Divineness Of Man
THE two supreme facts of Christian revelation are —God and Man. These facts are the two foci of the moral universe. These facts the Christian revelation invests with a distinctive, an infinite, significance and value which from no other source could be possible to human thought. God, under one conception or an-other, has always been a postulate of thought. The gradations of conception about God which have been entertained in the human mind, from lowest to highest, form well-nigh an infinite series.
Outside of Christianity, Hebrewism undoubtedly reached the loftiest view of Deity. The God of the later Hebrew thought was a God of unspeakable majesty. He was almighty, sovereign, ubiquitous, holy. The ancient litany and song voiced the story of his loving-kindness, of his tender and forgiving mercies toward his people, and the prophets preach him as a God whose righteous and beneficent providence ever broods over the world. But if we had no other revelation of God than that furnished in the Old Testament, we would still be infinitely far from that view and knowledge of him which are furnished to us in Jesus Christ. The God of the Hebrews would remain to us largely a God of unapproachable awe. We would be forced to think of him as the God whose voice utters itself, and whose majesty flames, in the thunders and lightnings of Sinai. A vision of this God sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, his power irresistible, his holiness a consuming fire, would be one to cause us, as it did Isaiah, to fall upon our faces in awe and fear. Sovereignty, unapproachable majesty, avenging righteousness are the attributes with which the Old Testament clothes God. "Clouds and darkness are round about him ; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." There is more in the picture to inspire fear than to beget a sense of confidence and love.
The New Testament in no sense detracts from the might, majesty, and glory of God as set forth in the Old Testament. But it presents God to our view in a sense that brings him infinitely nearer to our human needs, in a sense that inspires our affection, confidence, and devotion immeasurably beyond the power of Old Testament ideals to evoke. In Jesus Christ God is set forth in an absolutely distinct relation to man from that declared by any other religion known. In Christ God becomes a new being in his relation to us. The chief, the central, significance of Christ's revelation of God is that God is an eternal Father. The wonderful thing about Christ is that he is the Son of God. Christ's relations to God are those of a Son in holiest, closest, and eternal intimacy and harmony with the Father. The one purpose in the gospel of Jesus, the purpose which subordinates all other movements of God toward men, is to bring man into real sonship with God. However significant, however transcendent its importance, we shall get at the core-meaning of the atoning work of Christ only as we interpret it in the divine purpose to bring God and man together in the eternal relations of Fatherhood and Sonship.
Here alone man receives his own highest interpretation. Here he discovers that he is not made to be a mere creature and subject of government. He will reach his truest state only as he takes his place in the divine family, only as he becomes a son and heir in the household of the eternal Father. This is Christ's thought, the supreme purpose of his gospel. And who does not see that in the moral heirship of redemption as thus revealed all artificial ranks, obstacles, and castes which men have created between themselves and their fellows are remanded to insignificance and nothingness? In the redemption and Sonship of the gospel there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Thus the gospel not only brings to the world a new conception of God but it brings a new construction of man. It makes all men potentially creatures of infinite worth, heirs of infinite possibilities.
The value and power of this conception may be partially measured by the historic reforms which its advent has actually wrought in human society. It introduced a new view as to the essential sacredness and dignity of all human life. History is clear in its testimony that prior to Christ's coming, even in the most refined civilizations, human life in many forms was held as among the cheapest of commodities. The master universally held the legal power of life and death over the slave. Many instances are recorded of the most wanton massacre of slaves as a result of the master's caprice.
The enlightened Greek valued the life of his barbarian prisoner taken in war as no better than that of a dog. The Roman populace in the palmiest days of the empire thronged the arena to amuse itself by witnessing the brutal slaughter of men in gladiatorial contests. Such murderous exhibitions awakened no more compunction among these ancient peoples than would the slaughter of game in the chase. Infanticide, the exposure and destruction of infants, was a crime fearfully prevalent among the most advanced civilizations, and there was neither law nor public sentiment of any sufficient force to arrest, much less to prohibit, this fearful evil.
Christianity introduced an entirely new ideal into the world's thinking. Even the very slaves were invested with divine rights as the children of God. The gladiatorial shows long persisted, but the Church excommunicated its members who attended these exhibitions, refused baptism to the gladiator unless he pledged him-self to abandon his calling, and its preachers and writers ceaselessly denounced the gladiatorial contests as wicked. It is typical of Christian influence that in the very last of these contests, in the year A. D. 404, a monk named Telemachus rushed into the arena to separate the contestants. He perished beneath a shower of stones which the angry spectators hurled upon him, but his death resulted in the final abrogation of the gladiatorial contests.
And so practically Christianity everywhere has entered her effective protest against the wanton destruction of human life. It has stamped infanticide as a high crime in all civilizations. Its exaltation of man as man has resulted in the abolishing of the grosser forms of human slavery throughout Christendom. And never more so than now was its voice lifted in potent protest against the oppression of the weak by the strong. The emphasis everywhere of its demand upon strength and wealth is not for authority but for service. Gibbon vividly pictures the undisguised and general contempt in which slaves were held by the privileged classes of Rome. It was generally felt that nothing good could come or was to be expected from the slave class. Both their moral and social conditions were on the lowest human plane. The slaves as a class were without aspiration and without hope. They were simply human cattle, beasts of burden.
To this class, for the first time in history, Christianity came, bringing a new moral life and the inspiration of new hopes. It brought a philosophy of life and character which made appeal to many qualities which slavery had developed in its subjects. Instead of stoical independence and patrician pride which entered largely into the manly ideals of the Roman freeman, Christianity enjoined as among its cardinal virtues, "humility, obedience, gentleness, patience, resignation. Christianity found the groundwork of these qualities already laid in the life of the slave.
Its first great moral conquests were largely from the servile classes. The large number of its converts from among slaves was made the ground for bitter reproaches from the pagan world. But Christianity transformed the life of its slave converts and crowned them with a new manhood. Among the heroic records of martyrdom in the days of the persecuted Church frequently appear the names of slaves. In Christ they had found a new life and a new faith for which they were willing even to die.
These historic illustrations may simply serve to show that it was in the very nature of Christianity in its practical workings to lay hold upon humanity for man's divine exaltation. Its primal declaration to the world was a message of the essential sacredness of the human soul. It came to all men, including the most lowly and unprivileged, proffering the charter of sonship in God's family and of heirship in God's kingdom.
The initial proclamation of Christianity proposing a place for all men in the citizenship of a divine democracy was made against a well-nigh solid wall of tradition and custom which had stood through unrecorded time separating the rich from the poor, the privileged from the lowly, the learned from the vulgar, the world's aristocracy from the great unwashed. To all seeming this wall was too stout to be breached, too high to be scaled. It would be the ready verdict of worldly wisdom that the task of Christianity in its presence was both help-less and hopeless. But Christ, whose vision sees infinitely beyond all appearances, was calmly willing to stake all on the final working out of the fundamental and eternal potentialities divinely planted in the human breast.
The love of God's Fatherhood forever moving upon the world, the Spirit of divine truth forever working in the human reason, will at some time dissipate all opposition, and God will come to his own in the divine responses of humanity. God's task with our human world is yet possibly only fairly begun. The consummation may indeed be remotely distant, but the great Father will suffer no final defeat. His purposes will be crowned in a redeemed and glorified humanity. A great fact which has hitherto been too dimly apprehended, but a fact which must receive ever-enlarging translation into human convictions, is that of God's purpose in man. A luminous apprehension of this fact must prove an important factor in the education and preparation of the race for final harmony with God's plan for the world.
The potential greatness of man is abundantly attested. The ancient singer seemed to catch something of its vision when he declared : "Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet." Hints of man's greatness are seen in his achievements. The Greek mind has been the world's schoolmaster both in philosophy and in art. Plato and Aristotle bequeathed to the ages an inexhaustible wealth of thought. Greek artists sculptor and painter have furnished the most transcendent models of beauty for all the world. To the Roman genius the ages are indebted for the creation of great laws, laws so simple in construction that all modern civilizations dwell in security under their cover, so perfect in application that all the diverse and complex activities of man-kind receive under their control orderly direction with conservation of the rights of all.
The Semitic mind has been the channel of the highest religious and ethical thought. From far-away ages, and from the luminous heights of their moral attainment, the Hebrew prophets have stood forth before all subsequent ages as men elect of God, the peerless heralds of righteousness to mankind.
The modern mind, in addition to absorbing and assimilating the knowledge of all preceding times, has given itself to the physical conquests of nature. Human science to-day with inquisitorial spirit invades all material and psychic realms, demanding to know the final truth, the last secret that may be anywhere resident in them all. The spirit of invention has, as by a miracle, captured and harnessed for the innumerable and ever-multiplying uses of life the hidden forces of nature. The oceans are conquered and traversed by triumphant fleets of merchandise. Continental spaces have been annihilated by steam and electric-sped chariots. The most diverse and antipodal races are brought into a near and single community of intelligence and interest by the electric flash which instantly transmits all thought and achievement to the ends of the earth. Human industry, guided by intelligence, is a march of triumphal conquest and annexation into all the provinces of nature. The dynamic forces of the globe are surrendering them-selves in tribute to man's all-conquering genius.
In reviewing the marvels of human achievement, two facts merit attention : First, man is greater, vastly so, than his creations. Humanity as a whole, is far greater than all the literature, the philosophy, the arts, the laws, the religious epochs, the sciences and inventions which have been born of human brain or heart or hand. The race is larger than any civilization which it has as yet developed. The best civilizations are being steadily outgrown. And, so man as a single being is immeasurably greater than his greatest achievements. Shakespeare's dramas are peerless. But Shakespeare is by all heights and breadths greater than his plays. Edison has been called the wizard of invention. But Edison sees a far larger world than the one he has yet conquered.
A second fact is that the most sovereign achievements of man are simply for service. The creature to be served is august, a being immeasurably more potential and noble than any mere instrument of service. The great philosophies, the great arts, the great literatures, the great laws, the great inventions, the great aggregations of knowledge, the great religions are all ordained for the service and advancement of man. Any sane and adequate analysis of history must demonstrate man's greatness over nature, his greatness over and beyond all his own achievements.
But it remains to be said that when we would form approximately some true conception of man's potential greatness we must enter the realm of prophecy. All the best history of the past does little more than to suggest the dawn of man's possible future. God himself has lifted before us two standards from which we can base a sure prophecy of the godlike future awaiting man. The one is the Cross, the other is Evolution.
In approaching the subject of the cross, one should feel profoundly that it is of unfathomable meaning.
It is a subject to be approached only with a penitent and cleansed vision. If Sinai was majestically articulate in declaring God's holy and eternal hostility to sin, then the cross of Calvary, as not all other revelations, was God's object lesson of the exceeding hatefulness of sin itself. Calvary, whatever else it may mean, means nothing less than an unmeasured cost, a cost prompted by infinite love, and volunteered on the part of God, to make possible man's redemption from the indescribable curse and doom of sin.
But for the present purpose I elect to consider the cross as indicating the measure of God's investment in the interests of man. God makes no mistakes. He makes no unwise investments. If in studying the cross, it magnifies into meanings too large for our measurement, if its significance radiates into the moral immensities and eternities, we may not forget that all its transcendent meaning anchors and centers itself in God's interest in humanity.
God sees in redeemed man values which not only balance, but which immeasurably overbalance all the, to us inconceivable, cost of the tragedy. In reflecting upon this thought we must not permit ourselves to become incredulous because of the vision of the great mass of poor, of dwarfed, of sinful, and of apparently worthless humanity with which our present observation makes us all more or less familiar. We must make Christ our human object lesson. As Mary did, we must sit in rapt devotion at his feet. We must study him in whom the Father declared himself as ever well pleased, until our vision shall be filled with God's own ideal of manhood.
Christ is the kind of Man into whose likeness God pro-poses through the transforming grace and nurture of his cross to bring all men. If the task to our human belief seems insurmountable, we must still not so far forget ourselves as to question God's ability to bring it to pass.
It is an impertinence, the impertinence of a conceited and infantile mind, to question any part of God's strategy in his great campaign of human redemption. When Christ went to Calvary no one in the universe knew as well as God knew the poor, the degenerate, the degraded quality of humanity. God saw it all, and he unhesitatingly assumed all the risk of his redemptive work. Men, for reasons most puerile perhaps because they have some fine mahogany furniture, perhaps because they think they have refinement of taste, perhaps because their intellects are a little more polished affect to despise and to remain aloof from the masses of their fellows to whom God has given the same bounteous air, and a vision of the same green earth and the same over-arching heavens as to themselves. Of all our needs, one of the greatest of all is that we should be lifted above the petty narrownesses and smallnesses of much of the world's present social judgments. God justly measures human material. He proposes from humanity just as he sees it, just as it is, to develop a divine democracy for the citizenship of his kingdom in the heavens. The cross testifies to nothing less than to infinite values in human nature.
Of course God is acting on a long calendar for the development of his purposes in man. The gospel of Jesus is a gospel of immortality. This age has come to be so absorbed in material pursuits that the vision of immortality has passed somewhat under eclipse. Our thinking to-day about the glories of the immortal life is well-nigh in inverse ratio to the values of that life itself. But immortality and exhaustless opportunities are indispensable conditions for the development of humanity in God. The present earthly life at best is but rudimentary. Its conditions and limitations are such as to exclude the vast majorities of men from realizing the best inborn prophecies of themselves. Men in great masses, by the very limitations which press upon them in this life, are shut away from attaining the ideal either in the sphere of intellectual enrichment or of moral development. The opportunity of such is yet to come. Immortality will furnish them the limit-less landscape and opportunity for the fullest development of their powers.
Who shall measure or picture to us the heritage of immortality for the sons of God? We find ourselves at present living in a physical universe practically infinite in dimensions and resources. In the sphere of intellectual possibilities the immortal mind finds itself placed in an immensity of worlds, worlds all of which are under a common sway, and the study of which it might require an eternity to exhaust. But we may not forget that the material universe, immense and marvelous as it is, is but of secondary value. God's real glory is moral. The crowning destiny which he purposes for man is moral. The highest pursuits and enjoyments of the sons of God will be forever spiritual. And if God overwhelms our minds by the revelations he makes of himself in the physical universe, what in-finitely higher moral and spiritual revelations may not his sons expect? While eternity progresses, God will forever press new revelations of his own exhaustless glories upon the unfolding vision and receptivity of his children. Not to the most inspired vision as yet has there been revealed more than the alphabet of man's infinite possibilities. But as the alphabet carries in itself the potencies of exhaustless literatures, so the best that has yet entered into the visions and experiences of prophets and saints is but the foregleams of intellectual dominions, moral attainments, and spiritual fellowships which forevermore shall translate men into God's likeness.
Our best vision today is nearsighted. We are hedged in by barriers of inheritance, of narrow education, of untrained faculty, of skeptical habit, all of which bar us from wide outlook upon the universe of our real possibilities. We are provincial in our habits. Our beliefs are narrow. Our spiritual vision is not adjusted to telescopic distances. We are like dwellers in caves by the seashore rather than explorers of the mighty deeps. The wings of our souls are not yet trained for familiar flights through the starry spaces.
But the Christian revelation inspires the faith that this being whom we now look upon as so limited will in the immortal life find scope for the most godlike development. His explorations will transcend the most nebulous heights, his vision will range the eons. His life will grow ever richer, his joys ever deeper, his goodness ever more beautiful, his knowledge ever larger, his attainments ever more godlike. The wealth of his future none can picture, for eternity alone can complete the history of his progress.
