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FOR AFTER THAT IN THE WISDOM OF GOD THE WORLD BY WISDOM KNEW NOT GOD, IT PLEASED GOD BY THE FOOLISHNESS OF PREACHING TO SAVE THEM THAT BELIEVE. FOR THE JEWS REQUIRE A SIGN, AND THE GREEKS SEEK AFTER WISDOM: BUT WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED, UNTO THE JEWS A STUMBLINGBLOCK, AND UNTO THE GREEKS FOOLISHNESS; BUT UNTO THEM WHICH ARE CALLED, BOTH JEWS AND GREEKS, CHRIST TI1E POWER OF GOD, AND THE WISDOM OF GOD.—1 CORINTHIANS 1. 21-24.
“THOUGH it were admitted,” says Bishop Butler, “that this opinion of Necessity were speculatively true; yet, with regard to practice, it is as if it were false, so far as our experience reaches; that is, to the whole of our present life. For the constitution of the present world, and the condition in which we are actually placed, is as if we were free. And it may perhaps justly be concluded that, since the whole process of action, through every step of it, suspense, deliberation, inclining one way, determining, and at last doing as we determine, is as if we were free, therefore we are so. But the thing here insisted upon is, that under the present natural government of the world, we find we are treated and dealt with as if we were free, prior to all consideration whether we are or not.”(1)
That this observation has in any degree settled the speculative difficulties involved in the problem of Liberty and Necessity, will not be maintained by any one who is acquainted with the history of the controversy. Nor was it intended by its author to do so. But, like many other pregnant sentences of that great thinker, it introduces a principle capable of a much wider application than to the inquiry which originally suggested it. The vexed question of Liberty and necessity, whose counter-arguments have become a by-word for endless and unprofitable wrangling, is but one of a large class of problems, some of which meet us at every turn of our daily life and conduct, whenever we attempt to justify in theory that which we are compelled to carry out in practice. Such problems arise inevitably, whenever we attempt to pass from the sensible to the intelligible world, from the sphere of action to that of thought, from that which appears to us to that which is in itself: In religion, in morals, in our daily business, in the care of our lives, in the exercise of our senses, the rules which guide our practice cannot be reduced to principles which satisfy our reason.(2)
The very first Law of Thought, and, through Thought, of all Consciousness, by which alone we are able to discern objects as such, or to distinguish them one from another, involves in its constitution a mystery and a doubt, which no effort of Philosophy has been able to penetrate:—How can the One be many, or the Many one?(3) We are compelled to regard ourselves and our fellow-men as persons, and the visible world around us as made up of things: but what is personality, and what is reality, are questions which the wisest have tried to answer, and have tried in vain. Man, as a Person, is one, yet composed of many elements;—not identical with any one of them, nor yet with the aggregate of them all; and yet not separable from them by any effort of abstraction. Man is one in his thoughts, in his actions, in his feelings, and in the responsibilities which these involve. It is I who think, I who act, I who feel; yet I am not thought, nor action, nor feeling, nor a combination of thoughts and actions and feelings heaped together. Extension, and resistance, and shape, and the various sensible qualities, make up my conception of each individual body as such; yet the body is not its extension, nor its shape, nor its hardness, nor its color, nor its smell, nor its taste; nor yet is it a mere aggregate of all these with no principle of unity among them. If these several parts constitute a single whole, the unity, as well as the plurality, must depend upon some principle which that whole contains: if they do not constitute a whole, the difficulty is removed but a single step; for the same question,—what constitutes individuality?—must be asked in relation to each separate part. The actual conception of every object, as such, involves the combination of the One and the Many; and that combination is practically made every time we think at all. But at the same time, no effort of reason is able to explain how such a relation is possible; or to satisfy the intellectual doubt which necessarily arises on the contemplation of it.
