Notes from an address preached by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D. Originally published in the July 1950 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine for Romford Congregational Church.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:2)
"Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you." (Acts 1:8)
In the communion of the Holy Spirit the Christian Church experiences both life and power. These words represent two great aspirations of the world, and therefore the Gospel offers something that the world is already seeking. Here, then, is a bridge thrown across the gulf which separates Christians from other men.
Let us examine the differences between what the world means by life and power and what the New Testament means.
(1) The will to live is the basic urge which animates the whole world of nature. All living things, from the most simple organism to the most complex, are devoted to the simple goal of remaining alive as long as possible.
(2) In general it may be said that life is maintained by death. Each creature exists by destroying another creature and absorbing the life that was in it. The will to live, therefore, becomes the will for another's death.
(3) But since nothing wishes to die this results in strife. Nature is in an endless state of war, and her children must learn the art of pursuit and self protection if they are to enjoy any span of existence at all.
(4) In order to conduct this war, power is necessary. Consequently the will to live develops of its own accord into a will to power. Evolution is nothing but the story of the accumulation of power. In some cases power was achieved through heavy weapons of offence and defence - teeth, claws, powerful muscles and so on. In others speed or silence of movement proved effective. But the most powerful of all creatures, always excepting man with his extraordinary intelligence, are the smallest of all. Nothing is stronger than bacteria, simply because they are invisible. Strength is made perfect in weakness in more ways than one.
(5) There are alliances in this war. Creatures are bound together in species, and a species has common enemies, and common goals. Instinctive activities are all designed to preserve not only the individual but also the species to which it belongs.
But although there are alliances in nature there is no sharing. Hungry dogs do not ration themselves.
All alliances in the natural world are based on necessity. Sex, for instance, is a temporary union based on mutual need. Nature knows marriages of convenience. But she knows no friendships.
(6) Man, considered on one side of his nature as an animal, is involved in this war, and because of a greatly superior brain he is the most successful competitor. Man is supreme because his intelligence provides great resources of power. And so he largely dominates all other creatures, destroying and preserving where he wills and making nature serve his needs. Still, it should be noted that in some respects he has not been wise enough to impose limits on his ability to exploit natural resources. Soil erosion over the earth's surface gives warning that one day there may not be enough food for the human family to eat. And only the other day I read an article called "The Trees are Afraid," which told of the great price we may have to pay for the prodigal waste of timber.
(7) But as soon as we begin to think about man as a competitor in the struggle for life we notice a new and ominous fact. For man is not only at war with nature. Man is at war with himself. Human society is a constant struggle between various classes, interests, and personalities. In the sphere of economics the element of conflict is particularly obvious for here the competition for power in the form of material wealth is undisguised. But not until the struggle reaches its climax in actual physical warfare do we see it as naked reality, stripped of all pretences. There is a certain truth in the statement that "Man is a wolf to man."
(8) Why is it that the human will to power is so much more terrible in its effect than the struggle for life in the jungle? The answer lies in the difference between human nature and the nature of animals. Animals desire simply to exist and to satisfy their instincts, and this sets a limit to their aspirations. Theirs is a realisable goal. A well fed tiger, presumably, does not hunt. Its nature is capable of satisfaction, and beyond the point of satiety it has no motive. But man has a spiritual as well as a physical nature. And to his spiritual aspirations there are no limits. The human person is not content with mere existence, else we should never have emerged from our cave dwellings of our primitive ancestors. Man wishes more than life. He wants abundant life. There is a restless hunger in his soul for a better kind of life, a richer experience, a wider world. The search for these things is both his glory and his tragedy. It is the explanation of human achievement, but it is also the source of a ruthless struggle for power which has now reached such dimensions that human society is in danger of destroying itself.
(9) The appetite for a deeper and more satisfying kind of life becomes translated into a demand for material wealth. This is because a civilised man obviously has a better time than a savage. You cannot divorce a man's spiritual resources from his material resources. A highly civilised society has a deeper spiritual content than a savage one. It horizons are wider, its experiences richer. That is because its standard of living is high, it enjoys security, leisure, has time to enjoy the world and the opportunity to develop a culture. All of which provides food for the spirit as well as the body. And so the struggle for economic power conceals the desire in the soul to live richly. The violence of human society is like the violence of some monster of the ocean thrashing itself in shallow water because it is hungry for the deep. Actually, this is an indication of a largely unconscious desire for God. "Lord, thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee," Only in Him is the infinite sea of the soul's desire to be found.
The will to power is a sign of our hunger for eternal life.
(10) Power is satisfying in itself. It is an end as well as a means to an end. The man who seized power - whether as money or in some other form - feels that he is consequently a bigger man, leading a larger life than his fellows. To feel a superior person, looked up to and admired and perhaps feared by others, feeds the appetite of the spirit. No animal knows anything about this. It is a spiritual hunger, and therefore and infinite one. There is no point at which it has had enough. That, perhaps, is why hell has no bottom to it.
(11) The will to power in the struggle for life ultimately defeats its own end, however. For fellowship is the condition of life in the spirit. And ruthless competition destroys fellowship. Its intention is to eliminate everyone but oneself. No one is more lonely than a successful Dictator. An absolute Dictator would be friendless and therefore a dead soul. Power, which seems to lead to life, leads to a desert. It is the path of death. So the will to power, which emerges from the will to life, leads to isolation and consequent destruction. The best symbol of this extreme dilemma is the H-bomb, which might conceivably be used by a nation demanding more living space. But its use would probably destroy us all.
(12) Somehow the human race must transcend this situation. It must put an end to the competitive struggle which up to now has seemed an inevitable pattern for life, or else it will perish. Socialism is an attempt to do this. According to Socialist theory the element of competition could be eliminated on the basis of common ownership. There is much to be said for this in theory, but in practice it has no saving power because it fails to notice that the source of conflict is in the spirit, quite as much as in physical need. Common ownership cannot settle the problem of human pride.
(13) The world of ruthless conflict which we have described is not, however, the real world. We have simply imagined the universe with love left out. If there were no love in it life would be nothing but a struggle for power. And this is, in fact exactly what it looks like through the eyes of a Marxist. But we believe that the love of God is the supreme fact which changes the face of existence, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit we see new and wonderful possibilities.
For in that communion we find the words "life" and "power" used in a different context. When life finds its source of love, it issues not in destructive competition but in fellowship. Love is the sacrifice of one's own self, not of other selves. And power finds itself in service, not in domination. "Whosoever will be chief among you let him be your servant."
This situation can only begin to exist in Christ, for He is the source of the the life which the New Testament calls "eternal." By His sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross He gave a new power to the world. The Church alone knows of this fact and the Church does not compete in the world's war, for it is in the world but not of it.
And what of us, the members of this communion of the Holy Spirit? It would be idle to deny that we have scarcely begun to live according to its principle of sacrifice and service. But it is our task to transform the will to power into the will to love. By the grace of God it can be done, and the existence of a universal Church which is in truth a communion of the Holy Spirit may yet save even such a desperate world as this.