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Oliver Chase Quick

Chapter VII


It is a singular and deplorable fact that no department of thought is plunged deeper in intellectual confusion than that which is known by the unattractive title of “Christian evidences.”  The storm‑centre of controversy in the attack and defence of the faith has been and will always be the Incarnation.  Was the man Jesus Who lived for a few brief years in Palestine very God of very God?  That is the central question.  If it be answered in the negative, the derivative questions, Did He rise from the dead?  Was he born of the Virgin? are simply not important enough to merit discussion.  If, on the other hand, the answer to the central question be affirmative, the discussion of the derivative questions assumes a different character and presents a less discouraging perplexity.  True, the answer to the central question must to some extent depend on the historic evidence (in the narrow sense) for the facts concerning which the answer is made.  But the central problem of our Lord’s life is not historical but theological.  It is conceivable that a man might have risen from the dead, and yet that his life might possess no special importance for religion.  It is inconceivable that the Son of God should have come down to earth without bringing a message eternally vital to every human soul.

To see the problems connected with our Lord’s life in their true perspective is to understand how perversely many historical critics have mishandled and misconceived the evidence on which the Christian faith is based.  Too often the critic asks us to dismiss from our minds what he is pleased to call “theological bias.”  By this demand he means that we should approach the facts of our Lord’s life and death as if they were mere facts like all others in the natural world, and that we should set aside all their consequences in subsequent history as irrelevant to the issue.  Having thus achieved what he considers to be an impartial standpoint, the critic proceeds to discover that the evidence is wholly insufficient to justify our acceptance of any such very “exceptional” fact as a miraculous resurrection, and he ends by triumphantly concluding that the whole Christian faith, historical and theological, requires at the least some drastic surgery, which he is often honestly eager to provide.  The popular name for the operation is “restatement in terms of modern thought.”

It does not seem to occur to these self‑accredited specialists in sincerity that in order to “face facts” they have turned their backs upon logic.  Their assumed impartiality has really begged the whole question from the beginning of the argument.  If the facts of our Lord’s life are merely like any other facts in the natural order, if our Lord’s death is to be considered and discussed merely in the same way as the death of Julius Caesar or John Smith, then our Lord was merely an ordinary man, and the critics’ conclusion is right, though hardly by any stretch of the imagination can it be said to have been proved.  But the question which Christian faith purports to answer is not simply concerned with “one Jesus Who was dead and Whom Paul affirmed to be alive.”  Such a question might be scientifically interesting, but Festus was perfectly justified in dismissing it as of no general importance.  The question Christian faith struggles to answer is very different, “Was Jesus Christ the Son of God revealed with power?”  The answer to this question must depend not merely on the “historic” evidence for events like the Crucifixion and Resurrection, but on our estimate of the whole Biblical record of fact and teaching and of the whole long result of those facts and teachings from that day to this.  The critics profess to be testing a chain by its weakest link.  In reality they are criticising a musical sequence when they have only listened to one or two of its chords.

If we would ever dissipate the fog enveloping the conflict, wherein the combatants justify their claim to impartiality chiefly by the random distribution of their blows, we must return to the teaching of the Bible itself, so clearly given, so frequently ignored, that the great evidence for the truth of the Gospel is the testimony of the Holy Spirit.  “When the Comforter is come He shall testify of Me.”  “Hereby know we that Christ abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.”  “The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  “The Lord also bearing witness and confirming the word by signs following.”  The Apostles were sent forth as witnesses to the Resurrection, and their witness began as soon as and not before the Holy Spirit descended.  It is needless to multiply instances to prove the teaching of the Bible on this point.  There are not wanting signs – Dr. A. W. Robinson’s Christ and the Church is the most recent – that we are beginning to recognise at last the futility of resting the evidence for our faith on any other basis than that which the Bible so unmistakably lays down.

If we interrogate the Bible further as to the nature and manner of the witness which the Spirit bears, we find that it takes two main forms:

(a)  The inward witness in the individual heart;

(b)  The outward witness of mighty works performed by His power.


