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Growth of the Idea of God.

1.—It is difficult to exaggerate the importance which is to be attached to a correct idea of God, considered as the embodiment and the personality of the essential living element. If our views on other points should be found to be correct but should prove incorrect here, the error would be likely to vitiate and weaken everything else.

2.—And the reason is, that men will almost necessarily fashion themselves, in their principles and in their practice, into the image of God, as that image exists in their minds. Accordingly in adopting a false conception of God, if they thus substitute to themselves as an object of love and imitation, an unholy or satanic being instead of the true God, it will be found, that in their highest aspirations and efforts, they will only aim and labor to make themselves evil and satanic, instead of aspiring to a truly holy or divine nature. If for instance, the God of a people is Moloch,—a conception of God which authorizes and requires extreme cruelty—it will be found that the people, assimilating themselves to their conception of what is divine, will adopt and perpetuate the infamous cruelties, whatever they may be which their god approves.

The account of systems of worship, and of the various and numerous gods, which men have adored in various ages of the world and in different places, constitute a deeply interesting but most painful chapter in human history. The early portions of biblical history abound in facts and allusions to which we now refer. The Scriptures make frequent mention of the idolatrous worship of the nations, that originally inhabited Palestine and the countries in its vicinity. Moloch was a god of the Canaanites and the Phænicians. References are made to the worship of this cruel deity in Jeremiah 7:31, 32; 19:6–14; in Isaiah 30:33, and also in the second book of Kings 23:10. Baal also, so often mentioned in the Bible, was one of the deities of the Phænicians and was worshipped especially at Tyre. Human sacrifices were sometimes offered to this god; but less frequently than to Moloch. Baal-Peor was a god or goddess of the Moabites. Another of the Moabitish deities is mentioned in the Scriptures under the name of Chemosh, Numbers 21:29, Jeremiah 48:7, 13. The calf which is mentioned in Exodus 32:4, 5, and the two calves erected by Jeroboam in the cities of Dan and Bethel, were evidently made in imitation of the Egyptian deities, the Apis worshipped at Memphis and the Muevis at Heliopolis. In some parts of Egypt, the region in the neighborhood of the ancient Sycopolis, the wolf was an object of worship. The northern nations of Europe, those in particular inhabiting the region of the modern Denmark and Sweden, formed their idea of God by the deification of the warrior. Their highest ideal of man was the man of violence and of blood; and the being, that was conceived by them as filling most completely this ideal, by violence and bloodshed, was their God. His name was Odin. His residence was in the city of Misgard. His palace was Valhalla. Odin was the god of battles. The souls of heroes who had fallen in battle, ascended to the highest places in the celestial city;—renewing around the halls of Valhalla the pleasures of mimic war, and drinking the Scandinavian nectar, from vessels formed from the skulls of their enemies. The adventures of Odin are found in the Odda and Voluopa. The sword of Odin and the great hammer of Thor, may be accepted as the appropriate symbols of the early northern deity;—the creation of imbruted intellects and ferocious hearts, and which reacted upon its own source, and in its turn consolidated and established revenge and inhumanity.

The question now returns, what is God? What is the idea which we may properly and truly attach to Him? And we remark in the first place, that the God whom the holy heart loves is not a limited or human form, — such as the human mind in its weakness is apt to frame and adopt; — a form seated somewhere high in the heavens, occupying some elevated chair of state, and holding in his hand the scepter or sword of authority. This undoubtedly, is an improvement of that low and demoralizing belief, which finds him embodied in the lowest of the brute animals, or which locates him in an idol made of wood or stone; although it is still a conception of God, which differs from this very low one, more in
degree than in nature. Such a limited and formal conception of God — no matter how dignified and venerable the mental image under which he is represented — is at variance with the letter and the spirit of the Bible; and compared with the true conception of the Infinite Mind, is low, materialistic, and unsatisfying.

3.—The God whom the holy soul loves, is not the mere abstract idea of God. For although we may and do form such an abstract idea, yet it should be remembered, that the object for which the idea stands, is not a mere abstraction like the idea which represents it, but is something positive and real. Nor can we in consequence of our limited and finite nature, love God even as an infinite positive Being, unless we at the same time make him present in his works, and love him and worship him in his works.

The true God is God present, living, operating or in a word
incarnate, in the universe of things; not identical with it, but wrapping the universality of created existences about Him as the clothing of his life, and embodying himself most distinctly and fully, in that which has the greatest receptivity of the Divine; and therefore becoming more and more fully incarnated in man, in proportion as he progresses in the divine life, and can say, Christ is within me.

Now with such a God and thus received, it is easy to see, what a change must soon take place in the affairs of the world. If man could in any way be led fully to believe, that his brother-man is a manifestation of God, that the Divine is in him and hovers over him and around him,—always to some extent and always endeavoring to incarnate itself more and more,—would it be possible for him to treat his fellow-man as he has done; to cast him into dungeons, to tear him with pincers, to burn him in the flames, to smite him and crush him in bloody wars? Would it be in his thought and his nature, thus to smite and destroy man, as the history of the world shows that he has done, if he could be led to the truth of the divine locality, and understood, that God could and would not be separated from man? Truly recognizing God as existent in humanity, would it be possible for him to hold his brother man in slavery or to maltreat him and injure him in any way whatever? And reverencing God also in woman, could he make her the slave of all servile drudgeries, brutalizing her body through the brutalization of the intellect and the heart, and through long ages, as he has done, causing her to droop her head in sadness and to shed tears of blood? It is obvious what great and glorious results would follow from the adoption of a true idea of God, not only concerning man and woman, but also concerning the beast of the field and the fowls of the air.