TRUE, then, and indispensable as is the teaching of Nature, we must not be surprised to find it imperfect and obscure, for the physical universe is not the whole of the known universe, or even the highest part of it. Celsus was hardly justified even by the science of his own time in maintaining that the frogs of the marsh have as good right as men to say that the world was made for them; and in the light of modern science any such language (pace Haeckel) is absurd. Though we see that man is not physically very different from the orang or the chimpanzee, we see also that he is not only the de facto ruler of this present world, but the crown and flower of the long development of past ages. He is not only the highest point at present reached, but the end of an entire cycle. So greatly has he changed the face of the earth and subdued it, that no room is left for the evolution of still higher forms of life, unless it be from man himself. Such higher forms, if such arise, will not be animals developed, but men improved. No other line of advance is now possible, for he will summarily cut short any animal development, say of the gorilla, which may seem to endanger his supremacy. If the central position given to him by the Ptolemaic astronomy has been taken away from him, it seems restored by the modern theory of evolution.
Science, then, is as emphatic as ever Scripture was, in declaring that man is the final outcome of the physical process—not simply as its latest phenomenon, but as the final issue of the whole. It is profoundly unscientific to speak of his appearance as “a brief and transitory episode in the history of one of the meanest of the planets.” And if man is the final issue, he must also be the explanation, unless we give up reason altogether by saying that there is no explanation. Yet the explanation is manifestly not to be found on his physical side, in which he hardly differs more from the gorilla than the gorilla from the gibbon. So far he is simply an animal like the rest, with substantially the same structure, and the same instincts and passions. He is really very little better than some of the other beasts, till we take him on the side of spirit, in mind and conscience. But there the difference is enormous. If this be taken into account, he hardly differs less from the gorilla than the gorilla differs from a stone. In spirit is the only possible explanation of the whole; and this means generally that matter is to be interpreted in terms of spirit, not spirit in terms of matter. Far from giving support to a philosophy which sets aside spirit as an unimportant collateral product of the physical process, the history of the evolution distinctly points to spirit as the completion of the physical process, and therefore as its end and aim so far from the first. More than this. If evolution is an upward process, and the production of spirit is the goal of the past cycle, then the further development of spirit must be the work of the present cycle, and the problems of the world around us must be dealt with in the light of such further development.
These conclusions are drawn from undisputed facts of science; and if rightly drawn, they are of the utmost importance. The Materialists of the last generation were so hopelessly beaten that their successors have had to disown the name. Yet they hold no very different position. Instead of making spirit as purely physical a secretion as the bile, they tell us that spirit and matter are the two sides of some undefined third thing; only, matter is the side which governs the other. Now, here it is good for both parties that issue should be joined on the right ground. The fact, if fact it be, that matter and spirit are two sides of some unknown third thing, is a fact of psychology with which religion has nothing to do. So long as we do not obscure their actual difference, their ultimate unity is quite consistent with religion. Whether it is good psychology is another matter, which we have no occasion to discuss. It is the other statement, that spirit is at least comparatively unimportant, which touches the vital interests of religion; and this, as we see, can be directly traversed on purely scientific grounds.
Turning then to the spiritual nature of man, the first thing we notice is the peculiar relation in which he stands to the physical world. He is subject, indeed, to all its “laws,” like any other animal, and if he breaks them pays the same penalty of natural consequences. But he is not simply and unconditionally subject to the first “law” that comes across him. He has a will to choose ends, a mind to devise means, and some physical strength to carry out his purposes. So he can dispense himself from any of those “laws,” if he can set another law to counterwork it. He conquers Nature by obeying her. One or another of her “laws” he always must obey; but he is often able to choose means of so co-ordinating forces as to place himself under one of them rather than another; and the range of this choice is the limit—the only limit—of his power over Nature. In this region only his action is free. Beyond it he is no better than the beasts; but within it he is sovereign.
Now this limit is determined by his knowledge of the “laws” in question, and of the forces behind them. The savage has little knowledge, and therefore little power; the skilled chemist or engineer has much knowledge, and therefore much power over Nature. But it is the schoolboy's mistake to suppose that knowledge is purely intellectual, as if the best intellect secured the best knowledge as a matter of course. As he grows wiser he comes to see first that knowledge is chiefly gained by force of will to stick to work; then that force of will is chiefly given by the desire to know. A man who is earnest enough will do a good deal with an inferior intellect, while the cleverest will be stupid if he has no interest in the matter.
The desire to know may perhaps be stirred in the first instance by base motives; but it is very certain that motives wholly base will never carry a man through the drudgery of serious study. Some undergraduate friends of mine protested base things; but their delight in solving a problem made me doubtful. No man can get lip the needful enthusiasm unless he knows something of the charm of learning to know. Base motives are pure and simple hindrances, and a very little admixture of them is enough to obscure the meaning of our facts, and to corrupt our results with errors of prejudice and impatience. Even when truth is lighted on by accident, the accident itself, like the discovery of Uranus, is commonly the reward of patient work, and needs a patient and truthful worker like Herschel to see its importance. The same accident came to Lalande; but his impatience only threw away his discovery of Neptune. In every department of knowledge the mistakes arise more commonly from moral causes than from simple defects of intellect.
Now the charm of the knowledge of Nature is our discovery therein of reason and order corresponding to our own ideas of reason and order. We never come to an enchanted ground where there is no reason and order; and we are certain that we never shall. If marvels be true, we are sure that they will fall into their place in some wider scheme of reason and order. We assume without proof that Nature is a structure of reason and order; and then we find that every new fact we learn goes to confirm our assumption. We took it as a working theory; and each successive fact as we come to know it helps to verify our theory. Science, and even thought about Nature, would be impossible if there were not that in Nature which speaks to us in language our mind can understand. And that which speaks to us in language our mind can understand cannot be anything else than a kindred mind revealed in Nature. Our true affinity and likeness to the power immanent in Nature is the necessary postulate, not only of religion, but of science, and even of thought itself. Scientific knowledge would be impossible if we had no true likeness and affinity to the mind which speaks to us in the facts of the universe; and thought itself would be no more than idle fancy if all true human thought were not the tracing of divine thought which has gone before it.
Not every thought of men, but only true thought echoes God's thought; and no child of sin is wholly true. This does not mean that all men are liars, but that untruth has many forms less gross than wilful falsehood, so that hasty thinkers hardly recognize the subtler shapes of it as untruth at all. A man may hate lying like the gates of Hades, and yet be far from wholly true. There may be just as much untruth in saying truly as in saying falsely that we believe a thing. In one of Hort's great sayings, Every thought which is base, or vile, or selfish, is first of all untrue. So it must be, for it is contrary to the order of things. If God is the ideal of conscience, every base or vile thought is a denial of him; and if men are, joined by mutual duties, every selfish thought is a rebellion against the order of things. And such thought is not only in itself untrue, but it hides from us truth which we ought to see, truth which with purer hearts we should see, truth which a better man would see. Let there be no mistake here: no force of intellect can get beyond the physical universe without more or less of this kind of truth. There is no sounder philosophical doctrine than the old saying, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
The appeal is therefore not to any one man's notion of truth, which is always imperfect, but to truth as it would appear to the ideal man, whose vision is unclouded by base or vile or selfish thoughts. Such a view of truth is for us like a mountain range obscured by shifting clouds. We get glimpses here and there, and with patience and help from our companions we can put them together pretty well. We all see some truth, though no two men see exactly the same truth, or any truth in exactly the same way, and no man is true enough to see all the truth he ought to see. Still, we are in the main able to judge whether what is laid before us is true or false; and every fragment of truth we see for ourselves or receive from others is a fragment of divine thought.
For our general result so far we find that while the universe in all its parts is a revelation, all parts of it are not in equal measure a revelation. Life reveals more than matter, and conscience more than life. The physical universe is voiceless of itself. The stars of heaven circle round in silence, and all the glory of the world of land and sea tells us nothing till we lay our own mind alongside of Nature and question her with loving diligence. We must leave our pride behind us and become as little children, and listen as children listen for her words, before she will sing us her glorious epic of eternal power and divinity. Yet when her song is sung and ended we are still unsatisfied. With all her subtle witchery she has no message for us in the face of death and misery. She is grand as Job, and just as hopeless—
For there is hope of a tree, if it he cut down,
that it will sprout again,
And that the tender branch thereof will not cease.
But man dieth, and wasteth away:
Yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?
Till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake,
Nor be roused out of their sleep.
Whenever the thought crosses her mind—
If a man die, shall he live again?
she dismisses it like Job as a dream, and comes at last to nothing better than Elihu's conclusion—
Behold, God is great, and we know him not.
All this we think very unsatisfying. We hoped better things of Nature. Yet if the Lord were to answer us out of the whirlwind, he might ask again—
Who is this that darkeneth counsel
By words without knowledge?
Who is he that murmurs at Nature's ignorance, when the knowledge is in himself? If none but man can draw an answer of any sort from Nature, then man must himself take up her parable when it comes to an end. To question her further is to seek the living among the dead. Man has that in him which is above Nature, and therefore he can go further. The evolution which issued in man defines him as essentially spirit, however conditioned by matter, and marks out spirit itself as something of a higher order than Nature.
Mere intellect, as we have seen, is not the self of man, but one of the tools he uses. The man himself is the personality which uses the powers of body and mind to give itself a final expression in will; and the character of that will, and therefore of the man himself, is determined by its relation to conscience. If that relation is good, there is peace within him; if not, the man is divided against himself. As the former is plainly the higher state, and the only one which allows free development, it must be the state of the ideal man; and the ideal man must be a fuller revelation of God than the imperfect man, theologically called a sinner, in whom will and conscience are in perpetual strife.
If we now ask for a more precise description of the excellence of the ideal man, we may be told that it consists in the all-round development of all his capacities to the utmost perfection consistent with the finiteness of human nature. But this would make prudent self-culture the rule of action, which is practically pure selfishness. Supposing, however, the possibility of so construing self-culture as to give a good account of our duty to others, the excellence aimed at would mark not simply the ideal man, but the ideal man under ideal conditions; for the utmost perfection possible in this world falls far short of a perfection which might be very possible if there were a better world. Here we have but a finite time for our development, and evil circumstances are constantly compelling us to sacrifice the lower capacities to the higher, and making it a hard trial to avoid sacrificing the higher to the lower. Culture is forgotten, and too often decency, when life is reduced by dire necessity to a struggle for bare existence. But under the best of circumstances the different capacities call for different modes of culture, so that the development must always be one-sided. The statesman cannot give his strength to learning, the student cannot have the health of an athlete, and the athlete cannot rival the deftness of a skilled mechanic. Every man must choose his own way, and renounce all excellence which can only be reached by choosing some other way. Yet the statesman cannot do without some learning, and the student will be sadly hampered without some share of the athlete's abounding health. We cannot cultivate even one of our capacities without some attention to the rest; far less can we develop them all at once to the perfection theoretically possible for each of them taken singly. We must compromise as best we can among them, for no man can in the length of time allowed us work out so vast a complex of discordant capacities. Even Jesus of Nazareth was very far from perfection in this sense of all-round development. His keen observation of Nature is no result of scientific study, his subtle knowledge of man differs widely from the cleverness of the man of the world, his grasp of history is very unlike the historian's learning, and his fresh and vivid understanding of the Jewish scriptures has very little relation to the conclusions of the critic or the archæologist.
