by A. A. Hodge
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: We have met together this afternoon to engage in the first of a proposed series of discussions of the chief questions in theology. It is not my purpose to attempt to present you with new truth, or even with unaccustomed views of truth long known, but simply to set before you in logical perspective the whole assemblage of the things that from the beginning have been most surely believed among us, so that their symmetrical proportions and harmonious relations may be more clearly discerned and appreciated.
In this view of the matter the most important question is that of order. The perspective of every landscape differs endlessly with the various points of view from which we look upon it. As you sweep rapidly on a railroad among the Alps, the vast mountain-peaks apparently revolve through involved curves and group themselves in innumerable combinations as in a dance, the law of which we are unable to unravel. But when we once gain the central summit in which the whole geological system culminates, we look down upon all the members of the landscape, each in its appropriate place and relations, and the picture is complete. As long as men were confined in their imaginations as well as in their bodies to this small and ceaselessly revolving sphere the movements of our fellow-planets, moving with us, were absolutely incomprehensible. But the instant Copernicus taught us to occupy in idea the solar-centric point of view all was seen to be the simplest and most orderly movement possible.
All theology must therefore be theo-centric, must have God for its beginning and end. There is a great deal of confusion of thought arising from substituting words for thoughts in the pious claim in vogue now-a-days that all theology must be grouped Christo-centrically. There is an immense sense in which every loyal Christian will recognize this as true. In the first place, the revelation of God in Christ is so infinitely more clear and full than in all the universe besides that we may well say not only that Christ is God, but also that there is no God other than the One whose consummate self-revelation is in Christ. In the second place, Christ is undoubtedly the Author and Finisher of our faith and the beginning and ending of human salvation. The entire scheme of salvation begins and ends in his person and work. And, in the third place, all power in all worlds is put in Christ's hands, so that all events are controlled by his will, all history revolves around his person and all science finds its key in his doctrine. Notwithstanding all this, however, Christ is central because Christ is God. The unincarnate God and his natural relations to the universe must be logically prior to and more fundamental than the incarnate God and his gracious relations to his creatures. The apostle Paul has a deep meaning when he says (1 Cor. 11:3): "The head of every man is Christ, … and the head of Christ is God;" which is equivalent to saying, "The centre of every man is Christ, and the centre of Christ is God."
Three questions therefore obviously lie at the foundation not only of all man's religious knowledge, but equally at the foundation of every possible form of knowledge:
(1) Is there a God?
(2) What is God?
(3) What is God's relation to the universe?
And if he does sustain a relation to the universe which is in any degree intelligible to us, a fourth question emerges:
(4) What is the sphere, nature and extent of his providential action upon or in reference to his creatures?
The answer to the first question, as to the fact of God's existence, we propose in these lectures to assume as granted. The most certain of all truths is the existence of God.
I. The second question, therefore, presents itself: WHAT DO WE KNOW AS TO THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF GOD?
God reveals himself to us through the simultaneously concurrent action of two sources of knowledge, neither of which could give us the information separately. We are, each one, immediately conscious that we are intelligent, moral, voluntary agents and true causes. This, and all that this involves, comes to us by consciousness It is the most immediate and certain of all knowledge, and that upon which all other knowledge rests; and we give definite expression to this self-knowledge when we call ourselves spirits and persons. It is precisely this, and nothing else, that we mean by the words "spirit" and "person." When we come to look upon the course of external nature, to reflect upon our own origin and history internal and external, and upon the history of the human race and the life of the general community of which we form a part, we immediately and indubitably discern everywhere the presence and control of a Being like ourselves in kind. In that intelligible order which pervades the infinite multiplicity and heterogeneity of events, and, which makes science possible, we see and certainly know the presence of intelligence, of personal will, of moral character—i. e. of all that is connoted by our common term "personal spirit." God is seen to be of common generic character with ourselves. The great difference we see is that while we are essentially limited in respect to time or space or knowledge or power, God, the personal agent we see at work in nature and history, is essentially unlimited in all these respects. The only reason that so many students of natural science have found themselves unable to see God in nature is that their absorption in nature has made them lose sight of their own essential personality. Hence they have attempted to interpret the phenomena of self-consciousness in the terms of mechanical nature, instead of interpreting nature under the light of self-conscious spirit. But the scientist, after all, comes before his science, the reader before the book he deciphers. And the intelligibility of nature proves its intelligent source, and the essential likeness of the Author of nature, who reveals himself in his work, and of the interpreter of nature, who retraces his processes and appreciates alike the intellectual and the artistic character of his design.
