On The King's Business
BEFORE returning from the abstract realm of philosophy and apologetic to which, in the two preceding chapters, we have been paying all too brief a visit, it seems desirable to take some survey of our conclusions.
There is one point in regard to which it is particularly important to run no risk of misunderstanding. Throughout our discussion of "natural" and "supernatural" we have taken no cognizance whatever of one narrow sense to which the term "natural " is often restricted in modern speech, a sense in which by "nature" is meant the realm of purely physical phenomena alone. Since modern science attempts to apply the method of abstract generalization in the realm of the conscious as well as of the unconscious, we have proceeded throughout on the assumption that the problem of the supernatural is fundamentally the same in the case of spiritual as in the case of physical miracles. In discussing the question of contraventions of the cosmic or " natural" order, therefore, we have intended by the "natural " whatever is in accord with that which passes current at any time as the ascertained laws of the whole universe of conscious and unconscious being. Speaking as Christians for whom God is essentially the Heavenly Father, we have assumed it to be self-evident that the orderliness which really characterizes the universe cannot be the finite or imperfect orderliness of abstract laws of nature or abstract rules of Divine government, but must be a thoroughly individuated orderliness, one in which every event is, as it were, determined on the individual merits of the situation out of which it springs. Since it is impossible for our human minds to construe with any adequateness a universal order of this ideally perfect type, science prefers to seek an inclusive understanding of a more approximate kind. It prefers to seek generalizations which are valid enough for scientific and broadly practical purposes, although not for the intimately individual issues of the life of faith and personal duty. Now it is because this has been the stand-point from which our discussion has proceeded that we have been justified in ignoring the question of the relation between physical nature and the realm of consciousness. For us that is a purely technical scientific question, of no direct religious importance. Whether physical nature may be most conveniently treated as a closed system running parallel with the realm of consciousness, or whether mind and body may be more conveniently treated as capable of interaction, is from our point of view merely a question of what is the least misleading way of bringing into relation the results of particular ways of applying, in these two contrasted realms, the artificial but necessary method of construing the facts of experience in terms of class-concepts. A decision of this question may doubtless react upon current habits of thought in ways that may prove religiously important, but it is difficult to see how it can have any direct bearing on the problem of the supernatural as conceived in these pages.
A second point which calls for emphasis as we look back at the results of the two preceding chapters, is that from our point of view there can be no talk of a conflict between a recognition of the supernatural and the legitimate claims of science the claims, that is to say, of a science that does not mistake itself for philosophy. Upon our reading of the situation, the two stand-points are so different that they can neither clash nor support each other. In our view a miraculous or supernatural event is to be regarded, from the scientific standpoint, simply as an unclassified phenomenon which threatens to entail some revision of accepted classifications, and which, accordingly, until classified, appears preternatural. Again, in our view, what science calls a " natural " event is, from the religious standpoint, merely a very abstractly apprehended part of the self-expression of the Divine will-a part of this self-expression into the living heart of which we have so slightly penetrated as to see in it nothing more than conformity to quite general rules.
If there is thus no room for conflict between the results of science, rightly understood, and belief in the supernatural, neither is there, on our view, any conflict between this belief and the fundamental philosophical postulate of the rationality or orderliness of reality. So far from asserting that miracles are, in any ultimate sense, breaches of the cosmic order, it has been by postulating an ideally rational type of cosmic order that we have deduced the inevitableness of that class of events within which, as a sub-ordinate species,, the religiously supernatural falls, namely, events which at the time of their occurrence seem preternatural, because contrary to the then accepted generalizations about the cosmic or " natural " order. Without being troubled, therefore, by any pricks of his philosophical conscience, the Christian may turn an open ear to the joyous Gospel message that faith places him in touch with what is, for practical purposes, the transcendent.
An open ear, an attitude of unprejudiced attentiveness ! such is the spirit in which the results of our incursus into the realm of philosophical analysis permit us to resume that constructive investigation of the permanent and practical significance of the message of Jesus which the demands of apologetic required us to interrupt. We find ourselves set at liberty to regard the question of the truth of that message as, in the broadest sense, purely an experimental issue, incapable of being decided in the negative on merely a priori grounds. Does faith bring men into practical relations with what, without prejudice to the purely immanent order which a perfect mind might be able to recognize in all things, is for practical purposes the transcendent ? —that is the issue. Only one thing can avail to decide it convincingly in a positive sense, namely, believing experiment ; but in this concluding chapter something may be done to set the issue in a clearer light.
It may be helpful to begin by considering the relation in which our conclusions stand to certain current movements of life and thought. For popular reflection recent developments in faith-healing, mental therapeutics and research into the psychically supernormal, have done a good deal to mitigate the prejudiced incredulity which had become so widespread an attitude toward all that savoured of the supernatural. Now, from our point of view, exact research, whether experimental or theoretical, into the realm of supernormal psychical phenomena and into the possibilities of mental healing, is quite different from an attempt to explore the reaches of the supernatural. It is, in fact, quite the contrary ; it is an effort to explore the reaches of the " natural," to discover whether phenomena, which at present are preternatural and consequently incapable of control with a view to calculated achievements, may not be brought within the range of competent human manipulation and even of precise scientific formulae. Any one who propounds to himself such a problem as, for example, that of ascertaining whether, by practising with sufficient abandon the attitude of the Christian Scientist, or the special faith of the faith-healer, or even a general confidingness of trust in the Heavenly Father, it is always possible to bring to pass such and such apparently preternatural results, is taking up the attitude of science rather than of religion. He is asking himself a perfectly admissible question, but it is a question the answer to which would give him further knowledge of the " natural," not of the "supernatural." For he is seeking to arrive at a generalization, to arrive at an abstract rule of Divine government, to arrive at something which, if it could be reduced to terms of a measured relation between a defined mental or spiritual attitude and definite results of an otherwise unattainable kind, would deserve to rank as a scientific law of the cosmic or " natural " order.
Now, from our point of view, the factor which deserves the name supernatural " and which (whether it be given that name or not) it is religiously important to assert as possible and real, is always both thoroughly individual, or superior to all generalizations, and disconcertingly mysterious, or contrary to some contemporaneously current generalizations. In the supernatural we come face to face with God as a transcendent, spontaneous and personal Will, and not as the mere administrator of a system of rules of world-government from whom we may count on securing what we want by conforming to the relevant regulations. In converse with the supernatural we do not bid farewell to reason, but we cease to place implicit confidence in the scientific understanding. We do not sacrifice belief in a God of order, but we believe in an order which must transcend and may conflict with our scientific insight into its nature, both because it covers reaches of reality unexplored by us as yet, and because it is too livingly individual in type to be capable of adequate expression in abstract formulae resting on generalizations. Precisely in so far, therefore, as we succeed in bringing mental healing of any kind to the rank of an applied art or in expressing supernormal phenomena in well tested formulae, we establish for these data of experience a place on the " natural " plane.
To say this is not to disparage these endeavours to throw scientific light on apparently preternatural phenomena or to deprecate their further extension. On the contrary, when prosecuted intelligently and in a worthy spirit, they are to be welcomed not only in a scientific interest, but from the standpoint of religion as well. For although, when successful, their immediate result is to prevent certain occurrences which may have previously served as occasions of a religious experience of the super-natural from ranking, in the future, as anything more than " special providences," yet they may have the indirect effect of rendering the mind more open to expectant belief in the supernatural. This indirect result is due to the fact that each fresh discovery of an orderliness in phenomena which transcends and runs counter to our previous ideas of the natural order, helps the imagination to conceive it possible that the will of God may be able to work in ways transcending all our scientific ideas of order without thereby ceasing to be an orderly will. To prove, for example, that physical nature is not a closed system free from the interference of hyper-physical factors, may be an achievement very different from a demonstration of the reality of the supernatural. Nevertheless, the shock which such a proof would administer to the overweening confidence of those who had believed physical nature to be a closed system, might well serve to quicken their latent consciousness that the real cosmic order must always transcend all seemingly established generalizations even the newly established generalizations about the hyper-physical."
Having now sufficiently apprized ourselves of how little the problem with which certain current movements of thought are busy is to be identified with the issue with which our own conclusions bring us face to face, we must turn to define the latter more directly. Throughout our investigation we have been considering the supernatural negatively, but if our results are to have any practical value, we must learn how to explore the supernatural positively. If the supernatural is the redemptive, we must understand not only from what, but to what we are redeemed. That which, as miracle, contravenes the natural order as current science construes it, is a wider order more ideally perfect in type, and only those who imbibe and voluntarily subject themselves to the spirit of this wider and more living order can possess either the capacity or the right to profit by its freedom. Miracle-working and irresponsible licence are poles apart. On our view miracle is, as it were, thé cosmic Reason become sense ; the supernatural, so far from being the irrational, is the intimately individual reasonableness of the infinite making itself for a moment immediately perceptible. And he who would know himself at liberty to invoke the supernatural must be learning to live the life of the infinite God, which is victory through self-immolation, life through death ; he must sanctify himself to taste of the cup of which our Lord drank and to share the baptism where-with He was baptized. For if Jesus regarded miracle, negatively, as the preternatural, the clashing of " the age to come " with " the present age," positively He defined it as interpenetration by the life Divine " I, by the Spirit of God, cast out devils."
To grasp the nature of this life eternal on which the Christian is summoned to enter here and now, we must realize to the full its sharp contrast of aspects. The Christian is utterly freed from rules, whether moral or natural, but it is only upon condition of being Divinely inspired to be an imperative to himself. He is endowed with limitless resources, but only upon condition of a spontaneous exactingness of loyalty to the Spirit of Christ, which is the living will or personality of God.
In seeking a fuller realization of these contrasted aspects of the truly Christian life, let us begin by reverting to the negative aspect which we have already considered, namely, the redemption offered from the world of the already delimited, the world of worldly-wisdom. Our abstract philosophical analysis has shown that in the real cosmic order there must always exist an unexhausted margin of Divine energy beyond what our knowledge at any time has discovered and construed as the order of nature. But as Christians, for whom Jesus' intuition of the infinite Father is authoritative, we must believe much more than this ; we must believe this margin to be an inexhaustible reserve which so widely transcends the range of what our knowledge has mapped out that it provides the means of rendering all things possible to him that believeth. In this book we are concerned with the miraculous element in the New Testament only in its broader aspects, and not with the relative claims to historicity of the particular miracles recorded. No demonstration of the credibility of the supernatural in general can ever excuse the student from weighing critical arguments against the authenticity of particular stories, or from considering any critical evidence pointing to a tendency to heighten the preternatural aspect of the striking achievements narrated. But there is one outstanding impression left by the Synoptic story which not even the completest readiness to surrender belief in this or that miracle, or to admit an unconscious tendency to exaggeration of the marvellous, can avail to shake. However cautiously one may hold one's judgment in suspense as to the details of Jesus' exercise of the miraculous, it seems plain that in deciding what boons He might supernaturally bestow He never paused to weigh the " natural " possibilities. While quite unmoved by the demand for prodigies as credentials of His mission, He was also never deterred from attempting any achievement which might redound to His Father's praise by mere thought of its preternaturalness. This regal indifference to the distinction between natural and preternatural agencies, in its combination with the sureness of His in-tuition as to the fitting use to be made of the latter, is a feature of the Synoptic picture that appears self-evidently authentic. It touches off a personal trait too distinguished and original to be an invention ; it must be copied from life. And this attitude of sublime indifference to the teachings of past experience about the limits of the possible was not merely an attitude which Jesus adopted for Himself, but was one which, in well-known utterances of characteristically startling boldness, He repeatedly enjoined upon His followers. Not in degree, then, but absolutely the Christian is set free from subservience to past measures of the possible. He may learn wisdom from the past as to the difficulties to be faced, and the sufficiency or otherwise of tested ways of dealing with them, but He must never treat the past as capable of indicating with authority the limits of possible achievement. It is not for him to measure his duty by past experience of the practicable, but to estimate the practicable by his independent knowledge of what God lays it upon him to undertake.
Further, in seeking to discover the undertaking which God lays upon him, the Christian must never let his visions of the possible and permissible be curbed by the idea that the present life is meant to be a vale of tears. If there is one truth that the miracles of Jesus reveal more clearly than another, it is that in this world pain and disablement and tragedy are intruders hateful to the Heavenly Father. As has been strikingly said by Professor Cairns in a recent impressive article,56 the New Testament story is an account " of the greatest attack in all human history on sin and on death. It is only in this double context that we can really understand the story, or see the place in it of the miracles and the Resurrection. Not only unbelief, hatred, and despair, but disease, famine, storm, and death itself go down before the 'Prince of Life."
Now at this point in our exploration of the negative aspect of the Christian life, its aspect of redemption or liberation, it will be strange if the following question does not present itself. If the Heavenly Father regards disease and pain and tragedy as hateful intruders into His world, is He always willing to expel them when once, against His desire, they have obtained a footing there? Is it always possible, by the appeal of faith, to obtain relief from pain, and the cure of disease, deformity and disablement ? Yet, however natural such a question may be, to raise it is to enter on a bypath which, as was pointed out above, leads away from the effort to understand and explore the distinctive Christian life of obedient adventure and supernatural enablement. It may or may not be true that disease or deformity may always be cured by faith. Whether it be true or not is a perfectly admissible question, and well worthy of careful investigation in view of the practical importance of the answer. But to establish such a conclusion as a valid generalization would be to remove the fact from the sphere of the supernatural, in the proper sense of the term. In experience of the supernatural we attain a perceptual kind of contact with the realm of ultimate reality ; and while, in this realm of the ultimately real and true, there is room for universal principles, there is no room for the rough human expedient of simplifying the concrete application of these universal principles by transforming them into rules bearing indifferently on all cases of a defined class. Science aims at discovering universal principles of the cosmic order ; but in seeking for them she has to begin by classification, and in order to make her results of any practical use, she requires in the end to treat them as applicable to classes of cases. I n our investigation of the supernatural we, too, have aimed at discovering a universal principle, and in the message of Jesus that the Kingdom of God is at hand, or that for faith " the last days " are already present, we have found implicit the universal principle that human faith gives God greater freedom to act redemptively or supernaturally. But unless we are willing to descend from the plane of ultimate truth to the level of those approximate generalizations which permit human self-will to go its own independent way with some measure of success, we must leave the principle we have discovered as universal as we found it. Faith gives God greater freedom to act redemptively or supernaturally, but the action which He will choose must depend on His own utterly intimate comprehension of the individual to whose faith He is responding and of the situation with which that faith is faced.
