It has been frequently observed that belief in Predestination does not have upon those who seriously entertain it the effect which detached observers tend to anticipate. Observers usually suppose that it must lead to moral and spiritual torpor; for if all is settled by divine decree, what place is there for human effort? Must not the Divine Will be left to fulfil its purpose, as assuredly it will? But history records a very different result. St. Augustine and John Calvin were not quiescent spectators of the drama of divine activity; John Knox was not content idly to observe what Providence might bring to pass in Scotland; or, to take a yet greater name than these, St. Paul, who had much to say about the passivity of clay in the Potter’s hands, was not one who accepted from his master, Gamaliel, the doctrine that man’s wisdom before what purports to be an act of God, is to wait and see whether history will vindicate that claim. He fought it while he believed it was not of God, and “laboured more abundantly than they all” when he found his error. Saul the persecutor and Paul the missionary are one in vivid consciousness of a duty laid upon man to decide and to act.
We have here an illustration—perhaps the most conspicuous illustration—of a principle common to many phases of religion. The content of religious faith can only be expressed in propositions; but because of the nature of faith, these are of necessity in part misleading. The propositional, or conceptual, or scientific, phase of thought is, as we saw, an interim process, helping us to appreciate more fully the reality empirically given in the actual life of the organism.1 Religion, when it is more than conventional belief or a body of philosophical conclusions, is of all forms of experience the most vital and personal, so that it loses even more than art itself when an attempt is made to translate it into propositional form. The translation must be made; and the doctrinal formulations, which are the result, are of indispensable value for pointing to the source of vital religion those who have not yet experienced it or whose experience of it is as yet rudimentary. But intellectual acceptance even of correct doctrine is not by itself vital religion; orthodoxy is not identical with the fear or the love of God. This fact of the inadequacy of the truest doctrine is a warning that to argue syllogistically from doctrinal formulae is to court disaster. The formula may be the best possible; yet it is only a label used to designate a living thing. To draw conclusions from it by the methods of subsumptive logic may very likely involve us in results which are either quite irrelevant or even contrary to truth, because the inadequacy of the formula will be quite as potent in determining the course of the inference as its appropriateness to the personal relationships for which it stands.
It may assist apprehension of this point if we turn to an illustration other than that with which we are most immediately concerned, though not wholly detached from it. St. Paul undoubtedly argued that human sin was a special opportunity for divine Grace. Those who had no experience of that Grace drew the formally correct conclusion that we should “do evil that good may come” or “continue in sin that grace may abound”.2 With regard to the former slander, the Apostle is content to retort upon its utterers the gloriously question-begging observation “whose damnation is just”. The second form of the inference supposedly drawn from his doctrine supplies an opportunity for fuller reply; and the reply is not a denial of the major or minor premise, nor a criticism of the logical form of the argument, but an appeal to experience showing that whole course of argument to be irrelevant to the spiritual facts. For the Grace of which he speaks abounds only to those who are “in Christ”; and for them there is no open question whether they should continue in sin. The inevitable form taken by the propositional expression of the experience of Grace is such that inferences drawn from it with absolute formal correctness may be, in their practical suggestion, not only irrelevant but the diametrical opposite of truth.3 Theologians do well to check every step in their procedure by reference to the living experience of personal religion. This living experience is the initial fact which they are to articulate and, so far as may be, render intelligible, and to this they must come back for that richer appreciation which their study and reflexion has made possible.4
A man who from outside all religious experience reflects upon the probable effect of any vitally held faith is almost certain to reach wrong conclusions. In relation to the matter now under consideration, he tends to suppose that anyone, who is convinced that God controls all things absolutely and without reserve, will feel himself relieved of responsibility and will adopt the attitude of “wait and see”. But the man to whom divine control is not the major premise of a dialectical process but a dominating fact of intimate experience does not in this way settle down inertly to watch the activity of that control; the consciousness of control is itself an overmastering impulse, urging him to incredible enterprises and impossible endeavours. So St. Paul found that a necessity was laid upon him; his abounding activity is no credit to him; rather, woe to him if he desists.5 And of course it must be so. To feel God’s hand upon one impelling and directing, and to find oneself actively pursuing some course or serving some cause, are not two experiences but one. The doctrine of the universal Sovereignty of the divine will is paralysing so long as it is doctrine only; but when it is matter of personal experience, it becomes impulse and energy and inspiration.
With this preliminary reflection we may turn to consider two closely allied questions: how is the divine control of the human will effected? and what does man need which only divine control can offer? The answer to both questions will be found to involve at once the denial of all human freedom over against God and the affirmation of complete human freedom in submission to God.
