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Natural Law In The Spiritual World by Henry Drummond


|And so I live, you see,

Go through the world, try, prove, reject,

Prefer, still struggling to effect

My warfare; happy that I can

Be crossed and thwarted as a man,

Not left in God's contempt apart,

With ghastly smooth life, dead at heart,

Tame in earth's paddock as her prize.

* * * * *

Thank God, no paradise stands barred

To entry, and I find it hard

To be a Christian, as I said.|


|Work out your own salvation| -- Paul.

|Be no longer a chaos, but a World, or even Worldkin. Produce! Produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a Product, produce it, in God's name!| -- Carlyle.

FROM a study of the habits and organization of the family of Hermit-crabs we have already gained some insight into the nature and effects of parasitism. But the Hermit-crab, be it remembered, is in no real sense a parasite. And before we can apply the general principle further we must address ourselves briefly to the examination of a true case of parasitism.

We have not far to seek. Within the body of the Hermit-crab a minute organism may frequently be discovered resembling, when magnified, a miniature kidney-bean. A bunch of root-like processes hangs from one side, and the extremities of these are seen to ramify in delicate films through the living tissues of the crab. This simple organism is known to the naturalist as a Sacculina; and though a full-grown animal, it consists of no more parts than those just named. Not a trace of structure is to be detected within this rude and all but inanimate frame; it possesses neither legs, nor eyes, nor mouth, nor throat, nor stomach, nor any other organs, external or internal. This Sacculina is a typical parasite. By means of its twining and theftuous roots it imbibes automatically its nourishment ready-prepared from the body of the crab. It boards indeed entirely at the expense of its host, who supplies it liberally with food and shelter and everything else it wants. So far as the result to itself is concerned this arrangement may seem at first sight satisfactory enough; but when we inquire into the life history of this small creature we unearth a career of degeneracy all but unparalleled in nature.

The most certain clue to what nature meant any animal to become is to be learned from its embryology. Let us, therefore, examine for a moment the earliest positive stage in the development of the Sacculina. When the embryo first makes its appearance it bears not the remotest resemblance to the adult animal. A different name even is given to it by the biologist, who knows it at this period as a Nauplius. This minute organism has an oval body, supplied with six well-jointed feet by means of which it paddles briskly through the water. For a time it leads an active and independent life, industriously securing its own food and escaping enemies by its own gallantry. But soon a change takes place. The hereditary taint of parasitism is in its blood, and it proceeds to adapt itself to the pauper habits of its race. The tiny body first doubles in upon itself, and from the two front limbs elongated filaments protrude. Its four hind limbs entirely disappear, and twelve short-forked swimming organs temporarily take their place. Thus strangely metamorphosed the Sacculina sets out in search of a suitable host, and in an evil hour, by that fate which is always ready to accommodate the transgressor, is thrown into the company of the Hermit-crab. With its two filamentary processes -- which afterwards develop into the root-like organs -- it penetrates the body; the sac-like form is gradually assumed; the whole of the swimming feet drop off, -- they will never be needed again, -- and the animal settles down for the rest of its life as a parasite.

One reason which makes a zoologist certain that the Sacculina is a degenerate type is, that in almost all other instances of animals which begin life in the Nauplius-form -- and there are several -- the Nauplius develops through higher and higher stages, and arrives finally at the high perfection displayed by the shrimp, lobster, crab, and other crustaceans. But instead of rising to its opportunities, the sacculine Nauplius having reached a certain point turned back. It shrunk from the struggle for life, and beginning probably by seeking shelter from its host went on to demand its food; and so falling from bad to worse, became in time an entire dependant.

In the eyes of Nature this was a twofold crime. It was first a disregard of evolution, and second, which is practically the same thing, an evasion of the great law of work. And the revenge of Nature was therefore necessary. It could not help punishing the Sacculina for violated law, and the punishment, according to the strange and noteworthy way in which Nature usually punishes, was meted out by natural processes, carried on within its own organization. Its punishment was simply that it was a Sacculina -- that it was a Sacculina when it might have been a Crustacean. Instead of being a free and independent organism high in structure, original in action, vital with energy, it deteriorated into a torpid and all but amorphous sac confined to perpetual imprisonment and doomed to a living death. |Any new set of conditions,| says Ray Lankester, |occurring to an animal which render its food and safety very easily attained, seem to lead as a rule to degeneration; just as an active healthy man sometimes degenerates when he becomes suddenly possessed of a fortune; or as Rome degenerated when possessed of the riches of the ancient world. The habit of parasitism clearly acts upon animal organization in this way. Let the parasitic life once be secured, and away go legs, jaws, eyes, and ears; the active, highly-gifted crab, insect, or annelid may become a mere sac, absorbing nourishment and laying eggs.|

There could be no more impressive illustration than this of what with entire appropriateness one might call |the physiology of backsliding.| We fail to appreciate the meaning of spiritual degeneration or detect the terrible nature of the consequences only because they evade the eye of sense. But could we investigate the spirit as a living organism, or study the soul of the backslider on principles of comparative anatomy, we should have a revelation of the organic effects of sin, even of the mere sin of carelessness as to growth and work, which must evolutionize our ideas of practical religion. There is no room for the doubt even that what goes on in the body does not with equal certainty take place in the spirit under the corresponding conditions.

The penalty of backsliding is not something unreal and vague, some unknown quantity which may be measured out to us disproportionately, or which perchance, since God is good, we may altogether evade. The consequences are already marked within the structure of the soul. So to speak, they are physiological. The thing affected by our indifference or by our indulgence is not the book of final judgment but the present fabric of the soul. The punishment of degeneration is simply degeneration -- the loss of functions, the decay of organs, the atrophy of the spiritual nature. It is well known that the recovery of the backslider is one of the hardest problems in spiritual work. To reinvigorate an old organ seems more difficult and hopeless than to develop a new one; and the backslider's terrible lot is to have to retrace with enfeebled feet each step of the way along which he strayed; to make up inch by inch the lee-way he has lost, carrying with him a dead-weight of acquired reluctance, and scarce knowing whether to be stimulated or discouraged by the oppressive memory of the previous fall.

We are not, however, to discuss at present the physiology of backsliding. Nor need we point out at greater length that parasitism is always and indissolubly accompanied by degeneration We wish rather to examine one or two leading tendencies of the modern religious life which directly or indirectly induce the parasitic habit and bring upon thousands of unsuspecting victims such secret and appalling penalties as have been named.

Two main causes are known to the biologist as tending to induce the parasitic habit. These are first, the temptation to secure safety without the vital exercise of faculties, and, second, the disposition to find food without earning it. The first, which we have formally considered, is probably the preliminary stage in most cases. The animal, seeking shelter, finds unexpectedly that it can also thereby gain a certain measure of food. Compelled in the first instance, perhaps by stress of circumstances, to rob its host of a meal or perish, it gradually acquires the habit of drawing all its supplies from the same source, and thus becomes in time a confirmed parasite. Whatever be its origin, however, it is certain that the main evil of parasitism is connected with the further question of food. Mere safety with Nature is a secondary, though by no means an insignificant, consideration. And while the organism forfeits a part of its organization by any method of evading enemies which demands no personal effort, the most entire degeneration of the whole system follows the neglect or abuse of the functions of nutrition.

The direction in which we have to seek the wider application of the subject will now appear. We have to look into those cases in the moral and spiritual sphere in which the functions of nutrition are either neglected or abused. To sustain life, physical, mental, moral, or spiritual, some sort of food is essential. To secure an adequate supply each organism also is provided with special and appropriate faculties. But the final gain to the organism does not depend so much on the actual amount of food procured as on the exercise required to obtain it. In one sense the exercise is only a means to an end, namely, the finding food; but in another and equally real sense, the exercise is the end, the food the means to attain that. Neither is of permanent use without the other, but the correlation between them is so intimate that it were idle to say that one is more necessary than the other. Without food exercise is impossible, but without exercise food is useless.

Thus exercise is in order to food, and food is in order to exercise -- in order especially to that further progress and maturity which only ceaseless activity can promote. Now food too easily acquired means food without that accompaniment of discipline which is infinitely more valuable than the food itself. It means the possibility of a life which is a mere existence. It leaves the organism in statu quo, undeveloped, immature, low in the scale of organization, and with a growing tendency to pass from the state of equilibrium to that of increasing degeneration. What an organism is depends upon what it does, its activities make it. And if the stimulus to the exercise of all the innumerable faculties concerned in nutrition be withdrawn by the conditions and circumstances of life becoming, or being made to become, too easy, there is first an arrest of development, and finally a loss of the parts themselves. If, in short, an organism does nothing, in that relation it is nothing.

We may, therefore, formulate the general principle thus: Any principle which secures food to the individual without the expenditure of work is injurious, and accompanied by the degeneration and loss of parts.

The social and political analogies of this law, which have been casually referred to already, are sufficiently familiar to render any further development in these directions superfluous. After the eloquent preaching of the Gospel of Work by Thomas Carlyle, this century at least can never plead that one of the most important moral bearings of the subject has not been duly impressed upon it All that can be said of idleness generally might be fitly urged in support of this great practical truth. All nations which have prematurely passed away, buried in graves dug by their own effeminacy; all those individuals who have secured a hasty wealth by the chances of speculation; all children of fortune; all victims of inheritance; all social sponges; all satellites of the court; all beggars of the market-place -- all these are living and unlying witnesses to the unalterable retributions of the law of parasitism. But it is when we come to study the working of the principle in the religious sphere that we discover the full extent of the ravages which the parasitic habit can make on the souls of men. We can only hope to indicate here one or two of the things in modern Christianity which minister most subtly and widely to this as yet all but unnamed sin.

We begin in what may seem a somewhat unlooked-for quarter. One of the things in the religious world which tends most strongly to induce the parasitic habit is Going to Church. Church-going itself every Christian will rightly consider an invaluable aid to the ripe development of the spiritual life. Public worship has a place in the national religious life so firmly established that nothing is ever likely to shake its influence. So supreme indeed, is the ecclesiastical system in all Christian countries that with thousands the religion of the Church and the religion of the individual are one. But just because of its high and unique place in religious regard, does it become men from time to time to inquire how far he Church is really ministering to the spiritual health of the immense religious community which looks to it as its foster-mother. And if it falls to us here reluctantly to expose some secret abuses of this venerable system, let it be well understood that these are abuses, and not that the sacred institution itself is being violated by the attack of an impious hand.

The danger of church-going largely depends on the form of worship, but it may be affirmed that even the most perfect Church affords to all worshippers a greater or less temptation to parasitism. It consists essentially in the deputy-work or deputy-worship inseparable from church or chapel ministrations. One man is set apart to prepare a certain amount of spiritual truth for the rest. He, if he is a true man, gets all the benefits of original work. He finds the truth, digests it, is nourished and enriched by it before he offers it to his flock. To a large extent it will nourish and enrich in turn a number of his hearers. But still they will lack something. The faculty of selecting truth at first hand and appropriating it for one's self is a lawful possession to every Christian. Rightly exercised it conveys to him truth in its freshest form; it offers him he opportunity of verifying doctrines for himself; it makes religion personal; it deepens and intensifies the only convictions that are worth deepening, those, namely, which are honest; and it supplies the mind with a basis of certainty in religion. But if all one's truth is derived by imbibition from the Church, the faculties for receiving truth are not only undeveloped but one's whole view of truth becomes distorted. He who abandons the personal search for truth, under whatever pretext, abandons truth. The very word truth, by becoming the limited possession of a guild, ceases to have any meaning; and faith, which can only be founded on truth, gives way to credulity, resting on mere opinion.

In those churches especially where all parts of the worship are subordinated to the sermon, this species of parasitism is peculiarly encouraged. What is meant to be a stimulus to thought becomes the substitute for it. The hearer never really learns, he only listens. And while truth and knowledge seem to increase, life and character are left in arrear. Such truth, of course, and such knowledge, are a mere seeming. Having cost nothing, they come to nothing. The organism acquires a growing immobility, and finally exists in a state of entire intellectual helplessness and inertia. So the parasitic Church-member, the literal |adherent,| comes not merely to live only within the circle of ideas of his minister, but to be content that his minister has these ideas -- like the literary parasite who fancies he knows everything because he has a good library.

