You are here

Lecture 6. General Considerations (2).

FURTHERMORE, a revelation will look forward, because it is a process of education. On the divine side it is a teaching, on the human side a learning, of things divine; and a process, because teaching is a process. And since things divine must affect the whole of life, the process of teaching broadens out into a process of education for the man, the nation, or the race receiving the revelation. Now there is but one method in all sound education—to make the learner verify things by his own experience as fast as he is able to do it. In the lowest stage of theory facts are given, to be taken on trust, and commands are issued, to be obeyed in confidence that our parents know best. But in practice we never come down to blind trust. A very small child can see for himself—and a wise teacher encourages him to see for himself—that some of the facts are true, and that some of the commands are given him for his good; and henceforth trust and verification go together. The very object of education is that the learner should return upon the facts and the commands that were given him, and see for himself how far they were rightly given. The disciple is not perfect till he is as his master. At every step the teacher looks forward to this independent verification, and shapes all his work with a view to it.

This is not only the method of all good teachers, but the only possible way of dealing with the learner as a rational creature. If therefore God is the teacher, this is the way we must expect him to follow. If he gives facts or issues commands, he does it in the intention that we should verify them by experience. Even the child can verify some things, and his elders can verify more, though we must not be surprised if some difficulties remain insoluble, for there must be elements of mystery, and therefore room for faith, in an uncompleted evolution. Hence we must expect revelation to move, like other teaching, from the lower to the higher, from the easier to the harder, from the simpler to the more complex, as men are able to bear it. But at every step it must look forward, not only to the next, but to the whole development which is to follow. Its earliest forms may be—must be—sensuous and rude, to be understanded of sensuous and rude men; but they must look forward to better things, and place no needless hindrance in their way. For instance, the reference to the deliverance from Egypt in the First Commandment may not be so sublime as I am the Absolute, or the Unconditioned; but anyone can see that it is much more practical teaching.

A revelation must look forward, it may rest on historic facts of the past, and may even be said to consist of such facts, though in that case it will more properly consist in the gradual unfolding of their meaning in successive ages. Such meaning is infinite; for if the universe is an organic whole, as on any rational theory it must be, the complete understanding of the smallest fact of history in all its bearings must be the unravelling of the last mysteries of earth and heaven. And if the alleged facts are really the central facts of history, as those of a central or special revelation ought to be, all other historical facts will fall into order round these, so that the truth of the revelation will be the natural key, not only to the past which went before it, but to the future which has followed it. Thus, if Islam were in question, we should have to ask not only how far the earlier history of the world converged on Mahomet's mission, but how far the truth of that mission throws light on the developments of later ages. How far, for instance, has Islam been the inspiration of all that is highest in men; and how far does it now seem tending to gather to itself their noblest hopes and stamp them with the mark of Mahomet?

If an alleged revelation professes to rest on historical facts and to be made through them, there seems to be nothing of itself unreasonable in a further declaration that its full benefits cannot at present be given to others than believers in those facts. Some will raise here an outcry about dogma; but I think with very little reason. The objectors are partly of opinion that the facts are false, they partly agree with Lessing that eternal truth cannot depend on facts of time, and they partly resent the demand for belief in such facts as a piece of religious tyranny. Very commonly these three distinct arguments lie confusedly together, like the chaos of Anaxagoras, except that mind does not come and set them in order. Now the facts may, of course, be false, but anyone so persuaded is bound either to argue this question first or to set it aside entirely when he comes to the others, for they cannot be rationally discussed without, provisionally at least, supposing the facts to be true. Now it may be granted that eternal truth cannot depend on facts of tune; but why should it not be manifested by such facts? How else can it be manifested? Were God to speak to our hearts, he must do so at such a date; if he spoke through the order of nature, we could say when the message reached us; and even if he spoke straight from heaven, that too would be a fact of time, and our understanding of it would be conditioned by other such facts. If we cannot know things eternal by things of time, we cannot know them at all. As regards the third objection, it must be allowed that the historical facts of an alleged revelation do limit the freedom of thought; but they limit it only in the same sense as other facts limit it. The fact of the Resurrection limits thought in exactly the same sense as the fact of Cæsar's assassination, or the fact that water boils at 212 degrees, and in no other sense. Assuming all three facts true, as we are doing for the moment, all that follows is that they must be treated as true by all thought which in any way touches them. If objection be further made, as it often is, that a church has no right to make a test of historical facts, the answer is simple. If men are at liberty to form associations as they think fit for the promotion of particular opinions on politics, history, or philosophy, there cannot well be anything wrong per se in such associations as are formed by the adherents of the historical religions for the promotion of such opinions as follow from the truth of their alleged historical facts. And the right to associate for that purpose carries the right to exclude any who do not believe such facts. A demand to have them made an open question is a demand for the suppression of the society as constituted for its present purpose. If it is to be tolerated at all, it must not be refused the elementary rights of other societies.1

But I am afraid most of these objectors do not even know what is meant by a dogma. An alleged historical fact may be false; but it cannot be a dogma, unless we are using the word in a generally abusive way. An interpretation put on it by some supposed authority may be a dogma; and as interpretations vary in cogency, so will dogmas. Some will have a very flimsy connexion with the alleged facts, while others are linked on to them by reasoning which a man in his right mind can hardly dispute. But however that may be, historical religions are not in the same sense limited by the interpretations or dogmas of a particular period as by their fundamental facts. Historical facts are given once for all, but interpretations belong to an uncompleted evolution; and some distinction must be made between religions which declare alleged facts of history, and those which try to stereotype the dogmas of a particular period. The one group may be mistaken, the other must be false.

Revelation must in any case have this forward look. If we take it first on the divine side as a gift of truth to men, each part of it must contribute to the whole, and have an organic relation to parts given before and after it. The vast diversity of mankind makes it likely that revelation will be given πολνμϵρωķς καὶ πολντρόπως in divers parts and by divers methods as men are able to receive it; but it will not be given in parts unrelated to each other. If there is a divine purpose anywhere, it must run through the whole, and make it a solid unity. Thus, if such a revelation be recorded in the Bible, we have no right to work on isolated texts without reasonable regard to the drift and meaning of the whole. This indeed is the way most of the worst mistakes are made. Athanasius complained of the Arians that they built a system on the metaphor of sonship without regard to other statements of Scripture; and later systems have been built as recklessly on other metaphors, like those of ransom or body. Be the document what it may, fragmentary interpretations cannot be right. It is childish, for instance, to quote, Being crafty, I caught you with guile,2 in proof that St. Paul told lies whenever he found it convenient; or to discover a repudiation of natural duty in, Go and sell that thou hast,3 or to gather from, No sign shall be given,4 the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth disowned the power of working signs. All these positions have been recently defended by men of some notoriety, and they are all about as accurate as the rabbinic quotation, Thou shalt follow a multitude.5 Or again, if we take the revelation on its human side as an evolution of knowledge, the forward look is implied in the conception of evolution as the explicit development at every stage of something that was implicit at the last. If we cannot expect to foresee the precise course of the development, the connexion of successive steps will often be very plain to those who can look back on them.

There is another consideration bearing on this forward look. A revelation must consist largely—we need not ask just now how largely—of moral truth; and moral truth is in essence universal. The nature of God and the principles of duty concern all men equally. If, then, moral truth is reached at a given time by one nation only, that nation must be in some way specially fitted to receive the revelation or make the discovery; but others will reach it likewise when they are fit to receive it from the first. This means that a true revelation cannot be particular, except so far as universal truth may need to be given in local or temporary forms. Magical rites may be a secret tradition, and the worship of a limited god may be limited; but the revelation or discovery of one God through facts of history, of science, or of human nature, must be as universal as the facts themselves. If God speaks in them, he speaks to all who know them; and if men discover him through them, the discovery is free to all who can verify it for themselves. In other words, a true revelation may be full of adaptations to the needs of its first receivers; but it must contain also a universal element suited to the needs of all men in all ages, so that the adaptations cannot be such as could permanently bar any future advance. It cannot impose any permanent limit, but must be capable of passing into something higher. If it has any laws of the Medes and Persians which alter not, they must be such as never will need to be altered.

To give an example. Islam will not stand this test. It is universal enough in the sense of receiving all comers and admitting all its converts to all its privileges without reserve; nor can we deny that it lifts them to a pretty high level, at all events far above the level of African or Indian idol-worships. The universal element is there too, in a doctrine of God which has often stirred men of sundry nations to splendid works of courage, of justice, and of charity. So far well; unfortunately, Mahomet often appealed to lower passions, as notably in his laws of war and in his pictures of paradise. Worse than this, he has placed in the Koran laws which the moral sense of men has outgrown, like those regulating the position of women; and laws which make it impossible for Muslims to govern other people with justice, like that which commands the rejection of Christian evidence against a true believer. Worst of all, he put these laws beyond reform by a doctrine of verbal inspiration which is not merely a common belief about the Koran, but a principal part of its direct teaching. Thus he effectually barred all advance to a higher level. It cannot be reached from Islam, but only by entirely renouncing Mahomet.

The case of Judaism is for a certain distance the same. We find a similar welcome to proselytes and a still higher doctrine of God; but here again we find statutes which were not good, and laws which make Judaism unfit to be a permanent or universal religion. So far it stands on the same footing as Islam. The difference is partly that the Jewish conception of God as perfect implies, and was seen to imply,6 the promise of a better covenant in the future, for an imperfect covenant could not be the last gift of a perfectly good God; partly that the Messianic hope required every good Jew to hold his religion subject to such reforms as the Messiah might please to make. The Pharisees of course overlooked both these points; but the real meaning of Judaism was rightly given by the baptism of John.

The case of Christianity differs again. As in Judaism, we have alleged facts, and principles of conduct deduced from them. If God brought us out of Egypt, or if he gave his Son to die for us, what manner of men ought we to be? But while Judaism has a whole code of law, the Gospel makes no outward acts unconditionally binding but the two sacraments ordained of Christ himself. All further institutions and observances are ordained of men, and may for good cause be changed by men without disloyalty to Christ. Sonic of these, like the observance of Sunday or the existence of a ministry, rest on needs of human nature that will not pass away till men are very different from what they are. Still, even these are not of the essence of the Gospel. The Christian ministry is no more than a partial delegation of the universal priesthood, though it has always been found necessary for the sake of decency and order. The idealism even of the old prophets looked forward to a time when any such delegation shall be needless; and such is also the hope of Christians.7 Those then who maintain that Christianity is outgrown or likely to be outgrown will have to show either that the Christian facts have turned out false, or that we see our way to a better morality than that of Christ, or that the two sacraments are in their proper use obstructions to a higher life. Any of these arguments will be much to the purpose; but nothing is gained by pointing out the historical shortcomings of an uncompleted evolution without showing that such shortcomings are necessary consequences of its essential principles.

But though a revelation must look forward, we cannot expect it to make itself an anachronism and practically useless by anticipating the reason and morality of a distant future. Even if God were to speak straight from heaven, he must still speak, as the rabbis say, in the language of men. He cannot give more than men are able to receive. Yet many persons, professed believers too in evolution, seem quite ready to argue that nothing can possibly be divine unless it is precisely on a level with our present standard of thought and morality. But this is asking too much. A revelation must approve itself to conscience, and is therefore limited by the growth of conscience. It will be enough if an alleged revelation reaches the highest standard of its own time, and from that level points upward and not downward, so as to be a help and not a hindrance to a further advance. So much we may expect; but we cannot safely require more.

Perhaps we may further agree that a revelation cannot be true unless it is rational and moral, for this can hardly be denied unless we give up the final rationality of the universe. Mr. Kidd no doubt defends religion while holding it contrary to reason; but a position of this kind reached by reason is unintelligible till we find that the reason he contrasts with religion is nothing more than a sense of present interest—which is an unusual meaning for the word. But there are others confused thinkers who seem to take the unknown for the unreasonable, and fancy they do honour to God by making revelation the arbitrary declaration of his will and nothing more, so that his nature remains unknown, and infinite reason and justice may for aught we know be the reverse of all that; we mean by reason and justice. This was supposed to be Mansel's position; and it certainly explained the appearances of unreason and injustice which have been a trial to serious thinkers in all ages. But it was only one more sample of the realistic dualism which divorces appearance from reality, and denies our competence to reach the truth of anything beyond our own perceptions. The defeat of this attempt to base religion on agnosticism was the crisis of religious thought in England in the nineteenth century. In one direction the controversy laid open the fundamental scepticism of Tractarianism and such-like religions of church authority, and in another the human element in revelation which it brought to the front was fatal to forensic theories of the atonement and mechanical theories of inspiration, while its reflex action opened out a new phase of essentially agnostic thought in Mansel's disciple, Herbert Spencer. However, no religion on the face of the earth has been able to keep its historical development uninfluenced by the persistent belief of the natural man, that devotion ought to contain, not only the element of incompleteness and mystery inherent in all human thought, but also an element of unreason. I fear we shall long have with us—at least in England—the people who seem to measure heavenliness of mind by appetite for silliness.

To take another illustration. So far as Islam claims to be a special revelation, it is condemned at once by its low morality. In saying this I do not forget that Islam sets a higher standard than most religions, and has often won its victories by undeniable moral superiority, both in its short heroic age and in later revivals. It was indeed the sword of God which smote both Rome and Persia on the Yermouk and at Cadesiya, the sword of God before which not a man could stand from India to Spain; and in the power of truth and right Saladin scattered at Hattin the faithless chivalry of Latin Europe. There was an age when Turkish justice was more tolerable than Christian, and a day of shame when Christendom cowered before the just rebuke of Islam Varna. Nevertheless I should rank the Koran morally far below Deuteronomy. Some may think differently; but hardly anyone will venture to put it near the level of the New Testament. And that is enough. A standard which is not the highest may still be the highest reached as yet; but the Koran is not so much as this. When it sets aside the New Testament it replaces it not with something better, but with something worse. Allah is merciful forsooth, and saw that Jesus had asked too much of men, and not told them enough about Paradise. Now this is one of the things which a true revelation cannot do. It cannot command us, as the Koran does, to turn downward from a higher standard of morality to a lower.

Similarly the Montanist oracles of the Paraclete. They presume the truth of Christianity: so for the moment we must do likewise. Here then a special revelation is presented to us as the fulfilment of the Gospel, even as the Gospel was the fulfilment of the Law. Well, what is the outcome of this higher revelation? A few fasts, a mechanical doctrine of inspiration, a stricter penance, and a prohibition of second marriage. This last, by the way, is no completion of Christ's teaching, but a flat contradiction of his answer to the Sadducees. However, let that pass. Taking the oracles on their own shewing, are we not moving on a lower plane than when we listened to the lofty teaching of the Man of Nazareth? And is not this decisive? Be the Gospel true or false, it bars every claim to special revelation that has been made in later times, except for those in whose opinion some such revelation is morally higher than that of Christ.

Some of these claims are further barred by want of consistency. Take the modern revelations of the Church of Rome. Discounting all that can be explained by natural causes, let us imagine something remaining. Now these revelations profess to be Christian, and are therefore bound to be consistent with Christ's teaching. In themselves possibly some of them are; but logically they are inseparable from a system whose working parts cannot be reconciled to Christ's teaching without a further non-rational and historically untenable claim to determine by authority the meaning of that teaching. That is to say, Christ's teaching and these later revelations cannot both be divine. One or both must be false, and those who do not reject both must choose between them. As Bessarion might have said, these new revelations make us doubt of the old.

It is of the claim to reveal something new that I am speaking, for in another sense Islam (for example) may have been, or rather must have been, a message from heaven. Whatever else it may contain, the moving force of its first heroic efforts was that thrilling and inspiring sense of God's reality and righteousness which the idol-worshippers of Eastern Christendom had lost. It might mean Paradise before and hell behind; but none the less it also meant the old Hebrew battle-cry, Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered: and this was the faith in which Islam sent forth its armies on their wonderful career of victory. Some of us may smile at faith of that sort; but such faith has been a mighty force in history, and if there is a God at all his message and his power it must be.

So too of other movements. History seems to shew that untruth pure and simple seldom lasts long. So when we come to something that does last we may expect to find in it some truth, and therefore some divine message. It may be very far from pure truth, for a small amount of living truth will sometimes float for a long time a great amount of untruth. Some will recognize the message more or less truly when it comes, and many more will see something of its meaning when they look back on it in the light of history. And that message must itself be a declaration of truth, whether it be a revelation of new truth or a recall to old truth now forgotten.

But here we shall need some caution to avoid making false distinctions. In common language, revelation is limited to moral truth, and discovery to physical truth; and as there is a real difference between moral and physical truth, though on any theistic theory they agree in being the thoughts of God, we get a valid distinction of subject-matter. Similarly we say that God may reveal new truth, or man discover it, but that God can only recall as to old truth, and man can only recover what he has forgotten; and this again is a valid distinction. But there is no such difference of process as there is of subject-matter. Whether old or new truth be in question, we have no reason to suppose that God will communicate them by entirely different methods; and we know that man goes to work in much the same way to find out either. But moreover, if we take our Theism seriously, revelation and discovery must be the same process viewed from different standpoints. If we speak of revelation, we say that God gives knowledge of his thoughts; but we imply that man receives it—or misses it by his own fault. If we call the process discovery, we say that man finds out what must be thoughts of God; but we imply that God has so disposed both him and them that he is able to find them out. In either case we have the same two facts—that God has ordered things in a certain way, and that man has recognized this order in them. There may be a difference in God's method of communication, but in both cases God reveals; and a difference in the facts observed by man, but in both cases man discovers. The divine action is not more real in the one case, or the human in the other. Revelation or discovery is neither in God's giving nor in man's receiving, but in the two together. It is neither in God's truth without, nor in God's image within, but in the meeting of the two. It comes to pass whenever God's image within recognizes God's truth without. No matter so far about the kind of truth. Be it physical or mental or spiritual: in all cases revelation and discovery go together. The divine and the human are always both implied; and we can no more have the one without the other than we can have the north without the south, or a circle without a centre.

In common language, revelation refers to religious truth, discovery to physical truth; and the difference of words corresponds to another real difference of meaning. Discovery suggests the uncovering of a particular thing; revelation is the removal of a vail which more generally obstructs our sight. In fact, we have seen that the moral failings which generally hinder our grasp of moral truth are also the chief causes of the intellectual failings which specially hinder our discovery of scientific or historical truth. A third word used in the New Testament, especially by St. Paul, gives us an interesting side view of the whole process. The word manifestation presents truth neither as revealed by God nor as discovered by man, but as shining out by its own light, and gradually shining through the vail till it becomes distinct. There is a revelation when the curtains are drawn back to let in the sunshine, a manifestation when the light of the dawn shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Is there not a development here? Does not the word well describe the gradual way in which new truth is borne in on men and on mankind? First it is dimly seen, or only seen in part, or seen in confused relations; gradually the clouds clear off and the surroundings come out in their true perspective. First we have our doubts, then fightings within, and at last unhesitating certainty. First one man sees his way, then another, and at last there is a more or less general agreement, and the old ideas of science or morality become obsolete. This duelling (I mean in England) has become absurd as well as criminal, our statesmen do not drink and gamble in the way Pitt and Fox did, and even the restorers of slavery have prudence enough to call it something else. We take these things as a, matter of course, and forget that every moral belief which makes us better than our fathers was won for us in hard battle with powers of evil, and will be lost again if we let it sink from the plane of faith to that of orthodoxy.

