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Lecture 12: Providential Methods: Progress by Sacrifice

PERFECTION by suffering is a great moral law of individual life. Progress by sacrifice is a not less outstanding law of social life; progress of the many by the sacrifice of the few. Sacrifice is the cost of progress, and the instrument of redemption; not otherwise is real advance attainable. Some devoted one must give his life a ‘ransom’ when signal benefit is to be procured for the many.

This law, for long hidden or misinterpreted, is now receiving in increasing measure intelligent and emphatic recognition. It gives one a pleasant surprise to find Renan among the modern prophets who proclaim this doctrine. ‘The world,’ he writes, ‘is in travail for something: omnis creatura ingemiscit et parturit. The great agent of the march of the world is pain.’…‘There are always voluntary victims ready to serve the end of the universe.’ And they devote themselves, we are assured, not in vain. ‘O joy supreme for the virtuous man. The world hangs on him. He is one in a hundred thousand, but it is he who is the ransom of Sodom.’1 Carlyle in his over-emphatic manner indorses the fact of sacrifice, but with less clear recognition of the gain reaped from it under the providential order. In his famous Essay on Robert Burns these reflections occur: ‘Homer and Socrates and the Christian Apostles belong to old days; but the world's Martyrology was not completed with these. Roger Bacon and Galileo languish in priestly dungeons; Tasso pines in the cell of a madhouse; Camoens dies begging on the streets of Lisbon. So neglected, so “persecuted they the prophets,” not in Judea only, but in all places where men have been.’2 The somewhat comfortless moral is, How unkind the world to its best men! A more cheering construction is put on the facts in a recent contribution to the new science of social theology. ‘Vicarious suffering,’ remarks President Hyde, ‘is not an arbitrary contrivance by which Christ bought a formal pardon for the world. It is a universal law, of which the cross of Christ is the eternal symbol. It is the price some one must pay for every step of progress and every conquest over evil the world shall ever gain.’3 The interest of this statement lies in the fact that by a professed theologian who, as I understand, accepts the catholic Christian faith, the principle of vicarious suffering is lifted out of the region of pure theology, to which it has by many been supposed exclusively to belong, and translated into the sphere of ordinary providence, recognisable there as a permanent, universal law of the moral order.

And who are the victims of this law? They are ever the noblest and the best of men; the sons of God indeed, who, Euripides being witness, are destined to be unhappy; the just who, mistaken for unjust, are liable, as Plato understood, to be scourged, racked, bound, to have their eyes put out, to suffer every kind of evil, even crucifixion.4 They are men who in any sphere of truth—scientific, moral, religious—in the words of Christ, ‘let their light shine,’ and who in any sphere of action shape their conduct in accordance with their convictions. They are men of heroic temper, who love truth with passion and will speak it come what may; who hunger after righteousness, and will do it at all hazards. They are the original men, the discoverers of new truths, the inaugurators of better ways of thinking and acting, the pioneers of beneficent movements, the reformers of evil customs, the enthusiasts of humanity, whose ambition it is to leave the world in some way better than they found it. For all such is appointed a hard experience, presenting temptations to hide their light and suppress their convictions to escape trouble and sorrow. Their undying glory is that they yield not to the temptation, and the price they pay for eternal honour is lifelong liability to misunderstanding, misrepresentation, vexatious frustration, crowned possibly by violent death.

The sacrifice of the noblest, the greatest mystery of history till it is explained, can easily be utilised by pessimistic philosophy to put a black face on human destiny. That philosophy may plausibly discover in the facts sinister ironical nature-powers befooling generous souls by drawing them, through the best that is in them, into careers which, whatever good they may bring to the world, can bring nothing but evil to themselves. Renan agrees with the pessimists so far as the dupery is concerned, but he thinks Schopenhauer and the rest are wrong in assuming towards it a spirit of revolt. He sees clearly with Schopenhauer that there is a great Egoist who deceives us, but he resigns himself with a good grace to the inevitable; he accepts and submits to the ends of the Supreme Being. Just in this submission he thinks lies the essence of morality, while immorality, on the other hand, is revolt against a state of things of which one sees the dupery. It is necessary at once to see it and to submit to it.5 This seems almost devout, but it is Parisian piety. It is easy to reconcile oneself to the deceit of the Eternal Powers when it is practised on other men whose hard lot you comfortably study in your library; it is not quite so easy when you are yourself one of the victims. We would like to know how one of the ‘dupes’ viewed the matter. Our wish is gratified by the recorded experience of a Hebrew prophet. To Jeremiah also God appeared a Deceiver: he felt as if he had been led on by Divine inspirations, unawares, into a career from which he would have recoiled had he known beforehand all that was coming. He made his complaint: ‘O Lord, Thou hast deceived me’; he threatened to throw up his prophetic vocation, saying to himself, ‘I will speak no more in His name’; but at last he submitted because he could not help himself, the misery of silence proving to be greater than the sorrows of speech.6 Here is a piety, not of the melodramatic order, but of the true heroic type, as bold in its temporary doubt as are the utterances of the most audacious modern sceptic, yet true-hearted and grand in its ultimate submission. No need to tone down the complaint of deception; let it stand there in its unmitigated bluntness. The Divine Spirit, author of all noble impulses, judges men by the habitual bent of their will, not by the verbal escapes of their dark doubting moments.

To the worldly-wise the perplexities of a Jeremiah are unintelligible. That a man may easily get into trouble by letting his light shine they understand, but what hinders him from covering the light in obedience to the dictates of prudence, and the instinct of self-preservation? Why cannot he keep silent, or speak insincerely, and say, e.g., that the sun goes round the earth as long as other people say it, and ecclesiastical authorities deem it necessary, in the interests of the faith, that it should be said? Truly an idle question! For, as Renan has said, ‘to preach to man not to devote himself is like preaching to a bird not to make its nest and not to nourish its young.’7 Who would think of suggesting to one about to become a mother by all means to avoid birth-pangs? The power of life is irresistible, the pangs must be endured, and the mother must find her consolation in the joy that a man is born into the world. Let us hope that for those who are constrained by the prevailing power of conscience to speak unwelcome truth, an analogous consolation will never be wanting! Life is sweet to all, but for a good cause, a substantial addition to the well-being of the world, peradventure some, nay many, would dare to die.

But it is not given to all who devote themselves to know why they suffer. It was not given to Jeremiah, or perhaps to any of the Hebrew prophets. To one and all of them the sufferings of the righteous were a mystery. The key was not found till Christ came, though certain prophetic oracles contain remarkable anticipations of the truth. Then a change came over the spirit of men in regard to the tribulations of the good. Clear intelligence and triumphant buoyancy took the place of perplexity and depression. The cross made all the difference. The earthly career of Jesus was epoch-making, not merely in respect of the saving grace it brought to men, but also through the bright light it shed on the true theory of the providential order of the world at the point where light was most urgently needed.

In absence of the true theory it serves the purpose of a sedative to see that suffering is the normal lot of wisdom in advance of the time, and of righteousness rising high above moral mediocrity. There is comfort in the reflection that no strange, accidental, unprecedented experience has befallen us, that we are not alone in our misfortune, but bear it in common with a large influential company. ‘Rejoice, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.’8 To rejoice is possible even when one knows not why either he or the prophets should be persecuted. But to know the causes brings great additional sustaining power. Such knowledge is attainable by due study of society and of the ways of men. The law of social solidarity, considered in last lecture, of itself explains much. The heroic man is a pioneer; he is discontented with things as they are, desires to innovate, to change belief, to make new laws, to bring in new customs. To all this solidarity opposes itself, through its blind, obstinate aversion to change, and the passive force of long-established habitude. Many causes co-operate to lend momentum to opposition: familiarity, convenience, interest, reverence. Old paths are so well known that we can walk in them mechanically, blindfolded, without thought, without effort. Then familiar ways of thinking, believing, and acting, fit so well into our tastes, prejudices, likes and dislikes, we cannot bear to have them disturbed. And when secular interest comes in, how powerfully it reinforces these arguments against change! ‘This our craft is in danger.’9 Was there ever a reform attempted in this world which did not endanger some craft, and imperil some vested interest for which the individuals concerned cared infinitely more than for all the grand ideas conceived by original thinkers, and the humane plans cherished by generous hearts? What are these airy notions and benevolent dreams compared to pounds, shillings, and pence? Let no prophet, reformer, or pioneer reckon on indulgent consideration, or even on fair treatment, from that quarter; on anything short of truculent, bitter, unscrupulous hostility.

Reverence also has to be reckoned with. Even within the secular sphere old customs become invested with a certain sacredness. But it is within the sphere of religion that the feeling of reverence attains its highest measure of intensity as the opponent of change. Nowhere is the power of custom so strong. ‘Cowardice in regard to the supernatural’10 ensures for religious traditions the maximum of permanence. Everything pertaining to religion—worship, creed, practice—tends to become an affair of routine, ceremonial, formula, mechanical habit. Fetters are forged for soul and body, for every faculty of our nature—for hand, tongue, mind, heart, conscience; and by such as are in bondage it is regarded as a point of piety and sanctity to wear with scrupulous care all these grievous fetters. Woe to the man who attempts the rôle of emancipator! The saints will rise in holy wrath against him, and think they do God service when they put him out of the synagogue or out of the world. And the hypocrites, who wear religion as a mask for greed or vice, will join them, and outvie them in zeal for the good old ways of their fathers.

The best-known object-lessons illustrative of the malign power of conventional reverence are supplied by the fate of Socrates and the tragic story of Christ. When we consider the religious environment of our Lord we are not surprised at the deadly animosities by which He was assailed, but we do wonder that the martyrdom of Socrates could have been possible in such a city as Athens. In a community rich in artists, poets, philosophers, statesmen, and all without exception lovers of political freedom, can they have been in earnest in this bad business; was it not all a fatal, unaccountable mistake? Was there not in the city enough of free thought, and sufficient appreciation of the advantage of having among them an earnest, original, stimulating ethical teacher, to enable them to estimate at its proper value the charge brought against Socrates that he did not believe in the gods of the State, and had other new divinities of his own? Apparently not. Superstitious veneration for the traditional religion seems to have prevailed even in free-thinking, light-hearted Athens, not merely among the craftsmen, which one could understand, but among the poets and the rhetoricians who might have been expected to rise above popular prejudice. So difficult is it for even the cultured to escape from the spell of an ancient faith, even when among the articles of the creed are tales of the gods which one would now be ashamed even to repeat.

In passing from Greece to Palestine we enter a wholly different world. A greater than Socrates is here, and also a vastly more superstitious community. Therefore we are not surprised at the cross; for what can happen to the purest and wisest but to be flung ignominiously out of the world by a people whose religion, as the corruption of the best, is the worst, and whose piety is too often a cloak for egoistic ambitions and mean jealousies? According to the Gospel narratives Jesus knew from the beginning of His public career what was to befall Him, so far at least as the general fact was concerned. It is perfectly credible. He had studied, doubtless, the religion of the time before He left His retirement in Nazareth; the felicitous descriptions of Pharisaic ways contained in the records of His teaching are evidence of this fact. He learnt from that study how wide was the gulf between His thoughts and the thoughts of the Rabbis on all things divine, and also how very sure they were that their thoughts were the only orthodox and legitimate ones. It needed nothing more than ordinary sagacity to foresee what would happen when the new Prophet of Nazareth went forth to utter His convictions with unflinching courage, absolute sincerity, and at the same time with a grace and power that won for him speedily the ear and the favour of the multitude. Suspicion, ill-will, and by and by murderous intentions on the part of the dominant faction were matters of course. The crucifixion of Jesus is perfectly intelligible in the light of natural causes at work in contemporary Jewish society. It is the case of a great religious Initiator sacrificed on the altar of social solidarity.

Nowhere in the world, perhaps, was the sacrifice of one playing the part of Jesus more inevitable than in Palestine, and that partly for a reason that was creditable to the Jews. As a people they were very much in earnest about morality and religion, and the moral and religious system that had been handed down to them by their fathers well deserved their high esteem. It was so good, it was difficult for them to comprehend how there could be anything better. Their one fatal lack was insight into the truth that however good a system may be it cannot be final; that the ideal of the past cannot remain the ideal for all time. Such insight is always rare, even among the wise, who, in consequence, are often the most formidable opponents of the few who see the defects of the existing state of things and desire to remedy them. ‘The worst enemy of the better is the good.’11 So it was in Athens, so in Judea; so it will be while the world lasts. The heaviest burden on the heart of those whom Providence calls to be the promoters of progress is the hard judgment and relentless opposition of men whom they cannot despise as indifferentists, hypocrites, or time-servers, but must honour as saints, albeit in bonds.

