The Reign of Divine Love[1]

Howard Nicholson Brown, Brookline, MA

Berry Street Essay, 1888

 

Delivered at the Ministerial Conference

May 30, 1888

 

There is a phrase much in favor in certain circles of religious thought, which though for the most part quite harmless, is capable of playing a mischievous role,—being admitted within the central citadel of faith.  Innocent and even hopeful as it may sound, this expression "natural law in the spiritual world,” is one to beware of a little, as possibly subversive of the only spiritual order of which we can intelligently conceive.

Two considerations make that phrase, for a time no doubt, very welcome to a large number of earnest minds.  For one thing the over growth of belief in miracle, and the disposition to look upon outward nature as an utterly soulless and Godless realm, provokes a strong reaction.  People become weary at last of so many signs and portents from the skies.  It gets to be like living in the midst of a Christmas pantomime, when one knows what is coming next; and they long for a succession of events less uncertain, though it may be more humdrum and tame.  Human nature cannot very well support existence as a continuous series "special providences.”  After a prolonged experience of walking through scenes which may be expected at any moment to dissolve and change into something quite different, the mind rather longs to settle down among notions that will "stay put” and manifests a strong disposition to think of unseen things as having the established regularity of gravitation, or the sunrise.

For another thing, under conditions as they now exist, one has to dress his thoughts somewhat in the livery and colors of natural science, to be quite sure of commanding for it public attention.  The very name "Christian Science,” by way of a brand or a trademark, is next door to an inspiration, as a means of commending the mental goods it conveys to public favor. Plenty of people whose scientific knowledge is of the most superficial description have a general impression that science is the actual or coming King; an impression much deepened by the tone of authority which some notable teachers of science have seen fit to adopt, even with regard to their most fanciful conjectures.  It is a curiously guileless and trustful world that we inhabit, and it is surprising how much success any man can have in it who declares, with sufficient bravado, that he knows what everybody ought to do and think.

Now the downfall of religion has been predicted with so much assurance the many souls have come into a state of great fear and apprehension about this faith.  When therefore they hear of "natural law in the spiritual world,” they breathe with fresh breath, and find relief from this anxiety.  Surely here is propitiation from this Monster, which they so much dread.  If he will be pleased to see, or accept their assurances, that the spiritual world is also a realm where natural law is established, perhaps he will cease to ravage and destroy it; leaving them to cultivate therein such few poor blossoms of hope as they are able to preserve.

That this expression has a legitimate use and meaning it would be foolish to deny.  The natural and the spiritual are so joined together that there must be a certain degree of correspondence between the two.  And if we conceive of God as the maker of both worlds, then we might expect to find on both the same stamp of a divine workmanship. Of course we do now believe that the same God is Lord and King of seen and unseen realms.

Though that demise of a personal Devil, frequently announced, is perhaps not altogether so authentic a bit of news as its rumor seems to imply, yet whatever evil powers there may be in existence, warring against the good, they are not to be credited with the creation of any part of this fundamental order of the universe—either in the material or the spiritual province. But because we believe that the same divine wisdom is maker of things known to our senses, and of things belonging to the kingdom of the mind, it does not follow that both worlds are made exactly on the same pattern; any more than it follows that an architect having a factory and a dwelling to construct would use for both the same set of designs.  This is the implication or assumption with regard to which we need to be somewhat on our own guard.  For the natural world, being that of whose realities we are apt to have rather the more definite and vivid conception, the tendency is strong to think of any inward, spiritual world that may exist, as being only the shadow and image of those external forms.

I say we are not really committed    `to such ideas, though it is sometimes gravely argued that such is the case.  God in nature, it is said, must be the same God who works and builds our spiritual substance and reality; and we should expect him to work then by the same method that he employs in the making of the physical globe on which we dwell.  But this is to assume what we do not know, that the one method is equally applicable in both worlds; or it is to place limits, that we have no right to place, on the resources of an infinite mind.

Even though we adopt evolution as the magic wand that is to admit us at last to the inmost secrets of being, there are hints enough that what comes into existence through, or out of that which is already formed, may be strongly different from its acknowledged parentage.  As a matter of fact it is, to say the least, quite as likely that the material universe is some more or less imperfect and distorted image of the fundamental realities of mind or spirit, as that spirit is the new birth matured within the protecting embrace of material forms.  Or it may be that what we call matter, the world made as we believe of atoms, arose from a deeper world of spirit, and is again utilized to help in the creation of new spiritual orders of being.  But in any case, I deny that we must think of natural and spiritual as being made each in the other’s likeness.

There can be no great harm, one may say, in believing for example that there are pianos in heaven; though, to some, that may not add appreciably to the attractiveness of heavenly dwelling places; unless we could be assured that at least such instruments will not then be mounted on wheels, and operated with a crank. And, of course, we have to acknowledge that none of us are in position to assert, dogmatically, that there are no pianos in heaven.  A great deal of this imagery borrowed from the world of sense to represent what belongs to the spiritual realm, is no doubt entirely innocent, and must be to some extent necessary, as the only available form in which our thought can be clothed.

But when it comes to such identification of the two worlds that, for the sake of our theory we begin to disguise and juggle with the undoubted facts of consciousness, upon which the whole structure of our possible knowledge rests, that is a very different affair.  And this is what it comes to when, in order to get rid of the intellectual discomforts of dualism, we forget our fundamental distinction between natural and spiritual; which being lost out of sight, one world or the other is practically obliterated, or made nothing more than a collection of shadows and shams.

The whole outward universe, as we conceive of it, is shaped and patterned by necessity.  Compulsion is then the universal rule. Nothing grows of itself, but all is the product of Causation.  Everything that is, wears this form which powers external to itself have stamped upon it, and performs the movements which it is constrained to perform, by pressure from without.  Of any object in nature it may be said that the sum of things is, at every moment, its perfect master, andit is, of that Master, the complete and hopeless slave.

Of course we are in no condition to prove that our Sun holds his attendant satellites in leash, as one may hold a dog at the end of a chain.  For ought we can demonstrate in the matter, the planets may keep their places in this ceaseless whirl because it is their good pleasure thus to follow and obey.  Simply it is the testimony of our consciousness that they do what they are compelled to do.  We cannot understand their action in any other fashion than to suppose of it that it is, in every respect, necessitated and constrained.

But now if we appeal to this same oracle of consciousness, for testimony as to the fundamental fact of spiritual existence, what does it say?  Why, that in a spiritual world freedom must be the universal rule.  It forever asserts of the human personality, that spiritual entity which each one calls himself, that it is free.  Every conception of moral order that we can frame is based upon the idea that, to some extent at least, it rests with the individual mind to determine for itself what it shall be and do.  In the proper sense of the words, there is no personality, and virtue is but an empty noun, unless the action of the mind be in some measure self-caused and self-sustained.

The implications of this thought of spiritual freedom, given in the very nature and constitution of our moral being, are tremendous, much greater than ordinary religious thought has thus far recognized.  It means not only that the mind may decide for itself, without regard to outside constraint, which of two roads opening before it, it will take; but also that it is an original source of impulse and of will.  It is not altogether a power behind me which galvanizes my soul into action, but there arises within the bounds and limits of my own personality, a spiritual energy capable of exercising an indefinite power of command over physical force.

This puts the human soul at once into the same category with Deity, and man, almost from the beginning of his mental development, has more or less clearly felt and seen that truth.  "Behold,” says the Lord God, after Adam’s transgression, "the man has become as one of us, knowing good and evil.”  This idea that, as a moral being, man is really a son of the most High, can probably be found running like a vein of gold through all the piled up masses of mythology into which the religious thought of remote ages has hardened and cooled.

At all events it is an outcropping which appears, again and again, in the remains of many different kinds of religious culture; and it is, in truth, the inevitable sequence and effect of any clear acceptance of the idea of freedom as a fundamental fact of spiritual existence.  Even Satan has his place, as the Book of Job represents, among the Sons of God.  Give to the human spirit this power not only of choosing its own way, but of originating or creating spiritual energy, and no abuse of that gift can take away the fact that it is a kind of divine being; probably indestructible, certainly endowed with a faculty essentially godlike in its character. And this testimony of consciousness we have to accept, with regard to the spiritual, as frankly as we take its evidence with regard to the natural, on penalty of finding ourselves presently without any spiritual world whatever, possessing a substance better than that which goes to the making of an "iridescent dream.”

Calvinism was bad enough in its ultimate effects, though curiously enough it had ways for making a partial restoration of the spiritual treasures which it destroyed.  Originally, it would appear, it left the mind practically free; only it asserted that God’s knowledge, being perfect, he must know in every instance what determination the free spirit would make.  And of course if there existed in his mind the certainty that man would do thus and so, then it was, in effect, foreordained that this should be his choice.

Perhaps we have in this strange "double course” of freedom and necessity some explanation of the fact that for a time Calvinism nourished, or at least permitted the display of an enormous moral strength.  It may have been the rise of the scientific school, with its dominant thought of compulsion throughout the natural world, which transformed that thought also to the spiritual realm, and thus made Calvinism something not much better than a blight and curse.  Some shreds and patches of freedom at least remained to the spirit, while it was only asserted that God knew from all of eternity, just how it would behave.  But when this became a conviction that God forced the soul into heaven or hell; that this decisive choice between life and death was not ours but his, that was indeed a killing frost, that cut spiritual existence down to its very roots.

Calvinism is, to all intents and purposes, as dead as the proverbial door-nail, in the truly civilized parts of the earth.  But that dreary thing called "scientific determinism” still lives, and lifts up its voice now and again in direful prophecy of an empty Universe.  One does not know to what extent the popular mind is ruled by this belief; but from the fact that so many men of eminent station in the scientific world have in part, or even wholly surrendered to it, one is led to infer that its capture of the intellectual forms of the age extends rather far.  A distinguished Professor of Chemistry lately visiting these shores thinks it would appear that all phenomena can be interpreted in terms of physical energy.  It is all plain to his understanding.  Put so many ounces of food into that slot of the human machine, called a mouth, and take out a poem, a sonata, or even such a brilliant piece of philosophical speculation as that with which the Professor is inclined to favor a waiting world!  This is about as cogent reasoning as if some genius should discover that the coal shoveled into the furnaces of a steamship accounted for everything that took place on board:  the guiding force exercised by the captain on his bridge, the stories told in the smoking room, and the concerts given in the saloon.

Yet such is the tyranny of the theorizing habit, such the strength of the demand made by this understanding for some scheme of things which it can comprehend, that men solemnly accept this as their working hypothesis, and "whistle down the wind” all conflicting ideas regarding the reality of spiritual life.  Happily, however, the testimony of our moral consciousness cannot be so easily disposed of, as some people seem to imagine.  A good many theories have shattered themselves against it in the past, and scientific determinism will need to be made of sterner stuff than has thus far entered into its composition, to withstand the shock.

The fundamental facts of existence have an uncomfortable way of making themselves felt, even in the softest bed of conjecture that the human intellect can propose for its ease and repose.  The old straw may be shaken up never so industriously, or new and extremely elegant fabric of imagination may be spread as a decent covering over the offensive antinomies and oppositions by which we are troubled.  Presently, however, life settles down to a nagging sense of the verities which underlie this padding; and then they are sufficiently protuberant to assert themselves against the most persistent mood of slumber.  This fact of moral freedom is one that can be very safely left to take care of itself, and warranted to secure from the world of men some sign of recognition.  In the end all systems of thought that try to ignore its presence will find their performances mostly limited to the tricks and "stunts” of somnambulism.

