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Oliver Chase Quick





To say that the present is a time of change and upheaval, social, political and religious, is to state a truism so obvious as to invite ironic contradiction.  The cataclysm through which we are passing is at once so vast in its dimensions and so profound in its penetration of individual life, that we may well shrink  from looking to history for guidance on circumstances to which history itself affords no parallel.  Yet it is no new thing for the established manners, customs and beliefs of men to be upset.  In all such times of violent transition the same great problem of the reconciliation between old and new forces itself upon the judgement of mankind, and it should not be impossible to find in the lesser crises of the past principles of thought and action which may help us to deal with the gigantic perplexities of today.

The religious aspect of these perplexities is our immediate concern.  In regard to religion the European War only echoes and intensifies the profound disturbance of thought which had its origin in the scientific discoveries of the nineteenth century.  The fabric of Christian faith has during recent years been shaken to its foundations.  Its intellectual and moral supports have alike been fiercely assailed by the logic both of speculation and of facts; and it is still doubtful in what form the fabric will settle down, when the earthquake has at length subsided. The Christian contends that the central stronghold of Christ’s revelation must stand unmoved; yet in the general confusion it is hard to determine its boundaries, and it is small wonder if many decline to pin their trust to the permanent survival of any article of belief.

It is in circumstances such as these that the Christian’s heritage of past experience, stored in the treasure‑house of his Bible, reveals its peculiar worth.  The Old Testament is the record of a small people, small alike in numbers and in political importance.  Yet the record endures, great with the trials, doubts and problems of universal humanity, and in it the central issues of man’s religious life are thrown into clearer relief by the simplicity of their setting.  As we study its pages, the story of the chosen people presents one period above all when through one man’s clearness of head and courage of the utter collapse of an established order of religion served only to reveal the permanence of the spiritual basis on which that order had rested.

Neither in life nor in death has Jeremiah ever been a popular prophet.  The gloom of his warnings is too profound, the outpouring of his denunciation too monotonous.  Yet his career marks the greatest crisis in the history of Hebrew religion, when the whole circle of beliefs and customs which centred round the holy city and temple was suddenly dissolved by the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of a heathen invader.  Traditional faith could scarcely have sustained a more staggering shock; and for that reason those who can discern the signs of modern times may turn again to Jeremiah in a more sympathetic spirit, more able to receive light from the glory of the inspiration which shines through, while it accentuates, the sombre tragedy of his life.

The tragedy deepens, and its lesson is more plainly read, the more we realise of the man’s character and of his message.  In both respects Jeremiah presents a striking contrast to Isaiah, the greatest of his predecessors.  The leading note of Isaiah’s character is the confidence of assured faith.  He was cast in so heroic a mould that hardly in his darkest hours does he make any claim upon our pity.  Jeremiah is of a very different stamp.  He was a man of acutely sensitive feelings, sensitive no less to the contempt and hostility of his fellows, than to the imperative claim of the inward call which brought their enmity upon him.  “I am in derision daily – everyone mocketh me.  As often as I speak, I cry out.  I cry violence and spoil, because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me and a derision all the day long.  And if I say I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name, then there is in mine heart a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I weary myself to hold it in, but cannot.”

“... Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed?”  And to this most sensitive of men was entrusted a mission which might well have daunted the most callous.  Isaiah’s message at the crisis of his career was a popular message of confidence and good cheer.  Sennacherib could not touch Jerusalem, the sanctuary of the Lord was inviolable.  Jeremiah knew no such hope and no such triumph.  The sin of Judah, as he came gradually to realise, had gone too deep to be atoned for except through the destruction of the Jewish State.   The people had broken  the covenant, and Jehovah could no longer outwardly fulfil His promise to preserve the throne of David in Jerusalem.  Therefore during  most of the Babylonian wars and invasions, Jeremiah was compelled to maintain the uselessness of resistance, and thereby to take what must have seemed an unpatriotic and almost traitorous course.  There were those who still declared “The Temple of the Lord is safe.”  Jeremiah had to tell them that even that faith was a delusion.  Small wonder that he was harshly treated by the authorities, that during the siege he was thrown into a dungeon and came within an ace of dying there.  It is easy to trace the constant struggles in his mind between religious faith, personal resentment, and no less passionate patriotism, as he swiftly turns from appeals for vengeance upon his own countrymen to pleadings for the preservation of Jerusalem.

But unquestionably the miracle of Jeremiah’s life is the endurance to the end of his faith and hope in the God of Israel.  That faith and hope wavered at times, but they never broke, right up to his death, among a handful of despised refugees in a foreign land, whither he had been taken in defiance of his wishes.  If we ask the cause of the miracle, there can only be one answer.  In the collapse of all that was outward and secondary, Jeremiah had been enabled to grasp more firmly than any of his predecessors the spiritual essence of the Hebrew religion.   The more clearly it appeared that the Temple and city were doomed, that the national independence of the Jewish State could not endure, the more clearly he perceived that the essence of religion lay in the writing of God’s law on man’s heart, in the knowledge of and communion with God in the soul.  It was because he grasped the essentials so firmly that he was prepared, with terrible regret and at tremendous cost, to let the non‑essentials go.  When the old covenant seemed lost for ever, the Jewish nation destroyed, and he himself a friendless outcast, he could still look dimly forward to a time when God should make a new covenant with His people, and at the last write His law upon their hearts.  “Then they shall teach no more every man his neighbour and every man his brother saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know Me from the least of them even unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.”

Such was the man to whom we may well turn for guidance today.  We are not called upon to go through all that he endured.  We are spared at least that terrible conflict between religion and patriotism which was his sorest trial.  We do not see our country engaged in a warfare which we believe to be a terrible mistake, doomed to end in irretrievable disaster for us all.  We are not asked to face alone the ridicule and persecution of our friends, while we utter protests and warnings which in their ears sound like treason.  We may thank God that we are not called upon to pass such a test, nor even to speculate how we should act if we were.  And yet this is a time of fiery trial for the faith of all of us.  Much of what we fancied secure in the old comfortable days, just as the Jews trusted in the security of their city and Temple, is crumbling to pieces before our eyes.  Have we that clear knowledge of the abiding essence of our faith, which will enable us to pluck a deeper penitence and a surer hope out of the ruin?

The greatness of Jeremiah lies in the fact that he knew what might be given up, because he knew what must be kept and recovered.[1]  Stand ye in the ways and see and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  Surely it is a striking fact that Jeremiah of all prophets should have delivered that message.  And yet the message is profoundly true to the history of religious reformations.  No great religious revival has been really a new departure.  Man has never made any great religious advance while turning his back upon the past.  It was the people of Athens, we are told, who were always looking for some new thing, with the result that when the new thing came, they thought it only distinguished by its silliness.  Great reformers of religion have always been first concerned to open men’s eyes to what they have got already, to the faith handed down to them from the past, which they have ignored in their blindness or dishonoured through their self‑will.  The same lesson has been taught by all, by the Jewish prophets and psalmists with their harping on the past promises and performances of Jehovah, by the English Reformers with their appeal to Scripture and the early church, by the Oxford Movement with its endeavour to recover what was best in mediaevalism, nay even surely by our Lord Himself with His terrible warning, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”  Modernism, when it really deserves its name, stands condemned by it at the very bar of history to which it so often appeals.  For what moves the deepest soul of man is not what is modern but what is eternal, and what is eternal must always be learned in the past before it can be recognised in the present.  Not for nothing does our Bible teach that human religion starts with the attempt to recover something lost, and ends, not with the entry upon a wholly new life, but in the resurrection of an old one.

In a time of upheaval, when men’s hearts are falling them for fear and for looking after the things that are coming upon the earth, the first need of our people is not for a new faith nor even for a new system.  The first need is that we should all rediscover what are the treasures hidden in the old faith and the old system, yes, even the old Anglicanism if you will, which we have been neglecting in the past and now too often notice only to deride.  It is not that no change is needed – God knows it is – but we can only change aright, if we will first be patient enough and humble enough to appreciate what we already have.

That is the need and the difficulty.  For some reason or other people do not find in the Church the old message of gospel hope which she exists to proclaim.  The message for the souls of men is there, it is the life and meaning of all her creeds and sacraments and services.  But, somehow, the living message has been hidden and stifled under the machinery which it should control. No other message could meet our needs, very likely even with the machinery there is not so much wrong as we think – certainly it is not the oldest parts which most need to be replaced.  Yet, somehow, the whole is not rightly used or understood.  To many people the Church means nothing more than a dreary succession of observances which it is the parson’s thankless task to exact from a reluctant or mystified congregation.  The voice of the gospel has been choked with the arid dust of convention; and men at the front are dying, men some of them taught in our schools, in utter ignorance of what the Church stands for, not knowing the use or the meaning of the faith and means of grace which God appointed to be their comfort and stay at the last.  It is a terrible tragedy of misunderstanding.

