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Lecture IV. The Relation of God to the World.


WE have seen that the highest unities are not simple but complex, that is, unities in which an element of difference is contained, and that the unity of God does not exclude, but necessarily involves, the existence of distinctions within the very essence of the divine nature. But the problem would seem to be a more difficult, if not insoluble one, when we are called to reconcile in thought the idea of an infinite, all-comprehending Being with that of a finite world outside of Him to which any real existence can be ascribed. Can we think of God as infinite and absolute without swamping the reality of nature and the individuality and independence of man; or of nature and man as possessing any reality and independence without tampering with the absoluteness and infinitude of God? Do we not seem to be driven by an inevitable necessity of thought to reject one or other of the two alternatives, and to refuse our assent to any theory or doctrine which, whilst accepting both, leaves them in hard, unsolved opposition to each other? On the one hand, does not the very idea of God preclude the existence of any other being than His own—of any object in the universe that has a nature which is not one with the divine essence, of anyevent or action that is not the immediate expression of the divine will? If without a contradiction in terms we cannot conceive of an infinite will and power calling into existence a world that becomes a limit to its own infinitude, are we not forced to explain away the seeming reality we ascribe to nature, and the moral life and freedom of which we seem to be conscious in ourselves? If we think of God as the one originating source, the sustaining energy, the final cause or end of all things, must not the apparent individual existence of material things, each of which seems to the ordinary eye to have a nature of its own, and must not the play and movement of the vast material system in which every object, from the minutest atom to the mightiest orb in space, has its own place and function, and is the centre of an activity and energy that belongs to no other,—must not this aspect which the world presents to our ordinary apprehension be regarded as an illusion which deeper reflection would dissipate? And for the same reason, must not that consciousness of an individual intellectual and moral life, that sense of freedom and self-identity which sets each human spirit apart from every other being in the universe, be after all only a dream of our imagination? And if we could penetrate to the true source of human action, would we not be compelled to regard ourselves, with all our fancied freedom, as only puppets of an infinite will, and our very existence as the insubstantial evanescent accident of the one infinite substance?

On the other hand, if we fall back on our own immediate consciousness, on that conviction of the reality of ourselves and the world in which we live, which seems to be clearer and stronger for us than any theory as to the origin of the universe, how shall we retain without modification our faith in the absolute and infinite nature of God? If, in other words, we abide by what to the ordinary consciousness is the inalienable conviction of the reality of the outward world, and by what to beings capable of a moral life is the still more indestructible sense of freedom, of being masters of themselves and makers of their own character and destiny, are we not constrained to have recourse to some conception of the relation of the infinite and finite, the divine and human, which, in claiming for man an independent spiritual nature and a sphere of moral activity that not even Omnipotence can invade, necessarily imposes a limit on the absoluteness and infinitude of God?

In the history of human thought we shall find that the alternatives I have thus stated are those to one or other of which the mind of man has often turned in its attempt to deal with the problem of the relation of God to the world. The first and simplest solution of that problem is Pantheism, the theory which so emphasizes the infinitude and absoluteness of the divine nature as to reduce the world to an illusory appearance or semblance of reality, and virtually to annul the freedom and moral life of man. Again, in the recoil from this pantheistic exaggeration of unity, human thought has often betaken itself to the opposite exaggeration of difference which is involved in the Deistic or dualistic attitude of mind,—a view which so emphasizes the reality and independence of the world as to reduce God to an anthropomorphic personality, a Creator or Contriver conceived after the analogy of a human artist, or a Moral Governor, after that of an earthly ruler or law-giver.

