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My present and concluding lecture must begin with some explanations of what I mean by the term “The Unity of the Spirit.” Then I shall have to define my use of the term “The Invisible Church.” Thereafter, we shall be free to devote ourselves to the consideration of a source of religious insight as omnipresent as it is variously interpreted by those who, throughout all the religious world, daily appeal to its guidance. The outcome of our discussion may help some of you, as I hope, to turn your attention more toward the region where the greatest help is to be found in the cultivation of that true loyalty which, if I am right, is the heart and core of every higher religion.


In these lectures I have repeatedly called the religious objects, that is, the objects whereof the knowledge tends to the salvation of man, “superhuman” and “supernatural” objects. I have more or less fully explained, as I went, the sense in which I hold these objects to be both superhuman and supernatural. But every use of familiar traditional terms is likely to arouse misunderstandings. I have perfectly definite reasons for my choice of the traditional words in question as adjectives wherewith to characterise the religious objects. But I do not want to leave in your minds any doubts as to what my usage is deliberately intended to imply. I do not want to seem to make any wrong use of the vaguer associations which will be in your minds when something human is compared with something superhuman, and when the natural and the supernatural are contrasted. This closing lecture, in which I am to deal with an aspect of spiritual life which we have everywhere in our discourse tacitly presupposed, but which now is to take its definitive place on our list of sources of religious insight, gives me my best opportunity to forestall useless misunderstandings by putting myself upon record as to the precise sense in which both the new source itself and everything else superhuman and supernatural to which religion has a rational right to appeal is, to my mind, a reality, and is a source or an object of human insight. I shall therefore explain the two adjectives just emphasised by giving you a somewhat fuller account of their sense than I have heretofore stated. If the new account touches upon technical matters, I hope that, by our long list of illustrations of the superhuman and of the supernatural, we have now sufficiently prepared the way.

In my general sketch of the characteristics of human nature which awaken in us the sense of our need for salvation, I laid stress, both in our first and in our second lectures, upon our narrowness of outlook as one principal and pervasive defect of man as he naturally is constituted. I illustrated this narrowness by some of its most practically noteworthy instances. Repeatedly I returned, in later discussions, to this same feature of our life. Now man’s narrowness of natural outlook upon life is first of all due to something which I have to call the “form” of human consciousness. What I mean by this form, I have already illustrated to you freely by the very instances to which I have just referred. But technical clearness as to such topics is hard to attain. Allow me, then, to insist with some care upon matters which are as influential in moulding our whole destiny as they are commonly neglected in our discussions of the problems of life and of reality.

Man can attend to but a very narrow range of facts at any one instant. Common-sense observation shows you this. Psychological experiment emphasises it in manifold ways. Listen to a rhythmic series of beats drum beats or the strokes of an engine, or the feet of horses passing by in the street. You cannot directly grasp with entire clearness more than a very brief sequence of these beats, or other sounds, or of rhythmic phrases of any kind. If the rhythm of a regularly repeated set of sounds is too long, or too complex, it becomes confused for you. You cannot make out by your direct attention what it is at least until it has by repetition grown familiar. Let several objects be brought before you at once. You can attend to one and then to another at pleasure if only they stay there to be attended to. But only a very few distinct objects can be suddenly seen at once, and at a single glance, and recognised, through that one instantaneous presentation, for what they are. If the objects are revealed to you in the darkness by an electric spark, or are seen through a single slit in a screen that rapidly moves before your eyes so that the objects are exposed to your observation only during the extremely brief time when the slit passes directly between them and your eyes this limit of your power to grasp several distinct objects at once, upon a single inspection, can be experimentally tested. The results of such experiments concern us here only in the most general way. Enough as such tests show what one may call the span of our consciousness, its power to grasp many facts in any one individual moment of our lives, is extremely limited. It is limited as to the number of simultaneously presented facts that we can grasp at one view, can distinguish, and recognise, and hold clearly before us. It is also limited with regard to the number and the duration of the successive facts that we can so face as directly to grasp the character of their succession, rhythmic or otherwise.

Now this limitation of the span of our consciousness is, I repeat, an ever-present defect of our human type of conscious life. That is why I call it a defect in the “form” of our conscious life. It is not a defect limited to the use of any one of our senses. It is not a failure of eyes or of ears to furnish to us a sufficient variety of facts to observe. On the contrary, both our eyes and our ears almost constantly rain in upon us, especially during our more desultory waking life, an overwealth of impressions. If we want to know facts, and to attain clearness, we have to pick out a few of these impressions, from instant to instant, for more careful direct inspection. In any case, then, this limitation is not due to the defects of our senses. It is our whole conscious make-up, our characteristic way of becoming aware of things, which is expressed by this limitation of our conscious span. On this plan our human consciousness is formed. Thus our type of awareness is constituted. In this way we are all doomed to live. It is our human fate to grasp clearly only a few facts or ideas at any one instant. And so, being what we are, we have to make the best of our human nature.

Meanwhile, it is of our very essence as reasonable beings that we are always contending with the consequences of this our natural narrowness of span. We are always actively rebelling at our own form of consciousness, so long as we are trying to know or to do anything significant. We want to grasp many things at once, not merely a few. We want to survey life in long stretches, not merely in instantaneous glimpses. We are always like beings who have to see our universe through the cracks that our successive instants open before us, and as quickly close again. And we want to see things, not through these instantaneous cracks, but without intervening walls, with wide outlook, and in all their true variety and unity. Nor is this rebellion of ours against the mere form of consciousness any merely idle curiosity or peevish seeking for a barren wealth of varieties. Salvation itself is at stake in this struggle for a wider clearness of outlook. The wisest souls, as we have throughout seen, agree with common-sense prudence in the desire to see at any one instant greater varieties of ideas and of objects than our form of consciousness permits us to grasp. To escape from the limitations imposed upon us by the natural narrowness of our span of consciousness by the form of consciousness in which we live this is the common interest of science and of religion, of the more contemplative and of the more active aspects of our higher nature. Our form of consciousness is one of our chief human sorrows.

By devices such as the rhythmic presentation of facts to our attention we can do something not very much to enlarge our span of consciousness. But for most purposes we can make only an indirect, not a direct, escape from our limitations of span. Our salvation depends upon the winning of such indirect successes. Indirectly we escape, in so far as we use our powers of habit-forming, of memory, and of abstraction, to prepare for us objects of momentary experience such as have come to acquire for us a wide range of meaning, so that, when we get before our momentary attention but a few of these objects at once, we still are able to comprehend, after our human fashion, ranges and connections and unities of fact which the narrow form of our span of consciousness forbids us to grasp with directness. Thus, the repetition of similar experiences forms habits such that each element of some new instant of passing experience comes to us saturated with the meaning that, as we look back upon our past life, we suppose to have resulted from the whole course of what has happened. And through such endlessly varied processes of habit-forming, we come to reach stages of insight in which the instantaneous presentation of a few facts gets for us, at a given moment, the value of an indirect appreciation of what we never directly grasp that is, the value of a wide survey of life. All that we usually call knowledge is due to such indirect grasping of what the instant can only hint to us, although we usually feel as if this indirect presentation were itself a direct insight. Let me exemplify: The odour of a flower may come to us burdened with a meaning that we regard as the total result of a whole summer of our life. The wrinkled face of an old man reveals to us, in its momentarily presented traces, the signs of what we take to have been his lifetime’s experience and slowly won personal character. And, in very much the same way, almost any passing experience may seem to us to speak with the voice of years, or even of ages, of human life. To take yet another instance: a single musical chord epitomises the result of all our former hearings of the musical composition which it introduces.

In this way we live, despite our narrowness, as if we saw widely; and we constantly view as if it were our actual experience, a sense and connection of things which actually never gets fully translated in any moment of our lives, but is always simply presupposed as the interpretation which a wider view of life would verify. Thus bounded in the nutshell of the passing instant, we count ourselves (in one way or another, and whatever our opinions), kings of the infinite realm of experience, or would do so were it not that, like Hamlet, we have so many “bad dreams,” which make us doubt the correctness of our interpretations, and feel our need of an escape from this stubborn natural prison of our own form of consciousness. We therefore appeal, in all our truth-seeking, to a wider view than our own present view.

Our most systematic mode of indirect escape from the consequences of our narrow span of consciousness, is the mode which our thinking processes, that is, our dealings with abstract and general ideas exemplify.

Such abstract and general ideas, as we earlier saw, are means to ends never ends in themselves. By means of generalisation or abstraction we can gradually come to choose signs which we can more or less successfully substitute for long series of presented objects of experience; and we can also train ourselves into active ways of estimating or of describing things ways such, that by reminding ourselves of these our active attitudes toward the business of life, we can seem to ourselves to epitomise in an instant the sense of years or even of ages of human experience. Such signs and symbols and attitudes constitute our store of general and abstract ideas. Our more or less systematic and voluntary thinking is a process of observing, at one or another instant, the connections and the meanings of a very few of these our signs and attitudes at once. We actively put together these ideas of ours, and watch, at the instant, the little connections that then and there are able to appear, despite the narrowness of our span of consciousness. That, for instance, is what happens when we add up columns of figures, or think out a problem, or plan our practical lives. But because each of the ideas used, each of these signs or symbols or attitudes, can be more or less safely substituted for some vast body of facts of experience, what we observe only in and through our narrow span can indirectly help us to appreciate something whose real meaning only a very wide range of experience, a consciousness whose span is enormously vaster than ours, could possibly present directly.

Thus, confined to our own form and span of consciousness as we are, we spend our lives in acquiring or devising ways to accomplish indirectly what we are forbidden directly to attain, namely, the discovery of truth and of meaning such as only a consciousness of another form than ours can realise. Now, as I maintained in our third and fourth lectures, the whole validity and value of this indirect procedure of ours depends upon the principle that such a wider view of things, such a larger unity of consciousness, such a direct grasp of the meanings at which we indirectly but ceaselessly aim is a reality in the universe. As I there maintained, the whole reality of the universe itself must he defined, in terms of the reality of such an inclusive and direct grasp of the whole sense of things. I can here only repeat my opinion that this thesis is one which nobody can deny without self-contradiction.

Now the difference between the narrow form of consciousness that we human beings possess and the wider and widest forms of consciousness whose reality every common-sense effort to give sense to life, and every scientific effort to discover the total verdict of experience presupposes the difference, I say, between these two forms of consciousness is literally expressed by calling the one form (the form that we all possess) human, and by calling the other form (the form of a wider consciousness which views experience as it is) superhuman. The wider conscious view of things that we share only indirectly, through the devices just pointed out, is certainly not human; for no mortal man ever directly possesses it. It is real; for, as we saw in our study of the reason, if you deny this assertion in one shape, you reaffirm it in another. For you can define the truth and falsity of your own opinions only by presupposing a wader view that sees as a whole what you see in fragments. That unity of consciousness which we presuppose in all our indirect efforts to get into touch with its direct view of truth is above our level. It includes what we actually get before us in our form of consciousness. It also includes all that we are trying to grasp indirectly. Now what is not human, and is above our level, and includes all of our insight, but transcends and corrects our indirect efforts by its direct grasp of facts as they are, can best be called superhuman. The thesis that such a superhuman consciousness is a reality is a thesis precisely equivalent to the assertion that our experience has any real sense or connection whatever beyond the mere fragment of connectedness that, at any one instant, we directly grasp.

Furthermore, to call such a larger consciousness inclusive of our own, but differing from ours, in form, by the vastness of its span and the variety and completeness of the connections that it surveys to call it, I say, a supernatural consciousness is to use a phraseology that can be very deliberately and, if you choose, technically defended. By “natural” we mean simply: Subject to the laws which hold for the sorts of beings whose character and behaviour our empirical sciences can study. If you suddenly found that you could personally and individually and clearly grasp, by an act of direct attention, the sense and connection of thousands of experiences at once, instead of the three or four presented facts of experience whose relations you can now directly observe in any one of your moments of consciousness, you would indeed say that you had been miraculously transformed into another type of being whose insight had acquired an angelic sort of wealth and clearness. But whenever you assert (as every scientific theory, and every common-sense opinion, regarding the real connections of the facts of human experience requires you to assert), that not only thousands, but a countless collection of data of human experience actually possess a perfectly coherent total sense and meaning, such as no individual man ever directly observes, this your assertion, which undertakes to be a report of facts, and which explicitly relates to facts of experience, implies the assertion that there exists such a superhuman survey of the real nature and connection of our own natural realm of conscious life. We ourselves are strictly limited by the natural conditions that determine our own form of consciousness. And no conditions can be regarded by us as more characteristically natural than are these. For us human beings to transcend those conditions, by surveying countless data at once, would require an uttermost exception to the natural laws which are found to govern our human type of consciousness. To believe that any man ever had accomplished the direct survey of the whole range of the physical connections of the solar and stellar systems at once in other words, had grasped the whole range of astronomical experience in a single act of attention would be to believe that a most incredible miracle had at some time taken place an incredible miracle so far as any knowledge that we now possess enables us to foresee what the natural conditions under which man lives, and is, in human form, conscious, permit. But, on the other hand, to accept, as we all do, the validity of that scientific interpretation of the data of human experience which astronomy reports is to acknowledge that such an interpretation more or less completely records a system of facts which are nothing if they are not in some definite sense empirical, although, in their wholeness, they are experienced by no man. That is, the acceptance of the substantial truth of astronomy involves the acknowledgment that some such, to us simply superhuman, consciousness is precisely as real as the stars are real, and as their courses, and as all their relations are real. Yet, of course, we cannot undertake to investigate any process such as would enable us to define the natural conditions under which any such superhuman survey of astronomical facts would become psychologically possible.

The acceptance of our natural sciences, as valid interpretations of connections of experience which our form of consciousness forbids us directly to verify, logically presupposes, at every step, that such superhuman forms and unities of consciousness are real. For the facts of science are indefinable except as facts in and for a real experience. But, on the other hand, we can hope for no advance in physical or in psychological knowledge which would enable us to bring these higher forms of consciousness under what we call natural laws. So the superhuman forms of consciousness remain for us also supernatural. That they are, we must acknowledge, if any assertion whatever about our world is to be either true or false. For all assertions are made about experience, and about its real connections, and about its systems. But what conditions, what natural causes, bring such superhuman forms of consciousness into existence we are unable to investigate. For every assertion about nature or about natural laws presupposes that natural facts and laws are real only in so far as they are the objects known to such higher unities of consciousness. The unities in question are themselves no natural objects; while all natural facts are objects for them and are expressions of their meaning.

Thus definite are my reasons for asserting that forms of consciousness superior to our own are real, and that they are all finally united in a single, world-embracing insight, which has also the character of expressing a world-will. Thus definite are also my grounds for calling such higher unities of consciousness both superhuman and supernatural. By the term “The unity of the spirit” I name simply the unity of meaning which belongs to these superhuman forms of consciousness. We ourselves partake of this unity, and share it, in so far as, in our lives also, we discover and express, in whatever way our own form of consciousness permits, truth and life that bring us into touch and into harmony with the higher forms of consciousness, that is, with the spirit which, in its wholeness, knows and estimates the world, and which expresses itself in the life of the world.

Thus near are we, in every exercise of our reasonable life, to the superhuman and to the supernatural. Upon the other hand, there is positively no need of magic, or of miracle, or of mysterious promptings from the subconscious, to prove to us the reality of the human and of the supernatural, or to define our reasonable relations with it. And the essential difference between our own type of consciousness and this higher life is a difference of form, and is also a difference of content precisely in so far as its wider and widest span of conscious insight implies that the superhuman type of consciousness possesses a depth of meaning, a completeness of expression, a wealth of facts, a clearness of vision, a successful embodiment of purpose which, in view of the narrowness of our form of consciousness, do not belong to us.

Man needs no miracles to show him the supernatural and the superhuman. You need no signs and wonders, and no psychical research, to prove that the unity of the spirit is a fact in the world. Common-sense tacitly presupposes the reality of the unity of the spirit. Science studies the ways in which its life is expressed in the laws which govern the order of experience. Reason gives us insight into its real being. Loyalty serves it, and repents not of the service. Salvation means our positive harmony with its purpose and with its manifestation.