As it is with the first law of Thought, so it is with the first principle of Action and of Feeling. All action, whether free or constrained, and all passion, implies and rests upon another great mystery of Philosophy,—the Commerce between Mind and Matter. The properties and operations of matter are known only by the external senses: the faculties and acts of the mind are known only by the internal apprehension. The energy of the one is motion: the energy of the other is consciousness. What is the middle term which unites these two? and how c8n their reciprocal action, unquestionable as it is in fact, be conceived as possible in theory?(4) How can a contact between body and body produce consciousness in the immaterial soul? How can a mental self-determination produce the motion of material organs?(5) How can mind, which is neither extended nor figured nor colored itself, represent by its ideas the extension and figure and color of bodies? How can the body be determined to a new position in space by an act of thought, to which space has no relation? How can thought itself be carried on by bodily instruments, and yet itself have nothing in common with bodily affections? What is the relation between the last pulsation of the material brain and the first awakening of the mental perception? How does the spoken word, a merely material vibration of the atmosphere, become echoed, as it were, in the silent voice of thought, and take its part in an operation wholly spiritual? Here again we acknowledge, in our daily practice, a fact which we are unable to represent in theory; and the various hypotheses to which Philosophy has had recourse,—the Divine Assistance, the Preëstablished Harmony, the Plastic Medium, and others,(6) are but so many confessions of the existence of the mystery, and of the extraordinary, yet wholly insufficient efforts made by human reason to penetrate it.(7)
The very perception of our senses is subject to the same restrictions. “No priestly dogmas,” says Hume, “ever shocked common sense more than the infinite divisibility of extension, with its consequences.”(8) He should have added, that the antagonist assumption of a finite divisibility is equally incomprehensible; it being as impossible to conceive an ultimate unit, or least possible extension, as it is to conceive the process of division carried on to infinity. Extension is presented to the mind as a relation between parts exterior to each other, whose reality cannot consist merely in their juxtaposition. We are thus compelled to believe that extension itself is dependent upon some higher law;—that it is not an original principle of things in themselves, but a derived result of their connection with each other. But to conceive how this generation of space is possible,—how unextended objects can by their conjunction produce extension,—baffles the utmost efforts of the wildest imagination or the profoundest reflection.(9) We cannot conceive how unextended matter can become extended; for of unextended matter we know nothing, either in itself or in its relations; though we are apparently compelled to postulate its existence, as implied in the appearances of which alone we are conscious. The existence of mental succession in time is as inexplicable as that of a material extension in space;—a first moment and an infinite regress of moments being both equally inconceivable, no less than the corresponding theories of a first atom and an infinite division.
The difficulty which meets us in these problems may help to throw some light on the purposes for which human thought is designed, and the limits within which it may be legitimately exercised. The primary fact of consciousness, which is accepted as regulating our practice, is in itself inexplicable, but not inconceivable. There is mystery; but there is not yet contradiction. Thought is baffled, and unable to pursue the track of investigation; but it does not grapple with an idea and destroy itself in the struggle. Contradiction does not begin till we direct our thoughts, not to the fact itself, but to that which it suggests as beyond itself. This difference is precisely that which exists between following the laws of thought, and striving to transcend them;—between leaving the mystery of Knowing and Being unsolved, and making unlawful attempts to solve it. The facts,—that all objects of thought are conceived as wholes composed of parts; that mind acts upon matter, and matter upon mind; that bodies are extended in space, and thoughts successive in time,—do not, in their own statement, severally contain elements repulsive of each other. As mere facts, they are so far front being inconceivable, that they embody the very laws of conception itself, and are experienced at every moment as true: but though we are able, nay, compelled to conceive them as facts, we find it impossible to conceive them as ultimate facts. They are made known to us as relations; and all relations are in themselves complex, and imply simpler principles;—objects to be related, and a ground by which the relation is constituted. The conception of any such relation as a fact thus involves a further inquiry concerning its existence as a consequence; and to this inquiry no satisfactory answer can be given. Thus the highest principles of thought and action, to which we can attain, are regulative, not speculative;—they do not serve to satisfy the reason, but to guide the conduct; they do not tell us what things are in themselves, but how we must conduct ourselves in relation to them.
