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Lecture 5. Pantheism.


LET me at this stage recall the train of thought to which I have asked your consideration in the foregoing lectures of this course. Let me also suggest their logical connection with the remaining part of the course, on which we are now entering, and in which we shall find ourselves more immediately concerned with Theism than we have been hitherto.

The problem which underlies Theism.

At the outset I put before you my own conception of the philosophical problem which underlies the intellectual treatment of religion, and with which one is throughout concerned, when engaged with “Natural Theology in the widest sense of that term.” It is the final problem of existence, or of human life in the universe in which man awakes into consciousness. That what is actually experienced really exists, is what most of us take for granted: this primary faith is illustrated whenever things and persons are presented to us in space and time. Some explanation there must surely be of the ultimate meaning and outcome of the all-embracing fact, that I find myself in an ever-changing universe, whether or not the explanation can be reached by man. What sort of universe is this in which I find myself when I awaken into percipient life? May I look at it with trust and hope? or must I resign myself to doubt and despair, as in an environment in which the presence of active moral reason, that is to say of Deity, is not to be found? What am I who have become self-conscious and percipient; and for what purpose am I conscious? In what, or in whom, am I at this moment living and moving and having my being? These are the questions in which the final problem of existence is raised; they are questions with which philosophy and religion are concerned in common. Philosophy culminates in them; religion presupposes an answer to them. The existence of religion does not, indeed, depend upon the possibility of an exhaustive solution of those problems by the intellect. For religion is a practical relation of thought, emotion, and will in man to a supposed divine environment; and this remains good even although the divine reality, being infinite, may turn out to be only incompletely comprehensible in a merely human understanding. A religious life of reverence and moral trust, vivified by love, is not only consistent with, but probably involves a recognition of the insolubility, by logical intelligence, of the divine problem; and we may find that intellect alone, in abstraction from the emotional and ethical elements in human nature, is inadequate to its settlement. It may turn out that the highest human philosophy takes the form of a reasonable faith that man will not be put to confusion in the end, by indulgence either in scientific prevision or in ethical and religious hope. As Locke expresses it: “How short soever men's knowledge may come of an universal and perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it may yet secure their great concernments, that they have at least light enough to lead them to a practical knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties.” We may find in the end that our share of reason leaves us at last, alike in natural science and in religious thought, suspended on a faith that finds vent in the expectation that animates scientific discovery, and also in the expectation with which religious prophecy is charged.

Articulation of this problem: three postulated existences.

So much regarding the final problem of human life, or of this Natural Theology. Our next step was to articulate it more definitely, according to the ordinary supposition about the constituents of the universe of reality. For reasons given, I took Locke's account of these. This presents three final existences—namely, myself, the outer world which immediately environs me, and God. These are for each man the three inevitable realities. Under various conceptions of what each means, they seem to be all, in some manner, consciously or unconsciously, assumed, in the interpretation of human experience that finds practical response in common sense. For the history of man is really a record of the gradual, often interrupted, evolution in the human mind of the three central ideas of each one's own personality—one's sense environment—the absolute Being, or ground in reason of the whole. The conception of each of these three existences is modified by the manner in which it is held in relation to the other two. For the last question regarding each cannot be fully raised without involving answers to root questions about the other two. In the early stages of man's development self, or the personal factor, is only obscurely recognised. The idea of a real order present in the sense environment is also dim in the early ages of history, as well as at first in the life of the individual. And the idea of God originally appears in the crude forms of fetichism and polytheism, or of a capricious supernatural interference that is inconsistent with natural order. But without enlarging on men's crude primitive conceptions of each of the three postulated existences, or tracing their gradual growth as presented in history, I took them as they appear in ordinary thought in the modern world, with Locke as their intellectual spokesman.

Their reduction to a philosophical unity—materialistic, egoistic, or pantheistic.

Then we went on to inquire what three monist philosophies say regarding the three commonly postulated existences. Speculative philosophy is the endeavour to see the intellectual unity that makes the universe a universe. With his craving for unity, the theorist is dissatisfied when mysterious plurality instead of exhaustive unity is presented as the final thought about things. The primary instinct of the intrepid thinker accordingly makes him resolve two of the three postulated existences into the third. So it comes about that some who speculate are disposed to imagine that we are all living and moving and having our being in a materialistic unity—the things and persons that appear in space and time being at last only molecules in motion, in their various inorganic aggregates and their organisms—and then to take this as the last word about what exists, refusing to go further. More reflective thinkers, again, exaggerate their own conscious egos, as the materialists exaggerate the data of the five senses: they see in the outer world of our surroundings only conscious states, dependent on themselves who are conscious of them; and their last word about what we are living and moving and having our being in is,—that each is living and moving and having his being in himself, or in his own mental experience. To another mind, neither outward things—that is to say, molecules in their aggregates and organisms—nor yet the ego in its successive conscious states, provide the desired unity: a final reality, sought either in tangible things or in self-conscious persons, seems inconsistent with the omnipresence and omnipotence, the eternity and infinity, which must be supposed to belong to the final reality self, and also the outward things by which self is surrounded, lose their imagined separateness in a higher conception of what exists: they are conceived, or at least spoken of, as necessitated modifications of the One Infinite Reality, called God, in which the universe is consubstantiated.

Pantheistic unity and necessity alone, properly speaking, absolute.

Here are three attempts to form the ultimate conception of the reality in which we find ourselves participating—that under which All is resolved into an empirical materialistic unity; that under which All is resolved into the individual personal unity; and that under which All is resolved, still under a supposed necessity of reason, into the Divine or pantheistic unity. But while each of these three exaggerations of one of the three existences, to the exclusion of the other two, has its advocates, perhaps none of the three has ever been advocated with thoroughgoing consistency. In the last two lectures I asked you to consider final materialism and final individual egoism, both of them atheistic or non-theistic when logical and exhaustive. Now you have to look at pantheism, in which the idea of God is exclusive; and in pantheism alone among the three is the conception of an absolute unity consistently held. At least materialism, with its innumerable atoms and organisations of atoms, fails to afford a strictly monist conception at the last. Both materialism and panegoism give us “substances,”—extended and unconscious substance, or the conscious substance himself, at the last,—but not the Infinite Unity.

Materialism or atomism as the expression of the ultimate unity.

We found modern materialism, under the influence of the sensuous imagination, ready to accept the discoveries of the new physical and natural sciences as leading the way to the only possible solution of the problem of the universe. The natural history of the molecules of matter—the laws of their chronological evolution in the various degrees of living organism, some accompanied by consciousness—is offered as an account of the whole. The physical organism, through its natural functions, under which reason and will are consciously manifested in man, is supposed in some way to explain the contents of reason and will, as manifested in consciousness; and the natural history of the physical organism, which is the present condition of the rise of reason into consciousness, is substituted for reflective criticism of the rational and volitional consciousness itself, after it has thus arisen into life. The details of the organic evolution, in the natural sequence of biological causation, are without doubt full of interest; but they are surely irrelevant when we want to hear the voice of reason itself, which must be our final tribunal, if reason is supreme in reality. Indeed the materialistic dogma—for it is only a dogma, or unproved assumption—that the common substance of the universe of things and persons that appear in space and time is matter—meaning by this matter as endowed only with those properties which our senses find in what is presented to them—this unproved assertion has probably never been made in earnest by any one who has thought out fully what it involves. It is impossible to identify mind and motion as phenomena. It is moreover irrelevant to theism that the physical natural history of the visible organism should be as the materialist alleges that it has been; for the procession of phenomena does not necessarily involve an atheistic, or exclusively materialistic, inference. I do not see how it follows that rational consciousness can be resolved into molecular motion merely because its correlative phenomena in inorganic and organic matter can be read in terms of physical causation, as the natural outcome of antecedent natural conditions of matter; nor does it seem to follow that the organisms themselves are adequately conceived, when they are treated as only mechanical results of the accidental experiments of an unpremeditated “selection” that was originally incapable of any form of teleological interpretation. But of this afterwards.

Individual egoism as the expression of the ultimate unity.

