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me I daresay you will not mind my putting a question
or two just to see that we thoroughly understand each
other. As you interpret humility broadly you would
include among its opposites all that we mean by a self-
centred conceit, and over-estimation of self ?

B. Yes. I don't object to a man's thinking as highly
of himself as he likes. He cannot force me to share his
estimate.

E. To be sure not. But, though you may differ as
to the estimate, you would thoroughly agree that in his
crusade against the conventional irrational virtue of
humility he should throw off all dissimulation and let his
light shine.

B. Yes. Indeed this is exactly what I do myself,
while of course refraining from giving offence, because
it leads to unpleasantness.

E. Well, let us then imagine a young man who has
done good service to his native town in showing how the
drainage can be improved. His venture has given him
the conviction that he is unquestionably the most useful



78 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

citizen in the place ; but others are languid in this be-
lief, and he finds himself constrained to assert his claims
with vigour and persistence. Would you object ?

B. Only if he became a bore ; which is possible.

E. Then what would be a duty according to your
principles of egoism, becomes a blunder if pushed too
far?

B. Yes, because it would fail of its object. Self-
assertion ceases to become a duty when it only ends in
people thinking you a nuisance.

E. I should agree. But if you converted a sufficient
number to your views of the primacy of egoism among
the virtues, the result would be that we should suppress
our annoyance at this person's talk and give him our
best attention?

B. Well, it is a state of society that I have not
contemplated. But I suppose we should.

E. Then the speaker would be encouraged to go on
as long as possible in manifesting his worth as a reformer
of drains? For he would clearly be doing no more than
his duty in obeying the promptings of egoism ; since as
you say there is no rational ground for looking on any
form of self-suppression as a virtue. So if there is no
rational ground, we must allow the drain-man to talk
about himself and his pipes as long as ever there is a
fragment of hope that we shall be brought to view the
matter as he does. But perhaps I may get hold of a
clearer illustration. Excuse me asking, but are you a
married man and the father of a family ?

B. Yes ; my eldest is a boy of twelve' and there
are two or three younger.

E. Let us then assume that the boy were to write
his feelings down in a journal, and that he showed it to



THE RECTOR'S GUEST 79

you one day, and you found therein a long disquisi-
tion on his own claims to be thought a better fellow than
any other boy in the school : in short a thoroughly egois-
tic, self-absorbed outpouring of his deepest thoughts.
Now you know there are people who have studied these
phenomena, and who tell us that such a propensity as
we are imagining is the beginning of insanity, which in
nearly all its forms is egoistic. Would you take that
view of your own son, or would you on the other hand
see in his expressions a satisfactory evidence that he is
growing up on rational principles of egoism, there being
no other principles to go by ?

B. If you do not mind, I should prefer to postpone
further discussion till to-morrow. You have, I readily
admit, given me some nuts to crack, and as my object
is not to score a victory but to get nearer to the heart
of the subject, would you mind my looking in again to-
morrow evening ?

E. I shall be delighted to see you. Good-night.



CHAPTER VI

The Key in the Divinity of Christ

THAT night B walked home pondering, and found
it difficult to sleep. Being really desirous of
intellectual honesty, despite all his talk about egoism,
he had developed a faculty for cool inquiry into reasoning
and impartial weighing of conclusions even where his
amour ftropre had been wounded. This faculty came to
his help on the present occasion when he was within a
measurable distance of being irritated. He quenched
his annoyance by the reflection that if E had silenced
him twice it was either because he was a deeper thinker,
or else the victim of a fallacy which he, B, would be able
to expose.

So he lay in bed pondering. " If I am to be perfectly
candid I must admit that this old gentleman makes my
position look foolish. But let me review it once more
before I give in. There are certain virtues of which
nearly everybody thinks highly, and which we have
been including under the term Humility. In discussion
with an Agnostic or Theist and an ordinary conven-
tional Christian, I can find no sort of warrant in their
deepest principles for the belief that these virtues are
worthy of honour. It has for years been my conviction
that there is no reason for a high estimate either of them
or of some others, such as Hope and Perseverance. So I



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST 81

have ruled my life on a basis of pure egoism, as being a
principle of undeniable cogency when all else fails : and
however faulty it may be in its philosophical foundation
it appeals to me and evidently, constantly and powerfully,
to a mass of other people. Such predilections as I thought
I had imbibed in favour of these virtues I have been
engaged in suppressing ; but it is clear that if they won't
be suppressed, and I act on them ever so little, all my
boasted rational consistency is undone. That this is
the case Mr. E has, I fear, shown in two ways. He com-
pletely silenced me in the matter of disgust. If X my
neighbour chooses to indulge in disgusting vices, I, as an
egoist, may insist on his not obtruding them on my notice.
But he may say, for all I know quite truly, that they
do not disgust him ; if so, I should be insisting on some-
thing very near hypocrisy in him, the one sin in my
eyes. I should, of course, concede the point as to his
perfect right to indulge. Meantime I should pose, as I
have often done, as a man free from all cant and dissem-
bling. But, in his case, if I obey my own egoism, I must
insist on his dissembling. Now can it be said that that
is a satisfactory outcome, or that it has the very faintest
claim to be called rational ? Yet, bad as it is, it would
be very much worse if the self-indulgent person were
my own son. I may adopt, if I please, a laissez-faire
attitude, with some reservations, towards everybody else ;
but towards my Harry ? It is an awful situation, really,
to be obliged to insist on a course of conduct for a boy,
for which I know I am wholly unable to produce a single
sound warrant. Is it possible that Henry Sidgwick
was right in saying that unless new facts were discovered,
the less human beings thought about moral problems
the better ? What new facts are there to be discovered ?

G



82 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

Or, suppose we adopt this prescription and shelve the
whole business of ethics ; what help would that be to
me ? Henry Sidgwick was a splendid character : but
he had no children. I wonder if this alert-minded Mr.
E can give me some clue as to the secret of his own peace
of mind. It is evident he has got hold of some principle
which I so far have missed. I must see if I can get it
out of him ?

So the next day B went to find his new acquaintance,
thinking as he went over various points in the discussion
which they had already had. On rinding E he began as
follows : —

B. I am afraid, sir, that you got me into a corner
twice yesterday evening, and, though it is not pleasant
to admit such things, I have not been able to find any
satisfactory answer to your arguments. But before
abandoning my position, I feel eager to ask if you would
be able and willing to give me some idea of the solution
of these problems, which, I apprehend, you have succeeded
in finding ?

E. Nothing would gratify me more. I can't, of course,
promise that I can succeed in my attempt, but I can try.
Would you mind indicating at what part of the very big
subject you would like to begin ?

B. Certainly. You remember my position with re-
gard to the virtues of Humility ? I can find no sort of
foundation for the high estimate generally formed of
them. That estimate seems to me, as a matter of history,
to have been very suddenly raised between the time of
Aristotle and that of St. Paul. The writings of the two
men conclusively prove it. The natural inference would
seem to be that Christian teachings had something to do
with it. But as I insisted with a gentleman called D



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST 83

not long ago, mere teaching, that is not based on reason,
is not only arbitrary but is certain to fall into disrepute.
Now I remember your dropping a remark about the great-
ness of the question whether Christ was divine or not.
This seemed to indicate some view of Christianity with
which I am not very familiar. Do you see any connexion
between your remark and my difficulty ?

Mr. E, before replying, smiled a very beautiful and
deeply tranquil smile ; and then said, " Not only is there
a connexion between the great Christian fact and your
difficulty, but there is in the fact a power of solving that
difficulty and all others, if once they are brought fairly
into contact with it. This is plain and obvious in the
relation between the Incarnation of Christ and the esti-
mate which Christians have come to form of the gentler
virtues.

B. You interest me profoundly. But I daresay you
will allow me before you go on to explain — to put my
logical puzzle succinctly before you, so that you and I
may stand at the same view-point in relation to the
obstacle in the path. It seems to me desperately hard
to get over.

First, we have the mysterious fact of conscience to
explain. Certain courses of action approve themselves
to us instinctively. On reflection, it is apparent that
these are useful to society and by some evolutionary
theory may be conceived of as developments. I confess
I find it impossible to regard the theory as adequate,
but still it works fairly well in relation to our attitude
towards murder, theft, slander and the like. But in
regard to the gentler virtues, and especially those that
are incompatible with egoism, we find that the instinct
within us impels us with a deep and powerful emotion



84 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

not so much towards certain actions as towards a certain
temper of mind, and that, too, one which is profoundly
antagonistic to all natural dispositions, and, as far as
we can see, wholly unconnected with social development,
the security of the tribe, cohesion of clans, and so forth.
Well, along with this thing we call conscience, is the
faculty of reason, a sublime power, as I should call it,
distinguishing us from the animals, on which we depend
for the ratifying and controlling of the instincts which
guide our conduct. That is to say, we do not hold it to
be sufficient that an instinct is within us, such as the
desire for retaliation ; but we bring our reason to bear
first on its justification, and secondly on the measure in
which it is to be admitted, if it is admitted at all. We all,
in short, pay allegiance to reason, and try our best, sooner
or later, to let it play freely round these very interesting
problems. Now in regard to instincts which are socially
unnecessary or even injurious to development, we require,
if we are reasonable people, an independent and powerful
justification. But d fortiori is this the case, when the
cultivation of these instincts is always painful; always
runs counter to the most universal dispositions of human-
ity. If, then, we hold to any form of Theism, we must
clearly establish some theory which answers the question
why the Deity has planted within us a set of instincts
which run counter to others even more prevalent, and
the fulfilment of which is never unaccompanied by pain.
You would probably agree that Theism per se is wholly
inadequate to explain this deep mystery ?

E. Yes, I would certainly agree that that is so. We
could perhaps say that some philosophical justification
for our estimate of Humility has been elaborated with
much ingenuity and some success by various writers,



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST 85

in a way to appeal to philosophically-minded persons.
But the fact to be explained is that the estimate of the
gentle, unegoistic virtues is deeply characteristic of all
classes and conditions of men, and, though the traces of
it are faint in pre-Christian literature, the feeling is
now firmly imbedded we may say in every heart.

B. That is so. Now is it not certain that when we
pass from Theism to Christianity the difficulty of con-
necting facts with doctrine becomes still more acute ?
First, how can we find ground for humility in a scheme
of things which apparently exalts man more than ever ?
We are told that God became man and died an agonizing
death to redeem mankind from sin. I confess I don't
understand how such a death would work redemption
from such a thing as sin, nor do I see clear evidence that
it has done so. But, however that be, such a scheme of
salvation speaks eloquently of the supreme worth of
man in the eyes of his Maker. That sort of teaching is
no encouragement of humility. There is my first point.
Now for the next. We are told that Christ by precept
and example enforced the lesson of humility, and hence
it is our duty to practise it. But I refuse to do anything
of the kind unless the lesson commends itself to my
reason. You do nothing to gain my loyal allegiance
to an ethical doctrine by insisting that I must obey Christ
Who taught it. No matter how effectively He taught
it, neither His teaching nor His example constitute any
claim on my life unless I recognize, independently of
Him, that His message was divinely good, and corresponds
to the deepest and best instincts of thoughtful men.
Now this is what it fails to do. No doubt the multitude
are captivated by such gentleness, patience and kindness
as He showed : but He may have been mistaken. He



86 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

numbers a large number of adherents, I admit : but
there are millions who will not accept His sway ; and
among nominal Christians there is a huge number who in
respect of this Humility are thoroughly recalcitrant,
though they are mostly too muddled-headed or too
disingenuous to own the fact. When I put clearly to
myself this dilemma, I am sorely distressed to find that
my own emotions still testify that I have not been able
to efface all traces of the allegiance to Humility which
most people are glad to own. There is the crux. God,
we believe, or I suppose we do, gave us the gift of reason.
Humility is not rational. Yet Christ gave His life to
teach it. How can I help inferring that He was the
victim of a delusion, which my God-given faculty enables
me to discern, though apparently many others do not ?
Mr. E sat quite silent for a good minute, and in his
face there gathered that singular far-off look of one

voyaging through great seas of thought alone.

So striking was his aspect that B could only wait in
respectful silence. When he knew more of this remark-
able old man, he felt certain that he had been praying
during that pause : so intently as to seem quite uncon-
scious of any one's presence in the room. Then E turned
to him and said : —

E. Well do I remember the time when almost exactly
those difficulties, and many more, were vividly, hauntingly,
present to my mind. You may think it strange, but I
found in time that they were all due to a grievously
restricted and curtailed idea of ^what God revealed to
mankind : in short, that in a natural wish for simplifica-
tion men have cut down their notion of the Gospel message



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST 87

till they have deprived it of nearly all its saving elements,
except for those privileged souls who are so enraptured
by the vision of heavenly goodness in Christ that, in-
dependently of any thought-out theory, they have been
impelled to give themselves in complete self-surrender
to Him. They learn the essence of the message, but there
are many scores of minds to which they cannot pass it
on, or even introduce it.

B. Is it possible that you are going to urge me to
study the barren subject of Christian dogma ?

E. I daresay that what I have in my thoughts would
be correctly so called : but as there are few words which
have been so persistently misused and misinterpreted I
think we shall do well to avoid that term this evening.
I don't believe it will be necessary for me to touch on
any subject repellent to any thoughtful man. Speaking
quite broadly, the principle on which men have cut down
the Divine Revelation may be called the anthropocentric :
that is to say the infinity, the supreme and ineffable
majesty of the Most High, has been constantly forgotten,
just as it was in the time of the Prophet of the Exile, or
in that of Isaiah himself ; indeed always when any error
of magnitude has crept into men's minds.

B. That may be the case. But I am waiting to see
how you are going to bring your statement into relation
with my difficulties.

E. Well, before doing so, let me explain wherein I
conceive you to be beginning your inquiry from the
wrong end. You have a faculty — let me say a vigorous
faculty, too — of reason. You have assumed that in
relation to things divine you may use your reason as the
one guiding light necessary for all illumination. But
how if it should appear that the function of reason is not



88 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

to precede the growth of life, but to follow it, and if
possible verify it ?

B. You use a singular expression there : " the growth
of life " : but my subject is the acquisition of truth,
surely a very different thing. I am aware that a human
being cannot physically grow by first thinking how he
will do it ; indeed, if he were to try he might hinder
his growth. But what has that to do with the growth of
intelligence, which of course is a rational matter ?

E. Have you any right to assume that the laws of
spiritual growth are so very different from those of
physical growth ? Do you assent to Herbert Spencer's
celebrated dictum : "All knowledge is a verification of
assumptions " ? "All knowledge," he says ; if he is
right, then, the attempt to satisfy the reason, however
good at a later stage, must be nothing but an impediment
at first ; if it leads us to hold our as yet unproved
assumptions too cheaply.

B. Dear me ! Can that be true ? I know of course
that the greatest discoveries in science have often been
exactly of that nature. Darwin had an idea of Natural
Selection, not after, but before he collected the vast
store of evidence in its support. But, to keep close to
the matter in hand, how does that justify one in valuing
Humility merely because Christ preached it ?

E. It is possible to present a new view of things to
the heart before the head. If this is successfully done,
there is a sort of embracing the idea by the whole
being of a man followed by all manner of rich and un-
expected verification by the reason, or what we call the
head. You would agree no doubt that in many cases
of advance in real knowledge, something emotional or
something concerned with the affections is always enlisted



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST 89

early, otherwise the necessary assimilative effort cannot
be made.

B. Yes, I should not demur to that, though it is
expressed perhaps a little strongly.

E. Perhaps. But that will hardly matter when we
reflect that this axiom, if it is ever true, is the more certain
to be so the higher the truth, with which we are concerned.
I mean that a great, high truth demands all our faculties
and appeals to the whole of our being. In respect of
such a wondrous subject as our relation to God our
Creator, it is hardly conceivable that so vital, so integral
a part of our being as our affections can be left out. Very
well then. Granting this, and remembering that it is
no disparagement to our reason to define its function
truly, instead of making fictitious claims for it, we may
proceed to the question how our deep and universal
instinct, in favour of the gentler virtues and adverse to
what we call egoism, is justified.

