In our examination of the words of St. Paul (2 Thess. ii, 4), where he speaks of the man of sin as "sitting in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God," and claiming Divine honour, we found reason to belive that the Apostle did not speak of a deification like that of the Roman emperors, but of one far higher, and resting upon a very different ground. This point we shall now consider in the light of what has been said of the current philosophical pantheism, and its influence upon the religious movements of our time.
In our examination of the tendencies of modern philosophy we have seen that all tend to deify man. As all roads were said of old to lead to Rome, so all present movements, social, political, religious, find their centre in humanity. Philosophy teaches man that he is Divine, and he is quite ready to believe it, and to act accordingly. Science, which shews the greatness of the universe, and which should teach him humility, only enlarges his conception of the greatness of the intellect which is able thus to search out Nature's mysteries. What eulogiums are daily pronounced upon the dignity and excellence of Humanity, and what unbounded possibilities of development are before it! If Science is able now to explain in large measure the universe, its origin, its laws, its evolution, what limit can be set to future possible discoveries? If Philosophy is competent to solve the problem of the Divine existence, and reconstruct the Godhead in thought, and define the law of its being, this itself gives proof of man's potential Divinity. It is upon the consciousness of this Divinity that the religion of the future must be founded.
The great obstacles to these tendencies to deify humanity lie in the facts of the creation of man with limited and defined powers; and of the Incarnation, as given in the Creeds, and held by the Church. Of creation we shall have another occasion to speak. As regards the Incarnation, it is obvious that so long as the absolute distinction between Christ and other men is held — " His two natures and one Person " — no man affirming that he is God, can be received by the Church. But this dualism of the two natures in one Person, which the Church does not attempt to reconcile, but accepts as a reality in Jesus Christ, is offensive to the philosophical pride which is not content till it has reduced all things to unity. It is willing, as we have already seen, to admit that He is Divine if all men are equally Divine. If we may say that God is incarnate in all as in Him, or that all partake of the Divine-human element manifested in the Son, then all are alike the sons of God; and the distinction of Jesus Christ is made one of degree, not of kind.
These two forms of neo-Christianity, although differing widely as to the Person of Christ, agree in the result that man is essentially one with God. In the first, Christ is Divine, not as the eternally pre-existing Son of God "made man" by His birth of the Virgin, but as simply man through the immanence of God in Him. God being immanent in all men, all are Divine in the same sense in which He was Divine. In the second, we have in the Son an eternal, " archetypal" man, of whose Divine humanity we are partakers, and are thus brought into unity with Deity. We are, as said by one, "consubstantial with Him, and so consubstantial with God."
It is the deposition of the Lord from His place as the One Incarnate Son through the assertion of the incarnation of God in the race, which removes the first great obstacle in the way of the reception of the Antichrist; for it is as the representative of our common Divine humanity that he will demand the homage of the world. By a belief in a general incarnation, as affirmed by one school of the neo-Christians, Christ is no more God-man as to His nature than all are God-men.
If one may suppose this belief to have spread widely in Christendom, the questions must arise: To whom, as the best representative of our Divine humanity, shall men pay their homage — to one who lived many centuries ago, when humanity was comparatively undeveloped, or to one of our own day,— the product of its highest culture? Why, it is now asked by not a few, should Jesus of Nazareth stand forever as the great example of the Incarnation? Can we affirm that the fulness of our Divinity has been realized in any one man, or at any past time? Are we not rather to expect a higher realization of it in some one to come? If humanity is under the law of dynamic evolution, or if a Divine Principle is ever developing itself in men, must there not be a continual upward religious progress? We cannot, therefore, believe that a man of the distant past is to be regarded as the final term of man's evolution, or the highest manifestation of God. Whether Christ or another will hold the higher place as the Divine man, is a matter which time only can decide. But the strong presumption is that we are to look forward rather than backward, and that it is unreasonable to regard any religious or moral type of the past as perfect and unsurpassable.
It is also to be remembered that in rendering homage to one who appears as the rival of Christ, men will not do homage to one who differs in his nature from themselves, and superior to them; but to their own nature as embodied in him. In exalting him, they exalt themselves. Yet the community of nature does not forbid that they recognize in him one in whom is a larger measure of Divinity, and so capable of taking the place of a supreme religious leader. While distinguished above others, yet is he in closest sympathy with them. He is not, like the Christ of the Church, a superhuman being coming down from heaven, and returning thither, but a true son of man; nor does he stand in special relations to a few, as does the Head of the Church, but is the representative of universal humanity.
It is, indeed, hard for many reared from childhood under the influence of the Christian faith, but now accepting more or less clearly the pantheistic theory of God's continuous self-development in humanity, or of its continuous evolution, to set Christ aside as its highest realization, and to believe that any one higher than He can come. Yet, this logical conclusion is more and more forcing its way, and demanding assent. Of this we may see many signs. The time may not be far distant when multitudes will say what a few now affirm: "It is a dishonour done to human nature to teach that in any man of the past it has readied its culmination." The path of humanity is upward and onward; the Divine element in it will manifest itself more and more, and we may not go back eighteen centuries to find the Ideal man.
Of the growing depreciation of Christ, and His rejection as the Ideal which we of to-day are to reverence and imitate, some proofs will be given later.
As illustrative of the present tendencies to deify humanity, and thus deny the special place of Christ, we give some extracts from representative writers; showing how rapidly these are preparing men's minds to receive the coming Antichrist. We begin with some writers who best represent logical Hegelian pantheism; and first with Strauss, taking the translations from Mill's " Mythical Interpretation ":
"The infinite Spirit is alone actual when He shuts himself up in finite spirits. . . The union of the Divine and human natures is real in an infinitely higher sense when I apprehend the whole of humanity as its subject of operation, than when I set apart a particular man as such. Is not the incarnation of God from eternity a truer thing than one in an exclusive point of time? . . Taken as residing in an individual Godman, the properties and functions which the Church doctrine ascribes to the Christ are inconsistent and self-contradictory; but in the idea of the race of men, they harmonize together. Humanity is the union of both natures, it is God made man, the Infinite manifesting itself in the finite. . . Humanity is the miracle-worker. . . It is the sinless one. . . It is that which dies and rises again, and ascends toward Heaven. Through faith in this Christ, and especially in His death and resurrection, is man justified before God. A dogmatic theology which, in handling the topic of Christ, rests in Him as an individual, is not dogmatic theology, but a sermon."
Thus, according to Strauss, the human race as a whole is the Godman — the Incarnate Son — the true Christ — its history is the Gospel. It comes from God, and returns to Him; ever dying to the old, and living to the new; making progress upward forever. Individuals die, but the race lives; this is the eternal life.
The race being thus the ideal Christ, we ask what is the significance and importance of the historical Christ? It is only this, that " by means of His personality and destiny, He became the occasion of bringing the union of the Divine and human into universal consciousness; the uncultivated mind being unable to contemplate the idea of humanity except in the concrete figure of an individual. . . In this way the Church has unconsciously made the historic Christ the full realization of the idea of humanity in its relation to God; whereas, in any individual we should see only the temporary and popular form of the doctrine."
Feuerbach is still more outspoken (" Essence of Religion," translated by Miss Evans): "Religion in its heart, its essence, believes in nothing else than the truth, the Divinity of man." "Its true object and substance is man." "Man, adoring a God, adores the goodness of his own nature." "The nature of God is nothing else but the nature of man considered as something external to man." "Man has his highest being, his God, in himself."
Renan speaks in the same strain. "There has never been in nature or in history any fact caused manifestly by an individual will superior to that of man." "The Absolute of justice and reason exhibits itself in humanity alone. . . The Infinite exists only as it is clothed in a finite form." What account he gives of the Lord in his "Life of Jesus," is well known. He is presented not only as a weak enthusiast, but as conniving at falsehood.
Leslie Stephen affirms that "Christ was simply man, and His character quite within the range of human possibilities. There is no need of postulating an incarnation."
Professor Clifford uses bolder language. "The allegiance of man may not be diverted from man by any Divinity. . . A helper of man outside of humanity, the truth will not permit us to see." "The dim and shadowy outline of the superhuman Deityfades slowly away from before us, and as the mist of His presence floats aside, we perceive with great and greater clearness the shape of a yet greater and nobler figure, of Him who made all gods, and shall unmake them. From the dim dawn of history, and from the inmost depth of every soul, the face of our father Man looks out upon us with the fire of eternal youth in his eyes, and says: 'Before Jehovah was, lam.'"
Let us listen to R. W. Emerson: "Jesus saw that God incarnates Himself in man, . . and in a jubilee of sublime emotion said, 'I am Divine, through me God acts, through me speaks. Would you see God, see me, or see thee when thou thinkest as I now think.' Jesus would absorb the race, but Tom Paine, or the coarsest blasphemer, helps humanity by resisting the exuberance of the power." This is to say that all men are equally Divine as Jesus; and that every one, even the coarsest blasphemer, who denies His exclusive claims, does a service to the race.
If we now turn to the philosophical representatives of Evolution, we see that they also give to humanity the highest possible place. Thus Mr. John Fiske says: "The Darwinian theory shows that the creation and perfecting of man is the goal toward which nature's work has all the time been tending. . . On earth there will never be a higher creature than man. . . Not the production of any higher existence, but the perfecting of humanity, is to be the glorious consummation of nature's long and tedious work. . . Man is the chief among God's creatures." This leaves no place for Christ as the Incarnate Son, the second Adam, and the Head of the new and glorified humanity. It is said by another that "Human history is the record of the process of the evolution of the Divinity out of the humanity." Another says: "Divinity is humanity raised to its wth power." "The individual man is partly the animal from whom we have come, and partly the God who is coming into him."
The ideal man, the consummation of the evolutionary process, is thus he in whom the primitive animal element is extinguished, and the Divine fully manifested. Let the race, as said by Tennyson,
"Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die."
In this process upward the law of continuity is not broken; there is no place for a supernatural interposition, and a heavenly humanity of which the risen Lord is the source. There is only a simple unfolding of the natural, beginning with chaos and ending with the cosmos. Man begins a beast and ends a God.
These extracts, which might be indefinitely multiplied, serve to show that the line of distinction between the Divine and the human, God and man, if not openly denied to exist, is being rapidly effaced. The world is learning, and is quite ready to believe, that human nature has in itself, and in its own right, the possibility of many future Christs; and the world may rightly expect them.
We see how broad and deep a foundation is thus laid in the philosophical teachings of the essential unity of the Divine and human natures, for the deification of the Antichrist. The belief of this unity has not yet fully penetrated the popular mind, and most shrink from the name of pantheists; but the spirit of pride which it begets, is already everywhere manifest. A recent writer says: "A most notable sign of our time is the growing faith in man. . . For superhuman revelation we may put human discovery of the truth; and declare all religions, all Bibles, to be the outgrowth of human nature. As man takes the responsibility of evil, so also he provides the remedy. In place of supernatural grace converting the sinner, and trust in the atoning merits and sacrifice of a Redeemer, he substitutes the human ability to put away sin, and to do what is right and good. . . In a word, in place of the descent of God, he puts the ascent of man."
Where this spirit of pride prevails it is idle to preach the offence of the Cross. To say that man is a sinner and needs a Saviour, is pessimism, and offensive; to say that he is a god, is optimism. Man has no confession of sin to make, he needs no atoning sacrifice, no Divine teacher, he accepts no Divine law as supreme over him; the assertion of his own Divinity is his creed, to live in the power of it is his religion. As said by one: "Man can obey the law of righteousness without any Divine interposition." No revelation that God has made of Himself and of His will in past generations, is authoritative for us; our God is within us, and our guide; no book can bind us; and no prophet can be our master. As one has sung:
"I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul."
Conscious of the Divinity within us, we teach and are not taught. To worship God aright, we must pay homage to man. To-day is Lord of all the past, and man is Lord of to-day.
This is the spirit that prepares the way for the Antichrist. Christ being deposed from His place as the only Godman; all men being as to nature equally with Him Godmen, the nations are prepared to welcome one who will prove to the deceived and wondering world his Divinity by his mighty acts, wrought in Satanic power; and will say, "This man is the great Power of God." As the representative of deified humanity, he will seat himself in the temple of God, and all "the children of pride" will worship Him. And thus the kingdom of Man will come, and the world will say, this is the kingdom of God, this is the King.