Alexander Henry Craufurd.

Recollections of James Martineau: with some letters from him and an essay on his religion online

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things these dim intimations of the soul might
constitute the matter of our highest knowledge ;
but they must take their form or shape to a great
extent from reason in its highest working. Even
if our spiritual instincts do in some cases behold,
as no other faculties can, the land which is very


far off, the reports that they give us, though full
of value as suggestions, are generally so vague
as to be almost unintelligible and well-nigh in-
operative. Consequently they need to be verified
by reason, just as the brilliant guesses of great
astronomers need to be verified by the use of the
telescope. If mysticism means exclusive or nearly
exclusive reliance on non-rational sources of
religious knowledge, the veteran Unitarian philo-
sopher was no mystic ; but if it only means reliance
on our highest spiritual faculties as absolutely
necessary coadjutors of reason, he certainly was
a convinced and unwavering mystic. He held
that our knowledge of God is partly direct and
partly indirect. He firmly believed and explicitly
declared that communion with God is just as much
a real fact as any of the ordinary experiences of
daily life.

This philosopher was unquestionably a ration-
alist in some ways, and yet he very much disliked
some forms of rationalism. He held that we ought
to render unto reason the things that legitimately
belong to it, and to spirit the things that legiti-
mately belong to spirit. If rationalism means
demanding from the soul that it shall at once
give proof of its cherished beliefs to the logical


understanding, Martineau was not a rationalist.
He thought that reason should have patience with
the soul and afford it ample time in which to make
good its assertions, and not precipitately seize
it by the throat with the imperious demand,
" Pay me that thou owest." No doubt our
spiritual nature owes it to reason to give some
explanation of its mystical teaching ; but this
must be given very gradually. The soul is quite
justified in saying to our logical faculty, " Have
patience with me, and I will pay thee all." The
abrupt intolerance of vulgar rationalism often
leads to deplorable results. Like the unwise
builders, it often peremptorily rejects the stone
which is destined to become " the head stone of
the corner." The intuitions of the soul some-
times perform a part in some ways resembling that
played by mathematical analysis in the search
for the unknown planet Neptune by Adams and
Leverrier. Strange and unfamiliar phenomena,
like the perturbations of Uranus, suggest the
existence of some mighty unknown agency
operating from a great distance. Certain " per-
turbations " in the half-explored regions of man's
higher life inevitably suggest the existence of
some great spiritual being of whose nature and


exact dwelling-place we are ignorant. Vulgar
rationalism at once demands that this great un-
known being should be rendered perceptible by
the telescope of formal ratiocination ; but wise
thinkers, acting like Adams and Leverrier, wait
patiently for further knowledge. The telescope
can be used effectively only at a later stage of our
investigations. We may well believe in God, as
a kind of mighty unknown Neptune, long before
we are able to prove His existence or point out
the chief sphere of His more immediate activity.
I suppose that almost all genuinely intellectual
men have in them a considerable amount of
natural scepticism ; and they usually give this
free play in some directions, whilst checking it in
others. Martineau habitually repressed his scepti-
cism in the region of the soul's loftiest life ; there
scepticism was dominated by admiring awe,
wonder, and reverence. Beauty and spiritual
nobleness, and not carping attorney-like logic,
were recognised as the appointed high priests of
that exalted world. But in the lower realms of
history my friend's scepticism, hungry after its
long and enforced fast, became vigorous and
highly aggressive. It sought to make up for what
it considered lost time, and devoured much to


which its title is very questionable. The wor-
shipping mystic of the " Hours of Thought on
Sacred Things " became the extreme and un-
sparing rationalist exhibited in " The Seat of
Authority in Religion." Confident in the secure
possession of what he thought to be the sacred
essence of true religion, this philosopher proceeded
with a light heart to demolish its ancient outer
courts. The faithful watchman over the citadel
of religion became a ruthless destroyer of its outer
fortifications. He burnt many of the supposed
title-deeds of Christianity, being well assured that
it is one of the original tenants of the heart of
man, holding its possessions by a direct grant
from God Himself. In some respects " The Seat
of Authority in Religion " is too sceptical and
destructive ; some of its conclusions are not likely
to be permanently accepted by careful and im-
partial students of the origins of Christianity. I
think also that my friend's austere ethical zeal
occasionally made him put a forced or non-natural
interpretation on some of the narratives or tra-
ditions of the New Testament. Thus he came to
identify the eminently sinful woman who washed
our Lord's feet with her tears, in the house of
Simon the Pharisee, with the devout and thought-


ful Mary of Bethany. This identification, by
diminishing sin, was congenial to Martineau's
ethical temper ; but, as a matter of history, it
seems far easier to believe that two separate events
have in some way been confused, and that the
notorious sinner ministered to Christ's needs on
one occasion, and the devout Mary of Bethany on
another occasion. The indignation of the Pharisee
at the approach of the sinful woman to Christ
would be perfectly unintelligible if she had only
been guilty of decent and respectable sins, such
as we can believe Mary of Bethany to have com-
mitted ; nor would any writer except one of
unusual ethical severity, such as Dr. Martineau,
expect such manifestations of profound contri-
tion and remorse from one whose sins had been
of a slight and venial kind. In this case the
ethical purist read himself into history.

I will now proceed to relate, so far as I can
remember them, some of my friend's conversations
with me about interesting people and subjects.

I remember well one conversation that we had
concerning the nature of religious faith. I told
my friend the old story of the schoolboy or school-
girl who denned faith as " the power we have of
still believing what we know to be untrue." He


laughed very heartily at this unintentionally
sarcastic definition ; and he declared that the
state of mind implied by it is a wholly impossible
one. In this opinion he was in full agreement
with the view of his old acquaintance, Dr. Thirl-
wall, Bishop of St. David's, who considered that
belief, as regards abstract or purely speculative
matters, is entirely involuntary, and therefore
looked on the " impious threats " — as he called
them — of the Athanasian creed as quite meaning-
less. I think, however, that many people really
have a power of believing in some degree what
they suspect to be untrue. Some men deliberately
suppress their doubts, and turn their thoughts
exclusively to such considerations as favour their
cherished convictions. Professor Huxley seems
habitually to have looked on religious faith as a
more or less discreditable state of mind, as a kind
of unwarranted prejudice, as an effect of intel-
lectual indolence. He regarded doubt as a kind
of beneficent demon sent to trouble the stagnant
waters of stupid conventionalism. Some doubt
unquestionably is of this sort. St. Augustine
thought that none really believe deeply save those
who have first doubted profoundly. Yet there
is also much truth in the teaching of Coleridge, who


declared that there never was a real faith in
Christ which did not in some measure expand the
intellect, whilst simplifying the desires. In moral
and spiritual matters Martineau certainly thought
that a man's character largely determines his
belief, that we must be pure in heart if we would
in any degree know God. On this subject he
agreed with Pascal that divine truths must to
some extent pass through our hearts on their way
into our intellects.

I talked to him once about Mr. Cotter Morison's
strange and repulsive book, " The Service of
Man " ; and he cordially agreed with me in think-
ing it a most inconsistent and illogical work. As
the author entirely denied to man any degree of
free will, his extreme severity towards sinners is
wholly unjustifiable. Why should we be blamed
for doing what we cannot help doing ? Huxley's
flat denial of free will was also a perpetual puzzle
to Dr. Martineau, coupled as it was with a claim
to use the ordinary language of moral censure
and approbation.

My teacher once told me that he had read the
whole of Wordsworth's writings. I confessed that
I found that poet at times very tedious and un-
interesting, whilst very greatly admiring his finer


poems. Dr. Martineau sympathised with me in
this matter, and he also thought that I was right
in my opinion that Coleridge had in some ways
a much higher imagination than Wordsworth.

