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Lecture Sixth. The Religious Consciousness and Deism

THE moral life, as we have seen from our rapid sketch, while it presupposes the natural, gathers the latter up into itself, and therefore there is no longer any contrast in principle between the natural and the spiritual life. The individual self-consciousness is in idea identical with universal self-consciousness. The freedom of the individual is essential to the realization of the universal, for morality is nothing apart from the implicit or explicit recognition by the individual of his free obligation to realize himself in ways that are conformable to the highest interests of society. The life of spirit is the life which expresses the essential nature of man. It is “objective,” not because it is externally imposed upon the individual as a means of happiness, but because it is the ideal of himself. Nothing therefore can be higher in nature than spirit. All the stages of experience are gathered up and concentrated in the moral life. We cannot properly say with Arnold, that morality is “three-fourths of life”: it is the whole of life, since nothing can fall beyond it. In this sense we may speak with Kant of the primacy of practical reason; but in doing so, we must be careful to observe that we can no longer oppose the “practical” to the “theoretical” reason, as if the former excluded the latter. What has the “primacy” is not a separate sphere of “moral experience,” standing over against another kind of experience revealed by theoretical reason, but a “moral experience” which includes and yet transcends all that for Kant falls within “experience.”

Though morality goes beyond and comprehends within itself all previous stages of experience, it is not ultimate, since it necessarily involves a struggle towards complete realization, and therefore a conflict between the individual and the universal. Thus the whole is not realized. The individual always goes on the assumption that the process of his spiritual life is a real development, and not a mere transition from one kind of experience to another. If it were not so, the history of man would be nothing more than the record of a never-ending series of efforts to find a satisfaction which for ever eluded him. Now, faith in the absoluteness of the ideal spiritual life, if it is not a mere pious imagination—a projection of what the individual wishes and desires—must be a rational faith. It must therefore be possible to show that nothing less is rational. The universe must not only admit of the realization of spirit, but spirit must be real, and indeed the only reality that is: it must be spirit completely conscious of itself as constituting the absolute reality of the universe. Nothing can serve as a basis for the conviction which inspires the never-ceasing struggle of morality, but a rational faith that in that struggle man is bound to be successful, because the struggle itself is an expression of the essential nature of things. Thus spirit ultimately assumes the form of religion.

It is perfectly true that religion is developed from morality; but it by no means follows that it is based upon morality. Without morality there could be no religion, because it is in morality that man becomes conscious of his freedom and universality. Here, however, as always, “the last is first.” When we pass from sensible experience to perception, and from perception to understanding, we do not thereby base the later upon the earlier. The transition is at the same time a development, and development is never external analysis or external synthesis, but a process in which that which is implicit becomes explicit—not, indeed, by merely becoming clearer, but by an actual evolution, or “creative synthesis,” as it has been called. So it is in the transition from morality to religion. Religion presupposes morality, and morality contains religion implicitly; but, when the transition has been made to religion, morality has no longer a separate and independent existence, but is transcended and yet preserved. The religious man does not look at life as a hopeless struggle, but as a struggle which must succeed because it is the struggle of spirit, and spirit is the explanation and revelation of the real nature of existence. Kant argues that to obey moral law because it is commanded by God is to destroy man's autonomy, for nothing but the moral law itself must constitute the motive of his action. And it is perfectly true that to regard morality as deriving its obligation from its being imposed upon us by an external lawgiver, even if he is said to be divine, is to make obedience merely a means to the attainment of happiness. But this is not the true relation of morality and religion. Moral law is not imposed by the arbitrary fiat of any lawgiver; it is the absolute nature of spirit; and therefore in obeying it we are already in harmony with the divine. But, while this is so, it is none the less true that, in affirming the harmony of morality with the real nature of things, we have gone beyond morality. For the harmony cannot be a merely external adaptation of morality to that which confronts it, but a fundamental identity of principle. Thus morality takes us beyond itself. Kant's objection to making morality merely a means to securing the divine favour is only valid against such a theological hedonism as that of Paley, who makes desire for one's own greatest happiness, including the happiness of eternal felicity, the motive of all action: it does not apply to the doctrine I have been trying to express, that morality is the process in which the finite spirit seeks to realize its ideal for a perfect unity of the individual and the universal, and therefore implies religion as its basis and justification. Nor is Religion simply “morality touched with emotion”; for, however it may be “touched with emotion,” the nature of morality will not be transformed unless it is lifted up into the realm of religion, and then it is no longer morality, but has been converted into religion.

Our conclusion, then, is that religion can neither be resolved into morality, nor is simply a new and separate experience added to morality. It is not the former, because morality is not self-supporting and self-complete. Just as there are no rights in society which do not presuppose moral laws, so there is no morality which does not presuppose religion. And as morality is co-extensive with all lower stages of experience, religion touches life at every point. Thus, all the phases of experience assume a new aspect. From the religious point of view, “nature” is the manifestation of spirit, not, as in morality, the means for the realization of spirit. So the religious consciousness lifts the individual above the struggle which the moral life necessarily involves, giving him the assurance that if his finite ends are not realized, it is because they do not deserve to be realized. Religion exhibits the history of man in the development of society as the process through which his self-consciousness is evolved. When a people loses its religion, as in the case of the Roman Empire, its development comes to an end, and the process of what M. Bergson calls “creative evolution” is carried on by other nations.

In the religious life man adopts the “absolute” point of view; in Browning's phrase, he “sees things clear as gods do”; all effort is overcome, and all contradictions removed. In religion, therefore, man comes to the explicit consciousness of what he has always been obscurely aware of—namely, that his true life is life in the Eternal. As Augustine so finely puts it: “our souls are created for God and can find rest only in God.” Although religious life implies absolute faith in the triumph of goodness, it does not lead to a relaxation of the struggle involved in morality; on the contrary, it lends intensity to the struggle, since the individual has the assurance that he is a fellow-worker with God, and may therefore fight in full confidence of victory. Religion does not affirm that good will triumph whatever man does; what it says is that it will triumph because man, who is in his essential nature spiritual, can never be satisfied with anything less than the complete realization of goodness. Doubt, scepticism, hesitation in regard to the triumph of goodness, must tend to paralyze the effort after goodness, whereas assurance of that triumph, as conditioned by human effort, is the strongest incentive to the moral life.

This attitude of religion is not compatible with the assumption that the ideal of complete self-consciousness is merely an ideal; that is, is found only in finite spirits. For, on this supposition, reality must be exclusive of complete self-consciousness; it must in fact be a vanishing phase, which will disappear with the passing away of the finite consciousness. The religious consciousness, in other words, implies that reality is itself self-conscious spirit, not merely that it admits of complete self-consciousness in some future and hypothetical age. The whole of our discussion shows the inadequacy of the view that the universe contains no being higher than man. For, even in the simplest experience we have found that there is a reality distinguished through relation to the subject; and this undefined reality is just that which finally emerges as the absolute spirit.

Religion is therefore the supreme expression of man's rationality. It is not, however, as the mystic maintains, the form in which man completely transcends his individuality and is merged in God. This supposition is precluded by what has been said as to the freedom of the individual. To be religious, man must be conscious of the essential nature of God as spirit, but he does not therefore lose his freedom, and therefore his individual self-consciousness. It is one thing to view his life from the point of view of the absolute spirit, and another thing to say that he is the absolute spirit. Hence the defect of mysticism, which abolishes the distinction of man from God, sublimating the consciousness of man until its distinction from the divine self-consciousness has disappeared. It is true that the highest life of man can only be realized through the consciousness that he has no true life which can be severed from life in God; but this consciousness is not the negation of his distinction from God; it is the consciousness that only in conscious identification with God can he realize his own deepest self. Separate man from God and he has no consciousness of himself; but it does not follow that in his consciousness of God he loses his consciousness of himself. That assumption is based upon the false idea that God may be conceived as purely abstract Being, and self-consciousness as a mark of limitation and finitude. Religion is an attitude of human experience, and no such experience is possible without the distinction of subject and object—a distinction which does not disappear, when subject becomes spirit, the object of which is God.

Religion, then, since it consists in identification with God, does not involve a process from lower to higher. God is not a Being who grows in experience, as some recent writers have suggested. Such a conception is the natural complement of the view that God may be or must be finite. If God is gradually acquiring new experience, it must be because he is getting better acquainted with the true nature of the universe; and therefore the universe as a whole, not God, becomes the true principle of reality. The conception of God as finite is thus a mere play with words, that which is called the universe being endowed with the attributes denied of God. But, while we cannot admit that God undergoes a process of development, this does not mean that all process is necessarily denied of him. There is process, but it is not a process from lower to higher. All ascent therefore belongs to the finite spirit; which does gradually mount from lower to higher—though, on the other hand, in a sense the whole is always implied in the lower. All process is within God himself: it is not something that goes on apart from him, and which he contemplates from without. If it were so, he would be of the same nature as man, and process would itself be inexplicable. In coming to the consciousness of God man is not in the proper sense creative. That supposition is contrary to the nature of experience in all its forms, for even in the simplest experience man is conscious of something not-himself. Man's consciousness of God is his realization of that which is implied in the nature of his own consciousness: that which is real, whether he realizes it or not, whether he affirms or denies it; just as man's consciousness of the solar system does not bring that system into existence. Humanity is never self-complete, and apart from God can never be self-complete. Nothing less than absolute spirit will supply that which morality lacks—the certainty that goodness is the true nature of things. Only so is it possible for man to find rest and peace.

As religion takes the point of view of absolute spirit, and absolute spirit must manifest itself, it must be revealed in nature, in man, and in the universe as a whole. This does not mean that there are three distinct religions, each of which is true; there can be only one religion, and different religions must be related as less and more developed forms of the one religion. It is no doubt true that historically the first stage of religion is that in which the divine is regarded as manifested in some natural form, while in the second stage it is conceived to be of the nature of a self-conscious individual, and in the third stage as an all-comprehensive spirit, revealed fully only in the unity which embraces both nature and man. But, while this is true of the historical evolution of the idea of God, we must not, when we reach the third stage, suppose that the two first are simply abolished; they are not abolished, but preserved in a sublimated form. Hence, in the absolute religion we find the three phases which in lower religions have been held apart. It is the spirit of Nature, the spirit of Man, and the spirit of the Universe; and it is the same indivisible Spirit which is manifested in all three. It is necessary to insist upon the distinction as well as the unity of these three phases of the absolute religion, because differentiation is as essential to the Absolute as identity. Even in the separate forms that religion has historically assumed, all three phases are implicit, though one phase is emphasized more than another.

The first phase of the absolute religion is that in which God is immediately experienced as present in Nature. This phase, while its historical forms have vanished, is that aspect of the highest religion which is expressed by Wordsworth, when he speaks of:

Something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns

And the round ocean, and the living air,

And in the mind of man.

The second phase of the absolute religion is that in which God is shown in the moral order. In withdrawing from the immediate life of nature, the subject becomes conscious of himself as that which is to overcome nature and subordinate it to moral ends. God is thus revealed, not as indifferent to the purposes of man, but as involved in them. Nature is not something which simply stands alongside of man, but its processes are in harmony with the ends of the self-conscious life.

The third phase of religion is that of spirit in its concrete fulness, as manifested, not merely in immediate reality, or in the inward life, but as that which is conscious of itself as the only reality. In this stage nature is seen to have no independent being; it is in every part the manifestation of spirit. There is nothing common or unclean, because God is present in all things. The self does not stand opposed to nature, because nature is recognized to be a mode in which reason, as the essence of the self, is expressed. The life of nature and the life of spirit are the same life. Hence in his religious life man does not withdraw into himself, but “lives in the world though not of it.” This phase of religion may properly be called “revealed,”—not because it is a special and peculiar revelation of what otherwise would have remained for ever concealed, but because it is the consciousness of spirit as spirit. It is not national or even humanitarian, but absolute. It is the religion of all men, because it is the religion of self-conscious spirit; and as the religion of free spirit, it is independent of all limits and restrictions, and therefore absolutely universal.

