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Oliver Chase Quick

Chapter IV


The Last Judgement is not the most popular part of the Christian faith at the present time. The older school of preaching which constantly kept the fires of Hell before the eyes of its congregation has practically died out. The subject of the Judgement is very generally shirked in the pulpit. By unbelievers it is made a target for rather obvious sarcasm, and the main body of the Church follows its habitual practice of making a difficult and unpalatable truth as inconspicuous as possible, in the hope that it will cease to attract attention.

On the other hand, we have with us an increasing conservative minority, which is always accusing its less truculent brethren of running away from their principles, in order to propitiate an idol which they call the modern mind. This minority would bid us pay but scant attention to modern difficulties on this subject. Those difficulties, it would say, are due to the sentimentality which dislikes facing unpleasant facts, and insists upon confounding the Divine Goodness with good nature; or else they are the product of that science, falsely so‑called, which tries to prove that all wrong‑doing is simply the result of “conditions,” that nothing is anyone’s fault, and that there is practically no such thing as genuine sin. The party of “the extreme right” would tell us that the Church must not yield an inch to such new‑fangled and muddle‑headed ideas. Her teachers should make no attempt to conform their doctrine to what the modern mind likes to hear, to speak smooth things and prophesy deceits, or, in the words of a less ancient and less venerable prophet, to consider “how much Jones will swallow.”[1] They should simply insist uncompromisingly on the old doctrine of God’s terrible punishment of sin. If they will only proclaim with clear and certain voice all the old terrors of the Day of Judgement, the modern man will in time discover the futility of his attempt to evade the fact of sin, and will return to the teachers who have never sought to evade it.

No doubt there is more than a little truth in these contentions of the ultra‑orthodox. It can hardly be denied that our age has tried to gloze over the unpleasant reality of sin and of the retribution which it must draw down upon itself. Much that passes for liberalism and breadth of mind is little more than a sentimental endeavour to palliate error and evil, and to make out that they are not so very bad after all. There has been a tendency to dwell on phrases about the goodness and mercy of God, when the quality in reality praised is the tolerance which belongs to an unexacting good‑nature. The lines:

“They talk of some strict testing of us - Pish!
He’s a good fellow and ‘twill all be well,”

represent a frame of mind by no means confined to the talking pots of Omar Khayyám’s fancy. Moreover it is certainly true that much science - specially the young science of psychology - has tended in its explanations to substitute disease or the influence of environment for sinfulness as the real cause of wrong‑doing.

Yet surely these considerations, however true, cannot wholly satisfy us as a solution of our difficulties in believing old‑fashioned doctrines about the Divine Judgement upon sin. It is a very real as well as a very ancient problem which the Psalms try to face, when they dwell on the fact that on earth the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice are at least not always apparent. It is useless to point to certain cases, in which the counsels of the wicked have been brought to nought apparently by special interposition of Divine Providence. It is not enough to bring forward classes of cases in which wrong‑doing seems to entail disaster by a regular sequence of cause and effect. The fact remains that on earth there is no general rule that the punishment fits the crime, outside the world of the romantic novel or the Drury Lane melodrama. And the critics are right in drawing attention to the unsatisfactoriness of any solution which simply postpones the final reckoning sine die, or rather to an infinitely distant day beyond the grave, when the wicked will be consigned to everlasting flames, and the righteous received into the final joys of heaven.

Three difficulties remain which older theories of the Judgement do not adequately meet.

(1) We require an assurance that we need not believe in a vindictive God, i.e., a God Who simply requites on the principles of the Mosaic Law. Such a system of rewards and penalties is essentially a makeshift human method, which cannot possibly be harmonised with an ideal of Divine Justice and Mercy.

(2) The Mosaic system of rewards and penalties does seem to appeal to us now to avoid evil and do good from motives which are somewhat lower than the highest. The question, “Doth Job serve God for nought?” may come from the Evil One, but even Satan’s questions may sometimes demand an answer.

