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O THOU THAT HEAREST PRAYER, UNTO THEE SHALL ALL FLESH COME.—PSALM LXV. 2.
THAT the Finite cannot comprehend the Infinite, is a truth more frequently admitted in theory than applied in practice. It has been expressly asserted by men who, almost in the same breath, have proceeded to lay down canons of criticism, concerning the purpose of Revelation, and the truth or falsehood, importance or insignificance, of particular doctrines, on grounds which are tenable only on the supposition of a perfect and intimate knowledge of God’s Nature and Counsels.(1) Hence it becomes necessary to bring down the above truth from general to special statements;—to inquire more particularly wherein the limitation of man’s faculties consists, and in what manner it exhibits itself in the products of thought. This task I endeavored to accomplish in my last Lecture. To pursue the conclusion thus obtained to its legitimate consequences in relation to Theology, we must next inquire how the human mind, thus limited, is able to form the idea of a relation between man and God, and what is the nature of the conception of God which arises from the consciousness of this relation. The purpose of our inquiry is to ascertain the limits of religious thought; and, for this purpose, it is necessary to proceed from the limits of thought and of human consciousness in general, to those particular forms of consciousness which, in 115 thought, or in some other mode, especially constitute the essence of Religion.
Reasonings, probable or demonstrative, in proof of the being and attributes of God, have met with a very different reception at different periods. Elevated at one time, by the injudicious zeal of their advocates, to a certainty and importance to which they have no legitimate claim, at another, by an equally extravagant reäction, they have been sacrificed in the mass to some sweeping principle of criticism, or destroyed piecemeal by minute objections in detail. While one school of theologians has endeavored to raise the whole edifice of the Christian Faith on a basis of metaphysical proof,(2) others have either expressly maintained that the understanding has nothing to do with religious belief, or have indirectly attempted to establish the same conclusion by special refutations of the particular reasonings.(3)
An examination of the actual state of the human mind, as regards religious ideas, will lead us to a conclusion intermediate between these two extremes. On the one hand, it must be allowed that it is not through reasoning that men obtain the first intimation of their relation to the Deity; and that, had they been left to the guidance of their intellectual faculties alone, it is possible that no such intimation might have taken place; or at best, that it would have been but as one guess, out of many equally plausible and equally natural. Those who lay exclusive stress on the proof of the existence of God from the marks of design in the world, or from the necessity of supposing a first cause of all phenomena, overlook the fact that man learns to pray before he learns to reason,—that he feels within him the consciousness of a Supreme Being, and the instinct of worship, before he can argue from effects to causes, or estimate the traces of wisdom and benevolence scattered through the 116 creation. But, on the other hand, arguments which would be insufficient to create the notion of a Supreme Being in a mind previously destitute of it, may have great force and value in enlarging or correcting a notion already existing, and in justifying to the reason the unreasoning convictions of the heart. The belief in a God, once given, becomes the nucleus round which subsequent experiences cluster and accumulate; and evidences which would be obscure or ambiguous, if addressed to the reason only, become clear and convincing, when interpreted by the light of the religious consciousness.
We may therefore, without hesitation, accede to the argument of the great critic of metaphysics, when he tells us that the speculative reason is unable to prove the existence of a Supreme Being, but can only correct our conception of such a Being, supposing it to be already obtained.(4) But, at the same time, it is necessary to protest against the pernicious extent to which the reaction against the use of the reason in theology has in too many instances been carried. When the same critic tells us that we cannot legitimately infer, from the order and design visible in the world, the omnipotence and omniscience of its Creator, because a degree of power and wisdom short of the very highest might possibly be sufficient to produce all the effects which we are able to discern;(5) or when a later writer, following in the same track, condemns the argument from final causes, because it represents God exclusively in the aspect of an artist;(6) or when a third writer, of a different school, tells us that the processes of thought have nothing to do with the soul, the organ of religion;(7)—we feel that systems which condemn the use of reasoning in sacred things may be equally one-sided and extravagant with those which assert its Supreme authority. Reasoning 117 must not be condemned for failing to accomplish what no possible mode of human consciousness ever does or can accomplish. If consciousness itself is a limitation; if every mode of consciousness is a determination of the mind in one particular manner out of many possible;—it follows indeed that the infinite is beyond the reach of man’s arguments; but only as it is also beyond the reach of his feelings or his volitions. We cannot indeed reason to the existence of an infinite Cause from the presence of finite effects, nor contemplate the infinite in a finite mode of knowledge; but neither can we feel the infinite in the form of a finite affection, nor discern it as the law of a finite action. If our whole consciousness of God is partial and incomplete, composed of various attributes manifested in various relations, why should we condemn the reasoning which represents Him in a single aspect, so long as it neither asserts nor implies that that aspect is the only one in which He can be represented? If man is not a creature composed solely of intellect, or solely of will, why should any one element of his nature be excluded from participating in the pervading consciousness of Him in whom we live, and move, and have our being?2929 Acts xvii. 28. A religion based solely on the reason may starve on barren abstractions, or bewilder itself with inexplicable contradictions; but a religion which repudiates thought to take refuge in feeling, abandons itself to the wild follies of fanaticism, or the diseased ecstasies of mysticism; while one which acknowledges the practical energies alone, may indeed attain to Stoicism, but will fall far short of Christianity. It is our duty indeed to pray with the spirit; but it is no less our duty to pray with the understanding also.3030 1 Corinthians xiv. 15.
Taking, then, as the basis of our inquiry, the admission 118 that the whole consciousness of man, whether in thought, or in feeling, or in volition, is limited in the manner of its operation and in the objects to which it is related, let us endeavor, with regard to the religious consciousness in particular, to separate from each other the complicated threads which, in their united web, constitute the conviction of man’s relation to a Supreme Being. In distinguishing, however, one portion of these as forming the origin of this conviction, and another portion as contributing rather to its further development and direction, I must not be understood to maintain or imply that the former could have existed and been recognized, prior to and independently of the cooperation of the latter. Consciousness, in its earliest discernible form, is only possible as the result of an union of the reflective with the intuitive faculties. A state of mind, to be known at all as existing, must be distinguished from other states; and, to make this distinction, we must think of it, as well as experience it. Without thought as well as sensation, there could be no consciousness of the existence of an external world: without thought as well as emotion and volition, there could be no consciousness of the moral nature of man. Sensation without thought would at most amount to no more than an indefinite sense of uneasiness or momentary irritation, without any power of discerning in what manner we are affected, or of distinguishing our successive affections from each other. To distinguish, for example, in the visible world, any one object from any other, to know the house as a house, or the tree as a tree, we must be able to refer them to distinct notions; and such reference is an act of thought. The same condition holds good of the religious consciousness also. In whatever mental affection we become conscious of our relation to a Supreme Being, we can discern 119 that consciousness, as such, only by reflecting upon it as conceived under its propel notion. Without this, we could not know our religious consciousness to be what it is; and, as the knowledge of a fact of consciousness is identical with its existence,—without this, the religious consciousness, as such, could not exist.
But, notwithstanding this necessary coöperation of thought in every manifestation of human consciousness, it is not to the reflective faculties that we must look, if we would discover the origin of religion. For, to the exercise of reflection, it is necessary that there should exist an object on which to reflect; and though, in the order of time, the distinct recognition of this object is simultaneous with the act of reflecting upon it, yet, in the order of nature, the latter presupposes the former. Religious thought, if it is to exist at all, can only exist as representative of some fact of religious intuition,—of some individual state of mind, in which is presented, as an immediate fact, that relation of man to God, of which man, by reflection, may become distinctly and definitely conscious.
Two such states may be specified, as dividing between them the rude material out of which Reflection builds up the edifice of Religious Consciousness. These are the Feeling of Dependence and the Conviction of Moral Obligation. To these two facts of the inner consciousness may be traced, as to their sources, the two great outward acts by which religion in various forms has been manifested among men;—Prayer, by which they seek to win God’s blessing upon the future, and Expiation, by which they strive to atone for the offences of the past.(8) The feeling of Dependence is the instinct which urges us to pray. It is the feeling that our existence and welfare are in the hands of a superior Power;—not of an inexorable Fate or 120 immutable Law; but of a Being having at least so far the attributes of Personality, that He can show favor or severity to those dependent upon Him, and can be regarded by them with the feelings of hope, and fear, and reverence, and gratitude. It is a feeling similar in kind, though higher in degree, to that which is awakened in the mind of the child towards his parent, who is first manifested to his mind as the (giver of such things as are needful, and to whom the first language he addresses is that of entreaty. It is the feeling so fully and intensely expressed in the language of the Psalmist: “Thou art he that took me out of my mother’s womb: thou wast my hope, when I hanged yet upon my mother’s breasts. I have been left unto thee ever since I was born: thou art my God even from my mother’s womb. Be not thou far from me, O Lord: thou art my succour; haste thee to help me. I will declare thy Name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.”3131 Psalm xxii. 9, 10, 19, 22. With the first development of consciousness, there grows up, as a part of it, the innate feeling that our life, natural and spiritual, is not in our power to sustain or to prolong;—that there is One above us, on whom we are dependent, whose existence we learn, and whose presence we realize, by the sure instinct of Prayer. We have thus, in the Sense of Dependence, the foundation of one great element of Religion,—the Fear of God.
