Leighton Parks.

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fore I will impose upon you a little

Not only have we got to deal with this
question of atmosphere as a preliminary
to a wise judgment, but we have to re-
member another thing, and that is the
effect upon character of motion and ges-
ture. When you and I were little boys
and girls our mothers taught us to kneel
down and put our hands together and shut
our eyes and say, in a very gentle voice:
"Our Father who art in heaven." Now
why? Why were we not told to say our
prayers when we were pulling off our
stockings or running round the room?
Because it was perfectly well understood
from experience, though the law of it was
not understood, that not only is gesture
the expression of the mind, but that it
produces the appropriate expression upon
the mind. That the new psychology is
teaching. You yawn not only because
you are sleepy, but you become sleepy
[ 54 ]


if you yawn. Now apply that, my friends,
to dancing. How can it fail if the dance,
which is a gesture that originated in a
time when the animal life was predomi-
nant, and which had no object but to
excite the sensual passions, accompanied
by barbaric music, is indulged in — I say
how can it fail that the mind shall be
afiPected by that thing which the gesture
represents? You say that that is a libel
upon much of the dancing. I do not say
anything at all about much of the dan-
cing. You may call it by one or another
name, but there is a philosophy back of
it all, and you may use your own judg-
ment as to the moral effect of gestures
which have the vilest origin. No doubt
any dance may be made vulgar, but some
dances, no matter how much they may
be modified, will never lose their vileness.
And one thing more. I am not going
to give you the amusement of speaking
to you about women's dress, but I am


going to ask you this: In your judgment
as members of the Christian Church, is
much of the dressing that is seen upon
the streets, at dinner parties, at balls,
conducive to the modesty of women, or
to that reverence for them on the part
of man which is the basis of true manli-
ness? That is a thing for Christian
women to decide.

Now to bring it to an end, what can
we do? Well, in the first place, we can
do nothing about these homes that are
already destroyed. We can do nothing
about these men and women who have
taken these irrevocable steps — it is too
late: "Ye cannot enter now," and we
must even let it alone. But I am thinking
about these boys and girls who are going
to be the Christian Church in a very few
years, and I want to know what sort of
a preparation is being given them to exer-
cise the power to remit and to bind sins,
if from an early day they are accustomed
[56 ]


to see men and women who have violated
their marriage vows and been reunited
to somebody else, received in your houses
and welcomed as guests, receiving the
approval of your judgment upon their
misspent lives?

I ask you: What is life to be as the re-
sult of all this novel-reading where the
sex appeal is played with as if it were the
only interest in life, and this going to the
theatre to see things that St. Paul said
"ought not even to be named among you
as becometh saints"? Do not allow any
one to be deluded by the fact that in so
doing they are helping in a great moral
movement. They are not helping in any
moral movement. The Greeks were wiser
than modern Americans on this subject
of morality. The most beautiful and the
most profound of all the Greek myths is
the story of the slaying of Medusa, the
Gorgon, by Perseus. Her face, we are
told, was at once beautiful and horrible,


so that he who looked upon it was turned
to stone. The hero would not look upon
the face of evil. He saw it only in the
shield that had been given him by Athene !
Only as the servant of wisdom would he
look at evil, and when he saw it reflected
there he slew it. Paul, it is likely, never
heard that story, but he knew the great
truth that underhes it when he wrote:
"Live in the spirit and you will not fulfill
the lusts of the flesh."

''Whose soever sins ye remit they are
remitted; and whose soever sins ye re-
tain, they are retained," and you are
thereby responsible.

58 1


"Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto
them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are re-
tained."— St. John 20 : 23.

I FELT it my duty to speak to you last
Sunday of the closing words of this text,
and to remind you of your responsibility
as Christians to bind upon the consciences
of men and women the sin of sensuality
until the burden became so great that
they could not bear it.

This morning I turn to the far more
congenial task of reminding you of your
privilege to forgive sins. "Whose soever
sins ye remit, lift off, they will be lifted
off." What sins you and I are to forgive
covers too large a field to be considered
in any one sermon. I purpose then limit-


ing the consideration to one particular
sin which I think the time has come for
the Christian Church to forgive. It is
the sin of doubt. As I reminded you in
the first sermon on this text, the sins that
were originally remitted by the early
Church and by the disciples in the con-
version of the Roman Empire were, some
of them, no sins; that is, the remission
consisted in the revelation of the fact
that what had been considered sin was
not sin. Now we all know that no one
of us can live to himself, and if the com-
munity in which we live is convinced that
we are doing wrong, it won't do for us to
say, **I am independent of the opinion
of the community," for if it did not suc-
ceed in changing our opinion it would suc-
ceed in depressing and discouraging us,
and leading to that despair of God which
is the greatest sin. In that sense we may
call doubt a sin, because the leaders of
the Church, the representative people in
[ 60 1


any congregation, have agreed that they
will say to the young, to the sceptic:
"Unless you are prepared to accept every-
thing that I accept, everything on which
the Christian Church has once laid em-
phasis, you cannot be a part of this

Now in order that we may not get too
far afield, in order that we may make
this thing possibly helpful to some one,
let us ask ourselves what form the doubt
takes to-day. It takes the form of doubt
of what is called the miraculous. It is
very widespread. Boys and girls are
home from school to-day; perhaps you
have had a talk with some of them, and
perhaps they have told you the difficul-
ties they have begun to feel about the
Christian religion. They are perplexed,
they are troubled, they are sceptical of
what is called the miraculous. It is still
more so in college, where men have gone
deeper into the study of nature with its
[61 ]


inevitable law. It is found in professional
life where men have made a specialty of
some scientific aspect of the universe.
Yes, it is found even amongst the students
of theology. Some of the younger clergy
who have made the deepest study of the
history of the New Testament will say
to older men, if they feel sure of their
sympathy: "We were taught that the
four Gospels were the records made by
contemporary eye-witnesses. We have
learned that that is not true of any one
of them." Those who speak thus may
mean no more than that the Gospels as
we now have them are not the work of the
men whose names they bear. Of course
it was only carelessness that led any one
to speak of Mark and Luke as eye-wit-
nesses. They belonged to the second
generation. "We have learned," they
continue, "another thing, which is that
the first three Gospels are themselves
drawn from a common source which has
I 62 1


disappeared, but which scholars say they
can trace throughout Matthew, Mark,
and Luke. When we look deeper into it
we find that the earlier the source of the
story of Jesus the less is the marvellous
element contained in it, and the farther
away from the time the greater is the
miraculous element, and the result of this
has led us to feel that we can no longer
assent to the truth of many of the stories
embodied in the New Testament, and
transplanted into the creeds and formulas
of the Church. And thus we find our-
selves separated from father and mother,
and from the whole long line of religious
people from whom we have come. We
find ourselves becoming alien to all
ecclesiastical religious hfe."

Before considering this question of the
Bible I wish to call attention to its bear-
ing on the teaching of the Church. No
one can examine the Prayer-Book without
seeing that the creeds and formularies are


steeped in the miraculous. It is therefore
concluded that to question the miracu-
lous unfits us for using such a book.
That this raises a deep moral problem I
would be the last to deny. I cannot dis-
cuss it here. But I would not be willing
to ignore it. This, however, may be said.
The Prayer-Book is to be interpreted by
the Bible. If one has come to the con-
clusion that the Bible is not a trustworthy
guide in the spiritual life, of course he
cannot use the formularies of the Church
which are largely in the words of the Bible.
But if one is sure that in the Bible there
is contained a revelation of the means of
salvation but that this is independent of
some of the miraculous events in which
the revelation is given, surely he is not
guilty of untruthfulness if he uses the
formularies in the sense in which he
understands the Bible. For example, in
the Book of Acts we have an account of
the marvellous awakening of the Chris-
[ 64 1


