Self-Consciousness And The Infinite

All effort to make consciousness, or self-consciousness, a rational perception of difference and identity is simply infirmity in abstraction. If I think of another, I know that I am not that other; but this is not necessary to, and no part of, the consciousness that I exist. When not asleep, I live in the perpetual consciousness of my existence without thinking of any other. Consciousness is necessary to human psychical existence. When I reflect on it, I may draw conclusions as to another; but this is reasoning about consciousness. Neither is it intelligence. This means “I know,” and has an object; but I am conscious of myself. To say that I am conscious of “I” makes “I” an object of “I” is absurd, and is really a denial of consciousness. When I speak of it to another and reason about it, then I make the conscious “I” an object of my reasoning; but then it has ceased to be consciousness.

It is this supposing with Plato that pure intellect is the beginning of existence which has falsified the reasoning on these points. Take Hegel’s definition of subject without predicate, and you get at once the counter-proof of what I say. My affirming something about “I” does determine it; but this is a proposition, not consciousness, which, it must be repeated, ceases the moment I reason. For thus I have before me a thought which is not consciousness. It is the thought of “I” looked at as an object of reasoning. And this is not self-consciousness of existence; for “I” as a thought is not “I” existing, but a mere thought. The moment I have a thought, I have something about which “I” is occupied, which is not self-consciousness. Where logic begins, self-consciousness ceases. We are constituted so as to be conscious of ourselves.

There is every confusion by making infinitude of good in God an extension; and this runs through ancients and moderns, Aristotle, Hegel, etc. Mansel answers them well, but does not, I think, reach the truth. If we speak of ideas we have human thought, and, of course, no conception of the infinite. Thus, when Aristotle says, The infinite is the whole potentially but not actually, we have parts, extension, and— nonsense; but not an approach to infinitude as it refers to God. “The whole” —of what? If applied to God, this is necessarily materialism or pantheism; it is very true if speaking of mere mathematics. But it is only an abstraction; and, applied to being, it is a contradiction; for a being is actual, and has ceased to be simply potential. The secret of all their fallacy (into which Mansel has fallen) is this: their infinite is the infinite of matter, that is, the infinite of finite, which is infinite nonsense. It may be all well enough on their ground, because they go no farther. But as to consciousness and infinitude, Mansel has not taken up any ground of truth as to man or God. The whole theory is materialism or Brahminism.

But consciousness, self-consciousness, is the hinge of all this. I affirm that I am so constituted that I have the instinctive consciousness of “I.” This Mansel has not at all seen. I do not take Descartes’ dictum— “I think and therefore am” (that is, as if it made no difference). When one says “I think,” one must have a thought to think (that is, an object, the intelligible as well as the intelligent). But when one says “I,” there is self-consciousness. I am so created as to say “I.” This does not say Descartes is wrong: he is right; but in his syllogism consciousness is the object of his reasoning. “I” is a thinking being, and therefore “I” is a being. But this is drawn from consciousness, and has no force save in it. Yet it remains true that I can say “I” as the expression of self-consciousness. But, having this self-consciousness, I have senses; I am so constituted as to have the knowledge of existence with self-consciousness, and that as an excellence. It is that to which thought attaches itself. I cannot have knowledge without it; I can have sense and memory, but not reflective thought.

Hence, I attribute self-consciousness to God as necessary to intelligent existence, though I may not know the mode of it in God; I have no doubt it will be different and infinitely superior. I believe it to be different in God, because these reflex acts on self appear to be a state of imperfection—those reflex acts which are not consciousness, but through which I reason and estimate it. I cannot have consciousness of an object, and therefore cannot say that a dog has self-consciousness, because, it cannot be such if I see it in another. My knowledge of what it is in myself is imperfect: there it is an object; but the consciousness is there to have knowledge (perfect or imperfect). Hence I do not know how it exists in God, because I cannot have knowledge of it. This is objective knowledge, imperfect even as to myself, absolutely impossible as to the how in God.

Only unconscious existence is brute matter—is what we mean by brute matter. It may have power by attraction, whatever it is; but consciousness makes the difference of having a basis for reflection: hence language.

The confounding moral infinitude (that is, absoluteness of perfection) with extension, which I have noticed is a very great blunder. But then I freely own that in strictness we cannot speak of attributes in God (moral ones). It is only a human way which (speaking reverently) divides God into parts. God cannot be or do evil: to say this is a limitation of power is only a delusion. If I say that He cannot do what He pleases, for He cannot do evil, the “cannot” applies to “what He pleases,” not to the power of God. As to acts of power, He can do everything. It is morally impossible that there should be in Him the contrary of what He is, that is of good and right. But this is not limiting power or anything; it is denying a limit to goodness, and saying it is absolute. Infinite goodness means merely goodness always perfect as goodness. That this is after an imperfect thought as to God I admit, because it takes one characteristic by itself (that is through our finite nature), for nothing in God is characteristic (that is, special and in part). It has been noticed elsewhere how thus Christ had no character, but was always what He ought to be wherever He was. Perfect goodness He was, but not goodness by itself as we conceive it. He was firm and severe where He ought, and good in that; He was tender and affectionate where He ought, and good in that; He was seemingly hard and deaf to need, and unchanged in goodness in that—in all love to His Father, and obedience. The divine nature in man which produced one produced all, perfect in each place in relation because perfect in itself.

Fichte’s statement as to personality is totally false. It is not what you have become acquainted with in yourself, but the you that has become acquainted. Mansel’s answer is economically true, because they go on this ground, but it is inadequate. I judge the whole system false for the reason stated, that thought is confounded with consciousness. Further, all confound the knowledge of with the knowledge that. I know certainly that I am; I have no real knowledge of what a soul is, or of its mode of acting through senses and a body. Whether it be separate or not, I am so constituted that, when I do not think or reason (perhaps if I do), I believe in a cause of effects, and that existence in form or with anything characteristic supposes a cause—hence, a First Cause. But for the same reason that I know there must be, I cannot know or conceive it. That is, knowledge that is not and may prove that I cannot have knowledge of. So I may have knowledge that there is such a thing as endless, infinite, eternal; while the very words prove that I do not—cannot—conceive it. But the negative of finite is not the same as the conception of infinite (that is, as its affirmation); and I have the sense of negativing finite though no positive conception.

Further, if I think about myself, I am finite and relative. If I judge the consciousness in connection with other things, consciousness is not relative and not finite or the contrary in itself. I do not admit that absolute must be infinite or finite. Consciousness is absolute; it has no qualities, no objective appearances or anything else. It is “I.” I am something; I think, do, perceive, etc. Hence I learn that the “I” is finite; but consciousness is only “I.”

Now I cannot conceive an infinite “I,” because I am a finite “I”; that is, I can have no positive knowledge of it; but its absoluteness as consciousness in me makes me understand the possibility of the existence of another absolute consciousness which may not be finite. As I learn the finiteness of my conscious “I,” and can in certain respects understand it, so I learn the certain existence of an “I” which must be conscious (that is, not as a stone), and that it cannot be, as I am, finite, which is absolute in its “I,” but relative if it pleases, because I know it has pleased. But the how or what of its consciousness or relations (that is, creation, sonship, redemption) I do not and cannot know that, because I negative the finiteness of that which is my knowledge. But I do not think a negative is the same as an affirmative, or is nothing in mind, though it be nothing positive. To say so is to say that all must be clear in my mind or that it does not exist, which is false. I have a thinking, feeling, perceiving, judging, and, if right, adoring, if wrong, God-hating, inward existence. What it is I have not in the smallest degree a clear idea of. So I have of God, to whom I clearly deny necessary relationship, finiteness or material infiniteness, whom I do not limit in will so as to deny relationship, yet in finite knowledge I cannot say what He is, but existence of whom (I can say what He is not) is not nothing in my mind, though I cannot say what it is, because I do know by consciousness what it is to exist, and I deny the conditions in which I exist.

I cannot quite accept the denial of capacity to abstract in the human mind (that is, the estimate of a quality without a being it is attached to). It is apt to run into personification in order to get a clear idea. To say I must think of some one good to think of goodness is not true. It is merely saying that, if I think of good acts, I must think of some one. But attributes, though for us a necessary conception, are a very inadequate one of God; if pushed to consequences, even false. We may speak attributively (practically), but not predicate anything of God; because then I separate the quality and get it in itself. I must make it infinite, and so exclusive in my mind; and other attributes are reasoned against. Thus if I say God is good, and therefore cannot do this or that, I have made Him only this, and all is false.

I deny that consciousness is in time, or has a “before” or “after.” Consciousness denies it in fact and in the nature of things. You must add “was,” or “will be”; but then I have lost consciousness, which is necessarily only present, and this is not time—is not measured, nor is time thought of.

Mansel at the end of Lecture III happily contradicts himself. He is not exact. Thus, when he says we can conceive such attributes at the utmost only indefinitely … but we cannot conceive them as infinite, how can he make the distinction if he cannot tell what infinite is? That one word proves the fallacy of his whole statement. But infinite, I have already said, does not mean material in infinitude; and attributes (that is, predicates) spoken of God are always false when taken as the truth.

To say that things may not be what their appearances are is nonsense. What is a thing? what an appearance? I know nothing of a thing save its appearance, that is, its relation to me. I have no other thing as a thing than that. The only other thing to mark it is its resistance to will, its contrast with the “I”; so that will goes where I cannot. It hinders the change of the relationship of “I.” That is, I know its existence in contrast with “I” active in its absoluteness, or “I” as a spirit. This we call matter: why not? Hyle, if you please (a spiritual body not so; but this is faith; it confirms the other).

Indefinite and infinite are not the same. Indefinite does not know whether a thing stops or where. We are so constituted as to believe necessarily in the infinite (finite implying it), but the reason of that precludes my knowing it. Finite is some apparent (or possibly apparent) being in what is the object of perception; but because that is finite as perceptible existence, I speak of its ending. Being limited, I must and do therein suppose and mean that beyond a limit there is what is beyond limit, illimitable. My idea of limit supposes this: I limit knowable existence, but its being a limit is in my mind in every case in spite of me. A thought that its being stopped or limited is a possibility of prolongation. It might go farther (that is, I have an idea of what is beyond limit). Finite instead of excluding is founded on the idea of infinity. I have the idea that it is, must be, in idea; for stopping gives (or is identical with) as an idea, not stopping, but proves that the sense that there must be is identical with the sense of. The thought that it stops is founded on being stopped somewhere, that is, that it might go on. It is merely saying, I am constituted with the sense that there is space (that is, where a thing may stop or not stop) and duration (that is, where it may or may not cease). I cannot but think infinite must be, but never think of it as the object of human power of thinking, for when, as to a clear conception of what is, I think of what is, I think of what stops so far as any object of thought can go. I deny that mere infinitude in the sense of space has anything to do with God. Endless time onward is more accessible to me because I can have the idea of continuance when I have existence.

In space the object of thought becomes itself extended, whereas a thing only exists in time or eternity. It is no part of itself. It may always exist, does not need to stop, the past (as they say) cannot in itself be thought of, because I have no known existence to go on with but in time or now. Taking now, however, I can conceive continuance; but the thought is more imperfect though certain in its nature.

We feel no need to suppose God infinite in space (on the contrary, it shocks us); but in time we do. The reason is simple. Infinitude in space is gross, material not a moral central will and action. I do not judge of God as finite in space, because I do not materialise Him; but if He ceases in duration, and that is finite as to it, He ceases to be, because to endure when anything exists is not to cease to be. I fully believe there is an instinctive sense of God as supreme, that is, supreme as to us, and reasoning on what He is is consequent on this. It is a blunder to suppose that not being the author of evil limits Him. He can, as to power, do anything; but limiting means a stop being put to something in the direction in which it tends or might continue; whereas no evil is in God to be stopped. Power does not create evil. Were God the author of evil (save physical evil or punishment), it would be a limit to what He is—good. Mansel has not kept clear of the material idea of infinity. His adversaries are on that ground; but his great defect is not seizing consequences, at least in his reasonings, for he does state the thing in Lecture IV.

But I deny the sense of responsibility and a law to be the same thing, or either of them the knowledge of good and evil. A law may be the rule according to which we are responsible to One who has authority over us, but it is not the responsibility itself. Man was responsible before he had the knowledge of good and evil; and he had a law which implied no such knowledge. Responsibility is to a person: a law may be its measure. The knowledge of good and evil is a capacity of nature to discern right and wrong where there is no law. “So the man is become as one of us, knowing good and evil.” A law may give me God’s measure of it as to me, and so the divine law did as to man. But obedience always and in everything is what we are responsible for if the One above us is supreme—has such claims over us—to keep the law, if He has given one, and every commandment He gives. But this is only what the responsibility is shewn in. The knowledge of right and wrong is in itself a contrast with law, because it is in us, and there is no one to whom (if that be all) we are responsible. We may be also responsible to another; and he, if a moral governor—not otherwise, holds us responsible according to that knowledge.

All as to law, moral obligations, man a law to. himself by reflecting God’s law, is false. Conscience is not pleasure, because there is lust; and conscience and sin came in together. Will and lust combine, and conscience is against them. But moral obligation is only rightly known at all when God’s claim of obedience is allowed; for mere conscience is mere misery, or combines with pride and self-approbation. To say that the knowledge of good and evil is necessarily implanted as a law by a lawgiver is utterly false. For this knowledge is in God, and what higher spiritual being has implanted it in Him as a lawgiver? It can therefore be otherwise. We have it by sin.

The absolute claim of obedience is the highest obligation, moral obligation, if you please. Now that I have got a knowledge of good and evil, I shall surely attribute that to God and own His judgment. But only when Christ is revealed can it be said that the nature of the Deity is the absolute standard; for requirements from, are not necessarily conformity to, His will, which cannot be dissociated from His nature as a requirer. But duty does not flow from the nature of the superior, but in all cases (superior is not) from the relation in which the obliged person stands to the superior or any other person. No doubt, if the relation be with a divine Being or formed by Him, it will be right, and from some higher motive be right, though the relation be evil as a Christian slave. But obedience is right to God, though there be no law (it may be tested by a law) and no knowledge of good and evil in itself. Then a knowledge of good and evil enters by disobedience. We become as to this as God; Gen. 3. Hence there is the knowledge of right and wrong without reference to a superior, though reference may exist, and, I doubt not the least, has been perfected with it. Lastly, a law may be given, testing the obedience, not in innocence, but with a perfect measure of right and wrong, including all moral relationships. Christ is more than all this. He is the manifestation of the divine nature in man, and, when we are partakers of it, becomes the model and example, as well as the source of our walk and duty.

It is obedience as His was, because He was a man, to His Father, in the place in which He stood, and so our mould of obedience, not to a claiming law, but having no will but God’s perfect in moral estimate; but it is also love as Christ’s was, because it is the divine nature. Being holy too (that is, with a knowledge of good and evil), it has a horror of evil and is separated from it, but in us it is separated to God, which alone can be the separation from evil in us—in a creature which must have an object.

This gives a special character to Christ though He ever looked to His Father, and, as man, lived in dependence on Him, and, as man too, rejoiced in the joy that was before Him. Yet He was an object, instead of having one.

As regards personality, the conscious “I” is personality, though it cannot explain by reason in what it consists; but absolute dependence on God destroying personal freedom is all confusion. Dependence is equivocal. It means that I must derive existence and all here—more, have all from Him, or that I feel dependent on Him—look to Him. All this leaves out will, as contrasted with the obligation of obedience. Most of what is called personal freedom is simply sanction of sin. I ought always to obey— “Lo, I come to do thy will” was Christ’s uniform and sole motive. If freedom means that God does not purpose evil or hinder good, it is quite true; but if it means a right to have a will of one’s own, it is sin— atheism. A man being really set to choose between evil and good (he may be, for trial to shew him what he is) is alike horrible and absurd; because it supposes the good and evil to be outside, and himself neither. If he is one or other in disposition, the choice is there. To have a fair choice, he must be personally indifferent; but to be in a state of indifference to good and evil is perfectly horrible. If a man has an inclination, his choice is not free: a free will is rank nonsense morally; because, if he have a will, he wills something. God can will to create. But will in moral things means either self-will, which is sin (for we ought to obey); or an inclination to something, which is really a choice made as far as will goes. In truth it is never so. Man was set in good, though not externally forced to remain so. He first exercised his will— free-will, morally speaking—in eating the forbidden fruit, and was therein and thereby lost, and since then he has been inclined to evil. Dependence lies in this—that a creature must depend on God. He does so joyfully in perfect good, and on whom it comes has the claim when he knows God. Independence in will (there cannot be in fact), and disobedience, its fruit, are the condition of the old man. Dependence and obedience are the characteristics of the new man—of Christ. Save what grace works, God does leave the will free; but it tends in its nature away from God; because it is will. And the not looking to God must have an object below man. That wretched freedom man has, and perseveres in it but for grace, and resists the motives of grace, because it calls to God, to dependence and obedience of heart. And will wills itself: only one can be born of God, and have a new nature—Christ as our life, and so be a new creature.

Personality is evidently in self-consciousness. Reality, that is, material reality, is that which hinders in its nature my will from finding nothing. I cannot of course have the consciousness of another’s personality or self-consciousness; but I can see that he is one who has it, and know what it is by my own self-consciousness. Is a person in a swoon? I have lost part of the evidence of what shews personality. And if personality be lost in a swoon or like state, it only shews we do not know by reason what constitutes it, the link between soul and body being momentarily suspended; but the spring from which to reason is gone, has ceased, so that there can be none: I cannot say “I,” which begins reasoning. I have no doubt it is the soul. But if the swoon was for ever, and I knew there was no ^elf-consciousness, I could not conceive of it as a person. Yet if a soul was there and it could be two hundred years asleep with the body, I should conceive of it as a person. If I did not know it had a soul, I should say I could not tell.

Mansel’s notion of body is merely the scholastic notion of substance. I say there is matter because according to my constitution two bodies cannot be in the same place. I cannot go through a door (a spirit can); but by God’s will it is such that what I meet resists my will without any will of its own.

Nor do I say consciousness moulds, nor that we only know phenomena, as Kant, etc., though there are apparent truth in this. God has so constituted things, and me, and others, that certain things produce certain effects and impressions on me. If a man with jaundice sees yellow, it is merely that he for the moment is so constituted, being in an abnormal state; but the knowledge of the constitution in both is in the same thing producing regularly the former effect.

To say with Kant, that the object is a phenomenon is nonsense, because the phenomenon includes the perception in me. If it appears, it appears to some one. But a thing is what produces the effect. If it be asked, What is it? I cannot tell. Not a phenomenon, but what has produced a certain idea in me and others. What I think of first is my perception; but perception makes me think of what produces it. A dream only shews that memory and combination, without the conscious will, may continue in that state.

That the truths as to God are only regulative is abominable and untrue. Truths do not regulate passions; and in religion, if true, God is revealed in His absolute nature: not as material extension, of course, it is a low material idea, but as He is. He is light—He is love; Christ is the perfect revelation of Him. It does not satisfy philosophy, because philosophy has nothing to do with it—it has only ideas, and no idea is love. “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” To say that action, not knowledge, is man’s destiny is very bad indeed. The knowledge of God—that is, the Father—and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, is eternal life. And we have fellowship with them. Action is a mere consequence in its place, because we are then, as partaking of the divine nature, like God, and have to act in love in our little sphere. And this correspondence with the Absolute is exactly what, if not required, is given. We know God and are imitators of God; we are dependent, no doubt, but truly.

The energy of matter is said to be motion; of mind, consciousness. I doubt this. Mansel always leaves out self-consciousness—its truest and deepest name. Will is the energy of the soul. For either consciousness or will we cannot find the link with matter. There are pairs of nerves, one of sensation (consciousness), another of motion. But the energy in Mansel’s sense—analogous to motion—is clearly in the latter. No man can discover the link, it is true, how will raises my hand. But Mansel is infected with what he reasons against. Gracious kindness, goodness, relationship with man according to divine qualities, are not inferior to the natural notions of infinitude, etc., which are really material.

It may be alleged that will is no action of the mind. This is a matter to be decided by the definition of mind. If taken strictly as the thinking power, thinking (not consciousness) is its energy. Mansel has blundered all through, because he has judged thought to be the first element of mind, and infinitude to relate to matter or space where God is spoken of. In the last he has fallen into the trap of the enemy.

As to cause, it is power operating by design; not that the design and the power are necessarily united in the agent producing. The design may be in one only mind, and power set in motion in another. Hence causes have been distinguished in nature, inaccurately perhaps in division, but justly, into causa causans and causa causata. Will, design, power in activity are a cause. The how may not be known; but this does not hinder my seeing a cause and effect. When I say cold causes water to swell, God is supposed to have so constructed as to design, His will to have led Him so to form it, and the power is seen in effect. How it comes about physical science may or may not discover, but can only come at last to created ordinances. God may have produced uniformly or universally operative force, which we call a law, and sustains that continually by His will. It can only be so at any moment by His will. When He does not will it, it ceases. Laws need not be changed for a miracle, but that the same will should operate sovereignly by those laws. Thus suppose the presence of the soul in a body according to a given law animates it in a given way which we call life. A person dies. God calls the soul back into the body to be perfect according to the given law. No law is changed, but a miracle is performed. Supposing nerves and muscles operate in a particular way where communication is established with the brain, the communication has been interrupted, never formed. By one word (that is, by His will) God, or one acting by His command, restores the communication. Now law is changed, but a miracle is performed. It is not a mere general law. It is the will which formed the law acting, not in suspending it in any case, but causing by an act of power the existence of a case in which its operation was renewed or begun where it did not before. A body specifically heavier than water sinks. The attractive power of the earth is not changed, but the body is so constructed by will and power for a time that it does not operate on it, and a man walks on the water. This does not suppose the action of the will and power of God: that is a miracle, but not a change in the laws of nature. The will of God may withdraw an individual from the power of a law without changing the law as a law at all. The exception only proves the rule. Men have said, If God stopped the earth for Joshua, so as to make the sun and moon stand still for Joshua, all would have been flooded and destroyed; just as if He would not have stopped the motion of all at the same time (that is, the action of the moving power). What stopped the earth stopped all with it, my head as well as my heels. This is ridiculous. The question is, Can God will? He is not God if He cannot. Can I?

Mansel is on wholly false ground as to this, because (while saying it is impossible by ideas) he confounds the revelation of God with ideas of Him, or human knowledge. He does not see here revelation of God in Christ, with the Holy Ghost giving perception of it and dwelling in us. Hence he runs back to acknowledge the incapacity which is true of mind as absolutely true, and makes the test of truth the harmonious consent of man’s faculties. If so, I have no test as to God; for they cannot know or test Him. A revelation is another thing; first, objectively, and then by divine capacitating power to the soul. God is light; Christ was the light of the world. God is love; Christ was love in the world; but the eyes must be opened to see the light, a new nature be communicated to enjoy it. The same thing must be to estimate the love, as shewn to me a sinner (without which in its own uncaused unsustained character, that is, as divine, it is not known) and as enjoyed by a saint—perfect as putting me in the absolute enjoyment of it, for it makes us to be as Christ (see 1 John 4), and that in full righteousness and holiness. (See his Lecture 5.) How sad that any sentence should be exactly the opposite of what Christ meant!

Even if I take the conscious “I” as marking knowledge of a person, I have no objection to use it as regards the Trinity in speaking of human language. For why—because the conscious “I” in man supposes distinctness from any other “I” —should the divine consciousness be a human one? Why not the consciousness of subsisting in unity—not ours? We cannot conceive it by our minds so as to explain it in language, but yet can recognise as truth undoubtingly “I and my Father are one.” We apprehend it not by thought, but by the Spirit. He “hath given us an understanding that we should know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” The perfect revelation of God in Christ is the strongest proof that limited existence to our minds (or the contrary) has nothing to do with the perfect revelation and knowledge of God. Love, holiness, absence of evil, presence of good, were there. He was limited as a man on earth as to space, yet He was all the while in heaven. He conferred power to work miracles elsewhere, and wrought them far off from Himself; yet it was a power in Him. He was the truth. He shewed that everything was from God by direct revelation, and all evil, by its opposition to Himself, vanity by the revelation of the true God. I recognise a perfect absolute revelation of God in Christ. I “know God.” But this is a revelation of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, yet one God.

When I have spoken of the consciousness of personality, yet of unity, I would not darken counsel by words without knowledge, or pretend to speak metaphysics on what is known only by revelation (but of which, when revealed, I may see the perfectness), but find the Lord saying, “I and my Father” (that is, consciousness of personal distinctness), yet He adds, “are one”; so that there was the consciousness of unity. And why not? Why should not distinctness of willing and acting, and the consciousness of it be there, yet in perfect community of undistinguished Godhead without separate being, as a source of being able to say “I am”? None could have known it (part of its character as known is in revelation): but when revealed, I see not why we may not see its perfectness, and that indeed (which is the way we know it too) man would have had nothing to say to God as a moral being without it, or only in this way. And so it really is; but we come to it by our wants, not by metaphysics, which I have no thought of applying to the doctrine. But having a revelation, one sees how it connects itself with the human conception of it.

