John Watson, widely known under his
pen name of "Ian Maclaren," was born
at Manningtree, Essex, England, in 1850.
For many years he was pastor of Free
St. Matthew's Church, Glasgow. He died
at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, in 1907. He enjoyed
unusual popularity, both as a
preacher and as a lecturer. In 1896 he
gave a course of lectures to the students of
Yale. "The Bonnie Brier Bush" is his
best-known book. Another volume of his,
"The Cure of Souls," is full of splendid
practical suggestions for the minister
and divinity student. Here is a sample
of his satire directed toward certain
speakers: "It is said that there are ingenious
books which contain extracts—very
familiar as a rule—on every religious
subject, so that the minister, having
finished his sermon on faith or hope, has
only to take down this pepper-caster and
flavor his somewhat bare sentences with
literature. If this ignominious tale be
founded on fact, and be not a scandal of
the enemy, then the Protestant Church
ought also to have an 'Index Expurgatorius,'
and its central authorities insert
therein books which it is inexpedient for
ministers to possess. In this class should
be included 'The Garland of Quotations'
and 'The Reservoir of Illustrations.'"
Lewis O. Brastow, D. D.
Go ye therefore and teach all nations.—Matthew
Among the characteristics of Jesus' teaching
which have passed into the higher
consciousness of Christianity is an inextinguishable
optimism. When He was only a
village prophet, Jesus declared that the social
Utopia of Isaiah was already being fulfilled;
when He gave the Sermon on the Mount He
spoke as a greater Moses, legislating not for a
nation but for a race. If He called apostles,
they were to disciple every creature, and if
He died it was for a world. His generation
might condemn Him, but they would see Him
again on the clouds of heaven. His death
would be celebrated in a sacrament unto every
generation, and being lifted on a cross He
would draw all men to Him. The apostles who
failed in His lifetime would afterward do
greater works than Himself, and He who departed
from their sight would return in the
Holy Ghost and be with them forever. He
looks beyond His own land, and embraces a
race in His plans. He ignores the defeats of
His own ministry, and discounts the victory of
His disciples. He teaches, commands, arranges,
prophesies with a universal and eternal
accent. This was not because he made
light of His task or of His enemies; no one
ever had such a sense of the hideous tyranny
of sin or passed through such a Gehenna, but
Jesus believed with all His heart and mind
in the kingdom of God, that it was coming
and must come. He held that the age of gold
was not behind, but before humanity.
The high spirit has passed into the souls of
Christ's chief servants. The directors and pioneers,
the martyrs and exemplars of our faith
have had no misgivings; the light of hope has
ever been shining on their faces. St. Paul
boasted that he was a free-born Roman, but
he was prouder to be a member of Christ's
commonwealth, whose capital was in heaven
and in which all nations were one. He was
loyal subject of Cæsar, but he owned a more
magnificent emperor at God's right hand.
Above the forces of this present world he saw
the principalities and powers in the heavenly
places fighting for his faith. Scourged and
imprisoned he burst into psalms, and he looked
beyond his martyrdom to the crown of righteousness.
Shackled to a soldier he wrote letters
brimming over with joy, and confined to
a barrack room he caught through a narrow
window the gleam of the eternal city. Never
did he flinch before a hostile world, never was
he browbeaten by numbers, never was he discouraged
by failure or reverse. He knew that
he was on the winning side, and that he was
laying the foundation of an everlasting state.
You catch the same grand note in St. Augustine
with all his horror of prevailing iniquity;
in the medieval hymn writers celebrating
Jerusalem the Golden, when clouds of judgment
hung over their heads; and in the missionaries
of the faith who toiled their life
through without a convert, and yet died in
faith. They might be losing, but their commander
was winning. The cross might be surrounded
with the smoke of battle, it was being
carried forward to victory.
They were right in this conviction, but do
not let us make any mistake about the nature
of this triumph, else we shall be caught by
delusions, and in the end be discouraged. It
will not be ecclesiastical, and by that one
means that no single church, either the
Church of Rome, or the Church of England,
or the Church of Scotland will ever embrace
the whole human race, or even its English-speaking
province. One can not study church
history since the Reformation, or examine the
condition of the various religious denominations
to-day without being convinced that
there will always be diversity of organization,
and any person who imagines the Church of
the East making her humble submission to
Rome, or the various Protestant bodies of the
Anglo-Saxon race trooping in their multitude
to surrender their orders to the Anglican
Church has really lost touch with the possibilities
of life. Nor will the triumph be theological
in the sense that all men will come to
hold the same dogma whether it be that of
Rome or Geneva. There will always be many
schools of thought within the kingdom of
God just as there will be many nations.
Neither one Church nor one creed will swallow
up the others and dominate the world. He
who cherishes that idea is the victim of an
optimism which is unreasonable and undesirable.
The kingdom of God will come not
through organization but through inspiration.
Its sign will not be the domination of a
Church, but the regeneration of humanity.
When man shall be brother to man the world
over, and war shall no longer drench cornfields
with blood: when women are everywhere
honored, and children are protected: when
cities are full of health and holiness, and when
the burden of misery has been lifted from
the poor, then the world shall know Christ has
not died in vain, and His vision shall be fulfilled.
A fond imagination which only tantalizes
and disheartens! It is natural to say so,
but magnificent dreams have come true. Suppose
you had been on the sorrowful way whenJesus was being led to His doom, and women
were pitying this innocent prophet whose
hopes had been so rudely dashed, and whose
life had been so piteously wasted. "Ah!"
they cry, "His illusions have been scattered,
and His brief day is going down in darkness."
