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Experiences, we have seen, are not personal merely because they happen to a person, any more than they would be nautical merely because they happen to a sailor. Yet the confusion between what is personal and what is merely individual is constant, and is responsible for identifying the efficacy of grace with the passivity, even the impotence of man. The grace which was purely the work of omnipotence, would be so individual that no special pleading could acquit it of partiality, yet would have no manner of right to be called personal. On the contrary, it would be irresistible for the very reason that it had no concern with self-determination or self-direction, or anything whatsoever of which any person was conscious. Being pure outside force, it might have so perfect an individual relation to us as to number our hairs, cleanse every thought of our hearts, and straighten out all crookedness of disposition, yet have no more personal relation to us than a storm has to a ship which, without permitting a rag of sail to be shown or the rudder to be stirred, drove it like a log into harbour. The storm would still be the same kind of violence which dashes more hapless vessels on the rocks; and this form of grace would still be the same kind of force as lands the non-elect into perdition.


Direct forces act upon us individually, as upon all created things. Spiritual as well as material forces may thus operate, without requiring either our personal consent or our personal co-operation. Our mental disposition is as much given to us as our physical constitution, and the spiritual privileges with which we start life are as externally appointed as our social rank.

Great remedial, recuperative influences may also act as impersonally on the soul as on the body. There seem to be rapid, transforming influences, which, in some lives at least, work enduring good. Part of the effect may be explained as the sudden manifestation of a hidden process of recuperation, which, in so far as it depended on struggle and aspiration, would be personal, however suddenly the strength it brought was exerted to rend the bonds of evil habit. A sick man is not suddenly cured, because the result appears suddenly in his getting out of bed. But it is not easy to deny that, for persons in whom any continuous purpose of good adequate to the change was conspicuously lacking, new beginnings have been effected by overpowering experiences which appear to be different from moral persuasion and not to be the fruit of moral endeavour, but to be a new impersonal gift given in the midst of life, a new talent, as it were, of disposition.

Like all created things, a moral person must work with forces which are given, and which act, so far at least as human experience goes, impersonally. They fashion our life at the beginning, and how far they 74 may refashion it later facts alone can show. But the moral and religious significance of disposition is the same, whether it be provided before we are ushered into the world, or be a later endowment. In both cases alike, it is an impersonal gift, of value only as it is afterwards personally employed.

In their moral aspect, gifts of disposition, whether born with us or later windfalls for the recuperation of wasted powers, are simply raw material for the formation of character. A person naturally disposed to good, resolute of purpose, and with passions not easily roused by temptation, is, morally, just a person to whom much is given and from whom much will be required. Privilege has moral value only as it becomes responsibility; and whether we are born to it or receive it by unexpected bequest, makes no manner of difference. In itself, therefore, no kind of impersonally affected change of nature affords any ground for moral approval. A sudden, mysterious, mystical endowment of strength of will, for example, would be as impersonal and, in itself, as morally indifferent as a sudden access of strength of arm. It might be merely a "talent lodged with us useless," or even be a false object for moral complacency, and, in the end, a cause of moral disaster.

A gift of disposition, whether as the original shoot or as a later graft, is not yet part of our moral selves, till, by personal use, it is transformed into character, though, like moments of insight and inspiration, it is given to be used to that end. The moral life is not 75 mere hard purpose, not mere steady rowing in a tideless sea; but, on the other hand, the life is not moral at all which abandons itself rudderless even to the most favouring current. Morality is not the mere set of the stream, but the pilot who must endeavour to take the current at its flood. When, therefore, we use language accurately, we see that the moral self can only be a moral attainment, and cannot be directly forwarded by any kind of impersonal succour, how ever great may be its indirect obligation.

The religious aspect of impersonal gifts is not fundamentally different from the moral. More willingly, as a rule, than morals, religion admits the existence of directly creative, and, so far as their known operation is concerned, purely mysterious and mystical forces. Some connection of them with our past experience religion, like morality, might desire to establish; because, while God is able of the stones to raise up children to Abraham, the living interest of religion is in God's dealings with Abraham's actual children, such as they are. But, whether it discover this connection or not, it gladly ascribes all to God, saying with the Psalmist, "He has made us, and we are His." Nor is there any religion which would willingly believe that He may not restore or reinforce what He had formed.

Nevertheless, a spiritual gift merely given would be no more religious in itself than a physical gift, such as good looks, health, or power of endurance. 76 Only as we reach by means of it a spiritual relation to God is it religious. As a mere gift to be trusted to by itself, it might even be irreligious; and as a substitute for a right personal relation to our fellows and to the Father of our spirits, it might be used, as every endowment may, for our undoing. To make the abundance of the change wrought in us the ground of our confidence is no more good religion, than it is good morals to make our happy disposition the ground of self-approbation. It might deliver us from desire, reinforce resolution, dispel the clouds of evil imagination, yet, if it remain mere gift not turned into humility towards God and service to His children, in no way forward in us the ends of religion. True religion is so far from being necessarily succoured by any sudden and transforming experience of what Hodge describes with the Schoolmen as a material change, that to rely upon it is to expose ourselves to grave moral and spiritual dangers.

There is a temptation to seek an easier deliverance than victory over evil thoughts and evil habits, to hope to vanquish desire as easily and as pleasantly as we succumbed to it, to excuse ourselves, in short, from the moral struggle by which alone real character is formed. Persons who rely on this passive type of regeneration are often wanting in kind and patient relations to their fellows and even fall at times into utter uncharitableness. The reason is that right relations to men are for them of no significance for their relation to God, but their superiority, as the work of 77 God's special operation, is rather exalted as the common level is lowered. Then this sense of exceptional spiritual privilege is mistaken for dependence upon God, while they make a true dependence upon God impossible by thinking themselves raised above life's necessary hazards and by limiting God's action to exceptional conditions and overpowering experiences.

Direct, impersonal changes, therefore, instead of being esteemed the one form of grace upon which to rest our assurance, the one supreme gift to be coveted in ever more resistless measure, should, like all other gifts that are responsibilities, be left to God's wisdom to bestow. Far more earnestly than for their increase, we should pray for their better use; and we should even recognise that, in God's wise appointment for us, they may have no more place than great ability or large possessions. Mere daily spiritual bread may even be as necessary a limitation for our good as mere daily material.

The experience of sudden conversion may, how ever, still appear to be personal, and yet to be impersonally effected. Is it not an invasion of our personality by an influx of the Divine, so overpowering as to seem to justify the belief that it enters through some trap-door in the sub-conscious, yet does it not work the most personal of all relations the recognition of our dependence upon a personal God and of brotherhood with all His children?

Upon the problem of the sub-conscious we are not 78 here called to enter. However large a place it may have in psychology, neither for morals nor for religion can the sub-conscious ever be more than a storehouse from which material is provided for their exercise. Whether it be replenished only from past experience or from some other source makes no difference in that respect. The sphere of the impersonal material with which religion and morals deal may be extended, if the sub-conscious is a source of new experiences as well as a reservoir of old, but, till they enter into the tasks and conflicts of conscious life and present personal issues for our decision, this can raise no question either of faith or duty. The contrary could be maintained only by showing that direction of conscience or a definite idea of God enters directly by some subliminal opening. But that view the long weary struggle for the ideals of righteousness and the unity of the Godhead makes highly improbable; nor, even if it were established, should we be justified in trusting a guidance so given, save as it was tested by our conscious faith and purpose.

Conversion is thought to rise by unrelated miracle from the sub-conscious, like Aphrodite from the sea, only because of confusion between things that differ. If conversion means an awakening to our true relation both to God and man, and not merely some amendment of disposition, how can it be other than of conscious insight? Being a change of outlook -- above all in respect of the lowliest things -- how can it be a sub-conscious change of nature?


A change of nature might afford the impulse which was the occasion of revising our view, but the insight alone can be the operation, even as being turned round forcibly may be the occasion of seeing, but not the act of vision.

Being insight, not induction, it may be sudden; and being a perception of our right relation to our whole world, it may be transforming. By illumining our whole nature, moreover, it may at once expel the evils which live only in the dark; and by allowing the Divine righteousness and truth to make themselves heard, it may at once amend the kind of slavery to habit and the weakness of moral fibre which is due to listening only to our own desires. Yet the rapidity and extent of these changes are due not to mystical transformation of the soul, but to the hearing ear and the understanding heart perceiving a new meaning in things, which changes for us our whole world. Not through the unconscious moulding of any force is the heart truly converted, but through a conscious vision of the Father, whereby, this world being changed from our own world of pleasure and possession into God's world of duty and discipline, and our fellow-men into His children, all things become new.

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