Sacrifice then, for the reasons indicated, is inevitable, in connection with all endeavours to promote social advancement, especially in that which relates to the higher interests of humanity. It is something to be aware of this fact, and to understand with some measure of clearness the grounds on which it rests. But mere inevitableness, even inevitableness explained, cannot be the last word. We cannot rest till we have got an answer to the question Cui bono, What good comes out of the evil? The only answer that can give complete satisfaction is that the cause for which sacrifice is endured is advanced thereby. If, as has been stated, sacrifice be the cost of progress, the only thing that will reconcile us to the cost is the assurance that the price is not thrown away, that progress is the actual result. If on observation that turn out to be the case, we shall be reconciled to the method of sacrifice as an integral part of the providential order. If, further, it should be found possible not only to establish by induction a sequence between sacrifice and progress, but to discover forces brought into play by sacrifice which have a direct tendency to produce progress, we should have satisfaction to our intellects as well as to our hearts. The law of sacrifice would then be brought within the range of scientific theory.

This may appear an ambitious programme not likely to be soon worked out, and it may be needful, meanwhile, to fall back on considerations of a different order, which, though coming short of an ultimate solution, are fitted to yield a real support to faith. Such are those familiar to theologians drawn from a teleological view of the world. Two short sentences from the Hebrew Scriptures set before us the principle involved. ‘I will not destroy it for ten's sake’;12 ‘I will defend this city to save it—for Mine own sake, and for My servant David's sake.’13 God will not destroy Sodom if so small a number as ten good men be found in it; He will rescue Jerusalem from its assailing foes, out of regard to the memory of Israel's hero-king. Salvation comes to the unworthy many for the sake of the worthy few. This may not be a final solution, but it is not a meaningless proposition. The idea it contains is of the same order as that which represents the creation of the lower world as taking place for the sake of man. Man, the crown of creation, the key to its meaning and to the nature of the Creator—such was the doctrine enunciated at the commencement of this course as the basis of our whole inquiry.14 Man, endowed with rational and moral powers, redeeming the lower parts of creation from insignificance and making it worth while for God to have to do with it. This is the providential view of the creative process. It does not supersede the physical or mechanical view, but is simply a different way of contemplating the same thing. The universe is evolved according to ascertained or ascertainable natural laws. But all the time there is an ultimate Cause at work within the evolutionary process, who has an aim in view, and who directs the process so that that aim shall be realised. The aim is man, and all that goes before has its reason of existence in him, and its value through him. It is only an extension of this line of thought to say that the good among men redeem the race to which they belong, and give value in God's sight to the intrinsically valueless.

The view now under consideration receives further elucidation when it is looked at in connection with the law of solidarity. On reflection it is seen to offer compensation for the injury that law, on its dark side, inflicts. It is, as we have seen, through solidarity that the phenomena of sacrifice come into existence. The social mass stagnates, clings tenaciously to old ways however barbarous or bad, obstinately resists movement; whence comes suffering in some form to the man who urges it to move. He suffers because he belongs to a social organism, or closely knit brotherhood, in which the pulse of a common life beats. He cannot escape from the vital influence of the corporate body. It will either assert its power over his soul, controlling his thoughts and affections, or, if his spirit be free, it will act vindictively in the sphere of his outward lot. He must either be a comrade in full sympathy with his people, sharing their prejudices, errors, and vices, or he must be a victim suffering for their ignorance and sin. All this was plain to the prophetic vision of him who wrote that marvellous description of the ‘Man of sorrows’ in the book of Isaiah, which is not merely a prediction of what was to befall one unique Victim, but the proclamation of a great general law of the moral order, under the form of an individual experience.

That is one side of the picture. It is very dark, and needs another, brighter side to make the, darkness tolerable. What can the bright side be but solidarity in another form? If there be a solidarity of the one with the many, which means for him sorrow, there ought to be, by way of compensation, a solidarity of the many with the one which means for them blessing. That too the Hebrew seer comprehended when he said, ‘By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities.’ It may seem a profanity to quote these sacred words as applicable to more than one solitary experience. With reference to this, Horace Bushnell remarks, ‘It belongs to the staple matter of our theologic teaching on this subject that, while we are to follow Christ, and copy Him, and aspire to be like Him, we are never to presume, and cannot without great irreverence imagine, that we are to have part with Him in His vicarious sacrifice. We cannot atone, it is said, or offer any satisfaction, for the sin of the world; we are too little, low, and deep in sin ourselves, and nothing but a being infinitely great and perfect, by an optional suffering that exceeds all terms of obligation on Himself can avail to smooth God's indignations, and so far even our debt, as to make forgiveness possible.’15 While regarding this as a serious mistake, Bushnell readily admits that effects follow the vicarious sacrifice of Christ which cannot follow such sacrifice in any other case. All he contends for is that the principle of vicarious sacrifice is universal, and that wherever such sacrifice is endured, it counts in the moral order of the world as a price paid for some benefit. Unless this be accepted as true, I do not see how we are to do justice to such Scripture texts as those above quoted in reference to the saving of Sodom and Jerusalem, or how suffering for righteousness, as a broad fact of human history, is to be other than a dark, inexplicable mystery. It may, indeed, be thought that the explanation offered is little less mysterious than the thing to be explained. Blessing coming to the many through the merit or the sorrow of the few or the one—how can this be, how does it work itself out in the natural order? There are two questions here, not one only, and we may be able to answer the first in part, though baffled by the second. The author of Genesis was able to understand the providential position of man, as made in God's image, lord of creation, and the object of peculiar Divine complacency, though he did not know, as we know now, how he was connected with the lower orders of creation, having physiological affinity with, and summing up in himself, all inferior forms of animal life, each step in the onward process of creation contributing its quota to the making of him. Similar may be our situation in reference to the problem at present under consideration. In absence of insight into the relation in which it stands to the physical order, we may go a certain length in understanding its relation to the moral order. It is intelligible, for example, how when man first arrived on the scene, in a very rudimentary condition as regards the development of his mental and moral powers, as modern scientists believe, God might contemplate primitive humanity with complacency in the light of the ideal. It is equally intelligible that the Divine eye may view with favour the many samples of the human race who in themselves have little to win regard, for the sake of the few who approximately realise the human ideal. The few worthy thus represent for the mind of the Eternal the many unworthy: elect men and races the non-elect, wise men the foolish, saints sinners, martyrs for truth and righteousness the prejudiced ignorant mob who put them to death not knowing what they do.

What all this means in the order of natural causality neither theology nor science has as yet taken much pains to ascertain. But it may be taken for granted that if in the providential order the higher and better represent the lower and worse, there must be some tendency in the nature of things to cause streams of benefit to flow from the one class to the other. Some of the channels can even be indicated. I shall specify three, so offering a humble contribution to what may be called the scientific theory of the law of progress by sacrifice.

One of those channels, then, is that when grievous wrong has been done to the promoters of a new movement, a reaction can be counted on, with the result that many of those who with irrational violence resisted the movement repent of their deed. ‘They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn.’16 Passionate moods are unstable, and are apt to pass, sometimes suddenly, into the opposite extreme. Hatred turns into love, frantic hostility into generous, devoted discipleship; the quondam persecutor may even become a preacher of the faith which he once destroyed. The instance which suggests itself as an illustration here is that of the apostle Paul. His case shows what a gain it may be to the highest interests of humanity to win, at however great a cost, a single man. It may be said that St. Paul was the one man in the apostolic age who thoroughly understood the genius of Christianity as a universal religion, and that it was due to his almost unaided efforts that his grand conception of the new religion found practical embodiment in the creation of a Gentile Church. To gain him was to conquer the world.

St. Paul's subsequent history reminds us of a second channel through which what makes for progress attains an ever-widening diffusion; that, viz., of controversy. He represented a type of Christianity that was not in favour with the mass of Jewish Christians. In his religious experience extremes met. The fanatical zealot for the law went at a bound to the opposite pole of thought, and maintained the worthlessness of the law for salvation and the insignificance of Jewish rites. Few had any sympathy with his position, hardly one held it with enthusiasm. Hence arose an internal conflict between those who wished to reduce the novel element in Christianity to a minimum, and the one man whose watchwords were: Christ the great Innovator; Christ's religion itself new, and that which makes all things new. By a kind of poetic justice the persecutor became in turn the persecuted, not only at the hands of unbelieving Jews, but likewise at the hands of fellow-Christians in whom the old Jewish element was stronger than the new Christian element. This was one of the disasters of the Early Church, but, like many other tragic phases of human life, it was fraught with good as well as with evil. Religious controversy is certainly a source of many evils. It breeds much bitter, unholy feeling, creates temporary alienations, sometimes even permanent cleavage. There is not always compensation in the form of clearer light, firmer faith, richer spiritual life. The combatants sometimes retire from strife hardened into barren dogmatism, and driven by each other into polemical extremes, each thinking that the one safe course is to deny what the other affirms, and both alike becoming impoverished by the process. But controversy may be magnanimously conducted, and when it is, it conduces to better understanding and ultimate acceptance of great fruitful principles. Antagonism of thought promotes development passing from initial conflict through conciliatory efforts to final union of opposites. This process has been often repeated in the history of the world, and it is one of the ways whereby progress conditioned by pain is promoted, and the epoch-making man, emphatic in thought and resolute in action, communicates blessing to the many. He comes in the spirit of peace to create a war of misunderstanding issuing in the concord of a common faith.

