Faith and Duty
Man lives by Faith, Godward and Manward
Things 'Sacred' and Things 'Secular' an Irreligious Classification––There is a little involuntary resistance in our minds to any teaching which shall draw the deep things of our faith within the sphere of the laws which govern our development as human beings. We prefer that the commerce between God and the soul, in which is our life, should be altogether 'supernatural'; apart from the common laws of life, arbitrary, inexplicable, opposed to reason. If we err in this, it is in reverence we err. Our thought may be poor and crude, but all our desire is to hallow the divine Name, and we know no other way in which to set it apart. But though we err in reverence, we do err, and in the spiritual, as in the natural world, the motive does not atone for the act. We lose through this misconception of our relations with God the sense of unity in our lives. We become aware of an altogether unnatural and irreligious classification into things sacred and things secular. We are not in all things at one with God. There are beautiful lives in which there is no trace of this separation, whose aims are confined to the things we call sacred. But many thoughtful, earnest persons feel sorely the need of a conception of the divine relation which shall embrace the whole of human life which shall make art, science, politics, all those cares and thoughts of men which are not rebellious, sacred also as being all engaged in the great evolution, the evolution of the Kingdom of God.
Every Man develops his own Philosophy––Our religious thought, as our educational thought is, far more than we imagine, the outcome of our philosophy. And do not let us imagine that philosophy is not for the general run of men, but only for the few. On the contrary, there is no living soul who does not develop his own philosophy of life––that which he appropriates of the current thought of his time, modified by his own experiences.
It would be interesting to trace the effect upon religious thought of the two great schools of philosophy––the Idealistic and the Naturalistic; but that is beyond the writer's power, and beyond our purpose here; we must confine ourselves to what is immediately practical. The present day crux is, that naturalistic philosophy being in the ascendant, and the things of our religion being altogether idealistic, many noble natures are in revolt, feeling that they cannot honestly accept as truth that which is opposed to human reason. Others, to whom their religious faith is the first thing, but who are yet in touch with the thought and discovery of the day, affect an only half honest compromise with themselves, and say that there are certain questions which they will not examine; matters secular alone being open to searching scrutiny. Now, it is not, as we so often hear, that the times are out of joint, that Christianity is effete, that there is any inherent antagonism between the facts of natural and the facts of spiritual life. It is our own philosophy which needs to be adjusted. We have somehow managed to get life out of focus; we have begun with false initial ideas, and have taken the logical inferences from these for essential truth. We have not perceived that the concern of the reasoning powers is not with moral or spiritual truth, or even with what we call facts, but is, simply, with the logical inferences from any premises whatever accepted by the mind.
All Intercourse of Thought belongs to the Realm of Ideas––In our examination of M. Fouillée's Education from a National Standpoint, we made some attempt to show that the two schemes of philosophy, which have hitherto divided the world, have done so because both are right, and neither is exclusively right. Matter and Spirit, force and idea, work together in the evolution of character. The brain, somehow, makes material record of those ideas which inspire the life. But the brain does not originate those ideas, They are spiritual in their nature, and are spiritually conveyed, whether by means of the printed page, the glance of an eye, the touch of a hand, or in that holy mystery of the inbreathing of the Divine Spirit, of which we cannot tell whence it comes nor whither it goes. Once we recognise that all thoughts that breathe and words that burn are of their nature spiritual, and appeal to the Spiritual within us––that, in fact, all intercourse of thought and feeling belongs to the realm of ideas, spiritually conveyed, the great mysteries of our religion cease to be hedged off from our common experiences. If the friend who sits beside us deals with us, spirit with spirit, by means of quick interchange of ideas, is it hard to believe that just so is the intercourse between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man? The more perfect the sympathy between human souls, the less the need for spoken words. How easy to go on from this to the thought of that most intimate and blissful of all intercourse, the converse between the devout soul and its God.
It is Obvious and Natural that the Father of Spirits should keep Open Access to the Spirits of Men––Nothing can be more obvious, real, natural, necessary, than that the Father of spirits should graciously keep open such intimate access to, and converse with, the spirits of men.
'I would that one would grant me,
O my Lord,
To find Thee only.
* * * * *
That Thou alone wouldst speak to me, and I to Thee,
As a lover talking to his loved one,
A friend at table with his friend,'1
is ever the aspiration of the devout soul. This continuous aspiration towards closest communion is, spoken or unspoken, the prayer of faith. A vain and fond imagination, says the sceptic, begotten of the heart, as when Narcissus became enamoured of his reflected image! What have we to say in reply? Nothing. He who does not perceive that he loves in his brother, not the material form, but the spiritual being of which this form is one expression, how can he understand that the Spirit of God should draw with irresistible drawings the spirit of man, which is indeed the whole man? For, after all, what is the body but the garment which the spirit shapes to its uses?
Easy Tolerance Commends itself to many Minds––To accept the outward seeming, to ignore the spiritual reality, is the easier way. To say that prayer is flung, as a child flings his kite, into the air, only to come down again; to say that men are the creatures of circumstances, with no power to determine their own fate; that this belief and that are equal verities, and that the worship of Christ or of Buddha is a mere affair of climate and conditions; this easy tolerance commends itself to many minds in these days.
Thackeray on the Easy and Sceptical Attitude––'And to what does this easy and sceptical life lead a man? . . . To what, we say, does this scepticism lead? It leads a man to shameful loneliness and selfishness, the more shameful because it is so good-humoured and conscienceless and serene. Conscience! What is conscience? Why accept remorse? What is public or private faith? Mythuses alike enveloped in enormous tradition. If, seeing and acknowledging the lies of the world, Arthur, as see them you can with only too fatal a clearness, you submit to them without any protest further than a laugh; if; plunged yourself in easy sensuality, you allow the whole wretched world to go past groaning by you unmoved; if the fight for the truth is taking place, and all men of honour are on the ground armed on the one side or the other, and you alone are to lie on your balcony and smoke your pipe out of the noise and the danger, you had better have died, or never have been at all, than be such a sensual coward.'2
Man lives by Faith, Godward and Manward–– Canon Beeching's Eleven Sermons on Faith are in refreshing contrast with this sort of modern Sadduceeism. In his view, faith is not mystic, supernatural, an exceptional development; it is the common basis of our dealings with each other. Credit, trust, confidence––the framework of society rests upon these. 'I can not trust you'––what worse thing can we say to one another? The law recognises every man's right to the confidence of his fellowmen, and will have a man accounted innocent until he is proven guilty. Our whole commercial and banking systems, what are they but enormous systems of credit, and only one in a hundred, or one in a thousand, fails to sustain this credit. Family and social life rest upon credit of another sort, let us call it moral credit; and only one in a hundred or one in a thousand forfeit the trust. If one here and there give occasion for jealousy, mistrust, suspicion, why, the exception proves the rule. In his dealings with men man lives by credit; in his dealings with God, man lives by faith. Let us use the same word in both cases and say that man is a spiritual being, and in all his relations, Godward or manward, he lives by faith. How simple and easy a thing faith becomes! How especially easy to the children who trust everybody and offer a confiding hand to any guide. Could we only rid ourselves of the materialistic notion that spiritual things are not to be understood by us and that to believe in God is altogether a different thing from to trust a friend, how easy we should find the questions which we allow to stagger our faith.
Faith is the Simple Trust of Persons in a Person––But the Kingdom of God is coming upon us with power. Let us only break down this foolish barrier of the flesh; let us perceive that our relations with each other are the relations of spirit with spirit, and that spoken and written words are no more than the outward and visible signs of ideas spiritually conveyed, and how inevitable, incessant, all encompassing, becomes the presence of God about us. Faith is, then, the simple trust of person in Person. We realise with fearful joy that He is about our path, and about our bed, and spieth out all our ways––not with the austere eye of a judge, but with the caressing, if critical, glance of a parent. How easy, then, to understand the never-ceasing, ever-inspiring intercourse of the Divine Spirit with the Spirit of man––how, morning by morning, He awakeneth our ear, also; how His inspiration and instruction come in the direction and in the degree, in which the man is capable of receiving them. It is no longer a puzzle to us that the uninstructed savage shows sweet traits of pity and generosity, 'for his God doth instruct him and doth teach him.' We are not confounded when we hear of a righteous man who lifts up his face to Heaven, and says, 'There is no God'; because we know He maketh His sun to shine upon the evil and upon the good, and that just that measure of moral light and leading which a man lays himself open to receive is freely given to him. He may shut his eyes and say, 'There is no sun,' but none the less is he warmed and fed and comforted by the light he denies. This is the faith in which we would bring up our children, this strong, passionate sense of the dear nearness of our God; firm in this conviction, the controversies of the day will interest but not exercise us, for we are on the other side of all doubt once we know Him in whom we have believed.
Faith, a Lore of the Soul which demands Study––Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. We advance in this lore of the soul only in proportion as we make it our study; and all of us who have the bringing-up of children must needs be thankful for every word of help and insight which shall open our eyes to the realities which are spiritually discerned. In this view parents will be glad to read and ponder the Sermons before us. Profound thought is conveyed in language of very great simplicity and purity. The sermons are written from the standpoint of present-day thought, are not at all emotional, nor even hortatory, but they are very strengthening and refreshing. You read and go on your way rejoicing in a strong sense of the reality of things unseen. Perhaps this result is due to Mr. Beeching's presentation of the naturalness of faith.
The Naturalness of Faith––"It is noticeable that while our Lord is always demanding Faith, He offers no definition of the Faith He requires; so that there is a presumption that He meant by Faith just what men ordinarily mean by it. And the presumption is increased when it is remembered that Faith in our Lord began with being faith in human qualities before those qualities were seen to be divine. The faith of the Apostles increased under our Lord's careful training, both in depth and breadth; but between the first attraction that drew (say) Peter from his nets, and the last declaration of his worship upon the shores of Gennesaret, there was no breach of continuity. Indeed, as if to assure us that the Apostle's human faith had not after the Resurrection 'changed to something else,' and become an indefinite theological virtue, we find the word used to express it which, of all the words which labour to express faith, is the one most deeply tinged with human feeling: "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" We must ask, therefore, what, as between man and man, is commonly meant by Faith, and then we can examine whether our explanation fits the several groups of passages in the Gospels."
Faith is no Self-originated Impulse––The above extract from the very thoughtful and instructive preface illustrates what we mean by the naturalness of faith; not that which comes of itself and by itself, but that which is acceptable, fit, and proper to our nature whenever and whencesoever it arrive. 'For,' as Mr. Beeching says, 'as faith is itself no self-originated impulse, but the springing up of a man's heart in response to the encircling pressure of the 'Everlasting Arms,' so its reward is to feel more deeply and ever more deeply their divine support.'
The eleven sermons are upon The Object of Faith, The Worship of Faith, The Righteousness of Faith, The Food of Faith, National Faith, The Eye of Faith, The Ear of Faith, The Activity of Faith, The Gentleness of Faith, The Discipline of Faith, Faith in Man.
The Compassion of Christ––In his examination of 'The Object of Faith,' Mr. Beeching asks: What, then, is He like; what kind of countenance is it that shines out upon us from the Gospel pages? Let us turn to them and see.' And we read the story of how Jesus, being moved with compassion, touched the eyes of the two blind men by the wayside going out from Jericho. How Christ had compassion on other things besides bodily sickness. 'Christ has compassion also on ignorance; on the aimless wandering of men after their own desires, without a Master to follow; on the weariness of spirit that such a life brings about.' Again, 'Christ has compassion not only on sickness and ignorance, but on sin––on the sinner who repents.' And we read the story of the woman whose sins which were many, were forgiven, for she loved much. Again we see the countenance of Christ as it is turned upon that young man of whom it is said, 'Then Jesus, looking upon him, loved him.' 'Compassion then, for suffering and ignorance, and sin that repents, love for enthusiasm, this we have seen in the face of Christ.' One more divine regard we are invited to contemplate; how the Lord turned and looked upon Peter. 'Can you imagine with what a face our Lord looked upon Peter, who had thrice denied Him, after confidently affirming that he would go with Him to death? Would that that face would shine upon us with whatever reproach when we in word or deed deny Him, that so we too may remember and weep.' How the heart rises to such teaching as this––the simple presentation of Christ as He walked among men. Well did our Lord say, 'I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.' The pity of it is that He, the altogether lovely, is so seldom lifted up to our adoring gaze. Perhaps, when our teachers invite us to behold the face of Christ, we shall learn the full interpretation of that profound word. He will draw all men, because it is not possible for any human soul to resist the divine loveliness once it is fairly and fully presented to his vision.
The Worship of Faith––The sermon on the 'Worship of Faith' sets forth that 'To worship Christ is to bow down with love and wonder and thankfulness, before the most perfect goodness that the world has ever seen, and to believe that that goodness was the express image of God the Father.' All aims and all ideals that are not the aims and ideals of Christ, are distinctly opposed to such worship, and the man who entertains these alien ideals may not call himself a Christian. After examining that attitude of the spirit towards Christ which belongs to the worship of faith, the rest of the sermon is very practical. 'Work is Worship,' is the keynote: one longs that a writer who knows so well how to touch the secret springs had taken this opportunity to move us to that 'heart's adoration,' which is dearer to God; but, indeed, the whole volume has this tendency. It is well to be reminded that 'the thorough and willing performance of any duty, however humble or however exalted, is like the offering of incense to Christ, well-pleasing and acceptable.'
The sermon on the 'Righteousness of Faith' is extremely important and instructive. The writer dwells on the 'deplorable cant' with which we pronounce ourselves 'miserable sinners,' combining the 'sentiments of the Pharisees in the parable with the expressions of the publican.'
Righteousness is a certain Disposition of the Spirit of Man to the Spirit of God––"Christ's language about man's sinfulness is altogether free from vagueness and hyperbole; when He blames He blames for definite faults which we can appreciate, and He is so far from declaring that men can do no good thing, that He assumes always that man in his proper state of dependence upon God has the power to do righteousness. 'Whosoever shall do the will of My Father, which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.' But the question remains, How, considering our actual shortcomings, can any of us be spoken of by Christ as righteous here and now? This is the question in answer to which St Paul wrote two of his greatest Epistles. His answer was, that according to Christ, a man is accounted righteous, not from a consideration of his works, but from a consideration of his faith in God. Human righteousness is not a verdict upon the summing up of a life, but it is reckoned to a man at any moment from a certain disposition of his spirit to the Spirit of God; a disposition of trust, love, reverence, the disposition of a dutiful son to a good father . . . Righteousness, in the only sense in which it is possible for men, means believing and trusting God."
The Teaching of these Sermons should be Helpful to Parents––I have not space to take up in detail all the teaching of this inspiring little volume; but I commend it to parents. Who, as they, have need to nourish the spiritual life in themselves? Who, as they, have need to examine themselves as to with how firm a grasp they hold the mysteries of our faith? Who, as they, need to have their ideas as to the supreme relationship so clear that they can be translated into baby speech? Besides, we have seen that it is the duty of the educator to put the first thing foremost, and all things in sequence; only one thing is needful––that we 'have faith in God'; let us deliver our thoughts from vagueness and our ways from variableness, if we would help the children towards this higher life. To this end we gladly welcome teaching which is rather nourishing than stimulating, and which should afford real help towards 'sober walking in pure Gospel ways.'