"The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory." Isaiah lx. 19.
''I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it." Revelations xxi. 22.
THERE is no better test of a man's or of a nation's progress than the advancing power to do without the things which once were considered essential. The prophet bids the people look forward to a time when the sun and the moon shall become needless, when in some new and more direct fashion they shall win such experience of God that they require nothing to reflect His light to them, but that He Himself is His own strength and inspiration.
The power to do without one thing after another which we had deemed essential is the way--and perhaps the only way--whereby we can advance to the higher life, the way of moral progress.
Those who have had anything to do with the training of children know how utterly true is this contention. The lines in the copy-book, the rules in arithmetic, the constant supervision, all give way in turn to a sense of care and responsibility higher and nobler than the former kind of discipline. Bishop Philips Brooks, in one of his sermons, shows how these "leading strings" depart and the child first stumbles, and then properly manages to get along. And every rightly constituted man does the same, discarding helps and assistances, as his mind widens and morality deepens, until he can do without what he thought to be necessaries, as the vision of God, and the helpfulness of that vision, becomes clearer and more convincing.
Let us make the point clear. The rules and the helps are necessary from the earliest age, and must be insisted on there and then: but an undue reliance on those helps after the early stage is passed is a source of danger and immobility, which threatens all real progress. The man does not want the boy's sports, because he has found in the serious work of life the true field for the emulation and activities, which were only trying themselves in the playground. The Battle of Waterloo was decided in the playing fields of Eton. The man can do without the exercises of the boy because he has the pleasure of mental effort, business competition, assiduity in attaining an end, and a straightforward definition as to his aim and object, going forward deliberately with the purpose that he has framed.
Tom Hood sings mournfully:--
"'Tis little joy
To know I'm farther off from heaven
Than when I was a boy."
Yes, true, innocence may be much; but knowledge is more. The change from boyhood to true manhood is an advance from unreality to actuality, a change from the symbol to the thing signified. Life is full of outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual graces, a sacrament in the truest meaning of the word. Life, if it be normal and God-guided, is an advance marked through its course by those abandoned interests and helps which strew the path of moral progress as we advance nearer and nearer to the light which fills all things.
"The sun shall be no more thy light by day: neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory."
This advance by means of old helps discarded and abandoned is in danger of being forgotten. The old things were so useful, and so pleasant; they made no demand upon our energies! It was so much easier to go on with them rather than to take the next step without them.
The man climbing a mountain has got a firm foothold and something that his hands can grasp. Yet he cannot stop there; he must go forward and find another foothold and then another, if he is to reach the top of the mountain. So we must learn that if progress is to be made, we must give up and part from things which helped us in days gone by, but which must now be left behind us, And if you think of it, this will explain the odd and curious varieties of opinions that there are amongst men as to what things are necessary.
It is all explained by the different stages of man's progress. They cannot all have arrived at the same point, and it cannot be necessary for them to use the same helps. Diversity of opinion, and in judgment, is by no means an evil. It is God's doing, Who makes every blade of grass in a field different, as you can see for yourself if you look at them with a magnifying glass. This is God's hall-mark of progress: and wherever there are these differences and diversities, there is a sign of growth.
The one fatal obstacle to progress is a craving for uniformity. There may be a beautiful unity in diversity. But uniformity, whereby we crush out individuality, and make all men think, and do, and act in the same way, is fatal, not only to growth and progress, but fatal to the right perception of God's methods in training up the human race. Acts of uniformity for which our forefathers used to fight and which have descended to us in these days may well be described as human attempts to contravene God's plans. Where there is a difference of opinion and practice, there one sees the Holy Spirit of God at work, there one notes that in this at least all sides get a hearing, and all facts are being taken into consideration; all persons, whether they have arrived at our standard or not, have a say in the matter. We believe that God is guiding us by the conclusion at which the wisdom of the race and the intelligence of mankind is gradually arriving.
The wasps and weasels of Natural History have their place in the grand scheme of evolution, and even human beings and human organizations which seem to us disagreeable and unwanted have their place in the grand moulding of men's minds towards growth and moral progress.
Stagnation and uniformity are the two greatest foes of moral progress, and, in fact, of all progress from the lower to the higher in any department of life, be it knowledge, statesmanship, business, philanthropy, or religion itself.
Now this wider outlook of man, his strivings and his accomplishments, will give satisfaction to the thoughtful, and it ought to give hope to all. Still we know there are Israelites who sigh for the fleshpots of Egypt in going through the harder experiences of the wanderings in the desert. The tendency of the uninformed and the lazy is to rest content with what they are, and with what they are able to do, without effort. For I am of opinion that God never intended anybody or anything to rest contented as they are. Directly a person is content with what he is, I am as certain as possible that that person is not as good as he might be. To rest content with things as they are, to be able to do and to live without effort, well, this is only another name for death. The only real uniformity is to be found in dead things. If there is life and growth, there is continual rising from lower to higher, and a fitting of the growing thing to its proper place in its environment, a discarding of all old plans, and scaffolds, as the building nears completion. A new light breaks on us from sociology, and we must advance by its means, and not put its truths on one side as if they had nothing to do with us in our moral progress. Fresh information keeps pouring in upon us from every scientific writer, school, and university. Do not let us go about wringing our hands at each fresh discovery of God's glorious methods of ordering His earth, the world, and the things that are therein. Let us use these things, fit them into their proper place, and then go on with their help, not without it.
Statesmanship has made many efforts and many helps to improve society. Use them to pass another stage, and then press forward, not relying on. those matters for more than they are worth, or for longer than they serve. Why the whole world itself is moving along and improving in spite of what some people may say! And the improvements of the world, God-ordered, as I believe them to be, God-guided, and God-given, as I know them to be, we must use all these as helps. And when they have served their purpose we must drop them and go on alone without them.
I would say exactly the same of theology. It advances and it grows, and to-morrow I shall have an opportunity of saying what I think on that matter. And I would like to recommend to you (if you are interested in these matters) the "Cambridge Theological Essays," a book that has been out now for some months, which contains food for thought, and probably as much as you or I are able to give in the course of our lives.
The same tendencies are shown, whether it be in theology, or in any other sciences. We know more of God and of His working than did our forefathers. I believe that we love the Lord Jesus with truer meaning than our ancestors. The Incarnation has been brought down into men's intimate knowledge in a way which fifty years ago was undreamt of. The work of God the Holy Spirit was--I won't say unknown--but ignored a few years back. You hardly ever heard a sermon about, or heard people speak of, God the Holy Ghost, except perhaps at Whitsuntide and Trinity Sunday. And now belief in this all-pervading, ever-present Spirit is the foundation of our religion, and it is increasing in intensity as the years go on. These fresh interpretations, these new intimations of God's will, God's power, and God's mind, all take their place with us for their day and generation. We are thankful to God for sending them, we will use them while they may be used, but we will not keep them longer than the purpose which they serve.
Quod semper, quod ulique, quod ab omnibus, is a pleasing sentiment, but we put it by along with the rattles and the hoops of childhood. It had its virtue, its merit, its use, but now it is passé, God has other and better means now. The old has passed away, all things have become new. "I saw no temple therein," said S. John, "for the Lord Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it."
It is difficult to shift our point of view to take in the glorious prospect that opens out; but if you keep your eyes fixed on the ground, on a present effort and past helps, you will never see either the glorious mountains in the distance, or the sun rising in its strength.
God has other and better means now. Old things have passed away; all things are becoming new. "The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory."