C. Spence Hans Martensen.

Christian ethics, Volume 1 online

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158 THE HIGHEST GOOD.

whilst jet its home is exclusively there. Its antagonists — that
is to say, suffering, adversity, want, and death — prevent the
achievement of the ideal. Therefore this world can never be
contemplated as an island of happiness ; yet neither can it be
contemplated as exclusively a vale of sorrow, since relative
happiness may be found, though even this would be very
precarious if the blessedness of salvation had not been revealed.
But Christianity teaches us to view both happiness and suffer-
ing not as matters of infinite importance, not as that which is
man's final destiny, but as interminable destinies which are
consonant to this earthly state of existence, because through
them, as means of education, we are to be fitted for the coming
blessedness, for that heavenly life in which we are not merely
redeemed from suffering, but also freed from the craving for
enjoyment ; because we have become partakers of God's own
blessedness, in the liberty of God's children, in which we can
dispense with the lower benefits on which we are here dependent.
And the heavenly life, as the life in God and in the realms of
creation, which God fills with His own presence, is an indis-
soluble life (Heb. vii. 16), — a life which is the indissoluble union
of its moments, of the divine and the human, the uncreated
and created, of energy and repose, of love and contemplation ;
whilst the present life is constantly exposed to the dissolution
and breaking asunder of its moments, which is especially the
case with happiness, it being fragile as glass. An optimism
which puts happiness in the place of the final or chief end of
man, and, closing its eyes to sin and the deficiencies of the
present existence, concludes that in this ^'excellent world"
there is no essential risk either to virtue or to happiness, is not
less untrue, though far less profound, than a pessimism which
puts suffering and death as the final purpose of life, as that for
which it is lived. Such a pessimism has in our days found
expression in Schopenhauer^s theory of unhappiness, in con-
sequence of wmcheSstenSe, nay, life itself, is the highest evil,
from which individual evils are but offshoots. For, according
to this theory, the conception of life is an egoistic will, which is
incessantly renewing in itself pain and suffering, as is already
exhibited in nature in the suffering animal kingdom, which
shows us the spectacle of mutual destruction and torture, but
in the highest degree repeats itself in the realm of humanity,



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EVERLASTING BLISS AND HAPPINESS. 159

where men mutually strive, torture and tread down one another,
at the same time tormenting and plaguing themselves. Each
of them certainly desires to be happy, yet chases after a soap-
bubble, a Fata Morgana in the form of an ideal of happiness,
which is never attained, and only leaves behind pains which
not the less drive them on to new wishes, new cravings, new
illusions. True wisdom, therefore, consists in acknowledging
the emptiness of existence, and not allowing oneself to be
dazzled by appearances. The ethical task then remains the
same as with the Indian ascetics, to die to the wish to live and
exist, to will '* nothing," because the will is the source of all
. sufferings and illusions. The thing most desirable for man,
the highest good, is union with ^^ nothing," is liberation from
the burden of life itself, is to become again what he was before
his birth, namely, non-existent.* However false and monstrous
«his theory may be, it has still its relative correctness as opposed
to a flat optimism, which has taken no account of the contradic-
tions and the wants of life.

A more minute consideration of Optimism and Pessimism
must, however, be given a little further on.

§ 48.

It is in the hope of the future kingdom of bliss and glory
that we work for God's kingdom on earth, assured that we are
not drawing water in the vessels of the Danaides. But the
kingdom of God on earth can only be realized by a continued
strife with Evil, and victory over it as the opposite of the Good.
Just as the Good is both that after which man should strive,
and that wherein, from the impulse of his being, he finds his
peace, his blessedness, so is the Evil the corresponding opposite.
In so far as the Good is considered from the view-point of God's
holy law, the contrast between Good and Evil must be defined
as that between the normal and the abnormal in conduct and dis-
position of mind. In so far, on the other hand, as the Good is
considered as a state of realized perfection, as it is considered
from the view-point of blessedness, happiness, and the harmony
of the world, the contrast appears between the blessings and
the evils of life* In general terms, an evil is that which man,
in consequence of his nature, cannot otherwise than seek to
» Die WeU as WiUe und VorsteUung (The World as Will and Appearance).



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160 THE HIGHEST GOOD.

escape, because it hinders and restrains life, produces a dishar-
mony in existence. But both physical and mental evils are,
like the corresponding goods or benefits, only aesthetic evils
(aesthetic taken in the older, general signification, as that
which awakens desire or distaste, pleasure or the reverse), so
long as they are not placed in relation to the holy law of the
will. What is relatively worthy to be desired, and what should
conditionally be avoided, is measured by the highest good and
the highest evil alone.



THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE KINGDOM OP SIN. THE
HIGHEST EVIL.

§ 49.

As the Good, considered as the destiny of man, is love to
God and His kingdom, the Evil can only be defined as the
essential contrast to love, or as Egoism. The Evil is not a mere
defect, a limitation, so that the contrast between Good and
Evil should be only the contrast between the more or less
perfect. Evil is moreover a positive, as certainly as the egoistic
will takes up a position, sets itself against the Good. The Evil
is not a necessary moment of development ; it is that which
should not be — that, the presence of which is absolutely unau-
thorized in the creation of God, and which should have rested
eternally in the night of possibility. It does not consist merely
in the sovereignty of the senses over reason, though this is one
of the principal phenomena under which it appears ; for the
highest and most decided factors of the Good are not reason
and sense, liberty and nature, but human will and divine will,
human liberty and divine grace. The Evil is siTiy a disturbance
of the normal relation of the will, not merely to an impersonal
law of reason, but to the Creator. And if the good will is that
which, in union with God, wills the divine aim of creation, the
evil will is the denial and opposition of this aim, and the prose-
cution of an opposite aim ; since the egoistic will does not desire
that God should reign supreme over all things, but that itself
should hold the place of ruler, use and enjoy the world in
independence of God. As the kingdom of God does not merely



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GODS KINGDOM AND THE KINGDOM OF SIN. 1 61

appear in separate individuals, but as a kingdom, so also does
Evil, whose kingdom on earth is along with the former, as tares
in the wheat. And as, according to the teaching of revelation,
the kingdom of the Good has not merely its members on earth,
bnt also embraces the glorified and sanctified souls and spirits
departed, and those that were originally holy; so, too, the
kingdom of Evil stretches beyond this earthly sphere, embracing
demon souls and spirits, who have their central point in the
devil ; and the contest between the kingdom of God and the
kingdom of sin on earth is bound up with the contest in the
higher world of spirits. This idea of a kingdom of sin has
indeed its special difficulty in this, that evil is not organizing,
but only disorganizing, and would therefore seem to lack the
unity which is necessary for a kingdom. But although Evil is
disorganizing, and only has actual existence by disturbing the
original Good ; and though the kingdom of Evil must be anta-
gonistic to itself, in so far as the egoistic wills mutually contest
the supremacy ; still, from another side, it is not antagonistic
to itself, and possesses a comparative unity, in so far as the
egoistic wills all conspire and co-operate against the kingdom of
the Good and its realization. By the appearance of Christ, the
opposition between Good and Evil amongst men was most fully
manifested. For, as the aim of creation here has determined
itself as the aim of redemption, the opposition between Good and
Evil determines itself as the opposition between the will which
submits to redemption and that which rejects and contests it.

§ 50.

If the highest Good may be defined as the unity of sanctified
love and blessedness, the highest Evil must be defined as the
unity of sin and misery. The highest Evil is sin itself, joined to
consciousness of guilt and inward condemnation. It is this
evil (supremum malum) which ought to be abhorred by men
above every other evil, and which cannot be counterbalanced by
the possession of all relative Good. " What shall it profit a
man, if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul ? "
In truth, it may be said that all men share in this highest Evil,
in so far as they are all by sin estranged from God ; and they
all bear within them the germ of that sickness which must
unfold itself in death, if the remedy be not found. Even where

L



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162 THE HIGHEST GOOD.

