Peace in Religion
WHEN one thinks of peace in religion, one’s mind naturally turns first of all to the so-called heads of religion, — the clergymen. There may be many clergymen who distinguish between spurious peace and real peace, and who have at least the germs of real peace within themselves. There are — I am sure — many whose peace is spurious and who never really wake up to the fact. Indeed, one might say that they have not even spurious peace — for that does sometimes deceive its possessor into thinking it real, they have a thin appearance of peace on the outside to deceive the majority of their “flock,” and within they are boiling and seething.
For instance, I knew of a clergyman — and I fear that he is only a type of many — who actually turned his wife against religion. He would preach on Sunday beautiful, eloquent sermons, ringing with appeals for a higher life. He would draw out from most of his congregation enthuasiasm and admiration with emotional resolutions to do as the minister said. And then he would go home and during the week be so rude and self-indulgent, so literally bad-tempered, as to make his house a place of great unhappiness for his wife and his children.
His wife was too loyal to do or say anything that could expose the truth, — too personally loyal, I might better say. For loyalty to the truth should come first, and to one’s friend second. Indeed, we are more really loyal to our friends and can be of more real service to them if we are always unswervingly loyal to a principle first.
This wife need not have aired her husband’s imperfections or ever voluntarily called attention to them, and when his beautiful sermons were referred to, and his people inferred from the sermons that he Must be a wonderful character, she need not have answered “Yes, — yes,” and when they assured her of their envy of her privilege of making her home with such a man, she need not have smiled an apparently happy acquiescence.
Of course, if she knew that her husband had severe and painful temptations, and was praying and working every day to get free from them, then she should stand by him loyally in his efforts, and protect him entirely from misconception when his temper got the better of him. But suppose she did not know he was trying to conquer himself, or see any slightest sign of it. Is it loyalty to the real man in him to work carefully to protect his hypocrisy.
This wife of whom I speak smiled and assented in public, and raved and resented in private. In her ravings, too, there was much sound common sense. “Hypocrisy,” she said; “‘it is all hypocrisy. What does religion amount to? My husband is an actor who does his part admirably, — so admirably that he deceives all his parishioners into thinking that he is the real thing. As for me, I see nothing in religion whatever. His sermons fill me with contempt. There is no religion.” And she would call her husband “the leading man in the ecclesiastical stock company.”
If this woman had had common sense on even a little higher plane, she would have read the Gospel herself quite independently of her husband’s profanation of it, and would have seen, if she studied diligently, that it was not the religion that was at fault in any slightest way, — it was her husband. We can imagine her seeing this and working steadily herself to obey the principles that she learned in the New Testament. If she ceased entirely to resist or to resent her husband, and went to work with all diligence to put away her own selfishness, and to live sincerely herself, it might, eventually, have opened her husband’s eyes to the horror of his own hypocrisy. Certainly, if anything could open his eyes, his wife’s practical upright obedience, silently lived, would have done so.
No evil can hold its appearance of life for long in the presence of practical, daily, intelligent good living. Words in one’s private . life have little or no good effect unless they are backed by a conviction which comes from the real vigor of good living. Indeed, words with nothing real back of them rouse anger; they often rouse anger when something real is back of them. But when empty words rouse anger, the one who has spoken reacts with more anger. So is the truth of principle often dragged by men and women into their human bog.
There is no profession where “do it in yourself” should be more essential than in the ministry. What are ministers supposed to do? Are they not supposed to show their congregation how to obey the Christian commandments? How can they show men the way to obey if they do not obey themselves? Was there ever a man I who could teach another man mathematics when he could not himself do the simplest example in fractions without mistakes? Was there ever a man who could teach another man how to be a good electrician, when he had never made electricity work in anything himself? Is there anything that anyone can think, of which can be truly taught by one who has had no practical experience whatever? Then how can obedience to God be taught by one who has never obeyed? How can trust in God be taught by one who has never trusted?
At best a true clergyman can be a little, perhaps only a very little, ahead. He must know that the laws he is working to obey are the laws for everyone else as much as for him — the laws for him as much as for anyone else. It is really only our all learning to obey together — but so seen these laws work in longer than others, and know that when things go wrong in ourselves, it is because we do not obey. Those of us who have proved them out a little more than others are more ready to show others the way. A clergyman’s business is to show others how to obey, and how to trust.
Doctrine does not amount to anything if it does not teach us how to obey the commandments more truly. Worship does not amount to anything if it does not lift us to the ability of better obedience.
It sounds almost absurd to hear a young man say that he is going to “study for the Church.” Does that mean that he is going to be unselfishly thoughtful of others? That he is going to shun all anger and resentment as sin against the Lord? That he is going to study to do all the duties of his life promptly and whole-heartedly?
The best preacher I can imagine is a man who, through finding himself out and recognizing the selfishness in himself, is in the earnest daily effort of acknowledging and repenting of his selfishness in detail, and through such experience has found humility. Such a man can tell other men and women how to obey. And what theological school is there that makes an examination into the inner life of a man essential to his ordination?
It is good even to imagine what use ministers could be in the world if they were true pilots because of their own experience in practical obedience to Divine Law, and if no one of them pretended to be doing anything else but to be learning to obey along with his fellow men. Such clergymen would indeed be the Father of their people, for the peace within them would be the peace of God.
“All religion has relation to life and the life of religion is to do good.” A great philosopher has said that, and if it were truly realized and attended to, there would be life in religion, whereas very much so-called religion now is dead, and only galvanized into the appearance of life by superficial emotions. But a greater has said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” What that One says he means; it is living truth.
And yet, — let me tell you the story of a man who was engaged in a large and useful work. He attended, to the details of the work in such a slovenly way that it made endless dissatisfaction among his associates and interfered materially with the use of the work. He was open neither to give nor to receive. If anyone went against this man’s preconceived ideas, or innocently hit his personal prejudices, that one was shut out of his confidence and made to feel as far as it was possible that he was not liked.
This man of whom I write was prominent in his church, and those who did not have immediately to come against his narrow mind and slovenly habits thought him an unusually good man. Finally, after the interference in this good work had gone on for some time, one of his associates spoke of it to another and suggested, with all sincerity, that it seemed very strange that his religion did not help him to do his work better.
“What would he say if I asked him?” said the enquirer, and he was answered promptly by the friend to whom be spoke: “Why, any of these men here who call themselves Christians, if you should suggest to them that the laws of their belief when obeyed make one do very much better work, would be roused and angry at once. Their Church has nothing to do with their lives. The every-day life is to them one thing and the Church entirely another. They think they are good ‘church men’ if they attend the Sacraments and divine service at the proper times: if they give to the support and various charities of the Church and talk good religious talk in the fitting times and seasons. The fact in all its details that ‘all religion has relation to life’ is absolutely unknown to them.”
When one thinks of it deeply and observes carefully, this state of things among “Christians” seems like insanity. It certainly is not spiritual common sense.
Spurious peace is the emotion of peace — it has nothing whatever to do with peace itself. And there is no place where this emotional peace is so constantly cultivated as in the various forms of so-called religion. The emotional peace sometimes gets such hold of people that even those who would most dislike it are deceived, — for a time.
I remember visiting in a family where the atmosphere was so thick with this “religious” peace that it seemed genuine to me for some time, and I felt the pleasantness of the quiet, which I thought came from genuine living. The first thing that began to undeceive me was irreverence. The very forms of religious devotion which these people were so assiduous in following were spoken lightly of, and at times almost with contempt. When I courteously mentioned my surprise, they laughed and answered, “Oh! We do not mean anything by that.” I said to myself, “I see you do not mean anything by your religion either.”
Later, selfish indulgence and selfish dislike of one another became evident. I cannot see that there was one principle given in the Sermon on the Mount that that “peaceful” family did not disobey. Yet the “peace” went on and on. All that was said and done that was mean and disagreeable came filtered through the spurious peace, and sometimes dressed in monstrous flattery. Having lived in this family and found them out was an experience to make one work all the more heartily to be only what is genuine.
I remember once sleeping in the room of a young woman who was devoted to her Church. I had noticed the placid expression of this young woman’s face and had also noticed her exceedingly snobbish ways and words, — snobbish and hard-hearted they were toward her fellow men. This room of hers was filled with religious pictures, with good books, and beside her bed was a Prie Dieu. When I woke in the morning and looked about, I thought: ” This is her amusement, her recreation, — her hobby.” It seems positively sacrilegious to say it, but I must say it because it was so.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
The One who said that knew that there was no peace but religious peace, and religious peace only comes by trying every day to live as He lived and allowing ourselves to be guided by His spirit within us. There is no difficult circumstance of life that any one can be in that he cannot find that same temptation in itself in the life of Christ and be enlightened by the way Christ met it. The practical beauty of that Divine character seems to be so little understood.
It is evident that the only way in which we can be guided by the spirit of Christ within us is by recognizing the selfish obstructions and refusing to act or speak or think from them, — then we make room for the Life within to enlighten and move us, — we learn to obey and trust.
If the bad-tempered clergyman had acknowledged his bad temper and all his other forms of selfishness and become wholesomely penitent, he would have ceased to be a hypocrite. If the family who gormandized religious emotion had found themselves out individually and collectively and seen the hideousness of their pose and refused to continue it, their Church would have become real to them and they would have been in the way of finding peace. Or, I might better say, they would be removing the obstructions so that peace could find them.
It is so with all of us, — religious peace and peace of life are all one, and when we get knocked out of our religious peace by a person or a happening going against our will, we may be very sure that it was no peace at all. Happy is the man who goes to work with a will to acknowledge and to shun the obstructions. Active, loving, creative peace is sure to find him.