Delivered by DAVID SCULL, time and place unknown.
Scull, David. Union With God in Thought and Faith: Reflections on the Enlargement of Religious Life Through Modern Knowledge. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1908.
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part 4: The 20th Century.
Prior to the recent past, there was, as we know, no recognized place amongst us, for the earnest logical thought of trained minds in assisting the growth of the life Godward, other than that which dealt purely with the moral and redemptive relations of the soul to God and Christ.
The true sphere of the spiritual life was believed to be confined to the will and the affections, in distinction from the activities of the mind. The corporate judgment of the Society continued loyal to that conception of truth, and of a right qualification for the ministry of the Gospel, which was contained in the challenge thrown down by George Fox to the religious sentiment of his day, with which we are familiar: "The Lord showed me, that being bred at Oxford, or Cambridge, was not enough to qualify men to be ministers of Christ."
Nothing has occurred since then to invalidate the essential truth of this statement. The history of "Quakerism" is conclusive evidence of the realization of the divinely promised all-sufficiency of the spirit of Christ for teaching and for guidance .in the ministry of the Word when its aid is sought and relied upon. The ministry so exercised and the concurrent operation of the same Inward Light in moulding the daily life of the membership, resulted jointly in a good degree of approximation to the Gospel standard. This fact has been distinctly recognized by the Church at large.
I wish thus clearly to bear my testimony to the value of that reliance upon the guidance and teaching of the ~Holy Spirit, which has been the distinctive characteristic of Quakerism from its origin. I do so because a recognition of the important relation of the mind to the spiritual life is now unavoidable, in considering the new outlook of religious thought and its relation to the past. It is, however, only such added use of the mind, as Barclay and Pennington, if alive, would approve of.
It is undeniable that a great change is in progress in religious thought, originating mainly in new conceptions of God, with new views of the relation between God and man flowing therefrom.
The significance of this change is universally recognized, and the sympathy and opposition aroused by it are very positive. Some are repelled by it, and believe that it could add nothing to the peace they already enjoy, in faithful adherence to the teachings early implanted in godly homes. With these, the authority of the teaching at the mother's knee outweighs, "The testimony of the rocks."
Many earnest minds, however, have been brought under much embarrassment, being both interested and repelled. They have been impressed by the presentation of familiar truth in new light, or of newly alleged truth, bearing upon the life of faith. They can neither accept nor deny the truth of what is presented, nor can they dismiss the interest it arouses; an interest distressingly heightened by the consciousness that confirmation of that which thus appeals to them seems to threaten the foundations upon which their faith has built.
It is to this class especially that these reflections are addressed upon the important question, which probably expresses their mental attitude, viz.: Does the acceptance of the new thought's teaching require us to break with the past, and turn our backs upon important features Of the old theology with its cherished associations?
I have much sympathy with this difficulty. Before I could see relief from it for myself, I felt there must be some point of view from which the real harmony of all could be seen. Should we not expect essential harmony between all that is really the truth of God ? Can that which the microscope reveals about God's nature and His handiwork in creation, really conflict with that which the soul has experienced of the knowledge of God in another region of life?
In reflecting upon this subject in the light of the unity of all truth, a few considerations presented themselves to my mind, which I found to be helpful to myself. I have thought, therefore, that as they might be helpful also to others, it would be suitable on this occasion to offer them as, "Reflections upon the Relation of Past and Present Day Religious Thought."
Under the operation of what has been termed the basic "law of progressive intelligence," it is evident that in the past half century, an important stage was reached in the onward progress of the human mind. Self-consciousness in man, that unique attribute which differentiates him from all else in creation, was more insistently searching into the true character of its own nature and its relation to creation.
By the new light upon the nature of God and man in which it is our privilege now to live, we are getting much insight into some of the mysteries of life, including the problems of "free will," and of the existence of evil, and how the latter could be permitted by a God infinite both in power and in love; problems utterly insoluble so long as the thoughts of men were controlled by anthropomorphic conceptions of God. In this light upon the past, we can understand the meaning of man's age-long wrestling with the mysteries which surrounded him, as with "clouds and thick darkness." We see that the struggle for fuller light, was, in reality, the effort of the latent and potentially Divine in man to come into conscious realization.
Therefore, the unrest which pervades the religious world to-day is not, when rightly viewed, an adequate cause for the anxiety with which it is regarded by many. On the contrary, it is really a ground for encouragement. It is simply the ferment which attends and evidences the introduction of new life. It means, that the conceptions of the past on some important points are no longer able to satisfy the growing requirements of the soul. Especially does it mean, that the note of the infinite has been heard by man and its touch has impressed the depths of his soul, that temple wherein dwells the "High and Holy One Who inhabiteth Eternity."
Hence, those who are consciously in the light of modern religious thought see in it a self revelation of God, second only in importance to that which attended the introduction of the Gospel dispensation. Yet it differs therefrom distinctly in the fact, that the new light of the purpose to accept the Divine will as the rule of life, it becomes the essential of salvation in its simplest aspect, as the continuance of life beyond the grave. With the great majority of the members of the Church, this, the moral relation to God, is the only one which characterizes their spiritual life. The progress of religious thought, and the subjects arising out of the relations of faith and science, so interestingly presented in contemporary religious literature, has, for them, but little attraction.
In view of the warning furnished by infidels, and often, as supposed by men of science, it is not surprising that the feeling should have prevailed in the past to a considerable extent, that mental research into the mysterious, and, as assumed, the unknowable nature of God, was fraught with danger to the faith and peace of the trustful follower of Christ.
Yet the first commandment, whose importance was so strongly stated by our Saviour, cannot be really fulfilled without a knowledge of God with the mind.
There is a manifest distinction in the different forms of the love of God enjoined by the first commandment. One relates to the love with the mind, or the intellectual nature. The others relate to the affections and the will, or the emotional nature. The latter, which is the love with the "heart, and soul, and strength," involves only ordinary mental exercise. The former, however, or love with the mind, requires earnest sustained thought.
As the love of God with the mind is not essential to salvation, it is manifestly the less important of the several forms of love noted in the commandment. While it has an important place in helpful reaction upon the wilt and the affections, yet it is as something added. By its own essential limitations it can, indeed, be truly experienced only subsequent to that all important knowledge of God, which comes through the emotional nature by repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The only condition of spiritual life and salvation is loyalty to Christ,--the faithful following of the Light. This, the "way," is so plain and simple, that "the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein." Yet not inconsistent with this is the assertion, that without the love of God with the mind, the first commandment cannot be fulfilled.
For it is manifest that the command to love God with the mind (not merely to admire and love the manifestations of His power and wisdom in the visible creation), when joined with the command to love Him also with the "heart and soul and strength," can mean nothing else than to love Him intelligently, that is with the mind, as distinct from the love which is exercised through the emotional nature; and, to love God with the mind, there must be a knowledge of-Him with the mind.
Two broadly marked types of Divine sonship result from the love and knowledge of God in the two general forms above stated, and the distinction has its analogy in earthly relations. We can imagine a ruler, of large power and estate, with two sons. The affectionate and dutiful relation of each to the father is all that a parent could wish. One son, however, develops a mental activity and interest in all the affairs of his father's position. It is manifest that an added bond, a bond of intelligent sympathy, would exist between the father and that son, while the essential filial relation, that of love, would be complete with both.
The necessity for the knowledge and love of God with the mind, for the fulfilment of the first commandment, brings to view the importance of the revelation of God now in progress, Whereby such a conception of Him is presented, as makes possible a love with the mind.
Not until very recent years was there any recognized conception of God, other, be it noted, than that growing out of His moral government--upon which the mind would care to dwell. It was unintelligent, confused and contradictory. The Divine attributes of omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence were acknowledged because they were the teachings of Scripture. But their real significance and any intelligent perception of their relation to man, or in general to Divine creative power in contrast, that is, with belief in creation by Divine fiat,--all this was controlled and shaped, or more accurately, it was confused and practically stultified by the crystallized thought of centuries. But it could not have been otherwise, for there was really nothing available for a constructive thought of God with which to replace the crude ideas of Him, springing from human experience.
Nor could this be corrected until through the researches of science in many directions, exact and cumulative knowledge was obtained of the ways of God in creation, and light was thereby thrown on the Divine nature.
As a consequence of this knowledge gained by science and interpreted by faith, we now have a consistent, constructive, philosophic idea of God. It is one which addresses itself acceptably both to faith and to reason. It is a conception which finds in the Divine immanence (hitherto irreconcilable by the human mind with the Divine transcendence), a revelation which invests life with new meaning and inexpressible richness. The soul which has really entered into the light thus revealed cannot dismiss the truth from which it flows. The vision of God thus brought to view cannot be unseen. It is described, it seems to me, by the term, the philosophy of the Divine.
The conception of God which has been presented, joined with the present-day view of the work of Christ in man's salvation, contrasts strongly with what we would hear at the street corner upon the same subjects, where the "Salvation Army" lass is earnestly appealing to a little company, representing "the man in the street."
We know the form of the Gospel message we would hear. It would be substantially in accord with the teaching of the medieval painting referred to below, i.e., the propitiation of God by the sacrifice of Christ.
The contrast centers around the supremely interesting subject of salvation, and brings into view impressively, and as nothing else can, the radical character of the change in thought which marks the present period in religious history. The full significance of the contrast is worthy of most careful consideration.
During the last few decades thoughtful minds have been rejecting, as inconsistent with the teaching of Christ, any view of the Atonement which is based upon the existence of anger in God, or upon His riced of a judicial equivalent in satisfaction of Divine justice for the violation of law.
And yet, that is the form of the Gospel proclaimed at the street corner, and still showing its converting, gathering power. It is undeniably the main influence by which the progress of the Church thus far has been attained. By it has been the momentum developed, which apparently assures the ultimate subjection of the world to the Cross of Christ. Thus the Gospel has proved itself, "the power of God unto salvation," notwithstanding its association in Christian consciousness with a conception of God unworthy of Him, and repellent to all reasonable ideas of a Divine Fatherhood.
The confusion of thought thus resulting, and agitating the religious world, is traceable to two influences. The principal cause arises from a disregard of the distinction between the moral and the intellectual in relation to the spiritual life. Connected with this,--and growing out of the advance of knowledge, a secondary cause is found in man's capacity by nature for a dual consciousness toward some facts of the spiritual as well as the physical world. This arises through his actual relation to the finite and his potential relation to the infinite.
Some facts of the physical universe are apprehended very differently according as we are impressed by their apparent or their actual relation to us. To Copernicus we are indebted for the discovery of the difference between that which is constructively true or relative truth~ and truth which is ultimate or absolute. The most familiar illustration of this dual sense, as regards the physical universe, is seen in the daily rising of the sun. We say the sun rises. Constructively, this is true. Absolutely, it is not true,--for the sun is stationary. Its apparent rise is caused by our change of position with the revolving earth.
In the spiritual world man has a correspondingly dual thought or consciousness of God, according to whether his apprehension of Him is in the light of relative or absolute truth.
Under the influence of conscious alienation because of sin man believes that God is averse from him and angry. In time he sees this to have been only constructively true, or a relative truth; the actual and absolute truth being that God never was angry with him nor needed to be turned toward him in love. Pardon for sin has ever existed,--the only condition of its enjoyment by man being his entrance into a consciousness of it through a change of heart and will. It is a change of his attitude, and not a change in God.
Recurring to the principal cause of the existing confusion, it may be stated more fully as a disregard of the distinction between the knowledge of God by the moral sense, through the exercise of the will and the emotions, and that added knowledge of God which is obtainable by the intellectual faculty. Both of these forms of the knowledge of God have their distinct spheres of exercise. While each has an influence that the other cannot supply, and both are essential for the complete fulfilment of "the first and great commandment," yet it is evident that until very recently only the knowledge of God by the moral sense had any part in man's spiritual development. Nothing had been contributed by purely mental research into the nature of God.
Nor was there apparently any need for the philosophic knowledge of Divine things in order to
realize the primary purpose of the Gospel. For the Gospel has both a primary and an ultimate
purpose. The truth taught for all time by our Saviour, as also by the first commandment, has its
deep as well as its simple meaning. Christ's teaching was, and still is, constant and unchanging in
its appeal to the moral sense. Joined with the influence of His personality, it was effective in
establishing, among those with whom He mingled, the simple faith, whose control honestly
accepted in daily life and conduct, resulted in conscious sonship to God in Him. This continuing
influence and its still increasing results constitute the primary purpose of the Gospel. Yet that
same Gospel teaching has now a deeper meaning which was inaccessible to those to whom it was
first addressed. Seen in the light of the present philosophic knowledge of the Divine, that
teaching makes an appeal to the spiritually intelligent mind of the most intensely interesting
nature, involving as it does the relation of the finite human mind to the infinite universal mind. An
entirely new conception of this relation was made possible when the idea of creation by Divine fiat
was replaced by the scientific truth that all forms of life, animate and inanimate, are orderly
expressions of the infinite universal mind, with which man only can enter consciously into