Or any such Thing

Eph. 5:27.---' A glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.'

The faults of the Church are very much to the fore at the present time; some people are thinking about them, and a great many more are talking about them. Many of the things that are said are quite true, and some of them are not. The point for us who belong to the great Church of God is not what people say about us, but what manner of men and women we are. And the call to us today is to examine the dangers that lurk near to our system, to keep our minds open to fresh revelation, to avoid being self-satisfied, and too conventional, and, still more, to give ourselves each day to God, that we may draw into our hearts the strength that comes from Him. And so God will use us, unimportant men and women as we know we are. God will use us to make the Church a power in the world. He will use us to make men see that it is worth while to go back to Bethlehem and Nazareth and the Cross to find their inspiration.

If we want the Church which we love, and in whose mission we believe, to be a power for Christ in these difficult and anxious times, then we need continually to watch those dangers which always lurk near to religious systems. Now the perils which always await the Church may be described as narrowness and worldliness. Let us speak about these two perils, and in doing so let us remember that they are closely connected with things that are good and splendid and true.

Narrowness.---The word has more uses than one.

There is narrowness of outlook. We are in danger of forgetting our responsibility to the world outside the Church. Such narrowness springs from what is good, for the very purpose of Christianity is, of course, primarily and essentially spiritual. The gospel of Christ exists to save the souls of men, and to bring them into communion with God. It is just for that very reason that our outlook with regard to the evils and problems of life may be narrow. We may be so concerned with the salvation of our souls that we may forget that there is such a thing as moral and social salvation on a very large scale.

There is narrowness of thought. Once more this springs from something which is in itself absolutely good and splendid and true. For religion, if it is to be worth anything, must stand for settled conviction; it must bear witness to what it believes to be eternal truth. And we Christian men and women do believe that certain things are true. We believe that the Son of God has come into the world; that He was born for our sakes; that He manifested God to mankind. We believed that He lived and died also for the salvation of the world. We believe that He is not a dead Christ, but a living Savior, present in His Church, the world's true Sovereign and Master. We believe that the Spirit of God dwells within our hearts; 'and we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.' And we are quite sure that those whom we speak of as gone from us are one with us in this great Christian society. But just because we have this inheritance we are in danger of becoming narrow. For with this splendid inheritance of truth we may forget that the language of creeds, like all human language, cannot be a perfect expression of the truth of God. We may forget that creeds can be interpreted in more senses than one, and that, to quote an old writer, "the Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from His Word." Why, to speak as though we could not get fresh light upon old truths is to speak as though the Holy Spirit were not present with us; or as though we ourselves were infallible.

We talk continually of ' narrow ' views in religion or in conduct. There are such, undoubtedly, but what we have first to learn on this question is that narrowness is not in itself necessarily an evil. If it were, be sure we should not find it so continually and so deeply wrought into the innermost processes of living. Nature, we find, is narrow as well as broad, and her narrowness is as needful as her breadth. In order to get her results she is perpetually limiting things, shutting them behind her barriers. She wraps her seed up close till its time comes to unfold. She is continually purchasing intensity at the cost of expansion. Yet Nature, using thus her tools of narrowness, works incessantly towards breadth as a result. Beginning at simple combinations, her tendency is always to a greater complexity.

When we come to the problems of morals and religion we find a similarity of phenomena which shows us, on a higher plane, the working of the self-same process, under the self-same guidance. Religion, to secure its results, has used, and effectively used, the narrowing instincts, and has therein followed strictly the order of Nature. Christianity, for instance, would not, humanly speaking, have won its victories and gained its position in the world, apart from the employment, at certain periods, of Nature's method of narrowness. The early Christians concentrated on one side of life. They lost view of some others, but what they gained thereby, for themselves and the future, was worth the sacrifice. A certain insulation was required in the making of a martyr. And the faith of the Church as a whole was for a long while of too naive a kind to bear sudden expansions. It followed a true instinct in looking scornfully at new elements. It was by slow degrees, amid mush misgiving, and after hard fighting, that art and literature, and science last of all, found a place in it.

But Nature, so slow, so careful, so conservative in her operations, yet never stands still. The spring-time comes, and then her blooms, up to this time so carefully shut up from the wintry blast, must unclose and dare the open. In humanity as a whole, and in the development of the individual mind in particular, a point is at length reached when the simpler form has to blend with the new elements.

It is when we have reached this point of growth that we are faced with a question which may be said to constitute the peculiar problem of our day. It is that of combining the wider interest with the older fervor. The dilemma is a serious one to many earnest souls. But if we have correctly stated the doctrine of this question there should be no difficulty about its solution. It is all a matter of the stage of development . . . In the spiritual development of humanity the point will be reached when these diverse elements will be included. They will be included in the consciousness of the spiritual man because they are included in the consciousness of God. And that stage has already been reached by many souls. They have learned the spiritual life as at once an unfathomed depth, and as an illimitable breadth. They pass from one phase to another without loss, but with a conscious enrichment, and the point they have attained will be attained in the end by all.

Worldliness.---This also springs from something which is good. We want the Church to be a tremendous power. We want to draw in everybody within the limits of organized Christianity, because we believe that we have a gospel which the world needs, and without which mankind cannot know what it is to live. But there again comes in our danger of being worldly, of caring too much for external success. We know that in the past one of the perils of the Church was that of seeking the patronage of those whom the world calls great and influential, very often at the expense of principle. That is scarcely out danger today. Power has passed into the hands of a different class of society. But in consequence of it there is a danger lest the Church should seek to win the approval of the crowd by repeating cries that happen at the moment to be popular. This is only worldliness in another form. We may care too much for mere numbers. Especially is this the case with those of us who believe in what is known as church-going. We know what the House of God means to us. We know the strength that comes to us as we offer ourselves to God in humble worship. But there is such a thing as caring too much about church-going. Let us remember that the thing that matters most is not the number of people that we get into the church, but the number of men and women who go out from the church, and who carry with them a character that can transform the world.

The world's chief need at this moment is a spiritual one; though it does not know it. The world needs to understand that it can live only as it is guided by the Spirit of God, and that the things that count in reconstruction, are, first of all, qualities that are Christlike. Now that need will never be supplied by systems, however splendid and right they may be; nor by services in church, however inspiring and uplifting we may know them to be. The world's need today will be supplied only by men and women who, under God, and depending upon Him, go forth into life to uphold Christ's standard of values in a generation which finds it very easy to forget them; men and women who, midst of the strife and the enmity of which the world is pretty full, are making manifest the glory of love and understanding, and wide-mindedness, and wide-heartedness, inspired by Christ; men and women, who, in the midst of the world's cares and anxieties are able to show by their faces that they have got within them the peace of God which nothing can take from them.

We must confess sorrowfully that those disciples who are indeed the salt of the earth have never been plentiful. Nevertheless, the Church endures and overcomes by virtue of living examples like theirs. And probably there has scarcely been a town in any Christian country since the time of Christ where a century has passed without exhibiting a character of such elevation that his mere presence has shamed the bad and made the good better, and has been felt at times like the presence of God Himself.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha