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Like a special revelation, a special fellowship in possession of special means of grace must be judged according to the relation of God to His children which it presupposes : and the great confusion which exists on the subject of the Church is due to the failure to set its necessary dependence on our conception of grace in the light of clear thinking.

As soon as we consider the conception of the Church in connection with the conception of grace it embodies, we find that things conflicting in principle are often mechanically bound together in one view.

Practically every church combines inconsistent ideas of grace, and some even glory in it and call it comprehensiveness. Thus we can have in one church a Bible wholly dependent on spiritual insight and a priesthood upon visible succession, or a conversion wholly by an act of God, yet with the failure to produce it resting upon man.

Even churches, which outwardly seem at opposite poles, are often as closely linked, by their conception of grace, as the extremes of the swing of the pendulum by gravitation. Thus the extremest Catholicism and the extremest Evangelicalism are curiously akin, just because both depend on the same conception of grace 175 as arbitrary acts of omnipotence. For the modern Protestant evangelist, as much as for Aquinas or even for Scotus, God's appointment makes things reasonable and right, so that neither of them can appeal simply to reasonableness and Tightness as the guarantee of God's appointment.

From this agreement in theology there follows agreement regarding the fellowship on four important points.

1.The fellowship, in both cases, is artificially limited. In the one case, the condition is submission to a certain tradition; and, in the other, the under going of a certain inward transformation. The latter may be a more religious requirement, yet it is still arbitrary and not ethical. In both the fellowship is exclusive by reason of the Divine arrangement, and not simply by the nature of the moral situation. It consists of persons, towards whom alone, and for His own reasons alone, God has a favourable mind, and not simply of persons who have a favourable mind towards God.

Every fellowship must have some principle of exclusion, else it would be merged in humanity; and true comprehensiveness never means ease of admission. But a society may be exclusive, according as its doors are swung to open outwards and be under the control of those within, or so as to open inwards and be under the control of those without. Extreme Catholicism and Evangelicalism are both of the former type. They are not simply societies of those who 176 have understood God's gracious mind towards all His children, and who have come together for the express purpose of helping others to understand that God has to them also the same mind, and of welcoming all who understand to join them in their task, but they are organisations of persons who, through special operations of omnipotence, have a special relation to God, the possession of which by newcomers must be investigated.

2.Both alike are indifferent to moral independence. This appears in their readiness to persuade by impression, rather than to rest all their hopes on impressing by persuasion. One plays on the emotions by ritualism and the other by revivalism, but the aim, in both cases, is to override the moral personality. The means of grace of neither are means in the moral nature of things -- moral means for showing our true moral relation to God, in His world and among His children and in the service of His Kingdom -- but are merely instruments whereby omnipotent grace may take by assault our personal defences.

3.Being, both alike, unable to attach any meaning to the liberty of the children of God, a divided church, for the one, and an unconverted world, for the other, are mere unaccountable Divine failures. Frequent charges of schism and obduracy have the appearance of ascribing them to man, but human error has no effective right in either scheme. The kind of submission which alone is required for belonging to the true Church, God could surely have easily imposed upon 177 all rational creatures; while, if man can be converted by the might of God as easily as an infant is snatched from the fire by a grown man, why are not all faces set in the right direction from the beginning? Why, above all, on the one hand, should the unity of the Church be attached to an obviously easily divided priesthood, backed by obviously questionable assertions; and conversion, on the other, be made dependent for its operation on emotional impressiveness, often too obviously self-conscious to be really impressive?

In neither case do we pass beyond the conception of a God who sets arbitrary limits to His working, which are the less justifiable that He works, in any case, with means which, being arbitrary, are, therefore, not limited by the moral nature either of things or of persons.

4.For both types of piety the rest of experience is irrelevant. Both are non-worldly, but not, for that reason, necessarily unworldly. The religious life being a special kind of sacred doing concerned with another world than this, this world may remain, as it was before, our world, measured by place and possession. The other world is alongside of this, running, in a way, parallel, so that the hope of the other world limits our behaviour somewhat in this, yet to do well in this world is a mark of God's favour which augurs well for the next. In no sense have we now eternal life. The restraints of those whose trust is in ritual naturally more concern matters of taste and their 178 hopes of the approval of God rest more on social position; while those whose trust is in revivalism apply restraint more to habits and estimate God's approval more by possession. But for neither is religion such a relation to God that it can inherit the earth without place or possession in it. Nor is either able to show how this positive victory is the true safeguard of religion, doing away with the need of negative precautions.

From a fellowship which would express the relation of a personal God to us as moral persons, so that He is gracious in all our experience, all arbitrary dealings are ruled out. Righteousness and truth and joy in spiritual things are the very Heaven in which our Father dwells, which, so far from being outside of our present experience, shows itself real as it turns the perpetual change of our earthly life increasingly into the one purpose of God, so that the uncertainties upon which nothing could be built are shown to be themselves a building of God.

