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Lecture 7: The Power Making for Righteousness

WE now proceed to consider the verification of the providential order within the sphere of human history. And the first topic inviting our attention is that aspect of Divine Providence in which it appears as a power making for righteousness, on the great scale and on the small, a retributive justice connecting conduct with its congruous lot; in familiar Biblical phrase, rendering to every man according to his works.

It must be understood at the outset that this idea of Providence is only an aspect, not a complete view of the subject. The conception of God as a Moral Governor has the sanction of the Hebrew sacred literature, and, of course, it has relative truth; but it is not the whole truth, nor even the deepest, most important part of the truth. To take it for the whole is to disqualify ourselves for understanding the moral phenomena of history. These can be read aright only by one who remembers that there is more than a single law or force at work; not merely retributive justice, but benign purpose working out its will independently of human misconduct, and also a law whereby goodness suffers at the hand of evil, and so becomes a redemptive power. It was characteristic of the eighteenth century apologists, as represented, e.g. by Bishop Butler, to give the Old Testament idea undue prominence. One of the most important chapters in Butler's Analogy is that which treats of the moral government of God. It exhibits at once the author's strength and his weakness; his strength by the weighty manner in which he asserts and proves the truth of his thesis, his weakness in so far as the whole treatment is dominated by the deistic conception of God as transcendent. For the idea of God as above all things a Governor, is vitiated by transcendency. That is to say, it yields a Deity standing in a very external far-off relation to the world. ‘Government,’ it has been well said, ‘especially when conceived after the analogy of the ancient monarchies, has an element of externality about it, which fails to express that union of the organism with its members which is the true figure under which we conceive God's relation to the world of men and things.’1

Yet, as already remarked, this idea has a relative, partial truth which cannot be ignored without damage. While it is certainly true that God has never dealt with any human being on the basis of mere justice, that ‘He hath not dealt with us after our sins,’ that He is ever striving towards overcoming evil with good, yet the history of the world amply proves that it is no empty threat which is contained in the prophetic words: ‘I will visit you for your iniquities.’2 And though the truth embodied in the threat be but a fragment of the whole doctrine of Providence, and, when taken apart, a mere abstraction, yet it is well to isolate it for separate consideration. The study of it forms a good introduction to the investigation of a complicated problem. It is the best lesson to begin with, because it is the simplest, most elementary, most obvious, most on the surface. Then this truth—God a moral Governor, placed in the forefront, will help us to grasp firmly at the outset an ethical conception of Providence as concerned supremely, not for the happiness of sentient creatures, but for the reign of righteousness. It is well to see at once that the history of the world gives the lie to the doctrine that pleasure is the chief good.

Belief in a Divine Power making for righteousness is not to be waived aside as a mere Hebrew fancy, or as a pet theorem in an antiquated apologetic. Greek poets and Chinese sages shared this faith with Hebrew prophets, and proclaimed it with equal explicitness, if not with the same power and emphasis. And leaders of nineteenth century thought, thoroughly imbued with the modern spirit, and free enough from theistic bias, have asserted the reality of a moral order of the world with a sincerity and intensity of conviction that entitle them to take their place by the side of Butler. Carlyle, Arnold, even Strauss, may be named in this connection. These names are a sufficient guarantee that what we have to do with here is not a theistic dogma, but a fact capable of being verified by observation. Carlyle's idea of God is theologically indefinable. Arnold scornfully relegated the personality of God to the category of the unverifiable, When Strauss proclaimed his faith in a moral order by which the idea of the good was being realised, he was a materialist firmly persuaded that thought is a mode of motion. Yet all three are fit to be cited as witnesses for our present contention. For what we are now concerned with is a fact, not a theological theory. We want to be satisfied, in the first place, that the alleged fact of a moral order in the world is a fact. That ascertained, men will make their own use of the fact according to their preconceived theological ideas. For us it will be a verification of the idea of God we took out of man's place in the universe: a Being with a rational and moral nature, and an ethical world-aim. The fact, if it be a fact, will tend to verify our theistic hypothesis. But meantime we need not be ashamed to have Strauss for a companion as far as his creed will allow him to go with us.

Having said this, I may say another thing. If even Strauss is not disqualified by his materialism for being a witness to a moral order, a Hebrew prophet is not disqualified for bearing testimony because his evidence is given in a book containing, in the belief of many, a special revelation. The Hebrew prophets may be admitted as witnesses along with the rest, on the same footing, i.e. as giving evidence based ultimately on observation. That is really their position. They looked around on the world, and this was what they saw: a power at work in the interest of righteousness, causing this man or nation to prosper because they did right, bringing ruin on another man or nation because they did wrong. Their testimony is to be taken for what it is worth. No authority need be claimed for it except such as is due to superior powers of observation sharpened by exceptional interest in the subject. It may be that they have stated the case too strongly, too unqualifiedly, and run into a certain onesidedness. That is apt to be the way with prophets. Be that as it may, in any case it would be foolish and flippant to disregard their testimony as that of persons not worth listening to at this late epoch. To the present hour none have appeared in the world more worth listening to on this matter. All competent judges of all creeds—theistic, pantheistic, agnostic, are agreed about that.

In proceeding now to indicate some of the traces of a moral order in the world, a commencement may fitly be made with that which lies nearest to us: the sense of right and wrong which every man has within his breast. This is not only near us, but it may be said to form the very core of ourselves, of our moral personality. And yet we cannot help feeling that in conscience there is something that is not ourselves. The devout Theist listens to its voice as if it were the voice of God. For some Theists this is more than a pious sentiment, even the strict scientific truth. Not otherwise, they hold, than on this view can the note of authority wherewith conscience speaks be adequately accounted for. Among those who in recent times have advocated this opinion, Dr. Martineau occupies a prominent place. He assigns to an act of conscience a power to compel belief in an external source of its authority, equal to that possessed by an act of perception to compel belief in an external world. ‘The externality in the one case, the authority in the other, the causality in both are,’ according to this able defender of theism, ‘known upon exactly the same terms, and carry the same guarantee of their validity.’3 This seems to be, to say the least, an overstatement. The authority of God is not so obtrusively forced upon our attention in the phenomena of conscience as is the existence of an external world in the phenomena of perception. The appeal, of course, must be to the ordinary consciousness. Now with regard to perception, the fact is that the ordinary consciousness cannot help believing in an external world distinct from, and the source of, sensation. It is only for philosophers, accustomed to habits of severe abstraction and reflection, that an idealistic view of the physical world is possible or conceivable. In connection with conscience, on the other hand, the state of the case is just the reverse. It is only for a man of highly disciplined moral nature, like Dr. Martineau, that God is inevitably and self-evidently present in the voice of the inward monitor. For the average moral consciousness God's presence is, at best, but faintly discernible, if, indeed, it be discerned at all.

Thorough-going advocates of the evolutionary theory, as applicable to the whole universe of being, mental and moral phenomena not excepted, think it possible to account for the feeling of authority connected with the moral sentiments without reference to a supernatural source. It is held to have its origin in the various forms of control exercised by the community over the individual. At first this control is felt as coercion, but by and by, according to well-known psychological laws, it assumes the aspect of moral obligation. Primitive man was compelled to do certain things by the authority, and in the interest of the tribe, and in course of ages civilised man came at last to feel, in relation to social duties, such as telling the truth, or abstaining from acts of violence or theft, an inward sense of constraint. This is a theory sufficiently plausible to give satisfaction to such as are predisposed to be content with it. Those, on the other hand, whose bias lies in another direction do not find it difficult to criticise it. Dr. Martineau's criticism is sharp and peremptory. ‘I can understand how society taking the individual in hand can create a “must” for him; but not how it can create an “ought”; and as self-interest, by which alone it works, does not begin to be anything else by length of days, but only becomes a swifter thought, and easier habit of the same type, it is useless to borrow millenniums in order to turn it into duty.’4

In another connection, I have tried to show that dogmatism on the applicability of the evolutionary theory to morals is not necessary in the interest of Theism. The remark may be repeated here. If, as Martineau contends, evolution cannot give us what we want, a real sense of moral obligation, then there is an end of the matter. If, on the other hand, it does, then we need not quarrel with the result because of the way in which it is brought about. Even that in which the Theist is chiefly interested, the identification of the voice of conscience with the voice of God, remains intact. God can speak to me through conscience under any theory of its origin. The only possible difference is that on one theory, that of Martineau, He may seem to speak immediately and in loud, audible tone, while on the other, that of Spencer, He speaks only mediately, and as from a great distance. In the one case, it is as if one were standing beside me speaking into my ear; in the other, it is as if one were speaking to me miles away through a telephone. Granting the fact to be so, do we suffer serious practical loss? The sound may be fainter, less arresting, but is it not equally distinct to the listening ear? Nay, is the sound necessarily fainter? need it be a case of speaking through a telephone? Is it not the prerogative of religious feeling to make God always near as the real actor, however many second causes intervene between His causality and the effect? The chain of second causes exists for science, but the magic power of faith can bid it vanish. Even so here. The telephone is there for philosophic reason, and the voice is very feeble and ghostly; but for the devout soul God is close at hand, and His word strong and commanding.

Of the peace and trouble of mind that are the inward reward and penalty respectively of obeying and disobeying the voice of conscience I do not speak, but pass on to notice another sphere within which the Power making for righteousness reveals itself. I mean society. It is the interest of society, in self-defence, to constitute itself an instrument for enforcing fundamental moral laws. On this Butler remarks, ‘It is necessary to the very being of society that vices destructive of it should be punished as being so; the vices of falsehood, injustice, cruelty; which punishment therefore is as natural as society; and so is an instance of a kind of moral government, naturally established, and actually taking place.’5 Butler here states a fact, that society necessarily punishes vices inimical to its being and well-being, and draws from it an inference in favour of the reality of a Divine moral government. For us the fact is the thing of immediate interest, because what we are in quest of is facts of this sort serving as verifications of our theistic hypothesis. Now the statement which Butler makes is undeniably true of all societies of human beings, whatever stage of civilisation they may have reached. There are certain elementary moralities without which no society could hold together for any length of time. Primitive men, living together in social groups, could not be very long in discovering some of these moralities, such as, ‘Thou shalt not lie,’ ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ It might take longer to arrive at the important moral generalisation embodied in the precept: ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ and there may be some foundation for the assertion that the first stage in the relation of the sexes was a state of promiscuity.6 But even here nature and the exigencies of social well-being might teach men the needful lesson sooner than theorists imagine. At all events, it is certain that one of the most urgent tasks imposed on men associated together would be to think out, with all possible expedition, the rudiments of social morality. A Decalogue, so to speak, would be as necessary for them as a language. And as we had occasion to remark, in connection with language, what great achievements had been wrought out even in prehistoric times, so it is likely that a tolerably complete table of relative duties had been constructed for itself by each social organism at a very early period. And if, in connection with language, in view of the greatness of early attainments, even a Hartmann is constrained to recognise the aid of that Power whom he calls the Unconscious, shall we not own that primitive man wrought out his table of duty not without the assistance of the Being whom Mr. Arnold calls ‘a Power not ourselves making for righteousness’? Israel believed that she received her Ten Words from God on Mount Sinai. If that be true in any real sense, then there can be no doubt at all as to the Divine interest in righteousness. In course of ages, Jewish belief in the Divine origin of the law became somewhat attenuated. By that time God had become a transcendent Deity too far above the world to do anything in it, except through angelic intermediaries. But even then God was regarded as the ultimate source of the Law: from God, through angels, to Moses; through Moses to Israel. Translate that into other terms: From God through the moral sense and through the human mind active on the question, how must men behave in their relations to each other? to some man more thoughtful and earnest than his fellows, and through him to the community, and you have a formula which holds true not of Israel only, but of every people that has come to any good in this world.

It is a great affair for any people when it has got the length of having its ‘Decalogue.’ Israel's faith that her law was God-given was but a due recognition of the supreme value of a code of fundamental duties, and of the truth that when such a code, written or unwritten, has taken its place in the consciousness of a nation, it is for that nation a veritable revelation of God as a moral Governor. Nothing more important can happen to a nation than to attain to this knowledge of duty. A Hebrew Psalmist claimed for his countrymen that they were the only people to whom God had shown His statutes.7 His claim may seem to some extravagant, but at least he was not wrong in congratulating Israel on possessing the privilege, whether it was peculiar to her or common to her with others.

Laws for the benefit of society are meant to be enforced, and necessarily have annexed to them penalties for transgression. The love of law, the sense of its supreme value, the passion for righteousness, belongs to the few, to a Moses or a Confucius. The mass of men lag far behind; hence crime is ever of frequent occurrence, and infliction of penalty plays a considerable part in the history of communities. This is an ungenial aspect of the Power that works for righteousness. But a legislator who does not care whether his law is obeyed or not, cannot be credited with a passion for righteousness. Severity is an index of moral earnestness. Even merciless severity may be viewed as a tribute to the awful seriousness and fixity of purpose with which the providential order of the world pursues its aim for the moralisation of mankind. At the worst, rigour is infinitely better than laxity.

