Richard Athelstone Parker Hill.

The Interregnum online

. (page 4 of 9)
Online LibraryRichard Athelstone Parker HillThe Interregnum → online text (page 4 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


perience, that it may be explained by theories of sub-
conscious action, in no way invalidates it. Practically
it is of value, and logically it is the logical attitude of
mind consequent on our propositions. Its effectiveness
may be charted down as a natural law, but in the
anthropomorphic figure " natural law " is " God's way."
I think this analysis fairly represents Christian
faith, and shows that each element has a place in our
beliefs, and that the necessity of confession, repentance
and faith may be fairly incorporated from the Christian
creed into our beliefs ; but since some may be met with
who say that this insistence on reliance on God is
unnecessary and undermines self-reliance, it may be
well to elaborate this analysis a little further. As this
involves the question of the Christian view of the
relation of God to man, it will be better treated in the
Essay on Determinism in Part II. 1
1 cf. pp. 118 f.



VI] THE CHRISTIAN CREED 49

In these propositions may be recognised the
essence of the doctrine of forgiveness of sin, but we
have yet to consider an important group of doctrines
which connects these all with Jesus, the doctrines of
the Atonement, of salvation through Christ alone, and
of the Divinity of Christ. Before passing on to these,
let us sum up Christian creed thus far. Salvation
through holiness is attainable, a life of love has an
eternal value and significance. The barriers of defects
of conduct and power are not insuperable, nor is the
frustration of life by physical death. The intellectual
adoption of these propositions saves a man's view of
life from futility, their adoption in purpose saves his
aim, in practice the life itself.

The realisation of these propositions in the person
of Jesus has often been objected to as too localising
and a debasing of the Christian idea. Let us see then
exactly what the New Testament does say about the
connection of salvation with Christ. Let us take three
typical pronouncements.

" There is no other name given under heaven among
men whereby we must be saved " (Acts iv. 12).

" If thou shalt* confess with thy mouth Jesus as
Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised
Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved " (Romans x. 9).

" God was in Christ reconciling the world unto
Himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses"
(2 Cor. v. 19).

H. 4



50 THE CHRISTIAN CREED [CH.

As to the first it is clear enough that it is a state-
ment of plain fact. If any man's name 1 under heaven
is essential to the attainment of holiness it is His ;
certainly there is no other. The second sentence
explains more fully what " believing on " Him means,
and we find it is a deliberate acknowledgement of His
Mastership and a heart belief, i.e. a belief in the life,
that God raised Him. We have already seen that faith
involves a belief that physical death will not render
life futile. With the evidence before them, at least in
those uncritical days, the resurrection of Christ was
only to be denied on grounds of its impossibility (as,
implicitly, by the Corinthians) 2 . Therefore to dis-
believe this in the life simply meant to live as if this
life were all ; to believe it in the life meant to live for
eternal aims, and St Paul states that salvation depends
on living for eternal aims under the Mastership of Jesus.
For us it means the same, and for us pursuit of the highest
means discipleship of Jesus, identification with Him in
aim and attitude and life, which is the true meaning of
" union with Him by faith," " believing into His name."

The third one raises the question of the relation of
Jesus to God. This is more a question for the theo-
logian than for me, but I wish to say a few things that
may help to a clearer view. We have already seen
that the Gospel story is credible to us. If, as orthodox

1 i.e. voluntary identification with Him.

2 1 Corinthians xv. 12, 13.



VI] THE CHRISTIAN CREED 51

theologians say, the Divinity of the Messiah is a logical
corollary of this story, the point is proved for us.
There can be no doubt that the Messianic idea by the
time of our Lord had compounded distinct ideas of the
Old Testament, the Divinely appointed Prince and
the ideal Servant. In these the idea of the personal
coming of Jehovah was sometimes included. Jesus
claimed to fulfil the Messianic idea and claimed a
place of special relation to God, of higher dignity than
the greatest of the prophets, and called Himself the
Son of God in a special sense, as being the direct and
perfect representative of God's character to man. He
also claimed that by His death He remitted or caused
to be remitted the sins of many. Lotze says, "If
therefore reverence for the founder of our religion
designates him as 'Son of God,' no serious objection
to the essential thought which is expressed by this
term is ... tenable ; it is even without doubt legitimate
to regard the relation in which he stood to God as
absolutely unique not only as to degree but also as to
its essential quality 1 ."

It seems therefore that we need not hesitate to
admit the claim of Jesus to the title Son of God in
these senses, as the fulfiller of the Messianic idea, with
all its implications, and as One Whose relation to God
was unique and Who represented His character to man.
But the Christian doctrine commonly held has further

1 Lotze, Outlines of the Philosophy of Religion, ch. x. 89.

42



52 THE CHRISTIAN CREED [CH.

ideas in it. It maintains that in some way the ex-
perience of Jesus represents the experience of God, and
His activities the activities of God. These ideas find
their culmination in the doctrine of the Atonement.

For us the essential question is, Has this doctrine
a religious value ? That is, Does it influence conduct
directly, or indirectly by exalting our ideals of God
and holiness? If this is answered in the affirmative,
it is not necessary for us, at this stage at least, to be
able to give a theory or to assent to one or another of
those current 1 . For the uncertainty in intellectual
matters, which is the essence of the interregnum, here
comes as something of a relief, and we can well afford
to leave undecided questions on which experts give
different opinions, while still retaining their right to
the name Christian. And such theories belong to the
class of doctrines that derive their importance solely
from their logical connection with another doctrine of
religious value intrinsically. It may be unwise to
negate them, but it is in no wise essential to affirm
them, as long as the valuable doctrine they profess to
explain is recognised. This attitude has, indeed, the
sountenance of some of the most orthodox representa-
tive bodies of Christians to-day. One friend of mine,
when he was asked his theory of the Atonement by the

1 A patient need only believe that an operation is necessary and
effectual. If he acts on this belief he need not understand the theory
of the operation.



VI] THE CHRISTIAN CREED 53

committee of one of the leading Missionary Societies,
replied that a young man like himself could not be
expected to hold formed opinions on a matter so much
in debate. The committee satisfied themselves that he
assented to the doctrine itself, and accepted him, and he
has worked for many years in India under that Society.
There is, however, a deeper reason why we may be
content to hold the doctrine even though it may seem
impossible to attach any precise meaning to the ideas
involved when such ideas relate to God. I lay stress
on this reason because it is one which frequent abuse
has brought into discredit ; and yet it has a perfectly
legitimate scope. To use theological language, we are
here in the presence of a " mystery." Now, we are not
at liberty to multiply incomprehensible statements
about God and justify them in this way. The claim
this particular doctrine has on our acceptance, if any,
rests on its religious value. Even so it could not be
justified in its obscurer implications, unless there were
good reason shown why it should necessarily become
obscure at these points. In other words the obscurity
must be shown to be inherent in some other idea
involved in these implications. The difficulty of giving
an exact meaning to the doctrine of Atonement lies in
the impossibility of comprehending the notion of the
self-sacrifice of God. So long as we keep to the
anthropomorphic figure there is no special difficulty;
but when we ask what this figure corresponds to in the



54 THE CHRISTIAN CREED [CH.

actual reality underlying that figure, we can form no
idea at all. But we see that at this point we have
introduced the incommensurable factor of the "real
infinity," and from the mathematical analogy we should
expect to get an indeterminate result. This does not
mean that the idea is invalid, but only that we cannot
comprehend it. For our finite purposes the "finite-
infinite " of calculation is perfectly valid ; and again
mathematics teaches us that neither infinity nor zero
are qualityless, though we cannot trace their qualities.
Mathematicians talk about the gradient of a line and
the algebraic condition which it always satisfies in the
case of an obtuse or acute angle whether or not in the
geometrical sense the angles have ceased to exist.
The points representing these angles when they are
geometrically non-existent are indistinguishable from
each other and without magnitude, but from the
algebraic formula the potential nature of each can be
told ; it still has quality though no quantity. Thus,
too, though in extending it beyond the anthropomorphic
figure the idea of self-sacrifice has passed beyond our
ken, there is no reason for denying its validity ; rather
the lines which we can see are guarantee for the nature
of the unseen.

With these preliminary remarks it remains for us
to see whether the doctrine of the Atonement has a
religious value. Does our religion gain by including
or lose by denying it ?



