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it is psychologically unintelligible. Is the message
unexpected ? Has it come by a sudden intuition ?

1 See Inge, Christian Mysticism, p. 16.



202 THE SPIRIT vi

Is it apparently inexplicable as the result of previous
study and reflection ? If so, it is suggested, we have
at last evidence of a direct self - revelation of God.
The idea of the verbal infallibility of Scripture is
dead, not so its chief presupposition, that somehow
revelation must be the imparting of correct information,
and inspiration the power of receiving it. And so
attempts are still made, even by those who claim to
accept the modern view of inspiration, to vindicate a
special position and authority for the Bible, based not
on its inherent truth and intrinsic appeal, but on some-
thing which can be regarded as unique in the manner
of its composition. It must at all costs be given a
special status in a class by itself, different in kind, not
only in degree, from all other books.

A typical example of such an attempt may be found
in a comparatively recent book, Dr. Hamilton's The
People of God. He argues that the monotheism of the
Hebrew prophets (i.e. their belief that Jehovah is the
sole God of the world, opposed to the older idea that
He was the God of the Hebrews) was due to a special
self-revelation of God. It cannot, he urges, be explained
as the result of environment, or reflection on the facts
of life and history, or intellectual dialectic. Its origin
is quite different to that of the Greek philosophical
monotheism, and can only be accounted for by an inner
spiritual experience in which God manifested Himself
directly and immediately by a mode confined to one race.
In the same way A. Sabatier has maintained that the
new and critical ideas in the history of religion the
unity of God, His Fatherhood, and the Brotherhood of
man cannot be explained as due to inference or
reflection ; they must be regarded as due to an immediate
revelation. 1 Dr. Hamilton therefore draws a sharp
distinction between discovery and Revelation, or between
revelation with a small and Revelation with a large
" R " : " ' revelation ' means the knowledge about

1 See Rashdall, Philosophy and Religion, p. 115.



vi THE PSYCHOLOGY OF INSPIRATION 203

God which man derives from reflection on the facts of
existence, and would perhaps be better called ' human
discovery.' ' Revelation ' stands for a knowledge of
God given directly to man by God Himself, and
not mediated through reflection on the nature of
existence. ... In the one case man arrives at a
knowledge of God's existence and character by a slow
and painful process of endeavouring to solve the riddle
of existence ; in the other case this knowledge comes
directly without being mediated through such a process
of reflection." l

Not for a moment would we quarrel with the
position that the prophetic insistence on Jehovah as the
one God is an outstanding example of inspiration, or
revelation, at its highest, though Dr. Hamilton's view
of the uniqueness of the Hebrew monotheism is open to
some question. What we have to ask is whether there
is a special channel and type of Revelation in an ex-
clusive sense, confined to one race and religion. How
far is it true that certain truths are directly revealed by
God, while others are discovered by man through the
exercise of his own reason ?

In the first place, let us consider the suggested
distinction between " Revelation " and " revelation."
Dr. Hamilton himself seems to have some difficulty
in drawing the line as sharply as he suggests. For
between the two sentences just quoted conies another
which, carefully considered, endangers his whole posi-
tion. " The dividing line between Revelation and
revelation is not that the former is God's effort to seek
after man and the latter man's effort to seek after God ;
for we do not know that the Eternal Spirit is not
seeking to disclose Himself to man through his own
powers of observation and reflection." Here precisely
is the crux. As we have already suggested, all dis-
covery is in the end revelation. Man is seeking, God
is revealing, always and by many channels. In all

1 Op. cit. i. 165.



204 THE SPIRIT vi

progress of thought, in all approach to the fuller know-
ledge of the good, the true, and the beautiful, there is
some contact between the divine and human person-
alities. To the Christian there can be no other source
of truth. The difference between one man and
another is a difference of insight and of nearness; in
some the divine is clogged, in others it flows freely.
We have tended to treat discovery as active at the
human end and passive at the divine, while with
revelation we have reversed the roles. Discovery is
regarded as a process in which man looks through
the telescope and the divine is simply seen. In Revela-
tion God is thought of as speaking through the
telephone, while man has only to listen. The reality
is always a blending of the two : man both hears and
sees ; God both speaks and makes Himself seen. No
doubt there are differences of method, diversities of
operation, but one and the self-same Spirit is at work
in all. There is the desire to discover truth, beauty,
and moral goodness, and to express them in word, art,
or conduct ; there is the seeking for the divine fellowship
in prayer and meditation ; there are immediate intuitions
bringing with them a direct sense of His presence. But
can we ultimately separate sharply between them, label-
ling some discovery and others Revelation ? Are not
most of them found in varying proportions in the same
persons, and in all their activities ?

