David Hummell Greer.

Visions : Sunday morning sermons at St. Bartholomew's, New York online

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Do you still continue to believe in it just as
much as you did, or do you then begin to have
some little doubt about it, some little misgiving
about it, saying to yourself at times, '' while it is all
very beautiful, and admirable, and very good and
true, when looked at from a distance, yet person-
ally and practically and near to, it won't work, it
won't go, it won't do ; it is too good."

I said that not all of you are members of the
Christian Church. Is not that the reason of it, or
one of the reasons at least, and the principal one
perhaps, especially in the case of some of you men ?
You have great respect for Christianity ; you show
it; you think it a good thing; you believe in it.
Most persons do, in some kind of Christianity — •


most persons in Christendom, I mean. But you
do not Avant to come into too close quarters with it.
You do not want to make it your Christianity. Sit-
uated as you are situated, living as you are living,
as you think you will have to go on living in this
world, you doubt whether you can make it your
Christianity. And, inasmuch as that is what you
would have to do in becoming members of the
Christian Church, you do not become members of
the Christian Church. If you ever should take
that step, you say, you would be very different
from some members of the Church that you know.
Indeed you would, perhaps from most of them.
But then you do not take it, and the rest of us
do not have the benefit of your illuminating exam-
ple, your high, ideal. Christian life, showing us so
consistently and so admirably what the Christian
religion is. You do not take it ; and why ? Be-
cause — isn't this the real " because " ? — when it
comes to the actual living of that high, ideal
Christian life, your faith in the practicability of
it is weakened in you, a little ; it is too high, too
ideal, too good to be true — for you. At a distance,
and theoretically, you believe in it. Practically,
and near to, you are not quite so sure about it.
And so you do not come near. Think it over, and


see if that is not the reason ! — Doubt sometimes a
sign of coming near to Jesus Christ,

Let me give you another illustration. Some-
times the Christian religion comes near to us ; not
by any effort upon our part to make it come near,
but without any effort upon our part to make it
come near. Yet it comes near. As long as we
can believe in the Christian God at a distance, we
do not have much trouble in believing in Him ; and
the revelation of Him which Jesus Christ has given,
as a good, loving Father God, caring for His chil-
dren, we accept as true. That is the Christian faith ;
that is our faith. We see some things at times
which are hard to reconcile with that Christian
faith in a good loving Father God, painful things,
distressing things, apparently cruel things, acci-
dents, calamities, bereavements, many kinds of suf-
fering, very sharp, very severe, very hard to bear,
happening in the world. But as long as they hap-
pen far away, in Siberia or China or Africa, and
do not come home to us, we are able still to regard
them, not with indifference altogether, yet with
acquiescence, as part of the Christian scheme, part
of the Christian plan, symbolized by the cross,
which, in His better wisdom, for the bettering of
the world, the Christian God has devised. In spite


of all those suffering things, we still continue to
hold our faith, in the good Christian God. Some-
times they do come near, they strike home, they hap-
pen to us ; and the things we see and read about
we are made to feel, and the Christian plan or
scheme, symbolized by the cross, reaches out and
touches and takes and gathers us into its grea£
comprehensive coils, its thick nebulous folds. We
are no longer standing at a distance from it ; we
are near it, in it, part of it. The Christianity of
the cross has come to us, to be our Christianity ;
and the cross which symbolizes it is our cross, and
symbolizes us, our scourging, our Avounding, our
loneliness, our darkness, our seeming God-forsaken-
ness, taking away our happiness, our peace, our
comfort, our home, as though He did not care !
Where then is our Christian faith ? What has be-
come of it ? Do we hold it then, or do we let it
go a little ? I think we let it go a little ; doubting
for a time at least what we have believed. And
why ? Because we have come near to the Christian
religion ; Ave have penetrated to its inmost sanctu-
ar}^, Avhere the cross is ! And the goodness Avhich
there is seen is too high for us, too ideal, too good.
We can not understand it. Blinded by our tears it
does not look like goodness, and Ave can only cry


aloud, and say, "O, help our unbelief!" Doubt,
sometimes as a sign that we are coming near to
Christ !

