Heart of the Gospel:
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The spiritual evolution of man's soul is in this different from the evolution of his body, that it is not automatic nor unconscious, but demands from him directed effort. If he would advance, he must add his willing co-operation to that evolutionary urge which impels him on his upward way. Spiritual life, both in the case of men and of nations, is likened by Jesus and others in the New 'Testament to a growing seed. The comparison for ever repudiates any idea of rigidity, fixity, immobility or stationariness in religion; but its positive meaning cannot be that man's mental progress is, like that of a plant, involuntary and effortless (men know otherwise); rather it is that man's spiritual nature is a living, growing thing which develops in an orderly manner continuously till it reaches fruition.
Jesus stated that 'the kingdom of God is within you', and likened its increase to that of a tiny 'mustard seed' which grows into a tree so big that birds sit in its branches -a comparison which illuminates the advance of spiritual knowledge both in the individual soul and in the soul of the human race.
More than once He compared spiritual truth to a seed which is sown in the heart of man and which grows according to the nature of the soil in which it falls. Truth and the human heart are by nature akin, and in a pure heart truth will grow apace and bring forth fruit abundantly;
only some impurity and defect in the soil (such as worldly distractions or love of mammon) can prevent its growth. The Baptist, emphasising this same process of spiritual growth in a larger field, compared the course of the Mosaic Dispensation to the growth of a crop of corn; when the allotted time had passed and the season of spiritual fruits had come, Jesus was sent with the power and authority of God to gather in the harvest of souls. As the Mosaic Dispensation passed away to be followed by another and a greater Dispensation, the Baptist warned the people of his time that though they might not know what was happening this was their Day of Judgment, and there was one among them gathering the fruits of Mosaism whether good or bad, a Divine Reaper 'Whose fan is in his hand and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will bum up the chaff with unquenchable fire'. (Matt. 3:12.)
In this simple but conclusive figure the Baptist taught that the Era of Moses was a set period in an evolutionary process, not unlike the allegorical 'day' in the account of material creation. Mosaism had its sowing, its time of maturing, and in the end its hour of reaping. The same evolutionary process was then begun again and carried forward a stage further by another Master. Jesus used (on more occasions than one) exactly the same figure with reference to His own Dispensation as John had used in referring to that of Moses. He likened it to good seed which He had sown in men's hearts but which was mixed by the evil one with tares; and the two would grow together to maturity till in the fullness of time the season of harvest came round: then God would send His
angels and they would reap the whole field, which was the wide world, and would cast away and burn what was waste and worthless and would gather the righteous and true-hearted into the treasure-house of God.
Again the Baptist likens a Dispensation to a tree which, having increased to full size and borne its fruit and cast a seed from which another like tree may spring, is cut down to give room to a younger growth.
In the great allegory of the world-consummation of man's evolution given in Rev. 22:2, the Tree of Life is described as having attained the fullness of a universal fruitage, bearing twelve manner of fruits and yielding these every month, and as shedding from its leaves healing over all the nations of the wide earth.
But the need of moral effort is stressed in Scripture even more than the thought of growth. For practical results, man's special duty is to make a well-directed effort: if he does this, spiritual growth will follow of itself Old Testament and New echo with exhortations from prophets and teachers calling men to abandon ease and negligence and gird themselves for endeavour — 'seek' 'strive', 'labour on', 'quit you like men, be strong and of a good courage', 'fight the good fight, lay hold on eternal life', 'be instant in season and out of season', 'be ye doers of the word and not hearers only', 'in your patience ye shall win your souls', 'he that endureth to the end shall be saved'.
God must be sought if He is to be found; the truth must be striven for if it is to be realised. If 'thou shalt seek the Lord thy God,' said Moses, 'thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.' (Deut. 4:29.)
'Ask, and it shall be given you,' said Christ; 'seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. . . Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.' (Matt. 7:7 and Luke 13:24.)
Results are proportionate to the effort made. God 'will render to every man according to his deeds 'for 'he is a rewarder of them that. . . seek him.' (Rom. 2:6; Heb. 11:6.)
This giving of battle, this seeking and striving, this patience and endurance takes in practical life many shapes and brings man face to face with many different problems. The Bible offers in the course of its narrative illustrations of a thousand diverse demands that duty may make on men. It gives particular and exact advice in many special cases. But whatever the circumstances may be and whether the emergency be great or small, the purpose and the essence of the effort that is required remain the same.
The object of all this struggle and endeavour is to draw out those high powers which lie folded away and hidden within the soul of every man as a rose is folded within the bud; to let the Divine Image in man's heart shine forth in its splendour; to become (so far as a human being may) godlike; and thus to co-operate with the evolutionary Force, with the spiritual impulse imparted to mankind by God.
That Heavenly Image is no material likeness; it occupies no space. It is a reflection of God as God is revealed to man; it is a reflection of those properties which are what we know of God, such as love, compassion, kindness, generosity, mercy, pity, faithfulness. These in their sum comprise our vision of God, and they are the elements
which make up the Image graven in the human heart. The aim of man's effort is to bring these attributes into action, to use and exercise them, to give them strength and lead them on towards maturity. By doing deeds of goodness, by meditating on the perfections of God and holding communion with Him, man is enabled by degrees to develop divine characteristics and to become in a measure godlike. Thus he fulfils his possibilities and reaches up to his full moral stature. The attributes of the Most High are the originals of the moral virtues for which Christ commanded men to strive. It is from this fact the virtues derive their authority and their eternal values. By cultivating them man makes himself like God. Christ said, 'Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect', and there is no means of achieving this except by walking in the strait way of righteousness. Christ said, 'Come unto me', and no one can accept this invitation except by acquiring the divine attributes, for Christ was the express image of the Father and all the perfections of God in their fullness were manifest in Him. The obligation to obey the injunctions of Christ, to be kind, generous, forgiving, compassionate, devoid of prejudice or partiality, peaceable, is not something imposed by a ruler's decree or an external power; it proceeds from man's own nature. The constitution of man's spiritual being imposes upon him the strict demands of. duty. He is morally responsible before God, but he is also morally responsible to himself: He is compelled in the end to be his own judge. The strict and authoritative commands which Christ gave were given in the name of God Himself; but they were given, too, in the name of man's own heart. The laws of righteousness which He taught were
the laws of man's own being, and the godliness which He bade men develop was already as a potentiality laid up within them, 'hidden that it might be revealed'.
The divine image in man is part of himself, it is indeed his true self, the essence of his existence, the soul of his soul. In purifying his heart that this likeness may shine forth in its beauty and in its truth, he is not only drawing near to God but is also becoming himself, is finding himself: he passes out of spiritual weakness and infancy into maturity. His faculties and endowments, aided by the law of growth, establish among themselves a balance and symmetry and order; he is happy and wins that rest unto his soul which Christ promised to those who came to Him. If through neglect he does not cause the heavenly qualities within to expand, the loss is his. He stunts himself, he limits himself; he chooses infirmity instead of power.
The combination of faith and works on which the New Testament so vigorously insists is not a strange or arbitrary demand. Good deeds in fact spring from those heavenly attributes — those promptings to kindness and compassion — which God's love has planted in the human heart: were it not for that inborn goodness no man could be moved to a good deed. But without faith he cannot know what those attributes are, nor whence they come nor what they mean nor whither they lead. Man cannot by reason alone know what God is like; and since he cannot know what God is like he cannot by reason alone know himself since he is made in the image of God. For true self knowledge, self understanding, faith is needed as well as reason. Without faith man cannot comprehend the nature of moral principle nor its foundations; he cannot
appreciate the force of its imperatives nor the extent of its rewards and its punishments. Without faith he cannot be moved by the highest and most exalting of all motives, love of God for God's own sake.
As the development of God's attributes produces within the soul harmony and order and peace, so it produces harmony, order and peace in the community. The divine virtues are the cement of society. Without them the disruptive influence of human passions and of the struggle for existence cannot be kept in check. Qualities such as unselfishness, pity, kindness, fidelity, forbearance, forgiveness develop a sense of solidarity and establish concord. Under their influence men become ever more ready to relieve, to help and to uplift one another and labour with increasing earnestness to build a social order in which even justice shall be done, wrongs shall be redressed and the spirit of fraternity shall become the rule of life. Compassion and goodwill create an environment which itself aids their own further growth. And since these high qualities descend to earth from heaven and come from a God who pours forth His love universally on all mankind alike and sends His sunshine and His rain on the just and the unjust, therefore their unifying power will never be exhausted nor reach an end till they have spread out and embraced the whole world. Compassion and goodwill among men, if they be a true image of their originals in God, will know no partiality nor any bound or limit; they will reach everywhere regardless of all barriers.
God is for ever one. His attributes do not change; for from the beginning they are perfect and any change would be towards imperfection. He is eternally the same. There is for all members of the human race one ultimate spiritual
ideal. All men come forth from the one God; and to the one God all must return. When Christ said 'Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven', He made the same one Being to be the common ideal of all men, and held up the same Spiritual Perfection to be the object of all men's aspiration and the goal of all men's effort.
Christ proposed the recognition of God's oneness as the centre, the harmonising force of world unity. He brought to its clearest definition a system of thought which is implied throughout Scripture. He gathered the whole of human life around the throne of God. He based — as Moses and the Law and the prophets had done before him — civilisation on ethics, ethics on spirituality, spirituality on the effort to develop those godlike properties which God made to be the very self of the human soul. Happiness, order, peace, progress, all are to be the result of spiritual growth and moral effort. Any scheme of social amelioration or national advancement which neglects divine law and leaves aside faith and righteousness must lead to disappointment. This is the basis of that sublime practical truth to which the great teachers of the Bible so often and so vainly bear witness, that in spite of appearances, in spite of illusions which tempt and deceive, success and prosperity cannot be gained in any high degree nor maintained for any length of time except when in alignment with the divine purpose. On the contrary, since God's mercy and forbearance though great are not without limit, any attempt to traverse or thwart God's will must bring spiritual retribution and will assuredly involve a guilty nation in disappointment and disaster.
The language of the prophets is not our language and
their point of view is not that of the modern world. But it is not difficult to see that their counsels and warnings have a scientific and logical aspect, and express principles of divine government which are as active today as they were in the days of the Jewish kings. In the Book of Isaiah it is written,
If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isa. 1:19-20.)
Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord! (Isa. 31:1.)
. . . thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me. Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know. (Isa. 47:10-11.)
Long before Isaiah, Moses had declared to the Israelites the same truth and had given a warning (which they did not heed)
. . . thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day. And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish. (Deut. 8:18-19.)
And long after Isaiah Jesus summarised the principle in His pronouncement: 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.' The whole Bible gives voice to God's demand from man of this increasing spiritual effort, but no one else sets the demand so high nor insists upon it with such sternness as the Lord Christ. Every other effort, He urges, and every other aim is to be subordinated to this. Every other loyalty is to be postponed to it. None is to allow any danger to deter him nor any difficulty to discourage him. If need be, pain, persecution, shame and even death must be faced: at any cost, the effort to walk in God's way and to follow after righteousness must be maintained. No other effort is so richly rewarded; and neglect of this effort brings its own dire retribution.
So Jesus spoke. And in the light of that law of spiritual evolution which in this age we begin to understand we are able to appreciate the wisdom and the pity which prompted His commands and His warnings.
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