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Why else was the pause prolonged but that singing
might issue thence ? Why rushed the discords in but that harmony should be
Rabbi Ben Ezra turns with contempt from the “ finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark,” who have nothing further to attain to. For himself, the imperfections of his nature are comforts, warning him how much he has yet to learn and to be; he sees
It was better, youth
In the little poem Life in a Love, we see how living Love consists in a succession of failures, which, though failures, yet bring one nearer the beloved. In The Last Ride there is an actual pleasure in the thought of imperfection, since it promises something more :
Who knows what's fit for us? Had Fate
I shrink back shuddering from the quest.
Closely related is the thought, expressed for example in Old Pictures in Florence and Andria del Sarto, that “what's come to perfection perishes.” If we try to conceive of absolute perfection, the utter completion of all our powers, we fail altogether, or else we arrive at the idea of something which, as in Rephan—is only too plainly inferior to the present world. Not that Perfection is inconceivable; it is beyond us but on our own line.
Thus, the living Love which is Divine,the Love which is ever bearing, believing, hoping, enduring, rejoicing not in iniquity but rejoicing in the truth—the Love which not only can do this but must needs do it, could never come to be but for the sufferings, sins, mistakes, and conflicts of life : which it still overcomes and turns to good. Rising then, as we may, from the thought of what is highest in man to the thought of God, we think of the All-perfect as living no life of stagnant “ omnipotence": we think of Him
as thinking most, loving most, doing most, and therefore as bearing most,—but with a labour and sacrifice which are perpetually merged in the joy of victorious attainment,
--and all for the redemption of the creatures of his Love. The life of Love, the life of labour and sacrifice, the life of God, are the same : in that life it is our highest privilege to share.
We may now bring together and summarise our main results. Our object all through has been to arrive at some satisfying conception of the source and meaning of belief in the Divine Being. The thinkers whom we have examined have borne witness “in divers manners” to a fundamental point of view, which gives a new and wider and deeper meaning to the old idea, that the truth of Religion is based directly on our actual experience.
What is "experience" ? In ordinary
thought and language there is a close connection between experience and reality; the main feature of “experience” is that in it something real comes home to us. But the word is constantly used in some limited sense or other, in the interest of some narrow system of thought. The most unfortunate and unjustifiable of these limitations is to make it mean only the facts which our bodily senses appear to give us. Yet it is from this arbitrary limitation that Positivism derives all its prestige—from appearing to have a monopoly of “experience” and of the real, solid foundation of knowledge which the word suggests. Experience, far from being a fixed, finite thing, is a seed, a germ, a potency; it may be almost infinitely magnified in capacity and character, in intensity and scope.
Whatever enters into our living experience is real; this is true throughout the many different forms which such experience may take. Thus, in simple sense-experience, such as the perception of a sound or colour,
-in intelligent “observation,” as of something that arouses our interest, — in the
“instinctive” verdicts of conscience, and the social and sympathetic feelings,-in these and all other types of experience there is the actual presence of something real, something that we "get at ” directly. The kinds and degrees of experience are infinite, for they comprise all the infinite variety of realised objects of human thought and action. Hence the type of experience which a man will have, depends first of all on the direction which his own activities take-on his “work,” in Browning's sense of the word; but it depends also on the intensity with which he puts forth the native energies of his spirit into those activities. By this effort and energy his very personality will grow in power as his experience grows in depth of meaning. This is Browning's great contribution to the problem. Again, whatever an experience may be, before it can teach us any lesson it must be thought about; and as human intelligence has in itself infinite varieties of maturity and power, this adds a new set of variations to experience. These things are true of whole ages and races of men as well as of individuals ; and the his