CARPENTER

THE AGE OF PROGRESS


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

William Boyd Carpenter, English divine, was born in 1841 in Liverpool, educated at the Royal Institution and Cambridge University, where he was appointed Hulsean lecturer in 1878. After holding several curacies he was appointed vicar of Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, in 1879. He held also a canoncy of Windsor Until 1884, when he was consecrated bishop of Ripon. In 1887 he delivered the Bampton lectures. He has published a large number of works, among which may be reckoned "Commentary on Revelation" (1879); "Lectures on Preaching" (1895); and a "Popular History of the Church of England" (1900).

Lewis O. Brastow, D. D.


CARPENTER

Born in 1841

THE AGE OF PROGRESS

And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us. Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make a place there where we may dwell. And he answered, Go ye.—2 Kings vi., 1, 2.

There are two conditions of real personal power in the world. One is that we should be able to look above this earth and see some heavenly light surrounding everything we meet. We call this, in ordinary language, asserting the power of insight, and it is that which redeems life from being regarded as commonplace. Everything is tinged with heavenliness for those who see heaven's light above all; and the possession of this power gives that dignity of conception to life which is one of the secrets of power. But there is another condition also, and that is that there shall be the strength of personal assertiveness. A man may be possest of never so much insight, and yet he may lack that robustness of personal character which can make itself felt among his fellows; he may, in fact, be deficient in the powers of personal action.

Now these two gifts Elisha possest. He possest the loftiness of insight. He had seen when his master was taken up the glimpse of the fiery chariot which took him into the heavens, and from that time forward his life was tinged with the consciousness of heaven. Nothing could be mean or low to a man who had beheld that first vision of God. This was, as it were, an enduring and abiding background of all his after-conceptions. So in the hour when it seemed as tho beleagured by armies and enemies, that there was no power of release, his eyes, as it were, were still open to behold the heavenly brightness about him. He possest also that power of personal assertiveness. Standing in front of the Jordan, he smote aside every difficulty which hindered him commencing his career.

But there is a third qualification still which is needed, in order that these two powers may be brought, as it were, into practical contact with life. Great men, it has been said by one of our own great teachers, are men who live very largely in their own age; that is to say, they are persons the drift and set of whose mind does not belong to the generation before themselves exactly, altho they may be possest of powers of insight, nor to the generation after their own age, but have much power of sympathy and comprehensiveness toward the interests and exigencies of their own time. They are men to use the phrase, who are in touch with their own age. And therefore it is, tho a man may be possest of so much insight that heavenly light breathes upon all things, tho he may have a certain robust assertiveness and energy of character, yet if he have no power of adjusting his capacities, so to speak, in language understood of the men among whom he moves, all that power will, for the practical purpose of life, be thrown away.

Elisha possest the two. Does he possess the third? Is he a man, in fact, who can make his influence felt among the men of his day? Is he in touch with his time? Can he be a man capable, not only of acting for himself, but capable, by that subtle and magical influence, of arousing the activity of others? For a man may, indeed, hold a position of isolated splendor, which may produce the admiration of the men of his day; but to be a real prophet, I take it, is to be able to merge largely our own individuality into the individualities of others, and to be not so much the cause of admiration as the cause of activity.

Now I think that the scene will explain to us that Elisha was largely possest of that gift. If you watch it you will see that here is a scene which has since then often been exhibited in the story of all great movements. One of the great conditions of life is the capacity to expand. Dead things may indeed crystallize into a sort of cold uniformity, but that which has life in it is always possest of expansive energy. Here are these sons of the prophets becoming conscious that the place where they dwell is too strait for them. It is a movement which, as it were, arises outside the prophet's suggestion; he is not the one who tells them that the place is too strait. They gather themselves together and say, "The place is too strait for us; let us go and build a larger and ampler habitation for ourselves." And immediately you watch him in the midst of these men whose minds are alive to the spirit of progress. He identifies himself with their aspirations; he is one with them in the movement; he does not coldly frown upon their glorious aspirations, which are from the extension of their own institutions, but rather makes himself one with them. Not only so. See how he allies himself to their individual life. He does not even dictate to them the whole method of the movement; each man shall be free, he says, to choose his beam. When they say, Let us go and select our own beam for our own habitation, be it so. He is not to frown down their individual efforts, but, at the same time, by going with them he preserves the coherence, as it were, of their work. He allows the freest scope of individual activity, but yet preserves them in the great unification of their work. And when the episode happens which often does happen in the story of great movements—when the hour comes when one man's heart is smitten through with despondency, when the work is still before him, but the power of carrying on the work has dropt from his hand, slipping into the stream which is ever ready to drown our best ambitions and endeavors—Elisha stands beside a man in despondency, cheers his spirit, which is overwhelmed by hopelessness, and restores to him hope, capacity, and power. I say this is a man who is, in a great sense, a true prophet of his day, not simply posing for personal admiration, not merely asserting himself and destroying the capabilities of those about him, but with that sweet flexibility and that wondrous firmness combined, which is capable of giving movement to the young life about him and at the same time drawing them into the one great purpose of existence.

