The Christian Perspective
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18).
Any object whatsoever must be described with respect to one’s approach to it. A house, a mountain, a city or a man — it matters not, the perspective of the observer enters into that which he describes. And this perspective is affected by the essential character of the observer, and by his interests in life. Looking at the same crowd of people, the politician sees so many votes to be directed, while the preacher sees so many souls to be saved.
In his apocalyptic vision, Revelation 4:6-11, John saw four “living creatures.” One of the very unusual items of the description is that these holy intelligences were “full of eyes before and behind,” and “full of eyes within.” They could see within and know their own hearts, and they could see the past and the future, and for all this, they were yet able to rejoice and sing praises. Knowledge of what they were, of what they had been, and of what their future occupation and destiny were to be did not dim their joy. They were happy even in the fullest light of truth. This suggests, as a parallel, if we are slow to accept identity, that the characteristic Christian attitude is that of optimism. God and truth and religion are not realities from which we need to be protected by illusions. They are blessed realities, and we are happier for knowing and receiving them.
It has sometimes been suggested that the Christian shuns examination of his claims, and that he looks upon scrutiny as sacrilege. This has given rise to the idea that religion cannot stand in the light of science, and that, after all, religion is but a superstition, the refuge of weak intellects and presumptuous minds.
It must be admitted that the first impulse is to shrink from the methods of those who would handle carelessly the elements which have brought peace and purity to our lives. Worldly minded people have no units with which to measure the reaches of faith, no balances in which to weigh love, and no concepts by which to appraise the scope of full Christian hope. It is as senseless to submit the Christian verities to the analysis of unbelieving, impenitent scholars as to trust the repairing of a wrist watch to the village blacksmith. Professor James, in “Varieties of Religious Experience,” says, “Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. Medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual authority of all such personages is successfully undermined.” It is by such ruthless and unscientific methods as these that critics of Christianity have earned for themselves the name of being unsparing foes of all spiritual life and reality, and they have prejudiced the world of faith against themselves. For such results we can but express regret for both the critics and the criticized: the critics because they have come to the task with a coarseness of technique that doomed their efforts to failure; the criticized because they have given the impression, if they have not actually been tormented with the presumption, that their premises will not survive the light.
We do well to remember the words of Horace Emory Warner, who says, “Scrutiny can change no fact. Analysis has no power over essence. Truths are the same in the shadows or in the sunlight. Realities are invulnerable and unchangeable to whatever processes subjected. The constituent elements of the life we call Christian are substantial, real, unalterable. They are the eternal verities of the life begotten of God in the soul. No possible handling can render them less real, or change their essential nature. The dread of their scrutiny is a confession either of our inability to demonstrate their substantial nature, or of our imperfect faith in their indestructible reality. All such dread is without adequate reason and actually groundless.”
In the days of the beginnings of our holy faith much was due men like Thomas and Peter — the one would not believe the Lord was resurrected until the fullest evidence was examined, and the other was not content to stoop down and look into the empty tomb, but himself descended to make minute examination of the tokens that the Lord had gone away in the deliberation becoming one resurrected into the glorified life. Credit also goes to Paul because he would not give way to the haste of a new ecstasy, but went away into the desert of Arabia and spent three years thinking through his new faith in terms of its predecessor — the Jewish faith. And by such a slow and painful process he found a construction satisfying to himself and to the generations that should follow him. It is folly now to assume that these fundamental processes of proof and conclusion have not been examined. The Christian can no more be expected to allow that the essentials of his faith are open to question than the materialist can allow that the existence of things occupying space, possessing weight, measure and chemical composition has yet to be proved.
Credulity and skepticism are alike unscientific. The one is ready to believe when as yet the evidence is insufficient, the other persists in doubt even when the proof is given. The one builds its house on the sand, and the other refuses to build at all because it can find no foundation of sufficient strength. The true method is between these two, and is indicated by the apostolic injunction to “Prove all things and hold fast that which is good.” He who has something to conceal seeks to live in the shadow. Truth triumphs in the open. Proscribed inquiry is the resort of tricksters. “Come, now, let us reason together, saith the Lord.”
The word “Gospel” is used to describe that body of truth maintained as essential by evangelical people, and its application to other systems is a misappropriation. It is only the evangelical Christian who can say, “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” The word “theology” is closely related to theory, and in ordinary thinking is often placed in contrast with practical or factual. This does not mean that theories may not be true, but it does mean they are not essentially true, and that they require verification; but in some of its phases theology reaches out into spheres where verification is at the present time impossible.
It is not within the scope of our present intention to go clear back to the philosophical question of existence itself. We are all aware that we exist, and that we are responsible creatures, that we possess moral judgment, and are capable of both good and evil, and the subjects of both guilt and peace. We are able to classify ourselves by standards of sincerity, purity, moral and spiritual soundness. Every man’s conscience either condemns or commends him. These psycho-moral facts are universal in the experiences of men, and require only to be stated to be admitted.
