David Hummell Greer.

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

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there were many forms and phases and varieties of
human experience to which those old Mosaic laAvs
did not directly apply. And so it came to pass that
those Mosaic laws were supplemented in time Avith
Fiumerous other laws, to enable the people thus to
meet their new and changed conditions, until at
last they became, those supplemental laws, so volu-
minous and vast, that they extended to and covered
all the minutest features and details of their life.
And everything they did was done by some reli-
gious rule ; and without some religious rule was not
anything done that was done. And yet,, and this is
the point that I want you to observe, it was these
most devout, conscientious and religious people,
Avith a pious phrase for every act and almost every
thought, who always had their rules, their religious
rules at hand, to tell them how to eat and drink
and talk and Avalk and work and play, as Avell as
how to pray, with a moral casuistry that has never
been surpassed ; it was these most conscientious
and religious people who have gone upon the record
as having committed the most diabolical act of
wickedness in the history of mankind. Who not
only failed to recognize a beautiful moral bright-
ness, an ideal moral goodness, when it appeared be-
fore them, but called it darkness and evil, and be-


came so incensed with Jesus Christ, Wlio re-
vealed it, that tliev put Him to a criminal's death
and cast Him out of the world ! And why did they
do it ? Because they were conscienceless, and vi-
cious and irreligious, above all other peoples ? Ko,
they were conscientious and religious; they were
very conscientious and religious. Why then did
they do it ? Simply because they had become so
dependent upon formal laws and rules in the regu-
lation of their conduct, and in the formation of
their judgments, that when they were brought face
to face with such a new, original type of goodness,
as they had never seen before ; not having any rule
at hand with which to measure and appraise it, they
could not understand it, they did not know what
to do with it ; and the only thing they could do with
it was to do with it what they did with it, and that
Avas to reject it !

This, is the lesson by their experience taught, for
that age and people, for this age and people, for
every age and people, that human life cannot be
always guided toward what is right and true and
good by precepts and rules ; that there is no
moral casuistry, no moral code or book, no moral
pharmacopoeia, no matter hoAV elaborate and large,
to which Ave can always go, and in Avhich \ve can


always find such ready-made prescription or counsel
or direction as we at times require. Difficulties will
arise, perplexities will appear, situations will ensue,
entanglements will come, weaving themselves around
us, with something new and strange and unfamiliar in
them, and not like anything else, either in our own
experience or in the experience of others. Have
you not found it so ? Have you not found your-
selves so circumstanced at times that nothing you
could think of in all your past experience, or in any-
body's past experience, seemed just exactly to meet
your case ? It seemed a peculiar case. It was.
Not in all respects but in some ; and it was just
there that it seemed so hard and perplexing, in those
some respects which differentiated your case and
situation from every other case, which made it so
unique, without parallel, without precedent to fall
back upon, to guide you, to help you, to make you
see and know what you ought to do, and give you
strength to do it.

Surely you have found it so. We have all found
it so. It is human life, Avhich seems to have an in-
finite quantity in it, an infinite potentiality of va-
riety in it ; which therefore into new conditions is
always coming out, into new conditions growing,
nudviug every day a new day, with some new fea-


tures in it ; making every age a ne\Y age with some
factors in it, and Avhich in some new manner every
day and every age and every person in it must
sooner or later meet.

What therefore is needed, for the guidance
of our life, for the guidance of the world, is not
a law old or new, however good, nor a lawgiver,
however wise, but something else than a law,
something more than a lawgiver, something that
can enter easily, like an atmosphere, like a current
of air, like a wind, into all those new conditions
which our human life is forever taking on.

That is Avhat is needed. That is what the
Founder of the Christian religion gives. Kot what
the founder of the Jewish religion gives — a law, a
rule, a decalogue, a statute, a code, a book. For
whether or not it be true that Moses wrote the
Pentateuch, it certainly is true that Jesus Christ
wrote nothing, absolutely nothing, except when
upon one occasion. He stooped down, and with His
finger wrote on the ground, and it was soon obliter-
ated and lost ; and no man knows what He wrote.
'Not a single word of any sort, on paper or on parch-
ment, has He left behind. What then does He leave
behind ? Or what does He say He will leave, as to
his people on the earth His last and greatest be-


quest ? What is that bequest ? A breath, a spirit,
a ghost. That is all. That is all He said they
would receive. And so they did receive it, when,
with one accord, they were all assembled in one
place, and suddenly there came a sound as of a rush-
ing mighty wind, like some impalpable presence, like
some intangible force ; and they were filled with
the Holy Ghost ! It was the birthday of the Chris-
tian religion and its career upon the earth, or of
the Christian Church and its history in the world.
And then those representatives of the Christian
Church on earth, feeling that influence in them,
that Breath, that Spirit, that ^ Ghost, that rushing
mighty wind entering into their hearts, into their
lives, taking possession of them ; then did they be-
gin to feel as they had never felt before, to knoAV,
to believe, as they had never believed before. Then
did they begin to speak with new tongues, that
they had never spoken before. Then power came
upon them, not only to make them see and know
Avhat they ought to do, but to give them strength
to do it.

That was the bequest which Jesus Christ be-
queathed. That was what He gave. That was
what He left, — a Spirit, a Breath, a Ghost, a Holy
Ghost. AVlien therefore Saint Paul comes to the


city of Ephesus, and finds certain persons there
who profess to be disciples of the new religion, he
very naturally wants to know whether they had
come into this great spiritual bequest. They be-
lieved in Jesus Christ, so it appears, and what they
had heard about Him, His birth, and life and death.
His wonderful victory over death. Yes, orthodox
and sound in the faith, they believed in Jesus
Christ. But that was not the point. " Have you
received the Holy Ghost since you believed ? "
And they scarcely knew what He was talking
about ; they scarcely knew what He meant.

Well, do we know what he meant ? What is our
guide in life ? A holy Spirit, or a holy Book ?
This Book, this Bible? I speak to those to-day
who sincerely and profoundly reverence this Book.
I share that reverence with them. And the more I
search and study and look into its pages, the more
that reverence grows. This strange and wonderful
Book, which although it has been so frequently at-
tacked, and so fiercely, too, attacked, has never been
destroyed ; of which it has been said that, like a
cube of granite, no matter how often you overturn
it, it is always right side up. This strange and
wonderful Book, of which the strange and eccen-
tric Rousseau, has said, that one only needs to read


it, in order to feel for a moment at least tlio impulse
to obey it. Of which the ecclesiastic Cardinal New-
man has said, that in spite of all the exploring with
which it has been explored, it has not yet been ex-
plored, but has in it heights and depths unsealed
and unfathomed, and fertile glades, and beautiful
streams Avhose source has not been reached, and
which is always full of fresh surprises for us. Of
which the great Oriental scholar. Sir William Jones,
so familiar with the literature of the world has
said, that it contains a greater sublimity, a purer
morality, a nobler type of life, a clearer spiritual
vision, sweeter strains of music, of poetry, of pas-
sion, of eloquence, than could be brought together
within the same enclosure from all the books of
ever}^ sort that have ever been composed in any
tongue or speech.

But time would fail me to tell — the libraries are. full
of them — of all the various tributes, by all sorts
and conditions of men, rendered to this book, which
has been, which is, which will be, I think, forever
inseparably intertwined and associated with tlie
destinies of mankind.

And yet, my friends, it is not chiefly the Book
that is our guide in life, but the spirit rather Avhich
inspired those who wrote the Book ; which, beneath


its surface forms of limited human judgment, of
partial human thought, of imperfect human speech,
from first to last pervades it. That is our guide —
not first of all the Book, but first of all the Spirit.
Without that Spirit in us we cannot hope to know
and understand the Book. Without that Spirit in
us its light will be to us, as it has so often been
to others, a light to lead astray. AYe will not only
fail to perceive the marvelous unity of the Book,
but will somehow be able to prove, by quoting its
statements here and there, whatever we wish to
prove. Hence to you and me the pertinency of the
question which in the text is found. You believe,
you say, the Bible ; you reverence, you admire it, you
sing and sound its praises. You Protestant men
and women, you particularly, you believe in the
Bible, the heritage of your home, taught you by
father and mother, consecrated by their prayers.
You have always believed in the Bible. That is
right and good. Have you received the Holy
Ghost since you believed, to help you now to read
the Book, to understand the Book, to enjoy the
]]ook ; have you received the Holy Ghost since you
believed ?

That is the guide which Jesus Christ has left,
which Jesus Christ has given, as His great and last

bequest; for the writing of the Book which has
been by others written ; and for the writing of the
book Avhich we ourselves are writing, the Book of
Human Life, and in which day after day we are
writing something, — the way in which Ave do our
work in life, encounter its duties, its difficulties, its
dangers, so often strange and new, confusing and be-
wildering, without any precedent to help us, to en-
able us to meet them. And hoAV can we meet them ?
We have our Christian creeds, our Christian rules
and laws, which we regard as right, which we re-
gard as true, and in which we believe. But some-
times, as you know, those Christian creeds and doc-
trines do not seem to touch and cover all our case,
our actual situation, with all the features in it.
And something else we need, something more we
need, not simply something to believe, but some-
thing to inspire, an inspiration we need which is also
good and true, — a Breath, a Spirit, a Ghost, a Holy
Ghost, to purify the heart, of all the baser thought
and baser feeling in it, and to make it thus a
medium for apprehending God ; to clarify the
vision, and thus to cause us to know, as by a
kind of instinct in us, what we ought to do; to
make us quick to see, strong to act, steadfast to
endure, and to our human life to give its highest


pitch of power : an inspiration in us, a Holy Ghost
in us.

That is what is needed. Hence again the perti-
nency to you and me of the question which in the
text is found. We are talking so much to-day
about our creeds and doctrines, we are trying to
ascertain what we think is right and what we
think is true, what we ought to believe and Avhat
we do believe. "Well, that is good. But there is
something else ; — have we received the Holy
Ghost since we believed, to make our belief alive
and like an inspiration to sing its song within us ?
That is what is needed. By the world at large
it is needed, to exalt it, to ennoble it, to give it a
great and worthy and Divine enthusiasm. By the
Christian Church it is needed to quicken and arouse
it, to make it do again upon the earth an Apostolic
work, to send it forth, not grudgingly, or of neces-
sity, but with gladness and joy, with an inspiration
in its heart to conquer the world for Christ, " Beau-
tiful as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an
army with banners."

That is what every one of us needs, — a Breath, a
Spirit, a Ghost, a Holy Ghost, to help us, to guide
us, to be the common guide of all of us, entering
into the life of all of us ; near to me in my life, and


yet as near to you, with those on sea and land ;
thus guiding our life on earth, through tempest and
through storm, through tumult and through strife,
through all the Avild confusion of tongues, until we
come at last to the haven where Ave would be !
" Have you received the Holy Ghost ? "


Man goeth to his lung Jiome, and the inourners go
about the streets, — Ecclesiastes xii. 5.
To die is gain. — Philippians i. 21.



Here are two views of death. The first is very
mournful and pessimistic, and regards death as a
loss. The second is very hopeful and optimistic,
and regards death as a gain. Which is the better
and truer view ? As far as it is possible to do so,
within the limitations of a sermon, let us try to as-

And first, putting aside the Bible for a Avhile, let
us see what the book of Nature says, as some of its
best interpreters to-day are telling us how to read

This physical world is alive, so these teachers tell
us ; not only has life in it, but is itself alive, with
nothing in it dead, nor even indeed asleep, with
everything in it awake, very wide awake, always
wide awake, never sleeping, never at least resting.
No matter how fixed and still it seems, it is neither
fixed nor still. Some living force is in it, pervading
it, controlling it, giving motion to it, a constant mo-
tion to it, of energy and life. " If," says the author
of Cosmos, " we imagine in a vision of fancy, the
acuteness of our senses preternatural] y sharpened



and quickened, even to the extremest limits of tele-
scopic vision, and incidents whose happenings are now
so far apart, divided by long, vast intervals of time,
compressed into a single day or into a single hour,
everything like rest, in all spatial existence, will
forthAvith disappear." We shall find that the in-
numerable groups of fixed stars are not fixed, but
moving, and always moving, and everything in
them moving, and never ceasing to move, with en-
ergy and life. Corresponding to this is the testi-
mony of another eminent naturalist. Professor
Huxley, when, in a well-known passage, he says,
" The wonderful noonday silence of a tropical
forest is after all due to the dulness of our hearing.
If our ears could only catch the murmurs of those
tiny maelstroms, as they whirl in the innumerable
myriads of living cells that constitute each tree, we
should be stunned as with the roar of a great city."
Yes, everj^thing is in motion, with energy and
life, from a molecule to a mountain, made up of
molecules ; from a particle to a planet, of particles
composed ; from a sand grain on the earth to the
stars that shine above it ; some force of life is in it,
some force of life pervades it. Tlie power of life
it shows, the presence of life it feels, the song of
life it sings, or the psalm of life it sings, like some


g:reat hymn of praise, which, in all its vibrant tones,
its great Composer hears.

That is one thing which that we are beginning to
learn to-day from the study of the book of Nature
— that the universe is alive. Something else we
are learning. That something else is this : that the
life which the universe has, that the life which the
universe is, has been from the very beginning a
steadily growing life, going on and on, from lower
forms to higher, and higher and higher still, not
only always moving, but always moving 7/j9, reach-
ing out to be expressed in some more vital life.

What is the vitalizing principle of this vitalized
universe ? What is it that has made it vital ?
AYhat is it that, in other words, has given to it life ?
Death has given to it life ; or Death at least has
made its life a steadily grooving life, an ever-in-
creasing life, lifting it up and on to higher life and
larger and richer and fuller life. The lower form
is sacrificed and dies and disappears ; then, only
then, the higher form appears, — through death.
Death is but the gate, the open gate, through which
the life can pass, and must pass, in order to reach
and find and enter upon its more abundant life.
Death, therefore — so we are learning to-day from
the naturalistic creed — death is not the foe of


life, it is the friend of life, in friendly alliance with
it, giving to it friendly aid, friendly succor and
help. Yes, more than that ; Death is the mother of
life, bringing it forth as her child, never forsaking
her child, and causing her child to live a more
abundant life.

I know that that is not the Avay in which we have
been in the habit of regarding death. It has gener-
ally been supposed that death first came into the world
as the consequence of sin. So it is the consequence
of sin ; and the sinner dies, and the saint lives, in
him who Avas a sinner, because the sinner dies.
Death is the consequence of sin, the beneficent con-
sequence of sin, thereby giving life. But death did
not first come into the world as the consequence of
sin. This physical creed declares, and proves with
abundant proof, that long before there was any sin
or any sinner in the world, death Avas in the world.
And as far as Ave can see and go, Avith backward
glance and step, in the history of the Avorld's for-
mation, from the very beginning, Avhenever that be-
ginning Avas, death has ahvays been in the Avorld,
as the handmaid of life, ministering unto life ; not
cursing life but blessing life, not hurting life but
helping life, causing life to grow, by taking out of
its way Avhatever stunted its growth, wliatever


hindered its growth, until at last, through death, re-
moving more and more from this growing life, the
things that held it back, this growing life was made
to grow into our human life.

So the naturalistic or physical creed declares.
Without the previous working in the world of
death, there would have been, there could have
been, no human life at all. We are indebted for it
to death. Death is the mother of life.

That is what, concerning death, the book of
Kature is teaching us to-day. Or, reverting to our
simile, and regarding Xature herself as some great
psalm of life, some great hymn of praise, sounding
and singing forever in the Almighty's ear, this is
the one refrain sounding through it all, and which
in all we hear, " To die is gain." '' To die is gain."
Mingling with its deeper notes, its harsher strident
tones, its more complicated harmonies, and seeming
again to pervade them all and to repeat its echoed
refrain " To die is gain ; is Gain, is gain ; and life
is what it gains ! "

