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— " And the ransomed of Jehovah shall return and come with singing into Zion." — Isa. 51:11. RETUR ? Why not go forward? Is not evolution the sounding watchword? Is not progress the hope of the centuries and the hours? Why go back? "Forward, forward, let us range Let the great world spin forever down the ringing grooves of Change.' ' Do not "new occasions teach new duties?" Does not time make ancient good uncouth? Then why return? ow granting that the law of development is sovereign and that the urge of progress should be felt by all it yet remains true that ofttimes development moves over the track of the yesterdays and that we but go forward by going back. Let us recognize at the outset that progress is the label of the tentative, the imperfect, the half truth. Progress is only in the tones of the experimental. To say that we must always go on is to say that there is no definite goal for life or endeavor. Evolution is a road but surely it must lead somewhere. There is no progress in truth. Her mansions rest on fixed foundations. Truth is never on a pilgrimage. When we touch truth we touch the moveless. Mathematical truths know no change. The axiom: The straight line is the shortest distance between two points, is incapable of revision. Physical truths wear ever the same faces. either is there place for progress in the realms of moral and spiritual. The Ten Commandments will not budge. Sinai has granite bases. When once the truth of anything is glimpsed then progress has come to the end of her ways. For the truth
154 THE EW LIVI G PULPIT abides in perfect fixity. Progress then can only obtain in an ever deepening loyalty to the thing disclosed. Progress, I have said, is the badge of the imperfect. When once we have come to do anything as it should be done there is no further advance. There is a right way, the best way, to do anything and once having found that way departures are ever declensions. This boasted progress has, after all, rather a short tether, for it can never adventure into the kingdoms of truth or perfection. And neither can it enter the universe of principle. The great ultimates have closed doors. Take the oughts — can there be progress here? Right, wrong — are not these clear outside the pale of progress? You cannot alter right; you cannot put a saint's face on the dead wrong. Right, wrong — they are further beyond the reach of change than the inaccessible stars. The call then to forward ranging is the thin cry only to adventures in the dark. They are worthwhile adventures to be sure and with the inspiration of the imperative, but theirs is no call from the deeps. But if anywhere along the track of the years there has ever been revealed the perfect, the true, the right then there is a call from the skies to return to that place of holy unveiling. And this is our stout contention — that this revelation has been given. Sinai has been revealed, the Mount of the Beatitudes has been revealed ; the eternal principles of life and conduct have been revealed. We should go back to their rapt contemplation.
Furthermore there is justification in a "return" if we have lost anything on the way. If you lose, no matter what, precious stones or priceless spectacles, the only way to find them is to go back to the place where they were lost. ow the world has lost something. Emerson somewhere sings, "One accent of the Holy Ghost The heedless world has never lost. " but it is a shallow song. For the world has been ever losing things. It has lost "arts." Read the fascinating lecture of
GEORGE HAMILTO COMBS 155 Wendell Phillips on the "Lost Arts" to discover the lengths of the misfortune. It has lost "chords." It has lost truths. It has lost life. Let it go back then and find what it has lost. And so it will return in search of purity. The man has lost his whiteness of soul. He has gained many things, many prizes — wealth, place, splendid accomplishments — but he has lost the clearness of his baby eyes. "Backward, roll backward, O Time in your flight, Make me a child again, just for tonight ! ' ' Why? Chiefly, I think, because of the recognition that along with our many gains there is that tragical loss of the once unbrushed bloom of the soul and we want it back. As with the individual so with institutions, purity is in the great beginnings. We glory in our democracy and we do well to glory in it, but democracy is as the great Mississippi, broad, wide-sweeping as it nears the gulf, but following with the stains of its many wandering miles and pure only when it issues as crystal stream from the cleft mountain side.
And in like case is Christianity. Like the mountains brook, pure in its beginning, yet contaminated by the thousand admixtures in its nineteen-century flow. To find a pure Christianity we must go back. It will return in search of idealism. Again we may take a lesson from the State. The great American idealists are found in our beginning days. In these hundred years of republican experimentation we have hit upon many practical ways of doing things, but we have lost our dreams. What dreams the fathers had ! What dreams of equality, of a new political renaissance, of a new-found asylum for all the down-trodden ones of earth, of a democracy that should be bread and milk and mother arms to all the world ! And the dreamers and the dreams are dead ! Well do we, therefore, to evoke the spirits of the patriots who sleep to rouse us to a return to the beautiful ideals that thralled their burning hearts. And it is so with the Church. We have machinery in plenty — God, how much machinery we have — and the din of it is
156 THE EW LIVI G PULPIT ever in our ears, but the dear dreams have gone. Let us return. Then, too, we have lost our faith. There is no use to deny it, we have. The forms of faith are with us, but the spirit has fled. We retain the labels, the phrases, the catchwords, but men and women, how many of us in our hearts really, deeply believe the things we say? I do not mean that we disbelieve; I only mean that we have not summoned our energies to the creation of a heroic faith. Do you really believe the words the preacher read this morning from God's book? Do you really believe that the prayer went anywhere ? Do you really believe the words he is speaking now?
Ah, you say you believe; you say you would die for your religion, but do you? would you? Mayhap I have spoken too harshly, too sweepingly, yet — and yet, I tremble lest we have all lost our faith. Let us go back. Let us recreate the whole story of the Blessed Life among men. Let us leap the gulf of all these dividing years and have one fresh glimpse of the face of our Lord. Let us seek from him the thing we crave, crying chokingly, "I believe, help thou mine unbelief." With faith we have also lost our passion. Even though we may have a kind of faith it is not a molten faith. There is no flame-scorch about it. We are not consumed. At best our faith is but a smileless wave when it should be a love flood. We are swept by no rocking gales of passion. We do not shout any more. We do not cry any more. Everywhere there is the placidity of perfect restraint. We preachers never "break down" in the pulpit. We are too well mannered for that. We are afraid that we shall be dubbed "enthusiasts" and we peddle out our little manicured essays when we should be seizing trumpets and blowing battles into men. What a fall from the burning mountains of the Apostolic Church ! What a divine passion swayed those first disciples. How they loved! How they ministered! To catch the smothering significance of the change do but call to mind the recent episode in the life of ewell Dwight Hillis. I speak not his condemnation for he has only confessed in the whole light of publicity the soul declensions that mark us all.
GEORGE HAMILTO COMBS 157 But there it is, the humiliating confession that he has loved gold more than God and has had primary regard to his own ease and reputation when he should have flamed with the passion of a Christlike ministry. A Christian? Yes, but what worlds separate between him and the Tentmaker who movingly cries, ' ' I count all things but as refuse that I may win Him ! ' ' What a far cry to that triumphing hymn: "Earth's palaces, scepters and crowns,
Their pride with disdain I survey, Their pomps are but shadows and sounds And pass in a moment away. The crown that my Savior bestows Yon permanent sun shall outshine; My joy everlastingly flows — My God, my Eedeemer, is mine." it is time to return. ow this is the blessed heartening word: The Great Return is under way. The signs of it are everywhere. Through the break-down of materialistic civilizations, through the disclosures of the insufficiency of purely cultured agencies as the instruments of moral reform, through the disillusionings of success, through the failure of money to secure happiness, through the unsatisfyingness of a denatured religion, through the steady thinking of a true science and a true criticism, through the great awakenings of a world war there is being brought about the Great Return to Faith. ot all have yet seen it clearly but evidences are everywhere that the world is now passing through its greatest spiritual experience and is now passionately returning to a robust faith. In so far as we have not experienced this quickening we reveal that we are only the tiny inlets that have not felt the surge of the great incoming tides. Flippancy is now the sure mark of the provincial; spiritual dilettanteism the sign of the untraveled mind. The present day prophets of dissent are truly the ' ' minor ' ' prophets and only in the popular American magazines are there yet to be heard the echoes of a disappearing unfaith. The ransomed of the Lord are returning — to God. If the
158 THE EW LIVI G PULPIT Frenchman who a few decades ago declared, "Science has taken God to the very edge of the universe and politely bowed him out," could return to earth today he would not feel at home
even in his native land, for France today believes in God. If the German savant who boastfully said, " either the microscope nor the telescope has revealed God, and therefore he must be sought only in the dreams of his creator, man, ' ' could revisit the Fatherland today he would be ill at ease, for all over the German Empire today is heard the name of God. The change of attitude is most distinctly seen in the bold personalizations in all references to the Deity. Men no longer speak with Omar of the "Hand that writes;" with Spencer, "Of an infinite and eternal energy from which all things proceed;" with Arnold, "Of a power not ourselves that makes for righteousness;" nor even with Wordsworth of "A motion and a spirit that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thoughts And rolls through all things," but— of God. Gone are the "Fates," the "Its," the "Energies," the "Tendencies," and once more has come back to earth the old-time affirmation, "I believe in God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth." God! A God who cares, a God who can help. ' ' Our God, our help, in ages past Our hope for years to come, A shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home. ,, ot that men are comprehending God; not that they have clear thoughts about him and his ways. It is something higher than that. The world is accepting God today precisely because it cannot understand him. It believes in his ways because they are not man's ways. ' ' God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform ; He plants his footsteps on the sea, He rides upon the storm."
