« Prev CHAPTER X Next »



This view of conversion as a discovery that God is worthy of trust, and not as a mystic change in the substance of the soul, should not be too lightly conceded, because, once it is understood and accepted, the reasons for special administrations of grace as a sort of love-philtre, with special persons in whom and through whom they are mainly efficacious, will have lost their cogency. Instead, we require the assurance of a gracious relation to us which would at once cease, were it impersonal in its dealing or restricted in the sphere of its goodness. Its whole quality and distinction is to seek to be personal on both sides, and, if any aspect of life had to be exempted from its wise and loving dealing, we should never know where next it might fail.

The work of salvation which has this beginning, could be occupied only with revealing God's mind toward us and eliciting our mind toward Him, and not with cleansing our souls by a grace which acts as impersonally as bleaching powder whitening cotton. Thus the question of how we are saved comes back, as, in the end, all religious questions do, to the question of God's real relation to man.

The view of the Gospels is that God deals with us as with children. On that point, all theologies 81 nominally agree. But, for the most part, the agreement does not go beyond the terms. To one the Fatherhood of God is a wholly mystical relation, man being linked up with Him in a kind of tribal bond, by ties which, though hidden, are almost material; to another it is a purely ethical relation, the whole of it being expressed in mutual responsibilities. But a truly personal relation, gracious to us in all things, is, in the above sense, neither mystical nor moral, being simply religious, simply trust in a Person whose whole dealing with us proves Him worthy of trust.

The essence of the situation is that God is our Father in the whole breadth of our experience, and not merely in some special sacred sphere of ecstasy or rite or even duty. Nothing less is at stake than the whole nature of the world when rightly used as God's world. The test of a true faith is the extent to which its religion is secular, the extent to which its special religious experiences are tested by the experiences of every day.

In the life of Jesus nothing is more conspicuous than His meagre interest in specially sacred doings, and His profound interest in the most ordinary doings of the secular life. In His parables the only figures from the special religious life of a specially religious time are the Pharisee praying with himself in the temple, and the Priest and the Levite turning aside on the road to Jericho -- self-approving and little approved men, solitary to their heart's core. But what a varied secular procession of kings and slaves, and 82 bailiffs and debtors, and farmers and fisher-folk, and housewives and children, and all at their secular occupations, with more feasting than fasting, and more marriages than funerals! Yet every mortal is occupied with God, and, as he is rightly or wrongly occupied, all his life is right or wrong.

The customary worship was, with Jesus, also a good custom, but it brought too much conflict to be for Him the sanctuary of peace. The true and quiet and restful and inspiring means of grace He found in the sunrise and the sunset, and the uncertain winds and equal rain and the fashioning of the wayside flowers. All experience was a manifestation of the Father, and not least the very indifference of nature which has so often crushed men's hopes when they are based only on a legal and narrow-hearted idea of righteousness and reward. Jesus sees God carefully watering the field of the evil even as the field of the good, not in equality of indifference, but in an affectionate wisdom which does not give all the cake and praise to the good children and only dry bread and correction to the bad, because a rule of equal goodness is necessary for both.

The Fatherhood of God, as manifested by Jesus Christ, has nothing to do with operations of grace confined to special channels and efficacious in special directions and undiscoverable elsewhere, but manifests itself in a gracious personal relation, which embraces all secularities. It is not as though God gave some help with our worries, burdens, failures, sorrows, 83 sins, but were our Father only in spite of them. The gracious mind of the Father towards His children appears in setting all these experiences on high, with the light of His love shining on them and turning all their shadow into radiance.

This relation, in its complete bearing upon life, is apt to be better realised by all of us in our prayers than in our theologies. In particular, as they directly draw near to God, Calvinist and Arminian ever tend to enter into a larger world where their differences are reconciled. And even in the Gospels, with all their varied, living presentation of how we ought daily to live in the world of our Father, nothing is so adequate to the whole scope of our relation to God as the Lord's Prayer.

It is usually divided into a section which applies to God and a section which applies to man, the former religious, the latter moral. But this misses the central meaning, that there is nothing which applies to God which is not of practical moment for man, nor any interest of life which can be safeguarded apart from God.

