Alexander Henry Craufurd.

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

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ality, seems to indicate that God has no very
jealous regard for the barren autonomy and
sterile self-sufficiency of each separate will.
Which of us would scruple to cast devils out of
our neighbour's heart, even though he might
greatly love those devils ? Now, here on earth,
spiritual magnetism is an indisputable reality
greatly influencing and modifying free will.
Why, then, should it cease in another life ?
When the Good Shepherd carries lost sheep in
his arms, against their wishes, out of the city of
destruction or away from the dangerous preci-


pices of arid mountains, I think that he may very
well be pardoned for his temporary disregard of
the sacred rights of personal freedom. After all,
the difference between Martineau's views on this
subject and those of a modified Calvinism are
only differences of degree. The Unitarian philo-
sopher confessed that some measure of divine
grace is indispensable for the salvation of the
soul, whilst the Augustinian theologians owned
that at some stage of the process, though not
necessarily throughout the whole process, some
measure of genuine assent and conscious co-
operation is necessary. As St. Bernard wisely
remarked, " If you take away grace, there remains
no means of salvation ; if you take away free
will, there is nothing left to be saved."

The Deistic desire to limit the operations of
divine and semi-miraculous grace in the con-
version of the soul reminds one of an old story
concerning the King of France and the Jesuits
during the controversy that raged about the
supposed miracles that occurred in the famous
monastic establishment at Port Royal. These
reputed miracles, supposed to be wrought as a
kind of divine testimony in favour of the Jansen-
ists, so annoyed and irritated the King that he


wished, if possible, to suppress them ; and some
witty person, in ridicule of his wish, proposed to
put up a notice in Port Royal to this effect : " On
the part of the King it is forbidden to God to
work miracles in this place."

Dr. Martineau gave up belief in God's absolute
foreknowledge, as he considered it inconsistent
with the real freedom of the human will. Very
probably he was right in this, though one cannot
feel quite certain ; and at any rate God's abnega-
tion of complete foreknowledge of human actions
only applies to a small portion of those actions,
and not to the whole of them. Professor W.
James, of Harvard, in his interesting work, " The
Will to Believe, and Other Essays," rather
diminishes our perplexity on this matter by a
very admirable simile. He compares God's re-
lation to man with that of an expert in the game
of chess to a novice in the same game. The
expert does not know beforehand exactly what
moves the novice will make ; but he does know
all the moves that he can make, and is already
prepared to deal with him accordingly, so that
the final ending is certain enough. This view of
Professor James is quite in harmony with that of
Martineau, who considered that God knew before-


hand all the open possibilities in the case of the
human soul, all the various courses that it could
possibly take.

My friend would never agree with me as to the
other Augustinian or Calvinistic doctrine that I
hold, the final perseverance of the saints. I be-
lieve that he considered this doctrine false and
dangerous. Yet, when reasonably stated and
limited, I believe that there is much truth in it.
No doubt, a converted man may relapse into gross
sin ; but still I hold that one whose eyes have
once been opened to discern the intrinsic glory of
true religion can never become utterly irreligious.
He may wallow in sin for a time, but he cannot
lose the religious sense. He may sin with David ;
but he cannot mock with Voltaire or sneer with
Gibbon. Possibly St. Augustine might have re-
lapsed into his former sensuality ; but he never
could have forgotten the heavenly vision ; he
never could have become a David Hume or a
Comte. The creed of Materialism had also be-
come for ever impossible to him ; neither could
he ever truly rest in evil.

Dr. Martineau's repudiation of the doctrine of
the perseverance of the saints appears to me to
have one very awkward consequence. It seems


to deprive heaven of its chief charm to weary
and baffled spirits like that of Cardinal Newman.
If the reality of free will now necessarily implies
the possibility of complete relapse into sinfulness,
why should it not do the same in the next world ?
And yet Newman declared that the entire cessa-
tion of all painful moral efforts was to him an
indispensable element of the heaven for which he
yearned ; and if in heaven no such efforts were
required, it is difficult to believe that there could
then be any real risk of relapse. Perhaps my
friend would have replied that in heaven the soul
would have its trials and difficulties, but that
they would not be of quite the same sort as those
encountered on earth. It might have tempta-
tions to sink to a somewhat lower level, and yet
be exempt from all temptations to gross evil.
Thus free will might be preserved almost intact,
and at the same time the soul might be safe as
regards any great or irretrievable relapse. I
believe that Martineau considered liability to sin
much more inseparably linked with the possi-
bility of moral goodness than it really is. He did
not seem to believe that choice between a variety
of alternatives, all of which were good, would
suffice for the requirements of free will. Thus on


page 349 of the first volume of " The Life and
Letters of James Martineau," in a letter written
in 1853, we meet with the following startling
statement : " We deceive ourselves by talking of
human frailty as if it were an attribute of our
race exclusively, and would be escaped by going
out into higher natures. Surely liability to sin
must attach to all beings capable of a moral life
and invested with a holy trust at all ; and a bad
angel must be just as possible as a wicked man.
The possibilities of unfaithfulness can never be
shut out so long as you remain in that realm of
free will, beyond which faithfulness and un-
faithfulness alike disappear."

I confess that I cannot understand this passage.
It seems to declare either that God has no moral
life or else that He is liable to sin. Is there
absolutely no scope for His volitional energy in a
multitude of possibilities all of which are good ?
Is evil indispensable to disperse that stagnant
monotonous calm in which volition is impossible ?
Does heaven need a slight infusion of hell to give
it a flavour and so evoke a preference ? Why
may we not locate the needful irritant or quick-
ener called evil outside God ? Why may we not
imagine Him as an all-good " man of war " con-


tending with a resisting wickedness that is
powerless to affect His own interior life ? John
Stuart Mill considered that belief in a good God
of somewhat restricted power is a morally in-
vigorating creed.

It also appears to me that, if we depict to our-
selves any of the divine faculties, such as free
will, operating in just the same way that similar
faculties operate in ourselves, we become liable to
the attacks which Mr. Herbert Spencer makes on
Theism. That great Agnostic is, I imagine, quite
right in declaring that consciousness and delibe-
rate choice in God cannot be just like the same
or similar processes in us. They must be ex-
tremely different in some ways in an omniscient
being endowed with almost boundless power.

It is interesting to notice the fact that the
myriad-minded Plato at one time held a doctrine
very like the Calvinistic one as to the final per-
severance of the saints. In his dialogue called
" Phaedrus " he makes Socrates say, " Those who
have once begun the heavenward pilgrimage
may not go down again to darkness and the
journey beneath the earth, but they live in light

I never had much conversation with Dr.



Martineau about the doctrine of Evolution ; but
it is evident that he accepted it with some needful
modifying reservations. He perceived plainly
that Evolution is a process, and not properly a
force or power. He also believed that the
creation of every soul involved a new exercise
of divine power. He thought, like Dr. Alfred
Russel Wallace, that the evolutionary process
needed fresh assistance at certain critical stages,
that the highest forms of life are not a mere de-
velopment of lower ones. Dr. Russel Wallace
thinks that there was a hitch in the process
when the organic arose out of the inorganic.
Martineau was rather in doubt about this, but he
thoroughly agreed with Wallace in holding that
there was certainly a hitch when sensation or
consciousness first appeared, and a still greater
hitch when man appeared with his characteristic
moral endowments. He entirely dissented from
the doctrine of Darwin and Mr. Herbert Spencer
that man's moral intuitions are a mere develop-
ment of animal feelings and instincts. In this
opinion I am convinced that he was right. Evolu-
tion, reasonably interpreted, does not mean that
there is nothing in the final product that was not
in the primal germ. This is not true even of


plants. The environment contributes much to
the final result ; and this is far more true of
psychical evolution than of physical. God besets
man behind and before, and touches to fine issues
all his highest nascent faculties. We must not
interpret the doctrine of Evolution in a Deistic
way. We must not forget or ignore the agency
of the immanent God. Conscience in its highest
forms cannot possibly be a mere defecation of
animal feelings. It may have been reared in the
lowly manger of man's natural affections ; but
we must look elsewhere for its source or ultimate

