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The distance that separates the noblest and mightiest man on earth from God is immeasurably great. We fully understand that it can make us exclaim almost despairingly: "Why should we seek after knowledge of God? Behold, 171 God is great, and we know him not. The most we can do is to kneel in worship before the unknown God."

This is what the doubters meant, who at Athens had reared an altar to the "Unknown God." They did not mean that besides the many gods, whose altars had been reared, there was still another God, whose name they did not know and to whom they brought their offerings as to an unknown god. No, that altar to the unknown God stood for a system and a viewpoint. By that altar they meant to say, "Our fellow-citizens in Athens, who kneel before Minerva or Jupiter are mistaken when they accept the stories about the gods. All that is said to be known of God is founded upon self-deception. Of the Infinite himself nothing can be known. There is an Infinite One, or at least there is something Infinite. Who or what it is, is an impenetrable mystery. Worship this Infinite as the great Unknown. Do it with the confession of ignorance. Candidly confess that all knowledge of God is withheld. And then mysticism will work wholesome effects. But let us not confess to have what we have not. Let us not pretend that we are introduced and initiated into the knowledge of God. For this is self-deception. It will only deceive others and is the key to priest-craft.

This was the thought of that small group of men in Athens. And among the ablest and noblest of our race there are many who think so now. From choice they call themselves "Agnostics." Their aim and purpose is to have it understood that they are by no means godless, 172 and least of all that they are irreligious; that indeed they are most religious and that therefore with deep humility they are frank to confess, that the God whom we worship is One who by his Supreme Majesty withholds his knowledge from men.

However devout this may seem, their viewpoint is essentially untenable. It is diametrically opposed to Christian doctrine. What Paul declared to the Athenians: "That God, whom ye ignorantly worship, him declare we unto you," remains unchangeably the confession which we hold in the face of these misguided people. Surely, had not God revealed himself, no one of us would have known him. But God has made a revelation of himself. This is the glad tiding which every true Christian makes known in the world. Wherefore in the face of this seemingly pious not-knowing of the Agnostics, we boldly maintain the word of Christ: This is eternal life, that they might know thee, the Only true God.

There is also excess on the other side. There are ministers and laymen who talk so familiarly about God, without reserve or constraint, and who speak to him in prayer so irreverently as to arouse aversion. These are men and women who have no actual fear of God in their heart, who think that they know well-nigh everything about the Most Highest, and who do not even faintly perceive that all our speaking about the Eternal, and all our speaking to him is nothing more than stammering. Love truly casts out fear. But fear must be there first, and love must 173 struggle against it. In this way only the victory is gained of the child-like Abba Father.

When God is spoken of in a way which shows that there has been no fear of God, nor love to cast it out; that there has been no struggle and consequently no triumph, there is no child-like Abba, dear Father, but a pedantic show and pretense of knowledge, which exhales no fragrance of piety, but rather destroys the germ of vital godliness. To avert this it is needful that our knowledge of God is properly related to our whole inner self, to our creation after God's image, to our childship in the family of God, and especially to our will and purpose. Purely intellectual knowledge of God is a frozen crust of ice from under which the stream has run dry.

Another distinction must be observed. There are two kinds of willingness. One just remains what it is, the other is translated into doing. In our days the inclination is strong to attribute an inner excellence to the willingness that expresses itself in doing. There is something bold and almost brutal in the will-life of our times. All one needs is to will. He who wills must dare. Then let come what will. In every case the will must express a power that can do everything. "Where there is a will there is a way." And under the lead of such men as Ibsen and others, this will-effort has been driven so onesidedly, that in their effort irresistibly to carry out their own will many pride themselves on their indifference to opposition.

Compared with these present-day heroes of the will, a weakling like St. Paul cuts a very poor figure. He candidly declares that he has known 174 moments in his life when he had to confess: "What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do" (Rom. 7:15). This is an honest confession, which age upon age has been shamefully abused, that under the cloak of piety one might continue in sin and keep the conscience quiet. An abuse which shall be judged of God. But apart from this abuse the language of St. Paul is the honest description of actual life, which declares that the ideal always stands above us, and that we always have to mourn our inability to reach it, and to make it actual in life.

There is willingness of heart, and an effort to realize it in life. This willingness of heart is for the most part free. He who restrains evil tendencies and conforms his will to the will of God, fosters an holy aim. This involves conflict, but only in connection with the remnant of the old nature that is in us. As long as we stand aloof from life, and take council with our heart, a child of God will inwardly triumph, and finally he will come to will only what God wills, and find happiness in this harmony of his will with the will of God.

Now, however, follows a still greater difficulty. And that is: to carry into effect what we will at heart, against the world, the flesh and the Devil. In connection with this it continually happens that with the best will of the heart we meet with stubborn resistance; that we find no power in ourselves to cope with it; and that in the end we leave undone what we honestly meant to do and still want to do. This tempts us all too often to underestimate this inner willingness of heart. What is the good, we ask, whether we foster the 175 best of intentions and cherish holiest purposes, when at the time of trial we are bound to fail? And this mood must be resisted. This is debasement of self. It not only unfits one for the battle of life, but severs the vital nerve which binds one to his Divine ideal. Better faint ten times and suffer the punishment of God's judgment in the conscience than to have part with the world in everyday sin without an accusing conscience.

This inner willingness of heart to will what God wills has supreme worth, even though as yet strength fails to carry it into effect. For it is the development of the life of God's child. It is coming into closer fellowship with God. It is the increase in the knowledge of God. It is a discipline which keeps the conscience tender, and the ideal bright, and makes progress in the way.

Of course the progress is greater when willingness of heart is carried out in the deed, until it becomes a part of life. For then the moral power of faith operates, the nature of the hero awakens and the power of the Almighty, which overcomes the world, becomes manifest in us. But it does not begin with this. It begins with the transposing of the willingness in the heart. This is followed by the sad and painful experience that the willingness is there, but that the doing still tarries. In that stadium the strong and penetrating working of the conscience performs wonders, for it brings us at length into the final stadium, where from bare willingness what God wills we are brought to the doing of his good pleasure.

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