The Twofold Symbol of Godhead

Joseph May of Philadelphia, PA

Berry Street Lecture, 1886


Read before the Ministerial Conference


Boston, Massachusetts


       To the self-consciousness of every time in which there is any mental movement, the age, I suppose, naturally appears a transition period.  But, surely, you and I are not mistaken in so describing to ourselves the day in which we have been living.  To one whose mental associations go back far enough to connect themselves, as some of ours do, at least in its later phase, with what we familiarly call the Channing period of our Unitarian thought; who remembers the anti slavery struggle in its mid-heat; who felt the fresh influence of the transcendental movement; who heard the preaching and the prayers of Parker; who read the new Vestiges of Creation; who recalls the impressions he received from the fresh first pages of Spencer or Darwin,- to such an one, reviewing his own mental progress from boyhood or young manhood, observing the contents of the active thought of the present time, and comparing it with the issues of twenty, thirty, or perhaps forty years ago, the sense of change must amount almost to that of metamorphosis.  The practical conditions of life, its moral questions, its intellectual issues, its whole tenor and spirit, form contrasts which one can hardly realize that a single lifetime, even a single generation, could suffice to effect.


    Practically and mentally, we seem to be living in a different world. I do not pause to refer to the enormous developments of all the arts of life, nor to the gigantic political and social revolutions of our time.  Much deeper than all these, a new philosophy, a new science, have made the world over for us.  The profoundest change which, certainly in a single age, ever came over men’s views of their conditions of existence, their relations in existence, has quietly accomplished itself since we who are midway in life were young.


    I cannot help remarking the impressiveness of such a moment. It is even a solemn one.  We have come, definitely, under the controlling influence of new and immense generalizations; and, especially, we are redressing in this age one of the great perversions of centuries.  The process is august to witness, as we see it beginning (practically, it is still only beginning) in the minds of our generations.  Not the nightly heavens reveal operations so awe-inspiring as may sometimes be studied in the moral universe.  And ours is an opportunity such as comes not twice in a millennium.  Men to-day are remodeling their image of God.


   It would be supererogatory in this presence to more than hint at the features of the established conception of God head.  The essential thing in it is, of course, the view of Deity as, relatively to the material universe, and artificer, working from without to create it, as a mechanic the objects of his handicraft; and as, relatively to the world of humanity, a superintendent, regulating its affairs also externally and if form.


    All the features of this view are ingrained in our thought, but let us observe how freshly still its dramatic quality may strike one.  As we read it in the opening chapters of Genesis, where some poet of the elder time has summed it up, typically, for the whole world, we see Deity calling the universe from nothingness into being.  At his word, earth emerges as a floor, and heaven unrolls as a canopy.  Unseen by any eye but the divine, day and night outspread their alternate pageantry.  From the empty void, God’s word calls beast and bird and tree to begin the fruitful, unending sequence of their generations.  The first human pair enter upon the scene amid this setting of supplies for life, comfort, and joy.  Deity becomes their governor and the governor of their posterity.  Their formal history is the subject of his constant watchfulness and minute direction.  To the Hebrews (and we should remember the peculiar religious and moral gifts of the people who gravitated so strongly to this conception), Deity continues their invisible but literal king.  Deeply  the sense of this governance inspired them.  The abiding charm of their piety and its practical effectiveness, as expressed in their book of devotional poetry, and witnessed by its history, lie in the unembarrassed distinctness of their conception of a personal, divine sovereign, scarcely more removed than by a veil before the eyes of the flesh.


    Somewhat early in Hebrew history, the most attractive of all traits began to attach itself to this conception of Deity, as they gradually reached the profound intuition of his parenthood.  The exquisite touch of Jesus finally made this consummate in beauty and tenderness, as a permanent element in religious thought and feeling.  But it should be observed that even his peerless thought, while it highly spiritualized the idea of God, did not by any means abandon and set aside the conception of his transcendence and objectivity relating to the universe and to human affairs.  He was God absolutely near; and yet he was a God above, a God strictly distinct from, the universe.  On this conception, piety, aspiration, poetry, dwelling, have lavished all that thought, faith, and art could do to make it august, beautiful, appealing.


    And, ah! How exquisite it has been!  What moral wonders it has wrought! what consolation! what rebuke! what inspiration! what control!


     But obviously, while what we have called spiritual ideas have been, as it were, annexed to this idea of God, the substance of the conception has, in our stream of religious history, continued essentially the same from the first.  God has remained a being outside the world and our race.  Over mundane concerns, he has presided as a king over his realm, imposing laws, for the observance of which he has instituted rewards; for their disregard, penalties.  As has suited his wisdom; he has intervened, in extraordinary ways, to direct the affairs and touch the hearts of human kind.  By delegated individuals, by inspired books, he has conveyed to them his will and the knowledge of his truth.


    There can be no doubt, I say again, as thus shaped, has had.  It has been the controlling force in human thought.  Make all the deductions  you may please, and it yet remains that the conception of an almighty, divine sovereign has been for a decade of centuries of Hebraism, and almost twice as many of Christianity, the living fountain of reverence, aspiration, morality, charity.  The power it has had to evoke feeling and to regulate conduct cannot possibly be questioned by one who has read the religious history of either period, or who only knows the nineteenth and twenty-third Psalms and a few chapters of the Gospel of St. Matthew.


    But I pass this consideration by for the present.  We have to observe now that, after all, this scheme of thought has been on its world-ward side, only a system of science.  Every religion includes, of course, the two elements,- a view of the world and of life, which is the science of the day, and its interpretation by the religious instinct, which produces its theology.


    And the Hebrew-Christian view of God, in his relations to the world, has been only a statement of the facts of the mundane order and of human life, as men have identified them, digested and offered to religious faith, and forming the basis on which the religious instinct, working, has built up our actual beliefs, sentiments, and institutions.


    Accordingly, it is what was to be expected that any radical change in scientific conceptions should profoundly reflect itself in religious thought.  And we live in a  period when science itself has been, as has been suggested, metamorphosed from its foundations.  Not only its instrumentalities have been enhanced indefinitely, its whole method is reconstructed.  Not since the cry of "Pan is dead,” of which, in some sort, it is a counter-strain, has such a voice gone abroad among men as that which uttered the word "evolution.”  Henceforth, the established conception of its authorship and governance must be profoundly modified, if not replaced.


    I hardly dare attempt, certainly in this presence, even to sketch the conception of God which this new view of his ways is shaping.  It still looms in lustrous vagueness rather than stands before us- if ever it may stand before us- with the clear-cut outline of the former vision.  Before its inscrutable majesty, it seems as if the soul could only bow and wait.  To all epithets of sublimity, it gives a depth of meaning which joshes the effort to characterize.  When the modern philosopher with telescope and spectroscope  pierces the veil of still unceasing creation, and show worlds forming now from their very elements; as he retraces the majestic but, broadly, so intelligible process by which the universe we see and the globe we inhabit came to be what they are,- the mind is stricken with an awe such as no imagination and no art could before this impose upon it.  All epic and all drama pale before the simplest statement of the nebular theory.


    But the essential modification of our scientific and religious point of view is indicated in a word. Instead of a Divine Being outside the universe and human life, working as an artificer to shape matter, and as a governor to mould character and regulate affairs, we are now led to think of a Living Power vitally pervading all existence; of an Infinite Source of vitality and force, which expresses itself in the unfolding forms of nature and the shifting phases of human life. The history of the universe, which now we read broadly as an open page, is that of the unfolding of constitutional potencies from a condition of absolute simplicity to that of multifold development in complex, interadapted forms. As one views the pageant, one knows not which to wonder at the more, the sublimity of its existent or the simplicity of its method. But as one gazes, the sense which grows of the greatness of the Power, the profundity of the Power at the heart of things, is beyond all that could possibly be excited by the ancient panorama of creation. The ancient thought was the best imagination men could frame; but it was only an imagination, based upon no proper observations outside the human consciousness. The modern theory is, as the word implies, an actual vision, as with open eye, of the process which has brought worlds into being, and is sustaining them and their phenomena.


            But it is certain that this latter conception, as thus far presented, august as it is, still leaves on the mind the sense of something deeply wanting. Surely, as we dwell upon it, we feel God to be still as far off, nay, further off than ever. I need not remind you that this profound deficiency is due to the formulation of this symbol under the direction of natural science, merely, and that religious conceptions founded upon science, -- that is, upon observations in the outward world, -- however majestic they may be, necessarily stop at the point at which we just halted. There is still needed an equal range of observation in that other universe, of which the seat of study is the soul itself and the phenomena of the moral life. It is to be remarked that, in even the most ingenious, eloquent, and spiritual of the more recent settings forth of the modern doctrine of God, this vast area seems hardly to have been entered upon. We have the God of nature, merely. The result is a God such as I have described, immanent indeed in the physical universe, but as distant from the soul as ever, or, rather, more distant, because having no discernible likeness of nature with humanity making approach possible.


            If we are to have a complete statement of the immanence of God, we have to go back for it to its elder exponents, -- men who, by their very limitations on the side of science, were in a measure protected from the excesses into which its energy and fascinations too aptly lead; and who, while by imagination and transfer from the moral universe they made the most perfect possible statement of the relation of God to nature, were fortunately compelled to look for him and study him chiefly in his manifestations in the spiritual realm.


            From their thought we may complete our imperfect modern symbol. As God is, to use the ancient phrase, "the soul, of which nature is the body”; as through the material order his force courses, to maintain the heterogeneous activities of nature and its ceaseless tides of life, -- so equally through the moral order it streams and pulses as reason, truth, or spirit (the ancients called it), to mould human character and build up the institutions of human life. Not apart from man, imposing on him statutes to control and regulate, rewards to incite and penalties to daunt him, but within him, from the earliest dawn of self-consciousness, through every stage of progress, as humanity has groaned and travailed over the long but upward path of moral development. So, from the first rude sense of justice, social order; from the first emotion of kindness, the brotherhood and organized charity of civilized life; from the first dim sense of a "power not himself” in the world to the holy visions of seers and the perfect piety of the world’s saints.


            As thus filled out and rounded, we have before us, in all the freshness of youth, the view of divine things which long antedated Christianity, which entered into it with profound promise, which has never wholly left it, which has, indeed, been involved in the leading Christian dogma, and yet which has unquestionably been kept deeply in the background of Christian thought and feeling by the contrasted conception of Hebraism and of Latin theology. That in a more or a less complete, a more or less spiritual form, it is now again to gain ground widely, to become influential, if not controlling, among modern men, appears to be almost certain. It cannot but concern us as ministers of religion what are to be the religious and moral results of a modification in men’s way of thinking on a point so profound. We cannot but ask ourselves how we are to interpret, so far as we may, how we are to guard, so far as we should, this new, or newly revived, doctrine of God’s relations to the world; how present it so that it may enhance and not impair the inspiration of all earnest thought of the Supreme Being.


            In general, I need not urge upon you, there can only be safety and  not danger in recognizing truth. Truth is the only source ofedification. The edifying power of the ancient point of view as to the universe lay in this, that, as by an intuition, possible because of the likeness of the human and the divine mind, it laid hold of some great elements of the truth of God. That we now know vastly more and more truly about God’s ways, -- know, where former generations imagined, -- that, as to the outward universe, we now have the photographs of science for the visions of poetry, must needs, if we attend, only build up in us a deeper reverence and warmer love.


            But while all truth is safe, while any point of view is safe to the extent that it has truth in it, provided the limitations and bearings of a position are clearly recognized, surely, mental and, peculiarly, religious history is full of illustrations of the danger of half-truths. Than half-truths, nothing but whole errors, and not always these, have proved themselves, since the world was, more dangerous. And, as I have intimated already, what I apprehend of the tendency of thought among us is that it is at present, and is likely to continue, of the nature of half-truth. We certainly have deep cause for congratulation in the elevation, conservatism, and spirituality of the more influential expressions of the doctrine of the Divine Immanence, which we are just now hearing. But the characteristic tendency of our time is to look mainly on the outward universe for testimonies of God; and its danger is great of accepting scientific methods as more adequate and conclusive in the study of divine things than it is possible they should be. The truth as immense are seeing is scientific only, not religious. It lends itself to knowledge, not to faith and love. Many souls, recognizing the Power which is within things, are failing of a consciousness of the Being whose the power is, who is above all nature, and who lives within their own souls. They see God as natural force, not as indwelling light and truth, not as spirit going forth to spirit. More and more completely released from the authority, I do not say merely of established creeds, but of established convictions and faiths, men approach the solution of the profound problems of theism, for themselves, often with a degree of preparation pitiably inadequate. Our doctrine of individual mental freedom encourages this, while loosening habits in religious culture make reflection and the influence of religious institutions less certain to operate. Science is acute, accurate, winning, aggressive. Her representatives are not over-careful to observe her limitations. The individual mind often too readily resigns itself to her as a sufficient authority in all things, and what she cannot teach cares not to hear, and ceases to attend.


