"Marks of a Progressive Society"
Sermon XVIII. Liberty.
By the Rev. P.N. Waggett, M.A., S.S.J.E. "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." Ephesians iv. II.
WE hoped to make three steps in the addresses this week: (i) To consider how progress finds a test in extending unity of life; (2) How it finds a test in growing liberty of life; and (3) How it finds an important test in that care of the children which recognises at once our responsibility to a larger scope of life than that which is contemporary with us, our duty to the future; and at the same time expresses an intensity of regard for individual souls.
The last subject we cannot reach at this time. We must proceed in an orderly manner and endeavour to complete what we were saying about the mark of progress in growing fellowship, by adding that this growing fellowship does not compete with the claim of individual freedom.
This is not at all a matter which can safely be left in silence, for there can be no doubt that resistance to the claims of fellowship, so far as it is at all powerful, and depends upon reasoned conviction, comes from those who think that it is an enemy or rival to individual liberty. We must take our choice, we seem to be told, between the development of the individual soul to the highest possible perfection, and the co-ordination of fellowship to the largest possible extent. It is supposed that these two things are alternatives and rivals, and that we must choose between them, and put our work into one or the other. You may often find good people saying: "I give up this large social work for the sake of the culture of the individual, especially of this individual whom I know."
In such a statement as this, two thoughts seem to be involved. There is first the suspicion that large fellowship is hostile to the reality, or vital character, the importance or freedom of the individual; and secondly, the notion that large fellowship means something which is inconsistent with the distinction of the different members.
No doubt these two notions run into one another, but they are distinct; they are different logically. You might have individual lives which were very important, but which were also very largely uniform, so that they retained their weight, but lost their speciality. We have to show that individual life in a true social growth will retain not only weight, but also distinction.
Society and the individuals are not two realities--on the one hand, a society which is not made of individual hopes and duties, and on the other individuals who have no social joys and sorrows.
The society which does not nourish and develop the individual thereby forfeits its name, for it has forfeited with its function its reality. It should be called a non-society. The individual who is not capable of development in the enlargement of social duties and service is an individual who has failed, not only to be social, but also and thereby to be truly individual. There is a so-called society which demands uniformity in its component parts. It is a non-society. It fails by its neglect or impoverishment or repression of the individual. And its failure is precisely the failure to be social. Its anti-individuality is due not to the excess, but to the absence of social zeal. It is in the recognition of the man, the family, that it can at last recover the path of social advance.
Now it is quite true that this preservation of the individual can only be perfectly attained in that fellowship which is eternal, in the fellowship which Christ has founded upon earth; and that there are other large organizations of humanity which are in various degrees, if not hostile, yet less friendly or less favourable to the preservation of individual liberty. In fact, the result of fellowship, or, at any rate of co-ordination (for not all strong social combinations contain the element of fellowship)--the result for the individual of combination depends upon the nature of the bond which operates in creating the combination. In that fellowship which we know to be the type of all social unions, the fellowship of Christ, we see in perfection the preservation of individual liberty and responsibility, and of personal distinction, because the bond of that fellowship is perfect love. And further, since its bond is a bond of love operating towards that which it loves, and since love must always operate in perfect freedom, for you cannot force love, it follows that the resulting commonwealth is a commonwealth of perfect freedom; for each member only belongs to it because he wishes to, and indeed only belongs to it so far as he wishes to. There is no invasion of his liberty, for he is where he is because he has chosen, and still chooses, to be there. The nature, then, of the result upon the individual of any large organization depends upon the nature of the bond by which that organization is constituted.
And so we shall only find the things we long for strictly and perfectly realized in the Church; and indeed only wholly realized in that Church which we rather hope for than yet experience, the Church which shall be wholly filled and ruled by the Divine Spirit of Love, that Spirit Who is at once the Spirit of perfect sovereignty and perfect freedom, and Who therefore creates the miracle of almost infinite complexities of obedience, which foster the perfect development of individuals. I have called it a miracle, and must i add that a miracle is not an interruption of God's usual order.
It is a manifestation of those deeper energies upon which the ordinary course of development, as we call it, always rests.
What we have to say then, will be mainly true, first, of the Church; but all other corporations must, if they are to be lasting, be always advancing on the same lines, and in a true and fitting imitation of the Church, coming to exhibit more fully the life of Christ, looking forward to the day when we shall recognise that the life of Christ is not comprised in those activities of mankind which are specially concerned with a common worship, or the relief of the poor, but in everything which is truly human, so that there will be a Christian commerce, and a Christian empire. This Christian empire will not be merely an empire which contains Christianity or which has enthroned Christianity above other forces within it, but one which is in itself an expression of the Holy Spirit of God in so far as it is a rule which preserves both the wideness of obedience and the intensity of individual liberty.
Let us then try to sketch what is already in part true of the Church, and shall be more largely true in proportion as it obeys Christ by the movement of His Spirit.
This great Fellowship of Fellowships, one within the other, let us first regard as if it were mechanical, and look at it under the very imperfect image of a machine, as wheels within wheels, circle within circle. Even mechanical combination does not require any lessening of the distinctness or of the reality of the several parts. Does it not, on the contrary, require their distinctness? Co-ordination is not conglomeration. It does not depend upon the melting away and confusing of the outlines of the several parts, even in that coarsest image of a machine. Does it not rather depend upon the exact outline of each several part? Would a watch be a better watch if all its wheels were very much alike? Is it not necessary for a watch that its wheels should be very different? Perhaps in watches, which are very simple machines, the wheels are to a large extent alike in form, yet each of them must be itself with the strictest exactness and sharpness. It is not the wearing away of the surfaces which makes the machine go well; it is the pointed hardness of the surfaces. The teeth must be sharply cut, and fit into one another, in order that the watch may go. And in the most complex machines movement depends upon the distinction of the parts, their apposition, their mutual resistance, as well as their mutual help. They must be able to catch hold of each other; there must be some stiffness, some resistance; and the perfection of the machine depends upon every part being to the highest possible degree exactly finished according to its proper shape. Even so it is in the great machine of human organization. This, so far from requiring the abolition of distinctions, would be destroyed by such abolition.
I really ought to apologize for saying anything so elementary as this. But although we are all thoroughly aware of it in theory, we all, in practice, more or less completely forget it. We long for all clergymen to be alike; some of us would like them to be exactly like laymen. We should like every part of life to be like every other part. We like all churches to be alike; why I never can imagine. It is a very good thing that they are not. Then we think a dreadful disaster has occurred if there is a little noise of grinding heard in the Church of England; when there is some friction. But why not friction? Why not difference? A person who wants a Church of England which does not make any noise, is like a person who wants a silent coffee-mill. The mill makes a noise because it is at work. The Church makes a noise because it is at work, and at work upon hard and often alien material. It must have all sorts of angles; and there must also be parts of it which are springs to provide the motive force. There must be others which are simply hands to announce the result, an unenviable, but a very glorious and noble position. There must be, besides, little cog-wheels, which will always be in danger of being ground down to smoothness, only that God gives them for the good of the whole Church, sharp angles to rub against other sharp angles, to make friction and convey movement. No doubt it is very valuable that there should be some parts which revolve smoothly, and render the service of an axletree; but there must also be others who create friction. Various things are found in the same machine. Parts are meant to run smoothly on one another and which must be kept well oiled, but there are others which are meant to grip hard upon one another, and from which oil must be carefully excluded.
So at any rate, difference of outline in forms is not an obstacle to co-operation in the whole, but is rather essential and necessary for such co-operation. Diversity of parts is necessary to unity. A quantity of marbles in a bag have no unity because they are too much alike. A split in the bag altogether destroys that passing and accidental appearance of unity which they possessed. In order that things may together possess unity, they must severally possess distinction.
There must then be different subordinate fellowships within the vast fellowship of the Church. There ought to be national differences. There may indeed, since we do not all express fully the whole truth, very well be differences of Christian tone, although each must be endeavouring to gain from the others the benefit which comes from their possession of a Christian tone different from our own. But mutual gain need not be mere conglomeration.
Then, with regard to different races, those persons are very much misled who imagine that the future, for example, of Africa, and the larger growth of life there, depend upon the disappearance of difference between Dutchmen and Englishmen, or between white men and natives. Each race should preserve with the greatest zeal, and by every means available, its own characteristics, and thus each will best serve the rest. No help comes from the obliteration of racial diversities. And further, each man must, for the sake of all other men, endeavour to be as much himself as possible; to be his true self. His true self is his good self; indeed, it is only the Christ in him which is his true eternal self. Each man must try to be to the fullest extent what he himself is meant to be in Christ; only he must do this, not for his own sake, but for the sake of others.
The right course lies between two extremes of error; the error of trying to be like other people for their sake, and the error of trying to be oneself for one's own sake. We must avoid these two errors, and put together two good things. One must try to be one's own true self, not for one's own sake, but for the sake of everybody else. Each sharp man is to be sharp for the sake of those who need his sharpness; and each mild man is to be mild for the sake of the sharp who so dreadfully need his mildness! So every nation in the Church is to be itself, true to its own part of history, and in the channel which by God's good grace it has itself dug in the surrounding dead material of the world, it must follow to the uttermost extent the lines of its own development, for the sake of the whole body.
So far we get, then, on the lines of mechanics. We see that the co-ordination of many parts not only does not require, but actually forbids, the lessening of individuality; for unity depends upon diversity of parts.
But we must take another step. For all this would leave us with a. quantity of people merely different from one another, and different to the very roots of their being; and that would be unsatisfactory, for there would then be no union. As there is no oneness without diversity of form, so also there is no oneness without unity of existence. We have, therefore, to part with the rough symbol of mechanics, and pass to the only symbol which gives any suggestion of the spiritual fact, the symbol of life.
In life we see something further. We see not only that the several parts or members of the body are distinct, but also that they have a common life, which in each is the life of the whole. A machine is simply a distribution of different functions; a body is far from being simply a distribution. There is here a sharing of a peculiar kind, which would be called by old Latin lawyers, "A singulis in solidum." It was S. Cyprian's conception of the Episcopate, that the different bishops held "a singulis in solidum;" that is, not each one having a share, but each one sharing the whole. In Africa, I think, we do not have this form of trust. There, if you are to hold a property with other people, it has to be separated into parcels, and each trustee has a parcel, a, b, c, or d, each sharer is responsible for his share, and must execute a separate deed poll to show that he holds his share for the rest. In contrast with this in a joint and several trust, each trustee holds the whole trust, and all the other trustees hold it also. Their responsibilities interlace. And that is the way in which the Church's members hold their trust and power. They hold it as a joint and several trust; their functions are not merely distinct, but everyone of them is a result of the life of the whole. Each one has his peculiar character by virtue of that which is not peculiar; by virtue of the character of the whole body.
This is wonderfully true. It is true of the component parts of our own bodies. There was a time when histologists (people who make use of microscopes) thought that the minute component parts of the body were themselves very unspecialized, that they had no character, that they were formed of structureless material. But now we know that the minutest unit of the body, the cell, is in itself a whole world of complexity, and a scene of definite movements. And just as in the body the old structural unit is seen to possess wonderful vital activities, so in the Church the individual soul, instead of being impoverished, instead of being a mere structureless unit, is a constituent part of a great whole, and possesses forces, capacities, potentialities which are indeed fully exhibited only in the great whole. The individual life is richer for incorporation, not poorer, it is fuller, more distinctive, more eventful.
It is said, by Metschnikoff, that no one of the large pyramidal cells of the Cortex can be replaced if it perishes; that the man who has starved it goes the poorer to his grave. The higher, the more specialized the organism, the more important are its minute constituents.
Greater complexity, then, of human life constitutes progress, because it requires between individuals a larger and larger intercommunication of love and duty? It will impose on each man graver responsibilities, and promotes him to larger freedom.
In religion there have been conflicts between those who believed in a great corporate life of the Church, secured by sacramental covenants of order, and those who believed in the individual approach of the soul to God. We have still to say again and again that these conflicts are wholly baseless. The value of the large corporate life of the Church is measured by the degree in which each minutest member of that corporate life gains immediate access to the Father of Spirits. What advantage would a man have in a growth of the physical body by the addition of dead cells? Holy Church grows by the multiplication of souls which are alive to immediate communication with the Father of Spirits.
That competition which has been kept up so long, and which all more finely touched spirits know to be futile, between those who speak about the individual approach of the soul to God, and those who take what is supposed to be the Catholic view of a large co-operative movement, as of an army on the march, must be parted with by all intelligent Christians. All corporate life of the Church requires for growth a greater intensity of life in every single soul, which by its membership with the Church is itself alive, and that not for itself, but for all.
Am I less free because my goodness (if I could be good) is useful to vast multitudes? Is my responsibility less real because my failure makes a definite breach in the continuity of the spiritual life of the whole world? Surely I am more responsible than I should be if I were a soul flung in the void, face to face with God, with no neighbour soul? To eyes on earth, though not in reality, a star might fall out of heaven without greatly disturbing the pattern of the other stars. But if the soul is not like a star poised in solitude in space before God, but is like a member of a body, a member of which the life is necessary to the whole, then surely its responsibility is much greater, for its disappearance does not leave the other members as they were. And if its liberty on the guilty side, which we call responsibility, is plainly greater, so its liberty on the effective side is also plainly greater; the liberty to do good. For true liberty is not the transgression of limits; the dissolution of bonds; the opportunity to do anything, however bad. Liberty is freedom to do what is right, what is holy. You would not call a man free, who poised over a well, held a knife in his hand, and cut himself loose to go to the bottom. We should only call him free while he was able to climb the rope and get out.
Liberty, remember, is the power and opportunity to do real things. That life is not free which is merely cut adrift to lie in the dust in the corner like the lost coin.
And the more complete this larger corporate life becomes in unity of substance, and in the distribution of functions among the several parts, the more it raises the responsibility of each part; the more fully it sets the soul free to practise that which by itself it never could do. Are we less free then for our position in Church and Society? Surely more free. Are we less responsible? Surely more responsible. Therefore in all our endeavours to enlarge and make more real our fellowship we must be quite sure, or we may be quite sure, that we shall not be losing anything of our individual freedom. That saying of the time of the French Revolution, "The liberty of one citizen ends where the liberty of another citizen begins," can no longer be accepted as true. Our liberty is not individualistic. It is not liberty simply to do by ourselves and for ourselves what we ourselves like. It does not find its scope in a narrow limit, in the preservation of personal or domestic life. It is not checked when it meets the liberty of the next citizen. No, it finds its enlargement there.
Co-operation extends the capacity of action. Liberty is not checked by the next citizen's liberty. It is released by the next citizen's liberty; it runs also into his regions if it will co-operate with him.
But this will be true only--let us make sure of our indispensable condition--only if the union is a union of love. If it is a union of self-interest in which men submit to bonds with others in order that they may better gain their own ends, then although they may multiply their power for a certain purpose, they will cripple their liberty for other things. They must part with distinction, they must stifle conscience, they must be content to see large tracts of their own life undeveloped and unexpressed. All this so often, so dreadfully often, happens in co-operations which are based on selfishness. And the life will dwindle more and more as the co-operation becomes more powerful; for it will be a co-operation of selves which have given up much of their own lives in order that they may more triumphantly satisfy a particular part. But if it is love which binds men together, then their own souls will be growing larger and richer, and more fully developed in every direction as they freely and joyfully surrender them whole for the service of others.
That will be found in experience to be true. The person who, to further some selfish enterprise, contrives to get other men to do his task, will find that his conscience has become their slave. But the man who goes forward in love and unselfishness, glad to render his life for the interests of all, will find that all his days have become full of joy, and that the avenues which join him to the others have become broader and clearer, so that, with them and in their service, he has an abundant entrance into the everlasting Kingdom of our Saviour Jesus Christ.