The divine control is exercised at various levels. Man is a product of Nature, and in his dealings with Nature is subject to its laws. A man may dive off a rock into the sea, and swim there in safety; but he cannot dive off a cliff into the air and swim in that. Man’s range of free choice is limited by natural necessities. By study of nature’s laws he is able to overcome this limitation to some extent. Thus by inventing a glider he has enabled himself to dive from cliffs or precipices with safety; and by inventing aeroplanes he has become able in a certain sense to swim in the air. How far he may be able to go in achieving such an indirect emancipation from the limits initially imposed by nature on his range of choice it is impossible to forecast. The emancipation is indirect, in the sense that it is only achieved by means of appropriate instrument; it remains true that a man cannot swim in air as he can swim in water. But though indirect, the emancipation is effective. Man’s range of action, and consequent liberty of choice, is vastly increased by his scientific knowledge; and this expansion of liberty continues.
The present phase of the world’s history prompts the reflection that expansion of liberty on one side is balanced by an equal contraction on the other, and that the same cause is responsible for both. It is by machinery that man has gained the wider liberty, and now he is imprisoned by the machinery which sets him free. “Things are in the saddle and ride men.” In the competition which machinery has intensified, men find that they must conform to the established process or starve; and even if they are ready to conform by offering their labour, there may be no room for them in an industrial organisation which is almost as completely mechanised as its own productive processes. But true as this may be, and in its own context supremely important, it is to be noticed that the compulsion exerted by competition or any other social force is not physical compulsion. It is only regarded as compulsion because the alternative to conformity is regarded as indubitably undesirable. But a man might choose to starve rather than labour in the only way open to him. In other words, this compulsion acts through the will and not apart from it. Even in a period when man is controlled by his own machinery as much as he controls it, the emancipation from physical restraint upon his freedom of choice remains.
That physical restraint is part of the divinely fashioned constitution of the universe; and from that, by use of his divinely given power of thought, man has in part emancipated himself. So far as it operates, that restraint is a control that makes no reference to man’s will. It is merely a limitation of the possibilities before the will. Such a limitation itself supplies an element in the rudimentary discipline of moral character. It teaches us the futility of crying for the moon. That is not an advanced lesson, though some of us never quite learn it. But it is only concerned with wise or unwise ways of seeking a selfish satisfaction; it has nothing to do with the actual direction of our purpose. It is only when this level of concern is left behind that the real problem of divine control and human freedom is reached. A form of external compulsion exercised through divinely instituted laws of nature may minister to our discipline; it has nothing to do with divine control of the will. Indeed it is not control of the will at all; nothing can properly be called control of the will which does not determine the direction of the will itself, as distinct from the conduct to which the will assents.
This principle affords guidance when we come to the stage where we may rightly speak of control of the will. For if compulsion is not real control of the will, no more is bribery. Conduct may be controlled by a system of rewards and penalties; and such a system may have a disciplinary use in fashioning the will, by holding in check certain lawless impulses and thus allowing an opportunity for the dominant nucleus to establish itself and become a rudimentary will. And thereafter this will may itself direct conduct in accordance with right moral principles because it is itself concerned with the winning of rewards or the avoidance of penalties. But in such a case the will is not really directed to moral principle; it is directed to pleasure and pain; and if ever it has hope of gaining a greater preponderance of pleasure by deserting the moral principle it will do so without compunction. Rewards and penalties, in this life or another, may have some disciplinary and educative value; but they are not means by which the will itself can be controlled. Not by such means can God be Sovereign in this portion of His creation.
Are we then to say that He only becomes sovereign over the spiritual world by the self-initiated movement of the finite will towards submission to Him? That would make His sovereignty highly precarious. Moreover, such self-initiation of volition is very hard to understand. It has the appearance of a surd—an irrational entity in the midst of what should be reason’s own domain. But if that is unwelcome, are we to say that all depends on the action of God in making to each self or will the appeal to which its nature will lead it to respond? If so, why does not God make that appeal at once, ending the misery and havoc due to the self-centredness of all existing selves? This question has been argued repeatedly in the history of religion. Doctrines of Irresistible Grace, of man’s co-operation with divine grace, of man’s deserving grace by congruity of conduct, and the like, litter the libraries of Christendom. Let us see whether our method of approach to all such problems enables us to set the various factors in any intelligible relationship to each other, only demanding in advance that the matter should be considered in the closest possible connexion with living religious experience.
