As teacher, preacher, scholar and pastor, Dr. Calkins has had a rich and varied career. Born in Buffalo in 1869, educated at Harvard University and the Harvard Divinity School, he became Master of the Belmont School for Boys, California; after which he taught modern languages in Grinnell College, and German in Harvard. Ordained to the Congregational ministry in 1896, after two pastorates in Pittsfield and one in Portland, since 1912 he has been minister of the First Church, Cambridge.
One of the editors of Hymns of the Church, Dr. Calkins has not been a prolific writer; but such books as The Christian Idea in the Modern World, The Social Message of the Book of Revelation, and The Church and Modern Life, show us the qualities of the scholar and the seer. He was the Lyman Beecher lecturer at Yale in 1926. The following sermon on The Things that Remain is so deep and true and timely—clear in its insight and winsome in its appeal—that it will be a welcome mentor to baffled minds.
Things that can be shaken ought to be shaken; but the time of trial which destroys the false also reveals the truth to which we may trust our souls—even the Truth that makes all other truth true.
The removing of those things that are shaken, that those things which are not shaken may remain. Hebrews 12:27.
The New Testament was written in earthquake times. Earthquakes were even more common then than now. Western Asia suffered much from earthquakes from time immemorial, and they were of not infrequent occurrence in Italy and other parts of the Roman world.
But it was not the ground only that seemed to be trembling when the New Testament was written. Everything seemed to be shaking. The old religions were breaking up, and the mythologies and idolatries were all tumbling to the ground. Governments were shaking. There was no real stability anywhere, and no one knew when or where the next sedition or rebellion would break out. The whole social order was trembling. The whole edifice of civilization seemed to be swaying and trembling so that it is no wonder that people imagined the end of the world to be near. They were indeed earthquake times in which the literature of the New Testament was written.
And yet, nothing impresses the thoughtful reader of the New Testament more than the sense of solidity and of permanence that seems to pervade it. It is one of the first and most evident impressions which the writings that make up the New Testament leave upon the mind. They tell of being “grounded” in the faith; of being “perfected, stablished, strengthened”; of being “built upon a foundation”; of having a hope both sure and stedfast; of how the foundation of God standeth sure; or how other foundation cannot be laid than that is laid. Right in the midst, that is, of an earthquake era that seemed to be shaking the world to its very foundations, the New Testament tells of a foundation that is firm, of a hope that is sure and stedfast.
This strange and extraordinary sense of assurance, however, comes out most strikingly in the words of our text. In it, the writer refers directly to the quakes that seem to be shaking the earth. But there is no note of alarm in his voice, nor a trace of fear in his words. Just the contrary. It is true, he says, that the earth is shaking. Well, he seems to say, let it shake. All that can happen is that the things that are made, that are temporary, that are imperfect and undesirable, will be removed, in order that those things which are not shaken may remain. You cannot, that is, shake the unshakable. Neither can you move the immovable. All that shaking can do is to bring down the things that can be shaken, in order the more impressively to reveal the things that cannot be shaken.
Now we are living in earthquake times. Within the memory of all of us the ground has shaken all over the world with terrible effect. Martinique, Messina, San Francisco, Japan, Italy—the stories of these catastrophes are in all our minds. But again it is not the ground only that has shaken. Everything has seemed to be shaking. Governments have been tumbling all around us; old things have passed away. Behold all things are becoming new. Ancient and venerable religious ideas have been shaking under the impact of modern science and knowledge. The social order is trembling. No one imagines for a moment that we are on solid foundations there. The whole question of property ownership, the whole relation of labor and wealth, the whole system of production and distribution—it is all shaking and trembling in the new world of ideas in which we live. And the civilization of a whole continent, which involves practically the civilization of our whole planet, has been shaken to its very center by terrible international collisions; and people are wondering whether there is any solid foundation upon which civilization can be rebuilt, and if so, what and where it is.
What we need then, evidently, is the recovery, if we are able to recover it, of the calm and exalted mood of the New Testament. Our most desperate need at such an hour is a sense of assurance, born of the deep spiritual persuasion that underneath all the rocking surface of things there is a foundation of God that standeth sure; that below all these swaying things there is a hope that is sure and stedfast; that there is at the bottom and center of things that are shaken a kingdom that cannot be moved; so that we may look on at all the crashing and tumbling down of things about us, and all the shaking of the earth in the midst of which we live, and say, So the earth is shaking, is it? Well, let it shake. For what can the shaking do? All it can do is to remove the shakable things that are made by men, that those things which are not shaken may remain. That, at such a time as this, should be the confident and exalted mood of the people of God.
And now, what is the sure foundation of which the New Testament so confidently speaks? What are those things which the New Testament affirms cannot be shaken or moved no matter what else, no matter if all else falls to the earth? It is, as we all know, the foundation of the Life, Spirit, Presence, Inspiration of Jesus Christ. That, the New Testament affirms, is an unshakable and immovable reality. Heaven and earth may pass away, but it shall not pass away. Other foundations are like hay, stone, wood, stubble, gold, silver, precious stones. The day shall declare it and each man’s work shall be made manifest. But other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. The one permanent fact, so teaches the book of the Hebrews, in all the changing order, is the fact of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief corner stone. Other things may shake, but this remains unshaken. Other things may be removed, but this is immovable. That is the hope which animates the writers of the New Testament and enables them to look out with a serene eye and an untroubled heart upon a world shaken to its center. Let it shake. The things made by men may be removed, but the things which may not be shaken will remain. “Wherefore receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace whereby we may offer service well-pleasing unto God.”
What we need to do, therefore, and all that we need to do, in order to recover the confident assurance of the New Testament in these earthquake times, is to lay the foundation of our faith where the New Testament laid the foundation of its faith. We need to remember that the Christian Gospel above and beyond everything else is the Gospel of a Person: that other things are the superstructure reared on that foundation, but the foundation itself is the Person of Christ. And because Christ Himself is the foundation, it is a sure foundation, a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Here we are on firm ground, let us remember. Here we touch bottom. If we ask, for example, what is the one sure fact in the world today, in all the shifting and uncertain things that make up the kaleidoscopic panorama of existence, the answer is, personality, soul. Every one answers that. There is something on which all thinking men are agreed: that what we call “soul” is the fact that underlies all other facts. It is the soul that gives worth to science. Science concerns itself with the material order—that is to say, with the conditions of life, but its quest would never have been begun, nor its results attained or understood if it were not for the soul. It is the soul that gives value to philosophy. To analyze knowledge, to investigate the laws of the mind, to discover the meaning of the world, is like working with a jig-saw puzzle, the value of which disappears with its accomplishment, except for what is living, permanent, and immortal—that is to say, the soul. It is the same with art. To call anything beautiful or sublime is absurd unless there is the soul, for the sense of beauty is in the soul and not in the object. The fact of facts in this world of ours is the fact of a soul. If it were not for this, the whole universe would dissolve around us like a baseless fabric of a vision. And all history bears witness to the same truth. Heaven and earth may pass away, but the souls of great men, these never pass away. A soul that has once influenced mankind leaves an impression more profound, positive, permanent, than any other fact known to men.
Now that is just where the Christian faith lays its foundation—not on a theory, a doctrine, an institution, or any other creature, but upon that fact of facts. It calls to people who are hungry, as they say, for facts; who are under the permeating influence of a universal doubt; and it says, What is offered to you here is something that you cannot ultimately doubt; it is a fact, the fact of a soul, a personality, real, imperishable. The foundation of the Christian faith rests not on “a doctrine preached in Palestine two thousand years ago; not on a theory of God and man that sprang up in the East at certain periods of history”; not on an institution, or a creed, or anything else that passes with time and changes with the ages. It rests ultimately on the fact of a Person that time cannot alter, or the ages change, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.
