IT is characteristic of empiricists to make as few assumptions as possible, to plunge into life and begin to philosophise. All that need be said at the outset is that one finds one’s self existing in the world, with a deep desire to understand the nature and meaning of life. Where the world came from, one cannot now say.
The important consideration is that it somehow came, and with it this strange being called one’s “self.” If we do not yet see the rationale of it, we at any rate possess the wonderful gift known as “experience.”
Wherever we begin to rationalise, we shall come out at the same point, and ask the same questions, if we persist until we discover ultimate principles. It is usual to begin an inquiry into the nature of experience by analysing the presentations of consciousness.
But as we are in the first place interested to apply the empirical method, it is desirable to begin with a well-known argument and note the changes which practical empiricism brings about in all our thinking. In no respect has the critical empirical method wrought a greater change than in regard to the argument for the existence of God. Hence it is the understanding of the change thus wrought that most readily prepares the way for what is to follow.
It has long been customary, for example, to support the argument for God’s existence by an appeal to the sequence of certain causal phenomena. From the fact of causation in general it seems to be an easy step to the proof that God is the “first cause.”
For example, it is plain that when a message is flashed over the wires from town to town, or when the electric car transports us through the city streets, an efficient cause has produced the effect which serves us so readily.
The rapidity with which the effect results does not deceive us. We may know little about the force in question; but we know that it acts in unvarying accordance with certain laws, the understanding of which enables us to control it. We learn further that every cause has its antecedent. The electricity is generated by the aid of energy derived primarily from the sun.
The motion of the ship, as it sails before the wind, is likewise traceable from wind to sun, from the sun to the primal source of motion in the universe at large. And we stop here only because we know not the antecedent of this first activity.
The chain of causes and effects is in reality endless. Without a cause nothing can happen, nothing could ever have happened; and with eternally active causes in the world something must always happen. Every cause, every effect, every event in the history of the universe and in our own physical existence, is inseparably connected with this infinite series, extending far back into the irrevocable past, and potentially related to an ever-dawning future.
Yet, if we ask, What does this endless causal series signify? When did cause and effect begin? It is clear that the mere possession of such a series is of slight consequence. For there is no point at which thought can stop and declare, this cause is final; before its appearance there was no activity.
A merely temporal beginning of events is unintelligible. The utmost that one can allege is that there must be one all-embracing series of causes and effects which has existed eternally, a series of which our world is a part and of which all future activity will be an outgrowth. Yet, if the temporal chain of causes and effects must have a ground other than itself, if God could not have been a merely temporal creator, we must look beyond causation altogether to find the true reality of things.
In order to test this reasoning, try for a moment to conceive of the universe as an absolute void, then imagine the creation of something or of some being in this mere emptiness.
Such an event is utterly inconceivable, since something could not be a product of nothing, and every result must have an efficient and substantial basis. If, then, something can neither be made from nothing, nor something become non-existent, the sum total of substance would seem to be ultimately the same. It can be modified, evolved, or dissolved, but must itself have an eternal basis.
Try now to imagine a condition of things in which there should be no motion, and conceive the beginning of motion in the illimitable and perfectly inert universe which you have conjured from the fanciful deep. Once more the attempt is futile.
Absolute and universal rest, like a perfect void, is inconceivable. Something moving would be needed wherewith to start motion, as something substantial must have existed before a new product could result. If only one particle moved, then something moving must have caused its motion; and, if it moved once only, all existing particles would undoubtedly be set in motion in the course of time.
Motion could not cease, since only a moving power could stop it, and there would be no power to stop this inhibiting force.
The cessation of motion, then, like its inception, is unthinkable. If it were not continuous, eternal, it apparently could never have become a fact. Moreover, motion implies not only a continuous, all-embracing series of causes and effects, but the existence of the eternally moving substance already postulated. Physical motion also means change from place to place, from one condition to another. Change in turn implies the experience of rhythm or interval in motion.
