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§ I.—THE SPIRITUALITY, UNITY, AND MORAL PERFECTION OF GOD.
THE age in which Christ appeared, fearfully dark as it was, was yet not content to abide in darkness. Even then there were burdened hearts that did earnestly seek after God, and a piercing cry was lifted up from the depths of paganism for the true light of Heaven. Jesus came to respond to that cry, to quiet the troubled bosom of man, and to bring to his knowledge the only object of worship and of love. To reveal God, is a still higher office than to make known the soul. The doctrine of God is the foundation of all religion. Every system of religion must have a god, and the character of the religion corresponds necessarily with the character of the god—is, indeed, wholly determined by this, and will be material or spiritual, feeble or powerful, pure or corrupt, degrading or elevating, cruel or benignant, just as the Being for whom it claims the veneration of men recedes from absolute excellence, or approaches it.122
It formed no part of the work of Jesus to demonstrate the being of God to the world. The “a priori” and “a posteriori” proofs on this subject, as well as the historical proof grounded in the alleged consent of all past ages and of all nations, find no place in the Gospels. No trace of the argument from the work to the worker, from the contrivance to the contriver, from the marks of intelligence and design in the visible universe to an all-designing mind, is discoverable here. The old hypothesis of the eternity of the universe is not combated, nor that of the everlasting concourse of atoms in immensity, and their fortuitous combinations, producing all the manifold results which we now witness in the creation around us. The existence of a Supreme Eternal Cause is assumed in the New Testament, as a first principle; and, as in the case of the soul, a direct and fearless appeal is made here, also, to the intuitions and to the consciousness of the human mind. It is in these, at last, that we reach the most satisfactory ground of faith in the being of God; and it may be fairly questioned whether, apart from these, the “a priori” and “a posteriori” arguments have ever by themselves overcome the settled unbelief of a single human being. There seems to be a primitive faith on this subject, which can only be traced to the same origin with the mind itself. It is congenial and native to the soul to believe in God. Men may work 128themselves into an opposite belief; they may at last resign themselves to Atheism, either in consequence of the extreme difficulty and darkness of the subject, or owing to moral causes; but none begin with this. The first faith is invariably theistic not atheistic. With interminable and wide differences in other respects, there is a marvelous concurrence of sentiment up to a certain point, among all nations and ages. That there is Divinity somewhere in this great universe, that there is some object of worship and of obedience, is an original belief, dating from the constitution of the soul itself.
In passing from the Being to the Nature of God, we are compelled to reason from ourselves; for from ourselves alone, from our own higher nature, a pathway is found up to the Highest Nature of all. The common argument from effect to cause is unanswerable, so far as it goes; the material universe proves the being of a God, for the simple reason that every effect must have a cause. But the material universe does not and can not prove the spiritual nature of its cause. The only proof, the only hint, of this is given in our own spirituality, and nowhere else. The New Testament affirms the existence of angels, a race of pure spirits, intermediate between man and God. The fact rests entirely on the authority of revelation, but it seems to involve no peculiar difficulty. The idea of unembodied 124spirits is quite as conceivable as that of spirits embodied, and perhaps there are even some difficulties in the latter mode of being which do not apply to the former. The fact also appears to be quite in harmony with the analogies of the creation. Among material things and beings there are gradations without number, all very beautiful, and suggestive of the opulence and power of the Creator. It is not hard to believe that in the same way, and with the same effect, important gradations may exist among spiritual creatures also. The New Testament affirms that man does not constitute the solitary order of this form of existence, but is allied to an elder brotherhood of angels; the elder and the younger alike tracing their descent immediately from the great “Father of spirits.” But whether with or without the aid of this intermediate step, it is from our own souls that we ascend to the conception of the Infinite Soul—from the spiritual nature within us, to the spiritual nature above us, and over all.
