Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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just given our attention indicate clearly what
some of these must be. We have seen that there
is an unmistakable gradation of ideals on a scale
of value and efficiency. The essential quality
of an ideal is not a matter that can be referred
only to the taste of the individual. Unquestion-
ably it has a value as related to the peculiarities
of the individual and to the plane of evolution
that he has reached at any given time. But it
has also a distinct place on a scale of absolute
values applicable to the human race as a whole.
It is not, in this connection, necessary or desir-
able to try to make a list of all the qualities that
should appear on such a scale. But, as regards
the great process, there are certain vital charac-
teristics which we must postulate as necessary
to an ideal which can presume to be that of
advancing evolution.

In the first place it must be inexhaustible. This
one quality takes it out of the class of lesser
ideals and puts it into a class by itself. Other
ideals are finite; this one must be, as related to
our powers of growth, infinite. These others,


that is, the forms in which they embody them-
selves, can be compassed, emptied of their seduc-
tions and left behind. This one, the supreme,
can never be compassed nor left behind, for it
is the ideal of ideals, the reality, of which all others
are only the scattered rays. It is the source
from which they have sprung and the end in
which alone they can find the fulfilment of their
prophecies. It must be inexhaustible, not sim-
ply as related to one faculty, one department of
human aspiration; for this would mean, and does
continually result in, abnormal development, be
the specialty what it may. It must have such a
fulness of content, such a potentiality as related
to all the activities of the soul that each one shall
find its progressive satisfaction and realization
in it.

An ideal so related to the human mind can be
nothing other than mind itself, — a supreme
mind in which all and more than all the possi-
bilities shadowed forth in human visions of per-
fection are not only existent, but always active
and, like the great process itself, ever moving on.

If now we postulate, in response to these de-
mands of our human experience, the reality of
such a supreme being, are we thereby abandoning
the region of fact for that of fancy? Are we
trying to establish as an actuality that for which
we can find no endorsement in past experience?
On the contrary, we are simply focalizing atten-
tion upon one great class of facts in human history,



outlining the conclusions to which they point
and offering a working hypothesis as to their
place in the human scheme of things.

If this most important and significant factor
fits into the place we have assigned it, if it is seen
to be the keystone of the arch of human thought
and experience, providing a foundation on which
we may securely build heavenwards, it cannot be
set aside. It has been established as all our other
well-founded beliefs are established. Our approach
to it has been tentative; it has been an explora-
tion along the line of a special class of facts and
a search for their complementary factor, some-
what as the astronomer searches for a star which
ought to be found in a certain place in the heavens,
or as a chemist describes some of the qualities of
an element not yet discovered, from the require-
ments of classified facts in his possession. And
if, at this point, we recall our vision from its
speculative task, we see right before us, as an
actuality, that which we have postulated.

The supreme ideal that we have described as
necessary for the continued evolution of man is
an existing thing in human experience. It is
and has been through the ages a most potent
factor in the evolution of the human mind. It
has been the source of the most vital inspiration,
the spring of desire, of effort, and, in the largest
sense, of conduct. It has all the characteristics
of our ideal, not only in the advanced form in
which it exists to-day, but, more particularly


and essentially, in the history of its becoming.
As we look back upon that history, the crude
forms in which it existed during the childhood
of the race may seem to have almost nothing
in common with its maturer forms. But this is
not peculiar to any one department of human

The world of our conceptions is an organized
whole, every part of which is dependent upon the
other parts. Each different one has in turn its
day of expansion and growth, while others may
be relatively at a standstill; and at such times it
often seems to those who are specially interested
in a growing department that these others have
reached the limit of their usefulness and should,
as encumbrances, be eliminated. But anon, these
overshadowed departments of our organized belief
come to their own. They, in their turn, are
quickened and enter upon a growth of transfor-
mation and adjustment, fitting them to their
place in the living and developing whole.

These different sources of our human thought
cannot perish, or wholly disappear, because they
are of the very essence of human nature. They
spring each from a divine germinal instinct, an
irrepressible principle making for growth and
progressive realization.

The God-consciousness of the race has passed
through as many phases as the race itself. In its
earlier stages of development it does not appear
as an ideal at all. It is the brooding sense of


an existence higher up on the scale of being, a
personality more powerful than man; not one
to be, in any true sense, worshipped, but rather
one to be feared and propitiated. When, at a
later stage, the conviction that this higher per-
sonality is beneficent, that He is one to be adored
and loved, dawns, it is confined to a few indi-
viduals, the men of deeper insight and inspired

These, the prophets, declare what God is as
revealed in their experience. They speak boldly
with a "thus saith the Lord," because they speak
from experience and not from speculative or
reasoned premises. Their words find a response
in a select following, who recognize the voice of
God speaking strongly and authoritatively through
these inspired ones. They know the God of
the prophets as the Very God Who has already
worked in them, but hitherto only vaguely com-
prehended and timidly desired. Ages ago this
thought of God as the supreme ideal entered into
the world, ages ago it was proclaimed in no
uncertain words. But, history all the way down
is the record of men's unfitness to receive it.
Men have ever seen in God a more or less mag-
nified reflection of those in power among them.
The arbitrariness and love of self-aggrandizement
that have so often characterized their earthly
rulers have been transferred to "Him who sitteth
in the Heavens."

