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Title: The Kernel and the Husk - Letters on Spiritual Christianity
Author: Abbott, Edwin Abbott
Language: English
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                        The Kernel and the Husk

                        THE KERNEL AND THE HUSK

                   Letters on Spiritual Christianity


                            EDWIN A. ABBOTT

                             THE AUTHOR OF
                     “PHILOCHRISTUS” AND “ONESIMUS”

                           MACMILLAN AND CO.

        _The Right of Translation and Reproduction is Reserved._

                       THE BELIEVERS OF THE NEXT

                             TO THE READER

The time is not perhaps far distant when few will believe in miracles
who do not also believe in an infallible Church; and then, such books as
the present will appeal to a larger circle. But, as things are, the
author would beg all those who worship a miraculous Christ without doubt
and difficulty to pause here and read no further. The book is not
intended for them; it is intended for those alone to whom it is
dedicated, “the doubters of this generation.”

For there are some who feel drawn towards the worship of Christ by love
and reverence, yet repelled by an apparently inextricable connection of
the story of Christ with a miraculous element which, in their minds,
throws a doubt over the whole of His acts, His doctrine, His character,
and even His existence. Others, who worship Christ, worship Him
insecurely and tremulously. They assume that their faith must rest on
the basis of the Bible miracles; and at times they cannot quite suppress
a thrill of doubt and terror lest some horrible discovery of fresh
truth, resulting in the destruction of the miraculous element of the
Bible, may impair their right to regard Christ as “anything better than
a mere man.” It is to these two classes—the would-be worshippers and the
doubtful worshippers of Christ—that the following Letters are addressed
by one who has for many years found peace and salvation in the worship
of a non miraculous Christ.

Not very long ago, but some years after the publication of a work called
_Philochristus_, the author received a letter from a stranger and
fellow-clergyman, asking him whether he could spare half an hour to
visit him on his death-bed, “dying of a disease”—so ran the letter
“which will be fatal within some uncertain weeks (possibly however days,
possibly months). No pains just now, head clear, voice sound. And mind
at peace, but the peace of reverent agnosticism..... Now I have read and
appreciated _Philochristus_. It would comfort my short remainder of life
if you would come and look me dying in the face and say, ‘This theology
and Christology of mine is not merely literary: I feel with joy of heart
that God is not unknown to man: try even now to feel with me.’”

Of what passed at the subsequent interview nothing must be said except
that the dying man (whose anticipations of death were speedily verified)
expressed the conviction that one reason why he had fallen into that
abyss of agnosticism—for an abyss he then felt it to be—was that he had
been “taught to believe too much when young;” and he urged and almost
besought that something might be done soon to “give young men a religion
that would wear.” These words were not to be forgotten; they recurred
again and again to the author with the force of a command. The present
work is an attempt to carry them into effect, an attempt, by one who has
passed through doubts into conviction, to look the doubting reader in
the face and say, “This theology and Christology of mine is not merely
literary. I feel with joy of heart that God is not unknown to man. Try
even now to feel with me.”

The author does not profess to clear Christianity from all
“difficulties.” If a revelation is to enlarge our conceptions of God, it
must involve some spiritual effort on our part to receive the larger
truth; if it claims to be historical, it may well impose on some of its
adherents the labour needed for the judgment of historical evidence; if
it prompts, without enforcing, obedience, it must excite in all some
questionings as to the causes which led the Revealer not to make His
revelation irresistibly convincing. Even the explanations of the
mysterious phenomena of motion, light, and chemistry, involve
“difficulties” in the acceptance of still more mysterious Laws which we
cannot at present explain. Nevertheless we all feel that we understand
astronomy better in the light of the Law of gravitation: and in the same
way some may feel that Christianity becomes more spiritual, as well as
more clear, when it becomes more natural; and that many of its so-called
“difficulties” fade or vanish, when what may be called its celestial and
its terrestrial phenomena are found to rest upon similar principles.

                           TABLE OF CONTENTS

           _Letter_                                 _Page_

           1 _Introductory_                         1

           2 _Personal_                             5

           3 _Knowledge_                            20

           4 _Ideals_                               29

           5 _Ideals and Tests_                     40

           6 _Imagination and Reason_               47

           7 _The Culture of Faith_                 59

           8 _Faith and Demonstration_              72

           9 _Satan and Evolution_                  80

           10 _Illusions_                           97

           11 _What is Worship?_                    111

           12 _The Worship of Christ_               125

           13 _What is “Nature”?_                   134

           14 _The Miracles of the Old Testament_   142

           15 _The Miracles of the New Testament_   158

           16 _The Growth of the Gospels_           170

           17 _Christian Illusions_                 185

           18 _Are the Miracles inseparable from    201
           the Life of Christ?_

           19 _The Feeding of the Four Thousand and 212
           the Five Thousand_

           20 _The Manifestation of Christ to St.   225

           21 _The Development of Imagination and   233
           its bearing on the Revelation of
           Christ’s Resurrection_

           22 _Christ’s Resurrection regarded       240

           23 _Faith in the spiritual Resurrection  246
           is better than so-called knowledge of
           the material Resurrection_

           24 _What is a Spirit?_                   258

           25 _The Incarnation_                     267

           26 _Prayer, Heaven, Hell_                281

           27 _Pauline Theology_                    298

           28 _Objections_                          310

           29 _Can Natural Christianity commend     320
           itself to the masses?_


           30 _Can a believer in Natural            339
           Christianity be a Minister in the Church
           of England?_

           31 _What the Bishops might do_           354

           DEFINITIONS                              369



I am more pained than surprised to infer from your last letter that your
faith has received a severe shock. A single term at the University has
sufficed to make you doubt whether you retain a belief in miracles; and
“If miracles fall, the Bible falls; and with the fall of the Bible I
lose Christ; and if I must regard Christ as a fanatic, I do not see how
I can believe in a God who suffered such a one as Christ thus to be
deceived and to deceive others.” Such appear to be the thoughts that are
passing through your mind, as I infer them from incidental and indirect
expressions rather than from any definite statement.

Unfortunately I understand all this too well not to be able to follow
with ease such phases of disbelief even when conveyed in hints. Many
young men begin by being taught to believe too much, a great deal too
much. Then, when they find they must give up something, (the husk of the
kernel) their teachers too often bid them swallow husk and all, on pain
of swallowing nothing: and they prefer to swallow nothing. An instance
of this at once occurs to me. Many years ago, a young man who wished to
be ordained, asked me to read the Old Testament with him. We set to work
at once and read some miraculous history—I forget precisely what—in
which I thought my young friend must needs see a difficulty. So I began
to point out how the difficulty might be at least diminished by critical
considerations. I say “I began”: for I stopped as soon as I had begun,
finding that my friend saw no difficulty at all. He accepted every
miracle on every page of the Old and New Testament on the authority of
the Bible; just as a Roman Catholic accepts every ecclesiastical
doctrine on the authority of the Church. This seemed to me not a state
of mind that I ought to interfere with: I might do more harm than good.
So I stopped. But I have since regretted it. Circumstances prevented me
from meeting my friend for some weeks. During that time he had fallen in
with companions of negative views, against which he had no power to
maintain his position: and he had passed from believing everything to
believing nothing. That is only too easy a transition; but I hope you
will never experience it. Surely there is a medium between swallowing
the husk, and throwing the nut away. Is it not possible to throw away
the husk and keep the kernel?

Now I have no right (and therefore I try to feel no wish) to extract
from you a confidence that you do not care to repose in me. I have never
tried to shake any one’s faith in miracles. There may come—I think there
will soon come—a time when a belief in miracles will be found so
incompatible with the reverence which we ought to feel for the Supreme
Order as almost to necessitate superstition, and to encourage immorality
in the holder of the belief: and then it might be necessary to express
one’s condemnation of miracles plainly and even aggressively. But that
time has not come yet: and for most people, at present, an acceptance of
miracles seems, and perhaps is, a necessary basis for their acceptance
of Christ. In such minds I would no more wish to disturb the belief in
miracles than I would shake a little child’s faith that his father is
perfectly good and wise. But when a man says, “the miracles of Christ
are inextricably connected with the life of Christ; I am forced to
reject the former, and therefore I must also reject the latter”—then I
feel moved to shew him that there is no such inextricable connection,
and that Christ will remain for us a necessary object of worship, even
if we detach the miracles from the Gospels. Now I cannot do this without
shewing that the miraculous accounts stand on a lower level than the
rest of the Gospel narrative, and that they may have been easily
introduced into the Gospels without any sufficient basis of fact, and
yet without any intention to deceive; so that the discrediting of the
miracles will not discredit their non-miraculous context. In doing this,
I might possibly destroy any lingering vestige of belief which you may
still have in the miraculous; and this I am most unwilling to do, if you
find miracles a necessary foundation of Christian faith.

I do not therefore quite know as yet how I ought to try to help you,
except by saying that I have myself passed through the same valley of
doubt through which you are passing now, and that I have reached a faith
in Christ which is quite independent of any belief in the miraculous,
and which enables me not only to trust in Him, but also to worship Him.
This new faith appears to me purer, nobler, and happier, as well as
safer, than the old: but I do not feel sure that it is attainable (in
the present condition of thought) without more unprejudiced reflection
and study than most people are willing to devote to subjects of this
kind. And to give up the old faith, without attaining the new, would be
a terrible disaster. Hence I am in doubt, not about what is best, but
about what may be _best for you_. Do not at all events assume—so much I
can safely say—that you must give up your faith in Christ, if you are
obliged to give up your belief in miracles. At the very least, wait a
while; stand on the old paths; keep up the old habits, above all, the
habit of prayer; pause and look round you a little before taking the
next step. I do not say, though I am inclined to say, “avoid for the
present all discussions with people of negative views,” because I fear
my advice, though really prudent, would seem to you cowardly: but I do
unhesitatingly say, “avoid all frivolous talk, and light, airy,
epigrammatic conversations on religious subjects.” You cannot hope to
retain or regain faith if you throw away the habit of reverence. With
this advice, farewell for the present.



You tell me that you fear your faith is far too roughly shaken to suffer
now from anything that may be said against miracles: you are utterly
convinced that they are false. As for the possibility of worshipping a
non-miraculous Christ, “the very notion of it,” you say, “is
inconceivable: it seems like a new religion, and must surely be no more
than a very transient phase of thought.” But you would “very much like
to know what processes of reasoning led to such a state of mind,” and
how long I have retained it.

I think I am hardly doing you an injustice in inferring from some other
expressions in your letter, about “the difficulty which clergymen must
necessarily feel in putting themselves into the mental position of the
laity,” that you entertain some degree of prejudice against my views,
not only because they appear to you novel, but because—although you
hardly like to say so—they come from a clerical source, and are likely
to savour of clericalism. Let me see if I can put your thoughts into the
plain words from which your own modesty and sense of propriety have
caused you to refrain. “A clergyman,” you say to yourself, “has
enlisted; he has deliberately taken a side and is bound to fight for it.
After twenty years of seeing one side of a question, or only so much of
the other side as is convenient to see, how can even a candid,
middle-aged cleric see two sides impartially? All his interests combine
with all his sympathies to make him at least in some sense orthodox. The
desire of social esteem, the hope of preferment, loyalty to the Church,
loyalty to Christ Himself, make him falsely true to that narrow form of
truth which he has bound himself to serve. Even if truth and
irresistible conviction force him to deviate a little from the beaten
road of orthodoxy, he will find his way back by some circuitous by-path;
and of this kind of self-persuasion I have a remarkable instance in the
person of my old friend, who rejects miracles and yet persuades himself
that he worships Christ. He has cut away his foundations and now
proceeds to substitute an aerial basis upon which the old superstructure
is to remain as before. Such a novel condition of mind as this can only
be a very transient phase.”

I do not complain of this prejudice against novelty, although it comes
ungraciously from one who is himself verging on advanced and novel
views. It is good that new opinions should be suspiciously scrutinized
and passed through the quarantine of prejudice. And when a man feels (as
I do) that he has at last attained a profound spiritual truth which
will, in all probability, be generally accepted by educated Christians
who are not Roman Catholics, before the twentieth century is far
advanced, he can well afford to be patient of prejudice. Even though the
truth be not accepted now, it is pretty sure to be restated by others
with more skill and cogency, and perhaps at a fitter season, and to gain
acceptance in due time. But when you speak of my opinions as a
“transient phase,” which I am likely soon to give up, and when you shew
a manifest suspicion that any modicum of orthodoxy in me must needs be
the result of a clerical bias, then I hardly see how to reply except by
giving you a detailed answer to your question about “the processes” by
which I was led to “such a novel condition of mind.” Yet how to do this
without being somewhat egotistically autobiographical I do not know.
Some good may come of egotism perhaps, if it leads you to see that even
a clergyman may think for himself, and work out a religious problem
without regard to consequences. So on the whole I think I will risk
egotism for your sake. A few paragraphs of autobiography may serve as a
summary of the argument which I might draw out more fully in future
letters. If I am tedious, lay the blame on yourself and on your
insinuation that my views must be “a transient phase.” A man who is
getting on towards his fiftieth year and has retained a form—a novel
form if you please—of religious conviction for a full third of his life
may surely claim that his views—so far at least as he himself is
concerned—are not to be called “transient.” Prepare then for my

During my childhood I was very much left to myself in the matter of
religion, and may be almost said to have picked it up in a library. I
was never made to learn the Creed by heart, nor the Catechism, nor even
the Ten Commandments; and to this day I can recollect being reproached
by a class-master when I was nearly fourteen years old, for not knowing
which was the Fifth Commandment. All that I could plead in answer was,
that if he would tell me what it was about, I could give him the
substance of the precept. Having read through nearly the whole of Adam
Clarke’s commentary as a boy of ten or eleven, and having subsequently
imbued myself with books of Evangelical doctrine, I was perfectly “up,”
or thought I was, in the Pauline scheme of salvation, and felt a most
lively interest—on Sundays, and in dull moments on week days, and
especially in times of illness, of which I had plenty—in the salvation
of my own soul. My religion served largely to intensify my natural
selfishness. In better and healthier moments, my conscience revolted
against it; and at times I felt that the morality of Plutarch’s Lives
was better than that of St. Paul’s Epistles—as I interpreted them. Only
to one point in the theology of my youthful days can I now look back
with pleasure; and that is to my treatment of the doctrine of
Predestinarianism and necessity. On this matter I argued as follows: “If
God knows all things beforehand, God has them, or may have them, written
down in a book; and if all things that are going to happen are already
written down in a book, it’s of no use our trying to alter them. So, if
it’s predestined that I shall have my dinner to-day, I shall certainly
have it, even if I don’t come home in time, or even though I lock myself
up in my bedroom. But _practically, if I don’t come home in time, I know
I shall not have my dinner. Therefore it’s no use talking about these
things in this sort of way, because it doesn’t answer; and I shall not
bother myself any more about Predestination, but act as thought it did
not exist_.”[1] This argument, if it can be called an argument, I
afterwards found sheltering itself under the high authority of Butler’s
_Analogy_; and I still adhere to it, after an experience of more than
five and thirty years. To some, this “Short Way with Predestinarians”
may seem highly illogical; but it _works_.

Up to this time I had been little, if at all, impressed by preaching.
Our old Rector was a good Greek scholar and a gentleman; but he had a
difficulty in making his thoughts intelligible to any but a refined
minority among the congregation; and even that select few was made
fewer, partly by an awkwardness of gesture which reminded one of Dominie
Sampson, and partly by a grievous impediment in his speech. Consequently
I had been permitted, and indeed encouraged, never to listen, nor even
to appear to listen, to the weekly sermon; and as soon as the Rector
gave out his text, I used to take up my Bible and read steadily away
till the sermon was over. This sort of thing went on till I was about
sixteen years old; when a new Rector came to preach his first sermon.
That was a remarkable Sunday for me. To my surprise, when he read out
his text, and I, in accordance with unbroken precedent, reached out my
hand for the invariable Bible, my father, somewhat abruptly, took it out
of my hand, bidding me “for once shut up that book and listen to a
sermon.” I can still remember the resentment I felt at this infringement
on my theological and constitutional rights, and how I stiffened my neck
and hardened my heart and determined “hearing to hear, but not to
understand.” But I was compelled to understand. For here, to my
astonishment, was an entirely new religion. This man’s Christianity was
not a “scheme of salvation”; it was a faith in a great Leader, human yet
divine, who was leading the armies of God against the armies of Evil;
“Each for himself is the Devil’s own watchword: but with us it must be
each for Christ, and each for all.” The scales fell from my eyes. After
all, then, Christianity was not less noble than Plutarch’s lives; it was
more noble. There was to be a contest; yet not each man contending for
his own soul, but for good against evil. A Christian was not a mercenary
fighting for reward, nor a slave fighting for fear of stripes, but a
free soldier fighting out of loyalty to Christ and to humanity.

But what about the doctrine of the Atonement, Justification by Faith,
and the other Pauline doctrines? About these our new Rector did not say
much that I could understand. He was a foremost pupil of Mr. Maurice,
and in Mr. Maurice’s books (which now began to be read freely in my
home) I began to search for light on these questions. But help I found
none or very little, except in one book. Mr. Maurice seemed to me, and
still seems, a very obscure writer. Partly owing to a habit of taking
things for granted and “thinking underground,” partly (and much more)
owing to a confusing use of pronouns for nouns and other mere mechanical
defects of style, he requires very careful reading. But his book on
Sacrifice, after I had three times read it through, gave me more
intellectual help than perhaps any other book on Christian doctrine; for
here first I learned to look below the surface of a rite at its inner
meaning, and also to discern the possibility of illustrating that inner
meaning by the phenomena of daily life. It was certainly a revelation to
me to know that the sacrifice of a lamb by a human offerer was nothing,
except so far as it meant the sacrifice of a human life, and that the
sacrifice of a life meant no more (but also no less) than conforming
one’s life to God’s will, doing (and not saying merely) “Thy will, not
mine, be done.” If one theological process could be illustrated in this
way, why not another? If “sacrifice” was going on before my eyes every
day, why might there not be also justification by faith, imputation of
righteousness, remission of sins, yes, even atonement itself? Thus there
was sown in my mind the seed of the notion that all the Pauline
doctrines might be natural, and that Redemption through Christ was only
a colossal form of that kind of redemption which was going on around me,
Redemption through Nature. This thought was greatly stimulated by the
study of _In Memoriam_, which was given to me by a college friend about
the time when I lost a brother and a sister, both dying within a few
weeks of one another. I read the poem again and again, and committed
much of it to memory; and it exerted an “epoch-making” influence on my
life. However, for a long time this notion of the naturalness of
Redemption existed for me merely in the germ.

Meantime, as to the miracles I had no doubts at all, or only such
transient doubts as were suggested by pictures of Holy Families and
other sacred subjects, which exhibited Christ as essentially non-human,
with a halo around his head, or as an infant with three outstretched
fingers blessing his kneeling mother. As a youth, I took it for granted
that God could not become man save by a miracle, and therefore that the
God-man must work miracles. Further, I assumed that Moses and some of
the prophets had worked miracles, and if so, how could it be that the
Servants should work miracles and the Son should not? As I grew towards
manhood, such rising qualms of doubt as I felt on this point were
stilled by the suggestion (which I found in Trench’s book on miracles)
that the miracles of Christ must be in accordance with some latent law
of spiritual nature. It was a little strange certainly that these latent
laws should be utilised only for the children of Abraham, and it was
inconvenient that the miracles of Moses should be, materially speaking,
so stupendously superior to those of Christ; but I took refuge in the
greater beauty and emblematic meaning of the latter. Even at the time
when I signed the Thirty-nine Articles I had no suspicion that the
miracles were not historical. Partly, I had never critically and
systematically studied the Gospels as one studies Thucydides or
Æschylus; partly the miracles had always been kept in the background by
my Rector and the books of the Broad Church School, and I had been
accustomed to rest my faith on Christ Himself and not on the miracles;
and so it came to pass that, for some time after I was ordained, I was
quite content to accept all the miracles of the Old and New Testaments,
and to be content with the explanation suggested by “latent laws.”

But now that I was ordained, I set to work in earnest (the stress of
working for a degree and the need of earning one’s living had left no
time for it before) at the study of the New Testament. Of course I had
“got it up” before, often enough, for the purpose of passing
examinations; but now I began to study it for its own sake and at
leisure. While reading for the Theological Tripos I had been struck by
the inadequacy of many of the theological books that I had had to “get
up.” Especially on the first three Gospels—looking at them critically,
as I had been accustomed to look at Greek and Latin books—I was amazed
to find that little or nothing had been done by English scholars to
compare the different styles and analyse the narratives into their
component parts. For such a task I had myself received some little
preparation. I had picked up my classics without very much assistance
from the ordinary means, mainly by voluntarily committing to memory
whole books or long continuous passages of the best authors, and so
imbuing myself with them as to “get into the swing of the author.” I had
early begun to tabulate these differences of style; and in my final and
most important University examination I remember sending up more than
one piece of composition rendered in two styles. Though I was never a
first-rate composer, owing to my want of practice at school, this method
had succeeded in bringing me to the front in “my year”; and I now
desired to apply my classical studies to the criticism of the first
three Gospels. It seemed to me a monstrous thing that we should have
three accounts of the same life, accounts closely agreeing in certain
parts, but widely varying in others, and yet that, with all the aids of
modern criticism, we should not be able to determine which accounts, or
which parts of the three accounts, were the earliest. At the same time I
began to apply the same method, though without the same attempt at
exactness, to the study of the text of Shakespeare; in which I perceived
some differences of style that implied difference of date, and some that
appeared to imply difference of authorship.

About this time people began to talk in popular circles concerning
Evolution, and alarm began to be felt in some quarters at the difficulty
of harmonizing its theories with theology. With these fears I never
could in the least degree sympathize. I welcomed Evolution as a luminous
commentary on the divine scheme of the Redemption of mankind. That most
stimulating of books, the _Advancement of Learning_, had taught me to be
prepared to find that in very many cases “while Nature or man intendeth
one thing, God worketh another”; and it was a joy to me to find new
light thrown by Evolution on the unfathomable problems of waste, death,
and conflict. Death and conflict could never be thus explained—I knew
that—but one was enabled to wait more patiently for that explanation
which will never come to us till we are behind the veil, when one found
that death and conflict had at least been subordinated to progress and
development. So I thought; and so I said from the pulpit of one of the
Universities in times when the clergy had not yet learned to call Darwin
“a man of God.” My doctrine was thought “advanced” in those days; but
time has gone on and left me, in some respects, behind it. I should
never have thought, and should not think now, of calling Darwin “a man
of God,” except so far as all patient seekers after truth are men of
God: but I still adhere to the belief that Evolution has made it more
easy to believe in a rational, that is to say a non-miraculous, though
supernatural, Christianity.

In this direction, then, my thoughts went forward and, so far, found no
stumbling block. Guided by the poets and analytic novelists, I was also
learning to find in the study of the phenomena of daily life fresh
illustrations of the Pauline theology, confirming and developing my
notion (now of some years’ standing) that the Redemption of mankind was
natural, nothing more than a colossal representation of the spiritual
phenomena that may be seen in ordinary men and women every day of our
lives; just as the lightning-flash is no more than (upon a large scale)
the crackling of the hair beneath the comb. Good men and women, I
perceived, are daily redeeming the bad, bearing their sins, imputing
righteousness to them, giving up their lives for them, and imbuing them
with a good spirit. This thought, as it gained force, was a great help
towards a rational Christianity.

But now my feet began to be entangled in snares and pitfalls. I had
begun the study of the Greek Testament, believing that it would bring
forth _some_ new truth, and assuming that _all_ truth must tend to the
glory of God and of Christ. “Christ,” I said, “is the living Truth, so
that I have but, as Plato says, to ‘follow the Argument,’ and that must
lead me to the truth, and therefore to Him.” But I was not prepared for
the result. After some years of work I found myself gradually led to the
conclusion that the miraculous element in the Gospels was not
historical. A mere glance at the Old Testament shewed that, if there was
not evidence enough for the miracles in the New Testament, much less was
there for the miracles in the Old.

Before me rose up day by day fresh facts and inferences, not only
demonstrating the insufficiency of the usual evidence to prove that the
miracles were true, but also indicating a very strong probability that
they were false. Often, as I studied the accounts of a miracle, I could
see it as it were in the act of growing up, watch its first entrance
into the Gospel narrative, note its modest beginning, its subsequent
development: and then I was forced to give it up. Worst of all, that
miracle of miracles which was most precious to me, the Resurrection of
Christ, began to appear to be supported by the feeblest evidence of all.
I had not at that time learned to distinguish between the Resurrection
of Christ’s material body and the Resurrection of His Spirit or
spiritual body. Christ’s Resurrection seemed to me therefore in those
days to be either a Resurrection of the material and tangible body or no
Resurrection at all. Now for the Resurrection of the material body I
began to be forced to acknowledge that I could find no basis of
satisfying testimony. I had heard an anecdote of the Head of some
College of Oxford in old days, how he fell asleep after dinner in the
Combination Room, while the Fellows over their wine were discussing
theology, and presently made them all start by exclaiming as he awoke,
“After all there is no evidence for the Resurrection of Christ!” I
realized that now, not with a start, but gradually, and with a growing
feeling of deep and wearing anxiety. If the Resurrection of Christ fell,
what was to become of my faith in Christ?

Amid this impending ruin of my old belief I saw one tower standing firm.
It was clear that _something_ had happened after the death of Christ to
make new men of His disciples. It was clear also that St. Paul had seen
_something_ that had induced him to believe that Christ had risen from
the dead. That which had convinced St. Paul, an enemy, might very well
convince the Apostles, the devoted followers of Christ. What was this
_something_? It seemed to me that I ought to try to find out. Meantime,
I determined to adopt the advice I gave you in my last letter—to stand
upon the old ways and look around me and consider my path before taking
another step. Circumstances had placed me in such a position that I was
not called on to decide whether a clergyman could entertain such views
as were looming on me, and remain a clergyman. I was not engaged in any
work directly or indirectly requiring clerical qualifications; and as
far as my affections and sentiments were concerned, I went heartily with
the services of the Church of England.

So I resolved to put aside all theology for two or three years and to
devote myself, during that time, to literary work of another kind.
Meantime, I would retain, as far as possible, the old religious ways of
thought, and, at all events, the old habits. None the less, I would not
give up the intention of investigating the whole truth about the
Resurrection. That there was some nucleus of truth I felt quite certain;
and even if that truth had been embedded in some admixture of illusion,
what then? Were there no illusions in the history of science? Were there
no illusions in the history of God’s Revelation of Himself through the
Old and New Testaments? Might it not be God’s method of Revelation that
men should pass through error to the truth? This line of thought seemed
promising, but I would not at once follow it. I would wait three years
and then work out the question of the influence of illusion on religious

An old college acquaintance, an agnostic, whom I met about this time,
was not a little startled when I told him my thoughts. He frankly
informed me that, though I was “placed in a painful position,” I was
“bound to speak out.” I also thought that I was “bound to speak out”;
but I did not feel bound to obtrude immature views upon the world, with
the result perhaps of afterwards altering or recanting them. So I took
time, plenty of time; I looked about me, on life as well as on books; I
formed a habit of testing assumptions and asking the meaning of common
words, especially such words as knowledge, faith, certainty, belief,
proof, and the like. Believing that theology was made for man and not
man for theology, I began to test theological as well as other
propositions by the question “How do they _work_?” Meantime I tried my
utmost to do the duties of my daily life without distraction and with
the same energy as before, hoping that life itself, and the needs of
life, would throw some light upon the question, “What knowledge about
God is necessary for men who are to do their duty? And how can that
knowledge be obtained?”

By these means I was led to see that a great part of what we call
knowledge does not come to us, as we falsely suppose it does, through
mere logic or Reason, nor through unaided experience, but through the
emotions and the Imagination, tested by Reason and experience. Even in
the world of science, I found that the so-called “laws and properties of
matter,” nay, the very existence of matter, were nothing more than
suggestions of the scientific Imagination aided by experience. A great
part of the environment and development of mankind appeared to have been
directed towards the building up of the imaginative faculty, without
which, it seemed that religion, as well as poetry, would have been
non-existent. So by degrees, it occurred to me that perhaps I had been
on the wrong track in my search after religious truth. I had been
craving a purely historical and logical proof of Christ’s divinity, and
had felt miserable that I could not obtain it. But now I perceived that
I was not intended to obtain it. Not thus was Christ to be embraced.
There must indeed be a basis of fact: but after all it was to that
imaginative faculty which we call “faith,” that I must look, at least in
part, for the right interpretation of fact. That Christ could be
apprehended only by faith was a Pauline common-place; but that Christ’s
Resurrection could be grasped only by faith, and not by the acceptance
of evidence, was, to me, a new proposition. But I gradually perceived
that it was true. I might be doubtful whether Thomas touched the side of
the risen Saviour, yet sure that Christ had risen from the dead in the
Spirit, and had manifested Himself after death to His disciples. My
standard of certainty being thus shifted, many things of which I had
formerly felt certain became uncertain; but, by way of compensation,
other things—and these the most necessary and vital became more certain
than ever. I felt less inclined to dogmatize about the existence of
matter; but my soul was imbued with a fuller conviction of the existence
of a God; and deeper still became the feeling that, so far as things are
known to me, there is nothing in heaven or earth more divine than

Thus at last light dawned upon my darkness; and when the sun rose once
more upon me, it was the same sun as before, only more clearly seen
above the mists of illusion which had before obscured it. The old
beliefs of my youth and childhood remained or came back to me,
exhibiting Jesus of Nazareth as the Incarnate Son of God, the Eternal
Word triumphant over death, seated at the right hand of the Father in
heaven, the source of life and light to all mankind. Like Christian in
_Pilgrim’s Progress_, I found myself suddenly freed from a great
burden—a burden of doubts, and provisos, and conditions which, in old
days, had seemed to forbid me from accepting Jesus as the Lord and
Saviour of mankind unless I could strain my conscience to accept as true
a number of stories many of which I almost certainly knew to be false.
In order to believe in Christ, it was now no longer needful to believe
in suspensions of the laws of Nature: on the contrary, all Nature seemed
to combine to prepare the way to conform humanity to that image of God
which was set forth in the Incarnation. I did not, as some Christians
do, ignore the existence of Satan (and almost of sin) which Christ
Himself most clearly recognized; but I seemed to see that evil was being
gradually subordinated to good, and falsehood made the stepping-stone to

Through evil to good; through sin to a righteousness higher than could
have been attained save through sin; through falsehood to the truth;
through superstition to religion—this seemed to me the divine evolution
discernible in the light that was shed from the cross of Christ. No
longer now did it seem impossible or absurd that the Gospel of the Truth
might have been temporarily obscured by illusions or superstitions even
in the earliest times.

I think it must be now some ten years since I settled down to the belief
that the history of Christianity had been the history of profound
religious truth, contained in, and preserved by, illusions; an ascent of
worship through illusion to the truth. A belief that has been fifteen
years in making, and for ten years more has been reviewed, criticized,
and finally retained as being historically true and spiritually
healthful, you must not call, I think, “a transient phase”. But I
forgive you the expression. A dozen pages of autobiography are a
sufficient penalty for three offending words.

Footnote 1:

  That children, even at a much younger age than ten, do sometimes
  exercise their young minds to very ill purpose about these subtle
  metaphysical questions is probably within the experience of all who
  know anything about children, and it is amusingly illustrated by the
  following answer (which I have on the authority of an intimate friend)
  from a seven-years-old to his mother when blaming him for some
  misconduct: “Why did you born me then? I didn’t want to be borned. You
  should have asked me before you borned me.”



You ask me to explain, in detail, what I mean by asserting that the
Imagination is the basis of knowledge. “Apparently,” you say, “our
knowledge of the world external to ourselves seems to you to spring, not
from the sensations as interpreted by the Reason, but (at all events to
a large extent) from the sensations as interpreted by the Imagination.
If you mean this, I wish you would show how the Imagination thus builds
up our knowledge of the world. But I think I must have misunderstood

You have not misunderstood me. I would go even further than the limits
of your statement: for I believe that we are largely indebted to the
Imagination for our knowledge, not only of the external world, but also
of ourselves. However, suppose we first take a simple instance of the
knowledge of external things: “This inkstand is hard. How did I come to
know that it was hard? How do I know that it is hard now?”

Let us begin from the beginning. I am an infant scrambling on the floor
where the said inkstand is casually lying. Having a congenital impulse
(commonly called “instinct”) to touch and suck anything that comes in my
way, and especially anything bright, I greedily and rapidly approximate
my lips to the corner of this polished object. I recoil with a sharp
shock of pain. The pain abates. The instinctive recoil from the inkstand
has left in me an instinctive aversion to the pain-causing object: but
my touching and sucking instinct again revives, and as soon as it
prevails over the recoiling instinct, I am impelled again
towards the inkstand, not so rapidly as before, but still
too rapidly. I recoil again, with pain lessened but still
acute. I am acquiring “knowledge”: I “know,” though I cannot
put it into words, that I have twice found the inkstand
not-to-be-rapidly-approached-under-penalty-of-a-certain-kind-of-pain, in
other words, “hard.” But I try again; I try four, five, six times: I
find that when I approach with less velocity my pain is less, and when
with sufficiently diminished velocity, there is no pain at all; I touch
and suck in peace: but when I forget my experience and suppose that the
inkstand—even though I dash wildly at it after my old fashion—will
“behave differently this time,” I find that I am mistaken: the inkstand
will not “behave differently”; it always behaves in the same way. By
this time then I know something very important indeed.

But pause now, my friend, and ask yourself how much this infant has a
right to say he “knows,” so far as the evidence of the senses guides
him. All that the senses have told him is that on five, six, seven,
say even seventy, occasions, he found the inkstand hard. But is this
all that he “knows”? You know perfectly well that he knows infinitely
more: he has made a leap from the past into the future and knows that
the inkstand _will_ be found hard whenever he touches it. When he
grows up and attains the power of speech he will generally express his
knowledge in the Present Tense: “I must not strike the inkstand with
my mouth for it _is_ hard”: but in reality this “is” implies “will
be”; “I must not strike the inkstand with my mouth for I _shall find_
it hard.” Now what is it that has produced in him this conviction
which no philosopher can justify by mere logic, but which every baby
acts on? It seems to have arisen thus. The baby has received in rapid
succession two sensations, first, that of a violent approximation to
the inkstand, secondly, a sudden shock of pain. Having received this
pair of sensations very frequently, he cannot help associating them
together in his thoughts; so that now the thought of a violent
approximation to the inkstand necessarily suggests to him the thought
that it is not-to-be-approached-violently, or “hard.” He began by
learning to expect that perhaps, or probably, the first sensation
would be followed by the second; but having found, after constant
experiments, that the second sensation, so far as his experience goes,
always follows the first, he gradually passes from belief into
certainty, or knowledge, that the second always will, or must, follow
the first.

A similar transition is going on at the same time in the infant’s mind—I
mean the transition from belief to certainty—in regard to thousands of
other propositions besides the one we have selected, “this inkstand is
hard.” Every single case of such transition facilitates the transition
in other cases, by making the child feel that, if he is to get on in the
world and make his way through it without incurring the constant pains
and penalties of Nature, he must not disregard these juxtapositions, or
pairs of sensations, (which, when he grows older, he will, if ever he
becomes an educated man, call “cause” and “effect”), but must take them
to heart and remember them; when the first of a familiar pair comes, he
must be prepared to find the second immediately following. Not
unfrequently the child’s limited experience associates together in his
mind sensations that Nature has not associated; as, for example, when he
infers that a clock must tick because he has never yet in his life seen
a clock that has stopped. In this and other cases the child has
afterwards to dissociate what he had too hastily joined together, and to
correct his conclusions by wider experience. But, on the whole, the
transition from belief to certainty, in any one case, is facilitated by
the great majority of similar cases in which the same transition is
going on with results that are confirmed by his own experience and by
that of his elders. What helps the transition, in each case, is its
general success; it _works_: it helps the child to move more and more
confidently in the world without subjecting himself to the punishments
which Nature has attached to ignorance.

Now therefore, reviewing the stages of the progress upwards, we see that
the knowledge of which we are speaking is based upon an inherent and
fundamental belief of which we can give no logical justification
whatever. Why should an inkstand always be hard? The child can allege no
reason for this except that, having found the inkstand to be hard in a
great number of past instances, he is compelled to believe that it will
be always hard, with such a force of conviction that he cannot but feel
and say he “knows” it. But of course there is no logical justification
for this assertion. He might argue for some months or even years, in
precisely the same way about a clock, and say that “a clock always
ticks,” because he has seen the clock tick times innumerable and never
known it not to tick. Why should not a larger experience confute his
so-called knowledge in the case of the inkstand as in the case of the
clock? As the clock collapses, why should not the nature of the inkstand
collapse—be, come unwound, so to speak, or altogether transmuted? There
is no possible answer to this question for the child, at present, except
the following:—“It never has done so, and therefore I believe that it
never will. I believe in the uniformity of Nature. The sequences of
observed cause and effect are Nature’s promises, and if she does not
keep them, life will break down. I am compelled to believe, and to act
on the belief, that life will not break down. I believe that this
inkstand is hard, because this belief _works_.”

I conclude therefore that all knowledge of the kind we are now
describing is based on belief (viz. the belief that what has been will
be) tested by experience. I think it must also be admitted that
Imagination contributed to the result: for the child not only remembers
his two past consecutive sensations but gradually _images_ in his mind a
kind of bond between them, which memory pure and simple could not have
contributed. Memory reproduces “Inkstand and _then_ hardness;”
Imagination paints, or begins to paint, a new idea, “Inkstand and
_therefore_ hardness.” Again, Memory reproduces vaguely numerous
instances, “The inkstand was hard ten, eleven, twenty, many times;” then
comes Imagination and at a leap sets before the mind an entirely new
notion, and invents for it the word “always.”

Concerning other and more complex kinds of knowledge what need is there
to say a word? For if such simple propositions as “a stone is hard,” are
shown to depend upon Imagination for suggesting, and Faith for
retaining, a conviction of the uniformity of Nature, much more must
these influences be presupposed if the child is to attain knowledge
about matters avowedly future, _e.g._ “the sun will rise to-morrow.” In
reality all knowledge of any practical value has to do with a future,
immediate or remote; and therefore I do not think I shall be
exaggerating in saying that for all knowledge about things outside us we
depend largely upon Imagination and Faith.

But I pass now to consider a child’s knowledge about himself. Take for
example such a proposition as this, “I like sugar.” Is Faith or
Imagination required to enable a child to arrive at the knowledge of
this proposition about himself? I think so. The very use of the word
“I,” if used intelligently, appears to need some imaginative effort. Of
course I do not deny that this subtle metaphysical idea may have been
suggested to us originally by our faculty of touch, and especially the
faculty of self-pinching or self-touching. I dare say you have read how
men have sometimes caught hold of their own benumbed hand by night, and
awakened a household by shouting that they had caught a robber: has it
ever occurred to you that, if you never had the power of distinguishing
your own hand from anybody else’s hand by the sense of touch, you might
have gone through life with no sense, or with a very tardily acquired
sense, of your own identity? If the monkey who boiled his own tail in
the caldron had felt no pain, might he not have been excused for
doubting sometimes whether the tail belonged to him? And if his head
were equally painless or joyless when he thumped it or scratched it,
ought he to be condemned for disowning his own head? And if a monkey, or
even a child, could not lay claim to its own head, it seems to me
doubtful whether he could ever claim such a separation from the outside
world as would necessitate his using the word “I.” But, as it is, having
this self-pinching faculty, the child soon finds that to pinch a ball,
or a bladder, or a sister, is an entirely different thing from pinching
himself: and this self-touching faculty confirms the evidence suggested
by the bumps and thumps of the external world; all of which lead him to
the belief that he has a bodily frame of his own, liable to pain and to
pleasure, and largely dependent for pain and pleasure on his own
motions, which motions he dimly perceives dependent upon something that
appears to be inside himself.

But neither this nor any other explanation of the manner in which the
sensations prepare the way for the construction of the idea of the “I,”
ought to prevent us from recognizing that the idea itself is the work of
the Imagination, and not of the unaided sensations, nor of the unaided
reason. Self-pinching and contact with the rough external world might
convince the child that he was different from his environment at the
time when he made his last experiments and underwent his last
experiences; but they could not convince him that he _is_ different
_now_, or that he _will be_ different in the next instant; and for this
conviction he depends upon faith. Again, the imagination of the “I”
seems closely bound up with two other nearly simultaneous imaginations,
those of Force and Cause. First he feels a desire to touch the inkstand,
then he feels himself moving towards the inkstand, then he feels the
inkstand touched. These sequences of desire, action, result, he can
repeat as often as he likes. By their frequency therefore, as well as by
their vividness, they impress him more powerfully than sequences of
phenomena not dependent on himself; and it is from these probably that
he first imagines the idea of “must,” or “necessity,” or “cause and
effect.” If he feels a desire to move a limb, the motion of the limb
immediately follows; it always obeys him; it _must_ obey him. He pushes
a brick; what caused the brick to fall? He feels that it was his own
force that caused it; he no longer looks upon the push and the fall as
if the former merely preceded the latter; he imagines a connection of
necessity between the push and the fall, the cause and the effect, and
gradually comes to imagine himself as the causer of the cause. But all
these imaginations are mere imaginations, not proofs. To gather together
all the sensations of which he retains the memory, the sensations of
which he is at present conscious, and the sensations to which he looks
forward, and to put an “I” behind or below all these, as the foundation
of them all, and partial causer of them all—what an audacious assumption
is this! Not Plato and Aristotle combined could prove to a child, or to
the most consummate of philosophers, that he has a right to call himself
“I,” or that he is any other than a machine and a part of the universal
machinery. How can I prove and vindicate my independence, my right to an
“I”? By saying that I will do, or not do, and by then doing, or not
doing, any conceivable thing at any conceivable time? Such an attempt is
futile. The retort is unanswerable: “In the great machine which you call
the universe, that small part which you call ‘I’ was so constructed and
wound up that it could no more help saying and doing what it did and
said, than a clock could help pointing and striking.”

What then is the real proof that we are right in using the word “I” and
in distinguishing ourselves from other objects which we call external?
There is no proof at all except that, first, we are led to this way of
looking at things by Nature and Imagination, and secondly, this way of
looking at things _works_ best. The “I-view” is better fitted than the
“machine-view” to develop in us the faculties of judgment and
self-control, to give us a sense of responsibility and a capability of
amendment, and to make us ultimately more hopeful and more active. So
too, the belief in “cause and effect” _works_ better than a mere mental
record of past antecedents and sequences, accompanied by a blank and
strictly logical neutrality of mind as to what will happen in the
future. Faith in “cause and effect” is the foundation of all stable life
and all regular progress alike in the individual and in the state. The
unfaithful unbeliever in causality is the Esau, both in the moral and in
the intellectual world, the happy-go-lucky hunter who depends on stray
venison and refuses to resort to system in order to make a sure
provision for the needs of the future; the believer is the quiet
plodding Jacob who has his goats in the fold where he knows he can find
them when wanted. The unbeliever is the unimaginative savage who has not
faith enough to see the harvest in the seed; the believer is the man of
civilisation who can trust Nature through six long months of waiting and
can say to her, not in the language of hope, “_do ut des_,” but in the
language of conviction, “_do daturae_.” Nevertheless, convenient as
these ideas may be for our comfort, nay, though they may be even
necessary for our existence, we are bound to recollect that they are
merely ideas. Like the ideas of force, cause, effect, necessity, so the
idea of “I,”—though produced with the aid of experience and tested by
appeal to experience and reason—appears to be nothing but a child of the
Imagination, and a foster-child of Faith.

Perhaps your conclusion from all this is that I am proving that we can
know nothing? Not in the least. What I am saying does not prove that we
know less or more than we profess to know at present. I am merely
showing that our knowledge comes to us from sources other than those
which are ordinarily assumed.



You ask me to pass to the consideration of knowledge of a new kind,
knowledge of mathematical truth. “Here at least,” you say, “severe
reasoning dominates supreme, and Imagination has no place.” “Two and one
make three,” “The angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are
equal:” “surely we may assume that Imagination has nothing to do with
these propositions. They must be decided by pure Reason.” Never was
assumption more grotesque. Excuse me; but by what other adjective can I
characterize the statement that the Imagination has “nothing to do with”
propositions for the very terms of which we are indebted to the
Imagination? I maintain without fear of contradiction that the knowledge
of these propositions requires an effort of the Imagination so severe
that the very young and the completely untrained cannot attain to it.

For, in the first place, what do you mean by “one,” “two,” and “three”?
I have never had any experience of such things; nor have you; nor can
you. “Two” oranges, “two” apples, and the like, we have had experience
of, and can realize; but to think of “one” or “two” by themselves (“one”
or “two” with “anythings”, or with “nothings” after them), “one” or
“two” as “abstract ideas”—this really is a most difficult or rather (I
am inclined to say) an impossible task. When I say “one” and “two,” I
think I see before me dimly “one” or “two” dots or small strokes, and I
perceive that two and one of these dots or strokes make up three dots or
strokes. When I speak of “twenty” and “thirty,” I do not see any images
of these existences; and when I say that “twenty” and “thirty” make
“fifty,” I do not realize the process of addition at all visibly; I
merely repeat the statement on the authority of previous observations
and reasonings mostly made by others and not by myself. But so far as I
approximate to the realization of an abstract number, I do it by a kind
of negative imagination. And in any case we can hardly deny that all
arithmetical propositions, since they employ terms that denote mere
imaginary ideas, must be regarded as based on the imagination.

It is the same with Geometry. The whole of what we call “Euclid” is
based upon a most aerial effort of the Imagination. We have to imagine
lines without thickness, straightness that does not deviate the
billionth part of an inch from perfect evenness, perfectly symmetrical
circles, and—climax of audacity!—points that have “no parts and no
magnitude!” Obviously these things have no existence except in the
dreams of Imagination; yet Euclid’s severe reasoning applies to none but
these things. If you step from your ideal triangle in Dreamland into
your material triangle in chalk-land, you step from absolute truth into
statements that are not absolutely true. The angles at the base of your
chalk isosceles triangle are not exactly equal, if you measure them with
sufficient accuracy. In a word the whole of Geometry is an appeal to the
Imagination in which the geometer says to us, “I know that my
propositions are not exactly true except with respect to invisible,
ideal, and imaginary figures, planes, and solids. These ideas,
therefore, you must endeavour to imagine. In order to relieve the strain
on your imagination, I will place before you material and visible
figures about which my reasoning will be approximately true. From these
I must ask you to try to rise upward to the imagination of their
archetypes, the immaterial realities.”

What shall we reply to our overbearing mathematician who in this abrupt
and audacious manner introduces the non-existent and imaginary creatures
of his brain as being “realities”? Shall we deride him, and the
arithmetician likewise? Shall we bid the latter exchange his
calculations in abstract numbers for manifestly useful sums about sacks
of wheat and casks of beer? Shall we bid the mathematician descend from
his high geometrical theories to the practical measurements of
agriculture? Pouring scorn on his avowal that the objects of his
reasoning are “invisible, ideal, and imaginary,” shall we decline to
study a science that is confessedly—so we can word it—visionary and
illusive? If we do, he will not be without a reply, somewhat after this
fashion: “My practical friends, it will be the worse for you if you
despise these invisible, ideal and imaginary objects. I say nothing
about the mental training and development to be derived from the study
of these things; for to this argument you do not appear to me to be at
present accessible: but I will take your own line—the practical. Do you
then want to measure your fields with ease and to make accurate maps and
charts; to construct houses that shall stand longer, ships that shall
sail faster, cannon that shall shoot further, engines that shall pull
harder, than any known before; do you want to utilize electricity for
lighting, gas for motion, water for pressure; in a word do you wish to
make yourselves lords over the material world and to have all the forces
of Nature at your beck and call? If you do, you must not despise the
non-existent numbers of my arithmetical brother, nor my immaterial and
imaginary lines. Give me leave to repeat, in spite of your indignation,
that though they are (in this present visible world of ours)
non-existent, yet these lines and numbers are ‘realities.’ That they are
realities, and that our conclusions about them are real and true, is
proved by the one test of truth: our conclusions _work_. Our discoveries
are in harmony with the universe. A perfect circle you never saw and
never will see: yet it is as real as a beefsteak and a pint of porter. I
believe in a perfect circle by Faith; I accept it with reverence as an
impression, if I may so dare to speak, on the Mind of the Universe,
which He has communicated to me. What is more, I believe that He
intended us to study this and other immaterial realities that our minds
might approximate to His. Take a cone, my practical friends. What do you
see in it? Nothing, I fear, except a shape that reminds you of an
extinguisher or a fool’s cap. Yet this little solid contains within
itself the suggestions of all the mysteries of motion in heaven and
earth. Slice your cone parallel to the base: there you have the perfect
circle. Slice it again, parallel to one of the sides: there you have the
parabola, the curve of terrestrial motion. Slice it once more, midway
between these two sections: there you have the ellipse, the curve of
celestial motion for which all the astronomers were seeking in vain
through something like a score of centuries. Seriously now, my
half-educated friends, in spite of the sense you may for the most part
entertain of your own importance, do you not in your more modest moods
sometimes feel inclined to say that, ‘A circle is, after all, a reality,
perhaps more real than I am myself’?”

What do you think of all this? For my part, I am inclined to think the
Mathematician has the best of it. A good deal will turn upon the meaning
of that dangerous word “reality,” about which I will give you my
notions, perhaps, hereafter.[2] But even if you dispute his assertions
about the reality of his “ideas,” you cannot, I am sure, deny the
immense practical importance, as well as the universal acceptance, of
his conclusions and discoveries; and you will do well to remember that
this immensely important, this undisputed and indisputable knowledge,
could never have been attained if we had not called in the Imagination
to create for us ideas that never will be, and never can be, realised in
this present material world.

Let us pass now from knowledge about things to knowledge about persons,
_i.e._ about actions and motives.

Our knowledge about actions depends on (1) personal observation; (2)
testimony; (3) circumstantial evidence or any combination of these

The knowledge that we derive of actions from our own observation is of
course independent of Faith, so far as concerns the past; but it is very
limited, and entirely useless and unpractical, except as a basis for
knowledge about the present and future; for which knowledge (as we have
seen) Faith in the permanence of Nature is absolutely necessary.

The knowledge of actions that comes to us from evidence, direct and
circumstantial, is largely dependent on Faith. “Julius Cæsar invaded
Britain”—how certain we all feel of that! Yet how slight the testimony!
Simply a few pages of narrative, written by the supposed invader
himself, and some casual remarks by one or two contemporary
letter-writers about Cæsar’s doings in Britain and the Senate’s
reception of the news. Why should we believe on so apparently flimsy a
basis? Why should not Cæsar have sent one of his lieutenants to invade
the island, and afterwards have taken the credit of it himself? Or there
might have been no invasion at all, nothing but a reconnaissance grossly
exaggerated and intermixed with facts derived from travellers. Yet we
believe in the invasion without the slightest hesitation. Cæsar, we say,
would not have told the lie; or, if he had, it would have been quickly
exposed by his enemies. In other words, we believe in the truth of the
narrative, because a belief in its falsehood does not “work,” that is to
say, does not suit with what we know (or, more properly, with what
others know) of Cæsar’s character and Cæsar’s times. Of precisely the
same kind is almost all our knowledge about history: it is based upon
evidence, but it is belief; and the only test of its truth is, does it
“work,” _i.e._ does it fit in with other knowledge which we regard as
established truth?

But you see that, even in dealing with a simple action of Cæsar’s, we
have already drifted into a reference to Cæsar’s motives: and obviously
knowledge about “motives” is an important and indeed a paramount element
in knowledge about persons. “My father,” says the child, “has his brows
knit; his face looks dark; he speaks very loud; his eyes look brighter
than usual:”—this is knowledge about actions derived from personal
observation, but, so far, perfectly useless, until something is added to
it. “Whenever my father has looked and spoken like this before, he has
been angry and has punished somebody: therefore he is angry and will
punish somebody now”—this is not knowledge, it is only belief; but it is
belief not about actions simply, but about motives as well as actions,
and it may be of the greatest use.

How do we gain knowledge about motives, the moving powers of the human
machine? Since we cannot take this machinery to pieces, or experiment
with it freely, we must derive our knowledge largely from the
consciousness of our own motives. Tickling produces laughter in us, and
pricking, a cry; affection, and the command of those whom we love,
produce in us obedience; desire of a result or reward produces effort;
fear of pain or penalty produces avoidance of certain actions,
performance of others. Hence we infer that, in others also, similar
effects have been produced, or will be produced, by similar causes. In
either case, our inference is based partly upon our observation that
these causes have preceded these effects in other persons, and partly
upon our _faith_ that other people’s machinery is like our own.

But we have not yet touched one of the most powerful of motives, that
power within us which we call Conscience (“joint-knowledge”); as though
there were in us an Assessor sitting in judgment by the side of the
mysterious “I,” the two together pronouncing sentence of “Right” or
“Wrong” upon the several propositions and intentions which are, as it
were, called up before their tribunal. The development of Conscience and
our sensibility to its dictation appears to me largely due to the
Imagination. If a philosopher tells me that when Conscience appears to
us to say “Right” it really says “Expedient for society and ultimately
for yourself,” or “Calculated to gain esteem for yourself,” or
“Conducive to your own peace of mind,” I am obliged, with all deference
to him, but with greater deference to truth, to assure him that (however
correct he may be as to the origin of this feeling in my own infant mind
or in the matured mind of my primæval ancestors) he is mistaken, at all
events in my own case, as to the action of Conscience now. I may
possibly have been long ago guided to my idea of “Right” by my
observation of what is expedient: but, to me, now, the sense of “right”
is as different from the sense of “expedient,” as the eye is different
from some sensitive protuberance which may ultimately be developed into
an eye, but is at present responsive only to the touch.

How then do we gain this knowledge of right and wrong? For of course it
is not enough to reply that we gain it by the voice of Conscience: such
an answer only makes us repeat our question in a different shape: “In
the very young, Conscience, though it may be existent, is certainly
latent; when and whence does it begin to work?” I should reply that the
first idea of good and evil is communicated to the very young through
the habit of obedience to their parents or those who stand to them in
the parental position. A child is so created as to be in constant
dependence on the favour and good-will of his mother. When he is
obedient to her he finds himself at peace and happy, and he welcomes on
her face that sunshine which indicates that she is pleased with him.
When he is disobedient, harsh sounds follow, a lowering darkness on the
countenance close to his, obstacles to his freedom, restrictions of his
pleasures, perhaps sharper pains or penalties: and he is now out of
harmony with his little Universe. All this strange and subtle evil
inside him and outside him he has brought on himself by disobeying the
maternal will; and hence there gradually springs up in his mind an
Imagination of some unnameable thing, which is his first idea of right.
But as he grows older and widens his sphere of observation he finds—if
he is placed in anything like those favourable circumstances which
Nature has appointed for most of us—that this parental will is in
harmony with the widening world around him. The parents say, “Do not
play with fire;” Nature says the same, and punishes him if he
transgresses. The parents say, “Do not touch that knife;” again Nature
confirms their authority by inflicting a penalty on disobedience. Thus,
if the parents have anything of parental forethought, the child
gradually associates them with the governing powers of his growing
Universe, and begins to feel that the parental will is also the will, or
order, of Nature. They are as God to him: and the confirmed habit of
obedience to them deepens in his heart the conviction—but still a
conviction rather springing from Imagination than from Reason—that the
power which thus induces him to obey is a great and grand Power,
orderly, not to be resisted; wise and justified by results, but to be
obeyed without thinking about results; it _ought_ to be obeyed; it is

Now he steps out into the world of other human beings; and here he
learns to widen his idea of Right. Perhaps he also learns to alter it.
If he was born and reared among thieves, his conscience may have been
altogether perverted so that he actually thought it honourable to steal.
But in any case, even though he may come from the best of homes, he
often learns that the parental will is not always in harmony with the
highest and best will; and gradually he forms a different standard of
“Right” from that which he held before. It was once the will of his
parents, now it is often the will of Society. Conforming himself to the
will of Society he is free from pains and penalties; he is at peace with
those around him, and he is generally at peace with himself. I say
generally, not always: for by this time he has begun to think for
himself and to see that Conscience ought to speak in the interests not
merely of his parents, nor of a select circle of his own friends or
companions, but of all mankind. His Imagination pictures for him an
ideal Order such as he has never actually experienced. He feels that he
“ought” to be at peace and in harmony with this imaginary Order, and not
with some distorted and narrowed conception of it conveyed to him by his
“set,” his class, his city, his nation, or his church. In his
conscience, he hears the voice of this Moral Order of humanity. Hence it
is that men have been sometimes impelled to thoughts beyond, or even
against, the conscience of their contemporaries; to protest, for
example, against unjust wars, against war of any kind, against slavery,
against duelling, against legalized oppression. In every case the
impelling power has been the same, a sense of discord between the man’s
imaginary ideal and the actual environment in which these evils and
disorders have existed. Others, his commonplace companions, have been
content to go with the world around them—to be kind slave-holders,
honourable duellists, moderate oppressors—and they have felt no pangs of
conscience. But by a few, a chosen few, there has been acquired a keener
sense of the ideal of moral harmony, a keener eye for detecting moral
disorder, and an abhorrence of it which will not permit them to live in
peace amid such evils: they must either die or mend them.

They often do die in mending them; but while in the process of dying, or
preparing for death—with all deference to the clergyman who lately
maintained that “if there is no hereafter, and if the only reward of
self-sacrifice and the only punishment of crime are those which happen
in the present life, _it would have been far better to have been Fouché
than Paul_”—they have at least a peace of mind which they could not have
attained by conformity with the world. The grosser conscience that
“worked” well enough in their companions would not have “worked” in
them. Even, therefore, though they appear to be exceptions to the rule
that tests truth by its “working,” they are not really exceptional. They
have been in discord with the world but in concord with themselves.
Often they prove to others the truth of their conceptions by raising up
the world to their level, and by pointing to the moral order which has
issued from the fulfilment of their ideas. But in any case, though they
may fail for a time or (apparently) for all time, they have had in
themselves a sufficient test of the truth of their ideas: they have
followed their conscience and they have found that this course
“worked”—that is to say, suited and developed their nature—as no other
course could have worked for them. But in order thus to hear and obey
the voice of conscience and to discern its highest truths, how much of
faith, how much of imagination has been needed!

But this digression about Conscience has led me a little astray from my
subject, which was “the knowledge of persons:” I must return to it in my
next letter.

Footnote 2:

  See the _Definitions_ at the end of the book.

                            IDEALS AND TESTS


Let us now return to the consideration of the “knowledge of persons.”
How do we gain knowledge of a human being, that is to say of his
motives? “By observing his actions in many different circumstances,
especially in extremities of joy, sorrow, fear, temptation, and then by
comparing his actions with what we, or others, have done in the same
circumstances?” But this is a very difficult and delicate business,
especially that part of it which involves comparison. Here we may easily
go wrong; and we therefore naturally ask what test have we that our
knowledge is correct. One test of any useful knowledge of a machine
would be, not our power to discourse fluently about it, but our power to
“work” it, _i.e._ to make it perform the work for which it is intended:
and similarly one test of useful knowledge of a human being must be our
power to “work” him, _i.e._ to make him perform the work for which he is
intended. A perfectly selfish man of the world may have considerable
knowledge of men and “work” them cleverly in a certain sense: he is not
cheated by them; he is perhaps obeyed by some, not thwarted by others;
he knows the weak points of all, jostles down one, persuades another to
lift him up, gets something out of every one, and is, in a word, largely
successful in making men help him to do _what he intends_. But this is a
very poor kind of “working,” as compared with that which has been
practised by the lawgivers, poets, philosophers, and founders of
religion; who have moulded and fashioned great masses of men so as to be
better able than they were before to do the noblest works that men can
do, the works for _which they are intended_. Now I think it will not be
denied that the men who, in this sense, have “worked” mankind have had
great ideas of what men could do and ought to do. Sometimes they have
had ideas so high that they have seemed impossible of attainment and
almost absurd, even as ideas. Yet these are the men, these idealizers of
humanity, who have most helped mankind on the path of progress. And this
would lead us to the conclusion that the men who have “worked” mankind
best have been those who have refused to accept men as they are.
Constrained by the Imagination, they have kept before their eyes an
Ideal of humanity, towards which they have aspired and laboured with
sanguine enthusiasm.

To the same effect tends our observation of mankind in smaller groups,
and especially in that smallest of groups called the family. It is
generally the parents who have most influence over their child, most
power to “work” him; and we can often see that the reason of their
influence does not arise from the power to reward or punish, but from
their affection for him, and from their faith in him. Especially do we
perceive this in the familiar but mysterious process called forgiving.
We see parents, yes even wise parents, constantly placing faith in a
child beyond what seems to a dispassionate observer to be warranted by
facts, treating him as though he were better than he has shewn himself
to be, better than he appears to us likely ever to become. And, strange
to say, this imaginative system has on the whole proved more successful
than the impartial and dispassionate disposition which would take a
human being exactly for what he is, and treat him as being that and no
more. I do not mean to say that there have not been blind and fond
parents in abundance who—having no high moral standard and being merely
desirous to see comfort and bright faces around them—have done their
children harm by ignoring their faults and regarding them as perfect:
but on the other hand, I call on you to admit the paradox that just,
wise, and righteous parents, who have had a high moral standard, have
been most successful in enabling their child to rise to that standard,
by treating him as though he were better than he really has been.
Further, I say that this system has been pursued by all those who have
forgiven others, and by Him above all others who has done most to make
forgiveness “current coin” among mankind.

I can understand a man of cold-blooded and dispassionate temperament
objecting to any such idealization of humanity. “The whole theory,” he
might say, “is radically unfair and unreasonable. You argue that you
ought to love a man and ignore his faults if you wish to know him and
move him. You might just as well argue that you ought to hate a man and
ignore his virtues for the same purpose. Hate is as keen-eyed as love.
Hate spies out the least defects, anticipates each false step, predicts
each hasty word, and caricatures beforehand each hasty gesture. Hate
makes a study of its objects: hate, therefore, as well as love, might be
said to stimulate us to know others. But the right course is neither to
hate, nor to love, but to judge. As hate blinds us to virtues, so love
blinds us to vices. We ought to be blind to nothing, to extenuate
nothing, to ignore nothing, but to be purely and reasonably critical.
Thus we shall know humanity as it is.”

The answer to this very plausible theory is extremely simple: “Your
theory appears to be just and wise upon a cursory and unscientific view
of human nature: but it has not endured the scientific test of
experiment; it has not _worked_. I believe the reason why it does not
work is, that it ignores some faintly discernible but growing tendencies
in human nature which are not to be discerned without more sympathy than
you appear to possess: no human being can be understood in the daylight
of Reason alone; affection and Imagination are needed to transport us as
it were into the heart of a fellow-creature, to enable us to realize him
as we realize ourselves, and to treat him as we would ourselves be
treated; faith also in the possibilities of humanity is a very powerful
help not only towards discerning the best and noblest that men can do,
but also towards developing their power of doing it. But in any case,
whatever may be the reasons for its failure, your theory does not
‘work,’ and must therefore be given up.

“By ‘failure,’ I do not mean that your theory will prevent you from
getting on and making your way in the world, but that it will prevent
you from operating on yourself and on mankind, so that you and they may
do the work which you are intended to do. You say the business of a
student of men is to be critical. I say that such a student is a mere
pedant, a book-philosopher: but the scientific student of men is he who
knows how to ‘work’ them: and those who have in the true sense of the
term ‘worked’ men, have not been of the critical temperament which you
eulogize, but often quite uncritical, wondrously uncritical, but full of
a fervent faith in a high ideal of humanity, and in a destiny that would
ultimately conform humanity to its ideal. If you aim at exerting no
social ennobling influence of this kind, if you are content, while
leading the life of a man of the world, to abide, spiritually speaking,
in the cave of a recluse, then keep on your present course. Criticize
men dispassionately to your heart’s content. Try to persuade yourself
that you know them. But you will never succeed—you will never persuade
even yourself that you have succeeded—in making a single human being the
better for your influence.

“In morals as in mathematics nothing can be done without faith in the
Ideal. If you want to operate scientifically upon imperfect men you must
keep constantly before your mind the image of the Perfect Man. We have
seen that, before we can attain to ‘applied mathematics,’ which
constitute the basis of those sciences by which we dominate the material
world, we have to begin with ‘pure mathematics.’ In that region of study
we have to idealize and speak of things, not as they are in our
experience, but as they might be if certain tendencies that we see
around us could be infinitely—yes, and we must add, impossibly—extended.
Yet in the end, if we go patiently onward, we find that our ‘pure
mathematics’ lead us to conclusions of immense practical importance.

“It is precisely the same in the science of humanity, which we may call
anthropology. In order to prepare the way for ‘applied anthropology’
whereby we may dominate the immaterial world, the minds and tempers of
men, we must begin with ‘pure anthropology’; that is to say, we must
idealize and speak of man not as he is but as he would be if certain
tendencies which we see in him, conducive to social order and individual
development, could be infinitely—yes, and we must add, if we limit our
horizon to this present life, impossibly—extended. In the end, if we go
patiently onward, we shall find that ‘pure anthropology’ will be of
immense practical importance in helping us to control and develop
ourselves and individuals around us and all communities of men. This
‘pure anthropology,’ having to do with the Ideal of humanity, is
necessarily associated or identified with the conception of God; and
some would call it ‘theology’ or ‘Christianity.’ But that is a mere
matter of names. Call it by whatever name you please, but study it you
must. You will never ‘work’ mankind—that is to say you will never make
men do the work for which they are intended—till you have studied the
Ideal Man.”

You may reply, and with some justice, that there is a danger in this
repeated appeal to the test of “working.” “What,” you may ask, “about
the Buddhist and the Mohammedan, the one with his peaceful missions, the
other with his victorious sword? Cannot both make the same appeal? In
advocating the invariable appeal to ‘working,’ do we not come
dangerously near urging the acceptance of any doctrine that will afford
good leverage to moral effort, regardless of its truth or falsehood?
Ought not, after all, the harmony of the doctrine with Reason (in the
highest sense—not only syllogistic, but intuitive, imaginative, or
whatever you choose to call it) to be the ultimate criterion?”

I suppose there is a “danger” in every means of attaining truth, a
danger in observation, a danger in experiment, a danger in inductive, a
danger in deductive, reasoning: but it does not follow that any of these
means are to be discarded, only that they are to be carefully used. If
the Buddhist can appeal to the successes of centuries, that proves, I
should say, that there is some element of genuine truth in his religion;
if the Mohammedan points to conversions, in India and elsewhere, far
more rapid than those made by Christianity and not dependent on “the
victorious sword,” that also proves that in some important respects for
example in the practical recognition of the equality of all believers
without respect to rank or race—Mohammedans have been far more faithful
to their teacher than we have been to ours. And generally, any religion
that succeeds in making men better with it than they were without it,
must be admitted (I think) to contain (so far as it succeeds) some
element of divine revelation. And therefore, while admitting the appeal
to Reason, I cannot reject the appeal to Experience as well. Do not
think that, in laying so much stress on “working,” I ignore the
difference between the propositions of Natural Science and those of
Religion, or forget how much more ready and convincing verification is
in the former than in the latter. The means of verifying may differ in
different ages: why not? In the earliest period of Christianity, men
had, as a test, the contrast between the heathen and the Christian life;
the burning zeal of the freshly imparted Spirit of Christ; and the
“mighty works” wrought by the Apostles and perhaps by some of their
successors. Now, for us in Christendom, the proof from “contrast” is
less obvious, and we have lost also something of the fresh and fiery
zeal—must we not add the occasionally misguided zeal?—of the first
Christians: but by way of compensation, we have, besides our individual
experiences, the collective evidence of many generations shewing what
Christ’s Spirit can do to help us when we obey it, to chasten us when we
disobey. Are we wrong then in inferring that one test of religions is
the same which our Lord appointed for testing men: “By their fruits ye
shall know them”?

There is undoubtedly a great difference between proof in Science and
proof in matters of Religion: and Religion depends, far more than
Science, upon Imagination. But I have not ignored this difference. On
the contrary, I have attempted to show that, since Religion depends _far
more_ than Science upon Imagination; and since Science itself depends
_largely_ upon Imagination; therefore Religion must depend _very
largely_ upon Imagination, and especially upon that form of Imagination
to which we give the name of Faith.

                         IMAGINATION AND REASON


You suspect that I am “pushing the claims of the Imagination so far as
to deprive the Reason or Understanding[3] of its rights;” and you ask me
whether I dispute the universal belief that the former is an “illusive
faculty.” As for your suspicion, I will endeavour to show that it is
groundless. As for your question, I admit that the Imagination is
“illusive,” but I must add that it also leads us to truth. It constructs
the hypotheses, as well as the illusions, which, when tested by
experience, guide us towards Knowledge.

Imagination is the “imaging” faculty of the mind. It does not, strictly
speaking, create, any more than an artist, strictly speaking, creates.
But as an artist combines lines, colours, shades, sounds, and thoughts,
each one of which by itself is familiar to everybody, in such new
combinations as to produce effects that impress us all as original and
unprecedented, so does the Imagination out of old fragments make new
existences and unities.

Attention impresses upon us the present; Memory recalls the past; but
the Imagination is never content simply to reproduce the past or
present. It sums up the past of Memory (sometimes perhaps also the
present of Attention) and combines it with a conjectured future in such
a way as to produce a whole. It is always seeking for likenesses,
orderly connections, regular sequences, beautiful relations, suggestions
of unity in some shape or other, so as to reduce many things into one
and to obtain a satisfying picture.

For example, suppose a large mill-wheel at rest to be almost hidden from
my eyes by intervening trees so that, even if it were moving, I could
only see one spoke at a time; and at present I am not aware that it is
close before me. Something begins to move. I look up. Attention tells me
that I see before me, moving from left to right, something like a plank
or pole: it passes and I see nothing; but then comes another similar
object moving similarly; then a third, rather quicker; then a fourth,
quicker still. The mind at once sets to work to find the cause. The
Memory tells me that I have seen simply a number of poles or planks
moving from left to right with quickened motion; the Attention tells me
that I see one now; but the Imagination, taking in the isolated reports
of Memory and Attention, includes them in a larger hypothesis of her
own, in which, if I may so express it, the constituent elements, the
spokes, are subordinated, and the explanatory unity, the wheel, is
brought into prominence; and thus the motion from left to right, which
explained nothing, is replaced, in my mind, by the motion of revolution,
which explains everything.

It is on the basis of the Imagination, aided by Experience and Reason,
that we establish our conviction of the permanence of the simplest Laws
of Nature. This I have touched on in one of my previous letters. The
Memory, recalling the sight of many stones falling to the ground, comes
perhaps to the aid of Attention, as a child notes a particular stone
falling to the ground, and suggests to the child’s imitative nature an
experimental attempt to make a stone fall to the ground. The child does
it once and again, as often as he likes. Then, as a result of this
unvarying experience, there springs up in the child’s mind a picture in
which he sees reproduced an apparently endless vista of his sensations
as to stone-falling and its antecedents, a picture not confined, like
the pictures of Memory, to past time, but including future as well as
past and present; and thus the childish thought leaps upwards all at
once to the conception of that sublime word “always,” and dares to
promulgate its first universal proposition, and attains to the definite
certainty of a Law of Nature.

But you say that the Imagination is “illusive.” It is; it rarely
conducts us to truth without first leading us through error. Its
business is to find likenesses and connections and to suggest
explanations, not to point out differences, and make distinctions, and
test explanations; these latter tasks are to be accomplished not by
Imagination but by Reason with the aid of enlarged experience. The
Imagination suggests to the child that every man is like his father,
every woman like his mother; that the motion of the sea is like the
motion of water in the washing basin; that the thunder is caused by the
rolling of barrels or discharge of coals up above; that a clock goes on
of itself for ever; and a multitude of other illusions all arising from
the same healthy imaginative conviction in every young mind that “What
has been will be,” and “The whole world is according to one pattern.”
The conviction is based on a profound general truth, but the particular
shapes which it assumes are often erroneous. It is only after a course,
and sometimes a very long course, of experience and experiment, that the
child, or perhaps the man, eliminates with the aid of Reason those ideas
which will not work, and confirms those that will work, till the latter
become at last strong and inherent and quasi-instinctive convictions.
None the less, if the Imagination did not first suggest the ideas on
which the Reason is to operate, we should never obtain anything worth
calling knowledge.

We might express all this by saying that Imagination is the mother of
working-hypotheses; and this is true of all working-hypotheses, those of
the observatory and laboratory as well as those of the nursery. No one
who grasps this truth will henceforth deny the debt of science to
Imagination. Knowledge is not worth calling knowledge till it is reduced
to Law; and Law, as I have shown you above, is a mere idea of the
Imagination. I do not deny the subsequent value of Reason; but
Imagination must come first. It was from the Imagination that there
first flashed upon the mind of Newton the vision of the
working-hypothesis by which the apple’s fall and the planet’s path might
be simultaneously explained. Then came in Reason, with experiment,
testing, comparing, prepared to detect discrepancies, unlikelihoods, and
any want of harmony between the new theory and the old order of things.
Finally, the once-no-more-than-working-hypothesis, having been found to
harmonize with countless past and present phenomena and having enabled
us to predict countless future phenomena, is now called a Law, and we
are practically certain that it will act. The approval of this Law we
owe to Reason, but for the suggestion of it we are indebted to
Imagination. On the debt owed to Imagination by Mathematics—the
foundation of all science—I will not add anything to what has been said
in a recent letter.

Next as to the work of Imagination in art. Poets and artists, as well as
astronomers, must be, so to speak, _ex analogia Universi_; that is to
say, they must be in harmony with that order of things which they long
to reveal to their fellow-men; they must see Law and Unity where others
fail to see it; they must have inherited or received capacities and
intuitions which give them an intense sympathy with the deep-down-hidden
rhythms and abysmal motions which regulate atoms and sounds and hues and
shapes, and the thoughts and feelings of men. An artist who wishes to
paint a hill-side, or a wave, or a face, must have a vision of it. He
must see it not only exactly as it is, but how it is: he sympathizes, as
it were, with every cleft and runlet and hollow and projection of the
hill, with every turn and fold and shade and hue of the ever-varying
wave: he realizes the secret of Nature’s working. Shall we make a
distinction between the secret in the one case and the other? Shall we
say the “spirit” of the face, but the “law” of the hill and the “law” of
the wave? Or will not the intuition into this complex combination of
multitudinous forces, apparently free and conflicting yet all guided and
controlled into one harmonious result, be better expressed by saying
that he enters into the “spirit” in all cases, the “spirit” of the hill,
the wave, and the face? In proportion as he has this power, a great
artist will be less likely to speak about it, and less able to explain
it: but have it he must; and it is a power really not dissimilar, though
apparently most different, from the scientific Imagination. It is, in
both cases, a power of recognizing Order and Unity. The test also of the
artistic, is (roughly speaking) the same as that of the scientific
Imagination. Those ideas are right which “work.” Does a scientific idea
open, like a key, the secrets of Nature? Then it “works,” and is, so
far, right. So in art: to imagine rightly is to imagine powerfully so as
to sway the minds of men. Those artistic imaginations are wrong which
fail to fit the wards of the complicated human lock and to stir the
inmost thoughts. There are obvious objections to this definition of what
is artistically right; what stirs the Athenian may not stir the
Esquimaux. But, roughly speaking, we may say that the test has held
good. What has stirred the Athenian has stirred the great civilising
races of the world. There may be a better and a higher test hereafter;
but, for the present at all events, prolonged experience of its
“working” is the test of artistic Imagination.

But the Imagination plays, perhaps, its most important part in our
conceptions of human emotions and human character. These things cannot
be exactly defined, like triangles or circles; nor can they or their
results be predicted like the results of chemical action or the
instinctive motions of irrational animals. Yet the Imagination helps us,
after a sympathetic contemplation of what a friend _has_ done and said
and wished, to complete the picture by taking as it were a bird’s-eye
view of his past, present and future, so as to be able in some measure
to realize and predict what he _will_ do and say and wish. This mental
“imagination,” “image,” or “idea” of our friend we might describe as the
“law” of his being, so far as it was grasped by us: but so much more
subtle and variable than any known “law” are the sequences of human
thought and conduct, that we generally prefer the phrase which we just
now used to describe the intuition of the artist; and so we speak of
“entering into the spirit” of a man. It is usual to say that we do this
by “sympathy;” but sympathy is only one form of Imagination tinged with
love, the power of imagining the joys and sorrows of others and of
realizing them as one’s own. Imagination, without love, might realize
the sorrows of an enemy to gloat over them: love, if it could be without
Imagination—which it cannot be, since love implies at least some
imagination of what the beloved would wish—would be a poor lifeless
sentiment doing nothing, or nothing to the purpose. But imaginative
love, or sympathy, gives us the key to the knowledge of all human
nature, and is the foundation of all domestic and social unity and

As to the test of Imagination when brought to bear upon human nature,
you will remember, I dare say, that it was determined to be the success
with which it “worked” human nature, or, in other words, made men do
“what they are intended to do.” But I was then speaking of the way in
which the great prophets, lawgivers, and founders of religions have
influenced great masses of mankind, and in which almost every mother
influences her children, by idealizing them. I might have added, and I
will now add, a word on the manner in which an imaginary ideal of human
nature proves its truth experimentally to the imaginer, by “working”
_him_, that is, by making _him_ capable of doing “the work he was
intended to do.” It is the more necessary to do this because the
illusions of Imagination are nowhere so strong and so lasting as in the
study of human Nature; and there is a danger that we may be deterred by
the thought of them from steadily pursuing the truth. The cynic tells us
with a sneer that babies, and none but babies, think men and women
better than they are, and that, the older one grows, the more one is
disillusionised about the virtue of human nature. But that is not true,
or only a half truth. If we, as children, imagine the men and women
about us to be perfections of power, wisdom, and virtue, one reason is,
that we have, as children, a most inadequate standard of physical,
mental, and moral excellence. As our standard rises, our sense of
inadequacy increases; but the reason why, as we grow older, we cease to
think people perfect, is, very often, not that we think worse of human
beings, but that we think better of human possibilities.

But in some minds defect of Imagination combines with other causes to
induce the repeatedly disillusionised man to give up the search after
the truth that lies beneath the illusion and to cast away all trust, all
thought, of any ideal of humanity. Those who do this make shipwreck of
their own lives. Their low ideal or no-ideal of conduct does not “work;”
that is to say, it does not fit them to do the work they were intended
to do. Even for the purposes of their own happiness their life is a
failure. So far as the spiritual side of their nature is concerned, a
dull and stagnant self-satisfaction is the highest prize they can hope
to acquire: they have none of the keen joys of spiritual aspiration, of
failures redeemed, of gradual progress, and of deeper insight into the
glorious possibilities of human nature. But those who, while not
rejecting the sobering admonitions of Experience and Reason, can
nevertheless so far obey the promptings of Imagination as to retain in
their hearts an ever fresh and expansive and healthful Ideal of life,
find themselves led on by it from hope to nobler hope, from effort to
more arduous effort, until life and effort end together.

Let this suffice as my protest against the popular fallacy that the
Imagination is an abnormal faculty, limited to poets and painters and
“artists,” mostly illusive, and always to be subordinated in the search
after truth. I maintain, on the contrary, that it lies at the basis of
all knowledge; that it is no less necessary for science, for morals, and
for religion, than for artistic success; and that the illusions of
Imagination are the stepping-stones to Truths.

Now to speak of Reason, or, as some would call it, Understanding. While
dealing with Imagination, we recognized that the work of Reason is
mostly negative and corrective: but let us come to detail. Reason is
commonly said to proceed by two methods; (i) by Induction, wherein, by
“inducing,” or introducing, a number of particular instances (_e.g._ “A,
B, C, &c., are men and are mortal”), you establish a general conclusion
(“all men are mortal”); (ii) by Deduction, wherein, from two previous
statements called Premises, you deduce a third, called a Conclusion.

(i) As regards Induction, surely you must admit that the initial part of
the task falls not upon the Reason but upon the Imagination; which sees
likenesses and leaps to general conclusions, mostly premature or false,
but all containing a truth from which the falsehood must be eliminated.
Thus, a child imagines, by premature Induction, that all men are (1)
like his father; (2) black haired; (3) between five and six feet high;
(4) white-skinned, and so on. Then comes Reason afterwards, comparing
and contrasting these imaginative premature conclusions with a wider and
contradictory experience and widening the conclusion accordingly. Hence
it is the part of Reason to suggest those varied experiments which are a
necessary part of scientific Induction; and this is generally done by
pointing out to us some neglected difference: “You say you had a Turkish
bath three times, and each time caught a cold: but were the antecedents
of these three colds quite alike? If not, how did they differ? Did you
not on the first occasion sit in a draught at a public meeting? on the
second, forget to put on your great coat? on the third, let the fire out
though it was freezing? Consider therefore, not the single point of
likeness, the Turkish bath, but the points of _unlikeness_ also, in the
antecedents of your three colds; and try the Turkish bath again,
omitting these antecedents, before you say ‘A Turkish bath always gives
me cold.’”

You see then that in Induction the positive and suggestive part of the
work is done by the Imagination; the negative and eliminative part by

(ii) As regards Deduction, the business of Reason is to ascertain that
the Premises are not only true but also connected in such a way that a
conclusion can be drawn from them. But even here Imagination plays a
part: for the conclusion of every syllogism (roughly speaking) depends
upon the following axiom: “If _a_ is included in _b_, and _b_ is
included in _c_, then _a_ is included in _c_; in other words, if a watch
is in a box, and the box is in a room, then the watch is in the room.”
Now this general proposition, like all general propositions, is arrived
at with the aid of the Imagination, so that we may fairly say that the
Imagination, helps to lay the foundation of the Syllogism. When
therefore you bear in mind that in every Syllogism the Premises are
often the result of an Induction in which Imagination has played a part,
and that the conclusion always depends upon an axiom of the Imagination,
you must admit that even Deductive Reasoning by no means excludes the

(iii) Practically, errors seldom arise, and truth is seldom discovered,
from mere Deductive Reasoning. Any one can see his way through a logical
Syllogism, and almost any one can lay his finger on the weak point in an
illogical one. But the difficulty is to start the Reasoning in the right
direction and to begin the Logical Chain with an appropriate Syllogism.

For example, suppose we wish to prove that “every triangle which has two
angles equal, has two sides opposite to them equal”: how can our Reason,
our discriminative faculty, help us here? At present, not at all. We
must first call to our aid the Imagination, which says to us, “_Imagine_
the triangle with two equal angles to have two unequal sides opposite to
them, and see what follows.” And every one who has done a geometrical
Deduction knows that we frequently start by “imagining” the conclusion
to be already proved, or the problem to be already performed, and then
endeavouring to realise, among the many consequences that would follow,
which of those consequences would harmonize with, or be identical with,
the data to which we are working back.

The same process is common in the reasoning that deals with what is
called Circumstantial Evidence. Thus, it is asserted by A that he saw B
commit a murder in the midst of a field, five minutes before midnight,
on the first day of last month: how can we test the truth of A’s
assertion? The negative faculty of Reason cannot answer the question.
But once more Imagination steps in and says, “_Imagine_ the story to be
true; _imagine_ yourself to be in A’s place; _imagine_ the circumstances
which would have surrounded him, the hidden place from which he saw the
murder, the light which enabled him to see it, the precise sight that he
saw, the voices or sounds that he heard, and, in a word, all the details
of a _likely_ and coherent narrative.” When the Imagination has done
this and “imagined” the place—perhaps a hedge—the light—moonlight, and
so on, Reason steps in, and corroborates or rejects, by shewing that
there was, or was not, a hedge whence the deed could have been
witnessed; that there was a full moon or no moon on the night in
question; that, if there had been a moon, the place in question was open
to the moonlight, or in deep shadow: and thus Imagination and Reason
(aided by experience of the place and knowledge of the time) arrive at a
conclusion, the former making a positive, the latter a negative
contribution. Hence it appears that even in those questions which are
called pre-eminently “practical”—for what can be more “practical” than a
trial in a law-court for life or death?—the Imagination plays so great a
part that without its aid the reason could effect little or nothing.

Here I must break off; but I hope I have said enough to satisfy you that
the imaginative faculty, though it needs the constant test of Reason and
Experience, is far more intimately connected with what we call
knowledge, than is commonly supposed. But if this be so, we ought not (I
think) to be surprised if a careful analysis of our profoundest
religious convictions should reveal that for these also we are indebted,
and intended by God to be indebted, to the Imagination far more than to
the Reason.

Footnote 3:

  “Reason” is used, in these letters, in a sense for which Coleridge (I
  believe) preferred to use “Understanding.” But as long as we have a
  verb “reason,” commonly used of mathematical, logical, and ordinary
  processes of arguing, so long it will be inexpedient, in a popular
  treatise, to use the word in any but its popular sense. Perhaps some
  might give the name of “higher Reason” to what I call Imagination.

                          THE CULTURE OF FAITH


I have been very much pained by your sprightly account of the lively and
witty conversation between you and your clever young friends, —— and ——,
on the proofs of the existence of a God. Bear with me if I assure you
that discussions in that spirit are likely to be fatal to real faith.
They may often be far more dangerous than a serious collision between
untrained faith and the most highly educated scepticism. I do not
deprecate discussion, but I do most earnestly plead for reverence.

Young men at the Universities stand in especial need of this warning
because their studies lead them to be critical; and habits of criticism
may easily weaken the habit of reverence. I remember once being shewn
over a great public school by the Headmaster, justly celebrated as a
Headmaster once, and much more celebrated since in another capacity. It
was a grand school, though a little too ecclesiastical to suit my taste.
While we were in the chapel my friend spoke earnestly of the pleasure it
gave him on Sundays to see in the chapel the familiar faces of the old
boys who came to revisit the old place. At the same time he deplored the
contrast between those who went into the army, and those who went to the
Universities: “The army fellows,” he said, “almost always come to
Communion, the university fellows almost always stop away.” These words
made an indelible impression on my mind, “Who is to blame, or praise,
for this?” asked I, on my journey homeward. “Is it the army that is to
be praised for its inculcation of discipline and self-subordination,
helping the young fellows to realise the meaning of self-sacrifice? Or
is it the University that is to be blamed for its negative and
destructive teaching? Or can it be that the school is in part to blame
for teaching the boys to believe too much; and the University in part to
blame for teaching the young men to criticize too much?”

Over and over again, since that time, I have asked myself these same
questions about many other young men from many other public schools. I
honour the army as much as most men, more perhaps than many do: but
after all the profession of a soldier is the profession of a
throat-cutter; throat-cutting in an extensive, expeditious, and
honourable way,—throat-cutting in one direction often undertaken merely
to prevent throat-cutting in another direction—but still throat-cutting
after all: and it seemed very hard to believe that the profession of
throat-cutting is, and ought to be, a better preparation than the
pursuit of learning at the Universities, for participation in the Holy
Communion. On the whole I was led to the conclusion that the young men
in the army had retained and deepened the instinctive obedience to
authority, the sense of the need of the subordination of the individual
to the community, and perhaps also the feeling of reverence, while they
had not been taught so fully to appreciate all that was implied in
attendance at Communion or to realize the intellectual difficulties
presented by the New Testament. In other words—to put it briefly and
roughly—the young cadets and officers came to Communion because they had
been taught to feel and not taught to think; and the University men
stayed away because they had been taught to think and not to feel. Now I
will ask you to excuse me if I suggest that the principal danger to your
character at present arises from the want of such discipline as may be
obtained by some in the army, and by others in the practical work of
life. You need some emotional and moral exercise to counterbalance your
mental and intellectual training. You are not aware how much of the most
valuable knowledge, conviction, certainty—call it what you will, but I
mean that kind of moral and spiritual knowledge which is the basis of
all right conduct—springs in the main from spiritual and emotional

In the present letter I should like to confine myself to this subject,
the culture, if I may so say, of Christian faith. Let me then ask you
first to clear your mind by asking yourself what is the essence of the
faith which you would desire to retain. It is (is it not?) a faith or
trust in the fatherhood of God. This surely is the Gospel or Good News
for which Christ lived and died, in order that He might breathe it into
the hearts of men. “Fatherhood”—some of your young friends will
exclaim—“What an antiquated notion! Flat anthropomorphism!” By
“anthropomorphism” they mean a tendency to make God in human shape; just
as Heine’s four-legged poetic Bruin makes God to be a great white Polar
Bear, and the frogs of Celsus imagine Him to be a gigantic Frog. No
doubt, this is very funny; but the decryers of anthropomorphism who
venture on any conception of a God—are they any less funny? Do not they
shew a similar disposition to make God in the shape of human works or
human experiences? Shall I be exploring a nobler path of spiritual
speculation if I say God is a Rock or a Buckler, or a Centre, or a
Force, than if I say God is a Father in heaven? Ask your sceptical
companions what conception of God they can mention which is not open to
objection, and they will perhaps reply “An Eternal, or a Tendency, not
ourselves, which makes for righteousness.” Now to reply “an Eternal,”
appears to me to be taking a rather mean and pedantical advantage of the
uninflected peculiarities of English (and Hebrew), which leave it an
open question whether you mean your “Eternal” to be masculine, or
neuter. And “Tendency”—what is it? Is it not a “stretching,” or
“pulling,” or partially neutralised force—a common human experience? Now
we are dealing with the accusation of limiting our conception of God to
our experiences as men. And, so far as this charge is concerned, what is
the difference between calling God a “Tendency,” or a “Rock,” or a
“Shield,” or a “House of Defence,” as the old Psalmist does? Are not all
these names mere metaphors derived from human experience? In the same
way to call God a Father is (no doubt) a metaphor: but is it more a
metaphor than to call Him a Tendency?

Some metaphors, which describe God by reference to the relations of man
to man, may be called anthropomorphic; others, which describe Him by
reference to implements (such as a Shield) may be called organomorphic;
others, which assimilate Him to lifeless and inorganic objects (such as
a Hill) may be called by some other grand name, such as apsychomorphic;
others, which would subtilize Him down to a thought, or a mind, or a
spirit, may be called phronesimorphic, noumorphic, pneumatomorphic; but
in the name of common sense—or in the name of that sense which ought to
be common, and which ought to revolt against bondage to mere words—what
is there in that termination “morphic” which should stagger a seeker
after divine truth? Do we not all recognize that all terms applied to
the supreme God are “morphisms” of various kinds? And the question is
not how we can avoid a “morphism”—for we cannot avoid it—but how or
where we can find the noblest and most spiritually helpful “morphism.”
And as between the ancient and the modern metaphors just set before you
can you entertain a moment’s doubt? Might we not imagine the question
put—after the old Roman authoritative fashion—to an assembly of the
consciences of universal mankind: “Christ says that God is a Father in
heaven; refined thinkers say that He is a Tendency; _utri creditis,
gentes_?” To which I seem to hear the answer of the Universe come back,
“We will have no Tendencies seated on the throne of Heaven. Give us a
Father, or we will have nothing.” And you, my dear friend, how is it
with you? _Utri credis_?

But perhaps you complain, or some of your friends might complain, that
this is not treating the question fairly. “The doctrine of the
Fatherhood of God,” they may say, “is to be discussed like any other
proposition, upon the evidence.” I entirely deny it, if from your
“evidence” you intend to exclude the witness of Imagination expressed in
Faith and Hope. I assert, on the contrary, that it is to be believed in,
against what may be called quasi-evidence. It cannot be demonstrated to
be either true or false. Do not misunderstand me. There is abundant
evidence of a certain kind—as I will hereafter shew—for the Fatherhood
of God; but there is also evidence against it: and what I mean is, that
the mind is not to sit impartially and coldly neutral between the two
testimonies, but is to grasp the former and hold it fast and keep it
constantly in view, while it lays less stress on and (after a time) puts
on one side the latter. I have shewn you that many of our deepest and
most vital convictions are based less upon Reason than upon Imagination.
Why then should we be surprised if the most profound convictions of all,
our religious certainties, rest upon that imaginative desire to which we
have given the name of Faith?[4] If an archangel (robed in light) were
to step down to me this moment and were to cry aloud, “Verily there is
no God,” I should reply, or ought to reply, “Verily thou art a devil.”
If the same archangel were to come in the same way and to say “Verily
there is a God,” I should reply, “I felt sure there was; and now I am
more sure than ever.” How unfair, how illogical, if our belief is to be
a matter of mere evidence! But it is not to be a matter of mere
evidence. It is to be a struggle against an evil thought—shall I not say
an evil being?—that is perpetually attempting to slander God to men by
representing Him as permitting or originating evil.

Does this startle you—this suggestion of an evil being—as being too
old-fashioned for an educated Christian? Well then, put it aside for the
time (though it is indeed Christ’s doctrine): and merely assume as a
temporary hypothesis that the essence of Christ’s Gospel is a trust in
the Fatherhood of God. Now, if this be so, and if this trust or faith is
to be kept pure and strong, must it not be regarded with reverence and
reserve as being (what indeed it is) a kind of private, domestic, and
family relation? Is it to be made the subject for light, casual,
frivolous discussions; epigrammatic displays; cut-and-thrust exhibitions
of word-fence; logical or rhetorical symposia? What would you say of a
young man who should allow his relations with his father and mother to
be discussed with humour and epigram on every light occasion? Would he
be likely long to retain the bloom of domestic affection unimpaired? I
remember reading about some well-educated and enlightened free-thinker—I
fancy it was Bolingbroke—on whose table a Greek Testament was regularly
placed by the side of the port when the cloth was drawn, and whose
favourite topic for discussion after dinner was the existence and
attributes of the Deity. Does not your instinct teach you that from such
discussions as these no good could possibly come, nothing but a
hardening of the conscience, a fatal familiarity with sacred things
regarded with a view to witticism—that kind of familiarity which too
surely breeds contempt? What a terrible contrast it is—complacent
Bolingbroke at his wine, analysing the attributes of God, and the
all-pitying Father looking down from heaven and pleading, through
Christ, not to be analysed but to be loved and trusted!

May we not go a step further and say that Christian Faith or trust—if it
be once recognized as faith or trust, altogether distinct from the kind
of assent which we give to a proposition of Euclid—needs not only to be
protected from certain evil influences but also to be subjected to
certain good influences? It is a kind of plant, and requires its
spiritual soil, air, rain and sunshine; in other words it needs good
thoughts, noble aspirations, and unselfish acts, to keep it alive. You
may retort perhaps that Faith itself ought to produce these results, and
not to be produced by them. But I reply that, though Faith does tend to
produce these results, it is strengthened by producing them; and it is
weakened and finally extinguished by not producing them. “Our faith” has
been described as “the victory that hath overcome the world.” What is
there in the world that it should need to be “overcome”? I suppose the
writer meant that this present, visible, tangible, enjoyable system of
things—which was meant by the Supreme to be a kind of glass through
which we might discern something of the greatness and order of the Maker
has been converted, partly by our selfishness, partly by some Evil in
the world outside us, into a mirror shutting out all glimpse of God and
giving us back nothing but the reflection of ourselves. On the other
hand, there is a different way of regarding the world when, our eyes
being opened like the eyes of Aeneas amid burning Troy, we discern in
the midst of this present condition of things a great conflict between
Good and Evil, and on the side of goodness, we see the forms of
Righteousness, Justice and Truth, supported by Faith, Hope, and Charity;
amid the smoke and roar of battles and revolutions, the destructions of
nations, and the downfall of empires and of churches, we realise that
these are abiding influences; that either in this world, or in some
other, these things shall ultimately prevail, because these are the
Angels that stand about the throne of the Ruler of the Universe. This
state of mind is Faith, and it is to be nurtured by effort, partly in
action, partly in thought. Bacon bids us nurture it by “cherishing the
good hours of the mind.” St. Paul says nearly the same thing in
different words: “Whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things
are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if
there be any praise, _think on these things_.”

Are you surprised at this? Does faith seem to you, on these terms, a
possession of little worth—this quicksilver quality which varies with
every variation of our spiritual atmosphere? Why surely everything that
lives and grows is liable to flux. You do not disparage bodily health
because it is dependent on supports and influences, and liable to
changes; why then disparage spiritual health because it is similarly
dependent? No doubt one would not be willingly a religious
valetudinarian; a man’s spiritual constitution ought not to be at the
mercy of every slight and passing breeze of circumstance; but at present
there is little danger of spiritual valetudinarianism. Physical
“sanitation” is on every one’s tongue; but no one thinks of the
necessity of good spiritual air and of the evils of bad spiritual
drainage. We do not recognize that there are laws of our spiritual as
well as of our material nature. We wilfully narrow our lives to the
sabbathless pursuit of gain or pleasure—self everywhere, God nowhere—and
then go about hypocritically whining that the age of faith has passed
and that we have lost the power of believing. With our own hands we put
the stopper on the telescope and then complain that we cannot see!

Do not however, suppose that I call upon you, because hope is the basis
of Christian belief, on that account to hope against the truth and to
believe against reason. I bid you believe in the Fatherhood of God,
first because your conscience tells you that this is the best and
noblest belief, but secondly also because this belief—although it may be
against the superficial evidence of the phenomena of the Universe—is in
accordance with these phenomena when you regard them more deeply and
when you include in your scope the history of Christianity.

I admit that we have to fight against temptations in order to retain
this belief; and sometimes I ask myself, “If I and my children had been
slaves in one of the Southern States of America; or if I and my family
had suffered such indelible outrages as were recently inflicted by the
Turks upon the Bulgarians; or if I were at this moment a matchbox-seller
or a father of ten children (girls as well as boys) in the East of
London—should I find it so easy to believe that God is our Father in
heaven?” And I am obliged to reply, “No, I should not find it easy;” I
fear that I might be tempted to say, as a workman did not long ago to a
lecturer on co-operation who mentioned the name of God: “Oh, no; no God
for us; the workman’s God deserted him long ago.” And perhaps you
yourself may remember the answer of one of those wretched Bulgarians to
some newspaper correspondent who endeavoured to console him in his
anguish by the reflection that “After all there is a God that governs
the world:” “I believe you,” was the reply; “there is indeed a God; and
he governs the world indeed; and he is the Devil.” Or take a spectacle
of the Middle Ages as a problem. In the lists are two armed knights; on
the one side a man of might and muscle, exulting in conflict; on the
other, a slight, weak creature, who never fights save on compulsion, and
is to fight now on sternest compulsion, being accused (though innocent)
of some gross crime by yonder man of flesh, who combines scoundrel,
liar, traitor, oppressor, thief, and adulterer, all in one; and the
fight is to begin under the sanction of the Church of Christ. As the
trumpets sound, while the heralds are still calling on God to “shew the
right,” the two men meet, and “the right” is cast to the ground,
trampled on by his enemy, and dragged from the lists to the neighbouring
gallows, while the muscular scoundrel wipes his forehead and receives
congratulations. Do you suppose that the innocent man’s wife, if she
were looking on, would be able easily to say at that moment, “Verily
there is a God that judgeth the earth”?

Can I possibly put the case for scepticism more strongly? I would fain
put it with all the force in my power in order to convince you that I
have thought often over these matters, and that, although my own life
may have been happy and free from stumbling-blocks, I have at least
tried to understand and sympathize with those who find it very hard to
believe that there is a God. But, in the presence of such monstrous
evils as these, I take refuge in a belief and in a fact; first, in the
belief (which runs through almost every page of the Gospels and has
received the sanction of Christ Himself) that there is an Evil Being in
the world who is continually opposing the Good but will be ultimately
subdued by the Good; secondly, in the fact that in one great typical
conflict between Good and Evil,—where apparently God did not “shew the
right,” and where, in appearance, there was consummated the most brutal
triumph of Evil over Good that the world ever witnessed—there the Good
in reality effected its most signal triumph. The issue of the conflict
on the Cross of Christ is my great comfort and mainstay of faith, when
my heart is distracted with the thought of all the spurns, buffets, and
outrages, endured by much-suffering humanity. “At last, far off,” I cry,
“the right will be shewn, even as it was in the contest on the Cross.”

You see then the nature of the conflict of faith. It is a struggle of
hope against fear, trustfulness against trustlessness, where strict
logical proof is impossible. But I do not call you to set Faith against
Reason, or to make hope trample on the understanding, or to shut your
eyes to the presence or absence of historical evidence. If religion
comes down from the region of hope and aspiration into the region of
fact and evidence, and asserts that this or that fact happened at this
or that time and place, then, so far, it appeals to evidence, and by
evidence it must be judged.

Half the earnest scepticism of the present day is not really spiritual
scepticism but simply doubt about historical facts. Distinguish
carefully and constantly between two terms entirely different but
continually confused—the _super-natural_ and the _miraculous_.

In the super-natural every rational man must believe, if he knows what
is meant by the term; for every rational man must acknowledge that the
world had either a beginning or no beginning, a First Cause or no First
Cause; and either hypothesis is altogether above the level of natural
phenomena, and therefore supernatural. The theist and the atheist are
alike believers in the supernatural. The agnostic, poised between the
two, admits that some supernatural origin of the world is necessary, but
is unable to decide which of the two is the more probable. All alike
therefore believe in the supernatural; but the important difference is
that some take a hopeful or faithful, others a hopeless or faithless,
view of the supernatural. Proof in this region is not possible, unless
the testimony of the conscience may be accepted as proof. If Jesus were
to appear to-morrow sitting on the clouds of heaven and testifying that
there is a Father in heaven, I can imagine some men of science replying,
“This is a mere phantom of the brain,” or, “This is the result of
indigestion,” or “Assertion is not proof.” Mere force of logical proof
or personal observation can convince no one that there is a God or that
Jesus is the Eternal Son of God; such a conviction can only come from a
leaping out of the human spirit to meet the Spirit of God; and hence St.
Paul tells us that “no man can say”—that is, “say sincerely”—“that Jesus
is the Lord _save by the Spirit_.” Here therefore, in this region of the
indemonstrable, I can honestly use an effort of the will to ally myself
with the spirit of faith. “I will pray to God; I will cling to God; will
refuse to doubt of God; refuse to listen to doubts about God (except so
far as may be needful to do it, in order to lighten the doubts of
others, and then only as a painful duty, to be got through with all
speed); I am determined (so help me God) to believe in God to the end of
my days:” resolving thus I am not acting insincerely nor shutting my
eyes to the truth, but taking nature’s appointed means for reaching and
holding fast the highest spiritual truth.

But I do not feel justified in thus using my will to constrain myself to
believe in the miraculous; for here God has given me other means—such as
history, experience, and evidence—for arriving at the truth. Nor does a
belief in the super-natural in the least imply a belief in the
miraculous also. I may believe that God is continually supporting and
impelling on its path every created thing; but I may also believe that
there is no evidence to prove that His support and impulsion have ever
been manifested save in accordance with that orderly sequence which we
call Law. I may even believe that the Universe is double, having a
spiritual and invisible counterpart corresponding to this visible and
material existence, so that nothing is done in the world of flesh below
which has not been first done in the world of spirit above; yet even
this latitude of spiritual speculation would not in the least establish
the conclusion that the observed sequence of what we call cause and
effect in the material world has ever been violated. To take a
particular instance, I may be convinced, that Jesus of Nazareth was the
Eternal Word of God, made flesh for men; and yet I may remain
unconvinced that, in thus taking flesh upon Him, He raised Himself above
the physical laws of humanity. In other words I may, with the author of
the Fourth Gospel, heartily believe in the supernatural Incarnation
while omitting from my Gospel all mention of the Miraculous Conception.
Nay, I may go still further. While cordially accepting the divine nature
of Christ, I may see such clear indications and evidences of the manner
in which accounts of miracles sprang up in the Church without foundation
of fact, that I may be compelled not merely to omit miracles from my
Gospel and to confess myself unconvinced of their truth, but even to
avow my conviction of their untruth. But into this negative aspect of
things I do not wish now to enter. I would rather urge on you this
positive consideration, that, since our recognition of the Laws of
Nature themselves, depends in a very large degree upon faith, we ought
not to be surprised if our acknowledgment of the Founder of these Laws
rests also on the same basis. And, if this be so, we cannot speak
accurately about the “evidence” for the existence of a God, unless we
include in that term the aspirations of the human conscience toward a
Maker and Ruler and Father of all.

Footnote 4:

  Faith is “desire (approved by the Conscience) of which we imagine the
  fulfilment, while putting doubt at a distance”: see the _Definitions_
  at the end of the volume.

                        FAITH AND DEMONSTRATION


I am afraid your notions about “proof” are still rather hazy; for you
quote against me a stern and self-denying dictum which passes current
among some of your young friends, that “it is immoral to believe what
cannot be proved.”

Have you seriously asked yourself what you mean by “proved” in
enunciating this proposition? Do you mean “made sufficiently probable to
induce a man to act upon the probability”? Or do you mean “absolutely

If you mean the former, not so many as you suppose are guilty of this
“immorality.” Give me an instance, if you can, of a man who “believes
what cannot be made sufficiently probable to induce him to act upon the
probability.” Of course some men _say_ they believe what they, in
reality, do not believe; but you speak, not about “saying” but about
“believing;” and I do not see how any man can “believe” what he does not
regard as probable. I am inclined to think therefore that, in this sense
of the word “prove,” your proposition is meaningless.

But perhaps by “prove,” you mean “absolutely demonstrate;” and your
thesis is that “it is immoral to believe what cannot be absolutely
demonstrated;” in that case I am obliged to ask you how you can repeat
such cant, such a mere parrot cry, with a grave face.

Do you not see that, as soon as you conceded (as I understand you to
have done) that our belief in the Laws of Nature is based upon the
Imagination, you virtually conceded the validity of a kind of proof in
which faith and hope play a large part, and in which demonstration is
impossible. “Demonstration” applies to mathematics and to syllogisms
where the premises are granted, though it is also sometimes loosely used
of proof conveyed by personal observation; “proof” applies to the other
affairs of life. Demonstration appeals very largely (not entirely, as I
have shown above, but very largely) to Reason; proof is largely based on
Faith. Having defined “angles,” “triangles,” “base,” and “isosceles,”
and having been granted certain axioms and postulates, I can demonstrate
that the angles at the basis of an isosceles triangle are equal to one
another; but I cannot “demonstrate” that, if I throw a stone in the air,
it will come down again, though I am perfectly convinced that it will
come down, and though I commonly assert that I can “prove” that it will
come down.

Why, your whole life is full of beliefs—as certain as any beliefs can
be—which it is impossible to demonstrate! When you got up this morning
did you not believe that your razor would shave and your looking-glass
reflect; that your boiling water would scald if you spilt it, and your
egg break if you dropped it; and a score or two of other similar
perfectly certain beliefs—all entertained and acted on in less than an
hour, but all incapable of demonstration? But you maintain perhaps that
“these beliefs are not beliefs, but knowledge based on the uniformity of
the laws of nature; you know that the laws of nature are uniform, and
therefore you knew that your razor would shave.” But how, I ask, do you
know that the laws of nature are uniform? “By the experience of mankind
during many thousands of years.” But how do you know that what has been
in the past will be in the future—will be in the next instant? “Well, if
a law of nature were broken—say, for example, the law of gravitation—the
whole Universe would fall to pieces.” In other words, you and I would
feel extremely uncomfortable, if we existed long enough to feel
anything; but what does that demonstrate? Absolutely nothing. It would
no doubt be extremely inconvenient for both of us if any law of nature
observed in the past did not continue to be observed in the future; but
inconvenience proves nothing logically. It is no doubt extremely
inconvenient not to be able to believe that your razor will shave; but
what of that? Where is the demonstration? And remember your own
_dictum_, “It is immoral to believe what cannot be demonstrated.”

Perhaps you may try to writhe out of this application of your own
principle by the use of grand terms; “The Laws of Nature have been
proved to be true by experiment as well as by observation; they have
been made the basis for abstruse calculations and inferences as to what
will happen; then the philosopher has predicted ‘this will happen,’ and
it has happened. Surely no one will deny that this is a proof!” A proof
of what? Of the future invariableness of the sequences of Nature? I
shall not only deny, but enjoy denying, that it is a proof; if you mean
by proof such a demonstrative proof as you obtain in a syllogism, where
the premises are assumed, or in mathematics, where you are reasoning
about things that have no real existence but are merely convenient ideas
of the imagination. Believe me, this distinction of terms is by no means
superfluous. You and your young scientific friends are continually
confusing “proof” with “demonstration;” and you have one use of the word
“proof” for religion and another for science. When you speak of
religion, you say “it is immoral to believe in it for it cannot be
_proved_” (meaning “demonstrated”); when you speak of science, you say,
“This can be _proved_” (not meaning “demonstrated,” but simply “made
probable,” or “proved for practical purposes”).

You may discourse for hours upon the Laws of Nature, but you will never
succeed in convincing any one, not even yourself, that they will remain
valid in the moment that is to come, by the mere force of logic. You are
certain—so am I practically quite certain—that the stone which I throw
at this moment up in the air, will, in the next moment, fall to the
ground. But this certainty does not arise from logic. We have absolutely
no reason for this leap into the darkness of the future except
faith,—faith of course resting upon a basis of facts, but still faith.
The very names and notions of “cause” and “effect” are due not to
observation, nor to demonstration, but to faith. The name, and the
notion, of a Law of Nature are nothing but convenient ideas of the
scientific imagination, based upon faith. Take an instance. We say, and
genuinely believe, that fire and gunpowder “cause” explosion; that
explosion is the “effect” of gunpowder and fire; and that the effect
follows the causes in accordance with the “laws of nature;” but you have
not observed all this and you cannot demonstrate it. You have merely
observed in the past an invariable sequence of explosion following (in
all cases that you have seen or heard about) the combination of
gunpowder and fire; you have also perhaps predicted in the past that
explosion would follow, and demonstrated that it did follow this
combination, as often as you pleased; you have found, or have heard that
others have found, that this sequence agrees with other chemical
sequences, which you are in the habit of calling causes and effects; but
all this is evidence as to the past, not as to the future. Your
certainty as to the future arises not from any demonstration about the
future, but from your faith or trust in the fixed order of Nature, and
from nothing else. Now the greater part of the action of life deals with
the future. It follows therefore that, in the greater part of life, we
act, not from demonstration, but from a proof in which faith is a
constituent element.

Whence arises this trust in the uniformity of the phenomena of the
Universe? We can hardly give any other answer except that we could not
get on without it. Having been found to “work” by ourselves, and by many
generations of our forefathers, this faith is possibly by this time an
inherited instinct as well as the inbred result of our own earliest
experiences. But when we analyse it we are forced to confess that we can
give no logical account of it. Logically regarded, it savours of the
most audacious optimism, arguing, or rather sentimentalizing, after this
fashion: “It would be so immensely inconvenient if Nature were every
moment changing her rules without notice! All forethought, all
civilization would be at an end; nay, we could not so much as take a
single step or move a limb with confidence, if we could not depend upon
Nature!” Does not this personification of Nature, and trust or faith in
Nature, somewhat resemble our trust or faith in God? I think it does;
and it is very interesting to note that the very foundations of science
are laid in a quasi-religious sentiment of which no logical
justification can be given.

I might easily go further and shew that, even as regards the past, we
act in our daily lives very often on the grounds of faith and very
seldom on the grounds of demonstration. On this I have touched in a
previous letter; but your dictum about the “immorality of believing what
cannot be proved” makes it clear that you are hardly as yet aware of the
nature of the ordinary “proofs” on which we act. How few there are who
have any grounds but faith for believing in the existence of a Julius
Cæsar or an Alexander! Yet they believe implicitly. Many have heard
these two great men loosely spoken of, or alluded to; but they have
never weighed, nor have they the least power to weigh, the evidence that
proves that Cæsar and Alexander actually existed. Now as the unlearned
are quite certain of the existence of a Julius Cæsar, so are you too
quite certain of many facts upon very slight grounds. You ask one man
his name; another, how many children he has; a third, the name of the
street in which he lives, and so on; how certain you often feel, on the
slight evidence of their answers (unless there be special grounds for
suspecting them) that your information is correct! The reason is that
all social intercourse depends on faith; if you began to suspect and
disbelieve every man who gave you answers to such simple questions as
these, social life would be at an end for you, and you might as well at
once retire to a hermitage; scepticism in matters of this kind has not
worked, and faith has worked; and this has gone on with you from
childhood and with your forefathers from their childhood for many
generations. Thus faith has become a second instinct with you, and you
act upon it so often and so naturally that you are not aware of the
degree to which it influences and permeates your actions. The cases in
which you act thus instinctively upon very slight evidence, and upon a
large and general faith in the people who give the evidence, are far
more numerous than those cases in which you formally weigh evidence and
attempt to arrive at something like demonstrative proof. In other words,
not only as regards the future but also as regards the past, faith is
for the most part the underlying basis of action. You believe, to a
large extent and in a great many cases, simply because “it would be so
immensely inconvenient not to believe.”

I claim that I have fulfilled my promise of shewing that people act much
more upon faith than upon demonstration in every department of life; and
I now repeat and emphasize what I said before, that if all our existence
is thus dominated by faith, it is absurd to attempt to exclude faith
from any religion. But if our special religion consists in a recognition
of God the Maker as God the Father, then it is more natural than ever to
suppose that our religion will require a large element of faith or
trust. Just as family life would break down if the sons were always
analysing the father’s character, and declining to believe anything to
his credit beyond what could be demonstrated to be true, so religious
life will break down, if we treat the Father in heaven as a mere topic
for logical discussion and declare that it is “immoral to believe” in
His fatherhood if it cannot be proved.

Of course I do not deny that you must have evidence of the existence of
the Father before you can trust in Him. You could not trust your parents
if you had not seen, touched, heard them—known something of them in fact
through the senses: so neither can you trust God if you have not known
something of Him through the senses. Well, I maintain that is what you
are continually doing. God is continually revealing Himself to us in the
power, the beauty, the glory, the harmony, the beneficence, the mystery,
of the Universe, and pre-eminently in human goodness and greatness.
Contemplate, touch, hear; concentrate your mind on these things, and
especially on the perfection of human goodness, power, and wisdom: thus
you will be enabled to realize the presence of the Father and then to
trust in Him. Contemplate also the Evolution of the present from the
past: the ascent from a protoplasm to the first man, from the first man
to a Homer, a Dante, a Shakespeare and a Newton; do not entirely ignore
Socrates, St. Paul, St. Francis. You cannot indeed shut your eyes to the
growth of evil simultaneously with the growth of good: but do not fix
your eyes too long upon the evil: prefer to contemplate the defeat of
evil by goodness, especially in the struggle on the Cross; and with your
contemplation let there be some admixture of action against the evil and
for the good. Do this, and I think you will have no reason to complain
of the want of “evidence” of the existence of One who has made us to
trust in Him.

I have told you what to do: let me add one word also of warning as to
what you are not to do. You are not to regard the world from the point
of view of a neutral and amused spectator. You are not to detach
yourself from the great struggle of good against evil, and to look on,
and call it “interesting.” That attitude is fatal to all religion.
Reject, as from the devil, the precept _nil admirari_; better be a fool
than a dispassionate critic of Christ. Again, you are not to regard the
world from the mere student point of view, looking at the Universe as a
great Examination Paper in which you may hope to solve more problems and
score more marks than anybody else. High intellectual pursuits and
habits of enthusiastic research are sometimes terribly demoralizing when
they tempt a man to think that he can live above, and without, social
ties and affections, and that mere sentiment is to be despised in
comparison with knowledge. This danger impends over literary as well as
other students, over critical theologians as well as over scientific
experimenters; we all sometimes forget—we students—that, if we do not
exercise the habit of trusting and loving men, we cannot trust and love
God. To harden oneself against the mute but trustful appeal of even a
beast is not without some spiritual peril of incapacitating oneself for

                          SATAN AND EVOLUTION


Your grounds of objection appear to be now changed. You say you do not
understand my position with regard to Evolution, as I described it
before, and referred to it in my last letter. If I admit Evolution, you
ask how I can consistently deny that every nation and every individual,
Israel and Christ included, “proceeded from material causes by necessary
sequence according to fixed laws;” and in that case what becomes of such
metaphors as “the regulating hand of God,” “God the Ruler of the
Universe” and the like? It is a common saying, you tell me, among those
of your companions who have a turn for science, that “Evolution has
disposed of the old proofs of the existence of a God:” and you ask me
how I meet this objection.

I meet it by asking you another question exactly like your own. I take a
lump of clay and a potter’s wheel, and “from these material causes by
necessary sequence according to fixed laws” I mould a vessel; is there
no room in this process for “the regulating hand of man” and for “man
the creator of the vessel”? In other words, may not these “fixed laws,”
and that “necessity” of which you admit the existence, represent the
perpetual pressure of the Creator’s hand, or will, upon the Universe?

By Evolution is meant that all results are evolved from immediate
causes, which are evolved from distant causes, which are themselves
evolved from more distant causes; and so on. In old times, men believed
that God made the world by a number of isolated acts. Now, it is
believed that He made a primordial something, say atoms, out of which
there have been shaped series upon series of results by continuous
motion in accordance with fixed laws of nature. But neither the isolated
theory nor the continuous theory can dispense with a Creator in the
centre. We speak of the “chain of creation;” and we know that in old
days men recognized few links between us and the Creator. Now, we
recognize many. But, because a chain has more links than we once
supposed, are we excused for rejecting our old belief in the existence
of a chain-maker? Whether things came to be as they are, by many
creations, or by one creation and many evolutions, what difference does
it make? In the one case, we believe in a Creator and Sustainer: in the
other case, in a Creator and Evolver. In either case, do we not believe
in a God?

What then do your young friends mean—for though they express themselves
loosely, I think they do mean something and are not merely repeating a
cant phrase—when they say that Evolution has “disposed of the old proofs
of the existence of a God”? I think they mean that Evolution is
inconsistent with the existence of _such a God as the Christian religion
proclaims, that is to say, a Father in heaven_. The old theory of
discontinuous creation (in its most exaggerated form) maintained that
everything was created for a certain benevolent purpose—our hair to
shelter our heads from the weather, our eyebrows and eyelashes to keep
off the dust and the sun, our thumbs to give us that prehensile power
which largely differentiates us from apes; in a word, paternal despotism
was supposed to do everything for us with the best of intentions. The
new theory says there is no sufficient evidence of such paternal
benevolence. Our hair and our eyebrows and eyelashes and thumbs came to
us in quite a different fashion. Life, ever since life existed, has been
one vast scramble and conflict for the good things of this world: those
beings that were best fitted for scrambling and fighting destroyed those
that were unfit, and thus propagated the peculiarities of the conquerors
and destroyed the peculiarities of the conquered. Thus the
characteristics of body or brain best fitted for the purpose of life
were developed, and the unfit were destroyed. Although therefore a
purpose was achieved, it was not achieved as a purpose, but as a
consequence. There is no room, say the supporters of Evolution, in such
a theory as this for the hypothesis of an Almighty Father of mankind, or
even of a very intelligent Maker. What should we think of a British
workman who, in order to make one good brick, made a hundred bad ones,
or of a cattle-breeder whose plan was to breed a thousand inferior
beasts on inadequate pasture, in order ultimately to produce, out of
their struggles for food, and as a result of the elimination of the
unfittest, one pre-eminent pair?

When he expresses himself in this way, my sympathies go very far with
the man of science, if only he could remember that he is protesting, not
against Christ’s teaching about God, but against some other quite
different theory. Though God is called “Almighty” in the New Testament,
we must remember that it is always assumed that there is an opposing
Evil, an Adversary or Satan, who will ultimately be subdued but is
meantime working against the will of God. The origin of this Evil the
followers of Christ do not profess to understand but we believe that it
was not originated by God and that it is not obedient to Him. We cannot
therefore, strictly speaking, say that God is the Almighty ruler of “the
Universe _as it is_.” God is King _de jure_, but not at present _de
facto_ (metaphors again! but metaphors expressive of distinct
realities). His kingdom is “to come:” He will be hereafter recognized as
Almighty; He cannot be so recognized at present.

I know very well that I can give no logical or consistent account of
this mysterious resistance to the Supreme God. But I am led to recognize
it, first, by the facts of the visible world; secondly, by the plain
teaching of Christ Himself. Surely the authority of Christ must count
for something with Christians in their theorizing about the origin of
evil. Would not even an agnostic admit that as, in poetry, I should be
right in following the lead of a poet, so in matters of spiritual belief
(if I am to have any spiritual belief at all) I am right in deferring to
Christ? It is a marvel to me how some Christians who find the
recognition of miracles inextricably involved in the life and even in
the teaching of Christ, nevertheless fail to see, or at all events are
most unwilling to confess, that the recognition of an evil one, or
Satan, is an axiom that underlies all His doctrine. In the view of
Jesus, it is Satan that causes some forms of disease and insanity; Satan
is the author of temptation, the destroyer of the good seed, the sower
of tares, the “evil one”—so at least the text of the Revisers tells
us—from whom we must daily pray to be delivered. The same belief
pervades the writings of St. Paul. Yet if you preach nowadays this plain
teaching of our Lord, the heterodox shrug their shoulders and cry
“Antediluvian!” while the orthodox think to dispose of the whole matter
in a phrase, “Flat Manichæism!” But to the heterodox I might reply that
Stuart Mill (no very antiquated or credulous philosopher) deliberately
stated that it was more easy to believe in the existence of an Evil as
well as a Good, than in the existence of one good and all-powerful God;
and the orthodox must, upon reflection, admit that in this doctrine
about Satan Christ’s own teaching is faithfully followed.

Of course if any one replies, “Christ was under an illusion in believing
in the existence of Satan,” I have no means of logically confuting him.
But I think there must be many who would say, with me: “If I am to have
any theory in matters of this kind which are entirely beyond the sphere
of demonstration, I would sooner accept the testimony of Christ than the
speculations of all the philosophers that ever were or are. Christ was
possibly, or even probably, ignorant (in His humanity) of a great mass
of literary, historical, physiological, and other scientific facts
unknown to the rest of the Jews. But we cannot suppose Him to be
spiritually ignorant; least of all, so spiritually ignorant as to
attribute to the Adversary what ought to have been attributed to God the
Father in Heaven.”

It would be easy for you to shew that any theory of Satan is absurdly
illogical; nobody can be convinced of that more firmly than I am
already. Whether Satan was good at first and became evil without a
cause; or was good at first and became evil from a certain cause (which
presupposes another pre-existing Satan); or was evil from the beginning
and created by God; or evil from the beginning and not created by God—in
all or any of these hypotheses I see, as clearly as you see, insuperable
difficulties. If you cross-examine me, I shall avow at once a logical
collapse, after this fashion: “Were there then two First Causes?” I
believe not. “Did the Evil spring up after the Good?” I believe so. “Did
the first Good create the Evil?”[5] I believe not. “Did the Evil then
spring up without a cause?” I cannot tell. “Did the Good, when He
created the Goodness that issued in Evil, know that he, or it, contained
the germ of evil, and would soon become wholly evil?” I do not believe
this. “Whence then came the Evil, or the germ of the Evil?” I do not
know. “Are you not then confessing that you believe, where you know
nothing?” Yes, for if I knew, there would be no need to believe.

Here you have a sufficiently amusing exhibition of inconsistency and
ignorance; but this seems to me of infinitely little concern where I am
dealing not with matters that fall within the range of experience, but
with spiritual and supernatural things that belong to the realm of
faith, hope, and aspiration. I could just as easily turn inside out my
cross examiner if he undertook to give me a scientific theory on the
origin of the world. No doubt he might prefer having no theory about the
origin of the world, and might recommend me to imitate him by having no
theory about the origin of Evil, or about the nature of the Supreme
Good. But my answer would be as follows: “I have a certain work to do in
the world, and I cannot go on with my work without having some theories
on these subjects. Most men feel with me that they must have some answer
to these stupendous problems of existence. As the senses are intended to
be our guide in matters of experience, so our faculty of faith seems to
me intended to guide us in matters quite beyond experience.” There is
another answer which I hardly like to give because it seems brutal; but
I believe it to be true, and it is certainly capable of being expressed
in the evolutionary dialect so as to commend itself to the scientific
mind: “An agnostic nation will find itself sooner or later unsuited for
its environment, and will either come to believe in some solution of
these spiritual problems or stagnate and perish. And something of the
same result will follow from agnosticism in the family and in the

From this doctrine of Christ then I am not to be dislodged by any
philosophic analysis demonstrating that good and evil so run into one
another that it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other
begins. “Is all pain evil? Is it an evil that a sword’s point pains you?
Would it not be a greater evil that a sword should run you through
unawares because it did not pain you? Is not the pain of hunger a useful
monitor? Has not pain in a thousand cases its use as a preservative? Is
not what you call ‘sin’ very often misplaced energy? If a child is
restless and talkative and consequently disobedient, must you
consequently bring in Satan to account for the little one’s
peccadilloes? If a young man is over-sanguine, reckless, rash,
occasionally intemperate, must all these faults be laid upon the back of
an enemy of mankind? Is animal death from Satan, but vegetable death
from God? And is the death of a sponge a half and half contribution from
the joint Powers? And when I swallow an oyster, may I give thanks to
God? but when a tiger devours a deer, or an eagle tears a hare, or a
thrush swallows a worm, are they doing the work of the Adversary? Where
are you to begin to trace this permeating Satanic agency? Go back to the
primordial atom. Are we to say that the Devil impelled it in the selfish
tangential straight line, and that God attracts it with an unselfish
centripetal force, and that the result is the harmonious curve of
actuality? If you give yourself up to such a degrading dualism as this,
will you not be more often fearing Satan than loving God? Will you not
be attributing to Satan one moment, what the next moment will compel you
to attribute to God? Where will you draw the line?” To all this my
answer is very simple: “I shall draw the line where the spiritual
instinct within me draws it. Whatever I am forced to pronounce contrary
to God’s intention I shall call evil and attribute to Satan.” Herein I
may go wrong in details, and I may have to correct my judgments as I
grow in knowledge; but I am confident that, on the whole, I shall be
following the teaching of Christ. My spiritual convictions accord with
the teaching of that ancient allegory in the book of Genesis, which
tells us that Satan, not God, brought sin and death into the world.
There was a Fall somewhere, in heaven perhaps as well as on earth—“war
in heaven” of the Evil against the Good—a declension from the divine
ideal, a lapse by which the whole Universe became imperfect. It has been
the work of God, not to create death, but upon the basis of death to
erect a hope and faith in a higher life; not to create sin, but out of
sin, repentance, and forgiveness, to elicit a higher righteousness than
would have been possible (so we speak) if sin had never existed.
Similarly of disease, and pain, and the conflict in the animal world for
life and death: good has resulted from them; yet I cannot think of them,
I cannot even think of change and decay, as being, so to speak, “parts
of God’s _first intention_.” Stoics, and Christians who imitate Stoics,
may call these things “indifferent:” I cannot. And even if I could, what
of the ferocity, and cruelty, and exultation in destruction, which are
apparent in the animal world? “Death,” say the Stoics, “is the mere exit
from life.” Is it? I was once present at a theatre in Rouen where the
hero took a full quarter of an hour to die of poison, and the young
Normans who sat round me expressed their strenuous disapprobation:
“C’est trop long,” they murmured. I have made the same remonstrance in
my heart of hearts, ever since I was a boy and saw a cat play with a
mouse, and a patient stoat hunt down and catch at last a tired-out
rabbit: “It is too long,” “It is too cruel.” “Did God ordain this?”—I
asked: and I answered unhesitatingly “No.” These are but small phenomena
in Nature’s chamber of horrors: but for me they have always been, and
will always remain, horrible. I believe that God intends us to regard
them with horror and perhaps to see in them some faint reflection of the
wantonly destructive and torturing instinct in man.

Those are fine-sounding lines, those of Cleanthes:—

             οἰδέ τι γίγνεται ἔργον ἐπὶ χθονὶ σου δίχα, δαῖμον,
             πλὴν ὅποσα ῥέζουσι κακοὶ σφετέρῃσιν ἀνοίαις.[6]

I should like to agree with them; but I cannot. The picture of the cat
and the mouse appears—fertile in suggestions. “This at least,” I say,
“was not wrought by ‘evil men in their folly;’ and yet it did not come
direct from God.” Isaiah pleases me better with his prediction,
physiologically absurd, but spiritually most true: “The lion shall eat
straw like a bullock.” That is just the confession that I need: it comes
to me with all the force of a divine acknowledgment, as if God thereby
said: “Death and conflict must be for a time, but they shall not be for
ever: it was not my intention, it is not my will, that my creatures
should thrive by destroying each other.”

Applying this theory to Evolution, I believe that Satan, not God, was
the author of the wasteful and continuous conflict that has
characterized it; but that God has utilized this conflict for the
purposes of development and progress. This is what I had in my mind when
I said that Evolution diminished the difficulties in the way of
acknowledging the existence of a God. The problems of death,
destruction, waste, conflict and sin, are not new; they are as old as
Job, perhaps as old as the first-created man; but it is new to learn
that good has resulted from those evils. In so far as Evolution has
taught this, it has helped to strengthen, not to weaken, our faith. But
then, if we are to use this language, we must learn to think, not of
“Evolution by itself,” but of “Evolution with Satan.” “Evolution without
Satan” would appal us by the seeming wastefulness and ubiquity of
conflict and the indirectness of its benefits; but “Evolution with
Satan” enables us to realize God as our refuge and strength amid the
utmost storms and tempests of destruction.

If any one says that the belief in Satan is inexpedient, I am ready to
give him a patient hearing; but I find it difficult to listen patiently
to what people are pleased to call arguments against it. For example,
“Duty can exist only in a world of conflict;” to which the reply is
obvious, “But God might have made men for love and harmonious obedience,
and not for duty and conflict.” This, of course, is a very presumptuous
statement, such as Bishop Butler would have condemned; but it is a
fitting reply to a still more presumptuous implied statement. God has
revealed Himself as Righteousness and Goodness without internal
conflict; He has also revealed His purpose to conform us to Himself; and
the Bible speaks of Him as being opposed by an Adversary who caused men
for a time to differ from the divine image; is it not then a very
presumptuous thing to imply that “God _could_ not have created men but
for conflict and duty,” or, in other words, “God _could_ not have made
us better than we are, even had there been no Adversary opposing His
will?” Again, we hear it said that, “An evil Spirit contending against a
good Spirit must needs have produced two distinct worlds, and not the
one progressive world of which we have experience:” to which the answer
is equally obvious, “The orbit of every planet, or the path of any
projectile, shows that two different forces may result in one continuous

The only consistent and systematic way of rejecting a belief in the
existence of Satan is to reject the belief in the existence of sin. Then
you can argue thus, “The notion of a Satan arises from the false and
sharp antagonism which our human imaginations set up between ‘good’ and
‘evil,’ whereas what we call ‘evil’ is really nothing but an excess of
tendencies good in themselves and only evil when carried to excess. The
difference therefore between good and evil is only a question of
degree.” That theory sounds plausible; but it ignores the essence of
sin, which consists in a rebellion against Conscience. It is not excess,
or defect, the more, or the less; it is the moral disorder, the
subversion of human nature, which is so frightful to contemplate that we
cannot believe it to have proceeded from God. But perhaps you reply,
“That very disorder is merely the result of energy out of place or in
excess.” Well, in the same way, when gas is escaping in a room in which
there is a lighted candle, there is first a quiet and inoffensive escape
of the gas, and secondly a violent and perhaps calamitous explosion; and
you might argue similarly, “The difference was only one of degree; the
explosion was merely the result of a useful element out of place and in
excess.” But I should answer that no sober and sensible householder
would justify himself in this way for allowing a lighted candle and
escaping gas to come together; and so I cannot believe that God is
willing that men should justify Him for tolerating theft, murder, and
adultery, on the ground that these things are “only questions of
degree.” I think we please Him better, and draw closer to Him, when we
say, “An Enemy hath done this.” And besides, for our own sakes, if we
are to resist sin with our utmost force, it seems to me we are far more
likely to do so when we regard it as Christ and St. Paul regarded it
than when we give it the name of “misplaced energy,” or “an excessive
use of faculties, in themselves, good and necessary.”

To me it seems that if we are to have a genuine trust in God, it is
almost necessary that we should believe in the existence of a Satan. I
say “almost,” because there may be rare exceptions. A few pure saintly
souls, of inextinguishable trust, may perhaps be able to face the awful
phenomena of Evil and to say, “Though He hath done all this yet will we
trust in Him; what may have moved Him to cause His creatures to struggle
together, and to thrive, each on the destruction of its neighbour, we
know not, and we are not careful to know; our hearts teach us that He is
above us in goodness, and in wisdom, as in power; we know that we must
trust Him; more than this we do not wish to know.” Such men are to be
admired—but to be admired by most of us at a great distance. For the
masses of men, and especially for those who know something of the depth
of sin, it must be a great and almost a necessary help to say, “The Good
that is done upon Earth, God doeth it Himself; the evil that is upon
earth God doeth it not: an Enemy hath done this.”

One evil resulting from the rejection of Christ’s doctrine is that we
consequently fail to understand much of His life and sufferings. If
Christ was really manifested that He might destroy the works of the
Devil, then much is clear that is otherwise incomprehensible. There was
then no delusion nor insincerity in the parables of the Sower and the
Tares. God did not first cast the good seed and then blow it away with
His own breath. God did not sow wheat with the right hand and tares with
the left. “An Enemy” had done the mischief. There was no fiction when
Jesus spent those long hours by night on the mountain top in prayer. He
needed help, and needed it sorely. He was fighting a real battle. It was
not the mere anticipation of pains in the flesh, the piercing nails, the
parching thirst, the long-protracted death, that made the bitterness of
Christ’s passion. Even when He had regained composure, and in perfect
calm was going forth to meet His death, we find Him declaring that Satan
had asked for one of his Apostles “to sift him as wheat”, and implying
that all His prayers were needed that the faith of the tempted disciple
should not “fail.” But in Gethsemane the battle for the souls of men was
still pending. There was an Enemy who was pulling down His heart,
striving hard to make Him despair of sinful mankind, perhaps to despair
of we know not what more beyond; forcing Him in the extremity of that
sore conflict to cry that He was “exceeding sorrowful even unto death,”
and afterwards, on the Cross, to utter those terrible words, “My God, my
God, why hast thou forsaken me?” All this is full of profound meaning,
if there was indeed an Enemy. But if there was no Enemy, what becomes of
the conflict? What meaning is left to the Crucifixion, except as the
record of mere physical sufferings, the like of which have been endured,
before and after, by thousands of ordinary men and women?

This belief in the existence of Satan appears to me to be confirmed by
daily present experience as well as by the life of Christ. It “works.”
It enables us, as no other belief does, to go to the poor, the sick, the
suffering, and the sinful, and to preach Christ’s Gospel of the
fatherhood of God. All simple, straightforward people who are acquainted
with the troubles of life must naturally crave this doctrine. If you
ascribe to Providence the work of Satan, they will consciously or
unconsciously identify Providence with the author of evil, and look to
One above to rescue them from Providence. Instead of attempting to
console people for all their evils by laying them on the Author of
Goodness, we ought to lay them in part upon themselves, in part on the
author of evil. “God, the Father in heaven, did not intend you to be
thus miserable”—thus we can begin our message—“your sufferings come from
an Enemy against whom He is contending. Do not for a moment suppose that
you are to put up in this life with penury, disease, misery, and sin as
if these things came from God. Very often they are the just punishments
of your own faults, as when drunkenness brings disease; but as the sin,
so also the punishment, was of Satan’s making, though God may use both
for your good. You are to be patient under tribulation; you are to be
made perfect through suffering; you are to regard the trials and
troubles of life as being in some sense a useful chastisement proceeding
from the fatherly hand of God. But never let your sense of the need of
resignation lead you to attribute to the origination of God that which
Christ teaches us to have been brought into the world by God’s
adversary. Satan made these evils to lead men wrong; God uses them to
lead men right. Death, for example, came from Satan, who would fain make
us believe that our souls perish with our bodies, that friends are
parted for ever by the grave, and that there is no righteousness
hereafter to compensate for what is wrong here: but God uses death to
make men sober, thoughtful, steadfast, courageous, and trustful. It
remains with you to decide whether you will bear your evils so as to
succumb to the temptations of Satan, or so as to prevail over them and
utilize them to your own welfare and to the glory of God. On which side
will you fight? We ask you to enlist on the side of righteousness.”

I feel sure that this theory of life would commend itself to the poor,
that it would be morally advantageous to the rich, and that it would be
politically useful to the State. There has been too prevalent a
habit—among those believers especially who ignore Satan and attribute
all things to God—of taking for granted that the social inequalities and
miseries of the lower classes which have come down to us from feudal and
non-Christian times, can never pass away. I remember once in my boyhood
how, when I represented to a farmer that the condition of his labourers
was not a happy one, he met me with a text of Scripture, “The poor shall
never depart out of the land;” and that seemed to him to leave no more
to be said. It is this provoking acquiescence of the comfortable classes
in the miseries of the suffering classes, which irritates the latter
into a disbelief of the religion that dictates so great a readiness to
see in the miseries of others a divinely ordained institution.

The time will soon come (1885) when the very poor will demand a greater
share in the happiness of life; and the question will arise whether they
can be helped to obtain this by their own individual efforts or by the
co-operation of those of their own class, or by the State, or by the
Church. Caution must be shewn in trying experiments with nations; but as
some experiments will assuredly have to be tried, it is most desirable
in this crisis of our history that the Church at all events should
faithfully follow Christ by regarding physical evil, not as a law of
fate, but as a device of Satan. If, by descending a step or two lower in
the scale of comfort, the comfortable classes could lift the very poor a
step or two higher, the Church ought not to help the rich to shut their
eyes to their obvious duty by giving them the excuses of such texts as
“The poor shall never depart out of the land,” or, “Man is born to
trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Poverty is often a good school: but
penury is distinctly an evil; and the Church should regard it as an evil
not coming from God, and should make war against it, and teach the poor
not to acquiesce in it. The Gospel of Christ would be made more
intelligible to the poorer classes than it has been made for many
centuries past, if it could be preached as a war against physical as
well as moral harm. Such a crusade would call out and enlist on the
right side all the combative faculty in us; it would inspire in us a
passionate allegiance towards Christ, as our Leader, desiring, asking,
yes, and we may almost say, needing our help in a real conflict in which
His honour as well as our happiness and highest interests are at stake;
it would attract the co-operation of all faculties in the individual, of
all classes in the country. In other words the theory would work; and so
far as a religious theory works, so far have we evidence, present and
intelligible to all, that it contains truth.

I have recently heard views similar to mine controverted by an able
theologian, who contended that, although they professed to be illogical,
they went beyond the bounds even of the illogicality permissible in this
subject. But the controverter’s solution of the problem was this: “_Evil
is a part of God’s intention._ We have to fight, with God, against
something _which we recognise to be His work_.” Is not this a “hard
saying”? Is it not harder than the saying of Christ, “An enemy hath done
this”? I say nothing about its being illogical and absurd: but does it
not raise up a new stumbling-block in the path of those who are striving
to follow Christ?

It may be urged that the belief in Satan has been tested by the
experience of centuries and has been found to be productive of
superstition, insanity, and immorality; but these evils appear to me to
have sprung, not from the belief in Satan, but from a superstitious,
disorderly and materialistic form of Christianity, which has perverted
Christ’s doctrine about the Adversary into a recognition of a licensed
Trafficker in Souls. The same materialistic and immoral tendency has
perverted Christ’s sacrifice into a bribe. But, just as we should not
reject the spiritual doctrine of Christ’s Atonement, so neither should
we reject the spiritual doctrine of an Evil in the world resisting the
Good, although both doctrines alike have been grossly and harmfully

Of course it is possible that in our notions of spiritual personality,
and therefore in our personification of Satan, we may be under some
partial illusion. The subject teems with difficulties; and I have not
concealed from you my opinion that some passages in the Old Testament
appear to support a view at variance with the tenour of the New. The
real truth, while justifying our Lord’s language, may not accord with
all our inferences as to its meaning; and I should myself admit that it
would be most disastrous to attempt to personify the Adversary with the
same vividness with which we personify the Father in heaven. Still,—in
answer to the taunt of the agnostic or sceptic, “Is this, or that, the
work of the God whom you describe as Love?”—I think we avail ourselves
of our truest and most effective answer, when we resolve to separate
certain aspects of Nature from the intention of God, and to say, with
Christ, “An enemy hath done these things.”

Footnote 5:

  Some passages in the Old Testament (notably Isaiah xlv. 7) state that
  God “created evil;” and results attributed by one author to Satan (1
  Chron. xxi. 1) are attributed by another to “the anger of the Lord” (2
  Sam. xxiv. 1). Much of course depends upon the meaning of the word
  “evil;” and I am knowingly guilty of talking absurdly when I first
  define evil as “that which is not in accordance with God’s intention,”
  and then proceed to say that “God did not create evil.” But all people
  who discourse philosophically on this subject talk far more absurdly
  than I do: for I am consciously, but they are unconsciously,
  illogical. The belief that God “created evil,” whether held or not by
  the authors of any of the books of the Old Testament, is against the
  whole tenour of the teaching of Christ.

Footnote 6:

                “Naught is on earth, O God, without thy hand,
                Save deeds of folly wrought by evil men.”



I see you are still violently prejudiced against illusions, that is to
say against recognising the very important part which they have played
in the spiritual development of mankind. You clearly believe that,
though the world may be full of illusions, Revelation ought to be free
from them. “The Word of God,” you say, “ought to dispel illusions, not
to add to them.” I maintain on the contrary, that the Word of God, if it
comes to earth, must needs come in earthen vessels; and that the most
divine truth must needs be contained in illusion. Let illusions then be
the subject of my present letter. At the same time I shall attempt to
answer your prejudice against the natural worship of Christ as being a
“new religion”. Not of course that I admit that it is a “new religion”;
on the contrary I regard it as the old religion, the predestined
God-determined religion to which we are to return after extricating
ourselves from the corruptions of Protestantism, as our forefathers
extricated themselves from the corruptions of Romanism. I shall not deal
here with the special illusions of Christianity, but with your evident
_a priori_ prejudice against any admixture of illusion with Revelation.

But first, what do I mean by “illusion,” and how does my meaning differ
from “error” or “mistake” generally, and from “fallacy,” “delusion,” and
“hallucination” in particular? I say “my meaning,” because the word is
often used loosely (I do not say wrongly) for any of these synonyms: but
I restrict it to a special sense.

“Illusion,” then, is wholesome error tending to the ultimate attainment
of truth; “delusion” is harmful error arising from a perverted
Imagination; “hallucination” is a wandering of the Imagination, without
any guidance or support of fact, involving “delusion” of the most
obstinate character; “fallacy” is an error of inference or reasoning;
“mistake” is the result of mal-observation or weak memory; and “error” a
general name for any deviation from the truth.

Illusion, in many cases, is an exaggerative and ornative tendency of the
mind. It leads the very young to think their parents perfection, and the
young to think them far better and wiser than they really are; it
constrains the lover to exaggerate the beauty, accomplishments, and
qualities of the woman whom he loves; it tends to the distortion of
history by inclining all of us to accommodate facts to the wishes and
preconceptions of our idealizing nature, which is always longing for “a
more ample greatness, a more exact goodness, and a more absolute variety
than can be found in the nature of things”;[7] and it lures us onward,
young and old alike, over the rough places of life, even to the very
brink of the grave, by the ever-fleeting, ever-reappearing suggestions
of a bright to-morrow that shall make amends for the dull and
commonplace to-day.

These illusive hopes, beliefs, and aspirations are never fulfilled in
this life; but even the cynic and the pessimist must acknowledge, with
Francis Bacon, that they constitute the very basis of all poetry that
“tends to magnanimity and morality.” Those who believe in God will
further recognize in illusion a divinely utilized integument for the
preservation and development of aspirations that shall ultimately find a
perfect fulfilment in a harmonious co-operation with the divine Love and
in the unending contemplation of the divine Glory. Nor are illusions
without a present practical purpose. Men are more hopeful, more active,
more loving on account of them. On the other hand, even optimists must
acknowledge that no man should shut his eyes to the truth in order to
remain in what he knows to be no more than a comfortable error. The
venial illusions of childhood, youth, and ignorance, become unpardonable
or hypocritical in experienced age. Do you ask how we are to distinguish
“illusions” from “delusions”? The answer is easy—on paper; but, in
practice, often difficult to apply. However, the test is the same as
that by which we distinguish knowledge from ignorance. Illusions “work”;
that is to say, men are on the whole the better for them, and they
prepare the way for truth. Delusions fail; men are in no way the better
for them, and they often prepare the way for insanity and for physical
or spiritual death.

We have spoken of moral illusions; let us touch on another kind of
illusions to which some (I do not say rightly) have given the name of
“illusions of sense.”

I doubt whether the name is correctly given; for to me it seems that the
illusion proceeds not from the senses (which, as far as I can judge,
never deceive us) but from the imaginations and inferences which we base
upon the report of the senses. Take an extreme case, fit rather to be
called “delusion” than “illusion.” If I see the phantom of a cat before
the fire, which cat nobody else in the room can see, do my senses
deceive me? No; but I am deceived by the imaginative inference which
leads me to assume from past experience that the object which I see is
visible to, and can be touched by, everybody else. My visual sense
(which has to do with images only) reports—and can do no otherwise—that
it discerns the image of a cat. That report is true. But then my
imagination forces on me the belief that this is an ordinary tangible
and visible cat. That belief is false. Or take again the not infrequent
case of colour-blindness. I am a signalman, and cannot tell a green
light from a red: do my senses deceive me when I call a red light green?
No; my sense reports inadequately for my necessities, and coarsely is
compared with those who possess a finer sense of colour, but not
deceitfully. My error arises from having loosely and servilely used the
distinctive words “red” and “green” from childhood to manhood, although
my senses continually protested that they could not distinguish two
colours corresponding to the two words: but I imagined that there must
be some such distinction for the two, and that I must be capable of
recognizing it, because everybody around me recognized it. If we are to
say that the signalman’s senses deceive him we must be prepared to admit
that every man’s senses deceive him more or less. Do you suppose, when
you see anything, that you see that which the thing _is_? “This is a
yellowish-green,” say you. “Of course,” a Superior Being might reply;
“but which of the one hundred and fifty shades of yellowish-green is it?
You might as well tell me, when I shew you a sheep, ‘This is a _being_,’
as tell me simply this is ‘yellowish-green.’” We do not see things as
Superior Beings see them; but we are not on that account to say that our
sight deceives us. Our visual sense reports the truth more or less
adequately: but our Imagination, prompted by insufficient experience and
inference, leads us sometimes to illusive conclusions.

Still, although “illusions of sense” ought perhaps to be rather called
“illusions _from_ sense;”—_i.e._ illusions arising “from” the report of
the senses, but not illusions in which the senses are themselves
deceived—no one will deny that such illusions exist. Sometimes they are
exceptional, but sometimes so common as to be almost universal. Let us
enumerate a few and ask whence they spring, and what purpose they serve?

They spring from a very strong conviction—erected upon the basis of
Experience by Faith, but absolutely necessary for healthy life and
spontaneous action—that the ordinary inferences which we almost
instinctively derive from the report of the senses, are true, that is to
say, will correspond to experience; and that we can act upon them
without formally reasoning upon them.

Take the following instance. Shut your eyes, and get a friend to prick
the back of your hand with the two points of a pair of compasses
simultaneously, so that the two points may be about the eighth of an
inch apart when they touch you; you will feel—and if you could not
correct the inference by the sense of sight, you would infer—that only
one point is pricking you. The reason is that the skin of the back of
the hand only reports one sensation; and the mind leaps to the
conclusion—owing to the multitude of past instances where one sensation
has resulted from one object—that, in this instance also, one object
alone is producing the sensation. A more curious instance is the
following: Place the middle finger over the first finger, and between
the two fingers thus interlaced place a single marble or your nose: you
will appear to be touching two marbles or two noses. The reason is this:
when the two fingers are in their usual position (not thus interlaced)
and touching marbles or similar objects, two simultaneous sensations on
the right side of the right finger and on the left side of the left
finger would always imply _two_ marbles; now you have constrained the
two fingers to assume an unusual position where these two simultaneous
sensations can be produced by _one_ marble; but you, following custom,
would infer the presence of two marbles, if sight, or other evidence,
did not shew there was only one.

But illusions from the sense of touch are far less common than illusions
from the sense of sight. We all know how a cloud or sheet or coal may be
converted by the Imagination into an image of something entirely
different and visible only to the imaginer, although he supposes that
others “must see it” too. But these are, so to speak, private illusions:
the great public and, at one time, universal illusion, was the
conviction that the sun and the stars move and that the earth does not
move. There is scarcely any illusion more natural than this. Our senses
give no indication whatever of the earth’s motion; but they do indicate
that the sun and the stars are moving. So complicated a process of
reasoning, and so much experience, are needed before a man can realize
(as distinct from repeating on authority) the causes for believing in
the earth’s motion that it is by no means surprising that, even now,
only a minority of the human race believe that they are dashing through
space at the rate of some thousands of miles an hour; and, except during
the last three hundred years, the illusion that the earth is at rest was
universal. Another common illusion from sight is that which leads us to
suppose that, when we see anything in the air, a straight line from our
eye towards the image which we see would touch the object itself:
whereas, in reality, the image is raised by refraction so that in misty
weather we see an object considerably higher than it is, and I suppose
(to speak with strict exactness) we never “see” an object precisely
where it is.

I have mentioned a few of the “illusions from the senses”; and now you
will probably ask me what purpose they serve, how they can be called
“wholesome,” and how they “tend to the ultimate attainment of truth.”

They appear to me to be “wholesome” because they represent and spring
from a wholesome belief that “Nature will not deceive us; Nature does
not change her mind; Nature keeps her promises.” Sent into the world
with but little of the instinctive equipment of non-human animals, we
are forced to supply the place of instincts by inferences from
sensation. Now if we were always obliged consciously to argue and
deliberately to infer, whenever the sensations hand over a report to the
Imagination, we should be at a great disadvantage as compared with our
instinct-possessing compeers, whom we call irrational. “This inkstand
which I see before me was hard yesterday, and the day before—but will it
be hard if I touch it to-day or to-morrow?”—if a child were to argue
after this fashion every time he reached out his hand to touch anything,
the life of Methuselah would be too short for the ratiocinations
necessary as a basis for the action of a week. For healthy progress of
the human being, trustful activity is needed, and for trustful activity
we must trust Nature, or, in other words, we must trust these
quasi-instinctive inferences about Nature which we derive from our
sensations. This trust or faith in the order of material things within
our immediate observation, I have already described as being the germ of
a trust or faith in a higher order altogether, that universal order, at
present imperfectly realized, which we call the Divine Will.

Now when we say to Nature, “We trust you; you will not deceive us,”
Nature replies for the most part, “You do right; I will not deceive you;
you will be justified in your faith.” But occasionally she replies in a
different tone.

“Yes, I have deceived you; you did not use the means you had of
obtaining the truth; therefore you deceived yourselves, or, if you
please to say so, I deceived you, in order that, after deceiving
yourselves by a prolonged experience, you might learn, while trusting my
order and permanence in general, not to trust every conception of your
own about that order and permanence in particular.

“Yet in reality, what you call my ‘deceptions’ were, in part, the
results of your own defects (some blameworthy, some perhaps inherent and
not blameworthy), in part the results of my method of teaching mankind,
by line upon line and inference upon inference. How does a child gain
knowledge? By generalizing from too few instances: by inferring too
soon; then by enlarging the circle of instances from which he
generalizes; by correcting his inferences with the aid of experience:
thus the progress of every child towards truth is through a continuous
series of illusions. But when I break each one of your false and
rudimentary conceptions of my Order, I always reveal to you, concealed
in the husk of it, the kernel of a better conception. Thus while I teach
you daily to distrust your own hastily adopted and unverified
assumptions or inferences about my Order, I give you no cause to
distrust my Order itself; and by the self same act I strengthen both
your faculty of scientific reason and also your faith in me. You may
find fault with me that I did not bestow on each one of you, even in the
cradle, the perfection of all knowledge and wisdom. Deeper laws, deeper
than I can now speak of, forbade that rapid consummation: but, since
that could not be, since it needs must be that imperfection should be in
the intellectual, as well as in the moral, world, rejoice at least that
illusion is made subject to truth.”

Well, after this long but needful account of “illusions,” in the sense
in which I use the term, let me now recur to your objection that “the
Word of God ought to dispel illusions, not to add to them.” I suppose
those who believe in a God at all, will in these days regard Him as the
Maker of the world, as a whole, in spite of the evil that is in it. Some
of the Gnostics, as you know, believed that the good God who had _not_
made the visible world was opposed to the bad God who had made it; but
with them we need not at this time concern ourselves, as there are
probably none who now entertain that belief. Those then who believe in a
God, Maker of heaven and earth, will not deny that God partially reveals
Himself to men by the things He has made. Now by which of all His
creatures does God reveal Himself most clearly? You will say
perhaps—indeed I have heard you say it—“By the stars and their
movements.” I do not believe it. I say, “By the life of the human family
first and by the stars of heaven, second. But I will assume that your
answer is correct, and that God reveals Himself mainly by the movements
of the stars of heaven; and I will try to shew you that in this
revelation God leads men to truth through illusion. Then I think it must
seem reasonable to you that, if God does not dispense with illusion in
that intellectual revelation of Himself which most closely approaches to
a direct spiritual revelation, illusion may also have been intended or
permitted by Him to play an ordained part in spiritual revelation

Where, then, I ask, in all the teaching of Nature’s school, has there
been more of illusion than in her lessons of astronomy? When I was a
boy, I remember, in the midst of a hateful sum of long division that
would not come out right, devoting my attention to the sun moving
through the branches of certain trees, and announcing to my tutor that
“The sun moves.” “No, you are mistaken.” “But I cannot be mistaken, for
I saw it.” I rivalled—I exceeded—the obstinacy of Galileo; I was ready
to be punished rather than consent to say what seemed to me a manifest
falsehood, that the sun did not move. Surely this boyish experience
represents the experience of mankind, except that the tutor who has
corrected their astronomical illusions, has been their own long, very
long experience. Does it not seem sometimes as if God Himself had said,
when He made the heavens to declare His glory, “Being what they are, my
children must be led to knowledge through error, to truth through
illusion”? It may be said that in some cases men have fallen into
astronomical mistakes through their own fault; through haste, for
example, through the love of neat and complete theories, through
carelessness, through excessive regard for authority; and so indeed they
have. But is it always so? When you and I last walked out together on
Hampstead Heath, you took out your watch, as the sun went down over
Harrow, and said, “Now he’s gone, and it’s just eight.” I remember
replying to you, “So it seems; but of course you know he ‘went’ more
than eight minutes ago.” You stared, and I said no more; for something
else diverted your attention at the time, and I felt I had been guilty
of a little bit of pedantry. But I said quietly to myself as we went
down the hill, “I don’t suppose he knows it, but the sun certainly
‘went’ eight minutes ago; and what my young friend saw was an image of
the sun raised by the refraction of the mist, like the image of a penny
seen in a basin of water.” Well now, was this your fault, this error of
yours? No, it was, in the second place, the fault of the University of
Oxford, which has bribed the schools to desist from teaching mathematics
to any boy with a taste for classics and literature, so that you had to
give up your mathematical studies before you came to optics; and it was,
in the first place, the fault of—what shall I say? Shall I say the fault
of Nature? That means the fault of God. Say, if you like, that it was
the fault of Matter, or of an Evil principle. Say, it was no one’s
fault. Say that more good than harm results from it, in the way of
stimulating thought and research. Deny it was a fault at all. Yet do not
deny that it represents a Law, the Law of the attainment of truth
through illusion—a Law which it is folly to ignore.

So far I have been going on the assumption that your answer was correct
as to the means by which God mainly reveals Himself. But now let us
assume that my answer, and not yours, is correct, and that God reveals
Himself mainly by the relations of the family. In that case we must
agree that each rising generation is led up to the conception of the
divine fatherhood mainly by the preliminary teaching of human
fatherhood. Now surely in the domestic atmosphere refraction is as
powerful and as illusive as in the material strata of the air. Nay, the
better and purer the family, the stronger is the illusion. Unloving
children may be logical and critical; but what loving child does not
idealise a good mother as perfectly good, and a strong wise father as
the perfection of wisdom and strength? To the good child the parents
stand in the place of God; and it is his illusive belief in these
earthly creatures, which, when it has been corrected and purified, is
found to have contained and preserved the higher belief in the eternal
Father. You see then that in the family no less than in science, in the
spiritual as in the intellectual side of Nature’s school, the pupils
pass upwards through illusion to the truth.

I have promised to say nothing of the special illusions of Christianity
which I must reserve for a later letter.

But let me say thus much from the _a priori_ ground on which we are now
standing, that _if_ illusions in Nature are most powerful in her noblest
and most spiritual teaching, then, so far from there being a prejudice
_against_ finding illusion in religion, _we ought on the contrary to be
prepared to find illusion most potent_ in the early stages of the purest
religion of all. Was ever people so illusively trained as the faithless
children of faithful Abraham, the rejected Chosen People? Is not the
Promised Land to this day a proverbial type of illusion? Do we not
recognize illusion in every age of Christian revelation? And if the very
Apostles of the Lord Jesus—so much I will here assume—had their
illusions both during, and after, the life of their Master; if the early
Christians had their illusions also concerning the speedy coming of
Christ; if in the Mediæval Church and in the later Roman Catholicism
there have predominated vast illusions about transubstantiation, the
powers of the priesthood, and the infallibility of the Pope; if the
Protestant Churches themselves have not been exempt from illusions about
the literal inspiration and absolute infallibility of the Bible; is it
not the mark of astounding presumption to suppose that for the Anglican
branch of the Reformed Church there should have been reserved a unique
immunity from an otherwise universal law?

But possibly you think that the Gospels have been so long in our hands,
and the Christian religion so long in practice and under discussion,
that nothing new can now be said or thought about them? Just so Francis
Bacon, in 1603, expressed his conviction (the innocent philosopher!)
that there had at last come about a complete “consumption of all things
that could be said on controversies of theology.” Reflect a moment. How
long have the stars been with us “under discussion”? And how recent have
been our discoveries of the real truth about them! How recently have
these discoveries been even possible? In the same way the exact
criticism of the New Testament has only become recently practicable. The
subject matter and thought could of course be appreciated centuries ago,
and often perhaps by the simple-minded and unlearned as well as by the
subtle and profound theologian; though, even as to the thought of the
New Testament, I often think that we are greatly to blame if our
increased knowledge of history and psychology does not illuminate much
that was dark in its pages for those who had not our advantages. But we
are speaking of that kind of intellectual criticism which dispels
illusions; and for the purposes of the critical analysis of the First
Three Gospels, Bruder’s Concordance was as necessary as Galileo’s
telescope was for the discovery of Jupiter’s moons, or the thermometer
for the investigation of the laws of heat. Other influences have been at
work, as well as mere mechanical aids, to throw light on the central
event of the world’s history. And surely if Abraham could wait nineteen
hundred years for the coming of Christ, the spiritual descendants of
Abraham—for such we claim to be—may well wait another nineteen hundred
years to realize His nature and enter into the full meaning of His

You see I am not now trying to prove the existence of any illusion in
our present form of Christianity; I am simply _arguing against your
prejudice_ that, if the present form of Christianity be not true, then
any new form must necessarily be false. You say, or perhaps till lately
you were inclined to say, “If I could only breathe the atmosphere of
Augustine! If only I could have been a companion of the Ante-Nicene or
(better still) of the Apostolic Fathers! Or (best of all) of the
Apostles! Or of Christ Himself! Then I should have been free from
illusions.” I reply, “No, you would not; and your aspiration is a mark
of ingratitude to God. You deliberately reject the commentary He has
given you in the History of the Church during these eighteen centuries.
You think the story of Christ is completely told and completely
explained. It is not so. All the created world is intended to bear
witness and illustration to His life and work. Shakespeare and Newton
and Darwin, as well as Origen, Augustine, and Chrysostom, have added to
the divine commentary. All the good and all the evil of eighteen hundred
years have borne witness to the divine nature of His mission; to the
impotence and ruin which await the nations that cast Him off; to the
blessing that attends those who follow His Spirit; to the mischief that
dogs those who substitute for His Spirit a lifeless code of rules or a
fabric of superstitions.”

And now one last word as to the special illusion from which (in my
belief) we must in the short remnant of this century strive to deliver
ourselves. I think we have worshipped Christ too much as God, and too
little as Man. We have erroneously supposed that He exempted Himself
during His manhood from the laws of humanity. Like the Roman soldiers,
we have stripped from Him the carpenter’s clothes, and put upon Him the
purple rags of wonder-working imperialism, and placed in His hand the
sceptre of worldly ostentation, and in that guise we have bowed the knee
to the purple and the sceptre, and, doing homage to these things, we
have cried, “Behold our God.” But now the time has come when we must
take from off Him these tawdry trappings, and give Him back His
workman’s garments. Then we may find ourselves constrained to bow the
knee again in a purer homage offered no longer to the clothes but to the

Call this homage by what name we will, it is already of the nature of
worship. And as we grow older and more able to distinguish the realities
from the mirage of life, more capable of trust, love, and reverence, and
better able to discriminate what must be, and what must not be, loved,
trusted, and revered—looking from earth to heaven, and from heaven to
earth, we shall ask in vain where we can find anything, above or below,
nobler, and better, and more powerful for good, than this Man to whom
our hearts go forth in spontaneous love and trust and reverence. Then we
shall turn once more to the Cross finding that we have been betrayed
into worship while we knew it not, and while we cry, “Behold the Man,”
we shall feel “Behold our God.”

Footnote 7:

  _Advancement of Learning_, ii, 4, 5.

                            WHAT IS WORSHIP?


Admitting the doctrine of illusion, and dismissing all prejudice against
what is new, you declare that still my position remains absolutely
unintelligible to you. I will set down your objection in your own words:
“Apparently you maintain that Christ is a mere man who came into the
world, lived, worked, and died according to the laws of human nature;
even His resurrection you apparently intend to explain away till it
becomes a mere vision, and therefore not a sign of any other than a
human existence. Now worship is a tribute conceded to God alone. To a
mere man, who lived eighteen centuries ago, how can you force yourself,
by any effort of the will, to pay worship simply because you have reason
to believe that this individual was pre-eminently good”?

In reply, I ask you, “What else is more worthy of worship?” There is no
question of “forcing myself” at all. I worship Christ naturally. That is
to say I love, trust, and reverence Him more than I love, trust, and
reverence any other person or thing or universe of things. This I do
because I cannot help it; and if I have brought myself to do this
naturally by fixing my thoughts on the power of Goodness, and on Christ
as the incarnate representation of Goodness, this causes me no shame and
involves me in no conflict with my Reason.

But you—have you not omitted some important features in the description
of this “mere man”? Jesus was not only pre-eminently good, He was also
pre-eminently powerful and wise for spiritual purposes. His influence
regenerated the civilized world; it is manifest around us. He Himself
spoke of Himself in language which shews that He believed Himself to be
endowed with a divine authority over men, and to stand in a unique
relation to God. In a fanatic or a fool that would mean nothing: in one
so wise, so soberly wise, so utterly unselfish, so marvellously
successful, it must needs count for much. Although I reject the
miraculous, I do not reject—nor understand how any one can reject—the
supernatural. I regard Jesus as being a “mere man” indeed, if by “mere
man” you mean a “real man”; non-miraculous, subjected to all the
material limitations of humanity; but still a man such as is described
in the first chapter of the Fourth Gospel; the Word of God incarnate;
the Man in whom was concentrated God’s expression of Himself; the Divine
Perfection made humanly perceptible. This I believed once upon the
authority of the Fourth Gospel; but I believe it now on the testimony of
history and my own conscience.

Put yourself in my place. Suppose, as I suppose, that Christ was what He
was, and did what He did, naturally and without miracles. Does not that
make His personality in a certain sense more wonderful and certainly
more lovable? It is comparatively easy, with miracles at command, to
persuade men to anything; but, without miracles, to introduce a new
religion, to bring in a new power of forgiving sins, to offer up one’s
life, not for friends, nor for country, but for mankind, to manifest
oneself so to one’s disciples during life that after your death they
shall see you and shall be convinced that you have triumphed over death;
to disarm an armed world by non-resistance, and to breathe a spirit of
enthusiasm for righteousness and a passionate love of mankind into
myriads of a remote posterity—these surely are feats which, if natural,
should make us exclaim, “Verily we have here a divine nature.”

I trust I am not being goaded into any exaggeration of what I really
feel, by the hope of inducing you to share my feelings. Perhaps it is
not possible to worship any man, not even such a one as Jesus, as long
as he remains in the flesh. Not till death takes a friend from us do we
seem to know the real spirit that lay behind the flesh and blood; not
till Jesus was taken from us could that Spirit come which was to reveal
the real Being that underlay the humanity of the Nazarene. I will admit
that I should not have worshipped Jesus of Nazareth on earth—in Peter’s
house for example at Capernaum; for though love might have been present,
the trust and awe that were to be developed by His resurrection would
have been wanting. Jesus does not claim our worship nor even our
recognition, as an isolated being, but as inseparably linked to One
without whom He Himself said He could “do nothing”. It was not till He
was removed from the visible world and enthroned in the hearts of men by
the side of the Father, that men could perceive His real nature; and He
is to be worshipped not by Himself, but as the Son of God, and one with
God. Christ did not merely _tell_ us about the Father; He revealed the
Father _in Himself_; and, if we worship the Father as Christ revealed
Him, we are, consciously or unconsciously, worshipping the Son.

Almost all language about all spiritual existences is necessarily
metaphorical. What is “righteousness” except a _straightness_, and what
is “excellence” except _pre-eminence_? The proposition “Christ is the
Son of God” is a metaphor; it is a metaphor to say that “God is our
Father in heaven,” and that “God is Love.” Perhaps even to say that “God
_is_” is a metaphor, expressing a truth, but expressing it inadequately.
But it would be the ignorance of a mere child to suppose that a metaphor
means nothing. There is no deeper truth in heaven or earth than the
metaphor that God is the Father of man, and that the Lord Jesus Christ
is His Eternal Son. When I try to think of God and to pray to God as my
Father, I can think of Him as being without the seas, without the stars,
without the whole visible world; but I can never think of Him aright,
nor ever conceive of Him as being Love, without conceiving also of One
whom He loves, who is with Him from the beginning; whom when I try to
realize, I can realize only in one shape; and hence it comes to pass
that I find myself without any “effort of the will,” spontaneously
worshipping God through, and in, and with, that one shape, I mean the
Lord Jesus Christ. Worshipping the Father I find that I have been
unconsciously worshipping, and must consciously continue to worship, the
Eternal Son.

But there is another difference between us, besides your failure to
recognise the spiritual power and spiritual wisdom of Christ. You do not
know what you mean by worship; you do not know what you ought to
worship; and you do not know how little you know of God.

You tell me that “worship is a tribute conceded to God alone.” But what
is God? The absolute God no one knows. Our most perfect conception of
Him is only a conception of a Mediator of some kind by which we approach
Him. To each man, that which he worships, and that alone, is God. I
worship Christ, therefore to me Christ is God. What will you say to
that? I suppose you will say “A non-miraculous Christ _ought not to be_
God to you”? Why not? How does He differ from your conception of God? Is
He less loving, less merciful, less just? “No,” you reply, “but He is
less powerful.” “How is He less powerful? Has He less power of pitying,
loving, forgiving, raising men from sin to righteousness? Is He less
powerful in the spiritual world?” “Perhaps not; but He is less powerful
in the material world. He never, according to your account, rose above,
never even for a moment suspended the laws of nature.” Indeed? And God,
the Maker of the world—did He ever rise above, or suspend the laws of
nature? When? “Well, He is said to have done so frequently in the
records of the Bible”. But many men deny that, and you yourself are
disposed to agree with them. “At all events He did so when He made the

Here at last we can come to an understanding. You look up to God as to
the Maker of the world, and are more ready to worship Him, as such, than
to worship a non-miraculous Christ. If by “the Maker of the world” you
mean—as I am quite sure many mean—“the Maker of the mere material forces
of Nature,” or even “the Maker of _all things apart from Christ_,” then
words fail me to express how entirely I differ from you. But let me try
to put your view into my own language, in order to shew you that I do
not condemn it without understanding it. “We cannot,” you say, “worship
a mere non-miraculous man, who did nothing but talk and lead a good
life, and perhaps perform a few acts of faith-healing, however
beneficial may have been his influence on posterity. The fact that,
after his death, visions of him were seen by excited and enthusiastic
followers, and in one case by an enemy of highly emotional tendencies,
cannot alter this decision. It is impossible to worship a being so
helpless, so limited, so aweless as this. What is such a creature in
comparison with the mysterious Maker of the stars or Ruler of the ocean?
Surely the sight of a storm at sea ought to suffice to turn any one from
the imaginary and self-deceiving worship of the merely human Jesus of
Nazareth to the worship of One whose greatness and glory and terror
surround us on every side with material witnesses, One in comparison
with whom no mere man may be mentioned.”

Natural as such an argument may seem to you and to many others who call
themselves Christians, it is in reality based upon a diabolical
prejudice in favour of power. I can understand our forefathers,
worshippers of Thor and Odin, arguing thus; and so great is our own
inherited and inbred admiration of mere force, that even to us
Christians the temptation is still very strong to bow down before the
whirlwind and the fire, rather than before the still small voice. But it
is a temptation to be resisted and overcome. You call upon me to worship
the Ruler of the waves. Now the sea is full of the gifts of God to men;
yet if I knew nothing more of the Creator than that He had made and
rules the sea, then—with all the knowledge of the death and destruction
that reign beneath the depths of ocean among its non-human tenants, and
of the destruction that reigns on its surface when it wages war against
man and conquers—I should say, “So far as the sea alone reveals the
nature of Him who made it, I would a thousand times sooner worship Jesus
of Nazareth, the non-miraculous man, than the Maker of the ocean.” It is
the most vulgar and contemptible cowardice to cringe before the Maker of
the destroying ocean—who might be the Devil and not a good God, so far
as the ocean’s destructive power reveals its Maker—rather than to do
homage to the best of men. I grant that in a storm at sea, with the
lightning blinding my eyes, and the pitiless waters tearing my
companions from my side and threatening every instant to devour me—I
grant that I might, and should, feel tempted to exclaim, “A mightier
than Christ is here.” But if I did, I should be ashamed of it. It would
be a traitorous tendering of allegiance to Satan. When force and terror
and death come shrieking on the wave-crests, and proclaiming that “Power
after all is Lord of the world,” then is our faith tested; it is “the
victory of our faith” to overcome that lie and to make answer thus: “No,
Goodness is Lord over the world; Love is Lord over the world; and
therefore He who is one with Love and Goodness, the Lord Jesus Christ,
He is Lord over the world. Do with me as thou wilt, thou Mighty Maker of
all things! If Christ was not deceived, thou art His Father and I can
trust thee. But if Christ was deceived, then art thou Satan and I defy
thee, be thou the Maker of a world of worlds. Better to perish and be
deceived with Christ, than to be saved and caressed by a Maker who made
Christ to perish and to be deceived! If there be in truth any opposition
of will between the Maker and the Lord Jesus Christ, then is the Lord
Jesus the superior of the two; and in the Lord Jesus alone will I put my
trust, and to Him alone will I cleave as my Lord and my Saviour and my

Have I made my meaning clear to you? I do not say, Have I persuaded you
that I am right? But have I made you understand that it really is
possible for one who has apprehended even imperfectly the illimitable
extent of the goodness of Christ and the divine nature of that goodness,
to feel heartily and sincerely that, of all things in heaven and earth
and in the waters under the earth, the goodness and power and wisdom of
God in Christ are the fittest objects for our love, our trust and our
reverence, in other words, for our worship? Can you name any fitter
object? If you will not worship God in the man Jesus, you will hardly
worship Him in Socrates, or Paul, or any other specimen of humanity.
Will you then turn to inanimate nature, and worship him in that? Then
you will be turning from the higher to the lower conception of God.
Before I knew Christ, I might perhaps have worshipped God the Maker,
being led to him, so to speak, by the world as Mediator. Inspired by awe
for the Creator of so vast and orderly a machine, I might have adored
Him as the artificer of the stars and this terrestrial globe. But now,
Christ has made this kind of “natural religion” impossible. He, the
ideal Man, has revealed to me depths of love, pity, mercy,
self-sacrifice, in comparison with which the ocean is but the “water in
a bucket,” and the stars of heaven are as “a very little thing.” If
therefore I try to conceive of God as alien and apart from Christ, God
becomes at once degraded and inferior to man.

How shall I try to express myself more clearly? Let me use words not my
own, in which a man of recognized ability once summed up for me my own
conceptions; “I see,” he said, “you do not, as most do, worship Christ
out of compliment to God; you worship God out of compliment to Christ.”
The words then sounded to me a little profane, though they were not
meant to be so; but I had to confess that they exactly expressed my
meaning. Since then, it has seemed to me that these words were but an
incisive way of saying, what every one says and few realize, that Christ
is the Mediator between us and God: we worship God the Father because we
attribute to Him the character that we adore in God the Son.

By this time you will have seen that while answering the question,
“Whom, or what, ought we to worship?” I have indirectly answered a
preliminary question, “What do we mean by worship?” You have also
probably noticed what answer I have given to this question: worship
appears to me a combination of love, trust, and awe. Do you accept this?
I have never seen any serious objection taken to this definition except
by those who refuse practically to define it at all and who would simply
say “Worship is the homage paid by man to the Creator: and it has
nothing to do with, and cannot be explained by, the feelings with which
we regard man.” If I had not seen this in the columns of a theological
journal, I should not have believed it possible that modern
superficiality and conventionalism could achieve quite so transparent a
shallowness. The sum total of our feelings towards God—more especially
our awe for Him—cannot indeed be adequately expressed in the same
language which expresses our feelings for men: but that is a very
different thing from saying that the former “have nothing to do with”
the latter. I believe that a large part of most men’s worship consists
of a shrinking from an Unknown, the sort of dread that children feel for
“the dark.” But righteous worship must imply other feelings; and these
feelings—some of them at all events—must have names; and whence are the
names to be derived but from our feelings towards men and things—towards
men, surely, as well as towards things? We must either love God, or hate
Him, or be indifferent to Him; we must either trust, or distrust Him. I
do not see how the people who would sever worship from all reference to
human relations can look upon it as other than a mere homage of the lips
or knees, a going to church, and attendance at religious services. Need
I say that, when I define worship, I am defining the worship of the
heart, not the attitude of those who honour God with their lips but
whose heart is far from Him?

Now the attitude of man to God has varied greatly in accordance with
their conception of God, according as they have conceived Him to be
Moloch, or Apollo, or Jehovah, or the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In some men worship has been mere terror; in some, it has been a desire
to bribe; in some it has been faint gratitude and strong admiration; in
some it has been intense awe and reverence. All such forms of worship
have been imperfect, and some have been very bad. At the best, none of
them have combined all the best and noblest feelings of aspiration which
Nature tends to develop in us by means of human and non-human agencies.
Human nature—acting through the relations of the family—should elicit
love and loving trust; non-human nature—acting through the seas and
skies, with their suggestions of vastness and power—should elicit awe
and awful trust; and the combination of these two natural influences
should elicit love, trust and awe, which three-fold result constitutes

Has the worship of God through the mediation of Christ entirely
superseded—was it intended to supersede—the worship of God through the
mediation of the visible World? I think not yet. It will in the end but
not now. There may come a time, in some future existence, when we shall
see righteousness like the sun, when we shall have visions of the beauty
and order of holiness like the stars, and behold the glory of sacrifice
spread out before our eyes like the firmament of heaven; and then the
revelation of God through visible Nature will be swallowed up in the
revelation of God through invisible Nature. But now, not many of us can
pretend to such a power of spiritual insight. We feel that, if we
learned the story of Christ without the help of the commentary of the
awful powers of material nature, we might be in danger of repeating it
with a glib familiarity which would hinder us from penetrating its
meaning. Those who live in the stir of cities where they are doomed
never to be alone, never to realize perfect silence, never to see more
than a few square feet of sky, are living as the Word of God did not
intend them to live; they may have—they often have—great spiritual
compensations; they certainly have some spiritual disadvantage in these
unnatural negations. As long as we have eyes and ears and the faculties
of wonder and admiration, so long must we suppose that the revelation of
the Word of God through Jesus of Nazareth has not dispensed with the
revelation of the Word of God through the forces of material nature. If
we wish to approach God we should not despise the Mediation of the Word
of God in its entirety, that is to say, the mediation of “the World with

Now what practical inferences follow from our definition of worship, if
we are satisfied that it is roughly true? Here let me put in a caution.
Our definition cannot be exactly true; for, in its exactness, worship
means the sum total of all the feelings that should be felt by the mind
of man, when he contemplates God through the mediation of “the World
with Christ.” Who can enumerate these without confessing that he may
have passed over some so subtle and so deep that language itself has
left them unnamed? We must therefore be content with a rough definition.
But if it be roughly true that worship means love, trust and awe, what
practical inferences may we thence deduce as regards our own conduct?

First, then, worship is not the formal thing it is generally supposed to
be. It is not a mere smoothness of the hinges of the knees, or a
readiness to take the name of God within one’s lips. It is a natural
going forth of the heart to that which one loves, trusts, and reverences
most. Some men have little power of reverencing; others, of trusting;
others, of loving; such men’s worship must necessarily be maimed and
imperfect. If a man who is destitute of reverence loves and trusts money
more than anything else, money really is that man’s God; it is no
hyperbole, it is the fact; the man does actually worship money; he does
not say prayers to it, does not go down on his knees to it, but he loves
it and trusts it more than anything else; therefore, so far as he can
worship anything, he worships money. Similarly another man worships
pleasure; another, his children; another, power. We are accustomed to
apologize for such expressions as if they were metaphors or
exaggerations; but they are not; they are plain statements of spiritual
realities. Thousands of men who say they worship Christ, and who
honestly suppose they worship Christ, do nothing of the kind. This is
the dark side of the self-delusion of worship, but there is a brighter.
There are many men at the present day who call themselves agnostics, but
who would hardly deny that they love and reverence Jesus of Nazareth
more than any other being. They worship Him then. Their worship is
tinged with hopelessness, and therefore imperfect; but so far as it
goes, it is a genuine worship of Christ. Perhaps, too, some who profess
mere Theism feel, in their hearts, that though they dislike to say they
worship Christ, they love Christ more than they love their conception of
“God without Christ;” if so, may we not say that, so far as that element
of love goes, they worship Christ? Thousands of thousands of people,
before Christ was born, worshipped Goodness and a good God in their
lives and hearts, though they were, in name, worshippers of Apollo or
Moloch. Thousands of people in the same unconscious way have been, and
still are, worshipping the Incarnate Christ. They may not acknowledge
this, they may not even know it: but their hearts have gone out to Him
in love and trust and awe, more than to any other person or thing in
heaven or earth.[8]

Search your own soul and acknowledge how little you know of God; I do
not mean how little you profess to know, but how little you really know;
how very much of what you think you know, is but second-hand knowledge,
scraps of sayings repeated on authority, but not representing any
heartfelt faith. Then—after deducting all the verbiage that you once
esteemed a part of your own belief—take the poor residuum of your
conception of the Godhead, and put it by the side of your conception of
the Word of God incarnate in Christ, making some faint attempt at the
same time to realize the stupendous life and character of Jesus. Then
ask yourself in what respects the former conception differs from the
latter for the better. Lastly ask yourself what you mean by worship—not
lip-worship, or knee-worship, but the worship of the heart; and whether
your heart does not go out in heart-worship as much towards the latter
as to the former of these two conceptions. If you will do this fairly
and honestly, my only fear would be that you might find that your
conception of God Himself was too weak to retain its grasp on you; but
if God still held His place in your heart, then I should feel confident
that Christ would sit enthroned by His side, as being the Son without
whom the Father could not be known, worshipped in virtue of a claim
which no mere performance of miracles could establish, and which no mere
non-performance of miracles could invalidate.

The sum is this. In Nature there is evil as well as good. I cannot
therefore worship the Author of _all_ Nature, but must worship the
Author of _Nature-minus the evil_. Where is He to be found? He is
revealed in what we recognize to be good, true, and beautiful. Now no
one man can include in his life all that we mean by scientific truth,
and artistic beauty, as well as moral goodness. But, truth being a
harmony, there is no deeper and nobler truth than the harmony of a human
will with the will of the Supreme; and, beneath perishable artistic
beauty, there is an eternal beauty to be discerned in righteousness. It
ought not therefore to surprise us that the Eternal Word, after
endeavouring for thousands of years to lead creation up from the worship
of Power to the worship of Goodness, should at last take upon Himself
the form of a creature, conspicuously powerless from the world’s point
of view, ignorant of science, and destitute of outward beauty, but of a
goodness so divinely beautiful and so true to the Underlying Laws of
spiritual Nature, that when He held out His arms and called upon
wandering mankind to come to Him, the enlightened conscience of humanity
sought refuge in His embrace.

Footnote 8:

  It is a strange but common mistake to expect a purer morality from a
  conventional Christian than from a heathen or an atheist. One ought to
  expect less, much less. The man who can be familiar with the
  character, and acknowledge the claims, of Christ, without really
  loving Him or serving Him, and who can believe all that the Church
  teaches _about_ Him, without at all believing _in_ Him, must surely be
  far below the atheist who now and then does a good turn for humanity,
  out of mere pity and without the least hope of any ultimate triumph of
  goodness. For my part, I am quite surprised at the apparent goodness
  of conventional Christians: but I think they are not so good as their
  actions would imply. They are forced, by tradition and the example of
  a few, to keep up an artificial standard of morality in some
  departments of life.

                         THE WORSHIP OF CHRIST


Your letter of yesterday raises two objections, which I will do my best
to meet. First, if I regard Christ as God, I ought not, you think, to
stumble at the miracles, but to welcome, and even to require, them; and
secondly, you are not satisfied with my definition of worship. Let me
deal first with your first objection, restating it in your own words.

“I admit,” you say, “that Jesus, even without miracles, would be worthy
of worship in your sense of the word; but that is not the same thing as
regarding Him as the Eternal Son of God, the Creative Word. I agree with
Plato that there is nothing more like God than the man who is as just as
man may be; but you demand more of me than this; you wish me to regard
Him not as being merely ‘_like_ God’ but as ‘_being_ God,’ ‘very God of
very God.’ Surely you must therefore admit that Jesus was exceptional,
and not ‘in the course of nature;’ and the introduction into the visible
world of such an exceptional and supernatural Being surely makes it
antecedently probable, if not necessary, that He would bring with Him
some quite exceptional phenomena in the way of evidence. The Miraculous
Conception and Resurrection of Christ’s Body (if only they were true)
would supply just the requisite evidence that Jesus was the Creative
Word, Lord over the issues of life and death. If the creative Power of
God, no less than the Righteousness and the Love of God, was incarnate
in the person of Jesus, it would have been no less manifest in His life
and works. But you desire to reduce Him to a being in no way
distinguishable from other men except by superior moral excellence.
There is, it seems to me, no logical connection between moral excellence
and creative power. The two attributes, being generically different,
demand different kinds of evidence to substantiate them.

“Again,” you continue, “even if I put aside your contention that Jesus
is the Word of God, there remains your assertion that He is sinless. Now
a sinless Jesus is, in Himself, a miracle; and if you call on me to
believe that Jesus was without sin, you ought to see no antecedent
improbability, nay, you ought to see an antecedent probability, that He
would work miracles.”

Well, I feel that we are walking in a slippery region—this land of
antecedent metaphysical probabilities; but I will try to follow you. Let
me take your second objection first. Does it then really seem to you no
less antecedently probable that the Word of God, made man, should have
the power (say) of walking on water, than that He should be sinless?
Surely we see in the best men approximations to sinlessness, but no
approximations at all to what spiritualists (I believe) call
“levitation”! In proportion as men approximate to our conception of God,
in that proportion they are free from sin, but they do not “levitate;”
hence, while we are led to believe that the Man who completely
represents God (the Word of God Incarnate) will be absolutely sinless,
we are led to no such conclusion as to “levitation.” Or will you
maintain that the best men shew any germ of any the least power to
suspend any the least law of nature? There is no vestige of any such
tendency around us; and your only support for such a belief would be
found in the miracles of the Old Testament, which you yourself deny, and
as to which I shall have something to say in a future letter.

I admit however that there is one seeming argument derived from the
“mighty works” of healing undoubtedly worked by the disciples of Jesus
as well as by Jesus Himself. Without anticipating a subject that must be
deferred to a future letter, I will merely ask you at this stage to
distinguish between those “mighty works” on the one hand which were
marvellous but not miraculous, and the “miracles” on the other hand
which, if true, involved suspensions of the laws of nature. That Jesus
may have healed certain diseases through faith, would be acknowledged by
the most sceptical physiologists as quite possible in accordance with
the laws of nature; and this power would be consistent with such a
faith-inspiring personality as we attribute to our Lord. Even from
ordinary men and women there “goes out virtue,” we scarcely know how, to
the sick and suffering who are imbued with their hopefulness, their
cheerfulness, their faith; much more might we suppose that from the
Ideal of Humanity “virtue” would probably go forth in unique measure and
produce unique results, though always in accordance with those laws of
material nature to which He had submitted Himself. But this is no
argument for real “miracles”; and—even while arguing—I protest against
this method of arguing about facts, from metaphysical “antecedent
probability.” I do not object to the argument from “antecedent
probability” where you can appeal to experience and argue from what
happened in the past to what is likely to happen in the future. But
where you can have no such evidence (because the Son of God was not
twice incarnate); where the question is, “Did Jesus do this or did He
not?” and where we have history and evidence to guide us, as to what He
did and said; it seems to me we ought to be guided by evidence and not
by “antecedent probabilities,” especially when these “probabilities” are
derived from nothing but metaphysical considerations.

But you tell me that you see “no logical connection between moral
excellence and creative power;” and another passage in your letter says
that “we have no reason for thinking that the best men shew any tendency
to approximate, in creative power, to the co-eternal Word.” What do you
thence infer? Apparently this, that, as Christ revealed God’s
righteousness and love by His own righteousness and love, so He must
have revealed God’s creative power by His own creative acts. I, too,
believe that. But by what creative acts? By changing water into wine, or
seven loaves into seven thousand loaves, or three fishes into three
thousand fishes? Think of it seriously. Do these two or three abrupt and
dislocated achievements appear to you adequately to represent the quiet,
gradual, orderly, creative power of the true Word of God, by whom the
heavens were made? For my part I see a noble meaning in your words, but
the meaning I see in them is not what you mean. It was necessary—so far
I agree with you—that the Incarnate Word should manifest God’s creative
Power as well as His Love and Righteousness. But how? Can you not answer
for yourself without my prompting? Does not your own conscience suggest
to you what is the highest effort of creative power? Are we not
taught—and do not our hearts respond to the teaching—that God is a
Spirit? And, if God is a Spirit, must not the highest kind of creation
be, not material, but spiritual?

Now I maintain that it is a greater, more sublime, and more God-like act
to create righteousness in accordance with God’s spiritual laws than to
create loaves and fishes and wine against God’s material laws. And I
maintain also—in opposition to your opinion—that “the best men” _do_
manifest “a tendency to approximate in creative power to the co-eternal
Word,” so far as concerns this, the highest kind of creation. It is
hard, very hard, for us to realize—in spite of the teaching of the
prophets in old times and of the great English poets in our own
days—that the creation of the heaven and the earth is “a very little
thing, a drop of a bucket,” as compared with the creation of
righteousness. It is a desperate struggle, this battle of the spirit
against matter, of the invisible against the visible, before we can
believe, with all our being—with our minds as well as our hearts—that
the creation described in the first chapter of the Fourth Gospel was
more divine than that described in the first chapter of the Book of
Genesis. But it was so. The first creation of orderly matter was but a
shadowy, unsubstantial metaphor, predicting the second creation of
orderly spirit. “All things were made by him, and without him was not
anything made that was made:” so writes the Evangelist, describing the
first, and proceeding to describe the second, creation: and he continues
thus, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” To the same
effect writes St. Paul: “The first Adam became a living soul. The last
Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Is it not possible, on the testimony
of one’s own conscience, and on the testimony of history present and
past, and on the testimony of the Apostles and Evangelists—even when
critically reviewed and disencumbered of the miraculous element—to
acknowledge that Jesus has been indeed “a life-giving Spirit” to
mankind, and to worship Him as representing the Creative Word who has
moved on the face of the material and of the spiritual waters, creating
order alike in the matter of the Universe and in the minds and
consciences of men?

And now to deal with your second objection (directed against my
definition of worship) which I will repeat in your own words:—“You
define worship as consisting of the sentiments of love, trust, and awe.
I confess this does not express _all_ my notion of worship. Such
sentiments I have felt towards my teachers, whether dead or living, but
I do not consider that I worship them. When we apply the word to God, we
mean by it a direct act of communion—or at least a real effort after
communion— between two minds. When I pray to God, I believe myself to be
directing my thoughts towards a Being with whom I am spiritually in
direct and immediate relation—the Maker of all, _my_ Maker and Father.
But I cannot persuade myself that I stand in a like relation to Jesus of
Nazareth. We do not pray to Paul or Plato, and I do not see any such
difference in the historical manifestations of Jesus as should lead me
to believe that I, and millions of other believers, can make my thoughts
known to him, and can receive back impressions from him, when we cannot
do so to other minds which have helped to change the world’s history and
have been revealers of the Father.”

Are you not here confusing a state of mind with an action resulting from
that state of mind? We have been speaking, not of lip-worship, but of
heart-worship, defining it as a state of mind. Now is not prayer the
result of worship, rather than identical with worship, as we have
defined it above? A child feels love, and trust, as well as reverence,
for its parents; and, in consequence he asks them to grant his desires,
or he thanks them for kindnesses; but yet the asking and thanking are
not identical with the feelings of the children towards their parents,
but spring from those feelings. Similarly we, feeling a trust and an awe
for the Maker and Father, far beyond what we can feel for Paul or Plato,
impart to Him our petitions for our highest needs, or offer Him our
thanks: but this asking and this thanking are not identical with, but
the results of, the feelings we entertain towards God. What you really
mean is that your love, trust, and awe towards God so far transcend
those corresponding feelings when entertained by you for your
fellow-creatures, that you ask from Him things which you would never
dream of asking from them. Moreover you consider (rightly or wrongly)
that a dead or absent man cannot enter into communion with you, but that
God is superior to death and to the limitations of space, and that He
alone can always hear and always answer; and this you appear to think a
non-miraculous Christ cannot do.

Well, here I confess there is a vast difference between us; for I feel
sure that Christ can do this. You say, I do not “pray to Paul and
Plato:” I do not, though I sometimes think that it would be better to
pray to Paul or Plato than to the sun or moon. But I do not find Paul, I
do not find Plato, claiming power to forgive sins; or declaring that he
came to die for mankind and that his blood was to be shed for the
remission of sins; or predicting that he should be slain and that he
should rise from the dead; or promising that whatsoever his disciples
asked from the Father in his name should be performed; or promising to
give his disciples, after his death, a spirit, the Holy Spirit of the
Father, which should enable them to resist all adversaries after he had
left them; or, in other words, making a manifest preparation to prepare
his disciples for his death on the ground that after death he would
still be present with them and still their guide and helper. Now even
when I set aside the Fourth Gospel, and eliminate all miraculous
narrative from the first three Gospels, I find myself in the presence of
One who, I am convinced, both said these things, and made them good in
deeds. I am penetrated with the conviction that He said them and had a
right to say them; and that this is proved by literary and historical
evidence, and by the history of the Church, and by my own experience.
The miracles I can easily disentangle from the life of Christ; but His
divine claims to be our Helper and Saviour after death and to all
eternity, I cannot. Accepting them, I can neither deny Him worship nor
myself the right of access to Him in prayer.

Christ’s whole life and doctrine, His plan (so to speak) for the
establishment of spiritual empire over the hearts of men, appear to me
imbued with divinity; but if I were forced to choose some one particular
discourse or incident in His life as a reason for my adoration of Him, I
should not choose any of His mighty works of healing, nor any of His
parables or discourses, nor even His death upon the cross: I should
point to the institution of the Lord’s Supper. As the years pass over my
head, the picture of that mysterious evening becomes more and more
powerful and vivid with me and more and more inexplicable unless Jesus
was verily the Life of the world. It is ten times more vivid and more
powerful now than it was when I believed in a miraculous Jesus. When I
kneel down at the altar-rails there rises up through the distance of
eighteen centuries that strange scene in the guest-chamber at Jerusalem,
where Jesus portioned out His flesh and blood, bequeathing Himself to
His disciples for ever. Then follows the thought of the countless
myriads of souls who have derived spiritual strength from this rite and
have lived again in Christ, and I say to myself, “Truly God was in the
self-doomed man who thus gave us His flesh and blood for mankind. A mere
man devise so strange a rite! So (at first) repellently strange! so
profoundly simple! so perfectly and spiritually successful!” I solemnly
protest to you that the inexpressible depth of the divine intuition
which found utterance in the Lord’s Supper, impresses me more and
more—far more than all the miracles put together—as a proof that we have
in Christ a Being in initial and fundamental harmony with the very
source of our spiritual life; and, rationalist though I am, I find
myself, nevertheless, praying naturally and spontaneously after this
fashion: “Master, my only true Lord and Master, grant that I may feed on
thy body and be quickened by thy blood, and live in thee a new and
spiritual life! Thou One Forgiver of sins, thou Bearer of all the
burdens of mankind, bear Thou the burden that I cannot bear, and blot
out all my offences; Thou who sittest at the right hand of the Majesty
on high, lift me in thyself even to the throne of heaven, and present me
to the Father as His child! Thou who didst die in the flesh and rise
again in the spirit never to die, rise thou in my heart and soul; take
my whole being into thyself and cause Me there to die unto sin and to
live with thee unto righteousness! Grant me eternal life, thou Lord of
Life! Say within my soul, ‘Let there be righteousness,’ and there shall
be righteousness! Create me anew, O Lord, thou ever-living, co-eternal
Word of the Creator.”

You may object that many of these prayers, with slightly different
wording, might equally well be addressed to the Father through the Son.
They might, and, as a rule, they probably would be so addressed. But in
moments of unusually deep emotion prayers of this kind go forth I think,
more naturally to the Father in the Son than to the Father through the
Son; and surely your very objection, and my answer to it, shewing that
prayers may be indifferently addressed to the Father or to the Son,
constitute a strong argument for the unity (in the heart of the person
praying) of Son and Father. And if I can pray like this, do I not
worship, must I not worship, Christ as the Creative Word, the Eternal
Son of God? And is there anything to prevent me from praying like this
in the fact that He to whom I pray, when He received our humanity,
received it in truth and honesty, with all its material limitations?

                            WHAT IS NATURE?


Desiring to approach the subject of miracles, you ask me whether I do
not accept the following sentence as a statement of my views concerning
nature: “The Universe is perennially renewed and created afresh by an
active energy of the Spirit of God, and what we call ‘laws of nature’
are the mode in which our limited minds are enabled to apprehend the
working of Creative Power.” If I accept it, you declare you cannot
understand why I should stumble at miracles. “It is a matter of
every-day experience,” you say, “and natural, that the human will should
suspend the laws of nature, as for example by arresting the motion of
gravitation; and consequently it seems unreasonable for you, or for
other believers in a personal God, to be scandalized if He also now and
then permits Himself the same liberty.”

I accept your statement, so far as concerns the perennial energy of the
Spirit of God upon the material and immaterial Universe; but I do not
quite agree with the thought, or perhaps I should say with the
expression, of the last part of your sentence—“the mode in which our
limited minds are enabled to apprehend the working of Creative Power.” I
should prefer to call the Laws of Nature “a revelation of Himself by God
to men, on the recognition of which our very existence depends.” The
Laws of Nature are indeed nothing but ideas of our own Imagination; but
they appear to me, more or less, true ideas, through which God has
revealed Himself to us as a God of Law and Order. I believe in the
fixity of natural Law as much (I think) as the man of science does; I
reverence a Law of Nature, not as a result of necessity, but as an
expression of God’s will. But your own remarks about the ordinary
“suspension of the law of nature by the human will” appear to me to
imply a little confusion of thought arising from a confused use of the
word “nature” in two or more senses. On this point therefore I should
like to say a few words.


i. _Nature sometimes means the ordinary course of things apart from us
and from our intervention_; as when we say that “_Nature_ looks gay”—an
expression which we might use of fields and even of a not too artificial
garden, but not of a city or a street.

In this sense it may be occasionally applied to the ordinary course of
things in our own bodily frame, so far as it goes on without our
deliberate intervention; as when a physician tells a fussy patient to
cease from medicining himself and to “let _Nature_ take its course.”

ii. _Nature sometimes means the ordinary course of things in ourselves,
not in our bodies but in some other part of us, but still apart from our
deliberate intervention_; as when we say that “_Nature_ impels us to
avoid pain, to preserve our lives, to cherish our children, to love and
revere our parents, and to seek the esteem and friendship of our

But sometimes in human beings one “natural” impulse is opposed by
another: as when the desire to preserve one’s life is opposed by the
desire to gain the esteem of one’s neighbours. When these two conflict,
which is to be called the more “natural”?

The answer will be different, according as we use the word “natural” in
the sense of “ordinary” or “orderly.” One class of natural impulses,
which may be called selfish or self-regarding, is perhaps more
_ordinarily_ predominant; another class, those which regard the good of
others, contributes more to the progress and _order_ of society. In the
individual, as well as in society, the former or “ordinary” impulses, if
unchecked, often tend to excess of passion, and what we call mental
“disorder”; the latter (which are seldom in excess) tend to self-control
and a well-ordered mind. In the former sense, it is more “natural,”
because more “ordinary,” to laugh when we are tickled, or to seize food
when we are hungry, than to die for our country or to provide food for
our children; but, in the latter sense, the nobler actions are more
“natural” because more in accordance with order.

What do we mean by a well-ordered mind? We mean one in which the Will
does not at once yield to the impulses from the things which seem
nearest to ourselves; in which the Imagination vividly presents to us
the wants of our neighbours as well as our own; in which the Reason
states what can be said for and against each proposal, and the
Conscience finally decides the course to be taken. Here then we see an
entirely new notion of Nature, at least so far as man is concerned; a
course or order of things no longer apart from human intervention, but
entirely dependent upon the supremacy of the Will and Conscience aided
by Reason and Imagination: and hence we are led to a double definition
of human Nature as follows:—

iii. _Human Nature means, sometimes the ordinary, sometimes the orderly,
course of human things._

Even as to non-human Nature we sometimes find a popular tendency to
call, or think “unnatural,” some phenomena which strike us as being
contrary to the general order and beneficence of things: and hence we
are less fond of saying that Nature prompts the cat to torture the mouse
or the moth to fly into the flame, than that she implants in the animal
race the parental instinct to protect the young. I confess I sympathize
with this tendency, and with all those who in their hearts look upon
death and pain as being contrary to the ideal order of things and
ultimately destined to be destroyed. But for the present, apart from
sentiment, let us simply note the fact that in our popular language we
sometimes say that it is the nature of a clock to indicate the right
time, but sometimes that it is its nature to deviate from the right
time: whence we deduce the conclusion that:—

iv. _The Nature of a thing means sometimes its object, sometimes its

                             Laws of Nature

Many of those unbroken sequences of phenomena around us, which have been
most frequently observed, have been made the subject of the Imagination
and have received an imaginative name. When we find Nature, upon an
invariable system, dealing out rewards for one course of action and
penalties for another, there is suggested to us the thought of a great
Lawgiver laying down laws and affixing rewards for obeying, and
penalties for disobeying. Hence the sequences of natural phenomena have
been called “Laws of Nature.”

Every action of every moment of our lives is performed for the most part
in the instinctive and unconscious confidence that Nature will not
deceive us by breaking her Laws: and hence they might, from another
point of view, be called “Promises of Nature,” or “Expressions of the
Will of Nature;” but “Law of Nature” has been selected—not perhaps
altogether happily—as suggesting something more fixed and definite than
even the Promises or Will of the Maker of the world.

_Law of Nature is a metaphorical name for a frequently observed sequence
of phenomena (apart from human Will), implying; to some minds,
regularity; to others, absolute invariability._

                      Suspension of Laws of Nature

Does human Will ever suspend a Law of Nature?

I am standing, we will suppose, under a tree in autumn. If a leaf
flutters down and rests upon my head, the Law of gravitation is no more
suspended by my Will, than if it rests upon some intercepting bough. The
result of the Law is modified; downward motion is replaced by downward
pressure: but the Law itself is not suspended.

But if, upon the command of a man, the leaf were arrested in mid air and
remained immovable for an hour together, and if I were led to the
conclusion that this was effected by no force which I could conceive as
being consistent with the ordinary course of Nature and with the
limitations of human power, then I should be obliged to say that the Law
of gravitation, in this particular instance, did not work. Using a
metaphor, I might say that the Law was “suspended,” and the phenomenon
itself I should call a miracle.

In reality the true explanation might be quite different. It is
conceivable that an extraordinary man, once in a thousand or once in ten
thousand years, might be endowed with the power of arresting the motion
of a stone in the air, without the intervention of the body and by the
mere exercise of Will; and this might be done by him as easily, as
regularly, and (for him) as naturally, as we ordinary men stop a stone
in the air by the exercise of Will acting upon our bodily machinery. In
that case gravitation would still act, pressing the stone, so to speak,
upon an invisible hand: and the explanation would be, not that the Law
was suspended, but that the results of the Law were uniquely modified by
the peculiar action of a unique human nature, in the same way in which
they are commonly modified by the regular action of an ordinary human
nature. This, I say, is conceivable. Yet if we find (1) in past history,
a general tendency to believe in miracles on very slight evidence; (2)
in the present time, a general and, as many think, a universal
refutation of the evidence on which miracles have been accepted; (3) an
increasing power of explaining many so-called miracles in accordance
with natural Laws—it becomes our obvious duty to regard miraculous
narratives with a very strong suspicion until cogent evidence has been
produced for their truth.

                         The Action of the Will

Hitherto we have been considering the action of the Will upon external
Nature; but now what as to the action of our Will upon our own Nature,
upon the machinery of our own body? Is that to be called a Law of Nature
or a suspension of a Law of Nature?

It is to be called neither. Our definition of “Law of Nature” was “a
metaphorical name given to the ordinary course of things _apart from the
intervention of human will_:” consequently the action of human will
(about which we are now speaking) is expressly excluded from the
province of Nature, in this sense, and can neither be called “a Law of
Nature,” nor a “suspension of a Law of Nature.” The action of the Will
falls under the head of “human Nature;” and, discussing it under that
head, we may call it by any metaphor we please, a custom, habit, law of
human Nature.

This distinction between the name given to the course of non-human
Nature and the name given to the action of the human Will on the bodily
framework, is based on our distinction between the regular and (if I may
use the word) the anticipable sequences of the former, as contrasted
with the irregular and unanticipable sequences of the latter. When the
Will is undeveloped or enfeebled; when the human being is a baby, or one
of an excited and undisciplined crowd, or mad, or drunk, or
narcoticized, or mesmerized, or reduced to the bestial level by some
overpowering instinct; we can occasionally prophesy his actions or
movements with something of the certainty and accuracy with which we
predict the motions of a machine; but we cannot thus calculate the
actions of a mature, healthy, and reasonable man. Hence it has been
usual to contrast with the “Laws of Nature” the “freedom of the human
Will.” We cannot demonstrate the freedom of the Will any more than the
fixity of the Laws of Nature: the belief in both is suggested by
Imagination, tested and approved by Experience and Reason, and finally
retained by Faith. Of course, when I speak thus, you will not suppose
that I assume that my mind, or being, is divided into distinct parts (as
the body consists of distinct limbs) called Will, Reason, &c.: you will
understand that I merely use the ordinary brief and convenient
phraseology which says “The Will does so-and-so,” meaning “I do
so-and-so with a certain consciousness which appears to me to result
from a faculty inherent in me of choosing between two or more courses of
action, which faculty I call Will.” With this precaution, I assert that
the action of the Will is natural as regards human Nature, but outside
Nature or “extra-natural” as regards non-human Nature, and that it does
not involve the suspension of what are technically called “the Laws of

It is thus shown that the human Will acts directly on the human body in
accordance with the Laws of human Nature, and that it does not interfere
with the external world except indirectly, through the body, in
accordance with the Laws of Nature (as technically defined). There is
nothing therefore in the action of the human Will that would justify the
_a priori_ inference that the divine Will would, _by any direct
intervention_, disturb or suspend that fixed Order in the external world
which constitutes a large part of the revelation of God to mankind.

If indeed we are to draw any kind of parallel between divine and human
action, we shall have to ask ourselves what is there appertaining to the
divine Spirit which can in any sense be said to correspond to its
“Body”? And I suppose we shall reply, in Pauline language, that Mankind,
which is said to have Christ for its Head, might be mystically and
spiritually called the Body of the divine Will or Holy Spirit. If this
be so, proceeding with our parallel, might we not repeat, word for word,
with the needful proportionate changes, the language of the last
paragraph: “The divine Will or Spirit acts directly on the divine body
(that is on mankind) in accordance with the Laws of Spiritual Nature,
and it does not interfere with the external world, except indirectly,
through mankind, in accordance with the Laws of Nature (as technically
defined)”? I do not say that this analogy is logic-proof: for what can
be called a “body,” or what “external,” in relation to the all-pervading
God? Nevertheless, as it falls in with our actual experiences, this
mystical parallel seems as well worth recording as most _a priori_
notions on this subject, though we take it as no more than an
illustration of possibilities. But, if we are to confine ourselves to
certainties, the one thing certain is, that Nature, in the fullest
sense, human as well as non-human, emphatically discourages us from
expecting “miracles.”



Your last letter now comes to the point which I have been long
anticipating, or rather it recurs to the point from which our
correspondence started—the credibility of the miracles attributed to
Christ. You tell me that during the long vacation you have been rapidly
reviewing my letters and attempting to enter into my views. There is
much, you say, that is new, and there is something that improves on
acquaintance, in this form of “Christian Positivism” as you call it; its
intellectual security has attractions for you, and it seems to you to
satisfy at once the aspirations of those who are drawn to worship
humanity, and of those who are drawn to worship something above
humanity. All this looks very well on paper, you say; but when you take
up the Gospels, it seems to fade away into a mere student’s dream: and
you state the objection thus: “For our knowledge of Christ, we depend
almost entirely upon the New Testament; now the New Testament contains
accounts of miracles; these miracles we are unable to accept as
historical; consequently the New Testament must be regarded as
non-historical, and the whole story of Christ becomes a myth.”

In return for this argument about the New Testament let me supply you
with a similarly sceptical one about the Old Testament, and ask you
whether you are prepared consistently to adopt it. “For our knowledge of
the children of Israel, we depend almost entirely upon the Old
Testament; now the Old Testament contains accounts of miracles; these
miracles we are unable to accept as historical; consequently the Old
Testament must be regarded as non-historical, and the story of the
descendants of Israel becomes a myth.”

Now are you really satisfied with this argument? The so-called Law of
Moses, the wandering in the Wilderness, the conquest of Canaan, the
lives of the wonder-working Gideon and of Barak, the wars and songs of
David, the denunciations, warnings, consolations, sorrows, visions, of
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the other prophets, are they indeed, in
your judgment, converted into mere myths by the admixture of the
miraculous element? Are they even made so far mythical as not to reveal
the story of the training of one of the most remarkable of nations, a
nation theologically quite singular upon earth? I contend on the
contrary, that the removal of the miraculous element results in a
two-fold advantage, on the one hand placing the story of Israel in the
province of history, and on the other hand, not bringing it down to the
level of the common-place, but elevating it to a pinnacle among the
histories of nations, and making it in a certain sense more wonderful
than before. If Moses was a plenipotentiary miracle-worker from God,
then there was nothing unexpected or wonderful in the spiritual results
that he achieved; and the wonder rather is that he achieved so little.
Give me the thunders of Sinai, with power to burn, blast, and plague my
opponents; add to these the power of producing without labour and
without delay miraculous supplies of manna, quails, and water, and I
myself would undertake to terrify or allure any nation into obeying a
far less noble and attractive code of laws than was set forth in the
name of Moses. But when I see a lawgiver with no such powers, doing what
Moses did, and shaping, or preparing the way for shaping, one of the
most carnal and unspiritual of races into a nation of Priests and
Prophets for the civilised world, then I am ready to fall upon my face
and to take my shoes from off my feet, saying from the depth of my
heart, “Truly God is in this place.” “But,” say you, “the so-called Law
of Moses is no more due to Moses than trial by jury is due to Alfred.”
That matters not. It is not any one Israelite; it is Israel as a whole,
Israel and its lawgivers and poets and prophets collectively; it is the
evolution of the spiritual from the carnal Israel that I revere; and all
the more, if that evolution be natural. Regarded as miraculous, the
history of Israel is somewhat of a failure and a bathos; but, regarded
as non-miraculous, it becomes a most miraculous triumph of divine
intention and persistence, even though the walls of Jericho succumbed to
the trumpets of Israel only in hyperbole, and although the sun stood
still at the bidding of Joshua only in the impassioned language of an
Oriental poet.

I am quite sure you must feel this as strongly as I do; you cannot
honestly and sincerely put aside all the history of Israel as a myth
because it contains a non-historic element of miracles, any more than
you put aside the battles of Salamis and Regillus because they too have
received their miraculous adornment. But some are probably perplexed and
scandalized at the task that is apparently set before them of
disentangling the true from the false, the myth from the non-myth: “How
strange,” they say, “that the story of the training of the Priests of
the world, that story which should have been a light to guide our feet,
has been suffered to shed darkness instead of light and falsehood
instead of truth! Is it probable, is it even decent and reverent, to
suppose that God should have allowed the Book of Revelation to be so
falsified that the simple and unlearned cannot depend upon it without
the aid of scholars and specialists?”

My reply is that, as long as men reason in this way, assuming that
Revelation ought to have been conveyed by some perfect medium, and
therefore that it must have been conveyed by some perfect medium, so
long it will be as impossible to refute them as it was to refute the
Aristotelian astronomers who argued that “The planets ought to move in
perfect curves; and the circle is a perfect curve; and therefore the
planets must move in circles.” We are like children crying for the moon
if we demand that this world, or that anything in this world, shall be
arranged as if the world were the best of all possible worlds. It is not
the best possible world, and we know it is not. Some things attest the
glory of God more perfectly than others; but nothing attests it quite
perfectly. You might as well hope to remove refraction from the
atmosphere, as to remove from the human mind the prejudices which compel
and always have compelled mankind to exaggerate and misrepresent divine
truth by forcing us to think that God must have acted as we should have
acted had we been in His place.

If you and I were omnipotent and had to re-make the Universe, I suppose
there is no question but we should make man perfectly good (according to
our notions of goodness) and that we should force him to remain good.
And if you or I were omnipotent and had to reveal anything to men, we
should write it large and clear in the sky, or in the heart, legible to
all without effort, so that men should be forced to understand it. But
God has neither done this nor anything like it. Therefore, since in
other respects He has departed so very far from our notions of the best
method, we cannot be surprised if He has not composed the Old Testament
quite in the manner which would commend itself to us as the best. From
our point of view the Bible teems with obvious imperfections. In the
first place there are none of the modern arrangements for securing
accuracy. No special newspaper reporters, not even contemporary writers
of memoirs or histories, have handed down to posterity the exact words
and deeds of Moses, David, Isaiah, and the great heroes and prophets of
Israel. Might we not almost say that there have been as it were
arrangements for securing inaccuracy? The authors wrote, in many cases,
long after the events they recorded, under conditions which rendered
accuracy of detail quite impossible. They have often been lengthy where
we could have desired brevity (as for example in the enumerations of
pedigrees and in the details of the furniture and ritual of the Temple
or the Tabernacle) and very brief where we should have prized amplitude.
Writing as Orientals for the most part write history, without
statistical exactness, they have sometimes made mistakes (sometimes
self-contradictory mistakes) in numbers and names, which it is now
impossible to rectify. Nay, we can hardly acquit them sometimes of moral
error; they have at all events sometimes appeared to praise, or at least
not to blame, sometimes even to impute to God, acts that would seem to
us—even when all due allowance is made for difference between ancient
and modern standards of morality—deserving of express and severe

But their special error which we are now considering remains yet
unmentioned. You know that nations, like individuals, in their infancy
have very vague notions of the uniformity of Nature, and very strong
notions of the personality of Nature or of some Beings behind Nature.
Even in modern times Orientals would say that God or Allah did this or
that, where we say that this or that “happened;” and I remember hearing
not many years ago that some Jews of Palestine, suffering from the
consequences of extensive conflagration, wrote to England for relief in
a letter which declared—in perfect good faith, and without any intention
to imply a miracle—that God had “sent down fire from heaven upon their
town.” An Eastern traveller of modern times tells an amusing story to
the same effect how a camel-driver, when questioned as to the cause of
his rheumatism, could not be induced for a long time to make any other
answer except that “Allah had caused it;” and even when the traveller
had elicited the immediate cause, the man would still persist that
“Allah had sent the rheumatism, though it had followed upon drinking a
great quantity of camels’ milk when he was in a violent heat.” You
should therefore accustom yourself, if you want to understand the Bible,
to look at Western narrative from an Oriental point of view. Take for
example the interesting account given by the African traveller Mungo
Park of the manner in which a trifling incident saved his life in the
desert. Alone and desperate, faint and famished, he had thrown himself
down to die, when he suddenly caught sight of a small but exquisitely
shaped plant of great rarity and interest: “And can God have taken so
much thought and care for the creation of this little plant,” he cried,
“and have no thought or care for me?” In the strength of this suggestion
he started up, pressed on his way, and reached safety. Now compare this
striking little story with the similar incident of the gourd, recorded
in the Book of Jonah, and imagine how a prophet of Israel could have
described the message of salvation. He would have told us (as the
prophet Jonah tells us) how the Lord God in the same day caused a plant
to grow up before the face of the man, and how the Lord God said unto
the man “Hath the Lord thy God taken thought for this plant, and shall
He take no thought for thee? Arise, go on thy way”—giving, as from God,
the actual words of the thought which the Western traveller describes as
suggesting itself or occurring to his mind. You must surely see how
naturally this conversion of the natural into the seemingly miraculous
would have been effected by a penman of Israel, without the least
intention to imply a real suspension of the laws of nature.

Keeping yourself still in the position of an Oriental historian,
consider what you would be called on to describe, in setting down the
story of Israel. You would find, as your materials, various traditions,
mostly oral, mostly perhaps poetic, describing a great deliverance
wrought in every particular by the hand of Jehovah Himself: you would
find the nation around you, and yourself among the rest, believing that
Jehovah Himself had drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea, that His
terrible voice had given the Law from Sinai, that He had been to
wandering Israel a cloud in the noontide to protect them from the sun,
and a light in the darkness to give them guidance, that He had supplied
them with food from Heaven and spread a table for them in the
wilderness, that He had Himself given them water from Himself (the Rock
of Israel!) to quench their thirst. If the Jordan’s fords, unusually
shallow, had allowed the whole nation to pass across, as upon dry land,
you would be taught as a child to hear and sing, in hymns that
reiterated the national deliverance, that the Lord Himself had done
this: “The waters saw thee, O Lord, the waters saw thee, and were
afraid.” If, in the general terror of the Canaanites, a strong city
suffered itself to be taken on the mere onset and war cry of the
invaders as easily as though it had been an unwalled hamlet, the
traditions would tell how the walls fell flat at the sound of the
trumpets of Joshua; if some sudden storm, accompanied with hail and
immediately followed by an inundation of swollen streams, threw the
chariots and horses of the enemy into confusion and ensured their speedy
rout; or if, on another occasion, the sudden gloom of a storm had been
succeeded by a long evening of peculiar brightness and clearness
facilitating the pursuit and destruction of the foe, then you would hear
that the “stars in their courses” fought against Sisera, or that in the
day of Beth-horon the Lord Himself sent down hailstones upon the enemy
and stopped the sun at the prayer of Joshua:—

             “The sun and moon stood still in their habitation;
             At the light of thine arrows as they went,
             At the shining of thy glittering spear.”[9]

All these materials, expressed in terse poetic phrase, you, as a
historian, would have to amplify into prose. Is it not easy to see how,
in the process, without any fraud or conscious exaggeration on your
part, you would transmute the natural into the miraculous?

To go through the whole of the miracles in the Old Testament and to
attempt to shew how in almost every case the miraculous part of the
story may have crept in without intention to deceive, would be a task
far above my powers; and it would require a book not a letter. If you
were to study with care the articles in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_ on
the books of the Old Testament they would give you a good deal of light
on this subject. But the problem is complicated by the fact that the
causes that originated the miraculous element are not always the same.
For example the seven miracles of Elijah and the fourteen miracles of
Elisha (the latter number being exactly the double of the former in
order to fulfil the prayer of Elisha for a “twofold” portion of the
spirit of his master) cannot be explained in the same way as the
miracles of the Wanderings or as those in the life of Samson. The
eminent Hebraist to whom we are indebted for the Articles
above-mentioned would confer on all students of the Bible a very great
benefit, if he would give us a separate treatise on the Old Testament
miracles. Meantime I must content myself with shewing how some miracles,
of what I may call a “grotesque” kind, may be explained as the mere
result of misunderstood names. You must be familiar with this kind of
explanation, I think, in ancient history, and even in modern English
history, although you have never thought of applying it to the Bible.
Perhaps you have read in Mr. Isaac Taylor’s _Words and Places_ how the
sexton in Leighton Buzzard used to show the eagle of the lectern as the
identical _buzzard_ from which the place derived its name—little
guessing that “Buzzard” is a mere corruption of “Beaudésert;” and the
porter at Warwick Castle, when he shows you the bones of the “dun cow”
slain by Guy of Warwick, hands down a similar erroneous tradition
probably derived from a misunderstanding of “dun.”[10] A far more famous
instance connects itself with the Phœnician name of “Bosra,” belonging
to the citadel of Carthage. This name meant, in the Phœnician language,
“citadel;” but the Greeks confused it with the Greek word “Bursa,” a
“hide;” and then they proceeded to invent a story to explain the name.
Queen Dido, they said, had bought for a small price as much ground as
she could encompass with a hide; she had cut the hide into thin thongs
and thereby purchased the site of a city for a trifle: hence the city
received the name of “Hide.” Thus subtilized the Greeks; but it may
interest you to know that our own ancestors consciously or unconsciously
followed in their footsteps. There is near Sittingbourne a castle called
Tong or Thong Castle, situated on a “tongue” of land (Norse, _tunga_)
which has given it its name. But tradition has invented or imitated the
old Greek story, and has declared that the castle was so-called because
the site was bought like Dido’s, a trifling price being given for so
much land as could be included in the “thong” made from a bull’s hide.

But now to come to the particular instance which is the only one I shall
give from the Old Testament. You must recollect, and I think you ought
to have been perplexed by, the astounding incident in the life of
Samson, connected with the “ass’s jawbone.” The hero is said first to
have slain some hundreds of men with the jawbone of an ass, and then to
have thrown away the jawbone in the anguish of a parching thirst. Upon
this, the Lord is said, (in the Old Version of the Bible) to have opened
a fountain of water in the hollow of the jawbone in answer to his cry:
and the fountain was henceforth named En-hakkore, _i.e._ the “fountain
of him that calleth,” because Samson “called upon the Lord.” Moreover,
when he cast away the jawbone, he is said to have called the place
Ramath-lehi; which the margin (not of the New Version but of the Old)
interprets, “the lifting up of the jawbone” or “the casting away of the
jawbone.” Without pausing to dwell on the extreme improbability of the
details of the story, I will merely state the probable explanation. It
is probable that the valley containing the “hollow” in which the
fountain lay, was called, from the configuration of the place, “the
Ass’s Jawbone,” before the occurrence of any exploit of Samson in it.
Indeed we find it actually called “Lehi,” or “Jawbone,” in the narrative
now under discussion, just before the supposed incident of the jawbone
took place: “The Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread
themselves in _Lehi_ (_Jawbone_),” Judges xv. 9. This latter fact indeed
is not conclusive (as the narrator, living long after the event, might
possibly use the name of the place handed down to him, even in writing
of a time when he believed the name to have been not yet given): but the
probability of a natural explanation of the origin of the name receives
strong confirmation from a passage in Strabo (303) who actually mentions
some other place (I think in Peloponnesus) called the “Ass’s Jawbone.” I
need not say that Strabo narrates no such Samsonian incident to explain
the name, and that it was probably derived (like Dogs Head, Hog’s Back
and many other such names) from some similarity between the shape of an
ass’s jawbone and the shape of the valley. Moreover, the word translated
“hollow,” though it might represent the cavity in an ass’s jawbone,
might also represent the hollow in a valley, as in Zephaniah (i. 11)
“Howl, ye inhabitants of the _hollow_.” Again, the name Ramath-lehi
cannot mean “casting away of the jawbone;” it means “lifting up,” or
“_hill_,” of Lehi: and accordingly the Revised Version translates, “that
place was called Ramath-lehi;” and the margin interprets the name thus,
“_The hill_ of the jawbone”. I should add also that the Revisers—instead
of the Old Version, “clave an hollow place _that was in the jaw_”—give
us now, “clave the hollow place that _is_ in _Lehi_.” You must see now
surely how on every side the old miraculous interpretation breaks down
and makes way for a natural and non-miraculous explanation of the
legend. But we have still to explain the name of the fountain, said to
have been given from the “calling” of Samson. This is easily done. It
appears that the phrase “him that calleth,” or “the Caller,” is a Hebrew
name for the Partridge, so named from its “call,” or cry. The “Fountain
of the Caller,” therefore, in the “hollow place” of the “Ass’s Jawbone,”
was simply, as we might say, Partridge Well in Jawbone Valley, which lay
below Jawbone Hill.

But now, many years after the champion of Israel had passed away, comes
the legendary poet or historian, who has to tell of some great exploit
of deliverance wrought by the hero Samson in this Valley of the Jawbone
of the Ass by the side of the Fountain of the Caller. Straight-way,
every local name must be connected with the incident that fills his mind
and the minds of all his countrymen who live in the neighbourhood. And
so “Jawbone Valley” became so called because it was there that Samson
smote the Philistines with “the jawbone of an ass;” and “Jawbone
heights” are so-called because on this spot Samson “lifted up” the
jawbone against his foes, or “threw it away” after he had destroyed
them; and “the Well of the Caller” derives not only its name but even
its miraculous existence from “_the calling_ of Samson upon Jehovah.”

I think you will now perceive the kind of reasoning which has compelled
me to give up the miracles of the Old Testament. It is not in any way
because I have an _a priori_ prejudice against miracles: on the
contrary, I started with an _a priori_ prejudice for miracles in the
Bible, though against miracles in general. It is not simply because
there is not sufficient evidence for them; it is in great measure
because there is evidence against them. For, when you can shew how a
supposed miracle may naturally have occurred, and how the miraculous
account may naturally and easily have sprung up, I think that amounts to
evidence against the miracle. And of course when you find yourself
compelled to explain in this way a large number of miracles in the Old
Testament, it becomes far more probable than before that the rest are
susceptible of some natural explanation. I do not pretend to have
investigated in detail every miraculous narrative in the Old Testament.
I am ready to admit that at the bottom of the miraculous, there may have
been in many cases something very wonderful. Being for example
personally very much inclined to the mysterious, I would not deny that
in the Hebrew race, as in some others, there may have been some strange
power, natural but at present inexplicable, of “second sight;” but, on
the whole, looking at the evidence for and against the miracles of the
Old Testament, I have now no hesitation in rejecting them as miracles,
however much I may admire the spirit that suggested the narratives, as
exhibiting a profound and spiritual sense of the sympathy of God with

But we may perhaps be called upon to believe in the miracles of the Old
Testament on the authority, so to speak, of the miracles of the New
Testament. Such at least I take to be the meaning of the following
extract from an author who has done so much good educational as well as
episcopal work, and has manifested such an openness to new truth, that I
differ from him with diffidence where I may possibly have misunderstood
his meaning, and with regret where I am confident that I have understood
him correctly. The passage is from Bishop Temple’s Bampton Lectures,[11]
and I will give it at full length, partly because I may have to refer to
it again, partly because I am afraid of misinterpreting it if I separate
one or two sentences from the context:

    “We have to ask what evidence can be given that any such miracles as
    are recorded in the Bible have ever been worked? It is plain at once
    that the answer must be given by the New Testament. No _such_[12]
    evidence can now be produced on behalf of the miracles of the Old
    Testament. The times are remote; the date and authorship of the
    Books not established with certainty; _the mixture of poetry with
    history, no longer capable of any sure separation into its parts_;
    and, if the New Testament did not exist, it would be impossible to
    show such a distinct preponderance of probability as could justify
    us in calling many [? any] to accept the miraculous parts of the
    narrative as historically true.”

If I understand this argument, I fear I must dissent from it. But let us
try at least to understand it. Dr. Temple admits (what I should not be
disposed to have admitted without a good deal of qualification) that
“the mixture of _poetry with history_” (and the context makes it clear
that he is referring to the miraculous accounts of the Old Testament) is
“no longer capable of any sure separation into its parts.” This is a
very important admission indeed. A plain Englishman may miss, at first
sight, the full importance of it. He may be disposed to say, “What does
this matter to me? What do I care whether a miracle is told in poetry or
in prose, provided only it is true?” But by “poetry” Dr. Temple does not
mean “verse;” he means hyperbole, poetic figures of speech and
metaphors; in plain English, he means language that is literally and
historically untrue. Consequently the admission amounts to this, that it
is now no longer possible in the miraculous narratives of the Old
Testament to separate what is historically true from what is
historically untrue. If this be so, I cannot understand how the question
is substantially affected by the New Testament. Let us suppose for a
moment that, many centuries after the times of Moses and Samson, real
miracles were wrought by Christ and the apostles; suppose even, in
addition, that the reality of the miracles wrought by Christ and his
followers could constitute any evidence for the Mosaic Miracles or could
refute the evidence against such stories as that of the Ass’s jawbone;
yet even then, what is the use of knowing that there may be a miracle
somewhere concealed in an Old Testament narrative in which it is
impossible to “make any sure separation” of the historically true from
the historically untrue?

But for my part I am quite unable to adopt either of these suppositions.
I cannot see how “a distinct preponderance of probability” for the
Samsonian myth or the story of the stopping of the sun could be secured
by the fact that miracles were really, long afterwards, performed by
Christ. All that could fairly be said, as it seems to me, would be this,
that since miracles were actually wrought by the Redeemer of the race,
who was Himself a child of Israel, it is not so improbable as before
that miracles might have been also wrought by other previous deliverers
of Israel. But this could not go far, and certainly cannot constitute “a
distinct preponderance of probability,” if we find positive evidence for
a miracle almost wanting, and negative evidence against it very

So far as Dr. Temple’s argument has weight, so far it appears to me to
be capable of being used in the opposite direction to that which he
intended. For if there is any connection between the miracles of the Old
and of the New Testament, so that the probability of the latter may be
fairly said—I will not say to constitute “a distinct preponderance of
probability,” but to contribute slightly to the probability of the
former, then surely we must also admit that the demonstrated
improbability of the former must contribute slightly to the _a priori_
improbability which we ought to attach to the latter. If the Bible is to
be regarded as a whole, and Bible miracles as a whole, then the fact
that the Divine Author of the Bible allowed revelation in the earlier
part of the Book to be conveyed through an imperfect and non-historical
medium will constitute a reasonable probability that He may also have
conveyed His later revelations through the same means. In other words,
the acknowledged presence of the law of “Truth through Illusion” in the
Old Testament should prepare us not to be disappointed if we find the
same law traceable in the New Testament: and the collapse of miracles in
the former should prepare us for a collapse of miracles in the latter.

Do not however suppose for a moment that a collapse of miracles implies
a collapse of the Bible, and do not be disheartened by such expressions
as that “the mixture of poetry with history is no longer capable of any
sure separation into its parts.” If that expression refers merely to
some of the legends of the times of the Patriarchs, or to a few isolated
passages elsewhere, it may be accepted without fear; but it cannot apply
to the great bulk of the history of the Chosen People. Here you will
find very little difficulty in rejecting the obviously non-historical
and miraculous element; and you will lose nothing by the rejection. Read
through Stanley’s _Lectures on the Jewish Church_ and ask yourself
whether you have missed anything from the campaigns of Joshua and the
exploits of Gideon and Samson because the miracles have vanished from
his pages. Where miraculous narratives are manifestly not deliberate
fabrications, but (as here) late prosaic interpretations of early poetic
traditions, they very often afford trustworthy evidence of ancient
historical events which imprinted themselves upon the hearts of a simple
people. Certainly I can say for myself that I never realized Israel as a
nation and had not half my present appreciation of the wisdom and wonder
of the deliverance and training of Israel by Jehovah till I had learned
to interpret the miracles as being nothing more than man’s inadequate
attempt to set forth in visible shape the unique redemption of the
Chosen People. Spiritually as well as intellectually, my enjoyment of
the Old Testament has been doubled ever since I have been able, however
imperfectly, to separate the historical element in it from the
non-historical, and to interpret the prose as prose and the poetry as

Footnote 9:

  Habakkuk iii. 11.

Footnote 10:

  “The legend of the victory gained by Guy of Warwick over the dun cow
  most probably originated in a misunderstood tradition of his conquest
  of the _Dena gau_ or Danish settlement in the neighbourhood of
  Warwick.”—Taylor’s _Words and Places_, p. 269.

Footnote 11:

  Page 206.

Footnote 12:

  The italics are in the text. In the next sentence, the italics are

Footnote 13:

  A more plausible argument might be derived from any expressions of
  Jesus which might appear to imply a belief in the historical nature of
  the Old Testament miracles. This argument appeals strongly to our
  sense of reverence. We do not like to think that Jesus was mistaken
  even in a purely intellectual matter. Yet do we really suppose that
  Jesus, in His humanity, was exempt from the popular intellectual and
  scientific errors of contemporary humanity? For example, do we really
  suppose that Jesus was exempt from the popular belief that the sun
  moves? For those who realize His humanity it is hard to think that He
  was intended to be so far separated from the men and women around Him;
  and, if He was not so separated, I find little more difficulty in
  supposing that He would have had the same belief as was held by all
  His countrymen concerning the historical character of the Old



You demur to the parallel that I draw between the Old Testament and the
New Testament; “The Battle of Beth-horon can be disentangled from the
miracle of the stopping of the sun, just as the battles of Salamis and
Regillus can be disentangled from the visions which are said to have
accompanied them: and so of other Old Testament narratives. But is it
possible,” you ask, “that the life of Christ can be disentangled from
miracles? Do not His own words and doctrine imply a continual assumption
that He had power to do ‘mighty works’ superior to those of ordinary

You could not have put your question more happily: for you unconsciously
illustrate the almost universal confusion—common to a great number of
theologians and agnostics as well as to the ordinary Bible
reader—between “miracles” and “mighty works.” You are really asking not
one but two questions. Your first question asks about “miracles;” by
which you mean some kind of suspension of a law of nature, or, if you
prefer it, some act not conceived as explicable in accordance with any
natural law by the person who is attempting explanation. Your second
question asks about “mighty works,” a phrase of constant occurrence in
the New Testament, by which phrase we may understand works superior to
the works of ordinary persons, but not necessarily suspensions of the
laws of nature. Works may be “mighty” and yet quite explicable in
accordance with natural law.

You seem to expect a No to your first question and a Yes to your second.
I answer Yes to both. (1) The life of Christ can be disentangled from
“miracles.” (2) Christ always assumed that He could do “mighty works,”
and from them His life cannot be separated.

It is a law of human nature that the mind influences the body. By acting
on the imagination and the emotions men have in all ages consciously or
unconsciously effected instantaneous cures in accordance with natural
laws. There has been much quackery and deception mixed up with cures of
this kind; but no physician, and no man of any general information,
would doubt that such cures have been and still are performed. The
Jansenists, subjected to the test of hostile observation, had some
undeniable successes of this nature. Every one has heard of the
so-called “miracles” of Lourdes; and no unprejudiced person would deny
that amid possible exaggerations and (I greatly fear) some frauds, they
have contained an element of reality. “Faith-healing” is going on in
England during this very year; and in the very place where I am now
writing I heard a captain of the Salvation Army just now give out a
notice that, besides a “free and easy meeting,” and a “holiness
meeting,” and sundry other meetings, there is to be a meeting on one
evening this week for the purpose of “casting out devils.” If I go
there, I shall probably see attempts, with partial success, to excite a
paralytic to motion, or to arouse some one from a dull stupor
approximating to insanity. These attempts, even though immensely
assisted by the intense interest and sympathetic demonstrations of the
spectators, will probably produce only a temporary effect; and when it
passes away the patient will very likely be worse than before. But the
law of nature is the same with all; in modern times with the Jansenists,
the miracle-workers of Lourdes, the “faith-healers,” and the Salvation
Army, and in ancient days with the priests of Æsculapius. Cures can be
effected by a strong emotional shock, sometimes of a gross kind such as
mere terror or violent excitement, sometimes of a much purer kind, an
ecstatic hope and trust. A marked distinction must of course be made
between those cures which can, and those which cannot, be effected by
appeal to the emotions. Paralysis (called in the New Testament “palsy”),
mental disease (often called in the New Testament “possession”), and
various kinds of nervous disorder, are all susceptible of emotional
cure: but the loss of a limb cannot be so cured. The cure of a man sick
of the palsy by the emotional method would be a miracle for spectators
of the first century, but it would not be a miracle for us now; that is
to say, it would be explicable by us, but not by them, in accordance
with known natural laws: but the restoration of a lost limb by faith
would be a miracle for them and for us alike: we know nothing of any
natural law in accordance with which such an act could be performed by
any degree of faith.

Now it will be admitted by all that the great majority of Christ’s
“mighty works” were acts of healing, and that many of these were
expressly attributed by Him to faith. “Seeing their faith” is the
preface, in each of the three Synoptic Gospels, to the account of the
cure of the paralytic man, and it is a very curious preface; for it
seems to shew that Jesus recognized a kind of sponsorial and contagious
efficacy of faith in that instance (as also in the case of the father of
the epileptic boy); and we know by modern experience of “faith-healing”
how great is the influence of a sympathetic and trustful audience.
Elsewhere, “Thy faith hath made thee whole,” “According to your faith be
it unto you,” “Great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt,”
“Thy faith hath saved thee,” “If thou canst believe, all things are
possible,” “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” “Be not afraid, only
believe”—these and similar expressions lead us to conclude that many of
the “mighty works” of Jesus were conditional on faith. Perhaps it might
startle you if I were to say that Jesus was not able to perform a
“mighty work” unless faith was present; yet if I said this, I should
only be repeating what St. Mark (vi. 5), the earliest of the
Evangelists, says on a certain occasion, that on account of the general
unbelief at Nazareth Jesus _was not able_ (οὐκ ἐδύνατο) to do there any
mighty work, “save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk and
healed them.” This confession is so frank and almost scandalizing in its
plainness that we cannot be surprised that the later Evangelist, in his
parallel narrative, softens it down by omitting the words “was not
able,” and by inserting “many.”[14] We need by no means infer from this
narrative that Jesus attempted “mighty works” and failed. It may be that
He did not attempt them because He discerned the faithlessness of those
around Him, and felt His own consequent inability. But, interpret it as
we may, this passage remains a most important confirmation of the other
passages in which Jesus Himself implies the necessity of faith. Where
there was no faith, there Jesus “_was not able_ to do any mighty work;”
and this limit to His power Jesus Himself recognized.

Here then we find at once a remarkable difference between most of the
“mighty works” of Jesus and the “miracles” of the Old Testament. The
former were conditional on faith, and, this condition suggests that many
of them may be explicable on natural laws; the latter have no condition
attached to them and there is nothing to suggest that they are
explicable on any natural law. Indeed the miracles of the Old Testament
are very often wrought, not as a natural response to belief, but as a
rebuke to unbelief: thus the hand of Moses is made leprous one moment
and pure the next, in order to inspire him with faith; Gideon lays out a
fleece on the grass, and the laws of nature are suspended for the
purpose of making it wet to-day and dry to-morrow, simply in order that
his unbelieving heart may be encouraged by a sign from God; the
faithless Ahaz is encouraged by God in the Old Testament to ask for that
very favour which Christ in the New Testament systematically refused to
the Pharisees—a sign from heaven: and for the sake of Hezekiah (who asks
“What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me?”) the dial goes
miraculously backward! Could contrast be more complete?

It follows that we shall be acting hastily if we place the “mighty
works” of Jesus on the same level as the “miracles” of the Old
Testament, inasmuch as the former are (in the strict sense of the term)
“mighty works,” while the latter (again in the strict sense of the term)
are “miracles.” But in addition to this reason, derivable from the
nature of the works themselves, there is another reason, derivable from
the evidence, for drawing a distinction. Besides the direct testimony of
the Gospels, we have other testimony, indirect but even more cogent, to
prove that Jesus wrought wonderful cures. The earliest of the Gospels
was probably not composed in its present shape till more than a
generation had passed away after the death of Christ; and, during the
lapse of thirty years evidence—especially if handed down by oral, and
that too Oriental, tradition—may undergo many corruptions. But the
letters of St. Paul are earlier, some of them much earlier; and many of
them are of such an unaffected, personal, informal nature that it is
absolutely impossible to suppose that they were written to express a
conviction that the writer did not feel, or to make the readers believe
in truths which were no truths. Now in his letters St. Paul quietly
assumes that many of his fellow-Christians, and he himself in
particular, had the power of working wonderful cures without the
ordinary means[15]. He even sets down this power as one among many
“gifts” or “graces” vouchsafed to the Church, and he places it by no
means high in the list. A man must be absolutely destitute of all power
of literary and historical criticism, if he can persuade himself that
these expressions in St. Paul’s letters had no basis of fact, and that
they were inserted, though unmeaning both to the writer and to the
hearers, in order to delude posterity into a false belief. There is
nothing in the Epistles to indicate the nature of the diseases which
were cured by St. Paul and his followers. We may conjecture with much
probability that they were nervous diseases, paralysis, “possession,”
and the like, such as might be acted on by the “emotional shock” of
faith: and the conjecture is confirmed by the fact that, in the time of
Josephus, healers of demoniacs were very common in Palestine; and
certain Jews of Ephesus are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles to have
tried an experiment, after Paul’s manner, in attempting to cure a case
of one “possessed.” But be this as it may, the fact that St. Paul and St
Paul’s contemporaries unquestionably cured some kinds of diseases in the
name of Jesus, and did this after some sort of system, by the utterance
of the name of Jesus, without the ordinary means, is a very strong
confirmation of the accuracy of the Gospels in attributing to Jesus the
power of working instantaneous cures. It would be strange indeed that
the Disciples, and not the Master, should have had such powers.

I have laid stress upon the fact that Jesus wrought “mighty” but natural
cures, in the first place, because it ought to increase our appreciation
of His personal influence and power over the souls of men, to know that
He not only possessed this power in an unprecedented degree but also
communicated it to His disciples; and secondly, because the fact that He
performed these “mighty works” has naturally led people, from the
earliest times down to the present day, to infer that He performed
“miracles.” Even at the present time you will find that the great mass
of Christians make no distinction at all between healing a paralytic or
a demoniac or a dumb man, and restoring a severed ear or blasting a
fig-tree; all alike seem to them “miracles.” If this is so even in these
days, in spite of physiology, you cannot be surprised that the first
Christians and their followers made no such distinction; they assumed
that the man who could heal a paralytic by a word could heal any other
disease in the same way, and do any other work he pleased contrary to
the course of nature. This belief would prepare the way for attributing
to Jesus other works of a very different kind, real “miracles,” that is,
suspensions of the laws of nature. Considering the multitude of such
acts recorded in the Old Testament as having been performed by Moses,
Elijah, Elisha and others, we may well be surprised to find how very few
have been attributed to Jesus: and I believe it can be shown that each
of these few has originated from some misunderstanding, and without any
intention to deceive. Of almost all of these real “miracles,” said to
have been wrought by Christ, I believe we are justified in saying with
Bishop Temple that, if we take each by itself, we cannot find for it any
“clear, and unmistakeable, and sufficient evidence.”[16] So far from
being an exaggeration this is rather an understatement of the case:
there is not only no “clear and unmistakeable and sufficient evidence”
for them, there is also very strong indirect evidence against some of
them. In some future letter I may deal in detail with these miracles;
for the present I will select only one.

This one shall be the most striking of all the miracles in the New
Testament, a miracle exceeding in wonder even the raising of Lazarus. It
is found only in St. Matthew’s Gospel, and describes an incident that
followed immediately on the death of Jesus. Here are the exact words:

    “And the earth did quake, and the tombs were opened; and many bodies
    of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised; and coming forth
    out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the Holy
    City and appeared unto many.”

Have I at all exaggerated this miracle in declaring it to be more
startling than even the raising of Lazarus? It records the resurrection,
not of one man, but of many. Nor are we allowed by the author to suppose
that he referred to visions of the dead, appearing unto friends; for he
tells us that “the _tombs were opened_, and many _bodies_ of the saints
arose.” Moreover this would appear to have been a miracle not wrought in
private as many of the mighty works of Jesus were, nor a sight
vouchsafed to a chosen few (like the manifestations of Jesus after
death); for these “bodies” went into Jerusalem, during the Passover, at
a time when the city was thronged with visitors, and “appeared unto
many.” What subsequently became of these “bodies”—whether they remained
on earth till the Ascension when they ascended with Jesus, or whether
they lived their lives over again and were buried a second time, or
whether they went back to their tombs again after they had appeared in
Jerusalem—is a question of some difficulty, which has exercised the
minds of commentators and has been answered rather variously than
satisfactorily. Be this as it may, the miracle must be confessed by all
to be stupendous.

Now for the evidence of it. I have been quoting from St. Matthew’s
account of this miracle. What would a dispassionate and intelligent
heathen say of it, coming for the first time to the study of our four
Gospels? Would it not be something of this sort: “Here you call on me to
believe a miracle that appears to me to be motiveless and is certainly
singularly startling: but I will suspend my judgment of it till I hear
the accounts given by your other three Evangelists. What do they say of
the effect produced upon the disciples and bystanders by this earthquake
and this most extraordinary resurrection? There were present the women
that loved and followed Jesus, there was the Roman centurion, there were
‘many’ who witnessed the appearances of the dead: even to those who were
not present, an earthquake rending the rocks in the neighbourhood could
not be imperceptible: what therefore is said on these points by other
contemporary authors as well as by your four Gospels? Tell me that
first; and then I will tell you what I think of the miracle.”

In answer to this request, which I think we must characterize as a very
natural one, we should have first to admit that no profane author makes
any mention of the resurrection of these numerous “bodies,” nor of the
earthquake that accompanied it. Then we should have to set down the four
records of the four Evangelists as follows:

[Transcriber’s Note: The following four quotations were originally
printed side-by-side. They are transcribed one after another so as to be
readable on modern reading devices, which often cannot handle multiple

    Mark xv. 37-39.

    37. And Jesus uttered a loud voice and gave up the ghost.
    38. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the
    39. And when the centurion, which stood by over against him, saw
       that he so gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son
       of God.

    Matt. xxvii. 50-54.

    50. And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his
    51. And behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top
       to the bottom [_and the earth did quake, and the rocks were
    52. _And the tombs were opened: and many bodies of the saints that
       had fallen asleep were raised;_
    53. _And coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they
       entered into the holy city and appeared unto many._]
    54. Now the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus,
       when they saw [_the earthquake and_] the things that were done,
       feared exceedingly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

    Luke xxii. 46-7.

    46. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father,
       into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said this, he gave
       up the ghost.
    47. And when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God,
       saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.

    John xix. 30, 31.

    30. And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
    31. The Jews, therefore, because it was the preparation, &c.

You see then that this extraordinary incident, startling enough to be
the very centre of a galaxy of wonders, is omitted by _three out of the
four Evangelists_. You see also that two of the Evangelists agree with
St. Matthew in placing a centurion at the foot of the cross, and in
assigning to him expressions of faith: but neither of them mentions the
“earthquake” as being even a partial cause of the centurion’s faith, nor
is there so much as a hint of any resurrection of the “bodies of saints”
from the tombs.

Now if you and I, with full knowledge of the facts, were writing a
biography of a great man, we might undoubtedly exhibit many variations
and divergences in our story. Every biographer who knows everything
about a man must omit something; many things therefore that you would
omit, I should insert, and _vice versâ_. But suppose we were writing in
some detail the description of the great man’s execution (as the
crucifixion is written in great detail by the Evangelists), and, in
particular, the emotion and utterances of the soldier who superintended
the execution. Is it possible under these circumstances that you should
relate (and with truth) that the soldier’s emotion was caused in part by
an earthquake which happened at the moment of the man’s death—adding
also that a large number of people rose at the same time bodily from the
graves—and that I, with a full knowledge that both these facts are true,
should make no mention at all either of the earthquake or of this
stupendous resurrection? I say that such an omission of facts is
absolutely impossible in any sincere and straightforward biographer, _on
the supposition that he knows them_. The argument that “it is unsafe to
argue from silence” is quite inapplicable here: nor is it in point to
allege the silence of a courtly historian who writes the life of
Constantine but omits the Emperor’s execution of his son. The answer is
that we have not here to do with courtly historians, but with simple
unsophisticated compilers of tradition whose main object was to set down
in truth and honesty all that could shew Jesus of Nazareth to be the Son
of God. Now it is impossible that the Evangelists should not have
recognized in this miracle, if true, a cogent proof—cogent for the minds
of men in these days—of the divine mission of Jesus: we are therefore
driven to the conclusion that they omitted it either because they had
never heard of it, or because although they had heard of it, they did
not believe it to be true.

You must not however suppose that this evidently legendary narrative was
added with any intent to falsify. Like many of the miraculous accounts
in the Old Testament, this story is probably the result of
misunderstanding—an allegory misinterpreted. The death of Christ
abolished the gulf between God and man; it tore down the veil between
the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, whereby Christ took mankind, in
Himself and with Himself, into the direct presence of the Father: and
this spiritual truth found a literal interpretation in two of the
Gospels which mention the “rending of the veil.” But Christ’s death did
more than this. It struck down the power of death itself: it broke open
the tombs, and prepared the way for the Resurrection of the Saints; and
this spiritual truth, being misinterpreted as if it were literally true,
gave rise to a tradition (which does not however seem to have been
widely received) that at the moment of Christ’s death certain tombs were
actually broken open, and certain of “the Saints” rose bodily from the
dead and walked into Jerusalem.[17]

Footnote 14:

  St. Matthew ix. 58, “And he _did not many_ mighty works there because
  of their unbelief.” For a demonstrative proof that the Gospel of St.
  Mark contains the earliest tradition, see the beginning of the article
  “Gospels” in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_.

Footnote 15:

  To the same effect is _James_ V. 14, 15: “Is any among you sick? Let
  him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him,
  anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of
  faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.” There can
  he no doubt that this refers to literal healing; and it is interesting
  as an indication that probably these early Christian attempts at
  healing were often tentative. For it will hardly be maintained that
  _all_ who were thus anointed were healed: otherwise death would have
  been exterminated in the early Christian church.

Footnote 16:

  Bishop Temple excepts only the Resurrection, which is not here under
  consideration. His words are “It is true too that, if we take each
  miracle by itself, there is but one miracle, namely our Lord’s
  Resurrection, _for which clear, and unmistakeable, and sufficient
  evidence is given_.”—_Bampton Lectures_, p. 154.

Footnote 17:

  In the early apocryphal work called _Christ’s Descent into Hell_, a
  striking description is given of the joy of the saints and the terror
  of Satan, when Christ descends to Hades and rescues the dead, leading
  them up to Paradise. In one of the versions of this work, the number
  of those “risen with the Lord” is mentioned as “twelve thousand men.”

                       THE GROWTH OF THE GOSPELS


You force me to digress. My object just now was to shew that the life of
Christ (no less than the history of the redemption of Israel) can be
disentangled from “miracles”, although not from “mighty works”; and I
proposed to take the six or seven principal miracles attributed to
Christ by the Synoptists and to shew of each account that it may have
naturally and easily crept into the Gospels without any intention to

But you will not let me go on in my own way; for you ask a question that
claims immediate answer, and something more than a mere Yes or No: “Did
or did not, the Publican and Apostle St. Matthew write the Gospel
attributed to him? And if he did, how can he have suffered a ‘legendary’
miracle to ‘creep into’ his narrative? The same question,” you add,
“applies to the Gospel of St. John. If these two Gospels, as they stand,
were written by Apostles, that is, by personal disciples of Jesus and
eye-witnesses of the events they profess to describe, then there is no
alternative; either Jesus wrought miracles, or the Apostles lied. No
eye-witness can err as you suppose some one (I know not whom) to have
erred, by interpreting metaphor as though it were literal statement.
Imagine Boswell, for example, misinterpreting some metaphorical
expression concerning Dr. Johnson to the effect that ‘the great
lexicographer was exalted by his countrymen to the pinnacle of honour
and fame’ and consequently inferring that his statue was set up on a
column like Lord Nelson or the Duke of York! The notion is too
grotesque. If then Jesus did not perform miracles we are forced to
conclude either that the Apostles deceived us or that the Gospels
bearing their names are forgeries. Which is it?”

In order to meet this objection I must say a few words about the
composition of the Gospels. For indeed your question shews a complete
misapprehension of the manner in which the Gospels grew up, and of the
ancient notions about authorship. In particular, you are far too free in
the use of the word “forgeries.” The book called the _Wisdom of Solomon_
contains some of the noblest sentiments that have ever found eloquent
expression, and yet the philosophic author who composed it (probably in
Alexandria about eight or nine centuries after Solomon’s death) does not
hesitate to appeal to the Almighty in words by which he ascribes the
authorship to Solomon himself: “Thou hast chosen me to be a king of Thy
people and a judge of Thy sons and daughters: Thou hast commanded me to
build a temple upon Thy Holy mount,” (ix. 7, 8). Now do you call him a
forger? The book of Ecclesiastes, one of our own canonical books,
declares that it was written by “the son of David, king in Jerusalem”
and that the author was a “King over Israel in Jerusalem,” (i. 1-12). No
one now (worth mentioning) believes these statements to be true. Yet
would you call the composer of Ecclesiastes a forger? Probably in both
cases the authors felt that they were honouring the memory of the great
king in thus introducing new truths to the world under the protection of
his name. I believe many other instances might be given of the literary
laxity of ancient times. But besides, in the case of the Gospels, you
must remember that authorship hardly came into question at all events
for a long time. The story of the life of Christ would be, in some
shape, current among the Church as the common property of all, as soon
as the Apostles began to proclaim the Gospel. Probably it was not, for
some time, reduced to writing. Among the Jews the Old Testament was
spoken of as Writing or Scripture; but their most revered and sacred
comments on it were retained in oral tradition: and hence all through
the New Testament you will find that “Scripture” refers to the Old
Testament, and that no mention is made of the doctrine about Christ
except as “tradition” or “teaching.” What therefore would probably at
first be current in the Church, perhaps for thirty or forty years after
Christ’s death, would be simply a number of “traditions” or oral
versions of the Gospel, current perhaps in different shapes at the great
ecclesiastical centres, such as Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Alexandria,
Rome, yet presenting a general affinity, and all claiming to represent
“the Memoirs of the Apostles” or to be “the Gospel of the Lord Jesus

It ought not to seem strange to you that the Church could exist, and the
Good Tidings be preached for some years without the aid of written
Gospels. Did not St. Paul preach the Gospel in his letters? Surely he
preached it very effectually: yet his letters do not contain a single
quotation from any written Gospel.[18] The same may be said of the
letters attributed to St. Peter, St. James, and St. John: not one quotes
a single saying of Christ, or contains a phrase that can be said, with
certainty, to be borrowed from our Gospels. The book of the Acts of the
Apostles, the earliest summary of Church history, contains many speeches
by Apostles, one by St. James, some by St. Peter and several by St.
Paul: in all these speeches only one saying of our Lord is quoted; and
that is a saying not found in any of our extant Gospels. Conjecture
might have led us to conclude that this would be so. We might reasonably
have inferred that, as long as the Church had in its midst the Apostles
and their companions, and as long also as they daily expected that
Christ would “come”, the notion of committing the Gospel to writing for
posterity would seem superfluous, distasteful, almost implying a want of
faith. But when we find this conjecture confirmed by the undeniable fact
that the earliest teachers and preachers of the Gospel, in their
teaching as it is handed down to us, made no use whatever of our written
Gospels, we may regard it as a safe conclusion that, during the first
generation after the crucifixion, written Gospels were neither widely
used nor much needed.

But soon the need would arise. One after another the Apostles and their
companions would pass away, and Christ’s immediate “coming” would now be
less and less sanguinely anticipated. The great mass of the earliest
Christians were either Jews or proselytes to the Jewish religion; but
now the Gentiles, who had come to Christ without first passing through
the Law of Moses, would become the majority in the Church; and for them
the Old Testament would not have the same pre-eminent title as “Writing”
or “Scripture.” For these Gentiles too the old Rabbinical prejudice
against committing the teaching of the Church to writing would have no
weight. Now therefore in several churches simultaneous efforts would be
made to write down the traditions current amongst the brethren; and
hence we find St. Luke prefacing his own Gospel with the remark that he
was induced to attempt this task because “many” others had attempted it.
St. Luke could hardly have written thus if one authentic and apostolic
document already occupied the ground and stood pre-eminent in the Church
as the written record of Christ’s life by an eye-witness. That there was
no such document, known to St. Luke, we may also infer from his
acknowledgment of his obligations to those who were “eye-witnesses and
ministers of the word.” It says that he shapes his narrative “as they
handed down the tradition” for that is the meaning of his word not “as
they _wrote_ the tradition.” You must have noticed that the extant
titles of the Gospels declare them to have been written not “by,” but
“according to” their several authors. The explanation (which has not
been successfully impugned) is that, even in the later times in which
their titles were given, the old belief continued, that the men who
compiled them did no more than commit to writing their version of a
tradition already current. They did not compose, they reported, the
tradition; the Gospel was supposed to be the same in all Churches, but
here “according to” one version or writer, there “according to” another.
The Apostles, being with one or two exceptions mere fishermen and
unlearned men, ignorant of letters, could not very well be supposed to
be authors of written compositions; but St. Matthew, being a
tax-gatherer, would necessarily be an expert writer, and therefore one
of the earliest traditions committed to writing would be naturally
attributed to his penmanship. But the evidence for St. Matthew’s
authorship appears, when tested, to be extremely slight. It was the
universal belief of the early Church that the Gospel according to St.
Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, and Jerome has quoted, as
coming from the Hebrew original, a passage not found in our Greek Gospel
of St. Matthew. Even when this Gospel is quoted by the earliest writers,
it is frequently quoted inexactly, and never connected by them with the
name of St. Matthew as the author. We ought not to infer from these
unnamed and inexact quotations that the writers did not recognize St.
Matthew as the author for their habit is almost invariably to quote
Gospels, simply as Gospel, inexactly, and without mentioning the name of
the Evangelist. But this unfortunate habit leaves us without any early
and trustworthy evidence for St. Matthew’s authorship. On the whole,
then, there is very little evidence for supposing that any part of our
present Gospel according to St. Matthew was written by an Apostle or by
an eye-witness of Christ’s life, and there is very much evidence tending
to show that such a supposition is extremely improbable.

Even if we grant that parts of the Gospel were composed by an Apostle,
it by no means follows that the whole was. There was a very natural
tendency, in the earliest days of the Church—when the traditional Gospel
was as it were everybody’s property and had not yet acquired the
authority of Scripture—to make the tradition as full, as edifying, and
as correct, as possible. If we may judge from the style of the book of
Revelation (which is said on rather more substantial grounds than are
generally alleged for the authorship of most of the books of the New
Testament, to have been the work of the Apostle John) the earliest Greek
traditions must have been composed in an ungrammatical, mongrel kind of
Greek, which must have been as distasteful to the well-educated
Christian as cockney English or pigeon English would be to us. This
could not long be tolerated in traditions that were repeated in the
presence of the whole congregation; and alterations of style, for
edification, would naturally facilitate alterations of matter, also for
edification. The love of completeness would introduce many corrections
and sometimes corruptions. Often, in those early times, the teacher,
catechist, or scribe, who knew some additional fact tending to Christ’s
glory, and not mentioned in the tradition or document, would think that
he was not doing his duty if he did not add it to his oral or written
version of the tradition. Even in MSS. of the fourth or fifth centuries
we have abundant instances to shew how this tendency multiplied
interpolations; principally by interpolating passages from one Gospel
into another, but sometimes by interpolating traditions not found now in
any Gospel with which we are acquainted. Occasionally there are also
corruptions of omission, arising from the desire to omit difficult or
apparently inconsistent passages; but by far the more common custom is
to add. If this corrupting tendency was in force in the fourth century
when the Christian religion was on the point of becoming the religion of
the empire, and when the sacred books of Christianity had attained to a
position of authority in the Church not a whit below the books of the
Old Testament, you may easily imagine what a multitude of interpolations
and amplifications must have crept into the original tradition at a time
when it was still young, unauthoritative, and plastic, during the first
two or three generations that followed the death of Christ. The result
of all these considerations is that we are not obliged and this, to my
mind, is a great relief to suppose that any passage which we may be
forced to reject from our Gospels as false, was written by an Apostle.

I say this is to me a great relief, but perhaps it is not so to you.
Your notion of what the Gospels ought to be, is perhaps borrowed from a
passage in Paley’s Evidences where he likens the evidences for the
miracles of Christ to that of twelve eye-witnesses, all ready to be
martyrs in attestation of the truth of their testimony; and you are
shocked perhaps when you find that the Gospels fall very far indeed
below the level of such a standard of evidence. What would have seemed
best to you would have been an exact record of Christ’s teaching and
acts, drawn up by one of the Apostles in the name of the Twelve, duly
dated and signed by all, and circulated and received by the whole Church
from the day after the Ascension down to the present time. And I quite
agree with you. But then, as we have seen in the history of astronomy
and in the history of the Old Testament, it has not pleased God to
reveal Himself or His works to men in the way which men have thought
best. Now you are not indeed obliged to infer that, because revelation
in the Old Testament was accompanied by illusion, therefore revelation
in the New Testament must have contained a similar alloy; but you ought
at least to be prepared for such a discovery. For me, it would be a
terrible shock indeed if I were forced to suppose that a faithful
Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ had wilfully misrepresented the truth
with a view to glorify His Master: but it is no shock at all to find
that the highest revelation of God to man has been, like all other
revelations, to some extent misinterpreted, obscured, materialized. I
have learned to accept this as an inevitable law of our present nature.
If it had been God’s will to suspend this law of nature in favour of the
New Testament, I think He would have consistently gone further, and
miraculously prevented the scribes from making errors, or posterity from
perpetuating them. But how can I think God has done this, when I know
that even the words of the Lord’s own Prayer are variously reported in
the two Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, and that every page of a
critical edition of the New Testament teems with various readings
between which the ablest commentators are perplexed to decide?

You must therefore make up your mind to believe that the earliest Gospel
traditions and even that triply attested tradition[19] which is common
to the first three Gospels and which runs through the three with a
separate character of its own, like a distinguishable stream passed
through several phases before they assumed their present shape. In my
next letter I shall probably ask you to consider what phases they passed
through; but you may perhaps expect me to say something at once about
the Fourth Gospel; for to that book many of the previous remarks do not
apply. It was much later than the rest; it has little in subject-matter,
and nothing at all in style, in common with the rest; it contains
scarcely a word of the Common Tradition which pervades the first three
Gospels; it probably passed through no phases and suffered few
accretions; and it differs from the other Gospels, even from St. Luke’s,
in bearing a far more manifest impress of personal authorship. The three
synoptic Gospels really agree with their titles in representing the
Gospel “according to” their several authors; but the Fourth Gospel
(although, like the rest, preceded by “according to”) is a Gospel
written “by” whoever wrote it.

The question is, who did write it? If it was written by an Apostle, an
eye-witness of the life of Christ, then we have to face—I am not sure we
have to accept—your alternative: “Either Jesus worked miracles, or the
Apostles lied.” But there is very little evidence (worth calling
evidence) for the hypothesis that an Apostle wrote it, and much evidence
against that hypothesis. St. John, the reputed author, is said, on the
evidence of Justin Martyr, to have written the Apocalypse; which, while
it resembles in style what we might have expected from a Galilean
fisherman, differs entirely from the style of the Fourth Gospel. Whoever
wrote the Gospel, we may be sure that he did not reproduce the words of
Jesus, but gave rather what appeared to him to be their latent and
spiritual meaning. This can be proved as follows. Suppose three
writers—say Boswell, Mrs. Thrale, and Goldsmith—had composed accounts of
the life and sayings of Dr. Johnson, widely differing in the
subject-matter and style of the narrative, but closely agreeing in the
character of Johnson’s thoughts, as reported by them, and very often
agreeing in the actual words imputed to Johnson; and suppose a fourth
writer, say Burke, had written his reminiscences of Dr. Johnson, which
entirely differed in language, in thought, and in subject-matter from
the first three: would you not say at once that this was strong proof,
that Burke did not report Dr. Johnson’s actual words, and that he had
probably tinged them with his own style and thought? But if furthermore
Burke reported Dr. Johnson’s words and long discourses _in the same
language as he reported Sheridan’s, and in language indistinguishable
from his own contextual narrative_, then you would, I am sure, find it
difficult to be patient with any one who, through force of prejudice and
pleasing associations, obstinately maintained that Burke’s biography was
equally faithful and exact with the three other concordant or synoptic
biographies. Now this comparison exactly represents the facts. You will
find several of the most learned and painstaking commentators differing
as to where the introductory words of the author of the Fourth Gospel
cease, and where John the Baptist’s words begin; and the style of our
Lord’s discourses in the Fourth Gospel is quite indistinguishable from
the style of the author himself. As to the immense difference, in
respect of style and thought and subject-matter, between the Synoptic
Gospels, and the Fourth Gospel, you must have felt it, even as a child,
reading them in English.

I must refer you to the article on “Gospels” in the _Encyclopædia
Britannica_ for what I believe to be the most probable explanation of
the origin of this remarkable work. It is there shown that there are
extraordinary points of similarity between the emblematic language and
emblematic acts attributed to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, and the
emblematic conceptions of the Alexandrine philosopher Philo, who
flourished some sixty or seventy years before that Gospel was written.
Dealing, for instance, with the dialogue between Jesus and the woman of
Samaria near the well at Sychem, the writer of that article shews that,
in the works of Philo, the well is an emblem of the search after
knowledge; Sychem is an emblem of materialism; the “five husbands”, or,
as Philo calls them, “five seducers” represent the five senses so that
the whole dialogue appears to contain a poetic appeal to the heathen
world, to turn from the materialistic knowledge which can never satisfy,
to the knowledge of the Word of God which is the “living water”. Still
more remarkable is Philo’s emblematic use of Lazarus (or Eleazar, for
the words are the same) as a type of dead humanity, helpless and
lifeless till it has been raised up by the help of the Lord. But into
this I have no space to enter. If you care to pursue the subject, I must
refer you to the article above mentioned. Canon Westcott has pointed out
that in arrangement and structure the Fourth Gospel has some distinct
poetic features. I should go further and say that, in this Gospel,
History is subordinated to poetic purpose, and that its narratives of
incidents, resting sometimes on a basis of fact, but more often on a
basis of metaphor, are intended not so much to describe incidents as to
lead the reader to spiritual conclusions.

We have no account of the authorship of the Fourth Gospel till the year
170 A.D., and this we find to be “already legendary.”[20] It is there
said that, being requested by his fellow-disciples and bishops to write
a Gospel, John desired them to fast for three days and then to relate to
one another what revelation each had received. It was then revealed to
the Apostle Andrew that “while all endeavoured to recall their
experiences, John should write _everything in his own name_”. No
confidence can be placed in the exactness of testimony that comes so
long after the event; but it points to some kind of joint contribution
or revision such as is implied in John xxi. 24: “This is the disciple
which testifieth of these things and _we know_ that his testimony is
true.” That the Gospel was written “in the name of John” by some pupil
of his—perhaps by some namesake—and revised and issued in the name of
John by the Elders of the Ephesian Church, is by no means improbable. In
some matters of fact, for example in distinguishing between the Passover
and “the last supper,” the Fourth Gospel corrects an (apparent) error of
the Synoptic Gospels, a correction that possibly proceeded from the
Apostle John; and perhaps the solemn asseveration as to the issue of
blood and water from the side of Jesus (“And he that hath seen hath
borne witness, and his witness is true: and he knoweth that he saith
true, that ye also may believe”) may be a reminiscence of some special
testimony from the aged Apostle; but it is impossible to ascertain how
far emblematic and historical narratives are blended in such passages as
the dialogue with the Samaritan woman, the miracle at Cana, and the
raising of Lazarus. The author was convinced (like every other believer,
at that time) that Jesus _did_ work many miracles, and _could_ have
worked any kind of miracle; but he had noted the unspiritual tendency to
magnify the “mighty works” of Jesus as merely “mighty:” he therefore
selected from the traditions before him those in which the spiritual and
emblematic meaning was predominant. In doing this, he sometimes took a
spiritual metaphor and expanded it into a spiritual history. Again, he
had also noted an unspiritual tendency to lay undue stress upon the
exact words of Jesus; and he therefore determined—besides giving
prominence to the promise of Jesus concerning His Spirit, which was to
guide the disciples into all truth—to exhibit, in his Gospel, the
spiritual purport of Christ’s doctrine rather than to repeat each saying
as it was actually delivered.

As I write these words, with the pages of the Gospel open before me, my
eye falls upon the story of the raising of Lazarus: “Jesus said unto
her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth on me, though
he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me
shall never die.” Is it possible, I say to myself, that Jesus did _not_
say these entrancing words? And how often does the same question arise
as one turns over the leaves: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give
unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you:” “Yet a little while
and the world beholdeth me no more; but ye behold me: because I live, ye
shall live also.” Could any one at any time have invented such sayings?
Still less, is it possible they could have been invented in the times of
Trajan or Hadrian by any Asiatic Greek or Alexandrian Jew? But truth
compels me to answer that, just as the Asiatic Jew St. Paul, although he
never saw or heard Jesus, was inspired by the Spirit of Jesus to utter
words of spiritual truth and beauty worthy of Jesus Himself, so an
Asiatic Greek or Alexandrian Jew of the time of Trajan may have been
prompted by the same Spirit to penetrate to the very depths of the
meaning of Jesus and to express some of the conclusions to be derived
from His sayings more clearly than we can see them even in the words of
Jesus Himself, as they are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. I do not
see on what principle we can so limit the operation of the Holy Spirit
as to say it could not extend, in its most perfect force, beyond the age
of Domitian or Nerva or even Trajan. Having before me the doctrine of
the Synoptic Gospels, I am forbidden by mere considerations of style and
literary criticism from believing that Jesus used the exact words, “I am
the true vine,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the light of the world,”
“I am the resurrection and the life;” but I accept these sayings as
divinely inspired, and as being far deeper and fuller expressions of the
spiritual nature of Jesus than any of the inferences which I could draw
for myself from the Synoptic doctrine. Do not then say that I “reject”
the Fourth Gospel. I accept all that is essential in it; and this I
accept on far safer grounds than many who would accuse me of rejecting
it. For their acceptance might be shaken to-morrow if some new piece of
evidence appeared decisively shewing that the Gospel was not written by
John the Apostle; but my acceptance is independent of authorship, and is
based upon the testimony of my conscience.

Surely you must feel that it would be absurd for one who tests religious
doctrine to some extent by experience and by history, to reject the
Fourth Gospel because it is in a great measure emblematic, and because
it was not written by the man who was supposed to have written it. Be
the author who he may, I shall never cease to feel grateful to him. The
all-embracing sweep of view which enabled him to look on the Incarnation
as the central incident of the world’s history and to set forth Christ
as the Eternal Word and Eternal Son, not dependent for this claim upon a
mere Miraculous Conception; the spiritual contempt for mere “mighty
works,” which leads him repeatedly to claim faith for Jesus Himself
firstly, and for the “words” of Jesus secondly, and only as a last
reserve to demand belief “for the works’ sake;” and the true intuition
with which he fastens on the promise of Jesus (only hinted at in the
Synoptic Gospels) that He would be present with His disciples at every
time and place and that He would give them “a voice,” and a Spirit not
to be gainsaid—from which brief suggestion the author worked out in
detail the promise of the Holy Spirit, and predicted the nobler and
ampler future of the Church these true, and profound, and spiritual
intuitions will always excite my deepest gratitude and admiration. The
doctrine of the Eternal Word had its origin perhaps in the schools of
Alexandria, and certainly formed no part of the teaching of Jesus; but,
Christianized as it is by the author of the Fourth Gospel, it commends
itself as a key to many mysteries, and (like the Fourth Gospel itself)
it appears to be but one among many illustrations of the divine
development of Christian doctrine; “I have yet many things to say unto
you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of Truth,
is come, he will guide you into all truth.” In a word, without the
Fourth Gospel, Christendom might (it would seem) have failed forever to
appreciate the true nature of its Redeemer.

