GOD AND HUMAN RELIGION AND MORALS
How much better,” our Savior exclaims, “is a man than a sheep!” But why, we may ask, is a man better than a sheep? Precisely what is it in man which distinguishes him from all the other creatures which inhabit the world with him, and raises him above them all? The answer might be given, perhaps, in terms of self-consciousness or in terms of freedom. But the discussion of it on those— lines would lead us into many abstractions, and might possibly leave us still with some sense of dissatisfaction. There seems to be a more direct and more vital mode of approach to the answer which in any case we should ultimately reach. There are two outstanding endowments of human nature which separate it fundamentally from all other earthly natures, and form the foundations of its immeasurable superiority to them. Man is endowed as no other creature is, with an irresistible sense of dependence and an ineradicable sense of obligation.
Of course, all other creatures are just as dependent and just as obliged as man is. A pure automaton would be absolutely dependent upon, and absolutely obliged by its maker. It lies in the very nature of creatureship that the creature should be dependent upon, and obliged by its creator. Every creator is by the necessity of the case also the sustainer and governor of his creatures. Man does not differ in this from other creatures. What he differs from other earthly creatures in, is that he is constantly and profoundly sensible of his dependence and obligation, and they are not. And in this difference is rooted all his superiority to them.
It is because man is conscious of his dependence that he is a religious being. And it is because he is conscious of his obligation that he is a moral being. And it is precisely in these two characteristics — that he is a religious and that he is a moral being — that his superiority to other earthly creatures consists. Religion is not only the natural, but the necessary, product of man’s sense of dependence, which always abides as the innermost essence of the whole crowd of emotions which we speak of as religious, the lowest and also the highest. As Oswald Dykes eloquently puts it: “Gratitude for God’s gifts, adoration of his goodness, submission to his appointments, reliance on his succour [help or assistance], devotion to his service, prayer for his guidance, hope in his mercy,” are but “variants, every one of them, on this keynote of entire dependence”; and yet they “together range the gamut of religious experience.” Similarly man’s fundamental sense of obligation gives its character to the whole range of his activities which we speak of as moral, up to the most lofty and complicated of them all.
Had man remained in the integrity in which he was created, the natural and necessary working of his fundamental sense of dependence and obligation would have provided him, in the presence of his approving Creator, with all the religion and morality which he needed. The entrance of sin, however, while it could not eradicate either the sense of dependence or that of obligation, profoundly affected their working. The image of God was no longer truly reflected in the heart of sinful man, but was deflected into an object of distrust, fear, and hate. Sinful man did not wish to be dependent on God; guilty man was thrown into terror by his sense of responsibility to him.
Refusing to have God in his knowledge, he was given over to his own reprobate mind; and developed, now, out of his sense of dependence and obligation, not religion and morality, but religions and moralities. There is an infinite variety of them, worked out in parallel series, reflecting much less what God is as the author, sustainer and governor of his creatures, than what these creatures had become in their sin.
Clearly, there was no exit from this terrible situation except by an intervention from God. This intervention, to be effective, could not confine itself to publishing, on the authority of God, the elements of a true religion and a true morality, to supplant the false religious and moral conceptions which had been evolved by sinful man. Such a publication was necessary; but it was not enough. Sinful man, fearing God because guilty, and hating him because corrupt, would inevitably reject this revelation or distort it to his own mind. It was necessary to cure man’s sin, which had “held down the truth in unrighteousness,” and that, by delivering him from both its penalties, causing fear of God, and its corruption, causing dislike of God. Only thus could a hospitable reception in the human mind and heart be secured for the elements of true religion and morality published in God’s intervening revelation.
All this God has undertaken to do. But it has pleased him to accomplish it only in the course of a process which extends through ages. He has first, in a progressive revelation, running through many generations, published the elements of a true religion and morality on his own authority, and embodied them c’ in an authoritative record, which should stand for all time as the source and norm of the truth. He has then, in the fullness of the times, sent his own Son to be the propitiation for the sins of the world. And he has then sent his Spirit into the 4. world to work upon the hearts of men, framing in them faith in the sacrifice of the Son of God through which they might ‘5 receive forgiveness of their sins; and cleansing their hearts, that they might understand and obey the truth as it had been delivered to them. This, too, he does. However, not all at once, but in a process extending through ages. Thus it comes about that true religion and morality is only slowly made the possession of man. Objectively in the world in an authoritative revelation, it is subjectively assimilated by the world only as the Kingdom of God is built up, step by step, slowly to the end.
We are assured, indeed, that the leaven of truth, thus brought into the world and applied by the Spirit in a long process, shall in the end leaven the whole lump. Meanwhile, what is presented to observation is a conflict between the true and the false. This conflict goes on in each individual’s mind and heart. The Spirit of God does not at once so purify the hearts of those whom he visits that they may come to the knowledge of the truth, that they at once embrace the whole truth in perfect Comprehension, and live by it in perfect obedience. Their minds remain for long in partial darkness; their hearts only slowly acquire the powers of the new life brought to them. They need to cry over and over again, “0 wretched men that we are, who shall deliver us from the body of this death?” What has been implanted in them, however, is life, and it grows onward to the end appointed to it. As in the individual, so in the race the progress to the goal is slow, though sure. Little parties of those to whom the new life has come, spring up here, there, elsewhere. They see the truth more or less purely, and hold it more or less firmly, and cast it with more or less confidence into the caldron of the world’s seething thought, that it may join issue with falsehood, and in the end conquer. So we perceive a new humanity rising in the world, and by faith may see the day looming on the horizon when the whole world shall live in the full enjoyment of the true religion, practising in its completeness the true morality, which have been restored to man by God his Savior.
Over this whole process, of course, God is presiding. It was he who made man and implanted in him that sense of dependence which is the seed of religion, that sense of obligation which is the root of morality. And when, by his sin, man lost the power to explicate his sense of dependence and his sense of obligation on right lines, and fell into hideous corruptions both of thought and conduct, it was God who intervened to restore him to himself, and to communicate to him richer and fuller religion and morality.
For the religion of redeemed man is a deeper and richer religion than that of unfallen man could ever have been. The sad experiences through which he has passed; the glorious experiences into which by redemptive grace he has been brought; have not only deepened and enriched his religious nature, but have also deepened and enriched the contents of his religious understanding and his religious experience. There are aspects of the divine nature, there are whole regions of religious experience, to the apprehension and enjoyment of which only the redeemed soul has access.
And the morality of the redeemed man is equally fuller and richer than the morality of unfallen man could ever have become. There are obligations of gratitude, for example, which fall on him — obligations on the one hand to a humility of quite distinctive character, and on the other hand to love of an absolutely peculiar quality — to which unfallen man must have remained a stranger.
We may be sure, then, that the actual course of human history by which the natural religion and natural morality which alone were accessible to unfallen man have been transformed and transfigured into the supernatural religion and supernatural morality which shall be the glorious attainment of redeemed mankind, has not, at any point, been in conflict with the divine will or in contravention of the divine appointment. There is a sense — a sense which requires, of course, very careful guarding lest we seem to make evil good and good evil — in which it is right to say, O beata culpa. God’s universe has never for one moment escaped from his governing hand. The event to which it is journeying may seem to us sometimes to be very far off; but it is purely divine. And it runs to this best — we do not say merely possible but also — conceivable end, through the best — we do not say merely possible, but also — conceivable course. To acknowledge that much, we owe to the God who has made it, and who, having made it, upholds and governs it.
It seems, then, quite clear that all the religion and all the morality which has ever been in the world is of God. Whether natural or revealed, it is he who has given it; and it is he alone who has maintained it, yea, and will maintain it, enlarged and enriched to meet sinful man’s clamant needs and renewed man’s deeper desires. Both religion and morality are rooted in God, live in God, and in all the stages of their development, and phases of their manifestation alike reflect man’s essential relations to God– relations of dependence and obligation, in which again, as when he was unfallen, he shall, now that he is redeemed and in process of sanctification and in prospect of glorification, ever find his chief joy.