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and the better than between the good and the
utterly bad; and not infrequently the struggle
in our own souls is between two goods, one of
which is higher than the other, rather than
between God and the devil.

Another disturbing influence has been the
tendency of Christian moralists to fix their
attention too much on the avoidance of sin
and too little on the production of moral values.
There has been a general tendency to ask what
a man is bad for rather than what he is good
for, Self-examination has concerned itself more



170 THE PROBLEM OF SIN

with the deadly sins than with the cardinal or
the theological virtues. Some of the Platonising
theologians, notably Clement of Alexandria, are
free from this tendency ; they feel, and say, that
our object is not to be without sin, but to follow
Christ. But, on the whole, sin has occupied a
larger place in Christian ethics than virtue. This
was not our Lord's own method; it is rather a
return to the language of the old dispensation,
with its long catalogue of things forbidden. In
our time there has been a very strong reaction
against it. " The modern man," said Sir Oliver
Lodge the other day, " is not worrying about his
sins at all." If he is not, he ought to be ; but
not to the extent advocated in some of our most
popular devotional manuals. The servants in
the parable were asked what they had to show
for their talents, not how they had spent their
play-time.

There are then special circumstances which
have complicated a problem already difficult
enough. Christian theology has not been able
to make up its mind whether sin is a defect,
or a transgression, or a rebellion, or a con-
stitutional hereditary taint, or whether it is all
these combined. The same degree of uncertainty
is shown when the question has to be answered,



THE PROBLEM OF SIN 171

What is the characteristic form of sin ? What
is the root-principle to which all sin may be
reduced ? To this question at least three answers
have been given. The root of sin is sensuality
is pride is selfishness. To the Greeks, indeed,
none of these answers seemed so satisfactory as
the theory that the source of sin is delusion or
disease a perverted condition of the mind. This
answer, which brings one aspect of the truth
into prominence, has been unduly neglected in
Christian theology. Matthew Arnold was quite
justified in saying that in England at any rate
people are far too much absorbed in the effort to
walk by the light which they have, forgetting
very often to make sure that the light within
them is not darkness.

The theory that the root of sin is sensuality is
favoured by St. Paul in some passages, though
he does not really regard " the flesh," still less
" nature," or " the body," as the seat of the evil
principle. No one who held this latter view
could pray, as he does, that we may be delivered
from all defilements of the flesh and spirit.
St. Augustine says very well: "It was not the
corruptible flesh that made the soul sinful, but
the sinful soul that made the flesh corrupt." l

1 De. Civ. Dei, xiv. 2, 3.



172 THE PROBLEM OF SIN

The theory that " the corruptible body presseth
down the soul" is often supposed to be the
doctrine of Platonism. The truth is, that it was
taught as an exoteric theory by the later
Platonists, and was readily accepted by disciples
whose cast of thought was of the oriental type ;
but it is not true Platonism, and has never
satisfied the great thinkers of this school. In
modern times, this view of sin has found but
little support. Rothe is the chief exception.
He combines selfishness and sensuality as a
double root of sin, but leans, on the whole, to
the view that sensuality is the primary cause.
But to find the root of sin in sensuality is
to materialise religion, and sins of sensuality
were not those to which Christ attached most
importance.

Pride is certainly the most naked form of sin ;
for pride is self-deification. It may be madness
or disease, it may be rebellion, but inasmuch
as it claims to be a law to itself, it is the
very principle of sin come to self-consciousness.
Augustine and Thomas Aquinas both say that
pride is the beginning of sin, though not its
root. We might equally well say that it is the
end of sin, its completed development in self-
chosen independence of God.



THE PROBLEM OF SIN 173

Those who have found the root of sin in
selfishness or self-will have best understood both
the teaching of Christ and the nature of sin.
We find the theory clearly stated in Plato's
Laws (v. 731): "The truth is that the cause of
all sins in every person and every instance is
excessive self-love." This declaration is some-
what isolated in Plato, and was perhaps the
conclusion of his later years. In his earlier
works we find the better-known figure of the
unruly chariot- steeds, and the picture of the dis-
orderly passions struggling for mastery, or falling
under the dominion of a master-passion. Philo
finds the root of sin in selfishness (<pt\avTia),
and when we turn to the New Testament we
can hardly fail to see that this is the leading
conception. In the deeply significant parable of
the Prodigal Son, the beginning of the prodigal's
downfall is his request, " Give me the portion of
goods that falleth to me." Again and again our
Lord declares that His Divine mission consists
in this, that He is not come to do His own will,
but the will of Him that sent Him. Again and
again, both hi the Gospels and in the Epistles,
the truth is inculcated that we must die com-
pletely to self, forget, and starve, and crucify
self, before we can enter the kingdom of God.



174 THE PROBLEM OF SIN

A man cannot be a disciple of Christ unless he
hates (so hyperbolical is the language in which
our Lord sometimes couches His deepest teaching)
not only all his possessions and worldly ties, but
" his own soul also." It would be impossible to find
stronger words to express that self-conscious-
ness, self-seeking, self-indulgence, selfishness in
all its forms, is the root of sin. The mystics,
as we might expect, accept this teaching with
their whole hearts. It has now fallen somewhat
into the background, under the influence of
modern individualism, of which our so-called
socialism is often only a frantic variety, and it
naturally meets with no favour from the school of
personal idealists. The gospel of self-abnegation
has not been much favoured by the European
races in modern times, either in principle or
practice. We have been wont to contrast com-
placently our own energetic self-assertion with
what we call the dreamy pantheism of Asia, and
have pointed to the subjugation of the con-
templative Oriental by the vigorous European
as a testimony to the superiority of our religion
and philosophy. God, we like to say, helps those
who help themselves. This Deuteronomic reli-
gion, which just now suits the temper of the
Germans even better than that of the English,



THE PROBLEM OF SIN 175

will perhaps soon cease to appear satisfactory to
either nation, and may give away also on this
side of the Atlantic. The time may be coming
when we shall see a little more clearly the
limitations of our favourite theories and practices.
Civilisation based on individualism has defaced
or destroyed much of the natural beauty of the
globe ; it has made life more difficult than it
ever was before, and it now shows signs of
breaking up from within. The gigantic aggrega-
tions of capital on one side, and the growing
hosts of unemployed and discontented on the
other, are a reductio ad dbsurdum of the whole
system which cannot be disregarded. Hardly
less significant is the nervous overstrain caused
by modern competitive business, which in the
great centres of population, where the struggle
is most intense, seems to be actually sterilising
many families, and leaving the world to be
peopled by inferior stocks. And now, amid these
disquieting symptoms, we see the emergence into
power of the Japanese, whose whole morality is
based on the self- sacrifice of the individual to
his country, who live the simple life, and who
set the smallest possible value on the preserva-
tion of their own individual existence. Those
who have thought that Providence has definitely



176 THE PROBLEM OF SIN

handed over the sceptre of the world to races
of European descent, and especially to the repre-
sentatives of robust Teutonic individualism, are
probably destined to have a rude awakening.
The late war in the Far East is an object-lesson
which can hardly be thrown away upon Europe
and America.

Sin, then, according to the view here adopted,
shows itself in self- consciousness, self-will, and
self-seeking. Self-consciousness, instead of being
the proud privilege which gives us a special rank
in the hierarchy of God's creatures, is the blot on
our lives which spoils all that we do. Even in
games, if nervousness causes us to think about
the stroke which we are trying to execute, and
which at other times we perform mechanically,
we are almost sure to do it badly. In social
intercourse, self-consciousness is destructive of
good manners. In religion it leads to spiritual
[valetudinarianism, or to what is called prig-
tgishness. It has half spoiled many saintly
characters, giving their virtues a stiff and forced
appearance, which falls short of the true beauty
of holiness. Whether the Pharisee thanks God
that he is not like the publican, or whether the
publican thanks God that he is a humble Chris-
tian, not like the Pharisee, in either case he will



THE PROBLEM OF SIN 177

return to his house without a blessing on his
prayers.

As for selfishness, how wonderfully science has
reinforced Christian precept on this subject !
Everywhere in nature we see the individual
sacrificing himself in the interests of the race.
In many species of insects the act of procreation
itself involves the immediate death of one of
the parents. Yet these duties are not shirked.
That nature is careless of the single life was
observed long ago by Tennyson ; and assuredly
the sovereign rights of the individual are not
contained hi her charter. Schopenhauer saw
clearly enough that Nature's purpose is not the
greatest happiness of the isolated individual, and
that all her baits and traps are designed to
induce the individual to sacrifice himself in one
way or another. This recognition must issue in
pessimism, just so long as we determine to stick
to our impervious monads, our self-existing
individuals, the subjects of indefeasible rights.
But the true conclusion is not pessimism. It
is only the conviction that since there are in the
nature of things no self-existing units with these
rights and privileges, selfishness is a ruinous
mistake, a blunder which leads to shipwreck
in all parts of Nature alike. For Nature cannot

M



178 THE PROBLEM OF SIN

be disobeyed and outwitted with impunity. It
is our wisdom to obey cheerfully, with the clear
consciousness that we are not allowed to work
out our own salvation as isolated units, and that
obedience will involve us in pain and loss, per-
haps irremediable loss. For our obedience must
be, in will if not in deed, obedience unto death,
even the death of the cross. Vicarious suffering,
which on the individualist theory seems so
monstrous and unjust as to throw a shadow
on the character of God, is easy to understand
if we give up our individualism. It is a
necessity. For the sinner cannot suffer for his
own healing, precisely because he is a sinner.
The troubles which he brings on himself cannot
heal his wounds. Redemption must be vicarious ;
it must be wrought by the suffering of the just
for the unjust. And the redemption wrought by
One is efficacious for many, because we are united
, to Him by closer bonds than those of ethical
harmony. Sin is that which cuts us off from
all this. It erects an image of the false self,
the isolated, empirical self, which has no ex-
istence, and makes this idol its god. The forms
of worship which are offered to it differ greatly.
The false self may be pampered and indulged,
or it may be treated as a hard taskmaster, and



THE PROBLEM OF SIN 179

slaved for day and night. Huge quantities of
gold and silver may be stored up for its future
use, as if it was to live for ever; or lastly, as
savages break an idol to which they have prayed
in vain, the false self may be punished by killing
the body to which it is attached; disappointed
selfishness may end in suicide.

Here, then, is a view of sin which gives us a
practical standard. As the Theologia, Germanica
says, it is in the I, Mine, Thou, and Thine that
all evil has its source. Does this view demand
an impossible detachment from personal, living
interests ? It seems to me that it does just the
opposite. We are what we are most deeply
interested in. We are what we love. And what
we love, because we love it, is not external or
alien to ourselves. "Amate quod eritis," says
St. Augustine. Outside interests are only out-
side because we make them so. In the spiritual
world there is no outside or inside, no mine and
not mine ; all is ours that we can make our own.
All is ours if we are Christ's. For Christ, as the
Logos, the Power of God, and the Wisdom of
God, is the life of all that lives, and the light
of all that shines. Is it not always just that
fatal reference to our own interests that cramps
our sympathies, warps our activities, and blinds



180 THE PROBLEM OF SIN

our perceptions ? The self-seeking man may
do good social service by accident, as it were, as
the condition of receiving a reward which he
considers worth his while. But he is always
potentially an enemy of society. He can only
be utilised as long as society is willing to pay
his price. A society of self-seeking units is
always liable to go to pieces, since it is held
together by a purely artificial or accidental
bond. In reality no road has ever been found,
or ever will be found, from " each for self " to
" each for all." Our civilisation is at present
worked on the calculation that motives are
mixed. It relies upon material rewards and
punishments, upon praise and blame, and upon
moral and religious sanctions. The disappearance
of any one of these three classes of incentives
would wreck the whole social machine. But
this is not an ideal state of things. And it is
worth observing that the selfishness which is so
potent a social lever is not for the most part
undiluted selfishness. Even the mere money-
spinner, if he attains to any sort of distinction
in his pursuit, must be a sort of idealist, a sort
of artist; and art, even in its least exalted
forms, is a nobler thing than selfishness; it has
an universal element hi it. No one could be



THE PROBLEM OF SIN 181

an artist who took account only of what helped
or baffled him personally, neglecting all else.
"Art," it has been said, "is the wide world's
memory of things."

The loss of faith in eternal life seems to be
the just nemesis of individualism. It is instruc-
tive and rather pathetic to see how some of the
school which I have mainly been criticising in
these lectures turn to such " evidence " for sur-
vival after death as has been collected by Mr.
Frederick Myers. One would have supposed
that this kind of immortality in which we
apparently show our continued activity only by
occasionally terrifying our surviving friends
would have had no attractions for any one. And
one would have supposed that men who have
had some experience of human credulity and
self-deception would have disdained to dabble
in spiritualism. But the individualist, who has
staked everything on his own self-existent per-
sonality, who can hardly think of immortality
except as survival in time (time being to him
absolutely real), and who is puzzled to say how
immortality thus conceived can be the destiny
of mankind, really needs evidence of this sort ;
and since no good evidence is forthcoming, he
must be content with bad. Many others, as the



