"And when the day of Pentecost was come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire: and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.... And when this sound was heard, the multitude came together!"—Acts 2:4, 6.
The wonder inside the Church aroused inquisitive interest without. There came to the Church an exceptional and plentiful endowment, and, as by the constraint of a mystic gravitation, the outside crowd began to move, like the waters swayed by the moon. The crowd may have moved towars the Church in the temper of a flippant curiosity, or in the spirit of unfriendly revolt, or in the solemn mood of appropriating awe. Whatever may have been the constraint, the waters were no longer stagnant, the masses were no longer heedless and apathetic; the heedlessness was broken up, interest was begotten, and "the multitude came together."
Is the modern Church the centre of similar interest and wonder? Is there any awed and mesmeric rumour breathing through the streets, stirring the indifferent heart into eager questionings? The modern Church claims immediate kinship and direct and vital lineage with that primitive fellowship in the upper room. Does she manifest the power of the early Church? Does she reveal the same magnetic influence and constraint?
I know that "the Kingdom of God cometh not with observation." And so it is with the Spring. The Spring "cometh not with observation," but you speedily have tokens that she is here. She can hide her coming behind March squalls, and she can step upon our shores in the rough attire of a blustering and tempestuous day; but even though her coming may be without observation, her presence cannot be hid. And even so it is with the Kingdom: she may make no noisy and ostentatious display of her coming, but the sleeping seeds feel her approach, and the valley of bones experiences an awaking thrill, and "there is nothing hid from the heat thereof." I think, therefore, that we are justified in seriously inquiring as to the "resurrection power" of our Churches, the measure of their quickening influence, their net result in reaching and stirring and consecrating the energies of a community. How do they stand in the judgment? Is the Pentecostal morning repeated, and is the gracious miracle the talk of the town? Does the multitude come together, "greatly wondering"?
Carry the inquisition to the regular and frequent fellowship of the Church. So many times a week her members gather together in the upper room. What happens in the hallowed shrine? Are we held in solemn and enriching amazement at the awful doings? And when we come forth again, is there about us a mysterious impressiveness which arrests the multitude, and which sends abroad a spirit of questioning like a healthy contagion? Can we honestly say that by our ordinary services the feet of the heedless crowd are stayed, and that the people come together "greatly wondering"? In answer to all these searching questions I think that even the most optimistic of us will feel obliged to confess that the general tendency is undisturbed, that we do not generate force enough to stop the drift, and that the surrounding multitude remains uninfluenced.
Now, when we consider these unattracted or alienated peoples, we can roughly divide them into three primary classes. First, there are those who never think about us at all. So very remote are the highways of their thought and life that the impulse of the Church is spent before it reaches their mental and moral abode. We can scarcely describe their attitude as one of indifference, because the mood of indifference would imply a negligent sense of our existence, and I can discern no signs of such perception. We contribute no thread to the warp and woof of their daily life. We bring no nutriment to the common meal; we do not even provide a condiment for the feast. Our presence in the city brings neither pleasure nor pang, neither sweet nor bitter, neither irritation nor ease; their souls are not disquieted within them, neither are they lulled into a deeper and more perilous sleep. We are neither irritants nor sedatives; to this particular class we simply do not exist.
And, then, secondly, there are those who have thought about us, and as a result of their thinking have determined to ignore us. For all simple, positive, and progressive purposes we are no longer any good. We are exhausted batteries; we have no longer the power to ring a loud alarm, or to light a new road, or to energise some heavy and burdensome crusade. Our once stern and sacrificial warfare has now become a bloodless and self-indulgent quest. It is not only that the once potent shell-cases have been emptied of their explosive content, they have been converted into dinner-gongs! The once brilliant and unconditional ethical ideal has been dimmed and shadowed by worldly compromise. The pure and oxygenated flame of righteous passion has been changed into the fierce but smoky bonfire of sectarian zeal. We are looked upon as engaged in petty and childish controversy, losing ourselves in vague and nebulous phraseology, decking ourselves in vestures and postures as harmless and indifferent as the dresses worn at a fancy ball. That is the estimate formed of us by a vast section of the thinking crowd. You will find it reflected week by week in the labour papers, where we are regarded as straws in some side-bay of a mighty river, riding serenely round and round and round, and we do not even show the drift of the stream, the dominant movement of our age. Our speech and our doings are of interest to the antiquary, but for all serious, practical, forceful, and aspiring life our Churches do not count.
And, thirdly, there are those who think about us, and who are constrained by their thinking into the fiercest and most determined opposition. To these men the Church is not like Bunyan's Giant Pope, alive but impotent, and "by reason of age, and also of the many shrewd brushes that he met with in his younger days, grown so crazy and stiff in his joints, that he can do little more than sit in his cave's mouth, grinning at pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails because he cannot come at them." No, to this class the Church can do more than grin; it can reach and tear, and its ministry is still destructive. Its influence is perverse and perverting. Its very faith is a minister of mental and moral paralysis. Its dominant conceptions befog the common atmosphere, and chill and freeze "the genial currents of the soul." Its common postures and practices, its defences and aggressions, perpetuate and confirm human alienations and divisions. The Church cannot be ignored; it is not a harmless and picturesque ruin; it is a foul fungus souring the common soil, and for the sake of all sweet and beautiful things its nefarious influence must be destroyed.
This is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the alienated multitude, but it is sufficiently descriptive for my present purpose. In each of these three great primary classes the people stand aloof, indifferent and resentful, and the Church is not endowed with that subduing and triumphant impressiveness which would turn their reverent feet toward herself. Now, how stands it with the Church? Does she seem fitted to strike, and arrest, and silence, and allure the careless or suspicious multitudes? What is there unique and amazing about her? Her Lord has promised her a marvellous distinctiveness. She is to be "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing"! "A glorious Church": shining amid all the surrounding twilights with the radiance of a splendid noon! "Not having spot": no defect, no blemish, no impaired function, no diseased limb! "Or wrinkle": there shall be no sign of age about her, or any waste; she shall never become an anachronism; she shall always be as young as the present age, ever distinguished by her youthful brow, and by her fresh and almost boisterous optimism! "Or wrinkle, or any such thing!" Mark the final, holy swagger of it, as though by a contemptuous wave of the hand the Apostle indicates the entire rout of the unclean pests that invade and attack an apostate Church. "Or any such thing"! Are these great words of promise in any high degree descriptive of our own Church? Is this our distinctiveness? "Not having spot": have we no withered hands, no halt, no blind, no lame, no lepers? "Or wrinkle": are we really distinguished by the invincible and contagious energies of perpetual youth? Does not the holding up of this great ideal throw our basal defects into dark and ugly relief? The pity of it all is just this, that the Church, with all its loud and exuberant professions, is exceedingly like "the world." There is no clean, clear line of separation. In place of the promised glories we have a tolerable and unexciting dimness; in place of superlative whiteness we have an uninteresting gray; and in place of the spirit of an aggressive youthfulness we have a loitering and time-serving expediency. There would be no difficulty, if only we had seized upon the fulness of our resources, and had become clothed with the riches of our promised inheritance, in men being able to distinguish, in any general company, the representatives of the Church of the living God. There would be about them the pervasive joy of spiritual emancipation, resting upon all their speech and doings like sunlight on the hills. There would be about them a spiritual spring and buoyancy which would enable them to move amid besetting obstacles with the nimbleness of a hart. "Thou hast made my feet like hinds' feet!" "By my God have I leaped over a wall!" There would be about them the fine serenity which is born of a mighty alliance. And there would be the strong, healthy pulse of a holy and hallowing purpose, beating in constant and forceful persistence. Such characteristics would distinguish any man, and any company, and any Church, and the startled multitude would gather around in questioning curiosity. But the alluring wonder is largely absent from our Church. Men pass from the world into our precincts as insensible of any difference as though they had passed from one side of the street to the other, and not feeling as though they had been transported from the hard, sterile glare of the city thoroughfare into the fascinating beauties of a Devonshire lane. What, then, do we need? We need the return of the wonder, the arresting marvel of a transformed Church, the phenomenon of a miraculous life. I speak not now of the wonders of spasmodic revivals; and, indeed, if I must be perfectly frank, my confidence in the efficient ministry of these elaborately engineered revivals has greatly waned. I will content myself with the expression of this most sober judgment, that the alienated and careless multitude is not impressed by the machinery and products of our modern revivals. The ordinary mission does not, and cannot, reach the stage at which this particular type of impressiveness becomes operative. The impressiveness does not attach to "decisions," but to resultant life. The wonder of the world is not excited by the phenomena of the penitent bench, but by what happens at the ordinary working-bench in the subsequent days. The world is not impressed by the calendar statement that at a precise particular moment Winter relinquished her sovereignty to Spring; the real interest is awakened by the irresistible tokens of the transition in garden, hedgerow, and field. It is not the new birth which initially arrests the world, but the new and glorified life. It is not, therefore, by spasmodic revivals, however grace-blessed they may be, that we shall excite the wonder of the multitude, but by the abiding miracle of a God-filled and glorious Church. What we need, above all things, is the continuous marvel of an elevated Church, "set on high" by the King, having her home "in the heavenly places in Christ," approaching all things "from above," and triumphantly resisting the subtle gravitation of "the world, the flesh, and the devil." It is not only multitudes of decisions that we want, but pre-eminently the heightening of the life of the saved, the glorification of the saints. The great Evangelical Revival began, not with the reclamation of the depraved, but with the enrichment of the redeemed. It was the members of the Holy Club, moving amid the solemnities of grace and sacred fellowship, who were lifted up into the superlative stages of the spiritual life, and who in that transition took a step as great and vital as the earlier step from sin to righteousness. Their life became a high and permanent miracle, and their subsequent ministry was miraculous. That is the most urgent necessity of our day, a Church of the superlative order, immeasurably heightened and enriched—a Church with wings as well as feet, her dimness changed into radiance, her stammering changed into boldness, and presenting to the world the spectacle of a permanent marvel, which will fascinate and allure the inquiring multitude, drawn together "not that they might see Jesus only, but Lazarus also whom He has raised from the dead."
Now, what is the explanation of the comparative poverty and impotence of our corporate life? Why is the Church not laden with the impressive dignities of her destined inheritage? Look at the manner of our fellowship. Is it such as to give promise of power and wealth? When we meet together, in worshipping communities, do we look like men and women who are preparing to move amid the amazing and enriching sanctities of the Almighty? Take our very mode of entry. It is possible to lose a thing by the way we approach it. I have seen a body of flippant tourists on the Rigi at the dawn, and by their noisy irreverence they missed the very glory they had come to see. "When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required this at your hands, to trample My courts?" That loud and irreverent tramp is far too obtrusive in our communion. We are not sufficiently possessed by that spirit of reverence which is the "open sesame" into the realms of light and grace. We are not subdued into the receptiveness of awe. Nay, it is frequently asserted that in our day awe is an undesirable temper, a relic of an obsolete stage, a remnant of pagan darkness, a fearful bird of a past night, altogether a belated anachronism in the full, sweet light of the evangel of grace. I remember receiving a firm, but very courteous remonstrance from one of the children of light, because on the very threshold of a lovely summer's morning I had announced the hymn:—
"Lo! God is here: let us adore
And own bow dreadful is this place."
And my friend said it was like going back to the cold, gray dawn, when disturbed spirits were speeding to their rest! It was like moving amid the shadows and spectres of Genesis, and he wanted to lie and bask in the calm, sunny noon of the Gospel by John! I think his letter was representative of a common and familiar mood of our time. I have no desire to return to the chill, uncertain hours of the early morning, but I am concerned that we should learn and acquire the only receptive attitude in the presence of our glorious noon. It is certain that many of the popular hymns of our day are very far removed from the hymn to which I have just referred. It is not that these hymns are essentially false, but that they are so one-sided as to throw the truth into disproportion, and so they impair and impoverish our spiritual life. Here is one of the more popular hymns of our time:—
"O that will be glory for me,
When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory for me!"
Well, we all want to share in the inspiration of the great expectancy! It is a light and lilting song, with very nimble feet: but lest our thought should fashion itself after the style of these tripping strains, we need to hear behind the lilt "the voice of the great Eternal," sobering our very exuberance into deep and awful joy. "When by His grace I shall look on His face!" That is one aspect of the great outlook, and only one, and therefore incomplete. I find the complementary aspect in these familiar words, "With twain he covered his face!" That is quite another outlook, and it introduces the deepening ministry of awe, which I am afraid is so foreign to the modern mind. "I feel like singing all the day!" So runs another of our popular hymns. That would have been a congenial song for my friend on that radiant summer morning when his thoughtless minister led him up to the awful splendours of the great white throne! "I feel like singing all the day": and the words suggest that this ought to be the normal mood for all pilgrims on the heavenly way. I am not so sure about that, and I certainly have grave doubts as to whether the man who feels "like singing all the day" will make the best soldier when it comes to "marching as to war." "The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him." That is a contemplation which seeks expression in something deeper than song. "There was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour." What had they seen, what had they heard, what further visions of glory had been unveiled, that speech and song were hushed, and the soul sought fitting refuge in an awe-inspired silence?
When I listen to our loud and irreverent tramp, when I listen to so many of our awe-less hymns and prayers, I cannot but ask whether we have lost those elements from our contemplation which are fitted to subdue the soul into silence, and to deprive it of the clumsy expedient of speech. We leave our places of worship, and no deep and inexpressible wonder sits upon our faces. We can sing these lilting melodies, and when we go out into the streets our faces are one with the faces of those who have left the theatres and the music-halls. There is nothing about us to suggest that we have been looking at anything stupendous and overwhelming. Far back in my boyhood I remember an old saint telling me that after some services he liked to make his way home alone, by quiet byways, so that the hush of the Almighty might remain on his awed and prostrate soul. That is the element we are losing, and its loss is one of the measures of our poverty, and the primary secret of our inefficient life and service. And what is the explanation of the loss? Pre-eminently our impoverished conception of �