Again, it cannot be denied that there comes to many
a sense of direct contact with God through nature.
Dr. Hamilton would regard this as " revelation " or
discovery, a means of getting to know about God by
our own efforts, but such a position is simply untrue to
the experience of nature-mystics and poets of all ages,
as well as to that of many plain men and women who
claim to find here a personal communion with the
Divine. 1 While we reserve the right to analyse such

1 See Illiugworth, Divine In.manence, chap, ii., and Inge, Christian Mysticism,
chaps, vii., viii. ; also the essay in this volume on " Spiritual Experience."



vi THE PSYCHOLOGY OF INSPIRATION 205

experiences, and to distinguish between the psycho-
logical fact and its supposed content and expression, we
must accept them as valid so far as they go, precisely
as we accept the fact of religious experiences in the
narrower sense. And it is worth adding that this
experience of God through nature is of two kinds.
There is the case of those who have already found God
through the more usual religious channels, and then go
on to find Him in the world without. But there are
also others to whom nature is the primary, and even to
the end the predominant, means of communion with
Him. One result of such communion, here as else-
where, is inspiration or vision. We need not discuss
whether Wordsworth is more or less inspired than some
of the Biblical writers, but we are concerned to maintain
that God does reveal Himself through nature, and that
so far as He does so the result is a knowledge of divine
truth and beauty.

Let it be repeated that we do not wish in any way
to deny or undervalue the reality or the significance of
the personal experience of the prophets. What we are
asking is whether that experience is peculiar to them
and is the unique method by which God reveals new
truths about Himself. Even in the field of religion
itself we may find important truths which have not
come through the special channel which is regarded
as the peculiar vehicle of Revelation. At least as
wonderful as the original discovery of monotheism by
a few chosen spirits (the prophets) is what happened
after the exile in regard to the belief in Immortality
the emergence of which is, equally with mono-
theism, a crucial stage in the history of revelation.
In the later books of the Old Testament, in the
Apocrypha and the Apocalyptic literature, we can
trace the stages of its growth, here a little and there
a little. It cannot be claimed as the outcome of some
outstanding revelation to one or two favoured seers.
Those to whom we owe it do not seem to have been



206 THE SPIRIT vi

men of any conspicuous religious or literary genius.
Their very names are unknown, and in most cases their
writings have only survived by accident and in trans-
lations. Yet under the pressure of experience the belief
gradually emerged till it became so strong that Christ
and His Apostles could take it for granted. And up
to a point we can see why this happened. The old
view that earthly happiness corresponded to desert was
increasingly contradicted by facts ; there was a growing
sense of personality which both looked for the per-
manence of that communion with God which had been
felt to be the highest thing in life, and also refused to
be satisfied with some glorious future for the nation,
receding ever further and further, in which generation
after generation of faithful souls was to have no per-
sonal share. There was also a closer contact with other
religions, especially Zoroastrianism, in which the belief
in a life after death played a large part. The growth
of the belief among the Jews thus becomes psycho-
logically intelligible ; none the less it marks an epoch
in religious history. It is due not to any unique self-
revelation of God but to a diffused popular inspiration,
shared by more than one race.

