Austin Farrer on nature and grace

“There is a Christian mission being preached in the University, and the prayer of us all must be that those whom it captures may be established in a living faith. But it is not my mission, and I am not presuming here to take the word of their gospel out of their missioners’ mouths. What I have in mind is a sort of side issue: I am thinking of the reaction of common sense to hot-gospelling in all its forms. The mission preacher paints the world white and black, he bids us detach ourselves from the kingdom of darkness and adhere to the kingdom of light; and while we are under the spell of his words we see that light shining, as it were, from behind the missioner’s head. We can see the heavenly clearness, the single-minded generosity of the life to which he calls us; can see how blessed it would be if we could live for God alone. Compared with the clearness of such a life, our present confused muddle of aims, our self-indulgence, our meanness and our vanity seem dark indeed.

“Well, we have heard our sermon. We go out; and there we meet a cheerful friend who says, ‘Come and have a drink.’ The invitation sounds a bit incongruous with our noble mood; we say, perhaps in a rather feeble way, that we don’t feel like a drink. Our friend asks us with genuine concern whether we are ill; and we ought to reply that no, that isn’t the point; the point is that (as the Dickens character says) ‘all taps is vanities.’ But we have not the courage to take that line and stick to it, so we have a drink after all. The old atmosphere presently reasserts itself; how pleasant, how cheerful, how decent and kind the friend is with whom we are drinking; what a full and amusing life he leads, and how much his company heightens our own pleasure in existing. How good his jokes are; all the better for being a bit wicked; for although he isn’t earnest-minded enough to be an atheist, our friend plainly belongs to that unconverted world which the preacher has just been painting black as black. ‘Oh goodness!’ we say. ‘How absurd! Old Robin Johnson a citizen in the kingdom of darkness! The whole thing’s nonsense! Have another drink.’

“Fair enough; but drinking is no substitute for thinking, and the mission preacher has really got something. Yes, but so has Robin, and how can you make room for them both?”

for Farrer’s answer to his own question see: “Nice and Worldly,” in The Essential Sermons, Ed. Leslie Houlden, (SPCK, 1991), 9.

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