It is not by the path of generalization, then, that we shall succeed in passing, as we must now do, from the negative to the positive aspect of our subject. Positively regarded, miracle-working consists in achieving results by the Spirit of God (Matt. xii. 28), and there is no rule of thumb by which he who would invoke the supernatural may know in what specific object of immediate aspiration and endeavour he may count on the full sympathy and unstinted aid of God. If the Christian is redeemed from the limitations of the world as we know it, it is in order that he may, with complete abandon, unharassed by worldly-wisdom's " impossibles " and predictions of disaster, serve God alone and serve Him in the world.57 He has to lose himself in the will of God in order to find there a new individuality and an undreamed-of freedom. But how shall he enter into that will, and know it with definiteness, step by step ? There is but one way. He must patiently tread the soul-tasking path of intuition. If by an intuitive type of apprehension it is possible, as was claimed in discussing the idea of "special providences" in the chapter preceding, to perceive in what has already occurred the individual intent of the Divine will, it should be equally possible, in regard to what ought to occur next, to win to intuition of the will of God. " Intuition," however, is a term which certain past developments of philosophy, particularly in Scotland, have infected with a bad odour, and possibly some readers of the present volume have been uneasily suspecting that history is repeating itself, and that once again this unfortunate term is being dragged in to cover up an incoherence of theory. In order to dispel any such suspicion it may be well to show grounds for holding that "intuition," in the sense here intended,58 is a real mental function with a wider range of application than concerns our present subject. Intuition is involved in scientific discovery ; it is involved also in every independent judgment about personal duty, even when such judgment is untouched by religious thought or emotion.
Whatever may be our opinion as to the success or failure of Bergson's attempt to discover the universal principle of the realm of physical and psychical fact, it seems to me necessary to admit his contention that only by intuition is it possible to discover the true universal in things the real orderliness of fact, as distinguished from the abstract or schematic order which is so convenient for the practical purposes of applied science. " Intuition" is Bergson's name for the capacity to which the human mind owes all its most fruitful or creative hypotheses.59 Any fruitful hypothesis appears to synthesize or reduce to intelligible unity a great variety of previously unconnected observations, and to lead to other observations equally harmonious. But Bergson insists that this result is really no case of a mere synthesis or putting together. Were it only this, no genius would be required for the discovery of the hypothesis ; any patient plodder could have arrived at it by simply piecing together the observations. In order to the synthesis the supposed observations require something more than mere combination ; they have to be critically examined, adjusted and reinterpreted ere they will fit together. And to effect this adjustment and reinterpretation before the combining hypothesis has even begun to dawn upon the mind, is as impossible as it would be to discover what poem a confused heap of printer's type represents by any other method than first thinking of a possible poem and then trying whether the type will serve to compose it. Modern logic is, so far, in agreement with Bergson here. It has long recognized that fruitful hypotheses, in science or in practical life, are not obtained by mere synthesis-in the literal sense of a " placing side by side." It has therefore ascribed their invention to the scientific imagination. But were imagination the creative agent, surely true and fruitful hypotheses would be far rarer even than they are, for their truth would be a mere accident ! Bergson contends that they are due to "intuition." A mind which, by dialectic, has purged itself of false conceptions and modes of thought, and which, by long brooding over the growing mass of observed facts and by skilful use of the imagination, has attuned itself to sympathy with the real, may at length attain to an intuition an individual or integral perceiving of the universal principle which animates the observed facts a principle which only their individuality, and not any abstract formula, can adequately express. In Bergson's opinion, it is to insight thus attained that the first formulation of all really fruitful hypotheses in science or philosophy has been due."
Now, this rational capacity for integral or non-sensuous perception which, under the name of "intuition," Bergson postulates as necessary both for philosophically true knowledge of fact and for fruitful advances in that practical handling of fact which the ordinary sciences subserve, it seems equally necessary to postulate in the realm of morals. For the irreligious quite as much as for the religious mind, it is only by means of an individual or intuitional type of apprehension that independent decision regarding immediate personal duty is possible.
Duty is always an utterly individual matter. At any given moment my duty is to act in the single way in which, by a man like myself situated as I then am, loyalty may be most adequately expressed to all that I hold truly precious. For another person at that moment, or for myself at another moment, the immediately binding duty would be different in some measure, whether great or small. Duty is thus ever uniquely single or individual. And yet, with all this individual definiteness, duty is always universal. Precisely by means of the individuality of its adaptation to persons and occasions it remains identical in spirit for all men at all times. For true universality is not opposed to definiteness ; on the contrary, it is the soul of definiteness. This is why the will of God can be universal or orderly, even though it is so individual as to slip through the meshes of any number whatever of intersecting rules or generalizations.
