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it when convenient, vaguely as part of the Church life
in which he was beginning to find joy. But to learn
the inner truth that the outcome of the Atonement, the
participation and growth in the Life of the Risen Christ,
was, by Christ's special ordinance, bound up with this
particular Institution was a fresh demand on his sacrifice
of himself. It called on him to recognize his helplessness
in a definite form, concrete though spiritual, and right on
through the coming years it was never anything but an
affront to his pride to admit this truth, though he had
long before made his intellect bow to it and confess its
dominance. Now he felt its power too. The more he
drank in the wondrous teaching, handed down by a long
line of witnesses and ambassadors in the name of Christ,
the^more vitally he perceived that the Institution was
an embodiment of the great words " He that loseth his
life shall find it."

Such, in brief outline, was the story of B's conver-
sion. He was brought to a sense of profound tran-
quillity and inward peace by learning the correspondence
between his own fundamental needs and the good tidings
committed to the Christian community. So the egoist
became not merely an altruist but a hovXo? BovXwv Xpia-rov,
gratefully and joyfully taking the lowest place ; and as
his affections were more and more set on the manifesta-
tion of the Love of God, his self-regard, with all its
delusions and chicanery and disappointments, died
away. The change of this great renewal was deep and
complete ; but outwardly there was not, for a time at
least, anything very startling for his friends to notice.
He went on doing useful things and being pleasant to
others, non aliter



134 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

quam si clientum longa negotia
dijudicata lite relinqueret,
tendens Venefranos in agros
aut Lacedcsmonium Tarentum.

But in his heart he knew that for him the life eternal
was begun.



CHAPTER VII

A Year After

DURING the year that followed B's momentous con-
versations with E, he read extensively and devoted
his mind to the question how to bring the principles he had
learnt into close contact with his daily life, and especially
with the bringing up of his children. Briefly, it may be
said that instead of the problems dwindling in number
and complexity they seemed to increase in both respects.
His children developed unexpected tempers and a way-
wardness that often bewildered him, and at present he
could not say that he found himself more sympathetic
with the very humdrum people who dropped in upon
him from time to time for some talk. But in regard to
the last, he noted that he could abstain far more readily
than before from the trick of slightly scornful description,
which no longer amused him as it used to do, when in-
dulged in by others. And at home, though his conception
of evil was immensely deepened, and there was growing
up in him something that may be called a horror of sin,
yet he inclined more and more to large and tolerant feel-
ings when things went awry ; not in the least that he
became lax : quite the reverse ; but the thought of a
child's relation to God, which was now habitually present
with him, reminded him ever of the patience of the Al-
mighty Father, the gradualness of His method, and the
eternity which lies before a human soul. So that while



136 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

B's life was outwardly but little altered, a few friends
perceived some deep change ; but no one was able to
say what it was, nor did any one of them try to do so.

One day an old friend of B's, who had been travelling
in the Dominions with the intention of collecting evidence
as to the possibility of Imperial Federation, wrote to pro-
pose himself for a visit, and being heartily welcomed
stayed with B for a week, and greatly they enjoyed them-
selves talking over the future of the British Empire, as
well as numerous questions of a more domestic kind. The
visitor, whom we will call F, soon noted the change in B,
and determined to try to probe a little way further into
his mind than he had yet ventured to do, especially
as, on his own subjects, he was conscious of an indefinable
languor in the interest B displayed. While to himself
the attitude of Canada towards the problem of an Im-
perial fleet was absorbingly and pressingly urgent, B
seemed, with all his knowledge and well-balanced judg-
ment, to be inclined towards an indefinitely waiting
policy : as if the conduct of affairs in this and other
questions were not a matter for which he and F were
directly responsible.

So F began, in the middle of a long and lovely walk
among the uplands of Buckinghamshire near Beacons-
field, to question his friend on this kind of detachment
from affairs of real moment. How is it, said he, that
you and I, though we agree on so many abstract ques-
tions, and are not ranged on opposite sides in politics,
yet could never manage to become fellow- workers in a
great practical cause?