The objection to making this all-round development of all our capacities the note of ideal perfection is not that the thing cannot be done within our threescore years and ten—for no ideal whatever can be reached in this life, but that it cannot be done at all, because it implies a number of divergent and inconsistent aims. It is the old fallacy of defining the whole by the sum of its parts, as when the supreme good is made to be the aggregate of particular goods, or utility is defined as the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
We are on the wrong track if we take this definition of the ideal man. After all, our capacities are only tools to work with; and though a good workman keeps his tools in order, a good outfit does not necessarily imply a good workman. Character, not capacity, is the real man: and character is determined by the quality of the will. As the will is good or bad, so is the man; and if the will were perfect, namely, in relation to given circumstances, so would be the man. The quality of the will is determined by the extent of its agreement with conscience; and the endeavour to make this agreement perfect is at any rate a single self-consistent and so far possible aim. The reason of its impossibility for ourselves is not in outward circumstances which might conceivably be mended in a better world, but simply in that bias to sin which comes into the world with us, and makes it a practical certainty that we shall do sin. Thus we could imagine the aim carried out even in this life, if we could imagine a man starting free from that bias.
If then conscience is God speaking in us, as Nature is God speaking to us, the ideal man in whom conscience and will coincide will be a revelation of God; and every man will be a revelation of God so far as conscience and will coincide in him, Moreover, the ideal man is not only a revelation of God, but the highest revelation we can have, for he is a true image of God exactly so far as he is ideal. Lack of power, lack of knowledge, and the rest of the limitations of finite existence cannot of themselves pervert his will, and therefore cannot prevent him from being, as an old writer puts it, partaker of a divine nature. Doubtless there may be depths of deity beyond our apprehension; but if the character of the divine will can be exactly expressed in terms of the ideal man, such further attributes are as irrelevant as power and knowledge. And if we can form no conception of them, then conversely they can have no relation to us, so that for us in this life they are non-existent, whatever bearings they may have on other beings or another life.
In conscience then, or more precisely in the personality expressed in will, and most truly expressed in the harmony of conscience and will, we shall find a power that can take up the tale of revelation at the point where Nature failed us. But conscience is of itself a blank formula, whose constants have to be determined before we can use it. Conscience will tell us to aim at doing right in all cases; but intellect must tell us what is the right thing to do in a given case. The judge has got his principles of law, but he cannot use them till a concrete case is laid before him; and if the case is wrongly stated he may decide it wrong. But he is more likely to find out the mistake. He may see that such an argument is unsound, or such a precedent inapplicable, or that the evidence of such a witness contradicts ascertained facts. So conscience cannot act till a concrete case arises, and may accept a wrong decision if intellect states the case amiss. Yet conscience can often check the error at an earlier stage, for intellect most commonly goes wrong through moral failure. In any case, the right will goes a long way to secure a right decision, and is infinitely more important. The natural results of error will be what they will be; but there is neither demerit in a purely intellectual mistake, nor merit in a purely intellectual right belief. It was a good philosophy which set up for models of orthodoxy the devils who believe. Our mistakes are seldom purely intellectual. A wrong temper is even more likely to mislead us than careless observation: and when a logical conclusion (as in the case of persecution) is plainly immoral, no genuinely sincere man can fail to see that there must be a mistake somewhere, even if he cannot find it out.
Nevertheless it is the office of intellect to state the case; and the more faithfully intellect takes account of conscience and feeling as well as of pure logic, the greater will be its power not only to state the case rightly, but to bring the will into harmony with conscience. The gain is in power to know the truth, but even more in power to do the truth, for it brings the force of feeling in its highest form, the force of love, into alliance with conscience. And love—the desire of that which a man loves most of all things—is the strongest force of human nature. Pie cold warnings of intellect are disregarded, and even the majestic imperative of conscience is overborne. Outward power may restrain a wayward passion for a time from action; but no mere power can prevent it from breaking out again the moment the pressure is relaxed. Desire is not to be overcome by force; but it may be slowly trained by patient effort to fix itself on a worthier object. Such training is confessedly the hardest as well as the noblest work of life; and a power which can accomplish it must be in harmony with human nature throughout its range—and therefore divine, if ideal human nature is a true image of God. The possibility is given by the fact that man's true nature is good and not evil; the difficulty is caused by the further fact that his actual nature is deeply stained with evil. His conscience is dulled, his will enfeebled, his desire set on delights of sense and self which are at their best unworthy to be his end and aim in life. Imperfect as the training to better things must always be, its results are often marvellous. As long as the great guiding forces of human nature are at variance, the man wavers among them, and serves neither God nor Mammon with a perfect heart; but their united power carries forward the will, and lifts it to heights unhoped before. Then at last the man is revealed to himself in a resistless torrent of enthusiasm, with the loftiest of conscience marking out his aims, the alertest of intellect settling his means, and the glow of love suffusing all. Common men look on with amazement. They looked for the glitter of some such tinsel as their own; and out before them pours the blinding light of molten steel. Such power is given to them that love goodness; such majesty is incarnate in the meanest of them that do the truth with the undivided strength of heart and soul as well as mind. Here is the secret of the knowledge of God. It requires not uncommon capacities, but the whole range of the common capacities of common men. If the entire universe is the revelation, the whole man is needed to receive it. We may miss it by misuse of our capacities; but we may also miss it by not using some of our faculties at all. Take the man who pleads conscience for trampling down intellect and charity together. What he calls conscience is only some bad passion which he assumes to be divine because it is not sensual. Take the devotee who adores the Virgin, the Church, or sonic other idol. Is not religion blind and worse than blind when intellect is refused a voice in the matter, and often common truth is tampered with?