Finally, there is yet one other conception in which, as I believe, lies the only complete and satisfactory solution of the problem. In Christianity and the Christian idea of God, we reach a conception which embraces and does full justice to the elements both of unity and difference, a principle in the light of which the opposition of Infinite and Finite is seen to be no longer an absolute one. In the idea, in other words, of God as infinite Self-consciousness or Self-revealing Spirit, we attain to the conception of an Infinite Being who neither limits nor is limited by the finite world, but reveals or realizes Himself therein; and, on the other hand, of a finite world which is neither absorbed in, nor irreconcilably opposed to, the Infinite, but finds its reality and perfection only in union with the being and life of God. For, as I shall attempt to show, it is of the very essence of mind or spirit that it contains in it the necessity of self-manifestation in objective form, and therefore that which we speak of as “the creation of the world” must be conceived as the expression not of arbitrary will, but of the very nature and being of God. Yet, on the other hand, whilst infinite mind or spirit implies a world of objects, in one sense external to and other than itself, it is also of its very nature that it should not be limited, but, so to speak, expanded and enriched by their existence. Finally, it is involved in the idea of Infinite Intelligence that whilst it comprehends and subordinates to itself all finite things and beings, it yet does not suppress or tamper with their individuality and independence, but is rather the very source and principle of it; and therefore the infinitude of God, so conceived, is not only not inconsistent with, but is the very spring and secret of the life of nature, and of the moral and spiritual life of man.

Following out the train of thought I have thus indicated, I shall, in the present and following lectures, ask your attention to a brief examination (1) of the Pantheistic, (2) of the Deistic or Dualistic and (3) of the Christian view of the relation of God to the world.

“Pantheism” is one of those terms to which though of familiar use, vague and often contradictory meanings are attached. Perhaps, what it generally stands for in popular thought is the notion or doctrine which identifies God with the world. According to this view, all things and beings are parts of the divine nature, all events and actions expressions of the divine activity. The forces of nature, the movements of the human spirit, the incidents of each individual life, the history of nations and of the human race, all thinking things, all objects of all thought, are immediate manifestations of the being and life of God. We do not need to rise above the finite world to find God, or to discern in nature and man proofs of the divine existence; for nature and man are themselves divine. Pantheism, so understood, is simply the deification of the finite world. But it needs little reflection to see that this identification of the Infinite with the finite is an irrational and impossible notion, and that apart from the self-contradiction it involves, it is a notion devoid of any religious significance. It is of the very essence of religion, even in its most elementary form, that it involves the elevation of the human spirit above the world, an aspiration at least after something beyond the visible and temporal, deeper and higher than the immediate objects of sense and sight. Even the stock or stone before which the most ignorant idolater bows is to him something more than a stock or stone. There would arise in his breast no feeling of fear or awe or absolute dependence, if he saw in it nothing more than a piece of matter he can touch and handle, if it did not awaken in him some dim conception of that which the eye cannot see or the hand grasp,—an immaterial presence of which the material object is only the sign or symbol.

When we inquire into the real significance of Pantheism as a phase in the religious history of the world, we find that it is not only something different from, but the very opposite of, this deification of the world. It means, not the divinity, but rather the nothingness and insubstantiality of the things that are seen and temporal. One of the first manifestations of religious feeling, one of the earliest evidences of the religious consciousness in man is the awaking sense of the evanescence, the mutability, the lack of permanent reality, which seems to be the universal characteristic of earthly and finite things. It is a much later stage of thought when, in the manner of the modern natural theology argument, it attempts to rise from the existence of the world to the notion of a First Cause or of an all-wise and powerful Creator. It is not what the world is, but what it is not, that first sets the mind on feeling after, “if haply it may find,” a reality above and beyond it. “The world asset away and the lust thereof”; “the things that are seen are temporal”; “what is your life? it is even but a vapor that appeareth for a little and then vanisheth away”: such words as these express a feeling coincident with the very dawn of reflection, the feeling which is called forth by the fleeting, shifting character of the scene on which we look, by the brevity and uncertainty of life, the unsatisfying and disappointing nature of its pleasures, the lack of any permanent object which our thought can grasp and on which our hearts can rest—the feeling, in short, which the insubstantiality of the world and the things of the world awakens in the mind. It is out of this sense of the vanity and unreality of finite things that a pantheistic conception of God naturally develops itself.

For it is not so much by the affirmation, but by the negation, of the finite that the idea of the infinite first reveals itself in the human spirit.1 The so-called cosmological argument, to which I have referred, attempts to find in the existence of the finite world the proof of the existence of an infinite being as its cause. But neither as a logical demonstration nor as an account of human experience is this argument tenable. It starts from the assumed reality of the finite world as finite, and infers from it the reality of an infinite cause or creator. But an infinite confronted by a finite to which equal reality is ascribed—an infinite with a finite world outside of it—is a contradiction in terms. On the other hand, it is not by starting from the finite as real, but rather by the undermining of its reality as finite, that the mind rises to the conception of an Infinite to which alone reality can be ascribed. And what this means is, not simply that in the consciousness of our weakness we feel the need of some higher power to support us,—the longing for some permanent object of trust, some “life continuous, being unexposed to the blind shock of mortal accident.” It means rather that the sense of the unreality of the finite is itself the implicit recognition of the existence of such a Being. The knowledge of God as a conscious object of thought may be a later step in the spiritual experience, but what is second in time is really, though implicitly, first in thought. The discovery of a limit is the proof that the discoverer has already transcended it. The mind's discernment of the finite as finite is due to the presence of the Infinite within it; the power of the eternal betrays itself in the very capacity to recognize the evanescence of the things seen and temporal; it is the rock on which, though we know it not, our feet are resting, that enables us to perceive the flux of the rushing stream which is bearing all finite things away. The idea of God as the only reality is thus the prius or presupposition that expresses itself in the sense of the transiency and unreality of the world. The impression that comes first in time may be that the world is nothing, but that impression would have no existence or meaning if really, though latently, the first principle of Pantheism were not this, ‘God is all.’

The conception of the relation of God to the world which I have thus endeavoured to trace is (1) that which finds its practical expression in pantheistic religions such as Brahmanism and, in one point of view, Buddhism; and (2) that to which pantheistic systems of philosophy seek to give speculative justification. Of the latter, it is in the philosophy of Spinoza that Pantheism may be said to have found its most developed and systematic speculative expression.

With respect to the former, the practical expression of Pantheism in religion, and especially in the religions of India—it would detain us too long from the general argument to attempt anything of the nature of a detailed examination of these religions. I will offer only a few brief remarks in so far as they illustrate the foregoing view of the essential nature of Pantheism. Brahmanism was, from one point of view, a natural development of the primitive Indian religion which is represented by the sacred hymns of the Veda. At first sight this religion, so far from being pantheistic, seems to be simply a polytheistic nature-worship, the worship, that is, of a number of distinct divinities identified with various natural objects, such as the sun, the dawn, the daily and nightly firmament, the fertile earth, rivers and streams, winds and storms. The Rig-Veda is a collection of hymns, invocations, prayers, songs of praise, addressed to various individual devas or divinities—Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, etc., who seem at first sight to be personifications or deifications of the phenomena and forces of nature. It would appear, therefore, that in so far as this religion represents the dawn of man's religious life, the origin of religion is to be found, not in Pantheism, but in a polytheistic nature-worship.

But when we look a little more closely into the matter, we find reason to regard the polytheism of the Veda as only the superficial aspect or veil of another and different conception of God—a conception which gradually revealed its real significance as it dropped more and more the polytheistic form and developed into the undisguised Pantheism of Brahmanism. Careful students of the Vedic hymns have found in them many indications that the various individual divinities are separated by no hard and fast distinctions from each other, and that they are in reality only different names for one indivisible whole, of which the particular divinity invoked at any one time is regarded as the type or representative. In the minds of the writers of these hymns we can detect the latent recognition of a unity beneath all the multiplicity of the objects of adoration—an invisible reality which is neither the heavens nor the earth, nor the sunshine, nor the storm, which cannot be fully represented by any one material object or aspect of nature, though each for the moment may serve as its symbol or exponent. In the Vedic divinities not only is the personal or anthropomorphic element never emphasized, as it is in Greek and Roman mythology, so that the personality ascribed to Mitra, or Varuna, or Indra, or Agni, is scarcely more real than in the thinly veiled metaphors in which modern poetic language speaks of the smiling heavens, or the whispering breeze, or the sullen, moaning, restless sea; but the language in which these various divinities are addressed shows that they flow into each other, and are only varied expressions, from different points of view, for the grander and wider presence of mighty nature—a presence which clothes itself in innumerable guises, but which, however varied, whether soft and gentle, or wild and wrathful, whether it delights or overawes or terrifies, is still one and the same. Nay, we find, especially towards the close of the Vedic period, this instinctive sense of a unity that lies behind and comprehends all individual diversities, finding direct expression in various passages of the Veda. “There is but one,” says one of the writers, “though the poets call him by many names.” “They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni; then he is the beautiful winged Garutmut. That which is and is one, the wise name in diverse manners.”

