On the fly leaf of my Bible
I find the following words, taken from, I know not where:
“This generation has rediscovered the unselfishness of God.”
If I were called upon to state in one sentence the sum
and substance of my religious experience,
it is this sentence I would choose.
“This generation has rediscovered the unselfishness of God.”
And no words could express my thankfulness for having been born into a generation
where this discovery has been comparatively easy.
If I am not mistaken, the generation before mine knew very little of the unselfishness of God;
and, even of my own generation, there are I fear, many good and earnest Christians
who do not know it still yet.
Without putting it into such words as to shock themselves or others,
many Christians still at the bottom foundation
look upon God as one of the most selfish,
self-absorbed Beings in the universe,
being far more selfish than they could think it right
for them to be themselves,
intent only upon His own honor and glory,
looking out continually that His own rights are never trampled on;
and so absorbed in thoughts of Himself and of His own righteousness,
as to have no love or pity left for the poor sinners
who have offended Him.
I grew up believing God was like this.
I have discovered that He is exactly the opposite. And it is of this discovery I want to tell.
After more than seventy years of life I have come to the profound conviction
that every need of the soul is to be met by the discovery I have made.
In that wonderful prayer of our Lord’s in John 17,
He says, “And this is life eternal,
that they might know Thee the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
This used to seem to me to be a mystical saying that might perhaps
have a pious esoteric meaning,
but certainly could have no practical application.
But every year of my religious life I have discovered in it
a deeper and more vital meaning; until now at last
I see that, rightly understood, it contains the gist of the whole
To know God, as He really is,
in His essential nature and character, is to have reached the absolute,
and unchangeable, and utterly satisfying foundation,
upon which, and upon which only,
can be reared the whole superstructure of our religious life.
To now discover that He is not the selfish Being we are so often
apt to think Him, but is instead really and fundamentally unselfish,
caring not at all for Himself, but only and always for us and for our
welfare, is to have found the answer to every human question,
and the cure for every human ill.
But how to make this discovery is the crucial question.
In our present stage of existence we have not the faculties developed
that would make it possible for us to see God as He is in His
essential and incomprehensible Being.
We need an Interpreter.
We must have an Incarnation.
If I should want to make a colony of ants know me
as I am in the essential essence of my being,
I would need to incarnate myself in the body of an ant,
and speak to them in their own language, as one ant to another.
As a human being I might stand over an ant-hill
and lecture for a lifetime,
and not one word would reach the ears of the ants.
They would run to and fro … unconscious of my speech.
To know God, therefore, as He really is, we must go to His
incarnation in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that no man
hath seen God at any time, but that the only begotten Son of the
Father, He hath revealed Him.
When one of the disciples said to Christ, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us,”
“Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known
me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father, and how
sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I
am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words I speak unto
you I speak not of Myself: but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He
doeth the works”
Here then is our opportunity. We cannot see God,
but we can see Christ. Christ was not only the Son of God, but He was the
Son of man as well, and, as a man to men, He can reveal His Father.
Whatever Christ was, that God is.
All the unselfishness, all the tenderness, all the kindness, all the justice, all the goodness,
that we see in Christ
is simply a revelation of the unselfishness,
the tenderness, the kindness, the justice, the goodness, of God.
Someone has said in words that seem to me inspired,
“Christ is the human form of God.” And this is the explanation of the Incarnation.
I do not mean, however, to say that no one can have any
revelation of God to their souls except those who believe the Bible,
and who know Christ as He is there revealed.
I believe reverently and thankfully that “God is no respecter of persons:
but in every nation, he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted
God has “not left Himself without a witness” at any age
of the world. But what I do believe is exactly what is declared in
the opening words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that God, who
“at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past to the
Fathers by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by
His Son,” who is the “brightness of His glory, and the express
image of His person;” and that, therefore, although we may find
many partial revelations elsewhere, if we would know Him as He
really is, we can only see Him fully revealed in His “express
image,” the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was a long time before I found this out, and, until I did, I was, as my story will show,
as really ignorant of Him as the most benighted savage,
notwithstanding the fact that I lived in a Christian community,
and was brought up in a Christian Church,
and had the open Bible in my hand.
