I have said elsewhere how much it has contributed to the misunderstanding of St. Paul, that terms like grace, new birth, justification,—which he used in a fluid and passing way, as men use terms in common discourse or in eloquence and poetry, to describe approximately, but only approximately, what they have present before their mind, but do not profess that their mind does or can grasp exactly or adequately,—that such terms people have blunderingly taken in a fixed and rigid manner, as if they were symbols with as definite and fully grasped a meaning as the names line or angle, and proceeded to use them on this supposition. Terms, in short, which with St. Paul are literary terms, theologians have employed as if they were scientific terms.
But if one desires to deal with this mistake thoroughly, one must observe it in that supreme term with which religion is filled,—the term God. The seemingly incurable ambiguity in the mode of employing this word is at the root of all our religious differences and difficulties. People use it as if it stood for a perfectly definite and ascertained idea, from which we might, without more ado, extract propositions and draw inferences, just as we should from any other definite and ascertained idea. For instance, I open a book which controverts what its author thinks dangerous views about religion, and I read: 'Our sense of morality tells us so-and-so; our sense of God, on the other hand, tells us so-and-so.' And again, 'the impulse in man to seek God' is distinguished, as if the distinction were self-evident and explained itself, from 'the impulse in man to seek his highest perfection.' Now, morality represents for everybody a thoroughly definite and ascertained idea:—the idea of human conduct regulated in a certain manner. Everybody, again, under stands distinctly enough what is meant by man's perfection:—his reaching the best which his powers and circumstances allow him to reach. And the word 'God' is used, in connection with both these words, morality and perfection, as if it stood for just as definite and ascertained an idea as they do; an idea drawn from experience, just as the ideas are which they stand for; an idea about which everyone was agreed, and from which we might proceed to argue and to make inferences, with the certainty that, as in the case of morality and perfection, the basis on which we were going everyone knew and granted. But, in truth, the word 'God' is used in most cases as by no means a term of science or exact knowledge, but a term of poetry and eloquence, a term thrown out, so to speak, at a not fully grasped object of the speaker's consciousness, a literary term, in short; and mankind mean different things by it as their consciousness differs.
The first question, then, is, how people are using the word; whether in this literary way, or in a scientific way. The second question is, what, supposing them to use the term as one of poetry and eloquence, and to import into it, therefore, a great deal of their own individual feelings and character, is yet the common substratum of idea on which, in using it, they all rest. For this will then be, for them, and for us in dealing with them, the real sense of the word; the sense in which we can use it for purposes of argument and inference without ambiguity.
Strictly and formally the word 'God,' so some philologists tell us, means, like its kindred Aryan words, Theos, Deus, and Deva, simply shining or brilliant. In a certain narrow way, therefore, this would be (if the etymology is right) the one exact and scientific sense of the word. It was long thought, however, to mean good, and so Luther took it to mean the best that man knows or can know; and in this sense, as a matter of fact and history, mankind constantly use the word. This is the common substratum of idea on which men in general, when they use the word God, rest; and we can take this as the word's real sense fairly enough, only it does not give us anything very precise.
But then there is also the scientific sense held by theologians, deduced from the ideas of substance, identity, causation, design, and so on; but taught, they say, or at least implied, in the Bible, and on which all the Bible rests. According to this scientific and theological sense,—which has all the outward appearances, at any rate, of great precision,—God is an infinite and eternal substance, and at the same time a person, the great first cause, the moral and intelligent governor of the universe; Jesus Christ consubstantial with him; and the Holy Ghost a person proceeding from the other two. This is the sense for which, or for portions of which, the Bishops of Winchester and Gloucester are so zealous to do something.
Other people, however, who fail to perceive the force of such a deduction from the abstract ideas above mentioned, who indeed think it quite hollow, but who are told that this sense is in the Bible, and that they must receive it if they receive the Bible, conclude that in that case they had better receive neither the one nor the other. Something of this sort it was, no doubt, which made Professor Huxley tell the London School Board lately, that 'if these islands had no religion at all, it would not enter into his mind to introduce the religious idea by the agency of the Bible.' Of such people there are now a great many; and indeed there could hardly, for those who value the Bible, be a greater example of the sacrifices one is sometimes called upon to make for the truth, than to find that for the truth as held by the Bishops of Winchester and Gloucester, if it is the truth, one must sacrifice the allegiance of so many people to the Bible.
But surely, if there be anything with which metaphysics have nothing to do, and where a plain man, without skill to walk in the arduous paths of abstruse reasoning, may yet find himself at home, it is religion. For the object of religion is conduct; and conduct is really, however men may overlay it with philosophical disquisitions, the simplest thing in the world. That is to say, it is the simplest thing in the world as far as understanding is concerned; as regards doing, it is the hardest thing in the world. Here is the difficulty,—to do what we very well know ought to be done; and instead of facing this, men have searched out another with which they occupy themselves by preference,—the origin of what is called the moral sense, the genesis and physiology of conscience, and so on, No one denies that here, too, is difficulty, or that the difficulty is a proper object for the human faculties to be exercised upon; but the difficulty here is speculative. It is not the difficulty of religion, which is a practical one; and it often tends to divert the attention from this. Yet surely the difficulty of religion is great enough by itself, if men would but consider it, to satisfy the most voracious appetite for difficulties. It extends to rightness in the whole range of what we call conduct; in three-fourths, therefore, at the very lowest computation, of human life. The only doubt is whether we ought not to make the range of conduct wider still, and to say it is four-fifths of human life, or five-sixths. But it is better to be under the mark than over it; so let us be content with reckoning conduct as three-fourths of human life.
And to recognize in what way conduct is this, let us eschew all school-terms, like moral sense, and volitional, and altruistic, which philosophers employ, and let us help ourselves by the most palpable and plain examples. When the rich man in the Bible-parable says: 'Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry!' —those goods which he thus assigns as the stuff with which human life is mainly concerned (and so in practice it really is),—those goods and our dealings with them,—our taking our ease, eating, drinking, being merry, are the matter of conduct, the range where it is exercised. Eating, drinking, ease, pleasure, money, the intercourse of the sexes, the giving free swing to ones temper and instincts,—these are the matters with which conduct is concerned, and with which all mankind know and feel it to be concerned.
Or, when Protagoras points out of what things we are, from childhood till we die, being taught and admonished, and says (but it is lamentable that here we have not at hand Mr. Jowett, who so excellently introduces the enchanter Plato and his personages, but must use our own words): 'From the time he can understand what is said to him, nurse, and mother, and teacher, and father too, are bending their efforts to this end,—to make the child good; teaching and showing him, as to everything he has to do or say, how this is right and that not right, and this is honourable and that vile, and this is holy and that unholy, and this do and that do not;'—Protagoras, also, when he says this, bears his testimony to the scope and nature of conduct, tells us what conduct is. Or, once more, when M. Littré (and we hope to make our peace with the Comtists by quoting an author of theirs in preference to those authors whom all the British public is now reading and quoting),—when M. Littré, in a most ingenious essay on the origin of morals, traces up, better, perhaps, than anyone else, all our impulses into two elementary instincts, the instinct of self-preservation and the reproductive instinct,—then we take his theory and we say, that all the impulses which can be conceived as derivable from the instinct of self-preservation in us and from the reproductive instinct, these terms being applied in their ordinary sense, are the matter of conduct. It is evident this includes, to say no more, every impulse relating to temper, every impulse relating to sensuality; and we all know how much that is.
How we deal with these impulses is the matter of conduct,—how we obey, regulate, or restrain them; that, and nothing else. Not whether M. Littré's theory is true or false; for whether it be true or false, there the impulses confessedly now are, and the business of conduct is to deal with them. But it is evident, if conduct deals with these, both how important a thing conduct is, and how simple a thing. Important, because it covers so large a portion of human life, and the portion common to all sorts of people; simple, because, though there needs perpetual admonition to form conduct, the admonition is needed not to determine what we ought to do, but to make us do it.
And as to this simplicity, all moralists are agreed. 'Let any plain honest man,' says Bishop Butler, 'before he engages in any course of action' (he means action of the very kind we call conduct) 'ask himself: Is this I am going about right or is it wrong? is it good or is it evil? I do not in the least doubt but that this question would be answered agreeably to truth and virtue by almost any fair man in almost any circumstance.' And Bishop Wilson says: 'Look up to God' (by which he means just this: Consult your conscience) 'at all times, and you will, as in a glass, discover what is fit to be done.' And the Preacher's well-known sentence is exactly to the same effect: 'God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions,' —or, as it more correctly is, 'many abstruse reasonings.' Let us hold fast to this, and we shall find we have a stay by the help of which even poor weak men, with no pretensions to be logical athletes, may stand firmly.
And so, when we are asked, what is the object of religion?—let us reply: Conduct. And when we are asked further, what is conduct?—let us answer: Three-fourths of life.
And certainly we need not go far about to prove that conduct, or 'righteousness,' which is the object of religion, is in a special manner the object of Bible-religion. The word 'righteousness' is the master-word of the Old Testament. Keep judgment and do righteousness! Cease to do evil, learn to do well! these words being taken in their plainest sense of conduct. Offer the sacrifice, not of victims and ceremonies, as the way of the world in religion then was, but: Offer the sacrifice of righteousness! The great concern of the New Testament is likewise righteousness, but righteousness reached through particular means, righteousness by the means of Jesus Christ. A sentence which sums up the New Testament and assigns the ground whereon the Christian Church stands, is, as we have elsewhere said, this: Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity! If we are to take a sentence which in like manner sums up the Old Testament, such a sentence is this: O ye that love the Eternal, see that ye hate the thing which is evil! to him that ordereth his conversation right shall be shown the salvation of God.
But instantly there will be raised the objection that this is morality, not religion; morality, ethics, conduct, being by many people, and above all by theologians, carefully contradistinguished from religion, which is supposed in some special way to be connected with propositions about the Godhead of the Eternal Son, or propositions about the personality of God, or about election or justification. Religion, however, means simply either a binding to righteousness, or else a serious attending to righteousness and dwelling upon it. Which of these two it most nearly means, depends upon the view we take of the word's derivation; but it means one of them, and they are really much the same. And the antithesis between ethical and religious is thus quite a false one. Ethical means practical, it relates to practice or conduct passing into habit or disposition. Religious also means practical, but practical in a still higher degree; and the right antithesis to both ethical and religious, is the same as the right antithesis to practical: namely, theoretical.
Now, propositions about the Godhead of the Eternal Son are theoretical, and they therefore are very properly opposed to propositions which are moral or ethical; but they are with equal propriety opposed to propositions which are religious. They differ in kind from what is religious, while what is ethical agrees in kind with it. But is there, therefore, no difference between what is ethical, or morality, and religion? There is a difference; a difference of degree. Religion, if we follow the intention of human thought and human language in the use of the word, is ethics heightened, enkindled, lit up by feeling; the passage from morality to religion is made when to morality is applied emotion. And the true meaning of religion is thus, not simply morality, but morality touched by emotion. And this new elevation and inspiration of morality is well marked by the word 'righteousness'. Conduct is the word of common life, morality is the word of philosophical disquisition, righteousness is the word of religion.
Some people, indeed, are for calling all high thought and feeling by the name of religion; according to that saying of Goethe: 'He who has art and science, has also religion.' But let us use words as mankind generally use them. We may call art and science touched by emotion religion, if we will; as we may make the instinct of self-preservation, into which M. Littré traces up all our private affections, include the perfecting ourselves by the study of what is beautiful in art; and the reproductive instinct, into which he traces up all our social affections, include the perfecting mankind by political science. But men have not yet got to that stage, when we think much of either their private or their social affections at all, except as exercising themselves in conduct; neither do we yet think of religion as otherwise exercising itself. When mankind speak of religion, they have before their mind an activity engaged, not with the whole of life, but with that three-fourths of life which is conduct. This is wide enough range for one word, surely; but at any rate, let us at present limit ourselves in the use of the word religion as mankind do.
And if some one now asks: But what is this application of emotion to morality, and by what marks may we know it?—we can quite easily satisfy him; not, indeed, by any disquisition of our own, but in a much better way, by examples. 'By the dispensation of Providence to mankind,' says Quintilian, 'goodness gives men most satisfaction.' That is morality. 'The path of the just is as the shining light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.' That is morality touched with emotion, or religion. 'Hold off from sensuality,' says Cicero; 'for, if you have given yourself up to it, you will find yourself unable to think of anything else.' That is morality. 'Blessed are the pure in heart,' says Jesus Christ; 'for they shall see God.' That is religion. 'We all want to live honestly, but cannot,' says the Greek maxim-maker. That is morality. 'O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!' says St. Paul. That is religion. 'Would thou wert of as good conversation in deed as in word!' is morality. 'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven,' is religion. 'Live as you were meant to live!' is morality. 'Lay hold on eternal life!' is religion.