Another illustration of a more general character
let me give.

Why is it that so many of us to-day seem to be
troubled so much with doubts of a historical or of a
speculative character, concerning Jesus Christ, the
message of Jesus Christ, the story of Jesus Christ,
His birth and life and death, and what He taught
and did, and how He came and went, as in the
Gospel records we find that story told ? Are not
those records as worthy of credence now as they
ever Avere ? They are more worthy of credence
now than they ever were. Every new discovery
made, of parchment or of tablet, has tended to con-
firm them. True enough, as everybody knows,
they are not the original records of the story of
Jesus Christ. There are no original records of the
story of Jesus Christ. They are not in existence.
We do not have them. But neither do we have the
original records of the annals of Julius Caesar, or of
the histories of Tacitus, or of the letters of Pliny,
or of the Lives of Plutarch. They are not in exist-
ence ; not one of them. Those we have are copies,
some of them quite old, but none of them any older


than the records Avhich Ave have of the story of
Jesus Christ, and many not so old. And the
records which Ave ha\^e of the story of Jesus Christ
are ten to one more numerous than the records
which AA^e have of any other Avriting or of any
ucher Avriter in that ancient Avorld. And the
Avhole tendency, of modern criticism, for the past
hundred years, has been, as in every scholarly critic
seen, of every school of thought, in every civilized
country, a tendency going to shoAv that the records
Avhich Ave have of the story of Jesus Christ are
faithful and true reproductions of the original
records ; and that those original records Avere
Avritten at the time to Avhich they are assigned, and
by the men to Avhom they are attributed ; and Avho
have given us the story of a life Avhich they could
not possibl}^ haA^e iuAxnted Avithout supposing them
to have been the most consummate literary artists
that have ever appeared in the history of the Avorld.
And if they Avere not that, as surely they Avere not,
then must Ave regard their story as genuine and true.
Why then do some of us doubt that story ; the
story of that life, that death, that Avonderful life
and death, and still more Avonderful life again after
death ? Why do Ave doubt it ? Because the proofs
of it are so meagre *? Xo, because they are not so


meagre. Because they are so few ? No, because
they are not so few. Because, by means of all these
evidential processes, so voluminous, so varied, so in-
disputable, these critical inquiries, these historical
investigations, these manuscript discoveries, these
documentary findings; because, by means of all
these new and opening paths, we are travelling-
back across the centuries, and coming very near to
Jesus Christ to-day.

Never was any age, since His own contemporary
age, so near to Jesus Christ as is this present age.
Never did any age, since His own contemporary
age, know so much of Jesus Christ as does this
present age. And standing to-day as in His pres-
ence, we find it hard to believe in Jesus Christ, as
the people in His presence did when He was on the
earth. And we, like them, are dazzled by the
brightness of His vision, so very bright^ so ideally
bright, so transcendentally and divinely bright, that
it darkens and obscures ! So good it seems, with
its great, quickening hopes, its illuminating visions,
its sublime declarations that we find it hard to
credit it ; too good it seems to be true !

That is the significance of much of the doubt
Avhich by this age is felt. It is a sign that the age
is coming near to Jesus Christ, and receiving a vision


of Ilim. Nearer still will it come, rising above its
doubts, or pushing through its doubts, leaving its
doubts behind, and finding at last, that what for a
time it doubted because it seemed so good, too good
indeed to be true, is just as true as good.

So did the man in the Gospel story find it. So
have some of us found it. So more and more will
many others find it. If on any of you, the dark-
ness now is resting, of some bewildering experience
which you cannot understand, or some bewildering
problem which you cannot solve, do not become
careless or hopeless ; do not become hard and
callous and worldly. Stand by your highest ideals !
Hold them fast ; do not let them go ! Let them
still persist in you. And from that darkening
doubt a morning light will dawn, a deeper peace
will issue, a stronger faith will come ! You too
shall find that the ideal is the real, is always the
real, and that what is best is true. And Jesus
Christ is real, and Jesus Christ is true ; not a beau-
tiful dream, dreamed by the world in its childhood
long ago, and floating down through the ages, but
which now, in its awakening manhood, the world is
pushing aside — Ko, not a dream. Yet it is a
dream ; it is the dream on earth of God, in a real
life, with bodily parts and members, having hands


and feet, which more and more will guide and in-
spire and illumine the world, and lift it up more
and more to righteousness and God, casting out
and exorcising more and more all the evil things
and evil spirits in it !


The hook of the vision of Nalium the Elkoshite. —
Kaiium i. 1.


This you recognize as the prefatory and descrip-
tive title of one of the books of the Bible. It may
with equal propriety be regarded as the prefatory
and descrij^tive title of every other book of the
Bible, both of the Old Testament and the New —
the book of the vision of David, the book of the
vision of Isaiah, of Jeremiah, of Malachi, of Saint
Paul, and Saint Peter and Saint John. Each of
these persons wrote in a book what in passing
through the world he was able to see in the world,
then gave that book to the world, or left it behind
him in the world, as his vision book, to the Avorld.

That, it seems to me, is what each of us is doing,
as I will try this morning to show you ; giving,
each of us, to the world, some vision book of the

One of the first questions that people are apt to
ask us when we have visited and travelled through
some strange and interesting country, is " What did
you see there ? What impressed you the most
while there, engaged the most your attention, ex-



cited the most your interest ; what impressed you
most ? What did you see ? "

It is a natural question to ask; it is a natural
question to answer. And in various ways and
fashions we try to answer the question ; sometimes
by writing letters when we are on the journey ;
sometimes, if we are endoAved with literary instinct
and ability, by Avriting books after we have re-
turned from the journey, Avhich may be regarded
as our " vision books " of the journey, or our vision
books of the country through which we have made
the journey.

Now, there is one strange and interesting coun-
try, very strange and very interesting, through
which we are all passing even Avhen we stay at
home and do not travel at all ; and that is the
world itself. We have never been here before, at
least i presume we have not, or not at all events
in the same shape and fashion in which we are here
now ; we shall never be here again. This is our
only journey in and through the world. And the
question that people ask, is " What do you see on
the journey ? " They do not always ask it in just
those words, perhaps ; nevertheless they ask it, for
they, too, are making the journey, and they want
to get all the help and light about it they can ; and


therefore tliey ask of us, and we ask of one another,
" What do you see on the journey ? "What are you
able to see ? " And in one way or another, whether
or not we realize it, we are all answering that ques-
tion, we are writing books about it, not with pen
and ink and mechanical type, yet nevertheless we
are writing books about it. Our lives themselves
are the books, our aims, our efforts, our ambitions
in the world ; the things we try to do, and think it
best to do, and most worth while to do ; our lives
themselves are the books, our vision books of the
journey, or our vision books of the world through
which we are making the journey ; not the vision
books of the apostles and prophets, of Jeremiah
and Malachi and Saint John and Saint Paul, not
their vision books of the world, but our vision
books of the Avorld. Or, if you please, they are our
bibles, which people read and study, and get their
inspiration from, sometimes their desperation !
However much they may fail to read and study to-
day those other and earlier Bibles by apostles and
prophets written, they read and study our bibles,
the bibles written by us, revealing to the world or
to the people in the world how we view the world,
and what upon the whole we see the world to be.
They are our vision Ijooks of the world.


AVhat kind of vision books are they, good ones
or bad ones, right ones or wrong ones, true ones or
false ones ? What are the visions worth ? "We
cannot surely say ; but some day, so we are told,
those vision books will be opened, more fully
opened than now, their contents more fully dis-
closed and tested by some infallible judgment test
as to their permanent value and worth. Then we
shall see and know, not perhaps till then, what our
visions are worth, and whether or not, or to what
extent, we have been mistaken in them.

In order, however, that we may be as little mis-
taken as possible then, let us look for a few mo-
ments at some of our visions now, or some of our
vision books.

There is first of all the physical vision book, or the
physical vision by us of the physical world about
us. And that is the vision of the world, and the
only vision of it, or the principal vision of it, which
some of us seem to have, the only kind of vision of
it which we seem to show, and which, as in a book,
our lives to-day reveal. It may be a little book, a
poor, cheap, little book, not worth much, with but
few pages in it, and not much written on them,
constituting tlie record of a poor career in the
world, which does not look as we read it like any


career at all. Or it may be a large and sumptuous
book, elegantly bound, with many pages in it, il-
luminated and rich, with many great achievements
and many great successes written upon those pages ;
a large and sumptuous book. And yet, whether
little or large, it is simply a book that reveals the
physical world about us, with the physical pleasures
in it, and the physical treasures in it, physical titles
and tenures and properties and fortunes. That is
the kind of vision, that is the kind of world, which
as in a book the lives of some of us reveal. When
that book is opened at last, what will its vision
be worth ? Valuable now as it seems to be, Avill
it have any value then ?

But some there are who give us another kind of
vision, of another kind of world ; which, as in a
book, their lives also reveal. It is the poet's vision
book, the artist's vision book, the student's, the schol-
ar's, the thinker's vision book, to whom the physical
forms of the physical world about them are simply
forms of thought, in which that thought is bodied
forth and clothed and expressed. These are the
men and women who lift us up to see some ideal
world, and make us feel the reality beyond this
physical world, of some ideal world ; who, in con-
nection with the physical world about us, give us


''The sense sublime
Of somethint; far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the liglit of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky ; and in the mind of man
A s])irit and a motion that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought.'*

These are the men and the women who somehow
make us feel that the music which on earth with the
physical ear we hear, is but the physical voicing of
a music Avhich with the physical ear we are not able
to hear. That the beauty Avhich with the physical
eye we see, is but the physical flash of a beauty
which with the physical eye we are not able to see.
That all the light that breaks with pulsing morn-
ing flush or evening twilight glow over land or sea,
is but the physical radiance or adumbration there of
a light that never was as yet on either land or sea !

These are the gifted men and women among us ;
poets, artists, students, scholars, thinkers, dreamers
we sometimes call them, wlio lift us up I say to some
ideal world, and make us feel the reality of tliat
ideal world, which as in a book their lives to-day
reveal. And when that l)ook is opened at last, what
will that vision be worth ? Insubstantial as now it
seems, will it he substantial then ?

There is still another and higher vision wdiich


some people have to-day, which does not seem con-
nected much with any kind or form of physical
sense within them. There is living at present in
Kew York City a young girl, who is deaf and dumb
and blind. Can you imagine it ? Take it in slowly, —
deaf, and dumb, and blind ; with only the sense of
touch ! But wonderful things does she see ! I
doubt if there is any one else in all New York City
^dlo sees such wonderful things, such beautiful
things, so wonderfully and beautifully true, and felt
at once to be true when she reveals them to us, as
Helen Keller sees ! ^ It is the vision of a soul,
shining through the face, lighting up the face, and
bodied forth with a voice she has been taught to
speak, but which she cannot hear. The vision of a
soul, seeing and apprehending, with its fine spiritual
sense, that kingdom of God in the world, which
you and I, my friends, with all our physical senses,
and because of them perhaps, trusting in them so
much, relying upon them so much, cannot so clearly
see, and sometimes doubt and question and do not
see at all !

It is the vision of a soul, apprehending more or
less, and bearing Avitness to, that spiritual world
about us for which religion stands, and which, by

'She was living iu New York wbeu this sermon was preached.


faith and prayer and worship and praise and song,
and every sort of religious rite, purifying the soul
and clarifying the soul, men and women have tried
in all the ages to see, Avhich you and I try to see,
and sometimes do, a little. And moments of vision
there are, in our highest moods and best, when the
slumbering soul within us seems to feel the power
of some awakening touch ; and when breaking away
from the prison bars of sense and outward things,
it seems to be moving about for a time " in worlds
not realized " by the physical faculties in us.

We have all had such moments. And yet, as we
know too Avell, they are only fleeting moments, and
that the vision does not stay. Once, however, there
Avas seen a soul upon this earth, clothed and bodied
forth in flesh and blood like ours, but shining through
that flesh and blood and transfiguring with its ra-
diance the bodily form that encased it, and reveal-
ing to men the beauties, the wonders, the realities
of a kingdom of God about them, and whose life
like no other that has ever lived was the vision book
of God. It was the vision of Jesus Christ ; in the
light of which, as we walk in it, we too shall see
and feel and shall ourselves reveal to the Avorld,
within, around and above the world, a more en-
during world.


These are the vision books ; the vision book of the
eye, the vision book of the mind, the vision book of
the soul, the vision book of Jesus Christ. When
these books are opened at hist, which of them will
be found the truest and the best : that is the ques-
tion which you and I, now, each for himself, must
somehow try to determine.


Christ in you, the hoj>e of glory. — CoLOSSiANS

i. 27.



Ijs" the chapter from which these words are taken,
Saint Paul has been describing at considerable length
the greatness of Jesus Christ. He calls Him the
image of the Invisible God, in Whom all the fullness
of the Invisible God appears, the Firstborn from
the dead, the Firstborn of all creation, by Whom
all things were made, in Whom they all consist.
That is strong language to use, even of one who has
proved himself as great as Jesus Christ ; and we
read it noAv, as the world has always read it, with
some degree of astonishment. But how much
greater is the astonishment when we find it used,
not only with reference to Jesus Christ, but with
reference to others ; and that after Saint Paul de-
scribes, so vividly and graphically, the wonderful
manifestation of the power and wisdom of God in
the historical Jesus Christ, he says to those to
whom he writes, " This Jesus Christ is in you." .

It is of that — not Jesus Christ in history, not
Jesus Christ in the Bible, but Jesus Christ in you,
that I wish to speak.

You remember when upon one occasion our Lord



was holding a colloquy Avith the Jews, He said, to
their surprise, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to
see my day ; he saw it and was glad." And when
they turned and said, " Thou art not yet fifty years
old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" He said, to
their still greater surprise, " Verily I say unto you.
Before Abraham was, I am." That is usually taken
to mean that Jesus Christ Avas Divine, that Jesus
Christ was God, that He did not begin to exist
when first He appeared in history, but that He has
always existed, is self-existent, as God is ; that
there never was a time when He began to be ; that
there never will come a time when He will cease to
be; and that like God, He can say of Himself,
I am.

Well, it does mean that, I think. Yet something
else it means. Let me illustrate. The little tree
that grew, and bloomed and blossomed and ripened
and brought its fruit to perfection upon that distant
plain of Mamre, where the patriarch Abraham
lived, Avas in one sense a distinct, separate and in-
dividual tree, existing by itself and apart. And
yet, Avhen Ave remember Avhat our physical science
has taught us and caused us noAv to knoAv, so vividly
to know, that everything in the vegetable Avorld
which ever did exist, is vitally connected Avith


everything else in the vegetable world which exists
now or ever shall exist. When we remember I
say that all the vital forces that energized and
worked in the vegetable world of the past are
energizing and working in the vegetable world to-
day; then, of that little tree upon the plains of
Mamre long ago it might be truly said, it might
say, imputing human speech and human vision to
it, that in looking upon the power that was work-
ing and growing in it, it saw indeed the power
that Avould thereafter work, that would thereafter
grow, in something else than it, and bigger and
more than it. It saw in itself the power, it saAV
in itself the principle, it saw in itself the life that
works and grows and blooms in all the varied
glory of our summer life to-day. It saw it in itself,
that summer bloom and beauty ; it saw it in itself ;
it saAV it and was glad. As all this summer beauty
and summer bloom might say, "Before that tree in
Mamre was, before any tree was, when nothing ex-
isted in all the world but one little germ of a tree,
then, now, always, in it all, I am ; one growth, one
beauty, one bloom, one principle of life ; in it all,
I am.^''

Something like that is what I also understand
Jesus Christ to have meant when He said to the

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Online LibraryDavid Hummell GreerVisions : Sunday morning sermons at St. Bartholomew's, New York → online text (page 3 of 12)