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Oliver Chase Quick

Chapter IX


So far we have briefly presented the doctrine of sanctification in its relation to ethical theory; i.e., in its interpretation of and its application to right and wrong conduct.  We have seen that when the doctrine is thus applied to ethics, it carries us beyond mere questions of right and wrong conduct into the central idea of the consecration of the whole personality; but this consecration itself needs further definition in regard to the manner of its operation in human life.  The consecration of life is a fine phrase, but what in practice does it really mean, and how is it brought about?  We cannot afford to leave our answer vague, for the nemesis of such vagueness in theory will be laxity in practice.

As a starting-point for this further enquiry, it will be convenient to take another antithesis commonly employed in ordinary speech, the antithesis between religious and secular.  The problem which this antithesis presents is fundamental to the whole nature of human religion.  It confronts us with its perplexity whenever we try to think out the relation of religion to life, and infinite confusion arises in religious discussion from the failure to make this problem explicit to the mind.

From one point of view religion, if it be worthy of the name, must cover the whole field of human activity – religious and secular alike.  Whatever is right to be done is done equally in accordance with God’s will and by His help; every thought which is true, every feeling which is good, bring us further into knowledge of and communion with God, Who inspires and manifests Himself in all.  From this point of view every right action is a religious duty, every good experience a communion with the Divine, every place a temple where God’s Presence dwells, every time a holy day when His Name may be hallowed and His praise set forth.  And at this level of thought the distinction between religious and secular becomes so elusive as to be in danger of disappearance, for religion is seen to be not one department of life, but the whole regarded in its deepest significance; i.e., in relation to God Who is its source and goal.

Yet it is clear that in popular, and usually also in scientific language, religion bears what is prima facie a different meaning.  The psychologist when he speaks of “religious experience” means not all experience regarded from the most searching point of view, but a specific kind of experience, wherein the human consciousness is centred upon God as distinct from the other objects which from time to time occupy the foreground of its attention.  Similarly, in speaking of “religious” duties and obligations, we commonly mean those specific acts of public and private prayer and worship, which make up our devotions, as distinct from the other activities of ordinary life.  Again, though every place and time belong to God and may manifest His presence, yet when we speak of “God's house” and “the Lord’s day” we usually mean a special house and a special day set apart from others for His worship.  Finally, the phrase “the religious life” is often used both popularly and as an ecclesiastical term to denote not the whole life of every man in relation to his Creator, but the specifically devotional life which is the particular vocation of certain persons, priests, monks, nuns, and the like.  In the sense in which we are now using the word “religion” and its kindred terms, the distinction between religious and secular is quite clearly and sharply drawn.  For religion now denotes a special department of life, and the term “religious” is applied to those activities and things which are specially connected  with  this  department, while everything which falls outside it is called “secular”.

What is the real relation to one another of these two apparently conflicting senses in which the words “religion” and “religious” may be used?  Surely any true study of religion must take account of both and assign to each some validity and value.  Yet the problem of their combination is at once more pressing and more difficult than is usually perceived.

Prima facie, having thus stated the problem, we should probably be inclined to say that the first and widest meaning of religion is really the only true one.  If we believe that God is Almighty, All‑good and Omnipresent; He must be everywhere and at all times working through all good life and manifesting Himself to all true perception.  All action must be religious.  Everything must be done for God and by His help.  Again, He must be the source and ground not of part of our experience only, but of the whole, in so far as it is good.  He must reveal Himself through all His creatures, and all knowledge must in the end be religious.  But on reaching this point we are confronted by the question, In what sense then do acts of devotion, of prayer, worship and meditation, bring us into a connection with God which we cannot possess at other times and by other means?  Do we really believe that in church or on Sunday we are more truly in God’s Presence than we are at dinner or on weekdays?  Do we believe that a good priest is necessarily a better Christian, living in closer communion with God, than a good policeman or a good politician ?

