The Reformation bequeathed to its successors an unfinished task--a task for which those who came after had neither the inclination nor the equipment. Luther and his contemporaries accepted the doctrine of God and creation just as they had received from the past. They restated and defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in terms of the historic creeds, passing on their teaching on these all-important subjects unimpaired and thoroughly orthodox. Their controversy with Rome was not on this territory. Their massive conflict was on the nature and method of redemption, in terms of repentance, grace and faith. More they could not do in their lifetime. They established the doctrine of the finality and complete authority of Holy Scripture, but into the deeper questions of the Nature of God Himself, the meaning of creation, and the problem of evil, they did not venture.
To that extent, the Reformation was incomplete; but in the dilemma of modern times when rationalism has taken over from faith, it has become vital that the doctrine of God, of Creation, and of Evil should be seriously investigated beyond the boundaries set by the great upheavals of the 16th and 17th centuries. Not that serious work on these subjects has not been done in times past, but the profundities of thought given thereto from the age of Augustine to the present time have not generally come to the attention of the Christian public. Our publishers are working overtime to fill our shelves with reprints of theological works from Luther onward, and vast sums of money are changing hands in Britain and America to create new demands or to supply old ones. But the creation of a popular market of this kind is not greatly helping the Kingdom of Christ. The problems of today are not being faced.
We have a threefold task--to explore the deep recesses of divine truth concerning God, Creation and Evil. These three subjects must always be considered together. Much that has been attempted on the problem of evil fails to satisfy the need of the anxious and the burdened, because it is treated apart from an adequate doctrine of God and Creation.
God is only known in Creation and Redemption. The Book of Inspiration (the Bible) has a companion volume--the Book of Creation, wherein the eternal power and Godhead of the Almighty are clearly declared: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork....”
Evil is inherent in creation. Its curse lies heavily on all regions of sentient life. Whence did it come? What caused it to arise to trouble all creation? What will be its end? Will it always be there to trouble the universe? Only in the depths of divine knowledge can these questions be answered--if answered at all. The mystery of evil in creation is the groundwork of redemption; and it is in redemption alone that God has fully and finally unveiled Himself, revealing more than His almighty power, for in redemption alone has God disclosed the innermost secret of His being: He is Eternal Love.
The doctrine of God is probably the most neglected of all doctrines. Few have attempted to scale those heights which the Reformation approached but left untouched. The preoccupation of the Reformers with the antichristian apostasy was followed in post-Reformation times by other conflicts of defence, church politics, establishment, independency, episcopacy and presbytery. It is true that alongside these struggles the exposition of the Word of God was raised to unprecedented heights (at any rate in the English-speaking world) by several generations of faithful and dedicated men. But no serious work was attempted on the doctrine of God. The seventeenth century brought with it an unprecedented advance in physical science.
Dr. Martensen reminds us that the agitation in the minds of men which issued in the Reformation began long before Luther and extended not only to the religious, but also to the general, consciousness of man. “The human mind was not only searching the scriptures, for the contents of which a new sense had been revealed, but the book of Nature likewise. The great Bacon had given new, powerful impulse to the whole natural science of modern times, based on the inductive principle--the method of observation and experiment.”
Then came Newton, whose achievements in penetrating the secrets of creation have been curiously summarized in two quaint lines, the modern author of which probably deserves to remain unknown: “Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night. God Said, ‘Let Newton be!’, and all was light.”
But neither the Reformers nor the Puritans were equipped to grasp what was taking place in the realm of physical science, and they were even less equipped to follow up the advance of science and match it with a fresh approach to the doctrine of Creation. The field remained open to less reverent minds who not only altered the doctrine of God for the worse, but subsequently proceeded to demolish all conception of the moral ground of creation and invented the doctrine of EVOLUTION to supply the place of God and to destroy all meaning and purpose from the universe.
The incapacity of the theologians of the time to perceive the significance of the movement in human thought is reflected in their incredulous treatment of that new light which God was then pouring upon the minds of the investigators.
“Who,” asked Calvin, “will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of Holy Scripture?” Even John Owen, the greatest theological mind of the Puritan age, viewed with profound suspicion that penetration of the secrets of creation made by the discoverer of the principle of gravitation: “Newton’s discoveries,” he said, “are against the evident testimony of Scripture.”
Unknown to the Christian leaders of the day, a new instrument was being thrust into their hands by which they might more clearly perceive the nature of God from the works of creation. The entire doctrine of God was being opened up for them in new and wonderful light, and they knew it not.
Yet there were not wanting men in Europe who, independently of dogmatic theologians, found in more devotional fields the secret which they sought.
Germany, the true home of the Reformation, fell an early victim to “establishment” religion. Every princeling in that patchwork of states which was Germany right to Napoleonic times set himself up to exercise the episcopal function as head of state, so as to retain all power, ecclesiastical and otherwise, in his own hands. There was no such thing, after Luther, as a “German Church,” though there was a Reformed (that is, a Calvinistic) element which formed outside the state system the rallying point for those who sought a church which was free and living.
The Germany of the Reformation century became hopelessly involved in arid theological disputes over such topics as antinomianism and synergism (the amount of human liberty permitted by the grace of God in conversion). Justification (Luther’s criterion of a standing or a falling church) was confused by arguments as to whether man was justified by an infusion of Christ’s divine nature or His human nature. Those who held to the latter were, right or wrong, often denied decent burial. Keen ears listened in the services to note whether in the Lord’s Prayer a man began with “Vater unser” or "Unser Vater" (Our Father), this being held to denote whether he belonged to one party or the other.
The disputes were endless and often trivial. Melanchthon, the beloved companion of Luther, ended his days worn out by the controversialists, repeating his favorite prayer, “From the rage of the theologians, good Lord deliver us.”
Europe was tottering on the brink of the Thirty Years’ War, which from 1618 onward devastated Germany and other parts of Europe. It was said that the armies of the contestants turned the Palatinate of the Rhineland from a garden into a wilderness. Some cities were sacked many times with horrors which Schiller said were so appalling that speech had no words and poetry no pen to describe them. The ruined provinces of Germany were reduced in population from 17,000,000 to 5,000,000.
At such a time, the faith of the people was kept alive by the devotional writings of men like Johann Arndt, who “ranged beyond Lutheran orthodoxy, and breathed the practical mysticism of Tauler and Thomas a Kempis” (A. L. Drummond, Edinburgh). His works were translated into almost every European language in those dreadful times and were read by Calvinists and Lutherans and even by Roman Catholic soldiers from Spain. The Pietist movement was born. Men like Spener appeared with their warm, living doctrine of Christ, to emphasize one of Luther’s great practical sayings, “The heart of religion lies in its personal pronouns.”
Among the “spiritual reformers” of those post-Reformation days was another man who entered deeply into the doctrine of God, Creation, and Evil. He was not numbered among the theologians or even among the village preachers and divines of the period, but was a humble village tradesman, who by earnest scrutiny and a strong meditative faculty actually anticipated Newton’s great conclusions and related them directly to the divine revelation. Indeed, if report be true, Sir Isaac himself had, previous to the publication of his own discoveries, immersed himself for a season in the writings of this man.
THE COBBLER OF GOERLITZ
We refer to the “enlightened cobbler of Goerlitz” (in Silesia), Jacob Boehme (often anglicized to the more pronounceable “Behmen”). This gracious and illuminated man was born in 1575 and died in 1624. The Reformation had already become in Germany an arid theological wilderness--or, as a modern philosopher has described it, “like a frozen waterfall: mighty shapes of movement, but no movement.” When theology congeals like that, God often by-passes the schools and raises pure piety among the common people, just as the Methodist revival of the 18th century was a divine protest among the ordinary people of the land against unspiritual Christianity. Contrary to all expectation, God did not in the 18th-century England go to the remnants of Puritanism for His men. He went into the same establishment whose tyranny had ejected the Puritans from their livings in 1662 and stirred up the hearts of a group of young Anglican clergymen in Oxford--that no flesh should glory in His presence.
Incidentally, we are not happy about the present-day celebrations of George Whitefield’s centenary. For that matter, we are not happy either about the celebration of anyone’s centenary. These affairs engender a false enthusiasm for repeating a work of God which can never be repeated. We have our own problems to face. They are not the problems of Wesley and Whitfield, nor of the Puritans or, Reformers. Our business is to go back to God’s Word and to those who can shed light upon our present-day dilemma. Neither Wesley nor Whitfield taught us anything new about theology. They were raised up suddenly for a special work unique in its way. They did their work and went to their reward. Let no man glory in man, for all such glorying is vain and derogatory to the peerless name and merits of the Eternal Son.
We return to Jacob Boehme, not indeed to raise a monument to his praise or to set impressionable men on to the pursuit of finding and wrestling with his abstruse reasoning, but to learn something which is vitally relevant to our own time.
Boehme (or to use his more easily pronounced Anglicized name, Behmen) saw creation in super-sensual dimensions not accessible to ordinary mathematical equation. As the cherubim of Ezekiel’s vision provide the chariot on which God rides down the ages to His own glorious destiny, so those creative energies which they represent are the eternal powers of the Creator. They are those powers personified in the form of intelligent monitors, declaring to us that creation is no lifeless, inanimate mass of silent worlds, but all creation sings His praise Who formed them for Himself and for His own pleasure.
The created splendors and powers visible to our eyes and measurable by our wisdom are only less wonderful than the invisible. They are the Creator’s mantle, Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment and invests Himself with the glory of the terrestrial that the mind of man who is made in the image of God might rise above earthly things to perceive the glory and the Being of the supernal Maker of all.
Knowledge of creation reveals, as in a book, the eternal wisdom, immensity and glory of God. The voice of true piety cries out in humility as well as in adoration: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained: What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8)
The strong connection between knowledge of creation and knowledge of Christ and salvation is to be perceived in the lavish use of natural figures in the Bible to portray spiritual truth. When it pleases God to reveal His grace in Christ, He, takes figures from the visible creation to illustrate His redeeming mercy. Hence Christ is the Rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys, the apple tree among the trees of the wood, the sun of righteousness, the bright and morning star. The Song of Solomon, written pre-eminently to show forth the love of Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, for the Church, abounds in magnificent figures taken from animated nature or inanimate creation. Hence we read, of the dove, the roe-deer, the vine, the spices, the anatomy, of the human body, the wilderness, the sheepfolds, the mountains of Amana, Shenir, Hermon and Lebanon.
Elsewhere the children of God are likened to the fish of the sea, the lambs of the flock, the grass of the field, the first fruits of harvest. Christ is the true vine and believers are the branches. The saints of God are destined to shine as the stars for ever and ever.
The catalogue is endless. The Kingdom Of Christ is a high Mountain, and grace is a river flowing down from the threshold of the temple vivifying all where it flows.
To understand God, we must understand all His works in creation, providence and redemption. All too little work has been done in this field, though science has opened the door wide to the mysteries of creation heretofore hidden and only dimly anticipated.
THE PATTERN OF THE HOLY TRINITY
Jacob Behmen saw clearly that the secret of creation lay in its invisible powers and that these powers are the pattern of the triune divine nature. Once this is grasped, it soon becomes clear that there never could have been a creation different from the one we know, for the only image God can project must be the image of Himself, fashioned after the pattern of His own triune-nature. If God’s nature is Eternal Love, we must expect--and we are in fact now in a position to grasp and perceive that it is so--that the law of love lies at the heart of every particle of which creation is composed. Love is desire, and desire in its physical form is attraction or GRAVITATION. In nuclear physics, it is seen that all matter is energy governed by the law of attraction, counter-attraction (or equal resistance), and the intensive energetic field produced thereby. The division of the atom is chaos. Its unity is the unity of the Triune God, the One, undivided and indivisible Three who are One.
Newton and later, scientists have verified the insight of Behmen who went before them all.
Behmen was alternately hailed as a genius and a seer, or condemned and reviled as a dangerous madman. Dr. Hans Martensen, the distinguished and scholarly evangelical Metropolitan of Denmark (Lutheran) a hundred years ago, spoke of him as, “The highly enlightened layman; the great prodigy in the spiritual and intellectual world; the unexplained psychological–enigma; the pious soul who, with all his profound knowledge, made it his single aim to advance in earnest, practical Christianity, in the Appropriation of the pearl of great price, and the gracious lily.”
The philosopher Hegel wrote of him, “This powerful mind....”
Charles I (of England) exclaimed, when he read one of his books, “God be praised that there are still such men in existence.” Chemists, theologians, philosophers, physicists, sat at the feet of the shoemaker; he was hailed as the Father of German Philosophy. Yet ecclesiastical intolerance denied him a decent burial, and the ignorant desecrated his grave.
One of the most powerful minds of the Eighteenth Century, William Law, spent half a lifetime interpreting his teachings. John Wesley, pupil of William Law, on the other hand denounced the German as a madman. “I have scarce met with a greater friend to darkness except the ‘illuminated Jacob Behmen,’ ” was his verdict. “Have you not done him an irreparable injury,” he wrote to Law, “by dragging him out of his awful obscurity; by pouring light upon his venerable darkness?”
ONE GOLDEN MORNING
But let us begin at the beginning. It all commenced one golden morning in the year 1600, when the shoemaker of Goerlitz, a considerable market town in Silesia, was sitting in his room, contemplating a burnished pewter dish upon which the sun flashed with a sudden brilliancy. Behmen was overcome by an inward ecstasy, for in the reflected glory of the sun it seemed that he was looking into the inner Meaning of things. To banish from his mind what he took at first to be a mere fancy, he left his last and wandered into the fields. There the harmony of nature--flowers, trees, birds, meadows--blended their voices in one stupendous oratorio which sang to him of the meaning of existence. As he listened and pondered and read his own heart and personality in unison with the living order around him, he perceived in one illuminating flash the secret of the universe.
“In one quarter of an hour,” he afterwards wrote, “I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at a University.”
The world is still receiving shafts of light from the aurora of that never-to-be-forgotten day. Perhaps the greatest service to be rendered by Jacob Behmen to mankind, which he so loved, is reserved for our own age.
Behmen returned to his last and kept and pondered what he had seen and understood for ten long years. He worked on at his trade in silence, supporting his wife and family in a decent, humble station of life until the year 1510 brought to him a fresh series of “illuminations.” These he decided to write down for his own use in the form of a memorial, but the manuscript while still unfinished was seen by a nobleman of philosophic taste, who begged for the loan of it and without leave or knowledge of the owner made several copies of it. Somehow these got into general circulation and were the beginning of Behmen’s fame and also his sorrows.
A copy of this first manuscript, entitled by the author, “Aurora, or the Morning Redness,” fell into the hands of one who became his bitterest persecutor--Gregory Richter, Primate or Chief Clergyman of the Lutheran church in Goerlitz.
A SORDID STORY
It is a sordid story. Richter’s spite at the shoemaker is said to have begun when Behmen came to the aid of a baker who owed the Primate a trifling sum of money, raised to buy materials for the making of some cakes. The cakes were made, and a large one was sent to the clergyman in gratitude, along with the principal of the loan. Because no usury came with the repayment, the clergyman, a very hot-blooded man, cursed the baker, who went home in despair of salvation. His wife being related to Behmen, the intercession of the cobbler was sought; and Jacob at once went to the Primate to make compensation for any injury received.
Richter’s gorge rose, and he ordered the mediator, in great wrath; to quit the premises. Jacob did so in much humility, but when he prayed God to keep his Worship, he had the mortification of becoming the target for the Primate’s shoe. Jacob humbly picked up the missile and returned it to the owner with a further prayer for his welfare.
The following Sunday Richter denounced the cobbler by name from the pulpit and demanded on pain of the divine judgments on the city that the offender be banished from the environs. The alarmed and superstitious Council met in haste and sentenced Behmen to perpetual banishment without one moment in which to say farewell to his wife and family. Jacob’s reply was, “Yes, dear sirs, it shall be done, since it cannot be otherwise; I am content.” He departed outside the town and spent the day in a melancholy walk about the fields, lodging at night where he could find any shelter.
The City Council met the next day and reconsidered their severity against a man whose humility and gentleness had evidently won their hearts. They revoked the sentence, and the banished was conducted back to the town in honor. But he was admonished to stick to his last in the future and meantime to surrender his manuscripts.
Behmen continued to probe into the secrets of universal being, working with no other instruments but an animated and acutely perceptive mind and no materials other than the world about him and within him. His outpourings astonished Germany and the world. The Electoral Court of Dresden summoned him to confer with all the chief theologians of the place and with two eminent mathematicians. After hearing him, Dr. Gerhardt, one of the leading dogmatic theologians of the time, said, “I would not take the whole world and help to condemn this Man.”
Professor Henry Moore of Cambridge was asked to examine Behmen’s works with a view to condemning them, but after studying them the Professor pronounced in their favor. He conceded there were many things therein which he did not then understand, but added that those who treated Behmen with contempt were ignorant and mentally blind.
Doctors, chemists, and scientists were impressed with the “Aurora” to such an extent that one of them, Dr. Walther, Director of the Chemical Laboratory at Dresden, stayed at Behmen’s house for three months that he might enjoy uninterrupted converse with him. Dr. Kober of Goerlitz was another who befriended Behmen, and from these two men the cobbler acquired the Latin and Greek terms used in some of his works.
It was a great hardship to Behmen when, in obedience to the decree of the Council of Goerlitz, he refrained from writing for the period of seven years.
Always mild and submissive in his attitude to others, he said, “I resolved to do nothing, but to be quiet before God in obedience, and to let the Devil with all his host sweep over me. But it was with me as when a seed is hidden in the earth. It grows up in storm and rough weather against all reason. The precious seed within me sprouted and grew green, oblivious of all storms, and amid disgrace and ridicule it has blossomed forth into a lily.”
At the urgent solicitation of his friends, he resumed his pen, and in the few years before his death a wonderful series of works flowed from his genius. Richter assailed him from pulpit and in the press with the greatest scurrility; and to meet the fears of the Councillors, Behmen consented to a voluntary exile. A few months later he returned home to die. The Primate refused his body a decent burial; and when a Roman Catholic nobleman, whose intervention had been sought, ordered the body to be decently interred in the presence of two members of the Council, the Primate took medicine to avoid being obliged to Preach the funeral sermon. His deputy, a man in all respects like his master, began his address by protesting his disgust at the duty thrust upon him. A cross erected on the grave was destroyed by fanatical townspeople.
Meanwhile his works continued to circulate in the world and became a rich, inexhaustible mine of wisdom to those who had minds to study and grasp his principles. Behmen was found to have anticipated the discovery of the laws of electricity, and Hahnermann derived the principles of homeopathy from Behmen’s Signatura Rerum: More than all, the writings of this extraordinary man came eventually into the hands of Sir Isaac Newton, who is said to have immersed himself for a season in the wisdom of the uncultured German philosopher--and to have come forth to the world with that fundamental law of the universe--Attraction--which ever since set the course of scientific inquiry into the nature and purpose of all things. Newton’s silence on the debt he owed to the German is supposed to have been due to the discredit which the name of Behmen at that time would have brought on his theories.
Newton reduced to mathematical form the three great principles, or first laws of Nature, laid down by Behmen--attraction, counter-attraction or equal resistance (producing orbicular movement), and tension or gravitation.
But strictly speaking, Behmen was not interested in scientific discovery. His aim was exclusively in the realm of ascertaining the meaning and purpose of life and attaining to rest of soul and conscience. To Behmen, there was no line of demarcation between the natural and the spiritual. His universe was one and indivisible. He perceived the mischievous effects of the great divorce between science and religion. The world, to him, was the pattern or image of the divine; hence lie was able to understand the mysteries of creation and grasp the key which philosophers have vainly sought in their preoccupation with different “worlds” of thought. There is but one world, and to understand a part, however mean and small, is to understand the whole.
Three centuries have rolled over the quiet grave at Goerlitz. Science stands again on the threshold of new discoveries. New dimensions are dawning upon our consciousness. Science has its eye on the limits of space and time. There is but a thin veil dividing matter from spirit. Something new is happening in the world of thought. The minds of the wisest of men are agonized at the prospect opened by the unleashing of the forces of nature without a corresponding increase of moral power to control them. The, problem of the age is not the physical nature of the universe, but its moral meaning and purpose. Here lies the justification, if any be needed, for the intrusion of a layman into the province of the expert. He is compelled to live in the same world with the man who, in unravelling the mysteries of matter, places his own existence in jeopardy. At least he has the right to put his finger on that point which he thinks is the key to the future welfare of the race--the point where physical knowledge joins with spiritual.
Here is what. Sir Winston Churchill wrote at the time of the award to him of the Nobel Prize for Literature:
Since Alfred Nobel died in 1896, we have entered an age of storm and tragedy. The power of man-has grown in every sphere except over himself. Never in the field of action have events seemed so harshly to dwarf personalities. Rarely in history have brutal facts so dominated thought or has such a widespread, individual virtue found so dim a collective focus. The fearful question confronts us: have, our problems got beyond our control? Undoubtedly, we are passing through a phase where this may be so. Well may we humble ourselves and seek for guidance and mercy.
Shortly before his death, Mr. H. G. Wells visualized the shape of things to come as very different from the optimistic picture he drew after the First World War. Here was his final verdict: “A frightful queerness has come into life. There is no way out, or around, or through the impasse. It is the end.”
General Smuts and Professor Joad came more or less to the same conclusion--except that Professor Joad found a new faith in the simple Christian message before the end.