The spirituality of God suggests two leading ideas, Life and Intelligence. God is a Life. The word brings us to the verge of an impenetrable mystery, before which we stand in helpless wonder. The first step in the ascent from unorganized matter perplexes and confounds us. We may be able to watch the vegetative process in its successive stages, and to distinguish the phenomena which mark each 125stage. The seed and the soil in which it is planted we may be able to subject to analysis, and thus to ascertain the peculiar properties of both; and the action also of the sun and the rain may be well understood. Science shall explain the entire course of vegetation; but if we ask what that vital principle is in which vegetation originates, science to this day leaves the question unanswered. Next above vegetable life is animal life—a deeper and darker secret still. The distance is immeasurable between unconscious matter, organized or unorganized, and even the lowest form of animal existence. Here is not merely organization, not merely unconscious changes, but self-motion, voluntary, conscious motion, and capacity of enjoyment and suffering, an awful and inscrutable power of willing, feeling, and doing. It has never been penetrated; perhaps it is impenetrable by mortals. Science can not explain it, can not assist us to imagine it.
Next above animal life is intellectual, by which even the lower animals are distinguished in different degrees, indicating, as they often do very plainly, that they too have their thoughts, their affections, their calculations, their reasonings, and their plans. Here is life within life, mystery within mystery; but it is in man that both are revealed in their true greatness. Reason in man surpasses immeasurably the highest forms of intelligence as it exists in the inferior tribes, and at all events at this 126limit their progress terminates. There is a mystery more awful still of which man alone on this earth is the sanctuary. They have no moral nature, no conscience, no sense of God, of right and wrong, of immortality, of responsibility, of judgment to come. But man is thus endowed and exalted. Here, therefore, is life yet higher still, mystery still more profound. From vegetable, animal, intellectual moral, human, angelic life—from created life in all its wondrous modes—we ascend to him who is called “The Life.” It is a noble image of the Divine nature. We think of God before the creation of the universe, alone in immensity, “The Life,” indestructible, perfect, pure, needing nothing from without, inexhaustibly rich in himself. We think of him sending forth life and peopling space with countless forms of material and spiritual glory. All, wherever it is and whatever its form, is from him—He alone is the underived, independent, original, everlasting life.
But the God of the New Testament is not a quality, not an idea, or a process, or a law, not a thing, but a Being, an Agent. He is truly a Life; but as truly he is a Mind, The Presiding Mind of the universe. If created spirits are endowed with high capacities, and enriched with varied and vast knowledge, what must be the resources and the powers of the All-creating Spirit? “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed 127the eye, shall he not see? he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?” The universe in all its kingdoms, in all the manifold departments of each of these kingdoms, in all the countless facts with their hidden principles which belong to each of these departments—the vast universe in the past, the present, and the future, must stand revealed in the clear light of the divine knowledge. All truth must dwell in the Infinite understanding, as in its native home. We bow down before the measureless heights, the unfathomable depths, the illimitable possessions of the uncreated Mind. Worship becomes not merely reasonable but necessary, a tribute which can not be withheld from such a Being. The nature of worship is understood and felt at once and as deeply the wickedness of substituting any material acts for the free aspirations of the soul.
Such a doctrine of God as we have imperfectly sketched surely demanded, for its announcement to the world, a great occasion and an extraordinary herald. But it was a Jew, a young man, a working carpenter, who published the doctrine eighteen hundred years ago, and to a poor woman. After a long journey, Jesus was sitting by the side of a well, in a retired place, when a woman of Samaria came to draw water. She belonged to a people with whom any other Jew would have scorned to hold intercourse; but he began to talk to her on the 128subject of religion, and then and there proceeded to open to her mind, simply and familiary, some of the divinest ideas which have ever been put into the language of men. The Samaritans and the Jews were both wrong in their prevailing notions of worship and of God. To the one, God was in Samaria; to the other, in Jerusalem. But he taught her that the true God was not a local or national divinity, but a universal presence, and that true worship was always only spiritual, for the simple reason that the object of worship was a spirit. “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem ye shall worship the Father . . . The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”4444 John, iv. 22-24.
This is a specimen of Christ’s teaching, not an exception to it. Thus uniformly he turned the thoughts of mankind to the Infinite, Ever-living Intelligence, and summoned the world to believe and adore.
The idea of more than one Infinite Being is contradictory and impossible. On the supposition that there are two or more, they must be either in harmony or in conflict. But if they are in perfect 129and everlasting harmony, this is in effect to say that they are identical, and nothing is gained by the notion of plurality. On the other hand, if they are in opposition one to another, such a conflict could produce nothing but universal anarchy and destruction—a state of things which finds no realization in the actual world. The existence of one Infinite Being harmonizes with the facts of the universe, and sufficiently accounts for them; and the reasoning is now perfectly familiar, as it is entirely satisfactory, by which it is made out, that the creation in all its regions indicates the hand and the mind of only one supreme Author and Ruler. The atom and the world, the insect and the man, the single globe and the countless spheres that people space; all, so far as our knowledge of them extends, are governed by the same great laws. The separate departments and kingdoms of nature, whether great or small, whether near or remote, whether inanimate, or animated, or rational, do not point to diverse origins, and do not exhibit subjection to diverse authorities; but, on the contrary, form a harmonious whole which must have originated with one mind, and must be governed by one supreme authority. All this is accepted, in our day, by many who do not bow to Christianity. But the world as a whole, nevertheless, groans still beneath a pantheon as monstrous and as vast, as any past age ever reared. Judaism, 130Christianity, and Mohammedanism are the only existing systems of religion which recognize only one God; and it will not be questioned that the last owes this faith to the one or the other of the two former. The suffrages of mankind are against the doctrine of God’s unity, by an overwhelming majority.
But we have to do with the ancient, not the present, state of opinion and of faith among mankind. The mildest form of departure from Divine unity in the ancient world was that which was found among the Chaldeans and Persians, nations certainly not the lowest at that time in the scale of advancement and civilization. Their creed comprehended two objects of supreme worship, one the author only of good, and another the author of all evil, and nothing but evil; of course, the first a purely benevolent, and the second a purely malevolent being, answering to the light and the darkness found alike in the natural and in the moral world. At this day, we possess far higher means of unraveling the dark phenomena of providence than were accessible to antiquity. We have learned to resolve physical into moral evil as its necessary cause, direct or indirect; and for moral evil itself, we have been taught to regard it as the voluntary abuse of the freedom of the created will. We may be able to perceive that in the very existence of a created will, there. was involved the possibility of 131its choosing to separate from the Divine will, a thing which, except by destroying the very essence of will, the physical omnipotence of God could not prevent, with which indeed physical omnipotence could have nothing to do. It may be clear to us, that all moral evil is the act of responsible because free creatures, the possibility of which was involved in their creation, and which no mere power could have prevented. We may therefore behold the one God doing only good, retrieving the effects of the sin of his creatures, putting down the evil which they originate, and bringing good out of that evil, so far as such a thing is possible. But in the absense of the aids and the light which we now possess, and in the view of the unnatural and confounding mixture of evil with good which moral providence exhibits, ancient dualism must be considered the most pardonable and plausible form of polytheistic error.
By the side of dualism, the enormous polytheism of the ancient world reared its head. The deification of spirits evil and good, of the elements of nature, of the signs of the sky, of human beings, of beasts, birds, reptiles, insects, inanimate wood, stone, clay, was widely, almost universally sanctioned. Sky, and earth, and sea, and mountains, and valleys, and forests, and rivers were peopled with gods and goddesses. It may be true, at the same time, that every ancient religion contained 132the idea of some one god who was supreme among the many; but then this being was not, therefore, more worshiped than the others, but rather less. He might be really greater, but he was less important, less conversant with ordinary human affairs; and him, therefore, it was less necessary to invoke. It is not denied also, that there might be in the ancient world select individuals, who had ascended above the crowd of inferior divinities to the conception of one Almighty Being. But the earth, notwithstanding. was filled with gods and covered with temples. The whole ancient world had a scarcely exaggerated type of its theistic condition, in the capital of Greece—“It was easier to find a god than a man in Athens.”
