“Of the Absolute in the theoretical sense I do not venture to speak; but this I maintain, that if a man recognises it in its manifestations, and always keeps his eye fixed upon it, he will reap a very great reward.”
NATURE-MYSTICISM AND SYMBOLISM
“The creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”—ROM. viii. 21.
It would be possible to maintain that all our happiness consists in finding sympathies and affinities underlying apparent antagonisms, in bringing harmony out of discord, and order out of chaos. Even the lowest pleasures owe their attractiveness to a certain temporary correspondence between our desires and the nature of things. Selfishness itself, the prime source of sin, misery, and ignorance, cannot sever the ties which bind us to each other and to nature; or if it succeeds in doing so, it passes into madness, of which an experienced alienist has said, that its essence is “concentrated egoism.” Incidentally I may say that the peculiar happiness which accompanies every glimpse of insight into truth and reality, whether in the scientific, aesthetic, or emotional sphere, seems to me to have a greater apologetic value than has been generally recognised. It is the clearest possible indication that the true is for us the good, and forms the ground of a reasonable faith that all things, if we could see them as they are, would be found to work together for good to those who love God.
“The true Mysticism,” it has been lately said with much truth, “is the belief that everything, in being what it is, is symbolic of something more.” All Nature (and there are few more pernicious errors than that which separates man from Nature) is the language in which God expresses His thoughts; but the thoughts are far more than the language. Thus it is that the invisible things of God from the creation of the world may be clearly seen and understood from the things that are made; while at the same time it is equally true that here we see through a glass darkly, and know only in part. Nature half conceals and half reveals the Deity; and it is in this sense that it may be called a symbol of Him.
The word “symbol,” like several other words which the student of Mysticism has to use, has an ill-defined connotation, which produces confusion and contradictory statements. For instance, a French writer gives as his definition of Mysticism “the tendency to approach the Absolute, morally, by means of symbols.” On the other hand, an English essayist denies that Mysticism is symbolic. Mysticism, he says, differs from symbolism in that, while symbolism treats the connexion between symbol and substance as something accidental or subjective, Mysticism is based on a positive belief in the existence of life within life, of deep correspondences and affinities,