Amongst the sources of insight which bring us into definite and practical relations with that spiritual world whose nature has now been again defined, one of the most effective is the life and the word of other men who are minded to be loyal to genuine causes, and who are already, through the service of their common causes, brought together in some form of spiritual brotherhood. The real unity of the life of such fellow-servants of the Spirit is itself an instance of a superhuman conscious reality; and its members are devoted to bringing themselves into harmony with the purposes of the universe. Any brotherhood of men who thus loyally live in the Spirit is, from my point of view, a brotherhood essentially religious in its nature, precisely in proportion as it is practically moved by an effort to serve not merely the special cause to which its members, because of their training and their traditions, happen to be devoted, but also the common cause of all the loyal. Such a brotherhood, so far as it is indeed human, and, therefore narrow, may not very expressly define what this common cause of all the loyal is, for its members may not be thoughtfully reflective people. But if, while rejoicing in their own perfectly real fraternal unity, they are also practically guided by the love of furthering brotherhood amongst men in general; if they respect the loyalty of other men so far as they understand that loyalty; if they seek, not to sow discord amongst the brethren of our communities, but to be a city set on a hill, that not only cannot be hid, but is also a model for other cities a centre for the spreading of the spirit of loyalty then the members of such an essentially fruitful brotherhood are actually loyal to the cause of causes. They are a source of insight to all who know of their life, and who rightly appreciate its meaning. And of such is the kingdom of loyalty. And the communities which such men form and serve are essentially religious communities. Each one is an example of the unity of the Spirit. Each one stands for a reality that belongs to the superhuman world.

Since the variety of social forms which appear under human conditions is an unpredictably vast variety, and since the motives which guide men are endlessly complex, different communities of loyal people may possess such a religious character and value in the most various degrees. For it results from the narrowness of the human form of consciousness that men, at any one moment, know not the whole of what they mean. No sharp line can be drawn sundering the brotherhoods and partnerships, and other social organisations which men devise, into those which for the men concerned are consciously religious, and those which, by virtue of their absence of interest in the larger and deeper loyalties are secular. The test whereby such a distinction should be made is in principle a definite test. But to apply the test to every possible case requires a searching of human hearts and a just estimate of deeds and motives whereto, in our ignorance, we are very generally inadequate.

A business firm would seem to be, in general, no model of a religious organisation. Yet it justly demands loyalty from its members and its servants. If it lives and acts merely for gain, it is secular indeed. But if its business is socially beneficent, if its cause is honourable, if its dealings are honest, if its treatment of its allies and rivals is such as makes for the confidence, the cordiality, and the stability of the whole commercial life of its community and (when its influence extends so far) of the world, if public spirit and true patriotism inspire its doings, if it is always ready on occasion to sacrifice gain for honour’s sake then there is no reason why it may not become and be a genuinely and fervently religious brotherhood. Certainly a family can become a religious organisation; and some of the most ancient traditions of mankind have demanded that it should be one. There is also, and justly, a religion of patriotism, which regards the country as a divine institution. Such a religion serves the unity of the spirit in a perfectly genuine way. Some of the most momentous religious movements in the world’s history have grown out of such an idealised patriotism. Christianity, in transferring local names from Judea to a heavenly world, has borne witness to the sacredness that patriotism, upon its higher levels, acquires.

In brief, the question whether a given human brotherhood is a religious institution or not is a question for that brotherhood to decide for itself, subject only to the truth about its real motives. Has its cause the characters that mark a fitting cause of loyalty? Does it so serve its cause as thereby to further the expression of the divine unity of the spirit in the form of devoted human lives, not only within its own brotherhood, but as widely as its influence extends? Then it is an essentially religious organisation. Nor does the extent of its worldly influence enable you to decide how far it meets these requirements. Nor yet does the number of persons in its membership form any essential criterion. Wherever two or three are gathered together, and are living as they can in the Spirit that the divine will (which wills the loyal union of all mankind) requires of them there, indeed, the work of the Spirit is done; and the organisation in question is a religious brotherhood. It needs no human sanction to make it such. Though it dwell on a desert island, and though all its members soon die and are forgotten of men, its loyal deeds are irrevocable facts of the eternal world; and the universal life knows that here at least the divine will is expressed in human acts.

But so far as such communities both exist and are distinctly recognisable as religious in their life and intent, they form a source of religious insight to all who come under their influence. Such a source acts as a means whereby any or all of our previous sources may be opened to us, may become effective, may bear fruit. Hence, in this new source, we find the crowning source of religious insight.

This last statement is one which is accepted by many who would nevertheless limit its application to certain religious communities, and to those only; or who, in some cases, would limit its application to some one religious community. There are, for instance, many who say, for various special reasons, that the crowning source of religious insight is the visible church. By this term those who use it in any of its traditional senses, mean one religious institution only, or at most only a certain group of religious organisations. The visible church is a religious organisation, or group of such organisations, which is characterised by certain traditions, by a certain real or supposed history, by a more or less well-defined creed, and by further assertions concerning the divine revelation to which it owes its origin and authority. With the doctrinal questions involved in the understanding of this definition, these lectures, as you now well know, have no direct concern. It is enough for our present purpose to say that the visible church thus defined is indeed, and explicitly, and in our present sense, a religious organisation. In all those historical forms which here concern us, the visible church has undertaken to show men the way to salvation. It has carried out its task by uniting its members in a spiritual brotherhood. It has in ideal extended its interest to all mankind. It has aimed at universal brotherhood. It has defined and called out loyalty. It has conceived this loyalty as a service of God and as a loyalty to the cause of all mankind. Its traditions, the lives of its servants, its services, its teachings, have been and are an inexhaustible source of religious insight to the vast multitudes whom it has influenced and, in its various forms and embodiments, still influences. Not unnaturally, therefore, those who accept its own doctrines regarding its origin and history view such a visible church not only as by far the most important source of religious insight, but also as a source occupying an entirely unique position.

The deliberate limitations of the undertaking of these lectures forbid me, as I have just reminded you, to consider in any detail this supposed uniqueness of the position which so many of you will assign to some form of the historical Christian church. After what I have said as to the nature and the variety of the forms which the spiritual life has taken, and still takes, amongst men, you will nevertheless not be surprised if, without attempting to judge the correctness of the traditions of the visible church, I forthwith point out that, to the higher religious life of mankind the life of the visible church stands related as part to whole; and that very vast ranges of the higher religious life of mankind have grown and flourished outside of the influence of Christianity. And when the religious life of mankind is viewed in its historical connections, truth requires us to insist that Christianity itself has been dependent for its insight and its power upon many different sources, some of which assumed human form not only long before Christianity came into being, but in nations and in civilisations which were not dependent for their own spiritual wealth upon the Jewish religious traditions that Christianity itself undertook to transform and to assimilate. Christianity is, in its origins, not only Jewish but Hellenic, both as to its doctrines and as to its type of spirituality. It is a synthesis of religious motives which had their sources widely spread throughout the pre-Christian world of Hellenism. Its own insight is partly due to the non-Christian world.

As a fact, then, the unity of the Spirit, the religious life which has been and is embodied in the form of human fraternities, is the peculiar possession of no one time, or nation, and belongs to no unique and visible church. Yet such an unity is a source of religious insight. We have a right to use it wherever we find it and however it becomes accessible to us. As a fact, we all use such insight without following any one principle as to the selection of the historical sources. Socrates and Plato and Sophocles are religious teachers from whom we have all directly or indirectly learned, whether we know it or not. Our own Germanic ancestors, and the traditions of the Roman Empire, have influenced our type of loyalty and have taught us spiritual truth that we should not otherwise know.

Moreover, that which I have called the cause of all the loyal, the real unity of the whole spiritual world, is not merely a moral ideal. It is a religious reality. Its servants and ministers are present wherever religious brotherhood finds sincere and hearty manifestation. In the sight of a perfectly real but superhuman knowledge of the real purposes and effective deeds of mankind, all the loyal, whether they individually know the fact or not, are, and in all times have been, one genuine and religious brotherhood. Human narrowness and the vicissitudes of the world of time have hidden, and still hide, the knowledge of this community of the loyal from human eyes. But indirectly it comes to light whenever the loyalty of one visible spiritual community comes, through any sort of tradition, or custom, or song or story, or wise word or noble deed, to awaken new manifestations of the loyal life in faithful souls anywhere amongst men.

I call the community of all who have sought for salvation through loyalty the Invisible Church. What makes it invisible to us is our ignorance of the facts of human history and, still more, our narrowness in our appreciation of spiritual truth. And I merely report the genuine facts, human and superhuman, when I say that whatever any form of the visible church has done or will do for the religious life of mankind, the crowning source of religious insight is, for us all, the actual loyalty, service, devotion, suffering, accomplishment, traditions, example, teaching, and triumphs of the invisible church of all the faithful. And by the invisible church I mean the brotherhood consisting of all who, in any clime or land, live in the Spirit.

Our terms have now been, so far as my time permits, sharply defined. I am here not appealing to vague sentiments about human brotherhood, or to merely moral ideals about what we merely hope that man may yet come to be. And I am not for a moment committing myself to any mere worship of humanity, so long as one conceives humanity as the mere collection of those who are subject to the natural laws that govern our present physical and mental existence. Humanity, viewed as a mere product of nature, is narrow-minded and degraded enough. Its life is full of uncomprehended evils and of mutual misunderstandings. It is not a fitting object of any religious reverence. But it needs salvation. It has been finding salvation through loyalty. And the true cause, the genuine community, the real spiritual brotherhood of the loyal is a superhuman and not merely a human reality. It expresses itself in the lives of the loyal. In so far as these expressions directly or indirectly inspire our own genuine loyalty, they give us insight. Of such insight, whatever you may learn from communion with any form of the visible church, is an instance a special embodiment. The invisible church, then, is no merely human and secular institution. It is a real and superhuman organisation. It includes and transcends every form of the visible church. It is the actual subject to which belong all the spiritual gifts which we can hope to enjoy. If your spiritual eyes were open, no diversity of human tongues, no strangeness of rites or of customs or of other forms of service, no accidental quaintnesses of tradition or of symbols or of creeds, would hide from your vision its perfections. It believes everywhere in the unity of the Spirit, and aims to save men through winning them over to the conscious service of its own unity. And it grants you the free grace of whatever religious insight you can acquire from outside yourself. If you are truly religious, you live in it and for it. You conceive its life in your own way and, no doubt, under the limitations of your own time and creed. But you cannot flee from its presence. And your salvation lies in its reality, in your service, and in your communion with its endlessly varied company of those who suffer and who in the might of the spirit overcome.

Let me tell you something of this life of the invisible church.


And first let me speak of its membership. We have now repeatedly defined the test of such membership. The invisible church is the spiritual brotherhood of the loyal. Only a searcher of hearts can quite certainly know who are the really loyal. We can be sure regarding the nature of loyalty. That loyalty itself should come to men’s consciousness in the most various forms and degrees, and clouded by the most tragic misunderstandings, the narrow form of human consciousness, and the blindness and variety of human passion, make necessary.

