The quest for serenity and union with Christ (part 2)

A paper presented to the Baptist Historical Society by Rev Rod Benson (part 2 of 2)

Click here for Part 1

Despite his protestations to the contrary in the introduction,[1] G. H. Morling’s book, The Quest for Serenity, is tightly and logically structured. Chapters 1-5 set the scene for the resolution of the quest in chapters 6 and 7. Chapter 1, “Introductory to the quest,” casts the gracious call of Jesus in Matthew 11:28 as the universal call to seek rest, or serenity, in Christ. Morling describes this quest as a “high adventure,” and urges the reader to embark on his or her own “quest for serenity.”[2]

Chapter 2, “The calm of sins forgiven,” outlines the need for a personal sense of “timelessness” (that is, a deep-seated awareness of transcendence or “eternity”), of “the divine” (ultimate reality personally experienced as the God revealed in Scripture), and of a consciousness of personal “sin” (“man is never immune from the invasion of a sense of guilt”)[3] as preparation for the quest. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and the redemption he procured through his death, meet our deepest needs and justify us in God’s sight, so that “the soul, not only forgiven but accepted in the Beloved, is able to repose in the heart of God with its last longing satisfied.”[4]

Chapter 3, “Faith’s deepening rest,” notes how “an unrest of the saint” may be experienced subsequent to regeneration, referring to “an undefined sense of spiritual need”[5] apparent as “the sense of deficiency and defeat and futility,”[6] and also “the consciousness of inner [moral] defilement.”[7] This sense of unrest is resolved, according to Morling, by a profound awareness of the reality of one’s union with Christ.

As Morling puts it, reflecting on his personal experience, “I rejoiced to learn that, as a believer, I was joined with my Lord in a holy union of love; that I was in Christ and that Christ was in me; that no union on earth was more real than this mystic union with Christ”.[8] This new awareness is complemented by “an enlarged, more accurate and more experimental view of the Third Person of the blessed Trinity,” (that is, the Holy Spirit), and by a corresponding perception of the present priestly ministry of Christ on behalf of his people (“a ministry of continual cleansing, giving of life, and of intercession exercised on the authority of a new Covenant”).[9]

Chapter 4, “The adjustment to life’s burdens,” outlines how this serenity, once achieved, produces the necessary conditions for the preservation of such repose or restfulness not only in the “inner room of life” but out in “the busy ways of the world.”[10]Morling notes various ways in which Jesus cultivated repose and relieved tension as indicated in the Gospels. He summarily dismisses “quietism” as “a retreat from reality,”[11] and argues that the repose which Jesus exemplified and commends to all of God’s people is achieved through radical selflessness (altruism),[12] humble dependence on God,[13] and obedience to God.[14]

In Chapter 5, “Leaving it all quietly to God,” Morling reflects on the teaching of Psalm 62 as it relates to spiritual disciplines. He cautions against quiescence, the cultivation of “a quiet which sits with folded hands in supine ease.” Instead, he urges engagement in “proper human activity” and in regular confession of our sins to God.[15] In response to “the perplexity which arises out of dark experiences,” he calls readers to eschew stoicism, doubt and cynicism,[16] and to cease worrying about the “Giant agony of the world” (a quote from Keats which he tactfully leaves undefined).[17]

He offers what appears to be a naïve response to such challenges: “when faith bravely, patiently, trustingly faces its personal problem, it finds that the problem disappears in an experience of God which dispels all doubts and resentments.”[18] Yet that was evidently an expression of spiritual wisdom based on personal experience.

Chapters 6 and 7 provide Morling’s definitive solution to the problem of the elusiveness of inner serenity. Morling was arguably best known throughout his public ministry as an exponent of a distinctive evangelical emphasis on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It is notable, then, that The Quest for Serenity finds its locus in the person and work of Christ rather than specifically in the Spirit of Christ and in the Spirit’s work of indwelling and transforming the Christian. The person and work of the Holy Spirit are, however, mentioned on pages 31, 32 and 84, and in an extended treatment on pages 68-72 (chapter 6, “Living restfully with God”), where Morling outlines a method for cultivating serenity.

Morling drew on the notion of “inwardness” or “the way of inwardness” as practiced by Quakers, whereby one cultivates an attitude of quiet reflection and prayerful anticipation of the presence of God, patiently waiting for God “to disclose Himself.” Morling viewed the method as “the way of spiritual reality,” contrasting the practice of “saying formal words and phrases in prayer” with the experience of “coming into vital communion with God.”

For Morling, the way of inwardness implied comprehension of “the mystery of God’s Indwelling” of the Christian by the Spirit; “orientation around the Divine Centre within” as one invokes or welcomes the presence of God in a “Holiest of all” within their own body and mind; and a constant returning to this “Centre,” “walking every moment in holy obedience.” It does not appear to involve ecstatic language or physical action but rather an attitude of silence and passiveness, “living restfully with God” in place of striving, restlessness and frenetic action. He makes extensive reference to Quaker teacher Thomas R. Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion,[19] while clarifying that God is not to be thought of as wholly immanent and subjective.[20]

Through regeneration, Morling claims, the Holy Spirit creates a “temple within” the Christian person, in which “we find in holy immediacy the Indwelling God,” to whom we inwardly “surrender.”[21] He quotes Blaise Pascal, “We should not seek if we were not already found,” stating that “patient experimenting on the basis of this fact will revolutionise devotion.”[22] He denounces “religious busyness” and “over-activism” as signs of spiritual adolescence, arguing that “[m]aturity is marked by the repose in which lieth power.” Finally, he says that “[i]t is in the silence that the Father’s care, the Saviour’s cleansing and the Comforter’s strengthening are experienced, and worship becomes almost inevitable.”[23] This is his method for cultivating serenity.

In chapter seven, “Initiation into a secret,” Morling outlines the theology undergirding his method. He calls it “Paul’s secret.” Paul had learned to find contentment in all circumstances. In Morling’s view, this contentment or serenity was achieved through the “initiation” which Paul had received into Jesus Christ through regeneration: “Paul’s secret was Jesus Christ appropriated, obeyed, used, enjoyed.”[24] In other words, Paul had begun to discover the significance and deploy the resources of the reality of his union with Christ.

Further, “Paul was living in such contentment because his heart was constantly feeding on Christ and finding in Him such satisfaction that no trace of unrest remained.”[25] The “appropriation” of Christ resulted in three “outworkings” in Paul’s life (and, Morling would suggest, in all who adopt the method): “the Rest of Heart Satisfaction, the Rest of Inner Harmony, and the Rest of Adequate Resources.”[26] Morling expounds and illustrates what he means by these phrases on pages 75-81, and concludes the chapter by explaining the nature of the power which made Paul’s “poise” possible. It was:

nothing less than Christ’s own power communicated to him and into him through the medium of mystic union … the power that made [Christ] competent for His tasks is available to make me competent for mine. Should I not live in Union with Him and use the power? Then I, too, shall have the rest of adequate resources.[27]

Thus the resolution of the individual’s spiritual quest for serenity is achieved both methodologically and theologically through application of the doctrine of union with Christ.

As well as Scripture references, The Quest for Serenity displays many references to persons and quotes or allusions to their work. There are 57 separate identifiable textual references in the book (not listed here); there are eight references whose source is presently unknown.[28] Figure 2 identifies all 78 known name references, including composers of hymns and poems quoted in the text.

Of these, 47 were born during the nineteenth century, 10 in the eighteenth century, six in the seventeenth century, two in the sixteenth century and one (Martin Luther) in the fifteenth century. Eight others were born before 1400. Most are mentioned once; only seven are mentioned twice. These are St Francis of Assisi, J.H. Jowett, John Keble, John Keats, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the Apostle Paul, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and Alexander Whyte.

Of the seven, apart from Paul, those who exerted the most influence on George Morling appear to have been Francis, Jowett and Whyte, although in the book Morling mentions Quaker leader Thomas R. Kelly’s writing as especially significant, and he identified with the intense personal suffering and spiritual struggles of men such as the poet and hymn writer William Cowper and the poet John Keats. Others, such as James Moffatt, Handley Moule and B.F. Westcott, were among his most important guides in New Testament studies.