(3) Above all, we need to understand rather better the relation to our present experience of belief in a future Judgement. It is always bad argument to appeal to the future merely on the ground that it is unknown and may change everything. Such appeals are as incapable of support as they are of refutation; they simply bring discussion to an end. We require to see how far our present experience can justify us in concluding that “verily there is a reward for the righteous, doubtless there is a God which judgeth the earth.”

Perhaps we may find some real help in examining the full significance of the word Judgement. The very commonness of the word gives it a perplexing variety of usage, and in its theological connection we are apt to miss the full force of its meaning by confining it to one special sense.

Usually when we speak of the Judgement of God we naturally derive our ideas on the subject from a human court of justice. But even so it must be noticed that the word judgement may cover two distinct acts of the judge assisted by the jury. The judgement proper is simply a statement as to the facts and merits of the case which is being judged. In a criminal case we call it the verdict, which simply states whether the prisoner is or is not guilty of the charge brought against him. It may be followed by some further remark modifying the degree of his guilt. In any case it states the result of the trial which has discriminated the facts of the case, attached to them their true value, and brought to light thereby the prisoner’s innocence or guilt. But we habitually include under the word “judgement” what is quite a distinct act, viz., the fixing of the penalty, which in a criminal case is called the sentence. In civil cases judgement proper and fixing of penalty are combined in the “judgement,” but always the fixing of penalty remains distinct as a consequence of the judgement proper rather than the judgement itself. The judgement would be incomplete, yet it would remain a judgement, even if no penalty were fixed or executed.

There remains the much wider sense in which the word “judgement” is used. Every time we state our opinion about anything we deliver a judgement. We judge things to be beautiful or ugly, true or false, right or wrong, useful or useless, pleasant or painful. In every case our judgement is a statement about the merits of some case; by it we attach a certain value of good or evil to something in our experience, whether it is a work of art, an opinion, an action, an instrument we use, or a sensation we undergo. And always our judgement is the result of some process of reflection, whereby we classify and discriminate our experience, separate in it good from evil, and pronounce this to be good as distinct from bad, and that to be bad as distinct from good. Some judgements are very easily and quickly made. It does not require much thought to determine that a toothache is painful and in so far to set it on the bad side of the account. Other judgements require a great deal of laborious thinking out, and we are in much perplexity before we can affirm them. But all judgements in their degree presuppose some process of discrimination, a separating good from bad in our experience, so that the proper value may be assigned to each. And so we speak of people of discriminating judgement, meaning thereby people who are good at disentangling good from bad and truth from error in this perplexing mixture of a world, people who are able to penetrate to the soul of goodness in things evil as well as to expose a sham, and therefore are better able than their neighbours to see things in their true colours.

So far, then, we can trace a clear analogy between the meanings of the word “judgement” in its legal and in its general sense. All judgement gives the result of a process of discrimination whereby we separate good from evil and assign a corresponding value to what we have under consideration.

We have already seen that in the law court the judgement proper leads on to the assigning of the penalty, where any guilt has been established. Have our general judgements any consequence which we might compare with the sentence of a law court? At first sight we should probably say no, but further reflection induces us to reverse the answer. For we find that ordinary judgements, though they are expressions of opinion, are not expressions of opinion only. They all tend to have, and are meant to have, a definite result in guiding action. When we have judged a thing to be good, we tend to accept or to follow it, or at least to mark in some way by our action the approval which our opinion has expressed. In the case of a pleasant feeling we try to feel it again; in the case of a true statement, we tend to affirm and support it in argument; in the case of a right action, we try to do it ourselves or encourage another to do it. Similarly, whenever we judge a thing to be bad, we tend to reject or avoid it, or in some way to separate ourselves therefrom. No doubt there are obvious exceptions, but they turn out to be just those which, in the logical sense, test and establish the rule. For instance, a man may sin with full deliberation - i.e., he may judge a thing to be wrong and then for that very reason do it. But in that case he has practically said, “Evil be thou my good.” He has deliberately confused the distinction between good and evil which his previous judgement made. He has lied to himself, and if he goes on acting the lie, he will be unable in the end even to know the truth. Such a case only illustrates the general truth that our judgements must tend to produce in us corresponding action.