The whole concerns our relation to our Father, and the ruling thought, from first to last, is "Our Father which art in Heaven," our common Father in a sphere which is no less in the world for being so far above it. Deliverance from the Evil One, with which the prayer ends, is as much concerned with that name of Father as the hallowing of it, with which it begins; and each new petition follows from what goes before, expanding 84 still farther the content of calling God our Father in Heaven.

That all this name represents, all the heavenly good in which God is manifested as Father, should be hallowed comes first. This is for man's sake, and not merely for God's honour, because reverence for the highest is man's deepest need, what he reverences being, in his inmost heart, what he is, and in his ultimate attainment, what he will be. Being deliverance from all idolatry, the acceptance of God's Rule follows. Then loyalty to it finds the doing of God's will to be the only final good. The battle being thus set in array between the kingdom of light and the anarchy of darkness, as good soldiers of God, we are assured of the supply of our material wants in the measure to fit us for our task. Being thereby no longer aggrieved with God or in rivalry with man, we know our unworthiness in our high calling and our need of forgiveness from God, and are able to discover its efficacy by forgiving others. Finally, facing temptation as one battle with evil, we know its power and find in God the hope of deliverance. This is the religious order.

Mere morality proceeds in the opposite direction. Let us resist temptation, face our sins, endure hardness. So let us begin to do God's will, that His Kingdom may be gradually brought in, and, in the end, every heart be inspired by the true reverence! The result is striving and crying, with the perpetual menace of defeat and the increasing shadow of despair. 85 But the servant of the Lord should not strive, nor be, after that fashion, morally strenuous. An essentially apocalyptic hope, a dependence, not on man who runs, but on God who gives the victory, dominates this prayer as it does all our Lord's teaching. Yet by it man's achievement arrives at victory. The order is first reverence, then surrender, then obedience, yet always one and indivisible, even when successive in their manifestation.

Here we find a truly personal relation to our Father, with its gospel inseparable from its ethic and its ethic inseparable from its gospel, with its moral independence always inspired by its religious dependence and its religious dependence ever showing its vital force in our moral independence.

The same attitude is manifest in all our Lord's life and teaching. His concern is not with operations of grace affecting the mysterious sources of life, but with the conduct of life itself. Yet the central interest is no more moral than it is mystical, but is the religious presentation of life as all of it, except in so far as we prevent it, the manifestation of a gracious Father. Thus, in all events alike, we discover one gracious relation to us which makes them all cry in our hearts, "Abba, Father." Yet this is to be realised in the service of God's children, and not in ecstatic emotion; for, by the love of the brethren alone, can we realise our place in the family of God.

Attention is thus transferred from abstract reasoning about the kind of finality which becomes 86 omnipotence, to the true relation of our Father with ourselves, from a relation of grace which prevails the more the less it is personal, to a gracious relationship which succeeds only as it becomes intimately personal. Then such distinctions as one grace which is wholly common and another which is wholly efficacious, one which is through sacred channels and another through secular, one equal only to civil righteousness and another equal to the Divine requirements, can no longer find a place. Even if such operations exist, they concern religion only as they are brought into connection with a right or wrong personal relation to God. In the right relation, nothing is common, every thing is efficacious for spiritual good; in the wrong relation, nothing is efficacious, everything is common. Thus the daily drudgery might crown us with the dignity of faithful, self-forgetting, humble service, while our most overwhelming mystical experience might turn into spiritual pride and uncharitableness.

If these considerations are sound, Augustinianisms have all started out, from the beginning, on the wrong road. Attention is fixed on grace as a gift merely given, and on works as human resolves merely carried through, with no attention paid to the gracious relation of the Father to His children which does away with all that hard contrast between tasks and gifts. How utter is the failure would appear in this alone that grace is conceived as irresistible precisely because it is not conceived as gracious.


Pelagianisms and semi-Pelagianisms, making the same false start, fail even more utterly, because, setting God's grace and man's resolution in the same opposition, they assign so much to God and so much to man, which necessarily ends with the emphasis on man's doings and not God's. Such an idea could only arise when God's true personal relation to His children had been ignored and His impersonal doings put in the foreground.

In a right relation of persons, especially of father and child, the help of the one does not end where the effort of the other begins. A son is distinguished from a servant by such perfection of help that his dependence on his father is the unfailing spring of his independence and mastery, and no manner of encroachment on his self-reliance. And how otherwise are we to be sons of God? Not surely as mere tools or sycophants!

This gracious relation cannot provide the flawless world to be expected from grace as overriding omnipotence guided by omniscience, because a personal relation can only work as it meets response, and response means that we can only accept God's will and rely on it by seeing it to be good, even the use of the world which alone is blessed. In short, we can only accept God's will as, by insight, we discover it to be our own. But, if we measure the world by a different good and pursue ends in it God has not blessed, what we work in it is evil and what we hope from it disappoints. It is calamitous, not merely in appearance, 88 but in reality, because only for serving God's end is it good.

There is, therefore, no such thing possible as a natural belief in Providence, because the world is not good on mere natural values. For such ends as comfort or health or prosperity to all or even as material rewards to the righteous, it is ostentatiously not good. A true belief in Providence is the goal and not the starting-point of religion, a prophetic victory over evil and not a metaphysical optimism about the balance of good. Yet unnecessary intellectual difficulties are made for faith by confusing a personal with a merely individual relation to God. The best ordered household can be most graciously personal; the individual treatment of the fond and foolish parent may make no home but a bear-garden. Were the universe managed as our private concern, we should merely be God's spoilt children. A personal rule, on the contrary, expects us to honour the system by which all are benefited and does not hesitate to allow us to suffer the consequences of breaches of it, even though they be not our own, because we cannot be blessed apart from our place in God's family. But the system is personal if its end is to help persons, in freedom and independence, both in their own souls and in their service of their brethren, to fulfil themselves.

The conception of God's rule as individual, with out any regard to the conditions which would make it personal, turns this bearing with and for others into 89 mere indiscriminate punishment: and from this most of our perplexities regarding the ways of Providence arise. No room is left for moral system or for any use of it in freedom. If God permit sin or suffering He has already come short. How, then, shall we expect Him to remedy what He should never have allowed? Would we, in face of this necessary conclusion from the individual view of God's rule, still maintain that it is both omnipotent and good, we must pass delicately over sin and evil, as a phase of development due to finiteness in its object or irregularity in its progress. When the stress, as at this present time, becomes too severe for so comfortable a judgment, and sin insists on showing itself exceeding wicked and evil exceeding calamitous, the only way left, on this individual, but not personal view, is to return to the old Dualism. In it God's rule is good, but not omnipotent. There is a world of self-existing, brute forces, amid which a good God is struggling as best He may. God is a kind Person doing His utmost to reinforce the good, but He is hedged in by blind resisting powers, much as we are. Taken seriously, this would mean a return to the old agonising sense of doubtful conflict in life, with all its murky pantheon of the powers of darkness, and with the old Manichaean demand for an ascetic renunciation of the world as evil.

Religion is then no more a victory over the world, but only a not very weather-tight individual shelter in the general storm. Goodness is no more the 90 ultimate meaning of the world, but an alien benevolence precariously imposed upon it; and no religion can have what was the supreme attraction of Christianity for the ancient world, that it gave to God "the sole monarchy." Nor is there any better way so long as we think that God deals with us merely as individuals, whom, if He could, He would manufacture to His mind, and forget that a personal relation has two sides, which require us to find God's world also our world and His mind our mind and His service our service, and all by our own insight and devotion, and that the essence of a personal system is not to manufacture us good, but to help us to win our freedom and the right use of it together. In that case God cannot relieve us of our responsibility even when calamitous. Without it we might be the clay and He the Potter, but we should not be children and He our Father. Only with responsibility are sins real disasters, but the victory of responsible freedom is an end great enough to justify so perilous a road, for, without it, God would merely have a dull universe of perfectly manipulated marionettes.

« Prev CHAPTER X Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection