Problems of Immanence - Studies Critical and Constructive
by J. Warschauer
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse












About a year ago certain tendencies in the popular discussion of the doctrine of Divine Immanence suggested to the present writer the idea of a brief sketch or article, to be published under the title, "The Truth of Transcendence." On further reflection, however, a somewhat more extended treatment of so important a subject seemed desirable, and this has been attempted in the following chapters. When the doctrine of immanence began, as it has been of late, to be reasserted in a somewhat pronounced manner, most of those who were best able to judge felt conscious of certain dangers likely to arise through misinterpretation and over-emphasis; that those anticipations have been abundantly realised, no careful student of recent developments will dispute, and the present book is intended both to call attention to these dangers and to bring out the distinction between the truth of immanence and what to the author seem perversions of that truth.

In the meantime, while these pages were passing through the press, there has appeared a new work from the brilliant pen of Professor William James,[1] some sentences from which might to a large extent be taken as indicating {6} the standpoint of the volume now submitted to the reader:—

"God," in the religious life of ordinary men is the name not of the whole of things, heaven forbid, but only of the ideal tendency in things, believed in as a superhuman person who calls us to co-operate in His purposes, and who furthers ours if they are worthy. He works in an external environment, has limits, and has enemies. When John Mill said that the notion of God's omnipotence must be given up, if God is to be kept as a religious object, he was surely accurately right; yet, so prevalent is the lazy Monism that idly haunts the regions of God's name, that so simple and truthful a saying was generally treated as a paradox; God, it was said, could not be finite. I believe that the only God worthy of the name must be finite.

It is precisely the theory which identifies God with "the whole of things" which will be combated in the following discussions; it is precisely "the lazy Monism that idly haunts the regions of God's name" to which they offer a plain and direct challenge. At the same time such a phrase as that in which Professor James speaks of God as working "in an external environment" would seem unduly to under-emphasise the fact of immanence; and it may be said at once that the theory of Divine finitude put forward by the present writer will be seen to differ from that of John Stuart Mill, as the idea of self-limitation differs from that of a limitation ab extra—in other words, as Theism differs from Deism.

It is perhaps a little remarkable that the fundamental antinomies which arise from the assumption of the actual infinity of God should not have been more frequently dealt with; or rather, that thinkers postulating that infinity {7} as a basal axiom should have been comparatively blind to its logical implications. For if God is infinite, then He is all; and if He is all, what becomes of human individuality, or how are human initiative and responsibility so much as thinkable? Benjamin Jowett, in his Essay on Predestination and Freewill, glanced at this problem in passing, and the remarks he made upon it more than fifty years ago, if somewhat tentative, are well worth consideration to-day:—

"God is infinite." But in what sense? . . . Press the idea of the infinite to its utmost extent, till it is alone in the universe, or rather is the universe itself, in this heaven of abstraction, nevertheless, a cloud begins to appear; a limitation casts its shadow over the formless void. Infinite is finite because it is infinite. That is to say, because infinity includes all things, it is incapable of creating what is external to itself. Deny infinity in this sense, and the being to whom it is attributed receives a new power. God is greater by being finite than by being infinite . . . Logic must admit that the infinite over-reaches itself by denying the existence of the finite, and that there are some "limitations," such as the impossibility of evil or falsehood, which are of the essence of the Divine nature.[2]

Where, of course, Divine immanence is held to mean the "allness"—which is the strict equivalent of the infinity—of God, evil in every shape and form will either have to be ascribed to the direct will and agency of God Himself, or for apologetic purposes to be reduced to a mere semblance, or "not-being." Thus we are told to-day in plain terms that "if God does not avert evil, it is because He requires it"; {8} that "what to us seems evil is ordained of God"; that—

"If prayers and earthquakes break not Heaven's design, How then a Borgia or a Catiline?"

But if evil be only apparent and not real, we shall surely, having gained this insight, be too wise to waste indignation upon the non-existent; if what we call misdeeds in reality fulfil God's own "requirements," a thoroughly enlightened public opinion will not seek to interfere with the sacred activities of the pick-pocket, the forger, the sweater, the roue, every one of whom may plead that he is but carrying out the Divine ordinances; if Alexander Borgia's perjuries, poisonings and debaucheries "break not Heaven's design," but are "ordained of God for some purpose," morality itself becomes an exploded anachronism.

It is because these and such as these are the results in the fields of religion and conduct which flow from certain errors in the field of speculation, that these chapters have been written, and are now sent forth. Belief in a personal God, personal freedom, personal immortality—these essentials of religion are one and all endangered where the doctrine of Divine immanence is presented in terms of a monistic philosophy; it has been the writer's object to safeguard and vindicate these truths anew in a volume which, though of necessity largely critical in method, he offers as wholly constructive in aim.

August 1st, 1909.

[1] A Pluralistic Universe.

[2] Thessalonians, Galatians and Romans, vol. ii. pp. 388-9.



INTRODUCTION: DIVINE IMMANENCE . . . . . . . . . . 11 I. SOME PROBLEMS OF IMMANENCE . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 II. PANTHEISM: THE SUICIDE OF RELIGION . . . . . . . . 41 III. THE ETHICS OF MONISM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 IV. MONISM AND THE INDIVIDUAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 V. THE DIVINE PERSONALITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74 VI. EVIL versus DIVINE GOODNESS . . . . . . . . . . . 87 VII. EVIL versus DIVINE GOODNESS (cont.) . . . . . . 101 VIII. THE DENIAL OF EVIL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119 IX. DETERMINISM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141 X. MORALITY AS A RELIGION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171 XI. PROBLEMS OF PRAYER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192 XII. IMMORTALITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218




The doctrine of Divine immanence is in a very special and unmistakeable manner the re-discovery of the nineteenth century. Nothing could be more remote from fact than to call that doctrine a new—or even an old—heresy. Old it certainly is, but heretical in itself it as certainly is not; it can point to unquestionable warranty in Holy Scripture, where such is demanded, and it has never been repudiated by the Christian Church. But just as a law, without being repealed, may fall into desuetude, so a doctrine, without being repudiated, may for a time fade out of the Church's consciousness; and in the one case as in the other any attempt at revival will arouse a certain amount of distrust and opposition. There would no doubt be a measure of truth in the statement that the suspicion and antagonism with which the recent re-enunciation of this particular doctrine or idea was attended in some quarters, exemplified this general attitude of the human mind towards the unaccustomed; and yet such a statement, made without qualification, {12} would be only a half-truth. The fact is, and it cannot be stated too soon or too clearly, that if the antagonism and suspicion exhibited have been exceptionally strong, there have been exceptional causes to justify both. Alarm, and that of a very legitimate nature, has been called forth by one-sided and extravagant statements of the idea of Divine immanence on the part of ill-balanced advocates; and in this book we shall be almost continually occupied with the task of disengaging the truth of immanence from what appear to us mischievous travesties of that truth. That such a task is a necessary one, we are firmly convinced; for if, as Principal Adeney says, "among all the changes in theology that have been witnessed during the last hundred years this"—i.e., the re-discovery of the principle of Divine immanence—"is the greatest, the most revolutionary," it must certainly be of paramount importance that we should understand and apply that principle aright. Confessedly, it denotes a great and far-reaching change; can we, then, in the first instance, briefly and plainly state what this change is from, what it involves, and in what respect it is supposed to help us in dealing with the problem of religion?

It has to be borne in mind, to begin with, that the very term "immanence" had for a long time ceased to be in current use, and had thus become strange to the average believer; it has equally to be remembered that in theology as {13} in other matters we have not yet altogether passed the stage where hostis means both "stranger" and "foe"—that, in fact, to many minds, the unfamiliar is, as we said, eo ipso the suspect. But immanence means nothing more abstruse than "indwelling"; and the renewed emphasis which, from the time of Wordsworth onward, began to be laid upon the Divine indwelling, the presence of God in the Universe, represented in the first place the reaction of the human spirit against the cold and formal Deism of the eighteenth century, which thought of God as remote, external to the world, exclusively "transcendent." According to the deistic notion, God was known to man only by reason of a revelation He had given once and for all in the far-off past—a revelation which in its very nature excluded the idea of progress; as against this conception that of the immanence of God declares that He is not far from each one of us, that in Him we live and move and have our being, that He is over all and through all and in all—the Life of all life, the Energy behind all phenomena, the Presence from which there is no escaping, unceasingly and progressively—though by divers portions and in divers manners—revealed in the universe, in nature and in man.

Thus expressed, the doctrine of God's nearness and indwelling will probably commend itself to most thoughtful religious people; but in {14} re-emphasising an aspect of truth there is always the danger of over-emphasising it, of claiming it as the whole and sole truth—of falling, in a word, from one extreme into the other. To that rule the present case offers no exception; it is, on the contrary, very distinctly one of the pendulum swinging as far in one direction as it previously swung to the other. Let us then at once state the thesis which many of the following pages will serve to elaborate: when the indwelling of God in the universe is interpreted as meaning His identity with the universe; when the indwelling of God in man is taken to mean His identity with man, the whole structure of religion is gravely imperilled. For in the identity of God with the world and with man—which is the root-tenet of Pantheism—there is inevitably involved the surrender of both the Divine and the human personality. We shall have occasion to see how much such a surrender signifies; for the moment it suffices to say plainly that Pantheism, the doctrine which denies the transcendence of God, is by no means the same as that which affirms His immanence, nor does it logically follow from that affirmation. The mistake so frequently made lies in regarding the Divine immanence and the Divine transcendence as mutually exclusive alternatives, whereas they are complementary to one another. A one-sided insistence on the immanence of God, to the exclusion of His transcendence, leads to {15} Pantheism, just as a one-sided insistence upon His transcendence, to the exclusion of His immanence, leads to Deism; it is the two taken together that result in, and are necessary to, Theism. Thus it cannot be too well understood, and it should be understood at the very outset, that we have not to make anything like a choice between immanence and transcendence—that these two can never be separated, but are related to each other as the less to the greater, as the part to the whole. One naturally shrinks from employing a diagram in dealing with such a topic as this; but perhaps recourse might without offence be had to this method—necessarily imperfect as it is—on account of its essential simplicity, and because it is calculated to remove misapprehensions. If we can think of a very large sphere, A, and, situated anywhere within this, of a very small sphere, a—then the relation of the smaller to the greater will be that of the sphere of immanence to the sphere of transcendence. The two are not mutually separable, but the one has its being wholly within the other.

Nevertheless it is quite true that there has been within recent years a distinct shifting of the centre of gravity from the one doctrine to the other, a growing disposition to regard the immanence of God as the fundamental datum, the basis of the modern restatement of religious belief. How will this conception help us to {16} such an end? The answer to that question may be given in the words of Dr. Horton, who says, "The intellectual background of our time is Agnosticism, and the reply which faith makes to Agnosticism is couched in terms of the immanence of God." [1] Dr. Horton's meaning will grow clearer to us if we once more glance at our imaginary diagram, letting the smaller figure a, the sphere of immanence, stand for our universe. If the sphere of God's being lay altogether outside the universe, i.e., outside the radius of our knowledge—if He, in other words, were merely and altogether transcendent—He would also be merely and altogether unknowable, exactly as Agnosticism avers. His transcendent attributes, all that partakes of infinity, cannot—and that of necessity—become objects of immediate knowledge to finite minds; if He is to be known at all to us, He can only be so known by being manifested through His presence within, or action upon, the finite and comprehensible sphere. In other words, it is primarily as He is revealed in and through the finite world, that is to say as immanent, that God becomes knowable to us; all that is included under His transcendence is of the very highest importance for us—religion would be utterly incomplete without it—but it is an inference we make from His immanence. It is, to give an obvious illustration, only to a transcendent God that we can offer prayer—God {17} over all whom the soul needs, to enter into relations withal; but it is also true that we gain the assurance of His transcendence through His immanence, and that

The God without he findeth not, Who finds Him not within.

In a word, the Divine immanence is not the goal of our quest of God, but it is the indispensable starting-point.

A simple reflection will serve to place this beyond doubt. Against the old-fashioned Deism which continued to bear sway till far into the last century, the agnostic had an almost fatally easy case; he had but to reject the revelation alleged to have been given once for all in the dim past—to reject it on scientific or critical grounds—and who was to prove to him that the universe had been created a few thousand years ago by a remote and external Deity? As for him, he professed, and professed candidly enough, that he could see nothing in nature but the operation of impersonal forces; there was natural law, and there was the process of evolution, but beyond these——? Now the only really telling reply that can be made to those who argue in this fashion is that which reasons from the Divine immanence as its terminus a quo—the doctrine which beholds God first of all present and active in the world, and sees in natural law not a possible substitute for Him, but the working of His sovereign Will. From this point of view, the orderliness of the cosmos, {18} the uniformity and regularity of nature, attest not the unconscious throbbing of a soulless engine, or a blind Power behind phenomena, but a directing Mind, a prevailing Will. The world, according to this conception, was not "made" once upon a time, like a piece of clockwork, and wound up to run without further assistance; it is not a mechanism, but an organism, thrilled and pervaded by an eternal Energy that "worketh even until now." In Sir Oliver Lodge's phrase, we must look for the action of Deity, if at all, then always; and this thought of the indwelling God, revealing Himself in the majestic course and order of nature, not only rebuts the assaults of Agnosticism, but compels our worship. And as natural law speaks to us of the steadfastness and prevailing power of the Divine Will, so evolution speaks of the Divine Purpose, and proclaims that purpose "somehow good," since evolution means a steady reaching forward and upward, an unfolding and ascent from less to more.

We take a step higher up when we come to the further revelation of God as seen dwelling in man; a step higher up because on any sane view immanence is a fact admitting of very various degrees, so that God is more fully revealed in the organic than in the inorganic world, more in the conscious than in the unconscious, far more in man than in lower creatures. We speak of God's indwelling in man in the {19} same sense in which there is something of an earthly parent's very being in his children; indeed, rightly considered, the Divine Parenthood is the only rational guarantee of that human brotherhood which is being so strongly—or, at least, so loudly—insisted on to-day. Man, that is to say, is not identical with God, any more than a son is identical with his father; but man is consubstantial, homogeneous, with God, lit by a Divine spark within him, a partaker of the Divine substance. As in nature we discern God revealed as Power, Mind, Will, Purpose, so in man's moral nature, and his inner satisfaction or dissatisfaction according as he does or does not approach a certain moral standard, we discern Him as Righteousness; and, more than all, since men, beings in whom "the Spirit of God dwelleth," are persons, it follows that God also is at least personal, since there can be nothing in an effect that is not in the cause producing it. Thus the doctrine of Divine immanence throws at least a ray of light upon one of the problems which press with peculiar weight upon many modern minds—and which we shall consider at greater length hereafter—viz., the Divine Personality.

There remains, however, a still further step to be taken along the line which we have been pursuing. We are not fully satisfied when we know God even as personal, even as righteous; the assurance which alone will satisfy the awakened human spirit is that which tells us {20} that God is Love, and that His truest name is that of Father. How could such a culminating assurance come to us? We conceive that this end could only be achieved through a complete manifestation of the Divine character on a finite scale, i.e., through His indwelling in an unparalleled measure in a unique and ethically perfect being; and such an event, we hold, has actually taken place in what is known as the Incarnation. In the words of Dr. Horton, "the doctrine of the immanence of God, the idea that God is in us all, leads us irresistibly to the conclusion that 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.'" "This argument," he says—viz., from Divine immanence—"becomes more and more favourable to the doctrine of Christ's Divinity." [2] The highest and truest knowledge of God, that which it most concerns us to possess, could have become ours only through One in whom the fulness of Godhead dwelt bodily, in whom we saw Divinity in its essence and without alloy. To bring us this perfect revelation was, indeed, the very reason of Christ's advent. We come to the Father through the Son, because there is no other Way. We have seen the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the very Image of His Substance. Divine Love, mighty to save, full of redemptive power, longing for the soul with infinite affection—in fine, Fatherhood—this is what constitutes {21} religion's ultimate; and this revelation we have in the Incarnate Son, in whom the Spirit dwelt without measure—who, i.e., stands forth as the supreme and unparalleled illustration of the Divine immanence.

Here, then, we have a first, preliminary survey of the meaning of this much-discussed, much-misunderstood term—a mere outline sketch which, needless to say, requires a great deal of filling in, such as will be attempted in subsequent pages of this book. So much should be clear from what has been said, that the nineteenth century, in practically restoring this fruitful and far-reaching conception to a Church which had largely forgotten it, made a contribution of the utmost importance to theology and religion; indeed, the value of that contribution could hardly be more strongly stated than in the utterances of Dr. Horton which we have quoted above. Such a factor, however, cannot be introduced, or re-introduced, into our theological thinking without necessitating a good deal of revision, nor without causing a certain measure of temporary confusion and dislocation; it will accordingly be the principal object of the following chapters to clear up misapprehensions which have arisen in connection with the idea of immanence, to assign to it its approximately proper place in Christian thought, and to safeguard an important truth against the injury done to it—and {22} so to all truth—by a zeal that is not according to knowledge. Corruptio optimi pessima: in unskilled hands this doctrine is certainly apt to become a danger to religion itself; nevertheless, rightly applied, there is probably no more potent instrument than this to help us in that reconstruction of belief which is admittedly the urgent business of our age. It is true, as Raymond Brucker said, that "the answer to the riddle of the universe is God—the answer to the riddle of God is Christ"; but it is also true, we hold, that the most effective key for the unlocking of the riddle is the idea of Divine immanence.

[1] My Belief, p. 107.

[2] Op. cit.; pp. 108, 109.




It used to be said of a famous volume of apologetics—with what justification this is not the place to discuss—that it raised more difficulties than it professed to settle; and a somewhat similar charge has more than once been brought against the doctrine of Divine immanence, viz., that if it succeeded in throwing light upon some problems, it created new ones of a particularly insoluble character. The old deistic notion which interposed a distance between the Creator and His creation, and in particular represented God as there and man as here, might be untenable in philosophy, but it was at least intelligible and practically helpful to ordinary minds; but does not the idea of God's immanence in the world and in man tend to efface that distinction, and thus to introduce confusion where confusion is least to be desired?

In the present chapter we shall attempt to glance at some of the main questions which arise in connection with this doctrine; and, to begin with, we may state with the utmost frankness that nothing is easier than to interpret the {24} conception of Divine immanence in such a manner as to make it appear either ludicrous or hateful or simply meaningless—in any case repulsive from the religious point of view. This, to come straight to the point, is what is bound to happen when God's indwelling in man is explained as meaning that man is de facto one with his Maker. What could the general reader think when he was told with vehemence, "You are yourself the infinite"—"You are yourself God; you never were anything else"? If that reader was lacking in mental balance, he was likely to be swept off his feet by such a declaration, and to accept, with all its implications, a view so flattering to human vanity; if, on the other hand, he was a person of soberly religious outlook and experience, he inquired what was the doctrine in whose name such a proposition was offered to him for acceptance—and on learning that the name of that doctrine was the unfamiliar one of "immanence," straightway set it down as the worst of brain-sick heresies. Thus, not for the first time, has a cause or truth been wounded and discredited by injudicious advocacy.

For the purpose which we have in view we cannot do better than state what we consider the fundamental misinterpretation of this doctrine in the considered words of one of its most popular exponents, who expresses it as follows: "God in man is God as man. There is no real Divine Immanence which does not imply the {25} allness of God." [1] It is not too much to say that this brief statement contains the fons et origo of all the misunderstandings with which the re-enunciation of this idea has been attended; it is this assumption of the allness of God which underlies and colours quite a number of modern movements, and will be seen to lead those who accept it into endless and inextricable tangles.

If God is all, then what are we? Granted the basal axiom of this type of immanentism, it follows with irresistible cogency that our separate existence, consciousness, volitions and so forth are merely illusions. We can be "ourselves God" only in the sense that we are individually nothing; the contrary impression is simply an error, which we shall have to recognise as such, and to get rid of with what speed and thoroughness we can. This, it is true, is more easily said than done, for our whole life both of thought and action bears incessant witness to the opposite; there are, however, those to whose temperament such a complete contradiction, so far from being distressing, is positively grateful because of its suggestion of mystery and mysticism. Sometimes a Tertullian voices this abdication of the reasoning faculty defiantly—certum est quia impossibile est; but more often perhaps the same position {26} is expressed in the spirit of Tennyson's well-known lines, which, indeed, bear directly upon our immediate theme:—

We feel we are nothing—for all is Thou and in Thee; We feel we are something—that also has come from Thee; We know we are nothing—but Thou wilt help us to be.

We submit, however, that while such a contemplation of, or oscillation between, mutually destructive tenets may for a time minister to some kind of aesthetic enjoyment, the healthy mind cannot permanently find satisfaction while thus suspended in mid-air; nor are we appreciably advanced by the temper which, after pointing out some alleged fundamental antinomy, "quietly accepts"—i.e., in practice ignores—it. Problems of this description are not solved by what Matthew Arnold called a want of intellectual seriousness; is it true, we ask, that the "mystical view of the Divine immanence" compels us to believe in the allness of God, and so to deny our individual existence?

The answer is that this soi-disant "mystical view" is simply a distorted view of what immanence means. We are not really called upon to do violence to the collective facts of our experience, which rise up in unanimous and spontaneous testimony against the monstrous fiction that we are either nothing or God. The fallacy upon which this fiction rests is not a {27} very subtle one. When we speak of God's indwelling in man, we predicate that community of nature which the writer of Gen. ii expresses by saying that God created man in His own image; we predicate, i.e., what we already called homogeneity—likeness of substance—and not identity, which is a very different thing. We do not commit ourselves to the proposition that "God in man is God as man." Parent and child are linked together by a precisely analogous bond to that subsisting between God and man, but they are nevertheless distinct individualities.

"But," it will be objected, "the analogy does not hold, for parent and child are both finite; how can a similar separateness be so much as thought to exist between God and man, seeing that God is infinite?" It will be seen that the objection merely restates the allness of God under a different form; and this brings us to the very heart of the matter. We must at length face the one conclusion which does not land us in self-contradiction—viz., that in the act of creation God limits His own infinity, no matter to how infinitesimal an extent. On the alternative supposition we have ultimately to think of God and man either as All plus something or All plus zero—which is absurd. Mr. Chesterton has rendered useful service by insisting that in creating the world God distinguishes Himself from the world, as a poet is distinct from his poem—a truth which he has condensed into an aphorism, {28} "All creation is separation"; but on the part of the Deity such "separation" implies of necessity the self-limitation just spoken of. Just as a billion, minus the billionth fraction of a unit, is no longer a billion, so infinity itself, limited though it be but by a hair's-breadth, is no longer, strictly speaking, infinite. Once we admit this Divine self-limitation as a working theory, we shall no longer be troubled by the unreal difficulty of having to reconcile the principle of Divine immanence with the fact of individual existence. The Divine spark may burn in man, brightly or dimly as the case may be, and yet be separate from the central and eternal Fire whence it has been flung forth; in other words, man may be a partaker of the Divine nature without being "himself God." If we are to be able to believe in either a universe or a humanity which, though the scene of Divine immanence, are not identical with God, it seems to us that such a view of creation as we have just propounded is inevitable; and unless this non-identity can be maintained—unless, that is to say, we definitely repudiate the idea of the "allness" of God—religion itself is reduced to a misty and ineffective theosophy.

The issues involved in the acceptance or rejection of this view appear to us of such importance that, at the risk of seeming to labour our point unnecessarily, we are anxious to make it perfectly plain. In the phase through which {29} religious thought is passing to-day there are few things more urgently needed than to dispel that interpretation of immanence which obliterates the line of demarcation between God and man. We may decline the mechanical dualism which placed the Creator altogether outside the universe, and yet embrace a view which for want of a better name might be called spiritual dualism, and which maintains the distinction of which we are speaking. What happens when that distinction is lost, is sufficiently apparent from a statement like the following, actually addressed to a miscellaneous audience: "If there is an eternal throne, you are on it now; there has never been a moment when you were not on it." Such downright extravagance is most suitably met with a bald contradiction: man is not on the eternal throne, and there has never been a moment when he was on it. It is this fact which makes worship so much as possible; it is, in short, the transcendent God with whom we are concerned in the exercise of religion, for as Mr. Chesterton puts it in his own manner, "that Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones."

Let us see what follows if we once seriously persuade ourselves that we are "on the eternal throne," or, to extract its meaning from that picturesque phrase, that the presence of God is already perfectly realised in us. We cannot but think we shall carry the reader {30} with us in saying that such a belief is in itself indicative of spiritual danger; indeed, there can hardly be a greater danger than that which is directly encouraged by the idea that we have already attained, and that all is well with us, seeing that we are one with the All-good. On such a supposition, why pray—for even were there One other than ourselves to pray to, what is there to pray for? Or, to quote the actual question of a believer in this kind of immanence, Why ask outside for a strength which we already possess? What a naive question of this calibre reveals only too plainly is that self-complacency which is the most deadly foe of the spiritual life. One is reminded of the American story in which a bright and intelligent wife asks her cultured but indifferent husband, "Is it true that God is immanent in us all?" "I suppose so," he answers; "but it does not greatly matter." The question is, Do we already possess the strength for which we ask? Or rather, Does not the very fact that we ask for it prove that we do not possess it, and that He from whom we ask it is not ourselves? Is not the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Divine invasion of the soul, a fact of experience, and is it not also a fact that that gift is only to be had for the asking, only given in response to earnest and persevering prayer, and that it effects in those who receive it a change of thought and feeling?

All these are facts resting on irrefragable evidence; the apparent problem is, to {31} harmonise them with the affirmation of the divinity existing in man. If God be truly "in us all," then in what sense or to what purpose can we pray for a consummation which, it will be urged, is ex hypothesi an accomplished fact at the time that we ask for it? We reply that the Divine indwelling in man is of the nature of a capacity for striving rather than of an attainment, a potentiality rather than an actuality, a prophecy rather than a fulfilment. Man's longing for communion with God, as for an unrealised good, is the longing of like for Like, but it is only through struggle and effort that the goal can be reached. The Eternal is indeed the Life of all life, and to that extent it is true that all life expresses Him; nevertheless our original divine endowment is no more than the material which has to be shaped and wrought into "the type of perfect." Without this divinity of substance as it might be called, we should never have the finished product, divinity of character; but the latter can only be achieved through arduous and persevering endeavour. Without a genuinely divine element—without the Spirit breathed into man by his Creator—we could not even realise our failure, nor aspire after a fuller portion of that same life-giving Spirit; it is what we have that tells us of what we lack, and directs us to Him who alone can supply our want out of His inexhaustible fulness.

And if we have thus found an answer to the question, "How, from the point of view of {32} Divine immanence, can there be anything but God?" we have at the same time received a hint indicating where we shall have to look for the answer to another query of even more directly practical interest, viz., "How, from the same point of view, can there be anything but good—how can there be any real evil, physical or moral?" Put in that extreme form, this problem, like the one with which we have just dealt, arises from the erroneous assertion of the allness of God; but as the whole subject of the reality of evil will come up for treatment at a later stage, we need not now enter into its discussion. At one aspect, and one only, of this vast and complex theme we may, however, be permitted to glance for a moment before we pass on. If God dwells in us, it is frequently asked, whence comes what Paul so pathetically calls "the law of sin which is in our members"—whence come the wrongful desires and harmful passions of whose power we are so painfully conscious? That is an entirely legitimate and even inevitable query, but the solution of the enigma is not past finding out, though we must content ourselves with a mere suggestion. We have, in the first place to keep our hold of the fact, disregarding all pleas to the contrary, that sin is a reality, and not a phantasm of our imagination; we shall then diagnose its nature as the misuse, the unfaithful administration, of the power which God has conferred upon us for employment in His holy service; and then, {33} lastly, we shall grow aware that the very pain, the sense of unhappiness and moral discord by which the consciousness of guilt is ever accompanied, is the protesting voice of that which is the deepest reality within ourselves—the indwelling Divine.

But when we have shown that the doctrine of Divine immanence does not, as some of its advocates would have us believe, swallow up human individuality—a subject to which we shall return—we are faced with yet another difficulty. The question is asked—again, quite naturally and inevitably—In what sense can we speak of God as immanent in the inorganic world? How, e.g., does a stone embody or express His essence?—and yet, if it is not somehow a manifestation of Him, what is this cold, lifeless, ponderable substance we call a stone? Nor do matters grow simpler when we ascend in the scale: we may trace the immanent Deity in all that is good and fair in nature, in all its smiling and beneficent moods—but what of nature's uglinesses and cruelties? Is God expressing Himself in the ferocity of the tiger, the poisonous malice of the cobra, the greed of every unclean carrion-bird? If He is such as religion represents Him, how can He be present in these? We may quote with rapture the familiar lines in which the poet tells us:—

I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts. . .

{34} But the world which is the dwelling of that something "far more deeply interfused" of which Wordsworth sings, does not consist exclusively of

the light of setting suns, And the round ocean, and the living air, And the blue sky. . .

—it contains also dismal, fever-breeding swamps, dreadful deserts, dreary wastes of eternal ice, plunged into darkness half the year; are we going simply to ignore these realities when we speak of the Divine indwelling in the world? And, once more, shall we assert this doctrine when we remember the cold cunning of the spider, or the delight in torture displayed by the domestic cat?

It depends, we answer, what we mean by "this doctrine"; if we construe immanence to signify "allness," we may as well admit first as last that there is no way of escape from the difficulties which these queries suggest. In that case it is not for us to pick and choose—to say that God is the beauty of the beautiful, but not the ugliness of the ugly; the compassion of the compassionate, but not the cruelty of the cruel: if He is all, He is both, and for that very reason is neither. That is the real inwardness of a conception of the Deity which represents Him, with Omar Khayyam, as One—

Whose secret Presence, through Creation's veins Running, Quicksilver-like eludes your pains; Taking all forms from Mah to Mahi; and They change and perish all—but He remains.

{35} Such a doctrine can only mean that the Divine Substance, under a myriad-fold variety of appearances, is equally diffused through all creation, like the universal ether of science; and such a conception of the Eternal, whatever else it may be, ceases ipso facto to be religiously helpful. The counterpart of the theoretical allness would be the practical nothingness of God.[2] But having quite definitely declined to place such a construction upon immanence, we are preserved from the absurdities which flow from it. We may and do hold that all the works of the Lord manifest Him in some manner and in some measure; but, as we already stated in our introductory chapter, not all do so in the same manner or the same measure, and not any of them nor all of them are He. To the specific inquiry, What, if not part of God, is this stone?—we can, indeed, only answer in the words of Tennyson that if we knew what the least object was in itself, we "should know what God and man is." But, dealing with the question more generally, we may say that what inorganic nature shows forth of the indwelling God is His prevailing Power and abiding Law; looking upon the works of Him who "stretcheth out the north over empty space, and hangeth the earth upon {36} nothing," we can but feel that awed admiration of His wisdom and might which is expressed over and over again in the Book of Job. And this impression deepens when we pass upward from the inorganic to the organic creation; for not only do we behold the entire vast spectacle thrilled through and through by one Life, but we are also enabled to discern something of the august Purpose which progressively realises itself in all the phases of the cosmic process. That the God revealed by the universe must transcend the universe in order to be in any real sense its Creator, is self-evident; but that it is His own Energy which pervades it, a present Power operating from within—in other words, that He is immanent in the world, as well as transcendent—is a thought from which we cannot legitimately escape.

When we speak of the immanence of God in nature, therefore, we mean principally immanence of Power; and due weight should be given to this qualification, since its effect is to remove the obstacles we have enumerated above. For it ought to be plain, though in popular discussion it is constantly overlooked, that God cannot be ethically present in the unethical, nor personally present in the impersonal. And here, it seems to us, we go to the root of our present problem, viz., by re-emphasising what is indispensable to a right conception of this whole doctrine—that immanence is of necessity a matter of degrees. Nature is not moral, {37} and hence does not reveal God's moral character to us; nature is not personal, and therefore, while its operations point with irresistible cogency to personal directivity, does not show forth the Divine Personality as indwelling.

As soon as we grasp this obvious truth, we shall be led to find the answer to that question which, as we saw, presents a stumbling-block to many minds, namely, in what sense it is permissible to affirm the Divine immanence in the animal world. How can God be in the denizens of the jungle, we ask, feeling that to make such an statement concerning Him is to empty the idea of God of all its meaning. Natural, however, as such reasoning is, reflection will show it to be faulty. To use a simple, if necessarily imperfect, illustration, something of man's own being is in all his organs, but not all that makes him man is in every one of them; certainly, his higher faculties are not displayed in the organs designed to fulfil the lower functions of the organism. To proceed to the obvious application—animals are not moral beings, but act, with the occasional exception of such of their number as have been humanised by contact with men, from instinct and not from conscious choice; and for that reason we are not called upon to reconcile the loving-kindness and tender mercy of God with the habits and general behaviour of the lower creation. In ascribing all sorts of moral qualities to animals we simply exhibit the same {38} tendency which leads children to endow lifeless objects both with life and purposiveness. Moral attributes, however, whether good or bad, presuppose conscious choice, a faculty of weighing and if necessary repelling motives; and with such a faculty we have no reason for crediting animals. No doubt, our incurable habit of reading the facts of our own moral nature into the actions of beasts and birds accounts for the vogue alike of Aesop's Fables and of such works as the Jungle Books; but what strikes us as cruelty in the tiger is not a moral quality at all, any more than it is a motive of heroism that impels the mongoose to fight cobras. The tiger and the cobra are no more deliberately "cruel" than they could be conceived as deliberately "benevolent"; they are below the ethical level, expressing no character at all, and least of all the character of God.

But if God is immanent in the cosmos as its pervading and sustaining Power and Life; if He is immanent in man as that moral and spiritual principle which reaches out after fuller communion with the Most High: where shall we say that He Himself is personally present, since He is not so present either in nature or in man? And assuming that such a supreme and full revelation of God has been given in history, shall we not do well to distinguish in some manner between it and every lesser manifestation of immanence? Mr. W. L. Walker has admirably pointed out that while {39} God is personally present to everything, and entirely absent from nothing, yet it is certainly false to imagine that He is "personally inside of everything." "Nothing can happen wholly apart from Him—He is in some measure in everything and being"; but where shall He Himself be found, where shall we look for His very fulness? "He cannot," says Mr. Walker—and we shall not attempt to better his words—"be personally present in anything, or in any being, till there is a being present in the world capable of containing and expressing Him in His essential truth; and that we do not have till we come to Jesus Christ."

And thus we may perhaps claim to have shown, however briefly, in what direction we must look for the solution of our problem of universal immanence—a problem unnecessarily complicated by a plausible but false construction of that doctrine. We conclude that every portion of the cosmos, including our conscious selves, manifests so much, and such aspects, of God as it has the capacity to manifest—His Power, His Purpose, His moral Law, which vindicates its sanctity upon whosoever would violate it; but His own Essence, His Character, could be revealed only in One whose soul harboured no single element at variance with the Divine Goodness, One who could be described as "God manifest in the flesh"—even that unique Son whose oneness with the Father was {40} undimmed and unbroken by any diversity of will. It required the perfect Instrument to give forth the perfect Harmony.

And here a final but important point arises. If the Incarnation of God in Christ is in one sense the highest example of Divine immanence—just as man represents the highest form of animal life—yet in another sense it transcends mere immanence just as truly as humanity transcends the animal creation. We leave this as a suggestion which the reader may develop for himself. So much is certain, that in Christ alone does the edifice of faith reach its culminating point—in Him our questionings receive their complete and final answer, because what we see in Him is not a stray hint or broken gleam, but the pure and quenchless light of God's own Presence. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him."

[1] The Rev. R. J. Campbell, M.A., in a paper on Divine Immanence and Pantheism. For the phrase and the Idea of the "allness of God" see also Rudimental Divine (i.e. Christian) Science, by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 10.

[2] We cannot forbear quoting two pungent lines of Mr. Hamish Hendry's, in which the outcome of such theosophising seems to be not altogether unjustly described as—

A kind o' thowless Great First Cause, Skinklin' thro' vapour.




In speaking of Deism, the theory which explicitly denies the Divine immanence, we already had occasion to acknowledge that quality of intelligibleness which makes this doctrine easy of assimilation, and accounts, e.g., for the success of Islam, the deistic religion par excellence, as a propagandist creed. There is, however, another aspect of Deism, none the less real because it is not always recognised at first sight, which perhaps an illustration will serve to bring home to us. We all know what is likely to happen to an estate in the owner's prolonged or permanent absence—it deteriorates; his active interest and personal supervision are wanting, and the results are visible everywhere. Sloth and mismanagement, which his presence would check, go uncorrected, the daily duties are indifferently performed or remain undone, and soon the property as a whole bears unmistakeable traces of neglect. There is always the possibility of the master's return some day, when he will exact an account from his servants; but {42} the long interval which has elapsed since such a visit took place has deprived that mere possibility of any wholesome terror which it might inspire, so that matters drift steadily from bad to worse.

Now, from the deistic point of view, the world may not unfairly be compared to such an estate. God is remote—He may look down upon the terrestrial scene from His far-off heaven, but He does not actively interfere, except by an occasional miracle, which is not the same as direct hour-by-hour superintendence: is it any wonder that the ground should bring forth weeds and brambles rather than flowers and fruit? Is it a wonder that this God-less world should be a dismal place and full of misery, and that human nature, left to itself, should have "no health" in it? It would be matter for wonder if it were otherwise; and thus Deism is well in accord with those gloomier forms of religious thought which for a long time were the generally predominating ones.

The distance between this conception and that which flows from the doctrine of Divine immanence can hardly be measured; it certainly cannot be bridged. The soul to which, through whatever experience, there has come the revelation that God is closer to us than breathing, and nearer than hands or feet, looks out upon a new heaven and a new earth. Once it is understood that God is really and truly in His universe, that He is not infinitely far {43} and inaccessible but infinitely nigh, an encompassing Presence, a fresh light falls upon nature and human nature alike. Viewed in that light, and from the standpoint of this illuminating truth, "the world's no blot for us, nor blank," but the scene of Divine activity and unceasing revelation; for all nature's forces are seen to be the expression of the Divine Energy, and all nature's laws the manifestation of the Divine Will. If God Himself is the Life that stirs within all life, the Reality underlying all phenomena—if we live and move and have our being in Him, and His Spirit dwelleth within us—the direct outcome of such a belief should be a sacred optimism, an assurance that the cosmos "means intensely, and means good."

There can, we think, be little doubt as to the beneficial effects which have accompanied the re-affirmation of this idea in recent times. It is only too true as yet, in the case of many, that "the past, which still holds its ground in the back chambers of the brain, would persuade us that 'tis a demon-haunted world, where not God but the devil rules; we are not yet persuaded that this is a cheerful, homely, well-meaning universe, whose powers, if strict in their working, are nevertheless beneficent and not diabolic." Against these phantasmal fears the doctrine of God's immanence, rightly understood, offers the best of antidotes, and here lies its unquestionable value. At the same time it has already become apparent {44} to us that the suddenness of the stress laid upon that idea has brought new dangers in its train. The temptation is ever to swing round from one extreme to its opposite; and in the present case not a few have carried—or been carried by—the reaction against the belief in God's remoteness so far as to forget, in contemplating the truth that He is "through all and in all," the complementary and equally necessary truth that He is also God over all. Because something of His Mind and Will is expressed by the universe, they not only, as we saw in the previous chapter, conclude that the universe is identical with Him, but that He is no other than the universe which reveals Him. "All is God, and God is All," they exclaim, adding the doctrine of the Godness of all to that of the allness of God; the universe, in their view, is the one Divine and Eternal Being of which everything, including ourselves, is only a phase or partial manifestation; as it is the Divine life which pulses through us, so it is the Divine consciousness which our consciousness expresses, the Divine nature which acts through ours. Here we are face to face with Pantheism full-grown: let us see what is involved in its assumptions, and why the Christian Church must resolutely refuse to make terms with this teaching.

No one would deny that the pantheistic theory, which identifies God with the universe and ourselves with God, has its fascination and {45} glamour—a fascination which is not ignoble on the face of it. The modern founder of Pantheism, Benedict Spinoza, was a man of pure and saintly character, a gentle recluse from the world, lovable and blameless. Nevertheless, we have no hesitation in avowing our belief that the glamour of Pantheism is utterly deceptive; that those who set foot on this inclined plane will find themselves unable—in direct proportion to their mental integrity—to resist conclusions which mean the practical dissolution of religion, in any intelligible sense of that word; and that in the present transitional state of religious opinion it is particularly necessary that the truth about Pantheism should be clearly stated. The test of a theory is not whether it looks symmetrical and self-consistent in the seclusion of the study, but whether it works. If it fails in actual life, it fails altogether; and the one fatal objection to this particular system is that it does not work. Nothing could be more significant than the admission of so representative an exponent of Pantheism as Mr. Allanson Picton, who tells us that one, if not more, of Spinoza's fundamental conceptions "have increasingly repelled rather than attracted religious people." [1] It is the object of the present chapter to show why this must be the case, wherever the implications of his teaching are understood.

{46} Pantheism declares—it practically begins and ends with the declaration—that the universe is God, and that God is the totality of being. Now, try as we will, such a conception can never take the place of the thought of God as our Father, and that for the simple reason that the universe is not even what we mean by personal. As Schopenhauer shrewdly remarked, "To call the universe 'God' is not to explain it, but merely to burden language with a superfluous synonym for the word 'universe.' Whether one says 'the universe is God' or 'the universe is the universe' makes no difference." It is when people no longer know what to do with a Deity, he continues, that they transfer His part to the universe—"which is, properly speaking, only a decent way of getting rid of Him." [2] A totality of being is not the same as a personal God, but the very contrary. Nor is it any consolation to be told that this totality, though not personal, is "super-personal." Such a super-personal Absolute or Whole, to quote Dr. Ballard's penetrating criticism, "is devoid of just those elements which for human experience constitute personality. To our power of vision it matters nothing whether we say that the ultra-violet rays of the spectrum are super-visible or invisible. The pertinent truth is that they are not visible. So, too, that which is not 'merely' personal is not really personal. {47} If the Absolute of philosophy be the super-personal, it is not, in plain truth, personal at all." [3]

Now, a God who is not what we mean by personal can be of no help to us in our religious life. When a congregation of modern worshippers is appealed to in these terms—"Do not, I beseech you, think of God any more as a personal being like yourself, though immeasurably greater"—they are really being asked to commit spiritual suicide. For we cannot hold communion except with a person; we cannot pray to the universe. We can neither give thanks to the universe, nor supplicate it, nor confess to it, nor intercede with it. But a God to whom we cannot pray, with whom we cannot enter into communion, is for all practical purposes no God at all. The only God with whom we can stand in personal, conscious, spiritual relationship must be one who is not identical with the universe, but One in whom, on the contrary, the universe has its being. It is the transcendent God with whom we have to deal in religion; such a God Pantheism does not acknowledge.

But not only is the universe not personal; this god of Pantheism is not ethical either. This "totality" is neither good nor bad, but made up indifferently of all manner of components, and according to Pantheism all of them—the evil as much as the good—are {48} necessary to the perfection of the whole. Thus the pantheist's god has no moral complexion, and such a god is of no use to us. So far as religion is concerned, he—or it—might just as well be non-existent as non-moral. The only Deity whom we can worship is One who stands above the world's confusion, its Moral Governor and Righteous Judge.

But Pantheism identifies not only God with the universe, but ourselves with God. Now if this view is accepted, if there is no real dividing line between man and God, then we can only once more point out that we have no personality either; we are mere fragmentary expressions of God's life, without selfhood or self-determination, no more responsible for our acts than a violin for the tune that is played on it. Mr. Picton, speaking with authority, tells us that "to the true pantheist" man is "but a finite mode of infinite Being"; that human personality is only "seeming" [4] and that, from the pantheistic standpoint, the self must be "content to be nothing." That is to say that the consistent pantheist must be a consistent determinist. Logical Pantheism rules out the possibility of sin against man or God—"for who withstandeth His will," seeing that He is the only real Existence? Let a further quotation make this plain. "What," asks Mr. Picton, "are we to say of bad men, the vile, the base, the liar, the murderer? Are they {49} also in God and of God? . . . Yes, they are." [5] And this amazing conclusion—amazing, though involved in his fundamental outlook—is sought to be defended on the ground that we have "no adequate idea" "of the part played by bad men in the Divine Whole"! In other words, the pantheist god expresses himself in a St. Francis, but he also does so in a King Leopold; he is manifested in General Booth and in Alexander Borgia; Jesus Christ is a phase of his being, and so is Judas Iscariot. A sentimental Pantheism may say that God is that in a hero which nerves him to heroism, and that in a mother which prompts her self-sacrifice for her children, for there is none else. But that is only one-half of the truth; arguing from the same premises, we must also say that God is that in the sinner which succumbs to sin, and in the wrong-doer that which takes pleasure in wrong, for there is none else. Once we rub out the distinction between God and man, we rub out all moral distinctions as well. If we are not other than He is, how can we act other than He wills? If we hold that the soul is only "a finite mode of God's infinite attribute of thought," part of "the necessary expression of the infinite attributes of eternal Being," the sense of sin can be no more than an illusion.

Or shall we be told that, whatever a man's theoretical Determinism, in practice he will {50} always be conscious of his freedom? The answer is, Yes, perhaps, provided his moral instincts are sound; but the average mortal, when he has to choose between the hard duty and the easy indulgence, will be sorely tempted to find a reason for yielding in his determinist philosophy. And is a doctrine likely to be true which, the moment it is seriously applied, undermines the very foundation of morality, and of which the best that can be said is that people do not consistently apply it? M. Bourget's Le Disciple is not a book for everyone; but in it the distinguished author has drawn an instructive picture of the effect of Determinism as a theory upon a self-indulgent man's practice. As Mr. Baring-Gould aptly says, "Human nature is ever prone to find an excuse for getting the shoulder from under the yoke."

Pantheism, as a matter of fact, whichever way we travel, is ultimately compelled to deny the qualitative distinction between good and evil, declaring both to be equally necessary, and thus arrives once more at its conception of a Deity who, though said to be "perfect"—presumably in some "super-moral" sense—is not good, and hence cannot be a possible object of worship for us. How little the pantheist's God can mean to us will be understood when it is stated that, according to Spinoza, man "cannot strive to have God's love to him." [6] Indeed, how could the universe "love" one of {51} its mere passing phases? Is it a wonder that this cheerless creed has "increasingly repelled rather than attracted religious people" when once they have understood its inwardness? We ask for bread and receive—a nebula; we call for our Father, and are told to content ourselves with a totality of being!

And when Pantheism has thus despoiled us of our religious possessions one by one, so far as this life is concerned, what is its message concerning the future? This, that when we die there is an end even of our seeming self-hood; we are once more immersed in the All, the Whole—like a thimbleful of water drawn from the ocean and poured back into the ocean again. This is what Mr. Picton calls "the peace of absorption in the Infinite"; would it not be simpler to call it annihilation, and have done with it? Dissolve a bronze statue and merge it in a mass of molten metal, and it is gone as a statue; dissolve a soul and merge it in the sum of being, and as a soul it is no more. That is not immortality, but a final blotting out—a fit conclusion from those pantheistic premises which, consistently worked out, mean the end of religion, the end of morality, the end of everything.

Pantheism goes about under a variety of aliases to-day, and therein lies an additional danger; for whatever its assumed name or disguise, its essence is always the same, and its very speciousness calls for all our vigilance and {52} determination to fight it. We must not weary of challenging its root-assumption, or of exposing its insidious tendencies; we must not weary of reiterating the truth that God is not identical with the universe, but to be worshipped as the One who is over all; we must insist that His nearness to us and our likeness to Him are not identity with Him—nay, that it is His otherness from us which makes us capable of seeking and finding Him, of experiencing His love, and loving Him in return. From the inhuman speculations of Pantheism we turn with unspeakable gratitude to the revelation of the personal God in the Person of Jesus Christ His Son, whom having seen, we have beheld the Father, and whose are the words, not of annihilation, but of eternal life.

[1] Pantheism, p. 15.

[2] Parerga, vol. ii., pp. 101-102.

[3] The True God, p. 118.

[4] Op. cit., p. 15.

[5] Ibid, p. 69.

[6] J. Allanson Picton, Spinoza, p. 213.




To say that religious thought is passing to-day through a period of peculiar stress is to utter a commonplace so threadbare that one apologises for repeating it. Even the man in the street—or perhaps we ought to say even the man in the pew, the average member of a Christian Church—is aware that certain potent forces have been for some time past directing a series of sustained assaults upon what were until recently all but unquestioned beliefs; nor, if he is capable of appreciating facts, will he deny—though he may deplore it—that to all seeming these attacks have been attended by a considerable measure of success. If, however, our man in the pew were asked to specify what forces he had in his mind, he would probably in nine cases out of ten point to two such, and two alone, viz., natural science and Biblical criticism, which, he would tell us, had between them created an atmosphere in which the old views of Scriptural authority found it more and more difficult to maintain themselves.


Such an estimate of the situation would be true so far as it went; yet it would omit to take account of a third factor, a solvent far less obvious in its workings, but far more disintegrating in its effects. The factor to which we are referring is philosophy; while science and criticism have overthrown certain traditional ramparts, a type of philosophy has sprung up, slowly undermining the very foundations; or, to vary the simile, while the former two have captured certain outworks, the latter has made its way to within striking distance of the citadel, and that the more unobserved because attention has been focussed almost exclusively upon the more imposing performances of the critic and the biologist.

As a matter of fact, religion never had, nor could have, anything to fear from these two quarters, which—as we can now see—could not in any way touch the essence of religious faith, as distinguished from some of its temporary forms; on the other hand, that very essence might be imperilled by a false but plausible philosophy, and grave practical consequences in the domain of conduct might arise from its spread. For if it is accurate to say that behind every ethic there stands—whether avowed or unavowed—a certain metaphysic, the converse holds true no less; every philosophy, in the exact proportion in which it is ex animo accepted, will tend to produce its ethical counterpart. What we {55} submit in all seriousness is that the only real danger to religion that is to be apprehended to-day—a danger to which it is impossible to blind ourselves—is that involved in a certain metaphysical outlook, whose continued growth in popularity cannot but ere long produce its own results in the field of practice.

The philosophy in question is intimately related to that Pantheism at some of whose implications we were glancing in our last chapter; if we refer to it here and subsequently by the name of Monism, under which it has of late obtained a considerable vogue in this country, it must be understood that we do not mean what Dr. Ballard calls Theomonism, but a far less carefully thought-out and tested theory of life, which at the present time is making a successful appeal to multitudes of inexact thinkers. The fundamental idea common to this school is that the universe, including our individualities or what we think such, constitutes only one being, and manifests only one will, which all its phenomena express. Separateness of existence, according to such a view—which, after all, represents only the extreme logic of Pantheism—is, of course, a chimaera, and so, a fortiori, must separate volition be. The only real will—i.e., the will of the universe—is regarded as good and right; and since there is no other will but that one, and seeing that none resists or inhibits it, it is ever being carried out, continuously operative. {56} To call this will even "prevailing" would be a misuse of language, since there is no other will for it to prevail against.

Now, regarded merely in the abstract, this conception might be treated as a harmless eccentricity or speculative aberration, and is likely to be so treated by the ordinary "practical" man, with his contempt for "theories," and his pathetic conviction that speculation does not matter; let us, however, see what is implied in this particular speculative theory. From the primary assumption of this philosophy it follows with an irresistible cogency that there is no such thing as real, objective evil. Sin, if the term be retained at all, can at most be only a blunder. Evil is only an inexact description of a lesser good, or good in the making. Indeed, properly considered—i.e., from the monistic standpoint—evil is a mere negation, a shadow where light should be; or to be quite logical, evil is that which is not—in other words, there is no evil, except to deluded minds, whose business is to get quit of their delusion. The one and only cosmic will being declared good, it follows that for the monist "all's right with the world," in a sense scarcely contemplated by Browning when he penned that most dubious aphorism. We propose briefly to show how this creed works out—what is its ethical counterpart or issue—not by arguing in vacuo what it must be, but by presenting to the reader three {57} selected illustrations taken from the writings of as many exponents of this type of Monism.

In his volume First and Last Things—a work which he significantly calls "a confession of faith and rule of life"—Mr. H. G. Wells avows himself a believer in the "Being of the Species," and, prospectively at least, in "the eternally conscious Being of all things." The individual as such is merely an "experiment of the species for the species," and without significance per se; we are "episodes in an experience greater than ourselves," "incidental experiments in the growing knowledge and consciousness of the race." Mr. Wells's fundamental act of faith is a firm belief in "the ultimate rightness and significance of things," including "the wheel-smashed frog on the road, and the fly drowning in the milk." In other words, all is just as it has to be; regrets, remorses and discontents exist only for the "unbeliever" in this truth, while, speaking for himself, the author frankly says, "I believe . . . that my defects and uglinesses and failures, just as much as my powers and successes, are things that are necessary and important." "In the last resort," he concludes his book, "I do not care whether I am seated on a throne, or drunk, or dying in a gutter. I follow my leading. In the ultimate I know, though I cannot prove my knowledge in any way whatever, that everything is right, and all things mine."


Certainly, this is uncompromising candour; but it is also,—though Mr. Wells, strangely enough, calls himself a believer in freewill—the most uncompromising Determinism conceivable. And this Determinism follows quite inevitably from Mr. Wells's monistic premises—belief in a cosmic "scheme" every part of which is ultimately right. An end in the gutter or on the gallows may be as necessary to that scheme's perfection as a life spent in strenuous goodness. Whatever is, is right. It can be hardly necessary to point out that such a belief, consistently entertained, puts an end to all moral effort; we "follow our leading"—i.e., we do not drive, but drift. Arguing from his own premises, it is absolutely vain for Mr. Wells to wax indignantly eloquent over social abuses, as when he says:—

I see the grimy millions who slave for industrial production; I see some who are extravagant and yet contemptible creatures of luxury, and some leading lives of shame and indignity; . . . I see gamblers, fools, brutes, toilers, martyrs. Their disorder of effort, the spectacle of futility, fills me with a passionate desire to end waste, to create order. (p. 99.)

But why, we ask, should Mr. Wells feel this passionate desire, if all the failures and uglinesses of life are "necessary and important"? How, on this assumption, are existing social ills to be remedied—nay, why should they be remedied, why should they be stigmatised as ills, seeing that "everything is right"? Let {59} Mr. Wells once take his principles seriously enough to apply them, and personal as well as social reform is at an end. Perhaps it may be permissible to say that of all forms of Determinism the most irrational is that optimistic form which deprecates discontent with things as they are as a mark of "unbelief."

Mr. Wells, however, while his influence is a very considerable one, utters his teaching from outside the Christian Church, and very properly disavows the Christian name; what must give us pause is to find the monistic ethics being preached and taught by official exponents of the Christian religion. What, e.g., can we think of a statement like the following, which we quote from the columns of a religious journal?

There are people who think it is an evidence of superior Culture to show themselves pained by certain things; but it is not really that; they are pained because they are not cultured enough, or in the right way. . .

Nothing is good or ill But thinking makes it so.

They think it desirable to dislike things because they dislike them; if they thought it desirable not to dislike them, they would not dislike them.

Again, no one will accuse this writer of want of frankness; according to him, there is simply no such thing as objective evil—acts and individuals have no moral qualities or characters, but are such as we think them, and our business is so to think of them that they will not pain us. {60} If we only knew aright, we should not regard anything as bad. If we are pained by the thought of fifty thousand hungry children in London elementary schools, or by the condition of Regent Street at night, it is because we are not "cultured" enough—we have not the right gnosis. When we reflect that anyone who consistently believes that "nothing is good or ill, but thinking makes it so," will inevitably, first or last, apply that comforting maxim to his own acts, we can see in what direction the ethics of Monism—in reality a return to the ultra-subjectivism of the Sophists, who made man the measure of all things—are likely to lead men. And yet, if the monistic presuppositions are valid—if the universe in all its phases expresses only one will—we do not see how these conclusions can be repelled.

But it is, perhaps, our last illustration, drawn from yet another writer of the same school, which will exhibit both the teaching under discussion and its practical dangers in the clearest light. We are told that—

There is no will that is not God's will. I do not mean that yours is not real, or that any man's is not real, but I do mean that nothing can happen to any of God's children—no matter how evil the intention of the person who does it, or how seemingly meaningless the calamity that causes it—which is not in some way the sacrament of God's love to us, and His call upon our highest energies. In a true and real sense, therefore, it is God's own doing and meant for our greater glory; . . . I believe in the infinitude of wisdom and love; there is nothing else.


Those who will take the moderate trouble of translating these words from the abstract into the concrete will need no further demonstration of the moral implications of this type of Monism. "There is no will"—not even the most brutalised or the most debauched—"that is not God's will." "Nothing can happen to any of God's children"—say, to the natives of the Congo or to a Jewish community during a Russian pogrom—but is God's call upon their highest energies: wherefore they ought, assuredly, to be thankful to King Leopold's emissaries and the Tsar's faithful Black Hundreds! But let us apply this thesis to yet another case, which will bring out its full character: if an English girl—one of God's children—is snared away by a ruffian, under pretext of honest employment, to some Continental hell, then we are to understand that the physical and moral ruin which awaits the victim is "in some way the sacrament of God's love" to her—"in a true and real sense it is God's own doing," and meant for her greater glory! We have no hesitation in saying that such teaching strikes us as fraught with infinite possibilities of moral harm, the more so because of the rather mawkish sentimentality with which it is decked out; for if any scoundrel is really the instrument of God's will, why should he be blamed for his scoundrelism? And we observe how yet once more, by a glib and vapid phrase—"I believe in the {62} infinitude of wisdom and love; there is nothing else"—the fact of evil has been triumphantly got rid of. In words, that is to say, but not in reality; for in reality there is a great deal else—sin, and shame, and remorse, and heartbreak, and despair; against the first of which we need to be warned, in order that we may escape the rest.

We are quite prepared to be told that our anxieties are groundless, because "no one will ever draw such inferences as these." To this we reply, firstly, that these are the logical and legitimate inferences from the principles enunciated; and secondly, that we do not at all share the particular kind of optimism which trusts that good luck will prevent the application of these theories to practical life. We are living in an age of wide-spread intellectual unsettlement, an age presenting the difficult problem of a vast half-educated public, ready to fall an easy prey to all manner of specious sophistries, especially when they are dressed up in the garb of a pseudo-mysticism; we must above all remember that human nature is habitually prone to welcome whatever will serve as an excuse for throwing off the irksome restraints of moral discipline. That is why we repeat that the one real danger religion has to face to-day is the danger arising from the spread of a false philosophy, whose tenets are ultimately incompatible with Christian morals. The worst heresies are moral {63} heresies; and of the views we have been discussing we say roundly that their falseness is sufficiently proved by their ethical implications. "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; therefore by their fruits ye shall know them." Against all the insidious attempts that are made to-day to minimise or explain away moral evil—attempts with which we shall deal in greater detail at a later stage—we have to reaffirm the reality and exceeding sinfulness of sin; more particularly, in combating the preposterous notion of man's oneness with God as something already realised, we have to insist with renewed emphasis that salvation, so far from being self-understood, is a prize only to be won by a hard struggle, nor shut the door upon the dread possibility of that prize being missed. There are perhaps few truths to which it is more desirable that we should pay renewed attention than that expressed in the saying, "When belief waxes unsound, practice becomes uncertain." Certainly, the ethics of Monism supply a case in point.




When Tennyson, in Locksley Hall, wrote the line declaring that "the individual withers and the world is more and more," he might have been inditing a prophecy summing up those modern tendencies which have engaged our attention in preceding chapters. And there are perhaps few more important questions before us to-day than this—whether Tennyson's prophecy is to be fulfilled, whether the individual is to be allowed to "wither," and the world to become more and more. There are those who hold that such a consummation is devoutly to be wished; there are those who regard any movement making in such a direction with something more than suspicion.

Let us say at once that in discussing the status of the individual, we are not referring—at least, not directly—to the struggle between Individualism and Socialism. We know that individualists express the fear that under a socialist regime there would be an end to individual initiative, while socialists retort that the chief sin of the competitive system is {65} that it crushes and destroys individuality; but between the contentions of these rival schools of economics we are not attempting to adjudicate. Perhaps we cannot better indicate the scope of our subject than by quoting from two recent theological works, written from such widely differing points of view as Professor Peake's Christianity: Its Nature and its Truth, and Professor Bousset's The Faith of a Modern Protestant:—

"It is only in it"—viz., in Christianity—says the learned Primitive Methodist theologian, "that the individual has received his true place. In antiquity the worth of the individual was greatly under-estimated; he was unduly subordinated to the community. But the Christian religion, by insisting on the infinite value of each human soul, and by asserting the greatness of its destiny, supplied an immense incentive to the attainment by each of the highest within reach. The doctrine of the worth of man is, to all who accept it, a powerful stimulus in the struggle to a fuller and deeper life. An interest in mankind in the mass is compatible with heartless indifference to the lot of individuals" (p. 88).

"The Gospel," declares the Goettingen modernist, "announces a God who seeks and desires above all else the individual human soul. It unites, in a security and closeness hitherto unknown, belief in God with the importance of the individual human life. It {66} is the religion of religious individualism raised to its highest point." (p. 36).

Such concurrence of testimony from two such different quarters is as remarkable as it is significant; and this brings us to our point. The question with which we are confronted to-day, and which our civilisation must either answer aright or perish, is not whether an individualist or a socialist state would be more conducive to the individual's self-realisation, but whether Christianity is right or wrong in its doctrine of the individual's paramount importance. The issue, as we shall try to show, lies between Christianity on the one hand and Monism on the other. From the Christian point of view the individual matters supremely; from that of Monism the beginning of wisdom is that the individual should recognise and acquiesce in his utter insignificance.

As in our last chapter we glanced at the monistic ethics, so in the present one we propose to inquire briefly first into the social and then into the religious implications of this theory, which it must be remembered is receiving a good deal of support, and meeting with a large measure of acceptance just now. Turning, then, to the social side first of all, no one, of course, would say that Socialism as such was monistic; on the other hand it is easy to understand the attraction of Socialism for those whose philosophy is Monism. They will embrace the economic teachings of Collectivism the more {67} eagerly in exact proportion to their root-conviction that the only thing that matters is the totality of things, while the individual, per se, does not count at all. That is the conception which underlies the Socialism of a writer like Mr. Wells, who is in nothing more emphatic than in asserting that the individual as such has no value at all. "Our individualities," he says, "are but bubbles and clusters of foam upon the great stream of the blood of the species." "The race is the drama, and we are the incidents." "In so far as we are individuals . . . we are accidental, disconnected, without significance." And when we ask for what we should strive and labour, if not for the good of individual men and women, his answer is that we ought to work for the Species, for the Race, for what he calls a great physical and mental being, to wit, Mankind.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse