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CONFORMITY TO TYPE
“‘So careful of the type?’ but no,
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, ‘A thousand types are gone;
I care for nothing, all shall go.
‘Thou makest thine appeal to me;
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean thy breath:
I know no more.’ And he, shall he,
Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—
Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust
Or seal’d within the iron hills?”
“Until Christ be formed in you.”—Paul.
“The one end to which, in all living beings, the formative impulse is tending—the one scheme which the Archaeus of the old speculators strives to carry out, seems to be to mould the offspring into the likeness of the parent. It is the first great law of reproduction, that the offspring tends to resemble its parent or parents more closely than anything else.”—Huxley.
IF a botanist be asked the difference between an oak, a palm-tree, and a lichen, he will declare that they are separated from one another by the broadest line known to classification. Without taking into account the outward differences of size and form, the variety of flower and fruit, the peculiarities of leaf and branch, he sees even in their general architecture types of structure as distinct as Norman, Gothic and Egyptian. But if the first young germs of these three plants are placed before him and he is called upon to define the difference, he finds it impossible. He cannot even say which is which. Examined under the highest powers of the microscope they yield no clue. Analysed by the chemist with all the appliances of his laboratory they keep their secret.
The same experiment can be tried with the embryos of animals. Take the ovule of the worm, the eagle, the elephant, and of man himself. Let the most skilled observer apply the most searching tests to distinguish one from the other and he will fail. But there is something more surprising still. Compare next the two sets of germs, the vegetable and the animal. And there is still no shade of difference. Oak and palm, worm and man all start in life together. No matter into what strangely different forms they may afterwards develop, no matter whether they are to live on sea or land, creep or fly, swim or walk, think or vegetate, in the embryo as it first meets the eye of Science they are indistinguishable. The apple which fell in Newton’s Garden, Newton’s dog Diamond, and Newton himself, began life at the same point.8585“There is, indeed, a period in the development of every tissue and every living thing known to us when there are actually no structural peculiarities whatever—when the whole organism consists of transparent, structureless, semi-fluid living bioplasm—when it would not be possible to distinguish the growing moving matter which was to evolve the oak from that which was the germ of a vertebrate animal. Nor can any difference be discerned between the bioplasm matter of the lowest, simplest, epithelial scale of man’s organism and that from which the nerve cells of his brain are to be evolved. Neither by studying bioplasm under the microscope nor by any kind of physical or chemical investigation known, can we form any notion of the nature of the substance which is to be formed by the bioplasm, or what will be the ordinary results of the living.”—“Bioplasm,” Lionel S. Beale, F.R.S., pp. 17, 18.
If we analyse this material point at which all life starts, we shall find it to consist of a clear structureless jelly-like substance resembling albumen or white of egg. It is made of Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen. Its name is protoplasm. And it is not only the structural unit with which all living bodies start in life, but with which they are subsequently built up. “Protoplasm,” says Huxley, “simple or nucleated, is the formal basis of all life. It is the clay of the Potter.” “Beast and fowl, reptile and fish, mollusk, worm and polype are all composed of structural units of the same character, namely, masses of protoplasm with a nucleus.”8686Huxley: “Lay Sermons,” 6th Ed., pp. 127, 129.
What then determines the difference between different animals? What makes one little speck of protoplasm grow into Newton’s dog Diamond, and another, exactly the same, into Newton himself? It is a mysterious something which has entered into this protoplasm. No eye can see it. No science can define it. There is a different something for Newton’s dog and a different something for Newton; so that though both use the same matter they build it up in these widely different ways. Protoplasm being the clay, this something is the Potter. And as there is only one clay and yet all these curious forms are developed out of it, it follows necessarily that the difference lies in the potters. There must in short be as many potters as there are forms. There is the potter who segments the worm, and the potter who builds up the form of the dog, and the potter who moulds the man. To understand unmistakably that it is really the potter who does the work, let us follow for a moment a description of the process by a trained eye-witness. The observer is Mr. Huxley. Through the tube of his microscope he is watching the development, out of a speck of protoplasm, of one of the commonest animals: “Strange possibilities,” he says, “lie dormant in that semi-fluid globule. Let a moderate supply of warmth reach its watery cradle and the plastic matter undergoes changes so rapid and yet so steady and purposelike in their succession that one can only compare them to those operated by a skilled modeller upon a formless lump of clay. As with an invisible trowel the mass is divided and subdivided into smaller and smaller portions, until it is reduced to an aggregation of granules not too large to build withal the finest fabrics of the nascent organism. And, then, it is as if a delicate finger traced out the line to be occupied by the spinal column, and moulded the contour of the body; pinching up the head at one end, the tail at the other, and fashioning flank and limb into due proportions in so artistic a way, that, after watching the process hour by hour, one is almost involuntarily possessed by the notion, that some more subtle aid to vision than an achromatic would show the hidden artist, with his plan before him, striving with skilful manipulation to perfect his work.”8787Huxley: “Lay Sermons,” 6th Ed., p. 261.
