Alexander Henry Craufurd.

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

. (page 7 of 12)
Online LibraryAlexander Henry CraufurdRecollections of James Martineau: with some letters from him and an essay on his religion → online text (page 7 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

history. Truth must always suffer loss to a
considerable extent when it is compressed into
definite and coherent formulas. We really live
by present inspiration, and not by any ancient
philosophies. The unrestrained use of the logical
understanding often acts as a corrosive solvent,
whereas sympathy acts as a cement. If any-
thing approaching to intellectual unanimity were
requisite for the constitution of a church, there
would be as many churches as individuals. Each
soul would carry about its own church, as the
snail adheres to its own peculiar shell. Each
man's creed is largely the result of his idiosyn-
crasies. As Oliver Wendell Holmes wittily ob-
served, " Smith believes in the Smithate of truth ;
Brown believes in the Brownate of truth."


I often think that we take our churches and
our creeds too seriously. We forget that to pro-
gressive souls they are only tents for a night,
and cannot be permanent temples. The soul
inevitably outgrows many of its old beliefs. The
attempt to stereotype religious convictions is an
absurd one. Those who accuse Broad Church-
men of intellectual dishonesty assume the possi-
bility for us of adequate knowledge of the most
difficult subjects. They forget that all our
knowledge is inadequate, provisional, and essen-
tially relative. A deeper scepticism may well
save us from a shallower and more precipitate
scepticism. If once we realise the fact that all
our ideas of God are mere approximations to
knowledge, we shall cease to pose as intellectual
purists, and shall seek in moral, spiritual, and
emotional sympathy that bond of union which
the understanding can never give us. Creeds are
but milestones on the road to life eternal. They
are not like the pillar of fire which indicated and
guaranteed God's accompanying presence to
journeying Israel. Present inspiration and guid-
ance makes each generation to a great extent a
law unto itself and independent of the wisdom
of ancestors. We ought to be far nearer to God


than our progenitors were, and in consequence
our creed ought to be truer. The tendency to
look back for guidance is a fatal tendency. In
great measure we progress by oblivion of the
past. Christ Himself plainly taught that God's
revelation of Himself to man is gradual and

Dr. Martineau himself admitted the provisional
and inadequate nature of our religious knowledge
when he said in a sermon called ' ; The Besetting
God," " It is the essence and beginning of religion
to feel that all our belief and speech respecting
God is untrue, yet infinitely truer than any non-
belief and silence." Consequently our creeds
ought not to be taken as descriptions of God, but
only as faint adumbrations of ineffable mysteries.

Since, then, it is clear that we cannot in this
life attain to anything like pure truth as to the
being and nature of God, since all our knowledge
must be mixed with much error, it does not seem
wise or right to separate ourselves from our
brethren for the sake of merely metaphysical
dogmas. Definition is often the worst foe of
adoring reverence. As Dean Milman thought,
the application of the anatomical precision of
Greek philosophical language to the somewhat



vague ideas of primitive Christianity was a mis-
take and a perversion of true religion. The
Fatherhood of God is our true " pillar of fire,"
and we are better without the ignes fatui of
transient and bewildering systems of abstract
Ontology. The bond of union between Jesus
and His simple peasant followers was a moral and
spiritual one to which metaphysics contributed

Of course I do not mean that men ought never
to fight for truth, that they ought always to
acquiesce or to seem to acquiesce in current
teaching. On the contrary, I believe that Luther
was quite right in opposing the corruptions of the
Roman church at any cost. When we are con-
vinced that certain established beliefs are morally
and spiritually injurious, we are bound to oppose
them vigorously and to do all that we can to
emancipate men from their injurious influence.
But the case seems to be very different with
regard to merely speculative mistakes, to errors
that cannot possibly affect conduct. With re-
gard to these, I hold that we are often justified
in leaving them alone. To attack them openly
would often do far more harm than good. We
have no right to expect all Christians to be


philosophers. The plurality in unity of the
divine nature as conceived by profound reflection
must inevitably be very different from that same
plurality as depicted to itself by the popular
imagination. Yet both conceptions alike, that
of the peasant as well as that of the philosopher,
may embody or at least dimly adumbrate
important practical truth having a real influence
on man's higher life. Both conceptions may
contain the heart or root of the matter ; both
may, in different tongues, proclaim the same
profoundly operative religious and moral doctrine,
that God's unity does not imply absolute solitari-
ness, that God has something analogous to what
we call a social nature, that the source of all love
is Himself the eternal seat or dwelling-place of

Extreme zeal for intellectual consistency or
what is called honesty is often highly injurious
morally. Whilst pulling up the tares of intel-
lectual misconceptions, we are often in much
danger of pulling up the wheat of the finest moral
and spiritual qualities. Some homely forms of
human goodness will scarcely bear to be trans-
planted from the rich soil of the despised plains or
valleys of instinct into the bleak mountain regions


of rationalised truth. Much of the best force of
our hearts clings to the ancestral soil of early
faith. The man with only one talent is often
dear to Christ. He did not try to turn Martha
into a metaphysician. He would have been
quite capable of loving those ignorant and
heretical souls which had not so much as heard
whether there was any Holy Ghost.

I hold that the really Liberal Christian, the
man who is a Broad Churchman after the fashion
of our Lord, is one who tries to get behind all
transient metaphysical formulas, and with patient
eyes to discern their deep and abiding moral and
spiritual significance, one who knows that in man
the heart is of far more importance than the
head, one who appreciates the meaning of the
great apostle to the Gentiles when he declared,
" With the heart man belie veth unto righteous-
ness." Such a man will put up with the un-
sightly husks of many religious doctrines out of
consideration for their inner meaning. And
with regard to his more ignorant fellow-men, he
will have patience with their uncouth and illogical
modes of speech, out of affection for that indwell-
ing moral and emotional richness which is more
than they are as yet able to express at all ade-


quately or coherently. Even the childlike
stammerers of God's heavenly kingdom are to him
far nobler and more congenial than the glib
logicians of a merely mundane philosophy. The
Infinite lying in a manger is higher than the
finite arrayed in the academical robes of a learned
professor of Utilitarianism. God often chooses
the foolish things of the world to confound the
wise. Jesus very often ignored the superficial
intellectual ignorance of His peasant followers,
and answered not their poor faltering words, but
the infinite depths of aspiration and the inarticu-
late cries of bewilderment and want that so
often moaned disconsolately in the hidden re-
cesses of their undeveloped souls.

It is manifest that modern thinkers ought not
to be required to receive all the old religious
formulas in exactly the same sense as that which
was put upon them by those who first propounded
and used them. Prophets or men of spiritual
genius are often only half conscious of the full
significance of their own words or doctrines.
They are, in Emersonian language, " wiser than
they know." They speak in part to their own
age, and in part to ages to come. Their transitory
and inferior wisdom is immediately understood,


because it is clothed in the temporary meta-
physics of the age ; but their abiding and deeper
wisdom is often for a long time hidden because it
can as yet find no intellectual expression. So it
was with the teaching of Jesus. He could not
translate the sacred mysteries of His heavenly
and absolute religion into the local or sectarian
dialect of His ordinary hearers. He had many
things to say which His disciples " could not
bear " at that time. The Spirit of Truth
would lead men gradually on to fuller and more
satisfying forms of Christianity. It is not right
to make the provisional teaching even of that
loftiest soul a barrier to the reception of larger
knowledge. Christ is with us in a more satisfying
way than He was with former ages. Our religion
need not be a mere reverberation of bygone

In the case of all merely human religious
teachers it is plain enough that only a part of
their knowledge deserves to be retained perman-
ently as valid. They had their treasure of last-
ing wisdom in the " earthen vessels " of merely
provisional conceptions. We need not scruple to
break up those earthen vessels. The true con-
tinuity of Christianity is to be found in a certain


divine spirit or temper of mind, and not in un-
changing dogmas or ceremonies. The true
Apostolical succession is one of the heart and
soul, and not of fleshly consecration, or of the
logical understanding. The best heirs of a great
religious or philosophical master are not those
who insist on retaining his whole system exactly
as he left it, but those who are able to discriminate
between the vital and the non-essential elements
of his teaching, and, whilst preserving its inner
essence, make such changes in its outward form
as are necessary to adapt it to the requirements
of later ages. These wise heirs keep the teaching
of their master really alive and influential, whilst
those who seek to stereotype his wisdom de-
prive it of all present power and really petrify it.

In the case of the Church of England it is im-
possible for any thinking man to hold all the
doctrines contained in the Prayer-Book, since we
have Calvinistic Articles and an Arminian Liturgy.
It is manifest that our formularies are the result
and expression of a compromise, that they were
not designed to be exclusive, that they were de-
liberately intended to secure the adhesion of
widely different minds.

That brilliant controversial writer, Mr. Mallock,


evidently considers our broader religious thinkers
dishonest. He says that they are practically a
new firm trading under an old name. To me this
view appears essentially misleading. Liberal
thinkers in the Church of England and amongst
Nonconformists do not seek to set aside the
teaching of Christ, but rather to revert to it.
Their cry is ever " Back to Christ." Those who
carefully restore fine pictures ought not to be
reckoned their destroyers. Mr. Mallock identifies
the whitewash with which ignorant church-
wardens have disfigured many of our ancient
churches with the original designs of great
architects aiming at the highest beauty. Thus
he confounds loving and devoted piety with
hostility. It is because we love and value the
religion of Jesus that we try to separate it from
the hideous accretions which have obscured and
well-nigh buried it. Surely it is manifest that
Maurice and Erskine of Linlathen were far nearer
to the spirit of Christ than Tertullian, Calvin, or
Pusey. St. Paul knew Christ all the more
genuinely and profoundly in the spirit when he
had ceased to know him after the flesh. Former
ages to a great extent fed themselves on the rind
of Christianity ; we seek to feed on its inner


kernel. Our more devout Liberal thinkers ought
not to be called unbelievers ; for they are in truth
" Repairers of the breach, the Restorers of paths
to dwell in." Intellectual patience and far-
ranging tender human sympathy are not " marks
of the beast," but signs and tokens of the very
best and most Christian religion.

When selecting a religion, I think that we
ought to follow the guidance of our own highest
faculties taken collectively. We ought to con-
sider in what direction are our deepest and most
permanent affinities. " The God that answereth
by fire, let Him be God." When the intellectual
difficulties of two competing religious systems
are about equal, our moral and spiritual nature
affords the best court of arbitration that we can
find. Suitableness to expand, nourish, and
strengthen all man's grandest instincts and
capacities is the best mark or note of a true and
universal guide in matters ethical and religious.
In this, as in other matters, Securus judical
orbis terrarum. Catholicity, in the real sense, is
an indispensable sign of a genuinely God-given
mode of worship.

In his more recent writings Mr. Mallock seems
to be coming round to something like this view.


In a series of articles in the Fortnightly Review —
since gathered together into a book called " Re-
ligion as a Credible Doctrine " — this interesting
writer first proceeds to demolish all the
intellectual evidences for religion, and after-
wards goes on to say that we may still retain our
religion on account of its admirable moral effects.
I cannot altogether agree with this way of pre-
senting the case. I do not admit that we have
no rational evidence for the truth of religion.
Mr. Mallock is not conspicuous for exactness of
thought or language when stating the arguments
which he considers unsatisfactory. His treat-
ment of the evidences for belief in God, in the
soul, in Free Will, and in a future life, illustrates
his unintentional tendency to unfairness and
exaggeration. Whilst it is true that we have no
absolutely demonstrative evidence for the doctrines
of natural religion, it is not true that we have no
evidence at all. We have a considerable number
of conspiring probabilities whose cumulative
weight is very great. Mr. Mallock argues as if
all the difficulties inherent in these great subjects
were those which beset the defenders of reason-
able Theism, as if on the Atheistic side there were
no difficulties at all. Such a view is very gravely