THE FLASH OF DISCOVERY

To the Hebrew prophet the *' word of the Lord "
seems often to have come as suddenly and inexplicably
as lightning from a clear sky. But, we must ask, is
the mere fact of suddenness or psychological unin-
telligibility in itself a. criterion of a special revelation of
the highest truth, or even of truth at all ? The most
startling examples of knowledge flashed into the mind
by a process which is at present inexplicable are to be
found in the boy calculators, who solve the most
complicated arithmetical problems in a moment by a
kind of intuition. 1 Or we may instance the perfectly

1 Examples may be seen in Myers's Human Personality, pp. 64 ff. ; or we may
instance the following account of the powers of a Tamil boy : " Representatives of



vi THE PSYCHOLOGY OF INSPIRATION 207

authenticated faculty of water-finding, whereby certain
persons can discover water at some depth by the twitching
of a twig in the hands as they walk over the ground.
In such cases the results have not been prepared for
by previous study ; they are immediate and inexplicable,
and not due to conscious reflection. No doubt these
faculties are valuable, and do give us something which
is true and therefore in its measure divine, but they are
concerned with comparatively low grades of truth, and
no one would argue that they are due to a special
self-revelation of God.

When, however, we examine their experiences we
see good reason to doubt whether the direct revelation
which is claimed for the prophets is either so inexplicable
or so independent of the ordinary human means of
discovery as at first sight appears. Modern psychology
by its analysis both of the phenomenon of religious
conversion and of the processes of discovery and artistic
production has thrown much light on the whole subject.
What seems the spontaneous, unexpected, and inexpli-
cable flash is shown to be in fact the outcome, emerging
into consciousness, of a long period of subconscious
reflection on material which the conscious mind has
supplied. A good illustration is afforded by the dreams
of Professor Hilprecht. 1 He went to bed on one
occasion after a hard spell of work on the translation of
an Assyrian stone, of which he had assumed a false
interpretation, and awoke in the morning with a new

the Ceylon Department of Education had prepared a series of complicated sums.
Each of these he answered within a few seconds. One sum was : ' A chetty gave
as a treat to 173 persons a bushel of rice each. Each bushel contained 3,431,272
grains, and the chetty stipulated that 17 per cent should be given to the temple.
How many grains did the temple get ? ' Within three seconds came the answer
(which had to be translated): 100,913,709, with 52 as the fraction over. The
boy was told that the answer should be 100,913,719. He shook his head, and
though the sum was several times repeated to him maintained he was right. The
Education Department representative the next day had to admit that he had
miscopied the answer, and had also omitted the fractional part in the copy he
had made.

"In some cases hardly had the last word of the interpretation of the sum been
uttered before the correct reply was begun" (The Times, October i, 1912).

1 See Myers, Human Personality, pp. 365 ft", (one vol. edition).



208 THE SPIRIT vi

translation in his mind which turned out to be correct.
He had a dim consciousness of having continued his
work in a dream. Much more remarkable is his account
of a dream in which a priest of Nippur leads him to
the treasure-chamber of a temple and explains to him
the history of two fragments or agate which he had
been studying from a sketch, telling him how they may
be fitted together and the inscription deciphered. He
had had no idea that the two fragments were in fact
connected, since they were described as being of
different colours, but the " revelation " was found to
be absolutely accurate in all verifiable particulars, and
entirely probable in the parts where proof was no longer
possible. The point to note is " that not one of these
items of information was beyond the reach of the
processes of associative reasoning which Professor
Hilprecht daily employs." In each case the final
solution of the problem, coming in this dramatic and
unexpected way, appears to have been the crystallising,
or precipitate, of weeks of apparently fruitless study.
In particular he uses in his second dream a piece of
information given to him some years previously by a
friend and entirely forgotten by his waking mind.

Numerous illustrations of such subconscious menta-
tion, following hard and sometimes apparently fruitless
thinking, may be found in the realms of literature and
art. 1 A contemporary instance is Donald Hankey's
description of his writing of The Lord of All Good Life :
" I would have you realise that it was written spon-
taneously, in a burst, in six weeks. ... I had tried
and tried, but without success. Then suddenly every-
thing cleared up. To myself the writing of it was an

1 See, e.g., Myers, Human Personality, p. 71 (one vol. edition). F. B. Bond
(The Gate of Remembrance, p. 48) gives a remarkable example of a reconstruction of
a lost piece of architecture, which was afterwards discovered to be quite correct.
He holds that such mental pictures of the past become spontaneously apparent to
the artist " when in a state of mental passivity after intellectual exertion in the
particular direction needed." This instance is independent of the discoveries he
describes as made at Glastonbury through automatic writing, which indeed may
be explained on the same principle.