And thus it seems to me that the scene spreads beyond its own age. It is a type of all great movements, and it gives us a fitting attitude of those who would direct and control such movements. Here is the prophet in relation to the idea of the age of progress. The place is too strait for us. It is not the cry of the Jewish Church only; it is the cry of all ages. "The place is too strait." You and I might say that is a vision of the growth of Christendom; the place is too strait. The little upper chamber at Jerusalem did not suffice for the three thousand converts. "The place is too strait," they are forced to exclaim. The limits of Judea are too small for the ever-extending energy of Christianity. Every land and every nationality must be brought within its sway, and the workers shall be as the workers in this scene, manifold. Here shall be men like St. Paul, who shall go, with a strong forensic sense of what the gospel is, to speak it to the hearts of men who need it, and lift them high above commonplace things. Here shall be one like St. John, reposing upon the bosom of his Lord, and able to unfold to them heavenly visions and the anticipations of the outgrowth and development of the world. Here is one who, like Origen shall collate, like Jerome shall translate, like Augustine shall expound, like the men of later ages shall preach the spirit of reformation. The place is too strait, but given to each man his individual freedom, the power and the expansion of the Church goes on.

But is it not true that while, on the one side, we might say that this is a glorious picture, untouched and untinged by any dark lines, the moment that we begin to look at it in its practical form we begin to see the difficulties of its development? Let us go unto Jordan, and let us take each man our own beam. As long as the expansion of the Church is in the direction of the increase of its numbers or accession of new territories, so long indeed the men who have had the spirit of zeal have been willing to sanction such extension. But there comes a time when the consciousness of its expansion does not move according to the line of numbers merely, but it moves according to the line of new institutions and of new thoughts. How, then, will it be received by those into whose hand is placed the responsibility of its guidance? "The place is too strait for us;" so they cried in the early Church when they found that Judaic institutions were too narrow for the spirit of Christianity. The new wine could not be left in old bottles. "The place is too strait for us;" so they cried when they found within the bosom of the medieval Church that there was not the opportunity for the expansion of their spiritual life and the development of their missionary energy. But has it always been true that the spirit of this religious zeal which longs for new developments and new departures has been received with the spirit of wisdom? You and I know full well that the history of the Church of Christ is the history of a thousand regrets. Did the medieval Church never regret the act by which it drove forth the Waldenses into schism? Has our Church never regretted the day when it looked askance at the work of John Wesley? You know full well, whatever might have been the feeling of earlier times, there is growing up among us a larger and wider spirit, catching—shall I say?—the true directing spirit which shone thus in the life of Elisha; and believing that it is possible after all that each man may have his function in life, and each man, choosing his beam, may in bearing that beam be building up the temple of God. But, alas! it is hard for men to believe it. Still, even now, the spirit of prejudice surrounds every aspect with which we regard life and Church movement. It is difficult for a man bred in one communion, for example, to believe in the types of saintship which have become the favorites of another; harder, perhaps, for men bred in the very heart of Rome to believe in the spirit of saintship which dwelt in the breast of Molinos; hard for those dwelling in the heart of Protestantism to understand Bonaventura or Xavier; hard for one who has been taught in Presbyterian lines to believe in that sanctity which descends to us as an heritage from Cosin and Ken; and difficult, perhaps, for Episcopalians to recognize the sanctity which dwelt in Richard Baxter and John Bunyan....

