CHRIST IN CREATION
Theology is a progressive science, not because the truth itself changes, but because human apprehension and statement of the truth improve from age to age. Much depends upon the point of view. Augustine and Calvin looked at doctrine from the divine side, Arminius and Wesley from the human side. Our age has the advantage of a point of view which includes all the good in both of these, while it excludes their errors— we look at truth in its relation to Christ, in whom the divine and the human are indissolubly united. Theology assumes its best historic form as it becomes Christocentric and recognizes that Christ is the truth of God and the life of man.
In furtherance of this salutary movement of our age, which has in it the elements of confession and worship as well as of scientific interest and progress, I desire to speak of Christ in Creation. I am persuaded that Christ's work in human salvation cannot be rightly understood, unless we first consider his relation to the universe of which we form a part. The theme which I am to discuss is very infrequently treated. Some of the views I present may be thought new; but the unfolding of the subject will certainly enlarge our conceptions of the unsearchable riches of Christ and convince us more fully than ever before that in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
For the sake of brevity much that might profitably be discussed at length must needs be assumed. I will only premise, therefore, that the doctrine of the Trinity is taken for granted, as well as the peculiar office of the second person of the Trinity as the revealer of God. In the divine Being there are three distinctions, which are so described to us in Scripture that we are compelled to conceive of them as persons. The second of these divine persons is called the Word of God, and it is intimated that he constitutes the principle of objectification, consciousness, intelligence within the divine nature, and the principle of expression, manifestation, revelation, by which God is made known to other beings than himself. Christ, then, is the Reason, Wisdom, and Power of God in exercise. The Father by himself is the divine nature latent, unexpressed, unrevealed. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." The temporal manifestation rests upon an eternal relation in God's being. In eternity Christ, the Word, is God's truth, love, and holiness, as made objective and revealed to himself. In time Christ, the Word, is God's truth, love, and holiness, as expressed, manifested, and communicated to finite creatures.
Since Christ is the principle of revelation in God, we may say that God never thought, said, or did anything except through Christ. What is more commonly recognized as true with regard to providence and redemption, is also true with regard to creation—it is the work of Christ. "All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that was made." *' In him were all things created, in the heavens and
upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist." Christ is the originator and the upholder of the universe. In him, the reason of God, the universe once existed as a merely intelligible and ideal world—a cosmos noetos, to use the words of Philo. In him, the power of God, the universe became an actual, real thing, perceptible to others; and in him it consists, or holds together, from hour to hour. The steady will of Christ constitutes the law of the universe and makes it a cosmos instead of a chaos, just as his will brought it into being in the beginning. Creation, then, is the externalization of the divine ideas through the will of Christ.
I have grounded creation in the doctrine of the Trinity. I wish now to show how Christ's creatorship saves us from a pernicious form of modern idealism. The Trinity is the organization of faculty in God. It provides for the fullest self-consciousness and the fullest spiritual life: As the life of the nervous system, the life of the circulatory system, and the life of the digestive system all go to make up the one life of the human body, so the consciousness of the Father, the consciousness of the Son, and the consciousness of the Holy Spirit all go to make up the one self-consciousness of God. There is free divine self-determination. It follows that the universe is not a merely necessary evolution of divine ideas. JZhrist is the power as well as the wisdom of God. Subjective idealism regards God as mind or thought, but it does not take account of him as affection or will. It gives us a merely logical, but no real, existence. It cannot show how the thought-process ever results in actual being. And subjective idealism is equally powerless to explain the difference between thoughts and things, between the idea and its realization. It too narrowly conceives the all-embracing reality. In God there is a principle of will as well as a principle of reason. The scriptural doctrine of Christ furnishes us with an element which subjective idealism lacks. Christ is the reason of God, and as reason Christ has his eternal self-determinations. These constitute the plan of the universe. But the plan is not the building; decrees are not the universe. Executive volition is also necessary. And Christ is the will as well as the reason of God. He is not only wisdom but power. Creation is his free and sovereign act, turning ideas into realities, making objective what was only subjective before. While the plan of creation is the product of his reason, the actual world is the product also of his will.
But the moment we recognize Christ as the principle of self-consciousness and of self-determination in God, we clear ourselves from pantheism as well as from a will-less and soul-less idealism. ( God is above all things as well as in all things and through all things. This is what pantheism denies. It holds to God's immanence without qualifying this by God's transcendence. It regards God as exhaustively expressed in the universe. The physical law of conservation and correlation of forces is supposed to explain everything. The new is but a natural evolution from the old, or is another form of the old. Now we grant that evolution is a great ANTIDOTE TO PANTHEISM
truth, but we claim that it is only a half-truth. Unless there are reserves of power, there can be no progress. Evolution, if it is to proceed toward the better and not toward the worse, requires a power and a will over and above the process, a power and a will which communicate themselves to the system and reinforce it from time to time. Pantheism, having no such power or will to appeal to, can acknowledge no supernatural and no miraculous working of God. Nature is the living garment of the Deity, indeed; but the garment is a strait-jacket from which God cannot free himself, a very Nessus-shirt which consumes even while it manifests the deity of the wearer. The Scriptures furnish us with the antidote to this systematic identification of God with nature, by telling us that Christ is before all things and that in him all things consist. The universe is not self-existent or eternal; it began to be, a certain number of centuries ago. And it had its origin, as it has its subsistence from hour to hour, in the power and will of One who is as much above it as the thinker is above his thoughts or the agent above his acts.
And this brings me to notice the other defect of pantheism, the denial of any consciousness and will in God distinct from the consciousness and will of finite creatures. We may express this by saying that God comes to consciousness only in man, or by saying that man comes to consciousness only in God. It is all one; man's belief that he is a separate creature is an illusion. God is the only reality and the only cause. My intuition of freedom is a mistake also; in reality I only act out the universal will, and that will is not free. God and the universe are but opposite sides of the same great fact. The law of determinism applies in the sphere of mind just as the law of necessity applies in the sphere of matter. Nothing could possibly be but what is. How plain it is that such a system as this makes man a mere puppet or phantom, a product of forces over which he has no control. There is no freedom in God; there is no responsibility or sin or guilt in man. But Christ is the antidote to this system also. The model of all virtue is evidently free, and he convinces us of our freedom. Over against the personal God there are personal beings. God now has living subjects. A kingdom is possible, a kingdom of duty and love.
But what interpretation are we to put upon creation? It is the work of Christ; but what sort of work is it? I think we must admit that modern physics and psychology have rendered untenable certain modes of conception which our fathers held. Matter is not the blind, dead thing that it once was. Its qualities exist only for intelligence. We do not know it except in connection with the sensations which it causes. Atoms without force can do nothing; atoms without mind can be nothing. Matter, therefore, is spiritual in its nature. By this I do not mean that matter is spirit, but only that it is the living and continual manifestation of spirit, just as my thoughts and volitions are a living and continual manifestation of myself. It does not consist simply of ideas, for ideas, deprived of an external object and of an internal subject, are left suspended in the air. Matter exerts force, and is known only by the force which it exerts. But force is the product of will, working in rational ways, and will is an attribute of spirit. The system of forces which we call the physical
universe is the immediate product of the mind and will of God, and since Christ is the mind and will of God in exercise, Christ is the Creator and Upholder of the universe.
What is the design of the physical world? Simply to reveal God, to communicate God's ideas, to make known God's will. If things about us accomplish this result, they attain the end of their being. The inner constitution of matter is a thing of indifference. Even though the heavens were found to be essentially spiritual, they would all the more "declare the glory of God." All nature is a series of symbols setting forth the hidden truth of God. Since Christ is the only being who can reveal this truth, the world is virtually the thought of Christ, made intelligible by the constant will of Christ. Nature is the omnipresent Christ manifesting God to creatures. The sunset clouds are painted by his hand; the sun that lights those clouds is itself kindled by the Sun of Righteousness. When the storm darkens the sky, the Hebrew poet can leave out of mind all the intermediate agencies of moisture and electricity, and can say, "The God of glory thundereth." The "Crusaders' Hymn" rightly identifies this God of glory with Jesus Christ:
Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son!
Thee will I worship, thee will I honor,
Thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown.
And the Christian poet of later times expresses the instinct of the Christian heart and the teaching of Scripture when he says:
Earth has nothing sweet or fair,
Lovely forms or beauties rare.
But before my eyes they bring
Christ, of beauty source and spring.
Neither the system as a whole, nor any individual thing in the system, has the principle of its being in itself or can be understood by itself. We cannot explain the interaction between individual things unless they are all embraced within a unitary Being who constitutes their underlying reality. Motion cannot properly be transferred from one atom or one world to another. The energy of the second can be roused by the impact of the first only upon the condition that there is a common ground in which they both subsist. When Sir Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravitation, he discussed the question whether attraction was a pull or a push. How can the sun pull the earth toward itself, when the earth is ninety-two millions of miles away? How can a thing act where it is not? Modern physicists have explained the matter by suggesting that there may be an ether which fills the intervening space. But in order that this ether may communicate both the sun's attraction and the vibrations of light, it needs to be more tenuous than the subtlest gas, and yet more solid than the hardest steel. Such a medium is utterly inconceivable. Sir Isaac Newton himself favored the opposite view, viz, that attraction is a push instead of a pull. From each end of the line force is operating. But how can these forces work simultaneously, regularly, and rationally, unless a rational Being exerts them? What holds together the planets of the solar system? The Scriptures answer, "In him all things consist," or hold
together. One hand of Christ is on the sun and another hand of Christ is on the earth. His constant will gives life and stability and order to the universe.
His every word of grace is strong
As that which built the skies;
The voice that rolls the stars along
Spoke all the promises.
Philosophy has been trying for ages to solve the problem of knowledge. How can I be sure that my sense-perceptions correspond to objective facts? that there are other intelligent beings besides myself with whom I can communicate? that there is any such thing as truth apart from my individual notions of it? Here too the solution is Christ. We have seen that he is the principle of cohesion, of attraction, of interaction, in the physical universe. It is fitting that he who draws together and holds together the physical universe should also draw together and hold together the intellectual universe. There could be no knowledge by one individual of another individual unless both of them formed part of one system of things. Knowledge is not transferred from one man to another any more than motion is transferred from one planet to another. The mind is never passive in knowledge; it is always active. Its own powers must be awakened; it must see for itself. What I know must be distinct from myself, it is true. Even in knowing myself I must objectify. But at the same time there must be a bond between the knower and the known. "The two must be connected by some being which is their reality" and which constitutes the ground of their existence. And so we know in Christ, just as we live and move and have our being in him. He is not only the principle of communication between God and man, but also between man and the universe.
As the attraction of gravitation and the medium of knowledge are only other names for Christ, so Christ is the principle of induction, which permits us to argue from one part of the system to another. What we call the uniformity of nature, whether exhibited in the combining powers of the chemical elements, or in the general fact that like causes, whether physical or spiritual, produce like effects, is only the manifestation of an omnipresent mind and will. When I find one apple on the tree to be sour, I do not need to taste all the rest of the apples on that tree to know that they are sour also. The spectroscope tells me that the star Sirius has substances in common with our earth. A rational bond unites the most distant orbs of space. The universe is a thought; behind that thought is a mighty thinker, ami that thinker is Christ, the wisdom and the power of God. Now we can apply to Christ Plato's saying that "God geometrizes," and Joseph Cook's that "the laws of nature are the habits of God." Not only may we, with Bowne, declare that "the heavens are crystallized mathematics," but we may find in Christ the mathematician. Since he is himself the truth of God, as well as the revealer of it, the universe with all its law and rationality is Christ, just as much as your body, your face, your speech, are you. To use those words which seem so sublime, but which have come to have so little meaning to us, Christ "filleth all in all."
It would seem to follow, by logical necessity, that Christ is the principle of evolution. This great truth
has suffered at the hands of its own advocates, by being deprived of the complementary truth which is needed to give it rationality. Darwin was able to assign no reason why the development of living forms should be upward rather than downward, toward cosmos rather than toward chaos. Apart from the need of new energy to explain increase and progress, there is need of superintending and designing wisdom to bind past, present, and future together, and to make one age, either of palaeontological or of human history, the preparation and prophecy of a better age to come. The Duke of Argyll told Darwin that it seemed to him totally impossible to explain the adjustments of nature by any other agency than that of mind. "Well," said the great naturalist, "that impression has often come upon me with overpowering force;
but then, at other times, it all seems "And then
he passed his hands across his eyes, as if to indicate the passing of a vision out of sight. "It is a singular fact," says Frances Power Cobbe, "that whenever we find out how a thing is done, our first conviction seems to be that God did not do it." If Darwin had recognized Christ as the omnipresent life and law of the world, he would not have been obliged to pass his hands across his eyes in despair of comprehending the marks of wisdom in the universe. He who is "the same yesterday and to-day and for ever" is the only solution of the harmony of age with age, even as he is the only solution of the harmony of world with world. Why can there be an evolution that is rational, useful, progressive, and that combines general uniformity with occasional unique advances? John's Gospel gives us the answer, "That which hath come into being was life in him."