To the clearing up of misconceptions, to the better appreciation of the old essentials of our faith, this book is offered as a very humble and very tentative contribution.  The writer is convinced that misunderstandings of the Church, at any rate among educated people, concern not least the intellectual aspect of her message.  It is commonly said that less theology is what we need; but those who counsel thus are surely guilty of a highly dangerous confusion between remedy and disease.[2]   Most people, no doubt, prefer that religious teachers should appeal to the heart rather than to the head.  They prefer being asked to feel to being made to think.  But it does not follow that their preference should be encouraged.  As a nation we welcome what we call “the gospel,” we like theology, and we detest dogma.  But the fact that we attach too much importance feeling, too little to thought, and almost none to authority, is really no ground for supposing that we cannot or ought not to effect any change in our scale of values.  As a matter of fact, the unpopularity of theology and dogma springs far more from a misconception of their purpose than from any tenable objection to their use.

Mediaevalism had exaggerated that element in faith, which consists of an intellectual assent to certain propositions.  Then the chief duty of every Christian was to declare that he believed certain things to be as the Church stated them – all other duties took a secondary place.  Evidently the settling of what are the things to which a Christian ought to give an intellectual assent, is the sphere of theology; and theology must be the work of the intellectual expert; its results must by the ordinary man be taken more or less on trust.  Mediaevalism therefore in exaggerating the value of intellectual assent, exaggerated also the importance of theology and dogma in relation to other elements in the Church’s system.

Since the Middle Ages a progressive reaction has taken place in the Reformed Christianity of Europe.  Not intellectual assent, but what is known – with disastrous vagueness – as religious experience, has been increasingly represented as the Christian’s primary concern.  In practice this has meant that religious feelings have been cultivated, while thought about the realities which are their origin and object has been very generally neglected or even disparaged.   In part, this is the inevitable result of the impulse which the Reformation gave to individualism and democracy; for every man is capable of religious feelings, while only the few are capable of thinking out for themselves their implications and their source.

Another influence which has operated powerfully in the same direction is the ever increasing rush and bustle of life brought about by ever greater facilities of communication. Trains and steamers, telegraphs and telephones, the cheap and rapid postal service, though they are often spoken of as conveniences and even as luxuries, are rapidly becoming the rigorous task‑masters of civilised man.  They have increased to an extent hard to exaggerate the amount of work which the ordinary man of affairs is able simultaneously to manipulate.  It is not merely that they have indirectly lengthened the actual hours of work through the greater intensity of competition which they have produced, but also that they have immeasurably multiplied the number of those practical problems and undertakings connected with his business or profession, to which a man finds himself obliged to devote the powers of his mind.  The speed with which each piece of business can be settled enables more pieces of business to be got through, but it by no means lessens the mental strain which each entails.  A man’s brain is therefore increasingly used up by the affairs of his calling.  He has less and less spare energy to devote to the cultivation of leisure.  Hence the general demand of the laity is for a religion specially adapted to tired minds.  And the clergy themselves are the victims of similar circumstances.  The ordained ministry, as a profession, is habitually understaffed.   The most vigorous minds in it are usually employed in urban work, and the wonderful ease of communication which our towns afford makes it ever more nearly impossible for them to escape the pressing calls of practical work, to which they struggle to respond.  Few of them have time for any quiet study and reflection beyond the minimum which suffices for the due fulfilment of a weekly  programme of sermons and addresses.  In result, the old-fashioned intellectual θεωρία, the habit of calm and steady reflection upon the ultimate problems of life as a whole, is becoming more and more of a lost art, the very faculty for which is being atrophied through disuse.  The increasing volume of religious literature which pours from the press only serves, as a rule, to emphasise the absence of this attitude of mind.  The bulk of it consists of short books, written more or less obviously under pressure, to serve some immediate purpose of edification, controversy, or compromise.  The one note generally lacking is the theortic interest in ultimate realities, which can only live in an atmosphere of leisure – that word which today connotes either the opportunity for self‑indulgence or the periodic inaction necessitated by habitual over‑work.