Now when one accepts, in good faith, this idea of freedom, as of the very essence of spiritual existence, he has to be content to dwell in a world of mystery, and to some extent, at any rate, in a world of miracle.  Has to be content: does one say?  To everything in man save a dull and prosaic understanding, this world of mystery and miracle is like the open sky to a bird with wings.  The understanding indeed often prefers for its Deity a kind of apotheosis of Red Tape, which it is pleased to denominate infinite order.  But no other part of man rejoices to be shut up in a machine which, however cunningly contrived, can be nothing better than a cage.

He will use the machine, with immense enjoyment, so long as he can be its master; but when this machine begins to master him, that is another story.  The fun of life has departed when that transformation takes place, and the human spirit is thenceforth like Ariel in his prison oak, till some Prospero shall come and set it free.

A great many tales of miracles are of course rude and coarse and preposterous; but I think mankind, as a whole, given its choice, will profess to swallow them all, rather than be shepherded into such inclosures of fate and law and circumstance as the modern intellect undertakes to propose for it.  Humanity may be in many aspects no better than the wild ass of the desert; but anyhow it knows something of the delights of mental freedom; and is but little likely to barter the liberty of its wonder-tales and myths, for any stall-fed pabulum that determinism may offer.

But though we can dwell gladly and hopefully, surrounded by an infinite deal of mystery, there is one question growing out of our spiritual freedom that we must have answered.  When every man does only what is right in his own eyes, that, in the absence of any hope or certainty that such free inclinations will flow together into agreement and common consent, is mere anarchy.  No doubt, so far as our ordinary interests are concerned, we could support the anarchists’ better than the socialists’ ideal; and we have much reason to say that the former would work out to better practical results.

But there is a point here which requires careful attention.  If the maker of men has endowed them with such freedom and might as our moral sense asserts, how has he grounded himself and his universe from the risk of ultimate failure and defeat?  There is at least the possibility of such a contagion of evil choice as might sweep the vast majority of men away from their loyalty to a spiritual ideal, and establish a tradition of wrong that would work endless havoc and wreck.

Even though our experience does not suggest to us with much force this dark and awful thought, it is enough to trouble us that some remnant of souls may cast themselves away forever, through misuse of this liberty God has bestowed upon them.  Milton’s picture of Satan is by no means a wholly imaginative portrayal.  There are minds so nearly of that pattern that one can but speculate as to their future destiny, and what we require to know is whether there exists any safeguard, other than that of chance, against the infinite multiplication of such embodiments of an evil genius and perverted will.

In other words, is there, can there be, in a free spiritual world, any principle of government at work, which assures to that world an ultimate outcome of good?  The answer is that the whole realm of personality is to be conceived of as presided over by an infinite and eternal love; which nowhere exerts an irresistible constraining or compelling power, but everywhere brings to bear a winning and suggesting influence which, in the end, may be depended upon to turn man’s wandering footsteps home.

I do not think this point has yet received in theological discussions the consideration it deserves.  It is of course not new, but it seems to me of more consequence than is commonly ascribed to it.  Basing our thought upon the unwavering testimony of our consciousness that we are morally free, there is an absolute logical necessity that we should go on to affirm the love of God as the only conceivable power that can govern such a world of spirits as this implies and involves.  Ingersoll’s famous definition of a theologian as one who "assumes what nobody knows anything about, and then says ‘hence we infer,’” certainly does not apply here.  If we know anything, we have a right to assume for spiritual being the attribute of freedom; and on that basis we can infer nothing else than the rule of an eternal love.

Looking upon the movements of the heavenly bodies above him man undoubtedly from the very dawn of reason has been sure that they were in subjection to some guiding force which they all obeyed.  It was self-evident to him that the imposing march of this shining host was commanded by some competent authority.  Their steadfast ranks implied the enforcement over all of a principle of order which none might break.  By slow degrees we have come to an understanding of the method by which planetary movements are regulated and controlled; though the force that we call "gravitation” is known to us only by name, being in its nature and essence an inscrutable mystery.

Now I must be equally plain that the spiritual universe, which is first of all a realm where personalities take the place occupied by suns and stars in the firmament above us, is also guided and governed in some fashion.  There is not, to be sure, in this inward world the same degree of fixed regularity.  Yet there is real order and progress; a real march of souls.  There are given orbits through which mental movements swing, and from which they do not altogether escape.

Perhaps what appears irregular and chaotic in the mental world is scarcely more perplexing to us than were those apparently detached movements of the members of our Solar System to the older astronomy which led to much talk of cycles and epicycles in order to account for them.

On the one hand there is so much evidence of a regulating power at work throughout that whole realm where personalities abide, we are rather constrained to think of it as one when some kind of government is established.  On the other hand, even though we set aside the testimony of our moral consciousness, there is enough of eccentricity in the movements of mind to baffle all attempts to reduce them to the order of a fixed causation.  Thus far this disposition to deal with the development human reason and conscience on those evolutionary lines that have explained so much in the outward world has resulted in little more than a fiasco.  The Spencerian account of the origins of religion, for example, is totally inadequate and has shed no light upon that subject whatever.  At one time we heard that we were going to have human character explained and accounted for by its environment of climate and soil, of mountain and plain, of inland seclusion or openness to the all enveloping sea.  But it cannot be said that this project of making such an explanation is now in a prosperous state.  Nor has anybody discovered within the mind itself a system of laws that reflects a system of laws that reflects and simulates those definite and established courses through which the activities of outward nature run.

When therefore we take the problem as thus presented to our thought; considering the fact of spiritual freedom as evidenced by our understanding to make so much as a promising beginning of any explanation of moral order based upon the action of compelling cause; considering the evident reality of some kind or degree of order that does pervade the whole province of our personal being, I am sure that this one clue we can follow toward a reasonable interpretation of our existence, is that afforded by the notion and the office of love as an influence in human life.  Here is a power which does not seek to subdue and enthrall but does seek more to conciliate and win, and which guides and restrains without the sacrifice of liberty.  By its means one mind does sway another mind, while yet there is no infringement of personal freedom and choice; since that power can become operative only by the willing consent and cooperation of the object to which its help is tendered.

Carry out this power of love on an infinite scale and we have in the spiritual world what gravitation is in the visible universe, a governing principle whereby orderly progression is maintained.  The conditions we are obliged to posit forbid us to think that God puts forth the might of his will to coerce any soul toward the heaven he has designed for it.  He can however continually surround that soul with the atmosphere of his love; can set before it the memorials of His mercy and kindness, to orient its attention toward heavenly things.

Reasoning from the immediate facts of consciousness to what these facts involve and imply, one may therefore say that as surely as his own selfhood is true and real, divine love must be the supreme power pervading those realms where this selfhood has its being.

No doubt in endeavoring to make this thought available for the purposes of practical experience, we meet a certain difficulty in what appears to be the government of the outward world.  We behold a great deal of cruelty throughout the lower orders of organic life, and we do not always understand how such a heavenly Father as our souls demand for their Lord and King can permit such cruelties to exist, in any part of his wide dominion.

With regard to this difficulty it may be remarked that throughout inanimate nature and far up in the realms of organic life, the only government to be conceived of is one of force and power.  There is nothing in rocks and rivers, or in trees and animals to respond to the influence that love exerts.  How could we expect to find much evidence that love is King, by study of things over which its scepter has no direct sway?  Blind force is commissioned in nature to do its necessary work, and therefore of no god which natural science can disclose to us was it likely to be written "The bruised reed he will not break!”

