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CHAPTER VII.


Necessity and Possibility of a Divine Manifestation.


1.—Religion, considered in its essential nature, and in the aspect of its great and final result, is and must be harmony with God. Reason as we may upon the subject, it will be found in the end, that it cannot be anything greater, nor anything less, nor anything different from this. But harmony, admitting there is a slight difference in the import of the terms, necessarily implies union; and indeed might properly be defined as the completion or perfection of union; and in the case of intelligent and moral beings, it is hardly necessary to say that it is and must be
conscious union.

2.—And now we proceed to say further, that there cannot be a conscious union, especially one which rises to the eminent degree which entitles it to be called harmony, without a knowledge of God. In other words, in order to this result of harmony which is the substance of religion, God must make himself known, must manifest himself. To be consciously united with God and yet without a knowledge of God is a contradiction in terms, and is a moral impossibility. And further, if God is not to be manifested in such a way as to make himself known, what is the object of his existence? Why should he exist at all? The manifestation of God therefore, in some important respect, so that we can speak of him intelligently and give him both thought and affection, may be regarded as a NECESSITY.

3.—So far as this, the Absolute philosophy expresses itself with confidence. And the human heart, that which in man feels rather than thinks, but which embodies truth in the instincts of feeling, confirms the decision. But here comes a difficulty. Granting that it is necessary in the decisions of the human intellect, granting that it is necessary to meet the conscious wants of human feeling, is it a thing which is possible? Is it possible for the Infinite to manifest itself understandingly to the finite? Or taking the converse proposition, is it possible for the finite, in the limitation of its powers, to comprehend that which is without limits? In the view of sound reason it seems to be necessary to answer these questions in the negative. But it appears to have escaped very much the thoughts and knowledge of men, that infinity is not God but only the mode or manner of his existence, namely, the extent or degree of his existence; and that we may know God in the essentiality of his nature, in that which constitutes the primal and deific substance of his being, although it may be true, and is true, that we cannot know Him on account of the limitations of our powers in the fullness of his extent or degree. In other words, if we cannot know God in his degree or measurement, we may still know him, which is of far greater importance, in his truth or essence.

4.—But let us look a little further. If infinity is not God but only the degree or extent of his existence, the question still remains, — what are we to understand by God, and what is it which constitutes the primality and essence of his being? Do we or can we find Him in the true and higher sense in his attributes? Let us reflect a moment on this important question. Take the attribute of knowledge, even when it is considered in the degree or extent of infinitude, and is properly denominated Omniscience, does it make or constitute God? Sound reason will also be compelled to answer here in the negative. And again, God is a being of power. But does the attribute of power, even when joined in its extent with infinitude and denominated Omnipotence, any more than the attribute of omniscience make or constitute God? And here also we are compelled to answer, that such cannot possibly be the case. The word attribute itself, which men agree in using as applicable to and as descriptive in part of omniscience and omnipotence, implies that in the order of nature there is and must be a principle back of these, a living and pre-eminent primality which will call knowledge and power into action and give them and all other attributes their appropriate direction and issues. And this principle which, as we have already seen in a former chapter, is the essential and eternal life of the divine existence, and in fact constitutes that existence, is LOVE. And this interior principle which constitutes the essential nature of God and to which are appended the attributes that operate as the instruments of its decrees, involves in itself and as a part of its own nature, an ultimate motive power which is the basis of the activity of the universe. If it were otherwise, in other words if there were a destitution and absence of such motive power, constituting a state of things which could properly be described by the word
indifference, then of course all the existing wonderful activities would cease, and God would be practically annihilated. And again, if this interior principle of which we speak were not indifference but a practical or motive evil principle, then, instead of God we should have and it could not be otherwise, an infinite Satan. But the Absolute philosophy affirms as well as the Bible and in confirmation of the Bible, not merely that God exists but that God is Love. And hence it will be found, and all exhaustive and ultimate researches will prove it to be so, that every exercise of his omniscience and omnipotence or other attributes is dictated by beneficence.

