How, And How Far, Can God Be Known By Man?2
When a man makes his own mind the measure of his knowledge of good, he soon sinks to the level of that by which he measures it; indeed he is already sunk there morally.
This is the case with Mr. N. He judges of what God ought to be, of what a revelation ought to be if there was one, by his own mind and feelings.
A book presents itself as a revelation from God; and he judges that it is not one. By what rule is his judgment formed? By what his own mind is, independent of revelation, which he subjects to the test of his own thoughts, when the book is presented to him as such. He can do this only in virtue of the competency of his mind to judge, before he has received it, what a revelation ought to be. That is, his own mind, and even his own mind in its present state, is the measure by which revelation is to be judged of. Were it so, the mind of God must be on a level with the mind of man, and even of the particular man who judges. But the fallacy of such a principle, as well as the excessive self-sufficiency of it, is evident.
First, the measure of what the divine Being ought to be or require (for if it be a revelation by Him, it must declare what He is, or what He requires) will vary with the moral condition or the natural disposition of each individual who seeks to form a judgment.
More than this, it will vary with the circumstances in which a man is placed, with the age of the world in which he lives, with everything through which he has passed in emerging out of the state of natural ignorance of all things in which he began his life, and which have exercised an influence in forming his character.
It would be mere folly and ignorance of human nature, blindness to the most obvious facts, not to recognize these influences in the forming and moulding of the human mind, and thus their power in colouring its judgment of all around and above it. Does Mr. N. think he has not profited by the influence of the Christianity he rejects? He miserably deceives himself if he does. But, to do him justice, he does not think so. In another volume of his (it is well the confession is absent from this) he avows (speaking of the New Testament, with the devotional parts of the Old, and declaring his intimate knowledge of it), “to it I owe the best part of whatever wisdom there is in my manhood.” (Soul, p. 242.) But of this farther on. He will not suppose that he himself soars entirely above the ken of the moral discernment of others as to his own condition, since he accounts himself capable of judging what God and a revelation ought to be. He has profited, he tells us, by the wisdom and piety of this false Messiah. But he thinks he has emancipated himself from the trammels of a revelation which he does not believe, and emerged into the truthful results arrived at by the logical and philosophical workings of the human (let us say the word, of his own) mind.
But here a question arises: Have all emerged alike into the same thoughts of God and moral truth? Have these philosophers, these rare men few and far between (for the mass have followed stupidly some religion or other), this elite of the human race— have they all formed the same estimate of good and evil, of God and His relationship with men? Have Stoics and Epicureans, Platonists and Peripatetics, come to the same result? I might almost ask, have they come to any result? Are the rationalist infidels of Dr. Paulus’s school (of which Germany is well nigh tired), or the spiritualist infidels of Dr. Strauss’s (of which it has been, for the moment, enamoured), the true interpreters of what they are agreed to doubt about and cast off? Is the “desolating pantheism which is abroad” (ib. preface xii.) the same as Mr. N.’s objective relationship with a God whom he knows as a personal Deity by specific sense, but of whose mind he knows no more “than a dog does of his master’s?” (Soul, pp. 119, 121.)
Mr. N. and others tell us of “following truth.” (Phases, p. 116.) What is the truth they are following? Where is it? The truth they are following is truth they have not got. What is it—this truth they are seeking? They do not know. If they knew, they would not be following it.
Mr. N. may here object, that he arrives at this conclusion, that God has sympathy with individual man. (Ib. p. 201.) Now the sympathy of God with individual man is rather a vague word. God does not sympathize with sin, with lusts, with passions, with ambition, with avarice, with violence. I suppose Mr. N. will not deny that there are such in the world—alas! that they largely prevail in the world in general. Indeed, he tells us elsewhere (Soul, p. 44) that there is “prevailing wickedness.” The sympathy of God is a lovely word, a gracious thought: but what is this sympathy, if it cannot be exercised in reference to so very large a portion of man’s moral existence in the state in which it is actually found? Mr. N. shall tell us. “The Christian advocate,” he says in the same page (Phases, p. 201), “assumes that God concerns Himself with our actions, words, thoughts— assumes, therefore, that sympathy of God with man which (it seems) can only be known by an infallible Bible.” Is this the sympathy of God with individual man? He “concerns Himself with our actions, words, thoughts.” No doubt He does; but this may be in the way of a judge, mere responsibility on my part, as well as sympathy on His. The law of England concerns itself about my actions and words, at least, without much sympathy. In what way does God do so? This is the serious question.
Now I believe there is a consciousness in man that God does concern Himself about our actions, words, and thoughts. But then, in spite of clothing this with the graceful name of “sympathy,” what I am concerned to know is, Who and what is the God that does concern Himself about them? Is He a righteous Judge? By what rule does He judge? Is He love? When my conscience tells me I have sinned, when some vile wretch feels in bitterness what he has done, what resource is there for him? How is his conscience to be purged? How is he to get happy with the God he has offended? In a word, what is the God that does concern Himself about my very thoughts? This is the important point to know. All religion assumes what Mr. N. says it does, as he explains it; because all consciences feel that God does so concern Himself about our actions, words, thoughts. But in what manner? What is He who does so? For this we need revelation; but Mr. N. denies us it altogether—the only thing I want, because we have the consciousness that God concerns Himself about us.
Revelation does not tell me that I have a conscience and aspirations; it gives me the answer to them. And this is what I want, and not to be told I have got such. I do not want a book for this: I want a certainty of what God is, to answer the need of my soul. I know what He is by His revelation of Himself in Christ. Of this Mr. N. can tell me nothing; and he deprives me of that which tells me everything. There I find perfect love to me as-a poor sinner, and thus have the possibility of truthfulness and honesty in a sin-conscious soul. There I find a love which is consistent with God’s maintaining that absolute righteousness and hatred of sin which my soul has learnt He ought, and which my heart (now renewed in knowledge) desires Him to maintain, and could not own Him as the God I desire if He did not maintain. In Christ I am (I will not say restored to Him, but) brought to know Him in perfect peace, as nothing else could make me know Him, love Him, walk with Him, as a known God who loves me.
Would I exchange this with Mr. N.’s aspirations and thoughts of God? Can he give me this? Doubts he can give me (this is easy work), difficulties in scripture doubtless, uncertainty as to everything I supposed to be truth. Philosophers (like Mr. N.) think that they can prove, that what has made my heart divinely happy has made me bless God, because of a goodness I never dreamt of till I knew it in Him; that what has consecrated the hearts and lives of thousands, and changed, where the heart was not consecrated, the whole condition of the world (for men are ashamed of doing in the light what they would do in the dark, though they are not changed in heart)—they think, I say, that all this has been done by a fable, an imposture. Poor human nature! Ay, the reader will see that Mr. N. thinks this of himself. But the truth they are following—Where is it? What is it? Why, they are following it: how can they tell you what it is till they get it? True, they cannot, and I must wait.
“Rusticus expectat dum defluat amnis; at ille
Labitur, et labetur in omne volubilis aevum.”
Is this all? Not quite. They are the only really honest people, save some blinded persons who are led by others (as Mr. N. once was) in an honest delusion. They are honest because they believe nothing, and are following—following they cannot tell me what. Their honesty is in following without believing anything, and in trusting all the conclusions of their own minds, in rejecting what they supposed they did believe. And their descending steps in this are called “phases of faith!”
But, perhaps, the age is enlightened. Be it so; though in philosophy and moral apprehension it may perhaps be doubted. But be it so, I repeat. Is the age’s opinion of itself to content me in my measure of God, and of what a revelation of Him ought to be? Millions in previous ages have believed in a revelation—in the revelation which Mr. N. rejects—enlightened men too, philosophers even, wearied with searching after a truth they never found. They are all wrong.
But why am I to think we are arrived, just in our day, at the perfection of the human mind, so that we are exactly right now? Mr. N. will tell me that they were superstitious ages. The age in which Christianity was introduced or made progress among the Gentiles, was very far otherwise. Witness the various forms of mind, the Philos, the Celsuses, the Porphyries, the Alexandrian School of the Neo-Platonists, the Lucians, and others, whose reputation is publicly known (without any pretension to learning), to say nothing of earlier Grecian philosophy which led the way. But suppose it was superstition: what does that prove but this, that the theory that man’s mind is the measure of revelation and of what God ought to be, makes truth and error, and the very character which God ought to have, depend on the age a man lives in? I speak of facts.
Men, and men of able intellectual minds, have received the revelation which Mr. N. rejects as being unworthy of God. They have thought it very worthy of Him—have adored the God revealed there as alone worthy of adoration, as supremely worthy. I am not now seeking to prove that they are right. But the fact cannot be denied. They had minds enlarged by stores of knowledge, they were of a philosophical turn of thought, they had considered all, or almost all, the objections which Mr. N. presents in his book (for on this head there is little or nothing new in it: his objections are mostly as old as the Celsuses of the first centuries, and other such objectors); and, in spite of all, they have bowed before the God of the Bible as supremely good, supremely just and wise. Mr. N., applying his mind as the measure of it, thinks it all utterly unworthy of the God which his mind has pictured to itself: for what other has he?
Now, to say nothing of the heathen, who had gods to please their lusts, for lusts men have after all; nor of those who made God a kind of soul of the world, or who do, as there are many, with a “desolating pantheism,” make Him an all-pervading power or influence, so that everything is God; but to take such men as Mr. N., Sir Isaac Newton, Pascal, Paul, Justin Martyr (Mr. N. loves such associations), I must either judge that Mr. N.’s mind and judgment are the sole true measure, or that the human mind is not a competent measure of what God ought to be, or what should characterize a revelation from Him. Nay, should I think Mr. N. and his school alone right, I should not have gained much, for I should then have to consider all other minds incompetent; and he would, if he has not a revelation, be himself a Deaster, and the sole revealer of truth. What does Mr. N. think?
I beg the reader to remark, I am not here supposing Sir Isaac Newton or Paul to be right. I only shew that they differ from Mr. N. in his idea of what a revelation ought to be (quot homines, tot sententiae); and that I learn thus that the human mind is not a competent measure of a revelation. Mr. N. and his school will surely forgive me if I do not think they stand alone in their competency to measure what becomes God. How can I tell that the author has arrived at the end of his “phases”? I humbly conceive, from his own statement, that he never has had faith at all (unless in the Irish clergyman). Would I could believe he had! How gladly would I commit all this to the fire! He may alter yet once more; light may break in upon his mind; he may learn to see a beauty in Jesus he has never seen yet. The Lord grant it may be so! What a joy to think it is true that all (even his writing against that Blessed One) would be freely forgiven! And 0 how does the thought of Christianity refresh the heart in the midst of all the cold logic of infidelity, if logic such confusion can be called! But all his previous estimates were false—were “phases” of the state of his own mind. And can he assure me this is not one which some subsequent illumination (“movement,” p. 233, is the word) will throw into equal discredit? The Lord grant that it may be so!
Nor is this without example in history as to men in general. Where superstition has bound down the will and degraded religion below the standard of natural conscience, it awaits only an adequate impulse from good or from evil to break the chains. I leave aside the good now; but the working of the mere will of man, under the impulse of evil, brought about such an event in the French Revolution. The Bible was not there as a restraining power, nor as formative of human enquiry and thought. Superstition and a hollow state of society came down with a tremendous crash, and all reverence for God was buried in its ruins. Man had emancipated himself, to have—what? Uncertainty in everything, and a ruin from which he found no resource. Conscience and the Bible, under God’s good hand, had emancipated at the Reformation (imperfectly perhaps, but really); man’s will without the Bible, at the French Revolution. In the country in which it burst forth superstition had continued; and society, as it was, was attacked with it, and all fell together. But man is a dependent creature; and, when he pursues his own will like a naughty child, he ere long tires himself, and is not always agreeable to his neighbours. Its energy is a feverish and feeble thing. Men as they are in general, that is, man as such, must have something certain to lean upon; he tires of uncertainty—tires of wandering he knows not whither. He is feeble, he wants rest; and, after a certain effort, he will have it. What has resulted in the case we refer to? Men have gone back, alarmed, disheartened, and weary, to the superstition which at any rate clothed itself with the certainty of Christianity; and, as far as they dare, impose on conscience, for peace’ sake, what never satisfied nor purified any conscience before the God with whom men have to do. They have given an outward stability to what pretended to certainty, and had sufficient influence to make that certainty available to quiet the mass, sufficient remains of Christianity to deck itself with its name, that they may have what, at least, can be called certain, and may so far give rest to society, if not to conscience. The will broke loose; the will of tired man would have rest somewhere. Corrupt Christianity was better than nothing.
It will be said, “This will not endure.” I believe, undoubtedly, it will not. But we are seeking what certainty the human mind can in itself secure to us, and whether this enlightened age can afford me the rest which the soul seeks after; we are enquiring into its competency to measure truth—if its present phase is really a resting-place.
And even for what this age does possess of what is morally superior to every preceding one—to what is it indebted? To Christianity. Activity of intellect was not wanting, nor acuteness either, in other times. If ever a tongue shewed nicety of thought and mental cultivation, it is the Greek. Nor was elaborate and striking speculation on the soul and on God wanting, nor development of systems of large theoretical conceptions of what is hidden from material observation in the Godhead. Philosophers will tell you that the christian scriptures (such as the gospel of John) borrowed, as to their highest elements of thought, their ideas from some of these. Civilization was not wanting, nor study. Yet who can deny that, where Christianity is received, you would find in the mass of mankind truer notions of God, and of right and wrong, beyond all comparison now than then? Yea, the peasants and beggars have a truer knowledge of God, and more real, more holy, more instructed affections when its doctrine has taken effect, than the most elevated philosophical mind in the Academy at Athens, or its imitators at Rome. This is due, Mr. N. tells us, to an enthusiastic imposture—an imposture of a most audacious character, for Jesus pretended to be Son of God (Son of man according to Daniel 7)—an imposture ill reported too. Is this credible? Does man want an imposture to bring him out of mental and moral degradation, and make him know God? Such is Mr. N.’s theory. Nay, as we have seen, he owes most of what his manhood knows of wisdom to this imposture.
But does not the knowledge of God—produced where Christianity or even Judaism has existed, and that even where no aspirations after God exist, where the heart is not practically changed—prove that there was a revelation of God? For it is in the knowledge of God there is such amazing general progress. It is really the statements afforded by this revelation which have drawn out Mr. N.’s aspirations. This formed his boyish mind, this communicated his manhood-wisdom. Can I believe, then, his theory? Why should this ardent piety which now attracts him, these energetic statements about God which have drawn out his soul, have sprung up among these narrow bigots of ordinance-bound Jews, rather than from the finely cultivated understanding of an academician, if there had not been a revelation of God so as to produce them? The world moralized by imposture and enthusiasm! What a world it must be! And such a mind as Mr. N.’s gets almost all his manhood-wisdom from it! What an imposture it must be!
Let us consider other religions. Mohammedanism has borrowed much from revelation; but it has met the lusts of men as on God’s part, who, as He is there represented, will and does satisfy them: Christianity does so not even in thought.
Again, let us turn our eyes in another direction.
So exceedingly strong, even according to Mr. N., is the moral power of Jesus’s character, or the effect produced by His agency, that the very attempt to portray it in pictures has given an entirely different tone to the ideal of those pictures, and imprinted on them a grace and expression of which the highest and most perfect works of art are otherwise entirely destitute, and such a tone of moral loveliness as was conducive to moral improvement all through the dark ages. This result he connects with the effect of the highest moral qualities of man, the absence of which in heathen statues deprived them of this power. These were wholly wanting, he says (see Soul, pp. 20,21): “meekness, thankfulness, love, contentment, compassion, humility, patience, resignation, disinterestedness, purity, aspiration, devoutness.” He does not say these were in Christ; but he is speaking of what was wanting in the Apollos and Mercuries of antiquity, in contrast with the pictures of the Saviour, conducive during centuries to the spiritual improvement of men, and the effect of the character of Jesus on the human spirit.
Let us now turn to see what Jesus, who produced this immense moral effect on after ages, was in Mr. N.’s judgment—what He was, in whose imperfect portrait the above enumerated graces more or less shine forth.
“The cause of all this [the mischief of present Christianity] is to be found in the claim of Messiahship for Jesus.” (Phases, p. 225.) “He selected ‘Son of man’ as His favourite title, which is a direct annunciation to us that He based all His pretensions on the seventh chapter of Daniel, from which that title is adopted. On the whole, then, it was no longer defect of proof which presented itself, but positive disproof of the primitive and fundamental claims.” (Ib. p. 198.) “My positive belief in its miracles [those of Christianity] had evaporated.” (Ib. p. 187.) “He [Jesus] had receded out of my practical religion, I know not exactly when. I believe I must have disused any distinct prayers to Him, from a growing opinion that He ought not to be the object of worship, but only the way by whom we approach to the Father; and as in fact we need no such way at all, this was (in the result) a change from practical di-theism to pure theism. His mediation was to me always a mere name, and, as I believe, would otherwise have been mischievous.” (Ib. p. 188.)
“Thirdly, while it is by no means clear what are the new truths for which we are to lean upon the decisions of Jesus, it is certain we have no genuine and trustworthy account of His teaching. If God had intended us to receive the authoritative dicta of Jesus, He would have furnished us with an unblemished record of those dicta.” (Ib. p. 213.)
Mr. N., then, has acquired nearly all his manhood-wisdom, ages their highest moral tone, and the world its beau ideal of grace, from (the Lord forgive even the thought in one’s mind!) a bold impostor—One who, having found a spurious prophecy (which, however, must have been pretty ancient to be so used), pretended to be the object of it, pretended to work miracles which He never wrought, and sent others to pretend to work them, He and they being alike incapable of doing so, whose deception was deliberate and intentional. For, speaking of riding on the ass, Mr. N. says, it was “a deed which Jesus appears to have planned with the expressed purpose of assimilating Himself to the lowly king here described.” (Ib. p. 195.) What kind of piety and wisdom, which attracts and adorns his mature and manhood-thoughts, must Mr. N. have learnt from such a One? Yet this is philosophy; this is logic—the philosophy of one who has been in the East, and can tell what majnu„n means!
It was the character of Paganism that their deities had nothing to do with conscience, unless it were a future gloomy Pluto.3 They were the helpers and satisfiers of their lusts and wishes. Christianity alone acts directly and immediately on the conscience, puts God in connection with it—an immense benefit, and yet takes away fear by revealing love; and unites perfect love and perfect righteousness in the character of God in the doctrine of atonement, so that the conscience and heart may be elevated to the height of God Himself—a God known in love. What the human soul never did before for itself, what it never could do, nay, what it never ought to have supposed, Christianity has done. Another thing characterizes it as introduced into the world—its activity towards souls. Others may have since imitated this. It is not the activity of souls about God, come for money who may to learn, but the activity of God about souls. Hence it is what has (as far as this has been done in spite of human nature) moralized the world, nay, Mr. N. himself. It acts on man for good. Who and what does this? Mohammedanism is active. Ambition is active. Corruption is active. But what is that activity which has permanently moralized the world, taken in the mass of men, and elevated their notions of God? Whence did the activity flow?
Mr. N. has attempted to compare the progress of Christianity with that of Mohammedanism, by introducing the wars of Constantine, and the Saxon conversions by the sword of Charlemagne. But the Mohammedan conquests were the avowed principle of the religion from the beginning. The conduct of Constantine and of Charlemagne was contrary to its principles and to its practice for three hundred years. But Mr. N. is here feeble, in spite of himself. Constantine used the Christianity which existed, and which was (though suffering up to that hour, as is well known—for Diocletian’s persecution had not long since been raging) strong enough for a competitor for the throne to secure his pretensions by. Mr. N. says that Constantine’s christian army established Christianity. Perhaps on the throne it did; but how did the christian army come there?
But there is another ground on which to rest the proof of man’s incapacity to measure what God and what a revelation ought to be. Men have lusts, passions, ambition, avarice: alas! though restrained by Christianity so that society is altered, yet the heart of man is still influenced by all these evil principles. Now all this must dim the spiritual perception, and render it more or less incapable of rightly judging of God and a revelation. How is it to get the thought of God which is to set it right? Christianity has no need to be ashamed of its axiom, “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.” How are the impure to be capable of judging? Mr. N. has no revelation to act on them. Is the soul, when governed by corrupt lusts, that is, corrupt desires, perhaps habits (and with how many is this true), capable of judging? If not, this large class is incompetent to form any estimate of the scriptures. These lusts will not correct those who are under their power. What is to be done for them? They may sink, on Mr. N.’s plan, to the level to which their lusts may carry them.
In fine, in whatever aspect we view man, all is uncertainty if man’s mind be the measure of truth. But you will say, This is undermining everything—it is the Pyrrhonism of a Pilate.
No; the Christian believes God has spoken—has been active in love towards man; and he bows. He is not a judge, but a receiver of truth. He desires, as a newborn babe, the sincere milk of the word, that he may grow thereby, having tasted that the Lord is gracious. I am not saying he is right or wrong in receiving it, or on what ground he has done so. I am only shewing that he is not on the same ground on which he is who considers man’s mind to be the measure of truth. He has said, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” He has bowed to what he beheves to be absolutely certain, and to be the truth—absolutely such. He may have a great deal yet to learn of it, but he beheves it is there revealed by God. “He who hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true; for he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God.” Faith, then, has certainty, because it bows to Him who cannot he, and receives His word as the truth itself.
And here is the real question. Mr. N. takes the soul’s thoughts, and excludes wholly God’s making Himself known. The believer brings Him in, and this changes everything. On this I shall enter into some detail farther on; I merely state the real point in question here. There is not a greater fallacy, a more impudent presumption of man’s self-sufficiency, than that it is the capacity of the organ (as men speak, that is, of the soul), in itself, which is the measure and limit of its knowledge; embracing even, in the word “capacity,” all knowledge acquirable by its own powers, and all affections acted on by objects known within these limits. It can be acted on by that which it has no intrinsic capacity to acquire; as light enters into the eye, and gives a capacity of seeing by acting on it; as medicine or even food on the body. A susceptibility of being acted on, so as to have effects and even powers produced, is not a capacity in oneself to measure or acquire. The entering in of the word gives light and understanding to the simple. Now this is the operation of a revelation where it is really received. No doubt it is adapted to man in every sense, to his conscience, to his actual state, to his heart; but it is nothing acquirable by man as he is. God is active in communicating to him what operates on his soul, but which is true whether it operates or not, and which has no place in the soul, nor ever will, nor its effects, unless it be positively communicated. Evidently a revelation has this for its proper character, though it may enforce known responsibilities by sanctions known only by that which is revealed, or by the authority of the Revealer, whose perfections and claims are made known. Has man no need of such communications? Has God nothing to communicate which may be a blessing to man, which may morally and spiritually elevate him? Is He incapable of doing it?
And this leads to another very important point.
Morality, properly speaking, is relative; that is, it flows from relationships in which we stand to others, and in which we owe such and such things to them in virtue of the claim upon us which their position gives them. I do not mean by this that intrinsic purity of heart is not to be sought, and the subjugation of passions in their workings within us. No Christian could question it for a moment. It is peace in itself. We ought to be pure: it is a good in itself, and it is the practical condition of communion with God: “Be ye holy, for I am holy;” and, as it is stated in a passage we have already cited, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This claim of purity distinguishes Christianity as revealing God. No other, religious system knew it; for none associated man with a God known to be light, and who called us to walk in the light as He is in the light. Love also in exercise where it is not relatively due is the proper characteristic of the Christian. And these two distinguishing characteristics flow from this blessed and glorious truth—that the Christian partakes of the divine nature, and hence is called to imitate it in practice. “That eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us” (as John teaches us, in Christ, so that He should be an absolute practical example to us) is also “true in Him and in us” whose life He is, “because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.”
This is the christian life. Without disputing about words, I do not call this morality, though it be really that which is the spring of and accomplishes it; because the proper and natural display of life in us is not properly obligation, though that life may, in this display, fulfil those obligations. Now morality, I apprehend, is, properly speaking, the maintenance of obligation. Of this latter we will now speak. In its nature, and by the force of the term obligation, it is, as I have said, relative.
Before entering on this point, I would notice the connection, as stated in the scriptures, between the two; that is, between our partaking of the “divine nature,” and our fulfilment of moral obligation.
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Here this principle of the divine nature communicated to us accomplishes what would be a moral obligation enforced by the law; but the two things are distinguished. And then love goes farther also, because there is positive active energy in it, where there is no relative obligation. While I say no obligation having this nature, I clearly have it to live in it, and so also please God, which itself is the highest obligation. Hence, “he that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” So the Lord Himself united both, even to the giving of His life. “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father hath given me commandment, so I do.” The precepts of the gospel are the guidance of this nature, according to the perfection and perfect wisdom of Him who is its source; they are needed by us in the obscurity of our feeble nature and distracting passions, and give (as ought to be the case, as it was in Christ) to the movements of the divine nature in us the additional character of obedience.
It remains then true, that what is called generally and properly “moral obligation” is necessarily and in its nature a relative thing. And hence the measure of it is the claim which the being in relation to whom I stand has upon me in virtue of that relationship.
In this sense it is, though the expression be very incorrect, that morality is eternal. First, if we consider as morahty our own (or, to use the modern word, our subjective) state (to which the term is hardly properly applied), the love and holiness which become a man are the communication of the nature of God Himself, and are eternal in their source and character. But secondly, morality, properly so called, drawing its source from the claims attached to certain beings with whom I am in relationship, in virtue of which they are in that relationship, is as unchangeable as the relationship itself. For “eternal” in this case has only the meaning of absolute and unchangeable when the relationship exists; that is, the relationship being known, the duty attaches to it essentially. Thus, father and son, for example, is a known relationship. The relationship of father and son cannot exist without certain relative duties necessarily arising. The obligation is inherent to the relationship of father and son amongst human beings, and so in other cases.
But this shews the importance of a revelation.
As to the first (that is, our likeness to the divine nature), it is absolutely necessary; for God is unknown in His real perfection without it.
In the latter (that is, moral obligation properly so called), it has equal importance in another way, namely, that the revelation which God makes of Himself creates an obligation commensurate with that revelation. If the Son of God has died for me—is my Saviour and my Lord, it is clear He has a claim morally upon me, according to what He is as so revealed, and what He has done. That is, a revelation creates a part of morality; just as a woman’s marriage does by her entering upon a new relationship with her husband, with this difference, that the obligation of marriage is abstractedly known in itself, whereas what is newly revealed then first begins even to be known as an obligation. The obligation takes its origin from it.
Some remarks may be added here. The mere capacity of nature to enjoy or stand in certain relationships does not constitute a base of morality; the relationship itself must exist. An orphan may have a nature susceptible of all the feelings and obligations of a child toward a parent. The moral tie does not exist, because the claim of the parent cannot be there.
Next, holiness in its nature, and love, as we speak of it here, suppose sin, though it may be only known as the opposite of the nature which knows it. Innocence is not holiness; it is ignorance of evil. God is holy, for He knows good and evil, and is perfectly good, and evil is perfectly abhorrent to Him. We have the knowledge of good and evil; hence naturally our conscience is bad; but if holy, and as far as holy, we abhor the evil we know, and know as evil, when it is present, in the measure of our holiness.
Love too, as we know it in God, is exercised in respect of evil; for evil exists and exists in us, and He loves us in that state.
Now, the understanding of perfect holiness by a sinful nature is, as to its own capacity, impossible. Conscience may so far understand it as to see its opposition to sin, and angrily or in terror dread the consequences; but an unholy nature does not comprehend or know a holy one in its separation from evil, as to affections—will—delight; for it has contrary ones. So, indeed, of love: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
To say that a man is not a sinner is mere folly and insensibility to good and evil, and the strongest possible proof of ignorance of God and hardness of conscience. “Thou thoughtest,” says he whose piety Mr. N. declares he delights in (Phases, pp. 223, 232), speaking in God’s name, “that I was altogether such a one as thyself; but I will reprove thee, and set before thee the things that thou hast done.” To say that he is a sinner4 is to confess his incapacity of knowing God, or judging of Him, or the revelation He gives of Himself, unless sin (that is, an opposite moral nature in thought and desire—in insubjection too of will) be the capacity to know Him.
But if we consider morality, properly speaking, as grounded on relationship, it is clear and easily made evident that man cannot, and ought not, to suppose in his own mind the only thing which God can be to his comfort. For in that for which man is responsible to God he has failed. I ask not the cause. I am willing here to take the ground Mr. N. takes (proof as it may really be, as I shall shew, of indifference to God’s presence and favour). I will suppose that sin is come in neither by following Adam, nor by inheriting his fallen nature; that it is all the pure fruit, without other cause, of man’s own individual will. Be it so.
He has failed, then, in the relationship to God and man in which he stood as a responsible creature, and that by his own proper perverseness. He needs mercy. He needs, then, forgiveness. He needs a God of goodness, who cannot hold the guilty for innocent, and yet forgives iniquity. But if a person has sinned against One to whom he owes so much, his taking it for granted that he is to be forgiven, as a matter of course, is hardness and impudence of heart.
If my child had been very naughty and offensive to me (and it is nothing compared to sin against God), and he were to say, “Of course my father will forgive: forgiveness is a proper thing that suits his character—is becoming conduct;” would not his state be really worse than his offence—his conscience shewn to be hard? Conscience—right feeling—thinks of what we have merited from those good and gracious, when we have offended them, and judges itself, though it may be attracted by grace. The heart which coolly expects forgiveness, because it suits the character of Him we have offended, is in a state which unfits it for receiving it.
If God reveals it, it does indeed suit Him; and I bow in thankful adoration when He has shewn Himself such (but this is revelation): to expect it is to be insensible to it—to be unfit for it.
And here I may take up Christianity itself, because I only shew that, being what it is, there must be a revelation to communicate it: the sinner’s mind ought not and could not judge it, or appreciate it, or suppose it, unless it were revealed. It declares a love of God which gave His only-begotten Son, One with Himself, the object of His infinite delight before the world was, for vile and polluted sinners. It declares that the Son came in the exercise of this same love, giving Himself for them to put away their sin and bring them to God—thus known to be perfect love to themselves—and with a conscience which knows that He imputes no sin to them at all (without diminishing, nay, giving a far deeper sense of His holiness), because His character had been perfectly glorified about it.
The Father did not spare His Son, but delivered Him up. He freely and in the same love gave Himself for it, to glorify God and save us. Could a sinner expect such a dealing? Would it not have been a presumption which increased his offence, and shewed his pride and the naughtiness of his heart? Revealed, it is a love which nothing else could manifest, and the glory of Him who has love for His nature.
That is, not only the human mind, as such, is incapable of appreciating in itself God and the revelation of Him, but, seeing we are sinners, it cannot, morally it ought not, to suppose the revelation to be such as it must be, if of any use to man, seeing he is a sinner. The supposition constitutes unfitness to enjoy and profit by what is supposed. Known by revelation, grace is the perfection of God as He manifests Himself. The expectation of it destroys its nature (for it would not then be mere goodness), and debases still further him who expects it.
