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Thoughts of the Spiritual

CHAPTER IX

"EXCELSIOR"

"Let us . . . press on unto full-growth."—Heb. 6: 1.

The writer of this exhortation has defined in a short sentence what is the end of our Religion, and what must be our mental and spiritual attitude in regard to that end. Full-growth is the goal assigned to Christians by virtue of their connection with a saving Christ; and a pressing, or bearing of themselves strenuously toward that (Full-growth), is to be their attitude.

Everything else in connection with Religion must be regarded as no more than means to this great end. Repentance, faith, ordinances and doctrines—all very good and helpful—are but the steppingstones by which we mount to something better.

The writer makes this very clear in the context of this passage. He writes—"Wherefore, having ceased to speak about the matter of the first principles of Christ (i. e., the foundation-truths—the A B C—of the Gospel), let us press on unto full-growth; not continually laying again a foundation—viz., that of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms and of laying on of hands, and of the advancement (anastasis) of the dead, and of age-long judgment." His idea is that the Christian must not stand still. He must not imagine that, as soon as he has repented and exercised faith, all the work connected with his salvation has been accomplished. He must not suppose, as many have done, that when a person has merely believed, he is immediately ripe for heaven and immortal blessedness. He is to press on to something more. Salvation involves wholeness, soundness and full-growth. No one is saved on his repenting and believing. Those acts bring him into a "state of salvation," as the Catechism puts it; but no more. They do not transport him to the goal of salvation—Perfection.

They turn a man's face God ward; but they do not cause him at once to blossom into Godlikeness. When we have repented and believed, there remains a very great deal concerning Divine truth for us to learn, and a very great deal in the way of spiritual grace for us to acquire. Repentance and faith will not have effected their purpose, unless they made us conscious, not that our salvation has been accomplished, but that before us lies a great mountain of moral and spiritual excellence to whose summit we must climb. The "first principles" of the Gospel place us at the foot of that mountain, and dispose us rightly for the climbing; but we must not stay at the point at which they place us. We must progress in spiritual knowledge and excellency, if we would reach the summit and obtain salvation. Through the earth-life and beyond it, our motto must be "Excelsior"—higher in regard to our knowledge of God and Divine things; higher in regard to our character and spiritual nature. Mere repentance and faith and acquiescence in doctrines will never constitute any one a saved soul; they are but the foundations upon which the finished temple of our moral being can be reared. From the "rudiments" of his religious experience the Christian must pass on to higher developments of mind and character. From the Gospel-alphabet he must advance to the "deeper things" of God.

It may be, our Master Christ was thinking of this when He bade us in regard to spiritual matters "become as a little child."

Here is a little one who has set himself to acquire the ability to read. See how he goes about it. He starts, of course, at the alphabet, and first masters that. That being done, he proceeds to words of one, two or more syllables. He has learned something, and he wants to know more. The little fellow never imagines that, because he knows the alphabet perfectly, he has nothing more to learn.

His mere knowledge of words does not satisfy him. He must go on. He must acquire that greater knowledge of the significance of words. The more he learns the more conscious does he become of how much there still remains for him to learn. He presses on toward the goal of full-growth in regard to knowledge. He means one day to become an accomplished scholar, and so he works for the end.

All that is very sensible and right.

Now, there are many Christians who would do well to imitate the little child. We refer to those persons who in regard to knowledge of Divine things and character make little or no headway. They remain, mentally and morally, stationary at that point at which repentance and belief placed them years ago. They possess no better conceptions of God and truth than they had then, nor does their character exhibit those refinements and graces which the Christian life is intended to develop. In respect neither to mind nor to spirit is there any indication of a pressing on unto full-growth. Others obtain brighter and worthier ideas of God and religion; they do not. Others, not half so religiously punctilious as they, manifest a moral gracefulness and sweetness of disposition which they do not. We ask—Why is this? It cannot be on account of any insincerity as to their religion. The ones to whom we refer are generally very sincere. Then why is it they make no advance in the direction of mental and moral full-growth? The answer is—"Excelsior" is not the motto on the banner around which they rally themselves. They are unlike the little child. They get as far as the Gospel alphabet and go no farther. They count the "first principles" of the Gospel as the all of it. They have learned—not always very well—the primary truths of Religion, and suppose there is nothing more to learn, on this side of the veil, at all events. They are terribly shocked at being told that there are magnificent truths in the Bible, which, by reason of theological dullness and incorrect translations, the Christians of past centuries have overlooked. They forget that God's law is to vouchsafe His revelations of truth as men's minds become attuned to receive them. They forget that the very utterances of the Saviour Himself have been twisted into contradictoriness and horror by the interpretations of teachers read into them. They do not remember that the Sacred Book they reverence bids them not be satisfied with the "rudiments" of Divine knowledge, but to press on toward fuller enlightenment. Then, again, those persons who get no farther than the Gospel alphabet suppose that the acts of repenting and believing settle everything in regard to their salvation. The development and perfecting of their character is a work with which, in reality, they have very little to do. It is God's work. By a miracle of grace, as a reward to them for having repented and believed. He will transform them into perfected beings immediately they leave this life. Nay more, some of them will even go the length of saying that, by virtue of their faith, God already accounts them, in spite of all their imperfection and undevelopment, as perfect beings.

Well, of course, such an undue exaltation of the "first principles" of the Gospel is fatal to the putting forth of strenuous effort to acquire moral excellence. The man who supposes that his repentance and faith guarantee him spiritual and moral perfection as soon as he passes from this world, will not be so likely as one who thinks otherwise to "work out his own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2: 12). The saving work of Jesus is the work of raising a spirit into Godlikeness. It is a difficult work, a long work, and a work of many stages. It is a work in which the one to be saved must co-operate with God. God will work in him, but he himself must "work out his own salvation." We may liken Christ's saving work to a ladder of many rungs, of which the topmost one is Perfection. Step by step, in this world and Beyond, every rung of that ladder must be trodden by us. Repentance and faith plant us only on the first rung. We must mount upward. There are any number of moral imperfections to be eradicated; any number of graces to be called into existence and developed. The ladder is a long one and each ascending rung lifts us nearer to God. The old-time teacher was right—there must be no stopping at the first rung; the A B C of Religion must be left behind; we must make for the higher and the gaol.

Let us consider a little more closely the words: "Press on unto full-growth."

I.—The end of Christ's saving work is to make us perfect beings. The term "full-growth" implies Perfection.

It is the telling of men that this is the Purpose of God in regard to the human race, which constitutes the "good news" of the Gospel. It is not at all "good news" to be told that all human beings are so brought into existence by a good God, that they must inevitably pass to a doom of everlasting horror, unless He interpose to rescue them. It is not at all "good news" to learn that the Christ, in spite of all that He wishes, and said He would do, will only in the end save some, and that the many will be irretrievably consigned to a hell which has been prepared for them. To us, such teaching exhibits no characteristic of Gospel. As thoughtful persons, touched by the miseries of others—we ask —Would not it have been infinitely better that the human race should not have been permitted to come into existence at all, than that any should face such an awful experience? But thank God, such views are neither in accordance with the teaching of the Saviour Christ, nor with reason and the principles of love and goodness. They are but "the ebullient flashes from the glowing caldrons of heated and perverted imaginations."