The conclusion which this condition of human consciousness almost irresistibly forces upon us, is one which equally exhibits the strength and the weakness of the human intellect. We are compelled to admit that the mind, in its contemplation of objects, is not the mere passive recipient of the things presented to it; but has an activity and a law of its own, by virtue of which it reäcts upon the materials existing without, and moulds them into that form in which consciousness is capable of apprehending them. The existence of modes of thought, which we are compelled to accept as at the same time relatively ultimate and absolutely derived,—as limits beyond which we cannot penetrate, yet which themselves proclaim that there is a further truth behind and above them,—-suggests, as its obvious explanation, the hypothesis of a mind cramped by its own laws, and bewildered in the contemplation of its own forms. If the mind, in the act of consciousness, were merely blank and inert;—if the entire object of its contemplation came from without, and nothing from within; -no fact of consciousness would be inexplicable; for everything would present itself as it is. No reality would be suggested, beyond what is actually given: no question would be asked which is not already answered. For how can doubt arise, where there is no innate power in the mind to think beyond what is placed before it,—to reäct upon that which acts upon it? But upon the contrary supposition, all is regular, and the result such as might naturally be expected. If thought has laws of its own, it cannot by its own act go beyond them; yet the recognition of law, as a restraint, implies the existence of a sphere of liberty beyond. If the mind contributes its own element to the objects of consciousness, it must, in its first recognition of those objects, necessarily regard them as something complex, something generated partly from without and partly from within. Yet in that very recognition of the complex, as such, is implied an impossibility of attaining to the simple; for to resolve the composition is to destroy the very act of knowledge, and the relation by which consciousness is constituted. The object of which we are conscious is thus, to adopt the well-known language of the Kantian philosophy, a phenomenon, not a thing in itself;—a product, resulting from the twofold action of the thing apprehended, on the one side, and the faculties apprehending it, on the other. The perceiving subject alone, and the perceived object alone, are two unmeaning elements, which first acquire a significance in and by the act of their conjunction.(10)
It is thus strictly in analogy with the method of God’s Providence in the constitution of man’s mental faculties, if we believe that, in Religion also, He has given us truths which are designed to be regulative, rather than speculative; intended, not to satisfy our reason, but to guide our practice; not to tell us what God is in His absolute nature, but how He wills that we should think of Him in our present finite state.(11) In my last Lecture, I endeavored to show that our knowledge of God is not a consciousness of the Infinite as such, but that of the relation of a Person to a Person;—the conception of personality being, humanly speaking, one of limitation. This amounts to the admission that, in natural religion at least, our knowledge of God does not satisfy the conditions of speculative philosophy, and is incapable of reduction to an ultimate and absolute truth. And this, as we now see, is in accordance with the analogy which the character of human philosophy in other provinces would naturally lead us to expect.(12) It is reasonable also that we should expect to find, as part of the same analogy, that the revealed manifestation of the Divine nature and attributes should also carry on its face the marks of subordination to some higher truth, of which it indicates the existence, but does not make known the substance. It is to be expected that our apprehension of the revealed Deity should involve mysteries inscrutable and doubts insoluble by our present faculties: while, at the same time, it inculcates the true spirit in which such doubts should be dealt with; by warning us, as plainly as such a warning is possible, that we see a part only, and not the whole; that we behold effects only, and not causes; that our knowledge of God, though revealed by Himself, is revealed in relation to human faculties, and subject to the limitations and imperfections inseparable from the constitution of the human mind.(l3) We may neglect this warning if we please: we may endeavor to supply the imperfection, and thereby make it more imperfect still: we may twist and torture the divine image on the rack of human philosophy, and call its mangled relics by the high-sounding titles of the Absolute and the Infinite; but these ambitious conceptions, the instant we attempt to employ them in any act of thought, manifest at once, by their inherent absurdities, that they are not that which they pretend to be;—that in the place of the Absolute and Infinite manifested in its own nature, we have merely the Relative and Finite contradicting itself.
