What Is a Fact?
THIS is a noisy age. The dreamer can find no sacred silence in which to hide his fantasy. The thinker may double-lock his study door, but the winds of heaven will pilfer his thoughts from him through the window, and the birds of the air will carry the matter; if they do not, the world concludes that there was none to carry. The believer, too, is tremulous to the vibrations of the atmosphere. His mysticism and quietism come by the hardest. If he have a faith, he feels that he must believe aloud. On every hand the air is quick with clamors. The “ advanced mind ” shouts to the scientist. The theologian thunders at the infidel. The ecclesiastic menaces the liberal Christian. The philosopher sneers at each.
Representing none of these wise and urgent people, the writer of this fragment is moved to say a word concerning that considerable portion of humanity who walk outside the circle of this portentous amphitheatre, yet near enough to be alert to its contests, as well as deafened by its din. To these honest, quiet, and thoughtful people, who in all militant eras press nearest to the combatants, constituting at once their busiest critics and truest friends, and who to-day are possessed of all the refinements of sympathy and recoil characteristic of the age, it seems, if I mistake not, as if the main question in dispute were one uncommonly easy to ask and uncommonly hard to answer.
It seems a long time ago that our great-grandfathers were crossing lances over the doctrine of imputed sin, or the souls of infants condemned by predestination and foreknowledge absolute to an eternal hell. A damned baby at best was a theory. Nobody ever saw one.
This is not the age of theory ; hence we long since took our babies to be blessed by One who thought it worth while to mention the fact that of such was the kingdom of heaven. Thus we care no more whether we are to be punished for the sin of Adam, having enough of our own to look to, to say nothing of the additional doubt whether Adam himself can be called a fact. This, we find, is the age of fact. No one asks today, What is your theory ? but, Where is your fact ?
So, at least, it seems to these good people of whom I speak, who compose what we call “ the masses ” of the church and the world. The young man of business, who sits under your preaching from Sunday to Sunday, reverend sir, watches you with a keen but yet with a slightly saddened eye. Whether this be an age for the encouragement of faith or the preservation of doctrine he is not sure. Whether he has fallen upon an era of inductive or deductive reasoning he does not know ; it is probable that he does not care. But that forces which he does not understand are threatening faiths that he reveres, he does know; and for this, in a downright, manly fashion, he does care very much indeed.
The thoughtful woman at the head of the crowded Bible class which has given such celebrity to your Sunday-school is puzzled, too. She no longer finds Barnes’s Notes adequate to the religious difficulties of her observant, critical, restless pupils; she no longer teaches, either, that the world was made in six days, or that the majority of the human race are doomed by a loving Father to an eternal struggle with a lake of material fire. She has heard the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel and even the original authorship of the Golden Rule called in question. She has a general impression that Darwin is to blame, and that geology is at the bottom of the trouble. She finds this, however, less satisfactory as an argument than might be, when her pet convert, nineteen wise years of age, announces that he will immediately become a free-thinker, on the ground that, next to immorality, there is nothing he so much prays to be delivered from as superstition. Perhaps she learns, as some of us have, to assume in general the marked uselessness of discussion with the initial moods of “ emancipated minds.”
So, perhaps, our friend, the young pew-owner, feeling himself unable to hold his ground with the fellows at the club, yet all the fonder of the faith which he cannot defend, as the father is of the child whom he sees surrendering to a stealthy disease, saddens a little more and more, but joins himself to the great rank and file of the silent believers, who try to be good fellows, and hope the Lord will clear things up some day. He thinks it would he natural to be able to give good reasons for believing anything so important as the Christian religion, — good business reasons, that were clear as the code of ethics on ’change, and as much to be respected, whether to be obeyed or not, — but finds no such reasons causing such respect, and gradually ceases to look for any.
Is it not safe to say that a part of the difficulties which our friends meet would be relieved, if they could more distinctly, or at least more clearly, define in their own minds some starting-point? — without agreement upon which it is impossible to debate differences of either judgment or feeling, and for lack of which so many of our religious discussions are as wasted as the powder and blood of Malvern Hill.