Of the fellowship which would thus embody the conception of grace as a gracious relation of God to His children in all things, four characteristics also may be distinguished.

1.It is a fellowship which has no frontiers except those it exists to remove: and in that task it must acknowledge no failure except what is due to the moral independence necessary for the truly personal relation to a gracious God it exists to manifest.


By the nature of grace as God's gracious personal relation to His children, response to which must be won and cannot be compelled, all its limitations are determined. It is a fellowship of persons who realise their relations to one another through their relation to God and who find their relation to the Father realised in their fellowship with His children; and it takes the form of a society, working under historical conditions, because an understanding of God through human relations requires a common use of experience. But it is a special society only because it rests exclusively on a blessed dependence on an absolutely gracious God, impossible to realise except in freedom and moral independence, which is not the basis of any other society. This may set a severe limit to success, but it is not arbitrary, being imposed only by God's respect for the liberty of His children, and by the nature of His Kingdom as a family and not merely a federation. Arbitrariness is impossible for a gracious God, but, on the other hand, compulsion in a truly personal relation is equally impossible.

2.It has no means of grace except what enables us to use the world as God's world, in fellowship with men as children of God, and in peace through His rule of truth and righteousness, because it interprets God's gracious relation to us in all experience. Its means of grace must be real means for bringing home the nature of reality to minds made in the image of God, which is to say, they must impress only as they persuade. The Apostle's ideal was, "By manifestation 180 of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." The appeal is by truth alone to the common human conscience and to it alone. Yet no limit may be set for the variety of the manifestation, so long as it is truly in the sight of God and not an appeal to mere human suffrage. It may draw from us sublime poetic utterance and stateliness of presentation, or it may drive us to the utmost simplicity of speech and worship. Both will be right in their place, if they spring from the vision of spiritual realities. But, also, both will be wrong, not manifesting but obscuring, if they are used as substitutes for consent of the soul, to sweep men along without freedom or insight.

Prayer, Word and Sacrament are still the means of grace, yet only as they are means of manifesting the truth to every man's conscience, and not merely as they are devices or vehicles or impressive doings. Except as means of persuading they cannot help to manifest God's gracious personal relation to His children, for as devices to wring blessings out of God or as vehicles to convey something into man, however individual they may be, they would not, in any strict sense, be personal.

Prayer is not bombarding God for acts of omnipotence which, otherwise, He might withhold, but is the intercourse of the family of God, wherein our brethren are included as well as our Father. As it manifests a gracious relation, whereby all things work together for our good, its chief task is in everything to give 181 thanks; and, though our needs may require special petitions, it is because, being straitened in ourselves, we need God's help to receive to profit, and not because God forgets to be gracious till He is urged.

Speech is the natural mode of communication between persons, because it enables both to think the same thought, each as his own thought, being a word only as it is spoken with the understanding to the understanding. The Word, as a means of grace, is, therefore, the utterance of what we have been enabled to see of God's dealing with us, to minds made like ours in the Divine image, that they also may see. Therefore, it must commend itself, not merely to the liking for pleasant or even for solemn and impressive utterance, but to the conscience of right which can enable men to interpret it as a word of God to themselves.

The Sacraments solemnly employ water, and bread and wine -- the common things in daily use -- to express and, as it were, give the concentrated essence of the sacrament of life. They presuppose that there is more in nature than an appeal to the senses, and more in every gift of food than to eat of the loaves and be filled, and that we ought therein to see the miracle of a gracious God manifesting Himself in goodness. The miracle is extended in these rites to all God appoints for us. The special rite which connects this sacrament of life directly with the Cross, forbids us to rule out any part of experience, and teaches us to find in agony and shame and death the manifold wisdom and 182 measureless love of God. This is the message by which it becomes pre-eminently the sacrament of reconciliation.

3.This leads to the next mark, which may be described as the secular quality of its religion.

The special rites of the special fellowship, having distinctive sacredness, not by remoteness from things secular, but by penetrating deeper into their true meaning and true uses, teach us not to use the sacred shrine as a shelter from the secular world, but to make all things sacred, and so, in the right way, to abolish the distinction between sacred and secular, till the world is our spiritual possession as much as Cephas.