We may indeed believe, and ought to believe, that the knowledge which our Creator has permitted us to attain to, whether by Revelation or by our natural faculties, is not given to us as an instrument of deception. We may believe, and ought to believe, that, intellectually as well as morally, our present life is a state of discipline and preparation for another; and that the conceptions which we are compelled to adopt, as the guides of our thoughts and actions now, may indeed, in the sight of a higher intelligence, be but partial truth, but cannot be total falsehood. But in thus believing, we desert the evidence of Reason, to rest on that of Faith; and of the principles on which Reason itself depends, it is obviously impossible to have any other guarantee. But such a Faith, however well founded, has itself only a regulative and practical, not a speculative and theoretical application. It bids us rest content within the limits which have been assigned to us; but it cannot enable us to overleap those limits, nor exalt to a more absolute character the conclusions obtained by finite thinkers under the conditions of finite thought. But, on the other hand, we must beware of the opposite extreme,—that of mistaking the inability to affirm for the ability to deny. We cannot say that our conception of the Divine Nature exactly resembles that Nature in its absolute existence; for we know not what that absolute existence is. But, for the same reason, we are equally unable to say that it does lot resemble; for, if we know not the Absolute and Infinite at all, we cannot say how far it is or is not capable of likeness or unlikeness to the Relative and Finite. We must remain content with the belief that we have that knowledge of God which is best adapted to our wants and training. How far that knowledge represents God as He is, we know not, and we have no need to know.
The testimony of Scripture, like that of our natural faculties, is plain and intelligible, when we ale content to accept it as a fact intended for our practical guidance: it becomes incomprehensible, only when we attempt to explain it as a theory capable of speculative analysis. We are distinctly told that there is a mutual relation between God and man, as distinct agents;—that God influences man by His grace, visits him with rewards or punishments, regards him with love or anger;—that man, within his own limited sphere, is likewise capable of “prevailing with God;”4444 Genesis xxxii. 28. that his prayers may obtain an answer, his conduct call down God’s favor or condemnation. There is nothing self-contradictory or even unintelligible in this, if we are content to believe that it is so, without striving to understand how it is so. But the instant we attempt to analyze the ideas of God as infinite and man as finite;—to resolve the scriptural statements into the higher principles on which their possibility apparently depends;—we are surrounded on every side by contradictions of our own raising; and, unable to comprehend how the Infinite and the Finite can exist in mutual relation, we are tempted to deny the fact of that relation altogether, and to seek a refuge, though it be but insecure and momentary, in Pantheism, which denies the existence of the Finite, or in Atheism, which rejects the Infinite. And here, again, the parallel between Religion and Philosophy holds: the same limits of thought are discernible in relation to both. The mutual intercourse of mind and matter has been explained away by rival theories of Idealism on the one side and Materialism on the other. The unity and plurality, which are combined in every object of thought, have been assailed, on this side by the Eleatic, who maintains that all things are one, and variety a delusion;(14) on that side by the Skeptic, who tells us that there is no unity, but merely a mixture of differences; that nothing is, but all things are ever becoming; that mind and body, as substances, are mere philosophical fictions, invented for the support of isolated impressions and ideas.(15) The mystery of Necessity and Liberty has its philosophical as well as its theological aspect: and a parallel may be found to both, in the counter-labyrinth of Continuity in Space, whose mazes are sufficiently bewildering to show that the perception of our bodily senses, however certain as a fact, reposes, in its ultimate analysis, upon a mystery no less insoluble than that which envelops the free agency of man in its relation to the Divine Omniscience.(16)
