The Inside of the Cup

CHAPTER XXI
ALISON GOES TO CHURCH

I

On the following Sunday morning the early light filtered into Alison's room, and she opened her strong eyes. Presently she sprang from her bed and drew back the curtains of the windows, gazing rapturously into the crystal day. The verdure of the Park was freshened to an incredible brilliancy by the dew, a thin white veil of mist was spread over the mirror of the waters, the trees flung long shadows across the turf.

A few minutes later she was out, thrilled by the silence, drawing in deep, breaths of the morning air; lingering by still lakes catching the blue of the sky—a blue that left its stain upon the soul; as the sun mounted she wandered farther, losing herself in the wilderness of the forest.

At eight o'clock, when she returned, there were signs that the city had awakened. A mounted policeman trotted past her as she crossed a gravel drive, and on the tree-flecked stretches, which lately had been empty as Eden, human figures were scattered. A child, with a sailboat that languished for lack of wind, stared at her, first with fascination and wonder in his eyes, and then smiled at her tentatively. She returned the smile with a start.

Children had stared at her like that before now, and for the first time in her life she asked herself what the look might mean. She had never really been fond of them: she had never, indeed, been brought much in contact with them. But now, without warning, a sudden fierce yearning took possession of her: surprised and almost frightened, she stopped irresistibly and looked back at the thin little figure crouched beside the water, to discover that his widened eyes were still upon her. Her own lingered on him shyly, and thus for a moment she hung in doubt whether to flee or stay, her heart throbbing as though she were on the brink of some unknown and momentous adventure. She took a timid step.

"What's your name?" she asked.

The boy told her.

"What's yours?" he ventured, still under the charm.

"Alison."

He had never heard of that name, and said so. They deplored the lack of wind. And presently, still mystified, but gathering courage, he asked her why she blushed, at which her colour deepened.

"I can't help it," she told him.

"I like it," the boy said.

Though the grass was still wet, she got down on her knees in her white skirt, the better to push the boat along the shore: once it drifted beyond their reach, and was only rescued by a fallen branch discovered with difficulty.

The arrival of the boy's father, an anaemic-looking little man, put an end to their play. He deplored the condition of the lady's dress.

"It doesn't matter in the least," she assured him, and fled in a mood she did not attempt to analyze. Hurrying homeward, she regained her room, bathed, and at half past eight appeared in the big, formal dining-room, from which the glare of the morning light was carefully screened. Her father insisted on breakfasting here; and she found him now seated before the white table-cloth, reading a newspaper. He glanced up at her critically.

"So you've decided to honour me this morning," he said.

"I've been out in the Park," she replied, taking the chair opposite him. He resumed his reading, but presently, as she was pouring out the coffee, he lowered the paper again.

"What's the occasion to-day?" he asked.

"The occasion?" she repeated, without acknowledging that she had instantly grasped his implication. His eyes were on her gown.

"You are not accustomed, as a rule, to pay much deference to Sunday."

"Doesn't the Bible say, somewhere," she inquired, "that the Sabbath was made for man? Perhaps that may be broadened after a while, to include woman."

"But you have never been an advocate, so far as I know, of women taking advantage of their opportunity by going to Church."

"What's the use," demanded Alison, "of the thousands of working women spending the best part of the day in the ordinary church, when their feet and hands and heads are aching? Unless some fire is kindled in their souls, it is hopeless for them to try to obtain any benefit from religion—so-called—as it is preached to them in most churches."

"Fire in their souls!" exclaimed the banker.

"Yes. If the churches offered those who might be leaders among their fellows a practical solution of existence, kindled their self-respect, replaced a life of drudgery by one of inspiration—that would be worth while. But you will never get such a condition as that unless your pulpits are filled by personalities, instead of puppets who are all cast in one mould, and who profess to be there by divine right."

"I am glad to see at least that you are taking an interest in religious matters," her father observed, meaningly.

Alison coloured. But she retorted with spirit.

"That is true of a great many persons to-day who are thinking on the subject. If Christianity is a solution of life, people are demanding of the churches that they shall perform their function, and show us how, and why, or else cease to encumber the world."

Eldon Parr folded up his newspaper.

"So you are going to Church this morning," he said.

"Yes. At what time will you be ready?"

"At quarter to eleven. But if you are going to St. John', you will have to start earlier. I'll order a car at half past ten."

"Where are you going?" She held her breath, unconsciously, for the answer.

"To Calvary," he replied coldly, as he rose to leave the room. "But I hesitate to ask you to come,—I am afraid you will not find a religion there that suits you."

For a moment she could not trust herself to speak. The secret which, ever since Friday evening, she had been burning to learn was disclosed ... Her father had broken with Mr. Hodder!

"Please don't order the motor for me," she said. "I'd rather go in the street cars."

She sat very still in the empty room, her face burning.

Characteristically, her father had not once mentioned the rector of St. John's, yet had contrived to imply that her interest in Hodder was greater than her interest in religion. And she was forced to admit, with her customary honesty, that the implication was true.

The numbers who knew Alison Parr casually thought her cold. They admired a certain quality in her work, but they did not suspect that that quality was the incomplete expression of an innate idealism capable of being fanned into flame,—for she was subject to rare but ardent enthusiasms which kindled and transformed her incredibly in the eyes of the few to whom the process had been revealed. She had had even a longer list of suitors than any one guessed; men who—usually by accident—had touched the hidden spring, and suddenly beholding an unimagined woman, had consequently lost their heads. The mistake most of them had made (for subtlety in such affairs is not a masculine trait) was the failure to recognize and continue to present the quality in them which had awakened her. She had invariably discovered the feet of clay.

Thus disillusion had been her misfortune—perhaps it would be more accurate to say her fortune. She had built up, after each invasion, her defences more carefully and solidly than before, only to be again astonished and dismayed by the next onslaught, until at length the question had become insistent—the question of an alliance for purposes of greater security. She had returned to her childhood home to consider it, frankly recognizing it as a compromise, a fall....

And here, in this sanctuary of her reflection, and out of a quarter on which she had set no watch, out of a wilderness which she had believed to hold nothing save the ruined splendours of the past, had come one who, like the traditional figures of the wilderness, had attracted her by his very uncouthness and latent power. And the anomaly he presented in what might be called the vehemence of his advocacy of an outworn orthodoxy, in his occupation of the pulpit of St. John's, had quickened at once her curiosity and antagonism. It had been her sudden discovery, or rather her instinctive suspicion of the inner conflict in him which had set her standard fluttering in response. Once more (for the last time—something whispered—now) she had become the lady of the lists; she sat on her walls watching, with beating heart and straining eyes, the closed helm of her champion, ready to fling down the revived remnant of her faith as prize or forfeit. She had staked all on the hope that he would not lower his lance.....

Saturday had passed in suspense.... And now was flooding in on her the certainty that he had not failed her; that he had, with a sublime indifference to a worldly future and success, defied the powers. With indifference, too, to her! She knew, of course, that he loved her. A man with less of greatness would have sought a middle way....

When, at half past ten, she fared forth into the sunlight, she was filled with anticipation, excitement, concern, feelings enhanced and not soothed by the pulsing vibrations of the church bells in the softening air. The swift motion of the electric car was grateful... But at length the sight of familiar landmarks, old-fashioned dwellings crowded in between the stores and factories of lower Tower Street, brought back recollections of the days when she had come this way, other Sunday mornings, and in a more leisurely public vehicle, with her mother. Was it possible that she, Alison Parr, were going to church now? Her excitement deepened, and she found it difficult to bring herself to the realization that her destination was a church—the church of her childhood. At this moment she could only think of St. John's as the setting of the supreme drama.

When she alighted at the corner of Burton Street there was the well-remembered, shifting group on the pavement in front of the church porch. How many times, in the summer and winter, in fair weather and cloudy, in rain and sleet and snow had she approached that group, as she approached it now! Here were the people, still, in the midst of whom her earliest associations had been formed, changed, indeed,-but yet the same. No, the change was in her, and the very vastness of that change came as a shock. These had stood still, anchored to their traditions, while she—had she grown? or merely wandered? She had searched, at least, and seen. She had once accepted them—if indeed as a child it could have been said of her that she accepted anything; she had been unable then, at any rate, to bring forward any comparisons.

Now she beheld them, collectively, in their complacent finery, as representing a force, a section of the army blocking the heads of the passes of the world's progress, resting on their arms, but ready at the least uneasy movement from below to man the breastworks, to fling down the traitor from above, to fight fiercely for the solidarity of their order. And Alison even believed herself to detect, by something indefinable in their attitudes as they stood momentarily conversing in lowered voices, an aroused suspicion, an uneasy anticipation. Her imagination went so far as to apprehend, as they greeted her unwonted appearance, that they read in it an addition to other vague and disturbing phenomena. Her colour was high.

"Why, my dear," said Mrs. Atterbury, "I thought you had gone back to New York long ago!"

Beside his mother stood Gordon—more dried up, it seemed, than ever. Alison recalled him, as on this very spot, a thin, pale boy in short trousers, and Mrs. Atterbury a beautiful and controlled young matron associated with St. John's and with children's parties. She was wonderful yet, with her white hair and straight nose, her erect figure still slight. Alison knew that Mrs. Atterbury had never forgiven her for rejecting her son—or rather for being the kind of woman who could reject him.

"Surely you haven't been here all summer?"

Alison admitted it, characteristically, without explanations.

"It seems so natural to see you here at the old church, after all these years," the lady went on, and Alison was aware that Mrs. Atterbury questioned—or rather was at a loss for the motives which had led such an apostate back to the fold. "We must thank Mr. Hodder, I suppose. He's very remarkable. I hear he is resuming the services to-day for the first time since June."

Alison was inclined to read a significance into Mrs. Atterbury's glance at her son, who was clearing his throat.

"But—where is Mr. Parr?" he asked. "I understand he has come back from his cruise."

"Yes, he is back. I came without—him—-as you see."

She found a certain satisfaction in adding to the mystification, to the disquietude he betrayed by fidgeting more than usual.

"But—he always comes when he is in town. Business—I suppose—ahem!"

"No," replied Alison, dropping her bomb with cruel precision, "he has gone to Calvary."

The agitation was instantaneous.

"To Calvary!" exclaimed mother and son in one breath.

"Why?" It was Gordon who demanded. "A—a special occasion there—a bishop or something?"

"I'm afraid you must ask him," she said.

She was delayed on the steps, first by Nan Ferguson, then by the Laureston Greys, and her news outdistanced her to the porch. Charlotte Plimpton looking very red and solid, her eyes glittering with excitement, blocked her way.

"Alison?" she cried, in the slightly nasal voice that was a Gore inheritance, "I'm told your father's gone to Calvary! Has Mr. Hodder offended him? I heard rumours—Wallis seems to be afraid that something has happened."

"He hasn't said anything about it to me, Charlotte," said Alison, in quiet amusement, "but then he wouldn't, you know. I don't live here any longer, and he has no reason to think that I would be interested in church matters."

"But—why did you come?" Charlotte demanded, with Gore naivete.

Alison smiled.

"You mean—what was my motive?"

Charlotte actually performed the miracle of getting redder. She was afraid of Alison—much more afraid since she had known of her vogue in the East. When Alison had put into execution the astounding folly (to the Gore mind) of rejecting the inheritance of millions to espouse a profession, it had been Charlotte Plimpton who led the chorus of ridicule and disapproval. But success, to the Charlotte Plimptons, is its own justification, and now her ambition (which had ramifications) was to have Alison "do" her a garden. Incidentally, the question had flashed through her mind as to how much Alison's good looks had helped towards her triumph in certain shining circles.

"Oh, of course I didn't mean that," she hastened to deny, although it was exactly what she had meant. Her curiosity unsatisfied—and not likely to be satisfied at once, she shifted abruptly to the other burning subject. "I was so glad when I learned you hadn't gone. Grace Larrabbee's garden is a dream, my dear. Wallis and I stopped there the other day and the caretaker showed it to us. Can't you make a plan for me, so that I may begin next spring? And there's something else I wanted to ask you. Wallis and I are going to New York the end of the month. Shall you be there?"

"I don't know," said Alison, cautiously.

"We want so much to see one or two of your gardens on Long Island, and especially the Sibleys', on the Hudson. I know it will be late in the season,—but don't you think you could take us, Alison? And I intend to give you a dinner. I'll write you a note. Here's Wallis."

"Well, well, well," said Mr. Plimpton, shaking Alison's hand. "Where's father? I hear he's gone to Calvary."

Alison made her escape. Inside the silent church, Eleanor Goodrich gave her a smile and a pressure of welcome. Beside her, standing behind the rear pew, were Asa Waring and—Mr. Bentley! Mr. Bentley returned to St. John's!

"You have come!" Alison whispered.

He understood her. He took her hand in his and looked down into her upturned face.

"Yes, my dear," he said, "and my girls have come Sally Grover and the others, and some friends from Dalton Street and elsewhere."

The news, the sound of this old gentleman's voice and the touch of his hand suddenly filled her with a strange yet sober happiness. Asa Waring, though he had not overheard, smiled at her too, as in sympathy. His austere face was curiously illuminated, and she knew instinctively that in some way he shared her happiness. Mr. Bentley had come back! Yes, it was an augury. From childhood she had always admired Asa Waring, and now she felt a closer tie....

She reached the pew, hesitated an instant, and slipped forward on her knees. Years had gone by since she had prayed, and even now she made no attempt to translate into words the intensity of her yearning—for what? Hodder's success, for one thing,—and by success she meant that he might pursue an unfaltering course. True to her temperament, she did not look for the downfall of the forces opposed to him. She beheld him persecuted, yet unyielding, and was thus lifted to an exaltation that amazed... If he could do it, such a struggle must sorely have an ultimate meaning! Thus she found herself, trembling, on the borderland of faith...