If he is honest with himself, the man in the street will probably answer Yes.  He does believe that at times and in places of devotion we are meant to come into God’s Presence to a degree impossible elsewhen and elsewhere.  He does believe that to spend an abnormal amount of time in religious exercises is a necessary mark of a very religious man.  In short, he does, broadly speaking, maintain that distinction between religious and secular, which confines religion to one department of life, possessing like other departments its professional men.  And in this view, as we have said, the man in the street is supported by the man of science.  To the latter, religious phenomena are not all phenomena but those only which are connected with our devotional activities, necessarily only a fraction of our life.  To the psychologist, as to the ordinary man, the assumption is quite obvious, that if you want to know the nature and meaning of religion at all, you must study it in those persons who by the special cultivation of devotional faculties have made themselves experts in that particular department.  They are the religious people, and by them religion must be judged.

Yet we must ask whither this seeming truism will lead us, if we press to its logical issue the principle which it involves.  If it be really true that it is impossible to be religious in a pre‑eminent degree without pre‑eminent gifts and opportunities for devotional exercise, then it is impossible for the ordinary man occupied in secular business to be as really godly as one who is leading the “religious” life.  Once this conclusion is admitted, we are forced towards the disastrous consequence that the higher grades of religious achievement must of necessity be confined to the few, and those few not those simply who make special efforts after goodness, but those who have rare qualifications for cultivating excellence in a particular direction.  The universal church is thus divided by class‑distinctions of spiritual privilege; it is the highest class alone who have the opportunity to come nearest to God and the right to speak with authority on all that appertains to His service.  The universal appeal of the Gospel is weakened, the spiritual democracy which the religion of Christ seemed to offer is impaired.  No longer can His Church claim to instruct every man in all wisdom, that it may present every man perfect.  To strive after perfection will be the task of the selected few, the main body must be content with a lower standard of obligation and achievement.

Surely this conclusion is one to be resisted.  Yet if we resist, what meaning and value are we to attribute to that whole side of life which we call devotional and religious in the narrow sense?  Does it not by its very nature bring us closer to God than any other part of our life?  On what other ground can we urge those duties of prayer, worship and meditation, for the practice of which such constant and powerful exhortation is needed, if they are not to fall into neglect?  If we say that all duties are equally religious, that all good life brings us equally into communion with God, shall we not weaken the call to prayer and discourage reverence for holy things?

The whole perplexing problem must be faced squarely, if we are to direct according to knowledge the spiritual progress of our lives towards their heavenly goal.  In the public pulpit, and still more at devotional gatherings of the faithful, our spiritual directors habitually urge the duties of prayer and meditation, on the ground that in them par excellence we hold communion with God.  In so doing they very generally suggest, as a natural consequence, that the more progress we make in religious life, the more time we shall be able to spend in devotional activities.  They are, however, nearly always content to ignore the final inference which their teaching seems to imply, viz., that since it is clearly impossible to hold too close or too constant communion with God, ideally speaking, our whole time should be spent on devotion.  Is this true?  If so, busy men and women seem of necessity to be relegated to the second or third class of spiritual attainment.

The whole difficulty, once clearly defined, may be overcome by closer reflection on the meaning and nature of sanctification, which as we have seen, is for Christian faith at once the end and the process of spiritual growth.  From a very primitive period of religious thought a thing sanctified, devoted or holy, denotes a part of a whole separated from the rest that it may be given to God.  But the whole significance of this solemn setting apart is derived from the fact that what is so sanctified and devoted, though outwardly it is a part, is separated not merely as one part among others, but as representative of the whole.  Consider such a quite primitive ceremony as the offering of the first‑fruits of the harvest.  Outwardly, the first‑fruits are but a small fraction of the total.  But if the significance of the offering were that this fraction only belonged to God, the whole ceremony would lose its essential character and purpose.  For its meaning lies in the implied recognition that the whole harvest, being God’s gift, belongs to Him, and the part dedicated to Him represents the fact that all is His.  The whole proceeding is the expression of a truth which lies too deep even for symbolism, and yet must find some such outward embodiment, lest by reason of its very universality it be forgotten.  If none of the harvest were set apart for God, men would forget the Giver of it all and the spiritual sacrifice to which and by which He trains His children.  If all were set apart, the gift would fail utterly of the kindly purpose for which God gave it.  The only way whereby men can remind themselves of the fact that the harvest is God’s and must be used in His service, and yet that the harvest is theirs, because God has given it to them, is found in setting apart a definite proportion to dedicate and give up to God, in order that the whole may be accepted as from Him.  Here lies an essential meaning of all ceremonial sacrifice.  Such sacrifice becomes superstitious precisely in so far as the part sacrificed is regarded as a part merely – that is to say, as a part grudgingly given up lest God should take the rest as well, rather than as a representative part joyfully dedicated, that thereby it may be recognised that God has given the whole to be used in His service.

