God in His World

A SURVEY of the spiritual universe as it affects the being of man gains this advantage from anonymous publication, that the book becomes a voice only, and the reader is not confused by an effort to individualize the authorship. If, besides, the voice, be persuasive in tone and gentle in modulation, if it be not raised in angry impatience or hardened by argumentative temper, and if its sweetness be not the honeyed phrase of a rhetorician, then the absconding of the personality behind it, however much ultimately it may arouse an honest curiosity, does for the time being deepen the impression made by the earnest thought and the reserved passion.

Such, at any rate, we think, is likely to be the reflection of one who lays down a remarkable book1 which has recently appeared. The temper in which it is written is so fine, its tone is so authoritative without the semblance of dogmatism, and the sweep of its thought is so large and steady that one is fain to receive it as what it claims to be, an interpretation, and so, in the radical sense of the word, a prophecy. Like prophecy in its most universal type, it is revolutionary in spirit, in obedience to an eternal conservatism ; and it is only as one moves on through the phases of the evolutionary thought of the book that he fails to be startled by the quiet conclusions with which the author confronts him. If one were to read first the closing passages in which contemporaneous civilization is tested, he would — except that the age has cultivated a complacent toleration — exclaim, Away with this fellow, for he turneth the world upside down !

The three divisions into which the work is cast, bearing the titles From the Beginning, The Incarnation, The Divine Human Fellowship, intimate the scope of the subject treated. It is an attempt on the part of a student of human life to disclose the manifestation of God in nature, in the Christ, and in human society. The key to the revelation is in the words Son of God, Son of man ; but the theologian, though he may acquiesce in some of the terms employed, will discover that the author is very indifferent to scholastic definitions, and is constantly escaping, just when the dialectician appears to have him in his toils, into the freer fields of nature. In the first book he passes in review the Aryan faith, the Hellenic development, and, with too brief characterization, the Roman religion. His method can scarcely be called historical or scientific. Rather, he employs his test of pure Christianity to determine the true nature of the phases of spiritual life which preceded the Christian revelation ; but inasmuch as his pure Christianity is interchangeable with nature, the test is one not of creed, but of life. In effect, the first, book is on the intimations of immortality as discoverable in nature, when the gate of everlasting life had not yet been opened to nature through the death and resurrection of the supreme person in nature ; for though the author’s use of the term “ nature " is never defined, it is impossible to avoid perceiving his intention to regard the entire creation as standing in the word. Possibly most exception will be taken by historical students to his sweeping inclusion of all Roman life under the designation of death. The study of Roman history, he says, “is instructive only as it is a study of death; not simply of the death of Rome, but of Rome as itself the death of the ancient world. It was because of the lack of any spiritual impulse or movement that this death has endured through nearly a score of centuries. For Constantine and the worldly Christianity which followed his standards only prolonged the mortality, which was still further perpetuated in Papal Rome, and which remains to-day in all the forms of Church or State which still retain the similitude of the old worldly scheme. What an inversion of terms was there in the reign of Decius, when death occupied the places of life above-ground, while life was hidden in the places of death, with the Christians in the catacombs! ” He might have strengthened his position by a reference to the exacting ritualism of the Roman religion and the fundamental notion of fear in the devotion paid to the gods : but there would remain still the answer to his charge which consigns a vast section of human life to the grave of worldliness, that his own conception of humanity as indestructibly in the image of God forbids this wholesale entombment. It would be more philosophical for him to seek for a village faith corresponding with, and not inherited from, the Eleusinian mysteries, and also to see in the structural genius of the Roman a contribution to the kingdom of heaven no less than to that kingdom of the world with which he seems exclusively to identify it. Certainly it is dangerous, in any scheme of interpretation which aims at universality, to blot out one of the three sentences which repeated the superscription on the cross.

The author is more at home in his treatment of Hellenic, and especially of Pelasgic faith. We leave to scholars the task of scrutinizing his rendering of the Eleusinian mysteries, only surmising that this is one of the cases where a certain mental and spiritual sympathy is liable to make one read into obscure and fragmentary records one’s own thought. A similar appropriation of the Vedic hymns intimates a kinship of feeling on the part of our author, who, both by his negative treatment of Roman worship and his positive treatment of Oriental and Hellenic, indicates the bent of his mind. But we may accept this half-mystical attitude as the natural and, we may say, necessary approach to the heart of any profound subject of life ; and when we follow this writer into the consciousness of the primitive Aryan poet, we are not taking a long historic journey, but a short cut by the way of intuition.

It is in the second book, on the Incarnation, that the writer shows himself in his greatest strength, since he is able to occupy the theologian’s special field without coming into collision with him, and yet without ignoring the questions which are perpetually under debate ; for his point of view is so unusual that the mind is drawn away from the crucial tests which it is apt to apply when considering this subject, and is interested rather in the development of fresh thought. The most novel position, we suspect, and one over which the most sympathetic reader will halt the longest, is that which denies to justice any divine attribute; and in the casual returns to this point — for the author plainly feels its significance — there are frequent suggestions made of the inadequacy of the ethical conception of personality and society. “ Even in human affairs.” he says, justice “has no significance save in connection with the conventional adjustments of a perverted life. Injustice must be manifest before there could be a conception of justice, which is an outward and mechanical righteousness, equity of division, compensation of injuries. In nature equilibrium would mean death; no sooner is it restored than it is disturbed, and both the restoration and the disturbance are through the action of forces, dynamically and normally. No one would think of transferring our term justice to these operations.”

Part of the difficulty appears to lie in the limited construction which this author puts upon the term “ justice.” But the interchangeable use of the words “ justice ” and “ righteousness ” in the New Testament points to a more fundamental unity than he appears to understand.

The reader who has begun to apprehend the drift of the writer’s meaning enters upon the third and final book, treating of the Divine Human Fellowship, with lively expectation, for here he must look for the interpretation of the gospel as it affects modern society. The strength of the author in this portion lies in his opposition of the divine life to what he succinctly terms the worldly philosophy of the worldly scheme, and he pursues his thought without fear of the practical issue. Practical, we suspect, many will not find it; or, at the best, will look upon it as a vague resolution of all forces into the simple act of human love. Singularly enough, there has just appeared a little tract2 by Henry Drummond, which, with the enthusiasm of that single-hearted, spiritualminded man, is a personal appeal for the foundation of human intercourse and religious belief upon the great law of love. It is a fervent, unconventional, penetrating exposition of the doctrine of charity as set forth by the Apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Corinthians ; and the eagerness with which it has been read (our copy is marked “ seventieth thousand ”) is an indication of the response which such an address, in the direct line of this Interpretation, though couched in more popular phrase, finds in the expectant generation of this age. It would be easy to extract long passages from this third book of God in his World, which would show clearly the author’s position, but we must content ourselves with two which contain, perhaps, the central idea :

“ God worketh in all for salvation, and especially in them that believe, who have a living faith. The children wait upon Him ; they behold His work, and, though they know not the way thereof, though it hath for them wonderful surprises, they coöperate therewith. They have no exclusiveness ; they stand not aloof from the world, nor do they judge the world ; it is only love that is in their hearts, and they follow their Lord whithersoever He leadeth, even away from the temple and among the dark mountains, seeking to find and take to their hearts their shabby, bruised, and captive brethren. They work and watch and pray: to love is to do all these, and they expect, not justification, but only love. It is always this, — love calling unto love. They do not shun the temple, but here also, following their Lord, they seek to drive from it the money-changers, and to warn men against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They would break up images, and restore the love-feasts, and fill the house of God with children singing glad hosannas. They have no contempt for the earthly life, and give themselves not up to austerities and sanctities and penances and mortifications. It is life, not death, which they seek, — a larger, freer, fuller life. And they ally themselves with all who seek to get nearer to Nature’s heart, knowing that they who follow her living ways draw nearer to the Lord ; and they hail with delight every application of Nature’s forces which promises greater freedom to men from their incessant toil, knowing that, though for the moment it may serve the selfishness of the powerful and seem to strengthen the bonds of the weak, yet, in the end, it must serve Love’s eternal purpose. Their watchword is not that Knowledge is Power, but they know that there is no true enlightenment that is not from God, and that, however it may for a time be associated with the pride of human intellect, it is more closely linked with His loving purpose ; and when they behold men drawing nearer together in space and time through steam and electric communication, their hearts are glad within them, for they see in this, not the immediate result, the corporate abuse and the strengthening of a selfish despotism, but the preparation for the universal brotherhood of God’s kingdom.”

“ The Imagination exhausts its resources in vain, attempting to construct this ideal life. We may suppose that, in place of the desire for mastery and for material possession, the heroism of love and faith is dominant, since our Lord hath said that the meek shall inherit the earth, they who overcome evil with good. This heroism of meekness not only hath in it all that is possible of human courage in the face of life and death, but is reinforced by the divine might. Here is an army whose weapons are drawn from the armory of heaven. We may imagine an array of bright angelic forms, supple as Michael’s, shining with the health of seraphs, from their radiant brows, beneath which the piercing glance of every eye is like the flash of Ithuriel’s spear, to their beautiful feet upon the mountains, upon the vantage-ground of truth ; and unto them truth is life, and life is love. They have the wisdom of serpents, the harmlessness of doves, and the strength of God. The whole race of men upon earth becoming such as these, we may picture to ourselves a society in which the natural tradition of impulse and knowledge is perfect and sufficient; — a society without a history and without monuments, and whose intellectual development is in no way separate from its forward-looking life ; — a society in which there is a common bond of love uniting all hearts and all activities, so holding to the immediate contact with Nature that there is no monstrous aggregation of human life in cities ; — a society without conventional distinctions, all laboring alike and together as one family, and in which, as there would be no drudgery, so, on the other hand, there would be no artificial amusement, — the sharp distinction between work and play no longer holding; — a society without a government for the administration of justice, since the very notion of justice arises only from injustice ; without ethical regulation, the spontaneous spiritual impulse having taken the place of binding duty; without charity, since love has removed the occasion for its exercise ; without polish, since in the alchemy of this flowing life there is nothing hard enough to take it; without refinement, save as the fire of life refineth ; without canons of taste or rules of discipline, since an obligation from within holds, in consistency with perfect freedom, all life to the harmony of spiritual law ; — a society having in its constructions and interpretations the original endowment of divination, through the divine wisdom informing the human, so that its progress in art and knowledge is rapid beyond our ability to conceive by comparison with the achievements of what we know as civilization.”

It will be seen that our author is a visionary, but his visions are of a different order from those that look to a community in which the centre of selfishness is merely shifted from the individual to the whole mass. His interpretation of Christianity, if it were at once adopted, would shatter the whole order of society, as light shatters darkness ; their interpretation of the laws of life presupposes a dynamitic explosion. In his view, reiterated as a sort of watchword, the meek shall inherit the earth ; in theirs, the earth shall be parceled out among all in arithmetical proportion. As we intimated at the outset, God in his World is a revolutionary book, and we shall not be surprised if it plant in some minds the seed of a new reading of history and a new criticism of current movements in society, politics, and religion.

  1. God in his World. An Interpretation. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1890.
  2. The Greatest Thing in the World. London : Hodder & Stoughton. New York : James Pott. 1890.