God was a terror to me, until I began to see Him in the face of Jesus Christ,
when He became an unmixed joy. And I believe many weary souls are in a similar case,
who, if they could once be made to see that God is like Christ,
would experience an unspeakable relief.
A friend of mine told me that her childhood was spent in a perfect terror of God.
Her idea of Him was that He was a cruel giant with an awful “Eye” which could see everything,
no matter how it might be hidden, and that He was always spying upon her,
and watching for chances to punish her, and to snatch away all her joys.
She said she would creep into bed at night with the dreadful feeling
that even in the dark the “Eye of God” was upon her; and she would pull the bed covers over her head
in the vain hope, which all the while she knew was vain,
to hide herself from this terrifying Eye, and would lie there in a tremble fright,
saying to herself in an agonized whisper, “What shall I do?
Oh, what shall I do? Even my mother cannot save me from God!”
With a child’s strange reticence she never told any one of
her terror; but one night her mother, coming into the room
unexpectedly, heard the poor little despairing cry, and, with a
sudden comprehension of what it meant, sat down beside the bed,
and, taking the cold little hand in hers, told her that God was not a
dreadful tyrant to be afraid of, but was just like Jesus;
and that she knew how good and kind Jesus was,
and how He loved little children, and took them in His arms and blessed them.
My friend said she had always loved the stories about Jesus, and when she
heard that God was like Him, it was a perfect revelation to her,
and took away her fear of God forever. She went about all that
day saying to herself over and over, “Oh, I am so glad I have
found out that God is like Jesus, for Jesus is so nice. Now I need
never be afraid of God any more.” And when she went to bed that
night she fairly laughed out loud at the thought that such a dear
kind Eye was watching over her and taking care of her. This little
child had got a sight of God “in the face of Jesus Christ,” and it
brought rest to her soul.
By the discovery of God, therefore, I do not mean anything
mysterious, or mystical, or unattainable. I simply mean becoming
acquainted with Him as one becomes acquainted with a human
friend; that is, finding out what is His nature, and His character,
and coming to understand His ways. I mean in short …
discovering what sort of a Being He really is—
whether good or bad,
whether kind or unkind,
whether selfish or unselfish,
whether strong or weak,
whether wise or foolish,
whether just or unjust.
It is of course evident that everything in one’s religious life
depends upon the sort of God one worships.
The character of the worshipper … will and must necessarily
be molded by the character of the object worshipped.
If it is a cruel and revengeful God, or a selfish and unjust God,
the worshipper will be cruel, and revengeful, and selfish, and unjust, also.
If it is a loving, tender, forgiving, unselfish God,
the worshipper will be loving, and tender, and forgiving, and unselfish, as well.
Also, the peace and happiness of the worshipper must necessarily
be absolutely bound up in the character of the God worshipped;
for everything depends upon whether He is a good God or a bad God.
If He is good, all is well of course, and one’s peace can flow like a river;
while, if He is bad, nothing can be well, no matter how earnest or devoted the
worshipper may be, and no peace is possible.
This was brought very vividly to my mind by hearing once
in a meeting an educated negro, belonging to one of the savage
tribes of Africa, giving an account of their tribal religion.
He said that they had two gods, a good god and a bad god;
now they did not trouble themselves about the good god, because,
as he was good, he would do right anyhow,
whether they sacrificed to him or not;
but the bad god they had to try and propitiate and please
by all sorts of prayers, and sacrifices, and offerings, and religious ceremonies,
in order, if possible,
to get him into a good humor, so that he might treat them well.
To my thinking,
there was a profound truth in this.
The poorer and more imperfect is one’s conception of God,
the more fervent and intense one will be
in one’s efforts to appease Him, … and to put Him into a good humor;
whereas on the other hand, the higher and truer is the knowledge
of the goodness and unselfishness of God, the less anxiety, and
fuss, and wrestling, and agonizing, will there be in one’s worship.
A good and unselfish God will be sure to do right anyhow, whether
we try to propitiate Him or not, and we can safely trust Him to
carry on His affairs with very little advice from us. As to wrestling
or agonizing with Him to fulfill what are really only the duties of
His position, it could never be necessary for of course a good
person always does his duty.
I have discovered therefore that the statement of the fact
that “God is good,” is really, if we only understand it,
and entirely satisfactory assurance that our interests will be safe in His hands.
Since He is good, He cannot fail to do His duty by us,
and, since He is unselfish, He must necessarily consider our
interests before His own. When once we are assured of this, there
can be nothing left to fear.
Consequently the only really vital thing in religion is to
become acquainted with God. Solomon says, “Acquaint thyself
with God, and be at peace,” and I believe every one of us who would
find that peace that passes all understanding …
must necessarily be the result of this acquaintance.
Who is there on earth who could see and know the
goodness, and the kindness, and the justice, and the loving
unselfishness, of our God, as He is revealed to us in the face of
Jesus Christ, and fail to be irresistibly drawn to adore Him?
Who could have anything but peace in coming to know that the God
who has created us, and to whom we belong forever, is a God of
Love? Who of us can have any more fears, after once we have
found out that He cares for us as for the apple of His eye? And
what else is there that can bring an unwavering peace?
Acquaintance with doctrines or dogmas or blissful experiences ;
or success in service; may give peace for a time;
but the peace from these can never be trusted to abide.
Doctrines may become obscure;
experiences may be dulled or may change;
we may be cut off by circumstances from our work;
all things and all people may seem to fail us;
and unless our peace is founded
upon something more stable than any of these,
it will waver as the waves of the sea.
The only place therefore of permanent and abiding peace
is to be found in an acquaintance with the goodness
and the unselfishness of God.
It is difficult to explain just what I mean by this acquaintance with God.
We are so accustomed to think that knowing things about Him is sufficient—
what He has done; what He has said; what His plans are; and what are the doctrines
that we stop short of that knowledge of what He really is in nature and character,
which is the only satisfactory knowledge.
In human relations we may know a great deal about a
person without at all necessarily coming into any actual
acquaintance with that person, and it is the same in our relations
We may blunder on for years thinking we know a great
deal about Him, but never be quite sure of what sort of a Being He
actually is, and consequently never finding any permanent rest or
And then, perhaps suddenly, we catch a sight of Him
as He is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ,
and we discover the real God, as He is behind, and beneath, and within,
all the other conceptions of Him which may have heretofore puzzled us; …
and from that moment forth … our peace flows like a river,
and in everything
and through everything,
when perhaps we can rejoice in nothing else,
we can always and everywhere
“ rejoice in God, and joy in the God of our salvation.”
We no longer need His promises; we have found Himself, and He is enough for every need.
My own experience has been something like this.
My knowledge of God,
beginning on a very low plane,
and in the midst of the greatest darkness and ignorance,
advanced slowly through many stages,
and with a vast amount of useless conflict and wrestling,
to the place where I learned at last …
that Christ was the “express image” of God,
and where I became therefore in a measure acquainted with Him,
and discovered to my amazement and delight His utter unselfishness,
and saw that it was safe to trust Him.
And from this time all my doubts and questionings have
been slowly but surely disappearing in the blaze of this
It is of the processes leading to this discovery
by my own soul that I want to tell.
But in order to do this I must begin with
the earliest influences of my life, for I am convinced that my
knowledge of my Heavenly Father began first of all in my
knowledge of my earthly father and mother, who were,
I feel sure,
the most delightful father and mother
any child ever had.
Having known them and their goodness,it was only reasonable for me to believe
that my Heavenly Father, who had made them,
must be at least as good as the earthly father and mother He had made;
and no story of my soul would be complete …
without beginning with them.