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LECTURE VIII

   "For nothing worthy proving can be proven,
    Nor yet disproven; wherefore thou be wise,
    Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt,
    And cling to Faith beyond the forms of Faith!
    She reels not in the storm of warring words,
    She brightens at the clash of Yes and No,
    She sees the Best that glimmers through the Worst,
    She feels the sun is hid but for a night,
    She spies the summer thro' the winter bud,
    She tastes the fruit before the blossom falls,
    She hears the lark within the songless egg,
    She finds the fountain where they wail'd 'Mirage!'"

TENNYSON, The Ancient Sage.

"Of true religions there are only two: one of them recognises and worships the Holy that without form or shape dwells in and around us; and the other recognises and worships it in its fairest form. Everything that lies between these two is idolatry."

GOETHE.

"My wish is that I may perceive the God whom I find everywhere in the external world, in like manner within and inside me."

KEPLER.

   "Getrost, das Leben schreitet
      Zum ew'gen Leben hin;
    Von innrer Gluth geweitet
      Verklärt sich unser Sinn.
    Die Sternwelt wird zerfliessen
      Zum goldnen Lebenswein,
    Wir werden sie geniessen
      Und lichte Sterne sein.

    "Die Lieb' ist freigegeben
      Und keine Trennung mehr
    Es wogt das volle Leben
      Wie ein unendlich Meer.
    Nur eine Nacht der Wonne,
      Ein ewiges Gedicht!
    Und unser Aller Sonne
      Ist Gottes Angesicht."

NOVALIS.

NATURE-MYSTICISM—continued

"The invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and Divinity."—ROM. i. 20.

In my last Lecture I showed how the later Mysticism emancipated itself from the mischievous doctrine that the spiritual eye can only see when the eye of sense is closed. After the Reformation period the mystic tries to look with both eyes; his aim is to see God in all things, as well as all things in God. He returns with better resources to the task of the primitive religions, and tries to find spiritual law in the natural world. It is true that a strange crop of superstitions, the seeds of which had been sown long before, sprang up to mock his hopes. In necromancy, astrology, alchemy, palmistry, table-turning, and other delusions, we have what some count the essence, and others the reproach, of Mysticism. But these are, strictly speaking, scientific and not religious errors. From the standpoint of religion and philosophy, the important change is that, in the belief of these later mystics, the natural and the spiritual are, somehow or other, to be reconciled; the external world is no longer regarded as a place of exile from God, or as a delusive appearance; it is the living vesture of the Deity; and its "discordant harmony,364364Horace, Ep. i. 12. 19." though "for the many it needs interpreters,365365[Greek: polypoikilos sophia], Eph. iii. 10." yet "has a voice for the wise" which speaks of things behind the veil. The glory of God is no longer figured as a blinding white light in which all colours are combined and lost; but is seen as a "many-coloured wisdom366366Pindar, Olymp. ii. 154." which shines everywhere, its varied hues appearing not only in the sanctuary of the lonely soul, but in all the wonders that science can discover, and all the beauties that art can interpret. Dualism, with the harsh asceticism which belongs to it, has given way to a brighter and more hopeful philosophy; men's outlook upon the world is more intelligent, more trustful, and more genial; only for those who perversely seek to impose the ethics of selfish individualism upon a world which obeys no such law, science has in reserve a blacker pessimism than ever brooded over the ascetic of the cloister.

We shall not meet, in this chapter, any finer examples of the Christian mystic than John Smith and William Law. But these men, and their intellectual kinsmen, were far from exhausting the treasure of Nature-Mysticism. The Cambridge Platonists, indeed, somewhat undervalued the religious lessons of Nature. They were scholars and divines, and what lay nearest their heart was the consecration of the reason—that is, of the whole personality under the guidance of its highest faculty—to the service of truth and goodness. And Law, in his later years, was too much under the influence of Böhme's fantastic theosophy to bring to Nature that childlike spirit which can best learn her lessons.

The Divine in Nature has hitherto been discerned more fully by the poet than by the theologian or the naturalist; and in this concluding Lecture I must deal chiefly with Christian poetry. The attitude towards Nature which we have now to consider is more contemplative than practical; it studies analogies in order to know the unseen powers which surround us, and has no desire to bend them or make them its instruments.

Our Lord's precept, "Consider the lilies," sanctions this religious use of Nature; and many of His parables, such as that of the Sower, show us how much we may learn from such analogies. And be it observed that it is the normal and regular in Nature which in these parables is presented for our study; the yearly harvest, not the three years' famine; the constant care and justice of God, not the "special providence" or the "special judgment." We need not wait for catastrophes to trace the finger of God. As for Christian poetry and art, we do not expect to find any theory of æsthetic in the New Testament; but we may perhaps extract from the precept quoted above the canon that the highest beauty that we can discern resides in the real and natural, and only demands the seeing eye to find it.

In the Greek Fathers we find great stress laid on the glories of Nature as a revelation of God. Cyril says, "The wider our contemplation of creation, the grander will be our conception of God." And Basil uses the same language. We find, indeed, in these writers a marked tendency to exalt the religious value of natural beauty, and to disparage the function of art—a premonition, perhaps, of iconoclasm. Pagan art, which was decaying before the advent of Christ, could not, it appears, be quietly Christianised and carried on without a break.

The true Nature-Mysticism is prominent in St. Francis of Assisi. He loves to see in all around him the pulsations of one life, which sleeps in the stones, dreams in the plants, and wakens in man. "He would remain in contemplation before a flower, an insect, or a bird, and regarded them with no dilettante or egoistic pleasure; he was interested that the plant should have its sun, the bird its nest; that the humblest manifestations of creative force should have the happiness to which they are entitled.367367Barine in Revue des Deux Mondes, April 1891." So strong was his conviction that all living things are children of God, that he would preach to "my little sisters the birds," and even undertook the conversion of "the ferocious wolf of Agobio."

This tender reverence for Nature, which is a mark of all true Platonism, is found, as we have seen, in Plotinus. It is also prominent in the Platonists of the Renaissance, such as Bruno and Campanella,368368The latter, like Fechner in our own century, holds that the stars are living organisms, whose "sensibility is full of pleasure." and in Petrarch, who loved to offer his evening prayers among the moonlit mountains. Suso has at least one beautiful passage on the sights and sounds of spring, and exclaims, "O tender God, if Thou art so loving in Thy creatures, how fair and lovely must Thou be in Thyself!369369See Illingworth's Divine Immanence, where this and other interesting passages are quoted. But Suso was, of course, not a "Protestant mystic." And I cannot agree with the author when he says that Lucretius found no religious inspiration in Nature. The poet of the Nature of Things shows himself to have been a lonely man, who had pondered much among the hills and by the sea, and who loved to taste the pure delights of the spring. Thence came to him the "holy joy and dread" ("quædam divina voluptas atque horror") which pulsates through his great poem as he shatters the barbarous mythology of paganism, and then, in the spirit of a priest rather than of a philosopher, turns the "bright shafts of day" upon the folly and madness of those who are slaves to the world or the flesh. The spirit of Lucretius is the spirit of modern science, which tends neither to materialism nor to atheism, whatever its friends and enemies may say." The Reformers, especially Luther and Zwingli, are more alive than might have been expected to the value of Nature's lessons; and the French mystics, Francis de Sales and Fénelon, write gracefully about the footprints of the Divine wisdom and beauty which may be traced everywhere in the world around us.

But natural religion is not to be identified with Mysticism, and it would not further our present inquiry to collect passages, in prose or poetry, which illustrate the aids to faith which the book of Nature may supply. Nor need we dwell on such pure Platonism as we find in Spenser's "Hymn of Heavenly Beauty," or some of Shelley's poems, in which we are bidden to gaze upon the world as a mirror of the Divine Beauty, since our mortal sight cannot endure the "white radiance" of the eternal archetypes.370370   Christian Platonism has never been more beautifully set forth than in the poem of Spenser named above. Compare, especially, the following stanzas:—
     "The means, therefore, which unto us is lent
   Him to behold, is on His works to look,
   Which He hath made in beauty excellent,
   And in the same, as in a brazen book
   To read enregistered in every nooke
   His goodness, which His beauty doth declare:
   For all that's good is beautiful and fair.

      "Thence gathering plumes of perfect speculation,
   To imp the wings of thy high-flying mind,
   Mount up aloft through heavenly contemplation,
   From this dark world, whose damps the soul do blind,
   On that bright Sun of glory fix thine eyes,
   Cleared from gross mists of frail infirmities."

   Shelley sums up a great deal of Plotinus in the following stanza of
"Adonais":—

     "The One remains; the many change and pass;
   Heaven's light for ever shines; earth's shadows fly;
   Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
   Stains the white radiance of eternity."

   Compare, too, the opening lines of "Alastor."
We have seen how this view of the world as a pale reflection of the Ideas leads in practice to a contempt for visible things; as, indeed, it does in Spenser's beautiful poem. He invites us, after learning Nature's lessons, to

"Look at last up to that sovereign light,
 From whose pure beams all perfect beauty springs;
 That kindleth love in every godly spright,
 Even the love of God; which loathing brings
 Of this vile world and these gay-seeming things;
 With whose sweet pleasures being so possessed,
 Thy straying thoughts henceforth for ever rest."

This is not the keynote of the later Nature-Mysticism. We now expect that every new insight into the truth of things, every enlightenment of the eyes of our understanding, which may be granted us as the reward of faith, love, and purity of heart, will make the world around us appear, not viler and baser, but more glorious and more Divine. It is not a proof of spirituality, but of its opposite, if God's world seems to us a poor place. If we could see it as God sees it, it would be still, as on the morning of creation, "very good." The hymn which is ever ascending from the earth to the throne of God is to be listened for, that we may join in it. The laws by which all creation lives are to be studied, that we too may obey them. As for the beauty which is everywhere diffused so lavishly, it seems to be a gift of God's pure bounty, to bring happiness to the unworldly souls who alone are able to see and enjoy it.

The greatest prophet of this branch of contemplative Mysticism is unquestionably the poet Wordsworth. It was the object of his life to be a religious teacher, and I think there is no incongruity in placing him at the end of the roll of mystical divines who have been dealt with in these Lectures. His intellectual kinship with the acknowledged representatives of Nature-Mysticism will, I hope, appear very plainly.

Wordsworth was an eminently sane and manly spirit. He found his philosophy of life early, and not only preached but lived it consistently. A Platonist by nature rather than by study, he is thoroughly Greek in his distrust of strong emotions and in his love of all which the Greeks included under [Greek: sôphrosynê]. He was a loyal Churchman, but his religion was really almost independent of any ecclesiastical system. His ecclesiastical sonnets reflect rather the dignity of the Anglican Church than the ardent piety with which our other poet-mystics, such as Herbert, Vaughan, and Crashaw, adorn the offices of worship. His cast of faith, intellectual and contemplative rather than fervid, and the solitariness of his thought, forbade him to find much satisfaction in public ceremonial. He would probably agree with Galen, who in a very remarkable passage says that the study of nature, if prosecuted with the same earnestness and intensity which men bring to the contemplation of the "Mysteries," is even more fitted than they to reveal the power and wisdom of God; for "the symbolism of the mysteries is more obscure than that of nature."

He shows his affinity with the modern spirit in his firm grasp of natural law. Like George Fox and William Law, he had to face the shock of giving up his belief in arbitrary interferences. There was a period when he lost his young faculty of generalisation; when he bowed before the inexorable dooms of an unknown Lawgiver—"the categorical imperative," till the gift of intuition was restored to him in fuller measure. This experience explains his attitude towards natural science. His reverence for facts never failed him; "the sanctity and truth of nature," he says, "must not be tricked out with accidental ornaments"; but he looked askance at the science which tries to erect itself into a philosophy. Physics, he saw plainly, is an abstract study: its view of the world is an abstraction for certain purposes, and possesses less truth than the view of the poet.371371Compare the following sentences in Bradley's Appearance and Reality: "Nature viewed materialistically is only an abstraction for certain purposes, and has not a high degree of truth or reality. The poet's nature has much more…. Our principle, that the abstract is the unreal, moves us steadily upward…. It compels us in the end to credit nature with our higher emotions. That process can only cease when nature is quite absorbed into spirit, and at every stage of the process we find increase in reality." And yet he looked forward to a time when science, too, shall be touched with fire from the altar;—

  "Then her heart shall kindle; her dull eye,
   Dull and inanimate, no more shall hang
   Chained to its object in brute slavery."

And in a remarkable passage of the "Prefaces" he says "If the time should ever come when that which is now called science shall be ready to put on as it were a form of flesh and blood, the poet will lend his Divine spirit to aid the transformation, and will welcome the Being thus produced as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man." He feels that the loving and disinterested study of nature's laws must at last issue, not in materialism, but in some high and spiritual faith, inspired by the Word of God, who is Himself, as Erigena said, "the Nature of all things."

In aloofness and loneliness of mind he is exceeded by no mystic of the cloister. It may be said far more truly of him than of Milton, that "his soul was like a star, and dwelt apart." In his youth he confesses that human beings had only a secondary interest for him;372372"Prelude," viii. 340 sq. and though he says that Nature soon led him to man, it was to man as a "unity," as "one spirit," that he was drawn, not to men as individuals.373373"Prelude," viii. 668. Herein he resembled many other contemplative mystics; but it has been said truly that "it is easier to know man in general than a man in particular.374374La Rochefoucauld." The sage who "sits in the centre" of his being, and there "enjoys bright day,375375These words, from Milton's "Comus," are applied to Wordsworth by Hazlitt." does not really know human beings as persons.

It will be interesting to compare the steps in the ladder of perfection, as described by Wordsworth, with the schemes of Neoplatonism and introspective Mysticism. The three stages of the mystical ascent have been already explained. We find that Wordsworth, too, had his purgative, disciplinary stage. He began by deliberately crushing, not only the ardent passions to which he tells us that he was naturally prone, but all ambition and love of money, determining to confine himself to "such objects as excite no morbid passions, no disquietude, no vengeance, and no hatred," and found his reward in a settled state of calm serenity, in which all the thoughts flow like a clear fountain, and have forgotten how to hate and how to despise.376376"Prelude," iv. 1207-1229. The ascetic element in Wordsworth's ethics should by no means be forgotten by those who envy his brave and unruffled outlook upon life. As Hutton says excellently (Essays, p. 81), "there is volition and self-government in every line of his poetry, and his best thoughts come from the steady resistance he opposes to the ebb and flow of ordinary desires and regrets. He contests the ground inch by inch with all despondent and indolent humours, and often, too, with movements of inconsiderate and wasteful joy—turning defeat into victory, and victory into defeat." See the whole passage.

Wordsworth is careful to inculcate several safeguards for those who would proceed to the contemplative life. First, there must be strenuous aspiration to reach that infinitude which is our being's heart and home; we must press forward, urged by "hope that can never die, effort, and expectation, and desire, and something evermore about to be.377377"Prelude," vi. 604-608." The mind which is set upon the unchanging will not "praise a cloud,378378"Miscell. Sonnets," xii." but will "crave objects that endure." In the spirit of true Platonism, as contrasted with its later aberrations, Wordsworth will have no blurred outlines. He tries always to see in Nature distinction without separation; his principle is the exact antithesis of Hume's atheistic dictum, that "things are conjoined, but not connected.379379See the Essay in which he deals with Macpherson: "In nature everything is distinct, yet nothing defined into absolute independent singleness. In Macpherson's work it is exactly the reverse—everything is defined, insulated, dislocated, deadened—yet nothing distinct."" The importance of this caution has been fully demonstrated in the course of our inquiry. Then, too, he knows that to imperfect man reason is a crown "still to be courted, never to be won." Delusions may affect "even the very faculty of sight," whether a man "look forth," or "dive into himself.380380"Excursion," v. 500-514." Again, he bids us seek for real, and not fanciful analogies; no "loose types of things through all degrees"; no mythology; and no arbitrary symbolism. The symbolic value of natural objects is not that they remind us of something that they are not, but that they help us to understand something that they in part are. They are not intended to transport us away from this earth into the clouds. "This earth is the world of all of us," he says boldly, "in which we find our happiness or not at all.381381This seemed flat blasphemy to Shelley, whose idealism was mixed with Byronic misanthropy. "Nor was there aught the world contained of which he could approve."" Lastly, and this is perhaps the most important of all, he recognises that the still small voice of God breathes not out of nature alone, nor out of the soul alone, but from the contact of the soul with nature. It is the marriage of the intellect of man to "this goodly universe, in love and holy passion," which produces these raptures. "Intellect" includes Imagination, which is but another name for Reason in her most exalted mood;382382"Prelude," xiv. 192. Wordsworth's psychology is very interesting. "Imagination" is for him ("Miscellaneous Sonnets," xxxv.) a "glorious faculty," whose function it is to elevate the more-than-reasoning mind; "'tis hers to pluck the amaranthine flower of Faith," and "colour life's dark cloud with orient rays." This faculty is at once "more than reason," and identical with "Reason in her most exalted mood." I have said (p.21) that "Mysticism is reason applied to a sphere above rationalism" and this appears to be exactly Wordsworth's doctrine. these must assist the eye of sense.

Such is the discipline, and such are the counsels, by which the priest of Nature must prepare himself to approach her mysteries. And what are the truths which contemplation revealed to him?

The first step on the way that leads to God was the sense of the boundless, growing out of musings on the finite; and with it the conviction that the Infinite and Eternal alone can be our being's heart and home—"we feel that we are greater than we know.383383"Sonnets on the River Duddon," xxxiv." Then came to him—

                   "The sense sublime
  Of something far more deeply interfused,
  Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
  And the round ocean and the living air,
  And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
  A motion and a spirit, that impels
  All thinking things, all objects of all thoughts,
  And rolls through all things.384384"Lines composed above Tintern Abbey," 95-102."

The worldliness and artificiality which set us out of tune with all this is worse than paganism.385385"Miscell. Sonnets," xxxiii. Then this "higher Pantheism" developed into the sense of an all-pervading Personality, "a soul that is the eternity of thought." And with this heightened consciousness of the nature of God came also a deeper knowledge of his own personality, a knowledge which he describes in true mystical language as a "sinking into self from thought to thought." This may continue till man can at last "breathe in worlds to which the heaven of heavens is but a veil," and perceive "the forms whose kingdom is where time and space are not." These last lines describe a state analogous to the [Greek: opsis] of the Neoplatonists, and the excessus mentis of the Catholic mystics. At this advanced stage the priest of Nature may surrender himself to ecstasy without mistrust. Of such minds he says—

                  "The highest bliss
  That flesh can know is theirs—the consciousness
  Of whom they are, habitually infused
  Through every image and through every thought,
  And all affections by communion raised
  From earth to heaven, from human to divine;…
  Thence cheerfulness for acts of daily life,
  Emotions which best foresight need not fear,
  Most worthy then of trust when most intense.386386"Prelude," xiv. 112-129."

There are many other places where he describes this "bliss ineffable," when "all his thoughts were steeped in feeling," as he listened to the song which every form of creature sings "as it looks towards the uncreated with a countenance of adoration and an eye of love,387387"Prelude," ii. 396-418." that blessed mood—

  "In which the affections gently lead us on,—
   Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,
   And even the motion of our human blood
   Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
   In body, and become a living soul:
   While with an eye made quiet by the power
   Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
   We see into the life of things.388388"Lines composed above Tintern Abbey," 35-48."

Is it not plain that the poet of Nature amid the Cumberland hills, the Spanish ascetic in his cell, and the Platonic philosopher in his library or lecture-room, have been climbing the same mountain from different sides? The paths are different, but the prospect from the summit is the same. It is idle to speak of collusion or insanity in the face of so great a cloud of witnesses divided by every circumstance of date, nationality, creed, education, and environment. The Carmelite friar had no interest in confirming the testimony of the Alexandrian professor; and no one has yet had the temerity to question the sanity of Wordsworth, or of Tennyson, whose description of the Vision in his "Ancient Sage" is now known to be a record of personal experience. These explorers of the high places of the spiritual life have only one thing in common—they have observed the conditions laid down once for all for the mystic in the 24th Psalm, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation." The "land which is very far off" is always visible to those who have climbed the holy mountain. It may be scaled by the path of prayer and mortification, or by the path of devout study of God's handiwork in Nature (and under this head I would wish to include not only the way traced out by Wordsworth, but that hitherto less trodden road which should lead the physicist to God); and, lastly, by the path of consecrated life in the great world, which, as it is the most exposed to temptations, is perhaps on that account the most blessed of the three.389389Wordsworth's Mysticism contains a few subordinate elements which are of more questionable value. The "echoes from beyond the grave," which "the inward ear" sometimes catches, are dear to most of us; but we must not be too confident that they always come from God. Still less can we be sure that presentiments are "heaven-born instincts." Again, when the lonely thinker feels himself surrounded by "huge and mighty forms, that do not move like living men," it is a sign that the "dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being" has begun to work not quite healthily upon his imagination. And the doctrine of pre-existence, which appears in the famous Ode, is one which it has been hitherto impossible to admit into the scheme of Christian beliefs, though many Christian thinkers have dallied with it. Perhaps the true lesson of the Ode is that the childish love of nature, beautiful and innocent as it is, has to die and be born again in the consciousness of the grown man. That Wordsworth himself passed through this experience, we know from other passages in his writings. In his case, at any rate, the "light of common day" was, for a time at least, more splendid than the roseate hues of his childish imagination can possibly have been; and there seems to be no reason for holding the gloomy view that spiritual insight necessarily becomes dimmer as we travel farther from our cradles, and nearer to our graves. What fails us as we get older is only that kind of vision which is analogous to the "consolations" often spoken of by monkish mystics as the privilege of beginners. Amiel expresses exactly the same regret as Wordsworth: "Shall I ever enjoy again those marvellous reveries of past days?…" See the whole paragraph on p. 32 of Mrs. Humphry Ward's translation.

It has been said of Wordsworth, as it has been said of other mystics, that he averts his eyes "from half of human fate." Religious writers have explained that the neglected half is that which lies beneath the shadow of the Cross. The existence of positive evil in the world, as a great fact, and the consequent need of redemption, is, in the opinion of many, too little recognised by Wordsworth, and by Mysticism in general. This objection has been urged both from the scientific and from the religious side. It is held by many students of Nature that her laws affirm a Pessimism and not an Optimism. "Red in tooth and claw with ravine," she shrieks against the creed that her Maker is a God of love. The only morality which she inculcates is that of a tiger in the jungle, or at best that of a wolf-pack. "It is not strange (says Lotze) that no nature-religions have raised their adherents to any high pitch of morality or culture.390390These objections are pressed by Lotze, and not only by avowed Pessimists. Lotze abhors what he calls "sentimental symbolism" because it interferes with his monadistic doctrines. I venture to say that any philosophy which divides man, as a being sui generis, from the rest of Nature, is inevitably landed either in Acosmism or in Manichean Dualism." The answer to this is that Nature includes man as well as the brutes, and the merciful and moral man as well as the savage. Physical science, at any rate, can exclude nothing from the domain of Nature. And the Christian may say with all reverence that Nature includes, or rather is included by, Christ, the Word of God, by whom it was made. And the Word was made flesh to teach us that vicarious suffering, which we see to be the law of Nature, is a law of God, a thing not foreign to His own life, and therefore for all alike a condition of perfection, not a reductio ad absurdum of existence. The reductio ad absurdum is not of Nature, but of selfish individualism, which suffers shipwreck alike in objective and in subjective religion. It is precisely because the shadow of the Cross lies across the world, that we can watch Nature at work with "admiration, hope, and love," instead of with horror and disgust.