vi THE PSYCHOLOGY OF INSPIRATION 209

illumination." l Most quite ordinary workers will in
fact be able to illustrate from their own knowledge this
experience of the sudden solution of a difficulty long
pondered over in vain, of the apparently spontaneous
arrangement of a complicated train of thought, often
after the problem has been laid aside for some time, or
of the flashing into the mind of the artistic or literary
inspiration. They will understand how these things
come with a sense of mysterious authority, as though
from some source outside themselves. But they will
also know that the result is always the outcome of the
work and effort which have gone before ; it is not a gift
dropped mysteriously and spontaneously from heaven.
It is only a half-truth to say that " art happens."
Genius is no doubt more than " an unlimited capacity
for taking pains," but this is almost invariably one of
its conditions. A classical description of the process
is given in Myers's Sf. Paul :

Lo as some bard on isles of the Aegean,

Lovely and eager when the earth was young,

Burning to hurl his heart into a paean,

Praise of the hero from whose loins he sprung ;

He, I suppose, with such a care to carry,

Wandered disconsolate and waited long,
Smiting his breast, wherein the notes would tarry,

Chiding the slumber of the seed of song :

Then in the sudden glory of a minute,

Airy and excellent the proem came,
Rending his bosom, for a god was in it,

Waking the seed, for it had burst in flame.

In view of these considerations we shall not have
much doubt what answer to give to the question asked
by Dr. Davidson 2 with regard to Biblical inspiration :
" When truth suddenly dawned on the prophet's mind,
which formerly he strove unsuccessfully to reach by
means of reflection, did the feeling he had at such a

1 The Student in Arms (znd series), p. 31.
2 Old Testament Prophecy, p. 1 1 1 .



210 THE SPIRIT vi

moment differ from the feeJing men still have, when
oftentimes, in peculiarly spontaneous frames of mind,
difficulties are broken up and problems solved which
before resisted all conscious and direct efforts of the
mind ? " We may take as an example Isaiah's account
of his call. 1 Here we have a religious experience which
seems at first sight to be entirely spontaneous. Yet we
may find the key in the opening words of the chapter :
" In the year that kingUzziah died." The king had been
the hero of the young prophet ; the shock of his tragic
end led him up from hero-worship and imperialism to
religion and God. The subsequent vision and revela-
tion become psychologically intelligible as the outcome
of a spiritual crisis, due to historical events and re-
flection on them. 2 But they do not therefore cease to
be true and epoch-making. We cannot indeed always
trace the psychological antecedents which condition the
experiences of the Biblical writers. They were not
interested in psychology or in the process by which
they arrived at their conclusions ; in many cases they
were probably unconscious of any such process. But
there is no evidence that their minds did not work in
the same way as the minds of other men ; what seemed
spontaneous had really been prepared for.

Once more, while what seems to be the intuitive
flash of genius is often of supreme significance, whether
in religion or in art, we must not make it the special
criterion of discovery or of communion with the
Divine. " ' What constitutes the true artist,' says a
master of style, * is not the slowness or quickness of
the process, but the absolute success of the result.'
. . . Beauty and truth may come together and find
the exactly right words in the flash of a moment, or
after many attempts." A piece of music such as the
last movement of the Ninth Symphony, hammered out

1 Isaiah vi.

2 Cf. G. A. Smith's discussion of the pjrsiage in The Book of Isaial; ("The
Expositor's Bible "), pp. 58 ff.

1 E. T. Cook, Literary Recreations, p. 316.



vi THE PSYCHOLOGY OF INSPIRATION 211

after many experiments and rejected themes, may be
as inspired as Schubert's Songs, flashing into the mind
unexpectedly and almost ready formed. St. Luke's
Gospel, the result of the comparison and blending of
earlier documents and materials, or the considered
argument of the Epistle to the Romans, are no less
inspired than the vision of the Apocalypse. The highest
examples of revelation are not necessarily to be found
where the process is obscure, or where the outcome
seems to be spontaneous ; still less should this obscurity
or spontaneity be regarded as the tests of revelation.

