Lecture IV. Objections to the Pantheistic Theory
IN the previous lectures of this course I have endeavored, with what success yourselves must judge, to show the scheme of Pantheism, first, in its theoretic form, and secondly, in its practical applications. Such a division of the subject was rendered necessary by the fact that the system, in its unshorn deformity, is to be found only in the works of those scientific writers (especially of the French and German schools) who logically carry out their principles and accept and avow the consequences, while it is commonly presented to us in the shape of dilutions more or less strong. [See Note D.] Thus qualified and mitigated, however, it is encountered everywhere, in theology, in philosophy, in history, in poetry, in the drama, and in the trashy literature of the day. To be able to recognize it in its disguised forms, one must know it in its natural shape; through such knowledge only can the identity between the theory and its applications be exhibited.
I now proceed, in continuation of this subject, to speak, first, of the way in which the Pantheists endeavor to establish their conclusions; secondly, of the character of their alleged proofs; thirdly, of the objections which lie against the whole system in the consequences resulting therefrom.
And first, it is to be remarked that the Pantheist, in endeavoring to establish his principles, depends on certain definitions which he assumes to be correct, concerning the infinite and the finite, concerning substance and being. He also rests upon a very subtle system of the most abstract notions of metaphysics. All his philosophy is built on these primary definitions. My reference is chiefly to the speculative writers of the French and German schools. To endeavor to understand the language of their systems is an almost hopeless task, and yet it is evident that the main strength of those systems lies in this scientific jargon, and that they depend upon it for the success of their so-called demonstrations. But it is not from their positive methods only that the real position of these philosophers, relatively to the rest of mankind, may be inferred: nothing can be more significant than the care with which they avoid certain lines of argument to which we should expect a school aiming at wide influence to resort. For example, we never find one of these philosophers appealing to that grand old test, the common sense of men. We never discern in his writings a disposition to hear and abide by the verdict of the consent and concurrence of mankind. As to the traditional knowledge and faith of our race, he is dumb. To the received opinions, to the universal convictions of his fellow-beings, he dares not refer. All these directions he avoids with a sedulous care which cannot be mistaken, for he knows that these things are against him. The voice of common sense, the traditions that have come down through all time and among all nations, the convictions of the wise and pious all over the world, the facts of the existence of the visible Church of Christ, and the influence of the Holy Scriptures,--all these are against the Pantheist. He dares not face these witnesses; he cannot meet them on common ground. He invents his subtle system of metaphysics as a necessity of his position, because a special and peculiar set of arms, offensive and defensive, is required by the man who is to appear in conflict with history, and testimony, and consent, and experience, and the judgment and common sense of all our race. His battle is against the mind, the logic, the intelligence, the heart, the soul, of the universal human family.
To speak, in the second place, though briefly, of the character of these alleged proofs. Already laboring, from the very first, under the disadvantage of contradiction by every reliable voice to which an appeal can reasonably be made, they stand convicted of weakness in this behalf,--that they are arbitrary in themselves, and therefore powerless in result. Each science has its language. But the science of Pantheism is a mere speculative cloud. It has its language and its proper terms, and in them lies its strength. Yet no man need admit the exactness of its definitions, nor is it possible for the masters of this science to show cause why the world should accept the peculiar nomenclature which they employ. Unless this be done, however, the argument which lives in those special definitions must fail. The characteristic language of the school respecting substance, personality, unity, the finite and the infinite, matter, spirit, soul, truth, certitude, and the like, we Christians may reject; and we may demand that the terms to be used in all questions touching the existence and nature of the Almighty, the being and powers of man, and similar topics, shall be such terms as have been familiarly known and used in the Church, and may be understood of ordinary minds. We may require, as a preliminary, that this unintelligible jargon of the Rationalists shall cease, and that, in subjects eminently practical, we shall be permitted to know just what these teachers mean and whither they would lead us. If this be done, the power of the system is broken. Opposed by common sense, ignoring the realities of our situation, admitting no fact as historic, explaining no mystery, leaving behind it difficulties more formidable than those of which it complained and which it proposed to remove, the tongue of this philosophy ceases, and the knowledge thereof vanishes away.
I proceed to speak, thirdly, of the objections to this philosophy in respect to the consequences which it involves. And since this is by far the most important branch of the subject, it is to its full treatment that the remainder of this lecture will be devoted.
The first consequence from the Pantheistic philosophy to which I shall advert is this: that, according to its principles, the world and man do of necessity exist, and that they are part of God Himself. From eternity has there been this so-called universal substance. But the being which is from eternity is not contingent and relative, but absolute and necessary. The world, however, is but that substance realized in certain visible forms, and man is that substance arrived at its highest manifestation thus far; and therefore the world and man have, as to their substance, a necessary existence. Again, that substance, in its entirety, is God, and the world and man are parts of that substance, and therefore the world and man do not merely exist of necessity, but the world and man are parts of God. As to this conclusion, Pantheism hesitates not to avow it; nay, it glories in it as its most valuable discovery; and that blasphemous idea, at which the Christian shudders, is the first of the inestimable boons bestowed by this infidel philosophy on mankind.
But, secondly, it follows not less clearly, from the principles now under consideration, that God is absolutely dependent on the world, and absolutely dependent upon man. We have been trained in the Church to think of God as the sovereign Lord of all; but the God of Pantheism is weak, and speechless, and unconscious, and powerless, without the universe and without us. For consider, brethren, that, according to this philosophy, the eternal substance has in itself no shape, no mind, no will, no sight, no consciousness; it attains to these in developing upward, and in taking the successive forms of the universe. Until it thundered, God had no voice. Until there were mountains and hills, and suns and moons and stars, God had no definite life. Until there were planetary orbits, God had no orderly motion. Until there were brutes, God had no instincts, no desires, 1no feeling. Until there were men, God had no consciousness, no perception of Himself, no will, no thought. Thus He depends on us. It is He who lives in us, rather than we ill Him. Without the universe, without what we mistakingly call His works, He is quite imperfect and incomplete; for it is only through the universe that this poor, blind, unformed, anomalous being can express itself or assert itself. This conclusion inevitably follows from the principles of the system; and this degraded and emasculated conception is that which Pantheism, with ghastly leer, offers us as a substitute for the Father, the Redeemer, the Governor, in whom thus far the world has trusted itself, and on whom we suppose that we depend.
And thirdly, it is a consequence of this philosophic theory that it obliterates those distinctions on the existence and realization of which all social, moral, and intellectual life and progress depend. There is, according to the Pantheistic tenet, no distinction at all between the finite and the infinite, all things that we see and perceive and know being but parts of the one infinite and universal substance. But to maintain this principle, to say, as they do whose views we are now examining, that the finite has 1no true and separate existence of its own apart from the infinite, is to kill the finite by this tremendous, this fatal juxtaposition. It results from this idea, (to look to that which most nearly concerns ourselves,) that men have no real existence of their own, that we are but phantoms, that our acts are but imaginary, that our lives (as we call them) are but dreams; for we are parts or fragments of that ever-developing infinite, that ever-progressing infinite, which alone has any and all reality. And thus, in like manner, the Pantheistic theory destroys effectually all distinction between the human reason and the divine, all distinction between the life of creatures and the life of God. All boundary lines are swept away, all differences disappear, all life, all thought, all reason, all existence, are struck and heaped and massed together in one monstrous lump, one inconceivable aggregate. There is a complete identification, or, which is the same thing, there remains but one appalling chaos.
And fourthly, you perceive, brethren, that in this system the Personal God disappears utterly from view. That grand and beneficent figure, the form of the Father of all, is dethroned. As we comprehend the sacred term, there is left no God. A substance, impersonal, there is; but we cannot imagine that unintelligible, unreasoning, unthinking, unloving state of impotence as our Father, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier, our Friend. The God in whom we have believed is gone. In the following lecture of this course it is proposed to state, (and how refreshing will be the task after this wading through the Pantheistic slough!) the full, the true, the dear, the blessed conception of the Almighty which we have received in the Church and find in the sacred Scriptures. Let it be sufficient here to remark that such a conception, in connection with the system whose tenets are an identity of substance throughout the universe and a principle of spontaneous development as the only law of life and progress, is merely and absolutely impossible. The God of Pantheism is not a person, exists not personally, has no personal attributes; it is merely a kind of substratum on which everything is founded, a kind of material out of which everything is built, a kind of great sum total of all things, an enormous vortex in which its own concretions whirl round and round forever. Oh, what a black and damnable outrage is that which Pantheism attempts to perpetrate! It would rob the creation of its Maker, the world of its Governor, time of its Providential Arbiter, man of his Father and Friend! What greater crime than to try this gigantic fraud and to leave us nothing in His place.