We both agreed in having a profound admiration
for Pascal, from whose writings Martineau took a
very significant passage as a kind of motto to be
inscribed on the title-page of his " Endeavours
after the Christian Life." I said that I thought
that Pascal's intellect was of a very sceptical sort.
My friend said in reply that he thought so too,
but that he believed that the great Frenchman
would not be sceptical if he were to come back
to earth and live in these days. Modern know-
ledge would have removed his scepticism. I have
never been quite able to understand the meaning
of this remark . To me it seems that Pascal escaped
scepticism, so far as he did escape it, by partially
suppressing his intellect in favour of conscience
and his spiritual faculties ; that, like Cardinal
Newman, when he came to deal with religion, he,
to a great extent, inquired first what was good,
and only afterwards inquired what was true.

I once enjoyed a talk with Martineau about
Kingsley and Cardinal Newman and their cele-
brated controversy. He said that we ought


always to remember that, though brilliantly
versatile and interesting, Charles Kingsley was not
an exact or finished thinker. With this view I
cordially agreed, and I said that it would have
been far more satisfactory if the memorable con-
troversy with Newman had been conducted by
Thirlwall instead of by Kingsley. My friend and
I both thought that Kingsley was on the right side,
though he failed so signally in argument. Connop
Thirlwall we both considered to have been quite
equal to the great cardinal in dialectical skill,
though his style of writing had none of Newman's
rare beauty. Martineau knew the Bishop of St.
David's well during the meetings of the Meta-
physical Society, and he very much admired the
keenness and subtlety of his intellect. He
thought, as I think, that Thirlwall was head and
shoulders above every other Anglican prelate of
our generation, that he was a master of irony
as well as of reasoning, a disinterested lover of
discussion, a man who might well have been
numbered amongst the companions of Socrates.

With John Henry Newman Martineau had
some strong affinities, though their spiritual careers
were so widely different. Both were intensely
ethical ; both were inclined to severity in their


moral judgments ; both were profoundly spiritual
and imaginative ; both were somewhat Stoical ;
both were by nature typically English in their
love of intellectual honesty, though ecclesiasticism
slightly marred this quality in the cardinal ; both
were profound thinkers ; both had a style of
wonderful beauty and attractiveness ; both aban-
doned the form of religion in which they had
been brought up.

I have often very much regretted that I never
asked Dr. Martineau what he thought of Newman's
hard and inhuman view, that it would be better for
the whole world to perish after extreme agony
than for one single soul to commit even one most
slight and venial sin. My friend would indeed
have been "in a strait betwixt two," if he had
been called upon to decide in such a matter.
His great moral severity would have strongly
urged him to agree with Newman, whilst his
tender humanity would have swayed him in an
opposite direction. He was rather apt to regard
sin as gratuitous perverseness ; and this view
would have made the decision all the more

My teacher very much distrusted and disliked
the Hegelian system of philosophy. This was


inevitable, since Hegelianism tends to Pantheism
which Martineau abhorred, and it scarcely leaves
any real scope for free will, which was his most
cherished doctrine, one that he had not inherited,
but gained by the " great sum " of prolonged
labour and thought. All moral distinctions are
well-nigh meaningless in a Pantheistic system.
Conscience becomes, on that theory, nothing much
more than a kind of transitional or sectarian pre-
ference, a sort of provincial and unwarranted
fastidiousness, a kind of childish daintiness that
fails to appreciate a large portion of the rich
feast of life. Dr. Martineau told me that he had
read Hegel's " Philosophy of Religion " carefully,
and that he thought its teaching irreconcilable
with faith in any real future life. He said also
that in the last few days or weeks of his life the
late Thomas Hill Green, of Balliol, attained to a
belief in a real future existence, not as a result
of his Hegelianism, but by way of emergence from
it. He also informed me that he had had many
very warm arguments with his friend Professor
Upton about the Hegelian system. Martineau
thought that the professor conceded rather too
much to semi-Pantheistic views.

One conversation which I had with this Uni-


tarian philosopher was about Bishop Butler and
his writings. He thought that the famous
" Analogy of Religion " was a most terrible
persuasive to Atheism, though written with the
best and most orthodox intentions. He con-
sidered the fundamental idea of Butler's work
entirely fallacious. If God gives us a revelation,
we should not expect it to contain a repetition of
all the old difficulties involved in natural religion.
On the contrary, we should expect it to afford us
a real solution of many of those difficulties. The
fact that God has spoken to us in a somewhat
ambiguous or doubtful manner in Nature makes
it probable that He would speak to us more clearly,
if He gave us any revelation at all. To repeat a
message that has been misunderstood does not
seem a wise proceeding. To reduplicate darkness
is no real method of giving light. God's intention
in giving us a revelation was probably not merely
to convince us that it came from Him, but chiefly
to enlighten our ignorance by the manifestation
of higher and more satisfying truth. The fact
that men have found the exhibition of the divine
character in Nature unsatisfactory would lead
them to look for a widely different exhibition of
it in any subsequent revelation that might be


vouchsafed to them for their further guidance.
Moreover, it is certainly a dangerous thing to
form our final and permanent idea of the char-
acter and purposes of God from our earliest im-
pressions of Him. We do not judge a great
artist by the earlier stages of his work, but by the
finished beauty of his completed work. According
to the Bible itself God " winks at " stages of
moral crudity and barbarism which He by no
means admires or loves. He tolerates much
temporary evil for the sake of final and enduring
good. There is a real progressiveness in His
revelations of Himself. The apparent cruelty of
Nature and the manifest harshness of Judaic
religion are not incompatible with a final reign of
pity and love. Dean Mansel was quite wrong
when he argued that, because there is some in-
curable suffering and evil here in this life, there
will be a vast amount of suffering and evil in-
curable to all eternity in the future life. On
the contrary, it seems far more reasonable to hold
that God puts up with transient evil in great
measure because He knows how to bring out of it
eventual good of the highest sort.

It never can be wise to undermine the founda-
tions of a building that we wish to be permanent.


Revealed religion must necessarily be built on
faith in God and our own faculties. Bishop Butler
did not seek, as many seek, to discredit reason ;
but he did to a considerable extent undermine
the foundations of the higher sort of religion in
another way. He threw discredit on God, though
not on our human faculties. He implicitly denied
in great measure that God is likely to transcend
that very imperfect delineation of His character
which Nature gives us. He assumed that, though
revelation might be vastly increased in volume,
it would always continue to move on the same
lines. There was something of the Deistic temper
in this great enemy of the Deists. He wrote as
if he thought that God had irrevocably committed
Himself to certain modes of action which char-
acterised His earlier activities ; as if these for
ever limited the sphere of His nascent spontanei-
ties ; as if they adequately expressed the full
richness of his inner being ; as if hopeful and
aspiring souls were wrong in thinking that the
Creator is far greater than any of His works as
yet disclosed to us ; as if these yearning spirits
were wrong in declaring that " the half was not
told them," when contrasting the tantalising
revelations of niggardly Nature with the glorious


fulness of the divine love as disclosed to us by
Jesus and His disciples.

I believe that James Martineau was right in
holding that Bishop Butler's teaching might well
lead to practical Atheism in logical and daring
minds. If the course of Nature is anything ap-
proaching to an adequate revelation of the char-
acter of God, He cannot be what we call good,
unless He is extremely limited in power. And,
if God were not good, we could not rely on any
message from Him ; for it might be untrue or
mendacious. It is only when we supplement the
revelations of Nature by those given in the soul
of man that we arrive at anything like a satis-
factory idea of God. Man is the true Shekinah.
But alas ! Butler, like most thinkers of his age, was
much tainted by Deistic ideas of human nature.
He knew not the greatness of man as Pascal
knew it. The latent infinity and the unceasing
progressiveness of man's nature were hidden from
his eyes. To a stationary and unaspiring humanity
a stationary and fettered God, who could scarcely
do more than constantly repeat His earlier efforts,
might seem acceptable. A semi-mechanical God
might suit a semi-mechanical race of men. But
as our race gradually developed in moral, spiritual,


and emotional capacity and elevation, it became
needful that its God, or its conception of God,
should also expand. A more tender and merciful
humanity cried aloud for a more tender and
merciful divinity. God's revelation of Himself to
Moses or to Calvin became quite obsolete and
unsatisfying to Thomas Erskine of Linlathen or
Frederick Denison Maurice. Some at least of
what were formerly regarded as permanent ele-
ments of the divine character had to be finally
abandoned. Whilst waiting patiently for further
light, saintly spirits, conscious by sad experience
of the futility of the law, longed for the gospel.
They wished for no repetition of the thunderings
on Mount Sinai, but rather for a superseding of
them. They knew that natural law concealed
or veiled quite as much as it revealed of the heart
of God. They believed that the heart of God
had great surprises in store for His children, that
they were not for ever " straitened " in Him, but
only in themselves and their poor thoughts. Con-
vinced that they were the children of His abiding
Love, whilst Nature is only His external and ever-
varying vesture, prophet souls, wasted by long
watching for some satisfying evangel, cast them-
selves down in thought at the feet of the Eternal


Father, and cried, like one of old, " Oh that Thou
wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest
come down, that the mountains might flow down
at Thy presence."

Thus does the progressive soul's sublime faith
in God's half-realised love cause it to endeavour
to remove the stern mountains of God's transient
revelations, which have in course of time become
little better than a prison-house or a barrier to
larger knowledge.

Bishop Butler was an honest and careful re-
ligious inquirer ; but he could not transcend the
spirit of his age. The main teaching of his
" Analogy " joins together important truth and
repellent errors. It is true that Nature gives us
much instruction of permanent value as to our
Creator's mind ; but it is not true that it gives
us much abiding or final knowledge of His moral
character and His heart. The ancient heavens
declare God's supreme intellectual glory, but they
are powerless either to reveal or to restrict His
infinite pity.

Butler's teaching as to the abiding significance
of God's revelation of Himself in the course of
Nature is not in harmony with the teaching of
the Bible. Christ deliberately declared that much


of the world's earlier moral wisdom was only pro-
visional and destined to be superseded. The
teaching of Moses and the law was only of transient
value. In Nature, as in the law, God spoke to
men roughly for a time, because their hearts were
not yet prepared to receive more gracious and
more human religion. Christ's final appeal was
not to external Nature, nor yet to God's provi-
dential government as conceived by earlier ages,
but to the essentially progressive soul of man, in
which alone could be adequately mirrored the real
glory of the divine love. Our true warrant for
believing in God's unfailing and tender fatherhood
is given us in those deeply significant and con-
solatory words of our Master, " If ye, then, being
evil, know how to give good gifts unto your
children, how much more shall your Father which
is in heaven give good things to them that ask
Him ! " For such as have pondered over the pro-
found meaning of those great and emancipating
words of our Redeemer, the timid and unbelieving
thoughts so often suggested by Nature's apparent
cruelty have lost their power to discourage and
depress. Such spirits know well that God's
permanent feelings and purposes towards His
struggling children are far more adequately ex-


pressed in the "still small voice" of our inex-
pugnable and inexhaustible human compassion
than in the winds and earthquakes of Nature's
threatening sternness.

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews was not
in harmony with the author of the " Analogy of
Religion " as to the relative value of God's earlier
and later revelations of Himself. " God, who at
sundry times and in divers manners spake in time
past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in
these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom
He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom
also He made the worlds." And the writer goes
on to call Christ " the brightness of God's glory
and the express image of His person." God's
revelation of Himself has been very gradual, and
it culminated in the person of Jesus. God kept
the " good wine " of really satisfying spiritual
knowledge till men had well drunk of the inferior
wine of merely provisional truth. Personality
can only be adequately revealed in and through
a person. A true son is needed to reveal a true
father. To those searching vainly in the be-
wildering labyrinths of Nature for real and
coherent knowledge of their Creator's character
Jesus for ever cries : "I am the way, and the


truth, and the life ; no man cometh unto the
Father but by Me." In Nature God gives us
merely a rehearsal or a prelude, and not the soul-
satisfying music of His serene and mellow wisdom.
Physical evolution, with all its savage sternness
and unending strife, was but a preparation for
moral evolution. With regard to its teaching we

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Online LibraryAlexander Henry CraufurdRecollections of James Martineau: with some letters from him and an essay on his religion → online text (page 3 of 12)