THE SENSE OF OTHERNESS

It is, indeed, not surprising that in such cases of
apparently spontaneous emergence the feeling of
" otherness " and of external inspiration is especially
strong. The popular use of the phrase " it came as
an inspiration " is of an idea flashing unexpectedly into
the mind, as though from some outside source, and
welcomed at once as valuable and correct. Stevenson,
not altogether playfully, 1 attributes his stories to his
" Brownies," both when he is asleep and even to some
extent during his waking hours. Blake attributes his
poems to spiritual helpers. As he walked along
the seashore he was haunted by the forms of Moses
and the prophets, of Homer and Milton, who seemed
to communicate to him directly what he was to write.
" I may praise it," he says, " since I dare not pretend
to be other than the secretary ; the authors are in
eternity." " I have written this poem from immediate
dictation, twelve, or sometimes twenty or thirty lines
at a time without premeditation, and even against my
will." 2 So Bohme, 3 speaking of his visions, says :
" Whatever I could bring into outwardness, that I
wrote down. The work is none of mine ; I am but

1 Across the Plains, " A Chapter on Dreams."

2 See F. Granger, The Soul of a Christian, pp. 215 ff.

3 Quoted in Inge, Christian Mysticism, p. 277.



212 THE SPIRIT vi

the Lord's instrument, wherewith He doeth what He
will." The account which the prophetic writers of the
Bible give of themselves is often in line with this con-
ception. No doubt it is difficult to be quite sure how
far " The Lord said unto me," or the language of
visions, whether in the prophets or the Apocalyptic
writers, represents in all cases a real psychological
experience, or whether it is sometimes merely an
accepted literary and religious mode of expression.
But in either case it unquestionably stands for a con-
viction that the message is not only true but in some
sense is not the prophet's own, coming from a higher
source outside himself.

But this sense of otherness is not in itself the hall-
mark of a divine revelation. We find, for example,
in the realm of art works which have been produced by
this intuitive process, by what Myers would regard as
specifically the method of genius, without being in
themselves works of genius. 1 He instances Haydon's
Raising of Lazarus, which, as his Autobiography shows,
flashed upon him with an overmastering sense of direct
inspiration, or Voltaire's " unreadable tragedy Catittna"
written in a week and ascribed by him to a flash of
genius, the gift of God. Where Blake insists most on
his " inspiration," as in the prophetic books, the result
is on a lower level than in the lyrics produced in a more
normal way. In the .same way immediacy, or the over-
mastering sense of certainty and u given-ness," is no
guarantee of superior excellence or truth in philosophy
or religion. Here is Nietzsche's account of his own
experience of " inspiration " :

If one had the smallest vestige of superstition left in one,
it would hardly be possible completely to set aside the idea that
one is the mere incarnation, mouthpiece, or medium of an
almighty power. The idea of revelation in the sense that
something which profoundly convulses and upsets one becomes

1 Human Personality (one vol. edition), p. 60.



vi THE PSYCHOLOGY OF INSPIRATION 213

suddenly visible and audible with indescribable certainty and
accuracy describes the simple fact. One hears one does not
seek one takes one does not ask who gives : a thought sud-
denly flashes up like lightning, it comes with necessity, without
faltering. I have never had any choice in the matter. 1

The account is combined with an extravagant insistence
on the absolute truth and pre-eminence of the result :
" If all the spirit and goodness of every great soul
were collated together, the whole could not create a
single one of Zarathustra's discourses." 2 As Dr.
Figgis points out, Nietzsche's philosophy is not in fact
so original as he supposed, and we certainly shall not
accept it as divinely inspired, but here we have a sincere
conviction of inspiration in the prophetic sense. Of
course Nietzsche himself rejects the prima facie im-
pression that he is in communion with a higher power,
but even in the case of those who insist, and no doubt
insist rightly, that they are in such communion, we
cannot consent to accept their message as true on this
ground alone.

Claims to such communion are found in many
religions ; we cannot reject as delusions all which are
not associated with our own creed, nor on the other
hand are we compelled to accept the teaching based on
them as " revelations." Such considerations are a
commonplace with regard to the experiences and the
writings of the mystics, as well as of the prophets,
true and false, of the Old Testament. Again, let us



Online LibraryBurnett Hillman StreeterThe Spirit; God and his relation to man considered from the standpoint of philosophy, psychology and art → online text (page 17 of 30)