Our True Business

Isa. 32:2.---' And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.'

It is not necessary for us to hold in any hard and dogmatic way that Isaiah, when he forecast this scene of human happiness and strength, saw precisely how it was going to be fulfilled. What concerns us to believe is that the Eternal Spirit, speaking through him, did describe a state of human society much nearer to the heart of God than anything which at that time existed in the world. It is a state of society much nearer to the heart of God than anything which exists now. In the prophet's view it is a condition of things which shall take form whenever true thoughts of God and of life control men's minds. And there Isaiah prepares us for the message of Jesus.

It will always be the mark of a society in which the true God is acknowledged, that the members of it stand together; that they help one another. The ideal society, indeed, is a Society of Friends. But, if that be so, then we ought to judge ourselves by our nearness to, or our distance from, such an ideal.

The charge is made against us who are called Christians that we are apt to be indifferent to the social conditions in which we live. Where we are acutely religious we are preoccupied---so it is alleged---with our own soul, with its ups and downs of feeling, and away in the background, with an intermittent anxiety as to our destiny after death. When we have ceased to be acutely religious we have become really indifferent to everything except our own material interests, which we may go so far as to admit are secured to a certain extent by the prevalence round about us of those decencies and quiet habits which religion on the whole safeguards. And so we, without intending anything so crude, may fall into a way of patronizing religion, on the ground that though we ourselves may not need its maxims or its threatenings or its promises, nevertheless it is good for the masses of people who without it might become troublesome and dangerous. But whether we are acutely religious, or whether in our case religion, having lost for us its edge and direct necessity, has now become a merely decent custom for which we can see reason enough to be at some small pains lest it die and worse things befall us---in either case, so it is alleged of us today, sometimes sadly, sometimes with bitterness and contempt---we think of religion, of Christianity, as a plan or scheme by which our own individual interests, whether those be conceived as a deep thing or a shallow thing, are secured both in this world and in any world which may follow upon this one.

It may seem to us strange that good people could ever imagine that they could be pleasing God if they lived selfishly---no matter how fine that selfishness might be. Certainly we know better. Things do move. The true, and, when all is said, the only business of Christianity is that by the help of God working through its laws and promises and presences, souls may one by one be saved. But it may be that God has given to our time a truer, deeper understanding of what it means to have one's soul saved. Saved from the assault of animal passion? Yes, that indeed. Saved from some numbing memory, from some maddening remorse? Yes: blessed be God we may be saved from that, and must be if we are to live without shame and fear. But saved from much besides these. For the animal life which threatens us all has manifestations other than that of unbalanced sensuality. What is the spirit of self-seeking but the dominion over our soul of the animal propensity, from which a man is saved only when his heart is generous and kind. In fact we are beginning to see that the phrase 'to be saved,' as expressing the business and fruit of the Christian faith and obedience, is a partial and incomplete expression. What we are always forgetting is that God's purpose is not to save us, but to save the world. It is because we form a part of the world that we come within His love. Whatever He has done for us He did for the sake of the world through us. Whatever He has given us He gave as a loan, that we might let it out to the world.

When Holy Scripture sets before us an ideal as here in Isaiah's vision, we who take our religion from the Bible must look upon that ideal as supplying us with our task. For we cannot claim to believe in a thing until we dedicate ourselves to the achieving of it. We must not even pronounce a thing beautiful or desirable or good unless at the moment we mean that it is something for which we hold ourselves ready to act and to plan, and for the sake of which we should think it no hard thing to suffer loss.

The only question, therefore, for us, first one by one and then in groups, communities, countries, to be agreed upon, is as to whether this ideal which Isaiah declared to be God's desire, an ideal which our Lord approved and baptized into the name of the Kingdom of God---whether that ideal touches our imagination and persuades us of its glory. A world in which men do not strive with one another, conceiving of success as something to be gained by anothers defeat, taking pride in another's overthrow! A world in which one nation shall be as concerned for another's welfare as though it were her own---as indeed in the long run it is her own! A world in which a man shall be to another as an hiding-place from the wind, as a covert from the storm; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a rock in a weary land! A world in which anything conflicting with such an ideal shall be tolerated only under a sad sense of necessity and always only as a temporary thing, to be removed at the earliest possible moment and hurled into the limbo of shameful and discredited things! To believe in such a world, and to plan its coming---what is that but to be a Christian!

In Christ, timothy. maranatha