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Spiritual Undercurrents

IF a man who has purchased an acre of land could only comprehend and utilise the values that he has here obtained he would be overwhelmed with the sense of his riches. He is going to make what he can of the surface, but knows practically nothing of what he owns underneath. Hints of what lies there occasion-ally make themselves heard, and the favoured ones in whose ears they are whispered win fortunes in coal, in oil, in gold. But these, after all, are only scratchings of the outer crust, leaving immeasurable depths unsearched. Little by little we are learning what a realm of forces we are at the top of. We discover that bodies related to each other by their separate chemical qualities and affinities are under the common sway of mysterious earth-currents, magnetisms and what not, that sweep the central deeps and are felt from pole to pole. The world, as a purely physical system, is governed far more by what is hidden than by what we see.

When we turn our attention from the round globe itself to the being who lives on it, we seem to find all this repeated in another sphere. A man must be reckoned not so much by what he is, as by the sum of the forces that are acting on him. In the purely physical life who is to say when the outside air which he draws into his lungs, or the food of which he partakes, is, and is not he P When we have taken stock of a man's visible outfit, reckoned up his bit of brain, his level of culture, his apparent reach of faculty, have we here the sum of his life possibilities P Far from it. To get that we have to take into account the spiritual system to which he belongs, and to estimate what he may do or become under the impact of its mysterious powers. Here, too, we are becoming sensible of mighty under-currents. They sweep along the whole unseen force-region that lies underneath humanity, and to comprehend them is, we are beginning to realise, a fundamental element in the business of life. There are side branches of this theme along which, at this point, one is much tempted to diverge. One might, for instance, discuss here those strange psychical phenomena about which Kant was constrained to say : "For my part, ignorant as I am of the way in which the human spirit enters the world, and the ways in which it goes out of it, I dare not deny the truth of many of such narratives." But these phases of the topic, absorbing as they are to many modern minds, are not the main point. And we want here to keep to that.

Of the spiritual system to which we have just referred as offering the real measure of our separate possibility, the New Testament is the manual in chief, and yet there is no book that on this point has been more misunderstood. The Christianity it depicts offers us, for one thing, a marvellous object-lesson on human nature and its unseen environment. It shows us what can be made of the average man when a new force plays on him. Its language, and the facts it recites as to the " endowment with power " and the " gift of the Holy Spirit," are a piece of spiritual geography exhibiting, with a clearness and certainty new to the world, the features of the great power-realm which environs humanity. But the interprets,-

on of the manual has been hitherto a crude and unscientific business, and we are only just emerging upon a view of the facts that is solid and satisfying. To listen to some talk still current, one might suppose that the " gift " or " outpouring " of the Spirit were a kind of parochial phenomenon, showing at hazard amongst this or that group of enthusiasts, and whose chief characteristic was the element of caprice and of the incalculable. Men quote the text, " The wind bloweth where it listeth," and forthwith conclude they have to deal with something that quite transcends any question of law or of uniformity. As though the wind were outside the sweep of law ! We do not indulge in talk of this kind in the other departments in which man is to-day enriching his life. Electricity is an outside power by whose reinforcement we have quadrupled our energies, but we know better than to treat its coming or going as belonging to the uncertain or the inexplicable. The analogy here suggested is worth pausing upon. When we call ours the age of electricity, what do we mean ? Certainly not that electricity has been bestowed on the world in our time. It was there all the time. The difference is that ours is the age in which its existence has been recognised, its laws ascertained, and the applications of its force, in part at least, understood. It may yet be that the twentieth century will be known, in comparison with former times, as the age of the Spirit, and for a similar reason. No new forces will have been created, but the old ones, the spiritual undercurrents that have been running from the beginning, will have been uncovered and tapped, and the human soul bathed in their constant supply.

What has so much confused our thinking in this matter has been the question of personality, and especially our thinking about the supreme personality of Christ. We speak of the Spirit as His gift, and that on excellent authority, for so is it stated in the New Testament. On the same high authority we speak of the Spirit as a Person, as part of the personality of God. And here also we do well. Not so well, though, in the inferences we are apt to draw. How did Jesus give us the Spirit P How did Faraday give us electricity P Not by creating, but by revealing. The gift in each case was there, old as eternity, but with a veil on its face. In each case the moment in human evolution came, the ripened time for the unveiling. Jesus, in His historical manifestation, was what He was through the new relation of His personality to the spiritual forces, just as, in an immeasurably lower sphere, Faraday was what he was through a new relation to the electric forces. The New Testament is abundantly clear on this point, The Christ had his power through being "filled with the Spirit." According to his own testimony He could " do nothing of Himself." His place in history was and is unique, because of His unique receptivity for the fulness of Divine Life.

