[The follow passage appears in Stopford A. Brooke's Life and Letters (1865). George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University, has scanned it from the text of the 1902 edition (see bibliography) and formatted it in HTML.]

The passage you refer to (page 17), 'To. believe in God is simply the most difficult thing in the world,' is, I think, true. By God, I mean God as He is; not a first cause, nor a machinist, Creator Mundi but One whose name is love immanent to us, meaning good and not evil, and having a right to our supreme adoration and reverence. I do not believe that the understanding can discover Him. Paley's argument from design is valuable for those who vaguely feel Him, in order to give a stable solid ground for mere feeling to rest on — valuable also in defence of religion, as showing that it has something to say for itself, and forcing the intellectualist to treat it with courtesy but for proving God's existence, or demonstrating to one well informed infidel the falsity of his opinion, I believe it ever has been, and ever must be, powerless. For instance, it does not even touch the arguments of a Pantheist.

There may be a First Cause, intelligent, designing, &c., and his name, if you like, may be God; but so far I only believe in Him as I believe in electricity, gravitation, or any other cause, which assuredly has a great deal to do with my destiny. Believe, in the sense of trust, I do not. In morals we only believe so far as we are. Rochefoucauld believed in no principle of action beyond selfishness and vanity. How could goodness, generosity, &c., be proved to him? By what evidence? There were the acts before him in history and human life proving design. Rochefoucauld, being vain and selfish, could not believe beyond, or make anything of such proofs. In opposition to the hypothesis of an intelligent Creator, I confess that the hypothesis of the Epicurean, or the Stoic, or the Pantheist, is at least able to make a long fight far too long to infallibly secure victory in the limits of a life of thought. I do not think that where such men as Laplace, D'Alembert, Hume, Voltaire, have never seen any demonstration, the understanding can be the real court of appeal. Nay, I am ready to acknowledge, that of the intellectual conception of God as Creator, Cause, Immanent Life, Lord of the World, &c., I am not prepared to assert or deny anything I know nothing. My understanding feels itself utterly bewildered. I can affirm the contradictory, as well as the assertion, of any of these theories: and if I were compelled in intellectual gladiatorship to surrender them all, I should not feel in the smallest degree dismayed. My God is not the philosopher's god; and in the most vigorous graspings of the intellect, I am often conscious of most losing hold of the Lord of Right and Love.

The evidence of goodness and wisdom in the external world is very questionable, in some moods at least. I found a caterpillar the other day writhing in anguish, and perforated by a dozen maggots, which had come from the eggs of an ichneumonfly. It penetrates the skin of the living animal, leaves its eggs, and the grubs eat the creature alive by degrees. Is that goodness? Wonderful contrivance, certainly; but I should not accuse the understanding of any one who preferred to believe in the Fate of the Stoics necessitating this, rather than an Omnipotent Will. I know that with the doctrine of the Cross, and the glimpse which it gives us into the grand law of the universe — Sacrifice, conscious and unconscious, for the life of others — this does not startle; but I profess that I have never yet found the argument from the understanding, or a hint of it, which can make it pleasant to believe in a God who has made such a provision as this.

Nor do I think that we get at the feeling through the understanding.* A slave is dependent on his tyrant master. A child depends upon his parent from day to day. But you may exhaust all your logic in proving f& either that he must depend, or ought to depend; and at the end of all, you may be very far indeed from making one step towards the production of that 'consciousness of dependence,' which is implied in the words, 'I believe.' You can demonstrate power, but the master's right to enforce, the parent's love in requiring obedience — what arguments prove those when the will rebels? I am not sure that in this brief addition to the sentence of the address I have elucidated my meaning much; if not, I should be very happy to reply to any difficulties you may find in admitting my assertions. [Letter of September 1850, Life and Letters, 184-85]

* He adopts Coleridge's sense of the word, Understanding.

References

Brooke, Stopford A. Life and Letters of Fred[erick]. W. Robertson, M. A., Incumbent of Trinity Chapel, Brighton, 1847-53. People's Edition. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1902.


Victorian Overview Religion F. W. Robertson

Last modified 8 December 2007