Frederick Denison Maurice.

The friendship of books, and other lectures online

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First Edition, 1873 ; Second Edition, 1874 ;

Third Edition, 1880 ; Fourtk Edition, 1889.

Re-issued, 1893.


Many of those who were most intimately associated
with the late Mr. Maurice, in the untiring and many-
sided work upon which he so freely spent himself for
his country and his fellow-men, were inclined, while
he lived, to feel indignant and discouraged that so
utterly noble and brave a life was not better appre-
ciated. That the first theologian of their time, who
had done more than any other man to widen and
deepen English thought, should be entirely ignored by
the dispensers of Church patronage, might not indeed
have surprised them. He was not of the stuff of
which dignitaries are made. It is a rare chance in
Church government which lands prophets or apostles
in stalls or thrones. But he had claims on the reading
and working classes of the nation such as no other
man had, and which also seemed to be ignored except
by a small minority. His " History of Moral and
Metaphysical Philosophy" (to mention one only of
his greater works) was a mine of learning made living
and human, and of original thought made useful for
the humblest student, such as no other living man
had produced. In all the higher departments of


thought they saw writers borrowing from this and
other of his works, much in the same way as American
writers do from Mr. Emerson, of whose intellectual
orchard the author of " The Fable for Critics " writes : —

" They might strip every tree and he never would catch 'em,
His Hesperides have no fierce dragon to -n'atch 'era ;
When they send him a dishful and ask him to try 'em,
He never suspects how the sly rogues came by 'era,
He wonders why 'tis there are none such his trees on,
And thinks 'em the best he has tasted this season."

The plunder was never acknowledged, while the
reading public was assured by many of its instructors,
who owed the best part of their own thought to Mr.
Maurice, that he was confused, mystical, a beater of
the air. On the other hand, though he went quietly
on bearing the chief burthen of some of the most
important social movements of the time, as President,
for instance, of the Society for Promoting Working
Men's Associations, and Principal of the Working
Men's College and of Queen's College, his name was
not in men's mouths, and he got none of the helj) for
his well-considered and far-seeing efforts which has
been poured in our day ijlencl -maiub on all kinds of
empirical and mischievous charities. That he should
have looked upon this apparent neglect as a matter of
course, and have attributed it to his own shortcomings,
was a part of his nature and character. His fault
as a leader lay in his readiness to stand aside on the
least provocation, to over-estimate other men, and to
doubt his own judgment and capacity for practical
work. But those who from long experience had


found him almost always right, even upon such ques-
tions as the best method of conducting the business
of manufacturing stout shoes by associated labour,
were not unnaturally jealous of this want of appre-
ciation, and impatient at this apparent indifference of
his countrymen to the life's battle of one of their best
and wisest.

All such jealousies and doubts were indeed in great
measure set at rest by the outburst last year — from
pulpits of all shades in the Church and of all the
Nonconformist bodies, in periodicals and newspa^pers
representing every political section and every class in
the nation — which followed the tidings of his death
It was a most remarkable and significant phenomenon,
this voice, as it were, of a whole nation testifying,
" Well done, good and faithful servant ; " and a witness
to the depth and penetrating nature of Mr. Maurice's
spiritual influence. While rejoicing in so pregTiant
a proof that England can still recognize her prophets,
at any rate when they are gone from her, one may
be pardoned perhaps for a regret that one so sensitive
to spnpathy should never, while he lived, have known
how much he was to the country he loved so deeply,
and served so faithfully.

But, through most of the testimony to the influence
of his life and writings which was thus called forth,
there still ran a singular misunderstanding of the man
and his message. It was assumed in the critical part
of most of these obituary notices, as a matter of fact
which scarcely needed stating, that, with all his ear-


nestness, learning, and knowledge, he was never a
clear thinker ; and, by some intellectual fault, or short-
coming, was either not able, or not courageous enough
mentally (no one ever doubted his perfect moral
courage) to follow out his own premises to their
legitimate conclusions. To those to whom his memory
must always remain amongst their most precious pos-
sessions, and for whom he has scattered more mists
and slain more hobgoblins than all his contemporaries
put together, these accusations of incompleteness, want
of clearness, mysticism, have their comic side. They
might be well content to let them alone, leaving
his works to speak for themselves, if they could only
be sure that the persons addressed would go to those
works. But as criticisms of this kind may hinder
students, and above all young students, from going to
the fountain head, and, as in their judgment it is of
quite unspeakable importance, to England's religion
and England's thought, that such students slimdd do
this, they cannot and ought not to keep silence.

A casual expression in one of the ablest and most
remarkable books published since his death on the
subjects to which he was specially devoted, is a fair
specimen of the tone which some of our foremost
thinkers on such subjects have allowed themselves
in speaking of him, and will serve as well as any to
test the worth of such criticism, and the value of Mr.
Maurice's teaching. In his "Literature and Dogma,"
Mr. Arnold speaks of Maurice as "that pure and
devout spirit— of whom, however, the truth must at


last be said, that in theology he passed his life
beating the bush with deep emotion, and never
starting the hare." The criticism is, it will be seen,
limited to Mr. Maurice's theology ; but, as he was
always careful to remind his readers and hearers
that he " felt as a theologian, thought as a theologian,
and wrote as a theologian ; " and, as in his last pub-
lished work he again declares — " all other subjects are
to my mind connected with theology, and subordinate
to it," the limitation is of no practical value. As a
theologian, then, must he be judged; and if in his
theology he is vague or timorous, or uses words in a
non-natural sense, it is vain to defend him, and he
would not have desired to be defended. Let us see,
then, to what the criticism amounts, and what is
the quarry which Mr. Maurice was in vain straining
all his life to start, but which we presume Mr. Arnold
supposes himself to have not only started but run

Mr. Arnold gathers into six words his purpose in
this remarkable book ; " the thing," he says, " is to
recast relioion." Recognizing' the chaotic state of
modern thought on the most momentous of all sub-
jects, in the presence of the new forces of criticism
and scientific discovery which are being brought to
bear upon it, he asks, " is there a substratum, or veri-
fiable basis," of truth which may be made plain to
the humblest seeker, and upon which he may found
himself and stand firmly " in the revolution which is
befalling the religion in which he has been brought


up ? " It is not necessary to follow the masterly state-
ment, exposition, and argument by which Mr. Arnold
arrives at his conclusion that such a verifiable basis
exists for himself, or to anticipate what that basis is ;
but let us note the positions of most value which he
successively seizes as he marches triumphantly towards
his goal, and makes sure ground not only under his
own feet, but under those of the ordinary Englishman,
bewildered by this " revolution befalling the religion
in which he has been brought up."

Mr. Arnold holds that the attempt to reduce Christi-
anity to a philosophical system, a metaphysical con-
ception, has brought our English people to the point of
rejecting the Bible altogether ; and that the " pseudo-
science of dogmatic theology " which has resulted from
that attempt must be destroyed if the Bible is to
regain its power. The perplexed English student will
get his first foothold here under Mr. Arnold's guid-
ance ; and will never again be troubled with the
notion that a right knowledge of God depends on
ability to reason accurately from terms such as " sub-
stance," " identity," " causation," " design," &c. For
Mr. Arnold's readers the "metaphysical apparatus," as
he calls it, will probably have fallen to pieces finally.

Neither will they require further proof that the
revelation contained in the Bible is not dependent
on, and cannot be made " solidary " with, the evidence
of miracles, or of the fulfilment of prophecy, or even
with the reports of Evangelists and Apostles as to
the words and deeds of their Master.


More valuable still is Mr, Arnold's exposure of the
false antithesis between " natural " and " revealed "
religion, which has been current in England, at any
rate since Butler's time. The difference between the
two, he holds, is not one of kind, but only of degree;
the real antithesis, to " natural " and " revealed " alike
being " invented," " artificial." " A system of theo-
logical notions about personality, essence, existence,
consubstantiality, is artificial religion, and the proper
opposite to ' revealed.' "

Had these negative results been all that we get
from Mr. Arnold's book, their value would have been
very great, coming from such a quarter : but he not
only clears the ground of large heaps of tangle and
litter, but builds upon his clearance. " Conduct or
righteousness is three-fourths or more of life," and is
" a simple and easy matter so far as knowledge is
concerned ; the whole difficulty lying, not in seeing
true and verifying what righteousness is, but in
caring for and attending to it." The religion of Israel
as we have it in the Old Testament, is the declara-
tion or revelation for all time of what righteousness
is, and that God is the author of it : the religion of
the New Testament reveals to us the method and
secret by which alone righteousness is possible for
men, that is to say, the " method of Jesus," or
inwardness and sincerity; the "secret of Jesus," or
" self-renunciation." Now, men will no longer accept
as true what they cannot verify by experience ; but,
Mr. Arnold insists, thus much they have verified,


thus miicli each man can verify for himself. " Try
and you will find it to be so," Mr. Arnold sums up ;
" try all the ways to righteousness you can think of,
and you will find that no way brings you to it except
the way of Jesus ; but that this way does bring you
to it. And, therefore, as Ave found we could say to
the masses, ' Attempt to do without Israel's God,
that makes for righteousness, and you will find out
your mistake ! ' so we find we can now go on further,
and say, ' Attempt to reach righteousness by any
way except that of Jesus, and you will find out
your mistake ! ' This is a thing that can prove
itself if it is so ; and it will prove itself, because it
is so."

Of course it is not pretended for a moment that
this is an exhaustive statement of the scope of
" Literature and Dogma " — (there are a number of
other points brought out with, exquisite clearness and
keenness, such as the historical method of the Bible
revelation ; the one strain that runs through it all
showing that " whoever of nations or men is ship-
wrecked, is shipwrecked on conduct ; " that the faith
which saves is attached to the sa-vdng doctrines of
the Bible, which are very simple, not to its literary
and scientific criticism, which is very hard) — but
these are the main positions, apart from the central
one. Borrowing his own phrase, we may call them
" beatings of the bush," and very searching and able
beatings they are, beatings which were clearly neces-
sary before the religion in which we were brought


up can be recast for a scientific and critical genera-
tion. But then we must take leave to say, that
every one familiar with Mr. Maurice's works will have
travelled the whole ground, over and over again.
His first great work, " The Kingdom of Christ," was
the strongest attack yet made on the attempts to
squeeze Christianity into any system, and on the
" logical apparatus " of one kind or another which
have been used for this purpose ; and in the last
of his published works, the preface to his " Moral
and Metaphysical Philosophy," written within a year
of his death, he recounts, for the last time, "how
often I have been tempted to seek a home for my
spirit in some particular opinion or system of opinions
and by what gracious influences I have been shown
that the fine palace would have been a prison-

Again, while Mr. Maurice's teaching as to miracles
and prophecy is no doubt very different from Mr.
Arnold's, it is at least as clear and emphatic in pro-
testing against the theory that the revelation of the
Bible must stand on the evidence of miracles, or the
fulfilment of prophecy as commonly understood.

The falseness of the antithesis between natural
and revealed religion had been worked out years ago
by Mr. Maurice, on parallel lines to Mr Arnold's,
but with greater fulness and clearness. All revela-
tion or discovery, he had taught us, even of the
law which is written in men's hearts (the "natural
religion " of Butler), must be made by God to men


in their consciences. And so it is witli all scientific,
discovery. This also is a discovery or unveiling to
a man of that which is ; which was not called into
being by him ; of which he is in no sense the author.
It was always there. He has been sho\\Ti that it
was always there. He can only tell the world some-
thinsf which has been hidden from it, and which it
was intended to know.

And so with respect to the historical method of
the Biblical revelation, how, step by step, a man, a
family, a nation, all nations, are educated into ac-
knowledgment and worship of righteousness (which,
however, Mr. Maurice calls " the living God," as the
Old Testament writers do) ; how the only way to
righteousness is throuo-h the " method " and " secret "
of Jesus ; how each man may verify this for him-
self; how easy the knowledge, how hard the practice
of righteousness is ; all these are commonplaces in
Mr. Maurice's teachinsr. So that, without detracting-
the least from Mr. Arnold, while acknowledging and
feeling gi'ateful for the exquisite clearness, the varied
learning, and the rare courage he has brought to
bear on the gi'eat theme he has set himself, one
must protest against the tone of his comment on
one who had already travelled the same paths, and
taken many with him.

But, as has been already said, these are only the
beatings of the bush ; we have not yet reached the
centre, the cardinal point in such a discussion. No
one puts this more strongly than Mr. Arnold. "The


whole pinch of the matter is here," he says : " and
till we are agreed as to what we mean by God, we
can never, in discussing religious questions, under-
stand one another or discuss seriously." And so Mr.
Arnold spares no pains to make us see precisely
what he means by God, Still maintaining the value
as a scientific definition of his former saying that
God is "simply the stream of tendency by which all
things fulfil the law of their being," he admits its
inadequacy for the purposes of the deeper inquiry.
Then, after suggesting, by the way, that we use the
word God merely as " a deeply-moved way of saying
conduct or righteousness," he takes his stand on the
formula, " God is the power, not ourselves, which
works for righteousness." Now no one would have
been more ready than Mr. Maurice to admit the
truth of this, so far as it goes. But will not revela-
tion carry us further ? Does not Mr, Arnold himself
imply that it will, when he says, " So far we know
God that He is the Eternal who loveth righteousness,
and the further we go in righteousness the more we
shall know Him " ?

Surely it must be so. But it scarcely appears
from his work how far Mr. Arnold is conscious of
the difficulties which he himself has left his readers
in, by stopping where he does. The first question
that forces itself on them must be. But, after all,
what of Christ ? Does Mr. Arnold hold Him to be
one with " the power, not ourselves, which works for
righteousness " ? Sometimes we think he does, as


when he says, " The kingdom of the Eternal the
world is already become, by its chief nations pro-
fessing the religion of righteousness. The kingdom
of Christ the world will have to become, is on its
way to become, because the profession of righteous-
ness, except as Christ interpreted righteousness, is
vain ; " or again, " God's evidence for His Son is
this, that God hath given to us eternal hfe, and
this life is in His Son. That is, in righteousness
we have the sense of being truly alive, and through
the method and secret and sweet reasonableness of
Jesus, and only through these, we get at righteous-
ness." At other times all is misty and vague, and
the sense in which Christ is the Son of God, for
Mr. Arnold, appears to be that in which every man
who follows righteousness becomes also the son of

The same kind of difficulty must be raised in the
mind of the humblest reader by Mr. Arnold's dealing
with the Spirit of God. Forgetting his usual epieikeia,
or sweet reasonableness, he speaks of the popular
doctrine of the Trinity in a way which must have
given deep pain to many good Christians. But what
deliverance does he offer himself from the belief he
satizries so cruelly ? First, he tells us, we must re-
translate the word Trvevfia, and speak of the " holy
influence." The disciples would find, Jesus tells
them, " a new power come to their help after He
left them, a power of insight such as they had never
had before," but " which came from God, as Jesus


did" and " said nothing of itself, but only what
God said, or Jesus said ; a Paraclete, or reinforcement
working in aid of God and Jesus, even the spirit
of Truth." But is this Spirit, then, one with God,
with " the power not themselves " ? Again, Mr. Arnold
gives them no help, but rather puzzles them further
by calling the " paraclete " in another place the
"intuition of reality" in yourself; in a third place,
"the muse of righteousness," contrasting it with
"the muse of art or science," which visited Hesiod
when he was tending his sheep on the side of
Helicon, and which, according to Mr. Arnold, was
an " equally real " influence, equally also " a spirit
of Truth."

And now let us turn to Mr. Maurice, of whose
theology ]\ir. Arnold speaks in such pitying, almost
contemptuous, tones. He, at any rate, has never
avoided the real "pinch of the matter," has indeed
urged, during a long life, with never-tiring insist-
ence, that we must at our peril know what we
mean by God. He has also made, as clear as words
can make it, what he means. God, for Mr. Maurice,
is a perfectly loving Father, who has revealed Himself
in this character, and is speaking to men by a Son.
That Son has been made flesh, has taken men's
nature, has dwelt among them, and "in Him is the
light of men." His Spirit is in men, speaking to
the conscience of each, teaching them how they may
be one with Him (namely, through His method. His
secret, and sweet reasonableness, as Mr. Arnold would


xviii PEEFACE.

say). This Spirit will guide them into all truth ; is
the same Spirit who reveals artistic and scientific,
as well as religious truth to them — irreligious truth
Mr. Maurice did not recognize ; is the Spirit who
is leading them to search for Him in the laws
of His universe ; is the " Muse " of Hesiod, the
" dsemon " of Socrates.

Now this belief is at any rate as clear of "meta-
physical apparatus " as Mr, Arnold's own. Is it not
also infinitely clearer and simpler in itself? Does
it leave us in any of those mists as to the Son of
God, and the Spirit of God, wliich ]VIr, Arnold raises
but entirely fails to dissipate ?

One can understand enlightened teachers of our
day, to whom the very name of Christian has become
an offence, turning aside from such a belief in annoy-
ance and anger — as indeed so many of them have
done — when they recognize in it simply the old
creed, which every child in Christendom has been
repeating these eighteen hundred years ; but that
any one of them who really takes the pains to
read Mr. Maurice can maintain that the belief itself
does not stand out on the face of all his writings, in
white light, as plain as words can make it, is less easy
to understand. The only explanation (if they have
read him) would seem to be that they cannot take
his words in their plain natural sense, or believe that
one, whom they cannot help acknowledging to be as
familiar with all the philosophical systems of the
world, and as thorough a master of all their shibbo-


leths as themselves, can be really meaning what he
seems to say, when he says this.

Valuable as "Literature and Dogma" will prove
to many of his countrymen, the author may assure
himself that no one who has learnt from Mr. Maurice
will ever be able to think of, or believe in, righteous-
ness without a righteous Being (or Person, if Mr.
Arnold will allow us to use a word which offends
him more than any other in the "metaphysical appa-
ratus"), will ever be able to think of, or beheve in.
Providence or foresight, without One who provides,
or foresees. But they will rejoice, as their master
would have done, to see so cultivated a thinker as
Mr. Arnold bravely and earnestly contending for
righteousness, and for the " method," " secret," and
"sweet reasonableness," of Christ, though unable to
accept what are to them the necessary conclusions
from his own premises.

And now let us turn for a moment to the apostles of
our other modern Gospels, who have, in like manner,
cast pitying or angry words at Mr. Maurice and his
theology, or have misunderstood and misstated it in
ways which have pained him, while living, more than
any abuse would have done.

We are asked by one clever school to write humanity
with a big H, and then to fall down and worship it.
This, knowing^ what we ourselves are, and seeinof
what the remaining items who make up mankind
in our time are about, we must decline to do. But
learning from Mr. Maurice, we can worship with

h 2


our whole hearts, a perfect man, whom we have
come to know not only as made in the image of,
but as one with, God; and through whom we can
recognize and reverence the humanity in every man.

His own reply to an otherwise friendly reviewer of
this school cannot, at any rate, be reckoned amongst
sayings hard to understand. " He affirms," wrote Mr.
Maurice, " that I have rendered into a theological
dialect the conceptions of humanity which prevail in
our age. I have affirmed that those conceptions of
humanity, when separated from the old foundation,
which is simply, broadly, satisfactorily announced in
the formularies that are repeated by children and
peasants in all parts of Christendom, are narrow, im-
practical, inhuman." (Preface to " Social Morality,"
p. xiv.)

Mr. Morley, representing, I suppose, another school of
the most advanced thinkers, denounced Mr. Maurice's
Lectures on the Conscience, as outraging I know not
what systems of philosophy, and lying entirely outside
all orthodox methods of thought on such subjects.
Those who have learnt from him to ask themselves
what they mean by " I," and have found his method
stand every test to which they can put it, will not
be troubled about systems of philosoiDhy, any more
than Mr. Arnold is, or than Molik'e's servant-girl was
troubled about the laws of carte and tierce. They

Online LibraryFrederick Denison MauriceThe friendship of books, and other lectures → online text (page 1 of 28)