(1) Generally, it ought to render impossible the Materialism which supervenes where the created universe is thought of as lying wholly separate and distinct from its Creator.
(2) In especial (a) It helps to suggest looking for God not only in the miraculous and the unusual, but in the expression of His Perfection afforded by the uniformity of ordinary sequences in nature (b) The manifest imperfections of nature, as it is gradually evolved towards perfection, so far from militating against the idea of a Divine Self-fulfilment, suggest the thought of Divine Love allowing to its objects a certain share in the working out of their own development.
(3) Conclusion. The mystical character of all the foregoing is consonant with all that is set before us in the New Testament on the same subject. Only by such mystical belief, consciously or unconsciously held, can faith in Divine transcendence be prevented from so isolating the creation from the Creator as that, in the ultimate resort, He shall be eliminated altogether from our conceptions of it.
And now, to follow out these ideas along one or two lines of suggestion, not, I hope, altogether unfruitful.
This idea of the presence of God, of His active, positive working in each, the most imperfect, stage of gradual, age-long development, ought to serve as an antidote, I believe, to one bane which has worked out into Materialism--I mean the tendency, so common among Christians, to think of the presence of the Creator, [386/387] and of the manifestations of His working, as divorced from the usual, from the expected, and as associated only with the miraculous. In a different application, it is true, from that in which Browning said it--
"God's aglow to the loving eye
In what was mere earth before."
If His traces, if His actual working be everywhere--in the crystal as in the man, in the plant as in the beast, in the worm as in the archangel--then the thought and the fact of the miraculous may come in, do actually come in, to recall the mind now and then, by some special expression of His care, to that which might otherwise be forgotten. But it will surely be less in the unusual, in the occasional, special intervention, than in the ordinary everyday processes that we shall look for and surely find Him. Nor will it be simply by prayer that we shall remember that--
"The whole round earth is every way
Bound with gold chains about the feet of God."
But always, in the ordinary working of the processes everywhere toward, we shall feel the stirring of His hand, as He disposes the whole along its course. The theory of a "pre-established harmony" of the concomitance of natural processes with a Divine operation accompanying them, was like one of the mediaeval warriors borne down by the weight of their own harness. That of all things as working themselves out because He works in them at all times, because each is an actual stirring of a love "whose centre is everywhere, and its circumference nowhere," seems to me to move freely on its way, carried along by its own spontaneity.
The most perfect analogy for it all seems to lie in our own constitution, in the working of the spirit within us [387/388] through the medium of the body informed by it--the spirit, as Bishop Westcott put it, being rather "the formula of the body" than anything to be sharply defined as distinct and separable from it. The Holy Ghost is to us the informing Spirit, giving life, capability, movement, to every material process. The Logos, as it is phrased by Dr. Inge, is "in relation to the world, the Power that made it and sustains it in being, the Intelligence that guides it, and the Will that directs its life to a purposed end": Yet "neither God the Father nor the Logos, so bound up in the laws of the universe as that it could be said that His life grows and accomplishes itself in the life of the world "--a belief which "is not pantheistic, but which does value Panentheism." [Professor Inge, Personal Idealism and Mysticism, pp. 51 and 71. Compare Professor Dubose: The Gospel in the Gospels, pp. 250, 251. "The Logos is the ideal or formal principle of things. It is that which expresses itself in them." "The universe is the expression, not of God, yet o£ God; not of God, because not of God's substance or self, and yet of God, because of God's Logos or His thought, will, and activity,"] It seems to me that this mystical outlook, this seeing of everything in God, characteristic--of course with exaggerations--of Pantheistic Hindu thought, may well be adopted by Christians as a protection against two contrary tendencies, one of which results in Materialism, the other in Pantheism. Attained, it is corrective of Pantheism. And the "Panentheism" which it values and embodies appears to me to be a helpful thought to be suggested to the minds of believers by brooding on the extravagant errors, the weird and fantastic distortions which beset religious thought where Pantheism rules unrestrained.
And to embark on another line of thought, suggested by what goes before. I have argued that the fact of sin presents no insuperable difficulty to belief that the world which contains it is one in which God is immanent, which, [388/389] indeed, is impregnated with His Presence. A somewhat analogous thought might predispose us to look in nature for traces of creative Love working out a beneficent purpose against what we may call thwarting influences. And this thought might have a scope and a helpfulness in relation to other difficulties of a kind very rife in our midst.