Our Lord's religion was in a pre-eminent degree secular. From the day-labourers, farmers and fisher-folk, he demanded a righteousness beyond that of the recognised ministers of religion, a demand made reasonable by removing righteousness from the sphere of sacred observances into the sphere of our common relations in the common life, through faith in the Father exercised amid our daily tasks and trials. All His own ministry was simply the absolutely religious handling of the incidents which arose for Him in His intercourse with the ordinary people who met Him, as we should say, by accident. His teaching abounds in illustrations from the secular life, but there are only two from the ecclesiastical religion -- the Pharisee praying in the Temple with himself alone, and the Priest and the Levite passing by on the other side. 183 Moreover, most of what he says to the Scribes and Pharisees applies to the dangers of outward organised religion at all times.

4.The final mark is the relation of the fellowship to the Rule of God, the sense in which the Church is the Kingdom of God. Catholicism identifies the Church with the Kingdom as far as it outwardly extends, and Evangelicalism only as far as it inwardly succeeds, and the difference is deep and wide; yet they are at one in regarding the Rule of God in both as fundamentally mystical and traditional. Grace, that is to say, is a swaying of individuals, of which the individual may be conscious, but is so immediately the work of God that he may not; and its manifestation in history is merely the handing down of the accumulated results of individual operations of grace, so that we are founded upon the apostles and prophets and Jesus Christ is the chief corner-stone purely by traditional guarantees, for which our moral freedom is no necessary condition.

But in the society which embodies a gracious relationship of God to all men, in all things, at all times, the Kingdom of God is manifested religiously -- or we might say apocalyptically -- and ethically, and not mystically and traditionally.

The Kingdom of God is the Rule of God, and not, in any sense, mere moral progress of man. Our reliance is on God, and not on our freedom, and there is place only for trust and gratitude, and none for merit, yet the essence of God's Rule is that it is not 184 content with obedience except in the blessedness of moral independence. All His dealings with us, from first to last, concern our freedom, not, indeed, as if we were free, but always to make us free. Were we free, we should be already saved, and we are only being saved; but what we are being saved into is the liberty of the children of God. Wherefore, God's Kingdom has come, not in so far as individuals have been made the vehicles of absolute truth or holiness, or even in so far as mankind grows in truth and righteousness, but in so far as men are willing in the day of God's power, in so far, in short, as being reconciled to God, they find in His will alone their blessedness.

This society of the Kingdom of God is necessarily historical, but is not traditional. The blessedness of God's Rule is God's most unmerited gift, introduced wholly by the finger of God, yet is so personal that even God cannot impose it except by enabling us to accept it; and the essential thing to see is that it is not less, but more God's personal gift, because it takes the trouble to pass round by way of our own personal acceptance and co-operation. Hence this amazing, varied, suffering, joyous world, with some success but much frustrated endeavour, much knowledge laboriously won but more darkness we cannot by any effort dispel, and much gladness of living but ever arrested by pain and shadowed by death. And hence also the supreme significance of those who, in fellowship, have, from age to age, interpreted to their 185 brethren the Divine rule it displays. These are the prophets who, since the world began, have been preparing for the fullness of the time when it might be perfectly manifested in teaching and service and poverty and all the agony and contumely which could increase the terror of death, and the apostles who have since interpreted the fullness of this manifestation. On this foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the chief corner-stone, we are to build, not in slavish subjection to the past, but in the freedom of God's children, who are also themselves apostles and prophets.

Instead of regarding the rest of experience as mere scenery for operations of grace which are canalised in special channels, whether priest or evangelist, we see that nothing less than our whole varied experience can suffice for making souls truly in God's image, free and not restrained, knowing as He knows, loving as He loves, choosing as He chooses, blessed as He is blessed, sons and not subjects. If this be the high goal, we can understand the necessity of the labyrinthine by-ways towards truth, with blind alleys that admonish us to seek anew the true road, with agonies and disasters to warn us of our mistakes and our sins, with the necessity of bitter penitence and sympathy evoked by suffering. Then the Church, if it be interpreting to mankind this mind of God, has its convincing place, however small it be, or however divided on other matters. But, otherwise, what is life but a mockery and a despair, and what is the 186 largest, most united church, as a mere refuge in the midst of it, save a poor kind of device at best, wholly inadequate as the work of a goodness which, with the resources of omnipotence, can compel man as it will?

Mankind is often weary of the long and arduous and circuitous way, and constantly takes shorter cuts than God's way of personal faith and moral freedom. Often the Church which should stand only for God's order, is inveigled into the service of organised compulsion and becomes the most eager and successful advocate of mental pupilage and moral subjection: and, then, men are put back under the discipline of what the Apostle calls the Law. Yet God is not weary and soon He burns up the wood and hay and stubble with which men build, often in vast calamities and desolating conflicts, till men are taught that a mere order of subjection is, in the last resort, mere anarchy, and that the Divine way of the insight of our own faith and the consecration of our own wills, through our own recognition that in all things God is gracious, is alone the abiding order of reality, which evil can neither tempt nor terrorise.

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