As to moral law, the notion that it is of necessary and universal obligation, and so absolute (that is, not subject to the forms of human conception), that it must be “the measure and adequate representation of the moral nature of God,” and that our knowledge of the divine Being is identical with that of our own moral duties, is just the fruit—wise as men may think themselves—of unsound educational or traditional ideas about the law, as if it were the highest rule, the transcript of the divine mind. It is nothing of the sort. Had men only seen God’s activity of love in Christ, and that it is our pattern and rule—in a word, Christ as the full revelation of God in every way, all this confusion would have been avoided.

Law is an authoritatively imposed obligation. This cannot be God’s nature and position. His liberty in love (and there is no love without, but in, liberty) is wholly set aside (that is, the whole activity of His nature, His nature itself, for He is love) if this principle be true. To make law my nature is to make love impossible.

Besides, the application of the moral law to God as law is impossible, whether we take it as love to God or your neighbour, or the prohibition of evil, as is evident. But it is not because the moral law is not absolute, that is, above human thoughts. Such reasoning is just the fruit of not getting beyond thought (Mansel’s and Kant’s error here).

Morality, or moral obligation, is in the nature of all relations which imply a claim; it is the bond flowing from them. That man has had all manner of rules is true; but when God says, “The man is become as one of us, knowing good and evil,” it certainly implies that right and wrong was of an absolute nature. But it is the application of a law which makes obligatory a course imposed by authority (though it may be moral too). The knowledge of good and evil is the perception of it in itself, without a law or its being imposed. God does know, doubtless, good and evil according to the perfection of His own nature. But it is a condition of His nature to discern it; it was not of Adam’s before his fall. He was innocent; he enjoyed God’s goodness unsuspectingly, and did nothing else. There was no occasion to discern, nor capacity to do so. In the fall he acquired this capacity. He could now say, This is good and that evil; but he was under sin.

That moral law is excellent and absolute, because we discern good and evil, is a mistaken way of putting it. What we have is a capacity to discern right and wrong, not a law, but a moral condition of my mind. But, on the other hand, it is not subject to forms of thought, because it is not a question of thought. It is in the nature of the relationship; it is conscience, and not thought; it may be in us misled by thought.

It is all a blunder to say obligations cannot arise by relationship; because I may learn the existence of a relationship, or or I may be brought into a relationship. Thus, so far from thinking a moral obligation cannot be formed, I affirm that all the obligations of a Christian are new, because he reckons himself dead and alive to God through Christ as risen. His obligations flow wholly from his new condition. This may call for recognising under the condition something that subsisted before, as parents and children, etc.

The reason it is wholly untrue that the knowledge of good and evil gives us God’s nature is, that the knowledge of good and evil is the source of discerning right and wrong, which right and wrong flow from the relationship a being is in. Now God is either in none (unless within Himself, of which we cannot judge, because it is so), or, if He enter into any in creative will, He is not in the same as we are. Hence the obligation cannot be the same. All we say is, that He will not destroy (as between ourselves or between us and Him) the terms of relationship in which He has set us. If I had slaves or children and gave them something to enjoy in equal shares, it would be wrong for one to take from or defraud the other; but if I had not given up the title, I might do so. If God has revealed His nature to me and my relationship to Him, He does not change, and so the duty abides. But if the relationship changes and I become a son, the duty does.

The capacity to discern good and evil is the capacity to discern these duties or the breach of them. But if the relationship is one of authority, then there is duty to obey. There may be a mere arbitrary command; and I say the thing (if I have the knowledge of good and evil) was not bad in itself, but obedience is the place of one subject. Thus it was with Adam: there was no evil in eating of the tree if it had not been forbidden. It was only the test of obedience. Now we have more than this. I say such a thing is wrong even if not forbidden. As to the measure of it, I may be misled. Hence God has given a prescribed measure—the law. But the faculty of such discernment is in me. I call something wrong. I have a personal faculty to discern that the act does not suit—is not conformed to the relation in which the responsible being stands. One takes a knife from another: I hold it to be evil. A parent does so from a very young child: it is not evil, but good. It depends on the relationship.

Hence the only true absolute good is free. It is love, God Himself, and that in fact in the highest sense where there is no obligation at all, but where the responsible one had failed. If God, though surely sovereign, gives a promise, I expect Him to fulfil it, though I do not deny higher reasons may lead to its not being accomplished. But as a general promise, I reckon on it, because in that act He has been pleased to put Himself in relationship. If there be a higher claim, it may fail, but is in His own sovereign knowledge. But I can say, It is impossible for God to lie, because when He has given His word, He has been pleased to oblige Himself. He might for higher reasons destroy the one to whom the promise was made, and it would fail; but He cannot be inconsistent with what He is. But it is important to remember, what moralizers seem anxious to forget, that the knowledge of good and evil came to man in and by that in which he fell.

