You are here

Lecture 10: Providential Methods: Election

WE now enter on the study of the methods by which Providence seeks to accomplish its beneficent aims for the good of mankind. We take up first the method of election. Occasional allusions in previous lectures have prepared us for recognising the procedure denoted by the term as among the providential ways of God, and we have now to consider at some length its nature, rationale, conditions, and results.

The general aim of election is service to mankind in some particular sphere within the wide range of human interests. It is a method whereby Providence uses the one—one man or one people—to bless the many. The purposed benefit does not centre in and terminate with the elect, but passes out beyond them in ever-widening spheres of benignant influence. Privilege, prerogative, may be involved in the method, but whatever element of this kind there may be is secondary in comparison with the universal service contemplated. If the method in its actual working generate in any instance a spirit of monopoly, it is an accident and an abuse tending to frustrate rather than promote the designs of the providential order.

Special service or function implies special fitness: endowment, capacity corresponding to the appointed task. That signifies much. Many things go to the making of an elect man or people: heredity, environment, experience. It is not a matter of arbitrary choice: laying hold of any chance man or people, and forthwith destining him or it to a certain vocation. Race is involved, and when you have got the race, there is further needed discipline, opportunity, suitable location. Take the case of Israel, with which we have been accustomed very specially, if not exclusively, to associate the idea of election. The basal fact connected with Israel's election is the origination of a Semitic type of mankind, with a peculiar temperament and a peculiar proclivity or genius for religion. Then on this basis of racial resemblance there had to be built up a superstructure of specific difference to ensure that Israel should make a new religious departure, and not follow the ways of pagan Semitic peoples. That meant a peculiar history from first to last: Egyptian bondage, settlement in a land favourable to isolation, the raising up from time to time of remarkable men capable of communicating a powerful new impulse to their people: Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, and the like.

The fundamental fact involved in election, racial peculiarity, must for our purpose be accepted simply as a datum. We see that the providential order needed races with definite mental and spiritual endowments, but how they were produced we are not obliged to inquire, and we do not profess to know. It is a hard problem even for scientific experts. Some have thought that racial differences, such as those which exist between white, black, yellow, and red men, run back to primitive origin, and presuppose distinct first parents. Against this is not only the Hebrew tradition of the common descent of all men from one primal pair, but the bias of science in favour of unity as opposed to plurality of origin. On the other hand, accepting the unity of origin, and corresponding original homogeneity in physical and mental features, the difficulty is to conceive by what means such wide differentiation as now exists could possibly be brought about. The difficulty appears all the greater when it is considered that the great race distinctions, as we know them, were established at a very early period, and that history makes us acquainted with no later variations comparable to them in extent and importance. The ‘race-making force,’ to use the apt phrase of Mr. Bagehot, must have acted with great intensity in the prehistoric period, and as it were exhausted itself, giving place to the feebler ‘nation-making force,’ which has been in operation within the historical period producing specific varieties. In this respect there seems to be an analogy between the origin of race and the origin of language. In both cases forces appear to have been at work producing extraordinary results without parallel in later times; yielding in the department of language such widely disparate phenomena as the Sanskrit and Hebrew tongues, and in the department of race two families of mankind so broadly discriminated as the Aryans and the Semites. The forces in either instance may fall under the general category of evolution, and may even be simply exemplifications of the theory of natural selection acting under exceptional conditions.1 It may be a kind of duty we owe to modern science to believe that this is so, even in absence of proof; but it will certainly be a case of trusting where we do not see. The origin of race, like the origin of language, is a mystery; a subject of speculation rather than of exact knowledge. In making this remark, I have no intention to suggest the hypothesis of preternatural causality. It is not necessary to postulate such causality in order to invest race with providential significance. The physical order and the moral order are not two mutually exclusive spheres; they interpenetrate each other.

