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pel, because it seems to demand a kind of life which to
me is unnatural ; on the other hand, if I try, simply and
loyally to live up to the light I have received, I have to
own that when the real unavoidable pinch of life's trial
begins, when the keen knife of sorrow, error, and failure
makes its first stabs in the soul, my equipment fails ; what
is the way out of this ?

B. Well, of course, the answer to that question would
depend partly on the nature of the trial which had to be
faced. Could you indicate it more clearly ?

F. In my own case, I am sorry to say there is no diffi-
culty in doing that. It is not a personal matter but con-
cerns humanity at large. Think of the gradual sundering
of our Empire, and what that means. Grand settlements
of our kith and kin in different parts of the earth ready, by
inclination, by loyalty, by self-interest, even, to knit to-
gether the different countries into a Union which would
be powerful enough to maintain the peace of the whole
civilized world, are now inertly and timidly eyeing their
position, blocking proposals and feebly trying to cater for
the local popular cry whatever it may be. So at least
it appears to me, and the more I look into the constitu-
tional and financial aspect of this huge question, the more
it is borne in upon me that nothing but a mighty wave of



176 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

unselfish patriotism and statesmanlike feeling will ever
surmount the terrible obstacles, and that there is no
evidence of such influences being operative at the present
day. Therefore, what hope can I form of the future of the
English-speaking peoples ? Without some powerful
bond knitting them together what are their resources
against gradual dissolution or rapid conquest ? The
answer to that question is dismal indeed. The social
problems in Western Europe gather complexity every
year, and every year there is more effort made to grapple
with them. Along with this immense display of vitality,
there is a great outburst of intelligent effort for national
improvement, wider culture, spreading of interest in
every direction, and increased intellectual vivacity in all
classes. But with it all, and undermining it all, is the hid-
eous fact of the decline of the birth-rate in all the progres-
sive, best-educated sections of society ; not the governing
classes alone, but in every section and class which gives
evidence of any real eagerness to make themselves and the
world round them better. Tremendous, and nothing
short of it, though' the dangers encompassing us are, I
verily believe we should face them all and with God's
help come off victorious, if it weren't that the very men
and women with the stamina, the brains and character
to deal with them, are not being produced. The decline
began in 1875. We are beginning to feel the want of
young men with the power of leaders in every profession ;
and we have a long period of impoverishment before us,
even if we came to our senses at once, but history gives
no evidence of any nation going back on its tracks when
once it has taken to this dark and fatal path. Mean-
time we are draining our resources more and more ;
pouring the best young lives more and more rapidly into



A YEAR AFTER 177

the Civil Service, and demanding an ever-increasing num-
ber for Colonial posts. And nobody has a remedy to sug-
gest. It is horrible to think of living and trying to work
in a dying community ; to see the splendid material of
young lives diminishing in number steadily, remorselessly
every year ; and above all, to believe that the irresisti-
ble evil is due principally to a love of ease and shrinking
from responsibility, which is corroding the old English
strength and grit. Can any trial be greater to bear ? It
would be nothing if one put pleasure first and patriotism
second ; but, to one, who loves England and believes
she has a grand part to play in the development of
humanity, could any trial, I repeat, be harder to bear ?

B (after a pause). Ah ! my dear friend, I feel for you.
You are one of a large number nowadays who feel these
things, and are well-nigh succumbing to the burden of
spiritual depression. You do not, however, wish me to
discuss how far I agree in your outlook, or look forward
to some recovery before it is too late, or think that the
anxieties are bracing to the national character. Let us
leave all these on one side, and assuming that the gloomier
forecast is reasonable,turn our best attention to the central
question, which has, in different forms, occupied us all
this long and delightful walk. It is this. A believer in
Christianity, but not from emotion, nor what is ordinarily
called a religious man, or inclined to the contemplative
side of life, learns that while there may be some up-
holding power in religion in the face of trials like this,
there is certainly none without it. Is it possible to explain
how far and in what manner a bright and vivid faith in
the great truths of Christianity would help, when a merely
intellectual assent to the propositions is powerless to aid ?