The ancient Hebrew liturgy, as we have it


in the Psalms, is a luminous illustration of the
coexistence of diverse conceptions of God in the
thoughts of a nation to which the reality of
God was a foregone conclusion. In the Psalms
we have a theology in the process of evolution.
Antagonistic ideas of God are continually linked
together, apparently without a thought that
they are antagonistic. Love and pitiful mercy
are coupled with revengeful cruelty. Grandeur
of being, majesty of bearing in the works of
nature, largeness of soul to the uttermost limit
of human thought, are there, and at the same
time the imputation of the human littleness of
a soul that exults in satisfied anger and physical
triumph over enemies.

The ideal is taking shape through much tribu-
lation, holding its own, but not yet triumphing
over the crudities of a lagging development.
The higher thought stands out clear and full,
with a grandeur and majesty, a depth and tender-
ness of expression that satisfy the most exacting
demands of the soul, an expression that has
furnished, for all time, the most exalted form of
language for human worship. But, it is not till
the advent of that messenger of God who embodied
this spirit in a far higher degree, that we have the
separation and exaltation of the finer conception
and the unmistakable condemnation of the lower.

" Ye have heard that it hath been said by them
of old time, thou shalt love thy neighbour and
hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your


enemies, bless them that curse you . . . that
you may be the children of your Father which
is in Heaven."

This is the distinct setting up of an ideal. It is,
indeed, but one aspect of that ideal, and it is
expressed in language that seems to us hyperbole.
But any effort to indicate the ideal in words must
result in hyperbole, because, as related to human
aspiration and effort it is, and must always con-
tinue to be, unattainable. Were it otherwise,
the demands of evolution would not be met.
"Be ye perfect even as your Heavenly Father is
perfect" is the necessary expression of it. A
fuller and more explicit one is given us in that
wonderfully condensed formula which contains
the quintessence of the old Jewish religion:

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with
all thy heart and with all thy mind and
with all thy strength, and thou shalt love
thy neighbour as thyself."

An appearance of impracticability attaches to
both these formulas. They seem too high, too
separate from the life that we experimentally
know, to be heartily and honestly appropriated
as achievable ends by any one. They appear to
involve the absolute reversal of the motive prin-
ciples of life, the suppression of its energizing
factors. Life, as we know it, is full of devotion
to passing interests, but these interests, though
ephemeral, are all important to the life to which


they contribute. To eliminate them would be
like removing all the organs through which the
heart serves the body, for the purpose of giving
it freer play.

But, this transcendent aspect of the ideal is
really no practical bar to its acceptance, for
its attachments to actuality are indicated very
clearly in the context. The "Father in Heaven "
Whom we are exhorted to resemble is identified
with the God of nature. It is He that causeth
His sun to shine on the evil and on the good and
His rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.
In other words, we are referred to the study of
God, as He manifests Himself in the actual world,
for an explanation of details and for the practical
adjustment of our lives to them. Isolated from
this practical setting, the great two-sided formula
which expresses, at the same time, the rule and
the ideal of life, seems to involve an insuperable

The first clause of it is expressed in uncom-
promising absolute terms — ' ' with all thy heart
and with all thy mind and with all thy strength."
But, the second clause at once limits and explains.
It provides for and commands two streams of
soul-energy which are to share the attention, the
devotion, and the effort of the same soul that has
been directed to concentrate everything on the
thought of God. And these two streams of
soul-energy are just those which, in the natural
man, have worn deep channels: the love of self,


which, from the initial moment of consciousness,
has been the moving power of evolution; and the
love of our neighbour, which has been evolved
and fostered and extended, from its beginnings
in the ties of consanguinity, all through the course
of social organization. These two are to have
their full, equal share of the vital forces generated
in every living soul of man.

Men have not lived through the Christian
centuries under this formula without making a
workable adjustment of its apparently divergent
clauses to the conduct of current affairs. But
they have, generally speaking, been able to live
without understanding the principles of such
adjustments, or legitimizing them in their moral
judgments. The impossible ideal set up by the
first great commandment has seemed more or
less the censor of their devotion to various lesser
ideals. Necessary though this latter devotion be,
in the logic of events, its justification will, ever
and anon, figure in the court of conscience as
disloyalty to the highest ends of being.

