The Absolute and the Natural World
BEFORE moving on it may be well to mark the main stages of the way we have travelled.
There is only one method of knowing.
Lord Gifford desired to apply the methods of the natural sciences to religion with a view to proving the possibility of establishing what he called “Natural Religion.” Certain difficulties were encountered which arose from the fact that the methods of the sciences differ. They vary according to the subject-matter. This difficulty seemed to be more serious when the subject was that of religion. But in the last resort it was found that there is in truth only one method of knowing. The sciences philosophy even ordinary thought are engaged in forming and testing conceptions or hypotheses in the light of which facts are disclosed and become intelligible. And the hypothesis with which philosophy is engaged is proffered by it as the ultimate explanatory principle of all reality. It is the Absolute. And the relation of the Absolute of philosophy to the God of religion is one of the problems we must consider hereafter.
The fundamental nature of religion.
We then enquired into the nature of religion. We found it to be man's refuge from the disappointments of finitude and above all from the shortcomings which he discovers in himself. Over against the limitations weaknesses failures there stands for the religious spirit the fulness of infinitude strength and security. “Over against” however is a misleading phrase for religion places a divine plenitude in man's own reach. It unites God and man and unites them so intimately as it would seem that a man's very self appears to cease to count. His life is not his own. It is not he that lives but his God lives in him.
The apparent inconsistency of religion and morality.
But the claims of religion thus uncompromisingly urged seemed to be incompatible with man's moral life. For it can hardly be questioned that one of the essential conditions of morality is the responsibility of the moral agent for his actions as the results of his own choice and the free expression of his personality. Man's moral destiny is exclusively in his own hands. It is for him and for him only and alone to make or to mar his moral character. Neither man nor God himself can do this for or instead of him. This moral demand we stated as uncompromisingly as the apparently opposite demand of religion.
In the next place we sought and I believe found a way of reconciling religion and morality. Morality is the process of realizing the principle of religion. It is religion in practice and only as religion in practice is morality at its highest and best or religion itself a reality.
To effect this reconciliation the ordinary view both of religion and of morality had to be modified. Religion ceases to be a satisfaction that brings idle rest; the rest it brings is that of devoted activity in the service of a Perfection with which man has unreservedly identified his own well-being. Morality ceases to be the hopeless pursuit of an ever-receding ought to be and becomes a process of continued successive attainment. Every good act becomes in turn an inspiration to a better and brings insight into wider purposes. From this point of view one would hear as little of the hardships and hazards of the moral life as we do in the case of intellectual progress. Morality is continued self-realization through self-sacrifice—the consciousness of sacrificing the self in doing one's duty being most evanescent and its illusoriness easily exposed. It is the way to the moral act not the act itself that is sometimes though by no means always rough. And there are lives whose dedication to the Highest their God is so complete that He is with them at every step of the journey.
The problem of evil. The easy escape from it.
We were then confronted with the problem of evil—both natural and spiritual; for there can be no denial of the fact that observation of the ways of men shows them to be often irreligious and secular even when not immoral. It is not everyone who is in pursuit of moral goodness or who is designedly converting the circumstances of his daily life into means of moral growth. On the contrary there are extremities of wickedness and of suffering which it would be hard indeed to justify if we considered them as specific parts of a deliberate plan. There has seemed therefore to be no option except to say that there are “unplanned” occurrences or “contingencies” things which have crept into the scheme unpermitted or at least unforeseen. But it is harder still to justify them (or anything else) except as parts of a plan. So we rejected this very obvious way of running away from the difficulty. Nor was it lack of acquaintance with pain or sorrow or alas sin that enabled us to look the problem in the face and to seek for a place within the plan even for these evils. We therefore tried anew to determine the essential character of evil.
No natural good or evil has an intrinsic character.
Natural evil such as sickness pain bereavement poverty absence of the friendly regard of neighbours offered comparatively little difficulty. Natural good and evil we found are not good or evil in their own right. If the moral standard of value is the correct standard then we must wait for the moral issue of natural occurrences before calling them good or bad.
The difficulty as to moral evil is much more serious. Events in the moral world have a finality of character which natural events do not possess. The good or the evil is intrinsic. There is as we say no getting over it. Its existence must simply be acknowledged. There were however certain considerations which prevented the need of acknowledging its final triumph or its existence as limiting or annulling either the power or the goodness of God and thereby stultifying religious faith.
This life's stage may be too narrow to decide its final nature.
(a) First while it is true that the observation of the lives of men yield instances in which the evil will grows in power unto the end of the individual's life it is also possible that the end has not as yet arrived. There are other possibilities; and they may well seem to amount to probabilities. It was pointed out that the destiny of beings whose nature is spiritual; may be a matter whose issues are too great to be decided by and in this transitory and uncertain physically conditioned life. The absence of adequate premisses ought to arrest judgment on the matter; and the right to deny is in no way stronger than the right to affirm.
This world may be a school of virtue and the best world for that reason. If so the possibility of moral evil must remain.
(b) Secondly and this was our main argument if the present world can be regarded as a school of virtue and if learning goodness is worthy of every sacrifice then to permit man to choose between right and wrong (having first provided him with spiritual capacity for making such a choice; and secondly given him such a bent towards goodness that he never chooses evil because of its evil; and finally having placed him in a world which favours good conduct) is a supreme expression of Divine Love. God has given to man a chance of attaining what is highest and best: and God's benevolence could go no further.
If these things are true then the existence of evil is not equivalent to a refutation of religious faith. We can still believe in the unlimited goodness of God and can recognize the possibility of evil as one of the conditions of its operation.
Can philosophy meet the demands of religion?
These were the main conclusions to which our argument seemed to point. We must now examine them and in particular decide whether philosophic enquiry verily does in this way ratify religious faith and satisfy its demands. Can the Absolute of philosophy be identified with the God of religion; and can the religious needs of men be met in that way? Will the intelligence of man provide what his heart desires? Can the consideration of finite facts lead to the knowledge of God?
Our investigation must set out from the consideration of such facts and events. We seek to discover that which explains finite things and shows them real; for they are real though not in virtue of themselves. In the first place the isolated finite fact is a figment. It is in relation to other facts and only in that relation that facts act and are; and it is only in their activities that they reveal and actualize themselves. It cannot be too often or emphatically affirmed that things are what they do. Now this relational process could conceivably be either endless and therefore inconclusive; or it could culminate in the affirmation of that which is at once real in virtue of its own nature and that from which all else derives its reality. I mean that all objects and events when examined would in that case point to it as the ultimate real from which they are derived and only in relation to which they have themselves meaning value or reality.
The agnostic's attitude not really possible.
The first course is in practice adopted by the agnostic. He despairs of knowing the self-justifying real and he recognizes that in consequence no part of his knowledge has unconditional validity and finality. His attitude if he could maintain it is that of one who refrains from committing himself. But such an attitude cannot be maintained. At the heart of every person's experience there are principles which are taken to be true. At least they are not questioned.
Degrees of certitude.
But while a cognitive attitude which can say nothing except “I don't know” is not practically or theoretically defensible there are on the other hand varying degrees of certitude. And in one sense at least the degree or certainty that is required grows as we move from science to philosophy and from philosophy to religion. The scientific man can afford to be less reserved than the others in his confession that his ultimate principles are only his best guesses and that his laws are merely hypotheses and apply only to a limited region or to some single aspect of objects. But the philosopher stakes the whole of his mental life on his doctrine. The failure of a fundamental philosophical conviction brings into experience universal chaos.
Religion demands complete certainty.
Difference between the Absolute of philosophy and the God of religion.
But the ruin that the breakdown of a philosophy brings to the intellectual life is in its turn far less complete than that which follows the loss of religious faith. There is a refuge in the former case in the field of practice: it is possible by narrowing one's life to silence the questionings of the intelligence. But in the second case that of religion no way of escape is left: in no direction is it worth while for the spirit of man to seek to move. Conviction must be complete; faith must in every practical sense be equivalent to certainty. The impatience of the religious spirit with those who seem to place (as I have done) the faith of religion on the same level as the hypotheses of a science is quite intelligible. Religion demands certainty that it can trust; philosophy offers what is at best only the most reasonable conjecture the likeliest guess. And it would thus appear that the demands of “the heart”1
cannot be met by the use of the intelligence. A vast difference seems to separate the conception of the whole or Absolute as the ultimate focus of all finite things which philosophy offers and the conception of a Divine Being to whose goodness and power there is no limit which religion demands. We have on the one hand a philosophical certainty that looks very empty seeing that it only affirms the wholeness of the universe and the ultimate dependence of things on an Absolute of which nothing except its absoluteness is known; and on the other hand we have an ample and satisfying but utterly defenceless religious faith. Can they not be brought together and made supplementary? There is one sense in which philosophy offers more than religion wants. The religious spirit can be content to escape from the world for the sake of being one with its God. It has no direct concern in anything except the redemption of the soul and once the assurance is reached that the sin has been forgiven the sin passes out of sight and is as if it had never been. But the whole or Absolute which philosophy affirms must be all-inclusive and must carry the past with it. There can be no reality of any kind outside of the scheme.
The comprehensiveness of the Absolute.
This means in the first place that there can be no contingencies not even in detail. The links that connect the detail with the whole scheme are there whether we find them or not if the conception of the harmonious whole which reason seems to demand is valid. And unless we can presuppose an order that is universal we can affirm it securely nowhere. Every loss must be convertible into gain by the alchemy of the spirit and every tragedy must on this view contribute to the triumph of order over contingency and of good over evil; otherwise we cannot speak of the Universe as a whole or of the Absolute as its principle. It is one thing to admit that we do not know a law and another to affirm that no law exists. We do the latter in affirming “contingencies.”
The Absolute leaves room for differences within its unity.
The inadequacy of the idea of sameness
The Absolute expresses itself in the processes of nature and more fully in those of man's nature.
In the next place the all-inclusive Absolute which philosophy establishes and indeed which thought presupposes must be such as to cherish and maintain and in nowise obliterate or obscure or extinguish the differences of the elements which have a place in it. It must be adequate to the Universe for which it is an experience—adequate to its variety as well as to its unity. And the universe is wonderfully rich in meaning and beauty and spiritual worth could we but escape from our littleness and let it inundate the soul. The poet helps us at times and with his aid we catch a glimpse of the world's splendour. Then the spring-wind reveals itself as a dancing psaltress passing over the wintry earth's breast to waken it and is much more than a senseless gust.
“The herded pines commune and have deep thoughts
A secret they assemble to discuss.”
They are not merely a group of trees to the poet; and he helps us to rejoice in nature's munificence. Science comes too with its steady light. And the artist in colour and form indicates—for he can do little more—the details of the beauty of natural objects in new ways. Nor must we think that poetry is pure invention. It is part of the nature of things which the poet sets free. There is beauty everywhere not only in the butterfly's wing but at the very heart of the pebble. Finally the musician intervenes. He brings with him perhaps the most miraculous of all the benevolent intrusions into our commonplace life and sets free an altogether new feature of the real. The Absolute must not merely contain these but permit them to retain within it nay it must contribute their distinctive character. It is not a blank sameness as of ultimate substance in which all differences disappear that the conception of “wholeness” implies. Sameness of this kind implies impoverishment: not inclusion but exclusion. When it is attained it is found to be empty; and being empty to have itself neither reality nor meaning. The finite objects within the Absolute whole must be themselves expressions of it. There is no least evidence of the existence of the Absolute except in that which it furnishes itself and as it operates in finite objects. They are processes of the Absolute and the Absolute is the process or the constant creative activity which appears to us as the fixed order of the scheme of things. For the static character of objects is I believe an illusion. Their apparent fixity is that of an operation ever carried on in accordance with law. The scientific man accounts for an object by discovering its law; and a law is the mode of operation of a universal. Physics knows no reality except some form of energy and nature is for science the scene of its transformations. And when we pass from inanimate objects to living things and from living things onwards to beings that live the life of reason and have cognitive aesthetic and volitional experiences the evidences of process accumulate. It is obvious that when rational activities cease nothing remains; even their objects whether they be beauty goodness or truth pass away. The facts of the world of spirit are ways in which spirit acts and spirit is what it does. When spirit does not act nothing spiritual can exist. Truth does not exist as an entity nor does goodness nor beauty. To speak of them as taken up into the absolute or contained in it or as transformed and transcended on admission into it is to attribute to them an actuality separate from spirit which they do not possess and to forget that they are its processes. They are I repeat the Absolute in process of self-revelation; and its existence consists in this process of self-manifestation in finite objects.
The continuity of nature and spirit and the reinterpretation of the former in the light of the latter.
I have spoken of the spiritual manifestations of the Absolute as if they were other than its expressions in the constant processes of nature. But it cannot any longer be doubted that account for it as we may mankind is as much a natural growth as a forest of pines. Spiritual activities are not possible to man except in correspondence with a natural environment; and these borrow characteristics from their interaction. More accurately perhaps we might say that the kinship of nature and spirit is the primary fact. The distinction between them is that of aspects or elements of the same real. Morality derives its worth from its eliciting a higher meaning and use from secular objects and the practical trials and tests of a religious faith are its defence and strength and security. The environment has its own function to fulfil; it participates in the spiritual process. The natural region is a stage or degree of the self-manifestation of spirit. Some of the attributes of the indwelling reality are expressed and realized in it. Power we can discern and a power that unlike our own is creative. The power which we can exercise over objects is extraordinarily limited. In the last resort we can only move them into and out of contact with one another and then leave them to operate upon one another. So far from calling them into being we cannot even alter their qualities: we can only change their position in space.
Besides a power quite other than our own we can discern in the natural scheme something of the resources of infinite wisdom or evidences of perfect intelligence; and we cannot cite the beauty of the natural world or the perfection of its order or the variety and greatness of its uses without recognizing something that we can hardly distinguish from the limitless benevolence of a munificent will. But it is not merely prejudice that attributes the highest value and significance to the spiritual manifestations of the real—as when it appears as self-consciousness in nature's highest product namely man. In the light of man's nature the whole scheme must be reinterpreted.
“Man once descried imprints for ever
His presence on all lifeless things: the winds
Are henceforth voices wailing or a shout
A querulous mutter or a quick gay laugh
Never a senseless gust now man is born.”2
There are it seems to me two series of reliable conclusions to which philosophy leads by its persistent enquiry into the nature and meaning and reality of finite things. The first series of conclusions relates to the character of the Absolute: the second series concerns the nature of its relations to its parts or elements or finite content.
Summary of conclusions as to the nature of the Absolute. (a) It is a spiritual reality.
(b)Hence it is an active process culminating in the activities of a perfect humanity
Implications of a complete anthropomorphism.
Inadequacy of the ideas of substance and immanence.
As to the nature of the Absolute it seems to be evident that it must contain all the conditions of all the finite phenomena. No one contends that the natural scheme produced itself: it manifestly points beyond itself for its explanation. And as to the spiritual capacities that manifest themselves in the cognitive aesthetic and moral activities of man (like everything else that is to be found in him) they have a history which passes beyond his individual existence. No one attributes these capacities to the individual himself in the sense that he discovered or invented them. Even their social origin is only secondary. They have been at the making of society and are in fact forms of the real and have come to man as a gift. It is only the use made of them that belongs to the individual. These spiritual qualities were at one time attributed to matter: but now it is seen that matter does not contain the conditions and cannot produce them. That which is spiritual can have no adequate source except in that which is itself spiritual. The Absolute therefore must be spiritual. The process of its self-revelation in the Universe is a spiritual process. Nature is but the earlier and less complete stage of that self-revelation. Man as spirit or as a self-conscious free being making for perfection—man at his best is a truer and fuller revelation. A perfect man were the incarnated God. This is the truth to which Christianity bears witness. The doctrine is undisguisedly and thoroughly anthropomorphic. Its God must therefore be a person or self-conscious individual to whom there is nothing which is finally strange or alien. Spirit that is not individual means nothing. But individuality implies a more intimate and deep relationship between the Absolute and its finite appearances than is conveyed in the phrases usually employed to express it. It is not enough to say that the Absolute contains finite facts; nor even that it transmutes them by relating them to one another through its own unity. Facts are not first given as isolated and then linked together in a system. They are not at one time separate from and at another taken up into the Absolute. The Absolute permanently sustains them. But to regard God as a Being which somehow sustains the different modes of finite existence without implicating itself in their destiny is also inadequate. If we admit the spiritual character of the power that expresses itself in the Universe we at the same time admit its individuality and its self-consciousness: if we admit its self-conscious individuality we admit that which is for itself and gives everything a turn inwards as subjective experience and at the same time and for the same reason that which finds itself everywhere and is veritably omnipresent. But no purely monotheistic conception can meet these requirements: not even that of a creator who projects its products and then lets them be. Self-consciousness inextricably entangles the individual in its object. The self-conscious being is immanent in his world. Every discovery of the meaning or of the use of an object is a refutation of first appearances. For the object at first appears to be purely external and exclusive. It is there; I as subject am here. But in the degree in which it is known its oneness with myself by which it both enriches me and acquires meaning and value becomes more and more indisputable. My world in fact thinks and wills in me because I have overcome its strangeness. Nevertheless even the idea of immanence is inadequate to express the relations of the Absolute to its elements. For the Absolute not merely dwells in their midst like the peace at the depths of an ocean whose surface is storm-tossed. The Absolute which philosophy affirms is one with them. It shares in the activities of the finite object and is a doer and sufferer in the world's life.
The identification of God with the world-process.
I have repeatedly urged that if we desire to know what an object is we must observe what it does. In order to bring out the whole of its characters we must vary the environment by reference to which it acts. For all the actions of an object are reactions—a solitary object would show no activity and in fact never be known. To him then who would know God the answer of philosophy would be: Observe this never-resting Universe as it moves from change to change nor forget the troubled tragic sin-stained shameless elements in the world of man and you will find God working his purpose and manifesting himself through it all. Identify him with the power that sustains the processes of this natural-spiritual world and you identify him with that which as we have seen makes for fuller spiritual excellence. You identify him with something that is better than any static perfection.
But it will be answered to identify the Divine Being with the Absolute of philosophy and the Absolute of philosophy with the world process is to represent the Divine Being himself as passing from one imperfect form of existence to another. Religion it has been admitted demands perfection in the object of its devotion. How can such a conception then meet its requirements? The answer is twofold. In the first place we might examine the static conception; in the second place we might ask whether there can be movement not only from imperfection to imperfection—the pursuit of a receding ideal with which ethical teaching has made us familiar—but from perfection to perfection a movement which is positive attainment all the way. Can the perfect be for ever radiating forth new perfections?
The idea of static perfection examined.
As to the static conception of the perfect I have already indicated how changelessness means absolute inactivity; and how inactivity can be attributed to nothing real which we know and least of all to spiritual reality. For it to be at all is to be operative outgoing losing itself to find itself immersed in the Universe and returning to itself through the Universe. I cannot call that which does nothing—which for ever stands aloof from the world-process in eternal fixity—God. Such a God could not at least be a God of Love for love identifies the lover and the loved. Love cannot stand aloof: love lives in the life of its object and shares its fate. Even the isolation of the moral agent does not shut out love. It shares the sorrow though not the guilt of ill-doing and the joy of righteous living.
The divine movement from perfection to perfection.
Bearing in mind what I have tried to prove namely that the Universe which makes for fuller spiritual goodness is the best possible I cannot hesitate to identify the God of religion and the Absolute of philosophy. Nevertheless as absolute self-consciousness and as knowing the end from the beginning God is more than the world-process. That process fulfils his purpose. But God as having purposed the process from the beginning or as not acting blindly not knowing what he doeth is greater than and transcends the Universe. He is already perfect and possesses the future for it is his Will which is being realized in the world.
The suggestions of man's moral history.
All the same there is movement from purpose to fulfilment or from possibility to actuality and the perfection of the instant may be the condition and inspiration of a new perfection. Something of that kind seems to me to be presented by the spiritual history of man. Nothing in the world can be better than the doing of a right deed. In its own way it is obedience to and realization of the absolute law of goodness; nevertheless it is a stepping-stone to some better action still. A wider view of duty ensues or a deeper and more joyous loyalty. Morality is acquirement all the way and in spite of the limited range of every human action in so far as what is right is done there is movement from perfection to perfection. Right actions are perfect actions in their place provided they elicit the best that the circumstances permit. They are often done by very imperfect men and still they stand unstained. Yet every such action is a stepping-stone only; once done it yields its result in the character of the agent and he carries that result within him ever afterwards as an element of his personality and the condition of further service. And every stage has its own worth. The seed of a living plant may be perfect so may its bud and its flower and its fruit. Its history is not the story of a movement from failure to failure. And it seems to me that we can say the same thing of the succession of the stages of the spiritual life. Looking back it is true makes any stage preparatory—a thing essentially imperfect in itself; but all the same every stage has its own character and had its right to be and was justified as it stood.
The God of Love.
I admit that the conception of a moving perfection or of God as a being who ever expresses himself in new perfections has its difficulties; but unlike those of the conception of a static Deity they are not insurmountable. Every least addition to our knowledge we welcome as a lasting attainment. We accentuate the positive aspect of the process. What reasons have we for regarding our moral actions as failures or morality as anything else than what is best of all in process? I know of none. Our unexamined assumption of a static perfection our habit of postponing the triumph of the life of spirit to an end which we have never attempted to define has blinded us to the possibility of a growing perfection and of a best in process. Still less have we taken the process itself as the evidence of perfection. And yet these things are implied in the conception of spirit and of God as a God of Love. For no one will for a moment admit that love can stand aloof from its object unconcerned by its fate. The religious man like Enoch “walks with God.” A light like that of the Shekinah always shines upon his path. He has no will of his own in an exclusive sense; and there is a sense in which not even his personality is any longer his own. These are familiar experiences. Are they possible if God dwells apart and contemplates for ever his own perfection? Would they be possible were God the monarchic Ruler or the Stern Judge demanding a quid pro quo in the blood of a redeemer in return for forgiveness of sins? Or are not all these conceptions irreconcilable with the fundamental truth of the religion of love?
As consciousness implies its object so must the Absolute express itself in the Universe.
Philosophy has performed only a portion of its task in showing how the finite world implies the Absolute. It must also show what necessities if any dwell in the absolute and account for its eternal outgoing and expression of itself in objects. It is not only true that “the finite world cannot be conceived to be complete and independent and that its existence must therefore be referred back to God” but also as Caird said that “in the nature of God there is a necessity and reason for the existence of the world.” To the question sometimes asked “Why did God come out of his isolated perfection so as to complete himself only through the medium of the Universe?” the answer is relatively simple. It is given in the conception of God as Love. Love must have an object. Philosophy gives an answer which in the last resort is the same. Absoluteness undoubtedly implies that self-completeness that positive and commanding relation to objects that possession of its own experience which are involved in self-consciousness. A self-conscious being which has no object and does not possess its opposite and affirm its unity in terms of it is impossible. Hence an Absolute without a world is empty nothingness just as a world without the Absolute is impossible. Nature is the experience the living operation of the Absolute and the Absolute is not only omnipresent in it but real in virtue of it. It is as manifesting itself that the Absolute on its part lives and moves and has its being.
The religious and poetic acceptance of this view.
The religious consciousness as we have seen may almost be said to consist in this conviction of the omnipresence of what is most divine namely perfect and unlimited Love. Those who can rise to the sublime attitude of Wordsworth find no difficulty in the conception. It is in no exaggerated mood of emotional exaltation that he found an “Active Principle”
In all things in all natures; in the stars
Of azure heaven the unenduring clouds
In flower and tree in every pebbly stone
That paves the brooks…”
and even where it is “least respected its most apparent home the human mind.”
The ordinary view of the ordinary man is false to facts because it omits their highest qualities.
Wordsworth affirmed this as “a matter of fact”—and philosophy finds in the conception of a self-conscious Absolute the same plain truth. The erroneous versions of the world's meaning are the irreligious and prose versions: not that of the devout nor that of the poet nor that of the idealist philosopher but the version of the plain man. Where
“Moral dignity and strength of mind
Are wanting: and simplicity of life
And reverence for one's [him] self: and last and best
Confiding thoughts through love and fear of Him
Before whose sight the troubles of this world
Are vain as billows on a tossing sea”:
in these cases the truth may be hidden for a time. It is beyond the reach of the unprepared spirit; which is left the victim of its own shallow deceptions. It is not enough that the world's harmonies should be divine; the soul that can hear must be musical. It is in the awareness of this deeper significance of the world and of life in this glimpse of the essentially spiritual character of the commonest experience that religious conversion consists. And it is not the language of exaggeration to speak of “The eyes being opened or the blind seeing.” Ordinary experience is abstract and what is omitted in our ordinary moods is the best the most true and the most beautiful.
I take it then quite literally that the character of the relation that holds between the Absolute of philosophy or the God of religion and the facts and events of nature is most accurately rendered in our deeper religious convictions in such poetry as Wordsworth's and in the philosophic rendering of it by our great Idealists. The poet the philosopher and the religious man each in his own way helps us to know the natural world in its truth or as it verily is. They set free its limitless suggestiveness reveal its beauty expose its purpose and its meaning—helped herein I need hardly say by science. Except in the light of their teaching we do not know the scheme as it is. What we are apt to miss are its splendour and its final significance; and what we recognize is an impoverished remnant the commonplace counterpart of our own life and interests.
But the relation of the Absolute to the natural Universe is relatively simple: much simpler than its relation to man. We do no violence to the natural scheme by regarding it simply as the expression of the divine will and the mere instrument of a divine purpose. But to represent man as the effect of any kind of anterior cause or the implement of any foreign aim is to do him vital wrong. This deeper problem must be the theme of our next lecture.