And if we are right so far, we can see more clearly why it is that the judgement in a law court seems to involve the fixing of some penalty as its natural consequence. In such a judgement the State, by the mouth of judge or jury, discriminates a certain act as evil and expresses disapproval thereof. For that very reason the State must express and mark its condemnation by some form of action; otherwise the judgement would remain incomplete as a mere ineffective expression of opinion without force or practical significance. Of course many different considerations must enter into the judge’s mind in determining the severity of the sentence, but, apart from the question of degree, the fact that some penalty or other is a necessary consequence of the judgement, depends at bottom on the necessity that all effective judgement should express itself in action of some kind. No doubt in a court of law the sentence and its execution do not follow on the judgement with the same inevitable sequence with which our personal actions follow our personal judgements. For the State is not a living personality in the same sense in which an individual is, and therefore its actions do not follow its opinions with the same continuity which belongs to personal life. Perhaps again in a more highly developed state it might be left to the mere force of public opinion to give effect to the judgement, and then no formal sentence would be required. But the principle remains that it is impossible without moral falsehood to judge a thing to be evil, and then simply to leave the situation as it is. Some action must follow with the aim of putting away and rejecting what has fallen under the condemnation.

We come at length to the religious associations of the word “judgement.” Clearly the Last Judgement of God must represent a final and complete discrimination between good and evil. Much confusion has arisen in the popular mind because of the tendency to confine the religious use of the word “judgement” to what is more properly the last stage of judgement - that is, the sentence and its execution. The whole subject is seen in a much clearer light, when once we have realised that the judgement of God, like all judgement, includes three distinct stages. First comes the progressive discrimination between good and evil in the world, corresponding to the trial in the law court. Secondly, there is the formal declaration or pronouncement as to the result of this process, corresponding to the verdict. Thirdly, there is the necessary action to which the verdict leads, corresponding to the sentence. The distinction between these three stages is clearly implied in our Lord’s great parables of judgement, the Wheat and the Tares and the Sheep and the Goats, though in each one stage is more or less passed over. The first stage is represented by the progress in discrimination between wheat and tares, as their growth makes apparent the distinct nature of each. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats the discrimination is assumed to start with. The second stage is represented by the formal judgement passed on the sheep and the goats. The different imagery of the wheat and the tares suffers this stage to remain implicit. The third stage is represented by the words, “Bind the tares in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn,” and “Come ye blessed of my Father .... Depart from me ye wicked.”

In this analysis of the idea of judgement we can at least find some help in meeting the three difficulties from which our discussion started.

(1) All suspicion that we are called upon to believe in a vindictive God will disappear, and a way lies open for the reconciliation of the Divine Justice with the Divine Mercy. The sentences “Come ye blessed ...” “Depart from me ye wicked ...” represent no arbitrary award of happiness which need not be bestowed, or of punishment which need not be inflicted. Once the discrimination is final and complete, God could not act otherwise without reversing His own judgement and contradicting His own nature. Divine mercy and forgiveness, on the other hand, are shown while our nature is still a perplexing mixture, while the discrimination of good and evil in the world is still incomplete, or at least not fully apparent. The mercy of God helps us to see the exceeding evilness of sin and gives us power to cast it from us, while the trial of the world is still in progress, while we are still in a state of growth and development, here and perhaps beyond the grave. But the mercy of God cannot mean that He will tolerate evil or behave as though it did not matter. For those who persist in evil to the end, there can be but one sentence, “Depart from Me.” Judgement visions like those of the Revelation are difficult to interpret, not because they show no mercy to evil, but because they assume a complete discrimination between the evil and the good, which on our present earth is not really found.