This simple reflection on the meaning of primitive sacrifice really provides us with a principle which not only solves our present problem but interprets the whole working of sanctification in human life.  Let us for convenience call it the principle of representative dedication.  It has only to be made explicit in order to be given a far wider range of application than is usually recognised as belonging to it.  To start with the outward observances of modern religion: Sundays and churches, for instance, in their true significance are obviously fractions of time and space set apart for God, not as fractions merely, but as representing the truth that all time and all space are God’s, permeated by His immanence, to be used in His service with that spirit of sacrifice which shall train us to more perfect sanctification.  That is the motive which underlies all healthy observance of Sunday, and of all special times and places of worship.  It is not that on Sunday or in church we are necessarily, or ought to be, any nearer to God than at other times or in other places.  The whole purpose of a Sunday and of a church lies in the fact that each represents what is beyond itself, that each brings out a meaning which belongs to every time and place, a meaning which we should miss did we not give up specially to God a fraction, whereby we may become conscious of His relation to the whole.

In this application to outward observance the principle of representative dedication is in effect very generally accepted by religious people.  But it must be capable of a wider scope if it is really to solve our main problem, and here we shall enter on regions where controversy is much more possible and legitimate.  Ought not the principle to be applied not merely to outward things but also to the spiritual activities of our very life itself?  Prayer, worship, meditation, the devotional activity of our life, wherein we stir and educate our consciousness of God’s Presence and of our communion with Him, do not really form merely one department of our life alongside other departments which possess an equal or proportionate claim upon our attention and endeavour; nor again is devotion one department which ought simply to swallow up and destroy the rest, like the lean kine of Pharaoh’s dream.  True, the devotional side of our life is a part of it, but we need no longer have any hesitation in admitting that it is and ought to remain so, so long as we recognise that it is not, properly speaking, merely a component, but a representative part of the whole.  Our life comprises many and various activities of which prayer and the kindred activities of worship and meditation seem to form but one.  The more, however, we reflect on the nature of prayer, the less able we find ourselves to confine its essence within the narrow limits of our conscious devotions.

Let us first take for consideration that form of prayer which in practice is perhaps the easiest and most natural of all, and yet in theory presents the most perplexing difficulties, viz., intercession for others.  The form of prayer which finds expression in intercessory petitions has recently suffered somewhat severe damage from the explanations of those who try to encourage it.  In protest against the pagan view which regards intercession as an attempt to conciliate the Divine favour for a particular purpose, some of our modern teachers have suggested doctrines different indeed but scarcely more satisfactory.  Some, caught by the glamour of a rational and scientific explanation, seem almost to imply that the effort expended in such prayer works its result almost with the efficacy of a mechanical force.  Prayer, they would say, is work, and, as in other work, the effect or “answer” produced will vary in proportion to the amount of labour expended.  Even apart, however, from the neglect of the personal activity of God, which it at least makes possible, this theory seems to imply the dangerous conclusion that the more time we spend on our intercessions, the more effective they will be.  The cruel and disastrous nature of such a doctrine would at once become apparent, if anyone were foolish enough to act upon it.  Others, on the other hand, react from the pagan view in an opposite direction.  They insist that the whole purpose of prayer must be to bring our will into harmony with the Divine.  Even in intercession this should be our aim rather than to ask for particular benefits, since it is the will of our Father to give us all that is good.  Asking for things, they suggest, is a primitive and barbarous form of prayer, which will disappear in the light of higher education in the things of the Spirit.[1]