misleading. If we deny that the Universe is the
result and expression of a supreme mind, we are
bound to offer at least some plausible conjecture
as to its origin apart from the agency of such a
mind. It seems to me that all Materialistic or
Atheistic accounts of the Universe make very
great demands on faith or credulity. Modern
science has done nothing to invalidate the verdict
of Bacon : "I had rather believe all the fables
in the Legend and the Talmud and the Alcoran
than that this universal frame is without a mind."
In a similar way we may say that the diffi-
culties in the way of rationally denying the ex-
istence of a soul in man, accompanied by some
degree of Free Will, are at least as great as those
involved in affirming it. So that, in retaining a
natural religion, we have not to encounter the
pronounced hostility of reason ; at worst, reason
is neutral in the matter, though to me it as-
suredly seems that reason suggests, whilst it does
not force upon us, the Theistic faith and its
accompanying moral and spiritual teaching. I
believe that a Theism such as that of James
Martineau is, on merely intellectual grounds, very
far more probable than any kind of Atheism,
though I admit that it cannot be absolutely


guaranteed by pure intellect. When seeking for
truth on such subjects, we undoubtedly meet
with some resistance, turn whithersoever we may,
but I hold that the least resistance is encountered
by reason when moving in the direction of Theism.
All attempted solutions of these high problems
leave us burdened with many insoluble mysteries ;
but I believe that the intellectual burdens of
Atheism are far worse than those of intelligent
and patient faith.

I cannot, therefore, entirely agree with Mr.
Mallock's recent deliverances about religion.
But I do cordially agree with them in part. I
do think that the revelations of our intellect
need to be supplemented by those of our moral
and spiritual faculties. I do think that it is a
profoundly significant fact that some Theistic
elements are indispensable for any working and
invigorating theory of human life. Any belief
which reduces human life to an absurdity or a
meaningless farce stands already self-condemned.
The simple fact that we have reason or meaning
in ourselves compels us to look for reason in the
cosmos. No religious inquiry, and no Atheistic
inquiry, can advance a single step without the
preliminary faith that God or the cosmos will


not put us to permanent intellectual confusion.
If prejudice forbids us to locate intelligence in
God, we are forced to locate it in the primal
matter. The pervading irony of the universe
turns Atheists into Pantheists. Being sane our-
selves, we cannot believe in a universal Bedlam.
The very fact that in the animal world we per-
ceive a real suitability of the environment to the
organism makes us look for a corresponding
suitability between our own nature and its
environment. The placid satisfaction of many
of the lower animals makes us unable to believe
that man was intended for eternal frustration and
abiding dissatisfaction. Our discontent without
religion is a powerful argument for its truth.
The simple facts that we want to steal ideal fire
from a far-off heaven suggests the existence of
celestial forces in some slight degree akin to us.
Prayer is in itself a strong argument for Theism ;
it expresses two things, our dissatisfaction with
the present and our belief in the possibility of a
more harmonious and satisfying form of life.

Believing, as I do, that our moral and spiritual
nature has a legitimate right to help in guiding
us to Theism, I am naturally led on to believe
further that it has also a right to help in deter-


mining the particular form of Theism which we
are to select as the best and most invigorating.
If faith is to be venturesome at all, it naturally
expects to reap some rich reward if it is at all
successful. Consequently Unitarianism does not
appear to many of us at all a satisfactory religion.
We do not agree with " Robert Elsmere " in
thinking that Broad Churchmen ought to join
the Unitarians, though Dr. Martineau concurred
with Mrs. Humphry Ward's hero in thinking
that Liberal Christian thinkers are bound to
leave the Church of England.

No doubt, Unitarianism in some ways appeals
to our intellects ; but it greatly impoverishes
our moral, spiritual, and emotional nature. Its
philosophical affinities were with the systems of
Locke and Priestley . # It is in some ways like
French philosophy, whilst Trinitarianism is more
like German philosophy. The former is far
clearer and more precise and definite ; but the
latter, though vaguer and more obscure, has far
richer and more vitalising spiritual contents. All
really influential religion must be to some extent
anthropomorphic ; but Unitarian religion is an-

* Present Unitarianism is in many ways very different from its
older forms. My friend, Mr. C. B. Upton, appreciates Mysticism
quite as much as I do.


thropomorphic in a sectarian way. It is founded
on a fragment of man's higher nature, and not
on the whole of it. It often bases its teaching on
reason only, to the exclusion of imagination and
sympathy. It fancies that man's intellect is
more akin to God than his heart is. To me this
idea appears gravely misleading and false. I
believe that our hearts are far nearer to God
than our heads are. God visits our understand-
ings only "as a wayfaring man that turneth
aside to tarry for a night " ; but He makes for
Himself an abiding dwelling-place in our loftiest
emotions. We are provincialists intellectually,
but not morally and spiritually. Our minds
speak in a poor patois, but our souls have already
learnt something of the one language of the
immortals. We always know " in part " ; but
we do not always love " in part." The Infinite
is far more adequately revealed in our heroisms
than in our syllogisms. Goodness speaks to us
" as one having authority," whereas logic speaks
to us only " as the scribes." The deliverances
of our souls have an absoluteness and finality
which are lacking in those of our intellects. Mys-
ticism, which seems alien from the genius of
Unitarianism, is to many of us an indispensable
necessity. In it we deposit many ineradicable


and cherished beliefs which we cannot at present
justify. There we deposit, as in some quiet
place of safety, many noble ideals which as yet
are " powerless to be born " into the world of
established truths. There we hide away our
Messiahs, whose hour of manifestation has not yet
come. Unitarianism gives us a very clear and
precise spiritual map, but a very inadequate
one. Trinitarian religion, on the other hand,
gives us a far fuller and more complete map,
but one that is in some parts very puzzling
and hazy.

In some ways Unitarianism is anachronistic
and out of date. At its roots it is an unsocial
religion ; and it is to their social instincts that
men now trace back all the fairest things in their
nature, including conscience. We now regard
Love as the Alpha and the Omega of the universe,
and Unitarianism leaves Love without any ade-
quate or intelligible source. It is very difficult
to see how Love could ever emerge from the
awful loneliness of the great First Cause as He
existed throughout a bygone eternity. Love
seems inevitably to imply some kind of plurality
of being. Metaphysical Trinitarian conceptions
are to us a kind of prickly and repellent husk in
which the precious kernel of the love and Father-


liness of God have been stored away for a time.
In reality the Trinitarian idea comes to many of
us inductively, and not deductively. We argue
from man to God. Indeed, if the Creator is to be
conceived as an absolute and solitary unit, it is
difficult to understand how He can have any
moral attributes at all. We should then have
to agree with Aristotle that His inner being
consists of pure thought alone without any
ethical tinge.

I believe that the fundamental error of ordi-
nary Unitarianism is that it endeavours to
approach God with one faculty, instead of ap-
proaching Him with all our distinctively human
faculties. It puts upon the intellect a kind of work
that it cannot perform. Hence the resultant con-
ception of God is a partial and impoverished one.
His mind gleams forth upon us, but not His
heart. The starry heavens, if taken alone, are
not an adequate revelation of the Creator. Uni-
tarian religion is far too Judaic ; it forgets that
we are God's children as well as His subjects.
Therefore it has been a very unattractive religion.
It has moved men wonderfully little. Its ad-
mirable moral precepts, not having been steeped
in the primal sympathy of a God conceived as



essentially Love, have failed to captivate men's
hearts. It has been able to direct men to a great
extent, but not to strengthen them by kindling
enthusiasm. It has pointed out the road, but
has not enabled men to tread it. It has shown
men their duty, but it has not given them " power
to become the sons of God." It has been no
redeemer of sinners. No great band of publicans
and outcasts has drawn nigh to hear its gracious
words. It has been almost exclusively a religion
for the respectable, a physician for the whole
and not for the sick. To it Christ has never
fulfilled the old promise to His elect teachers,
" In my name shall they cast out devils." It
has almost always lacked that sign of a divine
mission. Nor has it ministered well to our
social wants. It has treated men as solitary
units, and has never realised the meaning of
the fellowship of the saints and of the Pauline
doctrine of the one body and the many members.
In short, this form of religion has failed be-
cause it ignored vast tracts of human nature,
because it tried to make the intellect do the
work of the heart as well as its own proper
work, because it shunned romance, because it
turned poetry into prose, because it starved

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryAlexander Henry CraufurdRecollections of James Martineau: with some letters from him and an essay on his religion → online text (page 7 of 12)