There were large attendances at the services of the Week of Prayer. It must not, however, be assumed that in normal times the townsfolk of Oran are particularly devout. On Sunday morning, for instance, sea-bathing competes seriously with churchgoing. Nor must it be thought that they had seen a great light and had a sudden change of heart. With regard to religion – as to many other problems – plague had induced in them a curious frame of mind, as remote from indifference as from fervor; the best name to give it, perhaps, might be “objectivity.” Most of those who took part in the Week of Prayer would have echoed a remark made by one of the church goers..: “Anyhow, it can’t do any harm.”
Thus from the dawn of recorded history the scourge of God has humbled the proud of heart and laid low those who hardened themselves against Him. Ponder this well, my friends, and fall on your knees. If today the plague is in your midst, that is because the hour has struck for taking thought. The just man need have no fear, but the evildoer has good cause to tremble. For plague is the flail of God and the world His threshing-floor, and implacably He will thresh out His harvest until the wheat is separated from the chaff. There will be more chaff than wheat, few chosen of the many called. Yet this calamity was not willed by God. Too long this world of ours has connived at evil, too long has it counted on the divine mercy, on God’s forgiveness. Repentance was enough, men thought; nothing was forbidden. You fondly imagine it was enough to visit God on Sundays, and thus you make free of your weekdays, You believed some brief formalities, some bendings of the knee, would recompense Him well enough for your criminal indifference. But God is not mocked. These brief encounters could not sate the fierce hunger of His love… To some the sermon simply brought home the fact that they had been sentenced, for an unknown crime, to an indeterminate period of punishment.
“No, Frank, not here”, said the Lady. “Listen to reason. Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenseless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed? For it was real misery. I know that now. You made yourself really wretched. That you can still do. But you can no longer communicate your wretchedness. Everything becomes more and more itself. Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light. No, no, no.
Come to us. We will not go to you. Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs? Did you not know they were stronger than their opposites?
I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief… Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.
If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.
You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death — we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time — death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds — it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts.
Never has anyone been less a priest than Jesus, never a greater enemy of form, which stifles religion under the pretext of protecting it. By this, we are all his disciples and his successors; by this he has laid the eternal foundation stone of true religion; and if religion is essential to humanity, he has by this deserved the Divine rank the world has accorded to him. An absolutely new idea, the idea of a worship founded on purity of heart, and on human brotherhood, through him entered into the world — an idea so elevated that the Christian Church ought to make it its distinguishing feature, but an idea which in our days only few minds are capable of embodying… Whatever may be the transformation of dogma, Jesus will ever be the creator of pure religion; the Sermon on the Mount will never be surpassed. Whatever revolution takes place will not prevent us from attaching ourselves in religion to the grand intellectual and moral line at the head of which shines the name of Jesus. In this sense, we are Christian, even if we separate ourselves on almost all points from the Christian tradition which has preceded us.
The meaning ordinarily attached to the word “cross” is that of a figure composed of two or more lines which intersect, or touch each other transversely. Thus, two pieces of wood, or other material, so placed in juxtaposition to one another, are understood to form a cross. It should be noted, however, that Lipsius and other writers speak of the single upright stake to which criminals were bound as a cross, and to such a stake the name of crux simplex has been applied. The usual conception, however, of a cross is that of a compound figure. Punishment by crucifixion was widely employed in ancient times. It is known to have been used by nations such as those of Assyria, Egypt, Persia, by the Greeks, Carthaginians, Macedonians, and from very early times by the Romans. It has been thought, too, that crucifixion was also used by the Jews themselves, and that there is an allusion to it (Deut. xxi. 22, 23) as a punishment to be inflicted.
The cross of Christ, as if it were the glittering eye of God, has in a most wondrous way held man spell-bound, and made him listen to its strange story “like a three years’ child” who “cannot choose but hear.” Were not the fact so familiar, men would call it miraculous. Had its action and history been capable of a priori statement, it would have seemed, even to the most credulous age, the maddest of mad and unsubstantial dreams. For it is not only that in the immense history of human experience it stands alone, a fact without a fellow, the most potent factor of human good, yet with what seems the least inherent fitness for it, but it even appears to contradict the most certain and common principles man has deduced from his experience. We do not wonder at the cross having been a stumbling-block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. We should have wondered much more had it been anything else.
Jesus is a king because his business is to bear witness to the truth. What truth? All truth; all verity of relation thoughout the universe — first of all, that his father is good, perfectly good; and that the crown and joy of life is to desire and do the will of the eternal source of will, and of all life. He deals thus the death-blow to the power of hell. For the one principle of Hell is “I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the centre from which go out my thoughts; I am the object and end of my thoughts; back upon me as the alpha and omega of life, my thoughts return. My own glory is, and ought to be, my chief care; my ambition, to gather regards of men to the one centre, myself. My pleasure is my pleasure. My kingdom is — as many as I can bring to acknowledge my greatness over them. My judgment is the faultless rule of things. My right is — what I desire. The more I am all in all to myself, the greater I am. The less I acknowledge debt or obligation to another; the more I close my eyes to the fact that I did not make myself; the more self-sufficing I feel or imagine myself — the greater I am.” …
By far the most original thing here is the simple conception of Heaven as a City. The idea of religion without a Church — “I saw no Temple therein” — is anomalous enough; but the association of the blessed life with a City — the one place in the world from which Heaven seems most far away — is something wholly new in religious thought. No other religion which has a Heaven ever had a Heaven like this. The Greek, if he looked forward at all, awaited the Elysian Fields; the Eastern sought Nirvana. All other Heavens have been Gardens, Dreamlands — passivities more or less aimless. Even to the majority among ourselves Heaven is a siesta and not a City. It remained for John to go straight to the other extreme and select the citadel of the world’s fever, the ganglion of its unrest, the heart and focus of its most strenuous toil, as the framework for his ideal of the blessed life. ~ Excerpt
In this timeless speech, Henry Drummond argues that the greatest thing, the summum bonum, is love. But this love is not here just a cliché, the love of pop songs and romantic comedies. As Drummond puts it: “Patience; kindness; generosity; humility; courtesy; unselfishness; good temper; guilelessness; sincerity — these make up the supreme gift… You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity.” I have always appreciated this fact, that the biblical portrait of love is not merely a beautiful but empty concept, but rather a love with form and flesh. Drummond enumerates and expounds on the nature of biblical love, contrasting it with other goods, analyzing its aspects, and defending its primacy of place. ~ Afterall
The sects in the Church might be judged by a comparison of their favorite holidays. And so might eras in history be judged. It is matter of real interest, then, to see how all poets and prophets of all divisions of the Church unite on this day, to proclaim it the Sunday of Sundays, the High Holy Day of the year. For this is to say that poet and prophet, of every sect and those least sectarian, have found out at last that the Christian Religion stands for Life. Life instead of form; Life instead of Laws; Life instead of Grave-clothes; Life instead of Tombs; Life instead of Death ; — that is what Christianity means, and what it is for. You would be tempted to say that the Saviour had already enforced this completely in what he said to men; tempted to say that Easter morning was not needed either for illustration or enforcement. Certainly the gospel texts are full of the lesson. "Because I live, ye shall live also." "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself." "This is Life Eternal — to believe on thee." And central text of all, the text we have chosen for the motto of this church, "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." If texts alone ever did anything, these and a thousand more would show what The Truth is, and The Way. But one is tempted, in bitter moods, to say that texts never do anything, that words never achieve or finish anything. One is tempted to remember how he said that any man who prepared God’s way is greater than any man who only proclaims it, how prophets and prophesying were done with, mere talk was over — praise the Lord! and energy, action, force had come in instead, praise the Lord! Yet, if anybody did still trust in talk, he might take a lesson from these Gospels.
For me, that God of the clergymen is dead as a doornail. But am I an atheist for all that? The clergymen consider me so — so be it — but I love, and how could I feel love if I did not live and others did not live; and then if we live, there is something mysterious in that. Now call it God or human nature or whatever you like, but there is something which I cannot define systematically, though it is very real, and see that as God, or as good as God.
The work of the French naturalists — Zola, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, de Congourt — is magnificent. Is the Bible enough for us: In these days, I believe Jesus himself would say to those who sit down in a state of melancholy, “It is not here, get up and go forth. Why do you seek the living among the dead?” If the spoken or written word is to remain the light of the world, then it is our right and our duty to acknowledge that we are living in a period when it should be spoken and written in such a way that, in order to find something equally great, and equally good, and equally original, and equally powerful to revolutionize the whole of society, we may compare it with a clear conscience to the old revolution of the Christians. I myself am always glad that I have read the Bible more thoroughly than many people nowadays, because it eases my mind somewhat to know that there were once such lofty ideas.
Arundel. There must always be, so long as creeds are words and men are reasoning beings, a variety of interpretation and opinion as to the essentials or non-essentials of any religious faith. The frequently quoted maxim attributed to Augustine is epigrammatic and pretty: In necesaariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus charitas, but it leaves the main difficulty unsolved. What are necessaria, and why? and what is the boundary line between dubia and necessaria? Certainly the necessaria which can be gathered from the direct utterances of Jesus Christ may be packed in a very small dogmatic parcel.
Christian morality (so called) has all the characters of a reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive; passive rather than active; Innocence rather than Nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than energetic Pursuit of Good: in its precepts (as has been well said) “thou shalt not” predominates unduly over “thou shalt.” In its horror of sensuality, it made an idol of asceticism, which has been gradually compromised away into one of legality. It holds out the hope of heaven and the threat of hell, as the appointed and appropriate motives to a virtuous life: in this falling far below the best of the ancients, and doing what lies in it to give to human morality an essentially selfish character, by disconnecting each man’s feelings of duty from the interests of his fellow-creatures, except so far as a self-interested inducement is offered to him for consulting them. It is essentially a doctrine of passive obedience; it inculcates submission to all authorities found established; who indeed are not to be actively obeyed when they command what religion forbids, but who are not to be resisted, far less rebelled against, for any amount of wrong to ourselves.
It has been remarked, that the moral precepts of Christianity are highly valuable, not only when viewed in reference to their primary and direct object, the direction and guidance of the movements of the inner and outer man, the regulation of the temper and conduct, the dispositions and actions, but also when considered in their subsidiary and indirect references, particularly in their bearing on the evidence of the Divine origin of that system of revelation of which they form so important a part. That bearing is manifold. Let us look at it in its various phases. Were a book, consisting partly of doctrinal statements and partly of moral precepts, claiming a Divine origin, put into our hands; and were we to find on perusal the moral part of it fantastic and trifling, inconsistent with the principles of man’s constitution, unsuitable to the circumstances in which he is placed, and incompatible with the great laws of justice and benevolence, we should enter on the examination of the evidence appealed to, in support of its high pretensions, under the influence of a strong and justifiable suspicion. …
The question recurs, ‘How shall we fortify against [lawlessness]?’ The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; — let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap — let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; — let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.
You say, “Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty, even if the innocent were to offer itself; to suppose justice to do this, is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself; it is then no longer justice, it is indiscriminate revenge.” Before this question can be decided, we must inquire, What is moral justice, as it applies to God? That it must be something different with him, from what it is with us, will appear from this consideration: God can, when, how, or where he pleases, deprive men of their lives, without any visible cause for such actions; yet God, notwithstanding this, is morally just in all his ways. Apply this to man; we cannot, consistently with moral justice, deprive men of their lives, without a previous forfeiture of the same to moral justice. Unless the cause of death, with us, be equal to the death inflicted, the act is injustice, and the death assassination and murder; but God cannot commit murder; therefore the deprivation of life, of any of his creatures, by him, must not only be reconcilable with justice, but founded on its very principles and nature. Neither can God be guided by the same laws, nor actuated by the same motives, with which we are. To talk of laws, and apply them both to God and man, is derogatory to his nature, for the reasons assigned above; and that, which derogates from God, cannot be applied to him. The rules, which regulate his ways and conduct in the economy of things, are such as we know little of; and what is justice with God, will in many cases, be injustice with us. It is a principle, which must be admitted, that the same power, which has a right to establish a law, must have a right to repeal that law; but God had a morally just right to establish, both the laws of nature, and the laws of his word; therefore, he has the same morally just right to suspend, or finally repeal either.
You [Thomas Paine] say, “It is curious to observe, how the theory of what is called the Christian church, sprang out of the tail of the Heathen mythology.” That your curiosity should be excited, when you think a favourable opportunity presents itself, of bringing the Bible into disrepute, is not a matter that excites much surprise; but evidence, that would connect your allegations with truth, would prove more satisfactory than an expression of curiosity. But so contrary to fact is this assertion, that we find no more than two or three quotations, from any Heathen author, in all the New Testament, and these are merely moral sentences; while the Old Testament is quoted and alluded to about five hundred times. … Nor does it appear, that either the Stoics, or the Epicureans, in the days of the Apostles, were acquainted with the discovery which you have made. By these, Paul was accused, with being “a setter forth of strange Gods,” when he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And for this offence, he was taken and brought unto the Areopagus, and charged with bringing strange things to their ears. … It will be vain to reply, that this is hearsay evidence. If Bible evidence be hearsay, I would ask, from what source did you derive your information, respecting Christ and his Apostles? You quote, without hesitation, from the Bible, whatever you conceive will militate against the characters of those whom you condemn, and invalidate the authenticity of the Book itself; you cannot, therefore, in common justice, refuse and appeal to the same authority, even when an opposite purpose is to be served. And, when this is granted, unless I am much deceived, the head of prejudice will be more conspicuous than the tail of the Heathen mythology.
You pass on to an examination of "the books, called the Old and New Testament;" but, pausing on the margin of your inquiry, you ask, "who told us they were the word of God?" to which you answer, "Nobody can tell;" and hence you conclude, that "they must be false." That this is a legitimate inference, very few, I presume, will have the hardihood to assert. If I were to ask, Who told us, that the History of Josephus, the Epistles of Pliny, the Orations of Cicero, and the Elements of Euclid, were all written by the authors whose names they bear? and should be answered, "Nobody can tell," would this falsify the testimony of facts, which these books respectively contained? No one, I think, would presume to make such an assertion…