Page images
PDF
EPUB

torical forms of belief depend on these two “ variables”—degrees of intensity and scope in experience, and degrees of truth in its interpretation.

Amid all this boundless complexity and manifoldness of experience, where can the Idea of the Divine Being have its source ? In all kinds of experience, something real comes home to us; in what kind of experience does the “ something real” appear as the very presence of the Divine ? Speaking, at the close of his Gifford Lectures, of a possible experience of the heavenly life, the late Principal Caird said : “Even here, in this earthly life of ours, there are moments, few and far between, when the infinitude of the spiritual nature reveals itself, when the gross vesture of carnality seems to fall away, and a latent splendour of spiritual nobleness, nothing less than divine, to be disclosed. When thought comes with a rush of inspiration on the mind of the man of genius, when in the experience of very holy and saintly men infinite hopes and aspirations flow in upon the soul, raising it above the littleness and narrowness of life, quelling every ignoble

[ocr errors]

thought, silencing every baser passion; or when the call for some great act of selfsacrifice has arisen, and the sense of duty triumphs over all lower impulses, and the deed of heroism and self-devotion is done, in these and like experiences there are premonitions of a larger, diviner life within this nature of ours." Yet—when viewed in the light of our conception of experience and its interpretation—even these rarest and highest spiritual experiences of the best and noblest of men are seen to be only a specially intense form of an experience which is shared by all who endeavour to realise their ideals. Human ideals, embodied in the work of life, become symbols of the Divine Being. Whether it is truth that is sought, or beauty, or righteousness, or human love,-if we seek to possess and be possessed by any of these things, we shall find in them traces and motions of a strength that is not of our making and yet becomes ours as we work. Or if we think that we have no experience which can be thus interpreted,—none, even in our moments of sincerest work,—none, even when we have lost all thought of self in “doing out the

A

US

va

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

duty” and living out the love that is claimed from us, then it remains for us to accept as true the insight of others who, working out the same ideals, find in them “gleams of the Everlasting Real,” even a strength rooted in the “ deep things of God.” We share the same experience with them ; but for us the light of its meaning may be closed, while for them the light begins to break forth. Let us understand, once for all, how great are the variations which an experience of the same kind or type may have for different beings, and how many are the motives leading to divergent interpretations of what is experienced : and then we can understand that the germs of the experience of God are universal. The consciousness of weakness and dependence,—the restlessness that issues in “divine discontent,”—the unwillingness to be satisfied with any merely temporary good,

- these are some of the first beginnings of what in its intenser, clearer form becomes a recognition of God in the ideals of man.

If this is the Source of belief in the Divine Being, we know what we mean when we speak of God; the Eternal Perfection, the Absolute Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, whose Light

"guides the nations, groping on their way, Stumbling and falling in disastrous night,

Yet hoping ever for the Perfect Day." In this Perfect Life, all that our struggling Ideals point to is for ever realised; and every Ideal of ours—partial, fragmentary, and imperfect though it be—is a direct revelation of some aspect of the Absolute Perfection, in whom all Ideals are consummated. Thus do all the paths of human goodness begin and end in God, although men may not always see this, and may not always know Who goes with them and guides their footsteps when with earnest effort they keep to the upward path.

The only possible “proof” that the appeals, which Truth and Love make to us, are literally Divine, is found in living up to them as far as we are able. This is the final meaning of Browning's message to the age. If Duty, for instance, is Divine, there can be no way of “proving" it but through an experience which can be attained only by living the life of Duty. Doubt is indeed

[ocr errors]

possible: but that is true of all such doubts, which we were told long ago : they can be ended by action alone.” “Truth must be ground for every man by himself out of its husk, with such help as he can get, indeed, but not without stern labour of his own :" and the deepest truth of life—the Divine meaning of life's duties and ideals—can be won only in the work of life. Yet it may be won by all ; it may be hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes ; it is the truth of which the Master said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find ; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

« PreviousContinue »