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The Inwardness Of Events

Ours is the age of scientific analysis, and it might seem at first sight as though the whole of life had come under its sway. While our chemistry resolves every substance into its: elements, our psychology proposes to unravel every complex of the consciousness. We put both our outer and our inner world into the crucible, and are ready with an approved book formula for each. There is, however, one life element left out of this calculation. It is that of events and of what they contain. Our science of events is as yet that of the veriest tyro. It is this fact which makes so much of what is called history veritably ludicrous when regarded as a statement of what actually is, or has been. For our historian, in numberless instances, offers us the mere surface and ragged edges of a happening, as though this were the whole of it. A Froissart pictures one battle scene after another, or a Guicciardini describes the intrigues and wars of the Italian states "without," as Montaigne remarks, "ever referring any action to virtue, religion or conscience," and they imagine that here they have told us all. As a matter of fact, they have told us almost nothing. It is only when we begin to realise that every event, in addition to its outer form, has an inward life of its own, mystical, infinitely complex, whose full development may take centuries and millenniums to unfold, that we are in a position to study it aright.

It is, indeed, when we properly consider events and their inner significance that we are most stirred with a sense of life's wonder and mystery. The event is our predestination. Men propose at times to construct their career from within, as when a Jerome flies to his cell in the desert, or a Descartes, in search of a philosophy, passes three years in his chamber without seeing a single friend, or so much as going out for a walk. But wherever made, the attempt is impossible. The recluse, as well as the man of action, has to reckon with the in-calculable that waits for him outside. These innumerable fates that are in the path of every human being, what is their meaning? They bide their hour till the wayfarer they are in search of appears, and then leap to meet him. They know him by sight when he comes. It is for him they are waiting. From all eternity that event has been travelling to meet me at this particular point and to deliver its message. Its shock of contact becomes immediately a part of my deepest life, for it is the something outside myself that produces what it were impossible for the unaided spirit to originate. It and I were assuredly wedded in heaven before the world was.

It is a great step in the interpretation of life when we have discovered that all events are ultimately spiritual. Their outside may seem at the furthest remove from any such character, but we have only to go deep enough to find that this is the simple truth about them. The fall of Jerusalem was to Jeremiah and his contemporaries just a bloody and horrible catastrophe. Within it was contained the movement which led up to the revelation of God as henceforth not the tribal deity of Judah, but the one God and Creator of all nations of the earth. The split in the Papacy, which gave fourteenth century Christendom two rival and mutually anathematising Popes, was, to innumerable devout Catholics, only a distressing quarrel and a grievous religious scandal. At its centre the spectacle held the germ of that appeal of the Christian consciousness from fallible and rival ecclesiastics to Christ Himself, which issued in the Reformation. When shall we ever reach the central inwardness of the event we call the Crucifixion? In itself, on the outside, it was a sheer, grim fact, a hideous killing. It was not speech, nor music, nor poetry, nor art, nor philosophy, nor saving power. It was the doing to death of a victim in the cruel Roman fashion. And yet, as we press toward the inner recesses of this fact, how much do we meet of art and philosophy and devotion and saving power, and all Divine things that have already come out of it, and how much more, unreached as yet, remains behind ?

This conception of events, as all containing a spiritual essence, which they will ultimately yield, should ever be with us in our estimate of the world's religious prospects. It is a ludicrous misconception which regards man's inward progress as dependent exclusively on the avowed and professional religious agencies. Guthenberg wore no cassock when puzzling over his printing-press, and George Stephenson, in elaborating the idea of the locomotive, was conscious of no specially theological inspiration. Yet for their after influence in the development of religion what purely ecclesiastical procedure could we match against the invention of printing and of the steam-engine P An Egyptian excavator, stumbling some fine morning upon a Greek manuscript, say an Ur-evangelium of the first century, might upset for ever thereby the theological doubtings of a thousand years. Plainly the pulpit is not the only, religious teacher. The roughest, rudest block of fact that lies across our path, giving no hint at first of aught in itself but what is purely material, may suddenly open, and from its store of hidden contents pour out undreamed-of spiritual treasures. Our study of missions, to be complete, must take a far wider scope than is usual. It must not end with biographies. Events are evangelists of the first order.

There is this advantage about events considered as teachers, that they are so entirely honest and trustworthy. Unlike so many of our religious instructors, they carry no top hamper of tradition, and they never worry us with preconceived theories. They neither lie nor flatter, but bring us a lesson crammed with reality, and bid us make what we can of it. And yet here is the mystery. Out of what outwardly is the same thing none of us gets the same result. None of us will find this same thing to be the same. And for the reason that what it teaches is precisely according to what we are able to learn. Events yield their essence in proportion to the quality and character of the being in contact with them. They are thus, in a sense, the looking-glass in which we behold ourselves. "If you journey to the end of the world," says a modern mystic, "none but yourself shall you meet on the highway of fate."

When we consider the inconceivable numbers of events that sweep across our life pathway, their bewildering variety, their unexpectedness, their often sinister and even terrible aspect, we might easily be led to think that on their side, at least, we were in a world of chance, where was no complete or benign supervision. Events seem so often to be destroyers rather than teachers. A deeper study of them should reassure us. For it will show that in their seeming wildest aberrations they are subject to a spiritual law, the same which rules in our own breasts. It is, indeed, by their constant attrition upon our life that the letters of this law are rubbed into distinctness. It is profoundly interesting to observe at how early a period the world gained a perception of this. The ancient doctrine of fate was a much higher one than we are apt to imagine. In the teaching of Heraclitus, and also of Plato, that fate was the general reason which runs through the whole nature of the universe, and in that of Chrysippus, who speaks of fate as a spiritual power which disposed the world in order, we have an idea, however imperfect, of the Divine purpose that is em-bedded in events. A clearer revelation has assured us that their source and end are the same as the source and end of Jae highest aspirations of the soul.

To discover and be firmly convinced of this higher law underlying events is, perhaps, the greatest result of the education through which they put us. To be quite assured that the event, however grisly its shape, can never hurt you provided you are faithful to the spiritual law; that, with this condition observed, it will, in fact, infallibly lift you a point higher in the scale of life, is practically the winning of the battle. This is where that stout New England Puritan stood who, on a certain " Dark Day," when it was supposed that the end of the world had come, and the assembly of which he was a member was about to be adjourned, quietly observed : " If this be the Day of Judgment I prefer to be found at the post of duty; if it be not, there is no reason for an adjournment." And what a testimony on this point is that word of the dying Scaliger, given as the fruit of his life experience, to his disciple Heinsius:

Never do aught against thy inward conviction for the sake of advancement. Whatsoever is in thee is God's alone."

How intimately related the world of events is to the world of spiritual law is, perhaps, even still more vividly exhibited in the happenings to those who neglect or defy that law. It is impossible here to mistake the religious character of events. They become moral avengers. Schiller's dictum that " the world's history is the world's judgment," is a simple statement of the fact. "The deed," says the Indian pro-verb, " does not perish." Where it is an ill deed it lives to track down the evil-doer. Eugene Aram murders Daniel Clark, and buries the crime under fourteen following years of intellectual activity. He becomes famous as a philologist, making his name known as the discoverer of a European affinity in Celtic roots. But his deed, deep buried, is not dead. It awakes and delivers its blow, and our philologist gets hanged as a murderer. Innumerable murderers have escaped banging, but they can no more get away from their deed and its full results than the earth can get away from the sun.

The greatest evidence, perhaps, of the grandeur and infinite reach of the human destinies lies in this conscious exposure of the soul to the momentous events that await it. And especially those darker events which cast so chill a shadow before them. It may be that, as Livy says, "Segnius homines bona pant mala sentient " men have a keener sense of ill than of good. But what they feel so keenly as ill bears in itself a message that it is not the end. That deep word of Mrs. Browning, " But pain is not the fruit of pain," verifies itself. No, not pain, but something far other shall be the fruit of what we here suffer. Shall we not say, indeed, with a German writer of to-day : "Everything inferior is a higher in the making; everything hateful a coming beautiful, every-thing evil a coming good " ? An inspired apostle has given us the true inwardness of events, in the declaration that the present pain shall be swallowed up in the coming glory, and that no one of all the conceivable happenings in heaven or on earth can separate the people of God from the love of God.

( Originally Published 1903 )

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