14 AUGUST 1880, Page 9


TAR. CARPENTER, in a letter published three weeks ago, .1.5 on the 24th of July, maintained with much vigour that "every believer's God is neither more nor less than his own idea of God," and that growth in religious life is nothidk in the world but such growth in man's own conception of moral good- as enables him gradually to "project upon infinity " a higher and higher conception of himself. In two or three remarkable letters which we have since pub- lished, especially in that of Mr. Moggridge, published on the 31st of July, this opinion was challenged, and so limited and modified as to be reconciled with a belief with which, in the strong form in which Dr. Carpenter stated it, it appeared to us to be quite inconsistent—though, of course, in Dr. Car- penter's opinion, it was perfectly consistent with it, and is proved to be so by the letter we publish to-day—we mean, the belief in the reality and independence of the divine agency. For, of course, if God be for us nothing more than our own idea of God, there is nothing acting freely upon us from outside our own finite understanding which tends to widen and elevate that idea,—a conception fatal to true Theism. We were from the first very sure that this was not what Dr. Carpenter meant. And he now clearly admits, as freely indeed as our correspondent of last week, that if a child's father were not something very much above the child's idea of its own father, the child would be very badly off for a father indeed. And so, too, the difference between an infinite Being whom man only faintly takes in, and man's faint idea of him as " projected on infinity," is the whole difference between God and Ludwig Feuerbach's gigantic shadow of man. The one is an inexhaustible life, which besets us behind and before, and is constantly pressing in on our own, so as to compel us to open our hearts wider and wider; the other is a notion of our own making, which will only grow as we grow and if we grow, and which, in any case, cannot do for us anything beyond what in reality we do for ourselves. It is all the difference between a living being who is constantly helping us to apprehend, what unassisted we could not appre- hend, and a philosophic view, which may indeed widen from time to time, but only as we get time and leisure and capacity to reconsider and extend it. Dr. Carpenter, of course, will say that he never for a moment intended to deny that it is God himself whose agency modifies and expands our human "ideas " of him, nor that our ideas should always be kept open and elastic, so as to be recast at once under every new experience which God may provide for us. And we are quite aware, as no one doubts Dr. Carpenter's earnest Theism, that the issue between us, momentous as it is, is at bottom rather one as to the best form of expressing what we mean, than as to the thing itself. But then, sometimes a great deal of truth of belief is involved in choosing the best mode of expressing our belief. What at one time led physical science more astray than the mistaken antithesis between heat and cold, heaviness and lightness, as though either of these opposites expressed something of a kind essentially antagonistic to the other?—yet this was at bottom an inexact mode of ex- pressing actual observation. And so, too, what has led our reli- gious life more astray than the notion that God is for each of us only what we have recognised him to be, and that the stress of our religion, therefore, should be thrown upon clearing up our own finite notions of God rather than on practically following his mysterious inward guidance, a guidance of the true rationale of which even the most lofty intellects can give themselves so inadequate an account P The great differ- ence, we take it, between the mode of looking at things which starts from " the idea of God" formed by each man as if it were the equivalent of God himself, and that, on the other hand, which recognises that the divine agency is infinitely wider and more various in its influences and its pressure upon us than anything of which our finite intelligence can give an account, is this : that the former tends to a purely self- conscious religion, which never takes a step until the mind has given itself a clear account of the principles wHich justify that step ; while the latter tends to a faith that often goes in advance of what it can see, because it believes in a guidance higher than the human intellect can at present grasp, and drawing us to- wards what the human intellect will creep slowly after, and perhaps, for ages more, rather throw doubts upon than verify.

Of course, it will be said, as it always has been said, that this conception of God as acting upon us by a great many more in- fluences than we can apprehend or analyse, tends directly to fanaticism, pietism, and all kinds of dangerous mysticism. As Dr. Carpenter has well pointed out, there is hardly any religious mischief going, which has not been justified by insane intuitions of divine commands ; and, of course, it is no news to anybody that those who allow themselves to be guided by influences which they cannot clearly define and explain, are, so far as that goes, and if they know nothing more of these influences than that they cannot explain them, more likely to be guided in the wrong direction than in the right. But then no one who believes in divine revelation at all, thinks that be- cause we are unable clearly to discriminate what it is which assures us of the divine hand, there is nothing which can so assure us. The child cannot discriminate in the least what it is which teaches him to rely on his father, but, none the less, he is quite right in so relying; and if he did not so rely, it would be all the worse for him. What we maintain is, that every great religions advance has been due to following some guidance which went far beyond what the people so guided could at the time clearly comprehend or rationally justify, and yet which, acting upon the teaching of their whole inward nature, they felt to be a guidance better than their own, and worthy to be trusted, as proceeding from a higher source. Take the Jewish legislation, for instance, which so carefully provided against idolatry in the midst of idolatrous instincts of the most potent kind,—which so carefully provided strict limita- tions on the accumulative instincts of the Jews in relation to property, accumulative instincts which have always been stronger amongst the Jews than amongst other nations,— which so early and so solemnly forbade covetousness, as a sin of the first order, and that among a people peculiarly ex- posed to covetousness. Now was not the Jewish legisla- tion in all these cases quite beyond the rational justification, in any clear intellectual sense, of the people who were called upon to obey it P And yet was there not enough in the heart and mind of the people to make it inexplicably certain to them—though by no means explicably clear—that they ought to obey these laws P It was the same with the later prophets,when they protested so powerfully against bolding by the letter of the sacrificial law, and demanded instead the divine spirit of self- sacrifice,—the sacrifice of the will, instead of the mere sacrifice of expensive external dues and of conventional earthly observ- ances. Was not the teaching of Isaiah far in advance of the mind of the people whose obedience Isaiah demanded P But though far in advance of their mind, was there not enough in their hearts and minds to justify that demand, even though they could not explain how it was justified? And po, too, with the teaching of Christ. Do not his Apostles tell us expressly that they misunderstood his language, that they often did not even follow what he was driving at in his teaching, that they put the most earthly interpretations on his promises, and protested passionately against his purposes? Yet they followed him, and though in a sense blindly, yet in a much better sense not blindly at all, because though they knew not what they did, there was something in them, and that the highest thing in them, which assured thorn that what they did was good. Well, what we say is that the power to trust to this spirit of God which leads men in advance of their "ideas of God," is of the very essence of religions development; that if men had not felt that they must obey a voice which prompted them to break through the limits imposed by their "ideas of God," we should never have had religious advance at all. Every religions reformation has broken through the best and most approved notions of the day about religion, and has broken through these without its own characteristic ideas having first mastered the intellects and enlarged the understandings of those who made up the bulk of the reforming party. Religions advance has always consisted in moving onward to a divine beckoning, and that before the rational justification of that movement had presented itself to the people. Patriarch, prophet, apostle,—not one of them, if we can trust history at all, could be said to have acted in conformity with his "idea of God ;" every one of them was startled by that he was prompted to do, as by a novelty which involved falsehood to his most sacred traditions and con- ceptions of God ; and though he knew he ought to do it, he did it, shrinking and wondering, and at a loss to justify to his own intellect what he was about. This is just the difference between trusting in God, and trusting in your own "idea of God :" the man who trusts in the former is ready to move out beyond the field of his own ideas, at the impulse of the living Power who is greater than those ideas, and who is always trying to show as the insufficiency of them ; while the man who trusts only in the latter, is kept a prisoner in the vicious circle of his own in- adequate notions. God can enlarge our ideas of him, can show us how imperfect they are, by gently leading us beyond them, as when he taught St. Peter, while priding himself in his horror of what was " common and unclean," that what God. had cleansed he was not to regard. as common; but an " ideeP of God " can never enlarge itself, and has in itself no principle - of life and movement.

If it be said that this view leads directly to a superstitiont and fanatical trust in imaginary " calls " and " voices," we' utterly deny it. Such fanaticism or superstition always con- sists in the false emphasis laid on some fanciful coincidence, each as an illusion of the senses, or the wording of a text of Scripture that the eye alights on in a moment of indecision, or a dream, or vision, or anything that is specially impressive to some susceptible part of our lower nature. What we maintain is that all such dispositions to attach vast importance to a minute aspect of mere circumstance is unhealthy, morbid, in- sane. Bat, on the other hand, it is clearly false to suppose that we can safely trust our whole nature to the guidance of our clearest " ideas." There is much more in man than he has ever understood, and those have never been the greatest men who have acted solely on the light of their "ideas," instead of trust- ing in a guidance which led them upwards, even in deepite of the fixed protest of some of their ideas. Only you must feel, by the evidence of your whole nature, that it is upwards you are being, borne, and not sideways or downwards by a mere caprice of unhealthy instinct. And of what constitutes such evidence: there is, of course, no abstract test whatever. It is just the difference between true wisdom and poor self-confidence, that the one recognises what is highest,--recognises true revels- tion,—even when it draws us away from our preconceived notions; while the other adheres obstinately to its own fixed ideas,—and will not give them up even for a nobler life. The difference between trusting in God and trusting in an "idea of God," is the difference between waiting for guidance from above, and preparing carefully for your own ascent from beneath.