« Prev CHAPTER VII Next »



Grace, if it be concerned with the succour of God's children and not with the display of His sovereignty, must be in accord with the kind of personality He has given His children and would forward in them. An inquiry into the nature of grace must, therefore, begin by asking what is meant by a moral person being self-determined, according to his own self-direction, in the world of his own self-consciousness; for only then can we know how he is to be succoured.

First, the moral person is self-determined.

The quality of life is the power to serve in some way, however vaguely, its own ends, and not merely to be moved, like inanimate things, by impact from without: and a person must at least have this measure of self-determination. Yet there are views of the unity of the world as a uniformity of mechanical causation, by which even this is denied. And it is not really secured by changing the controlling force from physical energy to spiritual grace, if it is still an absolute compulsion which leaves no more reality in will than a physical force. Moreover, it is hard to distinguish from a blind force, because if there is no true freedom in the effect, there is no reason for assuming personality in the cause. Thus the 45 kind of necessity for which Calvin so passionately contended for the glory of God is merely for the glory of the cosmic process.

Again, rational action is upon motive. Then motives are taken to be impulses which prevail merely by their strength as feeling. This leaves no will, but only a resultant of feelings, after the type of the diagonal of physical forces, and our consciousness, as though will were self-determined, and our sense of freedom and responsibility, as though our actions were not mechanically necessary, could only be illusion due to ignorance of the real causes by which we are moved. But impulse is one thing and rational motive another; and we can become creatures of impulse, whereupon the will is a mere mandarin that nods with the loudest clamour of motives, and the result is not rational action, but anarchy.

Responsibility, moreover, is our most direct conscious experience; and, what is more, its reality is necessary for explaining a consciousness of self. Were freedom merely a question of our own feeling, it might be explained away as a private illusion due to ignorance of the real causes which move the will. But were there not a sphere over which we have power, how could any consciousness of self, over against the world, ever have arisen? Unless we stand up against it, and operate in it otherwise than by the mere law of cause and effect, why should we ever have dreamt of distinguishing ourselves from the world of things? Nor does it alter anything to 46 call the force God, if He operate on us by a grace which determines us by determining our impulses.

There could, moreover, be no continuous sense of self, without the imputation of our doings to ourselves. Self-consciousness is little concerned with self, except in so far as self is concerned with the conduct of life. We stand with our faces toward our world and our backs toward ourselves, and only catch fleeting glimpses of ourselves over our shoulders; and the continuous personal memory which gives continuity to our experience, is not due to an unbroken vision of ourselves, but to uninterrupted ascription of our doings to our own responsibility. God, of course, could Himself act and delude us into thinking we did, but if life is illusion of that nature, it is vain to speak of God or any other conceivable object of knowledge.

Will, moreover, is one with ourselves as no other possession can be identified with its possessor, and there can be no personal relation with us except through it. Nor may God, any more than man, ignore it, yet treat us as persons. We have much experience of constraints beyond our power to alter, which are doubtless appointed of God. They determine the situations in respect of which we must determine ourselves; and even where that is impossible, they may be of moral value, if, like a barrier in a wrong road, they encourage us, of ourselves, to search for the right. But in themselves they are not personal, and, therefore, in the strict sense do not concern our moral relation either to God or man. God, no more than 47 man, may ignore our self-determination and treat us as persons, yet, if He treat will as a mere balance, determining it by mere infusion of love or any other feeling, self-determination would be made as unreal by this pressing down of the scale as by mere physical impulse weighting it.

The third point of importance is that self-determination is determination by the self, by its own character, its own ends and its own motives. This, and nothing less, marks off the frontiers of the person amid the universe and makes them real. Yet, if this only means that all actions are the mere product of a character already determined, there is still no real self-determination which could explain self-consciousness or justify responsibility.

Great subtlety has been expended by many writers, from Calvin to Dr McTaggart, on wringing from this theory such a doctrine of responsibility as would at least explain such imputation of our doings to ourselves as gives us a sense of continuity and of separateness from all other things.

But a spinning-top, kept going by a spring within, is just as mechanical a toy as one flogged into motion by a whip without, and has just as little right to distinguish itself from the rest of the mechanical world.

Still less is it clear why the sense of responsibility should take the form of a remorse which we never ascribe to any cause but our own will. Dr McTaggart explains that, though it is an illusion to suppose the situation within our power to amend, we are naturally 48 pained to find that it shows us to be bad characters. Thus remorse would be of the same nature as regret for soiling our clothes, because, being lame, we were not good at clearing ditches. On this view, so far as remorse has a rationale, it would not be from anything which could have been different in the past, but, like a splint to the lame, to stiffen our characters for the future. But why so unpleasant a device should have been hit on, when they are already as stiff as absolute determination can make them, is hard to see.

Did we admit this to be a true description of remorse, which it is not, we should still have to ask how character as moral attainment improves so as to be character, and not mere disposition as a gift of nature. This type of argument appears specious only by importing ethical ideas into character, to which, on this view, it has no manner of right. Character improves and degenerates, but how? Is it merely by storing up in itself motive, as sun-heat is stored in coal -- both we hope for domestic consumption and not for conflagration?

But, does this explain the formation of character? No doubt we all act, in some way, after our character, but, how is it that some of us act in such a way that our characters improve and others in such a way that our characters degenerate? Character is said to form itself in life's troubled sea. But, if we row against it or float with it only according to the kind of persons we happen to be, while life might be saved or shipwrecked, our character ought to remain what it was 49 before, mere disposition, good or bad as the fates decree.

Unless there is more, what right have we to speak of character at all, and not merely of disposition? By treating action upon moral character as if it were mere action upon natural disposition, and then caricaturing the free-will as a balance possessed of the absurd characteristic of ignoring the weights put into the scales and of kicking the beam by accident and sheer arbitrariness, freedom can easily be proved absurd and even immoral. Is not an action, we are asked, approved or disapproved solely as the outcome of character; and when a person is held responsible for a bad action, for what is he blamed, if not for being a bad character?

In a sense that is true. But would it be equally true to say we blame him only for having a defective natural disposition? When we speak of bad character we speak of what this and similiar actions have made, and which, therefore, is a just cause for larger blame than a single action. Yet it would be still truer to say that we blame a man for habitual disloyalty to the possibilities in him of being a good character, than simply to say we blame him for being a bad character. Did we think action upon character a fixed, direct, invariable result, as oil, acting after its nature, encourages fire, and water, acting after its nature, discourages it, we should not find in it either intrinsic goodness or badness. We should approve or disapprove only as it served the occasion, as we approve of 50 fire in a stove warming us, but disapprove of it in the middle of the room devouring our furniture. In no case should we dream of ascribing responsibility to character for not being something else, any more than we should hold water responsible for not being oil when our stove burns low, or oil for not being water when our carpet is ablaze.

We ascribe responsibility, not because we are indifferent to motive or uninfluenced by our character, but because we are assured of a power to allow or to restrain motive, according as we are loyal or disloyal to a character which, except in so far as it has been lost by previous disloyalties, has power to approve the good and disapprove the evil. Action is specially disapproved as the outcome of a bad character, but only because character, as distinct from disposition, is itself the most permanent result of our loyalties and disloyalties. Bad action as the effect of mere native disposition, we rather condone.

If will is, in this direct way, determined by character, the sole effective work of grace would be what Augustine describes as changing the substance of the soul into better. This purely miraculous operation would no doubt amend our deeds, but would do nothing towards giving us responsibility in freedom. And Augustine, in fact, has no more room for any thing of the kind and does no more to show God as a Father, not a force, than Calvin, even though he does not, like Calvin, regard himself as a philosophical determinist. Such a change could only amend 51 impulse and improve disposition, for true moral motive is derived from ends yet to be attained, not from transactions in the past, and moral character is achieved by following them, and cannot be merely given.

Self-determination, therefore, cannot be rightly judged when taken by itself. Only by isolating it from the self-direction by which it is guided and the self-conscious world in which it acts, is motive reduced to impulse and necessitarianism made plausible. Wherefore, we must pass on to the further aspect of personality, that it is self-directing, always remembering, however, that this is only another aspect of the same activity and not a new attribute.

Second, a moral person is self-determined according to his own self-direction.

All discussion about freedom which is not mere dialectic, deals with loyalty to our own legislation for ourselves. Action, though otherwise not wrong, is less than right, unless we, of our own insight, judge it right; and, when it conflicts with that insight, its innocuousness does not hinder it from being, for us, wrong. Whatsoever is not of our own faith is, for that sole reason, sin. What is called heteronomy, that is legislation for us by others, is, at best, a non-moral state, in constant danger of becoming immoral. As being towed is not steering, and, on damage to the tow-line, may be shipwreck, so is an externally directed morality.

Though conscience needs to be educated, and all 52 life ought to be its education, it may not, in the sense of being told what to say, be instructed. Education, instead of imposing upon us the verdicts of others, commits us more entirely to the task of producing the knowledge of right and wrong from our own personal insight. What is called the direction of conscience is merely the substitution of rules for insight. Hence it is of the essence of a right relation to God as well as to man that He is not, in that sense, a director of conscience.

To allow a judgment of right to be imposed on us by other people's consciences is a wrong moral attitude to life, which exposes us both to a wrong measure of duty and a wrong motive for its performance. In the first place, the hardest casuistry is easy to meet, compared with the demands, upon motive as well as act, made by our own consciences. To lay ourselves open to rules laid down for us is, in practice, to be exempted from all the calls which go beyond good custom and obvious good conduct; whereas, to lay ourselves wholly open to our own consciences is to find our true duty begin where rules end. And, in the second place, we are led, in seeking to make other people's rules our standard, to make other people's approval our motive. But that is no moral motive, even as to be content merely with what other people require is no moral ideal.

More exclusively than our relation to our neighbour, our whole relation to God is determined by the independence of our moral judgment. The ground of respect for all sincere judgment of right is not that it 53 is infallible, for it is often mistaken and always inadequate, but because the only way of seeing more clearly the absolute righteousness is to judge of it with greater independence. Then, if we find God's will as we see right, our moral independence is the condition of depending on Him: and it must be so if the will of God and the moral order are one. Once admit external and arbitrary commands as His will, commands imposed from without and arbitrary so far as our discernment can go, and God and the moral order are no more one. Good then becomes merely what God wills; and there is no more any meaning in calling God good. An order imposed by God otherwise than through our own sense of right, however exalted its demands, would be no true moral order. Nothing is morally observed which is done as the exaction of God's will. It must, even if it be only in submission, be the expression of our own. Nothing is adequate to our whole moral relation to God short of the identification, through our own insight, of our duty with His will. God cannot be served by setting conscience on one side and consecration on the other. To be independent moral persons, legislating for ourselves, so far from being hostile to true knowledge and right service of God, is the imperative condition without which God can neither be known nor served. The only vital question regarding self-determination concerns our freedom to follow this self-direction -- to do, of our own purpose, what we know, of our own insight, we ought. Liberty of indifference may, 54 or may not, exist, but the only liberty of moment concerns freedom of choice between preference and duty. The sense of being within our duty is, at the same moment, the sense of being within our power; for what we cannot do no "ought" can impose upon us. To apply this only to physical hindrances and not also to character is mere immoral juggling; and to say that we cannot because we lack the necessary succour of God is equally immoral fatalism.

Finally, this self-determination according to our own self-legislation is only possible because its sphere is the world of our own self-consciousness.

When we say the moral person lives in the world of his own self-consciousness, more is meant than that every person is conscious of self, or even that the self is the centre of all experience. It means that the world I deal with is all of it my world, towards all of which I can be active, if only by way of approval or disapproval.

By this activity the circumference as well as the centre of our moral world is determined, because, only as it is within our self-consciousness, is it the sphere in which we can be self-determined according to our own self-direction. The horizon of it is drawn by the efficacy of our freedom, just as the width of our outlook by the efficacy of our climbing. In view of the enormous variety of the world without us, capable of being known, and of the enormous variety in our mind within, known already and capable 55 of returning into consciousness, M. Bergson must be right in maintaining that the difficulty is less to explain what enters consciousness than how the rest is kept out. The only answer we can give is, at least, of moral quality. Our window is not designed primarily for the view, but for the practical purpose of watching the road along which events travel, so as to foresee them as they come, bring our experience to bear upon them while present, and preserve their lesson as they depart. The object is not to embrace the largest possible landscape, but rather to confine us to the world of our interests and our activities.

The result is an experience so intimately one and so essentially our own that we must either rule in it or live in perpetual domestic anarchy. With this rule alone all that is really personal is concerned. Events quite outside of this self-conscious experience may determine the situations with which we have to deal, the springs of motive in respect of which we must direct ourselves, and even the disposition which affects deeply the ease or difficulty of our task, but, till they enter the world of our self-consciousness, they have no personal relation to us.

The moment they enter consciousness, however, a transformation takes place. Before, they were isolated events, morally indifferent in themselves; forthwith, they are part of our experience and come within the scope of one judgment, which includes an estimate of ourselves as well as of our world.

Not till we realise that we act in a world which is, 56 in this moral sense, our own, can we see the full scope of our personal independence. However much it may be given, the world which is our real moral sphere is ours only as we interpret it, are interested in it, judge it, use it. No new experience can be merely added to it, but can only enter as our whole world is adjusted to accommodate it. Neither impulses, nor anything else prevail in it by being shot into it like arrows out of the dark.

If an act retain its personal character, and is not mere blind surrender to emotion, it not only springs from our personal will, but it deals with the whole world of our self-consciousness. Acknowledged or unacknowledged, every really personal action is done on what Kant calls a maxim -- a valuation not only of a particular way of acting, but of ourselves and of our world in relation to it. The hand is not put forth to steal by force of hunger as the piston rod to work by force of steam, but the course of action involved in thus satisfying hunger is consciously accepted in such a way that all contrary motives in our whole conscious world are ruled out, and, for the moment at least, the whole level of our own personal world is brought down or up to the level of our action, and its permanent level is thereby affected.

Thus to offend in one is, in a very true sense, to offend in all, there being no conscious decision in which both ourselves and our whole world are not involved. The misery of failure is the anarchy it brings into what cannot be other than our own household, 57 which we must continue to profess to rule. In that task God, no more than man, can help us except through our own purpose, guided by our own insight, dealing with our own world: and, only as grace works in this personal way through ourselves, is it God's dealing with us as His children.

« Prev CHAPTER VII Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection