« AnteriorContinuar »
shut those avenues of communion through which man in all ages has sought an approach to God ? Are we, in short, now that the light of science has made us humble, any longer entitled to assume that we are worthy to hold that place in the universe of being which our fathers claimed to occupy, and in virtue of which occupation they aspired to communion with the Divine ? A consideration of this question must be deferred till the next chapter.
THE CONDITIONS REQUISITE TO DIVINE
“AND God said, Let us make man in our own image,” are the striking words in which the Scriptures of the Old Testament introduce their revelation. It is not sufficiently often borne in mind that these are the words which constitute the possibility of that revelation — nay, that words such as these are required to constitute the possibility of any revelation whatever. To see this, we have only to put to ourselves the question, What is implied in the assertion that man can know God? We shall be driven instantaneously to the conclusion that man can know God only by having a kindred nature to God. This is not a mere principle of theology, nor a doctrine which has found place simply in the minds of those who believe in spiritual regeneration ; it is one of the oldest, one of the most widely spread, and one of the least controverted maxims of philosophy. It is as old as Empedocles; it is the doctrine alike of the Atomist and of the Sophist; it is at the root of all modern metaphysics, and at the base of all nineteenth-century science. A principle so early enunciated and so recently affirmed, so widely accepted by the past and so generally influential in our own day, deserves at the outset to receive a little consideration.
The principle of which we speak is that thought which was first embodied in the philosophic maxim of Empedocles—“Like can only be known by like.” The idea here conveyed is, that in order to know anything, the man who knows must have something in common with the object which is known. What the writer of the Book of Genesis applied to the knowledge of God in particular, the philosophers of Greece applied to all knowledge whatsoever. They affirmed that in the nature of things it was essential to every act of human knowledge, either that the man should be made in the image of the thing which he perceived, or that the thing which he perceived should have been made in his image: without such a community of nature there was of necessity a great gulf fixed between the eye of the beholder and the object which it beheld.
And, indeed, a moment's reflection will convince us that, as a matter of actual experience, this is the only condition of any knowledge. When we read a book, we seem to be put in possession of something which is foreign to our original nature; in reality, however, it is not so. In point of fact, we are able to understand the book just in proportion as the book is already in our own image. It may communicate to us outward events of which we were previously unaware, but it cannot communicate to us a single thought whose germ is not already in our own mind. In all departments of study we must, previous to our entrance on the study, be spiritually in unison with that which we are about to contemplate; and as a condition to receiving any information, there must already be established between us and our object a certain communicating bridge on which we and it may meet face to face.
The question then between Gnosticism and Agnosticism narrows itself to this: whether there is or is not the possibility of any species of Incarnation. The statement may seem a startling one, but it is strictly and philosophically true. The necessary postulate to any knowledge of God whatever, is the belief that some mode of the Divine nature is in union with some phase of the human nature; if the possibility of such knowledge be conceded at all, other foundation for it can no man lay. There is not a religion in the world which does not in some form or other presuppose or teach the doctrine of an Incarnation. That doctrine openly or implicitly pervades the whole circle of sacred thought. It animates the worship of the Brahman, it underlies the creed of the Polytheist, it is bound up in the philosophy of the Platonist, it is necessary to the belief of the Theist, it is the life and soul of the faith of the Christian. If there ever was a religion which might seem at first sight to be alien to the spirit of Incarnation, that religion was Judaism. There, God was a being of solitary majesty, dwelling at an immeasurable distance from His creatures, and transmitting His messages to the sons of men only through intermediate intelligences. Yet even this religion, with so exaggerated a view of the Divine transcendence, was compelled in the interest of philosophy-nay, in the interest of that very faith which she professed—to accept an intellectual bridge between the human and the Divine. She was compelled to account for the fact that the messages transmitted by God, through however many intermediaries they passed, were ultimately received and understood by a creature so distant as man; and she accounted for that fact by affirming in unusually strong language the principle that like is known by like,God said, “Let us make man in our own image.”