            At this point, that elder world of two thousand or of sixteen hundred years ago had even an advantage over us through the absence of a natural science worth the name. they had none of the knowledge of nature which could give it the significance it wears for us. Really, it was little more than a spectacle on which they gazed and which they interpreted in the light thrown upon it by the moral universe. Their world was human, the world within themselves.


            Consequently, the old immanentialism, as it thus justified itself by a very different class of phenomena, presented itself, also, under a very different aspect and with a very different bearing to its disciples. It has been said lately, by one of our ripest scholars, that the mere symbol of immanence is devoid of moral quality, -- is, of itself, "unmoral.” This is strictly true, if the uninterpreted "force,” which is all an exclusively scientific philosophy can furnish us, is to be our sole symbol of Deity. But it is, of course, far from true of the Divine Reason indwelling in the human soul, which was the emphatic element in Stoic thought and in the theology of the Greek Christian fathers. Not only does this view presuppose an essential kindredness of Deity and humanity, and so furnish man with an exalted moral ideal of his own nature, but the very conception is itself morally stimulating in the highest degree. As has been exquisitely expressed by that other able writer, who, by a happy coincidence, has been recalling us lately to the ancient view of the Divine Immanence, "Because man’s spiritual constitution is made after a divine type, it becomes the law of its being to fulfil its possibilities, and rise to a full resemblance to God.” And again, "It is because man is made in the divine image that his nature responds to the call of God, and his conscience re-echoes the commandments of God.”[i]


            Here is a very different tone and strain of thought from that merely scientific view the outcome of which is very justly characterized as "unmoral.” Apprehended in its totality, the conception of the Divine Immanence should be the source of the deepest moral inspiration. what it was to the Stoics we know well. If it did not produce comparable results among Christians of the early centuries, this could be shown to be from other causes than its own moral insufficiency. In both schools, the idea assumes moral capacity and free volition in man, and presents to him the highest moral incentive conceivable, in that power to rise by "the free imitation of God” – beautiful phrase! – toward the divine perfections, and into a perfected union of spirit with Deity.


            And, indeed, it is but just to observe that even the merely scientific view introduces a profound moral element into our thought of the order of nature, when it substitutes law for miracle as the method of the universe; when, that is, it takes from the universe the whole notion of a merely arbitrary relation of Deity to phenomena, and replaces this with the thought of an undeviating divine order, which is the simple and consistent expression of absolute truth. Our debt to science at this point is immeasurable.


            And yet the habitual emphasis of the modern view of the relation of the Author of the universe to his work is much less obviously moral, and may easily become morally illusive. It regards methods and second causes even in nature, and tends but little to explore the world within the soul. The conception of Deity, which shapes itself in very many minds, assimilates itself to that of a mere physical force, while the doctrine of law, superficially understood, tends toward fatalism and a fatalistic indifference, hostile to a sensitive and efficient morality. It may well be that the placing of all moral authority within the individual soul, on the one hand, and the reference of all events to undeviating law, on the other, should (unless protected by interpretations at once elevated and lucid) result in a habit of mind with which an active morality would not easily consist. Pantheism, materialism, fatalism, sensuality, are the familiar steps in the decline which characteristically attends the phase of thought upon which our time seems to be entering. Here, then, is obviously our opportunity and our peculiar office, as teachers of religion, to round out, so to speak, the thought of our day; to keep steadily before the minds of men that other universe, the moral, the spiritual, the divine-human, in which the ancients, undazzled by God’s revelations of himself in nature, discerned his indwelling presence. We are to show the validity of the testimonies which experience furnishes to the reality of this inward, and are impossible without them; to show that the vast development which our idea of God receives from the study of physical nature does not, as some have too readily supposed or feared, occasion the loss of any of those essential features in the divine likeness which have been most consoling and inspiring hitherto. In a word, we are to insist on the validity of religion; to remind our generation that the revelations of the spiritual God to the hearts of men have constituted a world of phenomena as striking as are the manifestations of force in nature.