Change also implies the existence of space, or the extension in three directions of that which is moved.
Thus an eternally existing substance, uncreated and never-ceasing motion, and infinite space, seem to be inseparably connected. There is cause and effect, duration between them, extension of that which is moved or affected, eternal motion, and an ever-moving something whose activity is thus characterised.
That is to say, all that is gained by this kind of reasoning is the mere pursuit of one fact to another, one principle to another. All that we have as a result is a collection of considerations which give promise of ultimate truth but never lead beyond this elusive pursuit. What we need is not a “cause” of all things, not a continuously moving “substance,” but an eternal Ground or Reality. This Ground is as readily discoverable here and now, as at any moment, in any age or time.
For, as it is the Ground of all existence, it is itself beyond all causality; it never came to be, nor will it ever cease to exist; it simply is. It is not mere “cause,” but the ultimate source alike of the substance and the power exhibited in what we denominate “causality.” It is that Being wherewith all thought pauses when, having given up the pursuit of temporal sequences, the mind turns at last from abstract argument to acknowledge the living, present God.
Hence God as the ultimate Ground of the universe is the Being who needs no further explanation. He is self-existent, uncreated, indestructible, at once the basis and the life of all that is known in the universe of change. He is simply the supreme Reality, that for which we need seek no proof, since we are compelled to assume it in the reasoning whereby we hope to prove its existence.
The supreme Reality eternally is its own reason for being. It is the ultimate source of consciousness and thought, the final ground of reason. It is the unseen and permanent Life of the visible and transient series of causes and effects which constitute world-experience. It is the Supreme Spirit, the All-Father. Hence the knowledge of the existence of this eternal Reality is the surest possession of human reason.1
Were we to conceive of the existence of a vast number of causes in place of the supreme Reality, these causes would be in some sense related, and we should then have need of an eternal ground of this relationship.
If there were other realities, those realities would still belong to an ultimate system. There could be but one strictly ultimate, eternal, omnipresent, independent or self-existent reality. However we approach the subject, we are driven to the same end.
Thought must stop somewhere. All our endeavours to conceive of the ultimate nature of things lead in time to the conclusion that there is a system which includes all particular starting-points, is in some sense superior to time and place, but is no less truly needed everywhere, in all time and by all thought.
To arrive at this conclusion is to cease to be troubled when one tries to find God by tracing back an infinite series of causes. What is really meant by the term “infinite” is the vague, the indefinite, that which gives thought its pause. In vain do we look for the Father by putting Him thus far from us.
It is no wonder that we cannot realise what we mean when we thus describe God negatively. On the other hand, the way to the Father is plain and direct, if we seek Him in the living realities of today.
It is still difficult, to be sure, to define the eternal Reality in an ultimate sense. Yet each definition expresses a truth or attribute. If to define is to limit, nevertheless all definitions that embody the supreme facts and values of life have a common sound in the divine nature. When we state, for example, that “God is love,” we truly express a specific characteristic of the most ultimate, eternal, omnipresent Reality.
Again, when we speak of the divine wisdom we name a true attribute of the very Mind which has so often and so unjustly been called “inscrutable.”
Could we know the Father in all His fullness of wisdom and love we would no doubt be the Father. Could we adequately state His purpose, we should be in full possession of the wondrous beauty of the universe of manifestation. When we apply particular terms to the divine Life and Beauty, we are not defining the universal effulgence, but rather a certain manifestation as it appeals to finite experience.
When we declare that we know Him, meaning a personal God, we confess the limitations of our thought. But to argue from this that we do not, or cannot know God at all is entirely unwarranted. It is not God in general whom we really seek to know, but the ever-present Father whom the heart calls “love” and the mind calls “wisdom,” the God who is not less but more than these human expressions signify.
It might seem more rational to conceive of God and the universe as “in the making.” This would appear to be a logical carrying out of the theory of evolution. But here, again, there is need of a permanent principle, something more than the merely temporal flux of events.
Moreover, there is far too much evidence that the universe possesses a definite character, already deeply established, to permit one to accept such a view. It is the need that is felt for a permanent ground of all transient phenomena which leads men to conceive of God as eternal and immutable. To conceive of God as more real than the fluctuations of the time-world is to see that He is more than the world of His manifestation.
All our conceptions prove inadequate if they stop short of the eternal. All our conceptions fail if we regard the Father merely from the point of view of our own sonship. Hence there is need of both the philosophical conception of reality as ultimate Ground, and the more human thought of God as the Father. As Ground, God is not the same as the universe, but is the ultimate centre of the power which the universe manifests.
As Father, God is not identical with His sons, yet is in an intimately personal sense the source of their life.
What is all this reasoning but the confession that the eternal Father is in a sense transcendent, above our knowledge and experience; but is at the same time the intelligible basis of precisely these familiar experiences with which our inquiry began? No attempted logic is more absurd than the endeavour to prove the existence of God, yet no language is so inadequate as that which omits the divine transcendence.
The very limitation of all attempts to prove that God exists is a profound revelation of His presence. We need not prove that which is the Ground of proof. We need only state the existence of the Uncaused. But having found Him, it were folly to erect any barrier to our thinking. If no account describes God adequately, no description leaves Him wholly out. The Ground of all knowing is by very nature knowable.
If God is transcendent, then, He is no less truly immanent. Whatever He may be as the absolute Reality, He is known to us in part as the God of our life, and the Source of our world. While, then, in one sense there can be no time and no space to an omnipresent Reality, in a very real sense there is time and space, since it is through
His world of external manifestation that His wisdom and power are made known. Moreover, it is as necessary to conceive of His existence as immanent in, rather than as identical with His world of manifestation, as it is to distinguish His transcendence from our own knowledge of His love and wisdom. Thus we avoid the pitfalls of pantheism and mysticism, and preserve in strictly theistic terms the thought of God as the Father.
It is the empirical aspect of pantheistic utterances that is of value, not the doctrine that God and nature, or God and the soul are one. The experience of the presence of God has been a very real fact all through the ages. Hence the rhapsodies and poetic effusions of the mystics are in a sense religiously true, that is, in so far as they are regarded as descriptions of experience.
But pantheism is poor philosophy, and mysticism is not ethics. When it is a question of what is real, what is true and what is right, one must turn from mere description to rational thought. The revelation of God in the realm of reason is far superior to the mere revelation of immediate feeling.
The pantheists meant to utter something noble and true, but it has remained for the Christian theist really to express it. The Father-son relationship is the great fact. It is the upward look, the worship, the reverence that truly finds the Father—not the mystical merging of all that is beautiful into a vague whole. Hence the vast superiority of the revelation which makes God known as love.
It is not, then, the argument for God’s existence that avails. It is not the mere theory, for that may be untrue to the supreme facts. It is the life, the love, the experience.
He who can appreciatively suggest the relationship of the soul in the act of worship, in the fullness of love, is the one who most truly lays the foundations of theology, Only by persistently returning to the first-hand experience, and by repeatedly correcting the account of that experience, may one hope to overcome the artificial speculations which have separated men from God.
The profoundest religious tendency of our age is the growing conviction that the empirical revelation is the Supreme revelation. Every advance in this direction means the breaking down of the barriers which once speculatively sundered heaven and earth. As heaven is brought nearer, man’s conduct necessarily changes.
For it is no longer possible to masquerade as a Christian by simply believing in a speculative Deity. One must show that one has found the real God by manifesting His love in daily life. Hence experience inspires experience, and the whole religious outlook is changed. The peace “which passeth understanding” is made known through the serenity which then and there exhibits it.
But in theory, too, it is the empirically immediate revelation that is now the chief ground of argument. It is the thought of the divine immanence which above all other modern conceptions transfigures the philosophy of the age. Indeed, some theologians go so far as to say that all previous doctrines were “a mere assertion” of God’s existence; it is evolution that proves His life and wisdom and power.
