Copyright
William Ralph Inge.

Christian Mysticism online

. (page 24 of 28)
Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 24 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


tell us that they have arrived gradually at an unshakable conviction,
not based on inference but on immediate experience, that God is a
Spirit with whom the human spirit can hold intercourse; that in Him
meet all that they can imagine of goodness, truth, and beauty; that
they can see His footprints everywhere in nature, and feel His
presence within them as the very life of their life, so that in
proportion as they come to themselves they come to Him. They tell us
that what separates us from Him and from happiness is, first,
self-seeking in all its forms; and, secondly, sensuality in all its
forms; that these are the ways of darkness and death, which hide from
us the face of God; while the path of the just is like a shining
light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. As they have
toiled up the narrow way, the Spirit has spoken to them of Christ, and
has enlightened the eyes of their understandings, till they have at
least _begun_ to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, and
to be filled with all the fulness of God.

So far, the position is unassailable. But the scope of the argument
has, of course, its fixed limits. The inner light can only testify to
spiritual truths. It always speaks in the present tense; it cannot
guarantee any historical event, past or future. It cannot guarantee
either the Gospel history or a future judgment. It can tell us that
Christ is risen, and that He is alive for evermore, but not that He
rose again the third day. It can tell us that the gate of everlasting
life is open, but not that the dead shall be raised incorruptible. We
have other faculties for investigating the evidence for past events;
the inner light cannot certify them immediately, though it can give a
powerful support to the external evidence. For though we are in no
position to dogmatise about the relations of the temporal to the
eternal, one fact does seem to stand out, - that the two are, _for us_,
bound together. If, when we read the Gospels, "the Spirit itself
beareth witness with our spirit" that here are the words of eternal
life, and the character which alone in history is absolutely flawless,
then it is natural for us to believe that there has been, at that
point of time, an Incarnation of the Word of God Himself. That the
revelation of Christ is an absolute revelation, is a dogmatic
statement which, strictly speaking, only the Absolute could make. What
_we_ mean by it is that after two thousand years we are unable to
conceive of its being ever superseded in any particular. And if anyone
finds this inadequate, he may be invited to explain what higher degree
of certainty is within our reach. With regard to the future life, the
same consideration may help us to understand why the Church has clung
to the belief in a literal second coming of Christ to pronounce the
dooms of all mankind. But our Lord Himself has taught us that in "that
day and that hour" lies hidden a more inscrutable mystery than even He
Himself, as man, could reveal.

There is one other point on which I wish to make my position clear.
The fact that human love or sympathy is the guide who conducts us to
the heart of life, revealing to us God and Nature and ourselves, is
proof that part of our life is bound up with the life of the world,
and that if we live in these our true relations we shall not entirely
die so long as human beings remain alive upon this earth. The progress
of the race, the diminution of sin and misery, the advancing kingdom
of Christ on earth, - these are matters in which we have a _personal_
interest. The strong desire that we feel - and the best of us feel it
most strongly - that the human race may be better, wiser, and happier
in the future than they are now or have been in the past, is neither
due to a false association of ideas, nor to pure unselfishness. There
is a sense in which death would not be the end of everything for us,
even though in this life only we had hope in Christ.

But when this comforting and inspiring thought is made to form the
basis of a new Chiliasm - a belief in a millennium of perfected
humanity on this earth, and when this belief is substituted for the
Christian belief in an eternal life beyond our bourne of time and
place, it is necessary to protest that this belief entirely fails to
satisfy the legitimate hopes of the human race, that it is bad
philosophy, and that it is flatly contrary to what science tells us of
the destiny of the world and of mankind. The human spirit beats
against the bars of space and time themselves, and could never be
satisfied with any earthly utopia. Our true home must be in some
higher sphere of existence, above the contradictions which make it
impossible for us to believe that time and space are ultimate
realities, and out of reach of the inevitable catastrophe which the
next glacial age must bring upon the human race.[406] This world of
space and time is to resemble heaven as far as it can; but a fixed
limit is set to the amount of the Divine plan which can be realised
under these conditions. Our hearts tell us of a higher form of
existence, in which the doom of death is not merely deferred but
abolished. This eternal world we here see through a glass darkly: at
best we can apprehend but the outskirts of God's ways, and hear a
small whisper of His voice; but our conviction is that, though our
earthly house be dissolved (as dissolved it must be), we have a home
not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. In this hope we may
include all creation; and trust that in some way neither more nor less
incomprehensible than the deliverance which we expect for ourselves,
all God's creatures, according to their several capacities, may be set
free from the bondage of corruption and participate in the final
triumph over death and sin. Most firmly do I believe that this faith
in immortality, though formless and inpalpable as the air we breathe,
and incapable of definite presentation except under inadequate and
self-contradictory symbols, is nevertheless enthroned in the centre of
our being, and that those who have steadily set their affections on
things above, and lived the risen life even on earth, receive in
themselves an assurance which robs death of its sting, and is an
earnest of a final victory over the grave.

It is not claimed that Mysticism, even in its widest sense, is, or can
ever be, the whole of Christianity. Every religion must have an
institutional as well as a mystical element. Just as, if the feeling
of immediate communion with God has faded, we shall have a dead Church
worshipping "a dead Christ," as Fox the Quaker said of the Anglican
Church in his day; so, if the seer and prophet expel the priest, there
will be no discipline and no cohesion. Still, at the present time, the
greatest need seems to be that we should return to the fundamentals of
spiritual religion. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that both the
old seats of authority, the infallible Church and the infallible
book, are fiercely assailed, and that our faith needs reinforcements.
These can only come from the depths of the religious consciousness
itself; and if summoned from thence, they will not be found wanting.
The "impregnable rock" is neither an institution nor a book, but a
life or experience. Faith, which is an affirmation of the basal
personality, is its own evidence and justification. Under normal
conditions, it will always be strongest in the healthiest minds. There
is and can be no appeal from it. If, then, our hearts, duly prepared
for the reception of the Divine Guest, at length say to us, "This I
know, that whereas I was blind, now I see," we may, in St. John's
words, "have confidence towards God."

The objection may be raised - "But these beliefs change, and merely
reflect the degree of enlightenment or its opposite, which every man
has reached." The conscience of the savage tells him emphatically that
there are some things which he _must not do_; and blind obedience to
this "categorical imperative" has produced not only all the complex
absurdities of "taboo," but crimes like human sacrifice, and faith in
a great many things that are not. "Perhaps we are leaving behind the
theological stage, as we have already left behind those superstitions
of savagery." Now the study of primitive religions does seem to me to
prove the danger of resting religion and morality on unreasoning
obedience to a supposed revelation; but that is not my position. The
two forces which kill mischievous superstitions are the knowledge of
nature, and the moral sense; and we are quite ready to give both free
play, confident that both come from the living Word of God. The fact
that a revelation is progressive is no argument that it is not Divine:
it is, in fact, only when the free current of the religious life is
dammed up that it turns into a swamp, and poisons human society. Of
course we must be ready to admit with all humility, that _our_ notions
of God are probably unworthy and distorted enough; but that is no
reason why we should not follow the light which we have, or mistrust
it on the ground that it is "too _good_ to be true."

Nor would it be fair to say that this argument makes religion depend
merely on _feeling_. A theology based on mere feeling is (as Hegel
said) as much contrary to revealed religion as to rational knowledge.
The fact that God is present to our feeling is no proof that He
exists; our feelings include imaginations which have no reality
corresponding to them. No, it is not feeling, but the _heart_ or
_reason_ (whichever term we prefer), which speaks with authority. By
the heart or reason I mean the whole personality acting in concord, an
abiding mood of thinking, willing, and feeling. The life of the spirit
perhaps begins with mere feeling, and perhaps will be consummated in
mere feeling, when "that which is in part shall be done away"; but
during its struggles to enter into its full inheritance, it gathers up
into itself the activities of all the faculties, which act
harmoniously together in proportion as the organism to which they
belong is in a healthy state.

Once more, this reliance on the inner light does not mean that every
man must be his own prophet, his own priest, and his own saviour. The
individual is not independent of the Church, nor the Church of the
historical Christ. But the Church is a _living_ body and the
Incarnation and Atonement are _living_ facts still in operation. They
are part of the eternal counsels of God; and whether they are enacted
in the Abyss of the Divine Nature, or once for all in their fulness on
the stage of history, or in miniature, as it were, in your soul and
mine, the process is the same, and the tremendous importance of those
historical facts which our creeds affirm is due precisely to the fact
that they are _not_ unique and isolated portents, but the supreme
manifestation of the grandest and most universal laws.

These considerations may well have a calming and reassuring influence
upon those who, from whatever cause, are troubled by religious doubts.
The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord
knoweth, and is known by, them that are His. But we must not expect
that "religious difficulties" will ever cease. Every truth that we
know is but the husk of a deeper truth; and it may be that the Holy
Spirit has still many things to say to us, which we cannot bear now.
Each generation and each individual has his own problem, which has
never been set in exactly the same form before: we must all work out
our own salvation, for it is God who worketh in us. If we have
realised the meaning of these words of St. Paul, which I have had
occasion to quote so often in these Lectures, we cannot doubt that,
though we now see through a glass darkly, and know only in part, we
shall one day behold our Eternal Father face to face, and know Him
even as we are known.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 364: Horace, _Ep._ i. 12. 19.]

[Footnote 365: [Greek: polypoikilos sophia], Eph. iii. 10.]

[Footnote 366: Pindar, _Olymp._ ii. 154.]

[Footnote 367: Barine in _Revue des Deux Mondes_, April 1891.]

[Footnote 368: The latter, like Fechner in our own century, holds that
the stars are living organisms, whose "sensibility is full of
pleasure."]

[Footnote 369: See Illingworth's _Divine Immanence_, where this and
other interesting passages are quoted. But Suso was, of course, _not_
a "Protestant mystic." And I cannot agree with the author when he says
that Lucretius found no religious inspiration in Nature. The poet of
the _Nature of Things_ shows himself to have been a lonely man, who
had pondered much among the hills and by the sea, and who loved to
taste the pure delights of the spring. Thence came to him the "holy
joy and dread" ("quædam divina voluptas atque horror") which pulsates
through his great poem as he shatters the barbarous mythology of
paganism, and then, in the spirit of a priest rather than of a
philosopher, turns the "bright shafts of day" upon the folly and
madness of those who are slaves to the world or the flesh. The spirit
of Lucretius is the spirit of modern science, which tends neither to
materialism nor to atheism, whatever its friends and enemies may say.]

[Footnote 370: Christian Platonism has never been more beautifully set
forth than in the poem of Spenser named above. Compare, especially,
the following stanzas: -


"The means, therefore, which unto us is lent
Him to behold, is on His works to look,
Which He hath made in beauty excellent,
And in the same, as in a brazen book
To read enregistered in every nooke
His goodness, which His beauty doth declare:
For all that's good is beautiful and fair.

"Thence gathering plumes of perfect speculation,
To imp the wings of thy high-flying mind,
Mount up aloft through heavenly contemplation,
From this dark world, whose damps the soul do blind,
On that bright Sun of glory fix thine eyes,
Cleared from gross mists of frail infirmities."


Shelley sums up a great deal of Plotinus in the following stanza of
"Adonais": -


"The One remains; the many change and pass;
Heaven's light for ever shines; earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity."


Compare, too, the opening lines of "Alastor."]

[Footnote 371: Compare the following sentences in Bradley's
_Appearance and Reality_: "Nature viewed materialistically is only an
abstraction for certain purposes, and has not a high degree of truth
or reality. The poet's nature has much more.... Our principle, that
the abstract is the unreal, moves us steadily upward.... It compels us
in the end to credit nature with our higher emotions. That process can
only cease when nature is quite absorbed into spirit, and at every
stage of the process we find increase in reality."]

[Footnote 372: "Prelude," viii. 340 sq.]

[Footnote 373: "Prelude," viii. 668.]

[Footnote 374: La Rochefoucauld.]

[Footnote 375: These words, from Milton's "Comus," are applied to
Wordsworth by Hazlitt.]

[Footnote 376: "Prelude," iv. 1207-1229. The ascetic element in
Wordsworth's ethics should by no means be forgotten by those who envy
his brave and unruffled outlook upon life. As Hutton says excellently
(_Essays_, p. 81), "there is volition and self-government in every
line of his poetry, and his best thoughts come from the steady
resistance he opposes to the ebb and flow of ordinary desires and
regrets. He contests the ground inch by inch with all despondent and
indolent humours, and often, too, with movements of inconsiderate and
wasteful joy - turning defeat into victory, and victory into defeat."
See the whole passage.]