B. I could work, I think, with any one, certainly with
you, in any practical cause to which I felt sure I was
called.



A YEAR AFTER 137

F. Called ? You mean in the sense in which a
young man feels himself called to the ministry of the
Gospel ?

B. Exactly. You are busied in matters which very
likely are of importance to the country, but I am con-
vinced that my energies are required elsewhere ; or rather
I should not say required, but that God tells me to devote
them elsewhere, and that of course settles the question
for me. Moreover, I am by no means so confident as I
once was, that the efforts men have made and are making
for the amelioration of society, are really of importance ;
I don't at all mean that they ought not to make them,
but it often surprises me to see how different are the
issues of any human endeavour from what was antici-
pated.

F. But what has brought you to this tone of feeling ?
At some other time I should like to follow out your sug-
gestion, but do tell me first how it is you look at things
now from some point of view which I find it difficult to
designate ; perhaps I should say it is less human than it
used to be.

B. Putting it very briefly, I have been through an
experience, some of which is quite indescribable, but the
rest, being more of an intellectual matter, can be explained.
Something led me to investigate the ethical foundation
of a very central virtue, to which we give the name Hu-
mility, and I found after much thought and discussion
that it was based on a vital feeling for the message of
Christianity, viz. that the Divine Maker and Governor
of the world has revealed Himself as a God of Love.

F. Do you mean that the elementary virtue, as I should
call it, of not being conceited, really depends for its
continuance on a strong conviction, that that message



138 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

is true, not only in a historical sense, but as a present
life-giving influence ?

B. Certainly ; but it would take some time to give
the reasons at all fully.

F. I should be interested to hear them. But I think
I ought to tell you first of my own position in these mat-
ters, which, like yours, has been affected by experience,
but in a very different way, You see, one has been
coming across a mixed lot of people in the Colonies and all
over the place, and among them I have found some ex-
cellent specimens ; vigorous, keen citizens of the Empire.
But it must be admitted that in the matter of religion,
as far as I can make out, and in the sense in which you
would use the word, they are wanting. They would
describe your present views and feelings as mystic or
dogmatic, and would shrug their shoulders, not in con-
tempt at all, but from a sense that they move in a different
world. There are thousands of the best Englishmen
who would do the same, and I am bound to say when I
hear you utter such sentiments, that I am perfectly
aware they refer to emotions which I have never known,
and which I really believe I was not made to know.

B looked at his friend's bronzed honest face, and fine
vigorous frame, and thought of his life devoted to the noble
aim of strengthening his country's position in the world.
It was plain to him that he had before him one of
those grand Englishmen who, absorbed in what is to them
the highest thing they can understand, are inevitably, as
it seems, bound to leave the doctrinal part of religion
out of their range of vision. He knew by this time that
any attempt to widen such a horizon was likely to end
either in failure or in a certain weakening of the simple
strong personality. But, finding F was not unwilling



A YEAR AFTER 139

to pursue the subject, he thought it best to let him
utter his misgivings, anticipating that he would utter
something which was not foreign to his own experience.
So he asked him, Do you mean that these sentiments
lie outside of your mental vision, or that you have reason
to doubt their truth ?

F. Not the latter. I am willing to grant that there
must be some deep truth in them, because I have seen
more than once the astonishing effect for good their
acceptance has had on people. Not, of course, that this
is anything of a scientific proof. But I am not one of
those who require a scientific proof for Christian doctrine.
There is nothing in those doctrines which I find difficult
of belief, if I restrict the word to the intellect. The evi-
dence for them is very strong, and, in short, when I see
a great many hard-headed logical people clinging to them
still, after 1,900 years, as vigorously as ever, it is enough
for me. But where I come short is in the personal grasp
of them : the mind within me is not built on these lines ;
it seems to me that whereas some men and a great many
women naturally take these notions in, as part of their
deepest instincts, or at least of these feelings, others are
constructed so as to hold them in a kind of second-hand
fashion, not because they really understand them or have
experience of them, but because they know what they
have done to make other men's lives admirable. Fur-
ther than this we cannot go, and speaking for myself I
am pretty sure that I was not intended to go further.
So I give myself up to hard work, hoping to be of some
use in my generation.

