« PreviousContinue »
imperfect, and which show the need of light from other sources.
First, we notice the fact already named, that Nature reveals God as a Being of law and order. This is one of the profoundest impressions made upon the student of nature. He sees everywhere systein, method, order, law. Nothing mores at random, nothing comes by chance. Every force acts according to law, and every effect has a cause. Hence the God revealed in nature is a God of law, and this fact is one of the most important that nature furnishes us. But this is not all there is of God. God is something more than mere law. God is the Lawgiver. He is above and back of the law as its ordainer and executor. Law implies an intelligent will that ordains and executes it. Hence God is above and superior to the law, and can suspend and change it as He wills.
But the tendency in the study of nature is to ignore this fact, to see nothing but the law. The impression of law is so powerful that it rules out all other impressions. Hence the disposition in the scientific world to deify Law, and deny the possibility of miracles. The law of evolution is supposed to account for everything. Only just say a thing has evolved from some other thing, and you have solved the whole mystery of its being. As though the law of evolution did not require a God to ordain and execute it just as much as any other law. Let evolution be true. It is only the way, the process of creation, it is not the cause of creation, the power that creates. It needs a God just as much as any other method, and he who tries to deify it, is insisting on the absurdity of having a law without a Lawgiver.
Miracles are denied much in the same way. A law of nature, it is said, is fixed and immutable ; it cannot be changed or suspended. A miracle, therefore, is impossible. God cannot work a miracle, because that implies interference with the immutable laws of nature. Two things are overlooked in these statements.
First, that this very orderliness of Nature, this uniformity of her laws, makes a miracle possible. If there were no rule, NEW SERIES VOL XVIII
there could be no exceptions. If there were no usual Divine action, there could be no unusual. Suppose perfect caprice in the operations of nature, suppose storms should cease at at anybody's word, or at nobody's word, or not at all, just as it happens. Would there be any possibility of working a miracle by stilling a tempest with a word ? Or suppose there was no law of death. Suppose that one man did not die at all, and another died and rose again every day, and still another died and did not rise at all, and so on with infinite variety through the whole race, would the resurrection of the dead then be a miracle ? Could God work a miracle then by raising the dead? Do we not see that the uniformity of nature's laws makes a miracle possible ? Because God manifests His power in nature according to law, therefore He can manifest it in the change or suspension of law. The rule makes the exception possible.
Again, those who make this statement concerning miracles overlook the fact that it dethrones God, and enthrones law. Allowing that God ordained the laws of nature, these laws have rebelled and taken the throne to themselves. God has made laws mightier than Himself. He is tied up in the work of His own hands. The stream rises higher than the fountain. He is in the same condition that the heather deities were in respect to the Fates. They were gods, but they were subject to the Fates. Jupiter was omnipotent, but the Fates were “too many" for Jupiter. So in this case, the laws are “ too many” for God. He cannot change what He has once fixed. Omnipotence is not in Deity, but in the laws He has
Those who argue the impossibility of miracles, follow the example of those who see Christ, not as the image of God, but as God Himself; or those who confound baptism with the amount of water, or see value in a piece of printed paper. They take the shadow for the substance, the sign for the thing signified.
A law of nature is merely the will of Deity, and hence is absolutely nothing but a method of Divine action. It has no
vitality of its own, but receives all of its life and power from the force that lies behind. All this worship of law, therefore, is a kind of idolatry. It is putting something in the place of God, and bowing to that, instead of carrying the thought back to God Himself. Hence we see the need which the reveal. ment of God in nature, as a God of law, has of that in Christianity; for Christianity adds to this conception of God the conviction of His superiority to law, the idea of God as the source and fountain of law, and not its subject and slave,
Again, nature reveals the goodness of God, but it is a general goodness. It is a goodness that comes to all creatures alike. It has no special favors for us. It does not visit man in his profoundest needs. Nature knows nothing of forgive
Her laws are inexorable. There is no suggestion of a tender and all-loving heart back of these laws, that can speak peace to the sin-sorrowing soul, and give him strength and courage for renewed effort. The goodness of God in nature therefore needs to be resolved, as it is in Jesus Christ, into the special love of the Father for His children, a love that comes to us in our sins, and says, “ Thy sins are forgiren ; go then and sin no more.”
But finally there is a distance, a majesty, an awfulness about the God of nature that chills and oppresses the human heart. The very infinitude of God as seen in nature, takes God away from us. We cannot grasp Him. Deity is not so focussed anywhere in nature, as to be within the grasp of the human thought and love. The religion of nature is distant, cold, unsympathetic. Hence that theory of society which advocates the kilıing off of the poor, weak and infirm, according to the law of the survival of the fittest;" that teaches that society ought to destroy all the malformed, weak, and imper. fect children, and save only those who are strong, well-formed, and vigorous. None but a heart trained in the school of hard, cold materialism could advocate such a theory.
Nature's God therefore needs warming in the Sun of Christianity. Christ gathers up all the rays of light and love that are dissipated as it were in nature, brings them all to a burn
ing point, and pours them on the soul of man. The infinitude of nature becomes the infinitude of love when seen through the lens of Christianity. The Almightiness of nature is the Almightiness of Justice and Mercy.
So we see how much these several revelations need each other. No one is perfect in and of itself. Each has something to say to the other, which it needs to hear. Men become one-sided and narrow in their thoughts of God, because they persist in looking in only one direction. Our theology will become perfect when, and as fast, as we learn to combine and harmonize all these revelations in one.
Materialistic Conceptions of Religion.
We have for a long time believed that materialistic views of Christianity are among the most mischievous sources of error, and that their influence over the human soul is one of the most difficult with which the preacher has to deal. If Christian truth can be only “spiritually discerned,” he must find it difficult, amid the material surroundings and the carnal. mindedness generated thereby, to make his hearers discern it in its full and profound significance. The seductive influences of the world so operate upon their habits of thought that they become virtually unfitted to discern it. The very terms used to express spiritual truth lead them astray because they look at them from the wrong stand-point. It is the office of Christ to impart spiritual life to his disciples, to turn them away from merely temporal things and give them a realizing sense of their relations to God as their spiritual Father, and of themselves as residents of the invisible kingdom. Jesus says (1 John x. 10), “ I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." This means “spiritual life," or that "eternal life,” which consists of the knowledge
of the only true God, and Jesus Christ” whom He has sent into the world. It was the constant effort of Jesus, while on earth, to make his disciples and the Jews whom he addressed, understand this, that they might turn from worldliness unto life. Yet they ofttimes misunderstood him, and failed to grasp the intense spiritual significance of his words. A few instances will illustrate this.
In that memorable and profoundly spiritual discourse which he delivered " in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum, (Joho vi. 24–59) he dropped the expression, “ the bread of God is he who coineth down from heaven, and giveth life to the world ” ; when "the Jews murmured at him because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven,'” losing sight of the spiritual significance of the words, and turning to the life he had lived among them, said, " Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” This was all they could say about him. He lived over the Irills yonder, in the little secluded village of Nazareth, and he could not be expected to be very different from other young men, for we know his father, mother, and brothers, and none of the family occupy very high positions in the world. They are only common people like us, and we cannot acknowledge the exalted pretensions which this young man makes. His claims are preposterous. He talks about coming down from heaven and giving life to men. Doubtless he does not know what he is talking about. Thus received they his spiritual teaching. They attached simply a materialistic meaning to it.
Not the Jews only, but also the twelve whom he had selected to be his intimate friends and companions, and to receive and proclaim his truth, were at first so dull of apprehension that they did not appreciate the significance of his utterances. When he spoke of his flesh and blood as imparting spiritual life to them, they exclaimed, " This is a hard saying! Who can hear it ?” Then lie endeavored to make his meaning clear by these impressive words : “ It is the spirit that quickeneth ; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life," but some did not