consciousness of guilt and accusation of conscience have not
been awakened, the absence of holy peace and tranquillity
receives an indirect testimony, in the inexplicable sadness of
which there is a store in every human heart ; in the weariness,
the feeling of emptiness and desolation in existence, which often
assails man whilst in the possession of alt external goods, and
makes it necessary for him to discover means to pass away time,
although never succeeding in his aim ; in which respect Byron
has called this tedium or eimui the mystery of the fashionable
world. The mystery is, that men in this life feel miserable
separated from eternal life; and therefore not merely when
obliged to struggle with earthly want, but also when in posses-
sion of all earthly advantages, they must feel the pressure and
emptiness of time ; that the man w ho has not found the highest
good can never obtain any actually present time, but predo-
minantly lives either in the past or in the future, whilst by an
illusion of the fancy he imagines that what he cannot attain
now, he shall reach at some future period, though in reality it
never can be his if Time and Eternity are not united for him.
But, first, where the consciousness of guilt and the accusations
of conscience appear in their terrors, we have the highest evil
as such. The highest evil becomes the perfect evil {malum
eonfiummatum) when all possibilities of change and improve-
ment are exhausted, when the future is lost, when every hope
of deliverance is extinguished, and when, in addition to the
inward misery, comes a corresponding outward state of woe.
Unmitigated evil leads our contemplation away from this world
of mixture, where the good and the evil exist together, and
where the evil, therefore, cannot be found in its completeness,
to the outer realm, to that cosmic region which we call Hell,
to the abode of the damned, the entrance to which, according
to Dante, has this inscription :

^* Through me you pass into the reahns of woe;
llirough me to regions of eternal pain ;
Through me among a people lost for aye.
Justice divine my strong foundation laid ;
And love, by wisdom led, the limits drew.
My being was when things create were none,
Save things eternal ; and such thing am I.
Abandon hope, all ye that enter here.** ^

^ Chamberb* trouslatioa.



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THE HIGHEST EVIL. 163

This passage is at the same time so remarkable, because the
poet causes Hell to be built, not by mere justice, but also by
love, since justice is an essential moment even in love, its self-
vindication, the maintenance of the justice of love towards
those who have rejected it ; by which, in the great discord, he
seeks to maintain the harmony of Hie universe. In a relative
sense, as a foretaste of the future, unmitigated evil may also
be found within these earthly conditions. If the ideal of the
perfect good within these conditions is an ethical total organiza-
tion which exhibits the union of universal religion, morality
and bliss, then must perfect evil or Hell upon Earth be imagined
as the opposite, as an approximately realized totality of evils.
But a totality of evil can only be imagined as a condition of
the world, a state of society which finds itself in a universal
disorganization and dissolution, in which all bonds are loosened
by the destroying power of Egoism, where ungodliness and
arrogant denial of the truth, where vice in all forms, reigns in
conjunction with the loss of happiness and bliss, inward and
outward misery. We have an approximate image of the
highest evil on earth — the Roman Empire during its decay —
the picture of a vast carrion world, in which evil, impure, and
demon spirits have taken up their abode. We may also
picture the destruction of Jerusalem, — an exhibition not
merely of the most fearful sin, crime, and vain strife against
God, but also of a condition in which the community, though
pressed by external foes, the instruments of retributive justice,
completed its own downfall by furious party struggles within
ita own bosom. We may recall the period of the reign of
terror in the French Revolution. But especially the word of
Prophecy leads us to the contemplation of the last age of the
world, when the Man of Sin shall be revealed, " who opposeth
and exalteth himself against everything which is called God,
and the worship of God ; so that he, as God, sitteth in the
temple of God, showing himself that he is God " (2 Thess. ii. 4).
If the highest Good on earth, viewed from the standpoint of
society, is the ideal of a world-wide alliance of Christian states
and nationalities in a condition of universal uprightness and
peace, the prophetic word would seem to indicate here the
highest evil of society on earth to be a universal monarchy,
an earthly sovereignty, in which Antichrist, in the form of



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164 THE HIGHEST GOOD.

an autocrat, armed with all external power, and supported by
the false prophet, by all the means of culture and civilisation,
seduces the nations of the earth, brings them to bear his mark,
and exerts his disorganizing, all-perverting might against
everything divine and human. The complete prophetic sketch
of the highest Evil, both in the present and the future v«rorld,
the torments of earth and hell, is given in the Apocalypse,
where there is likewise a representation of the highest Good, of
the progressive contest and victory of the kingdom of God.