The method of election has an intelligible rationale. It is simply this, that all important human interests demand for their furtherance emphatic representation. With reference to the bearing of this principle on the case of Israel, Mr. M. Arnold has truly observed, that ‘unless a sense or endowment of human nature, however in itself real and beneficent, has some signal representative among mankind, it tends to be pressed upon by other senses and endowments, to suffer from its own want of energy, and to be more and more pushed out of sight.’2 It follows from this that if the world is to be duly impressed with the supreme importance of righteousness, and with the value of a conception of God in which the divine and the ethical are intimately connected, there must be at least one people possessed with the passion for righteousness and cherishing a kindred idea of God, and able by its intensity and persistency to stamp its convictions indelibly on mankind. The adoption of the method is no more arbitrary, or without reason, than is the application of it to a particular man or people as the agent of Providence. There must be a particular instrument for a particular service, if the service is to be efficiently rendered. And this demand of the service is in harmony with evolutionary law, which ever tends to increasing specialisation. Generic types of life come low down in the scale; the higher we rise the more specialised the type, the more pronounced the individuality. But individuality means limitation: strength here, weakness there, enhanced fitness for certain functions, diminished fitness for others.

It is a corollary from this that more elect peoples than one are needed to do the work of Providence. One people can no more perform all the functions necessary than all men or peoples can be made equally expert in any one function. A certain people may by race and training be supremely qualified for giving to the world the true religion, but it is not at all to be expected that the same people should be able to give the world lessons in science, philosophy, art, or government. If Providence attach importance to these things, it will have to prepare other races for becoming in connection with them the instructors and benefactors of mankind. If other races are found to possess the needful fitness and liking for the task, then they also must be numbered among the elect. For, although we have been accustomed to apply the term specially to the people of Israel, and to associate it with the subject of religion, there is no reason in the nature of things why its use should be thus restricted. Signal fitness for an important special function constitutes election. If it be thought that past usage should be respected, and that the term in question should be consecrated to the expression of religious ideas, good and well; only let it be remembered that the essential truth involved is not confined to religion, but pervades the whole providential order of the world. When that fact is duly recognised, it will not be deemed profane to employ, at least provisionally, so expressive and suggestive a word to invest the fact with appropriate importance.

So far from the epithet ‘elect’ being exclusively applicable to one people, it may appear a reasonable position that all peoples are elect, that is to say, possess some special aptitude for some particular service whereof mankind is to get the benefit. In the abstract that thesis may have something to say for itself, but I do not think it would serve any practical purpose to contend for it. Such a sweeping generalisation would only tend to obscure the significance of the principle as exemplified on a less ambitious scale. It is much more important to see clearly the great services rendered by Israel, Greece, and Rome, under the providential order, than to set ourselves to the somewhat hard task of discovering the function assigned by that order to China and other nations that might be named, all in order to justify the thesis that election is absolutely universal. For aught we know China's time may be coming, and the future may bring the day, predicted in a recent forecast, when the globe will be ‘girdled with a continuous zone of the black and yellow races, no longer too weak for aggression or under tutelage, but independent, or practically so, in government, monopolising the trade of their own regions, and circumscribing the industry of the European,’3 having fleets in European seas, and taking part on equal terms in European politics. That would be a great change, but whether such a state of matters would entitle the Chinese to the dignified appellation of an elect people is another question. The very vastness of that nation suggests a doubt. Providence has hitherto shown a preference for small nations as its instruments: Israel, Greece, Rome (small in its beginnings), the inhabitants of the British Isles. Is that an accident, or is there something in the nature of things that connects special gifts and service with limited numbers and dimensions? Great epoch-making men are scarce. Must greatness in the intellectual and moral sphere always be forthcoming only on a reduced scale? Is it a law of the providential order that all movements on the higher levels must begin obscurely, and slowly advance to world-wide influence and renown? Such a law, if verified, would invest the elective method with impressive moral significance. A little stone growing to a great mountain, a tiny seed becoming a great tree, is a stirring spectacle.

Providence not only seems to prefer small peoples as its instruments, but even within these it works mainly through chosen men. The elective method exhibits its highest potency in the individual. In no case do all the members of any community, in any appreciable measure, inherit its gifts or participate in its service. ‘They are not all Israel which are of Israel.’4 The genius and vocation of a people become incarnated in a choice few. A nation that has no great men has no great destiny. A nation that has a great destiny will never want great men. Even Hartmann remarks that the right time has never wanted the right man, and that the cry sometimes raised that the men needed for pressing tasks are not forthcoming simply means that these supposed pressing tasks have no place in the plan of history.5 From a pessimistic philosopher this is as welcome as it is unexpected. Sombre forecasts of the future include in their depressing picture the disappearance from the earth of great characters—no great poets, no great saints, no men endowed with irrepressible individuality and power of initiative; a monotonous régime of mediocrity, ‘when the lower races will predominate in the world, when the higher races will lose their noblest elements, when we shall ask nothing from the day but to live, nor from the future but that we may not deteriorate.’6 Let us hope that this is the ill-founded surmise of a gifted thinker, whose mind has been unduly influenced by a colonial type of sentiment. For the prospect set before us is dismal enough. When the higher races have lost their noblest elements, whether as diffused in the community or as concentrated in the individual, life will not be worth living. The very idea is a renunciation of faith in Providence. That faith we are not prepared to renounce on evidence far from overwhelming. Therefore we will continue to expect the appearance, at the appointed hour, of elect men, with great minds, great souls, great faith, hope, and devotion; men of forceful individuality, predestined, mightily impelled, under a Divine necessity to expend their stored-up energy in a manner that shall redeem their time from oppressive commonplace, and give humanity a new impetus onwards in its way towards its appointed goal.

Such elect men always belong to an elect people. The two, the elect man and the elect people, are relative to each other, belong to each other, and each is to the other the instrument of usefulness. The mutual relation and its importance are not recognised with equal clearness on both sides. Sometimes an elect people does not know its elect men when it sees them, does not appreciate their value, does not understand what they are there for. Puzzled by their personality, and provoked by their unwonted line of action, it may even think that the best thing to do with them is to disown, banish, or destroy them. But the elect man generally understands and values his relation to his people. While something more and higher than a patriot, he is in the best sense patriotic. He regards himself as the servant of his people. ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’7 Every elect man has a similar sense of national vocation, and acts accordingly. His life-work may ultimately turn out to concern the whole world and all time, but he works above all, and consciously, for his own race and his own generation. He is intensely endowed with racial peculiarities, and, however wide his sympathies, he is content to live and die, and be remembered, as one of his own beloved people. And this is no disqualification for permanent universal influence. Particularism and universalism are not mutually exclusive. The best way to serve the universal interest is to be thoroughly the particular man you were destined to be by individual and racial endowment.

Particularism has its place and value in the character of elect peoples, not less than in that of elect men. It is good that an elect race should for a time dwell alone, and become intensely conscious of its own apartness, and define itself in hard antithesis over against the rest of the world: Jew against Gentile, Greeks against barbarians. Such self-consciousness easily runs into vicious excess which may prove disastrous to a chosen people; nevertheless in its own place and time it serves the purpose of the providential order. It secures the isolation necessary to give fixity to racial type, without which a people cannot be a chosen people, or have anything distinctive or valuable to give to mankind. The good of the whole is ever the ultimate aim, but for that very reason the parts must for a season be detached from the whole. Premature mixture yields a bastard universalism which means degeneracy rather than progress. Israel cannot keep too much aloof from her Canaanitish neighbours in social and religious custom, if she is to give to the world an idea of God which shall be her glory, and the world's permanent gain. Genial relations with her environment will mean participation in the revolting practices of Pagan Semitic worship—sacred prostitution and human sacrifice. Puritanic exclusiveness with reference to such a neighbourhood is her only chance of an honourable destiny as the providential bearer of the purest faith. To become the best she must bitterly hate the worst, till she has become strong enough to exchange a policy of isolation for a policy of free intercourse, without risk of contamination. This doctrine of temporary separation in order to eventual fellowship may be summed up in these words of Mr. Bagehot: ‘In early times Providence set apart the nations, and it is not till the frame of their morals is set by long ages of transmitted discipline, that enlargement can be borne. The ages of isolation had their use, for they trained men for ages when they were not to be isolated.’8

The effective performance of its allotted function by an elect race thus appears to depend on two main conditions—original peculiarity and careful conservation of the distinctive feature. These two conditions in the providential order correspond to variation and heredity in the physical order. In both spheres upward progressive evolution is rendered possible by the combination of counterbalancing forces. In the physical sphere no progress would be possible if either variation or heredity acted alone. Heredity alone would mean absolute likeness of offspring to parent, whereby animal life, e.g., would be kept for ever at its lowest stage. Variation alone would mean endless change without significance; an infinite number of freaks of nature of brief duration, and leading nowhere. Combine the two and you get change and order, movement and repose in equipoise, resulting in the steady ascent of life from lower stages to higher. In the moral sphere the conditions of progress are analogous. There is needed first a people able to give to humanity an onward, upward impulse in a certain direction, in virtue of a useful intellectual or moral variation, constituting its distinctive racial endowment. But there is needed also the fixing of this useful variety in an abiding type, that its appearance in history may not be like that of a comet, but rather like that of a star, steadily shining in the firmament. The elect race must have permanent and emphatic distinctiveness. It must last long enough to become known to the world, and when it comes to the knowledge of men it must possess characteristics which arrest attention, invite study, provoke admiration, or it may be antagonism; it matters not greatly which, in the first place, for the one thing needful is that it be seen and felt to be there, a stubborn fact that must be reckoned with, that can by no means be ignored as a nullity. That secured, the service it was destined to render humanity cannot be frustrated. The servant may perish, but the service will be performed. An elect race may perish by the faults of its own high qualities, but the boon which is the ripe fruit of these high qualities will not fail to be reaped. Israel may pass away, or become a wanderer among the nations, but not before giving to the world the oracles of its prophets, and the incomparable teaching of its Christ. Greece may vanish before the invincible power of Rome, but the victim of brute force will bequeath to the conqueror as a dying legacy its own inimitable culture. Rome may undergo a tragic ‘Decline and Fall,’ but in doing so it will communicate to the barbarians before whom it succumbs its legislative wisdom and its spirit of obedience. The Germanic nations, one or more of them, may lose their place of pre-eminence, but the world will inherit from them the spirit of liberty, and the conception of freedom as, not the prerogative of one or of a few, but the birthright of man as man. By these various contributions of elect peoples the world will be permanently enriched. ‘One soweth and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.’9

When elect peoples perish, it is not to be supposed that the fact is sufficiently accounted for by the remark that the providential order, having got its use of them, heartlessly throws them aside. This may be the superficial aspect of the matter, but the real causes lie deeper. Such peoples perish by their own fault. The apostle Paul was very careful to assert this principle in reference to Israel. He saw the bulk of his countrymen failing to understand that the future belonged to Christianity, and by that failure doomed, as he believed, to national disaster. He asked himself what this meant, and in especial whether it meant that God had cast away his people? His answer was twofold: it did not mean absolute and final casting away; but even if it did, the doom had been deserved, and simply illustrated the retributive action of the moral order of the world. This view, applied comprehensively, must command general assent, though we may be inclined to insist less exclusively on moral causes, and to trace in disaster not only fault but misfortune. With an exception to be hereafter named, all elect peoples and persons have characteristic defects, not to say vices. One of these is onesidedness, shown by attaching undue importance to that which it is the vocation of a people to hoist into prominence, to the neglect of other things. This defect is involved in the very idea of election. An elect people just means a people so endowed and trained as to have an intensified affinity and predilection for one particular good of humanity. Peoples or persons that take an equal all-round interest in all things may be very worthy of respect, but they can, as a rule, lay no claim to the epithet ‘elect.’ The elect man, be he philosopher, poet, prophet, artist, warrior, or saint, commonly cares more for this than for that, cares very much for one thing, very little for most things. His motto is, One thing I desire, think of, aim at, strive to do;10 in St. Paul's laconic phrase: ἓν δϵ.11 He cannot help himself; he is predestined that way, impelled, driven on by spiritual forces in his soul lying deeper than his will. He may shrink from his destiny, try to evade it, as if with instinctive foreboding of the sorrows of an elect soul, but he must fail; his very misery, while he makes the futile attempt, will constrain him to yield, for the word of the Lord, the behest of destiny, will be in his heart as a burning fire shut up in his bones,12 and to surrender will be the least of two evils. And surrender will mean blessedness: existence fulfilled, mysterious yearnings and obscure impulses satisfied; probably not happiness, for the predestined man, the man of genius, suffers both from his intensities and from his apathies; from excess of susceptibility in one direction, and from defect of susceptibility in other directions. His ideal torments him, and he finds no escape from the torment in recreative interests and occupations. Hence the specially gifted, of all sorts and in all spheres, are apt to be men of sorrow and acquainted with grief, and the saying of the Greek poet is verified: The sons of the gods are seldom happy.13

Onesidedness is a manifest characteristic of the elect peoples best known to history. The best of Israel's sons had a passion for righteousness, but they cared little for the æsthetic, though they were by no means insensible to the sublime and the beautiful in nature. The Greeks had a passion for art and philosophy, but the love of righteousness, though conspicuous in a few, was not in the ascendant. The Romans were devoted to the State, but they possessed neither brightness of intellect nor tenderness of conscience.

Each of these peoples did good service to the world by that in which it was strong, each suffered through lack of that in which it was weak. Onesidedness is always a source of danger. One form of onesidedness may be more serious than another. Thus the defect ascribed to the Greeks, lack of a due sense of the importance of conduct, may be much more serious in its nature and consequences than that ascribed to the Hebrews, indifference to art. And it is not unnatural to ascribe to the comparative seriousness of the Greek defect the brevity of its brilliant career. This moralistic explanation of Greek failure, adopted by some moderns, seems to find support in the following fragment from a lost play of Euripides: ‘I must blame my countrymen in this, that they bestow crowns for no cause. For when an enemy is at our gates, of what use is he that can wrestle with skill, or run like a hound, or hurl a quoit to a distance, or break with a blow the jaw of an antagonist. Will a quoit or a kick drive an enemy away?…The men that deserve honour are such as by wisdom and integrity direct the counsels of our country, that forewarn against peril, and intermediate between contending factions. These men are the glory of our own land, and a blessing to the great commonwealth of all lands.’14 Those who think the theory suggested by these lines too easy, and hardly fair to the Greeks, may prefer the solution offered by Mr. Freeman, who accounts for the brevity of their career by the form which political organisation assumed among them. The gist of that distinguished historian's explanation is as follows:—The State for the Greek meant a single city, as distinct from a nation, or country in our sense. This conception of one's own city as the political whole is highly stimulating to the individual citizens. But the civic life is too brilliant to last; ‘the high-strung enthusiasm to which it owes its being, and without which it cannot be kept up at the same level, is not likely to last for many generations.’ The system has this further drawback: the citizens of any particular city care supremely only for their own city, and are indifferent or even hostile to the fortunes of other cities. The inevitable result is, that for lack of union, all alike become the prey of any strong power, like Macedon, whose ambition prompts it to attack them.15 The theory possesses intrinsic probability, but it does not eliminate moral causes. The Greek preference for the city as the political whole, and the comparative insensibility to the claims of race, language, and religion, had their roots in the moral spirit of the people: in an excessive love of liberty, and an unbridled subjectivity from which ruin, at no distant date, was only too likely to follow.

Even the onesided passion for religion and righteousness is not without its dangers. For lack of some counterbalancing interest helping to preserve a sense of proportion, it is apt to degenerate into a blind fanaticism. This was what befell the Jews. After the captivity, which cured them of the old indifference to their privileges and vocation as an elect people, their God-given law became to them a Fetich, and their religion proved their ruin. They became inaccessible to new ideas and incapable of adapting themselves to unwelcome situations. They held on desperately to an ancient faith when it had become worn out, and they cherished the dream of a Messianic kingdom of a political type when stern facts made it impossible. The result was a collision with Rome, which demolished their temple, and put an end to their national existence.

The subjectivity of the Greeks, and the fanaticism of the Jews, were the defects of their qualities. Elect peoples and persons are, further, liable to faults connected with their vocation. They may fail to realise their vocation, or they may realise it simply as a privilege. How often does it happen in individual history that men turn aside from the path into which their endowments would lead them, sometimes with disastrous effects to character, always with loss to the service which it was in them to render! The young man in the Gospel who made the grand refusal is the type of this class. He had nobleness enough to be dissatisfied with Pharisaism and to perceive the supreme value of the ethical in religion. Had he followed the behests of what was best in him, at the bidding of Jesus, he might have become an apostle of the Christian faith, a substitute for Judas, a companion to St. Paul. Tragic mistakes like his excite compassion as well as disapproval; for to find the true path to the highest use of life, and therefore to blessedness, is not easy. Decisions of vital consequence have to be taken in the dark, in the inexperience of youth, when men do not know the meaning of the impulses which are stirring in their souls. Yet fatal, final mistakes are never due to ignorance alone; always in part, and even chiefly, to lack of singleness of mind. To the upright light ariseth in the darkness. God guides the blind, who are willing to be led by the hand of Providence, to their appointed destination. And it may be said that all truly elect spirits are willing; or even that they must go in the divinely appointed road whether they will or no. The men that fatally err are they who, so to speak, are not sufficiently predestined, compelled by forces deeper than their wills, to choose a high calling that shall not be pleasant or profitable or creditable to themselves, but serviceable to mankind.

What is true of many individuals may also be true of peoples. For a time they may fail to understand their providential reason of existence. This appears to have been for long the case with Israel. The conception of Israel as an elect people seems to have originated with the great prophets. It may have flashed across the minds of earlier prophets and seers like Samuel, but it was through the influence of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and their successors that the great thought took its place in the religious consciousness of the nation. Then the inner circle of devout spirits, if not the great mass of the people, began to realise that it was the vocation of Israel to be a peculiar treasure unto the God of the whole earth by becoming a kingdom of priests and an holy nation.16 The state of exile in Babylon tended to deepen and diffuse this lofty sense of responsibility, and to prepare expatriated Israelites for receiving the solemn message of the unknown prophet of the captivity, which summoned them to become the missionaries of the true religion to the Gentile world. The exiles on their return to their own land brought with them this sense of a high calling, and the reforming work of Ezra and Nehemiah had for its aim to fit their fellow-country-men for discharging the duties incumbent on an elect race. From that time forth Israel never forgot that she was a ‘peculiar people.’

Such self-consciousness of providential distinction exposes to new dangers. The sense of a peculiar vocation may be perverted into food for a pride which, while very conscious of privilege, neglects duty. This is the besetting sin of all privileged classes. They turn into a monopoly of favour what Providence meant to be an opportunity of universal service. It is a grievous offence against the moral order of the world and the interests of mankind. Ultimately the offenders themselves are the greatest sufferers. An elect race, an élite section of society, that has got into the way of thinking only of its superiority, is a savourless salt whose inevitable doom is to be trodden under foot of men. God makes no man, nation, or order, great or distinguished, that he or it may have the inhuman satisfaction of despising, not to speak of insulting, the little and the obscure; and nothing more powerfully witnesses to the reality of a providential order than the thoroughness with which such crimes against humanity are punished. Under the righteous reign of a Divine Father, jealous for the well-being of the world, and specially mindful of the classes liable to be trampled on, it is the doom of the proud one to have a millstone hanged about his neck and to be drowned in the deepest depth of the sea.17 No people ever was more guilty of the sin than Israel, and no people ever endured in harsher form the appropriate penalty. Both facts are explained by the circumstance that her vocation lay within the sphere of religion. Religious pride is of all kinds of pride the most odious, and a religious war is one in which there can be no compromise. The alternatives are conquest or ruin.

Few men, and perhaps no peoples, have kept entirely free from the sins and defects of the elect. There is one who stands alone in this respect, the elect man par excellence in all human history. Jesus Christ was not characterised even by one-sidedness, not to speak of graver faults. He was a Hebrew, a Greek, and a Roman all in one; a Hebrew in His genius for religion and His passion for righteousness, a Greek in His sensitiveness to the beauty of the world, and a Roman in the sternness of the discipline to which He subjected the men through whom He hoped to influence the future. The puritanic limitations to which the Hebrew temperament is liable are not traceable in those exquisite parables through which the Greek side of Christ's rich nature found expression. Objectionable characters, such as the selfish neighbour, the unjust judge, the unrighteous steward, are occasionally selected to be the hero of the story, and the motives of action in the natural sphere from which the parable is drawn are sometimes such as cannot find recognition in the spiritual sphere; as when the giver of a great feast desires his house to be filled with outcasts, not out of love to them, but to exclude those who had saucily declined to come at the first. There are indications even in the Gospels that the primitive church had some difficulty in sympathising with this genial freedom from scrupulosity which characterised the Master.18

The Roman sternness of Jesus in relation to the Twelve, betrayed the spirit of One who meant to found a kingdom not less extensive than the Roman Empire, and, if possible, more lasting. An important result, if not the full realisation of this purpose, was the Christian Church to which are transferred in the New Testament the predicates applied to Israel in the Old Testament: ‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.’19 The community of those who believe in Jesus is for St. Paul the true Israel of God,20 The designation does not awaken any expectation to find in the new society all the higher goods of humanity, but only the highest—the true, perfect, final religion, the satisfying, sanctifying, saving, rest-bringing knowledge of God. The many-sidedness of Christ, as attested in the records of His life, might indeed suggest that it was His personal aim, and that it was also the natural tendency of His life-work, to create a society not only universal in its membership, but comprehensive in the benefits it offered; bringing to all men not only salvation from sin, but moreover all that tends to make life full and complete. On this view the ‘City of God’ would be Israel, Greece, and Rome all in one. The evolution of Christianity actually brought about a state of things presenting a certain approximation to this ideal in a church with a theology expressed in terms of Greek philosophy, finding in Biblical scenes and in the lives of saints materials for Christian art, providing in its ecclesiastical rule a substitute for the Roman Empire, and, over and above these benefits, undertaking by its cultus to perform the supreme function of saving men's souls. But this endeavour after comprehensiveness really meant to a great extent the secularisation of Christianity.21 It is possible to render more effective service by a less ambitious programme. Organised Christianity, instead of striving to combine Church and State, and to become a purveyor of every form of benefit, would serve humanity best by making it its one business to reproduce faithfully in teaching and life the spirit of Christ; in Biblical language, ‘to show forth the excellencies of Him who called’ men ‘out of darkness into His marvellous light.’22 That is the raison d'être of the Christian election. That is why a church, as distinct from a nation or an ordinary society, exists. How far the Church has ever succeeded in rendering this supreme service is a matter for grave consideration. Churches are as liable to the defects and vices of the elect as are nations or individual historic characters, and they enjoy no protection from the penalties. We must always contemplate as a possibility that any given ecclesiastical society may become a savourless salt and be treated with contemptuous neglect. Such a result would not necessarily be a disaster. It might mean the setting free of the spirit of Christ for a new career of wide, unfettered blessing, influencing the whole of human life, and inspiring men for every form of noble activity, without seeking to bring them under any strict rule. That may be what is before us in the centuries to come. Be that as it may, of one thing we may be sure: Jesus Christ is not going to be forgotten. Elect peoples and holy commonwealths may pass away, but the service for whose sake they existed will abide. The ‘gifts,’ if not the elections, of God are without repentance.23 The teaching of Jesus, more than all the contributions of all other elect men, is a possession of humanity for ever. And if under the providential order there be, as I doubt not, good in store for the world in the years to come, one large part of the good will be a better understanding of, and a more loyal compliance with, the mind of the Master, and a serious endeavour to apply that mind to the complicated social life of the community.

  • 1.

    On this vide Wallace's Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, chap. ix. where the theory is applied to the question of race. Vide also Bagehot's Physics and Politics, p. 108, and Westermarck's History of Human Marriage, p. 272.

  • 2.

    Literature and Dogma, p. 55.

  • 3.

    Pearson, National Life and Character, p. 89.

  • 4.

    Romans ix. 6.

  • 5.

    Philosophie des Unbewussten, p. 328.

  • 6.

    Pearson, National Life and Character, p. 363.

  • 7.

    Matthew xv. 24.

  • 8.

    Physics and Politics, p. 40.

  • 9.

    John iv. 37, 38.

  • 10.

    Psalm xxvii. 4.

  • 11.

    Philippians iii. 13.

  • 12.

    Jeremiah xx. 9.

  • 13.

    Euripides, Ion.

  • 14.

    From Autolycus, translated in D'Arcy W. Thomson's Sales Attici.

  • 15.

    Comparative Politics, pp. 93, 94.

  • 16.

    Exodus xix. 15, 16.

  • 17.

    Matthew xviii. 6.

  • 18.

    Vide Luke xvi. 10-13, which some commentators regard as words of Jesus not spoken in connection with the parable inserted here by the Evangelist as a corrective to possible abuse of its teaching.

  • 19.

    I Peter ii, 9.

  • 20.

    Galatians vi. 16.

  • 21.

    On this vide Harnack's History of Dogma.

  • 22.

    I Peter ii. 9.

  • 23.

    Romans xi. 29.