That relationship is the basis of the sense of right and wrong is every way evident. Thus, not knowing the relationship of angels among themselves, I cannot tell what is right and wrong among themselves; I do of human creatures; I say they must love one another, and love and obey God. I must not worship them: they must worship God.

Moral duties then are absolute in so far as that they do not depend on ideas as formed by any means at all, but are the judgment of an internal capacity; they only subsist in known relationships and last as long as they. But they belong to relationships; they are the expression of one’s consistency with it. And as long as I conceive it, I conceive the duty. Right and wrong did not exist for Adam in themselves (that is, without a command). It is not merely responsibility personally to God; that there was. God forbade. Man might not eat; but there was no sense of a thing wrong in itself, because inconsistent with a relationship, he being able to judge of it itself. There was nothing inconsistent in Adam’s mind with his relationship to God; his mind followed it without a question. He could think of nothing in itself inconsistent with it; that nature of thought was not in his nature.

But there is a difference between God’s knowledge of good and evil, and mine. I deny wholly that human morality is manifested in the form of a law of obligation. The knowledge of good and evil is the internal consciousness of what is conformable to position and relationship without a law of obligation. Yet it is not properly absolute, because it flows from relationship; only it attaches to the idea of the relationship as so contained in it. Moralists on both sides seem wholly wrong here. Goodness, properly speaking, is not morality, but love exercised where there is not an obligation. The only difficulty is to distinguish Adam’s case from right and wrong. The eating of the tree was no departure from conformity to the relationship Adam was in to God; he would have eaten it innocently as a matter of course. It was wrong simply to do what was forbidden, because forbidden. This leads to distinguish responsibility to a person absolutely, and the knowledge of right and wrong. That is, law and morality are opposed in nature; though law be the right measure of right when it recognises existing relationship, but where the law makes the obligation of the particular case, this means that otherwise there was not and could not be any knowledge of right and wrong (it would have denied Adam’s innocence to suppose any), but an arbitrary command, however wise a one.

To say that duty ought to be followed, is only saying there is duty. But two straight lines enclosing space is somewhat different; it means if two do not approach they do not meet. God knows good and evil, that is, He recognises relationship as it exists. I know good and evil now (that is, my will apart). I recognise these relationships as they exist; but what has this to do with God’s nature? His morality, speaking reverently, would be based on the relationship. He is in Himself; but He is in none, as we have seen, unless He pleases to put Himself in one: I am by virtue of my place. He recognises mine, and judges, but is not in it. I deny eternal morality save as an idea; it has no relation to Him at all. Absolute morality is nonsense. God did not create morality, but the relationship without which there could be none. If one supposes only the absolute God, there is no morality. Morality in respect of what? I cannot suppose it but with created responsibility, that is, creatures and consequently relationship.

I am disposed to think that, such as man was, he must have fallen to get the knowledge of good and evil. He knew no good objectively so as to prefer it in innocence. The test he was under was not preference of good to evil or evil to good, but obedience. It could not have been the former, because he must have known the two to decide (that is, not have been innocent). But then to go right with that knowledge he must have been a holy being, that is, a being with a spiritual nature divine or sustained of God which in nature delighted in good and abhorred evil, so as not to be in a state of probation because the decision was in the nature itself, so that there was nothing to test. But if he came to know good and evil, and was not decided against evil, he was already in an evil state. Besides he could not get into a condition to decide between good and evil; and if he had not known them before, he must decide; he has to exercise a will as free, and thus he is out of obedience (the only right state) and is in evil. A nature formed holy and sustained of God is decided in nature, and then only obeys. God could have given such a nature to man; but then it would have been a new creation, as it is now.

It is a mistake to think infinite power in itself inconsistent with finite power. Two infinite independent powers cannot be, because they contradict each other. They are not infinite, for they cannot destroy each other. But power being only the faculty to do all things, not the actual doing of them, the existence of a finite subordinate power is no contradiction to God. Creation tends to give the idea of a final cause, a framing will, and hence can hardly be ascribed to a finite agent. But forming new objects on subsisting laws may well belong to such.