On the other side, we may pass over the profanum vulgus of those who hear say that the search for God is futile, and take it up as a parrot-cry without caring to test its truth. Take a scientific student of a better sort. He has acuteness and learning, diligence and candour. His work is perfect of its kind, for all that intellect can do is done. What then is lacking? Just this: either he looks to intellect only for what intellect alone cannot give; or else he gives up the problem as hopeless, because he rightly sees that it cannot be solved by dint of intellect. Feeling he looks on as “mere subjectivity”; and he guards himself against it as an intruder on scientific processes and a disturber of scientific accuracy. Such of course it is, if we so define science as to shut it out. But the claim here made on behalf of feeling is not that it shall in any way encroach on the sovereign right of intellect to decide all questions of truth. Our demand is only that intellect shall have regard to all the facts of the case. The impressions of feeling are as much facts as those of sense. They may not be so easy to deal with, but there is no reason to suppose them less trustworthy; and at any rate they are facts, and we cannot hope to get at the whole truth without taking full account of them.
If the road of pure intellect is blocked, we must not straightway take for granted that there is no other. We are trifling, not investigating, unless we begin by asking seriously what sort of thing a revelation would be if there were one. As there can be no revelation except of a person to a person, this at all events it must be, and therefore a form of personal intercourse. Now all other personal intercourse depends on sympathy, which involves feeling. Indeed, it is not too much to say that our knowledge of men is strictly measured by our sympathy with them, for there is no getting at a man's real self without loving sympathy. If so, we cannot safely take for granted that feeling must be severely laid aside when in the search for God we come to what cannot be other than the highest form of personal intercourse. It is only through feeling that we can reach the best things of this life in childhood and marriage and parentage, in patriotism and friendship, and the lofty joys of willing service in all its forms. Is it surprising that we cannot scale the heights of heaven sonic other way?
It is no answer to say that feeling leads men into terrible mistakes. So does conscience, for that matter, and so does intellect, and for the same reason. We put asunder things which God hath joined, and lay on one of them a burden which can only be borne by the three together. Feeling in particular is like the city gate, through which all comers pass. Anything may stir it, from the stars of heaven to the yellow primrose, from the noblest of thoughts to the basest: and the attraction of a thing is in itself the same whether the idea be true or false, or the conduct right or wrong. Stolen waters have always been sweet. So if conscience and intellect are not allowed to sift these attractions, feeling is left at the mercy of unreasoning sense and prejudice. Conversely, intellect works with a minimum of feeling on the ground of science, because there we never deal with facts, but with abstractions we have made from them in order to bring them within the range of our scientific methods. It would work just as freely on imaginary data, and might build up from them with faultless reasoning a purely imaginary science. Given its data, astrology might be just as logical as astronomy. Science works by comparison, neglecting things supposed to be unimportant for the purpose in hand, so that its results on concrete things cannot be more than approximate. Even astronomy can boast no more splendid triumph than the Lunar Theory: yet it is no more than an approximation; and it is only made possible by neglecting certain factors of the case.
Feeling is at its lowest in scientific study, though even there a man is not likely to go far unless his heart is in the work. We need it more when we pass from facts of matter to facts of mind, because there we come upon the irreducible element of will. We say for certain what a stone or a planet will do, because we take for granted that we know all the forces acting; but we cannot say for certain what a dog will do, because a dog has a will of his own. Still more is feeling needed to understand a man, for his will is more complicated than a dog's will. In fact, most of our practical mistakes in dealing with men arise from want of sympathy to look at things occasionally with their eyes as well as with our own. Most of all shall we need sympathy for that highest form of personal intercourse which the knowledge of God must be. Thus if He is perfect goodness we cannot know Him even in part unless we look at things with eyes of goodness. To ignore feeling here is quite as foolish as it would be to ignore intellect. It means that, before asking whether we can have knowledge of God or not, we make an assumption which cuts off all possibility of such knowledge.
But the claim to shut out feeling, which is made in the name of science, is made on general grounds of its danger in all search for knowledge, not on any grounds peculiar to the search for God; so that it cannot be limited to that particular search. Yet if we try it on our next neighbour we come to a reductio ad absurdum. We perceive sundry changes in things; and, on the strength of a more or less sympathetic comparison of them with changes we know to be caused by ourselves, we infer not only the existence but the character of a living person more or less like ourselves. We have true knowledge of him from the changes he causes. We could not do this without sympathetic comparison: but we do it. We pass, that is, “from the affirmation of analogous action to the affirmation of identical quality.” If there are any who do not see the cogency of this logic, the answer is simple. They cannot offer us an argument against it without admitting it. If it is not valid, they cannot reason with us, for they cannot have knowledge of any persons whatever: and if it is valid, it cannot be limited to our neighbour. If some changes compel us to recognize the existence and character of one person more or less like ourselves, there is no evident reason why other changes should not as legitimately compel us to recognize the existence of another Person more or less like ourselves. And this is an argument whose premises—that the changes are like changes of our own causing—cannot be reached without feeling.
