Heart of the Gospel:
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But if a man's volition plays a part in his spiritual growth and he is required to participate in his own evolution, he remains always in the position of a servant and a dependent. His responsibility, while strictly enforced, is limited. His power lies wholly within a narrow range. It is not his own through any dignity or original right of his: it is freely conferred on him by the Creator who had He pleased might have withheld it, as He withheld it from lower realms of creation-from plants and planets. Man did not by his superiority wrest any share of the evolutionary power from God and use it according to his own human desire. What he has, God gave him, and God having entrusted him with this power insists that he use it aright.
Discussing spiritual evolution in its largeness, the Bible proves that the part of man is humble in the extreme, and that nothing is so likely to stultify and disable him, to bring him to failure and unhappiness, as the delusion that he is an independent agent and can take the laws of life and progress into his own hands.
Throughout the Bible God stands for ever supreme, and man never is (nor ever can be) more than His creature and His servant. Man's ignorance of this truth and his revolt against it are the signs of his immaturity and the causes of his frustrations. As he reaches the height of his powers he becomes more and more humble and
submissive, and attains increasing power and happiness through an ever-growing efficiency in service.
It is not in the power of the race to originate the idea of its evolution, to design the path along which this evolution will proceed, the end to which it will lead or the forces that will start the process and keep it in movement till the predetermined end is reached.
Nor is an individual any more able to create his own power to grow, or able to arrange for the method or the goal of his growth. In this respect he is no more free than is the seed of corn to which Christ compared him. 'The seed's growth is an orderly process, first the blade then the ear, then the full corn in the ear; and spiritual growth is in like manner according to an imposed and inviolable law.
The law under which his spiritual development is directed and the purpose to which it points are made by Another Mind than his. The force on which he draws continually and by dint of which alone he moves is derived from a Greater Will than his. He is for ever in a position of complete dependence, the child of a hidden and everlasting power, the subject of a law which he cannot question nor change. He may take all he has and is for granted and live in a dreamhouse of illusion; but no amount of ignorance or self will can alter the fact or the degree of his servitude. There is no way of deliverance for him from that great movement into which he was born and within the control of which he must eternally remain.
Because God is supreme and man's whole duty is to serve Him, the Bible represents that man's proper approach to truth and life, to all knowledge and all
action, is through religion. It sets forth evolution in its religious aspect. Any enquiry after truth which begins by separating man from God is wrong from the first, is the essence of falsity. The notion that man is independent, that he has the prerogative of laying out the paths of history and of civilisation, the privilege of doing whatever seems best to his own will and his own desire is born of arrogance and is utter illusion.
Evolution indeed from its beginning in the distant past to its completion in the distant future is nothing more than the Revelation of God's purpose for mankind. What is being evolved was first created by God, then infolded by God, then unfolded to man's knowledge by God: the plan, the process and the substance of the process are all from God. The story of the spiritual evolution of man from his infancy to his maturity, from Genesis to the close of the Apocalypse, is the story of the continuous progressive Self Revelation of God to man. The first creation of man, when God engraves within the being of His creature His Own Image, is itself a high act of Self Revelation; and the whole movement of evolution that follows is in every part and aspect a manifesting of the unity of God, of the completeness of His dominion, the perfection of His love, the beauty, the glory and the beneficence of His everlasting and inviolable Purpose for mankind.
Man's part therein is not of his own making. It is permitted only. He is at best a servant. God's command precedes all man's activity, and all that man in any circumstances can do is either to obey or to disobey — he does not really initiate or originate anything: all the beginnings are with God.
Man's ability, too, to co-operate in his own evolution depends on the extent and the accuracy of his knowledge of God, and the measure of his knowledge is the measure of his progress towards spiritual maturity.
The Bible, therefore, as a practical guide-book to man in his evolutionary journey extols in the most impressive images, in the strongest language, and with the utmost earnestness the eternal and unqualified supremacy of God. Its first counsel and its last is that men shall trust God, shall study His law and obey His will. The worst mistake possible for man to make is to pass out from under the law of God and commit his future to the misguidance of his own phantasmal imagination. God is revealed as One, Eternal and Infinite, unchanging, pervading and sustaining all existence. His throne rests upon equity and justice; the heavens declare His greatness and all the nations behold His majesty, but He Himself is hidden from man's face in clouds and darkness, and remains above the reach of human knowledge.
The whole earth and its peoples are subject to Him and none can stand against His might or question His authority.
. . . beside me there is no God. Turn to me and you are saved, all ends of the earth! As I am God and God alone, I swear by myself. . . that every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue swear loyalty. (Isa. 45:22- 23.) . . . the rules of my religion I send forth to light up ' every nation. (Isa. li. 4.) I now appoint you to bring light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the world's end. (Isa. 49:6.)
Woe to the man who quarrels with his Maker — man a mere potsherd of the earth! Does the clay ask the potter what he is doing? does what he makes tell him he is powerless?. . . And would you question me about the future? Would you dictate to me about my work? (Isa. 45:9, 11.)
Again and again God asserts He has His plan for mankind both in large and in little, and that none can frustrate His purpose nor bend Him from His determination.
As I have planned, so shall it stand, as I have purposed, so shall it be. . . So is it in my purpose for the world, so I stretched out my arm against all nations. The Eternal's purpose who can disannul? His outstretched arm, who turns it back? (Isa. 14:24, 26, 27.)
From of old I am God, and from henceforth the same; no one can snatch out of my hand, and what I do none can reverse. (Isa. 43:13.)
He foresees and fore-ordains the developments of history and according to His pleasure foretells the same to His prophets and to mankind.
I am God and there is none like me, I who foretell the end from the beginning, and from of old what is to be, saying, 'My purpose shall stand, I carry out whate'er I choose. . . I have said it, I will do it, I will carry out my plan.' (Isa. 46: 9-11.)
It is He Who raises up nations and empires, Who
guides and protects them, and if they prove unworthy abases them at a time and in a manner decreed by Him. It is He Who summons a Prophet (Isa. 6:8-9) and (Jer. 1:5 and 10) even appoints him before he is born into the world:
Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you; ere ever you were born, I set you apart; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations. . . here and now I give you authority over nations and kingdoms, to tear up, to break down, to shatter, to pull down, to build up and to plant.
He loves righteousness, justice, mercy and for these gives nations and men rich rewards. But He hates evil, oppression, unfaithfulness and hypocrisy, and for these things and such as these He brings on men condign punishment:
. sinful nation, . . . Why will you earn fresh for holding on in your revolt?. . . (Isa. 1:4-5)
He is not satisfied with the pretence of loyalty and devotion.
Your sacred festivals? I hate them, scorn them;. . . you offer me your gifts? I will not take them;. . . No more of your hymns for me! I will not listen to your lutes. No, let justice well up like fresh water, let honesty roll in full tide. . . (Amos 5:21-24.)
. . . I instruct them by my words, this precept shines out plain: love I desire, not sacrifice, knowledge of God, not any offering. (Hos. 6:5-6.)
He 'reveals His inner mind to man' and man must meet Him in frankness and sincerity. Knowing the future and loving His creatures He warns men beforehand of coming retribution that they may avoid it.
Listen-it is the Eternal speaking — be not too proud to hearken; do honour to the Eternal, to your God, before the darkness falls, before your footsteps stumble on the twilight hills, before the gleam you look for turns to a dead gloom. If you will not listen, then I must weep in secret for your pride, mine eyes must stream with tears, for the Eternal's flock borne off to exile. . . (Jer. 13:15-17.)
For God, though He will not condone disobedience, is 'full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger. . .' (Ps. lxxxvi. 15.) He is a shield to His people, their refuge and help in trouble; He is their shepherd, the mother bird guarding its young, the Host and Friend of the faithful, the Father of the fatherless. (Ps. lxviii. 5.)
For all His transcendence He dwells with the poor and lowly.
I sit on high, enthroned, the Majestic One, and I am with the crushed and humbled soul, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to put heart into the crushed. (Isa. lvii. 15.)