All these considerations shew that the mind of man, and specially of sinful man, is incapable of estimating what God ought to be, and what the revelation which He would give of Himself should be.
Hence utter uncertainty in the soul as to what He is. This is, indeed, an unquestionable fact—He concerns Himself about our words, actions, thoughts. Solemn thought! for if He does so, it is because He has a right and a will to do so. But what is He who does? Here all is solemn or irritated silence, or an effort to believe Him good, so as to set the conscience easy and the will free.
Mr. N. would take away what I have, if he could. He will give me his thoughts instead, but no revelation of God. I must take his thoughts (worse than secondhand faith), or my own, or everybody his own:—that is, everything beyond the thought that God concerns Himself about our actions, words, and thoughts; and almighty power and Godhead are the sport of every man’s mind, and of the fancies which a sinful will may have about the God men have to say to. For what else than his own notions can Mr. N. give them?
And does Mr. N. deny this horrible uncertainty, this incapacity to judge of revelation?
He cannot and he does not. I am not here supposing that he does not give us his thoughts about God: these we may hereafter examine in a measure. But we are here examining his views of revelation. On this head all is avowed uncertainty and incapacity. “There is no imaginable criterion,” he tells us, “by which we can establish that the wisdom of a teacher is absolute and illimitable.” (Phases, p. 213.)
Now this is not a statement that the Bible is not a revelation of God because of what it is; but that no revelation can be established as certain to man.
If there be no imaginable criterion by which it can be established, man is incapable of judging of the certainty of a revelation; for he has no criterion to judge by. I do not deny that some might be proved to be false, by evident contradictions, or such other proofs as are within the measure of man’s apprecation, for which he has a criterion. If a pretended revelation declared there were many gods, and of the basest immorality and born in time, such as Jupiter and Venus,5 and the like, it could not be a revelation of the one true God, whose “eternal power and Godhead” men ought to know without a revelation given by inspiration. (Rom. i.) But for receiving a revelation as certain in a positive way, man has no criterion; that is, he is incapable of judging of it.
It cannot be pretended that God cannot reveal anything (that is, state anything with certainty as to the past, as to the future, or as to what is unseen). Only man, according to Mr. N., has no criterion by which to judge that it is such. That is, man is incapable of judging with certainty of it; he is capable of uncertainty in such a case, and that is all.
A poor condition to be in if God be capable of giving such a revelation! Mr. N. tells us (Phases, p. 212) it would be very “undesirable;” but he cannot say in principle that God has not revealed and does not reveal anything, for he has no criterion to judge by in order to assure himself of it.
But let us measure this proposition a little more accurately. It affirms very clearly what I have stated as to man’s incapacity, supposing him to be the judge of revelation. He is, it is confessed, a totally incompetent one.
But morally (that is as regards man’s responsibility before God, or his comfort or enlightening from God, and God’s competency to place man under responsibility or to comfort or enlighten him,) it goes something farther; for it assumes that man’s criteria are the only means of the certainty of a revelation; and, in doing that, it affirms that God is incapable of giving a revelation which can bind the conscience of man as being God’s revelation to him. I say morally, because I admit that sinful corrupt-minded man is an incompetent judge of a revelation. But Mr. N. admits no other way of its reception than the a priori moral competency of man; and on this ground his proposition really declares that God is incapable of so revealing Himself to man as to make Himself known, or bind the conscience, or assure the heart, by such revelation.
For if there be no imaginable criterion by which man can be assured certainly of its authority, and man’s judgment be the only way of receiving it, God in no imaginable way can communicate his mind or will so as to make it certain to man as such, and thus binding on him, or a comfort to him. This is a bold proposition. It is always well to know what men do really mean; sometimes it is enough to state it to see its falseness.
This statement declares God’s total incapacity to communicate with man. He must remain, as far as He is concerned, an unknown, perhaps an Epicurean (i.e., an indifferent) God. Any expression of love to His creature He is debarred from, as well as that of righteousness. For any revelation of His character to instruct man He is incompetent. He has made man in such a way as that all communion to him on His part is forbidden. Would He elevate man to an increased knowledge of Him? He cannot. Would He manifest any love to him in his sins and sorrows? He must resign Himself to be silent, shut up in His own perfection, if perfection an inactive love, incapable of telling itself to the one it loves, can be called. Such is the theory of Mr. N. But this is not all.
For if God cannot reveal Himself to man, man’s thoughts of God must be entirely within the limits of his own mind. I shall just now shew Mr. N.’s theory false as to fact, on ground not yet noticed, but I take it now as he states it.
Now if God be brought within the limits of man’s thoughts as such, if by searching Him man can find Him out, then is He really not God at all, or man is. At least, his mind is equal to the divine infinity; for when it comes to power instead of presump-tuousness, the difference is soon found out.
I remember (for I also have had my “phases of faith”) when first awakened to serious and, in some measure, continued moral thought, I was reading, partly through desire of knowledge, partly alas! through the vanity which likes to possess it, Cicero’s “Offices,” and I came to the passage, nearly the only one which remains to me unobliterated by an active life, “subjecta Veritas quasi material,” that is, “truth subjected as a material” to the mind. I said to myself (or rather the divine truth flashed across my mind), “This cannot be in the case of God, for my mind must be superior to the matter which is subjected to its operations; if it be, that which is so is not God. Faith alone can put Him in His place, which, if He be God, must be above me, as much as God must be above man.”
Is not this true? But then there must be a revelation of God in some way, or I (deplorable condition!) remain in total ignorance of Him. I am not saying man is so, but that he must be so if there be no revelation of God. I believe conscience knows that there is a God—Mr. N.’s conscience, my conscience; but it wants something more than it knows: for conscience knows responsibility, and it knows sin—sin lying on itself—on him who has the conscience of it.
Argumentatively, it is an absurdity to make man’s mind the measure of God.
Morally, it is a horrible iniquity as well as a folly.
But perhaps the reader will consider it unjust in argument, and even morally, to impute to Mr. N. such a thought, as that which the Psalmist, whose piety he admires, puts into the mouth of God, being inspired so to do, as a charge against the wicked, “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself.”
But Mr. N. has reasoned out his principles too boldly to their consequences to conceal them. Any God known by revelation is too entirely excluded from his thoughts to make him fear to bring out his God such as He is according to his theory. He tells us, indeed, that we must regard Him as morally more perfect than man. Still his conclusion on the whole matter is, that “the perfections of God are justly called a projected image of our own highest conceptions.”6 (Soul, p. 41.) That is, as a fact, God is more morally perfect than man, which is not, indeed, saying much; but, adding boundlessness to our idea, our highest conceptions are the moral measure, as to kind, of His perfections, though it be a projected enlarged image of them.
Now, the mental absurdity of this I am not answerable for; nor is it surprising in logicians and philosophers meddling with God’s nature, and measuring it by their own. Absurdity is the necessary result.
But it is evident that the addition of boundlessness changes everything morally, so that the application of a limited nature to judge of a boundless one by is moral nonsense. If boundless love and boundless power go together, the result must be entirely different in kind from the responsibility by which I judge my conduct, who have but very limited power.
The title to use goodness sovereignly is a different thing from obligation under which I lie to God (if, indeed, Mr. N. admits any); for I am bound in my use of that by the obligation. Infinite goodness, coupled with infinite power, is free to act from itself.
But with this point I am not here concerned. I cite the passage from Mr. N.’s other book, to shew that his system does establish our mind as the moral measure of what God is, though we may attach the idea of greater degree to it.
Such is the necessary result of the exclusion of inspired revelation.
I have said, however, that it is really false in fact. Man does not, nor ever can, form his idea of God without his mind being acted on in the way of revelation, though it be not a direct inspired communication from God. He is surrounded by a system altogether beyond his power and control, which witnesses a Being that rises in divine supremacy beyond all his thoughts, which tells of a creating God. Yet, mark, he sees around him a confusion, a disorder, in the condition of those set as masters over the lower part of this creation, which tells a tale of their moral position before God which no wit of his can solve—too bad to be such as it ought to be, with too many signs of God having to say to it—of goodness and mercy, to think it possible it should not be a system of responsibility with which God has to do, with which He will deal otherwise than He does as yet—which put Tartarus and Elysium into the minds of the heathen, a vague and anxious future into the breasts of all: the very insoluble enigma of which shews some mighty moral relationship in disorder, proving by its very greatness that it must refer to God, and hence that it is only His coming into it which can give the key to all, or set it right, in fact.
Mr. N. admits “prevailing wickedness” (Soul, p. 44) in the creation of a Being of perfect goodness. How strange! He tells us, with cold calculation which one would think had never visited man’s sorrows, that sorrow is needed to perfect man morally. A poor comfort to thousands of despairing souls, writhing in misery and complaining of God because of it! A poor answer to millions worshipping stocks and stones, and, according to Mr. N., a supposed devil,7 through fear! Is this necessary for Mr. N.’s philosophical happiness and moral perfecting of man? If Christianity had produced all this, what would he have said? Had it done so, that would not alter the fact. There it is for cold-hearted drawing-room philosophers to pronounce it necessary at their ease.
Mr. N. tells us, indeed, that had we had it all to arrange our own way, man could not have done it better. Man could not have done it better! Is that all he has to say? Could God have done it no better? is the question, if we are to take it up as Mr. N. does, as being the original ordered system of God. Is prevailing wickedness, as the necessary result of all a supremely good God could do, the projected image of our highest conceptions? I dare say it is; but does it not then betray the true nature and competency of these conceptions? Mr. N. also declares there is an antagonist will in man. Is this also necessary to his moral perfecting?
But further, as evil is finite and transitory, Mr. N. thinks, while lamenting the actual state of the world, that in prevailing wickedness, however intense and whatever misery it causes, there is nothing to inspire rational doubt of the divine goodness. (Soul, p. 45.) Is this all the soul and its aspirations can give us? The chance that evil will be transitory taking away rational doubts of God’s goodness, when what is intensely the contrary prevails, and that goodness is almost universally unknown! Is this Mr. N.’s highest conception, projected as an image with boundless proportions of abstract goodness ?
The Christian has no such difficulty; he believes that there is alas! an “antagonist will” (Soul, p. 47), a rebellious and sinful nature, with all the miserable consequences of its “intense wickedness” (ib. p. 45); but he believes that God has come into the midst of it to win man’s heart away from this perverse and miserable enmity to God by surpassing goodness, and to make Himself known to man as love in the midst of the fruit of his ways; yea, finding in all the misery and sin the occasion of shewing it, and at all cost of love to Himself. He does not rationally suppose God is good, because, in cold philosophy, man’s sorrows are necessary to his moral perfecting. He sees in the sorrow (such as none ever had; for who could have such?) of God, come down to carry man’s, and redeem and bring him out of it, the proof of that love which makes God known, alike in its greatness and its nearness, in its height above sin and its condescension to those sunk in it; according to that grace which could reach from the throne of God to the vilest of sinners, yea, to be made sin for them, and so bring up the heart, by reaching it there where it was, to the throne from which that grace had descended, and the God of whom it was the perfection. For the highest exercise (or, at least, display) of that perfection which dwells on the throne of heaven was that which visited the lost sinner upon earth, linking his soul to itself, and making known God as He is. Yes, there was a revelation, a revelation of what man wanted, and which God alone could give, and which made Him known.8
But I must return to the point I was upon. A certain revelation of God is necessary, and exists, and that revelation is the basis of all Mr. N.’s reasonings—that is, “the things that are made.” Rom. 1. From these Mr. N. deduces design, a designer, and so on. No doubt Christianity fully recognizes this. But, then, this is only one way of God’s revealing Himself—the lowest way. It reveals His eternal power and Godhead. But this raises other questions. Undoubted traces of goodness are infallibly seen in the creation; but while order reigns in the material world so as to leave no doubt of One of infinite wisdom who designed it, in the moral, such is the “intense wickedness,” the confusion, and discontent that, if a man attempts to unriddle what he sees, he falls into a labyrinth from which there is no way out.
A mind which feels that God has to say to the world cannot, with the flippancy of philosophy turning despot in its despair, say, Evil is only transitory—hang the man that troubles society (as Mr. N. would do), and from the reasonableness of this deduce that God may leave the majority of mankind in such a state that even the heart that could reason thus “laments” over it, yet counts it good enough after all. (Soul, p. 43; the whole passage will be quoted hereafter as characteristic.) It cannot say, It is a part of the perfection of beasts of prey to be cruel and destroy, therefore the misery of the destroyed is intelligible; because it may say, “How is it they have such a kind of perfection? What is come in, that, in proportion as created being approaches man, evil begins to manifest itself; that where creation is without a will, all is material order, all lovely where man cannot reach; where will comes in, where man meddles, all is misery and sin? How is it that, if the beast’s furious passion passes away with its occasion, man uses his intellect to perpetuate and perfect his vengeance? Is this for moral perfecting?”
The Christian does see that there is a revelation of God in His works which are seen, such as leaves man without excuse in not owning His eternal power and Godhead. He sees, plainly enough, that Mr. N.’s highest conceptions did not, and could not, take a step without it. But he sees that he wants something else from God to explain the riddle of the moral confusion which exists, since there is a God; and that as God has to say to it, and evidently it has to say to God (for His creatures surely have something to say to Him9), God, and God alone, can give the key and the answer to that in the midst of which his soul groans. He sees, moreover, that such as Mr. N. depend on a revelation of God as much as any: only that, in order to maintain man’s importance, they take the lowest, the one morally inadequate to solve the grand question of the eternal interests of a soul with God, and reject that which would reveal God fully, and make man dependent on Him.
Why, if God has partially revealed Himself in His works, is it impossible He should reveal Himself in some other way? Is that the only possible one? If God can give in mere nature infallible evidence that it is He, why cannot He reveal Himself in some other way with adequate evidence that it is Himself who does so? This, we have seen, Mr. N. declares Him incapable of doing. But who will take his highest conceptions as an adequate guide to God? Why is he to use a partial revelation in which God has not left Himself without witness, if haply man might feel after Him and find Him, and deny all other? Mr. N., while using Christianity really to elevate his account of what God is, would reduce us to that which God’s revelation points out as true, but as of the lowest kind. That is all his books amount to. The christian revelation recognizes this testimony: but it shews from the plainest facts, which Mr. N. very wisely passes over, that such a testimony, though it left man without excuse, had been perfectly useless, through man’s perverseness, to elevate man above the corruptions of his own heart; that its existence had even left idolatrous revelling in abominations not fit to be named, and making gods to themselves to help them in them. Christianity owns the testimony, and shews that man’s soul when in possession of it sank into the utmost degradation. Mr. N. avails himself of Christianity, from which he avows he has got almost all his manhood-wisdom, to prove the competency of this previous partial revelation to lead man up to God and render all other unnecessary, and to deny the Christianity which has given him the results and ideas to which the other never in fact led man. Which is the most philosophical, the most logical, the most true?
Principles on Which the Examination is Carried on
I turn now to the revelation itself on which Christianity is based. The real object of Mr. N.’s book is to destroy the Christianity from which he gained almost all the wisdom he has. It is not very kind to others. Would he be the only depositary of it in some improved shape into which it has been refined in his mind?
Our task now must be to examine Mr. N.’s reasonings as to the revelation he rejects.
