From the removable causes of the seeming unreality of the spiritual life we turn, now, to the study of the second class of causes of this sense of unreality, which, while not removable, are still recognizable. These unremovable causes may, perhaps, be reduced to two: the inevitable limitations and fluctuations of our natures, and our need of training in the moral and religious life. In the consideration of both, we may again profitably observe how far the spiritual life is here similar to other spheres of life, and how far, different.
It need hardly be said how large is the warrant for finding in our inevitable limitations some of the most effective causes of the seeming unreality of the spiritual world. How strong, for example, in all generations has been the appeal to the thoughtful of Plato's detailed figure of the cave! And it is interesting to remember that the most influential of all English philosophical writings, Locke's great Essay Concerning Human Understanding, had its rise from a like conviction of the necessary influence of our natural limitations. Locke's own account of the matter in his "epistle to the reader" is worth recalling: "Were it fit to trouble thee with the history of this Essay, I should tell thee that five or six friends meeting at my chamber, and discoursing on a subject very remote from this, found themselves quickly at a stand, by the difficulties that arose on every side. After we had awhile puzzled ourselves, without coming any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us, it came into my thoughts that we took a wrong course; and that before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were or were not fitted to deal with. This I proposed to the company, who all readily assented; and thereupon it was agreed that this should be our first inquiry. Some hasty, undigested thoughts, on a subject I had never before considered, which I set down against our next meeting, gave the first entrance into this discourse. It is particularly instructive to find, according to the later testimony of one of this memorable company of "five or six friends," that the questions under discussion, which drove Locke to this thought of the inevitable limitations of our understanding, were the "principles of morality and revealed religion."
Any thoughtful consideration of spiritual themes, indeed, must soon bring one to share with Plato and Locke the further conviction that, in striving to reach any rational faith in a world above the senses, we must take full account of those difficulties that are to be expected from the very finiteness of our faculties. These limitations we cannot escape, but clearly to recognize them is itself at least a partial deliverance from their domination.
Let us ask, first, how far these inevitable limitations and fluctuations of our natures produce effects in the spiritual life similar to those in other spheres of living.
Our finiteness in itself must in much limit our insight into the spiritual world.
In the first place, in our very nature, we are discursive beings—in thinking and in living, and in all spheres. Nowhere do we have immediate intuitive insight into wholes. The full meaning of every experience is brought to us only bit by bit. And even where in rare moments we seem to get all in an instant, we commonly are later able to see that this moment of vision either had been long preparing, or failed to give us its complete significance until in discursive thinking we had wrought it into the rest of our life.
This finiteness means, too, that our view of the world is necessarily but partial. We do not stand with God at the center of things, to be able to discern the full complex purpose with which each thing is called into being. At best, it must be a very small part of the whole detailed plan, which even with the most careful study we can come to see. Doubtless, in much, as Plato suggested, we are dealing with shadows as though they were the realities. Everywhere this limitation of view confronts us. Not in the most favorable cases are we able to carry our view completely through with certainty. Our ultimate conclusions can have, at best, only practical certainty, a reasonable probability.
It is a distinct help to bear these necessary limitations in mind; for it makes clear the kind and degree of evidence, which alone we have a right to expect anywhere.
In close connection with these inevitable results of our finiteness as such, there is also to be considered the unavoidable influence of bodily and psychical conditions. We are concerned with these here, only so far as they are beyond our control. So far as they are alterable they have been already dealt with. The conditions being present, we cannot directly change their natural effects. This is a part of our limitation. But, if we can clearly recognize the source of the effects, our final inferences from these effects may be essentially altered.
In no part of our life can we safely ignore the unavoidable effects of bodily conditions. With all possible care of bodily conditions we cannot preserve an unvarying state of body; and changing bodily conditions tinge inevitably our mental states. The careful study of the effects of fatigue, even in sense-perception, gives many an illustration. So, too, the psychical conditions are constantly changing. And with this constant change, however produced, we have always to reckon. That nothing in life should seem always the same to us, is the inevitable result. We are to expect, therefore, from both physical and psychical conditions, changing vital feelings, alternation of moods, altering power of attention, and some consequent ebb and flow in conviction and in the sense of reality. We need not regard this as wholly a weakness; it is in part, at least, an evidence of the breadth of our natures. We are made on so broad and unified a plan, that we cannot come to our best in anything, without taking all sides of our nature into account. But, in any case we have this fluctuation in the sense of reality to face.
Inevitably, thus, our vital feelings will change, and with them our general sense of the reality of things; for feeling is perhaps the strongest element in the living sense of reality.
Even independently of the more strictly physical vital feelings, in our very nature as psychical beings, we are creatures of moods with their inevitable flux, and this cannot be without its influence upon our sense of reality. So long as feeling enters necessarily so much into our sense of the reality of all things, the things of the spirit especially, which do not force themselves upon us, will vary for us in their clearness and reality. This cannot be wholly avoided. The spiritual life simply shares here with all life the influence of the changing moods.
Moreover, so far as change in nervous energy affects power of attention, it will affect our proportionate emphasis upon things, and so again our sense of their reality.
But, in all this, let it be repeated, we have nothing that is peculiar to the religious life. It holds for all spheres of value, and, indeed, in every sphere of life where feeling enters at all. This really implies that, wherever we are not living a merely fragmentary life, this ebb and flow of feeling and hence of the sense of reality must be reckoned with; it is involved in our very natures as finite and feeling beings. Let us not suppose, then, that we confront here a difficulty in any way peculiar to the religious life. Are there no hours when the life of mere worldly culture, too, seems flat, stale, and unprofitable, when a sense of unreality comes as to the best in literature, in music, and in art, and one does not feel adequate to them? Is it not rather true that there is needed a constant struggle to maintain the highest standards in these spheres as truly as in the religious, whether in an individual, in a community, or in an institution of learning?
Moreover, the life of the rejection of all ideals, and the life of unbelief, have their fluctuations, too. It is not merely the conviction of the highest which varies. The lower life, also, has its inevitable misgivings. We are creatures of two worlds, an animal and a spiritual; and both make themselves felt in some degree. Unbelief has its questionings as belief. The situation is not, as seems so often tacitly assumed, that, if we once gave up our ideals, we should then rest satisfied quite without qualm, or misgiving, or questioning. The truth is rather that, being citizens of two worlds, we cannot wholly escape the influence of either. We may not choose whether our life shall vary or not. We can only choose the dominant moods. If we turn from the life of faith, we have at most, as Browning makes Bishop Blougram point out, substituted
"A life of doubt diversified by faith
For one of faith diversified by doubt.
We called the chess-board white; we call it black."
 Fraser's Locke, pp. xvi-xvii.