But the mere consciousness of dependence does not of itself exhibit the character of the Being on whom we depend. It is as consistent with superstition as with religion;—with the belief in a malevolent, as in a benevolent Deity: it is as much called into existence by the severities, as by the mercies of God; by the suffering which we are unable to avert, as by the benefits which we did not ourselves procure.121(9) The Being on whom we depend is, in that single relation, manifested in the infliction of pain, as well as in the bestowal of happiness. But in order to make suffering, as well as enjoyment, contribute to the religious education of man, it is necessary that he should be conscious, not merely of suffering, but of sin;—that he should look upon pain not merely as inflicted, but as deserved; and should recognize in its Author the justice that punishes, not merely the anger that harms. In the feeling of dependence, we are conscious of the Power of God, but not necessarily of His Goodness. This deficiency, however, is supplied by the the other element of religion,—the Consciousness of Moral Obligation,—carrying with it, as it necessarily does, the Conviction of Sin. It is impossible to establish, as a great modern philosopher has attempted to do, the theory of an absolute Autonomy of the Will; that is to say, of an obligatory law, resting on no basis but that of its own imperative character.(10) Considered solely in itself, with no relation to any higher authority, the consciousness of a law of obligation is a fact of our mental constitution, and it is no more. The fiction of an absolute law, binding on all rational beings, has only an apparent universality; because we can only conceive other rational beings by identifying their constitution with our own, and making, human reason the measure and representative of reason in general. Why then has one part of our constitution, merely as such, an imperative authority over the remainder? What right has one portion of the human consciousness to represent itself as duty, and another merely as inclination? There is but one answer possible. The moral Reason, or Will, or Conscience, of Man, call it by what name we please, can have no authority, save as implanted in him by some higher Spiritual Being, as a Law emanating from a Lawgiver. 122 Man can be a law unto himself, only on the supposition that he reflects in himself the Law of God;—that he shows, as the Apostle tells us, the works of that law written in his heart.3232 Romans ii. 15. If he is absolutely a law unto himself; his duty and his pleasure are undistinguishable from each other; for he is subject to no one, and accountable to no one. Duty, in this case, becomes only a higher kind of pleasure,—a balance between the present and the future, between the larger and the smaller gratification. We are thus compelled, by the consciousness of moral obligation, to assume the existence of a moral Deity, and to regard the absolute standard of right and wrong as constituted by the nature of that Deity.(11) The conception of this standard, in the human mind, may indeed be faint and fluctuating, and must be imperfect: it may vary with the intellectual and moral culture of the nation or the individual: and in its highest human representation, it must fall far short of the reality. But it is present to all mankind, as a basis of moral obligation and an inducement to moral progress: it is present in the universal consciousness of sin; in the conviction that we are offenders against God; in the expiatory rites by which, whether inspired by some natural instinct, or inherited from some primeval tradition, divers nations have, in their various modes, striven to atone for their transgressions, and to satisfy the wrath of their righteous Judge.(12) However erroneously the particular acts of religious service may have been understood by men: yet, in the universal consciousness of innocence and guilt, of duty and disobedience, of an appeased and offended God, there is exhibited the instinctive confession of all mankind, that the moral nature of man, as subject to a law of obligation, reflects and represents, in some degree, the moral nature of a Deity by whom that obligation is imposed.123
But these two elements of the religious consciousness, however real and efficient within their own limits, are subject to the same restrictions which we have before noticed as binding upon consciousness in general. Neither in the feeling of dependence, nor in that of obligation, can we be directly conscious of the Absolute or the Infinite, as such. And it is the more necessary to notice this limitation, inasmuch as an opposite theory has been maintained by one whose writings have had perhaps more influence than those of any other man, in forming the modern religious philosophy of his own country; and whose views, in all their essential features, have been ably maintained and widely diffused among ourselves. According to Schleiermacher, the essence of Religion is to be found in a feeling of absolute and entire dependence, in which the mutual action and reaction of subject and object upon each other, which constitutes the ordinary consciousness of mankind, gives way to a sense of utter, passive helplessness,—to a consciousness that our entire personal agency is annihilated in the presence of the infinite energy of the Godhead. In our intercourse with the world, he tells us, whether in relation to nature or to human society, the feeling of freedom and that of dependence are always present in mutual operation upon each other; sometimes in equilibrium; sometimes with a vast preponderance of the one or the other feeling; but never to the entire exclusion of either. But in our communion with God, there is always an accompanying consciousness that the whole activity is absolutely and entirely dependent upon Him; that, whatever amount of freedom may be apparent in the individual moments of life, these are but detached and isolated portions of a passively dependent whole.(13) The theory is carried still further, and expressed in more positive terms, by an English disciple, who says that, 124 “Although man, while in the midst of finite objects, always feels himself to a certain extent independent and free; yet in the presence of that which is self-existent, infinite, and eternal, he may feel the sense of freedom utterly pass away, and become absorbed in the sense of absolute dependence.” “Let the relation,” he continues, “of subject and object in the economy of our emotions become such that the whole independent energy of the former merges in the latter as its prime cause and present sustainer; let the subject become as nothing,—not, indeed, from its intrinsic insignificance or incapacity of moral action, but by virtue of the infinity of the object to which it stands consciously opposed: and the feeling of dependence must become absolute; for all finite power is as nothing in relation to the Infinite.”(14)
Of this theory it may be observed, in the first place, that it contemplates God chiefly in the character of an object of infinite magnitude. The relations of the object to the subject, in our consciousness of the world, and in that of God, differ from each other in degree rather than in kind. The Deity is manifested with no attribute of personality: He is merely the world magnified to infinity: and the feeling of absolute dependence is in fact that of the annihilation of our personal existence in the Infinite Being of the Universe. Of this feeling, the intellectual exponent is pure Pantheism; and the infinite object is but the indefinite abstraction of Being in general, with no distinguishing characteristic to constitute a Deity. For the distinctness of an object of consciousness is in the inverse ratio to the intensity of the passive affection. As the feeling of dependence becomes more powerful, the knowledge of the character of the object on which we depend must necessarily become less and less; for the discernment of any object as such is a state of mental energy and reaction of thought upon that object. 125 Hence the feeling of absolute dependence, supposing it possible, could convey no consciousness of God as God, but merely an indefinite impression of dependence upon something. Towards an object so vague and meaningless, no real religious relation is possible.(15)
In the second place, the consciousness of an absolute dependence in which our activity is annihilated, is a contradiction in terms; for consciousness itself is an activity. We can be conscious of a state of mind as such, only by attending to it; and attention is in all cases a mode of our active energy. Thus the state of absolute dependence, supposing it to exist at all, could not be distinguished from other states; and, as all consciousness is distinction, it could not, by any mode of consciousness, be known to exist.
In the third place, the theory is inconsistent with the duty of Prayer. Prayer is essentially a state in which man is in active relation towards God; in which he is intensely conscious of his personal existence and its wants; in which he endeavors by entreaty to prevail with God. Let any one consider for a moment the strong energy of the language of the Apostle: “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;”3333 Romans xv. 30. or the consciousness of a personal need, which pervades that Psalm in which David so emphatically declares his dependence upon God: “My God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me, and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint? O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season also I take no rest;”3434 Psalm xxii. 1, 2.—let him ponder the words of our Lord himself: “Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him:”3535 St. Luke xviii. 7.—and then 126 let him say if such language is compatible with the theory which asserts that man’s personality is annihilated in his communion with God.(16)
But, lastly, there is another fatal objection to the above theory. It makes our moral and religious consciousness subversive of each other, and reduces us to the dilemma that either our faith or our practice must be founded on a delusion. The actual relation of man to God is the same, in whatever degree man may be conscious of it. If man’s dependence on God is not really destructive of his personal freedom, the religious consciousness, in denying that freedom, is a false consciousness. If, on the contrary, man is in reality passively dependent upon God, the consciousness of moral responsibility, which bears witness to his free agency, is a lying witness. Actually, in the sight of God, we are either totally dependent, or, partially at least, free. And as this condition must be always the same, whether we are conscious of it or not, it follows, that, in proportion as one of these modes of consciousness reveals to us the truth, the other must be regarded as testifying to a falsehood.(17)
Nor yet is it possible to find in the consciousness of moral obligation any immediate apprehension of the Absolute and Infinite. For the free agency of man, which in the feeling of dependence is always present as a subordinate element, becomes here the centre and turning-point of the whole. The consciousness of the Infinite is necessarily excluded; first, by the mere existence of a relation between two distinct agents; and, secondly, by the conditions under which each must necessarily be conceived in its relation to the other. The moral consciousness of man, as subject to law, is, by that subjection, both limited and related; and hence it cannot in itself be regarded as a representation of the Infinite. Nor yet can such a representation 127 be furnished by the other term of the relation,—that of the Moral Lawgiver, by whom human obligation is enacted. For, in the first place, such a Lawgiver must be conceived as a Person; and the only human conception of Personality is that of limitation. In the second place, the moral consciousness of such a Lawgiver can only be conceived under the form of a variety of attributes; and different attributes are, by that very diversity, conceived as finite. Nay, the very conception of a moral nature is in itself the conception of a limit; for morality is the compliance with a law; and a law, whether imposed from within or from without, can only be conceived to operate by limiting the range of possible actions.