F. Yes, that is exactly it.

N



178 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

B. Then let me say first that the very putting of the
question shows a lack not of mental perception at all, but
of spiritual experience, and I trust you will not take that
expression to mean some vague and cloudy transport of
the mind, untranslatable and incommunicable, but a
definite interpreting of certain data with the highest facul-
ties of our being. Broadly speaking, you would not be
puzzled for a moment if you really knew what is meant by
communion with God ; because certain truths which to
you now are unreal, would then become living and certain.
Such as for instance, " A thousand years in Thy sight are
but as yesterday, seeing that is past as a watch in the
night." Without meditation, silent hours, and in short,
spiritual experience, few men can take in the wonder of the
patience of God ; the slowness of His advance, the im-
mense length of His preparation-epochs, the glory of His
future unveiling. But it might be clear even to the in-
tellect alone, that when these expressions cease to be mere
words, all the great issues of life assume a new colour and
we are no longer dealing with the same problem. " ' My
ways are not as your ways/ saith the Lord," are words
which were wrung out of some deep experience, and ex-
pressed what the speaker literally had learnt as a vivid
certainty. Now this sort of knowledge is the illumina-
tion of the facts of life by the Holy Spirit working on a
man's mind, till the illumination becomes his own. But
man's chief part in the process is the conscious and re-
peated acts of communion with God ; made in the con-
fidence that they will maintain him in participation
with the divine life. If any such expressions convey a
truth, are you not in danger of practically denying it when
you look on it as questionable whether such communion
can produce the effect you desiderate, and also of forget-



A YEAR AFTER 179

ting what a part it played in the earthly life of our
Lord?

F. When I think of what you say, I can imagine a kind
of vision irradiating our earthly life, but as soon as I turn
my eyes towards the prospect of decay and the collapse
of high endeavour, the old depression returns.

B. No doubt it does. Do you suppose that a spiritual
communion with the Eternal God can be started straight
off after the neglect of years ? and that its effects can be
perceptible at once, when from the nature of things they
must come slowly and in ways hard to describe ?

F. Will you go on then, and tell me some more ?

B, There is this ingredient of an intellectual kind, viz.
the perspective in the view taken of evil and its place in
the world. If your prognostication of events is approxi-
mately correct, we have to look forward to that which
seems to our clearest sight a great set back in the history
of mankind : the failure of the English Empire to do its
work of civilizing and evangelizing the backward races :
a failure exemplified by that of not saving the kaffirs in
Africa from Islamism. Now we assume that this is going
to happen, and it will be what we call an evil. The truest
Christian philosophy is to regard it as one of the great
instances of a stage in the history of mankind, which we
have to fight against and arrest if possible, but which we
may be perfectly certain will in the long run work for
good ; yet the duty of arresting it is potently clear and
binding on us all.

F. That is all very well ; but it surely contradicts all
reason.

B. Doubtless, if reason, and such operations of our
thinking faculty as could be rationally described, were all
we had to trust to, we should be enmeshed in a huge net



180 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

of puzzle and bewilderment. As it is, we have to recog-
nize the limitation of our ordinary thought, and the cer-
tainty that there is an infinite realm beyond, about which
our mental faculties can tell us nothing ; yet something
in us tells us something. For instance : our Lord indi-
cated this particular difficulty quite clearly in the words,
" It must be that offences come ; but woe to that man
by whom they come." The climax of illustration for
these words was given by His own Death and Passion.
Some students believe that Judas, seeing the end was
inevitable, thought himself justified in bringing it about
by betrayal. But we know he was wrong, and would
have been wrong, even if he had known that the Death
was to be the foundation of hope for countless millions of
people. Similarly, if Nicodemus in the Sanhedrin opposed
the plan for the capture and murder, he was right, and
would have been right whether he knew what the Death
meant or not. Surely that is undeniable.

F. Well, I suppose so. But it would be much easier to
assent, if one could be sure that Nicodemus did not know.

B. True. But that remark hardly applies to Judas,
and I should say that as to ignorance often making duty
plainer we need not be in any misgiving. I mean in this
way. You start the question as to these vast changes in
human history, revolutions, deca}rs, failures, conquests,
injuries and so forth being matters which a Christian can
regard with any hope. I point to the grand failure-
triumph of Calvary, and you admit that as long as an
individual was not enlightened as to its issue and bearing
on mankind's future, he could be under no sort of hesita-
tion beforehand as to preventing it if he could. But we
are in just as dark ignorance as to the bearing of these
big events on the world's history as Nicodemus was



A YEAR AFTER 181

about Calvary. They look to us as if they were fraught
with irretrievable disaster, and that is enough reason
for our trying to prevent them ; and therein lies the
difference between Christianity and fatalism. We pre-
haps may not say it is God's will that our Empire should
crumble, though we may be able to feel that out of the
melancholy wreckage some glorious fabric shall some day
rise, But certainly we can say it is not His will that we
should sit idly by while events are portending which seem
to us all to be baneful, and which, like Calvary, the best
minds of the time cannot interpret in any other way.

F. There is no difficulty about our duty being to stop
these horrors if we can, but the puzzle is about warding
off despair if we can't.

B. Despair is, of course, often quite reasonable and
right for a complete Atheist, if there be such a thing ; but
it is completely the negation of all belief, as well as reason,
for a Theist, and still more so for a Christian. There is a
turning of common calamities into blessings w T hich is a
wonderful mystery, but it very frequently happens.
Take the most wonderful of all. A young man falls into
sin and nearly breaks his mother's heart. Years after
he meets with an accident, and on his deathbed reveals
to her that his fall was the one thing that brought him
to a knowledge of God. That is a real experience ; but
our reason is baffled by it. The instance is relevant,
because the terrible part of the trial before us is the con-
viction that we have brought it on by our own fault.
Now, as it is impossible to foresee or imagine the blessed
issue of any calamity in ordinary life which is the direct
result of sin, gross indifference, studied brutish heart -
lessness, ruthless ambition, or insensate perversity, so on
the vast stage of the world's history, colossal tragedies



182 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

may be impending, the very thought of which fills us with
dismay, and to avert which we are called upon to spend
our best efforts and even our last drop of blood. None
the less, despair is an immeasurable sin because it is a
denial of God, and after all, there is no sin comparable to
that in depth of wickedness, malignancy or blindness ;
to say nothing of its effects on earth.

F. Well, but the effects of this calamity will be very
terrible, and I cannot see that however robust may be
your belief in God's government of the world, it can alter
the dire prospect. After all, awful things have happened,
about which not one consoling fact has emerged into view
from all the dismal wreckage. I can see no light.

B. Some such words as those must have been used by
the Jews when they asked Jesus for a sign. It seems such
a natural request ; and yet He called them " evil and
adulterous " for making it. " Unsound, corrupt, and
false to the great contract vow." What vow ? Why,
surely, the vow of union which the nation had long ago
made with God, and which they were breaking no w be-
cause they would not trust Him. As matrimony with-
out mutual affection, so was the relation between the
chosen people and Jehovah, when it was devoid of trust.
But are you not asking for a sign too ? You want some
open pledge of reward before you commit yourself to Him.
That is what it comes to.

F. No, but one always thinks that the Jews demanded
some compelling sign in the sky which should force their
belief in Christ.

B. Yes, but forcing belief simply means saving the
individuals from the necessity of choosing between trust-
ing or perishing. We are tempted to conceive of a middle
course in which the belief in the highest revelation may be



A YEAR AFTER 183

exempted from the effort of our whole being. But there
is no such thing. Such a belief if it were possible were
valueless, a mere husk, an exsiccation, of the real thing,
which is a self-committal of the whole b ing, a yielding i
life to life ; and that is the only alternative to perishing.
" He that loveth his life shall lose it." Or think of an-
other figure. It is wonderful how often our divine Tea-
cher when He is not illustrating truth from childhood, uses
some figure connected with marriage or with marriage-
banquets. So let us test your position or rather your
professed position, in comparison with that which we
think of as the religious life, by the figure of marriage.
Conceive of marriage under its highest aspect, as, thank
God, we still have opportunities of doing in England,
when two lives are blended by the power of sanctified
natural affection and complemented by joint service and
unselfish help. Make it in your mind as near the ideal as
you can ; and then think what it would become, if either
the man or the woman were to say to the other, " I will
trust you, but you must first show me a sign that it is
worth while." What would happen ? Why, the utter-
most tragedy of human life, the record of which may
be read in any newspaper any morning ; when hard
logic and selfish common-sense (in this case the same
as blindness) are the only response to an unreasoning,
undisciplined love, and through bitterness and strife
the two lives fall completely asunder into the last
stage of infidelity. Not for nothing did our Lord speak
of the asking for a sign as the note of an adulterous
generation.

F. I think I begin to see. But what about hopeful-
ness ?

B. St. Paul's great words about the relation between



i84 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

Christ and the Church being a mystery like that of
marriage— one of the scores of deep sayings in the New
Testament, where this precious truth is uttered, revealing
the secret of the beauty of home life — will give us the
clue to your question. Let us picture as well as we can
what the ideal relation would be. On the one side the
Lord of Life and Glory creating, sustaining, inspiring and
teaching the Society we call the Church ; to which He has
committed the one supreme task of renewing the world
by perpetually bringing to it His own undying, undecay-
ing Life ; by teaching, by warning, by example, passing on
the priceless message of His own redeeming Love. That
is the work of the Church and the true meaning of all her
activities, and it ought to be, of course, the one aim of
every individual member throughout the entire Body.
Now no sooner do we set ourselves seriously to this task
under any one of the countless forms in which we are per-
mitted to undertake it, than we find out the wholly un-
expected, novel and most blessed fact., that where we
are most truly effective, most fruitful, most Christ-like
in our endeavours and our working is often where we have
failed most deplorably according to the ordinary human
standard of failure. Not quite always, lest too easy a sign
should be given, but so as to show us most convincingly
that just as the dark and shameful appearance of the
drama of Golgotha was simply the appearance to our
purblind vision of the glory of the Lord manifested in a
world of sin, so if we once learn that lesson we shall dis-
cern in the very collapse of our earthly hopes, innocent
and child-like though they be, the evidence of our work
being " not in vain in the Lord." It is almost beyond
question that as things are, that which seems to us to be
cruel adversity, or backsliding, or ignominy and collapse,



A YEAR AFTER 185

is the very condition of real fruitfulness, the fruitfulness
of faithful work ; for work so carried on to the end is in
truth faithful work. In the power of this living truth
hopefulness thrives : it cannot die.

F. You would then say that such thoughts must have
been in St. Paul's mind when he said, " We are saved by
hope." For my part, I had for long been supposing that
the application of those words was in the practical life ;
a man's work is quickened by hope ; but I can hardly
think now that the words should be so limited.

B. Certainly not . The Apostle meant the ' ' hope that
is not seen." It is literally a saving influence, one of
those ingredients in a man's temper which wards off de-
struction, 1 but only if it be founded, consciously or uncon-
sciously, on the knowledge of God and on confidence in His
government of the world. One of the elements in that
confidence will be the perception that while all really per-
manent work is the spreading of God's Kingdom on earth,
there is hardly any form of calamity which can for long
arrest that work, if only men's wills are quickened to
obey. If that is done, all that is good in your schemes will
be accomplished ; but no collapse need be dreaded be-
cause His purpose cannot fail. But all that I have said,
which is only a tiny fragment of the possible answer to
your question, depends on the deep underlying fact which
only experience can teach you, viz. that the power to
seize and live on these and similar truths is a gift of the
Holy Spirit of God, which is never withheld from those
who seek it.

1 Rom. viii. 24. See Godet in loc. " Hope " in St. Paul's view
is a spiritual thing which actualizes the redemption of the world.
When Christ accomplished that redemption, it was "in the line
of hope."



186 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

F. Ah ! well ; it sounds somehow consoling, and I
must think over it all. But doesn't it strike you your-
self as a little abstract in presence of huge concrete
dangers ?

B. I don't deny that I have purposely put the abstract
before you, because I know it cannot fail. But in trying
to be more concrete we necessarily drop on to a level
where uncertainty creeps in. Yet I hold to the hope that
in a department of life not ordinarily associated with
religion,' there are signs of a great advance being made in
the general conception of Christian brotherhood and
therewith a vigorous effort towards co-operation.

F. Where ? How ?

B. In the immense world of finance and industry. It
can hardly be for no good purpose that the marvellous
interdependence of nations each with its need of credit,
has come to be a fact. It obviously makes for peace,
and predisposes distant people to consider co-operation
as favourable to their highest interests. 1 Again there
are some very cheering signs in the conduct of huge
industries that a higher ethic is being taught us by sharp
experience of the terrific failure of the lower. A friend
said to me the other day that the hope of society seems
to lie in monopolists, because they are becoming so big
and so important that they must learn how to serve the
community ; the community is too much interested in
them to allow them to be selfish. I find the same idea
worked out in the interesting essay called Inspired Mil-
lionaires. 2 If we are being taught brotherliness in the
weird pagan-looking world of business, may we not

1 See a most instructive article in the March number of
The Round Table (175 Piccadilly.)

2 Stanley Lee. (Grant Richards.)



A YEAR AFTER 187

hope that it will spread far enough to weld together the
Dominions of old England ?

But, old friend, while we have been talking, the sun
has been setting over yon beech copse ; and never with
greater splendour of passing. What a comment on what
we have been thinking ! That glory is bringing the
divine nearer to many a soul at this moment. But we are
told that the colours all depend on dull, disagreeable
things, like rain clouds and dust particles floating in the
air. So it is that in Oxford Street we can see the most
gorgeous sunsets ; and I have even heard that their
brilliancy and spangled iridescence are more irresistible
in their appeal nowadays than ever before ; for what
reason think you ? Because of the dust raised by the
motor-cars. How can we despair of anything after that ?

F. Well, many thanks to you. I suppose it is time
for us to get back to the house.



CHAPTER VIII
Conclusion

IN considering wherein consists the essence of the
good character, which is at the same time admirable
and attractive, we have been led to recognize that while
the absence of Egoism would probably be the broadest
designation of character as manifested in life, there is an
equally true, though narrower, description given in a
positive way by the word Humility. Reflection shows
that this quality must have something whereon to rest.
In other words a man cannot forget or ignore himself
unless he has his affections set on something higher ; and
in history we have a clear indication that that higher
something is the revelation made to mankind in Christ ;
seeing that the recognition of Humility as an essential
quality of that which is admirable and lovable in human
character was contemporaneous with the first preaching
of the Gospel. It was a marked feature of our Lord's
teaching, and was enforced in the Apostolic writings in
the light of the facts of the Sacrifice on Calvary, the
Resurrection from the Dead, and the work of the Holy
Spirit after the day of Pentecost.

Humility is not simply a low estimate of self, though
it exhibits a freedom from self-assertion, love of display,
or desire for fame. A low estimate would often be
ridiculous, if once the principle of comparison with others



CONCLUSION 189

be admitted, and it generally is admitted in proportion
as the opposite principle of service to God is feebly
grasped. There are characters to which the bare appeal
of duty comes with something of divine force, paramount
and irresistible ; and the offering of self to it is similar
in its effects to the self-surrender made in other cases
to the Personal God. But the difference is that the
religious principle of humble self-surrender can be pro-
pagated from generation to generation, while there is
nothing in mere loyalty to duty which can be explained
to growing minds if once they begin to reflect at all on
the basis of conduct. Again, there is the difference that
the former, where it is genuine, fosters humility, while
the latter, unless it is infused with something of mystery
and awfulness which does not logically belong to it,
may be thorough, unquestioning and consistent, and yet
compatible with pride and egoism. Nor does a bare


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Online LibraryEdward LytteltonCharacter and religion → online text (page 14 of 19)