In the same way, no rational conception of the spiritual life can afford to forget the modern psychological emphasis upon the central importance of will and action. This conviction will plainly affect the entire point of view, and may easily change, as we shall see, what have come to seem commonplaces in religious thinking and living. A misconception, that is, of the psychological facts here must inevitably affect our spiritual insight and the success of our spiritual living.

In particular, the psychological emphasis on the central importance of will and action means that religious thinking must not forget the practical nature of all knowledge and belief.

Certainly this principle means that knowledge is never a merely passive process, as probably it is commonly conceived. It involves at every stage the creative activity of the mind. In the most passive experience conceivable, the mind itself has something to contribute. A purely passive impression is a psychological abstraction, never an actual fact. In no case, whether in our relation to the world of the senses, or in our relation to other minds, or in our relation to God, can there be any literal transfer of thought or feeling. We get partial data only, which we complete and then interpret. In even the closest personal intercourse, it is worth noticing, the words spoken are, after all, only signs of ideas that must be created on both sides. Even the receiving mind must actively create the ideas, suggested by the words spoken by the other, in view of its own entire experience. There is no possible way, in even the directest knowledge, of getting rid of this interpretation of given data, out of experience. The conditions of religious knowledge, therefore, are in no way unique in this respect. The principle has its immediate bearing upon the reality of prayer, and of inspiration, and of revelation from God. For it requires that there should always be a human interpretive element in all these experiences.

A chief difficulty, for example, in prayer is no doubt found for many in the lack of a felt presence, and the lack of a definite response, such as the person feels that he gets in his relation to the outer world, or to another person. As to this difficulty it might be said at once, as Hinton suggests, that all the final forces, even in external nature, are unseen and not as they seem to us. The constant pressure of the air, the motion of the earth, we do not feel at all. We have no sensible knowledge, of any kind, of the existence or nature of atoms. The ether vibrations are quite beyond the reach of any sense.

But the principle which we are here considering—that knowledge is never merely passive—contains a more adequate answer to the difficulty. There is really a very close analogy between the knowledge of the outer world, which we gain through sensations, and the knowledge of the spiritual world which comes from the data of our inner life. In neither case can it be said that there are immediate knowledge and revelation. In both, what we call our immediate knowledge has been a long time building, and has involved not only the first impressions, but comparison, memory, and reasoning. In neither case is a literal transfer of full-fledged thought or knowledge possible. God's revelation of himself cannot be a literal transfer of a message as by a written note; and even if there were literal words spoken or written, they would still require interpretation, and be capable of very different meanings, as interpreted out of different experiences.

Lotze, in a thoughtful passage in his Microcosmus, brings out carefully this comparison between our relation to the world of sense and to the world of spirit:[5]

"Every sensuous impression regarded in itself is but a way in which we are affected, some phase of our own condition; in itself it gives no knowledge of any matter of fact, taken alone it constitutes no experience. Here again it is only our thought which, mastering the manifold revelations of sense, compares and combines them, or interprets given combinations, thus arriving through them at the knowledge of some fact. We can hardly picture to ourselves the workings of God upon the heart otherwise than after this pattern; we cannot imagine the recognition of any fact as something that can be simply communicated, something that reaches the mind ready-made and without any activity on its part; we can only imagine that occasion can be given to the mind to, as it were, produce such recognition by exercising this activity, and in this it is that every appropriation of a truth must consist. As sense in itself furnishes merely an impression, so also this divine influence would produce merely a feeling, a mood, a mode of affection; what is thus experienced becomes a revelation only through some work of reflection which analyzes its content and reduces it to coherence by clear notions that are capable of being combined with our ideas of the real world." That we have these inner data, as a sufficient and legitimate basis for our gradually developing knowledge of the spiritual world, it is hardly open to any thoughtful observer of the ways of his own spirit to question. Doubtless God's response in our spiritual life is not made without our own active cooperation; but he does answer, and we have had that answer in a thousand different quickenings, glimpses, times of conviction, and "sober and strenuous moods". The really needed guidance and cooperation of God must be constant, rather than here and there by some marked interference; and his answer to us, therefore, in the life of prayer is not merely at the time of our prayer, or through consciously definite leadings. Rather is he always at work with us; and the justification of our faith is, that in the long retrospect there is plain growth in this inner life, increasing assurance of the spiritual, and that our relation to God is coming to mean more and more as we go on.

[5] Vo1- II, p. 662.