22 FEBRUARY 1873, Page 14


MR. ARNOLD'S GOSPEL.* MR. ARNOLD calls this singular volume, —a volume full of a curious vein of earnestness, sometimes almost bitterness, not• often united with this kind of literary power,—' an essay towards a better apprehension of the Bible.' Bat it is either much more or much less. If its interpretation of the Bible- is a true interpretation, it presents, for us at least, a new gospel. If it be a completely untenable interpretation, his essay is a new and heavy blow at the Bible, for he lends the whole- weight of his authority, which both as critic and poet is great, to the assertion that the popular interpretation of the Bible, so far as it goes beyond his own, is ' fairy-tale,' or what the Germans call Aberglaube, extra-belief,—i.e., imaginative fiction• embodying in purely arbitrary forms the essence of the belief. But before we come to the substance of his volume, let us say a- few words on its form. We regret that Mr. Arnold has gone quite beyond what his own constantly reiterated principles- will allow, in ridicule of the popular theology. No one knows• how to use the weapon of satire with more grace and more pan- gency than Mr. Arnold. For example, the following very telling illustration of the wonderful change in the very elements of human- thought and life that must be attributed originally to the Hebrew literature and genius and to that alone, is a model of satiric earnestness, though the reference by name to the present Professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge is a little hard in such a con- nection, and would have been better omitted. (We need scarcely- say, by the way, that we do not agree with Mr. Arnold in his very positive interpretation of the meaning to be attached to the- monotheism of Israel, though we admit that the meaning he puts upon the assertion of the oneness of God in the Bible is included in the Hebrew teaching),- " So, too, with the intense fear and abhorrence of idolatry. Conduct,. righteousness, is, above all, an inward motion and rule ; no sensible forms can represent it, or help us to it ; such attempts at representation can only distract us from it. So, too, with the sense of the oneness of God. 'Hear, 0 Israel ! The Lord our God is one Lord.' People think that in this unity of God,--this monotheistic idea, as they call it,—they have certainly got metaphysics at last. It is nothing of the kind. The monotheistic idea of Israel is simply seriousness. There are, indeed, many aspects of the not ourselves [The 'Not-ourselves,' we should explain, is Mr. Arnold's phrase for the moral tendencies which press upon men involuntarily, and which they do not themselves cause, and tins is what he usually means by 'God'] ; but Israel regarded one aspect of it only, that by which it makes for righteousness. He had the advantage, to be sure, that with this aspect three-fourths of human life is concerned. But there are other aspects which may be taken. 'Frail and striving mortality,' says the elder Pliny, in a noble passage, 'mindful of its own weakness, has distinguished these aspects severally, so as for each man to be able to attach himself to the divine by this or that part, according as he has most need.' That is an apology for polytheism, as answering to man's many-sidedness. But Israel felt that being thus many-sided degenerated into an imaginative play, and bewildered what Israel recognised as our sole religious consciousness,—the consciousness of right. ' Let thine eyelids look right on, and lot thine eyelids look • Literature sea Dogma. An Essay towards a better Apprehension of the Bible. By Matthew Arnold, D.C.L. London: Smith, Elder, and Co. 1878. straight before thee ; tarn not to the right hand nor to the left ; remove thy foot from evil !' Does not Ovid say, in excuse for the immorality of his verses, that the sight and mention of the gods themselves,—the rulers of human life,—often raised immoral thoughts ? and so the sight and mention of all aspects of the not ourselves must. Yet how tempting are many of these aspects ! Even at this time of day, the grave au- thorities of the University of Cambridge are so struck by one of them, that of pleasure, life and fecundity,—of the hwninum divomque voluptas, alma Venus,—that they set it publicly up as an object for their scholars to fix their minds upon, and to compose verses in honour of. That is all very well at present ; but with this natural bent in the authorities of the University of Cambridge, and in the Indo-European race to which they belong, where would they be now if it had not helm for Israel, and the stern check which Israel put upon the glorification and divinisation of this natural bent of mankind, this attractive aspect of the not our- selves? Perhaps going in procession, Vice-Chancellor, bedels, masters, scholars, and all, in spite of their Professor of Moral Philosophy, to the -temple of Aphrodite ! Nay, and very likely Mr. Birks himself, his brows crowned with myrtle and scarcely a shade of melancholy on his countenance, would have been going along with them I It is Israel -and his seriousness that have saved the authorities of the University of -Cambridge from carrying their divinisation of pleasure to these lengths, or from making more of it, indeed, than a mere passing intellectual play ; and even this play Israel would have beheld with displeasure, -saying; 0 turn away mine eyes lest they behold vanity, but quicken Thou sue in thy law."

-That is a remarkable passage,—remarkable for the force and 'truth of the illustration, and for the ridiculous light in which it places the dignitaries of the University of Cambridge ; and with the exception we.have mentioned, there is no cruelty in the irony, -for ridicule does not scarify when directed to a noun of multitude so dignified in itself, and so capable in its units of shielding each- other, as the authorities of the University of Cam bridge. But when Mr. Arnold comes to ridicule faiths to which so much sacredness of feeling—so much " emotion," to use his own phrase, —attaches, as to the faith in the Trinity, we must say that we think he is forgetting all his own moral teaching, and showing instead of the " sweet reasonableness " (as he loves to translate briEhtElCh) of Christianity, something of the cruel scorn of Voltaire. The passages about the three enlarged and imaginary Lord Shaftesburys, towards the close of the book, are to our mind -completely unworthy of the preacher of sweetness and light. They will give great pain, and instead of helping his own purpose, will raise against him a violent and not unreasonable prejudice, which there is but little else in the mere form of his book to excite. It is true that there is a kind of jar in the too pertinaciously reiterated j' chaff "—for it is chaff—of the Bishops of Winchester and Gloucester and Bristol, that also strikes discordantly on the ear. But that is comparatively trivial. However, we have no wish to dwell on this side of Mr. Arnold's book, and we certainly shall not extract any of his studies in the Voltairian fashion of dealing with faith. On the contrary, we will try and remove the violent prejudice which the mere knowledge that Mr. Arnold has dealt in this harsh and almost inhumane manner with a faith that is vividly held by the great majority of Christians must produce, by giving one noble illustration of his best and highest tone in this volume, —taken from a passage in which he is explaining the true char- acter of Hebrew prophecy :— " In this sense we should read the Hebrew prophets. They did not foresee and foretell curious coincidences, but they foresaw and foretold this inevitable triumph of righteousness. First, they foretold it for all the men and nations of their own day, and especially for those colossal unrighteous kingdoms of the heathen which looked everlasting ; then, for all time. As the whirlwind passeth, so is the -wicked no more ;' sooner or later it is, it must be, so. Hebrew prophecy is never read arightuntil it is read in this sense, which indeed of itself. it cries out for ; it is, as Davison, again, finely says, impatient for the larger scope. How often, through the ages, how often, even, by the Hebrew prophets themselves, has some immediate visible interposition been looked for! -‘I beheld,' they make God say, and there was no man, and I wondered that there was no intercessor, therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; the day of vengeance is in mine heart, the year of my re- deemed is come.' 0 long-delaying arm of might! will the Eternal never put thee forth, to smite these who go on as if righteousness mattered nothing? There is no need ; they are smitten. Down they come, one after another; Assyria falls, Babylon, Greece, Rome; they all fall for want of conduct, righteousness. ' The heathen make much -ado, and the kingdoms are moved; but God hath showed his voice, and the earth doth melt away.' Nay, but Judaea itself, the Holy Land, the land of God's Israel, fails too, and falls for want of righteousness."

it is impossible to doubt that the man who wrote that fine passage,—a passage reminding us, both in its wording and its liquid rhythm, of many a passage in Father Newman,—has a profound -sympathy with the teaching of the Bible, however astoundingly his criticism may sublimate and evaporate its contents till, to every -eye but his own, only the ghost of it is left.

But now for the substance of Mr. Arnold's gospel. And here, though Mr. Arnold, with a somewhat ostentatious humility, makes a great merit of having nothing to say to metaphysics, and only interpreting the Hebrew Revelation in- the simple, practical fashion for which literary studies are a kind of guarantee,—we confess to being a good deal at a loss. Mr. Arnold's quarrel with both popular and scientific theology, especially with scientific, is that it takes the non-essential, the poetic, the anthropomorphic clothing of the ideas of revelation for part of that revela- tion itself, and harps upon language flung out, with the vigour of deep impulse and strong emotion, at an infinite object not admitting of any adequate comprehension, as if it were intended to be accurate, and to bear logical analysis. He brings this charge, in the first instance and with the greatest earnestness, against the conception attached, by both the popular and what he calls the pseudo-scientific Theology, to the being of God. He is never weary of ridiculing the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol for speaking of "the blessed truth that the God of the Universe is a Person." He calls this " unprofitable jargon," and declares that it is a metaphysical fairy tale, a metaphysical extra-belief not verifiable, and therefore not to be seriously pressed in an age when "what- ever for men is true, men can verify." He is of course still harder on the assertion that God is " the intelligent governor of the Universe who thinks and loves." Nothing he declares can be less verifiable' than this, and if that be the Hebrew revelation of God, the whole revelation falls for want of a demonstrative basis of fact as its ultimate ground. Mr. Arnold's own account of the ultimate thought involved in the Hebrew conception of God, is simply this,—" the stream of tendency, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness." That, he maintains, is the very essence of the Hebrew thought of ' God.' Much more than that came, by virtue of associated emotions and through the influence of language moulded by emotion, to be connected with the name ' God.' An atmosphere of feeling developed itself round the name, and as in all attempts to throw out language at an infinite object too great for the mind, anthropomorphic expressions were frequently used implying far more intelligence of the nature of God than even those who used it really intended to assume. But the essential idea from which Israel in its best days and Christ himself never really departed, was that of ' a power, not ourselves, making for righteousness,'—of which it would have been presumptuous to assert that it was a personal power, or a governor of the universe, or possessed of what we mean by thought and love. But even so we find it very difficult to reconcile Mr. Arnold with himself. Sometimes he appears to go very far indeed and makes God nothing in the world except the abstraction righteousness,' as, for instance, in illustration of the principle that morality is transformed into religion simply by having emotion applied to it "First: 'It is joy to the just to do judgment.' Then: 'It becometh well the just to be thankful.' Finally : 'A pleasant thing it is to be thankful.' What can be simpler than this, and at the same time more solid ? But again : ' There is nothing sweeter than to take heed unto the commandments of the Eternal.' And then : Thou art my portion, 0 Eternal! at midnight will I rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.' And lastly : ' 0 praise the Eternal, for it is a good thing to sing praises unto our God !' Why, these are the very same propositions as the others, only with a power and depth of emotion added ! Emotion has been applied to morality. God is hero really, at bottom, a deeply moved way of saying conduct or righteous- ness. 'Trust in God' is trust in the law of conduct; 'delight in the Eternal' is, in a deeply moved way of expression, the happiness we all feel to spring from conduct."

And the same absolute sublimation of God into an idea is suggested in many other places,—for example, where Mr. Arnold wishes to translate our Lord's words, " God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship him in spirit and in truth," " God is an influence, and those who would serve Him must serve Him not by any form of words or rites, but by inward motion and in reality." The only thing one asks oneself here is why Mr. Arnold approves the personal pronoun at all. We should speak of " a stream of tendency," whether " making for righteousness " or for anything else, as " it," not as " him," and so also of " an influence." Where is the appropriateness of the personal language, if the personality which makes that language appropriate is an "unprofitable jargon " ? It seems to us that Mr. Arnold in his literary method is wholly inconsistent with himself. He speaks in one place of the personal language of the Bible as being far more appropriate than the impersonal, and then adds in a note :— "It has been urged that if this personifying mode of expression is more proper and adequate, it must also be more scientifically exact. But surely it must on reflexion appear that this is by no means so. Wordsworth calls the earth 'the mighty mother of mankind,' and the geographers call her 'an oblate spheroid;' Wordsworth's expression IS more proper and adequate to convey what men feel about the earth, but it is not therefore the more scientifically exact."

But that is a pure evasion of the point. Wordsworth did not either produce, or intend to produce, the effect of making us trust in the Earth as if she were a person who could answer our appeals. The word 'Mother' was for him a metaphor the drift of which every one understands without warning against over-interpretation. The writers of the Old Testament did both produce, and intend to pro- duce, the effect of making men trust in God as a living being who would answer their appeals. Indeed, if they did not produce this effect, they produced none at all. That God was righteous—not righteousness,—was of course the essence of their teaching. But it was also evidently of the essence of their teaching that the words "I," and "He" when applied to God, were more appropriate than "It," not because they better described the vividness of human feelings about the law of righteousness, but because they better described the object of those feelings. There is a sufficient test of this which, throughout his book, Mr. Arnold appears to ignore. Is prayer an act which can even conceivably be directed to a mere poetical hypothesis of the imagination ? Is not prayer of the very life and essence of revelation, both Jewish and Christian, and in the most serious and matter-of-fact sense? Just substitute for a moment in any prayer, whether in the psalms, the prophets, or in the New Testament, Mr. Arnold's neuter definition of what the verifiable essence of God is ; and see whether he who thus prayed, would not have been simply making a mockery of the most solemn thoughts. " Have mercy upon me, 0 stream of tendency that makes for righteousness ! according to thy loving-kindness ; ac- cording to the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my trans- gressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin ; for I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done evil in thy sight," &c. Or again, attempt to substitute the same phrase for "Our Father " in the Lord's Prayer, and see what sense it would make. All we wish to press is this,—Either prayer involves the belief in God as one who hears and answers us, —and we want no more scientific definition of a ' person ' than this,—or it is of the nature of mere poetic apostrophe, an exercise of the imagination about a subject of deep interest to our- selves, and nothing more. If it involves the former, Mr. Arnold has no right to ridicule the belief in the personality of God, with- out giving up his Bible as completely as any unbeliever. If it involves only the latter, he must admit that his eulogy on the pro- found seriousness of the Hebrew people is utterly out of place. Would he himself, in any serious crisis of his life, address himself to the Earth as "O mighty mother of mankind!" and try to teach his fellow-countrymen to follow the practice? Either the belief in a life of God,— a personal life in a sense not below that which we attach to the personal life of man, but far above it,—is of the very marrow of Hebrew teaching about God,—or the Hebrew teachers were play- ing with a great subject pressing with infinite force on the human heart, in a cruel and almost heartless manner. Let Mr. Arnold take which alternative he likes. But if he takes the first, let him cease his raillery of those who use the phrase person' in relation to God ; and if he takes the second, let him give up his attempt to press the Hebrew Scriptures upon us as the serious teaching of a race who understood more of conduct' than any other people. In one place Mr. Arnold says of Israel, with what seems to us per- fectly monstrous unconcern for critical truth,- " All the countenance ho gives to the metaphysical idea of the per- sonality of God is given by his anthropomorphic language, in which, being a man himself, he naturally speaks of the Power, with which he is concerned, as a man also. So he says that Moses saw God's hinder parts ; and he gives just as much countenance to the scientific assertion that God has hinder parts, as to the scientific assertion of God's per- sonality. That is, he gives no countenance at all to either."

Now, there is one passage in which it is said that Moses saw God's hinder parts ;—but the urgent teaching of the whole Bible, from its opening to its close, is, that you may pour out your heart to God as to a living being with results in great influences which come back to you from that living being ; and yet Mr. Arnold can say what he does in the text. Is this applying the very just critical doctrine of his own preface,—putting the due emphasis on representative passages, and passing lightly over, so to speak, accidental passages?

But so difficult is it to follow this great eulogist of simplicity, this great satirist of metaphysics, that even now we have ex- tremely little notion of Mr. Arnold's exact drift—of how much Or how little he means,--in speaking of God as scientifically veri- fiable only as a tendency' and influence.' There are passages where he appears to take to the extra-belief' as kindly as any Bishop on the Bench. Take this passage, for instance :—

" More and more this dwelling on the joy and peace from righteous- ness, and on the power which makes for righteousness, becomes a man's consolation and refuge Thou art my hiding-place, thou shalt preserve me from trouble ; if my delight had not been in thy law, I should have perished in my trouble. When I am in heaviness, I will think upon God; a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat! 0 set me up upon the rock that is higher than I! The name of the Eternal is as a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safe.' And the more we experience this shelter, the more we come to feet that it is protecting even to tenderness ; ' Like a father pitieth his own children, even so is the Eternal merciful unto them that fear Him.' Nay, every other support, we at last find, every othor attachment may fail us, this alone fails not: Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee !' "

Protecting even to tenderness! Is it possible to impute tenderness-

to anything short of a person ? Can we sincerely call the wind, or the climate, or the spirit of the times, the Zeit-geist,—Mr. Arnold, is quite a devotee of the Zeit-geist, —tender ? Or is there any other impersonal influence which can be in any but a metaphorical sense called tender with more accuracy than these ?

In a word, we do not really know whether Mr. Arnold means= his opposition to the word " person," as applied to God, seriously or not. We do not really know whether he regards God as some thing infinitely above man in all that is beat in us, —in love, in power, in reason, in goodness,— or as an attenuated sublimate of the human morality. Sometimes he himself speaks of God as "loving" right-. eousness ; but that may be only applying language in the sense in. which Words worth calls the Earth "the mighty mother of mankind." The truth is, the simplicity of the literary method has come to this,. —that Mr. Arnold has written a very powerful book, after the most careful study of which, we remain in serious doubt as to the mean- ing he attaches to its most fundamental term. We should like to say something of his often very subtle and delicate criticism of Christ's teaching. But we must in any case leave this to a future notice.