Yet along with all this, though our positive religious consciousness is of the finite only, there yet runs through the whole of that consciousness the accompanying conviction that the Infinite does exist, and must exist;—though of the manner of that existence we can form no conception; and that it exists along with the Finite;—though we know not how such a coëxistence is possible. We cannot be conscious of the Infinite; but we can be and are conscious of the limits of our own powers of thought; and therefore we know that the possibility or impossibility of conception is no test of the possibility or impossibility of existence. We know that, unless we admit the existence of the Infinite, the existence of the Finite is inexplicable and self-contradictory; and yet we know that the conception of the Infinite itself appears to involve contradictions no less inexplicable. In this impotence of Reason, we are compelled to take refuge in Faith, and to believe that an Infinite Being exists, though we know not how; and that He is the same with that Being who is made known in consciousness as our Sustainer and our Lawgiver. For 128 to deny that an Infinite Being exists, because we cannot comprehend the manner of His existence, is, of two equally inconceivable alternatives, to accept the one which renders that very inconceivability itself inexplicable. If the Finite is the universe of existence, there is no reason why that universe itself should not be as conceivable as the several parts of which it is composed. Whence comes it then that our whole consciousness is compassed about with restrictions, which we are ever striving to pass, and ever failing in the effort? Whence comes it that the Finite cannot measure the Finite? The very consciousness of our own limitations of thought bears witness to the existence of the Unlimited, who is beyond thought. The shadow of the Infinite still broods over the consciousness of the finite; and we wake up at last from the dream of absolute wisdom, to confess, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.”3636 Genesis xxviii. 16.
We are thus compelled to acquiesce in at least one portion of Bacon's statement concerning the relation of human knowledge to its object: “Natura percutit intellectum radio directo; Deus autem, propter medium inæquale (creaturas scilicet), radio refracto.”(18) To have sufficient grounds for believing in God is a very different thing from having sufficient grounds for reasoning about Him. The religious sentiment, which compels men to believe in and worship a Supreme Being, is an evidence of His existence, but not an exhibition of His nature. It proves that God is, and makes known some of His relations to us; but it does not prove what God is in His own Absolute Being.(19) The natural senses, it may be, are diverted and colored by the medium through which they pass to reach the intellect, and present to us, not things in themselves, but things as 129 they appear to us. And this is manifestly the case with the religious consciousness, which can only represent the Infinite God under finite forms. But we are compelled to believe, on the evidence of our senses, that a material world exists, even while we listen to the arguments of the idealist, who reduces it to an idea or a nonentity; and we are compelled, by our religious consciousness, to believe in the existence of a personal God; though the reasonings of the Rationalist, logically followed out, may reduce us to Pantheism or Atheism. But to preserve this belief uninjured, we must acknowledge the true limits of our being: we must not claim for any fact of human consciousness the proud prerogative of revealing God as He is; for thus we throw away the only weapon which can be of avail in resisting the assaults of Skepticism. We must be content to admit, with regard to the internal consciousness of man, the same restrictions which the great philosopher just now quoted has so excellently expressed with reference to the external senses. “For as all works do show forth the power and skill of the workman, and not his image; so it is of the works of God, which do show the omnipotency and wisdom of the maker, but not his image. . . . . . . Wherefore by the contemplation of nature to induce and inforce the acknowledgment of God, and to demonstrate his power, is an excellent argument; . . . . . but on the other side, out of the contemplation of nature, or ground of human knowledge, to induce any verity or persuasion concerning the points of faith, is in my judgment not safe . . . . . . . For the heathens themselves conclude as much in that excellent and divine fable of the golden chain: That men and gods were not able to draw Jupiter down to the earth; but contrariwise, Jupiter was able to draw them up to heaven.”(20)130
