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The distinctive element in the Christian religion is not any difference from other religions respecting the need of redemption from the world, except in so far as deeper moral insight may show more clearly the moral nature of the need, and so derive evil from sin and not directly from desire. What does distinguish it from all other religions is the kind of redemption it offers. In contrast to all ways of renunciation, its way of being redeemed from the world is reconciliation.

This antithesis, thus baldly stated, might, however, mislead. Other religions, with the possible exception of Buddhism, also aim at reconciliation; and the religion which requires its followers to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow One whose obedience led to a death of shame and lingering agony, in a very high degree requires renunciation. But renunciation, in other religions, is first and for reconciliation; in Christianity, reconciliation is first and renunciation of value only as it is from reconciliation.

Especially in times of great stress and calamity, when life seems hard to maintain and cheap to lose and innocence a poor protection and human policies insane imaginations and passion is spent and peace not won, the direct way of renunciation has such a 119 strong attraction that it has drawn to it many professing the Christian name. Then the world seemed a canopy between the soul and God. Under it the most man could hope to do was to erect some candle-lit chamber of ecstasy; to keep the evil dream of life from sheer nightmare by the exercise of a strict ascetic rule to curb its fantasies; to regard the revelation of God as the lightning thrust of infallible truth rending at points the darkness of existence; and to hope for the help of grace as an occasional lift under life's burden.

But a blessedness which passes through the world and man to the Father, manifestly takes no such direct road to redemption. We are so to deal with the earth as to inherit it, so to value man that we shall see God, so to fight for truth and righteousness as to enter His kingdom of peace. Ours is to be the blessedness of the prophet, the man of all men most determined to see "the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living," to let no event go till it blessed him, to suffer no wrong to alienate him either from peace or service. His call placed him in the forefront of every battle for truth and righteousness, and made him face the world and never flee it. No more by striving for renunciation than by striving for possession did he seek to conquer the world. His life was blessed because, through his personal relation to God, he had found in his life God's real meaning and purpose, and had been delivered from his false self in his own unreal world, to find his true self in God's real world.


And how otherwise than by finding what life signifies for personal relations is life ever transformed? Mere gifts, apart from the giving, go only a very little way, and the shorter the richer the giver. "Rich gifts are poor, when givers prove unkind," and not much richer if the givers are indifferent. Wherefore it comes that no gifts from the measureless abundance of the Infinite, even though they were gifts of grace, ever speak of the mind of God towards us by themselves. Grace is gracious only as it manifests in the world a purpose which at once possesses us, yet sets us free; makes us absolutely dependent, yet gives us independence of all things; enables us to lose ourselves, yet truly, and for the first time, to find ourselves.

No direct operation of grace as power could ever establish such an understanding. What is more, it could not establish a personal relationship at all. The more it is omnipotent in the sense of utterly over riding our personal will and moulding us as mere clay in the hand of the potter, the less it gives us a right to refer its source to a person.

So long as we conceive the relation to us of the Divine through omnipotent operation, we never can be freed from the fear that, in ascribing the world to a personal God, we are assuming a cause like ourselves, on the ground of an analogy to the work of our own hands which may have no validity beyond the bounds of sense: for any effect which is only of power may possibly be only of process. Like Narcissus with 121 the water, we might, in an obsession of vanity, be using the world merely to reflect our own faces, when we imagine behind it a person like ourselves.

But, if God's dealing with us, even as man's, is through the world and society, through a moral intercourse whereby we obtain mastery in our whole self-conscious world, our fellowship with the Father is verified by our position in His household, which the world becomes for us as we lay hold of its true order, abandon all thought of explaining it by pleasure and possession and learn to judge it by discipline and duty, and find thereby that we too are masters in it as in our own world. Only by that victory can we be justified in the confidence that we are not deluded, but have laid hold of life's real and victorious secret, when we deal with it through a personal God, without whose moral will it is all vanity and vexation of spirit.

At this point many will ask, how this is effected by reconciliation: and much theology, it must be admitted, justifies the question. So far from bringing any real change into our experience, are we not escaping into a region over which experience has no control? How can reconciliation to some shadowy Person beyond the world make life in any way different from what it is by itself? What, moreover, is the actual, working meaning of reconciliation in the language of the market-place?

These questions are reasonable, and according as we succeed or fail in answering them, we shall 122 determine whether religion is for us an essential of life's immediate business, or only a prudent, but we trust not immediately necessary, provision against a possible future life.

What reconciliation means may show itself more clearly, if we first consider what is meant by "enmity against God." This beginning would, in any case, be necessary, if to be at one with God is our natural state, for we are apt to accept a natural state as a matter of course, and only to learn from some measure of deprivation how necessary it is for our well-being. But this order becomes imperative, if we only know our natural relation to God by recovery from an unnatural.

As enmity against God is frequently set forth, the suggestion of a practical situation might seem an idle paradox. The expression calls up the vague idea of a quarrel with a dim, vast figure in a remote Heaven, so utterly unconnected with our present doings that it is difficult to see how we ever could come into conflict with Him. An abstract Being can only be offended by an abstract independence. For that the only remedy would seem to be some kind of abstract submission, some mollifying of Him by comprehensive confessions and spiritual prostrations. Thus the acknowledgment of being at enmity with God too often ends in superlatives about a guilty and sinful state which deal with no reality that would be admitted if clothed in concrete language and illustrated by examples, and which, 123 even so, are only wrung out by dread of discoveries in another life, without reference to any practical, situation in this.

But reality is not one thing and God another; and if we are at enmity with God, we are at enmity with reality, past and present, as well as to come. To be at enmity against God is neither more nor less than to be in bitter hostility to reality, with the sense that it is all against us. We think reality ought to go the way of pleasure and possession, and when it goes quite another way, in the rebellion of hearts which refuse to inquire what the true way of reality may be, reality not merely appears to be, but actually is against us. Nor can its enmity fail to cause fierce antagonism; for, in a quarrel between us and reality, the strife is unequal, and we cannot escape a resentment which is fierce in proportion as it is futile.

This resentment is not necessarily wholly personal, because a great addition to our own grievance may come from a generous wrath against a life which outrages all mankind. The world is manifestly only fully displayed as the work of a tyrant, if its cruelty is extended to every creature that feels; and we are only perfectly at enmity against God when we can regard our own bitter experience as universal.

For a generation this hostility has been growing increasingly vocal, and now possesses a considerable literature which has all the merit, and no more, that indignation can impart. This is the more impressive that it was mostly produced amid an unparalleled 124 prosperity, for it awakes us to the need of a God who shall be more than a mere adjunct to the comforts of life.

But graver than lyrical pessimism is the dull rebellion of every day which never hurls impious defiance at heaven and never dreams of offering to curse God and die, which is, indeed, quite piously at enmity with God. Though religious in creed and observance, its attitude towards life remains a mixture of envy and resentment. Were the appointments of life ever seriously connected with God, it could only be a relief to learn that He was dead and would trouble men no more. Religion is often kept so aloof from experience that reconciliation to God may be loudly professed with one breath and everything He appoints be bitterly resented in the next. The God of man's profession is in one compartment, and the God of his life in another. But we are truly reconciled as we live, not as we profess, and we cannot be reconciled to God and be at enmity with what He appoints.

Being embittered by life must, however, be carefully distinguished from being burdened by it. Otherwise it might appear that there could be no reconciliation to God till stress, as well as rebellion, wholly depart, and that peace with God should be measured by the extent to which we can keep on the sunny side of the street. But the deepest sense of the difficulty and stress of life may be so far from being enmity against God that, if the burden is laid on us by a sense 125 of life's overwhelming significance, it might be the sincerest of all recognitions of God. To accept life as our difficult and strenuous way, because we meet it with sincerity and responsiveness to its calls, would be the highest proof that all rebellion had disappeared. Not the sense that life has so large a purpose that we stagger under its load, but only resentment at its burden, as if the sole purpose were to crush us, is enmity against God. Enmity against God is enmity with the lives He appoints, so that we only bear their burden because we do not know how to make it lighter, and not because we are sustained by the sense of its gracious meaning and blessed purpose. In practice, therefore, enmity against God comes to be just the spirit which resents discipline and evades duty.

This spirit may not be equally manifest when resentment against God takes the form of wrath at the world on account of others. But the world is still estimated as it serves self-love and self-will after the way of pleasure and possession, and in no way as it affords discipline and requires duty. For others as for ourselves the world is expected to suffice without God: and that view yields no blessed meaning for others any more than for ourselves. Life, so interpreted, cannot be saved, even by some benevolence of feeling, from being as much against us as we can possibly be against it. The world as a closed system, with its meaning and end in itself and our desires as their interpreters, is evil and not good.


By contrast, we may now see the meaning of reconciliation to God. As enmity against God is primarily enmity against the lives He has appointed for us, because we insist on using them for other ends than His, so reconciliation to God is primarily reconciliation to our lives by seeking in them only His ends. Its immediate significance is reconciliation to the discipline He appoints and the duty He demands. It is thus, in the first place at least, concerned with this life, not another, being the promise of sitting in the heavenly places amid the tumult of the present hour and not of sitting in a remote heaven in a passionless eternity.

In practice it means resenting no trial and evading no task, because of the discernment that there never is a trial love has not appointed or, for a good end, permitted, nor a task love has not imposed, even though it be also from our own past failure. Then reconciliation means no mere vague emotion or dim ecstasy but present fellowship with our Father in His Kingdom, as it is manifested through the world and in the midst of our brethren.

God's Kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit, but to be poor in spirit is only another name for being reconciled to life's discipline and duty as God's will of love. From this, the true spring of blessedness, all right dealing with life must flow, for it is a gracious relation to us of our Father, from the scope of which nothing is exempted.

This is the only true belief in Providence, which cannot be held, either as an instinctive trust that God 127 is kind or as an inference from life that He is benevolent, but only as the last and highest victory of a faith which has won a vision of a true and abiding good, which is not of the world, even while all things in the world become a new creation to forward it.

There are theologians who have thought that the reconciliation to God which gives this vision, is too easy a way for so hard a victory, if it merely means arising and going to our Father, and they would add other and sterner conditions. But God Himself is the adequate condition, for returning means going back to God all the way, to God as He is, and not, as, before we come to ourselves, we should wish Him to be, and finding ourselves at home in His household as He appoints it, and not as we would appoint when we prefer to it the Far-country. It is so great a change that it requires a call according to His purpose, whereby we discover that no other purpose can, without disaster, be our own. Thus it is at once the forgiveness of sin and the hope of victory over it, a returning from the Far-country and a life in the household of the Father.

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