Alexander Henry Craufurd.

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

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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 5 of 12)
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past times done good service by contending for
freedom of thought and by preaching " the larger
hope " for our race. We all owe them a great debt


in some ways. But their emotional and spiritual
dryness is sometimes almost intolerable. Their
souls often seem to have been swallowed up in
their reasoning faculties, and formality seems to
have withered all fresh and genial spontaneity of
heart and spirit.

In many ways Evangelicalism was congenial to
Martineau. The hymns of Charles Wesley ap-
pealed to him strongly, and the plaintive tender-
ness which breathed in those of., the forlorn
Cowper penetrated his inmost soul. In Evan-
gelical religion this devout Unitarian found that
enthusiasm in which writers of his own denomi-
nation were for the most part grievously deficient.
Moreover, this religion provided a real gospel such
as could scarcely be found elsewhere. The for-
giveness which it offered repentant sinners and
outcasts was a more complete one than any
offered either by Deists or by High Church
Anglicanism. This religion loved sinners as
hardly any other religion loved them. Its
Christ had a real human heart full of fathom-
less pity. In His wounds all man's stains and
sorrows might hide themselves. The apparently
irreparable past could be dealt with and modified.
Though men might have destroyed themselves,



their help was still in God. The pressure of that
ethical fatalism which binds a man to his evil
past was much lightened. This religion was
essentially hopeful, knowing that, like its divine
Master, it had power on earth to forgive sins.
Unitarianism and High Church religion were at
once less encouraging and less affectionate to
sinners ; they passed by in despair many a
wounded wanderer whom Evangelicalism effectu-
ally consoled and aided. Low Church divines
really exercised that sacred power of loosing men
from their sins which others only talked about.
The Church might ostentatiously rattle its divine
keys ; but it was left for despised Evangelicals
to lead men out of their moral captivity. These
comparatively unintellectual teachers alone un-
derstood the true secret of moral resurrection
and redemption. They alone dared to whisper
into the ears of despondent penitents that old
invigorating promise of God : "I will restore to
you the years that the locust hath eaten ; "
" None of his sins that he hath committed shall
be mentioned unto him." Religion of this pro-
foundly sympathetic, tender, and most hopeful
sort supplied to Martineau a much-needed anti-
dote to the old poison of Deism which still lurked


in his spirit. It disclosed to his sorrowing eyes
measureless depths of divine pity in the Creator,
of which his old creed knew little or nothing. It
finally broke the fetters of his old oppressive
Necessitarianism. Man can do all things "through
Christ who strengtheneth him."

Nor was my friend wrong in supposing that
this finer kind of Evangelicalism is essentially in
harmony with the best Broad Church teaching.
That passionate and plaintive pity which poured
itself forth in Cowper's hymns was a true prelude
of the immortal strains of joy in God's universal
victory over sorrow and sin which the serene
optimism of Erskine of Linlathen was destined to
pour forth in later days. The whole theology of
Erskine was already latent in Cowper's well-
known hymn, " Hark, my soul, it is the Lord."
The absoluteness of the divine love was revealed
to the sad and baffled poet : its universality was
revealed to the spiritual father of the Broad
Church party in our days. The best Liberal
religion in our time is but the finer kind of Evan-
gelicalism come to itself, realising the full import
of its own most important doctrines. Cowper
sowed in tears what Thomas Erskine reaped in
joy. The old Evangelical religion chiefly needed


to get rid of its Judaism. It needed a great
apostle to the Gentiles to deliver it from narrow-
ness, to teach it that God's purpose is to redeem
humanity at large. In its best phases it has now
been broadened ; its heart has been enlarged, and
it stands forth before our admiring eyes as a kind
of modern Paul emancipated from the fetters of
his old Rabbinism.