The average religious argument of to-day takes, perhaps, some such form as this, — the disputants, we may suppose, not having reached that stage of familiarity with each other’s views at which controversy is tacitly and mutually conceded to be no accretion either to friendship or to faith.
The believer—we use this term and its opposite as, on the whole, less objectionable and more precise than any others which existing religious conflict has popularized — the believer begins by timidly expressing a hope that the unbeliever has “ found Christ,” or “ is a Christian,” or “ is a man of faith.” The unbeliever promptly and not at all timidly expresses his complete dissent from every point of conviction involved in these phrases. He may do this arrogantly or sadly, honestly or shrewdly, earnestly or flippantly, gently or maliciously, but he does it with decision. He speaks of the scientific paradoxes in the “ poem of Genesis,” of the morals of the Old Testament saints, of the physical impossibility of miracles, of the discoveries of geology, of personal imperfections in the character of Jesus, of the superior nature of Socrates, of the howling dervish, the negro revivals, and the damnation of children,—an article of faith which he asserts is generally wrought into the creeds of Christian churches of the present day, and secretly disavowed by kind-hearted but hypocritical people, who have not the courage openly to combat so monstrous a doctrine.
At this point, the believer strikes in rather warmly, and if he does not reply that such ignorance on any other vital point of contemporary difference would condemn his opponent to the strongest criticism of intelligent people, is tempted to do so, and feels a little out of temper and a little penitent, and suggests that the Bible is an inspired book, written by God for men and through men, and that we must expect to find difficulties in it, and earnestly and pointedly asks, Where will you find, on the whole, a better book for the guidance of human weakness ?
The unbeliever replies that there is much fine poetry in the Bible, but more bad argument, Oriental superstition, and confused metaphor ; that many men are inspired; that Goethe was a divine man ; and that Browning’s Paracelsus is as much a work of inspiration as the Song of Solomon, and far more moral, He adds that it is impossible to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s freedom in any such make-shift manner as that adopted by the theologians, and that God either created sin, or he did not; that if he did he was not benevolent, and if he did not he was not omnipotent; and that we are made to cultivate our manhood, express our individuality, and study the secrets of nature.
The believer suggests that it may be possible we do not, as finite beings, understand all the mysteries in the nature of an infinite God; that it is not to be wondered at if we must leave some points unexplained; that this is perhaps a part of the discipline necessary to fit us for the eternal life.
The unbeliever hastens to say that of the eternal life we know absolutely nothing, — we cannot conceive of either beginning or end; that we are here and know it, but further than this we have no right to infer. We may cherish immortality only as a “ solemn hope ” (the believer’s eyes fill, and he mentally ejaculates, “ Poor fellow ! ”), or we may expect to be as the beasts that perish, and live on in the forces of nature, and the resurrection of the seasons, and the memories of unborn generations, and so on, but that geology is making every hour discoveries which are to revolutionize belief ; that hope, faith, love, and the energies of imagination are beautiful fancies, but rocks are facts, and therefore (as nearly as the believer can understand) he urges that we cling to the rocks.
The believer suggests that rocks are cold comfort; to the bereaved, for instance, or the remorseful.
The unbeliever replies, vaguely, that he is not sure, either, that we comprehend the difference between infinite or finite — Finite ? Infinite ? He is not certain that there is any infinite, or that he himself — in short — is finite — but that science— And so on, and so on.
Now, all this is firing wild. There is no gold in the target. There shows no target in the mist. If we set our aim in a fog-bank, who is to decide whether we have hit?
The believer may seek to “ save ” the unbeliever in this fashion till “ the eve of the day of the Last Awaking,” — he will only irritate. The doubting may try to “ reason ” with the trusting on this wise, till his tongue returns to the dust that he claims his kin to, — he can only depress. The disputants have swerved from the most elementary of the principles of logic. They have discovered no major premise in common. They must agree upon something before they can disagree intelligently about anything. There can be no dispute without a basis of harmony. “ We may never, perhaps,” as Hamilton says, “ arrive at truth, but we can always avoid self-contradiction.”