You may believe that there is the danger of the Church—shall I say?—growing stereotyped in its forms, by checking the freedom of individual life. There is the danger, on the other side, of the Church, as it were, spreading itself in the aggregation of splendid individualities; and because men believe intensely in their own mission, because they can not but see that the beam which they are hewing down is one of paramount importance to take some place in supporting the temple of God, they are inclined to prefer the attitude of isolation. Is this wise, and is it well? Pardon me if I ask you to say that this spirit, if allowed to grow, is a spirit which, from its various aspects, is one which, by all means in our power, we ought to set our faces against. Our own beam is not the temple of God. Each move and form of religious thought is not comprehensive of the whole; but it is here where men, choosing their own beam, begin to believe in their own, and their own alone, and seek to impose that little thing of their own as tho it were an absolute necessity of every portion of God's Church, that you get the spirit of actual division. "The whole is greater than its part." If we could only bring the aphorisms of ordinary life into the bearings of the Church of God we should be happier. But, let me assure you, when a man has his beam, and tells me that that beam will be built into the temple of God, will support its roof, and perhaps be the very thing which will add new dignity to the splendid arch which will spring from it, I am content to accept it. Let him believe anything that will beautify and extend. But when he tells me that it is catholicity to believe in his beam being all, he simply, as it were, sins against the very thing he is seeking to maintain. It is a sign of intellectual mediocrity; it is the spirit of sectarianism; it is the spirit ultimately of skepticism. When a man believes that pious views, which have been found profitable to his own soul, are to be made the rule for the whole catholic Church; when he tells me that special hours for special services are essential for the well-being of all Christian souls; when he tells me that special attitudes in the house of God are essential to catholicity, it is intellectual mediocrity, as the brilliant French poet has written which can not comprehend anything beyond itself. It is a spirit of sectarianism; for what, I pray, do you mean by sectarianism, if it is not this spirit, that you exaggerate your own particular doctrine into such proportions as to make men feel that there is none other than that? You are of your own little Church, and you are doubtful of the rest of the world. That is the spirit of sectarianism, and that, if you understand it rightly, is the only fault of skepticism; for to believe that God is to be narrowed down to the conception of such a thing as that, to believe that God's temple is to be brought down to the measure of your own little beam, is to believe with such a stunted growth, such a stunted conception of God, that it is practically denying Him altogether.

Sometimes I venture to think that we have lost faith in Christ altogether. We believe in a Church which can be manipulated by human wisdom, we believe in a Church which can be galvanized by organization, but we can not believe in a Church whose development is being overruled by the guiding spirit and eternal presence of Christ Himself. If you take a large view of Christianity the danger becomes yours. Some, indeed, hew down beams for the temple of God not themselves knowing of that temple into which they are placed; for I do believe that in the development of God's great world the efforts of earnest and honest men who know not indeed in what direction their efforts are tending will be found to have been real efforts for the promotion of something, for the bringing out of some truth, for the establishment of some truth by which the Church may live, on which the Church may build, of whom the whole building, fitly framed together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, shall thus grow into the holy temple of the Lord.

But the scene is not the scene merely of these activities uncrossed by a single reverse. Here is the accident, here is the time in which men begin to feel that their power has left them. One, in hewing down his beam, animated by a spirit of a little overeagerness, perhaps gifted with that egotism of his work which made him develop it more rapidly than that of his fellows, strikes too hard a blow, and the loose ax-head slips off the haft and falls into the stream. Immediately he is face to face with, and conscious of, that most painful consciousness which can ever visit the heart of man—the contradiction between the grandness of the work and the ideal of the work which he has to achieve and his own impotence. There is the beam, and all about me are the workers, and the house is to be built for the sons of the prophets. But here, in my hand I hold this simple haft, bereft of the power of doing my share in that great work. It is a picture which has been repeated often and often. Does there not come a time when we feel that the power, as it were, of things has forsaken us? There was a time when our creeds afforded us great delight. We believed in God; we believed in redemption; we believed in the Spirit which could guide human affairs; we moved to our work full of the exuberance of confidence in that faith. But behold, there has come a time when we, perhaps almost unconsciously, lose the very thing which has given us hope.

