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1895: Openness of Mind

I895

OPENNESS OF MIND

Brethren Of The Graduating Class :—It is not often that we send oat a class for whose members we have so high and uniform regard. In standing as well as in numbers you have ranked with the best. Yet one place is vacant which we had hoped would be filled. One who began with yon has finished his course and has graduated before you. We remember

Him, the young and strong, who cherished

Noble longings for the strife,
By the roadside fell and perished,

Weary of the march of life.

If the spirits of the departed are permitted to revisit these earthly scenes, it is hard to believe that Bates is not here, for he looked forward eagerly to this day. His earthly work is finished, but his heavenly work is only just begun. And the memory of his sweet and unobtrusive though diligent and ardent spirit will ever remain with you, to bless you all.

There was one characteristic of his which I desire to commend to you as worthy of imitation, and I take it as the theme of my remark and counsel to-night. I exhort you to Openness Of Mind. By this I do not mean a crazy love for novelty, a childish passion for the next thing, whatever it may be. There is a "faith once for all delivered to the saints." Some things are settled beyond controversy. Amid the shifting sands of human speculation there is a solid rock of Scripture testimony, of historical certainty, of inward experience. We are not to be "tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine." We are to "prove all things" and to " hold fast that which is good."

But there is an exaggeration of this conservatism, against which we need to guard. It is quite possible to confound our present conceptions of the truth with the truth itself, and to cherish an attitude of hostility to every new interpretation and discovery. Bigotry, as Doctor Holmes remarked, is like the pupil of the eye: the more light you pour upon it the more it contracts. There are preachers who not only spend their whole time in attacking error, but who see in everything new only an error to attack. "Wherever you see a head, hit it!" was the advice of the Hibernian father to his son, but it shall not be my advice to you. I counsel you rather to bring forth things new as well as old, and in so counseling you I am only repeating the words of Jesus Christ, our Master.

Without openness of mind you will see little that is new, and when you do see it you will be prejudiced against it. You will regard all science and philosophy and literature and art as anti-Christian, and your narrowness will prevent the acceptance of Christianity by those whom you would most desire to influence. Theology will be to you a book closed and sealed, a series of dead formulas without power to move you or to move others. I urge you to a better mood than this. When the new challenges your attention I would have you ask, not "What is there here that I can contradict and oppose?" but rather "What is there here that I can accept and utilize?" I would have you ready to rec

ognize and welcome truth, from whatsoever source it comes.

Without such openness of mind there never would have been progress in theology. By progress in theology I do not mean a veering away from the old truth or the old Scripture, but I mean a deeper penetration into the meaning of the old truth and the old Scripture, and a larger appropriation of both. Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Luther, Wesley, all made discoveries, and yet those new discoveries were only a bringing to light of the old orthodoxy of Paul and John. Why should we think that these worthies have exhausted the possibilities of discovery? We have the same Holy Spirit that was given to them. And we have many a help to which they were strangers, in that science, philosophy, and history which are themselves Christ's subordinate methods of teaching the world.

There was once a time when animals were classified by their differences, but the new zoology classifies them by their resemblances instead. So there was a time when religious systems were classified by their differences, and it was thought that one could not firmly hold his own creed without vigorously antagonizing every other. We are beginning to see that all this implied a distrust of the power of truth and a narrow view of the truth itself. We perceive that resemblances are more important than differences, and that Christian fellowship is the twin sister of soul-liberty. The days of theological polemics are well-nigh past, and the preachers of the future, instead of denouncing each other, will content themselves with proclaiming the Christ.

For the Christ is larger than all our conceptions of him. He embraces in himself all the truth of nature as well as all the truth of special revelation. He is conducting the march of civilization. He did not leave himself without a witness among the heathen nations even in the ante-Christian times. Those of you who go as missionaries need not hesitate to recognize the occasional grains of truth that are hidden in the chaff of heathen teaching, or to quote, as Paul did, a heathen poet's testimony to the Fatherhood and the goodness of God. And those of you who remain at home I would have to be Broad Church Baptists, in the sense that you rejoice in the truth and praise the truth though it come to you in Episcopal or Methodist or Presbyterian form.

Faithfulness to Christ's word and to Christ's church is not incompatible with, but it rather requires, an open mind to all that is good and true everywhere. For this reason let us beware of narrowing down our conception of Christ. He who limits his view of Christ to the work of Christ incarnate, and refuses to believe in him as the pre-incarnate Logos, will necessarily be prejudiced against a large portion of Christ's truth. He who sees Christ in redemption, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, but fails to recognize Christ in creation, the image of the invisible God, in whom all things consist, will be apt to shut the book of nature because at some points it seems at first sight hard to reconcile with the book of Scripture.

Let us remember who Christ is, and then the spirit of comprehension will take the place of the spirit of exclusion, the constructive will supersede the destructive impulse, openness of mind will characterize us

instead of a mind shut to all the wondrous truth which this modern age is bringing to our doors. Christ is the one and only Revealer of God. He is the Creator, the Upholder, the Governor, the Life of the Universe. Evolution is but the method of the immanent Christ. All things in heaven and earth are given into his hand. He is the Executor of God's decrees and the Ruler of the nations, as well as the Captain of our Salvation and the Head of the universal church. We cannot interpret Scripture correctly so long as we shut out the light of nature, and our boast that we know the Christ of the Gospels is a vain boast unless we recognize in that Christ the Eternal Word who is the only life of nature and of humanity.

My young brethren, you go forth in a day when many are declaring that the world is waxing worse and that the truth of Christ is losing its power. But open your minds, as the prophet's servant opened his eyes, and you will see the hills thronging with horses and chariots of fire. Nature herself is becoming a witness to the presence and power of Christ, and a proof that he shall reign until he has put all enemies beneath his feet. Because Christ is the Life and the Lord of all, you can be optimists and not pessimists. Of all days since man trod this planet, this is the greatest day. The world, with its misery and sin, is larger to us than it was to our fathers. But then we have a larger view of Christ than they ever had. John Bunyan thought of him as far away and only to be seen at the end of the pilgrimage, while we know that he is with us alway. John Calvin thought of nature and history as under control of the Evil One, and to be delivered only at

Christ's second coming, while we know that Christ is now swaying the sceptre of universal empire. I bid you be of good cheer. Go forth in his strength. Be open-minded to all truth, for he is the Truth. And, since the Truth is only another name for Christ, it is mighty, it shall prevail,

And they who, with their Leader,

Have conquered in the fight,
Forever and forever

Shall walk in robes of white.