Or we may take the contrast within the bounds of the Bible itself. 'Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty,' is morality. But: 'My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work,' is religion. Or we may even observe a third stage between these two stages, which shows to us the transition from one to the other. 'If thou givest thy soul the desires that please her, she will make thee a laughing stock to thine enemies;' — that is morality. 'He that resisteth pleasure crowneth his life;'—that is morality with the tone heightened, passing, or trying to pass, into religion. 'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;' —there the passage is made, and we have religion. Our religious examples are here all taken from the Bible, and from the Bible such examples can best be taken; but we might also find them elsewhere. 'Oh that my lot might lead me in the path of holy innocence of thought and deed, the path which august laws ordain, laws which in the highest heaven had their birth, neither did the race of mortal man beget them, nor shall oblivion ever put them to sleep; the power of God is mighty in them, and groweth not old!' That is from Sophocles, but it is as much religion as any of the things which we have quoted as religious. Like them, it is not the mere enjoining of conduct, but it is this enjoining touched, strengthened, and almost transformed, by the addition of feeling.
So what is meant by the application of emotion to morality has now, it is to be hoped, been made clear. The next question will probably be: But how does one get the application made? Why, how does one get to feel much about any matter whatever? By dwelling upon it, by staying our thoughts upon it, by having it perpetually in our mind. The very words mind, memory, remain, come, probably, all from the same root, from the notion of staying, attending. Possibly even the word man comes from the same; so entirely does the idea of humanity, of intelligence, of looking before and after, of raising oneself out of the flux of things, rest upon the idea of steadying oneself, concentrating oneself, making order in the chaos of one's impressions, by attending to one impression rather than the other. The rules of conduct, of morality, were themselves, philosophers suppose, reached in this way;—the notion of a whole self as opposed to a partial self, a best self to an inferior self, to a momentary self a permanent self requiring the restraint of impulses a man would naturally have indulged;—because, by attending to his life, man found it had a scope beyond the wants of the present moment. Suppose it was so; then the first man who, as 'a being,' comparatively, 'of a large discourse, looking before and after,' controlled the native, instantaneous, mechanical impulses of the instinct of self-preservation, controlled the native, instantaneous, mechanical impulses of the reproductive instinct, had morality revealed to him.
But there is a long way from this to that habitual dwelling on the rules thus reached, that constant turning them over in the mind, that near and lively experimental sense of their beneficence, which communicates emotion to our thought of them, and thus incalculably heightens their power. And the more mankind attended to the claims of that part of our nature which does not belong to conduct, properly so called, or to morality (and we have seen that, after all, about one-fourth of our nature is in this case), the more they would have distractions to take off their thoughts from those moral conclusions which all races of men, one may say, seem to have reached, and to prevent these moral conclusions from being quickened by emotion, and thus becoming religious.
Only with one people,—the people from whom we get the Bible,—these distractions did not so much happen.
The Old Testament, nobody will ever deny, is filled with the word and thought of righteousness. 'In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof is no death;' 'Righteousness tendeth to life;' 'He that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death;' 'The way of transgressors is hard;'—nobody will deny that those texts may stand for the fundamental and ever-recurring idea of the Old Testament. No people ever felt so strongly as the people of the Old Testament, the Hebrew people, that conduct is three-fourths of our life and its largest concern. No people ever felt so strongly that succeeding, going right, hitting the mark in this great concern, was the way of peace, the highest possible satisfaction. 'He that keepeth the law, happy is he; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace; if thou hadst walked in its ways, thou shouldst have dwelt in peace for ever!' Jeshurun, one of the ideal names of their race, is the upright; Israel, the other and greater, is the wrestler with God, he who has known the contention and strain it costs to stand upright. That mysterious personage by whom their history first touches the hill of Sion, is Melchisedek, the righteous king. Their holy city, Jerusalem, is the foundation, or vision, or inheritance, of that which righteousness achieves,—peace. The law of righteousness was such an object of attention to them, that its words were to 'be in their heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.' That they might keep them ever in mind, they wore them, went about with them, made talismans of them: 'Bind them upon thy fingers, bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart!' 'Take fast hold of her,' they said of the doctrine of conduct, or righteousness, 'let her not go! keep her, for she is thy life!'
People who thus spoke of righteousness could not but have had their minds long and deeply engaged with it; much more than the generality of mankind, who have nevertheless, as we saw, got as far as the notion of morals or conduct. And, if they were so deeply attentive to it, one thing could not fail to strike them. It is this: the very great part in righteousness which belongs, we may say, to not ourselves. In the first place, we did not make ourselves and our nature, or conduct as the object of three-fourths of that nature; we did not provide that happiness should follow conduct, as it undeniably does; that the sense of succeeding, going right, hitting the mark, in conduct, should give satisfaction, and a very high satisfaction, just as really as the sense of doing well in his work gives pleasure to a poet or painter, or accomplishing what he tries gives pleasure to a man who is learning to ride or to shoot; or as satisfying his hunger, also, gives pleasure to a man who is hungry.
All this we did not make; and, in the next place, our dealing with it at all, when it is made, is not wholly, or even nearly wholly, in our own power. Our conduct is capable, irrespective of what we can ourselves certainly answer for, of almost infinitely different degrees of force and energy in the performance of it, of lucidity and vividness in the perception of it, of fullness in the satisfaction from it; and these degrees may vary from day to day, and quite incalculably. Facilities and felicities,—whence do they come? suggestions and stimulations,—where do they tend? hardly a day passes but we have some experience of them. And so Henry More was led to say, that 'there was something about us that knew better, often, what we would be at than we ourselves.' For instance: everyone can understand how health and freedom from pain may give energy for conduct, and how a neuralgia, suppose, may diminish it. It does not depend on ourselves, indeed, whether we have the neuralgia or not, but we can understand its impairing our spirit. But the strange thing is, that with the same neuralgia we may find ourselves one day without spirit and energy for conduct, and another day with them. So that we may most truly say, with the author of the Imitation: 'Left to ourselves, we sink and perish; visited, we lift up our heads and live.' And we may well give ourselves, in grateful and devout self-surrender, to that by which we are thus visited. So much is there incalculable, so much that belongs to not ourselves, in conduct; and the more we attend to conduct, and the more we value it, the more we shall feel this.
