The Romance of the Christian Faith, Pt 1
One sometimes meets Christians who use scriptural words and thoughts with no more feeling than if they were licking stamps. They seem to belong to a religious world whose citizens live always north of the Arctic circle of emotion. Their spiritual affections are buried beneath yards of ice and snow.
When they venture to talk about the things of God, they use good words and express sound ideas, but they are evidently in complete control of their own emotions at all times. In such company the doctrines of God’s Word have the fascination of an ice-crystal or a snow-flake. The truths of Scripture look beautiful, but feel icy cold. One senses that it would be an impertinence to breathe a sigh in their presence or to utter a stifled sob. To shed a tear would be unpardonable.
No doubt emotion can be overdone in religion as in all else. Not everything we say on biblical subjects need be said in a gush of tears or punctuated with a solemn Amen. We concede readily that some spoil our appetite for holy emotions by their working too hard at them. We remember hearing of a preacher whose every sentence almost was greeted by an “Amen” from someone in the upper gallery.
But the voice in the gallery gave itself away at one point in the service by shouting “Amen” when the number of the next hymn was announced. It was artificial. It was scarcely more significant as an expression of religious feeling than a twitch of the face or a nervous habit of coughing. For false emotions of this or any other kind we make no appeal here. But we do put in a plea for more expressions of genuine emotion both in the pulpit and out of it.
Dare one venture to state that it is scriptural and sound for a Christian to give vent at times to profound religious feelings? Admittedly, allowance must be made for temperament and for the differences between national culture. The ‘stiff upper lip’ is part of some nations’ philosophy of life. Other countries have no such tradition.
No one doubts that sentimentality is a weakness. We are right to dislike and distrust it. But great natures are capable of great feeling and no subjects under the sun should rouse us to great feeling like the subjects of which our Christian faith speaks: the being and attributes of God, the eternal decree, the covenant of grace, the person and work of Christ, the judgment to come and the life everlasting. To think and speak of these transcendental themes in a matter-of-fact way is to betray a fearful meanness of spirit and smallness of soul. All subjects of divinity oblige us to awe and reverence by the very majesty of their content.
It is not difficult to show from Scripture that outward expressions of emotion are proper and right at times. Saintly men whose calling in life involved them in great responsibility and self-control are occasionally represented in the Bible as overcome with profound feelings, either of sorrow or of joy. No one who has read the story of Joseph’s self-disclosure to his brothers could ever forget the power which this passage possesses:
Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him . . . And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard . . . And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept . . . Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them. , (Gen. 45:1, 2, 14, 15)
Nothing in this lavish outpouring of emotions has any connection with emotionalism. It is a scene of holy and spontaneous affection, the springs of which are both earthly and heavenly: love of his own family so long parted from him; delight at seeing Benjamin, pleasure at hearing that his father is still alive; inability to do other than forgive their past conduct towards him; realisation that his brothers were better men than they once were and, above all else, a sublime realisation that God had fulfilled his earlier dreams by giving him pre-eminence over his brothers. Never do our feelings rise so high as when we come to some such great crisis or climax in life. When God’s hand of providence becomes visible we must have a sense of destiny which stirs us to the depths. If we are not so stirred we must be either little men or men of stone.
David’s emotional experience must be safe for us to learn from, not least because he was a ‘man after God’s own heart’. The various inflections in David’s feelings are worthy of more study than they have received. His affections were as capable of variation as the melodies which he played on his welltuned harp. To our information in the Books of Samuel must be added all that we learn out of the Book of Psalms. The emotional life of this holy man was played out on an instrument of ten strings, now soaring to the heights and now plunging to the depths. We may select one incident out of many to illustrate this emotional side of the Psalmist: ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!’ (2 Sam. 18:33).
Again, as with Joseph above, we must see here spontaneous and profound feeling. David is more violent than Joseph. This is partly, perhaps, because he was a man of war, but partly too because the occasion of his emotions was much darker. He saw the sin of Absalom, his beloved son, as the immediate cause of death. But David perceived the finger of God to be pointing also at his own prior sin with Bathsheba. It was one of those moments in life which possess a high sense both of drama and destiny. The ‘sword would never depart from David’s house’ (2 Sam. 12:10). God was pursuing his quarrel with David and the recent dramatic death of Absalom was a poignant reminder to the king that every syllable of God’s Word is as right and just as it is inescapable. The tears which flowed down the face of that noblest of men were salted by thoughts of self-reproach more than by anything else. It is those who love God greatly who smite most violently on their own breast when they see what their past folly has brought on other men’s heads.
To be continued
– Maurice Roberts
Daily Devotional 7-4-19
The Romance of the Christian Faith, Pt 1