Page images

and suffered for those whom they had never seen and would never see, — all these things, simply whisperings of what can never be completely uttered, of the unspeakable reserve that is behind.

If all this does not teach us to believe in God, nothing would suffice to do so. It has been enough for many ordinary men and women; it has been enough for all extraordinary thinkers of the first rank. It was enough for the greatest philosopher of this century, Charles Darwin. "No man," he said, " can stand in the tropic forests without feeling that they are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of nature, and that there is more in man than the breath of his body." And again: "The chief argument for the existence of God is the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose by chance."

Finally in one word, let me say to believe in God—really and fully to believe in God—is to be freed from every remnant of morbid discontent. It is to believe that whatever is, is best.

"Yes, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed stake my spirit clings,—
I know that God is good."

[ocr errors]

True and False Discontent.


rFHE subject with which we were engaged last Sunday was false discontent or morbid grumbling at the limitation of human faculties. Some limitation, as I pointed out to you, necessarily followed from the fact that we were finite; our knowledge is and will always be inevitably limited. And even supposing it had been theoretically possible for the Deity to teach us more quickly and easily and surely than we are at present able to learn, such a kind of education might have been pre-eminently undesirable. But in any case, all abstract considerations apart, the limitations of knowledge which actually exist will not be removed by grumbling. Morbid discontent makes us only more conscious than ever of that which we dislike. We may become so depressed and paralysed by thinking perpetually of what cannot be known, that we shall lack the necessary energy to make ourselves acquainted with what can be known. Morbid discontent is always an unmixed curse.

There is however another kind of discontent, which is not depressing, but on the contrary essentially inspiring. This is discontent not with the inevitable, but with that which is capable of improvement; not with the possibilities of knowledge in general, but with our own attainments in particular; discontent, not that so much must always remain unknown for every finite intelligence, but that we know so little in comparison with what others know, in comparison with what we might have known, in comparison with what we may yet know. All the vast stores of knowledge which are now in the possession of the race owe their existence in the last resort to this healthy discontent.

There is something very pathetic, is there not? about the helplessness and ignorance of the primitive man. He knew neither the meanings nor causes of any of the phenomena of nature. He could not guess which of them were recurrent, nor when they would recur. It seemed as if the earth were the playground of capricious spirits, who made things pleasant or unpleasant for him just as the fancy seized them. At the first eclipse he thought the sun had been swallowed up for ever: during a thunderstorm he imagined that the world was coming to an end; and at all times he felt himself surrounded by a chaos of lawless forces, which were likely at any moment to combine for his destruction. How surprised he must be now if he knows the achievements of his descendants! We have analysed the material world into a few component elements, and discovered that earth and sea and air, trees and mountains, the bodies of animals and of men, sun, moon and stars, are nothing more than these simple elements in disguise. We have marked out precisely the course which the earth and the planets pursue; we know exactly the whereabouts of a comet which has not been visible for generations; we have discovered the law—the law of gravitation, viz.,—which binds all the parts of the universe into a whole. We have estimated with the minutest accuracy the velocity of light and sound and nervous energy; and we have discovered the correlation of physical forces, so that we are able to change one into another at our will. The old chaotic universe has been reduced to order; its phenomena have been arranged and classified; we can guess pretty accurately what Nature has done in the past; we can predict infallibly most of what she will do in the future; we understand her as well—nay, better—than ourselves.

Now all these treasures of science are, as I said, the result of discontent. Men soon became conscious of their ignorance, soon began to chafe under it, soon tried to conquer it. They were not content to remain the playthings of nature; and so they watched and thought and conjectured and puzzled and reasoned; and the result is that thousands and tens of thousands of problems which presented difficulties apparently insuperable have been completely and for ever solved. These magnificent results have been achieved through the efforts of a few—a comparatively few—inquiring minds. The average man does not inquire. He is not discontented. He is perfectly satisfied with what he actually knows—or with what he actually does not know. "Mankind," says Johnson, "have a great aversion to intellectual labour. Even if knowledge were easily attained, more people would be content to be ignorant than would take even a little trouble to acquire it." The truly discontented man, the man of scientific spirit, will devote his life, if needs be, "to read the secret of a weed's plain heart." The falsely contented man would not take the same

« PreviousContinue »