Overland Monthly / OV001 - The Divine Program (I. The Living and True God)
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THE DIVINE PROGRAM
This article is the first of a series of twelve on a most important theme by Pastor Russell, of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Pastor Russell is widely known, both as a writer and speaker on homiletic themes. —EDITOR OVERLAND MONTHLY.
I.—The Living and True God.
THE STRUCTURE of the brain places veneration at the very top, and thus, by implication, confirms the statement of the catechism that "Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." However great the depravity of our race in the dark places of the earth, this element of veneration, of an instinctive appreciation of a God and a feeling of responsibility toward him constitutes a foundation upon which to build, to reconstruct, to reorganize the depraved elements of character.
Without this fulcrum, missionaries and philanthropists might well lose all heart and all hope in respect to the moral and social uplift of the masses and the classes.
Whoever, therefore, is intelligently a friend to his race must do everything in his power to maintain this center of mental balance of mind and to utilize it as an essential feature in the Divine arrangement for human well-being. Whoever in any manner or degree undermines this element of the mind is surely doing a destructive work, instead of a constructive one, whether he realizes the fact or not. But, alas, that we must say it! Some of the most intelligent of our most intellectual day are rapidly drifting away from the fundamental truth that there is a living and true God.
These intellectuals are accepting the thought of an impersonal God, which, from our standpoint, is tantamount to saying, "There is no living and true God." This is the position taken, not only by theosophists and Christian Scientists, but also by many scientific and professional thinkers. Rarely is an attempt made to define the impersonal God. Rather the term God is used merely as a concession to popular sentiment and the "ignorance of the unlearned." Those who hold this view often use the word nature as a synonym for God. Their thought really seems to be that there is no intelligent creator in the universe; that our sun
and stars and planets are governed by what they term "natural laws," and that humanity prospers and progresses merely as it learns by experience the operation of these laws, and seeks co-operation and avoids conflict with them. Christian Science, dealing less with the scholastic and more with the ordinary reason, attempts to explain that the word God simply signifies Good. And then, with something of a play upon words, which confounds the reasoning faculties of the untrained mind, they tell us that whatever is useful is good, and therefore is God. Proceeding with the explanation, they declare that every tree and rock have good or usefulness in them, and hence to that extent have God in them. Elaborating further, they say that God is in the air, because of its vitalizing effect; he is in the flower because of its goodness and usefulness for beauty and fragrance; he is in the tea-kettle, because of its usefulness; likewise in the chair, the table, the floor, the ceiling—everything.
Whoever entertains such views proportionately destroys his faith in a personal God, "The Living and True God," and in the Bible as his revelation. How could an impersonal God have a purpose, a will, a plan, a program? And how could he give a revelation of that purpose or program in the Bible or otherwise? "He that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." He shall be found of them. He will reveal his true character to them. "He that seeketh findeth." But our Christian Science friends meet our objection with the assertion that Buddhists and Theosophists hold the same and represent a large proportion of the human family. Furthermore, they claim that the same thought of an impersonal God is taught in all the principal creeds of Christendom, when they declare faith in an omni-present God! Alas, we must admit that the charge is well founded; that the seed of error on this subject was planted in our minds and confessions of faith long ago. Be it noticed, however, that this inconsistency cannot be charged against the Bible, for, although our confessions of Faith were ostensibly made to be in harmony with the Scriptures, the truth is, that not one word of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, declares Divine Omni-presence, but every utterance on the subject affirms the personality of the Father, and that our Lord Jesus is the "express image of his person."—#Heb 1:3. "God is a Spirit," but he is a being, a person. The Scriptures distinctly tell us that a spirit has not flesh and body, as we have, but they as distinctly inform us of the Divine personality and use the members and qualities of the human body to bring the Creator within the range of our apprehension. The Hand of the Lord (his Divine power), and the Eye of the Lord (his Divine wisdom) are in every place. The Ear of the Lord is bowed down to hear the groaning of the prisoner. And the Heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
Heaven is his Throne and the earth is his footstool. True, these expressions are pictorial, figurative; nevertheless they figure not an impersonal Creator, but a personal one, who feels, who thinks, who exercises his power; who has displeasure with those who are sinful and loves those who seek to do his will; to walk in the paths of righteousness. Whoever cultivates this thought of a righteous, personal God, assists in establishing his own heart along lines of corresponding character. He seeks a further knowledge of such a Creator; seeks his compassion and his protecting care, and learns to love him, as he could never appreciate nor love Nature nor any disorganized conception of a space-pervading non-entity. He whose mind and heart grasps the Scriptural Personality of the Heavenly Father catches the significance of our Savior’s words, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; ye are of more value than many sparrows." Such may worship in spirit and in truth proportionate to their knowledge of the Infinite One, whom they were directed to address, "Our Father, which art in heaven." Thinking of the Almighty as everywhere present is entirely unsatisfactory to our comprehension, which calls for a God whose throne is in heaven. This was
the same thought that our Savior again impressed on the women who met him after his resurrection. To these he said: "I have not yet ascended to my Father, and to your Father; to my God and to your God." Thus the general trend of Scriptural testimony confirms the thought which we receive by nature, and intensifies and elaborates it, by giving location and quality of heart and mind and power. Regardless of the truth of the two theories, the Bible presentation is surely the one most helpful to humanity.
To have no personal God must eventually signify to the reasoning mind no Law-Giver, no Judge, no justice, no love, no mercy, no personal relationship, as between father and child. Thus would be lost the very basis of Christian faith and doctrine.
The Scriptural presentation of the Almighty is, therefore, the one most consistent to our reason and most helpful to us, namely, that he is a great God, infinite in his wisdom, his justice, his love and his power. His personality has heaven for his locality, but his influence and powers pervade the universe. We may but imperfectly imagine the various channels of his information and the innumerable agencies through which he can exercise the Almighty Power. But in the light of present day invention, we have at least suggestions of it, for cannot man communicate by wireless telegraphy over hundreds of miles? And not only so, but cannot he use the Hertz-waves for the transmission of power? And can he not with the telescope greatly enlarge his vision, and with the microscope see things otherwise indiscernible? And if puny man, imperfect and fallen, "Born in sin and shapen in iniquity and of few days and full of trouble," can thus enlarge his natural powers, what limitations might he justly or wisely set upon the intelligence and power of his Creator? "He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that formed the ear, shall he not hear?" He that gave to humans our sense of justice, shall we not consider him the very Embodiment of Justice? He who gave to us the power of sympathy and compassion and love, shall we not consider him, the Author of our powers, as infinitely superior to the very highest of our human ideals? For our present purpose it is not even necessary that we be believers in the Bible in order to formulate before our minds something of the glorious character and attributes of our Maker. True, correct views of the teachings of the Scriptures will surely aid us in our conceptions, but at this time we are addressing not merely believers in the Scripture, but also unbelievers. We urge, then, that rational thought on the subject bids us believe that man is the highest type of earthly intelligence, and this teaches us that there must be an intelligent Creator as much superior to us as we are to the crawling worm. Yea, more than this, that he who gave us our intelligent being must be separated from us by a still wider gulf than that which separates us from the worm, because we cannot even create a worm. And it is but a logical process of reasoning that the noblest of our talents and powers are but feeble reflections of the same qualities in our Creator.
From this standpoint, how great is the God which our intelligent reason would picture! How worthy of our reverence, our devotion, our love, our service! The Scriptures assist us by showing that the blemishes which we find in ourselves and others are results of disobedience to the Divine instruction—the results of the fall from the more particular image and likeness of our Creator. Filled with so noble a conception of Deity, we would naturally hasten to worship and bow down, but are stopped by the voices from the Dark Ages, which misrepresent the Almighty, implying that he is not the embodiment of justice, wisdom, love and power. These voices assure us that, although we are commanded to love our enemies, to do good to them that hate us and persecute us and say all manner of evil against us falsely, nevertheless the Almighty, who gave these commands, does not love or forgive his enemies, and does them good but inadequately, and has made preparation for their eternal torture. There is something wholly inconsistent between these voices from the past and the voice of our reason. It is claimed by many that the Bible substantiates the voices of the Dark Ages, the creeds, but we hold that this is a mistake, partly attributable to poor translation and partly to misunderstood parables.
The reasoning mind
surely rebels against the theory which in the Dark Ages held sway and led to the Inquisition and the stake. And it is glad that it has gotten rid of so gross a misconception of the "Father of Lights." A well-balanced and reverential intellect will rejoice to find and to recognize a God that not only is not devoid of justice, wisdom, love and power, and on a plane lower than our own, but who, on the contrary, is infinite in these attributes and worthy of our reverence and worship. We assent that the Divine Word, the Bible, has been greatly misrepresented by us all in the past, and deserves reconsideration. If our forefathers read the Bible with smoking lamps and blurred vision, and nevertheless got some blessing, what a power of God it should be to us now, if, in the light of the electric arc, we should find it the store-house of Divine grace and truth, perfectly co-ordinated and surpassing our highest ideals!