(2) Again, the teaching about the Final Day, when the wicked would be everlastingly punished and the good rewarded, seemed to appeal to us to be good from motives not quite of the highest kind. This idea is now seen to rest on a confusion of thought. For in the Final Judgement the complete separation of good from evil is assumed. All low motives, any selfish attempts to propitiate the Divine favour will appear in their true colours and be banished for ever from the Divine Presence. No life that has not its mainspring in the perfect unselfishness of Christ can possibly stand the test of that Day or be fit to inherit the eternal Kingdom.

(3) The last of our difficulties, however, is by far the most serious and important. Have we any evidence in our experience which supports our belief that God will finally judge the world? How can we affirm that the judgement of the Last Day is the completion of a process which has already begun in the world as we know it? How can we appeal to the future with a reasonable faith that it will fulfil the present, not merely in the blind hope that it may reverse it?

Here surely our analysis of the different stages does suggest a philosophy of history, partial no doubt, but, so far as it goes, capable of explaining a wide range of otherwise perplexing facts. The parable of the Wheat and the Tares may suggest a religious view of evolution which is needed to supplement and correct scientific theories.

It is a strange but undeniable fact that evil seems to have come into the world almost with the first origin of life. We cannot say that the material world before the birth of life upon it was anything but good. We can imagine the perspective of the heavens, the solemn grandeur of mountain, sea and desert, as rejoicing in their beauty the Mind of their Creator. But almost from the moment that life appears, we find it very difficult to call the world wholly and without qualification good. As God made it and meant it to be, we believe that it is all very good, but even from the earliest stages strange seeds of corruption seem to have crept in. When we consider the life of nature before man appeared, amid all the goodness of new and glorious birth, we find traces of something which it is hard not to attribute to the Evil One. When we think of the mutual destructiveness of the earliest phase of the struggle for existence, however much it may be palliated by its unconsciousness, we cannot but see the germs of evil already at work, inextricably mingled with the good. There is no guilt as yet, but there is evil which seems to be the result as well as the foreshadowing of sin. Our Lord’s words come back inevitably to the mind - “An enemy hath done this.”

And with the higher forms of animal life, still before man appears, we seem to catch already the dim foreshadowing of two ideals, two purposes in life, out of the mutual conflict of which the subsequent history of life in the world has been evolved. On the evil side there is the predatory instinct, the life which supports itself by preying upon others, the life which lives that others may die. On the good side there is the parental instinct, the life which will suffer to shield its young ones, the life which is willing to die that others may live. The two instincts are inextricably intermingled. We cannot separate the tares from the wheat. Both instincts seem to have played their part in the development of life into higher forms. Yet the conflict is there, fierce and unmistakable, and the possibility of progress has been due to the fact that the one instinct has on the whole over‑ruled the other, the parental instinct has held the predatory in check. Is it altogether fanciful to suggest that even here we find dim foreshadowings of a predatory Kingdom, a Kingdom of the Devil, at war in the world with the Kingdom of self‑sacrifice, the Kingdom of Christ? Is the subsequent history of the world the history of a more and more clearly defined and intensified struggle between those two opposing forces?

The fancy seems to provide a truer view of evolution than that which often does duty in books on the philosophy of science. Certainly, so far as we can tell, the progress of human history has not been towards the absorption or elimination of evil, but towards its greater distinction, towards the heightening and intensifying of the contrast between evil and good. Popular theories of evolution have often taught that sin really means nothing more than a persistence in man of instincts originally belonging to lower forms of life, instincts not really evil in themselves, but as yet insufficiently adapted to the more spiritual atmosphere which man has succeeded in reaching. It has been confidently asserted that in the continuous course of natural progress these lower instincts are being gradually absorbed and assimilated by the higher, so that we may look forward with complacent confidence to the time when man’s whole nature must by natural laws achieve a perfect adaptation to his highest requirements. Sin is only a case of incomplete adaptation, only one stage in a uniform growth, only, as it were, a growing‑pain of man’s moral nature.

