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The Personality of God.

1.— God exists. The existence of God is a doctrine of the Absolute Religion. It is true there are said to be Atheists. Perhaps there may be individuals, not very many in number, to whom that name of error and sadness may apply. As long as great perversions of the human mind are possible, varying from the numerous forms of temporary disturbance to partial or total insanity, it is not unphilosophical to suppose that atheism, in the case of a few individuals is a possibility. But I know not that there are atheistic communities or peoples. Humanity, into which we are to search for the development of principles, is represented by masses. The masses of mankind, as they are found associated in large societies and communities, have never rejected the idea of a God. No historian, from the days of Herodotus and Thucydides, has furnished us the records of an atheistic nation. We are justified therefore in taking the position, that the idea of a God belongs to humanity. As a product of intellectualism, it finds its origin in part in processes of reasoning founded on the perceptions, but has a still closer alliance with the intuitions; and the Being whom it reveals commands by a law of our nature, the reverential and loving homage of the heart. So clearly is the doctrine of God’s existence inscribed upon the works of outward nature, as they are interpreted by the human intellect, so strongly is this doctrine affirmed by the interior convictions and intuitions, and so necessary is it in response to the yearnings of the human heart, that I cannot feel the necessity of entering into argument in relation to it. I take it for granted.

2.— But there is a matter, connected with the divine existence, which cannot well be omitted, and which is of great importance. I refer to the doctrine of the Personality of God. Various circumstances have brought this question into prominence, and justify giving attention to it. Within a few years no small number of writers of acknowledged learning and ability have greatly disturbed the traditional belief as well as the religious hopes and consolations of a large portion of the Christian world, by affirming and attempting to prove the impersonality of the Divine Being. In accordance with our plan of inquiry we shall endeavor to show, that the Personality of God is taught by the absolute method; and that the teachings of the Absolute Religion, in this particular as well as in others of a fundamentally religious nature, are in harmony with the Christian doctrine.

3.— It cannot well be doubted, that the personality of God is one of the doctrines contained in the teachings of Christ. It is difficult to see how he could address God as his Father, and in terms implying the greatest veneration and love, without believing in the Personality of God.

When, in the trials and sorrows of the Cross, he prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do;” and when in the final agony of his spirit he said, “my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” it cannot well be supposed that he believed he was praying to an abstraction, or to a spiritual generalization, or a great undefined principle of life, instead of a percipient Being, who in the mental or spiritual sense had ears to hear, and a heart to feel. We cannot doubt, that the careful readers of the New Testament, in view of what is there said having a bearing upon the subject now before us, fully and earnestly accept the idea, as the only one which can be reasonably entertained, that Jesus believed in the divine personality. This wonderful Being, of whom we shall have occasion to speak more fully hereafter, had a heart that worshipped. His intellectual powers, which are sometimes overshadowed and concealed by the manifestations of his great goodness, revealed and identified the object of his worship; and his loving heart, which added emotion to perception, accepted the revelation and yielded its homage. But affirm that God is not a personal being, only an underlying principle or causative force which permeates all existences and develops itself in all the forms of existence, without the intelligence and responsibility which are implied in personality and only by means of fixed and inexorable law, and from that moment it is intuitionally evident, that there is no revelation of an object of worship because no such object exists. And worship itself, which is so obviously one of the leading characteristics of the inward life of Christ, necessarily ceases, because there is no object to which it can attach itself.

4.— But philosophy, or something which goes under that great though often perverted name, has in these later times taken a different view. Those who are acquainted with the speculations and suggestions on this subject, associated, more or less distinctly with the names of Helvetius, Diderot, Condorcet, D’Alembert, Hume, Gibbon, Fichte, Hegel, Compte, Herbert Spencer, Mills, Strauss, Feuerbach and others, know well how confidently God has been announced as a principle of activity and causation, but without the recognized attribute of a person; in other words as a great spiritual or psychical energy, pervading all things that exist, and holding a fixed and necessary relation to results, but without a distinct and available responsibility, and without even knowing or having any interest in knowing what the results of its own activity shall be. It is painful to know how widely such speculations have affected the thoughts and feelings of men. But this doctrine of God, which analyzed to its results is practically the annihilation of God, is a very different thing from the simple, sublime, and truly philosophic idea of God, which is justly understood as holding a place in the doctrines of Christ.

The God of the Bible, from the earliest to the latest portion of its announcements is a personal God. All that is said of God in that great treasury of thought, including the personal teachings of Christ, with all its affirmations of his eternity and universality, recognizes and emphasizes the great and essential fact of his personality.

And we cannot hesitate in saying, that a true philosophy, when applied to the doctrines of religion, in other words that the Absolute Religion, or Religion developed in the highest and truest human thought and feeling, is on the side of the biblical teachings.

5.— And let us now look at the subject in a little different aspect, with a view as briefly as possible, to bring it to the test of facts and reason. Before we can either affirm or deny the personality of God, we must first make personality itself, separate from the being to whom it attaches and of whom it is predicated, the subject of our thought. It is at this point that we detect what seems to us the beginning of a great error.

Personality is not merely a name; nor is it merely an idea. In order to know fully what it is, we must go back from the name to the idea; and from the idea or thought to the fact or truth which the idea represents. The name is merely an aid to the thought; an auxiliary or help in the use of the thought. The thought or idea of personality, which arises necessarily in the mind under the appropriate circumstances of its origin, is justly regarded as a simple or elementary idea; and as such it may be admitted that it is not susceptible of that logical process which is known as a definition. And yet not being what Mr. Locke would call an illusive or chimerical idea, but one harmonizing with the truth of things, it involves and affirms to our interior convictions and belief the fact or verity of the thing to which it relates. And hence, in connection with the necessary laws of mental action, we have a basis, and we cannot get it in any other way, for affirming the fact of personality. We say for instance in relation to ourselves and say it without hesitation that we are personal beings. And when we thus come to personality itself, in distinction from the idea of it; when we reach the verity or reality of the fact in distinction from its intellectual representation, if it should happen that definitions in the usual logical form fail to make it more clearly known, on account of its interior and elementary nature, it is still both clear in itself as a matter of internal and intuitional revelation, and we can also obtain to some extent additional knowledge of what it is by the indirect process of indicating what it is not.

For instance, personality, in distinction from the idea or intellectual representation of personality, and considered as a fact or verity actually existing and of which it can be affirmed that it is, is not identical with existence, nor is it identical with knowledge, nor with power, nor with activity, nor with expansion. It may have its important relations with any or all of them; but it requires to be kept distinct, both in its idea through which it is represented to us, and also in its fact or realization. A Being, separate in the mere fact of existence from other beings, who has actually powers of perception and affection, and who can not only know and judge and feel, but has the volitional power which can carry his judgments and feelings to their appropriate issues, has necessarily a personality, whether his susceptibilities of knowledge be greater or less, or whether the mere extent or expansion of his existence be greater or less, or whether he comes within the limits of our comprehension or not. The convictions of the human mind, arising by their own necessary laws of being, require us in such a case to affirm the fact or realization of personality, and enable us to say without any misgivings, that we have before us a personal being. We have not merely the idea of personality, which is a matter of interior or subjective experience and nothing more; but we have before us the fact of personality, in its outward or objective realization.

6.—With this view of the matter before us, and on such fundamental principles, we proceed to affirm that God is a personal being. The doctrine that God is an impersonal being, probably owes its origin in part to a mistake in the philosophical elements involved in the doctrine of personality, and in part to the fact, that God is without limits. As we have been in the habit of ascribing personality to beings who, in having form, are subject to the limitations of form, we easily fall into the habit of associating personality with such limitations, and at last are apt to adopt the conclusion, that where there are no limits, no well-defined boundaries of existence constituting a form, there can be no personality. Now it must be admitted, that in the extent or expansion of his being, God is without limits; but it does not at all follow that God, because he transcends the limitations of the human senses, and is not the subject of material measurement or any other measurement, is therefore not a personal God. The question of personality does not turn upon mere extent or expansion of being, whether physically or even psychically considered, but rather upon the traits or characteristics of being. In considering the subject of God’s personality, it is a proper inquiry, whether he possesses intelligence which is cognizant of the fact of his own existence and power; whether he has the capability of knowing and affirming the fixed relation of himself, both in perception and action, to that interior law of rectitude which is also a part of his being; whether he possesses a volitional power correspondent to the powers of perception and the claims of moral obligation? It is in the answer to such questions as these, that we find the basis of personality considered as a fact or realization. And if the answer is in the affirmative, then God most evidently possesses all the requisites of personality, and stands forth before the universe, not merely as a blind and unintelligent principle of movement, but as a personal God, capable of intelligent design and action, endowed with responsibility both to himself and to all beings that are dependent on him, and entitled, in the case of those who are dependent, to obedience and homage.

7.—And it is proper to say here, as an indirect confirmation of our position, that humanity demands a God who can thus be recognized and worshipped. The instinct of reverence and homage, which evidently pervades the human heart, so much so that it has found its place as an attribute of humanity in all lands and all ages, requires, and cannot be satisfied with anything short of a personal God. In the view of the great masses of men, to deny the personality of God, is, to all practical purposes and results, much the same, as we have already intimated as to deny the existence of God. So that we run no hazard in saying, that a personal God is one of the great religious necessities of humanity. Religion is the interior and domestic tie, which makes the united family of the finite and the Infinite. And without a Being, who is not only supreme in his attributes, but who is approachable, and can be addressed and confided in, on the basis furnished by a deific personality, the human race is necessarily left in the condition of a bewildered and sorrowing orphanage.

8.—And we may add that the opposite doctrine that which denies God’s personality, seems to us to be full of danger in other respects. It is not only the abnegation of religion, but of practical morality. The doctrine of impersonality, admitting that it sometimes comes before us with learned and imposing pretensions, will be found, if allowed to go unquestioned, to be attended not only with the rupture of God and man, but of man and his fellow-man. It is a doctrine which not only strikes boldly at the religious intuitions of the great heart of humanity, but is an inlet, through its want of practical power, to hostility, fraud, cruelty, and all varieties of crime. No theory of practical morals has ever been constructed on the basis of the impersonality of God, which is available against the mighty evils that continually imperil man’s social condition. The audacity of wrong and crime is not frightened by an abstraction. Nor is it much afraid of a positive principle of life, which has no self-regulated thought and volition. If it were possible for impersonality to leave us a God at all, which it is not, it would be a God with no eyes to see, and no ears to hear, and no hands to handle, and no head to think, and no heart to feel, and no will to execute; — a God, if any one should object to the material form of the expressions, with nothing which our spiritual eyes could see, or our spiritual ears could hear, or our hearts’ necessities could appeal to; — a God, in any light in which it is possible to consider him, without a voice to cheer us in our efforts to do right, and without a hand to help us against the dangers which would certainly assail and overwhelm us.