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Quaker Thought & History

The Use of the Mind in Religion

By Edward Grubb


The Use of the Mind in Religion1

We stand as a Council for encouraging a more free use of the Intellect in relation to religious truth than has been usual in the Society of Friends, and perhaps in most other Christian bodies. In so far as these other bodies have aimed at the training and equipment of a separated class of preachers, they have of course done more to provide for the use of the mind in regard to certain aspects of religious truth than we can hope, or even desire, to do. But this has been for the few — whereas our aim is to open the way for the intellectual study of religion to all our members, and to others, who are able and willing to avail themselves of the opportunity. In this we are, I think, really pioneers; and the response we have won, especially in the attraction of the group of colleges that now clusters round Woodbrooke, seems to show that we have met a need which is beginning to be felt.

The main question I wish us to consider is this: Is it wise and right and safe—is it in the best interests of the young people who gather here—thus to encourage everyone who desires to do so, and can find the means, freely to apply his (or her) intellectual powers to religious subjects? This is by no means such a dead issue as it might perhaps be thought. At least there are certain considerations, which appear to me to be of weight, which we ought to keep in mind.

(I) In the first place, every one must recognize the psychological contrast between the Thought-process, whereby we become convinced of truth intellectually, and the Faith-process by which we may become convinced of the reality of God and of life in relation to Him. The Intellect is usually, and with some justice, regarded as cold, discriminating, critical. It weighs evidence with care, and guards itself against belief until the facts compel it; if the evidence appears to be conflicting, it suspends judgment. Faith, on the other hand, is much more akin to our perception of beauty and worth in nature, in personal character, or in a work of art. It is receptive rather than critical; and, while itself much more than a feeling or emotion, it is, like our aesthetic judgments, closely attended by emotion. It does not hold itself off in critical doubt, but longs to "let itself go" in the warmth of adoration. Consequently, we can well understand why intellectual scrutiny has often been regarded as an enemy to religious insight and experience. At the same time, the contrast may easily be pushed too far. For intellectual Truth, like Beauty and Goodness, is one of the ultimate values of life; and there is in some of the best minds an ardour for knowledge, and an emotion accompanying a new discovery, which is not inferior to moral and aesthetic passion. Moreover, we cannot pursue these final values in rigid separation from one another. Disinterestedness, an ethical quality, is needed for the pursuit of truth; and it is not a mere metaphor when a simple mathematical demonstration is described as "beautiful."

(2) Secondly, there is much evidence to show that the intellectual process, if it is not inspired and controlled by the other values of life, is often destructive of ultimate beliefs. We need not follow Mr. Benjamin Kidd, when in his Social Evolution he tried to prove that Reason is essentially and necessarily destructive, and that human society is only built up and held together by "non-rational sanctions," such as he believed Religion to supply. He certainly intended to serve the cause of religion; but I doubt very much whether anyone really does so by trying to prove it irrational, or by using reason to depreciate reason. Without making this mistake, we should bear in mind how often the thought-process has ended in scepticism—not alone in ancient Greece but in modern Europe—that is, in the doubt whether anything can be known concerning the deepest realities and values of life. This has been abundantly recognized, even by non-Christian writers. George Henry Lewes devoted a great part of his History of Philosophy to exhibiting this defect, and to exploiting it in the interest of the positivism of Auguste Comte (which of course is not philosophy at all, but science blended with a somewhat sentimental worship of man). We are not in the least depreciating the achievements of the intellect in its own sphere— that of ascertaining what is, or truth of fact— when we offer a caution about trusting the pure thought-process to give us assurance in the field of ultimate reality, which is of the nature of value quite as much as it is of bare fact. The intellect alone will not assure us of what ought to be, and what is most worthy of our love. Apparently it was not evolved for performing that function.2

(3) A further point arises if we consider for a moment the nature of the Christian religion : the question whether essential Christianity should be regarded as predominantly a product of the Hebrew genius for morality and religion, or of Greek devotion to philosophy. I recently heard an address of extreme interest by Mr. Edwyn Bevan (whose book on Hellenism and Christianity will be known to many), maintaining the former view, and, as I thought, successfully. Christianity arose as a purely Hebrew Gospel; our Lord Himself and all the New Testament writers were Jews. But as it spread through the Greco-Roman world it became fused with Hellenic elements. Its growing Sacramentalism undoubtedly owed much to the Greek mystery religions; the development of its creeds was the work of Greek philosophic thinkers. We may doubt whether Christianity could have been raised from the position of an obscure Jewish sect to that of a world religion without undergoing something of this process of Hellenisation; yet in fact it was entirely transformed. Mr. Bevan, however, stated his belief that, in spite of this transformation, its essential spirit remained Hebraic and not Hellenic. The Greeks sought for God as an explanation of the world, of that which is, and this search tends to issue in a pantheism where moral distinctions often disappear, and human personality is lost. The Hebrews sought for God as the embodiment of the moral ideal, of that which ought to be. As regards the world-process, even the loftiest Greek philosophy, that of the Stoics, was compelled to regard it as an unending round, moving to no end. The Hebrews on the other hand saw in it a series of mighty acts of God, whose righteous purpose, a great consummation in the future, was being accomplished through it. The Christian view of God and the world Mr. Bevan believed to be essentially Hebrew and not Greek. Our rationalisms are Greek, our pantheisms are Greek or Oriental; but our Christianity, with its transcendent and yet immanent God who enters the time process, reveals Himself in great events, and dignifies human personality by taking its own nature upon Him, is Hebrew at the core.

The point of all this is to suggest the caution that the Greek mind within us needs to be kept in its proper place.

(4) Still another caution comes before us when we look a little further at the process whereby Christianity was Hellenized. One of the most important stages in that process was the conflict with Gnosticism in the second century. To the Gnostic thinkers Christianity was a philosophy and little more; its essential content was certain ideas of an esoteric character, which only the few could understand. Irenasus and the other Fathers of the second century, who rightly judged that Gnosticism was leading Christians away from their real centre, and embarking them on a sea of idle and barren speculation, seem to have yielded on the main ground—letting it pass that Christianity was essentially a system of ideas, but. one that they could guarantee to be true instead of false. For this guarantee, no doubt, they trusted to a great event in history, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and to the "rule of faith" which He was supposed to have committed to His Apostles; but the fact remains that the whole conception of Christianity was intellectualized. The creed-makers of the fourth and fifth centuries all appear to have assumed without question that what makes a Christian is correct thoughts about God and Christ; they ruthlessly cut off from the Church all whose ideas or expressions on these matters appeared to them imperfect; and the process of intellectualizing Christianity culminates in the Athanasian Creed, with its "Whoever will be saved must think thus of the Trinity." An intellectual definition was made central for Christianity, and this notion for fifteen hundred years held almost undisputed sway.

A recent writer, Georges Berguer, of the University of Geneva, in the opening pages of his book Some Aspects of the Life of Jesus, states that down to the time of Schleiermacher, early in the nineteenth century, the universal conception of Christianity (except in the minds of a few mystics) was that it and all other religions consisted of "an assemblage of truths or errors, which reveal themselves as true or false to an intelligence that is sufficiently skilled to judge them," This, he says, is the dogmatic conception of religion; and "it remains that of the great mass of the people; it is undoubtedly still maintained by many ministers and preachers"; and "it is responsible for the ruin of many sincere lives which have run aground on this rock of intellectualism in the sphere of religion." (pp. 5, 6.) The purpose of his book, which I commend, is to put the study of Christianity on a sounder basis, by applying to it the methods of psychology, and the knowledge of human personality which this study has begun to obtain. Jesus, he says, "did not introduce, it was not his mission to introduce, new ideas; what he brought was new life, which is a very different matter" (p. 195). I mention this to show that our dogmatic orthodoxies on the one hand, as well as our rationalisms and pantheisms on the other, result from giving the human intellect an undue place in religion. Alike in orthodox and in unorthodox circles, the view has prevailed, and still prevails in too large measure, that religion is a matter of correct thinking. The old-fashioned Unitarian devoted his main efforts to proving wrong the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation; and, while strong on ethics, often missed the central Christian experience of finding God in Jesus Christ. The Theosophists (some of them at any rate) take as their motto "There is no Religion higher than Truth." This is magnificent if only a wide enough meaning is given to the word "Truth," as that which wins assent from the whole of a rightly-constituted personality; it may be grievously misleading if the application of the word is narrowed to Truth of fact with which the intellect can deal, and is not extended to truth of ethical and aesthetic value, and to the making of these values real.

Such are, very briefly, some of the considerations that face us when we begin to think of the use of the mind in religion. They suggest that other powers than the intellect are vitally concerned with the control and direction of our highest life; and that, if these powers are not allowed to function as they ought, we may easily miss our goal. At this point I must briefly notice a possible and very reasonable objection. Is it not either a foolish paradox or a piece of confused thinking to trace to a common source—Greek intellectualism—such opposites as rationalism and dogmatic orthodoxy? The answer is that I have omitted to notice what was probably the chief factor in building up the dogmatic system of the church—one that was neither Greek nor Hebrew— the Roman conception of Authority. The Romans had no love for pure thought, and little capacity for it; their minds ran to law and order and government. It was the Greek mind that thought out the Creeds; it was the Roman that tried to hold the church together by enforcing on it a uniform belief through the penalty of excommunication. From the time when, under Constantine, this policy came into full operation, the Christian mind was put in prison. Within the limits of the ecclesiastical formulas it was free to think, but it must not stray beyond them. Within the bounds of orthodoxy there was in the Catholic Church much acute thinking, as by the Schoolmen of the middle ages, but always under a rigid censorship. The Renaissance, and still more the Reformation, began to break down the authority of the Church; but in the Latin countries the Church remained dominant, and free thought became Nona Christian. Even Descartes, as a loyal Catholic, remembering the condemnation of Galileo, did not venture openly to support by his theory of "vortices" the Copernican conception of the universe, but gave it out merely as an interesting hypothesis of what might have been. In northern and western Europe, where the Reformation took root, the despotic authority of the Church was soon replaced by another, that of the letter of Scripture; and here also the human mind was largely fettered. It was not only in the Latin countries that the free thinker became, in common parlance, identical with the atheist. The notion that Christianity consists of certain beliefs, formulated intellectually, I take to have been essentially Greek; the idea of securing the unity of the Church by enforcing on it a uniform system of belief and practice I believe to have been essentially Roman.

I pass on now to consider, with somewhat greater fulness, the experience of the Society of Friends as regards the use of the intellect in religion. It may, I think, be said with justice that George Fox and his friends were forerunners of Schleiermacher and Ritschl in nineteenth-century Germany in their revolt against the dogmatic conception of religion; for they insisted that Christianity was not in essence a doctrine to be believed, but an experience to be entered into and a life to be lived. Whether M. Berguer was aware of their protest against the dry and intellectual theologizing of their day (into which the Reformation movement had largely degenerated), I do not know. If he was, he probably classed them with the other mystics who, as he says, from time to time in the history of the Church have stood for a deeper and more vital conception.

William Penn, as we know, described the Quaker movement as "Primitive Christianity Revived"— a description which seems apt enough. I have already suggested that the Christianity of the first century was essentially Hebraic in its quality rather than Hellenic : its chief interest being, not the abstract nature of God or the universe, but the bringing of human life into conformity with God's will. The ethical passion of the early Friends was that of the first Christians and of the Hebrew prophets before them. It made them relatively indifferent to other values like art and philosophy. We might perhaps without serious inaccuracy describe Quakerism as a recovery of Hebrew prophetism, reinforced by the Christian mysticism of Paul and "John," and enlarged by their universalism. It was, of course, no mere reaction to Hebraic modes of life and thought. Its evangelical note is strong and clear; and this I believe to be due to the fact that George Fox and his friends, like the early Christians before them, identified the Light which had arisen in their souls with the living Spirit of Jesus Christ their Master. It was this that supplied them with the antidote against "Ranterism." The living Spirit of Jesus, reproduced in them, provided at once a definite moral standard and the inward motive for striving after it. They were never unwilling to reply to the many attacks on their Christianity by setting down, as occasion required, their Christian beliefs; and these statements (with the exception of a formulated doctrine of the Trinity) usually ran on quite orthodox lines. But if anyone began, as George Keith did about the time of Fox's death, to make such statements the essence of Christianity, he was described as having "run out into notions," because he seemed to be making Christianity an intellectual or dogmatic system and not a new spiritual life. The root and essence of Christianity was an experience, and a following, of the Light of Christ in the soul—a bent or attitude of the human spirit in relation to God, which involved all its highest powers of will and affection, and not merely, or mainly, the desire for true statements about the nature and relations of God, Christ, and the human soul. Reception and following of the Light involved much more than the mind; but I do not find that George Fox and his first followers ever consciously or intentionally depreciated the use of the mind in spiritual concerns, or gave out that it had no place at all.

Among the dogmas of the Christianity then generally accepted as orthodox there was one that certainly did tend to represent the human mind as incapable of dealing with "Divine truth"—that of total human depravity. The mind of man, with all his other "natural" faculties, was supposed to have been totally ruined and corrupted by the Fall, so that its exercise could only lead him astray from God. According to the Westminster Confession (vi. 2 and 3) our first parents by their sin became "wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body," and this entire corruption was "conveyed to all their posterity." Did the early Quakers hold this gloomy doctrine of human nature?—which, by the way, is quite contrary to some of the plainest teaching of our Lord in the Gospels. It might be assumed that their undoubted belief in the Light of Christ in the souls of all men left no place for the notion that man was totally depraved. The doctrine is not mentioned in their early declarations of faith, and I cannot find it in any of the writings of George Fox. But Isaac Penington certainly carried it with him through all the spiritual clouds and darkness out of which he emerged into the light; and it lay deep in the sub-consciousness of Robert Barclay the Scotchman. "Man," says Isaac Penington, "by nature is dead in trespasses and sins; quite dead, and his conscience wholly dark. That which giveth him the sense of his death, and of his darkness, must be another thing than his nature, even the light of the Spirit of Christ."3  And Barclay, in the Apology, is equally emphatic. "We cannot suppose that men, who are come of Adam naturally, can have any good thing in their nature as belonging to it."4  Neither Adam nor his posterity has "any will or light capable to give him knowledge in spiritual things"; for "whatsoever real good any man doth, it proceedeth not from his nature, as he is man, or the seed of Adam, but from the seed of God in him, as a new visitation of life, in order to bring him out of this natural condition."5  He goes on to argue that the Light or Seed in the soul of man is a different "Substance" altogether from himself: it is like a candle placed in a lantern, or like a medicine, which is quite different from a condition of health in the man himself. He does not deny "that man, as he is a rational creature, hath reason as a natural faculty of the soul, by which he can discern the things that are rational"; and says, "we look upon reason as fit to order and rule man in things natural." (Why it should be so, if totally corrupted, he does not make clear.) But it cannot deal rightly with things that are spiritual: "the great cause of the apostasy hath been that man hath sought to fathom the things of God in and by this natural and rational principle, and to build up a religion in it, neglecting and overlooking this principle and seed of God in the heart."6 

It is clear that Barclay had a sense of what I have already tried to indicate—that Christianity had been from very early days intellectualized, and its true character obscured; but we cannot possibly follow him when he makes the Light of God in the soul, which is for him the only organ by which man can reach a real knowledge of Divine truth, something altogether non-rational and non-human. How can a man exercise a faculty which is not his at all—which is not a part of his real nature?7 

In this Barclay was misled by other causes than his acceptance of the dogma of total human depravity. There was an almost total ignorance of Psychology in that century; and there was the presence of a philosophy, largely sub-conscious, which divided up the world of experience into two compartments, separated by a rigid wall—the natural and the supernatural or spiritual, the purely human and the Divine. This was part of the seventeenth-century environment, which the Quakers never transcended. They were wholly unable to think of a Reason in man that was not merely human but also Divine, a natural faculty that was also spiritual. If man was totally corrupted by the Fall, the Light in his soul could not be any part of his nature, it must be a supernatural agency, as separate from himself as a candle is from the lantern that contains it. On Barclay's theory, which became the accepted view of the Society of Friends, the mind of man was incapable of instruction in the things of God; only a supernatural faculty would bring him knowledge of God and order his life therein.

The consequences to the Society of Friends of this failure to transcend the "dualism" of their early days have been, it is not too much to say, disastrous. Dr. Rufus Jones has shown this with much clearness and power in his introduction to W. C. Braithwaite's Second Period of Quakerism, and also in his own Later Periods, and I need not go over the whole ground. The Light of Christ in the soul was so interpreted as to make any use of the natural powers of man in spiritual things a hindrance to its shining. Man "the creature" must remain passive, quiescent, suppressed, he must cease to think or act, in order that God might be free to work in him. This is the main root of the Quietism that settled down on the society in the eighteenth century, of its failure to provide religious education for its members, of its weakness in ministry. It is, I believe, the chief explanation of the disappointments of our history. No religious body ought to expect to move the world if it holds cheap the mind of man.8

I do not think it can be said that the Friends of the seventeenth century could not possibly have risen above the dualism of the time, which so sharply divided the natural from the spiritual and the human from the Divine. At any rate there was a small body of men in that century, akin in many of their thoughts to the Quakers, who did in part succeed in transcending it; and I think it may help us in the consideration of this subject to glance at them and their work. I mean the "Cambridge Platonists."

Through all the stormy middle years of the seventeenth century a small band of devoted religious teachers at Emmanuel and Christ's Colleges, Cambridge, while keeping aloof from the fierce political controversies of their time, were upholding, from within the Anglican communion, a type of religion as a thing of life and reality rather than of dogma, which was in many ways strikingly similar to that of the Quakers. The best known names among them are Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683), John Smith (born in 1618 and died in 1652 at the early age of 35), and Henry More (1614-1687). Influenced by them, and in general sympathy with them, was John Norris of Oxford (afterwards rector of Bemerton, near Salisbury), one of the most learned philosophers of the day, who developed a type of pantheistic idealism akin to that of Spinoza and Malebranche. They stood midway between the fierce Puritans and Prelatists of the time, and, as Burnet says (in his History of my own Time), "declared against superstition on the one hand and 'enthusiasm' on the other." Consequently they came to be known by partisans on either side as "Latitudinarians," and were freely charged with being Unitarians and even Atheists. None of them seems to have had much intercourse with Friends except Henry More and John Norris. Henry More was the spiritual instructor of Lady Conway of Ragley in Worcestershire, who to his deep regret joined the Quakers under the influence of Barclay; and John Norris, shortly before Fox's death, engaged in a sharp controversy with Friends which is of great interest.

