Project Canterbury


An Address Given at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, by Invitation of the London Congregational Board

By Henry Scott Holland, D.D., D.Litt.
Canon and Precentor of S. Paul's Cathedral.

London and Oxford: A.R. Mowbray, [1910]

IT is a special delight to be able to respond to your courteous invitation. I have always received from you and your brethren the most surprising and undeserved welcome. Again and again I have been startled by the warmth of your sympathy and the frankness of your recognition. There are an hundred unrecorded kindnesses of yours that I desire to acknowledge, with heartfelt gratitude, as I stand before you to-day. And the sense of your continual and unfailing trust gives me confidence in opening out my heart to you, knowing that you will wish me to speak freely and frankly, as friend to friends. It would be silly to misuse an opportunity so graciously offered, by failing to speak confidentially on matters that intimately concern us. We can afford to try and understand one another, for we are sure of each other's good will. So I thought that you would allow me to touch on the difficult problem presented to us whenever we fall back on the Fund mental Truths of our common Christianity.

Every one of us, at happy moments of expansion and hope, finds himself using the familiar language about Fundamental Verities. It is all so natural, so spontaneous, so inevitable, so right. Who can help the normal phrases from leaping to the lips and rolling off the tongue? As we look round our divided Christendom it seems so stupid, so intolerable, that we should go on persisting in our absurd differences when, all the time, there is such a mass of belief in which we all, obviously, undoubtedly agree. The fundamental positions are all assured and practically universal. The ground-creed is common property. Why not, then, fall back on that about which there is no dispute? Why not prune off the peculiarities, the specialities, that differentiate and that divide us the one from the other? These are limited and partial, and are, therefore, [3/4] unessential. They can be removed, and leave the substance of the matter untouched. They are convicted of being unessential by the very fact of their being peculiar or partial. Only that in which we all agree can really belong to the substance of the thing. Common agreement is the test of the ultimate truth. Cut down to the body of truth, which all alike hold, and you must have got to the fundamental truth. If all would but confine themselves to that which is common to all, differences would simply drop out; divisions would disappear of themselves; they would have ceased to have a reason for existing.

Now, surely, that sounds all right. Surely, that must be true, in some sense or another. And yet, if it is so simple a matter as that, why does it not happen? Why have we not all recognized this road of escape long ago? How can it be that we still remain divided? If this plain road to unity is really open, gaping for us, and we don't take it, we must be mad. Is it likely that we are all mad? And, if not, then what is it that still withholds? It is very hard to say, or to discern. Yet something is wrong, we know not what.

Perhaps the very easiness of the solution ought to have made us suspicious from the first. Is it probable that so tangled and perilous and difficult a situation can admit of so utterly simple a solution?

We can hardly hope, in our historical perplexities, to repeat the fortunate experience of Dean Church and Mr. Penrose, our late Surveyor of S. Paul's, when they were tied up by brigands in Greece, and left bound to trees, with terrible menaces at any attempt to escape. They waited two or three hours trembling under the knotted cords, wondering how it all would end; and then they suddenly found that they could quite easily undo the knots themselves, and walk off home. And this they at once did, to their relief and delight. It appeared that the brigands were new to their work, and had been too nervous to make the cords fast. But such happy deliverances are rare. And our brigands, in the black uncomfortable history behind us, have not been at all shy or nervous. They have done their work but too thoroughly; and our fetters will not, I fear, drop off at a blow, whenever we desire it. Our perplexities are so [4/5] old and so deep: is it likely that we can free ourselves from their desperate toils, at a moment's notice, by so very easy a method as the one proposed?

If only we could! If only we could meet together here, in this House of Peace, to-day and say, "The matter that we all agree in is, for that very reason, the only truth that matters. There is a truth in which we all agree. Leave out everything else but that, and the thing is done."

Why do we feel, as we gaze at our stripped and pruned and bared Fundamentals, that the compelling force that should drive us on is somehow slackened--that the fire that should kindle us is not so hot as we had hoped? Is there not a lack of vitality about our melancholy residuum? The sting is gone out of it, the glow, and the glory. As we ruminate it over, it takes a drab and platitudinous colour. We seem, somehow, to be listening to an impressive leader in The Times. Is not that, in reality, our mood, as we relapse from the cheer with which we have greeted some appeal from the platform to our common Fundamentals? I, certainly, do feel it uncomfortably myself, and I, therefore, want to analyse the secret of this relapse. What is it? What does it mean? Does it indicate some mistake that we have made? Or is it only a recoil of the bad old Adam in us?

And, as I ask myself these questions, I begin to suspect that we have blundered in the method by which we have hoped to arrive at our common fundamental ground. We have imagined that this would be easily achieved by pruning off all the variations, by paring away the differences, until we got down to the residual identity. But what if this isolation of the ground-identity serves only to deprive it of its intelligible value? The fundamental truth had been arrived at through its common relationship to all the differences and variations. It was itself their base, their deposit, their residue; or, again, it was their common source, their inspiration, their original matrix. In both cases the fundamental positions are only intelligible through preserving their relationship to the variations. They are the source and the issue of a particular and peculiar combination of differences. Combine all these particular peculiarities into a single whole, and there will be [5/6] this particular residuum of agreement. Or, again, given this particular residuum of agreement, you can derive from it this particular combination of differences. But each side of the antithesis is correlative to the other. And if you strip off one side, you rob the other of its significance. Suppose that the points of common agreement are the points where all the crossing-lines of the separate variations meet; then the whole value of the points is given by the crossing-lines. If you drop the crossing-lines, and walk off with the points, then you find that you have got nothing in your hands; for points, by them selves, have no parts nor magnitudes.

What, after all, are those variations and differences that we have lightly dismissed from our purview? They are the modes in which the fundamental verity has, as a fact, historically found expression. They are the forms that it threw off. They are the modes in which its basal vitality has specialized its significance. Spontaneously, it has taken all these shapes. Now under one pressure, now under another; now through this vigorous personality, and now through that; now to meet this set of inviting circumstances, and now to resist that other adverse creed; it has put out this diversity of energy; it has varied the direction on which its powers should concentrate. If so, if this be the true account of these variations, then it is only through them that we know what this central force has the capacity to do; only in these diversities do we recognize the unity of the Spirit that is LORD of each and all; only through the variety of practices do we understand the unity of the one body in many members.

You do not get at the inner truth of an organism by removing its extremities, and confining your attention to its trunk. An organism reveals its intense homogeneity only through the extreme heterogeneity of its parts. So we used to say, in our young days, when we still chattered the formula that Herbert Spencer taught us. It seems a long way off now--the time when he was our master. But, after all, he left us one or two illuminative phrases, which have stood and have served our needs, and the one that I have quoted belongs to the number. No homogeneity without heterogeneity. So he said. And the phrase stands. It has something behind it. It bids [6/7] us seek homogeneity by the way of heterogeneity. That is the vital, rich, and fertile road by which to travel to our goal of agreement. So travelling, we do not arrive at a naked and empty and vapid abstraction out of which we have sucked all the significance; but every fresh variation, in expression or in formation, intensifies and enriches the concentrated unity out of which all differences emerge.

Does not this set us thinking on the right track? Fundamentals! The very word itself suggests that there is a top as well as a bottom, and that the bottom can only be accounted for by virtue of what is atop. If you want to understand the foundations of a building, you must not clear the building away in order to leave the foundations free. They are the foundations of that particular building, and of no other; and every line and angle in them depends on what that building is. Its special peculiarities, its distinctive and separate features, all have left their mark on the disposal of the foundation. If you remove what is distinctive and peculiar in the upper building, then the foundations look silly and unmeaning. They will stick out where they are not wanted. They will be out of proportion to their apparent offices. They are distributed according to a particular arrangement of the materials used in the top structure. Disregard the arrangement of the upper superficial materials, and you destroy the raison d'ĂȘtre of the foundation.

Let us take an historical instance in which this fallacy was exposed by facts. The Deism of the eighteenth century always seems to me to illustrate exactly what I am trying to convey. What was this Deism which played so large a part in the intellectual outlook of that particular age? Why did it appear so powerful and so convincing to so many at the time, while in our own day it was to lose all its argumentative force and intellectual impressiveness?

In order to answer the question, let us recall the process out of which it arose. Eighteenth-century Deism was the intellectual residuum which remained when all the controversial matters of the Christian creed had been cleared off the scene. Christianity was weak: men were wearied to death by its factions and disputes. The vitality of Faith was but little in evidence. The dominance of reason and common sense was [7/8] very strong. And to reason and common sense it will always seem right to drop particulars, and fall back on universals. It is over particulars that men fight. They go crazy over an "iota," or scarify each other about a bit of ritual. Back behind lies the peace of the Universal, if only we can dig down to it. Everybody agrees in the Universal; for the Universal is just that, in every variety of incident or phrase, in which common agreement is arrived at. That is its definition. What, then, is the common universal truth which underlies all these bitter Christian controversies? Get at that, and we have got at the universal religion in which all intelligent men agree. So they dug it out, and found it in "Natural Religion," in Deism. Thus Deism summed up the primal assumptions of the age--those assumptions which, at that particular period, commended themselves instinctively to everybody.

Yes! But, after all, these primal assumptions and pre suppositions which every one, at a certain period, takes for granted, are themselves the peculiar characteristics of that period. They change, as the period changes. The next generation throws over the very assumptions which its fathers thought to be beyond criticism or discussion. It has assumptions of its own of quite another kind, which appear to it to be no less inevitable and intuitive than those others appeared to their forbears.

And why? Because the primal assumptions of each age are the issue of its whole mass of experience. And that experience is ever on the move. Only in relation to this general sum of varying experience can those assumptions be made. Only by virtue of the pressure of that particular body of experience do they assume their inevitable character and appear to be absolutely conclusive. Change the pressure and direction of the experience, and the argumentative force of those conclusions disappears.

And in the case of Deism the general inclination of experience did change. The fascination of Biology, for instance, took the place, in popular imagination, of the fascination of Astronomy. The struggle of life to grow broke up the fixed rigidities of mathematical law. A new world opened out, giving a wholly new formula to reason.

And, then, the criticism of Christianity had advanced, and [8/9] became criticism of Religion. Gulfs opened, abysses yawned, walls fell in, foundations cracked. The French Revolution swept like a hurricane across the area of an astounded civilization. Tremendous forces had broken loose: and all life was flung into a furnace, to be molten into new forms. And then, when, once more, reconstruction had begun, Deism was found to have become impossible. It had no persuasive efficacy. It proved itself, now, to have been the creature of the complex situation to which it had belonged. It was the spiritual deposit of an age which, though it would like to surrender Christian controversies and differences, had never really questioned the fundamental assumptions which underlay the differences. It was the deposit of an age which was governed, in all its imagination, by the supremacy of mathematical law, and by the assumption of the fixed rationality and beneficence of nature. From out of this "milieu" it had won all its acceptance, it had gained all its expansion. It was still the base of that superstructure. The Christianity, then, which it discarded was essential to give it solidity. Deism could only exist over against the common assumptions that were made by all the varying divisions of Christendom.

That is a convenient instance of this law of which we speak--written large on the field of history for our instruction. What is the moral for us to draw? Not that the desire to arrive at fundamentals is wrong: not that the reality of a common ground of truth is an illusion; but, rather, that the fundamental ground-work can never be isolated from the varying expressions which it underlies. It is isolation which is its ruin. Isolation renders it unintelligible; isolation drains, paralyses, empties it of contents, sterilizes it of vitality. The variations, into which it breaks, are its true interpretation. They are the living form under which it manifests its creative fertility. To understand it, you must understand them. To enter into its fullness of significance, you must travel to it by many roads; you must follow its excursions down an hundred different channels. The more broad and elastic its manifestations, the more impressive is the effect of its elemental unity.

Of course, there may be disputes over variations that are or are not legitimate. That is another matter. There may [9/10] have been experiments in Christianity which are false to the original purpose. There may have been blunders made. There may be developments which represent the illicit introduction of alien germs. All this is a fair matter for argument in the case of any particular form under discussion. But such an argument will turn on other considerations than those we are now discussing. It will simply have to do with the particular instance of variation in question. It will leave untouched our own position that, if it be a lawful variation from the original stock, then it must be included within the materials which go to constitute and explain our fundamental verity. The more we can include of these legitimate variations, and the warmer our sympathetic welcome of them, the better shall we realize the common ground on which they all rest. Not, then, by dropping off differences, but by embracing and transcending them; not by paring down to the simplest and barest residuum, but by expansive assimilation of antithetical contrasts, shall we attain to intelligent and fertile or vital agreement.

Do we not recognize this often in this practical shape--that it is through our extreme divergencies that we most freely touch and fuse? "Extremes meet," as we say. In the extreme expression of contrasted and even antagonistic tendencies, we suddenly become aware of an impressive and delightful identity of aim. The methods of expression may be in violent opposition to one another, but the reality to be expressed and attained is the same; and the very violence of opposition in the methods gives the more vivid expression to the unity behind. The priest, for instance, who concentrates his whole force upon the method of the Confessional, is seen, if only he be intensely real in his spiritual purpose, to be absolutely one in mind and heart with the devoted evangelical pastor, who works solely through Conversion. Both are working for one goal. Both are impelled by one desire. Both have the same vision of what the religious life consists in. For both, the end to be attained is to bring the soul of the sinner into entire and utter dependence upon the pardoning Grace of GOD brought nigh to it through the working of the Passion of JESUS CHRIST. Here is the one and only fundamental reality that either of [10/11] them cares about. They would describe it in identical terms. They would rejoice over its achievements in the same satisfying degree. They would pray for it with the same prayers. They would count on it with the same assurance. They could have the same restlessness until it had been secured. They could easily recognize themselves as fellow-workers just by virtue of the ardour with which the one would press Conversion and the other would urge Confession.

"Extremes meet." The value of extremes is that they press the ultimate truth which they contain out to its utter most validity; they force up its inner meaning; they give to its basal reality the least hindered, the freest expression. And, if the basal reality be, indeed, fundamentally one and the same, then it is this fundamental unity which will most vividly come to the open surface through the passion of extremes.

After all, is not this true to the inner spirit of Pentecostal Christianity? That Christianity proved itself wider and deeper in humanity itself, not by abolishing racial distinctions, but by transfiguring them. It went behind them, not to nag at them, but to give them fuller meaning. The common Gospel, which was one and the same for all, whether Jew or Greek, Barbarian or Scythian, bound or free, male or female, and in which all barriers and partitions between man and man had disappeared, exhibited this unity, by breaking itself up, under the magnetism of the tongues, into the infinite variety of Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Cappadocians, Cyrenians, Cretans, Arabians, Jews, and Proselytes. Each, under the strange fascination of the hour, heard the one Gospel in the particular tongue in which he was born. The Elamite remained an Elamite, and the Parthian a Parthian. Neither was to struggle to escape from the limitation that was his own peculiar strength. The Jew was to find out, in CHRIST, what it really meant to be a Jew. The Greek was to find, in the same CHRIST, the special and assuaging value of being a Greek. The Roman would never fulfil and realize his wonderful Roman gift of law and order until he had brought it into the service of JESUS CHRIST. Each force, to be fully itself, must be taken up into the Body of CHRIST. Racial differences found their true secret and actual significance as they brought their contributions into the [11/12] fullness of CHRIST. Never, until they had taken their share in building up the measure of the stature of the fullness of CHRIST, had they really understood how precious and how holy were these differences of blood. Never before had they been able to justify or to interpret their special characteristics. Never was a Roman more conscious of his magnificent heritage than when the Spirit gave him the privilege of shaping the City of GOD. Never did the hot African know better the value of his burning tongue than when Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine laid their keen thought and eager imagination under the discipline of the Creed of CHRIST.

Christianity has always bred and fostered and enheartened and enriched and improved the spirit of nationality; and it has done so by the very force of the fact that, in it, all national distinctions have yielded to the touch of the one Spirit, in the one Body, through the one LORD, in the one Faith, under one GOD and FATHER of all. By so yielding and breaking as walls of partition, these racial distinctions are taken up into the higher unity of the new life, as the vital material through which the unity finds infinite variety of expression, even as the one ray of light breaks into the rich multiplicity of prismatic colours. No longer barriers of partition, they are transformed into correlated and harmonized contributions to the single supreme efficiency and beauty of the one body; each necessary to the other, each balancing the other, each, by contrast, enriching the other, each glorified by being released from its own limited isolation and adopted into the one scheme of colour, the one common purpose in which all find co-ordination. Not one can now say to the other, "I have no need of thee," for all the multitude of varying races is needed to complete the full humanity that has been incarnated by CHRIST. The very smallest tribe, with its separate characteristic distinction, is wanted as much as the greatest nation on earth to fulfil the measure of the stature of the New Man. All differences between them, all privilege, all separation, were abolished by the law which constituted them all equally precious in the eyes of f Who fulfilled them all.

That is our secret. Humanity finds its unity in JESUS CHRIST, not by stripping itself of its differences; not by paring [12/13] itself down to the residual elemental deposit left when all distinctions are gone; but rather by displaying the elastic power of its own life to embrace and to assimilate every possible variation in which man can manifest his true nature.

Will not that instance of its secret power supply us with the cue by which to work our way out of the tangle of our own religious differences? Will it not be by this road that we may hope to see the walls of partition broken down once more between divided Churches, even as between divided nations? If so, what will this mean for the moment? What method of arriving at an understanding does it suggest? It will mean, surely, that we have got to learn, first, to understand one another in our differences as much as in our common grounds. We have got to penetrate to the secret of these variations. At present it is our several variations that are so unintelligible to us. Our own line, whatever it is, commends itself so heartily to us that we cannot make out why it does not satisfy others and everybody. Why should they want to ride off on farms of their own, on methods of their own? So stupid of them, when our way is so excellent. If you have the Penitent Bench, why need the Confessional with all its risks of secrecy? Or, on the other hand, if you have full liberty to use the Confessional, why use the Penitent Bench and the Revivalist Meeting, with all the vulgar publicity that makes it so repellent?

So we could go on through an hundred matters of divided judgement. The differences become the causes of divisions. Shall we drop them, then, and unite? No! Rather get inside each difference in turn, and see why it is there, and what it means to those who hold by it. Once do that, and you will find that the Penitent Bench and the Confessional mean just the same spirit under varying manifestations. Once appreciate this, and you can begin to close up ranks. Let us study the modes in which we differ; and then we shall stand freely and openly disclosed, in the common light of the Faith, to one another, as, with ever-new interest, we track out the varying forms which the one Hope can assume--the varying roads by which GOD is for ever seeking to lead home His banished. By cordial interpretation and assimilation of each other's characteristic dissimilarities, we shall realize more and [13/14] more the fundamental oneness of the common source from out of which all these varieties took their rise, and of the common purpose to which they all contribute--that one far-off Divine Event towards which they all are moving.

My brothers, I suppose that, broadly speaking, I stand here for the principle of organic unity, and you for the principle of organic variation. If so, then I would plead that we shall come together and understand one another, according to the measure with which we recognize that these principles were not antagonistic, but antithetical. They are not alternatives, but simply correlatives. The advocates of unity have always been tempted to suppose that unity is realized in uniformity, in formal regularity, in traditional sameness, in conventional identity. Yet, always, they have been met by the protest of the changing life, which explodes the formalities, and shatters the uniformities, and demands endless diversity of application to ever-varying conditions, as the primary evidence of a vitality which, if ever it ceased to change with the changing circum stances, would have pronounced its own death-warrant.

The religious orders, in the Middle Ages, sustained this continuous protest against the rigidities of officialism and the conformity of the regulars. They sustained it, without a violent breach with the Body. But it was the historic protest flung out by our own modern Nonconformity which found expression through them. They insisted on the ever-new forms and fashions which the Spirit was bound to assume, just because it was the Spirit of Him Who from age to age, and for generation after generation, proclaims, " I make all things new." They gallantly asserted the truth which should justify that assertion. The unity of the Spirit can only be realized through the freedom of its elastic variability to the novelty of the shifty situation. Organic unity means infinite variability. This is the first lesson that the advocates of the Unity have specially to learn.

And then on the other side, the advocates of the law of free variation may have to learn that each intensification of that freedom intensifies, by a like stress, the necessity of re discovering the unity that allows for such wide expansion. Each fresh disclosure of novel possibility does but rehearse [14/15] and reiterate the oneness of the original source; and this appreciation of the organic unity at the base increases in proportion to the diversity in its varying manifestations. Back on the central fundamental nucleus we recoil with ever- growing conviction, as still our excursions far afield reveal the intense monism of the organic structure. We fly further from the centre only to rediscover its essential significance. As we swing a ball round and round at the end of a string, the very tautness of the string is an index at once of the vehemence with which the ball would escape from, and of the tightness with which it is held to, the centre. The centrifugal force is identical with the centripetal; only it is viewed from a different point. So with the variation. The value of a variation depends on that from which it varies. Isolated, it becomes unintelligible. [cf. P. N. Waggett, The Holy Eucharist, p. 48.] All variations are given their meaning by reference to their coherence in a common type. And the actuality of this common base is bound to emerge with ever more emphatic distinction, as it discloses its function in co-ordinating the correlated varieties and differences. In this way we reverse the effect of the other method; for, while, for us the wider freedom gives ever fuller significance to the unity, on the other method of paring down, the wider the liberty and variety, the more meagre and melancholy becomes the residuum common to all.

Why, then, should we not come nearer and nearer together, by working out our own special tendencies? Those whose temperament is sensitive to the unity will find themselves drawn out into recognition of the variations as the true out come of organic fundamentalism. Those whose temperament leads them to assert the freedom of variations, will find them selves compelled to realize the common coherent base, of which all organic variation is the witness and the proof. So, by divers paths, we may all come home, and meet, and clasp hands, and embrace in the bonds of brotherhood and peace. So we may all find ourselves kneeling, at last, at one table, taking of one bread, drinking of one cup, and pledged to one service, in a living communion of worship.

Does this appear to be a remote vision? Well! In spiritual things, there are stranger liberties taken with time. [15/16] Often there are dreary pauses, wearily prolonged--years of piteous suspense, when nothing stirs, and nothing happens. And then, at the very moment when our hearts despair, there comes a sudden and swift movement; age-long barriers crumple up; walls fall flat; the work of years is fulfilled in a rush, in a flood: the impossible has happened before we can believe it. Then is our mouth filled with laughter; then are we like "to them that dream." Such an hour of swift arrival is the result of the long, patient, prayerful waiting through the heart breaking length of delay. But, for all that, when it comes at last, it comes we know not how. It arrives from elsewhere. We find it all done for us.

And is there not even a sense of some such impossible hour of reconciliation already to be felt? Are not we, even now, aware of strong impulses that hold in them a prophecy of good news? We are drawing nearer and nearer to one another, in spite of vexing jars. There is a breath of larger air stirring in the silence. Prejudices and suspicions are falling away. Ancient discords have lost their violence. We are all coming out into the open, and there is the wide world before us to win for CHRIST. We move amid larger horizons; and the intellectual currents pass freely to-and-fro from one to the other; and the brotherhood of service in social causes knits us into closer fellowship. A swift and silent shifting of values is proceeding over a vast area of religious thought, and no one can say as yet what will be its issue. Only of one thing we can be sure--that its entire trend is towards unity. We have but to wait and to pray, in faithful loyalty to that truth which each has been qualified and privileged to apprehend, and we may see, at any hour, a light break, a new day dawn: and we may suddenly learn that the very differences which have been the causes of our divisions have become the signals of our mutual correspondence and the evidence and materials of our combination. So the distinctions that have made our trouble, will shapen into gems, each of which will contribute its special honour to the foundations on which the entire fabric of our creed and worship depends--"first, jasper; second, sapphire; third, chalcedony; fourth, emerald; last, an amethist."

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