            But, in the course of this effort, we shall find, I think, and we shall have further to exhibit, not only that the one-sided scientific tendency in unsound, but that the whole of the symbol of God’s immanence is but a half-truth. We owe no intellectual service to our time, it seems to me, more immediately pressing than to show that the conception of the immanence of God, like the conception of the transcendence of God, is only our partial and limited human way of intimating to ourselves a divine fact, which we can never fully understand or represent. And if, as a symbol, the one form of thought may be, in certain respects, more comprehensive, suggestive, inspiring, than the other, either is yet liable to all the misleadingness of a half-truth, if it is pressed too far or rested in too exclusively.  We cannot too clearly show the necessarily figurative character of all the language we employ on these august themes; that all these terms we are using are merely metaphorical, and threaten us constantly with the dangers of metaphors taken literally.  "Within,” "without,” – there is no inside or outside to the universe or to the soul.  If there is, God is outside as much as inside.  From the very nature of symbolism, no symbol can be complete. If we need one of these, we need one of these, we need both,- both these and a thousand more, - to make our view adequate, I do not say to the majesty of the object symbolized, but to the needs of the soul, and safe in the practice of life.


    And, indeed, even the mere intellectual accuracy or inaccuracy of a symbol may not always be a just measure of its utility or of its perils.  It may be so shaped and poised that its moral impressiveness shall more than counterbalance its intellectual deficiency, as its facility of moral perversion may more than make up for its superior scientific correctness.  There is no fact more striking and in this connection suggestive, than that a theological system of which the symbolism was so horrible as that of Calvinism- in which the transcendence of God was exaggerated into the cruelest conception of despotism-yet carried with it a morality so pronounced, austere and effective.  On the other hand (as has been lately remarked), while Clement was so exquisitely portraying the spiritual immanence of God to the people of Alexandria, in words second only, one might say, to those of Jesus, the life of his city was rank with luxury, vice, poverty, misery, and hair-splitting theology.


    For one, then, I do not believe that the symbol of God, which has been described by the term – really a very happy one- "transcendence,” is to be abandoned.  Like the conception of the Divine Immanence, it has been complex, and has had its better and its worse phases, from the honest divine sovereignty of the Hebrews to the passive absenteeism of Plato and the cruel despotism of Augustinianism.  But it contains, it seeks to intimate, a great truth, which, although it has been overlaid, obscured, perverted, in the common theology, has yet even there, as I have asserted, had vast power for good.  The mischief which has been done by the thought of God as apart from the universe, and absent, arbitrary despot, capriciously intervening, is patent and commonplace to remark.  It was the source of the whole vicious system of propitiation; it cut away the basis of a true morality, making rectitude not loving devotion to the right but conformity to an arbitrary will; it outraged and denied human reason and conscience; it furnished no philosophy of humanity, and was out of all harmony with the facts of nature;  and yet, practically, on the part of Christianity, at least, it has been accompanied, as we have seen, by a consciousness which has inspired and redeemed multitudes, given them energy to devote and to sacrifice their lives to God and man, and make many great.  That is to say, we have not had, in Christianity, the mere unrelieved notion of divine absenteeism; but, alongside it, that other and fruitful conception, in which the truth of Divine Transcendence lies,- of the essential distinction of God from the universe, the objectivity of God relatively to all that is, his superiority to all and sovereignty over all. It is this which has lain in men’s religious minds, often interpreted practically in forms of thought and emotion finer than their technical creeds would justify.  It is this which, in moods of intense ardor, loyalty, devotion, has again and again come up in great world exigencies, a new and living force, to make men strong to battle with evil, and reform the ills of life.  This thought of a God not of power merely but of rectitude and feeling, on whom they could rely, for whom they could labor and suffer, in whom they were strong; a sovereign to approve and reward as well as to punish, and, above all, to guide and govern-nerved the arms of Moses and Joshua, of David and Elijah.  "Allah is Allah,” the prophet and his followers cried, and swept over the effect East, to purge and revive it.