She arose, bewildered, her pulses beating. And presently glancing about, she took in that the church was fuller than she ever remembered having seen it, and the palpitating suspense she felt seemed to pervade, as it were, the very silence. With startling abruptness, the silence was broken by the tones of the great organ that rolled and reverberated among the arches; distant voices took up the processional; the white choir filed past,—first the treble voices of the boys, then the deeper notes of the—men,—turned and mounted the chancel steps, and then she saw Hodder. Her pew being among the first, he passed very near her. Did he know she would be there? The sternness of his profile told her nothing. He seemed at that moment removed, set apart, consecrated—this was the word that came to her, and yet she was keenly conscious of his presence.

Tingling, she found herself repeating, inwardly, two, lines of the hymn

          "Lay hold on life, and it shall be
          Thy joy and crown eternally."

"Lay hold on life!"

The service began,—the well-remembered, beautiful appeal and prayers which she could still repeat, after a lapse of time, almost by heart; and their music and rhythm, the simple yet magnificent language in which they were clothed—her own language—awoke this morning a racial instinct strong in her,—she had not known how strong. Or was it something in Hodder's voice that seemed to illumine the ancient words with a new meaning? Raising her eyes to the chancel she studied his head, and found in it still another expression of that race, the history of which had been one of protest, of development of its own character and personality. Her mind went back to her first talk with him, in the garden, and she saw how her intuition had recognized in him then the spirit of a people striving to assert itself.

She stood with tightened lips, during the Apostles' Creed, listening to his voice as it rose, strong and unfaltering, above the murmur of the congregation.

At last she saw him swiftly crossing the chancel, mounting the pulpit steps, and he towered above her, a dominant figure, his white surplice sharply outlined against the dark stone of the pillar. The hymn died away, the congregation sat down. There was a sound in the church, expectant, presaging, like the stirring of leaves at the first breath of wind, and then all was silent.

II

He had preached for an hour—longer, perhaps. Alison could not have said how long. She had lost all sense of time.

No sooner had the text been spoken, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God," than she seemed to catch a fleeting glimpse of an hitherto unimagined Personality. Hundreds of times she had heard those words, and they had been as meaningless to her as to Nicodemus. But now—now something was brought home to her of the magnificent certainty with which they must first have been spoken, of the tone and bearing and authority of him who had uttered them. Was Christ like that? And could it be a Truth, after all, a truth only to be grasped by one who had experienced it?

It was in vain that man had tried to evade this, the supreme revelation of Jesus Christ, had sought to substitute ceremonies and sacrifices for spiritual rebirth. It was in vain that the Church herself had, from time to time, been inclined to compromise. St. Paul, once the strict Pharisee who had laboured for the religion of works, himself had been reborn into the religion of the Spirit. It was Paul who had liberated that message of rebirth, which the world has been so long in grasping, from the narrow bounds of Palestine and sent it ringing down the ages to the democracies of the twentieth century.

And even Paul, though not consciously inconsistent, could not rid himself completely of that ancient, automatic, conception of religion which the Master condemned, but had on occasions attempted fruitlessly to unite the new with the old. And thus, for a long time, Christianity had been wrongly conceived as history, beginning with what to Paul and the Jews was an historical event, the allegory of the Garden of Eden, the fall of Adam, and ending with the Jewish conception of the Atonement. This was a rationalistic and not a spiritual religion.

The miracle was not the vision, whatever its nature, which Saul beheld on the road to Damascus. The miracle was the result of that vision, the man reborn. Saul, the persecutor of Christians, become Paul, who spent the rest of his days, in spite of persecution and bodily infirmities, journeying tirelessly up and down the Roman Empire, preaching the risen Christ, and labouring more abundantly than they all! There was no miracle in the New Testament more wonderful than this.

The risen Christ! Let us not trouble ourselves about the psychological problems involved, problems which the first century interpreted in its own simple way. Modern, science has taught us this much, at least, that we have by no means fathomed the limits even of a transcendent personality. If proofs of the Resurrection and Ascension were demanded, let them be spiritual proofs, and there could be none more convincing than the life of the transformed Saul, who had given to the modern, western world the message of salvation....

