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is the Seat of Authority? Whatever form of belief we may accept, it would seem to be a blind bargain-a leap in the dark.
If by “leaving everything an open question” the objector means, “concluding that no one may go to work by the light of his own private reason and conscience, and draw up a catalogue of statements, theological, ethical, or philosophical, which shall be inviolable certainties,” then truly we have left everything “open.” Such “certainty,” affirmative or negative, is intellectually absurd and ethically undesirable. We can reach only what is relatively the most true for us. Truth, like goodness, is a growing power in our race; and neither of them can be pursued save by penetrating to the heart of what man has already accomplished in the accumulation of moral ideas and ideals, or of intellectual beliefs and systems. No one but a prophet introducing a new movement into the world has the right to seek them in any other way. Only one who tries to detach himself from the spiritual streams of tendency in humanity is trying to take a “leap in the dark.” He seeks to set up
reason and conscience, in the particular forms which they have taken in himself, as absolute judges and critics of the general spiritual life of humanity; while in reality it is this progressive life of humanity which penetrates and partly creates his individual personality, with all its habits of thought and feeling. A great spiritual heritage has come down to us. We know that it is a growth of truth and error together : hence we need to develop its contents into forms which, when judged by the wider experience of to-day, contain more truth or express more reality; and principles, such as those which we have been considering, are the natural furniture of reason for doing this. Our experience must be in every direction deep as well as wide, and our Reason powerful enough to grasp its meaning, — and sympathetic enough to reach the heart of what in the past was thought to be the meaning of experience and has come down to us as “true belief.” Experience and its rational interpretation — these two inseparable factors, ever variable yet ever progressiveconstitute the basis of human knowledge.
The beginning of the last century marked the dawn of a new era in social, political, and religious thought and life,—one of the results of the great awakening which made the Age of the Revolution. Limiting our attention to England, we find that during the eighteenth century religious thought, among cultivated people, was ruled by the main ideas of Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding. That is to say, thought was governed by a great respect for facts and realities; the soundest kind of reasoning was that which began with facts; and the most real fact, from which we cannot get away, with which we must always start and to which we must ever return, was that infinite machine which we call Nature,—the world of things that can be seen and touched. Nature a machinethat was the scientific motto of the time : a machine which somehow had been set going. Paley argued that we might reason from the universe to its divine Maker, just as we do from any other machine (a watch, for instance) to its human maker. Thus religious thought became a hard and dry
logical “supernaturalism.”i The evidence of the senses was taken as 'the final test of truth; and God was believed in as the cause of the physical world which our senses show us. His being was still further defined by appeal to “revelation”; the revelation was believed in because of the miracles and prophecies which were supposed to have accompanied it. We find the same reliance on the tangible facts of the senses in the moral sphere. Thus Paley explains Virtue as “doing good to mankind, in obedience to the Will of God, and for the sake of everlasting happiness.” Hope for heaven and fear of hell are the motives appealed to. Locke, again, had already given the following account of “the true ground of morality”: it is “the will and law of a God who sees men in the dark, has in His hands rewards and punishments, and power to call to account the proudest offender.”
This general view of things is now called 1 Of course such ideas have survived right down to our own day. But the point is, that they were maintained by the leaders of thought in the eighteenth century; and this is far from true of the nineteenth.
Deism. We may contrast the deistic view of Nature with that idea which Wordsworth and Carlyle-to mention no others – have so often expressed, that Nature is no dead machine but the living garment of God; and we may contrast the deistic view of God with that faith which has been held by poets and thinkers of every age and nation, and has been powerfully uttered in Carlyle's outburst' against the idea of “ An Architect who constructed the world, sitting as it were apart, and guiding it and seeing it go”: “God is not only there, but here or nowhere,—in that life-breath of thine, in that act and thought of thine: and thou wert well to look to it.” These are voices of the reaction against Deism. The result of the deistic tendency was, that by the end of the century, religious life in England had very much decayed. J. H. Newman, writing in 1839, spoke of “the dry and superficial character of the religious teaching of the last generation, or century,” and of “the
1 Cf. his chapter on “Natural Supernaturalism" in Sartor Resartus.