Besides the fact, so luminously brought out here, that the artist is distinct from the “semi-fluid globule” of protoplasm in which he works, there is this other essential point to notice, that in all his “skilful manipulation” the artist is not working at random, but according to law. He has “his plan before him.” In the zoological laboratory of Nature it is not as in a workshop where a skilled artisan can turn his hand to anything—where the same potter one day moulds a dog, the next a bird, and the next a man. In Nature one potter is set apart to make each. It is a more complete system of division of labour. One artist makes all the dogs, another makes all the birds, a third makes all the men. Moreover, each artist confines himself exclusively to working out his own plan. He appears to have his own plan somehow stamped upon himself, and his work is rigidly to reproduce himself.
The Scientific Law by which this takes place is the Law of Conformity to Type. It is contained, to a large extent, in the ordinary Law of Inheritance; or it may be considered as simply another way of stating what Darwin calls the Law of Unity of Type. Darwin defines it thus “By Unity of Type is meant that fundamental agreement in structure which we see in organic beings of the same class, and which is quite independent of their habits of life.”8888“Origin of Species,”p. 166. According to this law every living thing that comes into the world is compelled to stamp upon its offspring the image of itself. The dog, according to its type, produces a dog; the bird a bird.
The Artist who operates upon matter in this subtle way and carries out this law is Life. There are a great many different kinds of Life. If one might give the broader meaning to the words of the apostle: “All life is not the same life. There is one kind of life of men, another life of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.” There is the Life, or the Artist, or the Potter who segments the worm, the potter who forms the dog, the potter who moulds the man.8989There is no intention here to countenance the old doctrine of the permanence of species. Whether the word species represent a fixed quantity or the reverse does not affect the question. The facts as stated are true in contemporary zoology if not in palaeontology. It may also be added that the general conception of a definite Vital Principle is used here simply as a working hypothesis. Science may yet have to give up what the Germans call the “ontogenetic directive Force.” But in the absence of any proof to the contrary, and especially of any satisfactory alternative, we are justified in working still with the old theory.
What goes on then in the animal kingdom is this— he Bird-Life seizes upon the bird-germ and builds it up into a bird, the image of itself. The Reptile-Life seizes upon another germinal speck, assimilates surrounding matter, and fashions it into a reptile. The reptile-Life thus simply makes an incarnation of itself. The visible bird is simply an incarnation of the invisible Bird-Life.
Now we are nearing the point where the spiritual analogy appears. It is a very wonderful analogy, so wonderful that one almost hesitates to put it into words. Yet Nature is reverent; and it is her voice to which we listen. These lower phenomena of life, he says, are but an allegory. There is another kind of Life of which Science as yet has taken little cognisance. It obeys the same laws. It builds up an organism into its own form. It is the Christ-Life. As the Bird-Life builds up a bird, the image of itself, so the Christ-Life builds up a Christ, the image of Himself, in the inward nature of man. When a man becomes a Christian the natural process is this: The Living Christ enters into his soul. Development begins. The quickening Life seizes upon the soul, assimilates surrounding elements, and begins to fashion it. According to the great Law of Conformity to Type this fashioning takes a specific form. It is that of the Artist who fashions. And all through Life this wonderful, mystical, glorious, yet perfectly definite process, goes on “until Christ be formed” in it.
