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ence was attacking the notion of an absentee
God, a God who can be defined, described,
analyzed, interpreted in creeds. Science,
which, first, showed how vast the universe
was; which, secondly, showed how the
universe was all one ; which, third, showed
that the same forces were at work in this
world and in the remotest sun and in this
epoch and in the remotest epoch, so that
all days are equally creative, undermined
the notion of a celestial Caesar sitting on a
celestial throne afar off, creating matter and
force out of nothing, and laws to govern
them, and leaving them to their own oper-
ation with occasional interventions on his
part. Then came history. History had
been mere annals, the mere story of events,
the mere record of lives. Voltaire, I think,
was the first one to portray history as a
development of life. He was followed
by others, — Mommsen, Curtis, Arnold,
Buckle, Macaulay, Green. All these men
differed from the old classical historians in



tracing history as a gradual process of de-
velopment — the widening out and the
upbuilding of humanity — and in thus
showing a divine development in human-
ity as science had shown it in nature. Then
came literature and the study of compara-
tive literatures, the literatures of Greece
and Rome and Italy and England, and
last, but not least, of the Hebrew people,
and of the common life of man that ani-
mates them all and underlies them all ;
and the discovery (for it was almost a dis-
covery) that remorse is as universal as the
human race, and forgiveness as universal,
and love and pity and sympathy as uni-
versal ; and that underneath all nations
and all races and in all eras there beats,
not merely one blood, but one human,
palpitating, emotive life. This process
has been resisted by some men in the
Church and feared by more ; but the re-
sistance has been in vain and the fears
have been needless. For it has been a
divinely ordered process toward a pro-
founder faith, a larger hope, and a closer
and tenderer love.



Among the cartoons of Raphael is one
representing the creation. A venerable
gentleman is represented as seated cross-
legged upon the ground, with the various
portions .of a child's Noah's Ark before
him, putting the different parts of the ani-
mals together. It was a great artist's con-
ception of a divine creation. That notion
of an absentee God — an imperial Caesar
sitting in the centre of the universe ruling
things, whose edicts are laws, who is ap-
proached jonly from afar by men — that is
gone, or going. There are some of us
who still cling to it, and to whom the re-
moval of that image seems like atheism ;
some that are trying to cling to it, though
their grasp is loosening; some that are
trying to make themselves believe that
they still believe in it ; but it has gone, or
IS going. Not merely the final authority of
the Church is undermined ; not merely
the authority of the Book as an ultimate
court of appeal is lessened ; but the con-
ception of a God sitting in the centre of
the universe ruling things, as an imperial
Caesar sits in Rome ruling things — that



also IS growing dim or absolutely disap-
pearing. What is coming in its place ?

I am not going to ask the theologians
what is coming in its place ; I will first
ask the scientists.

Herbert Spencer was not, in my opin-
ion, a great philosopher; but he was a
great interpreter of the philosophic ten-
dency of his times; and this is Herbert
Spencer's answer to the question, what will
science put in the place of this conception
of a divine Caesar sitting in a celestial robe :

But one truth must ever grow clearer — the
truth that there is an Inscrutable Existence
everywhere manifested, to which we can neither
find nor conceive either beginning or end.
Amid the mysteries which become the more
mysterious the more they are thought about,
there will remain this one absolute certainty,
that we are ever in the presence of an In-
finite and Eternal Energy, from which all things

What has science to offer ? This : that
we are ever in the presence of an Infinite
and Eternal Energy, from which all things

[ 100 ]


proceed. No longer an absentee God ;
no longer a Great First Cause, setting in
motion secondary causes which frame the
world ; no longer a divine mechanic, who
has built the world, stored it with forces,
launched it upon its course, and now and
again interferes with its operation if it goes
not right; but one great, eternal, under-
lying Cause, as truly operative to-day as
he was in that first day when the morning
stars sang together — every day a creative
day. That is the word of science.