(a) The inward witness is scarcely susceptible of discussion, for it belongs to the most private and personal experience of every man and woman born into the world.  Yet it is often insufficiently appreciated through failure to recognise that in different persons it must take very different forms.  To some it comes as a clear and definite voice from God which it is literally impossible to stifle or to disregard.  Thus it is that prophets have heard it. “The lion hath roared,” says Amos, “who shall not fear?  The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?”  “For if I preach the gospel,” says St. Paul, “I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.”  There are those in all ages who have had experience of a similar type.  Many Christians can point almost to the exact day and hour when the inner voice convinced them once for all of the truth of Christ.  But in the majority of Christians, the inward witness takes a less definite form and shows itself in a far more gradual development.  Perhaps the witness lies in the indefinable appeal which the whole gospel‑story makes to a man’s inner being.  Perhaps it is manifested as a scarcely articulated conviction that when he tries to be as Christ would have him, then and then only is his life right and healthy before God.  “Hereby know we that we know Him,” says St. John, “if we keep His commandments.”

But whatever be the manner of the witness, whether it be definite and unmistakable, or merged in the throng of common feelings and ideas, whether it come to us in an “uprush from the subliminal self,” in the conclusion of a metaphysical argument, in an intuition of conscience, or simply in a saving instinct of commonsense, there in the soul the witness of God the Spirit must be, if the revelation of God the Son is to be accepted and believed.  “No man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit.”  “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”  Such sayings only seem harsh if we fail to recognise the diversity and the intimacy of the Spirit’s operation.  If men could only learn the lesson which St. John and St. Paul try so hard to teach, and search their hearts for His testimony, there would probably be far less doubt and denial of religious belief, far less certainly of that noisy heckling of apostles and evangelists, which, while it professes to enquire after knowledge, only succeeds in drowning the still small voice of truth.  The Word of God is not really hidden from us, neither is it far off.  It is not up in the heavens of space nor away over the seas of time, neither is it to be sought deep in the morass of critical disputes.  The Word of God is very nigh unto us, in our mouth and in our heart, that we may do it.  The truth of the Gospel must dawn upon us, not merely as a discovery, but as a recognition.  It cannot appear as something wholly strange and alien to our souls, but only as something which has all along stirred in us the desires and the questionings which it satisfies.  If we would recognise any act of God upon earth, we must have God’s witness in ourselves that it is indeed His work.  If all men have some sense of spiritual values, it is because God in His mercy has not altogether taken his Holy Spirit from them.

(b)  But as well as the inward witness in the soul, there is also the outward witness of the mighty works performed in the Holy Spirit’s power.  The Apostles consistently appealed to the works wrought and the powers bestowed by the Spirit as the sign and seal of their divine commission, as the proof that Christ had indeed risen from the dead and sent them forth to be His messengers to the world.  But here again we must not allow ourselves to underestimate the diversity of the Spirit’s operation.  In the earliest days of the Church’s history the characteristic signs which declared His Presence were often strange and startling – in the common sense of the word, miraculous.  Visions, revelations, speaking with tongues, prophesyings, gifts of healing, are among those specially noticed by St. Paul.  Similar occurrences are not unknown today.  But in the early Church the very prevalence of “miraculous” phenomena makes it the more remarkable that the Apostles never limited to miracle the signs of the Spirit’s manifestation.  In the great twelfth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, the interpretation of tongues, are placed side by side with “miraculous” gifts, as all being in the same sense and degree diverse workings of one and the same Spirit.  St. Paul there teaches quite insistently that the relative importance of the different gifts is to be measured not at all by their abnormality or strangeness, but by their power to edify the Church; and his discussion reaches its climax in the glorious panegyric on the least miraculous and most wonderful of the Spirit’s gifts, the gift of Christian love.

“Brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, take account of these things.”  If men would only really take account of them, estimate their worth and meaning, and trace them to their source, they would find a chorus of testimony to the truth that is in Christ Jesus.  There is a multitude of doubtful but honest enquirers who might be confirmed  in the faith they desire to make their own, if only they could be brought to appreciate the heritage of the Spirit’s witness bequeathed to them in the life of every man and woman in whom His power has wrought.  We need not think only of those whose names are written for all to see in calendars and histories.  There be of them whose memorial is graven only in the hearts of the one or two who have known their love.  The historian of Church or State has not heard of them, the student of religious psychology would pass them by; they are uninterestingly normal.  But He Who once said, “Whosoever doeth the will of God the same is My brother and sister and mother,” has witness borne to Him through His Spirit in every member of His spiritual family.