We pass now, in quest of traces of the retributive moral order, into the wide sphere of universal history. The Power that makes for righteousness appears here as deciding the fate of nations, out of regard to the presence or absence within them of morality or right conduct. The destructive action of the Power is the thing that most readily strikes the eye. It was on this that the gaze of the Hebrew prophet was chiefly fixed. He was largely a prophet of judgment. His sombre imagination revelled in the tragic spectacle of great powerful nations, one after the other, precipitated by the vindictive action of providence into utter irretrievable ruin. It was a mournful satisfaction to him to see that, if peoples and monarchs would not do what was right, the Divine righteousness asserted itself against them as an irresistible destructive force. Yet though his mood was grim, it was not inhuman. He was not insensible to the pathos of the contrast between national prosperity and national decline; between the epoch of creation and the epoch of destruction, between the age of the axe, when the woodman felled cedars on the mountain side, to be turned into carved work for the ornamentation of palaces, and the age of the hammer ruthlessly wielded in the demolition of palaces and temples.8 The prophetic mood has reappeared in western lands and in modern times, especially at social or political crises fitted to superinduce it. Think of Volney, on the eve of the French Revolution, sitting among the ruins of Palmyra, and seeing in them the emblem of what had befallen all the great historical nations of antiquity in the East. But more remarkable is it to find a man like Mr. Matthew Arnold reechoing with eloquent impassioned emphasis the words of doom uttered by Hebrew seers: ‘Down they come, one after another; Assyria falls, Babylon, Greece, Rome; they all fall for want of conduct, righteousness…Judzæa itself, the holy land, the land of God's Israel, falls too, and falls for want of righteousness.’9

‘For want of righteousness’—such is Mr. Arnold's deliberate verdict. ‘Look a little deeper, and you will see that one strain runs through it all: nations and men, whoever is shipwrecked, is shipwrecked on conduct.’10 So he interprets the general drift of Hebrew prophecy, and with unqualified approval, as appears from the fact of his applying the principle to Greece, which hardly came within the range of prophetic vision. Of Greece, the elect instrument of Providence in the sphere of art, he ruthlessly affirms: ‘Brilliant Greece perished for lack of attention enough to conduct; for want of conduct, steadiness, character.’11 Unspeakably sad, surely! Yet if it be true that conduct, i.e. misconduct, was the cause of ailure and ruin in the case of Greece, or of any of the other ancient nations, a certain element of comfort need not be wanting. A world in which ruin is rife as the penalty of moral shortcoming is still a different world from that of pessimistic dreams. The pessimist's world is one in which a non-moral Deity works havoc aimlessly and recklessly. A world in which ruin prevails as the result of sin is one in which a holy will works destruction in the interest of righteousness. Even in the extreme case of a world wholly gone to badness, in the abuse of freedom,12 and therefore doomed to misery, there would still be this to say, that the universal woe would be a gigantic demonstration of a moral order reacting against unrighteousness. But, it must be owned, the consolation contained in that reflection would be very small. Such Nemesis would be suicidal. The Power making for righteousness would thereby be convicted of impotence. It would show itself as a power unable to ensure that there shall be so much as one righteous man in a city or a world, or to do more than ensure that unrighteousness shall not go unpunished. On these terms the moral order would utterly break down. What boots a universal deluge if it leave the earth without inhabitants? God must be more than a moral Governor rendering to every man according to his works if He is to be even so much.

We are all familiar with the Carlylean doctrine that right is might and might right. Care should be taken not to misunderstand it. Its meaning is not that it does not matter about right; the great thing is to have might. Such an immoral dogma was not in all Carlyle's thoughts. It means just the opposite, that right is the one omnipotent thing in the world; that wherever right is, might must and shall be. It is a bright, optimistic assertion of the invincibility of righteousness. Applied, it will mean that right was on the side of Israel when she dispossessed the Canaanites; of Greece, when she defeated the Persians; of Rome, when she subdued Carthage, Greece, Judæa; of the northern barbarians, when they broke up the Great Roman Empire; of the Mohammedans, when they overran the Christian world in East and West in their conquering career, and put the crescent in the place of the cross. There can be little doubt as to these instances, except, it may be, in some minds, in reference to the last. The name ‘Christian,’ it may be thought, ought to have protected Palestine and Spain from becoming Mohammedanised. But mere names, however sacred, count for nothing in the sight of the moral order. It respects only real ethical values. And Christians should not need to be reminded that it is possible for the ‘salt’ to lose its savour and become the most worthless of all things.

