« PreviousContinue »
hope in providing for the inheritance of good. To say nothing of what Reason itself does, there are social feelings and impulses which from the beginning bind each one instinctively to the community. It remains true that of our own selves we do nothing; all that is best in each single life is vitally dependent on the general life of humanity, and ultimately on the Divine Life. This is the view of " man's relation to the community" which is likely to hold the future; and Dr Martineau himself has given it eloquent expression :—
The process of social evolution so implicates together the individual agent and his fellows that we can scarce divide the causal factors into individual and social, inner and outer. Bodily, no doubt, each man stands there by himself, while his family are grouped separately around him; but spiritually he is not himself without them, and the major part of his individuality is relative to them, as theirs is relative to him. He has no self which is not reflected in them and of which they are not reflections; and this reveals itself by a kind of moral amputation, if death should snatch them away and put his selfhood to the test of loneliness. It is the same with the larger groups which enclose him in their sympathetic embrace. His country, with its history and its institutions, and all that these imply, is not external to himself: its life-blood courses through his veins, inseparably mingled with his own. The social union is most inadequately represented as a compact or tacit bargain, subsisting among separate units, agreeing to combine for specific purposes and for limited times, and then disbanding again to their several isolations. It is no such forensic abstraction, devised as a cement for mechanically conceived components; but a concrete though spiritual form of life, penetrating and partly constituting all persons belonging to it. . . . What we call a conflict between a private and a public interest, and treat as a dissension between a man's inner self and an outward society, is not really a wrestling-match between two independent organisms or personalities, unless it comes to physical rebellion and war. The inner man is himself the scene of the living strife; the public interest that pleads with him is his interest, too; the society that withstands him is his society; it is no foreign and intrusive power that confronts and stops his calculating prudence, or the madness of his pleasure or his passion, but his own share of an altruistic reason and love that live and throb in other hearts and minds as well.1
WHAT IS RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE?
There is reason to believe that all Religion, of the deeper and more vital sort, rests at bottom not on any process of argument, but on a direct experience which it tries to interpret. Thus, modern Poetry has shown how we may feel through Nature the reality of a Life, richer and fuller far than ours, but in vital kinship with it— not a separate existence as of " another Person." And in our Ideals, when the presence of the true, the beautiful, or the good lifts us above ourselves, the Ideal itself becomes no longer a dream of future possibility, but an experience of a present Reality; it becomes an apprehension of the indwelling God. Even in sorrow of the most hopeless sort, God's relation to us is felt to be at once personal and far more—richer, fuller, and more comforting than any human personal relations can be. This is Symbolism; any portion of human experience may become a direct revelation of the Divine. But there are degrees of Truth and Worth in our experiences: and the highest is the Ethical.
This brings us to the third line of thought in Dr Martineau's system. Our ethical knowledge of God is not an inference from the moral consciousness, but a deeper insight into what the moral consciousness verily is. This is achieved when the sentiment of moral authority is transformed into Reverence. Reverence is the regard for a goodness which not only ought to be but already is real, though not yet in our own self. Of this there are two stages. The first is Reverence for a Goodness higher than our own, objectively realised in some other person's character. But what we attribute to him can be known to us only by some faint gleams and movements of it within ourselves; we have therefore a direct experience (however vague) of it. Thus, in the second stage of Reverence, the manifestation of a real higher goodness without wakens Reverence for a real higher goodness manifested within. This becomes nothing less than an apprehension of the indwelling God.
The preceding considerations enable us to determine the meaning of Revelation. The extreme deistic view is, that creation is left to itself save for occasional divine interferences; revelation is thus a particular historical event. This conception, both in its extreme and in its modified forms, must be discarded. Our view makes Revelation not a historical event but a process continually proceeding and growing. The argument which attempts to show that there must have been a miraculous revelation, would (if it were true) prove too much. It is not hard to see the motives which led to the limitation of revelation to events in the past; they arose from confusing the moral and spiritual principles of a Prophet's teaching with the particular forms in which he expressed it, and which were peculiar to his own age and race.
A Favourite doctrine of many religious thinkers may perhaps be expressed as follows. It is only possible for us to know, or even to think of, the existence of God, because the Divine Life is present to us or in us directly and immediately; on the basis of this direct experience our intelligence works as it were by a reconstructive vision, interpreting it, and so producing ideas, questions, and theories about God and about things divine.
To the present writer this doctrine seems to be profoundly true and important; but the difficulties which it presents to many minds are very great, and a discussion of some of these may be of service.
Let us first expand and explain the main thought. Whenever we have a vivid consciousness of the worth of some human Ideal, we have also—in however vague or germinal a form—a direct consciousness of the Divine Life as a present Reality, sustaining the Ideal. No one is entirely without this God-consciousness; but, like all our consciousness, it is the interpretation of an experience; so that the experience may be expressed in a more true or a more mistaken form, and also may itself vary in extent,