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Chapter Nine - The Affirmative Attitude
LORD, I believe; help
thou mine unbelief. -- Mark ix., 24.
Without question, most of
us who are endeavoring to live the spiritual life, frequently find ourselves
in the state of spirit indicated above. "Jesus said unto him, If thou
canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straight
away the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe;
help then mine unbelief." We see clearly that without childlike-
ness of heart, no one may enter the heavenly life. In our desire to maintain
the right kind of simplicity of spirit and of life, we often look back
to a period in the life of the soul expressed by the fidelity of young
Samuel, when in entire responsiveness of heart he said, "Here am I.
. . . Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth." Inasmuch as the natural
man is strongly self-assertive, we wish to avoid any claims in our own
behalf, that we may learn to walk in the way of the Lord. Therefore we
ask, "What wilt thou have me to do?" Again, we are taught that
there is but one source 108 of
life or power, that man is a recipient of the Divine Love and Wisdom. As
instruments of life, we wish to be true in every way to the heavenly standard.
We realize that "all things are possible to him that believeth,"
but the question is, How may we acquire the right attitude without making
too much of ourselves?
It requires little observation,
however, to discover that as some men err in self-assertiveness, so others
overdo in their endeavors to be receptive. Our belief concerning man as
a receptacle of life often leaves us in a state skin to passivity, as if
our part were merely to receive and retain. Inasmuch as no man can serve
two masters, he who is not actively working to serve the cause of righteousness
may be virtually against that cause, like the pacifist in war time who
merely stands apart in protest. "He that is not with me is against
me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth." So-called passive
obedience is not true responsiveness. What is demanded of us is not merely
recognition but co-operation. They really stand for and serve the kingdom
who actively put themselves in line with work that is in progress. No half-way
measures suffice. We are bidden to serve with all our might, just as we
are bidden to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." This
emphatic language. He who is
trying in every way to be true to this commandment, earnestly desires to
know what kind of social activity should spring from true interior receptivity.
For he wishes to be a man in full spiritual right.
A direct clue to the affirmative
attitude is found when we regard it in the light of victory over temptation.
The negative attitude is due in part at least, to doubt or hesitancy. Naturally
those who wish to tempt us do whatever is in their power to keep us in
a state of suspense. Thus dark influences have access to us. On the other
hand, the power of the good with us tends to dispel doubt, hence to overcome
the negative attitude, that the door may be closed to all undesirable influences.
While in temptation, man hangs between the negative and the affirmative.
To become actively responsive to the divine Life, we must be strong in
our hope, firm in faith, that we may be helped into a spiritual state,
in which we are habitually in the affirmative. In war time we saw the importance
of the affirmative attitude. We declared with entire conviction that the
right would win, that it must win. We could not afford to doubt.
"Assurance respecting the
result precedes the victory and belongs to the victory." This assurance
bespeaks the moral attitude. By holding to what we believe to be the right
with strong conviction,
we launch our energies with carrying power, we call our reserves into play.
As matters go in the world, we need some great incentive, we need to face
a crisis or disaster in order to be called into fulness of action and show
what we are able to accomplish. Only by adopting the affirmative attitude
in full strength, is man able to depend on the powers of the moral order
to the full. The man who thus acts is not active in his own might. Although
apparently acting as if all power were his own, he is in reality co-operating
with the divine will.
Again, we note the power of
the affirmative attitude when it is a question of spiritual truth. We may
not as yet be able to grasp a principle as true. We may desire to accept
it, but objections may arise. If, however, we are willing to make the venture
on faith, noting the practical results, it may forthwith become a truth
to us. Our teachings far surpass our power of present verification, but
we can at least be affirmative in regard to them. If we hold to a principle
because we believe it is divine, this fidelity will bring its reward in
the shape of sure convictions. It is the affirmative attitude which quickens
us to gain spiritual wisdom. By wisdom in contrast with mere knowledge,
we mean truth that has borne the test, knowledge we have dared to live
by. It comes forth from our lips with the power of life behind
it. We have ventured to stand by it and it has stood by us. Seldom do we
grow in spiritual truth without an act of faith. And faith is an efficient,
constructive power in the spiritual life.
The affirmation of spiritual
truth "that it is so" because of the source from which it came,
is indeed the beginning of the mind's regeneration. By taking this step,
even when we cannot see clearly, we ally ourselves with the constructive
powers. The human part consists in making the venture. Only when thus left
free to choose and to venture, could we be morally free. Our human situation
often seems uncertain. So indeed it is while we waver between the negative
and the affirmative. Yet a slight effort may turn the scale. Even in our
uncertainty we may test the great promises. To cry out in our uncertainty,
"Lord, I believe; help thou nine unbelief," is to change from
weakness to strength. Much depends on willingness to cast the die. The
result is a new centre of equilibrium.