Let us set before us the alternatives. Between 330
b.c. and 57 a.d. this marvellous development in ethical
thought is observable. You and I agree that as St.
Paul is obviously responsible to a large extent for the
change, there must have been experiences in his life
which go far to explain how his mind was affected. Now
before his conversion should you say that we can see
evidences of a propensity towards Humility such as
would make a profound change of opinion and feeling in
him a probable event ?

B. No. I cannot honestly say we do. The descrip-
tion of Saul at the time of the death of Stephen is not
that of a man inclined to be humble.

E. Then it becomes more difficult than ever to ascribe
the change simply to the influence of Christ's example.



90 CHARACTER AND RELIGION

For St. Paul's case differs from that of the other Apostles
in one striking respect. He had not, as far as we know,
any first-hand knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth ; that is
of Christ in His humiliation. It is most remarkable how
in his writings he never refers to any of His doings on
earth, and scarcely ever to His teaching. Now if either
Christ's example or His teaching had been the influence
to which the great change in Saul's mind is to be attri-
buted, it is inconceivable that both should be excluded
from the letters in which he lays bare his inmost thoughts
and his deepest principles of conduct and spiritual life. 1

B. (as if to himself). There is certainly something in
that. The great chapter in the Corinthians about Charity
appeals to every right-hearted man and woman, not
only as one of the noblest things ever written, but as one
of the simplest. If Saul was plainly indisposed towards
humility before his conversion, yet in later years not
only exhibited the virtue most completely, but explained
it in matchless style, the change cannot be ascribed to
nothing : nor to Christ's example, which he had not
witnessed and very rarely mentions. No. I admit the
mere example of conduct cannot have been the cause in
Saul's case. But must we not recognize an enormous
difference between the example of Christ and that of others ?
If this is so, may we not suppose that His example did
influence many minds and brought about a change of
feeling which must have influenced even Saul in time ?
I mean that in Christ's brief public life there were mani-
fested the most superb powers ; for whether we believe
the miracles or not, it is certain they were imputed to
Him. The whole picture is that of One Who held the

1 This statement seems to ignore Phil. ii. 7, but see below.



THE KEY IN THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST 91

people in the hollow of His hand, but Who, from principle,
discarded all idea of earthly triumph, as well as all rewards
which the world could give, and underwent shame,
disrepute, homelessness, agony and martyrdom. It
seems to me little short of absurd to suppose such beha-
viour to have had no effect on mankind.

E. First I would answer that even if your statement
and inference are beyond criticism in their main outlines,
you leave unexplained the effect on St. Paul's own char-
acter. If the example was so surpassingly striking and
potent as you describe, and worked in the direction you
imagine, it remains quite inexplicable that the Apostle
referred to it so seldom : and further that in the famous
passage Philippians ii. 7, which seems to be an exception,
it is not Christ's conduct which is alluded to, but the
divine action which we call the Incarnation. Still
further : I must demur, not to the statement you have
just made, but to the theory that Christ, viewed as mere
man, exhibited the virtue which we call Humility. Inter-
spersed among His sayings there are words which, on
the human theory, have ever been regarded as advancing
the most preposterous claims : and there are certain
actions, such as the cleansing of the Temple, which are
incompatible with our idea of Humility nowadays. I
say this because I am trying to view the facts from your
position ; that of one who considers Jesus to have been
merely man.

B. I am not sure, but are not most of those sayings
in the Fourth Gospel, which I presume we cannot treat
as evidence ?

E. Many of them are in the Synoptic Gospels ; and
even if they were not, and even if the Fourth Gospel
were not written by St. John, you have to explain why



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Online LibraryEdward LytteltonCharacter and religion → online text (page 7 of 19)