That afternoon, as Alison sat motionless on a distant hillside of the Park, gazing across the tree-dotted, rolling country to the westward, she recalled the breathless silence in the church when he had reached this point and paused, looking down at the congregation. By the subtle transmission of thought, of feeling which is characteristic at dramatic moments of bodies of people, she knew that he had already contrived to stir them to the quick. It was not so much that these opening words might have been startling to the strictly orthodox, but the added fact that Hodder had uttered them. The sensation in the pews, as Alison interpreted it and exulted over it, was one of bewildered amazement that this was their rector, the same man who had preached to them in June. Like Paul, of whom he spoke, he too was transformed, had come to his own, radiating a new power that seemed to shine in his face.

Still agitated, she considered that discourse now in her solitude, what it meant for him, for her, for the Church and civilization that a clergyman should have had the courage to preach it. He himself had seemed unconscious of any courage; had never once—she recalled—been sensational. He had spoken simply, even in the intensest moments of denunciation. And she wondered now how he had managed, without stripping himself, without baring the intimate, sacred experiences of his own soul, to convey to them, so nobly, the change which had taken place in him....

He began by referring to the hope with which he had come to St. John's, and the gradual realization that the church was a failure—a dismal failure when compared to the high ideal of her Master. By her fruits she should be known and judged. From the first he had contemplated, with a heavy heart, the sin and misery at their very gates. Not three blocks distant children were learning vice in the streets, little boys of seven and eight, underfed and anaemic, were driven out before dawn to sell newspapers, little girls thrust forth to haunt the saloons and beg, while their own children were warmed and fed. While their own daughters were guarded, young women in Dayton Street were forced to sell themselves into a life which meant slow torture, inevitable early death. Hopeless husbands and wives were cast up like driftwood by the cruel, resistless flood of modern civilization—the very civilization which yielded their wealth and luxury. The civilization which professed the Spirit of Christ, and yet was pitiless.

He confessed to them that for a long time he had been blind to the truth, had taken the inherited, unchristian view that the disease which caused vice and poverty might not be cured, though its ulcers might be alleviated. He had not, indeed, clearly perceived and recognized the disease. He had regarded Dalton Street in a very special sense as a reproach to St. John's, but now he saw that all such neighbourhoods were in reality a reproach to the city, to the state, to the nation. True Christianity and Democracy were identical, and the congregation of St. John's, as professed Christians and citizens, were doubly responsible, inasmuch as they not only made no protest or attempt to change a government which permitted the Dalton Streets to exist, but inasmuch also as,—directly or indirectly,—they derived a profit from conditions which were an abomination to God. It would be but an idle mockery for them to go and build a settlement house, if they did not first reform their lives.

Here there had been a decided stir among the pews. Hodder had not seemed to notice it.

When he, their rector, had gone to Dalton Street to invite the poor and wretched into God's Church, he was met by the scornful question: "Are the Christians of the churches any better than we? Christians own the grim tenements in which we live, the saloons and brothels by which we are surrounded, which devour our children. Christians own the establishments which pay us starvation wages; profit by politics, and take toll from our very vice; evade the laws and reap millions, while we are sent to jail. Is their God a God who will lift us out of our misery and distress? Are their churches for the poor? Are not the very pews in which they sit as closed to us as their houses?"

"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. I would thou wert cold or hot."

One inevitable conclusion of such a revelation was that he had not preached to them the vital element of Christianity. And the very fact that his presentation of religion had left many indifferent or dissatisfied was proof-positive that he had dwelt upon non-essentials, laid emphasis upon the mistaken interpretations of past ages. There were those within the Church who were content with this, who—like the Pharisees of old—welcomed a religion which did not interfere with their complacency, with their pursuit of pleasure and wealth, with their special privileges; welcomed a Church which didn't raise her voice against the manner of their lives—against the order, the Golden Calf which they had set up, which did not accuse them of deliberately retarding the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Ah, that religion was not religion, for religion was a spiritual, not a material affair. In that religion, vainly designed by man as a compromise between God and Mammon, there was none of the divine discontent of the true religion of the Spirit, no need of the rebirth of the soul. And those who held it might well demand, with Nicodemus and the rulers of the earth, "How can these things be?"

And there were others who still lingered in the Church, perplexed and wistful, who had come to him and confessed that the so-called catholic acceptance of divine truths, on which he had hitherto dwelt, meant nothing to them. To these, in particular, he owed a special reparation, and he took this occasion to announce a series of Sunday evening sermons on the Creeds. So long as the Creeds remained in the Prayer Book it was his duty to interpret them in terms not only of modern thought, but in harmony with the real significance of the Person and message of Jesus Christ. Those who had come to him questioning, he declared, were a thousand times right in refusing to accept the interpretations of other men, the consensus of opinion of more ignorant ages, expressed in an ancient science and an archaic philosophy.