Their thoughts were influenced to some extent by the Arminianism which had spread from Holland into England towards the end of the previous century, and which found more acceptance in Anglican circles than among the Presbyterians and Independents, who for the most part remained rigidly Calvinistic. But a still deeper influence upon them was that of the Italian Renaissance, with its recovery of the writings of Plato, and of the Neoplatonism of Plotinus, which was being studied at Cambridge by 1633. In these writings they found a philosophy which enabled them to set forth Christianity as essentially a religion of personal experience, based upon a Divine light in the soul. While many of their expressions are strikingly similar to some of those used by the Quakers, they differ widely from the Friends in approaching these questions from the side of philosophy—a thing that no Quaker of the time, so far as I am aware, ever attempted to do. They were, however, very far from desiring to resolve Christianity into mere philosophy. Burnet testifies to the depth of their religious life as well as to their learning, and to the remarkable influence for good which they exercised over many of the young men at Cambridge. "It is," says Rufus Jones, "their constant assertion that nothing is more intrinsically rational than religion, and they focus all their energies to make this point clear and evident."9  They opposed at once the materialism of Hobbes, and the "vast clocklike mechanism" to which Descartes had reduced the material universe. "They set themselves, in contrast, to produce a religious philosophy which would guarantee freedom, would give wider scope for the inner life, would show the kinship of God and man, and put morality and religion—to their minds for ever one and inseparable —on a foundation as immovable as the pillars of the universe."10

The phrase "the kinship of God and man" well expresses their central thought. Of course they did not hold the orthodox doctrine of total human depravity through the Fall. Sin for them was not natural but unnatural. "Nothing of the natural state," says Whichcote, "is base or vile . . . For our Saviour Himself took flesh and blood. . . . That which is vile, base and filthy is unnatural, and depends upon unnatural use and degenerate practice." "There is nothing in the world that hath more of God in it than man hath."11  A passage of Scripture to which these men often refer is Prov. xx. 27, "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord." They never suggest, as Barclay does, that the natural spirit of man is one "substance," and the candle of the Lord quite another. The Light in the soul of man is at once natural and supernatural. God has implanted in all men, says Whichcote, "a seed of a deiform nature," or in More's phrase "a Divine sagacity," which naturally embraces truth as soon as it is presented. "The mind makes no more resistance to truth," says Whichcote, "than the air does to light." "There is light enough of God in the world, if the eye of our minds were but fitted to receive it and let it in. ... God is only absent to them that are indisposed and disaffected. For a man cannot open his eye, nor lend his ear, but everything will declare more or less of God. It is our fault that we are estranged from Him; for God does not withdraw Himself from us, unless we first leave Him."12

This is the language of the mystics generally, and it may be enough to show that these men did not shut their eyes to the reality of sin and the need for redemption. But, with the Quakers, they urged with the utmost insistence that redemption must be an inward work, changing man himself into the image of God in and for which he was created, and no mere "transaction" carried on outside himself. Real religion is a "nativity from above," to use another of Whichcote's phrases. It is a mere legal religion, says John Smith, that makes the Gospel something "propounded for us merely to believe," or as "a covering to wrap up our foul deformities and filthy vices in."13  "Spiritual life comes from God's breath within us, and from the formation of Christ within the soul." It is no system of Divinity, it is a seed of God, a principle of life working in man's spirit.

Thus, from the side of the Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophy, these men reached thoughts about the real nature of Christianity practically identical with those which, at the same time, George Fox and his first "pioneers of Truth" arrived at through personal experience. Experience of the Light in their souls, and obedience to it, had brought these first Quakers into possession of a vital truth which the orthodoxy of the day ignored and even denied; and it was not until some of their thoughtful and educated converts, like Penn and Penington and Barclay, began to try to express it in quasi-philosophical language, and to meet the objections to it raised from the side of orthodoxy, that they got into trouble about "nature." Their idea of "nature," as something wholly undivine, made it seem essential that they should place the Light in a world above nature. Had they been acquainted with such thoughts as those of the Cambridge Platonists, and could the two streams have united that were both making for spiritual religion and a true and deeper understanding of Christianity, the history of the Society of Friends and its influence in the world might have been very different from what it has been.

The real nature of the divergence between the two streams is well illustrated by the controversy between John Norris and an educated Quaker, one Richard Vickris, to which I alluded before. In a book Reason and Religion, issued in 1689 but written at Oxford before he went to Bemerton, Norris had claimed that the Divine Logos, or Ideal World, was the source of all human knowledge, and that this was the "true light within so much talked of by enthusiasts." In the next year he followed this up by Reflections on the Conduct of Human Life, addressed to Lady Masham, the daughter of Ralph Cudworth, one of the Cambridge Platonists. In this he again speaks of the Ideal World, or Divine Logos, as present to the minds of all men, and as the source of all their true knowledge; and goes on: "This is Reason, this is Conscience, this is Truth, this is that Light Within so darkly talked of, by some who have by their awkward, untoward and unprincipled way of representing it discredited one of the noblest theories in the world. But the thing itself rightly understood is true; and if any shall yet call it Quakerism or Enthusiasm, I shall only make this reply at present, that 'tis such Quakerism as makes a good part of St. John's Gospel and St. Austin's works" (p. 77).

In a postscript printed with a later edition, Norris states that the Quakers had taken hold of this passage, giving out that it made for their way of thinking; and he wishes to undeceive them. He supposes that, if they understood their own notion and how to explain it, it would not differ very much from his own. But he summarizes the chief points on which they differ—of which I will only note the first three:

"(1) The Quakers usually talk of the Light within as of some Divine communication or manifestation; whereas I make it to be the very essence and substance of the Deity.

"(2) They represent it as a sort of extraordinary inspiration, whereas I suppose it to be a man's natural and ordinary way of understanding.

"(3) They (if I mistake not) confine it to moral and spiritual truths. . . . but I extend it as far as all that is intelligible."

To this Richard Vickris replied in A Just Reprehension to John Norris, passed by the "Morning Meeting" in 1691. Norris returned to the charge with a small book Two Treatises concerning the Divine Light, which begins thus:

"Though I do not think it any great piece of Ignorance or Defect of Learning, not to be rightly acquainted with the Quaker's Principles, which if I knew them ever so well would add but little either to my Knowledge or to my Opinion of it; yet I am withal so sensible of that Right, which even the meanest Persons and Parties have to justice and fair dealing, that I think I should not be able to justifie my misrepresenting those Principles of which I might be very excusably Ignorant. . . .

"I confess indeed I did not expect any great Civility of address from a Man of this sullen Tribe, whose visible Mark and Character is Rusticity, and who are generally at as great Defiance with all Courtliness of Style, as of Behaviour. But yet I thought that the Gentleman and the Scholar (for such it seems is the Quality of my Adversary) might so far ballance and over-rule the Quaker, as to contain him within the Limits of Ordinary Decency, and keep him on this side of Rudeness and Scurrility. . . . But instead of this he falls foul upon me after such a rude, violent and passionate manner, as is below the Breeding even of a Water-Man."

After many pages in which Mr. Norris tries to show up the rudeness and unfair censoriousness of his opponent (hardly consistent, he suggests, with Quaker "meekness"), he comes to the main points. As regards the first point, he admits that the Quakers do not represent the Light as a mere quality of God but as a real spiritual "substance" (that is, a real existence) —but he quotes Barclay and Keith to show that they make it, not "the very essence and substance of the Deity," but something intermediate between Divine and human. (Barclay uses the scholastic phrase "vehiculum Dei," which he explains as "a spiritual, heavenly and invisible Principle, in which God as Father, Son and Spiritd wells"—Apology, Prop. vi., § 13)14.  He goes on to argue that as all existences are either Creator or Created, Barclay makes the Light a "creature" of God, and (rather unfairly) says he must mean a material creature. We need not follow him in these scholastic arguments. He is in more difficulty with the second point, because from Vickris's point of view he had been guilty of a direct contradiction in making the Light, first "the very essence and substance of the Deity," and second "a man's natural and ordinary way of understanding." Vickris had at once pounced on this as a piece of "confusion and self-contradiction"; had supported his charge by quoting the passage from Norris's Reflections where he says "This is Reason, this is Conscience, this is that Light within;" and had reminded Norris of the passage in I Cor. ii, where Paul says that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." Norris's reply is lengthy, obscure and involved; but what it seems to amount to is this: he was determined to show the Quakers wrong in supposing there were two lights in the soul of man— one the natural light of Reason, to be used for acquiring ordinary knowledge, and the other the supernatural light of the Spirit, which alone could lead him to understand Divine Truth. Norris believes that there is only one light in the soul, which is certainly supernatural, and that if man had not this he would be wholly in the dark and unable to think or reason at all. This reply covers Vickris's objection to his third point as well as the other two.

The controversy is interesting because it shows that Norris, like the Cambridge Platonists, had been able to transcend the dualism of his day, and to think of the mind of man as not only natural and human, but also supernatural and Divine. It seems to me he had, on the whole, the better of the argument. At the same time it is, I think, clear that he, like his masters in thought Malebranche and Spinoza, got well over the border that divides essential Christianity from Pantheism. In one of his works he explicitly identifies "God" with "Being in general."15  It is noteworthy that he has little or nothing to say about the historical revelation of God in Jesus. The Friends (as we have seen) were earnestly concerned so to state their fundamental experience of the Light in their souls as not to obscure their consciousness of the reality of sin, the need for redemption, and the saving work of Jesus Christ. The Cambridge men, with their better knowledge of philosophy and psychology (as it then was), found a way of expressing a similar experience without slipping into pantheism. Norris failed on one side, and the Friends on the other, to the lasting detriment of their work for the world. What, I take it, we are trying to do is to make up the lee-way of 250 years, and find a path by which the human mind can be rightly exercised in the religious life, without obscuring, or leading us away from, the essential truth of Christianity.16

To resume our study of the use of the mind among Friends:

The Quietism that marked the Society of Friends during the eighteenth century—the result, in part, of the low condition of religious life at the time, but still more of the intense fear of "creaturely activity" which itself resulted from the unfortunate inability of men like Penington and Barclay to conceive of a Light that was at once human and Divine—this Quietism was gradually broken up by the impact of the Evangelical Revival. This, as I have shown elsewhere,17  was late in affecting the Society of Friends. While undoubtedly a change passed over the thoughts of a number of leading Friends on both sides of the Atlantic during the early years of the nineteenth century, and while this change appears to have been a contributory cause of the unhappy Separation in America that took place in 1828-9, it did not reach its full effect in transforming the "orthodox" section of the body until after that event. The profound change that ensued was very largely a reaction due to fear—fear of the "deism" or "infidelity" with which the other body, known by us as "Hicksites," were supposed to be tainted. I believe the whole disastrous episode might have been avoided if the minds of Friends on both sides of the controversy had not been starved. Nothing strikes a modern student more than the crudity of ideas, and the ignorance of religious truth, that were shown by combatants on both sides.

The transformation which the "orthodox" body underwent in the years between 1830 and 1860 in this country, and still more strikingly in later years in most of the Yearly Meetings in America, repeats on a small scale some of the features of the Reformation. Both movements were Evangelical, and both were very largely a revolt against authority—in the larger one the authority of the Roman Church, in the smaller the authority of Quaker tradition. In both cases the outcome was the substitution of one form of authority for another—in neither was the mind of man really set free. Again in the Society of Friends, as in most of the Protestant Churches after the Reformation, the Bible was set up as the final and absolute authority in religion, the source of all our knowledge of God and of Divine truth. The teaching of the Inward Light came to be stigmatized as "the delusive notion that impressions on our own minds might be superior to Scripture." The only function left for it was that of personal guidance, chiefly in relation to the ministry.

Thus the fear of undermining the authority of Scripture replaced the fear of "creaturely activity"; and, as after the Reformation, the human mind remained in fetters. Friends of the Evangelical type were equally averse with the conservatives to the free use of their minds in relation to religious truth. And so the movement for which Woodbrooke stands, which seeks liberation from these new-old fetters, has had to face opposition from both alike. Each section has feared that we are bent on rationalism, seeking to displace either the authority of the Spirit or that of the Bible, and to substitute what, by intellectual processes, we can discover for ourselves.

I think we may fairly claim that, thanks to the spiritual quality of our leaders—J. Rendel Harris, J. Wilhelm Rowntree, William C. Braithwaite, Rufus M. Jones and others—in whom depth of Christian experience has gone hand in hand with entire intellectual freedom, we have proved that such fears may be laid aside. Our movement from the first has been in the full stream of the Christian life, and we are not disposed to allow the free use of our minds to land us in pantheism on the one side or in deism on the other. We accept, with profoundest thankfulness, the Christian conviction that God is not merely the Great Unknown, the Veiled Something that we may grope after but never reach in conscious experience, but that He has always been revealing Himself through persons —specially, as the Hebrews have always held, through highly-endowed individuals of their own extraordinary race, but uniquely, as we add, in Him who brought the long preparation to its climax, and in Himself fulfilled the highest hopes of His people, though in ways they had never expected. Our rational study of the Bible and of the religious history of man does not obscure, but throws into ever stronger relief, the revelation of God in Christ. In some ways, as Dr. Otto has powerfully shown in his book The Idea of the Holy, we can understand and appreciate it better now than in any earlier time.

"On the one hand," he says, "there is the general view of the marvellous spiritual history of Israel as a connected whole, with its prophetic and religious development, and with Christ appearing as its culmination. And on the other hand there is the complete life-work and achievement of Christ himself in its entirety. Now in both cases a general comprehensive view is more perfectly to be attained by us to-day than in the time of Christ; for not only is our historical insight more keen, but we can also see the whole in better perspective at our greater distance. Whoever sinks in contemplation of that great connected development of the Judaic religion, which we speak of as the 'old covenant up to Christ,' must feel the stirrings of an intimation that something eternal is there, directing and sustaining it and urging it to its consummation. The impression is simply irresistible. And whoever then goes on to consider how greatly the scene is set for the completion of the whole story and the mighty stature of the personality that is its fulfilment, his firm, unfaltering hold upon God, his unwavering, unfailing righteousness, his certitude of conviction and assurance in action so mysterious and profound, his spiritual fervour and beatitude, the struggles and trustfulness, self-surrender and suffering, and finally the conqueror's death that was his—whoever goes on to consider all this must inevitably conclude: 'That is god-like and divine; that is verily Holiness. If there is a God, and if He chose to reveal Himself, He could do it no otherwise than thus.'"

Those are the words of a man who is not only one of the greatest living authorities on religious history, but who has carried farther than most students the psychological analysis of the processes by which we arrive at religious knowledge. In this analysis I am not qualified to follow him, and if I were the attempt to do so would take us too far afield. But, before concluding, it seems desirable to try to set out, very briefly and in my own way, what seems to me to be the place of the human mind in relation to religious truth, and in particular how we can now regard the central Quaker affirmation of the Inward Light.

I suppose that all of us who have any acquaintance with modem psychology will agree that the mind or self-consciousness which makes each one of us a person, and distinguishes us from the rest of the animal creation, is one, and not a bundle of separable "faculties." Still less could we agree with Barclay that it can be divided into two compartments one labelled "natural" and the other "divine." I should myself agree with John Norris, and with T. H. Green and other modem idealists, that our self-consciousness, or reason in its largest sense, is not "merely" human but is also divine—is in fact nothing else than a partial reproduction of the mind of God Himself, a spark (so to say) of the central Divine fire, by which He is striving to express Himself in and through us. Whether self-conscious mind is "evolved" out of the instinctive mind of other animals is a question neither more nor less difficult than the question whether life is evolved out of inanimate matter. Life (as a fact in experience) takes up dead matter, transforms it, makes it live, and expresses itself through it; and so self-consciousness absorbs and transforms much of the instinctive life of the animals. There are instincts in us all; but these work differently when they are taken up and made a part of the life of a self-conscious person.

This mind or reason of ours works in different ways, and it is these different modes of working that (for convenience but rather misleadingly) we call "faculties." It is at work in sensation, as when we warm our toes at a fire before going to bed; in perception, when we look at the flowers in a garden; in intellect, when we group similar objects into classes, and reason with the "concepts" so obtained; in emotion, as in, joy or anger or fear or tender affection; in will, as when we decide on an act and perform it. In all cases, whether we are feeling or thinking or willing, or striving after communion with God, it is our whole self that acts—though now one mode of action is predominant and now another.

Another way in which the mind works is in valuation : the perception of difference in worth as between true and false, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong; and our inevitable assent to that which presents itself to us as the higher and rejection of the lower. This awareness of worth is, as I have said, not an emotion, and we must beware of so describing it. In the moral region, where the will is at work, this valuation is accompanied by a unique consciousness of obligation to follow the higher and a void the lower— the imperative of conduct that we express by the small word "ought."

The word Reason in its largest sense is identical with self-consciousness or mind, and covers the whole field of the mind's activity. Particularly, it is well to think of it as that which assents to Truth of whatever kind—whether truth of fact, or true beauty, or true goodness. In this sense it is unreasonable now to think of the earth as flat, of chalk drawings on the pavement as better than the paintings of Turner, or of Charles the Second as a noble character. But the word Reason has often a more restricted use, being frequently identified with Intellect or Understanding—the power we use when we seek to prove or demonstrate relations between the objects of our thought, as that the tides are caused by the attraction of the moon. It is characteristic of the intellect that it can only function with clearly defined concepts, and its scope is therefore confined within somewhat narrow limits. For most of the greater values of life—those objects that make life supremely worth living, like beauty and moral worth—cannot be precisely defined, and cannot therefore be "proved." If a person does not perceive a picture to be beautiful, or a piece of music glorious, it is of no use to argue the matter with him—he must either learn to perceive its beauty or do without it. But the vast importance of the intellect lies just here : that it, along with perception, is our chief means of communicating truth to others. For what is proved to be true, whether by actual observation or by valid inference, is true for all properly constituted minds.

Now where, in this psychological analysis, does the "Inward Light" come in? Its foundations appear to lie in that aspect of Reason which deals with the fundamental postulates of science and philosophy, and also with the aesthetic and moral values of life— with the truths that cannot be proved but must be personally apprehended. We can rightly say that it is by an inward light that we know a flower or a poem to be beautiful, or an action noble, or that every event must have a cause. Something deeper than the senses, or even the emotions, is at work within us; if we did not carry within ourselves these categories of necessary truth and of better or worse, our sense-perceptions alone would never give them, and the accompanying emotions would not arise. But it is in our knowledge of God and Divine things that the Inward Light finds its main function. Such knowledge is not like the ordinary knowledge of the physical world about us, which the senses and the intellect supply. God is not, never was, and never will be, physical or sensible. "No man hath seen God at any time." The demand that His existence shall be "proved" by an intellectual process, though supported by Catholic thinkers, is doomed to disappointment and issues in Agnosticism. How then are we to be sure of Him? The true answer I believe to be: By the response of our whole personality to His. The religious experience of the human race, speaking broadly, from the savage to the saint, points to the impact upon man of some unseen Power or Powers which he calls Divine. This awareness of the Divine, Dr. Otto calls the "non-rational" element in religion, but I should prefer to call it the "non-intellectual," keeping open the largest possible meaning for the words Reason and Rational. Man's response to the impact is at first almost purely instinctive, but as his knowledge grows and his moral perceptions develop, his vague sense of a something that awakens in him at once fear and trust is gradually intellectualized and moralized. Developed religious life, to use Dr. Otto's simile, is like a woven fabric in which the "non-rational" element (as he calls it) is the warp, and the "rational" (including the moral) is the woof. The two become inextricably mingled.

Christianity has developed the term "Faith" to express the faculty by which we apprehend God. If what has been suggested above holds good, it will follow that Faith, while it contains an intellectual element, is fundamentally something much deeper than intellectual knowledge. It is more than feeling, more than intellect, more than will; and yet no one now suggests that it is a distinct and separate organ of the mind. It appears to be simply our deepest primary self, aroused and active in response to the unseen Power, the fundamental Reality, which impinges on our lives, and using all our so-called "faculties" of feeling, thought, and will. It develops as we respond to the Divine according to the highest conceptions of its nature that have come to us—as we seek to mould our lives according to what has been revealed to us of the mind of God. Prophet souls have grown in faith as they have been obedient to the fresh "word" of God spoken in their inmost souls. And since, as we Christians believe, that "word" took human shape, and God spoke to us directly through a Person who was of our own flesh and blood and mind, faith for us has become the response of our whole being to the Father whom Christ reveals.

Dr. Otto appeals to the plain historical fact that, at least from the days of Amos in Israel and of Socrates in Greece, men have responded with approval and assent to declarations of a higher moral character in the God they worship than those that have been commonly held. "This," he says, "is the criterion of all a priori knowledge, that, so soon as an assertion has been clearly expressed and understood, knowledge of its truth comes into the mind with the certitude of first-hand insight. . . . Amos says something new when he proclaims Yahweh as the God of inflexible, universal and absolute righteousness, and yet this is a novelty which he neither proves nor justifies by an appeal to authorities. He appeals to a priori judgments, to the religious conscience itself, and this in truth bears witness to his message" (p. 141). And this, Dr. Otto goes on to urge, is pre-eminently true of the impress which the character of Jesus, as a revelation of the inmost nature of God, made on his first disciples and can make on us.

"Has the portrayal of Christ's life, his actions and achievement, as preserved and handed down by the Christian Church, the value and power of a revelation for us to-day, or do we in this matter but live upon the inheritance bequeathed to us by the first community of Christians, and base our faith on the authority and testimony of others? There would be no hope of answering this question, were it not that in us too that inner divining power of apprehension and interpretation which has already been considered may find a place—that witness of the spirit, only possible on the basis of a mental predisposition to recognize 'the holy' and to respond to it. If without this no understanding and no 'impression' of Christ was possible even to the first disciples, of what avail should any tradition be that requires the mediation of generations of Christian men? But if we may make this assumption of a predisposing inner 'witness of the Spirit'—as we must—the matter is very different. In that case there is no harm in the fact that the records of Christ's life are fragmentary, that they contain manifold uncertainties, that they are intermingled with legendary and overlaid with Hellenist elements. For the Spirit knows and recognizes what is of the Spirit"(p. 166).

If Dr. Otto is right, as surely he is, the power that compels us to accept the truth when we see it, the power we call the "Inward Light," is not merely a human faculty, but is the Spirit of God Himself, thinking His own thoughts in us.

The greatest need of our own time and of all times is that men and women should be growing in this power of faith or insight into the nature and character of God as revealed by Christ, so that it may be for them no truth learned from books, no argument painfully mastered and perhaps forgotten, but an actual experience of their own which comes to them with first-hand certitude. This was the "Inward Light" which shone with assurance in the souls of our spiritual ancestors, and into which it is our supreme privilege and duty to enter for ourselves and to draw others. If we have this aim constantly before us—of leading men and women into this Faith which is the harmonious development of all their highest powers—then we need not fear to encourage the freest use of their intellectual capacities in the study of God's ways with men.

