The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Intellectual Position of Christians
by E. M. Caillard
[Emma Marie Caillard, 1852-1927, was a writer of novels, science, religion, essays, and poetry. Some of her books are online and can be accessed from The Online Books Page.]
All quotations made from the New Testament throughout these Essays are from the Revised Version.
IV.--THE RELATION BETWEEN GOD AND THE ORDER OF NATURE ACCORDING TO THE CHRISTIAN REVELATION.
We have now to turn to the second aspect under which we are to regard the truths of the Christian revelation, viz., as they teach us to understand the relation between God and the universe.
The Incarnation, it has already been said, implies a kinship between the Divine and the human; but as our object in the last essay was rather to contemplate God Himself than God in relation to man, no attempt was made to state in any exact way what that kinship actually is. All that our immediate purpose rendered necessary was the clear perception that a kinship, such as renders the Incarnation possible, implies the Personal Being of God. In one quotation, however, which referred to the relationship between the three Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity, the expression occurred: "A Son in Whom we are made sons." This is the kinship between God and man as we find it expressed in the Christian revelation. Because eternal Fatherhood is of the essence of the Divine nature; because that eternal Fatherhood necessitates eternal Sonship in order that it may be realized; because what God is determines what the universe, which is the outcome of the Divine activity, shall be, therefore sonship is the expression of man's relation to God, and also the keynote to creation, but whose means alone we shall be enabled to discern the Divine harmony in nature which we seek so painfully and often so erroneously.
The fact that the eternal Son is the archetype of creation, is indicted in many passages of the New Testament, the most striking, perhaps, being in the Epistle to the Colossians, where He is called "the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation; for in Him all things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible . . . all things have been created through Him; and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist." [Col. I. 15-17.]
These words, taken in conjunction with those which open St. John's Gospel:" In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made through Him . . . That which hath been made was life in Him; and the life was the light of men": [John i. 1-5, R.V., marg. reading.] and with those in Genesis i.: "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters," [Genesis i. 2] epitomize the teaching of the Christian revelation with regard to the "origin" of nature. Its eternal ideal in the Divine mind is Sonship, expressed in creation by the power of that "Personal Spirit of God, who conveys the essence of God," and Who is therefore the "Lord and Giver of life,"--a life which, since its source is personal, fitly culminates in the personal being,--man.
Thus, according to the Christian revelation, the relation of man to God is not different in kind from the relation of all nature to God; the difference lies in the fact that man is conscious of the relation. We have seen, in a former essay, how crude and almost unrecognizable this consciousness may be, but it is never entirely absent, and its presence is the explanation alike of the heights to which man may rise and the depths to which he may fall. To be consciously a Son of God is to feel divine capacities, of exercising those activities, of realizing those possibilities, voluntarily. Here, then, we encounter the part played by the will in the life of man. He must will to be a Son or he cannot enter upon the glorious privileges of his birthright. The birthright itself is inalienable; he can never cease to be a Son, but he can refuse to claim a Son's position, or to exercise a Son's prerogatives. He is free to turn his back upon his Father's house, and to resist the Father's will. This is a possibility involved in the reality of his sonship, and he has chosen that the possible shall become the actual, and thus disordered his whole being. The sole remedy lies in the return of the will to free submission and obedience, in other words, to union with the Divine Will from which it is derived, and to which its opposition is what has been most appositely called a lie, a lie not in word or in thought, but in fact. * It is a lie in fact because the will is the creative faculty--the power which actualizes. Proof of this is contained in each man's experience. There is no one who can not look back upon his past life and say: "This and this and this has happened because I chose that it should happen; it was the outcome of my will; without my will it would not have been." In thus creating--for we do create--circumstances, characters, experiences, we are exercising a Divine prerogative, one that we can only exercise because we are Sons of God. When, therefore, we exercise it in opposition to God, we "sin", we bring into existence the lie of disunion, of separateness from Him Who is our life, "in Whom we live and move and have our being." And because of our opposition to God, we are in opposition to one another also. The will of one man interferes with the will of his brother man, making results different from what they would otherwise have been, often the very contrary to what was intended. The supreme will of God overrules these warring human wills and forces the confession: "There is a power that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will." [Shakespeare's Hamlet] And this clashing of the infinite wills with one another and the Infinite will, this bearing down of human wills by the Divine will ("the force of circumstances," as we call it), is the necessary consequence of the disorder and disunion of sin. God's ideal is the voluntary union of all infinite wills with His Infinite will, and so with one another--a perfect harmony in which no note is lost, no note discordant, no note superfluous. Man's actual is the jarring and contention of one untuneful sound with another, the neutralizing or overriding of one self-centred will by another, till, in the chaos which results, the very will of God Himself seems to be in abeyance.
* [The Divine Unity and Trinity, p. 130. Compare also F.D. Maurice Life, vol. I. Pp. 154-155. Letter to his Mother; and Appendix ii. Of 10th edition of Lux Mundi.]
The remedy which the Christian revelation provides for this radical disorder is a return to that voluntary union with God, that receptive attitude towards the outpouring of the Divine Life, whose necessary consequence is the rendering back in free and spontaneous self-surrender of the fulness which we have received. Such a return is possible only in and through Christ, because in Christ is manifested the Divine ideal of manhood, eternally existing in Him, the eternal Son, made known in time by His appearance under the conditions of that order whose Archetype He is, an Archetype to which each finite son of God has come into existence to be conformed.
Such is what we may call the practical answer of the Christian revelation to all who turn to it for guidance in the perplexities, difficulties and temptations which beset human life. But a practical answer does not always suffice. Even in the most simple-minded arise unsought, out of those very daily perplexities and difficulties, doubts and questionings which can be called by no other name than metaphysical, and which are, therefore, erroneously supposed to be unpractical, though they have the most direct and serious bearing on practical matters. A thinker, to whom English Christians owe a well-nigh incalculable debt [F. D. Maurice], has some weighty words in this connextion which we shall do well to ponder. He is speaking of the meeting by Christ of the man blind from his birth to whom "He at once proceeds to do good. But before He can enter upon that work, He must encounter a metaphysical doubt which has occurred to the fishermen who are walking with Him. ["Rabbi, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?--John ix, 2.] A metaphysical doubt to fishermen! Yes, and if you go into the garrets and cellars of London, you will have metaphysical doubts presented to you by men immeasurably more ignorant than those fishermen were, even before Jesus called them; the very doubts which the school are occupied with, only taking a living, practical form. Unless you can cause men not to be metaphysical beings . . . they must have these doubts. Thanks be to God He awakens them! And, thanks be to God, He, and not priests and doctors, must satisfy them for every creature whom He has made in his image." [Frederick Denison Maurice "Gospel of St. John," pp. 261-262.]
But if this be so, the doubt of all doubts, the question which, however disguised, resolves itself into the world-old difficulty of the origin of evil, the reason why the abuse by man of his Divine birthright should have been allowed to go beyond the bare possibility which we see is involved in the very existence of such a birthright,--cannot be left unnoticed in the Christian revelation; nor is it. No attempt, indeed, is made to solve the problem by any direct statement, but light is given which, if we accept that revelation, we may not venture to ignore. By it we clearly see that in bringing into existence an order whose ideal is sonship, God conditions Himself. The conditions under which He creates are those compatible with the Sonship of the creation, and so preclude the compulsory treatment of the latter. To say this is to assert that, in creation, God works under limitations,--self-imposed indeed, but limitations none the less, and limitations which have their root in Himself. Not that the Divine Being is limited, "far behind the three Divine Persons Whom we can understand, there lies the unknowable Infinity of the Divine unity of nature." [Herbert Hammond Jeaffreson, The Divine Unity and Trinity] Nevertheless, in the relation between those three Divine Persons we do perceive the source of limitation, because each one is not the other.
The two facts that the Divine activity in creation is conditioned, and the Divine life a life of sacrifice, seem to throw the only real light upon the problem of evil which it has ever, or, in the present stage of existence, can ever receive, though with advancing knowledge and advancing experience the light may well become stronger. The life of God was poured into His creation through the operation of that eternal Spirit, who is the Bearer of life; but the life of God is self-determining, and consequently the derived life of His creation is also to some extent self-determining. It is given, however, under limitations, and so has failed to rise to the height of that Divine sacrifice which is, nevertheless, the law of its being, and has become not only self-determining, but self-centered. Hence the "lie in fact", the lie of separation from God has over-shadowed to finite perception His glorious ideal of nature. Yet just as some of the noblest human victories in all fields of activity have been won, not without limitations, but by submitting to in order to transcend them, so in a far higher yet analagous sense, the Christian revelation teaches us to see the Divine victory, the exaltation of the Divine life in creation, through those very limitations which to our troubled vision seem to threaten its mutilation, or even its destruction. The "summing up of all things in Christ,"--not only as their eternal Archetype in the Divine mind, but through His Incarnation as their representative in time and under the conditions which time implies,--results in their being offered in Him, individually and collectively, "without blemish" to God through the power of the eternal Spirit. Thus the "first-born of all creation" fulfills the law of created life by yielding it in unreserved devotion to Him from Whom it is derived. In Christ, the response of creation to the Divine sacrifice,--in which response alone it truly lives,--is made once and always; but its full fruition,--its realization in time, not only representatively, but actually in each created being,--has yet to come. It is the goal to which all creaturely life is tending, only to be reached when, not by re-absorption into Divine impersonal Being, but by the full development of those personal activities to which the personal Spirit of God has given birth, creation as a whole and in all its parts freely answers to the eternal voice ever calling it to new and more glorious development: "Lo I come to do Thy will, oh God!" [Heb. 10:9]
Here then we close the brief consideration, which is all that limited space allows, of the relation of God to the universe as set forth in the Christian revelation. In the following Essays an endeavor will be made to show how this relation corresponds to and interprets the facts of nature as science knows them. And if, as we encounter the sight of a "groaning and travailing" creation, the question still persistently encounters us: "Why should God have submitted to work under limitations entailing this and this terrible consequence?" The answer, so far as the Christian revelation is concerned, still consists in pointing to the ideal of creation,--Sonship. "I will be to Him a Father, and he shall be to Me a son", is the attitude of the Divine will in creating, and the Divine Fatherhood shrinks from no sacrifice, the Divine activity from no limitation in order that the Divine Will may be accomplished.
Proofread by LNL, Apr. 2021
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