« PreviousContinue »
quacy of the idea of perfection held by the religious organizations-expressing, as I have said, the most widespread effort which the human race has yet made after perfection is to be found in the state of our life and society with these in possession of it, and having been in possession of it I know not how many years. We are all of us included in some religious organization or other; we all call ourselves, in the sublime and aspiring language of religion, children of God. Children of God-it is an immense pretension and how are we to justify it? By the works which we do, and the words which we speak. And the work which we collective children of God do, our grand center of life, our city, is London! London, with its unutterable external hideousness, and with its internal canker, publicè egestas, privatim opulentia, unequaled in the world!”
These are severe words, yet they have a side of truth in them. They portray our actual state so truly that, though they may not be the whole truth, it is well we should remember them, for they cannot be altogether gainsaid.
I have now done with the exposition of Mr. Arnold's theory. Before going on to note what seems to me to be its radical defect, let me first draw attention to two of its most prominent merits. His pleading for a perfection which consists in a condition of soul, evenly and harmoniously developed, is but a new form of saying, “A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” You will say, perhaps, Is not this a very old truth? Why make such ado about it, as though it were a new discovery? Has it not been expressed far more strongly in the Bible than by Mr. Arnold ? True, it is an old truth, and we all know it is in the Bible. But it is just these old truths which we know so well by the ear, but so little with the heart, that need to be reiterated to each age in the new language which it speaks. The deepest truths are always becoming commonplaces, till they are revivified by thought. And they are true thinkers and benefactors of their kind who, having thought them over once more, and passed them through the alembic of their own hearts, bring them forth freshminded, and make them tell anew on their generation.
And of all the old proverbs that this age needs applied to it, none is more needed than that which Mr. Arnold has proclaimed so forcibly.
Again, as to the defects which Mr. Arnold charges against our many and divided religious organizations, it cannot be denied that the moral and social results we see around us are far from satisfactory. In this state of things we cannot afford to neglect whatever aid that culture or any other power offers—to ignore those sides and forces of human nature which, if called into play, might render our ideal at once more complete and more efficient. There is much to excuse the complaints which highly educated men are apt to make, that religious minds have often been satisfied with a very partial and narrow development of humanity, such as does not satisfy, and
ought not to satisfy, thoughtful and cultivated men, The wise and truly religious thing to do is not to get angry at such criticisms, and give them bad names, but to be candid, and listen to those who tell us of our shortcomings-try to see what justice there may be in them, and to turn whatever truth they may contain to good account,
Mr. Arnold sets before us a lofty aim; he has bid us seek our good in something unseen, in a spiritual energyIn doing this he has done well. But I must hold that he has erred in his estimate of what that spiritual energy is, and he has missed, I think, the true source from which it is to be mainly derived. For in his account of it he has placed that as primary which is secondary and subordinatę, and made that secondary which by right ought to be supreme.
You will remember that when describing his idea of the perfection to be aimed at he makes religion one factor in it-an important and powerful factor, no doubt, still but one element out of several, and that not necessarily the ruling element, but a means toward an end, higher, more supreme, more all-embracing than itself. The end was a many-sided, harmonious development of human nature, and to this end religion was only an important means. In thus assigning to religion a secondary, however important, place, this theory, as I conceive, if consistently acted on, would annihilate religion. There are things which are either ends in themselves or they are nothing; and such, I conceive, religion is. It either is
supreme, a good in itself and for its own sake, or it is not at all. The first and great commandment must either be so set before us as to be obeyed, entered into, in and for itself, without any ulterior view, or it cannot be obeyed at all. It cannot be made subservient to any ulterior purpose. And herein is instanced “a remarkable law of ethics, which is well known to all who have given their minds to the subject." I shall give it in the words of one who has expressed it so well in his own unequaled language that it has been proposed to name it after him, Dr. Newman's law: “All virtue and goodness tend to make men powerful in this world; but they who aim at the power have not the virtue. Again: Virtue is its own reward, and brings with it the truest and highest pleasures; but they who cultivate it for the pleasure-sake are selfish, not religious, and will never gain the pleasure, because they never can have the virtue.”
Apply this to the present subject. They who seek religion for culture-sake are ästhetic, not religious, and will never gain that grace which religion adds to culture, because they never can have the religion. To seek religion for the personal elevation, or even for the social improvement it brings, is really to fall from faith which rests in God and the knowledge of Him as the ultimate good, and has no by-ends to serve. And what do we see in actual life? There shall be two men, one of whom has started on the road of self-improvement from a mainly intellectual interest, from the love of art, literature, science, or from the delight these give, but has not been actuated by a sense of responsibility to a Higher than himself. The other has begun with some sense of God, and of his relation to Him, and starting from this center has gone on to add to it all the moral and mental improvement within his reach, feeling that, beside the pleasure these things give in themselves, he will thus best fulfil the purpose of Him who gave them, thus best promote the good of his fellow men, and attain the end of his own existence. Which of these two will be the highest man, in which will be gathered up the most excellent graces of character, the truest nobility of soul? You cannot doubt it. The sense that a man is serving a Higher than himself, with a service which will become ever more and more perfect freedom, evokes
more profound, more humbling, more exalted emotions than anything else in the world can do.
The spirit of man is an instrument which cannot give out its deepest, finest tones, except under the immediate hand of the Divine Harmonist. That is, before it can educe the higher capacities of which human nature is susceptible, culture must cease to be merely culture, and pass over into religion. And here we see another aspect of that great ethical law already noticed as compassing all human action, whereby “the abandoning of some lower object in obedience to a higher aim is made the very condition of securing the said lower object." According to this law it comes that he will approach nearer to perfection, or (since to speak of perfection in such as we are sounds like presumption) rather let us say, he will reach farther, will attain to a truer, deeper, more lovely humanity, who makes not culture, but oneness with the will of God, his ultimate aim. The ends of culture, truly conceived, are best attained by forgetting culture and aiming higher. And what is this but translating into modern and less forcible language the old words, whose meaning is often greatly misunderstood, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all other things will be added unto you?” But by seeking the other things first, as we naturally do, we miss not only the kingdom of God, but those other things also which are only truly attained by aiming beyond them.
Another objection to the theory we have been considering remains to be noted. Its starting-point is the idea of perfecting self; and though, as it gradually evolves, it tries to forget self, and to include quite other elements, yet it never succeeds in getting clear of the taint of selfreference with which it set out. While making this objection, I do not forget that Mr. Arnold, in drawing out his view, purposes as the end of culture to make reason and the kingdom of God prevail; that he sees clearly, and insists strongly, that an isolated self-culture is impossible; that we cannot make progress toward perfection ourselves unless we strive earnestly to carry our fellow men along with us.
Still may it not with justice be said that these unselfish elements—the desire for others' good, the desire to advance God's kingdom on earth—are in this theory
awakened, not simply for their own sakes, not chiefly because they are good in themselves, but because they are clearly discerned to be necessary to our self-perfectionelements apart from which this cannot exist ?
And so it comes that culture, though made our end never so earnestly, cannot shelter a man from thoughts about himself, cannot free him from that which all must feel to be fatal to high character-continual self-conscious
The only forces strong enough to do this are great truths which carry him out of and beyond himself, the things of the spiritual world sought, not mainly because of their reflex action on us, but for their own sakes, because of their own inherent worthiness. There is, perhaps, no truer sign that a man is really advancing than that he is learning to forget himself, that he is losing the natural thoughts about self in the thought of One higher than himself, to whose guidance he can commit himself and all men. This is no doubt a lesson not quickly learned; but there is no help to learning it in theories of self-culture which exalt man's natural self-seeking into a specious and refined philosophy of life.
Again, it would seem that in a world made like ours culture, as Mr. Arnold conceives it, instead of becoming an all-embracing bond of brotherhood, is likely to be rather a principle of exclusion and isolation, Culture such as he pictures is at present confessedly the possession of a very small circle. Consider, then, the average powers of men, the circumstances in which the majority must live, the physical wants that must always be uppermost in their thoughts, and say if we can conceive that, even in the most advanced state of education and civilization possible, high culture can become the common portion of the multitude. And with the few on a high level of cultivation, the many, to take the best, on a much lower, what is the natural result? Fastidious exclusiveness on the part of the former, which is hardly human, certainly not Christian. Take any concourse of men, from the House of Commons down to the humblest conventicle, how will the majority of them appear to eyes refined by elaborate culture, but not humanized by any deeper sentiment? To such an onlooker will not the countenances of most seem unlovely, their manners repulsive, their modes of thought common