Protestantism as a Subjective Religious Movement — Luther and St. Paul — The Protestant Gospel of Freedom — Its One-sidedness — The Extreme of Subjectivity in Rousseau — The Reformation a Compromise between two Principles — Protestant Tendency to get rid of the Objective Element — The Conflict with the Opposite Principle in Roman Catholicism — That the Movement of Recent Times is toward a Reconciliation of the two Great Tendencies of Religion — Hindrances and Aids to Faith in the Present Day.
IN the last lecture I pointed out some of the reasons why Christianity in its earlier development was drawn away, as it were, from its centre to the one-sided expression of one of the elements involved in it apart from the other. This was inevitable consequence of the riches and complexity of its principle. For, as we have seen, Christianity first expressed the religious idea in its own form, as the consciousness of a unity which transcends that opposition of object and subject, of real and ideal, which had prevailed in the earlier history of religion. It revealed God as God, i.e. not as an absolute substance which underlies all objective existence, nor as a subject who stands above and apart from all His creatures, but as a Divine Spirit, who, through the whole process of nature and the history of man, is reconciling the world to Himself. Christianity thus took up into itself all the religious life of humanity that existed before, brought it to a higher unity, and started it on a new course of development. But, just because of the depth and comprehensiveness of this thought, which was embodied in the words and life of Jesus, it could only unfold its meaning gradually, in the long struggle of the Church with the world and with itself. For a religious principle is not something which can once for all be stated in a proposition, and seen in all its consequences. It is a seed which works secretly in the minds of those who receive it, and gradually transforms their life and thought, till ultimately, in the long course of years, it produces results which were present to none of those who first accepted it.
Now in this development, as I have indicated, there is a certain alternation which brings into prominence first one, and then the other, of the elements combined in Christianity. For, just because Christianity has in it all the elements of earlier religions, its development repeats in a new the whole previous movement of religious history. It passes through a phase in which it becomes—so far as it can do so without ceasing to be a spiritual religion—the worship of an external divine power, revealed in a creed and a law received on authority. And then, by a recoil which reproduces the movement that gave birth to subjective religion, it revolts against the order of life and thought it had itself created, and the external authority it had itself set up; and it appeals to the inward voice of the reason and conscience of the individual, as the sole authority to which he owes unconditional submission. It revives in an intensified form the tendency of later Judaism to oppose the ideal to the real, and to turn away from a world lying under the power of evil, that it may reserve a place for freedom and for God within the soul. Yet, in all this swaying from side to side, to the extreme of objectivity, and the extreme of subjectivity, it never quite ceases to be under the control of the Christian idea of reconciliation; and the last result of the process—a result which is manifested in the life and thought of the present day—is to bring this idea once more to the front, and to express and realise it in a more decisive and comprehensive way than it has ever been expressed and realised before. The best literature of the present time—itshighest poetry and philosophy—is thus a reflective reproduction of the different elements of the different elements of the idea which, in an intuitive and individualised form, was first expressed in the words and works of the founder of Christianity.