We have seen mind establish itself as the dominant principle, or principle of unity, in organisms that are themselves episodes of the world-process. We have agreed that this fact is evidence that the world-process is grounded in mind. We have observed mind detaching itself from the needs and movements of the organisms in which it appears by means of its free ideas. Thus it acquires a freedom to be itself—a freedom “against all the might of nature”. This freedom is chiefly exercised in control of the direction given to attention, whereby the mind selects its own nutriment and therefore also its own course of development. Being thus to a great extent a self-determining system of experience, though always less than perfectly integrated, it is free in conduct in the sense of being the true source of its own actions. External compulsion is now irrelevant to it, even when such compulsion still determines conduct, for, as we have just noticed, the will is then either not concerned at all, or else is directed not to the acts nor to their principles, but to the sanctions under which they are commended. The will is therefore a real power of choice; nothing forces it to choose one way or the other; it follows its own “apparent good”. It is not undetermined. It is determined by its apparent good, and itself determines—not by specific choice but by its actual constitution in each self—what shall be to it apparent good. Hence it has—or rather is—the freedom which is perfect bondage. It is free, for the origin of its actions is itself; it is bound, for from itself there is no escape.6
So it seems. Yet there is at least partial escape along three roads—the roads that are followed in the pursuit of truth, of beauty, and of goodness. They are the roads marked by inherent value, of which we have found that the essential condition or formal cause is the recognition by mind of itself or of what is akin to it in its object. This recognition can lead to the escape of the self from its self-centredness because it involves a submission of all that is special or particular in the self to the impress of the object. The man of science must not so study nature as to find only that evidence which supports the theories to which he is already committed. If what he looks for is not the mind that meets his mind in its nature as mind, but a structure that corresponds to his mind in its nature as his, he is no seeker after truth but an advocate thinking to a brief. The mind which seeks truth is not pronouncing judgement on reality but submitting itself to be judged by reality. Thus the impulse towards truth is an impulse away from self-centred particularity to the whole, and humility is at once a condition and a result of success in any genuine search for truth.
The same thing is equally, if less obviously, observable as regards the search for beauty. At first we find beautiful whatever gives us aesthetic pleasure; but those who are content to remain at that self-centred level never reach the deepest apprehensions of beauty. For this there is needed the docility which is willing to be guided by a richer experience.7 And when the deepest forms of aesthetic apprehension are reached, the mood of the apprehending mind is more of reverence than enjoyment; a man may enjoy himself, in the proper sense of the words, as he witnesses a comedy; but if he is to appreciate high tragedy he must forget himself and be absorbed into the drama presented to him.
Supremely is this principle illustrated in the aspiration towards goodness. We have already seen8 that so far as this is a self-centred effort, it is doomed to perpetual frustration. As the mind which seeks truth submits itself to the impact of reality; as the mind which seeks beauty finds itself, in proportion to its success, drawn out of itself in a reverence that borders on worship; so the mind that seeks goodness finds that the very essence of what it seeks is that it so give itself to the personal beings in whom it finds itself, that it ceases to be the centre of its own social relationships, and becomes one member with the rest in a totality or community of persons, wherein even for itself it counts for one and for no more than one. For this is to love one’s neighbour as one’s self, which is the true principle of moral goodness.9
Now to many people these three roads are open and the lure to travel them for at least a certain distance is sufficient. But the movement from within is a response to the truth or beauty or goodness apprehended as presented from without. The seeker for truth repudiates the notion that his real desire is to invent it; his desire is to reach what is truly there. The artist does, indeed, in some sense invent or create the beauty of which his artistic masterpiece is the medium or vehicle; yet his own attitude to it is much rather that he has given to it a form whereby it becomes communicable. He has not really been himself the source of it. Blake’s disclaimer—“Not mine! Not mine!” represents the attitude of the greatest artists to their own productions. Alike in science and in art, the movement away from hampering self-centredness is a movement of response. It is an adaptation of the organism—an organism in which mind is the dominant principle—to its environment. The environment has the initiative.
But this environment is the medium of divine activity. The truth and the beauty in it are God’s self-utterance, His Word or Logos. Already here we find at work that divine priority which theologians have called prevenient grace. All possibility of good is due to the grace of God in creation—His creation alike of the object-world and of the subject-minds which are part of the process of that object-world. And the movement of response within man’s mind, which not only enables him to find in the object what is akin to the mind in him, but also proves him to be akin to the mind revealed to him in the object world, is for that reason known to be a divine movement recognised as due to the spirit of God.10
But these deliverances are never more than partial. The search for Truth may dominate a man’s intellect and dictate the course of his life, as with Browning’s Grammarian, who gave all his energy to the study of Greek grammar and syntax. But we do not hear of his courtesy or lack of it in dealing with those who brought him his meals. It is not always true that a man utterly selfless in pursuit of Knowledge is uniformly considerate to the people with whom he lives. Nor does a similarly complete devotion to Beauty always issue in the social graces. Beethoven was a passionately conscientious artist, but he was not specially easy to live with. Truth and Beauty draw the self from its self-centredness, but only in respect to certain functions. The deepest springs of life are not yet touched.