In our Lord's own teaching, the right use of the mind is freely recognized. All three Synoptists report Him as quoting from the Septuagint (not in this case from the Hebrew Bible) a passage from Deuteronomy, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy mind" (Greek word) as well as with thy heart and soul and strength—that is to say, with the whole of thy being and all its powers. He deliberately chose to clothe much of His most pregnant teaching in the form of parables, that His hearers might be compelled to use their own wits and think out what it meant. When He is asked to define a "neighbour" He gives no definition, but tells a story and challenges His questioner to frame a definition for himself. And if we turn to Paul, it is very evident that he not only used his own mind with extraordinary vigour, but craved for his friends that the Spirit in them might raise their powers of mind to full exercise. For the Ephesians he prays that they may receive "a spirit of wisdom, having the eyes of your heart enlightened," and for the Philippic's that their "love may abound yet more and more, in knowledge and all discernment, so that ye may approve the things that are excellent." In the often quoted passage i Cor. ii. 14, "The natural, or 'animal' [Greek word], man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged," he is simply expanding what he had said just before about "things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart [or understanding] of man." It is the well-known New Testament contrast between "faith" and "sight," though the word "faith" does not happen to be here used. It is an appeal for the deep intuitive perception of spiritual things, as contrasted with what can be discerned by the senses or proved by logic—exactly what Friends meant by the "Inward Light," and what Dr. Otto means when he speaks of "intuition" or "divination." Paul certainly did not think of man's mind as incapable of being enlightened by the Spirit and so serving him for the "discernment" of Divine truth.

There is a noteworthy passage in Barclay's Apology ——following immediately on that in which he speaks of the two lights, natural and Divine, in man— where he recognizes that Reason (as he calls it) may be so enlightened, in men who follow the Divine light, as to be "useful to them even in spiritual things," ... "even as the animal life in man, regulated and ordered by his reason, helps him in going about things that are rational."18  It is a pity he did not follow out this thought to its legitimate conclusion. His own work shows abundantly that he had carefully trained his own mind, and that he used it with vigour and effect.

The upshot of what I have been trying to lay before you is that we are on safe ground in encouraging the vigorous application of the intellect to the things of the Spirit if we always remember that true faith is the outcome of a harmonious development of all the higher faculties of man, and especially that intellectual study will never reach the goal if it ignores or sets aside that deeper intuition of God and Divine truth which we call the Inward Light. A one-sided intellectual development is fraught with danger, especially in two directions. On the one hand it may produce, as in the Church of the early centuries, and often since, the mind that is dogmatic and ecclesiastical, which moves in a world of thought that is cut off from that of the great struggling world, and has no living word to help it in its problems, because it has little actual experience of life itself. We must beware of developing anything that approaches to what is often called "the clerical mind." On the other hand it is easy to fall into a dry intellectualism which is so immersed in the study of religious problems that it quite misses the living palpitating heart of reality out of which they spring. The creed-makers were so devoted to defining the Divine-human nature of Jesus that they lost sight of the man Himself; and men like John M. Robertson have their minds so full of obscure religious movements in the Greco-Jewish world that they have omitted to notice great facts of history which stare the student in the face. This dry intellectualism is not confined to Germany, though perhaps it is most conspicuous there. I remember Joshua Rowntree telling me, with his characteristic twinkle, of a young man who had been studying Theology in Germany, that he had "come home just in time to save his sense of humour." We cannot afford to let our people "lose their sense of humour," and that ready insight into what really matters which comes with a sympathetic understanding of persons, of their thoughts and difficulties, and which speaks to them in a language they can understand.

Above all we need to help our people into that place of Christian experience in which the Inward Light is not a formula but a deep and heart-felt reality, being their own response to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ: "Now we believe, not because of thy speaking, for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world."

Chapter III ...>

From Quaker Thought and History: A Volume of Essays. By Edward Grubb, M.A. Published in 1925 by The MacMillan Company, New York.)

Notes and Links

 1  Presidential address, delivered to the Woodbrooke Council, June 13th, 1924.

 2  This was written before I had read Dr. Rudolf Otto's book, The Idea of the Holy, which has been so excellently translated into English by our Secretary, John W. Harvey. I hope to make further allusion to it later in this Essay.

 3  From "The Scattered Sheep sought after," In Works (Third Edition, 1784), Vol. I., p. 117.

 4  Apology, Prop. iv., (section) 2.

 5  Ditto.

 6  Apology, Prop. v., vi., § 16.

 7  There was considerable danger in a theory which held that a man might rightly use his own powers for success in business or a. profession, but that attainment of the life with God depended on a •upematural gift. The inevitable tendency of such a doctrine was to separate religion from ordinary life and make it unnatural—a mistake against which George Fox's whole life was a protest.

 8  For this see, further, Essay iii., pp. 63, 64.

 9  Spiritual Reformers, p. 290.

 10  Ditto, p. 291.

 11  Quoted in Seventeenth Century Men of Latitude, by Edward A. George, p. 79.

 12  Ditto, pp. 77, 78.

 13  Spiritual Reformers, pp. 309, 310.

 14  On this see above, pp. 13, 14.

 15  In Reason and Religion, quoted by F. J. Powicke, A Dissertation on John Norris of Bemerton, p. 182.

 16  Dr. Otto would say, I think, that Barclay's trouble arose with the effort to "rationalize" a fact of experience which lay deeper than ordinary intellectual knowledge. A person has an experience of the Divine which is beyond the reach of language, and his attempts to express it in terms of ordinary experience are clumsy and perhaps grotesque. A thinker comes along and says, "This won't do; go to, let us think out what he means and express it properly and precisely." This is the "rationalizing" process, which Dr. Harris has illustrated in his well-known epigram that "Dogma begins in Doxology." In the case of the idea of "total depravity," what gave rise to the dogma was undoubtedly the quite natural and healthy depreciation or "disvaluation" of the self in the presence of the Divine. "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord." The creature feels that it has nothing whatever in itself that is fit to bear the presence of the holy. The idea becomes a dogma when someone begins to try to express the feeling in precise intellectual terms. So, in the case of the "Inward Light," the early Quakers were on safe ground when they told of their experience of a Light in their souls above any they could reach by thinking, and so long as they did not try to define it. It was Keith and Barclay who first tried to "rationalize" the idea, by distinguishing it on the one hand from God himself (to guard the Quakers from the charge of making themselves Divine), and on the other from the "natural" faculties of man. The process was inevitable, for clear thinking is a duty; but it has its dangers when we try to force into intellectual concepts experiences that are beyond them.

 17  The Evangelical Movement and the Society of Friends : Essay iii., especially p. 70.

 18  Apology, Prop. v., vi., § 16.