The war of words expressive of conflicting opinions is not the only form of strife known to mankind. The pages of history are filled with tales of battles fought with more substantial weapons, inflicting physical wounds and death upon the combatants. It is a grave question, What view is to be taken of war in this literal sense, in relation to the providential order? The answer of some would be that war is an unmitigated evil, while others incline to an optimistic view which sees in war, however repulsive to modern feeling, a source of manifold good not otherwise attainable. With reference even to the rudest conflicts, those of barbarous peoples, exemplifying in the human sphere the struggle for existence issuing in the survival of the strongest, the optimist would defend his cheerful thesis. He would say, War makes nations, and in war the best nations conquer the worst, and so humanity is the gainer.17 With reference to wars of conquest, like those of Rome, he would point to the benefit of good settled government brought to the conquered, and aimed at by a benignant Providence, whatever might be the motives of the conqueror. There are indeed some wars on which even the most optimistic interpreter of history would find it difficult to put a plausible construction, such as those of last century to maintain the balance of power, whereof Carlyle speaks in contemptuous terms, as not rising above the dignity of tavern brawls. For one who is not concerned to defend a drastic theory, and in whose view the moral interest is supreme, the only wars capable of inspiring enthusiasm are those waged in resistance to tyranny, in defence of liberty, in the cause of oppressed humanity, or at the bidding of conscience zealous for a faith dear to the heart. Even in connection with these it may be held that war is a barbarism, and that the only course compatible with the spirit of humanity, not to speak of the spirit of Christ, is patient endurance of wrong. That way certainly conducts to the highest, purest, most abiding kind of influence. It is he who is brought as a lamb to the slaughter that divides the spoil with the strong. The way of meek submission is the only one open to the promoter of a holy cause when he stands alone, one man against the world. It is in vain that he lays hold of a weapon of defence. But when one has grown into many, and the adherents of a movement bear no inconsiderable proportion to their foes, the policy of resistance, if not the noblest conceivable, is the one which most readily suggests itself to brave, fearless, conscientious men. ‘Why,’ they ask themselves, ‘should we submit to be crushed when, by a spirited effort, we can save not only ourselves and our families, but the cause which is dearer to us than life? Did not Christ, if He did not sanction this warlike mood, at least recognise its inevitableness, when He said, “I came not to send peace, but a sword”?’18 Of wars waged in defence of sacred interests—for truth, freedom, justice—it can always be said that they have a noble end in view, and that they afford ample scope for the heroic element in human nature, the display of which, while the world lasts, will send a thrill of pleasure through every generous heart. What a poor thing the history of mankind would be without the heroisms and magnanimities, and the splendid acts of self-devotion called forth by such conflicts! Nor does the benefit end there. It is much that the temper of men is for the time raised above pleasure-seeking, money-making, and the dull monotonies of ordinary life to the heroic pitch. But besides doing this, these ‘holy wars’ secure permanent benefits for the world—toleration and even sympathetic recognition for new secular and sacred ideals, civil and religious liberty, abolition of barbarous social institutions like slavery, protection of life and property from the bloody cruelty and shameless rapacity of tyrants. Opportunist politicians may dislike and dread these wars and the enthusiasms they evoke, but to the great heart of a free people they are ever welcome, and that they are is one of the grounds of hope for the steady onward progress of humanity. Wars of this highest type are entitled to be recognised, along with controversy and the reaction caused by the consciousness of wrong inflicted on the innocent, as a third channel through which benefit is conveyed from a central fountain of good influence to ever-widening circles. Happy they who have the privilege of taking part in them! They are happy even if they survive not the strife. Better die fighting for liberty than live the life of a slave. They are happy even if they know not fully what they do, what service they are rendering. They have a good conscience, they enjoy the lightheartedness of those who surrender themselves to the guidance of noble impulses. They are happier still if they understand what is going on, that they are sacrificing themselves not in vain, that their lives are the price whereby solid benefits are purchased for those who come after them.

