Invoking the Renewing Ministry of the Holy Spirit
By STANLEY B. JAMES
FERENCE was made in E n this place last week to the criticism of our civilisation as top-heavy. It was pointed out that there comes a time in the history of societies when the superstructure counts for more than the foundations. Artificiality crowds out observance of simple natural facts. The stars are obliterated by the glare of street electricity. A generation arises whose feet have forgotten the sensation of treading the earth and know only the paved ways of the city. When that time comes, outraged human nature takes its revenge and reverts to the brutalities and elementary needs created by war. Over-refinement is followed by a return to scarcity in such fundamental things as food. Instead of employing our energies on the embroidery of life, we are forced to fight for life itself. Those who could not bear the sight of blood find themselves forced to wallow in it. The creative impulse which people's homes being denied, we inflict and suffer from fiendish devices which rain death from the skies on women and children. Sentimental romanticism is followed by an outbreak of lust. The loss of faith has its sequence in the revival of such superstitions as astrology. It is folly to get angry with those described as " reactionaries " when, in this sense, the whole world has become reactionary.
When the World Was Young
An over-ripe civilisation and culture must necessarily get back to fundamentals, but these, if the cure for its evils is to be effective, must he in the supernatural order. history leaves us in no doubt as to where they are to be found. There was much that was pleasing in the society into which He was born Who was to be the Foundation of the New Order. But it suffered from senility and had reached the end of its tether, Neither Ilellenism nor Roman Imperialism, any more than Judaism, could advance further on the paths they were following. The world was saved at that critical moment by the creation of the Christian Society.
If senility is the note of the outworn paganism in that age, it is the spirit of youthfulness which strikes us When we turn back to the story of our Christian origins. The weary and cynical generation which witnessed the advent of the reborn People of God must have been amazed at the pristine energy, abounding hopefulness, unsuspicious charity and robust faith displayed. We arc reminded of those spring mornings before the dust of traffic has dulled the fresh green of the hedges and we listen to the lark as though we had never heard it before. No wonder that the crowd which first heard the Good News thought that the preachers were drunk, or that Festus, so like a British proconsul in his impassiveness, should have told Paul that he was mad.
"Upon a Peak in Darien"
Something of that " drunkenness " and " madness " is conveyed by the pages which narrate the story of those days. We may without irreverence cornpare the experience of re-reading them with that described by Keats when he recalled his first reading of Chapman's Homer: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Looked at each other in a wild Surmise—
Silent upon a peak in Darien.
The new Planet has indeed swum into the ken of that first generation, and the uncharted vastness of an Ocean, which might rightly he named Pacific, had been for the first time revealed to human eyes.
But. if any Such experience has been ours, it is probable that it has left us wistful rather than actually rejuvenated. A merely imaginative participation in the mood of these Primitive Christians does but leave us dissatisfied. " It must
have been wonderful," we exclaim, " to have beheld the Truth before it was coated with the dust of controversy and staled by custom, but we are fated to live in a later age when the recovery of this freshness has become an impossibility." We smile, :maybe, at the enthusiasm of the convert, yet not without a tinge of envy. We must not make the mistake of underestimating the privilege of being so at home in the Faith as to move about in it with a quiet sense of security and possession. The sangftold of those to whom the supernatural has become as a second nature, and who can afford to find occasion of humour even in sacred things is not to be despised. Nevertheless, we shall fare ill if we are never visited by those gusts of the Spirit which renew the face of the familiar Truth.
The Abiding Spirit
A tradition does not automatically renew itself. That renewal can come only by great labour, and it generally needs the pressure of adverse circumstances to prompt the undertaking of that labour.
There is encouragement in what has happened to us in the last few years as a nation. Dunkirk was the critical moment. Up to that time we were resting on our laurels, comfortably assuring ourselves that " it couldn't happen to us." Suddenly we saw the red light and knew that it was either victory or virtual extermination. There awoke then, to our own astonishment and that of others, the ancient spirit of our race, the spirit which triumphed at Agincourt, against the Armada and at Waterloo.
If such an awakening and renewal be possible for a nation fast becoming decadent, what may not be expected of that People of God to Whom is divinely guaranteed the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit? We are forbidden to seek the sensation of novelty, after the fashion of the modern man, by discarding our traditions. Ours is a harder task than that • of
fashioning a new religion ; we have to gain a fresh vision of the old. We cannot " re-discover America "; our spiritual Columbuses have done that once for all. But there is always the possibility of seeing •' America " with new eyes. Must we wait till present dangers culminate in some equivalent of Dunkirk before we invoke the renewing ministry of the Holy Spirit?
A Privileged Generation As our task is greater than that of the generation upon whose sight was first flashed the vision of God's revelation in Christ Jesus, so will be our reward. If history repeats itself, it does not do so in a dull, imitative fashion. When civilised man recovers the basic simplicities of life, be is able to appreciate them with an intensity and delicacy of taste unknown to the savage. He views the same scene but from a higher rung on the ladder. The civilising process has not been in vain ; its gains are not lost. Poetry and philosophy and social order have made him more sensitive to the delights of simple things.
If we re-enter the pentecostal experience, it will be with capacities widened and deepened by the experience and thought of the intervening centuries. Retracing our steps to the fountain-head of inspiration does not imply abandoning the Saints and Doctors, the pioneers of thought and action to whose accumulated sanctity and wisdom we arc the heirs. We take them with us as our guides and interpreters. The return journey does not mean accommodating ourselves to the cultural limitations and political inexperience of the pioneers. On the contrary, our greater knowledge and more complicated relationships have fitted us to behold a glory not even revealed to them. If life is a training for the final Beatific Vision, may we not say that the vicissitudes of nineteen Christian centuries have been a preparation for a more comprehensive grasp of the Truth revealed at Pentecost?