Now whenever a new doctrine or new truth has come up in the history of the Church, it has been held, in the first instance, by men who lived by it and tied their own lives to it. No power of that ax-head slipt off into life's stream. They knew what they were doing. When men brought out the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible, they knew what they were doing; they hewed down the trees about them, and they really believed it. Their lives were created by this truth. So when they believed in the real presence of Christ, they believed that Christ was really present. It was no fiction. When they believed in the doctrine of justification by faith, they believed that God had taken them into His own hands, that God had grasped their lives, and God Himself was behind their lives. Truth was to them truth, and it was a consecrated thing; but remember that truth, which is a flower, has its roots there, and it is only as you grasp it by its roots it becomes true to you. Truth is not a thing of the intellect only; it descends into our moral nature, it grafts upon our affections and conscience; the moment I cut it away from it it ceases to be truth; it becomes dogma—for the sake of distinction. That is to say, the men of our age who do not live by that truth wish, as it were, to attach that truth to them; they wish to make it actually the cry of party. They stole the wand of the enchanter, but they had not the power of the enchanter. They knew that they had the flower, but the flower cut away from its moral root had no force and no vitality, and therefore it crystallizes it. Hence, the natural history of a doctrine is this: when men are taking it rightly, using it as for God, rightly handling it, it is a power in their hands. Taken up for their own purposes, for the purpose of satisfying an indolent understanding, for the purpose of evading the claims of God which other truths may be making upon their minds, it then becomes evacuated of its power; it is impotent, it is buried underneath the stream of constantly changing time.

And, then, how shall it be restored? By again, I say, being taken up out of the stream by the true handle. If you wish to restore the power of truth, you must see that it is the truth which has a claim upon your moral being. For just as we are told that the sun may pour down its beams eternally upon the face of the moon, burning and blistering with its rays its surface, and that there everything remains cold and frozen underneath those beams, because no sweet atmosphere can hold the sunbeams in its fold, so it is true that when you take truth and use it from its false side, it shall pour its brightest rays into your intellect, not the dry light which Bacon meant, but the false light which some substitute for it. You receive a true light upon your understanding, and there is no moral atmosphere upon your nature to embrace those sunbeams, to keep them and make them your own, and make them your life blood by their presence. If thus we take truth it becomes false to us, a buried and useless thing. But if you take truth from its moral side, and approach it from its moral and spiritual side, it shall again become a power in your nature.

When men believed in the inspiration of God and the Bible it was a power to them; but when this dropt down into a belief that every jot and tittle was part and parcel of God's inspiration, then they merely crystallized into a dogma what was a great and living truth. When men ask us, Are the doctrines of Christianity dead; are they played out? my answer is, They are dead to those who use them wrongly, as all truth is dead to those who have no moral love of truth—dead to those who will use them as charms and incantations, sewing them, as the Pharisees sewed some texts, into the border of their robes; dead, indeed, they are to those who are not making them part of their own life, but not dead to those who, tho they may not be able to formulate their view into any way that will satisfy a partizan section of Christianity, yet feel that to them the old inspiration is life. God's living voice will speak to them godlike in every line, to them because they believe in a Christ behind all these truths, and that these are but the endeavors of men to express the power of the living thought and voice of God. Then to them ordinances will live; a real presence will be about their path. Sacraments and ordinances will live because something lives behind them. They are not using them falsely but reverently, and truly God has spoken to their souls; He has put back the truths into their hearts by the handle of some new-found life.

It is the same with our own lives; often and often it happens that you feel life has lost its power and charm; its vigor was once great. I came up, for instance, into the midst of my fellows here, with all the enthusiasms of university life, and I rejoiced in them; but now, somehow or other, the novelty has gone away, and the interest has palled, and I do not care. Life has lost its meaning to me, and I do not feel that life is worth living at all. Yes, it is a contradiction in your own mind between the conception of life as in your nobler moments you form it and your own impotence. Has the ax-head gone? Has it slipt into the water? How can it be restored? The first thing a man discovers in his own impotence, is that the power which was in his hands was not his own.

It is only when you and I see this that we can take it up again. Take life, and make it the reason for indulgence; take amusements, and make them the instruments for mere enjoyment; take study, and make it the reason for mere pride; and you will find the ax-head will slip off. All the knowledge you possess will be like blinded knowledge, capable of being applied to nothing. But believe it to be your own, given you of God—these hands, this brain, this heart, God's, not your own; these ordinances of religion God's, not your own; these teachings of the Church in all ages God's varied voice, which, if heard aright, shall blend into one mold in your ears. Take it up as His, and not your own; lift up your life right reverently; bend as you receive it from His hand, who can alone give you the restored fulness of His powers. You are surrounded by workers; your mind is often disturbed among the many cries and many sounds; but believe it, each of you has your own beam, and God can put into your hand the weapon which you are to use in hewing it down. Go forward, and be not afraid.