This will be more clearly seen if we consider the main phases in the movement of modern thought since the Reformation. The Reformation claimed to be, and in one respect it may be admitted to have been, nothing less than a republication of Christianity. It was a return from the transcendental theology, the dualistic morality, the despotic organisation, and the externally determined faith of the Middle Ages, to the simplicity and directness of the first Christian appeal to the spirit of man—an appeal made in the name of a doctrine which liberated both his intelligence and his will. It once more brought near to man that great goal of Christian hope—the realisation of a kingdom of heaven upon earth—a goal which had been all but lost sight of in the “other-worldliness” of mediæval religion. It broke through the hard walls of division between the secular and the sacred, the world and the Church, which mediæval thought had built up; and, against the exclusive claims of the clergy, it maintained the universal priesthood of all Christians. In opposition to the doctrine that spiritual religion is the special privilege of ascetics, it asserted that men could live the highest life without breaking away from any of the secular relations, and without removing them selves from any of the ordinary conditions of secular existence. It even asserted that the duties of the family and the State are the necessary forms in which that life must express itself. St. Paul, whose deepest teaching had become lost or obscured during the long centuries in which the successors of the rival apostle, St. Peter, had turned Christianity into an external discipline of life and thought, became again the great prophet of religion. And, indeed, there is no little analogy between the relation of the Pauline Gospel to the Jewish Law, and the relation of Protestantism to Latin Catholicism. St. Paul regarded Judaism as a system of religious tutelage, which had its main value in disturbing the security of the natural man; in awaking him to a sense of the demands of the divine law, and of his own incapacity to fulfil them; and so in preparing him to welcome a gospel that should free him from the weight of conscious guilt, and restore the broken unity of his life. In like manner, the long discipline of Latin Christianity might have been regarded by Luther, as working out in the experience of Christendom, that systematic negation of nature which was necessary as a preparation for its new birth out of spirit. Luther, indeed, wanted the philosophic spirit which enabled St. Paul to recognise that the imperfect system of the past was itself necessary to prepare the way for the higher gospel of the present. But he saw the general analogy between his own position and that of his great predecessor, who, by a decisive stroke, had freed Christianity from the trammels of Judaism, and made it a universal religion. And he felt it to be his own mission to republish the Pauline gospel—that God was revealed in the man Christ Jesus, and that it is the great duty of men still further to reveal Him in all their relations with each other; or, in St. Paul's own language,1 to “fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ” for the salvation of mankind. Luther, therefore, regarded the reign of Latin Catholicism as a long postponement of the realisation of Christianity, as a useless revival of the Law which had been superseded by Christ; and he proclaimed the second advent of the religion of freedom and spirit, as the end of man's long bondage to the letter of external observance. Thus the history of modern Europe, and especially of Protestant nations, begins on what we may call a basis of spiritual universality, with a consciousness of the essential equality of men in their equal nearness to God; with a faith that there is nothing common or unclean in the life of man or the life of nature; and with a vivid impulse by the free activity of thought and will to discover and to realise the divine idea in the world. A weight was thus lifted from the soul, which all through the Middle Ages had oppressed and hampered it. The universe had again become to man his Father's house; and “what many prophets and righteous men” had sought to know and to realise, seemed once more to be brought within the reach of all. The kingdom of heaven was at hand, nay, it was actually present, and men did not need to wait for another life to be reconciled to themselves and to God.
The age of the Reformation was thus an age of Renaissance. It was an age of renewed faith in God and man, which showed itself not only in religion, but also in science and in political life. Luther's confidence in the results of bringing the soul of the individual into direct contact with the Bible, and Bacon's mighty anticipations of the future of science when man should come face to face with nature, ultimately spring from the same source; and to it we have also to attribute the fresh outburst of political life in the leading peoples of Europe, and the first appearance among them of distinctly national literatures.
While, however, the Reformation was a new proclamation of the gospel of freedom, there is another aspect of the movement in which it appears less satisfactory. There is a natural illusion by which every great crisis in the development of man seems, to those who experience it, to bring the ultimate goal of human endeavour close to them and even to put it within their grasp. In such times there is a lifting of the spirit which anticipates the slow movement of the years, and turns all men into idealists and optimists, for whom hindrances have almost ceased to exist. These visions of man's better moments are not mere illusions; they may even be said, in the language of Wordsworth, to be “the light of all his seeing”; but they lift man as it were out of the slow time-process of his existence, and make him, by anticipation, grasp at that which can become his only as the fruit of centuries of development. When, however, the crisis has gone by—when man relapses into his ordinary consciousness of the struggle of life, and comes under the pressure of the wants and exigencies of the day and the hour—they are apt to seem to be nothing but dreams that have turned out to be ‘too good to be true.’ The fact is that, though such visions do, indeed, contain the fruitful germs of the future, their generality at first hides their imperfection, and it is only when they come to be worked out that this defect becomes visible. The ideal, whenever it begins to be realised, has to encounter obstructions that seem to show its unreality; but what its failure to overcome these hindrances really shows is, that it is not yet ‘good enough to be true.’