The not ourselves, which is in us and in the world around us, has almost everywhere, as far as we can see, struck the minds of men as they awoke to consciousness, and has inspired them with awe. Everyone knows how the mighty natural objects which most took their regards became the objects to which this awe addressed itself. Our very word God is, perhaps, a reminiscence of these times, when men invoked 'The Brilliant on high,' sublime hoc candens quod invocent omnes Jovem, as the power representing to them that which transcended the limits of their narrow selves, and by which they lived and moved and had their being. Everyone knows of what differences of operation men's dealing with this power has in different places and times shown itself capable; how here they have been moved by the not ourselves to a cruel terror, there to a timid religiosity, there again to a play of imagination; almost always, however, connecting with it, by some string or other, conduct.
But we are not writing a history of religion; we are only tracing its effect on the language of the men from whom we get the Bible. At the time they produced those documents which give to the Old Testament its power and its true character, the not ourselves which weighed upon the mind of Israel, and engaged its awe, was the not ourselves by which we get the sense for righteousness, and whence we find the help to do right. This conception was indubitably what lay at the bottom of that remarkable change which under Moses, at a certain stage of their religious history, befell the Hebrew people's mode of naming God. This was what they intended in that name, which we wrongly convey, either without translation, by Jehovah, which gives us the notion of a mere mythological deity, or by a wrong translation, Lord, which gives us the notion of a magnified and non-natural man. The name they used was: The Eternal.
Philosophers dispute whether moral ideas, as they call them, the simplest ideas of conduct and righteousness which now seem instinctive, did not all grow, were not once inchoate, embryo, dubious, unformed. That may have been so; the question is an interesting one for science. But the interesting question for conduct is whether those ideas are unformed or formed now. They are formed now; and they were formed when the Hebrews named the power, not of their own making, which pressed upon their spirit: The Eternal. Probably the life of Abraham, the friend of God, however imperfectly the Bible traditions by themselves convey it to us, was a decisive step forwards in the development of these ideas of righteousness. Probably this was the moment when such ideas became fixed and ruling for the Hebrew people, and marked it permanently off from all other peoples who had not made the same step. But long before the first beginnings of recorded history, long before the oldest word of Bible literature, these ideas must have been at work. We know it by the result, although they may have for a long while been but rudimentary. In Israel's earliest history and earliest utterances, under the name of Eloah, Elohim, The Mighty, there may have lain and matured, there did lie and mature, ideas of God more as a moral power, more as a power connected, above everything, with conduct and righteousness, than were entertained by other races. Not only can we judge by the result that this must have been so, but we can see that it was so. Still their name, The Mighty, does not in itself involve any true and deep religious ideas, any more than our Aryan name, Deva, Deus, The Shining. With The Eternal it is otherwise. For what did they mean by the Eternal; the Eternal what? The Eternal cause? Alas, these poor people were not Archbishops of York. They meant the Eternal righteous, who loveth righteousness. They had dwelt upon the thought of conduct, and of right and wrong, until the not ourselves, which is in us and all around us, became to them adorable eminently and altogether as a power which makes for righteousness; which makes for it unchangeably and eternally, and is therefore called The Eternal.
There is not a particle of metaphysics in their use of this name, any more than in their conception of the not ourselves to which they attached it. Both came to them not from abstruse reasoning but from experience, and from experience in the plain region of conduct. Theologians with metaphysical heads render Israel's Eternal by the self-existent, and Israel's not ourselves by the absolute, and attribute to Israel their own subtleties. According to them, Israel had his head full of the necessity of a first cause, and therefore said, The Eternal; as, again, they imagine him looking out into the world, noting everywhere the marks of design and adaptation to his wants, and reasoning out and inferring thence the fatherhood of God. All these fancies come from an excessive turn for reasoning, and from a neglect of observing men's actual course of thinking and way of using words. Israel, at this stage when The Eternal was revealed to him, inferred nothing, reasoned out nothing; he felt and experienced. When he begins to speculate, in the schools of Rabbinism, he quickly shows how much less native talent than the Bishops of Winchester and Gloucester he has for this perilous business. Happily, when The Eternal was revealed to him, he had not yet begun to speculate.
Israel personified, indeed, his Eternal, for he was strongly moved, he was an orator and poet. Man never knows how anthropomorphic he is, says Goethe; and so man tends always to represent everything under his own figure. In poetry and eloquence man may and must follow this tendency, but in science it often leads him astray. Israel, however, did not scientifically predicate personality of God; he would not even have had a notion what was meant by it. He called him the maker of all things, who gives drink to all out of his pleasures as out of a river; but he was led to this by no theory of a first cause. The grandeur of the spectacle given by the world, the grandeur of the sense of its all being not ourselves, being above and beyond ourselves and immeasurably dwarfing us, a man of imagination instinctively personifies as a single, mighty, living and productive power; as Goethe tells us that the words which rose naturally to his lips, when he stood on the top of the Brocken, were: 'Lord, what is man, that thou mindest him, or the son of man, that thou makest account of him?' But Israel's confessing and extolling of this power came not even from his imaginative feeling, but came first from his gratitude for righteousness. To one who knows what conduct is, it is a joy to be alive; and the not ourselves, which by bringing forth for us righteousness makes our happiness, working just in the same sense, brings forth this glorious world to be righteous in. That is the notion at the bottom of a Hebrew s praise of a Creator; and if we attend, we can see this quite clearly. Wisdom and understanding mean, for Israel, the love of order, of righteousness. Righteousness, order, conduct, is for Israel at once the source of all man's happiness, and at the same time the very essence of The Eternal. The great work of the Eternal is the foundation of this order in man, the implanting in mankind of his own love of righteousness, his own spirit, his own wisdom and understanding; and it is only as a farther and natural working of this energy that Israel conceives the establishment of order in the world, or creation. 'To depart from evil, that is understanding! Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding! The Eternal by wisdom hath founded the earth, by understanding hath he established the heavens;' and so the Bible-writer passes into the account of creation. It all comes to him from the idea of righteousness.
And it is the same with all the language our Hebrew religionist uses. God is a father, because the power in and around us, which makes for righteousness, is indeed best described by the name of this authoritative but yet tender and protecting relation. So, too, with the intense fear and abhorrence of idolatry. Conduct, righteousness, is, above all, a matter of inward motion and rule. No sensible forms can represent it, or help us to it; such attempts at representation can only distract us from it. So, too, with the sense of the oneness of God. 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord.' People think that in this unity of God, this monotheistic idea, as they call it, they have certainly got metaphysics at last. They have got nothing of the kind. The monotheistic idea of Israel is simply seriousness. There are, indeed, many aspects of the not ourselves; but Israel regarded one aspect of it only, that by which it makes for righteousness. He had the advantage, to be sure, that with this aspect three-fourths of human life is concerned. But there are other aspects which may be set in view. 'Frail and striving mortality,' says the elder Pliny in a noble passage, 'mindful of its own weakness, has distinguished these aspects severally, so as for each man to be able to attach himself to the divine by this or that part, according as he has most need. That is an apology for polytheism, as answering to man's many-sidedness. But Israel felt that being thus many-sided degenerated into an imaginative play, and bewildered what Israel recognized as our sole religious consciousness,—the consciousness of right. 'Let thine eyelids look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee; turn not to the right hand nor to the left; remove thy foot from evil!'
For does not Ovid say, in excuse for the immorality of his verses, that the sight and mention of the gods them selves,—the rulers of human life,—often raised immoral thoughts? And so the sight and mention of all aspects of the not ourselves must. Yet how tempting are many of these aspects! Even at this time of day, the grave authorities of the University of Cambridge are so struck by one of them, that of pleasure, life and fecundity,—of the hominum divomque voluptas, alma Venus,—that they set it publicly up as an object for their scholars to fix their minds upon, and to compose verses in honor of. That is all very well at present; but with this natural bent in the authorities of the University of Cambridge, and in the Indo-European race to which they belong, where would they be now if it had not been for Israel, and for the stern check which Israel put upon the glorification and divinization of this natural bent of mankind, this attractive aspect of the not ourselves? Perhaps going in procession, Vice-Chancellor, bedels, masters, scholars, and all, in spite of their Professor of Moral Philosophy, to the temple of Aphrodite! Nay, and very likely Mr. Birks himself, his brows crowned with myrtle and scarcely a shade of melancholy on his countenance, would have been going along with them! It is Israel and his seriousness that have saved the authorities of the University of Cambridge from carrying their divinization of pleasure to these lengths, or from making more of it, indeed, than a mere passing intellectual play; and even this play Israel would have beheld with displeasure, saying: O turn away mine eyes lest they behold vanity, but quicken Thou me in thy way! So earnestly and exclusively were Israel's regards bent on one aspect of the not ourselves: its aspect as a power making for conduct, for righteousness. Israel's Eternal was the Eternal which says: 'Be ye holy, for I am holy!' Now, as righteousness is but a heightened conduct, so holiness is but a heightened righteousness; a more finished, entire, and awe-filled righteousness. It was such a righteousness which was Israel's ideal; and therefore it was that Israel said, not indeed what our Bibles make him say, but this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Eternal is our God, The Eternal alone.'
And in spite of his turn for personification, his want of a clear boundary-line between poetry and science, his inaptitude to express even abstract notions by other than highly concrete terms,—in spite of these scientific disadvantages, or rather, perhaps, because of them, because he had no talent for abstruse reasoning to lead him astray,—the spirit and tongue of Israel kept a propriety, a reserve, a sense of the inadequacy of language in conveying man's ideas of God, which contrast strongly with the license of affirmation in our Western theology. 'The high and holy One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy,' is far more proper and felicitous language than the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe, just because it far less attempts to be precise, but keeps to the language of poetry and does not essay the language of science. As he had developed his idea of God from personal experience, Israel knew what we, who have developed our idea from his words about it, so often are ignorant of; that his words were but thrown out at a vast object of consciousness, which he could not fully grasp, and which he apprehended clearly by one point alone,—that it made for the great concern of life, conduct. How little we know of it besides, how impenetrable is the course of its ways with us, how we are baffled in our attempts to name and describe it, how, when we personify it and call it 'the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe,' we presently find it not to be a person as man conceives of person, nor moral as man conceives of moral, nor intelligent as man conceives of intelligent, nor a governor as man conceives of governors,—all this, which scientific theology loses sight of, Israel, who had but poetry and eloquence, and no system, and who did not mind contradicting himself, knew. 'Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous?' What a blow to our ideal of that magnified and non-natural man, 'the moral and intelligent Governor'! Say what we can about God, say our best, we have yet, Israel knew, to add instantly: 'Lo, these are fringes of his ways; but how little a portion is heard of him!' Yes, indeed, Israel remembered that, far better than our bishops do. 'Canst thou by searching find out God; canst thou find out the perfection of the Almighty? It is more high than heaven, what canst thou do? deeper than hell, what canst thou know?'
Will it be said, experience might also have shown to Israel a not ourselves which did not make for his happiness, but rather made against it, baffled his claims to it? But no man, as I have elsewhere remarked, who simply follows his own consciousness, is aware of any claims, any rights, whatever; what he gets of good makes him thankful, what he gets of ill seems to him natural. His simple spontaneous feeling is well expressed by that saying of Izaak Walton: 'Every misery that I miss is a new mercy, and therefore let us be thankful.' It is true, the not ourselves of which we are thankfully conscious we inevitably speak of and speak to as a man; for 'man never knows how anthropomorphic he is.' And as time proceeds, imagination and reasoning keep working upon this substructure, and build from it a magnified and non-natural man. Attention is then drawn, afterwards, to causes outside ourselves which seem to make for sin and suffering; and then either these causes have to be reconciled by some highly ingenious scheme with the magnified and non-natural man's power, or a second magnified and non-natural man has to be supposed, who pulls the contrary way to the first. So arise Satan and his angels. But all this is secondary, and comes much later. Israel, the founder of our religion, did not begin with this. He began with experience. He knew from thankful experience the not ourselves which makes for righteousness, and knew how little we know about God besides.
The language of the Bible, then, is literary, not scientific language; language thrown out at an object of consciousness not fully grasped, which inspired emotion. Evidently, if the object be one not fully to be grasped, and one to inspire emotion, the language of figure and feeling will satisfy us better about it, will cover more of what we seek to express; than the language of literal fact and science. The language of science about it will be below what we feel to be the truth.