And here, at the outset, I stumble on what proves the whole course of his argument, from one end of the book to the other, to be utterly illogical and unsound. His enquiry really is as to the truth and certainty, and hence the authority, of the revelation which the book called pre-eminently “the Bible” professes to give. Is it a credible authoritative revelation from God? Now, by his own confession, he has conducted this enquiry upon a principle which makes it impossible ever to receive any revelation at all as such. That is, he begins his enquiry, and carries it on, on a principle which shews the whole enquiry itself to be absurd and useless. The conclusion was come to before he began, it being contained in the principle on which he set out. He enquires into the authority of a revelation on a principle which in itself denies such authority in any case.
“We cannot build up a system of authority on a basis of free criticism.” (Phases, p. 213.) This, Mr. N. puts in italics, as the grand result he comes to. Why then enquire, if such or such a one be authoritative, by free criticism? Effectively, if my mind is superior to the object it is exercised upon, it cannot have, morally, authority over me.
But this only shews Mr. N.’s book to be an illogical absurdity; and that he assumed his conclusion in principle before he set out.
Mr. N. states, as to what practically amounts to this same principle, “Perhaps I could not have gained this result by any abstract act of thought, from want of freedom to think: and there are advantages, also, in expanding slowly under great pressure, if one can expand, and is not crushed by it.” (Phases, p. 200.)
Now it is possible his mind had to go through a long process before it could divest itself of the outward influence of revelation. But when he had discovered that his enquiry was absurd (for it is absurd to enquire if a particular revelation is authoritative on a principle which denies the possibility of any being so), why should he communicate this absurd process of his own mind to others?
Not to shew justness of logical reasoning to those who had power to estimate its justness! That is a clear case. Had truth been really his object, he would have stopped and said, “Whatever results as to details I may have arrived at, my enquiry has been carried on on an illogical absurd principle; and as the principle involves the impossibility of an authoritative revelation, my enquiry must be, Is there no other means of ascertaining whether there is one or not? Is free criticism (I speak of it such as Mr. N. presents it) itself the just means of trying the question? “But this would not have been Mr. N.’s book nor answered Mr. N.’s purpose.
But now I ask, What does Mr. N. mean by “free criticism,” such as, in its nature, to exclude all possible authority? It means the absolute supremacy and competency of man’s mind to judge everything. God is wholly excluded. And this is the grand principle of Mr. N.’s book: for to judge God, if He be there, is absurd and impossible. His authority and word must prevail; if He be there, He must be perfect and right; but He judges and cannot be judged, or He is not there as God. Mr. N. supposes a man judging whether something be of God or not; but if criticism excludes authority, it certainly excludes God Himself. It supposes the absence of God and His word always. It means—I exclude God, and judge of all for myself without Him; and I will never do anything else. So thought Job, till he met with Him, and found his own littleness. But this is the whole of Mr. N.’s principle. He will in no case allow God to come in; for then, surely, criticism ends. This, stated here in principle, is found in every page of the book. Bring God in in thought—and all is false. But for man to exclude Him is always false. It leaves out the grand spring, test, and key-stone of all moral truth.
If man says, “What, then, is to be done? Must not I judge morally before I receive anything as of God? Otherwise I may receive Hindooism or Mohammedanism.” I will tell you what to do, if this be really so. Confess that you are away from Him. Is this the normal state of man? You are away from God, ignorant of God; or you would not need to use all this effort to know whether anything be of Him or not. I add, if you are away from Him, then confess your need of Him. But that would suppose a revelation or ruin. And such is the truth, and the efforts of free criticism involve it.
But, taken as a just human instrument, criticism, in the true sense and legitimate use of it, does not destroy authority. I admit that, morally, God’s grace is necessary, because a corrupt —an “antagonist will” is to be dealt with; but, in the human sense, criticism does not exclude it. I may ascertain that a letter of my father is really his. When adequate evidence is acquired of that, his letter assumes at once his authority over me. Now the only thing that makes a difference in a divine communication is, that man is incompetent to judge of God, and has an antagonist will which will not receive Him. But this proves the necessity of a revelation and of divine grace—that is, of Christianity—unless man is to remain ignorant of God and opposed to Him.
The real secret of Mr. N.’s book is, that he desires to destroy confidence in Christianity. It is a common, very common, misfortune, through the weakness of our corrupt natures, to find invaluable moral truths mixed up with the grossest human corruptions. The divinely-wise man separates “the precious from the vile,” and he becomes as God’s mouth, being subject to truth from God. The self-confident man rejects all together, because his intellect is capable of seeing the corruption, and incapable of valuing the truth.
Such has been Mr. N.’s case. One knows it to be the case of millions who wear a transparent garb of popery, or, if bold enough or honest enough, have cast it off, and languish often in true and unsatisfied aspirations. How many have I met with in this state! How many, whom true Christianity made tell their thoughts of popery—ay, and the sorrows of their own hearts too —though they might not have the courage (that is, were not spiritual enough) to find a sufficient motive for being anything else!
But is there not this will, this desire, to destroy Christianity and all revelation? The whole book witnesses it; and often the speech of the author betrays him.
Thus, in a passage I shall permit myself to translate: “O false-named theology! O may the last part of so long a life remain to me, and energy (or breath), and whatever may be sufficient, to tell your deeds!” (Phases, p. 131.) Is there no will here?
Again: “If by independent methods, such as an examination of MSS., the spuriousness of the chapter could now be shewn, this would verify the faculty of criticism which has already objected to its contents: thus it would justly encourage us to apply similar criticism to other passages.” (Ib. p. 108.) Encourage us! What does that mean?
These shew the animus of the book.
Let my reader allow me here to make a few remarks on the moral sentiments connected with a rejection of scripture. No doubt prepossessions of any kind warp the judgment; but indifference to what ought to have a place in the affections if true— indifference, that is, to its truth—shews a heart incapable by moral defect (while in that state) of judging justly in a moral question.
I have long, I suppose, looked at the portrait of my mother, who watched over my tender years with that care which a mother only knows how to bestow. I can just form some imperfect thought of her looks, for I was early bereft of her; but her eye fixed upon me the tender love which had me for its heart’s object —which could win when I could know little else—which had my confidence before I knew what confidence was—by which I learnt to love, because I felt I was loved, was the object of that love— which had its joy in serving me—which I took for granted must be, for I had never known aught else. All this which I had learnt, and which was treasured in my heart and formed part of my nature, was linked with the features which hung before my gaze. That was my mother’s picture. It recalled her, no longer sensibly present, to my heart. A retailer of pictures comes in, and tells me that, from the painter’s name and style, it could not be my mother’s. The date proved it. It could, at best, be an unlike drawing from memory. Is the quiet, indifference of criticism here the proof of a right state of mind? I am astounded. I may be forced to acknowledge my mistake, to give up the much-loved memorial that brought her back to my thoughts; but I shall groan in heart—turn away—wish it were not so. Indifference would prove, not a good critic, but a worthless heart.
Is Christ’s picture in the word less precious to me? He was taken early from man’s sight, to whom He had shewn this tender love. I have found—thought I found—His traits in the word. I know I have loved Him, and felt His love. That word recalls His love, gives me the expression of it. It is, has been, His look of love to me. Shall I feel “encouraged” to pursue criticisms which are to prove it all a fraud? He who has never tasted His love may; not I. Were I forced, I would cast it by with sorrow, lingeringly, if I must. I have lost what brought known love to my mind, what re-awakened thoughts and an image I had difficulty to recall. Be it so; His love may be true; but I sit down in sorrow. To pursue the criticism which “picks holes” in it I cannot. I lay it aside; I forget it; I do not trust it: but I shall not forget my sorrow. Did I take it up, it would be associated with my affections to what I knov is true. I leave it, therefore, and admit it is better not to associate mistake with affection. But the loved Object I know of undoubtedly in my soul. That Mr. N. does not, never did, if I am to take his own account. The picture is gone, by what he supposes is sound criticism of these connoisseurs of pictures, and all is gone with it; for he had but the picture, and nothing else: and why should he not judge a picture, which is nothing else—worse than nothing, therefore, if a false one? For him Jesus is gone, with the written revelation of Him. He will believe enough of the history, indeed, to set Him down as an impostor, but has seen no trait of beauty in Himself which makes him regret to find Him such.
He has only by the process degraded his own mind to the point of considering an impostor among the most excellent of the earth.
Mr. N. must forgive me if I do not think he has gained by the process which has produced this result. I do not believe that he, when a professed Christian (though we know that where there is mere profession, men may be very wicked—away from God— and that we may all fall, though sincere), or any one who professed Christianity, would have associated with inquiries about God and His truth, the low-minded insinuations which are found in Mr. N.’s book, and which certainly I shall not copy. I am but a poor sinner, I well know: real Christians are inconsistent beings. The reality may be wanting when the doctrine is professed; but n<5 one, even merely professing it, would have connected God’s name and truth with filth. It is for an infidel to do that. That I may not seem unjust to Mr. N., I shall mention the pages where it is found, and no more. (Phases, pp. 129, 150.)
Animus Of The Examination
Before examining the details of Mr. N.’s book, I would yet make a general remark.
The kind of opposition men make to Christianity proves its truth in the main—proves in it the consciousness of a real claim of God on the soul.
No doubt men have attacked Paganism as false. They have resisted Mohammedanism, though its sword was its principal argument, so that there was less of this.
But the constant and laborious exercise of free criticism, the close and sifting examination the Bible has gone through for ages, the anxious research after errors or contradictions within, proves anxiety to shew that it is not what it pretends to be. Why all this anxiety? Those not immediately under the influence of Mohammedanism are long satisfied that it is false, and leave it there; but these minute researches after a flaw in the scriptures continue—are repeated—renewed. Men take it up on every side. Astronomy and geology are called in aid. Geography is ransacked: history, antiquity, style, manuscripts of all kinds, foolish writings of the fathers, absurd writings of heretics, apocryphal imitations of its contents; nothing left unturned to find something to discredit it; wise writings of philosophers to prove they could do as well, or were the source of the good, or even of the alleged absurdities of doctrine; every other influence sought out which could have moralized humanity, that it may not be supposed to be this. Why all this toil? Why, if it be a doctrine like Plato’s, should it not have produced its effect, and our philosophers be as cool about it as about other things? It has—their conscience knows it has—God’s claim and God’s truth in it; and they will not allow that the true God, that Christ, is the source of it; for then they must bend, and admit what man is.
And this shews itself in the most curious way. Though they pretend to think nothing of Christ, or that He was an impostor, they will not allow that the authorized books of His religion give a true account of the doctrines of the religion. If I read the Koran, I am satisfied to take it as the account of Mohammedanism, absurd as it may be; and I say Mohammedanism is absurd. So of the Vedas and Puranas.
But when the christian books are in question, not only are they charged with error, contradiction, &c, but the free critics will not even allow them to teach the real Christianity after all. They are not a true, not an authentic account of Christianity. Why (if it be a mere fable, an imposture) so difficult about the exactitude of the account of it? Surely the main propagators can give a sufficient account of the imposture and its doctrines, for anything that concerns us. But no. There is the consciousness that God is in Christianity. The conscience, in spite of the will, knows it has to do with God here; and it wants a true revelation, a real and authentic account of what that God is. It is right. But though curiosity and a favourite subject may absorb many for a time, or an individual all his life, men are not so continuously, so perseveringly anxious to get at the truth of a fable. They do not reject the sacred books of any other religion, as not being a true account of that religion. They take them as they are, because they know they are a fable; or, even if it be known to be the work of men’s minds, it is the same. A stranger to Lutheranism takes the symbolical books of Lutheranism as being Lutheranism, let him agree to or dissent from them. Why not the christian books as stating Christianity? An infidel cannot let God and His truth alone, because it is His truth. He is a zealot against it; for his will is engaged. He is a bitter zealot because his conscience is uneasy. He will laugh at a Mohammedan carpenter, who thinks he only has the true religion; he will curse a consistent Christian who thinks he has, and denounce and abhor such if they do not let him amongst them when he denies their Lord, and only wish for. energy and all needed to proclaim their deeds. Why this difference?
God Is Excluded
In running through the contents of Mr. N.’s book, I shall first notice that the grand object, as the grand fallacy of it all is, the getting rid of God; and this, whatever the subject may be. Only introduce God, and argument after argument crumbles and disappears. If there be only man, the difficulty may be great. Let God be acknowledged, and all is necessary and plain. If this be so, the real meaning of the book, what its reasonings are worth, will not require much other argument. The consideration of the passages I shall refer to will shew, I think, that all real knowledge of God, all sense of His value, was wholly absent from Mr. N.’s mind.
Here I would remark, that when we are reasoning on the force or meaning of a christian doctrine, we are entitled to receive it, hypothetically, as true. This does not prove it to be so: but if I can shew it to be right and consistent with other truths, assuming it to be true, this removes the difficulty alleged against it on the score of what it means.
For example, in Phases, p. 8, Mr. N. says,” I certainly saw that to establish the abstract moral right and justice of vicarious punishment was not easy.”
Now, I will first say that no one dreams of the abstract moral right or justice of vicarious punishment. He who undertakes it does so in love, not in justice. If I pay another man’s debts, it is love. Kindness makes me do it. When it is done, it is then just in the creditor not to exact the discharge of them from the debtor, and the latter owes it to my love. The doctrine of Christianity is, that Christ gave Himself, offered Himself, was willing to suffer, to make good His Father’s righteousness and glory, and to redeem guilty men. There is no idea of compensation, properly speaking, in it. Sin dishonoured God in the sight of the whole universe. His holiness, His truth, His justice, His majesty, all were compromised; and the simple exercise of love to the guilty would have been acquiescence in the evil, frightful disorder in the universe. Christ willingly gives Himself, that God may be perfectly glorified. On the cross all that God is is perfectly and infinitely glorified, and so is Christ in the highest way. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” God’s majesty is vindicated. What could have so done it? His just judgment against sin is shewn—His perfect love to the guilty is displayed in a higher manner than could be otherwise conceived —His truth, which had pronounced death against sin, established in the highest way.
In the garden Satan had persuaded man that God was not good —had kept back the wisdom-bearing fruit lest man should be like Himself. He had persuaded man that He was not truth, that man would not die, that God would not execute the judgment. Had God executed it simply against man, there was no love; had He not, there was no truth nor righteousness.
But Christ gives Himself up an offering for sin. God does execute judgment in a way amazingly conspicuous in its moral character, so that angels desire to look into it. His truth is displayed, His despised majesty vindicated, His perfect love exercised, and that in a way far surpassing all possible thought of ours. If we say, But He gave up another to the suffering; no doubt it is love to me, but how love and justice to Him given? I answer, He gave Himself in the same love, and it is His highest glory, that in which a motive-bond of love has its source even between Him and the Father. “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again.” Here, too, death, and the power of death, and he who had it, were overcome, to the divine glory and our perfect comfort; so that death has wholly lost its sting. Now, leave God out of it, and what does it become? To make out the fact of any “compensation” was “harder still.” (Phases, p. 8.) That is, admit the christian doctrine as true; and every truth as to God finds its place, and is exalted by it. But God has no place in Mr. N.’s judgment as to the doctrine we have here touched on.
Mr. N.’s friend argued, that “carnal reason could not discern that human or divine blood, any more than that of beasts, had efficacy to make the sinner as it were sinless.” (Ib.) Human or divine blood had no more efficacy than a beast’s! But, on the one hand, Christ’s shedding His blood is giving His life; and, on the other, for us death, morally, is man’s plague, Satan’s power, and God’s wrath. So, according to Christianity, Christ underwent it. Is that nothing more than a beast’s dying? If Christ was “God manifest in the flesh,” was the love shewn in His dying nothing? Was the bearing wrath nothing? For such is the christian doctrine as to it; and it is that we are now considering. Is it nothing that the Son of God does, and bears all this even to death? No more than a beast’s being killed? The author himself could not, then, quite receive it; because in the Epistle to the Hebrews the sacred writer “seems to expect his readers to see an inherent impropriety in the sacrifices of the law, and an inherent moral fitness in the sacrifice of Christ,” (Phases, p. 8.) It is not fitness but value, “greater efficacy,” that is in question now. And is there no more value in the death of Christ—“God manifest in the flesh,” who attached the value of divine goodness and a divinely perfect will (which yet was perfectly obedient), of a divine person, to every act He did as man—than in the death of bulls and goats? instructive no doubt as figures, and a witness to the universal sense of need which the conscience of man feels of an expiation.
Am I not right in saying that God is left out? He who knew divinely infinite love knew infinitely divine wrath; and He who was the “Holy One” felt, in the proportion of that holiness which is beyond all measure, what it was to be made sin before the God of holiness. I know carnal reason (that is, philosophy) has no capacity to understand this: but that is not the fault of Christianity, but of the “antagonist will” which needs it while it rejects it.
Again, on another important point, speaking of the Athanasian Creed and the Trinity, the author says, “It came distinctly home to me, that, whatever the depth of the mystery, if we lay down anything about it at all, we ought to understand our own words.” (Phases, p. 13.) Now this seems very plausible; but bring in God, or anything connected with Him, and if it be meant that we ought to be able to define the human words employed, it is necessarily and wholly false, because God is in another order of being from that to which our words belong. Words express man’s thoughts in the way of definition—can do nothing else; but man’s thoughts are finite, and God is infinite; and therefore it is impossible in the nature of things, that human language can be an adequate (or properly speaking, a just) expression of what God is. Yet almost all Mr. N.’s growing infidelity sprung from this evident fallacy: any real faith in God or knowledge of Him became impossible the moment he laid down this absurd and really illogical rule—illogical, if we admit there is a God. Take Mr. N. himself as witness. He says, in another work, “Concerning the divine nature, we know that our metaphorical language must be inaccurate; but it is the best we have got. To refuse to speak of God as loving and planning, as grieving and sympathizing, without the protest of a quasi, will not tend to clearer intellectual views, [for what can be darker?] but will muddy the springs of affection. Metaphorical language on this whole subject is that which the soul dictates, and therefore must surely express our nearest approximation to truth, if the soul be the eye by which alone we see God. Jealousy to resist metaphor does not testify to depth of insight.” (Soul, p. 39.)
Now, it is true, he speaks here of metaphor alone; but why is metaphor used? Because of the incompetency of the human mind to use, as to God, the language of exact definition. It flows from the fact that man is man, and not God, and his language the expression of his nature, be it in its affections or its intellect. Hence it must speak as man speaks (i.e., use the expressions suited to the measure of man’s nature, because man can do nothing else). If these are used as definitions of God’s nature, they are necessarily inaccurate; if as means of communicating particular thoughts about Him, they are true, though inadequate. But if it be insisted that a man should know what he meant, that is, define his ideas, he cannot. Our language as to God, not merely our metaphorical language, must be inaccurate. It is, as Mr. N. professes it to be, our nearest approximation to the truth. It will be said here, “I do not ask you to define God, but the words you use about Him.” But the definition of the words, by Mr. N.’s admission, makes them inaccurate, for they are to express something about God. But in exactitude of meaning they must be inaccurate. To this exactitude Mr. N. seeks to reduce them. Nor let the reader be alarmed at this impossibility of definition: it is the case with all the ideas he is most certain of, or most delights in. Let him try to define a straight line, a right angle, beauty, love, one’s country, home. Yet these words convey either most accurate or exceedingly powerful ideas.10
Again, as to christian evidences, whether miraculous facte or moral character were the bases, Mr. N. finds that neither system went to the bottom of human thought, or shewed what were the fixed points of man’s knowledge. (Phases, p. 41.)
Now this ground takes man’s mind as the measure of evidence, to the exclusion of God. Can God, if He comes in (and the object of a revelation is to reveal Him)—can God give no evidence of Himself demonstrative of His presence and testimony, which is entirely beyond any previously fixed points of man’s knowledge? If there be a revelation of God, it must do so. It may make man morally responsible by that which it brings.
Besides, Mr. N.’s reasonings here, as to which proof was the best and a warrant for the reception of the other, only shew narrowness of apprehension; because two proofs of a distinct order may corroborate each other, and make the truth of what they attest certain, when one only would leave it uncertain, though it might not prove it false. Thus a miracle, to sustain the doctrine that there were many unholy gods whose business was to please men’s lusts, might test and try the heart and spirit, but could never prove the message to have the authority of one holy God; nay, a miracle by itself might be an inadequate proof of the authority of a message which was not in itself grossly inconsistent with such a Being. On the other hand, though moral truths are, perhaps, even a surer, if not so striking a kind of evidence, yet they may not (though they may go very far towards it) prove the mission of any one to be what he asserts it to be. But when plain and evident miracles (such as the restoring sight to one born blind by a word, or making a man with crippled feet of forty years’ standing able to leap and walk before all immediately, the man being well known by all previously, or such as the raising the dead) are accompanied by a doctrine which has morally (as nothing else ever before it had) the stamp of goodness and holiness upon it, and of a divine knowledge of human nature, not of its lusts and character so as to use them, but of hearts so as to judge them:—when these things go together, they may, by being united, afford a proof which the unbelief of the will may surely resist and reject, as it will everything, but which will make it guilty and prove it such, if the testimony be rejected.
In a measure, too, Mr. N. loses sight of the fact that these evidences, as given, were before the eyes of men. They are not before our eyes; but we have undoubted historical proof of the effect produced by them then—of the character of the witness— the wide spread of Christianity which resulted (though no human force was used for its propagation for three hundred years); and we have the moral doctrine which produced this effect still subsisting, not only in the documents which profess to contain this revelation, but which are cited by friends and foes during all this period, as containing the authentic instructions of the religion the one professed and the other attacked. This countercheck of evidences of a different and independent character, in the way of proof, will be found to pervade scripture and to be characteristic of it, and a principal safeguard of the minds of the simple and true against subtle or fanatical pretensions.
If conversion were the subject in question, Mr. N. had never any thought of God’s acting.
“How,” he asks, “could such moral evidence become appreciable to heathens and Mohammedans?” “Mere talk could bring no conviction.” (Phases, p. 43, and so on to p. 45.)
Again, in speaking of the very being of God, he proves, in referring to the Athanasian Creed, that the compiler “did not understand his words;” because, had he spoken of three men, he must have meant “three objects of thought, of whom each separately may be called man.” So of God; so that on this ground there must be three gods. (Ib. p. 48.) What is this but excluding all idea of God even from Godhead, and reducing our thoughts of the divine nature to the limits of our own circumscribed one? Can there be any more entire exclusion of God from a person’s thoughts? Besides, there is a gross fallacy even in the terms of the reasoning. Language is formed on thought. The word “God,” being one and distinct in nature from all else means not only a being, but a nature. “A God,” save metaphorically, or in heathen mythology (ein Gott und die go„tter), revolts the moral ear. When I say, “the Word was God,” I use “God” for a nature which none else can have but the true God; but I use it as speaking of His nature. When I say, “God created,” I speak of a Being who did so. “A God,” speaking of the truth of divine existence, is nonsense. But if I say, “the Father is God,” I say that He is ineffably possessed of everything that belongs to that nature which partakes it with none else: for pone is God but God. Now I could not say, God is the Son; because then I should speak of Him as that one only Being, and exclude the Father and the Holy Ghost from the term “God” in my phrase. This is perfectly plain in English; the Greek distinguishes these two uses by the article— QeoV" h|n oJ lovgo". *En arch/' ejpoivhsen oJ Qeov". &O lovgo" h\n proV" toVn Qeovn. Now Mr. N. overlooks entirely this double use of the term in English, and confounds all ideas on the subject by the use of the senseless term “a God.”
Having the unity of the Godhead constantly asserted in scripture, the manner of the divine existence is a subject of mere revelation. There I find that the Holy Ghost wills and distributes; the Father sends; the Son is sent; and yet He and His Father are one. I find that the “Word is God,” that the Son is “the true God,” that “all things were created by him.” If it is said of the Holy Ghost, “All these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit,” I read in the same passage, “It is the same God that worketh all in all.” Now, I have no better word than “person” for one who is sent, who wills, who distributes, who sends, and so on. It cannot give me that circumscribed idea of “person” which the word applied to man does (for then one existence excludes another); but I have no reason whatever to impose the limits of my manner of being on God’s, but rather the contrary. Now all Mr. N.’s reasoning is merely the reducing the Godhead to the strictest limits of creature-nature, which is a mere absurdity and a miserable exclusion of all above us, and a levelling of God to man—the necessary degradation of man too, for he is elevated in knowing God.
I remember I always regarded with indignant contempt Air. Hume’s argument against miracles—that it was contrary to experience that a miracle was true, but not contrary to experience that testimony was false. It was really no argument at all; because the use of the word “experience” in itself excluded the idea of miracle, and the question is, if the testimony was true, not whether the testimony could be false: otherwise I should believe nothing I had not experienced. But making man’s experience the limit of knowledge and of the elevation of man’s thoughts, seemed almost to me a mixture of insolent self-sufficiency and degradation at the same time, which did not deserve reasoning about. It was degrading nonsense, making itself the limit of all possible power and knowledge. It was sufficient to state it to despise it, and all that flowed from it.
I add, that the Christian has a knowledge, by the Holy Ghost dwelling in him (not of course of the manner of union in the Godhead in any adequate way, but), of such a union as gives him a competency to understand that God can indwell in a way wholly above any creature-communication; and hence he knows that what he knows is beyond his knowledge. “In that day,” that is, when ye have received the Comforter, “ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” “He who searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to God.” Is this the saint’s heart or the Holy Ghost? Both. It is my groan, the real groan of my heart; but it is the Holy Ghost dwelling in me who gives me the feeling, and the groan too, according to God. And it is His intercession. This is indeed God’s sympathy with man. I am well aware that philosophers may mock at this. Of course, as such, Christianity supposes them not to have it—to be ignorant of it. “Whom the world,” says the Lord, “cannot receive, for it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” Hence it is no proof for them in the way of argument. But it is for those who possess it in a way beyond all argument, and a way of understanding too that which argument will never teach. I cannot make a prayer to God without the whole Trinity. “Through Christ we have access by one Spirit to the Father.” It is the hourly exercise of the Christian’s faith, and better known there than in the Athanasian Creed, and by those who never knew what Trinity or Person meant; for definitions are poor things. What can be defined is not God, for God is infinite.
Mr. N. takes this same ground as to the Spirit’s personality. (Phases, p. 52.) I do not go over it again. I only remark that he always had a repugnance to it; that is, he had never known it. Now, if I see willing, distributing, coming, teaching, guiding, being sent, I have no better word than “Person” to use. I have no attachment to the term, but the true Christian believes this of the Holy Ghost, and he knows Him as a divine Person dwelling in himself. God’s love is shed abroad in his heart by the Spirit given to him. Now, supposing that the “Spirit of God “meant in the New Testament “God in the heart,” as Mr. N. says, is not God a real Being, that is, a Person, in a real though inadequate and imperfect use of the term? I believe the New Testament means often by this expression “God in the heart;” and if the Holy Ghost be such, He is God; and, according to the New Testament, He is what is best expressed by the word “Person,” for He is sent by the Father and from the Father, another Comforter, on the Son’s going away. I repeat, I have no better language than “Person” when I have another who wills and acts. And what is Mr. N.’s question here? “Who by logic or metaphysics will carry us beyond this?” (Ib. p. 52.) Could any one more nakedly confess how God was shut out of his mind even when the subject was God’s presence in the heart? a doctrine he admits to be taught in the New Testament; and then turns to logic and metaphysics to carry us farther in the knowledge of it.
So, in his conversation with an infidel, he has no thought of the possibility of God’s acting. (Ib. p. 54.)
Even on the question of his reception among Christians, of which we will speak historically in a moment, he never suspects that it can be of any importance that he should hold the truth about God and His salvation. He was to be received upon some personal qualities, or, at any rate, without any truth as to God being considered to be material. He calls this “dogma.” What he was was sufficient; what God was, immaterial. (Ib. p. 59.) And again (ib. p. 60), he never supposed union was on the ground of intellectual propositions. Is God an intellectual proposition only to him, then? So as to our thoughts and comments on scripture, he “most rigidly demanded a clear, single, self-consistent11 sense” (ib. p. 65); that is, not a living, perhaps imperfect, communication of divine truth, but something fully reduced to the level of man’s mind, and not in anything passing its limits. It must be a human truth. Now it is just this human singleness which distinguishes human from divine truth. Have I human thought? I have it: my mind measures it as it is; I have it all within my own limits. Afterwards there is nothing new. When I get the word— the communication of divine truth—I get what is linked with God as flowing from Him; it is part of infinite divine knowledge into which I am introduced; and though I know only in part, I am introduced into that which is infinite in itself, infinite in its relations and bearings. If I am a man, I am a man: everybody knows what that means. But if God becomes a man, I know it: yet is it now limitable by my notion of a man—my just, single, self-consistent notion? So to limit it would at once destroy it altogether—would falsify, by its pretension, the whole truth with which I am come in contact. How endless are the consequences in love, power, dominion, grace, obedience, communion, righteousness! The very character of everything is altered. Such is Christianity. It is the bringing in of this in the midst of the world of misery in which man’s heart is plunged, and from which he sees no exit. And your philosopher would reduce me again to his one single self-consistent sense of the word “man.”
Christianity may be true, or it may be false; but such a way of taking it up is not power but imbecility. It professes to bring God in as a resource to the misery of man—a misery which is there, whether it be true or no, and much greater where it is not received. And the philosopher tells me to take God out of it, and then it will have a single self-consistent sense—then it will be intelligible! Will it? How will leaving God out of it make His coming in intelligible? Who by logic or metaphysics will carry us beyond this?
The reader may see, too, how Mr. N. (ib. p. 71) sets cultivated understanding as a purifier of religion (i.e., above it).12 Now what does this mean, if God be not excluded from religion? Is the human understanding to purify the truth of God? Would one who thought of the living God in religion dare to speak so? I am aware that Mr. N. may say that your religion is not necessarily God’s. But he does not say “my religion,” but “religion,” adding, that religion and fanaticism are the same in embryo. Do they not come from man, then—entirely from man? Are they not a passion, a phrenological bump, a propensity of which understanding is to correct the uncertain tendency? Is it possible more entirely to exclude God even from religion? For certainly, if any religion comes from God, man cannot purify it.
Hence, Mr. N. naturally concludes that “morality is the end, spirituality the means, religion is the handmaid to morals.” (Phases, p. 72.) That is, man and his conduct is the end, anything of God (for where am I to find Him if not in religion?) a mere means. God comes in for His share, because the love of morality proves His excellence, who “is the embodiment of it to his heart and soul.” But this exclusion of God is thus summed up—“It was pleasant to me to look on an ordinary face [i.e., not evangelical], and see it light up into a smile, and think with myself, There is one heart that will judge of me by what I am, and not by a Procrustean dogma.” (Ib. p. 73.) Now, I conceive that making man—what man is—as morally amiable, to the total exclusion of any importance in what God he owned, what he thought of God, whether he denied one faith or every faith, whether he had any— could not be more clearly stated. That is, God is totally excluded. It is indifferent what a man thinks about Him, if that man is amiable towards me.
Again (ib. p. 75), even when he speaks of worship, he “worshipped [he says] in God three great attributes, all independent —power, goodness, wisdom.” That is, he worshipped some ideas. He did not worship God Himself as his God, but certain qualities which he approved of: these he must discern, and then he would condescend to approve of God, and admire qualities; for as to worshipping qualities it is nonsense. We worship somebody.
That is, really, though he attached a name to certain qualities, though this name embodied these ideas of his own mind, God Himself was not owned at all.
Again, as to sin, he “saw that it was an immorality to teach that sin was measured by anything else than the heart and will of the agent.” (Ib. p. 78.) Elsewhere he boasts of discovering that morality was eternal, of eternal ethics. A strange way of having them so, for they vary with every heart and every will. But how is God excluded here? Man’s heart and will are the only measure of his wrong! Morality is eternal, as already explained; but its measure depends on the relationship which creates the obligation, and hence is measured by the claim of the being with whom we are in relationship. That, in grace, ignorance may be a real occasion of mercy is true, but the sin is not measured by it, if I would elevate my soul to any real morality, to what it is in itself; or morality changes with caprice. I should not treat a Hindoo widow as a professing Christian, if she burns herself; but her ignorance does not make the measure of sin, though I may have compassion on her because of it: otherwise the grossest and most cruel superstitions become the measure of sin. But God is excluded, and hence man’s heart and will become Mr. N.’s measure of sin too.
And see the practical consequence. A man degraded in seeking the satisfaction of his own lusts is for Mr. N. “a good-humoured voluptuary.” (Phases, p. 81.) How was he “to think that he deserved to be raised from the dead, in order to be tormented in fire for a hundred years?” Give an account of himself to God! This is all nothing to Mr. N. His morality is far better than christian truth. The voluptuary may go on in his good humour without troubling himself. Sin is only measured by a man’s will and heart. God need not be in all his thoughts. And this is correcting and improving on Christianity! See this character treated in his contempt of and indifference to the misery of his fellow-man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. But I proceed.
As to relationship of the divine Persons, there is the same reducing everything to man’s level in speaking of “begotten.” It must signify a beginning of existence, since it does with man. Scripture warrants another use of it: “I will make him my firstborn,” is said of Solomon; and “Israel is my son, my first-born.” “Only-begotten Son” is a term of relationship, not a low, carnal, human idea of begetting (the use of which, in respect to God, only proves the degradation of thought of him who so uses it, when referred to Godhead). And what is Mr. N.’s way of reasoning here? A doctrine which could not be proclaimed in English cannot be true! That is profound philosophy! Yet he admits what we say of God as loving, repenting, &c, must be inaccurate —cannot be a single, self-consistent idea. The want of it here raised unspeakable loathing. A man who could not define a circle, which everybody can understand and see,13 would define the manner of divine existence by terms which should have the precise, definite sense which they have when applied to man.
It may be seen how entirely he has lost the idea of God, when he affirms that it became clear to him “that polytheism as such is not a moral and spiritual error, but, at most, only an intellectual error; and that its practical evil consists in worshipping beings whom we represent to our imaginations as morally imperfect.” (Phases, p. 89.) Otherwise, also, if a man “made the angel Gabriel a fourth person in the Godhead, to worship him would be no degradation to the soul, even if absolute omnipotence were not attributed—nay, nor a past eternal existence.” (Ib. p. 89.)
Could one more clearly state, as to oneself, the loss of all real knowledge of one true God? To suppose the possibility of these “gods many” shews that the idea of one true God has lost its place in the soul—that one has not the knowledge of God. One may admire qualities, as one may in man or any one else; but a God who begins must begin somehow, and owe his existence to the creative will of another, and hence be under obligation to a superior. True Godhead would not be there. Could any one who knew God speak of there being many not eternal, not omnipotent, as indeed they could not be if there be many? Does not the mind of one who knows God feel at once there must be the one true One behind all these?
Am I not right in saying God is unknown to Mr. N.—is excluded by his reasonings?
Hence it was a question, solved only by other considerations, whether the doctrine of Christ’s having a superior nature was not an indifferent thing. If His nature was a good one, and He only a man, why not worship Him? Can God be more completely excluded? (Ib. p. 90.)
Again, take the fall. “Adam fell by the first temptation; what greater proof of a fallen nature have I ever given? I was surprised to discern that there was, a priori, impossibility of fixing on myself the imputation of degeneracy, without fixing the same on Adam.” (Phases, p. 96.) Now this assumes the truth of the fall for the sake of the argument. Now, is the enjoying God’s benefits in innocence the same thing as the actual “antagonistic will” which Mr. N. has? Is the existing alienation from and enmity against God of a carnal mind nothing? Take the history. Adam abandoned God—was turned out of His presence. Mr. N. begins there. That is all nothing to him till he commits a sin, because God is nothing. Adam fell; he falls—all is one, says Mr. N. accepting the history.
Adam was with God, Mr. N. was not. That this makes any difference does not enter into his mind. Liability to fall in a creature, he understands, it regards man’s condition; being in the presence of or absent from God does not make even a part of his enquiry, or subject-matter of his reasoning. Why?
Again (for he is speaking of a period when he professed evangelicalism), as to the person of Jesus, he says, “So, if any one dwelt on the special proofs of tenderness and love exhibited in certain words or actions of Jesus, it was apt to call out in me a sense that, from day to day, equal kindness might often be met. The imbecility of preachers who dwell on such words as ‘Weep not,’ as if nobody else uttered such, had always annoyed me.” (Ib. p. 102.) Could anything more mark the total absense of any sense that God was there? Other men were fully as kind as Jesus!
Again: “If one system of religion may claim that we blind our hearts and eyes in its favour, so may another; and there is precisely the same reason in becoming a Hindoo in religion as a Christian.” (Ib. p. 114.) Now how totally does this deny the fact that God can bring in that which can enlighten man? Christianity and Hindooism lie there, and “the moral and intellectual powers of man must be acknowledged as having a right and duty to criticise the contents of scripture.” (Ib. p. 115.)
Is it impossible, then, for God so to reveal Himself as to command the responsibility of man? Is He incapable of enlightening the mind by His truth? Must He remain the subject-matter of man’s judgment, according to a human standard previously possessed, as much as Hindooism? Can anything more entirely deny God, and shut Him out from revelation itself? Again this is thus expressed:—“If we are to blind our eyes in order to accept an article of king Edward VI., or an argument of St. Paul’s, why not,” &c. (Phases, p. 119.) Now, if God reveal anything, as Christians believe God did by Paul, this argument applies just as much; that is, God is absolutely excluded from all authoritative revelation whatever. He must not interfere.
Again as to proofs given: “Why should I look with more respect on the napkins taken from Paul’s body (Acts 19:12) than on pocket-handkerchiefs dipped in the blood of martyrs?” (Ib. p. 130.) Is it forbidden to God, for man’s sake, and to overcome his incredulity, to “confirm the word by signs following?” God acts by one, He does not by the other. One was a divine act, the other a human. It is not a comparison of a napkin and a handkerchief—Paul’s body and a martyr’s blood—but of God’s acting or not; but this does not even enter into Mr. N.’s mind.
See, too, his remarks on miracles, and “useless miracles,” such as Christ walking on the sea. Useless! to whom? to man? Was it useless to learn Christ’s power over creation, and the way faith could use it, and unbelief lose it? “What was to be said of a cure wrought by touching the hem of Jesus’s garment, which drew physical virtue from Him without His will?” (Ib. p. 131.) Was it nothing to shew that humble, trembling, unfeigned faith, could find resource in Jesus when all else failed, and find health and blessing there, approach ever so timidly? It is all nothing to Mr. N. But what does that prove? That such proofs of divine presence and goodness, such cheering encouragement to those whose trembling but unfeigned confidence might otherwise stay far off, have no charms for him. Intellectual power to judge God, if He ventures to shew Himself —that is all well. Divine goodness—health and cure for the poor and otherwise failing heart, so as to knit it to God; the assurance that it can surely get the blessing, there is no “moral dignity” in. What a judge of it!
Again (ib. p. 143), he treats the distrust of one giving up all revelation of God in scripture, as proving the existence of an artificial test of spirituality. Are, then, the largest and most intimate communications from God nothing? Is the fact of His so communicating with us, treating us, as Jesus expresses it, as “friends,” by telling us all that can be divinely communicated to man, nothing? Is its existence, and the reception of it, a mere artificial test of spirituality—a small hanging branch gone, and all as well as ever? Is this Mr. N.’s value for communications from God?
We are not now discussing whether those which profess to be such are genuine, but whether their rejection, supposing they are, is of any consequence. For Mr. N. it was of none—a mere artificial test of spirituality. This is his estimate of communications from God. What is his value for Him who makes them? Did I treat my friends so (i.e., if I were indifferent to having them or not), what would it prove as to my feeling towards themselves?
Mr. N., indeed, states this indifference as to God, in connection with His word, with singular clearness:—“Meanwhile, I sometimes thought Christianity to be to me like the great river Ganges to a Hindoo. Of its value he has daily experience: he has piously believed that its sources are in heaven; but of late the report has come to him that it only flows from very high mountains of this earth. What is he to believe? He knows not exactly, he cares not much: in any case, the river is the gift of God to him: its positive benefits cannot be affected by a theory concerning its source.” (Ib. p. 153.)
The title of Mr. N.’s fifth period is remarkable, “Faith at second-hand found to be vain.” This sounds well. Faith must surely be in God Himself. “Abraham believed God.” But is every one to have God so speaking to himself that he is infallibly directed by it? Each communication being absolutely limited to the one who receives it, and excluded from going farther, all communication of truth being impossible. If it passed the one who had the vision, it is second-hand faith in the sense of Mr. N. And the favoured and exceptional visionary or auditor of God Himself cannot even be known, for then others would receive it as a revelation of God; but this would be believing at secondhand. Any one, therefore, receiving moral truth, or any truth which concerns men, would be an impossibility; for if confined to himself, it would not be such. That is, again, all possibility of any communication from God is denied.
He looks for a broader foundation for his creed than any sacred letter. Creed he had none yet; that is, he believed nothing. But the result is that it is impossible to believe anything. You may reason out a god of your own mind, as a spider the cobweb out of-its bowels; but believe you cannot: for who is to tell you anything to be believed? You may be taken in the cobweb of Mr. N.’s spinning; but God must hold His peace. Can God be more wholly excluded?
“Without caring on what grounds they believed, though that is obviously the main point.” (Ib. p. 146.)
“An ambitious and unscrupulous Church that desires, by fair means or foul, to make men’s minds bow down to her, may say, ‘Only believe, and all is right. The end being gained— obedience to us—we do not care about your reasons.’ But God cannot speak thus to man.” (Ib.)
It “is obviously,” says Mr. N., “the main point” to know on “what grounds” we believe. “God cannot speak” as “an ambitious and unscrupulous Church.” … “Only believe, and all is right.” Well, if God speaks, I should think He must say, “Only believe, and all is right.” If He speaks, the ground for certainty is that He is speaking. That He will and does, in the most gracious way, give adequate proof to make man know it is He that speaks, I undoubtedly believe: it is worthy of His grace. But if He speaks, rejection of His word is rejection of Him, of His authority, of His truth. That is, it is the condemnation of him who rejects it. An ambitious Church doing so has not the same effect, because it is not God. God’s speaking and man’s speaking is not the same—has not the same claim nor the same consequences. For Mr. N. it has, because God is not in His thoughts. Bring Him in—his reasoning is not worth a straw. Suppose I ascertain clearly that the ambitious Church speaks— a matter hard enough, it is true; what then? Nothing: men have spoken. Supposing I ascertain God has spoken; is the consequence the same? The ground of faith that God must give —the only ground of divine faith, i.e., of certainty—is that He has spoken. If man reject His word, what can he be but condemned?
The ambitious Church does not say, Only believe God: it says, “Only believe” (i.e., “believe me”). God says, “Believe me.” Is that the same? Yes, says Mr. N. He says God cannot speak thus. How else should He speak?
But it is merely this—God is excluded from his thoughts.
“A question of logic, such as I had here before me, was peculiarly one on which the propagator of a new religion could not be allowed to dictate.” (Ib. p. 147.)
What else could God do? He may afford proofs that it is He, and so He has; but if it be He, He must dictate.
But what is Mr. N.’s only idea? “Let Hindooism dictate our logic.” (Ib.) Think of such an idea as God dictating logic! You have the measure of the “moral dignity” with which Mr. N. measures miracles or any of God’s gracious dealings—that is, of God Himself. How dreary to the heart to deal with such reasoning! He has not a thought beyond logical notions. “If logic [he says] cannot be a matter of authoritative revelation [he cannot get beyond man’s mind], so long as the nature of the human mind is what it is,” &c. (Ib. p. 147.)
Now, even speaking logically, introduce God and it cannot be commensurate with the human mind, because God is not man; and reasonings deduced from what God is cannot be according to what man is. The premiss is an unknown one, and incommensurate; adapted in grace to man, if you will; but grace is not logic. Thus Mr. N. reasons that it is not just one should surfer for another. Perhaps not; but if God becomes a man and gives Himself, what logic can solve this? There is no grace in mere justice, no love; and God is love, yet He is just. Paul’s reasonings (that is, the Holy Ghost’s) are drawn from what God is, and Mr. N.’s from what he is himself. Can we be surprised that they are different? From what else does Mr. N. derive them?
“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all: how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” There is the glorious and divine logic which draws its reasonings from the actings of immeasurable divine love. So “if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son; much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” How do these truths come home with divine power to the heart, as founded on the bright and glorious display of what God is, and His ways, as interested in us! It is logic of invincible power, founded on what God is, known by faith. Mr. N. may tell me that it is not suited to man’s nature as it is. Not to his evil to sanction it, but to his wants it is. It is suited to the knowledge of God: if he means, to man without it, no more is the light of the sun to some creatures; but this does not prove the daylight to be evil to those who have eyes for it; but that the animals are themselves owls or bats. They cannot see in the light while their nature is what it is. Be it so: I dare say it is so. Thank God, in man’s case, we may hope for a change.
As regards the means by which Paul was convinced, which Mr. N. requires to know, it is to me, as to my own conviction of the truth, quite immaterial. The point for me is, that I should have proof that it is a divine revelation. Supposing my conscience is reached by a word “sharper than any two-edged sword,” and all my secret thoughts revealed to myself, so that I see I am worthy of judgment, and in the presence of a holy judge—that I am conscious, as a defiled being, I am in the presence of God. Supposing I search long-known prophecy, and find it accomplished in what meets my moral need. Supposing the notorious facts of Christ’s life put the seal of truth and divine goodness on Him and His testimony, and make the allegation of imposture moral nonsense. Supposing this word, which searches my heart, accompanied by miracles which in their number and character leave no room for anything but an “antagonist will” to reject them—that I have seen a known blind man restored to sight, and a dead man raised. I get proof then, in every way, that God is now interfering and dealing with me, and that he who bears this message bears God’s message and commission. What is it to me, save as an interesting collateral subject, how he came by it, how he was convinced? I am by adequate evidence, and that is the point. It is not second-hand faith to me; it is I who believe a present word of truth, which I believe to be God’s.
I see, moreover, by the fruits when it is so received, that God’s power is in it. Lusts are overcome; habits, long cherished, are changed; peace given; the love of God shed abroad in the heart; joy, happiness, intelligence, moral capacity, the knowledge of God, flow in. Activity of love ensues; the whole man is morally a new creature, and knows God as love. Mr. N. may be without this evidence. Others are not. He is not without it in its external parts. The process of the teacher’s receiving has nothing to say to the matter. The proofs with which he delivers it are what concern me. To set a number of sinners to analyze the manner of a divine revelation is certainly the last thing that God who gave it would set them to do; to give them the adequate proof to conscience that it is one to them, is worthy of Him, and it is what He has done. Nothing can be more absurd than Mr. N.’s reasoning here. In principle Mr. N. is only shewing what the Saviour tells us, that the mind and will, thus acting and criticising, can receive nothing from God. Mr. N., having refused all else besides this criticism, ends, as we have already seen, in this gross absurdity—the incompetency of God to communicate in any way with His intelligent creatures.
