Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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occupation to another.

Repeated experiences of this kind of pleasure
give rise in many to a craving for constant change,
that defeats the ends of self-realization by the
absence of continuity. We become so many
selves that we have no particular self. We lack
individuality. We are not building anything in
the way of character. We add nothing to the
capital of life. We are simply spending. We
must then turn back to concentration as the
fundamental principle of the growth of personality.
There must be one absorbing, dominant interest
to which all others are tributary. Our mani-
fold adjustments, with a view to this subordina-
tion and organization, are the commonplaces of
everyday life. We engage in a variety of occu-
pations that are not directly connected with each
other, that we may advance to the achievement
of some definite end, or the satisfaction of some
special instinct that, looked at from the outside,
is quite remote from any one of them.


An illustration of this might be as follows.
The indispensable condition of my success, as
regards the main purpose of my life, is the posses-
sion of a sound mind in a sound body. Without
that I can neither be, nor enjoy, that which the
ideal end of my striving has promised me. For
the possession of this I must distribute my vitality
in a variety of directions that have only an in-
direct bearing on my main purpose. If I starve
myself bodily, mentally, or emotionally, I am
rendering the realization of the ideal self incom-
plete to the extent of the starvation.

If, on the other hand, I allow myself to fall
into greediness in any one of these directions,
because of their pleasantness, I shall quite as
certainly fall short of the end that I am trying to
work out. Every one of these subsidiary activities
is good and wholesome. But each one of them,
as if jealous of the others, is capable of playing
the part of betrayal in the attempt to capture
and control me. If I am, in any measure, equal
to the situation, if I am wise in the selection of
my activities and firm in their control, they will
be not only my useful servants, but also my
devoted friends. The pleasures they are capable
of giving will be enhanced tenfold because of the
object to which they are tributary. They are
something more and quite other than themselves;
they are ennobled by the noble end which they

Now let us observe that this kind of subordina-


tion exists on a great variety of scales. The
end that we have called the nobler one may be
only relatively noble. It is something that promises
a larger, more satisfactory self as related to those
other ends that are tributary to it. But, anon,
the horizon widens, a more extended vista is
open to us. New desires are formed and objects
or ends, hitherto unseen, outline themselves and
become the characteristics of a still larger ideal
self. Hence a necessity of reorganization. That
which has been the dominant interest becomes
secondary, subsidiary, if it fits into the reorgan-
ization. If it does not, it remains outside, left
behind, an arrested development.

This leaving behind of an old self is often a
painful business. While we have a vivid appre-
hension of something better and higher, and are
strongly impelled by our moral instincts to achieve
it, the old self holds us with the tenacious grip of
habit. The new conception that has made us
restless seems to demand a change of constitution,
a new birth, and in the lives of most of us there
are crises that correspond to these seemings.
Now all revolutions are, in themselves, things to
be deplored. However necessary, they are dis-
organizing. They break up the order that has
been, without at once establishing a new con-
trolling order. If frequent, they are altogether
demoralizing. To avoid them, if possible, is
the counsel of wisdom. How to do this is one of
our difficult problems.


Not that the end to be attained is obscure.
By a number of different paths, different sets of
inferences and constraining necessities, we have,
in the course of our discussion, been brought up
to the recognition of one definite requirement;
namely, the conception and the adoption of an
end so high that no other one can ever get above
it, — an object of reverence and worship so com-
prehensive, so inexhaustible, that we can never
weary, never be thrown out of the running through
having come to the end of it.

And further, we have seen that there exists
for each one of us an objective end, embodying
to the full all these qualities, — a living respond-
ing reality, distinctly conceived and yet, as re-
lated to our minds, one that is always growing
and expanding. But, it is one thing to be per-
suaded of the existence of such a reality, to
intellectually approve it as the solution of life's
great problem, and quite another thing to appro-
priate it, to make it actually and vitally, in per-
sonal experience, the grand motive of life. This
is something to be achieved. How to make that
which we intellectually and morally approve
identical with that which we love and live for, is
to progressively work out our own salvation.



CAN we, by willing to do so, make that
which we intellectually approve, identical
with that which we love and live for?
In other words, can we, by this means, come to
know personally and experimentally the God
Whom we know theoretically?

In the chapter before the last we outlined the
general principle by means of which it is possible
to transform indeterminate concepts into efficient
agencies, and we considered the process by which
the will can establish in the mind dominating
intellectual convictions for the regulation of life.
It remains for us to follow out the same general
line of thought, as related to the establishment in
the soul of a central, all-controlling enthusiasm,
a love to God that shall make all things tributary
to it. It is perhaps needless to say that we do not
claim for the will any immediately coercive power
in this direction. Will and intelligence must
move together. Intelligence, without will, is im-
potent. Will, without intelligence, is blind. To-
gether they can remove mountains. Intelligence



must first study out the ways of doing things. It
must sort out from experience those elements that
are serviceable, that throw light upon the prob-
lem in hand, that have perhaps already partially
solved it. Then the will brings to bear its power
of concentrating attention.

