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Chapter IV. God's Self-Expression and the Mind of To-Day

I

To the mind of to-day trust would be easier were it not for the terror lest God's plans involve us in fearful things from which we shrink. We have heard so much of the trials He sends; of the gifts of Tantalus He keeps forever in our sight but just beyond our reach; of the blessings He actually bestows upon us only to snatch them away when we have come to love them most--we have heard so much of this that we are often afraid of His will as the greatest among the evils of which we stand in dread.

In many cases this is the root of our fear. We cannot trust without misgiving to the love of God. What is there then that we can trust to? We can't trust to ourselves; still less can we trust to our fellow-men. Those whom we love and in whom we have confidence being as weak as ourselves, if not weaker than we, establish our spirits not at all. If, therefore, we mentally poison the well of Universal Good-intent at its very source what have we to depend on?

I have already referred to the God of repressions and denials, and now must speak a little more freely of this travesty on "the Father," as expressed to us in Jesus Christ. Of all the obstacles to the rooting out of fear the lingering belief in such a distortion of Divine Love is to my mind the most deeply based.

I often think it a proof of the vital truth in the message of Jesus Christ that it persists in holding the heart in spite of the ugly thing which, from so many points of view, the Caucasian has managed to make of it. Nowhere is the cruelty of Caucasian misinterpretation more evident than in the meanings given to the glorious phrase, "the Will of God." I do not exaggerate when I say that in most Caucasian minds the Will of God is a bitter, ruthless force, to which we can only drug ourselves into submission. It is always ready to thwart us, to stab us in the back, or to strike us where our affections are tenderest. We hold our blessings only on the tenure of its caprice. Our pleasures are but the stolen moments we can snatch from its inattention.

As an example I quote some stanzas from a hymn frequently sung where English-speaking people worship, and more or less expressive of the whole Caucasian attitude toward "God's Will."

My God, my Father, while I stray
Far from my home on life's rough way,
Oh, teach me from my heart to say,
    Thy Will be done.

Though dark my path and sad my lot,
Let me be still, and murmur not,
Or breathe the prayer divinely taught,
    Thy Will be done.

What though in lonely grief I sigh
For friends beloved no longer nigh,
Submissive still would I reply,
    Thy Will be done.

If thou shouldst call me to resign
What most I prize, it ne'er was mine;
I only yield thee what is thine;
    Thy Will be done.

These lines, typical of a whole class of sentimental hymnology, are important only in as far as they are widely known and express a more or less standardised point of view. The implication they contain is that all deprivation is brought upon us by the Will of God, and that our wisest course is to beat ourselves down before that which we cannot modify. Beneath the car of this Juggernaut we must flout our judgments and crush our affections. As He knows so well where to hit us we must stifle our moans when He does so. As He knows so well what will ring our hearts we must be content to let Him give so that He can the more poignantly take away. The highest exercise of our own free will is to "be still and murmur not"--to admit that we need the chastisement--to crouch beneath the blows which we tell ourselves are delivered in love, even though it is hard to see where the love comes in.

II

I know nothing more tragic than those efforts on the part of heart-broken people, coming within the experience of all of us, to make themselves feel that this terrible "Will of God" must be right, no matter how much it seems wrong.

A young man with a wife and family to support is struck down by a lingering illness which makes him a burden. All his Job's comforters tell him that God has brought the affliction upon him, and that to bow to the "Inscrutable Will" must be his first act of piety.

A young mother is rejoicing in her baby when its little life is suddenly snuffed out. She must school herself to say, quite irrespective of the spirit of renunciation which inspires the words, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord."

A woman is left a widow to earn a living for herself, and bring up her children fatherless. She must assume that the Lord had some good purpose in leaving her thus bereft and must drill herself into waiting on a Will so impossible to comprehend.

Storms sink ships, drowning passengers and crew; lightning sets fire to houses and strikes human beings dead; earthquakes swallow up whole districts destroying industry and human life; tidal waves sweep inland carrying away towns; and our legal phraseology can think of no better explanation of such calamity than to ascribe it to "the act of God."

It is needless to multiply these instances. Our own knowledge supplies them by the score. Our personal lives are full of them. God's Will, God's Love, God's Mercy, become strangely ironic forces, grim beyond any open enmity. They remind us of the "love," the "pity," the "mercy," in which the orthodox sent the heretic to the hangman or the stake, destroying the body to save the soul.

It is a far cry from this appalling vision of "the Father" to the psalmist's "Delight thou in the Lord and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." How could anyone delight in the Caucasian God, as the majority of Caucasians conceive of Him? As a matter of fact, how many Caucasians themselves, however devout, however orthodox, attempt to delight, or pretend to delight, in the God to whom on occasions they bow down? Delight is a strong word, and a lovely one; but used of the Caucasian and his Deity it is not without its elements of humour.

III

Naturally enough! It is impossible for any human being to delight in a God whose first impulse in "doing us good" is so often to ravage our prosperity and affections. So long as we believe in Him fear will rule our lives. It is because the Caucasian believes in Him that he lives in fear and dies in fear. To attempt to eliminate fear and retain this concept of God is vain.

Understanding this the average Caucasian has made little or no effort to eliminate fear. He would rather live and die in fear than change this concept of God. It is dear to him. He finds it useful. To its shoulders he can shift the ills of which he is unwilling himself to accept the responsibility. Where God is a puzzle life is a puzzle; and where life is a puzzle the Caucasian gets his chance for making the materialistic ideal the only one that seems practical. In a world which was to any noticeable degree freed from the spectre of fear most of our existing systems of government, religion, business, law, and national and international politics, would have to be remodelled. There would be little or no use for them. Built on fear and run by fear, fear is as essential to their existence as coal to our industries. A society that had escaped from fear would escape from their control.

In this present spring of 1921 we are having an exhibition of fear on a scale so colossal that the heart of man is dazed by it. There is not a government which is not afraid of some other government. There is not a government which is not afraid of its own people. There is not a people which is not afraid of its own government. There is not a country in which one group is not afraid of some other group. All is rivalry, enmity, suspicion, confusion, and distrust, "while men's hearts are fainting for fear, and for anxious expectation of what is coming on the world." All statesmen, all ministers, all ambassadors, all politicians, all bankers, all business men, all professional men, all journalists, all farmers, all laborers, all workers in the arts, all men and women of all kinds--with the exception of one here and there who has reached the understanding of the love which casteth out fear--live and work in fear, and in mistrust of their colleagues. From the supreme councils of the Allies down to the crooks and conspirators in dives and joints everyone is afraid of being double-crossed. There is so much double-crossing everywhere that we have been obliged to invent this name for the operation. England is afraid of being double-crossed by Germany, France by England, Italy by France, the United States by Europe, and Japan by the United States, while within these general limitations minor double-crossing interests seethe like bacteria in a drop of poisoned blood. The nations are infected with fear because they elect to believe in a God of fear, and the Caucasians more than others because they have chosen to see a God of fear in Him who was put before them as a God of Love.

IV

I see no way out of all this except as one of us after another reaches the Metanoia, the new point of view as regards God. Other ways have been sought, and have been found no more than blind alleys. Much reference is made nowadays to the disillusionment of those who hoped that the war would lead to social and spiritual renovation; but any such hope was doomed in advance, so long as the Caucasian concept of God was unchanged. When you cannot trust God you cannot trust anything; and when you cannot trust anything you get the condition of the world as it is to-day. And that you cannot trust a God whose "love" will paralyse the hand by which you have to earn a living, or snatch your baby from your breast--to say nothing of a thousand ingenious forms of torture inflicted just because "He sees that it is best for you," after having led you to see otherwise--that you cannot trust a God like that must be more or less self-evident. If you are part of His Self-Expression He cannot practise futilities through your experience and personality. He must be kind with a common-sense kindness, loving with a common-sense love. Whatever explanation of our sufferings and failures there may be we must not shuffle them off on God. "Let us hold God to be true," St. Paul writes, "though every man should prove false."[11] Let us hold that God would not hurt us, however much we may wilfully hurt each other or ourselves.

[11] Epistle to the Romans.

V

I should not lay so much emphasis on this if so much emphasis were not laid on it in the other direction. God has so persistently, and for so many generations, been held up to us as a God who tries and torments and punishes that we can hardly see Him as anything else. Torture comes, in the minds of many of us, to be not only His main function but His only function. "I am all right," is the unspoken thought in many a heart, "so long as I am not overtaken by the Will of God. When that calamity falls on me my poor little human happiness will be wrecked like a skiff in a cyclone." This is not an exaggeration. It is the secret mental attitude of perhaps ninety percent of those Caucasians who believe in a God of any kind. Their root-conviction is that if God would only let them alone they would get along well enough; but as a terrible avenging spirit, like the Fury or the Nemesis of the ancients, he is always tracking them down. The aversion from God so noticeable in the mind of to-day is, I venture to think, chiefly inspired by the instinct to get away from, or to hide from, the pursuit of this Avenger.

VI

And in a measure this impulse to flight can be understood. I can understand that common-sense men should be cold toward the Caucasian God, and that they should even renounce and denounce him. I will go so far as to say that I can more easily understand the atheist than I can many of my own friends who pathetically try to love and adore their capricious un-Christlike Deity. To my certain knowledge many of them are doing it against their own natural and better instincts, because they dare not forsake the tradition in which they have been dyed. "I try to love God and I can't," has been said to me many a time by conscientious people who felt that the fault must lie in themselves. There was no fault in themselves. If their God could have been loved they would have loved him.

VII

I come here to a point of no small importance to the conquest of fear, the courage to release oneself from the tether of tradition. Few people have it, in the sense of rejecting old theories because of having worked out to new spiritual knowledge. When it comes to the eternal verities many of us are cowardly; nearly all of us are timid. The immense majority of us prefer a God at second or third hand. We will accept what somebody else has learned, rather than incur the trouble or the responsibility of learning anything for ourselves. We take our knowledge of God as we take our doses of medicine, from a prescription which one man has written down, and another has "put up," and still another administers. By the time this traditional, handed-on knowledge of God has reached ourselves it is diluted by all kinds of outside opinions and personalities. It is not strange that when we have swallowed the dose it does little to effect a cure. I do not deny that a second or third hand knowledge of God may do something. I only deny that it can do much. To support my denial I need only point to what the world has become in a second and third hand Christendom. The illustration is enough.

It should be plain, I think, that no one will ever be released from fear by clinging to the teachings which have inspired fear. We are fearless in proportion as we grow independent enough to know for ourselves. I cannot but stress this point to some extent, for the reason that I myself suffered so long from inability to let the traditional go. It seemed to me to have a sanctity just because it was traditional. The fact that other people had accepted certain ideas had weight in making me feel that I should accept them too. To go off on a line of my own seemed dangerous. I might make mistakes. I might go far wrong. Safety was spelled by hanging with the crowd.

It was the chance remark of an old acquaintance which dislodged me from this position. In the lobby of a hotel we had met by chance, after not having seen each other for a good many years. The conversation, having touched on one theme and another, drifted to subjects akin to that which I am now discussing. I ventured to disclose some of my own "seeking God, if perhaps I could grope for Him and find Him."[12]

[12] Acts of the Apostles.

My friend straightened himself and squared his shoulders. "I stand exactly where I did thirty years ago."

There was a pride in the statement with regard to which my first feeling was a pang of envy. A rapid calculation told me that thirty years ago he had been about twenty; and the superiority of a man who at twenty had attained to so much spiritual insight that he had not needed to learn anything more in the interim was evident. I was two or three days turning this incident over in my mind before the exclamation came to me, "How terrible!" To have lived through the thirty years of the richest experience the ordinary man ever knows and still have remained on precisely the same spot as to spiritual things struck me then as a woeful confession.

I beg to say here that I am not talking of external and official religious connections. I am trying to avoid the subject of external and official religion altogether. I am speaking not of religion but of God. To my mind the two have no more than the relation of the words of a song and the music of its setting. You may use them together or you may consider them apart. I am considering them apart, and confining myself wholly to the words of the song. What is known as church-affiliation, the music of the setting, I am not concerned with. My only topic is the way in which the meaning of the words gets over to the average inner man, and the effect upon him mentally.

I revert, therefore, to the statement that to make the kind of spiritual progress which will overcome fear it will be often necessary to let go the thing we have outlived. Often the thing we have outlived will be something dear to us, because there was once a time when it served our turn. But our turn to-day may need something different from the turn of yesterday, and the refusal to follow new light simply because it is new leads in the end to mental paralysis. I was once asked to sign a petition to the mayor of a city praying that, on the ground of its novelty, electric lighting might be excluded from the street in which I lived. Exactly this same reluctance often keeps us from making changes of another sort, even when we feel that the light which hitherto was enough for us has been outgrown and outclassed.

The danger of the lone quest leading a man astray can be easily exaggerated. It is not as if God were difficult to find. "The soul cannot move, wake, or open the eyes, without perceiving God." "For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it down unto us that we may hear it and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us and bring it unto us that we may hear it and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart."[13] No motion toward the Universal can miss the Universal. I cannot escape from the Ever-Present; the Ever-Present cannot escape from me. Intellectually I may make mistakes in deduction, but spiritually I cannot but find God. The little I learn of God for myself is to me worth more than all the second and third hand knowledge I can gather from the saints.

[13] The Book of Deuteronomy.

VIII

It is the more necessary to dwell on this for the reason that whatever Metanoia, or new orientation, is to be brought about must be on the part of individuals. There is no hope for large numbers acting together, or for any kind of group-impulse. Group-impulse among Caucasians is nearly always frightened, conservative, reactionary, or derisive of the forward step. There is hardly an exception to this in the whole history of Caucasian ideas.

Otherwise it would be a pleasant dream to imagine what might now be happening on the great international stage. Let us suppose that the leaders of the so-called Christian countries were all convinced of the three main lines of God's direction I have already tried to sketch. Let us think of such men as Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Sforza, President Harding, and the heads of government in Belgium, Russia, Germany, and all other countries affected by the present war of moves and counter-moves--let us think of them as agreed on the principles:

1. That each knows himself and his country as an agent in the hand of God, directed surely toward a good end;

2. That each knows each of his colleagues and his country as equally an agent in the hand of God, directed surely toward a similar good end;

3. That each knows that between God's agents there can be neither conflicting interests nor clash of wills, and that suspicion and counter-suspicion must be out of place, since under God's direction no double-crossing is possible.

The picture is almost comic in its incongruity with what actually is. The mere thought of these protagonists of the century working in harmony to one great purpose, without distrust of each other's motives, and with no necessity for anyone's dodging political foul play, summons the smile of irony. Mutual trust was never so much a suggestion to laugh down. The mere hint that it might be possible would make one a target for the wit of the experienced.

In what we call the practical world of to-day there is no appeal from the God of Fear but to the God of Fear. The great mass of Caucasians will not have it otherwise. And it requires no prophetic vision to foresee the results of the efforts to bring about international harmony while all are obeying the decrees of the Goddess of Discord. Nearly three years after the signing of the armistice the world is in a more hopeless situation than it was when at war. Up to the present each new move only makes matters worse. There are those who believe that our phase of civilisation is staggering into the abyss and that nothing, as far as can now be descried, will save it from the deluge.

IX

Possibly! Fear tends always to produce the thing it is afraid of. I mention this dark outlook only for the reason that even if the cataclysm were to come the individual can escape from it.

Cataclysms are not new in the history of our race. The rise and fall of civilisations may be called mankind's lessons in "how not to do it." Of these lessons there are no such records as those which we find in the Old Testament; and in these records it is unfailingly pointed out that whatever the calamity which overtakes the world at large the individual has, if he chooses, a way of safety. The innocent are not overwhelmed with the guilty, except when the innocent deliberately shut their eyes to the opening toward the Soteria--the Safe Return. But that, unhappily, the innocent do so shut their eyes is one of the commonest facts in life.

Back in that twilight of history of which the later tale could be told only by some symbol, some legendary hieroglyph, there was already an "Ark" by which the faithful few could be saved from the "Flood." The symbol became permanent. The Ark of the Covenant--the sign of a great spiritual understanding--remained as a token to man that in God he had a sure refuge. It was laid up in his Holy of Holies, a mystic, consecrated pledge, till the ruthless Caucasian came and rifled it.

But no rifling could deprive mankind of its significance. That endures. To bring it home to the desolate and oppressed was a large part of the mission of psalmists and prophets. The Ark of the Covenant--of the Great Understanding--meant as much to those who sought God in the ancient world as the Cross does to Christendom. It meant that whatever the collapse, national or general, through siege or sack or famine, those who would escape could escape by the simple process of mentally taking refuge in God. The Ark of God would bear them safely when all material help failed.

Among the themes which run through the Old Testament this is of paramount importance. It is impossible to do more than refer to the many times the spiritually minded were implored to seek this protection. It was needful to implore them since they found the assurance so difficult to believe. No matter how often it was proved to them they still doubted it. Saved by this method once they would reject it when it came to danger the second time. Saved the second time they rejected it the third. "Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee," is the declaration of Jeremiah, who perhaps more than any other was a prophet of disaster. Similar statements are scattered through the Old Testament by the score, by the hundred. It was a point on which leaders, seers, and teachers insisted with a passionate insistence. They knew. They had tested the truth for themselves. Disaster was a common feature in their history. During the three thousand years and more which their experiences cover these Israelites had seen more than one invasion sweep across their land, more than one civilisation come and go. All that Belgium knew in the Great War they knew time and time again. Between Egypt and Assyria, the France and Germany of that special epoch, theirs was a kind of buffer state over which every new anguish rolled. "Let it roll," was the cry of their prophets. "The Lord will fight for you. Stand still and see what he will do. His arm is not shortened neither his strength diminished. It is of the Lord to save whether by many or by few. Trust in the Lord and be doing good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Oh, how great is thy goodness which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men. I said in my haste, I am cut off! Nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplication when I cried unto thee. Be of good courage and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord."[14]

[14] Various Old Testament Sources.

X

In many ways this is the burden of the more ancient Scriptures--the protection which surrounds those who know that protection is God. It was a gospel that had to be preached with tears and beseechings from one generation to another. No generation accepted it. The belief in material power was always too dense. It is still too dense. In the Ark of the Great Understanding the Caucasian has practically never seen more than a symbol that has gone out of date. Lost materially in the Tiber mud it was, for him, lost forever. But not so. Its significance remains as vital to mankind as when, veiled and venerated, it stood between the cherubim.

The time may be close at hand when we shall need this assurance as we need nothing else. However optimistic we try to keep ourselves, no thinking man or woman can be free, at this crisis in world-history, from deep foreboding. For the memory to go back ten years is, even for us in the New World, like returning to a Golden Age; while for the Old World mere recollection must be poignant.

The possibility that all countries in both hemispheres may find themselves in some such agony as that of the Russia of to-day is not too extravagant to be entertained. This is not saying that they are likely so to find themselves; it means only that in the world as it is the safest is not very safe. My point is that whether catastrophe overwhelms us or not, he who chooses not to fear can be free from fear. There is a refuge for him, a defence, a safeguard which no material attack can break down. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge--my fortress--my God. In Him will I trust."[15] There is this Ark for me, this Ark of the Great Understanding, and I can retire into it. I can also have this further assurance: "Because thou hast made the Lord which is my refuge--even the Most High--thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways."[16]

[15] The Book of Psalms.

[16] The Book of Psalms.

XI

This is the eternal agreement, but an agreement of which we find it difficult to accept the terms. To the material alone we are in the habit of ascribing power. Though we repeat a thousand times in the course of a year, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory," we do not believe it. To few of us is it more than a sonorous phrase.

I remember the impression of this which one received at the great thanksgiving for peace in St. Paul's Cathedral in London some twenty years ago. The Boer War had ended in an English victory, and while the thanksgiving was not precisely for this, it did express the relief of an anxious nation that peace was again restored. It was what is generally known as a most impressive service. All that a great spectacle can offer to God it offered. King, queen, princes, princesses, ambassadors, ministers, clergy, admirals, generals, and a vast assembly of citizens filled the choir and nave with colour and life, while the music was of that passionless beauty of which the English cathedral choirs guard the secret.

But the detail I remember best was the way in which the repetition of the Lord's Prayer rolled from the lips of the assembly like the sound of the surging of the sea. It was the emotional effect of a strongly emotional moment. One felt tense. It was hard to restrain tears. As far as crowd-sympathy has any spiritual value it was there. The Caucasian God was taken out of His pigeon-hole and publicly recognised.

Then He was put back.

I take this service merely as an instance of what happens in all the so-called Christian capitals in moments of national stress. Outwardly it happens less in the United States than it does elsewhere, for the reason that this country has no one representative spiritual expression; but it does happen here in diffused and general effect. As a Christian nation we ascribe in common with other Christian nations the kingdom, the power, and the glory to God--on occasions. We do it with the pious gesture and the sonorous phrase. Then we forget it. The habit of material trust is too strong for us. Kings, queens, presidents, princes, prime ministers, congresses, parliaments, and all other representatives of material strength, may repeat for formal use the conventional clause; but there is always what we flippantly know as a "joker" in the lip-recitation. "Kingdom, power, and glory," we can hear ourselves saying in a heart-aside, "lie in money, guns, commerce, and police. God is not sufficiently a force in the affairs of this world for us to give Him more than the consideration of an act of courtesy."

Practically that is all we ever get from group-impulse--an act of courtesy. I repeat and repeat again that whatever is done toward the conquest of fear must be done by the individual. I must do what I can to conquer fear in myself, regardless of the attitude or opinions of men in general.

To men in general the appeal to spiritual force to bring to naught material force is little short of fanatical. It has never been otherwise as yet; it will probably not be otherwise for long generations to come. Meanwhile it is much for the individual to know that he can act on his own initiative, and that when it comes to making God his refuge he can go into that refuge alone. He needs no nation, or government, or society, or companions before him or behind him. He needs neither leader nor guide nor friend. In the fortress of God he is free to enter merely as himself, and there know that he is safe amid a world in agony.

XII

This is not theory; it is not doctrine; it is not opinion. It is what the great pioneers of truth have first deduced from what they understood to be the essential beneficence of God, and then proved by actual demonstration. Anyone else can demonstrate it who chooses to make the experiment. My own weakness is such that I have made the experiment but partially; but partial experiment convinces me beyond all further questioning that the witness of the great pioneers is true.

XIII

Nor is this conviction to be classed as idealism, or ecclesiasticism, or mysticism, or anything else to which we can put a tag. It is not sectarian; it is not peculiarly Christian. It is the general possession of mankind. True, it is easier for the Christian than for any other to enter on this heritage, since his spiritual descent is more directly from the pioneers of truth who first discovered God to be His children's safety; but the Universal is the Universal, the property of all. Discovery gives no one an exclusive hold on it. Anyone with a consciousness of Almighty, Ever-Present Intelligence must have some degree of access to it, though his access may not be to the fullest or the easiest. It is not possible that the Universal Father should be the special property of the Christian or of anyone else. The Christian view of the Father is undoubtedly the truest; but every view is true in proportion to its grasp of truth. No one will deny that the Buddhist, the Mahometan, the Confucianist, have their grasp of truth. Even the primitive idolater has some faint gleam of it, distorted though it may have become. Very well, then; the faintest gleam of such knowledge will not go without its recompense.

XIV

Exclusiveness is too much our Caucasian habit of mind. It is linked with our instinct for ownership. Because through Jesus Christ we have a clearer view of a greater segment of the Universal, if I may so express myself, than the Buddhist can have through Buddha or the Mahometan through Mahomet, our tendency is to think that we know the whole of the Universal, and have it to give away. Any other view of the Universal is to us so false as to merit not merely condemnation but extirpation. Extirpation has been the watchword with which Caucasian Christianity has gone about the world. We have taken toward other views of truth no such sympathetic stand as St. Paul to that which he found in Greece, and which is worth recalling:

"Men of Athens, I perceive that you are in every respect remarkably religious. For as I passed along and observed the things you worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. The Being, therefore, whom you, without knowing it, revere, Him I now proclaim to you. God who made the universe and everything in it--He being Lord of heaven and earth--does not dwell in sanctuaries built by men. Nor is He administered to by human hands as though He needed anything--but He Himself gives to all men life and breath and all things. He caused to spring from one forefather people of every race, for them to live on the whole surface of the earth, and marked for them an appointed span of life, and the boundaries of their homes; that they might seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him. Yes, though He is not far from any one of us. For it is in closest union with Him that we live and move and have our being; as in fact some of the poets in repute among yourselves have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'"[17]

[17] Acts of the Apostles.

To the conquest of fear this splendid universalism is another essential. God being "not far from any one of us" cannot be far from me. He who gives to all men life and breath and all things will not possibly deny me the things I require most urgently. Our whole civilisation may go to pieces; the job by which I earn a living may cease to be a job; the money I have invested may become of no more value than Russian bonds; the children whom I hoped I had provided for may have to face life empty-handed; all my accustomed landmarks may be removed, and my social moorings swept away; nevertheless, the Universal cannot fail me. "Although the figtree shall not blossom nor fruit be in the vines; though the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields yield no meat; though the flocks be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in God, I will joy in the God of my salvation." It is safe to say that this confidence on the part of Habakkuk was not due to mere grim forcing of the will. It was the fruit of experience, of knowledge, of demonstration. In spite of the dangers national and personal he saw threatening, his certainty of God must have been spontaneous.

Anyone, in any country, in any epoch, and of any creed or no creed, who has shared this experience shares also this assurance. To the Christian it comes easiest; but that it does not come easy even to the Christian is a matter of common observation. It can only come easily when some demonstration has been made for oneself, after which there is no more disputing it.

XV

Nor is it a question of morals or morality.

I must venture here on delicate ground and say what I should hesitate to say were the contrary not so strongly underscored. I mean that God, from what we understand to be His nature, could not accord us His protection by weighing the good and the evil in our conduct, and giving or withholding help according to our worthiness. The Universal is too great to be measured and doled in that way. Nothing but our own pinchbeck ideas could ascribe to Him this pettiness. As it is the kind of sliding scale we ourselves adopt, we limit the Divine Generosity by our own limitations.

Not so was the understanding of Jesus Christ. That we should be kind to the so-called evil as we are to the so-called good was a point on which He dwelt in the Sermon on the Mount. To discriminate between them when it comes to the possibility of conferring benefits is in His opinion small. "You have heard that it was said, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.' But I command you all, Love your enemies, and pray for your persecutors; that so you may become true sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the wicked as well as on the good, and sends rain upon those who do right and those who do wrong."[18]

[18] St. Matthew.

In other words, we are not to feel ourselves turned out of our "habitation" in God by a sense of our moral lapses. Moral lapses are to be regretted, of course; but they do not vitiate our status as the Sons of God. It is possible that no one believes they do; but much of the loose statement current among those who lay emphasis on morals would give that impression. There is a whole vernacular in vogue in which souls are "lost" or "saved" according to the degree to which they conform or do not conform to other people's views as to what they ought to do. Much of our pietism is to the effect that God is at the bestowal not merely of a sect, but of some section of a sect, and cannot be found through any other source.

XVI

This brings me to the distinction between morals and righteousness, which is one for the mind of to-day to keep as clearly as possible before it. I have said that the refuge in God is not a question of morals; but it is one of righteousness. Between righteousness and morals the difference is important.

Morals stand for a code of observances; righteousness for a direction of the life.

Morals represent just what the word implies, the customs of an age, a country, or a phase in civilisation. They have no absolute standard. The morals of one century are not those of another. The morals of one race are not those of another even in the same century. In many respects the morals of the Oriental differ radically from those of the Occidental, age-long usage being behind each. It is as hard to convince either that his are the inferior as it would be to make him think so of his mother-tongue. I once asked a cultivated Chinaman, a graduate of one of the great American universities and a Christian of the third generation, in what main respect he thought China superior to the United States. "In morals," he replied, promptly; but even as a Christian educated in America his theory of morals was different from ours.

Among ourselves in the United States the essence of morals is by no means a subject of unanimous agreement. You might say that a standard of morals is entirely a matter of opinion. There are millions of people who think it immoral to play cards, to go to the theatre, to dance, or to drink wine. There are millions of other people who hold all these acts to be consistent with the highest moral conduct.

Moreover, wherever the emphasis is thrown on morals as distinct from righteousness there is a tendency to put the weight on two or three points in which nations or individuals excel, and to ignore the rest. For example, not to go outside ourselves, the American people may be fairly said to exemplify two of the great virtues: On the whole they are, first, sober; secondly, continent. As a result we accentuate morals in these respects, but not in any others.

For instance, the current expression, "an immoral man," is almost certain to apply only under the two headings cited above, and probably only under one. All other morals and immoralities go by the board. We should not class a dishonest man as an immoral man, nor an untruthful man, nor a profane, or spiteful, or ungenial, or bad-tempered, man. Our notion of morals hardly ever rises above the average custom of the community in which we happen to live. Except in the rarest instances we never pause to reflect as to whether the customs of that community are or are not well founded. The consequence is that our cities, villages, countrysides, and social groupings are filled with men and women moral enough as far as the custom of the country goes, but quite noticeably unrighteous.

It is also a fact that where you find one or two virtues singled out for observance and the rest obscured there you find, too, throngs of outwardly "moral" people with corroded hearts. Villages, churches, and all the quieter communities are notorious for this, the peculiarity having formed for a hundred and fifty years the stock-in-trade of novelists. Sobriety and continence being more or less in evidence the assumption is that all the requirements have been fulfilled. The community is "moral" notwithstanding the back-bitings, heart-burnings, slanders, cheatings, envies, hatreds, and bitternesses that may permeate it through and through. As I write, the cramped, venomous, unlovely life of the American small town is the favourite theme of our authors and readers of fiction. Since a number of the works now on the market have met with national approval one must assume that the pictures they paint are accurate. The conditions are appalling, but, according to the custom of the country, they are "moral." The shadow of insobriety and incontinence doesn't touch the characters who move across these pages, and yet the level of the life is pictured as debased, and habits as hideous.

XVII

With morals in this accepted American sense righteousness has little to do. The two are different in origin. Morals imply the compulsion of men, and are never more binding than the customs of men render them. They are thus imposed from without, while righteousness springs from within. The essence of righteousness lies in the turning of the individual toward God.

I think it safe to say that righteousness is expressed more accurately in attitude than in conduct. It is expressed in conduct, of course; but conduct may fail while the attitude can remain constant. It is worthy of remark that some of the great examples of righteousness cited in the Bible were conspicuously sinners. That is to say, they were men of strong human impulses against which they were not always sufficiently on guard, but who turned towards God in spite of everything. In the long line spanning the centuries between Noah and Abraham and Peter and Paul--from the almost prehistoric out into the light of day--not one is put before us except in his weakness as well as in his strength. Some of them commit gross sins; but apparently even gross sins do not debar them from their privileges in God's love. This principle was expressed in the words of Samuel: "Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness; yet turn not aside from following the Lord.... For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name's sake." That the Universal who has all the blessings of creation to bestow should deprive me of anything just because in my folly or weakness I have committed sins is not consistent with "his great name's sake." It would not be causing His sun to rise on the wicked as well as on the good nor sending rain on those who do right and those who do wrong. I am too small for His immensity to crush with its punishments, but not too small to be the object of His entire love.

XVIII

I hope it is plain that I say this not to make little of doing wrong but to put the love and fulness of God in the dominating place. I must make it clear to myself that He does not shut me out of His heart because I am guilty of sins. I may shut myself out of His heart, unless I direct my mind rightly; but He is always there, unchanged, unchangeable, the ever-loving, ever-welcoming Father. Whatever I have done I can return to Him with the knowledge that He will take me back. Far from sure of myself, I can always be sure of Him.

There are those who would warn me against saying this through fear lest it should be interpreted as, "Don't be afraid to sin so long as you keep mentally close to God." I prefer to run that risk. The dread figure of "an angry God" has been so worked to terrorise men that large numbers of us have been terrorised. But experience shows us every day that being terrorised never produces the results at which it aims. It does not win us; it drives us away.

Much of the alienation from God in the mind of to-day is due to rebellion on the part of our sense of justice. We are sinners, of course; but not such sinners as to merit the revenge which an outraged deity is described as planning against us. That the All-loving and All-mighty should smite us in our dearest aims or our sweetest affections just because we have not conformed to the lop-sided morality of men is revolting to our instincts. We are repulsed by the God of Fear when we are drawn, comforted, strengthened, and changed by Him who is never anything toward us but "the Father."

I have no hesitation, therefore, in throwing the emphasis in what I have to say on the fact that He is "a place to hide me in"--the Ark of the Great Understanding--always open to my approach--into which, whatever I have done, I can go boldly.

Basil King