Our Masses And The Bible - Part 3
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
But if Israel spoke of the Eternal thus, it was, we say, because he had a plain experimental proof of him. God was to Israel neither an assumption nor a metaphysical idea; he was a power that can be verified as much as the power of fire to burn or of bread to nourish : the power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness. And the greatness of Israel in religion, the reason why he is said to have had religion revealed to him, to have been entrusted with the oracles of God, is because he had in such extraordinary force and vividness the perception of this power. And he communicates it irresistibly because he feels it irresistibly; that is why the Bible is not as other books that inculcate righteousness. Israel speaks of his intuition still feeling it to be an intuition, an experience; not as something which others have delivered to him, nor yet as a piece of metaphysical notion-building. Anthropomorphic he is, for all men are, and especially men not endowed with the Aryan genius for abstraction; but he does not make arbitrary assertions which can never be verified, like our popular religion, nor is he ever pseudo-scientific, like our learned religion.
He is credited with the metaphysical ideas of the personality of God, of the unity of God, and of creation as opposed to evolution; ideas depending, the first two of them, on notions of essence, existence, and identity, the last of them on the notion of cause and design. But he is credited with them falsely. All the countenance he gives to the metaphysical idea of the personality of God is given by his anthropomorphic language, in which, being a man himself, he naturally speaks of the Power, with which he is concerned, as a man also. So he says that Moses saw God's hinder parts; and he gives just as much countenance to the scientific assertion that God has hinder parts, as to the scientific assertion of God's personality. That is, he gives no countenance at all to either. As to his asserting the unity of God the case is the same. He would give, indeed, his heart and his worship to no manifestation of power, except of the power which makes for righteousness; but he affords to the metaphysical idea of the unity of God no more countenance than this, and this is none at all. Then, lastly, as to the idea of creation. He viewed, indeed, all order as depending on the supreme order of righteousness, and all the fulness and beauty of the world as a boon added to the stock of that holder of the greatest of all boons already, the righteous. This, however, is as much countenance as he gives to the famous argument from design, or to the doctrine of creation as opposed to evolution. And it is none at all.
Free as is his use of anthropomorphic language, Israel had, as we have remarked already, far too keen a sense of reality not to shrink, when he comes anywhere near to the notion of exact speaking about God, from affirmation, from professing to know a whit more than he does know. `Lo, these are skirts of his ways,' he says of what he has experienced, ` but how little a portion is known of him !' And again: ` The secret things belong unto the Eternal our God; but the revealed things belong unto us and to our children for ever : that we may do all the words of this law.' ' How different from our licence of full and particular statement : ' A Personal First Cause, who thinks and loves, the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe!' Israel knew, concerning the eternal not ourselves, that it was 'a power that made for righteousness.' This was revealed to Israel and his children, and through them to the world; all the rest about the eternal not ourselves was this power's own secret. And all Israel's language about this power, except that it makes for righteousness, is approximate language; the language of poetry and eloquence, thrown out at a vast object of our consciousness not fully apprehended by it, but extending infinitely beyond it.
This, however, was ' a revealed thing,' Israel said, to him and to his children : 'the Eternal not ourselves that makes for righteousness.' And now, then, let us go to the masses with what Israel really did say, instead of what our popular and our learned religion may choose to make him say. Let us announce, not : ' There rules a Great Personal First Cause, who thinks and loves, the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe, and therefore study your Bible and learn to obey this !' No; but let us announce : 'There rules an enduring Power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness, and therefore study your Bible and learn to obey this.' For if we announce the other instead, and they reply : ' First let us verify that there rules a Great Personal First Cause, who thinks and loves, the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe,'—what are we to answer? We cannot answer.
But if, on the other hand, they ask : 'How are we to verify that there rules an enduring Power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness?'—we may answer at once : ' How ? why as you verify that fire burns,—by experience ! It is so; try it ! you can try it; every case of conduct, of that which is more than three-fourths of your own life and of the life of all mankind, will prove it to you ! Disbelieve it, and you will find out your mistake as surely as, if you disbelieve that fire burns and put your hand into the fire, you will find out your mistake ! Believe it, and you will find the benefit of it !' This is the first experience.
But then the masses may go on, and say ' Why, how-ever, even if there is an enduring Power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness, should we study the Bible that we may learn to obey him ?-will not other teachers or books do as well?' And here again the answer is : ' Why?—why, because this Power is revealed in Israel and the Bible, and not by other teachers and books ! that is, there is infinitely more of him there, he is plainer and easier to come at, and incomparably more impressive. If you want to know plastic art, you go to the Greeks ; if you want to know science, you go to the Aryan genius. And why? Because they have the specialty for these things ; for making us feel what they are and giving us an enthusiasm for them. Well, and so have Israel and the Bible a specialty for righteousness, for making us feel what it is and giving us an enthusiasm for it. And here again it is experience that we invoke : try it! Having convinced yourself that there is an enduring Power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness, set yourself next to try to learn more about this Power, and to feel an enthusiasm for it. And to this end, take a course of the Bible first, and then a course of Benjamin Franklin, Horace Greeley, Jeremy Bentham, and Mr. Herbert Spencer; see which has most effect, which satisfies you most, which gives you most moral force. Why, the Bible is of such avail for teaching righteousness, that even to those who come to it with all sorts of false notions about the God of the Bible, it yet does teach righteousness, and fills them with the love of it; how much more those who come to it with a true notion about the God of the Bible !' And this is the second experience.