Because duty is individual, it can never be deduced from a system of moral laws, or from any moral ideal conceived as a pattern of conduct.
In practical life no one really allows moral rules to prescribe to him the path of duty. No one does this, because really it is a thing impossible. For a rule can prescribe only a class of actions, while duty is always a particular act." Rules can only sanction individual actions, that is, abstain from forbidding them ;63 they cannot prescribe them. Doubtless many men imagine that they are doing all that morality requires when they confine themselves to actions which are sanctioned by moral rules. They suppose themselves at liberty to choose any particular way of behaving for which they feel inclined, so long as it falls within the classes of action approved by moral rules. But this is a very imperfect kind of morality a morality of mere limitation or constraint. Morality should be the creative source of our concrete purposes and not merely a restraining limitation upon our conduct.
In genuine morality moral laws serve as mottoes rather than as rules. They afford reminders of points of view which the conscience of mankind has discovered to be indispensable to truly moral decisions about individual duty. Consider as an instance the law of truthfulness. When treated as a rule, this law in its negative form, " Thou shalt not lie," is far too loose, since it sanctions any deception that does not depend on verbal inaccuracy ; and in its positive form, " Speak the truth," it is far too sweeping, since it enjoins complete disclosure of all that is known. The law of truthfulness is properly a motto, reminding us of whatever moral worth we have learned to recognize in sincerity of speech. It should remind us that, although we cannot escape the moral obligation of judging freely for ourselves how we ought, then and there, to speak, there is no chance of our making this judgment rightly unless we keep before our attention both the destructive influence of deception upon the all-important human relationship of mutual trust, and also the moral claim of other personalities not to be managed from without, by the concealment of relevant information, but to be allowed to choose their own conduct with full intelligence. This is the whole service that the law or motto of truthfulness may rightly render to our moral judgment. Its function is to enlighten or inspire our free moral deliberation and not to exact a slavish obedience. Together with any other mottoes that bear upon the particular situation, it helps to raise our mentality to that level at which there becomes possible a correct exercise of a more concrete or individual type of insight than merely abstract reasoning can supply. No matter how elaborate be the preparatory processes of analysis and comparison which may often be required, an act of genuine or autonomous moral judgment is, in the last resort, the expression of an immediate, intuitive insight into the individually fitting. Like all judgment, it is liable to error ; but true judgment about individual duty can never occur at all, unless it is at least possible for the human mind to rise to an intuition of the uniquely individual demand which, in a given situation, is made upon it by the moral universal.
A human capacity for intuition, then, a capacity for divining, with a variable degree of penetratingness, the universal principle in its individual expressions, is no desperate hypothesis invented to cement a dangerous crack in the structure of our theory of the spiritual right of miracle-working. Without it scientific discovery and autonomous moral judgment seem alike unintelligible. We may pass on, therefore, to consider briefly how this capacity for intuition may be stimulated into religious exercise. If I am really, and exclusively, on the business of the Divine King and as a Christian I have no right to be on any other business and if, further, I go upon that business in the capacity not of a mechanical or manipulated instrument, but of a son, trusted to use with eager loyalty my powers of thought and decision and for me to fear to go in that capacity would be, under the terms of the " New Covenant," to wrap my talent in a napkin and bury it then all the resources of our Father's empire of reality must needs be at my call for the legitimate requirements of my errand. That he who is on the King's business should have the right to work miracles at need is thus no subject for surprise or incredulity. The real marvel is elsewhere ; it lies in the fact that we mortals should be more than used in that we should be actually entrusted with the King's business. And this fact, spite of all its marvellousness, what man will challenge who has met in Jesus Christ the distinguishing, individual love of God ? In the truth of this fact the whole Gospel is at stake. For it tells us,
Now are we children of God" (i John iii. 2) ; it discharges us from law that we may "serve in newness of the Spirit" (Rom. vii. 6) ; it bids us gaze " into the perfect law, the law of liberty " (Jas. i. 25) ; it calls on us to abide in Christ, so that we may ask whatsoever we will and find it done unto us (John xv. 4, 7), and it singles out such asking and receiving as preeminently the kind of fruit-bearing for which the Christian has been individually chosen and appointed (cf. in John xv. verse 16 with verses 7, 8). For the Christian, then, on the King's business, no needful requisitioning of supplies or facilities can be presumptuous. But how shall he know what particular errand is the King's business for him, and how shall he win to sure judgment of what is really needful for its execution? How shall he let the Spirit of God so fill him that his mind, moving with its own freedom and individuality, may never lack true intuition of the next adventure of faith in which the genius of the Divine universal order seeks expression at his hands ?
