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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

For the doctrine is that of Divine love


he admits, "is given to us that we may learn the truth. But the soul does not learn from it as the flesh does. For the flesh has little time to stay, and must gain its lesson once and for all. Man needs no second proof of the worth of fire: once found, he would not part with it for gold. But the highest spiritual certainty is not like our conviction of a bodily fact; and though we know the worth of Christ as we know the preciousness of fire, we may not in like manner grasp this truth, acknowledging it in our lives. He--John--in whose sight his Lord had been transfigured, had walked upon the waters, and raised the dead to life: _he, too_, forsook Him when the 'noise' and 'torchlight,' and the 'sudden Roman faces,' and the 'violent hands' were upon them...."

The doubter, he imagines, will argue thus, taking "John's" Gospel for his starting-point:--

(_a_) "Your story is proved inaccurate, if not untrue. The doctrine which rests upon it is therefore unproved, except in so far as it is attested by the human heart. And this proof again is invalid. For the doctrine is that of Divine love; and we, who believe in love, because we ourselves possess it, may read it into a record in which it has no place. Man, in his mental infancy, read his own emotions and his own will into the forces of nature, as he clothed their supposed personal existence in his own face and form. But his growing understanding discarded the idea of

these material gods. It now replaces the idea of the one Divine intelligence by that of universal law. God is proved to us as law--'named,' but 'not known.' A divinity, which we can recognize by like attributes to our own, is disproved by them."

(_b_) "And granting that there is truth in your teaching: why is this allowed to mislead us? Why are we left to hit or miss the truth, according as our insight is weak or strong, instead of being plainly told this thing _was_, or it _was not_? Does 'John' proceed with us as did the heathen bard, who drew a fictitious picture of the manner in which fire had been given to man; and left his readers to discover that the fact was not the fable itself, but only contained in it?"

And John replies:

(_a_) "Man is made for progress, and receives therefore, step by step, such spiritual assistance as is proportionate to his strength. The testimony of miracles is granted when it is needed to assist faith. It is withdrawn so soon as it would compel it. He who rejects God's love in Christ because _he_ has learned the need of love, is as the lamp which overswims with oil, the stomach which flags from excess of food: his mind is being starved by the very abundance of what was meant to nourish it. Man was spiritually living, when he shrank appalled from the spectacle of Nature, and needed to be assured that there was a might beyond _its_ might. But when he says, 'Since Might is everywhere, there is no need of Will;' though he knows from his own experience how Might may combine with Will, then is he spiritually dead. And man is spiritually living, when he asks if there be love

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