A Mississippian, born the first year of the Civil War, Dr. Mullins was educated in Johns Hopkins University and in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, and was ordained to the ministry in 1885. A seven-year pastorate in Lee Street Church, Baltimore—serving the while as editor of The Evangel, and as secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention—was followed by a brief ministry in the First Church of Newton, Mass. In 1899 he was called to the Presidency of the Seminary where he had been a student—the largest theological school in the world—where he now presides. He is also President of the Baptist World-Alliance, a post of honor which he has held since 1923.
In an early volume Dr. Mullins answered the question, Why is Christianity True? In another he dealt with The Axioms of Religion; and in still another he discussed the vexed issues of Freedom and Authority. A commentary on two of the Epistles of St. Paul was followed by a stately volume expounding The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression—a monument of conservative thought and scholarship; and his latest volume portrays Christianity at the Cross-roads from the same point of view. In the following sermon a great teacher of religion talks to us in a style all can understand, and one feels in his words the glow of a serene confidence which deepens with the years.
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. I Corinthians 2:9.
All things are possible to him that believeth. Mark 9:23.
Both these texts show the contrast between the testimony of the senses and the discoveries of faith. Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard—but faith penetrates beyond sense and discovers new worlds.
I had the pleasure recently of hearing an address by a scientific man on the subject “Scientific Prophecy.” It was an exceedingly interesting forecast of the possible course of scientific achievement. Many things were foretold bearing upon human welfare. Among them were the chemical production of food in various forms, the cheapening of light and power for mechanical and other purposes, the conquest of cancer and other diseases, the increase of speed limits on land and sea and in the air, the possibility of intercommunication between the planets of our solar system. These and other possible advances in knowledge and power were confidently affirmed.
These prophecies were based upon past achievements. The speaker reminded us of the slowness of man to believe in the possibilities of the past which later became established facts. Wise men said yellow fever and diphtheria would never be mastered. In earlier days the electric telegraph seemed an absurd idea. The idea of the navigation of the air was ridiculed as among the wildest dreams of the crack-brained. The telephone and wireless were inconceivable. One prophet said some years ago that science was already full grown. No genuinely new force would be discovered. And yet men went on discovering new laws and new forces. Soon the X-ray and the radio came to light. Today science is more eager and alert and purposeful than ever. She is on tiptoe, as it were, for new revelations in the great reservoir of nature.
All along the way it has been a conflict between sense and faith. Eye saw not, ear heard not, and men doubted. But men of faith went on searching. Pasteur made his great discoveries and the germ theory revolutionized medicine. The diphtheria antitoxin was produced and millions of children were saved from death. The mosquito was detected in his deadly work of transferring the yellow fever germ, and that dread scourge was tamed.
The truth has gradually emerged that the universe about us is an inexhaustible storehouse of forces, of laws, of gifts from God to man, awaiting his discovery. It abounds in hidden fountains of power, cataracts of energy, lakes and oceans of divine blessing, which challenge us to our highest insight and skill. But these things do not at first appear to the senses. Eye hath not seen them, ear hath not heard them—until scientific research uncovers them. And then suddenly they burst upon the eyes in dazzling splendor, or reverberate upon the ears like a great cataract plunging over a precipice.
In this way men gradually come to see that science and religion are in full agreement in their basic attitudes and instincts. Both work by faith. Both have large capacity for belief. Both learn by experience that doubt paralyzes while faith stimulates. Doubt of course has its place as a means towards the discovery of truth. It protects against illusion and credulity and self-deception. But doubt by itself tends to paralyze, while faith is a very sharp spur to effort. The true wisdom dictates not that we should believe as little but as much as possible. What the eye does not see and the ear does not hear may, nevertheless, be awaiting us on the other side of the veil of sense, clad in radiant garments and literally burdened with gifts and blessings for us. There are some very important truths which grow out of the contrast between faith and sight. I name a few of them.
The first is that the human mind and the universe around us are made for each other. They match each other as the glove matches the hand for which it is made. The unseen, unheard, unsuspected facts and forces are all about us. The mind of man is like a photographic plate. When exposed to these facts and forces and the right focus is attained it registers them. Another intelligence, like our own, seems clearly to have made the world about us. It communicates to us its own truths. Every new fact and law we discover is a fresh proof of the presence of a greater mind than ours speaking to us through the things that are made. The music of the orchestra is not music to any except those who have a musical faculty. It is mere noise to some animals, which are offended by it. The leader may be hidden from the audience behind the screen. But the players on the instruments see his actions and through them he impresses his mind upon the hearers. God is the hidden leader of the great orchestra of nature. The outreaching of our finite minds for all knowledge is but the reflection in us of the mind of the infinite.
