to regard the world as even now governed by God, who clothes the grass of the field and cares for the sparrows." For Him the present "was not a mere kingdom of Satan over against the future Kingdom of God, but an imperfect world into which evil had somehow entered and thwarted the Divine purpose." It was not the world without that was unclean, but the world within. Perhaps a simple figure may best convey the essential thought of Jesus. The wilderness, which possesses a haunting beauty of its own for the man whose heart is at peace, becomes for him who is lost in it a place of suffering and dismay ; and, in the eyes of Jesus, sinners were men who had lost their way in God's world. For them the present was really an evil age, but this was because they had missed the clue to the true ordering of their lives. They had missed the clue of trust and eager loyalty. Even for Jesus the world was a wilderness, full of rocks and thorns ; not until God's ideal reign arrived would it rejoice and blossom like the rose. And yet, walking in that very wilderness, Jesus Himself was at peace ; with nothing to His hand save what its undeveloped wilds provided, He yet found that for Himself through faith all things were, even in that wilderness, possible. None of its real dangers need work actual mischief ; there was in it no real menace but could be triumphed over. For, if its manifold perils gleamed clear in the sunshine of the understanding, yet the delicate touch of faith could sense in every rock and thicket the vibrant invisible rays of the redemptive energy of God. It was not from the real world that men needed redemption. It was not the real present that was an age of evil. The real present was, and had always been, " the last days." But amid " the solid truth " of " the last days " there had lang lain " a foolish wilful dream" conjured up by human petulance and unbelief, the dream of a present redemption-less age of evil. Over this foolish, wilful dream, which passed for the real world, the man of faith was certainly lord ; for on his side was that true natural order which was coextensive with the whole energy of a God who was not aloof, but attentive to the faintest cry ; not a Sovereign trammelled by statute and precedent, but a Father at liberty to be fatherly. But while, for the ends of faith, every true son of the Kingdom was lord over what apocalyptic took to be the order of nature, his relation to the true cosmic order, the whole unrestingly creative and redemptive energy of God, was that of humble recipient and responsive mediator.
The effort to evolve a formula which shall express the essential or timeless significance of the message of Jesus in terms relevant to the issue between supernatural and natural as conceived by modern thought, is sadly hampered by the width of the gulf which any comparison of conceptions has to bridge. When one remembers the elaborate angelology of apocalyptic, which saw both in the physical realm and in the course of history a reign not of abstract law but of super-human consciousnesses, " the angelic Rulers, the angelic Authorities, the potentates of the dark present, the spirit-forces of evil in the heavenly sphere "" of whom Paul speaks in Eph. vi. 12 when one recalls this apocalyptical conception of " the present age " or "natural" order, it may appear absurd to assert any identity between this and what modern thought means by the natural order. Yet the contrast, great as it undoubtedly is, does not affect the point with which we are here concerned. It was from the powers or principles controlling the whole system of experienced fact that the apocalyptists desired redemption, and the powers or principles controlling the whole system of experienced fact are what modern thought means by the natural order. Accordingly, for the purposes of our needed formula we are justified in saying that by the "natural," from which the supernatural gave redemption, apocalyptic meant what we should to-day call, without qualification or reserve, "nature" in the broadest sense. The super-naturalism of apocalyptic was radical ; the redemption for which it hoped was one which would operate supra et contra naturam, in a manner superior and contrary to the natural order understood in no relative sense, but absolutely.
Now, it is not to "nature" in this absolute sense that the message of Jesus, in its essential or timeless significance, requires us to regard the redemptive or supernatural as superior and contrary. If by nature we understand not the course of things as our present degree of knowledge has formulated it, but nature absolutely, nature in the sense of the powers or principles actually control-ling the whole system of experimental fact, then the essential teaching of Jesus is that this natural order is predominantly on the side of all that is good for man and good in man. Within this natural order there are, indeed, strong tendencies making for evil, but there are stronger tendencies making for good ; and wherever faith provides the latter with a suitable field of operation, they forthwith become invincible. The existing un-transfigured present, which to apocalyptic appears an age wherein evil is dominant, is really " the last days "—that is to say, is really a field of struggle between resistant forces of destruction and potentially irresistible forces of redemption.