It is otherwise with the appeal of Goodness, so far as it is effective. That is a call to desert self-centredness altogether. There may be real progress towards this goal, but the goal can never actually be reached by continuous progress. At first or at last there must be the sharp break which has been called, in the language of religion, conversion or the new birth; or else there may be a series of conversions affecting different areas of life; but there is need for real discontinuity. Often, indeed, a particular conversion takes a long time and is effected through a gradual process; yet even then its completion takes place at a moment, and though the transition effected in that moment may be very small, yet it is in its essential nature abrupt. Most of us have watched the sun setting behind a sharp horizon. Its disc slowly disappears; at last there is only a speck of light; then suddenly it is gone. Its going is a gradual process; but between the last moment when it is visible and the first when it is entirely hidden there is abrupt transition for the eyes that are watching it. The contrast between “nearly” and “quite” is, in the realm of Quality, entirely different from the contrast between any two degrees of approximation, however far apart. Regarded as matter of Quantity or measurable movement, the setting of the sun is a continuous process; and there is a greater difference between the moment when the lower rim of the sun touches the horizon and the moment when only a dazzling point remains, than there is between that latter moment and the moment when nothing remains to dazzle the eye at all. But in Quality it is not so. Throughout the longer period there is the dazzling brightness; then in a moment it is gone; and the difference is absolute, however small, while the other difference is relative, however great. So it is with the setting of the self as it passes over the horizon of its own contemplation. Whether it be in relation to Truth, or Beauty, or Holiness—or that entire dedication of life which alone deserves the Christian name of Love—the self may gradually forgo its grip upon its own activities or it may relax it suddenly; but the vital difference comes when the grip is gone and the object of contemplation or aspiration has free play with it. For that moment there may be long preparation, or it may come as a lightning-flash. Regarded from one standpoint it is, like the sunset, a continuous process; regarded from another, the process is crowned by a moment which is not itself process at all; that moment is decisive for the quality of life so far as the type of conversion involved affects it. In religion the quality thus induced is called saintliness. And it is most important to notice that this, like the parallel devotion to Truth or Beauty, may be departmental. A man may have been lifted clean out of himself in some functions or activities, and brought into fellowship with the Holy and Eternal, and yet remain in many respects unconverted and self-centred. Such are fanatics—men who are capable of combining with true spiritual exaltation the utterly self-centred passions of cruelty and malignity, or who are ready to speak falsely on behalf of truth. This may happen even when the conception of God intellectually accepted is true; for not all that is intellectually accepted is translated by imagination into that apparent good which sways the conative elements in the self and therefore also the will which these combine with intelligence to constitute. There have been cruel saints, and contemptuous saints, and unscrupulous saints; such saintliness is very incomplete, but may none the less be genuine in itself. And there have been saints who in the unconverted functions of their nature care so much for their own saintliness that for it they are ready to cause great pain to others. It is evidence how mortally deep is our self-centredness that even our deliverance from it in respect of many sides of life may become itself an occasion of self-esteem. This is that demon of spiritual pride, which most of us are not nearly good enough even to encounter, but which, the saints assure us, is waiting as it were on the top rung of the ladder of perfection to catch us even there and throw us down. It is not mere self-satisfaction at our own goodness like that of the Pharisee in the parable, though this is often confused with it. It belongs to a far more advanced stage of spiritual progress. It occurs where the self, being by nature self-conscious, which is indeed the condition of all spiritual progress whatever, contemplates its own state of deliverance from self-centredness and finds in that a self-centred satisfaction. It is not merely pride in being good; it is pride in being delivered from pride; it is pride in being humble. It turns even self-sacrifice into a form of self-assertion. In the language of our simile, it is a last effort of the sun of self to keep itself above the horizon. Of course it is only possible when the deliverance is not complete; but it is compatible with, indeed it is occasioned by, a deliverance which judged from the lower level looks complete. Though so complex in its formula and so insidious in its activity, it is quite simple in its principle. On an altogether lower plane, we easily see that wholesome desire is for the objects that will satisfy it, as hunger is desire for food. The satisfaction of the desire brings pleasure; if desire is now diverted from its appropriate object to the pleasure of attaining or enjoying it, desire is turning into lust. So the proper object of the self’s surrender is the Spirit of the Whole which we call God; but if attention is diverted from God Himself to the self’s satisfaction in being surrendered to Him, adoration itself is poisoned. The satisfaction is real, and there is no reason for refraining from attention to it so long as it is in the second place. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and (incidentally) to enjoy Him for ever; but if a man were to say that his end was to enjoy God for ever and (with that aim) to glorify Him, he would be talking pernicious heresy. The true aim of the soul is not its own salvation; to make that the chief aim is to ensure its perdition;11 for it is to fix the soul on itself as centre. The true aim of the soul is to glorify God; in pursuing that aim it will attain to salvation unawares. No one who is convinced of his own salvation is as yet even safe, let alone “saved”. Salvation is the state of him who has ceased to be interested whether he is saved or not, provided that what takes the place of that supreme self-interest is not a lower form of self-interest but the glory of God.
It is time to return from this consideration of the ultimate goal and of the last perils that may hinder our attaining it, and to consider the ways of progress, so that we may ask how far they can bring us. Truth and Beauty, as we have seen, may effect a real emancipation with regard to certain activities of life—an emancipation partial in the range of interests affected though capable of being complete in type. On the other hand the claim of Goodness, so far as it wins response, effects an emancipation capable of being complete in range though apart from one condition it is always incomplete in type. For the claim of Goodness is upon the complete will. Certainly the response is not always given with completeness; an all-round development of all the virtues simultaneously is a rare occurrence. To some extent their psychological bases are different and even divergent, and this is true even of virtues apparently similar. Thus, for example, moral and physical courage are very differently conditioned; the power to face danger is increased by dullness of imagination, while this will make almost unattainable the power to face obloquy or mockery or the censure of a man’s own circle. Still the claim of goodness is for the allegiance of the whole will, that it may be resolute to take the best possible course in relation to any and every combination of circumstances. This will include the right attitude to Truth and Beauty, but the distinctive sphere of this demand is that of personal relationships.
Now there are two main ways in which the self is delivered from self-centredness and its resultant antagonisms in those relationships. One is by the activity of genuine and disinterested love within the self; the other is by the widening of the area within which obligation and loyalty are recognised as holding sway. The natural self is capable of disinterested love; indeed it is probable that every child has for its mother a love which is in part disinterested so soon as it is capable of any true emotion as distinct from animal desire.12 The vitiation of selfhood by self-centredness is never complete, though it is very pervasive and there are few children who come to years of so-called discretion in whom self-interest has not contaminated what elements they once had of disinterested love. Yet the capacity for such love is always there in some degree; it is part of selfhood as God designed and created it. By grace of creation man is made in the image of God, and however much that image may be blurred, it is seldom if ever effaced, and never until the corruption of self-concern has eaten deeply into the very constitution of the self.
Disinterested love and devotion are called out chiefly by persons who have some special affinity for the person concerned, or by the society or nation to which he belongs. This love and devotion may attain to very great heights, even beyond the sacrifice of life to that only true self-sacrifice which is the ignoring or forgetting of every self-centred interest. But admittedly this is rare; and even when it occurs two facts are to be noticed which give warning of grave limitations. The first is that this response, so far as it is given to persons, is given only to a few or to one, and so far as it is given to a community is always to a limited community; it is therefore compatible with antagonism and even hatred towards other persons or communities, and sometimes seems, at least, to be deepened and intensified by these. The other fact is closely connected with this, namely, that this devotion, with all its selflessness, is called forth by some affinity to the self, so that the lover not only belongs to the beloved but the beloved to him, the patriot not only belongs to the country but the country to him. The paradox of this devotion is not so great as that of the love of Launcelot for Guinevere, whose
honour rooted in dishonour stood
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.
Yet it has in it the same essential contradiction. It is a self-devotion resting on appeal to the self in its particularity; it is the devotion of the Englishman to England, of the Frenchman to France and so forth; it is the discovery of himself not only in his other but specifically in his own other. In such devotion the sun of self may be setting behind the horizon, but it never quite disappears; and if it did, it would destroy the occasion of the devotion. This natural love may be truly disinterested; it is its own reward and looks for no return; yet it is in itself a return, and depends for its very existence on being so. A loves B because B is the appropriate object of A’s love. A does not love B for the sake of any result, nor even for the enjoyment of the sentiment of love; A loves B for being B. Yet this love is rooted in the special appeal which B has for A, and which neither does B exercise over others, nor does A find exercised over him by others. Consequently the complex unit AB may be exceedingly self-centred.
Similarly with devotion to group or country, the patriot’s love for his country depends on its being his. Consequently patriotism may be a genuinely disinterested love, and yet co-exist with antagonism and hatred towards other countries. It does not appear that the way to true emancipation from self-centredness is to be found in this natural capacity for devotion. It is very noble; it is akin to God; but it is, as Nurse Cavell said of Patriotism, “not enough”.
It was remarked that moral progress, which comes partly through an activity of disinterested love within the soul, also comes largely through widening of the area in which loyalty is recognised as an obligation. And that is real progress. So also is the growth of sympathy such as marks the humanitarian movement characteristic of the last hundred years. The diminution of that callous cruelty, in which men were content to inflict suffering on others, is true progress. The civilisation of the penal code is true progress. In each of these there is a movement away from that crude selfishness which sharply contrasts the self and others, which acquiesces in the infliction on others of what would be passionately resented if inflicted on self, which greedily grasps for self what is thereby made unattainable for others. Such greed continues, and is in our bad economic order made almost synonymous with efficiency. But conscious cruelty is really diminished. The world is effectively learning that all forms of malignity and antagonism of person against person are genuinely bad. Rivalry and emulation may have a rightful place, and such competition as is the expression of those principles. But enmity is always an evil, at least in its consequences. So much the world is visibly learning. Perhaps it will go on to learn that greed or acquisitiveness is no less an evil, though it has hardly begun to learn that yet. And in all this learning there is real progress, real approximation to conformity with the Divine.
And yet when all is said, advance which comes as continuous progress is an expansion of the circle of which self is still the centre. It may theoretically be so expanded as to include all mankind, even all spiritual beings. But self is still the centre, and if God Himself be included in the circle, He is peripheral, not central; He is, for me, my God, not God whose I am.
At first it may even seem that, in so far as moral growth is only the expansion of the circle of which self is the centre, the greater the growth the greater the evil; to make much centre on the self is worse than to make little, and to include God on the periphery is worse than to exclude Him altogether. But this is to press the spatial metaphor beyond its intention, and it is equally true to say that the self which is centre to a large circle counts for less relatively to that circle than it would relatively to a small circle; and where God comes in at all, He begins to count for what He is even where that is not as yet accepted.
It is, perhaps, idle to speculate whether the purely moral progress, which consists in lengthening the radius of the circle drawn round the self as centre, could bring satisfaction to man in respect of his temporal interests. Probably it could not do this. For the interests envisaged from the various self-centred points of view—the “apparent goods” of the multitude of self-centred souls—would almost certainly be not only different but incompatible. Quite certainly the course of progress to be travelled before that road can lead to satisfaction is very long. The clashing units which have expanded from tribe to nation, from nation to empire, would become larger. If the nations now civilised so strengthen their League as to become a Federal State, there looms behind that achievement the menace of the Race Problem. And the same threat of clashing systems hangs over our economic development. There is no quick way to peace and fellowship, if we start in that direction. But these are considerations for the practical moralist rather than for the student of Natural Religion. What is more to our purpose is that the colossal structures of enlightened egoism to which that way of progress leads will never effect the deliverance of the self from self-centredness, but can only seek to make self-centredness compatible with final well-being. And this it can never be, if God exists; for it fixes the self in a false relation to God; it makes self prior and God secondary; at best it makes self and God two entities equal in type and principle, however much one may exceed the other in scale. But this is to relapse, at the religious level, into that correlation of God and World which we found to be the capital error of Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism,13 as of many another philosophical structure. Moreover this false relation, apart from the intrinsic evil of falsity, must needs set up tensions between God and the self which will make it impossible for the self, perhaps for God also, to experience the peace of attainment until they are overcome.
The error of the Barthian school of theology—for that it contains error when judged by the canons of either natural reason or Christian revelation I cannot doubt—is, like every other heresy, an exaggeration of truth. To deny the reality of moral progress, or that moral progress is an increasing conformity to the Divine, is wanton. To deny that revelation can, and in the long run must, on pain of becoming manifest as superstition, vindicate its claim by satisfying reason and conscience, is fanatical. But that revelation is altogether other than rational inference from previous experience is vitally important; that only by revelation and by his surrender to its spiritual power can man be “saved”, is a profound and irrefragable truth; that even when man’s salvation is complete there is still the impassable distinction between Creator and creature, Redeemer and redeemed, Sanctifier and sanctified, is the heart of metaphysical and religious sanity. In so far as God and man are spiritual they are of one kind; in so far as God and man are rational, they are of one kind. But in so far as God creates, redeems and sanctifies while man is created, redeemed and sanctified, they are of two kinds. God is not creature; man is not creator. God is not redeemed sinner; man is not redeemer from sin. At this point the Otherness is complete.
With this reflection we pass beyond the morality of areas of loyalty and obligation. The problem now is not the relation of finite selves to one another, in isolation or in groups. The problem now is the relation of the finite spirit to the infinite. It is easy to see that the only reasonable attitude of the finite is that of worship. But it is not so easy for the self-centred finite self to adopt that attitude. For it will follow in action, not what reason generally demands, but what presents itself in vivid form as apparent good; and this depends upon its own whole structure and orientation. What is quite certain is that the self cannot by any effort of its own lift itself off its own self as centre and resystematise itself about God as its centre. Such radical conversion must be the act of God, and that too by some process other than the gradual self-purification of a self-centred soul assisted by the ever-present influence of God diffused through nature including human nature. It cannot be a process only of enlightenment. Nothing can suffice but a redemptive act. Something impinging upon the self from without must deliver it from the freedom which is perfect bondage to the bondage which is its only perfect freedom.
Whether in fact there is such a redemptive act, or what is its mode, may be declared by positive religion; it is no question for the Natural Theologian. But Natural Theology may very well enquire what its conditions must be if it is to satisfy the requirements of the problem as that has defined itself.
Man, being an organism in which mind is the increasingly predominant element, is free from purely mechanical determination except so far as his body is actually propelled by physical force greater than his own. He is free from this, not because his action has in it any element of indeterminism (which is indistinguishable from chance or nonsense) but because he is determined by Good as it appears to him. His freedom from “the might of nature” consists in his necessity to follow the apparent good. But what this is depends upon what he is. If from the first he had realised his dependence upon God, and had ordered his whole experience in the light of that progressively comprehended dependence, what appeared to him good would at every stage have been the real good. But it has not been so; and while in abstract principle it was possible for it to be so, the probability against this was always so high that we must regard not only the risk, but also the expectation, of sin as part of the divine intention. Yet it is none the less sin for that; it is alienation from God, for it is the centring upon self of a life whose very nature requires that it should be centred upon God. And this sin has been, as it was bound to be, indefinitely infectious. So we have the self not only taking itself as centre and thus falsifying its whole scale of values, but confirmed and hardened in self-centredness by both the attraction and the repulsion of the other self-centred selves among which it must live. It is by no means wholly corrupt, if that means that there is no aspiration after good left in it; on the contrary, pursuit of good is its only motive of deliberate action—even of wrong action—though its vision of good is distorted, so that this leads it astray. But it is wholly corrupt if by that is meant that there is no part of it untainted by this corruption. There is much in it that is the very stuff of good, the ineffaceable image of God. But there is nothing that is unadulterated good, and the image of God is blurred.