His last word in dealing with His creatures is always of mercy and forgiveness:
. . . he pardons all your sins, and all your sicknesses he heals, he saves your life from death, he crowns you with his love and pity. . . (Ps. 103:3-4.)
And though His prophets in fierce and terrible language announce the fierceness and the terror of God's vengeance, yet with one voice they all predict that at the end when His people's guilt is purged God's bounty will bestow an ultimate and final restoration.
The witness of the New Testament to God's greatness, though the same in spirit, is even more intimate and full than that of the Old. God's consciousness encloses all existence and He does not withhold Himself at any time from anything that He has made. The least — regarded objects of nature, the lonely flower of the mountain-side, the raven, the despised sparrow, all receive His bounty and are under His care in their life and in their death. He watches over every human being, making provision for his needs and numbering even the very hairs of his head. Nothing escapes His knowledge; nothing is too minute for His attention. He is the giver of health, the healer in sickness, the remover of disabilities. So closely does He identify Himself with men that whatever men do to one another for good or ill is recorded in heaven as though done to Him. 'The most casual, the most trifling deed of kindness to a believer is never unremembered nor unrewarded by God. On Him man depends not only for his daily sustenance and his physical well-being, but for his moral and spiritual growth; and for the energy of his
intellectual life. The mental powers of man, and even his freedom of will, are subject to the good pleasure of God. It is He Who opens or closes the ears of men to the teaching of Christ, and none can come to Christ except through the initiative and the bidding of the Father. He knows what is in man and reads the unuttered thoughts of the individual and foresees the individual's future acts even though these be quite unknown and incredible to the individual himself He foresees the changes of history, the wars and tumults of nations in the far future, and likewise the great convulsions or the frustrations of natural processes-the earthquakes, the famines and the like — that lie in wait for humanity. Not in this earth-life only, but in the worlds that lie beyond the grave, it rests with God to determine the lot and destiny of His creatures. No constraint is put upon Him. No other will than His own determines His decision. No other opinion is weighed or taken. To God alone it belongs to punish men or to reward them. He has established the law of justice as the law of the universe, and from His judgment there is here or hereafter no escape and no appeal. Men may kill the body, but there the power permitted to them ends. God can admit to heaven or cast into hell. He is indeed the all-terrible. He is truly to be feared — He, and no other. And whoever has learned to fear God becomes thereby immune from every other fear.
To command and to create are the prerogatives of God. There is none to share these with Him. Man through the very nature of his existence is altogether the creature of God, and no course ever is or can be open to him save that of service to his Lord. Even if this service were (what it cannot be) utterly perfect — even if it were never for a
moment qualified, if there were no hesitancy or error or incompleteness in it, it would then only meet the requirements of justice and fulfil the bare demands of duty.
In an age when the idea of progress was unfamiliar or unknown, when reverence for law was not what it has now become and when the exercise of arbitrary power was regarded as the prerogative and proof of kingship, Christ revealed quite clearly the evolving purpose of God, so that in His light we can see it throughout the Bible moving by an orderly process regularly and irresistibly forward through millenniums. God designed, decreed and executed as He saw fit, but always according to a principle of justice which evolution not only enforces on mankind, but also embodies in its own operation. 'The whole life of the race and of every member thereof from the dawn of human history to its dusk, lies within the scope of this vast Progress. The onward drive of the purpose of God is irresistible. Evil lifts its head in ignorant rebellion, but if they who seek their own ends, not God's, rally to its banner they can but stunt their own growth and are left at last to wail and gnash their teeth upon themselves for the opportunity which they have forfeited and which can never come again.
For all his freedom man cannot check the development of God's purpose nor hide himself from the foreknowledge of the Ancient of Days. That spiritual evolution of humanity which is slowly taking shape among the peoples of the earth is in truth mysteriously the manifestation in time and in space of realities previously hidden in eternity, already created and already existent in heaven in the mind of God.
The events of history are not a series of haphazards or
impromptus in which God meets emergencies as they arise. The power which carries evolution through to its preordained end is the power which in the beginning created man. It knows neither fluctuation no limitation; it is altogether independent and all sufficient; and in spite of human rebellion it effects in its own way and its time a purpose laid down before the foundation of the world.
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