Surely that which made us meant us to be mightier by and by,
Set the sphere of all the boundless heavens within the human eye,
Sent the shadow of himself the boundless through the human soul,
Boundless inward in the atom, boundless outward in the whole.
Take one recent example of nature’s response to man’s waiting mind in its striving to see the invisible and to hear the inaudible. As men studied the lines of the solar spectrum they saw a new strange color. This led to the discovery of a new gas, called helium, which is merely the Greek word for the sun transferred to English. The next step was to discover this gas among the other gases of the earth. Then it was discovered that helium will not burn. And so it became a substitute for the highly inflammable hydrogen in the great dirigibles for navigating the air. Twenty thousand dollars’ worth of hydrogen was wasted in order to introduce helium into the Z R-3 when it arrived from Germany, in order to make it safe from explosion and to protect the lives of the airmen. Surely this was an instance of hitching not our wagon but our balloon to a star. Thus man’s faith is rewarded. The great deep of God’s mind answers the great deep of the human mind. Man’s faith never loses its reward when wisely directed, because the same Being made the universe and the mind which grasps it.
A second truth growing out of the contrast between faith and sight is that the world about us is far richer in meaning than we have imagined. Just as men have been incredulous as to steam and electricity and other forms of power in the past, so also, although in a less degree, they are incredulous today. That which keeps the world back is not faith but doubt. It is the pioneering mind which makes the great discovery. The friends of Columbus warned him that his ships would come to the jumping-off place and plunge to destruction in a bottomless abyss. Doubt would have paralyzed the effort, but faith led Columbus to the discovery of a new world. Faith refuses to measure the future by the past, although a wise faith always respects the past. Doubt can achieve what others have achieved in a measurable degree. Faith can achieve the impossible.
Now, just as faith knows no limit to what it may discover in the physical universe, just as the mind of man is made for nature, so also the soul of man is made for God. When men call, God answers in Christ. “In him,” says Paul, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The spiritual faculty which we call faith joins us to God. Out of faith springs love, and love is the great revealer of spiritual riches. Paul prays for the Ephesians: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge that ye might be filled, even to all the fulness of God.” As Professor Moffatt’s translation of this passage suggests, the meaning is that if men wished to get a conception of “length,” if they desired some adequate idea of “breadth,” of “height” and “depth” they were to let Christ dwell in their hearts by faith, and thus become rooted and grounded in love.
In the third place, I remark that the more refined the forms of matter the more significant they are. Science is trying to find the ultimate constitution of things, the bricks as it were, out of which the universe is built. Once we heard much of atoms. Now we hear much of electrons or some other minute forms of existence. These are like little solar systems each with a central nucleus and infinitesimally small particles revolving about it. And we are actually told that in comparison with their magnitudes the relative distance between an electron and its central nucleus is greater than that between the earth and the sun. Thus scientific faith penetrates ever more deeply into the unseen and unheard universe. We are impressed with the fact that these refined forms of matter seem to lead us up ever closer and closer to God, the source and origin of all things.
Where the origin of life is present the mystery and beauty as well as the reality of the invisible are even more impressive. Some one watched through a powerful microscope the slow incubation of the egg of a fish under the heat of the sun, and described what he saw. He said it was as if the invisible fingers of a painter were at work with a brush. He sketched in first of all in very dim outline the shape that was to appear. Then came heavier strokes. Bit by bit the details were perfected and at length the organism was complete.
And so we come in our careful study of physical nature to the spiritual vision. Science leads us up almost to the gates of paradise. If we listen we can hear the song of the angels on the other side of the walls of sense. Delving down into matter, tunneling out into the secret places of the physical, science comes right up to the gates of the new Jerusalem, with its streets of gold and pearly gates. But it takes eyes adjusted to the spiritual vision to see the heavenly city, and ears attuned to heavenly music to hear the halleluiahs within.
In the fourth place, I think the contrast between faith and sight supplies a clew for the understanding of God’s method with man. Here we are imprisoned upon a little planet, and surrounded by a universe so vast that it staggers the imagination even to attempt to grasp it. And yet this vastness awakens a true echo in man. The measureless distances and magnitudes stir something in man akin to themselves. He finds himself reaching out in desire and thought that he may fully know the meaning of it all, that he may master these forces which play around him. Manifold and complex as these natural laws and forces are, they lure man’s spirit on and on to the very frontiers of being. In all his struggles he is rewarded with new discoveries which in turn whet his insatiable appetite, and thus his nature comes to its own true destiny under a law of endless growth.