Both views are surely in error through neglecting the simple fact that true intercession must spring from a constant love for and desire to help the person for whom intercession is made.  This love and desire is itself a potential activity, and, if opportunity arises, it will issue in various forms of action besides the activity of prayer.  The love and desire to help which issue in prayer will also issue, if they be genuine, in any form of external assistance we can render to bring about the result for which we pray.  This whole activity of help, whether it issue only in prayer, or in prayer and outward act as well, must be dedicated to God, and can only be effective as fulfilling His will.  The significance and value of the particular activity of intercession now become obvious.  It is simply a representative dedication to God of the total help which we give or desire to give, constantly and in varying forms, to the person for whom we intercede.  My petition for my friend rings false unless it means that I am giving or ready to give at cost to myself all the actual help I possibly can or could towards bringing about under God the fulfilment of my petition.  If my petition rings true, it is the representative recognition that all the help I myself give or desire to give to my friend needs, if it is to be real help, to be consecrated in the service of God.  My petition is simply an attempt to put my own feeble efforts of action and desire, frustrated as they are by the barriers of human and mortal limitation, into the hands of Him Who is surely able by their means to bring about the fulfilment after which they strive.

This view of intercession at least enables us to harmonise it with a consistent theory of the whole devotional side of our life; while at the same time we preserve the value of the simplest request which the Christian child is taught to present to his Heavenly Father.  Our theory leads us up to those wide interpretations of the nature of prayer whereby religious thinkers ancient and modern have extended its range far beyond those times in which we consciously set ourselves to pray.  "Laborare est orare,” says the stern old monastic motto.  The romantic poet strikes a different note

He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small,
For the dear God Who loveth us
He made and loveth all.

Both are profoundly right, for prayer represents the dedication of all human activity to God.  It is the special part cut off, as it were, from our total activity in order that therein the dedication of the whole may be made self‑conscious and thereby more complete.  The truest prayer is prayer from the heart – prayer, that is, in which the effort of the whole personal life is concentrated.  But the whole life is not confined to mere devotional exercise; that exercise takes its whole content and character from that which lies beyond itself.

It will follow that the secular activities of our life will constitute the very substance and matter of what we offer in our prayer.  Without such special devotion, we should miss the deepest meaning of all life – namely, its sanctification to the service of God, which the Spirit within is bringing about.  But, on the other hand, if it were conceivable that in our life there should be nothing but devotion, we should be in God’s Presence empty‑handed without those most precious gifts of work and enjoyment, thought and desire, which He had intended us to bring.  The devotional part of our life is a part wherein the whole should dwell.  If any fraction of our life cannot dwell there, if a man cannot without irreverence remember in his prayers the most careless moment of his day, then his sanctification is incomplete, and that which jars upon his devotion should be cast out of his life.  But at the same time it must surely be true that God is glorified by all richness of variety in the thoughts, desires and actions which we are able to dedicate to Him in prayer.  Just as there is abundant variety in the first‑fruits of a bountiful in‑gathering of what the earth brings forth for man, so the first‑fruits of man’s own life which he brings to God in a quiet hour are only enriched by the manifold occupations, efforts and experiences whereof the harvest is composed.

