PREACHING AND PAGANISM
ALBERT PARKER FITCH
PROFESSOR OF THE HISTORY OF RELIGION IN AMHERST COLLEGE
WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR
THE COLLEGE COURSE AND THE PREPARATION FOR LIFE
CAN THE CHURCH SURVIVE IN THE CHANGING ORDER?
PUBLISHED ON THE FOUNDATION ESTABLISHED IN MEMORY OF JAMES WESLEY COOPER OF THE CLASS OF 1865, YALE COLLEGE
THE FORTY-SIXTH SERIES OF THE LYMAN BEECHER LECTURESHIP ON PREACHING IN YALE UNIVERSITY
NEW HAVEN YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS MDCCCCXX
COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS
FIRST PUBLISHED, 1920
THE JAMES WESLEY COOPER MEMORIAL PUBLICATION FUND
The present volume is the fourth work published by the Yale University Press on the James Wesley Cooper Memorial Publication Fund. This Foundation was established March 30, 1918, by a gift to Yale University from Mrs. Ellen H. Cooper in memory of her husband, Rev. James Wesley Cooper, D.D., who died in New York City, March 16, 1916. Dr. Cooper was a member of the Class of 1865, Yale College, and for twenty-five years pastor of the South Congregational Church of New Britain, Connecticut. For thirty years he was a corporate member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and from 1885 until the time of his death was a Fellow of Yale University, serving on the Corporation as one of the Successors of the Original Trustees.
TO MY WIFE
The chief, perhaps the only, commendation of these chapters is that they pretend to no final solution of the problem which they discuss. How to assert the eternal and objective reality of that Presence, the consciousness of Whom is alike the beginning and the end, the motive and the reward, of the religious experience, is not altogether clear in an age that, for over two centuries, has more and more rejected the transcendental ideas of the human understanding. Yet the consequences of that rejection, in the increasing individualism of conduct which has kept pace with the growing subjectivism of thought, are now sufficiently apparent and the present plight of our civilization is already leading its more characteristic members, the political scientists and the economists, to reexamine and reappraise the concepts upon which it is founded. It is a similar attempt to scrutinize and evaluate the significant aspects of the interdependent thought and conduct of our day from the standpoint of religion which is here attempted. Its sole and modest purpose is to endeavor to restore some neglected emphases, to recall to spiritually minded men and women certain half-forgotten values in the religious experience and to add such observations regarding them as may, by good fortune, contribute something to that future reconciling of the thought currents and value judgments of our day to these central and precious facts of the religious life.
Many men and minds have contributed to these pages. Such sources of suggestion and insight have been indicated wherever they could be identified. In especial I must record my grateful sense of obligation to Professor Irving Babbitt's Rousseau and Romanticism. The chapter on Naturalism owes much to its brilliant and provocative discussions.
I. The Learner, the Doer and the Seer 15
II. The Children of Zion and the Sons of Greece 40
III. Eating, Drinking and Being Merry 72
IV. The Unmeasured Gulf 102
V. Grace, Knowledge, Virtue 131
VI. The Almighty and Everlasting God 157
VII. Worship as the Chief Approach to Transcendence 184
VIII. Worship and the Discipline of Doctrine 209
THE LEARNER, THE DOER AND THE SEER
The first difficulty which confronts the incumbent of the Lyman Beecher Foundation, after he has accepted the appalling fact that he must hitch his modest wagon, not merely to a star, but rather to an entire constellation, is the delimitation of his subject. There are many inquiries, none of them without significance, with which he might appropriately concern himself. For not only is the profession of the Christian ministry a many-sided one, but scales of value change and emphases shift, within the calling itself, with our changing civilization. The mediaeval world brought forth, out of its need, the robed and mitered ecclesiastic; a more recent world, pursuant to its genius, demanded the ethical idealist. Drink-sodden Georgian England responded to the open-air evangelism of Whitefield and Wesley; the next century found the Established Church divided against itself by the learning and culture of the Oxford Movement. Sometimes a philosopher and theologian, like Edwards, initiates the Great Awakening; sometimes an emotional mystic like Bernard can arouse all Europe and carry men, tens of thousands strong, over the Danube and over the Hellespont to die for the Cross upon the burning sands of Syria; sometimes it is the George Herberts, in a hundred rural parishes, who make grace to abound through the intimate and precious ministrations of the country parson. Let us, therefore, devote this chapter to a review of the several aspects of the Christian ministry, in order to set in its just perspective the one which we have chosen for these discussions and to see why it seems to stand, for the moment, in the forefront of importance. Our immediate question is, Who, on the whole, is the most needed figure in the ministry today? Is it the professional ecclesiastic, backed with the authority and prestige of a venerable organization? Is it the curate of souls, patient shepherd of the silly sheep? Is it the theologian, the administrator, the prophet—who?
One might think profitably on that first question in these very informal days. We are witnessing a breakdown of all external forms of authority which, while salutary and necessary, is also perilous. Not many of us err, just now, by overmagnifying our official status. Many of us instead are terribly at ease in Zion and might become less assured and more significant by undertaking the subjective task of a study in ministerial personality. "What we are," to paraphrase Emerson, "speaks so loud that men cannot hear what we say." Every great calling has its characteristic mental attitude, the unwritten code of honor of the group, without a knowledge of which one could scarcely be an efficient or honorable practitioner within it. One of the perplexing and irritating problems of the personal life of the preacher today has to do with the collision between the secular standards of his time, this traditional code of his class, and the requirements of his faith. Shall he acquiesce in the smug conformities, the externalized procedures of average society, somewhat pietized, and join that large company of good and ordinary people, of whom Samuel Butler remarks, in The Way of All Flesh, that they would be "equally horrified at hearing the Christian religion doubted, or at seeing it practised?" There are ministers who do thus content themselves with being merely superrespectable. Shall he exalt the standards of his calling, accentuate the speech and dress, the code and manners of his group, the historic statements of his faith, at the risk of becoming an official, a "professional"? Or does he possess the insight, and can he acquire the courage, to follow men like Francis of Assisi or Father Damien and adopt the Christian ethic and thus join that company of the apostles and martyrs whose blood is the seed of the church? A good deal might be said today on the need of this sort of personal culture in the ministerial candidate. But, provocative and significant though the question is, it is too limited in scope, too purely subjective in nature, to suit the character and the urgency of the needs of this moment.
Again, every profession has the prized inheritance of its own particular and gradually perfected human skill. An interesting study, then, would be the analysis of that rich content of human insights, the result of generations of pastoral experience, which form the background of all great preaching. No man, whether learned or pious, or both, is equipped for the pulpit without the addition of that intuitive discernment, that quick and varied appreciation, that sane and tolerant knowledge of life and the world, which is the reward given to the friends and lovers of mankind. For the preacher deals not with the shallows but the depths of life. Like his Master he must be a great humanist. To make real sermons he has to look, without dismay or evasion, far into the heart's impenetrable recesses. He must have had some experience with the absolutism of both good and evil. I think preachers who regard sermons on salvation as superfluous have not had much experience with either. They belong to that large world of the intermediates, neither positively good nor bad, who compose the mass of the prosperous and respectable in our genteel civilization. Since they belong to it they cannot lead it. And certainly they who do not know the absolutism of evil cannot very well understand sinners. Genuine satans, as Milton knew, are not weaklings and traitors who have declined from the standards of a respectable civilization. They are positive and impressive figures pursuing and acting up to their own ideal of conduct, not fleeing from self-accepted retribution or falling away from a confessed morality of ours. Evil is a force even more than a folly; it is a positive agent busily building away at the City of Dreadful Night, constructing its insolent and scoffing society within the very precincts of the City of God.
He must know, then, that evil and suffering are not temporary elements of man's evolution, just about to be eliminated by the new reform, the last formula, the fresh panacea. To those who have tasted grief and smelt the fire such easy preaching and such confident solutions are a grave offense. They know that evil is an integral part of our universe; suffering an enduring element of the whole. So he must preach upon the chances and changes of this mortal world, or go to the house of shame or the place of mourning, knowing that there is something past finding out in evil, something incommunicable about true sorrow. They are not external things, alien to our natures, that happen one day from without, and may perhaps be avoided, and by and by are gone. No; that which makes sorrow, sorrow, and evil, evil, is their naturalness; they well up from within, part of the very texture of our consciousness. He knows you can never express them, for truly to do that you would have to express and explain the entire world. It is not easy then to interpret the evil and suffering which are not external and temporary, but enduring and a part of the whole.
So the preacher is never dealing with plain or uncomplicated matters. It is his business to perceive the mystery of iniquity in the saint and to recognize the mystery of godliness in the sinner. It is his business to revere the child and yet watch him that he may make a man of him. He must say, so as to be understood, to those who balk at discipline, and rail at self-repression, and resent pain: you have not yet begun to live nor made the first step toward understanding the universe and yourselves. To avoid discipline and to blench at pain is to evade life. There are limitations, occasioned by the evil and the suffering of the world, in whose repressions men find fulfillment. When you are honest with yourself you will know what Dante meant when he said:
"And thou shalt see those who Contented are within the fire; Because they hope to come, When e'er it may be, to the blessed people."
It is his business, also, to be the comrade of his peers, and yet speak to them the truth in love; his task to understand the bitterness and assuage the sorrows of old age. I suppose the greatest influence a preacher ever exercises, and a chief source of the material and insight of his preaching, is found in this intimate contact with living and suffering, divided and distracted men and women. When strong men blench with pain and exquisite grief stirs within us at the sight and we can endure naught else but to suffer with them, when youth is blurred with sin, and gray heads are sick with shame and we, then, want to die and cry, O God! forgive and save them or else blot me out of Thy book of life—for who could bear to live in a world where such things are the end!—then, through the society of sorrow, and the holy comradeship in shame, we begin to find the Lord and to understand both the kindness and the justice of His world. In the moment when sympathy takes the bitterness out of another's sorrow and my suffering breaks the captivity of my neighbor's sin—then, when because "together," with sinner and sufferer, we come out into the quiet land of freedom and of peace, we perceive how the very heart of God, upon which there we know we rest, may be found in the vicarious suffering and sacrifice called forth by the sorrow and the evil of mankind. Then we can preach the Gospel. Because then we dimly understand why men have hung their God upon the Cross of Christ!
[Footnote 1: The Divine Comedy: Hell; canto I.]
Is it not ludicrous, then, to suppose that a man merely equipped with professional scholarship, or contented with moral conformities, can minister to the sorrow and the mystery, the mingled shame and glory of a human being? This is why the average theologue, in his first parish, is like the well-meaning but meddling engineer endeavoring with clumsy tools and insensitive fingers to adjust the delicate and complicated mechanism of a Genevan watch. And here is one of the real reasons why we deprecate men entering our calling, without both the culture of a liberal education and the learning of a graduate school. Clearly, therefore, one real task of such schools and their lectureships is to offer men wide and gracious training in the art of human contacts, so that their lives may be lifted above Pharisaism and moral self-consciousness, made acquainted with the higher and comprehensive interpretations of the heart and mind of our race. For only thus can they approach life reverently and humbly. Only thus will they revere the integrity of the human spirit; only thus can they regard it with a magnanimous and catholic understanding and measure it not by the standards of temperamental or sectarian convictions, but by what is best and highest, deepest and holiest in the race. No one needs more than the young preacher to be drawn out of the range of narrow judgments, of exclusive standards and ecclesiastical traditions and to be flung out among free and sensitive spirits, that he may watch their workings, master their perceptions, catch their scale of values.
A discussion, then, dealing with this aspect of our problem, would raise many and genuine questions for us. There is the more room for it in this time of increasing emphasis upon machinery when even ministers are being measured in the terms of power, speed and utility. These are not real ends of life; real ends are unity, repose, the imaginative and spiritual values which make for the release of self, with its by-product of happiness. In such days, then, when the old-time pastor-preacher is becoming as rare as the former general practitioner; when the lines of division between speaker, educator, expert in social hygiene, are being sharply drawn—as though new methods insured of themselves fresh inspiration, and technical knowledge was identical with spiritual understanding—it would be worth while to dwell upon the culture of the pastoral office and to show that ingenuity is not yet synonymous with insight, and that, in our profession at least, card-catalogues cannot take the place of the personal study of the human heart. But many discussions on this Foundation, and recently those of Dr. Jowett, have already dealt with this sort of analysis. Besides, today, when not merely the preacher, but the very view of the world that produced him, is being threatened with temporary extinction, such a theme, poetic and rewarding though it is, becomes irrelevant and parochial.
Or we might turn to the problem of technique, that professional equipment for his task as a sermonizer and public speaker which is partly a native endowment and partly a laborious acquisition on the preacher's part. Such was President Tucker's course on The Making and Unmaking of the Preacher. Certainly observations on professional technique, especially if they should include, like his, acute discussion of the speaker's obligation to honesty of thinking, no less than integrity of conduct; of the immorality of the pragmatic standard of mere effectiveness or immediate efficiency in the selection of material; of the aesthetic folly and ethical dubiety of simulated extempore speaking and genuinely impromptu prayers, would not be superfluous. But, on the other hand, we may hope to accomplish much of this indirectly today. Because there is no way of handling specifically either the content of the Christian message or the problem of the immediate needs and temper of those to whom it is to be addressed, without reference to the kind of personality, and the nature of the tools at his disposal, which is best suited to commend the one and to interpret the other.
Hence such a discussion as this ought, by its very scale of values—by the motives that inform it and the ends that determine it—to condemn thereby the insincere and artificial speaker, or that pseudo-sermon which is neither as exposition, an argument nor a meditation but a mosaic, a compilation of other men's thoughts, eked out by impossibly impressive or piously sentimental anecdotes, the whole glued together by platitudes of the Martin Tupper or Samuel Smiles variety. It is certainly an obvious but greatly neglected truth that simplicity and candor in public speaking, largeness of mental movement, what Phillips Brooks called direct utterance of comprehensive truths, are indispensable prerequisites for any significant ethical or spiritual leadership. But, taken as a main theme, this third topic, like the others, seems to me insufficiently inclusive to meet our present exigencies. It deals more with the externals than with the heart of our subject.
Again we might address ourselves to the ethical and practical aspects of preaching and the ministry. Taking largely for granted our understanding of the Gospel, we might concern ourselves with its relations to society, the detailed implications for the moral and economic problems of our social and industrial order. Dean Brown, in The Social Message of the Modern Pulpit, and Dr. Coffin in In a Day of Social Rebuilding, have so enriched this Foundation. Moreover, this is, at the moment, an almost universally popular treatment of the preacher's opportunity and obligation. One reason, therefore, for not choosing this approach to our task is that the preacher's attention, partly because of the excellence of these and other books and lectures, and partly because of the acuteness of the political-industrial crisis which is now upon us, is already focused upon it.
Besides, our present moment is changing with an ominous rapidity. And one is not sure whether the immediate situation, as distinguished from that of even a few years ago, calls us to be concerned chiefly with the practical and ethical aspects of our mission, urgent though the need and critical the pass, to which the abuses of the capitalistic system have brought both European and American society. In this day of those shifting standards which mark the gradual transference of power from one group to another in the community, and the merging of a spent epoch in a new order, neither the chief opportunity nor the most serious peril of religious leadership is met by fresh and energetic programs of religion in action. In such days, our chief gift to the world cannot be the support of any particular reforms or the alliance with any immediate ethical or economic movement. For these things at best would be merely the effects of religion. And it is not religion in its relations, nor even in its expression in character—it is the thing in itself that this age most needs. What men are chiefly asking of life at this moment is not, What ought we to do? but the deeper question, What is there we can believe? For they know that the answer to this question would show us what we ought to do.
Nor do our reform alliances and successive programs and crusades always seem to me to proceed from any careful estimate of the situation as a whole or to be conceived in the light of comprehensive Christian principle. Instead, they sometimes seem to draw their inspiration more from the sense of the urgent need of presenting to an indifferent or disillusioned world some quick and tangible evidence of a continuing moral vigor and spiritual passion to which the deeper and more potent witnesses are absent. It is as though we thought the machinery of the church would revolve with more energy if geared into the wheels of the working world. But that world and we do not draw our power from the same dynamo. And surely in a day of profound and widespread mental ferment and moral restlessness, some more fundamental gift than this is asked of us.
If, therefore, these chapters pay only an incidental attention to the church's social and ethical message, it is partly because our attention is, at this very moment, largely centered upon this important, yet secondary matter, and more because there lies beneath it a yet more urgent and inclusive task which confronts the spokesman of organized religion.
You will expect me then to say that we are to turn to some speculative and philosophic study, such as the analysis of the Christian idea in its world relationships, some fresh statement of the Gospel, either by way of apologia for inherited concepts, or as attempting to make a new receptacle for the living wine, which has indeed burst the most of its ancient bottles. Such was Principal Fairbairn's monumental task in The Place of Christ in Modern Theology and also Dr. Gordon's in his distinguished discussions in The Ultimate Conceptions of Faith.
Here, certainly, is an endeavor which is always of primary importance. There is an abiding peril, forever crouching at the door of ancient organizations, that they shall seek refuge from the difficulties of thought in the opportunities of action. They need to be continually reminded that reforms begin in the same place where abuses do, namely, in the notion of things; that only just ideas can, in the long run, purify conduct; that clear thinking is the source of all high and sustained feeling. I wish that we might essay the philosopher-theologian's task. This generation is hungry for understanding; it perishes for lack of knowledge. One reason for the indubitable decline of the preacher's power is that we have been culpably indifferent in maintaining close and friendly alliances between the science and the art, the teachers and the practitioners of religion. Few things would be more ominous than to permit any further widening of the gulf which already exists between these two. Never more than now does the preacher need to be reminded of what Marcus Aurelius said: "Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also shall be thyself; for the soul is dyed by its thoughts."
But such an undertaking, calling for wide and exact scholarship, large reserves of extra-professional learning, does not primarily belong to a discussion within the department of practical theology. Besides which there is a task, closely allied to it, but creative rather than critical, prophetic rather than philosophic, which does fall within the precise area of this field. I mean the endeavor to describe the mind and heart of our generation, appraise the significant thought-currents of our time. This would be an attempt to give some description of the chief impulses fermenting in contemporary society, to ask what relation they hold to the Christian principle, and to inquire what attitude toward them our preaching should adopt. If it be true that what is most revealing in any age is its regulative ideas, then what is more valuable for the preacher than to attempt the understanding of his generation through the defining of its ruling concepts? And it is this audacious task which, for two reasons, we shall presume to undertake.
The first reason is that it is appropriate both to the temperament and the training of the preacher. There are three grand divisions, or rather determining emphases, by which men may be separated into vocational groups. To begin with, there is the man of the scientific or intellectual type. He has a passion for facts and a strong sense of their reality. He moves with natural ease among abstract propositions, is both critical of, and fertile in, theories; indicates his essential distinction in his love of the truth for the truth's sake. He looks first to the intrinsic reasonableness of any proposition; tends to judge both men and movements not by traditional or personal values, but by a detached and disinterested appraisal of their inherent worth. He is often a dogmatist, but this fault is not peculiar to him, he shares it with the rest of mankind. He is sometimes a literalist and sometimes a slave to logic, more concerned with combating the crude or untenable form of a proposition than inquiring with sympathetic insight into the worth of its substance. But these things are perversions of his excellencies, defects of his virtues. His characteristic qualities are mental integrity, accuracy of statement, sanity of judgment, capacity for sustained intellectual toil. Such men are investigators, scholars; when properly blended with the imaginative type they become inventors and teachers. They make good theologians and bad preachers.
Then there are the practical men, beloved of our American life. Both their feet are firmly fixed upon the solid ground. They generally know just where they are, which is not surprising, for they do not, for the most part, either in the world of mind or spirit, frequent unusual places. The finespun speculations of the philosophers and the impractical dreams of the artist make small appeal to them; the world they live in is a sharply defined and clearly lighted and rather limited place. They like to say to this man come and he cometh, and to that man go and he goeth. They are enamored of offices, typewriters, telegrams, long-distance messages, secretaries, programs, conferences and drives. Getting results is their goal; everything is judged by the criterion of effective action; they are instinctive and unconscious pragmatists. They make good cheer leaders at football games in their youth and impressive captains of industry in their old age. Their virtues are wholesome, if obvious; they are good mixers, have shrewd judgment, immense physical and volitional energy. They understand that two and two make four. They are rarely saints but, unlike many of us who once had the capacity for sainthood, they are not dreadful sinners. They are the tribe of which politicians are born but, when they are blended with imaginative and spiritual gifts, they become philanthropists and statesmen, practical servants of mankind. They make good, if conservative, citizens; kind, if uninspiring, husbands and deplorable preachers.
Then there are those fascinating men of feeling and imagination, those who look into their own hearts and write, those to whom the inner dominions which the spirit conquers for itself become a thousand-fold more real than the earth whereon they stamp their feet. These are the literary or the creative folk. Their passion is not so much to know life as to enjoy it; not to direct it, but to experience it; not even to make understanding of it an end, but only a means to interpreting it. They do not, as a rule, thirst for erudition, and they are indifferent to those manipulations of the externals of life which are dear to the lovers of executive power. They know less but they understand more than their scholastic brethren. As a class they are sometimes disreputable but nearly always unworldly; more distinguished by an intuitive and childlike than by an ingenious or sophisticated quality of mind. Ideas and facts are perceived by them not abstractly nor practically, but in their typical or symbolic, hence their pictorial and transmissible, aspects. They read dogma, whether theological or other, in the terms of a living process, unconsciously translating it, as they go along, out of its cold propositions into its appropriate forms of feeling and needs and satisfactions.
The scientist, then, is a critic, a learner who wants to analyze and dissect; the man of affairs is a director and builder and wants to command and construct; the man of this group is a seer. He is a lover and a dreamer; he watches and broods over life, profoundly feeling it, enamored both of its shame and of its glory. The intolerable poignancy of existence is bittersweet to his mouth; he craves to incarnate, to interpret its entire human process, always striving to pierce to its center, to capture and express its inexpressible ultimate. He is an egotist but a valuable one, acutely aware of the depths and immensities of his own spirit and of its significant relations to this seething world without. Thus it is both himself and a new vision of life, in terms of himself, that he desires to project for his community.
The form of that vision will vary according to the nature of the tools, the selection of material, the particular sort of native endowment which are given to him. Some such men reveal their understanding of the soul and the world in the detached serenity, the too well-defined harmonies of a Parthenon; others in the dim and intricate richness, the confused and tortured aspiration of the long-limbed saints and grotesque devils of a Gothic cathedral. Others incarnate it in gleaming bronze; or spread it in subtle play of light and shade and tones of color on a canvas; or write it in great plays which open the dark chambers of the soul and make the heart stand still; or sing it in sweet and terrible verse, full-throated utterance of man's pride and hope and passion. Some act it before the altar or beneath the proscenium arch; some speak it, now in Cassandra-tones, now comfortably like shepherds of frail sheep. These folk are the brothers-in-blood, the fellow craftsmen of the preacher. By a silly convention, he is almost forbidden to consult with them, and to betake himself to the learned, the respectable and the dull. But it is with these that naturally he sees eye to eye.
In short, in calling the preacher a prophet we mean that preaching is an art and the preacher is an artist; for all great art has the prophetic quality. Many men object to this definition of the preacher as being profane. It appears to make secular or mechanicalize their profession, to rob preaching of its sacrosanctity, leave it less authority by making it more intelligible, remove it from the realm of the mystical and unique. This objection seems to me sometimes an expression of spiritual arrogance and sometimes a subtle form of skepticism. It assumes a special privilege for our profession or a not-get-at-able defense and sanction by insisting that it differs in origin and hence in kind from similar expressions of the human spirit. It hesitates to rely on the normal and the intelligible sources of ministerial power, to confess the relatively definable origin and understandable methods of our work. It fears to trust to these alone.
But all these must be trusted. We may safely assert that the preacher deals with absolute values, for all art does that. But we may not assert that he is the only person that does so or that his is the only or the unapproachable way. No; he, too, is an artist. Hence, a sermon is not a contribution to, but an interpretation of, knowledge, made in terms of the religious experience. It is taking truth out of its compressed and abstract form, its impersonal and scientific language, and returning it to life in the terms of the ethical and spiritual experience of mankind, thus giving it such concrete and pictorial expression that it stimulates the imagination and moves the will.
It will be clear then why I have said that the task of appraising the heart and mind of our generation, to which we address ourselves, is appropriate to the preaching genius. For only they could attempt such a task who possess an informed and disciplined yet essentially intuitive spirit with its scale of values; who by instinct can see their age as a whole and indicate its chief emphases, its controlling tendencies, its significant expressions. It is not the scientist but the seer who thus attempts the precious but perilous task of making the great generalizations. This is what Aristotle means when he says, "The poet ranks higher than the historian because he achieves a more general truth." This is, I suppose, what Houston Stewart Chamberlain means when he says, in the introduction to the Foundations of the Nineteenth Century: "our modern world represents an immeasurable array of facts. The mastery of such a task as recording and interpreting them scientifically is impossible. It is only the genius of the artist, which feels the secret parallels that exist between the world of vision and of thought, that can, if fortune be favorable, reveal the unity beneath the immeasurable complexities and diversities of the present order." Or as Professor Hocking says: "The prophet must find in the current of history a unity corresponding to the unity of the physical universe, or else he must create it. It is this conscious unification of history that the religious will spontaneously tends to bring about."
[Footnote 2: The Meaning of God in Human Experience, p. 518.]
It is then precisely the preacher's task, his peculiar office, to attempt these vast and perilous summations. What he is set here for is to bring the immeasurable within the scope of vision. He deals with the far-flung outposts, no man knows how distant, and the boundless interspaces of human consciousness; he deals with the beginning, the middle, the end—the origin, the meaning and the destiny—of human life. How can anyone give unity to such a prospect? Like any other artist he gives it the only unity possible, the unity revealed in his own personality. The theologian should not attempt to evaluate his age; the preacher may. Because the theologian, like any other scientist, analyzes and dissects; he breaks up the world. The preacher in his disciplined imagination, his spiritual intuitiveness,—what we call the "religious temperament,"—unites it again and makes men see it whole. This quality of purified and enlightened imagination is of the very essence of the preacher's power and art. Hence he may attempt to set forth a just understanding of his generation.
This brings us to the second reason for our topic namely, its timeliness. All religious values are not at all times equal in importance. As generations come and go, first one, then another looms in the foreground. But I sincerely believe that the most fateful undertaking for the preacher at this moment is that of analyzing his own generation. Because he has been flung into one of the world's transition epochs, he speaks in an hour which is radical in changes, perplexing in its multifarious cross-currents, prolific of new forms and expressions. What the world most needs at such a moment of expansion and rebellion, is a redefining of its ideals. It needs to have some eternal scale of values set before it once more. It needs to stop long enough to find out just what and where it is, and toward what it is going. It needs another Sheridan to write a new School for Scandal, another Swift, with his Gulliver's Travels, a continuing Shaw with his satiric comedies, a Mrs. Wharton with her House of Mirth, a Thorstein Veblen with his Higher Learning in America, a Savonarola with his call to repentance and indictment of worldly and unfaithful living. It is a difficult and dangerous office, this of the prophet; it calls for a considerate and honest mind as well as a flashing insight and an eager heart. The false prophet exposes that he may exploit his age; the true prophet portrays that he may purge it. Like Jeremiah we may well dread to undertake the task, yet its day and hour are upon us!
I have already spoken to this point at length, in a little book recently published. I merely add here that in a day of obvious political disillusionment and industrial revolt, of intellectual rebellion against an outworn order of ideas and of moral restlessness and doubt, an indispensable duty for the preacher is this comprehensive study and understanding of his own epoch. Else, without realizing it,—and how true this often is,—he proclaims a universal truth in the unintelligible language of a forgotten order, and applies a timeless experience to the faded conditions of yesterday.
Indeed, I am convinced that a chief reason why preaching is temporarily obscured in power, is because most of our expertness in it is in terms of local problems, of partial significances, rather than in the wider tendencies that produce and carry them, or in the ultimate laws of conduct which should govern them. We ought to be troubled, I think, in our present ecclesiastical situation, with its taint of an almost frantic immediacy. Not only are we not sufficiently dealing with the Gospel as a universal code, but, as both cause and effect of this, we are not applying it to the inclusive life of our generation. We are tinkering here and patching there, but attempting no grand evaluation. We have already granted that sweeping generalizations, inclusive estimates, are as difficult as they are audacious. Yet we have also seen that these grand evaluations are of the very essence of religion and hence are characteristic of the preacher's task. And, finally, it appears that ours is an age which calls for such redefining of its values, some fresh and inclusive moral and religious estimates. Hence we undertake the task.
There remains but one thing more to be accomplished in this chapter. The problem of the selection and arrangement of the material for such a summary is not an easy one. Out of several possible devices I have taken as the framework on which to hang these discussions three familiar divisions of thought and feeling, with their accompanying laws of conduct, and value judgments. They are the humanistic or classic; the naturalistic or primitive; and the religious or transcendent interpretation of the world and life. One sets up a social, one an individual, and one a universal standard. Under the movements which these headings represent we can most easily and clearly order and appraise the chief influences of the Protestant centuries. The first two are largely preempting between them, at this moment, the field of human thought and conduct and a brief analysis of them, contrasting their general attitudes, may serve as a fit introduction to the ensuing chapter.
We begin, then, with the humanist. He is the man who ignores, as unnecessary, any direct reference to, or connection with, ultimate or supernatural values. He lives in a high but self-contained world. His is man's universe. His law is the law of reasonable self-discipline, founded on observation of nature and a respect for social values, and buttressed by high human pride. He accepts the authority of the collective experience of his generation or his race. He believes, centrally, in the trustworthiness of human nature, in its group capacity. Men, as a race, have intelligently observed and experimented with both themselves and the world about them. Out of centuries of critical reflection and sad and wise endeavor, they have evolved certain criteria of experience. These summations could hardly be called eternal laws but they are standards; they are the permits and prohibitions for human life. Some of them affect personal conduct and are moral standards; some of them affect civil government and are political axioms; some of them affect production and distribution and are economic laws; some of them affect social relationships. But in every case the humanist has what is, in a sense, an objective because a formal standard; he looks without himself as an individual, yet to himself as a part of the composite experience and wisdom of his race, for understanding and for guides. Thus the individual conforms to the needs and wisdom of the group. Humanism, at its best, has something heroic, unselfish, noble about it. Its votaries do not eat to their liking nor drink to their thirst. They learn deep lessons almost unconsciously; to conquer their desires, to make light of toil and pain and discomfort; the true humanist is well aware that Spartan discipline is incomparably superior to Greek accidence. This is what one of the greatest of them, Goethe, meant when he said: "Anything which emancipates the spirit without a corresponding growth in self-mastery is pernicious."
All humanists then have two characteristics in common: first, they assume that man is his own arbiter, has both the requisite intelligence and the moral ability to control his own destiny; secondly, they place the source and criterion of this power in collective wisdom, not in individual vagary and not in divine revelation. They assert, therefore, that the law of the group, the perfected and wrought out code of human experience, is all that is binding and all that is essential. To be sure, and most significantly, this authority is not rigid, complete, fixed. There is nothing complete in the humanist's world. Experience accumulates and man's knowledge grows; the expectation and joy in progress is a part of it; man's code changes, emends, expands with his onward marching. But the humanistic point of view assumes something relatively stable in life. Hence our phrase that humanism gives us a classic, that is to say, a simple and established standard.
It is to be observed that there is nothing in humanism thus defined which need be incompatible with religion. It is not with its content but its incompleteness that we quarrel. Indeed, in its assertion of the trustworthiness of human experience, its faith in the dignity and significance of man, its respect for the interests of the group, and its conviction that man finds his true self only outside his immediate physical person, beyond his material wants and desires, it is quite genuinely a part of the religious understanding. But we shall have occasion to observe that while much of this may be religious this is not the whole of religion. For the note of universality is absent. Humanism is essentially aristocratic. It is for a selected group that it is practicable and it is a selected experience upon which it rests. Its standards are esoteric rather than democratic. Yet it is hardly necessary to point out the immense part which humanism, as thus defined, is playing in present life.
But there is another law which, from remotest times, man has followed whenever he dared. It is not the law of the group but of the individual, not the law of civilization but of the jungle. "Most men," says Aristotle, "would rather live in a disorderly than a sober manner." He means that most men would rather consult and gratify their immediate will, their nearest choices, their instantaneous desires, than conform the moment to some regulated and considerate, some comprehensive scheme of life and action. The life of unreason is their desire; the experience whose bent is determined by every whim, the expression which has no rational connection with the past and no serious consideration for the future. This is of the very essence of lawlessness because it is revolt against the normal sequence of law and effect, in mind and conduct, in favor of untrammeled adventure.
Now this is naturalism or paganism as we often call it. Naturalism is a perversion of that high instinct in mankind which issues in the old concept of supernaturalism. The supernaturalist, of a former and discredited type, believed that God violates the order of nature for sublime ends; that He "breaks into" His own world, so to speak, "revealing" Himself in prodigious, inexplicable, arbitrary ways. By a sort of degradation of this notion, a perversion of this instinct, the naturalist assumes that he can violate both the human and the divine law for personal ends, and express himself in fantastic or indecent or impious ways. The older supernaturalism exalts the individualism of the Creator; naturalism the egotism of the creature. I make the contrast not merely to excoriate naturalism, but to point out the interdependence between man's apparently far-separated expressions of his spirit, and how subtly misleading are our highly prized distinctions, how dangerous sometimes that secondary mental power which multiplies them. It sobers and clarifies human thinking a little, perhaps, to reflect on how thin a line separates the sublime and the ridiculous, the saint and the sensualist, the martyr and the fool, the genius and the freak.
Now, with this selfish individualism which we call naturalism we shall have much to do, for it plays an increasing role in the modern world; it is the neo-paganism which we may see spreading about us. Sophistries of all kinds become the powerful allies of this sort of moral and aesthetic anarchy. Its votaries are those sorts of rebels who invariably make their minds not their friends but their accomplices. They are ingenious in the art of letting themselves go and at the same time thinking themselves controlled and praiseworthy. The naturalist, then, ignores the group; he flaunts impartially both the classic and the religious law. He is equally unwilling to submit to a power imposed from above and without, or to accept those restrictions of society, self-imposed by man's own codified and corrected observations of the natural world and his own impulses. He jeers at the one as hypocrisy and superstition and at the other as mere "middle-class respectability." He himself is the perpetual Ajax standing defiant upon the headland of his own inflamed desires, and scoffing at the lightnings either of heaven or society. Neither devoutness nor progress but mere personal expansion is his goal. The humanist curbs both the flesh and the imagination by a high doctrine of expediency. Natural values are always critically appraised in the light of humane values, which is nearly, if not quite, the same as saying that the individual desires and delights must be conformed to the standards of the group. There can be no anarchy of the imagination, no license of the mind, no unbridled will. Humanism, no less than religion, is nobly, though not so deeply, traditional. But there is no tradition to the naturalist; not the normal and representative, but the unique and spectacular is his goal. Novelty and expansion, not form and proportion, are his goddesses. Not truth and duty, but instinct and appetite, are in the saddle. He will try any horrid experiment from which he may derive a new sensation.
Over against them both stands the man of religion with his vision of the whole and his consequent law of proud humility. The next three chapters will try to discuss in detail these several attitudes toward life and their respective manifestations in contemporary society.
THE CHILDREN OF ZION AND THE SONS OF GREECE
We are not using the term "humanism" in this chapter in its strictly technical sense. Because we are not concerned with the history of thought merely, but also with its practical embodiments in various social organizations as well. So we mean by "humanism" not only those modes and systems of thought in which human interests predominate but also the present economic, political and ecclesiastical institutions which more or less consistently express them. Hence, the term as used will include concepts not always agreeing with each other, and sometimes only semi-related to the main stream of the movement. This need not trouble us. Strict intellectual consistency is a fascinating and impossible goal of probably dubious value. Moreover, it is this whole expression of the time spirit which bathes the sensitive personality of the preacher, persuading and moulding him quite as much by its derived and concrete manifestations in contemporary society as by its essential and abstract principles.
There are then two sets of media through which humanism has affected preaching. The first are philosophical and find their expression in a large body of literature which has been moulding thought and feeling for nearly four centuries. Humanism begins with the general abstract assumption that all which men can know, or need to know, are "natural" and human values; that they have no means of getting outside the inexorable circle of their own experience.
Much, of course, depends here upon the sense in which the word "experience" is used. The assumption need not necessarily be challenged except where, as is very often the case, an arbitrarily limited definition of experience is intended. From this general assumption flows the subjective theory of morals; from it is derived the conviction that the rationalistic values in religion are the only real, or at least demonstrable, ones; and hence from this comes the shifting of the seat of religious authority from "revelation" to experience. In so far as this is a correction of emphasis only, or the abandonment of a misleading term rather than the denial of one of the areas and modes of understanding, again we have no quarrel with it. But if it means an exclusion of the supersensuous sources of knowledge or the denial of the existence of absolute values as the source of our relative and subjective understanding, then it strikes at the heart of religion. Because the religious life is built on those factors of experience that lie above the strictly rational realm of consciousness just as the pagan view rests on primitive instincts that lie beneath it. Of course, in asserting the importance of these "supersensuous" values the religionist does not mean that they are beyond the reach of human appraisal or unrelated by their nature to the rest of our understanding. By the intuitive he does not mean the uncritical nor by the supersensuous the supernatural in the old and discredited sense of an arbitrary and miraculous revelation. Mysticism is not superstition, nor are the insights of the poet the whimsies of the mere impressionist. But he insists that the humanist, in his ordinary definition of experience, ignores or denies these superrational values. In opposition to him he rests his faith on that definition of experience which underlies Aristotle's statement that "the intellect is dependent upon intuition for knowledge both of what is below and what is above itself."
Now it is this first set of factors which are the more important. For the cause, as distinguished from the occasions, of our present religious scale of values is, like all major causes, not practical but ideal, and its roots are found far beneath the soil of the present in the beginnings of the modern age in the fourteenth century. It was then that our world was born; it is of the essence of that world that it arose out of indifference toward speculative thinking and unfaith in those concepts regarding the origin and destiny of mankind which speculative philosophy tried to express and prove.
From the first, then, humanistic leaders have not only frankly rejected the scholastic theologies, which had been the traditional expression of those absolute values with which the religious experience is chiefly concerned, but also ignored or rejected the existence of those values themselves. Thus Petrarch is generally considered the first of modern humanists. He not only speaks of Rome—meaning the whole semi-political, semi-ecclesiastical structure of dogmatic supernaturalism—as that "profane Babylon" but also reveals his rejection of the distinctively religious experience itself by characterizing as "an impudent wench" the Christian church. The attack is partly therefore on the faith in transcendent values which fixes man's relative position by projecting him upon the screen of an infinite existence and which asserts that he has an absolute, that is, an other-than-human guide. Again Erasmus, in his Praise of Folly, denounces indiscriminately churches, priesthoods, dogmas, ethical values, the whole structure of organized religion, calling it those "foul smelling weeds of theology." It was inevitable that such men as Erasmus and Thomas More should hold aloof from the Reformation, not, as has been sometimes asserted, from any lack of moral courage but because of intellectual conviction. They saw little to choose between Lutheran, Calvinistic and Romish dogmatism. They had rejected not only mediaeval ecclesiasticism but also that view of the world founded on supersensuous values, whose persistent intimations had produced the speculative and scholastic theologies. To them, in a quite literal sense, the proper study of mankind was man.
It is hardly necessary to speak here of the attitude towards the old "supernatural" religion taken by the English Deists of the last half of the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century. Here was the first definite struggle of the English church with a group of thinkers who, under the leadership of Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke and others, attempted to adapt humanistic philosophy to theological speculation, to establish the sufficiency of natural religion as opposed to revelation, and to deny the unique significance of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. The English Deists were not deep or comprehensive thinkers, but they were typically humanistic in that their interests were not mainly theological or religious but rather those of a general culture. They were inconsistent with their humanism in their doctrine of a personal God who was not only remote but separated from his universe, a deus ex machina who excluded the idea of immanence. While less influential in England, they had a powerful effect upon French and German thinking. Both Voltaire and Rousseau were rationalists and Deists to the end of their days and both were unwearied foes of any other-than-natural sources for our spiritual knowledge and religious values.
In Germany the humanistic movement continued under Herder and his younger contemporaries, Schiller and Goethe. Its historical horizon, racial and literary sympathies, broadened under their direction, moving farther and farther beyond the sources and areas of accepted religious ideas and practices. They led the revival of study of the Aryan languages and cultures; especially those of the Hellenes and the inhabitants of the Indian peninsula. They originated that critical and rather hostile scrutiny of Semitic ideas and values in present civilization, which plays no small part in the dilettante naturalism of the moment. Thus the nature and place of man, under the influence of these "uninspired" literatures and cultures, became more and more important as both his person and his position in the cosmos ceased to be interpreted either in those terms of the moral transcendence of deity, or of the helplessness and insignificance of his creatures, which inform both the Jewish-Christian Scriptures and the philosophic absolutism of the Catholic theologies.
But the humanism of the eighteenth century comes most closely to grips with the classic statements and concepts of religion in the critical philosophy of Kant. It is the intellectual current which rises in him which is finding its last multifarious and minute rivulets in the various doctrines of relativity, in pragmatism, the subjectivism of the neo-realists, and in the superior place generally ascribed by present thinking to value judgments as against existential ones. His central insistence is upon the impossibility of any knowledge of God as an objective reality. Speculative reason does indeed give us the idea of God but he denies that we have in the idea itself any ground for thinking that there is an objective reality corresponding to it. The idea he admits as necessitated by "the very nature of reason" but it serves a purely harmonizing office. It is here to give coherence and unity to the objects of the understanding, "to finish and crown the whole of human knowledge." Experience of transcendence thus becomes impossible. As Professor McGiffert in The Modern Ideas of God says: "Subjectively considered, religion is the recognition of our duties as commands of God. When we do our duty we are virtuous; when we recognize it as commanded by God we are religious. The notion that there is anything we can do to please God except to live rightly is superstition. Moreover, to think that we can distinguish works of grace from works of nature, which is the essence of historic Christianity, or that we can detect the activity of heavenly influences is also superstition. All such supernaturalism lies beyond our ken. There are three common forms of superstition, all promoted by positive religion: the belief in miracles, the belief in mysteries, and the belief in the means of grace." So prayer is a confession of weakness, not a source of strength.
