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19: The Idea of God

WHEN Faust was faced with a straight question as to his belief in God, he tried to put the question by by asking another question, “Who dare name him, and who confess ‘I believe in him’?” The terms in which the answer, or the warning, is expressed are reminiscent of an old belief which the intellect had long discarded, the belief in the magical virtue of the name—as if by naming God we were guilty of the blasphemy of attempting to control him. But they have also a more significant meaning; and we shall do well to remember the warning they convey if we proceed, as we must, to elucidate the idea of God which has been reached. Can any idea be adequate for describing the Infinite? May it not be that the categories by which we convey knowledge of the world and life fail and must fail to render to us the meaning of the whole? This seems to have been the thought in Goethe's mind. Yet, with the licence of a poet, he proceeds to disregard his own caution—to put his belief into words and to name the unnameable. His confession of faith may perhaps be described as an emotional pantheism—a worship of the All, and yet, in the same breath, of that special manifestation of it, whatever it maybe, which masters us in moments of most intense feeling. The combination is not uncommon. Emotional intensity is regarded as somehow revealing ultimate reality; and yet all things are in essence one. But the two views differ in origin and in result. On the one hand, there is the conclusion at which philosophical theory has arrived—the all-embracing unity, the God or reality of pantheism. On the other hand, it is assumed that we feel this reality when passion is high, and we are encouraged to name it as we choose—bliss, heart, love, God. In this manner are united ideas which have been gathered along the two different ways which lead to theological doctrine: the way of immediate experience which induces the poet to give the divine name to the emotion in which, for the moment, his life is concentrated, and the philosopher's way, which Goethe also followed, and which led him, as it has led many others, to see all reality as one.

The two ways are different in their inception and in the direction which they take. One starts from an immediate experience of the individual, the other follows the course of philosophical reflexion. But they meet in the mind of man, and their objects are fused in the idea of a reality which is conceived as the highest. The experience may be emotional merely, after the manner of Goethe's description; but it is an emotion which transfuses the whole personality and lifts it out of its isolation into harmony with its environment; and he gives it the name of love because in love the individual finds in the life of another the complement and completion of his own, and feels that, for this new-found unity, nothing else matters and the world outside is indifferent and of no account. In its more specifically religious phase this experience has a further meaning or aim. It brings the individual who has it into relation with a power or reality greater than himself, through which he is reconciled to life and in which he finds security for the ideals which appeal to him as of supreme worth. When reflexion supervenes upon this experience, the dangerous process of describing and naming begins. The power to which the individual trusts for reconciliation and security—in a word, for salvation—is conceived as beyond the reach of hostile or indifferent forces, as willing the good which the worshipper conceives, and as able to carry out what he wills. Starting in this way from the facts of religious experience, the religious man becomes involved in the same problems, concerning the relation of nature and values to one another and of both to the ultimate ground of reality, which meet the philosopher in his attempt to arrive at an interpretation of the universe.

In the argument set forth here the subject has been approached exclusively from the latter point of view. The facts of the religious consciousness have not been taken into account because they lie beyond that special question concerning the relation of the moral order to the order of existence which we set out to determine. But any solution of the more general problem of reality will have its bearing on the content and attitude of finite experience. The view which we form of the universe cannot remain a mere intellectual concept. Philosophy is not a game which we play out and finish, leaving the players refreshed perhaps or stimulated, but otherwise unchanged. It affects our whole attitude, emotional and active as well as intellectual, to the world in which we have to play our part. We cannot think of the world as of one kind and feel towards it or adapt our action towards it as if it were of an entirely different sort.

Let us look for a moment upon the differences produced upon our subjective attitude, and upon the meaning we put upon individual and, in particular, religious experience, by our interpretation of reality as a whole. It is clear that man cannot be separated from the universe of which he forms a part. If the world is without God, the soul of man cannot be influenced by the divine spirit or rely upon it for the security of his ideals of value. The metaphysic of naturalism, for instance, would inevitably force upon us a naturalistic interpretation of religion as well as of other forms of experience. We may avoid philosophy altogether in order that faith may have free course. But, if thought be let in at any point, it will inevitably tend to leaven the whole mass of experience. It has been said indeed by a follower of Ritschl1, that it makes no difference to faith what the religious man's philosophy may be: whether he be materialist or idealist in philosophy, his sense of religious values, his faith, may remain the same. But it will not remain the same if he begins to think about it. Thought refuses to be confined by artificial boundaries. The Christian who thinks cannot keep God in his soul and leave him out of his world. The materialist who is convinced that matter and motion are the only realities, and the naturalist who repeats much the same thing in more modern phraseology, must account for religious experience by the same factors, and no others, as those by which they account for ordinary events, and they must explain the illusion of God as they explain a will-o'-the-wisp. If religion persists side by side with a materialistic world-view, it is only because thinking has been blocked and philosophy in any full sense does not exist.

Not every system of metaphysics can vindicate, or even can admit, the validity of the ideas involved in religious experience. Naturalism, as has been said, cannot do so; and the consequence is important. For, in the minds of the last generation and even of our own generation, the philosophical theory of naturalism has been so closely connected with the achievements of natural science that it has been regarded as one of the results of these achievements or even as identical with natural science itself. The negations of naturalism have been mistaken for conclusions of science; and this confusion has had results of profound significance. It has been taken as shutting out reasonable men from participation in the spiritual ideals on which mankind has been nourished. During many years and for many minds, some of whom are still amongst us, the, teachings of science and its bearings upon life and conduct were interpreted by the essays and lectures of Huxley. We may therefore turn for an elucidation of this point to what he said in a famous discourse on ‘The Physical Basis of Life2.’ In it he expressed the view that in our conception of conscious life, “as elsewhere, matter and law have devoured spirit and spontaneity. And,” he went on to say, “as surely as every future grows out of past and present, so will the physiology of the future gradually extend the realm of matter and law until it is co-extensive with knowledge, with feeling, and with action. The consciousness of this great truth weighs like a nightmare, I believe, upon many of the best minds of these days. They watch what they conceive to be the progress of materialism, in such fear and powerless anger as a savage feels, when, during an eclipse, the great shadow creeps over the face of the sun. The advancing tide of matter threatens to drown their souls; the tightening grasp of law impedes their freedom; they are alarmed lest man's moral nature be debased by the increase of his wisdom.”

I quote these sentences only as evidence of the effect which the doctrines of naturalism, and the scientific hypotheses identified with naturalism, have had upon the attitude of thinking men. The ‘advancing tide’ seemed to them to sweep away every vestige of human freedom and to discredit the whole realm of spiritual ideals. A generation ago the ‘best minds’ of the day were not only possessed by the glories of scientific progress, they were also obsessed by naturalism. Some eagerly welcomed its utterances as prophetic, and as heralding an era of emancipation from outworn creeds; many more accepted them out of loyalty to truth, but with reluctance, because they brought bitter disillusionment; yet others turned from the doctrines in despair, if not in revolt, and sought to place the values of life in a region which had no point of contact with that disclosed by science. This last attitude involves an assertion of the complete independence of the realm of values. It is the note not only of the Ritschlian school, who reacted from the naturalism into which the Hegelians of the Left had drifted, but also of others who have few points of sympathy with the religious teaching of that school; and its influence may be traced in some of the later writings of Huxley himself. From this point of view the teachings of natural science will be regarded as summed up in naturalism; but, at the same time, a severe and lofty standard of ethical value will be maintained, from which the ways of the universe itself may be judged. Science may teach us the painful road to the end in which, after millennia of misery, conscious life is fated to disappear. But the process may be looked at from another point of view as well; and man's consciousness of the eternal validity of ethical values will vindicate his superiority to that natural process of which he is, nevertheless, simply an inexplicable product. For this way of thinking there are really two worlds having nothing in common with one another—the actual world of nature and the world of values. Yet these two worlds meet in the mind of man. The idea of one of them is framed to account for his experience in sense-perception; the idea of the other to systematise his judgments of good and evil. But explanation fails of the mind in which they are united. It is a product or: by-product of the world of nature, and that is a mystery. It has also insight into the altogether diverse realm of values, and that is a greater mystery.

Were we reduced in principle to this way of looking at life—were existence and value unrelated or related only by opposition—there could be no philosophy of reality as a whole; our thought would fall into two disconnected and incongruous sections. Ideals and values would be capable of being cherished only by men turning their minds away from science; for those who held to science, only a naturalistic explanation would be possible of the ideals which give dignity to human life. The mind can be relieved of the obsession of naturalism only by the discovery that it is not involved in the principles or conclusions of natural science: that the real world does not consist of an aimless dance of electrons or corpuscles, and that mind or spirit is a more fundamental reality than they. A formal refutation of naturalism has not been attempted here. That has been done elsewhere and by others3. But the assumed opposition between the world of nature and the moral order has been already dealt with; and it has been shown to involve a twofold defect. It rests on a view of nature from which the conception of purpose is without adequate reason excluded, and its view of the moral order is apt to be summed up in a narrow interpretation of moral values.

The view of life which recognises the importance of the moral values, and the experience which acknowledges them and relies on their persistence, are thus bound up with a philosophy in which naturalism is negated, and therefore with some form of idealism. But idealism is a word of many meanings, and indeed, in the history of speculation, idealistic theories have not maintained their unity of type to the same extent as materialism or naturalism has done. In the original meaning of the term, idealism is the theory that reality consists of ideas or universals, which are not themselves thoughts but the objects of thought. Among these ideas or universals, the great idealists from Plato onwards have always recognised those values on which our minds set store, and the nature of which has been already investigated—such ideals as those of goodness, truth, and beauty. These, it is held, are the true realities and as such must persist eternally. The eternal validity of the ideas may have nothing to do with their realisation in consciousness. But at any rate they are somehow present in our consciousness here and now; and we are sustained by the assurance that the values which we cherish have a validity which is independent of their inadequate realisation in the world or recognition by its inhabitants.

It fortifies my soul to know

That, though I perish, Truth is so.

Further, in the great historical systems of this form of idealism, beginning with Plato himself, mind is not left out of account in the final view of things. By way of the ideas a synthesis is reached which combines all that is real and which can be best described by the term consciousness or experience. This individual whole which comprises all reality may therefore be described as Infinite Mind. Herein the ideals which give dignity and worth to finite lives are eternally real. If we live in the light of these ideals we shall rise above the petty cares of our own, or other finite, selves; we shall cease to grumble at the events of our world—that curiously distorted appearance of reality—and, by high acquiescence in the eternal order, we shall attain that ‘intellectual love of God’ in which Spinoza placed our blessedness and freedom. In this way this first form of idealism frequently finds expression in a pantheistic world-view.

On the other hand the second, or as it may be called Berkeleyan, form of idealism starts from a pluralistic point of view. It does not attempt to construct reality out of universals or ideas. It begins with the certainty of individual or finite minds—different centres of conscious life—as our first clue to the nature of reality and of value, and proceeds to construct its system of the universe on that basis. If it reaches a theistic conclusion, its idea of God will not be the idea of a system of universals but that of a conscious spirit who can be in some degree understood through the analogy of finite mind. The finite mind is thus of vastly more significance in this form of idealism than in the other—for which indeed it always remains a puzzle. The theory maintains the reality of the finite self in which values are progressively apprehended and realised; and its doctrine of God supports the faith that values will be conserved in the world of our experience and in the consciousness of individual minds, while, at the same time, it shows the unity and purpose that belong to the course of the world and to the life of man.

The view at which the argument of this work has arrived is an idealism of this latter type. It recognises the real world of persons as charged with the discovery and realisation of values, and it interprets the apparatus of life and its environment as subordinated to this supreme purpose. Its characteristic is that it maintains the reality both of God and of man in its conception of the universe; and, just on this account, the conception has its own difficulties. The reality of the finite mind seems threatened by the assertion of an infinite mind, and the truth of this assertion seems shaken by any vestige of spontaneity being left to the finite: so hard is it (as has been said) to find room for both God and man in the same universe. On the other hand, the theory which identifies God with the universe seems to engulf all difficulties—may we not say all contradictions?—in one all-inclusive reality. What idea can we form of God which can be held without contradiction and without denying the reality of the individual life of which we are conscious?

