RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. BY THE REV. PRI CIPAL JAY E, ST. DAVID's COLLEGE, LAMPETER.

'< Clonds and darkness are round about Him ; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His seat" — Ps. xcvii. 2. The Church of Christ, we all know, claims to be in possession of the Gospel — of that good news from the far country of the unseen and spiritual world which to perplexed and travel-stained humanity should be " as cold water to the thirsty soul." Such is the claim ; but is the claim any longey allowable? Does the heart of man — even of religious and church-going man — any longer yield it that response and acknowledgment which for long centuries it has undoubtedly possessed ? Are there no symptoms among us of a deep-seated, conscientious, and reluctant conviction that the so-called glad tidings of Christ — at least in the shape in which it is too often presented to our minds and feelings — deserves rather to be termed the death-knell of the best hopes of and for the human race both in this world and — if there be one — ^in the world to come ? It would be idle, brethren, to deny that such convictions are abroad and in the air. It would be dishonest

Digitized by VjOOQIC

RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. 301 to refuse to admit that Christian teachers have sometimes gone far towards the provocation and justification of such

apparently antichristian ideas. Treatment of a different kind is surely required, and I shall therefore attempt this morning, in the first place, to exhibit and trace to one of their chief sources the doubts and misgivings to which I have alluded ; and, next, to show that the Bible and the Church of Christ supply, not indeed a complete solution of those difficulties, but some clear and steady rays of light upon their darker aspects, and sufficient encouragement to sustain the heart and mind of man through the work of life and in contemplation of what lies beyond the grave and behind the veil. ow these misgivings — these antipathies, as they too often unhappily become — are not the outcome of any collision between science and religion. They are not, primarily at least, intellectual; they are moral and syn^athetic; springing largely from that better self to which our Lord himself appealed as to an authority whose opinion is of weight and value. They are the most dangerous and radical of all religious difficulties, because they touch what Bishop Butler-^ — in a sentence which should never be forgotten — has told us is " the foundation of religion " — the character of God. Yes, brethren, if we can bring ourselves frankly and steadily to face the facts which lie abundantly within our reach — if we will but try to discern the convictions and feelings which, consciously or imconsciously, are working in the hearts not only of those who are openly alienated from religion, but of some whom we should rank high for their virtues and graces — ^we shall assuredly be constrained to confess.

Digitized by VjOOQIC

202 RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. in language which is reverent just because it is true,

that the character of God is at stake among us. There is many a man, many a religious man, who, if he were to analyse and reveal the saddest and deepest secrets of his mind, would have to acknowledge that it would be an unspeakable relief and comfort to him if he could feel justified in believing that God — the God of the Gospel — were as just, merciful, trustworthy, in short, as good a Being as the best of his human friends and acquaintances. And he has been brought to this intensely painful and paralysing state of mind partly by brooding over the mysterious inequalities, temptations, sorrows, and even apparent cruelties of which the world is full, and partly by his own or some one else's misreadings of the words of Christ and His Apostles. The practical result is that the so-called Gospel seems, in spite and in contradiction of St. Paul's statement, to have the promise neither of the life which now is nor of that which is to come. As regards the present life, it appears to look coldly, if not actually to frown upon, some of the most reasonable and ennobling hopes and aims of humanity. It requires its followers to take their amusements and recreations but sadly and half-heartedly. Art, poetry, science, statesmanship, the cultivation of the varied and marvellous tastes and faculties with which man has been endowed, — these it seems to tolerate rather than heartily to recognise and hallow. It has no genuine and generous love of truth. It really cares for none of these things. Human life in all its wondrous height and length and breadth and depth, and the world which the Creator made and ordained as the abode of human life —

Digitized by VjOOQIC

RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. 203

these do not rouse its enthusiasm. The soul and the world to come claim all its sympathy, attention, and allegiance. And yet what is the account it has to offer of the soul's destiny and of the world to come ? If it can bestow but scanty thought and labour in ameliorating the present, surely it has good news to tell about the future ? Alas ! its gospel of the future, is a tale of lamentations and mourning ajid woe. The majority, perhaps the large majority, of mankind — of God's own creatures and children — ^have little to enjoy here, and have the worst to dread hereafter ! The boasted glad tidings becomes par excellence the sad tidings — it was reserved, it would seem, for the religion of Christ to paint the destiny of the human race in colours compared with which the gloomiest forebodings of Jew, Turk, Heathen or Agnostic were cheerful and consoling ! The victory of the Saviour seems after all to have been the victory of Satan. Do not suppose, brethren, that what has been said is but the inflated and almost profane exaggeration of an excited and unwholesome rhetoric. It is, I venture to maintain, a faithful description of the Gospel 7U>t in itself, but as it appears and is presented to the minds of not a few in England and elsewhere. We are accustomed to lament the indifiference and irreligion of what are called the working classes. Their alienation from religion, in so far as it exists, is undoubtedly due to a variety of causes. But surely one leading cause of the evil is to be found in the fact that some of the best and most generous instincts of their nature have been exasperated

Digitized by VjOOQIC

204 RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. and oflfended by that caricature of Christ's religion which is so wildly, though unintentionally, prevalent They have learnt to see — for they are shrewd and intelligent enough to look deeper than the surface — ^in the Christian's God a Being who as an earthly monarch would not be tolerated for a twelvemonth, and in the Christian's Gk)spel a iset of doctrines which make life unhappy and unprogressive, and death hopeless and even hideous. If an intelligent artisan,. who has followed the supposed Christian doctrines to their results, hears another assert that he finds joy and peace in believing them, he is tempted to choose between two conclusions — ^the speaker is either blissfully ignorant of the true nature of his creed, or he is little better than a selfish and hardhearted wretch. And what is true of the working classes is hardly less true of those who are employed in the various forms of brain-work, though in the latter case the results may be more skilfully disguised. When educated men meet together and conversation turns upon those great topics which lie very close to every thinking person's heart, it is often found that scepticism has had its most powerful and insidious ally — ^sometimes its original cause — in what have been accepted as the orthodox beliefs with regard to the destiny of the human race and the attributes of God. Intellectual difficulties could have been easily surmounted or sustained, had not far more serious Toorcd difficulties been thrown into the scale, rendering belief a matter not merely of difficulty but of repulsion. All this being so, brethren, — and indeed it is so — are we not bound to look the facts courageously in the face,

Digitized by VjOOQIC

RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. 205 and to consider whether we cannot at least in some d^ee lighten the heavy load of those whose unbelief and seeming irreverence may after all imply a deeper, truer, and more acceptable loyalty to God and God's creatures than the unruffled, perhaps the indolent, orthodoxy of those whose faith has never been subjected to the strain of a perplexed mind and a wounded heart ? The Bible certainly does not discountenance a freedom of inquiry and expostulation which sometimes even seems to border upon profanity and rebellion. Turn to the Psalms and the Prophets, not in one but in many places, and you will find God's saints besieging Him with the language of remonstrance and complaint. Listen to Abraham pleading for the doomed cities, Moses for guilty Israel, Habakkuk against and then on behalf of that same Israel Above all, listen to Job maintaining his own righteousness against the pious-seeming arguments of his well-intentioned friends, and then hear the Almighty, though He confounds and rebukes, still justifying and commending the daring freethinker — *' And it was so, that after the Lord had spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy three friends ; for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath " (xlii. 7). Surely among the many wonders of that peerless book, the Bible, few are more remarkable than the fact that it should include not only isolated passages of prose and poetry, biU a whole book in which man is represented as pleading and actually expostulating with his Maker. And thus new light is cast for us upon the nature of

Digitized by VjOOQIC

2o6 RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. that exquisitely beautiful and utterly ennobling grace of Reverence — reverence, without which life would be poor indeed, — for who is more pitiable than the man who can find nothing to revere in heaven above or in the earth and the inhabitants of the earth around him ! But reverence cannot thrive or even exist unless it is based upon and springs from truth and sincerity ; and therefore the Book which has been the chief source of this virtue, does not shrink from recording those soulstorms, those impassioned and almost audacious appeals of man to God, which, being the voices of truth and sincerity, are also the safeguards of reverence. In our own day, brethren, there is — as I have tried to show — a stem and imperative demand not indeed for a vindication of God's ways — we cannot fully vindicate where we know so little and so imperfectly — but at least for the unsparing removal of those quasi-religious accretions, caricatures, and misunderstandings which have made the work of vindication so much more difi&cult than it need have been, and for pointed and persistent reference to those stars of light and hope and encouragement, which may be seen shilling clearly and steadily forth from among the clouds and darkness which at present are round about the throne of God. To two of these stars I would direct your mental gaze this morning, just reminding you that as it is impossible within the limits of a single sermon to notice all the causes of unbelief — to show how social discontent, intellectual perplexity, and, not least, the sinfulness of our own hearts and lives are operating, — so it is impossible to notice more than a very few of those