We have now by a somewhat circuitous route reached an altitude from which we may survey the whole of our experience, in its main divisions and articulations; and what remains to be done is to attempt the systematic statement and defence of the ideas that in our view underlie and give meaning to the religious consciousness, as that which comprehends all other forms of consciousness within itself. From what has been said it should be manifest that theology is summed up in the one word spirit; for spirit is that which constitutes the principle of unity manifested in nature, in man, and in the universe as a whole. To express all that is involved in the idea of spirit is therefore to obtain a clear consciousness of the nature of God in his relations to the physical world and to human life in its struggle with evil, in its triumph and in its organic or spiritual unity.

The great variety of ways in which God is conceived is a proof not merely of the difficulty of the problem, but of the unwisdom of attempting to solve it by any “short and easy” method. How should it be otherwise, when in the idea of God man seeks to sum up and express his ultimate view of existence? The complexity which we find in different attempts to express what we mean by the term “God” is reflected in the ordinary religious consciousness, which on the one hand impels us to prostrate ourselves in humility and awe before a Being of ineffable power and wisdom and goodness, and on the other hand is dominated by the assured belief that God is “not far from anyone of us,” being “in our mouths and in our hearts.” “Dost thou believe in God?” asks Margaret of her lover in Goethe's immortal poem, and Faust in his answer expresses this double aspect of the religious consciousness, when he replies:

“Who dares aspire

To say he doth believe in God?

Who dares pronounce His name?

And who proclaim—

I do believe in Him?

And who dares presume

To utter—I believe Him not?

The All-embracer,

The All-upholder,

Grasps and upholds He not

Thee, me, Himself?

Vaults not the Heaven his vasty dome above thee?

Stand not the earth's foundations firm beneath thee?

And climb not, with benignant beaming,

Up heaven's slopes the eternal stars?

And feel'st thou not an innate force propelling

Thy tide of life to head and heart,

A power that, in eternal mystery dwelling,

Invisible visible moves beside thee?

Go, fill thy heart therewith, in all its greatness,

And when thy heart brims with this feeling,

Then call it what thou wilt.

Heart! Happiness! Love! God!

I have no name for that which passes all revealing!

Feeling is all in all;

Name is but smoke and sound,

Enshrouding heaven's glow.”1

The religious consciousness therefore believes just as intensely in the greatness and majesty of God—a greatness and majesty transcending all that we know or can express—as in the presence of God in the human soul. Thus, on the one hand God seems to be beyond the limited circle of our experience, and on the other hand to be one with our inmost being; and perhaps the most important problem of theology is to determine whether either of these convictions must be surrendered, or whether both may not be capable of reconciliation in a single concrete conception. Is God, to use the current terms, transcendent or immanent? Or is he, perhaps, at once transcendent and immanent? An answer to these questions must be given, if we are to attain to anything like intellectual clearness and serenity. No doubt the religious consciousness will refuse to surrender its belief in either of these apparent opposites; but, unless the rational spirit can be satisfied that one or the other conviction is false, or that a real synthesis can be made of the two, man must lead a more or less divided life, on the one hand refusing to surrender his faith, and on the other hand unable to satisfy his intellect. It is therefore of the greatest importance that this faith should pass into knowledge. If that transition can legitimately be made, the internecine feud of religion and theology will be laid to rest, so far as this fundamental article of belief is concerned.

