"He performeth the thing that is appointed for me; and many such things are with Him." - Job 23:14
J. H. Chambers Macaulay: Religion is in danger of being lost in a clash of creeds and a confusion of cults.
The essence of this text lies in a personal conviction. The writer, Job, has a firm hold on a vital faith. He has reached to the beginnings of a saving knowledge. He knows what he knows, and he knows what he does not know. He passes through anguish to discovery. His belief is centered upon a God of rational, purposeful and energetic action. He is aware of God in a definite personal relation to himself, not merely as an idea, but as an Energy in direct contact with himself. His experiences, and all the events and hazards that encompass his soul, are viewed by him as in direct contact with a divine action.
There is a clear and clean sincerity in his convictions. He is frank and open. He permits us to see into his inmost soul, and he gives us a sufficient insight into the blend of thought and suffering that make the transparent medium through which the quality of his belief is seen. His suffering spirit is thrown back on God, and then in a rational integrity he is pushed straight forward to lay hold on the living, active God who is the ground of his vital faith.
In the logic of his search God eludes him. East, west, backward, forward the definite idea escapes him. He is baffled as he reaches out to the invisible, the inscrutable, the intangible, the unknown. God is. The divine will and action are evident, yet he cannot come face to face with this God in the discussions of his soul. God as an idea is indefinite, but God as a personal will working through definite action to definite ends is not to be evaded. Where the idea of a personal God eludes him the definite action of God finds him.
The mysterious thrill of a reverent and awful certainty fills his soul with a reverent and rational conviction of the working of God - a working that is in definite relationship to himself which can neither be evaded nor frustrated. He is unable to escape from the divine action in the world and in immediate personal relation to himself. His whole soul is moved within him, and the conscious realization of the impact of the divine will on his life leaves him prostrate in a believing homage.
When he thinks deeply and considers this thing, he is afraid and God maketh his heart soft and the Almighty troubleth him. God visibly acts. This action of God is absolute. In the realization of this fact lies the ground conviction and the awe-inspiring certainty of his vital faith. A belief so grounded in the fact of God in the reality of life has the quality in it of creative power. It is this quality of belief that modern men need, and without which the message and ministry of the Church is powerless.
It is clear that religion cannot live and thrive on make-believe. It is equally clear that faith cannot flourish on half-belief, misbelief or unbelief. Speculations concerning God are of little practical value. Vague ideas and indefinite opinions concerning religion end in nothing that is worthy.
It is the worth of a soul-searching, rational and moral conviction concerning the energy and purposeful activity of God that gives saving energy to the perplexed and suffering sons of men. A firm and intelligent conviction of the action of God, an experimental [=experiential] knowledge of His living power in the world, and a reverent response to His personal energy in the human spirit are the first grounds of a re-creating belief and a saving faith. This quality of belief is, and ought to be, the supreme end of every man or woman who has any sense of reality and downright earnestness. It is a soul test. It gives proportion and order to all other beliefs, and becomes the standard of real soul values.
With regard to the official standards of the Church the time may be ripe for credal revision. The only reserve we have in this matter is the ripeness of the hour. Revision can only justify itself when it is clear and affirmative and is competent to give a living expression to vital faith. It can never be the duty of the Church of God to fight merely rear-guard actions in relation to modern knowledge. A credal policy of evasion and mere concession to hostile forces has in it no power to re-create languishing beliefs. Religion demands affirmation of life, and faith requires convictions that command the soul. The worn-out traditions that hinder souls must give place to assertions that proclaim the divine action.
It fills one with a wistful sadness to find any earnest search for God hindered, or to contemplate men and women on their spiritual pilgrimage who have delivered themselves over to merely artificial authorities, or who accept a faith on a mere hearsay and traditional evidence. Religion then becomes an external submission instead of an inward responsible life, or a gloomy acquiescence instead of a joyful and an enduring service.
Neglect, carelessness and indifference are the first-born children of a nominal or formal faith, and the soul that takes its way through life, as if religion was a personally conducted tour to the heavenlies, is doomed to disappointment and uncertainty. Religion then lacks the quality in the texture of belief that gives the mind and spirit a sense of self-passion and establishes the conscience and the will in the knowledge of their whereabouts. In any real moral and spiritual sense a casual faith and a formal belief possesses neither vital interest nor inspiring confidence. They leave the soul on its mysterious journey much in the position of Du Maurier's elderly spinster, who, on being asked by a table d'hote neighbor whither she was proceeding, replied, "I am going to Lucerne."
"But, madam, you are in Lucerne."
"Oh! Well, then, I am going on to Milan."
In this wonderful and bewildering world, the sense of spiritual adventure and destiny demand that quality in belief that is confident of an intelligent and responsible relation to the divine presence and control and hope in life.
A living creed should give expression to a living faith in direct contact with God and with life. Religion is life. Its truth brings no shadowy or fitful joy, but a joy in realities born of suffering and patience, that can be captured, practiced, and retained. The intimate mystery of God may be veiled in words, but its knowledge goes as deep as the abyss of experience and rises as high as the splendor of God in the business of living.
To fight a good fight; to meet the fact of God amid the soul-soundings of the passage perilous; to cling in anguish, reverence and fear to what is vital; to give oneself to no vague loitering of dilettante inquiry; to meet mental credulity with the stern realities of moral responsibility - is to force the soul back on God and the whole Challenge of life. To come by a personal faith in the action of God and to recognize that action as the reality of life is a belief worth holding. Such a faith has in it a superb quality that holds us through fire and water and brings us unto a wealthy place. It is that quality of belief which rests in the rational and moral realizations of God.
It carries the whole man with it. It acts. It becomes the inner secret of all spiritual endeavor, and it inspires and controls the decisions of will. It directs the whole life, not by a selection of ideas or opinions with regard to God, but in a seeing of Him as He is, and in an obedient response to His outgoing energy of love and righteousness, He works in us and for us. "He performeth the thing that concerneth me; and many such things are with Him." (Job 23:14)
Let me bring this impregnating secret of religion to the definite and distinctive Christian issue.
It concerns us to know what God hath verily done. To understand the supremacy of His action and to have a real knowledge and a true experience concerning it is a secure and saving knowledge. It is not our immediate business to seek to justify the ways of God with men. It is not our business to fabricate a Gospel. It is our business to proclaim the revelation of God in His passionate redeeming action.
The Christian religion is first and foremost a revelation of the divine purpose and action in Redemption. God loves and thinks. For God, to love and to think is to act. The distinctive truth of Christianity is the fact of God's redeeming action revealed in a definite personal way. The experience of the Christian is his response to this distinctive action.
The revelation of Jesus Christ is the culminating revelation of the divine energy on man's behalf. It is instructive to pause a moment and to consider how this action of the redeeming God is in harmony with the divine immanence in all things, and the working of God in creation and history.
As we give serious attention to such a consideration as this, it is well also for us to give heed to the limitations of human knowledge and the limited ways of human faculties. The deepest culture and the most illumined wisdom falls far short of the creative glory and the redeeming grace of the God of our belief.
There is a subtle and playful irony, that will carry the lesson of humility to all those who are wise, in the words of that master of style [Robert Burns?] who gallantly wrote,
"It's strange that God should fash to frame The earth and heaven so heigh; And clean forget to explain the same To a gentleman like me."
A transformation is going on before our eyes - in the attitude of men's minds and in the modern outlook on fields of knowledge and discovery. New boundaries are being crossed, the significance of things is taking on new aspects. The material universe is spoken of in terms of spiritual energy. Science is friendly to-day to the idea of God, and speaks in terms of the operating energy of the divine will and action. Camille Flammurion [1894, of the Paris Observatory] bears this message to us to-day from the study of the stars. Hermann Reinheimer [1915, German evolutionist] speaks the same thing in terms of biology. Some of his words are very significant. Spiritual forces and moral principles are the basis of life. This is the scientific position: "The recognition of values in the organic world brings the whole course of evolution to the test of moral principles."
There is on all hands a recognition of, and a concentration upon, the acknowledgment of the divine action. This attitude and outlook is a revolution in secular thought, and the transformation from a harsh hostility to religion to a reverent acknowledgment of God, must have immediate and increasing influence in molding men's minds in new channels favorable to the spiritual view of things and to the realities of a religion that proclaims the definite action of God in relation to the conscience and the character of men.
In such an atmosphere of modern thought, where rationalism itself desires to be baptized with the secret of religion, and wherein the thought of the immanent God is frankly recognized, there surely is a new opportunity presented of urging on men the fair and free and frank consideration of the action of God in the fact of Jesus Christ and in the vocation of the Christian Church.
There are many aspects of this revelation of the redeeming God in time, in history, and in the experience of the souls of men. The action of divine love is universal, but the supreme energy of God as seen and experienced in
The Gospel of Jesus
is the apprehension of the personal activity of God in making the world one with Himself.
It is a far cry from the epic of Job to the Cross of Calvary. This deepening apprehension constitutes the unity of revelation and the final and complete disclosure of the love and righteousness of God as seen in vital action working out salvation for the seeking sons of men.
If from the bleeding passion of our souls there goes forth the cry: "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!" (Job 23:3), our stricken spirits respond to that action of God which is disclosed in Jesus Christ and in the Gospel of the divine love made manifest to the deepest needs of human experience. The supreme grace in God is made operative in the souls of men. Their union with God is accomplished in a supreme reconciling act. "All things are of God who hath reconciled us to Himself and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18).