To answer this question we must recall the way in which the idea of God has been reached. It has been arrived at by means of an enquiry into ethical values and their relation to the realm of existence. Within reality as a whole a distinction may be drawn between higher and lower, more or less complete or perfect, manifestations of reality. The distinction is expressed in the old concept of the scale of being; at present it is more familiar to us as the distinction between degrees of reality. If we attempt to draw out a scale or degrees of this kind, the moral order or moral law may be placed at the summit, and a direct inference may be made to God as the conscious ground of this moral order. The argument in this form is well known; but I have not relied upon it, chiefly for one reason in particular. If the moral order by itself is made to involve the idea of God, then this idea is apt to have for its content simply the moral order; and we find that all we have done is to give the moral order a new name and not to have established the reality of a living self-conscious being as the ground of the universe. My argument accordingly had a wider range. It was founded not on the moral order by itself but on its relation to the order of existing things. Since existence and value belong to the same universe they must have the same ultimate ground. The order of nature and of finite minds, as we know them, do not, however, manifest ethical values with any exactness or purity; in their existing nature they are out of harmony with the moral order. But harmony may be reached if it is allowable to assume purpose in the world and freedom in man. Nature can then be regarded as an appropriate medium for the realisation of value by minds finite but free. The harmony is a relation which stands in need of realisation; and the purpose of realising it requires consciousness in the ground of reality as a whole. This ground or principle of reality will therefore involve the will to goodness as well as intelligence and power; and this is what we mean by God.

But the very reasons which require us to assume conscious mind as the ultimate ground of reality lead to certain difficulties of a metaphysical kind. The harmony which the divine purpose slowly brings about is not achieved at any moment in our experience. In any period of time such as the present and the past, the world of nature appears alien to this purpose, and its characteristics cannot be regarded as simply a manifestation of the divine, while the actions of conscious beings include evil volitions for which we shall in vain seek an explanation in the nature of the Divine Will, which is a will to goodness, and they are attributed to finite beings who thus have somehow the power of antagonising the infinite being. The realms of nature and finite mind seem to limit the infinity and absoluteness of God, and the existence of evil seems inconsistent with his omnipotence. Is any solution possible of this ancient problem?

In the first place, as regards infinity. We have reached the idea of the principle or ground of all reality as spiritual, and this principle we call God. In what meaning of the term shall we say that God is infinite? The theory of infinity has been elaborated by mathematicians, and they have arrived at a definition which may be expressed as follows: A class or group or assemblage of elements is infinite if it has a part to which the whole is equivalent in the sense that between the elements composing that part and those composing the whole there subsists a unique and reciprocal (one-to-one) correspondence4. This definition is derived from the theory of cardinal numbers and is best illustrated by them. Thus the class of all finite numbers except 0 is a part of the class of all finite numbers (including 0), and has this one-to-one correspondence with it, seeing that it can be obtained by adding 1 to each of the terms of the latter. The latter class is infinite; and in the same way the former class also may be shown to be infinite. On the other hand, this correspondence will not hold between a finite number and any of its parts, for example, between the class of all finite numbers up to n (n itself being finite) and the class consisting of the same numbers except 0.

There are two reasons why we should hesitate to apply the term infinite as thus defined to God. In the first place, the definition implies the legitimacy of the conceptions of a least infinite and of greater infinites5, and therefore cannot express what is distinctive of the divine essence. And in the second place, it is founded on the conception of a class or assemblage which consists of parts, so that, although it may be valid for number, space, and time, it does not follow that it is applicable to God, for we do not conceive him as consisting of parts. God is indeed spoken of as omnipresent and everlasting—concepts which seem to imply infinity in space and in time. But if God is truly spiritual, we shall not regard him as either in space or in time. By his omnipresence we shall mean that there is no part of space beyond his power; he is everlasting because that power reaches throughout all time. It is illegitimate to extend to him as spirit the characteristics which belong to space and time, any more than those which belong to matter.

The term infinite, as applied to God, must therefore have a different meaning from the mathematical, and yet not different in every respect. Beyond any finite number in a series there lie other numbers of the same class; a finite number n has always another number n + 1 greater than it and yet of the same class. But an infinite number is a number concerning which this does not hold: there may be greater infinites, but they do not belong to the same class—are not constituted in the same way. Similar truths hold of spatial and temporal infinites. With regard to these features of the mathematical infinite, we may use Spinoza's expression and say that a thing is finite after its kind when it can be limited by another thing of the same nature. When it cannot be so limited it is infinite after its kind. Now, in this meaning of infinite, the term will be applicable to God. There is nothing else of the same nature by which he is limited. And we may even use the term absolutely infinite to describe his nature—not necessarily in Spinoza's way as implying an infinity of attributes each infinite in its kind, but as signifying that there is nothing else of whatever nature by which he is limited.

This, we must remember, gives us only a negative definition of infinite; but, although negative, the characteristic of freedom from limitation is not therefore insignificant. We may still ask, however, whether even this negative characteristic can rightly be applied to God—whether for instance his power is not limited by intractable material or by the antagonisms of finite beings. Both in popular religions and in the views of some thinkers, there may be found the idea of a mind or power which is the highest or supreme being in the universe, at the same time that the power of this being is conceived as limited, either by a material world which exists independently or by other finite minds who hold their existence by independent right and, although inferior to the highest, have an individuality of the same order. The former view has been rejected by us as failing to treat the universe as a universe, the latter because, although the universal order is recognised, it is not acknowledged as being based upon the reality of the one supreme mind. We may accordingly, at the present stage, pass these views by, and ask whether, in the meaning given to ‘infinite,’ infinite power can be predicated of the one Supreme Mind on which both the moral and the natural orders depend.

For the view which has been worked out concerning the relation of nature and finite minds to the moral order, a solution of the question is possible, and it is a solution which may be said to depend on the definition of infinity. If by infinity we mean that what is so called cannot be limited even by its own nature or volition, then it is not possible for us to ascribe the term to God: for we have allowed the possibility of finite minds acting counter to the divine purpose, and nature in its actual appearance has not been regarded as a perfectly clear revelation of the divine attributes. But in any view, however completely determinist, will not the same conclusion hold? The infinite is somehow manifested in finite beings. Even if the finite be explained as illusion, it is an illusion of a being which, being under illusion, must be finite. The most coherent system of the unity of all things, such as Spinoza's, is never able to explain how there comes to be a finite world at all, or how its reality can be reconciled with the reality of the One Substance. In producing finite beings, or in manifesting itself in such appearances, their source or originating principle must be determined either by something outside itself or else simply by its own nature. The former alternative is impossible on any theory of the unity of all reality; the latter means self-limitation. Appearance in finite form means limitation of the infinite, and that limitation can only be due to the infinite's own nature or agency. To deny the power of the infinite thus to limit itself is to deny the infinity of its power, and besides is to render the existence of the finite impossible. And to allow that the infinite can by self-limitation manifest itself in or produce finite beings, but at the same time to deny its power to create free minds as distinct from minds whose future is determined from the beginning, seems an arbitrary limitation of the divine power. Omnipotence, it would seem, is not inconsistent with human freedom; on the contrary to deny the possibility of creating beings who are both finite and free is to restrict the power of the infinite being and thus to render it finite.

If we mean by infinite that which is not limited by anything other than its own nature, then self-limitation is within the power of the infinite. There is no inconsistency of thought in our conceiving finite beings as created by the infinite being and endowed by him with any powers not conflicting with their dependence on him. The same view of infinity enables us to answer certain more or less frivolous puzzles, such as the questions, Can God make two and two equal to five? or virtue the same thing as vice? We may reply that to do these things is not in accordance with the nature of the omnipotent being. For truth and goodness belong to his nature, and his action cannot be conceived as contrary to that nature. His infinity consists in his freedom from limitation by anything other than himself; it does not consist in an inability to manifest his own nature, or in some imagined power of acting contrary to his nature6.

The explanation of the term absolute as applied to God will follow similar lines to those on which the term infinite and its application have been justified. As already said, if by the absolute is meant the sum-total of reality, then it must be allowed that there are real events and real beings which do not in their present state manifest the divine nature. But there is nothing outside God in the sense of being independent of his nature or will. Without his concurrence, as it used to be put, there would be no finite activity and no finite beings to act. The independence of finite beings is a communicated and limited independence, their spontaneity a restricted spontaneity: they are due to the divine will and do not exist in spite of it. It is to limit the power of the divine nature, if we make this communication of reality and power impossible for it. And we must remember that, on the most rigid theory of the Absolute, the diversity of its appearances must be admitted—even by those who regard them as only appearances of diversity.