[Footnote 377: "Prelude," vi. 604-608.]

[Footnote 378: "Miscell. Sonnets," xii.]

[Footnote 379: See the Essay in which he deals with Macpherson: "In
nature everything is distinct, yet nothing defined into absolute
independent singleness. In Macpherson's work it is exactly the
reverse - everything is defined, insulated, dislocated, deadened - yet
nothing distinct."]

[Footnote 380: "Excursion," v. 500-514.]

[Footnote 381: This seemed flat blasphemy to Shelley, whose idealism
was mixed with Byronic misanthropy. "Nor was there aught the world
contained of which he could approve."]

[Footnote 382: "Prelude," xiv. 192. Wordsworth's psychology is very
interesting. "Imagination" is for him ("Miscellaneous Sonnets," xxxv.)
a "glorious faculty," whose function it is to elevate the
more-than-reasoning mind; "'tis hers to pluck the amaranthine flower
of Faith," and "colour life's dark cloud with orient rays." This
faculty is at once "more than reason," and identical with "Reason in
her most exalted mood." I have said (p.21) that "Mysticism is reason
applied to a sphere above rationalism" and this appears to be exactly
Wordsworth's doctrine.]

[Footnote 383: "Sonnets on the River Duddon," xxxiv.]

[Footnote 384: "Lines composed above Tintern Abbey," 95-102.]

[Footnote 385: "Miscell. Sonnets," xxxiii.]

[Footnote 386: "Prelude," xiv. 112-129.]

[Footnote 387: "Prelude," ii. 396-418.]

[Footnote 388: "Lines composed above Tintern Abbey," 35-48.]

[Footnote 389: Wordsworth's Mysticism contains a few subordinate
elements which are of more questionable value. The "echoes from beyond
the grave," which "the inward ear" sometimes catches, are dear to most
of us; but we must not be too confident that they always come from
God. Still less can we be sure that presentiments are "heaven-born
instincts." Again, when the lonely thinker feels himself surrounded by
"huge and mighty forms, that do not move like living men," it is a
sign that the "dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being"
has begun to work not quite healthily upon his imagination. And the
doctrine of pre-existence, which appears in the famous Ode, is one
which it has been hitherto impossible to admit into the scheme of
Christian beliefs, though many Christian thinkers have dallied with
it. Perhaps the true lesson of the Ode is that the childish love of
nature, beautiful and innocent as it is, has to die and be born again
in the consciousness of the grown man. That Wordsworth himself passed
through this experience, we know from other passages in his writings.
In his case, at any rate, the "light of common day" was, for a time at
least, more splendid than the roseate hues of his childish imagination
can possibly have been; and there seems to be no reason for holding
the gloomy view that spiritual insight necessarily becomes dimmer as
we travel farther from our cradles, and nearer to our graves. What
fails us as we get older is only that kind of vision which is
analogous to the "consolations" often spoken of by monkish mystics as
the privilege of beginners. Amiel expresses exactly the same regret as
Wordsworth: "Shall I ever enjoy again those marvellous reveries of
past days?..." See the whole paragraph on p. 32 of Mrs. Humphry Ward's
translation.]

[Footnote 390: These objections are pressed by Lotze, and not only by
avowed Pessimists. Lotze abhors what he calls "sentimental symbolism"
because it interferes with his monadistic doctrines. I venture to say
that any philosophy which divides man, as a being _sui generis_, from
the rest of Nature, is inevitably landed either in Acosmism or in
Manichean Dualism.]

[Footnote 391: This is perhaps the best place to notice the mystical
treatise of James Hinton, entitled _Man and his Dwelling-place_, which
is chiefly remarkable for its attempt to solve the problem of evil.
This writer pushes to an extremity the favourite mystical doctrine
that we surround ourselves with a world after our own likeness, and
considers that all the evil which we see in Nature is the "projection
of our own deadness." Apart from the unlikelihood of a theory which
makes man - "the roof and crown of things" - the only diseased and
discordant element in the universe, the writer lays himself open to
the fatal rejoinder, "Did Christ, then, see no sin or evil in the
world?" The doctrines of sacrifice (vicarious suffering) as a blessed
law of Nature ("the secret of the universe is learnt on Calvary"), and
of the necessity of annihilating "the self" as the principle of evil,
are pressed with a harsh and unnatural rigour. Our blessed Lord laid
no such yoke upon us, nor will human nature consent to bear it. The
"atonement" of the world by love is much better delineated by R.L.
Nettleship, in a passage which seems to me to exhibit the very kernel
of Christian Mysticism in its social aspect. "Suppose that all human
beings felt permanently to each other as they now do occasionally to
those they love best. All the pain of the world would be swallowed up
in doing good. So far as we can conceive of such a state, it would be
one in which there would be no 'individuals' at all, but an universal
being in and for another; where being took the form of consciousness,
it would be the consciousness of 'another' which was also 'oneself' - a
_common_ consciousness. Such would be the 'atonement' of the world."]

[Footnote 392: Charles Kingsley is another mystic of the same school.]

[Footnote 393: Browning, _Paracelsus_, Act i.]

[Footnote 394: Browning, "Saul," xvii.]

[Footnote 395: Browning, "Cristina."]

[Footnote 396: Browning, "Christmas Eve and Easter Day," xxx.,
xxxiii.]

[Footnote 397: Browning, "_Any Wife to any Husband._"]

[Footnote 398: Compare Plato's well-known sentence: [Greek: di
algêdonôn kai odynôn gignetai hê ôpheleia, ou gar oion te
allôs adikias apallattesthai].]

[Footnote 399: Browning, _Paracelsus_.]

[Footnote 400: Compare Pascal: "No one is discontented at not being a
king, except a discrowned king."]

[Footnote 401: It is almost as prominent in Tennyson as in Browning:
"Give her the wages of going on, and not to die," is his wish for the
human soul.]

[Footnote 402: I had written these words before the publication of
Principal Caird's _Sermons_, which contain, in my judgment, the most
powerful defence of what I have called Christian Mysticism that has
appeared since William Law. On p. 14 he says: "Of all things good and
fair and holy there is a spiritual cognisance which precedes and is
independent of that knowledge which the understanding conveys." He
shows how in the contemplation of nature it is "by an organ deeper
than intellectual thought" that "the revelation of material beauty
flows in upon the soul." "And in like manner there is an apprehension
of God and Divine things which comes upon the spirit as a living
reality which it immediately and intuitively perceives." ... "There is
a capacity of the soul, by which the truths of religion may be
apprehended and appropriated." See the whole sermon, entitled, _What
is Religion?_ and many other parts of the book.]

[Footnote 403: Cf. Hegel (_Philosophy of Religion_, vol. ii. p. 8):
"The Beautiful is essentially the Spiritual making itself known
sensuously, presenting itself in sensuous concrete existence, but in
such a manner that that existence is wholly and entirely permeated by
the Spiritual, so that the sensuous is not independent, but has its
meaning solely and exclusively in the Spiritual and through the
Spiritual, and exhibits not itself, but the Spiritual."]

[Footnote 404: Some reference ought perhaps to be made to Drummond's
_Natural Law in the Spiritual World_. But Mysticism seeks rather to
find spiritual law in the natural world - and some better law than
Drummond's Calvinism. (And I cannot help thinking that, though
Evolution explains much and contradicts nothing in Christianity, it is
in danger of proving an _ignis fatuus_ to many, especially to those
who are inclined to idealistic pantheism. There can be no progress or
development in God, and the cosmic process as we know it cannot have a
higher degree of reality than the categories of time and place under
which it appears. As for the millennium of perfected humanity on this
earth, which some Positivists and others dream of, - Christianity has
nothing to say against it, but science has a great deal.) See below,
p. 328.]

[Footnote 405: In the Life of Charles Darwin there is an interesting
letter, in which he laments the gradual decay of his taste for poetry,
as his mind became a mere "machine for grinding out general laws" from
a mass of observations. The decay of religious _feeling_ in many men
of high character may be accounted for in the same way. The really
great man is conscious of the sacrifice which he is making. "It is an
accursed evil to a man," Darwin wrote to Hooker, "to become so
absorbed in any subject as I am in mine." The common-place man is


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 24 26 27 28

Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeChristian Mysticism → online text (page 24 of 28)