What Religion Is/Chapter 4



“He that drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.”


“That which is filled with the more real is more really filled.”


Man is a creature active in the world, and an all-absorbing faith in the supremacy of good must affect his action and expectation. But here again in particularising we are very apt to run up into blind alleys. Nowhere is it more important to keep our starting-point full in sight. In religion, man acknowledges his finiteness; it is essential to the basis of the experience, though it is not the whole basis. Religion says. You are victorious in the victory of good. It does not say that you can, in the world of time, cease to be a finite and defective being.

If, then, we construe the victory of the good to mean either the total sanctification of the finite spirit (you and me) by the perfecting of its morality in fact, or the coming about in time of a state of things which we conceive as involving the ideal rule of righteousness and happiness, these are interesting speculations, but they gain no special support from religious faith. Faith, so far, is rather at one with common sense. It tells you that though your conflict is in itself a victory, yet it is a conflict still. For the religious man trusts in no strength of his own, and to be perfect apart from that in which he trusts would for him be sin and self-contradiction.

At the same time, his main experience is the clue to reality. For the total detailed course of the world or the universe he lives by faith and not by sight. But for his private life and action — I mean, in all that he has contact with, I do not mean merely in self-regarding matters, if such could be distinguished — he has sight continuous with his faith. His vision and experience are not empty, but overflowingly full. He has “the water that I shall give him”; he is filled with “what is real.” He is never out of reach of the world of values, revealed to him and in him. Religion does not say, I think, that he is to believe in an order of values some day to be attained without intermixture of what seems hostile to value. Following our simple purpose, we will not speculate about this. But what we do know is that a simple faith finds on all sides confirmation and realisation, strangely intermingled and interdependent with difficulty and obstruction, in the world in which our feet are set. A cup holds enough for it if it is full; and for the religious spirit the witness of the good is irrefragable.

Of Hope and Progress, as elements in life, the religious man has a solid grasp. He has them in himself, and they are rooted in the good with which he is united. He can see — for here he has sight continuous with his faith — he can see the supreme values at work, cleansing, organising, ordering the world. Their bringers suffer or perish, but in their own operation the values never fail. We are not just now to philosophise on this paradox — how near together are the strongest and weakest of all things. Evidently, there are different kinds of strength, and, to the common eye, no one of them has whoUy its own way in the course of things. It is as if the strength of the spirit could not be revealed, indeed, could not be, except by measuring itself against another type of strength. And then, even in its victory, it seems infected by its opposite, and the progress breaks itself. This certainly suggests that there is always more to be learned, a further power of the values, a spiritual progress at least.

But we are running into speculation. All we ought to say is this, that the needful thing is to keep to our religious faith and what it really demands and really gives. It says nothing, I believe, of time. A word like “victory,” or “in the end,” becomes deceptive if we press it as meaning an event, an occurrence. What it means to say is, I take it, that through all appearances good is supreme. And, saying so, it does not leave us with empty words or empty hands. It gives as much of good as our spirits can contain. It may be that all good demands for its realisation a world apparently mixed. Religion has nothing to say against this. It only requires us to rise above the appearance, and keep our unhesitating grasp on the reality which is wholly good.

Perhaps we may add, without straying too far from simplicity, that in keeping up this grasp on the complex fact of religion we are led to see that “good” is a hard thing both to appreciate and to realise. It is not some plain decalogue, some clear white against black. It is a life, a spirit, a meaning, to be wrought out and to be fought out. To each of us, religion seems to say, it is and must be offered in our own individual form. My battle is continuous with yours, but it is not quite yours; yours helps me in mine, but it is not quite the same. We are sent on diverse missions, and all of them are necessary to the good.