The theory has undoubted attraction, but we are waking up to the fact that there is really no evidence in its favour. It flourished in the artificial atmosphere of Victorianism, but cannot survive the breath of reality. Facing the facts of the situation we cannot say that evil and sin have been tending to disappear at all. Perhaps under the external peace imposed by the development of commerce - the peace of Dives, as Kipling has called it - some of the uglier vices of mankind took on a more hypocritical and less frankly brutal aspect. But today our awakening is a rude one. The devils have again broken loose. The progress of civilisation seems to have been largely a progress in the invention of more effective instruments for mutual torture and destruction. Surely one result of the awful exhibition must be that popular theories of evolutionary progress will at least undergo revision.

The question is becoming insistent. Must we despair of all general progress and improvement in this world? And it is tempting to reply that Christianity has already despaired of this world, and that is the reason why it looks so earnestly for the life of the world to come. Neither our Lord in his eschatological warnings, nor St. Paul with his prediction of the man of sin, nor St. John in his Apocalypse, has encouraged us to suppose that in the normal process of history evil will ever be cast out or finally overcome. For that consummation we must look to the coming of a new world which will only be accomplished in the passing of this one. Yet such an answer will not convey the whole truth. Looking squarely at history we can indeed trace a very real progress of a certain kind - a progress in the intensification of the contrast and the strife between good and evil, whereby good and evil are ever more clearly seen in their true colours, the good appearing ever more divine and the evil ever more devilish. The time for the separation of wheat from tares is not yet; but at least the distinction between them is becoming plainer as their growth matures.

A great stage in this progress was begun with the creation of man and has been continued throughout human history. The predatory instinct and the evil animal passions still persist in man. They show no sign of weakening as time goes on; they only take to themselves new and more complex forms. But they do appear as increasingly evil. What in the animal was only natural, appears in the savage as brutal, and in civilised man as devilish. And it appears devilish precisely in contrast and in conflict with the higher human nature which carries on the parental instinct of the animal, and develops it into human self‑sacrifice and love. Here, too, on the good side, what was in the animal only natural, develops in man into something Christlike. As the evil in our world is progressively revealed, so too our Christian ideal is becoming ever more sharply defined, and we gain a firmer grasp of what Christianity does and ought to mean. It is quite true that the present war represents in some ways an uglier exhibition of evil than, so far as we can tell, the world has yet seen; yet there is a real advance in the very fact that never before has war and all that war involves, appeared so detestable, so loathsome. In the Middle Ages, for instance, war was part of the normal course of events. It was lightly undertaken; no one felt much horror at it; no one worried about its incompatibility with the Christian gospel. John of Salisbury seriously propounded the scholastic question, whether it were possible for an archdeacon to be saved; but no similar problem seems to have arisen in regard to the soldier. War was simply accepted, and to a great extent enjoyed. Two years ago, however, we saw and felt the great object‑lesson of an Empire embarking on war with reluctance and loathing, because that seemed the only course to take. No one wanted to fight; and every added horror which the months bring forth only makes us ask ourselves with deeper searchings of heart, How can such things go on in a world where Christ has been revealed? We look forward with an ever more passionate longing to a peace which shall not be built on the sands of commercial interest, and cannot be upset by the crazy lust of a military clique. Be as pessimistic as you will about the future of civilisation in the world, you cannot escape the fact that the war has helped us to define and interpret our Christianity. We know more about the peace of Christ now than we did two years ago.

In other words, the progress of the world is a progress in judgement. For the essence of judgement lies in discrimination, and the first stage of the judgement of God must reveal to us the evil of the world in its true colours, make us realise the guilt and power of sin, and the appalling satanity of the Devil.

