Is it not clear, then, that preaching must deal again, never more indeed than now, with the religion which offers a redemption from sin? This is still foolishness to the Greeks, but to those who believe it is still the power of God unto salvation. Culture is not religion. When the preacher substitutes the one for the other, he gives stones for bread, and the hungry sheep go elsewhere or are not fed. It is this emasculated preaching, mulcted of its spiritual forces, which awakes the bitterest distrust and deepest indignation that human beings know. They are fighting the foes of the flesh and the enemies of the spirit, enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, standing by the open graves of their friends and kindred, saying there, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” And then, with all this mystery and oppression of life upon them they enter the doors of the house of God and listen to a polite essay, are told of the consolations of art, reminded of the stupidity of evil, assured of the unreality of sin, offered the subtle satisfactions of a cultivated intelligence. In just so far as they are genuine men and women, they resent such preaching as an insult, a mockery and an offense. No, no; something more is needed than the humanist can offer for those who are hard-pressed participants in the stricken fields of life.
Religious preaching, then, begins with these two things: man’s solitary place in nature, man’s inability to hold that place alone. Hence two more things are necessary as essentials of great preaching in a pagan day. The clear proclamation of the superhuman God, the transcendent spirit who is able to control and reinforce the spirit of man, and the setting forth of some way or some mediator, through whom man may meet and touch that Spirit so far removed yet so infinitely near and dear to him. It is with these matters that we shall be occupied in the next chapter.
THE ALMIGHTY AND EVERLASTING GOD
If the transcendent element in man which endows him with the proud if tragic sense of personality is the first message of the preacher to a chattering and volatile world, and the second is the setting forth of what this endowment demands and how pitiably man fails to meet it, then the third message is of the Rock that is higher than he, even inclusive of his all, in whose composed and comprehensive Being his baffled and divided person may be gathered up, brought to its own consummation of self. The rivers that pour tumultuously to their ocean bed, the ascending fire ever falling backward but leaping upward to the sun, are poor figures to express the depth and irresistible urge of the passion in man for completeness, for repose, for power, for self-perception in self-expression, for victory and the attainment of the end. Conscious and divided spirit that he is, man turns away, sooner or later, with utter weariness and self-disgust from the nature which pleases him by betraying him, which maims his person that he may enjoy his senses, and reaches out after the other-worldly, the supernatural, the invisible and eternal Hope and Home of the Soul.