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Lecture Seventh. The Main Stages in the Evolution of Religion.

Analysis of the Idea of Evolution — How the Ideas of Identity and Difference, Permanence and Change, are combined in it — Two Questions as to the Method of Evolution: (1) How the Religions Consciousness Develops out of the Consciousness of the Finite — Priority of the Objective to the Subjective Consciousness, and of both to the Consciousness of God — How far the Different Forms of Consciousness are Separable or reciprocally Exclusive — Criticism of Goethe's View of this Question — (2) What are the Stages in the Development of the Religions Consciousness itself — What is meant by Objective, Subjective, and Absolute or Universal Religion.

THE last lecture has brought us to an important turning point in our argument. According to the definition previously given, the idea of God in its purest germinal form—the form which is at the root of all the other forms of it—is the idea of the unity presupposed in all the differences of the finite, especially the difference of self and not-self, of inner and outer experience. But if this be assumed, we are necessarily led to regard that idea, not only as the beginning or first presupposition, but also as the end or last interpretation of our lives. It cannot be one of these without being the other. The first principle which is involved in all our consciousness of things and of ourselves, must needs also be that in the knowledge of which all our other knowledge culminates. If all our divided consciousness of the finite be only the differentiation of the primal unity of the infinite, then it is obvious that we cannot fully understand the finite till we have carried it back to that unity again. As our life is organic, so our knowledge is not to be represented as an edifice built on definite foundations, which remain beneath it and support it but are not visible in its structure. Rather we must regard it as the development of a germinal principle, which is continually revealing itself more fully in all that arises out of it, and which therefore finds in its own results at once its evidence and its definition. We cannot understand the life of reason in us except as a process in which every step throws new light not only on the objects of the intelligible world, but also upon the intelligence that knows it, and so upon the principle of unity that manifests itself in both. Unless in this sense God is knowable, nothing can be knowable. If, therefore, we admit that we cannot know God, it can only be in the sense that the consciousness of Him is gradually realising itself in our progressive intelligence, and that the process whereby we come to see things in their relation to God is never complete. In religion our ‘highest faith’ and our ‘deepest doubt’ meet together, not because the idea of God is empty, but because in it are concentrated all the problems of our life; but for that very reason it is only in it that they can meet with a final solution.

If, however, we adopt this view as to the nature of religion and its relation to the other elements of our consciousness, we are immediately brought face to face with another problem. We have to ask what is the law or method of the development of religion. As a preparation for the solution of this problem, however, it is necessary in the first place to call attention to some elements in the idea of development to which we have not as yet referred. Development is a process which it is difficult to describe in logically consistent language, because in it difference and unity interpenetrate each other so closely and inextricably. Look at it in one way, and we might say that a developing being never changes. He is the same from the beginning to the end of the process of his life; for all his changes are conceived as the farther manifestation of his identity, and he can admit into his being no element which is not in some way brought under that identity. Look at it in another way, and we might say that his existence is all change, and even that his changes are so complete that there is nothing in him which remains unaltered. For such a being is an organism; and just so far as he is so, the change of any element in his being necessarily involves the correlative change of all the other elements. Like Wordsworth's cloud, he “moveth altogether if he move at all.” Hence, of his changes we might say that, more than any other kinds of change, they are revolutions, transitions in which “old things pass away and all things are made new.” The explanation of this verbal contradiction is, however, not far to seek. It lies just in this that the attempt to bring the facts of development under such inadequate categories as those of bare permanence or bare change, necessarily leads to a kind of dissection of the idea, which is its destruction. The alteration which is involved in development, is not a superficial change in the qualities of some permanent substratum which remains substantially unaltered beneath it: nor is the identity which is preserved through change merely a capacity for the reproduction of the same quality (in a thing which meantime has shown other qualities) so soon as the original conditions are restored. Development is a process in which identity manifests itself just in change, and returns upon itself just by means of change. It is, in the language often used by Mr. Spencer, a process of differentiation and integration, i.e. it is a movement into difference from a unity which is never lost in that difference, but which holds its elements together even in their extremest antagonism, and which therefore in the end restores itself in a higher form just by means of that antagonism. Expressed in the set metaphysical terms of Hegel, what any life or process of development shows us is a Universal which manifests itself in the opposition and relation of particulars, and which just through that opposition and relation, realises itself as an individual whole. This idea has sometimes been thought a very mysterious one, because, though we are familiar enough with illustrations of it, exact analysis betrays in it a complexity which we do not ordinarily recognise in those illustrations. Hence we are tempted to get rid of the difficulty by reducing development to some idea that is simpler and easier to grasp. But, if we insist on explaining development by no higher category than that of physical causation, or by the external action and reaction of independent substances, it will necessarily become mysterious; for such explanations will always leave an unexplained residuum, an element which escapes from the grasp of our method, and presents itself at the end as a problem with which it cannot deal.