Ah, brethren, those last words were not correct. Pantheism does not leave us destitute. It takes away God, but it does not leave His place empty. Had it done so, our charge against it were not so heavy and the wrong were less; for that is what Atheism does, and therefore Atheism is less to be feared. For Atheism, denying that there is any God, and not undertaking to fill the place which it has thus proclaimed to be vacant, leaves behind it a void, the void of that negation, a void which cries out to be filled, which calls to its object, which craves incessantly in the torments of hungry despair. The void which Atheism thus makes in the universe protests against the process by which it was formed; it cries aloud; accuses the folly of the man who hath said there is no God; it denies the very denial, and leaves the victim no refuge but in an utter brutalization, in a completed degradation from which he must escape, and from which he cannot escape save by coming back to faith. But Pantheism eschews that error. Pantheism is the last device of the devil, and by far the subtlest. Atheism is simple and blunt; but Pantheism is crafty and sly. Atheism is honest in its way, and by its very honesty defeats its end. But Pantheism profits by observation of the error of its predecessor. It strikes out God from the universe; but it leaves no void, no void to ache and protest and demand mercy. It fills the void with a calculating coolness; it fills it by deifying the world and man.
This is our fifth allegation against the system: that it confounds God and the universe in such a way as to make of them but one. That it con founds God and man, the divine nature and the human, in such wise as to identify them. It de thrones God, but not so as to leave His throne empty. It dethrones God, but it sets up man in His place. "He, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." It transports the divine personality into main; it affirms that in man God hath consciousness, affection, will, personal existence. It subjects and satisfies the idea of the greatness, the majesty, the worthiness of mall; it makes of him the real, the only deity: and thus the void is filled by the sovereign pride, the end less ambition, the supreme self-confidence of the human heart. This thing is worse by far than aught that Atheism ever attempted. It is crafty, it is malignant, it is immense in audacity; and yet it is literally the very thing which the Pantheists have done, the last and highest conclusion of their approved writers, in whose printed works may these atrocious blasphemies be found, line upon line, and statement upon statement, until the very hairs of our head should stand on end as we read.
Think then, brethren, in the sixth place, of the bearings of this view on certain questions vital to us as a race. There follows, as a consequence, the reduction of certainty to uncertainty throughout the province of thought; the obliteration of all distinction between good and evil, between right and wrong, between virtue and vice, in the sphere of morality; for according to the Pantheistic scheme there is no divine mind, no divine thought, until the infinite and universal substance has developed up to man. In man, therefore, that substance first has consciousness; in man that substance first thinks. But that substance is God; therefore the thought of man is the thought of God, the mind of man the mind of God, the speech, the voice of man, are the speech and voice of God. Now what does all this mean? This, and no less,--that all the thoughts of any individual mind are divine thoughts; that all the imaginings, the opinions, the views of any mind, of every mind, are divine; that every wish of your heart, that every appetite of your soul, that every consideration of your intelligent understanding are together and alike divine. But, you will say, men do not think alike, do not judge alike, do not desire alike. It is so. And thus all ideas of any fixed and settled permanent quality in thought are lost. It follows that there can be no such thing as absolute and immutable truth: all truth is mobile and progressive; all thoughts are right and true in their way. No thought of any human mind can be wrong: it may be incomplete, but that is all; and as the idea of an absolute and unchanging truth independent of our minds is thus removed, so there doth perish in like manner to its merest vestiges the idea of a moral law, and of a distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, vice and virtue. For if man be God thinking and acting, then, as all man's thoughts are divine, so must be his acts: pride, pleasure, passion, cruelty, ambition, lust, are but the necessary development of moral tendencies in the original substance. That substance, though it have no personality, is supposed to have and to hold all possible, all conceivable tendencies within itself, and these are developed and evolved in human thought, in human desire. All our thoughts are divine thoughts, all our desires are divine desires. This is what the New England transcendentalists have meant all along, in using the pernicious language, that what we call error is only incomplete truth, and that what we call evil is only incomplete good,--which means, at bottom, that there is no such thing as an absolute good and evil, an absolute right and wrong. In New England they are cautious what they say and how they express themselves; but the Pantheists abroad are more straightforward. They stick not at the last conclusion, from the mere expression of which one shrinks appalled; but it must be said, it shall be said, to let you look for once over the edge and far down into the deep,--they have affirmed that the development of man is the development of God too; that as the primal substance is advancing it is God who advances; that He, far from being unchangeable, is always improving and going forward to what He was not before; [See Note E.] that we cannot conjecture what God may become; that whatsoever appears to be evil is only in appearance evil, but, in reality, imperfect good; that whatever appears to be error is not really error, but only imperfect truth; and since all, in thought or act, which we call error, evil, vice, is but part of the one grand and perpetual progression and development, therefore that God is not merely good, truth, and virtue, but that He is error, vice, and evil! So wrote a pantheistic philosopher in France; [Proudhon: Systeme des Contradictions Économiques.] and when he penned those words and spoke them abroad, if there be ears and eyes in hell to hear and see, that place must have rung with applause, and shouts of approval must have stormed round all the sides of the infernal pit.
And, brethren, I will detain you with but one more of these pictured consequences of this message and burden of woe and death. It is the pantheistic view of history,-of the history of the ages and of nations and of men. History, according to these writers, is not ordered by God; nations are not ruled by God; individual life is not overlooked by God: but history is merely the continued development of humanity. It is supposed by this philosophy to be divided into epochs. Each of those epochs is regarded as a time of the domination of some one element of the mind. Nations are the repreresentatives of ideas, and it is the mission of each nation to manifest the special idea with which its existence is allied; therefore the part which each nation is to play is fixed by a prior necessity, by an absolute fate. The idea to be represented by each natioii has connection with the part of the globe which the nation occupies,--with climate, physical circumstances, temperature,- with commercial advantages, with natural resources, with the productions of the soil. The pantheistic Philosophy supposes two things (in its applications to the history of the world): first, a law of progress which is not the will of God, but an inflexible and inevitable necessity of sequence; and secondly, a necessary and absolute inspiration in humanity. The ideas of which we have spoken are all, in their way, divine; divine, but incomplete. They are developed one by one. Each, being but a partial view of truth, must, in its turn, yield and disappear. History is the record of these mutations and transitions, as embodied in the nations of the earth; but at all times and in every age, constitutions, governments, arts, sciences, religion, have but one common root," the spirit of the age." There can be no such thing as national crimes, as national injustice, as national wrong. The whole development is good. Through war, rebellion, revolution,--through oppression and tyranny and misgovernment,- through empire, kingdom, democracy,-it is all good, it is all well. Call nothing a crime if it accords with the spirit of the age. Count nothing a virtue if it departs from the spirit of the age. Away with the unmeaning terms of law, order, justice, liberty, right, wrong, national honor and glory, national shame and reproach. These are but empty names; for all is but one progression, one development of the infinite substance, and the shadow which you call a nation is as hollow as the spectre which you call a hero, a patriot, a traitor, a demi-god. Nations represent ideas; and when the idea has been expressed, the part of the nation is played. And great men are the priests and missionaries of ideas, and their careers are valuable for study only in that respect. But all moral distinctions, whether as to the nation's course or the individual's character, are futile and vain. It is but the march of a great spirit,--the spirit of the age.
Here let us pause and draw a long breath of relief, and stop; for the work which was proposed is done so far as its first object extends. Enough has been said of this dreadful heresy. Hereafter we shall be refreshed by the consolations of the Gospel, and by the blessed message concerning the "One God and Father of all," the "One Lord Jesus Christ," the Holy Ghost, the Lord and the Lifegiver, whom we know in the peaceful ways of the faith. Referring, therefore, to the next evening the examination of the truth, let us, finally, turn the fatal page of the Philosophy of this world and leave its sentences to their proper dust and darkness, with thanksgiving unto Him who hath delivered us and the human race out of the power of that darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son.