One feature deserves especial notice, as common to both of those modes of consciousness which primarily exhibit our relation towards God. In both, we are compelled to regard ourselves as Persons related to a Person. In the feeling of dependence, however great it may be, the consciousness of myself, the dependent element, remains unextinguished; and, indeed, without that element there could be no consciousness of a relation at all. In the sense of moral obligation, I know myself as the agent on whom the law is binding: I am free to choose and to act, as a person whose principle of action is in himself. And it is important to observe that it is only through this consciousness of personality that we have any ground of belief in the existence of a God. If we admit the arguments by which this personality is annihilated, whether on the side of Materialism or on that of Pantheism, we cannot escape from the consequence to which those arguments inevitably lead,—the annihilation of God himself. If, on the one hand, the spiritual element within me is merely dependent on the corporeal,—if myself is a result of my bodily organization, and may be resolved into the operation of a system of material agents,—why should I suppose it to be otherwise in the great world beyond me? If I, who deem myself a spirit distinct from and superior to matter, am but the accident and product of that which I seem to rule, why may not all other spiritual existence, if such there be, be dependent upon the constitution of the material universe?(21) Or if, on the other hand, I am not a distinct substance, but a mode of the infinite,—a shadow passing over the face of the universe,—what is that universe which you would have me acknowledge a God? It is, says the Pantheist, the One and All.(22) By no means: it is the Many, in which is neither All nor One. You have 131 taught me that within the little world of my own consciousness there is no relation between the one and the many; but that all is transient and accidental alike. If I accept your conclusion, I must extend it to its legitimate consequence. Why should the universe itself contain a principle of unity? why should the Many imply the One? All that I see, all that I know, are isolated and unconnected phenomena; I myself being one of them. Why should the Universe of Being be otherwise? It cannot be All; for its phenomena are infinite and innumerable; and all implies unity and completeness. It need not be One; for you have yourself shown me that I am deceived in the only ground which I have for believing that a plurality of modes implies an unity of substance. If there is no Person to pray; if there is no Person to be obedient;—what remains but to conclude that He to whom prayer and obedience are due,—nay, even the mock-king who usurps His name in the realms of philosophy,—is a shadow and a delusion likewise?
The result of the preceding considerations may be summed up as follows. There are two modes in which we may endeavor to contemplate the Deity: the one negative, based on a vain attempt to transcend the conditions of human thought, and to expand the religious consciousness to the infinity of its Divine Object; the other positive, which keeps within its proper limits, and views the object in a manner accommodated to the finite capacities of the human thinker. The first aspires to behold God in His absolute nature: the second is content to view Him in those relations in which he has been pleased to manifest Himself to his creatures. The first aims at a speculative knowledge of God as He is; but, bound by the conditions of finite thought, even in the attempt to transgress them, 132 obtains nothing more than a tissue of ambitious self-contradictions, which indicate only what He is not.(23) The second, abandoning the speculative knowledge of the infinite, as only possible to the Infinite Intelligence itself, is content with those regulative ideas of the Deity, which are sufficient to guide our practice, but not to satisfy our intellect;(24)—which tell us, not what God is in Himself, but how He wills that we should think of Him.(25) In renouncing all knowledge of the Absolute, it renounces at the same time all attempts to construct a priori schemes of God’s Providence as it ought to be: it does not seek to reconcile this or that phenomenon, whether in nature or in revelation, with the absolute attributes of Deity; but confines itself to the actual course of that Providence as manifested in the world; and seeks no higher internal criterion of the truth of a religion, than may be derived from its analogy to other parts of the Divine Government. Guided by this, the only true Philosophy of Religion, man is content to practise where he is unable to speculate. He acts, as one who must give an account of his conduct: he prays, believing that his prayer will be answered. He does not seek to reconcile this belief with any theory of the Infinite; for he does not even know how the Infinite and the Finite can exist together. But he feels that his several duties rest upon the same basis: he knows that, if human action is not incompatible with Infinite Power; neither is human worship with Infinite Wisdom and Goodness: though it is not as the Infinite that God reveals Himself in His moral government; nor is it as the Infinite that he promises to answer prayer.