How can God deliver such a soul? The soul is helpless, fixed in the vicious circle whereby it both determines and is determined by its apparent good. And the ways of escape which we have considered, while they offer a real liberation, never lead to a complete deliverance. The soul or self can contribute nothing except a certain passivity of response. If salvation comes it is the gift of God alone.
In what sense, then, is there spiritual freedom in man before God? As against mechanical determinism, to be spiritual is to be free; in that context the two words mean the same thing. But when we turn to the relationship of man to God, is there any freedom here? It is tempting at first to say that though God gives the call, and the strength of perseverance to him who responds, the response at least is the free act of the human soul. And this is not wholly or merely untrue. For whether or not the soul responds is determined by the moral character of the soul. The divine claim is presented; some refuse it, some respond to it; and so they are judged.14 Which they do depends on what they are. And that is not wholly determined by past history or present environment, because every self is in part an original contribution to the scheme of reality and is moreover, in the very act of giving or refusing its response, a self-determining system of experience. The fact that the soul or self responds, or refuses to respond, is a result, in part at least, of what comes into being with that self. It is free, because nothing outside the self compels it.
And to that very freedom the divine appeal must be addressed. If God exercised compulsion by forcing obedience or by remaking the character of a self against its will, He would have abandoned omnipotence in the act which should assert it, for the will that was overridden would remain outside His control. The only obedience congruous with the nature of either God or man is an obedience willingly, and therefore freely, offered—a response which is given because the self finds it good to offer it. Our question therefore is this: How can the self find it good to submit willingly to removal from its self-centredness and welcome reconstitution about God as centre? There is in fact one power known to men, and only one, which can effect this, not only for one or another function of the self (as beauty and truth can do) but for the self as a whole in its entirety and integrity. When a man acts to please one whom he loves, doing or bearing what apart from that love he would not choose to do or bear, his action is wholly determined by the other’s pleasure, yet in no action is he so utterly free—that is, so utterly determined by his apparent good. And when love is not yet present, there is one power and only one that can evoke it; that is the power of love expressed in sacrifice, of love (that is to say) doing and bearing what apart from love would not be willingly borne or done. The one hope, then, of bringing human selves into right relationship to God is that God should declare His love in an act, or acts, of sheer self-sacrifice, thereby winning the freely offered love of the finite selves which He has created.
Here the last great problem confronts us. For one great religion at least consists in the conviction that God has so revealed Himself; but not all within whose experience that revelation has been proclaimed have offered their response. What is still lacking? Is the decisive step which is required a step to be taken by man or by God? If we say that God must first act, we seem to be involved in all the difficulties of Predestination: does God then arbitrarily choose to call some with the appeal that will stir their response, leaving others to await in vain the transforming touch? If so, how is He just or even loving? But on the other side, if we say that man’s is the decisive step, we make him master of his fate even over against God; if God’s grace is a universally bestowed assistance, the use of which depends upon ourselves alone, then we are again in the centre and not God.15
Against this all deep religious experience, and all the authority of reason, loudly protests.
“There is no faith without in the end ascribing everything to God.… If God will only act when we begin, or continue acting as we fulfil certain conditions, then in the last issue our reliance is on man and not God.”16
“Once the principle that grace must come first has been admitted, nothing is lost by adding that it must also come second, and last as well—that man can never at any point bestir himself in pure freedom to good actions—that he needs, in the language of the Schoolmen, subsequent as well as prevenient grace. The semi-Pelagian doctrine that, once the first grace has been given, man must co-operate with it of his own free-will, must always lie under the suspicion of inconsistency with its premises.”17
If there is any reality at all in the experience called Religion, we must admit and affirm both the priority and the all-sufficiency of God. For the only idea of God that is possible to the scientific and philosophic reason is such as to claim for Him these qualities. Moreover, religious experience when it is most intense confirms this.18 All is of God; the only thing of my very own which I can contribute to my own redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed. My capacity for fellowship with God is God’s gift in creation; my partial deliverance from self-centredness by response to truth, beauty and goodness is God’s gift through the natural world which He sustains in being and the history of man which He controls. One thing is my own—the self-centredness which leads me to find my apparent good in what is other and less than the true good. This true good is the divine love and what flows from it appreciated as its expression. In response to that good, man finds his only true freedom, for only then does the self act as what it truly is and thus achieve true self-expression.
It is hard to know which is the more important aspect of truth to emphasise. No one can be “saved” against his will or otherwise than through his willing co-operation; but this co-operation cannot be offered except by a purpose divinely implanted or elicited. St. Paul’s celebrated dictum observes the true balance: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to work”.19 No doubt it is wholesome to distribute the emphasis of attention differently at different stages of spiritual development. The man who is as yet without any experience of divine grace as an active power in his life had better reflect that it is his own state of mind and character which makes him insensitive to the divine appeal. But as he advances towards some beginnings of fellowship with God, it will be good for him to understand that it is only divine grace, or in other words the love of God at work upon him and within him, which has brought him to that fellowship. As the experience of grace becomes deeper, the conviction of its all-sufficiency becomes more inevitable and more wholesome, until at last a man knows, and is finally “saved” by knowing, that all good is of God alone. We are clay in the hands of the Potter, and our welfare is to know it.
But this knowledge must be the knowledge of experience, not merely of intellectual conviction or acquiescence. If it is of the latter type, it is very liable to suggest inertia as its practical inference, as the clay offers only inertia to the potter. But here the analogue to clay is the living will, and the only man who has experience of being shaped by divine grace is the man whose will is in fact surrendered and is become the energetic instrument of that grace; such a man can never suppose that his proper reaction to the doctrine that all good is from God alone is to be found in inertia. His experience of the fact formulated in the doctrine consists in conspicuous activity. “I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”20 The inert soul is precisely the soul which has not understood its relation of utter dependence; it is inert, because it is self-enclosed. Evangelists, pastors and teachers, who are agencies of divine grace, try to bring it to an understanding of its true dependence. As soon as it admits that dependence, with any appreciation of what that is upon which it depends, its inertia will be ended.
The real difficulty of the position concerns the relationship of God to those selves whom divine grace has not called, and apparently is not so far calling, out of their self-centredness. If grace can call the Buddha or St. Francis to the great renunciation which inaugurates their career of sacrifice and service, why does it leave so many unstirred? We cannot say that it is because these responded, while others do not respond, to the activity of grace everywhere equally active, for it is only by grace that they could respond. Is it that God elects some to salvation and others to perdition? We all know the history of that doctrine, and in our recoil from it have often failed to make due allowance for the strength of the argument leading to it. But it will not stand. Neither justice nor love could be intelligibly predicated of a God who could act so; and if these be denied, Deity is denied. Yet we cannot escape the doctrine of Election in some form; it is not so much an inference as the only possible reading of the facts when Theism is accepted. What its ultimate issue is to be lies beyond the bounds of terrestrial experience, and must be considered in connexion with Eternal Life.
- 1. See Lecture V. pp. 116, 117.
- 2. Epistle to the Romans iii. 8; vi. 1.
- 3. This is not the fault of logic. It is true, as well as a correctly drawn inference, that I have nothing to do except respond to grace. It is the interpretation of this by minds which have no conscious experience of grace that leads to error. This interpretation is illicit, because it uses a term in the conclusion in a sense different from that which it bears in the premise: but though illicit, it is in practice inevitable.
- 4. Perhaps yet another instance may be given in a footnote. I should hold that a common mediaeval conception of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is proved to be mistaken by the mere fact that it was possible for it to lead to such enquiries as what happened to the Presence if a mouse ate the species. Their formula may have been good, even the best possible. But those who debated such a question were misapprehending the reality. See below, Lecture XIX.
- 5. 1 Corinthians ix. 16. Of course the vast majority of Christians fall between the two extremes described. They neither vividly experience divine control nor argue about it, but simply believe in it. If that simple belief is more than intellectual assent and takes the form of a confidence which controls the will, that is a living and saving faith. But it is the vivid experience which most clearly refutes the false inferences in question.
- 6. See Lecture IX. p. 241.
- 7. See supra, Lecture VI.
- 8. See Lectures IX. and XIV.
- 9. See Lecture VII.
- 10. See pp. 445–447.
- 11. “Whosoever would save his soul shall lose it.”—St. Matthew xvi. 25.
- 12. Cf. Lecture V. p. 125.
- 13. See Lecture X.
- 14. “We preach a Messiah on a cross, to Jews a scandal and to Gentiles an absurdity, but to the very people who are called, both Jews and Greeks, a Messiah who is God’s power and God’s wisdom.”—1 Cor. i. 23, 24.
“This is the judgement, that light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light.”— St. John iii. 19.
- 15. I once heard the following conversation between two theologians, the one an Augustinian, the other a semi- (or semi-demi) Pelagian:
S.-P. “No doubt the call is from God, so the initiative is with Him; but whether or not I answer the call depends on myself.”
AUG. “I see; so your address to the Almighty is: ‘For that thou didst call me of thy grace I thank thee; but for that I answered the call I thank thee not, but rather tender my most respectful congratulations’.”
- 16. J. Oman, Grace and Personality, p. 24.
- 17. K. E. Kirk, The Vision of God, p. 546.
- 18. Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy Cross I cling.
- 19. Philippians ii. 13.
- 20. 1 Corinthians xv. 10.