The letter of Scripture admits of an almost infinite variety of interpretations; the ceaseless growth of creeds attests this fact. Its spirit, however, is one, and the end to which it is applied is the complete satisfaction of man's spiritual nature; this also is one and universal. The interpretation of the letter, apart from its application in the spirit of love, is: that which divides and kills. The spirit of love can alone unify and give life; it stands the sole and sovereign interpreter, not only of Scripture, but of all life and of the universe. Without its illuminating power the paradoxes of the letter become the instruments of sectarian strife, and the superficial anomalies of life form the ground and base of perpetual party-hatred. He is but a false interpreter of both Scripture and life who is not imbued with universal love, and whose attitude is that of a defender of a creed. One is rarely aware, while reading the eighteen sermons comprising the work under notice, that their author is a learned dignitary of the Established Church, so comparatively free is he from ecclesiastical formalities, so undenominational is his attitude, and so wide and sympathetic are his utterances. In the first sermon, "Predestination" the reader is at once ushered into that Arcana of charity wherein all human Churches are forgotten, and only the Divine Church of love in the heart of suffering humanity is remembered. Though dealing with a subject which is generally associated with all that is hopeless and fatalistic, the reverend Archdeacon interprets it in the light of that joyful optimism which is the immediate outcome of "the charity which thinketh no evil," and he finds in it ground only for the most glorious hope. His interpretation contains no crack or loophole where the eternal condemnation of even a single soul can find entrance. He beholds the whole race predestined to perfection. Pathetically beautiful are his words—"I see Christ weeping over Jerusalem, and yet I know that 'all Israel shall be saved.' I listen to that second lesson this afternoon, and I see Judas hurrying by suicide into eternity, and yet I know that the throne promised to him seems never to have been filled by another...For the predestination of God is unalterable, and the love of God is irresistible, and the mercy of the Most High is inexorable." He sees the Divine Son-ship in every man, the "Christ within you, the hope of glory," by virtue of which every man will ultimately attain the supreme conquest over sin. "The Jesus character could never be evolved from man if it were not potentially involved in his nature, and the germ of the Jesus nature within him automatically strains outward to the universal Christ of God, the ego or all-pervading Reason of God...Such in the soul of man is the Christ nature which lies hid, and that Christ nature within implies predestination to the Christ character." Yet let it not be thought that such "predestination to perfection" is involved in a machine-like process, or is in any way associated with the arbitrary will of an external God-personality. It is involved in the internal principles of man's being, and is inseparably associated with his own free will.
In the sermons on "Auto-Suggestion" and "The Origin of Evil," the truth (familiar to the readers of The Light of Reason) that all evil is remedial, is largely dealt with. "Evil," says the author, " is unregulated desire," and, "Evil, therefore; whether as sin or suffering, is relative, not absolute." He sees also in evil an incentive to moral perfection:—"A responsible moral being, perfected and purified, tested and found faithful, cannot be made; he must be grown; and to grow he must be resisted. He must emerge pure from deep contrasts."
In his philosophical arguments and utterances the reverend author is always eminently practical, and never departs from human needs. In "The Immanence of the Logos" he necessarily enters the region of philosophical mysticism, but he subserves the speculations of the intellect to the love of the heart, appealing to all that is real and vital in the human soul, and leading the reader on to the most practical issues. "Humanity," he says, "is the Word made flesh, and the deepest, inmost, in man is, therefore, the self-utterance of God in the Christ," and "this is the Gospel—the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. God help us to believe it and live it!"
To those who shut out from their souls all that is beautiful and lovable and true by imagining that truth consists in the acceptance of their views, I would commend the liberal sentiments contained in the following eloquent passages from "Universalizing the Christ," "The Immanence of the Logos," and "Missionary Obligations."
"What mean these scathing denunciations, this branding of men who differ as to methods as infidels that we hear? God only knows one kind of infidel, and he is not the doctrinally inaccurate, but the unfaithful orthodox—the man who knows the Lord's will and does it not; he is the Infidelis who will be beaten with many stripes. Meanwhile we can universalize the Christ by enlarging our sympathies for all sorts and conditions of men; we can force ourselves out of the narrow, cramping, social and religious circles which are pinching us into meaner souls every year we live; we can be more liberal, more tolerant, more compassionate."
"When the All-Father would utter Himself through the inspired thoughts and transcribed words of human prophets, seers, and teachers, it is the Word again that clothes and hides itself in this garment. 'These are they,' said the Christ, speaking of the Scriptures, 'that testify of me,'—and surely this is, in a sense, true of the Vedas, the Zenda-Vesta, the Koran, as well as the Hebrew Scriptures."
"Go to the Brahmins of India, and instead of reviling them as idolaters, study the piety, the intelligence, the poetical genius, the logical powers of that ancient race, as revealed in their sacred books, and give back to them, elevated, illuminated, amplified, fulfilled, interpreted, the philosophy God gave to them one thousand seven hundred years before the Christ came. Tell them the Gospel—the good news—that the Purusha of the Vedas—the Messiah of the prophets—the 'Heavenly Man ' of the Kabala—the Logos of Plato—the 'Word that was God ' of St. John, are one and the same glorious Being."
Let those who are too ready to condemn, and to pronounce judgment upon the souls of others, read the sermon, "God is Love"; and let them remember, as they read, that as hate interprets all things in conformity with its own hideous image, so Love translates all things into love, sees them in its own gentle, beneficent light. Let them take to heart the following extract from this Sermon:—"Under the magical influence of the Golden Key, 'God is Love,' passage after passage in Holy Scripture, previously stiffened and solidified as apparent denunciations of hopeless doom, are seen to be luminous with the promise of ultimate restitution and purification."
The Christ-spirit of pure love is perhaps more active in the world today than ever before; it cries aloud in our streets; it is beating against the walls of our churches; it is visible in the strivings of noble men and women to actualize idealistic conditions; it articulates itself in the growing tendency to unity and brotherhood, so that the noblest of our men and women are striving to forget their creeds, to break down all selfish limitations. And some have succeeded, and have found the love which sees no evil, that thinks no hateful thought, that sets no bounds to man's salvation. To all who would thus realize we commend the reading of "Feeling After Him," which, though coming from a Church luminary, belongs to no Church, but to humanity, breathing forth as it does a wide and universal charity.
*"Feeling after Him." Sermons preached for the most part in Westminster Abbey (second series), by Basil Wilberforce ,D.D., Archdeacon of Westminster. Cloth bound, gilt lettered. Elliot Stock, 62, Patemoster Row London, E.C.
Who slowly kills, by words, or cruel looks,
Or thoughts unfair, or thoughts by hate projected,
Is as much murderer as is the one
Who does so with a bludgeon.
More Articles by This Author James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.