However, that is not the end of the matter. If we stopped short here in our analysis, we should lose sight of an element in the timeless significance of the message of Jesus which we cannot afford to ignore. This element is the fact that the mode of operation of the redemptive forces is regarded as irruptive. They belong to the natural order, in the broad sense in which we are here using that term ; but within this natural order they are located, as it were, on an exalted plane, from which they have to break their way downwards to do their redeeming work. Or rather, they are like a deep ocean of God's cosmic energy which, by an embankment of human distrust and wilfulness, has been dammed off from the shallow pool that has constituted the world of our average experience. On this embankment the deep ocean has been for ever pressing, but only when a breach is made by the act of human faith can the redemptive flood pour in to fill the shallow pool and cleanse away its foulness. The present age " of apocalyptic had always been a fiction ; this, we have agreed, was the timeless significance of the message of Jesus. But what had been fictitious was not the circle of fact designated by this name. The fiction had been that the reign of these evil facts constituted a distinct epoch, with time-limits fixed by the arbitrary or at least inscrutable will of God, a sort of chronological enclave inside the age-long time-scheme of Divine Providence. But for the thought of Jesus it was no fiction that the unredeemed world of ordinary experience was an enclave of a kind other than chronological an imperium in imperio the radical defects of which could only be overcome by intervention of God's wider empire of reality.
To this way of representing the case the objection may possibly be taken that it does not go far enough. The intervention in which Jesus believed, it may be said, was something more radical than an irruption into one cosmic plane of forces belonging to another plane which, although of higher grade, is still phenomenal, still located within the cosmos. Careless of the dualism involved in the idea of a direct interference by God with the ordinary course of things, Jesus frankly conceived the supernatural, it may be urged, as an immediate activity of the Divine will, standing in sharp contrast with God's more usual mode of operation through the mediation of second causes. Such an objection, however, seems to me entirely without point. It stresses a distinction which, for Jesus, was of no moment whatever. The genuine religious consciousness, when it has attained the monotheistic level, uses indifferently the language of a naïve dualism and of a thoroughgoing monism. It can dispense with neither mode of expression, since each, when not pressed to an artificial exactness, emphasizes an essential aspect of its thought of God. In this respect the religious consciousness is entirely in line with the mental habit of Jesus. He does not sharply mark off the supernatural, as direct Divine agency, from the natural, as indirect. On the contrary, He is prepared to speak of each of them, now as an immediate, and now as a mediated form of God's activity.
When He says, " If I by the Spirit of God cast out devils," He is describing miracle as involving the direct participation of God ; but this does not prevent Him, on another occasion, from contemplating a still more striking kind of miraculous intervention in the light of an indirect or mediated work of God : " Thinkest thou," He said, "that I cannot beseech My Father, and He shall even now send Me more than twelve legions of angels? " And the two modes of conception which He is thus ready to apply indifferently to the interpretation of supernatural occurrence, He is equally ready to employ in speaking of the ordinary course of nature. He does not scruple to re-cognize a realm of second causes, although in common with His contemporaries He tends to conceive them as personal agencies, angelic or demonic, rather than as impersonal forces. Yet at the same time He is ready to see in this secondary causation an activity of the Divine will. It is God who clothes the grass of the field, who sends sunshine and rain on both just and unjust ; without the Father no sparrow falls to the ground ; and, according to the Fourth Gospel, even in a natural calamity such as blindness from birth Jesus is prepared to recognize a special providence, preparing a selected individual to be the medium of God's best loved kind of activity (John ix. 3).
