Sayings of Sir James Baillie

Reflections on life and religion.

by the editors. 

Taken from Sir James Baillie's book, Reflections on Life and Religion, and used by the kind permission of the pub­lishers, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London.

I. Reflections on Religion

  1. Religion is effective participation in the life of God, acting by His strength and thinking by His thought.
  2. We become aware of God, not because we go to seek the reality of God, but because God Himself invades our experience and imposes His Presence within it. The kind of experience in which we become aware of and accept this reality is what we call Religion. God thus cre­ates the religious attitude of mind within us; the religious attitude does not create God: it begins by accepting God as a reality in human life and that means that we cannot escape from Him, we can only lay our account with Him and enter into conscious relations with Him.
  3. Remember that the important matter is not how little you can believe, but how much.
  4. The difference between paganism or natural religion and Christianity or spiritual religion is that in the first men make gods in their own image, in the second God is said to make men in His image.
  5. The incarnation and the resurrection seem complementary phases of the same reality. It is small surprise that the creed of Christendom has held firmly by both, as indeed do the writers of the New Testament.
  6. Incarnation and Mediation are complemen­tary aspects of the life of Christ; the one dis­closing His mission on earth, the other disclos­ing His mission after leaving it; the one the revelation of God to man at a particular his­torical time, the other the continuing revela­tion of God to man through all eternity: the one God "manifest in the flesh," the other man manifest in the spirit by communion with God through Christ's perpetual presence with those believing on Him. So the whole is com­plete, a perfected system of spiritual life.
  7. It seems foolish to question the reality of the miraculous if we accept the reality of Christ as portrayed in the Gospels; and if we do not, the question of the miraculous does not arise. Christ's life is the main miracle that ever oc­curred, and may well be the source of many lesser miracles.
  8. The question, or the doubt, "whether there is a God" is a superb illustration of human vanity and self-importance. It means almost in so many words "is there a greater mental power than mine?", "is there a higher spirit than myself?"— a question which turns in mocking irony on its proposer.
  9. When law and the State take charge of reli­gion, the spirit of religion is doomed. It is a matter of time when it will become a mere in­strument for governmental uses, a kind of re­serve police force, or a round of conventional forms and ceremonies of the same value as the ritual associated with the dignities of the State. It is impossible for religion to accept the pro­tection and direction of the State without the State requiring a quid pro quo. The quid pro quo is always a surrender of the claims of reli­gion to its predominant influence in man's life.
  10. Gratitude is the rarest of virtues, want of generosity the commonest of vices.
  11. It is those who can command the resources of the next world who have the greatest power in this; and that is the difference between the value of religion and the value of science.
  12. The gifts or "fruits" of the spirit—joy, peace, love, faith—are not man's by nature, and cannot be obtained by unaided human nature, or by discipline or by education. The natural man neither needs nor wants them. They come through communion with a divine life and are of grace, for they are graces.
  13. Men always come back to God in their troubles: if they would commune with God with greater constancy, they would have fewer troubles.
  14. If you seek to do the will of God, you will not even try to do your own: you will have so much to do that you will forget you have a will of your own at all.
  15. One of the profoundest truths of Christian­ity is that all a man can do "of himself," un­aided by a divine power, is to do wrong.

II. Reflections on Human Nature and Conduct

  1. One of the great secrets of life is how to make a choice which, when worked out with all its results, can be cheerfully accepted as a des­tiny. Those who know this secret are successful and happy in life: those who do not know it are neither successful nor happy.
  2. Mercy is the generous overflow of goodness without passing judgment. And the good need it as much as the bad.
  3. There is, perhaps, that which is worse than a consciousness of sin, and that is a consciousness of none. . . . But to make a virtue of the con­sciousness of sin is itself sin.
  4. The only proper attitude of a human being towards sin is repentance and sorrow at the very thought of it. Morbidly or remorsefully to dwell on it is to substantiate, establish it, give it a reality which it essentially cannot, and will not, have. This attitude towards it is only a stage removed from vice and wickedness which assert and believe in, and seek to establish, evil as a positive reality. Hence the close affinity between morbid and wicked people, often no­ticed by observers. On the other hand, to ignore and be indifferent to sin and evil is to treat it as non-existent, and that is certainly false also.
  5. The reluctance to admit having done a wrong usually rests on a deeper evil than the wrong done. It generally proceeds from the vanity of self-righteousness or the moral conceit of think­ing ourselves better than we really are. Very few have the moral dignity to confess a wrong willingly, and with unabashed regret. People who are mean about their faults cannot be expected to be lofty in their virtues.
  6. The man who "can't forgive himself" or ac­cept the forgiveness of Heaven is distorting his moral nature by making a virtue of his mis­fortune, and is playing hangman to the devil in his own cause.
  7. How singularly subtle evil shows itself! The sheer delight with which some virtuous men and women talk of evil and of the evil ways of others is mistaken by them for superior virtue; but it is in reality one way at least in which they show the mark of the beast upon them­selves.
  8. One of the subtlest forms of evil is found where men find a good motive for doing wrong.
  9. The secret of self-discipline consists in apply­ing the same measure of judgment to one's own thoughts and feelings and actions as we apply to those of other people, without self-indulgence or self-excusing and without self-satisfaction or the brooding morbidity of self-analysis. When we judge another person, we expect the rebuke to be taken and we expect a change of proce­dure: otherwise we consider him radically dis­honest or bad. When we judge ourselves, we should accept the judgment in the same way: otherwise we fall into mere self-sophistication and insincerity of mind. Much, if not most, self-consciousness is due to misdirected or misapplied self-judgment. Those who are self-conscious are aware of themselves without a clear recognition of the standards to which they mean to conform and by which they mean to judge both themselves and others in daily thought and action. We should be as severe towards ourselves as towards others, no more and no less.
  10. Cynicism of the ordinary kind seems the easy refuge of disappointed incompetence: a sort of articulate envy.
  11. To tamper with truth at any point is to destroy one's belief in it and one's sincerity to­wards it, and that is the beginning—indeed, the kernel—of all shame, fear and cowardice.
  12. A man's suspicions of evil in others are the reflection of his own temptations: a man's judg­ments on others bear the stamp of his own ideal of himself.
  13. A man who has made up his mind about everything has probably not had a mind worth making up on anything. He has merely put his prejudices into pigeonholes and labelled them principles.
  14. There are men who mistake the phosphores­cence of an excited brain for the light of an in­telligent mind, incessant effervescence for ple­nary inspiration.
  15. The last sin of all is the pride which will not accept forgiveness.


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by the editors. 

September 1958

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