He then takes the visionary acts of prophets, used to represent the iniquity of Israel and God’s patience, as an injunction to practise immorality (taking, moreover, his inward judgment as the only valid rule). Now there is a natural conscience, a knowledge of good and evil; but it is a gross mistake to suppose that it cannot be corrupted, or that it is, in fact, an adequate measure of it; which Mr. N. always assumes. But this point I reserve for the questions of objections to scripture.
I only remark in this part, as connected with my present subject, that, where he objects to Christ’s making the whip of small cords, and asks, Would a miracle “authorize me to plait a whip of small cords, and flog a preferment-hunter out of a pulpit?” (Phases, p. 151.) The divine authority, and divine authority of righteousness which respected God’s acknowledged house, is wholly overlooked. If a church or chapel were owned of God as His house, and men were making a riot in it in time of service, any one would be justified in arresting the scandal with a high hand. But I notice here, that all this is leaving out God. Jesus did it with the declaration, that “One greater than the temple was there”; that if they destroyed “the temple of his body, he would raise it up in three days.” He was Jehovah.
I will take up the grounds of faith farther on.
Mr. N. says, “The New Testament teaches that God will visit men with fiery vengeance for holding an erroneous creed.” (Phases, p. 168.) One could understand his objection if God were but an opinion of the brain of man. But it does not teach any such thing; unless, as for Mr. N., God is nothing but an idea. It teaches that man will be condemned for rejecting God manifested in the most gracious way as the light itself, to which He had called man by every means grace could devise—prophecies, promises, John Baptist going as herald before to summon man’s attention, miracles. It says they are condemned; or, to use the very words of scripture, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Christ says, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. If I had not done amongst them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.”
But God is a mere opinion in man’s head, for Mr. N.; to reject Him, because we have an “antagonist will,” is consequently a mere erroneous creed. God is not in all his thoughts.
Again, he says, “As for the Old Testament, if all its prophecies about Babylon, and Tyre, and Edom, and Ishmael, and the four monarchies, were both true and supernatural, what would this prove? That God had been pleased to reveal something of coming history to certain eminent men of Hebrew antiquity. That is all. We should receive this conclusion with an otiose faith.” (Ib. p. 170.) That is all! Is it nothing, then, that God does speak to man—interest Himself in his affairs? Had He no purpose in it? Is it connected with no moral relationship with these persons, with this people? Is it no proof that He meant men to give heed to the course of events He spoke of, the system in the midst of which the revelation was given, and to which it referred? Is “otiose faith” the suited feeling when God is admitted to have spoken? Is such stupid insensibility to such an immense moral principle as God’s communicating His intentions or the future in any case to man, really “moral dignity?” God has spoken, and “that is all!” How does this betray the real state of mind—of what value God and His thoughts are to him who makes such a remark! What immense consequences flow from it!
God can reveal, it seems. Nay, He has revealed. He can demonstrate to the mind that it is He who speaks. It has been proved to be a revelation by the event. Then He interests Himself in man in the way of revelation. Is it with no purpose, no plan, no special thoughts as to man, his destiny, the world’s destiny—which, without this, remains to us hid in dark enigmatical clouds—that He has made these revelations? Do God’s thoughts confine themselves to some petty interest of Tyre or Edom, and leave all else to darkness or to fate? Is this logic? Were such a lightning-flash to shine in a sunless world, it would make a living mind desire a general permanent light. Does it not lead me to say, Can there be such prophecies of private interpretation? or, if “holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” surely God’s thoughts, God’s interest, must go farther than this? Why to them, why to Hebrews, rather than to others? Has He no purpose in it? Is there no divine future? No; “that is all!”
Mr. N. will shut out God if he can; if he is forced to let Him in, he will make God’s own voice as unimportant to others, if he can, as it is to himself. “We should receive this conclusion with an otiose faith.” (Ib. p. 170.) That is, you would; but it proves far more of what your mind and heart and will are morally, than of the value of the fact that God has spoken to man. If He has, O what a field is open to the heart of those who have any! He does come in to speak to us. He has spoken. He can prove it is He who has spoken. What has He said?
In speaking of John’s Gospel, he assumes this absence of God’s inspiration. “Is it possible for me to receive them [the miracles] on his word?” (Ib. p. 175.) Perhaps not; perhaps yes. But the question is, Is it God’s word? I am not here saying it is God’s word (though I need hardly say I fully and thankfully believe it, and bless God for it, as the best treasure of my soul); but I say that is the question, and asking “How can I believe on his word?” is begging the question. You are seeking to prove it cannot be inspiration; the reason you give for it is, that you cannot believe it on his word. But the whole question is, Is it on his word? That is, you exclude God. And I here recall to the reader that what Mr. N. calls faith at second-hand is alone faith at all, unless each person is to receive a message from God immediately.
Again, Mr. N. says, “It is with hundreds or thousands a favourite idea, that they have ‘an inward witness of the truth of [the historical and outward facts of] Christianity.’ Perhaps the statement would bring its own refutation to them, if they would express it clearly. Suppose a biographer of Sir Isaac Newton, after narrating his sublime discoveries, &c.… to add that Sir Isaac… was himself carried up to heaven one night while he was gazing at the moon; and that this event had been foretold by Merlin: it would surely be the height of absurdity to dilate on the truth of the Newtonian theory as ‘the moral evidence’ of the truth of the miracles and prophecy.” (Ib. p. 199.) Now, what does the reader think of this argument? That Mr. N. is ignorant of all internal evidence of Christianity we may alas! take on his own word. But I avow my esteem for logic is not heightened, if Mr. N. is to be taken as a specimen of what it is. The history and facts of Christianity are identified with a public claim, that the subject of them was God manifest in the flesh. Have the doctrines and truths, of which He was the revealer, nothing to do with the proof of that historical fact? Supposing the case of a wife; that is a mere historical fact, a legal question. Does the husband merely know by the register that it is his wife? Is relationship with God less real, less known, less important? Doubtless they are to Mr. N., but not to those who enjoy them. But he leaves God out. He is not in his thoughts, however he may commend his present state of piety, which, he tells us, is as bright and real as ever.
The logic is no better. Sir Isaac’s going up to heaven has no connection with the truths he has discovered; one does not depend on the other. They remain true whether Sir Isaac be in the moon or not. And if Sir Isaac be in the moon, it does not depend on the attraction of gravitation. Is that so of Christ? If He be not ascended up on high, if His miracles are all wilful impostures, does not that affect His doctrine? And is not the revelation of relationship with God such as none else ever made, a “speaking that He knew?” Has not His “testifying of what He had seen” a discovery, in a word, of things belonging to God which none other even approached—something to do with His coming from God? Does it not tend to validate His declaration that He was going there? Where is the absurdity? In the Christian who sees the connection, or in Mr. N. who sees none?
The Christian has an inward witness (not of the historical facts of Christianity, as Mr. N. says, but) of “eternal life” in his own soul, “and that life is in Christ.” He knows it in daily enjoyment, and knows Him better than Mr. N. knows his best friend. How does Mr. N. know the sympathy of God he speaks of? Is it a sympathy never exercised? If it be exercised, God can make Himself known to the soul. The Spirit, he says, is God in the heart. Well, the Christian so knows Christ. Does that afford no proof of the truth of what is said of Christ (and what is said of Him constitutes the important historical facts of Christianity) when he finds Him in the record given of Him— when every feeling of his soul is identified with the Christ he sees there? The facts, in a great measure, make the Christ he knows, because they are the revelation of Him—the expression of what He is. Mr. N. sees “historical and outward facts,” because he leaves God out. God’s presence would be an historical and outward fact. Would His words, doctrines, revelation of what He is, action on the heart, unfolding relative truths, have nothing to do with the proof that it was He? What is Mr. N.’s argument, but a total insensibility as to what God is, a leaving Him out in his own mind?
To say no more, is this logical, when the whole question is, Is it a true revelation of God?
It is the logic to which nothing can be compared in absurdity, because nothing can be God but Himself; and to leave Him out when I am inquiring after Him, is to leave all void of the only thing I am looking for. How should I find Him then? This only is an infinite mistake, an infinite absurdity.
A child would settle the duties to parents in the world by denying there are any; because, if there are, the child could not reason for himself to know what he owes them. Man reduces himself to his own measure to judge if there be a God, because letting God in would not be logical—would not leave it in the measure of man’s competency, which must be allowed if a man is to judge. And having made this famous step, he discovers that on this ground God cannot be known; and then writes a book to shew this, and calls it logical, and thereupon rejects revelation, and says it is only a question of history and outward facts.
But if the outward fact, or pretended fact, be that God Himself was manifested among men, he who would say that the truths taught—sublime discoveries of God, remarkable doctrines —were no proof of this fact (this great miracle unfolded in a thousand others) would prove—whose absurdity? The word is not mine; I borrow it from Mr. N. What I am shewing is, that Mr. N.’s book is a mere universal leaving out of God, when the revelation of Him is the matter in hand. Could there be a plainer proof of it? Nor can you separate the claim of the divine Person from the whole miraculous history. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” What does the Lord here make of His resurrection—the grand fundamental miracle of Christianity? His body is a temple. God is there, and He will raise it up again. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” when He had healed the paralytic. So in Matthew, He is “Emmanuel” (that is, “God with us”). He is called “Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”
Again, when Mr. N. was a Christian by profession, his belief “assigned an intellectual creed as one essential mark of this people” (ib. p. 202), the people of God. Is it simply a question of an intellectual creed when the subject-matter of the creed is a person, our relationship with whom involves the highest obligations? Supposing I were to say, that Mr. N.’s wife being such was a question of historical facts, proofs in a church register, and legal definitions—that the possibility of any owning her as such must depend on the historical proofs of the celebration of his marriage; would it remain an intellectual creed, his believing that fact? Yet there are these proofs. Now, whenever a fact implies an obligation, the acknowledging the fact is not intellectualism; it is morality. If Christ is my Saviour, if the Holy Ghost the Comforter be sent, if the Father has not spared His Son, who is one with Himself—to own all this is not a mere intellectual creed (though, of course, anything may be held intellectually); it involves the highest obligations—obligations paramount to all others. Everything is changed relative to goodness and piety themselves, unless God have nothing to say to either: and this is really the force of the argument of Mr. N. “To judge rightly about it is necessarily a problem of literary criticism” (ib. pp. 202, 203); “to judge wrongly about it may prove one to be a bad critic, but not a less good and less pious man.” (Ib. p. 203.)
Mr. N. may state it in the lowest way as a question, whether Jesus, the Jewish teacher, be the Messiah; but every one knows that the question reaches to what I have said, and much farther too. Infidels are as pious as Christians, according to Mr. N. But if they are, the knowledge of God has nothing to do with piety—a very singular proposition, at any rate, which cannot exist where God is known. But Mr. N. leaves Him always out. Even supposing the Christian is got into an entire delusion about God; that his notions of God’s justice have destroyed a right estimate of His goodness; that his thoughts of Christ’s expiation have nurtured a cruel idea of God; that mediation has done him much mischief, as Mr. N. tells us; will his piety remain uninjured? Is it a mere affair of literary criticism, all this? But surely it is the question in scripture. No, no; Mr. N. would not have written his book—nay, his books—if it had been a problem of literary criticism. Does he not think it more than that? Does he wish for energy while life lasts to expose its deeds as a problem of literary criticism? Does he believe what he says? No; he knows that if Christianity be true, he has lost a Saviour; if it is false, I am leaning on a false one, on an impostor, for my soul’s salvation.
I am well aware that Mr. N. thinks that piety may be nourished by an imposture; nay, that in them that believe in it as the true revelation of God piety is found; nay, that this imposture itself, the Bible, “is pervaded by a sentiment which is implied everywhere, viz., the intimate sympathy of the pure and perfect God with the heart of each faithful worshipper,” and that this is found “in christian writers and speakers,” and “is wanting in Greek philosophers, English deists [except, of course, his own school], German pantheists, and all formalists.” (Phases, p. 188.) But this intimate and exclusive connection of deep piety and imposture, though of course logical and beyond criticism, seems singular to some; or how so monstrous an imposture as pretending to be Messiah and the Son of God is pervaded by the sentiment of the sympathy of the pure and perfect God. Is it not the time to say, “he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
The next discovery Mr. N. made, as to the happy effect of the “positive disproof” of Christ’s claim, was that of being delivered from the selfish theory “that his first business must be to save his soul from future punishment.” (Ib. p. 203.) Now, here again, I find God really left out. Is the sense that I have so sinned against God, that I have ruined myself, that, like a prodigal, I have turned my back on my Father to have my own way more comfortably, and have perhaps been eating husks with the swine, so that I am no more worthy to be called a son— is the sense that I am lost by this, and that at all cost I must get back to God, if only there be such goodness that I should be admitted on any terms—is this (though in it I am dependent on God for salvation, and fly to His mercy from the everlasting ruin I have brought upon myself), is this, I say, a bad selfish feeling? Such is the view Christianity gives us—I do not pretend to say what Mr. N.’s thoughts may have been—of the prodigal’s return to God. It is very right that it should be felt as mercy to oneself. It puts one in a low, helpless, guilty position. The sense of this is right, and really known in no other way. It is not all we shall attain to when we have peace, but we begin rightly there. A child who has grievously sinned against his father ought to feel that he wants mercy for himself. If he does not, he has not found his right lowly place.
Now, what hinders Mr. N. from seeing this? He sees only man in the matter; and hence it is only, to him, the selfishness of the man who wishes to be saved. God is not in his thoughts. But Christianity brings Him in. “I have sinned against heaven and before thee.” There is the sense of guilt, of having deserved to be shut out from the Father’s house, in the soul come to itself. This is perfect, infinite misery; when God’s presence is come into the thought, it is perfect infinite misery to be shut out of it. The knowledge of what sin is makes us see that we ought not to be let into His presence. One says while falling in apparent inconsistency at His feet, not “God is good!” though he would not fall at His feet without some (no doubt, imperfect) feeling of it; but “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” He is jealous for what God is, because he knows Him. If I know God, I must desire to be saved from being shut out from His presence for ever, and I know that I have been morally unfitted for it. Mr. N. excludes God, and, therefore, has no other thought but safety from future punishment.
Again, in p. 206,14 the Bible is an evil, because it professes to reveal the will of God, and leaves our own inward powers unexercised. Is conscience, then, never to look to God? never to get light from Him? Is He to be excluded even from declaring His will? from even teaching us what is right? Is doing right to have no reference to God? With Mr. N., going into God’s presence to know His will is like going into a priest’s. He objects to both alike. “The Protestant principle of accepting the Bible as the absolute law acts towards the same end.” I thought a priest mischievous, because he came in between us and God; and that getting into His presence was getting into the light, and that which did exercise the soul and conscience. Mr. N., of course, is independent of any such presence or direction of God. His anjtarceia is morally absolute. Obedience is no part of morality with him. But others find that that word pierces “to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart;” and that when they found “all things naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom they had to do,” they found themselves much morally exercised—could not deny it was right, though in many things it condemned them. Yes, I rejoice in this light; I love to obey it. It is my meat to do the will of Him I serve, and I am glad to know it because it is His—glad He has deigned to communicate it to me—glad to have it perfect as He gives it. Light does not hinder the eye from working, nor is groping without it (though there may be more exercise, in a certain sense) a better position to him who knows what eyes are worth, and what it is to see. I am not exercised in the same way; I walk in happy unconsciousness of difficulty, where without it I should be tormented to find my way; but it leaves me free for a thousand exercises, full of joy and worthy of an intelligent being, which groping in the dark would deprive me of.