From this point of view, the greatest judgement the world has ever known was the coming into it of our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that He shall come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead. But that belief receives its present evidence from the fact that in a very definite sense He has begun to judge the world already. He has made men see the reality and horror of sin as they never did before. The shining of the Light of the World has made the shadows blacker. And all human lives which are brought into contact with that revelation are visibly discriminated and judged, according as they accept and try to follow, or else despise and reject it. For judgement our Lord is come into the world; and he that believeth not is judged already. That is the truth which St. John saw so clearly and stated with such uncompromising force.

The judgement is more strongly marked as time goes on. In this present cataclysm God has indeed brought His judgement upon all the world. For by it the lurking forces of evil hidden under the specious externals of our civilisation have been driven out into the open. They have come out upon the surface of our world, just as the rash from a latent disease comes out upon the surface of the body. Our civilisation had been acting on wrong principles which bred fatal disease germs in its system. Commerce, for instance, was largely organised on the principle of the strong taking all he can get, and the weak going to the wall. Success became an idol, and “Get on or get out” a motto, while respectable people remarked that business was business, and shut their eyes to the working of the poison. The nations were prevented from flying at each other’s throats by the complicated interests involved; and our prophets cried “Peace” where there was no peace. We succeeded in ignoring the ominously growing armaments, and we almost persuaded ourselves, when we watched an international tennis match, that we were really advancing towards a fellowship of the nations. But now the effects of the poison have come out. We have seen the gospel of success, the motto “Get on or get out,” the right of the strong to trample the weak, acted on and carried to their logical conclusion in the villages of Belgium and Armenia. We have seen those principles in all their nakedness, in all their terrible hostility to the gospel of Christ. And by that vision we know that they are judged, and to a great extent our civilisation with them. We know that God judges those principles of action to be evil, and evil they will remain; and though they were to sweep the earth in a victorious career, they would only bring on themselves a more effectual damnation. We know that they are evil, because we have known Christ. Knowing then that they are judged already, we can wait with patience for the time when final sentence shall be passed.

For the end is not yet. The growth into complete distinction of wheat and tares is the result of an age-long conflict, which probably has hardly yet passed its earliest stages. Our modern world holds in solution mingled possibilities of good and evil, which it will take many centuries to discriminate and to discern. It is the life of Christ which will effect that discrimination and discernment, but we cannot predict the manner of its operation. At times we seem to see partial anticipations of the final sentence of God, when evil is not only exposed but also to some extent conquered and cast forth, and the world does seem to have taken one step upward toward the throne of God. And at other times some fresh form of sin reveals its malignant power, and we are driven back upon the thought that it was through an outward failure that the greatest victory of good was won. But alike through outward failure and success the process of judgement is sure. God does not change His Nature, and His Kingdom, whether earth accept or reject its rule, abides eternal in the heaven where is the everlasting citizenship of its subjects.



It must not be forgotten that though the final sentence of God is the distant goal of all history, nevertheless, as the expression of His Nature, it is also eternally present and unchanging. The eternal, though the fulfilment of its revelation to us is future, is nevertheless always being partially and progressively revealed now in the process of time. The final “Day” is being anticipated in a series of partial “Days” which point forward towards it. The difficulty of grasping the truth which underlies this idea lies in the impossibility of adequately conceiving under the forms of a time-limited intelligence the relation of the eternal to the temporal. The relation of the eternal sentence of God to the temporal sequence of events can never be adequately expressed as the relation of something simply future to something simply present; for the eternal is always in a sense present. The relation in question is perhaps best expressed to our finite minds as a relation of perpetual imminence. The final sentence upon the whole time‑process of history is, in time, remotely distant. But to each generation and to each individual the final sentence upon itself is come very near. There is no time to lose for anyone who would escape its doom. Every repentance is a repentance at the eleventh hour. To each individual and generation the sentence is still future, in that repentance is still possible; it is imminent, in that repentance must imperatively be immediate. That is the great moral which our Lord Himself draws from His prophecies of the near coming of the Son of Man. It is as reminders of this truth that the sudden destructions, which come upon men unawares, are rightly called, in a sense, Divine Judgements. We may be sure that, for all our impatience, we have not yet reached the depths of truth in our Lord’s warning of the present imminence of the Divine Sentence upon those among whom he lived and taught. “This generation shall not pass away till all these things be fulfilled.” “Ye shall not have gone through the cities of Judah, before the Son of Man be come. The words are true for each successive generation of men, however difficult may be their metaphysical interpretation.

