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Let us first of all look steadily at the startling fact which meets us on the threshold of this question—the fact, namely, that it is so much as possible for a sincere truth-loving mind to doubt of God’s existence—that the greatest of all realities appears so frequently, in the history of nations as well as in individual life, rather in the shape of a whispered haunting suggestion than as an unveiled illumined truth. Can any answer be found to the argument: “You tell us that this faith is the one pure spring of all the conscious purity and strength to which human nature has access. Why, then, is it at best a faith, and not a conspicuous fact? Why can it ever, even for a time, be inaccessible to eager search 2 And why, when attained, does it still linger in the background of your mind, as it were, being usually, even to yourselves, more audible than heard?” The common and dreary answer is, of course, the mists of human corruption. But it seems strange that the very remedy which is to heal the blindness should be applicable only when the blindness is already healed. We deeply believe, too, that this question is not explicable by the doctrine of Dr. Newman and others that trust is made a kind of probationary venture of the will – a courageous risk of ourselves by a dim twilight—in order to test whether we would not rather serve even a probable God than a certain self-love. We do not deny that we ought to do so, if it were possible for Him thus to experimentalise upon us; but it seems to us that it is a most unworthy representation of the divine character to represent Him as tempting us by self-concealment. Probably the account which most true men would give to themselves of the mystery is this: that while faith fosters, sight must arrest, the growth of a moral nature constituted like ours, nay, that there may even be peculiar stages of individual and social life when the absence of faith alleviates instead of aggravating the pressure of moral evil. We believe that a constant vision of God would be an injury to almost all men, that there are periods when even utter scepticism is the sign of God’s mercy, and the necessary condition of moral restoration. We believe a real independent moral growth would be impossible to natures that had not been shaded, as it were, by a special veil from the overwhelming brightness of a divine character ever present with us. Either every thing human must have been changed, so as to make us impervious to personal influences, or there must be a special film to screen from our sensitive passive nature, at least during the growth of our character, the intense impressions emanating from any spiritual beings greatly superior to ourselves. Every one knows that, even amongst men, a powerful massive character, though it be nearly perfect, often positively injures those within the circle of its influence. They lose the spring of their mind beneath the overwhelming weight of its constant pressure. They are crushed into an unconscious mechanical consonance with all its ways. Nay, even affection, not pressure, may do the same thing. Moral preference, moral freedom, moral character, may be superseded altogether by the single unanalysed predominance of another's wish. This it was probably which rendered the removal of Christ the first condition of the moral life of the apostles. “It is expedient for you that I go away.” In the case supposed we should lose the power of growing up to be “fellow-workers” with God from mere unmoral captivity to His infinite influence. Faith means the discernment of His character without subjugation of the small finite personality to the infinite life. To exchange faith for sight on earth, would be to exchange Theism for Pantheism—moral education for moral absorption. Again, we think it true, for an inverse reason, that there are stages in human culture when even utter scepticism may be a divine remedy for moral evil. When civilisation has become corrupt, and men are living consciously below their faith, we believe that it is in mercy that God strikes the nations with blindness, that the only hope of remedy lies in thus taking away an influence they resist, and leaving them to learn the stern lesson of helpless self-dependence. The shock of a lost faith often restores sooner than the reproach of a neglected faith. Nay, often before any real faith can be attained at all, scepticism may be, we believe, a discipline of mind and heart, given not in retribution but in love. The painful groping of an uncertain footing amidst immortal wants and affections is often the only means by which, as far as we can see, we could have our eyes opened at once to their infinite truth and to our own responsibility. It is in growing characters, maturing in the culture of all the finer elements, as well as in mere intellect, that scepticism seems most evil in its influences—characters needing the genial influence of trust, and yet held fast in some of the many intellectual traps of human speculation. In other cases it cannot be regarded as unmixed evil. But, as we have said, in refined and cultured minds there is, we believe, no influence that can secure constant progress apart from personal trust; and long-continued doubt, whether arising from personal unfaithfulness or from evil influence, must in the end ossify the higher parts of the mind and distort the whole. What, them, is the atheistic type of character? In other words, what is the type of character which a fully realised disbelief in the existence and influence over us of any spiritual nature higher than our own (however faithfully our own may be accepted and trusted) tends to produce? Vividly to see the import of Atheism to human character, even though it be not moral Atheism (or disbelief in ultimate moral distinctions), is the first step towards its disproof. It is clear that Atheism necessarily tends relatively to reduce the influence and independence of the higher intellectual and moral faculties (even where the real existence of these is not disputed), as compared with that of the senses, social impulses, and those energies which tell upon the world. And this it does both involuntarily and unconsciously, by eradicating from the imagination that haunting image of the divine character which most stimulates these faculties into action, and also voluntarily and consciously, because the atheist must in consistency believe that the theist’s worship gives them an unfair prominence. Holding that the human mind is in direct contact with no other mind, but is the latest and highest consummation of forces pushing upwards from a lower stage of existence, the atheist cannot regard his own highest mental states—conscience, affection, and so forth—as having any independent illumination of their own, as skylights opened to let in upon human nature an infinite dawn from above, —but rather as a polished arch or dome completing and reflecting the whole edifice beneath. To him the highest point of human culture is the absolutely highest point in the mental universe; mere non-existence roofs us in beyond ; and of course, therefore, the highest faculties we possess must derive their sole validity and their sole meaning from the lower nature to which they add the finishing touch. No doubt he will admit that new power and insight is gained, the higher self-culture is pushed ; but the new power is not power from beyond human nature, the new insight is not insight into a region above it; it is only the stronger grasp of a more practised hand, the keener vision of a more comprehensive survey. Hence, by dismissing the faith in God, Atheism necessarily props up the higher faculties of man completely and solely on the lower organisation, and denies them any independent spring. Moreover, the atheist is led to justify and fortify himself in this natural result of his modes of thought by assuming, as Feuerbach does, that the object of man’s worship, if there be any, ought to be a perfect man, and that the theist's God is not even strictly a magnified shadow of humanity, but only of a special and arbitrarily selected portion of humanity. This kind of worship, therefore, gives, he maintains, a factitious and disproportionate influence to certain so-called “higher parts” of human nature. An injurious and morbid reduplication is given, he thinks, to the faculties called moral and spiritual by this rapt attention to a fanciful religious echo of them, while the physical organisation and common-sense understanding are left to assert themselves. And so the atheist, denying any special or original sources of life for the highest part of man’s nature, sets it to take lessons from the lower, and look down instead of looking up. Hence, we believe, Atheism is far more uncomfortably and consciously alive to the material conditions under which it works, and the physiological laws it so anxiously consults, than would be the case if man had no moral nature at all. There is the same kind of soreness in the alliance between it and the physical mature, under this levelling theory, that there usually is between essentially different ranks, where the higher is induced by some theoretic conviction to disavow its special birthright. Again, atheistic theory in one still more important respect diminishes the influence that must be given to the moral nature of man. It necessarily regards good and evil as ideas attained and attainable only by human capacity,+as depending on natural genius and insight only,–as wholly limited by natural disposition. Hence not seeing in them any movement of a living character towards us, but only an exercise of human capacity,+cases of moral difficulty are apt to be given up or slurred over as insoluble, which the theist feels must be and are capable of solution, if he can only trustfully follow, step by step, and without impatience, the gradual indications of God’s purposes. There is all the difference in the world between the view of right and wrong which treats it as a mathematical problem which a man can solve or not, according to his capacity, and the view of it as something which depends on the faithfulness of a personal relation—something certain to become clearer and clearer, not through our capacity, but through the free illuminating power of another's influence, if we use the dim light we have in beginning to go where it leads. Right and wrong are usually considered as extremely simple to see—difficult only to do. This is very false, however, especially when weakness and sin have already complicated human relations. And at this point the atheistic and theistic views of conduct necessarily become essentially different in the relative importance they assign to moral instincts. Neither atheist nor theist can see any thing but thick darkness, perhaps, and both are utterly incompetent to find their own way to the light. But the atheist has only his own powers to trust; and, finding them shackled and paralysed by a thousand chains, can only despair, and find no help in the flickering conscience, which only seems to mock the gloom. The theist, if he can still believe in the infinite love of God, can trust implicitly that every step into the darkness will be into a darkness less complete, and show the way to the step beyond. Hence he can never believe but that right is attainable, if he will follow on; that the little insight he has must be implicitly obeyed, and not thrown away because it seems utterly inadequate to his need. If you don’t believe that “good” is living and free—that it is a person— you cannot believe that it will find you out; and you may be truly as incompetent to find it out as to leave the earth for the sun. And just in the same way as the absence of trust tends to nourish a despondency in deep moral difficulty, and a neglect of the inadequate faculty we have, in the case of the individual,—so it is also fatal to the healthy progress of nations. The atheist says, “Even you admit that God only helps those who help themselves. Well, we help ourselves, and therefore God, if He exists, helps us; if He does not, we have all the help we can. Science is the true providence of man. We lay no faith on ‘personal god;’ we use our own faculties.” Very well; but let men only realise your negative creed, and you will find they have not the heart, or perhaps the temerity, on great occasions, to help themselves any longer. Trust is the postulate of the capacity to help ourselves in any great or noble work. It becomes impossible to do our part bravely without this perfect reliance in the co-operation of God. What is to justify trust in a mere sudden gleam of light, a streak just flashing over a universe at midnight, except the conviction that it comes from One who will send more and more, as the occasion demands, if that be followed ? Luther's intense saying, “We tell our Lord God plainly, that if He will have His church, He must look after it Himself. We cannot sustain it; and if we could, we should become the proudest asses under heaven,” is the inspiration of all great action. No man dares to follow a gleam of conviction which tends to overturn a world, unless he is sure that he is but the interpreter of a Power who gave him that conviction, and can guard it after His interpreter is gone. Luther took no responsibility in the case, except the responsibility of his own individual life. How could he have done what he did with a sense of the uncertain fate of Europe, when the Roman Church should be gone, resting on his individual conscience? A small anxiety oppresses a man, if it be only his own uncertain judgment that he trusts. Paul was insupportably anxious about the measures he took to defend himself from Corinthian ill-will. Luther was depressed into a state of chronic melancholy by the difficulties of marriage-questions referred to his ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Yet Paul snapped the chain which bound Christianity to the formal Judaism with the serenest equanimity; and Luther was never so calm and loftily certain as in the act which rent Christendom and cut history in two. If there is no one else who has looked into the future for you, and distinctly told you how to act, then you are bound to look into the future yourself, and take the awful possibilities you initiate upon

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