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Lecture XIX OTHER CHARACTERISTICS
We have wound our way back, after our excursion through mysticism and philosophy, to wherewe were before: the uses of religion, its uses to the individual who has it, and the uses of theindividual himself to the world, are the best arguments that truth is in it. We return to the empiricalphilosophy: the true is what works well, even though the qualification "on the whole" may alwayshave to be added. In this lecture we must revert to description again, and finish our picture of thereligious consciousness by a word about some of its other characteristic elements. Then, in a finallecture, we shall be free to make a general review and draw our independent conclusions.

The first point I will speak of is the part which the aesthetic life plays in determining one'schoice of a religion. Men, I said awhile ago, involuntarily intellectualize their religious experience.

They need formulas, just as they need fellowship in worship. I spoke, therefore, toocontemptuously of the pragmatic uselessness of the famous scholastic list of attributes of the deity,for they have one use which I neglected to consider. The eloquent passage in which Newmanenumerates them[301] puts us on the track of it. Intoning them as he would intone a cathedralservice, he shows how high is their aesthetic value. It enriches our bare piety to carry these exaltedand mysterious verbal additions just as it enriches a church to have an organ and old brasses,marbles and frescoes and stained windows. Epithets lend an atmosphere and overtones to ourdevotion. They are like a hymn of praise and service of glory, and may sound the more sublime forbeing incomprehensible. Minds like Newman's[302] grow as jealous of their credit as heathenpriests are of that of the jewelry and ornaments that blaze upon their idols.

[301] Idea of a University, Discourse III. Section 7.

[302] Newman's imagination so innately craved an ecclesiastical system that he can write: "Fromthe age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion: I know no otherreligion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion." And again speaking of himselfabout the age of thirty, he writes: "I loved to act as feeling myself in my Bishop's sight, as if itwere the sight of God." Apologia, 1897, pp. 48, 50.

Among the buildings-out of religion which the mind spontaneously indulges in, the aestheticmotive must never be forgotten. I promised to say nothing of ecclesiastical systems in theselectures. I may be allowed, however, to put in a word at this point on the way in which theirsatisfaction of certain aesthetic needs contributes to their hold on human nature. Although somepersons aim most at intellectual purity and simplification, for others RICHNESS is the supremeimaginative requirement.[303] When one's mind is strongly of this type, an individual religion willhardly serve the purpose. The inner need is rather of something institutional and complex, majesticin the hierarchic interrelatedness of its parts, with authority descending from stage to stage, and atevery stage objects for adjectives of mystery and splendor, derived in the last resort from theGodhead who is the fountain and culmination of the system. One feels then as if in presence ofsome vast incrusted work of jewelry or architecture; one hears the multitudinous liturgical appeal;one gets the honorific vibration coming from every quarter. Compared with such a noblecomplexity, in which ascending and descending movements seem in no way to jar upon stability,in which no single item, however humble, is insignificant, because so many august institutionshold it in its place, how flat does evangelical Protestantism appear, how bare the atmosphere ofthose isolated religious lives whose boast it is that "man in the bush with God may meet."[304]

What a pulverization and leveling of what a gloriously piled-up structure! To an imagination usedto the perspectives of dignity and glory, the naked gospel scheme seems to offer an almshouse fora palace.

[303] The intellectual difference is quite on a par in practical importance with the analogousdifference in character. We saw, under the head of Saintliness, how some characters resentconfusion and must live in purity, consistency, simplicity (above, p. 275 ff.). For others, on thecontrary, superabundance, over-pressure, stimulation, lots of superficial relations, areindispensable. There are men who would suffer a very syncope if you should pay all their debts,bring it about that their engagements had been kept, their letters answered their perplexitiesrelieved, and their duties fulfilled, down to one which lay on a clean table under their eyes withnothing to interfere with its immediate performance. A day stripped so staringly bare would be forthem appalling. So with ease, elegance, tributes of affection, social recognitions--some of usrequire amounts of these things which to others would appear a mass of lying and sophistication.

[304] In Newman's Lectures on Justification Lecture VIII. Section 6, there is a splendid passageexpressive of this aesthetic way of feeling the Christian scheme. It is unfortunately too long toquote.

It is much like the patriotic sentiment of those brought up in ancient empires. How manyemotions must be frustrated of their object, when one gives up the titles of dignity, the crimsonlights and blare of brass, the gold embroidery, the plumed troops, the fear and trembling, and putsup with a president in a black coat who shakes hands with you, and comes, it may be, from a"home" upon a veldt or prairie with one sitting-room and a Bible on its centre-table. It pauperizesthe monarchical imagination!

The strength of these aesthetic sentiments makes it rigorously impossible, it seems to me, thatProtestantism, however superior in spiritual profundity it may be to Catholicism, should at thepresent day succeed in making many converts from the more venerable ecclesiasticism. The latteroffers a so much richer pasturage and shade to the fancy, has so many cells with so many differentkinds of honey, is so indulgent in its multiform appeals to human nature, that Protestantism willalways show to Catholic eyes the almshouse physiognomy. The bitter negativity of it is to theCatholic mind incomprehensible. To intellectual Catholics many of the antiquated beliefs andpractices to which the Church gives countenance are, if taken literally, as childish as they are toProtestants. But they are childish in the pleasing sense of "childlike"--innocent and amiable, andworthy to be smiled in consideration of the undeveloped condition of the dear people's intellects.TotheProtest(on) ant, on the contrary, they are childish in the sense of being idioticfalsehoods. He must stamp out their delicate and lovable redundancy, leaving the Catholic toshudder at his literalness. He appears to the latter as morose as if he were some hard-eyed, numb,monotonous kind of reptile. The two will never understand each other--their centres of emotionalenergy are too different. Rigorous truth and human nature's intricacies are always in need of amutual interpreter.[305] So much for the aesthetic diversities in the religious consciousness.

[305] Compare the informality of Protestantism, where the "meek lover of the good," alone withhis God, visits the sick, etc., for their own sakes, with the elaborate "business" that goes on inCatholic devotion, and carries with it the social excitement of all more complex businesses. Anessentially worldly-minded Catholic woman can become a visitor of the sick on purely coquettishprinciples, with her confessor and director, her "merit" storing up, her patron saints, her privilegedrelation to the Almighty, drawing his attention as a professional devote, her definite "exercises,"and her definitely recognized social pose in the organization.

In most books on religion, three things are represented as its most essential elements. These areSacrifice, Confession, and Prayer. I must say a word in turn of each of these elements, thoughbriefly. First of Sacrifice.

Sacrifices to gods are omnipresent in primeval worship; but, as cults have grown refined, burntofferings and the blood of he-goats have been superseded by sacrifices more spiritual in theirnature. Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism get along without ritual sacrifice; so does Christianity, savein so far as the notion is preserved in transfigured form in the mystery of Christ's atonement. Thesereligions substitute offerings of the heart, renunciations of the inner self, for all those vainoblations. In the ascetic practices which Islam, Buddhism, and the older Christianity encourage wesee how indestructible is the idea that sacrifice of some sort is a religious exercise. In lecturing onasceticism I spoke of its significance as symbolic of the sacrifices which life, whenever it is takenstrenuously, calls for.[306] But, as I said my say about those, and as these lectures expressly avoidearlier religious usages and questions of derivation, I will pass from the subject of Sacrificealtogether and turn to that of Confession.

[306] Above, p. 354 ff.

In regard to Confession I will also be most brief, saying my word about it psychologically, nothistorically. Not nearly as widespread as sacrifice, it corresponds to a more inward and moral stageof sentiment. It is part of the general system of purgation and cleansing which one feels one's selfin need of, in order to be in right relations to one's deity. For him who confesses, shams are overand realities have begun; he has exteriorized his rottenness. If he has not actually got rid of it, he atleast no longer smears it over with a hypocritical show of virtue--he lives at least upon a basis ofveracity. The complete decay of the practice of confession in Anglo-Saxon communities is a littlehard to account for. Reaction against popery is of course the historic explanation, for in poperyconfession went with penances and absolution, and other inadmissible practices. But on the <453>

side of the sinner himself it seems as if the need ought to have been too great to accept so summarya refusal of its satisfaction. One would think that in more men the shell of secrecy would have hadto open, the pent-in abscess to burst and gain relief, even though the ear that heard the confessionwere unworthy. The Catholic church, for obvious utilitarian reasons, has substituted auricularconfession to one priest for the more radical act of public confession. We English-speakingProtestants, in the general self-reliance and unsociability of our nature, seem to find it enough ifwe take God alone into our confidence.[307]

[307] A fuller discussion of confession is contained in the excellent work by Frank Granger: TheSoul of a Christian, London, 1900, ch. xii.