The religious objection amounts to little more than that Mysticism has not succeeded in solving the problem of evil, which no philosophy has ever attacked with even apparent success. It is, however, with some reason that this difficulty has been pressed against the mystics; for they are bound by their principles to attempt some solution, and their tendency has been to attenuate the positive character of evil to a somewhat dangerous degree. But if we sift the charges often brought by religious writers against Mysticism, we shall generally find that there lies at the bottom of their disapproval a residuum of mediæval dualism, which wishes to see in Christ the conquering invader of a hostile kingdom. In practice, at any rate, the great mystics have not taken lightly the struggle with the law of sin in our members, or tried to "heal slightly" the wounds of the soul.391391This is perhaps the best place to notice the mystical treatise of James Hinton, entitled Man and his Dwelling-place, which is chiefly remarkable for its attempt to solve the problem of evil. This writer pushes to an extremity the favourite mystical doctrine that we surround ourselves with a world after our own likeness, and considers that all the evil which we see in Nature is the "projection of our own deadness." Apart from the unlikelihood of a theory which makes man—"the roof and crown of things"—the only diseased and discordant element in the universe, the writer lays himself open to the fatal rejoinder, "Did Christ, then, see no sin or evil in the world?" The doctrines of sacrifice (vicarious suffering) as a blessed law of Nature ("the secret of the universe is learnt on Calvary"), and of the necessity of annihilating "the self" as the principle of evil, are pressed with a harsh and unnatural rigour. Our blessed Lord laid no such yoke upon us, nor will human nature consent to bear it. The "atonement" of the world by love is much better delineated by R.L. Nettleship, in a passage which seems to me to exhibit the very kernel of Christian Mysticism in its social aspect. "Suppose that all human beings felt permanently to each other as they now do occasionally to those they love best. All the pain of the world would be swallowed up in doing good. So far as we can conceive of such a state, it would be one in which there would be no 'individuals' at all, but an universal being in and for another; where being took the form of consciousness, it would be the consciousness of 'another' which was also 'oneself'—a common consciousness. Such would be the 'atonement' of the world."

It is quite true that the later mystics have been cheerful and optimistic. But those who have found a kingdom in their own minds, and who have enough strength of character "to live by reason and not by opinion," as Whichcote says (in a maxim which was anticipated by that arch-enemy of Mysticism—Epicurus), are likely to be happier than other men. And, moreover, Wordsworth teaches us that almost, if not quite, every evil may be so transmuted by the "faculty which abides within the soul," that those "interpositions which would hide and darken" may "become contingencies of pomp, and serve to exalt her native brightness"; even as the moon, "rising behind a thick and lofty grove, turns the dusky veil into a substance glorious as her own." So the happy warrior is made "more compassionate" by the scenes of horror which he is compelled to witness. Whether this healing and purifying effect of sorrow points the way to a solution of the problem of evil or not, it is a high and noble faith, the one and only consolation which we feel not to be a mockery when we are in great trouble.

These charges, then, do not seem to form a grave indictment against the type of Mysticism of which Wordsworth is the best representative. But he does fall short of the ideal held up by St. John for the Christian mystic, in that his love and sympathy for inanimate Nature were (at any rate in his poetry) deeper than for humanity. And if there is any accusation which may justly be brought against the higher order of mystics (as opposed to representatives of aberrant types), I think it is this: that they have sought and found God in their own souls and in Nature, but not so often in the souls of other men and women: theirs has been a lonely religion. The grand old maxim, "Vides fratrem, vides Dominum tuum," has been remembered by them only in acts of charity. But in reality the love of human beings must be the shortest road to the vision of God. Love, as St. John teaches us, is the great hierophant of the Christian mysteries. It gives wings to contemplation and lightens the darkness which hides the face of God. When our emotions are deeply stirred, even Nature speaks to us with voices unheard before; while the man who is without human affection is either quite unmoved by her influences, or misreads all her lessons.

The spiritualising power of human love is the redeeming principle in many sordid lives. Teutonic civilisation, which derives half of its restless energy from ideals which are essentially anti-Christian, and tastes which are radically barbarous, is prevented from sinking into moral materialism by its high standard of domestic life. The sweet influences of the home deprive even mammon-worship of half its grossness and of some fraction of its evil. As a schoolmaster to bring men and women to Christ, natural affection is without a rival. It is in the truest sense a symbol of our union with Him from whom every family in heaven and earth is named. It is needless to labour a thesis on which nearly all are agreed; but it may be worth pointing out that, though St. Paul felt the unique value of Christian marriage as a symbol of the mystical union of Christ and the Church, this truth was for the most part lost sight of by the mediæval mystics, who as monks and priests were, of course, cut off from domestic life. The romances of true love which the Old Testament contains were treated as prophecies wrapped up in riddling language, or as models for ecstatic contemplation. Wordsworth, though his own home was a happy one, does not supply this link in the mystical chain. The most noteworthy attempt to do so is to be found in the poetry of Robert Browning, whose Mysticism is in this way complementary to that of Wordsworth.392392Charles Kingsley is another mystic of the same school. He resembles Wordsworth in always trying "to see the infinite in things," but considers that "little else (than the development of a soul) is worth study." This is not exactly a return to subjective Mysticism, for Browning is as well aware as Goethe that if "a talent grows best in solitude," a character is perfected only "in the stream of the world." With him the friction of active life, and especially the experience of human love, are necessary to realise the Divine in man. Quite in the spirit of St. John he asks, "How can that course be safe, which from the first produces carelessness to human love?" "Do not cut yourself from human weal … there are strange punishments for such" as do so.393393Browning, Paracelsus, Act i. Solitude is the death of all but the strongest virtue, and in Browning's view it also deprives us of the strongest inner witness to the existence of a loving Father in heaven. For he who "finds love full in his nature" cannot doubt that in this, as in all else, the Creator must far surpass the creature.394394Browning, "Saul," xvii. Since, then, in knowing love we learn to know God, and since the object of life is to know God (this, the mystic's minor premiss, is taken for granted by Browning), it follows that love is the meaning of life; and he who finds it not "loses what he lived for, and eternally must lose it.395395Browning, "Cristina."" "The mightiness of love is curled" inextricably round all power and beauty in the world. The worst fate that can befall us is to lead "a ghastly smooth life, dead at heart.396396Browning, "Christmas Eve and Easter Day," xxx., xxxiii." Especially interesting is the passage where he chooses or chances upon Eckhart's image of the "spark" in the centre of the soul, and gives it a new turn in accordance with his own Mysticism—

  "It would not be because my eye grew dim
   Thou could'st not find the love there, thanks to Him
   Who never is dishonoured in the spark
   He gave us from His fire of fires, and bade
   Remember whence it sprang, nor be afraid
   While that burns on, though all the rest grow dark.397397Browning, "Any Wife to any Husband.""

Our language has no separate words to distinguish Christian love ([Greek: agapê]—caritas) from sexual love ([Greek: erôs]—amor); "charity" has not established itself in its wider meaning. Perhaps this is not to be regretted—at any rate Browning's poems could hardly be translated into any language in which this distinction exists. But let us not forget that the ascetic element is as strong in Browning as in Wordsworth. Love, he seems to indicate, is no exception to the rule that our joys may be "three parts pain," for "where pain ends gain ends too.398398Compare Plato's well-known sentence: [Greek: di algêdonôn kai odynôn gignetai hê ôpheleia, ou gar oion te allôs adikias apallattesthai]."

              "Not yet on thee
  Shall burst the future, as successive zones
  Of several wonder open on some spirit
  Flying secure and glad from heaven to heaven;
  But thou shalt painfully attain to joy,
  While hope and fear and love shall keep thee man.399399Browning, Paracelsus."

He even carries this law into the future life, and will have none of a "joy which is crystallised for ever." Felt imperfection is a proof of a higher birthright:400400Compare Pascal: "No one is discontented at not being a king, except a discrowned king. if we have arrived at the completion of our nature as men, then "begins anew a tendency to God." This faith in unending progress as the law of life is very characteristic of our own age.401401It is almost as prominent in Tennyson as in Browning: "Give her the wages of going on, and not to die," is his wish for the human soul. It assumes a questionable shape sometimes; but Browning's trust in real success through apparent disappointments—a trust even based on the consciousness of present failure—is certainly one of the noblest parts of his religious philosophy.

I have decided to end my survey of Christian Mysticism with these two English poets. It would hardly be appropriate, in this place, to discuss Carlyle's doctrine of symbols, as the "clothing" of religious and other kinds of truth. His philosophy is wanting in some of the essential features of Mysticism, and can hardly be called Christian without stretching the word too far. And Emerson, when he deals with religion, is a very unsafe guide. The great American mystic, whose beautiful character was as noble a gift to humanity as his writings, is more liable than any of those whom we have described to the reproach of having turned his back on the dark side of life. Partly from a fastidiousness which could not bear even to hear of bodily ailments, partly from the natural optimism of the dweller in a new country, and partly because he made a principle of maintaining an unruffled cheerfulness and serenity, he shut his eyes to pain, death, and sin, even more resolutely than did Goethe. The optimism which is built on this foundation has no message of comfort for the stricken heart. To say that "evil is only good in the making," is to repeat an ancient and discredited attempt to solve the great enigma. And to assert that perfect justice is meted out to individuals in this world, is surely mere dreaming. Moreover, we can hardly acquit him of playing with pantheistic Mysticism of the Oriental type, without seeing, or without caring, whither such speculations logically lead. "Within man," he tells us, "is the soul of the whole, the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related—the eternal One." This is genuine Pantheism, and should carry with it the doctrine that all actions are equally good, bad, or indifferent. Emerson says that his wife kept him from antinomianism; but this is giving up the defence of his philosophy. He also differs from Christianity, and agrees with many Hegelians, in teaching that God, "the Over-Soul," only attains to self-consciousness in man; and this, combined with his denial of degrees in Divine immanence, leads him to a self-deification of an arrogant and shocking kind, such as we find in the Persian Sufis, and in some heretical mystics of the Middle Ages. "I, the imperfect, adore my own Perfect. I am receptive of the great soul. I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the universal Being circulate through me. I am part of God"; and much more to the same effect. This is not the language of those who have travelled up the mystical ladder, instead of only writing about it. It is far more objectionable than the bold phrases about deification which I quoted in my fifth Lecture from the fourteenth century mystics; because with them the passage into the Divine glory is the final reward, only to be attained "by all manner of exercises"; while for Emerson it seems to be a state already existing, which we can realise by a mere act of intellectual apprehension. And the phrase, "Man is a part of God,"—as if the Divine Spirit were divided among the organs which express its various activities,—has been condemned by all the great speculative mystics, from Plotinus downwards. Emerson is perhaps at his best when he applies his idealism to love and friendship. The spiritualising and illuminating influence of pure comradeship has never been better or more religiously set forth. And though it is necessary to be on our guard against the very dangerous tendency of some of his teaching, we shall find much to learn from the brave and serene philosopher whose first maxim was, "Come out into the azure; love the day," and who during his whole life fixed his thoughts steadily on whatsoever things are pure, lovely, noble, and of good report.

The constructive task which lies before the next century is, if I may say so without presumption, to spiritualise science, as morality and art have already been spiritualised. The vision of God should appear to us as a triple star of truth, beauty, and goodness.402402I had written these words before the publication of Principal Caird's Sermons, which contain, in my judgment, the most powerful defence of what I have called Christian Mysticism that has appeared since William Law. On p. 14 he says: "Of all things good and fair and holy there is a spiritual cognisance which precedes and is independent of that knowledge which the understanding conveys." He shows how in the contemplation of nature it is "by an organ deeper than intellectual thought" that "the revelation of material beauty flows in upon the soul." "And in like manner there is an apprehension of God and Divine things which comes upon the spirit as a living reality which it immediately and intuitively perceives." … "There is a capacity of the soul, by which the truths of religion may be apprehended and appropriated." See the whole sermon, entitled, What is Religion? and many other parts of the book. These are the three objects of all human aspiration; and our hearts will never be at peace till all three alike rest in God. Beauty is the chief mediator between the good and the true;403403Cf. Hegel (Philosophy of Religion, vol. ii. p. 8): "The Beautiful is essentially the Spiritual making itself known sensuously, presenting itself in sensuous concrete existence, but in such a manner that that existence is wholly and entirely permeated by the Spiritual, so that the sensuous is not independent, but has its meaning solely and exclusively in the Spiritual and through the Spiritual, and exhibits not itself, but the Spiritual." and this is why the great poets have been also prophets. But Science at present lags behind; she has not found her God; and to this is largely due the "unrest of the age." Much has already been done in the right direction by divines, philosophers, and physicists, and more still, perhaps, by the great poets, who have striven earnestly to see the spiritual background which lies behind the abstractions of materialistic science. But much yet remains to be done. We may agree with Hinton that "Positivism bears a new Platonism in its bosom"; but the child has not yet come to the birth.404404 Some reference ought perhaps to be made to Drummond's Natural Law in the Spiritual World. But Mysticism seeks rather to find spiritual law in the natural world—and some better law than Drummond's Calvinism. (And I cannot help thinking that, though Evolution explains much and contradicts nothing in Christianity, it is in danger of proving an ignis fatuus to many, especially to those who are inclined to idealistic pantheism. There can be no progress or development in God, and the cosmic process as we know it cannot have a higher degree of reality than the categories of time and place under which it appears. As for the millennium of perfected humanity on this earth, which some Positivists and others dream of,—Christianity has nothing to say against it, but science has a great deal.) See below, p. 328.

Meanwhile, the special work assigned to the Church of England would seem to be the development of a Johannine Christianity, which shall be both Catholic and Evangelical without being either Roman or Protestant. It has been abundantly proved that neither Romanism nor Protestantism, regarded as alternatives, possesses enough of the truth to satisfy the religious needs of the present day. But is it not probable that, as the theology of the Fourth Gospel acted as a reconciling principle between the opposing sections in the early Church, so it may be found to contain the teaching which is most needed by both parties in our own communion? In St. John and St. Paul we find all the principles of a sound and sober Christian Mysticism; and it is to these "fresh springs" of the spiritual life that we must turn, if the Church is to renew her youth.

I attempted in my second Lecture to analyse the main elements of Christian Mysticism as found in St. Paul and St. John. But since in the later Lectures I have been obliged to draw from less pure sources, and since, moreover, I am most anxious not to leave the impression that I have been advocating a vague spirituality tempered by rationalism, I will try in a few words to define my position apologetically, though I am well aware that it is a hazardous and difficult task.

The principle, "Cuique in sua arte credendum est," applies to those who have been eminent for personal holiness as much as to the leaders in any other branch of excellence. Even in dealing with arts which are akin to each other, we do not invite poets to judge of music, or sculptors of architecture. We need not then be disturbed if we occasionally find men illustrious in other fields, who are as insensible to religion as to poetry. Our reverence for the character and genius of Charles Darwin need not induce us to lay aside either our Shakespeare or our New Testament.405405In the Life of Charles Darwin there is an interesting letter, in which he laments the gradual decay of his taste for poetry, as his mind became a mere "machine for grinding out general laws" from a mass of observations. The decay of religious feeling in many men of high character may be accounted for in the same way. The really great man is conscious of the sacrifice which he is making. "It is an accursed evil to a man," Darwin wrote to Hooker, "to become so absorbed in any subject as I am in mine." The common-place man is not conscious of it: he obtains his heart's desire, if he works hard enough, and God sends leanness withal into his soul. The men to whom we naturally turn as our best authorities in spiritual matters, are those who seem to have been endowed with an "anima naturaliter Christiana," and who have devoted their whole lives to the service of God and the imitation of Christ.

Now it will be found that these men of acknowledged and pre-eminent saintliness agree very closely in what they tell us about God. They tell us that they have arrived gradually at an unshakable conviction, not based on inference but on immediate experience, that God is a Spirit with whom the human spirit can hold intercourse; that in Him meet all that they can imagine of goodness, truth, and beauty; that they can see His footprints everywhere in nature, and feel His presence within them as the very life of their life, so that in proportion as they come to themselves they come to Him. They tell us that what separates us from Him and from happiness is, first, self-seeking in all its forms; and, secondly, sensuality in all its forms; that these are the ways of darkness and death, which hide from us the face of God; while the path of the just is like a shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. As they have toiled up the narrow way, the Spirit has spoken to them of Christ, and has enlightened the eyes of their understandings, till they have at least begun to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, and to be filled with all the fulness of God.

So far, the position is unassailable. But the scope of the argument has, of course, its fixed limits. The inner light can only testify to spiritual truths. It always speaks in the present tense; it cannot guarantee any historical event, past or future. It cannot guarantee either the Gospel history or a future judgment. It can tell us that Christ is risen, and that He is alive for evermore, but not that He rose again the third day. It can tell us that the gate of everlasting life is open, but not that the dead shall be raised incorruptible. We have other faculties for investigating the evidence for past events; the inner light cannot certify them immediately, though it can give a powerful support to the external evidence. For though we are in no position to dogmatise about the relations of the temporal to the eternal, one fact does seem to stand out,—that the two are, for us, bound together. If, when we read the Gospels, "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit" that here are the words of eternal life, and the character which alone in history is absolutely flawless, then it is natural for us to believe that there has been, at that point of time, an Incarnation of the Word of God Himself. That the revelation of Christ is an absolute revelation, is a dogmatic statement which, strictly speaking, only the Absolute could make. What we mean by it is that after two thousand years we are unable to conceive of its being ever superseded in any particular. And if anyone finds this inadequate, he may be invited to explain what higher degree of certainty is within our reach. With regard to the future life, the same consideration may help us to understand why the Church has clung to the belief in a literal second coming of Christ to pronounce the dooms of all mankind. But our Lord Himself has taught us that in "that day and that hour" lies hidden a more inscrutable mystery than even He Himself, as man, could reveal.

There is one other point on which I wish to make my position clear. The fact that human love or sympathy is the guide who conducts us to the heart of life, revealing to us God and Nature and ourselves, is proof that part of our life is bound up with the life of the world, and that if we live in these our true relations we shall not entirely die so long as human beings remain alive upon this earth. The progress of the race, the diminution of sin and misery, the advancing kingdom of Christ on earth,—these are matters in which we have a personal interest. The strong desire that we feel—and the best of us feel it most strongly—that the human race may be better, wiser, and happier in the future than they are now or have been in the past, is neither due to a false association of ideas, nor to pure unselfishness. There is a sense in which death would not be the end of everything for us, even though in this life only we had hope in Christ.

But when this comforting and inspiring thought is made to form the basis of a new Chiliasm—a belief in a millennium of perfected humanity on this earth, and when this belief is substituted for the Christian belief in an eternal life beyond our bourne of time and place, it is necessary to protest that this belief entirely fails to satisfy the legitimate hopes of the human race, that it is bad philosophy, and that it is flatly contrary to what science tells us of the destiny of the world and of mankind. The human spirit beats against the bars of space and time themselves, and could never be satisfied with any earthly utopia. Our true home must be in some higher sphere of existence, above the contradictions which make it impossible for us to believe that time and space are ultimate realities, and out of reach of the inevitable catastrophe which the next glacial age must bring upon the human race.406406The metaphysical problem about the reality of time in relation to evolution is so closely bound up with speculative Mysticism, that I have been obliged to state my own opinion upon it. It is, of course, one of the vexed questions of philosophy at the present time; and I could not afford the space, even if I had the requisite knowledge and ability, to argue it. The best discussion of it that I know is in M'Taggart's Studies in Hegelian Dialectic, pp. 159-202. Cf. note on p. 23. This world of space and time is to resemble heaven as far as it can; but a fixed limit is set to the amount of the Divine plan which can be realised under these conditions. Our hearts tell us of a higher form of existence, in which the doom of death is not merely deferred but abolished. This eternal world we here see through a glass darkly: at best we can apprehend but the outskirts of God's ways, and hear a small whisper of His voice; but our conviction is that, though our earthly house be dissolved (as dissolved it must be), we have a home not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. In this hope we may include all creation; and trust that in some way neither more nor less incomprehensible than the deliverance which we expect for ourselves, all God's creatures, according to their several capacities, may be set free from the bondage of corruption and participate in the final triumph over death and sin. Most firmly do I believe that this faith in immortality, though formless and inpalpable as the air we breathe, and incapable of definite presentation except under inadequate and self-contradictory symbols, is nevertheless enthroned in the centre of our being, and that those who have steadily set their affections on things above, and lived the risen life even on earth, receive in themselves an assurance which robs death of its sting, and is an earnest of a final victory over the grave.

It is not claimed that Mysticism, even in its widest sense, is, or can ever be, the whole of Christianity. Every religion must have an institutional as well as a mystical element. Just as, if the feeling of immediate communion with God has faded, we shall have a dead Church worshipping "a dead Christ," as Fox the Quaker said of the Anglican Church in his day; so, if the seer and prophet expel the priest, there will be no discipline and no cohesion. Still, at the present time, the greatest need seems to be that we should return to the fundamentals of spiritual religion. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that both the old seats of authority, the infallible Church and the infallible book, are fiercely assailed, and that our faith needs reinforcements. These can only come from the depths of the religious consciousness itself; and if summoned from thence, they will not be found wanting. The "impregnable rock" is neither an institution nor a book, but a life or experience. Faith, which is an affirmation of the basal personality, is its own evidence and justification. Under normal conditions, it will always be strongest in the healthiest minds. There is and can be no appeal from it. If, then, our hearts, duly prepared for the reception of the Divine Guest, at length say to us, "This I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see," we may, in St. John's words, "have confidence towards God."

The objection may be raised—"But these beliefs change, and merely reflect the degree of enlightenment or its opposite, which every man has reached." The conscience of the savage tells him emphatically that there are some things which he must not do; and blind obedience to this "categorical imperative" has produced not only all the complex absurdities of "taboo," but crimes like human sacrifice, and faith in a great many things that are not. "Perhaps we are leaving behind the theological stage, as we have already left behind those superstitions of savagery." Now the study of primitive religions does seem to me to prove the danger of resting religion and morality on unreasoning obedience to a supposed revelation; but that is not my position. The two forces which kill mischievous superstitions are the knowledge of nature, and the moral sense; and we are quite ready to give both free play, confident that both come from the living Word of God. The fact that a revelation is progressive is no argument that it is not Divine: it is, in fact, only when the free current of the religious life is dammed up that it turns into a swamp, and poisons human society. Of course we must be ready to admit with all humility, that our notions of God are probably unworthy and distorted enough; but that is no reason why we should not follow the light which we have, or mistrust it on the ground that it is "too good to be true."

Nor would it be fair to say that this argument makes religion depend merely on feeling. A theology based on mere feeling is (as Hegel said) as much contrary to revealed religion as to rational knowledge. The fact that God is present to our feeling is no proof that He exists; our feelings include imaginations which have no reality corresponding to them. No, it is not feeling, but the heart or reason (whichever term we prefer), which speaks with authority. By the heart or reason I mean the whole personality acting in concord, an abiding mood of thinking, willing, and feeling. The life of the spirit perhaps begins with mere feeling, and perhaps will be consummated in mere feeling, when "that which is in part shall be done away"; but during its struggles to enter into its full inheritance, it gathers up into itself the activities of all the faculties, which act harmoniously together in proportion as the organism to which they belong is in a healthy state.

Once more, this reliance on the inner light does not mean that every man must be his own prophet, his own priest, and his own saviour. The individual is not independent of the Church, nor the Church of the historical Christ. But the Church is a living body and the Incarnation and Atonement are living facts still in operation. They are part of the eternal counsels of God; and whether they are enacted in the Abyss of the Divine Nature, or once for all in their fulness on the stage of history, or in miniature, as it were, in your soul and mine, the process is the same, and the tremendous importance of those historical facts which our creeds affirm is due precisely to the fact that they are not unique and isolated portents, but the supreme manifestation of the grandest and most universal laws.

These considerations may well have a calming and reassuring influence upon those who, from whatever cause, are troubled by religious doubts. The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth, and is known by, them that are His. But we must not expect that "religious difficulties" will ever cease. Every truth that we know is but the husk of a deeper truth; and it may be that the Holy Spirit has still many things to say to us, which we cannot bear now. Each generation and each individual has his own problem, which has never been set in exactly the same form before: we must all work out our own salvation, for it is God who worketh in us. If we have realised the meaning of these words of St. Paul, which I have had occasion to quote so often in these Lectures, we cannot doubt that, though we now see through a glass darkly, and know only in part, we shall one day behold our Eternal Father face to face, and know Him even as we are known.


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