What is the word of history ? The his-
torian tells us there is a progress in human
development, and that history illustrates
that progress, and that not only the indi-
vidual man grows from babyhood to man-
hood, but the whole race of men grow
from infantile beginnings to a future, we
know not what. Is there any meaning in
this? Is there any power behind it ? And
what does this power mean ? And, again,
we turn to a historian, not a theologian, —
not even an orthodox historian, — to Mat-
thew Arnold. He tells that the one thing
history makes sure is that there is a power

[ lOI ]


not ourselves that makes for righteous-
ness ; a power to-day at work in the world
as truly and as efficaciously as ever in the
past ; that the evolutionary processes that
are going on are making for righteousness.
Finally, we turn to literature, and we
ask one of the great poets to tell us what
is to take the place of this Romanized
conception of an absentee God. What
has human experience to tell ? What word
have the men of vision to bring back to us
as the product of their insight into human
life ? And this is Tennyson's reply : — -

*' The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and

the plains.
Are not these, O soul, the vision of Him who reigns ?
Dark is the world to thee ; thyself art the reason

For is He not all but that which has power to feel,

I am I ?
Glory about thee, without thee ; and thou fulfillest

thy doom.
Making Him broken gleams, and a stifled splendor

and gloom.
Speak to Him, thou, for He hears, and spirit with

spirit can meet ;
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands or


[ 102 ]


The notion of a humanized God, sitting
in the centre of the universe ruling things,
is gone ; and in the place of it science has
brought us back this : " We are ever in
the presence of the Infinite;" and history-
has brought us back this : " There is a
power not ourselves that makes for right-
eousness ; " and literature has brought us
back this : " Spirit with spirit can meet ;
closer is He than breathing, nearer than
hands or feet."

Am I then a pantheist ? Is this panthe-
ism ? I suppose there are a great many-
persons who do feel that this changed
conception of God is going to destroy
the personality of the Divine. Is it.^^

Go into a great cathedral, as St. PauFs
or St. Peter's. As you look on these
great pillars, on this great dome, this
splendid architecture, you say : I see here
the fruit of the personality of Wren or of
Michael Angelo ; I am looking on some-
thing more than stones and mortar ; 1 am
looking on the work of a great mind and
a great heart. But now imagine for one
moment that as you stood there you could
[ 103 ]


see stone reared upon stone, and column
upon column ; you could see some invisi-
ble hand tracing the fretwork around the
columns and carving the beautiful forms;
as you looked, the cathedral grew into its
splendid proportions ; and then some in-
visible force lifted the great dome and put
it like the dome of heaven on the columns
underneath. Would you think the per-
sonality was gone because it was operative
before your eyes ? Am I to think that
there was a personal God six thousand
years ago, or sixty thousand years ago, or
six hundred thousand years ago, and that
to-day, when I can go out and see him
painting the leaves, and starting this fall
the beginnings for next year's spring — see
the love and life of the ever present God
at work before my eyes, can I think that
his personality is gone ? No ; a thousand
times nearer, a thousand times closer. We
are in the presence of the great Divine
personality. What we mean by person-
ality is this: The Infinite and Eternal
Energy, from which all things proceed, is
an energy that thinks, that feels, that pur-
[ 104 ]


poses and does ; and is thinking and feel-
ing and purposing and doing as a conscious
life, of which ours is but a poor and
broken reflection.

The image which in my childhood I
formed of God as a great king sitting upon
a great white throne was really an idol,
though it was not formed of stone nor
painted upon a canvas. It is not to such
an imagination we are to go for a realiza-
tion of the personality of God. God has
personified himself in human history.
He has entered into one human life, and
filled that life so full of himself that in
Jesus Christ we see the image of the
Invisible God. Christianity is not an
episode. The life of Christ is not a his-
torical event completed in three short
years. Jesus Christ is the revelation of
an Eternal Fact, and the Eternal Fact is
the Ever Present God. I stood one night
on the top of Mount Washington. The
clouds were passing over the mountain all
the evening, and the moon was behind
them, and I stood in a diffused light,
sometimes brighter, sometimes less bright ;

[ 105]


but every now and then the moon would
seem to break through the clouds, and
bend down and rush toward the earth as
though it would kiss the very foreheads of
those of us who were looking at it, and
then as suddenly it would retire again, and
the clouds once more obscure it. But it
was always there. So the " Light that
lighteth every man that cometh into the
world " was always in the world, and al-
ways will be in the world as long as God
is love and man has need of him. The
coming of Christ to the Church was in
order that we might know that God is.
It was the revelation of a perpetual incar-
nation ; the revelation of an unseen but
eternal presence. Too long we have stood
at the foot of the cross or at the door of
the tomb, and not seen the stone rolled
away and the triumphant Saviour emerg-
ing. Too long we have thought of the
life of Christ ending with his passion and
death. But the greatest part of his life is
his post-resurrection life.

For the message of the Gospel is not
merely that Jesus Christ lived and died
[ io6 ]


eighteen hundred years ago, teaching here
for three short years and then disappear-
ing, to be an absentee Christ; it is that
God is always pouring out his life upon
men and into their hearts, lifting them up
out of their sins, succoring them from their
remorse, and making them live again.
Long before Christ lived the Psalmist
wrote : " Bless the Lord, O my soul, and
all that is within me, bless his holy name ;
who healeth all thy diseases ; who forgiv-
eth all thine iniquities ; who redeemeth
thy life from destruction, who crowneth
thee with loving kindness and tender
mercies." Men said, "What does that
mean ? " And God said, " I will tell
you." And he came, and for a little while
he lived among men ; he forgave the
woman that was a sinner, and bade her go
in peace, and sin no more. This, he said,
is what I mean by forgiving iniquity.
He succored doubting Thomas from the
scepticism in which he was entangled, of
the unstable Peter he made a rock, and of
the ambitious John the beloved disciple
and the prophet of a spiritual life. This,
[ 107]


he said, is what I mean by the healing of
diseases. He surrounded the traitor Ju-
das Iscariot with love, and recovered the
denying Peter and sent him back, recon-
secrated, to his ministry. This, he said,
is what I mean by saving men from their
own destruction.

Did he cease then ? He has been doing
this work of love ever since. The history
of the world has been simply this : man
sinning, God forgiving ; man diseased, God
healing ; man destroying himself, God re-
deeming him from his self-destruction ;
man sordid and selling himself into slavery,
and God recovering him from slavery and
crowning him with lovingkindness and
tender mercies. And the message of the
Christian minister to-day to this sorrow-
ing, sinful, troubled humanity is, " The
God that was in the world then is in the
world now." It is not Browning's mes-
sage, " God 's in his heaven ; all 's right
with the world.'' If God were in his
heaven, all would not be right with the
world. He is in his world making it

[ io8 ]


I suppose there are some of you here to-
night who will feel that this frank recog-
nition of the overthrow of old forms of
faith is injurious. I wish you who hold
still to the sacredness of the Roman the-
ology would consider this question one
moment. You remember how Gideon,
beating out the grapes in the wine-press,
was told by God to destroy the idol of
Baal and cut down the groves, and how,
when the people came out the next morn-
ing and found their idol and their sacred
grove gone, they rose in wrath against him,
because he had destroyed their religion.
But he had not destroyed their religion;
he had simply given it a wider scope and
a purer life. You remember how, when
Jesus Christ told the people at Jerusalem
that the temple would be destroyed, they
identified religion with that temple and
with those sacrifices and that priesthood,
and counted as an enemy of religion any
man who said that all those things were
to be destroyed. But he was not the
enemy of religion ; and the destruction
of that Jerusalem and of that priesthood
[ 109 ]


and the overthrow of those sacrifices were
only the opening out of a larger life. You
remember how, when Luther said. Pope,
you are no vicar of God; Church, you
are no infallible representative of God,
men all over Europe — honest men, de-
vout men, godly men, and godly women —
wrung their hands in despair and said. If
there is no Church to interpret God's law,
how shall we know what it is ? But to
this audience I need not argue that the
destruction of the notion of an infallible
Church only widened the scope and en-
hanced the power of religion. May it not
perhaps be that the same God who de-
stroyed the idol of Baal and the Jewish
temple, and for us Protestants the power
of the mediaeval Church, has destroyed this
idol that we have reared in our minds only
in order that he may bring us nearer to

God is in all nature; thank God for
the scientists, for they are thinking the
thoughts of God after him, whether they
know it or not. God is in all humanity,
and every man is a child of God whom
[ no]


we are to endeavor to bring back to his
Father. God is in history, forgiving and
redeeming, as Christ was in Palestine, for-
giving and redeeming. God is in human
experience, inspiring, uplifting, life-giving.
Our message to our congregations is not
a mere ethical law, not a mere philosophy
about God, not a mere reiteration of a
traditional creed, not a mere interpreta-
tion of the Bible. But through ethics,
and philosophy, and the creed, and the
Bible, we are to bring this threefold mes-
sage : the message of science — " We are
ever in the presence of an Infinite and
Eternal Energy, from which all things
proceed ; " the message of history —
" There is a power not ourselves that
makes for righteousness ; " the message
of literature — "Speak to him, for he
hears ; closer is he than breathing, nearer
than hands and feet." "We are all his
offspring ; he is not far from any one of
us ; in him we live and move and have
our being.**

[ "I]



Reprinted from " The Woman's Home Companion'*'*
for December i igog.


THE apostle Paul, going to Athens,
found himself in a city full of vari-
ous idols, so full that an ancient satirist said
that in Athens it was easier to find a god
than a man. Among the altars was one
to The Unknown God. Paul made this
inscription the text of his sermon, which
may be summed up in the single sen-
tence : " Whom therefore ye worship with-
out knowing him, him declare I unto
you." This is the message of Christmas
to the world. What we celebrate on
Christmas is a new unveiling of God.

" God manifest in the flesh." What
do we mean by that ? What I think is
meant is the supremest manifestation of
God possible in human life. And that
is the supremest manifestation possible to
humanity. Or, to restate it in different

1 Copyright, 1909, by the Crowell Publishing Co.

[ 115]


terms, what is meant is that what Jesus
Christ is seen to be in the three years of
his recorded life, the spirit of God is in the
history of the human race.

A mother sits down on the floor and
plays with her child with building-blocks.
If she is a woman of sympathetic imagina-
tion she is herself a child for that hour.
She shares her child's joys in his brief suc-
cesses and his disappointments in his brief

God lives as a child with his children for
an hour that they may become acquainted
with him and know that he is always liv-
ing with them, often most truly when they
see him least. There is much in the
mother which remains unknown to the
child. There is much in God which re-
mains unknown to his children. But
the child knows the mother because the
mother has been a child with him. And
we children may know our Father because
he has been a child with us.

Three illustrations may help to make
the principle clear.

Jesus Christ is not a manifestation of
[ "6]


certain attributes or qualities of God ; he
is God manifest in the flesh. He is not a
temporary manifestation of God's mercy
or pity, leaving his justice and his anger
to be revealed in the future. There is no
justice and no wrath in God which is not
manifested in Jesus Christ ; and there is
no pity and no mercy in Jesus Christ
which is not a reflection of the eternal
pity and mercy of God. " He that hath
seen me hath seen the Father." To un-
derstand Jesus Christ is to understand God.
Jesus Christ began his ministry by -at-
tending a wedding-feast. His first miracle
was wrought to prolong its festivities. He
repeatedly compared the kingdom of God
to a great festival. He accepted all social
invitations ; declined none. He declared
himself that he came eating and drinking,
and this was so characteristic of him that
his enemies called him a glutton and
wine-bibber. He compared^ himself to
a musician piping in the street for the
children to dance. Neither he nor his
disciples observed the customary fasts
of the church to which they belonged.

[ 117]


He was a favorite with the children, and
they clustered about him and were will-
ing that he should take them in his
arms. His last meeting with his dis-
ciples was at a social meal, and with such
a social meal he asked them ever to as-
sociate his memory.

If Jesus Christ is God manifest in the
flesh, God is not the austere being he is
sometimes represented. There is much
more truth in the philosophy of the child
who said " God must have laughed when
he made a monkey " than in that of the
theologian who said "Jesus wept, but
never laughed." Prayer and play are not
incongruous. God is not the kind of
father who wishes his children to hush
their laughter when he enters the house.
" A merry heart doeth good like a medi-
cine," says the inspired writer — a motto
which might well be put over the convent
gate or hung in the prayer-meeting room.
For to laugh is as religious as to weep ; and
smiles may bring us into the companion-
ship of the Father no less than tears. Let
us get rid of this notion that we must
[ ii8]


always associate the thoughts of God with
a spirit of great solemnity. Gayety and
God are not mutually exclusive.

