Christian Optimism

Luke 21:28.---' And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.'

The more you study the life of our Lord Jesus Christ the more you will realize His unconquerable optimism. Over and over again in the teaching of His disciples He corrected their tendency to despondency and gloom. No word, perhaps, was more found on the lips of our Lord than that word, 'Be of good cheer.' We speak of Him rightly as the Man of Sorrows. But that is only one-half of His character. He is the Man of Sorrows; but He is also the Man of Hope. He moves through the world like one whose eyes are fixed upon the far-off Divine event far beyond the suffering and the sorrow that are all round Him. And yet the optimism of Christ is not the easy optimism common enough among us today that lives in a world of illusions, and says, "It is very good." The Lord knew what was in man, knew to what abysses of meanness a man could fall. He knew suffering too; His whole life was compassed and circled by it. And so He made no promise of speedy victory or easy conquest. A fundamental optimism then was to be the characteristic of the citizens of this new kingdom. they were to be the children of hope, because they were to be the children of the resurrection. It was not Calvary or Bethlehem they were to look for the true center of their lives. It was the future glory, it was the fulfillment, on which their eyes were fixed. It rings through the early literature, that note of the forward look.

It is this habit of expectation that marks all the forceful progressive elements of human life. Woe to that nation that is not eagerly intent on its own future, dreaming dreams that its children will fulfil, building roads along which its children will pass. And woe also to that Church that has not its glance fixed on the future; that does not interpret its needs in the light of the morrow's hope. No glory in the record of her past can possibly save that Church from falling back into all unprogressive stagnation. And Christ taught His followers to look forward by teaching then a new philosophy of history. There would be changes, decay, confusion. Men's hearts would fail them for fear, the powers of heaven would be shaken. But, by it all, they would see the Son of man coming in His glory. The goal of human progress is the realization of the Christ. It is a tremendous thought, a thought so tremendous that no man will ever dare to claim that he has grasped it in its fullness. We can trace in St. Paul's Epistles how great it became to him, till, in the fullness of time, he produced that magnificent Epistle, to the Ephesians---the summing up of all things in the Christ.

The manifestation was far off then, and the manifestation is far off still, and we cannot always get trace in this history of the purpose of God moving forward unmistakably. Is not the reason of this partly because we have not been alive to the great truth that the Church of Christ is only strong when she looks forward, when she claims and consecrates to the service of Christ all the progressive forces of the world? And therefore we may read in these words of Christ a command to His Church to understand the character of the forces that are at work around her. His disciples were to learn, in that pregnant phrase of Christ, to understand the signs of the times, not to move through life bewildered, helpless, like rudderless ships, but as men, men who understood the natural forces at work around them. They were to ask themselves at every turn, For what larger good are these contests preparing the way? By a tremendous venture of faith they were to understand that behind it all was God, fulfilling the purpose of the Incarnation, reconciling the world unto Himself. Here, and here only, shall we find the true unity of history. What we call secular history is simply human history with this central truth that binds it together left out.

So it was the call to the Church to understand, and it is the call of the Church to lead. For faith is the only true motive power of progress. Depend upon it, the enthusiasm that can translate itself into high enterprise and effort can only come out of a definite creed definitely accepted. Believe that the Incarnation implies and includes the taking up of human life into God; believe that under the baffling enigmas of the world the process even now is going on; believe you are called to help the realization of it, and then you have a motive for effective service, than which no stronger is possible. For the Church which truly believes in the Incarnation must be found in the forefront of human progress, confidently, constantly claiming the future for Christ.

It is the lack of strenuous leadership that is holding back the progressive forces of all nations social life today. No thoughtful man is satisfied with the condition in which we see the world around. We are crying on all sides, What shall we do? Here are hands eager to work, hearts impulsive to feel, and they are waiting for the conquering call. Where is it to come from? 'Then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.' Does not social progress in the world today wait for the reassertion of the meaning of the Incarnation? Is it not just this thing that will give force and cohesion to the efforts being made all around us to put the possibility of a better and nobler life before men? And so surely it is the call to the Church to hope. We need a revival among us today of that magnificent optimism of the Hebrew prophet: 'The waves of the sea rage horribly, yet can they not prevail.'

'These all died in faith, not having received the promises.' Yes, but they looked up through the dimness and rejoiced, for they knew their redemption was drawing nigh. And there is enough in the outlook on the world today to shake any optimism founded on less solid foundation than this; with education coming more and more to mean, as it seems, not how to live, but how to get, while large numbers of the population seem to be slipping away from even the outward forms of religion. Has the power of the Christian ideal exhausted itself in the world today? We gather in our Churches and sing:

Thy touch hath still its ancient power, No word from Thee can fruitless fall.

The truth is we want more hope. It is the children of hope who hold the future in the hollow of their hand. It is not by the orthodoxy of her creed, nor by the splendor of her ritual, nor by the astuteness of her politics that the Church of Christ will win, but by the invincible belief in the conquering power of Christ.

What is the practical value of the belief in the Incarnation in my own life? It is a tremendous obligation upon every man who dares to call himself a Christian that he should pause sometimes to ask himself this question. All true education leads up to this goal, for in the life of the individual, as in the life of the world, the process is the same. To each man there comes the call to lead himself out of an easy optimism, to choose not enjoyment but service. And when dissatisfaction and perplexity come down upon our lives, when our dreams are broken and of the temples we have built for ourselves not one stone is left upon another, then lift up your heads for your redemption draweth nigh. The goal of all true education is consecration to the service of the Christ; that is from the first moment when you looked round the social world in which you lived and said to yourself, This is not the Kingdom of Heaven for which I have been taught to pray, and I must so live here that I may help to answer that prayer. For the redemption of Christ is the leading of the lives of men out of gladness of enjoyment and content into the gladness of aspiration and hope.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha