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can render. He finds himself here set to do battle, life based and turning on struggle ; but nature offers him no shield fit to protect him, nor can nature reward him when the struggle is over. She has no gifts that he much cares for, she can weave no crown that endures, and her hand is too short to reach his brow.
There is a better philosophy back here in the beginnings of history, the beginnings also of true, full life. Abram is the first man who had a full religious equipment. He had open relations to God; he had gained the secret of worship; he had a clear sense of duty, and a governing principle, namely, faith or trust in God. It starts out of and is based on this promise of God to be his Shield and Reward. His sense of God put his life before him in all its terrible reality; it is not going to be an easy matter to live it. Mighty covenants are to be made; how shall he have strength to keep them? He is to become the head of a separate nation; how can he endure the isolation necessary to the beginning? He is to undergo heavy trials and disappointments ; how shall he bear them ? He is promised a country for his own, but he is to wan. der a citizen of the desert all his days, and die in a land not yet possessed; how can he still believe with a faith that mounts up to righteousness ? Only through this heralding promise: “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” When you are in trouble I will protect you. When you fail of earthly rewards I will be your reward. But Abram's life, in its essential features, was not ex
ceptional. I do not know that it was harder to live than yours or mine. I do not know that his duties were more imperative, his doubts more perplexing, his disappointments and checks severer than those encountered by us all to-day. He needed and we need two things to carry us through, protection and fulfillment of desires, shield and reward.
Let us now look at the first of these two things with something more of detail.
1. We need protection against the forces of nature.
In certain aspects nature is kind to us and helps us; she strives to repair any injury she may do to us; she is often submissive and serves us with docility. But in other aspects she is cruel and unsparing, and her general aspect is that of a power over us rather than under us. We play with the fringes of her garment; we turn some little of her forces to our use, shut up a little of her steam and gather a little of her electricity and yoke them to our service; we turn aside a rill of falling water here and there and hold up our sails of a hand's breadth to her wide winds, but how little bave we trenched on the mighty powers that infold us! How far off are we from any subjugation of nature, how feeble still are we before its greater forces. It may be the function of civilization to turn these forces to use and to get men into friendly relations with them, but when the farthest progress is made in this direction, the general character and aspect of nature will not have greatly changed. Water will still drown, gravitation will still dash in pieces, heat will still slay, gases will still poison. There will be no more pliancy in natural laws to favor the finite condition that man will never escape here. No degree of obedience that we may render to them will prevent oxygen from consuming tissue, or strengthen the walls of the jugular vein, or take away the wasting power from the years. Nature remains in her most comprehensive laws and largest processes, a power over man, alien in temper to his freedom, not correlated in its absolute methods to his conditioned powers, making exactions that he never can meet or evade. A system that has for its largest feature a doom and that leads to a doom, cannot be other than a terror to man until he is provided with some other conception than it affords. I confess that I should be filled with an unspeakable dread if I were forced to feel that I was wholly shut up in nature. We are constantly brought face to face with its overpowering and destroying forces and we find them relentless. Wemay outwit or outmaster them up to a certain point, but beyond that we are swept helpless along their fixed and fatal current.
But how does God become a shield against them ? Only by the assurance that we belong to Himself rather than to nature. When that assurance is
received, I put myself into his larger order; I join | the stronger power and link myself to its fortunes.
I cannot of myself contend against this terrible order of nature as it drives me to wreck on stormy seas, or consumes my body with its relentless tooth, but I can say, “I do not belong to your order.” I am speaking here in the line of philosophic thought as well as of religious trust, for faith must have some foothold on the rock of truth. The question pressing hardest to-day is, to which order do we belong, to the material or to the spiritual ? Does the one or the other compass us ? Is mind a gradation of matter? Is spirit the essence of matter, or is it something other than matter, over it and inclusive of it? We talk of Waterloos and Gettysburgs; they were petty conflicts in comparison with this battle now going on in the realm of thought, one side claiming that the material world includes man, the other side claiming that he cannot be summed up in its category and is but partially adjusted to its methods, that its highest principle, which is unvarying law, is opposed to his highest principle, which is freedom, thus preventing full correlation between them and inducing relations that are painful and destructive to him. It makes a great difference practically, which side we take. If the material world includes me, then I have no shield against its relentless forces, its less than brute indiscrimination, its sure finiteness or impersonal and shifting continuance. Then I am no more than one of its grains of dust and must at last meet the fate of a grain of dust. But if spirit has an existence of its own, if there is a spiritual order with God at its head and with freedom for its method, then I belong to that order, there is my destiny, there is my daily life. My faith in that order and its Head is my shield when the forces of nature assault me and its finiteness threatens to destroy me. I say to it, “ You may slay my body with your laws, and you will at last, but you will not slay me, nor can you greatly hurt me; nay, you can only bless me in a sort of servile way; I do not belong to you, I belong to God.” 1
2. We need a shield against the inevitable evils of existence.
Sooner or later there comes a time to every one of us when we are made to feel not only that we are weaker than nature, but that there is an element of real or apparent evil in our lot. It does not often come early. Happily the larger half of life is spent before we awake to the fact that a process of decay and loss is going on within us. For fifty or more years there is a triumphant sense of strength and adequacy. We ride on the crest of the waves of life, and have no sense that we can be engulfed in its waters. Out of this strong, divinely-wise ignorance come the great achievements, for it is a certain simplicity in men that leads them to undertake great things. But by and by there comes over us a new sense of ourselves. We detect the working of a law of weakness and decay. Our bodies gradually lose their elasticity, our heritage of strength slowly wastes away, the step grows slower, the feet feel their way along the earth instead of touching it with firm rebound, the eyes lose their keenness, the skin shrivels, the frame shrinks together, the voice loses its soft and
1 I hardly need to say that I do not intend to assert any doctrine of dualism, or to array God and nature as opposing forces. God is inclusive of nature, and the relations of nature to man are benevolent, but it is still true that because man is not throughout coördinated to nature, the relation involves pain from which there is no deliverance except by an alliance with God who is more and other than nature.