Yet, in one sense, the idea of development is of all ideas that which ought to be most intelligible, illustrated as it is by the very nature of our intelligence, and by the whole course of its life. For, while self-consciousness is in one way the very simplest thing we know, the very type of simplicity and transparent self-identity, and we could scarcely find any better word to express clearness of evidence than to say, “This is as certain and evident to me as that I am I”; yet in this apparently simple unity, the diversity of all the mighty world is mirrored. In the consciousness of self we have subject and object as essentially diverse, and yet essentially identical, and every movement of the life of a self-conscious being is a movement out into what seems an irreconcilable difference, and back into unity again. The theoretical and practical life of this apparently simple unit is one in which it continually goes out of itself to that which is most opposed to it; yet in all its travels it never meets with anything from which it cannot return to itself; it never wanders so far that it is not with a moment's self-recollection at home. And all that it finds in its wanderings it can make part of itself, and weave into the web of its own life. If, therefore, the idea of organic development seems, when we analyse it, to be very complex; if it even, on the first view of it, appears to contain an insoluble contradiction, this is not because it is something far from us, but rather for the opposite reason, that the greatest of all illustrations of it is so near to us that its complexity is hidden from us, and its unity is apt to be regarded as mere self-identity. The inner life of the intelligence is like a sea whose transparency hides from us its depth. Hence we are more apt to recognise the full bearing of the idea of development in less adequate but more palpable illustrations of it. Thus, e.g. we are familiar with the fact of history that the most highly developed civilisation is that in which there is the greatest division of labour, and at the same time the greatest unity and co-operation; and it is not difficult to see that one of these could not exist without the other. We are also familiar with the fact that the highest animal is that which has the greatest variety of organs, and passes through the greatest variety of changes, and which, nevertheless, through all this difference and change remains one with itself, so that its whole life is the expression of one principle. And, if we recognise man as higher than any other animal, it is because, by the variety of his perceptions and of the powers of his intelligence, he has the most extensive and manifold experience of the world, while yet the unity of his consciousness is able to reduce all this experience into the continuity of one life. In each of these cases, therefore, we are able clearly to see that development is a process at once of differentiation and integration, i.e. that it is a process in which difference continually increases, not at the expense of unity, but in such a way that the unity also is deepened.

Now, when we attempt to use the idea of development, in the sense in which we have analysed it, as a key to the history of religion, we find that the problem we have to solve takes two forms, which we cannot entirely separate, but which it is necessary to distinguish. In the first place, we have to ask how the religious consciousness develops out of the consciousness of the finite or in connection with it. And in the second place, we have to ask how the religious consciousness itself advances from one form to another, from the lowest awe of the supernatural which we can call a religion, to the highest form of Christian faith.

