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The Spiritual Sense

THE history of religion has been, for one thing, largely a history of false alarms. Again and again has the enemy breached and stormed positions supposed to be vital for her defence, to discover that the captive they hoped to make was not there. The history of that defence is indeed the most grotesque of stories. In some aspects it approaches to comedy. We see men in turn entrenching religion behind an infallible Church; again building around her a rampart of infallible Bibles ; anon barring the way of attack by a chevaux de frise of metaphysics. History, philosophy, science, criticism, are summoned to her aid, and then, when the fight is hottest and the defences seem giving way at every point, behold ! the beleaguered one is walking quietly and unhurt through the very ranks of the foe ! At last men are beginning to discover the ludicrous blunder they have been making. On their astonished eyes the truth is beginning to dawn that while Church, Bible, history and philosophy have all their religious uses, it is not upon any of them that religion ultimately rests. Her stronghold is not in anything that man has done. It is in what he is in himself. Her final evidence is a psychological one. It lies in the existence in humanity of " the spiritual sense."

What is meant by this will perhaps be best indicated if we institute a parallel. We all know what is meant by the musical sense. Now, there is a history of music and a logic of it. Any one who has worked at harmony and counterpoint understands how intimately it is allied to purely intellectual processes. It has, besides, institutions, patrons, endowments. But the prospects of music as a force rest upon none of these things. They rest on its appeal to a distinct, yet fundamental, element in the human soul. When its notes fall on the ear something in us responds. And the response is peculiar. It is not an answer of the intellect, the sensation of a problem solved, or the stir of any of the senses. It is a deep thrill of consciousness, unique, different from aught else, unable to interpret itself in any other way except than that it is an answer.

And the answer is to some external reality that fits exactly this special quality of the soul. As the harmonic sense develops, and especially where it blossoms out into the flower of the higher musical genius, it becomes ever more vividly conscious of this external reality that answers to it. The musical creators, so called, create nothing. They only discover what is there already. They find a harmonic universe with its laws framed from eternity, becoming ever more wonderful, more beautiful in proportion as their inner sense develops.

The point here is that this external, harmonic world fits exactly our internal one. There are multitudes of unmusical people. There are races that have the feeblest musical perception. But always in proportion as the gift is developed does there come the sense of the reality of its outer source; the sense that the music is a true witness of it. Our ignorance or indifference makes no difference to the objective fact. Moreover, this ignorance and indifference will in time be certainly and universally conquered. What music has already accomplished in man is evidence, then, for one thing, of its future general predominance, and for another of its perfect correspondence with a harmonic system outside of man, deeper and wider than himself.

But what has this to do with religion and the spiritual sense P Everything. For all that has just been said applies here with an almost absolute exactness. The part played by the musical sense in relation to its world is the precise counterpart of that played by the spiritual sense in relation to religion. Perhaps the loosest and most badly-defined word in our language is the word Faith. In the lips, not only of the people but also of scholars and divines, it has been made to connote all manner of dissimilar and incongruous elements. But in its primitive and Biblical signification it stands for the precise function of the soul with which we are now trying to deal. It means neither more nor less than the spiritual sense, the faculty of response in man to the spiritual world around him. It is the soul's retina, on which alone the light that streams thence can register its pictures. Like the musical faculty, it has been slow in its emergence. For long ages of his history man seems to have felt no stir of it within him. The palaeolithic times offer not a trace of a religious sense. Even now it is most irregularly distributed. In multitudes it seems entirely dormant, if at all existent ; in a few it has from time to time exhibited itself in a commanding and over-powering potency. The parallel, so far, seems complete.

Can we go further and say that, as with the musical faculty, the inner affirmations of this sense can be trusted as corresponding always to an outer reality P Here lies the whole religious question, as the best minds of to-day realise. And the answer tends more and more to an affirmative. Calvin was groping towards this position in his statement that Faith is a matter not so much of the intellect as of the heart. Schleiermacher is so sure of this ground that he is ready to stake Christianity upon it. Pectus est quod theologum facit is the corner-stone of his system. The one thing for the religious teacher to accomplish, says he, is to reach that stratum of the consciousness where this sacred instinct lies concealed. With Ritschl the idea of the spiritual sense lies at the bottoni of his doctrine of "value judgments." It is singular, however, that having gone so far, he does not go further; that while regarding the soul's instinctive feeling in the presence of Christ as the greatest of the Christian evidences, he should speak as he does of those inner responses to the spiritual universe outside which he disparages as mysticism. What else was Christ's own attitude to the spiritual universe but a mystical one ; what revelation had He to offer except the response of His perfect spiritual sense to the infinite spiritual system which corresponded to it ? But that is mysticism, which not Ritschl nor any one else will ever eliminate from the essence of religion.

But to come closer. What is the function of this spiritual sense, and how does it affirm its authority ? We have only to look carefully at its operation in ourselves to discover at once how absolutely different it is from the processes of mere reasoning. It mingles at every point with reasoning, but is in itself as distinct from it as is the emotion raised by a Beethoven sonata. One might describe it as the soul's thrill at the approach of the Divine. Religious literature is the attempt to put that thrill into words. Religious history is the story of the great creative spirits who have felt it at first hand, and of its communication by them to others. What in varying degrees was realised by these founders, and by Christ in a transcendent degree, was a sense of the universe as spiritual, of holiness as the supreme value, of the external world, with its natural forces, as the veil of a Supreme Thought and Love, of man as in himself a revelation of God, and as in immediate contact with God. The spiritual sense immediately recognises itself in other souls and rejoices in the contact. Religious fellowships arise from the play of its law of affinity. It knows instinctively where its nutriment lies, and has processes of its own for extracting and assimilating it. It finds in itself a supreme mandate to develop at the expense of the lower nature allied with it. It works towards the evolution of a body more expressive of its needs. In the rarer natures the effort leads often to physical disaster. A St. Francis, a Pascal, a Catherine of Siena,

Die of having lived too much
In their large hours.

But what they attempted too early and too strenuously the race will arrive at later. We need not be impatient with the rate of movement if God is not. The pace, after all, is not a sluggish one when we consider the obstacles in the way. The spiritual sense is so far only at the beginning of its work. It is at present not so much a master as a reporter. The flesh is still in possession. When Massillon preached before Louis XIV. on the carnal and the spiritual in man, the monarch exclaimed, "Ah ! here are two men I know very well ! " Of the two it is to be feared he preferred the acquaintance of the former. He represented here that majority of whom it may still be said

With the true best slack ! how ill agrees
The best that thou wouldest choose !

But the history of the spiritual sense, however disappointing to our impatience as the record of a religious triumph, is almost perfect as a piece of religious evidence. We need scarce any other. If, to revert to our earlier analogy, all the musical institutions were destroyed, the world's present harmonic sense and culture would make it impossible for even such a catastrophe to result in any real loss. The same may be said of religion. Could all the external record of its past, its systems, its literatures, be imagined as lost, its power and authority would hardly be affected. The spiritual sense as we now have it contains the essence of these things in itself, and would reproduce them, with new elements added of the eternal revelation. And that this sense is authoritative, that its report of the spiritual world is authentic and trustworthy, is a conviction as well founded as that of the trustworthiness of the musical faculty, or indeed as that by which we affirm the outside world revealed to us by the senses. All these affirmations rest ultimately on an act of Faith the belief, namely, that our nature is not being befooled; that its reporters are telling us the truth, and not a he.

It is the business of the Church, and specially of the religious teacher, to develop the spiritual sense. The real end of worship and of exhortation is not to root men in tradition or to drill them in logic, or to cram them with facts. It is to find the mystic chord which vibrates to the breath of the Unseen. It answers always to the true note. Often the thrill comes apart from any words. Tolstoi was converted from Atheism by studying the faith of simple people. When a man has felt God his neighbour knows it. That is where the true preacher's power lies. Beyond all eloquence, all learning, its secret is in the fulness and fineness of his spiritual sense. And that grows in him by careful cultivation. He above all others needs to ponder the old Greek saying : " The gods sell us all the goods they give us." We cannot, that is, get the best without paying for it. Inferior substitutes for the true power can be had at specified rates, but for this there is no haggling and no cheapening. Those who, in pulpits or else-where, desire to be irrefutable evidences of the heavenly kingdom must offer their whole selves as the price.

( Originally Published 1903 )

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