The Christian Life is not a vague effort after righteousness—an ill-defined pointless struggle for an ill-defined pointless end. Religion is no dishevelled mass of aspiration, prayer, and faith. There is no more mystery in Religion as to its processes than in Biology. There is much mystery in Biology. We know all but nothing of Life yet, nothing of development. There is the same mystery in the spiritual Life. But the great lines are the same, as decided, as luminous; and the laws of natural and spiritual are the same, as unerring, as simple. Will everything else in the natural world unfold its order, and yield to Science more and more a vision of harmony, and Religion, which should complement and perfect all, remain a chaos? From the standpoint of Revelation no truth is more obscure than Conformity to Type. If Science can furnish a companion phenomenon from an every-day process of the natural life, it may at least throw this most mystical doctrine of Christianity into thinkable form. Is there any fallacy in speaking of the Embryology of the New Life? Is the analogy invalid? Are there not vital processes in the Spiritual as well as in the Natural world? The Bird being an incarnation of the Bird-Life, may not the Christian be a spiritual incarnation of the Christ-Life? And is there not a real justification in the processes of the New Birth for such a parallel?
Let us appeal to the record of these processes.
In what terms does the New Testament describe them? The answer is sufficiently striking. It uses everywhere the language of Biology. It is impossible that the New Testament writers should have been familiar with these biological facts. It is impossible that their views of this great truth should have been as clear as Science can make them now. But they had no alternative. There was no other way of expressing this truth. It was a biological question. So they struck out unhesitatingly into the new field of words, and, with an originality which commands both reverence and surprise, stated their truth with such light, or darkness, as they had. They did not mean to be scientific, only to be accurate, and their fearless accuracy has made them scientific.
What could be more original, for instance, than the Apostle’s reiteration that the Christian was a new creature, a new man, a babe?90902 Cor. v. 17. Or that this new man was “begotten of God,” God’s workmanship?91911 John v. 18; 1 Pet. i. 3. And what could be a more accurate expression of the Law of Conformity to Type than this: “Put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him”?9292Col. iii. 9, 10. Or this, “We are changed into the same image from glory to glory”?93932 Cor. iii. 18. And elsewhere we are expressly told by the same writer that this Conformity is the end and goal of the Christian life. To work this Type in us is the whole purpose of God for man. “Whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.”9494Rom. viii. 29.
One must confess that the originality of this entire New Testament conception is most startling. Even for the nineteenth century it is most startling. But when one remembers that such an idea took form in the first, he cannot fail to be impressed with a deepening wonder at the system which begat and cherished it. Men seek the origin of Christianity among the philosophies of that age. Scholars contrast it still with these philosophies, and scheme to fit it in to those of later growth. Has it never occurred to them how much more it is than a philosophy, that it includes a science, a Biology pure and simple? As well might naturalists contrast zoology with chemistry, or seek to incorporate geology with botany—the living with the dead—as try to explain the spiritual life in terms of mind alone. When will it be seen that the characteristic of the Christian Religion is its Life, that a true theology must begin with a Biology? Theology is the Science of God. Why will men treat God as inorganic?
If this analogy is capable of being worked out, we should expect answers to at least three questions.
First: What corresponds to the protoplasm in the spiritual sphere?
Second: What is the Life, the Hidden Artist who fashions it?
Third: What do we know of the process and the plan?
First: The Protoplasm.
We should be forsaking the lines of nature were we to imagine for a moment that the new creature was to be formed out of nothing Ex nihilo nihil— nothing can be made out of nothing. Matter is uncreatable and indestructible; Nature and man can only form and transform. Hence when a new animal is made, no new clay is made. Life merely enters into already existing matter, assimilates more of the same sort and re-builds it. The spiritual Artist works in the same way. He must have a peculiar kind of protoplasm, a basis of life, and that must be already existing.
Now He finds this in the materials of character with which the natural man is previously provided. Mind and character, the will and the affections, the moral nature—these form the bases of spiritual life. To look in this direction for the protoplasm of the spiritual life is consistent with all analogy. The lowest or mineral world mainly supplies the material —and this is true even for insectivorous species—for the vegetable kingdom. The vegetable supplies the material for the animal. Next in turn, the animal furnishes material for the mental, and lastly, the mental for the spiritual. Each member of the series is complete only when the steps below it are complete; the highest demands all. It is not necessary for the immediate purpose to go so far into the psychology either of the new creature or of the old as to define more clearly what these moral bases are. It is enough to discover that in this womb the new creature is to be born, fashioned out of the mental and moral parts, substance, or essence of the natural man. The only thing to be insisted upon is that in the natural man this mental and moral substance or basis is spiritually lifeless. However active the intellectual or moral life may be, from the point of view of this other Life it is dead. That which is flesh is flesh. It wants, that is to say, the kind of Life which constitutes the difference between the Christian and the not-a-Christian. It has not yet been “born of the Spirit.”
To show further that this protoplasm possesses the necessary properties of a normal protoplasm it will be necessary to examine in passing what these properties are. They are two in number, the capacity for life and plasticity. Consider first the capacity for life. It is not enough to find an adequate supply of material. That material must be of the right kind. For all kinds of matter have not the power to be the vehicle of life—all kinds of matter are not even fitted to be the vehicle of electricity. What peculiarity there is in Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen, when combined in a certain way, to receive life, we cannot tell. We only know that life is always associated in Nature with this particular physical basis and never with any other. But we are not in the same darkness with regard to the moral protoplasm, When we look at this complex combination which we have predicated as the basis of spiritual life, we do find something which gives it a peculiar qualification for being the protoplasm of the Christ-Life. We discover one strong reason at least, not only why this kind of life should be associated with this kind of protoplasm, but why it should never be associated with other kinds which seem to resemble it—why, for instance, this spiritual life should not be engrafted upon the intelligence of a dog or the instincts of an ant.
The protoplasm in man has a something in addition to its instincts or its habits. It has a capacity for God. In this capacity for God lie its receptivity; it is the very protoplasm that was necessary. The chamber is not only ready to receive the new Life, but the Guest is expected, and, till He comes, is missed. Till then the soul longs and yearns, wastes and pines, waving its tentacles piteously in the empty air, feeling after God if so be that it may find Him. This is not peculiar to the protoplasm of the Christian’s soul. In every land and in every age there have been altars to the Known or Unknown God. It is now agreed as a mere question of anthropology that the universal language of the human soul has always been “I perish with hunger.” This is what fits it for Christ. There is a grandeur in this cry from the depths which makes its very unhappiness sublime.
The other quality we are to look for in the soul is mouldableness, plasticity. Conformity demands conformability. Now plasticity is not only a marked characteristic of all forms of life, but in a special sense of the highest forms. It increases steadily as we rise in the scale. The inorganic world, to begin with, is rigid. A crystal of silica dissolved and redissolved a thousand times will never assume any other form than the hexagonal. The plant next, though plastic in its elements, is comparatively insusceptible of change. The very fixity of its sphere, the imprisonment for life in a single spot of earth, is the symbol of a certain degradation. The animal in all its parts is mobile, sensitive, free; the highest animal, man, is the most mobile, the most at leisure from routine, the most impressionable, the most open for change. And when we reach the mind and soul, this mobility is found in its most developed form. Whether we regard its susceptibility to impressions, its lightning-like response even to influences the most impalpable and subtle, its power of instantaneous adjustment, or whether we regard the delicacy and variety of its moods, or its vast powers of growth, we are forced to recognise in this the most perfect capacity for change. This marvellous plasticity of mind contains at once the possibility and prophecy of its transformation. The soul, in a word, is made to be converted.
Second, The Life
The main reason for giving the Life, the agent of this change, a separate treatment, is to emphasize the distinction between it and the natural man on the one hand, and the spiritual man on the other. The natural man is its basis, the spiritual man is its product, the Life itself is something different. Just as in an organism we have these three things— formative matter, formed matter, and the forming principle or life; so in the soul we have the old nature, the renewed nature, and the transforming Life.