The religious consciousness is not infrequently interpreted in the light of certain theological ideas with which it can hardly be reconciled. Starting from the independent reality of the external world, the inner or spiritual life of man and God, the ordinary consciousness on the whole shrinks from enquiring too curiously into their relations to one another. Nature is regarded as independent of man, and as governed by laws which regulate its movements; and while it is vaguely felt to be dependent upon God, it yet is thought to be in its normal operations free from all interference, though it is believed that in the past it may have been the scene of certain miraculous transactions. The world, it is held, was at some more or less remote period brought into existence by the almighty power and wisdom of God, and has ever since been maintained in existence by the same power. While it is admitted that man cannot set aside the laws of nature, it is held that in his own proper life he is above and beyond nature, turning it to his own ends and gradually working out a more and more perfect form of social organization. In this task he is dependent upon God; who, however, stands to man in a different relation from that which he bears to nature; for, whereas God works in man through his higher consciousness, he absolutely determines the course of nature, which in all ordinary cases conforms to the laws that he has imposed upon it.

To the ordinary consciousness, then, while nature, man and God are conceived to be related to one another, yet each has its own independent reality, their relations being of such an external character as not to interfere with their independence. Having been created, nature, at least as a rule, is assumed to go on without interference from God; man lives his own free and independent life; and God is complete in himself apart both from nature and man. How nature can have a reality separate from God, and yet owe its origin and continuance to God; how man can be free, while yet he is dependent upon God for all that he is or does; how God can exist apart from the world and man, and yet maintain his infinitude; these questions, though at times they may produce a certain uneasiness in the mind of the plain man, as a rule he does not dwell upon, regarding their discussion as on the whole unprofitable if not irreverent, and tending to weaken or destroy man's natural faith in the divine. On the other hand, minds of a more speculative type do not feel that they can avoid such problems, especially as they are forced upon them by the development of modern thought, as well as by modern social and political movements; and naturally the solutions advanced take their colour from the sphere of investigation with which the exponent is most familiar. The scientific man, whose thoughts are so largely concentrated upon the study of nature, has a tendency to set up a theory based upon the inviolability of law; the psychologist, occupied with investigations into the nature and development of the individual mind, not unnaturally seeks to base his conclusions upon the character of conscious experience; the metaphysician shows a disposition to reduce the three spheres of nature, man and God to an all-comprehensive unity; while thereligious genius may find satisfaction in the absolute identification of man in his higher nature with God. Obviously these conflicting ways of conceiving the universe cannot all be true without modification; and therefore we are simply compelled to ask whether there may not be some way of combining the element of truth to be found in each in a comprehensive and harmonious system.

The doctrine which comes nearest to the popular theological belief, as distinguished from the deeper truth implicit in the religious consciousness, is that which may be called without any great impropriety the deistic view. Starting from the first or uncritical phase of consciousness—that in which real objects are viewed as individual things, separated from one another in space and undergoing continual changes in time—Deism accounts for the existence of these things by referring them to the creative fiat of an omnipotent and all-wise Being, and attributing their process to his control and guidance. The beginning of the world is therefore ascribed to the will of God, while the laws of nature are assimilated to the decrees of an enlightened monarch in a civilized state. Thus nature and man, while they are conceived as distinct from God, are yet regarded as dependent upon his creative power and his ever-active wisdom.

When we examine this doctrine closely, I think we shall find that it is an inadequate and pictorial way of representing the relations of nature, man and God. It contains three irreconcilable ideas: creation, formative design, and external control.

(1) The assumption being made that the world consists of an infinite number of separate things and events in space and time, it is asked how these have come into existence. The answer given is, that God of his good will and pleasure determined to bring them into existence, and therefore created them out of nothing.

The difficulties connected with this view are insuperable. In the first place, it involves the contradiction that God is infinite before the creation of the world, and is no more than infinite after its creation. In what sense can we suppose God to be infinite before creation? If indeed we assume the existence of a supersensible or spiritual world, absolutely different in kind from the world as known to us, we may imagine it to be complete in itself independently of the world that we know. God may therefore be conceived as having before him this supersensible world. But, obviously, if this supersensible world contains the whole of reality, there will be no possibility of creating another world distinct from it; and if it does not contain all reality, it cannot be an expression of the infinite power of God. Moreover, the same problem would arise in regard to its relation to God as in the case of our world. If it is a product of the infinite power of God, that must be because it is not complete in itself, but requires a cause to account for it. Hence we must suppose it to have cone into existence by the creative power of God at some definite time. But in that case it must be finite, and therefore cannot require us to assign an infinite cause of its existence. Thus, we shall ultimately be compelled either to postulate an infinite series of worlds, or to deny the adequacy of the idea of creation. The former alternative is absurd, and therefore we must adopt the latter.

Creation out of nothing, then, is contradictory of the idea of an infinite being. And the reason is not far to seek. When we ask what is the cause of any particular event, we are seeking to explain, not the absolute origination of anything, but the reason why a certain change has occurred. By the cause of the change, we mean something which, while belonging to the same series of events, is its condition; and therefore the cause assigned is never an ultimate ground of the existence of the change, but only a particular condition of it, occurring at a given moment. Now, if we attempt to apply this idea of cause in explanation of the absolute origination of the world, it is manifest that we have made μϵτάβασις ϵἰς ἄλλο γϵ´νος. We are no longer seeking to explain one event by another prior event, but to assign an absolute origin to that which absolutely originates. Cause therefore obtains an entirely new meaning. That meaning may, or may not, be legitimate, but at any rate it entirely transcends the idea of causality as commonly employed, and therefore compels us to restate the whole argument.

What then is the underlying idea which gives plausibility to the notion of creation out of nothing? Certainly it is entirely different from that of causation, as ordinarily understood. The use of such qualifications as “first cause” to describe the originative source of the world, shows that by cause is meant, not an antecedent event, as in the ordinary use of the term, but a cause which is not itself an effect, i.e. a self-determining or self-originative cause. And when it is said that this primal source of being creates the world out of nothing, what is really meant is that we are in a region of thought where temporal antecedence and sequence have no meaning. The world is said to be created “out of nothing,” because it is not the effect of an antecedent event, but is by its very nature inseparable from God. Apart from God, i.e. considered in its independence, it has no reality whatever. Hence, it is entirely superfluous to ask how it has come to be. No doubt we can speak of changes as occurring in the world, but not of the world as at one time absolutely non-existent and then at a subsequent time as absolutely originated; for, as it has no separate and independent reality of its own, but is bound up with the reality of God, to affirm its independent reality is to separate the manifestation of God from the being of God. The world therefore never began to be, but is eternal. It is not independent of God, but bound up with his reality; just as the reality of God is involved in the reality of the world. The creation of the world therefore only has meaning when it is interpreted as signifying the eternal self-manifestation of God.

This conclusion is manifestly the inevitable result of our survey of the deepening stages of human experience. It is only from the point of view of separate events as occurring in time that we speak of causality in the ordinary meaning of the term; and when we have discovered that this mechanical and external mode of thought is obviously not ultimate, we are forced to advance first to the idea of a self-developing total reality, and ultimately to the conception of God as the absolute source of all modes of being. But, as I have so frequently insisted, the result is not to destroy the infinite variety of being, but to preserve it as a manifestation of the one principle which differentiates itself in all that is. Now, if nothing can possibly be apart from God as the absolute principle of existence, it is obvious that a denial of the reality of any mode of being must lead to a denial of the unity on which it depends. Hence to assert an absolute creation of being is the same thing as to assert an absolute creation of God, since the world exists only because it is the essential nature of God to manifest himself in it.

But, (2) still more inadequate than the conception of God as creator of the world is the idea that he fashions or shapes it, as an architect constructs a house or a sculptor a statue. A human artificer has no power to alter the essential nature of the material with which he works; all that he can do is to take advantage of the properties which things possess, in order to give to them the particular shape he desires. Hence, if God is conceived as merely giving form to a pre-existent material, he must obviously be limited by the character of the material with which he works. In order to get rid of this objection, it may be said that, in speaking of God as fashioning the world, it is not meant that he does not also create the material to which he gives shape. The argument, it may be said, is that the matter is so fashioned as to realize an idea which pre-existed in the mind of God. To this defence of the argument from design it may be answered, that it is obviously inadequate, in so far as it supposes the matter of the world to be first created, and then fashioned according to a preconceived plan. When a human architect gives shape to the material with which he works, he is not dealing with something that has no definite constitution of its own; it is, in fact, as I have said, by taking advantage of the actual properties of things that lie is able to realize his idea. But, when we attempt to apply this mode of thought to the formation of the world, we are obviously assuming that what is created is a formless matter, to which a certain shape is afterwards given. Now a formless matter is a pure abstraction, to which nothing real corresponds. We can only suppose, therefore, that what is created is a number of relatively formless objects, to which more specific forms are afterwards assigned. But such an idea is obviously perfectly arbitrary, besides being open to the objection that it supposes God to have first created what was imperfect and chaotic, in order subsequently to reduce it to system and rationality. As an absolutely chaotic world is an impossible idea, the assumption of such a world is really meaningless. We must therefore fall back on the conception that the world as originally created was already of such a character as to display order and harmony. But, with this revision, our first notion of God as an architect of the world is abandoned; for the whole idea of a Being who adapts things in a certain way, in accordance with a preconceived idea, can no longer be entertained when the character of things already involves the design supposed to be externally superinduced upon them. We must therefore substitute for the idea of external design the deeper notion of a world the very constitution of which involves immanent purpose, order and system.

How impossible it is to apply consistently the conception of external purpose is evident even from a consideration of the physical world. When that world is said to be under the dominion of inviolable law, what is implied is that no particle of matter can possibly exist except as an element in an orderly system, separated from which it has no attributes and indeed is nothing but a pure abstraction. A material system cannot be explained as the arrangement by an external designer of material atoms which otherwise would form a chaos, for the simple reason that except as elements in an orderly system they could not exist at all. And what is true of inorganic things is more obviously true of living beings, the existence of which implies the form and purpose which constitute their life. Hence, when we pass to man, a being who not only realizes ends but consciously and deliberately aims at them, it is manifest that his very nature is inconsistent with the idea that he has been externally formed in the same way as an architect fashions a house. If man were related to God after the manner in which stone and lime are related to the architect, what is characteristic of him would remain unexplained and indeed inexplicable. For, if we suppose that the ends which he pursues are dictated for him mechanically by God, it is manifest that he can no longer be regarded as self-determined, any more than the stones which are shaped and arranged by the builder. If therefore we assume, as the deist does assume, that man has been created by God, we must hold that he is related to God, not in the sense that his actions are determined for him, but in the sense that he is capable of comprehending and willing objects which are compatible with the essential nature of God. In other words, God must be immanent in him, and that in such a way that he is only truly himself when he realizes the purposes of God. Without this free recognition of God, man cannot realize himself; and therefore it cannot be said that God acts upon him by bending his will in a certain direction, irrespective of his own volitions; what we must say is, that in realizing what his own true nature is, he attains to the consciousness of the real nature of God, which is just his own nature in its full realization. Such a consciousness is necessarily ideal, because, though man is self-determining, he is not self-creative; but it is a real ideal, i.e. one based upon and presupposing the actual nature of the world. I think, therefore, we may fairly conclude that the conception of God as a designer must be regarded as an imperfect grasp of the true principle that the world in all its forms is the embodiment of an absolute self-realizing reason. That the world bears a resemblance to the products of human art is the result of its essentially purposive character, and not of any form externally imposed upon it. God must, therefore, be conceived, not as a Being external to the world, but as the innermost essence of the world. If it is said that this is an inadequate conception, since it does not take us beyond the idea of an immanent teleology, the answer is, that no doubt God is something more than the purpose implied in all forms of being, but he is certainly not less; and therefore an important step has been taken towards an adequate definition of God when he is affirmed to be the immanent reason of the world. That he is more than this, I hope afterwards to show. Meantime, it is something to have seen that God is in his world, not beyond it.

(3) Another step may be made by considering the third characteristic of the deistic doctrine, its contention that God must be conceived as the moral governor of the world. The analogy is from the relations of men in society to an external ruler, who imposes upon his subjects certain laws which they are under obligation to obey. This idea is the natural one so long as the ruler is conceived to have plenary authority to impose upon his subjects commands, to which they must submit whether they are seen to be reasonable or not. But such a notion of even a human ruler is utterly inadequate. I shall not press the point that a ruler whose power is absolute may impose upon his subjects laws which are in themselves unreasonable. That is no doubt true, since the possession of despotic power, in a being like man who is liable to error, is certain to lead to irrational commands, when the ruler is deprived of the enlightenment which comes from the free play of other minds. This point, however, is not the main one. Even granting that the commands of the ruler were perfectly reasonable, it would still be true that the relation of an autocrat to his subjects cannot be adequate as a type of the true relation of God to man. It is the essential nature of man that he should obey only those laws which his own reason has shown him to be reasonable. Blind obedience to a law, however perfect the law may be, is not rational conduct. Moral action must not only conform to rational law, but must be recognized by the agent as so conforming. No doubt an act may be recognized to be moral although the agent cannot set forth the reasons which make it rational; but without some response of the subject's own spirit, no morality whatever is possible. When therefore we are asked to admit that God is the moral Governor of the universe, we must answer that, if this means that certain moral laws are imposed by God with a view to the better regulation of the world, the conception, though not absolutely false, is certainly inadequate. A world regulated in this way would not be a moral world. The only moral world is one in which the agents not only do what is right, but do it purely because they see it to be right. In other words, there is a moral world at all only in so far as moral ideals are consciously willed as good. Not that conduct is made good by being willed; for nothing is good except that which is in harmony with the nature of things; but that even the best action is not moral unless the motive is moral. God therefore can only be called the Moral Governor of the world in the sense that by the essential nature of the world, and especially of man as the highest finite agent in it, the good must realize itself through the constitution of society; he is certainly not the Moral Governor of the world in the sense that his laws are externally imposed upon man and must be obeyed because they are so imposed. No being can legitimately prescribe any law to a free agent except that of which his reason approves. In other words, God is immanent in the conscience of man, and only as so immanent can he be called the Moral Governor of the world. The providence of God works, and can only work, through the free consent of man, who, in virtue of the identity of his true nature with that of God, wills, and cannot but will, that which reveals itself to him as good. Thus, on the one hand, moral law is the divine reason in man, which cannot be opposed by him except in ignorance or caprice; and, on the other hand, it is the voice of his own reason. But these are but different aspects of the same thing. Just so far as man is at unity with God, he is at unity with himself. His obedience to law is no blind obedience, and his relation to God no external relation. As in obeying moral law he is acting in accordance with the witness of his spirit to that which he recognizes as divine, his open-eyed obedience is the essential condition of the realization of the divine purpose in the world. From this point of view it is obvious that we cannot conceive of the providence of God as a law which operates irrespective of the will of man. It is no doubt true that good must and does prevail over evil, and that it is vain for man to war against the inevitable tendency toward good; but it is not true that this invincible progress of goodness is independent of the free volition of man. It cannot possibly be so independent, for the simple reason that apart from free volition there is neither good nor evil. No doubt, as it is said, God “overrules” evil for good, and subdues the most stiff-necked to his purposes; but this is not brought about arbitrarily or independently of human effort, but only by the active and free endeavour of man after the good. God works, not upon man, but in him. No good is achieved without a fierce struggle, and this struggle is due to man's unconquerable rationality, and to the corresponding rationality in the nature of things. Thus, as for the inadequate ideas of creation out of nothing, and the external adaptation of matter to a preconceived end, must be substituted the ideas of eternal self-determination and immanent purpose; so the notion of a Moral Governor of the world must be replaced by the idea of a law of righteousness working in and through free human agents, whose self-consciousness is inseparable from their consciousness of God.

  • 1.

    Blackie's translation.