                                   "Not as the flying come,

                                         In silence and in fear:

                                     They shook the depths of the desert’s gloom

                                         With their hymns of lofty cheer.

                                     Amidst the storm they sang,

                                         And the stars heard and the sea;

                                     And the sounding aisles of the dim woods rang

                                        To the anthem of the free.”


    So did this inspiring, nerving thought of God’s essential moralness and of his sovereignty underlie the cruel creed of our ancestors, and fill their hearts with fortitude and jubilance as they came over wintry scas to found this community and this very city of our love. The conception of the Divine Immanence is the holy inspiration of all saints:  it is contemplative, consoling, ecstatic.  For the active, effective, practical side of life, the correlative symbol is the one on which men’s minds have seized, and always will seize, as by instinct.


    In a word, brethren, the doctrine or symbol of the transcendence of God better assimilates the object of our reverent contemplation to that which we recognize as highest in the universe, because highest in ourselves,- self-conscious moral being, - and thus better presents him as a Being with whom we can sympathize and enter into conscious relations, whose thought we can take up and carry out, who can be to us a ruler, a judge, a friend, a father.  However closely, in reality, we ourselves may be implicated in the universe, no sense is so strong in us as that of our own objectivity relatively to it.   It is this marks each of us an ego-that consciousness which we can neither alter nor escape.  No conception of God will incite to worship, obedience, or imitation which makes him less clearly distinguished from and superior to, every other object of thought.  The moral element can enter effectively into the natural order only through this avenue.  Only this assimilation of the Divine Being to essential humanity enables us to say of the force which we detect ( I ought to say infer) in nature that it is will. In fact, the best and spiritual part of the doctrine of Divine Immanence is contributed to it from this source.  It is the God objective to nature, superior to it, sovereign over it, taking his abode in it and in the kindred souls of men.  So, religiously, it is one and the same idea and form of thought which gives validity, elevation, and spirituality to both symbols of Deity.


    In personal religion, the conception of the objectivity and sovereignty of God must always be of indefinite importance.  Exalted souls may possibly live without making it emphatic in their habit of thought.  But it must even then be vital and really influential.  To the common mind, it will always need to be kept clear and distinct.  With such, the object of worship must not be vague, I do not mean as to form and outline (which sort of anthropomorphism I thin we have now become quite able to rise above), but as to qualities and traits.  The diffused Presence which majestically pervades nature it is impossible to endow with attributes.  We need to make it clear to those whom science may dazzle and bewilder, that this Presence is not God, - not Himself, but, as the ancients taught, his force, his power, his will.  Not he is present, as we figuratively say, in tree, or flower, or the whole sidereal scheme, more than you and I are present in the hand or foot or brain we use, and which our natural force pervades and dominates.  Still, the selfhood of God transcends, is utterly distinct from, superior to, sovereign over, all the things and souls which his indwelling reason  and power create, vivify, and sustain; and it is this –selfhood interpreted by human self-consciousness (its only analyst) on which piety fastens and to which obedience and imitation tend.  This, and nothing else, is God.


    The form of thought which we call the Divine Transcendence contains, then, an indispensable truth.  I wish to speak, finally, of four elements of truth which are best illustrated under this symbolism or, at least, to which it gives very essential aid, some of which are slipping away from many hearts, because, under the influence of present strong tendencies, the apprehension of its force and value is weakening.  The first of these is the personality of God.  I am not afraid, even in the presence of many scholars, to use this much controverted term.  I do not interpret it.  Certainly, I mean by it anything but limitation.  It is not boundary, but centrality.  I mean by it that as, when I look within myself, my self-consciousness reports as centreof vitality, force, thought, conscience, emotion, action, not to be confused with that of any other, and in which myselfhood resides, so the essence of the Divine Being is a centre of vitality, force, intelligence, morality, feeling, activity.  Infinite are the radii along which the expressions of these qualities go; but there is no limitation in affirming the centre in which they unite, and that centre is what we call the personality.  The word is unfortunate; it is a metaphor. And a faulty one; but it is fastened upon out speech, and we can only hope to rectify and elevate its significance.  The fact to which it points is real, - or, in a religious sense, we have no God.  It is impossible to worship, to love, or to imitate mere force, however mighty; a mere presence, however "deeply interfused.” Such conceptions may impose on us a mysterious awe, perhaps; but the object of worship must be intelligible, and we must feel it to be superior to ourselves, which any non-personal agency is not.  We can adore and love only a Being whose the force and presence are, of whom they are the manifestation.  The object of worship must be essentially of the same nature with ourselves, or we cannot understand it, we cannot sympathize with it, we cannot adore it; above all, we cannot imitate its qualities or obey its behests.  God is, then, at least personal; and in the quality of his being he can be no more. It is not an attribute capable of comparison: it is an absolute fact of constitution.


    So of the relation of God to our lives which we call providence: there is not much religion left if this relations of the Divinity to man’s life.  Conscious religion must recognize it; and I say only that it is somewhat more easily conceived, somewhat more easily conveyed, in terms of the transcendence of God than in those of the immanence.  This is only to say that we  conceive his practical relation to our lives more readily when we fix our thought upon his superiority and sovereignty over all events and things than when we contemplate especially his eternal implication in them.  "Your Father in heaven,” said Jesus, "will reward you openly.”  "He numbereth your hairs, the very sparrow cannot fall to the ground without him.”  How true this is, in a merely scientific sense, we know now.  Logically (as Mr. Riske shows), not the simplest operation of gravity can take place without the direct agency of God.  But we cannot change the phraseology of Jesus to advantage.  The thought of the Divine Providence is the staple of the theist’s comfort as he meets the vicissitudes of this life,- that he is not alone, but that One is with him; that god is over him, under him the everlasting arms; that, though his own heart fail him, God is grater than his  heart, and knoweth all things.  All this, indeed, may be made as clearly true in scientific modes of reasoning as in personal; but the latter are what appeal to and touch the heart, and issue in personal religion.  They give man, in God, a friend.


     And on these two faiths hangs that other, on which we hear so much uttered nowadays,- so much that deeply shows the need of restoring modes of thought perfectly valid, but which have been undermined for many,- I mean prayer. I am not here to discuss it, only to say that while, on the one hand, the logic of the immanence seems absolutely essential to establish its validity, the forms of the other conception appear better adapted to illustrate it, so far as they keep before the mind the strict objectivity of Deity relatively to the universe and to the soul.  It is within that we are to seek for God; but it is as "a power not ourselves,” objective to ourselves and to nature, that we find him.  We are to "pray in secret,” Jesus said; "but we pray there to our Father who is in heaven.”  His presence is with us: the seat of his being is in the Divine Selfhood, and is objective to us.  Prayer is the spiritual uprising, the spiritual going forth of the human to the Divine Beings, as by sympathy you and I may seek each other; but this presupposes and requires a true distinction and mutual objectiveness in the parties to such intercourse.


    Fourthly and lastly, the forms of expression congenial to the symbol of the transcendence will always be found especially helpful in the moral life.  The validity of morality must certainly rest always, most profoundly, in the inner consciousness of the individual.  It is there that the sense of rectitude springs, and there that its impulses must be satisfied.


     But the moral life peculiarly demands standards and patterns.  And the moral law has always found its highest expression in the ideal of a Being of infinite perfections, to the imitation of whom we are constrained to aspire by the consciousness of a kindred nature.  As a mere subjective uprising of our own nature, it may well be doubted whether that law has a sufficient and enduring power.  To be a trustworthy and commanding guide, it must have its realization in a perfect exemplar, objective to ourselves, but kindred to us and in sympathy with us, and who, by virtue of his own perfections, has a natural title to call on us for conformity to the same ideals.

                                                                                                                         Joseph May.



[i] Rev. Alexander V. G. Allen, D.D.: Continuity of Christian Thought