tian consciousness which we call the
"Descent of the Spirit" at Pentecost.
The simple-hearted and devout reader
naturally supposes that this was followed
by the power to speak foreign languages.
For centuries there was no other inter-
pretation given. It may be the right in-
terpretation. It was incorporated at the
Reformation into the Communion Serv-
ice for Whitsunday, where it is said that
there was given to the Apostles "the gift
of diverse languages." To-day I think it
is safe to say that it would be difficult to
find a man learned in the Scriptures who
thinks this to be the true statement of
what took place. It is generally believed
that there was the same phenomenon as
is mentioned in Corinthians, and called
"Speaking with tongues." Are we de-
barred from the communion on Whit-
sunday because, in the spirit of the collect
for that day: "O God who at this time
didst teach the hearts of thy faithful
[65 ]


people by sending to them the Ught of
thy Holy Spirit, grant us by the same
spirit to have a right judgment in all
things," we judge that "diverse lan-
guages" must be used as equivalent to

Do you suppose that I am wasting my
energy and your time in telling you some-
thing that is imaginary? It is the result
of what has been said to me by boys and
girls, and men and women who felt sure
that they would find at least a sympa-
thetic response. How are we to deal
with this state of mind, which is so wide-
spread, from boys in the schools to pro-
fessional men in our universities? Of
course the most drastic way would be to
pull down the school-houses and the uni-
versities in order that these young people
may not learn things which, as we
say, may unsettle their faith. But so far
as I know in Protestantism there is no
voice raised for that remedy. There is
[ 66 1


another way, and that is to say: "This
thing is the result of pride of intellect, and
if these young people and old people, too,
were submissive to the teaching of the
Church, and would accept what the
Church says, then all would be well." It
may be, but as a matter of fact they do
not accept it, and argument is worse than
useless, because all the evidence is in and
the jury cannot agree!

It seems to me that the time has come
for the Church to exercise the power of
remission and say to these young peo-
ple: "Doubt is no sin." Say to them
what the greatest teacher of Church his-
tory alive to-day, a man whose whole life
has been devoted to the study of the
Scripture with a thoroughness that has
never been surpassed by any scientific
investigation of the secrets of the uni-
verse, said to the students of the Uni-
versity of Berlin, who asked him to speak
to them face to face not as a clergyman


but as a religious man about the deepest
things of Hfe. They flocked from all the
"faculties," as they are called, of that
great university — students of law, of
medicine, of history, students of philos-
ophy and theology, students of political
economy — all gathered together to hear
that man speak to them in words that
were afterward collected and published
under the title, ''What is Christianity?"*

Now, Harnack, in his lectures, has con-
sidered this very question that I have
brought before you this morning, and his
judgment I should like to read you. In
the first place, the keynote to the whole
subject is given in the opening words of
the first talk to these young men:

''The great English philosopher, John
Stuart Mill, has somewhere observed
that mankind cannot be too often re-

*"What is Christianity?" by Adolph Harnack;
translated by Thomas Bailey Saunders. G. P. Put-
nam's Sons, New York, 1901.

[ 68 1


minded that there was once a man of
the name of Socrates. That is true, but
still more important is it to remind man-
kind again and again that a man of the
name of Jesus Christ once stood in their

And then he comes to that question
which he knew perplexed and troubled
the minds and hearts of that great stu-
dent body, the question of miracles, and
this is what he says to them:

"It is very remarkable that Jesus Him-
self did not assign that critical impor-
tance to His miraculous deeds which even
the Evangelist Mark and the others all
attributed to them. Did He not exclaim,
in words of complaint and accusation,
'Unless ye see signs and wonders ye will
not believe.' He who uttered these
words cannot have held that belief in the
wonders which He wrought was the right
or the only avenue to the recognition of

* Ibid., p. 1.


