"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before,
"I press towards the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians iii. 13, 14.
IF Moral Progress, as I tried to maintain yesterday, involves the use of all and every fresh inspiration of God the Holy Ghost, with which He enlightens our race, Spiritual Completeness (which is the subject of my sermon to-day) follows on naturally, and is developed by the self-same natural process which I have claimed as God's method and God's way.
If the one is hindered by too great dependence on past help, and by reluctance to use the more modern gains of experience and knowledge which are so abundantly given to us to profit by, and to apply, so it seems to me that spiritual development has been, and is retarded by an unwillingness to attempt higher flights, and to explore the realms which lie immediately above our present condition.
Nothing is more remarkable than the gradual manner in which mankind has advanced in the path of moral progress. The story of the Divine education of Israel as it appears in the light of modern criticism, is a proof of the extreme slowness with which man grasps the most fundamental principles of morality. From Moses to Amos, the Israelites were learning, what seems to us, the elementary truth, that right conduct is more important than the performance of ritual acts of worship. Ezekiel proclaimed a startling novelty to many of his age when he declared that every man is personally responsible to God Himself; but our Lord came to reveal to His disciples a view of duty and of religion far beyond anything of which the world had hitherto dreamed. He called upon men to make an unprecedented advance from formalism to spirituality, from laws to principles, from the tyranny of fear to the free service of love.
But the true significance of the words or acts of any great man are rarely grasped at first, and important truths have scarcely ever been understood by the generation in which they first came to light. For since mankind is no more able than a child to see the purpose of its teachers in a moment, it has to assimilate its lessons before they can be appreciated at their true value.
It is for the future that all great teachers have to work, and the more valuable their lessons the less rapidly are they apprehended. The "Immortals," Homer, Plato, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, are still read because it is felt that they have still unrevealed messages for the world; and what is true of them is far more true of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, even regarded from naturalistic standpoints, is less Churchmanship and Labour. So-easy to comprehend than any human being who has hitherto lived on earth. The race has not even yet learned its lesson. Humanity is still striving to reach the goal that He set before it. No other life has exercised a similar influence. As Goethe truly says: "Let intellectual and spiritual culture progress, and the human mind expand as much as it will, beyond the grandeur and the moral elevation of Christianity as it sparkles and shines in the Gospels, the human mind will not advance. Hindoo philosophy may have gained more adherents. The rule of life prescribed by Mahomet may have secured a more rapid recognition, but it is the Person of Jesus Christ which is still the power on earth, and it is by this means, of continually appealing to something higher in our nature, something still beyond our present attainments, that the results of His life are seen, in ever widening circles in the history of mankind."
This quotation, from the book of which I spoke yesterday, gives a very fair indication of the scope and object of a book which, in my opinion, is one of the most remarkable testimonies to the multiplied influences of the teaching of Jesus Christ in this twentieth century. It is an honest appeal to cast away reliance on props that have served their day and purpose, and boldly to advance to that wider, fairer, and more intellectual regime that lies on ahead.
No one can read "The Idea of Revelation in the Light of Modern Knowledge and Research," by James Morris Wilson (late Archdeacon), and not be impressed by the splendour of the possibilities which now await the aroused Christian. Frankly and gladly too to accept the conclusions arrived at in other sciences, and by other teachers, is the glory of all real theology, and to advance as the Queen of Sciences by the aid and the assistance accorded by them. This is the particular glory of all theology, and perhaps the special work of theology to-day.
Concerned as we always are, and always shall be with sin and its removal, yet that will be insufficient for the renewed and the revived mind of mankind trying to grasp the whole prospect. The Being of God fills all things, and even the details of scientific evolution become witnesses to His existence and His controlling power. Physical science and philosophy can both be used, not as disprovers of His being, but as finger-points which point unhesitatingly to One great Mind, the First Great Cause Which has ordered all things both in Heaven and earth. Man's history, as traced by the scientific thought of to-day, proves that he too is under law, not an exemption or an exception, but part of God's own world, part of that wonderful scheme of evolution whereby the rise from the lower to the higher is being continually carried out, and must go on and can never cease, depending not upon individual effort so much as I believe is maintained, but upon the ordering of a law, which, as it is made by God, is unalterable and unchangeable.
Personally, I believe that when this fact is really grasped, and man's origin and his place in nature, not only decided upon, but believed in, all kinds of results must follow, and the possibility of a distinct and definite rise in man's moral, intellectual, and spiritual nature must follow as inevitably as day follows night. Man's relation to God is seen in a new light, man's nearness to God is a thing not merely assumed, but proved, and the possibilities which thenceforward must ensue are beyond the tongue of angels and of men to describe.
Christ in the Church, whether we take the old view or the testimony of history, is now seen to be a far grander thing than anything that had ever hitherto entered into the heart of man to conceive. He reigns supreme over all, and through all, and in all, God blessed for ever, the one and only hope of a redeemed and renewed humanity. Man's relation to God thus becomes one of fact and truth, charged with development which must continue and grow, and to which development it is impossible to assign limits.
Compare man now and in the time of Henry VII., and see what marvellous advance he has made since that day. Twelve hundred years of mediaevalism and the cramping influences of unrestrained Church discipline did, in effect, limit man's growth, but the 350 years of freedom have done more for the race than the whole previous epoch, and we to-day see the growth and expansion of the hopes of mankind. Mankind cannot stop still. Its development is still going on; and its growth, slow but sure, continues in our might and knowledge to day. There can be no end to this growth till God be all in all.
Christ holds the answers to all our questions. The Gospels show us how, little by little, Jesus lifted His disciples past one conception after another, until at last they knew nothing that was absolutely necessary except God. They began as fishermen who could not do without their nets, their boats, their fisher friends, their sports, and their gossipings; but He carried them stage by stage till they were crying out: "Lord, show us the Father, arid it sufficeth us." And the climax is reached when the least imaginative of them all could only fall on his knees before the Redeemer, crying out: "My Lord and my God!"
That wonderful change--how wonderful we often forget, because the story is so familiar--He brought about by revealing Himself. When living with Him, they saw the beauty of gentleness and self-sacrifice; they saw the glory of forgiveness and regeneration; they saw the new life that opened out before them, who knew His grace and salvation. And they may have seen, and S. Paul certainly did see, the higher glory of humanity. Then it was not so important to them how they fared, and what they ate, and what they wore, and how their trade prospered; all these things do the nations of the earth seek after. To them the question shifted; the test of life swept higher up. Were they indeed His? Had they got His Spirit? Were they living His life? Had they part in His eternity?
And so, when you and I really desire the salvation of Christ, He will do for us all that He did for them. Our tests of life will sweep up higher. Not, Is my body well? But, Is my soul strong? Not, Is my friend sure to live by my side? But, Is he living with God? Not, Am I sure of the life that is here and now? But, Am I living the life that is for ever? Health, companionship, life itself, these are no longer indispensable when Christ has shown us God. A resignation which is not despair, but aspiration, a. looser grasp of time, that means how strongly we are holding to eternity. This must come to us, after all our doing of little temporary things we have at last begun in Christ, the life and work which is to go on for ever and ever. Then we seem to see the heavens opened, and the very vision of God (and God in us) is clear to the eye of faith. Then we can do without the things which the world says are necessary. Then we have passed from death unto life. Then we have left behind the lower and betaken us to the higher interests. We walk by faith, not by sight. Already, even while we are in the flesh, and before we cross the river, the promise finds its fulfilment. We live in the world, but we do not live by the world. Work, recreation, conversation, friendship, all come and go; God sends them; they have their purpose; but "I count not myself yet to have apprehended: but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal, unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."