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By Inge, William Ralph, 1860-1954
" If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." — Phil. iv. 8.
THIS is the end of that beautiful verse in which St. Paul tells us how the inner chambers of the Christian heart ought to be furnished. When we are alone and unoccupied, when we are at home to ourselves, we ought to find ourselves in a house that is neither the lurking-place of unclean spirits, nor empty, swept, and garnished, but fragrant with the memories of things true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. And he drives home his exhortation by appealing to two springs of action which are not often mentioned in the ew Testament — virtue, or self-respect, and the desire of praise. It is very much as if he said to the Philippians, " I appeal to you, for this once, not only as Christians, but as gentlemen." There is still, and there was in St. Paul's time, a religion of civilisation — an independent, lay-religion, side by side with the official religion of priests and Churches. In the classical age it had its centre in the schools of philosophy, and its sacred literature in the books of the great moral philosophers. The ew Testament writers seldom appeal to this body of ethical 137
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teaching, which we, after so long a lapse of time, still think worthy of a high place in a course of liberal education. St. Paul, except in this passage, does not care to arouse the familiar elevating associations which had gathered round the word aperr). Christianity was at this time being preached as a new message, and it preferred to make its own dialect. It made but small use of Kania and apery; it introduced the new word dyavt), and gave it at once a central position ; it raised TairewoTr]? from a vice of slaves to a virtue of free men, and degraded evrpatrekia — the wit of which the Athenian was proud — to a place among the " things which are not convenient." And yet, without wishing to extenuate the divergence between pagan and Christian ethics, my text may remind us of a somewhat obvious truth which seems in this connection to be often forgotten : I mean that teachers, whether in religious or secular matters, do not dwell most on those things which their hearers know best already, but take these things for granted, and enlarge on other points about which they have something fresh to say. It is rather unreasonable to blame the ew Testament writers for not expatiating on the duties of friendship and citizenship, and the elevating influence of art — the very points on which paganism was strong; nor, if we are thinking of the Gospels, would such exhortations have been very appropriate in talking to Galilean peasants. It is surely more natural to suppose that both our Lord and St. Paul meant to give a tacit sanction to current ethics except
SECULAR A D RELIGIOUS IDEALS 139 where they needed correction. And to those fanatics who call Christianity a " sexless, homeless, nationless morality," we may fairly answer that the tree is known by its fruits.
There is, however, room for considerable difference of opinion as to how far the secular ideal of excellence, to which St. Paul here, if nowhere else, appeals, is in conflict with the Christian. That ideal has, of course, varied at different times and places, and in Christian countries has been modified by Christianity. Many nations have had an idealised national type, to which individuals try to conform themselves. The Greek gentleman above all things abhorred excesses of all kinds, violence, insolence, unreasonableness ; he strove to be moderate in his demands, refined in his tastes and manners, alive to everything beautiful in nature and art, quick, ingenious, and ready for all emergencies, brave but not stolid in the face of danger. The Eomans found the Greek wanting both in personal dignity and in trustworthiness. Their own ideal consisted mainly in complete self-control, in contempt for the lighter pleasures, in grim concentration upon the business of the day, and in complete devotion to the service of their country. It was an ideal not very unlike that of our own nation ; and when we read in Livy of one who " never forgot either his own dignity or the rights of others," we feel that no better description of a gentleman could be given in a few words. The best analysis of our English secular type of character — the fine flower of civilisation apart from
140 FAITH A D K OWLEDGE religious influences — is to be found in one of Cardinal ewman's essays. " The true gentleman," he says in a very brilliant passage, " is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd. He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving while he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort ; he has no
ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes an unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. He has too much sense to be affronted at insult, he is too busy to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned on philosophical principles ; he submits to pain because it is inevitable, to bereavement because it is irreparable, and to death because it is his destiny." When " this culture is bestowed upon a soil naturally adapted to virtue, a character more noble to look at, more beautiful, more winning, in the various relations of life and in personal duties, is hardly conceivable than may, or might be, its result." And yet the Cardinal finds " a radical difference " between this refinement and " genuine religion " ; and he distrusts and dislikes the secular type as a deceptive, spurious imitation of Christianity, or, to use the word which he prefers, Catholicism. The perfect gentleman is, on this view,
SECULAR A D RELIGIOUS IDEALS 141 as much and as little like the true Christian as a bat is like a bird, or a whale like a fish. The resemblances, due to adaptations, are superficial ; the difference is generic and unalterable. This is the point on which I wish to offer a few considerations to-day. In the first place, I think most people would feel now, after reading ewman's essay, that he has not described the religion of the English gentleman quite fairly. He says that it "has no better measure of right and wrong than that of visible beauty and tangible fitness. ... To seem becomes to be ; what looks fair will be good, what causes offence will be evil."
