RELIGION AS LIFE
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
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THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd.
RELIGION AS LIFE
HENRY CHURCHILL KING, D.D., LL.D.
PRESIDENT OF OBERLIN COLLEGE
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
yf// rights resewed
TO l^^y ""OV.K
ASTOP, LENOX AND
R 1924 L
By the MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up, and eleetrotyped. Published May, 1913.
J. 3. Gushing Co. — Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A
I. The Choice of Life .
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The Method of Life .
The Realities of Life
The Sources of Life -i, ; .,
The Enemies of Life . ''/ . ^''; .
The Essence Of Life . " >: './'.'/
RELIGION AS LIFE
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THE CHOICE OF LIFE "i.};?
The Peril of the Lesser Good
If one is to do justice to the breadth of
hiiman nature, he may not forget that
there are always two questions to be asked
concerning any of the phenomena of the
world and of life : How did it come to be ?
What does it mean ? — the question of
process, of mechanical explanation, and the
question of meaning, of ideal interpreta-
tion. And men cannot help asking the
second question as well as the first. As
Watts says, endeavoring to put into words
the constant thought back of all his own
work as an artist: ''As long as himianity
is himianity, man will yearn to ascend
the heights that htmian footsteps may not
tread, and will long to lift the veil that
shrouds the enigma of being; and he will
most prize the echo of this longing in even
the incoherent expression of literature,
RELIGION AS LIFE
music, and art." The ideal interests are
here aU at one ; tor they all seek to find
meaning in life, and they all voice an under-
lying faith, , w.hich, it may be suspected,
fir ds its natural and inevitable culmination
and justification in religion. One probably
has nowhere fathomed the mysterious power
of beauty, for example, until he finds in it,
as Lotze has suggested, the prophecy and
promise of final and universal harmony —
an essentially religious conviction.
The very conception of religion as life,
implies that religious faith is thus basic,
and has the power everywhere to give
meaning and value to life ; that it stands in
every realm for the largest, richest, most
rewarding life. Even when religion is so
conceived, the question that first arises is
this : Does one really want life, the largest
life, though it appear in the guise of diffi-
culty and self-denial ? Does one decisively
choose it with his whole being ? — the ques-
tion of the choice of life. The second ques-
tion then follows : Can one get some clear
view of the method of life, and see here
the essential unity of religion with all life,
in the double demand for inner integrity
THE CHOICE OF LIFE
and fellowship ? That method, it will be
found, inevitably includes an honest facing
of the facts of life, a thoughtful recognition
of the outstanding realities of the spiritual
world. Just because the method of life
includes, also, as everywhere requisite,
fellowship, men are driven to find the great
sources of life, short of God himself, in the
most rewarding personalities of the moral
and religious sphere, and so to give special
place to the great line of prophetic seers of
the spiritual, culminating in Jesus. But the
whole range of the moral and religious life
is in the realm of personal relations, and one
has not fully learned the lesson of the life
of Jesus, nor squarely faced the facts of
life, until he has confronted the enemies of
life arising out of these personal relations.
This darker side cannot be honestly ignored.
But it is the characteristic message of the
life of Jesus, that the enemies of life cannot
finally defeat the true soul in its quest for
the largest life either for itself or for others.
In clear vision of the darker aspect of life,
therefore, religion may still conceive the
great outstanding personalities and realities
of the spiritual realm as at least a partial
RELIGION AS LIFE
revelation of the will of God, and must find
the essence of its life in harmony with that
will of God. For religion must ultimately
mean some real sharing in the life of God
himself. It is such a survey of religion as
life, that is here undertaken.
Our age is often called an irreligious —
an unideal — age. The truth of the state-
ment may well be doubted. The age is a
realistic age, in the sense that it wants to
know that everywhere it is dealing with
reality — that it is not deceiving itself
with even the fondest of delusions. And
from that test religion has no right to with-
draw itself. But that the age is averse to
religious life and faith where they have
the ring of reality, it would be difficult
indeed to show. Men cannot so easily
escape their own natures and the grip of
their own birthright.
The seeming declension in religious faith
is probably due in part to the waning power
of authority in the religious sphere, because
of the increasing demand in this realm, as
in all others, for the verification of expe-
rience. But this is, in truth, an evidence
of greater not less earnestness in the
THE CHOICE OF LIFE
pursuit of religion. For it is a refusal to
substitute the mere say-so of some other
for living experience on one's own part.
In that result every believer in the insight
of the teaching of Jesus may rejoice ; for
Jesus sought nothing else so persistently
as this utter reality in the spiritual life.
He has indeed no plea to make for any
religion that does not mean the experience
of a larger, richer life. He deliberately
courts that test: ''I came that they may
have life, and may have it abundantly."
He has no criticism of men's thirst for life.
He only has pity that they seek to satisfy
the thirst at such unpromising springs.
He could not have objected to the line of
argument of a great German theologian,
that the truth of rehgion is best shown by
the fact that it alone can quite satisfy
men's ''claim on life." That must seem
to him the most obvious inference from his
own initial faith in the Father. Life —
large and rich and free, increasing, inex-
haustible life, because sharing in God's
own life ! This, religion must be able to
offer, if it is to abide. For man cannot give
up the quest for life. Can religion still
RELIGION AS LIFE
make good this offer even for the modern
All forms of frivolity and passion, even,
think of themselves as seeking life. The
men who yield to them say that they want
to ''see life" ; that they want to ''live while
they live." And there is a certain uncon-
scious logic in their claim ; for they all
seek some kind of emotional excitement.
Now it is quite true that one cannot get
the tang of reality in existence without some
stirring of emotion. None of us has any
right to forget this close and inevitable
connection of the sense of reality with
feeling. The claim of feeling, therefore,
cannot be ignored by any interest or cause,
however ideal. Unless religion, then, has
power to awaken such faith and hope and
love as insure profounder depths of feeling,
as are able to make all the natural joys of
men instinct with far richer meaning, and
as can give permanent satisfaction to the
greatest in us, it must fail.
The momentous building up of the senti-
ment of romantic love, in the history of
western civilization, is a good illustration
of the way in which ideal interests have
THE CHOICE OF LIFE
this power immensely to deepen and
heighten natural feeling. And romantic
love cannot come to its supreme height
without full religious faith, as many of our
best love songs quite unconsciously testify.
Now exactly the kind of transformation
that the ideal interests have brought about
in the natural attraction of the sexes,
religion believes that it can bring into
every part of life. And it blames the
devotee of frivolity and passion, because
at every point he prefers the shallow and
fragmentary and steadily lessening and
self -centered life, to the profounder and
larger and steadily growing and all-em-
bracing life open to him. It sees, there-
fore, how inevitable was the yearning pro-
test which the old Evangelist put into
the mouth of Christ: ''Ye will not come
unto me that ye may have life." The
thing that so stirs the soul of Jesus is, that
men are so constantly striving to satisfy
the quenchless thirst for life, of natures
capable of endless development, with at
best petty goods. So Browning in his
Easter Day sees that no severer judgment
could be pronounced upon a man, willingly
lo RELIGION AS LIFE
falling below the best, than that he should
be permanently shut up to the goals he
himself has chosen :
The austere voice returned, —
' So soon made happy ? Hadst thou learned
What God accounteth happiness,
Thou wouldst not find it hard to guess
What hell may be his punishment
For those who doubt if God invent
Better than they. Let such men rest
Content with what they judged the best.
Let the unjust usurp at will !
The filthy shall be filthy still !
Miser, there waits the gold for thee !
Hater, indulge thine enmity !
And thou, whose heaven self -ordained
Was, to enjoy earth unrestrained,
Now the gradual building up, in all pro-
gressive civilizations, of some kind of ideal
interests, means that it is the experience
of the race that men cannot continuously
get more life without deepening life. It
is a necessarily narrow life that stays on a
mere sense level. The choice of the larger
life must mean, therefore, just such steady
deepening of life. The very existence,
indeed, of art, of science, of philosophy.
THE CHOICE OF LIFE ii
of ethics, of sociology, and of religion is
evidence that man is more than a creature
of the senses; that it belongs to his very
nature to set aims that take him beyond
the sense world ; that each of these achieve-
ments is an ideal which man's own nature
sets before him for accomplishment — is,
in Miinsterberg's language, ''a child of
duties." From the point of view of re-
ligion, therefore, that believes in God as
Creator of man, body and soul, these ideals
are all at least a partial revelation of the
will of God for man ; and religion may be
said thus to take up into itself all the other
ideals ; and, alone of all the ideals, to give
man's life the permanent meaning of re-
lation to the Eternal. The religious life,
therefore, should give the greatest deepen-
ing of life possible.
Our own time, with all its prodigious
material and intellectual achievements and
its unequaled material development, it-
self seems more and more to be awaking
to the fact that no one nor all of these are
sufficient of themselves to give meaning
and value to life. The world never had
such enormous resources of power and
12 RELIGION AS LIFE
wealth and knowledge, never so great
means of all kinds. We are, indeed, in
danger of finding our lives swamped by
the very magnitude of our possessions.
Just because our resources are so prodigious,
there is the indispensable need for men of
spiritual insight and vision and passion,
men of assured relation to God, and there-
fore men of dynamic power to guide these
stupendous lower forces to ideal ends.
Thoughtful men, thus, seem constrained
increasingly to ask themselves whether
the age is to be great enough to be able to
make these stupendous resources, means
indeed. Eucken's protest, making just now
so wide an appeal, is surely symptomatic
of the time, '"io every thinking man,"
he says, "the great alternative presents
itself, the Either-Or. Either there is some-
thing other and higher than this purely
humanistic culture, or life ceases to have
any meaning or value." "Not suffering,"
he says elsewhere, "but spiritual destitu-
tion is man's worst enemy." But spiritual
destitution cannot be relieved from with-
out. It requires, indispensably, inner
spiritual activity, growing insight, decision
THE CHOICE OF LIFE 13
and choice on one's own part. Any truly
spiritual view of life must therefore put,
as Eucken does, this free choosing and
decision in the foreground. Even the in-
tellectual inheritance of the achievements of
modern science cannot come to a man with-
out earnest labor and appropriation on his
own part. Still less can the meaning of the
spiritual life be his without active personal
It is not by accident, therefore, that one
is led to put at the very beginning of any
thoroughgoing consideration of religion
as life, the choice of life, — and that choice
as made with all ethical earnestness and
decision. We may well raise the question
whether our time, in the reaction from abuse
of mere appeals to the will — has not been
ignoring quite too much the strategic place
that definite and avowed decision must
have in the development of the spiritual life.
Dr. BushnelFs account of his own expe-
rience may suggest how vitally important
such spiritual decisions may be. "A kind
of leaden aspect overhangs the world.
Till, finally, pacing his chamber some day,
there comes up suddenly the question,
14 RELIGION AS LIFE
' Is there then no truth that I do believe ? '
'Yes, there is this one, now that I think of
it ; there is a distinction of right and wrong
that I never doubted, and I see not how I
can; I am even quite sure of it.' ^ Then
forthwith starts up the question, 'Have
I then ever taken the principle of right
for my law ? I have done right things as
men speak ; have I ever thrown my life
out on the principle to become all it re-
quires of me ? ' ' No, I have not, con-
sciously, I have not. Ah ! then, here is
something for me to do ! No matter what
becomes of my questions — nothing ought
to become of them, if I cannot take a first
principle, so inevitably true, and live in it.'
The very suggestion seems to be a kind of
revelation. It is even a relief to feel the
conviction it brings. 'Here, then,' he says,
'will I begin.' " That striking scene in the
history of Israel, in the Valley of Shechem,
with Israel divided into the two groups on
Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, to re-
spond, the one to the curses and the other
to the blessings, between which they are
to choose, sets forth dramatically the per-
petual challenge to himianity. For life is
THE CHOICE OF LIFE 15
constantly saying, as there: ''I have set
before thee Hfe and death, the blessing and
the curse. Therefore choose life that thou
mayest live." No man chooses a curse as
such. He chooses it under the guise of
some kind of good, or as at least accom-
panied by a good that seems to him to
make up for the curse. Man's peril is
always, therefore, that of the lesser good.
And it is this peril that demands so insis-
tently the choice of life.
There is a section of the teaching of
Jesus, in a single chapter in Mark (Mark
10), that deals with exactly this peril of
the lesser good in three of the common
realms of life : the realms of wealth, of love,
and of ambition. These teachings may well
challenge our attention when we are thinking
of what it really means to choose life.
It is a characteristically compact and
vivid picture which Mark gives of the young
man who runs to Jesus, as he is going out
into the highway, throws himself on his
knees before him, out of the consciousness
of a clean and upright life voices his further
aspiration and wins from Jesus his look of
love, only to find himself unable to respond
i6 RELIGION AS LIFE
to Christ's full call to abandon his wealth
and follow him, and goes away with fallen
The ordinary reader of the Gospel, it
may be suspected, would underwrite this
incident of the rich young ruler with the
subtitle, ''A Hard Test." Dante, with
keener insight, calls it ''The Great Refusal."
For it is exactly this common inability to
see that the failure to meet the hard test
is a great refusal of life, that makes life's
tragedy. We see the hardness of the test ;
Jesus and Dante see the greatness of the
life refused. For here, in this New Testa-
ment incident, is the appeal of eager, beau-
tiful, upright, aspiring youth. Jesus loves
him and covets for him a far greater destiny
than he has yet achieved — high service
in his kingdom. But the young man's
riches are too strong for his aspiration. He
cannot rise to the height of Jesus' call.
Reluctantly, indeed, but surely he puts the
great opportunity aside — for it was the
proffer of life in the guise of self-denial.
Not, thus, in desperate wickedness, but in
simple peril of the lower good, he makes
' ' the great refusal. ' '
THE CHOICE OF LIFE 17
The story is a perpetual parable of human
struggle ; for life's supreme test and chal-
lenge are never — as men so commonly
think — Can you withstand the evil ? but
rather, Can you rise superior to the lower
goods ? The constant struggle is between
aspiration, on the one hand, and one's
already ''great possessions," on the other.
Everywhere life brings the challenge of
the call to denial of the lower ; the soul
responds either with the great commit-
ment or ''the great refusal."
This figure of the rich young ruler is one
fit to stir any man to serious thought.
For his is no sordid soul. He is still warmly
touched with the eager aspiration of youth.
The spell of the "great possessions," it is
true, is already on him, as Christ clearly
sees ; but it has not yet been fully wrought ;
he is no "swine of Circe" who does not
longer care. And one can hardly help
imagining a different issue of this conversa-
tion with Christ. Suppose the rich young
ruler had risen to the occasion and the
result were changed ?
The test which Jesus applies seems very
severe to us, with our modem love of riches,
1 8 RELIGION AS LIFE
and it is hard enough. But his ''great
possessions" were all too evidently coming
to own him, rather than he to own them ;
and they were sure to corrode his life. The
question which Jesus really brought to
him that day on the highway was, Have
you the nerve, the grit, the simple, plain,
high wisdom to cut off this deeply corroding
element that is eating into your very life ?
It seems a hard test. But suppose he
had met Christ's challenge and followed
him positively, to play such a part as Paul
played ? Suppose he had been clear-sighted
and strong-souled enough to enter into his
supreme opportunity ? Who would have
pitied him ? Would he have needed any
one's pity, and not rather had deep admira-
tion and the envy of all high souls, and
given heroic inspiration, and have become
one of the great life-giving forces of the
world ? Something like that he had before
him. Something like that Jesus offered
him that day in the guise of his severe test.
In soberest reason, were his ''great posses-
sions" worth the price he paid? Did he
not make "the great refusal" ?
It is a hard test ? Yes, but how great
THE CHOICE OF LIFE 19
the opportunity ! For the seeming hard
demand — the call for sacrifice in the uni-
verse of God — is always a call, could
we but believe it, to larger life, to wider
outlook, to more permanent service. And
life's constant question is, Are you equal
to the call ? Can you rise to it ? Can you
meet the challenge of your best possibility ?
Or must you be ''let off"? Can you so
feel the appeal of the greater glory as to
loosen the hold of the lower on you ? Can
you escape from the thralldom of the in-
ferior good into life ? We have great as-
pirations and occasional visions ; have we
the determination to follow them to the
end, or, with fallen countenance and sor-
rowful spirit, must we go away from the
uplands of life, enchained by our ''great
It is a hard test ? Yes, but were the
"great possessions" so sure a blessing?
Had they so much to give ? Had they
rather no heavy price which they were
certain to demand, and were they to take
it out of the young man's life ? It is this
aspect of the matter that is so forced on
Christ's mind as, in words of the most
20 RELIGION AS LIFE
solemn warning, he comments on the going
away of the rich young ruler.
Three times, in unmistakable terms,
Jesus asserts his sense of the tremendous
peril of wealth. ''How hardly," he says
to his disciples, ' ' shall they that have riches
enter into the kingdom of God." And this
solemn warning of Jesus we are ready to
treat almost as a joke. We are ''willing,"
our newspaper paragraphers say, " to run
the risks of wealth." But let no man think
it a trifling risk, or one lightly to be entered
on. For the danger of the rich young
ruler, we may be pretty certain, is one of
the greatest dangers that besets our own
people to-day, nationally and individually.
When one recalls the revelations of the
recent years, beginning with the insurance
investigations, and remembers the shame-
less willingness disclosed ever3rwhere to
sacrifice public interests to private gain, he
cannot doubt the magnitude of the peril
to the nation's life.
It was one of the most thoughtful of
American editors that wrote of this phase
of our national history: "That we are
passing through a great moral crisis be-
THE CHOICE OF LIFE 21
comes every day more clear. That crisis
has come not a day too soon, if the soul of
the country is to be kept alive ; it cannot
be too severe in its arraignment of baseness,
too thorough in the punishment it inflicts,
too drastic in the methods of cleansing and
reinvigoration which it adopts. There has
never been a more shocking story of dis-
honor told among any people, nor one
which makes the reader or hearer more
indignant or ashamed. In whatever direc-
tion the light searches, instantly mean
little men of great financial position come
into startling light, and are seen managing
affairs with great financial ability but with
the moral ideas of semi- savages. An un-
endurable moral vulgarity stamps them
as men of large brains and little souls ;
capable of great material achievements,
but with rudimentary spiritual development.
On this group of betrayers of trusts the
great mass of Americans looked first with
incredulity, then with astonishment, and
lastly with deepening indignation. Sound
at heart, but dull with prosperity, and
overtaken by a kind of moral sleeping sick-
ness, the Nation opens its eyes, looks about
22 RELIGION AS LIFE
with dismay, and gathers its forces for a
passionate fight against the vices that have
brought shame and disaster to it."
And since those words were written, how
heavy has been the price paid in dishonor
for simple greed for gold by a long list of
men, who had been held in public esteem
— some of them high in religious councils.
It is a list to make a man sick at heart.
Was the money worth the price ? How
surely this passionate pursuit of wealth be-
comes soul-absorbing, blinding the eyes,
paralyzing the higher powers, blunting the
sense of honor, a veritable disease and in-
sanity, without compensating reward and
without worthy goal ! And how almost
certainly must children be sacrificed in the
process! Unless wealth is subdued by
higher ends as only a subordinate good,
unless it is made means in very truth, it
insures not enlarging but steadily lessening
life ; we have been defeated by the peril of
the lower attainment.
Our whole age, as we have seen, has
peculiar dangers at just this point, because
of the very magnitude of its resources.
Prodigious material prosperity is with us
THE CHOICE OF LIFE 23
— and it is a good beyond doubt — pro-
digious enough to blind and smother all.
It is not strange that we are a little dizzy-
headed. But its challenge is unmistakable.
We cannot evade it. Can we stand it ?
Or must we be drowned by it ? Can we
save our lives ? Are we great enough, as
a nation, to make the material, means only,
to use it for high service ? If so, only
ideals and enterprises great enough and
spiritual enough to dominate these gigantic
material interests can save us here. We
have no choice.
But the peril of the lesser good is not to
be found in the pursuit of wealth alone.
And in his record of the teaching of Jesus,
Mark puts side by side with the perils of
wealth, the perils of a false love, and the
perils of a false ambition. For ''the great