Where the worship, again, is largely liturgical the danger assumes an even more serious form, and it acts in some such way as this. Every sincere man who sets out in the Christian race begins by attempting to exercise the spiritual faculties for himself. The young life throbs in his veins, and he sets himself to the further progress with earnest purpose and resolute will. For a time he bids fair to attain a high and original development. But the temptation to relax the always difficult effort at spirituality is greater than he knows. The |carnal mind| itself is |enmity against God,| and the antipathy, or the deadlier apathy within, is unexpectedly encouraged from that very outside source from which he anticipates the greatest help. Connecting himself with a Church he is no less interested than surprised to find how rich is the provision there for every part of his spiritual nature. Each service satisfies or surfeits. Twice, or even three times a week, this feast is spread for him. The thoughts are deeper than his own, the faith keener, the worship loftier, the whole ritual more reverent and splendid. What more natural than that he should gradually exchange his personal religion for that of the congregation? What more likely than that a public religion should by insensible stages supplant his individual faith? What more simple than to content himself with the warmth of another's soul? What more tempting than to give up private prayer for the easier worship of the liturgy or of the church? What, in short, more natural than for the independent, free-moving, growing Sacculina to degenerate into the listless, useless, pampered parasite of the pew? The very means he takes to nurse his personal religion often come in time to wean him from it. Hanging admiringly, or even enthusiastically, on the lips of eloquence, his senses now stirred by ceremony, now soothed by music, the parasite of the pew enjoys his weekly worship -- his character untouched, his will unbraced, his crude soul unquickened and unimproved. Thus, instead of ministering to the growth of individual members, and very often just in proportion to the superior excellence of the provision made for them by another, does this gigantic system of deputy-nutrition tend to destroy development and arrest the genuine culture of the soul. Our churches overflow with members who are mere consumers. Their interest in religion is purely parasitic. Their only spiritual exercise is the automatic one of imbibition, the clergyman being the faithful Hermit-crab who is to be depended on every Sunday for at least a week's supply.

A physiologist would describe the organism resulting from such a process as a case of |arrested development.| Instead of having learned to pray, the ecclesiastical parasite becomes satisfied with being prayed for. His transactions with the Eternal are effected by commission. His work for Christ is done by a paid deputy. His whole life is a prolonged indulgence in the bounties of the Church; and surely -- in some cases at least the crowning irony -- he sends for the minister when he lies down to die.

Other signs and consequences of this species of parasitism soon become very apparent. The first symptom is idleness. When a Church is off its true diet it is off its true work. Hence one explanation of the hundreds of large and influential congregations ministered to from week to week by men of eminent learning, and earnestness, which yet do little or nothing in the line of these special activities for which all churches exist. An outstanding man at the head of a huge, useless and torpid congregation is always a puzzle. But is the reason not this, that the congregation gets too good food too cheap? Providence has mercifully delivered the Church from too many great men in her pulpits, but there are enough in every countryside to play the host disastrously to a large circle of otherwise able-bodied Christian people, who, thrown on their own resources, might fatten themselves and help others. There are compensations to a flock for a poor minister after all. Where the fare is indifferent those who are really hungry will exert themselves to procure their own supply.

That the Church has indispensable functions to discharge to the individual is not denied; but taking into consideration the universal tendency to parasitism in the human soul it is a grave question whether in some cases it does not really effect more harm than good. A dead church certainly, a church having no reaction on the community, a church without propagative power in the world, cannot be other than a calamity to all within its borders. Such a church is an institution, first for making, then for screening parasites; and instead of representing to the world the Kingdom of God on earth, it is despised alike by godly and by godless men as the refuge for fear and formalism and the nursery of superstition.

And this suggests a second and not less practical evil of a parasitic piety -- that it presents to the world a false conception of the religion of Christ. One notices with a frequency which may well excite alarm that the children of church-going parents often break away as they grow in intelligence, not only from church-connection but from the whole system of family religion. In some cases this is doubtless due to natural perversity, but in others it certainly arises from the hollowness of the outward forms which pass current in society and at home for vital Christianity. These spurious forms, fortunately or unfortunately, soon betray themselves. How little there is in them becomes gradually apparent. And rather than indulge in a sham the budding sceptic, as the first step, parts with the form and in nine cases out of ten concerns himself no further to find a substitute. Quite deliberately, quite honestly, sometimes with real regret and even at personal sacrifice he takes up his position, and to his parent's sorrow and his church's dishonour forsakes for ever the faith and religion of his fathers. Who will deny that this is a true account of the natural history of much modern scepticism? A formal religion can never hold its own in the nineteenth century. It is better that it should not. We must either be real or cease to be. We must either give up our Parasitism or our sons.

Any one who will take the trouble to investigate a number of cases where whole families of outwardly Godly parents have gone astray, will probably find that the household religion had either some palpable defect, or belonged essentially to the parasitic order. The popular belief that the sons of clergymen turn out worse than those of the laity is, of course, without foundation; but it may also probably be verified that in the instances where clergymen's sons notoriously discredit their father's ministry, that ministry in a majority of cases, will be found to be professional and theological rather than human and spiritual. Sequences in the moral and spiritual world follow more closely than we yet discern the great law of Heredity. The Parasite begets the Parasite -- only in the second generation the offspring are sometimes sufficiently wise to make the discovery, and honest enough to proclaim it.

We now pass on to the consideration of another form of Parasitism which, though closely related to that just discussed, is of sufficient importance to justify a separate reference. Appealing to a somewhat smaller circle, but affecting it not less disastrously, is the Parasitism induced by certain abuses of Systems of Theology.

In its own place, of course, Theology is no more to be dispensed with than the Church. In every perfect religious system three great departments must always be represented -- criticism, dogmatism, and evangelism. Without the first there is no guarantee of truth, without the second no defence of truth, and without the third no propagation of truth. But when these departments become mixed up, when their separate functions are forgotten, when one is made to do duty for another, or where either is developed by the church or the individual at the expense of the rest, the result is fatal. The particular abuse, however, of which we have now to speak, concerns the tendency in orthodox communities, first to exalt orthodoxy above all other elements in religion, and secondly to make the possession of sound beliefs equivalent to the possession of truth.

Doctrinal preaching, fortunately, as a constant practice is less in vogue than in a former age, but there are still large numbers whose only contact with religion is through theological forms. The method is supported by a plausible defence. What is doctrine but a compressed form of truth, systematised by able and pious men, and sanctioned by the imprimatur of the Church? If the greatest minds of the Church's past, having exercised themselves profoundly upon the problems of religion, formulated as with one voice a system of doctrine, why should the humble inquirer not gratefully accept it? Why go over the ground again? Why with his dim light should he betake himself afresh to Bible study and with so great a body of divinity already compiled, presume himself to be still a seeker after truth? Does not Theology give him Bible truth in reliable, convenient, and moreover, in logical propositions? There it lies extended to the last detail in the tomes of the Fathers, or abridged in a hundred modern compendia, ready-made to his hand, all cut and dry, guaranteed sound and wholesome, why not use it?

Just because it is all cut and dry. Just because it is ready-made. Just because it lies there in reliable, convenient and logical propositions. The moment you appropriate truth in such a shape you appropriate a form. You cannot cut and dry truth. You cannot accept truth ready-made without it ceasing to nourish the soul as truth. You cannot live on theological forms without becoming a Parasite and ceasing to be a man.

There is no worse enemy to a living Church than a propositional theology, with the latter controlling the former by traditional authority. For one does not then receive the truth for himself, he accepts it bodily. He begins the Christian life set up by his Church with a stock-in-trade which has cost him nothing, and which, though it may serve him all his life, is just exactly worth as much as his belief in his Church. This possession of truth, moreover, thus lightly won, is given to him as infallible. It is a system. There is nothing to add to it. At his peril let him question or take from it. To start a convert in life with such a principle is unspeakably degrading. All through life instead of working towards truth we must work from it. An infallible standard is a temptation to a mechanical faith. Infallibility always paralyses. It gives rest; but it is the rest of stagnation. Men perform one great act of faith at the beginning of their life, then have done with it for ever. All moral, intellectual and spiritual effort is over; and a cheap theology ends in a cheap life.

The same thing that makes men take refuge in the Church of Rome makes them take refuge in a set of dogmas. Infallibility meets the deepest desire of man, but meets it in the most fatal form. Men deal with the hunger after truth in two ways. First by Unbelief -- which crushes it by blind force; or, secondly, by resorting to some external source credited with Infallibility -- which lulls it to sleep by blind faith. The effect of a doctrinal theology is the effect of Infallibility. And the wholesale belief in such a system, however accurate it may be -- grant even that it were infallible -- is not Faith though it always gets that name. It is mere Credulity. It is a complacent and idle rest upon authority, not a hard-earned, self-obtained, personal possession. The moral responsibility here, besides, is reduced to nothing. Those who framed the Thirty-nine Articles or the Westminster Confession are responsible. And anything which destroys responsibility, or transfers it, cannot be other than injurious in its moral tendency and useless in itself.

It may be objected perhaps that this statement of the paralysis spiritual and mental induced by Infallibility applies also to the Bible. The answer is that though the Bible is infallible, the Infallibility is not in such a form as to become a temptation. There is the widest possible difference between the form of truth in the Bible and the form in theology.

In theology truth is propositional -- tied up in neat parcels, systematized, and arranged in logical order. The Trinity is an intricate doctrinal problem. The Supreme Being is discussed in terms of philosophy. The Atonement is a formula which is to be demonstrated like a proposition in Euclid. And Justification is to be worked out as a question of Jurisprudence. There is no necessary connection between these doctrines and the life of him who holds them. They make him orthodox, not necessarily righteous. They satisfy the intellect but need not touch the heart. It does not, in short, take a religious man to be a theologian. It simply takes a man with fair reasoning powers. This man happens to apply these powers to theological subjects -- but in no other sense than he might apply them to astronomy or physics. But truth in the Bible's a fountain. It is a diffused nutriment, so diffused that no one can put himself off with the form. It is reached not by thinking, but by doing. It is seen, discerned, not demonstrated. It cannot be bolted whole, but must be slowly absorbed into the system. Its vagueness to the mere intellect, its refusal to be packed into portable phrases, its satisfying unsatisfyingness, its vast atmosphere, its finding of us, its mystical hold of us, these are the tokens of its infinity.

Nature never provides for man's wants in any direction, bodily, mental, or spiritual, in such a form as that he can simply accept her gifts automatically. She puts all the mechanical powers at his disposal -- but he must make his lever. She gives him corn, but he must grind it. She elaborates coal, but he must dig for it. Corn is perfect, all the products of Nature are perfect, but he has everything to do to them before he can use them. So with truth; it is perfect, infallible. But he cannot use it as it stands. He must work, think, separate, dissolve, absorb, digest; and most of these he must do for himself and within himself. If it be replied that this is exactly what theology does, we answer it is exactly what it does not. It simply does what the greengrocer does when he arranges his apples and plums in his shop window. He may tell me a magnum bonum from a Victoria, or a Baldwin from a Newtown Pippin. But he does not help me to eat it. His information is useful, and for scientific horticulture essential. Should a sceptical pomologist deny that there was such a thing as a Baldwin, or mistake it for a Newtown Pippin, we should be glad to refer to him; but if we were hungry, and an orchard were handy, we should not trouble him. Truth in the Bible is an orchard rather than a museum. Dogmatism will be very valuable to us when scientific necessity makes us go to the museum. Criticism will be very useful in seeing that only fruit-bearers grow in the orchard. But truth in the doctrinal form is not natural, proper, assimilable food for the soul of man.

Is this a plea then for doubt? Yes, for that philosophic doubt which is the evidence of a faculty doing its own work. It is more necessary for us to be active than to be orthodox. To be orthodox is what we wish to be, but we can only truly reach it by being honest, by being original, by seeing with our own eyes, by believing with our own heart. |An idle life,| says Goethe, |is death anticipated.| Better far be burned at the stake of Public Opinion than die the living death of Parasitism. Better an aberrant theology than a suppressed organization. Better a little faith dearly won, better launched alone on the infinite bewilderment of Truth, than perish on the splendid plenty of the richest creeds. Such Doubt is no self-willed presumption. Nor, truly exercised, will it prove itself, as much doubt does, the synonym for sorrow. It aims at a lifelong learning, prepared for any sacrifice of will yet for none of independence; at that high progressive education which yields rest in work and work in rest, and the development of immortal faculties in both; at that deeper faith which believes in the vastness and variety of the revelations of God, and their accessibility to all obedient hearts.

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