Let us now suppose, as it is the object of this paper to suggest, that these two equally earnest people ask of each other, at the outset of all sincere and serious discussion, one simple question : What is a Fact ?
The believer, we will assume, happens to put the query. The unbeliever hesitates. Neither of the disputants are psychological scholars. Both are intelligently educated. The unbeliever is the more accustomed of the two, probably, to sophistries of discussion. He perceives the importance of the point, and hesitates. It is one of the maxims of civil law that definitions are hazardous. After a thoughtful pause, he replies, with the blunt courage of common sense, which is quite as apt to hit the truth as the sharply refined point of the artist in philosophical language, that he should say a fact was a thing that could be verified.
To this the believer, without hesitation, agrees. All he claims, he adds, is that religion is a matter of fact as well as science. Grant this, he urges, and we can pursue our discussion. Deny it, and the sooner we agree to disagree the better. The believer’s own vision has begun to clarify, with this closer exactness of definition, and his method of expression intensifies.
The unbeliever replies, with animation, that it is impossible to put religion and science upon the same foot-hold. We have, he urges, reached the age of reason — at last. It is no longer practicable for intelligent men to bend their necks to the yoke of superstition. We deal no more with a realm of fancy. Jesus was a rhapsodist. Christianity was full of poetry. It appealed to the imaginative era. We have passed by the birth-time of great poets. Literature acknowledges it. We do not now write epics. We invent the phonograph. Machinery, discovery, action, have replaced reverie, credulity, and dreams. We no longer pray. We telegraph. We have no time to sing psalms. We are engaged in the artificial propagation of fish. Why should we attend church when we can observe the spontaneous generation of animalculæ in a bottle of boiled water ?
At this point the listener smiles, and the speaker breaks off with some irritation. He sees nothing to smile at. He is very much in earnest. These are serious subjects which he has mentioned. He is indeed more logical than he had seemed, and abruptly turning upon his opponent says, —
You ask me for my facts. I find them in the investigation of nature. Observe them. They alone are worthy of confidence. We seek, we study, we combine, we infer. The human mind was created —
By whom ? interrupts the believer.
Consistently, the unbeliever replies that he does not know. The powers of nature, formerly called God, have not yet fully revealed themselves to our ken. I believe nothing that I do not understand. I will not accept what I cannot prove. This is the first duty of the human reason. Man should receive only what he knows. I find myself a mysterious being in a mysterious condition. My business is to investigate my condition. Whether there be another world is none of my concern. No eye has seen it, no foot has returned from it, no voice has spoken from it ; it is an absolutely unproved, and therefore unprovable, hypothesis. I find myself in the present world. I have occupation in the study of my limitations. There are mountains, the sea, the stars, the earth. There are geology, astronomy, the nautical sciences, the study of human diseases, the mysteries and cultus of the physical organization. I learn from the fossil and the scalpel. The telescope and the microscope, the chart and the battery, command my attention. These give me the undeniable. Exact investigation presents me with my facts. Beyond a fact I am not justified in going.
Where is God ? Can you handle him ? What is prayer ? Go weigh it for me ! An immortal soul ? My microscope has never revealed it. A fact is a thing revealed or revealable to my senses. Science alone is knowledge, Religion is superstition. Superstition is bondage. I decline to be fettered. Christianity is slavery. I choose freedom. Exact thought is my master.1 And thus, and thus, and thus.
As the discussion waxes, the believer is oppressed more and more with the hopelessness, but not the helplessness of his effort. In proportion as me learns the difficulty of dissuading a man from views hardened as they are acquired by the friction of dissent from hereditary faiths, he gains nerve for his own processes of thought, and muscle for his own maturing belief. If nothing more comes out of the conversation, his faith at least is stouter for it. If he has not “ converted ” the free-thinker, he has himself become a better Christian.
He who believes much has always the advantage over him who believes little or nothing. Faith is the positive, as skepticism is a negation. He who affirms intelligently and earnestly carries by a sheer moral propulsion, as irresistible as the channel of Niagara, a power, not unlike the primal awe of nature, over him who denies.
Let us hope that our believer, enlightened in his own dimness by his contest with another’s darkness, returns upon his antagonist a few ringing words, to which there can be no more convincing reply than the eternal and unassailable finality : I do not agree with you.
You seek, the believer says, the truth, — the whole and holy and invulnerable truth. I seek no other. You desire a religion of facts. I also wish the same. You demand that we construct belief from reason. I, too, prefer a reason for my conclusions. You claim that you alone possess a basis of fact, since you only restrict yourself to what is known. You claim that you find the known alone in physical manifestations, their formulæ and solutions. I deny your claim.
I deny your claim, because (you will pardon me) of what seems to me its ignorance. You forget, or you have never learned, that truth is no niggard, and that science is a broad and bounteous term. It is not alone in the hard bosom of the rock that the Eternal rests. It is not only in the fumes of the laboratory that the breath of the devout seeker exhales. There are trained intellects that are not occupied with the germ theory, or with the latest treatise on the parasites of an unfortunate plant. There are students, as there are scholars, of other than material knowledges. You forget that there are to be found other than the physical sciences. You forget that the history of these other sciences commemorates much of the highest order of intellect, the most precise training, the most generous culture, the most candid research, and the purest sacrifice of self in the investigation of truth that human life has known.
You forget, in short (or you have never learned), that the MENTAL SCIENCES EXIST. You have not remembered that there is a philosophy of mind, as there is of matter; that there is a philosophy of soul, as there is of sense.
One need not be a very learned person to recall the facts that the sciences of ethics, of intellectual philosophy (even of theology, though for the sake of controversial comfort we may waive that irritating illustration), have still respectable positions in the world of thought, quite in rank with mathematics or chemistry. It has slipped your mind, for the moment, that there is a study of Metaphysics as well as of Physics. You have not articulately understood that a sufficient culture overlooks neither the existence of these two forms of human knowledge, nor their relative importance and adjustment to each other.
And this leads me to say (once more I pray your courtesy) that I deny your claim because of what seems to me its arrogance.
One need not be very learned, I repeat, to understand something of the debt which the students of matter owe to the students of mind. You and I are not learned, only intelligent people, and the intelligent have heard something of Socrates, of Aristotle, of Bacon ; of him who (humanly speaking), it might be said, created exact thought, of him who developed, of him who reconstructed it. Mental science, as we know, was by centuries the elder born, and father of physical science, in any modern signification of the word; as the brain is the creator and guide of the movements of the hand or foot.2
To ignore the parental influence of metaphysical upon physical study is a species of filial ingratitude which it is impossible to describe by a smooth adjective. The very processes of thought by which you are trained to investigate the material fact, you owe to ancestral centuries of mental discipline and to apostles of mental science. You speak of conscious and sub-conscious cerebration. You deny the mental entity which you once called a human soul. What enables your prompt lip to utter the challenge ? Whence comes your power to deny?_
I do not express these things in philosophical language, for, as I have reminded you, we are neither of us learned people, but I desire to make you understand in a plain and direct fashion that which I desire to say. Is it becoming, I ask, is it the modesty of wisdom, for the instrument to ignore the influence? Shall the microscope and the retort say to the eye or the hand, “We have no need of thee ” ? Shall the probe say to the surgeon, “ Go to! It is I who tear or torture, as it is I who heal and save ” ? Speaking of his scientific confrères, one of the most distinguished physicians whom this country has known said, “ They cannot account for the ‘I.’”
In short, it seems to me that when a man exalts the science of things which are seen and touched over the science of that which sees and touches; when he prefers to mistake a convolution in the brain for that by which the convolution becomes able to think, feel, and act, — nay, by which alone it is enabledto make the mistake; when he selects the less for the greater, the lower for the loftier, matter for mind, brain for soul, he exhibits the presumption of the servant, sent by his master to cash a check of important value, who struts as if the money were his own.
I object to your claim because, once more, I perceive it to be a degrading one. It is not necessary to be great ourselves to know that the great natures of the earth have been believing natures. Even you and I can remember that music, poetry, art, philosophy, literature, nay, physics itself, owe something to faith. It is not easy to forget that Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Milton, Dante, Wordsworth, Raphael and Michael Angelo, Plato and Immanuel Kant and Leibnitz, Goethe and Shakespeare, Ivepler and Newton, were believers in the existence of God and the immaterial nature and immortal destiny of the human spirit. It might be comparatively easy to prove that you and I had no souls ; to deny one to these people I have mentioned were to go as far as anything could, perhaps, to prove that you are right, and that we, at least, are destitute of any.
Degrading, I say, — degrading to the deeps below all that is truly fine, all that is delicately observant, all that is highly reverential, all that is nobly receptive, all that is capable of assimilating the ideal, the beautiful, the lofty, and the large in human history, — is that view of human mystery which your claim presents. It may be either the cause or the consequence of this view that you flippantly ignore the testimony of the great teachers of human life. You decline to sit at the feet of the prophets, priests, and kings of the world. You turn your back upon the heights ; on art, on inspiration, on intuition, on imagination, on aspiration, on song, on the sources of all that makes men clear and keen in brain, refined and pure in heart. For remember that if you seek to share these things they are no longer properly yours. They are not, they never were, they never can be, the products of a materialistic philosophy. If this is not clear to you, it seems to me that your location quite as well as your attitude puts a finely and simply outlined truth out of perspective to you. He who climbs, sees. “To him, as to Moses,” says a French scholar, “ secrets unknown to the rabble are revealed upon the mountain-top.”
You sit, then, and adjust yourself to the valley. You burrow, you dig, you descend. Choosing the company of the lowest forms of manifestation, you will find that the influence of their atmosphere is upon you. If a human mind keeps the exclusive society of vegetables and insects and fossils, is it to be wondered at that it fails to see the transfigured cloud which veils, while defining, the motions of the eternal sun ? If a man’s corroding ambition is to be quoted as an “ authority on potato-bugs,” he may be a sensitive appreciator of Locke’s Essay on the Understanding, or the “Excursion” of the Lake Poet, or the Gospel of John ; but does it surprise us if he is not ?
Pardon once more my plainness if I tell you that I cannot accept your claim, because it seems to me not unlike the scoff of the demonstrator in the dissecting-room. His business leads him to handle flesh. How, then, should God be a spirit ?
I have somewhat, too, to affirm. You have called my attention to your facts ; I should be glad to acquaint you with mine. Yours I accept; it is your conclusions which I refuse. I do not question the evolution of the species, or the zymotic theory of diseases, or the existence of the last comet, or the possibilities of the photophone, or the discoveries of psycho-physics as affecting the criminal or the insane. Physical science is welcome to do her best or her worst by helpless spectators like yourself or me. A fact is a fact, though it deal with the lowest phases of nature, and truth is holy, whether she hide in a stalactite or an epic, a jelly-fish or an oratorio, a vivisection or a prayer. I accept your facts, retaining the liberty to draw my own conclusions. I only ask that you (retaining, of course, the same liberty) accept my facts before we close or continue this discussion.
Of this, then, I would remind you. The manifestations of mind are at least as much to be respected as the manifestations of matter. He was a real philosopher who gave to his book the title, Man in his Connection with the Human Body. What we think and feel is as genuine as what we see and touch. If I handle a chair or table, my thought of them is as individual as the table or the chair. If I take a pen to write these words, that which creates the words is as real as the pen. “ I am the soul of the music,” said a musician, when his string snapped. “ Though the strings are all broken, the music is there.” Let me add (for you will remind me that I do not touch the pulse of your difficulty) that my thought is as real as the brain-cells by whose activity I am empowered to think it.
