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settlers of Greece and Rome worshipped an invisible deity. But they had also an innumerable list of gods and goddesses. The many must adore something definite. In speculation a few of the ancient Persians held to a supreme Mind; yet most of them paid tribute to creation instead of the Creator. Side by side with polytheism and dualism existed that simple monotheism which Abraham and his family went out of Chaldea to establish, and Moses and his people went out of Egypt to
The Jews were not pure Theists as their history shows. It required severe laws to keep them loyal to Jehovah. Adoration tended to degradation, and required a perpetual struggle and terrible sanctions to support it. The conception of the Unrevealed and Incomprehensible is not an easy or common attainment. In individuals and nations the imagination is active before the reason.
It is now believed and taught by some that monotheism was the first, as it is the last, stage of theology. If so, it must have been held in a very indefinite form. Perhaps a figure like this will best illustrate the probable process of thought. A person untrained in the mechanical arts, looking at the working of a complicated machine, might imagine at first it was a huge animal all alive. After more knowledge, and a more particular examination of its numerous parts, he might think each spring, wheel, cog, belt, lever, &c., moved by a force of its own. Then, as he learned still more, he would at last discover that all the motions were a unit, connected by one mind, nnd worked by one power.
Creation is essentially a unit, and we naturally seek for a unity of cause in all the operations of the world. Perhaps the true conception of God is both one and manifold. He is a spiritual rather than a numerical unity; as union is of the heart more than of the brain. The root of all being is one. In all religions there has been a tendency towards unity. The good is one, and can be but one. Divided it could not be, and stand. It can have but one source, and not a multitude of sources. Everywhere and forever it is the same quality,
the one centre of light and life. This is a high grade of religious thought. The moral was the last to be discovered, recognized, and prized. The conflict between right and wrong is deeper than the war of the elements, and more significant. The impulse to defy the stake and to bear the cross for the sake of the truth, declares to the soul the Deity from which that truth is derived.
In learning God morally man cannot go much beyond himself; he cannot wholly escape his daily life; he must rise on his own thoughts. God is prior to all argument; He is inferred in premise and proposition ere He is thought out in proof and conclusion. He exists to the soul by self-demonstration. Not so much his world as his moral offspring are the sign of his being. God and man are identical in spirit. When we speculate about him we must keep close to our ideal perfection. The incarnation shows the divine and the human as belonging to the same family. Theology grows up from simple childish prayers to deepest metaphysical abstractions. Spiritual growth unfolds a correct Theism. The belief of an age is fashioned and controlled by its culture; as the thought of the child is modified and rectified by the wisdom of the man. As one lesson after another is learned, childish systems and creeds are dropped or transformed.
It has been thought that it invalidates theology to hold that it was slowly evolved out of mental and soul growth. The objection must give way. We know much that our ancestors did not know at all. Athanasius, Arius, Calvin, Servetus, Channing, Ballou, were each striving to realize their best ideal Deity. All inquiring, devout souls have helped to know God. It is a lesson all may study, and never wholly master, for no one can know God perfectly, till he is as perfect as God.
Forgiveness of Sin: Its Philosophy, Incidents and Application.
It has been said with sententious brevity, and repeated in various accents of parrotry, that "the world moves"! Not the great globe alone, with its ceaseless revolutions, and its perpetual flux and reflux of events for the web of physical history, but the innumerable dwellers upon its surface, having intelligence, or instinct, or merely the lowest grade of organic vitality, are all in the same condition, in the whirl of unceasing change. Revolutions of thought and opinion keep equal pace with the physical changes of nature. Philosophy has always had its vicissitudes and revolutions; and even Theology has not blushed to throw off its outward burden, and array itself in fresher and more beautiful garments. Compelled by popular demand, it has yielded with apparent grace to what it could not resist. But in the boiling and surging of transformation, reproductions often occur. Old opinions are revived with gilded plumage and more attractive manner.
