Thus far, in our consideration of the inevitable limitations of our natures, we have been considering effects which are not peculiar to the spiritual life, but which are essentially the same for all spheres of life. We turn now to ask in what way the religious life is peculiarly affected by these limitations, how far the effects in the spiritual life differ from those in other spheres.
The difference, let it be said at once, certainly does not consist, as has been strangely enough sometimes suggested, in the fact that the religious life does not have its sense-manifestations in the world. Plutarch's famous passage concerning the omnipresence of temples and altars would seem to indicate that these manifestations have been plain enough. The reality of the religious life certainly cannot be called in question, on the ground that it has not in the most varied and multiplied ways bodied itself forth to the senses.
Nevertheless, our inevitable limitations and fluctuations undoubtedly do make themselves felt with peculiar power in our religious thinking and living. That this is natural appears at once, when one considers the greatness of the achievement sought to be made in the religious life; for the greater the task, the less easy must be its accomplishment.
For, in the first place, we have here most clearly the finite dealing with the infinite problem. If even in all our finite inquiries we are burdened with the sense of our limitations, much more here, where we are avowedly face to face with the question of the Infinite Life, must we feel the feebleness of our powers. And if, even in the inquiry concerning the finite, our conclusions must fall short of demonstrative completeness, plainly must we be content in the inquiry after the Infinite with a reasonable faith.
And yet, even in our inquiries into the finite, it should be noted, all our questions ultimately seem to require a final Unity, that is more than finite; and the deepest convictions of philosophy and religion seem thus necessary to make finally consistent our proximate conclusions. In this respect our lesser problems appear really to depend for their complete solution upon the greater.
Again, our limitations may naturally affect us more strongly in the religious life, because the grounds of our great spiritual convictions must lie deeper than those of less significant opinions. The very fact that the reasons for spiritual life and conviction do not lie on the surface, but are deeply intertwined with the very roots of our being and with the different sides of our nature, particularly the ethical—and if they have any real justification, this must be true—makes these reasons for spiritual life and faith all the less capable of quick and easy statement and appreciation; and so our limitations will be especially felt just here.
Moreover, just because the religious life is so closely knit up with the ethical, the sense of its reality is peculiarly subject to fluctuation. In truth, the sense of the reality of the spiritual life depends, to a degree true of no other sphere of life, upon the ethical attitude. Religious convictions, therefore, are unusually sensitive to one's moral changes. This is, of course, true in part in other spheres of life, on account of the very unity of our being, but by no means to the same extent. Here, then, is a special reason why fluctuation occurs in religious convictions. We cannot cut this bond of connection between religious conviction and moral attitude, but we can change our moral attitude; and just so far this cause of fluctuation belongs with the removable causes. The more stably right our ethical spirit is, the more permanent is our religious faith. I assume here, of course, the justification of the ethical.
For all these reasons, the spiritual life must be preeminently a life of gradual growth and patient, steady endeavor. The greatest things need time, patience, study, a wise use of moods, and persistent earnestness. The maintenance of any of our ideals demands some fighting; but the true man cannot be willing, either for himself or for others, to draw away from these fighting forces—fighting to maintain the highest ideals and faith in them. George MacDonald's rector in the "Quiet Neighborhood" says to his doubting, listless friend, "You know the 'Faery Queen.' Think how long the Red-Cross Knight traveled with the Lady Truth—Una, you know—without learning to believe in her; and how much longer still without ever seeing her face. For my part may God give me strength to follow till I die. Only I will venture to say this, that it is not by any agony of the intellect, that I expect to discover her."
Browning's "Childe Roland" has a different meaning, I suppose, for every mind that reads it; but for me it seems always to contain a marvellous allegory of the dauntless spirit that may well characterize the soul in its quest for spiritual truth and life. An end set and pursued; an end pursued after enthusiasm, confidence, hope had died; pursued after companions had been defeated and had perished; pursued still alone when
"just to fail as they, seemed best,
And all the doubt was now—should I be fit?"
yet pursued in darkness, foreboding, doubt; pursued across that dismal ill-omened waste whose first glimpse brings the shudder of utter loneliness, and where the unending ugliness of nature conspires with the temptations within to drive him back; pursued in spite of the deadly horrors of the way, in spite of those last terrors that would cheat of the prize within his grasp, in spite even of the devil-suggested doubt—Why should he hope to conquer, where so many worthy had failed; in spite of all, to the very last, pursued!
''Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set
And blew 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.'"