I cannot indeed repress some regret that this most marvellously endowed
minister and prophet of Christ should have been allowed to select a
poetic and even illusive form in order to publish his divine truths.
Hitherto I have been able with pleasure and satisfaction to see the
illusive integument being gradually separated from the inner truth, as
in astronomy and in the history of the Old Testament. Now comes a point
where I myself should like to recoil. But how puerile and faithless
should I be if I assumed that God would give to the world along with His
divine revelation precisely that modicum of illusion (and no more) which
I myself personally am just able to receive with pleasure! Let us rather
follow where, as Plato says, “the argument leads us.” Or, if you prefer
me to quote from the Fourth Gospel itself, let us follow the guidance of
Him who is both “the Way and the Truth.”

Footnote 18:

  If 1 Tim. v. 18 were an exception, it would shew that that letter,
  quoting a Gospel as “Scripture,” was later than St. Paul. But it is
  possibly not an exception.

Footnote 19:

  “Attested” is not the same as “originated.” The tradition may
  (possibly) have been originated by a single author: but witness, or
  “attestation”, was borne to its authoritative character by the three
  earliest Gospels, whose authors, or compilers, independently adopted
  it. It is therefore ‘triply attested’.

Footnote 20:

  “The Fragment of Muratori,” Westcott, _Introduction to the Gospels_,
  p. 255.

                          CHRISTIAN ILLUSIONS


Once more I am compelled to digress: and, this time, it is in order to
meet what you must let me call a preconception of yours. You say that it
appears to you “impossible that Christ, if really divine, should have
been permitted by God to be worshipped as a worker of miracles for
eighteen centuries, although in reality he had no power to work them.”

Is this much more than a repetition of your former objection that my
views amount to “a new religion,” and that illusion, although it may
abound in the history of the thoughts of mankind, can never have been
permitted to connect itself with a really divine revelation? I have
already in part answered these prejudices—for they are nothing more—by
shewing that illusion permeates what is called “natural religion,” and
by subsequently shewing that the inspired books of the Old Testament
exhibit illusions in every page; not only the illusions of the chosen
people, but illusions also on the part of the authors of the several
books, who misinterpreted tradition so as to convert a non-miraculous
into a miraculous history. But now let us deal more particularly with
Christian illusions. Here I will try to show you, first, how natural and
(humanly speaking) how inevitable it was that illusions should gather
round the earliest Christian traditions, and how easily there might have
sprung up miraculous accounts in connection with them. Then, and not
till then, having done my best to dispel your natural prejudice, I will
take in detail the six or seven principal miracles attributed to Christ
by all the three Synoptic Evangelists, and will endeavour to show you
that these accounts did actually spring up in a natural and inevitable
way, after the manner of illusions, without any attempt to deceive on
the part of the compilers of the Gospels. It will appear, I think, that
the life and doctrine of Christ are independent of these miracles and
can easily be separated from them.

For the present then I am to speak of the naturalness or inevitability
of illusions gathering about Christ’s acts and words in the minds of His
disciples. Does any student of the Fourth Gospel need to be convinced of
this? Perhaps the author of that work discerned the illusions of the
early Church even too clearly, so that he slightly overshot the mark in
the frequency of the false inferences and misunderstandings with which
he delights to encompass the words and deeds of Jesus. Perhaps the
composer of “the Spiritual Gospel” has been led even too far by his
profound and true perception that this Incarnate Word—this Being from
another sphere who was and is in the bosom of the Father—could not move
on the earth, among earthly creatures, without being perpetually
misunderstood by them. But is there not manifest truth in his conception
of Jesus as of One having different thoughts from those of common men,
different ways of regarding all things small or great, a spiritual
dialect of His own, not at once to be comprehended by ordinary beings?
Certain it is that, in the Fourth Gospel, Christ’s discourses are one
string of metaphors which are literally and falsely interpreted by those
to whom they are addressed. “Flesh,” “blood,” “water,” “sleep,” “birth,”
“death,” “life,” “temple,” “bread,” “meat,” “night,” “way,”—these and I
know not how many more simple words present themselves, as we rapidly
turn over the pages of that Gospel, always metaphorically used, and
always misunderstood. Nor can it be said that they were misunderstood by
enemies and unbelievers alone; His disciples constantly misunderstood
them. The life of Christ in the Fourth Gospel is one continuous
misunderstanding. I will not say that this represents the exact fact;
but I doubt not that the inspired insight of the author, be he who he
may, took in the full meaning of all the hints that are given by the
Synoptists as to the misunderstanding of the disciples about their
Master, and led him to the deliberate conclusion that the life of Christ
in the flesh was one perpetual source of illusions to the
Twelve—illusions through which, by the guidance of the Spirit, they were
to be led to the truth: “What I do ye know not now, but ye shall know
hereafter.” I believe he went even further and perceived that Christ’s
life was in danger of becoming a total delusion to the earliest
Christians through their tendency to the materialistic and the
miraculous, and that the best means of preserving the Church from such a
danger was to accustom the faithful to attach value to the words and
deeds of Christ only so far as they could interpret them spiritually,
trusting to the Spirit for continual guidance into new truth.

This then is my first proposition, that Christ was sure to be
misunderstood by those around Him, owing to His manner of using the
language of metaphor. You must know very well that this conjecture is
confirmed by fact. Sometimes the Synoptists note the fact, as when He
spoke of “leaven” and the Twelve misunderstood Him literally; and
several other instances are on record. But it is of course possible that
on many other occasions the misunderstanding may have existed, but may
not have been noted by the Evangelists. Take one instance. In the
discourse of Jesus to the Seventy Disciples (Luke x. 19) Jesus makes the
following statement: “I have given you authority to tread upon _serpents
and scorpions_ and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall in
any wise hurt (ἀδικήσει) you.” How are we to understand this “treading
upon _serpents and scorpions_”? Literally or metaphorically? Surely the
text itself makes it evident that Jesus used the words metaphorically to
refer to “the power of the Enemy,” _i.e._ “the Serpent,” or Satan,
probably with a special reference to the casting out of devils. Moreover
the passage is introduced by a statement that “the Seventy returned
_with joy_, saying, Lord, _even the devils are subject unto us in thy
name_. And he said, I beheld _Satan_ fall as lightning from Heaven.
Behold I have given you authority to tread _upon serpents_.... _Howbeit_
in this _rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you_; but rejoice
that your names are written in Heaven.” As for the other part of the
promise, “nothing shall hurt you,” it surely does not seem to you that
these words must imply literal “hurt”? If it does, let me direct your
attention to a much more striking instance of Christ’s extraordinary use
of metaphor in a passage where the Disciples are told, almost in a
breath, that _not a hair of their heads shall perish_ and yet that some
of them shall be “_put to death_” (Luke xxi. 16-18). I think then that
you will agree with me that the “authority to tread upon _serpents_”
mentioned in St. Luke contained not a literal, but a spiritual promise,
to tread upon the power of “the Serpent.” Nevertheless, that this
promise about “serpents” was very early misinterpreted literally can be
shewn, not indeed from a genuine passage of the Gospels, but from a very
early interpolation in St. Mark’s Gospel, xvi. 17, 18: “These signs
shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils;
they shall speak with new tongues; they _shall take up serpents_, and if
they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall
lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”

Here then we have a clear instance of misunderstanding (not noted by the
Evangelists) arising in very early if not in the very earliest times
from the metaphorical language of Jesus. One more instance of probable
misunderstanding must suffice for the present. You know how often in the
Epistles of St. Paul the word “dead” is used to indicate spiritually
“dead” _i.e._ “dead in sin.” A similar use is attributed to Christ in
the Fourth Gospel: “He that believeth in me, though he were _dead_, yet
shall he live” (John xi. 25); but here the impending resurrection of
Lazarus gives the reader the impression that it is literally used.
However it is almost certainly metaphorical in John v. 24, 25, 28, “He
that heareth my word and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life,
and cometh not unto judgment, but _is passed from death into life_.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour cometh and now is, when the
_dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall
live_.... Marvel not at this, for the hour cometh in which all that are
in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth” &c. Here
apparently the meaning is that the hour has already come (“now is”) when
the spiritually dead shall hear the voice, and the hour is on the point
of coming when the literally dead (“all that are in the tombs”) shall
hear it. In any case, the metaphorical meaning is indisputable in the
striking saying of Jesus (Luke ix. 60) “Let the _dead_ bury their dead.”

Now if Jesus was in the habit of describing those who were lost in sin
as being “dead,” and of bidding His disciples “raise the dead”—meaning
that they were to restore sinners to spiritual life—we can easily see
how such language might be misunderstood. It is probable that Jesus
Himself had actually restored life to at least one person given over for
dead, the daughter of Jairus, though by natural means. Of such
revivification you may find an instance described in _Onesimus_ (pp.
77-81) which is taken almost verbatim from the account of his own
revivification given by the late Archbishop of Bordeaux to the late Dean
Stanley, and sent me by the Dean as being taken down from the
Archbishop’s lips. If that was so, how natural for some of the Disciples
to attach a literal meaning to the precept, “raise the dead”! They would
argue thus, “Our Master healed diseases at a word, so can we; He once
raised a child from the dead and bade us also raise the dead; some of
the Disciples therefore ought to be able to do this.” How natural, under
the circumstances, such a confusion of the material and the spiritual!
Yet I have little doubt that the diseases which were cured by the Twelve
were almost always “possession,” or paralysis, or nervous diseases.
Compare the different accounts given by the Synoptists of the
instructions of Jesus to the Twelve when He sent them forth on their
first mission:

[Transcriber’s Note: The following three quotations were originally
printed side-by-side.]

    Mark vi. 7.

    And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by
    two and two; and he gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

    Matthew x. 1.

    And he called unto him his twelve disciples and gave them authority
    over unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal all manner of
    disease and all manner of sickness.

    Luke ix. 1.

    And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority
    over all devils and to cure diseases.

Here you find that the first Gospel (St. Mark’s) makes mention only of
the “authority over unclean spirits,” and this probably represents the
fact. The third account is an amplification; and the second altogether
exaggerates. Hence, when we read, in the context of the second version
of these instructions, “Heal the sick, _raise the dead_, cleanse the
lepers, cast out devils; freely ye received freely give” (Matthew x. 8),
we cannot fail to see several arguments against the probability of the
italicized words being literally intended by Jesus. First, the language
of Christ habitually dealt in metaphor, and in metaphor habitually
misunderstood by His disciples; secondly, there is no instance in which
a single one of the Twelve carried out this precept during the life of
their Master, and only one in which one of the Twelve (Peter) is said to
have raised a woman from the dead (for St. Paul’s incident with Eutychus
can hardly be called a case in point); thirdly the precept is recorded
by only one Evangelist;[21] fourthly that same Evangelist records only
one case in which our Lord Himself raised any one from the dead, _i.e._
the revivified daughter of Jairus—and it seems absurd to represent
Christ as commanding all the Apostles to do that which most of them
probably never did, and He Himself (according to the First Gospel) only
did once.

We pass now to another cause that may have originated miraculous
narratives in the Gospels. Try to extricate yourself from our Western,
cold-blooded, analytical, and critical way of looking at things. Sit
down in the reign of Vespasian or Domitian in the midst of a
congregation of Jewish and Græco-Oriental brethren, assembled for a
sacred service, “singing a hymn” (as Pliny says, describing them a few
years afterwards) “to Christ as to a God.” What effect on the traditions
of Christ’s life and works would be produced by these “hymns and
spiritual songs” which St. Paul’s testimony (as well as Pliny’s) shows
to have been a common part of the earliest Christian ritual? Would they
not inevitably tend, by poetic hyperbole and metaphor, to build up fresh
traditions which, when literally interpreted, would—like the songs and
psalms of the Chosen People—give rise to miraculous narratives? Part of
the service indeed would not consist of hymns but of the reading of the
“Scriptures” _i.e._ the Old Testament; but this also would tend in the
same direction. For there you would hear, read out to the congregation,
marvellous prophecies how, in the day of the Lord the Redeemer, the eyes
of the blind should be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, and
the lame should leap as a hart; and the sole thought possessing you and
every man in the congregation would be, “How far did all these things
find fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ?” You would hear from the
“Scriptures” narratives of marvellous miracles, how Moses gave water
from the rock to Israel in the wilderness and fed them with food from
Heaven, how Elijah raised the widow’s child from death, and how Jonah
spent three days in the belly of the fish; and the sole thought
possessing you would be, “How far were like wonders wrought by Christ?”
Then would arise the hymn describing, in imagery borrowed from the Old
Testament, how Christ _had_ done all these things, and more besides, for
the spiritual Israel; how He had spread a table for His people in the
wilderness, and given to thousands to partake of His body and His blood;
how Moses had merely given water to the people, but Jesus had changed
the water of the Jews (_i.e._ the Law) into the wine which flowed from
His side; how Jesus had fulfilled the predictions of the prophets by
curing the halt, the maimed, the blind, the leper, the deaf; how He had
even raised the dead and bidden His disciples to raise the dead; how He,
like Jonah, had spent three days in the darkness of the grave. If you
look at the earliest Christian paintings you will find that they
represent Christ as the Fish (the emblem of food); others depict the
Mosaic miracles of the manna and the water from the rock. These shew
what a hold the notion of the miraculous food had taken on the mind of
the earliest believers. How easy it would be to amplify a metaphor
derived from the Eucharistic feeding on the Bread of Life and perhaps on
the “honey-sweet fish” (as Christ is actually called in a poem written
about the middle of the second century) into a miraculous account of the
feeding of many thousands upon material bread and material fish! It is
greatly to be regretted that we have not one left out of the many hymns
and psalms of which St. Paul and Pliny make mention. The only vestige of
one that I know is found in a verse of St. Paul’s Epistle to the
Ephesians. It is at all events printed by Westcott and Hort as poetry,
and it is thought by many commentators to be an extract from some
well-known hymn (Eph. v. 14):

               “Wherefore (he) saith,
                     Awake thou that sleepest
                     And arise from the dead
                           And Christ shall shine upon thee.”

This perhaps is our only specimen of the earliest Christian hymnals.
Surely then it is noticeable that in three lines of this unique specimen
there are three metaphors, and in the second line a metaphorical use of
the word “dead” which—as I have pointed out above—has probably elsewhere
resulted in serious misunderstanding.

After the hymn would come the sermon. The preacher would stand up like
Apollos to “prove from the Scriptures,” that is, from the Old Testament,
that Jesus is the Christ. If you wish to know how some of the Christian
Preachers would probably discharge their task you should look at the
Dialogue with Trypho written (about a hundred years after Apollos) by
Justin Martyr—who, I take it, was very much superior in judgment,
learning, and ability, to the great mass of Christian Preachers in the
first and second centuries. There—among many other instances of the
adaptation of history to preconception—you will find Justin declaring
that Jesus was born in a cave, and that the ass on which He rode into
Jerusalem was tied to a vine, simply because certain prophecies of
Isaiah mention a cave and a vine, and because he is determined to find
fulfilments of them in the life of Christ. But in the early times of
Apollos, and during the next twenty or thirty years, before the Gospels
had been committed to writing, there must have been a far stronger
gravitation towards the Old Testament and a far more powerful tendency
to find something in the life of Christ to fulfil every prediction about
the Messiah and to correspond to every miracle wrought by Moses and the
prophets. Judged in the light of these considerations, our present
record of Christ’s life ought to surprise us not by the number, but by
the paucity, of the fulfilments of prophecy and the miracles contained
in them.

Against these arguments for the antecedent probability that miracles
would be baselessly imputed to Jesus (to be followed presently by a few
instances to shew that they have been so imputed) I know nothing that
has been recently urged except a consideration drawn from the life of
John the Baptist: “To the Baptist no miracle has been imputed by the
Gospels; to Christ miracles have been imputed; why not to both? What is
the reason for this distinction except that the former did not perform
miracles, while the latter did?” Two reasons can be given. In the first
place Christ worked “mighty works,” while John did not; and since many
of these “mighty works” could not in the first century be distinguished
from “miracles,” they served as a nucleus round which a miraculous
narrative might gather; in the history of the Baptist there would be no
such nucleus. The second and perhaps more important reason is, that, as
a counterpoise to the natural exaggerative tendency which might have led
men to attribute miracles to the Baptist, there would be also a tendency
to heighten the contrast between the Servant and the Master. This
tendency appears to me to increase in the later Gospels till at last in
the Fourth we come to the express statement, “John worked no miracle”
(John x. 41). But whether I am right or not in this conjecture, it is
quite certain that the attitude of the Christians towards the mere
forerunner of the Messiah—about whom the Prophets had simply predicted
that he would “turn the hearts of the children to the fathers”—would not
be such as to render likely any imputations of miracles to him. At
Ephesus, in the days of St. Paul, there were some quasi-Christians who
had received none but “John’s Baptism,” and had “not so much as heard
whether there is a Holy Ghost.” That gives us a much stronger impression
of the Prophet’s influence, and a much weaker impression of the
prevalence of the doctrine about the Holy Spirit in the earliest
Christian teaching, than we should have inferred from what we read in
the Fourth Gospel: was it likely, when the Baptist’s influence seemed to
the contemporaries of St. Paul still so powerful (perhaps too powerful)
that they would be tempted unconsciously to magnify it by casting round
him that halo of miraculous action which naturally gathered around the
life of Christ?

Does it seem to you very hard, and almost cruelly unnatural, that the
life of the Baptist—in whom the world takes comparatively little
interest—should be handed down with historical accuracy (at least so far
as miracles are concerned) while the life of Christ, the centre of the
hopes and fears of the civilized world, has been permitted by Providence
to become a nucleus for illusion and superstition as well as for the
righteous faith and love of mankind? It is hard; it is not unnatural.

         “When beggars die there are no comets seen;
         The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

What does Shakespeare mean by this except to exemplify the universal,
and natural, but illusive belief, that whatever affects the greatest man
must also affect material nature? Therefore in proportion to the
greatness of any man we must expect that the illusions about him will be
great in the minds of posterity. How indeed could it be otherwise?
Reflect for a moment. Jesus came into the world to be a spiritual
Saviour, a spiritual Judge; but how few there were in those days who
could fully appreciate even the meaning of these titles! Do you
yourself, even at this date, after the lapse of eighteen centuries,
grasp firmly this notion of spiritual judgment? Reverence can hardly
restrain you from smiling at the Apostles for their unspiritual dreams
of a “carnal” empire with twelve tangible thrones to be set up for their
twelve selves in Palestine; but you yourself, have you never, at all
events in younger days, dreamed sometimes of a visible white throne on
material clouds, of a visible and perhaps tangible trumpet, of an
audible verdict of “Guilty” or “Not guilty” externally pronounced on
each soul? perhaps also of palpable palm branches, and of I know not
what more sensuous apparatus, without which you can scarcely realize the
notion of the Day of Judgment? And yet all these are adventitious and
accidental accompaniments of the real and essential “judgment” which is
in Greek the “sifting” or “division” _i.e._ the division between good
and evil in the heart of each one of us. But I doubt even now whether
you understand the meaning of this spiritual “division” or judgment. Let
me try to explain it. Have you not at any time suddenly, in a flash,
been brought face to face with some revelation of goodness, some good
person, or action, or book, or word, or thoughts—which in a moment,
before you were aware, has lighted up all the black caverns of your
nature and made your mind’s eye realize them, and your conscience abhor
them, setting your higher nature against your lower nature, so that,
without your knowing it, this angelic visitant has taken hold of you,
carried away the better part of you along with itself into higher
regions of purer thought than yours, from whence your better nature is
forced to look down upon, and condemn, your lower and grosser self? This
“division” is the operation of the two-edged sword of the Spirit; and
when a man’s cheeks flush with shame, or his heart feels crushed with
remorse, under this “dividing” power, and he _feels_ the verdict “I am
guilty,” then he is being judged far more effectually than any earthly
law court could judge him. Now it is this kind of judgment that Jesus
had in mind when He spoke of the judgment of the world by the Son of
Man. In this sense He has been judging, is judging, and will judge, till
the Great Judgment consummates the story of such things as are to be
judged. But how little has the world realized this!

Probably some would have realized less of the spiritual if they had
imagined less of the material. You know how the English judges of our
times still insist on much of the old pomp and ceremony which in the
days of our forefathers was thought necessary in order to make justice
venerable. The trumpets, and the javelin-men, and the sheriffs in the
procession, the wig and gown and bands in court—they all seem a little
ridiculous to most of us now; yet possibly the judges are right in
retaining them. Possibly our brutal English nature will need for some
decades longer these antique and now meaningless trappings before they
will be able to respect the just judge for the sake of justice itself.
And in the same way, from the days of Clovis to those of Napoleon, many
a man who would have found it impossible to realize the righteous Judge
as the invisible wielder of the two-edged sword of the Spirit, has felt
a fear, which perhaps did more good than harm, at the thought of the
opening graves, the unclothed trembling dead, the thunder-pealing
verdict and the flames of a material hell. Who also can deny that the
illusion which has represented Jesus as having possessed and exerted the
power to cure every imaginable disease of the body, has led many to
realize Him as the Healer of something more than material disease, in a
manner otherwise impossible for masses of men living under an oppression
which often scarcely left them the consciousness that they possessed
anything but bodies wherewith to serve their masters?

Do not suppose, because I am forced by evidence to reject the miracles,
that I am blind to the part that they once played in facilitating faith
in Christ. A whole essay, a volume of essays might be written on that
subject, without fear of exaggeration. The Miraculous Conception, the
Miraculous Resurrection and Ascension, the miracles of the feeding of
the four thousand and of the five thousand,—it would be quite possible
to shew from Christian literature and history, how in times gone by,
when laws of nature were unrecognized, these supposed incidents of
Christ’s life not only found their way into men’s minds without
hesitation and without a strain upon intellect or conscience, but also
conveyed to the human heart, each in its own way, some deep spiritual
truth satisfying some deep spiritual need. It is the old lesson once
more repeated: the eyes take in, as a picture, what the ears fail to
convey to the brain or heart, when expressed in mere words.

But now, there are abundant symptoms that the tempers and minds of men
are greatly changed. Men’s minds are more open than before to the need
of some spiritual bond to keep society together; and the character and
spiritual claims of Christ, and the marvellous results that have
followed from His life and death, are beginning (I think) to be
recognized with more spontaneousness and with less of superstitious
formalism. On the other hand, the vast regularity of Nature has so come
home to our hearts that some believe in it as if it had a divine
sanctity; the thought of praying that the sun or moon may stand still
shocks us as a profanity; and boys and girls, as they stand opposite to
some picture setting forth a Bible miracle, look puzzled and perplexed,
or, if they are a little older, say with a sententious smile that “the
age of miracles is past.” In a word, that very element of inexplicable
wonder which once strengthened the faith, now weakens it, by furnishing
weapons to its assailants, and by inducing rash believers to take up and
defend against sceptics a position that is indefensible.

In any case, it is the duty of each generation of Christians to put
aside, as far as it can, the illusions of the previous generation and to
rise higher to the fuller knowledge of Christ; for the outworn and
undiscarded illusions of one generation become the hypocrisies of the
next. The illusions of the permanence of the Mosaic Law, of the speedy
Consummation, of Transubstantiation, of the Infallible Church, of the
Infallible Book, have all been in due course put away. A candid and
modest Christian ought surely to argue that, where so many illusions
have already been discarded—and all without injury to the worship of
Christ—some may remain to be discarded still, and equally without injury
to the Eternal Truth.

What if miraculous Christianity is to natural Christianity as the
Ptolemaic astronomy is to the Newtonian? Both of these astronomical
systems were of practical utility; both could predict eclipses; both
revealed God as a God of order. But the former imputed to the unmoving
sun the terrestrial motion which the latter correctly imputed to the
earth; the former explained by a number of arbitrary, non-natural, and
quasi-miraculous suppositions—spheres, and spirals, and epicycles, and
the like—phenomena which the latter more simply explained by one
celestial curve traced out in accordance with one fixed law. I believe
that in religion also we have made a similar mistake and are being
prepared for a similar correction. We have imputed to Christ some
actions which have sprung from the promptings of our own
imaginations—imaging forth what _our_ ideal Deliverer would have
done—and which have represented, not His motions, but the motions of our
own hearts. By what we have euphemistically denominated “latent laws,”
that is to say by hypotheses as arbitrary and baseless as the old
epicycles, unsupported by sufficient evidence and inconsistent with all
that we see and hear and feel around us in God’s world, we have
endeavoured to explain a Redemption which no more needs such
explanations than forgiveness needs them—a Redemption which is as
natural (that is to say, as much in accordance with the laws of physical
nature and the ordinary processes of human nature) as that Law of Love,
or Spiritual gravitation, which may be illustrated in the microcosm of
every human household. Now we are to learn the new truth: and as the God
of Newton is greater (is He not?) than the God of Ptolemy, so let us not
doubt that the God revealed in spiritual Christianity will be greater
than the God revealed in material and miraculous Christianity. The new
heavens will not cease to declare the glory of God; the new firmament
will not fail to tell of His handiwork.

Footnote 21:

  Of course its omission by the other Evangelists might indicate that
  the words were not uttered by Jesus; but it might also indicate that
  the precept, being generally misunderstood, was considered so strange
  and at variance with facts that it had come to be discredited and
  considered spurious.



From the digressions concerning the growth of the Gospels and the
possibility or probability that their truths would be conveyed through
illusion I now return to our main subject, the question whether the life
of Christ can be disentangled from miracles. And here you tell me that
some of your agnostic and sceptical friends quote with great
satisfaction the following sentence from Bishop Temple’s recent _Bampton
Lectures_[22]: “Many of our Lord’s most characteristic sayings are so
associated with narratives of miracles that the two cannot be torn
apart.” I can well believe what you tell me as to the advantage which
they naturally take of this admission: “Here,” they say, “is a statement
made on high authority that, unless you can believe that Jesus worked
_bonâ fide_ miracles, such as the blasting of the fig tree and the
destruction of the swine, you must give up ‘many of Christ’s most
characteristic sayings’ in other words, you must give up the hope of
knowing what Jesus taught.” I wish your friends, who quote this
assertion with so much pleasure, would also have quoted the
“characteristic sayings” alleged by Dr. Temple in proof of this
assertion; for you would then have seen for yourself that many of these
“characteristic sayings” are associated not with “miracles” but with
“mighty works;” and I am sure you have not forgotten the difference
between the two.[23]

For example the first of the “characteristic sayings” is, “Son, thy sins
be forgiven thee.” Now these words were spoken to the paralytic man;
and, as we have seen above, the cure of paralysis by appeal to the
emotions—although a remarkable act, and although, if permanent, so
remarkable as to deserve to be called “a mighty work”—cannot be called a
miracle. But I need say no more of this, as I have treated of cures by
“emotional shock” in a previous letter. Now all the other sayings quoted
by Dr. Temple refer to “faith” or “believing;” and all, I think, are
connected with acts of healing. There may be doubtless in some of our
present accounts of the “mighty works” some inaccuracies or
exaggerations as to the nature of the disease and the circumstances of
the cure. For example, when the cure is said to have been performed at a
distance from the patient, either (1) faith must have wrought in the
patient by his knowledge that his friends were interceding with Christ,
or (2) we must assume some very doubtful theory of “brain-wave”
sympathy, or admit that (3) the story is exaggerated, or else that (4)
there is a _bonâ fide_ miracle. For my own part I waver, in such cases
as that of the centurion’s servant and the Syro-Phœnician’s daughter,
between the hypotheses which I have numbered (1) and (3), with a
sentimental reserve in favour of (2); but any one of these seems to me
so far more probable than the hypothesis of a suspension of the laws of
nature that I do not feel in the least constrained by reason of such
“characteristic sayings” concerning faith, to give in my adhesion to a
narrative of miracle. On the contrary I say the mention of “faith,” and
Christ’s “marvel” at faith, and His eulogy of the “greatness” of the
“faith” in certain cases, all go to prove that these acts were not
miracles, but simply acts of faith-healing on a colossal scale. I hope
you will not feel inclined to sneer at the reservation in those last
four words. You will surely admit that, if Christ did anything
naturally, the result might be proportionate to His nature; and if His
power of appealing to the emotions was colossal, the material result of
that appeal might be proportionately colossal. I begin, therefore, the
process of disentanglement between the historical and the miraculous in
Christ’s life by a protest against a hasty and blind confusion which
refuses to discriminate between “miracles” and “mighty works,” and calls
on us to reject from the history not only the miraculous but the
marvellous as well; and I assert that the acts of faith healing with
which, as Bishop Temple truly says, there are associated many of our
Lord’s most characteristic sayings, may be accepted as generally
historical and natural.

This, however, would not apply to such a miracle as the restoration of
the ear of the high priest’s servant; and the reasons are obvious. The
faith necessary for an act of emotional healing is not said to have
existed, and is not likely to have existed, in a man who probably looked
on Christ as an impostor. Even if it had existed, the case was not one
where we have reason to think faith could have healed. Besides, the
miracle is omitted by three out of the four Evangelists. It is possibly
a mistaken inference from some tradition about an utterance of Jesus,
“Suffer ye thus far;” which may have really had an entirely different
meaning, but which led the third Evangelist to conclude that Jesus
desired His captors to give Him so much liberty as would allow him to
perform this act of mercy—a humane and picturesque thought, but not
history. It is scarcely conceivable that the other three Evangelists
should have mentioned the wound inflicted on the servant; that Matthew
and John should have added a rebuke addressed by Jesus to Peter for
inflicting it; and that John should have taken the pains to tell us the
name of the high priest’s servant and yet that they should have omitted,
if they actually knew, the fact that the wound was immediately and
miraculously healed by Jesus. The irresistible conclusion is that St.
Mark, St. Matthew, and St. John, knew nothing of this miracle.

When the acts of healing are set apart, and considered as “mighty works”
but not “miracles,” the _bonâ fide_ miracles in the Synoptic Gospels
will become few indeed: and I think it will be found that these few are
susceptible of explanation on natural grounds. We will pass over the
finding of the coin in the fish’s mouth which is found in St. Matthew’s
Gospel alone and can hardly be associated with any “characteristic
saying” of Jesus—and come to a miracle common to the three Synoptists,
the destruction of two thousand swine following on the exorcism of the

This is a very curious case of misunderstanding arising from literalism.
It was a common belief in Palestine (as it was also in Europe during the
middle ages), that the bodies of the “possessed,” or insane, were
tenanted by familiar demons in various shapes—toads, scorpions, swine,
serpents, and the like. These demons were supposed to have as their
normal home an “abyss” or “deep” (Luke viii. 31, ἄβυσσον); but this they
abhorred, and were never so happy as when they found a home in some
human body. The “possessed” believed that these demons were visible and
material; and the juggling exorcist would sometimes (so Josephus tells
us) place a bucket of water to be overturned by the demons in passing,
as a proof that they were driven out. In a word, the “possessed” could
hardly be convinced that he was cured, unless he saw, or thought he saw,
the frogs, serpents, scorpions, or swine actually rushing from his mouth
in some definite direction.

The explanation of the miracle will now readily suggest itself to you.
Some man, perhaps a patriotic Galilean, to whom nothing would be more
hateful than a Roman army, conceived himself to be possessed by a whole
“legion,” two thousand “unclean swine.” Identifying himself—as was the
habit of those who were “possessed”—with the demons whom he supposed to
have possession of him, the insane man declared that his name was
“Legion, for we are many” and they (or he) besought Jesus that He would
not drive them into the “deep,” _i.e._ into the “abyss” above-mentioned.
But by the voice of Jesus the man is instantaneously healed: he sees the
legion of demons that had possessed him rushing forth in the shapes of
two thousand swine and hurrying down into “the deep;” and what he sees,
he loudly proclaims to the bystanders. It is easy to perceive how on
some such a basis of fact there might be built the tradition that Jesus
healed a demoniac whose name was Legion, and sent two thousand swine
into the deep sea; and from thence by easy stages the tradition might
arrive at its present shape.

So far, I think, you do not find it very difficult to separate the
miraculous from the historical in the life of Christ, nor feel yourself
forced to sacrifice any of the “most characteristic sayings of Jesus.”
Let us now come to a miracle of greater difficulty, the blasting of the
barren fig-tree.

Even of those commentators who accept the miracle of the fig-tree as
historical, most, I believe, see in it a kind of parable. The barren
fig-tree, they say, which made a great show of leaves but bore no fruit,
obviously represents, in the first place, the Pharisees, and in the
second place, the nation, which, as a whole, identified itself with the
Pharisees. Both the Prophets and the Psalms delight in similar
metaphors. Israel is the vine; Jehovah, in Isaiah, is the Lord of the
vine, who demands good fruit and finds it not, and consequently resolves
to destroy the vine. So here, the Lord comes to the fig-tree of
Phariseeism, the tree of degenerate Israel, seeking fruit; and finding
none, He curses it, and withers it with the breath of His mouth. Is it
not easy to see how a parable, thus expressed in the hymns and earliest
traditions of the Church, might speedily be literalized and give rise to
a miraculous narrative?

Let me point out to you a curious fact confirmatory of this view. I dare
say you may have noticed that St. Luke, although he agrees with St. Mark
and St. Matthew in the context of this miracle, omits the miracle
itself. Why so? Is it because he never heard of the miracle? Not quite
so. It is because he had heard of it in a slightly different form, not
as a miracle but as a parable, which he alone has preserved. St. Luke’s
version of the tradition is that the Lord comes to the barren tree and,
finding no fruit on it, gives orders that it is to be cut down: but the
steward of the farm pleads for a respite; let the ground be digged and
manured, then, if there be no fruit, let it be cut down. A similar
thought, you see, is here expressed in two different shapes, a
miraculous and a non-miraculous; and it is not difficult to understand
how the former may have been developed from the latter.

But I see that your last letter has a remark on this very miracle, and
on the difficulty of rejecting it. “It is associated,” you say, “with
one of the most characteristic sayings of Jesus: for it is in connection
with the withering of the fig-tree that Jesus says (Matt. xxi. 21), ‘If
ye have faith, ye shall not only do _what is done to the fig-tree_, but
even if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into
the sea, it shall be done.’” “Here,” you say, “we have a characteristic
saying of Jesus expressly referring to something done, and done

Would it not have been wise, before making so emphatic a statement, to
consider how St. Mark, the earlier of the two narrators of this miracle,
sets forth the comment of Jesus? The comments run thus in the first two
Gospels, and I will add a parallel saying from the third Gospel, not
attached to any miracle:

[Transcriber’s Note: The following three quotations were originally
printed side-by-side.]

    Mark xi. 21-23.

    And Peter, calling to remembrance, saith unto him, “Rabbi, behold
    the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.” And Jesus
    answering saith unto them, “Have faith in God. Verily I say unto
    you, Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and
    cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall
    believe that what he saith cometh to pass; he shall have it.”

    Matthew xxi. 20-21.

    And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, “How did the
    fig tree immediately wither away?” And Jesus said unto them, “Verify
    I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall [_not only
    do what is done to the fig tree, but even if ye shall_] say unto
    this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea, it shall be

    Luke xvii. 5-6.

    And the apostles said unto the Lord “Increase our faith.” And the
    Lord said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye would
    say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou planted
    in the sea; and it would have obeyed you.”

You see then that the more authoritative (because earlier) of our two
witnesses omits those very words on which you lay so much stress, the
“express reference to something done, and done miraculously.” And ought
not this fact to make you pause and ask yourself “Am I really to suppose
that the Lord Jesus encouraged His disciples to command material
mountains to be cast into the sea, and material trees to be destroyed?
Did He Himself so habitually act thus that He could naturally urge His
disciples to do the like? Does it not seem, literally taken, advice
contrary not only to common sense but also to a reverent appreciation of
the law and order of nature?” I would suggest to you that you might
weigh the inherent improbability of the words in St. Matthew (literally
taken), as well as the external probability—which I will now endeavour
to shew—that the whole passage was metaphorical.

We know from St. Paul’s works, as well as from Rabbinical literature,
that “to move mountains” was a common metaphor to express intellectual
or spiritual ability. St. Paul speaks of faith that would “move
mountains;” and you will find in Lightfoot’s _Horae Hebraicae_ (ii. p.
285), “There was not such another _rooter up of mountains_ as Ben
Azzai.” Now we know from St. Luke’s Gospel (xvii. 6), that Jesus used a
similar metaphor of trees, as well as of mountains, to exemplify the
power of faith; and this without any reference to “something done and
done miraculously:” “If ye have _faith_ as a grain of mustard seed, ye
would say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou _rooted up and planted in the
sea_; and it would have obeyed.” Planted in the sea! Can you dream that
so preposterous a portent could have been prayed for by any sane and
sober follower of Christ in compliance with his Master’s suggestion?
Bear in mind that these words in St. Luke’s Gospel were uttered a long
time before the blasting of the fig tree is supposed to have happened,
and at a different place. Does not then a comparison of this passage
with the other two make it probable that Jesus was in the habit of
encouraging His disciples to be “pluckers up of mountains” and “rooters
up of trees,” not literally but metaphorically, meaning thereby that
they were to attempt and accomplish the greatest feats of faith?

You will, perhaps, be surprised when you find what it was that Jesus
regarded as the greatest feat of faith in the passage of St. Luke just
mentioned. It was a feat of which we are accustomed to think rather
lightly; partly, perhaps, because we are often contented with the
appearance of it without the reality: it was simply forgiveness. He had
told the disciples they must forgive “till seventy times seven:” The
Apostles, in despair, replied “Increase our faith:” and then Jesus tells
them that if they had but a germ of living trust, they could become
“uprooters of sycamine trees,” in other words they could perform
forgiveness, the greatest feat of faith. But perhaps you will say, “At
all events in St. Mark, the earliest authority for the miracle of the
blasting of the fig-tree, there is no mention of forgiveness, and
nothing that would indicate that his version of the words of Jesus
referred to what you call ‘the greatest feat of faith,’ _i.e._
forgiveness.” On the contrary, you will find that St. Mark, with some
apparent confusion of different thoughts, retains the trace of the
original spiritual signification of the words (Mark xi. 22-25): “Have
_faith_ in God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall say unto this
mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea, and shall not doubt in
his heart but shall believe that what he saith cometh to pass, he shall
have it. _Therefore_ I say unto you, All things whatsoever ye pray and
ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them;
_And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any
one_; that your Father which is in heaven may forgive your trespasses.”

I contend that, upon the whole, an impartial critic must come to the
conclusion that neither the miracle, nor the reference to the miracle,
is historical; and that, in all probability, both the miracle and the
reference to it arose from a misunderstanding, without any intention to
deceive. We must remember that the “short sayings” of the Lord Jesus—as
they are called by some early writer, Justin, I think—must have caused
considerable difficulty to the compilers of the earliest Gospels in the
attempt to arrange them in order. Pointed, pithy, and brief, pregnant
with meaning, sometimes obscured by metaphor, many of these sayings, if
taken out of their context, were very liable to be misunderstood. Some
compilers might think it best, as the author of St. Matthew’s Gospel has
done in the Sermon on the Mount, to group a number of these sayings
together without connection; others, as the author of St. Luke’s Gospel,
might object to this arrangement, and might make it a main object to set
forth these sayings “in order,” attaching to each its appropriate and
explanatory context. Now to apply this to the particular case of the
legend of the fig-tree. It seems probable that the compilers had before
them two traditions, one, a parable about a barren fig-tree destroyed by
the Lord of the vine-yard because it bore no fruit; another, a precept
about the power of faith in uprooting a mountain or a tree, _i.e._ in
achieving the greatest of spiritual tasks, the task of forgiving. St.
Luke interpreted both the parable and the precept spiritually, and kept
the two distinct. St. Mark interpreted the parable literally and adopted
the tradition which made it refer to an actual destruction of a tree; he
also appended to it the saying on the power of faithful prayer to work
any wonders soever, as being an appropriate comment on so startling a
miracle; but he did not think fit to adapt the saying to the miracle by
any insertion of the word “tree” (“Verily I say unto you, whosoever
shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up” &c.); and he retained
the old connection of the saying with forgiveness. St. Matthew—of
course, when I say St. Matthew, I mean the unknown authors or compilers
of the Gospel called by his name—is more consistent. He, like St. Mark
interprets the parable literally, and he appends to it the saying on the
power of faithful prayer; but he inserts in the latter an express
reference to the miracle which, according to his hypothesis, had
recently been worked before the eyes of the Disciples and could hardly
therefore fail to be mentioned: “If ye have faith and doubt not, ye
shall [_not only do what is done to the fig-tree, but even if ye shall_]
say unto this mountain,” &c. In order to complete the adaptation, he
also omits the words that connect the saying with forgiveness, and
relegates them to the Sermon on the Mount (vi. 14, 15) which he makes
the receptacle for all those sayings of Jesus for which he can find no
special time and place.

“All this is shadowy, barely possible, mere conjecture.” I maintain that
conjecture, fairly supported, is enough to give the finishing blow to
all faith in a miracle so different from Christ’s other “mighty works”
as this of the fig-tree. Before finally and utterly rejecting a story
found in a generally truthful narrative we wish not only to know that
the story is improbable, but also to answer the question, “How may it
have crept into the narrative?” The above conjecture supplies a fairly
probable answer to that question; and the combined result of the
evidence for the probability of some rational explanation, and against
the probability of the miraculous occurrence, is so great that I can
feel no hesitation in rejecting the miracle of the fig-tree and in
declaring that the “characteristic sayings” of Jesus about the uprooting
of mountains and trees were never intended to be literally understood.

And now, before going further, ask yourself once more, “What have I
lost, so far, by giving up the miracles of Jesus? Does He sink in my
estimation because He did not blast a fig-tree or destroy two thousand
swine, or draw a fish with a stater in its mouth to the hook of Peter?
Or have I lost a precious and ‘characteristic saying’ of Jesus because I
no longer believe that He really encouraged His disciples to pray for
the uprooting of material mountains and material trees?” I am quite sure
your conscience must reply that you have hitherto lost nothing. If so,
take courage, and follow on step by step where the argument leads you.

Footnote 22:

  Page 153.

Footnote 23:

  See above, p. 158.

                        THE MIRACLES OF FEEDING


You remind me that I have omitted the most important of all those
sayings of Christ which are associated with miracles—the passage in
which he comments on the feeding of the Four Thousand and on that of the
Five Thousand, as two separate acts, apparently implying their
miraculous nature. I have not forgotten it; but I reserved it to the
last because it is, as you justly say, the most important and the most
difficult of all; but I believe it to be susceptible of explanation.

Let us first have the facts before us. In the Gospels of St. Matthew
(viii. 15) and St. Mark (xvi. 6) Jesus is introduced as bidding the
Disciples “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of
Herod” (or, as Matthew, “the Sadducees.”) Upon this the disciples, as
usual, interpret the words of Jesus literally; they suppose that, since
they have forgotten to bring bread with them (for they had but one loaf)
their Master wishes to warn them to beware of leaven during the
approaching feast of Passover or unleavened bread. Hereupon Jesus, in
order to shew them that He was not speaking literally, rebukes their
dull and literalizing minds as follows:—

    Mark viii. 17-21.

    “Why reason ye because ye have no bread? Do ye not yet perceive?...
    When I brake the five loaves among the five thousand, how many
    baskets full of broken pieces took ye up?” They say unto him,
    “Twelve.” “And when the seven among the four thousand, how many
    baskets full of broken pieces took ye up?” And they say unto him,
    “Seven.” And he said unto them, “Do ye not yet understand?”

    Matthew xvi. 8-12.

    “Why reason ye among yourselves because ye have no bread? Do ye not
    yet perceive neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand
    and how many baskets took ye up? Neither the seven loaves of the
    four thousand and how many baskets ye took up? How is it that ye do
    not perceive that I spake not to you concerning bread? But beware of
    the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then understood they how
    that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the
    teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Now before I proceed further I must point out to you that these words
are not found in St. Luke’s Gospel. For my own part I am disposed to
believe them to be genuine, though not quite in the exact form in which
we now find them. I think St. Luke may have omitted them because he
found some difficulty or obscurity in them; or because he did not know
of them; or perhaps because he did not know of, or did not accept, the
feeding of the Four Thousand, to which they refer. But suppose we are
forced to give them up as altogether spurious, that is to say, as not
being genuine words of Jesus, though genuine parts of the first and
second Gospels; what is the consequence? Simply that we shall be reduced
to St. Luke’s version of the words, which is as follows (Luke xii. 1):
“Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy.” Can we
say that St. Luke has herein omitted words that are essential to the
life of Christ, or that we have lost anything of the highest importance,
or even that we have lost a very “characteristic saying” of Jesus in
omitting the statistical comparison which St. Luke omits? I think not.

But now let us assume that Jesus uttered these words or something like
them. I think you would perceive that they could be interpreted
metaphorically, if you could only comprehend how the accounts of the
miraculous feeding of the Four Thousand and of the Five Thousand
(obviously literal as they now stand in our Gospels) could be referred
to as spiritual incidents. In order to answer this question we must now
pass to the narratives of the two miracles themselves. I suppose even
those who accept them literally would admit that they are emblematic,
and that they represent Jesus, the Bread of Life, giving Himself for the
world. The Fourth Gospel manifests this in the subsequent discourse
where the feeding on the bread and fishes introduces the subject of the
feeding on the flesh and blood of Christ. The notion that we feed on the
Word of God, first found in Deuteronomy (viii. 3), pervades all Jewish
literature. It is found in Philo (i. 119): “The soul is nourished not on
earthly and corruptible food, but on the _words_ which Gods rains down
out of His sublime and pure nature which He calls heaven.” It reappears
in the account of our Lord’s temptation, when He replies to Satan,
quoting Deut. viii. 3, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every
_word_ that proceedeth out of the mouth of God;” and again (John iv.
32), “I have _meat_ to eat that ye know not.”

On that last occasion the Fourth Gospel tells us that the disciples
actually misunderstood the metaphor and interpreted it literally; and to
this day I dare say many would give a literal interpretation to the
“daily bread” of the Lord’s prayer; but there can be little doubt that
Jesus meant by “bread” every gift and blessing that constitutes life,
and primarily the spiritual sustenance of the soul. As to the emblematic
use of the “fish,” it cannot be traced to the Old Testament; but in a
very early period of the existence of the Church, as early as the reign
of Vespasian, we find the Fish in rude paintings representing the
Eucharistic food of the faithful; and it is said that this appellation
was given to Jesus from the initial letters of the Greek title I(esous)
Ch(ristos) Th(eou) U(ios) S(oter) [Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour]
because they made up the Greek word _Ichthus_, fish. About the middle of
the second century we find one of the earliest extant Christian poems
describing how the Church everywhere presented to the faithful, as their
food, “the Fish, great and pure, which the Holy Virgin had caught.” The
poet evidently did not invent this metaphor; it was established,
intelligible, and inherited, at the time when he used it, and must have
been in use much earlier. To speak of “crumbs” metaphorically may
perhaps seem to us a bold metaphor, but it may be illustrated by the
dialogue between Jesus and the Syro-Phœnician woman: “It is not meet to
take the children’s food and cast it unto dogs:” “Truth, Lord; yet even
the dogs eat of the _crumbs_ which fall from the master’s table.” Now it
was a common-place in the doctrine of Jesus that every disciple who
ministered the Word or Bread of Life invariably received it back in
ample measure: “Freely ye have received, freely give.” Give what?
Certainly not material bread, but the truth or bread of life. And again,
“Give, and it shall be given unto you: good measure pressed down and
running over shall THEY[24] give into your bosom.” Again, I ask, give
what? What but the spiritual Bread, which, by the laws of spiritual
nature, cannot be freely given without a yet more rich return into the
giver’s heart? It was this Bread that Christ ministered to His disciples
and bade them set before the people; it was this Bread which the
disciples found multiplied in their hands so that it sufficed for all,
and they themselves were fed from the crumbs that fell from the food.

In course of time the story of this spiritual banquet finding its way
into Christian hymns and traditions would be literalized and amplified
with variations. As Moses “spread a table” for Israel “in the
wilderness,” so also, it would be said, did Jesus of Nazareth when he
fed thousands of His followers on divine Bread. The Fish, _which is not
mentioned in our Lord’s dialogue with the Disciples_, might naturally he
added to the Bread, in the narrative, as a Eucharistic emblem. If the
Fish had been mentioned by our Lord in the dialogue under question, my
explanation would at once fall to the ground; but it is not mentioned;
and the only difficulty is in explaining how Jesus could have spoken
metaphorically of the “seven” as well as the “twelve” baskets. We can
understand the “twelve”—each one of the twelve Apostles who ministered,
receiving a return of spiritual “crumbs”—but whence the “seven?” Here I
can but conjecture. You know that seven is what is called “a sacred
number.” I find in the Fourth Gospel, xxi. 2-14, a story (evidently
emblematic) of a miraculous meal of bread and fishes in which “seven”
apostles took part. This may have been based upon some tradition in
which seven apostles were recorded as having taken part in a spiritual
Eucharistic feeding of the multitude. If that was so, it would follow
that in the latter case there would be “seven baskets” of fragments, as
in the former case there were “twelve,” corresponding to the number of
the ministering apostles: and Jesus, in the dialogue under
consideration, would remind His disciples how on two occasions where the
bread of life was multiplied for the hungry, the twelve Apostles
received the twelve baskets of crumbs, and the seven received the seven.

What is the argument in the words under consideration, according to your
interpretation? I presume you would take them thus: “Why do you suppose
I am talking about literal bread? Can I not make bread as I please? Do
you not remember my two miracles, and how from five loaves for five
thousand people there came twelve baskets of fragments, while from seven
loaves for four thousand people there came seven baskets?[25] How then
can I (or you while you are with me) be in need of literal bread?” But
this interpretation is open to one serious objection. It is opposed to
the whole tenour of Christ’s life. Nowhere else in the Gospels do we
find that Jesus used any miraculous power to exempt Himself and His
disciples from hunger. We are even taught that on one occasion He
resisted a prompting to turn stones into bread, as being a temptation
from the Evil One. For His disciples he might undoubtedly have been
willing to do what He would not do for Himself; but that Jesus (like
Elisha) so habitually used miraculous powers to shelter His disciples
from the inconveniences and hardships of a wandering life, that he could
encourage them to believe that he would do so on the present occasion,
is a hypothesis quite inconsistent with the Gospel history. Moreover,
plausible although this interpretation may appear to us—because we are
familiar with the literalizing interpretation of the miracles of the
Four Thousand and Five Thousand—it does not, if I may so say, bring out
the proportion of the sentence. Surely it does not sound logical to say,
“Did I not once supply you with bread for four and five thousand people
(literally)? Why then do you not understand that I now speak of ‘leaven’
metaphorically?” Instead of this, should we not rather expect: “Do you
not remember how on two previous occasions ‘bread’ was used spiritually?
Why then do you not understand that ‘leaven’ is here used spiritually?”
Now this is what I believe to have been the original meaning of the
words, if genuine. I believe that Jesus intended to remind the Disciples
how on two previous occasions the multitude had been fed with the
spiritual Bread, the Bread of Life: “You know that that was what I meant
before, when I spoke of Bread; how is it then that you do not understand
my meaning now when I speak similarly of leaven?”

I do not pretend to say that this explanation is completely satisfactory
even to me, much less to claim that it should completely satisfy others.
Some may prefer to rationalize the miracle as an exaggeration with a
substratum of fact; others may reject the dialogue as a late
interpolation. Yet even then I think the considerations above
alleged—which I have put forward, on the supposition that the dialogue
is genuine—may go a long way toward shewing how these miraculous stories
may have sprung up without any real basis of miracle, and how, in the
elaboration of these narratives, words that cannot be accepted as
historical may have been attributed to Jesus _without any fraudulent
purpose_. Although I am unwilling to admit (and do not feel called upon
by evidence to admit) that the words and doctrine of Jesus have been
seriously modified to suit the miraculous interpolations of early
Christian times, yet of course (on my hypothesis) some slight occasional
modifications cannot be denied. For example, in the miracle of the Four
Thousand, Jesus is introduced as saying, “How many loaves have ye?”
These words must necessarily be rejected by any one taking my view of
the narrative, as the addition of some later tradition which,
interpreting a metaphor literally, endeavoured to set forth the literal
fact dramatically as it was supposed to have occurred. In the same way
it is possible that the dialogue now under consideration may be an
amplification of a simple rebuke from Jesus to the disciples for
misunderstanding His precept as to leaven, the early tradition having
run somewhat after this fashion: “The Lord spread a table for the hungry
in the wilderness: He gave them bread from heaven to eat. The Lord gave
food unto the multitude through the hands of the Twelve; and in their
hands the Bread of Life was multiplied so that a few loaves satisfied
many thousands. Then did the Lord warn His disciples that they should
_beware of leaven and feed on nought save the one true Bread. But they
understood not His words, and remembered not the mighty works of His
hands_.” It seems to me quite possible, I say, that the dialogue under
discussion may have arisen from an amplification of some such words as
those above italicized; and I am somewhat the more inclined to take this
view because St. Mark’s narrative (the earliest) contains a curious
little detail which looks like a trace of some old hymn about “the one
true Bread” _i.e._ Jesus: “They had not in the boat with them more than
_one loaf_ (Gr. _bread_).”

If these suggested solutions seem improbable, let me once more remind
you that you have to choose between them and greater improbabilities.
Either the miraculous narrative must be historically true; or it must
have been deliberately fabricated; or it must have sprung into existence
without intention to deceive. As to the improbability of the first of
these solutions, I say nothing, because you have rejected it. Certainly
it would be difficult for a painter to depict in detail the processes
necessitated by this miracle without producing a grotesque impression:
but on this point I am silent, as it is beside my purpose. It remains
therefore for you to decide whether the theory of deliberate falsehood,
or of the unconscious accretions of tradition and misunderstanding of
metaphor, supplies the least improbable explanation. For my part, having
regard to the character of Christ’s disciples, the abundant evidence
that they misunderstood the teaching of their Master, and the frequent
instances of miraculous narrative arising from misunderstanding in other
cases, I have no hesitation in saying that, in this case also, the
hypothesis of deceit is far more improbable than that of

I had not intended to touch on any other miracle; but one more can be so
briefly discussed that I will not omit it. I dare say you have
anticipated (though you have not read _Onesimus_[26]) that I should
explain the “walking on the waves” and the “stilling of the sea” as
narratives derived from early Christian hymns representing the Son of
God as stilling the storms that threaten the bark of the Church.
Nevertheless you may not have perceived how easily a historical and
authentic tradition of the deeds and words of Christ would lend itself
to amplification so as to be elaborated into the full miraculous
narrative as we now find it in the Gospels. Well then, open your Greek
Testament at St. Mark’s narrative (i. 25-27, or Luke iv. 35, 36) of the
exorcism of an unclean spirit. You will there find it stated that Jesus
“rebuked an unclean spirit;” and a somewhat rare word is used to express
the rebuke, “Be thou _muzzled_ (φιμώθητι).” It is further added that the
disciples, in their astonishment, said to one another “What is this?
_With authority he commandeth even the unclean spirits and they obey
him._” Now you know very well that the same Greek word (πνεῦμα)
expresses two totally distinct English words “spirit” and “wind;” but
you may not so well know that the same ambiguity is found in Hebrew.
Look at Psalm civ. 4 in the Old Version, and you will find “Who maketh
his angels (_i.e._ messengers) _spirits_;” but the New Version gives,
more correctly, “Who maketh _winds_ his messengers,” or, “Who maketh his
angels _winds_.” Now suppose that in some cases where the above
tradition was circulated in the Church, either in Greek or Aramaic, the
word “unclean” was omitted, as it easily might be for brevity. It would
follow that, without the change of a single word, the hearers might
interpret the story as follows: “Jesus _rebuked the wind_, saying to it,
_Be thou muzzled_. His disciples marvelled, saying, What is this? _With
authority he commandeth even the winds_ and they _obey_ him.”

But you may say perhaps, “Jesus could not use such an extraordinary
phrase as ‘Be thou muzzled,’ in addressing the wind. To a human being it
would be applicable, or even to a spirit, but not to the wind.” Well, it
certainly would be rather unusual: but turn to St. Mark iv. 39, and you
will there find a passage telling you how, in a storm at sea, Jesus
awoke and “_rebuked the wind_” with the words “_Be thou muzzled_
(Φιμώθητι),” and how the wondering disciples said to one another, “_Who
is this that even the wind_ (Matthew and Luke, ‘the _winds_’) and sea
_obey him_?” It appears to me by no means unlikely that we have here two
versions of the same tradition; the one in the earlier chapter of St.
Mark representing the facts; the other in the later chapter resulting
from a misunderstanding of the facts, whence there sprang up the
amplified and beautiful tradition of the Stilling of the Storm—a story
which must have in all ages commended itself to the Church, and may
still commend itself, by reason of its deep spiritual truth, but which
ought, in this age, to be recognized as in all probability, not
historically true.

Neither of the above-mentioned explanations of this miraculous narrative
appears to me by any means certain; but either seems to me decidedly
more likely than that Jesus so far raised Himself above the conditions
of humanity as to rebuke and check the winds and the seas. If I
interpret the life of Christ aright, He neither did, nor wished to do,
any such thing, and would have regarded the suggestion to do it as a
temptation from Satan. I say this with reverence, almost with fear and
trembling, knowing that I must give account of these words hereafter
before Him. But what can a man do more to shew his homage for the Truth
than follow where the Truth appears to lead?

In any case I am sure we cannot rightly understand the life and mind of
Jesus until, by a great effort, we have divested ourselves of our
inveterate and vulgar belief that He wrought His mighty works as mere
demonstrations of His divine mission, and that He had power to perform
any works whatever, quite regardless of the laws of nature. Had that
been the case, I do not see how He could have blamed the Pharisees for
asking Him to work a sign in heaven. Why should they not have asked it,
and why should not He have worked it? Jugglers and impostors were very
common in the East; Galilee and Samaria were thronged with professional
exorcists: in miracles performed on men there was always the possibility
of collusion; any act on earth was open to suspicion of imposture, but
in heaven this was the general belief—there could be certainty; no mere
magician could work a sign in heaven. “Let but the sun stand still for
half a day, and we will believe,” surely this, from the
demonstration-point-of-view of miracles, was a very natural request; and
if Jesus really had the power of stopping the sun for half a day, and if
He felt that His wonder-working faculty was given to Him for the mere
purpose of demonstrating His divine power, I cannot understand how He
could have refused, much less rebuked, the request of the Pharisees.

But in truth His mighty works or signs were not wrought in this
deliberate way for the mere purpose of demonstration. They were the
results of an irrepressible pity, appealing to an instinct of power.
He could not see a demoniac or a paralytic look trustfully upon Him
without longing to help, and in many cases feeling that it was God’s
will that He should help. To suppose that He cured all who were
brought to Him is absurd, and is contrary (as we have seen above) to
the evidence of the earliest Evangelist. He had the power of
distinguishing between faith and not faith; had He an equal power of
discerning physiological possibilities from impossibilities? Did a
kind of instinct tell Him that the restoration of a lost limb was not
like the cure of a paralytic, not one of the works “prepared for Him
by His Father?” I do not suppose that such physiological distinctions
were intellectually known by Christ in His human nature, any more than
the modern discoveries of geology, astronomy, or history. But
experience and some kind of intuition may have enabled Him to
distinguish those cases which He could heal from those (a far more
numerous class) which He could not. In performing these “mighty works”
of healing, Jesus appears on many occasions to have studiously avoided
that very publicity which—on the theory of their being intended as
demonstrations—ought to have been a condition of their performance. He
takes the patient apart, or expressly warns him to be silent about his
cure—acts quite inconsistent with the demonstration-hypothesis.
Probably He felt that these works, although they came to Him fresh
from His Father’s hands, were not without a danger. Men crowded round
Him, not to hear the truth but to see “the miracles.” Instead of
recognizing that He did only such works as “the Father had prepared
for Him to do,” they thought that He could do “anything He pleased.” I
think we ought to feel that the very notion of such a power as this
was absolutely revolting to Jesus: “To stop the sun, to call down fire
or bread from heaven, to stay the course of rivers, and cast down the
walls of cities—doubtless Joshua and Elijah had done these works; but
they were not the works that the Father had prepared for the Son to
do.” Joshua and Elijah were but servants. He was the Son: and, being
the Son, He felt bound to conform Himself each moment to that heavenly
Will which He ever felt within Him and saw before Him, which dictated
“mighty works” indeed, but always works of love and healing. In one
sense He was entirely free; He could do all things because all things
were possible with the Father, and the Father and He were one; in
another sense He felt Himself less free than any being that had ever
assumed the shape of man, because all other human creatures had
deviated, but He alone could never deviate, no, not by a hair’s
breadth, from the indwelling Will of the Father.

It is for these reasons then that I reject miracles, not because they
are impossible, not even because they are _a priori_ improbable, not
because they were once useless and are now harmful; but because the
facts are against them. If the evidence shewed that miracles had
actually occurred, I should be prepared to learn from these materialized
parables as reverently as from word-parables, and to believe that God—in
order to break down men’s excessive faith in the machine-like order of
the visible world, and in order to divert their attention from Sequence
to Will—fore-ordained these divergences from the monotonous routine of
things. But the evidence does not shew this. The criticism of the Old
Testament, and the criticism of the New Testament, and the researches of
science, and the closer study of the life of Christ Himself, all
converge to this conclusion—that Christ conquered the world, not by
working miracles, but by living such a life and dying such a death as
might be lived and died by the Son of God, incarnate as a Son of man,
and self-subjected to all the physical limitations of humanity; and by
bequeathing to mankind, after His death, such a Spirit as was
correspondent to His own nature.

Footnote 24:

  _i.e._ the Powers of Heaven.

Footnote 25:

  Two different kinds of baskets appear to be denoted by the two
  different Greek words. A similar difference is also found in the
  narratives of the feeding of the Four Thousand and the Five Thousand:
  but it would be easy to shew that no inference of importance can be
  drawn from this distinction.

Footnote 26:

  Pp. 275-6.

                      THE MANIFESTATION OF CHRIST


You wish to draw my attention to the Resurrection of Christ. “That,” you
say, “is either miraculous or nothing. The arguments by which you appear
to be driving miracles into non-existence—expelling them first from
profane history, then from the Old Testament, then step by step from
every part of the New—cannot make a stand at your convenience, so as to
except the Resurrection. Yet even St. Paul makes the Resurrection of
Jesus the basis of his own belief and Gospel. If, therefore, that final
miracle falls to the ground, the Pauline Gospel falls with it: and to
that downfall I fear your arguments all tend, although you yourself do
not see it or wish it.”

I entirely deny the quiet assumption of your first sentence; which, as
it stands (but I am sure you cannot mean it), affirms that the
Resurrection of Christ “is either miraculous or nothing.” I assert,
without fear of contradiction, that if the phenomena which convinced the
earliest disciples and St. Paul of the reality of the Resurrection of
Christ, were not miraculous but natural, they constitute the most
wonderful event in the history of the world. But what you wish to say, I
suspect, is this: “By the Resurrection of Christ I mean the Resurrection
of the body; now if Christ’s body was raised again, the act must have
been miraculous.” But how if the Resurrection was spiritual? St. Paul
himself speaks of a “spiritual body,” not a material body, as rising in
the Resurrection. Do you suppose that a “spiritual body” can be touched?
Or that St. Paul could have touched the presence that appeared to him
when he heard the words, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Now if
the Resurrection of Christ was spiritual and not material, there may
have been no suspension at all of the laws of material nature, but
simply a real, spiritual fact, manifested to the world according to
certain laws by which spiritual facts are manifested to the senses.

But this theory, you will reply, although possibly consistent with the
Pauline narrative, is inconsistent with the Gospel accounts of the
Resurrection. It certainly is. But it is quite certain—however
unprepared you may possibly be for the statement—that the Gospel
accounts of the Resurrection, taken altogether, cannot be compared, for
weight, with the Pauline evidence. You know that the oldest Gospel (St.
Mark xvi. 8) terminates (probably because it was left incomplete) with a
vision of angels who speak of the tomb as empty and of Christ as risen;
but not a word about Christ’s resurrection itself. The next Gospel in
chronological order (St. Matthew’s) mentions one appearance of Christ to
some women, and another to some disciples in Galilee; but as to the last
it is said that “some doubted.” Not till we come to St. Luke’s Gospel do
we find detailed appearances of Jesus to disciples in or near Jerusalem,
in the course of which Jesus is present at a meal and offers to eat, as
evidence that He is no mere spirit. In the last Gospel of all (St.
John’s) there is added an appeal to the sense of touch; and in an
Appendix to that Gospel, Jesus is represented as inviting the disciples
to a repast of fish and bread, apparently miraculously supplied and
prepared (“they see a fire of coals there and fish laid thereon, and
bread,” John xxi. 9), which He distributes to the disciples. Afterwards
he holds a long discourse with them. Similarly long discourses between
the risen Saviour and the disciples are recorded in the first chapter of
the Acts of the Apostles, which we know to have been written after the
Gospel of St. Luke. You see how unsatisfactory all this is. The further
back we go, and the nearer to the event, the more meagre and shadowy
does the evidence become. It does not appear in a form ample and cogent
until a period so late as to throw irresistible doubt upon its truth.
How can we possibly answer the doubter’s natural question, “If there was
this unanswerable evidence of the material resurrection of Jesus, why
was it suppressed for two generations?” Moreover, some of these later
accounts, which relate the handling of the body of Jesus, or the
presence of Jesus at the breaking of bread, might be literal
misinterpretations of some traditions concerning visions of Christ
accompanying the “handling of the body of the Lord Jesus” in the Lord’s
Supper. It is very significant that St. Peter—whose allusions in the
Acts of the Apostles to his personal evidence concerning the
Resurrection of Christ are of the briefest kind—is introduced by St.
Luke as mentioning only one definite kind of manifestation of Jesus; and
that is one in which the Apostles “did _eat and drink with him_ after he
rose from the dead” (Acts x. 41). Lastly, there are traces of
interpolations, or additions, at a very early date in the
post-resurrection chapters of St. Luke, and probably of St. Matthew and
St. John; and in dealing with the post-resurrection narrative of the
life of Christ some of the earliest Fathers quote passages not found in
our Gospels but agreeing somewhat with the suspected additions in the
third and fourth Gospel. The sum of all is, so far as my own experience
goes, that after a patient and prolonged study of the evidence, with
every desire, and indeed I may say with an intense anxiety (at one
period of my life), to justify myself in continuing to believe all that
I once believed, I now rise from the perusal of the last chapters of the
Gospels and the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, with the
conviction that _something_ certainly happened to persuade the Apostles
that their Master had verily risen from the dead, but what that
_something_ was, the evidence, so far as it can he obtained from the
Gospels, does not enable us to determine.

But we have not yet touched on the evidence of St. Paul and to this we
now pass. Here at last we stand on firm ground. Here for the first time
we find (in St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians xv. 8), the
unquestionable evidence of an eye-witness, probably recorded several
years before the appearance of any Gospel now extant. No one who is
competent to form an opinion on the question can for a moment doubt St.
Paul’s assertion that Christ “appeared” to him, and that some such
appearance as that recorded thrice in the Acts, converted him from a
persecutor into an apostle of Christianity. We have just been asking,
“What was that unknown something—possibly some manifestation of Jesus
after death—which inspired the Twelve with the conviction and the
faculties necessary to overcome the world?” Now we seem to have found
the answer. An appearance that overcame and converted a recalcitrant
enemy might well satisfy and imbue with confidence loving disciples,
longing to believe. Especially might this be the case if Jesus had
predicted, as I believe He did predict, that His work would not be cut
short by death, but that in Him would be fulfilled the saying of Hosea:
“In the third day he shall raise us up and we shall live in his sight.”
Although these words may have been neglected or not understood at the
time when they were uttered, they may have well recurred to the minds of
the Disciples, after their Master’s death, with a powerful effect. To
urge that the despair of the Twelve could be a greater obstacle than the
vehement and bigoted antagonism of Saul, in the way of their receiving a
vision of their beloved Master, is a paradox so pedantical that it is
scarcely worth mentioning. You cannot have forgotten, too, how St. Paul
himself assumes that the appearances of the Saviour to himself, and to
the original Apostles, were of the same kind and on the same footing:
“He _appeared_ unto Cephas, he _appeared_ unto James, he _appeared_ unto
five hundred brethren ... and last of all he _appeared_ unto _me_ also.”
In the two latest Gospels these “appearances” have been magnified into
accounts that represented Jesus as possessed of flesh and bones, as
capable of eating, as reclining at a meal, and as entering into long and
familiar discourses: naturally we ask as to St. Paul’s, the indisputably
earliest account of a manifestation of Christ, what traces it exhibits
of similar distortions and exaggerations? You know the answer. There are
no such traces. The manifestation to St. Paul is plainly admitted by the
accounts in the Acts to be what is commonly called subjective. The
“subjectivity” of some of the earlier manifestations of Jesus to the
disciples is dimly suggested by some passages in the Gospels which
describe how “some doubted” and others failed to recognize Him; but it
is not merely suggested, it is plainly expressed, in the accounts of the
manifestation to St. Paul. The Apostle is clearly stated to have seen a
sight and heard words, which other people, his companions, with the same
opportunities for seeing and hearing, did not see and did not hear.
Putting aside some slight discrepancies in the three accounts given in
the Acts[27]—discrepancies easily and naturally explicable, and valuable
as shewing that the accounts have not been arbitrarily harmonized we may
say that this is the substantial result: the Lord Jesus appeared to St.
Paul in what is called a vision. I myself firmly believe that there was
a spiritual act of Jesus simultaneous with the conveyance of the
manifestation to the brain of the Apostle. But none the less, however
coincident it may have been with a spiritual reality, if there was no
presence of a material body, the manifestation of Jesus to St. Paul must
be placed in the class of visions: and if it was not seen by others who
had the same physical means of seeing, it must be called, in some sense,

Yet this vision sufficed for him and for the world. In the strength of
this vision, (followed, no doubt, by subsequent visions and communings
with the Lord Jesus), the Thirteenth Apostle, the intruder, as he might
be called—not “chosen of men,” like Matthias, not called by Christ in
the flesh did the great work of which you and I, with millions of
others, are now joint inheritors. Think of it; Is it not a remarkable
instance of “men working one thing while God worketh another” to see the
Apostles with due form and ceremony electing their substitute for the
Traitor to be the solemnly ordained Twelfth Apostle, henceforth unnamed
in Holy Writ and all the while the Holy Spirit preparing a Thirteenth!
And for this Thirteenth Apostle, who never looked on the face of Christ,
never heard a single word of His doctrine, it has been reserved to tell
us perhaps more about the meaning of Christ’s teaching and certainly to
give us more cogent proof of His Resurrection than all the other
Apostles and Evangelists put together! Truly the last has been first!
And in the strength of his proof of Christ’s Resurrection—mere vision
though we may call it—this Thirteenth Apostle, in the face of
persecutions outside the Church, and discouragements and jealousies
inside the Church, first converted the Roman empire to the Christian
faith; then, fifteen centuries afterwards, reconverted and purified a
large section of the Church from mediæval corruptions; and now, as I
believe, some nineteen centuries afterwards, is on the point of still
further purifying the Church from antique superstition and from modern

What shall we say of the mighty vision that originated these stupendous
results? Shall we take the view of the modern scientific young man, and
lecture the great Apostle on the folly of that indiscreet journey to
Damascus at noon-tide, when his nerves were a little over-wrought after
that unpleasant incident of poor Stephen? Shall we say it was all
ophthalmia and indigestion—that flash of blinding light, those
unforgettable words, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”—all a mere
vision? Is a fact that changed the destinies of Europe to be put aside
with the epithet “mere”? Would not even a materialist stonemason
recognize that a vision which built St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s is of
some tangible importance? You and I and your scientific young
lecturer—do we not in some sort owe our existence to this “mere vision,”
but for which the earth might be a chaos of barbarism, England a forest
scantly populated with tattooed bipeds, and our civilized selves
non-existent? Patricidal creatures, let us not speak lightly of the
“mere” author of our own important being!

To my mind the manifestation of the Resurrection of Christ appears, not
as an isolated fact, but as a part, and the central part, of the great
revelation of the immortality of the soul which has been conveyed by God
to man, in accordance with the laws of human nature, from the beginning
of the creation of the world by the medium of imaginative Faith. In the
same way the laws of astronomy have been conveyed by God to man, in
accordance with the laws of human nature, from the beginning of the
creation of the world, by the medium of imaginative Reason. I have shewn
in previous letters that Imagination has been the basis of all that is
worth calling knowledge. To shew the bearing of this on the
manifestations of the Resurrection of Christ shall be the object of my
next letter.

Footnote 27:

  “And the men that journeyed with him stood speechless hearing the
  voice but beholding no man,” Acts ix 7: “And they that were with me
  beheld indeed the light but they heard not the voice of him that spake
  to me,” _ib._ xxii. 9. Whether Saul’s companions saw and heard nothing
  except subjectively, through force of sympathy, or whether (comp. John
  xii. 29) some natural phenomenon may have been interpreted in one way
  by Saul and in another way by his companions, cannot now be
  determined; but I have confined myself to indisputable fact in stating
  that Saul “saw a sight and heard words which other people, his
  companions, with the same opportunities for seeing and hearing, did
  not see and did not hear.”

                       THE RESURRECTION REVEALED


You are startled, and well you may be, “at the notion that the
resurrection of Christ has been the mere offspring of the imagination.”
I am quoting your words, but you have not quoted mine. I never said, nor
should I dream of saying, that the resurrection of Christ was “the
offspring of the imagination,” any more than I should say that the law
of gravitation is “the offspring of the imagination,” or that light is
“the offspring of the eye.” But this is just an ordinary specimen of the
way in which people whose minds are blocked and choked with prejudice,
misunderstand what is contrary to their preconceptions. You have made up
your mind that the Imagination is a kind of excrescence on humanity, a
faculty independent of the Creator, and incapable of being made by Him
the medium of revelation; and so you pervert my words to suit your
fancies. But what I said was that Imagination is the basis of all that
is worth calling knowledge, and that, as God reveals the laws of
astronomy through imaginative Reason, so He has revealed the
Resurrection of Christ through imaginative Faith.

Before speaking of the special bearing of the Imagination upon the
manifestation of Christ’s Resurrection, let me say a word or two on the
manner in which our human environment appears to have been adapted to
foster the growth of this faculty. You will be better prepared to expect
great things from the Imagination when you reflect on the great things
that have been wrought by God for its development. You say that you do
not understand the statement in the last paragraph of my last letter,
that the Imagination has been made “the medium of conveying the
revelation of the immortality of the soul,” and still less do you
comprehend how this revelation has been going on “from the creation of
the world,” especially since, during a large portion of this time, there
must have been no men to receive any revelation at all.

I said deliberately “from the creation of the world,” and not “from the
creation of mankind,” because inanimate creation itself appears to me to
bear witness to a purpose, from the first, that this visible world
should help its future tenants to imagine things invisible. Consider but
one instance, the immense influence of Night upon the Imagination, and
you will perhaps come to the conclusion that, but for the provision of
darkness (“these orbs of light and shade”), men would never have been
led to a faith in the light of immortality. In the first place by
revealing to us the wonder-striking order of the infinite stars—which,
but for darkness, would have remained for ever a closed book to
men—Night leads us to dream, or to infer, that there may be other pages
still unturned in the book of Nature’s mysteries, and stimulates us,
however far we may progress in thought, still to press on to something
more beyond; and at the same time, throwing a temporary veil over all
the sights of day, it persuades us to trust that on the morrow the veil
will be removed, and that in the meantime all things will continue in
their order.

Night is aided by sleep and dreams. Slumbering in the darkness, and
bereft of the control of the understanding, Imagination has reproduced
before the mind’s eye the sights of daylight, blended together without
thought of fitness, order, time, or place, so as to form quite new
combinations which scarcely any deliberate daytime effort could have so
vividly depicted: and in the long train of confused visionary images
there have sometimes passed before the mental eye of the mourner or the
murderer the very shapes, and even the voices of the dead, forcing the
slumberer to start up and cry, “They live, they still live; there is a
life beyond the grave.” This trans-sepulchral existence having been once
discerned, the Imagination has set to work to formulate the laws of it,
and to map out and people its regions, thus causing heaven and hell to
become realities and (in course of time) ancestral traditions, and
almost inherited instincts. Sometimes, Imagination has come with a
special and rarely manifested force to the aid of a belief in a future
life. Not in dreams, but in wakeful moments, though for the most part by
night, there have appeared before the mind’s eye such vivid images of
the departed, as have convinced not only the seers of the visions but
also their friends—and so, by a pervasive influence, all but a small
minority of the human race—that something real has been seen, the spirit
of the dead made visible: and to this day, in England, there are not
wanting men of the highest ability, culture, and love of truth, who busy
themselves with serious investigations into the reality of apparitions.

Does this seem to you fanciful? Surely it is the fact that Night and its
phenomena have largely influenced the spiritual, or superstitious, side
of human nature: and if you admit this to be the fact, the only
difference between us is this, that to you this subtle but universal
influence of Darker Nature on Man appears to have been the result of
chance, whereas I think it came from God. To you, one half of Time
appears to have been allowed by God to be spiritually barren, set apart
for the mere repairing of the human material machine: I do not believe
that the spiritual making of Man was foreordained on this “half-time”

If however you ask me what amount of truth or reality there has been in
these dreams and visions, I should reply, as about poetry and prophecy,
that some of these imaginations have represented realities, some
unrealities; but that the total result to which they have led men, the
belief in the immortality of the soul, is a reality. But when I speak of
a “real vision” of a spirit or ghost, I hope you will not misunderstand
me so far as to suppose that I could mean a material, gas-like (though
intangible) form, occupying so many cubical inches of space. A spirit,
so far as I conceive it, does not occupy space; nor is it the object of
sight, any more than of smell or touch; it is, to me, of the nature of a
thought, only a thought personified, _i.e._ a thought capable of loving
and being loved, of hating and being hated. But though it may not be the
object of the senses in the same way in which external things are, it
may be manifested to the Imagination, _i.e._ the mind’s eye, in such a
way as to produce the same effect as though it were an external object
seen by the body’s eye.

Every one who loves truth will tread with cautious steps in this
mysterious province of phantasmal existence, and carefully measure his
language, knowing that we are in a region of illusion, exaggeration, and
(sometimes) of imposture. But there does seem evidence to show that
people (mostly perhaps twins), at a distance from one another, have in
some at present inexplicable manner influenced one another so that the
disease or death or calamity of one has been simultaneously made known
to the other; and you have probably read of cases, fairly supported,
which would show that a passionate longing on the part of a dying man to
see some distant friend may create a responsive emotion, if not an
actual vision, in the mind of that friend. We are so completely in the
dark as to the originating causes (for physiology tells us nothing but
the instrumental causes) which produce our thoughts, that I see nothing
at all absurd in the notion that every truthful and vivid conception of
one human being in the mind of another upon earth, arises from some
communion in the spirit-world between the spirits of the two.

So much for conjectures as to the possible reality or possible causes of
some classes of apparitions. I do not often myself set much store on
them, except so far as they are of use in reminding us how wide is the
province of possibility, or how narrow the province of certainty, in the
region of ultimate causation. I lay stress, not upon any conjectural
explanation of ghost phenomena, but upon the following general
considerations, most of which are of the nature, not of conjectures, but
of facts: 1st, man is what he is, largely in virtue of the Imagination;
2nd, one half of man’s time and one half of the phenomena of Nature seem
to have no other purpose (so far as man is concerned) than to stimulate
the Imagination; 3rd, if we suppose that this wonderful world is under
the government of a good God, although opposed by an inferior Evil, we
are led to infer that He has implanted in us this faculty of Imagination
and that the noble aspirations and beliefs which have been developed by
it have not been unmixed delusions; 4th, among the noblest of the
beliefs thus developed, has been the belief in the immortality of the
soul, which, after being tested by the faith of many centuries, is at
this day cherished by the majority of civilized mankind; 5th, this
belief has proved its truth, so far as imaginations can prove themselves
true, by working well, _i.e._ it has raised and ennobled those who have
entertained it, and has made them (on the whole) morally the better for
it; 6th, a part of the training of the Imagination, intimately connected
with the production of the belief in the immortality of the soul, has
been the development of a power to see mental visions, with all the
vividness of material visions; 7th, among these visions, some of the
most common have been apparitions of the forms of the dead, and some of
the best authenticated of these have occurred where a strong unfulfilled
desire has possessed the departed in the moment of dying and where the
seer of the apparition has been bound by close ties to the dead.

These are the considerations, mostly facts—you may dispute some of them,
but not all I think—in the light of which I should endeavour to
illustrate the manifestation of Christ to His disciples after death. To
these facts I merely added the conjecture that possibly there may be
something besides the mere movement of our brains that produces these
images of the departed, something—I will not say external, for a spirit,
if independent of place, can be neither external to us nor internal—but
some act in the invisible world of spirits corresponding to every
apparition upon the visible world. But I did not pledge myself to such a
theory. I only insisted that the whole revelation of poetry and religion
through the Imagination has been of such inestimable importance to man
that we cannot put it all aside as false because imaginative; we must
regard it with reverence and be prepared to find that in the central
event of the purest religion of all, the Imagination has been made the
medium of the culminating revelation of spirit and truth. Indeed, if the
spiritual world is real and near, it is difficult to conceive how
God—without breaking the Laws of Nature and without unfitting us for
life in a world of sense—could better give us glimpses of an invisible
environment, than by causing it to press in, as it were, upon the
Imagination, so that the mind’s eye, thus stimulated by real
invisibilities, may, for the time, supplant the bodily faculty of sight,
and afterwards leave behind in us a permanent suggestion that, as there
is a material world corresponding to the bodily eye, so there is a
mind’s world corresponding to the mind’s eye. With this pre-conception I
will ask you to approach the narrative of Christ’s Resurrection as I
shall endeavour to set it forth in my next letter from the natural point
of view.

                            THE RESURRECTION


My last letter broke off rather abruptly with a promise to do my best to
set forth hereafter the Resurrection of Christ as it may be regarded
from a natural point of view.

Looking at the facts in this light, we have in the first place to set
before ourselves the short life of One of whom we must merely say that
He was unique in the goodness and grandeur of His character, and that He
died with the unfulfilled purpose of redeeming mankind from sin,
deserted for the moment by the few disciples who had adhered to Him
almost to the last. He died, for the time, the most pitiable, the most
despair-inspiring death that the world has ever witnessed, asking in His
last moments why He had been “forsaken” by God. But His death—pardon me
if I deviate for one moment from material to celestial facts, provided
that I never deviate into miracles—was really the triumph over death,
and His Spirit had in reality (we speak in a metaphor) broken open the
bars of the grave and ascended to the throne of the Father carrying with
Himself the promise of the ultimate redemption of mankind. This was now
to be revealed to the world as the culminating vision in that continuous
Revelation through the Imagination by which the minds of men had been
led to look beyond this life to a life that knows no end. Speaking
terrestrially, we must say that the influence of Jesus, love, faith,
remorse, were moulding the hearts of the disciples on earth to receive
the truth; speaking celestially we may say that Jesus bent down from His
throne by the right hand of God to prepare them for the manifestation of
His victory. What in this crisis exactly befell on earth we shall never
know. The tradition that Jesus appeared on the third day, or after three
days, to His disciples, is so naturally derived from the prophecy of
Hosea “on the third day he shall raise us up”—a prophecy probably
applied by Jesus to Himself—that we can place no reliance on its
numerical accuracy. Nor do we know exactly where Jesus first appeared to
His disciples. The oldest tradition[28] declared that they were to “go
to Galilee” after their Master’s death, and that He had promised to
guide them thither; but a subsequent account interpreted the words about
“Galilee” quite differently.[29] In any case, before many days had
elapsed, to some one disciple, perhaps to Mary Magdalene—out of whom
there had been cast “seven devils”—it was given to see the Lord Jesus.

Here, by the way, we must note the remarkable prominence given in all
the Gospels to the part played by women in receiving the first
manifestations of Christ’s Resurrection. Writers who were careful to
avoid giving occasion for unbelief might naturally have desired to give
less prominence to the testimony of highly imaginative and
impressionable witnesses; and indeed St. Paul, in his brief list of the
appearances of Jesus (possibly because writing as an Apostle who had
seen Christ, he desired to confine himself almost entirely to
manifestations witnessed by Apostles), makes no mention of the
appearances to women: their prominence, therefore, in all the Gospels,
testifies strongly to the early and universal acceptance of the
tradition that women were the first witnesses to the risen Saviour. But
to resume. The news quickened the faith even of those disciples who had
not seen and who could not yet believe; and presently apparitions were
seen—a thing almost, though (I believe) not quite, unique in visions—by
several disciples together. Probably the most frequent occasions for
these manifestations were when they had met together to partake of the
body and blood of their Master; and it was in the moment of the breaking
of the bread that the image of the Living Bread was flashed before them,
appearing in the form of Jesus giving Himself for them, and uttering
words of blessing, comfort, or exhortation, audible to the ears of the
faithful, who at the same moment were handling His body and touching the
blood which flowed from His side. At other times he appeared before them
with other messages; to the women he seemed to wave them off as if
deprecating a too close approach, or as if bidding them go hence and
carry the glad tidings to the Apostles; others He seemed to rebuke for
their want of faith; in the sight of others, His hands, outstretched in
the attitude of parting benediction, seemed to send forth His disciples
to preach His word with promise of His presence; but how these messages
were conveyed, whether by gesture simply, or by spiritual voice (as in
the case of St. Paul), audible perhaps to one, and by him interpreted to
the rest, or audible to all that were in the same faithful
sympathy—these and other details cannot now be determined.

“Why did not the adversaries of Christ confront His followers by
producing the body from the tomb, thus disproving the story that His
body had risen from the dead?” The tomb was probably empty. That is
probable for two reasons, first because the earliest traditions agree
that the women going to the tomb found the stone rolled away; and
secondly, because the adversaries of Jesus appear to have themselves
subsequently circulated a story that the disciples had stolen away the
body. This they would hardly have done if they had known that their own
explanation could be at any moment refuted by opening the tomb, which
would have shown the body still lying there. Possibly some of the
enemies of Jesus had themselves removed the body, influenced by some of
those predictions of Jesus about Himself, which, though they had not the
power to inspire the disciples with faith in the moment of His death,
had power to inspire His enemies with a vague fear. Being almost
surprised in the act, they may not have had time to replace the great
stone at the entrance of the tomb, when the women arrived; if so, the
action of Christ’s own enemies prepared the way for the belief in His
resurrection by exhibiting to the sorrowing disciples the stone rolled
away and the empty sepulchre. First came the cry, “He is not here,” and
that prepared the way for “He is risen.”

How long the visionary period lasted we cannot tell. It is almost
certain that there were many more visions than the five recorded by St.
Paul (1 Cor. xv. 6, 7). At least one of St. Paul’s five visions, that to
St. James, is not mentioned in any of our extant Gospels; on the other
hand St. Paul omits some of those peculiar to the third or fourth
Gospels, as well as the manifestations to the women. Perhaps the visions
were so many, and all so like each other, that the Church found it
difficult to select which to record; and each Evangelist chose those
which appeared to him fittest, either because they were the earliest, or
because the witnesses were numerous, or because they were apostolic, or
because they contained the most striking proof of a veritable
resurrection. We may therefore easily accept the statement that the
period of visions lasted for forty days or even for a much longer time,
probably till the disciples felt emboldened to take an active course in
preaching the Gospel.

Concerning Christ’s manifestation to St. Paul I have said enough in my
last letter—if anything needed to be said—to shew that it must have been
of the nature of a vision, and (in a sense) “subjective.” But it differs
from the rest in that it was made to an enemy while the other
manifestations were made to devoted disciples. Love, remorse, faith,
affection, stimulated the Apostles to cry, “He cannot have died,” and
prepared their souls to see the image of Jesus risen; but where, it may
be asked, was the spiritual preparation in the heart of St. Paul to
receive such a vision? You may trace it in the words which St. Paul
heard from Jesus: “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” They
shew that the future Apostle had been struggling, and struggling hard,
against the compunctions of conscience. Being a lover of truth from his
childhood, he was prepared to give up all for its sake; but recent
events had made him ask whether he was not fighting against the truth
instead of for the truth. He had been persecuting the Christians; but
their faith and patience had made him doubt whether they might not be
right and he wrong. When the first martyr Stephen looked up to heaven
and there saw Jesus seated at the right hand of God, then or soon
afterwards, the question must have arisen in the mind of the persecutor,
“What if the follower of the Nazarene was speaking truth? What if the
crucified Jesus whom I am now persecuting was really exalted to God’s
throne?” Such was the struggle through which Saul’s mind was passing
when the Spirit of Jesus, acting indirectly through the constancy and
faith of His persecuted disciples, having first insensibly permeated and
undermined the barriers of Pharisaic training and education, now swept
all obstacles before it in an instantaneous deluge of conviction that
this persecuted Jesus was the Messiah. At that same moment the Messiah
Himself (who during these last months and weeks of spiritual conflict
had been bending down closer and closer to the predestined Apostle from
His throne in heaven) now burst upon the convert’s sight on earth.

But I think I hear you saying, “All this sounds well; but he has
repeatedly described these visions of the risen Saviour as subjective:
how then can he call them real? What is real?” Let me refer you to the
paper of Definitions which I enclosed in a previous letter.[30]

1. _Absolute reality cannot be comprehended by men, and can only be
apprehended as God, or in God, by Faith._

2. _Among objects of sensation, those are (relatively) real which
present similar sensations in similar circumstances._

Now if you try to regard the manifestation of the risen Christ under the
second head, as an “object of sensation,” you must pronounce it
“unreal,” inasmuch as it would not “present similar sensations in
similar circumstances;” by which I mean that, with similar opportunities
of observation, different persons (believers, for example, and
unbelievers) would not have derived similar sensations from it. But your
conclusion would be false because you started from a false premise:
these manifestations cannot be classed “among objects of sensation.”

The movements of the risen Saviour appear to me to have been the
movements of God; His manifestations to the faith of the Apostles were
divine acts, passing direct from God to the souls of men. Since
therefore these manifestations belonged to the class of things which
“can only be apprehended as God, or in God, by faith,” I call them
“absolute realities”—as much more real than flesh and blood, as God
Himself is more real than the paper on which I am now writing.

Footnote 28:

  Mark xvi. 7; Matthew xxviii. 7: “He goeth before you _into Galilee_.”

Footnote 29:

  Luke xxiv. 6: “Remember how he spake unto you _while he was yet in

Footnote 30:

  See _Definitions_ at the end of the book.

                       THE SPIRITUAL RESURRECTION


I am not surprised to hear that you consider the theory above described
of Christ’s resurrection, “vague, shadowy, and unsatisfying.” But as in
the very same letter you say that you are quite convinced of the
unhistorical nature of the account of the resurrection of Christ’s
material body, I think you ought not to dismiss the subject without
giving more attention than you have given as yet to it. As a student of
history and as a young man bent on attaining such knowledge as can be
attained concerning the certainties or probabilities that have the most
important bearing on the life and conduct of myriads of your
fellow-creatures, you ought at least to ask yourself what better
explanation you have to offer of the marvellous phenomena of the
Christian Church and in particular of St. Paul’s part in spreading

I sympathize with the “sense of bathos,” as you call it, which comes
over you when you hear that the phenomena of the Resurrection of Christ
are to be explained by a study of the growth and development of the
revelation given to mankind through the Imagination. I sympathize with
you; but I sympathize with you as I should with a child who might be
standing by Elijah’s side at the time when the prophet saw his
never-to-be-forgotten vision. That child would feel, no doubt, “a sense
of bathos” because the Lord was not in the fire, nor in the whirlwind,
nor in the earthquake, but in the still small voice. You are in the
childish stage of susceptibility to anything that is noisy and big; you
have not been taught by experience and thought to appreciate the
divineness of things obvious, ordinary, and quiet; above all you have
not yet learned to revere your own nature nor to acknowledge (except
with your lips) that you are made in the image of God. Retaining still a
keen recollection of the pain with which I passed through that stage
myself, I have neither the inclination, nor the right, to despise your
present condition of mind; but I believe, if you will still keep the
question open in your mind, and if you will meditate a little now and
then on the frequency, or I may say the universality, of illusion in the
conveyance of all the highest truth, you will gradually come, as I came,
to perceive that the essence of the resurrection of Christ is that His
Spirit should have really triumphed over death, and not that His body
should have risen from the grave.

No doubt you would be much more impressed if the tangible body of some
dead friend of yours, after being buried in the earth, had appeared to
certain witnesses and touched them, and eaten in their company, than if
a vivid apparition of the friend had appeared to the same witnesses; but
I think you would much more easily believe the latter than the former;
and you might be more impressed by a strong conviction of the latter
than by a doubtful, timid, clinging to the former. I can hardly think
that if you had received several accounts from independent witnesses, of
apparitions of this kind resulting in a marvellous change of character
in all who had seen them, you would at once put them aside simply
because they might be called in some sense natural. The very fact of
their being natural would lead you to consider how strange must have
been the causes that had produced such strange results; how powerful
must have been the personality that had thus forced itself on the mental
retina of the seers of the apparition; and if something important had
followed from such a vision, say, for example, the writing of a great
poem, or the foundation of a noble empire, I cannot think that you would
set down the vision as a negligible trifle.

But you feel, I dare say, that, though you might be impressed by the
stories of such an apparition, you could not feel certain that the
apparition represented any reality; there would be no definite proof
that the witnesses of the apparition were not under the influence of a
delusion. Well, I will admit that there would be no proof of the
ordinary kind, that is to say, no proof such as is conveyed through the
senses about ordinary terrestrial phenomena; but I think you might feel
certain; only it would be that kind of certainty which is largely bred
from Faith and Hope. And this sort of certainty, and no other, appears
to me that which was intended to be produced by the Resurrection of
Christ. His manifestations were unseen and unheard save by the eye and
ear of Faith. If the proof of His resurrection had not depended upon
Faith, then the Roman soldiers would have seen His material body
miraculously issuing from the shattered sepulchre, and the companions of
Saul would have both seen Christ and understood the voice that cried,
“Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” If we could ascertain exactly the
historical basis for the account in the Fourth Gospel of Christ’s
manifestation to the doubting Thomas we should probably find—supposing
that we were really justified in treating the account as historical—that
there was in Thomas a strong desire to believe, combined with a strong
sense of the impossibility of attaining adequate proof. As in the life
of Christ, so in the resurrection of Christ, conviction appears never to
have been forced on any entirely unwilling unbeliever.

In order to believe in the resurrection of Christ, it is not enough to
be convinced that the evidence is honest and genuine, and that the
witnesses could not be deceived; that kind of belief savours of the
law-court, and there is nothing spiritual in it; but the man who truly
and spiritually accepts Christ’s resurrection is he who says to himself
as he reviews the life of Christ and the history of the Church: “Being
what He was, and having done the work that He has done, this Jesus of
Nazareth ought not to have succumbed to death. If there is any evidence
to shew that the veil of the invisible has been so far thrown back, be
it for a moment, as to shew me Jesus in the spiritual world still living
and triumphant over death, my conscience opens its arms at once to
embrace that belief.” And there is this advantage in basing your faith
on the spiritual resurrection of Jesus, that you keep the region of
faith distinct from the region of disputable testimony. If you rest your
hopes on the material resurrection, that is a question of doubtful
evidence. Your heart says, “Oh that it might be true!” Your brain says,
“I cannot honestly say that I think it is true.” Hence a constant
conflict between heart and brain, while you are forced again and again
to ask yourself, “Must I be dishonest in order that I may persuade
myself that I am happy? And even if I can honestly believe in the
material resurrection to-day, how do I know that some new evidence—the
discovery of some new Gospel for example—may not overturn my belief

But the life and doctrine of Christ, the conversion and letters of St.
Paul, the growth and victories of the Church, and the present power of
Christ’s Spirit are facts that can never be overthrown; and if you say,
“On the basis of these indisputable facts, considered as a part of the
evolution and training of mankind I rest my hope and my faith that Jesus
has conquered death and still lives and works among us and for us”—why
then you rest on a basis that cannot be shaken. And surely such a faith
is more strong, more spiritual, more comforting, yes, and more certain
too, than a “knowledge” which you know in your own heart to be no
knowledge! How long will mankind be content to be ignorant that the HALF
which constitutes truth is worth more than the WHOLE which is made up of
truth and truth’s integumentary illusion! How many there are to whom the
saying of old Hesiod is still unmeaning:

                   _Alas thou know’st not, silly soul,
                   How much the half exceeds the whole!_

You cannot obtain, and must not expect to obtain, any demonstrative
proof of the Resurrection of Christ, any more than you can obtain a
demonstrative proof of the existence of a God: yet you can feel as
strong and as sincere a conviction of the former fact as of the latter.

It is curious that St. Paul’s parallel between the Resurrection of
Christ and that of men should be so habitually overlooked. He assumes,
as a matter of course, a similarity, almost an identity, between the
Resurrection of men and the Resurrection of Christ: “If there is no
resurrection of the dead neither hath Christ been raised,” and again:
“Now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the first fruits of them
that are asleep.” This reasoning holds excellently, if the Resurrection
is to be the same for us as it was for our Saviour, a spiritual
Resurrection, and if the Resurrection of Christ visibly revealed the
universal law which shall apply to all who are animated by the Spirit of
God. But if Christ’s Resurrection was of a quite different kind, if it
was a bodily stepping out of the tomb three days after burial, how can
this be called the “first fruits” of the Resurrection of men whose
bodies will all decay and for whom therefore no such stepping out from
the tomb can ever be anticipated? The best, the truest, the most
comforting belief in the end will be found to be that Jesus was “put to
death in the flesh but _quickened_ (not in the flesh but) _in the
spirit_.” And as it was with Him, so we believe it will be with us.

But perhaps you will remind me that one of the Creeds mentions “the
Resurrection of the _body_,” and that St. Paul anticipates the
Resurrection, not of a “spirit,” but of “a spiritual _body_;” and you
may ask me what I infer from this. I for my part infer that St. Paul
desired to guard against the notion that the dead lose their identity
and are merged in God or in some other essence; he wished to convey to
his hearers that they would still retain their individuality, the power
of loving and of being loved; possibly also he wished to suggest a life
of continued activity in the service of God; and in order to express
this he used such language (metaphorical of course) as would
unmistakeably imply that identity would be preserved, and activity would
be possible. But he took care to guard his language against
materialistic misinterpretation by insisting that the body would be
“spiritual” and therefore invisible to the earthly eye and cognizable
only by the spirit. The new body, he says, is “a building from God,” “a
house not made with hands, _eternal_;” and he prefaces this by saying
“the things which are seen are temporal, but the things _which are not
seen_ are _eternal_.” Hereby he clearly implies that the new body will
be “not seen.” Elsewhere he tells us that “the things prepared by God”
for them that love Him (and of course he includes in these the “building
from God, the house not made with hands”) are such as eye “_hath not
seen_ nor ear heard, nor have they entered into the heart of man; but
God hath revealed them unto us _by the Spirit_;” and again, “the things
of God none knoweth _save the Spirit of God_,” which has been imparted
to the faithful.

To speak honestly, I must add that, even if I found St. Paul had
committed himself repeatedly to any theory of a material or
semi-material Resurrection, consonant with the feelings of his times, I
should not have felt bound to place a belief in a materialistic detail
of this kind upon the same high and authoritative level as the belief in
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or any other general and
spiritual article of faith. But I find no such materialism in St. Paul.
He appears to me to say consistently, 1st, that Christ’s Resurrection
was a type of (“the first fruits of”) the Resurrection of mankind; 2nd,
that in contrast to the first man Adam, the earthy, who became a living
soul, the last Adam, the heavenly, became a “life-giving spirit;” 3rd,
that, as we have borne the image of the earthy, so we shall also bear
the image of the heavenly; 4th, that the “body” of the faithful after
death will be “spiritual,” just as the Church of God is “a _spiritual_
house,” and the sacrifices of the saints are “_spiritual_ sacrifices.”
There is no more ground for thinking that St. Paul supposed that we
should hereafter have spiritual hands, or be spiritual bipeds, than for
thinking that he supposed the sacrifices of the Church to be spiritual
sheep, or the temple of the Church to be composed of celestial stones.
After our Resurrection, we are still to be conscious of God’s past love,
still to rejoice in His present and never-ending love, still to be
capable of glorifying and serving God, of loving as well as of being
loved—this St. Paul’s theory of the “spiritual body” certainly implies;
and it need not imply more. And what our Resurrection will be, that
Christ’s Resurrection was.

The ordinary fancies about the Resurrection teem with absurdities, and
are redeemed from being ridiculous, only because they all spring from
the natural and reasonable desire that we may hereafter preserve our
identity. But they ought to be suppressed if they create, as I fear they
create, additional difficulties in the way of conceiving, and believing
in, a future life. I do not wish to scoff at the popular views; but it
is important that those who adopt the materialistic theory of the
Resurrection should realize the unnecessary and grotesque
inconsistencies with which they obscure the Christian faith. Popular
Christianity appears generally to accept a sensuous paradise, only
excluding what some may deem the coarser senses, the smell, touch, and
taste. But what is the special merit of the other two senses, hearing
and seeing, that they alone should be allowed places in Paradise? And
this visible, semi-spiritual body upon which the vulgar fancy so
insists—what purpose will it serve? “The purposes of recognition between
friends.” Then it will be like the old material body of the departed—at
what period of his existence? Shall he be represented as a youth of
twenty or a man of forty, or of fifty, or as a child of ten? And how as
to the body of one who was deformed, maimed, or hideously misshapen and
ugly? “It would be a purified likeness, summarizing, as it were, every
period of life, so that it would be recognizable, not indeed by our eyes
but by those of spiritual beings.” That is conceivable: but why all this
trouble to obtain a visible body that shall make recognition difficult,
when recognition can be conceived so much more easily as the result of
mere spiritual communion? Keep by all means the language of the
_Apocalypse_ and of the _Pilgrim’s Progress_ in order to describe in
poetry the condition of the blessed dead; but remember that it is the
language of poetry; and let every such use of words be concluded (as
with a doxology) by the thought, “Thus will it be, only far better,
infinitely better; for God is love; and our future communion with the
love of God will be a height of happiness such as no power of sense can
reveal, and only the spirit-guided soul can faintly apprehend.”

But perhaps you will say “You are ready enough to attack other people’s
notions about the semi-material resurrection; but you are not equally
ready to explain your own notions about a spiritual resurrection. You
cannot even tell us what a spiritual body is, except that it has the
power of loving and being loved.” Precisely so; I am quite ignorant. Yet
in my knowledge of this matter I am superior to a very great number of
other theologians. For they think they know, whereas I know that neither
I nor they know. Let me go a little further in my confession of
ignorance and admit that I do not really possess knowledge about a
number of other matters about which many profess with great glibness to
know everything. I am certain that I exist; but I doubt whether I can
analyse and explain the reasons for my certainty, and I am quite sure I
cannot prove my existence by logic. If I am pressed for a proof, I
should say (as I have stated in a previous letter) that my belief in my
existence was largely due to the Imagination. _Cogito, ergo sum_, “I
think, therefore I am,”—if intended as a serious proof, and if there is
any real meaning in the “_ergo_”—appears to me to be the most babyish of
arguments. I respect the gigantic intellect of the arguer, but not even
a giant can make ropes of sand; and it needs but a little grammar to
dissolve this reasoning to nothing. “I think” means “I am one thinking.”
In some languages, in Hebrew for example, you might have no other way of
expressing the proposition than in this form: “I am one thinking.” What
sort of reasoning then is this! “I _am_ one thinking, therefore I _am_.”
“This _is_ white paper, therefore it _is_!” Surely a ridiculous
offspring to issue from great logical travail! And besides, what
infinite assumptions are presupposed in that monosyllable “I”! How do I
know that “_I_ think,” and that it is not the great world-spirit who
thinks in me, as well as rains outside me? Why ought I not to say “_it_
thinks,” just as I say “_it_ rains”? What do you mean by “I”? Tell us
what “I” is. And how can the desperate logician set about telling us
what “I” is, without assuming that his own “I” is, which is equivalent
to assuming “I _am_”? Surely this is altogether a hopeless muddle, and
we ought to give up reasoning about “I” and “am;” yes, and I would add
not only about “I” and “am,” but also about a number of other
fundamental conceptions, which are far more profitably assumed as
axioms. For my part, whenever I use the words “mind,” “matter,”
“substance,” “spirit,” “soul,” “intellect,” and the like, and make any
serious statement about them, I hardly ever do so without a mental
reservation, saying to myself—“but of course there may be no such things
precisely as these, but some other things quite different, producing the
results which we ascribe to these; so that all these statements may be
only proportionately true.”

I do not object to the use of the materialistic language where it is
recognized as metaphor by those who use and those who hear it; but the
mischief is that it is often not so recognized. Once make yourself the
slave of the popular language about “spirit,” and “substance,” and what
not—and you are in danger of being manacled intellectually as well as
theologically. The popular belief is that a man’s spirit is inside him,
like his qualities; the latter like peas in a box, the former like gas
in a bladder. Drive a hole through a man’s left side or the middle of
his head, and—out goes the spirit; that is the common materialistic
creed. Now I have a strong desire to declare that this creed is
ridiculously false. But I will be consistent and simply say that I know
nothing whatever about it. My spirit may possibly be inside me; but it
may possibly be outside me; say at a point six feet, or six miles, above
me; or away in Jupiter, or Saturn, or down at the earth’s centre; or it
may be incapable of occupying space. What does it matter to you or to
me, theologically or intellectually, whether that part of us which we
call our “spirit” has its local habitation inside us, or outside, or in
no locality at all? Is it not enough to recognize that we have powers of
acting, loving, trusting, and believing, and to feel certain that God
intends these powers to be developed and never to perish? Yet I remember
that a friend of mine was shocked, and almost appalled, when I avowed
ignorance as to the locality of my spirit. He seemed to think I might as
well have no spirit at all, if it could not prove its respectability by
giving its name and address!

For my part I am now quite certain of Christ’s spiritual Resurrection,
and in that conviction I am far happier and far more trustful than when
I at first mechanically accepted upon authority and evidence the belief
in the Resurrection of Christ’s body, and subsequently strove to retain
that belief, against the testimony of my intelligence and my conscience.
I think you also will find, as years go on, when it becomes your lot to
stand by the grave into which friend after friend is lowered, that a
heartfelt conviction of the spiritual Resurrection of Christ affords
more comfort to you at such moments than your old belief—based largely
upon historical evidence, and brain-felt rather than heart-felt—in His
physical Resurrection. For the former unites us with Christ, the latter
separates us from Christ. We none of us expect that the material and
tangible bodies of our friends will rise from the dead in the flesh
without “seeing corruption;” but we do trust that they shall rise as
“spiritual bodies” over whom death shall have no power. This trust is
confirmed by the belief that Christ rose as we trust they shall
hereafter rise. If, therefore, Christ rose a material body from the
grave—that stirs no hope in us. But if, while His body remained in the
grave, His spirit rose triumphant to the throne of God, then we see a
hope indeed that may suit our case and give us some gleam of
consolation. The bodies of the dead may lie there and decay; but what of
that? Even so was it with the Saviour: but the spiritual body is
independent of the flesh and shall rise superior to death.

Do not imagine that the spiritual body is one whit less real than the
material body; only, as the material body belongs to the time-world, so
the spiritual body belongs to the eternal world. Each is suited to its
own environment, but each of them is a real body. As to the relation
between the material and the spiritual body we know nothing, and we need
know nothing.

When will men learn to be less greedy of shams and bubbles of pretended
material knowledge, and more earnest and patient in their sober
aspirations after spiritual truth? When will they realize that an
unhesitating faith in a few elementary principles is better than a
tremulous quasi-knowledge of a whole globe of dogmas?

                           WHAT IS A SPIRIT?


You take me to task for the abrupt termination of my last letter. I
broke off, you say, just when you thought I was on the point of
explaining what I meant by a spirit: “Surely you have some theory of
your own and are not content with disbelieving other people’s theories.”
Well, I thought I had said before that I am content to know merely this
about a spirit, that it possesses capabilities for loving and serving
God, or other nobler capabilities corresponding to these. But if you
press me to set up some theory of my own that you may have the pleasure
of pulling it to pieces, I will confess to you that my nearest
conception of a spirit is a personified virtue. This cannot very well be
quite right; any more than a carpenter can be like a door, or like
anything else that he has constructed. But it is the nearest I can come
to any conception that is not too repulsively material. And sometimes,
when I try to conceive of the causes of terrestrial thoughts, and
emotions, and spiritual movements, I find myself recurring to the
antique notion, hinted at in one or two passages of the Bible, and I
believe encouraged by some of the old Rabbis, that there are two worlds;
one visible, terrestrial, and material, the other invisible, celestial,
and spiritual; and that whatsoever takes place down here takes place
first (or simultaneously but causatively) up there; here, the mere
outsides of things; there, the causes and springs of action; the bodies
down on earth, the spirits up in heaven.

This is but a harmless fancy. Let me give you another. You know—or might
know if you would read a little book recently published called
_Flatland_, and still better, if you would study a very able and
original work by Mr. C. H. Hinton[31]—that a being of Four Dimensions,
if such there were, could come into our closed rooms without opening
door or window, nay, could even penetrate into, and inhabit, our bodies;
that he could simultaneously see the insides of all things and the
interior of the whole earth thrown open to his vision: he would also
have the power of making himself visible and invisible at pleasure; and
could address words to us from an invisible position outside us, or
inside our own person. Why then might not spirits be beings of the
Fourth Dimension? Well, I will tell you why. Although we cannot hope
ever to comprehend what a spirit is—just as we can never comprehend what
God is—yet St. Paul teaches us that the deep things of the spirit are in
some degree made known to us by our own spirits. Now when does the
spirit seem most active in us? or when do we seem nearest to the
apprehension of “the deep things of God”? Is it not when we are
exercising those virtues which, as St. Paul says, “abide”—I mean faith,
hope and love? Now there is obviously no connection between these
virtues and the Fourth Dimension. Even if we could conceive of space of
Four Dimensions—which we cannot do, although we can perhaps describe
what some of its phenomena would be if it existed—we should not be a
whit the better morally or spiritually. It seems to me rather a moral
than an intellectual process, to approximate to the conception of a
spirit: and toward this no knowledge of Quadridimensional space can
guide us.

What, for example, do we mean when we speak of the Holy Spirit, and
describe Him as the Third Person in the Trinity? I hope you will not
suppose—because I happen to be a rationalist as regards the historical
interpretation of certain parts of the Bible, or because I have not
disguised my dislike of the formal and quasi-arithmetical propositions
in which the Athanasian creed sets forth the doctrine of the
Trinity—that I reject the teaching of the New Testament on the nature
and functions of the Holy Spirit. Literary criticism may oblige us to
regard the long discourses on the functions of the Paraclete or Advocate
in the Fourth Gospel as being in the style of the author and not the
language of Christ; but it is difficult to suppose that the sublime
thoughts in those passages are the mere inventions of a disciple of
Jesus; and the characteristic sayings of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels
bear cogent though terse witness to His acknowledgment of a Holy Spirit
who should “speak” in His disciples, and “teach” His disciples what to
say, when they were summoned before the bar of princes: “it is not ye
that speak, but the Holy Spirit,” Mark xiii. 11; “it is not ye that
speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you,” Matth. x.
20; “the Holy Spirit shall teach you in that very hour what ye ought to
say,” Luke xii. 12. I need not remind you how large a space “the Spirit”
claims in St. Paul’s Epistles, and especially of the use which the
Apostle makes of the triple combination of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit. Even, therefore, if I could give no explanation of the
whole of it, nor so much as put into words the faint glimpse I may have
gained into the meaning of a part of this doctrine, I should be inclined
to accept the existence of the Holy Spirit on the authority of Christ or
St. Paul, as being a doctrine that does not enter into the domain of
evidence, a conception of the divine nature from which I might hope to
learn much, if I would reverently keep it before me and try to apprehend
it. But I seem to have a glimpse of it. That influence or “idea” of the
dead which, as Shakespeare says, “creeps into our study of imagination,”
and which reproduces all the best and essential characteristics of the
departed—when this has once taken possession of us, do we not naturally
say that we now realize “the spirit” of the dead, feeling that it guides
us for the first time to the appreciation of his words and deeds? Now as
God, the initial Thought, needed to be revealed to us by means of the
Word of God, so the Word needed to be revealed to us by means of the
Influence of the Word. Or, to put it more personally, as the Father
needed to be revealed by the Son, so the Son needed to be revealed by
the Spirit. Those who knew Christ merely in the flesh knew but little of
Him, and had little understanding of His words. It was the Spirit of
Christ that guided, and still guides, His disciples into the fuller
knowledge of the meaning of His past life on earth and His present
purposes in heaven.

I own, however, that I have sometimes felt at a loss when I have asked
myself, “How is this Spirit a Person? And do I love Him or It? And if
Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus are two Persons, then must I also infer
two personalities for myself, one for my mortal terrestrial humanity,
another for my immortal celestial spirit?” These questions are extremely
difficult for me to answer with confidence: yet I feel instinctively
that they have a profound and satisfying answer to which I have not yet
attained; but I suggest some answer of this kind, “When we endeavour to
form a conception of God we ought to put aside the limitations of human
individuality. Now we cannot do this while we conceive of God simply as
the Father, and still less while we conceive of Him simply as the Son;
but we can do it when we conceive of Him as being an all-pervasive
Power, the source of order and harmony and light, sometimes as a Breath
breathing life into all things good and beautiful, sometimes as a Bond,
or Law, linking or attracting together all things material and spiritual
so as to make up the Kosmos or Order of the Universe. The traditions of
the Church have taught us that there has been such a Power, subsisting
from the first with the Father and the Eternal Son, in whom the Father
and the Son were, and are, united; and by whom the whole human race is
bound together in brotherhood to one another and in sonship to the
Eternal Father. What is this Being but the Personification of that Power
which, in the material world, we call Attraction and in the immaterial,
Love? Is it not conceivable that this Being which breathes good thoughts
into every human breast should love those whom It inspires? And we—can
we love our country, and love Goodness, Purity, Honour, Faith, Hope, and
yet must we find it impossible to love this personified Love, this Holy
Spirit? But if we love the Spirit of God, and the Spirit loves us, then
we can understand how it may be called a Person.”

I foresee the answer that might be given to these—I will not call them
reasonings, say meditations. “All this is the mere play of fancy: you
personify England, Virtue, Goodness, Hope, Faith, and the like; and such
personifications are tolerable in poetry; but you do not surely maintain
that such personifications have any real existence: in the same way, you
may find a certain conception of the Supreme Being useful for the
encouragement of devotion, but you have no right hence to infer that
this conception represents an objective reality, much less God Himself.”
My reply is that in the region of theological contemplation where
demonstration, and proof of the ordinary kind, are both impossible, I
conceive I “have a right” to do this on the authority of Christ and St.
Paul and the Fourth Gospel, and the general tradition of the Church. I
would sooner believe that myself and my spirit have a dual personality;
I would sooner recognize the presence of the Angels of England and
France and the other great nations of the world about the heavenly
throne, like the Angels of the seven churches of Asia or the Angel of
the Chosen People; I would sooner acknowledge the actual personality of
Hope, Faith, and I know not what other celestial ministers between God
and man; I would sooner, in a word, believe that personality depends
upon some subtle combination such as only poets have dimly guessed at,
than I would give up the belief that there is beside the Eternal Father,
and the Eternal Son, an Eternal Spirit, to the description of whom we
can best approximate by calling Him personified Love.

Looking at the Spirit of God in this way I sometimes seem to discern a
closer connection than is generally recognized between the Resurrection
and the power of loving. You will remember that St. Paul constantly
connects the Resurrection of Christ with the “Spirit;” Christ was
“raised from the dead _in_, or _by_, _the Spirit_;” and St. Peter says
that Christ was “put to death in the flesh, but quickened _in the
Spirit_.” Now this Spirit is the Power of Love. Do we ask for an
explanation of this connection? It is surely obvious that the
Resurrection of Christ would not have directly availed men (so far as we
can see) unless it had been manifested to them. But how was it
manifested? We think it was by love: on the one hand by the unsatisfied
and longing love of the sorrowing disciples, creating a blank in the
heart which could only be filled by the image of the risen Saviour; on
the other hand by the unsatisfied and longing love of the Lord Jesus
Christ, dying with a purpose as yet unfulfilled. Thus—so far as concerns
the influence of the Resurrection of Jesus upon humanity—it was the
Spirit of Love that raised Jesus from the abyss of inert oblivion and
exalted Him to the right hand of God in the souls of men. I dare not say
that, if Jesus had failed to root Himself in the hearts of men He could
never have been raised from the dead; just as I dare not say that, if
St. Peter had not been inspired to say “Thou art the Christ,” the Church
could never have been founded on the rock of heaven-imparted faith. Let
us avoid this way of looking at things, as being repulsive and
preposterous, putting things terrestrial before things celestial. Let us
rather say that, because the rock of faith was being set up by the hand
of God in heaven, therefore at that same instant the Apostle received
the strength to utter his confession of faith; and because Christ’s
Spirit had soared up after death to the heaven of heavens and thence was
bending down lovingly to look upon His despairing followers, therefore
they received power to see Him again, living for them on earth.

Yet as regards ordinary men, I cannot help occasionally reviving that
same preposterous method which I would discard in the case of Christ.
And starting from terrestrial phenomena first, I sometimes ask myself,
Is it possible that the resurrection of each human soul may depend upon
the degree to which it has rooted itself in the affection of others? The
Roman Catholic Church teaches that the condition of the dead may be
affected by the prayers of survivors; and many abuses have resulted from
a perverted and mechanical misinterpretation of that doctrine; but how
if the spirit of a dead man actually owes its spiritual resurrection,
not indeed to formally uttered petitions, but to the silent prayers, the
loving wishes, the irrepressible desires of fellow-spirits on earth and
in heaven? How if a man lives in heaven and in the second life so far as
his spirit has imprinted itself on the loving memories of others above
and below? “Has the dead man kindled in the heart of one single human
being a spark of genuine unselfish affection? To that extent, then, he
receives a proportional germ of expansive and eternal life—might it not
be so? And if it were so, then we could better understand how both the
Lord Jesus Christ, and we mortal men, die in the flesh but are raised to
a life eternal after death ‘in the Spirit’ and ‘by the Spirit’—that
great pervasive spiritual Power of Love which links all things in heaven
and earth together.”

I trust I have theorized enough to please you. I have done so because on
the whole I think it best that you should see all the weakness, as well
as all the strength, of my position—the credulous and fanciful side of
it, as well as its breadth, its naturalness, its reasonableness, its
spiritual comfort, its dependence on moral effort, its recognition of
Law, its consistency with facts, and its absolute freedom from
intellectual difficulties. Regarded in the ordinary way, as being the
revivification of the material body, the Resurrection of Christ becomes
an isolated portent in history; regarded naturally, it becomes the
triumph of the Spirit over the fear of death, the central event of our
earthly history. Central I say, but not isolated; because there are seen
converging towards it, as it were predictively, all the phenomena of the
evolution and training of the Imagination; all instances of true poetic
and prophetic vision; the stars of heaven and all the creative
provisions of night and darkness and sleep and dreams, nay even death
itself. And what higher tribute (short of actual worship) can be paid to
the personality of Christ than to say that “the phenomena of His
resurrection are natural.” I think if I were depressed and shaken in
faith—as one is liable to be at times, not by intellectual but by moral
considerations, when one feels that evil is stronger than it should be,
both in oneself and outside oneself—it would be a great help to go and
hear some agnostic saying with vehement conviction, “The resurrection of
Christ was natural, purely natural.” I should bid him say it again, and
again; and I would go home and say it over and over again to myself by
way of comfort, to strengthen my faith: “The manifestations of the
Resurrection of Christ were purely natural. So they were. Things could
not be otherwise. Being what He was, Christ could not but thus be
manifested to His followers after death. It was the natural effect of
Christ’s personality upon the disciples; and through the disciples upon
St. Paul. Then what a Person have we here! A Person consciously superior
to death, and, after His death, fulfilling a promise which He made to
His disciples that He would still be present with them! What wonder if
He is even now present with us, influencing us with something of the
power with which He moved the last of the Apostles! What wonder if He is
destined yet for future ages to be a present Power among men until the
establishment of that Kingdom which He proclaimed upon earth, the
Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man!”

Footnote 31:

  “_A Romance of the Fourth Dimension_,” Swan & Sonnenschein.

                            THE INCARNATION


I had not forgotten that, in order to complete the brief discussion of
the miraculous element in the New Testament, it is necessary to give
some explanation of the origin of the accounts of the birth of Christ.
Your last letter reminds me of this necessity, and you put before me two
alternatives. “If,” you say, “Christ was born of a Virgin, then a
miracle is conceded so stupendous that it is absurd to object to the
other miracles: but if Christ was not born of a Virgin, then, unless the
honesty of the Gospel narratives is to be impeached, some account is
needed of the way in which the miraculous legend found its way into the
Gospels;” and you add that you would like to know what meaning, if any,
I attach to the statement in the Creed, that Jesus was “born of a

As you probably anticipate, I accept the latter of your alternatives,
and I will therefore endeavour briefly to shew how the story of the
Miraculous Conception “found its way into the Gospels.” But first I must
protest against your expression as inexact. The story of the Miraculous
Conception, so far from having “found its way into _the Gospels_,” found
its way into only two out of the four, namely, St. Matthew’s and St.
Luke’s. And this fact, strong as it is, does not represent the strength
of the negative argument from omission. Of the _nine_ authors, or
thereabouts, of the different books in the New Testament, only two
contain any account, reference, or allusion to the Miraculous
Conception. No mention is made of it in any of the numerous Epistles of
St. Paul; nor in any of his speeches, nor in those of St. Peter,
recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, nor in any part of that book; nor
in the Epistles of St. John, St. James, St. Peter, St. Jude; nor in the
Apocalypse; nor in the Gospels of St. Mark and St. John! Even the two
Gospels that mention it contain no evidence that it was known to any of
the disciples during the life-time of Jesus, and one of these (Luke iii.
23) traces the genealogy of Jesus from Joseph and expressly declares
that He “was supposed” to be “the Son of Joseph.”[32] This negative
evidence becomes all the more weighty if you consider how very natural
it was, and I may almost say inevitable, that the story of a Miraculous
Conception should speedily find its way into the traditions of the early
Church. The causes that worked toward this result were, first, Old
Testament prophecy; secondly, traditions and expressions current among a
certain section of the Jews; thirdly, the preconceptions of pagan

Recall to mind what was said in a previous letter concerning the
importance attached by the earliest Christians to the argument from
prophecy. Now there is a prophecy in Isaiah which, _if separated from
its context_, might seem to point to nothing but the Miraculous
Conception of the Messiah: “The Lord himself shall give you a sign:
behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name
Immanuel.” But a careful study of the context puts the matter in a quite
different light. Isaiah (vii. 10-viii. 4) is promising to King Ahaz
deliverance from the kings of Syria and Samaria. As the king will not
ask for a sign, the prophet promises that the Lord will give him one; a
virgin shall conceive and bring forth a child and shall call his name
Immanuel (“God with us”): he shall “eat butter and honey” when he
arrives at the age of distinction between good and evil; for before he
arrives at that age, the land abhorred by Ahaz shall be “forsaken by
both her kings.” The meaning appears to be that, within the time
necessary for the conception and birth of a child, that is to say, in
less than a year, the prospects of deliverance for Judah from her
present enemies (Syria and Samaria) shall so brighten that a child shall
be born and called by a name implying the favour of God; afterwards,
before that child shall grow up to childhood, the two aggressive
countries of Syria and Samaria shall be themselves desolated, as well as
Judah, by the “razor” of Assyria which shall shave the country clean
from all cultivated crops. Amid the general desolation, the fruit trees
will be cut down, the corn will not be sown; bread there will be none;
there will be nothing to eat but “butter and honey;” it is not the
new-born child alone who shall eat “butter and honey;” “butter and honey
shall _every one eat that is left in the land_” (vii. 22).

In all this, even though we may suppose that there may have been some
Messianic reference, there is no prediction at all of a conception from
a virgin or of a miracle of any kind. Indeed, the prophecy appears to
find some sort of fulfilment in what happens immediately afterwards
(Isaiah viii. 1-4), when the prophet contracts a marriage, and calls the
son who springs from it by a name implying the vengeance imminent on
Samaria and Assyria: “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz (_i.e._ booty,
quick, spoil, speedy): for before the boy shall have knowledge to cry my
father! my mother! the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall
be taken away before the king of Assyria.” No doubt it may be said that
this son was not called “Immanuel,” so that the prophecy was not
fulfilled in him. But the same argument might be urged against the
application to our Lord; for He also was not called “Immanuel,” but
received the old national name of “Joshua,” “Jeshua,” or “Jesus.”
Reviewing all the circumstances of the prophecy, I think we may say,
without exaggeration, first, that there are no grounds for seeing in it
any reference to a Miraculous Conception; secondly, that, when isolated,
it might easily be misinterpreted so as to convey such a reference.[33]

Even if no such prophecy had existed, the language and preconceptions of
the earliest Christians and their converts would almost necessarily have
introduced a belief in the Miraculous Conception. The language of
Philo—who represents not a mere individual eccentricity but the current
phraseology of the Alexandrine school of thought, and whose influence
may be traced in almost every page of the Fourth Gospel—consistently
affirms that, whenever a child is mentioned in the Old Testament as
having been born to be a deliverer in fulfilment of a divine promise,
that child is “begotten of God.” The words of Sarah, he says, indicate
that, in reality, “The _Lord begot_ Isaac.” God is also spoken of as
“the _husband of Leah_.” Zipporah is described as being “pregnant by _no
mortal_.” Samuel, in words that contain an implied belief that only his
maternal parentage was mortal, is declared to be “perhaps a man,” and
“born of a human mother.” I have already quoted one passage about Isaac
but another asserts that he is to be considered “_not the result of
generation_ but the work of _the unbegotten_.” Sometimes the language of
Philo is so worded as to convey even to a careful reader the impression
that he believed in a literally Miraculous Conception, as for example
when he says that “Moses introduces Sarah as being _pregnant when
alone_, and as being _visited by God_.” Elsewhere, he removes the
possibility of misunderstanding by saying that “the Scripture is
cautious, and describes God as the husband, not of a virgin, but of
virginity.” None the less, you can easily see how expressions of this
kind, current among Jewish philosophers a generation before the time of
St. Paul, might be very easily interpreted literally by ordinary people
unskilled in these metaphorical subtleties, and especially by Gentile
converts asking for a plain answer to a plain question, “What was the
parentage of this man whom you call the Son of God?”

In truth the preconceptions of the Gentile converts must have played no
small part in preparing the way for the doctrine of the literal
Miraculous Conception. The Greeks and Romans who worshipped or honoured
Æsculapius son of Apollo, Romulus son of Mars, Hercules son of Jupiter,
and a score of other demi-gods, would be quite familiar with the notion
of a god or hero born of a human mother and of a divine father; they
would not only be prepared for it in the case of Jesus, whom they were
called on to adore as the Son of God, they would even demand and assume
it. They would argue much as Tertullian argued: “If he was the son of a
man, he was not the son of God; and if he was the son of God, he was not
the son of a man.” This argument ought to have been met by a flat
denial, thus: “The mere physical and carnal union by which, according to
your legends, the gods, assuming the forms of men, generated Æsculapius,
Romulus, and Hercules, is not to be thought of here. When we speak of
Jesus being the Son of God, we do not mean that His body was formed by
God descending from heaven and assuming human shape or functions, but
that His Spirit was spiritually begotten of God. It is therefore quite
possible that Jesus may have been the Son of God according to the Spirit
and yet the son of man according to the flesh.” But instead of that, the
whole truth, there came back this half-true answer. “The parentage was
divine, but not of the materialistic nature you suppose: God did not
assume human shape: the generation was spiritual.” By these words there
may have been meant at first, simply what Philo meant, that while the
spiritual parentage was divine, the material parentage was human: but
such an answer would leave many under the impression that the body as
well as the spirit of Jesus resulted from a spiritual generation in
which no human father participated. The Gentiles would naturally
interpret the Philonian doctrine literally and say of Mary, as Philo had
said of Sarah, that she was “pregnant when alone, and visited by God.”

From a very different point of view, the ritual and hymnals of some of
the Jews might facilitate the growth of the belief that Jesus was born
of a virgin. For they might naturally speak of their Messiah as being a
child of the virgin daughter of Sion, whose only husband was Jehovah.
And hence in the Apocalypse, a book imbued with Jewish feeling, we find
Jesus described (xii. 1-6) as the child of a woman who evidently
represents Israel: “A woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her
feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was _with
child_.... And she was delivered of a _son_, _a man child, who is to
rule all the nations with a rod of iron_.” This personification of the
daughter of Israel or of Jerusalem as representing the nation, the bride
of Jehovah, is very common in the prophets. You may find similar
personifications in the New Testament. The Apocalypse describes the
Church as the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, descending from Heaven “_as
a bride_ adorned for her husband.” St. Paul speaks of the New Jerusalem,
which is above (_i.e._ the spiritual Jerusalem, free from the law), as
being “the _mother_ of us all.” Sometimes the personification of the
Church is liable to be misinterpreted literally, as in St. Peter’s and
St. John’s Epistles, where “the elect lady” “thine elect sister” and
“the (lady) in Babylon” have been supposed by some to refer to
individuals, but are believed by Bishop Lightfoot to represent the
Churches of the places from which, and to which, the epistles were
written. The whole of St. Paul’s Epistles presuppose the metaphor of a
Virgin Church, and toward the end of the second century (177 A.D.) we
find a very curious passage (in an epistle from the Church of Lyons) in
which the repentance and martyrdom of some previous apostates are
described as a restoration to “the Virgin Mother” of her children,
“raised from the dead.” You see then how this personification runs
through all Jewish and all early Christian literature, so that the
Church, old or new, might be described as a woman; and I ought perhaps
not to have omitted the strange dream in the second book of Esdras (x.
44-46) where Israel is a woman and the Temple is the son: “This woman
whom thou sawest is Sion ... she hath been thirty years barren, but
after thirty years Solomon builded the city and offered offerings, and
then bare the barren a son.” Does not this continuous stream of thought
shew how natural it would be for the earliest Jewish Christians to adore
Christ in their hymns as the son of the daughter of Zion, the son of the
Virgin Mother? Add to this the prejudice among the Gentile converts
against a human paternity for the Son of God, the influence of the
Alexandrine Jewish philosophy and the still more powerful influence of
Isaiah’s prophecy about “the virgin,” and I think you will see that the
causes at work to produce the belief in the Miraculous Conception were
so strong that I may almost say a miracle would have been needed to
prevent it.

But it has been urged that St. Luke was a historian and a physician;
that he had great power of careful description—as may be seen from his
exact account of St. Paul’s shipwreck;—that he describes the
circumstances of the miraculous birth in a plain and simple manner: and
that he assures us that he had taken every pains to make himself
acquainted with the truth of the things which he records.[34] All this
may be: but because a man can describe exactly a comparatively recent
shipwreck, which he may have himself witnessed, or which at all events
may have been witnessed by some who told him the story, it does not
follow that he has exact information about a miraculous birth which
occurred (if at all) upwards of sixty years—more probably upwards of
seventy—before he wrote. The mother of Jesus had, in all probability,
passed away when St. Luke was writing. Such obscurities and variations
by this time attended the stories concerning the infancy of Jesus, that
we find even the compiler of St. Matthew’s Gospel apparently ignorant
that the home of the parents of Jesus was (if St. Luke is correct on
this point) not Bethlehem, but Nazareth. It is hardly possible to deny
his ignorance when we find in the First Gospel these words: “Now when
Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa ... And he arose and took the young
child and his mother and came into the land of Israel. _But_ when he
heard that Archelaus was reigning over _Judæa, he was afraid to go
thither; and being warned [of God] in a dream, he withdrew into the
parts of Galilee and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth_.”
Obviously the writer is ignorant that “a city called Nazareth” was the
original home of the parents of Jesus, and that they had no reason for
returning to “Judæa;” his whole narrative assumes that Bethlehem in
Judæa was the home, and that the parents of Jesus were only prevented
from returning thither by the fear of Archelaus, which forced them to
leave their native city and to take up their abode in “_a city_ called
Nazareth.” Now it is probable that St. Luke’s account is here the
correct one, and that the erroneous tradition found in the First Gospel
was a mere inference from the prophecy that “from Bethlehem” there
should “come forth a governor.” But what a light does this discrepancy
throw upon the uncertainty of the very earliest traditions about the
infancy of Jesus when we find _the only two Evangelists who say anything
about it, differing as to the place where the parents of Jesus lived at
the time when they were married_! I have no doubt that St. Luke did his
best, in the paucity, or more probably in the variety, of conflicting
traditions, to select those which seemed to him most authoritative and
most spiritual. Even the most careless reader of the English text must
feel, without knowing a word of Greek, that St. Luke’s first two
chapters—which contain the stories of the infancy—are entirely different
from the style of the preface (i. 1-4), and from that of the rest of the
Gospel. The two chapters sound, even in English, like a bit out of the
Old Testament; and any Greek scholar, accustomed to the LXX, would
recognize that they were either a close translation from the Aramaic, or
written by some one who wrote in Greek, modelling his style on the LXX.
It is probable that they represent some traditions of Aramaic origin,
the best that St. Luke could find when he began to write of the wonders
that had happened more than sixty or seventy years ago. To those who can
form the least conception of the extent to which Oriental tradition in
the villages of Galilee might be transmuted after an interval of sixty
or seventy years, it must seem quite beside the mark to assert the
historical accuracy of the tradition concerning the Miraculous
Conception which St. Luke has incorporated in his Gospel, on the ground
that he was a physician; that he took pains to get at the truth; and
that he has written a masterly and exact account of a shipwreck which
he, or some friends of his, may have witnessed in person.

The very sobriety of his own preface ought to put us on our guard
against attaching to St. Luke’s history such weight, for example, as we
attach to the history of Thucydides. He says, it is true, that he had
“traced the course of all things accurately from the first, _i.e._ from
the commencement of Christ’s life:” but this amounts to much less than
the statement of Thucydides, who tells us that he had personally
inquired from those who knew the facts, besides having seen some of the
facts himself (Thuc. i. 22). He does not say that “the eye-witnesses and
ministers of the word” had given _him_ any special information: on the
contrary he mentions himself only as one of many who had received
“traditions” from eye-witnesses, and he implies that a good many of the
existing narratives, _based upon these very traditions_, were at least
so far unsatisfactory that they did not dispense with an additional
narrative from him. The emphasis which St. Luke lays on the fact that he
has traced things “from the first,” and that he writes “in
order,”—combined with the mention of “many” predecessors who have “taken
in hand” the work which he intends to do over again—makes it almost
certain that some of these Evangelists had omitted all account of our
Lord’s birth; others had not regarded chronological order; others had
not written “accurately.” All these deficiencies indicate a great and
general difficulty in obtaining exact information; and the mere honesty
of a new attempt, under circumstance so disadvantageous, cannot justify
us in attaching a very high authority to a tradition in this new Gospel,
of a miraculous character, and in a style that appears to be not St.
Luke’s own, referring to an incident supposed to have occurred upwards
of sixty years before. This digression about St. Luke’s Gospel will not
be without its use if it leads you to perceive that history, and
experience, and criticism, while they tend to make us believe more, tend
also to make us know less, about Christ’s life and doctrine; I mean,
that we find we know a little less about the historical facts of
Christ’s life than we supposed we knew, while we are led to believe a
great deal more in the divine depth and wisdom of His ideas.

I pass to the second question which you put to me, “What sense, if any,
do you yourself attach to the statement in the Creed that Christ was
born of a Virgin?” Before I tell you what sense I attach to it, or
rather what sense seems to me the only one compatible with the facts, I
must honestly express my doubt whether any sense that is compatible with
the facts, is also compatible with the words. To speak plainly, the
statement appears to be so obviously literal that I shrink from
interpreting it metaphorically; and yet, if taken literally, it appears
to me to be false. The word “Virgin” is perhaps the only word in the
service and ritual of the Church of England (if the Athanasian Creed be
left out of consideration, owing to the non-natural and humane
interpretations of it which have been sanctioned by high authority)
which has made me doubt at times whether I ought to do official work as
a minister in that Church. As regards the “resurrection of the body,”
asserted in one of the Creeds, I feel little or no difficulty: for St.
Paul’s use of the term “spiritual body” allows great latitude to those
who would give a spiritual interpretation to the phrase in the Creed;
and I trust that I have made it clear to you that I accept Christ’s
Resurrection as a reality, though a spiritual reality.[35] But the words
implying the birth from the Virgin stand on a different footing. In the
Resurrection of Jesus I believe that there was a unique vision of the
buried Saviour, apparent to several disciples at a time; but in the
conception and birth of Jesus I have no reason for thinking that there
was anything unusual apparent to the senses. What can I mean then by
saying that Jesus is “born of a Virgin”?

All that I can mean is this. Human generation does not by any means
account for the birth of a new human spirit. So far as we are righteous,
we all owe our righteousness to a spiritual seed within us; “we are
not,” as Philo would say, “the result of generation but the work of the
Unbegotten.” So far as we are righteous, we are “born not of blood, nor
of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John i.
13). But of the Lord Jesus Christ we are in the habit of saying and
believing that He was uniquely and entirely righteous; and therefore we
say that He was uniquely and entirely born of God. In all human
generation there must be some congenital divine act, if a righteous soul
is to be produced; and in the generation of Christ there was a unique
congenital act of the Holy Spirit. That Word of God which in various
degrees inspires every righteous human soul (none can say how soon in
its existence) did not inspire Jesus, but was (to speak in metaphor)
totally present in Jesus from the first so as to exclude all
imperfection of humanity. Human unrighteousness—such as we are in the
habit of attributing to human generation—there was, in this case, none.
Therefore we say that the generation of Jesus was not human but divine.

So much I can honestly say because I heartily believe it. How far one is
justified in putting so strained an interpretation on the words “born of
the Virgin Mary”—even in the Church of England, where simultaneous
conservatism and progress have been bought at the cost of many strained
interpretations—is a question on which I may perhaps hereafter say a
word or two, but not now. Meantime let me merely add my conviction that
there may have been a time when this illusion of the Miraculous
Conception did more good than harm. In former days, that spiritual truth
which we can now disentangle from the story of the Miraculous Conception
may have been conveyed by means of it to hearts which would have
otherwise never recognized that Jesus was the Son of God. It was surely
better then, and it is better now, that men should believe the great
truth that Jesus is the Son of God, at the cost of believing (provided
they can honestly believe) the untruth that Jesus was not the son of
Joseph, than that they should altogether fail to recognize His divine
Sonship, because they were alive to the fact that He was born of human
parents in accordance with the laws of humanity. But in these days the
doctrine of the Miraculous Conception seems to me fraught with evil;
partly because the weakness of the evidence makes the narrative a
stumbling-block for many who are taught to consider this doctrine
essential and who cannot bring themselves to believe it; partly because
it tends to sanction a false and monastic ideal of life; to separate
Jesus from common humanity and from human love and sympathy; and to
encourage false notions about a material Resurrection of the body of
Jesus, which naturally result in a false, bewildering, and disorderly
expectation of a material Resurrection for ourselves.

Footnote 32:

  Yet I have heard it said, “_So far as evidence goes_, you have no more
  reason for rejecting the Miraculous Conception than for rejecting the
  story that Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles: for two witnesses
  attest the former; but only one, the latter. Your objection is _a
  priori_.” Such arguments seem to me to fail to recognize the first
  principles of evidence. The omission of a stupendous marvel, an
  integral part (and is not the parentage an integral part?) of a
  biography, by biographers who have no motive for omitting it and every
  motive for inserting it, is a _strong proof that they did not know
  it_. For a similar instance, see above, p. 167.

Footnote 33:

  You remember that the two accounts of the Miraculous Conception differ
  in respect of the “annunciation”; which St. Matthew describes as being
  made to Joseph, St. Luke as being made to Mary. It is interesting to
  note how these two variations correspond to two variations in the
  ancient prophecy.

  In the LXX the name is to be given to the child, not by the mother,
  but by the future _husband_: “The virgin shall be with child and bring
  forth a son, and _thou shalt_ call his name Immanuel”. In the Hebrew,
  the “virgin,” or “maiden,” is _herself_ to name the child; “A _virgin_
  shall ... bring forth and _shall_ call, &c.” Adopting the former
  version, a narrator would infer that the announcement of the birth was
  to be made to Joseph, as the first Gospel does: “She shall bring forth
  a child and _thou_ (Joseph) shalt call his name Jesus.” Adopting the
  latter version, and changing the third into the second person for the
  purpose of an “annunciation,” the narrator would infer that since the
  name was to be given _by the mother_, the announcement was made _to
  the mother_, as the third Gospel does; “_Thou shalt_ be with child,
  and shalt bring forth a son, and _shalt_ call his name Jesus.”

  Note also that afterwards, when St. Matthew actually quotes the whole
  prophecy with the name “Immanuel” (i. 23), he alters the verb into the
  _third person plural_: “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of
  the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold the virgin shall be with
  child, and shall bring forth a child, and _they shall_ call his name
  Immanuel.” The reason is obvious. It would not be true to say that
  _Mary_ called her son “Immanuel”; it would only be possible to suggest
  that _men in general_ (“they”), looking on the Child as the token of
  God’s presence among them, might bestow on him some such title (not
  name) as “God with us.” Consequently St. Matthew here alters “thou”
  into “they”.

Footnote 34:

  _Contemporary Review_, Feb. 1886, p. 193.

Footnote 35:

  I must admit that a more serious difficulty is presented to Sponsors
  by the interrogative form of the Creed in the Baptismal service, to
  which they are expected to reply in the affirmative: “Dost thou
  believe in the Resurrection of the _flesh_?” But I can hardly think
  that many clergymen would wish to reject an otherwise eligible Sponsor
  who confided to them that he could only accept “flesh” in the sense of
  “body,” and that too in the Pauline sense of “spiritual body.”

                          PRAYER, HEAVEN, HELL

You ask me whether one who has seceded from miraculous to non-miraculous
Christianity still finds himself able to pray as before. But towards the
end of your letter you amend your question. You are “quite sure,” you
are pleased to say, from what you know of me, that I shall “answer this
question affirmatively, though in defiance of all logic:” and therefore,
anticipating my answer, you state your objection to it beforehand, and
ask me how I can meet your objection, which is to this effect: “If the
laws of nature are never suspended, then it is absurd, or perhaps
impious, to pray for that which implies their suspension. For example, a
friend of mine may be in a stage of disease so fatally advanced that,
without a suspension of the laws of nature, it is no more possible that
he should recover from the disease than that his body should rise from
the grave. According to the tenets of your non-miraculous Christianity,
must I not abstain from praying that he may recover?”

I do not see any great difficulty here. Change the hypothesis for a
moment. Suppose your friend to be no longer living, but dead. Are you
willing—would you be willing, even were you the most orthodox believer
in miraculous Christianity—to pray that the body of your dead friend
might arise revivified from the grave a week after he had been laid in
it? You know you would not be willing. Why not? You cannot say “Because
it is impossible,” for you would admit (on the supposition of your being
a believer in the miraculous) not only that it is possible, but that it
has actually been done in times past. But you would feel, I am sure,
that you dare not, and ought not, to pray for this object, because such
a prayer would be a revolt against that established order of things
which you recognize to be a manifestation of God’s present will. I say
“God’s present will,” because you do not (if you agree with me) regard
death as being in accordance with God’s future will: it is an evil,
sprung, not from God, but from evil, out of which God is working good.
But He bids us acquiesce in it during our present imperfect state of
existence; and hence, though you believe He will ultimately destroy
death, you do not feel justified in praying that its present operation
may be neutralized by a suspension of the laws of nature.

Now to return to your own supposition that your friend is not dead, but
merely in danger of death. Health and life are dependent upon many
complex causes, among which (it will be admitted by all) are those
mysterious fluctuations of the thoughts and emotions, which I believe in
many cases to proceed—I speak in a metaphor—straight from God Himself.
To one who believes that the spirits of men are in constant communion
with the all-sustaining Spirit of the Creator, the thoughts of men may
well seem to be as dependent upon their divine Origin as the air in my
little room is at this moment dependent upon the changes of the
circumambient atmosphere. Of course, if you are a thorough-going,
scientific hope-nothing and trust-nothing, such a belief as this appears
to you an idle dream. From your point of view, you are a machine; your
friend is a machine; all men are machines; the world is a machine; the
action and inter-action of all these animate and inanimate machines is
predetermined, even to the minutest movement of a limb, or most fleeting
shade of thought, in each one of the myriads of human mechanisms called

The thorough-going materialist, when he rebukes his son and tells him
that he “ought not to have” told a lie, knows perfectly well that his
son could not possibly help telling that lie, and that he was bound by
all the laws of nature to tell it. The materialist father is, in fact,
telling a lie himself; only more deliberately than the little son. He is
using words which have no true meaning for him, as a kind of oil to
grease the wheels of the little machine before him, having learned by
accumulated experience that this lying phrase, “You _ought_ to have,”
has for many thousands of years proved a very effective kind of oil, and
that the true and scientific phrase, “It would have been better if you
could have, but you could not,” would be wholly inefficacious. But since
it is obvious that this view of existence converts all moral language,
and almost all the higher relations of life, into one gigantic lie, I
make no apology at all for putting it by with contempt as being beneath
the consideration of a child of ten at which age, as far as I remember I
grappled with this question of predestination, and settled it (so far as
I was concerned, for ever) by coming to the conclusion that “it does not
_work_.” Now when you have once given up, as unworkable, the theory that
all our thoughts and emotions spring necessarily from antecedent
material causes, you have bidden good-bye to Knowledge, so far as
concerns the origin of human thought, and you are thrown back upon
Faith. I believe therefore, and I make no apology for my belief, that
the mysterious fluctuations of human thought and will may sometimes
proceed from God without the intervention of material causes, perhaps in
virtue of the existence of some invisible law of union by which the
souls of men are united to God and to one another. This being my
belief—which at all events does not contain so many and such
perpetually-recurring inconsistencies as the belief of your
thorough-going materialist—you will understand, without much further
explanation, when and why I should pray even for those of whom the
physician is inclined to despair. Faith and hope, have, before now,
worked such wonders in healing, that “while there is life there is hope”
has passed into a proverb. I cannot be sure that my prayers might not
have some kind of direct power—by a kind of brain-wave such as we have
heard of lately—in affecting the emotions and spirits of the sufferer.
It is seldom that even a physician can speak with certainty about the
immediate issue of a disease: and whatsoever is uncertain is (if it be
also right) a reasonable subject for prayer. But if I were myself
absolutely convinced that there was no chance of my friend’s recovery
without a suspension of the laws of nature, I should feel that prayer
rightly and naturally gave way to resignation.

No one however who is in the habit of praying will think it necessary to
spend much time or thought in discriminating exactly between that which
may be, and that which cannot possibly be. He must know that, very
often, where his prayer trenches on the province of the material, the
line cannot be drawn except by an expert in science, which he may not
happen to be; and besides, in the mood of prayer, he will feel that the
scientific and discriminating spirit is out of place. He is not thinking
of things scientifically, but spiritually, putting his wishes before the
Father in heaven, and content to couple each wish with an “If it be
possible.” Sometimes he learns, after constant repetition, that the
prayer is an unfit one, and he discontinues it; in that case he has
gained by his prayer a closer insight into, and conformity with, the
will of God. In other cases he continues his prayer and receives an
answer to it—either the answer that he himself desires, or some other
perhaps, quite different from that which he expected, but one which he
ultimately recognizes to be the best. But there will be cases where he
will continue his prayer, feeling it to be right and natural, although
he receives no answer to it at all, so far as he can discern. For he
will feel quite certain that no genuine prayer is wasted. Our spirits,
or our angels—to use the language of metaphor—are not on earth: they sit
together in heaven, that is to say, in the heart of God; and whenever
one of us can conceive a genuinely unselfish and righteous wish for a
brother spirit and wing it with faith so that it flies up to heaven—a
flight by no means so easy or so common as we suppose, and probably not
often flown, unless the arrow is feathered by deeds and pains as well as
words—then it not only brings back a blessing upon the wisher but also
thrills through the spiritual assembly above and comes back as a special
blessing to the person prayed for. But need I add that this is not a
process to be performed mechanically? There is no recipe for effectual

But, to come down from metaphors, let me attempt to answer your
question, “What difference of attitude in prayer will there be between
the believer in natural, and the believer in miraculous, Christianity?”
As far as my experience goes, there will be very little; except that the
former will be rather more disposed to ask, before uttering a prayer,
how far the granting of it might indirectly affect others. Logically and
theoretically there ought to be a great deal of difference; for if the
believer in the miraculous were consistent, he might naturally pray that
a miracle might be performed for him, as it has been for others, for a
good purpose. As a matter of fact, the prayers of children trained in
orthodoxy are thus sometimes consistent. I dare say one might find a
child who has prayed that the sun might stand still that he might have a
longer holiday. And why not now from the child’s point of view as well
as formerly? But I suppose few men in England, now, even of the strictly
orthodox, are in this puerile stage. Almost all full-grown English
Protestants recognize that, although miracles were freely performed from
the year 4004 B.C. to, say A.D. 61 or thereabouts—when St. Paul shook
off the serpent and took no harm—yet “the age of miracles is now past.”
Yet I have heard of men of business who make a point of praying
earnestly on the subject of commercial speculations, the rise and fall
of consols, the price of sugar and the like. Will any one maintain that
people are not the worse for such prayers as these, or that the believer
in natural Christianity is not a gainer by losing the desire and the
power to utter them? On the whole, I see but one subject of prayer
mentioned in our English Prayer-book, as to which natural Christianity
would probably dictate silence: I mean the weather. It might be argued
that, “since the weather is affected by human action (by the clearing of
forests, draining of marshes, and so on), and since prayers affect human
action, therefore they _do_ affect the weather _indirectly_, and _may_
affect it _directly_.” But from “indirect” to “direct” is a great leap;
and I am moved toward resignation rather than prayer, by the thought
that, in revealing to us more and more of the extent of the causes and
effects of meteorological phenomena, God seems to be shewing us that, in
asking for weather that suits ourselves, we may be asking for weather
that may not suit others. I should be sorry to see harvest prayers
excluded from our Church service; but I think they should express our
hope and trust in God’s orderly government of the seasons, beseeching
Him to bestow on the husbandman patience and skill so as to meet and
improve adversity, and on the nation thrift and frugality so as to avoid

Since writing the last paragraph I was interrupted; and now, returning
to my letter, I feel strongly inclined to cancel the last two or three
pages of apologetic argumentation; arguing about prayer seems so
absurdly useless. Yet perhaps my remarks may weigh for something with
you in your present oscillation. They may possibly prevent you from
giving up, in a moment of virtuous logic, a habit which, once
discontinued, is not easily resumed. Let them pass then; but let them
not pass without a protest that they by no means express my sense of the
vital necessity of prayer for a Christian. To me it seems the very
breath of our spiritual life, as needful for peace and union with God as
communion between children and parents is needful for domestic concord.
Without it, faith must speedily vanish. Even a comparatively dull and
lifeless petition at stated intervals has some value as a sign-post,
indicating the road on which we ought to be travelling though our feet
may be straying elsewhere. But in truth real Christian prayer (mostly
silent) should be, as St. Paul says “without ceasing;” for prayer is but
aspiration and desire, emerging into shape. When a man has reached such
a height that he has ceased to wish to be something better than he is,
then and then only may he cease to pray.

One kind of prayer at all events I have felt able to retain which seems
to me of far more value than the prayer for fair weather—I mean prayer
for the dead. I do not deny that, when coupled with superstitious views
about heaven and hell, the custom of praying for the dead may result in
superstition, and even in the encouragement of immorality; and the hired
and conventional prayers for the dead prevalent in the sixteenth century
appear to me to have constituted an abuse against which our English
Reformers did well to protest. But these abuses and corruptions seem to
me accidental, and quite insufficient to deter us from use of the most
helpful of spiritual habits. I do not propose to argue about it, but you
may like to know the sort of accident by which I was led to form this
habit, and the practical reasons for which I clung to it, and still
cling to it, with the deepest conviction that it is not only spiritually
useful, but also based on spiritual truth.

Many years ago a brother of mine was drowned at sea through the sudden
capsizing of a vessel by night. When the news came, I was at first
distracted between an intense desire to pray as before, and a kind of
instinctive and general repugnance to all prayers for the dead as being
“a Romanist practice.” All the books I had read, and all the notions I
had formed, about the fixed future of the dead, suggested that such
prayers were useless, if not blasphemous. On the other side there was no
argument at all, nothing but a vague strong desire to pray. The painful
conflict of that night—a conflict, as it seems to me now, between true
natural religion and the false appearance of revealed religion—is still
present to my recollection. At last it occurred to me that more than a
month had elapsed between the death and our knowledge of the death, and
throughout all those thirty days my prayers had gone up to God for one
whose soul was no longer upon earth. Were those prayers wasted? I could
not believe it. Besides, we had not yet received full details of the
loss of the vessel. It was just possible that my brother might have been
saved in one of the ship’s boats: he might be still living, and in sore
need of help: how monstrous, if it were so, that I should in such a
crisis cease to pray for him! So with doubt and trembling I still
continued my custom, fashioning some kind of prayer to suit the
emergency. While I was in this oscillating state of mind, news came that
a second boatful, and almost immediately afterwards that a third, had
been picked up at sea. My brother was not in either: but why might there
not be a fourth? For some time, with less doubt than before, I continued
to pray. Days, weeks, months rolled on, and now all hope had slipped
away; but the habit was now fixed. I could not, or would not, break it.
Praying day and night for one who was possibly living; just possibly
living; probably not living; certainly dead—I had learned to realize the
presence of my brother’s spirit, as very near and close to me, as one
with whom I was still in some kind of communion; and now to drop his
name out of my prayers, simply because I should never touch his hand
again in this world, seemed a faithless, a wicked, a cruel act. The
prayer could not indeed remain the same in circumstances so completely
changed; I could of course no longer pray that the dead might be
restored to me on earth; but it was still open to me to make mention of
his name, and to beseech God that he and I might meet again in heaven:
and thus, with a curious kind of compromise, worthy of a less youthful
theologian, I circumvented my own orthodoxy by still praying in reality
for my brother while I appeared to be praying for myself. More than
seven-and-twenty years have now passed away, but not a night or morning
has passed without the mention of that familiar name; and I entreat you
to believe me that, next to the power of Christ Himself upon the soul, I
have not found, nor can I imagine, any influence so potent as this habit
of praying for the dead, to detach the mind from petty and visible
things, to unlock the spiritual world, to carry the soul up to the very
source and centre of spiritual life, and to bring us into faithful
communion with the Father of the spirits of all flesh.

You see I have kept my promise of not arguing on this matter. I have
simply told you how I have longed and doubted; how my doubts were
dissipated by practice; and what strength I have personally derived from
the practice. Probably this will seem to you, if interesting, at all
events inadequate. “Logically,” you will perhaps say to yourself, “he
ought to have attempted first to convince me that the eternal state of
the dead is not finally determined at the moment of death; so that
prayer may reasonably be expected to have some power to change their
condition. He ought to have told me whether he believes in a Purgatory,
or in a limited Hell; whether he is a Universalist; or whether he
believes in the annihilation of all who are not to be saved. In a word,
he ought to have given me a full account of his theory about the
condition of the dead, before he commends to me the habit of praying for

Here I fear I shall terribly disappoint you; but, at the risk of
whatever disappointment, I will confess to you the whole truth. This
part of my Manual of Theology has large print, large margin, and several
blank pages. I believe some things with such force and clearness that I
prefer to say I do not believe them. I _see_ them: but about many other
things which most people believe, I know little or nothing. Do I believe
in a Hell? Yes, as firmly as I believe in a Heaven; but not in your Hell
perhaps, and certainly not in the ordinary guide-books to Hell and
Heaven. Perhaps some would call my Hell “merely retribution,” or “an
illogical and ill-defined Purgatory;” and from their point of view they
could be right in complaining of its indefiniteness; for they profess to
know all about it and to be able to define it. But from my point of view
I am equally right in speaking indefinitely; for I profess to have only
a glimpse of it. Of the principles of Hell and Heaven I am certain, but
of the details I am entirely ignorant. I know nothing whatever, and I
know that no one else knows anything whatever, about the state of the
dead; except that they are just as much in God’s hand when dead as when
living, and that He will ultimately do the best thing for each; but what
that “best thing” may be I cannot tell in detail, although I am very
sure that it will be one thing for St. Francis and quite another for
Nero. For the rest, all the elaborate structures and fancy-fabrics of
Heaven and Hell, Purgatory, Paradise, Limbo, and other regions, whether
theologians or poets be the architects, appear to me built upon the
flimsiest foundations, tags of texts, fragments of words, quagmires of
metaphor, quicksands of hyperbole. No; such real knowledge—or shall we
say such conviction?—as we have about the eternal future of the dead, is
to be based, not upon argument or inference from minute and disputable
interpretations of small portions of Scripture, but mainly upon our
faith in the divine righteousness and power. You will not, I hope,
misunderstand my words that “God will do the best thing for each,” or
draw from them the inference, “Then he is a Universalist after all.” I
took for granted—I hope I was not wrong—that you would remember the
definition of justice which you have read in Plato. In fact therefore I
merely expressed in those words my conviction that God would be “just”
to us after death.[36] Might we not also define the highest mercy, in
the same terms in which we define the highest justice, as being the
feeling that prompts us to “do what is best for each”? And, if so, does
it not seem to follow that in Hell God will not cease to be merciful,
and in Heaven God will not cease to be just? And hence are we not
brought close to the conclusion that Heaven and Hell are not really
places, but the diverse results of the operation of the Eternal—the just
Mercy, the merciful Justice—upon the diverse dead? But here the question
widens and deepens into expanses and depths altogether too vast and
profound for me, and I give up the problem. All that I know is, that
there will be hereafter a just retribution.

Yet if I am to tell you my own conjectural imaginations—for who can help
at times imagining what the infinite unknown may be, however loth he may
be to insist or dogmatize about it, or even to bestow much attention on
it, when the urgent present presses its superior claims?—I will say for
myself that I cannot believe I shall have served all my apprenticeship
to righteousness in my brief life upon this earth, or that I shall be
fit immediately after death, for that closest communion with God which
appears to me the Heaven of Heavens. Some cleansing retribution, some
further purification, seems to me necessary and likely for myself—and, I
must add, for the greater number of those human beings with whom I have
had to do—before we attain to that blessed consummation.

“So you believe in a Purgatory then?” How do I know? Say rather, I
conjecture there may be many heavens. In any case, I find it very easy
to imagine a retribution and a purification that shall be purely
spiritual, without having recourse to any material flames or physical
horrors. Some people find a difficulty in this notion: they consider it,
but deliberately put it aside; as if mere remorse, sorrow, and
self-condemnation, could never be bitter enough to constitute a just
Hell. I do not think they have ever realized—perhaps they have never
tried to realize—the pain that may be felt by a spirit sitting alone,
away from this familiar world and every well-known face, and quietly
judging and condemning itself. A mere accident, a ludicrous accident,
once gave me a moment’s experience of this feeling, and I have never
been able to forget it, never been able to put aside the conviction that
that feeling, intensified, might constitute Hell.

It happened in this way. Some years ago, before nitrous oxide had come
into very general use among dentists, I went to have a tooth extracted,
and determined to try the gas. Perhaps I had some misgivings that it was
a little cowardly; perhaps I was a little nervous; in any case I
remember at the last moment thinking that I should like to be conscious
of the precise moment when unconsciousness came; I remember struggling
to retain consciousness—even when a tell-tale throbbing in the temples
shewed that something new was going on—protesting to myself that the gas
had “no power,” “no power at all yet,” “I don’t believe it’s going to
have any power”—till the portcullis came down. I suppose the consequence
was that I inhaled rather more than was usual; and when I came to myself
I heard the voices of the dentist and the physician—a long way off, as
it seemed to me, but with perfect distinctness saying that “he was a
long time coming to” and they did not “quite like the look of things,”
and so on. Meantime I lay motionless and without power either to move or
speak, but perfectly conscious. I took in the whole situation at once. I
was dead. I had passed into another state of existence. I could think
more clearly than before. I was a spirit. And then the thought came
pressing in upon me, as I reviewed my whole life and the manner of my
death, that to avoid a little pain I had done a wrong thing and had
deserted those who needed me and would miss me. No fear possessed me,
not the slightest fear, of any external punishment for the fault which I
thought I had committed: but in a detached solitude I seemed to be
quietly and coldly sitting in judgment upon myself, impartially hearing
what I had to say in self-defence, rejecting it as inadequate, and
passing against myself the verdict of Guilty. Painful, increasingly
painful, the burden of this self-condemnation seemed to press and crush
me down more and more past power of bearing, so that at last, when in
one moment I recovered both power of motion and knowledge that I was
alive again, I leapt up from the dentist’s arm-chair, and, without
taking the least notice of the two operators, I gave vent to my feelings
by shouting aloud the well-known words from Clarence’s dream

                                 “—and for a space
                 Could not believe but that I was in hell.”

I shall not easily forget the look of mingled humour and horror with
which the dentist replied, “Well, sir, considering you are a clergyman,
I should have hoped it might have been the other place.” I tried to
explain. I assured him that it was a quotation from Shakespeare; that I
had not really believed that I was in the place commonly called Hell;
and so on. But I am quite sure my explanations were utterly ineffectual;
and to this day I probably labour under the suspicion, in the minds of
at least two worthy persons, of having committed some horrible crime by
which my conscience is racked with agony. In reality, however, it was a
small offence, if any, for which I suffered that bad quarter of a
minute; and I have often since thought that, if the mind is capable of
inflicting such pain upon itself for a venial error, those pangs must be
terrible indeed with which our sinful souls may be forced to scourge
themselves when we judicially review the actions of a selfish life with
a compulsory knowledge of all the evil, direct and indirect, which we
have wrought, and when we realize at last—ah, how differently from the
dull, decorous, conventional contrition with which we droned out the
words on earth, kneeling on the hassocks in the family pew—that “we have
left undone those things which we ought to have done, and done those
things which we ought not to have done.”

But why do I thus discourse in detail upon a subject about which I have
admitted that I know no details? It is in order to shew you that though
I do not know much, the little I do know greatly influences me. The
thought of a material Hell has probably contributed largely to insanity,
and has exercised a baneful influence upon many women and children; but
the majority of healthy men who profess to believe in a pit of flame are
little influenced by it. It is so horrible, so unnatural, so unjust,
that in their heart of hearts they feel sure the good God cannot mean
it; He will let them off; or they will get off somehow—by absolution, by
forensic justification, by baptism, by uncovenanted mercies, or what
not. This is but natural. How can it not be natural to believe that an
unnatural and arbitrary Hell may be dispensed with by an unnatural and
arbitrary indulgence? I have no such consolations. With me, Hell is a
different thing altogether: it is natural, it is inevitable, it is just,
it is merciful. Not a day passes but I think of it and anticipate it in
some sort for myself and my friends. _Tout sepayera_: this act, I say,
or this neglect, was wrong, and must have been injurious: the doers
cannot escape from the consequences of it; I do not wish to escape from
the consequences of it. God will work good out of evil; but He will be
just, not indulgent. I do not want Him to be indulgent. Thus Heaven and
Hell, impending over the routine of my every-day life, become to me
practical and potent realities; but they are real to because the
conceptions I have formed of them are in accordance with the profound
laws of spiritual nature, and quite independent of the conflicting
fancies of theologians.

Ask me what I trust to be in Heaven, and I can give you no answer save
that one which I have often given you before—a being capable of loving
and of serving God. Ask me the nature of Hell and Heaven, and my only
reply is that they will be God’s retribution. Ask me whether all will be
hereafter “saved,” and I am silent, or merely answer that God is good,
and that I believe a time will come when we, in Him, shall look back,
and around, and forward, and shall see that His work has been “very
good.” Enough for me to work and fight on the side of God and against
Evil, that His righteous Kingdom may come and bring with it the time
when His work will be seen to have been “very good.” As for other
details, I know nothing and delight in knowing nothing. I do not know
whether I shall live again on earth or elsewhere; whether I shall be a
being of three dimensions, or four, or of no dimensions at all; whether
I shall be in space or out of space. It is far better to give up
speculations about accidental trifles such as these: for accidents they
are, as compared with the essence of the second life, which consists in
Love. Do not give up the belief in that, at any cost; least of all, at
the cost of a little banter. “But surely it is possible that our very
highest and purest conceptions of Heaven may fall short of the reality.”
Granted: but we must hold fast to the belief that there is at all events
a proportion between our best terrestrial aspirations and their
celestial equivalents. We must reject, as from Satan, the suggestion
(was it Spinoza’s?) that there is no more likeness between God and our
conception of God than between the constellation Canis and a dog. “God
may not be Love:” I do not believe you: but if He is not Love, He will
be some celestial form of Love, corresponding to our Love, only
infinitely better. “You will not retain your individuality:” possibly
not, but certainly we shall have something corresponding to
individuality, only better. And so of the rest. We shall talk humbly, as
beseems our microcosmic faculties; we are but the transitory tenants of
a little world, which is to the Universe but as a dew-drop to the ocean:
yet even a dew-drop exhibits the same infrangible laws of light and the
same divine glories that are manifested in the rainbow and the sunset.
So it is with a human soul: there are laws in it of righteousness and
justice and retribution—laws which cannot be broken by the fictions and
illusions of theology, but must be manifested in all places and in all
time, now and for all eternity, on earth, in Heaven, in Hell.

Footnote 36:

  Has not some confusion of thought arisen from a habit of confusing
  “just” with “severe”? I believe some men would feel more reverently
  towards God, if they would speak, not of His “justice,” but of His

                            PAULINE THEOLOGY


I will begin this letter by quoting the end of your last. For when you
have thought over the matter I am sure your mind will be so completely
changed that unless I send you an exact copy of your own words you will
hardly believe you could ever have written them. You are speaking about
the theology of St. Paul, and this is what you say: “I presume that
Natural Christianity, however glad it may be to shelter itself under
Pauline authority in the low estimate it sets on miracles, will find it
difficult to digest or swallow Pauline theology. The abstruse and
artificial doctrines of the imputation of righteousness, justification
by faith, and the atonement, must surely stand at the very antipodes of
any religion, Christian, or other, that can claim the name of

I do not believe you can ever have given five minutes of attention to
these subjects: or if you have, you must have attended, not to St. Paul,
but to some voluminous commentator who has buried St. Paul’s text under
his own and other people’s annotations. Cast your commentaries away.
Read St. Paul for yourself in the light of his own works and the Old
Testament (especially the Septuagint version), and I will guarantee that
his general drift shall come out clear and definite enough; and, what is
more, you shall acknowledge that his religion is perfectly natural, so
natural that you meet exemplifications of it every day of your life, in
every family, in your own home, in your own heart. It would be tedious
if I were to give you a scheme of Pauline theology and then shew you the
naturalness of each part of the scheme. For me it would be long and
wearisome; and you too would be inclined to stop me at the end of every
other sentence and say “I know that St. Paul says this or that, but how
is it natural?” I will therefore begin at the other end, that is to say,
with Nature, and endeavour to shew you that the natural history of a
child, under favourable circumstances, exhibits the general features of
St. Paul’s theology, the scheme of Redemption by which the Apostle
believed mankind to have been led to God.

We begin then with a baby—a creature wholly selfish (in no bad sense),
say, “self-regarding.” He is of course “in the flesh,” or “walks
according to the flesh;” that is to say, he obeys every impulse of the
moment, and these impulses are what we call animal impulses. He is
conscious of no Law, and therefore of no error: being “without the Law”
he “knows not sin.” As he grows up, he finds himself making mistakes,
trespassing against Nature’s rules, playing with fire, for example: and
Nature’s punishment makes him conscious of mistake, and desirous of
avoiding mistake for fear of being punished; that is to say, he learns
to avoid playing with fire because he has been burned for it. This is
his first introduction to “the Law;” and if he obeys Nature’s Law,
through fear of Nature’s punishment, or hope of Nature’s reward, so much
the better for him. Hitherto, however, there is no question of sin, only
of mistake. But now comes in the parental Law, saying “Do this,” “Do not
do that.” Sometimes he obeys; sometimes, when “the flesh” is too strong,
he disobeys. In the latter case he is punished. This new kind of Law is
not a machine-like reward or punishment like that of Nature: it is
connected with a Will, which is dimly felt by the child to be higher and
better than his own, yet constantly opposed to his own. Here then arises
a conflict between his strong animal impulses, _i.e._ “the flesh,” and a
weak nascent impulse of conscience, _i.e._ “the spirit;” the former
bidding him disobey the higher Will, the latter bidding him obey. Even
when he disobeys, the spirit has at least the power to make him uneasy
in his disobedience, and this uneasiness for the first time reveals in
him the nature of sin. Until the Law of the higher Will was thus placed
side by side with his own will, and until the deflections of his own
will from the higher Will were thus made manifest and rebuked by
conscience, the child had no notion of sin. Now he knows it: “by Law has
come the knowledge of sin.”

As long as he is thus “under the Law” he cannot possibly be righteous;
he can neither be “justified” nor feel “justified.” When he is
disobedient under the Law, he is conscious of sin; but when he is
obedient under the Law, he is not conscious of peace or inward harmony:
the Law stands up, for ever antagonistic to his natural impulses, and he
cannot but dislike it, although he acknowledges its claims upon him:
consequently, even when he obeys it, he obeys it with a sense of
servitude, obeying in the fear of punishment or in the hope of reward.
Such actions as are performed in this spirit have no spontaneousness or
grace; they are the tasks of a hireling, mere piece-work—“works,” as St.
Paul more shortly calls them. or “the works of the Law;” and “by the
works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” During this period he
finds no guidance from the spirit of loving obedience, but has to trust
in formularies and prescriptions, “do this,” “avoid that;” he fears lest
he may do too little, and grudges lest he may do too much: he is in the
condition, not of a son, but of a servant working for wages. Just as the
Stoic said of the man who was not “wise,” that whatever he did, even to
the moving of his little finger, was sure to be wrong, so St. Paul
taught—and it is the truth—that our every action, as long as we are
“under the Law,” is void of harmony, beauty, freedom, and spiritual
life: it is but obedience to a dead rule; such actions are of the nature
of sin and tend to spiritual destruction: “the wages of sin are death.”

During this state the raw, half-developed, ungraceful, unharmonized, and
ever-erring boy of fifteen appears to have retrograded from the
perfectly graceful and unconscious selfishness of the innocent child of
four. But it is not so. The knowledge of sin is the stepping-stone to a
higher righteousness than could have been obtained by perpetuating the
innocence of childhood. Even during the period of the “bondage to the
Law” there were occasional intervals of freedom, prophetic of a higher
state. Duty, sometimes, shining out before the child as something purer
and nobler than a mere inevitable debt, appeared “sweet and
honourable;”[37] and wherever Duty thus revealed herself, the child, in
freely and ungrudgingly obeying her, was obeying no unworthy emblem of
the Father in heaven; and by such obedience his character was
strengthened and matured. But now the time has come for another step
upwards. The boy disobeys and is forgiven. At first, forgiveness makes
no impression on him. He does not understand it, does not believe in it,
because he does not quite believe in the author of it; he regards his
father as one too far above him to be able to sympathize entirely with
his boyish desires and impatience of restraint, too much like a Law to
be capable of feeling real pain at his faults. As long as he is in this
condition, forgiveness comes to him as the mere remission of penalty; he
is glad to “get off,” but his heart is not yet touched, and there is
therefore no real remission of sin, partly because he has no sufficient
sense of sin, partly because he has no faith in the forgiver.

But at last comes the revelation of the meaning of forgiveness. Some
outward sign, a mother’s tear, the mere expression of the father’s
face—it may be this, or it may be something of much longer duration and
far more complex—but something at last brings home to him the fact that
his sin weighs like a crushing burden upon the heart of some one else,
who, in spite of his sin, still loves him and still trusts in him. His
parents, he finds—or it may be some brother, sister, or friend—are
bearing his sin and carrying his iniquity as if it were their own: the
shame and the pain of it, which he feels as a mere unpleasant
uneasiness, are causing to others an acute sorrow of which he had not
dreamed before. Instead of being savagely angry with him, furious at the
mischief he has done, and at the disgrace which he has brought upon
them, instead of visiting upon him all the consequences of his fault,
his parents are themselves suffering some part of it, themselves crushed
down by it: if they punish him, they are not punishing him vindictively
but for his good—it is hard indeed to believe this, but he believes it
at last—the chastisement of his peace falls upon them as well as upon
him; their heart is broken and contrite for his sake; their souls are a
sacrifice for his; they feel his sin as if it were their own; they have
appropriated his sin; have been identified with his sin; they are “made
sin” for him.

Now if the youth has not in him the germ of faith or trust whereby he
can believe in the sincerity of these (to him) mysterious and at first
inexplicable feelings, why then the parental forgiveness is worse than
nothing to him. If he resists its influence and calls it cant or humbug,
it hardens instead of softening the boy’s heart; and then the little
spiritual sensitiveness that he once had, dies rapidly away. In this
case “from him that hath not there hath been ta’en away even that which
he seemed to have,” and the good-tidings or Gospel of forgiveness has
proved, in this case, “a savour of death unto death.” But if he has the
germ of faith to begin with, then the Gospel works its natural result:
“to him that hath there is added, and he hath more abundantly.”
“Proceeding from faith” the message of forgiveness tends “to the
increase of faith.”[38] Insensibly he finds himself raised up from his
former position to the level of those who have forgiven him; he is
identified with his forgivers in spirit, so that he now sees things as
they see them, and for the first time discerns the hatefulness of sin,
and hates it as they hate it, and longs to shake it off as a burden
alien to his nature. At the same time, finding himself trusted by those
in whose truth as well as goodness he himself places trust, he learns a
new self-respect even in the moment when he awakens to his past
degradation; he has (he feels it to be true) something within him that
may be trusted, some possibility of better things which at once springs
up into the reality of fulfilment under the warm breath of affectionate
and trustful forgiveness. In other words, righteousness is “imputed to
him,” and he becomes righteous. The gulf between the parental will and
himself is now bridged over by a kind of atonement. The relations which
he imagined and created for himself before between his parents and
himself, were angry justice on the one side, sullen obedience or open
disobedience on the other side: all this is now exchanged for an
entirely different relationship, love on both sides, kind control from
the one, willing, zealous obedience from the other, resulting in perfect
peace and in an atmosphere of mutual goodwill, happiness, joy, favour.
For this kind of “favour” we have no exact word in English, but in the
Greek Testament it is called by a word which we must translate “grace:”
the youth then is “no more under the law but under grace.” No longer now
is he a servant, performing “works;” a community of feeling unites him
with those above him, whom he had once regarded as hostile and despotic.
No longer the slave of rules and orders, no longer fearing punishment
nor drudging for reward, he is quickened by a spirit within him which
guides him naturally to do, and to anticipate, not only the bidding, but
even the unexpressed wishes, of that higher Will. His whole life is now
a service devoted to this new Master; yet he is not a servant, but free,
because he serves willingly in a service which is the noblest freedom.
The simplest actions are performed in a fresh spirit; all things have
become new: the life of the flesh is ended, the life of the spirit has
begun. Looking back upon his former self he finds that it is dead; he
has died unto sin and risen from the dead that he may live again to

Is it necessary for me to trace the parallelism between these phenomena
in the life of the individual and the Pauline scheme of the redemption
of man? You must have recognized in each step of the development
sketched above some feature of the Pauline doctrine. My fear is, not so
much that you may fail to acknowledge this, as that you may doubt
whether the individual always passes through these phases. But I am
confident that it must be so for all who are to be saved: there is no
royal road of privilege or miracle by which a man can pass from the
innocent selfishness of childhood to the practised righteousness of
manhood, without passing through the narrow defiles of the flesh and
fighting his battle with sin; nor do I believe that any man, has ever
been “saved,” that is to say, has passed through that struggle so far
safely as to attain some thoughtfulness for others, some love of
righteousness for its own sake, unless he has received through the Word
of God some such revelation as I have described.

The typical revelation of this kind, which sums up all others, is the
revelation made by the atonement of Jesus Christ: but that revelation
has been a silence for the myriads who have died in ignorance of the
very name of Jesus: is there no other way then in which the Word of God
has taught them, redeemed them, forgiven them, made atonement for them?
Yes, assuredly the Word of God has been mediating between God and men
since men first existed—long before the time when the children of Israel
“drank of that Rock which followed them, and that Rock was Christ”—and
the chief vehicle of His mediation has been the influence of the
righteous on the unrighteous, especially of parents on children. In this
influence, the bright and central point has been the power which each
man has, in some poor degree, of forgiving, and making atonement for,
the sins of others—a power so weak and small, compared with the same
power in Christ, that it may be easily ignored by superficial observers;
and some may think to do God honour by ignoring it. But in reality whoso
ignores it is ignoring the best gift of God to man. This undeveloped
power of forgiving has been that uneffaced likeness of God in which He
created us; and every act of forgiveness, from Adam down to John the
Baptist, has been inspired by the Word of God to be a type and prophecy
of that great and unique act which sums up and explains all forgiveness,
the Atonement made by the Word’s own sacrifice. I said above that the
mother’s tear might for the first time reveal to a child the meaning and
power of forgiveness. What the tear of a mother may be to her child,
that the Cross of Christ has been to mankind; the expression as it were,
of the Father’s pitifulness for His sinful children, revealing to them
the meaning, and the pain, of forgiveness.

St. Paul (you will find) in all his epistles recognizes the analogy
between the human race and the individual; and all that he teaches about
mankind corresponds to the development I have tried to sketch above. You
will be told indeed that the attempt to trace such a parallelism as I
have traced above, is an attempt to “read modern thoughts into an
ancient author.” But do not be in haste to call St. Paul an “ancient
author,” not at least in any disparaging sense, as if we had outgrown
the antiquated limits of his thoughts. Being a man of realities St. Paul
dived deep down below the surface of language, cant, and formularies; he
reached the very source and centre of the human heart where
righteousness is made. He realized the making of righteousness as a
visible process. Others, who have not realized it, think his writings
misguided, antique, occasionally untrue. But do not you fail to
distinguish between St. Paul’s style and St. Paul’s thought. He wrote in
a hurry; he did not think in a hurry. The general scheme of his theology
needs no excuse, nor allowance, nor patronage. His illustrations of it,
arguments in defence of it, even his expressions of it, are, from our
point of view, often inadequate; but his spiritual truths are the
deepest truths of human nature, as it may be seen ascending through
illusion and frailty to divine knowledge and divine righteousness. St.
Paul has been wonderfully obscured by formularizing commentators. The
best commentary on him that I know is an ordinary home; but for a young
man, away from home, and in danger of forgetting his childhood, the next
best commentary is Shakespeare, and the next to that is Wordsworth, or,
from a different point of view, the _In Memoriam_.

Tell me now; was I wrong in saying that the Pauline scheme of salvation
is eminently natural? I do not of course mean materialistic, but natural
in the sense of orderly. Where, in the whole of this doctrine, is there
any necessity for believing that the Son of God—“born of a woman” and
manifested “in the flesh that he might destroy the works of the
devil”—did or said anything that involves a suspension of the laws of
nature? I have already shewn that the “miracles” wrought by St. Paul
himself were in all probability works of healing, and natural; and the
manifestations in which Christ “appeared” to him and to the other
disciples have been shewn to be, in all probability, visions in
accordance with the laws of nature, though representing an objective
reality. There is no reference in St. Paul’s works to the Miraculous
Conception, nor to any of those miracles of Jesus which, if historical,
must be admitted to be real miracles. On the other hand there runs
through all his epistles an acknowledgment of a continuous spiritual
Law, predetermined and inviolable. What else does St. Paul mean by the
continual assertion that the calling of the Gentiles, and the “election”
of all men, are “predestined?” Perhaps you have never yet appreciated
the circumstances which led the Apostle to lay so much stress on the
“predestination” apparent in history. I do not think you can ever
understand St. Paul’s teaching on this subject, as long as you fasten
your attention on two or three isolated texts which appear to set it
forth. You must look at it as a whole, and have regard to the motive of
the author; and then you will find that it is to be understood
negatively rather than positively. When St. Paul says “God predestined
this, or that,” he means, “God did not make a mistake, or change his
mind, about this or that: _the gifts and calling of God are without

In setting forth Predestination, St. Paul is always mentally protesting
against two tendencies already perceptible to him in the Church, the
tendency of the Jews to regard the admission of the Gentiles into the
Church as an after-thought, perhaps as a mistake; and the tendency of
the Gentiles to regard the Law of Moses as a complete and useless
failure. It was one of St. Paul’s main objects to shew that the history
of Israel and of the Gentile world revealed a thread of immutable
purpose of salvation running through the whole—a purpose to subordinate
evil to good, the flesh to the spirit, the Law to the Gospel; so that
there has been no mistake, no dislocation of the divine scheme, nor
change of the divine will. Although the Apostle always refers things to
a Will and not a Law as their ultimate origin, yet the whole tenour of
his argument exhibits that Will as being not liable to caprice or
accidental shifting, but a Will of predestination, a Law, so to speak,
tinged with emotion. No doubt St. Paul, sometimes, in the attempt to
shew the immutability of the divine purposes, puts forward somewhat
baldly and repellently the insoluble problem of the origin of evil, as
if God Himself predestined not only rejection but also the sin that was
the cause of rejection. But it was not his intention to exhibit God as
originating evil; and the cause that leads him so to do, or so to appear
to do, is his intense desire to exhibit God’s mysterious plan of not at
once annihilating evil but of utilizing it and subordinating it to good.
The fore-ordained purpose of God before the foundation of the world is
the redemption of mankind; and in order to help men to attain to this
height, the flesh, the law, death, yes, even sin itself, are forced to
serve as stepping-stones. Hence even in rejection, as well as in
election, the Apostle cannot fail to discern the hand of God. There is a
Law in all God’s doing, and especially in His election. God hath chosen
the weak things of this world to confound the strong and the foolish
things of this world to confound the wise; the first-born is rejected,
the younger son is chosen. This is not accident; it is a type of the
general law exemplified in the vision of Elijah. Not by the whirlwind or
the fire or the earthquake but by the quiet and neglected processes of
nature does God perform His mightiest works. This deep truth pervades
the doctrine of St. Paul. Pierce through the antique and Oriental
integument of his expression, and you will find no other Christian
writer who so clearly brings out that the Christian religion is not
according to caprice but according to Law.

Footnote 37:

  “Dulce et decorum _est pro patria mori_.”

Footnote 38:

  Rom. i. 17.



You tell me that you have been shewing my letters to some of your young
friends, and that they have expressed various objections to
non-miraculous Christianity. Some say that I am an “optimist;” others
that it is a compromise between faith and reason, and that compromises
are always to be rejected; one says that I am for introducing “a new
religion;” others that a Gospel of illusion must, by its own shewing, be
itself illusive; others, that “these new notions are so vague that they
can never be put into a definite shape, and they are so mixed up with
theories and fancies and suppositions of error in every period of the
Church, that they can never commend themselves to the masses.”

Do you know what “cant” means, and why it was so called? “Cant” is the
sort of language used (not always deceitfully) when a man “chants,” or
utters in a kind of sing-song, words that he has not felt himself, or,
if he has ever felt, has ceased to feel, through the too frequent use of
them. Hence he cannot speak them, but “sing-songs” them, “chants” or
“cants” them. Now I take leave to think that two or three of the
objections above-mentioned come under this head of “cant.” I mean that
your young objectors, not knowing exactly at the moment what to say
about opinions that are new and require some thought to understand or
criticise, and being desirous of saying something at the moment, and
something, if possible, that shall be brief and smart, say what they
have heard other people say about other sets of opinions which have some
affinity of sound with mine. This is a very common habit with inferior
professional reviewers, who are bound to say something readable and
epigrammatic for limited remuneration and consequently in limited time:
but your friends have not come to that yet, and are therefore not to be
so easily excused.

“Optimist!” How can a man who believes in a real Satan be an optimist? I
thought an optimist was one who believed the world to be the best of all
possible worlds. This I do not, and cannot, believe. I trust indeed that
a time may come when we may be optimists after a fashion; when we shall
look back, in God, upon the universal sum of things and find that it has
been the best possible under the circumstances, and that evil has been
marvellously subordinated to good: but I never can believe that a
Universe in which God defeats Satan is better than a Universe in which
God reigns unresisted; and therefore, as to this “best of all possible
worlds,” I rest always humbly silent. Some people may believe, if they
can, that evil is another form of good; that the world is like one of
those spectroscopes—I think they call them—where several different
pictures on a round card, each meaningless by itself, are converted into
one significant picture by whirling the card round too quickly for the
eye to follow. In the same way they seem to suppose they can take little
pictures of oppression, adultery, murder, and the other myriad shapes of
sin, spin them round fast enough along with other little pictures of
temperance, purity, peace, and all the virtues; and the whole becomes a
panorama of moral perfection! Argue thus who will; I cannot.

If I am not an optimist in my view of this world, you will surely not
accuse me of optimism in my views of the next. Do my notions of heaven
and hell encourage any one to be selfish and luxurious or idle now, in
the hope that he will be let off easily hereafter? Have I not said that
there will be no “letting off”? That God will do the best thing for
Nero—is that do you think likely to make Nero altogether an optimist in
the life to come? I think He will do the best thing for me; but I
sometimes shiver when I say it; awe possesses me, awe mingled with
trust, but certainly not without a touch of fear. Assuredly the
certainty of retribution in heaven makes me no optimist for myself or
others, as to the life after death. In one sense only am I an optimist,
that I believe that the best will ultimately prevail, and that faith,
hope, and love, will prove the dominant powers in the Universe. This I
believe, and to this belief I cling as a most precious hope, to be
cherished by action as well as by meditation; but this is not, I think,
what is ordinarily meant by optimism; and certainly it does not
encourage the spirit of _laissez faire_ which optimism is supposed to

Next as to “compromise.” The ordinary cant about “compromise” is
sometimes the lazy expedient of those who wish to avoid the trouble of
coming to a decision, and to shelter their indolence under a noble
censoriousness. What they mean by “compromise” is any theory that
attributes results to more than one cause. It is generally very easy to
elaborate some extreme theory which shall explain almost everything by
some single cause, by Faith, for example, on the one side, or by Reason
on the other; and it is equally easy for the advocates on either side to
demolish the theory of their adversaries; but it is far from easy
afterwards to shew how, and to what extent, _both_ causes are
accountable for the result which has been fictitiously attributed to a
single cause. Now the two extreme parties, in their contests, afford us
fine cut-and-thrust exhibitions; the via media exhibits an organized
campaign. The theatrical multitude, which does not care in the least
about truth, but delights in intellectual slashers, soon finds it dull
work, after clapping an exciting _mêlée_, to have to sit still and
listen to a dispassionate and impartial discussion; so they cry
“compromise” and hiss. But the term is a misnomer. “Compromise,” or
“mutual promise,” cannot describe a legitimate conclusion that hits the
mark missed by two previously divergent shots. It is as if A were to hit
the top of the target, and B the bottom, and then both A and B were to
fall foul of C, and accuse him of “compromising”, because he pierces the
bull’s eye half way between the two. “Compromise” often implies a
failure of exact justice; as when Smith thinks Jones owes him 50_l._,
and Jones thinks he owes Smith only 40_l._; and they “split the
difference” and make it 45_l._; both of them thinking that the
arrangement is unjust, but both preferring the injustice to the
expensive formalities of legal justice. This is “compromise,” and
illogical; but there is none of this illogicality in a fair impartial
discussion avoiding previous bias.

So in the present instance. Some have been biassed in favour of Faith,
others in favour of Reason; some have accepted as historical all the
miracles and mighty works in the Old and New Testament indiscriminately,
others have rejected all indiscriminately; some have declared that every
word in the Old and New Testament (I don’t quite know how they have got
rid of the difficulty of various readings) is exactly inspired and every
detail historically true; others, that there are so many errors and
illusions that the books may be put aside as no better than myths: some
have said that, since we cannot worship an unknown Being, we must
worship the human race; others that, since we cannot worship our very
degraded selves, we must worship some being altogether different from
ourselves: some have said that Christ is God, and have ignored His
humanity; others have said that He was a “mere man,” and therefore not
divine. Now in all these cases the truth lies between the two extremes.
Man derives religious truth from Faith, but Faith assisted by Reason;
Christ did not perform miracles, but He did perform mighty works; the
Old and New Testament, like all other vehicles of revelation, contain
illusion, but illusion preserving and protecting truth; we must not
worship ourselves, and yet we cannot worship one who is altogether
different from ourselves; Christ is a man, and yet Christ is God. But to
all these conclusions we are not led by “mutual promise,” give and take
of any kind, but by full and unbiassed consideration of all sides of the
subject, knowing that (for the present at all events) we shall displease
all, both the orthodox and heterodox alike.

So far from suggesting any compromise between Faith and Reason, I have
merely pointed out that the provinces of the two are, to a very large
extent, distinct, so that many of their operations can be performed
altogether independently. I have never said, “Do not follow out the
conclusions of your Reason in this or that instance because you would be
led to inconvenient results,” but, “Follow out the conclusions of your
Reason in every instance and presently acknowledge that you are led, in
some cases, to results so absurd and unpractical that you must infer
Reason to be out of its province in these cases. Reason your utmost for
example about a First Cause and Predestination and the Origin of Evil
and the like; but then, when you have come to the conclusion that,
logically speaking, it is equally absurd to suppose that the world had
no cause, and that the First Cause had no cause, give the subject up as
being beyond the syllogistic powers.” Surely there is no unworthy
compromise here, nothing but common sense! Wherever historical facts are
affirmed in religion, I have said that the accounts of those facts are
to be judged upon evidence and by Reason alone; here Faith and Hope have
no place; history in the New Testament is to be judged like history in

In reality it is not I with my via media that am guilty of compromise;
it is the Hyper-orthodox (if I may use a term that is nominally
meaningless but really quite intelligible) and the Agnostic. For the
Hyper-orthodox say “Accept the Scriptures in a lump.” Why? “Because it
would be so very inconvenient not to have an infallible guide.” Of
course they do not say so in these precise words: but this is what their
replies ultimately amount to. Again the Agnostics say, “Reject the
Scriptures _in toto_.” Why? “Because it would be so very inconvenient to
weigh evidence and discriminate the true from the false.” It is these,
not I, who are calling in emotion to do the work of Reason, and who
(partly, I think, to avoid facing unpalatable facts) force Reason to
make a compromise with prejudice. “Convenience,” as I have pointed out
in a previous letter, may be a legitimate basis for accepting as a Law
of Nature the tried and tested suggestions of the Imagination; but it is
not a legitimate basis on which to construct a belief in the genuineness
of the Book of Daniel or the Second Epistle of St. Peter.

Let me mention one point where, in appearance, but not in reality, my
theory is liable to the charge of compromise: I mean the discussion of
the Miraculous Conception and the Supernatural Incarnation. In
discussing the Miraculous Conception I have advised you to trust to your
Reason alone, because here you have to deal with a statement of physical
facts, true or untrue, and to be proved or disproved by evidence; but as
regards the Supernatural Incarnation and the statement that the Word of
God became a human spirit, I have pointed out that here we have a
statement that cannot be proved or disproved by simple historical
evidence, nor even by miracle, because even if an archangel descended
from heaven to trumpet forth a “Yes” or “No” to the world, the message
might be from the Devil. If then we are to believe in the Incarnation we
must have a twofold testimony. First must come the historical evidence
indicating the words, and deeds, and character, and results, of the life
of Christ, the truth of which must be judged by the Reason; and then
there must come the witness of the conscience exclaiming “This life is
divine; this man is one with God.” Consequently it is quite possible to
accept the Supernatural Incarnation while denying the Miraculous
Conception; and this I have felt obliged to do. But where is the
compromise or inconsistency? I am compelled by evidence and Reason to
deny the truth of the Miraculous Conception, on account of the very
small amount of evidence for it and the very large amount of evidence
against it; I am equally compelled by evidence and Faith to accept the
Supernatural Incarnation, because the evidence convinces me that a
certain life has been lived on earth, and my conscience convinces me
that this life could not have been lived by any being who was not one
with God.

Are my accusers equally free from confusion? I think not. Ask the
Hyper-orthodox why they believe in the Miraculous Conception in spite of
the silence of all the earliest documents; they will reply, (if you
penetrate below their first superficial answers, such as, “Because it is
in the Bible,” “Because I have believed it from my youth upward,” and
the like), “Jesus must have been born miraculously, because He was the
Son of God”—a confusion of things historical and spiritual, and a
manifest expulsion of Reason from her rightful province. Again, ask the
Agnostic why he does not believe that Jesus was the Son of God; he will
reply that he sees no proof of the fact, nor even of the existence of a
God; and if you press him to define what he means by “proof” of the
existence of a God, you will find that he wholly ignores the influence
of Imagination as a means of arriving at truth, and that he requires
some kind of evidence that shall entirely dispense with Faith. Thus the
Hyper-orthodox and the Agnostic are equally guilty, the one of
dispossessing Reason, the other of dispossessing Faith, from their
rightful provinces; and they accuse me of “compromising,” not because I
really compromise, but because I pursue truth at the cost of some
trouble, while they—partly perhaps to avoid the pain of thinking, and
the prospect of colliding with hard unpleasing truths—pursue severally
that form of untruth to which they are inclined by prejudice.

And now for the next objection, that “this is a new religion.” How can
men give the name of a new religion to that which proclaims as the one
means of salvation the Eternal Word of God believed in of old by Jews as
well as by Christians? Or is it a mark of novelty to accept Jesus of
Nazareth as that Word incarnate? The one thing new about the opinions
put forward in my letters is this—that it is not a necessary condition
for believing in Christ, that men should accept a number of historical
statements which are, and have been, doubted by many honest seekers
after truth. I believe I might add, without any exaggeration, that the
statements which I impugn are rejected by so large a number of those who
are most competent to judge, that, in spite of many inducements—some
richly substantial, some nobly spiritual—many of the ablest and best
educated young men of England cannot in these days be persuaded to
become ministers of the religion which appears to insist on them. Beyond
this protest, there is nothing, or very little, that is new about the
theory which I have endeavoured to set forth. I do not protest against
any moral abuse in the Church of England or the orthodox churches—such
abuses as made a great gulf in the days of Luther between the Roman
Catholic Church and the Protestants, when indulgences for sins were sold
by the cart-load. Possibly indeed the protracted belief in the
miraculous, when it has long outlived the conditions which made it
natural or pardonable, may tend to produce some moral evil; some
over-estimation of ostentatious and, so to speak, theatrical force; some
depreciation of the quiet processes by which God has mostly taught and
shaped mankind; some latent trust in a capricious God, who will not
“reward men according to their works” but will exercise a dispensing
power at the Day of Judgment. I say this may possibly soon happen, if it
has not already begun to happen; but at all events it is at present
latent, and it is not on any ground of this kind that I am advocating a
new view of the Old and New Testament. My object has been not to destroy
the old belief, but to remove certain obstacles which tend to prevent
people from embracing the essence of the old belief. The existence of a
God, the immortality of the soul, the conflict between God and Satan,
the redemption of mankind through the sacrifice of the eternal Son of
God incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
the operation of the Holy Spirit, the certainty of a heaven and hell,
the efficacy of prayer, the ultimate triumph of goodness and God— all
these things I steadfastly believe. But I see not the slightest reason
why, in order to hold fast these precious truths, I should be compelled
to believe that Joshua stopped the sun (or the earth?) or that an ass
talked with a human voice, or that the incarnate Son of God drowned two
thousand swine or destroyed a fig-tree with a word.

I am probably doing no more than give utterance to thoughts which have
been already expressed by others, or which, though unexpressed, are
latent in thousands of doubtful and expectant souls. But even were it
otherwise, even were it granted that the form of Christianity set forth
in my letters has some points of novelty, is mere novelty to suffice for
its condemnation?—and this in our century, when God has been teaching
and is teaching His children so much that is new in every department of
knowledge! Is it absolutely incredible that the same Supreme Teacher who
allowed some nineteen centuries to elapse between the Promise and the
promised Seed, should allow another nineteen centuries to elapse between
the Seed and the Harvest? Is it inconsistent that He who has led men to
the truths of science through mistakes and illusions should lead men by
the same paths to spiritual truth? How often must the Law of Illusion be
inculcated before we take it to heart? Illusions have encompassed
spiritual truth for Israel, for the Jews, for the Twelve in their
Master’s lifetime, for the first generation of Christians, and for every
subsequent generation down to the time of Luther. So much we Protestants
are bound to admit. Are we not then intolerably presumptuous in assuming
that illusions must have suddenly disappeared in the fifteenth century
and have left the theological atmosphere for the first time since the
creation of the world free from all spiritual refraction? How much
humbler and truer to suppose that every century and every generation has
its special cloud of illusions through which in due course we must all
toil upward, penetrating layer after layer of the illusive mist till we
reach at last the summit of the hill of Truth!

I find I have left myself too little time to answer your last two
objections as to the “vagueness” of my views and their inability to
“commend themselves to the masses.” I will try to answer them in my next

                       THE RELIGION OF THE MASSES


I have been thinking over your objection that my notions are “vague;”
feeling that there is some truth in it, but that your words do not quite
express your probable meaning. I think you mean, not that the “notions”
are vague, but that the proofs are vague. The “notions” are in the
Creeds, if you interpret the Creeds spiritually: and I do not think that
the Creeds are more “vague” when interpreted spiritually than when
interpreted literally. The spiritual Resurrection of Christ, for
example—is it more vague than the material Resurrection? If you admit
that there is a spirit in man, and that this spirit is made apparently
powerless by death, is it “vague” to say that the spirit of Jesus, after
passing through this state of death, manifested itself to the disciples
in greater power than ever? Even those who maintain the material
Resurrection admit that it would be a mere mockery without the spiritual
Resurrection, and that the latter is the essence of the act: so that to
declare the statement of the spiritual Resurrection of Jesus to be
“vague,” appears to be equivalent to declaring that _any_ statement of
the _essential_ Resurrection of Jesus is “vague.” Again, redemption from
sin is a spiritual notion, redemption from the flames of a material hell
is a material notion; but is the former more “vague” than the latter? If
so, then we are led to this conclusion, that all spiritual notions are
more vague than material notions; and the vagueness which you censure is
a necessary characteristic of every religion that approaches God as He
ought to be approached, I mean, as a Spirit and through the medium of
spiritual conceptions. But to my mind you are not justified in thus
using the word “vague,” which ought rather to be applied to notions
wanderingly and shiftingly defined; as for example, if I defined the
Resurrection of Jesus as being at one time the rising of His body, at
another the rising of His Spirit; or if I spoke of redemption, now as
deliverance from sin, and now as deliverance from punishment. Convict me
of such inconsistencies, and I will submit to be called “vague;” but at
present I plead, “Not guilty.”

However I think you meant that the proofs, and not the notions were
vague; and here, although you should not have used the word “vague,” I
will admit that you would have been right if you had said that they were
“complex” and “more easy to feel than to define.” No doubt the proof of
Christ’s divinity from the material Resurrection is simple and
straightforward enough: “It is impossible that a man’s body could have
arisen from the grave, and that the man could have afterwards lived with
his friends on earth for several days, and then have ascended into
heaven, if he had not been under the express protection of God; and such
a man we are prepared to believe, if he tells us that he is the Son of
God.” That certainly would seem to a large number of minds a very plain
and straightforward argument—as plain as Paley’s _Evidences_. No trust,
no faith, no affection, is here requisite: nothing is needed except that
rough and ready assumption—in which we are all disposed to
acquiesce—that any altogether exceptional and startling power must come
from God. It must be admitted that this sort of proof would be cogent as
well as direct. Let a man rise from the dead to-morrow, and transport
his body through closed doors, and say that he is Christ, and then mount
up to the clouds and disappear; and I doubt not many of those who saw
him would cry “This must be the Christ,” without so much as enquiring
what manner of man he was. But cogent and popular and delightfully
simple though it may be, this is not the kind of proof on which Jesus
appears to have relied, or by which Jesus has produced a spiritual
change in the hearts of mankind. The very fact that no trust or faith or
affection is needed in such a demonstration, unfits it for spiritual
purposes. In order to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, a man needs
the testimony of all his powers, emotional as well as intellectual,
trust and love as well as reason; and I have endeavoured to shew above
that the whole of the training of the human Imagination, and all the
mysterious natural provisions which have stimulated the eye of the mind
to see what the eye of the body cannot see, have contributed to bring
about the faith in the risen Saviour. As we are to love God with our
strength and with our mind as well as with our heart and our soul, so
are we to believe in Christ with the same collective energy. The proof
therefore of Christ’s Resurrection and of Christ’s divinity is intended
to be, in a certain sense, complex, because it is intended to appeal to
our every faculty and to be based upon our every experience.

But “this form of Christianity can never commend itself to the masses.”
Objection in the shape of prophecy is always difficult to meet, and not
often worth meeting. However, this prophecy has so specious a sound that
it deserves some reply. But first let me ask, Does the present form of
Christianity commend itself to the masses? Surely not to the very poor,
that is to say, not to the class to whom Christ appears to have
specially addressed Himself. And even among the classes which retain the
tradition of worshipping Christ, has Christianity been such as would
commend itself to Christ? Has not our religion been too often divorced
from morality? Has there been dominant among us that habit of mutual
helpfulness—“comforting one another,” as St. Paul calls it—which is the
criterion of a truly Christian nation? Have not the laws in almost all
cases, until the French Revolution, been made in the interests of the
rich, rather than in the interests of the poor; and where the poor have
been considered, has not the consideration arisen largely from the fear
of violence and revolution? There has been a certain amount of
alms-giving, or legacy-leaving, on the part of the minority who have
laid themselves out to lead religious lives; and there has always been a
still more select minority who have been imbued with a truly Christian
enthusiasm for their fellow-creatures, a passionate desire to do
something for Christ, and to leave the world a little better for their
having lived: but the great unheeding mass of men in Christian countries
has rolled on in its selfish path, less selfish certainly, less
brutishly intent on present pleasure than the masses of heathendom, and
indirectly humanized and leavened by a thousand Christian influences,
but still not more than superficially Christian. The reason for this
comparative failure has been, in part, that Christ has not been rightly
presented to the hearts of the people. Too often it has not been Christ
at all—it has been but a lifeless semblance of Christianity—to which
they have given their adhesion. The fear of hell, the hope of
heaven—these have been often the chief motives of religion; and
alms-giving, church-going, Bible-reading, and the use of the sacraments,
have been the means by which men have thought they could escape the one
and secure the other. Asking still further the cause for this
perversion, by which Christ has been converted into a second Law, we
find that in some cases and more especially in recent times, it appears
to have arisen in part from the miraculous element in our religion. This
has made Christ unreal to some of us by taking Him out of the reach of
our sympathies and affection; this also has artificialized our religious
conceptions and divorced our religion from morality by making us think
that God will suspend the laws of spiritual nature for us, as He has
suspended the laws of material nature for Christ and Christ’s Apostles.
Hence has arisen too often a pitiable and preposterous reversal of the
Pauline theology. We have “died” unto Christ, and “risen again” unto the
Law. “Grace” has fled away, and, with it, all natural and harmonious
morality; and the whole duty of a Christian man has been degraded to a
routine of “works.”

It is for this cause that the morality of Agnostics frequently surpasses
the morality of professing Christians. The philanthropy of the former,
so far as it goes, is at all events perfectly natural. They do not love
their brother man in order to obey the Gospel or save their own souls;
they love because they must love. Christ’s heaven is often in their
hearts without any of the corruptions of a conventional Christianity.
They do not believe in a capricious Heaven and Hell, but they are drawn
towards goodness, kindness, justice and mutual helpfulness, whenever and
wherever they see them; and such worship as they have, they give to
these qualities. Hence also in foreign politics the working people and
the Agnostics often manifest a much purer and more Christian feeling
than church-goers. For the Hyper-orthodox, foreign politics lie outside
the Bible; and whatsoever lies outside the Bible lies, for them, outside
morality: but the Agnostic makes no such distinction; he does not
believe that the laws of right and wrong can be miraculously suspended
in favour of his own country. The disbelief in a future Heaven makes the
poor indisposed to tolerate present remediable miseries in the hope of
coming compensation. Hence they shew a much stronger determination not
to put up with a state of things in which the happiness and prosperity
of a whole nation are purchased by the misery of one class. They are
willing enough individually to make sacrifices for one another, and, in
bad times the working people have sometimes collectively borne
considerable burdens with an admirable patience; but that the unwilling
wretchedness of some should form the basis of the prosperity of the
rest, and that the rest should be content to have it so—this they cannot
endure; and sooner than this, they would prefer to see every class in
the nation pulled down two or three degrees in wealth and refinement, if
thereby the lowest class could be raised a single degree.

Rich church-goers are far more ready to acquiesce in present
inequalities, sometimes consoling themselves with the thought that in
heaven all these evils will be redressed, sometimes fortifying their
acquiescence in the inevitable with a text of Scripture. But the poor
declaim passionately against the Bible, when thus quoted—as being a mere
instrument in the hands of the rich, and the priests their accomplices,
to keep the miserable in a state of contentment with their misery. It is
a pity that the poor should be embittered by misrepresentations against
that which is pre-eminently the poor man’s Book; for no tribune or
democrat more persistently than the Bible takes the side of the
oppressed, or more emphatically declares that it is part of God’s method
to raise up the poor from the dung-hill and to fill the hungry with good
things, while He casts down the princes and sends the rich empty away.
But the fact remains that, even when he raves against his own Book, the
poor man is raving in the spirit of the Book. It is not in accordance
with the Bible—and still less in accordance with the spirit of the New
Testament and of Christ—that any nation should tolerate and perpetuate
the misery of a class in order that the whole nation may prosper. Indeed
in such a nation permanent prosperity—in any sense, and much more in the
Christian sense—is quite impossible. Even though they may suppress
rebellion and escape revolution for the time, the governing classes
cannot escape the spiritual evils that must ultimately spring from that
comfortable acquiescence in the wretchedness of others to which they may
give the name of resignation but to which Christ would have given the
name of hypocrisy. Material misery _may_ imply the immorality of those
who are forced to endure it; but it _must_ imply the immorality and
spiritual degradation of those who acquiesce in it because it does not
come nigh them, and because “the Bible says it must be so.” Let but such
Pharisaism continue for a generation, and it will have gone far to
extinguish the purest of religions and to prepare the way for
revolutionary strife.

It appears then that what is called “socialism” is really nothing but a
narrow and unwise form of Christianity; narrow because it excludes the
rich from its sympathies, and unwise because, instead of going to the
root of evils, it simply aims at the branches; capable also, of course,
(like every other theory) of being made to appear immoral, when adopted
for self-interested or vindictive purposes—yet nevertheless containing
much more of the Spirit of Christ than that selfish form of Christianity
which has for its sole object the salvation of the individual. Socialism
owes all that is good in it to Christ.

The gigantic evil of slavery (which is antagonistic to all true
socialism) after a contest of eighteen centuries, has succumbed at last
in Christian countries to Christ’s Spirit and to no other champion. Do
you suppose that it perished owing to the “march of intellect,” or the
discoveries of science, or the general refinement and rise in the
standard of comfort and happiness among mankind? There is no reason at
all for thinking so. The Law of Moses, as you know, recognized, though
it controlled and mitigated, the institution of slavery. The race that
gave birth to Socrates, Aristotle, Sophocles, Phidias, Euclid,
Archimedes, and Ptolemy, was unable so much as to conceive of a state of
society where slavery should not exist: civilization appeared to them to
require the servitude of the masses as its necessary foundation. It was
not cruelty or callousness that prompted Aristotle to divide “tools”
into two classes, “lifeless” and “living”—under which latter head came
slaves: it was want of faith in human nature. “Who would do the
scullion-work in the great household of humanity if there were no
slaves?” Such was the question which perplexed the great philosophers of
antiquity and which Christ came to answer by making Himself the slave of
mankind and classing Himself among the scullions. How strangely dull and
unappreciative do those words of Renan sound, that, if you deduct from
what Christ taught, what other people have taught before Him, little
will be left that is original! “Taught!” It was not the teaching, it was
the doing. Nay, it was not the doing, it was the in-breathing into
mankind of a new Spirit, by means of doing, that ultimately destroyed
slavery. “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to
minister and to give his life a ransom for many”—the Spirit that
dictated these words, dictated also the death upon the Cross; and this
Spirit has destroyed slavery and will establish true socialism upon

“But this Spirit of Christ has never been fully obeyed or even
understood by His followers: even St. Paul does not seem to have
understood that Christianity was incompatible with slavery.” You are
quite right. The Spirit of Christ has never yet been fully obeyed, and,
when we thus obey it, life will be heaven. Do you not see that your
objection ignores the fact that we are not yet in heaven, and that
Christianity is to be a gradual growth? Are you not a little like the
child who sows his mustard-seed at night and comes down next morning
expecting to see the great tree in which the birds of the air ought to
have built their nests? The important question is whether the Christian
Spirit so far as it has been obeyed, has worked well; so that we may
trust it to lead us still further forward into practical ameliorations
of our existence, whether individual or national. But to expect it to do
everything in eighteen hundred years, is to forget all the teaching of
history, astronomy, and geology, three voices that unite in proclaiming
that the Hand of God works slowly.

And further, as to your objection that even St. Paul did not realize the
incompatibility between Christianity and slavery, what follows from
that? Nothing I suppose except a confirmation of the words in the Fourth
Gospel, that the followers of Christ must not depend entirely upon St.
Paul, but upon that Spirit which shall “guide us into all truth.” To my
mind it is refreshing and delightful to confess—as I am sure St. Paul
himself would have been the first to confess—that he had not fully
realized all the consequences to which the Spirit of Christ would lead
posterity. I believe that St. Paul wished slaves to take every lawful
opportunity of becoming free, but that he would by no means have
encouraged slaves to run away or to rise violently against their
masters. If he had encouraged them, and if he had universally succeeded,
he would have caused the whole Empire, all civilized society, to
collapse at once. Was he wrong in not causing this? I am not prepared to
say so. I think he shewed more statesmanlike and Christian intuition in
doing nothing of the kind. But he did much. He had no slaves of his own,
you may be sure; he worked like a slave all night, that he might preach
all day; he bore fetters like a slave, and was proud to call himself a
slave for the sake of Christ; he inveighed against the spirit of
slavery, declaring that in Christ “there is neither bond nor free;” and
on the only occasion that we know of, when he had to mediate in a
practical way between an angry master and a runaway slave, he sent the
man back to his master without conditions or stipulations, but with a
letter that was equivalent to an emancipation: “For perhaps he was
therefore parted from thee for a season that thou shouldest have him for
ever; no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother beloved,
specially to me, but how much rather to thee, both in the flesh and in
the Lord. If then thou countest me a partner, receive him as myself.”
Was not this, practically and morally, more efficacious than if the
Apostle had fulminated against the master Philemon fiery utterances
about the rights of man and the incompatibility between Christianity and
slavery? Was not Onesimus more sure of being emancipated by the quiet
apostolic method? Was not Philemon likely to feel a quickened sense of
new and higher duty when the Spirit of Christ was breathed into his
heart by these touching and affectionate words, than if a Pauline edict
had confronted him with a “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not”? St. Paul’s
method has been the method of the Spirit of Christ: for eighteen
centuries Christ has been saying to men, not “All slavery is unlawful,”
but to each master about each individual slave, “If then thou countest
Me a partner, receive him as Myself.” Hence by degrees has been shaped a
conviction that slavery in itself is against the will of God.

But the destruction of slavery has not destroyed other problems of life
which still await their solution from Christian socialism. When men
cease to work from the compulsion of a master, they either give up
working, or they work for some other motive—their own subsistence, or
their own comfort, luxury, avarice, ambition, the mere pleasure and
interest of work, or for the sake of others. Are people to give up
working? And, if they work, which of these motives is to take the place
of the old bestial coercion which prevailed in the days of slavery?
These are the great questions of the present, affecting the happiness,
morality, and religion of the whole human race. True Christians and true
socialists are here at one. “If a man will not work, neither let him
eat” is their answer to the first question; and the more we can combine
to make the drone feel that he is out of place in the hive, and that he
must either conform to the hive’s ways or betake himself elsewhither,
the better will it be morally, and therefore ultimately better in all
respects, for the inhabitants of the hive. As to the second question,
socialists and moralists agree that each must work for the sake of
others, and, as far as possible, for all. To my mind, therefore, one of
the most hopeful signs of the times is to be discerned in the spread of
the higher socialist spirit which protests against making competition
the basis of national prosperity. Disguise it as you may, competition
contains an ugly element which was clearly brought out by its first
eulogist, the practical agricultural Hesiod, who tells us that there are
two kinds of strife, namely, war and competition. The latter, he says,
is good; for it rouses even the sluggard to action, when he sees his
neighbour hastening to wealth:

                        “—this strife is good for mortals,
           And potter _envieth_ potter and carpenter carpenter.”

This is the plain truth. Competition is always in danger of producing
“envy,” and, when it is carried consistently to its extreme—as where a
large manufacturer undersells and ruins small manufacturers that he may
secure a monopoly—it verges on that other kind of strife which Hesiod
has himself described as “blameful;” it becomes a kind of war, and is
manifestly unchristian. Christianity might have been therefore expected
to protest against it; but it has not done so: that task has been
reserved for the informal kind of Christianity called socialism. But
very much more than protest is needed. The problem of competition and
how to dispense with it—or how to restrain it while remedying its
evils—is far more complex than that of slavery. Some people regard it as
an inherent law of human society, a natural and continuous development
of the law of the struggle for existence which we have inherited from
our remotest ancestry. Others, while admitting this primæval origin,
hope that, as progressive man has worked out from his nature much else
of the baser element, so he may in time eliminate this also. But, if any
success is to be attained, all sorts of experiments will have to be
tried; all sorts of failures will have to be encountered; and it may be
that in the end the Pauline method of dealing with slavery may be found
the best means of dealing with competition—not so much protesting and
fulminating, but the earnest, informal action of individual enthusiasm.
Action like St. Paul’s may prepare the way for legislation; but, without
change of temper, mere legislation cannot permanently help a people to
deal with a great social difficulty.

In the solution of the complicated problems presented by competition,
socialism, when severed from Christianity, labours (1885) under most
serious disadvantages. Ignoring Christ, it reads amiss the whole of the
history of the past and is in danger of making terrible mistakes in the
future. Even where it avoids revolutionary extravagances, it is tempted
to trust far too much to force, moral if not physical coercion,
legislative enactments, and other shapes of what St. Paul would call
“Law.” Looking up to no Leader in heaven, it does not feel sufficiently
sure of ultimate success. “He that believeth,” says the prophet, “shall
not make haste:” now socialism has no firm basis of belief and therefore
is disposed to “make haste,” not always the haste of energy, sometimes
the spasmodic haste of self-distrust and error, followed perhaps by
dejection or inaction. Its neglect of the true religion leads it into
political as well as religious mistakes. Taking too little account of
sentiments, imaginations, and associations, it aims at a merely material
prosperity which, if attained, would leave the minds of men still vacant
and craving more; and besides, it proceeds by methods which excite alarm
and distrust in many well-wishers. The most serious evil of all is that
the leaders of the socialist movement, if they themselves see no Leader
above them, are actuated by no sense of loyalty and affection such as
Christians should feel for Christ, and consequently are far more exposed
to the dangers arising from their own individual weaknesses and
shortcomings. Their mainspring of action is a passionate enthusiasm for
poor toiling humanity: but how if humanity shews itself to them at times
in its basest aspects, ungrateful, suspicious, mean and shabby, timorous
and traitorous, quite unworthy of their devotion? Are they to serve such
a god as this? And it is a perishable god too; for must not all things
perish, and the earth itself become ultimately as vacant as the moon?
For so vile a master as this, then, are they to endure to be humiliated
and attacked by the rich and powerful, envied and slandered by rival
leaders, occasionally suspected even by the very poor to whom they are
giving their lives? In moments of depression, when thoughts like these
occur—as occur they must—it is hard indeed for a leaderless leader of
men to refrain from flinging up his task, or from continuing to pursue
it out of mere shame of inconsistency, or mere love of occupation,
excitement, and power. When that change comes over the tribune of the
poor, all is over with him. His work is done, though he may have done
nothing. Outwardly such a man’s conduct may be little changed, but
inwardly his spirit is dead within him. His religion—for it was a
religion to him—is now dead; and sooner or later his changed influence
must make itself felt in an infection of deadness spreading through the
whole of the multitudes whom he once inspired.

It is for these reasons that I look to a simpler form of Christianity as
the future religion of the masses; first because I see that the most
active religious forces of the present day are already unconsciously
following on the lines traced by Christ’s spirit; and secondly, because
these movements already exhibit a deficiency which the worship of Christ
alone can fill up.

The worship of Christ as the type and King of men helps to solve the
problems of the individual as well as those of the nation. As long as
human nature is what it is, as long as friends and families are parted
by death, as long as the mind is liable to be weighed down by
depression, and the body to be racked by physical pain, so long will
there be hours when we shall all look upward and demand some other
consolation than the commonplace; “These misfortunes are common to all.”
Stripped of all myth and miracle, the life and death and triumph of
Christ convey to the simplest heart the simplest answer that can be
given to the irrepressible question, “Whence comes this misery?” From
the cross of Christ there is sent back to each of us this answer, “We
know not fully; but our Leader bore it, and good came of it in the end.”
And when we stand at the brink of the grave and ask, “What is death?”
again the answer comes back from the same source, “We know not fully;
but He passed through it and He still lives and reigns.”

But besides the powerful influence of religion in the critical and
exceptional moments of our lives, the influence of Christ would come
full of strength and blessing to the working men of England even if they
acknowledged Him, at first, in the most inarticulate of creeds, as the
man whom they admired most: “We used to think that Christ was a fiction
of the priests; at all events not a man like us in any way; a different
sort of being altogether; one who could do what he liked—so people
said—and turn the world upside down if he pleased: and then we could not
make him out at all. Why, thought we, did he not turn the world upside
down and make it better, if he could? It was all a mystery to us. But
now we find he was a man after all, like us; a poor working man, who had
a heart for the poor, and wanted to turn the world upside down, but
could not do it at once; and he went a strange way, and a long way
round, to do it; but he has come nearer doing it, spite of his enemies,
than any man we know; and now that we understand this, we say—though we
don’t understand it all or anything like it—‘He is the man for us.’” I
say that even if this rudimentary feeling of gratitude and admiration
for their great Leader could possess the hearts of English working
men—and this is surely not too much to expect—much would come from even
this inadequate worship. And, for myself, I unhesitatingly declare that
I would sooner be in the position of a working man who doubts about
Heaven and Hell and even about God, but can say of Christ, “He is the
man for me,” than I would be in the position of the well-to-do
manufacturer who is persuaded of the reality of Heaven and Hell and of
the truth of all the theology of the Church of England, but can
reconcile his religion with the deliberate establishment of a colossal
fortune on the ruin of his fellow creatures.

But I do not believe that the feeling of the working man for Jesus of
Nazareth could long confine itself to admiration. It is not so easy to
make a happy nation or a happy world as the working man thinks: and this
he will soon find out. When sanitation, education, culture, science,
political rearrangements, enlargements for the poor, and restrictions
for the rich, have all done their best and failed—as they necessarily
must fail, unless helped by something more—then the working man will
find what that “something more” is, without which nothing effectual can
be done. Then he will perceive that, after all, unless there is a spirit
of mutual concession in classes and individuals, no Acts of Parliament
can ever be devised to secure lasting prosperity and concord. Then he
will awaken to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth revealed and exemplified
that spirit of concession or self-sacrifice, and that it was by this
means that He went as far as He did toward “turning the world upside
down;” and so he will be gradually led still further to see that the way
which He went was after all not such a very “long way round,” but a
divine way, a way truly worthy of the Son of God. I believe that the
recognition of this single fact would go further than even the
recognition of the marvellous phenomena which manifested the
Resurrection of Christ, to convince working men that the man who
possessed this sublime intuition into spiritual truth, and the perfect
unselfishness and self-control needful to give effect to his plans for
the raising up of mankind, must be no other than the Son of God. The
rest would follow. They would find they had been all their lives on a
wrong track in their search after the divine reality; worshipping brute
force while protesting against it; bowing in their hearts to pomp, and
wealth, and high birth, even while they professed to deride them;
despising things familiar and near; gaping in stupid servile admiration
at things far and unknown; yet all the time God was near them, among
them, in them; the Spirit of God was none other than the spirit of true
socialism; the Son of God was none other than the poor and lowly Workman
of Nazareth.


                           MINISTERIAL TESTS


Excuse my delay in answering your letter of last month. The fact is I
have not so much leisure as I had. I was glad indeed to hear from you
(last Christmas, I think) that you could not so lightly put away the
worship and service of Christ as you had felt disposed, or compelled to
do, some eighteen months before; that the question appeared to you now a
deeper one than you had then supposed, not to be decided by mere
historical evidence but, to some extent, by the experience of life; and
that you were inclined at least so far to take my advice as to wait a
while, to stand in the old ways, and to adhere—so far as you honestly
could—to old religious habits, including the habit of prayer and
attendance at public worship. This was as much as I could reasonably
hope. I could not expect that a few letters from one who is quite
conscious that he does not possess the strange and sometimes
instantaneous influence exerted by a strong religious character, would
do all that will, I trust, be done for you by patience, by a prayerful
and laborious life devoted to good objects, and by cherishing habits of
reverence for the good, and of thoughtfulness for all. I had been in the
habit of regularly giving my Sundays, and occasionally some hours on
week days, to our theological correspondence: but when I received that
announcement from you, I felt that my time might now be devoted to other
objects, and I made arrangements accordingly. Hence, when your recent
letter reached me, I was not quite at leisure to reply to it
immediately. But you pressed me to answer “one last question,” which I
should rather call two questions (for they are quite distinct, although
you combine them so closely as to leave me uncertain whether you
recognize the wide difference between them): “Can a man who rejects the
miraculous element in the Bible remain a member or a minister in the
Church of England?”

Your first question I should answer with an unhesitating affirmative.
The Church of England does not require from its lay members any
signature of the Articles or any test but a profession of belief in the
Creed at the time of baptism, renewed in the Catechism and Confirmation
service; and I cannot think that any sincere worshipper of Christ ought
so far to take offence at one or two expressions in the Creed—which may
be interpreted by him metaphorically, though by others literally—as to
separate himself on that account from the national church. Grant that
his interpretation may be a little strained, nay, grant even that he is
obliged to say “I cannot believe this;” yet I should doubt the
necessity, or even wisdom and rightness, of cutting himself off from the
Church of England because of one or two clauses in the Creed, as long as
he feels himself in general harmony with the Church doctrine and
services. There would be no end to schisms, and no possibility of
combining for worship, if every one separated himself from every
congregational utterance with which he could not heartily agree in every
particular. On this point I find myself obliged to remember for my own
sake, and to apply to myself, the advice I once gave a very little child
many years ago. We were singing a hymn, and had come to the words:

                        “Ah me, ah me, that I
                        In Kedar’s tents here stay:
                        No place like that on high,
                        Lord, thither guide my way.”

“I suppose,” said the child (who was young but somewhat old-fashioned in
thought and expression), “that these words mean that you want to die, if
they mean anything. But I don’t want to die. So I don’t think I ought to
say them.” In my own mind I sympathized very much with the objector; but
I endeavoured to meet the objection. “Hymns,” I said, “are written not
for single persons but for congregations. In a whole churchful you will
find all sorts of people of different ages and ways of thinking. Some
are glad and strong, others sad and weak. Some rejoice in life and look
forward eagerly to labour. These are mostly the young; but the older
sort are sometimes tired of life and longing for rest. Now when we are
singing a hymn we must all do our best, young and old, happy and sad, to
enter into one another’s feelings, and we must not expect that every
word in every hymn will precisely represent our own particular feelings
at the moment: the time will perhaps come when the words that now seem
meaningless to us will exactly represent our deepest feelings, and we
shall wonder how we could have ever failed to feel them; but for the
present we must not be disposed always to be asking, ‘Do I agree with
this? Do I exactly feel that?’ Of course if it occurs to you that these
or those words are so opposite to what you think, that you would be
telling a lie to God in uttering them, why then you must not utter them:
but you ought not to suppose that in a church service God exacts from
you a rigid account for every word of the congregational utterances in
which you take part: if you can heartily join in the greater part of the
service, do not be afraid; He accepts your prayers and praises.” Many
years have passed away since I spoke thus: and, since then, I have found
myself often obliged to repeat to myself, for my own guidance, the
advice which I then gave to guide another. In a public service one must
give and take, and I see no reason at all why a believer in
non-miraculous Christianity should not find himself in harmony with the
services of the Church of England. His interpretation both of the Bible
and of the Prayer-book will be different from that of most of the
congregation; but he will accept both the Bible and the Prayer-book as
the best books that could be used for their several purposes, and would
be sorry to see them replaced by anything that could be devised by
himself or by those who think as he does.

So far I can speak confidently; but I am more doubtful as to the answer
that should be given to your second question, “Can a believer in
non-miraculous Christianity remain a minister in the Church of England?”
Looking at the Articles, if I were forced to assume that every one of
them is binding on a Church of England minister, I should say that a
belief in the miraculous is necessary for every one who can honestly
sign an assent to the Article on Christ’s Resurrection, which asserts
that, “Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again His body
with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of
man’s nature, wherewith He ascended into heaven.” These words distinctly
declare the Resurrection of Christ’s material body; and as I do not
believe in the fact, I cannot assent to the words, nor do I see how any
believer in non-miraculous Christianity can assent to them.

Perhaps you may think, in your innocence, that this disposes of the
question, arguing logically thus: “The Church of England appoints
certain Articles as tests of belief for her ministers; A cannot assent
to one of these Articles; therefore A has no right to remain a minister:
there is no loophole out of this logical statement of the case.” There
is not: and if the Church of England were governed in accordance with
logic, I (and a good many others) ought to have left the ranks of her
ministers as soon as we found that we had been forced to reject a single
clause of a single Article. But the Church has not been fur several
generations governed in this logical way. Besides practically and
generally allowing among its members a great degree of freedom and
latitude, it has enlarged that latitude during the last generation by a
specific and authoritative alteration of the terms of subscription to
the Articles. When I signed them—which I did, with perfect honesty and
sincerity, some three or four and twenty years ago—we were obliged to
“assent and consent” to “each and every” Article in each particular: I
forget the exact terms, but I know they were as stringent as they well
could be. But in 1865 the Clerical Subscription Act introduced a new
form:—“I assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and to the Book
of Common Prayer.... I believe the doctrine of the Church of England as
therein set forth to be agreeable to the Word of God.” Now if “therein”
meant “in each and every clause of each and every Article,” that would
have been tantamount to a mere repetition of the old requirement.
Obviously therefore this alteration implies an obligation of the
subscriber to assent, no longer to “each and every Article” in
particular, but to the Articles as a whole, regarded as an expression of
Anglican doctrine. Consequently, at present, the necessity of
subscription need not repel any one unless he finds himself unable to
accept “the doctrine of the Church of England as set forth,” not in
detail, but generally, in the Articles and the Prayer-book; and I need
not say that a believer in non-miraculous Christianity by no means
occupies a position of such dissent as this.

The only obstacle therefore for a scrupulous minister will be in the
services of the Church and in the reading of the Bible: and here I admit
that there is a very considerable obstacle, though it appears to me to
be less than it was a dozen years ago, and each year lessens it still
further. The difficulty lies, not in the scepticism of the minister (who
may be a more faithful worshipper of Christ than any one in his flock)
nor in any congregational suspicion or alarm (for his advanced views lie
quite beyond the horizon of the thoughts of any country congregation,
and any but an exceptional congregation elsewhere) but almost entirely
in the minister’s own uneasy sense of a difference between himself and
his people; in his fear that he may be acting hypocritically; in his
consequent loss of self-respect; and in a resulting demoralization
affecting all his work.

Clearly this is a difficulty which would be diminished, if not
altogether removed, by publicity; but as long as it is not publicly
recognized that widely different interpretations of the Scripture are
possible and compatible with the worship of Christ, the difficulty is a
very serious one. Whenever such a man reads the Bible in the discharge
of his public duty, he is liable to be haunted with the consciousness
that he is two-faced. He conveys to his congregation an obvious meaning
and they assume that he accepts that meaning himself; but he does not.
Suppose, for example, he reads the story of the battle of Beth-horon:
his congregation believes that it is listening to the most stupendous
miracle that the world has witnessed; the minister believes that he is
reading an account of one of the twenty, or more, decisive battles of
history. Similarly, in the New Testament, if he reads the narrative of
the feeding of the 4,000 or 5,000, he reads it as a religious legend,
curiously preserving a deep spiritual truth, but of no value except for
its emblematic meaning; but his congregation listens to him as if he
were reciting one of the most important proofs that Jesus was no mere
man, but truly the Son of God. I do not wish to exaggerate the
difference between the rationalizing minister and the literalizing
congregation. Both he and they believe that in the battle of Beth-horon
God was working out the destiny of Israel and preparing for Himself a
chosen people; both he and they believe that Jesus Christ was the true
Bread of Life; and similarly, as regards many other miraculous
narratives of the Scriptures, the congregation and the minister, though
divided as to the acceptance of the historical fact, will be united in
accepting the spiritual interpretation which is the essence of the
narrative. Moreover, every year is probably increasing the number of the
laity who take the same esoteric view as the minister takes about many
of the miracles. In any educated congregation there must be a large
number of men, and there will soon be a large number of women, who do
not believe in the literal stories of Balaam’s ass, Elisha’s floating
axe-head, and Samson’s exploit with the jaw-bone. Unless educated people
are kept out of our churches, or separate themselves from the Church,
this number must soon increase. Thus the gulf between the rationalizing
minister and the congregation tends yearly to diminish through the
action of the congregation; and if only both the esoteric and the
exoteric interpretation of the Scripture were generally recognized as
being compatible with the faithful worship of Christ, I do not see why
the minister should not claim for himself, without any sense of
constraint or insincerity, the same freedom of interpreting the Bible
which is accorded to the laity.

There still remains however the clause in the Creed stating the
Miraculous Conception, which to me appears the greatest difficulty of
all. It is one thing, in my judgment, to repeat the prayers of the
Church and to read passages from the sacred books of the Church, as the
mouthpiece of the congregation, and rather a different thing to stand up
and say—not only as the mouthpiece of the congregation, but in your
individual character, as a Christian, and as a priest as well—“I believe
this, or that,” and to take money for so saying; while all the time you
are saying under your breath, “But I only believe it metaphorically.”
Here, again, my scruples would be removed, if it were only generally
understood that the metaphorical interpretation was possible and
permissible. As regards the Athanasian Creed, for example, I should have
no scruples at all. For the tone and spirit, as well as for the
phraseology, of that Creed, I feel the strongest aversion. Yet I should
repeat it as the mouthpiece of the congregation without any hesitation,
because they would all know that the Church of England, so far as it can
speak through the archbishops and bishops, has signified that the
repulsive clauses in the Creed may all be so explained as practically to
be explained away. I do not in the least believe that this mild
interpretation of the damnatory clauses explains their original meaning;
but that matters little or nothing. Provided there be no suspicion of
insincerity, I am willing to make considerable sacrifices of personal
convictions in so complex a rite as congregational worship. The
clergyman whom I most respect has not read the Athanasian Creed for
thirty years: for my own sake, as a participator in the worship of his
church, I rejoice; but all my respect for him did not prevent me from
doubting sometimes whether he was right in this matter, until I found
that his action had been prompted by an expression of feeling on the
part of some representative members of his congregation. For if one
clergyman is justified in omitting the Athanasian Creed whenever he
likes, I do not see why another is not justified in reading it whenever
he likes: the liberty of the clergy might easily become the slavery of
the laity. I should therefore be ready to read the repugnant Athanasian
Creed because every member of my congregation would know (and I should
feel justified in letting them know from the pulpit) that I read it in
obedience to the law and in spite of my convictions. But I am not so
ready, at present, to read the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed, although
I cordially accept them except so far as concerns the one word which
expresses the Miraculous Conception. My reason is, that I should not
like to leave my congregation under the impression that I accepted that
dogma, and on the other hand I should not feel justified in using a
pulpit of the National Church to explain why I rejected it.

Here again, as in the previous instance, I feel that times are rapidly
changing, and the freedom of ministers in the Church of England is
rapidly increasing. For scruples as to the use of the Creeds, no less
than for scruples as to the reading of the Scriptures, publicity is the
chief remedy wanting to dissipate scruples; and time is on the side of
freedom. Belief in miracles now rests on an inclined plane; friction is
daily lessening, the downward motion is rapidly increasing; in a few
more years the authorities of the Church of England may recognize, not
with reluctance but with delight, that there are some young men who know
enough of Greek, and of history, and of evidence, to be convinced that
the miracles are unhistorical, and who, nevertheless, are worshippers of
Christ on conviction, with a faith not to be shaken by anything that
science or criticism can discover, and with a readiness to serve Christ,
as ministers in the English Church, if they can do so without sacrifice
of their opinions and without suspicion of insincerity.

Personally, I have not felt these scruples very acutely. Circumstances
have placed me where nothing has been required of me which might not
have been done as well by a Nonconformist as by a member of the Church
of England. To help a friend, or do occasional work in an unofficial
way, has never caused me the least misgiving; for I have always remained
in cordial accord with the forms of worship current in the Church of
England. The only difference that my views have made in my clerical
action has been this, that I have preferred for a time not to place
myself in any position where ministerial work might officially be
required of me. Yet even these scruples have been doubtfully
entertained, and would vanish altogether if ever I were to publish a
volume of such letters as I am now writing to you, so that I could be
sure that my opinions were no secret from my Bishop and from such
members of my congregation as were likely to understand them.

The advice which I have given to myself, I should also be inclined to
give to others who are already ministers in the Church of England, and
who have scruples of conscience in consequence of some divergence from
orthodox views: “Stay where you are, as long as you feel that you can
sincerely worship Christ as the Eternal Son of God, and as long as you
can preach a gospel of faith and strength, not only from the pulpit but
also by the bedside of the dying. If you can do this, you may stay,
though you are obliged to interpret metaphorically some expressions in
the Creed. If you cannot do this, go at once, even though you can accept
every syllable in all the Creeds in the most literal sense.”

To young men who have not yet been ordained and who incline to
“rational” views of Christianity, I have been disposed hitherto to give
different advice: “Wait a while. The fashion of men’s opinion is rapidly
changing; the excessive fear of science on the part of the Clergy—many
of whom come from Public Schools where they have received no training in
the rudiments of science or mathematics—is, strange to say, predisposing
all but extreme High Churchmen to welcome the adhesion of any who are
firm believers in Christ, even though they may doubt or reject the
miracles. It would be a miserable thing to be ordained, and to undertake
the task of preaching a doctrine implying the highest conceivable
morality, and presently to find yourself condemned by those to whom you
should be an example as well as an instructor, for what appears to them
patent insincerity—condemned by others, and perhaps not wholly acquitted
by yourself. In a few years you may perhaps find it possible to be
ordained not upon tolerance but with a hearty reception, and then there
need be no concealment of your opinions.”

Such is the language that I have hitherto used on the very few occasions
when I have been consulted, generally advising delay. But now I am
inclined to think that the time has come when young men with these
opinions ought not to wait, but ought at least to set their case before
the Bishops, leaving it to them to accept or refuse them as candidates
for ordination. Schisms and prosecutions are very objectionable things,
but there are worse evils even than these. There is the danger of
hypocrisy, spreading, like an infection, from oneself to others. The
hour has perhaps come for authorizing or condemning the extreme freedom
of opinion which some of the Broad Churchmen have assumed. Proverbs and
texts might be quoted in equal abundance to justify action or inaction
in the abstract; but two important practical considerations appear to me
to dictate some kind of action without delay.

On the one hand, we hear the complaint that the ablest and most
conscientious men are deterred by scruples from entering the ministry in
the Church of England, even when they feel a strong bent for clerical
work. If this scarcity of able candidates for ordination continues for
many more years, we shall have bad times in store for us. Already I
think I have noted, among some ministers who are conscious of but little
intellectual and not much more spiritual power, a disposition unduly to
magnify their office, the ritual, the mechanical use of the sacraments,
parochial machinery, processions, sensational hymns, church
salvation-armies, and church-routine generally, because they feel they
have no evangelic message of their own, no individual inspiration. In
some degree, such a subordination of self is good and may argue modesty;
but in many cases it is not good, when it leads young men to materialize
and sensualize religion, to suppose that the preaching of Christ’s
Gospel and the elevation of the souls of men can be effected by
ecclesiastical battalion drill; to dispense with study, thought, and
observation; to acquiesce in the letter of the collected dogmas of the
past, and to hope for no new spiritual truth from the progress of the
ages controlled by the ever fresh revelations of the Spirit of God.

On the other hand, there is the opposite evil, on which I have already
touched—I mean the danger that some of the more intellectual among the
clergy, those who do not sympathize with sacerdotalism and are popularly
reckoned among the “Broad Church,” may not only be suspected of
insincerity in professing to believe what they, as a fact, disbelieve,
but may also become actually demoralized by self-suspicions and hence
indirectly demoralize their congregations. I confess my sympathies are
very much with a man in that position. He has been sometimes the victim
of cruel circumstances. In his youth, the religious problems of the
present day lay all in the background. Before he was ordained, he may
very well have discerned no difficulties at all in the career before
him, nothing but the prospect of a noble work, to which he felt himself
called. His life was probably spent in a public boarding-school, where
he scarcely ever had a minute to himself for thought and meditation; it
being the ideal of the educator so to engross the time and energy of
each pupil in studies or in games that the average youth might be kept
out of moral mischief and the clever youth might get a scholarship at
Oxford or Cambridge. When he came to the University he found himself
expected to devote himself to “reading for a degree,” and there was
little or no time for theology; after taking his degree he found himself
under the necessity of earning his living, and if he was intending to
become a clergyman he naturally desired to be ordained as soon as
possible. If he was very fortunate, he may have contrived (as I did) to
get a year’s reading at theology while he supported himself by taking
pupils; but that was probably the utmost of his preparation. Soon after
reaching his twenty-third year he was ordained. And now, for the first
time, leaving school and college, he begins to realize what life means,
and to think for himself. Can we wonder that this “thinking for himself”
produces considerable changes of thought? If he is healthy, and active
in his parish, and has not much time for reflection and reading, the
changes will be long deferred, and he will be scarcely conscious of
them: but if he has any mind at all in him, and gives it the least
exercise, it is hardly possible that an able and honest student of the
Bible at the age of forty-six, when he comes to compare the opinions of
his manhood with those of his youth, will not find that he has ceased to
believe, or at all events to be certain of, the historical accuracy of a
good deal which he accepted with unquestioning confidence at the age of

Changes of this kind are inevitable, and they ought not to be feared.
Yet perhaps the fear of them deters some of the more thoughtful young
men from presenting themselves for ordination. They know that they
believe in such and such facts now, but, say they, “Many sincere and
thoughtful persons dispute the truth of these facts; and what will be my
position some ten years hence if I find that I am driven to deny what I
now affirm?” What one would like to be able to reply, in answer to such
an appeal, would be, that the worship of Christ does not depend upon the
truth of a few isolated and disputable pieces of evidence, but upon the
testimony of the conscience based upon indisputable (though complex)
evidence; so that, if the man’s conscience remains the same, he need not
fear lest the fundamental principles of his faith will be shaken by any
historical or scientific criticism. From the terrestrial point of view,
Christ is human nature at its divinest. Whoever therefore in the highest
degree loves and trusts and reveres human nature at its divinest, he
naturally worships a representation of Christ, even though he may never
have heard of the name. Now life will bring a young man many
disappointments and disillusions and paradoxes: but no one, who has once
worshipped Christ in this natural way, need fear (or hope?) that life
will ever bring him anything more worthy of representing human nature at
its divinest, anything therefore more worthy of worship, than Jesus of
Nazareth. The only danger is, that one may cease to be able to love and
trust and revere the objects that deserve these feelings. There is
indeed that danger, just as there is the danger that one may cease to be
able to be honest. But what young man, in mapping out his future, would
make insurance against such a moral paralysis? A man ought no more—a man
ought still less—to contemplate the possibility of becoming unable to
worship Christ, than the possibility of becoming unable to revere a kind
father or love affectionate children. If then our candidate for
ordination regards Christ in this spirit, one would like to encourage
him to present himself for ordination even though he may already doubt
the Biblical narrative on some points, and though he may be pretty
certain that he will change his mind on many others by the time he is
twice as old as he is now. However it rests very much with Bishops to
settle this question; and the question as to what the Bishops might do
is so important as to demand a separate letter.

P.S. Since writing the above remarks about the reluctance of the ablest
men at the Universities to be ordained, I have been told that the state
of things is even worse than I had conceived at Cambridge. There, at the
two largest colleges, Trinity and St. John’s, I am told that of the
Fellows who took their degrees between 1873-9 only eight, out of sixty
or thereabouts, took holy orders; and of those who took degrees between
1880-6, only three out of sixty. Trinity is conspicuous; of the sixty
Fellows who took degrees from 1873-86 only two have been ordained.

                       WHAT THE BISHOPS MIGHT DO


I reminded you in my last letter that ordination or non-ordination must
largely depend upon the judgment of the Bishops. This, I suppose, must
have always been the case to some extent: but there are reasons why it
may well be so now to a greater extent than before. The important change
made in the form of subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles has
supplied a solid and definite ground upon which the Bishops may fairly
claim to ascertain from candidates for ordination some details about
their religious opinions. In the times when candidates had to assent to
every point in every Article, no further examination was necessary: but
now that the candidate is allowed (by implication) to dissent from some
things in the Articles, the Bishop may surely, without any inquisitorial
oppression, say: “Before I ordain you, I should like to know, in a
general way, how far your dissent from the Articles extends.” Some
Bishops may be inclined to shrink from such an interrogation, as though
it implied doubt of the candidate’s sincerity: and of course such an
examination might be abused in a narrow or bigoted or even tyrannical
manner. But on the whole, I think, it might be even more useful as a
protection and help to the young candidate than to the Bishop. Here and
there, perhaps, a young man might be advised to give up, or defer, the
prospect of ordination; but others (who would have otherwise been
deterred by scruples) might be encouraged to be ordained in spite of
some intellectual difficulties; and this fatherly encouragement from a
man of authority and experience would be a great help and comfort,
strengthening the young man in the conviction that mere intellectual
difficulties could not interfere with his faith in Christ. Still more
valuable would be the young man’s consciousness that he could not be
called insincere or hypocritical, since he had concealed nothing from
the Bishop, who, after hearing all, had decided that there was nothing
to exclude him from ordination.

I would therefore advise any man who desired to be ordained but was
deterred by present scruples or the fear of future scruples, to write at
an early period to the Bishop at whose hands he would be likely to seek
ordination, stating his difficulties frankly and fully, and asking
whether they would be considered an impediment. If he felt any touch of
doubt on the subject of the miracles, I would have him make them the
subject of a special question. In some dioceses I should expect the
answer to be unfavourable. From others perhaps the answer would come
that the Bishop was “unwilling to undertake so heavy a responsibility;
each man must decide for himself whether he can honestly read the
services of the Church and the lessons from the Scriptures without
believing in miracles.” That answer would be, in my judgment,
regrettable, though not unnatural or indefensible. But even that answer
would be of value, as it would be a record that, at all events, the
Bishop had not been kept in ignorance of anything that the candidate
ought to have revealed to him: and this in itself would be of great
value in lightening for a scrupulous and self-introspective young man
the burden of the questions which might sometimes arise in his mind as
he read aloud in the congregation the words of the Bible or the
Prayer-book. Moreover, I should anticipate that every year would see an
increase in the number of those dioceses from which a still more
favourable answer might be returned: “If with all your heart you worship
Christ as the Eternal Son of God, if you can honestly and sincerely
accept the Church services as excellent (though imperfect) expressions
of congregational worship; and the Scriptures as super-excellent (though
imperfect) expressions of spiritual fact; if you feel that you have a
message of good news for the poor and simple as well as for the rich and
educated, and that you can preach the spiritual truths which you and all
of us recognize to be the essence of the Gospel, without attacking those
material shapes in which, for many generations to come, all spiritual
truths must find expression for the vast majority of Christians, then I
can encourage you to come to the ministry of Christ. I myself am of the
old school and believe in the miracles, or if not in all, at all events
in most; but I recognize that this belief—though to me it seems safer
and desirable—is not essential: come therefore to the ministry, with the
miracles if you can, without them if you cannot.”

Here indeed is a reasonable criterion of fitness for ordination: and if
a man cannot satisfy this, I do not see how he can complain of being
excluded. But no other criterion seems likely to be permanently tenable.
For imagine yourself to be a Bishop, trying to lay down some short,
precise, and convenient test, as regards the belief in the miraculous:
where are you to draw the line? A young man, eminently fit in all
respects for ministerial work, comes to you and says that he accepts all
the miracles but one; he cannot bring himself to believe that Joshua
stopped the movement of the sun (or earth). What are you to do? Reject
him? Surely not: not even though you were Canon Liddon, raised (as I
hope he will be raised) to the episcopal bench. The Universities would
join in protest against your bigotry; the whole of educated society
would secede from the Church on such conditions: the masses of
non-Christian and semi-Christian working men would cry out that such a
rejection was a portent of tyranny, and that the men who could accept
admission to the priesthood on such terms as these were no better than
superstitious dolts and slaves, creatures to be suppressed in a free
country! Well, then, you admit him: will you reject his younger brother
next year, who finds that he cannot accept the miracle of Balaam’s ass
speaking with a human voice? Certainly you will admit him too. And now
where are you to stop? If you admit a man who denies two miracles, will
you accept a man who denies a third, say, the miracle of Elisha’s
floating axe-head? And if three, why not four? why not five? and so on
to the end of the list?

Again, a man comes to you and says that he feels obliged to reject as an
interpolation—although willing to read them as part of an erroneous but
long cherished tradition—the well-known words at the end of the Lord’s
Prayer, “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and
ever:” what will you do to him? Refuse him? Surely not. The Revisers of
the New Testament have themselves rejected the addition, and I am quite
sure no scholar who valued God’s Word, and certainly no Bishop, would
wish to reject a man for preferring the New Version of the Bible to the
Old. But, if you admit him, what are you to say to his companion, who
rejects also the last twelve verses of St. Mark’s Gospel? In my opinion,
a man must be, Hellenistically speaking, an “idiot,”—a Greek “idiot,”
what the Greeks call _idiotès_—to believe in their genuineness. But even
though you, being a busy Bishop, may have forgotten a good deal of
Greek, you cannot forget the decision of the Revisers. For here again
the Revisers are on the young man’s side. They have printed this passage
as a kind of Appendix, placing an interval between it and the Gospel,
and appending this note: “The two oldest Greek MSS. and some older
authorities, omit from verse 9 to the end. Some other authorities have a
different ending to the Gospel.” Now if you admit the rejecter of these
two passages, will you refuse his companion, who tells you he is
compelled to agree with the Revisers also as to a third passage, John
vii. 53—viii. 11, where the Revised Version brackets several verses,
adding this note, “Most of the ancient authorities omit John vii.
53—viii. 11. Those which contain it vary much from each other”? You must
certainly accept him. But if you accept him, what are you to say to
young men who go further and reject whole books of the New Testament,
for example, the Second Epistle of St. Peter; the genuineness of which
has been impeached by a great consent of authorities, and concerning
which Canon Westcott says that it is the “one exception” to the
statement that the combined canons of the Eastern and Western Churches
would produce “a perfect New Testament”? And if we let him pass, under
Canon Westcott’s wing, how shall we deal with the next candidate, who
reminds us that Luther rejected the Apocalypse and the Epistle of St.
James, and declares that he cannot help agreeing with Luther? What
lastly is to be the fate of those who avow that they cannot shut their
eyes to the traces, even in the Synoptic Gospels, of considerable
interpolations or late traditions, especially in those portions which
contain miraculous narrative? Perhaps we might feel inclined to say, “We
will take our stand on Westcott and Hort’s text, or on the text of the
Revised Version, and will refuse any candidate who rejects a word of the
New Testament that is contained in either of these texts; the line must
be drawn somewhere, and we will draw it there.” What! Shall we reject a
candidate for ordination because he does not accept the Gospel according
to Westcott and Hort, or the Gospel according to an unauthorized though
scholarly knot of men called the Revisers? Impossible! all Christendom
would cry shame upon us. On the whole, we seem driven to the conclusion
that no candidate for Anglican ordination can be reasonably rejected for
believing that parts of the Bible are spurious or un-historical,
provided that he is willing to read in the presence of the congregation
the portions of Scripture appointed by the Church.

If the test of miracles fails, and if the test of an infallible book
fails, so too does failure await the test of an infallible Creed. It
would be, at all events, departing strangely from the spirit of the
Reformers and from the spirit of the Articles, to allow men laxity as
regards the interpretation of the Scriptures, which are regarded as
specially inspired, and yet to pin them to the letter of the Creeds,
which are regarded as being authoritative because they are based on the
Scriptures. If a candidate were to tell you, his Bishop, that “he
accepted the Resurrection of Christ, and even of Christ’s body, but that
he could not honestly say that Christ rose on the third day; for Christ
was buried on the evening of Friday, and rose early on the morning of
Sunday, that is to say, on the second day,” you would perhaps reason
with him, and say that it was the Jewish way of reckoning; and if he
were then to reply to you that to the greater part of the congregation
this way of reckoning was unknown, and that the phrase might therefore
convey a false impression—what would you say to this ultra-conscientious
young man? This probably: that “the Creeds of Christendom could not be
disturbed on account of the eccentricities of well-meaning individuals;
that, if this was his only obstacle, you, his Bishop, could take upon
yourself to justify him in repeating these words as the mouthpiece of
the congregation; that it was quite open to him to explain the true
meaning of the words from the pulpit; and that little misunderstandings
of this kind, if indeed there was danger of any, were insignificant as
compared with belief in the essential fact that Jesus rose from the

When the young man goes out—probably satisfied, unless he is very
obstinate, and you a little impatient—let us suppose that another man
comes in, with a different objection to the same clause. He accepts the
essential fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and he does not object to
the words, “the third day,” but he does not believe that the material
body of Jesus rose from the tomb. He believes that Jesus Himself, that
is to say, His spirit, rose from the dead, and that He manifested
Himself to His disciples in a spiritual body, which, in accordance with
some law of our human spiritual nature, was manifested to those, and
only to those, who loved Him or believed in Him.[39] This is a more
serious objection by far: for you have to consider, first, whether the
young man is likely to hold fast his belief in the spiritual
Resurrection of Jesus, when based on such evidence as this; and secondly
whether he can preach the Gospel of the risen Saviour without raising
all sorts of questions and difficulties in minds unprepared to grapple
with them. At this point, then, I cannot blame your episcopal judgment
if you take time to decide, and if, before deciding, you do your best to
ascertain what manner of man you have to deal with, and, in particular,
whether his stability is equal to his ability. “Doubts and difficulties”
may sometimes betoken, not so much a mind that thinks for itself, as a
disposition to affect singularity and to strain after constant novelty.
But if you are satisfied on this point, I think you would do well to
admit him to ordination. I would not exclude from the ministry any one
who can conscientiously worship Christ in accordance with the services
of the Church of England, and preach the Gospel without shaking the
faith of the masses.

Perhaps I shall seem to you (not now in the temporary episcopal capacity
which you have occupied during the last few paragraphs, but as plain ——)
very illiberal in excluding from the broad boundaries of the National
Church those who are unable to worship Christ. But I am not prepared to
alter the Nicene Creed or the Church Services; and if I could not
worship Christ, I cannot think that I myself should desire to be
included in the Church of England, as long as that Creed and the Church
Services remained in use. For how could I offer prayer to Jesus? or say,
in any sense, “I believe in Jesus Christ, God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God”? No plea of metaphor would ever enable me to
repeat these words with any honesty, as long as I found myself unable to
worship Christ. I confess to a secret feeling that many of those who at
the present time think they do not worship Christ, do in reality worship
Him; and I have good hopes that some of them may, in time, when they
search out their deepest feelings, find out that they have long been
unconsciously worshipping Him, and that they can accept, with a
spiritual interpretation, some things that have hitherto appeared to
them inadmissible.[40] But to demand that the Creeds and Church Services
may be remoulded, is a very different thing from asking to be allowed to
put a metaphorical interpretation on one or two phrases in them. When
Parochial Councils are established, it may be found ultimately possible
to give some larger latitude in the modification or multiplication of
Services so as to make them more inclusive: but, after all,
congregations meet for worship, not for the sake of being liberal and
inclusive; and the inclusion of non-worshippers of Christ can hardly be
demanded from a Church that worships Christ. Nor must the inclusion of
“advanced thinkers” be carried to such an extent as to exclude the great
mass of ordinary believers.

I myself, deeply though I sympathize in all essential matters with the
Church of England, should nevertheless be willing not only to be
excluded from it, but also to see excluded all who may take the same
views as I take, rather than that the simple faith in Christ entertained
by the great body of Christians should be injured by the premature
disruption of those material beliefs and integumentary illusions with
which, at present, their spiritual beliefs are inseparably connected.
And this brings me to another side of the question. If I were publishing
an appeal to the Bishops, I should certainly add an appeal to the
younger Broad Church clergy. It ought not to be asking too much from a
young preacher who is an “advanced thinker,” to remember that some
reverence is due to the simpler members of his flock. Many of those whom
he authoritatively instructs are older, wiser at present, of larger
experience in life, some of them perhaps more spiritually minded, than
he is. What if their deepest and most cherished religious convictions,
right in the main, are tied to certain expressions and narratives that
may not be historically accurate? Does it follow that their feelings are
to be outraged at any moment by assaults upon the ancient forms and
expressions of their belief from the lips of a young man who professes
to accept these forms, and takes the money of the Church for accepting
them? Such attacks upon the forms are at present worse than useless,
because they are sure to be construed into attacks upon the spirit. In
time a change will come, and even now a minister may do something to
prepare the way for the change. He may institute Bible lectures to which
he may invite the attendance of those alone who wish to study the Bible
critically, and those whose reading and attainments qualify them to
criticize, or to follow criticism. But, from the pulpit, matter of this
kind should be altogether excluded.

Nor need the preacher fear lest such restriction should shackle his
liberty and take the life out of his sermons. In almost every case one
invariable rule can be laid down which will give ample scope to him and
no offence to his hearers: “Always preach what you believe to be true,
and never go out of your way in order to attack what you believe to be
untrue.” For example, your flock believes that Christ’s body (the
tangible body) was raised from the grave; you do not. Well then, do not
attack their material belief; but preach your spiritual belief. Teach
them that Christ’s Resurrection implies a real though invisible triumph
over the invisible enemy death; a real, though invisible, sitting at the
right hand of God; a real, though invisible, presence in the heart of
every one who loves and trusts Him. Thus you may teach the habit of
reverence, simultaneously with the habit of inquiry; a love of the old
forms, combined with a still deeper love of the new truths that may be
discovered beneath them; thus you will not shake the faith of a single
child; you will be impressing upon all alike unadulterated, precious
truth without sacrificing a little of your own convictions; and at the
same time you will be insensibly preparing the younger portion of your
flock to detach the material part of their belief from the spiritual,
and to retain the latter when the time may come that shall force them to
give up the former. In a similar spirit you should deal with the
Ascension and the Incarnation, not pointing out the difficulties
involved in the material belief of those dogmas, nor saying a word to
disparage those who believe in them, but doing your utmost to bring out
the spiritual truths and invisible processes which are represented by
those dogmas. Surely such a self-restraint as this is not more than may
fairly be demanded from any honourable man, I will not say from a
Christian, but from a gentleman. Your congregation are in their own
parish church; they are bound by conventional respect and by
deeply-rooted reverence for tradition and for the House of God, not to
manifest any such open disapprobation of your teaching as would be
freely permissible at a public meeting; you are their servant, and the
servant, the paid servant, of the National Church; and yet you have them
at your mercy while you stand in the pulpit. Profound consideration may
fairly be expected from you for their prejudices, as you may please to
call them; and all the more because they are, as it were, in possession
of the church, while you are an innovator, holding what must—at all
events for some time to come—appear to the multitude an entirely new
doctrine: they “stand on the old ways.”

If the teachers of natural or non-miraculous Christianity could be
trusted to preach in this spirit, they might, I think, do a good work as
ministers in the Church of England, without injury to themselves, and
with much advantage to the nation. If not, they must come out of the
Church for the purposes of teaching; and that, I fear, would result in
mischief both for the Church and for the State. I believe that not a few
of the educated clergy are either suspending their belief about
miracles, or have decided against them; and if these were suddenly to be
banished, or gradually to drop out of the clerical ranks without
receiving any successors of their way of thinking, the gulf would be
widened between the clergy and the educated laity. The men who might
discover new religious truth and prepare the way for new religious
development, having henceforth to earn their living in other ways, would
find little leisure for critical study. The end would be that the nation
would be for a time divided between superstition and agnosticism; and
sober religion would go to the wall.

Not indeed that the destinies of the Gospel of Christ are to be supposed
to be permanently determinable by the fate of a fraction of the Broad
Church section of the English clergy! The attraction of the natural
worship of Christ—strange, nay, impossible though it may seem when first
presented to the miracle-craving mind—is far too great to admit the
possibility of its ultimate failure. But first there must come a vast
and depressing defection on the part of those nominal Christians who
have hitherto worshipped Christ on the basis of an infallible Church, or
on the basis of an infallible Book, or on the basis of indisputable
Miracles. Perhaps this collapse will be precipitated by the discovery of
a copy of some Gospel of the first century, turned up when
Constantinople is evacuated by the Turks. You cannot have forgotten how
this year (1885) the educated religious world in England held its breath
in horrible suspense when the correspondent of the _Times_ telegraphed
that among the Egyptian manuscripts recently purchased by an Austrian
arch-duke, there had been disinterred a fragment belonging to a Gospel
preceding, and differing from, any now extant. From this terrible
discovery orthodoxy was delivered, for this once, by the learning of
Professor Hort: but who shall guarantee that a Professor Hort shall be
able, or even willing, to deny the proto-evangelic claims of the
next-discovered manuscript from the East? And then, what will become of
some of us!

In any case, with or without such discoveries, the present word-faith,
and book-faith, and authority-faith in the Lord Jesus, must sooner or
later collapse; and people must be driven to the conclusion that the
Lord Jesus Himself must somehow be worshipped through Himself—Jesus
through the Spirit of Jesus, that Spirit which is apparent in families
and nations and Churches as well as in the New Testament, the Spirit of
Love whence springs that mutual helpfulness which in the New Testament
we call “fellowship” and in the newspapers “socialism.” This and this
alone will help us to apply our science to settle land questions, Church
questions, and war questions, policy domestic and foreign, and to
establish concord in the world, the nation, and the human heart. I do
not say that a time will ever come when there will be no obstacles to
faith in Christ. Moral obstacles will still exist to make faith
difficult: but some at least of the intellectual difficulties by which
we now shut ourselves out from Christian hope will then be dissipated.
_Odium theologicum_ will become meaningless. There will have arrived at
last that blessed time, predicted (1603) by Francis Bacon (shall we say
just three hundred years too soon?), bringing with it “the consumption
of all that can ever be said in controversies of religion;” and
henceforth there will be no “controversies,” only discussions and

Then, with its mind freed from superstitious terrors and full of an
unquenchable hope, the human race, owning its allegiance to the Eternal
Goodness, and accepting as its captain the Working Man of Nazareth, will
address itself steadily to the work of Christian socialism, honouring
and encouraging labour without unwise and spasmodic pampering of it,
dishonouring and discouraging idleness without unwise and direct
recourse to forcible suppression of it; remembering always that, as the
ideal Working Man was subject to law, so must they be subject to law,
and as He bore suffering for the good of others, so must they be
prepared to suffer as well as to work. This is true socialism and this
is true Christianity. Do you deny it, and say, “This is not the
Christianity that has been current for eighteen centuries”? I reply,
Perhaps not; and, if it is not, we can call it by some other name. You
remember the saying of Lessing, that after eighteen centuries of
Christianity, it was high time to try Christ. Let us then amend our
phrase and say that true socialism will not be “the Christian religion”
but something better. It will be the Christian Spirit.

We are taught by our Scriptures that it has been sometimes God’s method
to teach the wise in this world by means of those whom the world calls
foolish, and the strong and the rich in this world by those whom the
world calls weak and poor. If history is thus to repeat itself, it may
be reserved for the semi-Christian or non-Christian working man, for the
heretic or agnostic socialist, to guide orthodox and religious England
into a higher and purer and more spiritual form of Christianity. Yet on
the other hand, since intellectual movements come often from above,
though moral movements come from below, I cannot give up the hope that
it may be reserved for the clergy of the Church of England to do
something towards the removal of those merely intellectual difficulties
which are at present keeping multitudes of the workers, and not a few of
the thinkers, in our country, from recognizing their true Deliverer.

Footnote 39:

  For the apparent exception of St. Paul, see above, p. 244.

Footnote 40:

  You should look at a most interesting and instructive article by Dr.
  Martineau in the _Christian Reformer_ (vol. i. p. 78), in which he
  points out that, in a certain sense, the faith professed by
  Trinitarians “in the Son, is so far from being an idolatry, that it is
  identical, under change of name, with the Unitarian worship of Him who
  dwelt in Christ. He who is the Son in one creed is the Father in the
  other; and the two are agreed, not indeed by any means _throughout_,
  but in that which constitutes the pith and kernel of both faiths.”


                               i. Reality

    1. _Absolute reality cannot be comprehended by men, and can only be
    apprehended as God or in God by a combination of Desire and
    Imagination, to which we give the name of Faith._

    2. _Among objects of sensation those are (relatively) real which
    present similar sensations in similar circumstances._

                               ii. Force

“Imagined” is inserted, throughout these Definitions, as a reminder that
the existence of all these objects of definition, however real, is
suggested to us by the Imagination.

    _Force is that which is imagined to immediately produce, or tend to
    produce, motion._

Why “immediately”? Because a particle of “matter”—attracting, as it
does, every other particle of “matter”—may be said to “tend to produce
motion.” Yet “matter” is not said to _be_ force, but to “_exert_” force.
“Matter” is imagined to attract “matter” through the medium of force, or
“mediately.” But force is imagined to act “immediately.” Hence the
insertion of the word.

                         iii. Cause and Effect

    _When one thing is imagined to produce, or tend to produce, a
    second, the first is called the Cause of the second, and the second
    the Effect of the first._

                               iv. Spirit

    _Spirit, i.e. Breath or Wind, is a metaphorical name—implying
    subtleness, invisibility, ubiquitousness and life-giving power—given
    to the ultimate Cause of Force; and hence sometimes to the Cause of
    beneficent Force in the Universe, i.e. God; sometimes to the Cause
    of Force in the human individual; more rarely to the Cause or Causes
    of maleficent Forces in the Universe._

                               v. Matter

The existence of Matter has never been proved; and it is nothing but a
hypothesis. All the phenomena called “material” might be explained,
without Matter, by the hypothesis of a number of centres of force. The
_raison d’être_ of Matter is the notion of tangibility. But scientific
men now tell us that no atom ever touches another. If this be so,
scientific tangibility disappears and the _raison d’être_ of Matter
disappears, with it. But it is so natural a figment that we shall all
probably talk about it, and most of us probably will believe in it,
until human nature is very much changed.

Matter cannot be defined positively except by repeating, in some
disguise, the word to be defined, as thus:—

    _Material, or Matter, is a name given to an unascertained and
    hypothetical “material,” “matter,”_ “_substance,” or “fundamental
    stuff,” of which we commonly imagine all objects of sensation to be

                               vi. Nature

    1. _Nature means sometimes the (1) ordinary, or (2) orderly course
    of things apart from the present and direct intervention of human
    Will; sometimes the (3) ordinary or (4) orderly course of humanity;
    sometimes the (5) ordinary or (6) orderly course of all things._

    2. _Law of Nature is a metaphorical name for a frequently observed
    sequence of phenomena (apart from human Will) implying, to some
    minds, regularity; to others, absolute invariability._

    3. _Miracle means a supposed suspension of a Sequence, or Law, of
    Nature; Marvel, or Mighty Work, means a rare Sequence of Nature, in
    which great Effects are produced by Causes seemingly, but not
    really, inadequate._

    4. _“Supernatural” is the name given, in these letters, to the
    existence of a God; and to His creation and continuous development
    of all things: the divine action being regarded, not as contrary to
    Nature, but as above Nature; not as suspending the sequences of
    Nature, but as originating and supporting them._

                               vii. Will

    _The Will is the power of giving to some one of our desires, or to
    some one group of compatible desires, permanent predominance over
    the rest._

An addition might be suggested: “the power of controlling our desires.”
But we appear never to control our desires except by enthroning some one
desire (or group of desires)—whether it be the desire to gain power, to
ruin an enemy, to do right, or to serve God.

                            viii. Attention

    _Attention is the power by which we impress upon our mind that which
    is present._

                               ix. Memory

    _Memory is the power by which we retain or recall to our mind that
    which is past._

                             x. Imagination

    _Imagination is the power by which we combine or vary the mental
    images retained by Memory, often with a view to finding some unity
    in them; and by which we are enabled to image forth the future
    through anticipating its harmony with the past and present._

                               xi. Reason

    _Reason (or, as some prefer to call it in this limited sense,
    Understanding) is the power by which we compare, and, from our
    comparisons, draw inferences or conclusions. By means of it we
    compare the suggestions of the Imagination with the suggestions of
    Experience, and accept or reject the former in accordance with the
    result of our comparison._

                               xii. Hope

    _Hope is desire, of which we imagine the fulfilment, while
    recognizing the presence of doubt._

                              xiii. Faith

The following Definition appears to me to be the basis of all theology.
It is no more than an emphatic restatement of the old saying, “Faith is
the _assurance of_ (or _giving substance to_) things _hoped for_.” Since
_hope_ is but a weaker and more hesitant form of _desire_, the _imaging
forth of_ (or _giving substance to_) things earnestly _hoped for_ must
imply the vivid _imagination_ of the fulfilment of things _desired_.

    _Faith (when not loosely used for Belief) is desire (approved by the
    Conscience) of which we imagine the fulfilment, while putting doubt
    at a distance._

“_Faith_ in a friend” means a _desire_ as well as a belief—that he will
do what you think he ought to do. “Faith” should never be used to
express a belief that something undesirable or wrong will happen, _e.g._
“I have great _faith_ that the boy will go wrong.” “Faith” in the
uniformity of Nature implies a desire that Nature should be uniform, and
a feeling that it is God’s will. In moments when we dread the uniformity
of Nature we should say that we have a “conviction” or “expectation” of
it, not that we have “faith” in it.

“Putting doubt at a distance is intended to include the different
degrees of faith: in the highest faith, the ‘distance’ is infinite.

“When ‘faith’ is said to be ‘shaken,’ we may mean that, though the
desire may remain, doubt is not ‘put at a distance;’ or that the
Conscience no longer approves of the desire; or that the desire itself
is weakened.”

                              xiv. Belief

    _Belief (when it is not used for Faith) means a sense, mixed with
    doubt, that the affirmations of our mind will harmonize with

                      xv. Certainty, or Conviction

    _Certainty, or Conviction, is a sense, unmixed with doubt, that the
    affirmations of our mind will harmonize with Experience._

                             xvi. Knowledge

    1. _Absolute knowledge, which is possessed by no man, would be an
    identity between our mental affirmations and those of the Creator;
    who knows all things in their Essence and Causes._

    2. _Knowledge (relative and ordinary) is (very often) a name loosely
    given to a harmony between our mental affirmations and the
    affirmations of the vast majority of those who have (or are thought
    by the majority to have) the best opportunities for observation and

    _It might be more usefully defined as those mental affirmations
    which harmonize with our nature and environment, i.e. with our
    spiritual and material experience._

                     xvii. Illusions and Delusions

    _Illusions are mental affirmations not harmonizing with immediate
    experience, but preparatory for absolute knowledge. Delusions are
    mental affirmations not harmonizing with experience, nor preparatory
    for absolute knowledge._

Footnote 41:

  Some might prefer “harmonize with experience _or with fact_.” But
  “harmony with _fact_” can _never_ be proved: you can only prove
  harmony with your experience, or with the general experience, of the
  fact; or with experience of what others say about the fact.



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).
    ○ Text that was in bold face is enclosed by equals signs (=bold=).
    ○ Footnotes have been moved to follow the letters in which they are

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