Like this must be the history of revelation, if man is to remain a moral being, with freedom to hear or to forbear. No doubt God might rend the heavens and come down, with the melting fire burning at his feet; and then man perforce would have to believe: and God might further constrain him always to think and do the right thing. Then we might have a peaceful world, a fairer world by far than this that we have disfigured in our ignorance and selfishness. But it would be a baser world, for it would have lost the promise and the potency of better things. Imagine some immortal spirit watching from afar the stately course of ages on the earth. First he sees chaos formed into an ordered world, then from the midst of matter rises life, then crowning life comes conscience, learning more and more its true affinity and likeness to the Lord of all. At last he thinks he sees a meaning for the mighty structure, and is watching its upward growth with keener interest than ever, when a sudden blow crashes it all in fragments, and leaves the heaven-pointing spire a pile of ruins. Would it not put him to intellectual confusion? Better the drunkard in the street than a machine which does the right thing; for there is some hope of the drunkard, and there is none of a machine. Better a world of beasts than a world of men who have lost the freedom which makes then better than the beasts. A world where sorrow and sighing flee away, and there is no more toil and no more death—such a world is not fit for such rebels as we are, and would be worse for us than this world if we had it. Dark as the problem is, and complicated every way by sin, the chief difficulty is the craving of the natural man, not simply for pleasure, but for unmixed pleasure; and we shall see light as soon as we get rid of that. Sorrow and sighing and toil and death must be here for a purpose, and we can partly see that purpose in the enrichment of life and the training of character. And if character be the highest good, that which trains it cannot be the reverse of good. But that which trains is not sin in itself, which is evil pure and simple, but the mysterious order that works it round for good, and gives redeeming and restoring power to the brave and loving acceptance of toil and suffering by the innocent on behalf of the ignorant and them that are out of the way. Be the difficulty what it may, the order of things must finally be rational and good, for otherwise thought itself, and the difficulty with it, is meaningless. If so, the old trust in God is good philosophy as well as true religion.

But we are drifting away from the argument. Our point was that a revelation must always be rational and moral, and capable of recognition as such, though by no means likely to be so recognized at once and generally. Were it ever so true, its claim to moral authority would always have against it an immense mass of opinion shaped by other forces than the love of truth, so that it could only make way gradually, and through formidable conflicts.

But to what faculties will it appeal? From experience we judge that the world's order is rational and moral; and from experience we must judge whether an alleged revelation is rational and moral: and the same faculties which give us the one experience will also give us the other. I say experience rather than knowledge, because a purely theoretical knowledge, if such were possible, would have no moral value. We can get no real and effective knowledge even of this world except by acting on what we know already. We cannot expect to solve the harder problems till we have fairly worked out the easier. A bad son is not likely to be a good father, and the man who has not learned to obey is unfit to command. The range of needful faculties is the range of human nature. We must have feeling to suggest a meaning for what passes before us, intellect to define and verify that meaning, and will to work it out in the experience of life. By this process we come to know what we know of Nature and ourselves, and by this process must we come to know what we can know of revelation. It must speak to the whole man.

The process then of revelation is fairly clear. If God is a Person, we must get our knowledge of him in much the same way as we get our knowledge of men. We see their outward forms, but we no more see them than we see God. Yet we see their actions, and if we care to reason on them we can draw conclusions. Then, as we ponder lovingly the works and words of those we love, we see more and more of their meaning: and sometimes again come unbidden thoughts, we know not whence or how, to give us further insight. So also must it be with the knowledge of God. If he dwells in the light whereunto no man can approach, he is not for that reason harder to know than the friend of our life behind the wall of personality that keeps us in our awful isolation from each other. Barrier for barrier, we have no reason to suppose that one is harder than the other for love to overleap. In either case and equally the eyes of sense will fail, for it is not simply with our outward eye that we have knowledge of our fellow-men; but if the arms of faith stretch outward to the living persons of our unseen friends, why should they not stretch outward also to the living Person of the unseen Lord whose image we bear? We see what must be his actions all around us; and if we are willing to reason on them we can draw conclusions, even as we draw conclusions from the actions of a friend whom possibly our eyes have never seen. Then, if we ponder well his works as works of one we love, we ought to see more and more of their meaning; and some there are who tell us that so they do. Nor is there anything incredible or even unlikely in what they further tell us, that sometimes unbidden thoughts come—whence they think they know, but not how—which give them further insight.