GEORGE HAMILTO COMBS 159 But whether upon land or sea, in calm or in storm, in the light or in the dark, still and ever — God. There is the return to the Bible when Protestantism broke with Rome, mistakenly it felt that it must have a substitute for Roman infallibility, Roman authority, and so instead of Pope there was substituted a Book — a book letter-perfect because every letter was handed down from above, and miraculously preserved from slightest error — a Book with no earth mold on it whatsoever and as clean divorced from human instrumentalities as if angels had handed it down from the skies — a Book therefore that clothed with the sovereignty of infallibility should speak to all the generations. From this mechanical and extreme view there was easy swing to the other dangerous extreme, and from bibliolatry to rationalistic criticism the pendulum rebounded. And so the truth was being crucified between two thieves. For rationalistic criticism was as great a thief as bibliolatry. At its worst it stripped the Bible of all sovereignties. It degraded it into a mere bit of literature, made short shrift of the supernatural, blotted out all angel faces, talked about a "progressive revelation," with such emphasis upon the progressive that it forgot there was also a revelation, and at the end of its skillful vivisection embalmed the remains and laid them away with the other so-called "Sacred Books" of the race. At its best it was never positively religious. I make bold to say that criticism of any kind can never be worshipful. For criticism means detachment, aloofness. When the lover can alalyze his lady's face and into the study of its miracle-beauty can bring full play all his critical faculties, he has ceased to be a lover. When you can listen to that great organ, and escaping the least of its golden wizardry, concern yourself chiefly with the how and why of tone productions, you have ceased to worship at the shrine of music. When the other day a friend gave me a kodak picture of my mother, I couldn't think even for a moment of the mechanics of photography — it was my mother's face! And in such plight was the critic. And in
such plight was the Bible. But a mighty change has come within these last few years. Bibliolatry, worship of the book
160 THE EW LIVI G PULPIT is clean discredited. And, blessed be God, a rationalistic criticism is in like disrepute. In Germany, its motherland, and in England, its daughterland, this swelling Caesar is laid quite low, and none is left so poor as to do it reverence. Only in our own country do we yet hear its echoes, and it is reserved for a few American professors and preachers to tog themselves out with these theological cast-offs. There should be no censure of these gentlemen, no bitter cry of "heresy;" rather only pity for the unfortunate who must wear the clothes that bade goodbye to the looms a decade ago and that were first worn by another. Meanwhile the world is going back to the Book. It must go back. It was said at the outset that there is no progress in the values of Truth, of Perfection, of the great ultimates, and if the Bible reveals the truth, as it does, — the truth about human responsibility, privilege, duty, immortality, God and the heaven above; if the Bible reveals perfection, as it does, — a perfect standard of conduct, a perfect life, a perfect remedial force; if the Bible voices the ultimates, as it does — God having in times past spoken unto the fathers by the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners; having spoken unto us by his Son, whose words need no revision, but are the grand amen of the revelation of heaven, then there can be no advance beyond this Book; then the quest of the ages is ended; then those who have been seeking "the pearl of great price" may cry "Eureka, Eureka — I have found it!" ' ' Holy Bible ! book divine ! Precious treasure! thou art mine." There is a return to the Supernatural Christ.
The attack on the miraculous Christ was not a drive at the center, the life, but at the ends, the virgin birth and the physical resurrection. Deny a miraculous beginning, deny a miraculous close, and it as surely follows as the night the day, that there will be a denial of all that lies between. Thus it inevitably developed. Bowl one miracle over and soon none will be left. Let there be no harsh words here. Let it be granted
GEORGE HAMILTO COMBS 161 for argument's sake that these critics sought only to smooth the path of faith. It was a high aim, but it was a sorry performance. Strengthen faith by the denial of the virgin birth and the acceptance of the inevitable corollary that Jesus was but the natural son of Joseph and Mary ! Build up faith by the denial of the resurrection and the affirmation that somewhere beneath the Syrian sky there rots the body of the present king ! What tragical blundering in thinking! Even if the miraculous life were brushed aside, there remains the yet more difficult task of the explanation of the miraculous effect. Explain the thirtythree years in the light of a rationalistic philosophy and then try the explanation of nineteen hundred miraculous years. Accept, if you will, the easy explanation that Jesus was of purely human birth, lived a purely human life, died a purely human death, and then answer the tremendous question, how could such a life have so profoundly influenced the age in which he lived and all the ages that have followed? How did this scepterless teacher come to the lordship over all? This and a thousand unuttered things are the inspirations of the great return. It is a return not to a saintly teacher but to a divine Lord. It is a return not only to a king but to a Savior. It is a return not only to the preacher on the green mountain sides but to him who could say "Thy sins be forgiven thee," and "if any man believeth in me, he shall never die." Listen to the world song: 1 ' To Him who loved the sons of men
And washed us in His blood, To royal honors raised our heads, And made us priests of God. ' ' To Him let every tongue be praise, And every heart be love ; All grateful honors paid on earth, And nobler songs above. ' > The world is also returning to the consciousness of Angelic Presence. In a recent editorial in the British Weekly — a paper that has the same place in England that The Outlook, say, has
162 THE EW LIVI G PULPIT in America — there is stoutest contention that the church has gone back to a recognition that we are surrounded by Spirit Presences. The angels have come back to earth. How hard to accept this, and yet, how much harder to reject it. Granted that man is a spirit, why should he claim to be the only spirit. It is as if the clod should say "I am the world of matter. I am matter and there is nought else besides. There are no granite bases for the mountains, there are not white chalk cliffs of Dover. There are no pearls in the deep mines, there are no seas that sweep over the world. Matter is clod ; clod is matter; there is nothing else beside." It is as if the grasses were to say "We are of the vegetable kingdom — grasses are living things; living things are grasses. How foolish to talk of flowers and ferns and wheat and swaying trees. Besides our greening carpet there is nought else. ' ' It is as if the fox should say, "I am of the animal kingdom, I am the animal kingdom. How foolish to talk of leopard and lion, of antelope and horse and of that mythical creature, man!" Oh, nothing is so illogical as logic, nothing so unreasonable as reason, no dark so great as the light.
The world wanted to get rid of mystery — Angels, Seraphim, Cherubim, spirits of just men made perfect, these moved all in that shadowy kingdom, and we thought we could blow them like soap bubbles away. But we are going back. Rationalism banished all spirit forces, a deeper rationalism is bringing them back. Rationalism stripped bare the skies, a deeper rationalism is repopulating the earth and the heavens and we are being ringed round with spirit presences. And finally there is a return to prayer. There was prayer in the great beginnings. The early Christians were men of prayer. "Behold he prayeth" — could be said of any follower of the azarene in the early morn. Then came the blight of rationalism. Why pray? Prayerlines run out into the dark of the incomprehensible ; therefore, pray no longer.
GEOBGE HAMILTO COMBS 163 "O where are kings and emperors now Their glories wax and wane, But, Lord, thy church is praying yet A thousand years the same." But the church was not praying. It had well-nigh ceased to pray. Only the other day I heard a most worthy preacher say "We are to have a departure in our church in the nature of our midweek meeting. Instead of usual prayer service we are to have lectures on vital themes — something worthwhile." Oh, did he fully comprehend what he said? Is not prayer worthwhile ? This note is not accordant with the spirit of the hour. For, unbelievable as it is, the call of prayer has gone up from every land and the world is upon its knees. All men are at
prayer — Kaiser and king and Czar and peasant. Prayer is everywhere — in courts and senates, and chapels and churches and mansions and the hovels of the poor. Hush ! the world is praying. It is a prayer in the dark; it is a prayer in ignorance ; it is a prayer inwrought with many foolish notions — but it is a prayer. The most real thing in this world today is prayer. It is a prayer for guidance, for comfort, for help. ' ' God help me to be a clean man." "God help me to be a good mother." "God bring my loved ones back from the war." "God be merciful to me, a sinner." The petitions are as varied as human needs, but from the simple ' * ow I lay me down to sleep ' ' of the little child to the intercessory prayer for nations, it is the utterance of a great trust. Sometimes it is the prayer of reproach. "0 God, why did you smite me with this illness?" "Why did you take away my beloved husband ?" " Why did you let my baby die V ' " Why did you rob me of my sons on the battlefield?" But still it is prayer and through want and word, aches of body and soul, and poverty and danger and fire and flood and blood and tears the world is being bound together in prayer. It is well. ''Prayer is the simplest form of speech That human lips can try; Prayer the sublimest strains that reach The Majesty on high.
164 THE EW LIVI G PULPIT "Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, The Christian's native air; His watchword at the gate of death He enters heaven with prayer." And so the world, I say, is going back. Shall we go with it ?
"Oh," you say, "I only would that I might!" But though I might return to God, to Faith, to the Bible, to the supernatural Christ, to prayer, one thing I may never get back — my whiteness of soul!" But you may. Thank God there is wide provision for your cleansing. ot all the waters of all the seas can cleanse the soul of a Lady Macbeth or of you, but there is that which may whiten and cleanse. Through Jesus Christ our Lord is full and free forgiveness of sins. The past can be wiped out. "The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day, And there may I, as vile as he, Wash all ray sins away." Free, forgiven, sin stains all washed away — that we may all be if only we shall return to God. Let us go back ! Let us go back !
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