Since God is infinite, of course a definition of him is impossible. Obviously, no bounds can be drawn around the boundless. God can be known only so far forth as he has chosen to reveal himself. And being essentially infinite, every side and element of his nature is infinite, and every glimpse we have of his being involves the outlying immensity or the transcendent perfection which cannot be known. But since we have been created in his likeness, and since we discern him in all his works as, like ourselves, an intelligent and moral personal spirit, we can define our idea of him by stating (1) the genus or kind to which he is known to belong, and (2) the differentia, or differences, which distinguish him from all other beings of that kind. The best definition of the idea of God ever given is constructed on this principle. First, as to his kind: God is a personal Spirit; second, as to his difference from all other spirits: God is infinite, eternal, unchangeable, and in all his moral attributes absolutely perfect, and he is infinite, eternal and unchangeable alike in his being, in his wisdom, in his power, etc. etc.
First, as to his kind. God is a personal Spirit. We mean by this precisely what we mean when we affirm that we ourselves are personal spirits. This conception comes wholly from consciousness, and it is absolutely certain. We see and know God, as manifested in his activities alike in the whole world within us and around us as far as the remotest star, to be another of the same kind with ourselves. We know ourselves to be intelligent causes. We see him likewise to be an intelligent Cause, and the original, the absolute, and the perfect One.
In applying this law in constructing our idea of God we proceed according to three principles of judgment: (1) That of causality. We judge the nature of every cause from what we see of its effects; we judge the character of every author from what we read of his works. So the manifold works of God, past and present, physical and spiritual, reveal his nature as First Cause. (2) That of negation. We deny of him all those attributes and conditions the possession of which involves imperfection—e. g. materiality, bodily parts or passions, the limitations of time or space. (3) That of eminence. We attribute to him all that is found to be excellent in ourselves, in absolute perfection and in unlimited degree.
Second. This leads, necessarily, to the discrimination, in the second place, of those properties which distinguish God from all other personal spirits.
1. We know ourselves as causes; we can really originate new things. But we are dependent and limited causes. We did not originate, and we cannot sustain, ourselves. We can put forth our causal energy only under certain conditions, and we can bring to pass only a very limited class of effects. But God as a cause is absolutely independent and unlimited. He is the uncaused First Cause of all things. He is an eternal and necessary Being who has his own cause in himself. He is not only the first link in the chain of causation, but he is the everywhere present sustaining and actuating basis of all dependent existence and the originating con-cause in all causation, because we and all other dependent causes act only as we live and move and have all our being in him.
2. We know ourselves always and necessarily as existing, thinking and acting under the limitations of time and space; we can think or act only under these limitations. But God necessarily transcends all these limitations, and condescends to them only on occasion, at his own pleasure, in the way of self-limitation.
We began to be at a definite period in the past. We continue to exist and to think and to act through a ceaseless succession of moments, the present moment ever emerging out of the past and immerging into the future. But God is without beginning or succession or end. All duration, past, present and future, is always equally comprehended in his infinite consciousness as the ETERNAL NOW.
We are in space definitely, and are surrounded by it, and pass from one position to another through all the intermediate portions of space in succession. But God fills all space: not by extension, like the water of the sea or as the atmosphere; not by multiplication, nor by rapid movement, like an ubiquitous general along the line of his army; not as represented by his agents, as the head of an army or state may be said to be and to act wherever his agents carry out his orders; not by his knowledge or his power merely, as when an astronomer may be said to be in thought wherever his telescope points, or a great sovereign to reign wherever his laws are obeyed. But by reason of his own infinite perfection, Father, Son and Holy Ghost are in their whole undivided being present at every point of space at every moment of time. The whole God is always everywhere: within all things, acting from within outward from the centre of every atom, and from the innermost springs of the life and thought and feeling and will of every spirit; without all things, embracing them as an infinite abyss, and acting upon them in a thousand ways from without.
3. We know ourselves as possessing the spoiled and defaced lineaments of a moral character, the main elements of which are truth, purity, justice, benevolence. We know that God, who has revealed his character in the external physical world, in human history and in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, is the absolutely perfect norm of our moral idea. Our morality is reflected, his is original and radiant. Ours is defective, his is absolute. It has become the weak and conceited mode of those who pose as the advanced thinkers of this luxurious age, to emphasize the benevolence of God at the expense of his immaculate holiness and justice. They teach us that the cultured mind finds the old doctrines of blood-expiation and of eternal perdition utterly inconsistent with its better idea of God. They think the great God "altogether such an one as themselves." The ground of this widely-advertised opinion is purely subjective—the Christian consciousness of the cultured élite in contradistinction to the historic Christian consciousness of the ages. The facts are all on the other side. The terrible record of him in history, blazed all along its line with the fires of judgment kindled by a sin-hating God, the death-throes of individuals and of nations, the answering cry of the human conscience uttered in the ceaseless rites of blood on altars and penitential stools, the entire voice of revelation, from the cherubim with the fiery sword driving out the homeless, helpless first pair from Eden, the frowning thunders and blasting lightnings of Sinai, the history of Canaan exterminated and of Israel chastised, the awful horrors of Gethsemane and Calvary, the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion and bondage of the Jews, to the final issue of the lake of fire set as the background of the picture of the Paradise regained, the eternal wailing and the smoke of torment ascending for ever and ever,—all these FACTS stand as the unquestionable evidence of the existence of other perfections in God besides benevolence.
II. The third question remains: WHAT RELATION DOES GOD SUSTAIN TO THE UNIVERSE HE HAS CALLED INTO BEING?
It is very evident that since we are able to comprehend neither God's essential being, nor his mode of existence superior to the limits of either time or space, nor the nature of his agency in creating, upholding in being or in governing his creatures, we cannot by any central principle or a-priori mode of reasoning think out a perfect theory of his relation to the universe. We can only state severally the separate facts as we know them, leaving their complete elucidation and reconciliation to the future. And we are both assisted and confirmed in our efforts to present all the facts comprehended, by the circumstance that different heretical schools of thought emphasize one or another of these facts, while they deny or suppress the rest. Here we have a new and striking illustration of the universal principle that all heretical dogmas are partial truths—true in what they assert, false in what they deny or ignore. Orthodoxy is always catholic truth, embracing and integrating all the possibly separate and apparently incongruous parts and aspects of the truth. Thus in the present instance we have the Agnostics, who maintain that the Infinite is the Unknowable; the Deists, who set God apart from the world, separate upon his throne in heaven; and those who maintain exclusively the fact that God is immanent, or uniformly and universally present in all things, while they deny or ignore his equal transcendence above and over all things. True Christian Theism maintains all these partial truths as equally parts of the one truth. God is at once the unfathomable Abyss, the transcendent Father, King and Judge, the immanent and vital Spirit.
First. God is unknowable, the infinite Abyss of darkness in which the universe floats as an atom. Herbert Spencer's philosophy emphasizes the truth that the more science advances, the more must the questions as to origin, first cause, ultimate force and end, be pushed back into darkness. If you light a spark in a starless night, it will fill a small sphere of illuminated space extending equidistant in all directions. If the spark becomes a candle, if the candle becomes a flame of gas, if the gas-flame becomes an electric arc, if the electric are becomes a sun,—in every case the sphere of light will grow as the cube of its radius; and as the sphere of light becomes larger and larger, in exact proportion will it be enfolded within an ever-growing sphere of darkness. In this sense the more we meditate upon him, God is ever beyond. In this sense, while the sphere of human knowledge is ever increasing, and will through eternity never cease to increase, God is always unknowable. And the sphere of a creature's knowledge, be it that of an infant or of a man or of a philosopher or of a prophet or of saint or archangel in heaven, will float as a point of light athwart the bosom of that God who is the infinite Abyss for ever.
This tremendous fact conditions all human knowledge in every stage of it. We can know anything only imperfectly, whether in science or in theology, because we know things only in parts, and can never comprehend the absolute whole. The botanist cannot comprehend a single flower except as he takes in the whole plant, nor the whole plant except as he takes in the whole species, nor the whole species except as he takes in the whole genus, nor the whole genus except as he takes in the whole system of organized life, the entire fauna and flora and all their history on the earth. The teacher may easily explain the laws and movements of the solar system to his class, but he knows them himself very partially, since he knows so little of the realities or of the history of the stellar universe of which the solar system is so small a dependency. All things go out into mystery. All our knowledge is conditioned upon the essential unknowableness of God. In all our knowing and in all our worship, the infinite God is always beyond.
This side of the truth is taught as clearly in the oldest word of revelation as it is in the latest word of science. "Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is larger than the earth, and broader than the sea" (Job 11:7–9).
Second. God is transcendent; that is, he is a distinct Person, separate from the world and from all other persons—who speaks to us face to face, who commands our wills and regulates our lives from on high; who upon occasion, when he wills, acts upon the universe or any part of it from without. He is objective to each one of us, as a distinct Person, alike when he speaks to us and when we speak to him. He created all things out of nothing. The universe is not a modification of his essence nor is it confused with his substance; he is essentially something other than any one of his creatures, the extramundane God. The relation he sustains to the universe, therefore, is analogous to that of a maker to his work, of a preserver and governor of a mechanism, of a father to his children, of a moral ruler to his intelligent and responsible subjects.
This view of the nature of God and of his relation to the world, and especially his relation to created spirits, is common to Deists and Christian Theists. It is denied utterly by Pantheists, and it is ignored in whole or in part by the modern special advocates of the immanence of God as containing all the essential truth related to our interests in the matter. Yet this view just presented of God's separate personality and agency and objectivity to man and transcendence above the world is true and infinitely important, although we concede that it is not the whole truth known to us on the subject. The view of God as extramundane is essentially the moral view of his relation to the world; that which recognizes his immanence is pre-eminently the religious view. If he be not extramundane, if he be not a separate transcendent person revealing himself objectively, commanding from above and working upon his creatures from without, it follows that he cannot sustain either social or governmental relations to us. He cannot be truly our Father, or our Lawgiver, or our moral Governor, or our Judge distributing rewards and punishments; he cannot come down at his will from without and work miracles of grace or power as signs and seals to his intelligent creatures.
This is the prominent view embraced by the mass of the worshipers in all theistic religions, Jews, Christians and Mohammedans alike, among all historic bodies of Christians, Greeks, Romanists and all classes of Protestants. It is realized in the consciousness of every repentant sinner and of every believing Christian. It is implied in all faith and obedience, in all prayer and praise, and hence in all the psalms, hymns and prayers of the Church. It is taught equally in all Scriptures, the New Testament as well as the Old, which show forth Jehovah as sitting upon his throne in heaven, and as sending his messengers and as transmitting his energies and his judgments from heaven to earth, and as marshaling the hosts of heaven and the nations of the earth from afar. Above all, is this truth made patent as the sky, a matter of daily personal experience, in the personal incarnation of God in Christ. Christ is God. Christ is the same to-day and for ever as he was when he lived on earth. God is therefore a Person who is outside of and distinct from the world and all other persons; who speaks to us and we speak to him; who hears us and we hear him; who commands, leads and guides us from without as another; and in whose personal society and under whose blessed reign we shall be transcendently happy for ever.
Third. God is immanent. He is everywhere present in every point of space and within the inmost constitution of all created things at the same time. God's activity springs up from the central seat of energy in all second causes, and acts from within through them as well as from without upon them. He reveals himself in us and to us through our own subjectivity, as well as objectively through the things presented to our senses. He is the universal present and active basis of all being and action, the First Cause ever living and acting in all second causes.
This is evident, 1st, from the essential nature of God as omnipresent and as First Cause, the foundation of all dependent existence and the ultimate source of all energy. 2d. This is evident from what we see very plainly in the entire sphere and history of the physical universe. The impression made by the most transient observation is abundantly confirmed by science, that the continuity of physical causation through all worlds, through every sphere of mechanical, chemical and vital action, and through all the succeeding ages, is absolutely unbroken. There are no broken links, no sudden emergencies of disconnected events, but a continuous sequence of cause and effect everywhere.
The deistical conception of God's relation to the universe is analogous to that of a human mechanist to the machinery he has made and operates. He sits outside his engine, feeds its forces, adjusts its parts, controls its action, and thus directs its energies upon the accomplishment of its appointed ends.
The conception of God and of his action as immanent in the universe, acting from within through the spontaneities of the things he has made, rather than upon them from without, is analogous rather to the action of the vital principle of a plant, which as a plastic architectonic energy is ever present within the germ from its first formation, and continues to control all the natural physical forces engaged in the upbuilding of the organism through all its organs during its entire life. The works of man are built up by the adding of part to part by external forces. The works of God grow continuously through the evolution of germs from within, by internal forces. Thus, in spite of the infinite number and diversity of the forces interacting in all the physical universe, and of all the wills interacting in human society, the history alike of the physical universe and of human society presents the absolutely continuous unfolding of a single plan.
The same great truth is illustrated in our religious experience. A divine power not ourselves, working for righteousness, enters us on the side of our own subjectivity, and is confluent always with our most spontaneous and least deliberative exercises. Thus, regeneration is an effect of God's immediate working within the soul below our consciousness, giving a new character to all our conscious states and acts. God works within us constantly to will, and by willing to do, of his good pleasure. And thus also, while each book of Holy Scripture was written by a human author in the language and style peculiar to his age, his nation and his personal character, and in the perfectly free exercise of all his faculties, yet all the books are the WORD OF GOD. His suggestive, elevative and directive influence has so worked in them from within, mingling freely with their own spontaneities, that the writing is at once both God's and theirs, both supernatural and natural, because they, being men, wrote as they were moved by the immanent Spirit of God. Angels and men influence one another from without by objective presentations; God influences all from within by subjective impulses. Hence we realize the complementary truth that we live and move in him and have all our being in him. In some distant sense, as the birds draw their life and have their being in the air, God is the one essential, fundamental environment and life-condition of all creatures.
The consequences of this great fact of the divine immanence are:
(1.) The whole universe exists in God. As the stars in the ether, as the clouds in the air, the whole universe floats on the pulsing bosom of God.
(2.) All the intelligence manifested in the physical universe, all that larger and timeless intelligence which embraces and directs the limited and transient intelligence of the human actors in the drama of history, is of God. In the physical world we see an infinitude of blind, unconscious forces, apparently independent in their nature and source, working together harmoniously to build upon a continuous and universal plan the most intricate and harmonious results, as the great cathedral dedicated to St. Peter in Rome rose out of the marble quarries of Italy through the agency of multitudes of thoughtless men and beasts of labor working without concert for many years, yet conspiring to balance harmoniously in the air a miracle of mechanical construction and of artistic beauty. It was because all the agents in that work, of all kinds and during the entire period of its development, were subject to the suggestive, elevative and directive inspiration of the great Michael Angelo.
(3.) Hence, also, in the third place, it follows that all the effect-producing energy seen in the physical universe is ultimately the efficiency of God. The First Cause must be the efficient cause of all second causes and the source of all the dependent energy they ever exercise. As the sun's rays, shining on the tropic seas, raise by evaporation the vast oceans of aërial vapors which, condensed by our northern cold, precipitate in rain and generate the immense forces of our rivers and waterfalls; as ultimately all the energies of nature distributed from our central suns hold the worlds together in the form of gravity, and are differentiated into the thousand forms of vegetable and animal life, and into the mechanical movement of the currents of winds and tides and of electric currents and of radiant light,—so all these issue ceaselessly from their ultimate seat in God. What the sun is to the solar system, what the furnace is to the steamship, what the great centre of nerve-force is to our bodies, that God is to his universe, and infinitely more.
(4.) Hence, lastly, it follows that everywhere the universe reveals God. The power of the indwelling spirit to express its changing modes through the changes of the body is a great mystery, and nevertheless is one of the most obvious and constant of all facts. Pallid fear, raging passion, calm contemplation, assured confidence, radiant joy, determined purpose, have each their universally recognized signs of expression current among all nations of men and animal tribes. So the constructive dream of the architect, the ideal of the sculptor and painter, the high theme of the musician, are all expressed in the several forms of their respective arts. The great artists are immortal, since they ever live, speaking and singing in their works. As our souls animate and manifest their presence and their changing modes in every part of our bodies, and as God is immanent and active in all his works, so all nature and the course of universal history reflect his thoughts. All men always recognize events of extraordinary character as expressions of the will of God. Whatever is recognized by us as providential expresses to us the divine thought. Even Shakespeare says that Providence "shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we may." The Christian recognizes every event as providential. Every hair of our head is numbered, and not one sparrow falls to the ground except as our Father wills it. He works in us all to will and to do his good pleasure in all things. Hence every flower is a thought of God. The firmament reflects his immensity, and the order of the stars his limitless intelligence, and the myriad-fold beauty of the world unveils the secret chambers of his imagery. The tempest is the letting loose of his strength, and the thunder utters his voice. To the Christian the universe is not merely a temple in which God is worshiped, but it is also the ever-venerated countenance on which the affections of our Lord toward his children are visibly expressed. Everywhere we see God, and everywhere his ever-active and fecund benevolence toward us is articulated in smile and word and deed.
This view of God, which we signalize by the word "immanence," is not a new one, nor is it confined to philosophers or to theologians. The plainest and most practical Christians of all churches live in the exercise of this faith every day. To the babes in Christ every event is providential and marks the constant thought and care of God. Especially have evangelical Christians of the school of Augustine and Calvin always recognized the constant dependence of the creature and the constant in working of the divine energy as the controlling source of all our spontaneous affections and actions. It is a first principle in their theology that the creature can act only as it is first acted upon by the First Cause. The doctrine of prevenient grace, which is the grand evangelical distinction, implies this. God must first move the sinner to good before the sinner can begin to co-operate with that grace which ever continues to prompt and assist him. Thus they argue for a previous, simultaneous and determining concursus—i. e. continuous co-working—of the ceaseless activities of God with the activities of his creatures. They hold that even the sinful actions of men originate in God as to their matter, while as to their form or moral quality they originate in the creature alone; as when a great artist handles an instrument out of tune the sound that issues is due to the artist, but the discord which deforms it issues only from the unbalanced organism of the instrument, the unstrung cords or the unadjusted pipes.
The claim made by the advocates of the "New Departure" in theology, that this view of God as immanent and constantly active in all his works is new in the thoughts of Christians, is absolutely without shadow of evidence. It has never been denied or seriously ignored, nor is it in the least inconsistent with the complementary view of his personal transcendence and objective presentation and working from without. The Church has always held both sides together of this double truth, as both equally essential and precious.
Neither is this view of the divine immanence to be confounded with Pantheism. They both alike emphasize the common truth that God is within us; that he is to be sought in the sphere of the subjective as well as of the objective; that he is the immediate basis of all created existence and the ultimate source of all the intelligence and energy manifested in the external world.
But Pantheism holds that the whole universe of extension and thought is one substance, and that substance God—that God exists only in the successive forms or events which constitute the universe. These forms are various, but God is one. They are successive, but God endures the same. He is not a person, but all persons are transient forms of his being. He has no existence other than that of the sum of all finite existence, and no consciousness nor intelligence other than the aggregate of the consciousness and intelligence of the transient creatures.
Hence Pantheism denies the freedom of man and the personality of God. It makes all events proceed by a law of absolute necessity. All evil, precisely as all good, comes immediately from God, and evil men are related to him precisely as are saints and angels. It confounds the doctrine of immanence with ontological identity, and it turns it into a heresy by denying the complementary truth of the divine transcendence. It allows no place for a heavenly Father beholding us complacently and providing for us benevolently. It makes no place for a moral Governor and Judge ruling over us, distributing rewards and punishments, teaching, disciplining and acting upon us from without. It makes no place for a supernatural world, for revelations or supernatural truths, for miracles or supernatural works, for a "kingdom of God," a supernatural state, or for a future or supernatural life. Therefore Pantheism in its very essence renders all morality and religion alike impossible.
The Christian doctrine of the divine immanence, on the contrary, is the very essence of all religion. It admits and adjusts itself to the complementary doctrine of the divine transcendence. We begin, as we have shown above, with the conception of God as a distinct Person of absolute intellectual and moral perfection, self-conscious, self-determinate, absolutely free and sovereign, righteous and loving. This is our heavenly Father, the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He created us in his likeness, rules us as our righteous moral Governor and Judge, and executes through all the universe and through all ages his all-perfect and immutable plan conceived in the infinitely wise and righteous counsel of his sovereign will.
This Being, moreover, transcends all the limitations of space and time. He is everywhere present in his eternal essence. The whole essence, with all its inherent properties, is present at every moment of time to every point of space. As First Cause he is the constant, abiding, supporting and actuating basis of every second cause. All creatures exist, and act only as they exist, in him. At the same time, he acts through every atom from within and upon every atom from without. "In him all things live and move and have their being;" He turneth the hearts of men even as rivers of water are turned; He worketh in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure.
This is a function of the divine personality. The fact that the whole indivisible God is eternally in each point of space transcends our understanding, but it does not rationally necessitate the belief in many gods nor in a divided God; nor does it in any way invalidate the proof we have establishing his personality. The Scriptures clearly treat both truths together. The practical faith and experience of all Christians embrace both of these truths together in the same acts of trust and love. Both truths are together implied in all religious experience, recognizing God as our Father, speaking to him and listening to his voice, obeying his word, trusting to his love, and at the same time recognizing him as present everywhere and in all things and events, recognizing his hand in every object and occurrence, trusting him in everything because all nature executes his will, and hence reveals his presence and expresses his thought.
The extension of our knowledge of the physical universe effected by modern science, rendering visible to us the absolute unity of the cosmos, the uninterrupted continuity of the chain of cause and effect, as well as of design, through all space and time, has not altered, but it has greatly emphasized, this religious conception of "the divine immanence." An eminent Christian scientist said to me recently, "God is either in all or in none." It is not possible to believe, when looking upon the course of natural creation and providence, that God comes down upon them at disconnected intervals from without. In the miracle he does that very thing, for "a miracle" is a sign the essence of which is its articulate significance to the answering intelligence of man. But in the natural course of providence the immanent God works continuously, without interval, from within through the spontaneities of the things themselves in which he dwells. He is not in one object or event any more than in all others. The whole course of the universe is divine in every part, except so far as sin has marred it, and all the normal activities of men and angels are religious—i. e. have their source and their end in God.
This view, therefore, evidently differs from Pantheism in that (1) it asserts the distinct personality of God as the Head of a moral government administered over free and responsible agents by a system of ideas and motives. (2) It asserts the distinct personality and moral freedom and responsibility of men. (3) It maintains the distinction of the human and the divine agency, although making the former depend upon the latter. (4) It embraces and adjusts itself to the complementary doctrine of the divine transcendence, which Pantheism renders impossible. (5) While Pantheism makes freedom, morality and religion impossible, this view of the divine immanence in all things is the necessary basis of the highest freedom and of the most exalted morality and of the most vivid religion conceivable. (6) This view, as held by Christians, not only admits, but affords the most rational basis attainable for the supernatural; that is, for the activity in the sphere of nature of that God who in himself infinitely transcends all nature.
III. In this catholic Christian doctrine of the relation of God to the universe we comprehend all the half-truths or heresies which have divided the schools. We recognize all the facts, and we reconcile the practical faith of Christians with the highest science, and we provide a rational basis alike for the natural and the supernatural, for the reign of law and for special miracle, for science and for practical religion.
Here we stand under the blended light of nature and of grace, of science and of revelation. God the infinite, and therefore the timeless and spaceless, the absolutely unknowable, remains ever the unfathomable Abyss. In all our knowing God is always beyond us, hid in the light which is impenetrable.
At the same time, he is always ABOVE us, enthroned in heaven, commanding, revealing, ruling, showering myriad blessings from above.
At the same time, the same infinite God is BEFORE us, looking upon us and speaking with us face to face. He is our heavenly Father. He has formed us in his own image. Our highest life and blessedness are found in his personal communion; that is, personal interchange of ideas and of affections, for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
At the same time, God is ever WITHIN us, the ultimate ground of our being and the unfailing source of our life, the wellspring of eternal life, the inspiration of all spiritual knowledge and beatitudes, springing up within us to the ages of the ages.
All these glimpses of this immeasurable mystery, of God's nature and of his relation to the universe, afforded by the light of nature, are reinforced and gloriously supplemented and illumined by the revealed truths of the Trinity of persons and of the incarnation of the eternal Word.
From Popular Lectures on Theological Themes (eBook)