I shall begin with the first of these questions. It is obvious that in the different elements of our consciousness there is a certain order of priority. “What is first in nature,” as Aristotle said, “comes last in genesis.” The unity which underlies our divided consciousness of the object and of the self is involved in all that we think and all that we do: in the theoretical process by which we seek to know the world, and in the practical process, by which we endeavour to carry our ideals into reality in the world. But this unity, just because it is the first presupposition of all our consciousness, is the last thing we know. We rise to the infinite from the finite, just because the infinite is naturally prior to the finite, and the last thing thought does is to turn back on its first principle. In a similar way, the consciousness of the subject underlies the consciousness of the object, but we come to know it last. Just because the object presupposes the subject, it is from the object that the subject returns upon itself; and the theoretical apprehension of the world goes before the practical reaction by which we seek to realise ourselves in it. The general order of the elements of our consciousness is, therefore, the following. The consciousness of objects is prior in time to self-consciousness, and the consciousness of both subject and object is prior to the consciousness of God.

But this time-priority must not be taken to mean that there are three processes in our life which follow in a certain order, so that the one must be completed before the other begins. Such a view is obviously contradicted by facts. We do not begin to act after we have finished knowing, nor do we begin to be religious after the highest form of morality has been achieved. All these forms of consciousness—theoretical, practical, and religious—exist together, and we seem to find them all existing together from the very dawn of human life, or, at least, from the earliest period in the history of the individual and the race in which we can find distinct evidence of the existence of any one of them. The priority is not like that of bud, flower, and fruit, in which the later supplants the earlier. The exclusive occupation of consciousness by one of its forms is only apparent. It has, indeed, been noticed that the child at first prefers to speak of himself in an objective way, as if he were conscious of himself only as he is conscious of other objects: and the philosopher Fichte is said to have made a feast to celebrate the moment in which his child first said “I;” as if then first the child had distinctly compassed the act of self-consciousness, and asserted his claim to the rank of an independent spiritual subject. In like manner, it would not be difficult to show that there is some interval between such assertion of the self against the object, and any utterance of the child that gives distinct evidence of a feeling of reverence for a being higher than itself. And the same thing holds good for the childhood of the race. On a rough general view of the facts of history, it might seem that in the earliest stages of man's life on earth, he was hardly to be called self-conscious, and he was not conscious of God at all. The savage, like the boy, seems to live almost entirely outside of himself, and his passions appear to act upon him like natural forces, without his ever distinguishing himself from them, or considering whether he shall yield to them or not. And when self-consciousness begins to arise in him, it shows itself at first in an unmeasured self-assertion, which is checked not by a consciousness of law within, but only by the perception, or the fear, of a greater power without him. In other words, he seems to be incapable of rising above a sense of dependence on what is external, except to indulge in a self-will that respects nothing. When he breaks his slavery to the object, it is only to fall under a worse slavery to his own caprice. If, in some degree, the case is otherwise with the young who are brought up under the influences of a civilised society, this seems to be the effect of an external training, which forces upon the individual at an early age what otherwise would not have come to him till a much later stage of his development. Hence the savage, who never seems to submit to limitation except from an external force, or to become free except in the way of throwing off all law, would fairly be taken as the true type of the natural man; and, if so, then it might reasonably be said that the natural man is capable of fear and of presumption, but never of reverence; that he can be superstitious or profane but never religious. In other words, he does not really look up to the power before which he trembles, or, in any sense, conceive it as a better self, with which he can identify himself even while he bends before it. And this means that he does not in the proper sense worship at all; for he does not rise to the idea of any being who deserves the name of God, as being higher than the self and yet not a mere object or not-self.