And what should be said of the vast and ever increasing numbers of those not connected with the Church, who had left it or were leaving it? and of the less fortunate to whose bodily wants they had been ministering in the parish house, for whom it had no spiritual message, and who never entered its doors? The necessity of religion, of getting in touch with, of dependence on the Spirit of the Universe was inherent in man, and yet there were thousands—nay, millions in the nation to-day in whose hearts was an intense and unsatisfied yearning, who perceived no meaning in life, no Cause for which to work, who did not know what Christianity was, who had never known what it was, who wist not where to turn to find out. Education had brought many of them to discern, in the Church's teachings, an anachronistic medley of myths and legends, of theories of schoolmen and theologians, of surviving pagan superstitions which could not be translated into life. They saw, in Christianity, only the adulterations of the centuries. If any one needed a proof of the yearning people felt, let him go to the bookshops, or read in the publishers' lists to-day the announcements of books on religion. There was no supply where there was no demand.

Truth might no longer be identified with Tradition, and the day was past when councils and synods might determine it for all mankind. The era of forced acceptance of philosophical doctrines and dogmas was past, and that of freedom, of spiritual rebirth, of vicarious suffering, of willing sacrifice and service for a Cause was upon them. That cause was Democracy. Christ was uniquely the Son of God because he had lived and suffered and died in order to reveal to the world the meaning of this life and of the hereafter—the meaning not only for the individual, but for society as well. Nothing might be added to or subtracted from that message—it was complete.

True faith was simply trusting—trusting that Christ gave to the world the revelation of God's plan. And the Saviour himself had pointed out the proof: "If any man do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak for myself." Christ had repeatedly rebuked those literal minds which had demanded material evidence: true faith spurned it, just as true friendship, true love between man and man, true trust scorned a written bond. To paraphrase St. James's words, faith without trust is dead—because faith without trust is impossible. God is a Spirit, only to be recognized in the Spirit, and every one of the Saviour's utterances were—not of the flesh, of the man—but of the Spirit within him. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" and "Why callest thou me good? none is good save one, that is, God." The Spirit, the Universal Meaning of Life, incarnate in the human Jesus.

To be born again was to overcome our spiritual blindness, and then, and then only, we might behold the spirit shining in the soul of Christ. That proof had sufficed for Mark, had sufficed for the writer of the sublime Fourth Gospel, had sufficed for Paul. Let us lift this wondrous fact, once and for all, out of the ecclesiastical setting and incorporate it into our lives. Nor need the hearts of those who seek the Truth, who fear not to face it, be troubled if they be satisfied, from the Gospels, that the birth of Jesus was not miraculous. The physical never could prove the spiritual, which was the real and everlasting, which no discovery in science or history can take from us. The Godship of Christ rested upon no dogma, it was a conviction born into us with the new birth. And it becomes an integral part of our personality, our very being.

The secret, then, lay in a presentation of the divine message which would convince and transform and electrify those who heard it to action—a presentation of the message in terms which the age could grasp. That is what Paul had done, he had drawn his figures boldly from the customs of the life of his day, but a more or less intimate knowledge of these ancient customs were necessary before modern men and women could understand those figures and parallels. And the Church must awake to her opportunities, to her perception of the Cause....

What, then, was the function, the mission of the Church Universal? Once she had laid claim to temporal power, believed herself to be the sole agency of God on earth, had spoken ex cathedra on philosophy, history, theology, and science, had undertaken to confer eternal bliss and to damn forever. Her members, and even her priests, had gone from murder to mass and from mass to murder, and she had engaged in cruel wars and persecutions to curtail the liberties of mankind. Under that conception religion was a form of insurance of the soul. Perhaps a common, universal belief had been necessary in the dark ages before the sublime idea of education for the masses had come; but the Church herself—through ignorance—had opposed the growth of education, had set her face sternly against the development of the individual, which Christ had taught, the privilege of man to use the faculties of the intellect which God had bestowed upon him. He himself, their rector, had advocated a catholic acceptance, though much modified from the mediaeval acceptance,—one that professed to go behind it to an earlier age. Yes, he must admit with shame that he had been afraid to trust where God trusted, had feared to confide the working out of the ultimate Truth of the minds of the millions.

The Church had been monarchical in form, and some strove stubbornly and blindly to keep her monarchical. Democracy in government was outstripping her. Let them look around, to-day, and see what was happening in the United States of America. A great movement was going on to transfer actual participation in government from the few to the many,—a movement towards true Democracy, and that was precisely what was about to happen in the Church. Her condition at present was one of uncertainty, transition—she feared to let go wholly of the old, she feared to embark upon the new. Just as the conservatives and politicians feared to give up the representative system, the convention, so was she afraid to abandon the synod, the council, and trust to man.