But, whatever be the cause, the fact is indisputable that, at least within the Reformed Communions, religious feelings have been dwelt on and encouraged, to the neglect of theological thought.  Men have been bidden more and more to feel the attraction of Christ’s character, and to worship solely with a view to the sensible piety which church services may evoke, while questions as to whether Christ is God, what His Deity means, whether His teaching is the truth, whether that truth will judge us at the last day, whether in the sacrament we indeed come into His living Presence, have been more and more thrust aside.  It is true that certain theological doctrines, chiefly those connected with the Eucharist, play a prominent part in controversy between opposed ecclesiastical parties.  But even they have been used rather as the standard for a “movement” than as an opportunity for reverent and searching study.  Partisans of all sides, “catholic,” liberal, and evangelical, have found it easier to brandish flags, to vociferate battle‑cries, and to plunge themselves in the business of propaganda, than to think out in their broad theoretic relations the principles which they are so eager to spread.  Doctrines are commended and rejected mainly because they seem to lie in the path of some general movement either towards “the restoration of our Catholic heritage” or towards “freedom from the tyranny of dogma,” or any other catch‑phrase which will obviate the need for discussing the truth and value of the particular doctrine on its own merits.  But, in any case, theological doctrines in their relation to life as a whole play a very small part in modern disputations, which are almost exclusively occupied with some immediate problem of ecclesiastical practice or historical criticism.  To broaden the basis of discussion, to raise prior and more universal issues would be, it is felt, to enter upon abstract questions which are altogether “above the plain man’s head,” and are presumably therefore not worth the consideration of those who are called upon instruct him.

What has been the result?  Certainly not that the ultimate questions of the universe have been wholly ignored, but that they have been handled more and more exclusively by a narrow circle of specialists, who are outside all official connection with the Church.  Science and philosophy have been boiling over with discovery and theory, but the experts in these subjects betray a very natural ignorance of the stand‑point and teaching of Christian theology, an ignorance which unfits them for estimating the full bearing of the new knowledge upon the deepest issues of human life.  Meanwhile the Reformed Church has been content to regard their conclusions as outside her sphere, until from time to time her leaders have been driven by the growing menace to approve or acquiesce in some modus vivendi, which has merely deferred the consideration of the real issues at stake.  The theological tradition has been lost, and nowadays when those who should be theologians try to effect some more lasting reconciliation between religion and “modern thought,” they too often suggest merely some “restatement” of a rather reduced faith, in which liberal concessions to the destructive critic are carefully balanced by appeals to the trustworthiness of “religious experience.”  Of what religious experience is, what it means, what is the criterion of its truth, or how its conflicts are to be reconciled, they tell us almost nothing.

Surely we are on wrong lines.  Very probably modern knowledge must compel us to abandon, without regret, beliefs which were dear to the forefathers of our faith.  But before we allow ourselves to part with any legacy which they have bequeathed to us, we must make sure that we appreciate the full value of our heritage.  And if we would do so, we must restore to living activity the theological and dogmatic tradition of the Catholic Church.  We must make it plain that even in modern language the Church has something very definite and authoritative to say about God, the world, sin, judgement, heaven and hell.  In other words, representatives of the old Church must do more genuine thinking on their own account, they must not be content with unconvincing mitigations of external criticism, or ill‑considered acceptance of external aid.

How do the old theological doctrines of Christianity really appear in the light of the work done by modern psychologists and philosophers such as James, MacDougall, Bradley, Bosanquet, Ward, Bergson, to mention a few names at random?  What reinterpretations of old religious truths do the theories of such modern thinkers suggest?  The psychologists and philosophers for the most part do not themselves claim to be expert theologians; they are quite out of touch with the theological tradition of orthodoxy, and such religious conclusions as they do suggest are naturally not often sympathetic to what they regard simply as official doctrines embalmed in the conservative instincts of ecclesiasticism, long after the vital significance has left their antiquated frame.  And instead of accepting the challenge and entering upon a field of study as fascinating as it is important, the Church suffers the world to decide the case against her simply by default.  The timorous theology of today is more and more losing touch with the enquiries which should provide the most important material for its research.  Few exponents of orthodoxy are sufficiently proficient either in old theology or in modern science and philosophy seriously to undertake the task of reconciliation; and educated opinion is driven to assume that the best modern thought must necessarily discard, or at least alter out of all recognition, the old doctrines which used to represent the intellectual aspect of the Christian faith.  True, the Church exists primarily for the benefit of “the plain man.”  But it is a foolish and pernicious falsehood to say that theology does not concern him.  He may not have time to enter into all the details of its data and argument – he has his own not less important work to do – but he is intensely interested in its broad conclusions and quite able to appreciate, if they are simply stated, the main steps of the process by which those conclusions are verified.  He will moreover be quite willing to accept the statement of them, if he can be assured that it is the fruit of really comprehensive and sincere reflection on God’s manifold revelation of Himself.  What we need is not less theology, but a very great deal more.

It is then an imperative duty to keep alive the theological tradition, not hastily to hide or throw away old doctrines at the first demand of those who have never had occasion to study their real import, but to let them renew their youth in the fresh interpretations which fuller knowledge brings.  And to fulfil this task we must first go back to the old theology of our creeds, that we may disentangle its essential meaning.  We must try to clear away the rust which our neglect has suffered to collect upon it, that it may once more shine in use.  We need not, we must not, reaffirm every word that the fathers of the Church thought to be true, still less must we adopt all their methods of enforcing it.  But we must remember that though their language is not ours, at least it was for them, and it may be for us, the vehicle of an eternal revelation of the ultimate constitution and ordering of the universe.  For them theology was not primarily the result of any reflection upon their own experience.  It was the revelation of God which created both their experience and their theology, and the theology was designed quite as much to guide experience as to interpret it.  For them intellect was not a tin‑kettle tied to the tail of feelings, urging them to wilder extravagance as it clattered helplessly in their wake.  Rather they thought of intellect as a divinely inspired faculty of vision, whereby they were able to see the goal, and point out the direction, of that long and arduous journey which human experience has still to tread.  They held it a sacred trust to guide in the light of that vision the steps of the people whose souls, as they believed, had been committed to their charge.  The better part for us is not to set their authority at nought, but to sit at their feet till we have learned the lesson, that some things in their teaching which must be removed are shaken, only that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.  The first necessity is not to restate the creeds, but to explain them.  Perhaps after the explanation, the need for restatement will not seem so pressing.

The writer is much more than aware that after such an exordium the remainder of his book will only seem to illustrate the proverb, parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.  He will, however, be much more than content, if only the exordium will inspire some better qualified exponents to take in hand a task which he has not attempted to perform.  A few rather commonplace remarks on isolated points is all that he himself is able to offer.  Yet they issue from the unashamed conviction that the task is worth performing.  There is an effective allegory in Mr. G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, where he pictures a storm-tossed explorer coming to an unknown shore in all the excited anticipation of a new discovery, only to find himself landing ill his native country from which he set forth.  Europe has lost her spiritual bearings.  She has tired of a Christianity she has never tried.  Perhaps if we succeed in keeping the old gospel, the old theology, the old creeds and sacraments above water, she will be driven by the very fury of the tempest to rediscover them.  Once again shall tribulation work patience, and patience experience, and experience return to the old, everlasting hope.




[1]An interesting work called “Faith or Fear?” has recently made its appearance in connection with the National Mission.  The assumption underlying the antithesis of the title is an instructive one.  It is assumed that faith means simply the kind of trustfulness shown by Abraham, when he set forth not knowing whither he went, the willingness to cast bread upon the waters, in the hope that it will eventually be recovered: this faith is opposed to the rear which declines to take such risks.  The moral of the book is to teach that the Church of England will show faith by readiness to change and to venture all things, fear by clinging to her present institutions and manner of life.  Herein the authors are preaching a much needed sermon.  But the lesson needs correction by the complementary truth, that faith means not only trustfulness but also trustworthiness, and in trustworthiness the fear of betraying trust forms a very essential part.  If we give to a friend a sum of money to hold in trust for our children, we do not praise the “faith” which invests it all in a gold-mine of dazzling promise and doubtful existence, but rather the “fear” which clings to the sober security of Consols.  What if the Church of England be a trustee to whom God has committed for future generations a revelation of Himself?  May not some even of her institutions guarantee the safe-keeping of that trust?

[2]The confusion is well illustrated by such a passage as this from Mr. B. H. Streeter’s Restatement and Reunion (p. 2):– “In the present age it is especially necessary to emphasise more strongly than ever that they centre of gravity of Christianity does not lie in theology.  For, whether we may regret it or not, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the traditional Christian theology has lost the prestige which it enjoyed in earlier ages ....”  It does not occur to Mr. Streeter to ask whether that prestige cannot and should not be restored.  This fact somewhat discounts the value of his protest (Ch. II) that the tastes of “Jones” are not a determining influence in his presentation of Christian truth.


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