"The Higher Faith"

There are those here who have much enjoyed the writings of George Macdonald with me (thank you so much, @Randy for exciting me to read him, in what seems to me to be so long ago now.)

In any case, I continue to unearth his treasures. He stirs and excites the soul to look to Christ.

One such treasure, freshly on my mind from a morning read, is his third sermon, “The Higher Faith” from his unspoken sermon series. All his sermons are good, but this one I think is especially fitted to so much of what we discuss with each other here. I could put in quotes and extracts - it is a veritable mine of such treasures; but I hope instead that some here will take the fifteen or thirty minutes to actually just read it. I don’t even know what to say about it here by way of discussion, because - as is typical - it would seem Macdonald has already said all that needed to be said on the matter (a conjecture he would emphatically here disown). See what you think for yourself.



Insistence on the letter of the rule forgetting that language is a filter that hold back more than words can say. Sounds like the higher faith requires an opening to what inspired the words. Did I google the sermon you had in mind?

“Full of fragmentary rules, he has perceived the principle of none of them. The child draws near to him with some outburst of unusual feeling, some wide-reaching imagination that draws into the circle of religious theory the world of nature, and the yet wider world of humanity, for to the child the doings of the Father fill the world. The answer he receives from the dull disciple is ‘God has said nothing about that in his word, therefore we have no right to believe anything about it. It is better not to speculate on such matters. We have nothing to do with it. It is not revealed.’”

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Thanks for sharing. There are a lot of good thoughts there, and probably not enough to digest in one sitting. I feel a little called out, because MacDonald gives voice to the common question that I’d probably join in asking:

“But is not this dangerous doctrine? Will not a man be taught thus to believe the things he likes best, even to pray for that which he likes best? And will he not grow arrogant in his confidence?”

It seems to me that many (including me) feel a lot more comfortable with the idea of spiritual revelation never departing or going beyond anything written in the Bible, because if it does, it becomes much less straightforward to test, or to see who’s right and who’s wrong, and some of us are quite adept at trying to sort out right from wrong in every area. :smiley:

Still, I think his description of the “dull disciple” is also a little too close to home, as well as the response that does seem to sum up what many believe or hear from others:

“God has said nothing about that in his word, therefore we have no right to believe anything about it. It is better not to speculate on such matters. However desirable it may seem to us, we have nothing to do with it. It is not revealed.”

(Or in other situations, in our desperation for an answer, we will take out a magnifying glass to try to torture out the smallest hint of anything related to the topic and then declare that the “final word” on the matter.)
And I think he’s right that truly seeking will bring less arrogance, because you’ll have a better idea of how much you don’t know. It’s when you’re entirely enclosed in the law that you think you know it all.

But ultimately, MacDonald reaffirms what I have been trying to re-learn, which is the difference between having faith in a book and having faith in a being.

We know in whom we have believed, and we look for that which it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive.

There are many quotable areas here but that might be my favorite. I can’t remember if the word “curiosity” is used anywhere in the sermon, but that really seems to be what he is going for. Even though, as a good Baptist :wink: , the idea of listening to the Spirit tends to make me a bit nervous depending on how it’s presented and by whom.


If you clicked the link I gave, then indeed you found the right sermon. And yes - your opening quotation confirms that. I might be misunderstanding what you wrote about it - but you do know that Macdonald was there playing the voice of the ‘dull disciple’ - letting it give voice to something that Macdonald quickly reproves, right? Macdonald uses that style in all his sermons - a “didactical” approach I think it’s called - giving voice to questions and objections (as if in 1st person) to which he then gives replies … running both sides of an imaginary conversation. It can be a bit startling if one doesn’t recognize what’s going on - as if Macdonald is promoting highly objectionable things.

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Indeed - I liked that conviction too - and he voices it repeatedly throughout. The word “curious” (or any of its derivatives) did not occur (I just searched it) - but that is definitely a theme. He will not see the curiosity of a child denied in its petition to the Father. And he has sharp critique for those who want to insist that the Bible has all important answers …or even… everything we need.

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No, I missed the link somehow and googled it instead. Indeed there is much more to it. I like it so far. Interesting what he says about Jesus being more comprehensive than the Bible. That seems to echo what he says about needing to embody the Word in ones actions, as though the words will take on more meaning to the degree one can do so.

Edited to say his sermon seems to me to be making the point that the words of the Bible can be dealt with in two ways. One can seek to distill just one specific point which is thought to be the one correct interpretation. The other way would be to seek all the important ways the words can be amplified. I think he believes the latter is more important. Of course the real issue isn’t to elaborate every possible application of the words in the abstract but to recognize where they shed meaning on the circumstances of life as it is led. That’s what would make it “the living word”.


Comments on George MacDonald’s “Higher Faith.”

This is another way in which Christianity can compare unfavorably to science. Science may not be able to answer all question but there does seem to be an unending number of questions which it can answer. Therefore, if the most that Christianity can offer is a way to dig up the same answers to the same questions then those looking for new frontiers must leave Christianity behind and go to science. This is not very promising for the future of Christianity. And thus in the death of Christianity itself, does G MacDonald hit the nail on the head with his description of this as a buried decayed skeleton.

So of course, I very much agree with George MacDonald that we must resist the rigidity of the dull disciple. I would in fact compare him to the servant in Matthew 25:14-30 who takes what he has been given and fearfully buries it so he may safely return it to a fearsome master. This parable teaches the same greater faith that George MacDonald speaks of – to leave behind such fear, taking what we have been given and racing for the frontier so that we may return with even more knowledge and understanding than we started with.

In fact I would attribute a good part of the attitude of the dull disciple to a delusion that what he has can be called the objective truth – as if the being written in this particular book really suffices to make what it says beyond any reasonable skepticism. The honest truth is that this is simply an authority he has chosen to accept and no more than that – a choice on which others have gone elsewhere. In which case everyone having made such a decision has already answered a question without the help of the Bible. The Bible does not hold itself up by its own bootstraps any better than does science.

George says, “But I doubt if a man can ask anything from God that is bad.” But more than that we have the example of Solomon who asked God for wisdom and God was pleased. It may not have helped Solomon in the end and we too are likely to find that understanding will not give us salvation either. But that does not mean that God is not happy to respond to a request for answers, for I dare say that He is pleased that we would seek understanding.

Do you count it a great faith to believe what God has said? It seems to me, I repeat, a little faith, and, if alone, worthy of reproach. To believe what he has not said is faith indeed, and blessed.

This extension/application of John 20:29 would be founded on the observation that God has given us intelligence, expecting that we would use it.


Here are a couple of quotes from the sermon that I think characterize his message well:

Sad, indeed, would the whole matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe. But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him. And why are we told that these treasures are hid in him who is the Revelation of God? Is it that we should despair of finding them and cease to seek them? Are they not hid in him that they may be revealed to us in due time–that is, when we are in need of them?

The one use of the Bible is to make us look at Jesus, that through him we might know his Father and our Father, his God and our God. Till we thus know Him, let us hold the Bible dear as the moon of our darkness, by which we travel towards the east; not dear as the sun whence her light cometh, and towards which we haste, that, walking in the sun himself, we may no more need the mirror that reflected his absent brightness.

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Thanks for that insight, Mitchell. I had never thought of that parable in that way before. It seems to me a very apt application of it.

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That is nicely poetic.

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