One of the standing difficulties of belief among men of scientific prepossessions has ever been the thought of a Creator effecting His material purposes so incompletely as they seem to be wrought out in the actual universe before us. Why spend such infinite ages of development, material or moral, instead of creating things at once as perfect as ever they could be? Why the waste, the carnage, the suffering, the aberrations, material and spiritual, which accompany all the development'? Why not a development more perfect after all the suffering that it costs?
Now if we think of a purpose of love as finding its scope and fulfilment in the processes which all these accompany, still more, if we think of that purpose as it displays itself in our own moral life, we might be led on, as I think, to a conclusion something like the following--that respect for the capacities of its object, that a taking of the loved one by the hand, and inducing him to develop for himself the capabilities dormant within, is of the essence of all its procedure; that to work out one's own salvation both in physical and in moral life is the only highest course for the highest beings that we know, our human brethren and sisters; that to tamper with people's individuality, to force them along a course of one's own, denying them scope and opportunity for developing on just their own lines, is the worst disservice we can render them; that a lower degree of perfection, attained along their own proper path, is preferable to a higher degree, attained on any [389/390] other lines; and that accordingly, such a development is most worthy to be ordered by love.
And if we think of creating and creation as affording opportunity to love, as, indeed, but the temporal working out of a love which itself is eternal, may we not, by a parity of reasoning, regard each step in evolution as evincing what we may call, with all reverence, a respect on the part of the Creator for that which Himself has created--a taking it, as it were, into His counsels, allowing it a hand in its own growth; taking it tenderly from stage to stage along a process in which every part of it, according to the latent capacities which Himself had given it from the first, should work out its own salvation along its own imperfect lines. There is a beauty, a nobility, a satisfactoriness in the thought of His dealing with it thus, which, to me, were wholly wanting in a creation which showed no struggle, which conveyed no idea to our minds of a Creator making the most, at each stage, of inadequate or perverse materials. It is staggering, no doubt, at first sight, to learn how each one of ourselves, before we looked our first on this world, has passed through every stage which animal life on our planet has known from its earliest inception. It is staggering to think of each species as having won its present perfection by an age-long process of struggle, in which the weakest have gone to the wall. It was staggering, when first it was propounded, to think of a continuity of development, through which every stage of being can be traced through infinitesimal gradations to a connection, apparently unquestionable, with the stage immediately below it. It is staggering perhaps more than all, to know that the one last gap between inorganic and organic nature, between the inanimate and the living, may yet be spanned by discoverers: that we dare not adopt the stand which we remember as familiar to apologists, on the failure of every experiment which attempted to develop [390/391] life where no life had existed to produce it; while, on the other hand, it seems to be proved that reactions obtain in the inanimate which bear the closest possible resemblance to the phenomena of animate being.
Yet what light is thrown on all this, how it is robbed of its terrifying aspect, if we think of Creative Love as stooping to co-operate, as it were, with the rudimentary, stumbling attempts which nature, at every stage, is putting forth to develop her capabilities. Let us think of God the Holy Ghost as pervading the whole of the universe, as the Scriptures so constantly represent Him. Let us apply to the thought of His operation in all things animate and inanimate, what we know of His dealings with ourselves in the painful struggles and processes which work out our spiritual salvation. Then ask whether there is anything unworthy in believing that diversities of operations may have much that is parallel with one another; that He Who, in the spiritual world, so patiently bears with, and helps us, Who respects our personal freedom, and leaves us to love or to reject Him, may be dealing in analogous ways with the world of material things--pervading each process of nature with a like persistency and patience, yet enduing all creatures alike with a power to work out for themselves the exact minute stage of development up to which they have struggled so far.
With these few detailed suggestions, mere specimens of many that might be offered, this article must draw to its close.
To them all there might, doubtless, be adduced the answer which rises too readily to the lips of many among us, and those not scoffing or irreligious, that it is mystical, imaginative, obscure; that it ignores the everyday attitude of even thoughtful Christian people; that it moves from first to last in a world with which they are not familiar. And this may be far too true, [391/392] may offer very serious obstacles to its commending itself readily or widely.
But I would ask right-minded Christians who are ready to deal with it thus, whether the position of total unbelief, whether Materialism, nakedly stated, is any more familiar or acceptable than that which I have tried to set before them? This position of blank negation is the last which they would wish to adopt. And if they feel, as surely they do, that the solution, if solution there be, of the enigmas which always beset us is to be found in St. Paul and St. John, then I plead that my statement of this may be patiently considered and weighed. No one reads the Scriptures attentively, or weighs their statements with reverence, and comes away from such perusal with a sense that the statements which they make are easy to translate for ourselves into a twentieth-century equivalent; that the ideas which flow from St. John with such limpid simplicity of diction are other than profound, nay, unfathomable; that the rapturous utterances of St. Paul, who, "if he had known Christ after the flesh, would henceforth thus know Him no more," are patient of any interpretation which is other than deeply mystical. If we wish to retain our faith in the light of modern knowledge, and in the obscurity of age-long dilemmas, there must be a mystical element in the thoughts that we think on the subject, and in the words by which they are expressed. We must ever be consenting, in fact, to put up with statements of truth which entail weighing, one against the other, apparently contradictory suggestions, adumbrations of facts beyond verification, and truths too deep, too divine, for full and unimpeachable perspicuity. But on the principle that every error in our thoughts about God Himself, and about our relations with Him is a nemesis for truth obscured, or a reaction from facts over-stated, I believe that a mystical belief about the [392/393] immanence of God in creation is our safeguard against tendencies to Materialism.
To quote again from a work by Dr. Inge, which, without accepting it in its entirety, I regard as profoundly suggestive: "The Logos is the creating and sustaining principle in the universe: He comprehends it, though He is not comprehended by it. All the life in the world is His life; the fulfilment of His will is the far-off divine event to which the whole creation moves." [Personal Idealism and Mysticism, p. 51.]
An impulse in the direction thus indicated, a quickening of our perceptiveness of the truth which these deep expressions enunciate is, I believe, the one great service which Hinduism may render to Christendom. God everywhere, not distinguished from all things; God merely as the totality of all things--there is the error, the distortion, on the side of Hindu Pantheism. God nowhere--the totality of all things taking the place of the thought of God--there, again, is the error, the distortion, on the side of Buddhistic Materialism. God everywhere, in all things, all living and moving and having their being in Him, all sustained, as at first they were created, by the action of His eternal Word--there, once more, is the truth of the gospel, as enunciated by St. Paul and St. John.
And now, to sum up in a few sentences the chief underlying ideas which I have tried to convey to my readers. The feel of God in all things, the sense sympathetic to his touch, as it thrills through the universe around us, the consciousness that all that exists is impregnated with Him and with His influence, that "He is not far from each one of us," "that in Him we live and move and have our being"--these animating characteristics which pervade the mind of India, which constitute its spiritual atmosphere, which are categories [393/394] in all its speculations--it is by these, as a gift from on high, that Christianity may look to be helped. We may be warmed, enlightened, enriched; may be protected against weaknesses which are our own, and may be led to a many-sided breadth which is far from being native to ourselves, by contact with Indian Christians inheriting a sense of the supernatural from their ancestors bred up in Pantheism. Extravagancies must first be chastened down, inherited excrescences scaled off; distortions must be straightened and corrected by many generations of Christianity. Then these dim anticipations of helpfulness may stand out as facts accomplished.
Meanwhile let us guard, on our parts, against looking with insular superciliousness on even so grotesque a religion as that which I have tried to describe. It has parted with much that is essential, has compromised with much that is evil, has been smirched by much that is degrading. All which has been the natural nemesis of its parting with its spiritual birthright for the sake of intellectual completeness; of its bowing before a ruthless metaphysic, caring only for logical completeness as a system of speculative philosophy. But contempt for aught that is human is foreign to the perfect religion of Him who is Man, the man, the universal Archetype of humanity. For though the darkness, now, as of old, has failed to comprehend the light, He is now, as He was to St. John, "the true Light, which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world." And just because this is the case with Christians as it is with none else--because "all things are ours" in Him--we can turn to each foreign religion, to find in our study of each the fulfillment of the promise of Jehovah:--"I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and the hidden riches of secret places."