It appeared so, but was it so?
Suppose while the kind-hearted people were
talking, some one had prophesied the career
of Jesus. They would have laughed and called
him a visionary, yet which would have been
right, the people who judged by Jesus' figure
beneath the cross, or the man who judged
Jesus' power through that cross? The people
who looked at the mob of Jerusalem, or the
man who saw the coming generations? There
are two ideas of Christ's crucifixion in art,
and each has its own place. There is the
realistic scene with the cross raised only a few
feet from the ground, a Jewish peasant hanging
on it, a Roman guard keeping order, and
a rabble of fanatical priests as spectators.
That is a fact, if you please, down to the color
of the people's garments and the shape of
the Roman spears. Very likely that is how
it looked and happened. There is also the
idealistic scene with a cross high and majestic
on which Christ is hanging with His face hidden.
Behind there is an Italian landscape
with a river running through a valley, trees
against the sky, and the campanile of a village
church. At the foot of the cross kneels
St. Mary Magdalene, on the right at a little
distance are the Blest Virgin and St. Francis,
on the left St. John and St. Jerome. The
Roman soldiers and the Jewish crowd and that
poor cross of Roman making have disappeared
as a shadow. The great cross of the divine
Passion is planted in the heart of the Church
and of the race forever. Facts? Certainly,
but which is the fact, that or this? Which
is nearer to the truth, the Christ of the sorrowful
way or the Christ at God's right hand?
Have there been no grounds for optimism?
Has the splendid hope of Christ been falsified?
One may complain that the centuries
have gone slowly, and that the chariot of
righteousness has dragged upon the road.
But Christ has been coming and conquering.
There is some difference between the statistics
of the Upper Room, and the Christian
Church to-day; between slavery in the Roman
Empire and to-day; between the experience
of women in the pre-Christian period and to-day;
between the reward of labor in Elizabeth's
England and to-day; between the use
of riches in the eighteenth century, and the
beginning of the twentieth; between pity for
animals in the Georgian period and to-day.
If we are not uplifted by this beneficent progress,
it is because we have grown accustomed
to the reign of Christianity, and are impatient
for greater things. We are apt to be pessimists,
not because the kingdom of God is halting,
but because it has not raced; not because
the gospel has failed to build up native
churches in the ends of the earth with their
own forms, literature, martyrs, but because
all men have not yet believed the joyful sound.
There are two grounds for the unbounded
optimism of our faith, and the first is God.
How did such ideas come into the human
mind? Where did the imagination of the
prophets and apostles catch fire? Where is
the spring of the prayers and aspirations of
the saints? Whence do all light and all love
come? Surely from God. Can we imagine better
than God can do? Can we demand a fairer
world than God will make? Were not the
Greek philosophers right in thinking that our
ideals are eternal, and are kept with God? It
is not a question of our imagining too much,
but too little, of being too soon satisfied.
So soon made happy? Hadst thou learned
What God accounteth happiness
Thou wouldst not find it hard to guess
What hell may be his punishment
For those who doubt if God invent
Better than they.
The other ground for optimism is Jesus
Christ. Does it seem that the perfect life for
the individual, and for the race, is too sublime,
that it is a distant and unattainable
ideal? It is well enough to give the Sermon
on the Mount, and true enough that if it were
lived the world would be like heaven, but then
has it ever been lived? Yes, once at least,
and beyond all question. Christ lived as He
taught. He bade men lose their lives and He
lost His; He bade men trample the world
underfoot and He trampled it; He commanded
men to love, and He loved even unto
death. This He did as the forerunner of the
race. Why not again with Christ as Captain?
Why not always, why not everywhere? Is
not He the standard of humanity now, and is
not He its Redeemer? Has He not been working
in the saints who have reminded the
world of God? Will He not continue to work
till all men come to the stature of perfection?
Only one institution in human society
carries the dew of its youth, and through
the conflict of the centuries still chants its
morning song. It is the religion of Jesus. I
do not mean the Christianity which exhausts
its energy in the criticism of documents or
the discussion of ritual—the Christianity of
scholasticism or ecclesiasticism, for there is
no life in that pedantry. I do not mean the
Christianity which busies itself with questions
of labor and capital, meat and drink, votes and
politics, for there is no lift in that machinery.
I mean the Christianity which centers in the
person of the Son of God, with His revelation
of the Father, and His gospel of salvation,
with His hope of immortality and His
victory of soul. This Christianity endures
while civilizations exhaust themselves and pass
away, and the face of the world changes. Its
hymns, its prayers, its heroism, its virtues, are
ever fresh and radiant. If a man desires to
be young in his soul let him receive the spirit
of Jesus, and bathe his soul in the Christian
hope. Ah, pessimism is a heartless, helpless
spirit. If one despairs of the future for
himself and for his fellows, then he had better
die at once. It is despair which cuts the
sinews of a man's strength and leaves him at
the mercy of temptation. Do you say, What
can I do, because the light round me is like
unto darkness? Climb the mast till you are
above the fog which lies on the surface of the
water, and you will see the sun shining on
the spiritual world, and near at hand the harbor
of sweet content. True, we must descend
again to the travail of life, but we return
assured that the sun is above the mist. Do you
say, What is the use of fighting, for where I
stand we have barely held our own? Courage!
It was all you were expected to do, and while
you stood fast the center has been won, and
the issue of the battle has been decided. It
was a poet who had his own experience of adversity,
and was cut down in the midst of his
days, who bade his comrades be of good cheer.
Say not, the struggle naught availeth,
The labor and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars.
It may be in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward look, the land is bright.