That is where the New Testament bases the Christian faith. That is the foundation that is laid; that is where Christ laid it Himself. His gift to the world was the gift of Himself. He offered the world not a doctrine or a plan or an organization. For the solution of its problems, for the saving of its life, He offered Himself. His first word was this, “Follow Me”; His last word was this, “I am with you alway.” When one asks, What is the Christian faith according to Christ Himself, the answer is, it is Christ Himself.
And if that is where Christ laid the foundation of His faith, that is where the Apostles laid it. The faith which the New Testament offers to the world is faith in a Person. The preaching of the New Testament is the preaching of a Person. They preached Jesus: that in Him is the resurrection of the dead; that He hath given us all things pertaining to life; that His is the Name above every name. And because they were sure of the fact of His Person, they were sure that when they based their hope and their faith on that Fact, that there there was a foundation that could not be moved; there was a kingdom that could not be shaken.
Now let any one seize that truth, and let that truth take possession of his whole being, as it did the being of the New Testament writers; let it be to him not only a truth which he intellectually apprehends, but a living persuasion, a passionate and spiritual conviction that permeates his mind and kindles his emotions and arouses his will, so that it becomes the one fact of facts that he knows is sure and true, and then he is in the New Testament mood; then in an earthquake world he can look abroad and say, Well, let it shake.
I have tried to state our truth. And now let us try to apply it.
1. Here, for example, is the Church. Now to a good many people the Church seems to be trembling and even tottering. Denominational walls are not nearly as secure as they used to be. The number of people who really believe in the exclusive validity of any given form of Church organization is steadily diminishing. The walls of institutional Christianity themselves are not as secure as they used to be. The Church as a whole is coming an for a vast amount of criticism, some of which is wise and well-meant, but much of which is not wise and is not well meant. Some argue that the beliefs of the Church are outworn, that its worship is formal and dead, that it does not concern itself in the things that people are thinking about, with the actual life-and-death problems that make up contemporary living. Some ignore it altogether; some notice it only to smile at it; some consider it an interesting survival; others curse it as an obstacle to progress. The walls of Zion appear to be crumbling. The Christianity outside the Church seems often to be more vital than that within. The religion that finds its passion in social justice, human brotherhood, the equalization of opportunity, seems to possess a vital spark that institutional Christianity often seems to lack. Such is the earthquake that seems to be shaking the walls of our visible Zion. And many people are asking themselves in alarm, What can be done? Is the Church really going to pieces? Has institutional Christianity a future? If so, what is it?
But the Christian who has caught the mood of the New Testament and knows on what foundation the Church of Jesus Christ really rests, is not in alarm at all. Is there an earthquake? Well, let it quake. Is the Church being shaken? Perhaps a shaking is what it needs. Perhaps too many man-made things that can be shaken have grown up about it. A shaking will tell what is permanent and what is not. Let the walls that can fall, fall, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. There may be altogether too much ecclesiastical and doctrinal scaffolding about it that needs to be brought down. Let it come down. But the Church itself, that cannot be shaken. For what is it? On what does it rest? It rests upon the Person of Jesus Christ. In its essence the Church is not an organization, or a body, civic, political, or even religious. It is a company of believers united in faith and loyalty to Jesus Christ. It is the spiritual assembly of those who love Him and whom He loves. “Where Jesus Christ is, there is Holy Church.” “What is the Church but the assembly of His saints?” Its foundation is that spiritual union betwixt Him and His friends. And that foundation has not been shaken; it remains unmoved and immovable. Build a church on any other foundation, and you cannot predict its future. But you can predict the permanence of a fellowship in which men and women are bound together in common loyalty and devotion to Jesus Christ. Heaven and earth may pass away; Church systems and organizations may come and go; denominations may rise and fall; but the Church of Jesus constant shall remain. lf there is one thing on earth that we may be sure the Gates of Hell will never prevail against, it is that. In these very days when the outward walls of the Church seem to be trembling, there is no diminution of that wealth of devotion which centers in the Person of Christ, nor any substitute for that Sacrificial Life which flows forth through the lives of His followers from the Heart of Christ. Look upon the Church as founded on such a Rock, and the mood of the New Testament will be yours in these earthquake times. You will look abroad upon all tempests of discussion which seem to shake the walls of institutional religion with serenity; for underneath there is the certainty of that experience of God in Christ which is the unmovable foundation on which the Church rests.
2. Or, here is the Bible. It, too, has fallen on earthquake times. Theories of Bible inspiration, of Bible authorship, of Bible authority, have been wonderfully shaken. To many it has seemed as if they have been shaken to the ground, and all that any one can do is to explore around among the ruins and pick up here and there a valuable relic or remnant. How often you hear one say: “My Bible has been shaken to pieces.” A member of a Sunday School class said loftily to her teacher some time ago in discussing a certain Old Testament chapter: “Mother says no one really believes the Old Testament any more.” The remark is symptomatic of the popular feeling toward ancient theories of Old Testament inspiration. But it is not the Old Testament ideas alone which have thus been shaking in the midst of modern scholarship. It was inevitable that a reexamination of the character of Abraham and David should lead to a fresh examination of the Person of Christ, and many who found it possible to weather the newer conceptions of patriarch and prophet have stood appalled at the prospect of having the same method applied to the Gospels, the Epistles, as were applied to Genesis and Isaiah. Yet that criticism has not only begun its work, but it stands probably only on the threshold of what it shall tell concerning Christian origins. A considerable and growing literature already declares that the Epistles of St. Paul cannot in any strict sense be said to contain the historic Christian idea; that the evangel of Christ became something else when it passed through the mind of Paul; and it eliminates by a stroke of the pen those safe and sure passages from the Gospels on which we have rested our faith in His Saviourhood.
As a result, a good many people are asking in alarm, Where is this thing going to end? Is there any end to it? Is the Bible doomed? Have we then lost our faith in the Old Testament? Must we lose our faith in the New? If not, where look for our assurance? Where in these shaking times are the things that cannot be shaken? What is the Foundation that cannot be moved? Well, I know of but one. And it is the same as it always has been. I am sorry in these shaking times for any one who rests his faith in the Bible on anything except the real foundation. He is likely to see his faith shaken if he does. But let him found his faith in the Bible on that Rock, and he will share the confident and even exultant mood of the New Testament. He will look abroad on the shaking and trembling of all theories of the Bible, and he will say, Let them shake. What does it signify, but that those things may be removed, as things that are made by men, that the things that cannot be shaken may abide. Let one, that is, look upon the Bible as the story of the life of Christ, containing in the O1d Testament the record of His ancestry and the religious and moral ideas that furnished the background to His life and teaching, that revelation of Himself that was needed that the work of Christ might be done and understood; let him look upon the Gospels as containing, independent of what may be called the verifiable authenticity of this or that word or deed, the indelible, ineffaceable, undeniable portrait of Christ Himself; let him look upon the Epistles as containing the record of the effect of the contact of the Spirit of Christ upon the heart and consciences of those sensitive souls that were brought under the impression of His life and spirit; let all this together be looked upon as the complete story of the life of Christ, towering above all other stories, and standing immutable and serene as a mountain amid all the storms of debate—and as little as the spade of the geologist delving at the base of the mountain in order to discover its age or constitution disturbs its solidity, as little does the important work of the scholar involve the stability or integrity of the Bible that is founded on the Rock of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Or perhaps I may use a different illustration. I have heard of a picture of the Constitution of the United States very skillfully engraved in copper plate so that when you looked at it closely it was not anything more than a piece of writing. But when you looked at it from a distance it was the face of George Washington. The face shone out in the shading of the letters at a distance, and one could see the person, not the words or the ideas. And that is the way to look at the Scriptures and to understand the foundation on which they rest. Let men say what they will about this or that word or idea in the Bible. If you will but stand and look at it, you will see shining through it and into your heart the Face of Jesus Christ.