I imagine that in some ways the doctrine of
Evolution was congenial to Martineau's mind,
and in other ways rather uncongenial. To his
intellect, when reasonably interpreted, it was not
unwelcome ; but to his intensely refined moral
and spiritual nature it must always have been
a little trying. The close relationship which it
sought to establish between the highest and the
lowest in man was startling and a little repulsive.
It was not pleasant to think that conscience had
such low-born and coarse relations, even though
they were not full brothers or sisters. These
coarse relations might seem to deprive conscience


of a little of its ancient prestige. It was almost
as if the glorious fontal Ideas of the Platonic
philosophy were alleged to be very near relatives
of low and incurably debased matter, or as if
the mysterious Melchisedek were proved to be
partly of plebeian origin. On the other hand,
my friend's fastidious ethical purity might in-
stinctively welcome Evolution as a sort of scape-
goat bearing away some of the supposed moral
limitations of the Creator and many very real
offences of erring humanity. If the creature
were made subject to vanity and error " not
willingly," the foulness and baseness of human
sinfulness would be lessened. Still, free will
would necessarily be somewhat limited in its
range, and that limitation was not acceptable to

Perhaps we may say that the doctrine of Evolu-
tion suggests a closer natural connection between
spirit and matter than the earlier philosophers
were willing to allow. Perhaps it gives to God's
vesture a deeper and more permanent significance
than it formerly had. Perhaps things material
are types, shadows, or preludes of things spiritual.
Perhaps the inertness and grovelling lowness of
matter in some of its forms are not an aboriginal


characteristic of it, but only a result of a kind of
fall, just as the rags and squalor of the prodigal
son were not the expression of his normal condi-
tion, but the result of his foolish wandering. To
the Unitarian thinker the ultimate redemp-
tion of matter might have seemed far more
possible or likely than to philosophers of the
Idealist school ; for he believed that it is co-
eternal with God, " neither made, nor created,
nor begotten," whereas they deny its eternal
existence and derive it entirely from God as a
dependent thing.

Turning now from these deep and perplexing
problems to ordinary religion as it exists at
present in our ecclesiastical organisations, I have
to observe that Martineau had in some ways far
more sympathy with the Established Church of
Scotland than with the Church of England.
He thought that the northern church is far more
ready to welcome liberal religious ideas than her
southern sister is ; he thought that although her
formal confessions of faith are narrower and
harsher, her present animating spirit is both
broader and more human. He told me that he
was glad that I had several times preached in a
Presbyterian pulpit, and that he had much sym-


pathy with men like my old friend, Dr. George
Matheson, formerly minister of St. Bernard's
Church in Edinburgh. He was strongly opposed
to the disestablishment of the Scottish national

With the Free Church my friend's sympathy
was considerably less. He had seen it at its
worst in early days in the Highlands, and he was
not flattering in his description of it. In a letter
written in 1861, and published in the " Life and
Letters of James Martineau," he wrote thus of it :
" Nothing more hideous in form, blind in intelli-
gence, and hateful in spirit than the Free Church
religion, as administered among the Gaelic popu-
lation, is to be found, I apprehend, in Europe,
short of Naples and Sicily. Buckle, read upon
the spot, scarcely seems to exaggerate. The
peculiarity of the popular Protestantism here is
that it seems to have done nothing towards ele-
vating the habits and temporal well-being of the

This severe condemnation of the Free Church
was written by Martineau nearly thirty-nine years
before his death ; and in his later life I am sure
that he gladly recognised a wonderful and salutary
change in the whole temper and spirit of that


church. He noticed with real satisfaction its
admirable devotion to the critical study of the
Bible and its origins. And with even greater
satisfaction he saw a broader and more human
theology taking the place of the harsh old Cal-
vinism which he so strongly disliked. Some
Free Church thinkers have manifestly imbibed a
good deal of Dr. Martineau's own spirit, and now
write in his intensely ethical tone. Mr. Drum-
mond's " Natural Law in the Spiritual World "
was not at all congenial to my friend ; but his
later works showed evident traces of the moral
and spiritual influence of the great Unitarian.

With regard to the Church of England Dr.
Martineau held very despondent views in his
later years. He had hoped that it might be so
widened as to take in the Nonconformists, and so
become a really national church ; but those hopes
had been completely disappointed ; and in conse-
quence my friend had abandoned all expectation
of seeing it reformed and broadened. He looked
on Mr. Gladstone as one of the greatest obstacles
to the nationalising of the church. He told me
once that he had found that statesman extremely
narrow in his religious ideas. He said that Glad-
stone seemed to think that there is no authority


for believing in the salvation of those not be-
longing to any Episcopalian Church, and that if
they are saved, their salvation must be effects J
only by God's uncovenanted mercies. I made
Martineau laugh by saying to him that, as a rule,
in the theories of most divines, these uncove-
nanted mercies did not really mean very much,
that they were like the deferred shares of a very
impoverished railway. He had had a good deal
of conversation with Gladstone on religious
matters when staying at Penmaenmawr in the
summer of the year 1867.

In his later years the Unitarian philosopher
evidently thought that the sacerdotal element is
so inwoven into the texture of Anglican doctrine
and worship that it cannot be got rid of or even
reduced to quiescence. Moreover, he very much
disliked some portions of the liturgy, whilst
freely recognising the stateliness and beauty of
much of the ritual of the national church. He
particularly disliked the Litany on account of its
very explicit Trinitarianism, and also because he
considered its reiterated deprecations of the
divine wrath to be very suggestive of an un-
merciful and rather cruel God. A good many
Trinitarians are inclined to agree with him as


regards his second ground of objection to the
Litany. I remember well that the saintly
Alexander Ewing, formerly Bishop of Argyll
and the Isles, said to me that he very much dis-
liked what he considered to be such excessive
deprecations of God's anger. He thought that
such reiterated deprecations are really very
derogatory to the divine character, as implying
that God's natural tendency is to be harsh and
severe towards His weak and erring creatures.
The bishop also thought that much unbelief in
God's goodness is implied in the popular ex-
pression of extreme fear as to falling into His
hands. He said to me once concerning people
who used that expression, " I wonder in whose
hands they think that they now are."

Dr. Martineau had, on the whole, a very poor
opinion of the English bishops. He considered
that they were only nominal leaders of the church.
I remember his saying to me that very few of our
prelates had any real powers of thought, and he
wondered much why our few intellectual bishops,
such as Light foot and Westcott, did not endeavour
to find a new and solid basis for religion, knowing,
as he said that they must, that the old basis had
been destroyed. This intellectual torpor of our


more intelligent prelates caused my friend fre-
quent astonishment and very grave concern.
Speaking generally, the lack of deep, honest, and
resolute thoughtfulness in the Church of England
very much disgusted Martineau. He considered
that, to a great extent, Ritualism had displaced
thought. He declared that our modern Ritualists
sought to make up for their mental poverty by
externally beautiful services, that they ministered
to men's aesthetic instincts, whilst keeping their
minds at an intellectual level not much above
that of the Salvation Army.

The prominence given by Anglicanism to the
sacraments was not at all congenial to James
Martineau. He considered the baptismal cere-
mony suited only to converts from heathenism,
and his views of the Eucharist were purely
Zwinglian. Indeed I rather wonder that he re-
tained the latter sacrament at all. On this point
he is apparently exposed to a charge of incon-
sistency. In the " Seat of Authority in Religion "
he evidently thinks that the Last Supper was only
intended to go on for a few years, until the ex-
pected return of the Lord ; yet he continued to
celebrate it and even prepared and published
Communion Addresses. However, the incon-


sistency is much more apparent than real. No
doubt, he would have said that, though the
sacrament had originally been intended to go on
only for a short time, yet experience of its ele-
vating usefulness justified us in continuing to
use it. In this matter he differed from Emerson,
who thought that it ought to be entirely given up.
Though Martineau had many valued friends in
the Church of England, he never quite approved
of the intellectual position of Broad Churchmen
who remained in it. With some members of that
party he had indeed little sympathy, I mean
with its more unspiritual members, whose minds
seem to have been secularised, who give up the
deepest religious problems in despair, and de-
vote themselves almost exclusively to the im-
provement of men's bodily condition, who would
put physical science in the place of religious
knowledge and communion with God. With
these religionists my friend had little in common.
But these were not the only Anglican Broad
Churchmen whom he censured. He blamed
even those whom he both admired and loved.
He thought that men like Dean Stanley ought
to have seceded from the Established Church.
This opinion may appear inconsistent with his


old ardent desire to broaden the church ; but it
was not so really. He considered it eminently
desirable to alter the formularies, so as to admit
many who are now excluded ; but until they
have been altered, he reckoned it wrong and
almost dishonest for those to remain in the
church who question many of the doctrines
expressed in its rather narrow and rigid creeds
and other documents.

There seems an obvious answer to this teach-
ing of the austerely conscientious Unitarian.
If all who perceive the unsatisfactory nature of
our present formularies secede from the church,
then these untenable and antiquated documents
will never be altered. Internal dissatisfaction
must necessarily precede the reformation of a
church. The secession or banishment of all
progressive minds would make our church as
stagnant as a Chinese church. St. Paul dis-
sented profoundly in many ways from the church
at Jerusalem ; but he did not think it necessary
to cease all communion with it. He withstood
Peter to the face for the sake of larger truth ;
but he did not wish to separate himself entirely
from him. Pressure from within is the best
mode of expanding a church. Pauline ideas


were ultimately victorious because they worked
like leaven in a semi- Judaic religion. If they
had organised themselves at once into a rival
form of Christianity, their triumph would have
been far more doubtful and less complete. The
Apostle to the Gentiles was a wise Broad Church-
man. The " shipmen " must not " flee out of
the ship " when it is apparently wrecked. En-
lightened, thoughtful, and experienced souls
must not abandon a great religion battered,
bruised, and buffeted by fierce storms of doubt.
They must remain in it for the sake of others.
Only thus can the more ignorant and simple-
minded, like the soldiers, be eventually saved.
What are the unwise to do, if the wise abandon
them ? " Except these abide in the ship, ye
cannot be saved." Surely it is better to be
deemed dishonest by man for a time than to run
any risk of being finally accounted unpitiful by
God. St. Paul cared but little for intellectual
consistency as compared with that divine charity
which he knew to be the noblest thing in the
world. He was willing to accommodate his
knowledge to the requirements of the weakness
of others. He did not wish to outrun the feeble-
minded and leave them alone. With him heresy


was a matter of the heart, and not of the head.
He said, " To the weak became I as weak, that I
might gain the weak : I am made all things to
all men, that I might by all means save some."
When tempted to set up an entirely intellectual
church holding only reasoned truth, the great
apostle heard the forlorn cry of the ignorant,
imploring him to abide with them and have
patience with them. In his ears there sounded
ever an inescapable and haunting echo of his own
passionately human and Christlike remonstrance :
" Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother
perish, for whom Christ died ? "

I think that it is evident that enlightened souls
would really injure their weaker brethren if they
were to withdraw from communion with them
for the sake of intellectual consistency. They
would be supposed to disdain or repudiate not
only the outer husks of popular doctrines, but
also their inner core of meaning. And so they
would be thought to despise what they truly
value ; and simple minds would be at once
saddened and perplexed. Their own spiritual
food would begin to seem to them less valuable,
when they saw it utterly repudiated by men of
higher intellect. Unadulterated truth is not for


man in his present state. It is impossible to
eliminate all innutritious elements from the bread
of life. It is better that men should feed them-
selves on partially adulterated bread than that
they should be starved on account of our fastidi-
ousness. All widely accepted creeds must neces-
sarily be compromises. They cannot possibly
express anything like adequately the present in-
most convictions of minds constituted in different
ways and living at different periods of the world's

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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 6 of 12)