A Sermon Delivered by RUFUS M. JONES, at Trinity Church in Boston, December 11th, 1932.
"Lighted Lives, A Sermon Preached in Trinity Church, Boston, Sunday, December 11th, 1032 by Professor Rufus M. Jones, D.D." Pamphlet, no date or publisher.
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part Four: The 20th Century.
Introductory Remarks by the Rev. Arthur Lee Kinsolving, D.D.
Rector of Trinity Church:
We may hardly mistake the signs that modern people, disillusioned by progress in outward and material pursuits, are seeking for some one to illuminate the inward and spiritual reaches of man's mystical nature. Whoever has become the most competent interpreter of this kingdom within is the most valuable man of the hour. I doubt not that that enviable position should be accorded Professor Rufus M. Jones. For many years those who have been seeking God in their reading have counted his books a discovery of rare worth.
We count ourselves fortunate to welcome to the pulpit of Phillips Brooks one who, by his
saintliness, has the right to stand there, the leader of the Society of Friends, a man who, by his
extraordinary lovingness, makes one surer that the dwelling place of God is with man.
Nobody knows how the kindling flame of life and power leaps from one life to another. What is the magic quality in a person which instantly awakens faith. You listen to a hundred persons unmoved and unchanged: you hear a few quiet words from the man with the kindling torch and you suddenly discover what life means for you forevermore, and you become forthwith another man --carrying perhaps your own torch.
I heard Phillips Brooks preach twice in my youth and I knew instantly that the man I had been waiting for had come. I knew almost nothing about him in advance, before I heard him. After I had heard him I felt the kindling power of his mind on my mind and a new faith was born in me in answer to the great faith that possessed him. I have always put him in the list of supremely great persons in our Western world, great by the sheer power of personality, and for me, at least, he stands as the greatest Christian preacher America has yet produced.
My text this morning is one of his favorite texts: "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord."
It is a remarkable Phrase embedded in that book of practical wisdom and everyday common sense, the Book of Proverbs. This phrase is a spiritual fragment of human experience of a deeper level than most of the words of the Book in which it is found. It is like a piece of floating star-dust, caught and preserved in the amber of this Book of practical sayings. Only the profoundest of prophetic souls could have discovered this truth and have uttered it with such extraordinary simplicity.
It is the very heart of Christian Platonism and it has been the favorite text of a certain type of spiritual prophet all down through the centuries. Clement of Alexandria and his greater disciple, Origen, the mystics of the 14th century and the Spiritual Reformers of the 16th, Jeremy Taylor and the Cambridge Platonists, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas Traherne, John Greenleaf Whittier and my beloved Professor of Philosophy, Pliny Earle Chase, were all noble interpreters of the great saying. It was the central theme in the preaching of Phillips Brooks. There is hardly any text he ever used that more completely than this one gathered up in one phrase the conception of life that was made vocal in every sermon of his.
The Spirit of man is a candle of God's lighting.
It means that there is something in man's inmost being that can be kindled and struck into flame by God and as we feed the flame with our lives we can become revealing places for God, a flame of God's life. If it is true, and I believe it is, it is one of the greatest words that was ever spoken. It puts the basis of religion at the centre of man's life where it belongs. Religion on this view is not an addendum to life, not something added on by a remedial scheme to a spiritually barren and bankrupt being. Religion is not a foreign bestowal; it is a divine spring and capacity which belongs to our being as men. Religion is just overbrimming, abounding life. My cup runs over.
The process of salvation is thus not away from normality; it is, rather, the attainment of complete normal spiritual health. Salvation as Phillips Brooks used to declare, is health. I quote his words: "The cool, calm vigor of the normal human life; the making of the man to be himself; the calling up out of the depth of his being and the filling with vitality of that self which is truly he,--that is salvation."
The task of religion is not like that of laboriously endeavoring to teach an elephant to fly; it is
rather the discovery of the potential capacities for flight in a being that was framed for the upper
air. There is somewhere in one of Phillips Brooks' sermons a vivid description of the birth of a
waterspout at sea, which I give in my own words, Far away in the distance the sailor sometimes
sees a dark cloud hover over the sea. Suddenly the water becomes strangely disturbed and
tremulous. The cloud comes down closer and the water rises to meet it. Suddenly cloud and sea
join in one indivisible whirling movement and together sweep irresistibly onward, it is impossible
to sunder cloud and sea or to say where cloud ends and sea begins. It is so with divinity and
humanity, the above and the below. Or it is like the meeting-place of the river and the ocean. The
river runs far out into the ocean and again, the tides of the ocean flood back into the river and no
fixed line of division can be drawn.
This is a lofty type of Christian humanism, quite unlike the prevailing humanism of our time. It is
possible to read human life at many different levels. We can read it up or we can read it down. We
have been passing through a period of stark naturalism, and the humanism that has emerged from
this naturalism is windowless above. It has no Pisgah heights, no "soul's east window of divine
surprise." A friend of mine asked an attendant in the Philadelphia subway how to get to a certain
street on the upper level. The answer was, "Nothing doing, lady. I know nothing about anything
The humanism of this naturalist type is set in stern limits like that. It knows nothing about anything transcendent, of anything "up top." It launches out on no great deeps. Its gospel is self-expression, its values are temporary and transient, its hope is in the possible progress of an evolving movement, a cosmic escalator, which will carry us up no matter what we do. That is a Victorian faith which it is hard now to resuscitate. The way of disillusionment is always near at hand. The inward resources of this humanism are too weak to bear the strains and the frustrations which beset us. Life too easily drops to the dull level of being, in Dean Inge's phrase, "one long dismal conjugation of the verb to eat."
