The following commentary is inspired by the January 27th entry in Consuming Fire, the daily devotional version of George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons.
The Triumphant Answer
“There are in whose notion education would seem to consist in the production of a certain repose through the development of this and that faculty, and the depression, if not eradication, of this and that other faculty... [But] repose is not the end of education; its noble end is unrest... By those who consider a balanced repose the end of culture, the imagination must necessarily be regarded as the one faculty before all others to be suppressed. “Are there not facts?” say they. “Why forsake them for fancies? Is there not that which may be known? Why forsake that for inventions? What God hath made, into that let man inquire.”
--George MacDonald, “A Dish of Orts,” pgs. 1, 2
Since MacDonald's writings are primarily directed to those who follow our Lord, then when we read the above lines we would rightly understand his use of terms such as “education” having to do first with ecclesiastics, of Scripture and sermons and doctrines. By “repose,” the meaning is that comfort theologians and believers find in their well constructed systems, intellectually profound, well reasoned, at least to their minds. When he adds “repose as balanced” it means, to me, that the doctrines are, to them, coherent; and the “end of culture” being that the sacrosanct systems, intellectually based, permit entry of only the inscribed words found in Scripture. “Are there not facts?” he asks, and the “facts” are, and include only, what has been delivered to us in Scripture; “Why forsake them for fancies?” is to shut and latch the door against any thought, any use of imagination, any inquiry to which Scripture does not specifically speak and provide answer. Any question seriously entertained by the believer, or thought, or ideal hoped for, which is outside Scripture, especially outside the interpretation considered normative, is to be disdained as dangerous whimsy which must ultimately lead to apostasy and heresy. “What God hath made,” i.e. “what Scripture says,” “into that [alone] let man inquire.”
There was never a man more consistent than George MacDonald; from his earliest through his final writing there flows a seamless theology, as though it were fully developed and intact from the beginning. This consistency concerning the The Higher Faith, that which goes beyond the confines of the limited things which Scripture actually says, is found throughout this particular Sermon, and so also today, though worded differently; “We dare not think that Thou canst not, carest not; that some things are not for Thy beholding, some questions not to be asked of Thee.” Did he not just yesterday say “If you believed in God... you would not even need to inquire whether He said it; you would know that He meant it.”? There is no more which He has chosen to say at this juncture, in written form, than the Canon we have before us; but how could those several words ever say all which is in His heart to give to His children? What are words except symbols, meant as best they can to represent some deeper, richer, more profound and beautiful truth; and words, both spoken and written, are ever inadequate to their task.
Know, beyond all doubt, that the things I am saying here are not nearly the things I would say if I were better able; even had I the tongue of angels I could not say, or write, or accurately reflect, what are the contents rising up out of my heart. It is the heart from which all the issues of life come, for good or evil; these are sent into the mind to be arranged, put in an order suitable for expression and sent out into the world. Yet the mind of man is incapable of transmitting truly, without distortions or shortcomings, what the heart is sending to it. When we have no word, we invent one to better express what the heart is saying, and by so many thousands upon thousands of words we are not much nearer to being able than when we began.
And this problem is not confined only to the speaker, but also to the one spoken to; and Scripture, given by God, is the prime example. Did we suppose that in Scripture God, has given us all His mind? Did we think that through Scripture He has exhaustively said all which He has to say? And if there is more, then, if we and our will are surrendered to His, we would “not even need to inquire whether He said it; [we] would know that He meant it.” There is no question we shall not ask of Him, no doubt that He shall consider an offense, no soaring imagination of Goodness which we, now and in our condition, can neither understand by our intellect nor even by our hearts fully know which He would reject. And if there be more to Life and Liberty than is found in Scripture, how shall He convey it to us, and how shall we apprehend it?
I turn now, by way of example, to the above photo of a loving father clasping his small son to his breast. What does the small child know of words, and how shall the father speak to him in a way which he understands? In simple terms, the first and most profound word is “Poppa!” And this first word, if the father mirrors his Heavenly Father well, will remain the root of all the child's growing vocabulary throughout life. How is this loving father “speaking” best to his small son? Is it not by his smile, his touch, his tone of voice, his embrace? Is it not by the giving of his own self to the lad? Is the best speaking not love made manifest? Do not these and other loving actions “speak” louder and clearer to the youngster than could the rarefied speech of the most persuasive orator? This even pertains to Jesus. Using hyperbole for emphasis, the Apostle John pays high tribute to his Master thus:
“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
Note that St. John does not say “...many other things that Jesus said,” but “...that Jesus did.” Note as well that more is written in the narratives of the Gospels about what Jesus did than what He said; and this must be, for He came not to merely tell men what God was like (for, even as small children, how should they understand more than the simplest words) but to show them clearly the Unseen Father.
Finally, Jesus sent out His Spirit into the hearts, not the minds, of believers, the Spirit of Truth, the One Who points only to the Lord Jesus, as does Scripture. This Spirit is our Guide into all the Truth which we are able to receive; and the Truth is the Living One. It is His Spirit bearing witness with our spirits, in our hearts, which declares to us what the ink on parchment could never describe, that we are the very personal beloved sons and daughters of our Father, the dearest brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus.
Do you question? Doubt? Do you employ your imagination to lift you far above what your intellect is able to describe, your mind understand, your circumstance dictate, the theologians circumscribe? Good! These are the earmarks of the “aspiring child” upon whom their Father dotes.