If all were as it should be, the representation of our whole activity in our devotions would be a perfectly true one; our prayers would be the perfect mirror of our lives.  In that case it would be quite false to say that in our devotions we were nearer God than in our other activities; our prayers would only be the occasion for us to realise the holiness of all, and to dedicate them afresh.  But in point of present fact we have not yet reached this ideal, for our whole lives are tainted by the guilt of sin.  True, sin enters our devotions as well as the rest of our lives.  Nevertheless it will on the whole be found that the hours which we set apart for the consciousness of our communion with God will, generally speaking, be those also whereby our progress in sanctification is chiefly advanced.  For it will be then chiefly that we shall realise the full horror of sin, and make resolve by God’s help to deliver ourselves and others from its bondage.  In this sense it will be true that our; prayers bring us nearer to God than the rest of our lives.  But if this is so, we must recognise that our prayers cease truly to be representative of our lives, and we shall endeavour to remove the discrepancy by raising our other activities to the level of our prayers.  We shall use the prayer of Keble’s hymn:

Help us this and every day
To live more nearly as we pray.

But still it must not be forgotten that the devotional side of life will lose its whole purpose and meaning if the secular be excluded from it or held to be necessarily on a lower plane.  It is the Holy Spirit’s purpose to bring about the sanctification of the whole.  In His divine wisdom He begins with the representative part, and works through that upon the rest.

Our discussion is proceeding outwards in widening circles, and we have still to give the principle of representative dedication a more extended range.  Human religion is not to be studied as the life of individuals only; it is also the life of a society, of a Catholic Church.  And the work of the Spirit is not to sanctify individuals merely, but also to sanctify the whole society of faithful people, the mystical Body of Christ.  Thus then we approach the answer to a question we have so far left on one side: Are those who are called to the “religious” life in the technical sense, if they respond worthily to that calling, necessarily better or holier or nearer to God than those who try to do their Christian duty in a secular avocation?  Our answer must be that these “religious” persons stand to the whole society in the same relation as that of the devotional activity of the individual to his whole personal life.  They are a part of the society dedicated to God in a special sense, only that through them the dedication of the whole may be represented.  Ideally  speaking,  therefore, “religious” persons are not any holier, any more godly, than those who live “in the world”.  In them as a representative part the holiness permeating every part of the society is expressed and made as it were self‑conscious.  Thus the specially religious callings and offices would lose their whole significance if there were no others beside them in the society.  Their whole raison d’être is found in what lies, in a sense, outside them.  It is only as a member of a society which contains policemen and politicians as holy as himself that the priest has any right at all to his special title of holiness.

We must, however, again distinguish the ideal point of view from that which regards the present imperfection of our growth in holiness.  The conception of a really sanctified Church is still only an ideal.  In point of present fact, the Church is still struggling towards it, stumbling at every step through her sins and shortcomings.  While this condition lasts, it seems to be the Holy Spirit’s plan to draw the whole society upward through selected individuals, and, in spite of exceptions, it seems to be part also of that plan that these selected individuals should, as a general rule, be those also who are called to a specially religious office, since these receive a special grace for the instruction and guidance of others.  In this sense it may be true that, as a general rule, priests are holier than laymen.  But in so far as this is the case, the priest’s office fails of its ideal representative function, and that failure should only stir penitence in priest and layman alike.  There can be no false clericalism, no spiritual class‑distinctions in the Church, if only its members would understand what is so often said and sometimes so little remembered, that if any man, priest or layman, has at all by God’s grace been brought nearer to God than his fellows, it is not for his own sake, but for the sake of the more perfect sanctification of others.

What light, then, has our discussion thrown on the distinction between religious and secular and upon the whole method of the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification, which that distinction implies?  Ideally speaking, the antithesis between religious and secular does not denote any distinction between different kinds of things, but only a distinction between the points of view from which we regard and think of them.  The religious meaning of all things is the profound and universal meaning, the secular is the superficial and particular.  But the human mind is limited, it can only think of one thing at a time.  And for that reason the deep, constant, universal significance of reality, which underlies the whole, always tends to disappear beneath the distracting, changeful, elusive particulars which play upon its surface.  That deep significance will be lost to us altogether, unless we set apart special times, special places, special efforts, special persons, so that through them we may of set purpose take account of it.  The religious department of life represents the meaning and purpose of the whole, which are found only in the perfect consecration of every part to the service and the love of God.