“O Thou that hearest prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come.” Sacrifice, and offering, and burnt-offerings, and offering for sin, Thou requirest no more; for He whom 133 these prefigured has offered Himself as a sacrifice once for all.3737 Hebrews x. 8, 10. But He who fulfilled the sacrifice, commanded the prayer, and Himself taught us how to pray. He tells us that we are dependent upon God for our daily bread, for forgiveness of sins, for deliverance from evil;—and how is that dependence manifested? Not in the annihilation of our personality; for we appeal to Him under the tenderest of personal relations, as the children of Our Father who is in heaven. Not as passive in contemplation, but as active in service; for we pray, “Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.” In this manifestation of God to man, alike in Consciousness as in Scripture, under finite forms to finite minds, as a Person to a Person, we see the root and foundation of that religious service, without which belief is a speculation, and worship a delusion; which, whatever would be philosophical theologians may say to the contrary, is the common bond which unites all men to God. All are God’s creatures, bound alike to reverence and obey their Maker. Ail are God’s dependents, bound alike to ask for his sustaining, bounties. All are God’s rebels, needing daily and hourly to implore His forgiveness for their disobedience. All are God’s redeemed, purchased by the blood of Christ, invited to share in the benefits of His passion and intercession. All are brought by one common channel into communion with that God to whom they are related by so many common ties. All are called upon to acknowledge their Maker, their Governor, their Sustainer, their Redeemer; and the means of their acknowledgment is Prayer.
And, apart from the fact of its having been God’s good pleasure so to reveal Himself, there are manifest, even to human understanding, wise reasons why this course should have been adopted, benevolent ends to be answered by this 134 gracious condescension. We are not called upon to live two distinct lives in this world. It is not required of us that the household of our nature should be divided against itself;—that those feelings of love, and reverence, and gratitude, which move us in a lower degree towards our human relatives and friends, should be altogether thrown aside, and exchanged for some abnormal state of ecstatic contemplation, when we bring our prayers and praises and thanks before the footstool of our Father in heaven. We are none of us able to grasp in speculation the nature of the Infinite and Eternal; but we all live and move among our fellow-men, at times needing their assistance, at times soliciting their favors, at times seeking to turn away their anger. We have all, as children, felt the need of the supporting care of parents and guardians: we have all, in the gradual progress of education, required instruction from the wisdom of teachers: we have all offended against our neighbors, and known the blessings of forgiveness, or the penalty of unappeased anger. We can all, therefore, taught by the inmost consciousness of our human feelings, place ourselves in communion with God, when He manifests Himself under human images. “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen,” says the Apostle St. John, “how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”3838 St. John iv. 20. Our heavenly affections must in some measure take their source and their form from our earthly ones: our love towards God, if it is to be love at all, must not be wholly unlike our love towards our neighbor: the motives and influences which prompt us, when we make known our wants and pour forth our supplications to an earthly parent, are graciously permitted by our heavenly Father to be the type and symbol of those by which our intercourse with Him is to be regulated,—with 135 which He bids us “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”3939 Hebrews iv. 16.
So should it be during this transitory life, in which we see through a glass, darkly;4040 1 Corinthians xiii. 12. in which God reveals Himself in types and shadows, under human images and attributes, to meet graciously and deal tenderly with the human sympathies of His creatures. And although, even to the sons of God, it doth not yet appear what we shall be, when we shall be like him, and shall see Him as He is;4141 1 St. John iii. 2. yet, if it be true that our religious duties in this life are a training and preparation for that which is to come;—if we are encouraged to look forward to and anticipate that future state, while we are still encompassed with this earthly tabernacle; if we are taught to look, as to our great Example, to One who in love and sympathy towards His brethren was Very Man;—if we are bidden not to sorrow without hope concerning them which are asleep,4242 Thessalonians iv. 13. and are comforted by the promise that the ties of love which are broken on earth shall be united in heaven,—we may trust that not wholly alien to such feelings will be our communion with God face to face, when the redeemed of all flesh shall approach once more to Him that heareth prayer;—no longer in the chamber of private devotion; no longer in the temple of public worship; but in that great City where no temple is; “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”4343 Revelation xxi. 22.136
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