1 JULY 1905, Page 17

streaming fountain ; if her waters flow not in a

perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of con- formity and tradition." Perhaps no finer plea for freedom of thought and expression in matters secular and religious than the " Areopagitica " was ever written. It is impossible to reed it without marvelling at the way in which genius can foresee the :result of ages of intellectual experience. No twentieth-century advocate of the Higher Criticism was ever more genuinely convinced, or ever declared more clearly, than Milton that the best friends of religion are mental energy and courage, the worst enemies mental sloth and timidity. .".The light which we have gained," he writes, "was given us, not to be ever staring on, but by it to discover onward things more remote from our knowledge." - These words in the mouth of the Puritan poet are no mere partisan argument for Protestantism. The danger lest truth should be lost in "a muddy pool of conformity and tradition" is a danger which he well knows besets every Church and all schools of thought. "He who thinks we are to pitch our tent here," he preaches to self-satisfied Protestants, "and have attained the utmost prospect of reformation that the mortal glass wherein we contemplate can show us, till we come to beatific vision that man by this very opinion declares that he is yet far short of Truth." It is not impossible, he fears, but that a day will come when we shall find "we have looked so long upon the blaze that Zuinglius and Calvin hath beaconed up to us, that we are stark blind." With prophetic fervour be asserts the unceasing progress of religious knowledge. "Now once again," he tells his readers, "by all concurrence of signs, and by the general instinct of holy and devout men, as they daily and solemnly express their thoughts, God is decreeing to begin some new and great 'period in His Church, even to the reforming of Reformation itself." The divisions which come of free thought will never, he believes, endanger the religious life of the people. "There must be many schisms and many dissections made in the quarry and in the timber, ere the house of God can be built. And when every stone is laid artfully together, it cannot be united into a continuity, it can but be contiguous in this world." The real danger arises from a refusal to think. "A man may be a heretic in the truth ; and if he believe things only because his Pastor says so, or the Assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy. There is not any burden that some would gladlier post off to another than the charge and care of their Religion. There be—who knows nob that there be ?—of Protestants and professors who live and die in as arrant an implicit faith as any lay Papist of Loretto. A wealthy man, addicted to his pleasure and to his profits, finds Religion to be a traffic so entangled, and of so many piddling accounts, that of all mysteries he cannot skill to keep a stock going upon

that trade . What does he therefore, but resolves to give over toiling, and to find himself out some factor, to whose care and credit he may commit the whole managing of his religious affairs P" The spiritual sluggard in Milton's mind at the moment is an energetic man of business who, according to the custom of his time, has picked out some learned divine to whose views he may pin his faith. He takes him into his home, and "resigns the whole warehouse of his religion, with all the locks and keys, into his custody." The custodian reads prayers night and morning, and follows his private avocations between times, leaving "his kind entertainer in the shop trading all day without his Religion."

Allowing for changes of custom—for the apparel, as it were, of the model—the portrait would stand for a large class of hard- working and ceremonially observant men in the present day. Every religious teacher who discourages thought increases the number of these men, Milton believes, and encourages also a similar, and perhaps a worse, type whose secularity has not even work to give it solidity. "Another sort there be who, when they bear that all thinge shall be ordered, all things regulated and settled, nothing written but what passes through the custom-house of ,certain Publicans that have the tonnaging and poundaging of all free-spoken truth, will straight give themselves up into your hands, make 'em and cut 'em out what religion ye please : there be delights, there be recreations and jolly pastimes that will fetch the day about from sun to sun, and rock the tedious year as in a delightful dream. What need they torture their heads with that which others have taken so strictly and so unalterably into their own purveying ? These are the fruits which a dull ease and cessation of our knowledge will bring forth among the people." This second type has altered not at all. Perhaps its numbers have increased since Milton's time.

To-day we have added a third type to the great army who fight for the secularisation of the nation. We have not only those who accept religion without thought upon authority, but those who accept irreligion upon the same terms. On the authority of a particular phase of current literature, they make up their minds that nothing ever has been, and nothing ever will be, known about God or the human soul. They assure their intimate friends that "either the thing is true, or it's not." Just what they mean by the " thing " they would not find it easy to say offhand. Perhaps if they were pressed they might reply that they meant religion, or . more probably the Christian religion. To apply such an absurd sentence to any other branch of study would seem to them to be childish in the last degree. If asked whether they believed history, or philosophy, or psychology to be true, or whether they did not, they would put the questioner down as too ignorant to be worth arguing with. Yet the phrase is good enough to maintain their spiritual sloth, and close their minds to all the voices, both within and without, which might tell theta something about a matter upon which they are deter- mined not to think. The desire for an infallible rule of conduct which shall save a man from giving wearisome and painful attention to the dictates of his conscience, and spare him the continual exercise of his judgment, and the craving for a cut- and-dried answer to his curiosity which shall spare him the hard work of investigation—in fact, the determination to "walk by sight "—have militated all through the ages against religious faith. They have threatened the religious life of those who trusted implicitly to the conclusions of what they believed- a divinely founded society, and turned to a ,species of fetish-worship *hat should have been the reverent study of a divinely inspired literature. They have rebelled against God's ordinance of work. Every man desires the fruits of his

labour, whether they be mental or physical. No man feels hungry, and no man says "I wonder why," without expressing this desire ; but since the days when some one wrote the Pentateuch there have been a great many people who regarded work simply as a curse. Many—and those many are scattered through all classes—are able in the existing state of society to get out of it. They eat their bread in the sweat of some one else's brow. But where the things of the mind and spirit are concerned no such evasion is possible. The bread of life is earned in the sweat of the spirit, the result of hard struggle, moral and—actually, if not technically—intellectual, among learned and simple alike. To sit idle is to starve. Of course all these spiritual sluggards would be glad to have some answer to the riddles of life, some connection with a Power outside themselves. There are many things they would like to be told ; but they do not want to learn. "Tell us for sure," they cry. "We do not want to find out "; and great men who have reached their conclusions through the most strenuous labour of which mind and spirit are capable offer those con- clusions to the idle, press them upon them even in their spiritual ardour, and the idle accept them willingly ; but they are no sooner in their hands than ate life goes out of them. They become to them, to use Jeremy Taylor's metaphor, as so many propositions of metaphysics, "concerning which a man is never the honester, be they true or false." "These men," they say, as they lock up their precious conclusions, "were great men, greater far than we. They fought long and hard for peace of mind, for the sense of security, the solace of hope, for some intercommunion with the Unseen. These are the truths they found out," they exultingly declare, "and we will keep them as amulets to bring us luck at our work and our play." If any one doubts their efficacy, he is a disbeliever. The sluggards of another school possess other amulets—the amulets of negation—and those who deny the wisdom which they confer are set down by them as superstitious fools.

Milton recounted a state of things very much like our own. He stood amid like circumstances, but not in the same atmo- sphere. There was a hopefulness in the air in his day which is not with us now. He could allude to the advent of the new learning and all its cataclysmal effects as the time" when God shakes a Kingdom with strong and healthful commotions to a general reforming." Now in these days of new thought it is not possible to be quite so optimistic. The English world has grown older. The dangers of a new religious departure strike at times on the imagination of the most faithful with a sickening sense of fear. Revolt and loss of reverence walk hand-in-band with the new spirit of religious adventure, and half the Church holds back. The pursuit of truth has always been beset with many and great dangers. Yet to risk every- thing in the search remains the eternal duty of man. The religious records of the people who were chosen to bear the torch of God tell no smooth story. The Bible "brings in," writes Milton, "holiest men passionately murmuring against Provi- dence through all the arguments of Epicurus : in other great disputes it answers dubiously and darkly to the common reader." Those Churches who stand outside the commotion do but repeat seriously what Milton ironically declaimed against those who refused to set out upon the great quest. "Henceforth let no man care to learn, or care to be more than worldly wise ; for certainly in higher matters to be ignorant and slothful, to be a common steadfast dunce, will be the only pleasant life, and only in request." Whatever our faith or our fears, the advice of Gamaliel still holds good. The main- tenance of religion in the world depends ultimately, not upon men, but upon God.