The question however has risen and confronts us: what was the scientific basis of fact for this consciousness? When we have once satisfied ourselves both as to the tentative, poetic way in which the Bible-authors used language, and also as to their having no pretensions to metaphysics at all, let us, therefore, when there is this question raised as to the scientific account of what they had before their minds, be content with a very unpretending answer. And in this way such a phrase as that which I have formerly used concerning God, and have been much blamed for using,—the phrase, namely, that, 'for science, God is simply the stream of tendency by which all things seek to fulfil the law of their being,'—may be allowed, and may even prove useful. Certainly it is inadequate; certainly it is a less proper phrase than, for instance: 'Clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his seat.' But then it is, in however humble a degree and with however narrow a reach, a scientific definition, which the other is not. The phrase, 'A personal First Cause, the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe,' has also, when applied to God, the character, no doubt, of a scientific definition. But then it goes far beyond what is admittedly certain and verifiable, which is what we mean by scientific. It attempts far too much. If we want here, as we do want, to have what is admittedly certain and verifiable, we must content ourselves with very little. No one will say, that it is admittedly certain and verifiable, that there is a personal first cause, the moral and intelligent governor of the universe, whom we may call God if we will. But that all things seem to us to have what we call a law of their being, and to tend to fulfil it, is certain and admitted; though whether we will call this God or not, is a matter of choice. Suppose, however, we call it God, we then give the name of God to a certain admitted reality; this, at least, is an advantage.
And the notion of our definition does, in fact, enter into the term God, in men's common use of it. To please God, to serve God, to obey God's will, means to follow a law of things which is found in conscience, and which is an indication, irrespective of our arbitrary wish and fancy, of what we ought to do. There is, then, a real power which makes for righteousness; and it is the greatest of realities for us. When St. Paul says, that our business is 'to serve the spirit of God,' 'to serve the living and true God;' and when Epictetus says: 'What do I want?—to acquaint myself with the natural order of things, and comply with it,' they both mean, so far, the same, in that they both mean we should obey a tendency, which is not ourselves, but which appears in our consciousness, by which things fulfil the real law of their being.
It is true, the not ourselves, by which things fulfil the real law of their being, extends a great deal beyond that sphere where alone we usually think of it. That is, a man may disserve God, disobey indications, not of our own making, but which appear, if we attend, in our consciousness,—he may disobey, I say, such indications of the real law of our being, in other spheres besides the sphere of conduct. He does disobey them, when he sings a hymn like: My Jesus to know, and feel his blood flow,—or, indeed, like nine-tenths of our hymns,—or when he frames and maintains a blundering and miserable constitution of society, as well as when he commits some plain breach of the moral law. That is, he may disobey them in art and science as well as in conduct. But he attends, and the generality of men attend, almost solely to the indications of a true law of our being as to conduct; and hardly at all to indications, though they as really exist, of a true law of our being on its æsthetic and intelligential side. The reason is, that the moral side, though not more real, is so much larger; taking in, as we have said, at least three-fourths of life. Now, the indications on this moral side of that tendency, not of our making, by which things fulfil the law of their being, we do very much mean to denote and to sum up when we speak of the will of God, pleasing God, serving God. Let us keep firm footing on this basis of plain fact, narrow though it may be.
To feel that one is fulfilling in any way the law of one's being, that one is succeeding and hitting the mark, brings, as we know, happiness; to feel this in regard to so great a thing as conduct, brings, of course, happiness proportionate to the thing's greatness. We have already had Quintilian's witness, how right conduct gives joy. Who could value knowledge more than Goethe? but he marks it as being without question a lesser source of joy than conduct. Conduct he ranks with health as beyond all compare primary. 'Nothing, after health and virtue,' he says, 'can give so much satisfaction as learning and knowing.' Nay, and Bishop Butler, at the view of the happiness from conduct, breaks free from all that hesitancy and depression which so commonly hangs on his masterly thinking. 'Self-love, methinks, should be alarmed! May she not pass over greater pleasures than those she is so wholly taken up with?' And Bishop Wilson, always hitting the right nail on the head in matters of this sort, remarks that, 'if it were not for the practical difficulties attending it, virtue would hardly be distinguishable from a kind of sensuality.' The practical difficulties are, indeed, exceeding great. Plain as is the course and high the prize, we all find ourselves daily led to say with the Imitation: 'Would that for one single day we had lived in this world as we ought!' Yet the course is so evidently plain, and the prize so high, that the same Imitation cries out presently: 'If a man would but take notice, what peace he brings to himself, and what joy to others, merely by managing himself right!' And for such happiness, since certainly we ourselves did not make it, we instinctively feel grateful; according to that remark of one of the wholesomest and truest of moralists, Barrow: 'He is not a man, who doth not delight to make some returns thither whence he hath found great kindness.' And this sense of gratitude, again, is itself an addition to our happiness! So strong, altogether, is the witness and sanction happiness gives to going right in conduct, to fulfilling, so far as conduct is concerned, the law indicated to us of our being. Now, there can be no sanction to compare, for force, with the strong sanction of happiness, if it be true what Bishop Butler, who is here but the mouthpiece of humanity itself, says so irresistibly: 'It is manifest that nothing can be of consequence to mankind, or any creature, but happiness.' But we English are taunted with our proneness to an unworthy eudæmonism, and an Anglican bishop may perhaps be a suspected witness. Let us call, then, a glorious father of the Catholic Church, the great Augustine himself. Says St. Augustine: 'Act we must in pursuance of what gives us most delight; quod amplius nos delectat, secundum id operemur necesse est.'
And now let us see how exactly Israel's perceptions about God follow and confirm this simple line, which we have here reached quite independently. First: 'It is joy to the just to do judgment.' Then: 'It becometh well the just to be thankful.' Finally: 'A pleasant thing it is to be thankful.' What can be simpler than this, and at the same time more solid? But again: 'The statutes of the Eternal rejoice the heart.' And then: 'I will give thanks unto thee, O Eternal, with my whole heart; at midnight will I rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments!' And lastly: 'It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Eternal; it is a good thing to sing praises unto our God!' Why, these are the very same propositions as the preceding, only with a power and depth of emotion added! Emotion has been applied to morality.
God or Eternal is here really, at bottom, nothing but a deeply moved way of saying 'the power that makes for conduct or righteousness.' 'Trust in God' is, in a deeply moved way of expression, the trust in the law of conduct; 'delight in the Eternal' is, in a deeply moved way of expression, the happiness we all feel to spring from conduct. Attending to conduct, to judgment, makes the attender feel that it is joy to do it. Attending to it more still, makes him feel that it is the commandment of the Eternal, and that the joy got from it is joy from fulfilling the commandment of the Eternal. The thankfulness for this joy is thankfulness to the Eternal; and to the Eternal, again, is due that further joy which comes from this thankfulness. 'The fear of the Eternal, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, that is understanding.' 'The fear of the Eternal' and 'To depart from evil' here mean, and are put to mean, and by the very laws of Hebrew composition which make the second phrase in a parallelism repeat the first in other words, they must mean, just the same thing. Yet what man of soul, after he had once risen to feel that to depart from evil was to walk in awful observance of an enduring clue, within us and without us, which leads to happiness, but would prefer to say, instead of 'to depart from evil,' 'the fear of the Eternal'?