Thus, if I listen to music which dissuades me from temptation, or lifts me from gloom, or leads me to despair, these emotions exist as much as the ivory of the piano keys, or the catgut of the violin, or the gray matter in the cerebrum which the piano, the violin, and the emotion set in agitation. I am at least as justified in assertion, as you in denial of these facts. Explain them as you will. I offer them as facts. As such — until you can prove that “ thought is phosphorus and phosphorus is thought,” without the predominant action of your mind in making that hypothesis — they ought to be by you respected.
There is a form of the mental life which we call spiritual. This is the highest, as it is the finest, phase of the mystery that we name existence. Coleridge expressed what I mean when he said that “ faith is itself a higher reason, and corrects the errors of reason as reason corrects the errors of sense.” As the physical life is revealed by its phenomena, as the mental life possesses its expression, so the spiritual life has its manifestation. This is a fact. As such it is to be respected.
As we depend upon the senses to make clear to us the presence of the sunrise, as we rely upon the reason to explain to us the nature of a thought, so we lean upon faith to reveal to us the nature of a spirit.
While the eye brings to us the color of the dawn, it can do no more; the optic nerve of an idiot, though it quiver in precise obedience to the laws of his physical organism, for threescore years and ten, will never reveal to him the rapture of the morning. Sense and reason must act together. So the reason, left to itself, informs us of the character of the thought or of the feeling which we have about the sunrise ; then it comes, and there it must come, against its limitation. The intellect of a skeptic, though he cultivate it till he is in his grave, will never produce a prayer for the guidance, or endurance, or delight of the day that is about to be his. Reason and faith must work together. So, we might add, faith, as a disconnected faculty, cannot result in true devotion. Unless guided by reason, the devotee may become a howling dervish, or a hysteric nun. The sense, the mind, and the spirit must live together.
Like the life physical, like the life intellectual, the spiritual life, while yet confessing an interdependence upon these other forms of life, possesses, like them, an individual existence.
“ My soul to me a kingdom is.” In this kingdom there are laws: there is obedience or disobedience; there is anarchy or order ; there is the separation of government ; there is the history of growth or decline. This is a fact. As such it is to be respected.
A broken physical law involves its penalty. A denied intellectual law implies a punishment. A defied spiritual law presumes its retribution.
Leap into the ocean; no opposing law of salvation interfering, you will drown. Defraud the hours of rest for study or for dissipation ; you lose the mental power of controlling natural sleep. Contest against that surrender of the soul to its Creator which we call the religious life ; the religious life withdraws itself from you. Unbelief closes over the willing unbeliever, like the waves of the sea or the tides of insomnia. These are facts. As such they are to be respected.
Again: the great law of development is the law of action. Every natural power grows by exercise. Any school-boy knows that he can create the iron ball of muscle on his arm only by the use and training of the muscle. Any college girl understands that the various faculties of the brain, tlie mathematical skill of the accountant, the acquisitive power of the linguist, the obedient memory, or what is called the conservative power, of the historian, as well as the rhythmical facility of the poet, the manual dexterity of the musician, and the balanced imagination of both, become serviceable only through action, as they become through inaction inert. As with the brawn, as with the brain, so with, the spirit.
To exercise spiritual power, is to develop and strengthen it. To disuse it is to repress or extinguish it.
Now, then, I ask you to remember that we who believe, speak to you out of a condition whose government you have defied or ignored; and that we speak of a faculty whose exercise you have disused. If we mention the spiritual life, we mention that of which you are not a citizen, but an exile; whether by deliberate choice or chance misfortune is not to the immediate purpose,— you are exiled. You have not the citizen’s right of judgment concerning our affairs. You are incompetent to criticise this life, because you are not in it. Thus, too, if we refer to spiritual power, we refer to that which you do not possess, because you do not train it; whether by accident or design is not at present to the point, — your spiritual faculties are uneducated. You are disqualified from apprehending truth by means of powers which you have atrophied by disuse. These are facts; as such they ought to be respected.
Within this spiritual life, by means of exercised spiritual faculties acting upon and acted upon by our reason, we who believe cherish certain spiritual facts. God is one of these facts. The immortality of human souls is another. The responsibility of conscience is yet a third. The hope of a happy life everlasting is to be counted. The reasonableness of Revelation we add. To the saneness and usefulness of prayer we have attested. To the power of the personal life of Jesus Christ we thrill to witness. To the facts of forgiven sin and comforted bereavement we bear testimony. Is not a penitent and christianized thief as demonstrable as a clam or a comet ? Is not the ecstasy of a martyr as real as the fagots that burn him ? Is not the resignation of the desolate mourner as much a matter of proof as the coffin or the marble sleeper over which he weeps ?
And yet but once again. As the body has its senses, so has the soul. Burns speaks of “ those senses of the mind ” by which great religious truths are apprehended. Spiritual truth is received by spiritual powers. Spiritual fact is perceived by the spiritual eye, heard by a spiritual ear, handled by spiritual touch. “ The true saint,” says Dr. Holmes, “ can be entirely apprehended only by saintly natures.”
We share with you the experience of the exercised physical senses, by which you and we alike perceive the physical fact. You do not as yet share with us — and we lay no claim to what is called “ saintship ” in asserting this — the experience of the trained spiritual sense by which we receive the spiritual fact. To this extent and for this reason, are you as far qualified for making intelligent deductions from our premises as we for drawing such from yours ?
In asking you to answer this, as an act of judicial fairness, we cannot refrain from adding that it would seem natural for a broad-minded and intelligent man to feel a certain discontent with the partial nature of his development. He who trains his body and exercises his brain, and stops there, is imperfect, unbalanced, crude. He who has not sought to develop his spiritual nature is a half-educated creature.
Spiritual power is the flower of the human growth. In spiritual character we find the highest, finest, and most complex form of the species. All other nature, whether physical or mental, is embryonic to spiritual nature. Spiritual culture is the culmination of human education.
We ask, therefore, evidences of this culture, as the first qualification in any man towards his becoming a critic of such nature, such power, such character, or their philosophy. Failing of this culture, your science should, we submit, grant to our science the respect of ignorance, if not the attention of the student.
We have known invalids, prisoners of their inert muscles during all the bloom and brilliance of life. Some late-found medical inspiration, some personal surrender of devotion on the part of a friend, some unexpected joy or unimagined grief, or even some electric alarm, has allured, or shocked, or startled the sick man to his feet.
The power of motion was not dead, but slept. Late and loath though they be, the great flexile and extensor actions of the great muscles begin. Between the grave of his life and the grave of his death the man partakes of a resurrection.
Such a discovery of blessedness, we may suppose, comes to him who, after the sluggishness, or willfulness, or disease of unbelieving years, is led by the late cultivation of his spiritual faculties to the possession of spiritual truth.
Facts before which his intellect has been a blank illuminate his consciousness. Mysteries at which he sneered become shrines before which he kneels. Powers which he has not hitherto revealed magnify his nature. Hopes which he has never known irradiate his life. Contrition that he has not understood permeates his heart. Tenderness which he has never approached gives pathos, as it gives purity, to his past. A future of which he has never dreamed intensifies and glorifies his present. He learns the value of his own being, and experiences the friendship of God. In the closing days of his history, as in the final scenes of the apocalyptic vision, there are “ new heavens and a new earth.”
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.
- “He could not accept Christianity,” said Renan of Spinoza (I quote from memory), at the recent celebration in honor of that philosopher’s memory. “He could not thus surrender his liberty. Descartes was his master ” !↩
- Indeed, the believer might add, we are told by scholars that the father of modern intuitionalism was the father of modern mathematics as well. Descartes was the first of our scientists to study mind in the dissecting-room.↩