A striking expression of this view of the religion or superstition of savages may be found in Goethe's Wanderjahre, where he is speaking of the necessity of teaching religion to children. “Well-born, healthy children,” he declares, “bring much with them into the world: nature has given to each of them all that he needs in the struggle for existence. This it is our duty to develop, though often it develops itself better without any interference. But there is one thing which no one brings with him into the world, though it is that which is all-important, if he is ever to show himself to be truly a man.” What is that? It is reverence. “No one has it to begin with.” It may, indeed, be said that “the fear of uncivilised races, excited by overpowering natural forces or by mysterious and threatening events, has supplied the germ out of which a purer feeling has gradually arisen.” But Goethe answers that there is a distinction of kind between such fear and religious reverence. “Though fear is natural enough, reverence is not in the same sense natural. Men tremble before a mighty being, known or unknown. The strong man seeks to combat, the weak man to escape it: both wish somehow to get rid of it, and feel themselves fortunate if they have succeeded even for a time in putting it aside, and have thus in some measure recovered for themselves the freedom and independence of their nature. The natural man repeats this operation a thousand times in the course of his life. From fear he strives to attain to freedom, from freedom he is again driven back into fear, and all this swaying from one side to another never leads to any progress. To fear is easy, though it brings with it dispeace: to cherish reverence is hard, though it puts us in harmony with ourselves. Unwillingly does man determine himself to reverence, or, he never does determine himself to it. It is a higher sense which must be given to his nature, and which is spontaneously developed only by a few specially favoured beings, who therefore have at all times been regarded as saints, or rather as gods.”

To this, as a popular description of the facts, a description only meant to show their broader outlines, there can be no objection. But, if it were to be taken quite literally, in the sense that man never learns reverence, till it is put into him from without by some kind of external discipline, it would involve a division which cannot be admitted to exist, between the different stages of man's life as a conscious being: for it is not possible that the consciousness of objects should exist entirely apart from the consciousness of the self, nor either entirely apart from the consciousness of the unity, which is beyond both, yet presupposed in both. Hence also it is impossible that the feeling of dependence on objects without us should be absolutely separated from the feeling of independence in relation to them; or either of these feelings from the feeling of reverence for that which is above both us and them. It is undoubtedly important to make a distinction between these different feelings: nay, it may be admitted that there are crises in our intellectual and moral life, in which we seem to ourselves to exchange one of these attitudes of mind wholly and entirely for another. The transition of our development by which one element of our consciousness is brought into prominence and another sinks into the background, often seem to us, at the moment of experiencing them, to be complete revolutions of thought and life, revolutions in which nothing in the first stage has prepared us for the last, and nothing in the last recalls the first. But, on closer consider consideration, we find that such appearances are illusive. If the soul of man is not divided into different and independent compartments, in one of which is continued the consciousness of the object, in another that of the self, while a third is left for the consciousness of God, neither can its life-history, the life-history either of the individual or of the race, be conceived as a process in which external additions are made to what existed before, or one kind of consciousness is substituted for another. On the contrary, man's spiritual history is, in a deeper sense than even the growth of a plant or an animal, a development. And as we have already indicated, the essential characteristic of development is that nothing arises in it de novo, which is not in some way preformed and anticipated from the beginning. Growth, as Kant said, is “not addition but intussusception”; it is a process in which new elements are taken up only as they are assimilated, and which, therefore, the widening of the circle of existence never ceases to be controlled by the self-identical nature of the being whose life is thus enlarged. Hence it is only in so far as the consciousness of objects already contains in it implicitly the consciousness of the self, only so far self-consciousness is already implicitly the consciousness of God, that the latter can develop out of the former. A clear analysis of the phases of our life which follow and make room for each other, teaches us to recognise that the transition is never that revolutionary change which, on the first view of it seems to be. Even in geology the catastrophic view of the earth's changes had to be abandoned; because closer examination showed that the causes that produce the greatest effects are those that work slowly, silently, and gradually. Still less is it possible to maintain a catastrophic view of the history of man, in view of the organic identity that blinds each man to himself, and the whole race of man to one another, in all their stages of development.