Though Dr. Martineau delighted in some forms
of Evangelical religion, and though he admired
and loved Luther's personality without approv-
ing of his whole creed, he did not at all like Cal-
vinism. The Rev. John Watson is quite mis-
taken in his opinion that my revered friend owed
much to Calvin. This opinion is expressed in
the Hibbert Journal for January 1903. On the
contrary, Martineau disliked Calvinism ex-
tremely, and was not attracted by the personality
of its great exponent. Whilst readily owning
that many Calvinists have been good men, and
that their creed has in some circumstances a
certain bracing — though hardening — quality, he
yet considered this form of religion an enemy to
man's best ethical and spiritual life. And that
he should hold this opinion was a natural conse-
quence of his own past development. In Cal-


vinism he recognised the ghost of that old de-
pressing Necessitarianism, from which he had
suffered so much in his earlier years. He con-
sidered that both these forms of belief are hostile
to ethics. Both deny that doctrine of free will
which was to Martineau as the very apple of his
eye. I remember well a conversation with him
on these matters in which he said how much he
preferred the teaching of the greater Roman
Catholic writers to that of the Calvinists, because
the former recognised the value of natural re-
ligion, whilst the latter did not ; because the
former founded itself ultimately on reason and
conscience, whereas the latter, by its exaggerated
doctrine as to the total depravity of man's nature,
put a stigma of spiritual incompetence on all our
higher faculties. To an ardently ethical nature
like that of Martineau Calvinism might well seem
in one respect even worse than Necessitarianism,
because the former positively slighted or dis-
paraged absolute morality by resolving it into
the mere will of God, whilst the latter simply
made it unattainable to man, without pronouncing
any opinion as to its intrinsic nature. The latter
creed made morality impossible for us ; the former
made it meaningless for the whole creation.


Theologically also my friend considered the
Calvinistic creed in some ways worse than the
practically Atheistic. He thought that it gave
us a morally objectionable God instead of a non-
existent or inoperative one. Fate might make
us in such a fashion that we could not attain real
goodness ; but it did not punish us for ever in
consequence of our necessitated moral failure ;
but the Calvinistic Creator first made us incapable
of holiness, and then proceeded to inflict on us
eternal tortures for an incapacity which was our
misfortune rather than our fault.

Calvinism of the ordinary sort is very unaccept-
able to two classes of souls, the intensely sym-
pathetic and the devotedly ethical. And so
Oliver Wendell Holmes called it " heart-wither-
ing," and James Martineau looked on it with dis-
gust. John Wesley also very much disliked it.
His mission was to redeem men from their sins by
a full exhibition of the divine love ; and, in order
to accomplish that sacred object, it was absolutely
necessary to teach that God loved all men and
that Christ died for the whole human race,
whereas Calvinism declared that He only died for
the elect. It is difficult to understand how any
really sane and reflecting Christian can in these


days hold the Calvinistic faith. If the Bible
teaches anything with unmistakable plainness, it
teaches that Christ loved all men and died for all
men. Wesley's more rational and more benignant
creed must have enabled him to deal with many
wandering souls which would only have been
repelled and perplexed by the narrower and
sterner views of Whitfield.

St. Paul's Calvinism was of a very different sort
from that of Augustine and the great theologian
of Geneva. It is rather strange that Augustine
so completely misunderstood the views of the
illustrious apostle to the Gentiles ; for he was a
man of real genius, endowed with a vivid imagina-
tion and much passionate human feeling. Calvin,
on the other hand, seems to have been a kind of
frigid incarnation of the logical understanding.
His misconception of Pauline theology affords an
excellent illustration of the essential truth of
Emerson's saying, " There is no doctrine of the
reason which will bear to be taught by the under-
standing." Calvinism gives us the rind of St.
Paul's theology without its inner kernel of mean-
ing. It gives us the harsh and prickly bur of
Absolutism without the inner seed of inescapable
predestinating love for humanity at large. It


confounds deferred salvation with final reproba-
tion and rejection. It registers Paul's transi-
ent pessimistic utterances, whilst ignoring his
triumphant songs of broad-hearted universalistic
optimism. It forgets how many-chambered, how
impetuous, and how progressive was the deep and
brooding mind of the apostle. To a great extent
it has consecrated his darkness and ignored or
anathematised his light ; it has carefully pre-
served his tentative crudities of thought, whilst
neglecting his pro founder and mellower wisdom.
Enamoured of his baffled and imperfect logic, it
has forgotten the marvellous revelations of his
passionate human heart, that tender and sensitive
heart which gave us the incomparable portrayal
of charity, and which loved its converts even
when they gave no love in return, that fiery and
self-sacrificing heart which exclaimed so vehe-
mently, in the very spirit of Jesus Himself, " I
could wish myself accursed from Christ for my
brethren's sake." Calvinism was in truth a kind
of petrified Paulinism, or, at the very best, it pre-
sents us with a striking instance of arrested

St. Paul's theology appears to have started
from his intellect and to have been gradually en-


riched, broadened, vivified, and mellowed by the
full development of his heart and soul. For him
the divine Absolutism was at first an Absolutism
of mere self-will ; but it was gradually trans-
formed into one of reason and love. The Jew
began Paul's religion ; but the Gentile perfected
it. The omnific despot became the all-pervading
reason and the all-embracing love. A kind of
Christian Pantheism superseded the old narrow-
ness of Judaism. The apostle's mind was indeed
gloriously emancipated from its old fetters. It
was like the genie emerging from the bottle in
the ancient Arabian story. It left Judaea and
soared up into heaven. There it found some
solution of earth's hopeless riddles. The heavenly
or ideal and universal man interpreted the per-
plexing enigma of the discordant earthly man.
Christ was a type and a fore-gleam of a universal
humanity made perfect.

The chief mistake of ordinary Calvinism is that
it is too precipitate in inferring or interpreting the
purposes of God. It sees the vessel marred in the
potter's hands, and at once concludes that he
will never shape it into anything fair and useful.
But, as Bishop Butler taught, God is majestically
slow and gradual in His operations. He has all


eternity in which to train our spirits. Calvinism
confounds God's terrestrial decrees with His
cosmical decrees, His temporary arrangements
with His eternal purposes. It is too short-sighted
in its outlook. It does not understand that the
Creator may cast away some of His creatures for
a time, with a view to their spiritual education
and also to the benefit of others. It knows not
that the forlorn castaways of one age or dispensa-
tion may be the Sons of Consolation of another.
It sees finality where there is none. It fails to
appreciate the deep significance of the solidarity
of souls. It imagines that the elect, the first-
fruits of our race, are chosen and glorified en-
tirely for their own sake or for the pleasure of
their Creator ; and it forgets that they have a
sublime mission to other souls, that they are ideals
realised for a benevolent purpose, that they are in
very deed the first-born among many brethren.

If St. Augustine and Calvin had read Plato,
they might have formed a wiser and more ade-
quate conception of the relation of this life to a
future one in another world. The vision of Er
the son of Armenius at the end of the "Republic"
of Plato gives us some pregnant hints on this
subject. A great multitude of souls in another


world are seen to choose the nature of their future
existence by drawing lots. And, in making their
selection, great use is made of past earthly ex-
perience with its failures and its sorrows. This
experience makes its possessors deliberate and
careful in their choice, whereas others who have
not this experience are more precipitate. Thus
in some cases the last become first and the first
last. The reprobate become elect, and the elect
become reprobate. Deferred salvation proves in
some cases to be a greater and more satisfying
thing than immediate or speedy salvation. Out
of earth's failures are fashioned heaven's successes;
mundane sinners become the saints of the cosmos.
The splendid vision of Er the son of Armenius
is very much in harmony with the teaching of
Robert Browning.

Returning now from this digression made in
vindication of my teacher's dislike of ordinary
Calvinism, I may as well observe that Martineau's
jealous regard for the doctrine of free will made
him rather unwilling to notice the many facts of
life which seem to favour belief in a kind of modi-
fied or humanised Calvinism. A belief in fate of
some sort appears to be natural to man and in
harmony with observed facts. In Greek thought


fate was a dark and mysterious power which was
superior to all the highly anthropomorphic
divinities, a kind of sombre, non-human, and im-
palpable force which brooded over the whole
cosmos. The gods might be pacified, but fate
was implacable and absolutely inexorable. It
very much limited the range of free will in man.
Like demoniacal possession amongst the Jews, it
sometimes almost sported with men, and made
them act in a way contrary to their trained char-
acters. In modern times fate assumes the garb
of heredity. In his essay on Fate, Emerson
brings out plainly enough the terrible agency of
this subtle and hidden enemy of human freedom.
He says, " How shall a man escape from his
ancestors, or draw off from his veins the black
drop which he drew from his father's or his
mother's life ? It often appears in a family as
if all the qualities of the progenitors were potted
in several jars — some ruling quality in each son
or daughter of the house — and sometimes the
unmixed temperament, the rank unmitigated
elixir, the family vice, is drawn off in a separate
individual, and the others are proportionally