No objection should be taken, therefore, to the action of the righteous Power on this score. Neither should we be scandalised when we observe that it has no respect of persons, no partiality, e.g. for favoured races and peoples. The fact is certainly so. Elect peoples, destined to distinction in attainment and service, and chosen for that end, are not exempt from the retributive action of the moral order. Indeed, if there be any difference, they are the most roughly handled. ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.’13 So Israel, Greece, Rome, one after the other, must go down. Elect peoples have tragic careers. They are born, grow, decay, die, or even fall a prey to the brute force and greed of barbarians. And there are always good reasons why they should. you may ask, Can we accuse them of misconduct? Israel, for example? Was she less moral than Rome her conqueror? No, but she was spiritually blind. She did not know that the old religious order had served its time, and that a new order was due. She had a zeal for righteousness, but she perished through obstinate clinging to an antiquated type. In the eyes of the moral order, lack of spiritual vision is a fatal crime.

But are there no exceptions to the doctrine that right is might, in either direction, no faithful peoples that go down, no faithless, unworthy peoples that live on? Apparent exceptions abound in individual life; may we not look for exceptions also in national life? Is China, for example, not a case in point? Her days have been very long on the earth. What has she done to deserve it? And the Turkish Empire? Is it not about time that it were broken up by the Power that makes for righteousness? Or take the case of Israel. Must we conclude that she was a greater sinner than Babylon because her sons were swept as in a net into captivity? Did the Babylonian captivity not simply mean the weaker succumbing to the brute force of the stronger? Would it have made any difference though the conduct of the elect race had been all that its prophets desired? That it would, seems plainly implied in the pathetic lament: ‘O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea. Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.’14 But the question will obtrude itself: In presence of such great powers as Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, could the independence and prosperity of Israel, however faithful to God, have been guaranteed by anything short of preternatural interference, such as that which destroyed Sennacherib's army? I fear it must be acknowledged that the problem of Divine Providence is not so simple as Carlyle's theorem supposes; that God's judgments are a great deep; that His way is often in the sea, and His footsteps untraceable; and that the bearing of conduct on lot is only one of the factors to be taken into account. Thus the short-lived nature of the monarchies of Western Asia may be partly explained by the nomadic antecedents of the founders. ‘A monarchy formed of nomads,’ remarks Herder, ‘can hardly be of long duration. It destroys and subdues, till it is itself destroyed. The capture of the capital, or the death of a king, may end the whole robber scene. So was it with Babylon and Nineveh, with Persepolis and Ecbatana.’15 With reference to the short duration of the ancient Persian kingdom, which lasted only two hundred years, the same writer parabolically observes: ‘Its roots were so small, and its branches so large, that it could not but fall to the ground.’16 As for Greece, the brevity of its brilliant career has been deemed explicable, without reference to moral causes, by the simple consideration that for Greeks the State meant the single city as distinct from a nation, implying a high-strung enthusiasm which cannot last, and a lack of union disabling for combined action against a common foe.17

The extraordinary longevity of a nation like China may be accounted for by the consideration that it grew out of its own roots, rested upon itself, and therefore lasted, the same people essentially, for thousands of years, through all vicissitudes of fortune. Or we may say that China has endured so long because it is an unprogressive nation. It is everlasting as the inert mountains. Other nations have lived their life, run through a brilliant career, then passed away in death. China dies not, because she has never lived.

But such considerations as these, tending to show that the destinies of nations may depend on a plurality of causes, need not weaken our conviction that a very prominent place among these belongs to national morality. This is the truth, and it is whole some to give to it in our creed about Providence, without too much refinement or balanced qualified statement, a very broad recognition, such as that embodied in the doctrine that right is might. One thing, however, we must carefully avoid: resting the verification of the principle on too narrow a historical basis. All judgments based on a few events, or on the experience of a few years, are to be distrusted. Calamity, famine, pestilence, disaster in war, may overtake any people, and it is easy to suggest that it is a Divine judgment on sin. And when such so-called judgments are on a land, the most thoughtless of its inhabitants may for the moment be startled into repentance. But the repentance will be as short-lived as the construction put upon events is shallow. We are on surer ground when the connection between conduct and lot can be shown to be one of natural causality. That proves that the moral order of the world has a deep root in the constitution of the universe. The Power that works for righteousness is not to be seen only, or chiefly, in the unusual, the occasional, the catastrophic; any more than the creative hand of the Almighty is to be traced mainly in the critical periods of the world's evolution, as at the introduction of life. It is more certainly traceable in the steady working of moral causes going on silently through long ages, and at last culminating in a great, stable empire; or, it may be, in the final overthrow of a kingdom which has had a splendid career of power and prosperity. The one way to an enlightened, firm grasp of the truth that there is indeed a moral order in the world, is a wide, careful study of history. The textbooks for those who desire to master the important lesson are such works as Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Carlyle's History of the French Revolution. The story of Rome from its Rise to its Fall extends over more than a thousand years. Across the ages covered by the stirring tale is written in large letters, wide apart: ‘Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth.’18 He who has been able to spell out the mystic scroll has studied to purpose.

The study of history with an eye to its moral significance ought to suggest some important inferences as to the causes on which the fate of nations chiefly depends. These summed up in memorable aphorisms might serve the purpose of a book of Proverbs for the guidance of rulers. I am not going to attempt the ambitious task of constructing such a compendium. I only offer the modest observation, that it may be assumed a priori that the fundamental laws of social morality will be found to be very intimately concerned in the matter. The keeping by the people of its ‘Decalogue’ ought to be an affair of life and death. Truth, justice, chastity, and the qualities that go along with these virtues, must count for much in the destinies of nations. Among the companion qualities may be named: a simple temperate habit of life, courage, modesty. These are conspicuous in the early life of peoples that have taken a great and honourable place in the history of mankind. It is when power and prosperity have been reached that they are apt to be replaced by ‘pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness’;19 effeminacy, cowardice—sure causes of decline and death. Of these vices, none is more severely condemned, as hostile to national well-being, than pride. Many aphorisms are directed against this vice in the Hebrew books. ‘Though the Lord be high, yet bath He respect unto the lowly; but the proud He knoweth afar off.’20 ‘Surely He scorneth the scorners, but He giveth grace unto the lowly.’21 ‘Those that walk in pride He is able to abase.’22 The thought these sentences embody is not a theological dogma; it is an ethical maxim based on observation. It is not the peculiar possession of the Hebrews; the same thought finds a place in the wisdom of other peoples. Greek poets know as well as Hebrew Prophets and Psalmists that pride (ὕβρις) is offensive to the gods. Thus Sophocles says: ‘Discretion and humility are the foundation stones of happiness. Wherefore be thou reverent towards the gods; for pride carrieth in her hand a rod of chastisement, and will teach thee humility in the latter days.’23 Again, ‘God abhorreth exceedingly the boasting of a proud tongue.’24 Yet again:

‘Know this well:

That he who has both fear and reverence

Has also safety. But when men are free

To riot proudly, and do all their will,

That state, be sure, with all its prosperous gales

Is driving to destruction, and will fall.’25

It would be well for individuals and for communities, both civil and ecclesiastical, to lay to heart this teaching of sages. For it is in accordance with the realities of the universe. It points to one of the laws of the moral world which, doubt it not, act with all the certainty of the law of gravitation in the physical world. But they act also as noiselessly and inobservably to the common eye; whence it comes that men can easily lapse into a state of complete obliviousness as to their existence. The earth is constantly whirling round the sun, but the motion is so swift as to be non-existent for the senses, and we need science to assure us of its reality. Even so with the laws of the moral order. Pride, vain thoughts, self-sufficiency, contempt for others, move steadily on towards humiliation and disaster, but the movement is so unobtrusive, and it is so long before anything happens, that we can easily flatter ourselves there is no danger, and continue to nurse the fond delusion till the catastrophe comes with its rude awakening. So in the case of all laws pertaining to the moral sphere. The moral order moves slowly, slowly; its action for long is unobserved by the many; it arrests attention only when the crisis arrives, and when it is too late to escape doom. They only are safe who believe habitually in the reality of the moral order: who are firmly convinced that moral law is not less certain in its action than physical law, and who with prophetic eye can foresee the judgment that is coming, even when the sky is blue and the air serene.