We now see with some measure of clearness how the sacrifice of the noblest may be one of the methods employed by Providence for the working of its beneficent ends, and by what laws the beneficent purpose is fulfilled. It would crown the apology of Providence if we could conceive God, not merely as an onlooker, but as a participant in the vicarious suffering by which the world is redeemed and regenerated. This we may do under the doctrine of immanence. If God's relation to human experience be one of immanence, then He is more than a spectator of the self-sacrifice by which progress is promoted: He is in it, a fellow-sufferer. Still more clearly is this true if in Christ God be incarnate. That conception may labour under metaphysical difficulties, but on the ethical side it is worthy of all acceptation. It makes God a moral hero, a burden-bearer for His own children, a sharer in the sorrow and pain that come on the good through the moral evil that is in the world. The noble army of martyrs have the comfort of knowing that the Eternal Spirit is at their head. Christ is the visible human embodiment of His leadership—the Captain of the army of salvation—exposed not less than every individual soldier to wounds and death; not indeed the only sufferer in the warfare, but the chief sufferer. Who would not be content to fight and die under His flag?

Sacrifice, as it appears in the moral order of the world, the price of progress, presents, when duly considered, no stumbling-block to reason. It has an intelligible cause, it may be endured voluntarily and cheerfully, and it is fertile in beneficent results. How differently we feel towards human sacrifice as practised, for example, by Pagan Semitic peoples! The one is the moral antipodes of the other. The sacrifice demanded by the moral order awakens in us admiration; the sacrifice offered by rude peoples to equally rude deities, to appease their wrath, excites loathing and horror. A Father in heaven can be conceived as taking pleasure in the former, only a Moloch can find satisfaction in the latter. Yet there is a superficial resemblance between the two types of sacrifice which might easily engender misconception, and cause the higher type to be interpreted in terms of the lower, or to be taken as an excuse for the lower. It is not likely, indeed, that peoples who offer human victims to their gods are much influenced by observation of what takes place under the moral order. They are too rude to notice that the best men are often the victims of the worst. Those whom we might account the best—the men who try to change evil custom—if such were to appear in a rude primitive society, their fellow-countrymen would account the worst, and their sufferings they would regard as a just punishment for their offences, expiation for their own misdeeds, not for those of other men. Interpretation of the higher in the light of the lower, on the other hand, is by no means an imaginary evil. Opposite extremes in reality, they may meet in our thought, and become confused in character. We have already seen that the relation of the moral order to sacrifice has been conceived by some as that of a Deceiver leading generous souls through their noble instincts along a path which ends in disaster. It may now be added that it is possible to conceive of Providence as a Moloch demanding victims to appease his wrath—death, mere blood-shedding, His delight. This is the error of ancient theology as the other is the error of modern free thought. Both alike are false and pernicious. God is neither a Deceiver who makes dupes of good men, nor a Moloch who gluts their life-blood. He is a just, benign Father who seeks the good of mankind and uses sacrifice as one of His methods for promoting it, because it is efficient for the purpose. That the method involves pain and sorrow for those who are sacrificed is not in His eyes a fatal objection, because through sacrifice is given a golden opportunity to self-devoting love which transfigures pain, lends dignity to the most ignominious fate, and decks the rudest cross with flowers. Finally, the method is not an artificial invention—it is immanent in the natural order. While the world lasts the law of social solidarity will involve in trouble promoters of progress. All that Providence does is to turn the inevitable fact to benign uses.

The three methods of providential action we have been considering in this and the two preceding lectures are closely connected: they are indeed parts or aspects of one composite scheme. Solidarity is the fundamental fact, and might have been considered first. But our point of view was progress, and our aim, to see how the providential order works out good in ever advancing measure for mankind. Therefore we began with the propelling force, special endowment fitting for special service, and imposing the task of initiating new departures. Solidarity then fell to be considered as the law which ensures that the result of such initiative, originating in the achievements of elect pioneers, shall be progress for the whole and not merely for the initiator. Solidarity demands election as its complement, and imposes sacrifice on the elect. It requires special endowment to rescue it from perpetual stagnation, and it treats cruelly the specially endowed, because it is unwilling to move.

