EVIL, as we have seen, marks the transition by which man advances to good, and in this sense it is a necessary condition of good. This transition cannot but take place, because man's true nature is that towards which he is progressing, not his first or original nature. In man the spirit of God is immanent, and, when he comes to a clear consciousness of himself, he learns that only in identity with that spirit can he overcome the evil in the world and in himself. The process by which man comes into union with God is not one which belongs purely to the individual, but is made possible only by the combination of men in society. Thus we are led to think of the religious life as the realization in a community or church of the divine spirit. Nothing short of the complete spiritualization of every member of the community can be the perfect realization of that spirit. It is not enough that man should conform outwardly to certain customary observances, or even to recognized moral precepts and social laws; but all must be done with the full co-operation of the individual, though not necessarily with an explicit comprehension on his part of the rational basis of those observances, precepts and laws. We must therefore be careful to distinguish between the church as a special organization and the true or invisible church, as composed of all who aid in the never-ceasing warfare of good with evil. This warfare can only be carried on by the united efforts of all men. The religious life is essentially social, because it consists in the identification of one's own good with the common weal, and the promotion of the common weal is possible only by identification of the individual will with the will of God. But, while the will of God is the ideal and the motive power in which man must ever live and strive, that will is practically embodied in all the agencies which help him to realize his true nature. One of these agencies is the church as a special organization expressly devoted to the uplifting of humanity. But even when the spirit of Christ is the spring and motive power of this organization, it is not co-extensive with that higher or invisible church, which must be identified with the Kingdom of the Spirit. The invisible church comprehends the whole of life. Whatever tends to spiritualize and elevate human nature makes for a clearer and fuller revelation of the essential unity and harmony of man and God. The whole process of civilization is therefore a process of spiritualization. Beginning in the endeavour to satisfy the natural wants, man, unexpectedly to himself, stumbles upon a higher good. His desires seem at first sight to be purely natural, but they result in the formation of the family, the industrial community, the State. The work of that rational spirit which constitutes the essential nature of man is therefore to build up social and political institutions, which free him from the tyranny of his immediate impulses and make him a member of a whole larger than his individual self. Within this whole are developed in progressive measure the circle of the natural sciences, with their applications to practical life; the fine arts, which reveal the principles that are involved in all modes of being, and which come to their clearest expression in the life of man; the philosophical sciences, which trace out the spiritual filaments that connect all modes of being in the unity of a single organic whole. If we ask, where then is religion in all this development of secular interests? we must answer: not here or there, and not in any transcendent region beyond the world, but now and everywhere. Religion is life in the spirit, and the spirit specialises itself in all the agencies which tend to uplift humanity. To identify the divine spirit with any or all of the imperfect forms in which it is partially realized in particular religious bodies is to destroy its infinite comprehensiveness. In that case the church is falsely opposed to the world, the sacred to the secular, the clergy to the laity. In the invisible church all such oppositions are transcended. It is the embodiment of all the ways and instruments by which man is helped to overcome the evil tendency to selfish isolation; and what is contrasted with this spiritual organism as the world is all that tends to confirm man in his evil tendencies. Hence we must not regard the true church as giving any countenance to self-mortification for its own sake. Asceticism is based on the false notion that man's end in life is simply to free himself from the influence of the natural desires, not to transmute them into spiritual motives. This conception of life is really a form of individualism. It makes the salvation of the individual soul in its isolation the end, not identification with the universal good; and it virtually stigmatizes the world, and especially the nature of man, as essentially and ineradically so evil that his whole endeavour must be to modify or destroy the essential nature which God has given him. Nothing which belongs to the nature of man can be regarded as common or unclean, and a genuine religion must therefore seek to grasp the spiritual meaning implicit in all the desires, and to employ it in the furtherance of the higher life. In the history of man the extension and organization of trade and commerce, and the improvement of the instruments of production and distribution, have tended to bring men into closer and more sympathetic intercourse. The formation of political organizations has also been an indispensable means for securing this end, because, though these may in some cases tend to a narrow exclusiveness which regards all other nations as enemies, they yet generate a spirit of patriotism that lifts the citizen above his petty personal interests and unites him in the closest bonds to his fellow-citizens. And within each nation, there are influences which tend to bring men together in a more comprehensive organism than that of nationality. Science recognizes no national limits. The disinterested search for truth leads men more and more to recognize that rational structure which constitutes what Hegel calls the “diamond net” of the universe. “Thinking God's thoughts after him,” in Kepler's phrase, men of science aid the religious mind to enter into communion with God. Especially in the history of man the divine spirit makes itself visible in the rise and fall of nations, and in the steady progress of man in the arts of self-government. In this expansion and elevation of man's spiritual horizon fine art also plays a very important part. Not merely in poetry but in the other arts, and especially in music, man is freed from the obscurations which custom and convention are apt to engender, and learns to contemplate the outward world and human life as they appear to the penetrative eye of genius. The true artist lives in the infinite and eternal, and makes it visible to us in sensible form. Thus his creations combine with science and religion to reveal the deeper realities on which our life is founded. Science, art and religion are all essential to the complete development of humanity, and the perfection of any one of them is made possible only by the perfection of the others. It is indeed possible to be a scientific man without appreciation of the nature and value of art; nor is the artist always pious, or the pious man necessarily enlightened or artistic; but for the full stature of manhood, science, art and religion must each in its own way contribute to the perfection of the whole. In any case, no one, even if he would, can separate himself from the influence of all three. Our whole life is saturated with the results of science; our very language and ideas have been formed by the poet and artist; and from the influence of Christian ideas no one can escape, even though he may in words proclaim himself a disbeliever in its truth. The complete realization of the spirit demands that science, art and religion should not be rivals but fellow-workers. Their perfect synthesis is no doubt still an ideal, but it is an ideal which at every step in the onward march of humanity throws its light forward on the path to be traversed; and no one who believes in the essential rationality of the world and of man can doubt that, in spite of the confusion and unrest and ferment of our time, we are really laying the foundations for a closer union of science, art and religion, and therefore for the better reconciliation of the intellect, the heart and the imagination.
Such a consummation cannot be attained by any merely external means. The invisible church is not a community of slaves but of free men, and therefore men must be allowed freedom of action, even if it leads immediately to much evil. In no other way can a spiritual community be developed. The divine spirit cannot be externally imposed upon men. Compulsion and freedom are incompatible, and not less incompatible are compulsion and spirituality. For this reason the invisible church cannot be established once for all, and its lineaments fixed for all time. It is indeed eternal; but its eternity is that of a living, growing and developing organism, which never loses its identity, and yet is perpetually undergoing change. The invisible church had its beginning in the first gleam of the higher life that presented itself to the obscure vision of primitive man, and it can never perish, because it is the expression of the divine spirit as it works in the inner being of man. This ideal church cannot have a rigid and unbending creed, just because of that abounding life and movement which are its characteristics; but, on the other hand, the principle upon which it is based can only suffer development, never complete abrogation. That principle is the essential identity of man and God—a principle which is ever receiving a deeper and wider application, but which always preserves the same fundamental character.
Nor again can the invisible church have a fixed and unchanging ritual. As its fundamental principle is the essential identity of the human and divine natures, any symbolical acts which are fitted to body forth this truth may be employed as a means of educating the young and reminding the mature of this central idea. We must not overlook the danger that besets all forms of ceremonial—the danger that, while in their first institution they are of service in symbolizing the life of the spirit, they may degenerate into a dead and lifeless routine. From this danger we may partly be saved by contemplating the total sphere of art as the only perfectly adequate symbolism of the invisible church. The question of the particular medium in which the religious consciousness may most fitly express itself is sometimes placed upon a narrow and untenable basis. Those who would exclude all forms of symbolism but those employed by a particular ecclesiastical organization, sometimes speak of the traditional ritual as if it were in a peculiar sense a divine revelation, carrying with it a unique and peculiar sanction, and therefore inseparable from the religious life. This whole mode of thought converts religion into a sort of mystical thaumaturgy, and removes it beyond the sphere of rational criticism, making no other attitude than that of blind acceptance possible for the individual. It is therefore the natural view of those who believe in the absolute authority of the visible church, which they regard as the divinely appointed custodian both of ritual and dogma. In his peculiar theory of development, Cardinal Newman contended that it is the function of the church to interpret and expound the rudiments of truth expressed in the sacred writings, while it is the one and only duty of the believer to accept without question the dogmas decreed by the Church. So, as we must suppose, all the changes in the form of worship that have been from time to time decreed are the result of the divinely guided progressive insight of the church, and are therefore the only channels of divine grace. It need hardly be said that the conception of religion to which we have been led is no more compatible with this mystical conception of ritual than with Newman's view that the doctrines of the church are by their sanctity sheltered from all rational criticism. The church is assumed to be the only depository of religious truth, having derived its authority directly from God himself. Such an identification of the church with a particular ecclesiastical organization obscures the truth, that the only church which can possibly guarantee truth is the invisible church, the spirit that works in humanity as a whole. The contrast is indeed so marked that what the visible church has in some cases condemned, the invisible church has endorsed; and what the one has endorsed, the other has condemned. The only defence of any form of religious ritual must therefore be its adequacy to express in symbol the emotions and ideas of the religious soul. While it would be a mistake to say that the ritual of the visible church has been of no service in ministering to the life of the spirit, it is a mistake not less fatal to limit symbolism entirely to that ritual. If the invisible church is the spirit that is continually working in all forms of human endeavour, leading through conflict and controversy, and even through blood and tears, to an ever fuller comprehension of God, the true symbolism of the spirit cannot be identified with the limited and inadequate symbolism embodied in the traditional ritual. From the earliest time of which we have any knowledge man bodied forth his religious ideas in visible form. But the symbolism employed by him in his worship of the divine was only one of the ways in which his artistic activity was expressed. The totem of primitive man was a symbol of a very crude type, but it at least shows that man naturally expresses his religious emotions in an artistic form. In the history of Greek religion, again, art was inevitably employed, because the religious ideas of the Greeks were based upon the conception of the divine as manifested especially in the beautiful plastic shapes of their anthropomorphic gods. Nor with the advent of Christianity did art cease to be employed in the service of religion, though it was forced to find a more spiritual mode of expressing religious emotion. So long as it was only employed in the expression of the traditional ideas of the visible church, art was necessarily limited in its range of subjects; but this limitation tended to disappear when the modern world was ushered in by the revival of letters, which was equally a revival of the free artistic spirit of Greek antiquity. With the Reformation there came the tendency to reject art as inconsistent with the spirituality of religion, and even to reduce the ceremonial of the church to as bald and inartistic a form as seemed compatible with the symbolization of the truths embodied in the creed. This tendency no doubt partly sprung from an exaggeration of the truth that, as religion consists essentially in the inner life of the soul, it is fatal to identify it with any outward ceremonial, which may easily become mechanical; but it is also partly based upon the fallacy that art is merely an imitation of the visible and sensible, and therefore is incompatible with the nature of God as spirit. When, however, it is seen that art is really an expression of the spirit, since spirit is manifested in all forms of being, it becomes obvious that art is not the foe, but the friend of religion, bringing to light an aspect of the divine nature that cannot otherwise be represented at all. The complete expression of the religious consciousness—which, as we have seen, is at once a life, a creed and a ritual—must therefore include artistic expression, as well as the good life and an adequate theology. The religion which excludes beauty is necessarily of an abstract character. In order to comprehend all that is implied in the divine life, art, religion and science must co-operate; and while nothing can be a substitute for the absence of a personal consciousness of the divine, the full stature of the religious life also demands its embodiment in art as well as its theoretical expression in a theology or philosophy of religion.
In considering the progressive development of religion, it is of the utmost importance that we should not underrate the influence of the community or invisible church upon the religious life of the individual. Without the spiritual atmosphere into which he is born, and which encompasses the whole of his life, man would not be a spiritual being at all. Now this atmosphere is no creation of any individual; and therefore it can never be the task of any individual to create an absolutely new religion, though it may well be his function to purify and develop it to a higher stage. The main object of the ordinary man is to rise to the level of the religious consciousness of his time. There seems therefore to be no good reason why every individual should experience that poignancy of distress which is apt to overshadow the life of the individualist in religion, especially when, as in the case of such men as Bunyan, it is combined with a passionate intensity of feeling that readily passes over into an abnormal and hardly sane remorse. It is partly as a revolt from this half-superstitious form of piety that such recent developments of the religious life as that of “Christian Science” must be explained; combined, no doubt, with an unscientific distortion of facts of the sensitive life. Nevertheless, we must not underrate the importance of that “new birth,” which the religious life necessarily implies; for, though in those who have been trained in a Christian community, and have lived in a spiritual atmosphere which insensibly promotes the transition from the first or natural state of man to a higher stage, the consciousness by the individual of personal sin as a violation of his spiritual nature cannot as a rule reach the intensity of those whose “new birth” has the appearance of being an entire inversion of their whole past life; yet religion is impossible without the consciousness of sin, of the infinite distance between man as a natural being and God, and of the necessity for a complete “change of mind.” The divine spirit must be consciously realized by the individual as the essential and indispensable condition of his regeneration. The spirit of God must be present in and to the spirit of man. But this identification of the human and the divine will must not be conceived either as a pure act of the individual will or as the compulsion of the divine will acting externally upon the individual will, but as the free response of the individual spirit to the spirit of God. This is what the church has called “faith,” and “faith,” as we have seen, by its very nature must be expressed in action. Thus religion is the divinely inspired will of man as expressing itself in all that makes for the higher life. Religion cannot be divorced from truth, beauty and goodness without losing its essential nature. What is called faith then becomes mere credulity, the ideas which rule the life a superstition, and worship the mechanical observance of an unmeaning ritual.
While a philosophy of religion cannot take the place of a living personal religion, it yet is of great value in so far as it not only formulates the principles underlying the religious consciousness, but frees the individual from that confusion of thought which is the fruitful mother of superstition and intolerance. A clear grasp of the inseparable connection of religion with science, art and morality, leading to a perception of the essential difference between a dead and a vital faith and of the symbolical and relative character of all ritualistic observances, tends to make man's life a systematic whole. No doubt a mere theoretical acquaintance with these distinctions will not of itself supply motive power to the religious life; but, in combination with and as part of that education of the spirit which is always going on in civilized society, it is at least a safeguard against foolish and irrational experiments in living, and a reinforcement and intensification of the spiritualizing influences of a more or less Christianized community. In furtherance of these influences, the development of science and philosophy is of great importance; for science, as we have reason to conclude, reveals to us the rational structure of the world, a structure which only seems mechanical when the spiritual principle which it presupposes is overlooked. There can be no truly moral law which ignores the inviolability of natural law; and a religion that is opposed to morality is a perversion of that which properly understood is highest. Thus science, morality and religion are not antithetical spheres, but are in perfect harmony with one another; and if science ever seems to contradict morality and religion, or religion to be independent of science and morality, it is only because neither is understood as it really is. This at least is the result of the philosophy of religion as I understand it.
It is of the utmost importance to recognize that, while the development of man involves an ever clearer realization of the divine spirit, that development can only take place through the efforts of man as a self-determining individual. To assume that, because the course of events is a process in which there is increasing spirituality, we may therefore safely leave all things to the divine spirit, is entirely to misread the essential nature of what is usually called providence. It is no doubt true that good must be more powerful than evil; but the reason is not that, whatever man does, everything as it is said is “overruled” for good, so that the divine purpose will realize itself as well in a Catiline or a Borgia as through the self-denying efforts of the greatest philanthropist. The divine purpose will of a certainty be realized, but only because men are not all Catilines or Borgias, but are, in spite of their mistakes and stumblings and sins, on the whole acting under the ideal of the good. The idea that we may neglect our social duties because the divine will must be realized, whatever comfort it may bring to those whose piety is of a sentimental and rather effeminate sort, is fundamentally false and irreligious. The Kingdom of God is not to be won without violence. Christianity is not a matter of vague emotion; it gives no countenance to the idea that “whatever is is right,” but insists upon the necessity of a crusade against all misery, evil and injustice.
Nor is religion to be regarded as offering a bribe for obedience to moral law, whether the bribe is that of success in this life, or the expectation of felicity hereafter. That which is right must be done, not because of any external advantage attaching, or supposed to be attaching to it, but because it is the essential nature of man to work for the realization of that ideal which never entirely vanishes from the soul of even the most depraved. Only by “erecting himself above himself” can man truly realize himself; and therefore the process of regeneration is not a thing that may be postponed to another world, but must constitute the business of life here and now. The idea that happiness, here or hereafter, is a reward for virtue is an absolutely immoral principle; nay, it is logically even worse than that, for it is in essence a self-contradiction. If man does what is right, not because he regards that way of acting as demanded by his ideal of himself, but from some other motive, he does not really will the good, but something else, for the attainment of which the good is only a means. No selfish end can be good, and therefore action the spring of which is the desire for a reward cannot possibly be good. This is not to say that the good has nothing to do with willing the means by which self-satisfaction may be obtained; but the self-satisfaction must be that which is identified with spiritual well-being. The hedonistic theory of life confuses this spiritual well-being, which cannot be separated from the good, with the pursuit of particular means of personal satisfaction, being apparently unable to see that to make the attainment of such satisfaction the end is either to subordinate the good to pleasure or to confuse pleasure with that spiritual well-being, which is ready to forego all pleasure if only it may be attained. What really underlies the idea of a morality, the motive for which is the hope of reward or the fear of punishment, is the tacit conviction that good must in the long run prevail over evil, and therefore that even as a matter of policy it is better to be on its side. But if it is really true, as it is, that morality must prove stronger than evil, it can only be because, living in a rational universe, man cannot be permanently satisfied with anything less than rational action. Thus, in a half-blind way, the idea that virtue is more profitable than vice, justice than injustice, is a virtual confession that the good is really to be valued because it is the only expression of man's true self.
If this view of morality is sound, the future world must not be conceived mainly as a place where every man is to be rewarded or punished according to his deeds. That which is contrary to the very nature of morality cannot be realized anywhere. If men are to be rewarded or punished in a future life, not according to their spiritual condition, but by the external imposition of rewards or punishments in proportion to their outward acts, we must suppose that what is right and good here ceases to be so in a future world. In this life the reward of virtue is the spiritual condition of the agent; and it is an entire perversion of religion to suppose that in a future life it is not the inner state of the agent, but a certain class of acts, no matter what may be the motive for doing them, that determines human destiny. If it were really so, we must suppose the present world to be fundamentally irrational and antimoral; for certainly in this world no one can be made moral by means of a system of rewards and punishments, however cunningly contrived that system may be. It is only man's inextinguishable belief in the triumph of goodness that gives to the idea of external rewards and punishments its persuasive force; and those who make use of this method of interpretation practically employ the rhetorical arts of the Greek Sophists, who, by over-accentuating one element in the total conception of morality, were able to “make the worse appear the better reason.” By dwelling upon what is called “the success” of the wicked, it seems as if this world were on the whole the kingdom of the devil; and thus the pious mind, firmly convinced that good must somehow and somewhere be triumphant, postpones its triumph to another world, and speaks of it as the final success of the good and the defeat of the wicked. It seems to be forgotten that, if this world is essentially evil, it cannot be the creation of a good God. Thus religion is really sought to be saved by starting from a basis of virtual atheism. Nor is it any real answer to say that in a future life the proper balance of good and evil will be secured; for, if the whole process of the world as we know it is a descent from comparative goodness to evil, or at least is not an ascent from comparative evil to goodness, why should we suppose that the whole nature of things will be suddenly and fundamentally changed?
Religion is the principle that provides the basis for morality by justifying our belief in the reality of goodness. Whatever the apparent triumph of evil may be, it does not overthrow the faith of the religious man that the good is sure to prevail and is prevailing. Thus faith is not a mere “pious imagination,” or a belief to which men cling in desperation, notwithstanding the weight of evidence to the contrary, but, as I have tried to show, the only hypothesis which will account for all the facts. We are all conscious of impulses that war against the good, but we refuse to admit that these are our true self, and therefore we do not admit that evil is the real nature of things. This profound faith in goodness as our own true self must not be confused with the antinomian fallacy, that we may do evil and yet remain unaffected in the inmost centre of our being. For action, as the expression of will, is the man himself, and no casuistry can convert an evil action into good. On the other hand, no evil act is the expression of man's real will; which is always, as Plato argued, directed towards the good; and indeed the firm conviction that in willing evil man is not willing his true self is the mainspring of the good will. If one were convinced that in its inmost essence his will is evil, all his endeavours after good would be completely paralyzed. Why should he make the attempt to realize an ideal which by the very constitution of human nature he knows to be incapable of realization? On such a supposition, no single step towards goodness is possible; and his life, even if we could suppose him to be tantalized by the vision of an impossible goodness, would be a heart-breaking struggle to subdue the ineradicable evil of his nature. Nor could even omnipotence aid him in this abortive struggle, for not even omnipotence could convert absolute evil into goodness. On the other hand, to the man who is inspired with the vision of the intrinsic power of the good to overcome the evil will, nothing short of a perfectly good will can bring permanent satisfaction. Therefore his faith in the reality of goodness enables him, in all his struggles with the evil in him and without him, to preserve his serenity, certain as he is that he is a “fellow-worker with God,” so long as he is true to his own deeper self.