The Gospel of God is a glorious one. It tells men that they are all "the offspring of God," that all were made to be saved, and none to be hopelessly damned. It tells them of a Christ who is "the Saviour of all men," of a grace that flows from Him that can save them from, and out of, the mental, moral and spiritual hells which here and elsewhere they make for themselves. It tells them that every human soul was made to be perfected; that rescue from evil and its consequences is a concomitant of salvation, but not the main purpose of it; that the work of "the Saviour of all men" is to make all men "perfect and entire, wanting nothing " (James 1: 4). The Saviour, Himself, stated that this is the end of the Salvation which He came to bestow upon men. He defined His Gospel in one sentence, spoken in that Sermon on the Mount—"Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5: 48). This promise of Jesus is a tremendous one; and yet it is the point to which the Salvation of God is pledged to conduct us. It is characteristic of the soaring nature of redemptive work. It denotes the "height" of the love of Jesus. Divine Love, as it has its source in God, and manifests itself in the Person of the Saviour, contemplates not merely the making of us pardoned beings in relation to One who is the Upholder of righteousness in His universe. It works not merely for our deliverance from the bitter and awful consequences which must ensue, if evil run its unarrested course in us. It will not be content with obliterating the blots and stains and imperfections connected with our moral being. It is aspiring. It has its "height" of purpose. It will not be satisfied, until it shall have fashioned us into beings of perfection; beings who shall have arrived at full-growth, mentally and morally.

This Purpose of Divine Love in regard to us is so lofty, that were it not for the possibilities of Another life we should account it unattainable. The noblest of men and women, if Death determines the measure of what they are capable, could never reach that goal. Our goodness is so feeble, our tendency to develop the imperfect rather than the perfect is so predominant; our earthly life is so short, and we are all so undeveloped when we arrive at the end of it, that were it not for the thought of continued progress after death, we should have to say—"The height of Christ's redemptive love is too high, too infinitely soaring, for us ever to reach unto it." And yet the Saviour meant what He said in that magnificent promise He gave. "Ye shall be perfect"; and there is nothing ultra-optimistic and transcendental in the words we are considering— "Let us press on unto full-growth." Take this exhortation as it bears—

II.—Upon the development of character.

We place that first, for the reason that the Christ always did so. In His teaching, as recorded in the Gospels, we find Him laying far more stress upon the way in which a man lives than upon what he thinks. He never threatened persons with an age-long judgment, or pruning, for the theological mistakes they might make; but he did threaten them with that, as a consequence of bad character and wrong-doing. Jesus said—"He that keepeth My commandments, he it is that loveth Me."

His reason for emphasizing the importance of developing the character is manifest. There can be no attainment of full-growth in the knowledge of Divine things apart from full-growth in respect to character. Our Saviour Christ proclaimed that truth in the words—"Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall perceive God," and "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." The two things—development of character, and development of knowledge in regard to Divine truth, stand in the relationship of cause and effect. The one in whom the Christ-graces of love, tenderness and pitifulness are not energizing will not perceive the truth about God and His Gospel. Men, in their conceptions of God, fashion Him like unto themselves. The old-time champions of "orthodoxy," who had so little love in their constitution as to be able to complacently contemplate the certainty that the bulk of their fellow creatures would be tortured forever, mentally manufactured a deity who was as loveless and pitiless as themselves. Mary, queen of England, when asked whether she did not think it inconsistent with the principles of Christ's Religion to burn heretics at the stake, replied,—" How can it be wrong for me to burn them for a few minutes, when God, Himself, will burn them forever and ever.' There is but one way by which we may rise to a perfect knowledge of God. It lies along the King's highway of noble and Christ-like character. Be loving and merciful and pitiful and concernful for others, and then, and only then, will you be able to perceive God as a Father-God, invested with these glorious attributes. Thus we see how right the Christ was when He bade men to strive first for full-growth in character, in order that they might come to full-growth in Divine Knowledge.

It may be that none of us sufficiently realize this intimate relationship between our character and our perception of truth. "The pure in heart shall perceive God." With some of us, there may be something akin to a contentment to go on in our life, with many of the Divine graces of character undeveloped, or but little developed. God presents some of the higher revealments of truth to us, and we cannot receive them. They do not appeal to us. Our undeveloped moral constitution does not respond to them. There are weak points in our character. An undercurrent of selfishness runs through our religion and our actions. We are bad-tempered, inconsiderate in regard to others, ungentle, brusque, and "honestly blunt" (as we euphemistically term it). We are resentful, uncharitable, unforgiving, intolerant, exclusive, self-satisfied and top-heavy with our social and religious respectability. Sometimes the consciousness of these defects and imperfections in our character disturbs us; but not very much. We cling to our Religion; stand staunch to its "first principles," but make no progress toward moral perfection. It will all come right, we think, when we go out of this life, and God takes us to His heaven. All our selfishness, our bad-temper, our unlovingness; all the freckles, the pimples, the warps and twists of our moral being will disappear then, because of our repentance and because of our faith. But stay!

It will not all come right, if we depart from this life in that condition; and it is not true that God will take us to His heaven. There are no undeveloped creatures in heaven. Christ's Salvation is no Divine expedient for giving unqualified persons a passport to the celestial world. Christ is "made unto us righteousness," not in the sense in which some have supposed, viz., that a metaphorical robe of His moral excellencies is flung over us in such a way as to hide our moral deficiencies from the sight of God. Christ is not made unto us righteousness, until by the power of saving grace His own magnificent character has been formed in us. It is "Christ in you," wrote St. Paul, "which is the hope of glory."

Oh! we do well to remember this; we do well to remember that our life Beyond the Veil will start at the precise point of moral and spiritual quality reached by us here. Nothing will dispense us from the consequences of not having pressed on toward moral development. We may have been regular churchgoers; we may have subscribed to all the Articles of the Christian Creed, and have believed everything to the "Amen"; but if over and above our repentance and faith there has been no making for moral and spiritual full-growth, it will not be right for us as we pass hence. Christ's work of saving us will have been arrested. The microbes of moral disease which we took no pains to discover and expel from our character, may, unknown to ourselves, have been growing into spiritual cancers. The Christ who saves us must save us into wholeness and soundness. In the Life to come, He will, assuredly, have to use the knife of painful discipline, before His work of perfecting can be accomplished. Our past neglect in the development of character will make it infinitely harder for us in the world of Spirit to mount the Gospel ladder. That is why the Saviour laid so much stress upon right living. That is why the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews said—"Let us press on unto full-growth." How is it with us? Is our Religion the mere outcome of a fear of those bitter experiences which must come upon every soul that lives in non-adjustment to its true environment—God? Or, is it that mighty Principle, symbolized by the word "Excelsior," that makes us ever hoping for, ever praying for, and ever striving after the better, the nobler, and the perfect in moral grace and beauty? We best understand the true Gospel of Jesus when we grasp the import of the poet's words,—

"Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day."

It is then, and only then, that we can answer to our "high calling of God in Christ Jesus"; and it is only when the human spirit shall have attained full-growth in goodness, that it shall be able to perceive the full truth concerning God, His character and His purposes.

III.—The exhortation—"Press on unto full-growth"—bears upon the development of mind.

It is startling to some good persons to be told that we do not know, and the Church does not know, the whole of the truth about God and His Purposes in regard to the human race. It is still more startling to them to be told that, as the years roll on, the Bible itself will be much better understood than it has been; and that many glorious truths revealed therein, known to the early Church, but lost sight of afterward, will be recovered, as the obscurations of Mediaevalism are one by one cleared away.

Men, in the past, have taken the glorious, embracive Gospel of God and have tried to squeeze it into the tiny mould of their own undeveloped moral conceptions. They have gauged that Gospel by the standard of their own nature. They have been narrow and exclusive and loveless in their disposition, and the Gospel as it has passed to the world through them has received the impress of their character. Nor is this all. It has been supposed that no advance in regard to the knowledge of Divine truth can possibly be made on what has been authoritatively defined as being the truth; and so the claim of infallibility and full-enlightenment has been set up for Popes and Councils and Church Fathers and others, in a word, the attempt has been made, and is now being made, to thwart the growth of the Christian mind, by placing before it as final the pronouncements of men who lived centuries ago, and of saying—"Thus far shalt thou go; but no farther." The attempt has not succeeded, and in the very nature of things it cannot succeed. The moral principles of the teaching of Jesus are leavening Society to-day in a way in which they have not leavened Society in the past. The civilized world of the present, in spite of its irreligion and wickedness, is more humane, more pitiful, and more considerate for the wrongs and sufferings of others than it was in the past. Injustice and cruelty are denounced by every newspaper in the land; hundreds of millions of pounds are annually spent to ameliorate the condition of the diseased, the fallen and the outcast; while the idea is fast gaining acceptance that no civil punishment of the wrong-doer is justifiable that has not in view the reformation and ultimate recovery of the offender.

