God Is Excluded

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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 show, 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 show 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 dishonored 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 shown-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 shown 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 m 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.1
Again, as to christian evidences, whether miraculous facts or moral character were the bases, Mr. N. finds that neither system went to the bottom of human thought, or showed 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 show 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 and die giitter), 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 none 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-θεὸς ἧυ ὁ λόγος. Ἐυ ἀρχῆ ἐποίνσευ ὁ θεός. Ὁ λόγος ἧυ πρὸς τὸς θεόυ. 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 leveling 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 Mr. 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 pent, 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-consistent2 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. Afterward 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).3 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-humored 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 humor 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,4 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" shows 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 inquiry, 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 absence 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 favor, 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 criticize 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 19:1212So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. (Acts 19:12)) than on pocket-handkerchiefs dipped in the blood of martyrs?" (Ib. p. 13o.) 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 show 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 show 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 favored 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 suffer 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 showing what the Savior tells us, that the mind and will, thus acting and criticizing, 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 practice 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 cloak 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 Tire, 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 Tire 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 favorite 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 willful 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 show 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 showing 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 Savior, 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 Savior; 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 forever, 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. 206,5 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 αὐταρκεια 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, show? 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 learned to trust, tells him that God has told us to honor 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 showing 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, a 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 arc 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 show 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 shows 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 paralyze 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 unplausible 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.