That is what the naturalistic scriptures are
teaching us and that is what precisely the
Christian scriptures are teaching, and have long
taught, that the greatest friend of the human kind,
of the human race, is Death, giving to it life, larger


life, higher life, more abundant life. That is why
in the Christian scriptures we read so much about
the cross, as the sign or the symbol of death ; and
are so often urged to take and bear the cross, as
the sign and s3nnbol of death, and thus through
death to live. For that is the way to live, the
Christian creed declares, as the naturalistic creed ;
that is the way to live. Some of us perhaps have
not learned that creed yet. AYe cannot say it, we
cannot recite it, we stumble at it, we are offended by
it. It seems so harsh and gloomy. Therefore we
cannot believe it, and we do not want to believe it.
Therefore, when religion comes, and has so much
to say about bearing the cross, and making sacrifices,
and practising self-denials, and abstaining from
this and refraining from that, and foregoing and
surrendering and giving up something else ; it all
seems we think so ver}^ unattractive, so sad, so
gloomy, so melancholy, like death ; and we do not
Avant death, we Avant life. Of course we do.
Everybody wants life. But it is not everybody
who has learned that that is the Avay to get it, and
the only way to get it, — that he has to die to get it.
And yet, sooner or later, everybody from his own
experience does learn it. And the life Avhich tries
to live without dying, dies. I do not mean merely


that it comes by and by to the end of its earthly
existence, and dies, but that during its earthly exist-
ence it dies, fades, withers, dies out. Its pleasures
cease to please, or cease to please so much. By
and by they cease to please at all ; there is no
pleasure in them; it dies out. Continuous indul-
gence has killed it. It is Nature's law of reprisal.
Or it is God's law of reprisal, and beneficent re-
prisal ; making the life that tries to live without
dying, die ; that so perhaps at last, having tasted
in its own experience death, it may try to begin to

But in some way sooner or later we find that
death is not an enemy, but only an enemy in ap-
pearance, and not in fact an enemy. Death in fact
is a friend of life, healing life and helping life and
giving renewal to lite, and in many beneficent ways
ministering unto life.

I know of course what possibly has been in the
minds of some of you, that the Bible speaks of
Death as an enemy, and that we have been in the
habit of calling it an enemy. Saint Paul so speaks
of and calls it when he says, '' The last enemy that
shall be destroyed is Death." But how is an enemy
to be destroyed ? How is your enemy to be de-
stroyed ? By always fighting and contending Avith


him, and trying in that way to get the victory over
him ? Well, that is one way. But it is not the
only way, nor the most effectual Avay. For even
when your enemy is thus destroyed and crushed, he
is still your enemy and would hurt you if he could.
There is another way. There is such a thing as ar-
bitration, some one coming between you and your
enemy, settling claims, adjusting differences, remov-
ing misunderstandings, thus destroying your enemy
by destroying his enmity toward you, or your
enmity toward him; thus making your enemy
your friend. Have you not sometimes found it
so in your OAvn experience, that some of your bit-
terest foes in life have come to be through a better
understanding, your best and truest friends ? That
is the way in which Jesus Christ destroys, or helps
us to destroy our enemy, coming as it Avere betAveen
us and our enemy Death, as the reconciler, as the
arbitrator, arbitrating the differences, removing the
misunderstandings, Avhich are altogether upon our
part ; thus reconciling us to our enemy, making our
enemy our friend ; shoAving us, telling us, that he is
our friend, or ready to be our friend, our best and
truest friend.

Nature herself has been teaching that, and say-
ing, " To die is gain." But the teaching of Ts^'ature,


while clear enough in a general way, with reference
to the gain of the type or the race through death,
is not perhaps so clear with reference to the
gain of the individual form, the individual life,
the personal life through death, but only seems to
suggest it. That is Avhere and how the teaching of
Jesus Christ completes the teaching of iN'ature, car-
rying it up, carrying it on, making it more direct,
giving it personal point, saying, " Yes, for you, the
individual, in your individual life. To die is gain.
Therefore, come, yield, surrender, give yourself

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Online LibraryDavid Hummell GreerVisions : Sunday morning sermons at St. Bartholomew's, New York → online text (page 7 of 12)