HH Sir Godfrey Greg D.Div
Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work. –John 4:34
Is Religion Based on Reason or Feeling,‘
It has been a matter of controversy time and again which is the true wellspring of religion; and to this question, which is fresh in every age, there are two answers which demand attention.
On the one hand, there are many reverent thinkers who trace the roots of religion to the reason. It is because we are reasonable beings that we know the infinite reason, which is God. A dumb beast is not endowed with reason though it has an instinct. It is man alone, lifting his forehead heavenward, who is a truly reasonable creature; and in man alone, because he is so gifted, is there the craving for the eternal Being, and the assurance, at the back of all things visible, of a hand that guides and of a heart that plans. The thought is the lattice through which the human spirit peers forth upon the vista of eternity. The thought is the mystical ladder that goes heavenward and lifts itself through the silence to the throne. And if the angels, clad in their garb of ministry, move up and down upon its steps of radiance, it is because the head that lies upon the pillow is that of a reasonable man.
On the other hand, there have been many thinkers who have denied this primary place to thought. It is not from the reason that religion springs, they tell us; it is from the deeper region of the feelings. How can the fragmentary thought of man reach forth to the perfect thought of the Almighty? Can any by intellectual searching find Him out, and are not His thoughts different from our thoughts? Do we not know, too, that an age of so-called reason is never a time when eternal things are clear, but always a time when voices are but faint that come with the music of the Faraway? On these grounds, there has been raised a protest against reason as the wellspring of religion. Not upon reason is religion based; it sinks its shaft into the depth of feeling. It is born in the longing you cannot analyze; in the emotion that is prior to all thought; in the craving for God that rests upon no proof, and stirs in a depth below the reach of argument.
The Wellspring of Personal Religion Is the Will
But when we turn to the word of Jesus Christ and to its translation in apostolic doctrine, we discover that neither thought nor feeling is laid at the foundation of religion. Christ had no quarrel with the human intellect. He recognized its wonder and its power. His own intellectual life was far too rich for Him to be a traitor to the brain. Nor was Christ the enemy of human feelings. He never made light of tenderest emotion. He who wept beside the grave of Lazarus could never be the antagonist of tears. But in the teaching of Christ, it is not thought nor feeling that is the wellspring of personal religion. “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me”; the wellspring is in the region of the will. It is there that a man must pass from death to life. It is there that the path of piety begins–not in the loftiest and holiest thought nor in the rapture of excited feeling. The first thing is the dedication of the will; the response of a free man to a great God; the yielding of self to that imperious claim which is made by the loving Father in the heavens. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”–“Let the dead bury their dead, follow thou me”–such are the words in which our Lord describes the primary and determinative action. A man may cherish the most reverent thought or may luxuriate in tenderest feeling, yet if he harbours an unsurrendered will, he knows not yet the meaning of religion.
Yield Your Will to Christ
It is thus that we begin to understand the condemnation of Christ on indecision. “He that is not with me is against me”–“No man can serve two masters.” No matter how ignorant a man might be, Christ never was without hope for him. No matter how depraved he was, there was a spark within him that might be fanned to flame. But of all men, the most hopeless in Christ’s sight was the irresolute and undecided person, the man who refused to take a spiritual stand and who was contented to drift aimlessly. It is very probable that Judas Iscariot was a man of such irresolution. It had been growing increasingly clear to him, as months went by, that he was hopelessly out of sympathy with Jesus. But instead of arising in some great decision that might have closed that mockery of following, he drifted, amid ever quickening waters, till suddenly the whirlpool and the cry. The man who hesitates, we say, is lost–but Christ has come to seek and save the lost. Am I speaking to any waverer, to any hesitating, undecided person? Till the will is right, nothing is right. No man is Christ’s until the will has been yielded. “Our wills are ours, we know not how; Our wills are ours to make them Thine.”
Jesus Never Overpowered the Will
It is further notable in this connection that Jesus never overpowered the will. It was His glory to empower it, but to overpower it He scorned. “Come unto me, and I will give you rest”–a man must come; no hand from heaven will drag him. No irresistible and irrational constraint will force him into the presence of the Saviour. A man is something better than a beast–he is but a little lower than the angels–and as a man, or not at all, Christ will have the allegiance of the will. “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life” –there is the ring of an infinite pity about that, but the other side of that so baffled yearning, reveals the very grandeur of humanity. For it tells of a being whose heritage is freedom–not to be overborne by God Himself–of one who must come with a freely yielded will, or else not come at all. With Mohammed, it was the Qoran or the sword, and that compulsion was a degradation. Hence never, under Mohammedan dominion, has manhood risen to its highest splendour. But with Christ there was no compulsion of the will, save the compulsion of overmastering love, and that great recognition of our freedom has blossomed into the flower of Christian manhood. Do not wait, then, I would beg of you, as if a day were coming when you must be good. Do not think that the hour will ever strike when you will be swept irresistibly into the kingdom. At the last, it is a matter of decision, and in all the changes of the coming years, never will it be easier for you to make the great decision than now.
Christ’s Emphasis on the Motive
We might further illustrate Christ’s emphasis on will by some of the relationships in which He sets it. Think first of its relationship to action. It is not the action in itself that Jesus looks at; He has a gaze that pierces deeper than the action. He sees at the back of every deed, its motive, and that is the measure of value in His sight. Viewed from the standpoint of the day’s collection there was no great value in the widow’s mite. One coin out of the pocket of the rich was worth a hundred such in some eyes. But there is a certain kind of calculation that is intolerant of all arithmetic, and it was always on that basis Christ computed. Was there no sacrifice behind that little gift which was dropped so quietly into the temple treasury? Was there no will so bend upon obedience that it must pour it’s all into the offering? What Jesus saw was not the mite; it was the dedicated will behind the mite. An action had no value in Christ’s eyes unless at the back of it there was the willing mind. Deep down, in the unseen springs of a man’s being, lay that which determined the value of his conduct. And that is the reason why Christ appraises action in a way that is sublimely careless of the common standards by which the world distributes applause.
To Know, You Must Will
Or think of the relationship of will to know if you want to know how Christ regarded will. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” If any man willeth to do His will–then at the back of true knowledge is obedience, and what we know of the highest and the best ultimately depends upon the will. Let a man refuse to submit his will to God, and the gateway of truth is closed to him forever. No daring of intellect will pierce its deeps, nor will any imagination see its beauty. Truth at the heart of it is always ethical, kindred in being to man’s moral nature; and if that nature is choiceless and disordered, the power and majesty of truth are never known. That is the reason why the simplest duty has always an illuminative power. Do the next thing, and do it heartily, and the very brain will grow a little clearer. For the Word of God is a lamp unto our feet, and only when our feet go forward bravely will the circle of light advance upon the dark and reveal what is always shadowed to the stationary. It is not merely by His depth of thought that Christ has kindled the best thought of Christendom. It is by His urgent and passionate insistence upon the dedication of the will. And men have obeyed Him, and taken up their cross, and followed bravely when all in front was shrouded, to find that they were moving into a larger world and under a brighter heaven.
Fellowship Rests on the Will
Or think of the relationship of will to fellowship–man’s spiritual fellowship with his Redeemer. That friendship is not based on kindred-feeling; it is based, according to Christ, on kindred-will. “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seeking for thee”; and Jesus answered, “Who is my brother? He that doeth the will of my Father in heaven, the same is my mother, my brother, and my sister.” It is not a question, then, of what you know, if you are to be a brother or sister of the Lord. It is not a matter of excited feeling nor of any glowing or ecstatic rapture. He that doeth the will–though it be often sore and though the way be dark and though the wind be chill–he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My sister and My brother. That means that all fellowship with Jesus Christ depends on dedication of the will We must say, “Take my will, and make it Thine,” if we are to be numbered in His company. And if fellowship with Him be true religion–the truest and purest the world has ever known–you see how it does not rest on thought or feeling, but has its wellspring in the surrendered will.
Surrender of the Will
And in the life of Christ, this is the crowning glory–a will in perfect conformity with God’s. He is our Savior and our great exam-pie because of that unfailing dedication. Look at Him as He is tempted in the wilderness–is there not there a terrible reality of choice? Does there not rise before Him the alternative of self, to be instantly and magnificently spurned? And ever through the progress of His years, His meat is to do the will of God who sent Him; until at last, upon the cross of Calvary, the dedication is perfected and crowned. I want you than ever to remember that the will is the very citadel of manhood. To be a Christian that must be yielded up. Everything else without it is in vain. A religion founded on feeling is unstable. A religion of intellect is cold and hard. Total surrender is what Christ demands, and in it lies the secret of all peace.