Action, and not knowledge, is man’s destiny and duty in this life; and his highest principles, both in philosophy and in religion, have reference to this end. But it does not follow, on that account, that our representations are untrue, because they are imperfect. To assert that a representation is untrue, because it is relative to the mind of the receiver, is to overlook the fact that truth itself is nothing more than a relation. Truth and falsehood are not properties of things in themselves, but of our conceptions, and are tested, not by the comparison of conceptions with things in themselves, but with things as they are given in some other relation. My conception of an object of sense is true, when it corresponds to the characteristics of the object as I perceive it; but the perception itself is equally a relation, and equally implies the coöperation of human faculties. Truth in relation to ho intelligence is a contradiction in terms: our highest conception of absolute truth is that of truth in relation to all intelligences. But of the consciousness of intelligences different from our own we have no knowledge, and can make no application. Truth, therefore, in relation to man, admits of no other test than the harmonious consent of all human faculties; and, as no such faculty can take cognizance of the Absolute, it follows that correspondence with the Absolute can never be required as a test of truth.(17) The utmost deficiency that can be charged against human faculties amounts only to this:—that we cannot say that we know God as God knows himself; (18)—that the truth of which our finite minds are susceptible may, for aught we know, be but the passing shadow of some higher reality, which exists only in the Infinite Intelligence.
That the true conception of the Divine Nature, so far as we are able to receive it, is to be found in those regulative representations which exhibit God under limitations accommodated to the constitution of man; not in the unmeaning abstractions which, aiming at a higher knowledge, distort, rather than exhibit, the Absolute and the Infinite; is thus a conclusion warranted, both deductively, from the recognition of the limits of human thought, and inductively, by what we can gather from experience and analogy concerning, God’s general dealings with mankind. There remains yet a third indispensable probation, to which the same conclusion must be subjected; namely, how far does it agree with the teaching of Holy Scripture?
In no respect is the Theology of the Bible, as contrasted with the mythologies of human invention, more remarkable, than in the manner in which it recognizes and adapts itself to that complex and self-limiting constitution of the human mind, which man’s wisdom finds so difficult to acknowledge. To human reason, the personal and the infinite stand out in apparently irreconcilable antagonism; and the recognition of the one in a religious system almost inevitably involves the sacrifice of the other. The Personality of God disappears in the Pantheism of India; His Infinity is lost sight of in the Polytheism of Greece.(19) In the Hebrew Scriptures, on the contrary, throughout all their variety of Books and Authors, one method of Divine teaching is constantly manifested, appealing alike to the intellect and to the feelings of man. From first to last we hear the echo of that first great Commandment: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”4545 Deuteronomy vi. 4, 5. St. Mark xii. 29, 30. God is plainly and uncompromisingly proclaimed as the One and the Absolute: “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God:”4646 Isaiah xliv. 6. yet this sublime conception is never for an instant so exhibited as to furnish rood for that mystical contemplation to which the Oriental mind is naturally so prone. On the contrary, in all that relates to the feelings and duties by which religion is practically to be regulated, we cannot help observing how the Almighty, in communicating with His people, condescends to place Himself on what may, humanly speaking, be called a lower level than that on which the natural reason of man would be inclined to exhibit Him. While His Personality is never suffered to sink to a merely human representation; while it is clearly announced that His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways,4747 Isaiah iv. 8. yet His Infinity is never for a moment so manifested as to destroy or weaken the vivid reality of those human attributes, under which He appeals to the human sympathies of His creature. “The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”4848 Exodus xxxiii. 11. He will listen to our supplications:4949 Psalm cxlii. 1, 2. He will help those that cry unto Him:5050 Psalm cii. 17, 18; cxiv. 19. Isaiah lviii. 9. He reserveth wrath for His enemies.5151 Nahum i. 2. He is appeased by repentance:5252 1 Kings xxi. 19. Jeremiah xviii. 8. Ezekiel xviii. 23, 30. Jonah iii. 10. “He showeth mercy to them that love Him.5353 Exodus xx. 6. As a King, He listens to the petitions of His subjects:5454 Psalm v. 2; lxxiv. 12. Isaiah xxxiii. 22. as a Father, He pitieth His own children.5555 Psalm ciii. 13. It is impossible to contemplate this marvellous union of the human and divine, so perfectly adapted to the wants of the human servant of a divine Master, without feeling that it is indeed the work of Him who formed the spirit of man, and fitted him for the service of His Maker. “He showeth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; neither have the heathen knowledge of His laws.”5656 Psalm cxlvii. 19, 29.