To many not minded to live wisely, the alleged certainty of the moral order is not welcome news. They would rather be told that history is a moral chaos, that in this region nothing is certain, that anything may happen to any man at any time, and that every man must take his chance. For such as are in this mood there is more than enough to supply an excuse for scepticism. Even to those, indeed, who want no such excuse, the state of things may appear to be such as does not justify a tone of confidence as to the reality of a moral government of God in this world. A tendency towards it rather than the reality of it is all they can discover. So Butler, e.g. interpreted the situation. He speaks of ‘the necessary tendencies of virtue, which, though not of present effect, yet are at present discernible in nature; and so afford an instance of somewhat moral in the essential constitution of it.’ ‘There is,’ he adds, ‘in the nature of things, a tendency in virtue and vice to produce the good and bad effects now mentioned, in a greater degree than they do in fact produce them.’26 Butler could be content with this view, because he expected in another world a perfect realisation of what now exists only in a rudimentary form. It was enough for him if the present state of things was such as to show which side God is of, and to make a perfect moral order hereafter credible. How different this depressed and depressing tone of the eighteenth century apologist from that of the Hebrew prophets, for whom the theatre of Providence was this present world, and the drama of history an effective, if not a perfect, demonstration of Divine righteousness! The sympathies of modern thought are with the prophets rather than with Butler. ‘Why,’ men of our time are inclined to say, ‘why, if there be indeed a Power making for righteousness, should it not manifest itself in a decisive manner here and now? Let the world to come rest on its own evidence; but surely that world is not furnished with the best possible credentials, when it is viewed simply as a refuge from despair for those who wish to retain faith in a moral government of God!’ The appeal, however, must ultimately be to fact. How does the matter actually stand? Well, with much that Butler says we must all agree. Right has not all the might we could desire. It encounters in many ways vexatious frustration. There are conditions of success which are not always at its command, such as sufficient numbers and union:27 good men knowing each other, and recognising each other as on the same side, and all together forming a compact band bearing some appreciable proportion to the forces of evil leagued against it. For lack of these, especially for lack of union, the cause of justice and truth has often been reduced to a lamentable state of impotence. Yet it is possible to exaggerate here. Much good may be done even when there is disunion, as we see in the case of the Christian Church. And numbers are not always necessary to power. Some of the greatest movements the world has seen—movements ethical in spirit and on the whole making for righteousness, e.g. Buddhism and Christianity, began with one man. In times like those of Butler, when faith is worn out, and enthusiasm is at a discount, and even virtue is of the homespun, utilitarian, unheroic type, men have no conception of the inexhaustible might stored up in epoch-making originators. How can one who has seen a river only when it is shrunk to a tiny rill in a dry bed, dotted here and there with stagnant, unwholesome pools, imagine what it is like when it is in full flood, overflowing its banks and sweeping swiftly over the fields? Yet such floods do come. There are creative epochs when a little one becomes a thousand, and a small one a strong nation. Nothing can arrest the movement; death cannot destroy it; persecution strengthens it; ten persecutions only multiply it tenfold. Then the friends of God do not dejectedly talk of just perceptible tendencies of virtue to produce good effects. They triumphantly sing:—

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains he carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.28

We must keep these creative epochs, with their buoyant temper, in view, in order to have firm faith in a Power making for righteousness in this world, and adequate conceptions of the energy with which it works, its capacity of self-propagation, and its persistency. There have been many such, and there will be more. Those that have been are not yet exhausted, though they have had their periods of low vitality, as was the case with Christianity in Butler's age.

Among the conditions of success in the fight of good with evil Butler specifies, along with numbers and union, time. ‘Length of time, proper scope and opportunities.’29 The point to be emphasised, however, is not so much that the cause of right needs, as that it has command of, time. The future belongs to it. No great ethico-religious movement needs to be in a hurry. It can afford to spend the first generation in simply getting rooted in the minds and hearts of a few susceptible disciples. The more leisurely its pace to begin with, the more certainly will it take possession of the ages to come. And space belongs to it as well as time. If the environment be ungenial in one place, it can retire to another. When persecuted in one city, it can flee to another; and the flight, instead of bringing disaster, may, like Mohammed's flight from Mecca, form the beginning of a new era. The Puritans of England, overpowered here, emigrate to America, to create there a great nation whose future is guaranteed by having such an ancestry.