In the whole of our discussion of the relations of man and God, we have been endeavouring to show that man in his true, ideal or essential nature partakes of the nature of God. It is true that while he grasps the principles which are manifested in the world, and especially the ultimate principle which gives meaning to all the others, he yet cannot completely realize the infinite wealth of the divine nature. His life is a process in which there is a continual realization of the ideal, that leaves it in its perfection still unrealized. It would therefore seem to follow that unless the ideal of humanity is little more than a fiction, deluding man into a continual search for what can never be realized, there must be an eternal progress in knowledge, art and morality, leading to an ever clearer and fuller comprehension of God. A comprehension of the principles of reality, it is true, brings man into essential relation and communion with God; but all eternity would seem to be required to give opportunity for progress in the knowledge of God and for approximation to his infinite perfection.
In the comprehension of principles I think we may fairly say that of all the beings known to us man is unique. While, on the one hand, he is an individual finite object, limited in space and time, yet he alone is capable of transcending the limits of his individuality and contemplating all things, including himself, from a universal point of view. It is this peculiar and distinctive power which makes him akin to God. Now, the intelligence which can in this way rise to a universal point of view is obviously in a sense, as Plato said of the philosopher, “a spectator of all time and of all existence.” Those objects which in immediate experience present themselves as a number of particular things in space and of events which succeed one another in time, are taken out of their spatial and temporal order and contemplated as particular instances of laws, which no doubt have a spatial and temporal application, but which in themselves are eternal and unchangeable. Every principle which is grasped by the intelligence is conceived as beyond the changes and fluctuations of finite things. The laws of nature and of human history certainly have no meaning except as statements of the eternal constitution of the physical world and of the process of life and mind, but these laws apply, not at one time only, but at all times. The intelligence which is capable of comprehending a law is thereby shown to be unaffected by the limitations of space and time. Man, in virtue of his power of discovering the inviolable principles of existence, is on that side of his nature a universal intelligence. Moreover, in the process of knowledge not only does man learn to comprehend the world, but he learns to comprehend himself. We have seen reason to believe that the world is in its minutest fibre a rational system, in which nothing is there by chance and in which each element is relative to a whole without which it could not be. It is, indeed, only in so far as the world is such a system that it can be understood at all. Thus the principles that our intelligence finds to be involved in the universe are at the same time principles of the intelligence itself. In truth, the intelligence can comprehend the world only because it has in itself the same principles as are manifested in the world. But progress in the knowledge of the world can never come to an end, and therefore it would seem that we must affirm that the intelligence of man is also eternal. What is true of knowledge is no less true of morality. In the moral life man is continually realizing an ideal which yet is never completely realized. With the attainment of one stage of moral progress, a new problem presents itself, and the solution of this problem leads to another. We can therefore say that the moral life is essentially an unending process. On the other hand, just because it is a process, man is moral only because he is capable of grasping the eternal principles of goodness. Hence in his moral life he is, as in the intellectual life, in unity with the infinite and eternal. These considerations seem to show that nothing less than eternity can afford adequate scope for the development of man's intellectual and spiritual life. In struggle and conflict man has gradually attained to a measure of knowledge and morality, and it does not seem credible that all this toil and pain and strife should be suddenly cut short for ever.
No doubt it may be objected that these considerations do not necessarily involve more than the conclusion that the continuance and progressiveness of the human race as a whole is highly probable. It is only by the united action of men that any advance is made, and it may even be argued that the sacrifice of the individual is essential to the development of the whole.
Now it is certainly true that progress is possible only by the association of individuals and the division of functions; and it is also true that in this process the individual is often sacrificed. The Greek state in its best days made extraordinary progress in all the arts of civilization, but that progress was conditioned by the institution of slavery, which set the citizens free to devote themselves to art, politics and religion. So in modern society, as at present constituted, the lower classes must toil and suffer many privations, in order that the development of science, art and philosophy may be secured. It thus seems as if the universe were of such a nature that only by the greater or less sacrifice of individuals can any progress be made.
These considerations, however, are not by any means conclusive as against the belief in individual, as distinguished from corporate immortality. The institution of slavery in ancient times may have been necessary to the highest results of Greek civilization, and the toil of millions in modern times may be the condition of the highest results; but as time goes on it becomes more and more apparent that the true nature of man demands the conscious personal participation of all the members of society in its highest triumphs, if society is itself to develop the ideal of a completely organized community. In the political sphere this has come to be more and more recognized. It is not enough that the well-being of each should be secured, but every citizen must consciously participate in the process by which it is secured. Thus we recognize that, just as slavery was a violation of the fundamental rights of every man to freedom, so it is a fundamental right of every man to share in the government of his country. True, the individual man cannot be at once workman, artist and thinker; division of employments is indispensable to the highest results of society; but an intelligent interest in and comprehension of the higher products rendered possible by social co-operation is not an utopian and unrealizable ideal. Thus it is recognized that every man should personally participate in the good realized by the whole. If therefore the argument from the unrealized possibilities of mankind to a rational faith in the immortality of man has any weight, it must be regarded as tending to establish the immortality of the individual and not merely of the race. Man, as I have argued, is in his deepest nature identical with God, and nothing short of the conscious realization of that identity seems demanded by the rationality of the universe. No doubt this conclusion must rest upon a rational faith; but, as we have seen, a rational faith is the only possible foundation of knowledge and morality; since, without the presupposition of the rationality and intelligibility of the world, we can have no principle of either the one or the other.
In drawing these lectures to a close it may be well to cast a rapid glance back over the course by which we have been led in following the evolution of ideas. If the process of development through which religion and theology have passed has been at all accurately described, a general inference may fairly be drawn in regard to their fundamental nature. Beginning with a limited and imperfect idea of the divine, religion, both in Greece and among the Hebrew people, advanced by slow and tentative steps to the conception of God as the one principle from which all things proceed and to which they all return. This process of evolution was not dictated by any a priori conception imposed from without upon the facts, but was the natural result of the free operation of the striving of man after a satisfactory view of life. The agreement in regard to the ultimate principle of all reality, thus reached independently along two very different lines of development, affords at least a strong presumption in favour of a monistic view of the universe. It cannot be said that monotheism was the result of abstract speculation; on the contrary, even in Greece we find in Pindar, Æschylus and Sophocles what must at least be called an ethical monotheism, though no doubt it is only in Plato and Aristotle that pure monotheism is explicitly affirmed and defended, while in Judea it was mainly the creation of the prophets. Now, I have argued throughout that theology is the systematic statement of what is already involved, no doubt with some admixture of foreign and inconsistent elements, in the popular religious consciousness; and therefore we are entitled, I think, to claim that an unbiassed examination of religious experience confirms the conclusion reached by independent speculation, that a single principle is presupposed in every mode of finite reality. Thus we may fairly conclude that so far pluralism, when it seriously means what it says, is condemned upon any fair interpretation of the character of experience.
But, although the religious consciousness, both in Greece and among the Hebrew people, independently reached the conclusion that there is one God, who is the God of the whole universe, there is displayed in both a tendency to conceive of God as absolutely perfect and complete in himself entirely apart from the universe. Now this bias towards dualism is at bottom inconsistent with the monistic belief which the pious minds of both peoples at least believed that they believed; and we find it crossed by the complemental belief in the presence of God in the world and in the human soul. The religious consciousness itself therefore indicates that the one Principle to which everything must be referred is not a transcendent being removed from all profane contact with nature and man, but is truly manifested in them, and reveals itself to the pious soul as that without which the existence of nature and the life of man are inconceivable. This profound consciousness of the nearness and self-manifestation of God, which in the Hebrew prophets and the later poets of Greece was felt, and indeed expressed, though in a somewhat imperfect way, is the secret which the Founder of Christianity saw with absolute clearness; and upon this conception of God he based the correlative principle of the brotherhood of man. Thus the religious consciousness not only reached the certitude of one single Principle, but it further discerned intuitively that this Principle is no far-off and inscrutable Power, lifted above the tumult and disorder of the world, but is present in the world, and is experienced in the religious consciousness of man, whose path in life it illuminates and sanctifies. From the study of the evolution of the religious consciousness we therefore seem to learn, that the only tenable Monism is that which conceives of God as self-revealing or self-manifesting, and that nothing less than a recognition of the whole universe as spiritual can satisfy our religious aspirations. We may expect, then, that when the reflective intellect undertakes the task of stating explicitly what the religious consciousness involves, it will never be satisfied permanently with anything short of a spiritual Monism.
Now, when we come to look at the actual development of theology, we find that there is a continual oscillation between the idea of a transcendent God, too august to be revealed or comprehended by man, and the contrary idea of a God who is here and now, comprehensible by our intellect, giving perfect peace to our heart, and directing the mainspring of our will to the highest ends. Nor is this to be wondered at. Not only is there an almost irresistible tendency in the human mind to isolate and hypostatize whatever it clearly and distinctly conceives, but the religious consciousness was compelled to express itself theoretically for centuries in the dualistic categories of Greece and Rome, and therefore early Christian theology, while it refused to surrender either the transcendence or the immanence of God, was in sore straits to reconcile what seemed to be opposite and mutually exclusive ideas. The consequence was that the theology of the Fathers and of the Scholastic theologians was unable to find a formula that perfectly expressed the idea underlying it all—the idea, namely, that God is the principle of all things and therefore present in all things. Nevertheless, in the doctrine of the Trinity, it sought to embody its inextinguishable belief in the spiritual unity of God.