James Martineau had so thoroughly realised by


experience the many evils of Necessitarianism
that he disliked to look in the face any view
or truth that seemed likely to bring back that
depressing creed. The pessimism of Thomas
Hardy's novels was very uncongenial to him.
He could not endure to think that the heavenly
powers in any way sport with us as Hardy de-
clared that they did with his unfortunate heroine,
Tess. In this I believe that Martineau was right ;
but he also inclined to ignore the scientific teach-
ing as to heredity. He was too much inclined
practically to regard each man as the sole manu-
facturer of his own character. An exaggerated
idea of free will combined with lingering Deism
to make my friend unduly jealous of all outside
interference with the soul's internal and spon-
taneous development. I cannot recall a single
passage in his writings in which any recognition
is shown of the very obvious truth that some un-
fortunate beings are manifestly predestined to
evil here on earth, are born with such vehement
propensities to sin, endowed with such weak and
defective volitional power, and reared and edu-
cated amidst such extremely unfavourable sur-
rounding circumstances, that they inevitably
turn out vicious to a great extent, and could not


possibly be virtuous except by the intervention
of a miracle. The late W. R. Greg thoroughly
appreciated this melancholy and significant truth ;
and he sympathised so strongly with these forlorn
sinners predestined on earth to moral destruction
that he declared boldly that they had a special
claim for pity and compensation in another
world ; that, paradoxical though it may sound,
many of those least fitted for heaven had yet the
greatest and strongest claim to be admitted into
it. These utterly abortive lives seem to demand
a sequel elsewhere more imperiously than any
successful ones. As John Stuart Mill remarked,
"It is hard to die without having ever truly

The essentially solitary spirit of Unitarian re-
ligion naturally tends to make its adherents a
little blind to many of the facts that favour a
kind of Augustinianism. They often underrate
the moral and spiritual power of our environ-
ment and the force of social influences. In order
to preserve intact strict individual responsibility,
Unitarian thinkers often run a very real risk of
seriously impoverishing our higher life. They
restrain sympathy, lest it should invade the sacred
territory of free will. They want each man to do


everything for himself in the moral world. They
preserve individuality from the pollution of
foreign influence ; but they forget that, if kept in
undue isolation, the rust and moth are sure to
corrupt it, that in this as in so many other senses,
" He that keepeth his life shall lose it." They
sometimes ignore the truth that we must trade
with our talents, that spiritual isolation is spiritual
torpor or death, that the branch cannot bear fruit
of itself, that in some ways we must be invaded
in order to become adequately free. In some
respects the ethical wisdom of the more arid sort
of Unitarianism seems to me rather like that of
the timid and conscientiously scrupulous servant
who hid his talent in a napkin. Its napkin
is a kind of unenthusiastic and unsympathetic

I believe that this excessive regard for our own
free will is really injurious. We must go forth
from self and touch the hem of the garments of
natures higher than our own if we would indeed
be saved. God forbid that we should seek to
retain the abject poverty of our meagre individual-
istic freedom. Our free will must be suspended
occasionally for a time in order that it may be
permanently enlarged and strengthened. Some-


times angels come and " smite us on the side,"
and break our chains of inherited limitations,
and we resent their interference and hug our
fancied freedom. It frequently happens that the
new motives for a higher life must come to us
from others. We must to some extent renounce
our individuality and be grafted into the larger
life of our race. The spirit of Jesus must in
some measure replace our old narrow and self-
seeking spirits. Nor need we timidly shrink
from this partial incorporation into a grander
whole. Our freedom will emerge again, as some
impetuous stream flows forth again from some
vast lake in which it has been lost for a time.
" If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye
shall be free indeed."

I do not think that Martineau was ever com-
pletely at home amongst the abounding para-
doxes of intensely vivid emotional and spiritual
life. In some of his moods of mind he appears to
be amongst the class which F. W. Newman called
the once-born as contrasted with the twice-born.
The realms of passionate feeling were not to him
his native land. He understood the world's
sages better than he understood its heroes.
St. Augustine must often have perplexed and


even repelled him. He held with the serene
Wordsworth that " the Gods approve the depth
and not the tumult of the soul." His was an
austere soul which had been disciplined into
sympathy. His native land was the land of
purity rather than the land of love. Imagina-
tion also was in him of far later growth than
reasoning. When confronted with the inherent
paradoxes of man's self-contradictory nature
and the morality-transcending mysteries of the
Kingdom of God, he was often a little too in-
clined to ask, " How can these things be ? "
He relied perhaps rather too exclusively on
his ethical intuitions. He did not know how
large a part of them was transitional, that they
also needed to be " born again."

For my part, I quite believe that a modified
Calvinism has in it more elements of truth than
my friend was ready to concede to it. In my
book called " Christian Instincts and Modern
Doubt " I wrote thus some years ago : " All
really vivid and influential Theism ever tends
towards Augustinianism. Pelagianism believes
only in a kind of absentee Creator. No Arminian
ever wrought a great moral or spiritual revolution.
Inspired men see and feel God everywhere. He


truly is the one only living and substantial reality,
compared with which all other forms of life are
but fugitive and phantasmal unrealities." In
this passage I expressed my meaning rather care-
lessly — John Wesley was certainly an Arminian.
What I meant to say was that no Pelagian ever
worked a great moral and spiritual revolution.
All the deepest piety regards itself as only an
instrument in the hands of God. It disowns all
claims to personal merit. For itself and its kins-
men it ever cries, " Not unto us, O Lord, not unto
us, but unto Thy name give the praise." And
in this song of self-abasing religious humility the
sceptical Emerson was willing to join with heart
and soul. He looked upon our whole higher life
as a kind of perpetual receiving. We are but
vehicles to receive the inspiration of the Over-
Soul. He thoroughly agreed with the Augus-
tinian teaching of John : "A man can receive
nothing, except it be given him from heaven."

Profoundly though I dislike what is commonly
called Calvinism, there are yet two out of the
five points of that creed which seem to me to
contain manifest truth ; I mean the doctrines of
irresistible grace and of final perseverance. I
believe that in some cases divine grace really is


irresistible, that it pours itself into the soul with
such force as to bear down all opposition, that
God saves men in spite of the resistance of their
lower nature. I do not think that this temporary
suspension of free will occurs in what we may
call normal instances of conversion ; but I believe
that it does occur in some rare and exceptional
instances. God so floods some souls with light
that they cannot help seeing things as they really
are ; He draws some souls so strongly that they
cannot help going to Him. Martineau did not
share my opinions on this subject. He regarded
them as rather dangerous. His jealousy for un-
impaired free will made him dislike them. And
yet it appears to me that these opinions are almost
necessarily involved in the belief in the final
complete victory of the divine goodness, which
my friend certainly did hold. Otherwise God's
merciful purpose towards our race might in some
cases be thwarted by the perverse power of the
obstinate human will. I do not think that the
Most High bestows on any of His creatures a
kind of delegated and separate omnipotence of
resistance. The belief that God will shrink from
any process necessary to overcome the foolish
obstinacy of His creatures is not, I think, a


cautious and sober-minded Christian belief,
though it usually passes for such. In reality,
this unbelieving belief is but a poor futile ghost
of the old inoperative Deistic creed which ignored
the abiding immanence of God in man, which
represented God's connection with the creation
as precarious and not essential, which imagined
that He made the universe as a man might make
a machine, and then looked on with placid in-
difference, and " saw it go."

Moreover, the way in which we are permitted
to a very great extent to shape and mould the
wills of our neighbours, and sometimes even to
invade and almost transform their inner person-

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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 5 of 12)