The pantheistic attitude of mind does not here fully formulate itself into a developed and conscious religious belief. The consciousness of weakness and evanescence, and the aspiration after some higher and abiding rest for the soul, in which we have said pantheistic religion takes its rise, betrays itself here only in a ruder and more elementary form. The mind of the worshipper indicates that which, in the consciousness of its weakness and dependence, it is groping after, by the deification of whatever objects in the outward world can become to it the types of stability and power. It fastens on anything in its surroundings by which it can represent to itself that abiding reality of which it is in quest. The sun that shines on in majestic strength and calmness, far above the capricious, changeful phenomena of the lower world, undimmed and undecaying through revolving years and ages; the silent stars that pursue their mystic course, never hasting, never resting, shedding their pure light on the graves of a hundred generations; the solid and stable earth, the everlasting hills, the great rivers that flow on in seemingly exhaustless continuity while one generation after another comes and goes; above all, that in nature which has for the simple observer the aspect of at least a relative infinitude, the all-embracing heaven which, go where he may, is ever above and around him, expanding as he advances, impenetrable in its liquid depths, and, amidst the instability and evanescence of human life, retaining the aspect of ever-during permanence, and pouring down, age after age, with no sign of impoverishment, its wealth and bounty on the world—in the half-conscious deification of these objects and of that mighty nature of which each of them for the moment is the vivid type and manifestation, the obscure and indeterminate longing for an infinite and eternal object of trust is expressed.

But the pantheistic element which was only implicit in the Vedic phase of Indian religion becomes explicit in Brahmanism, and in particular in the so-called Indian systems of philosophy and in the great Indian epic poems. The same inward movement which led to the breaking down of the limits of the particular divinities impelled the mind to a still further advance. The religious consciousness, dissatisfied with the effort to reach God by the mediation either of the grander objects of nature, or of nature in its totality, now attempts to pass beyond or beneath nature and all natural phenomena, and to grasp the idea of an invisible essence or substance of nature, lying beneath or behind all finite and sensible things. The conception of God which dominates the whole course of Brahmanic thought is that by which, at a certain stage of culture, the mind seeks to represent to itself the unity that underlies all the diversities of the world—the conception of a hidden substance beneath all the ever-changing appearances and accidents of things.

When we speak of any object, a plant, an animal, a human being, which has many different qualities or aspects, or which is undergoing perpetual phenomenal changes, as one identical thing or being, what is it that constitutes its oneness, its permanent reality? This flower or tree has a real existence, is one individual thing, though the qualities of form, colour, fragrance, and so on, by which I perceive it are many and various. It was the same plant yesterday as it is to-day, as it will be to-morrow and all its life long, though outwardly the matter that composes it and the appearances it assumes are never, two days or hours, precisely the same. When I say, it exists, it is one individual thing, it is the same plant which I saw a month ago, what is the “it” of which we speak? Not certainly what we perceive by the senses, for that is not one and the same, but many and various; not the outward material form, for that is perpetually changing, is not indeed for two successive moments the same. And the answer to which, at an early stage, thought, groping after the solution of the problem of the one in the many, half-consciously betakes itself, is that, beneath and behind all the varying qualities, forms, aspects of the plant, there is an unknown, invisible substance, a hidden something that remains constant amidst all changes, accidents, vanishing appearances, and that that is the true and permanent reality of the thing.

