Charles Fiske.

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DEC 16 1918

BR 121 .F6 1918

Fiske, Charles, 1868-1942

The experiment of faith

The Experiment of Faith


The Experiment

A Plea for Reality in Religion

By the Right Reverend

Bishop Coadjutor of Central New York

Author of "Back to Christ" "Sacrifice and

Service" "The Religion of the

Incarnation" etc.

New York Chicago

Fleming H. Revell Company

London and Edinburgh

Copyright, 191 8, by

New York: 158 Fifth Avenue
Chicago: 17 North Wabash Ave.
London : 2 1 Paternoster Square
Edinburgh: 75 Princes Street


THE writer was university preacher
recently in a great collegiate town.
He was feeling his way towards
the message he was to give the young men
and women who would hear him the fol-
lowing week. He spoke to several of the
students about it and to one member of the

One of the students, with the frankness
of youth, replied : " Preach on anything ex-
cept the war; we have been ' fed up ' on
that." Another, a rather serious-minded
young Churchman, said : " Suppose for a
change you give us some straight Chris-
tianity; we get mighty little of it from the
ordinary college preacher."

The enquirer took these suggestions to
his faculty friend and asked what he made
of the criticisms that lay beneath the sug-
gestions. As he interpreted the thought of
the men, it would appear that many people
in these days are thinking about spiritual
things more seriously than ever before.
They want to find their way to some definite


Christian belief. They ought to be shown
some definite Christian work. " It is true/'
said the speaker, " that we have had a pretty
steady stream of preaching about the Great
War. One after another the clergy of every
faith have come and philosophized about it;
one after another they have moralized over
its lessons and made appeals to patriotism
or religion. Of course we cannot get away
from the subject. It colours all our think-
ing. But what we need is not so much
direct preaching about the war as preaching
which shows that the man who speaks is
conscious of our thoughts and longs, with
all his soul, to give us some light on faith's
pathway in these dark and troublous days.
The war brings many spiritual problems to
the front. They are the same old problems
we have always had with us, only now they
stand out more sharply defined. Why
should we not be told something of the an-
swer of Christian faith to such questions —
always with the war in mind, but never with
the war dragged in? Try it" And then
he added: "And if you can show us how
faith is possible and what can be said to
help the man who gropes towards it falter-
ingly, so much the better."

The substance of these chapters was


given in the addresses which followed
during that week of preaching. Some of
them have been twice repeated since, very
informally, in conferences for college men.
Their apparent helpfulness, in such in-
formal use, is the excuse for their publica-
tion in somewhat fuller form. They could
not, of course, deal with all the questions
suggested by our college friend; they only
drive home one moral. They are, it will be
seen, an appeal to men now outside the
Church to seek to find their way in — both
for their own sakes and for the Church's

The pathway of faith to which they point
is no new road; but so many have failed to
walk it! This essay is a plea for reality in
religion. Its theme is this: that faith is
not mere intellectual assent to a creed, it is
the consent of the whole man, mind, con-
science, heart, will, to the will of God as
revealed in Jesus Christ. Because faith,
essentially, is receptivity of soul, to know
the truth we must strive to live the truth.
The vital requirement of religion, there-
fore, is fidelity to present faith, obedience
to accepted truth. As we live true to the
truth we know, we pass on to larger truth
and richer belief. Faith is "the seeking


spirit of desire " — the spirit that obeys, ap-
propriates and uses and so comes to trust
and believe.

That being the case, the believer in Jesus
Christ comes to his faith only through
genuineness and sincerity of life. He who
would believe must be absolutely real in
following. The book attempts to deal
frankly and sympathetically with the diffi-
culties of faith which keep many men out-
side the Christian fellowship, but it harks
back constantly to the demand for sincerity
of discipleship as the one pathway to belief.
If, in doing this, the obligations of religion
are pressed home somewhat insistently for
the " unattached followers " of Christ, they
will not complain when they discover that
the shortcomings of Churchmen are dealt
with no less frankly and with equally plain

C. F.

Syracuse, N. F.i



Unattached Followers



The Ultimate Test



The Average Man's Religion



The Other Half .



Letting Oneself Go .

* 49


The Forgotten God



The Joyous Yea .



A Radiating Gospel .



The Essence of Prayer



The Unveiling of Deity



The Fact of Immortality .



Where the Sky Begins



Communicated Character .

. 146


Judgment Days of God

. 156


The Demand for Reality .

. 169

The Experiment of Faith


JESUS CHRIST has many unattached
followers, men of strong religious feel-
ings and convictions who are not en-
rolled anywhere as Christian believers and
feel that they cannot honestly identify
themselves with any church. Such men
are found in every class of society. We
run across them often among working men,
who are more and more growing away
from institutional Christianity. We meet
them, with greater frequency, in the busi-
ness and professional world, where minds
are keenest and thinking clearest. Their
presence is specially forced upon our atten-
tion in these days of war. All around us are
men who are consecrating their lives to the
service of humanity, who are doing Christ's
work and yet have not the stimulus of fel-
lowship in Christ's army. That is our loss


as well as theirs, and it is hard to say for
which of us the loss is the more tragic.

One of the big problems of the Church
to-day is the man outside. So often he is
the very man we need inside. What keeps
him out? How shall we get him in? What
shall be the terms of admission? He is
asking these questions as seriously as we
are. The very fact that he does ask is proof
that he wants to come — if he can.

We are concerned now particularly with
the man who does want to come. There
are other men outside who have little or
no interest in the matter. Some are quite
satisfied to stay outside because they have
drifted into a sort of " phariseeism of the
publican." No; they do not belong any-
where — why should they? There are so
many hypocrites in the churches already —
they say. Others again (so we are ex-
pected to believe) are so faithful to their
ideals that they consider it a sufficient ex-
cuse for not belonging to any church to
state somewhat violently that they dis-
approve (as who does not?) of there being
so many churches to choose from. Still
others cannot see the need of a church at all.
In a time of war, when millions of men are
massed on many battle fronts, they believe,


apparently, that the real way to prosecute
the Christian warfare successfully is to fight
a guerilla campaign and so they refuse to
serve in any division of the already pathet-
ically divided army of Christ! These hope-
lessly antiquated folk may be left out of
reckoning for the present. They are not
really thinking men. They think they are
thinking, when actually they are only " re-
arranging their prejudices."

We have another type of men in mind
now — that large body of men, keen of con-
science and deeply religious at heart, who
are not able to accept the formulated
standards of faith as set forth in the creeds.
They are usually very quiet about it. They
say little, unless some one else starts the
discussion. They speak, then, less in de-
fense and protest than in sincere regret.
They would like to believe more if they
could. They feel that there ought to be a
place for them, even if they cannot believe.
Some of them have a very mistaken notion
of the faith they cannot accept. They are
really rejecting something which is not
Christianity. For there is a wide difference
between doctrinal Christianity as popularly
understood and actual Christian orthodoxy.
We rightly ask that he who denies Chris-


tianity shall be at pains to discover what it
is he is denying.

Yet there are multitudes of other men
who have more or less carefully studied the
Christian creeds and for one reason or
another cannot honestly and without equiv-
ocation accept their definitions. To find a
message for such men has always been a
challenge to Christian thought. It is more
than that — it is a call to sympathetic and
appreciative effort. If we could bring them
to kneel with us at the Lord's Table, we
should both gain by their coming. It is our
shame that we have not realized before how
much we need them. It is their loss that
they have not sought with more patience
and humility to find their way to Christian

There are, of course, difficulties on both
sides. Believers have failed, possibly, to
understand the real longing, sometimes a
very hunger of the heart for faith, in men
who have not found in any Christian com-
munion a sufficiently simple test of fellow-
ship. There is no church, giving them the
warm, living faith they long for, whose
standards they can fully accept. There is
none where they can believe more than half
that is taught and preached — and when they


say this they say it more in sorrow than in

There was a time when the Church gave
such men small sympathy. Their lack of
faith was ascribed to the wiles of Satan ; the
test of orthodoxy was rigidly applied; the
doubter was kept out, or cast out, with

The fault was not all on the side of
the conservative and the orthodox. The
heterodox were just as proficient in passion-
ate denunciation, certainly were as dogmatic
in their denials as the convinced theologian
was dogmatic in his assertions. That tone
and temper of mind has not altogether
passed. Witness Mr. Wells's theological
acrimony in his God the Invisible King.
The entertaining author thinks he has
discovered God. Like Mr. Chesterton's
yachtsman (who slightly miscalculated his
course and landed on what he supposed to
be an uncharted island of the South Seas,
only to learn in the morning that he had
beached his boat near Brighton), Mr. Wells
has really discovered nothing. He has
simply been groping after truths which have
long been taught in Christian pulpits, had
he but known it. The new and strange
thing, however, in all the discussion his


theme has aroused, is the appreciative sym-
pathy and kindliness with which Christian
critics have received his philosophizing, con-
trasted with the irritating irreverence of the
philosopher's own lively attacks upon be-
liefs which these same Christians hold most
sacred. It is just as unquestionably true
that in other days all the theologians were
not black-hearted heresy hunters and all the
heterodox disputants saints with souls as
white as angels' wings. Bitterness was not
all in the camp of the orthodox.

Nevertheless, undeniably, the conscien-
tious objector to current theological belief
usually found little sympathy or understand-
ing. His questionings were received in
horrified silence ; his denials met with indig-
nant denunciations. Later, though the
tests of orthodoxy were not applied so
promptly nor so rigidly, there was slight
appreciation of the position of the perplexed
enquirer and less honest effort to face his
difficulties. Naturally, therefore, he be-
came hardened in doubt. We are learning
now to understand something of the real
goodness of many a modern Thomas.

Yet, what are we to do with him? Sup-
pose we abandon all credal requirements,
including in the Church all who express a


desire to follow the Lord Jesus, without
enquiring what they believe about Him.
It might be conceivable that we should so
admit men to church fellowship on the
simplest possible profession of discipleship.
Some Christian communions are already-
doing it. They are not growing any more
rapidly than other Christian bodies. Cer-
tainly they are not manifesting a more vital
Christian activity, with a largeness of
vision and a world-wide mission such as
attracts men of the great heart.

The Church rightly feels that its very life
depends upon its setting forth fully and
convincingly the deposit of faith which it
believes it has received. And not its life
only — that gives the wrong emphasis — but
the life it lives to give. Surely it is not
unreasonable so to regard its obligation.
This conception of duty arises out of the
profound conviction that the ideal which we
call the Christian life sprang out of the
Christian faith. "We cannot unravel the
threads which knit the character which we
know in its developed form as Christian,
from the creed which appears, at every
single point of the character, as its inherent
and vital background." Dogma is not
merely preached as dogma. We believe it


to be practically impossible to maintain for
long the moral beauty of the Christian char-
acter without its doctrinal basis. Is not
militant Prussia the natural fruit of a hybrid
Christianity, with a dash of Nietzsche
thrown in? "The thing committed to us
is the whole mind of Christ; and Christ can-
not be divided." Men may be unconscious
of the influence, but the Christian life they
are trying to live has survived only in a
Christian atmosphere of faith. Their
strength is partly an inheritance; partly it
has been imbibed from the " diffused Chris-
tianity " which has silently moulded their
thoughts and quickened their consciences
from youth on.

Faith is not mere intellectual assent;
it is the consent of the whole man (mind,
conscience, heart, will) to the will of God as
revealed in Jesus Christ. The end of faith
and worship is life. If this is so, the Chris-
tian faith is vitally necessary. Its presenta-
tion should be as simple as possible, reduced
to real essentials; but in these essential
elements it must be consistently presented
and fully preserved, because out of it springs
the Christian character. In it also is ex-
pressed a definite loyalty to Christianity's
Founder. The essence of the creed is this


expression of allegiance to Christ. He is
its center and core. Once this is recognized,
he who would follow Christ will at least
approach humbly and prayerfully, patiently
and sympathetically, to the examination of
its simple fundamental statements about
the Master for whom they profess reverent
loyalty and to whom they would give faith-
ful service.

When this has been said, we have at least
reached a new point of departure. The
realization of our common purpose may,
perhaps, lead those who would consecrate
their lives to the work of Christ to examine
afresh the faith of Christians. The doc-
trines of Christianity are the logical ex-
ponents of its facts, and the facts are the
basis of its life. We accept the doctrines,
not as mere items of information, but as
interpretations of that life — the life to which
we would re-dedicate ourselves in these
days of splendid service; the life we must
try to understand if we would also strive to
imitate it.



WHAT is religion's essential re-
quirement, its ultimate test? If
we say that doctrinally it cannot
be more than the simplest Christian creed —
the short, unelaborated, apostolic statement
of Christian truths as the logical exponents
of Christian facts — may it be less than that?
Shall we gladly allow the freest possible
interpretation of the creed? Even though
the Church maintain " the deposit " as its
own standard, must it always be required,
at the outset, of all who would come into
the fold?

We cannot dismiss with a flat denial those
who would so simplify the requirements for
lay membership. They would still urge
that doubtful believers be received into
membership and communion, in order that
they may grow into fuller understanding
and acceptance of the Church's doctrine,
just as we receive disciples whose ethical
standards are unformed and whose exhibi-


tion of Christian virtues is very imperfect,
meanwhile training them to become more
consistent Christians.

The purpose of this essay is not to bal-
ance arguments over conflicting views as to
doctrinal requirements for Christian fellow-
ship ; but to insist that there is one essential
requirement which must be pressed home,
whether a man believes much or little.
Essentially faith is receptivity of soul. It
is the spirit which trusts, believes, obeys,
appropriates. The first enquiry, therefore,
which we address to the troubled questioner
has to do not with the quantity of his faith,
but with its quality. If he is to be received
into Christian fellowship, is he at least in the
mood to desire larger and richer belief?

Something like that we ask, or should ask,
of morally imperfect converts. We must
not practically make it possible for anybody,
with an easy conscience or a fat pocket-
book, to become a church member some-
where — though the rivalry of sectarian
Christianity has so broken down moral dis-
cipline, that often it would appear that this
has become the actual situation. What we
ask of the man of imperfect Christian
practice is this: Do you want to do better?
What we must ask of the man of incomplete


Christian faith is phrased in similar lan-
guage: Do you want to believe more? If
you desire faith, you must have receptivity
of soul. Are you sure, then, that you want
to believe? Have you a mind — no, have
you a heart — open to the light? Tennyson
puts it in some stanzas of In Memoriam, two
lines of which are often quoted out of their
context :

Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,

At last he beat his music out.

There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.

He fought his doubts and gathered strength,
He would not make his judgment blind,
He faced the spectres of the mind

And laid them : thus he came at length

To find a stronger faith his own.

When Lincoln was accused of being an
infidel, he answered with simple directness
and gave some account of his earlier strug-
gles towards faith. " I do not claim/' he
added, " that all my doubts have been swept
away. It may be my lot to go on in a
twilight, feeling my way as doubting
Thomas did; but in my poor effort I bear
with me, as I go on, that seeking spirit of
desire for faith which was with the man of


olden time who cried, ' Lord, I believe ; help
Thou mine unbelief.' "

Here is real faith, even though it be not
the fully formulated faith of a professed
Christian. What we need is to accept it, in
full appreciation of its vitality, as a step to-
wards " the faith " — that is, towards the
point where the seeker finds in the formu-
lated doctrine the answer to all his long-
ings. If the way can be made easy by any
free interpretation of the creed which does
not deny the historic sense outright, so
much the better; but what is most needed,
and what he most has the right to ask, is a
full appreciation of the vitality of his present
faith, a glad acceptance of it as that which
lies at the core of Christian experience, a
ready confidence that if it is genuine he will
be guided into other truth.

Is it genuine? That is the point. Has
he, indeed, the spirit which trusts, appro-
priates, obeys? May it not be that his fail-
ure to go on to fuller truth is due to a flaw
in his present self-surrender? The child-
like spirit is of the very essence of faith.
The modern Nicodemus must be born again.
He is a good man who cannot perceive the
Christ because too well satisfied with him-


Once more: receptive faith means not
simply the spirit of desire, but the spirit of
obedience. Nicodemus must try to live
the truth he knows — and try hard enough to
lose some of his self-confidence. " I do not
vex myself any more with questions I can-
not answer," says J. R. Green; "I am not
impatient, as I used to be, with vagueness
and dimness. I see that we must live, to
know ; to know the right, we must live the

Here we have a test that cuts, too, across
the path of the man whose statement of his
belief is letter perfect, while yet he has
never, apparently, made his intellectual ac-
ceptance of " the faith " lead him on to
" faith " in its more vital sense. Has he
been putting the chief emphasis on a form
of sound words, instead of stressing the
spiritual values of the great truths which
the creeds declare?

That, after all, is the main thing — to find,
not merely the contents, but the content
of the creed. We must make it clear be-
yond peradventure that this ethical and
spiritual content of Christian truth is its
raison d'etre. There must be no insistence
on doctrinal tests without making plain the
reason for safeguarding doctrine. That


reason has ever been the same : belief is not
a bare acceptance of facts, it is an atmos-
phere to be breathed, a life to be lived; it
becomes real faith only when it colours all
our conduct.

It makes a vast difference the moment we
begin to put the creed that way. It means
that we take it as a working hypothesis and
try it out in life by putting it to the test of
practical experiment. Anything that meets
this test is vital.

I believe in God — what does it mean but
that I start with the assumption that there
is a Moral Governor over the universe and
that I mean to acknowledge His will as the
moral law of conduct? That is something
vital. Try it out and see whether it does
not give life a new colouring. Hard to
believe in a divine moral government in
these days? Yes, of course. But give it a
trial. Let your thought play around it and
your imagination take hold of it. Before
long you will discover within yourself, in
the white light of this truth you are testing,
the explanation of the problem of evil with-
out. In your own lifelong disobedience you
will find the root and source of the world's
moral disaster; and knowing so positively
the still insistent demand of the moral law


you will grow steadily more sure of the
Moral Governor. If we love justice and
hate evil, is it not God's own spirit that has
taught us?

Then, next, you will need God the
Father — Some One who knows and cares
and loves and pardons. Well, you try out
that article of faith. You begin to act to-
wards God with an understanding that
Fatherhood implies sonship and that love
desires a return of love. And next: Jesus
Christ. Before you deny His divinity, try
to find out the ethical significance of such a
faith. What does it mean but the realiza-
tion of the divine in us; else how could God
and humanity come together in the Person
of the Christ? What does it mean but a
new appreciation of the brotherhood of men
in Christ, an understanding of the inefface-
able relation between man and man? Try
that out in all human relations. Sink your
differences and look for the fundamental
virtues common to all men. Finding them,
trace them up to Christ and see how they
reach their perfection in Him, the manliest
of men, who embodies and fulfills all your
ideals. There is no article of the creed
which cannot be tried out that way, with the
possible exception of the Virgin Birth, and


even there the difficulty disappears when we
take the fact in its right order. But of
that later.

Enough has been said to indicate our be-
lief that the Christian creed is really the
foundation of the Christian character. The
one is built upon the other. When one
goes, the other, sooner or later, will surely
go with it. And enough has been said,
also, to point out faith's open gateway.

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Online LibraryCharles FiskeThe experiment of faith; a plea for reality in religion → online text (page 1 of 9)