« Prev CHAPTER II Next »



The question of a final authority as the external infallible ground of belief would have been settled long ago, if it had stood by itself and been merely a matter of inquiry. What maintains it, so as to make inquiry a sin and the manipulation of history a work of piety, is the conviction that an infallible authority is a plain inference from the nature of God. If He is omnipotent and His omnipotence is directed by omniscience, must not His revelation be without error or defect?

Or can we suppose that He has failed to provide adequate means for maintaining it in purity? Then it appears to some that the old foundations must be underpinned at all costs to facts, and to others, who are more submissive to facts, that God has not acted worthily of His power and knowledge, but has left man calamitously to his own phantasy and vain devices. Nor, so long as we accept this conception of God's working, as by direct, irresistible might, can we ever escape from suspense between dogmatic assertion of what must be and a troubled awareness of what is.

With any measure of openness of mind the difficulty of conceiving that the only adequate working of God is by irresistible might, directed by an omniscient 14 plan, becomes distressingly evident. Unless we are to make God merely a name for a cosmic process indifferent to good or evil at least in the present world, we must restrict the operations which are adequate to His power and knowledge to very few persons, and even with them to very special experiences. But, in that case, religion fails us ordinary people, and especially in our ordinary ways where our need is greatest. Why, if His power and knowledge are infinite, should God not extend His perfect working to us also and to all our concerns? Why, if the only adequate method of the Almighty is resistless, unerring might, should He ever use an inferior one, which so obviously admits error and failure so extensively, perhaps so exclusively?

These difficulties alone would make it plain that this view of God's necessary working needs to be revised, and that the way of doing it is not to lay down a priori regulations, argued from the bare idea of omnipotence, but, instead, to consider God's actual way of dealing with His children. When we do so, we see that the argument from His omnipotence is an assumption based on the mere naked idea of absolute force and in no way concerned with the notion of God as Father: for, if in all things He deals with us as a Father, His grace cannot be thus divorced from His working in nature and ordinary history.

What all life does say to us is that God does not conduct His rivers, like arrows, to the sea. The ruler and compass are only for finite mortals who labour, 15 by taking thought, to overcome their limitations, and are not for the Infinite mind. The expedition demanded by man's small power and short day produces the canal, but nature, with a beneficent and picturesque circumambulancy, the work of a more spacious and less precipitate mind, produces the river. Why should we assume that, in all the rest of His ways, He rejoices in the river, but, in religion, can use no adequate method save the canal? The defence of the infallible is the defence of the canal against the river, of the channel blasted through the rock against the basin dug by an element which swerves at a pebble or a firmer clay. And the question is whether God ever does override the human spirit in that direct way, and whether we ought to conceive either of His spirit or of ours after a fashion that could make it possible. Would such irresistible might as would save us from all error and compel us into right action be in accord either with God's personality or with ours?

When we maintain the contrary, it can hardly be that we are interpreting experience. May we not simply be misled by a vain imagination of how we ourselves should act on the throne of the universe? But to conceive God after the fashion of our own impatient, domineering spirits, is not the way to find Him in all His works.

When we turn from argument to reality, there is little to show that either truth or righteousness ever came by way of irresistible might. Progress ever winds slowly forward, fretting at every obstacle and constantly 16 returning upon its path, never working with absolute things, but always with the struggle of human thought and purpose. The long sorrowful experience of the ages seems to show that the last thing God thinks of doing is to drive mankind, with resistless rein, on the highway of righteousness.

All infallibilities presuppose an idea of grace mechanically irresistible. But a direct force controlling persons as things is no personal relation between God and man; and the religion which rests on it does nothing to maintain the supreme interest of religion, which is the worth of persons over things, of moral values over material forces. God might so act upon men and still be a person, but there would be nothing personal in His acting; He might even care for each individual, but it would not be as a soul thinking its own thoughts and acting according to its own thinking; and the whole method has to be restricted to special spheres of grace, else it would not be an explanation of the world in any essential way different from heartless, rational, cosmic process.

It is a grave result that, to give any infallibility the appearance of being in accord with fact, much history must be manipulated and zeal for investigation carefully kept in leading-strings, but it is still graver if this be done in the interest of a conception of grace as the irresistible force of omnipotence directed, in an unswerving line, by omniscience, which, being mechanical and not spiritual, introduces irreconcileable conflict between moral freedom and 17 the succour of God. We can only find God in all life, and His operation adequate to our spiritual needs, when we discover His method to be patient enough to pass round by way of persuasion and education through our errors and failures: and then only is He God and not mere process.

« Prev CHAPTER II Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection