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- Religious Reality - 4/25 -


the question: What is the nature or character of the ultimate Power or Principle or Person upon which or upon whom the world depends? Is not every religion, every imagined deity, in one sense an altar to the unknown GOD? The venture of Christian faith consists in staking all upon the assumption, the hypothesis abundantly verified in the life's experience of such as make it, that the character of the unknown GOD is revealed in Christ: that the love of Christ is the expression of the love of GOD, the sufferings of Christ an expression of the suffering of GOD, the triumph of Christ an expression of the eternal victory of GOD over all the evil and wickedness which mars the wonder of His creation. If we were to look primarily at the life of Nature, we might be tempted to say that GOD was cruel. If we considered certain of the works of man, we might be tempted to conclude that GOD was devilish. Looking at Jesus we gain the assurance that GOD is Love. We behold "the light of the knowledge of the glory of GOD in the face of Jesus Christ," and we are satisfied.

And so we come to Jesus--the Prophet that is come into the world: and what we shall find, if we will suffer Him to work His work in us, is this. He will change our world for us, and will transform it. He will redeem our souls, so that there shall be in us a new birth, a new creation. He will show us the Father, and it shall suffice us. He will set our feet on the road to Calvary, and we shall rejoice to be crucified with Him. He will convert us--He will turn our lives inside out, so that they shall have their centre in GOD, and no longer in ourselves. He will bestow on us the Spirit without measure, so that we shall be sons and daughters of the Highest. And we shall know that we are of GOD, even though the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we shall know that the Son of GOD is come, and that He hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and that we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.

CHAPTER III

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SPIRIT

To know GOD and to find Him revealed in Jesus Christ is not enough. To have set before one in the human life of Jesus an ideal of character, a pattern of perfect manhood for imitation, if the message of the Gospel were regarded as stopping short at that point, could only be discouraging to men conscious of moral weakness, of spiritual impotence and incapacity. It is probable that one of the reasons why the plain man to-day is so very apt to regard Christianity as consisting in the profession of a standard of ideal morality to which he knows himself to be personally incapable of attaining, and which those who do profess it fail conspicuously to practise, is to be found in the entire absence from his mind and outlook of any conception of the Holy Spirit, or any belief in the availability of the Spirit as a source of transforming energy and power in the lives of men.

As a matter of fact, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is of absolutely vital importance in the Christian scheme: and like all the great Christian doctrines, it has its basis in the realities of living experience. The opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles set before us the picture of the earliest disciples, assured and no longer doubtful of the reality of the Resurrection, waiting in Jerusalem for a promised endowment of "power from on high." And the story of Pentecost is the record of the fulfilment of "the promise of the Father."

We are making a mistake if we fix our attention primarily upon the outward symbols of wind and fire, or confuse our minds with the perplexities which are suggested by the references to "speaking with tongues." These things--however wonderful to the men of the Apostolic generation--are in themselves only examples of the psychological abnormalities which not infrequently accompany religious revivals. They are, as it were, the foam on the crest of the wave: evidences upon the surface of profounder forces astir in the deeper levels of personality. The disciples felt themselves taken hold of and transformed. Henceforth they were new men. "GOD had sent into their hearts through Jesus Christ a Power not of this world: only such a power could achieve what history assures us was achieved by those early Christians. By its compelling influence they found themselves welded together into a religious and social community, a fellowship of faith and hope and love, the true Israel, the Church of the living GOD. Enabled to become daily more and more like Jesus, they developed an ever fuller comprehension of His unique significance: and so they went about carrying on the work and teaching which He had begun on earth, certain that He was with them and energizing in them. They healed the sick in mind and body, they convinced Jewish and Pagan consciences of sin and its forgiveness, they created a new morality, and established a new hope: life and immortality were brought to light. And then, as need arose, they were inspired to write those books of the New Testament, in which their wonderful experience of GOD at work in them remains enshrined, the norm and standard of Christian faith and practice for all time. The Power which enabled them to do all this they called the Holy Spirit." [Footnote: _The Holy Spirit,_ by R. G. Parsons, in _The Meaning of the Creed_. (S.P.C.K., 1917)]

To be "filled with the Spirit," to be "endued with power from on high," to be made free by the Spirit, so as to be free indeed-- released from the tyranny of a dead past, from bondage to law and literalism, from the power of sin and of evil habit--and to be brought forth into the glorious liberty of the sons of GOD: this was a very vital and essential part of what Christianity meant in the experience of those first disciples. The new morality of the Gospel, the new righteousness which was to exceed the righteousness of Pharisees and Scribes, was a thing as widely removed as possible from painful conformity to the letter of an external code: it was a fruit--a spontaneous outcome--of the Spirit. S. Paul has described for us the fruits of the Spirit as he had seen them manifested in the lives of men--"love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control": they are the essential lineaments of the character of Christ: they are summed up in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians in S. Paul's great hymn to Charity or Love, which itself reads like yet another portrait of the Christ. A Christianity which through the Spirit brought forth such fruits was true to type. The Spirit, in short, reproduced in men the life of filial relationship towards GOD: He is described as the Spirit of adoption, whereby men are enabled to cry Abba, Father.

The Holy Spirit, moreover, is a Spirit of insight and interpretation, quickening men's faculties, enlightening their minds, enabling them to see, and to understand. He brings to remembrance the things of Christ and unfolds their significance: under His inspiration Christian preaching was developed, and a Christian doctrine about Christ and about GOD. In confident reliance upon His advocacy and His support the Apostles were made bold to confront in the name of Jesus a hostile world. Is it any wonder that in the eyes of their contemporaries they appeared as men possessed, as men made drunk with the new wine of some strange ecstasy, or mad with the fervour of some inexplicable exaltation? Yet the Spirit did not normally issue in ecstasy. It is not the way of GOD to over-ride men's reason, or to place their individual personalities in abeyance. The operation of the Spirit is to be seen rather--apart from His work in the gradual purification and deepening of character and motive, the bringing to birth and development in men's souls of the "new man" who is "Christ in them, the hope of glory"--in the intensification of men's normal faculties and gifts, and the direction of their exercise into channels profitable to the well-being of the community. For the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of brotherhood: and His gifts are bestowed "for the fitting of GOD'S people for the work of mutual service": they are for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ. The real miracle of the Christian life is simply the Christian life itself: and that a man should love his neighbour as himself is at least as wonderful as that he should speak with tongues.

Reflecting upon the experience which had come to them, Christian men came to see that the Holy Spirit, who was the Spirit of the Father and the Son, was Divine, even as Jesus was Divine. In this strange Power which had transformed their lives they discovered GOD, energizing and operative in their hearts. Instinctively they worshipped and glorified the Spirit as the Lord, the Giver of Life. Those who have entered upon any genuine measure of Christian experience are not prepared to say that they were wrong.

The Christian life depends upon the Spirit, now as then. Only in the power of the Holy Spirit is Christianity possible, and no one ever yet made any real advance in personal religion except in dependence upon an enabling energy of which the source was not in himself. "It is the Spirit that maketh alive." "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities." "I know that in myself, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." "If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." It is because of our lack of any living or effectual belief in the Holy Spirit, and because of our consequent failure to seek His inspiration and to submit ourselves to His influence, that the Christianity of men to-day is often so barren and so poor a thing; and the corporate life of Christendom languishes for the same reason. The Church is meant to be a fellowship, a brotherhood: the most real and living brotherhood on earth. Men find to-day the realization of brotherhood in a regiment: they find it in a school or in a club: in a Trade Union: or in such an organization as the Workers' Educational Association. They fail to find it in the Church of Christ.

The Church can never be a brotherhood save in the Holy Spirit: for Christianity is essentially and before all things a religion of the Spirit, and the external organization and institutions of the Church, apart from "His vivifying breath, are a mere empty shell. Where there is no vision the people perish: and it is only under the inspiration of the Spirit that men see visions and dream dreams. Come from the four winds, O Breath, and breathe upon these dry bones of our modern churchmanship, that we may live: and so at last shall we stand upright on our feet, an exceeding great army, and go forth conquering and to conquer in the train of the victorious Christ."

CHAPTER IV

THE HOLY TRINITY

God, as Christianity reveals Him, is no cold or remote Being, no abstract Principle-of-All-Things, reposing aloof and impersonal in the stillness of an eternal calm. He is rather the boundless energy of an eternal Life--"no motionless eternity of perfection, but an overflowing vitality, an inexhaustible fecundity, the everlasting well-spring of all existence." He is the eternal Creator of all things; not indeed in any sense which commits us to a literal acceptance of the mythology of Genesis, but in the sense that the created universe has its origin in His holy and righteous will, and that upon Him all things depend. "In affirming that the world was made by GOD, we do not affirm that it was ready-made from the beginning." The work of creation is still going on. GOD is eternally making all


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