THE KINGDOM OP GOD AND THE WORLD. OPTIMISM AND
PESSIMISM.

§51.

But the kingdom of God is not only opposed to the kingdom
of sin and of evil ; it is also opposed to the world in the ethical
signification of the term. This expression " the world " has in
Bible language, besides its application to the content of in-
habitants, a special reference to the condition of human society
since the Fall, and thus bears a peculiar ethical meaning ; and
as material creation shared in the consequences of the spiritual
fall, nature in its present condition is also of " this world," that
is to say, abnormal in its state and development. Yet this world
is still not one with the kingdom of sin and evil, although it
certainly is a sinful world in so far as the kingdom of evil has
won entrance within it, and by its influence has vitiated it.
The nature of this world is twofold in its character, and can
neither be absolutely condemned as evil, nor unconditionally
applauded as good. It bears the mark of opposing principles
(the good and the evil), containing within it antagonistic ele-
ments and qualities which can never be reconciled ; thus giving
evidence that it is doomed to destruction, in order that it may
hereafter arise again in restored harmony of form. Viewed in
relation to the other regions of creation, it is a middle sphere,
neither Heaven nor Hell, but the vestibule of each. It is a
world of sin, of death, of evanescence ; but it is not the less
God's world, in which the disturbing forces are still constantly
opposed by creative and sustaining power, and where the mercy



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GOD'S KINGDOM AND THE WOBLa 165

of God, outside redemptioD, has countless witnesses. It is a
world destitute of the supreme good, and is so far unsatisfying ;
but it embraces every relative good, the relations of virtue and
happiness, of ideal and actual excellences, which though in*
deed by no means absolute, are yet not worthless, but inter-
mediate realities, which have their value. On account of its
twofold nature, the world is unreliable and illusory, so that the
thoughtless and inexperienced are constantly deceived and
betrayed by it ; but he who uses the world with sound judgment,
and within its domain seeks for truth, will find, not indeed
the truth as a whole, but precious fragments of it. In its
separation from God, the world bears in its bosom an enmity
towards Him which testifies to its relationship with the king-
dom of Satan ; but, on the other hand, it is susceptible of
redemption, and is imbued with a deep longing after the
supreme good, showing thereby its relationship with the king-
dom of God. Therefore the kingdom of God stands in a
double relation to this world, and regards it from a twofold
point of view. On the one side, this world, on account of sin, is
opposed to the kingdom of God, and is therefore to be avoided
and combated as an evil. " Love not the world, neither the
things which are in the world'* (1 John ii. 15). " The friend-
ship of the world is enmity with God" (Jas. iv. 14). But on
the other side the world is appointed to redemption : " For God
so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son" (John
iii. 16) : it is capable of receiving the kingdom of God, is a
plastic material (Formahile) ; it is fitted to be organized for the
kingdom of God. The field is the world (Matt. xiii. 37), a field
in which this kingdom of God may be set up ; a household
where the relative good is not altogether illusory, but fitted to
occupy a right relation towards the supreme good. But with-
out the kingdom of God, without the supreme good, this world
remains a continual contradiction, a fragment which can never
become a whole, a harmony which incessantly passes over into
discord. From the twofold nature of this world as here pointed
out, the opposite statements regarding it found in Scripture
are explained. And from this we learn, at the same time, to
appreciate the two views of life and of the world which ever
and anon recur in the human race — Optimism and Pessimism.



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166 THE HIGHEST GOOD.



§52.

Naturalistic Optimism, apart from Christianity, ignores siu
and redemption, and is ignorant that the world, by the Fall, has
become this world ; it assumes that this world still maintains its
original condition, when " God saw all that He had made, and,
behold, it was very good." The supreme Good has never been
lost, the world's harmony has never been disturbed ; the world
preserves a normal position, a normal development ; and every-
thing viewed from the standpoint of totality is good. The
supreme Good is the free self-development of humanity in a
world affording all the required conditions. The optimist view
of life takes in only the creative and sustaining powers of
existence, and shuts out the contemplation of death and dis-
order. Evil is considered as only a defect, a limitation, nay,
as the condition for life movement and progress ; the supreme
Evil is only lack of wisdom, ignorance and barbarism, which
are to be overcome by advancing culture. The view of life
diametrically opposed to this, which we shall call Pessimism,
assumes, on the other hand, either that the world originally, and
from the beginning until now, has been and remains a vale of
sorrow, that man was formed for suffering and for a disturbed
development of life ; or it admits a golden age in the beginning
of history, which has disappeared and given place to a depravity
ever on the increase. But its constant complaint is that the
supreme Good cannot be found by man in this world, that the
supreme Good is but a mere ideal, a thought, an image of the
fancy, generated by human desire, and which unhappily man
must ever pursue with eagerness ; whilst the reality presents to
him only the supreme Evil, namely life, and even existence, as
an unsolved and unsolvable problem of dissonance, — a painful
contrast to the pretensions of the ideal.

Christianity is the truth both of Optimism and Pessimism.
It is pessimist, in that it teaches that the whole world lieth in
wickedness, that man has a lost paradise behind him, that the
supreme Good has disappeared, that human life with all its ex-
cellences only shows us the ruins of an empire which has been
overthrown, since man by the abuse of his free-will has lost his
royal dignity on earth. But it is optimist, in that it teaches
that it is possible for man to be redeemed and to be reinstated



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OPTIMISM AND PESSIMISM. 167

in his sovereignty, that the supreme Good is restored in Clirist,
who has opened again the gates of paradise. If we compare
Optimism and Pessimism as they appear in the natural life of
man, the last of the two may be designated as the more elevated
view, since it unveils the incongruity of the reality with the ideal,
which Optimism conceals. Pessimism, in the midst of its errors,
has yet a deeper perception than Optimism of the jar in exist-
ence ; and just because of this more correct apprehension of the
actual condition of the disturbed harmony, it is the constant
corrector of the other, troubling the calm of its contemplation.
Yet Optimism and Pessimism are near akin, bearing the rela-
tion of immediate perception and reflection. Tliey are both
found at all times in the human race. For man has an impulse
to life, and finds satisfaction and en joyment in existence, whilst,
on the other hand, he bears sin and sorrow secretly in his heart.
But with regard to the optimist view of things, history shows
that the productive periods of our race are those in which it has
predominated. Thus with the Greeks at the zenith of their
greatness. For so long as man is conscious of his own creative
power, and delights in its exercise, so long is his faith unshaken
in the victory of the creative power of existence, — a faith which
is well founded, but will only hold its ground when alongside
of it stands faith in the new creation of Christianity. Pes-
simism appears especially in the unhappy epochs of history. It
may then contemplate the world from the standpoint of virtue,
and find that in place of this only vice is seen. We see this in
Plautus and the Eoman satirists, as Juvenal, whose painting of
the morals of his times agrees essentially with the description
given of paganism by the Apostle Paul in the first chapter of the
Epistle to the Romans, and which is certainly not an optimist
sketch. Or it may regard life specially from the standpoint
of happiness, and discover that human existence is utterly
miserable, as the poets have often declared. But all thede
complaints merge into one, that all is vanity, that the life of
man is aimless and meaningless. It is indeed characteristic of
pagan Pessimism, that the ethical is more or less dominated
by the fatalistic, that the blame of the whole is cast on a
mysterious destiny. But yet it approaches more closely to
Christianity than does this self-satisfied Optimism ; for " they
that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that



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168 THE HIGHEST GOOD.

are sick.** It is therefore in a moral point of view more in«
structive to study the unfortunate periods in history than the
fortunate, because the former exhibit to us the end of the
natural life of man, the moral of the optimist history. And
here, too, the saying holds good : Respice finem. Thus the
contemplation of the condition of paganism at the time of
Christ's birth is specially instructive, because it shows us the



Online LibraryC. Spence Hans MartensenChristian ethics, Volume 1 → online text (page 16 of 47)