We hardly need to be told that
"the good cannot flow into what is negative." The good, we know,
comes to us to accomplish results, to operate through us. It is with us
to flow from the inmost to the outmost, to take form in practical service
enlisting our social nature. Granted the expression of what has come, although
it be a mere beginning
in the life of charity, more can be added. While our minds dwell upon the
abstract or general principle, we still belong with people classified as
negative. We often meet people who are in a vague intellectual state. There
is much scattering of force among those who try to believe so many things,
those who are merely liberal, broad-minded; hence indefinite. "He
that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth."
To be affirmative is to come out into the open, to take sides, show our
loyalty, speak out. It is to adapt ourselves to our age at a promising
point, where activities are in process and people are testing out what
We often look with a feeling
akin to envy on people who are cultivating their powers with no thought
for the time being save for self-expression. There seems to be an advantage
in this form of concentration. No energy is lost in self-disparagement.
There is no effort to be self-sacrificing. There is expression, life, energy.
In contrast with this free self-development, people who are trying to be
good Christians frequently lose headway by undue self-examination, by the
effort to be duly humble, contrite. The highly conscientious person may
spend most of his energies trying to learn in advance precisely what he
ought to do. Others discount every talent they possess
in their zeal to overcome the self. Christian self-sacrifice, as many pursue
it, is chiefly negative.
Yet why should we discount the
self in this way? Is there any real conflict between the cultivation of
our talents to the full and their use for divine ends? What more could
God ask of us than that we should be productive individuals, expressing
character to the utmost? For no one can endeavor to express himself to
the full without considering what he can do best in the world, what he
can contribute to society as it exists today, how he may best realize a
definite purpose. Man in deepest truth is "an organ of life."
He cannot underestimate the prompting to come forth and live out his life
to the full without disparaging his Creator. Self-sacrifice is not the
end; dedication to a purpose, devotion to an ideal, is the standard. Devotion
is a positive term. It is affirmative.
The older theology was nearly
always negative in emphasis. It dwelt overmuch on the sinfulness of man,
the depravity of human nature, and the weakness of the flesh. It painted
the world in dark, lurid colors, and had more to say about hell than about
heaven. It condemned the world and found fault with even the simple natural
pursuits. It dwelt on the sufferings of the cross, the atoning blood, the
sacrificial death, as if the race
were to be saved by these negative considerations. It emphasized the
resurrection instead of the glorification and the saving life that went
forth into the world. The human self was supposed to emulate the Saviour
in all these negative ways. The goal was escape from the woes of
the flesh through mere acceptance of the Redeemer as having died to save
us from our sins, as if mere faith were adequate to save. Thus while it
apparently called upon man to choose the difficult way, the way of the
cross, the old theology really exacted little of man; it was content with
the milder or negative virtues.
The newer theology expects everything
of man, just because it is positive. We now see clearly that only so far
as we come out of the strongholds of our self-righteousness and really
live by the faith we profess, do we make any true headway, For no one died
to save us from making this effort. There is no salvation through death
alone, It is not a question of the sufferings upon the cross, or even of
the resurrection; but of what followed through the triumphant life of the
living Lord, whose second coming is through the inner Word. The union of
the divine with the human was positive. It was dynamic, life-giving unity.
It meant a new centre of action in the spiritual life of the race. We have
been waiting all through the centuries for the time when Christianity
should be put to its true test
as a dynamic faith.
So, too, the new birth is a
positive event in the life of the soul. It begins in all seriousness when
we come out into the clear light of day, out of hypocrisy, and every device
through which we pretend to be what we are not. Through the new birth,
man is made constant. The will and the understanding are brought into efficient
unity. Love comes to its own as the greatest power. To love in fulness
or consistency means to set ourselves in motion to achieve what we love,
namely, to attain truth, to work for it; to serve our fellow men, to show
by our conduct that we really love the Lord. In short, the new birth comes,
not to destroy, but to fulfil; and to fulfil is to attain the affirmative.
Since so much depends on this
advance from the subjective into the objective, every constructive thought,
emotion or act of will, is a help. Strictly speaking, every thought is
negative or affirmative. By shifting the emphasis or even by changing a
word in a sentence, we can change from the negative to the affirmative.
With a mere word or intonation, as we address ourselves to a person in
spiritual need, we may turn the tide. The idle words for which we are called
to account are the negative words, the quick, harsh judgments, the adverse
criticism, the hate, anger, jealousy, bitterness, complaint, fault-finding.
Everyone whom we thus condemn
needs our encouragement
and love. A mere hint, a word of good cheer or wise counsel, will sometimes
give the impetus. Idle indeed are many of our utterances in comparison
with what our language might be.