VI] THE CHRISTIAN CREED 55

I think in two ways it is a great gain to religion.
First, it deepens the idea of forgiveness. This idea,
beautiful though it be, has in it a suspicion of denying
its own origin. It is included because of the import-
ance of holiness ; but if breaches of holiness can be
readily set aside the question may well arise whether
it is quite so important after all. It is not uncommon
for anti-Christian propaganda to attack the idea of
forgiveness as immoral. But when sin is represented
as not merely forgiven but forgiven after atonement,
after its reality has been in some way or another fully
" met," this objection vanishes. There is thus a
permanent validity in the notion of sacrifice.

But there is still an objection to the morality of
the procedure so long as atonement is represented as
the work of a third, be he never so willing. This
objection is one which is often heard, and one which
can only be answered, I think, in the Christian way,
by representing God Himself as Himself paying the
penalty. To this there can be no objection on moral
grounds. Sin is given its fullest possible weight, and
no innocent third person is called in to meet it.

It is by no breath,
Turn of eye, wave of hand, that salvation joins issue with death.

And this is one of a number of instances in which
Christian doctrine seems to me to stand alone in doing
full justice to contrary ideals in the human mind ;



56 THE CHRISTIAN CREED [CH.

almost in a Hegelian manner the two "moments"
issue in a synthesis. One cannot help feeling a
sympathy with Whitman's outburst of approval of the
peaceful animals who do not lie awake groaning over
their sins ; one cannot also withhold assent from
Tennyson when he says :

I envy not the beast that takes

His license in the field of time,
Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,

To whom a conscience never wakes 1 .

The doctrine of the Atonement unites these in-
stinctive ideals; not, be it observed, by proposing a
compromise, or a middle course, but by giving at once
the fullest possible weight to the grievousness of sin
that the most morbid conscience could imagine, but
also justifying the most radiant joy in communion with
God ever experienced by the most ecstatic of the
mystics. Christianity offers many such combinations,
for example the " ambition to be unselfish," to mention
one only.

There is yet another way in which this doctrine not
only exalts our idea of God, but seems almost logically
necessary if we are to entertain the proposition " God
is Love" at all. These arguments are beautifully
put in Robert Browning's Saul, which I quote below.
The point is that if self-sacrificing love were possible
to man, and not possible to God, then man not God
1 Tennyson, In Memoriam, Canto xxvn.



VI] THE CHRISTIAN CREED 57

would be the highest ideal, and to him should our
worship be directed. The deduction would be that
Jesus is more to be worshipped than God, unless we
can admit that the Cross in some sense is a demonstra-
tion of the self-sacrificing love of God whereby sin is
dealt with. In the following lines David is singing to
Saul when the evil spirit is on him. He has sung of
the joys of life and fame, without result. At last,
overborne with pity at the sight of such sad failure, so
much fair promise unfulfilled, he breaks out into a
great cry of impotent longing to restore him.

Could I wrestle to raise him from sorrow, grow poor to enrich,
To fill up his life, starve my own out, I would knowing which
I know that my service is perfect. Oh, speak through me now !
Would I suffer for him that I love? So wouldst Thou So wilt

Thou!

So shall crown Thee the topmost, ineffablest, uttermost crown
And Thy love fill infinitude wholly, nor leave, up nor down,
One spot for the creature to stand in ! It is by no breath,
Turn of eye, wave of hand that salvation joins issue with death !
As Thy love is discovered almighty, almighty be proved
Thy power, that exists with and for it, of being Beloved!
He who did most, shall bear most ; the strongest shall stand the

most weak.
'Tis the weakness in strength that I cry for! my flesh, that I

seek

In the Godhead I I seek and I find it. Saul, it shall be
A Face like my face that receives thee ; a Man like to me
Thou shalt love and be loved by, for ever : a Hand like this hand
Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee I See the Christ

stand !



CHAPTEE VII

THE CHRISTIAN CREED (continued)

The new and lofty idea of the after life has arisen, not from
the old animistic conceptions, but amid their ruins.

CHARLES. Eschatology.

BEFORE concluding this section, we have still to
answer the question whether Christianity contains
anything at variance with itself. This practically
resolves itself into a question whether Christianity
contains any doctrines of an immoral nature. Charges
of immorality are made against Christianity ; some of
these we have already seen to be unfounded, and due
to mistaken conceptions of Christianity, but there is
still one important one to be dealt with.