To work out, from the standpoint of evolution,
the true relation of the absolute ideal to the host
of lesser subsidiary ideals is one of the great
practical problems of a living theology.



WE have now two formulas on our hands,
both of which are said to be radi-
cally related to the conduct of human
life and equally comprehensive in their bearing.
"Work out your own salvation, it is God that
worketh in you." "Thou shalt love the Lord
thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as


It is time for us to compare or, shall we say,
contrast these two. Are they compatible with
each other? Do they logically hang together?
Can they practically work together? At first sight
it might seem that these questions must be an-
swered in the negative. Each of our two propo-
sitions has in itself a paradoxical look, to overcome
which we have fallen back upon concrete ex-
perience. But when we bring the two together,
for co-operation, the paradoxical and practically
conflicting nature of the attempt looks almost

Are any two principles in the world more
definitely opposed to each other than altruism and



egoism? Does not our first formula appeal essen-
tially to the egoistic side of human nature and
the second to the altruistic? How can a man
make the working out of his own salvation the
great purpose of his existence and at the same
time aim consciously at an all-absorbing love to
God as the end that must dominate all others?
Is living for self the same as living for another?
Can one have at the same time two supreme
ends? Let us look carefully at this fundamental

One certainly cannot have two such ends if they
are, in the nature of things, radically opposed to
each other. But if, on the contrary, the two ends
are antagonistic only in appearance, if in practice
they may be made to serve each other, become
complementary to each other, then the duality dis-
appears in an essential unity. Sometimes one and
sometimes the other of these two interests, figures
as the supreme end, and alternately, as the means
for attaining the end. In the evolution of the
human mind we are familiar with such a trans-
position of means and ends. An activity which
in its initial stage is entered upon, not for its
own sake, but because it is believed to be tribu-
tary to some ulterior end, is, in its later stages,
pursued quite for its own sake.

The beginnings of chemistry were not noble.
They were not the outcome of a desire to advance
science, but for the more homely, workaday
motive of producing gold by a secret process.


Nevertheless chemistry, so cultivated, did advance
science, and, as the field of its activities widened
and its marvellous richness fired the imagina-
tion of its votaries, the original end vanished out
of sight. Devotion to science became its own

So with our apparently conflicting formulas.
Our postulate is that the great end of existence
for every intelligent, normal man is to work out
his own salvation, — to so regulate his life, his
thoughts, and his affections as to secure for him-
self the realization of the highest possibilities of
his nature. Then comes the question how shall
he work; by what methods? What principle
has he to guide him? Where lies the road by
which he is to travel? We have answered, That
which he seeks is to be found only in the cultiva-
tion of a passion for something so exalted, so
inexhaustible in its satisfactions, that it will con-
tinually lead him on to higher and still higher
realizations of himself.

This brought us to our second formula, which
figures as the means to the attainment of the
above end, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God
with all thy mind and with all thy heart and
with all thy strength." This is the relation of
the two formulas at the outset; that is, during
the initial stages of the higher evolution. But,
as the process goes on, if love to God actually
develops in the soul, if it widens and deepens
and discloses to a man's consciousness the great-


ness of its satisfactions and possibilities, it pro-
gressively moves into the position of an end
pursued for itself alone. The thought of working
out one's own salvation is swallowed up in the flood
of life that has entered every desolate place.

This, we may confidently believe, will be the
fruitage. But at first our lives are passed mainly
in the transitional stage. The end, never to be
lost sight of, is for every man the working out of
his own salvation. This is the course of nature.
It is the repetition, on the highest plane, of the
process which, on every plane, carries us from
one stage to another of an ever-expanding life.
There must be, first, the struggle for existence,
then the struggle for the improvement of existence;
then, as the outcome of this, the development of
interests that serve, sometimes as ends, and some-
times as means to ends.

As to the morality of making personal salvation
the aim of a life's striving, there is much to be
said. The position that it is the necessary in-
centive and guide to a higher type of being will
be challenged by some and repudiated, with
righteous indignation, by others. Is not this the
crude, narrow view of life that the highest morality
has discredited as a disintegrating, soul-withering
idea? Has not all social and moral progress been
characterized by a growing altruism?

My position is, that however truly this may
represent a much-approved phase of modern
thought, it is a partial, one-sided, and therefore


injuriously false view of the situation. Living for
others is distinctly not the object set before us
as the great end of life either in the Christian
formula or in any other formula save that of a
very modern philosophy. It certainly is not in-
culcated by practical experience. The chief and
overwhelmingly important object of every living
soul is to work out as fully as may be its own
destiny. This is the trust that has been specially
committed to each one. It is the work for which
the individual is responsible.

God Who has fashioned us and knows us
through and through, our tendencies, our capa-
bilities, our susceptibilities, does not make Him-
self responsible for our salvation. He has put
that responsibility upon us. How much less can
we, having no private latchkey to our neighbour's
soul, able to approach him only from the outside,
look with certainty for any definite results from
our efforts to influence him in the working out
of that salvation which is his business? Unques-
tionably it is our duty and our privilege, and one
of the prime conditions of success in the working
out of our own highest good, that we work for
that of our neighbour also. But, so far as direct
results are concerned, we are to the last degree
uncertain of the outcome. We may, indeed, rest
assured that our labours of love will bear some
fruit, though it may not be of that particular
kind on which we have set our hearts.

The missionary who succumbs to a deadly


climate, or to the violence of savages, before he has
had time to speak a word has failed in the imme-
diate object of his life, but the spirit that inspired
him and those who sent him has enriched the
world. But, even if there were no such residuum
of good in the outside world, the results in the
hero's own soul are of incalculable value for him.
He, at all events, has been working out his own
salvation in the effort to help work out that of

To see this matter rightly we must objectify
the self we are working for. This soul, which
I call mine, is a thing specially committed to my
care. It is a thing of wonderful possibilities in
the direction of happiness or misery; of nobility,
beauty, harmony, on the one hand, and of degrada-
tion, deformity, and dreadful discord on the other.
Can I present it to its Maker with its higher
qualities developed as the outcome of my life, or
shall I have to appear before Him in shame and
self-reproach with nothing but a ruined instru-
ment in my hands? As an object to live for,
nothing can be more inspiring than this. It calls
into play the planning, creative, artistic faculty.
It generates the love that springs up and grows
with the growth of any living thing that realizes
itself under our fostering care.

Furthermore, an attempt to suppress self-
interest as a prime factor in moral evolution is
nothing less than undertaking a reform against
nature. It proposes the elimination from the


great process of that principle which has hitherto
been its mainspring. It is not simply an im-
possible undertaking, it is a vicious one. To set
up altruism, or any other principle, as that which
ought to be, as contrasted with devotion to self-
interest as a something which ought not to be, is a
most mischievous and morally depressing doctrine.
Whatever the moral philosopher may say, the
rejected principle of action will continue, by force
of nature, to be the motive principle of the great
volume of life, and to teach men that this is an
unworthy, immoral principle is to put them in
the position of moral outlaws. If they intellectu-
ally legitimize the doctrine of the altruist, they
live in a perpetual self-stultification, habitually
condemning themselves in that which they allow.

Reasoning thus from facts, from the relations
which the great forces of human evolution have
borne to each other in the past, I conclude that the
frank, whole-hearted, courageous, joyous devotion
of oneself to the working out of his own highest
destiny is the grandest occupation for the soul of
every human being. But now, let us observe,
there is another side to all this. Important and
irrepressible as is the principle of self-realization,
it does not stand alone. It is but one of an
organic group of principles, each one of which is
equally important in the higher evolution and
each one of which has emerged as a rudimentary
instinct in the natural course of the great process.

Working by itself, without restraint from its


associates, the instinct of self-realization runs
sometimes a riotous course to ruin, sometimes
an apparently upward course to monomania and
bitter frustration of its life object. Pure egoism
is a form of insanity, and a cultivated egoism is
sure to turn upon the subject of it. It is a well-
attested fact of history that absolute, autocratic
power carries with it the implications of insanity.
The solitariness of the situation unseats the
reason. Culture, for its own sake alone, brings
up at the same goal, — ennui, self-reproach, hatred
of that which was formerly delighted in, blank
despair where there has been an outlook of ever-
increasing happiness, the nakedness of poverty
where there has seemed to be an inexhaustible
store of wealth.

Tennyson, in the " Palace of Art," has given
us a lurid, but perhaps not too lurid, picture of the
tragedy of a soul that, with all the resources of
the modern world at its command and endowed
with all the capabilities of a highly strung organ-
ization, has sought self-realization with nothing
other than self in view.

Lest she should fail and perish utterly

God, before whom ever lie bare
The abysmal deeps of personality,

Plagued her with sore despair.

All the high susceptibility of feeling, the keen-
ness of perception, the nobler tastes and spiritual
necessities engendered in this soul that has been


weaned from lower gratification to the highest
that art and culture can give, join together to
reproach, and torture its loneliness.

And death and life she hated equally
And nothing saw for her despair,

But dreadful time, dreadful eternity,
No comfort anywhere.

More apparent still is the evil and cruelty of
this instinct, unrestrained, when we turn to its
manifestations in the world of social relations.
However fine, however impersonal the original
conception of achievement may be, the realiza-
tion of it in a militant world has a fatal tendency
to debase it. What was, at the outset, a legit-
imate passion for self-improvement and self-

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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 14 of 22)