But if this is the lesson taught us by that earlier manifestation in which God is represented under the likeness of human attributes, what may we learn from that later and fuller revelation which tells us of One who is Himself both God and Man? The Father has revealed Himself to mankind under human types and images, that He may appeal more earnestly and effectually to man’s consciousness of the human spirit within him. The Son has done more than this: He became for our sakes very Man, made in all things like unto His brethren;5757 Hebrews ii. 17. the Mediator between God and men,5858 1 Timothy ii. 5. being both God and Man.(20) Herein is our justification, if we refuse to aspire beyond those limits of human thought in which He has placed us. Herein is our answer, if any man would spoil us through philosophy and vain deceit.5959 Colossians ii. 8. Is it irrational to contemplate God under symbols drawn from the human consciousness? Christ is our pattern: “for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”6060 Colossians ii. 9. (21) Is it unphilosophical that our thoughts of God should be subject to the law of time? It was when the fulness of the time was come, that God sent forth his Son.6161 Galatians iv. 4. (22) Does the philosopher bid us strive to transcend the human, and to annihilate our own personality in the presence of the Infinite? The Apostle tells us to look forward to the time when we shall “all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”6262 Ephesians iv. 13. Does human wisdom seek, by some transcendental form of intuition, to behold God as He is in his infinite nature; repeating in its own manner the request of Philip, “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us?” Christ Himself has given the rebuke and the reply: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? “6363 St. John xiv. 8, 9.
The doctrine of a personal Christ, very God and very Man, has indeed been the great stumblingblock in the way of those so-called philosophical theologians who, in their contempt for the historical and temporal, would throw aside the vivid revelation of a living and acting God, to take refuge in the empty abstraction of an impersonal idea. And accordingly, they have made various elaborate attempts to substitute in its place a conception more in accordance with the supposed requirements of speculative philosophy. Let us hear on this point, and understand as we best may, the language of the great leader of the chief modern school of philosophical rationalists. “To grasp rightly and definitely in thought,” says Hegel, “the nature of God as a Spirit, demands profound speculation. These propositions are first of all contained therein: God is God only in so far as He knows Himself: His own self-knowledge is moreover His self-consciousness in man, and man’s knowledge of God, which is developed into man’s self-knowledge in God.” . . . “The Form of the Absolute Spirit,” he continues, “separates itself from the Substance, and in it the different phases of the conception part into separate spheres or elements, in each of which the Absolute Substance exhibits itself, first as an eternal substance, abiding in its manifestation with itself; secondly, as a distinguishing of the eternal Essence from its manifestation, which through this distinction becomes the world of appearance, into which the substance of the absolute Spirit enters; thirdly, as an endless return and reconciliation of the world thus projected with the eternal Essence, by which that Essence goes back from appearance into the unity of its fulness.”(23) The remainder of the passage carries out this metaphysical caricature of Christian doctrine into further details, bearing on my present argument, but with even additional obscurity;—an obscurity so great, that the effect of a literal translation would be too ludicrous for an occasion like the present. But enough has been quoted to show that if rationalizing philosophers have not made much progress, since the days of Job, in the ability to find out the Almighty unto perfection,6464 Job xi. 7. they have at least not gone backwards in the art of darkening counsel by words without knowledge.6565 Job xxxviii. 2.