The doctrines of punishment of the impenitent are
for various reasons assailed. Those attacks which
depend on the question of free will will be best
considered in the Essay on that subject in Part 2.
The rest resolve themselves into two. First, the
doctrine of eternal torment is attacked, and second the
idea of punishment for some and redemption for others
is said to be an unjust one.



CH. VIl] THE CHRISTIAN CREED 59

As to the former, we may first take advantage again
of a cleavage of opinion among Christians to leave the
question open ; but I think we may go further and
deny to this doctrine any legitimate place in the
Christian scheme. It appears to me to come within
the class of doctrines whose basis is now seen to be
unsound. The basis of the doctrine appears to be a
crude uncritical metaphysic, finding no support in
Christianity ; and the doctrine is violently extracted
from a few texts to fit in with this metaphysic 1 .

To justify these assertions. Many of us were taught
in our childhood that the body was perishable but the
soul imperishable. The reason given for this statement
was that it was possible to cut and otherwise injure the
body, but the mind being immaterial was beyond the
reach of any known weapon of destruction. In con-
sequence of this idea, immortality was supposed to be
the necessary property of all souls, and the question
was whether this immortality was to be blissful or
miserable. Even conceding this immortality to all
souls, it would not have been necessary to suppose
punishment to be an active unhappiness ; a relative
loss of capacity would have been enough, but for the
coupling of this with certain texts. The chief of these
are the description of hell as a lake of fire, the words of
Christ about the unquenchable flame and the undying
worm, His parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and
1 But see Appendix C, p. 141.



60 THE CHRISTIAN CREED [CH.

one passage in Revelation in which the Devil, the
Beast, and the False Prophet are said to be tormented
for ever. Other passages in Revelation which at first
sight may seem to support the doctrine do not actually
do so. Let us examine these passages, apart from any
presupposition of the undyingness of the soul.

The parable of Lazarus is so obviously couched in
popular language as to make any support for this
doctrine drawn from it quite invalid. The conversation
between Abraham, with Lazarus in his bosom, and the
rich man, is plainly not to be taken as an actual picture
of the occurrences after this life.

The other words of Christ, interpreted in the light
of the current Jewish idea of Gehenna as a rubbish
heap for the burning of waste, and in the light of the
original passage in Isaiah 1 , plainly point to nothing
but the destruction of those who allow anything to
interfere with wholehearted devotion. In the original
passage the undying worm and unquenched flame are
spoken of in conjunction with the carcases of offenders.
The memorial is permanent, not the torment. This too
is the natural explanation of the meaning of a lake of
fire. Concerning human beings, it is only said that
" the smoke of their torment goeth up for ever 2 " ; the
same exactly is said 8 of Babylon after her complete
destruction*. Elsewhere human offenders are described

1 Isaiah Ixvi. 24. 8 Rev. xiv. 911.

3 Rev. xix. 3. 4 Rev. xviii. 21.



VII] THE CHRISTIAN CREED 61

as being slain with the sword 1 , an idea that admits of
no possible interpretation as an everlasting torment.
The lake of fire is expressly described as the second
death 2 , and perpetual torment in it is predicted only
of three highly allegorical personifications 1 . Elsewhere
we find that Death and Hades 2 are cast into it. The
idea of tormenting these is obviously absurd, and the
whole picture presented in chapters xxi. and xxii. is so
incompatible with the presence of people in torment,
that we may safely say that no such thing is seriously
intended. Rather let us take the truly scriptural view
that the Eternal Life is the gift of God, and the alter-
native is death 3 .

Whether or no these arguments carry conviction,
I think it is at least clear that this doctrine cannot
claim to be so essential that Christianity must stand or
fall by it ; but it is still open to the objection that a
differential treatment of mankind is unfair. The force
of this objection lies mainly in the connection of it with
predestination; this will be considered later. Apart
from this, and if it be allowed that all men are free to
choose their actions, the alternative assertion that all
men should, by following their own choice, attain an
equal degree of bliss is scarcely worth considering. No

1 Rev. xix. 20, 21, xx. 10. 2 Rev. xx. 14.

3 Notice too that Jesus' argument for a resurrection rests on the
idea of spiritual contact with God being incompatible with extinction.
Mark xii. 26, 27.



