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The doctrine of Divine immanence is in a very special and unmistakeable manner the re-discovery of the nineteenth century. Nothing could be more remote from fact than to call that doctrine a new or even an old heresy. Old it certainly is, but heretical in itself it as certainly is not; it can point to unquestionable warranty in Holy Scripture, where such is demanded, and it has never been repudiated by the Christian Church. But just as a law, without being repealed, may fall into desuetude, so a doctrine, without being repudiated, may for a time fade out of the Church’s consciousness; and in the one case as in the other any attempt at revival will arouse a certain amount of distrust and opposition. There would no doubt be a measure of truth in the statement that the suspicion and antagonism with which the recent re-enunciation of this particular doctrine or idea was attended in some quarters, exemplified this general attitude of the human mind towards the unaccustomed; and yet such a statement, made without qualification, would be only a half-truth. The fact is, and it cannot be stated too soon or too clearly, that if the antagonism and suspicion exhibited have been exceptionally strong, there have been exceptional causes to justify both. Alarm, and that of a very legitimate nature, has been called forth by one-sided and extravagant statements of the idea of Divine immanence on the part of ill-balanced advocates; and in this book we shall be almost continually occupied with the task of disengaging the truth of immanence from what appear to us mischievous travesties of that truth. That such a task is a necessary one, we are firmly convinced; for if, as Principal Adeney says, “among all the changes in theology that have been witnessed during the last hundred years this” i.e., the re-discovery of the principle of Divine immanence “is the greatest, the most revolutionary,” it must certainly be of paramount importance that we should understand and apply that principle aright. Confessedly, it denotes a great and far-reaching change; can we, then, in the first instance, briefly and plainly state what this change is from, what it involves, and in what respect it is supposed to help us in dealing with the problem of religion?

It has to be borne in mind, to begin with, that the very term “immanence” had for a long time ceased to be in current use, and had thus become strange to the average believer; it has equally to be remembered that in theology as in other matters we have not yet altogether passed the stage where hostis means both “stranger” and “foe” that, in fact, to many minds, the unfamiliar is, as we said, eo ipso the suspect. But immanence means nothing more abstruse than “indwelling”; and the renewed emphasis which, from the time of Wordsworth onward, began to be laid upon the Divine indwelling, the presence of God in the Universe, represented in the first place the reaction of the human spirit against the cold and formal Deism of the eighteenth century, which thought of God as remote, external to the world, exclusively “transcendent.” According to the deistic notion, God was known to man only by reason of a revelation He had given once and for all in the far-off past a revelation which in its very nature excluded the idea of progress; as against this conception that of the immanence of God declares that He is not far from each one of us, that in Him we live and move and have our being, that He is over all and through all and in all the Life of all life, the Energy behind all phenomena, the Presence from which there is no escaping, unceasingly and progressively though by divers portions and in divers manners revealed in the universe, in nature and in man.

Thus expressed, the doctrine of God’s nearness and indwelling will probably commend itself to most thoughtful religious people; but in re-emphasising an aspect of truth there is always the danger of over-emphasising it, of claiming it as the whole and sole truth of falling, in a word, from one extreme into the other. To that rule the present case offers no exception; it is, on the contrary, very distinctly one of the pendulum swinging as far in one direction as it previously swung to the other. Let us then at once state the thesis which many of the following pages will serve to elaborate: when the indwelling of God in the universe is interpreted as meaning His identity with the universe; when the indwelling of God in man is taken to mean His identity with man, the whole structure of religion is gravely imperilled. For in the identity of God with the world and with man which is the root-tenet of Pantheism there is inevitably involved the surrender of both the Divine and the human personality. We shall have occasion to see how much such a surrender signifies; for the moment it suffices to say plainly that Pantheism, the doctrine which denies the transcendence of God, is by no means the same as that which affirms His immanence, nor does it logically follow from that affirmation. The mistake so frequently made lies in regarding the Divine immanence and the Divine transcendence as mutually exclusive alternatives, whereas they are complementary to one another. A one-sided insistence on the immanence of God, to the exclusion of His transcendence, leads to Pantheism, just as a one-sided insistence upon His transcendence, to the exclusion of His immanence, leads to Deism; it is the two taken together that result in, and are necessary to, Theism. Thus it cannot be too well understood, and it should be understood at the very outset, that we have not to make anything like a choice between immanence and transcendence that these two can never be separated, but are related to each other as the less to the greater, as the part to the whole. One naturally shrinks from employing a diagram in dealing with such a topic as this; but perhaps recourse might without offence be had to this method necessarily imperfect as it is on account of its essential simplicity, and because it is calculated to remove misapprehensions. If we can think of a very large sphere, A, and, situated anywhere within this, of a very small sphere, a then the relation of the smaller to the greater will be that of the sphere of immanence to the sphere of transcendence. The two are not mutually separable, but the one has its being wholly within the other.

Nevertheless it is quite true that there has been within recent years a distinct shifting of the centre of gravity from the one doctrine to the other, a growing disposition to regard the immanence of God as the fundamental datum, the basis of the modern restatement of religious belief. How will this conception help us to such an end? The answer to that question may be given in the words of Dr. Horton, who says, “The intellectual background of our time is Agnosticism, and the reply which faith makes to Agnosticism is couched in terms of the immanence of God.” Dr. Horton’s meaning will grow clearer to us if we once more glance at our imaginary diagram, letting the smaller figure a, the sphere of immanence, stand for our universe. If the sphere of God’s being lay altogether outside the universe, i.e., outside the radius of our knowledge if He, in other words, were merely and altogether transcendent He would also be merely and altogether unknowable, exactly as Agnosticism avers. His transcendent attributes, all that partakes of infinity, cannot and that of necessity become objects of immediate knowledge to finite minds; if He is to be known at all to us, He can only be so known by being manifested through His presence within, or action upon, the finite and comprehensible sphere. In other words, it is primarily as He is revealed in and through the finite world, that is to say as immanent, that God becomes knowable to us; all that is included under His transcendence is of the very highest importance for us religion would be utterly incomplete without it but it is an inference we make from His immanence. It is, to give an obvious illustration, only to a transcendent God that we can offer prayer God over all whom the soul needs, to enter into relations withal; but it is also true that we gain the assurance of His transcendence through His immanence, and that

The God without he findeth not,
Who finds Him not within.

In a word, the Divine immanence is not the goal of our quest of God, but it is the indispensable starting-point.

A simple reflection will serve to place this beyond doubt. Against the old-fashioned Deism which continued to bear sway till far into the last century, the agnostic had an almost fatally easy case; he had but to reject the revelation alleged to have been given once for all in the dim past to reject it on scientific or critical grounds and who was to prove to him that the universe had been created a few thousand years ago by a remote and external Deity? As for him, he professed, and professed candidly enough, that he could see nothing in nature but the operation of impersonal forces; there was natural law, and there was the process of evolution, but beyond these ? Now the only really telling reply that can be made to those who argue in this fashion is that which reasons from the Divine immanence as its terminus a quo the doctrine which beholds God first of all present and active in the world, and sees in natural law not a possible substitute for Him, but the working of His sovereign Will. From this point of view, the orderliness of the cosmos, the uniformity and regularity of nature, attest not the unconscious throbbing of a soulless engine, or a blind Power behind phenomena, but a directing Mind, a prevailing Will. The world, according to this conception, was not “made” once upon a time, like a piece of clockwork, and wound up to run without further assistance; it is not a mechanism, but an organism, thrilled and pervaded by an eternal Energy that “worketh even until now.” In Sir Oliver Lodge’s phrase, we must look for the action of Deity, if at all, then always; and this thought of the indwelling God, revealing Himself in the majestic course and order of nature, not only rebuts the assaults of Agnosticism, but compels our worship. And as natural law speaks to us of the steadfastness and prevailing power of the Divine Will, so evolution speaks of the Divine Purpose, and proclaims that purpose “somehow good,” since evolution means a steady reaching forward and upward, an unfolding and ascent from less to more.

We take a step higher up when we come to the further revelation of God as seen dwelling in man; a step higher up because on any sane view immanence is a fact admitting of very various degrees, so that God is more fully revealed in the organic than in the inorganic world, more in the conscious than in the unconscious, far more in man than in lower creatures. We speak of God’s indwelling in man in the same sense in which there is something of an earthly parent’s very being in his children; indeed, rightly considered, the Divine Parenthood is the only rational guarantee of that human brotherhood which is being so strongly or, at least, so loudly insisted on to-day. Man, that is to say, is not identical with God, any more than a son is identical with his father; but man is consubstantial, homogeneous, with God, lit by a Divine spark within him, a partaker of the Divine substance. As in nature we discern God revealed as Power, Mind, Will, Purpose, so in man’s moral nature, and his inner satisfaction or dissatisfaction according as he does or does not approach a certain moral standard, we discern Him as Righteousness; and, more than all, since men, beings in whom “the Spirit of God dwelleth,” are persons, it follows that God also is at least personal, since there can be nothing in an effect that is not in the cause producing it. Thus the doctrine of Divine immanence throws at least a ray of light upon one of the problems which press with peculiar weight upon many modern minds and which we shall consider at greater length hereafter viz., the Divine Personality.

There remains, however, a still further step to be taken along the line which we have been pursuing. We are not fully satisfied when we know God even as personal, even as righteous; the assurance which alone will satisfy the awakened human spirit is that which tells us that God is Love, and that His truest name is that of Father. How could such a culminating assurance come to us? We conceive that this end could only be achieved through a complete manifestation of the Divine character on a finite scale, i.e., through His indwelling in an unparalleled measure in a unique and ethically perfect being; and such an event, we hold, has actually taken place in what is known as the Incarnation. In the words of Dr. Horton, “the doctrine of the immanence of God, the idea that God is in us all, leads us irresistibly to the conclusion that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.’” “This argument,” he says viz., from Divine immanence “becomes more and more favourable to the doctrine of Christ’s Divinity.” The highest and truest knowledge of God, that which it most concerns us to possess, could have become ours only through One in whom the fulness of Godhead dwelt bodily, in whom we saw Divinity in its essence and without alloy. To bring us this perfect revelation was, indeed, the very reason of Christ’s advent. We come to the Father through the Son, because there is no other Way. We have seen the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the very Image of His Substance. Divine Love, mighty to save, full of redemptive power, longing for the soul with infinite affection in fine, Fatherhood this is what constitutes religion’s ultimate; and this revelation we have in the Incarnate Son, in whom the Spirit dwelt without measure who, i.e., stands forth as the supreme and unparalleled illustration of the Divine immanence.

Here, then, we have a first, preliminary survey of the meaning of this much-discussed, much-misunderstood term a mere outline sketch which, needless to say, requires a great deal of filling in, such as will be attempted in subsequent pages of this book. So much should be clear from what has been said, that the nineteenth century, in practically restoring this fruitful and far-reaching conception to a Church which had largely forgotten it, made a contribution of the utmost importance to theology and religion; indeed, the value of that contribution could hardly be more strongly stated than in the utterances of Dr. Horton which we have quoted above. Such a factor, however, cannot be introduced, or re-introduced, into our theological thinking without necessitating a good deal of revision, nor without causing a certain measure of temporary confusion and dislocation; it will accordingly be the principal object of the following chapters to clear up misapprehensions which have arisen in connection with the idea of immanence, to assign to it its approximately proper place in Christian thought, and to safeguard an important truth against the injury done to it and so to all truth by a zeal that is not according to knowledge. Corruptio optimi pessima: in unskilled hands this doctrine is certainly apt to become a danger to religion itself; nevertheless, rightly applied, there is probably no more potent instrument than this to help us in that reconstruction of belief which is admittedly the urgent business of our age. It is true, as Raymond Brucker said, that “the answer to the riddle of the universe is God the answer to the riddle of God is Christ”; but it is also true, we hold, that the most effective key for the unlocking of the riddle is the idea of Divine immanence.