Taken literally, the term absolute implies freedom from relations; and obviously the sum-total of all reality cannot stand in relation to other things, for there are no other things to which it could be related. But, while external relations are impossible, the same does not hold of internal relations. Reality as a whole must include all relations within itself. Only by giving up the reality of both things and relations can this proposition be denied. On the monistic scheme the one and all may fitly be termed the Absolute, seeing that all things and all relations belong to its nature. But the application of the term is more doubtful on the theistic view of the world. It is of the essence of theism that God has, by the process which we inadequately term Creation, given an existence to finite beings such that they may be said to stand in relation to him—as his creatures, as doing his will, as alienated from or reconciled to him, or in other ways. All these are relations between God and other beings who have a status such that they must be regarded as other than he. The status is not one of complete independence, because it is itself a manifestation of the divine activity. But it does involve a relation in which God is one term and finite being the other term, so that ‘absolute’ (at least in its literal meaning) would appear to be a misleading adjective to apply to God. The fulness of his nature makes possible the existence of finite beings who are other than himself, and with whom he can enter into relation.

The perplexities connected with the ideas of infinity and absoluteness are inevitable for any explanation of the relation between finite beings and the ground of reality as a whole, though they appear in their most pointed form in elucidating the doctrine of ethical theism. Here they are part of the difficulty of conceiving the coexistence and co-activity of God and man in the same universe. They are problems of form, however, rather than of content, and their solution does not supply us with a positive idea of God. This positive idea has to be arrived at from the nature of reality as known to us—the reality which is interpreted through the idea of God. Reality, as we have found, includes certain values of which we have a more or less adequate apprehension; and the realm of nature, or of causation, can be interpreted as belonging to the same universe as the realm of values only by regarding it as instrumental towards the discovery and production of values by finite minds. On this view the idea of the ground of reality, or God, is reached through the idea of value. Here therefore the idea of value is fundamental. Even the attributes of intelligence and power (although postulated on other grounds also) will, from this point of view, be held to belong to the divine nature because of their implication in the idea of value and their necessity for its realisation. The term perfection, which means value or worth at its highest point, is therefore more appropriate in speaking of God, and more significant of his positive nature, than either the term infinite or the term absolute.

If we conceive God as simply infinite being, then our idea of him is reached by the denial of a characteristic of finite beings; and we have only a negative idea of God. But if we conceive him as the perfect being, our idea is positive, it means that certain qualities known to us are present in him in their fulness. To this line of argument also objections have been taken. Just as the idea of God as infinite is a negative idea got by denying the limitations of finite beings, so it has been argued that the positive idea of God as perfect is founded upon the observation of certain qualities actually belonging to finite persons: so that the whole procedure, in the first place, is anthropomorphic, inference from man to God, and in the second place, so far as it has any validity at all, is only analogical, while the difference between God and man is so great that the validity of any analogy must be of the slightest.

A short consideration of these objections will bring out the true nature of the idea. Our idea of God is properly called anthropomorphic when it is arrived at by an inference from or modification of human qualities. In this way if the reasoner starts from the power, goodness, and intelligence of man and argues that God must therefore be powerful, good, and intelligent, only in a higher indeed an infinite degree, then the procedure is anthropomorphic, and we may say that man is making God after his own image. There may be apologies for this procedure, for at least it is true that there is no higher object immediately known to man than the human mind, and it is therefore more reasonable to hold that God is like man than that he resembles other created things. But it is not the procedure that has been adopted in this book. We have not argued that God is good because we find goodness in man, but that he is good because we find the idea of goodness to be valid for that universal order which we are trying to understand. And we speak of his wisdom and his power, not because man has some share of these qualities, but because they are implied in that conception of the world as purposive which is necessary to explain the relation of the order of nature to the moral order. This method of argument is not anthropomorphic, any more than are arguments concerning causal processes or mathematical relations. The latter depend on our apprehension of certain objective connexions just as the former proceeds from our ideas of objective moral values. The knowledge in both cases is due to our power of knowing, but this does not make it anthropomorphic, for it is a knowledge of relations and of values whose validity is independent of their manifestation in human beings.

But when we try to understand the way in which goodness or wisdom or power belongs to God, we are dependent upon our knowledge of the manifestation of these qualities in finite persons. To this extent our knowledge of the divine attributes rests upon our knowledge of human qualities. From knowledge of the latter we get some indication of the way in which moral and other values belong to personality; while their connexion with the limitations of human personality marks off the features which are peculiar to their realisation in man. Man is a spiritual being, but he is a spirit immersed in matter, restricted in time and space, and sensuous as well as spiritual. Human virtues are the excellences of a being with this double nature; sensuous in his impulses, spiritual in the ideals which are open to him. The moral value which the virtue expresses may have a more or less close connexion with the sensuous basis of man's character, and the virtue accordingly may be less or more akin to the realisation of the same value in a being who is purely spiritual and therefore not subject to the restrictions of a sensuous and material nature. Courage, for instance, and temperance are human virtues which we cannot attribute in anything like their human form to the divine nature, for they postulate obstacles on the part of sense or of impulse to moral performance. The meaning of these virtues lies mainly in the control of unruly desires or impulses. In other virtues the factor of positive worth is more prominent, and they can be understood without reference to the restrictions of their human embodiment. This is most true in the case of wisdom and of love, which express the fundamental characteristics of the values of truth and of goodness.

Even here the inference from the human mainfestation to the divine is limited by the analogy of the spirit of man to the spirit of God. Wisdom, regarded as a divine attribute, does not imply the human method of knowledge with its precarious advance from step to step and its restricted range. But it does involve all knowledge, though the method of divine apprehension will differ from the human. All truth must be God's, as has been said, intuitively or without the discursive process by which the human understanding mostly works: so that truth may be said to belong to his nature, whereas for man it is something to be attained. Something similar holds true when we speak of the love of God. By moralists love has been regarded as the crowning feature of the virtuous life, and theologians have reached no more profound definition than that God is love. Can it be said that the two qualities—the human love and the divine—are only connected by an uncertain analogy? It is true that love, as used of God, does not connote all that it habitually does in its human manifestations, while on the other hand it must at the same time connote much more. But it does in both cases mean the will to the good of others and the will to communion with them. The good which love seeks is not in either case merely happiness, but rather in the first place the realisation in each person of the values of which he is capable. And the communion which love seeks will be facilitated by agreement as to the values most cherished. Love is possible as a one-sided relation only; but the communion in which it finds satisfaction is a reciprocal relation. Communion with God is therefore possible only when man's nature is purged from lower desires and his affections set on the things that are more excellent. Only the pure in heart can see God and hold communion with him. Thus the love of God is a will to the good of men which has as its end the communion of man with God, and it is manifested in the secular process whereby the soul is turned from things of sense to spiritual interests and is thus fitted for citizenship in the kingdom of God.

It is inn the light of the idea of God, as thus sketched, that we must seek to understand the co-activity of God and man in the world. The world has been spoken of as revealing a divine purpose, and man, who is also purposeful, has been regarded as working out or opposing that purpose. How far is. ‘purpose’ used in the same sense when we thus bring the divine and the human together? For any finite mind, and in any limited system, the purpose implies an end which is outside the actual process; the idea of the end determines the conscious activity; but the end itself lies beyond the action, at the close of the temporal process. Now, reality as a whole can have nothing outside it, its purpose must be within itself; and of reality as a whole God is the ground or reason, so that his purpose and activity cannot be limited by time or space. Thus conceived, the divine purpose must be held to be free from that distinction between means and attainment which, characterises finite purposes. Two marks, however, remain which are common to purpose in both its kinds. The first of these is consciousness: the purpose implies insight and determination by reason or wisdom. The second is value; the whole is somehow good, either goodness realised or goodness sought. In the practical life of morality this good has to be striven for by continuous effort and is achieved only by successive approximations. In this respect, therefore, human and divine purpose are differentiated. But even in human life there are experiences in which this limitation is less obtrusive than it is in morality. In contemplation and in artistic enjoyment the temporal element may almost disappear from consciousness, so that these kinds of life have often seemed to the philosopher or to the artist to approach most nearly to the divine7. Perhaps we can have no better analogue of the eternal life.

In this way the human consciousness may be regarded as in touch with the divine. On the other hand the divine purpose, although conceived as in itself free from time and change, cannot be shut off from the process in which it receives temporal fulfilment. This temporal process is in some way its manifestation. Creation, emanation, reproduction, appearance are terms which have been used to indicate the nature of this manifestation. None of them gives any explanation of the origin of the finite from the infinite, or can claim to be more than a metaphor. Behind them, and unanswered by them, lies the question of the way in which we are to conceive the divine purpose as working. Do the decrees of God determine from eternity all that each man does and attains? Does the divine nature draw after it as a necessary consequence the whole history of the world? Does it reproduce itself by an inevitable process in each temporal event? The question is put in different ways, but it has seemed to many thinkers that, however put, the answer must be the same. Whether they have preferred to speak of creation, or of emanation, or of appearance, the concept of causation has ruled their thought. No room has been left for the freedom of the finite; ultimately, all activity has been referred to God, or to the fundamental reality, however named. The relation of divine and human agency, therefore, no longer presents any problem, for human activity is explained as merely a necessary consequence of the divine nature or divine decree.

A real problem arises when we recognise that finite spirits are not merely reproductions of or channels for the divine activity but themselves genuinely purposeful and active. God is contemplated as communicating freedom to men that they may attain the values which only free beings can realise and enjoy. Men are free to work out their purposes, and, at the same time, there is a divine purpose in the world which human history fulfils and to which the environment of nature is subordinate. Here God and man meet. The divine purpose is that values should be realised in man's nature, and it can be attained only by man making this purpose his own. Hence the possibility of cooperation and also of conflict; and through the latter arise the sense of estrangement and need of atonement that mark the religious consciousness. How is the agency of both God and man to be conceived without an arbitrary dualism which treats God as if he were simply one member in a finite interaction?

One way of dealing with the difficulty would be to mark off separate spheres for the divine activity and the human. And this often seems to be the purport of traditional distinctions, such as that between the natural and the supernatural, or between the realms of nature and of grace. The whole region of common life—our dealings with nature and our ordinary social relations—would in this way be assigned to the guidance of man's free will; but, beyond these, a region would be recognised in which the human soul is in contact with the highest. In the presence of God he will be powerless—clay in the hands of the potter, who makes one vessel to honour and another to dishonour. This is the realm of grace; and in it the divine spirit acts upon man irresistibly, choosing him for sonship and training him for communion with God, or else passing him by and leaving him “to the freedom of his own will.” But it is not possible thus to split up man's life into two separate regions. The ordinary affairs of common life are affected by the deepest things of the spirit: the soul of man is a unity, though its divine flame may burn feebly in the earthly air. Even the theological ethics, which enforces the distinction between supernatural grace and natural virtue, holds that that grace influences the whole nature of man. Nor can we be content to explain the unequal distribution of grace by a simple appeal to the divine good pleasure, without any regard to man's response. To do so would annul man's freedom at the centre of his being. In meeting and welcoming the divine grace man's spirit is not passive but responsive; and the divine influence comes as a gift and not by compulsion. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock8,” said the Master. Entry is craved, not forced. And there is a secret shrine prepared for his advent:

This sanctuary of my soul

Unwitting I keep white and whole,

Unlatched and lit, if Thou should'st care

To enter or to tarry there.

Here accordingly the theological doctrine of irresistible grace is relinquished. The spirit of God is conceived as working in and through the spirit of man, but in such a way as not to destroy human freedom. So long as we regard the divine influence as a quasi-mechanical force such a conception is impossible. But it is no longer so when we apply to the problem the idea of God as love. Love works through freedom Compulsion or threats interfere with freedom; but in love spirit appeals to spirit in virtue of their fundamental affinity. The soul may be immersed in routine without thinking of the deeper things in life, or it may assert it lower interests and remain deaf to the call of God. But that call is to its essential nature and spiritual destiny; and, if the call is answered, the soul finds its freedom in fulfilling the divine purpose.

  • 1.

    W. Herrmann, Die Metaphysik in der Theologie (1876), p. 17.

  • 2.

    Lay Sermons (1893), p. 123.

  • 3.

    See especially J. Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, 4th ed. (1915).

  • 4.

    This popular statement is taken, with a slight variation of phrase, from C. J. Keyser, The Human Worth of Rigorous Thinking (1916), p. 148; it agrees with the statement in Russell, Principles of Mathematics, vol. I, p. 121.

  • 5.

    Russell, op. cit., p. 122.

  • 6.

    “The notion of a sort of antecedent logical fate determining all subsequent existence is psychologically explicable as the result—not of the supremacy of our reason—but of the limits of our imagination.”—Ward, Realm of Ends, p. 227.

  • 7.

    See a symposium on ‘Purpose and Mechanism,’ Proceedings of the Aristatelian Society, 1912, especially pp. 251–5; cp. also above, p. 393.

  • 8.

    Rev. iii. 20—quoted in this connexion by Professor Pringle-Pattison, The Idea of God, p. 292.