Now, to the fact of man's supreme significance in the universe so inspiringly affirmed by Christian revelation, evolution lends a wondrous confirmation. Evolution has no meaning without God. Unless its pathway from dark and dateless beginnings, and through count-less eons, leads finally to the portals of moral empire, unless at the goal and summit of its purpose there are finally to appear the intellectual and moral outworkings of Divinity, then, evolution, of all things, would prove a monstrous creed. A man who is at once an atheist and an evolutionist is one who might well view life as the most hopeless of blind alleys a meaningless maze. Evolution may perhaps be, as many thinkers believe it must be, accepted as the dominant philosophy of the universe. But it becomes increasingly clear that evolution is not an end in itself. It is a process which is seen to be ever working toward some goal not itself. The final goal toward which evolution works is something beyond an earth, or a sun, or all the starry systems. It has wrought toward these, and has worked out all their wondrous perfections. But if this were all, the universe would still be mute and meaningless.
The goal of evolution is a universe peopled with moral and spiritual intelligence. This is the final worth and significance of it all. Whatever may be true in other provinces of the universe, so far as this world is concerned man stands as the very crown of creation. Nothing beyond man or better is to be looked for except man himself perfected. Whatever, then, may appear as the well-nigh infinite investment of the creative and ever-transforming processes of evolution, processes which have been ever at work through engulfing ages of time, evolution itself from its far beginnings has with unerring purpose and skill been directed toward the final making of man.
This end evolution will continue to pursue until, in the cloudless light of some coming eon, man shall appear as the perfected reflection of God. Thus the philosophy of evolution lends a measureless emphasis to the intellectual and moral values of man himself. Man is worth all the investment which unnumbered ages have contributed toward his production.
It is this view, with its implications, which lends unmeasured significance to that swelling passion of the modem world which voices itself in the interests of emancipating man, physical, intellectual, moral, from the long-asserted slaveries. Man, in his inherent rights, in his essential worth, in the divinity of his destiny, is coming more and more to stand in the focus of the world's best thought and service.
The individual to whom has come luminously this broadening and uplifting ideal of man is thereby placed under supreme incentive to highest. living. Nothing need humiliate him save the consciousness of being untrue to life's divine aim. He need not even yield to the fallacy which would remind him of the smallness and insignificance of his place amid the surrounding immensities and the countless ages. He has a right to think of himself as a being toward whom God has wrought through all the eons, and to whom God makes possible a destiny more enduring and more glorious than the light of all the suns.
This divine view of man is destined to take an ever-growing and controlling place in the common thought. The growing sense of man's worth as a spiritual being will surely displace the low and sordid ideals which have so largely enslaved the past. The barbarism of many business ideals is that they have placed more worth upon machinery than upon man, they have elicited more care for dividends than for the welfare of civilization. That labor in sweatshop and factory which stunts the physical growth of childhood, that dwarfs both its intellect and morals, that unfits motherhood for its functions, thus robbing posterity of its normal birthright —all this is a crime against civilization which would be impossible of toleration were it not that a greed-ridden community has been content to rest in low and brutal views as to the worth of human life. Business methods that disqualify motherhood and that cripple childhood are a very atheism of infamy in God's world of humanity.
When man comes to his rightful place in the thought of man, as he surely will, then all society will be morally sensitive in the interests of childhood. Motherhood will be regarded as a function so holy that all safeguards will be sentineled around it. In that day the tempers of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be enthroned in human society. In the great world of trade, now so invaded by motives of piracy, an enlightened sense of equity will have been substituted for all unholy and destructive business rivalries. In the industrial world ideals of manhood, not lust of gold, will be in control. It will be a ruling conviction in society that God is dealing in this world for the purpose of developing a race of godlike men. The age foreseen by the poet is drawing near the Golden Age, that will
Give human nature reverence for the sake Of
( Originally Published 1914 )
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