All this movement on the part of mankind to truer and nobler ideas of moral goodness, has had an enormous effect upon Theology. It has led men to reconsider what has been taught as to God, His character and His purposes. It has caused hundreds of thousands of thoughtful ones to come to worthier ideas of Him and His Gospel. We can no longer believe in a God whose mercy is never to reach the great majority of His creatures. We can no longer regard His judgments as agents to curse and not to bless. We can no longer prostrate ourselves before Him in worship and adoration, and think that behind the Alleluias of heaven will echo the awful, everlasting wail of the myriad lost, for whom He has ceased to be concerned.

No, the improvement of this age, in moral tone as contrasted with the tone of preceding ages, has caused men to press on to a fuller growth in Divine knowledge. We have the same Bible, as the basis of our knowledge, as men had in the past; but we can understand it better than they did. Advance in the knowledge of languages, historical research and scientific verification of psychic facts have swept away many of the crude ideas of the past, and flung illumination upon the Sacred Page. Hundreds of passages which have hitherto been wholly ignored, or twisted into contradiction, by men's efforts to reduce them to their own narrowing conceptions, are now seen to be pregnant with glorious significance.

Yes; but still there is a great deal more in regard to God for us to learn. The "first principles" of the Gospel will give us enough knowledge of our Father-God to make us sure of His Love and His Mercy and His Purpose in regard to us. Therefrom we may learn sufficient to place us in a "state of salvation," and to put us on the King's highway to fuller knowledge. But we must press on; our mind as well as our character must grow. "Now we see through a glass darkly," wrote the man the motto of whose religious life was "Excelsior." "I press toward the mark." God's character is very different from what it has been represented by many. His saving Purpose is infinitely grander than has been pictured. We cannot, with the advance of knowledge, and the fresh light which God is vouchsafing to this twentieth century, mould our conceptions of Him upon the views held by the men of the past. The imperfect notions of one age must give place to the better notions of another age. Men, as the God-Spirit energizes in them, will obtain a better idea of their Father. Jacob was a selfish intriguer, and he honestly thought his God was a being whom he could bribe. Old-time Israelites were men of the sword, and they imagined that Jehovah was a God of war. David, in spite of all his true and God-directed instincts, had some of the bad qualities of an Oriental despot, and so he supposed it would please the Almighty to wreak vengeance on his enemies.

The Churchmen of a past age, who believed in "eternal torment," were theologically hard-hearted men, and so invented a God of such a character as to be pleased at the burning of heretics. We know that all these men were wrong in their conceptions of God; and we have advanced to better ideas. But we must go on. There are heights of Divine knowledge to which as yet no human mind has soared. The Christ with whom we have linked ourselves has guaranteed us Perfection. Neither in respect to mind nor character shall we reach it in this world; but "He which hath begun the good work in us will perform it until the consummating day of Jesus Christ."

In the meanwhile, a Voice—the Voice of the Christ from "far up the height" of the spiritual, is calling to us on the lowlands of the Temporal, and saying—"Excelsior! Press on unto full-growth. Every moral weakness you overcome, and every Divine grace you develop, is a step upward on that towering mountain of Gospel possibility. Excelsior! because the higher your moral climbing, the farther will you leave the obscuring mists of the valley behind you, and the clearer will be your vision of God."

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Other Books by Rev. Chambers:

"Man and the Spiritual World" (1903 UK Edition)
"Problems of the Spiritual" (1907 UK Edition)



Rev. Arthur Chambers Returns From "Death" To Speak Through The Zodiac Circle
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