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Frederick Denison Maurice. In Memoriam
by [?]

Yet after all, I know no work which gives a fairer measure of Mr. Maurice’s intellect, both political and exegetic, and a fairer measure likewise, of the plain downright common sense which he brought to bear on each of so many subjects, than his Commentary on the very book which is supposed to have least connection with common sense, and on which common sense has as yet been seldom employed– namely, the Apocalypse of St. John. That his method of interpretation is the right one can hardly be doubted by those who perceive that it is the one and only method on which any fair exegesis is possible–namely, to ask: What must these words have meant to those to whom they were actually spoken? That Mr. Maurice is more reverent, by being more accurate, more spiritual, by being more practical, in his interpretation than commentators on this book have usually been, will be seen the more the book is studied, and found to be what any and every commentary on the Revelation ought to be–a mine of political wisdom. Sayings will be found which will escape the grasp of most readers, as indeed they do mine, so pregnant are they, and swift revealing, like the lightning-flash at night, a whole vision: but only for a moment’s space. The reader may find also details of interpretation which are open to doubt; if so, he will remember that no man would have shrunk with more horror than Mr. Maurice from the assumption of infallibility. Meanwhile, that the author’s manly confidence in the reasonableness of his method will be justified hereafter, I must hope, if the Book of Revelation is to remain, as God grant it may, the political text-book of the Christian Church.

On one matter, however, Mr. Maurice is never obscure–on questions of right and wrong. As with St. Paul, his theology, however seemingly abstruse, always results in some lesson of plain practical morality. To do the right and eschew the wrong, and that not from hope of reward or fear of punishment–in which case the right ceases to be right–but because a man loves the right and hates the wrong; about this there is no hesitation or evasion in Mr. Maurice’s writings. If any man is in search of a mere philosophy, like the neo-Platonists of old, or of a mere system of dogmas, by assenting to which he will gain a right to look down on the unorthodox, while he is absolved from the duty of becoming a better man than he is and as good a man as he can be–then let him beware of Mr. Maurice’s books, lest, while searching merely for “thoughts that breathe,” he should stumble upon “words that burn,” and were meant to burn. His books, like himself, are full of that [Greek], that capacity of indignation, which Plato says is the root of all virtues. “There was something,” it has been well said, “so awful, and yet so Christ-like in its awful sternness, in the expression which came over that beautiful face when he heard of anything base or cruel or wicked, that it brought home to the bystander our Lord’s judgment of sin.”

And here, perhaps, lay the secret of the extraordinary personal influence which he exercised; namely, in that truly formidable element which underlaid a character which (as one said of him) “combined all that was noblest in man and woman; all the tenderness and all the strength, all the sensitiveness and all the fire, of both; and with that a humility which made men feel the utter baseness, meanness, of all pretension.” For can there be true love without wholesome fear? And does not the old Elizabethan “My dear dread” express the noblest voluntary relation in which two human souls can stand to each other? Perfect love casteth out fear. Yes: but where is love perfect among imperfect beings, save a mother’s for her child? For all the rest, it is through fear that love is made perfect; fear which bridles and guides the lover with awe–even though misplaced–of the beloved one’s perfections; with dread–never misplaced–of the beloved one’s contempt. And therefore it is that souls who have the germ of nobleness within, are drawn to souls more noble than themselves, just because, needing guidance, they cling to one before whom they dare not say or do, or even think, an ignoble thing. And if these higher souls are–as they usually are–not merely formidable, but tender likewise, and true, then the influence which they may gain is unbounded, for good–or, alas! for evil–both to themselves and to those that worship them. Woe to the man who, finding that God has given him influence over human beings for their good, begins to use it after awhile, first only to carry out through them his own little system of the Universe, and found a school or sect; and at last by steady and necessary degradation, mainly to feed his own vanity and his own animal sense of power.