The next topic on which I must comment is Prayer--and this time it must be less briefly. We haveheard much talk of late against prayer, especially against prayers for better weather and for therecovery of sick people. As regards prayers for the sick, if any medical fact can be considered tostand firm, it is that in certain environments prayer may contribute to recovery, and should beencouraged as a therapeutic measure. Being a normal factor of moral health in the person, itsomission would be deleterious. The case of the weather is different. Notwithstanding the recencyof the opposite belief,[308] every one now knows that droughts and storms follow from physicalantecedents, and that moral appeals cannot avert them. But petitional prayer is only onedepartment of prayer; and if we take the word in the wider sense as meaning every kind of inwardcommunion or conversation with the power recognized as divine, we can easily see that scientificcriticism leaves it untouched.

[308] Example: "The minister at Sudbury, being at the Thursday lecture in Boston, heard theofficiating clergyman praying for rain. As soon as the service was over, he went to the petitionerand said 'You Boston ministers, as soon as a tulip wilts under your windows, go to church and prayfor rain, until all Concord and Sudbury are under water.'" R. W. Emerson: Lectures andBiographical Sketches, p. 363.

Prayer in this wide sense is the very soul and essence of religion. "Religion," says a liberalFrench theologian, "is an intercourse, a conscious and voluntary relation, entered into by a soul indistress with the mysterious power upon which it feels itself to depend, and upon which its fate iscontingent. This intercourse with God is realized by prayer. Prayer is religion in act; that is, prayeris real religion. It is prayer that distinguishes the religious phenomenon from such similar orneighboring phenomena as purely moral or aesthetic sentiment. Religion is nothing if it be not thevital act by which the entire mind seeks to save itself by clinging to the principle from which itdraws its life. This act is prayer, by which term I understand no vain exercise of words, no mererepetition of certain sacred formula, but the very movement itself of the soul, putting itself in apersonal relation of contact with the mysterious power of which it feels the presence--it may beeven before it has a name by which to call it. Wherever this interior prayer is lacking, there is noreligion; wherever, on the other hand, this prayer rises and stirs the soul, even in the absence offorms or of doctrines, we have living religion. One sees from this why "natural religion, so-called,is not properly a religion. It cuts man off from prayer. It leaves him and God in mutual remoteness,with no intimate commerce, no interior dialogue, no interchange, no action of God in man, noreturn of man to God. At bottom this pretended religion is only a philosophy. Born at epochs ofrationalism, of critical investigations, it never was anything but an abstraction. An artificial anddead creation, it reveals to its examiner hardly one of the characters proper to religion."[309]

[309] Auguste Sabatier: Esquisse d'une Philosophie de la Religion. 2me ed., 1897, pp. 24-26,abridged.

It seems to me that the entire series of our lectures proves the truth of M. Sabatier's contention.

The religious phenomenon, studied as in Inner fact, and apart from ecclesiastical or theologicalcomplications, has shown itself to consist everywhere, and at all its stages, in the consciousnesswhich individuals have of an intercourse between themselves and higher powers with which theyfeel themselves to be related. This intercourse is realized at the time as being both active andmutual. If it be not effective; if it be not a give and take relation; if nothing be really transactedwhile it lasts; if the world is in no whit different for its having taken place; then prayer, taken inthis wide meaning of a sense that SOMETHING IS TRANSACTING, is of course a feeling ofwhat is illusory, and religion must on the whole be classed, not simply as containing elements ofdelusion--these undoubtedly everywhere exist--but as being rooted in delusion altogether, just asmaterialists and atheists have always said it was. At most there might remain, when the directexperiences of prayer were ruled out as false witnesses, some inferential belief that the whole orderof existence must have a divine cause. But this way of contemplating nature, pleasing as it woulddoubtless be to persons of a pious taste, would leave to them but the spectators' part at a play,whereas in experimental religion and the prayerful life, we seem ourselves to be actors, and not ina play, but in a very serious reality.

The genuineness of religion is thus indissolubly bound up with the question whether theprayerful consciousness be or be not deceitful. The conviction that something is genuinelytransacted in this consciousness is the very core of living religion. As to what is transacted, greatdifferences of opinion have prevailed. The unseen powers have been supposed, and are yetsupposed, to do things which no enlightened man can nowadays believe in. It may well prove thatthe sphere of influence in prayer is subjective exclusively, and that what is immediately changed isonly the mind of the praying person. But however our opinion of prayer's effects may come to belimited by criticism, religion, in the vital sense in which these lectures study it, must stand or fallby the persuasion that effects of some sort genuinely do occur. Through prayer, religion insists,things which cannot be realized in any other manner come about: energy which but for prayerwould be bound is by prayer set free and operates in some part, be it objective or subjective, of theworld of facts.

This postulate is strikingly expressed in a letter written by the late Frederic W. H. Myers to afriend, who allows me to quote from it. It shows how independent the prayer-instinct is of usualdoctrinal complications. Mr. Myers writes:-"I am glad that you have asked me about prayer, because I have rather strong ideas on thesubject. First consider what are the facts. There exists around us a spiritual universe, and thatuniverse is in actual relation with the material. From the spiritual universe comes the energy whichmaintains the material; the energy which makes the life of each individual spirit. Our spirits aresupported by a perpetual indrawal of this energy, and the vigor of that indrawal is perpetuallychanging, much as the vigor of our absorption of material nutriment changes from hour to hour.

"I call these 'facts' because I think that some scheme of this kind is the only one consistent withour actual evidence; too complex to summarize here. How, then, should we ACT on these facts?

Plainly we must endeavor to draw in as much spiritual life as possible, and we must place ourminds in any attitude which experience shows to be favorable to such indrawal. PRAYER is thegeneral name for that attitude of open and earnest expectancy. If we then ask to whom to pray, theanswer (strangely enough) must be that THAT does not much matter. The prayer is not indeed apurely subjective thing;--it means a real increase in intensity of absorption of spiritual power orgrace;--but we do not know enough of what takes place in the spiritual world to know how theprayer operates;--WHO is cognizant of it, or through what channel the grace is given. Better letchildren pray to Christ, who is at any rate the highest individual spirit of whom we have anyknowledge. But it would be rash to say that Christ himself HEARS US; while to say that GODhears us is merely to restate the first principle--that grace flows in from the infinite spiritualworld."Let us reserve the question of the truth or falsehood of the belief that power is absorbed until thenext lecture, when our dogmatic conclusions, if we have any, must be reached. Let this lecture stillconfine itself to the description of phenomena; and as a concrete example of an extreme sort, of theway in which the prayerful life may still be led, let me take a case with which most of you must beacquainted, that of George Muller of Bristol, who died in 1898. Muller's prayers were of thecrassest petitional order. Early in life he resolved on taking certain Bible promises in literalsincerity, and on letting himself be fed, not by his own worldly foresight, but by the Lord's hand.

He had an extraordinarily active and successful career, among the fruits of which were thedistribution of over two million copies of the Scripture text, in different languages; the equipmentof several hundred missionaries; the circulation of more than a hundred and eleven million ofscriptural books, pamphlets, and tracts; the building of five large orphanages, and the keeping andeducating of thousands of orphans; finally, the establishment of schools in which over a hundredand twenty-one thousand youthful and adult pupils were taught. In the course of this work Mr.

Muller received and administered nearly a million and a half of pounds sterling, and traveled overtwo hundred thousand miles of sea and land.[310] During the sixty-eight years of his ministry, henever owned any property except his clothes and furniture, and cash in hand; and he left, at the ageof eighty-six, an estate worth only a hundred and sixty pounds.

[310] My authority for these statistics is the little work on Muller, by Frederic G. Warne, NewYork, 1898.

His method was to let his general wants be publicly known, but not to acquaint other people withthe details of his temporary necessities. For the relief of the latter, he prayed directly to the Lord,believing that sooner or later prayers are always answered if one have trust enough. "When I losesuch a thing as a key," he writes, "I ask the Lord to direct me to it, and I look for an answer to myprayer; when a person with whom I have made an appointment does not come, according to thefixed time, and I begin to be inconvenienced by it, I ask the Lord to be pleased to hasten him tome, and I look for an answer; when I do not understand a passage of the word of God, I lift up myheart to the Lord that he would be pleased by his Holy Spirit to instruct me, and I expect to betaught, though I do not fix the time when, and the manner how it should be; when I am going tominister in the Word, I seek help from the Lord, and . . . am not cast down, but of good cheerbecause I look for his assistance."Muller's custom was to never run up bills, not even for a week. "As the Lord deals out to us bythe day, . . . the week's payment might become due and we have no money to meet it; and thusthose with whom we deal might be inconvenienced by us, and we be found acting against thecommandment of the Lord: 'Owe no man anything.' From this day and henceforward whilst theLord gives to us our supplies by the day, we purpose to pay at once for every article as it ispurchased, and never to buy anything except we can pay for it at once, however much it may seemto be needed, and however much those with whom we deal may wish to be paid only by the week."The articles needed of which Muller speaks were the food, fuel, etc., of his orphanages.