The Reformation was defective, both in itself and as a development of the principle of Christianity, because it over-emphasised the subjective aspect of that principle. The name Protestantism indicates at once the strength and the weakness of the movement. If the defect of the mediæval Church was that it repeated—in so far as was possible without breaking altogether with the fundamental idea of Christianity—the characteristics of objective religion, its dogmatism and superstition, its externality of worship, and its enslavement of the intellect and the will of man; in Protestantism we have a repetition of the same movement of revolt against such a system, the same recoil upon the subject, and the same protest against immediate reality in the interest of an ideal of the soul, which found their highest expression in the later religion of the Jews. Protestantism shows in its best days the same spiritual elevation, the same hostility to rites and ceremonies, and the same tendency to set aside every law or authority that puts itself between the soul of the individual and God, which are characteristic of the great prophets of Israel. In Luther and Calvin and Knox, in Cromwell and William the Silent, it awakens the same sternness of moral indignation, and the same inflexible faith in a God of Justice—who is not yet revealed, but who will soon reveal Himself—which we find in Isaiah and Jeremiah. Almost all the great deeds of Protestant nations in the two centuries following the Reformation—the early struggles of the German Protestants, the revolt of the Netherlands, the parliamentary and military contests of the Commonwealth in England, the resistance of the Covenanters in Scotland, and the founding of the New England colonies—are due to the same spirit of indignation against every form of oppression and injustice, especially when they touch the religious life of the individual, which shows itself in the later history of Israel. And it is a significant fact that the main agents in these struggles showed a tendency to recur to the teaching of the Old Testament, and even to exalt it at the expense of the New. In short, just as the Christianity of the mediæval Church was a paganised Christianity, a Christianity which had many of the characteristic merits and defects of Polytheism, so it may also be fairly said that the Christianity of the early Protestants was a Judaised Christianity, which had many of the characteristic merits and defects of the Monotheism of Israel.
It may he added that as, in its farther development, Judaism passes from the militant faith in Jehovah which inspires its earlier history, to the doubts of Job and the despair of Ecclesiastes, and from these to the pessimistic belief that the world is given over to an evil power, which could only be overthrown by a Messianic miracle; so it was also in the development of Protestantism. The tendency to set the inward against the outward, which manifested itself at the Reformation, could not stop short till it had reached the point at which the subjective life of the individual altogether isolates itself from objective interests, and thus empties itself of all content. The soul that has rebelled against all external limitations, soon begins to turn its weapons against itself. The Judaistic Christianity of Calvin is the parent of the sentimental Deism of another great citizen of Geneva, Rousseau, who carried the subjectivity of Protestantism farther perhaps than any other writer. Rousseau fathomed the agonies of a diseased self-consciousness, and discovered that ‘he whose eye is ever on himself, doth look on one’ who is, if not ‘the least,’ yet the most miserable of God's creatures. No one ever painted with more force than he the torture of a mind which exhausts all its energies in preying upon itself, conscious at once of an infinite hunger and of entire spiritual emptiness, while yet it is unable to take one step to release itself from the prison-house it has built up around itself. Yet the same disease of subjectivity, with its disillusionment and its longing for illusion, its world-weariness, and its alternate self-exaltation and self-contempt, has been a frequent theme of modern poetry and fiction.2 In fact, this disease of introspection and self-contemplation, which puts the exaggerated image of self between the individual and the world between the individual and his fellowmen, and even between the individual and God, is the great plague of our spiritual life, from which the modern world is only gradually recovering. Our fathers have eaten these sour grapes, and our teeth are still set on edge. And it may safely be said that there is no considerable writer, literary or philosophical, who has not spent much of his work in painting or analysing it: some being themselves its victims, like Byron and Rousseau, like Sénancour or Tourgenieff; others like Kant and Hegel, like Goethe and Wordsworth and Carlyle, pointing with more or less clearness and definiteness to the cure. For in spiritual diseases, at least, it is true that none can find the cure who has not himself suffered, and that the physician must begin by healing himself.
Now, what was the defect of Protestantism which thus made it the parent of a self-destructive individualism? It was obviously that it tended not only to exalt the inner at the expense of the outer life, but even to sever the former from the latter. Its tendency was to assert that the kingdom of heaven is within us, in the sense that it is not without us; and thus to isolate the individual from the world at the same time that it brought him near to God. This tendency, indeed, at first did not show its full effects; for the leading reformers were deeply penetrated with the spirit and traditions of the Latin Church, and they only challenged its doctrine and ritual so far as was necessary in order to find space for the assertion of the immediate relation of the individual soul to God. In spite of their opposition to Latin Catholicism, therefore, the Protestants took over, as if by inheritance, most of the doctrines and a large part of the practical order of life and worship, which had been elaborated by the Greek and Latin churches. Without any consciousness of inconsistency, they solved the difficulties of the new course on which they were entering by a compromise; and they were content, when they had once asserted the principle of liberty, to accept almost without question the main lines of a dogmatic tradition which rested on the authority of the Church, hiding from themselves what they were doing by maintaining that all they thus accepted could be derived from the Scriptures. In this, however, they were doubly inconsistent. For, in the first place, the Scriptures contained, at best, only the germs of the doctrines which the Church had developed by a long historical process; and those who entirely repudiated the Church's authority were bound to repeat that whole process for themselves. And, in the second place, to put the authority of the Bible above or alongside of the inner witness of the spirit, was to abandon the essential principle of Protestantism; or, it was to assert two first principles at once.
There is, however, a reason for this apparent unreason, a justification for this illogical combination of the objective and the subjective in religion. It is that both elements are essential to truth and to Christianity, and that an illogical combination of them is, therefore, better than none at all. A spiritual religion undoubtedly involves the assertion of the rights of the individual conscience and consciousness. It is not truly received, so long as it is received on authority—so long as it does not commend itself to the heart and also to the reason of the individual; so long, in short, as it has not become identified with the self-consciousness of him who accepts it. Until in this way the consciousness of God and the consciousness of self have become one, religion remains an external thing; and the individual's surrender of himself to it is a slavish submission of the will and the intelligence to a foreign yoke. On the other hand, it is equally important to remember that the truth, is not at once given in the immediate consciousness of the natural man. It is attained only as the result of a process in which he surrenders himself to the objective truth of things; and this truth must, in the first instance, seem to be foreign and strange to the mind which apprehends it. The intellectual grasp of truth as self-evident—because inseparably bound up with the consciousness of self—can only be won by a long discipline of self-abnegation, in which the individual gives up his own opinions, his own prejudices and desires, that he may make himself a pure organ of reason. A fortiori religious truth, as it appeals to the whole self of man, and as it must therefore be apprehended by all the combined energies of his nature, is no possession that can be attained without effort, without a painful sacrifice of the immediate self, without an irksome discipline of mind and will. “The spiritual man judgeth all things”; but it is only by a new birth and a long process of education, that the spiritual can be developed out of the natural man. Now the Reformers, though they may be taken as the apostles of subjective religion, never entirely lost hold of this counterbalancing truth. Hence, what Luther and his immediate followers preached was not, as has sometimes been alleged, the right, but rather the duty, of private judgment: i.e. the duty of apprehending spiritual things spiritually, and of undergoing all the discipline of heart and soul and mind which are needed to enable us to do so. And if, on the one hand, Luther declared that no one can be a Christian who does not believe in Christ on the evidence of his own spirit; on the other hand, he equally maintained that no one is naturally and immediately open to this evidence, but that he needs to yield himself to that which is higher than himself ere he can receive it. Luther thus held at once that truth is not truth for me, till I know it for myself on the evidence of my own consciousness; and that my consciousness is no evidence for anything, till it has been changed and transformed by the power of the objective truth. He asserted equally the rights of the object and those of the subject; and it was his misfortune rather than his fault that he could not reconcile them except by a compromise, in which an implicit acceptance of the externally given authority of the Bible as interpreted by the early Church, was combined with the assertion of the right and duty of every individual to interpret it according to his own reason and conscience. He assumed that such interpretation, if it were fair and honest, would fall in with the results at which the early Church had arrived. He thus supplied both the spiritual needs of man, though unfortunately in a way that left them in antagonism to each other. Or, as we may rather express it, not being able to reconcile the rights of the object with those of the subject, he set them in a kind of balance against each other.
