14 OCTOBER 1876, Page 13


THAT the letter which we published last week has attracted a good deal of attention, the mass of letters now before us— for which, we regret to say, we can by no means find room— sufficiently attests. For our own parts, while greatly admiring Mr. Snow's honourable feeling and agreeing with him that the special Articles to which he refers (as well as many others) among the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England are both ill- -expressed and out of date, we agree with most of our corre- spondents that the Articles attacked by Mr. Snow should be no sufficient stumbling-block to those at least who hold, — what Mr. Snow himself, however, evidently denies,—the real distinction implied in all Christian theology between the world • of the natural and the world of the supernatural. But the truth is that Mr. Snow, though he rebels so actively against the Tenth and Thirteenth Articles, "Of Free-Will" and 4 4 Works Done before Justification," is really fighting for what we may call a naturalistic Calvinism, at least as earnestly as he is fighting against the theological Calvinism ; and this is, we think, the real source, we will not say of his objection to those Articles, but of his special intolerance of them. While we quite agree with Mr. Snow that those Articles are at present obsolete, and certainly do not express in any natural fashion the belief of any ordinary Churchman, unless it be of one very much attached to the old Calvinistic creed, it seems to us that there are much more objectionable Articles among the Thirty-nine, and that the -ground of Mr. Snow's own personal revolt against these is not substantially tenable.

The ground of that revolt is very lucidly stated by Mr. Snow.

He believes that God is the life of Nature, that God is in Nature, that though He is more than what we are accustomed to call Nature, Nature, properly understood, should be co-extensive with -the whole action of God ; that all religion, all faith, all grace is, strictly speaking, natural, is, in fact, the expansion in the highest sphere of the very same physical rudiments which are usually ex- pressed by the term "nature ;" that the maternal instinct, for in- stance, which is observable in the lowest animal, is the initial sign of that divine parental love the full revelation of which Christ gave.

That is Mr. Snow's belief. He loves the very term "nature," because it represents to him the history of that gradual unfolding of care and discipline, which ultimately lead us to faith in a divine Father, though its lowest phase may be seen in the merely animal yearnings of an insect after her young. In fact, instead of treating human " nature " as theologians do, as a spoiled thing, which it needs God's help to purify, Mr. Snow considers that the purifica- tion is just as much a natural process as the need of it is a natural want ; that it is a purely natural growth of the soul which leads to the desire for divine help, a purely natural prayer which entreats it, and a purely natural gift which grants it. Evolution, therefore, includes for him not only the natural history of humanity, but its moral and spiritual history too, and to his mind Nature includes the Creator as well as the Creation, and all the development, physical, moral, and spiritual, by which the Creator gradually expresses His intention in the work of Creation.

Now, that is a very intelligible view, but it is to our minds a false view, and indeed implies a kind of naturalistic Calvinism, which is more of a piece with the " automatism " of the physiolo- gists than with the spiritual ethics of Mr. Snow. If Mr. Snow really holds that there is nothing in any sense distinguishable from Nature in that which "convicts us of sin and shame," then, we sup- pose, he holds equally that there is nothing in any way distinguish- able from Nature in that which plunges us into sin and shame ; and if that, too, be conceded, then the whole of evil as well as the whole of good is not only natural, but divine, and the Tenth and Thir- teenth Articles, to which Mr. Snow objects, become as objectionable because they attribute evil in any special sense to man's nature, as they seem to Mr. Snow because they deny good to man's nature. At least, if this be not so, Mr. Snow must ascribe what is evil to some- thing outside nature, though be refuses to ascribe what is good to any external source ; and in that case, of course, he would identify Nature with God, while attributing temptation, and sin, and all that is unnatural to some evil being. But of this there is no trace in anything that he has ever written, and hence we conclude that in fighting for the perfect naturalness of all grace he would equally admit the perfect naturalness of all "fails from grace," as they are called,—that is, of all sin,—and would regard, after the fashion of the Necessarian optimists, all "partial evil" as "universal good," and the conscious guilt of this life as the first step in the ladder towards the saintliness of some higher life. If this, as we suppose it must be, is Mr. Snow's view, then we must say that to our minds the old language which draws a broad distinction between the natural and supernatural, however inexact it may be, is a great deal truer than that which Mr. Snow would substitute for it. The way in which most reasonable people interpret the Articles to which Mr. Snow objects, is not by assuming that with- out man's distinct knowledge that an impulse comes from above, it must come from the tainted and faulty motives of human nature, but rather by assuming that any impulse which leads us into a struggle with our lower selves, must be divine, if only because we judge it by its fruits. There is nothing in any Article of the Church of England to prevent this interpretation, nothing to show that we must not trust an impulse as the result of "grace," unless it comes with some mystic sign of its divine origin upon it. All that the criticised Articles say is that no action can be really good which does not spring out of divine grace, but it leaves us quite free to assume that any impulse of which we are quite sure that it is really good, must spring out of divine grace. And to any one who makes that assumption,—certainly not positively authorised by the Articles, but as certainly not for- bidden by them,—the Articles in question lose all the mischief which Mr. Snow finds in them, and become at worst quite harm- less.

Mr. Snow's teaching, on the other hand,—if it be, as we suppose, that all which is natural is divine,—would seem to us by no means harmless. Explain it how we will, there is much more of moral evil which corresponds strictly to our notion of what is 'natural' to us, than there is of impulse to resist that evil. It is a much better and more accurate description of the facts to speak of a victory gained against the grain of character, as gained by ' supernatural ' help, than to describe it as gained by 'natural' help ; for the mode in which such help appears to come is in the shape of assistance from beyond, and not at all in the shape of the natural uprising of habitual motives and impulses from within. It stands to reason that it is just at the point at which it is not natural to us to do right, that the crisis of the moral life begins. If it has become natural, it is no longer a crisis at all. The fight is always on the borderland where our vision of what is right reaches beyond the practical tendencies of our

nature, and makes demands upon the free-will. No doubt Butler would, in his larger sense, call the dictates of conscience " natu-

ral ;" and no doubt they are natural in his sense,—i.e., in the sense that such conduct satisfies man's nobler ideal of his own life and destiny, and is in keeping with that moral faculty which points

out the right. But this is unquestionably a new sense of the word "natural." It is " natural " in every sense to a man to do what all the converging elements of his inherited and acquired character lead him to do. It is clearly natural to a benevolent man to relieve distress when he can do so without doing mis- chief, in precisely the same sense in which it is natural to him

to brush away a gnat that buzzes in his face. But it is in a very different sense indeed that it is natural to him to repress an impulse which all his past life and nature call out to him to gratify, simply because it is wrong. In that case he has either to bring the force which keeps down all these impulses out of his own free-will, or to get it from the encouragement of another than himself, whose nature is higher and truer ; and even if he brings the requisite force from out of his own free- will, he will still, in all probability, feel certain that there is some power extraneous to his own nature stirring up that free-will, some power which has not grown with his growth and strengthened with his strength. Now it seems to us that in either case the word " supernatural " is infinitely truer to our experience than the word "natural." Butler may be right that it is truer to the higher destiny of man, and therefore more natural in the sense of more in harmony with that higher destiny, to obey the voice of conscience than to ignore it. But then we maintain that this is speaking of what is ' natural ' to man, after we have already got an idea of man as a being who has in him something that is beyond nature in any of the senses in which we use the word when we are speaking of creatures below men in dignity. In fact, after we have already included in the nature of man his capacity for the supernatural, we then use the word "natural" of him in this extended sense,—in which it really includes a supernatural element. It seems to us, then, that if there be such a thing as free-will in man,—if there be in him the power of resisting the inherited and acquired tendencies of his character in obedience to a divine suggestion,—then this power takes him into the region of the supernatural, because it enables him to reverse the direction of the impulse which the currents of his antecedent nature would otherwise give. And if the will of man properly belongs to the region of the supernatural, then it is only reasonable to assume that the divine nature which appeals to that free-will, and which rouses it into the fullness of its energy, is above the stream of nature and necessity in a sense far higher than that in which our finite will stands above it. Believe, in short, that there is something in man which the word "nature,"—or what is born in him,—does not express, and it is impossible not to believe that there is infinitely more of that something in the nature of Him who has given man that free-will, and who stirs it into life.

Such are the reasons why, while agreeing with Mr. Snow that the Articles he objects to are obsolete and misleading, we can by no means agree with him that it is well to confound man with Nature as a mere part of Nature, and still less well to confound God with Nature, as One who acts wholly through the processes of naturalistic expansion and evolution.