182 THE PROBLEM OF SIN

questionnaires lately circulated in America and
England have proved, "have trie courage to say
that they do not desire this kind of personal
survival in time. I have no space to discuss
doctrines of immortality, or to show what an
amazing medley of incompatible theories lies
concealed behind the popular eschatology. This
much is certain, that if the " impervious ego "
can ever and anywhere succeed in realising him-
self, it can only be in hell. A kingdom of
heaven inhabited by a population of spiritual
monads, the number of which is determined by
the fluctuations in the birth-rate and the dura-
tion of human life on this planet, or, as Anselm
and others believed, by the amount of the accom-
modation available in heaven after the expulsion
of the fallen angels, is hardly credible except as
a symbolical picture. If we once realise that
dreams of a heaven in which we ourselves are
the centre are a transference to the eternal world
of those selfish schemes and imaginings which
are the essence of sin, we should put them away
from us, and thereby remove from our path the
chief stumbling-block in the way of belief in our
eternal destiny. Our personal life has a meaning
and a value ; that value and that meaning are
eternal ; there is no danger of their being ever



THE PROBLEM OF SIN 183

lost. Still less is there any danger of love ever
perishing for want of its object. Love is divine,
and implies immortality. Nor should we ever
forget that we are deciding by our lives here our
rank in the eternal world. But the Christian
eschatology, avowedly symbolical as it is, becomes
grotesque and incredible symbolism if we transfer
to heaven and hell the crude notions of indi-
viduality which for the most part pass un-
challenged in the West.

I think we may claim that the religious
philosophy of the mystics gives us a practical
standard of right and wrong, while it removes
some formidable stumbling-blocks from our path
as Christian believers. It does not solve the
religious problem of evil, nor does it pretend
to do so. That problem has been stated once
for all in the words of Augustine : " Either God
is unwilling to abolish evil, or He is unable: if
He is unwilling, He is not good ; if he is unable,
He is not omnipotent." No Christian can consent
to impale himself on either horn of this dilemma.
If God is not perfectly good, and also perfectly
powerful, He is not God. It has indeed been
argued lately by some Christian thinkers, such
as Dr. Kashdall, that God is not omnipotent.
Such a conclusion does credit to the consistency



184 THE PROBLEM OF SIN

of a philosopher who is before all things a
moralist ; but it is so impossible to any religious
man who is not defending a thesis, that it only
serves to illustrate the weakness of the premisses
which led to such a conclusion. The only other
alternative, if we refuse St. Augustine's dilemma,
is to deny, to some degree, the absolute existence
of evil, regarding it as an appearance incidental
to the actualisation of moral purpose as vital
activity. And in spite of the powerful objections
which have been brought against this view, in
spite of the real risk of seeming to attenuate, in
theory, the malignant potency of sin, I believe
that this is the theory which presents the fewest
difficulties. I do not think that it ought to
weaken us, in the slightest degree, in our struggle
with temptation. For sin, as a positive fact, is as
real as time is real, and as free will. We may
still say, with Julian of Norwich, " To me was
shown no harder hell than ski."

In these lectures I have undertaken the
defence of one recognised type of Christian
thought, which may be traced back through the
more philosophical of the mystics to the Christian
Platonists of Alexandria, and through them to
St. Paul and St. John, The obstacles in the



THE PROBLEM OF SIN 185

way of such a faith, in which I myself have
found happiness and satisfaction, seem to me
to be (i) a needless distrust of the intellectual
processes as a means of arriving at divine truth,
leading to the sceptical conclusion that, since the
truth is for ever hidden from our eyes, we may
believe whatever seems to help us; and (2) a
neglect of the doctrine of the mystical union with
the glorified Christ, which seems to me at once
the most blessed and the most verifiable part of
the Christian revelation. This is why I have
talked so much about theories of personality, and
about the anti-intellectualist trend of much
modern philosophy and theology. There is too
much sceptical orthodoxy just now ; and ortho-
doxy based on scepticism is unsound and hollow.
An imperfect faith which is sure of essentials is
better than a faith which will accept everything
because it recognises no standard of truth except
human needs. I know that there are unsolved
difficulties ; I feel them myself. I do not think
that the difficulty about miracles will be solved
in our generation. But I feel sure that the path
of wisdom for most of us is to look forward and
not back to leave purely historical problems
alone for the present, and to learn to know and
love Christ as He can be known and loved by us

N



186 THE PROBLEM OF SIN

in the twentieth century in Europe and America.
This, combined with patient and reverent study
of the laws of nature, is the way to the true
enlightenment which will lead us step by step to
the love of God, the perfect love which casteth
out fear.



THE END



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Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngePersonal idealism and mysticism → online text (page 10 of 11)