Let us pause for awhile on these unbidden thoughts. We cannot probe them to the bottom, and we shall not need to probe them very deep. Indeed it may be that the origin of human thought is a subject full of danger except for those to whom all things are pure. There is no subject where fools are more ready to rush in, no subject more encumbered with legends and uncertain stories, and perplexed with idle marvels and unhealthy dreamings. The exact limits of the Terra incognita may be hard to fix; but there is no great difficulty in roughly settling them. In whatever way a given train of thought arises, whether from a conscious impression or not, when it is once begun, the will has a good deal of selective power to continue it or turn it aside, or to break it off entirely. In the main it seems linked together by imperfectly understood laws of association, as if one thought or some feature of it suggested the next; so that here again the will has a good deal of power to recover lost thoughts by retracing their associations, or to obtain new thoughts of any sort we desire by cultivating thoughts likely to be associated with them, and therefore to suggest them to us. The ϕρόνημα of a man—the selection of thoughts he cultivates—is the most characteristic product of his will.

The connexion of thoughts is often very clear; and even the romance of dreams frequently has an evident and prosaic origin. The sound of a servant's knock is magnified into the noise of battle; and the vision of a distant light across a furrowed field was caused by a ribbed shading on the gas-light which I could hardly see when awake. Sometimes, however, the connexions are distant or obscure. Why should I wake up with a dream of a bit of Brazilian history I picked up years before at school, and have never seen since? Why should we dream of monsters that never lived on land or sea, or why should the visions that float before us even in our waking hours change from one face to another like dissolving views?

Clearly the ultimate analysis of these things is beyond our present powers. We know little more than the surface waters of the great deep of human nature. Our sight is dull, our sounding lines are short, and all below is mystery. Yet our nature does not seem like the coral reefs, where the surface layer only is living growth, and all below is dead. On the contrary, the subconscious deep would seem as full of life and purpose as the conscious surface. Hartmann was a true seer when he preached the supreme wisdom of the unconscious, though he mistook it for unconscious wisdom of the Supreme, and allowed a juggle of words to hide the natural inference, that what is absurdly called unconscious purpose in ourselves must express the conscious purpose of Another.

It may be that the separating wall of personality goes sheer and solid to the bottom: but all the evidence tends to shew that there is no essential difference between the conscious and the subconscious regions, and that the latter is as open as the former to influences from outside. Sensation as a whole would seem to be continuous like the spectrum, where there are invisible waves of the same nature as the visible, so that while they do not reach the eye as light, they spew themselves in chemical and other effects. Similarly with sound. Some of our impressions seem to lie wholly on the surface, and if they go lower we are not conscious of it. Others which also lie on the surface plainly dip below it. We feel; but we know that we feel more than we know. We cannot analyse the beauty of the flower in the crannied wall, or grasp the mystery of the great sea that rolleth evermore, fit emblem of the world of deeper mystery within us. A third class of impressions would seem, as it were, to strike the surface and dip below it to be lost for awhile and come up again later, like a lost clue or a forgotten name. They have been stored up meanwhile—perhaps not idle—in the subconscious region, and come up as if they had originally struck there; but we know them again because we have seen them before.

Now, may there not be a fourth class of impressions which strike first on the subconscious region, and work there for a time before their effects come to the surface? They will come up like the last class, except that we shall not recognize them, because we have not seen them before. If impressions from outside reach us through the senses, they will not necessarily touch the senses between the limits where consciousness begins and ends. We know that the waves of light and sound are as real below the limits of sight and hearing as above them; and might be perceived by keener senses than ours, or possibly in some rare cases by our own. If Elisha really heard the words the king spake in his bedchamber, such experience would be unusual, if not unique; but we could not summarily declare the story contrary to natural law. If evidence of the fact were brought, we should have to examine it fairly. If our senses are more delicate or wider in range than the recording consciousness, we can see how mind may have its wireless telegraphy as well as matter.

Though on the surface of our nature we are sharply separated individuals, there is evidence of mysterious connexions below the reach of consciousness. The separating wall of personality seems built on arches. If we are members of each other in our physical life and in our social relations, why not in mind and spirit also? It may be, as I have heard Bishop Westcott argue,8 that the unbidden thoughts of goodness which come to us, we know not whence or how, are due to the subconscious influence (he said the prayers) of absent friends. Such a theory is of course unproved; but can it be disproved? Does it require a breach of any known natural law? If so, let the breach be shewn: if not, let it be admitted as a possibility. If true, it shews how prayer may be a real force in the world without our seeing it. Perhaps its possibility will be most readily allowed by those who are most impressed by the deepening mystery of Nature disclosed by science in these last few years: and surely there are more things in heaven and earth than science has ever dreamed of yet.

But, especially if the possibility of human suggestion in the subconscious region be admitted, we can hardly deny the possibility of divine suggestion. In one sense, no doubt, every true thought must be of divine suggestion; for if there is a God not lower than the beasts, we need no Gospel to tell us that there is such a thing as providence,—which in this case means that the order of things has been so arranged and guided as to suggest such true thought. This indirect suggestion, if I may guard my words with a condition, may perhaps be a sufficient account of the element of divine suggestion which is implied in revelation, though religious experience may indicate occasional suggestion of a more direct sort, so that we shall do well to leave the question open.

The condition without which indirect suggestion would by itself be no account of the matter at all is this. What comes to us as a suggestion through natural causes must be as purposed a message of God, and may in some cases be as certainly recognized for such a message, as if he spoke it from the burning bush. The certainty of the message, and of its meaning, may flash out at once, or it may grow upon us as we ponder it. The suggestion itself may be a now fact, a fresh touch of feeling, or a strengthened purpose. By the opening of our eyes, the warming of our hearts, or the bracing of our will we know that the suggestion which came to us through natural channels was divine. On this condition only will there be even a possibility of accounting fully for the divine element in revelation without a more direct divine suggestion.

Such more direct suggestion, if such were given, would not of necessity be consciously received. It might work for a while in the subconscious region like its human parallel, and contribute in the same way to conscious results. As regards the recognition and verification of a divine element in these results, there is no reason for making an exception to the rule that things divine are known by their rationality and goodness, or at any rate by their necessary connexion with something already so approved to be divine. The voice that bids us calm that evil passion or give up that hatred is divine, come it whence or how it may; and so is the conviction which; grows on us, that evil shall not for ever prosper; and we know them to be divine by their rationality and goodness. If the pondered certainty of the prophet is more vivid than the belief of common men, it is not necessarily different in kind.

Any divine suggestion must of course be consistent with infinite wisdom and goodness, and generally connected with the entire plan of revelation, though we cannot expect always to see the precise nature of the connexion. But whether it be sometimes direct or always indirect, the only other limit we can fix for it beforehand is that it cannot give more than the subject of it is able to receive. But we cannot say beforehand how deeply a man may be enabled to see into the secret of the world, or how completely a willing heart may be brought into sympathy with the order of things. If the possibility of divine suggestion be admitted in any form—and it can hardly be denied to a personal God—we cannot rule out in limine the claims of prophets to bear special messages, or even the supreme claim ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth, to be God's perfect representative. If evidence be offered for such claims, we are not entitled to disregard it.

  • 1.

    In the words of a writer who cannot be suspected of any prejudice in favour of Christianity: “When a religion is proclaimed to have been revealed under given circumstances of time and place, it cannot allow its historical tradition to be indefinitely vaporized (he is speaking of the Gnostics) without ceasing to exist. All the religions of this type, whether aggressively intolerant or not, have had to bind themselves by a creed of more or less precision into a Church of more or less exclusiveness.”—Whittaker, Neoplatonists, 222.

  • 2.

    2 Cor. xii 16.

  • 3.

    Mt. xix 21: and this in defiance of the fact that he had just quoted (ver. 19) the Fifth Commandment.

  • 4.

    Mk. viii 12.

  • 5.

    Exod. xxiii 2. As the negative comes first in Hebrew, it may conveniently be stopped off. It is really surprising that some of these critics have not quoted, There is no God.

  • 6.

    Jer. xxxi 31-34.

  • 7.

    Jer. xxxi 33, 34, quoted Heb. viii 11, alluded to Apoc. xxi 3 and similar passages, and confirmed by such as 1 John iii 2, which speak of direct vision. Apoc. xxi 22 is also significant.

  • 8.

    The evening of my own ordination, 20th December 1891.