Nowadays the belief is almost universally accepted among Christians that between death and final judgement there will intervene some “intermediate state,” wherein either through the trials of purgatory or in the calm of Paradise the imperfect soul will have opportunity of completing its growth. We may rightly base the doctrine on inference from Scripture supported by the commonsense of the Christian conscience. But we must not forget that as to the nature of this intermediate state the Bible tells us almost nothing, and the belief in it becomes highly dangerous the moment we are led to depreciate or put in the background the intensely critical character of this present life. There is no reason for the assumption, often tacitly made, that after death the time‑process (if such there must be), in which the soul will find itself, must run exactly parallel with the time‑process of the history of the world which the soul has left. We know that events which occupy hours in a dream may be represented only by a few seconds in the time of our waking world. What if the time‑process of this world stands to the time‑process of the “intermediate state” in somewhat the same relation as that which the time of the dream‑world bears to what we normally call “real” time ? Metaphysically speaking there is, so far, no reason why the final sentence should not fall more or less “at once” upon each soul that crosses behind the veil, and yet in its arrival at the final Judgement that soul might not anticipate any other born after it up to the end of history.[2] Speaking as Christians, we hope and believe that some opportunity of growth will be allowed to every soul, which, as far as we can tell, departs full of imperfections into the unknown. Such opportunity, we feel, demands time, for time is that by which we measure development and change. But of the relation of that other time to ours we know simply nothing, and meanwhile it is utterly dangerous in our own case to build on the possibilities of an intermediate state which our Lord has left unrevealed, and to neglect His express warning that the Son of Man cometh suddenly, in an hour when we think not.



The view of judgement suggested in the preceding chapter raises an urgent practical question[3] which cannot be altogether passed over in silence. If it is true, at once that this life is so intensely critical, and yet that in it good and evil are still so inextricably intermingled, how shall we discriminate between them for the practical purposes of action? The war has recently forced this question upon us in a manner which makes evasion impossible. How can it be right for the Christian who desires to keep himself wholly on Christ’s side to go forth and slay his fellow‑men? On the other hand, how can it be right for him to stand by in comfortable inaction while the weak whom he was pledged to support are massacred and oppressed, and the laws of national righteousness are trampled underfoot? There seems to be no escape from the dilemma. But we may recognise that the particular difficulty is only an acute form of a problem which is essentially chronic. The problem in one form or another confronts not only the Christian who enlists but the Christian who has any dealings at all with the organised life of this world. An obvious case is that of the Christian who becomes part of a system of competitive commerce. Apart from all question of downright dishonesty, he must at least compete with others for the custom of the buyer, he must seek to draw customers from others to himself, and in so doing he must employ methods of self‑advertisement and self‑assertion. Consider the posters which flaunt themselves on every hoarding. They are a necessary part of the whole system on which our commerce is organised, yet it is impossible to contend that they are wholly and in every sense consistent with the full Christian ideal of unselfishness and self‑sacrifice. Their whole raison d’être is to depict the producers and consumers of certain articles in a state of self‑satisfaction usually fatuous, always supreme. Yet if the Christian were to refuse to take any share in a system which must produce such ethical monstrosities, not only would he fail to support those dependent on him, but commerce itself would lose the only influence capable of reforming it. Every Christian in so far as he takes his Christianity into the commercial world hastens the time when “business” will be a more Christian business than it is at present, the time, that is, when it will be really organised for the mutual service of mankind.