I proceeded next to test this materialism, that claims finality, by showing what immaterialism had to say for itself. Accordingly, some of the consequences of thinking the universe of things and persons in an ultimately materialistic unity appeared in a striking way when, in last lecture, we reversed our point of view, and tried to look at things exclusively in the light of our own self-conscious and percipient life. We found the universe of “outward” things depending on that life in unexpected ways, while the life contains the rational consciousness to which materialism necessarily appeals in all its own reasonings, as the final criterion of truth. It was chiefly in order to illustrate this inevitable dependence of the outward upon the inward, that I asked each person provisionally to suppose his own ego to be the final unity in the universal system, and so resolve into its subjective experience the postulated existence of outward things, and the postulated existence of God. It is true that panegoism has, even less than materialism, formed an accepted philosophical system, with a full recognition of its logical consequences. It has been attributed to Descartes, as the implicate of his method: Fichte, at a certain stage in his philosophical development, has sometimes been considered its representative. But, hypothetically accepted, it forms at least a reductio ad absurdum of exclusive materialism. It presents the only reality of the materialist as empty negation, when the light and life of percipient consciousness is entirely withdrawn. But this individual egoism is self-destructive: it shuts up each person in a suicidal isolation, because the postulates of reason, which connect individual persons with the outward and with the infinite, are on its narrow basis dissolved in the one postulate of an individual personality.

Pantheistic necessity as the expression of the ultimate unity.

But, as I have said, there is another alternative to either universal materialism or the egoism that claims finality. There is the recognition of the third postulated existence as finally the only possible, because the infinite, Reality. Mind and matter, as we experience them—the finite things and finite persons that appear in time and space—are in this supposed to have only an illusory reality, and to be not more or other than transitory phases or modifications of Infinite Being—the Absolute Reality—of which the finite universe, in all its known degrees, from minerals up to men, is the absolutely necessitated manifestation. This vaguely is Pantheism. The universe conceived pantheistically is conceived as the eternal involuntary evolution of the One Infinite Reality: we live and have the conscious being which, speaking unpantheistically, we call exclusively “our own,” only as we are modifications of the only Being. Atoms in all their visible organisations, and egos in all their invisible conscious states, emanate from, and in the end return into, Divine or Infinite Being, the one, the absolutely unique, Substance and Power: Absolute Being, now revealed in things and persons, absolutely ceases to reveal itself. This is pantheistic Monism, or the necessitated unity of All. The innumerable atoms of materialism present an empirical and generic, rather than the unique, necessary, and infinite One. Taken either separately or in combination, matter and the individual ego present factitious unities. In Infinite Being alone we seem to find a unity that is logically inconsistent with real plurality; a necessity that is inconsistent with contingency or imperfection. For if anything exists of which God is not the substance and the innate power, the pantheist argues that there would then be two gods, and neither of them could be the Infinite, which the universe must finally be conceived to be.

Are finite things and persons substances in the way that infinite Being is Substance?

Infinite Being seems, therefore, to have a claim in reason to exclusiveness which neither of the two orders of finite reality can produce. For God is more truly substance and power, even under ordinary conceptions of what substance and power mean, than finite things and persons can be. Descartes accordingly defined “substance,” taken absolutely, as that which so exists that it needs nothing else to account for or sustain its existence: what are called “created” substances—bodies and egos to wit—are beings that need God for their beginning and continuance, and are, therefore, substances only in a secondary sense,—whatever that may mean; for substance is that which exists in itself, and is conceived by itself, the one self-existent reality. In consistency with this, Spinoza, more logical than Descartes, concluded that substance, or what exists with a true reality, must necessarily be One—absolutely unique—so that whatever is finite and plural can only be unsubstantial or unreal.

There is need, let me say, for guarding against ambiguity in employing this word substance, so prominent in the pantheistic vocabulary. Also neither Descartes nor Spinoza seem sufficiently to distinguish between substantiality and causality, and fail to see that qualities and powers can be referred to finite substances, although the substances themselves still depend for their existence upon God. It does not seem to follow from such dependence that the thing or person so dependent must be only a necessitated mode of Divine Being. There is wisdom in the words of Locke, when he “desires those who lay so much stress on the sound of these two syllables—substance—to consider whether, applying it, as they do, to the infinite incomprehensible God, to finite spirit, and to body, it can be used in each of these cases in the same sense; and whether it stands for the same idea when each of these three so different beings are called substances.” If it does, he asks, with Spinoza apparently in view, whether it will not thence follow that God, spirits, and bodies, agreeing in the same common nature of substance, differ not any otherwise than in a bare different modification of that One substance; as a tree and a pebble, agreeing in the common nature of body, differ only in a bare modification of that common matter. This he considers “a very harsh doctrine.” “If they say that they apply it to God, finite spirit, and matter, in three different significations, and that it stands for one idea when God is said to be a substance, for another when the soul is called substance, and for a third (still different) idea when body is called so;—if the one name substance stands for three several distinct ideas, they would do well,” he thinks, “to make known these distinct ideas, or at least to give three distinct names to them, to prevent, in so important a notion, the confusion and errors that will naturally follow from the promiscuous use of so doubtful a term; which is so far from being suspected to have three distinct significations, that in ordinary use it has scarce one clear distinct signification;—and if they can thus make three distinct ideas of substance, what hinders why another may not make a fourth?” These words of Locke may be pondered when one is investigating the scheme of a pantheistically united or necessitated universe, especially as in Spinoza.

Pantheism in its protean forms pervades the intellectual and emotional history of mankind.

Yet Pantheism, in one or other of its many protean forms, is a way of thinking about the universe that has proved its influence over millions of human minds. Looked at in one light, it seems to be Atheism; in another, it is a sentimental or mystical Theism; in a third, it is analogous to Calvinism. It has governed the religious and philosophical thought of India for ages. Except in Palestine, with the intense consciousness of personal deity there found, it has been characteristic of Asiatic thought,—under one phase in Brahminism, under another in Buddhism. It is the religious philosophy of a moiety of the human race. In the West we find the idea at work in different degrees of distinctness—in the pre-Socratic schools of Greece, as in Parmenides; after Socrates, among the Stoics; then among the Neo-Platonists of Alexandria, with Plotinus in ecstatic elevation as a signal representative; again, in a striking form in Scotus Erigena, who startles us with active and intrepid speculation in the darkness of the ninth century, the least philosophical period in European history; yet again, with Bruno as its herald, after the renascence: and in the seventeenth century the speculative thought of Europe culminated in Spinoza's logically articulated conception of pantheistic unity and necessity. Pantheism was uncongenial to the spirit and methods of the eighteenth century: it is a favourite idea at the root of much present religious and scientific speculation in Europe and in America: it was formulated philosophically in the superconscious intuition of Schelling: it has affinities with the absolute self-consciousness of the Hegelian: it appears in the Absolute Will and the Unconscious Absolute of Schopenhauer and Hartmann, in Germany, and in England in the Unknowable Power behind phenomena of Herbert Spencer. Its history is in a manner the history of philosophy, which might all be unfolded in its relation to the pantheistic solution of its supreme and final problem.

The word Pantheism.

This philosophical form of religious thought is older and more widely spread than the name now appropriated to it, for the term “pantheism” is of modern date. The ‘Pantheisticon’ of John Toland, early in last century, brought the word in some degree into vogue in this country, although the pantheistic idea was an exotic among us in the earlier part of this century. And those now called pantheists were called atheists, because they identified the One Absolute Substance with the infinite material universe, or spoke of it as an incognisable tertium, quid—superconscious and impersonal—neither matter nor mind. On the other hand, when the finite universe of things and persons was seen strongly in its dependence on Spirit, the resulting form of sentiment, if not of reasoned speculation, seemed to admit of monotheistic interpretation. “Whether God be abstracted from the sensible world,” Berkeley remarks in ‘Siris,’ “and considered as distinct from and presiding over the created system; or whether the whole universe, including mind together with the mundane body, is conceived to be God, and the creatures to be partial manifestations of the divine essence,—there is no atheism in either case, whatever misconception there may be;—so long as Mind or Intellect is understood to preside over, govern, and conduct the whole frame of things.” I suppose Berkeley here to imply that this is so, only provided that there is a practical recognition of morally responsible persons as well as physical things in the universe, with acknowledgment of the subordination of the visible world to the active ideals of moral government. With this proviso the speculation referred to is not pantheism, either in its cosmic or its acosmic phase.


“Pantheist,” all this implies, is an ambiguous term. It is apt to be applied to theists who emphasise what distinguishes them from deists. Deism, theism, and pantheism may be distinguished. Under a gross deistical conception, God is imaged—as living in a place apart—determined at a certain date to create the aggregate of things and persons that have since appeared in space—these all after creation being left in a vague way by this external deity to the implanted forces in nature,—God at a distance, either doing nothing, or occasionally interfering with the natural order, by miracle or extraordinary providence,—a wholly transcendent and, in this sense, alien God, in short—an individual being among other individuals, instead of Being absolutely unique.

Pantheism as opposed to Deism.

The pantheistic conception is at the opposite extreme to the deistical: God is, so to speak, coextensive with the now evolving infinite universe of individuals, which being coextensive with God, or Deity modified by rational necessity, could present no other appearances than those in nature: finite things and persons are therein related to God as its waves are related to the ocean whose surface they occasionally disturb—though to satisfy this analogy they must be the waves not of a finite but of infinite ocean. Even as the waves are always water, so the ever changing things and persons of the finite universe are always modifications of the one only reality called God:—

“In Nature see nor shell nor kernel,

But the All in All and the Eternal.”

These, after all, are only crude pantheistic metaphors, which imperfectly represent the unique conception of all that exists as of necessity one in power and substance.

Theism as intermediate.

Intermediate between the deistical conception of an idle God, outside nature, and the pantheistic conception of God as the Universe in its substantial and potential infinity, is the theistic conception of the universe of experience as a revelation—an incomplete revelation—of God: God expressed in the contents of space and time, but not exhausted in the expression;—and, above all, not so expressed in the contents of space and time as that whatever enters into temporal existence is finally necessitated to appear; so that there is no room or freedom for ideals of duty, or for the rise into existence of anything that ought not to appear, and that therefore could not be finally necessitated to appear.

The immanence of God or Active Reason in external nature.

The idea of God as the ever-present life of the world, operating in and through natural laws, is common to philosophic theism with pantheism, and is part of what modern theism owes to pantheistic exaggeration. It distinguishes both from the deism in which God is conceived as a person living at a distance, and leaving the ordinary evolution of nature and society to the regulation of its own natural sequences, whatever that may mean. The thought and feeling of divine immanence in all natural appearances; of the finite being pervaded by and sustained in what is infinite,—comes out, in ancient and modern poetry and religion, as the intense expression of a theism so conscious of theuniqueness and pervadingness of the Divine as to refuse to place God apart,—one among many. Hebrew literature, with its abundant representations of God, still leads up to the idea of divine presence latent in the heart of reality. Instead of an individual and distant God, apart from the cosmos, but occasionally operating as a disturbing God, its voice is,—“Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead Me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” Then there is the expressed sense of finite despair, apart from the enveloping and pervading infinite: “The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” Again of faith: “God is not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being.” So it is too with the poets and prophets of Christianity, in the early Greek Church, as in Clement and Origen, and in the medieval—all followed by the more deistical conception of early Protestantism, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which tends to divorce the natural or secular procession from God. Reaction against this finds expression in the familiar words of our own religious poet, who had learned—

“To look at Nature, not as in the hour

Of thoughtless youth;”

and was wont to feel—

“A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean, and the living air,

And the blue sky—and in the mind of man.”

This is still the theistic conception of God in nature; not the pantheistic conception of man and moral government reduced to natural law, or to abstract dialectical necessity, or made to disappear in the end in abstract undifferentiated Substance.

Pantheistic dreams of Scotus Erigena.

The dreamy abstract character of pantheism is found in its protean forms of representing the relation of what appears in space and time to the absolute Substance and Power, of which those appearances are assumed to be modifications. Is God eternally under modification and change; or had the modifications, in the form of finite things and persons and their changes, an apparent beginning, and will they all come to a final end; so that all things and persons at last disappear in God, with an eternal cessation of change, time and therefore change being truly an illusion of sensuous imagination? The great medieval pantheist, Scotus Erigena, here speculates boldly, but without verification of the speculation, in his philosophic dream about “Nature,”—the idea of which with him expresses not only, as now commonly, the external world under mechanical law, but the totality of real and even possible existence. Nature, he supposes, must consist of God,—the one Substance and Power out of which all things that appear in space and time must emanate, and into which they must all return, beginning and ending their transitory or unreal history in the uncreated and unchanging God, apparently manifested in time. The finite universe in its total evolution is thus, as it were, as a flash of light in the darkness and silence of eternal undifferentiated Being. God is the terns in which all things and persons seem to begin, and in which they must at last eternally and unconsciously repose. I find no proof offered of these tremendous assertions. They illustrate the freedom and elasticity of pantheistic imagination, and its indifference to the demands of experience. Imagination first determines what reality must be, and then disdains to be regulated by a human experience which is disparaged as inevitably only human imagination. The actual universe of experience is disparaged, as an illusory descent from the universal to the particular, from the abstract to the concrete. In the end, as in the beginning, all resolves into undifferentiated Being, abstract and universal.

Spinoza, presents pantheism in abstract demonstrativeness.

This much in illustration of some of the phases of Pantheism, as it occupies in its history various points in the interval between Atheistic Nescience and Philosophical Theism, or between this last and Superconscious Impersonalism. But it is by Spinoza that the idea of pantheistic unity and necessity, as the final conception of existence, is put before us in the most systematic form, and with claims to unbroken demonstrativeness. In Spinoza a purely intellectual philosophy is identified with religion. He is the prince of the systematic divines who bid defiance to the wisdom of Bacon, when he warns us that “perfection or completeness in divinity is not to be sought” by man; that “he that will reduce a knowledge into an art or science must make it round and uniform,” whereas in divinity or philosophy “many things must be left abrupt,” if we are to remain faithful to the reality. That is to say, philosophical or theological thought must, in a human understanding, become at last aphoristic thought, and can never be an exhaustive system of the universe, as seen at its divine centre in the heart of eternity.

The three alternatives of modern religious thought.

It is for us here an interesting fact that when thought about the universe represents it in the form of a pantheistically necessitated Whole, with finite things and persons, finite spaces and times, as its necessitated modes, it is adopting the conception under which Lord Gifford seems to desire that the problems of Natural Theology should be investigated, as the point of departure at least. And in a way we are making it the starting-point in this course. For in the negative course of thought through which I led you in the four preliminary lectures, we found ourselves repelled, first from exclusive and thoroughgoing materialism or atomism, and then from exclusive and thoroughgoing individual egoism, on account of the crudeness and inadequacy of each of these attempts to reach a satisfactory unity in existence. Each leaves us isolated, without absolute support; for in neither is there the divine synthesis. This support Pantheism offers, emphatically, in its fashion, for it deifies everything. If we fail to find an intellectual home here, we must abandon the hope of satisfying the desire for unity in one exclusively of the three postulated existences, repelled from each in turn, as a philosophy adequate to human experience. Pantheistic Reason, Universal Nescience, and Theistic Faith are the three philosophies now before Europe and America, with some educated and more half-educated thought oscillating between the first and the second. Of these three, which is the most reasonable, because the fittest to provide for man, in the fulness of his physical and spiritual being, a true home in needed moral as well as intellectual satisfaction? The remainder of the present course should prepare the way for an answer to this question.

Spinozism and Lord Gifford.

It is, as I have said, an interesting fact, at least for us, that the pantheistic idea of consubstantiation of the outward world and man in the One Infinite Substance or Reality called God should be the central idea of Lord Gifford's Deed of Foundation, and the idea which he seems to desire to get worked out and tested under his bequest, in some of the innumerable fruitful ways which it seemed to him to open up to mankind. This is implied even in his words quoted in my opening lecture. “Natural theology” was described as “knowledge of God,…the One and the Sole Substance, the Sole Being, the Sole Reality, and the Sole Existence;” and the true and full knowledge of the relations of man and the outward universe to the Sole or Infinite Reality is presumed to be “the means of man's highest wellbeing, and the security of his upward progress.” But this idea is more fully expressed in a lecture by Lord Gifford on “SUBSTANCE,” delivered some years before his death, after which it was printed and circulated among his friends. I make no apology for quoting some sentences from this curious tract, to show how near the idea of the consubstantiation of finite things and persons in God lay to his heart; so that Pantheism might well be made the centre of interest in a course of lectures associated with his name.

All things and persons consubstantiated in God, the one only Substance, in Lord Gifford's idea.

That God is the one and only Substance, the one hidden reality which exists under the qualities or appearances of all finite things and persons, and to which all their phenomena are to be ascribed—this is the leading idea; and so he tells us that the word SUBSTANCE is “the grandest word in any language.” Substance, he explains, is “that which is below and above and around and within” all material things, and all individual minds or egos; coextensive with them all, and in which they all exist; so that whatever is predicable of them must be predicable of the one divine substance of which they are the parts. Let me take from the tract now before me some sentences in which this thought is applied, and in which the reader is invited to contemplate the universe, so to speak, Spinozistically.

His idea of the impotence of finite things.

“To come to the root and bottom of the matter at once, I ask you,” Lord Gifford says, “to look at the forces and energies and laws of nature, and the laws of life which have so much to do with the phenomena [of external nature and of man] which we have been examining…What are these forces and energies, innate in matter forsooth, innate in protoplasm, innate in organisation, and on which so much reliance is placed? Do these forces and energies explain anything? Do they not just put the question further back, or further on? For the question is, What is the substance of all the forces and energies themselves? They are not final and ultimate; they themselves need explanation; there must be something behind and beyond them. They are not self-originated: they are not self-maintained: they are but words, telling us to go deeper and to go higher; they all seem to say to the anxious inquirer, ‘Not, in us, not in us.’…The force behind and in all forces, the energy of all energies, the explanation of all explanations, the cause of all causes and of all effects, the soul that is within and below and behind each soul, the mind that inspires and animates and thinks in each mind—in one word, the substance of all substances, the substance of all phenomena, is—God. ‘Nature! ’tis but the name of an effect.’ The cause is God, Now we have reached a substance that does not in its turn become merely a phenomenon, a substance which has nothing behind it, but of which all things [and persons], past, present, or future, are but the formsSubstance is the true name of God. Every line of thought meets here. Every eager question is answered here. Every difficulty and perplexity is resolved here. Here the philosopher must rest. Here the ignorant must repose. This universe and all its phenomena—other universes, unthinkable by human minds—all are but forms of the Infinite, shadows of the Substance that is One for ever…There cannot be a finite energy that is due only to itself alone, and which is independent of everything else; for there can be but One Infinite…It is mere repetition to say, That if God be the very substance and essence of every force, and of every being, He must be the very Substance and Essence of the human soul. The human soul is neither self-derived nor self-subsisting. It is but a manifestation, a phenomenon. It would vanish if it had not a substance; and its substance is God…Then if God be the substance of our souls, He must also be the substance of all our thoughts and of all our actions. Thoughts and actions are not self-sustaining, self-producing, any more than worlds. They are mere manifestations, first of our souls, but next, and far more truly, of God, who is our ultimate Substance. In Him we live, and move, and have our being. We are parts of the Infinite—literally, strictly, scientifically so. A human soul, or a human thought and action, outside of God, would be a rival deity.

He sees all the Sciences culminating in the science of the Absolute Substance.

“In all this,” he continues, “I have not gone a single step out of my way as a student of mental science; and if I have had to speak to you of God—frankly and freely—that is only because God is necessarily found by all who fairly follow up the purely scientific idea of substance to its deepest roots and its highest sources. The highest science always becomes religious—nay, religion itself…Science knows no authority but the intuition of truth.” (We see here why Lord Gifford insists, as I showed in my opening lecture, on Natural Theology being a “science,” seeing that it is involved in the self-consistent intellectual unity which all science postulates.) Then he thus proceeds: “If God be the substance of all forces and powers, and of all beings, He must be the only substance,—the only substance in this universe, or in all possible universes. This,” he insists, “is the grand truth on which the system of Spinoza is founded; Spinoza's whole works are simply drawing deductions therefrom. “I am, and there is none besides Me’—no being, no thing, no existence besides. I am, and nothing else is. If there could be two Substances; if anything else but God existed [any other thing or person], anything outside God, anything of which God was not the substance,—then there would be two gods, and neither of them would be infinite. But I must forbear,” he says at last, “I must forbear to trace further the consequences of God being seen as the one eternal and only Substance. The subject may be expanded into marry volumes.”

Is this abstract idea of the Absolute Substance called God, scientifically or otherwise prolific?

It is this “expansion” into its innumerable consequences of the idea of God as the one only substance, with criticism of the same, in the innumerable ways in which it may be handled by different minds, that Lord Gifford seems to have had before him, as an ideal for successive generations of Gifford lecturers, who might work it out according to their respective individualities. The idea itself, in the first place, is a very elastic one, apt to evade the intellectual grasp, and, in the next, place, while attributed by him to Spinoza, is, as held in fervid sentiment by Lord Gifford himself, probably more and other than intellectual Spinozism—itself ground on which it is difficult to stand steadily when tested by the facts of moral experience.


I will ask you, in next lecture, to look more closely into the grounds and consequences of Spinoza's conception of the universe of things and persons in a necessitated pantheistic unity. This will open the way from Panmaterialism, Panegoism, and Pantheism to the modern point of view of Experience, and what physical and moral human experience presupposes. After we have reached this point, we shall proceed, in the four concluding lectures, to inquire whether theistic faith is not as much at the bottom of our moral experience of the infinite reality as physical faith in the order of nature is at the bottom of our physically scientific experience—all human science of what is experienced being at last faith in what is reasonable. You may call this pantheism if you please, but it is pantheism accommodated to man's moral and religious revelation of the reality in which he lives and moves and has his being.

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