And what is meant by the reality of the spiritual life? How much, in the first place, should reality involve?
The value of religious opinions and experiences, it may be said with James, "can only be ascertained by spiritual judgments directly passed upon them, judgments based on our own immediate feeling primarily; and secondarily on what we can ascertain of their experimental relations to our moral needs and to the rest of what we hold as true. Immediate luminous-ness, in short, philosophical reasonableness, and moral helpfulness are the only available criteria." In other words, if the spiritual life is to be to us a real and recognized power, it must seem, first, an undoubted reality; second, to be knit up with our best thinking in other spheres; third, to have clear significance for life, as appeal and impulse to character, and as bringing enjoyment and enrichment into life. That is to say, the spiritual life must justify itself to our best judgment as real, rational, and vital. All three elements are intended to be included in the assertion of the reality of the spiritual life implied in the theme of this book.
In the spiritual life, as used in the title, it is intended to include the conviction of the fact of the Christian God and of our personal relation to him, with all that is most directly involved in these convictions.
In speaking, now, of the seeming unreality of the spiritual life, it is not, of course, intended to imply that a spiritual—that is, religious, theistic, and Christian—view of the world is ultimately less defensible than some other view. Quite the contrary. The ultimate ground and meaning of the world form a problem for any possible view that really aims to be all-embracing, for the solution of which it can only offer some hypothesis. It is not doubted that the Christian theistic hypothesis is least open to objection, when the matter is thought completely through.
But the intended suggestion of our theme is this: Probably, the great difficulty for most, in adopting the Christian point of view and coming into the Christian life, does not arise from doubt whether the Christian position is capable of a better final philosophical defense than any other position. Many would probably say that when it comes to measuring swords in logical defense of ultimate positions, the theistic and Christian view must be, no doubt, counted the victor. But that admission, though freely made, does not satisfy them. Whether with full consciousness or not, another and deeper difficulty for such minds lies behind the question of the possible philosophical defense of the Christian view. Granting that the theistic and Christian hypothesis is the best of all proposed, still they would say, why is it itself so hard to hold? Why is it not more clear and obvious? Why is so much difficulty felt by many in coming to the Christian view at all, or, at least, in justifying it rationally, after coming to it? Why is the fact of such a God as Christ reveals, and of our relations to him, not as indubitable, for example, as the existence of other persons and our relations to them? Why do not the facts of the spiritual world seem as real to us as the facts of the material world? In a word, why does the spiritual life seem often so unreal? Why is the conviction of it a wavering one with its constant ups and downs?
These are questions that press upon us from the start in every thorough-going discussion of the reality of a spiritual view and of a spiritual life. They are there, before we begin any of our arguments for the existence of God, hindering the argument at every step; they are there, after all our arguments are completed, sapping the strength of the conviction the arguments are supposed to bring. Men everywhere go more or less consciously under the constant burden of the feeling that even this best hypothesis has more difficulties than it ought to have to be true; that especially such a God as the Christian view affirms, and as the heart everywhere cries out for, must have made himself more unmistakably manifest, and not have permitted faith to be so difficult a deed in any case.
Some time ago, one of our religious papers furnished an illustration of this perennial question of the race about the hidden God.
"Two girls, as they walked home one night from work, were engaged in earnest talk. A stranger who stood on the sidewalk near them saw the play of anxious feeling on their faces as they stopped a moment beneath a street-lamp's dim light. Suddenly one was heard to say to the other, 'Yes, but why has no one ever seen God?'—that was all, just a fragment-word throbbing with pain and regret, and they vanished again in the night.
"How like humanity that was! Like children, they pause now and then in the darkness of life, lift their weary faces to the pale lights glaring along the way, and, peering into baffled eyes, cry, 'Why can we not see our God?' It was Philip's old question, you remember, 'Show us the Father,' and all of us are now and then in Philip's class, for it is large."
The incident is a single modern echo of the ancient plaint of Job: "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, when he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him." And we are likely to return from all our scientific excursions into the world of nature and of history, to say again with Job: "Lo, these are but the outskirts of his ways: and how small a whisper do we hear of him!"
The precise difficulty felt in all such cases may be, perhaps, thus formulated: Though, by hypothesis, God is the one realest of all facts and the most loving of all beings, he does not seem to be thrust upon us as such at all.
After all is said, is this not the real and great difficulty for the Christian view? And for the establishment of real conviction, and of joyful spiritual living, does not more depend upon meeting effectively this everywhere underlying doubt of the soul, than upon either repeating in new forms the old arguments, or in elaborating new arguments for the existence of God and the possibility of an ideal view of the world? Do we not need to give this particular aspect of our problem such a careful, detailed, and comprehensive consideration as it seldom receives? Just this is our task.
Can something be done, now, to meet this constant, underlying difficulty of the seeming unreality of the spiritual life, felt at the start, and felt after the Christian view is admitted to be the most reasonable? Can the ground be cleared of misconceptions, mistaken prepossessions, certain fallacies of common speech and thought, unreasonable demands, failures to remember essential conditions in our life problems? Can something be done toward giving a really different point of view, that may make the seeming unreality of the spiritual world less a burden to us? In a word, can we see the reasons for the seeming unreality of the spiritual life?
 Sunday School Times, April 5, 1902