But if we are not to make the mistake of thinking of the spiritual life as a life of magical inheritance, but rather as clearly involving laws and conditions, neither are we to make the opposite mistake of conceiving the spiritual life as a life of rules laid on from without. Counsels to be heeded there certainly are in the religious life, and valuable habits to be formed. Nevertheless, the heart of the life with God can never be contained in any prescribed routine of rules and regulations. We are called to a real life, with its own spontaneous growth and varied expressions, and we are called to liberty. Christ seems to have been concerned, not to give rules for holy living or for holy dying, but to trust all to the dynamic of the single motive of love to his person. His disciples are simply asked to be in truth disciples—doing only what loving loyalty to him would suggest. In the liberty of a loyal love, freely won and freely given, they are to live out their lives. No rules have any binding authority which this love does not inspire; and they have even secondary authority only so long as they are valuable means for that love.
The very essence of the spiritual life is a personal relation with God. No more than any other personal relation can this be wisely made a mere matter of rules. And just as any other personal relation, this relation to God in the religious life will lose its spontaneity, its joy, its growth, and its reality, when external rules are made to determine all. Even in the development of a personal relation, there are clear laws, as we must later notice; but they are the laws of a spontaneously developing life, not external rules laid on from without.
The spiritual life always suffers, and loses in reality, from an extreme emphasis upon the mechanical rules of living, however good the rules in themselves may be. In what is perhaps his most important single address—"The Changed Life"—Drummond states incisively the failure of the method of external rules: "All these methods that have been named—the self-sufficient method, the self-crucifixion method, the mimetic method, and the diary method—are perfectly human, perfectly natural, perfectly ignorant, and, as they stand, perfectly inadequate. Their harm is that they distract attention from the true working method, and secure a fair result at the expense of the perfect one." "The solution of the problem of sanctification is compressed into a sentence—Reflect the character of Christ and you will become like Christ."
Much religious literature, on account of its emphasis on rules of living, has had, thus, particularly in the case of the especially conscientious, a positively deadening effect. So much is made of the machinery, that the man ends with the feeling that it is all machinery, and he is simply going through the motions of life, instead of having the real life itself. This is particularly true, where the rules enjoin much introspection, under which necessarily the very form of the inner life changes. Thoughtful and conscientious religious workers, who have made a great deal of the organization and machinery of their work, are not unlikely to get a similar paralyzing sense that the results are all machine-made. For the sake of the reality of the spiritual life, then, let us not come into bondage to external rules. They are, at the very best, means only, absolutely subordinate in significance.
If now, we definitely set aside in thought and act these four mistaken conceptions of the nature of the spiritual life, as a life of strain of imitation, of magical inheritance, and of rules from without, we shall have done something to insure its greater reality: and as over against these false conceptions, we shall set the thought of a life, normal, real, effective, free. These mistaken conceptions of the nature of the spiritual life themselves suggest that perhaps the greatest source of the seeming unreality of the spiritual life is the simple failure to fulfil its natural conditions.