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he can halt it, or he can make it go back-
ward, or he can turn it in the one direc-
tion or the other direction. He made the
engine and he rules the engine.'* Some-
thing like that was my conception of God.
Similarly I conceived of him in his re-
lation to men as a great king. He had
issued certain laws, and had attached cer-
tain punishments to those laws. There
cannot be law without punishment ; a law
without a penalty attached is only advice,
not law. I conceived that God had issued
laws, and to them had attached penalties.
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COD IN NATURE

Those laws had come from his throne
like edicts from an imperial Czar. They
were righteous and just laws, and I had
broken them, and the whole human race
had broken them, and punishment was
denounced against the whole human race
for breaking them, and that punishment
must be executed. And yet God was
merciful and wished to spare men. And
so his Son had come into the world, and
had borne the punishment in order that
the law might be carried out and still man
might be forgiven. That God might both
be just and the justifier of him that be-
lieveth, some one had to bear the penalty
which had been attached to the law. So
I conceived of God as sitting apart from
his creation which he had made and ruling
It, and apart from men whom he had
made and ruling them.

And when I entertained this conception
of God as sitting apart from the universe
which he had made and ruling it, and
apart from men whom he had made and
ruling them, it seemed to me that the
most fundamental question in theology

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GOD IN NATURE

was. Do you believe in the supernatural ?
If a man did not believe in the super-
natural, then all he believed in was the
machine ; he believed in the engine, but
he did not think there was any engi-
neer to control it ; he believed in hu-
manity, but he did not think there was
any king to govern men. And one who
believed simply in the engine without any
engineer, and in the community without
any king, was either an atheist or a deist ;
that is, either he believed there was no
God, or else he believed in an absentee
God, in a God who had nothing to do
with the world, a God who had nothing
to do with men. And it did not seem to
me then, and it does not seem to me now,
that there is much to choose between the
belief in no God and the belief in an
absentee God. For religion consists, I
recall to you again, not in a hypothesis
that there is a God, but in a life lived
under the inspiration of God ; and if God
is conceived as so far off that there is no
longer any intercommunication between
God and the soul, he is an absentee God,
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GOD IN NATURE



and life goes on without him. Under
that conception there cannot be any vital
religion, for religion is the inflowing of
God upon life.

"Religion," says Max Miiller, "con-
sists in the perception of the infinite under
such manifestations as are able to influence
the moral character of man.*' If, then,
God is represented as absent from the
universe so that he does not produce any
influence on the conduct and character of
man, there is no religion.

Gradually my whole conception of the
relation of God to the universe has
changed. I am sure that I have not lost
my experience of God. I am far more
certain now than I was forty years ago
that God is, and that God is not an ab-
sentee God. I am not quite so certain as
I once was about some of the manifesta-
tions which I once thought he had made
of himself. I am a great deal more cer-
tain than I once was of his personal rela-
tion to me. My experience of God has
changed only to grow deeper, broader,
and stronger. But my conception of

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GOD IN NATURE

God's relation to the universe has changed
radically. My hypothesis was — God an
engineer who had made an engine and
sat apart from it, ruling it; God a king
who had made the human race and sat
apart from men, ruling them. That was
my hypothesis ; now I have another hy-
pothesis. And I think the change which
has come over my mind is coming and
has come over the minds of a great many.
I think that there is nothing original in
what I am going to say to you this morn-
ing, for I am only going to interpret to
you a change, perhaps not altogether un-
derstood, which is being wrought in the
mind of the whole Christian Church. I
think my change only reflects your change.
But whether that be true or not, I am
sure the change has taken place in me.

I now conceive of God as in his uni-
verse. I conceive of creation as a growth.
I conceive of him as making the universe
somewhat as our spirit makes our body,
shaping and changing and developing it
by processes from within. The figures
from the finite to the infinite are imper-
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GOD IN NATURE

feet and misleading, but this is the figure
which best represents to me my own
thought of God's relation to the universe :
Not that of an engineer who said one
morning, " Go to, I will make a world,"
and in six days, or six thousand years, or
six million thousand years, made one by
forming it from without, as a potter forms
the clay with skilful hand ; but that of a
Spirit who has been forever manifesting
himself in the works of creation and be-
neficence in all the universe, one little
work of whose wisdom and beneficence
we are and we see.

I look out upon the universe and I see
that it is a universe, a variety in unity. I
see that there is a unity in all the phe-
nomena of nature, and that science has
more and more made that unity clear, and
I see that there is one Infinite and Eter-
nal Energy from which all things proceed.
And I see too, it seems to me very
clearly, that this Energy is an intellectual
Energy; that is, that the physical phe-
nomena of the universe are intellectually
related to one another. The scientist

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GOD IN NATURE

does not create the relations ; he finds
them. They are ; he discovers them.
All science is thinking the thoughts of
God after him. It is finding thought
where thought has done its intellectual
work ; it is learning what are those in-
tellectual relationships which have been in
and are embodied in creation.

Matthew Arnold says: "There is a
power not ourselves that makes for right-
eousness." The unity of physical phe-
nomena is not more certain than the unity
of moral phenomena. It makes history
possible, moral philosophy possible, soci-
ology possible, the study of literature and
human life possible. We are each one of
us an individual, and yet the nation has
its entity and the human race its entity,
and we are all one. The seventy millions
of people in these United States are not
seventy million separated grains of sand ;
we are an organic nation. These many
millions upon this globe, that have in-
habited it we know not how long, and are
to inhabit it we know not how much
longer, are not like the grains of sand

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GOD IN NATURE

lying upon the ocean beach; we are a
unit, with a beginning, with a progress,
with a history, with a development, with
a moral law that unites and makes us one.
As there is, therefore, one power that
makes for order in the natural universe,
so there is one power that makes for
righteousness in the moral universe ; and
if it makes for righteousness it is a right-
eous power, as the power that makes for
order is an intellectual power. In other
words, I have come to believe that in the
world of nature and back of all its phe-
nomena, and in the world of men and
back of all human phenomena, is one
great intellectual and righteous Power
manifesting himself in and through the
world of nature, manifesting himself in
and through the world of men.

Perhaps some one will ask me here,
" Do you believe in a personal God ? "
A reporter of one of the daily papers once
came to me ; he wanted to make a column
of copy for his paper, and he had a long
row of questions on the subject of theol-
ogy. I was bowing him out of the room

[55]



GOD IN NATURE

with gentle declination when he stopped
me, saying : " Oh, but, Mr. Abbott, just
one question : Do you beUeve in a personal
God?" "Well," I said, "what do you
mean by a personal God ? " He said :
" I mean a great big man sitting up in the
inner circle of the universe, ruling things."
" No," I said, " I do not believe in that
kind of a personal God." " Oh, well,
then," he said, " you are a pantheist." I
have long since learned that, if fine words
butter no parsnips, hard words break no
bones. If my new conception of God were
pantheism, and I thought it were true, I
hope I should dare to say, I am a panthe-
ist. But it is not pantheism. The differ-
ence between saying that God is in all
nature, and God is nature — the difference
between saying that God is in all phe-
nomena, and saying that God is simply
the sum of all phenomena, seems to me
plain enough — even for such a reporter
of a daily newspaper to understand. No.
I believe that I am in my body, equally
regnant in every part of it ; but I am sure
that I am something more than my body.

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GOD IN NATURE

I believe that God is in all phenomena,
regnant in them all ; but I believe that he
is something more than the sum of all
phenomena. He is more than any mani-
festation of himself. He is more, there-
fore, than the sum of all the manifestations
of himself.^

I am not going this morning to argue
for one or the other of these conceptions.
I am not going to try to show you that
the one is true and the other erroneous.
I am going to try to consider with you the
difference which this change in conception
makes in the religious life. This is the
topic which I have been asked to speak
on : The relation of nature and the super-
natural to the Christian thought of to-day ;
not to argue philosophically which is true,
but to consider practically what is the
effect of our changed conceptions on our
spiritual life.

* A man is no less a person because he can speak in
New York and be heard in Chicago, or press a button in
Washington and set machinery in motion in Omaha.
Extension of power does not lessen the personality of him
who exercises it.

[57]



GOD IN NATURE



In the first place, then, I no longer rec-
ognize a distinction between the natural
and the supernatural. When I thought
that God sat apart from nature, ruling
over it as an engineer rules over his en-
gine, then it seemed to me to be of essen-
tial importance that one should believe in
the supernatural, that is, in the One who
was apart from nature, and did rule over
it. But now that I believe that God is in
nature, ruling through it, and in humanity,
ruling in the hearts of men, all the natural
seems to me most supernatural, and all the
supernatural most natural. For not now
and then in special episodes and exceptional
interferences does the finger of God ap-
pear ; not now and then, as when the en-
gineer adds the steam or subtracts it, or
reverses his engine, does the will of God
show itself in life ; not now and then does
the King appear as King, by the issuance
of a new edict. God is in all of nature ;
all its forces are the forces of God ; all its
laws are the methods of God ; all its ac-
tivities are the activities of God. And in
human nature the laws of God are the
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GOD IK NATURE

beatific influences which proceed from
him, the spiritual forces projected from
him as the rays from the sun, and which
vivify the hearts of those who receive them.
Creation, therefore, is no longer the
manufacture of a globe by an architect or
a builder. It is not something that God
did six thousand years ago, and, ending,
stopped to rest. Creation is a continuous
process. It is always going on. The ge-
ologists tell us that the same convulsions
that shook the solid world in the time of
its birth, that shot the mountains up and
dug the channels for the seas and the riv-
ers, are going on even in historic times.
God is always creating. . Every flower is
a new creation. Every day he separates
the waters that are under the firmament
from the waters that are above the firma-
ments ; for he it is who daily and hourly
lifts the clouds from their ocean bed and
causes them to float in the air above.
Every spring is a new creation, and he
himself is the secret and the source and
the centre of all the life. Between the
philosophy that says there is no God or
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GOD IN NATURE

there is only an absentee God, and the
philosophy that says that God is in all
phenomena and if there were no God there
would be no phenomena, there is certainly
nothing of kin. These are not extremes
that meet. The abolition of the distinc-
tion between natural and supernatural for
the purpose of getting rid of the super-
natural is one thing ; the abolition of the
distinction for the purpose of affirming
that the supernatural is in everything is
quite another.

A writer in the Interior^ of Chicago,
said, in a criticism on one of my lectures,
some years ago, that Dr. Abbott held
that God created amoebae, and amoebae did
the rest. I do not know how it would be
possible in a sentence of equal length to
state more clearly what I exactly do not
believe. I hold that God is the secret
and the source and the centre of all life.
When your spirit departs from your body
the body crumbles into dust. If I could
conceive the Spirit of God departing from
nature I think all nature would crumble
to dust. No longer would the planets

[60]



GOD IN NATURE

circle around the sun; no longer would
clouds float in the air ; no longer would
the sunbeams flood the earth ; no longer
would flowers bloom, or water run, or
rain fall, or men walk, or living creatures
breathe. God is himself the life of life.
All things are his breath ; literally, scien-
tifically, absolutely, in him all things live
and move and have their being.

I have, therefore, for myself, practically
abandoned the distinction between general
providences and special providences. A
special providence is, in this new concep-
tion of God's relation to the universe,
nothing but a general providence specially
perceived. It is a clearer perception of
the universal presence. God is in all the
phenomena ; sometimes we wake up and
see him ; then we say, " Behold, a special
providence." It is we who have opened
our eyes. This is what I think Christ
means when he says : Not a sparrow fall-
eth to the ground without your Father.
This is what he means when he bids us
pray day by day for our daily bread. The
children at the table do not realize that
[6i ]



GOD IN NATURE

the bread and milk which they have regu-
larly for supper is the father's gift as well
as the box of candy which he brings home
on birthdays ; but the one is as much the
father's providence as the other, only the
children specialize the one and recognize
it. That is all.