The influence of heredity and early environment is outside the limits of our present thought, although there is no thought of denying their existence or minifying their force. We do not even stop to consider the divine means by which a sense of “oughtness” is brought home to every man, nor the means by which the transgressor is made aware of guilt for sins committed.
But the Christian experience proper begins with that cataclysm in the midst of which the penitent believer is made conscious that his sins are pardoned, and he for the first time realizes peace within. We may not be able to follow the divine method in pardon, adoption, regeneration, and the later processes of cleansing from sin and the infilling of the Holy Spirit, but when the facts are involved in the consciousness of the individual there is an instance of using the “eyes within” which encourages praise, as it did with those holy intelligences which John saw up near the throne of God. The Christian experience is a definite reality, and Christian testimony is, and always has been, the most effective kind of preaching.
Some would define the Christian light as no more than twilight, and would define the Christian experience in terms that are hazy and nebulous. They would make the Christian attitude an everlasting groping after the unattained and unattainable. Against such useless speculations we would place that statement of Henry Drummond, “There are definite conditions to be fulfilled for any spiritual attainment; these conditions may be known, and when fulfilled you may count on results.”
To the genuine Christian God is a conscious as well as a speculative reality. The Christian experience, summed up as to its essence, as “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,” is a conscious fact beyond the sphere of controversy, and the Christian’s pathway is luminous and vital. This does not do away with mystery, but it does affirm the facts which to deny is to make the Christian religion a merely human thing to which there is no certain divine response, and in reality there is no middle ground between the fact of Christian experience and unlimited agnosticism.
We would not make a play of words, but there is genuine content in the testimony of Job, “I know my redeemer liveth,” in the assertion of Paul, “I know whom I have believed,” and in the observation of John, “We know we have passed from death unto life.” To be inwardly sure that God lives, that we are in the right relationship to Him, and in proper state before Him is to ascend to an eminence from which we can gain a dependable perspective of all things besides. Right perspective is obtained by right emphasis — by the true appraisal of things eternal, and not from any conscious effort to minify things of lesser importance. Knowledge of God is the key to all knowledge. Supreme love to God is the purifier of all loves besides. Faith in God is father to hope for the ultimate outcome of all good, and the ultimate defeat of all evil. There is no King but Christ, and there is no vital kingdom except that which has its spiritual throne in our own hearts.
But the “living creatures” had eyes for seeing the past. Appraising the past only in the light of human accomplishments, men have rightly concluded that “history is bunk,” for its course is filled with bickerings, and see-sawing, and currents that as often run counterwise or backward as forward. The contemporaries have slain the prophets, while the children have risen up to garnish their tombs. That which one generation has revered, the next has neglected and destroyed. In broader cycles, that which one generation or age constructs with much labor and pain, a succeeding age levels with ease and pleasure, until the cry goes up, “All is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
But the Christian begins with the biblical intimation that there is a divine plan which persists through it all. God made man with the intention that after he had served out his week of probation he should be transported to heaven and live in everlasting fellowship and communion with his Creator, and this purpose has persisted through the rising and falling of kings and emperors, and the ups and downs of a thousand generations. It is only the shallow purposes of men that have been abandoned. God’s purpose, like the scarlet thread which signifies redemption, is ever present, and a better perspective discovers it.
Sin marred the beauty of Eden, but God provided a Redeemer and continued the race. Universal wickedness necessitated the flood, but God gave plans for the building of an ark, and the floods that destroyed the old world lifted the ark to the top of Mt. Ararat and preserved the beginnings of a new probation. Idolatry inundated the post-deluvian world, but God called out Abraham. Pharaoh persecuted the people of God, but God prepared Moses, and the very palace walls of the king gave protection to God’s leader during the days of his early education. The disobedient Israelites died in the desert, but their children entered the promised land. Moses died on Nebo, but God prepared Joshua to lead the people on. Disobedience brought judgments that scattered the people of God among the nations near and far, and made their name a byword and a derision, but God sent His Son to be the world’s Redeemer. Often the “faith once delivered unto the saints” has been encrusted with heresy during the centuries that followed the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem, but God has found His Luther, Calvin, Knox and Wesley. Empire has followed its westward trend, but God’s purpose in the redemption of the race has brooked every change and found expression in the new environment, and amidst the new restrictions has still worked on.
God has not always fought on the side with the heaviest battalions. Wars have been won and lost by the interference of seeming trivialities. At times it has seemed that the better cause was defeated, and that the wicked bore away the laurels. There has been mystery in the divine permissions. Peter He delivered from prison, but the wicked king cut off the head of the saintly James with the sword. Paul the persecutor was enabled to live through so many scourgings and stonings that his autobiography sounds like the diary of a charmed spirit, but Stephen lost his life at the hands of his very first persecutors. No earthly prophet can take the dealings of God in the past and tell one now by inference whether under certain conditions he shall live or die, for the record shows a woeful want of uniformity. But out of it all we have learned that the blood of the martyrs is often the seed of the Church, and that there is no ultimate defeat to the cause of God. That which warrants the past and makes it consistent with the government of a great and holy God is the fact that His ways are justified in the sphere of the moral and spiritual and eternal, and not in the sphere of the temporal and the passing. Often God may stand in the shadows while men and nations hold the limelight, but He stands nevertheless, and the Christian is sure that “Known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world.” And the devious path by which men and nations have come thus far is yet beset of God, and God is the most certain and potent fact in the records of the past. That is why, like the “living creatures” that John saw, the Christian can look at the past and yet rejoice and sing praise. To others it is a trackless wilderness of chaos and confusion. But to the Christian it is an incident of the divine method and purpose, and he therein rejoices, yea, and will rejoice.
And now, finally, we come to the “eyes before.” Surely we are justified in doing as every generation before us has done; that is, suggest that we are at the crossroads of human history and about to witness something different from anything the world has yet seen. I am writing these lines on the night of June 7, 1940. Every radio broadcast brings ominous news from the battle front in France where dictatorship and democracy are measuring arms in the effort to determine which is to live; since it has been decided on both sides that one or the other must die. In our own land there is uncertainty and uneasiness. Economics, industry, politics, public morality, and the spiritual program of the churches are all alike suffering under the feeling that a crisis has come, and that tomorrow things will be either much better or very much worse. And as concerning these things close at hand, the Christian has no particular advantage over others, for his faith does not require that all shall prosper and come out well according to the plans of men and nations. Rather there is place in the Christian’s perspective for dearth, darkness, famine and apparent failure.
And then there is the personal outlook. Three months and twenty days ago the treasure of my own life walked on into the shadows and left me lonely and bereaved, but I do not sorrow as do those who have no hope. She went into the presence of the King whom she had served faithfully every day I knew her — more than thirty-seven years. And speaking now as a Christian, I can say the future is more inviting now than ever before. I am glad to have lived, but I ask only to live on as He wills, for the future holds no fears, but it holds very many blessed anticipations. I can look before and, like the “living creatures” that John saw, still rejoice and give praise. Others think the appearing of the stars indicate the coming of the night, but the Christian sees them as morning stars announcing the dawning of a cloudless day. Others interpret physical dissolution as an approaching calamity, but the Christian accounts it but an indication that it is about time for him to move out into his permanent dwelling. Others think the bending back a testimonial to the bearing of heavy loads. But the Christian reads in it but an indication that he is soon to stand in the presence of the King, and his form is taking on the order of obeisance in advance. Others see in gray hair the frosts of many winters. But the Christian sees here the appearing of a color agreeable to the crown of life which is shortly to be placed upon his forehead. Others account the failing eyesight a calamity, but the Christian finds here an increasing ability to see the Land that is afar off, and to behold the King in His beauty — the eyes are losing interest here that they may adapt themselves to the fuller light that soon shall meet their enraptured gaze. “Jerusalem, my happy home, oh, how I long for thee!” The future is as bright as the promises of God, and “we know that if this earthly house of our tabernacle were dissolved we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
And as to the world in general and the universe all about, these are all portions of God’s house. Usurpers have contended, but they shall finally be cast out. God shall triumph. Christ shall reign eternally. The purified earth shall be a permanent part of God’s boundless empire. Wicked nations shall be cast out. Conniving men and heartless tyrants shall end their days. The knowledge of the Lord shall yet cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Peace and harmony shall be universal.
Tomorrow, the immediate tomorrow, what of it? As to its material prospects, the Christian does not presume to say. It may be better or it may be worse. But this much is sure: it is a day of God’s appointment, and it is fraught with unmeasured opportunities for being good and doing good. Shall the times be fair? Then in thankfulness we shall serve Him and seek to bring others to do the same. Shall the times be dark? Then men will need the steadying influence of twice-born men, and it may be they will appreciate their lives and testimonies. This is a good time to be alive. The fact that we are alive proves that it is a good time, for our times are in His hands. God reigns, let all the world know it. He reigns, even though all do not bow willingly before Him. He rules where He is allowed to rule, and in other places He overrules.
What of the Christian’s perspective? Within is peace. Behind are the evidences of His will in the process being worked out. Before is glorious personal immortality, and the promise of a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Let us, then, with the “living creatures” which John saw in heaven, still rejoice and sing praises.