Stacks Image 905


The Objective and Subjective in Religion.

1.— It is sometimes thought that the Objective or outward in religion, and the Subjective or inward, are not only antagonistical, but are mutually exclusive and destructive of each other. This I suppose to be a mistake. They are neither destructive of each other, nor are they necessarily antagonistical; but on the contrary, are essentially harmonious, although it may sometimes be true, in consequence of diversity of relations, that they are antagonistical in appearance.

The question of the Objective and the Subjective in religion, is prominently and, specifically the question, stated in simpler terms, is God without us or within us? Our answer is, that God is every where; but not in the same sense, nor with the same efficacy, nor with the same results. And these differences depend not merely upon the facts of the divine nature, but partly upon other related facts, incidents and experiences. Accordingly it may be said as a truth, that irreligion necessitates objectivity; because, from the very fact of being what it is, it closes the heart and excludes the divine entrance. The irreligious or Adamic man, or man under the influence of inordinate self-hood, and with the spiritual eye almost closed with the Adamic incrustations, can see only the objective or outward God. But under the more favorable influences of Christianity and with a wider and truer vision for which he ought to be grateful, he sees Him under a human form, elevated to the position of a throne and swaying a sceptre. But He sits there nevertheless, whatever the degree of his elevation or glory, as an objective or outward God. But God as thus presented, is not to be regarded as wanting in reality; nor as a reality not accordant with the facts of a sound philosophy. The true God is universal; but the Adamic eye, or the eye which sees only from the stand-point of its own personal interests, can see God only under the law of its own perceptivity; and locates Him and circumscribes Him with the limitations, which are reflected from its own nature. And thus it is that the sinner sees God outwardly, because the fact of sinfulness is a decree of banishment, and it is a logical sequence of such a sight, that he not only sees, but fears and trembles.

2.—It should be remembered however, that God objective is not a different God, but differently seen; not located and limited in his distant place by his essential nature, but because He will not enter the selfish heart; and the selfish heart, therefore, can only see Him in the distance. But it is better, far better, that He should thus be seen, than not seen at all. It is the beginning of a new thought; it is the incipiency of searching and often terrible convictions; it is the opening and revelation in the soul of that which makes an unbelieving Felix tremble.

3.—Such is the God of the sinner, a God true to the relations under which the sinner sees him; seen at a distance, because He
is distant; seen in exclusion, because He is excluded; seen in anger, because it is right and just that He should be angry. But under the appliances of new truths and such influences as God can exercise consistently with the sinner’s freedom, and especially in connection with his mediatorial manifestations, He begins to present himself in accordance with the sinner’s altered mental position and wants, in the attributes of forgiveness, mercy and love. He expands to the mental vision just in proportion as the mental vision enlarges itself to perceive. And in this expansion by the laws of spiritual insight, He comes nearer and nearer, till at last instead of being excluded and kept at a distance, He begins to enter and take up his abode in the soul itself, and to find his locality, not as a God afar off, but as a real dweller in the sacred and spiritual home of holy thoughts and holy dispositions. It is in harmony with the doctrine of these statements, that the late Dr. Payson, of Maine, in speaking of his personal experience, says, “the Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as He approached.” And when God has thus changed his position from God outward in the heavens to God inward in the Spirit, we have a rational and to some extent satisfactory explanation of the expression “God subjective;”—in other words, a God interior, a God in psychical possession, a God dwelling in the soul.

There is therefore, a foundation for the terms Objective and Subjective in religion, although they sound somewhat crude and inharmonious to an Anglo-Saxon ear; and they are terms which have a real and substantial significancy; word-symbols of great and essential religious facts, though not facts which are realized at the same period in the mind’s history; and which are harmonized with each other by the adjustment of additional facts and additional relations.

4.—There is an incidental topic which seems to merit a brief notice. The statement is found in certain philosophical speculations, though sometimes appearing merely in the form of a suggestion, that the subjective experience, when carried to its highest results, requires and necessitates the “identification of the subject and object, of the worshipper and the worshipped;” in other words, that man in becoming sanctified, or as it is sometimes expressed “
divinized” through the presence and reigning power of the Holy Ghost, ceases to be man. But this view, which would readily be accepted in the doctrines of Pantheism, has the aspect, to say the least, of being a hasty and erroneous generalization; leading to injurious and fatal results. It is the confounding of identity of nature with identity of forms, attributes and relations. The sunbeam is not the same with the sun; the drop of water is not the same with the ocean; the morning zephyr is not the same thing with the wild, sweeping whirlwind. Everywhere, in all the realms of nature, we find the same essentiality of nature, combined with differences of manifestation and relations, which divide that essential oneness, that divinely central and inseparable brotherhood, into distinct and beautiful and permanent individualisms. Paul did not cease to be Paul, because he asserted and asserted truly, that Christ lived in him. The possession of a divine nature, which is the duty and the privilege of every one, does not make him a Deity; which, notwithstanding the ingenious speculations of the ancient Hindoos, or of the Neo-Platonic Alexandrine schools, or of their more modern followers, seems to the truly Christian mind, not only adverse to the Scriptures, but both a philosophical and physical impossibility. Let it be understood and remembered, that diversity of life is as much a truth of the universe as essentiality of life; and angels, and all holy beings who may reach that high stature and glory of existence, will be angels still. Absorption into God, as a permanent and universal result, would be the cessation and death of God himself; whose very element and essentiality of life, is its tendency to out-flowing and manifested communication.