62 THE CHRISTIAN CREED [CH.

one would seriously charge God with unfairness for
making animals with different life histories ; and if the
element of torment is excluded, there can be no real
objection to the idea of a spiritual loss (connoted by the
word eternal) incurred by those who do not care for
eternal gain. Whether or no there be an eternal hope
lying behind all this idea of reward and punishment is
another question. The principle underlying it will be
touched on in the Essay on Determinism. For the
present we are only concerned with charges of im-
morality against recognised doctrines.

Now, except for the consideration of a few questions
deferred to the Essay on Determinism, our main work
is finished. We have seen that for one in the inter-
regnum it is most certainly possible, permissible and
desirable that he should still be in faith, belief and
creed, Christian. But because opinion has so strong
an influence on a man's life, and because the inter-
regnum is only a temporary state for most of us, and
because even so there is great danger of being unduly
impressed by the more insistent systems of the day,
I propose to add a series of essays dealing with opinion
and some of the intellectual objections to Christianity,
and substitutes for it. But it must be realised that
I still maintain that we may, if we choose, be Christians
in defiance of all but absolutely conclusive evidence to
the contrary ; and also that the aim of these next essays
is not to overthrow these anti-Christian systems and



Vll] THE CHRISTIAN CREED 63

settle in a few pages the problems of centuries, but
only to disperse the imposing atmosphere of finality
and general infallibility with which some of them have
been invested in the popular literature and imagination.
If Christianity raises some problems, so do they ; and
even were we to be guided by the very questionable
assertion that a majority of scientists of eminence are
anti-Christian, still we should probably find a yet
greater majority opposed to materialism or anyone of
the various alternatives. It is therefore in order that
we may approach these things with a truly open mind,
open to argument, but freed from undue awe, that
I very briefly point out the recognised objections to
these systems and the answers to the more serious and
impressive intellectual objections to Christianity. My
object is, not to close the questions in favour of
Christianity but to maintain a truly open door. If
I can leave the reader convinced that for him the
question is not finally settled against Christianity that
will be enough.

In concluding this first Part let us revise what
we have got, and see if it be truly deserving of the
name of Christianity. We have already examined the
objection that our creed is subjective, and shown that
we recognise fully that it will avail us nothing apart
from the objects to which it attaches us. But lest
some should think that we have laid too much stress
on the less important points to the neglect of the more



64 THE CHRISTIAN CREED [CH.

important, or that we have been too liberal in our
outline of Christian doctrine and our avowed intention
of criticising it, let us see whether our method would
commend itself to Christ, and whether He would
(may we not say, will ?) accept a faith such as ours.

"We find that the great fault that He finds with the
Pharisees and men of His time is want of spiritual
discrimination ; moreover, though He refers them to
the Scriptures in correction of their ideas, He has no
hesitation in ranking one Scripture as of lower moral
standard than another 1 , or in abrogating a whole
system when its object has been attained 2 . Not only
so, but He is astonished that His disciples have not yet
learnt to do the same 3 .

Throughout the fourth Gospel He often appeals to
their judgment of His actions to support His claims,
and invites criticism 4 ; and He expressly places the
will to do right as a preliminary qualification for accept-
ing His teaching 5 . (Compare with this the doctrine of
faith and its implications in Hebrews xi. 1 and 6, and
see Hebrews v. 9, 10, where the failure to exercise the
moral judgment is represented as the cause of adoption
of non-Christian doctrines. St Paul and St John in
their epistles also urge the criticism of doctrines in
accordance with moral and spiritual standards.)

i Mark x. 5. 2 Mark vii. 15.

3 Mark vii. 18.

4 John v. 36, vi. 6, vii. 24, viii. 46, x. 38. 6 John vii. 17.



VII] THE CHRISTIAN CREED 65

Christ Himself, then, sanctions a discipleship con-
sisting primarily of moral sympathy with the highest,
and states that the consequence of such discipleship
with the free use of the moral judgment will be a


1 2 4 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryRichard Athelstone Parker HillThe Interregnum → online text (page 4 of 9)