MR. BALFOITR'S SERMON.
THE British public does not quite know Mr. Arthur Balfour yet. It has been his ill-fortune or good-fortune, as it may prove, to occupy the most prominent post during the hottest period of the struggle between England and Ireland, and while one half the community regard him almost as the leader of a forlorn-hope, and extol his courage to the suppres- sion of many other qualities, the other half look on him as a domineering man of ability, determined to rale at any cost, whether of liberal principle or of human suffering. If they are interested in politics, they know that Mr. Balfour is one of the most formidable of public speakers, with a rare quality of humour, and a defect of hitting a little too hard ; but com- paratively few of them know that the Secretary for Ireland, who sends Members to prison, and faces Fenian knives, and defies Parnellite orators with the same half-humorous, half-scornful determination, is one of the most accomplished men in the island, with an organisation which enables him to be a scientific critic of music, with a wide know. ledge of science and philosophy, and with a power of expres- sion on paper such as is rarely given to orators, who tend, by the very conditions of the art they more frequently employ, either to over-ornament or diffuseness. The public have, too, a fancy, derived they probably know not whence, that Mr. Balfour is as unorthodox as Mr. Morley or Professor Huxley,
and will be amazed, when they read the pamphlet in which he has republished his address on " The Religion of Humanity," to find that, like Lord Beaconsfield, he is " on the side of the angels," and can do battle for the usefulness of belief in them in language of restrained eloquence of which neither Cardinal Newman nor Canon Liddon would be ashamed. We have called the pamphlet a sermon because it is one, though the fitting text, " The fool bath said in his heart, there is no God," is courteously omitted; and we venture to say that, of all who will read it, not one per cent. ever read or heard one more convincing or intellectually more delightful.
Mr. Balfour's main argument, directed nominally against Positivists, but really applicable not only to that feeble sect, but to the whole of that agnostic Humanitarian Church which begins to number its tens, of thousands of disciples, to proclaim itself the creed of the future, and to assume, while waiting for the Millennium, the airs of a dominant faith, is that it does not fulfil its first promise, and does not pro- vide a sufficient provocation to unselfish action. It cannot perpetually renew that energy of hope which the facts of life, and especially that cureless remanet of acute misery always left under the most favourable circumstances, so constantly weaken or destroy. Mr. Balfour says he is no pessimist, and he draws a fine picture of the benefits rational love of self might confer upon the world—it would, for example, nay, possibly will, cure man of drink and disease—but his ultimate view of the actualities of life is expressed in this splendid passage :— " But though this be so, yet the sense of misery unrelieved, of wrongs unredressed, of griefs beyond remedy, of failure without hope, of physical pain so acute that it seems the one overmastering reality in a world of shadows, of mental depression so deadly that it welcomes physical pain itself as a relief—these, and all the crookednesses and injustices of a crooked and unjust world, may well overload our spirits and shatter the springs of our energies, if to this world only we must restrict our gaze. For thus restricted the problem is hopeless. Let us dream what dreams we please about the future; let us paint it in hues of our own choosing; let us fashion for ourselves a world in which war has been abolished, disease mitigated, poverty rooted out; in which justice and charity determine every relation in life, and we shall still leave untouched a residue of irremediable ills—separation, decay, weariness, death. This distant and doubtful millennium has its dark shadows : and then how distant and doubtful it is ! The most intrepid prophet dare hardly say with assurance whether the gorgeous mountain-shapes to which we are drifting be cloud or solid earth. And while the future happi- ness is doubtful, the present misery is certain. Nothing that humanity can enjoy in the future will make up for what it has suffered in the past : for those who will enjoy are not the same as those who have suffered : one set of persons is injured, another set will receive compensation." It must be that in such a world—and no man of experience will doubt the atter truth of the description—the rational love of self on which the Utilitarian dwells so admiringly, will occasionally conflict with the love of man which is the source of the Humanitarian's confidence ; and then where is the reconciling agent to be found, or the force which is to compel the lower impulse to give place to the higher? Under the theory of the Humanitarian Church, the love of self has been weakened and lowered by the " self " sinking from an immortal being into an ephemeris of clay ; and the love of man has become love of an inferior being, not "the gods' peculiar care, the central object of an attendant universe, that for which the sun shone and the dew fell, to which the stars in their courses ministered; which drew its origin in the past from divine ancestors, and might by divine favour be destined to an indefinite existence of success and triumph in the future;" but "an obscure" creature, "absorbed and well- nigh overwhelmed" in the task of keeping alive ; "whose very existence is," on the Positivist hypothesis, "an accident, and his story a brief and discreditable episode in the life of one of the meanest of the planets." The third and greatest constituent in the motive-force of benevolence, the love of God, or, in another phrase, loyalty to a Being infinitely superior in character as well as strength, has been, in the teaching of that Church, summarily abolished. How, then, even as a motor urging man towards benevolence, can the Humanitarian Church affect to vie with Christianity, which at least gives man this reason for self-suppression, that he must live long enough to reap the full result, and to understand the full consequences of his own actions, as, when he views them with an eye to their effect even on immediate descendants, he now fails to do P Who is there that predicts the course of even a hundred years who is not foolish ; and why in the infinite complexity of consequences should we predict that next century this or that act of ours will have raised the human family P Look, says Mr. Balfour, what man deprived of his hope of a future life, and described by the strictly scientific intelligence, really is :— " Man, so far as natural science by itself is able to teach us, is no longer the final cause of the universe, the heaven-descended heir of all the ages. His very existence is an accident, his story a brief and discreditable episode in the life of one of the meanest of the planets. Of the combination of causes which first con- verted a piece or pieces of unorganised jelly into the living pro- genitors of humanity, science indeed, as yet, knows nothing. It is enough that from such beginnings Famine, Disease, and Mutual Slaughter, fit nurses of the future lord of creation, have gradually evolved, after infinite travail, a race with conscience enough to know that it is vile, and intelligence enough to know that it is insignificant. We survey the past, and see that its history is of blood and tears, of helpless blundering, of wild revolt, of stupid acquiescence, of empty aspirations. We sound the future, and learn that after a period, long compared with the individual life, but short indeed compared with the divisions of time open to our investigation, the energies of our system will decay, the glory of the sun will be dimmed, and the earth, tideless and inert, will no longer tolerate the race which has for a moment disturbed its solitude Man will go down into the pit, and all his thoughts will perish. The uneasy consciousness, which in this remote corner has for a brief space broken the contented silence of the universe, will be at rest. Matter will know itself no longer. Imperishable monuments and immortal deeds, death itself, and love stronger than death, will be as though they had never been. Nor will any- thing that is be better or be worse for all that the labour, genius, devotion, and suffering of man have striven through count- less generations to effect.'
Even in this moment of time we may not be noble, for progress, or evolution, or whatever the other force in which Humanitarians trust, has stopped with all other animals ; and why should it not stop with the animal Man, more especially when the highest part of him, his imagination of good, is, as Mr. Balfour finely puts it, " starved " by dismissing all that feeds it from belief in the supernatural? There is a man in whom the process has been nearly perfected, a man possessed.
in fullest measure of the Manchester virtues, laborious- ness, thrift, the capacity of organisation, the capacity of coercing self, a man in whom nothing seems lacking but moral imagination, and the Americans call him, with descrip- tive humorousness, only the " Heathen Chinee."
There is nothing new in all that P Very likely ; but the old tale has rarely been told, so far as the words are Mr. Balfour's, with such lucid force of expression, and we have thought that so rare an aperca into the mind of one of the few men likely ever to rule England might interest our readers, as it has deeply interested ourselves. This is, we believe, the only country, unless we may include America, where a statesman would dare to address the whole community in words like these :—
" One of the objects of the 'religion of humanity,' and it is an object beyond all praise, is to stimulate the imagination till it lovingly embraces the remotest fortunes of the whole human family. But in proportion as this end is successfully attained, in proportion as we are taught by this or any other religion to neglect the transient and the personal, and to count ourselves as labourers for that which is universal and abiding, so surely must the in- creasing range which science is giving to our vision over the times and spaces of the material universe, and the decreasing importance of the place which man is seen to occupy in it, strike coldly on our moral imagination, if so be that the material universe is all we have to do with. It is no answer to say that scientific discovery. cannot alter the moral law, and that so long as the moral law is unchanged our conduct need be modified by no opinions as to the future destiny of this planet or its inhabitants. This contention, whether true or not, is irrelevant. All developed religions, and all philosophies which aspire to take the place of religion, Lucretius as well as St. Paul, give us some theory as to the destiny of man and his relation to the sum of things. My contention is that every such religion and every such philosophy, so long as it insists on regarding man as merely a phenomenon among phenomena, a natural object among other natural objects, is condemned to failure as an effective stimulus to high endeavour. Love, pity, and en- durance it may indeed leave with us : and this is well. But it so dwarfs and impoverishes the ideal end of human effort, that though it may encourage us to die with dignity, it hardly permits us to live with hope."