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The Scriptures, after all, furnish us with the best philosophy of history. Science does not contradict-it rather confirms the biblical declarations. I have adduced proof of a frequent retrogression in man's history from the writings of such jurists as Sir H. H. Johnston and Sir Henry Sumner Maine; from such naturalists as Lankester, Lyell, and Shaler; from such historians as Rawlinson, Ratzel, and Lange; from such philosophers as Kidd, Bixby, Ritchie, Seelye, Hopkins, Argyll, Martineau, and Herbert Spencer; from such travelers as Mason, Mitchell, and Nansen; from such theologians as Fisher, Diman, Whately, and Gordon; from such anthropologists and ethnologists as Crawley, Tylor, Westermarck, Drummond, and Howard. In the light of this evidence it seems to me still possible and rational to believe that man was made in the image of God; that man's condition was that of an innocent child, but not that of a brutal savage; that he possessed a knowledge of God and of duty; that by transgression he fell into a lower moral state which involved him in degradation and misery; that growing knowledge of the arts, even in the most civilized, was accompanied by a growing moral blindness, until monotheism was replaced by pantheism, polytheism, or atheism. The Apostle Paul, in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, has given us the key to history, when he declares that primitive man knew God, but glorified him not as God; that he exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and in consequence was given up to a reprobate mind; and that his degeneration can be counteracted only by regeneration from above.
THE USE OF THE WILL IN RELIGION 1
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2: 12, 13.) Our first and most important religious act is the signing of a declaration of dependence. We need to recognize our relation to God, to see that he is the source of all good, and that without him we can do nothing. But we are not to be mystics, folding our hands and leaving everything to God. He has made us reasoning and voluntary beings, and when he works in us, he only puts us in more complete possession of our powers of intellect and will. Our declaration of dependence needs to be followed by a declaration of independence. We must see to it that we become co-workers with God and not mere puppets moved by the divine fingers. The true Christian is more of a man than he ever was before, and while God works in him, he is also to work out his own salvation.
This Independence Day is a fit time to consider the use of the will in matters of religion. We can easily see the importance of stern resolve in the achievement of our national independence. Our fathers trusted in God, but they also kept their powder dry. They opened their Congress with prayer, but they also at Lexington and Bunker Hill fired shots that were heard around the world. “ Where there is a will, there is a way," says the old proverb; and this is far more true for those who work with God than for those who work without him. Each one of us, like Adam, has a garden to dress and keep,—a garden of the soul given us by God. The laws of moisture and soil and sunshine are matters of the divine working; in a certain sense we have nothing that we have not first received. But then it is also true that we are not automata; without our wills God will not act; our energy and persistence are needed to keep the weeds under and to get the best results of growth. No process of natural
1 A sermon preached in the Congregational Church, Canandaigua, N. Y, on the fourth day of July, 1909.
. evolution will do our work for us. In the history of man moral evolution takes the place of physical evolution. Plants can be made to grow inside a garden wall that would perish on the open heath. God makes us his agents, and so respects the will of man that only through that will will he accomplish his will.
I wish to apply this principle of activity to some departments of life in which we are often tempted to ignore our responsibility.
And first in the matter of prayer. Have you ever sufficiently considered that praying is commanded ? Jesus does not say: “If you ask, you will receive." No; he uses the imperative mood: “ Ask, and ye shall receive." Prayer is not optional; it is a duty. “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” We are to put will into prayer, and to pray hardest when it is hardest to pray. When we pray, we are to will the answer, to expect that our praying will not be in vain; nay, to take what we ask, with the grasp of faith, and to believe that we have the petitions that we asked. “ Prayer,” said Coleridge, “is the intensest exercise of the human understanding." Yes, and the intensest exercise of the human will, for it is the product of God's Spirit within us. And this relieves it from all charge of arbitrariness and selfishness. We work out our own salvation in prayer, only because it is God that works in us to will and to do. Pray then, with all the will you have, and you will find that another higher will is helping your infirmities and making intercession for you. You may begin as weak as Jacob wrestling in the night, and you may end as a very Israel who has striven with God and with men, and has prevailed. Use your will when you pray, and God will make your will a means of accomplishing his will, and of hastening the triumph of his kingdom.
It is easy to see how this putting of will into prayer helps the answer to prayer. God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves, and when we will the result, we are ready, so far as in us lies, to bring about the result. Prayer without the use of means is an insult to God. Can a drowning man refuse to swim, or even to lay hold of the rope that is thrown to him, and yet ask God to save him? Frederick Douglas used to say that when in slavery he often prayed for freedom, but his prayer was never answered until he prayed with his feet, and ran away. True faith is a resting in the Lord after we have done our part. That does not mean that prayer effects nothing outside of us, and that its only influence is its reflex influence upon ourselves. But it does mean that God's working proceeds only as fast as ours; only in our own working have we a right to believe that he works; only when we do all we can, have we the assurance that he will supplement our efforts. “Tie your camel, and commit it to God," said Mohammed. If you leave it untied, all your praying will not prevent its straying from the camp. We must not throw upon the shoulders of Providence the burdens which belong to us. Only when we do all we can to answer our own prayers, only when we summon up our own wills to fulfil God's will, can we take to ourselves the promise: “Rest in Jehovah, and wait patiently for him. . . Trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass.”
But I am asked a serious question here. To have a will conformed to the will of God; is this possible except as God works in us to will and to do? And is not this a gift of his Holy Spirit? Let me answer this question by suggesting a second application of my theme to our reception of the Holy Spirit. Here too, we must use our wills. We have been too much accustomed to the idea that we must be passive in all that pertains to the Spirit's influences. We wait for his movements, as if we had nothing to do. When he works, we wonder, as we do when we watch sheetlightning upon the horizon in summertime. It may instruct us to notice the word Jesus used when he first bestowed the gift of his Spirit. In the upper chamber after his resurrection he breathed upon his disciples and said: “ Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” But the word is a simpler one than even the word “receive "; it is the common word “take.” Jesus commands that we take what he freely provides. “We cannot make peace; but we can take peace,” says Dr. A. J. Gordon. It is not a passive reception which he requires, but an