Now this, though only imperfectly formulated, is the conception in which Brahmanic thought seemed to itself to have found the key to the riddle of the universe. In the contemplation of the endlessly diversified, ever shifting forms of things, in the consciousness of the instability and evanescence of human life and of all its possessions and enjoyments, the Indian said: These are but the surface appearances, the insubstantial accidents; beneath them all there is one and only one reality, one Being that is and never changes, and that is Brahma. These ancient thinkers did not reason, indeed, after the manner of the modern metaphysician. They were at the stage when the mind can only think in metaphors, and even in their so-called philosophical systems, their deepest reflections are embodied in sensuous figures and images. But when they represent the supreme God as declaring, “I am the light in the sun and moon, I am the brilliancy in flame, the radiance in all shining things, the light in all lights, the sound in air, the fragrance in earth, the eternal seed of all things that exist, the life in all; I am the goodness of the good, I am the beginning, middle, end, the eternal in time, the birth and death of all”;—when, again, they represent the visible material world and the life and actions of man as the illusory phantoms and appearances which a conjuror or magician calls up and the gaping crowd mistake for realities, or as the personages, scenes, events, of a troubled dream;—when they say that “our life is as a drop that trembles on the lotos-leaf, fleeting and quickly gone,” and that such, so evanescent and unsubstantial are the things that seem to be most real, “the eight great mountains, the seven seas, the sun, the very gods who are said to rule over them, thou too, I, the whole universe which all conquering time shall dispel,”—when, finally, they declare that, “A wise man must annihilate all objects of sense and contemplate continually only the One Existence, Brahma, that is without dimensions, quality, character, distinction”;—in these and many other modes of expression Indian thought is only ringing the changes on the one fundamental doctrine of its creed that God is the only reality, the substance of all things, the only Being who really is, and that the apparent reality of all other things and beings is only phantasmal and illusory.

And now let us turn for a moment to the philosophic justification of Pantheism, and especially to that modern system of philosophy in which Pantheism may be said to have found its most elaborate speculative expression—the philosophy of Spinoza.

It would be beside our purpose to attempt here anything of the nature of a critical exposition of the Spinozistic system, but a glance at its leading principles will, I think, serve to confirm the view I have given of the genesis and meaning of Pantheism. Spinoza's philosophy took its rise,2 not primarily from the search for intellectual satisfaction, but from the endeavour to escape from the unrest and dissatisfaction which the ordinary desires and passions engender, and to find some object in union with which the soul would attain to a perfect and abiding rest—a rest such as could not be found in the ordinary objects of human desire. All such objects as wealth, honour, the pleasures of appetite and sense, experience proved to be illusory and deceptive, filling the soul with vain hopes, and in the very moment of attainment vanishing from the hand that seemed to grasp them.

As he reflected on this universal experience, the great thought dawned on the mind of Spinoza that the secret of human unrest and unhappiness lies ultimately in this, that the whole point of view of ordinary intelligence is a false one, that it does not see things as they really are, and that looked at from a new and different point of view, the whole aspect of the world would be revolutionized. We are unhappy because the things on which we lavish our affections have literally no reality. The senses and the imagination practise upon us a fatal deception, under the influence of which we give a fictitious existence to nonentities, mistake fugitive forms and appearances for solid realities. The sure and only way to attain the end we seek is to expose and subvert the false view of the world, and to substitute for it the higher view of reason, which penetrates beneath the superficial shows of things to their real essence; or, in his well-known phrase, to look at all things, no longer under the mask of time and sense, but “under the form of eternity.” To this end he points out that the great and demonstrable defect of our ordinary view of the world is, that it gives to finite things and beings an individuality and independence which do not really belong to them. Common thought is the slave of imagination in this respect, that because it can picture to itself a world of separate individual existences, it supposes them to be really separate and individual. We can divide or set off by arbitrary lines bits of space from the rest, but the division is a purely fictitious one. No one part of space is an independent entity; the periphery which carves out of space a square or circle is a thing of imagination, the portion within is not a really separate existence; remove the imaginary boundary and it becomes one with the circumambient extension to which it really belongs. In like manner, looking on the innumerable and manifold objects in nature, we confound externality in space with independent existence, and represent to ourselves stones, plants, animals, etc., as possessed each of its own isolated, independent individuality.