Herein lies the secret of all achievement. The
will has the control of the situation, if it has pre-
served and strengthened its power of compelling
attention. This is the condition of progress in
any direction, not alone in the sphere of religion,
but in all spheres. We live in the world sur-
rounded by untold resources, the potency of
which is for the most part hidden from us. Having
eyes we see not, having ears we hear not, neither
do we understand. We are half-conscious of the
outsides of things, of their appeals to the senses;
but, of their values we know only so much as the
will forces from them by the application of its
great solvent, attention.

There is a religious side to all the activities that
make for the enlargement and deepening of life,
or that contribute in any way to human welfare,
if we set ourselves to find it and to live in the light
of it. A great hindrance to the development of a
unifying, all-controlling love to God has been the
extent to which we have been in the habit of
satisfying our religious natures in a special and
somewhat separate department of experience.
This is not said in disparagement of that special
department. Modern thought is not the whole


of thought. The land which it is taking posses-
sion of has been long occupied. Great and rich
cities with rival interests have held sway within
it. Modern thought comes, not pre-eminently to
destroy, but to conserve, to rescue, to reconstruct,
and to vitalize. Modern thought is the offspring
of ancient thought, and has drawn its sustenance
from it. The specialized form of worship that we
have inherited has not come to the end of its
usefulness because religion is called to undertake
a wider jurisdiction and a more complete control
of life.

The language of religion that has come to us
through the Church, its lofty and loving concep-
tions of God, its reverence-inspiring ascriptions,
its creeds, in so far as they are expressed in terms
of devotion, constitute a life-giving atmosphere,
a spiritual ozone for vitalizing, purifying, and
inspiring our lives. We live in these symbols as
we live in the social medium, without thinking of
it. We have been moulded by them. Whether
conscious of them or not, they are organic con-
stituents of the world in which we move. To
foster them, nourish them, and protect them, as
the most valuable and vital products of human
evolution, is the highest wisdom. To permit
them to grow dim, to become dishonoured and
made ineffective through neglect, is to trifle away
our best inheritance.

The formulated creeds that have come down
to us are like monuments in stone, marking the


crises through which the Church has passed in
its struggle upward to the light. They are the
records of well-fought battles, — ancient fortifi-
cations, fashioned to withstand the inroads of a
different environment from that which surrounds
us to-day. The creeds, on the other hand, that
have come to us in the devotional language of
the Church, — in its prayers and psalmody and
music, in its inspired outbursts of God-conscious-
ness that makes us sharers of the divine experi-
ences of those who have lived in the far-away
past, — these are the living spirit that those old
walls of faith were built to protect in ages of
narrower outlooks. They served the exigencies
of their day; they are historic relics now; while
the religion that they shielded has come out into
a larger place and, with new hope, looks toward
a future of indefinite expansion.

In our devotional expressions of faith there is
little to alter. We may wish to prune here and
there, to cut out withered branches; but, for the
most part, the old language rings true. We
worship and refresh our souls in the old phrases,
and feel that no others could serve our spirits half
so well. The God to Whom we pray is the God
of the Prophets, of the benignant Psalms, the
God of Jesus and of His Apostles, the God of the
spirits and souls of the righteous in all ages. He
is the God of the Book of Common Prayer; the
Almighty and Everlasting God, the merciful
Father; the Eternal God Who alone spreadest


out the heavens and rulest the raging of the sea;
He is the giver of all good gifts, Who openeth
His hand and fillest all things living with plente-
ousness; He is the high and mighty Ruler of the
universe; He is the Creator and Preserver of all
mankind; He is the Father of Our Lord Jesus
Christ, and our Father.

We cannot, as I have said, exaggerate the im-
portance of this part of our religion. But, in addi-
tion to the conservation of this, the will-power of
to-day has another most important and serious
task laid upon it. It must bring attention to
bear, with all its constructive gifts of imagination
and idealization, upon the discovery of God in all
the activities and enthusiasms of life. Not in all,
at once. The first clear sight of God, outside the
formal worship of Him, comes through a great
variety of experiences: to one through the love
of some other human being, to another through
the love of nature, to another through the binding
up of the wounds caused by disappointment or
bereavement. " Man's extremity is God's oppor-

For many of us, the most direct way to God
from the secular life is through the reverence
we conceive for some of our fellow-mortals.
Idealized men and women become the stepping-
stones by which we climb to higher things. Some
of us come in contact with such in the intimate
relations of our lives. But, the principle is more
conspicuously illustrated in the feeling of reverence


and love and loyalty that attaches itself to those
who have demonstrated their greatness in wider
fields — the leaders and saviours of men.