What is the exact meaning of this profound riddle, which the author has repeated in different forms in various parts of his writings;(24)—whether he really means to assert or to deny the existence of Christ as a man;—whether he designs to represent the Incarnation and earthly life of the Son of God as a fact, or only as the vulgar representation of a philosophical idea,—is a point which has been stoutly disputed among his disciples, and which possibly the philosopher himself did not wish to see definitely settled.(25) But there is another passage, in which he has spoken somewhat more plainly, and which, without being quite decisive, may be quoted as throwing some light on the tendency of his thought. “Christ,” says this significant passage, “has been called by the church the God-Man. This monstrous combination is to the understanding a direct contradiction; but the unity of the divine and human nature is in this respect brought into consciousness and certainty in man; in that the Diversity, or, as we may also express it, the Finiteness, Weakness, Frailty of human nature, is not incompatible with this Unity, as in the eternal Idea Diversity in nowise derogates from the Unity which is God. This is the monstrosity whose necessity we have seen. It is therein implied that the divine and human nature are not in themselves different. God in human form. The truth is, that there is but one Reason, one Spirit; that the Spirit as finite has no real existence.”(26)
The dark sentences of the master have been, as might naturally be expected, variously developed by his disciples. Let us hear how the same theory is expressed in the language of one who is frequently commended as representing the orthodox theology of this school, and who has striven hard to reconcile the demands of his philosophy with the belief in a personal Christ. Marheineke assures us, that “the possibility of God becoming Man shows in itself that the divine and human nature awe in themselves not separate:” that, “as the truth of the human nature is the divine, so the reality of the divine nature is the human.”(27) And towards the conclusion of a statement worthy to rank with that of his master for grandiloquent obscurity, he says, “As Spirit, by renouncing Individuality, Man is in truth elevated above himself, without having abandoned the human nature: as Spirit renouncing Absoluteness, God has lowered Himself to human nature, without having abandoned his existence as Divine Spirit. The unity of the divine and human nature is but the unity in that Spirit whose existence is the knowledge of the truth, with which the doing of good is identical. This Spirit, as God in the human nature and as Man in the divine nature, is the God-Man. The man wise in divine holiness, and holy in divine wisdom, is the God-Man. As a historical fact,” he continues, “this union of God with man is manifest and real in the Person of Jesus Christ: in Him the divine manifestation has become perfectly human. The conception of the God-Man in the historical Person of Jesus Christ, contains in itself two phases in one; first, that God is manifest only through man; and in this relation Christ is as yet placed on an equality with all other men: He is the Son of Man, and therein at first represents only the possibility of God becoming Man: secondly, that in this Man, Jesus Christ, God is manifest, as in none other: this manifest Man is the manifest God; but the manifest God is the Son of God; and in this relation, Christ is God’s Son; and this is the actual fulfilment of the possibility or promise; it is the reality of God becoming Man.”(28)
But this kind of halting between two opinions, which endeavors to combine the historical fact with the philosophical theory, was not of a nature to satisfy the bolder and more logical minds of the same school. In the theory of Strauss, we find the direct antagonism between the historical and the philosophical Christ fairly acknowledged; and the former is accordingly set aside entirely, to make way for the latter. And here we have at least the advantage, that the trumpet gives no uncertain sound;—that we are no longer deluded by a phantom of Christian doctrine enveloped in a mist of metaphysical obscurity; but the two systems stand out sharply and clearly defined, in their utter contrariety to each other. “In an individual, a God-Man,” he tells us, “the properties and functions which the church ascribes to Christ contradict themselves; in the idea of the race, they perfectly agree. Humanity is the union of the two natures—God become Man, the infinite manifesting itself in the finite, and the finite Spirit remembering its infinitude: it is the child of the visible Mother and the invisible Father, Nature and Spirit: it is the worker of miracles, in so far as in the course of human history the spirit more and more completely subjugates nature, both within and around man, until it lies before him as the inert matter on which he exercises his active power: it is the sinless one, for the course of its development is a blameless one; pollution cleaves to the individual