This being made evident, little remains here to be added. No man has ever seen this Life. It cannot be analysed, or weighed, or traced in its essential nature. But this is just what we expected. This invisibility is the same property which we found to be peculiar to the natural life. We saw no life in the first embryos, in oak, in palm, or in bird. In the adult it likewise escapes us. We shall not wonder if we cannot see it in the Christian. We shall not expect to see it. A fortiori we shall not expect to see it, for we are further removed from the coarser matter—moving now among ethereal and spiritual things. It is because it conforms to the law of this analogy so well that men, not seeing it, have denied its being. Is it hopeless to point out that one of the most recognisable characteristics of life is its unrecognisableness, and that the very token of its spiritual nature lies in its being beyond the grossness of our eyes?
We do not pretend that Science can define this Life to be Christ. It has no definition to give even of its own life, much less of this. But there are converging lines which point, at least, in the direction that it is Christ. There was One whom history acknowledges to have been the Truth. One of His claims was this, “I am the Life.” According to the doctrine of Biogenesis, life can only come from life. It was His additional claim that His function in the world was to give men Life. “I am come that ye might have Life, and that ye might have it more abundantly.” This could not refer to the natural life, for men had that already. He that hath the Son hath another Life. “Know ye not your own selves how that Jesus Christ is in you.”
Again, there are men whose characters assume a strange resemblance to Him who was the Life. When we see the bird-character appear in an organism we assume that the Bird-Life has been there at work. And when we behold Conformity to Type in a Christian, and know moreover that the type-organization can be produced by the type-life alone does this not lend support to the hypothesis that the Type-Life also has been here at work? If every effect demands a cause, what other cause is there for the Christian? When we have a cause, and an adequate cause, and no other adequate cause; when we have the express statement of that Cause that he is that cause, what more is possible? Let not Science, knowing nothing of its own life, go further than to say it knows nothing of this Life. We shall not dissent from its silence. But till it tells us what it is, we wait for evidence that it is not this.
Third, the Process.
It is impossible to enter at length into any detail of the great miracle by which this protoplasm is to be conformed to the Image of the Son. We enter that province now only so far as this Law of Conformity compels us. Nor is it so much the nature of the process we have to consider as its general direction and results. We are dealing with a question of morphology rather than of physiology.
It must occur to one on reaching this point, that a new element here comes in which compels us, for the moment, to part company with zoology. That element is the conscious power of choice. The animal in following the type is blind. It does no only follow the type involuntarily and compulsorily, but does not know that it is following it. We might certainly have been made to conform to the Type in the higher sphere with no more knowledge or power of choice than animals or automata. But then we should not have been men. It is a possible case, but not possible to the kind of protoplasm with which men are furnished. Owing to the peculiar characteristics of this protoplasm an additional and exceptional provision is essential.
The first demand is that being conscious and having this power of choice, the mind should have an adequate knowledge of what it is to choose. Some revelation of the Type, that is to say, is necessary. And as that revelation can only come from the Type, we must look there for it.
We are confronted at once with the Incarnation. There we find how the Christ-Life has clothed Himself with matter, taken literal flesh, and dwelt among us. The Incarnation is the Life revealing the Type. Men are long since agreed that this is the end of the Incarnation—the revealing of God. But why should God be revealed? Why, indeed, but for man? Why but that “beholding as in a glass the glory of the only begotten we should be changed into the same Image”?
To meet the power of choice, however, something more was necessary than the mere revelation of the Type—it was necessary that the Type should be the highest conceivable Type. In other words, the Type must be an Ideal. For all true human growth, effort, and achievement, an ideal is acknowledged to be indispensable. And all men accordingly whose lives are based on principle, have set themselves an ideal, more or less perfect. It is this which first deflects the will from what is base, and turns the wayward life to what is holy. So much is true as mere philosophy. But philosophy failed to present men with their ideal. It has never been suggested that Christianity has failed. Believers and unbelievers have been compelled to acknowledge that Christianity holds up to the world the missing Type, the Perfect Man.
The recognition of the Ideal is the first step in the direction of Conformity. But let it be clearly observed that it is but a step. There is no vital connection between merely seeing the Ideal and being conformed to it. Thousands admire Christ who never become Christians.
But the great question still remains, How is the Christian to be conformed to the Type, or as we should now say, dealing with consciousness, to the Ideal? The mere knowledge of the Ideal is no more than a motive. How is the process to be practically accomplished? Who is to do it? Where, when, how? This is the test question of Christianity. It is here that all theories of Christianity, all attempts to explain it on natural principles, all reductions of it to philosophy, inevitably break down. It is here that all imitations of Christianity perish. It is here, also, that personal religion finds its most fatal obstacle. Men are all quite clear about the Ideal. We are all convinced of the duty of mankind regarding it. But how to secure that willing men shall attain it—that is the problem of religion. It is the failure to understand the dynamics of Christianity that has most seriously and most pitifully hindered its growth both in the individual and in the race.
From the standpoint of biology this practical difficulty vanishes in a moment. It is probably the very simplicity of the law regarding it that has made men stumble. For nothing is so invisible to most men as transparency. The law here is the same biological law that exists in the natural world. For centuries men have striven to find out ways and means to conform themselves to this type. Impressive motives have been pictured, the proper circumstances arranged, the direction of effort defined, and men have toiled, struggled, and agonized to conform themselves to the Image of the Son. Can the protoplasm conform itself to its type? Can the embryo fashion itself? Is Conformity to Type produced by the matter or by the life, by the protoplasm or by the Type? Is organization the cause of life or the effect of it? It is the effect of it. Conformity to Type, therefore, is secured by the type. Christ makes the Christian.
Men need only reflect on the automatic processes of their natural body to discover that this is the universal law of Life. What does any man consciously do, for instance, in the matter of breathing? What part does he take in circulating the blood, in keeping up the rhythm of his heart? What control has he over growth? What man by taking thought can add a cubit to his stature? What part voluntarily does man take in secretion, in digestion, in the reflex actions? In point of fact is he not after all the veriest automaton, every organ of his body given him, every function arranged for him, brain and nerve, thought and sensation, will and conscience, all provided for him ready made? And yet he turns upon his soul and wishes to organize that himself! O preposterous and vain man, thou who couldest not make a finger nail of thy body, thinkest thou to fashion this wonderful, mysterious, subtle soul of thine after the ineffable Image? Wilt thou ever permit thyself to be conformed to the Image of the Son? Wilt thou, who canst not add a cubit to thy stature, submit to be raised by the Type-Life within thee to the perfect stature of Christ?
This is a humbling conclusion. And therefore men will resent it. Men will still experiment “by works of righteousness which they have done” to earn the Ideal life. The doctrine of Human Inability, as the Church calls it, has always been objectionable to men who do not know themselves. The doctrine itself, perhaps, has been partly to blame. While it has been often affirmed in such language as rightly to humble men, it has also been stated and cast in their teeth with words which could only insult them. Merely to assert dogmatically that man has no power to move hand or foot to help himself towards Christ, carries no real conviction. The weight of human authority is always powerless, and ought to be, where the intelligence is denied a rationale. In the light of modern science when men seek a reason for every thought of God or man, this old doctrine with its severe and almost inhuman aspect—till rightly understood—must presently have succumbed. But to the biologist it cannot die. It stands to him on the solid ground of Nature. It has a reason in the laws of life which must resuscitate it and give it another lease of years. Bird-Life makes the Bird. Christ-Life makes the Christian. No man by taking thought can add a cubit to his stature.
So much for the scientific evidence. Here is the corresponding statement of the truth from Scripture. Observe the passive voice in these sentences: ”Begotten of God;” “The new man which is renewed in knowledge after the Image of Him that created him;” or this, “We are changed into the same Image;” or this, “Predestinate to be conformed to the Image of His Son;” or again, “Until Christ be formed in you;” or “Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God;” “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” There is one outstanding verse which seems at first sight on the other side: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” but as one reads on he finds, as if the writer dreaded the very misconception, the complement, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
It will be noticed in these passages, and in others which might be named, that the process of transformation is referred indifferently to the agency of each Person of the Trinity in turn. We are not concerned to take up this question of detail. It is sufficient that the transformation is wrought. Theologians, however, distinguish thus: the indirect agent is Christ, the direct influence is the Holy Spirit. In other words, Christ by His Spirit renews the souls of men.