It is but asking the same question in other words to say, how shall we attain to the New Testament ideal of prayer ? (I restrict the term "prayer" here to its proper sense of petition, instead of using it to cover all forms of devotional exercise.) For, according to that ideal, prayer is confident asking ; and between addressing a confident request to nature's God, and issuing orders to nature in humble reliance upon God, the difference is merely formal a matter of out-ward expression rather than of inward attitude. The former mode of expression will spring more naturally to the lips of him who reaches assurance of expectation only with effort ; but where in-tuition of the Father's mind was as habitual and seemingly as effortless as it was with Jesus, expression in words of command would be at least equally natural. Much of what, in ordinary devotional practice, passes current as definite petitionary prayer is not really petition at all, unless perhaps in verbal form, but is a mere expression of desire. It is one thing to tell a friend what you would like to have ; it is quite another thing definitely to request him to procure for you the object of desire. Now it is to the latter act, the act of definitely and even confidently requesting our Father in heaven to occupy Himself in achieving specific objects of our desire, that Christ exhorts us. And such definiteness and confidence of petition, so far from being a crude and almost unworthy form of prayer as many people seem to imagine, requires for its possibility the highest development of filial intuition requires this, at least, for those who have entered, as every prayerful mind must, into the spirit of Abraham's words : " Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes ! " (Gen. xviii. 27).
It is misleading to say that none but spiritual blessings can be the object of definite, confident petition. There might be some excuse for thinking so if the redemption which Christianity offers here and now were from sin alone. But if, as the Gospel of a Christ or cosmic Redeemer implies, our Father in heaven is yearning, by releasing redemptive forces, to purge this familiar world not only of its sin but of its tragic futilities, then we cannot be true children of that Father unless we long for transformations of experience and circumstance as well as of spiritual attitude. And poor and constrained indeed would be our fellowship with Him if these longings must never find utterance in definite, confident petition !
There is a sequence of petitions which Christ, in response to a request, taught His disciples as a model of what petitionary prayer should be. As One in whose heart love of the Father took precedence of all else, Jesus makes the model prayer begin with the expression of a longing that men might cease to misjudge that Father and might learn to hallow His name. Out of this first aspiration the second follows by natural development. For what is it that provokes men to be unjust in their thoughts of God ? Very largely it is the anomalies of the present life, so full as it is of pain and defeated aspiration and the power of evil. So the desire first uttered passes naturally into the second, a longing of the heart for the day when these anomalies shall be ended, the day of God's self-vindication, the day when the Kingdom shall have come. But what hinders its coming ? No inscrutable Divine decree, but simply man's unreadiness of will. So that which presses its way next into the foreground of consciousness is a longing for the removal of this hindrance : " Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." From this point onwards the manner of the model prayer changes. In place of the utterance of longings after what the Heavenly Father also longs for, but may not be at liberty to bring to pass as yet, there now appear confident requests for immediate particular blessings. It is the oneness of mind with the Father which the child has attained to through the preceding fellowship of aspiration that now guides him into unhesitating petition. Because this prayer is a model for all, it can deal only with the particular needs that are common to all—daily bread, daily forgiveness, daily admission to the higher plane of a spiritual joy and peace which garrison the heart and thoughts against the allurements of temptation, so that we are delivered from the evil one. Yet in voicing these specific universal needs the model prayer sanctions all specific requests which spring, as these do, out of the child's communion with the Father in aspiration. Conscious of a unity of purpose with God, and finding ourselves trusted by Him with another day to live, we ask with confidence for the bread needed to fit us for using the day in His service. Yet the very request reminds us how, perhaps but the day before, having made the same petition with the same purpose and having been trusted with a bountiful provision, we failed nevertheless to fulfil perfectly the obligation thus accepted. So we pray, " Forgive us our debts " ; and realizing at once how liable we are to fail again, we continue : " Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
Of the very many instructive features of this model prayer one which is too seldom noticed is the confident manner of the asking. There is no conditional retractation of the requests for food, remission of debt and release from temptation, by a qualifying phrase like " If it be Thy will." To represent this as a merely incidental feature, due simply to the obvious nature of the needs concerned, would be an unwarrantable proceeding, for it reflects a prominent characteristic of Christ's ideal of prayer. We have had occasion already more than once to quote His striking saying : " All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them " ; and in a similar spirit He counted it natural for the man who in faith and prayer works miracles to lay his commands upon nature unhesitatingly : "Whosoever shall say to this mountain, ` Be thou taken up and cast into the sea' ; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what he saith cometh to pass ; he shall have it." Now if we desire a pointed way of expressing the apparent significance of this feature of Christ's conception of prayer, we might say that prayer according to His ideal begins where that which too commonly passes for petitionary prayer is apt to end. Average prayer, when it ventures to be specific, is apt to end upon a note of uncertainty. We make our requests ; we remember how liable we are to ask amiss ; and breathing the words, " If it be Thy will," with more or less of resignation, we cease our prayer not knowing whether we have received what we have asked. Driven to our Father's footstool by the needs and defects of the strangely unsatisfying world in which He has placed us, we have trusted Him with our longings and our ideas of how it may be bettered. But, soothed by the simple telling of our secrets, we have not troubled to tarry at the footstool until by continued communion we develop the receptiveness necessary for an intuition of our Father's mind upon our expressed ideas and wishes. So we go away, soothed and comforted for the time, but without having made any fresh advance in our knowledge of our Father, and without the strength and liberty that come of achieved fellowship with Him.
Very different would appear to be the New Testament ideal of prayer. The Apostle Paul continued to pray for the removal of that " thorn in the flesh" which seemed such a hindrance to his work, until it was shown him that in this case it was the Lord's will to make of natural incapacitation the occasion for a special display of supernatural enablement (2 Cor. xii. 9). Again, according to the first evangelist's account of the wrestling in Gethsemane, it was only after the "if" of uncertainty had changed into the "if" of knowledge (Matt. xxvi. 39: "If it be possible, let this cup pass"; " If this cannot pass away, Thy will be done "), that our Lord was ready for the great act of surrender to the betrayer. These are cases where continued waiting upon God brought the knowledge that the request was refused. Instances of the opposite kind of certainty are furnished by Christ's words to Simon Peter : " I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not ; and when [not ` if] thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren " (Luke xxii. 32), and Paul's assured expectation : " I know that I shall abide, yea, and abide with you all " (Phil. i. 25). In the early Christian view, then, which these passages seem to reflect, prayer should be much more than a breathing out of our perplexities and desires into an irresponsive silence ; it should amount, in effect, to question and answer, request and consent or, if need be, refusal. In harmony with this ideal of prayer, the model which Christ imparted passes from the communion of out-poured longing into the purposeful, responsible simplicity of definite petition.
Besides holding up the ideal of confident asking, the model prayer indicates how this confidence is developed. For the three specific petitions which form its second part do not simply follow the three broad aspirations with which the prayer begins. On the contrary, they manifestly presuppose them and grow out of them. It is only he who is conscious of whole-hearted longing for those ends for which God also longs, who can attain humble boldness of petition. In the life of prayer, therefore, the intercourse of question and answer, request and consent, must be preceded and maintained by periods of communion of aspiration. Further, even this conscious realization and expression of community of aspiration between ourselves and God has often to be worked up to by another and more elementary exercise of the praying soul. In the ideal case it would not be so, and therefore the model prayer does not make provision for such preliminary discipline. Yet how frequently it is necessary, when the stress of life has disturbed our singleness of purpose ! For as we then approach the throne of grace, the urgency of our particular desires is apt to interfere with concentrated communion of aspiration. And when such is the case, true prayer can scarcely begin with the great aspirations which stand first in our model. For above all, Christ insists that prayer shall be spontaneous and free from vain repetitions or words with no feeling behind them ; and it is not spontaneous if we begin by using words which express longings that, for the time being, have ceased to rule our hearts. Accordingly if, as we address ourselves to prayer, our interest is dominated not by these great aspirations but by particular desires for objects which may or may not be in harmony with our Father's will, our first step must be to utter these our present longings in His sympathetic ear : not yet to ask Him confidently for their fulfilment, for we cannot yet know whether they deserve His approval, but simply to tell Him of them, to think them over in His solemnizing presence, to reflect how unimportant their fulfilment must be if it would not further, and how disastrous if it would actually hinder, His Kingdom. As we thus utter our particular desires in the quieting stillness of God's presence, there will come a change. The desires will lose something of their impetuous urgency ; surging up and overflowing them will come the greater longings for the hallowing of the Father's name, the coming of His Kingdom, the doing of His will on earth. And with this result there will begin to arrive true spiritual receptiveness and, for those who have steeped their minds in the historical revelation of God in Christ Jesus, something of their Master's sureness of intuition. Only along this path may the right be won to confidence of asking, whether for things natural or things supernatural. He that willeth to do His will, he shall know of the visions that come whether they be intuitions of the mind of God or creations of mere desire : he shall know whether the mountains which he finds blocking his intended path are God's finger-post, prescribing a change of route, or are God's challenge to his faith to cast them into the sea.
" Intuition," as here employed, is purely a descriptive term. It is not chosen for any suggestion which may lurk in it of how the possibility of this kind of knowledge may be theoretically construed, but simply in order to focus attention upon two features in which the act of intuition resembles sense-perception. It resembles the latter in the element of receptiveness which must be combined with the more active aspects of the process of intuition. It resembles sense-perception also in that its object is not the general and abstract but the unique and concrete. Attainment of intuition may be assisted by abnormal experiences, such as dream or vision or mystic rapture, but these seem in no wise indispensable. What is indispensable is the schooling of mind and heart, the habit of prayerful reflection on daily life, the disciplining of the will to the obedience of Christ, and patient study of the Word. For while intuition adds something which the other rational functions cannot supply, without their collaboration it can never reach the truth.
All Christian intuition of vocation will fall within the limits of the great commission laid upon our Lord. For, since the " new heavens and a new earth " which He prevailed to establish were to repeat the description we formerly employed new not in line and colour but 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, His achievement remains real only as the faith of His Church explores the potencies, accepts the challenge and appropriates the promise. That which He won for His own generation we have to maintain or reaffirm for ours, so that "the last days" may not withdraw themselves but, through the good hand of God, may merge into " the age to come." The vocation which the Church as a whole thus inherits from her Lord is one, the accomplishment of which necessarily involves the supernatural. For, since the " age to come," or the ideal reign of God, qualitatively transcends all present and past experience, the process of its achievement must involve the experimentally unprecedented or what, for our knowledge, is the preternatural. And since the phases of its advent are not haphazard but conditioned by faith in the distinguishing or individual Divine love, they are not preternatural only, but supernatural in the genuine, religious sense of the term.
In the Church's fulfilment of her vocation there can be no room for random miracle-working, any more than in the life of her Lord. If the occasioning motive of Christ's use of the super-natural was spontaneous compassion, its legitimating and controlling purpose was, by a trust-compelling revelation of the Father's love and power, to toss out of the way of His Kingdom the obstructing mountain of human unbelief. It were a tempting of God to ask for miracle, save as the way is blocked to natural means ; and it were an impious absurdity to attempt to reveal our Father save as we are inspired by an intuition of His will. Nevertheless obstructive mountains still abound, and to those that wait upon Him the Father will still grant intuition; and were the original meaning of Christ's message to-day less forgotten, were there also a more humbly importunate faith, might not the occasions be more frequent when Christians would know themselves called to what even the average observer would regard as miracle-working ?
Even when the object of endeavour to which the Christian is called to address himself has about it nothing unprecedented or preternatural, the enterprise of achieving it as it ought to be achieved cannot well appear to him as other than supernatural if he understands how high is the level of Christian duty and privilege. For we are called to achieve sinlessly whatever is laid upon us-to achieve it, that is to say, without conscious consent to evil impulse or inclination. I do not speak of moral perfection, or the expression in conduct of a fully developed character ; for that is intrinsically a matter of degree, in respect of which progress must be gradual. But between sin and sinlessness, in the sense here bespoken for the terms, the relation is not one of degree but disjunctive a sharp " either, or." In our execution of any particular task with which our Heavenly Father has charged us there is either a dallying with such evil solicitations as arise, or there is none. It is our duty that there shall be none. And since it is our duty on each occasion to discharge sinlessly the particular trust committed to us from above, such sinlessness must be possible. For it is of the essence of the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel of " the last days," the Gospel of Redemption, that we are not to measure our duty by past experience of the practicable, but are to estimate the possible by knowledge of our God-given duty. We are not called to and guaranteed in a sinlessness at large ; but we are called to execute sinlessly whatever is at the moment our Divinely entrusted task, and during its fulfilment we are offered such an indwelling of the peace of Christ as shall garrison our hearts against effectual solicitation by evil. Our constant calling is to one sinless step at a time ; and being well aware how insufficient are the understood and analyzed tendencies of our nature to ensure the fulfilment of this calling, we needs must feel that a truly Christian achievement of any enterprise whatsoever involves the super-natural. To be genuinely Christian is to be "a new creation " — one which, like the cosmic Creation, is no finished product but a perpetual outgoing of God, a continuous regeneration.
What is the practical value of that reaffirmation of the supernatural which has been the burden of this book ? There is nothing particularly glorious or uplifting in being the instrument of a preternatural manifestation. " In this rejoice not," said our Lord, " that the spirits are subject unto you ; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." The joy and peace of believing spring from the consciousness of being on the King's business ; from the knowledge that, whether we can perceive it or not, all our experience is matter of " special providence." We can afford to be supremely indifferent, like our Master, as to whether these special providences involve what is, for our knowledge, the preternatural, and so deserve to be called miraculous. Nevertheless, while we may well care little whether what has actually transpired be supernatural or only providential, it is of supreme importance to maintain the constant, permanent possibility of the supernatural. For only the assurance that the measure of the practicable is never past experience, but is always God's call, can redeem us from the anxieties of the worldly-wise to a fear-less life of fellowship with Christ in ever fresh adventures of faith.
( 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