If one is loyal to a narrow and evil cause, as the robber or the pirate may be loyal to his band or to his ship, a conscious effort to serve the unity of the whole spiritual world may seem at first sight to be excluded by the nature of the loyalty in question. But what makes a cause evil, and unworthy of loyal service, is the fact that its service is destructive of the causes of other men, so that the evil cause preys upon the loyalty of the spiritual brethren of those who serve it, and so that thereby the servants of this cause do actual wrong to mankind. But this very fact may not be understood by the individual robber or pirate. He may be devoted with all his heart and soul and mind and strength to the best cause that he knows. He may therefore sincerely conceive that the master of life authorises his cause. In that case, and so far as this belief is sincere, the robber or pirate may be a genuinely religious man.

Does this statement seem to you an absurd quibble? Then look over the past history of mankind. Some at least of the Crusaders were genuinely religious. That we all readily admit. But they were obviously, for the most part, robbers and murderers, and sometimes pirates, of what we should now think the least religious type if they were to-day sailing the Mediterranean or devastating the lands. Read in “Hakluyt’s Voyages” the accounts of the spirit in which the English explorers and warriors of the Elizabethan age accomplished their great work. In these accounts a genuinely religious type of patriotism and of Christianity often expresses itself side by side with a reckless hatred of the Spaniard and a ferocity which tolerates the most obvious expressions of mere natural greed. These heroes of the beginnings of the British Empire often hardly knew whether they were rather the adventurous merchants, or the loyal warriors for England, or the defenders of the Christian faith, or simply pirates. In fact they were all these things at once. Consider the Scottish clans as they were up to the eighteenth century. The spirit that they fostered has since found magnificent expression in the loyalty of the Scottish people and in its later and far-reaching service of some of the noblest causes that men know. Yet these clans loved cattle-thieving and tortured their enemies. When did they begin to be really patriots and servants of mankind? When did they begin to be truly and heartily religious? Who of us can tell?

Greed and blindness are natural to man. His form of consciousness renders him unable, in many cases, to realise their unreasonableness, even when he has already come into sincerely spiritual relations with the cause of all the loyal. What we can know is that greed and blindness are never of themselves religious, and that the way of salvation is the way of loyalty. But I know not what degrees of greedy blindness are consistent with an actual membership in the invisible church, as I have just defined its membership. When I meet, however, with the manifestations of the spirit of universal loyalty, whether in clansman, or in crusader, or in Elizabethan and piratical English defender of his country’s faith, or in the Spaniard whom he hated, I hope that I may be able to use, not the greed or the passions of these people, but their religious prowess, their free surrender of themselves to their cause, as a source of insight.

Membership in the invisible church is therefore not to be determined by mere conventions, but by the inward spirit of the faithful, as expressed in their loyal life according to their lights. Yet of those who seem to us most clearly to belong to the service of the spirit, it is easy to enumerate certain very potent groups, to whose devotion we all owe an unspeakably great debt. The sages, the poets, the prophets, whose insight we consulted in our opening lecture, and have used throughout these discourses, form such groups. It is indifferent to us to what clime or land or tongue or visible religious body they belonged or to-day belong. They have sincerely served the cause of the spirit. They are to us constant sources of religious insight. Even the cynics and the rebels, whom we cited in our opening lecture, have been, in many individual cases, devoutly religious souls who simply could not see the light as they consciously needed to see it, and who loyally refused to lie for convention’s sake. Such have often served the cause of the spirit with a fervour that you ill understand so long as their words merely shock you. They often seem as if they were hostile to the unity of the spirit. But, in many cases, it is the narrowness of our nature, the chaos of our unspiritual passions, the barren formalism of our conventions that they assail. And such assaults turn our eyes upward to the unity of the spirit from whence alone consolation and escape may come. Indirectly, therefore, such souls are often the misunderstood prophets of new ways of salvation for men. When they are loyal, when their very hardness is due to their resolute truthfulness, they are often amongst the most effective friends of a deeper religious life.

A notable criterion whereby, quite apart from mere conventions, you may try the spirits that pretend or appear to be religious, and may discern the members of the invisible church from those who are not members, is the criterion of the prophet Amos: “Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion.” This, as I said earlier, is one of the favourite tests applied by moralists for distinguishing those who serve from those who merely enjoy. That it is also a religious test, and why it is a religious test, our acquaintance with the spirit of loyalty has shown us. Religion, when triumphant, includes, indeed, the experience of inward peace; but the peace which is not won through strenuous loyal service is deceitful and corrupting. It is the conquest over and through tribulation which saves. Whoever conceives religion merely as a comfortable release from sorrows, as an agreeable banishment of cares, as a simple escape from pain, knows not what evil is, or what our human nature is, or what our need of salvation means, or what the will of the master of life demands. Therefore, a visible church that appears simply in the form of a cure for worry, or a preventive of trouble, seems to me to be lacking in a full sense of what loyalty is. Worry is indeed, in itself, not a religious exercise. But it is often an effective preliminary, and is sometimes, according to the vicissitudes of natural temper, a relatively harmless accompaniment, to a deeply religious life. Certainly the mere absence of worry, the mere attainment of a sensuous tranquillity, is no criterion of membership in the invisible church. Better a cynic or a rebel against conventional religious forms, or a pessimist, or a worrying soul, if only such a being is strenuously loyal according to his lights, than one to whom religion means simply a tranquil adoration without loyalty. But, of course, many of the tranquil are also loyal. When this is true we can only rejoice in their attainments.