It is only Christ, furthermore, who gives moral unity to the system of things. Why am I bound to love my neighbor as myself? Because my neighbor is myself— that is, has in him the same life that is in me, the life of God in Christ. The brotherhood of man is the natural correlate of the fatherhood of God. The law of love and holiness is only the expression of the natural bond that unites the whole universe to the great source of its life and blessedness. I am bound to love myself because of what there is of God in me; I am bound to love my neighbor as myself because God's wisdom and will are manifested equally in him. So the Christ in whom all humanity is created, and in whom all humanity consists, holds together the moral universe, drawing all men to himself and so drawing them to God. Aye, he draws together all worlds as well as all men. Through him God "reconciles all things to himself, both things in heaven and things on earth." We may well address Christ, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews addresses him: "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom," or as our modern poet sings:
Mighty God, while angels bless thee,
May a mortal lisp thy name?
Lord of men, as well as angels,
Thou art eveiy creature's theme!
So we have a new argument for the existence of God. The old argument proceeded from effect to cause, and looked upon the great Artificer as creating a universe outside of himself, and then fashioning and directing it from without. That argument had the disadvantage of ARGUMENT FOR GOD'S EXISTENCE
not being able to show that the universe, at least so far as its substance is concerned, ever had a beginning. Hume said, with some irreverence, yet with some plausibility, "I never saw a universe made; did you?" And none could answer, "Yes." The new argument avoids this difficulty. It takes the analogy of the soul and its relation to the body. How do I know that my brother has a soul? I cannot see the soul, I cannot hear it, I cannot touch it. All I see, hear, or touch is physical. Yet, knowing myself as spirit, and knowing my body as a mere instrument of my spirit, I see in my brother's face and gestures, I hear in the tones of his voice, I feel in the warm grasp of his hand, the signs of a thinking, loving, willing soul, like my own. So the whole world of nature is a sign-language. The milky-way is God's sign-manual written across the heavens. I do not need to go back to the origin of nature to prove the existence of God, any more than I need to go back to my brother's birth to prove that there is a soul behind that kindly face of his. "Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge."
A manuscript of the Federal Constitution was so written that, when held at a distance, the shading of the letters and their arrangement showed the countenance of George Washington. Close at hand, the manuscript looked only like a copy of our fundamental law; viewed a few feet away, there seemed to shine through it the face of the Father of his Country. So the universe reveals God. Its laws and arrangements, narrowly inspected, have the aspect only of mechanism—you are lost amid its intricacies. But look at it more broadly, take it all in at a glance, and a marvelous impression of system, of mind, of wisdom, of benevolence, is made upon you. Through the whole, and in the whole, and back of the whole, is the living God, of whom nature is the constant expression.
This living God whom we see in nature is none other than Christ. Nature is not his body, in the sense that he is confined to nature. Nature is his body, in the sense that in nature we see him who is above nature, and in whom, at the same time, all things consist. This is the meaning of a famous passage in Robert Browning. Mrs. Orr, his biographer, says that the poet spoke to her in relation to his own life, and concluded by reading to her the Epilogue to "Dramatis Personae."
"It will be remembered," she continues, "that the beautiful and pathetic second part of the poem is a cry of spiritual bereavement, the cry of those victims of nineteenth century skepticism for whom incarnate Love has disappeared from the universe, carrying with it the belief in God. The third part attests the continued existence of God in Christ, as mystically present to the individual soul.
"That one face, far from vanish, rather grows
Or decomposes but to recompose.
Become my universe that feels and knows I
"'That face,' said Mr. Browning, as he closed the book, 'that face is the face of Christ. That is how I feel him.'"
With one qualification and proviso we may adopt the view of Robert Browning. Nature is an expression of the mind and will of Christ, as my face is an expression of my mind and will. Rhetorically, I can identify nature with Christ, just as I identify my face with myself. But, then, let us remember that behind and above my face is a personality, of which the face is but the partial NATURE MANIFESTS CHRIST
and temporary manifestation. And, in like manner, let us remember that nature is but the partial and temporary manifestation of the Christ who is not only in all things, but before all things and above all things.