When we leave the cloistered piety of the middle-ages and enter the free and spacious realm of the modern world, we find the battle of spiritual Monism raging more fiercely than ever, just because all tradition has been swept aside and an attempt has been made to begin at the beginning. Absolutely to begin at the beginning was an impossibility; for the mind of man, if we may adapt the saying of Goethe, is a plagiarism of all the ideas that constitute the consciousness of the race. Nevertheless, the guarded scepticism with which Descartes began his enquiry had to give way to the complete initial scepticism of Spinoza, if Theology was to be built upon a foundation that would make all subsequent scepticism an anachronism. Had Descartes been truer to his own principle of doubt, he would not have assumed the separation of nature, man and God as he did; but, largely because he refused to view his own mind as but a fragment of the larger mind of the race, he did not see that three spheres only externally related to one another was an untenable doctrine, and therefore he virtually reverted to the abstract Monism which Christian thought had persistently refused to accept. Accordingly, the physical world was conceived as a purely mechanical system, its asserted dependence upon God being practically ignored, while man was virtually regarded as made up of two separate beings, namely, of a mind that had no relation to a body, and of a body that was so mindless as to change after the manner of an automaton. Nor was the pluralism thus embedded in the Cartesian system abolished even when Spinoza affirmed an absolute Monism; for, as he blindly endorsed Descartes’ abstract opposition of thought and extension, he vainly referred all things to God, since he could not possibly explain how a Being who was in himself beyond the antithesis of mind and nature could have any determinate character whatever, or, if he had, how it should manifest itself in attributes and modes that destroyed its perfect unity. It was therefore a true instinct which led Leibnitz to deny both the pluralism of Descartes and the abstract Monism of Spinoza, and to maintain that God must be conceived as a concrete individual, from whom proceed all dependent concrete individuals. But, while the monadism of Leibnitz rightly finds the type of the highest being in the self-conscious individual, his system compels him to say that the universe is at once a pluralism and a monism; which at bottom means that it is not a rational unity. To set up a number of isolated and self-complete individuals, and then to affirm that they all exist in dependence upon a single isolated and self-complete individual, does not reduce the world to a single principle, even when this individual is affirmed to be absolute and infinite. There is no possible way of combining a consistent pluralism with monism; and therefore Leibnitz's philosophy has merely named the problem, but has not solved it. Nor can it be solved, so long as the ultimate principle is conceived as self-complete in its isolation.
When we turn to the development of philosophy in England, we find the same attempt to establish an infinite which is defined as the negation of the finite; but, in this case, the result actually reached is a clear and explicit consciousness of the futility of the attempt. Locke, starting from the purely individual mind, could only by a halting process of logic reason to the existence of a transcendent God; and so little apprehension had he of the logical sweep of his principles, that he set up a number of independent physical substances, and a number of independent mental substances, in defiance of his own assumption that all our experience is reducible to particular ideas. Detecting clearly enough the fundamental weakness of the assumption of independent material substances, which could not possibly be given in a series of atomic feelings, Berkeley boldly discarded an independent physical world altogether, referring the series of ideas, which he still inconsistently conceived of as states of a mental substance, to God as their cause. It was therefore perfectly legitimate, on these premises, for Hume to deny that there was a substance of mind any more than of matter, and to challenge the reference of ideas to God on the ground of its inconsistency with the theory of ideas inherited from Locke. Thus the history of English philosophy has demonstrated once for all that a theory which resolves consciousness into a series of subjective states must end in the denial of all reality.
These two streams of thought have brought us to this result, that pluralism and monism are in irreconcilable conflict with each other. With Kant we enter upon a new method of seeking to unite the one and the many. The world of our experience is for him a system in which no single object can be found that is not connected with and dependent for its character upon other objects. Nevertheless this system is not a complete whole, and nothing less than a complete whole can satisfy the human mind. We must therefore conclude, argues Kant, that what we call Nature is the product of the peculiar character of our minds, which can only experience that which we present to ourselves under the forms of our perception and thought. While therefore the world of our experience is in its fundamental outlines the same for all human intelligences, and possibly for all finite intelligences, human or other (if other there be), we cannot identify it with reality as in its own nature it must be. Thus we learn that beyond our limited range of knowledge there are possible real beings, which, unlike the objects we experience, are self-complete and individual wholes. In this way, Kant thinks, we can make room for the existence of God, and for the proof that man is a free moral and immortal being. This critical method of reconciling monism with pluralism cannot, however, be regarded as a genuine solution of the problem; and it is not surprising that Kant's successors, and especially Hegel, converted the absolute distinction of appearance and reality into a relative one, and found within the sphere of experience a number of phases, all of which are equally real, though none is a complete and adequate manifestation of the Absolute except the most concrete of all. Hegel, therefore, sought in the idea of a spiritual Unity, i.e. a Unity which is essentially self-manifesting and self-knowing, for the true principle which should explain life, art and religion. A review of the development of modern philosophy from Descartes to Hegel thus forces us to come to the same conclusion deliberately and reflectively, as that attributed to the Founder of Christianity in the saying that “God is a Spirit.” No doubt Hegel's eagerness to do away with the Kantian opposition of appearance and reality may have led him to over-accentuate, or seem to over-accentuate, the absoluteness of God, at the expense of the independent reality and self-activity of finite beings; but there can be no doubt, I think, that his fundamental idea was that only by self-conscious identification with God can man truly realize himself.