Previous theories were content with vaguely general statements; it is the thought of God as immanent which makes the conception concrete. Hence the tendency is to look immediately within and behind the minute details of events, even as they pass, to find their Ground and Life. The entire argument of the foregoing pages points to this conclusion.
We have from the first emphasised the immanent empirical factor. The experience of the moment must be understood in the light of its immediate environment, and this environment is part of a larger whole. Event is linked to event, everything is related. The only activity we know is the activity that is just now accomplishing some end, the power that has brought the present out of the past.
There is no reason to conceive of any power, life, or reality, other than the Being which the actualities of existence logically demand. All power is known by what it does, and all reality by what appears.
It would now seem absurd, then, to argue that God impressed His energy upon the primeval nebulous mass, and then retired we know not where; or that He made the world out of nothing in six days, then interfered with it from time to time by miraculous providences. For there is no need of an extra-mundane Deity. Evolution, not creation, is the law of life.
The manifold changes which have brought the world to its present state, the endless working of force against force, of animal against animal, and man against man, the vicissitudes of human history, are probably as important and require the divine presence as much as the impulse which first brought our world into being—if there ever was a beginning.
Either, then—note the alternative—God put forth His own life in the world, and is immanent yet transcendent, is present in it, transforming it in this age as truly as in the irrevocable ages of the past, or there is no God. Let me repeat.
Either God is revealed through the cohesive force which holds matter together, and holds the planets in their positions in space, through the love which draws man to man, and the fortunes and misfortunes which characterise his progress, through the insensible gradations by which our politics are changing and our own conflicts are making us true men and women, or there is no divine Father.
For the true Father is the God of experience, the Supreme Reality which experience reveals, which makes experience possible, He is the God of action, the God of the concrete. It is our own concrete experience that makes God’s presence known. God is not the same as our experience. He is not identical with the world. But the world is from moment to moment real by virtue of His immanent presence.
Life, then, ultimately speaking, is a continuous, divine communication. There is no real separation between our souls and the Father in whom, in the most literal sense, “we live and move and have our being.” All nature reveals God—the sea, the sky, the mountains, the complex life of great cities, the simple life of the country, the admiration of the poet, the thought and feeling of all men, all nations, all books, all churches, all religions.
All thinkers, all artists and lovers of the beautiful, are “feeling after” Him.
God, then, is revealed in nature, yet He is more than nature can manifest. He is Person, yet in a sense is beyond personality as we ordinarily conceive of it. On the one hand, He is the omnipresent power which all forces exemplify, the source of the substance which all forms contain, the basis of life whereby all beings exist. Yet He is more than this, He is Spirit, Intelligence, apprehended rather by the supreme insight of the soul than through objective experience.
He is Power, yet also Love; the Author of the total universe, yet near enough so that Jesus, most truly of all, named Him “Father” in a particularly personal sense. His complete nature is made known, if at all, in the total universe. Yet He is as genuinely knowable in human life.
Hence God is at once Spirit without form, and the Essence which all forms reveal, the all-loving Father who is unknown and unperceived in this larger and deeper sense, except by those who have thought and suffered deeply, He whom we refuse to recognise when we look afar into the heavens for a god of our own fancy; who is not only immanent, but who is also independent of that in which He dwells; the Friend who is as near to us in the present moment as in the countless aeons of eternity, of which this fleeting moment is a part.
Do we realise what this nearness means, what it is to dwell with God consciously? Let me try to bring Him yet nearer.
Sometimes one seems to look far into the eyes of a friend and to see the soul gazing from unseen depths in return; and, as the face softens into a smile, one draws still nearer to that elusive somewhat called “the human spirit,” as it lends life and beauty to the features, itself invisible, yet so plainly revealed that one can almost locate its vanishing touch.
There are days in the country in summer—noticeably in June and September—when a divine stillness seems to rest over all the world. We feel an unwonted and indescribable peace which lifts us above our petty selves to the larger Self of eternal restfulness which nature’s calm suggests. We almost worship nature at such a time, so near it brings us to the Spirit which imbues the very vibrations of the atmosphere.
Again, when standing near some grand mountain, or when looking far into the clouds at sunset, we seem to perceive the strength and the vanishing glory of Him who is almost revealed to our longing eyes, yet forever remains beyond our keenest physical vision.
If we push our analysis still farther, we discover that all that is best and dearest in human life, all that is most useful in nature, is like this retreating beauty of a soft landscape: the mechanism is visible, the beauty is of the mind. “I saw my friend,” you say. Yet you saw only his face, not his soul, as you see the world, but not the Life which animates it.
You feel love, you use wisdom, you reap the inner benefits of goodness; but all is intangible. No one ever saw force: we see and make use of its effects. Yet no one doubts its existence. We know it through its manifestations. Some thinkers affirm that there is no dense material, simply varied modes of motion of one force, while other philosophers describe the universe as a system of ideas produced in us by the great Reality behind all phenomena.
Whatever the ultimate nature of matter may be, it is evident that the Reality is made known to us through these phenomena.
The retreating beauty of nature, then, seems typical of our deepest associations with the Father, a union to which Emerson has given expression in his Over-soul. We are conscious of the human part; and, when in times of sorrow we seem comforted from on high, we are dimly aware of the divine.
Yet we cannot fully grasp it: we can only affirm that God resides in and is the supreme source of our being, as the grandeur of nature resides in a landscape whose beauty we can never locate.
Take love, take wisdom, start with any quality in human life which points to a common nature, and, tracing it to its source, one’s thought is lost in contemplation of the great Reality which is revealed through all these qualities, since there could be but one central love and wisdom, which all share in greater or lesser degree, as surely as the force with which I move my arm is related to the power which, from all time, has caused the planets to revolve.
Were we not thus intimately related to the Father, there would be some place where He does not exist. Unless our activity is ultimately connected with His life, there is an existence independent of Him. Our life, our consciousness must then in the ultimate sense have its being in His life, however separate from that life in a relative sense it may be. Since our being is thus grounded, we are even more dependent on Him than the plant is upon the sunlight.
Moreover, since God must be conscious in order thus to be the basis of our being in the highest sense, He evidently knows and possesses us as parts of the universe of His manifestation. Thus from many points of view the fact of the divine presence is brought home to us, we recognise that despite our finitude we especially reveal God whenever we love and serve, when we are really wise. Hence it is apparent that while we possess a life of our own, in a sense we have no existence apart from Him.
In such a realisation, namely, that we are intimately related in consciousness and in love with the ever-renewing Life, and that we reveal more and more of the divine nature as we ascend in the scale of being, lies a real way of escape from morbid self-interest, introspection, self-consciousness, want of confidence, the sense of one’s insignificance.
To know that our highest love, our deepest thought, our truest self, is not wholly our own, but, in so far as it is unselfish, is divine—this it is to have a principle in which we can trust, which shows us what we are, not as weak human beings whom we vainly try to understand by self-analysis, but what we are as individual manifestations of the divine nature.
Thus the painful thought is lost in the consciousness of divine nearness, as though a particle of sunlight should become aware of its relation to all sunlight and to the sun.
What a pleasure it is to view nature and human life with an ever-deepening consciousness of this divine background! Truly, there is no ground for complaint if we dwell in this pure region of thought where we regard all activity as founded upon the divine life, where the landscape suggests the beauty which it so well typifies.
From all this it is clear that there is a vast difference between the worship of God as manifested through nature and the pantheistic identification of God with nature. Nature, thus regarded, is the realm of fact, the given sphere of experience.
The thought of the divine beauty is the value attributed to nature by idealistic consciousness. It is philosophy, not physical observation, which enables us to find God in nature. It is aesthetic intuition, combined with religious aspiration, not mere sense-perception, through which the apprehension of the divine presence occurs.
Likewise in the subjective world, it is necessary to distinguish between religious emotion and the idealisation of such emotion. God is not an object of sensuous apprehension but an object of insight. The mere fact of religious fervour at any given moment counts for very little; it is the accumulated values of such experiences which in due time lead to their inferential use.
The moment’s experience is no doubt profoundly real, but it requires acute analysis to discover the multiform inferences which we read into it. Again, the illusions are such that one must carefully distinguish the dualities of self and the play of moods, as we shall see more clearly in other chapters.
When all discriminations have been made, it is the thought of the divine love which most sanely guides the soul. In the attitude of love, reverence, worship, the sense of sonship is too strong to permit the mind to make the customary mystical inferences. It is clear that even a perfect Being could hardly exist without an object of love, distinct from himself. If there is such distinctness, there are other Father-son relationships, also.
Hence there is a reason for the existence of human beings, and for the existence of nature, as the theatre of their activity. The mutations of the world of manifestation and interaction thus supply objects of the divine consciousness. Something is being accomplished in the world. The divine life is not a bare monotony. Hence we may say that only through His own progressive life-process is God made perfect. The love of God is made complete through its complete realisation.
Through our own love we share in the creative love of the Father.
As abstract as this reasoning may seem, it suggests the great fact that even in God’s life there is mental activity akin to ours, that God reveals Himself in detail through the world of finite life, through human aspiration, as well as in human struggle. For a divine need is met in our lives. We fulfil a larger purpose while we realise our own.
This need not imply a purpose in the older theological sense. For there may be no hard-and-fast world-plan, there may never have been a world-beginning in the sense once conceived. But there is at least mutual relationship, and hence neither human nor divine purposes may be understood alone.
In order to suggest this wholeness of relationship of the great world-order, let us once more adopt the imperfect figures of human speech, and conceive of God as a marvellously wise, all-loving Thinker, in whose comprehension the shining worlds of space and the tiniest stems are grouped in one system of self-realisation; through whose measured reflection are evolved planets such as our own, unvarying in their law because
He is unchangeable, requiring ages of time because His reflection is measured and sure, definite in shape and known to us as matter because His purpose is rational; and through whose tender care we are led onward to conscious union in thought and deed with His purpose for us. Our earth, then, is a part of the great rational life of God.
It has its definite orbit and a definite history; it follows unchanging laws because it is part of His thoroughly rational life. It is distinct from other spheres of the supreme activity, because its history fulfils a specific purpose. It is finite, because it is a part only of this rational life. Thus, also, you and I are expressions of the omnipresent Life, yet are finite because God means one thing in your life, and something else in mine.
We are imperfect, incomplete, because we join with others to form His meaning; and He has not yet developed our lives to their perfect conclusion.
Such a figure, although it involves many speculative difficulties, seems most nearly to approximate the nearness which human speech can barely suggest.
I am trying to show that God knows us, even though we fail to know Him, that He has a purpose with us which He is even now executing, that He is the completing Self without whom our lives have little meaning; the Knower and the possessor of the known; the Sustainer and the love which sustains; and the Limiter whose will we know as “law,” without whom we are as naught, with whom as gods.
In those rarest moments of human life when the soul, in the peaceful isolation of the woods, by the sea, or in the quiet of the library, is lifted above itself and made aware of its kinship with the Father, have you not been conscious of just such relationship as this? Has not God seemed for the moment to belong to you alone, as though in the unsearchable depth of His love He lived for you?
Yet were you not conscious that the Spirit which then moved you to silence is the same which speaks throughout the countless spheres of the universe? What a divine joy would life be could we always maintain this consciousness of the divine presence! But are we not apt to forget this nearness, to fear, to worry, and to act as though we were quite independent of the great Father, without whom we could not be?
What is life for, in the deeper sense, if it be not for the development of this higher consciousness? Is it not in our moments of earnest thought when we reflect on experience and learn its meaning, that we grow? If men were judged on the basis of real worth, would not so much avail as we really are as thinking, helpful souls—that part of us which survives all change?
Man may figuratively be called a point of energy, a centre of application of divine Power. His consciousness, his will, if he is aware of his eternal birthright, is a vantage-point whence the infinite Thinker views the world and thereby knows Himself. But God seems to act through the majority of men almost by force, for they seem unaware of His presence.
They are moved in throngs, and spurred along by suffering, because in their short-sightedness they fear and oppose the moving which is for their deepest good. As Emerson puts it, “We are used as brute atoms until we think, then we use all the rest.” Yet, if this world-order is the wisest system the love of God must be as clearly manifested in the struggles which carry us onward until we think as in our moments of repose.
It is character that avails, that is the purpose of our contests; and character is the result of determined effort to surmount the obstacles we are compelled to meet. The experiences of evil and suffering seem in a sense to be entirely justified by the good which is brought out of them—although this does not make evil good.
Without contrast and comparison we could not interpret experience. Without darkness and evil we should not know light and good, even if we were perfect at the start, since our perfection, like that of a God without manifestation, would simply be an unrealised ideal. It is the one who has lived and suffered, conquered, thought, and practised his theories, who moves with the divine law.
He is no longer as one among thousands, but is himself a mover, a sharer of power, co-operating in intelligent companionship with the Father. Then dawns the Christ-consciousness, with its accompanying life of service; and the faithful soul enjoys a more personal relationship with God, whom he now knows through actual experience to be literally the God of love.
But our realisation of the immanence of God must do more for us than simply to furnish a rational basis for belief in omnipresent Reality. Mental freedom and lasting benefits come from systematic thinking about life, as well as inner repose, when we have pushed through to settled conviction.
But the real test of faith comes in times of trouble and periods of discouragement. If we say that we believe in God, and then worry, doubt, fear, and return to our selfish life, we do not yet possess the omnipresent Comforter. To act as though we really believed that God is in His world, in our souls, concerned in our daily experiences, ready to strengthen us in any need whatsoever—this is a genuine test of faith.
To lift our thoughts to Him habitually, not periodically, as if we really expected help, instead of asking for the impossible—this is genuine prayer.
Do we put our faith to such a test? Do we try to trust God fully, understandingly, with a deep conviction that it is His life, His power, that is pressing upon us through our inmost life? Do we wait for guidance when we are perplexed? Do we try to see the divine meaning, the outcome of our experience as part of a great world-experience? Do we let life come as it may from the divine source, without rebellion, without doubt, carrying before us an ever-renewed ideal of ourselves as possessing some meaning in the divine economy? Do we turn from matter to the Reality behind it; from the body to the soul; from the appearances which seem so real to the life which these phenomena reveal?
I am not asking these questions from the point of view of mere theory. There are earnest souls who make this practical realisation of the immanence of God the basis of a system of everyday conduct, the basis of solution of all practical problems.
Nor am I advocating mere faith, or the easy-going optimism which assures men that all will come out well, whatever they do. I am pleading, first, for a rational interpretation of experience; second, for the conception of a supreme Reality competent to give continuous life to this world; and, finally, for wise adjustment to and intelligent co-operation with the tendencies which spring from within.
I advocate that interpretation of life which places the responsibility largely upon ourselves; which teaches us not to lean on systems of thought and on people whom we permit to do our thinking for us, but encourages us to look within to find the ever-present resource.
The wise attitude of adjustment we shall consider more in detail in other chapters. Here it suffices to point out that if creation is continuous, we may well believe in immanent activities which will guide the man who discovers them. Obviously, the ultimate test of our belief in the immanent God is its effect upon conduct. It makes all the difference, then, what values we associate with the divine presence.
Whether we conclude that there is actual divine prompting, or that the creative instinct indicates the power of our own latent individuality, the result is practically the same; for it is through this individuality that God works. God does not speak to us “out of the air”; He inspires us through what we are doing. That is precisely the lesson of our study. We are no longer to look for the Father in the general, the vague, the mystical; we should find Him in the concrete.