5.—The manifestation of himself therefore, which it was necessary for God to make, and which the wants of an erring and suffering humanity required, and which the Absolute Religion aiming as it does at the establishment of universal harmony imperatively demands, was the manifestation of himself in his essential nature as
Love.

The manifestation of the auxiliary incidents or attributes of the Divine Nature, such as knowledge and power, and especially with the weight and expansion of infinitude attached to them, when standing alone and without a manifestation of that interior and essential life which holds them in its hand and guides them to beneficent issues, was calculated to frighten and destroy and not to save humanity. But in what way could that deeper and more interior manifestation of God as
Love, which alone could bring adjustment and peace and hope to men be made?

The question which now presents itself was, in some important sense, the great problem of the ages. And in the first place all enlightened philosophy will agree that it was necessary that it should be made within the sphere of humanity. In other words, it was necessary that it should be made in such a way that man with the limited faculties which he possesses and with precisely such faculties in kind as he possesses, should be able to behold, study and comprehend it.

6.—But something more is necessary than this general statement. Shall we find the manifestation of God in his true and essential nature, as some heathen nations have foolishly thought, in the lower forms of creation, in birds and reptiles, and even in inanimate things? That such an idea should have existed is indeed an evidence of the wants and cravings of the human heart; and perhaps it would be unphilosophical to deny that there is an element of truth in it, inasmuch as there is something of God in all the creatures of God, however low they may be in the scale of being. But the darkened belief which accepts the manifestation of God in such inferior things, a belief to which the Apostle Paul so feelingly and pointedly alludes, cannot contribute to man’s elevation; but on the contrary, as appears from the records of heathen nations, tends greatly to hold him fast in hopelessness and debasement. Nor on the other hand, would a manifestation made in the form of beings above the sphere of humanity, through forms and faculties not commensurable with and susceptible of being interpreted by anything given to man, have been of any more avail. It might not have tended to debase, but it is not obvious that it could have tended to elevate, because, being above the reach of the human faculties, it could not be understood.

There is left, therefore, only the method which infinite wisdom adopted, that of the incarnation of the divine in the human form; the incarnation of the Son of God; —
“God manifest in the flesh.”

7.—And this is a method of manifestation, which does not merely excite our admiration and gratitude; but which, far more than any other that is possible to be suggested, satisfies our reason. If God is Love, the manifestation would necessarily be in that method which would best secure the results at which love aims, God, therefore, with a condescension which of itself intimates his true nature, took upon himself humanity in order that he might be comprehended by humanity; and that, if he could not be measured in his infinitude, nor be understood in the truth and essentiality of his nature through the incidents of knowledge and power alone, he might be understood by submitting to be nailed to the Cross in that which was and is the essential principle of his life; a principle which gives direction to knowledge and power, and which stamps its value on infinitude.

8. But in the realization of this great event, although through the teachings of types and prophecies they had long looked for something of this kind, men seem to have been greatly perplexed in one particular. In consequence of the associations which they had been accustomed to attach to rank and station, they expected that the descending God, whose advent the earlier ages had predicted, would make his appearance with all the pomp and circumstance at least which belong to the highest human station. They looked for a king in the human and historic sense of the term. But that was not God’s plan. In his view human existence, aside from the incidents of rank and station, embodies the evidence of the highest wisdom and goodness. Man, who was made in the image of God, man in his simple humanity, unadorned with the incidents which give a fictitious splendor, without a sceptre and without a crown, was the fitting instrumentality in which God was to make himself known. And therefore “God manifest in the flesh,” was God manifest in man;—man low in worldly station, with nothing calculated to arrest attention; but poor, untitled, friendless, and unknown. He chose humanity and not rank; the thing and not the incidents of the thing; humanity, as it were, in its nakedness; and thus forever gave a sanction and elevation to man as man.