The fundamental question all theists must answer

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What is the relation of the Creator to the existing creation? Is the Deity, in any sense, immanent in, or does he dwell altogether apart from, and out of all connection with, the universe? Has any finite thing or being an independent existence? Have the forces of nature any reality apart from the Divine efficiency? Did the Creator, in the beginning, give self-being to the substance of the universe, and endow it with properties and forces, so that it can exist and act apart from, and independently of, the First Cause?

Is God not only the Creator but the Conservator of all things? Is there any Ethical meaning, any moral significance in the universe? Is the physical order of the universe subordinated to a moral order in which freedom exists? Are there any indications that the existence of moral personality is the end toward which all the successive changes of nature have tended, and the progressive types of life have been a preparation and a prophecy?

Was the earth [Pg 19] designed to be a theatre for the development of moral character, the education and discipline of moral beings? Does the course of history reveal "a power that works for righteousness," and aims at the highest perfection of rational and free beings? In a word, is there a Providential Government of the world? Does man stand in a more immediate relation to God than the things of nature?

Theism must explain the problem of evil; atheism must explain everything else.

Is each individual the charge of a providence, the subject of a moral government, and the heir to a future retribution? Has man a spiritual and immortal nature? Has he the power so to determine his own action and character that he can justly be held accountable, and treated as the proper subject of reward and punishment?

In the final issue of things, will every human being meet his righteous deserts, and be rewarded or punished according to his works? In short, is man under Moral Government?

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These are the great, the vital questions of to-day. In one form or another they have engaged the attention and stimulated the earnest thought of the ablest and best of minds in past ages; and, whether from the inherent demand of reason, or the promptings of instinctive curiosity, they have a deeper hold on the mind of this, than of any preceding age. We approach the discussion of these questions with a profound conviction of their magnitude and difficulty, and an oppressive foreboding that our essay will be pronounced ambitious and vain.

Their vastness seems to defy our admeasurement, and their complexity and difficulty may defeat our feeble efforts at solution. Do the problems permit any solution at all? Of one thing, at any rate, we are sure: these questions are native to the human mind. They arise spontaneously in presence of the facts of the universe. However much of human effort to solve these problems has ended in failure and defeat, the human mind has never lost confidence in the possibility of their ultimate solution, and humanity has never abandoned them in despair.

But patient, earnest souls have never cast away their faith in the integrity of universal reason, and have never ceased to believe that its ideas and laws are, in truth, the ideas and laws of the universe. These problems are the great problems of all philosophy, and all religion; and unless philosophy be a dream, and religion an illusion, they are capable of such a solution as shall satisfy the reason of man.

The ultimate harmony of physical, philosophical, and religious truth is the faith of all noble minds. The signs of the times are propitious. To-day the conflict between reason and faith, science and religion, presents many hopeful indications of an approaching conciliation. Candid men in both fields are earnestly working, and patiently watching, and hourly catching clearer glimpses of the everlasting harmony which pervades the universe of being and of thought. Every, even the smallest, contribution made with an honest purpose to give confidence and collimation to this movement, will be welcome to all earnest minds.


This may be our apology for attempting a task that belongs to stronger intellects than ours. It is obvious, at first thought, that the questions before us admit of no loose and desultory treatment.

God and Morality

Abysses are not to be concealed by laurel screens, or chasms bridged by flowers of rhetoric. If we are to reach any satisfactory conclusions, our procedure must be rigidly systematic and logically exact. We must have a fixed point of departure, and, if possible, a faultless method of advance. The fundamental question must be determined. The central problem must be ascertained, and we must deal with all correlative questions in their logical connection with the one fundamental inquiry. First of all, then, can we place that central problem [Pg 22] clearly before our mental vision?

Amid the diverse questions which spontaneously arise in presence of the diversified phenomena of nature, and the wonderful evolutions of humanity, can we fix upon the one question in which all others are involved—the grand underlying problem which comprehends them all? This is clearly the fundamental question on which all the others are grounded, and in the solution of which they have their solution. The universe presents itself to sense and sense-perception as a perpetual genesis, "a vast aggregation and history of phenomena conditioned in time and space which, by its diversity and mutability, is disqualified from being regarded as independent and self-existent.

And it is an effect for which the reason demands an explanation and a cause. It is a manifoldness and diversity which the logical understanding is ceaselessly endeavoring to reduce to a unity. Indeed, every movement of thought, from the first rude attempt at classification on the simple basis of resemblance, upward to the recognition of more profound ideal relations and uniform laws, until its culmination in the highest integration of reason, is but the effort [Pg 23] of the mind to grasp the individual facts of nature in a unity of thought, and interpret the universe according to principles and ideas which the reason supplies.

The moment reflective thought is directed to the phenomenal world, the questions spontaneously arise—Out of what does the phenomenal come? By what agency or efficiency does it arise? Why does it present itself in this order rather than another? Or, more specifically—What is the abiding reality which sustains the array of phenomena? What is the invisible power which effects all the changes we see around us? What is that unseen presence which determines the forms, relations, and adaptations which every where present themselves to the reason of man?

In a word, What is that ultimate principle—the last or remotest in the order of analytic thought, the first in the order of being and of reason—which sustains and moves and organizes and governs all —that fundamental, abiding primus which is everlastingly present behind the scenery and changes of the world— that which always was, and now is, and ever shall be FIRST?

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Or if we permit ourselves to regard the present order of things as a necessary out-birth from the past, still we are compelled by a laborious effort of regressive thought to climb upward through a series of changes to an absolutely FIRST of the series conditioning all the other members, but itself unconditioned. Few will now claim that this is the natural and adequate cosmical conception; but, even under this mode of conception, we can not but feel that a development without a beginning of the process, a series without a first term, is impossible. As every number, although immeasurably and inconceivably great, is impossible unless unity is given as its basis, so every series, being [Pg 24] itself a number, is impossible unless a first term is given as its commencement.

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In obedience to this demand of reason, or impelled by an innate "wonder"—"the feeling of the philosopher"—men have in all ages attempted an ideal construction and rational interpretation of the universe. Beyond the circle of thought illuminated by Divine revelation, the first movement of reflection was unmethodical and incomplete. Pursuing the inquiries objectively, that is, in the realm of outward nature, and not subjectively in the realm of reason, the human mind was perpetually entangled with dualistic conceptions.

There were contrarieties, polarities, antagonisms, which the logical understanding could not cancel. But all this was unsatisfactory to human reason, which is a unity , and which makes its imperious demand that absolute unity shall stand at the fountain-head of being. It has never been able to rest in an Ultimate which was not an Absolute—that is, a unity which by its very idea and conception is the negation of all plurality and mutability; a unity which is unconditioned, and yet which [Pg 25] conditions all; an "eternal constancy," the voluntary cause of all genesis and all change.

An absolute cause must be one in order to be absolute; two absolutes is a contradiction. With more or less clearness, men in all ages have apprehended that "the First Principle must be one or nothing. This is tacitly conceded in all modern systems of thought.

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Atheism, Pantheism, and Theism alike commence with unity at the fountain-head of being—a unity which is incomposite, absolutely continuous, every where present and eternal. Every system of philosophy is essentially an effort to show how the universe that now is has been originated by, or evolved out of, or has emanated from, a First Principle, an absolute Unity.

To determine whether this absolute First Principle can be known, and, if known, how conceived and expressed aright, is the ultimate problem of all philosophy and all religion.

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All the answers which have been given, and, indeed, all which can be conceived, are contained in the following four propositions:. In the beginning was MATTER —matter as the original substance or substratum, with its inherent, essential, and necessary attribute of force; this alone is eternal and infinite. In the beginning was FORCE —force homogeneous but unstable, and necessarily tending to differentiation and heterogeneity; splitting into opposites, standing off into polarities, ramifying into attractions and repulsions, light, heat, magnetism, and electricity; and mounting up through the stages of physical, vital, and neural to the mental life itself, with all its varied and endless phenomena, as revealed in the languages, laws, institutions, arts, sciences, and religions of the world.

Force is "the ultimate of all ultimates," the "Absolute Reality," the "Unconditioned Cause.

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In the beginning was THOUGHT —thought as an eternal process of self-manifestation and self-actualization, which in its necessary evolution reveals itself as force, and expresses itself in the varied types of existence and laws of phenomena, natural and spiritual. This Unconditioned Will is the causative principle of all Reality, all Efficiency, and all Perfection—a causative principle containing, predetermining, and producing all the manifold forms and re [Pg 27] lations, forces and laws of the universe in reference to a final purpose.

This Absolute First Cause is a living personal Being, "from whom, in whom, and to whom are all things. The first and second of these propositions coalesce with the creed of Atheism , the third with the creed of Pantheism , the fourth is the creed of Theism , and, as we hope to prove in subsequent chapters, the only rational and adequate explanation of the facts of the universe. He is Lord of heaven and earth. God is the first principle, the unconditioned cause of all existence. This is the answer of Christian doctrine to the great problem presented for solution in the preceding chapter.

Whether this fundamental presupposition shall be finally accepted as the only adequate solution of the problem of existence will depend in a large degree upon our apprehension of the Christian idea of God. We shall, therefore, open the discussion by asking the question—What is the content of our conception of God? Dogmatic theology might rest satisfied with the simple affirmation," God is God ," [17] as against all the captious demands of science, were it not necessary to render an account to itself of what, at first sight, might be pronounced a "sublime tautology.

To affirm that God is absolutely "the Unknowable" is simply to assert his unreality.