These three laws in the human sphere answer to a kindred group in the lower sphere of animal life: heredity, variation, extinction of the unfit. Heredity is a form of solidarity; variation an election to an apparently capricious physiological distinction which qualifies for a distinguished career in connection with the ascent of life; the extinction of living creatures ill adapted to their environment is the sacrifice nature demands as the cost of the ascent. But in the two spheres there is a notable difference between the victims. In the lower sphere it is the least fit, intrinsically and in relation to environment, that perish; in the higher sphere it is the most fit, in reference to the ideal if not to the actual environment, that perish. The difference is due to the nature of the environment, which in the lower sphere is simply physical, while in the higher it is moral. In the lower sphere the environment works mechanically against the non-varying; in the higher sphere it works with conscious intention against the varying. But in both spheres the providential purpose is served. In the one, progress is promoted by the survival of the fittest, in the other by the perishing or tribulation of the fittest. In the latter case the fit may perish as individuals, but their influence remains. Their life embodies an ‘eternal spirit’ of self-sacrifice which does not die, but propagates itself in others; appealing to the heroic in human nature, and so securing an unfailing succession of men ready to lay their lives on the altar. So the grain of wheat dying bringeth forth much fruit of its kind. The moral world thrives through self-sacrifice. It cannot prosper without it. If heroism were to die out, the moral universe would go to ruin. Therefore, welcome anything that helps to foster heroism; even wars, even wars of the Crimean type in which valuable lives are thrown away in a cause not worth the cost. At the least they make it possible for men who have been going to waste to recover their self-respect and to say—‘We have proved we have hearts in a cause, we are noble still.

I have felt with my native land, I am one with my kind,

I embrace the purpose of God, and the doom assigned.’

And because this is true it is not likely that the time will ever come in this world when wars shall finally cease unto the ends of the earth. God's kingdom will surely come more and more. Moral progress, slow but sure, will be made; but it will be progress through conflict and sacrifice. This prospect will not satisfy extreme optimists. It may seem to contradict prophetic forecasts of the future which predict the advent of a happy time when, wearied of warfare, men shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks. It may even seem to imply denial of progress. For what, it may be asked, is progress, if not the fulfilment of the prophetic song of the angels through the wide prevalence of peace and good-will, putting an end to disputes, or bringing in more rational and humane ways of settling them? Progress, I reply, is advance of the whole towards realisation of the ideals cherished by the wisest, and that means general increase in knowledge, spiritual insight, regard for the good of others, with corresponding diminution of ignorance, superstition, and selfishness. But the advance need not be, is not likely to be, at an equal pace. There will ever be those who are eager to move forward, and those who incline to lag behind; a few whose motto is ‘Onward’ a large multitude whose counter-watch-word is ‘Rest and be thankful.’ Hence friction, strain, strife, war of words or of swords. To the world's end, when at any time the Christ-spirit finds new embodiment in the person of moral pioneers, those whose day-dream is of peace will be rudely reminded by events of the Master's word: ‘I came not to send peace on earth but a sword.’ This may not be the providential order some looked for, but it is the actual order. And with all drawbacks it is a good order. It does not give us a world in which all men are equally wise, true, generously devoted to noble ends. But it does give us a world in which there are always some for whom the true, the good, and the fair are the summum bonum, and who do their utmost to gain currency for their ideas and aims, with well-grounded faith that their labour is not in vain.

  • 1.

    Vide Dialogues Philosophiques, pp. 23, 36, 40.

  • 2.

    Miscellaneous Essays, p. 234.

  • 3.

    Outlines of Social Theology, p. 228.

  • 4.

    Vide the Republic, Jowett's translation (vol. iii. p. 232) of Plato's Dialogues.

  • 5.

    Dialogues Philosophiques, p. 43.

  • 6.

    Jeremiah xx. 7-9.

  • 7.

    Dialogues, p. 32.

  • 8.

    Matthew v. 12.

  • 9.

    Acts xix. 27.

  • 10.

    Theophrastus defines δϵισιδαιμονι,α δϵιλία πρὸς τὸ δαιμόνιον Vide Theophrastus, Characteres, 17; also Andrew Lang's Myth, Ritual, and Religion, vol. i. p. 260.

  • 11.

    Hyde, Outlines of Social Theology, p. 43.

  • 12.

    Genesis xviii. 32.

  • 13.

    Isaiah xxxvii. 35.

  • 14.

    Vide Lecture iii.

  • 15.

    The Vicarious Sacrifice, pp. 66, 67, 68.

  • 16.

    Zechariah xii. 10.

  • 17.

    So Bagehot in Physics and Politics, pp. 77, 81.

  • 18.

    Matthew x. 34.