Some will reply shortly that we cannot argue from finite to infinite. But this is not what we are doing just now. We are arguing simply that if one set of facts is evidence of a person A, another set may similarly be evidence for a person B. Assuming the general soundness of the argument, it is not invalidated if the second set of facts further suggests that the second Person is infinite. Infinity is not a thing whose appearance puts an end to reasoning. It is not such in mathematics. A proportion does not cease to hold merely because the first ratio is of finite and the second of infinite quantities. The only question is whether the ratios are equal. So here: analogy is not of things, but of relations. The only question is whether the second set of facts suggests a person in the same way as the first. If it does, the argument is valid. Whether such person is finite or infinite is a further question which has nothing to do with the one before us.
It appears, then, in general that feeling is an element in all reasoned knowledge, and in particular that knowledge of persons, and especially knowledge of God, is impossible without it. Let us therefore look at it a little closer.
There is usually more or less difficulty—except in the case of infants—in drawing a clear line between instinct and unconscious reasoning. On one side instinct is in itself so rational that it looks like reasoning; on the other, reasoning may be so quick that we mistake it for instinct. The difficulty is only one of our reminders that human nature is not a bundle of isolated faculties, but an organic whole in which all faculties work together. So far, however, as feeling can be separated from reasoning, it would seem to be instinctive. In most cases most things affect most men in much the same way; and the exceptions are often easily explained. Suffering and danger are usually unpleasant; but sober duty or heroic courage or even reckless animalism may disregard them. What is good food generally may be loathsome to certain persons, or to any one in certain states of health. Some people seem hardly to care how many lies they tell; and others will go into sentimental raptures over some particularly base and treacherous murder. But in saying on trifling matters that persons have peculiarities, and in serious cases that they are diseased in body or mind, we recognize the fact that other feelings are the rule, and these exceptions. And here it is worth notice that moral perversion which amounts to mental disease is very commonly little more than excess of selfish vanity. On the other hand, we have cases where feeling is modified or reversed by conscious reasoning, in the astronomer's delight in the eclipse which scares the savage, or in our resentment of advances from an enemy which we should value from a friend.
Now science has never fathomed instinct. We may trace the evolution of the circumstances which call it out, or of the bodily organs by which it works, or we may study the results of its action and the part it plays in life: but what it is in itself is more than we can even guess. Some cases of it may possibly be explained as “a survival of purposed action in past generations”; but in others (matters of sex for example) that purposed action is not habitual enough to make its transmission plausible, even if it be possible. And if it were, habit itself is instinct, so that we should only explain one difficulty by another of the same kind. Instinct seems a deeper mystery than intellect, and may be more nearly connected with the final secret of life. It comes up from unknown deeps; and somehow it comes up true. In special cases it may be misled by altered circumstances, so that it needs a certain amount of check from reason; but in ordinary cases it is true. It is true in the birds that come down from the north on the wings of the autumn winds, and return in the spring to the bright summer of their arctic islands. It is true in the helpless infant which clings to its mother's breast from the first hour of its life. It is true in the sudden flash of anger that wards off sudden violence. Is it not also true in the sudden shock of horror that greets outrageous wickedness done before the face of men? Is it true in animals, and only false in man? and in man only when we reach his higher nature? Some will say that moral feeling cannot be instinct, because there are men without it. True; and others have argued themselves out of it, or drunk themselves out of it. But is it reasonable to maintain that what is wanting in the savage or the drunkard (why not add the idiot?) is no part of human nature? If most men have that horror, and seem to have it in proportion to their general soundness of mind, we cannot help concluding that those who have it not are wanting in something they ought to have.
Feeling is always in advance of thought, for the moment it begins to be verified by thought it opens out new lines for further thought, and gives us glimpses of more than we can express in words. Even malice, which is feeling too, though of the wrong sort, has every now and then a touch of keen insight in the midst of its colossal blunders. Now feeling always has something of the character of a personal relation. Its most developed forms are personal relations; and we feel something personal even in the impersonal forces of Nature. Languages differ in plasticity to personification, but primitive man usually personified natural forces, and even now the poet constantly uses the language of personification, and the student himself can hardly avoid it. It is natural to us. The man of science personifies the Nature he loves, the Anglican his Church in spite of its own Liturgy; and each derives weakness as well as power from the metaphors to which he subjects himself.
If we cannot say what feeling is in itself, we know pretty well how it affects us. Take its highest earthly form. Love seems to rest on a recognition of likeness, perhaps disguised by great differences. But likeness in evil is a rope of sand, as thieves and traitors have found in all ages. Even the physical attraction which is the ground and support of marriage needs to be not indeed ignored or suppressed, but transfigured by something of a higher order. So we rise higher as the higher self is revealed, till in the highest love we recognize through all differences of circumstance and character something akin to what is highest in ourselves. There is no vision of joy like that of looking up to heights of truth and goodness which tell us that other men have realized ideals of our youth which we ourselves defiled and cast aside. There is no such illumination of heart and soul and mind at once as loving reverence for goodness in our fellow men, no such call to lofty action as the enthusiasm that kindles from another's burning zeal for truth and mercy. Unless we sin the sin of sins by turning away in bitter hatred from the vision of goodness, we cannot choose but obey the overpowering impulse to find our true self in self-surrender to it. Personal influence is the force that moves the world.
So far we have studied the conception, or as yet rather the sources of revelation, very much as if each of us was a solitary thinker with nothing to occupy him but the philosophical investigation of Nature and himself. But man is a social animal; and of this fact we have now to take more full account. Even the hermit who tries to limit all feeling to the contemplation of God cannot prevent it from also going forth towards men, and continually tormenting him with memories of the City of Destruction he left behind. However he may hate his country and his kindred and his father's house, he finds it hard work to forget them. But why should he try to forget them? asks the man that is clothed and in his right mind. In all states of life which seem natural and healthy a man's relations to others, and the consequences arising from them, claim the larger part of his thoughts and almost entirely determine his occupation. Bread for himself is bread for his children, and work for himself is work for others. In these relations therefore his true self must be chiefly realized, so far as it is realized at all. It follows that life is the highest study, not philosophy, so that self-culture is no more than a means, not an end in itself. Even the knowledge of truth is debased if we make it a selfish pleasure, instead of a help to do such work as lies before us. For his own sake the individual must be subject to society, though for society's own sake again the subjection must not be complete, for under any form of government the individual is a part of the society, and even the slave influences it as much as the free man, though in a different manner.
But if our highest work is to do truth, and the knowledge of truth is no more than the means of doing truth, it follows that life rather than philosophy or science is the highest revelation; and that feeling, which governs our relations to others, is even more needed for its recognition than the intellect which is supreme in abstract studies. But here the case divides. Others have done truth in the past, or failed to do it, and we ourselves are doing truth now, or failing to do it. Hence the revelation of God which rises higher than Nature is not single, but twofold. There is a revelation coming back from the past, and a revelation unfolding in the present—a revelation in history, and a revelation in life.
If the lower revelation is incomplete, the higher revelations are fragmentary. The beginnings of history are lost, and the future is hidden; the beginnings of life are forgotten, and the end is not yet. Only by faith, by trust in the reason and order of the universe, can we feel sure that some far-off divine event will bring to a worthy consummation the great development whose latest issues on this earth of ours are history and life. So it must be, unless Chaos rules; but no purely intellectual belief can make that hope the moving force in life it ought to be if it is true. We cannot round off a philosophical system on fragments like these; nor is it needful that we should. The lamp that leaves the distant hills in darkness may be strong enough to shew us the road before us.
Men in all ages have seen God in history, and sometimes more vividly than they cared to tell. Indeed, its great catastrophes are as impressive as the earth's volcanic outbursts, and have an individual character which is less easily forgotten. The earthquake of Lisbon stirred more doubts than all the deists; but it is no such epoch of human thought as the French Revolution. Its lasting effects will not compare with those of the dreary Thirty Years’ War, which exhausted the worst of religious hatred, and compelled the nations henceforth to do their fighting with some regard for humanity. There were no more such horrors as the Spanish Fury or the Sack of Magdeburg. Even scoffers are overawed when some great empire crashes like a house of cards, and the thoughts of men sway back to the belief of olden times, Verily there are gods that judge in the earth. France herself could see at the time the meaning of Napoleon's fall, though afterward she made herself a lying legend; and few there are among us, of those whose hairs are whitening now, who can look back unmoved on the dread winter of the siege of Paris.
But the chief meaning of history, and its chief power to suggest and shape the teachings of nature and life, is not in the grand dramas where we seem to hear God speaking straight from heaven. As the still small voice was greater than the earthquake and the storm, so the silent movements of history are greater than the great catastrophes which reveal them to us. We seem to wake of a sudden; and lo! the earth is changed. The old landmark is gone, the old wisdom is confounded, the good old custom is become a grievous wrong. When Amos defies the priest of Bethel, or Luther dares the wrath of Charles v, the meaning of the scene is not simply that a brave man takes his life in his hand, but that the undercurrent of history has so brought round the thoughts of men that the issue on which he does it is felt to be decisive. Hannibal at the gates of Rome summed up the heroic tenacity of the old republic, and Alaric the administrative and moral failure of the Empire. Queen Elizabeth's defeat on the monopolies revealed a century's growth of the Commons of England; and the enthusiasm of the Tennis Court Oath proclaimed it time that the rotten splendour of the old French monarchy should cease from cumbering the earth. As we drift in the darkness down the stream of time, with the swirl of the torrent below and the roll of the thunder above us, the great scenes of history are the flashes of lightning that show us the banks of the river. They may be gone in a moment; but we know better where we are.
In humdrum periods of history or in prosaic days of disenchantment, the forces are silently gathering for the next great conflict. From the exhausted fifteenth century sprang the bursting life of the sixteenth, and the ignoble eighteenth was followed by the mighty struggles of the nineteenth. If Time is the greatest of innovators, his touch is so gentle that we can hardly trace its working, till some day the rough hand of man tears away the veil and shows us the work already done. History is the framework of all other teaching, and very largely determines its character. Science made slow progress in ancient times, because polytheism obscured the unity of nature, and race and class antagonisms the unity of mankind and of history. An atmosphere of legend and imposture discouraged accurate observation, pride of intellect preferred clever theories to prosaic facts, and the worship of beauty tended to contempt of all that was not esthetic. Even the Greeks had uphill work against these difficulties. Christianity prepared the way for better things. Its doctrine of the unity of God implies, and was seen to imply, unity in nature, in history, in mankind, and in life; its gospel of an incarnation consecrated nature in all its parts to something higher than æsthetic interest; and the historic truth claimed for the revelation was a perpetual challenge to closer and more accurate critical and scientific investigation. But the advance of science was still delayed, first by the educational and economic exhaustion of the ancient world, then by the rudeness of the northern nations, and then again by the arrogance of a Church whose polytheistic atmosphere of legend and imposture belied its claim to hold the keys of all truth; and yet for another century again by the clamour of the wars of religion. It is not accidental that the great advance began after the Peace of Westphalia, and became rapid when something like settled peace returned to Europe after Waterloo. Nor is it unnatural that, while the research of the eighteenth century was coloured by the more abstract sciences of mathematics and astronomy, that of our own time takes its tone from the more concrete study of biology. In the same way Greek philosophy brought to the surface the conception of universal duty, Roman jurisprudence that of universal law, while Christianity joined them both in Christ's claim to sovereignty over thought and action alike. If the early church preached the supremacy of conscience as it had never been preached before, the Latin ages taught powerfully the need of order, and the Reformation broke in pieces an evil order to make room again for truth and reason. Every age has some new teaching to declare, but in any case it only comes to light in the fulness of time, when the historical environment begins to make it possible. Thus the imperial conception of God grew up with the Empire, and decayed with the rise of modern nations, while the “carpenter theory” had to wait for the advance of science, and is itself dissolving in the light of clearer knowledge. A universal Church seemed needed to match the universal Empire; but an age of nations could dispense with it. So too we shall find that the changes of religious thought in the last half century spring quite as much from political and social changes as from the working of scientific ideas.
But how shall we venture to discuss the revelation through life? Such a revelation must he chiefly in those most intimate personal experiences which may not be profaned by common curiosity, and cannot be fully told to anyone. In our Founder's impressive words, The prophet may tell his vision, but he cannot give his own anointed eye. More than this, there is said to be in it a mystery inscrutable even to the man who lives by it,—a mystery known indeed, he tells us, with an intense and vivid certainty to which all common knowledge is no more than mist and twilight, yet in its depth unmeasured and in its fulness inexhaustible. He will sooner doubt the solid earth he treads on than the voice that speaks to him through the changes and chances of this mortal life. That voice has not only or even chiefly to do with passionate intuitions and subconscious perceptions, for it seems to sound as clearly and more often in deliberate and reasoned conviction that this or that is right or wrong, and must at every hazard be done or left undone. But is it real after all? We have ample evidence to decide the question. Though we cannot have the experience of others, we have their testimony, and we can judge for ourselves of the results. Even as an illusion, the belief has to be accounted for; and if it is an illusion, it is beyond comparison the mightiest of human illusions. This illusion has been the great nation-making, nation-binding, nation-breaking power in history, the great guiding, lifting, transfiguring power of common life. This illusion has not only nerved men and even tender women to face a cross of shame before the world, but given them the higher courage and still higher patience needed for the obscure and hopeless toil of continual failure in the work that seemed appointed them. If the greatest force of history and life is illusion, can we trust even the reasoning which professes to prove it such? Can we believe any longer in such a power of reason and order working in the world as even science requires, and cannot do without?
Yet illusion lies very near. Like the pillar of cloud which moved behind the camp of Israel, religion has a side of cloud and darkness, as well as one of light. It has inspired, or seemed to inspire, sonic of the vilest deeds of history, from the abominations of the Amorites downward to the organized falsehood of the Jesuits ad majorem Dei gloriam. Yea, many a time have Moloch and Belial been transformed into angels of light. No marvel if truth and common decency have driven sonic men to hate religion. Yet even these infernal caricatures of things divine are at one with the purest and loftiest faith, so far as they declare the unearthly power that lies in our relation to things unseen—a power before which when once its might is roused all common passions fall away like cobwebs from a strong man's limbs.
Moreover, all religions are agreed in the general aim of maintaining and if need be restoring right relations to unseen powers: they differ in having higher or lower conceptions of these powers, and more or less rational methods of worship. Given a Moloch, we know what sort of sacrifices he wants; given a Father in heaven, he must be more ready to hear than we to pray. But what business had men to believe in a Moloch at all? They were not without the natural feeling which revolts at such sacrifices, but they stifled it in obedience to a supposed divine command. Yet a true revelation, if such there be, cannot be a mere command from outside. It is the recognition of the divine without by the divine within, and must therefore appeal for final verification to our sense of truth and right, so that it is self-convicted if it certainly contradicts them. If the message came to me which seemed to come to Abraham, no amount of evidence could prove it divine in the face of the certainty grown up since Abraham's time, that my son's life is not mine to sacrifice. So too if Jesus of Nazareth literally meant a man to hate his father and his mother, we should know that his inspiration was not divine. Here is a clear test. It must be used reasonably (which it is not always) but a professedly divine message which will not stand it must be rejected. If God is good, he cannot command what we see to be evil; and if he is not good, the case for revelation disappears in the general break-up of thought.
But if the Moloch-worshippers took the wrong method, it does not follow that their general aim was either mistaken or futile. Mistake in some cases does not prove illusion in all cases. Were a revelation quite true, it could not fail to be grievously perverted by men whose ideas of God were on a lower plane, for we cannot safely take for granted that it must of necessity be so clear that nobody can mistake its meaning, and so threatening that nobody will venture wilfully to disobey it. The right conclusion from the abominations of Moloch and others is not a hasty condemnation of all religion indiscriminately, but a caution against such forms of it as may prove contrary to sound reason. Meanwhile there is strong evidence that the belief in communion with the unseen is not all illusion. Hardly any belief which is not absolutely universal is confirmed by so vast a convergence of sober testimony from those who claim to know it by experience, and to speak of that they know. The evidence is not limited to one age of the world or one stage of civilization, one race or nation, one form of religion, one rank in life, one type of character or state of health. It seems fairly spread over all periods of history, all stages of culture, all diversities of individual training and position. It takes a colour from everything that influences life and character, yet seems always essentially the same. And is not this cumulative evidence the surest proof of objective reality? Through the endless variations in the accounts of it given by those who claim to know it by experience, no fair-minded student can mistake its general and normal tendency to an intense and vivid life of purity and kindliness. When this is not its outcome, we always find reason to think that something cankers it. Either the man's belief in it is unreal; or his methods are mistaken, as with the worshippers of Moloch. Peace and joy seem as normal to it as righteousness itself, and are seldom entirely wanting. Thus though the gloom of mediæval religion well represented the grossness and disorder of feudal society, it was not without its hope. Beyond the Dies irœ rose Jerusalem the golden.
Any attempt to explain so general a fact by partial causes is plain trifling. No theory can be accepted unless it finds causes rooted deep enough in human nature to work through this immense variety of circumstances. Morbid conditions, for instance, are often found in cases of religious as well as of scientific or literary or any other sort of eminence; and there may be some vestiges of truth in the idea that eminence generally is more or less allied to such conditions. In the main, I should say the fact is otherwise; but genius undoubtedly calls for such industry and strain of nerve as will find out any constitutional weakness. Often, indeed, it is just physical weakness which suggests a line of action where strength of will can win eminence in spite of weakness. In some cases physical weakness may even be an advantage, for there is no such vivid feeling as that given to some of those who suffer, and there is no true insight without feeling. But these are particular considerations; and morbid as distinct from vivid feeling would seem rather a general hindrance to all eminence than a special help to any particular sort of eminence.
If morbid conditions not unfrequently attend the origin of religious conviction, their occurrence is natural enough in a trying time of moral unrest. Imagine a man brought face to face with the appalling fact he never realized before, that God sees all his goings, and sees them with displeasure! Or imagine him persuaded that God calls him to bear witness—and witness he must—of some terrible truth which may cost him not his life only, but the hatred of his country and his nearest friends! It is grim earnest, if anything in life is earnest; and morbid conditions are not unlikely to accompany such a fearful strain of heart and soul and mind till the man either settles down into the new life, or falls back into the old. Further evidence is needed to skew, first that morbid conditions originate the new life, then that they sustain its later growth; and yet further evidence will still be needed to give us reasonable assurance that this is commonly the fact, before we can look on such conditions as more than a partial and therefore insufficient cause. And there are many cases where such a cause can hardly be suggested. Of Jesus of Nazareth, who fills all Christian hearts, a Gifford Lecturer must speak with some reserve; but there is a tremendous dilemma there which will have to be faced. Assuming that the stupendous claim ascribed to him is false, one would think it must have disordered his life with insanity if he made it himself, and the accounts of his life if others invented it. Later cases are plenty. John Wesley made some bad mistakes; but nobody can read his Diary or study his political action without seeing in him one of the soundest and most sensible men of the eighteenth century. If Newton and Faraday were not sound and healthy minds, it may go hard with Darwin and Huxley. If Butler and Lightfoot lived in a morbid state, Haeckel and Karl Pearson may do well to make sure of their own sanity. So likewise of countless common men, who tell us that the vision is real, however doubt and carnal fear may dim our eyes. We can rule out their evidence if we start from the axiom that personal conviction of religion is of itself morbid, but hardly in any other way and that way is begging the question.
No, gentlemen, now that we stand before the mightiest experience of history and life, at least let our words be sober and wary. It will not suffice for opponents to tell us that our experience is not theirs, for they could not remain opponents if it were. May not experience be true which is not universal? It is in science: why not in religion? If ours is true, we can explain why they are not conscious of it as theirs; but if it is false, they cannot explain why we are assured that we know it to be ours. We have found no initial impossibility in the belief that there is a divine revelation in the ordering and guidance of our life, and we have seen that it cannot be accounted for by morbid conditions. What is it then? An enthusiasm no doubt—we can agree so far—and often a white-hot enthusiasm. But what is its quality? Take it in its best and purest form, as you are bound to do, and judge for yourselves; but judge the righteous judgment. Survey first our baser passions—envy, malice, cruelty—and tell us if You call that the enthusiasm is of the earth earthy which consumes them like a furnace blast. Then call up the bright ideals of truth and purity and gentleness and love unfeigned, and tell us again that there is nothing divine in the enthusiasm which flowers aloft, like the flower in the sunless cavern, to their marvellous light. Is it all no better than the appetites of beasts? If so indeed it be, let us take Chance for our Father in heaven, and resign ourselves for ever to the reign of Chaos and Ancient Night.