A mother's loyalty to her children
under condemnation is a typical instance of the affirmative attitude. When
the heart is affirmative, its power is carried to another, though no word
be spoken. We feel the adverse influence of one who does not understand
and is condemnatory, one who stands off and inspects. But sympathy is affirmative.
We are quickened into productivity by those who believe in us, who
call us out and encourage us to do our best without bestowing credit which
does not belong to us.
To take the affirmative attitude
toward people, is to see the good in them, what they are endeavoring
to achieve. This is no small attainment, in view of all that we know about
human frailties and sins. We have been apt to think that we should
dwell on the frailties and sins, condemn people for them, and call
our neighbors to account. But we have excelled in negative criticism. We
have left people disheartened. Doubtless they were already keenly aware
of their failings. Without being blind to their faults, what is incumbent
upon us is to see through these to the
goal or purpose in life. To dwell on the process instead of the end, is
to be negative. After all, what is worthy of us as lovers of our fellow
men, is to see the spirit through the flesh and call the spirit into power.
If no man sins with his whole
nature, if there is always a secret place where the Lord dwells, where
the Lord may be found, then to be affirmative is to see man in the image
and likeness of God; to stand for this ideal, to believe in it, help to
call it into realization. That surely is what we wish people to do for
us. When disheartened, there is help for us if we once more discriminate
between the process and the product, if we return to the ideal, rise above
the actual, throw off the bondage of circumstance. Accordingly, we recall
what we started out to accomplish. We seek the positive lessons of our
present experience. Thus we gradually shift the emphasis, gain a new impetus
and begin again. What we thus accomplish for ourselves, we may help others
to accomplish by regarding them in the light of their aspirations.
In deepest truth, the divine
life within us is seeking to lift us into fulness of being. We have made
great headway if able in some measure to distinguish between the human
and the divine. Thus to discriminate, in the newer sense of the word, does
not mean to put God far from us, because
unlike us in nature. Although differing from
us in power, God is made one with us by His love. The truth of the incarnation,
of the Divine in
the human, is affirmative. The great truth is that the presence of God
is life-giving, dynamic. It
is the presence of God, when recognized in this, its vitalizing aspect,
which develops the affirmative attitude in us.
People have thoughtlessly fallen
into the habit of speaking of evil as if it were a cosmic power,
as if it were co-extensive with the good and at war with it, endangering
righteousness, making heaven matter of doubt. In contrast,
goodness appears to be negative; people who are trying to
live righteously are often spoken
of with disparagement, as if they had chosen the doubtful side. Now,
life is oftentimes a warfare within the soul. But we cannot for a
moment entertain the hypothesis of failure. The structure of the spiritual
cosmos is moral. Life is for moral ends. The destructive forces of the
world are in the last analysis negative, despite all appearances. Over
against them is the supreme fact of the incarnation with its victory over
selfishness. We renew our ideals, and, by an act of faith, cross from the
negative to the positive side and ally ourselves with the powers
making for righteousness. We refuse to judge by appearances. Belief in
the moral integrity of the cosmos is, we see, essential to
victory. We are assured that the right will triumph. We identify ourselves
in spirit with it. To make this venture is to find ourselves greatly heartened.
The application of the foregoing
to daily life becomes the more plain as we realize our responsibility.
Simply to think the matter out, is to make headway. By every constructive
thought, we help. By every aspiration in love to the Lord, we put ourselves
in line with forces able to resist the negative element in us, to overcome
the destructive forces. We realize how true is the statement that man is
held in equilibrium between the two groups of forces until he makes the
choice. Moral choice is an affirmative. By making it, we put ourselves
in line with any number of fortunate consequences. This is where we have
the greatest power, in this ability to shift the emphasis, to turn from
doubt to willingness to believe, from hate to love, and so on through an
almost endless series of contrasts.
The dependence of the human
upon the divine is seen at every stage. "Lord, I believe; help thou
mine unbelief." I do not wholly see. Oftentimes I am very uncertain.
I do not know how my wants are to be provided for tomorrow or next year.
But there is work on hand for today. Let me act in full faith now. What
now seems impossible will prove perfectly possible when the
right time comes. I need not
hesitate to cultivate and use my powers to the full. Every power is good
in its place. The whole of our earthly life is a venture in behalf of faith,
to find out what actions are in line with the divine providence and hence
are constructive, what ones spring from our self-love and so are destructive.
The divine is with us to build us into houses not divided against themselves,
to quicken us to serve one Master, one Lord; to guide
us into the affirmative, out of all these weaknesses
which cause our misery and our discontent. Although we see this great truth
only in part and still in a glass darkly, we may declare that we believe.
"Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
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