It may be objected that the instances to which allusion has been made are all cases illustrating the power of religion rather than the power of righteousness. Formally this is true, but in reality what exemplifies the one exemplifies the other. Religion and morality are not two entirely distinct things, but rather different phases of the same thing. They cannot be separated in fact without fatal injury to both. Religion apart from morality is a ghost, morality apart from religion is a carcass. Religion is the soul of morality, morality is the body of religion; the two together form an organic whole. Morality is the outcome of true religion, but it cannot exist in vital potency unless there be an antecedent religion capable of giving it birth. Morality without religion lacks wings, motive power; it is a ship without propeller, or sails to catch the wind. Hence all movements fruitful in beneficent ethical results have a religious origin. The Power in the world making for righteousness works through religion as His instrument. The choice of this instrument only shows that the Power understands human nature. For there is more in man than reason, or ‘common sense’—the idol of the eighteenth century, or even than conscience. There is imagination, emotion, the mystic faculty of faith. All these must be brought into play in order to get the highest kind of results. ‘All that is within’ must be at the bidding of righteousness. Only on these terms can we become heroes in the warfare for justice and mercy. A man is very weak when he serves the good with only a part of his spiritual nature. It is well to have a definite religious creed, if it be sincere, and a philosophic theory of the universe in harmony with that creed. Furnished with these, the man of ethical benevolent bent engages in the fight clad in ‘the whole armour of God’; without them he enters into battle, brave possibly, but defenceless, vulnerable. Merely rational morality, a purely ethical organisation, can never do much for the world. Let no man dream that it were good for the world if religion died out. Rather let us listen to those who speak to us in this wise: ‘Pain is a fact; religion is a fact; little is known of the past, nothing is known of the future. But that religious effort can do something to diminish pain is a conclusion of certain and incalculable value; and so, whatever may have been the origin of the religious sentiment, whether our souls be mortal or immortal, whether there be a heaven or a hell, the enhancement of the religious faculty must remain the one essential effort, and how this can be promoted the one essential inquiry.’30

  • 1.

    Hyde, Outlines of Social Theology, p. 36.

  • 2.

    Amos iii. 2.

  • 3.

    A Study of Religion, vol. ii. p. 28.

  • 4.

    A Study of Religion, vol. ii. p. 9.

  • 5.

    Analogy, chap. III. §. iii.

  • 6.

    Vide M'Lennan, Primitive Marriage, chap. viii. But see, on the other side, Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage, chap. iv., where M'Lennan's hypothesis is subjected to a very searching criticism.

  • 7.

    Psalm cxlvii. 19, 20.

  • 8.

    Psalm lxxiv. 5, 6.

  • 9.

    Literature and Dogma, p. 353.

  • 10.

    Literature and Dogma, p. 352.

  • 11.

    Ibid. p. 356.

  • 12.

    Vide Fraser, Gifford Lectures, 2nd series, p. 197, where this case is put.

  • 13.

    Amos iii. 2.

  • 14.

    Isaiah xlviii. 18, 19.

  • 15.

    Ideen zur Geschichte der Menschheit, vol. iii. p. 128.

  • 16.

    Ideen zur Geschichte der Menschheit, vol. iii. p. 77.

  • 17.

    E. A. Freeman, Comparative Politics, pp. 93, 94. For further remarks on this point, vide Lecture x.

  • 18.

    Psalm lviii. II. Revised Version.

  • 19.

    Ezekiel xvi. 49.

  • 20.

    Psalm cxxxviii. 6.

  • 21.

    Proverbs iii. 34

  • 22.

    Daniel iv. 37

  • 23.

    Πολλῳ̑ τὸ ϕρονϵι̑ν ϵὐδαιμονίας Πρω̑τον ὑπάρχϵι χρὴ δ̕ ἐς τὰ θϵω̑ν Μηδὲνσϵπτϵι̑ν μϵγάλοι δὲ λόγοι Μϵγάλας πληγὰς τω̑ν ὑπϵραύχωνποτίσαντϵς Γήρᾳ τὸ ϕρονϵιν ἐδίδαξαν.—Ant. 1347-53.

  • 24.

    Ζϵὴς γὰρ μϵγάλης γλώσ̼ης κόμπους ὑπϵρϵχθαίρϵι.—Antigone, 127-8. The translation of this and the previous quotation is from D'Arcy Thomson, Sales Attici.

  • 25.

    δέος γὰρ ᾡ πρόσϵστιν αἰσχύνη θ᾽ ὁμου̑ σωτηρίαν ἔχοντα τόνδ᾽ ἐπίστασο ὅπον δ᾽ ὑβρίζϵιν, δρα̑ν θ᾽ ἃ βούλϵται, παρῃ̑, ταύτην νόμιζϵ τὴν πόλιν χρόνῳ ποτὲ ἐξ οὐρίων δραμου̑σαν ἐς βυθὸν πϵσϵι̑ν. Translation from Plumptre, The Tragedies of Sophocles, ‘Ajax,’ 1079-83.

  • 26.

    Analogy, ch. iii. v.

  • 27.

    Vide Analogy, ch. iii. v.

  • 28.

    Psalm xlvi. 1-4.

  • 29.

    Analogy, Ch. iii. v.

  • 30.

    Kelly, Evolution and Effort, pp. 103, 104.