Our own Church, not yet passed its summer verdure, is borne equally into the vortex of change. It cannot, and should not, form an exception to the common law. Sad would be its day and its fate, if it should settle down into a mere standing pool, unaffected by change, and unagitated by the tidal waves and the heavings of the great ocean. Without growth, progress, improvement, it can never reach perfection, or touch the splendid acme of its mission.
The philosophy of forgiveness has not escaped the boiling current. It has been alike subjected to the inexorable law of change. The old theory may remain comparatively undisturbed in its secure lodgment of fortified creeds; but it has lost its power over the great heart of humanity. It lies silent and concealed beneath the drapery of ancient formulas, ready to burst into fresh activity whenever opportunity presents. It supposes a debt which sinners owe to divine justice a debt of punishment which eternity can never liquidate. It sup
poses a substitute, said to have suffered and made an ample and acceptable satisfaction for its payment to the full amount; and yet to millions on millions of poor humanity that payment is but a tantalizing shadow. It is never to be applied for their release. They are doomed to suffer an utter alienation and interminable punishment for the very debt which their substitute has paid for them to the last farthing. They are thus irrevocably cut off from all pardon and all hope of penitence and peace. On such a theory, even to those who do receive its benefits, there can be no possible room or demand for forgiveness. That act being the gift of unpurchased and unmerited favor can have no place in the divine administration. The whole affair becomes a sort of mercantile arrangement of debt and demand. Where the debt is paid or the penalty suffered to the full amount by the substitute, the way is open really for sinners to demand, in the name of justice, a full and free discharge from all claims without the grace of pardon.
An old writer has said, "Pardon is the act of forgiving an offender, or removing his guilt, that the punishment due to it may not be inflicted." No punishment can be due to individual guilt, after a full satisfaction of divine justice by the suffering of the substitute. If, as old creeds assert, "the offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual," what further claim can be made upon any sinner? Penalty is uttterly taken away, and any further infliction, for any sin whatsoever, becomes an enormous injustice, and forgiveness is turned to a shadow. There is no ground, reason, or necessity for its exercise. The removal of guilt could have no force in preventing the infliction of a punisment already inflicted on a substitute. That old theory therefore has no redeeming feature. It is simply and solely a denial of any true forgiveness, and by its pretenses becomes a fraud on the government of God.
Our own Church has adopted a different theory and stands perhaps on a safer basis. In the words of a distinguished
writer, "God forgives sin by overpowering it with kindness and thus destroying or taking it away, and by a consequent re-instatement of the sinner in his former position as if he had never sinned. To forgive iniquity is to regard it as not having been committed, to remember it no more." This is perhaps the substance, as surely it is at least a partial expression, of our own theory. But in reference to the subject there seems a great deficiency or lack of clearness in our theological enunciations. Possibly we need a clearer and more exhaustive exposition of the whole question. Very few of our theologians have entered the holy temple with one great sweep of thought and of pen for its elucidation. Nor must such an elucidation be expected, as surely it cannot be attempted, in this paper. All that can be attempted is to offer suggestionspossibly in the right direction, possibly in the wrong-for others to examine and contest, or approve. All efforts heretofore have left the question in comparative obscurity. What scientific thought can be drawn from the phrase, “God forgives sin by overcoming it with kindness?" "Sin is a transgression of the law." It is therefore a mental and moral action of certain faculties of the soul. When such action is completed, the sin of necessity ceases. How then can the completed act be overcome with kindness?
Consequences may follow, and do indeed invariably follow every sinful act, as results ensue from all human action,results manifested in a changed condition, which often proves by no means productive of purity and peace. Every transgression bears its immediate and inevitable burden of guilt. But guilt is only the sad consciousness of the changed condition of the soul, causing regret, fear, suffering. Repeated sin may create a tendency or aptitude in certain faculties for its further repetition. But such aptitude is not in itself a sin. There can be no sin except by the repetition of the act. Guilt following sin may continue long after the sin ceases. It may earry its burden of regret and suffering far into the future world; but even thus it can hardly be regarded as itself a sin. Repeated sin may change a natural susceptibility into an in