But Jesus Christ was not all gayety.
"Woe unto you laughing ones," he said;
" for ye shall mourn and weep.** He had
no sympathy for the jester who can take
nothing seriously, but tries to make of life
one huge protracted joke. He saw that
the whole world groaneth and travaileth
in pain, and he travailed with it. So did
he enter into the sorrows of the sorrowing,
so did he make them his own, that it was
prophetically said that he " was acquainted
with grief." The sorrows might be super-
ficial and transient, they might be deep and
abiding. He was not indifferent to either.
When he had been preaching all day, and
evening came, and his loyal disciples de-
siring for their Master some rest, asked
him to send the congregation away, he
would not do it until he had provided
for their hunger. When the brother had
died and the sisters were heartbroken, he
shared their grief with them and mingled
his tears with theirs.

[ "9]


To some it seems a profanation to think
of God as suffering. To me it is a profa-
nation to think of him as incapable of
suffering. Love suffers when the loved
one suffers. If God is love, God knows
the sorrows as well as the joys of love.
If Jesus Christ is God manifest in the
flesh, the tears shed at the grave of Lazarus
and at the prospective destruction of Jerusa-
lem are divine tears. To me the greatness
of the infinite power and skill manifested
at the same moment in the most distant
star and in our globe by the forth-putting
of the same wisdom and power is not so
marvellous as the greatness of soul mani-
fested in a sympathy which can share at
one and the same time the joys of the
wedding and the sorrows of the funeral.
But why should I believe his power and
his skill are infinite and refuse to believe
that his sympathies are infinite ? His chil-
dren crowd about him, some with their
gratitude, some with their reproaches,
some exultant with victory, some humili-
ated by their defeats, some joyous, some in
tears, some saints with songs and some
[ 120 ]


Sinners with hopeless penitence, and he
is not distraught. He hears all voices,
shares all experiences, ministers to all

To Jesus Christ sin was a disease to
be cured rather than a crime to be pun-
ished. It awakened his pity, not his
anger. Condemned for associating with
sinners, he replied on one occasion,
"They that be whole need not a phy-
sician, but they that are sick." On an-
other occasion he said that he had come
to seek and to save that which is lost.
And to him a lost soul was a soul not
yet found. He compared such a soul
to a coin mislaid, which the owner was
seeking; to a sheep strayed from the
fold, which the shepherd was seeking ; to
a prodigal son, whose return the father
was awaiting. There is no one for whom
society has so little hope as a lost woman ;
but Jesus never despaired of the recovery
of even a lost woman. Even the Judas
who betrayed him he sought to rescue
with reproachful greeting : Friend, betray-
est thou the Son of man with a kiss ? There

[ 121 ]


was only one character whose destiny he
seemed himself unable to avert ; the re-
ligious man whose religion was a false pre-
tence, who was pious, but not humane;
who devoured widows' homes and for a
pretence made long prayers. The offal
of Jerusalem was carried out of the city
into the valley of Gehenna and there
thrown upon fires always left burning,
and there it was consumed. " Alas ! for
you hypocrite," cried Jesus, in an outburst
of despairing pity, " how can you escape
Gehenna ? " To him such false pre-
tences seemed like the offal of the uni-
verse, doomed to destruction.

Jesus Christ, saviour of men, is the
revelation of God's perpetual presence
and perpetual power in the world. Holi-
ness is health. Sin is disease. Forgiveness
is healing. God is the Great Physician.
We come before him, not as criminals
to be judged and punished, but as sick to
be cured. Those who do not know that
they are sick and need cure are the sickest
of all. He is the " Power not ourselves
that makes for righteousness." His life
[ 122 ]


in the world is a continuation of the life of
Jesus Christ. It is the life which cen-
turies before Christ David saw; which
centuries after Christ so many of Christ's

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Online LibraryLyman AbbottSeeking after God → online text (page 5 of 7)