Somehow, near as they often come to going without a meal, they hardly ever seem actually to havedone so. "Greater and more manifest nearness of the Lord's presence I have never had than whenafter breakfast there were no means for dinner for more than a hundred persons; or when afterdinner there were no means for the tea, and yet the Lord provided the tea; and all this without onesingle human being having been informed about our need. . . . Through Grace my mind is so fullyassured of the faithfulness of the Lord, that in the midst of the greatest need, I am enabled in peaceto go about my other work. Indeed, did not the Lord give me this, which is the result of trusting inhim, I should scarcely be able to work at all; for it is now comparatively a rare thing that a daycomes when I am not in need for one or another part of the work."[311]

[311] The Life of Trust; Being a Narrative of the Lord's Dealings with George Muller, NewAmerican edition, N. Y., Crowell, pp. 228, 194, 219.

In building his orphanages simply by prayer and faith, Muller affirms that his prime motive was"to have something to point to as a visible proof that our God and Father is the same faithful Godthat he ever was--as willing as ever to prove himself the living God, in our day as formerly, to allthat put their trust in him."[312] For this reason he refused to borrow money for any of hisenterprises. "How does it work when we thus anticipate God by going our own way? We certainlyweaken faith instead of increasing it; and each time we work thus a deliverance of our own we findit more and more difficult to trust in God, till at last we give way entirely to our natural fallenreason and unbelief prevails. How different if one is enabled to wait God's own time, and to lookalone to him for help and deliverance! When at last help comes, after many seasons of prayer itmay be, how sweet it is, and what a present recompense! Dear Christian reader, if you have neverwalked in this path of obedience before, do so now, and you will then know experimentally thesweetness of the joy which results from it."[313]

[312] Ibid., p. 126.

[313] Op. cit., p. 383, abridged.

When the supplies came in but slowly, Muller always considered that this was for the trial of hisfaith and patience When his faith and patience had been sufficiently tried, the Lord would sendmore means. "And thus it has proved,"--I quote from his diary--"for to-day was given me the sumof 2050 pounds, of which 2000 are for the building fund [of a certain house], and 50 for presentnecessities. It is impossible to describe my joy in God when I received this donation. I was neitherexcited nor surprised; for I LOOK out for answers to my prayers. I BELIEVE THAT GODHEARS ME. Yet my heart was so full of joy that I could only SIT before God, and admire him,like David in 2 Samuel vii. At last I cast myself flat down upon my face and burst forth inthanksgiving to God and in surrendering my heart afresh to him for his blessed service."[314]

[314] Ibid., p. 323George Muller's is a case extreme in every respect, and in no respect more so than in theextraordinary narrowness of the man's intellectual horizon. His God was, as he often said, hisbusiness partner. He seems to have been for Muller little more than a sort of supernaturalclergyman interested in the congregation of tradesmen and others in Bristol who were his saints,and in the orphanages and other enterprises, but unpossessed of any of those vaster and wilder andmore ideal attributes with which the human imagination elsewhere has invested him. Muller, inshort, was absolutely unphilosophical. His intensely private and practical conception of hisrelations with the Deity continued the traditions of the most primitive human thought.[315] Whenwe compare a mind like his with such a mind as, for example, Emerson's or Phillips Brooks's, wesee the range which the religious consciousness covers.

[315] I cannot resist the temptation of quoting an expression of an even more primitive style ofreligious thought, which I find in Arber's English Garland, vol. vii. p. 440. Robert Lyde, anEnglish sailor, along with an English boy, being prisoners on a French ship in 1689, set upon thecrew, of seven Frenchmen, killed two, made the other five prisoners, and brought home the ship.

Lyde thus describes how in this feat he found his God a very present help in time of trouble:-"With the assistance of God I kept my feet when they three and one more did strive to throw medown. Feeling the Frenchman which hung about my middle hang very heavy, I said to the boy, 'Goround the binnacle, and knock down that man that hangeth on my back.' So the boy did strike himone blow on the head which made him fall. . . . Then I looked about for a marlin spike or anythingelse to strike them withal. But seeing nothing, I said, 'LORD! what shall I do?' Then casting up myeye upon my left side, and seeing a marlin spike hanging, I jerked my right arm and took hold, andstruck the point four times about a quarter of an inch deep into the skull of that man that had holdof my left arm. [One of the Frenchmen then hauled the marlin spike away from him.] But throughGOD'S wonderful providence! it either fell out of his hand, or else he threw it down, and at thistime the Almighty GOD gave me strength enough to take one man in one hand, and throw at theother's head: and looking about again to se............
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