David Hummell Greer.

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

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us no more convincing proof.

Something like that is what I mean by finding in
ourselves the proof of the Christian faith, or by not


finding in ourselves perhaps the proof of the Chris-
tian faith. For, with reference to the Christian
faith, there are, and there always have been, t\vo
chisses of persons. Some there are to whom it
does not seem to appeal. They are not the kind of
persons whom it seems to suit. The key of the
Christian faith does not fit them ; and no amount
of proof, hoAvever good and strong, is strong enough
to prove it ; for there is no proof in them, no in-
trinsic proof for the extrinsic proof to touch and
take hold of and grapple with and bring out, into
the validating consciousness of a self-evidencing

There are such persons in the world. There al-
ways have been. It is a type ; existing at Athens
long ago, existing now in Xew York. A certain
type of person, or a certain kind of person, not of
necessity bad, nor unscrupulous, nor uncultivated ;
often quite the reverse, agreeable, companionable,
intelligent. But he does not seem to have the re-
ligious instinct in him, or in whom it has not yet
appeared, or in whom perhaps it lias been crowded
out by other things and interests, worldly things
and interests, Avorldly immersions and absorptions,
so that he has become in consequence worldly
through and through, from surface down to centre


and out to surface again. Whose maxims are
worldly maxims, whose standards are worldly
standards ; secularized, materialized, and some-
times — not in his moral principles but in his sensi-
bilities — vulgarized a little ; with no longing in him,
no aspiration in him toward some ideal life, toward
that ideal life which in Jesus Christ the Christian
faith presents. He does not feel it ; he does not
have it ; he does not know what it means. When
Ave try to press that Christian faith upon him it has
often seemed to produce, as of a key in a lock which
it does not fit, a harsh and grating sound, not alto-
gether unlike a scornful mockery in him ! Keep it
out of his way, and he has nothing to say about it,
and is simply indifferent to it ; but press it home,
and then — that is something for priests and old
women and little children, not for me — a scornful
mockery in him !

That was one of the effects produced by the
preaching of Saint Paul at Athens. "Some
mocked ; others said. We will hear thee again of
this matter." That, too, is one of the effects which
the preaching of the Christian faith has since pro-
duced. How has it produced it ? ^ot chiefly by
an argument, learned and labored, trying thus to
prove to men that the Christian faith is true ; but


simply hy the Christian faith itself, stating it,
preaching it. Men they were, to whom it seemed
at once to appeal ; Avho, when they heard it, were
moved to say, " That is good ; that is right ; that is
true. It fits us, it suits us, it is just the thing we
need to explain us, to reveal us, to fulfil us ; There
is something in that ; we Avill hear thee again of
this matter." And so they did.

So it was at the first, when the Christian faith
was preached. So it has been since when the
Christian faith has been preached. It is that Avhich
has kept the Christian faith alive, and the preach-
ing of it alive, going on and on, week after week,
year after year, century after century, gathering
the people together, in congregating assemblies, in
temples, in Churches, in great cathedrals, out on
the plains, in the open fields, under the open skies.
It is that which has kept the Christian faith alive ;
not controversy, not disputation, for religious con-
troversy, like other controversy, often fails to con-
vince. And the end of a disputation is so often
seen to be, not the agreement of the disputants,
bringing them closer together, but the estrange-
ment of the disputants, putting them farther apart,
with each of them moi-e than ever convinced that
he alone is right !


Ko, not by controversy, not by argument, did
the Christian faith prove itself to those who heard
it first, or to those who have heard it since. It
had, and it has, better proof than that. Men heard
it, and men hear it, because it seems so well, so ad-
mirably to fit them, to explain them, to bring to
light the hidden things of darkness in them, to
make things in them clear which are not clear
Avithout it ; proving itself to be true by finding its
proof in them, than which there is no better, or
more convincing proof, or, if you please to call it
so, more scientific proof ! For that is scientific
proof — something that explains things not other-
wise explainable. That was the way in which — if
I may partly borrow here and adapt the phrase of
another — that Avas the way in which a Galileo
proved the true motion of the world. That was
the way in which a Kepler proved the true at-
traction of the planets. That was the way in
which a JSTewton proved the true mechanism of the
heavens ; or a Lyell, the true antiquity of the
earth ; or a Darwin, the true descent and origin of
animals and plants upon it : by a something that ex-
plained things not otherwise explainable, and find-
ing its proof in them.

So does the Christian faith prove itself to men,


by explaining things in men, deep, dark, hidden,
not otherwise explainable, proving itself to be true
by finding its proof in them. And how it does ex-
plain them! It was the Christian faith of the
Kesurrection that Saint Paul had been preaching at
Athens, the Christian faith of another life, or
rather of the continuance, the uninterrupted, un-
broken continuance and going on of this life. And
how that does explain us, and what there is within
us. Those wonderful and mysterious, yet real yearn-
ings and longings and aspirations in us, after some-
thing, we know not what ; those visions of the
ideal which we cannot reach ; and loves, and
hopes, and dreams, broken now and thwarted and
limited by the earth, yet breaking aAvay and going
beyond the earth, and trying by beauty, by art, by
speech, by music, b}^ song, to express themselves,
yet cannot ! They shall at last come out, says the
Christian faith, and life shall be fulfilled. Yes,
how it explains things, which otherwise have no
meaning. How it explains things in human life
at large, its incompletenesses, its apparent inequi-
ties, its wrongs, its sharp distresses, its pains, its
failures, its cruelties, which make us feel at times as
Ave look at them, not only that there is no love and
no mercy in the universe, but no justice, no right-


eousness, no fair dealing in it. Which make us feel
at times, as we look upon them, that this great
Power or Being that we call God is not as good as
man is, and does not care as much ; for it all seems
so harsh, so pitiless, so cruel, and we cannot under-
stand it !

Bring in the Christian faith, and we do under-
stand it. The story of human life is not told yet.
The picture of human life has not been painted yet.
Human life itself is not completed yet. We shall
hear again of this matter. For it is not finished
yet; it is going 'on and on, to something else and
more, its broken fragments gathered, its broken
hopes united ; going on and on through the school
of God on earth, to its real Commencement time,
where it shall begin to be at last itself !

How many things it explains, if we only had time
to speak of them, thus proving itself to be true to
us, by finding its proof in us.

O, men and women, if there are such here,
searching, ever searching, for proof of the Christian
faith, " dropping buckets into empty wells, and
growing old in drawing nothing up " ; still search-
ing, searching and saying, " O, that we knew Avhere
we might find it ; " come, search for it in human
life, and find it in yourselves. Listen to Jesus


Christ ; and more and more as you hear Him will
you be moved to say, " That is good, that is right,
that is true ; it is better than we knew, it is truer
than we thought ; We will hear thee again of this
matter ! "


Thomas said, Except I shall see in his hands the
■print of the nails, and put 7ny finger into the p)rint
of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will
not helieve. — St. John xx. 25.

Then Peter turning ahout seeth the disciple whom
Jesus loved folloioing i which also leaned on his
hreast at supper. Peter seeing him saith, Lord, and
what shall this man do f Jesus saith %into him. If
I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee f
Then went this saying abroad among the hrethren,
that that disciple should not die. — St. John xxi. 20
and part of the following verses.



The apostles of Jesus Christ seem to have been
selected by Hhn, not capriciously and at random,
but very carefully, and because they constituted in
themselves certain types of character, through
which His Gospel message, or through which rather
He Himself was to be mediumized and interpreted
to the Avorld. Those personal types of character
were apparently permanent types of character, ex-
isting then and existing now, and representing now,
as then, different ways of looking at and approach-
ing Jesus Christ.

Two of those personal and permanent types I
will ask you this morning to consider ; namely.
Saint Thomas, who speaks in the first text, and
Saint John, who is spoken of in the second ; or the
critical spirit and the loving spirit, and what they
have to say and teach concerning Jesus Christ, and
the value of their testimony.

Criticism has always been a most important func-
tion, and the critic a most important functionary in
the attempted ascertainment of truth. But, what



is criticism ? And who is the critic ? The word,
as you know, literally means separation, discrimina-
tion, the taking of things to pieces, thoughts,
theories, opinions, or whatsoever other things it is
directed toward, searching, sifting, dissecting, tak-
ing them to pieces. Criticism, therefore, is essen-
tially a negative function. Yet not on that account
any the less important. Sometimes it is necessary
to take things to pieces. They have not been put
together in the right way. They have been put
together in the wrong way, like the blocks in a
puzzle, or the letters in a game, which have been
so arranged by some unskilful hand that the con-
clusion which they yield is not a right conclusion,
and the answer which they give is not a right
answer. When that is the case, then the first thing
to do is to separate and take them to pieces, in
order to rearrange and put them together again.

NoAV just that is what the critic does. This
block, he says, or this letter, is not in the right
place. It does not belong here ; therefore I must
take it out. By and by I will tr}^ to put it sonie-
Avhere else, where it belongs ; but just now and first
of all I must take it out. And so he does take it
out. Let me illustrate, and show you how it is that
the critic proceeds.


In the thirty-sixth chapter of the Book of Gene-
sis we have a long list of names of persons who are
said to have been the kings of Eclom. Then after
reciting the list at length, the writer proceeds to
sa}^, " These are the kings who reigned in the land
of Edom hefore there were any kings over the
children of Israel.''^ Now, who wrote that ? Who
was the author of it ? Moses ; who is generally
supposed to be the author of the w^iole Book of
Genesis ? Evidently and clearly not ; for it must
have been written after the children of Israel had
kings ; otherwise the writer could not have referred
to those kings. And the children of Israel did not
have any kmgs until long after the time of Moses ;
in the time of Saul and David and Solomon, when
they were settled in the land Canaan. Therefore,
Moses did not write that, so the critic says ; it does
not belong to the time or the authorship of Moses.
Therefore I must take it out ; not out of the Bible,
but out of the time and authorship of Moses. By
and by I will put it somew^here else, where it does
belong ; but just now and first of all I must take
it out. And so he does. And Ave can see clearly
enough, when once he states his case, why he takes
it out.

Sometimes, however, he cannot state his case so


tliiit we can see it. Only some one else who is a
critic like himself can see it ; because his critical
faculty, by a long, industrious, studious and scholarly
training has become a critical instinct in him, so
delicate, so sensitive, so fine, that he can almost
feel anything out of place in the Biblical text, an
anchronism, an interpolation ; he can almost feel
it there. And those of us who are not as cultivated
as he, who have not been lifted up to the same
high pitch of critical skill and ability — and that
means the great mass, the great majority of Chris-
tian men and women in the Avorld — cannot see or
follow his critical methods and processes, and appre-
ciate his critical results and findings. Even when
he explains them Ave cannot always see them, Ave
cannot usually see them ; and the reasons Avhich he
gives we cannot comprehend, we cannot take them
in, Avith the right emphasis, Avith the right signifi-

He reads in the Book of Isaiah, for instance, Avith
the critical faculty in him. By and by he comes to
a passage where he stops, and says, " Isaiah did not
Avrite tliat ; some subsequent editor put that in."
And we ask him how he knows it, and he says to
us in reply, " That is not Isaiah's style ; he never
uses that kind of an idiuni, he never uses that kind


of a word, in that form, active or passive ; he never
uses that kind of an accent, that kind of an inflec-
tion." "Does he not ?" we say. We did not know
it, and we do not know it then, even Avhen lie tells it
to us, except as he tells it to us. For we have not
been living with Isaiah as his close and intimate
companion, as he has been living with him, for
twenty years perhaps, during his whole adult life,
even since he left the university ; studying Isaiah,
his idoms, his moods, his tenses, his words, his ac-
cents, his inflections. AYe do not know Isaiah. He
does ; there is no one else in all the world whom he
knows so well. Then some day when he says some-
thing about Isaiah, or Saint Paul, or Saint Peter,
or Saint Jude, or some other Biblical writer, which
the rest of us have not been in the habit of think-
ing and believing, we call a meeting, an assembly
of the brethren, of the clergymen and the laymen ;
and the}^ come, from their parishes and their stores,
from their missions and their merchandise, to take
a vote on a question of scholarship, the most critical
kind of scholarship, which only the most critical
kind of scholarship is competent to consider, Avhich
nevertheless they do consider, and decide by a vote,
these missionaries and mercliants. And then they
tell the man whose words they have condemned,


that if he continues to sa}" what he has been saying
they will cast him out. And of course he continues
to say what he has been saying, for he is a scholar,
and he knows it is true. And of course they cast
him out !

AYhat a strange proceeding it is ; and yet it is a
proceeding which has been proceeding all along the
whole course of Christian history, and is proceed-
ing somewhat to-day. But it is not a right pro-
ceeding ; it is a wrong proceeding, it is a foolish

]^o, let criticism go on. It has its work to do.
It will not take our Bible away ; it will not take
our Saviour away. It never has done so. But
time and time again, when the Bible had become a
sealed book to the people, which they either could
not read or did not read, it has given to them its
treasures again, and made it a living Book. Time
and time again, when the vitalizing power of Jesus
Christ had become simply a convention, or a name,
and had ceased to be felt by society at large, mov-
ing and stirring the world, criticism has given Him
back to the people again, and made Ilim a living

Therefore, I say, let it go on. And l)y criticism,
I do not mean that gh(nilisli kind of glee that gloats


in denunciation and destruction, hurting people's
sensibilities unnecessarily. That is not criticism;
that is vandalism. By criticism I mean, as Pro-
fessor Caird observes, that pure, passionate devo-
tion to truth, whose tendency is not to negation
merely, stopping and resting there, but through
negation to reaffirmation, through destruction to
reconstruction ; or, in Carlyle's language. Through
the everlasting ]^o to the everlasting Yea.

Then let it, I say, go on. By and by the world
will gather up its fruits which, like the leaves of the
tree of life, will be for the healing of the nations.

But in the meantime, my friendsj what are we to
do ? We are not critics. We cannot climb up to
those great heights of criticism ; we become dizzy
there, and lose our balance. We cannot breathe
that rare atmosphere of scholarly criticism ; we be-
come bewildered there and lose our senses. We
are but the people down on the plains, in the
valleys, and very busy peoj^le. What shall Ave do ?
Is there no guide for us? Surely; and the best.
It is the guiding spirit of Love, that intensest of all
the passions, yet the purest of all the passions, the
fiercest yet the mildest, so gentle yet so strong, so
yielding yet so firm, which no obstacle impedes,
which no barrier bars, which no fetter binds ; leap-



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Online LibraryDavid Hummell GreerVisions : Sunday morning sermons at St. Bartholomew's, New York → online text (page 6 of 12)