From Egypt and Persia, from Greece and Rome, from idols and temples, from priests, poets, and sages, we turn to the lowly Teacher of Nazareth. He proclaimed that God is One, and that the universe is one in its origin and its end, and is under the dominion of one Supreme Ruler, the King eternal, immortal, and invisible, the only wise God. From the beginning to the close of his ministry, he proclaimed one true God. Every where always he proclaimed the One God. No hint of any other doctrine than that of absolute divine unity is ever given; none other is named or noticed. “There is none good but one; that is God.”4545 Matthew, xix. 17. “That they 133might know thee, the only true God.”4646 John xvii. 3. “There is one God, and none other but be.”4747 Mark, xii. 32. The proclamation of God’s unity by the voice of Christ was first heard throughout the land of Judea; but the sound was, by and by, wafted far beyond it. It echoed among the hoary idolatries of the world, and shook them to their foundations. The echo has not died away—it is heard now—it shall yet be heard above the clamor and hubbub of all rival faiths, and shall drown every other voice. One God, one supreme object of reverence and love, of worship and obedience—only One!
The occasion will arise, at a mere advanced stage of our inquiries, for noticing with special interest the sentiments of certain heathen philosophers and moralists concerning God. It is here cheerfully admitted, that these sentiments are often very just, very noble, very strengthening, and very sanctifying, and are, in truth, the early promise of a diviner age. Light shone in the darkness, and these men almost saw the daybreak, and almost descried the first streaks of the dawn of a hallowed morning. Some of their ideas respecting God, his majesty and his purity, his wisdom, and even his mercifulness, astonish us by their profoundness and their grandeur. But they were entertained, by few—oh, how few, out of the vast multitudes! They also partook more of the character of sudden and transient inspirations 134than of settled convictions; and they formed but a dim and shadowy prefiguration of the brighter revelations of a future age. We have already noticed the belief, in the ancient world, of one Being supreme among the gods, which was also otherwise modified, and took the form of faith in one supreme nature embodied in many separate divinities; and it can not be doubted that even this was fitted to correct, in some measure, the spirit of polytheism during “the times of ignorance.” But this “Deus Maximus” was felt to be a cold mythical abstraction, rather than a loving father, and a fountain of living excellence. A God of perfect rectitude, purity, truth, and love, was virtually unknown to ancient paganism. Many of its deities were monsters of vice—impersonations of all that was impure, cruel, and vile. Their history was a tissue of superhuman abominations; and many of the very rites of their worship were revolting and, unclean.
Turning to the Jewish nation, from whom so much might have been expected, we find that they had shockingly misrepresented the character, the attributes, the doings, the very nature of the True God. In the prevailing conceptions of the people, his justice was little else than revenge—his love partiality—his providence special and arbitrary interposition—his revelation a cabalistic secret—and 135his infinite nature a huge extension of the caprices and passions of man.
Jesus of Nazareth revealed a Being necessarily opposed to all evil, and essentially righteous, true, pure, and good. All conceivable and all possible perfections dwell in his nature, and shine there in unclouded light. This God is Excellence, only Excellence, Excellence Infinite and Everlasting. The very idea of such a Being is Divine. Were there defect in God, even to the smallest amount, he could no more be the resting-place of the created mind; a dark shadow would fall upon his whole character, and a torturing and insupportable sense of insecurity would afflict the whole universe. But Jesus of Nazareth summons us to worship a Being in whom the intellect, affections, and conscience of man may safely repose—an object worthy of the eternal admiration, confidence, and love of all rational creatures—the Only Holy One, the God of Glory.
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