If we look for other examples still of types of spirituality which seem to imply membership in the invisible church, I myself know of few better instances of the genuinely religious spirit than those which are presented to us, in recent times, by the more devoted servants of the cause of any one of the advancing natural sciences. And such instances are peculiarly instructive, because many great men of science, as a result of their personal temperament and training, are little interested in the forms of the visible church, and very frequently are loath to admit that their calling has religious bearings. But when the matter is rightly viewed, one sees that the great scientific investigator is not only profoundly loyal, but serves a cause which, at the present time, probably does more to unify every sort of wholesome human activity, to bind in one all the higher interests of humanity, to bring men of various lands and races close together in spirit than does any other one special cause that modern men serve. The cause of any serious scientific investigator is, from my point of view, a superhuman cause, for precisely the reasons which I have already explained to you.

The individual scientific worker, uninterested as he usually is in metaphysics, and unconcerned as he often is about the relation of his task to the interests of the visible church, knows indeed that with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength he serves a cause that he conceives to be worthy. He knows, also, that this cause is beneficent, and that it plays a great part in the directing of human activities, whether because his science already has practical applications, or because the knowledge of nature is in itself an elevating and enlarging influence for mankind. The scientific investigator knows also that, while his individual experience is the source to which he personally looks for new observations of facts, his private observations contribute to science only in so far as other investigators can verify his results. Hence his whole scientific life consists in submitting all his most prized discoveries to the rigid test of an estimate that belongs to no individual human experience, but that is, or that through loyal efforts tends to become, the common possession of the organised experience of all the workers in his field. So far the devoted investigator goes in his own consciousness as to his work.

Beyond this point, in estimating his ideals and his value, he sometimes seems not to wish to go, either because he is unreflective or because he is modest. But when we remember that the unity of human experience, in the light of which scientific results are tested, and to whose growth and enrichment the scientific worker is devoted, is indeed a superhuman reality of the type that we have now discussed; when we also recall the profound values which the scientific ideal has for all departments of human life in our day; when, further, we see how resolutely the true investigator gives his all to contribute to what is really the unity of the spirit, we may well wonder who is in essence more heartily religious than the completely devoted scientific investigator such a man, for instance, as was Faraday.

When I have the fortune to hear of really great scientific workers who are as ready to die for their science (if an experiment or an observation requires risk) as to live for it through years of worldly privation and of rigid surrender of private interests to truth, and when I then by chance also hear that some of them were called, or perhaps even called themselves, irreligious men, I confess that I think of the little girl who walked by Wordsworth’s side on the beach at Calais. The poet estimated her variety of religious experience in words that I feel moved to apply to the ardently loyal hero of science:

“Thou dwellest in Abraham’s bosom all the year,
And worship’st at the temple’s inmost shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.”

There also exists a somewhat threadbare verse of the poet Young which tells us how “the undevout astronomer is mad.” I should prefer to say that the really loyal scientific man who imagines himself undevout is not indeed mad at all, but, like Wordsworth’s young companion at Calais, unobservant of himself and of the wondrous and beautiful love that inspires him. For he is, indeed, inspired by a love for something much more divine than is that august assemblage of mechanical and physical phenomena called the starry heavens. The soul of his work is the service of the unity of the spirit in one of its most exalted forms.

That all who, belonging to any body of the visible church, are seriously loyal to the divine according to their lights, are members also of the invisible church, needs, after what I have said, no further explanation.

But if, surveying this multitude that no man can number from every kindred, and tribe, and nation, and tongue, you say that entrance to the invisible church is guarded by barriers that seem to you not high enough or strong enough, I reply that this membership is indeed tested by the severest of rules. Do you serve with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength a cause that is superhuman and that is indeed divine? This is the question which all have to answer who are to enter this the most spiritual of all human brotherhoods.


The invisible church is to be to us a source of insight. This means that we must enter into some sort of communion with the faithful if we are to enjoy the fruits of their insight. And, apart from one’s own life of loyal service itself, the principal means of grace that is, the principal means of attaining instruction in the spirit of loyalty, encouragement in its toils, solace in its sorrows, and power to endure and to triumph the principal means of grace, I say, which is open to any man lies in such communion with the faithful and with the unity of the spirit which they express in their lives. It is natural that we should begin this process of communion through direct personal relations with the fellow-servants of our own special cause. Hence whatever is usually said by those who belong to any section of the visible church regarding the spiritual advantages which follow from entering the communion of their own body may be accepted, from our present point of view, as having whatever truth the devotion and the religious life of any one body of faithful servants of the unity of the spirit may give to such statements when applied precisely to their own members. But to us all alike the voice of the invisible church speaks it sustains us all alike by its counsels, not merely in so far as our own personal cause and our brethren of that service are known to us, but in so far as we are ready to understand the loyal life, and to be inspired by it, even when those who exemplify its intents and its values are far from us in their type of experience and in the manner of their service.

You remember the rule of loyalty: “So serve your cause that if possible through your service everybody whom you influence shall be rendered a more devoted servant of his own cause, and thereby of the cause of causes the unity of all the loyal.” Now the rule for using the invisible church as a source of insight is this: “So be prepared to interpret, and sympathetically to comprehend, the causes and the service of other men, that whoever serves the cause of causes, the unity of all the loyal, may even thereby tend to help you in your personal service of your own special cause.” To cultivate the comprehension and the reverence for loyalty, however, and wherever loyalty may be found, is to prepare yourself for a fitting communion with the invisible church.

And in such communion I find the crowning source of religious insight. What I say is wholly consistent then with the recognition of the preciousness of the visible church to its members. Once more, however, I point out the fact that the visible church is as precious as it is because it is indeed devoted to the unity of the spirit, that is, because it is a part and an organ of the invisible church.


I cannot close this extremely imperfect sketch of our crowning source of insight without applying to our present doctrine of the invisible church, the eternally true teaching of St. Paul regarding spiritual gifts.

As Paul’s Corinthians, in their little community, faced the problem of the diversity of the gifts and powers whereby their various members undertook to serve the common cause as this diversity of gifts tended from the outset to doctrinal differences of opinion, as the differences threatened to confuse loyalty by bringing brethren into conflict even so, but with immeasurably vaster complications, the whole religious world, the invisible community of the loyal, has always faced, and still faces, a diversity of powers and of forms of insight, a diversity due to the endlessly various temperaments, capacities and sorts and conditions of men. The Corinthian church, as Paul sketched its situation, was a miniature of religious humanity. All the ways that the loyal follow lead upward to the realm of the spirit, where reason is at once the overarching heaven and the all-vitalising devotion which binds every loyal individual to the master of life. But in our universe the one demands the many. The infinite becomes incarnate through the finite. The paths that lead the loyal to the knowledge of the eternal pass for our vision, with manifold crossings and with perplexing wanderings, through the wilderness of this present world. The divine life is won through suffering. And religious history is a tale of suffering of mutual misunderstanding amongst brethren who have from moment to moment been able to remember God only by narrowly misreading the hearts of their brethren. The diversity of spiritual gifts has developed, in religious history, an endless war of factions. The invisible church has frequently come to consciousness in the form of sects that say: “Ours alone is the true spiritual gift. Through our triumph alone is the world to be saved. Man will reach salvation only when our own Jerusalem is the universally recognised holy city.”

Now it is useless to reduce the many to the one merely by wiping out the many. It is useless to make some new sect whose creed shall be that there are to be no sects. The unity of the visible church, under any one creed, or with any one settled system of religious practices, is an unattainable and undesirable ideal. The varieties of religious experience in James’s sense of that term are endless. The diversity of gifts is as great as is the diversity of strong and loyal personalities. What St. Paul saw, in the miniature case presented to him by the Corinthian church, was that all the real gifts, and all the consequently inevitable differences of approach to the religious problems, and all the differences of individual religious insight were necessary to a wealthy religious life, and might serve the unity of the spirit, if only they were conceived and used subject to the spiritual gift which he defined as Charity.

Now the Pauline Charity is simply that form of loyalty which should characterise a company of brethren who already have recognised their brotherhood, who consciously know that their cause is one and that the spirit which they serve is one. For such brethren, loyalty naturally takes the form of a self-surrender that need not seek its own, or assert itself vehemently, because the visible unity of the community in question is already acknowledged by all the faithful present, so that each intends to edify, not himself alone, but his brethren, and also intends not to convert his brother to a new faith, but to establish him in a faith already recognised by the community. Yet since the Corinthians, warring over their diversity of gifts, had come to lose sight of the common spirit, Paul simply recalls them to their flag, by his poem of charity, which is also a technically true statement of how the principle of loyalty applies to a brotherhood fully conscious of its common aim.

But the very intimacy of the Pauline picture of charity makes it hard to apply this account of the loyalty that should reign within a religious family to the problems of a world where faith does not understand faith, where the contrasts of opinion seem to the men in question to exclude community of the spirit, where the fighting blood even of saintly souls is stirred by persécutions or heated by a hatred of seemingly false creeds. And Paul himself could not speak in the language of charity, either when he referred to those whom he called “false brethren” or characterised the Hellenic-Roman spiritual world to whose thought and spirit he owed so much. As the Corinthians, warring over the spiritual gifts, were a miniature representation of the motives that have led to religious wars, so St. Paul’s own failure to speak with charity as soon as certain matters of controversy arose in his mind, shows in miniature the difficulty that the visible church, in all its forms, has had to unite loyal strenuousness of devotion to the truth that one sees with tolerance for the faiths whose meaning one cannot understand.

And yet, what Paul said about charity must be universalised if it is true. When we universalise the Pauline Charity, it becomes once more the loyalty that, as a fact, is now justified in seeking her loyal own; but that still, like charity, rejoices in the truth. Such loyalty loves loyalty even when race or creed distinctions make it hard or impossible for us to feel fond of the persons and practices and opinions whereby our more distant brethren embody their spiritual gifts. Such loyalty is tolerant. Tolerance is what charity becomes when we have to deal with those whose special cause we just now cannot understand. Loyalty is tolerant, not as if truth were indifferent, or as if there were no contrast between worldliness and spirituality, but is tolerant precisely in so far as the best service of loyalty and of religion and of the unity of the spirit consists in helping our brethren not to our own, but to their own. Such loyalty implies genuine faith in the abiding and supreme unity of the spirit.

Only by thus universalising the doctrine which Paul preached to the Corinthians can we be prepared to use to the full this crowning source of insight the doctrine, the example, the life, the inspiration, which is embodied in the countless forms and expressions of the invisible church.

The work of the invisible church it is just that work to which all these lectures have been directing your attention. The sources of insight are themselves the working of its spirit in our spirits.

If I have done anything (however unworthy) to open the minds of any of you to these workings, my fragmentary efforts will not have been in vain. I have no authority to determine your own insight. Seek insight where it is to be found.