Digitized by VjOOQIC

RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES, 207 illuminating, invigorating, and consoling truths which are the antidotes and correctives of unbelief. And as the first of these stars of divine light and leading the true Scriptural conception of salvation and redemption shines forth. The Bible and the Church know little of a mere salvation of the soul, as the phrase is commonly employed and understood. Popular religionism is full of the idea ; it is its all in all — the centre around which its exhortations and devotions and endeavours are apt monotonously to move. But in the Bible, though the phrase and the idea may undoubtedly be found, they constitute but a part of a large and comprehensible whole, and when they are referred to their proper position they assume a new and a nobler shape. If we would rightly understand the Scriptural idea of salvation we must approach it — as the fathers of the Church approached it — from the points of view of the creation of man and the incarnation of Christ. God, we are told — in language the simplicity and sublimity of which no philosophy or science has ever been able to rival — God created man in His own image. These faculties, tastes, instincts, aspirations of ours — the gifts of wit and humour, of imitation, of imagination, of an enterprising and adventurous spirit, the gifts of hand and foot and voice and eye as well as of heart and soul and brain, — all these, if Scripture may be trusted, came idtimately and originally (we know not how) from the Divine Creator, and are the rich endowment which His love and power bestowed upon His children. But man *' fell" He fell — again we know not exactly

how, but the marks of imperfection, even of degradation.

Digitized by VjOOQIC

2o8 RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. are and long have been painfully and terribly manifest. o thoughtful and candid mind can deny that, from whatever cause, human nature, with all its splendid faculties and possibilities, was and is sadly out of joint — ^very far gone from ideal and yeamed-for perfection. At length, in the fulness of time, after a masterly because divine series of preparations, the Incarnation took place. The Word, the eternal Son of God, was made flesh and dwelt among us. He became very man, the Second Adam, the new, complete, and, after suffering, triumphant Head of the human family. He came not merely to save the souls of men, but to save — that is to redeem, restore, regenerate, heal, purify, develop — every part and parcel of human nature, body, soul, mind, and spirit. The Bible — Old as well as ew Testament — is full of language which bears testimony to and illustrates this cardinal truth; and we may be sure, from experience as well as from reason, that as time goes on such language will be foimd of richer instruction and deeper significance. This at least was Bishop Butler's opinion. " It is not at all incredible," he writes in his Analogy, " that a book which has been so long in the possession of mankind, should contain many truths as yet undiscovered. For all the same phenomena, and the same faculties of investigation, from which such great discoveries in natural knowledge have been made in the present and last age, were equally in the possession of mankind several thousand years before. And possibly it might be intended that events, as they come to pass, should open and ascertain the meaning of several parts

of Scripture."

Digitized by VjOOQIC

RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. 209 Let me remind you, brethren, of a few of these pregnant words and passages which illustrate what has been said as to the scope of Christ's " salvation," and which harmonise so significantly with the revelations of modern science as regards the intimate connection between body and mind, between the spiritual and the material. In the priginal language of the ew Testament no fine-drawn distinction is made between the healing of the body and the healing of the soul. The same word, with its cognate terms, does duty for either operation. Christ saved or healed the poor victim of a physical disease just as He saved or healed the victim of a spiritual disease. The same idea is prominently brought out in both the language and the character of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Hence the Church can say — ^in words which are none the less wonderful because they are familiar — " The body, the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life." Think again of what is implied in what St. Luke records about the risen body of our Lord. " Why," said Jesus to His' terrified and affrighted disciples, "why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts ? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; handle Me and see ; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see Me have." Again the hope of St. Paul is for the redemption of the body, and, thinking of his children in the faith, he prays that their whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of Christ. The Christian's body, he teaches, is a temple of the Holy Ghost ; and in that

great passage in 4th Ephesians, where he is dilating on

Digitized by VjOOQIC

2IO RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. the gifts which the triumphant and ascended Lord procured for His Church, he tells us that " He gave some as apostles ... till we all come . . . unto a perfect man" This, brethren, is the grand object and ambition of Christ and of His ministers, lay as well as clerical, — the restoration, the purification, the development, the perfection of manhood in its entirety — a work to be begun here on earth and carried forward in the power of Christ's mighty and ever-present Spirit with all vigour and variety and good courage (for do we not pray, " Thy kingdom come" ?), but to be consummated in Grod's immediate presence hereafter. And remembering all this, is it not the high privilege of the Christian to believe in his heart and to chant forth with his lips, as none else can believe and express, that noble and inspiring article of the world's unformulated creed, / believe in Man ! To one more star in the constellation of hope and encouragement I will briefly call your attention. With calm and steady effulgence it caats light upon the mystery which hangs over the destiny of the human race — especially of the darkly-sinning, darkly-suffering tnultitudes in Christendom and heathendom, about whom the heart of every true Christian must be so sorely perplexed. God, my brethren, if He is anything at all, is a j'ttst God — ^a God of fair-play, " Clouds and darkness are round about Him, but righteousness and judgment are the

habitation of His seat." ature and the course of the world would not alone teach us — at least not teach us distinctly — this indispensable truth. They can tell us

Digitized by VjOOQIC

RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. 211 of the beginnings of a just and righteous government of the world. Their evidence, on the whole, is upon this side. But they have something considerable to say against as well as for. We must go to Holy Scripture if we would hear the doctrine proclaimed in clear and unfaltering accents. We must listen to the Father of the Faithful as he makes his sublime appeal to the justice of the Most High — " Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right ? " We must turn to the Psalms as again and again they chant forth the same glorious theme — ''Let the floods clap their hands, and let the hills be joyful together before the Lord ; for He is come to judge the earth. With righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with equity." There are passages, I know, which, read too literally and without recollection of the conditions and circumstances under which they were spoken or written, might seem to teach a different lesson. But in the overwhelming majority of instances every book, every page of both Testaments, sets its seal to the same solemn and yet consoling thought Bevelation thus stamps with its emphatic approval the best instincts and anticipations of the heart and conscience of man. You will notice, brethren, that I have taken my stand upon what may be called the sterner side of the character and attributes of God. I have left in reserve those cognate truths that " God is love," that " His mercy

endureth for ever " and " is over all His works," that He is our Father and our Friend. I have contented myself with a minimum. I have

Digitized by VjOOQIC

212 RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. taken one of God's sternest attributes, and yet even this is found to be full of peace and encouragement. There are some, I know, upon whose ears the mention of God's justice will fall with a chill and discouraging sound. They are conscious that they and their feUows are sinful. They know that God hates and that His laws must punish sin. To say then that God is just is in their eyes to describe Him — ^if I may venture upon the expression — as wearing an eternal hlack-cap. Their idea of justice is practically derived from the prison and the police-court. But the justice, the righteous judgment of Scripture and of man's best reason, is something wider, profounder, more exquisitely perfect than this. It implies that the destinies of the human race and of every single individual are in the hands of One who knows all, who will in the long run and ultimately deal with every one of His creatures in accordance with the dictates of flawless equity and fair-play. His punishments and His rewards will alike be meted out in the scales of unerring and unimpeachable Justice ; they will be found means towards the best and most righteous of ends. Our human judgments and awards are, we know, too often but rough-hewn and imperfect : though even we, in fairness let it be said, are striving constantly and not unsuccessfully to rectify these rudenesses and shortcomings. Shall man be more just than His Maker? Shall the human conscience be sensitively eager for equity, and

shall God be callous and unfair ? ay rather, let us be sure that as the Creator at the beginning beheld His own handiwork and pronounced it " very good," so when.

Digitized by VjOOQIC

RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES. 213 in the clear light of the world beyond the grave, the conscience and reason and heart of man shall be able really to appreciate and understand the verdicts which issue and have issued from the Great White Throne, they will in deepest awe and acquiescence and admiration pronounce them "Very Good."

1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books

2. ALL WRITI GS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful