The Way to Conviction

John 7:17.---'If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself.'

Everyone who is in living contact with the influences of our time, those tendencies of thought which go so far to determine the characteristics of any age, is conscious in every sphere of life of a questioning of authorities. Received opinions are everywhere at a discount. And with all this, especially among the most serious observers of modern life, there goes an intense desire to discover new authorities to replace the old, authorities which by their nature can command the allegiance of the mind, as well as ensure the discipline of the will.

Now that particular feature and that outlook of today is, perhaps, more clearly reflected in the sphere of religious thought and life than in any other department. There have been ages when to mention the authority of the Church was sufficient to secure instant and unquestioning obedience. There have been ages, too, when, among other sections of Christian people, to arrive at a general consent as to the meaning of Scripture was to settle at once any question in debate without reference to the outside opinions. And among a large number of earnest Christian people that still holds true today. But whatever our own opinions may happen to be in these questions, it is certain that for the large majority these authorities have lost their hold, at least so far that they are no longer received and obeyed without question. Nor does it seem that the dogmatic method, the reiteration of the word of authority, will avail here. The only means of securing its acceptance today is to show that the word spoken, or the command issued, is the speech and command of truth, and to discover a way by which men may arrive at that truth. That is precisely the need which is meant in these words of our Lord.

In the first place, then, we are brought face to face with the fact that our Lord's authority was a great subject of dispute by the men of His own age. That was not because they distrusted the notion of authority in religion. Far from it. They held tenaciously to the authority of their old law books and the Divine sanction to their customs and observances, and because the teaching of Jesus seemed so often to contradict and opposed time-honored beliefs they were led, naturally, to question His right and standing as a Teacher sent of God. The most obvious thing which they were led to say was that His teaching was a collection of private opinions, having no more weight and authority than the opinions of any other individual. In a word, they accused Him of 'speaking of Himself,' of pitting His own opinions against the Divine sanction of the law and the sanctity of ages of experience. We might almost venture to say that Jesus seemed to invite the accusation. For as we search His teaching we discover that He made little or no attempt either to enforce the truths at which He arrived by train of reasoning, or to support them by an appeal to the authority of past. Indeed, He seemed to set His own word against those authorities deliberately, and give to men no other reason for a change in opinion than the fact that it was his word. 'Ye have read in the Book of the Law how Moses says,' 'but I said you.' The difference between Jesus and contemporary teachers of religion is put into a sentence in St. Matthew's Gospel at the close of the Sermon on the Mount. The Scribes spoke by authority, and all their instruction was supported by quotations and extractions from ancient authorities. Jesus followed a different method altogether. He spoke as one who possessed in Himself the right to speak, spoke with the intensity of personal conviction and insight and experience, and we read that 'the people marvel because he spoke with authority.'

But that was not sufficient for those who clung to old-time authorities. They wanted to know the authority behind the word, not merely the authority in the word. And so they asked Him for proof. How are we to be sure that the voice of God breathes through your message, where are your credentials?---that was the sense of the questions which they put. We may not be able to draw a close analogy between the situation in that age and the situation in our own. The difference, of course, lies in the fact that men today question the authority of Christ from another standpoint altogether. But they do question it with the same intensity. How are we to be sure, they say, that the hopes and promises of the gospel rest upon the solid foundation of truth, and not upon the shifting sands of the imagination? How can we be confident that the way of life taught by Christ---the spirit He revealed in an act as well as in word---is the highest of all? In questions like these the mind is seeking for some authority behind truths commonly taught and accepted. The question is still the same: How are we to be sure that the voice of God breathes through the message of Christ? The doubt is still the same, the feeling that Christ may have been 'speaking from Himself.'

If our Lord had demanded unquestioning obedience---the mind which is absolutely submissive and makes no demand for satisfaction---He would not have answered this question at all. That He did respond to this inquiry as He responded to all sincere inquiries inspired by genuine difficulty, is proof enough, if proof be needed, that He valued intelligence discipleship above a submissive following, and left the widest scope for the individual mind. In a word, His authority was, and is, consistent with mental freedom. In His call for personal and willing allegiance the free homage of the mind has a large place.