Today we have not far to look for mighty works.  True, there are those who point to the evidence that brute force now rules the world.  Everything, they say, is at the mercy of high explosives, it is becoming daily harder to believe that the Spirit of Love is Lord over the earth.  Perhaps the belief is hard; perhaps again it is not meant to be easy.  Yet, surely the spiritual pessimists are blind guides after all.  The unselfish fellowship of the trenches, the cheerful patience of the hospitals, the still more heroic endurance which supports loss, and uncertainty more terrible than loss itself, without murmur or despair – whence do they all proceed?  Many there are who have a glorious share therein without knowing that it is Christ’s Spirit which worketh in them both to will and to do.  What of that?  The Gospel tells us of two disciples who in the hour of trial walked with our Lord, and knew not that it was He until the journey’s end.  Yet He was made known to them; He will be made known to others; already He is being made known to our faith.  For we believe that His Spirit alone can bring such mighty things to pass in the least of His brethren.  The horror and the terror of these days only make plainer the witness that the spirit of self‑sacrifice, which is the Spirit of Christ, is still and for ever the strongest force in a world we had almost said to be under bondage to the Devil.  We cannot condemn the generation of God’s children through whom in every age His witness is borne.

Before passing on, however, we must at the risk of digression briefly consider from the other end the relation of the witness of the Spirit to the truths of the historic revelation of Christ.  Many people would agree that the power of what they would vaguely call the Christian spirit must mean something; they would not deny that, in a general sense, it is evidence of the Presence of God among men, but, they would tell us, You are making an unwarranted assumption in claiming that the conclusions to which the evidence points are the particular beliefs which the Church holds concerning the historic life of Christ.  In some sense, certainly, the Spirit bears witness to God; but why should we maintain that it bears witness to the particular belief that God incarnate in the historic Christ lived on earth and died and rose again?  May we not believe that the spirit of love and self‑sacrifice is somehow the Spirit of God in man, without burdening and encumbering that belief with doubtful and difficult assertions about the life and death of one man whom we suppose to be God?  May we not free the broad doctrine of the Spirit of God from the particular historic associations, which no doubt protected the doctrine in its earlier stages as a husk protects a kernel, but may be discarded now that a fuller growth makes such protection unnecessary and even cramping to fuller development?  May not a modern Christianity arise easier for the modern man to accept, because it does not require him to believe controversial and unverifiable assertions about a remote and partially forgotten past?  Will not such a religion of immanence free Christianity from its historic husk, which will destroy its life if it fail to burst, now that the fulness of time has come ?

Such reasoning is highly plausible, and no doubt attracts many acute and honest minds.  To reply that the greatest and most profound operations of the Spirit have been on the whole found in those who have accepted the Church’s creed, may be true, but does not in any case quite meet the objection.  For those who make it readily admit that in the past the association of the Spirit’s witness with orthodox belief about the historic Person of Christ has been necessary and right; but, they would say, this association marks an early stage of growth, and the time has come, or is now coming, when a riper development of Christian experience may and must dispense with it.

A more thorough application, however, of Bible teaching to human life will expose the fallacy.  In 1 Cor. 12 St. Paul’s great rule, “No man can say Jesus is Lord but in the Holy Spirit,” is balanced by its converse, “No man speaking in the Spirit of God saith Jesus is anathema.”  St. John inculcates the same lesson in fuller and more explicit form.  “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.  Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit which confesseth not Jesus is not of God.”  The more deeply we ponder the circumstances which elicited these warnings, the more we shall appreciate their abiding value.  The early converts to Christianity had no doubt that great spiritual forces were at work among them, yet they found their very variety perplexing.  They did not all seem to point clearly in any one direction.  Heathenism, too, had its spiritual manifestations; miraculous cures, wonderful prophecies and visions sometimes seemed to proceed from spirits which did not own the allegiance of Christ.  Spiritual manifestations seemed at times to compete and conflict with each other, and in giving rein to all alike the Christian Church did not understand whither it was being led.  All seemed to be the fruit of some divine operation, and yet if equal value were attached to all, the total result seemed to be merely the encouragement of eccentricity in practice and of confusion in belief.  A test of spirits was needed, beyond and apart from the spiritual or supernatural character of the manifestations themselves.  They must be judged by an external standard, a standard based on the content of their message, not on the striking form or abnormal circumstances in which the message was conveyed.  That standard, the Apostles taught, was provided by the revelation of God in the historic life of the man Jesus.  If that historic life were the final and unique revelation of the Godhead, then it could be truly said that every spirit which taught or worked after the manner of Christ’s teaching and working, and enabled men to follow more closely the blessed steps of His most holy life, must be indeed the Holy Spirit of God.  Such spiritual activities include “miraculous” manifestations, but would by no means be confined to them; however strange or however commonplace their form and circumstances, the One Spirit was the source of all.  But on the other hand, manifestations, however apparently miraculous, must be attributed to some other agency than the Holy Spirit, if in any degree they led men away from the pattern and standard seen in the life of Christ.  Thus the Apostles formulated their great theological test of spirits.  Every spirit which acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus was of God, every other spiritual operation was to be repudiated and suppressed.

The outward setting of the problem has changed today, but its essence and its solution remain identical through the ages.  We need a test of spirits as sorely as ever did the first converts to our Faith.  On every hand, spiritual experience is appealed to – and rightly appealed to – as evidence of the living reality of God.  But if we leave spiritual experience to be its own judge and standard, if we value it merely according to the intensity of conviction it inspires, the striking form it takes, or the effectiveness of the results it produces, we too shall merely encourage eccentricity in practice and confusion in belief.  Christian science, American Mind‑cure, oriental mysticism in its nobler forms, all have an equal claim on the perplexed but eager broad‑mindedness of the pathetic searchers after a purely spiritual and non‑theological religion.  The abyss of confusion which is the goal of their misguided quest may be profitably surveyed, from a safe distance, in James’ Varieties of Religious Experience.  But the Catholic Christian has as his test and standard of all spiritual experience the Catholic Manhood, wherein Emmanuel was once for all revealed.  That Life, that Death, that Resurrection and Ascension are the outward facts, plain to the most ignorant, inexhaustible to the most learned, by which all spirits are proved, whether indeed they are of God.  The test is as catholic in its universality, as it is searching in its rigour.  Would that we might prove thereby the spirits of our modern world.  “Faith‑healing” has the sanction of Him Who cast out the devils of disease, yet if we base our religion on that alone, may we not forget that only through suffering and death does human life pass to its eternal glory?  Ascetic mysticism appeals not in vain to the days and nights spent in prayer and fasting, yet if we set it up as the standard of Christian life, shall we not dishonour the publican’s house, the Pharisee’s table, the country home of Mary and Martha, whereat the Divine Guest did not disdain a welcome?  Philanthropy and social reform are spirits which work mightily in our modern world; they may turn to the gospels for

their warrant, but dare we trust them, unless they are willing to serve in the work of salvation from sin which named the Son of God?  Do the Spirits which move us in every thought and action confess that Jesus is Lord?  If we do not so test them, one of two results will follow.  Either we shall be left at the mercy of every cross‑current of pious feeling and every shifting wind of specious argument, or, still worse, we shall be led to rely on the form of spiritual activity as its only trustworthy credential.

There is some ground for calling the latter error the characteristic heresy of the twentieth century.  American culture is its most congenial soil, and the studies of American psychologists have matured its growth.  It finds a typical expression in William James’ Varieties already referred to, a book which has performed very real service in directing the sympathetic attention of science towards religious phenomena.  The essential error of this psychological school of thought is to suppose that religious phenomena constitute one department of human experience, differentiated by its form from others, so that the psychologist can estimate the value of religion for human life by making a study of the particular experiences called religious.  For a fuller discussion of the value of this point of view we must refer to Chapter IX, but we may here briefly notice its fundamental assumptions and the result to which they lead.  The moment we differentiate religious experience by its form, we shall naturally regard as its characteristic manifestations the mystical visions, raptures or conversion experiences, which come only to certain specially constituted individuals.  People of this psychological type will be marked off as those whose experiences are the subject of religious study.  It soon becomes obvious to the student that this particular form of experience is associated with the most diverse kinds of theological belief.  He is therefore led to honour as the typical and authoritative exponents of religion, Indian Yogi, Mohammedan Sufis, Catholic ascetics and American revivalists, almost everyone in short but the quiet saint of Christianity, who without unusual experiences of any kind strives to live his daily round of work and pleasure to the glory of God.  The theological conclusions which the psychological student will then recommend for acceptance (if he does not disparage all) will tend to be what he regards as the highest common factor in the beliefs of those he studies; and in order to reach any positive result he will have to exaggerate that highest common factor (which in reality is almost negligible) by the instinctive operation of his own prejudices.  But the whole study is barren, just because it has started with the initial mistake of differentiating religious experience by its form.  The Christian starts with a theological test of its content, viz., the revelation of God in the historic life of Jesus, and to him therefore all life wherein men approach the likeness of Christ is equally religious experience.  He honours as the true exponents of religion not only those whose “experiences” take a striking form, but also the commonplace men and women who strive to follow Christ into the workshops of the world, and cast upon their dusty walls, in sublime unconsciousness, the shadow of His Cross.  The theological test instead of narrowing the Christian’s outlook, as opponents of dogma would have us believe, enables him to base and verify his religious convictions not only in the special experiences which are the privilege of the few, but in the common life of normal goodness, which lies within the reach of the most ordinary man.  The great affirmation that the whole of a typical human life once for all revealed God to man is not a cramping limitation of faith, but is the charter on which commonplace humanity may base its claim to live in the fullest blessedness of fellowship with God.  For the van‑boy in the East End of London may have the Spirit of Jesus as truly as those whose visions have filled volumes with psychological technicalities.