Thus the distinction between supernatural and natural is not, for Jesus, a distinction between direct and indirect Divine agency, but is rather a distinction between a freer and more adequate expression of God's power and goodness, and an expression which does less obvious justice to His Fatherly omnipotence. Even in representing the supernatural activity of God, in the manner adopted above, as the irruptive operation of forces belonging to a higher cosmic " plane" than those concerned in the ordinary course of things, one does little else than give a more abstractly mathematical turn to a figure of Jesus' own thought. By Him the heaven where God's will is already perfectly done (Matt. vi. Io) is conceived of not as an immaterial realm discontinuous with the known universe, nor even as a mysterious fourth-dimensional plane omnipresent within the universe, but with frank naïveté as a place high up in the third dimension of space, a portion of the heavens lying above the visible sky. It is this mode of thought that makes it easy for Him to speak of the future Kingdom of God as already present in a local sense. Although still a fact of the future, so far as the visible stage of human history is concerned, it is an already existent cosmic reality, and is even now struggling to break its way through the blue vault of the sky and, like the New Jerusalem of the Johannine apocalypse, to come down out of heaven from God. We are keeping well within the limits, therefore, of legitimate reformulation when we say that, as an element in the thought of Jesus, the idea of Divine intervention was not the idea of an external interference by God with the universal course of things, but was a way of regarding certain events within the natural order as due to the interference of the agencies of one realm with those of another. The realm interfered with was that apparently closed system of agencies with which long experience had made man painfully familiar. The realm interfering was God's wider empire of reality, which no intelligence can know as a closed system unless it can sum up and exhaust the infinitude of Deity. Again, the realm interfered with was one in which the power and goodness of God were most inadequately mediated and expressed, while the interfering realm was one in which His omnipotence and grace were mediated without let or hindrance.
Expressed in modern terms, then, Jesus' conception of miracle is not as a breach of the natural order, but as the breach of a barrier within the natural order. And this barrier itself is unnatural or anomalous ; it is, as it were, a pathological phenomenon. - Human distrust and wilfulness has interposed the obstacle of a non-conducting medium to the more sensitive waves of God's cosmic energy, thereby walling off an enclosure within which the power and goodness of God are inadequately manifest and their operation is incompletely effectual. By consequence the possibilities of evil which logically inhere in the constitution of all real or spiritual good have attained, within this enclosure, a deplorable degree of actualization. To sweep away this actualization is the object of redemption. It would be swept away, and redemption would become an achieved fact, if only the barrier could be sufficiently pierced. And since distrust has created the barrier, faith can dissolve it. Super-natural or redemptive phenomena involve real breaches of a very practical barrier within the natural order, but in their occurrence there is nothing irrational, nothing unnatural or incompatible with universal orderliness.
The foregoing has been an attempt to state in quite general terms the essential purport of the message of Jesus, in so far as concerns our present subject. The terms made use of have been frankly modern sometimes semi-scientific, sometimes undisguisedly metaphorical. This mode of expression has been deliberately followed in the hope of providing religious or devotional reflection with forms of thought congenial to the semi-scientific mental habits of the age ; for devotion does not breathe easily in the more rarefied atmosphere of precise philosophical distinctions. In the two following chapters, how-ever, something must be done toward bringing the general statement offered above into a form more susceptible of exact philosophical appraisal ; and in the final chapter we must seek to escape from the external standpoint inseparable from generalized statement to an inward apprehension that shall be at once more truly universal and thoroughly individual. Before proceeding, how-ever, it seems desirable to round off our position, in the form which has been given to it above, by briefly touching on two related topics. One of these is the element of mystery which necessarily characterizes miracle or the supernatural. The other is the nature of that faith which opens a channel for the supernatural or miraculous.
The idea that the miraculous, or supernatural, or redemptive, is the breaching of a barrier within the natural order does not of itself render the miraculous more scientifically intractable than the non-miraculous. The barrier is not breached arbitrarily, and the forces which pour in are not arbitrary forces. It is no intrinsic inscrutableness, but the de facto restrictedness of human powers of observation that renders miracle, as conceived above, more mysterious than the non-miraculous. Mankind has been living within the limits marked out by a barrier which has excluded the main wealth of God's store of cosmic energy. By the nature of the case, then, when that barrier is any-where breached, and redemptive energies flow through, their mode of operation has all the mysteriousness of unfamiliarity. Moreover, their dependence on spiritual conditions for freedom of action excludes them from being the subject of the type of experimental analysis customary in the physical sciences. Very different is the position with regard to that portion of God's cosmic energy which never fails to operate within our ordinary unredeemed world in spite of its enclosing dam of distrust and wilfulness, because it is not dependent on the conducting medium of faith. The forms of energy which are thus allowed to come under our continuous observation are, by the enclosing barrier, both limited in number and partially isolated from the disturbing influence on their mode of operation of the incalculably manifold energies beyond. It becomes not impossible for us, therefore, to acquire a working knowledge of their processes. We grow to regard them as "natural" in the sense of " familiar and intelligible " ; not only so, but since their relative isolation makes them work almost as a closed system, we are tempted incautiously to identify this system with the absolute or universal cosmic order. In relation to this unredeemed world, constituted by the forces which normally operate within our ken, our attitude is prone to be that of worldly wisdom. We think we understand how to harness them to our purposes. For the most part we are confident of being able to take care of ourselves ; and where obviously we cannot, we accept the fact as inevitable, without looking for redemptive forces from a greater natural order beyond. On the other hand, for those who do look beyond and hope for redemptive or supernatural phenomena, there can be no thought of any self-competent harnessing and management of the irruptive energies. Their nature remains unexplored, and any service they render must conform to their own unfathomed mode of working, expressive of that Divine infinitude of which they are the cosmic manifestation. In relation to the super-natural or redemptive the only appropriate practical attitude is, therefore, one of confiding appeal.
Of what character, then, is the faith which releases the pent-up fulness of God's cosmic energy ? It is not, according to Jesus, merely a general or undirected spirit of confidingness. It has, indeed, as its permanent precondition a confident belief that God is both able and willing, by pouring in the plenitude of His resources, to render the world, which has grown ugly and malodorous within its barrier of distrustful independence, as pure and glorious as though no such barrier had ever existed. And when this confident belief is not merely theoretical but expresses itself in an attitude of expectant receptiveness and practical loyalty, it may afford the redemptive energies of God a wider liberty of self-expression. Faith of this kind, then, may be the primary condition of miraculous or supernatural events, but it is insufficient for miraculous deeds ; that is to say, it may render possible marvellous answers to prayer for help in God's own way and time, but it does not justify that confident request for a specific supernatural occurrence at a given time and with a particular redemptive purpose which is the essence of miracle-working. Jesus Himself was possessed of a confident general belief in God's power and willingness to redeem long before He knew Himself at liberty to work miracles. That liberty arrived only when He had attained the certainty that, in the service of the Father's age-long redemptive purpose, He Himself was called to compass an achievement which, without miracle, was impossible. A miracle-working faith, then, would appear to be definable as the attitude of one who counts on being supernaturally enabled to accomplish a seeming impossibility, which he knows to be no private ambition but the one specific service which God here and now requires of him. Worldly-wisdom, in its outlook upon practical duty, starts from the past. It holds, quite truly, that it never can be right to spend precious energy upon quite impracticable ambitions ; but it commits the error of deriving its standard of the practicable from mere past experience, more or less carefully analyzed. A miracle-working faith, on the other hand, takes its standard of the practicable not from the past, but from its independent knowledge of God's call and purpose. That which God lays it upon me here and now to accomplish must be a link in the purpose for which the whole cosmos exists. Therefore there must lie to my hand the re-sources necessary for such an achievement; if they are not to be found within the barrier which bounds the world of ordinary experience, they must be ready to break in from the unfathomed deeps beyond. Such, and such alone, would seem to be the faith which may rightly dare to make confident specific demands upon the supernatural.
( Originally Published 1922 )
Redemption From This World:
Supernatural Because Redemptive
"the Time Is Fulfilled"
The Dawning Of "the Last Days"
Supernatural And Natural
The Miraculous As The Preternatural
The Miraculous As The Act Of God
On The King's Business