The Bane of Superficiality

Religious history is the chronicle of a series of revelations through isolated leaders who were the sages and prophets of their day. Successive revivals of spiritual life registered a high tide of enthusiastic devotion and achievement, which was followed by a subsidence to the ordinary level of inefficiency, and if one were to look upon these phenomena as the manifestation of a far reaching law of ethical oscillation, he would be logically led to conclude that religious decadence is no less normal than religious ascendence; that it is the necessary antecedent of every more advanced renaissance. If one were asked to name the facts or conditions which deny the legitimacy of this order of events, he could but answer that the only ground of assurance that Christian to-day will not repeat the mistakes of their fathers is found in the fair assumption that, having learned wisdom from the experience of others, they will avoid the beginnings of their error. The possibility that religious progress will be hindered exists in so far as superficiality and pretence exist among the professedly religious, and this possibility can be forestalled only as it is recognized by individual Christians and intelligently met.

A study of the conditions of the early Church as they are presented in the "Acts of the Apostles," and especially in Paul's letters of counsel and rebuke, makes it entirely clear that the beginnings of its relapse into theoretical faith and fruitless formality are not to be traced to external resistance, the opposition of the Roman world, much less to any imperfection or inadequacy in the truth communicated by the great Teacher, but to the feebleness and indifference of the apprehension of that truth, the failure to enter into and maintain vital and nourishing relations with it. There is no more subtle temptation than that which would lead us to indulge a shallow, distorted sense of things, "having a form of godliness," as Paul says, "but denying the power thereof"—being content with semblance instead of substance, pretence instead of Principle, until the religious life, instead of being the continuous manifestation of Truth and Love, becomes in its every detail a tissue of ungenuineness. To the Church of the Laodiceans it was said by the Spirit. "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth," and how much more surely will this condemnation fall upon us, to whom the brighter illumination, the yet richer revelation has come, if we, like them, are content with a superficial and inadequate understanding of spiritual things.

Blessings and Responsibilities
July 15, 1905

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