His person and His mission. No, in all
essential points He must have thought of
them quite otherwise than His evangel-
ists did, and the remarkable fact that
those very evangelists, without appreci-
ating its range, hand down the statement
that *Jesus did not many mighty works
there because of their unbelief,' shows us
from another and a very different side
with what caution we must receive these
miraculous stories and into what cate-
gory we must put them. It follows from
all this that we must not try to evade
the gospel by intrenching ourselves be-
hind the miraculous stories related by
the evangelists. In spite of these stories,
no, in part even in them, we are pre-
sented with a reality which has claims
upon our perception. Study it and do
not let yourself be deterred because this
or that miraculous story strikes you as
strange or leaves you cold. If there is
anything here that you find unintelli-
[ 70 1


gible, put it quietly aside. Perhaps you
will leave it there forever; perhaps the
meaning will dawn upon you later and
the story assume a significance of which
you never dreamed. Once more let me
say, do not be deterred, the question of
miracles is of relative indiflPerence in com-
parison with everything else which is
found in the gospel. It is not miracles
that matter, the question on which every-
thing turns is whether we are helplessly
yoked to an inexorable necessity, or
whether a God exists who rules and
governs and who has power to compel
Nature, whom we can move by prayer
and make a part of our experience." *

How wise is this discrimination — dis-
crimination the first essential in any at-
tempt to deal with these great questions.
Phillips Brooks was once asked if he be-
lieved in God, and answered: **It is per-
fectly impossible to give a categorical

* Ibid., pp. 29-30.


answer to such a question as that."
What did he mean when he said that he
could not answer yes or no to such a
simple question as that? He meant that,
first of all, he must know what the man
had in mind when he spoke of "God."
If he meant an exalted man sitting on a
throne far up above the sky, then he did
not believe in God. But if he meant that
life in which we live and move and have
our being, by which we are comforted
and upheld, to which we believe we are
on our w^ay, then his whole life was the
answer to the question. So I think it
ought to be about this question of mir-
acles. When someone says, *'I do not
believe in the miraculous," naturally
religious people are shocked and draw
back because they know, or if they do
not know they feel instinctively that the
denial of the miraculous may mean the
assertion of the belief that this universe
is a closed mechanism and that whatever
[ 72 ]


appears in it, whether it be the rocks of
the mountains or the fishes of the sea
or the birds of the air, Hfe vegetable,
physical, ethical, spiritual, is simply a
product of the ceaseless grinding of this
great machine which sometime will call
back the product into the machine by
which it was produced, until at last the
whole mechanism shall disappear in the
scattered universe. If that be the be-
lief of any man there can be no religious
appeal to him. He is lost — the very
fundamental thing without which there
can be no religious life he does not be-
lieve in. "He that cometh to God must
believe that he is and that he is the re-
warder of them that diligently seek him."*
Now I need not tell you young men
who are in college, I need not tell you
older men and women who are at all
familiar with the drift of modern philos-
ophy in France and in Germany and in

* Hebrews 11 : 6.


Scotland and England, that such a posi-
tion, while it was taken by not an incon-
siderable number of men twenty-five
years ago, is to-day an anachronism, and
that the whole tendency of modern phi-
losophy is to emphasize the spiritual-
ity of all that is seen and touched. I
say the whole drift is away from a me-
chanical conception of the universe to a
spiritual interpretation of life. Life is a
miracle. It was not produced by matter
unless matter itself be spiritual. There
is a sense in which the denial of the
miraculous is a denial of any true re-
ligion. But because of that it does not
by any means follow that when men or
women say: "We are unable to accept
the miraculous stories told in the four
Gospels concerning the time and life of
Jesus Christ," they are irreligious; on
the contrary, most often we find that
the whole religious aspiration of the soul
goes forth in adoration to Jesus Christ,
[ 74 1


but the hard facts make it impossible for
the soul to draw near to Him.

It seems to me the time has come for
the Church to discriminate and to say
that though the acceptance of those
miracles is not essential to discipleship
of Jesus Christ, we are not called upon
to deride the miracles, we are not called
upon to admit that we ourselves have
lost all confidence in that record. All we
are called upon to do is to lift the sin of
doubt off the hearts of these young people
lest the Church lose them and they lose
the Church.

Now I am aware that some one will
say: "If such a position is taken the very
foundation of our faith is removed, for
if you once admit that there is a flaw in
the evidence of the four Gospels where
are you to end?" My answer to that is:
That we who take such a position are in
danger of putting ourselves at the stand-
point of those who in the Church of
\ 75 1


Corinth declared that their faith rested
upon the personaUty of Peter or Apollos
or Paul. To whom Paul said: ''Let me
ask you one question, did Peter or Apol-
los or Paul die for you? Were you bap-
tized into the name of any one of them?"
So I ask you in regard to this question:
Is the gospel the foundation of your faith
or is Jesus Christ the foundation of your
faith? Paul said: "No foundation can
any man lay than that which is laid,
which is Jesus Christ." . . . "The same
yesterday, to-day, and forever." "What,
then," it may be said, "is the value of
the Gospels?" The value of the Gospels
is this: they are, above all that has ever
been written, the most perfect portrait
of the Divine Man in whom we beheve.
But when we say they are portraits, I do
not suppose anyone will assert that they
are adequate portraits. Surely no one
of the evangelists would for a moment
declare that what he said was the final
[ 76 1


word in the revelation of the Son of God.
If Mark, who seems to have written
first, had taken that position, why should
Matthew have tried to add to the por-
trait. If Matthew had taken it why
should Luke try to add to the portrait,
and if Luke had taken it why should
John, in his old age, have drawn another
picture to hang by the side of the pic-
tures of Mark and Matthew and Luke?
No one of them is adequate.

But if no one of them be adequate, are
we doing any disrespect to them if we
suggest that possibly the Evangelists, in
their efforts to reveal that Life which they
knew they never could fully reveal, in-
corporated here and there a story which
they thought would throw light upon the
meaning of that life? If they found on
some fragment of papyrus a wonderful
story written by some man who had spent
a day with Jesus, or heard from another
what his mother told him when she went


with the pilgrims to one of the feasts of
Jerusalem, the last thing they would have
thought of doing would have been to ask
if in all its details it was "true" in the
modem, scientific sense of that word. All
they cared to consider was: Is it con-
gruous, does it illuminate, does it reveal
the hidden life of the Son of God? If so,
and there was room for it, it was painted
into the picture to give either background
or "atmosphere." So I understand the
last words of the Gospel of John. "And
many other signs truly did Jesus in the
presence of his disciples, which are not
written in this book: But these are writ-
ten, that ye might beheve that Jesus is
the Christ, the Son of God; and that be-
lieving ye might have life through his
name." *

Every one of us no doubt has seen either
the original or some good copy of Paul
Veronese's "Marriage at Cana of Galilee,"

♦John 20 :30, 3L


where the host is dressed in gorgeous robes
and the Nubian slave hands the lordly
chalice, where the dogs eye the savory
dish, and the table is spread with every-
thing that can delight the eye or taste.
If we are in a critical mood we may say
to ourselves: "Is that a picture of the
marriage at Cana of Galilee — would the
Jew have let a dog come in to the feast?
Were there Nubians who were slaves?
Are not these costumes Italian Renais-
sance? Is it not all very different from
the simple marriage to which Jesus went?"
But if our mood be receptive, as it ought
to be when we stand before a work of
art, we will say: '*Yes, it is all different,
but why did the man paint it? Why did
he bring in everything that he thought
would add to the glory and splendor of
life?" Simply because he knew that
nothing had any value in life unless the
guest was Jesus. It is because He is
there that all these details sink into their
[ 79 1


proper place as attempts on the part of
the artist to tell us what the presence of
Jesus Christ meant to him — the simplest
marriage feast would be transfigured into
all the glory that an Italian of the Renais-
sance could possibly imagine, because it
would seem to him the natural outward
and visible expression of the change that
had come because of the presence of the
Divine Guest. Then when the critical
and the receptive mood have given place
to reflection, we say: "This is a picture
of Christ in the atmosphere of the six-
teenth century." Now turn again to the
gospels and gaze at the picture of Christ
in the first century. The background is
homely, the "atmosphere" is not scien-
tific but childlike, but Jesus is the Son of

That is the way, it seems to me, we

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Online LibraryLeighton ParksMoral leadership, and other sermons → online text (page 3 of 7)