Such a balance, however, was sure to be disturbed. It was impossible that two such principles, the principle of subjective independence and the principle of objective authority, principles which were essentially opposed, or for which, at least, no method of reconciliation had been discovered—should remain permanently in equipoise, without any inclination of the scale on one side or the other. And it was natural that Protestantism, as opposition to the principle of authority had been the very reason of its existence, should lean more and more to the subjective side. The many controversies which soon sprang up among Protestants threw doubt upon the self-evidencing nature of the traditional doctrine; and a tendency manifested itself, especially among the sects that arose in the seventeenth century, to lighten the burden that faith had to carry, and to empty the doctrinal system of those elements that seemed most offensive to the natural understanding.3 And even among those who nominally clung to orthodoxy, the objective doctrines of Christianity—the doctrines the Trinity and the Incarnation—were allowed to fall into the background; and the main interest of theology was concentrated upon the subjective aspect of religion, upon questions as to the process of conversion and the nature of saving faith. The inner drama of the soul attracted so exclusive an attention that none seemed to be left for that which had formed the main substance of the earlier theology,—the Christian view of the objective nature of God. Outside of the Churches, the revolutionary assertion of the inward against the outward was carried a step farther. God ceased to be conceived as a self-manifesting Spirit, and became a mere Supreme Being, an absolute Being who was so abstractly conceived that He seemed to be unknowable, since He stood in no definite relation to the concrete life of man. Man, therefore, was no longer called upon to die to himself that he might live to God, or to lose his life that he might find it again in God. On the contrary, Rousseau and others asserted that the natural man had no need to go beyond himself for light or guidance; but that he might find in his own native incorrupt instincts a perfect rule of life and a guide to all the moral and religious truth which he required. Such a gospel of mere subjectivity could only lead to one end, the end which we have already described. Reducing himself to himself, and repelling all outward authority or influence as slavery, the individual has no sooner asserted his absolute independence and his sovereignty over himself than he becomes oppressed with the sense of his own emptiness and impotence. And the misery of spiritual loneliness, the tortures of a soul that has nothing to feed on but itself, are the inevitable result.
One consequence of this one-sidedness of Protestantism is, that it has never been able finally to overcome the opposite principle as expressed in Roman Catholicism. The imperfection of the subjective religion of the prophets and psalmists of Israel was shown by its inability to overcome and abolish the legal and ceremonial system of worship to which it was opposed. It needed as its counterpart that externality of observance against which it was ever protesting. In like manner, Protestantism, in spite of its more spiritual idea of religion, has never been able decisively to conquer the less spiritual system of Rome; and it has failed just because of its negative and antagonistic character. It lives in its protest, and so is unable to dispense with that against which it protests. It loses its energy, or begins to war against itself, whenever it ceases to be in presence of its enemy. It has to thank the principle of authority, against which it protests, for all the positive elements of doctrine that still remain to it; and when it has no longer to contend with the Catholic Church, it reproduces within itself the same conflict of a party of authority and a party of freedom. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church by its continuous opposition to Protestantism has been severing itself more and more from the advancing movement of civilisation. It has been forced to live more and more on its past; and almost none of the fresh voices of literature, none of the new inspirations of poetry or of the new teachings of philosophy, have originated within the range of its influence, or except in opposition to it. But it has preserved that rich tradition of Christian antiquity which the subjective spirit of Protestantism has tended to cast aside. It may estrange the soul from itself, but at least it does not make it die of inanition, or live upon mere aspiration after the unattainable. Although, therefore, the intelligence of Europe has been more and more divorced from it, it has remained, and still remains, as the necessary counterpart and complement of Protestantism, opposing the one-sidedness of matter without form to the opposite one-sidedness of form without matter. Thus the life of modern Christendom has suffered, and is still suffering from an antagonism, like that of the Law and the Prophets—an antagonism which must continue till the advent of a higher manifestation of the Christian principle, by which the two opposing tendencies shall he reconciled and united.