Not only are we imprisoned upon a little planet, we are also imprisoned in bodies which are limited in many ways. We are forever tossed about between our sense life and our deep instincts for the eternal. Our dim vision, our dull hearing and our gross sense of feeling confine us in a little circle of experience which keeps us baffled and laboring under a sense of the futility of it all. And yet we never can rid ourselves of these deeper spiritual yearnings which tell us of that which is infinite and eternal in ourselves and which point to the infinite and eternal One whom we Christians have learned to call Father.
The meaning should be obvious to any thoughtful person. The vastness within man was meant to match the vastness around him. The fact that his mind and heart register the unseen and unheard realities about him as he gradually adjusts his nature to them is eloquent of God’s purpose in placing us in our earthly prison house. By his grace we are to grow in knowledge and power until we attain the stature of full grown men. It is a curious fact that while materialism has ever tried to terrorize man’s imagination by pointing to his littleness over against the greatness of the universe, man refuses to be cowed or terrified. He holds up his head amid the mighty frame-work of nature. He is conscious all the time that there is something in him greater than all things material. He groans and struggles amid his sufferings, but it is a groaning not as a victim of greater powers so much as the instinct of one destined for a larger life. His nature is too big for the world, not too little. It is not that he is crushed like a worm beneath the wagon wheel, but rather that he is wounded like an eagle trying to escape from confinement.
The mission of Jesus was to interpret God to man, and to enable us to understand our true relation to the infinite. His coming was the invisible God appearing under conditions of time and space in order to remove all doubt from our minds as to the reality of God and of his boundless love. His atoning death was the recognition of our need for redemption from sin and its power. His resurrection was the loosing of the flood tides of the infinite life upon humanity.
It is in order now to point out a few practical conclusions from what has been said.
One conclusion is, it would seem, that scientific men ought to be the greatest of Christian believers. In their research work faith always runs ahead of knowledge. They make a guess, or have an intuition or surmise. Then they proceed to hunt for facts to verify and, by and by, they discover some new truth.
Another practical conclusion is that nothing is really explained until we find God behind the things we see. The world and life have no meaning unless God is guiding things. Science describes the world. Religion interprets it. Both are necessary. There is no conflict between them. A fact has little value until you interpret it. And only religious faith can interpret the world. I have read somewhere a parable of the mice inside a piano listening to the sounds as the piano was played. They put down their scientific explanation: First the impact of keys upon cords. Second, the vibrations which followed. Third, the sounds and the music which followed the vibrations. Impact, vibration, sound; many impacts, many vibrations, many sounds, this was the formula of the mice. There was nothing else. This is the way in which a piano behaves of itself. The mice saw no one. They were confined within. They needed no other explanation.
But do you not see that the mice have not explained at all? They have only described what they heard. They had the bare facts. But the facts needed interpreting. What did they mean? The interpreter would point to the player at the keyboard of the piano, the musical composition, the skill, the music. So the universe must be described as science describes it. But it must be interpreted as religion interprets it. The two methods are different. But both science and religion seek reality. Both work by faith and both attain real knowledge.
Finally, I remark that all things are possible to him that believeth. Scientific faith proves this and religious faith proves it. Modern science has been called a great adventure. It is the greatest of human adventures save one. And in the adventure is mingled romance and magic. It is the storehouse of wonders. Nothing has brought more distinct thrills to men than the discoveries of science. But if science is a great and thrilling adventure, religion is a greater. Faith in God brings even greater discoveries. Jesus said: “Become as a little child before God. Let your mind and conscience and will open to Him. Let Him speak to your soul and you will enter a new spiritual universe.” “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” In this there are four great truths. 1. Christ himself is the object of faith: “Come unto me.” 2. We are to accept his authority in religion: “Take my yoke upon you.” 3. He perfectly fulfills for us the religious ideal: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 4. Through him we come to a true knowledge of God: “And ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
All that the spiritual life craves He brings: forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God, moral reenforcement for our feeble wills, a new sense of power to overcome temptation, gradual growth in the life of obedience and sanctification, a new joy in social service, in sacrificial living and giving, a new vision of life and death and the future, a loss of the fear of death and assurance of immortality, the privilege of having a share in building God’s great moral Kingdom which shall cover the universe; and thus the Kingdom of science and the Kingdom of religion shall blend into one great Kingdom.
The things which eye saw not and ear heard not in nature, but which scientific faith discovered shall be joined to the things which eye saw not and ear heard not in the realm of religion, but which religious faith discovered—and the two shall be God’s one great universal Kingdom, eternal and unchangeable, save that it will forever expand to larger proportions and greater spiritual wealth and power.