The humanism of our text is of a wholly different order. It believes in man, not because he has leaped a tiny bit on ahead of the beasts from which he has sprung, but because something new and unique has come to birth, because eternity is set in his heart, because he is a being of love and wonder, because he is essentially self-transcendent, finite-infinite, because there is a beyond within him, because he is a potential child of God and may become a spiritual flame of the eternal light, "and it doth not yet appear what We shall be."
Aristotle said that the true nature of any being is what it can become. The true humanism must, on
the same count, be read not in terms of origin and beginnings, but rather in terms of possibility
and goal. We are the builders of the Kingdom of God, not merely self-satisfied denizens of a
secular society. We must level up and not be disturbed too much by the down-levelers. Pompilia is
interpreting our text when she says of the one great friend she has ever found in the world:
"It is through such souls alone God stooping shows sufficient of His light For men in the dark to rise by."
This brings us to what for Phillips Brooks was always the centre of Christian faith and the Central fact of human history, that is, the Incarnation, the breaking forth of the life of God in the life of man. It is here that eternity is revealed in the midst of time. "Where the mysterious reach of manhood touches the divine," he once said, "there Christ appears."
The genuine basis for a real Incarnation is and must be this divine capacity in man, for there is no true Incarnation unless the person through whom the nature of God is revealed is, in the best sense of the word, man. If our nature is not potentially spiritual and cannot be raised to the height at which it can become a revealing place for God, then we have no genuine gospel of the Incarnation, we have only a mysterious scheme to meet an insoluble impasse.
For St. Paul and for Clement of Alexandria and for Phillips Brooks, Christ and not Adam is the head of our race. Christ is the new Adam, the new creation, the type and norm of a new humanity, the complete expression of what man in his potential spiritual nature implies and suggests. When the full nature of human possibility is revealed in a completely fulfilled life, it proves to be a perfect organ of the life and love and character of God. We have this possibility brought to fullness in one life and there we see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
"Upon the race and upon the individual," Phillips Brooks said, "Jesus is always bringing into more and more perfect revelation the certain truth that man, every man, is the child of God." "The truth is," he says again, "that every higher life to which man comes, and especially the highest life in Christ, is in the true line of man's humanity; there is no transportation to a foreign region. Man is a child of God for whom his Father's house is waiting. The whole creation is groaning and travailing till man shall be complete."
"The first truth," he says once more, "is this that man belongs to God by nature. If that is not true then there is no possibility of any religion. Every movement of conscience when men go wrong, every leap of enthusiasm at the sight of goodness, as if they saw one fresh from the land where they themselves belonged, every indignation with themselves, all their highest memories and hopes are instinctive testimonies that they know that they are God's children." Is there any more thrilling experience than the discovery that we belong to God, to life and to God's world, and some day we shall discover that we belong together.
In Christ we may say, then, that we see what life in its full range of diviner possibilities really means. Here at the headwaters of our faith we find one Life in which divinity and humanity are unsundered, one life which reveals equally the nature of God and the possibilities of man. We may say with an early Christian writer that the eternal Christ is forever being born anew in the hearts of those who believe and just as certainly we may say that the spirit of man is continually proving to be "a candle of the Lord."
We discover energies of every type through organs and instruments of manifestation. The reason the race was slow in discovering the nature of electrical energy was that men had no adequate instrument of manifestation. Its manifestation was either too feeble or too powerful. We began to discover its real nature as soon as the dynamo was invented and electricity could break through and manifest itself. The dynamo does not create electricity; it merely lets it break through.
There is no more mystery about spiritual energies than there is about electrical energies, In both cases it is a question of fact, of manifestation, of discovery. The spirit of man brought to the height of its divine possibility is one of God's luminous points of manifestation.
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps many years wrote a famous story entitled "A Singular Life." Its hero was a kindled life who brought hidden inward strength and visible transformation wherever he worked at the tasks of human society in his fishing village on the Massachusetts coast. In the end he gave his life to the tasks to which he was consecrated. My only criticism of the book is its title. I insist that these lighted lives which kindle others and raise the spiritual level of the environment in they live are not odd or "singular" persons.
They alone are normal; they are the ones who have come into possession of complete normal and
spiritual health,--the over-briming life
I grant you, Phillips Brooks used to say, that this is a checkerboard world, with black squares and white squares on it. The real question is whether the white squares are on a black background or the black squares are on a white background. I, for one, am convinced that the black squares are on a white background.
I know as clearly as anybody does that human progress is not inevitable, that there is no escalator
that carries men and women up to spiritual levels, and, nevertheless, I have a humble working
faith that "man as yet is being made," and that some day the sons of God may join in the chorus:
"Hallelujah to the Maker, It is finished; man is made."