But when we look at things with the eye of reason, the independent substantiality vanishes, and we begin to discover that each object is what it is only in virtue of its relations to other objects. Each object is only a link in an infinite series of causes and effects; its place, form, functions, activities, are what they are, not merely through itself, but through its connections with other objects and ultimately with the whole universe of being. Not an atom of matter, not a single material substance can be accounted for without taking into view, not only its immediate environment, but the causes or conditions that have created that environment, and the causes or conditions of these causes and conditions, and so on ad infinitum. And the same principle applies to ideas as well as to corporeal substances, to the world of mind as well as of matter. By a trick of the imagination we can look on ourselves as individual, self-determined beings, we can ascribe to ourselves an imaginary freedom by isolating our thoughts and actions from the motives that create them, we can segregate in fancy our souls as well as our bodies from other spiritual beings and from the whole world of intelligence; but, apart from our relations to others, our individual spiritual life is nothing but a mere blank potentiality. Rightly viewed, each so-called individual, with his whole life and the whole compass of its thoughts and actions, is only a transition-point in a process of thought which stretches back through the interminable past, outward through the whole totality of intelligent being, and onward through the illimitable future.

But if thus we cannot find reality, substantiality, self-determined, independent existence in individual things and beings, where is it to be found? The answer of Spinoza virtually is, that it is to be found only in God, that in all the universe there is no reality save in Him. Rise above the illusions of sense and imagination, sweep away the fictitious limitations which lend to finite things a semblance of reality, and you will discern beneath and beyond them the universal, unlimited reality in which their true essence lies. All determination is only negation; it indicates “nothing positive,” not what things are, but what they are not, not real being, but privation or want of being. The real essence of every particular thing or thought is not in itself, viewed as a definite object in time and place. Nor is it even in its innumerable relations to other objects and to the whole collective totality of finite existences; but it is in the Infinite Extension or Infinite Thought from which it and they are only arbitrarily differentiated. Even this last and highest distinction of Thought and Extension, Mind and Matter, seems to be a distinction which exists only for finite intelligence; it rests upon and presupposes a unity which lies beyond all difference, which is the prius and presupposition of all thoughts and things, the unity of that Infinite Substance which we designate God. In this lies the true essence of all things. “Every idea of every particular thing necessarily involves the eternal and infinite essence of God,” of which all particular things are only vanishing modes or modifications. To reach the last secret of the universe, the true nature and essence of all beings, material and spiritual, we must cease to look on them from the point of view of time, we must rise to the point of view from which all temporal and special limits have vanished away, and in which all things are contemplated “under the form of eternity.”3

From what has now been said we may perhaps be able to understand at once the strength and the weakness of Pantheism, the intellectual and moral aspirations from which it derives its plausibility and attractiveness, and its failure to fulfil them.

The great and fundamental defect of Pantheism is, that in the effort after unity it expunges instead of explaining the existence of the finite world; in other words, that it gives us an Infinite which obliterates, instead of comprehending and accounting for, the finite. It is true that in one sense all philosophy is pantheistic. It rests on the presupposition that there is in the universe no absolute or irreconcilable division, no breach of continuity, no element which, in its hard, irredeemable independence, is incapable of being embraced in the intelligible system of things. Every philosophic system that is not dualistic, and for which the terms Infinite and Finite have any real meaning, is pantheistic in this sense, that the ultimate explanation of all things is to be found in God, and that there is nothing in all the universe which has any independence or individuality that cannot be brought back into harmony with His being. Without rending the universe and placing beside or outside of God a finite world which limits Him, whatever reality or independence we ascribe to nature and man, it must not be pressed beyond the point at which it is consistent with their essential relation to God.

But, on the other hand, a philosophy which extinguishes the finite or merges it in God is equally defective with a philosophy which gives it an exaggerated independence. Even if we say with Spinoza that it is only imagination which lends to the things seen and temporal a semblance of reality, that the existence of finite things is an illusion, we must still seek in the idea of God a reason at least for their illusory existence. To say that the finite is the negation of the infinite implies that there is in the infinite at least a negative relation to the finite. Though we have reduced the world to a mere appearance or accident, yet as appearance or accident it still needs to be accounted for. If we are such stuff as dreams are made of, yet our dreams presuppose a wakeful world, and their fleeting vagaries have their explanation in it. But more than that, what is to be accounted for is, not merely the illusion, but the mind that discerns or takes cognizance of it. The mind which perceives and pronounces on the nothingness of the finite world cannot itself be wholly identified with that world. In ascribing to human intelligence the function of abolishing the false reality, we virtually exempt intelligence itself from the process of abolition.

It is obvious, however, that the God of Pantheism is a conception from which no explanation of the existence of the finite world, even as finite and contingent, can be derived. The Infinite Substance of Spinoza is a gulf into which all things are absorbed and from which nothing returns. The regressive movement, as we have seen, by which he reaches it, is simply the removal of the limits by which sense and imagination give a fictitious reality to finite things. To get at the reality, what we have to do is simply to withdraw these limits, and then the arbitrary creations fall back into the Infinite. But the Infinite we thus reach by the annulling of all determinate thought and being, is simply the absolutely indeterminate, the logical abstraction of the unconditioned. It is not the reason of the diversified existences of the world, but the unity that is got by abstracting from them. And as all differences vanish in it, so none can proceed from or be predicated of it. As there is no reason in the conception of pure space why any figures or forms, lines, surfaces, solids, should arise in it, so there is no reason in the pure colourless abstraction of Infinite Substance why any world of finite things and beings should ever come into existence. It is the grave of all things, the productive source of nothing. When we have arrived at it what we reach is not the living, creative origin of all thought and life, but the unfathomable gulf where all is still.

From this point of view we can see what it is in Pantheism that belies the hopes and aspirations which, at first sight, it seems to meet. The motive of Spinoza's speculations was, as we have seen, the aspiration after an infinite and eternal object, in self-surrender to which his spirit could find a rest which no finite object could give, in union with which, so to speak, it could unclothe itself of its own weakness, and be clothed upon with the absolute strength; and undoubtedly this is an element which enters into the very essence of the spiritual life. But whilst Pantheism seems to meet the inextinguishable longing of the human spirit for emancipation from the narrow, bounded life of selfish desires and pleasures, and for participation in that infinite life to which, in the deepest basis of its nature, it is allied, what it really attains is not union with the Infinite, but only a pallid and unreal mimicry of that union. For the Infinite to which it would unite us is not an Infinite of larger, fuller life, but, as we have seen, an Infinite in which all thought and life are lost. Its last result is, not the conscious surrender of finite desire and will, in order to conscious participation in the thought and will of God; but it is the passing away, as if by a suicidal act, of all consciousness, all activity, all individuality, into the moveless abyss of the unconditioned.

Finally, if we ask what is the ethical bearing of Pantheism, the answer must be that a thoroughgoing Pantheism knows nothing of moral distinctions. With the ideas of freedom and individuality, the ideas of responsibility and of moral good and evil disappear. If in the universe there be no being, no life but one, a finite moral agent becomes a contradiction in terms. The individual has here no life of his own to live, no ideal to fulfil or frustrate, no destiny to accomplish. Freedom is part of the illusion that gives a semblance of reality to finite beings. We dream that we are free, as we dream that we are. We are simply the sport of imagination when we regard our self-consciousness, our spiritual life, as anything else than a fragment of the Infinite, a transition point in the illimitable All. Nay, so far from regarding our consciousness of independence as the basis of morality, inasmuch as it is that which alone separates us from God, it must be regarded as in itself evil, and its extinction as the highest good.

If, again, we ask whether Pantheism does not imply that God is the author of evil, the answer can only be that for God evil has no positive reality. Like everything else in the finite world, it exists only for an intelligence that gives a false substantiation to the finite. For an intelligence that sees things as they really are, from the point of view of the whole, evil is only a shadow cast by a shadow on an imaginary or shadowy world.

It is true, indeed, that if we reflect on its practical results, there is a kind of morality to which, on a superficial view, the hidden logic of Pantheism seems to lead, and to which in point of fact it has led. Regarded from opposite points of view, it may be said to lead, on the one hand, to asceticism and the suppression of the natural desires and passions; on the other, even to the consecration of these desires. If the finite world be nothing but illusion, the only way, it would seem, in which we can rise above the illusion is by detachment from its interests, by aiming at a more and more complete emancipation from desires and impulses that have their root only in vanity and falsehood. So, again, if the only reality be that which lies beyond the finite, beyond all we can see and name and know—the infinite void into which no pulsation of determinate thought and life can enter—is not the only possible way to union with it, to quell within us every movement of conscious life, to kill out every human affection and emotion, nay, even all personal consciousness, and so to approximate more and more to that vacuity in which the divine essence is supposed to dwell?

On the other hand, a religion in which God is the Infinite that lies beyond the finite, can take no account of any distinctions within the finite. He is at once equally remote from, and equally near to, the highest and lowest of finite beings, and to that which is highest and basest in each. The distance between infinitude and an atom is not greater than between infinitude and a world. As the substance of a plant is as much in the unsightly root or rugged stem as in the flower or fruit, so a Being who is thought of as the substance of all things is equally related to all—to things mean as to things lofty, to gross matter as to intelligent mind, to the vilest and impurest as to the noblest and most exalted natures. It is true that to Christian thought there is a sense in which God is seen in all things. There is no object, however insignificant, no meanest weed or wayside flower which is not to it the revelation of a divine presence; nay, to the deeper insight which it brings it is possible to discern a soul of goodness even in things evil, a divine purpose beneath the discord of human passions and the strife and sin of the world.

But the Christian deification of the world is not a deification of it, so to speak, in the rough, an apotheosis of all things alike and without distinction. It can see more of God, a richer revelation of the infinite mind, in organic life than in brute matter, in human intelligence than in animal instinct, in a spirit devoted to unselfish ends than in one that is the slave of its own appetites and impulses. In Christianity, moral aspiration and endeavour, the struggle with the lower self of natural desires, is possible, consistently with the recognition of these desires as of divine origin; because these natural elements of our being are the basis on which the higher or spiritual nature is reared, and through the transformation of which a divine or spiritual life is attained. But all such distinctions disappear in a religion which conceives of God as no nearer to the pure heart than to that which is the haunt of selfish and sensual lusts. Here the lowest appetites and the loftiest moral aspirations, the grossest impurities and the most heroic virtues, are alike consecrated by the presence of God. Nay, there is a sense in which the baser side of man's nature receives here a readier consecration than the higher. For while all true morality implies a struggle with nature, an ideal aim which forbids acquiescence in that which by nature we are, it is of the very essence of a pantheistic religion to discountenance any such struggle, and to foster a fatalistic contentment with things as they are. In a religion which finds God in all things and events alike, in which whatever is, simply because it is, is right, all natural passions, simply as natural, carry with them their own sanction; for immersion in the natural is absorption in the divine, and even the wildest orgies of sensual excess may be part of the homage rendered to the object of worship, seeing that in yielding ourselves up to nature we are yielding ourselves to God.

  • 1.

    Cf. Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, chap. v.

  • 2.

    Cf. Spinoza (in Blackwood' “Philisophical Series”), p. 8.

  • 3.

    In Principal Caird's book on Spinoza there is a fuller and more adequate account of the Spinozistic argument, and also of other elements in Spinoza's philosophy which modify its pantheistic results.