3. Or here is the matter of faith. The times are indeed earthquake times. Age-long conceptions of religion have been shaking and tumbling to the ground. Venerable doctrines have been tottering and threatening to fall or have already fallen. Creeds and historic statements of faith have apparently had the solid ground undermined from beneath them. The result has been a vast questioning with regard to the things that remain. Books are being written on what remains of the old doctrines. A great popular uncertainty with regard to the fundamentals of faith has been the result. Can one believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ His Son? If so, how? People by the thousands may be found in our churches and out of them who are saying, I do not know what I believe. I do not know if I believe anything. The period has fallen into disuse in popular theological discussion and the interrogation point has taken its place. Many people do not say any longer, I believe, but, Do I believe? Not, Things are, but, Are they? They are not willing to dismiss their beliefs, but they are not able to assert them. In the débris of the things that have shaken one does not know where to look for the things that remain. Now there is but one way to look, there is but one thing to do. First and foremost, it is to substitute a Person for a thing, a soul for an idea; to remember that a thing, a doctrine, an idea, may indeed pass away, but at the heart of things there is a soul, and at the center of the kingdom of souls, the soul of Jesus Christ. Hold to that, and certainty begins to emerge in the midst of uncertainty, and assurance in the midst of doubt. Say, Whatever else is true or false, right or wrong, the soul of Christ is true and right, else the universe is an illusion, and all reason is confusion. Found your faith there, and it will begin to appear to you that you have a faith that cannot be shaken. Let that faith grow until it becomes the one overmastering conviction of one’s life, and one will remain serene and confident in the possession of an unshaken and unshakable certainty. Ideas, doctrines, things about religion, may shake and tremble, but this remains solid and sure.
How often today you hear people say, “I wish I could get hold of it.” Well, it is not the “it” that you want, but something better. It is Christ Himself. Plenty of people get the idea, but they do not get anything out of it. They get it into their head, it into their conscience, it into their will, but somehow they do not get much out of it. And because they have only that which is the outward expression and symbol of the spiritual reality, if anything happens to disturb their confidence in the expression, or their faith in the symbol, then they have nothing left to fall back upon. But found your faith on the spiritual reality itself, the undeniable fact that forth from the Eternal Soul of Christ there flows power and peace and joy that can recreate the soul of the believer, and one enters into a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
4. Or here is this turbulent world in the midst of which we live, where the very ground seems to be trembling beneath our feet, and not only states and governments but civilization itself trembles beneath our feet. No wonder people are alarmed. No wonder if they are asking what is to be the upshot of the whole human experiment. The Great War has shaken our social complacency to its center. It has made the very idea of social progress to seem absurd. It has caused Bertrand Russell to talk about “the doom pitiless and sure” which is to overtake the human race. It has caused people to invert their Browning and to ask: “Is God in His heaven, since hell is on earth?”
What now is to keep us calm and unmoved in such an hour when the whole social fabric seems shaking and trembling? Every other social prop and sanction may fail us, but there is one “anchor of the soul both sure and stedfast.” The author of the Hebrews knew well what it was. The world was tottering in his day, but he looked abroad and surveyed it with untroubled eyes. For he saw something else. “We see Jesus standing … But now we see not yet all things put under Him.” It is only as we see Jesus the incarnation of the unconquerable moral life of God standing at the center of the life of humanity, that we can be true social optimists. For then, to use Sabatier’s noble phrase, we can have “optimism without frivolity and seriousness without despair.”
It is our faith in an omnipotent Christ destined ultimately to put all things under His feet that enables us in the midst of a changing order of things to remain calm and confident. It is only as we share in the faith of the New Testament that in these days we can share in its confident assurance. It is only as we understand that underneath this warring, trembling world there is the spirit of Him unceasingly at work upon the life of the world, overturning the works of men that the work of God may appear, upsetting the things that must be removed that the unmovable kingdom of righteousness shall be revealed, that we too can look abroad upon this shaking trembling world with an untroubled and confident heart. “Wherefore, receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have thankfulness, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God.”