Therefore, a miracle no longer seems to
me a manifestation of extraordinary power,
but an extraordinary manifestation of ordi-
nary power. God is always showing him-
self Perhaps some of you may think this
is a new theology ; but this particular bit
of theology is as old as Augustine, and as
orthodox. It is Augustine who said, a
birth — I am not quoting his exact words,
but I am giving the spirit of them — a
birth is more miraculous than a resurrec-
tion, because it is more wonderful that
something that never was should begin to
be, than that something which was and
ceased to be should begin again. The
difference between the birth and the resur-
rection is that one is made palpable to our
senses every day, and the other in the one
great event of human history was made

[62]



GOD IN NATURE

palpable to the senses of a few witnesses
in years long gone by. The mere fact
that a miracle is an extraordinary event
seems to me to constitute no reason for
discrediting it. For the credibility of an
event does not depend upon the nature
of the event, but upon the nature of the
testimony which attests it. If the Old
Testament told the story of a naval en-
gagement between the Jewish people and
a pagan people, in which all the ships of
the pagan people were absolutely de-
stroyed, and not a single man killed among
the Jews, all the skeptics would have
scorned the narrative. Every one now
believes it — except those who live in
Spain.

Do I, then, believe in miracles ? I be-
lieve in some, and some events that have
been called miracles I do not believe, and
some I do not think were intended to be
regarded as miracles at all. The story of
the sun and the moon standing still I do
not think was intended to be taken as his-
tory by the man who wrote the narrative.
It was poetry, and is quoted from an old
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GOD IN NATURE

poetic legend. The story of the great fish
that swallowed a prophet I do not believe
was ever intended to be taken as history
by the man who wrote it. I think it is a
genial yet keen satire of Jewish narrow-
ness, written for the purpose of making
clear that there is a wideness in God*s
mercy like the wideness of the sea. Some
other of the strange events recorded in the
Bible seem to me story rather than his-
tory ; I do not think them well authenti-
cated; nor does their historical truthfulness
appear to me a matter of any importance.
The story that once upon a time an ax-
head dropped into a pool and sunk, and a
prophet threw in a branch and then the
ax-head swam again, to me carries a better
lesson if I think of it as an illustration of
the Hebrew folk-lore, the sort of stories
that mothers told their children in the
olden time, than it does if I try to make
myself think it happened — because I do
not succeed very well if I do try.^ The
Book of Ruth is clearly romance, though

1 In Bartlett and Peters' s edition of the Scriptures this
story is classed with Literature, not with History.

[64]



GOD IN NATURE

historical romance ; I see no reason for
doubting that the Samson story is so also.
The mere mechanical fact that one narra-
tive is incorporated in the Book of Judges
and the other is separated from it does not
seem to me to affect the question either of
credibility or interpretation. On the other
hand, the resurrection of Jesus Christ
seems to me to be the best-attested fact of
ancient history ; attested by the witness
of disciples whose interest would not have
led them to attest it and whose prejudices
were all against their faith in it; attested
by the change of the day of rest from the
seventh day, which the Jewish nation had
up to that time kept, to the first day, ever
after celebrating the resurrection ; attested
by the growth and life of Christianity it-
self, which, if Christ did not rise from the
dead, I must think was historically founded
on either a great folly or a great fraud,
and to believe that would be to believe
that there is no moral order in the uni-
verse. That the disciples had ocular evi-
dence which convinced them against all
their preconceptions that the Christ was

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GOD IN NATURE

living whom they thought was dead ap-
pears to me as certain as any fact in history
can be. Whether that ocular demonstra-
tion was afforded by the return of the de-
parted spirit to reanimate the crucified
body, or by the disciples' vision of the
spiritual and incorporeal body, appears to
me a question neither possible nor impor-
tant to determine. The former hypothesis
presents, I think, the fewer difficulties ;
but the fact of continuous life is the one
and only important fact.

Surely this conception of God in all na-
ture, all life, all epochs, is not carrying
God away from us. It is bringing him
nearer. If every springtime, as I see the
buds growing and the leaves putting them-
selves forth, and the flowers beginning to
bloom, and the birds beginning to sing, I
look out and say, " God is creating a new
world;" if in every incident and accident,
so called, of my life, I look to see what the
voice of God is for me, what errand he
would send me on, what mission he would
give me, what he means ; if all events seem
to me to have God's voice in them, and I
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GOD IN NATURE

seek to understand them all and follow
them all ; if every event is a manifestation
of his presence and power, and a miracle
only an unusual manifestation of a power
equally present at all times and in all eras
— surely my philosophy is not getting me
away from God, but nearer to him.

It is not easy to formulate in a sentence
that change which has come over my
thought, and, as I believe, the thought of
the present generation, respecting God's
relation to man. Shall I say we are com-
ing to think of God as dwelling in man
rather than as operating on man from with-
out ? This might be taken to imply a
denial or at least a doubt of God's person-
ality, and of man's personality as distinct
and separate from God's, and this impli-
cation I vigorously and energetically disa-
vow. If I speak of God in man, it is as one
speaks of one soul working within another,
so that the two personalities intermingle,
the two lives are intertwined. Perhaps it
will be better to attempt no formal state-
ment of the general principle; rather to
illustrate it by special applications.

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GOD IN NATURE

Revelation, then, appears to me less a
sudden disclosure to man of God, as some
one external and before hidden, than a
gradual awakening in man of that spiritual
life which alone can take cognizance of
God. Revelation is the unveiling of God.
There has been a great deal of discussion
about the nature of inspiration. Dr. Mc-
Connell, formerly of Brooklyn, has called
attention to the fact that the word "in-
spiration " occurs but twice in the Bible,^
and only once in such connection that
it can be deemed to refer to Scriptural
teaching. The claim of the Bible writers
for themselves is not that they were in-
spired by God, but that they have made a
revelation of God. What does this mean ?

Revelation is unveiling, and discovery
is uncovering; two words more nearly
synonymous I do not know where to find.
The revelation of God is simply the un-
veiling or the uncovering or the discovery
of God. What the Bible writers claim
for themselves is this : " We have been
studying life, history, nature, our own

* Job xxxli, 8 5 7. Timothy iii, i6.

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GOD IN NATURE

personal experiences ; and we have found
some truths about God, and we tell you
what they are." The word " discovery "
is used for science ; the word " revelation"
for theology ; but they mean substantially
the same thing — the unveiling of the
secret of life. Science goes a little way
in the search and stops ; the prophet goes
further, and discovers behind all the forces
and all the laws which science has dis-
covered the Infinite and External Energy
from which all things proceed, the Power
not ourselves that makes for righteousness,
— in a word, God. Discovery is the reve-
lation of the laws and forces operating in
nature. Revelation is the discovery of
Him who is the Lawgiver and the Force-
producer. Discovery is revelation in the
physical realm ; revelation is discovery in
the spiritual realm. The man of outsight,
with skill in the observation of the sensu-
ous world, is a discoverer ; the man of in-
sight, with skill in the perception of the
invisible world, is a revelator.

God has given to different nations
different missions.

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He has given to Rome the mission of
teaching the world the meaning of law ; to
Greece the meaning of art and philosophy ;
to the Hebrew race the meaning of re-
ligion. He has given this race this mes-
sage: Tell the world what you can learn
of God and his relation to men. The
Hebrew people have added nothing to the
architecture, the art, the philosophy of
life ; but they have been a prophetic race
— discoverers of God. In this race there
were preeminently religious men, who saw
God more clearly than their fellows, and
God's relation to mankind more clearly,
and God*s relation to human events more
clearly, and told their fellows what they
saw. And, from all their telling, natural
selection says the scientist, providence says
the theologian, — I say the two are the
same, — elected those that had in them
the most vital truth, the most enduring,
the most worthy to endure. Thus we
have in the Old Testament something
like two-score of writers, the most spirit-
ually-minded of a spiritually-minded race,
telling us what they have discovered con-
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GOD IN NATURE

cerning God. This is the Bible. It is
the gradual discovery of God in the hearts
and through the tongues of prophets who
were themselves members of a prophetic


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