[Footnote 3: See The Critique of Pure Reason (Mueller, tr.), pp. 575 ff.]
[Footnote 4: Harvard Theo. Rev., vol. I, no. 1, p. 16.]
Kant is more than once profoundly inconsistent with the extreme subjectivism of his theory of ideas as when he says in the Practical Reason: "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within." Again he remarks, "The belief in a great and wise Author of the world has been supported entirely by the wonderful beauty, order and providence, everywhere displayed in nature." Here the objective reality both of what is presented to our senses and what is conceived of in the mind, is, as though unconsciously, taken for granted. Thus while he contends for a practical theism, the very basis of his interest still rests in the conviction of a Being external to us and existing independent of our thought.
[Footnote 5: The Critique of Practical Reason (tr. T.K. Abbott), p. 260.]
[Footnote 6: The Critique of Pure Reason, p. 702.]
But his intention of making right conduct the essence of religion is typical of the limits of humanistic interests and perceptions. In making his division of reason into the theoretical and the practical, it is to the latter realm that he assigns morality and religion. Clearly this is genuine rationalism. I am not forgetting Kant's great religious contribution. He was the son of devout German pietists and saturated in the literature of the Old Testament. It is to Amos, who may justly be called his spiritual father, that he owes the moral absoluteness of his categorical imperative, the reading of history as a moral order. He was following Amos when he took God out of the physical and put Him into the moral sphere and interpreted Him in the terms of purpose. But the doctrine of The Critique of Practical Reason is intended to negate those transcendent elements generally believed to be the distinctive portions of religion. God is not known to us as an objective being, an entity without ourselves. He is an idea, a belief, which gives meaning to our ethical life, a subjective necessity. He is a postulate of the moral will. To quote Professor McGiffert again: "We do not get God from the universe, we give Him to the universe. We read significance and moral purpose into it. We assume God, not to account for the world, but for the subjective need of realizing our highest good.... Religion becomes a creative act of the moral will just as knowledge is a creative act of the understanding." Thus there are no ultimate values; at least we can know nothing of them; we have nothing to look to which is objective and changeless. The absolutism of the Categorical Imperative is a subjective one, bounded by ourselves, formed of our substance. Religion is not discovered, but self-created, a sort of sublime expediency. It can carry, then, no confident assertion as to the meaning and destiny of the universe as a whole.
[Footnote 7: H.T.R., vol. I, no. 1, p. 18.]
Here, then, the nature of morality, the inspiration for character, the solution of human destiny, are not sought outside in some sort of cosmic relationship, but within, either in the experience of the superman, the genius or the hero, or, as later, in the collective experience and consciousness of the group. Thus this, too, throws man back upon himself, makes a new exaltation of personality in sharpest contrast to the scholastic doctrine of the futility and depravity of human nature. It produces the assertion of the sacred character of the individual human being. The conviction of the immeasurable worth of man is, of course, a characteristic teaching of Jesus; what it is important for the preacher to remember in humanism is the source, not the fact, of its estimate. With Jesus man's is a derived greatness found in him as the child of the Eternal; in humanism, it is, so to speak, self-originated, born of present worth, not of sublime origin or shining destiny.
So man in the humanistic movement moves into the center of his own world, becomes himself the measuring rod about whom all other values are grouped. In the place of inspiration, or prophetic understanding, which carries the implications of a transcendent source of truth and goodness, we have a sharply limited, subjective wisdom and insight. The "thus saith the Lord" of the Hebrew prophet means nothing here. The humanist is, of course, confronted with the eternal question of origins, of the thing-in-itself, the question whose insistence makes the continuing worth of the absolutist speculations. He begs the question by answering it with an assertion, not an explanation. He meets it by an exaltation of human genius. Genius explains all sublime achievements and genius is, so to speak, its own fons et origo. Thus Diderot says: "Genius is the higher activity of the soul." "Genius," remarks Rousseau in a letter, "makes knowledge unnecessary." And Kant defines genius as "the talent to discover that which cannot be taught or learned." This appears to be more of an evasion than a definition! But the intent here is to refer all that seems to transcend mundane categories, man's highest, his widest, his sublimest intuitions and achievements, back to himself; he is his own source of light and power.
[Footnote 8: Anthropologie, para. 87 c.]
Such an anthropocentric view of life and destiny in exalting man, of course, thereby liberated him, not merely from ecclesiastical domination, but also from those illusive fears and questionings, those remote and imaginative estimates of his own intended worth and those consequent exacting demands upon himself which are a part of the religious interpretation of life. Humanistic writing is full of the exulting sense of this emancipation. These superconsiderations do not belong in the world of experience as the humanist ordinarily conceives of it. Hence, man lives in an immensely contracted, but a very real and tangible world and within the small experimental circumference of it, he holds a far larger place (from one viewpoint, a far smaller one from another) than that of a finite creature caught in the snare of this world and yet a child of the Eternal, having infinite destinies. The humanist sees man as freed from the tyranny of this supernatural revelation and laws. He rejoices over man because now he stands,
"self-poised on manhood's solid earth Not forced to frame excuses for his birth, Fed from within with all the strength he needs."
It is this sense of independence which arouses in Goethe a perennial enthusiasm. It is the greatest bliss, he says, that the humanist won back for us. Henceforth, we must strive with all our power to keep it.
We have attempted this brief sketch of one of the chief sources of the contemporary thought movement, that we may realize the pit whence we were digged, the quarry from which many corner stones in the present edifice of civilization were dug. The preacher tends to underestimate the comprehensive character of the pervasive ideas, worked into many institutions and practices, which are continually impinging upon him and his message. They form a perpetual attrition, working silently and ceaselessly day and night, wearing away the distinctively religious conceptions of the community. Much of the vagueness and sentimentalism of present preaching, its uncritical impressionism, is due to the influence of the non-religious or, at least, the insufficiently religious character of the ruling ideas and motives outside the church which are impinging upon it, and upon the rest of the thinking of the moment.
Now, this abstract humanism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had a considerable influence upon early American preaching. The latter part of the eighteenth century marked a breaking away from the Protestant scholasticism of the Reformation theology. The French Revolution accented and made operative, even across the Atlantic, the typical humanistic concepts of the rights of man and the sovereignty of the individual person. Skepticism and even atheism became a fashion in our infant republic. It was a mark of sophistication with many educated men to regard Christianity as not worthy of serious consideration. College students modestly admitted that they were infidels and with a delicious naivete assumed the names of Voltaire, Thomas Paine and even of that notorious and notable egotist Rousseau. It is said that in 1795, on the first Sunday of President administration in Yale College, only three undergraduates remained after service to take the sacrament. The reasons were partly political, probably, but these themselves were grounded in the new philosophical, anti-religious attitude.
Of course, this affected the churches. There was a reaction from Protestant scholasticism within them which, later on, culminated in Unitarianism, Universalism and Arminianism. The most significant thing in the Unitarian movement was not its rejection of the Trinitarian speculation, but its positive contribution to the reassertion of Jesus' doctrine of the worth and dignity of human nature. But it recovered that doctrine much more by the way of humanistic philosophy than by way of the teaching of the New Testament. I suppose the thing which has made the weakness of the Unitarian movement, its acknowledged lack of religious warmth and feeling, is due not to the place where it stands, but to the road by which it got there.
Yet, take it for all in all, the effect upon the preaching of the supernatural and speculative doctrines and insights of Christianity, was not in America as great as might be expected. Kant died in 1804, and Goethe in 1832, but only in the last sixty years has the preaching of the "evangelical" churches been fundamentally affected by the prevailing intellectual currents of the day. This is due, I think, to two causes. One was the nature of the German Reformation. It found preaching at a low ebb. Every great force, scholastic, popular, mystical, which had contributed to the splendor of the mediaeval pulpit had fallen into decay, and the widespread moral laxity of the clergy precluded spiritual insight. The Reformation, with its ethical and political interests, revived preaching and by the nature of these same interests fixed the limits and determined the direction within which it should develop. It is important to remember that Luther did not break with the old theological system. He continued his belief in an authority and revelation anterior, exterior and superior to man, merely shifting the locus of that authority from the Church to the Book. Thus he paved the way for Zwingli and the Protestant scholasticism which became more rigid and sterile than the Catholic which it succeeded. We usually regard the Reformation as a part of the Renaissance and hence included in the humanistic movement. Politically and religiously, it undoubtedly should be so regarded, for it was a chief factor in the renewal of German nationalism and its central doctrines of justification by faith, and the right of each separate believer to an unmediated access to the Highest, exalted the integrity and dignity of the individual. Inconsistently, however, it continued the old theological tradition. In the Lutheran system, says Paul de Lagarde, we see the Catholic scholastic structure standing untouched with the exception of a few loci. And Harnack, in the Dogmengeschichte calls it "a miserable duplication of the Catholic Church."
Now, New England preaching, it is true, found its chief roots in Calvinism; Calvin, rather than Luther, was the religious leader of the Reformation outside Germany. But his system, also, is only the continuation of the ancient philosophy of the Christian faith originating with Augustine. He reduced it to order, expounded it with energy and consistency, but one has only to recall its major doctrines of the depravity of man, the atonement for sin, the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit, to see how untouched it was by the characteristic postulates of the new humanism. And it was on his theology that New England preaching was founded. It was Calvin who, through Jonathan Edwards, the elder and the younger, Joseph Bellamy, Samuel Hopkins, Nathaniel Emmons, Nathaniel N. Taylor, determined the course of the New England pulpit.
The other reason for our relative immunity from humanistic influence is accidental and complementary merely. It is the mere fact of our physical isolation, which, until the last seventy-five years, quite largely shut off thinkers here from continental and English currents of thought and contributed to the brilliant, if sterile, provincialism of the New England theology.
It is, therefore, to the second set of media, which may be generally characterized as scientific and practical, that we now turn. These are the forces which apparently are most affecting Christian preaching at this moment. But it is important to remember that a large part of their influence is to be traced to the philosophic and ethical tendencies of the earlier humanistic movement which had set the scene for them, to which they are so sympathetic that we may assert that it is in them that their practical interests are grounded and by them that their scientific methods are reinforced. I divide this second group of media, for clearness, under three heads.
First comes the rise of the natural sciences. In 1859, Darwin published the Origin of Species and gave to the world the evolutionary hypothesis, foreshadowed by Goethe and other eighteenth-century thinkers, simultaneously formulated by Wallace and himself. Here is a theory, open to objections certainly, not yet conclusively demonstrated, but the most probable one which we yet possess, as to the method of the appearance and the continuance of life upon the planet. It conceives of creation as an unimaginably long and intricate development from the inorganic to the organic, from simple to complex forms of life. Like Kantianism and the humanistic movement generally, the evolutionary hypothesis springs from reasoned observation of man and nature, not from any a priori or speculative process. With this theory, long a regulative idea of our world, preaching was forced to come to some sort of an understanding. It strikes a powerful blow at the scholastic notion of a dichotomized universe divided between nature and supernature, divine and human. It reinforced humanism by minimizing, if not making unnecessary, the objective and external source and external interpretations of religions. It pushes back the initial creative act until it is lost in the mists and chaos of an unimaginably remote past. Meanwhile, creative energy, the very essence of transcendent life, is, as we know it, not transcendent at all, but working outward from within, a part of the process, not above and beyond it. The inevitable implication here is that God is sufficiently, if not exclusively, known through natural and human media. Science recognizes Him in the terms of its own categories as in and of His world, a part of all its ongoings and developments. But His creative life is indistinguishable from, if not identical with, its expressions. Here, then, is a practical obliteration of the line once so sharply drawn between the natural and the supernatural. Hence the demarcation between the divine and human into mutually exclusive states has disappeared.
This would seem, then, to wipe out also any knowledge of absolute values. Christian theism has interpreted God largely in static, final terms. The craving for the absolute in the human mind, as witnessed by the long course of the history of thought, as pathetically witnessed to in the mixture of chicanery, fanaticism and insight of the modern mystical and occult healing sects, is central and immeasurable. But God, found, if at all, in the terms of a present process, is not static and absolute, but dynamic and relative; indefinite, incomplete, not final. And man's immense difference from Him, that sense of the immeasurable space between creator and created, is strangely contracted. The gulf between holiness and guiltiness tends also to disappear. For our life would appear to be plastic and indefinite, a process rather than a state, not open then to conclusive moral estimates; incomplete, not fallen; life an orderly process, hence not perverse but defensible; without known breaks or infringements, hence relatively normal and sufficiently intelligible.
A second factor was the rise of the humane sciences. In the seventh and eighth decades of the last century men were absorbed in the discovery of the nature and extent of the material universe. But beginning about 1890, interest swerved again toward man as its most revealing study and most significant inhabitant. Anthropology, ethnology, sociology, physical and functional psychology, came to the front. Especially the humane studies of political science and industrial economics were magnified because of the new and urgent problems born of an industrial civilization and a capitalistic state. The invention and perfection of the industrial machine had by now thoroughly dislocated former social groupings, made its own ethical standards and human problems. In the early days of the labor movement William Morris wrote, "we have become slaves of the monster to which invention has given birth." In 1853, shortly after the introduction of the cotton gin into India, the Viceroy wrote: "The misery is scarcely paralleled in the history of trade." (A large statement that!) "The bones of the cotton workers whiten the plains of India."
But the temporary suffering caused by the immediate crowding out of cottage industry and the abrupt increase in production was insignificant beside the deeper influence, physical, moral, mental, of the machine in changing the permanent habitat and the entire mode of living for millions of human beings. It removed them from those healthy rural surroundings which preserve the half-primitive, half-poetic insight into the nature of things which comes from relative isolation and close contact with the soil, to the nervous tension, the amoral conditions, the airless, lightless ugliness of the early factory settlements. Here living conditions were not merely beastly; they were often bestial. The economic helplessness of the factory hands reduced them to essential slavery. They must live where the factory was, and could work only in one factory, for they could not afford to move. Hence they must obey their industrial master in every particular, since the raw material, the plant, the tools, the very roof that covered them, were all his! In this new human condition was a powerful reinforcement, from another angle of approach, of the humanistic impulse. Man's interest in himself, which had been sometimes that of the dilettante, largely imaginative and even sentimental, was reinforced by man's new distress and became concrete and scientific.
Thus man regarded himself and his own world with a new and urgent attention. The methods and secondary causes of his intellectual, emotional and volitional life began to be laid bare. The new situation revealed the immense part played in shaping the personality and the fate of the individual by inheritance and environment. The Freudian doctrine, which traces conduct and habit back to early or prenatal repressions, strengthens the interest in the physical and materialistic sources of character and conduct in human life. Behavioristic psychology, interpreting human nature in terms of observation and action, rather than analysis and value judgments, does the same. It tends to put the same emphasis upon the external and sensationalistic aspects of human experience.
That, then, which is a central force in religion, the sense of the inscrutability of human nature, the feeling of awe before the natural processes, what Paul called the mystery of iniquity and the mystery of godliness, tends to disappear. Wonder and confident curiosity succeed humility and awe. That which is of the essence of religion, the sense of helplessness coupled with the sense of responsibility, is stifled. Whatever else the humane sciences have done, they have deepened man's fascinated and narrowing absorption in himself and given him apparent reason to believe that by analyzing the iron chain of cause and effect which binds the process and admitting that it permits no deflection or variation, he is making the further questions as to the origin, meaning and destiny of that process either futile or superfluous. So that, in brief, the check to speculative thinking and the repudiation of central metaphysical concepts, which the earlier movement brought about, has been accentuated and sealed by the humane sciences and the new and living problems offered them for practical solution. Thus the generation now ending has been carried beyond the point of combating ancient doctrines of God and man, to the place where it has become comparatively indifferent, rather than hostile, to any doctrine of God, so absorbed is it in the physical functions, the temporal needs and the material manifestations of human personality.
Finally, as the natural and humane sciences mark new steps in the expanding humanistic movement, so in these last days, critical scholarship, itself largely a product of the humanistic viewpoint, has added another factor to the group. The new methods of historical and literary criticism, of comparative investigation in religion and the other arts, have exerted a vast influence upon contemporary religious thought. They have not merely completed the breakdown of an arbitrary and fixed external authority and rendered finally invalid the notion of equal or verbal inspiration in sacred writings, but the present tendency, especially in comparative religion, is to seek the source of all so-called religious experience within the human consciousness; particularly to derive it all from group experience. Here, then, is a theory of religious origins which once more turns the spirit of man back upon itself. Robertson Smith, Jane Harrison, Durkheim, rejecting an earlier animistic theory, find the origin of religion not in contemplation of the natural world and in the intuitive perception of something more-than-world which lies behind it, but in the group experience whose heightened emotional intensity and nervous energy imparts to the one the exaltation of the many. Smith, in the Religion of the Semites, emphasizes, as the fundamental conception of ancient religion, "the solidarity of the gods and their worshipers as part of an organic society." Durkheim goes beyond this. There are not at the beginning men and gods, but only the social group and the collective emotions and representations which are generated through membership in the group.
[Footnote 9: P. 32.]
Here, then, is humanism again carried to the very heart of the citadel. Religion at its source contains no real perceptions of any extra-human force or person. What seemed to be such perceptions were only the felt participation of the individual in a collective consciousness which is superindividual, but not superhuman and always continuous with the individual consciousness. So that, whatever may or may not be true later, the beginning of man's metaphysical interests, his cosmic consciousness, his more-than-human contacts, is simply his social experience, his collective emotions and representations. Thus Durkheim: "We are able to say, in sum, that the religious individual does not deceive himself when he believes in the existence of a moral power upon which he depends and from which he holds the larger portion of himself. That power exists; it is society. When the Australian feels within himself the surging of a life whose intensity surprises him, he is the dupe of no illusion; that exaltation is real, and it is really the product of forces that are external and superior to the individual." Yes, but identical in kind and genesis with himself and his own race. To Leuba, in his Psychological Study of Religion, this has already become the accepted viewpoint. Whatever is enduring and significant in religion is merely an expression of man's social consciousness and experience, his sense of participation in a common life. "Humanity, idealized and conceived as a manifestation of creative energy, possesses surprising qualifications for a source of religious inspiration." Professor Overstreet, in "The Democratic Conception of God," Hibbert Journal, volume XI, page 409, says: "It is this large figure, not simply of human but of cosmic society which is to yield our God of the future. There is no place in the future for an eternally perfect being and no need—society, democratic from end to end, can brook no such radical class distinction as that between a supreme being, favored with eternal and absolute perfection, and the mass of beings doomed to the lower ways of imperfect struggle."
[Footnote 10: Les Formes elementaires de la vie religieuse, p. 322.]
There is certainly a striking immediacy in such language. We leave for later treatment the question as to the historical validity of such an attitude. It certainly ignores some of the most distinguished and fruitful concepts of trained minds; it rules out of court what are to the majority of men real and precious factors in the religious experience. It would appear to be another instance, among the many, of the fallacy of identifying the part with the whole. But the effect of such pervasive thought currents, the more subtle and unfightable because indirect and disguised in popular appearance and influence, upon the ethical and spiritual temper of religious leaders, the very audacity of whose tasks puts them on the defensive, is vast and incalculable. At the worst, it drives man into a mechanicalized universe, with a resulting materialism of thought and life; at the best, it makes him a pragmatist with amiable but immediate objectives, just practical "results" as his guide and goal. Morality as, in Antigone's noble phrase, "the unwritten law of heaven" sinks down and disappears. There is no room here for the Job who abhors himself and repents in dust and ashes nor for Plato's One behind the Many; no perceptible room, in such a world, for any of the absolute values, the transcendent interests, the ethics of idealism, any eschatology, or for Christian theodicy. That which has been the typical contribution of the religious perceptions in the past, namely, the comprehensive vision of life and the world and time sub specie aeternitatis is here abandoned. Eternity is unreal or empty; we never heard the music of the spheres. We are facing at this moment a disintegrating age. Here is a prime reason for it. The spiritual solidarity of mankind under the humanistic interpretation of life and destiny is dissolving and breaking down. Humanism is ingenious and reasonable and clever but it is too limited; it doesn't answer enough questions.
Before going on, in a future chapter, to discuss the question as to what kind of preaching such a world-view, seen from the Christian standpoint, needs, we are now to inquire what the effect of this humanistic movement upon Christian preaching has already been. That our preaching should have been profoundly influenced by it is inevitable. Religion is not apart from the rest of life. The very temperament of the speaker makes him peculiarly susceptible to the intellectual and spiritual movements about him. What, then, has humanism done to preaching? Has it worked to clarify and solidify the essence of the religious position? Or has preaching declined and become neutralized in religious quality under it?
First: it has profoundly affected Christian preaching about God. The contemporary sermon on Deity minimizes or leaves out divine transcendence; thus it starves one fundamental impulse in man—the need and desire to look up. Instead of this transcendence modern preaching emphasizes immanence, often to a naive and ludicrous degree. God is the being who is like us. Under the influence of that monistic idealism, which is a derived philosophy of the humanistic impulse, preaching lays all the emphasis upon divine immanence in sharpest contrast either to the deistic transcendence of the eighteenth century or the separateness and aloofness of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, or of the classic Greek theologies of Christianity. God is, of course; that is, He is the informing principle in the natural and human universe and essentially one with it. Present preaching does not confess this identification but it evades rather than meets the logical pantheistic conclusion. So our preaching has to do with God in the common round of daily tasks; with sweeping a room to His glory; with adoration of His presence in a sunset and worship of Him in a star. Every bush's aflame with Him; there are sermons in stones and poems in running brooks. Before us, even as behind, God is and all is well. We are filled with a sort of intoxication with this intimate and protective company of the Infinite; we are magnificently unabashed as we familiarly approach Him. "Closer is He than breathing; nearer than hands or feet." Not then by denying or condemning or distrusting the world in which we live, not by asserting the differences between God and humanity do we understand Him. But by closest touch with nature do we find Him. By a superb paradox, not without value, yet equally ineffable in sentimentality and sublime in its impiety we say, beholding man, "that which is most human is most divine!"
That there is truth in such comfortable and affable preaching is obvious; that there is not much truth in it is obvious, too. To what extent, and in what ways, nature, red with tooth and claw, indifferent, ruthless, whimsical, can be called the expression of the Christian God, is not usually specifically stated. In what way man, just emerging from the horror, the shame, the futility of his last and greatest debauch of bloody self-destruction, can be called the chief medium of truth, holiness and beauty, the matrix of divinity, is not entirely manifest. But the fatal defect of such preaching is not that there is not, of course, a real identity between the world and its Maker, the soul and its Creator, but that the aspect of reality which this truth expresses is the one which has least religious value, is least distinctive in the spiritual experience. The religious nature is satisfied, and the springs of moral action are refreshed by dwelling on the "specialness" of God; men are brought back to themselves, not among their fellows and by identifying them with their fellows, but by lifting them to the secret place of the Most High. They need religiously not thousand-tongued nature, but to be kept secretly in His pavilion from the strife of tongues. It is the difference between God and men which makes men who know themselves trust Him. It is the "otherness," not the sameness, which makes Him desirable and potent in the daily round of life. A purely ethical interest in God ceases to be ethical and becomes complacent; when we rule out the supraphenomenal we have shut the door on the chief strength of the higher life.
Second: modern preaching, under this same influence and to a yet greater degree, emphasizes the principle of identity, where we need that of difference, in its preaching about Jesus. He is still the most moving theme for the popular presentation of religion. But that is because He offers the most intelligible approach to that very "otherness" in the person of the godhead. His healing and reconciling influence over the heart of man—the way the human spirit expands and blossoms in His presence—is moving beyond expression to any observer, religious or irreligious. Each new crusade in the long strife for human betterment looks in sublime confidence to Him as its forerunner and defense. To what planes of common service, faith, magnanimous solicitude could He not lift the embittered, worldlyized men and women of this torn and distracted age, which is so desperately seeking its own life and thereby so inexorably losing it! But why is the heart subdued, the mind elevated, the will made tractable by Him? Why, because He is enough like us so that we know that He understands, has utter comprehension; and He is enough different from us so that we are willing to trust Him. In what lies the essence of the leadership of Jesus? He is not like us: therefore, we are willing to relinquish ourselves into His hands.
Now, that is only half the truth. But if I may use a paradox, it is the important half, the primary half. And it is just that essential element in the Christian experience of Jesus that modern preaching, under the humanistic impulse, is neglecting. Indeed, liberal preachers have largely ceased to sermonize about Him, just because it has become so easy! Humanism has made Jesus obvious, hence, relatively impotent. With its unified cosmos, its immanent God, its exalted humanity, the whole Christological problem has become trivial. It drops the cosmic approach to the person of Jesus in favor of the ethical. It does not approach Him from the side of God; we approach nothing from that side now; but from the side of man. Thus He is not so much a divine revelation as He is a human achievement. Humanity and divinity are one in essence. The Creator is distinguished from His creatures in multifarious differences of degree but not in kind. We do not see, then, in Christ, a perfect isolated God, joined to a perfect isolated man, in what were indeed the incredible terms of the older and superseded Christologies. But rather, He is the perfect revelation of the moral being, the character of God, in all those ways capable of expression or comprehension in human life, just because he is the highest manifestation of a humanity through which God has been forever expressing Himself in the world. For man is, so to speak, his own cosmic center; the greatest divine manifestation which we know. Granted, then, an ideal man, a complete moral being, and ipso facto we have our supreme revelation of God.