Hence there is need to give specific attention to the kind of mental life that best reveals the divine presence. Hence there is new reason for faith and for practical trust.
The impression prevails that trust plays a small part in the rational life. Yet reflection shows that our conduct is in large part dependent on it. The reputation of a business house may be ruined in an hour, if its standing is seriously questioned and the report is noised about.
With all that science has told us about nature’s laws, we are still compelled to take the world on trust. We fall quietly asleep at night, believing that the day will dawn tomorrow, that no calamity will befall our world, that it will be safe to depend on nature’s forces. Nature has never deceived us, and we believe she never will. Yet we do not know what may happen.
We run a thousand risks each day, in the streets, in the cars, everywhere, with perfect composure.
May we not carry our trust a bit farther and understand that on which we should rely? Is God less watchful, is He any less present in the realm of thought? If gravitation holds the earth in its position in space, may it not be that its spiritual counterpart, the love of God, sustains our souls in their progress, and provides for us in ways which we have scarcely suspected? Yet how many of those who say, “God is love,” stop to realise the world of meaning in that little sentence?
Whatever place the conception of God as transcendent plays in theistic philosophy, the poetic conception of the going forth of the creative spirit, or love, makes the divine immanence concrete for us in a wonderfully practical way.
To regard the creative spirit as immanent and continuous is to acknowledge that all along the way the divine love cares for man. It is no mere figure of speech that describes the world as embosomed in the divine love. It was that love which brought us forth. It is through that love that the purpose of the divine wisdom is realised. Again, it is through the expression of love that man rises to the level of communion with the Father.
Hence it is important to make the fact of love-relationship the basis of the most concrete realisation of the immanence of God.
For example, to conceive of the divine spirit going forth in the form of love is to see that in a sense there is not the least separation between the Father and our individual selves. The thoughts of “power,” “substance,” “life,” still leaves us with a sense of separateness. When we apprehend the divine love we attain at last the realisation of fatherhood. We see that there is literally no barrier between, no substance, no space, to keep us from the Fatherly care.
Hence we feel and know that we exist with the Father in a relationship typified by that of a child in its mother’s arms. He is our Father, though transcendent in power and wisdom. Nothing can prevent us from enjoying His love, His help, His peace and inspiring guidance, except our own failure to recognise His presence. Let us, then, be still and know His love and indwelling presence.
Let us test it fully, and learn what it will do for us if we never worry, never fear, never reach out away from this present life. Let us absorb from His love as the plant absorbs from the sunlight; for our spirits, like the plants, need daily nourishment.
Can we estimate the value of such reflection as this, if renewed day by day? Sometimes a text of Scripture, a poem, or a piece of music, will quicken it in us. Sometimes we must seek the solitude of nature where the Spirit comes; for it is the Spirit that is the essential, not any form of words, or suggestions. Silently and unobserved, the Spirit will breathe upon us if we reflect, if we wait for it in stillness day by day.
It will not come if doubt, if we fear, or—note this especially—if our thought is too active; for the Spirit never intrudes. It lets us go our way if we choose: it comes, we hardly know how, if we trust. All it asks is receptive listening. Then all that an unselfish human being would wisely ask is ours.
It steals into our consciousness when we think deeply, to guide, to strengthen, to encourage. The great secret of life is to know how, in our own way, to be receptive to it, how to read the message of its inner whispering. The sure method of growing strong in realisation of its nearness is to believe that it will come if we listen, to trust it in moments of doubt as the lost hunter trusts his horse in the forest.
It will come if we have an ideal outlook, then renew our realisation day by day, ever remembering that, as the Spirit is the Supreme Reality, we live in it, and with it, and there is naught to separate us from its ever watchful care, its ever-loving presence.
 There is, of course, a difference between the conception of reality as ultimate Ground, and the religious belief in a personal God.