Monday, April 11, 2011
the ministerial lance...
"Some time ago, I read and copied this passage from a sermon of one of our liberal ministers of fine culture, whom I have good reasons for regarding with personal esteem: "To desire truth, to make it your sole aim and sole ambition, to be willing to accept it at any cost, to be resolute in accepting it only, this is the true spirit of religion: it is the substance of religion."
This is tersely stated. It has a ring of heroism about it to which the hero within us responds. The minister who is not ready to follow the highest truth that is made known to him is unworthy the companionship of prophets and martyrs. Our first impulse is, with Ivanhoe, to make the naked blade of our spear ring against the lance point of any Bois-Guilbert who ventures to enter the grand Tournament of Truth against us.
But let us wait a moment, and not be in haste to split our ministerial lance till we assure ourselves it is for this alone we have girt on the gospel armor and become a Christian knight. Are the desire for truth and the acceptance of it at whatever cost the "substance of religion"? Is religion so purely an intellectual affair as this statement implies? Does not real religion consist quite as much in the application of truth to life as in the desire and search for it? Truth "sanctifies," when it is used for casting out evil and enthroning good. Truth makes "free," when it breaks the chains and opens the prison doors of selfishness and sin. We may not overestimate the importance of truth, or the value of truth-seekers in religion; but, in our common ministerial work, we may give to the popular desire for new truth a place so high as to cast into the shade the yet greater importance of applying the truth we already possess to the uplifting of man. Alas for our liberal ministry, if it be only another exploring expedition in search of that possibly open sea of Divine Truth on the frozen borders of which so many noble men have left their bones! If I believed that, I should feel very much like leaving the ship and taking to the ice-floes in the hope of finding land somewhere and starting another expedition to rescue the explorers, and bring them back into navigable seas. -But I do not think the desire for truth, or the search for it, needful and grand as they are, is the "substance of religion." The substance of religion includes right thinking, but in essence it is right living. If truth alone could redeem the world, the good time coming would have come long ago. High thinking is too often divorced from high living. Search for truth belongs to theology. The application of truth to heart and life is religion."