But I think we should all now agree that absolute sincerity is the very differentia of a gentleman. It would, I believe, be a very instructive and interesting subject of study to trace how the scope of the maxim " oblesse oblige " has altered during the last hundred years under democratic and other influences. It is a subject by no means devoid of practical moral importance, especially to members of the upper and upper middle classes. My own opinion is that the purification of the idea of a gentleman during the nineteenth century has been one of the most satisfactory changes which that period presents to our view. Those who have read much of eighteenth century literature must have been astounded not only at the vulgarity and brutality of what passed for good society at that time, but at the moral obliquity of the standards which fashionable society then set up for itself. The letters of Lord Chesterfield, who while exhorting his son to
142 FAITH A D K OWLEDGE allow no spot to rest upon his " purity," encouraged him to practise adultery as an elegant accomplishment, are hardly more significant than Burke's famous sentence about " that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice lost half of its evil by losing all its grossness." To come down a little later, the life of Lord Byron shows clearly how much vulgar arrogance and (what we should now call) snobbishness were habitual among men of his rank within living memory. There is a certain amount of this spurious coin still in circulation: indeed, as regards adultery I am afraid there has been a distinct retrogression in the tone of society within the last twenty years ; but, on the whole, the levelling of social barriers has had a very good effect on the manners and conduct of the once privileged
classes. The code of honour which, as experience has proved, breaks down and disgraces itself most lamentably when it is supposed to apply only to our own class and to our dealings with our own class, is a valuable support to morality when it is recognised as of universal application. Exclusiveness based on external differences is not only unchristian but vulgar ; but the man who has learned to " honour all men " is not only not far from the kingdom of God, but is in the most essential point a gentleman. I suppose we are nearly all agreed now that in matters of honour and morality we are bound to treat all human beings alike ; but it is never safe to assume
SECULAR A D RELIGIOUS IDEALS 143 that bad old traditions are quite dead. One still hears occasionally that astounding distinction between debts of honour and debts to tradesmen, as if it were possible for a man to order goods which he does not mean to pay for, without thereby morally joining the criminal class. And there are other social evils which would be at any rate greatly diminished if all men of honour recognised that there are no human beings of either sex whom we have a right to humiliate. ewman, however, would not be satisfied with any code or standard based on natural sanctions. His quarrel with the " religion of civilisation " is that it appeals to taste, not to conscience ; to self-respect, not to obedience ; to pride, not to humility. Self-respect, which, as he says, is " the very staple of the religion and morality held in honour in a day like our own," " the very household god of society as at present constituted," is, in his judgment, only " pride under a new name " ; it is compatible with modesty, but not with the Catholic virtue of humility. This quarrel of
Eoman Catholicism with independent national ethical standards seems to me to be exactly parallel with the distrust and hatred, first of Stoicism and then of Christianity, on the part of the Eoman Empire. Eome as an empire never tolerated an imperium in imperio, and as a Church is very jealous of any religious force that can stand alone. But we, who have no further interest in the fortunes of the Italian world-polity, are not prevented from observing that the dignity of man — his essential nobility as the crown
144 FAITH A D K OWLEDGE of creation, as a member of Christ's mystical body, and as the temple of the Holy Ghost, is as much insisted on in Holy Scripture as his lowliness and degradation. And I think we may take our stand, not only on my text, but on many other passages in the ew Testament, which allow us to make " selfreverence, self-knowledge, self-control " — those gifts (as the poet writes) of the patron goddess of civilisation — the goal of our own striving. But let us observe that the self that we are to reverence is not the same as the self that we are to know, and the self that we are to know is not the same as the self that we are to control. The self that we are to control is what some philosophers have called " the Me," and others the lower self ; the self that we are to try to know is the " I," the " hidden man of the heart " ; the self that we are to reverence is the ideal self, the perfect man, the Christ in us. But possibly as we advance we may have to leave behind even what was at first our best self. We shall not find our ideal, whether of religious or secular perfection, a fixed and stationary one. And as the two standards, so far as they are true, must be at last discovered to be identical, we shall be encouraged to find them approximating to each other as we understand them both better. Certainly any inde-
pendent standard of a fine character which we may have set up to measure ourselves by, should be constantly tested by the only standard which Christianity can accept for the " perfect man " — the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. This alone, I believe,
SECULAR A D RELIGIOUS IDEAS 145 can protect the " religion of civilisation " from proving false to itself, as has so often happened before ; this alone can make it impossible for us to fall into the unscrupulous intellectualism of the Greek type, the hardness and arrogance of the Eoman Stoic sage, or into the " pride, fastidiousness, and reserve " which, if ewman is right, mar the character and manners of the typical Englishman. Still more will the example of Christ show up those deformities which, as I showed just now, have at times seemed not inconsistent with the pursuit of " virtue " and " praise." If this appeal to the example of Christ as the supreme authority be fully admitted, I think that our secular standard — " conduct worthy of a gentleman " — is far too good to lose, and I rejoice that that good old name is now claimed by nearly all classes of the community. The type is none the worse for being distinctively English. o other nation, I think, has raised either self-respect or fair-play in all the relations of life to quite such an exalted place among the virtues. I do not then think that we need be afraid to follow St. Paul's example in occasionally appealing to " the religion of all honourable men," and saying with him, " if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
THE MIRROR OF TRUTH.
" If any one is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror : for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a nearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing." — Jas. i. 23-25.
XII. THE MIRROR OF TRUTH. rTIHE Epistle of St. James, in spite of its homely -*- precepts and undeveloped dogma, is far from being the dry stubble to which Luther hastily compared it. It contains many original and striking thoughts, which require and repay careful study. Such is the figure in my text, where the word of God, the perfect law of liberty, is compared to a mirror, in which a man may see his real nature, just as the glass or polished metal shows him his outward appearance, the " face of his birth," as it is in the Greek. We might perhaps have expected that it would be God's face, and not our own, which would shine upon us out of those pages. But the knowledge of self and the knowledge of God are hardly distinguished in the ew Testament. For instance, when the prodigal son repents, how is the change in his heart described ? " He came to himself," we are told. He had never been truly himself till the moment when he said, " I
will arise and go to my father." The surface self of our immediate consciousness is not our real nature ; we must die to this false self before we can live our true life. This is the fundamental doctrine of Chris-
150 FAITH A D K OWLEDGE tianity, which we find in every part of the ew Testament. We find it in St. Peter, when he speaks of the " hidden man of the heart " ; 1 and in St. Paul, who makes light of every bodily affliction, because " though our outward man is decaying, our inward man is renewed day by day," i — a verse which has found several fine echoes in our literature, from the proud song of the old Saxon warrior — "Mind shall the harder be, Heart shall the keener be, Mood shall the more be, As our main lessens" 3 — through Sir Thomas Overbury's description of the good man " who feels old age rather by the strength of his soul than by the weakness of his body," to the wellknown stanzas of Eobert Browning in "Eabbi ben Ezra." But the passage which most resembles and best illustrates St. James' metaphor of the mirror is in the 3rd chapter of 2 Corinthians : " We all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory." This, you observe, is a beautiful inversion of St. James' metaphor. In St. Paul's figure, Christians are the mirrors, and the glory of the gospel, which shines in their faces, is reflected back from them with ever-increasing clearness. The Jews, he has just been saying, when they read their Scriptures, still have a veil upon their hearts, like that with which Moses
1 1 Pet. iii. 4. 2 2 Cor. iv. 16. 8 Brihtwold's death-song, a.d. 991. See Analecta Anglo Saxonica.
1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books
2. ALL WRITI GS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000
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