How, then, did Jesus guide men in their search for authority? What test did he suggest to them as a means whereby the truth of His words might be discovered? The surprising discovery that we make is that He set aside the intellectual test. He did not say that men could find the authority behind His words by a process of reasoning. So long as His teaching and revelation were allowed to remain upon the plain of the theoretical and the abstract its authority would continue to form a subject of debate. Jesus did not say, 'If any man will make My teaching the subject of honest and painstaking mental inquiry he will discover its truth, and so come to know the credentials of the Teacher. 'His emphasis falls on another faculty altogether. It is the man who 'willeth to do the will of God who shall know the teaching, that it is of God.' I've seen pretty clear ever since I was a young `un, as religion's something else besides notions. It isn't notions that sets people doing the right thing---it's feelings. It's the same with the notions in religion as it is with the mathematics---a man may be able to work problems straight off in his head as he sits by the fire and smokes his pipe; but if he has to make a machine or a building, he must have a will and a resolution, and love something else better than his own ease.

If any man sets himself earnestly to put into practice the revealing of God's will in the doctrine He taught, he will surely come to know that the doctrine is of God. If he will heed and obey the authority in the word, he will be left in no doubt about the authority behind the word. Conviction, that is to say, comes by practice. Mental certainty of the deepest truths of the religious life is the fruit of moral obedience. It is not difficult, then, in the light of this truth to picture the steps by which the first appeal of our Lord to the soul deepens into a conviction of the Divine authority of His word. The two-fold revelation of His teaching and His life comes to a man. He feels that once their appeal. Something in his heart and conscience responds and says, but this is the highest voice that has spoken to me. I feel this must be true, there's authority in this word for me. He does not stop to balance the claims of the Teacher. He takes what has been revealed to him, and because of that first appeal goes out into the great laboratory of life resolved to follow the light that he has seen. He trusts the teaching sufficiently to experiment with it, and to obey. In the measure of his fidelity he becomes convinced that the voice of God speaks in it. And so the authority which Jesus claimed becomes verified in the experience of those who follow in His steps. They will to the will of God, and the result is that they come to know the teaching that it is of God.

"I wish I had your creed, then I would live your life," said a seeker after truth to Pascal, the great French thinker. "Live my life, and you will soon have my creed," was the swift reply. The solution of all difficulties of faith lies in Pascal's answer, which is, after all, but a variant of Christ greater say, 'he that willeth to do the will of God, shall know that teaching.' If it is in following Christ that we learn most of Him, and in making Him our way we discover that He is the truth and the life. For, as we strive to live in the spirit of His teaching and life, the vision of His moral greatness grows upon us day by day, our sense of His authority deepens, mastering every faculty and power within us, and we say and heartfelt confession, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' That is, surely, the only pathway of discovery. It is impossible to explain Christ, or to estimate His authority until we have touch with Him in our life experience. And when we have that living touch no explanation seems too great. That was the path along which He led His first disciples. They did not commence with any opinions as to their Master. They felt the appeal both of teaching and the Teacher. They were summoned to follow Him, and that call they obeyed. Day-by-day they were close to Him, learning His doctrine, seeing His works, sharing in His companionship. They willed to do the will revealed in Him. And our Lord did not press them for any confession as to Himself. He let the days of experience bring their own lessons. He did not speak much of Himself to them, but the path of humble following led to the same end. They came to the conviction that in and behind His teaching and Himself was God.

Some years ago a piece of plastering fell from the wall of the refectory in an Italian convent, and revealed the existence of a fresco painting which successive coats of whitewash and hidden for centuries. With infinite pains the whitewash was scaled off and a magnificent picture of one of the old masters stood in full view. The picture showed marvelous resemblance to the style of Raphael, and all Italy was excited by the dispute as to whether he or some other was the painter. Now, there were two classes of evidence: First, the external: The records of the convent, the life of Raphael, the painters marks upon the picture; of these every one could judge. But there was, secondly, another kind of evidence---internal---the tone and spirit of the painting, the style and expression of the whole---of this only those could judge who knew and loved the works of Raphael. The only competent judges were found to be those who for years had sat before Raphael's pictures, striving lovely to copy them.

Christ's authority cannot be measured by the minds interpretation of Him, and it is useless to endeavor to explain Him until we have lived with Christ, and striven to follow Him. Only when a man has put his trust in Christ, a trust deep enough to include obedience, does he begin to make the greatest discoveries. Then out of the experience of everyday life lived in touch with Christ's there rises a vision of His moral majesty, and not until that vision has filled the soul with wonder are we in a position to explain or interpret Him. The way of approached to religious truth is by the lonely path of humility and obedience. There is no other way. The path to all great discoveries has been simple, patient observance, the willingness to try and test and experiment. And simple is the path that leads to the greatest discovery of all, 'He that willeth to do.' Christianity refuses to be prove first and practiced afterwards; its practice and itds proof go hand in hand. In Christ, timothy. maranatha