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The Spiritual In Teaching

TEACHING is often thought of as a class function, but it is vastly more than that. When we have reckoned up the twenty thousand odd Anglican clergy, the yet greater array of Nonconforming ministers, and the vast host of public instructors, who in all spheres, from the infant class to the University lecture-hall, are drilling the nation's youth, we have only touched the fringe of our national army of teachers. Artists, poets, statesmen, physicians, are all in it so is every business man; so, par excellence, is every father and mother. The teaching comes by word and deed, and by things that are beyond either. For, in addition to what we are specifically doing in our trade or calling, we are all in our daily habits and conversation exhibiting a certain philosophy of life, a mode of regarding the universe and the human relation to it, which makes us, whether we recognise the fact or not, the exponents of a doctrine.

Looking over the immense and wonderfully varied fields of human activity we discern in them all, we say, a teaching, and the question now is as to the relative value of this teaching. What we want here to point out is that in all these departments, however seemingly remote from one another, the quality of the work depends on the presence or absence of one element. In painter or politician, in architect or business man, in parent, school-master or preacher, the note which Nature demands, and which will decide their real worth, is the note of the spiritual.

By the note of the spiritual we mean the recognition, back of every form of living and working, of an Unseen Holy, of a Divine and Infinite Purity, Beauty and Love, by which these several activities are to be inspired, and to which they are always to look for final appraisement. This view of things is one against which, in different quarters, very vigorous revolts have been made ; but the issue of those revolts confirms the fact that the universe will tolerate no other. In art we have seen a fleshly school; in literature a realism which boasts of describing the naked fact with no ideal behind it ; in public affairs there have been men who have formed them-selves on Machiavelli. These attempts are sometimes described as wicked ; it would be much better to call them mediocre. A really great nature can never endure itself in such conditions. The proof is when we see such a nature and study what it instinctively seeks for and founds itself upon. Arnold was reverenced at Rugby not for his specialty in teaching classics or history, excellent though that was ; his unique hold on English young manhood lay in something outside text-books. It lay in character, and the character, again, rested on a sacred mystery behind. And there is no schoolmaster worth his salt of whom a similar thing may not be said.

A great painter puts all this on his canvas. To gain mastery of form and colour is only the alphabet of his work. The task which fires his soul is that of making " the light that never was on sea or shore" to stream through a landscape or to inspire a countenance. So when men carve or build. It is not only in a St. Mark's at Venice, where the whole New Testament has been translated into marble, that architecture represents the spiritual idea. There is no structure, ancient or modern, as our Ruskin has magnificently shown, but either defies it or does it homage. And if, in public affairs, we note the career of politicians, statesmen, or rulers, it will be found, without exception, that, in the long run the men who really impress their fellows, and whose work endures, are citizens of the Unseen. Whether it is a king like Alfred, or a revolutionary like Mazzini, or a middle-class Radical like Bright, their power lies here.

What we want now, however, specially to deal with is the place of the spiritual in the teaching more definitely recognised as religious. An Italian ex-priest and professor, the Abb Casamichela, who became a convert to Protestantism, and so knew both sides, said that while Rome hid behind her gorgeous externality a miserable poverty of thought, Protestantism made up for its simplicity of external worship by a glorious affluence of ideas. The antithesis is flattering to Protestantism, but needs to be taken with a certain reserve. Affluence of ideas is an excellent thing in religion, but it is not the only nor, indeed, the highest thing. The teacher's power here will depend on something more even than his intellectual range, and that is his relation to the spiritual world. An Indian sage gives us the whole secret in his saying that "the best preacher is the man who has attained a true liberation of soul." In Laurence Oliphant's phrase he is one who " has lived the life."

It is curious, in this connection, to see the efforts men make after originality in religious teaching. They annex foreign languages and literatures, look up all manner of obscure subjects, cultivate at times the wildest phantasies in the frantic endeavour to find some-thing new. They forget that the only true and healthy originality is that which comes from the constant growth of their own soul. If we want our " old things " to become " new " the method is to see them from the variant stand-point of an ever-deepening life. And this deepening will come by practice, by action, more even than by study. When a man knows a religious truth simply as a doctrine he will preach it in a certain way, probably a very dry way. When he has ventured something on it; lived with it; suffered over it; triumphed in it, he will preach it in a very different way. The teacher becomes inexhaustible by putting him-self thus in right relation in his inner world; by going ever deeper into it, not speculatively, but actually, and offering always what he finds.

Such a man discovers that the false in teaching lies not so much in its wrong relation to outside fact as in its wrong relation to his own spirit. The heresy of heresies is to proclaim and urge upon others what we ourselves have not realised. On our soul's peril let us not talk of a thing we have not lived. Rather let there always be more lived than we can utter. Montaigne has a passage somewhere in which he expresses his scorn for Cicero and Pliny for seeking glory by the mere style of their writing and speaking. Caesar and Xenophon, he says, would never have written of their actions had they not felt that the actions in themselves were greater than their words. Which reminds us of what Plutarch so finely says of Caesar, that "his ambition was nothing but a jealousy of himself, a contest with himself, as if it had been with some other man, to make his future achievements outshine the past." The ambition here was not on the highest plane, but the principle is one for us all. There is no way of retaining freshness as a teacher but by a life which, in its ever-increasing possession of the spiritual world, continually outshines the past.

And it is a deepening inner life that constitutes the best of all securities for a sound doctrine. As we become surer of God and more acclimatised in His truth, holiness and love, we can look upon the bewilderments of dogmatic utterance from a very safe standpoint. Not that we are going to be infallible. We may make abundance of mistakes ; only, as Joubert says, " there are some minds which arrive at error by all truths ; and others which arrive at great truths by all errors." The true soul will be wrong often enough in its arguments, but right in its conclusions. A teacher, for instance, may state the Christian doctrine of the Atonement in a way which, from the philosophic or the forensic or the scientific standpoints, may be riddled with objections. But if he has stated it so that men have gone away with a new hatred of sin and passion for holiness ; with a deeper insight into the love of God, and his law of sacrifice; and with a fresh great hope for the utter redemption of this sorrowful world ; we say that whatever the faults and ragged edges of his theory, as a religious teacher he has not gone far wrong. If we are in right relation with Eternal Love, Truth and Righteousness, we shall steer our way through doctrines without fear of ship-wreck.

Such teachers will find the movement of the modern world as full of spiritual meanings as the old allegorists did the stories of Job and of Jacob. That line of the German Claudius which so shocked Dr. Pusey ---

Es kam mir ein Gedank von ohngefahr
So sprach' ich wenn ich Christus wr,

in this view seems not at all shocking. They realise that they are interpreting the world of today on the lines of the Christ-spirit, and in their measure, are speaking of it as He would were He here.

To sum up. Our work and life form a teaching the value of which depends on our relation to the spiritual world. Unless we and our work are rooted there, we and it are as a bubble that breaks on the passing wave. In religion we can teach nothing effectively that we have not first lived. Our measure as teachers will be in the measure of our experiences. We can give only of what we have received, and we are receptive only as we practise inner obedience. The men who are mighty in this field are those whose height of attainment gives a quality of its own to the words they use, who use speech as a channel along which flow influences that no words can translate.

( Originally Published 1903 )

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