Moreover the Christian, if he refuse to take any part in commerce or in war, cannot escape the fact that he must, if he live at all, live on what is produced and safeguarded to his use by the very methods of competition and coercion which he condemns. The ideal conscientious objector irresistibly recalls to the student of Alice through the Looking‑Glass the unhappy bread‑and‑butter‑fly, which rejected the only means of subsistence which its world afforded.

The truth is that with wheat and tares so terribly intermingled as they are, it is impossible so to discriminate between them in action that the Christian ideal may find pure and perfect outward expression in our every act. This conclusion does not imply that we can acquiesce in any standard of action lower than the absolutely highest, or that Christian principles have been rendered in any sense inapplicable by the sins of the world. Where were Christian principles meant to be applied if not among sinful men? But we must recognise that our expression in act of these principles must be limited by actual possibilities. We can but try to do the most Christian action open to us in the circumstances. The Church at various times, notably in some forms of monasticism, has tried to produce within itself artificial conditions, where a certain section of its members might be able to give more outwardly complete expression to their faith than is possible for those living “in the world.” Such attempts are not without very genuine religious value, but the existence of such communities is only made possible by the fact that the majority do not belong to them. Of necessity they must be limited to the few, and even so they can only very partially express the Gospel which comes to consecrate all human life in the service of God. They cannot solve the main problem of Christian conduct in a sinful world.

Once, only once, and once for all has the full ideal of Christianity received an outwardly perfect embodiment upon earth. The brief years of our Lord’s life in the flesh perfectly expressed a perfect manhood, in circumstances specially chosen and ordained by God’s Providence for the purpose of that revelation. That perfect manhood has ascended now to Heaven. In one sense it has quitted the earth. Yet where is Heaven? Not only in a period remotely future, not only in a place remotely distant, Heaven is the spiritual sphere wherein God dwells eternally, and that heaven may be literally in men’s souls, in so far as they are the habitation of His Spirit. It is man’s task to pray that Christ may reign within him, that Christ’s Spirit of self‑sacrifice and service may be the mainspring of all his actions. He will not be able to give the Christ within him a perfect expression in act, but he can so act by God’s help as to express Christ’s Spirit in the best way his own imperfections and the force of sinful circumstances will permit. In acting thus he does up to the measure of his capacity give his allegiance to the cause of the Kingdom of God in its strife against the Kingdom of the Evil One. He is hastening on the perfect coming of the Kingdom to which the inward vision of his spirit reaches out by faith. He knows that as the strife becomes fiercer, the wheat and the tares will appear in ever clearer distinction, the two Kingdoms will stand out in ever more visible opposition, and the final day of the Lord will be at hand.


[1]From Mr. R. A. Knox’s Loose Stones. In its original context the phrase has no immediate reference to the doctrine of the Judgement.

[2]Suppose that two people are together dreaming the same dream, and, what seems in the dream to be an hour, corresponds in fact to one second of “real” time. Suppose one of the dreamers after dreaming half the dream (i.e., after dreaming what seems to occupy half an hour) wakes up and leaves the other still going on with the dream. The interval between the time when the first dreamer wakes and the time when the second dreamer wakes will seem to the second dreamer half an hour; to the first dreamer, who has awakened, it will be half a second. What if those who have passed behind the veil stand to us in the same relation as the awakened dreamer to him who is still dreaming? A thousand years of this world’s dream‑life may, for all we know, be really as one second in their more real time‑process. Again, what hearing would this analogy have in the problem of communication with the departed? A man who is awake cannot communicate (or at least can only communicate very imperfectly) with a man who is dreaming, unless he first wakes him up. Now, if the waking up corresponds to physical death, it will he correspondingly impossible for the departed to communicate with us, unless we first die.

[3]We shall return to the same problem by another route in Chapter VIII.


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