We always rise from the perusal of one of Mr. Maurice’s books with the feeling that he has shown us one great excellence, and taught us one great lesson. He has shown us an example of serious love of truth, and an earnest sense of its importance, and of his own responsibility in speaking of it. Most readers, whatever else they may think, must have their feeling of the wide and living interest of a theological or moral subject quickened by Mr. Maurice’s thoughts on it. This is the excellence. The lesson is this—to look into the meaning of our familiar words, and to try to use them with a real meaning. Not that Mr. Maurice always shows us how; but it is difficult for conscience to escape being continually reminded of the duty. And it is in these two things that the value of Mr. Maurice’s writings mainly consists. The enforcing of them has been, to our mind, his chief “mission,” and his most valuable contribution to the needs of his generation.
In this volume they are exhibited, as in his former ones; and in this he shows also, as he has shown before, his earnest desire to find a way whereby, without compromising truth or surrendering sacred convictions of the heart, serious men of very different sides might be glad to find themselves in some points mistaken, in order that they might find themselves at one. This philosophy, not of comprehension but of conciliation, the craving after which has awakened in the Church, whenever mental energy has been quickened, the philosophy in which Clement of Alexandria and Origin, and, we may add, St. Augustine, made many earnest essays, is certainly no unworthy aim for the theologian of our days. He would, indeed, deserve largely of the Church who should show us a solid and safe way to it.
But while we are far from denouncing or suspecting the wish or the design, we are bound to watch jealously and criticise narrowly the execution. For we all know what such plans have come to before now. And it is for the interest of all serious and earnest people on all sides, that there should be no needless and additional confusion introduced into theology—such confusion as is but too likely to follow, when a design of conciliation, with the aim of which so many, for good reasons or bad ones, are sure to sympathise, is carried out by hands that are not equal to it. With the fullest sense of the serious truthfulness of those who differ from us, of the real force of many of their objections and criticisms on our proceedings, our friends, and our ideas, it is far better to hold our peace, than from impatience at what we feel to be the vulnerable point of our own side, to rush into explanations before we are sure of our power adequately to explain.