B. Do I understand that you would then take up a
position antagonistic to what I was saying about Hu-
mility ? You remember the exact argument : that the set



140 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

of qualities, called by that name, were plainly observable,
only after the great facts on which our religion is based
were taken deep into men's hearts, and that anything short
of this, such as a mere intellectual acquiescence in the doc-
trinal statement, or the vague Deism that existed before
Christ, was quite powerless to produce anything at all
like them. But as they are now universally felt to be
essential to the highest virtue, there is a very strong
ground for supposing Christian doctrine to be, not only
true, but something we are bound to take deeply into our
hearts, if we possibly can.

F. No, I am not antagonistic to that statement. It
seems to me a solid and important argument for the truth
of those doctrines, that the vital recognition of them pro-
duced so undeniably fair a fruit. But it is quite com-
patible with that acknowledgment, to hold that the power
so to receive the doctrines is only given to a minority,
while the recognition of the virtues, which the doctrines,
so received, bring into evidence, and further the practising
of those virtues, are in the power of all.

B. That is to say, you would favour the view that the
teaching of Christ was virtually esoteric : intended for
the few who could understand ?

F. That has always seemed to me the meaning of
" He that hath ears to hear let him hear " ; and again,
" To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom
of Heaven : but to those that are without in parables."

B. Nay, if you think further you will see that neither
text bears that meaning. " He that hath ears," etc., is
an injunction to all who are listening to do their best to
understand. Christ recognized that there were many
who did not understand, but He never acquiesced in the
fact as if it were a part of a contemplated scheme. Simi-



A YEAR AFTER 141

larly " to those that are without " : it was a necessity,
as He soon found, to speak to the multitudes in parables ;
but you get no evidence that He was ever anything but
distressed at the fact. Finally, what meaning could we,
under this hypothesis, attach to the command " Go ye
and teach all nations" ? It is, of course, an old contro-
versy. I think I am right in saying that whenever in
Christendom the esoteric theory has been consistently
acted on, the results have been disastrous.

F. But, surely, you cannot mean that it is incumbent
on all Christians alike to study dogma ?

B. The words express something quite foreign to my
meaning. Suppose we put it in this way. There is no
truth so difficult to grasp nor so transforming to human
life when it is grasped, as that contained in the words God
is Love. Now the revelation of God the Father given by
Christ is a revelation of that very truth. If that is ad-
mitted , and I do not gather that you at any rate deny it,
how can there be any limit to the claim upon each one
of us to make the truth his own ? Consider this. If
God is Love, then it would contradict His nature that He
should as part of His divine scheme restrict the knowledge
of His Love to a minority of the human race. Yet that is
what the esoteric theory means. I grant freely and
fully that appearances favour the belief that scores of
our countrymen are not intended to have any perception,
by experience, of mysticism. But that is only part
of the puzzle of the world. It is a very different thing to
recognize a vast defect, and to assume it is part of God's
scheme for the world. Moreover, the view of the rela-
tion between God and man which I am advocating, is in-
herent in the very essential meaning of the word Love.

F. I do not follow you.



142 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

B. I mean that the very nature of Love is to demand
a response from the object of the love. To use the word
with any other implication would be a gross misuse of
language ; to use it of God, as Christ did, unless He meant
that God requires His Love to be answered by ours, would
be to deceive men in the very greatest subject of all : to
raise the greatest imaginable hopes and then to dash them
by showing that the wonderful word meant something
quite different when used of God from what it means
among men.

F. Well, I admit there is sound logic in that. But
suppose one can't return the love ?

B. Go back to the figure of the father and the child.
Can you imagine a really loving father content that his
child should go on growing up without the faintest effort
or wish to return the feeling which he shows to him con-
tinually ? What is the normal process ? Is it not that
the child is made to notice his father's tenderness and care
for him, and the response is looked for sooner or later as
a matter of course. Now the adult Christian is called
upon to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the evi-
dences of his Heavenly Father's love for him, in the
Bible, in Nature, in his own spiritual experience, and the
history of the Society to which he belongs. All that is
the study of God's revelation of Himself ; but it is not
to end there. It is without meaning or purpose, unless
it is to lead to a vital response of love being made to Love.
Further — and this is a fair plea to use to any one who re-
cognizes the truth of Christ's teaching — if, in the case of a
child and a human father, the excuse would not be ad-
mitted for a moment that the child could not return the
love, what right have we to suppose that God can tolerate
in us the frigid acquiescence, of which you speak, in a



A YEAR AFTER 143

relation which we have never taken the first steps tho-
roughly to understand ?

F (after a pause). You certainly put forcibly the case
for giving attention to the matter. But I doubt if any
one who has, as you have, something of the receptivity for
mysticism, can possibly understand the blank impotence
that another may be conscious of, in regard to any emo-
tional response to an approach made to him by the In-
visible God.

B. Pardon me ; I do not lay stress on the necessity
of the emotions being warm and responsive, but rather
on the recognition of the plain duty, the very highest
that we possibly can recognize, of putting forth the utmost
effort of mind and will to understand the evidence of
God's Love. The choice spirits, you admit, understand
it by experience. Very well ; then those who have not
that experience are bound to make up for it as far as they
possibly can, by exercising not their emotions, but their
minds ; instead of which you make your emotional
disability an excuse for leaving the other faculty in
abeyance. Conceive, my dear friend, the terrible weak-
ness of your intellectual position, in granting so much,
but refusing to see what it involves. Is it really the fact
that you accept the teaching of our Lord as to God's
Love ; you do not deny at all the divinity of the Saviour
Himself ; in other words, you admit the facts on which
our knowledge of God's Love is mainly based, and then
can find it in yourself to give all your thoughts, hopes, ener-
gies and the like to a wholly different set of subjects and
activities, leaving the most glorious truth that has ever
illuminated the soul of humanity not acknowledged and
disbelieved, but acknowledged and forgotten ? How can
that be anything but disloyalty to your understanding ?



144 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

F. Well, but you see the difficulty. The kind of
personal contact with an invisible Being which is evidently
granted to some people, is denied to me and to scores and
thousands of others. What can we do but accept the
raised ethical standard which the illuminated conscious-
ness of the favoured few has given us, and set our lives
to conform to it ?

B. You are still confusing the service of emotion and
the service of mind. We agree that, speaking roughly,
some are unequipped by nature for the former ; some, on
the other hand, are able for both kinds ; but is there any
educated man who is unprovided with faculties for the
latter ? The slightest realization in his own mind of the
majesty, the penetrating and almost irresistible power
of the truths in the Apostles' Creed, must convince you
that however cold and prosaic and practical you may
fancy your temperament to be, here is a claim on your
very highest energies which may not be set aside ; I
don't mean the sinking of yourself into the rapture of an
Oriental mystic, or even of one of the lights of our own
firmament, Catharine of Siena, St. Francis, or Julian of
Norwich ; but the claim is upon you as a man able to
think, to grow daily in the practice of letting your sense
of duty be transformed by the influx of the light from
heaven. This can be done and often is done by the typ-
ical Northern English Christian who brings to the con-
sideration of the subject some balance of faculties pecu-
liarly his own. He combines a warmth of heart with a
strong reserve and a very distinct loyalty to duty. Ex
hypothesi, he is so far an educated man that he can set
two and two together, reason and infer. Moreover, you
must, if you adhere to your position, be false to your own
faith. How can you call yourself a believer in Christ's



A YEAR AFTER 145

teaching, unless you see that He kept exactly this kind of
character-problem in view, when He said " Ask and ye
shall receive, seek and ye shall find : knock and it shall
be opened unto you," or " If ye then being evil know how
to give good gifts unto your children ; how much more
shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them
that ask Him ? " Think, too, of the bearing of all His
teaching on the importunity of a real Christian's prayer.

F stopped in his walk and looked for a time over a
gate at a lovely landscape where the ground sloped gradu-
ally through copse, meadow and byre towards the great
river valley. Beyond the silver waters, stretched the
blue woods, and further still the uplands of the southern
country crowned with beech and fir groves. You mean,
said he, something considerable in the way of study and
thought, besides prayer. That is a programme which
I readily admit that I have not put into practice. But
before speaking of the adequacy of the more ordinary
practical kind of life, let me ask you for more warrant
from the teaching of Christ for the pressing of this claim ;
unless you think that as to our own innate perceptions
there is more to be said.

B. Certainly there is. Can't we put the two sets of
grand facts side by side ; first the avowed compulsion of
the moral law, and our own weakness of will in presence
of it, and the manifold failures of life which are definitely
due to that very weakness. Secondly, the amazing glory
of the Creator's manifestation of His own Love, and, in
us, the transfiguring of painful and uncertain service to
law into the spontaneous growing knowledge of an Infinite
Person. If He Who made us, has put the knowledge of
these sublime facts within our reach, how can there be
any further debate as to the main duty of a believing

L



146 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

man ? What can our acknowledgment of God amount
to, if it stops short of recognizing that when once He
has revealed His nature to His own creatures, and given
them faculties of thought and prayer, no duty can take
precedence of that which bids us " lay hold of eternal
life " ? Having received some measure of the " un-
speakable gift " do we not feel that we are in the world
that we may pass it on to others ? Now that is an
inference strictly in congruity with our own reason.

F. Yes, I will admit it to be so. But still you may be
begging the question without meaning to do so. How
do you know that for many of us the best way to know
God personally is not to devote our lives to dutiful ser-
vice of an impersonal kind ? It looks to me as if that is
the utmost that can be expected of us in this world ; that
is to say, till such time as He allows the thick veil to be
withdrawn, presumably by death.

B. There are two answers to be given to that question.
The first would be drawn from the practice of those who
have genuinely belonged to the divine Society called the
Church, and from the guidance which their teaching and
example give. The second from further teaching in the
New Testament, where, as I have said, the particular
problem before us has been dealt with, and woe betide
us if we set aside the warning !

F. I should like to hear those points developed. Bear
in mind, what I should imagine is incontestable, that there
has been during the last fifty years a vast increase of
interest in ethical questions and a dwindling of interest
in theology ; at least, if one may judge from popular
periodicals and the prevalent style of preaching.

B. Your remark, I fancy, is anything but incontestable ;
but let it pass for the present. Assuming it to be true,



A YEAR AFTER 147

it only means that there is an urgent demand on all of
us to resist a powerful current of erroneous opinion. At
least that is the light in which I feel bound to interpret
the situation. To my mind, history shows with extra-
ordinary vividness that any great social advance made
by mankind has been the outcome of a deeper grasp on
those religious notions which are often stigmatized as
mere dogma. Most people would allow this to be true
in respect of such virtues as purity of life, respect for
womanhood, abhorrence of slavery, and so forth. What
I have recently learnt is that the beautiful and fundamen-
tal qualities of Humility are even more certainly to be
traced to that teaching of Christianity which is not merely
ethical, not even ethical in the richest and loftiest sense
of the word, but is simply religious ; concerning as it
does primarily, not the relation of man with man, but of
man with God. Well, allowing your diagnosis to pass
that people are far more interested in ethics than in re-
ligion, I am bound to infer from my experience of human
history that they are interested in the building but not in
the foundation ; in the leaves, while they forget the root
of the tree and the soil.

F. Yes, but is this the first of your two points ? Did
you not say you referred to the unanimous practice of
genuine members of the Church ?

B. Yes. My digression into the other matter was
only to justify my remark that, if you are right in your


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Online LibraryEdward LytteltonCharacter and religion → online text (page 11 of 19)