The Holy Spirit therefore working among men is the witness and interpreter of Christ, but unless it be the Incarnate, dead and risen, Christ to Whom the Spirit gives His witness and interpretation, we shall be left without power to discriminate where His working is to be found, or to see whither it would lead us.  It is a false remedy which tries to escape from bewilderment by seeking a criterion in the form of spiritual experience.  To express our conclusion more technically, the historic events of Christ’s Incarnate life can alone be normative for all spiritual experience and all knowledge of God; it is this normative character which constitutes the abiding value of the historic Incarnation in relation to the Spirit’s witness.

At this point we shall not unnaturally be accused of arguing in a circle.  It is, we say, the Spirit Who witnesses to the truth of our faith in Christ, yet we must believe in Christ before we can appreciate and recognise the witness of the Spirit.  In a formal sense the charge is quite justified, yet we need not shrink from admitting it.  For in real life, as distinct from the formal logic of the older text‑books, the normal process by which truth is reached and established can almost always be represented as involving in the same sense a circular argument.  The scientific discoverer invents a hypothesis to cover and explain certain facts which come within his experience.  He then verifies the hypothesis by applying it to a wider and ever-increasing range of new facts, until the original hypothesis, if it be found really applicable, becomes established as true.  But in order so to verify the hypothesis, he must first, provisionally at least, believe it, for this belief determines the further facts which he selects for attention and the whole attitude of mind and expectation with which he regards them.  The new facts verify and interpret the hypothesis, yet apart from the hypothesis he cannot select or estimate the whole bearing of the facts.  Now our beliefs about the historic life of Jesus come to us as much more than the mere hypotheses which men frame to meet specific problems; they come to us as human expressions of the final self‑revelation of the Eternal God.  The works of the Spirit, again, are much more than mere natural facts which support or reject a human theory; they mean nothing unless they are the continued manifestation of the same Divine Life which Christ revealed.  But with these precautions against misunderstanding we may truly assert that our beliefs about Jesus bear precisely the same logical relation to the witnessing operations of the Spirit, as a scientific hypothesis bears to the continuous succession of facts in which it is verified and established.  The proper conclusion from the mutual interdependence of our belief about Jesus and our belief about the Holy Spirit is not that both beliefs are invalid, but that the entire Christian revelation forms a complete and indivisible whole, the parts of which cannot be understood in isolation from each other.  The revelation of God in the historic life of Christ is in a true sense final and incapable of change, though heaven and earth may pass away; yet it is not in itself sufficient to guide us into all the truth it is not, in the logical sense, wholly self‑supporting.  It needs to be verified and interpreted in every act and thought which Christian faith and hope and love can make ours.  And, on the other hand, those thoughts and acts in all their endless variety of form and context lose their significance and fail of their full effect, unless they are themselves viewed and understood as springing from the One Spirit Whom the ascended Christ sent down to be His Witness among men.  To disparage the need of the Spirit’s witness is to substitute a dry and barren dogmatism about the past for an eager search into the living realities of the present.  To disparage the historic truths to which the Spirit witnesses is to lose oneself in a maze of bewildering experience for lack of the clue which the historic Incarnation alone provides.  To listen once to the full harmony of the Christian Gospel would be to understand the mystery of that faith, which is sure of the past, yet learns in the present, and therefore looks forward to the future with the steadfast gaze of eternal hope.



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