The gist of this is that the spiritual under-currents on which the higher life depends are not variants, but constants. It is a question not of the flow and ebb of their tide, for their tide knows no ebb, but of the extent and delicacy of the surface we can open to their impact, There is no break here between the analogies of the natural and the spiritual world. The uniformity of the laws on which we depend in nature is not more exact than the uniformity we find in the kingdom of grace. In both we have to do with the same ineffable Personality. In gravitation, as in inspiration, we are in contact with the one eternal Spirit of God.

The significance of the history of Jesus for us is, then, partly, at least, the revelation it offers of the possibilities of humanity when in fullest union with its spiritual environment. Verily, here is He the first born of a new creation, the forerunner in a new and higher stage of development. That perfect life, with its Divine self-consciousness, its utter purity, its love, its Calvary-consummated sacrifice, opened, as it were, the sluices through which the pent-up spiritual currents, hitherto hidden, could roll in upon a thirsty humanity, bringing Paradise in their flow. Precious beyond words is that draught of the undercurrent, and beyond words precious is He to whom we owe it. Mankind, said Goethe, is continually progressing, but the individual man is ever the same. The same, that is, in his central need, a need which no progress in civilisation can , ever supply, but which is met and satisfied through Christ. As men understand these things more, the more will they enter into that sheer, adoring love of Christ which perfumes the New Testament. The language of Christina Rossetti becomes our own : "How beautiful are the arms which have embraced Christ, the hands which have touched Christ, the eyes which have gazed upon Christ, the lips which have spoken with Christ, the feet which have followed Christ ; how beautiful are the hands which have worked the works of Christ, the feet which, treading in His footsteps, have gone about doing good, the lips that have spread abroad His name, the lives which have been counted loss for Him ! "

The relation of Christ's personality to the spiritual undercurrents is, in a lower degree, that of all His followers. It is, in a way, like what we have in magnetism, where, in addition to the great, central, perennial earth currents, there is the separate and varying magnetic susceptibility of each different object and element. The spiritual currents concentrate in us, form in us reservoirs of power, use us as media of their mighty movement. It is precisely to the extent in which we are in touch with them that, as Churches or as individuals, we are of any religious use to the world. What a spectacle that of a Church with all its organism complete for work, but with the stream that should furnish its driving-power cutting for itself a channel in a new direction, and leaving all this ecclesiastical plant high and dry on the deserted shore! This is what Carlyle had in view when, in a passage written sixty years ago, but which has not yet lost its significance, he speaks of "these distracted times when the religious principle, driven out of most churches, either lives unseen in the hearts of good men, looking and longing and silently working towards some new revelation, or else wanders homeless over the world like a disembodied soul seeking its terrestrial organism ! "

It is for the Church of today to render such a consummation impossible, and now is its supreme opportunity. With all history behind it, with a clearer apprehension than has ever before been known of its mission and its powers, with the humanity it deals with visibly opening to new and deeper apprehensions of the truth and life it brings, the Church has now in its reach the clear possibility of revolutionising the world and of establishing it upon the immutable basis of God's spiritual law. Its new régime will be, in the best sense, a scientific one. Just as, in the electrical sphere, no teacher of the science is possible who is ignorant of, or careless about, the laws which operate in it, so in this spiritual sphere no Church authority will be recognised which is not founded on knowledge of, and obedience to, the inner laws. The idea of a Church subsisting on, or working by, any other power than that which rises in the spiritual world, will be felt to be as absurd as Laputa's project for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers. The Church's speech, its prayers, even its silences, will be channels of the Spirit's mighty undercurrent. No preacher will venture the impertinence of utterance which, either in substance or in delivery, is divorced from the operation of the kingdom's law.

As a crater, in an eruption, is only the organ and mouthpiece, as it were, of forces infinitely beyond its own range, working far beneath, so the worker in this kingdom, be he never so eminent or never so humble, will recognise that so is it with him. If his work is worth anything at all he will know that its worth consists precisely in this, that it originates in a sphere beyond himself.

( Originally Published 1903 )

Ourselves And The Universe:
The Soul's Voice

Of Sex In Religion

Of False Conscience

Religion And Medicine

Spiritual Undercurrents

On Being Inferior

Our Contribution To Life

The Gospel Of Law

Of Fear In Religion

Life's Healing Forces

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