This range of the divine action in Christ covers the whole field of human hope and human endeavor. There is no moral and spiritual limit to the outworking of God in the personal revelation of Himself as reconciled Redeemer and Saviour. God thus deals as He alone can deal with the souls of men. He comes to them in the perfection of His love and in the creative power of His righteousness. The person and work of Jesus declares the character of God in redemptive action.
The soul-cry of man is answered in
The Cross of Christ.
God's action culminates here and in all that the Cross conveys in Him who reveals the Father and becomes to us the resurrection and the life. This act transcends all human theories. It becomes the center from which God works in the moral and spiritual energies by which man is transformed from sin unto holiness. The intuitions of man's soul and the integrity of the rational will give a complete consent to that dynamic action that is the wisdom and the power of God. The eternal love is focussed into the human conscience and radiates unto eternal life in the believing Spirit.
In the quality of our belief there comes the haunting spirit of a new awakening and the sudden quickening of a new creative life. We recognize the august grandeur of its source. The approach to the Gospel which reaches us in Jesus is through the heart and will of God Himself. The overtones of the Almighty thrill into time and palpitate in the souls of men - "All things are of God" (2 Cor. 5:18) "Before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). Before the times eternal, "The Eternal purpose" (Eph. 3:11) - "Purposed in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:11).
This is the way the glorious Gospel of the blessed God reaches men, and God Himself walks body deep in human history and in human experience to redeem and to save the world. From His high heart of grace God comes forth in a majesty of action that is all love, all righteousness, all truth. This is the quality of the Gospel of the good tidings of God, and the quality of our belief should in some measure meet its grandeur and bring our souls into its obedience.
Dogma may emphasize the quantity of our beliefs, the realities of the divine grace emphasize its quality. If for any reason the Church mishandles her divine message; if men have filled their mouths with arguments, and the patois of the pulpit has become the boredom of the thoughtful and earnest men; then the hour has come for a new and deepened energy in the proclamation of the Gospel of God. If the repetition of dogmatic jargon has hardened into a dead tradition, and the realities of the divine action in the power of redeeming love have dehumanized the religion of the conscience and the soul, then the time is ripe for the re-creation of living truth in the woven texture of official beliefs.
The Righteousness of God
is a vital thing. In one sense the Cross of Christ stands in a solitary grandeur and makes its eternal appeal to men. In another sense the Cross is never a mere symbol in isolation. It is a real action in the soul. The pardon and the peace of God is no external blessing. Forgiveness is a holy action through the in-working of the holy law of God. It becomes an inborn righteousness penetrating inwards to the very joints and marrow, bringing men and societies and nations into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and transforming and transfiguring the whole life of man with the new will, the new love, the new truth and the new power of God.
God hath given and committed to us this new faith and new service of reconciliation. Nothing lies outside the divine action, the divine grace and the divine relationship. The divine action is a living and continuous thing. The death of Christ is never received rightly apart from His resurrection power, His gift of the Holy Spirit, His leadership of the Church and His action in the world.
God in Christ is a constant redeeming and sanctifying energy. Men, societies and nations may dash on in the reckless frolic of their own wayward self-will, but the bit of God is in their mouth and His bridle upon their jaws. He will bring forth righteousness to the light and judgment as the noonday. "And should my heart say nought but no," says Jacob Boehme [1575-1624], "yet will I throw myself with the suffering and the death of Christ, yet will I remain in His death, who has become for me an Eternal Life."
Men may still shoot out the tongue and wag the head. Hostile forces may gamble beneath the Cross of Christ, dividing His garments and casting lots upon His vesture. Nevertheless, God's holy love and sacred action draws us still. Amid scorn and disdain, "Amor meus crucifixus est" - my love is crucified, and I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God and the wisdom of God to every one that believeth. (Rom. 1:16).
"Be thankful the price and the payment,
The birth, the privation, the scorn,
Are finished, the Star brought us morn.
Look Starward! Stand far and unearthly,
Free souled like a banner unfurled,
Be faithful, my brothers, be faithful,
For a God was the price of a world."
Will you say Him nay, who hath done such great things for you? See God stretching out hands to save you, His grace reaches you from the eternal sacrificial love of His own redemptive heart. Will the passion of God leave your heart cold and your conscience seared? His action calls you to the vocation of the high and holy Cross.
The world needs you, and God needs you in the offices of His reconciling grace. He hath in the Reconciler compassed your differences, He hath made the things that concern you consistent. His self-subsistent and efficient grace hath made all things possible to you in Christ Jesus. He hath made it possible for you to love again. What can I say more, "Amor meus crucifixus est" - my love is crucified.
Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God did beseech you by us. We pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). Let your belief measure the divine action, and your service of the Kingdom of God express the rich quality of that belief.
Sermon preached by J. H. Chambers Macaulay, Skelmorlie, Scotland, 1920
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