( Originally Published Early 1900's )
"ONE only thing has been a terrible pang to me, the giving over of my own judgment in questions of moral judgment to any human authority. It is so absolutely new and incomprehensible an idea to me, that any other test should supplant, without risk to itself and me, the inner test of my actions that my conscience affords." Thus wrote Alice Le Strange, one of the most gifted and delightful of women, the future wife of the brilliant mystic, Laurence Oliphant, to Thomas Lake Harris, the mysterious American preacher and hypnotist to whom the Englishman had already sold his soul. The lady, the descendant of one of the oldest families in England, had already been persuaded by her betrothed to accept the American as absolute director of her mind and conscience, though she declares in this same letter that " she felt she was throwing her own conscience overboard and putting out the one clear light God had given her." What came of this " direction," both for herself and her future husband, the world has read in Mrs. Oliphant's biography. The quotation, and the incident altogether, may serve as introduction to the discussion of a question full of vital issues, and about which the present generation is in grievous want of some clear leading .
The action of the Oliphants in placing themselves, body and conscience, under the absolute will of another, would probably strike most of us in the way it struck the lady herself when it was first proposed to her. It would be throwing the con-science overboard, the putting out of our guiding light, an act in defiance both of our religion and our common sense. Yet, let us remember, their act was only the carrying to a certain length of a tendency, a principle, we may say, that is embedded deep in human nature. We are all of us, more or less, " under direction." " Direction," in one form or another, is taken for granted in the very constitution of society. Some of our greatest organisations are founded entirely on this idea. The relation of children to their elders is one of " direction." The whole theory and practice of education suppose the constant subordination of the pupil to his teacher. We pour our facts, our doctrines, our views into these young minds and expect them to be received without contradiction. To refuse acceptance is a disobedience, demanding reproof or punishment.
The grown-up man is, over a large surface of his life, in the same condition as the child. The soldier, the sailor, has given over his mind to that of his superior. The world will have autocracy as long as a ship sails the seas. We cannot navigate by popular suffrage. The safety of the vessel and the making of the voyage depend on the understanding that the hundreds beneath him execute the will of the man at the top. On a larger scale we have the State, by its laws and statutes limiting and directing the conduct of the citizens. On a wider scale still we see superior races governing the destinies, developing the whole mind and interior life of the inferior and feebler peoples.
The principle, we see then, is everywhere at work. The point of dispute is as to how far the principle shall be carried. The dispute has been one of the fiercest in history. It is on this question that religion has fought some of its greatest battles, and has undergone its sharpest divisions. In the Roman Church the " confessor " and the " director " are all powerful. The devout Catholic on the most vital questions of his interior life takes the mind and will of the priest as a substitute for his own. In the religious orders the submission is still more absolute. The first duty which Ignatius Loyola enjoined on his followers was that of obedience. He tells them what he means by obedience. As a corpse has no motion of its own, but is moved solely from the outside ; as the violin is passive in the hands of the musician, so must it be with the Jesuit and his superior.
The Roman Church has, however, by no means a monopoly of religious " direction." Anglicanism, as we know, in its later Ritualistic phases, has developed a kind of Confessionalism in which we have the dangers of the Roman system without the Roman safeguards. But let us be candid here. There is a Protestant " direction " as well as a sacerdotal. The principle under a different form is in as vigorous operation on the one side as on the other. The Reformation, as we trace its history throughout Europe, was the affair of about half a dozen dominant wills. The leaders had no qualms about impressing themselves with their authority's utmost weight on the minds of their followers, Calvin's Geneva Constitution, Knox's " Book of Discipline " were drawn up with the intention of ruling men's actions and consciences. The peace of Augsburg made a man's religion an affair of the state he belonged to. In modern times the Free Churches, though organised on a democratic basis, have given full play to the principle of " direction." A Wesley, a Spurgeon did the theological thinking for their followers. The popular preacher of to-day expects that his congregation will take its doctrinal colour from his expositions.
One could enlarge on this statement of existing conditions, but it is time we went in search of the principle which should guide us in our judgment of them. Direction clearly, of a certain kind, and up to a certain point, is a good thing. If it were not there would be no such general acceptance of it. It is easy, indeed, to see where the good of it lies. Human education all through is an affair of the greater minds leading and inspiring the smaller ones. Redemption has ever been through the higher soul possessing the lower souls, pouring its energy into them, lifting them towards its own standard. The principle has been at work in every age. In the Symposium of Plato, Alcibiades, speaking of the influence of Socrates upon him, opens to us the secret. After a jest at the ugly head of Socrates, which he likens to the mask of a Silenus, he continues : But when I opened him and looked within at his serious purpose, I saw in him divine and golden images of such fascinating beauty that I was ready to do in a moment whatever Socrates commanded." Here we see the legitimate ascendancy, the true " direction." The soul bows to the greater spirit because it recognises the inner beauty there exhibited. It realises at once that the road it points out is the true way to the heights.
But how far shall " direction " go ? That, we have observed, is the crucial point. Can we, amid the prevailing confusion, find our way to any sure dividing line ? We spoke at the beginning of the training of the children. Let us come back to that. At the opening of its career a child is carried in arms. Its entire movement is in the hands of nurse or mother. Later it is taught to walk, the little feet upheld by the guiding hand. But the " direction " is progressively relaxed, until at last our youngster runs alone. The training here we see has been one of restriction and guidance, but always with a view to an ultimate independence. The end aimed at is that the child may walk alone.
This is the training of the body, and it is impossible not to see its analogy to the training of the soul. Education, politics, religion are all phases of human development, and the enlarged vision sees them all as working towards one end, the perfection
over others the object, in any proper conception, is that these others may in their turn gain authority —over themselves. Their present guidance is to help them by-and-by to walk alone. When government, when religion pursue any other aim than this, they have become not the friends, but the enemies of man. The worst disservice we can render to another is to try and create him after our image. Who are you who seek to turn this brother man from his own proper destiny ? Who are you who seek to stifle this soul's voice and to make it a mere echo of your own ? We have heard people speak sometimes, in their dealing with the young, of " breaking their will." But what of their own will ? Shall someone break that ?
Where " direction " has gone so fatally wrong, in governments and so many forms of religion, is in the failure to recognise that their proper end is not to suppress individuality, to suppress the will, but to develop it to its utmost and highest. The priest, the teacher has made hideous wreck and failure of his work when it leads the disciple to lean ever more heavily upon him instead of to walk in his own freedom. To " break the will " forsooth ! One might as well talk of mending a watch by breaking its mainspring. The human will is of all things in this earth the most wonderful, the most sacred. To add to its resources, to secure its freedom of action, to open up to it the way of inner reinforcement, should be the one supreme object of spiritual education. For it is here, in this secret place, man touches his godhood. It is here, in the soul's innermost, holiest ground, when with this single invisible force he meets the onset of passion, the craven voice of his fears, the solicitations of the world, the threats of foes, with his invincible " I will," that man shows his kinship with the God who made him.
But the way to this freedom is a slow one, and there are no safe short cuts. That is religion's excuse, and a good one, for keeping its children in tutelage so long. Goethe, enamoured as he was of inner liberty, saw this clearly. " Everything," says he, " that frees our spirit without giving us the mastery over ourselves is pernicious." Indeed, we come only to our freedom by yielding ourselves to another compulsion. As a modern writer puts it : " The soul is free, not when it is at the mercy of every random impulse, but when it is acted upon by congenial forces, when it is exposed to spiritual pressure, to constraint within itself." The will feels itself most divinely free when it mysteriously realises its unity with the universal Will out of which itself has come. In Quaker Barclay's phrase it is at its true level when it finds itself led inwardly and immediately by the Spirit of God."
It is by this reinforcement and spiritual direction of the individual will that man will eventually fight down all his foes and come into his kingdom. To weaken it, whether by passion or by despotism, is to slay the soul. Poor Oscar Wilde in his " De Profundis," that confession of a broken heart, writ in blood and tears, tells us how the flesh can slay. " Desire at the end was a malady or a madness or both. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace." On the other hand, when priests and religious teachers assail the will with spiritual threat or brow-beating they are enemies only less to be dreaded than the passions. It was the emasculation a misplaced zeal has produced that led Gibbon to declare that " it was the virtues rather than the vices of the clergy that were dangerous to society," a remark that Hume has endorsed. Not coercion, but inspiration ; not the forging of fetters for the soul, but the surrounding it with heaven's own freest air is the function of the teacher, the true mission of the Church.
The freedom thus won can never be misused, or turned to licence. For the souls that reach it find themselves everywhere overarched by the same spiritual laws and controlled by the same beneficent forces. Nature is in no hurry in granting this freedom. She knows the danger of hurry. Until tutelage has become a hindrance rather than a help she will keep men in tutelage. But the government, the Church, the teacher that are wise in their generation will work always by her secret instructions. They will govern, guide and teach in order that man may at the end govern, guide and teach himself.