Is man, then, out of the arena altogether? Is he mere clay in the hands of the potter, a machine, a tool, an automaton? Yes and No. If he were a tool he would not be a man. If he were a man he would have something to do. One need not seek to balance what God does here, and what man does. But we shall attain to a sufficient measure of truth on a most delicate problem if we make a final appeal to the natural life. We find that in maintaining this natural life Nature has a share and man has a share. By far the larger part is done for us—the breathing, the secreting, the circulating of the blood, the building up of the organism. And although the part which man plays is a minor part, yet, strange to say, it is not less essential to the well-being, and even to the being, of the whole. For instance, man has to take food. He has nothing to do with it after he has once taken it, for the moment it passes his lips it is taken in hand by reflex actions and handed on from one organ to another, his control over it, in the natural course of things, being completely lost. But the initial act was his. And without that nothing could have been done. Now whether there be an exact analogy between the voluntary and involuntary functions in the body, and the corresponding processes in the soul, we do not at present inquire. But this will indicate, at least, that man has his own part to play. Let him choose Life; let him daily nourish his soul; let him for ever starve the old life; let him abide continuously as a living branch in the Vine, and the True-Vine Life will flow into his soul, assimilating, renewing, conforming to Type, till Christ, pledged by His own law, be formed in him.
We have been dealing with Christianity at its most mystical point. Mark here once more its absolute naturalness. The pursuit of the Type is just what all Nature is engaged in. Plant and insect, fish and reptile, bird and mammal—these in their several spheres are striving after the Type. To prevent its extinction, to ennoble it, to people earth and sea and sky with it; this is the meaning of the Struggle for Life. And this is our life—to pursue the Type, to populate the world with it.
Our religion is not all a mistake. We are not visionaries. We are not “unpractical,” as men pronounce us, when we worship. To try to follow Christ is not to be “righteous overmuch.” True men are not rhapsodizing when they preach; nor do those waste their lives who waste themselves in striving to extend the Kingdom of God on earth. This is what life is for. The Christian in his lifeaim is in strict line with Nature. What men call his supernatural is quite natural.
Mark well also the splendour of this idea of salvation. It is not merely final “safety,” to be forgiven sin, to evade the curse. It is not, vaguely, “to get to heaven.” It is to be conformed to the image of the Son. It is for these poor elements to attain to the Supreme Beauty. The organizing Life being Eternal, so must this Beauty be immortal. Its progress towards the Immaculate is already guaranteed. And more than all there is here fulfilled the sublimest of all prophecies; not Beauty alone but Unity is secured by the Type—Unity of man and man, God and man, God and Christ and man, till “all shall be one.”
Could Science in its most brilliant anticipations for the future of its highest organism ever have foreshadowed a development like this? Now that the revelation is made to it, it surely recognises it as the missing point in Evolution, the climax to which all Creation tends. Hitherto Evolution had no future. It was a pillar with marvellous carving, growing richer and finer towards the top, but without a capital; a pyramid, the vast base buried in the inorganic, towering higher and higher, tier above tier, life above life, mind above mind, ever more perfect in its workmanship, more noble in its symmetry, and yet withal so much the more mysterious in its aspiration. The most curious eye, following it upwards, saw nothing. The cloud fell and covered it. Just what men wanted to see was hid. The work of the ages had no apex. But the work begun by Nature is finished by the Supernatural—as we are wont to call the higher natural. And as the veil is lifted by Christianity it strikes men dumb with wonder. For the goal of Evolution is Jesus Christ.
The Christian life is the only life that will ever be completed. Apart from Christ the life of man is a broken pillar, the race of men an unfinished pyramid. One by one in sight of Eternity all human Ideals fall short, one by one before the open grave all human hopes dissolve. The Laureate sees a moment’s light in Nature’s jealousy for the Type; but that too vanishes.
“‘So careful of the type?’ but no
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, ‘A thousand types are gone;
I care for nothing, all shall go.’”
All shall go? No, one Type remains. “Whom he did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the Image of His Son.” And “when Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.”
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