only, but in the race and its history it is taken away. It is Humanity that dies, rises, and ascends to heaven; for from the negation of its natural state there ever proceeds a higher spiritual life; from the suppression of its finite character as a personal, national, and terrestrial Spirit, arises its union with the infinite Spirit of the heavens. By faith in this Christ, especially in his death and resurrection, man is justified before God: that is, by the kindling within him of the idea of Humanity, the individual man participates in the divinely human life of the species. Now the main element of that idea is, that the negation of the merely natural and sensual life, which is itself the negation of the spirit (the negation of negation, therefore), is the sole way to true spiritual life.”(29)
These be thy gods, O Philosophy: these are the Metaphysics of Salvation.(30) This is that knowledge of things divine and human, which we are called upon to substitute for the revealed doctrine of the Incarnation of the eternal Son in the fulness of time. It is for this philosophical idea, so superior to all history and fact,—this necessary process of the unconscious and impersonal Infinite,—that we are to sacrifice that blessed miracle of Divine Love and Mercy, by which the Son of God, of His own free act and will, took man’s nature upon Him for man’s redemption. It is for this that we are to obliterate from our faith that touching picture of the pure and holy Jesus, to which mankind for eighteen centuries has ever turned, with the devotion of man to God rendered only more heartfelt by the sympathy of love between man and man: which from generation to generation has nurtured the first seeds of religion in the opening mind of childhood, by the image of that Divine Child who was cradled in the manger of Bethlehem, and was subject to His parents at Nazareth: which has checked the fiery temptations of youth, by the thought of Him who “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin:”6666 Hebrews iv. 15. which has consoled the man struggling with poverty and sorrow, by the pathetic remembrance of Him who on earth had not where to lay his head:6767 St. Luke ix. 58. which has blended into one brotherhood the rich and the poor, the mighty and the mean among mankind, by the example of Him who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor;6868 2 Corinthians viii. 9. though He was equal with God, yet took upon Him the form of a servant:6969 Philippians ii. 6, 7. which has given to the highest and purest precepts of morality an additional weight and sanction, by the records of that life in which the marvellous and the familiar are so strangely yet so perfectly united;—that life so natural in its human virtue, so supernatural in its divine power: which has robbed death of its sting, and the grave of its victory, by faith in Him who “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification:”7070 Romans iv. 25. which has ennobled and sanctified even the wants and weaknesses of our mortal nature, by the memory of Him who was an hungered in the wilderness and athirst upon the cross; who mourned over the destruction of Jerusalem, and wept at the grave of Lazarus.
Let Philosophy say what she will, the fact remains unshaken. It is the consciousness of the deep wants of our human nature, that first awakens God’s presence in the soul; it is by adapting His Revelation to those wants that God graciously condescends to satisfy them. The time may indeed come, though not in this life, when these various manifestations of God, “at sundry times and in divers manners,”7171 Hebrews i. 1. may be seen to be but different sides and partial representations of one and the same Divine Reality;—when the light which now gleams in restless flashes from tlle ruffled waters of the human soul, will settle into the steadfast image of God’s face shining on its unbroken surface. But ere this shall be, that which is perfect must come, and that which is in part must be done away.7272 1 Corinthians xiii. 10. But as regards the human wisdom which would lead us to this consummation now, there is but one lesson which it can teach us; and that it teaches in spite of itself. It teaches the lesson which the wise king of Israel learned from his own experience: “I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: I have seen all the works that are done under the sun: and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.”7373 Ecclesiastes i. 13, 14, 17. And if ever the time should come to any of us, when, in the bitter conviction of that vanity and vexation, we, who would be as gods in knowledge, wake up only to the consciousness of our own nakedness, happy shall we be, if then we may still hear, ringing in our ears and piercing to our hearts, an echo from that personal life of Jesus which our philosophy has striven in vain to pervert or to destroy: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life: and we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”7474 St. John vi. 68, 69.
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