The light was coming slowly, the change, the rebirth of the Church by gradual evolution. By the grace of God those who had laid the foundations of the Church in which he stood, of all Protestantism, had built for the future. The racial instinct in them had asserted itself, had warned them that to suppress freedom in religion were to suppress it in life, to paralyze that individual initiative which was the secret of their advancement.

The new Church Universal, then, would be the militant, aggressive body of the reborn, whose mission it was to send out into the life of the nation transformed men and women who would labour unremittingly for the Kingdom of God. Unity would come—but unity in freedom, true Catholicity. The truth would gradually pervade the masses—be wrought out by them. Even the great evolutionary forces of the age, such as economic necessity, were acting to drive divided Christianity into consolidation, and the starving churches of country villages were now beginning to combine.

No man might venture to predict the details of the future organization of the united Church, although St. Paul himself had sketched it in broad outline: every worker, lay and clerical, labouring according to his gift, teachers, executives, ministers, visitors, missionaries, healers of sick and despondent souls. But the supreme function of the Church was to inspire—to inspire individuals to willing service for the cause, the Cause of Democracy, the fellowship of mankind. If she failed to inspire, the Church would wither and perish. And therefore she must revive again the race of inspirers, prophets, modern Apostles to whom this gift was given, going on their rounds, awaking cities and arousing whole country-sides.

But whence—it might be demanded by the cynical were the prophets to come? Prophets could not be produced by training and education; prophets must be born. Reborn,—that was the word. Let the Church have faith. Once her Cause were perceived, once her whole energy were directed towards its fulfilment, the prophets would arise, out of the East and out of the West, to stir mankind to higher effort, to denounce fearlessly the shortcomings and evils of the age. They had not failed in past ages, when the world had fallen into hopelessness, indifference, and darkness. And they would not fail now.

Prophets were personalities, and Phillips Brooks himself a prophet—had defined personality as a conscious relationship with God. "All truth," he had said, "comes to the world through personality." And down the ages had come an Apostolic Succession of personalities. Paul, Augustine, Francis, Dante, Luther, Milton,—yes, and Abraham Lincoln, and Phillips Brooks, whose Authority was that of the Spirit, whose light had so shone before men that they had glorified the Father which was in heaven; the current of whose Power had so radiated, in ever widening circles, as to make incandescent countless other souls.

And which among them would declare that Abraham Lincoln, like Stephen, had not seen his Master in the sky?

The true prophet, the true apostle, then, was one inspired and directed by the Spirit, the laying on of hands was but a symbol,—the symbol of the sublime truth that one personality caught fire from another. Let the Church hold fast to that symbol, as an acknowledgment, a reminder of a supreme mystery. Tradition had its value when it did not deteriorate into superstition, into the mechanical, automatic transmission characteristic of the mediaeval Church, for the very suggestion of which Peter had rebuked Simon in Samaria. For it would be remembered that Simon had said: "Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost."

The true successor to the Apostles must be an Apostle himself.

Jesus had seldom spoken literally, and the truths he sought to impress upon the world had of necessity been clothed in figures and symbols,—for spiritual truths might be conveyed in no other way. The supreme proof of his Godship, of his complete knowledge of the meaning of life was to be found in his parables. To the literal, material mind, for example, the parable of the talents was merely an unintelligible case of injustice.... What was meant by the talents? They were opportunities for service. Experience taught us that when we embraced one opportunity, one responsibility, the acceptance of it invariably led to another, and so the servant who had five talents, five opportunities, gained ten. The servant who had two gained two more. But the servant of whom only one little service was asked refused that, and was cast into outer darkness, to witness another performing the task which should have been his. Hell, here and hereafter, was the spectacle of wasted opportunity, and there is no suffering to compare to it.

The crime, the cardinal sin was with those who refused to serve, who shut their eyes to the ideal their Lord had held up, who strove to compromise with Jesus Christ himself, to twist and torture his message to suit their own notions as to how life should be led; to please God and Mammon at the same time, to bind Christ's Church for their comfort and selfish convenience. Of them it was written, that they shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for they neither go in themselves, neither suffer them that are entering to go in. Were these any better than the people who had crucified the Lord for his idealism, and because he had not brought them the material Kingdom for which they longed?

That servant who had feared to act, who had hid his talent in the ground, who had said unto his lord, "I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hadst not sown," was the man without faith, the atheist who sees only cruelty and indifference in the order of things, who has no spiritual sight. But to the other servants it was said, "Thou halt been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord."