The bearing of this upon the argument is obvious. Our immediate consciousness of objects seems at first to be a mere presentment of them to the passive subject, to a self that is not any way occupied with itself, or even conscious of itself at all. The outwardly directed gaze seems simply to admit the object, and not to react, still less to be aware of itself as reacting, upon it. But, in the first place, we have learned to recognise that, whether we are conscious of it or not, there is always a reaction, an analytic and synthetic activity of thought, even in our simplest perceptive consciousness; for, without this reaction, no idea of any object as distinct from, and related to, other objects could ever arise to trouble the self-involved sleep of sense. Apart from such reaction, we might say that the sensitive subject would remain for ever confined to itself, were it not that in that case there would properly be no self to be confined to; for where there is no outward, there is, of course, no inward life. It is thus the mental activity of the subject that creates for him a world of objects, or, to put it more simply, that enables him to become conscious of the world of objects in which he exists. He cannot be an inhabitant of the intelligible world, unless, by the activity of his own intelligence, he makes himself so. In the second place, not only is the subject active in perception, but he necessarily and inevitably has an inchoate consciousness of himself as a subject, in distinction from the subjects which that activity enables him to apprehend. For to apprehend an object, as such, is to distinguish it from, and relate it to the self that is conscious of it. It is to refer an idea or feeling to that which is other than the self, to reject it from the self and to objectify it; and such a rejection or repulsion necessarily involves, on the other side, a withdrawal of the self from the object. The simplest outward-looking gaze, which seems to lose itself in the object to which it is directed, yet recognises that object as other than itself or its own state; and, indeed, all its absorption in the object may be said to be its effort to heel the breach, of which, in the very act of perception, it has become conscious. Hence we come to the result that even in its utmost apparent passivity of perception, the mind is active; and even in its utmost absorption in the object, it is conscious of the self in distinction from it. It is true that the subjective aspects of the consciousness of objects are at first latent, or they are present, only in an imperfect and inchoate form. Attention is not specially directed to them; and in any description which the individual would give of his own consciousness, they would generally be omitted. But they are always there. For it is not possible, in the nature of things, that there should be an object, except for a subject, or without that subject distinguishing the object from itself, and itself from the object. In this sense there can be no consciousness of objects without self-consciousness. Even, therefore, if the word “I” be delayed for a little, the inchoate thought of it cannot be wanting to one who is conscious of objects as such.

And the same is true of the idea of God, as the unity which is presupposed in the division of the self from the not-self, and in all other divisions of consciousness. Even in the extremest opposition of the subject to the object, their unity cannot be entirely lost; for every distinction is necessarily a relation, and implies an identity within which the differentiation takes place. The implication that there is such a unity may lie in the background of the mind; nevertheless, it cannot but influence it even from the first. It is the basis and presupposition of our rational life, the atmosphere in which it moves, the bond which holds it together. A man cannot escape its power by no attending to it, any more than he can escape being a self by attending only to objects. And, like the idea of God must at a very early period take some form for us, though it may not for long take an adequate form. Man may hide his inborn sense of the infinite in vague superstitions which confuse it with the finite; but he cannot altogether escape from it, or prevent his consciousness of the finite from being disturbed by it.

The progress of consciousness is thus the explication of a confused totality in which the three factors are at first merged and mingled, but it is never the sudden emergence of any quite new factor. For, though a rational being may exist in which many of the elements of the rational life are as yet undeveloped, no rational being can exist in which any of these elements is altogether absent. The advance to a new consciousness is in every case the discovery of deeper meanings or implications in an old one. Or, to put in a way already suggested, it is a progress which is also a regress. While, therefore, it is true that the general order of advance in man's life is from consciousness of objects to self-consciousness and from that to the consciousness of God, yet this must not be understood as if it meant that one consciousness passes away and another consciousness comes in its place, or even that new elements are externally added to these already given. On the contrary, even in the earliest stage of his being, when his thought is most of all concentrated upon the interests of the outward life, self-consciousness, and the consciousness of God are not wanting. Thus, almost from the first, he is conscious not only of dependence in relation to them; and he is conscious also of relation to a power which is not himself, and yet not a mere object like other objects around him. He is capable, therefore, not only of fear of that which is other and stronger than himself, or, on the other hand, of a presumptuous self-confidence, which makes him defy every external authority and power, but of reverence,—the fear which is the beginning of wisdom, because it involves a sense of unity with that to which as natural and finite beings we look up.

