A Positive Aim. Islip Collyer.

The following article is taken from the first edition of the Testimony magazine in 1931.

Volume 1, Issue 1, Page 1

The first article in the Testimony magazine. Volume 1, Issue1, Page 1.

Whatever the faults of this periodical may be, whatever measures of success or failure it may experience, there can at least be no doubt that the workers behind the movement have a positive aim.

In the present age this is surely a matter to be noted. The world is suffering from an absence of positive ideals and positive work. It is much easier to ascertain that a leader of thought rejects certain old ideas than to find out what he retains, or what new truth he has discovered. We frequently hear of pronouncements by prominent men, repudiating the old faith, but we do not so often hear a positive statement of their present position. The Churches have suffered greatly from such negativism. A religion without a positive faith and a positive aim is like a corpse drifting in the water. Truly it is in no danger of being killed, for it is dead already. There is hope for the man who swims vigorously in troubled waters, even if, for the moment he is swimming in the wrong direction. While he lives he has the power of decision and may eventually find the right way, but a corpse drifts helplessly with the stream.

A man should never be content to remain negative. Every denial implies an affirmation and the precise degree of certainty with which we express a negative, is logically transferred to the positive side. It is true that there are matters in which the implied positive is unknown. We may be quite confident that a certain witness is not telling the truth without being able to state the real facts of the case. Our affirmation then is simply that the unknown truth is something different from the testimony of the rejected witness.

There are many matters, however, in which there are only two possibilities and one of them is bound to be true. This is so with the fundamentals of religion. Either there is a God conscious of our presence on the earth or there is not. Either men are under law to God or they are free to please themselves. Either there is a final purpose in connection with human life or there is no such purpose.

It may be suggested that we are merely stressing the obvious and that everyone is aware of such simple truths. There are many facts however, of which we may be aware, while remaining singularly oblivious to their meaning. We may be conscious of the logical consequences of words or deeds and yet need much persuasion to look at the matter with attention. It is certain that many people have lost all faith in God without ever taking a good look at the alternative belief to which they are logically committed. In some instances this negativism, this partial and one-sided reasoning, has led to a really astonishing incongruity. A man has rejected Christianity because the evil in the world has made him feel that he can no longer believe in the Christian God. He has rejected the Bible because it presents a view of life in harmony with history. Yet he cannot become an atheist and so takes refuge in the conception of a God so great and so far removed from us that He takes no notice of humanity. Such a man cannot believe in a God who permits a measure of evil for a limited time with a great and benevolent object in view, but he ends by believing in a God who permits unlimited evil for unlimited time with no object of any kind. Such incongruous mental processes are the result of mere negation, probably almost wholly based on feeling. They would be impossible if care were taken to emphasise the positive side.

When there are only two possible roads for us to take, if we reject one we must choose the other. We must not be so foolish and illogical as to reject a way for reasons which could be urged with still stronger force against the only possible alternative. Perhaps this illustration is worthy of a little elaboration. It might be urged that in the matter of the literal roads, it is not necessary to take either way, and therefore if the illustration holds good we are not necessarily committed to any affirmation. It is quite true that the wayfarer is not obliged to proceed either to the right or left even though there are only two possible roads for him. He may lie down in the ditch and die there, or he may turn aback towards the place from whence he came. So on the mental plane it is possible for a man to be content with mere negativism, denying that one way can be right and yet refusing to move along the other. Or he may turn back to the childish ignorance which was at one time common to all of us. We do not deny for a moment that on the mental plane it is possible to return to the place from whence we started or that it is possible to lie down in the ditch and die. We only point out that such an end is undesirable.

If we wished to reach a city and all the evidence showed that a certain road led to it, we should move forward without hesitation, perhaps noting the mile stones as we passed them and finding confirmation of our faith in every sign post that named the city and pointed still forward. If we reached a fork in the road where the sign post had been removed, we might hesitate for a minute, but we should realise that one of the roads ahead must be the right one. If, therefore, we were convinced that the road to the left was wrong, we should be logical enough to conclude that the other road was right. In such an issue we should be rather impatient with the man who confidently denied and yet was not willing to affirm. We should be still more impatient with the man who persistently rejected the right road because it was rough, when all the while he knew that the only alternative was still rougher.

Perhaps a thoughtful reader may think that even this illustration suggests a justification for the man who appears to be negative. One might say, "I do not deny that there is a God who has given a law to men, I do not deny that the Christian religion is true. I simply do not know. In this matter I am like the man who reaches the fork in the road and not knowing which is the right way, makes himself as comfortable as possible at the corner, and waits for further information.'

In answer to this we would point out that we are on a road where we may find many travellers who are confident, but none who can speak with unquestionable authority. It is almost certain that no traveller will come who will be able to help you more than those you have already met. It is absolutely certain that as you wait the hours are passing and "the night cometh when no man can work."

Life is an affirmation and negativism leads only to death. It is not true that "all things come to him who waits." The only thing certain to come is death, the "night" referred to, when "no man can work." Waiting at the corner can effect nothing. A few miles of exploration may yield evidence either that we are on the right road and must press forward or that we are wrong and must retrace our steps.

On one matter the illustration certainly fails. It suggests a difficulty that on the mental plane has no existence. On a literal road a traveller might fear to explore, lest he should have the wearying journey back in the event of his venture proving wrong. On the mental plane there is no such wearying retracing of steps. You may explore for any distance along the road of Christian faith and yet if you finally decide to abandon it, you are back at the corner with the speed of thought, or if the rejector explores the other way, he can as quickly make the turn. Some of the most confident of Christians are among those who have explored both ways and have found that while the one road is difficult, the other is impossible. It may be easy to lie down at the corner and wait for the night, but that is unworthy of manhood. If we cannot go forward with confidence as on a well-known road, we will explore and try to learn.

Laying aside the illustration and using the simplest possible language, we would express a very definite conviction that for anyone who has made a fair examination of Christian fundamentals, while it may be sometimes difficult to believe, it is still more difficult to reject. We are confident that almost everyone will find the way more interesting and far more certain with extended study, always providing that the easy but unworthy attitude of mere negativism can be avoided. We are convinced that there are many lines of study in which the specialist can help the general reader and bring forward facts that will prove interesting and stimulating to all grades of pilgrims, from the most confident of disciples to the doubtful wayfarer, whose feeble faith is only revealed in a willingness to explore.

We have positive convictions and a positive aim. In these matters we do not subscribe to the doctrine that "it is better to journey hopefully than to arrive," but the hopeful journey is certainly better than a supine indifference or deadly negation. We entertain the hope that some who begin by coming with us only as explorers, may find the way far more wonderful than they had ever expected, and after a hopeful journey may at last find that "City which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."