And if we push the question further to ask why divine love has not made it possible for force to rule without producing those convulsions of nature’s frame, and that constant bloody warfare that bedevils the different members and tribes of nature’s progeny by which we are apt to be troubled,—there is a very homely proverb about silk purses and pigs ears which may furnish us with a valuable suggestion.

Among all the bad habits of theology hitherto, none has been worse than that of assuming that God could and must do anything that the human intellect thought it desirable for him to do, in order to manifest His absolute perfections.  The one charge against which theology for a long time was not able to stand up for a moment; and before which so to speak all its soul went down into its boots; was that if such and such things were allowed, it had upon its hands something less than a perfect Deity.  God must know everything; He must be able to do everything; else He was not God.

It is a survival of this senseless demand—that divine power shall be held equal to the accomplishment of any absurd feat which human fancy may suggest—that has led a considerable part of the modern world to require that no divine love shall be accredited further than it can make an exhibition of itself in the material universe.  We do not really get out from under the shadow of Calvinism till me stop asking "Why, if your God is as good as you say, does He not make better work of handling volcanoes and earthquakes and storms, to prevent them from ravaging this earth?”  That question betrays in the mind one of the standards which Calvinism dearly loved, viz. the entire sufficiency of God’s power to do anything the might appear to be at this moment desirable to have done.

Now we have no right to say that it is any more possible for God, than it is for men, to make a silk purse out of that material which the old proverb defines; and therein is a disclosure of the fallacy set up by those who insist on appealing from the testimony of consciousness to the oracles of nature, as to the superior tribunal.  We have every right to say that, in the nature of the case, it must be at least extremely difficult for a divine love to make adequate expression of itself in material forms.

Give to the great sculptor not the close grain of the marble to work upon, but the gnarled and twisted fiber of a piece of oak, and even his genius might succeed in carving only what more resembled the figurehead of a ship than one of those forms of classic grace which represent the world’s best art.  Give to the great painter, instead of those pigments which he so cunningly blends, the colored sands that children use, and bid him construct of these, in the midst of wind and rain, a picture for our delight!  Under such conditions it would be something far less than one of those masterpieces of color which we treasure in our museums that we might reasonably expect to receive from his hand.

There is great beauty in the world surrounding us, and there are vast tides of joy blowing through it everywhere.  The impression it has made upon many an unspoiled mind is as if the creative wisdom had crowded into it all the loveliness and all the goodness it could be made to hold; and that, I am persuaded, is how men ought always to regard it.

Surely the later course of speculative thought has tended to exaggerate the darker side of outward nature.  The wonder of it all continually grows upon us with advancing years.   Each succeeding Summer seems to us more lovely than any we had known before.  Each new discovery but serves to suggest other and deeper secrets within the play of force that is everywhere beheld.  The infinite precision of nature’s laws and the perfect exactitude of all her movements forbid us to think of creation as the result of accident and chance.  It is wisdom that has laid the foundations of the earth, and the whole world speaks to us of an indwelling power by no means wholly careless of those things that are precious to the spiritual sight.

But we ask too much when we demand that a natural world shall so conform to the requirements of spiritual perfection as to appear from that higher point of view, altogether without blemish and defect.  Not even the Lord God can so regulate a world of things as to meet all the desires, and express all the sentiments and feelings of the much higher order of spiritual life.  "It must needs be that offences come,” because a realm of law and necessity cannot be adjusted, like a perfectly easy and fitting garment, to that spiritual existence whose essential being is one of freedom and of love.  Here and there the mantle of flesh in which we are clothed must gall and chafe.  Yet it is a nature so wondrously made, so majestically adorned, so answerable to human need, that we are most thankless to receive it otherwise than as a gift fit for bestowal even by the King of Kings.

If then the rule of divine love is certified to us by the facts of moral experience, and if we find no insuperable difficulty in fitting that idea to other facts that lie within range of our observation, how shall we take the measure and bearing of that thought in its practical application to ordinary conduct and life?  It is in truth impossible for us to conceive the unfathomable depths of meaning in that name for Deity which Jesus gave to his disciples, "Our Father which art in Heaven.”  An Eternal love is the loftiest theme on which our minds can dwell.  Even the shadowy image that we lay hold of as a kind of outline of its vast reality wears so sublime an aspect that it is difficult to speak of it in terms that seem otherwise than perfunctory and totally inadequate.  We may well observe a wise reticence in trying to describe such visions of the soul, and perhaps it were best to leave that matter for the most part to those limits and suggestions given in our noblest poetry.

No doubt it seems to most of us, in the weakness of our imaginative power, "too good to be true,” and that is our reason why we realize it so imperfectly in our conscious efforts to shape our lives after the ideal pattern given us to contemplate.  But chiefly I must think the intolerant and exorbitant demand of the rationalizing habit within us is responsible for the comparatively feeble impression that the supreme facts of existence make upon us.  Men are possessed by such a passion for understanding things that what they cannot fit into their small systems of belief get to be as if it were not.

It is curious how little the professed agnostic deserves the title for himself.  What he really does is to localize the unknowable.  He crowds it back into the sinister region of some inscrutable First Cause.  The original source and substance out of which the universe proceeds, we do not know, he declares, and probably they never can be known.  But given that to begin with, and all the rest of existence is to him as plain as A.B.C.  It is just as easy to understand a man as a mowing machine, only take him to pieces carefully enough, for the purpose of seeing how his various parts fit into each other and are put together.  With reference to everything below the realm that we assign to Deity, this so called agnostic is really a Gnostic of the deepest dye.   But the wall of division between the known and the unknown is altogether uncalled for and absurd.  Of both God and man it may be said with equal truth.  "We know in part, and we prophecy in part.”  The mystery of being cannot be pushed back beyond an imaginary boundary line, which we may leave to itself; for both there and here the known and the unknown are inextricably mingled.  Personality in us is as immeasurable as in the being of God; and the only true agnostic is he who sees that in whatever his thought touches he is dealing with that which he can partly apprehend, but which as yet he is wholly unable to comprehend.

Listen to St. Paul desiring for his friends in Ephesians that they, "being rooted and grounded in love, might know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that so they might be filled with all the fullness of God.”  So ought the great realities of human life to rise before our sight into something vast, illimitable, unspeakably glorious and sublime.

When the attention of the mind is altogether focused upon the mechanism of things, being adjured to say if it sees nothing beyond those mechanical adjustments, it is very likely to reply with Hamlet’s Mother, "nothing at all; yet all that is I see.”  If men could once be cured of their foolish notion of knowing anything exhaustively, and could be made to realize how every atom of their knowledge, as well as their greatest systems of organized ideas, swim in a boundless sea of mystery, there would be more chance that they might sense, in this mystery, the surrounding and penetrating presence of an eternal love.

And finding that personal touch with what is apt to be the great void surrounding them, they should be protected alike from that presuming impudence, which has made so much of the world’s religion a mere scheme for browbeating the easy good nature of the Almighty, and for the practical despair of living without God and without hope, which seizes many a heart held up only by the outward forms of civilized existence.

There is hope for every son of Adam in the thought that great powers above him long to establish the comfort and well being of his soul; while it is also a very sobering influence to reflect that at last a grand and outraged lover must be our judge.

In nothing has Christianity a more clear advantage over other religions than in the fact that its Christ is the incarnation and embodiment of the quality of being, at once most human and most divine, the Master power of love.  Love is the superior unity in which the fundamental trinity of spiritual realities, the true, the beautiful, the good, is bound together and combined; and whenever life appears with any approach to wholeness and completeness, that must needs be both its reigning authority and its ideal aim.

 

[1] Andover Harvard Library, Manuscripts and Archives, bMS 01446, "Unitarian Universalist Association. Inactive Minister Files, 1825-1999.,” Harold Nicholson Brown.