This is a feeling that is sometimes strong
enough to suggest how one's whole life may become
centred in another personality and be lifted by it
into a higher atmosphere. In the words of Carlyle,
"No nobler feeling than this of admiration for one
higher than himself dwells in the breast of man.
It is to this hour, and at all hours, the vivifying
influence in man's life." * In so far as such a
love is instinctive, it is the outgrowth of man's
highest and most cultivated instincts. If deep-
seated and abiding, it rests upon judgments,
moral discernments, that have grown up gradually
in connection with life's manifold experiences.
The great man is the objective reflex of an ideal
that has been moulded with the careful pains-
taking of the sculptor who makes, unmakes, and
remakes the outlines of the clay that is to em-
body his vision. An essentially mean man can-
not admire a great one. Only in so far as we are
noble in ourselves can we fasten to the nobility
of another and be lifted by it to still higher

In such enthusiasms the idea may be quite
independent of the physical embodiment of the
person who is the object of it. Few of us have
the good fortune to know at first hand our great
contemporaries, if such there be. And, if we have

* Carlyle's " Hero- Worship," p. 14.


what we call a personal acquaintance with them,
the feeling of reverence is not necessarily aug-
mented thereby. That there is such a thing as
physical charm, personal magnetism, is not ques-
tioned. But, on the other hand, many of our
devoted attachments are fixed upon those who
are no longer of this earth. And yet we know
them personally quite as truly and perhaps more
purely and essentially than those others whose
hands we have grasped, whose eyes we have looked
into, whose smiles, or frowns, we have felt.

We know and love the personality of those
exponents of our race who, ages ago, gave us the
Psalms and the grand utterances of the Prophets.
They impressed not only themselves, but also
the God, Whom they loved and worshipped, upon
all subsequent ages. His individuality was as
clear and distinct to them as that of the men
who lived and spoke and ate with them, yet,
transcending human experience, it lifted its wor-
shippers out of themselves.

They asked not to see His form, nor any ma-
terial image of Him. Such a thought was sacrilege.
But, for all that, they knew Him. His thoughts,
His ways, His works, were everywhere in evidence.
The heavens proclaimed them, sun and moon
and stars, the seas and floods, the winds of God,
Summer and Winter, dews and frosts, mountains,
and hills, all green things upon the earth, fowls
of the air, beasts and cattle, spirits and souls of
the righteous, holy and humble men of heart, —


all these were to them the living, never-silent
expressions of His manifold personality.

The grand thoughts that they were permitted
to utter were only the echo of the grander psalmody
of the universe, to which they had listened with
attentive spirits. "How precious also are Thy
thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the
sum of them! If I should count them they are
more in number than the sand ! When I awake I
am still with Thee."

If, in those far-away simple ages, before the
revelations of science had so immensely extended
the field of our knowledge, men could be over-
whelmed with the multiplicity of God's revela-
tion of Himself, what shall we say of an age
pulsating with new discoveries, new expressions
of His power, hitherto undreamed-of disclosures
of the manifold elaborateness of His methods?
Have we permitted all this added knowledge to
build up a wall of partition between Him and us?
Dazed with the magnitude of our discoveries,
have we taken to worshipping these, in the place
of the great soul of things that informs them
all? Is there, in the nature of things, a neces-
sity for such a change of attitude? Was the
insight of the Hebrew seers conditioned upon the
simplicity of their conceptions? And must we,
in this more enlightened age, be despoiled of all
the poetry and uplift of our souls because we
know so much?

There surely is a better way, a way with which


we are familiar, and of which we make constant
use in other relations of life. Do we lose our
regard for the work of a great master in painting
because we have visited a studio and been made
acquainted with the mechanical part of his work?
Do we cease to be moved by noble music when
we have learned the structure of instruments, the
laws of vibrations, or the fact that music itself can
be stated in mathematical terms?

To illustrate the application of this, let us
imagine ourselves before the work of some truly
great artist, that has stirred thought and feeling,
and lifted us for a time into a higher atmosphere.
Suddenly, by some inconsequence of thought, we
revert to earth and begin to reflect upon the
means by which the picture has been produced, —
how it came to be what it is, what vehicles of
expression were used, the nature of the canvas, the
pigments and their chemical constitution. The
picture, by this means, is resolved into a mass of
heterogeneous, unmeaning crudities. Its glories
have faded into the light of common day. How,
we ask, can these things, or any combination of
them, have produced the wonderful effects that
still linger in our memories? Clearly we must
look beyond them for an explanation of the
phenomena. We must look from the materials to
the manipulator.

Human hands combined these pigments.
Human hands stretched the canvas to receive
them. A human hand travelled long and dili-


gently over this surface, distributing the colours
here and there, till this strange result was reached.
What moved that hand? Muscles, nerves, and
a vast complexity of organs, on the activity of
which they were dependent. What was the secret
of all this activity of the organism? In the first
place vital force, a principle that no one knows
anything about except that it seems allied to
and transmutable into all other forms of force
that manifest themselves in the world about us;
and, in the second place, nutrition. Beef and
potatoes, bread and sausages, coffee and tea,
wine and water, all kinds of food and drink were
supplied to this complex organism, were assim-
ilated by it, and transformed into the activities
that have produced the picture in which we are

How very unsatisfactory! We must look else-
where. The effect that the picture produced was
clearly not a thing external to us, it was a personal
experience. How did it come about? Continu-
ing the same method, we come upon an organism
that has a like nature with the one we have been
studying; that is, our own receptive organism.
Waves of light have transmitted influences stored
up in the picture by organism number one, to
organism number two, which we call ours. These,
coming in contact with sensitive parts of that
organism, have been transmitted by different
nerves to certain cells of the brain, these have
organized themselves in a peculiar way, and as a


result the impressions of which we were conscious

An explanation of this kind, to be exhaustive,
would include, more or less directly, all the
agencies that have been at work in the world,
and when the whole story is told we are none
the wiser. For, when we reach the end, the
unanswerable question arises, What am I? And
this the study of all the instrumentalities that
have ever been cannot touch. We must begin
all over again, taking our stand on the two original
concrete realities of which we are sure: first, the
effect produced in us by the picture, and second,
the picture, in which we have to recognize another
concrete reality standing out there as part of a
world which, though it appears to be of a totally
different order from mind, yet is capable of pro-
ducing mental and emotional effects. It must be,
therefore, that this second concrete reality, as
related to our minds, is nothing more nor less
than a transmitting agency, a means of com-
munication, a language by which we are brought
into vital relations to another mind.

As matter of fact, we know, by a process of
analogical reasoning, so familiar to us that we take
no note of it, that this picture existed in the mind
of its creator before it ever existed in the form
of which we are cognizant. We know, moreover,
that the same mind that originally conceived the
picture has been at work, discriminating, select-
ing, combining, through every stage of the process


by which it has come to be what it is. With a
wisdom and skill that the novice is utterly at a
loss to follow, the artist has moved on, step by
step, marshalling these crude, senseless, unmean-
ing things into such relations to each other that
they convey to another mind the most delicate
shades of feeling.

Now, let us ask, whence come these emotional
effects? They are clearly something common to
the experience both of the artist and of ourselves.
They are realities that have grown up in him and
in us by virtue of a common nature. They may
have been more or less latent in him until he gave
expression to them; they may have been latent
in us until his expression brought them into con-
sciousness. But, even so, what are they and what
do they mean? What is the explanation of their
presence? The picture represents something in
the world of external reality, — it may be a bit
of natural scenery, it may be a human face. But
here again we come up against the same wall of
material things. The bit of nature, the human
face are made of the same stuff as the picture;
that is, of things as material and meaningless in

We say these things affect us because we have
associations with them. But, if it is through
association with inanimate things that we have
come by these ennobling sentiments we must
again fall back upon the inference that the
combinations of material things, that we call


phases of nature, are also transmitting agencies.
There is a mind working behind them and in
them. They are but the outward expression of
the love and the grandeur, of the gentleness and
harmony, of the depth and purity, of some Being
immeasurably greater than ourselves, in whose
thought and love we are able to participate be-
cause we are his offspring, because we share his
nature, and because we are ever more made con-
scious of new and springing capabilities in this

So also, it is our privilege to know and to feel
God in every good word and action of our fellow-
men. He, when we get to the bottom of the
matter, has inspired it all. We honour man no
less, for he also has been the author of the good
thought and the good act. But God it is Who
has been working in him from first to last. To
know what God is like, we have only to look in
the faces of the best men and women who are
living about us. If their faces have been moulded
to nobleness and benignity it is the greatest of
all artists who has been the sculptor. If noble
thoughts have dwelt within this man, not he
alone has been the thinker. God has thought
with him, supplementing, perfecting, harmonizing,
sublimating. So also, when we look into our-
selves, every noble impulse, every incentive to
better things, every inspiring glimpse of a more
satisfactory self to be attained, is a movement of
God in us.


The idealizing faculty, by which we are per-
mitted to construct a conception of that better-
self, is also His faculty, His medium of direct
communication with us. It is the language in
which He speaks to us, encouraging, sustaining,
luring us on with hopes and promises. We some-
times speak of "the smiles of an approving con-
science." Why not say "the smiles of God"?
"Lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon
us" should be our daily prayer, and the fulfilment
of it our abounding and all-sufficient happiness.

When our eyes have been once opened to this
greatest of all realities, it is like the rising of the
sun over a benighted land. One point after

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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 18 of 22)