If this is at all a fair account of the evolution of religious experience and its philosophical interpretation, the general character of the constructive part of our undertaking is clearly indicated beforehand. No dualistic or pluralistic conception of the world, in whatever form it presents itself, can be regarded as a satisfactory solution. No doubt the greater complexity of the material to be interpreted adds to the difficulty of the attempt to provide an adequate synthesis; but, however great that difficulty may be, nothing less than a comprehensive doctrine, embracing all the facts, can give satisfaction to our highly critical age. What has been called Radical Empiricism seems to me not only to ignore the lesson to be learned from a comprehensive review of the history of religious experience and of its theological formulation, but it is itself infected with the fundamental contradiction of affirming the possibility of knowledge, while denying the principle without which no knowledge whatever is even conceivable. This attitude it has assumed, in my opinion blindly, because it has confused the truth, that in all departments of knowledge and action man is continually obtaining a more precise and definite view of things, with the false notion that no principles of reality whatever can be discovered by man. These two contradictory ideas the radical empiricist seeks to combine; not seeing that if knowledge is either to begin or to develop, it can only be under presupposition of the rationality and intelligibility of the world. Each branch of knowledge moves within the sphere of the principle characteristic of it, and if that principle is denied no possible progress can be made. Moreover, the totality of knowledge is embraced within a single organic or spiritual whole, and therefore the principles of the special sciences are more or less comprehensive expressions of the one single rational principle which they all presuppose. The whole history of religion and philosophy compels us to deny as even possible the pragmatic doctrine that the only certainty we have is, that whatever “works” must have some degree of “truth” in it. Nothing can possibly “work” or be “true” in an irrational and therefore unintelligible universe.
Granting, then, that the supreme principle of theology is the rational unity of all things, we must next ask how this unity specifies itself in the various distinguishable spheres of our experience. The first and most natural view of the world is that it is composed of a number of things and events, which are in no way affected by their relations to one another or to the mind that apprehends them. This conception of things, however, we are forced to abandon, when we discover that no single thing is permanent, and that the character of every object is determined by the fact that it is a more or less evanescent phase in the ever-changing process of the world. It is not possible, however, to accept the inference which naturalism bases upon this fact; namely, that reality in its ultimate nature may be defined as a purely mechanical system. This theory is inconsistent with the irreducible distinction of living from non-living beings; and therefore the world is no mere assemblage of objects only externally acting and reacting upon one another, but must be conceived as a teleological system. At the same time it does not seem possible to admit the contention of the personal idealist, that all beings are self-active or living; what we must rather say is that, from the ultimate point of view, nothing exists that does not presuppose the spirituality of the world. Hence, while to no mode of reality can be assigned an isolated independence, the specific character of each mode must be determined by an appeal to the facts of experience. Reality, we find, presents an infinity of aspects, all of which in varying degree manifest the presence in them of the one spiritual principle. We may broadly distinguish between inorganic things, living beings and self-conscious subjects; and, while all three presuppose the one principle, it is only self-conscious subjects that at once manifest that principle and are distinctly conscious of its nature. Man in all his feeling, thought and action experiences the divine, and the whole of his history is a record of his ever clearer comprehension of it. His experience of the spirituality of the universe constitutes religion, of which theology is the systematic and reflective expression. The conclusion therefore of our whole investigation is, that man as a spiritual or self-conscious being is capable of experiencing God, who is the absolutely spiritual or self-conscious being, and that the influence of God upon man is not external or mechanical but spiritual, and so far from being destructive of freedom, is the condition without which freedom is inconceivable.
One of the difficulties felt in accepting this idealistic interpretation of experience is that it seems to be inconsistent with the growing experience of the race. Should not man, continually haunted as he cannot but be by the shadow of his ignorance, be contented with working rules of life, and abandon all claims to know the absolute nature of things? The answer to this objection has already been indicated. In the first place, we do not get rid of the claim to know the absolute nature of things by affirming our ignorance; for, the affirmation of ignorance is a claim to know that we are ignorant; and such a claim cannot be established unless we know what the distinction between knowledge and ignorance is. And, in the second place, in claiming that we have a knowledge of principles or laws we are only stating what all men virtually assume and what the scientific man expressly asserts. That assumption and that assertion cannot be justified by a reference to any number of particular instances, but are necessarily presupposed as the condition without which there can be no experience of any particular instance whatever. And what is true of special principles applies also to the principle that the universe is rational or spiritual. Nothing less can explain our experience in its totality; and it is only by treating a particular phase of that experience as if it were the whole, that a plausible case can be made out for denying the one principle that gives to all experience its meaning.
It has also been objected, that, by affirming a single absolute principle, we make all self-activity or freedom of the individual impossible, and therefore play into the hands of naturalism with its mechanical conception of the world. But such an objection seems to show that the objector has never distinguished between an abstract and a concrete Absolute. No doubt if we conceive the ultimate principle as one that abolishes all the self-activity or freedom of finite beings, the result must be, not indeed a mechanical conception of things, but an Absolute of which nothing definite can be predicated. But such an Absolute is at the opposite pole from the Absolute for which I have been contending. The former excludes, while the latter includes, all differences; the one denies that our intelligence can define the ultimate nature of reality, the other declares that in spirit or self-conscious intelligence we reach the idea that makes all others intelligible; the first denies the self-activity of man, while our view maintains that without self-activity man could not exist at all. It thus seems to me that, with the removal of these misconceptions, it becomes obvious that the religious interests of man can be preserved only by a theology which affirms that all forms of being are manifestations of a single spiritual principle in identification with which the true life of man consists. Living in this faith the future of the race is assured. Religion is the spirit which must more and more subdue all things to itself, informing science and art, and realizing itself in the higher organization of the family, the civic community, the state, and ultimately the world, and gradually filling the mind and heart of every individual with the love of God and the enthusiasm of humanity.