It is our lot to live in a time in which the highest problem of religion, the problem of the reconciliation of the consciousness of self with the consciousness of the world through the consciousness of God, has again come up for solution, as it came up for solution once before at the dawn of Christianity. But it has now to be solved under very different conditions. Then it had only to meet the wants of a religious consciousness which grasped the truth intuitively in its unity, without seeking to analyse it or to give any definite account of the logical relation of its elements, and which required no such intellectual process to satisfy it of the reality of its object. Now we have other needs, but we have also other means of satisfying them. By the long process of the development of human thought, we are now put in such a position that we can bring to the light of critical reflexion the principle, which has been working latently in all the imperfect forms of the religion of the past, and which finds its culminating expression in Christianity. The evolution of Christianity itself has made it possible for us to understand, and therefore to repeat in a conscious way—with a clear apprehension of the meaning of what we are doing—the process by which Christianity at once fulfilled and destroyed the other forms of religion with which it was brought into contact. As in its first dawn, Christianity again is beginning to show itself, not in its negative but in its positive aspect; not as a subjective principle which sets the spiritual against the natural, the inner religion of the heart against the outer religion of the letter, the witness of the spirit against the voice of authority; but as a principle, at once subjective and objective, which reveals itself not only within but also without us, which is immanent in nature and in man, and which is working in him to still higher issues. But this lesson, wrapped up at the dawn of Christianity in types and symbols borrowed from an earlier faith, and apprehended only by feeling, or at best by an imaginative intuition which had no means of explaining itself, is now becoming a reasoned conviction which can understand and criticise its own nature and evidence. The principle of Christianity has come to self-consciousness, and it is therefore capable of being held without that mixture of illusion which was inevitable in an earlier age. In the process of its own history, it has been working itself free of the alien elements which were mingled with it at first; and now, as I believe, it exists in many minds as a simple faith in God and man, in God's revelation of Himself in man, and man's capacity to become the further manifestation of God and to work His work—a faith which does not need any extraneous support from vision or miracle. To those who regret the implicit faith of an earlier day, which is gradually leaving us, it may be suggested that, useful as such extraneous supports have been in the past, they never were really the essence of the matter; and, though it might be necessary, in the slow education of man's spirit, for him to lean upon them, yet there is always a heavy price to be paid for the strength which is gained partly by illusion. The religious wars and persecutions of Christendom, the perverse attempts of those who had mislearnt the Christian doctrine of self-sacrifice to reduce morality to a useless asceticism, the superstitious fears and hopes, which withdrew Christians from the service of man or distorted their conception of the nature of that service, were the necessary results of the imperfection of ‘the earthly vessels’ in which the truth of Christianity was first presented to the world. And, if it has now become possible in some measure to detach such wood and hay and stubble from the gold and silver and precious stones of the temple built upon the foundation of Christ; if it has become possible to recognise that the principle of Christ's gospel—the moral and spiritual truths it contains—require nothing extraneous to themselves, nothing but their coherence with the reason and conscience of man, to Commend them to us—and that indeed they can have no valid evidence but this coherence—we need not fear that this, in the long run, will weaken the hold of religion or even of Christianity upon the human soul. The process of transition from a faith which is based upon external evidence, to one which is based on the rational interpretation of man's experience, must no doubt be a hard and difficult one, and in many cases it may bring with it no little danger to the moral life; but it is the necessary path to a religion which is pure of superstition, and undefiled by fanaticism; which can face without illusion the simple but wonderful facts of human life and the mysterious shadow of death. It is the path and the only path to a religion which can interpret to man the strange precarious destiny which it is given to him to fulfil in this world, as a finite being whose consciousness of himself is yet bound up with the consciousness of the infinite—a being who, from one point of view, seems hardly to have escaped from the bonds of animal life, while yet from another he is seen to draw his life immediately from the divine, and, in a sense that cannot apply to any other creature, to ‘live and move and have his being’ in God.
In these lectures it has been my endeavour to explain and illustrate a view of man's life which I believe to be in accordance with the essential principle of religion and of Christianity, and at the same time the necessary result of the best lights of philosophy which have been given to our time. This view may be summarised in a few words. It starts with the principle, first clearly expressed by Kant, that the objective world can be understood only in relation to the unity of the self within us, and it goes on to infer that in self-consciousness we find at once the culmination and the explanation of that world. It argues that, on this principle, the historical movement, in which man transforms nature and makes it the basis for the spiritual process of his own life, is to be regarded only as a farther step in the manifestation and evolution of the principle that conditions and underlies nature; and further, that the moral ideal which arises out of this historical movement, and seems to condemn as imperfect even the highest result attained by it, is not to be merely contrasted with it as that which ‘ought to be’ with that which ‘is,’ but rather as the clearest expression of the same power that produced the present state of things out of a still more imperfect past. It, therefore, concludes that our highest moral and social ideal—reached, as it has been, as the result of all the thought and labour and pain of humanity in the past—is not visionary or illusive, but may be taken as our best key to the nature of the universe of which we are a part, and to the nature of the Divine Being who is its source and its end. And it derives from this a deeper consciousness of the nearness of God to man, a confirmation of the Christian faith that the kingdom of heaven is in the midst of us, and that the service of humanity is the true and the only service of God. If, therefore, we can discern in modern literature and in life any deepening of the consciousness that man is his brother's keeper, and that the life of man is of infinite worth because it is indeed the highest expression of the infinite, we need not fear that the many doubts and uncertainties of the present time, or the seeming negation of many of the articles of the old creed of Christendom, indicate a revolt of mankind against that which is vital in Christianity. For this belief, in the revelation of God in man, in itself constitutes the articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae. It is the rock upon which the Christian Church is really founded, and from which it could be built up again if every ecclesiastical organisation that exists were destroyed. The infinite pitifulness of Jesus to the sorrows and evils of humanity, his absolute confidence in the possibility and even the necessity of their being remedied, and the way in which he bases his confidence on the love of God to man, and on his own unity as man with God—these, taken together make up a faith beyond which religion cannot go, except in two ways, namely, in the way of understanding them more adequately, and of realising them more fully. And in both these ways, the present age, in spite of all the evils that afflict it, has gone beyond any previous age. For, on the one hand, the whole development of the organic and evolutionary idea of the world as interpreted by idealistic philosophy, and applied by criticism to the history of Christianity and of other religious systems, has for the first time furnished us with something like a rational proof of a creed which previously rested almost entirely upon the intuition of faith, and which, therefore, was generally mixed up with many elements of unreason. And, on the other hand, the humanitarian impulse of the present day—in so far as it has ceased to be a mere abstract cosmopolitan charity, or a religious zeal that ends with the spread of religion; in so far as it is guided by a deeper conviction that men must find salvation here as well as hereafter, and by a fuller understanding of all the physical and economical, all the intellectual and moral conditions of its attainment,—reproduces in a higher form the passionate impulse to seek and save the lost which Christianity brought into the world. For it means by saving, not merely consolation in this life and hope for another, but the discovery of the way by which all men, even the lowest and most wretched, may be made sharers in the great heritage of humanity; by which even those who have hitherto been hewers of wood and drawers of water or a civilisation of which they did not partake, may become integral members in an organic human society. The great aims that are dawning upon us are, therefore, on the one hand, to discover more and more fully the ideal meaning of the world, not merely through imaginative symbols that are opposed or indifferent to science, but with the fullest satisfaction of the requirements of scientific criticism; and, on the other hand, to realise the whole good of man's complex nature, by the association of men with each other in those better forms of co-operation and communion with each other, which alone can turn the growing necessities of our lives into a higher manifestation of freedom. Such a union of intelligence and charity may well be called a new Christianity. At any rate it is the only religion that will fully realise the idea of religion, and so meet the wants of the new time.
No sooner, however, do we sketch out such an ideal, than our minds are at once overshadowed by a sense of the slowness of our progress towards the goal which it anticipates. We may perhaps persuade ourselves that it is the result to which the whole movement of the time is pointing; but to us, to whom ‘one day is’ not ‘as a thousand years’ it seems to come so slowly that we are tempted to doubt whether it comes at all, whether it is not altogether an illusion. We may be advancing towards a higher comprehension of the ideal meaning of the world and of human life. But how crude, it will be said, how crude and discordant are the voices of most of those who claim to speak for modern science and philosophy; and how abstract and vague is the utterance even of the best religious and ethical thought of our time, as it expresses itself in our greatest poets and thinkers. Where is there anything like the passionate and triumphant spiritualism of St. Paul, or the simple penetrating intuition of Jesus, that saw good through evil, and a divine purpose realising itself in all the confusions of human life? Where is the poet who rises high enough in his song to unite the feelings and desires and hopes of our time with the divine, as the Hebrew psalmist was able to unite them for his time; or the philosopher who can combine a thorough grasp of the facts of experience, as they have been analysed by modern science, with the idealism that “sees all things in God”? And, on the other hand, when we turn to the practical life, where is the religious zeal whose heat is not hostile to light, or the enlightenment whose intelligence has not paralysed its will? Where is the practical Christianity, which can go beyond the beaten round of the religious life of the past to cope with all the unsolved problems of the present, without losing itself in anarchy, revolt, and nihilism; or in vague socialistic schemes which, even if they could succeed, would satisfy only the hunger of the body? And, indeed, no one can say that the ideal of such a theoretical and such a practical life has yet been realised, even in the sense and to the degree in which the ideals of the past have been realised. All that we can say is, that men are beginning to awake to the need for its realisation, and that there have been already anticipations of it in a few lives here and there. We must, however, remember that it is just because the ideal which is now set before us is the highest and most comprehensive that ever was presented to mankind, that it requires a longer and more difficult process to attain it. We, upon whom ‘the ends of the world are come’ in a deeper sense than even upon the early Christians, must necessarily have to encounter the hardest problems of thought and life. And we can console ourselves by reflecting that the reason of the slowness of our progress towards their solution lies most of all in the fact, that every step toward such a good must be won by the effort of man's whole being, by the whole energy of his intelligence and will; and that, indeed, no real gain is possible for man which is not so won. Farther, though the movement of progress may be imperceptible, if we look merely to our own time—for now as ever the kingdom of God cometh not with observation—yet distinct signs of it may be discerned, if not from year to year, at least from century to century, on the great scale of the secular movement of history. And a study of that history in the light of the idea of evolution, if it leaves many things dark and obscure, may yet enable us, with the certitude of a faith which is already on the way to knowledge, to say with Galileo, E pur si muove. In particular, the study of the history of religion, from the lowest form, in which it begins to furnish at least some crude idea of the nature of the world and the Power that rules over it, and some elementary bond of social union, up to the highest form of the Christian belief in a spiritual principle which manifests itself in nature and in the growing life of humanity, is a real and living support to our religious faith. This long, unhasting, unresting process of the evolution of religion is itself the best evidence we can have that there is a divine meaning in the world, and that mankind have not laid the sacrifice of their efforts and their thoughts, their prayers and their tears, upon the altar of an unknown or unknowable God.
- 1. If the Epistle to the Colossians is St. Paul's. At any rate the idea is found also in Phil. iii. 10, The fellowship of his sufferings. Cf. 2 Cor. i. 5.
- 2. And even Rousseau was partly anticipated by that great Christian pessimist, Pascal, who first entered upon that fatal and deceptive path followed by many since his day, of seeking to prove the truth of Christianity by the aid of the extreme result of scepticism, and so to base faith in God upon distrust of humanity.
- 3. Cf. my Essays on Literature and Philosophy, Rousseau, vol. i. p. 137 seq.