Henceforth, then, Israel transferred to this Eternal all his obligations. Instead of saying: 'Whoso keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul,' he rather said, 'My soul, wait thou only upon God, for of him cometh my salvation!' Instead of saying: 'Bind them (the laws of righteousness) continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck!' he rather said, 'Have I not remembered Thee on my bed, and thought upon Thee when I was waking?' The obligation of a grateful and devout self-surrender to the Eternal replaced all sense of obligation to one's own better self, one's own permanent interest. The moralist's rule: 'Take thought for your permanent, not your momentary, well-being,' became now: 'Honor the Eternal, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words.' That is, with Israel religion replaced morality.
It is true, out of the humble yet divine ground of attention to conduct, of care for what in conduct is right and good, grew morality and religion both; but, from the time when the soul felt the motive of religion, it dropped and could not but drop the other. And the motive of doing right, to a sincere soul, is now really no longer his own welfare, but to please God; and it bewilders his consciousness if you tell him that he does right out of self-love. So that, as we have said that the first man who, as a being of a large discourse, looking before and after, controlled the blind momentary impulses of the instinct of self-preservation, and controlled the blind momentary impulses of the sexual instinct, had morality revealed to him; so in like manner we may say, that the first man who was thrilled with gratitude, devotion, and awe, at the sense of joy and peace, not of his own making, which followed the exercise of this self-control, had religion revealed to him. And, for us at least, this man was Israel.
Now here, as we have already pointed out the falseness of the common antithesis between ethical and religious, let us anticipate the objection that the religion here spoken of is but natural religion, by pointing out the falseness of the common antithesis, also, between natural and revealed. For that in us which is really natural is, in truth, revealed. We awake to the consciousness of it, we are aware of it coming forth in our mind; but we feel that we did not make it, that it is discovered to us, that it is what it is whether we will or no. If we are little concerned about it, we say it is natural; if much, we say it is revealed. But the difference between the two is not one of kind, only of degree. The real antithesis, to natural and revealed alike, is invented, artificial. Religion springing out of an experience of the power, the grandeur, the necessity of righteousness, is revealed religion, whether we find it in Sophocles or in Isaiah. 'The will of mortal men did not beget it, neither shall oblivion ever put it to sleep.' A system of theological notions about personality, essence, existence, consubstantiality, is artificial religion, and is the proper opposite to revealed; since it is a religion which comes forth in no one's consciousness, but is invented by theologians,—able men with uncommon talents for abstruse reasoning. This religion is in no sense revealed, just because it is in no sense natural. And revealed religion is properly so named, just in proportion as it is in a pre-eminent degree natural.
The religion of the Bible, therefore, is well said to be revealed, because the great natural truth, that 'righteousness tendeth to life,' is seized and exhibited there with such in comparable force and efficacy. All, or very nearly all, the nations of mankind have recognized the importance of conduct, and have attributed to it a natural obligation. They, however, looked at conduct, not as something full of happiness and joy, but as something one could not manage to do without. But: 'Sion heard of it and rejoiced, and the daughters of Judah were glad, because of thy judgments, O Eternal!' Happiness is our being's end and aim, and no one has ever come near Israel in feeling, and in making others feel, that to righteousness belongs happiness! The prodigies and the marvelous of Bible-religion are common to it with all religions; the love of righteousness, in this eminency, is its own.
The real germ of religious consciousness, therefore, out of which sprang Israel's name for God, to which the records of his history adapted themselves, and which came to be clothed upon, in time, with a mighty growth of poetry and tradition, was a consciousness of the not ourselves which makes for righteousness. And the way to convince oneself of this is by studying the Bible with a fair mind, and with the tact which letters, surely, alone can give. For the thing turns upon understanding the manner in which men have thought, their way of using words, and what they mean by them. And by knowing letters, by becoming conversant with the best that has been thought and said in the world, we become acquainted not only with the history, but also with the scope and powers, of the instruments which men employ in thinking and speaking. And this is just what is sought for.
And with the sort of experience thus gained of the history of the human spirit, objections, as we have said, will be found not so much to be refuted by reasoning as to fall away of themselves. It is objected: 'Why, if the Hebrews of the Bible had thus eminently the sense for righteousness, does it not equally distinguish the Jews now?' But does not experience show us, how entirely a change of circumstances may change a people's character; and have the modern Jews lost more of what distinguished their ancestors, or even so much, as the modern Greeks of what distinguished theirs? Where is now, among the Greeks, the dignity of life of Pericles, the dignity of thought and of art of Phidias and Plato? It is objected, that the Jews' God was not the enduring power that makes for righteousness, but only their tribal God, who gave them the victory in the battle and plagued them that hated them. But how, then, comes their literature to be full of such things as: 'Shew me thy ways, O Eternal, and teach me thy paths; let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I put my trust in thee! if I incline unto wickedness with my heart, the Eternal will not hear me.' From the sense that with men thus guided and going right in goodness it could not but be well, that their leaf could not wither and that whatsoever they did must prosper, would naturally come the sense that in their wars with an enemy the enemy should be put to confusion and they should triumph. But how, out of the mere sense that their enemy should be put to confusion and they should triumph, could the desire for goodness come?
It is objected, again, that their 'law of the Lord' was a positive traditionary code to the Hebrews, standing as a mechanical rule which held them in awe; that their 'fear of the Lord' was superstitious dread of an assumed magnified and non-natural man. But why, then, are they always saying: 'Teach me thy statutes, Teach me thy way, Show thou me the way that I shall walk in, Open mine eyes, Make me to understand wisdom secretly!' if all the law they were thinking of stood, stark and written, before their eyes already? And what could they mean by: 'I will love thee, O Eternal, my strength!' if the fear they meant was not the awe-filled observance from deep attachment, but a servile terror? It is objected, that their conception of righteousness was a narrow and rigid one, centring mainly in what they called judgment: 'Hate the evil and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate!' so that evil, for them, did not take in all faults whatever of heart and conduct, but meant chiefly oppression, graspingness, a violent, mendacious tongue, insolent and riotous excess. True; their conception of righteousness was much of this kind, and it was narrow. But whoever sincerely attends to conduct, along however limited a line, is on his way to bring under the eye of conscience all conduct whatever; and already, in the Old Testament, the somewhat monotonous inculcation of the social virtues of judgment and justice is continually broken through by deeper movements of personal religion. Every time that the words contrition or humility drop from the lips of prophet or psalmist, Christianity appears.
It is objected, finally, that even their own narrow conception of righteousness this people could not follow, but were perpetually oppressive, grasping, slanderous, sensual. Why, the very interest and importance of their witness to righteousness lies in their having felt so deeply the necessity of what they were so little able to accomplish! They had the strongest impulses in the world to violence and excess, the keenest pleasure in gratifying these impulses. And yet they had such a sense of the natural necessary connection between conduct and happiness, that they kept always saying, in spite of themselves: To him that ordereth his conversation right shall be shown the salvation of God!
Now manifestly this sense of theirs has a double force for the rest of mankind,—an evidential force and a practical force. Its evidential force is in keeping before men's view, by the example of the signal apparition, in one branch of our race, of the sense for conduct and righteousness, the reality and naturalness of that sense. Clearly, unless a sense or endowment of human nature, however in itself real and beneficent, has some signal representative among mankind, it tends to be pressed upon by other senses and endowments, to suffer from its own want of energy, and to be more and more pushed out of sight. Anyone, for instance, who will go to the Potteries, and will look at the tawdry, glaring, ill-proportioned ware which is being made there for certain American and colonial markets, will easily convince himself how, in our people and kindred, the sense for the arts of design, though it is certainly planted in human nature, might dwindle and sink to almost nothing, if it were not for the witness borne to this sense, and the protest offered against its extinction, by the brilliant æsthetic endowment and artistic work of ancient Greece. And one cannot look out over the world without seeing that the same sort of thing might very well befall conduct, too, if it were not for the signal witness borne by Israel.
Then there is the practical force of their example; and this is even more important. Everyone is aware how those, who want to cultivate any sense or endowment in themselves, must be habitually conversant with the works of people who have been eminent for that sense, must study them, catch inspiration from them. Only in this way, indeed, can progress be made. And as long as the world lasts, all who want to make progress in righteousness will come to Israel for inspiration, as to the people who have had the sense for righteousness most glowing and strongest; and in hearing and reading the words Israel has uttered for us, carers for conduct will find a glow and a force they could find nowhere else. As well imagine a man with a sense for sculpture not cultivating it by the help of the remains of Greek art, or a man with a sense for poetry not cultivating it by the help of Homer and Shakespeare, as a man with a sense for conduct not cultivating it by the help of the Bible! And this sense, in the satisfying of which we come naturally to the Bible, is a sense which the generality of men have far more decidedly than they have the sense for art or for science. At any rate, whether this or that man has it decidedly or not, it is the sense which has to do with three-fourths of human life.
This does truly constitute for Israel a most extraordinary distinction. In spite of all which in them and in their character is unattractive, nay, repellent,—in spite of their shortcomings even in righteousness itself and their insignificance in everything else,—this petty, unsuccessful, un-amiable people, without politics, without science, without art, without charm, deserve their great place in the world's regard, and are likely to have it more, as the world goes on, rather than less. It is secured to them by the facts of human nature, and by the unalterable constitution of things. 'God hath given commandment to bless, and he hath blessed, and we cannot reverse it; he hath not seen iniquity in Jacob, and he hath not seen perverseness in Israel; the Eternal, his God, is with him!'
Anyone does a good deed who removes stumbling-blocks out of the way of our feeling and profiting by the witness left by this people. And so, instead of making our Hebrew speakers mean, in their use of the word God, a scientific affirmation which never entered into their heads, and about which many will dispute, let us content ourselves with making them mean, as a matter of scientific fact and experience, what they really did mean as such, and what is unchallengeable. Let us put into their 'Eternal' and 'God' no more science than they did:—the enduring power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness. They meant more by these names, but they meant this; and this they grasped fully. And the sense which this will give us for their words is at least solid; so that we may find it of use as a guide to steady us, and to give us a constant clue in following what they say.
And is it so unworthy? It is true, unless we can fill it with as much feeling as they did, the mere possessing it will not carry us far. But matters are not at all mended by taking their language of approximate figure and turning it into the language of scientific definition; or by crediting them with our own dubious science, deduced from metaphysical ideas which they never had. A better way than this, surely, is to take their fact of experience, to keep it steadily for our basis in using their language, and to see whether from using their language with the ground of this real and firm sense to it, as they themselves did, somewhat of their feeling, too, may not grow upon us. At least we shall know what we are saying; and that what we are saying is true, however inadequate.
But is this confessed inadequateness of our speech, concerning that which we will not call by the negative name of the unknown and unknowable, but rather by the name of the unexplored and inexpressible, and of which the Hebrews themselves said: It is more high than heaven, what canst thou do? deeper than hell, what canst thou know? —is this reservedness of affirmation about God less worthy of him, than the astounding particularity and license of affirmation of our dogmatists, as if he were a man in the next street? Nay, and nearly all the difficulties which torment theology,—as the reconciling God's justice with his mercy, and so on,—come from this license and particularity; theologians having precisely, as it would often seem, built up a wall first, in order afterwards to run their own heads against it.
This, we say, is what comes of too much talent for abstract reasoning. One cannot help seeing the theory of causation and such things, when one should only see a far simpler matter: the power, the grandeur, the necessity of righteousness. To be sure, a perception of these is at the bottom of popular religion, underneath all the extravagances theologians have taught people to utter, and makes the whole value of it. For the sake of this true practical perception one might be quite content to leave at rest a matter where practice, after all, is everything, and theory nothing. Only, when religion is called in question because of the extravagances of theology being passed off as religion, one disengages and helps religion by showing their utter delusiveness. They arose out of the talents of able men for reasoning, and their want (not through lack of talent, for the thing needs none; it needs only time, trouble, good fortune, and a fair mind; but through their being taken up with their reasoning power), their want of literary experience. By a sad mishap for them the sphere where they show their talents is one for literary experience rather than for reasoning. This mishap has at the very outset,—in the dealings of theologians with that starting-point in our religion, the experience of Israel as set forth in the Old Testament,—been the cause, we have seen, of great confusion. Naturally, as we shall hereafter see, the confusion becomes worse con- founded as they proceed.
More Articles by This Author Matthew Arnold
- English poet and cultural critic
- Born on December 24th, 1822 and died on April 15th, 1888