The meaning of life, then, was service, and by life our Lord did not mean mere human existence, which is only a part of life. The Kingdom of heaven is a state, and may begin here. And that which we saw around us was only one expression of that eternal life—a medium to work through, towards God. All was service, both here and hereafter, and he that had not discovered that the joy of service was the only happiness worth living for could have no conception of the Kingdom. To those who knew, there was no happiness like being able to say, "I have found my place in God's plan, I am of use." Such was salvation....

And in the parable of the Prodigal Son may be read the history of what are known as the Protestant nations. What happens logically when the individual is suddenly freed from the restraint of external authority occurred when Martin Luther released the vital spark of Christianity, which he got from Paul, and from Christ himself—the revelation of individual responsibility, that God the Spirit would dwell, by grace, in the individual soul. Ah, we had paid a terrible yet necessary price for freedom. We had wandered far from the Father, we had been reduced to the very husks of individualism, become as swine. We beheld around us, to-day, selfishness, ruthless competition, as great contrasts between misery and luxury as in the days of the Roman Empire. But should we, for that reason, return to the leading-strings of authority? Could we if we would? A little thought ought to convince us that the liberation of the individual could not be revoked, that it had forever destroyed the power of authority to carry conviction. To go back to the Middle Ages would be to deteriorate and degenerate. No, we must go on....

Luther's movement, in religion, had been the logical forerunner of democracy, of universal suffrage in government, the death-knell of that misinterpretation of Christianity as the bulwark of monarchy and hierarchy had been sounded when he said, "Ich kann nicht anders!" The new Republic founded on the western continent had announced to the world the initiation of the transfer of Authority to the individual soul. God, the counterpart of the King, the ruler in a high heaven of a flat terrestrial expanse, outside of the world, was now become the Spirit of a million spheres, the indwelling spirit in man. Democracy and the religion of Jesus Christ both consisted in trusting the man—yes, and the woman—whom God trusts. Christianity was individualism carried beyond philosophy into religion, and the Christian, the ideal citizen of the democracy, was free since he served not because he had to, but because he desired to of his own will, which, paradoxically, is God's will. God was in politics, to the confusion of politicians; God in government. And in some greater and higher sense than we had yet perceived, the saying 'vox populi vox dei' was eternally true. He entered into the hearts of people and moved them, and so the world progressed. It was the function of the Church to make Christians, until—when the Kingdom of God should come—the blending should be complete. Then Church and State would be identical, since all the members of the one would be the citizens of the other....

"I will arise and go to my father." Rebirth! A sense of responsibility, of consecration. So we had come painfully through our materialistic individualism, through our selfish Protestantism, to a glimpse of the true Protestantism—Democracy.

Our spiritual vision was glowing clearer. We were beginning to perceive that charity did not consist in dispensing largesse after making a fortune at the expense of one's fellow-men; that there was something still wrong in a government that permits it. It was gradually becoming plain to us, after two thousand years, that human bodies and souls rotting in tenements were more valuable than all the forests on all the hills; that government, Christian government, had something to do with these.

We should embody, in government, those sublime words of the Master, "Suffer little children to come unto me." And the government of the future would care for the little children. We were beginning to do it. Here, as elsewhere, Christianity and reason went hand in hand, for the child became the man who either preyed on humanity and filled the prisons and robbed his fellows, or else grew into a useful, healthy citizen. It was nothing less than sheer folly as well as inhuman cruelty to let the children sleep in crowded, hot rooms, reeking with diseases, and run wild throughout the long summer, learning vice in the city streets. And we still had slavery—economic slavery—yes, and the more horrible slavery of women and young girls in vice—as much a concern of government as the problem which had confronted it in 1861.... We were learning that there was something infinitely more sacred than property....

And now Alison recalled, only to be thrilled again by an electric sensation she had never before experienced with such intensity, the look of inspiration on the preacher's face as he closed. The very mists of the future seemed to break before his importuning gaze, and his eyes seemed indeed to behold, against the whitening dawn of the spiritual age he predicted, the slender spires of a new Church sprung from the foundations of the old. A Church, truly catholic, tolerant, whose portals were wide in welcome to all mankind. The creative impulse, he had declared, was invariably religious, the highest art but the expression of the mute yearnings of a people, of a race. Thus had once arisen, all over Europe, those wonderful cathedrals which still cast their spell upon the world, and art to-day would respond—was responding—to the unutterable cravings of mankind, would strive once more to express in stone and glass and pigment what nations felt. Generation after generation would labour with unflagging zeal until the art sculptured fragment of the new Cathedral—the new Cathedral of Democracy—pointed upward toward the blue vault of heaven. Such was his vision—God the Spirit, through man reborn, carrying out his great Design...



Back | Next | Contents