On an ideal earth, that would be a sufficient account of the distinction between the religious and the secular.  But the earth is not yet ideal, the sanctification of all life is marred by human sin.  In these circumstances the religious part of life and experience naturally stands, in spite of its imperfections, on a higher level than the rest, but it only does so that it may draw the rest upwards.  Thus on a sinful earth in a state of change and growth, the distinction between religious and secular does to some extent represent a difference between the more and the less holy, and the sanctification of the Spirit works through the religious upon the secular.

In Heaven, on the other hand, in an eternal experience we may conjecture that the distinction between the religious and the secular would be altogether merged.  In that state the need for the representation of the whole through a particular part would no longer exist.  Our devotion would penetrate every particle of our experience, we should always be conscious that our whole life was lived in God and unto God, and yet we should not lose the fellowship with one another, or the goodness and value of particular experiences, wherein the love of God is fulfilled.

In conclusion, let us take our principle of representative dedication to the highest test of all.  The Incarnate Christ appeared on earth as one man among many.  Yet His Manhood was perfectly sanctified and offered to God not as an individual manhood only, but as representative of all men.  Christ, in the Pauline phrase, is the first‑fruits of redeemed humanity.  We have seen that the term “religion” is used with a double significance, a narrower and a wider.  And this complication is explained and justified by the fact that in this world of fleshly limitation that which really includes the whole of life has to be represented through what appears as a special part.  The times and places set apart for worship, the devotional life of the individual, the priestly function of the appointed officer of the society, are  essentially such parts representative of a whole, and it is from this fact that they derive a double meaning and application, as referring both to the whole represented and to the part which represents.  In an analogous sense the Manhood of Christ is revealed in a narrower outward form, which represents its true universality.  Ultimately, all good manhood is included in Christ’s; it is all His.  The work of the Spirit is to transform our manhood into unity with Christ’s, until we altogether come unto a perfect Man, unto the measure of the stature of His fulness.  Yet if that perfect Manhood, eternally present everywhere in all good human life, is to appear to our earth-limited vision, it must appear as a part of manhood  – i.e., as one man among others, as an individual, yet as One who in the deepest sense is more than part and more than individual, because He is the Representative of all.  Such exactly is the orthodox doctrine of Christ’s Manhood, wonderfully in accord with our highest experience, divinely adapted to our deepest need.  On earth Christ appeared as an individual man, Who died, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, giving us an example that we should follow in His steps.  And the further we follow the more we find that the simple life of the prophet‑peasant of Galilee stretches itself to include all the highest activities of which our varied, complicated nature is capable.  In the consummation of Heaven Christ is still one Man, but not a man, one among others, for His Manhood is found and fulfilled in all His redeemed whom it sanctifies.  Our prayers, we saw, are not holier than our other activities ought to be, for in so far as these are what they ought to be, they are summed up in prayer.  A priest is not holier than a layman ought to be, for in so far as a layman is what he ought to be, he is included in the priesthood.  So Christ’s Manhood is no holier than ours ought to be, for in so far as ours is what it ought to be, it is summed up and included in Christ’s.  We pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, and that mediation belongs not only to prayer in the narrow sense, but also to prayer in the wide sense – that is, all human activity dedicated to God.  It is all offered through Christ, Who was offered as the first‑fruits of humanity, that He might represent the whole.

So far we speak ideally.  What of our present sin‑distracted life?  Our manhood is not yet in Christ’s.  But the Spirit who proceeds from our Representative is gradually consecrating us for that union.  In Christ’s Manhood humanity has redeemed itself, and if man’s faith will but accept that His inestimable benefit, and try to respond to its exacting claim, the Spirit of the Representative is already working the sanctification of those whom He represents.  If the first‑fruit is holy, so is the lump.  For our sakes our Lord has sanctified Himself.


[1]Mr. Harold Anson’s essay, “Prayer as Understanding,” in Concerning Prayer (Macmillan, 1916), betrays a strong tendency in this direction.


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