Still others, such as the missionary to China Hudson Taylor, and the Baptist minister and Bible teacher Graham Scroggie, were significant to him not only for their missionary and ministry leadership but for the character and distinctiveness of their personal spiritual lives.[29] Strangely, Morling makes no mention of any NSW Baptist leaders by name in the book, either his contemporaries or men or women of past generations.[30]

A brief biographical sketch of Francis, Jowett and Whyte gives a sense of the diversity of sources from which Morling drew in writing The Quest for Serenity. St Francis (1181-1226), the subject of one of two major essays submitted for his MA degree at the University of Sydney in 1924, was the son of a rich cloth merchant in Assisi who, losing interest in his fast-paced life of business, warfare and sensuous pleasure, went on pilgrimage to Rome and was moved to compassion by the beggars he encountered. On return to Assisi, he adopted a life of privation and charity, and attracted a band of followers, founding what became the Franciscan Order. His life is remembered somewhat apocryphally in The Little Flowers of St Francis, composed late in the fourteenth century.[31] The entry on St Francis in the Dictionary of the Christian Church notes that “Francis’s generosity, his simple and unaffected faith, his passionate devotion to God and man, his love of nature and his deep humility have made him one of the most cherished saints in modern times.”[32]

John Henry Jowett (1864-1923) was born in Yorkshire and raised by Congregationalist parents. He graduated from Edinburgh University, and Mansfield College, Oxford. In 1889 he was installed as pastor of St. James’ Congregational Church, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and succeeded R.W. Dale at Carr’s Lane Chapel, Birmingham in 1895. He was appointed Chairman of the Congregational Union (1906-7) and president of the National Free Church Council (1910-11). His reputation as a preacher grew, and he became pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York City in 1911, returning to Westminster Chapel, London (1918-22), in succession to G. Campbell Morgan.[33] Later stellar ministers of that church were conservative evangelical leaders Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) and R.T. Kendall (b. 1935). Jowett was a prolific author, writing on Scripture, preaching and Christian devotion. His works include The Passion for Souls,[34] from which Morling quotes twice in The Quest for Serenity, and Come Ye Apart: Daily Exercises in Prayer and Devotion.[35]

Alexander Whyte (1836-1921) was born at Kirriemuir, Forfarshire, and educated at the University of Aberdeen and at New College, Edinburgh. He became a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, serving first at St John’s, Glasgow from 1866-1870, after which he moved to Edinburgh and succeeded Dr R.S. Candlish at Free St George’s. In 1909 he succeeded Dr Marcus Dodds as principal and professor of New Testament literature at New College, Edinburgh.[36] His published works include An Appreciation of Jacob Behmen,[37] Lancelot Andrewes and his Private Devotions,[38] and The Walk, Conversation and Character of Jesus Christ Our Lord.[39] Morling acknowledges Whyte as one of his own “revered spiritual masters.”[40]

Regarding themes in The Quest for Serenity, the following five are prominent and warrant a brief comment. First, there is an emphasis throughout the book on belief in, and reliance on, the doctrines of grace and the ways in which reflection on these bolster confidence and enable ministry.

Second, there is a strong emphasis on the centrality of the person and work Jesus Christ in redemption and intercession, a comprehensive understanding of divine priesthood whereby Christ brings the believer to God and God to the believer.

Third, there is a corresponding emphasis, though less fully stated, on the person and work of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer. The Spirit is “the Baptiser into union with Christ, [making] actual in me what Christ, through His Cross, has made possible,”[41] realised through daily surrender to Christ.  This process is driven by private prayer, and reorients the prayer life. Morling advocates a regular morning ritual designed to “get the will functioning early,” whereby one prays the following “morning act of faith”:

I believe that with Christ living within me through the Holy Spirit, recognised, trusted and obeyed, my life today can be happy, restful and strong. Deliberately I surrender my life to Him and trust Him to do the mighty work within of cleansing and empowering.

I believe also that God will manage my affairs today if I hand over the control to Him. I do that now and refuse to take anything back into my own care.

In this faith I go out into the day with quietness and confidence as my strength.[42]

Fourth, Morling concludes that to follow this spiritual practice is to achieve the “quest for serenity” that otherwise proves elusive, and to enjoy its palpable pleasures including spiritual and psychological repose, restfulness and contentment.

Finally, undergirding the theology and praxis of the quest and its resolution is Morling’s affirmation of the doctrine of union with Christ, which he twice describes as a “mystical” experience.[43]


Rod Benson is a Baptist minister and Research Support Officer at Moore Theological College, Sydney. This article may be freely reproduced in any form provided that proper attribution is made to this website. Part 1 of this paper is also available.


References

[1] The Quest for Serenity ,(Sydney: Young & Morling, 1951), p. 5.

[2] QFS, p. 14.

[3] QFS, pp. 17f.

[4] QFS, p. 23.

[5] QFS, p. 25.

[6] QFS, p. 26.

[7] Ibid.

[8] QFS, p. 30.

[9] QFS, pp. 31, 33.

[10] QFS, p. 37.

[11] QFS, pp. 39f.

[12] QFS, pp. 40-44.

[13] QFS, pp. 44-48.

[14] QFS, pp. 48f.

[15] QFS, pp. 50, 52.

[16] QFS, p. 56.

[17] QFS, p. 56. The quote is from John Keats, “The fall of Hyperion – A dream,” line 157, 1819.

[18] QFS, p. 57.

[19] Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (London: HarperOne, 1996 [1941]).

[20] QFS, pp. 66-71.

[21] QFS, pp. 68-69.

[22] QFS, p. 71. See Pascal, Pensées 553, Section 7, “Morality and doctrine.” The original English translation reads: “Console thyself, thou woudst not seek Me, if thou hadst not found Me.”

[23] QFS, p. 72.

[24] QFS, pp. 73f.

[25] QFS, p. 75.

[26] QFS, p. 74.

[27] QFS, p. 81, emphasis added.

[28] In addition, source information and/or biographical details are presently lacking for Joseph Brice, C.H. Morrison, Daniel Webster, and Edward Willet.

[29] Scroggie, for example, was described by contemporaries as “indisputably the foremost living Keswick teacher.” See The Keswick Week, 1950, p. 43, cited in Ian M. Randall, “Graham Scroggie and evangelical spirituality,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 18 (1), 2000, p. 71.

[30] One unnamed reference may refer to an Australian Baptist colleague, although it may equally refer to a local Anglican leader, or someone from overseas whom Morling met or whose works he read: “A revered elder friend helped me greatly when he taught me that the Holy Spirit works in us before he works through us.” QFS, p. 31.

[31] L’Engle, Madeleine & Heywood, W., The Little Flowers of St Francis of Assisi (New York: Vintage Spiritual Classic, 1998).

[32] “Francis of Assisi, St,” in F.L. Cross & E.A. Livingstone (eds), Dictionary of the Christian Church (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), p. 632.

[33] https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/john-henry-jowett, n.d., accessed 22 April 2016.

[34] J.H. Jowett, The Passion for Souls (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1905); also available at http://www.preachtheword.com/bookstore/passion-souls.pdf, accessed 22 Apr 2016.

[35] J.H. Jowett, Come Ye Apart: Daily Exercises in Prayer and Devotion (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1920).

[36] G.F. Barbour, The Life of Alexander Whyte (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1923).

[37] Alexander Whyte, An Appreciation of Jacob Behmen (Edinburgh : Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1895).

[38] Alexander Whyte, Lancelot Andrewes and his Private Devotions (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier, 1896).

[39] Alexander Whyte, The Walk, Conversation and Character of Jesus Christ Our Lord (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1905).

[40] QFS, p. 52.

[41] QFS, p. 32, reiterated on p. 68.

[42] QFS, p. 84

[43] QFS, pp. 30, 81.

Image source: itl.cat