Assuming the Bible to be the revelation of God’s will (and Mr. N. assumes it here), the possession of it is a singular evil. Besides, an antagonist will, a thousand temptations, and the absence of the circumstances in detail in which I am placed, leave abundant room for the exercise of the spiritual powers. Only they are exercised in God’s light, instead of in darkness. Mr. N. prefers being without God, and to trust his moral powers. But what does this love of God’s absence while he finds his way, and confidence in himself, shew? That he does trust his moral powers. But the discovery that conscience will be benumbed by being brought into God’s light which manifests and judges everything, and thus fall into disuse, is not such a result of trusting in them as would lead others to do so—at least, it would not me.
Besides, Mr. N. is wrong when he says, that “so long as an opinion is received on authority only, it works no inward process upon us.” (Ib. p. 206.) First, as to God, it is wholly false, because all morality is judged of responsibly in His sight. Thus, if I receive on God’s authority the opinion that I am to be judged for all I do, will that work no inward process upon me? (a singular phrase, by the by; but let that pass.) But even as to man’s, it is not true. It supposes no previous inward process perhaps. I say “perhaps;” for often there may have been very great exercise which seeks a revelation, i.e., another’s light when the mind is at fault, the communication of the mind of Him who has light as well as authority. And Mr. N. has no right to separate them even in man: for in submitting to authority (not force), I suppose light may just give that thought which sets the whole confused elements of thought in perfect order, though I receive it—i.e., depend for the certainty of its truth—on the authority which affords it me. Whoever has put in the keystone, the arch is solid when it is there. Yet I may receive it only on the authority of my teacher; not to say that the bowing of will by it is an inward process.
Thus, suppose the case of a converted heathen from among those who used to get rid of their fathers when too old to be useful; and one working in thought as to the foundations of a parent’s position and a child’s obligation. A missionary, whom he has learnt to trust, tells him that God has told us to honour our fathers and mothers. He receives this solely on the authority of the teacher; he has no other reason to believe God does command it but the teacher’s authority over his mind. Does the introduction of the idea of God’s authority and will into the relationship not produce an immense result, and alter all his feelings towards his father? Ask him why he has received this idea. He can only tell you that the missionary, whom he believes God sent, told him so. Here a vast process is the result in his mind: all his thoughts are fallen into order. God Himself has become the keystone of his whole moral condition in this respect. Yet the opinion is received on authority only. Put the Bible in the missionary’s place—he is more directly in contact with God, no doubt. The authority is in God Himself in his mind; and great good results from this; for whatever brings us near God is a good, even though we should own authority as well as find light. But in both cases it is authority. The mind may be profited by light as well as by exercising itself on it, and more too. But the use of the word authority here leads by its equivocal force to a sophism. Authority in this argument merely means the certainty of something being the revelation and will of God—that is, puts me directly in presence of His will and authority. It is absurd to say this does not work a moral process on man. It is exactly what does. But again we arrive at the same point in Mr. N.’s system: God must be excluded. That I am right in my estimate of the argument is evident from what follows just after.
I have already remarked on Mr. N.’s absolute exclusion of all possibility of God’s ever communicating anything knowable by man. I now only refer to it as shewing how even here the idea of God is excluded from his mind. “All that we can possibly discover is the relative fact, that another is wiser than we.” (Ib. p. 213.) Can anything more entirely exclude God from all teaching? “There is no imaginable criterion by which we can establish that the wisdom of a teacher is absolute and illimitable.” (Ib.) Now, supposing it be God who teaches, would not this establish it ? Could there be a comparison of wiser, if He whom God had sent spoke the words of God, as John actually says of Christ? No; this is merely saying, à priori, that it is impossible for God to communicate anything to man. If He can, Mr. N.’s statement is nonsense. The moment I ascertain He has, I have a teacher whose wisdom is absolute and illimitable. But Mr. N. will not have God, nor allow Him to come in.
Again, in the same page, Mr. N. says, “If we are to submit our judgment to the dictation of some other, whether a church or an individual, we must be first subjected to that other by some event from without, as by birth, and not by a process of that very judgment which is henceforth to be sacrificed.” I have already noticed this, to shew that Mr. N.’s whole book is fallacious. I do so now for another purpose. Why “whether to a church or an individual?” Why shut out God totally? Will Mr. N. not allow God to “dictate” to him? That is, is God’s word, if He speaks, not to have authority with him? Again, in the most open way, he excludes God out of his supposition: he assumes that it is a church or an individual—that God never can. If he reply, “I only assume so on the supposition of a man’s reasoning;” then I recur to what I said before: “Your reasoning assumes the thing not to be possible which we are reasoning about, and therefore is good for nothing:” or, as applying it to our present point, he assumes as data the exclusion of God, as if His speaking were an unsupposable case. Besides, Mr. N.’s reasoning is itself fallacious. I may ascertain a document to come from a person who has authority, and consequently the document itself as coming from him. Hence a critical examination can result in the ascertained authority of the instrument, though it could never give it. Mr. N.’s argument confounds giving authority, and ascertaining the fact; if this were true, I must abrogate my criticism, because the person has authority. I may criticize the proofs whether it is He, but not Him when it is proved to be so.
Again, “He will feel that the will cannot, may not, dare not, dictate whereto the inquiries of the understanding shall lead.” (Phases, p. 219.) Surely not. That the will does is one of the evident moral disqualifications in the case of Mr. N.’s book. But is there nothing but will and understanding? Is there no God at all? Can the knowledge of Him or His mind never close an inquiry? Not for Mr. N. He does not suppose such a case. Is it the wise man who has said in his heart, “There is no God? “This absence of all thought of God from his mind shews itself in a curious shape in page 223. “The law,” he says, “of God’s moral universe, as known to us, is that of progress. We trace it from old barbarism to the methodized Egyptian idolatry; to the more flexible polytheism of Syria and Greece; the poetical pantheism of philosophers, and the moral monotheism of a few sages.” God’s moral universe, methodized Egyptian idolatry, and flexible polytheism! Does Mr. N. think this God’s moral universe? This is what logic and philosophy afford us, and on which the Bible is to be set aside—a standard of moral judgment in man, which can call the worshipping an onion or a bull, or the making prostitution worship, to be part of a law of God’s moral universe! Ohe, jam satis! Can any one sink lower in mental perception than this? But if the true God be lost, can we be surprised at anything?
I leave Mr. N.’s analogous arguments from the Bible; because, he says elsewhere, he believes the most important part of it invented, or, at least, first authoritatively promulgated in Josiah’s reign; and that when he says, “Jesus was needed to spur and stab the conscience of his contemporaries, and recall them to more spiritual perceptions” (ib. p. 223), he has by the force of habit forgotten that he is speaking of an impostor, of whose teaching “it is certain that we have no genuine and trustworthy account,” and whose authoritative dicta God never intended us to receive. (Ib. p. 213.)
In pages 228, 229, we have, perhaps, the most complete exclusion of God anywhere. After bringing in the church of the Romanist, and the spiritualist who judges it as erroneous; and then the Bible, in which also Mr. N. alleges there are contradictions and immoralities; and the Protestant who claims submission to it, while he joins the spiritualist in judging Rome; he in result declares that “in principle there are only two possible religions: the personal [i.e., the inward law] and the corporate; the spiritual and the external.” And is God to have none? Is there only man’s or the church’s? So it is according to Mr. N. Church or man, God can have nothing to say to it, but as an otiose object, if He be one, of what man may find proper to think about Him, if Him it really is; for, false or true as it may be, man’s thought only is possible, whether it be old barbarism, or flexible polytheism, or the moral monotheism of a few sages, in whose number Mr. N. of course ranks himself. God must not interfere in religion or communicate a single truth; it is “an unplausible opinion, that God would go out of His way to give us anything so undesirable.” (Phases, p. 212.) It “would paralyse our moral powers exactly as an infallible church does.” (Ib. p. 213.) Is not God excluded?
I have omitted an example of this which has its importance. “Each established system assures its votaries; that now at length they have attained a final perfection, that their foundations are irremovable: progress up to that position was a duty, beyond it is a sin.” “The arguments of those who resist progress are always the same, whether it be Pagans against Hebrews, Jews against Christians, Romanists against Protestants, or modern Christians against the advocates of a higher spiritualism.” (Ib. p. 224.) Now what does this really mean? “The advocates of a higher spiritualism” mean persons who exclude revelation, because man is superior to any need of a revelation of God. Now the progress of man, as a means of knowledge, has nothing to do with a revelation, however the latter may cause progress. A revelation may be partial or complete; but it always, as such, has the absolute authority of God, in which there can be no progress, though there may be a further and clearer revelation of His will. But Mr. N. shuts out God, and hence only speaks of progress in man’s condition—progress up to man’s condition. It is evident such a statement has no place at all, if there be a revelation. This brings in God. Mr. N. simply excludes Him. Such, then, is the sum of all Mr. N.’s reasonings: God must on no account interfere or reveal Himself in any way. . It is un-plausible and mischievous. That, after all, there were only a few sages who arrived at monotheism without it; that those who believe in this revelation have alone the principle of the sympathy of a pure and perfect God with the sincere worshipper, to the exclusion of all others—this is no matter. Mr. N. will use the wisdom he has acquired from it to pronounce it an imposture, and to decide that, though an imposture has produced this blessed result, yet a real revelation of God would be very mischievous; and he would engage us to believe his logic and respect his moral judgment—the inward law or spiritual man—as the competent judge of the whole question.
2 “Canst thou by searching find out God?” Job 11:7.
3 I find the remark has been made elsewhere, that the only moral part of heathen mythology was the infernal part of it. What a tale that tells! Conscience will tell its tale, whatever lusts may seek; but it will never draw to God.
4 Mr. N. teaches that man cannot grow up sinless, but must be a sinner (pp. 100, 101).
5 Yet, in fact, men not having desired to retain God in their knowledge, they were received as gods, because man’s passions, and habits, and imaginations, and associations of country, of the religion of his fathers, wants connected with his passions, are stronger in the immense mass of mankind than any calm reasoning about God from the display He has made of Himself in nature, or the workings of man’s natural conscience. The Socrateses would be treated as atheists and the despisers of their country’s gods, till an indifference which demoralises everything made polytheism ridiculous, and independence of God as convenient for men’s passions as imaginative gods that favoured or thwarted him.
6 I must be allowed to put the reader here ori his guard against misapprehension, as if highest conceptions were the same thing as highest qualities. The expression does limit God’s perfections to man’s conceptions. All the poison of such a thought is there in full. But most of men’s good qualities are inapplicable to God, as belonging to a creature: awe, reverence, gratitude, admiration, love to a superior, all that concur in adoration are necessarily excluded from the notion of God. When we partake of the divine nature, through a grace which has set us in perfect peace as to ourselves, we can love in a divine way, and love righteousness in a divine way. Otherwise we cannot. We must have a justly lovable object to call out a correspondent affection, or it will be an idolatrous passion towards an unworthy one. To love, in supreme sovereign goodness, is an absolutely divine quality. “God is love.” Hence, at once, the apostle says, “He that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God”; he derives this from Him, and He is the supreme object of it. This characterizes the divine nature as communicated to us. I can also understand and delight in righteousness in itself and holiness, being made partaker of His holiness, and renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created me in righteousness and true holiness. But while conscience has anything to say, I cannot love them simply, though that conscience may see them to be right and good, because I cannot and ought not to love to be condemned, nor be content to be defiled, supposing goodness to be as great as may be. But righteousness condemns me, and holiness shews me to be defiled.
The truth is, all this attempt to project God out of our conceptions is confusion, just because we are creatures, and excellence in a creature is a different thing. And hence there is incompetency to see what God ought to be or must be; though I may in a measure know what He may approve in me, which is another thing, but which will never carry us up to the being which approves. Secondly, we are sinful creatures; hence what God can be to us ought not even to be estimated by us. And lastly, no conception of mind can estimate love. “He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.” It never can be said, Man is love. A creature cannot be; he is bound to something else which bars him from supreme love. He may know it in supreme love to him as a sinner, and thus, but thus only, rise to its source. He knows it supreme and infinite, because it reached him: supreme, because there was nothing lovely in its effect; infinite, for nothing is so far from supreme love as enmity against it, and this was the condition of his proud heart. So even Mr. N. confesses, for he admits an antagonist will. And what else is that but open moral opposition against supreme good, and a refusal to bow to it? How is that to be loved5 and if loved, is it to be sanctioned? or how reconcile entire condemnation of it, and yet perfect love to him that is in it? This the cross has solved, but not Mr. N. He has known too much of Christianity not to make all his system absurd by that which he has introduced into it, as it was, without this, by all it left out.
The cross, Mr. N. will tell us, is not just. No; it is love. But it is love exercised in such a condemnation of sin as makes its exercise consistent with righteousness, that is, the necessary and desirable display of God’s opposition to evil. Christ was willing to offer Himself up, that God might be thus known and man saved.
7 “How could I believe in that painful and gratuitous imagination— the devil?” (Phases, p. 189.) Mr. N.’s assertions in that place will be considered elsewhere.
8 How much is known of God, on Mr. N.’s principles, is avowed by himself: “It is axiomatic, that man can no more understand the mind of God than a dog that of his master.” (Soul, p. 119.)
9 Mr. N. admits “that the God of nature is the God of our consciences, and that all wrong doing is frowned on by Him.” (Soul, p. 65.)
10 I was going to give the old attempt to define a straight line, namely, “the shortest between two given points,” which, evidently, is no definition at all. It is a mere quality of a straight line. But I judge something of an accurate definition may be given, as being that described by “a point moving always invariably towards, or in the direction of, the same point.” A curve is a line described by a point which always leaves the direction it last followed. But this attempt does not affect the proof, that a true and even powerful impression may be produced by an idea not defined. Neither truth nor power is in definition, important as this may be in its place. Moral power and truth are in the bringing home to the soul the real relationship in which we stand to anything, and the obligation resulting from it, in the way of revelation of the character and conduct of that to which we are related, and hence the motives which flow from it. How this is brought home is another question. As a Christian, I believe it will only be by a new nature and divine grace. But this is not my subject here. Christianity reveals enough of God to make Him known to us in this way, and elevate us to Him by it. It does not pretend to define Him as He is. Creeds may be useful as contradicting false notions, but are, to say the least, most imperfect and unsatisfactory as communications of truth. I judge the matter of the Athanasian to be, perhaps, the least objectionable.
11 This is far from having been really the case] for he used the word “Jehovah” then, and does that of “God” in the book I am answering— important terms, I apprehend—in quite different senses as applied to Christ or the Father.
12 His words are “Religion and fanaticism are, in the embryo, but one and the same; to purify and elevate them, we want a cultivation of the understanding.”
13 I take it a circle is the line described by a point which always varies exactly equally from the last direction it followed: the radius would depend on the degree of variation.
14 “In former days, if any moral question came before me, I instantly turned it into the mere lawyer-like exercise of searching and interpreting my written code. Thus, in reading how Henry the Eighth treated his first queen, I thought over scripture texts in order to judge whether he was right, and if I could so get a solution, I left my own moral powers unexercised.” (Phases, p. 206.)