But, if this view of the relation of the three elements in consciousness be adopted, it casts an important light upon the second question which we had to answer, as to the method of development of the religious consciousness itself. If the priority of the consciousness of objects to the consciousness of self, and of the consciousness of self to the consciousness of God, does not mean that any one of these ever exists without the others, what does it mean? It can only mean that in successive periods each of these elements in turn determines the form of our conscious life, and so becomes the mould in which all our ideas and ideals are cast. What we find in any one stage of man's history is not the isolated presence of any one element of life; but, though all the elements are present, one is emphasised, and it tends to give the law to all the rest. It becomes, so to speak, the keynote with which all the others have to bring themselves into correspondence. Thus it may, I think, be proved that the priority of the consciousness of objects to the consciousness of self, and of the consciousness of self to the consciousness of God, shows itself not in the isolation of any one of these ideas from the others, but rather in the way in which each of them becomes for a time predominant and forces the others to take on its own shape and to speak its own language. Hence we can distinguish three stages in the development of man, in which the form of his consciousness is successively determined by the ideas of the object, of the subject, and of God as the principle of unity in both; and each of these stages brings with it a special modification of the religious consciousness. It will remain for future lectures to work out this thesis more fully. At present I only wish to illustrate it so as to make its meaning clear.

Our first step is the easiest. It will scarcely be denied that the earliest life of man is one in which the objective consciousness rules and determines all his thoughts, or that in this stage both his consciousness of himself and his consciousness of God are forced to take on an objective form. Man at first looks outward, and not inward: he can form no idea of anything to which he cannot give a ‘local habitation and a name,’ which he cannot body forth as an existence in space and time. Even of himself he can think only as an object among other objects, and he sees nothing of the peculiar character that is given to his existence by his being a subject for which all objects exist. He has none of that keen sense of individual personality—that consciousness of an isolated inner life, from which everyone else is excluded—which arises in men at a later period. He scarcely even distinguishes himself from his body. But if, in this way, the consciousness of self is imperfect or latent, if it is forced to take on an objective disguise, still more clearly is this the case with the consciousness of God. God necessarily at this time must be represented as an object among other objects, a mere external force or power before which man trembles with a sense of weakness. And Goethe's description is so far true that it is very difficult to trace in this fear anything but man's abject terror for that which is stronger than himself. For just in so far as God is conceived as merely an object, the worshipper must feel towards Him as a slave, who obeys without a consciousness of anything in himself that lifts him into unity with the power to which he submits.

But while this is the general tendency of a merely objective view of God: yet we must remember that even in this stage the real nature of the relation is continually reacting against its imperfect form, and making it impossible to regard God simply as an object like other objects, i.e. as an object that exists outside of them and of the subject, as they exist outside of each other. On the contrary, there is always some effort imaginatively to exalt the object selected as divine above other objects, and to assign to it attributes which are inconsistent with its externality, or its more individuality as an object in space. Poetry soon begins to idealise it, and lift it beyond the ordinary level of finite existence. And while, in the earliest time, the tendency is rather to select the objects which are farthest from humanity as most divine, and so to deify rather stones and trees and animals or the heavenly bodies, this gradually yields to the tendency to humanise the gods or to deify men. Anthropomorphism changes the powers of nature at first worshipped into ‘the fair humanities of old religion’; or, where this is impossible, it dethrones the earlier gods to make room for a new humanised dynasty. And at a very early date ideas of transmigration, transformation, and possession are brought in—to deliver the god from the chains of the objective nature attributed to him, and to turn him into an all-pervading presence.

If what I have said is true, man's life in this earliest stage of it, will necessarily be vexed with an inner contradiction, owing to the necessity of expressing all the content of a human life in the lowest form of consciousness—the consciousness, that is, of mere objects as such, and even of material objects. The consciousness of the self and of God must be dwarfed and distorted by the mould into which they are forced. They must present themselves in a shape which at once disguises their real nature, and disturbs the order of the objective world into which they are intruded.

Again, it is possible to find in the history of the race, and even in a slightly different way in the history of nations and individuals, a period in which the form of self-consciousness prevails and determines both the consciousness of objects and that of God. In such a period, the interest of life becomes predominantly moral, or at least subjective, and the outward world loses its power over the human spirit. Man begins to rise to a sense of his freedom and of his independence of the world about him. His mind, his inner life, is now ‘his kingdom’; and the self-determined aims of his will, the realisation of his happiness or of his isolated moral destiny, have become all-important to him. He is freed from the superstitious dread of outward things and begins to take a cool and prosaic view of them, as instruments of his life. But, at the same time also, the poetic halo vanishes from nature. A glory has passed away from the earth, and ‘great Pan is dead’:

“From haunted stream or vale,

Edged with the poplar pale,

The parting genius is with sighing sent.”

The manifestation of the divine is no longer found in nature but in man; and even in man not as a natural existence, but only as a self-conscious, self-determined subject. Man alone is supposed to be made in the image of God, and the image of God in him is purely spiritual and inward. God is therefore conceived as a spiritual will which stands apart from nature, and reveals itself to man mainly in the inner voice of conscience, the ‘categorical imperative of duty.’ Man's relation to God may, indeed, as in the Jewish religion, be conceived as that of a subject to a monarch before whom he trembles; but even so, he feels that he can obey or refuse to obey. He, like the God he worships; is an independent individual; and, as such, he is conscious of essential separateness from other individuals and even from God. Such an individualistic religion we find arising, though with many differences of form, among many nations at a certain stage of their culture. The philosophic faith of the Stoic and the other individualist schools that arose in the decay of the religions of the classical peoples is a good example of this kind of subjective religion; and we find a revival of the same spirit, somewhat modified by Christianity, among the puritans and others of the Protestant sects. In quite modern times it rises to a philosophical form in Kant. But the great religious example of it is the later Judaism, which, as I shall attempt to show in a future lecture, gradually breaks away in the prophets and psalmists from the forms of a national worship, and becomes an inner religion of the individual heart,—thus preparing the way for the universalism of Christianity.

I have said that, as in the earlier forms of religion, the consciousness of God is reduced to the form of the consciousness of an object, so in this stage it is reduced to the form of self-consciousness. In other words, God is conceived as a subject, and, as a subject, He is brought under the limitations, or some of the limitations, of a human individuality. Hence the relation between God and man is represented as, in the first instance an external and exclusive one. Yet here, as in the other case the real nature of the relation between the infinite and the finite necessarily reacts against the imperfect form in which it at first presents itself. How can man, conceived as isolated from God, be free before Him? If he is made in the image of God as a self, he is infinitely removed from Him as a creature; and the awe of the individual for an absolute Being, who is regarded as outside of him yet so oppressively near to him, may deepen till it overshadows all life with the sense of weakness and sin. Acting as “ever,” to use the characteristic expression of Milton, “in his Great Taskmaster's eye,” his view of life becomes stern and severe; he is burdened with the sense that, when he has done all, he can only be an unprofitable servant. His reverence is tinged with an awe that verges on superstitious terror, and it may easily associate itself with a formal obedience which fears to swerve in the smallest thing from the letter of the law. Yet, with all its defects, this religion marks a great step of advance towards spiritual freedom. It lifts man above the fear of the powers of nature, and purifies him as by fire from the pollutions that so easily mingle with every form of nature-worship. If it narrows his life by the sense of overpowering responsibility, and darkens it with the awe of a ‘Searcher of hearts,’ it yet gives him a sense of nearness to the Being he worships. And out of this must necessarily spring a longing for closer union with Him, a longing which is inconsistent with a merely negative conception of His relation to man, and which in the long run must give rise to a higher idea of that relation. For he who fears God, and nothing but God, is not far from the love that casteth out fear.

The third, or final form of consciousness is that in which the object and the self appear, each in its proper form, as distinct yet in essential relation, and, therefore, as subordinated to the consciousness of God, which is recognised as at once the presupposition and as the end of both. Here, for the first time, the religious consciousness takes its true place in relation to the secular consciousness, and God is known in the true form of His idea. For, as has been explained in previous lectures, the idea of God is one with the unity which is at once the presupposition, the limit, and the goal of our divided consciousness of the world and of ourselves. Consequently, so long as God is conceived under the form of abstract objectivity or abstract subjectivity, He is not conceived as He is in truth. To know God as God, is to know Him as the Being, who is at once the source, the sustaining, power, and the end of our spiritual lives. On this idea, however, I shall not here enlarge. I shall only repeat, what I have already said in an earlier lecture, that this is the only form which religion can take for the modern world. It is impossible for any one who has breathed the spirit of modern science, modern literature, and modern ethics to believe in a purely objective God: to worship any power of nature or even any individualised outward image, such as those of Apollo or Athene. Still less is he able to worship a multitude of such images, and so to compensate for the defect of one imperfect form by introducing others to supplement it. His God must be universal; and if he tries to picture Him in an outward form, he will soon find it impossible to rest in any one object, and will repeat in his own experience the dialectic by which Polytheism disappeared in the abstract unity of Pantheism. Again, though our own religion is developed out of Judaism, it is impossible for moderns to recall the attitude of the pure Monotheist, to whom God was only a subject among other subjects, though lifted high above all the rest. We cannot think of the infinite Being as a will which is external to that which it has made. We cannot, indeed, think of Him as external to anything, least of all to the spiritual beings who, as such, ‘live and move and have their being in Him.’ This idea of the immanence of God underlies the Christian conception; and, if we look below the surface, we can see that it is an idea involved in all modern philosophy and theology. We may reject religion, or we may accept it, but we cannot accept it except in this form; and even where we reject it, the ground of our rejection will generally lie in the difficulties that seem to exist in this form of it. Thus Mr. Spencer takes refuge in the unknowable, just because it seems to him that the conception of a God who is neither purely objective nor purely subjective must be an empty conception. And Comte, in like manner, substitutes humanity for God, because lie thinks that the conception of an absolute and infinite Bein who is at once the Father of spirits and the unity to which the whole universe must be referred, involves many contradictions, and that, even if it did not do so, it is beyond all possibility of proof or verification. For such reasons they find it impossible to accept that idea, to which Wordsworth points in his well known lines on “Tintern Abbey,” the idea of God as a Being who is above the contrast of subject and object, yet revealed in both, “whose dwelling” is not only “the light of setting suns and the round ocean and the living air,” but also the mind of man:

“A motion and a spirit that informs

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things.”

Such an idea is rejected, in short, because it is ‘too good to be true’; either because it is supposed that its elements will not admit of being united without contradiction, or, because we are supposed to be so confined to the phenomenal that we can never verify it.

If, on the other hand, it could be shown that the idea of God as the unity of all knowing and being, of the inner and the outer life, of the subject and the object, is not really beyond verification; if it could be shown that this idea does not break down in contradiction, but, on the contrary, is the presupposition without which all other ideas must so break down, the principle of unity which holds the intelligible world and the intelligence together; if, finally, it could be shown that this idea, whatever difficulties it may contain, is yet capable of being rationally applied and developed, and, indeed, that every step in our knowledge of the world or of ourselves helps us so to apply and to develop it, then it may be assumed that no one would be willing to set it aside. What is too good to be true, is what everyone would wish to be true; and the assertion that anything is unreal for such a reason involves a kind of discord between our intellectual and moral ideals and the reality of things. I cannot believe that any such discord exists, or at least, that, so far as it exists, it is insoluble; and I have already given some grounds for rejecting that way of reasoning, which leads to the supposition of its existence. In the sequel I hope to give some farther positive proof of the opposite view.