Dr. Reinhold Neibuhr (U.S.A.) wrote: “The contradiction between hope and reality has led many thinkers to despair.”
It is at this point that the voice of Behmen, echoing across the void of the centuries, exposes the folly of the great divorce between the laws of the physical universe and the laws of the spirit--a divorce which exists only artificially in the minds of men. He anticipated by his intuition something more than Newtonian physics--something which true science is only now beginning to feel after--the meaning and purpose of it all.
It is essential to the understanding of Behmen that we grasp this all-important principle. If his books have been of value for physical research and discovery, it is only because they have been true to the pattern of the universe--and that pattern is spiritual. To stop half way is to flounder in the morass into which the world has already strayed. It was William Law’s complaint that when Behmen’s works first appeared in English most of his readers studied them for the purpose of purely physical discovery.
Many persons of the greatest wit and abilities became his readers; who instead of entering into his one only design, which was their own regeneration from an earthly to a heavenly life, turned chemists, and set up furnaces to regenerate metals, in search of the Philosopher’s Stone. And yet of all men in the world no one has so deeply, and from so true a ground, laid open the exceeding vanity of such labour, and utter impossibility of success in it from any art or skill in the use of fire....There are two sorts of people to whom he forbids the use of his books, as incapable of any benefit from them, and who will rather receive hurt than any good from them. The first sort he shows in these words: ‘Loving reader, if thou lovest the vanity of the flesh still, and art not in earnest purpose on the way to the New Birth, intending to be a New Man, then leave the words in these prayers unnamed, or else they will turn to a judgment of God in thee.’ Again, ‘Reader, I admonish you sincerely, if you be not in the way of the Prodigal, or Lost Son, returning to his father again, that you leave my book, and read it not; it will do you harm. But if you will not take warning, I will be guiltless; blame nobody but yourself.’
What then is Jacob Behmen’s scheme? He taught that the present state of creation, its limitation in the dimensions of time and space, is its evil. Its original form was spiritual--a harmony of chaste and perfect love. It will not remain in its present fallen condition. It will be delivered from its privation and issue forth from its prison into a form not yet conceivable, but which, in effect, will be that - original harmony from whence it came.
The future is big with the prospect of cataclysm. But must not Redemption be expressed in terms of, death and resurrection? What will be brought forth in the dawning of that new day when Nature celebrates her eternal Easter?
So it was that Behmen saw the world as a purely spiritual “field,” the fundamental principle of which is “Desire.”
Desire is a spiritual quality, with no obligations to time and space. It must exist in three properties, for it cannot desire itself. It must have an object, and that object, must be equal in strength to the subject, else Desire would fall into itself and cease to be. Here then are the first two properties of Desire--Attraction and Counter-attraction, or Equal Resistance. A third dimension or property comes instantly to view in the “field” or tension set up between these two contrarieties. This is a mysterious something to which Behmen attaches the name, a “whirling” or an “anguish.”
Now it must be clear that the two resistances are one and the same, though standing in opposition, for they call each other into existence, and one cannot exist without the other. The one generates the other, and being equal in strength they cannot overcome one another. The field of tension (or gravitation, if you like) existing between them is likewise as eternal as themselves, and as strong as themselves, partaking as it does of the nature of both.
Who does not see that we have here the essential concept of the Holy Trinity? Substitute “Love” for “Desire”--the two are the same--and we have consciousness, personality, self-existence; in fact, the Godhead.
This, indeed, is Behmen’s scheme. The origin of all things is Love. The fundamental law of Being is Love. The grand finale of the whole drama of Being is Love. Love is the pattern, the design, the “blue-print” of Creation.
Behmen’s thought renders the tri-unity of God not only intelligible but inevitable. The triune nature of matter, now verified by modern atomic science, is the pattern, the image, or the projection of the divine into the realm of the comprehensible. Of course, there never could have been a different kind of universe than the one we have. “Life as we know it” is the only rational or possible form of life. God could not project a universe which was other than the image of Himself. The laws of our human nature could not be other than what they are. The foundation of obligation--the reason why we should be “righteous,” virtuous, loving, kind--is because we are what we are. It is the law of our being. There is no conceivable standard of living other than that of universal and perfect love. The extent to which we fail of that state is the measure of our evil.
Let us have a closer look at Deity, even though it must be through the smoked spectacles of the finite and the physical.
A solitary God is inconceivable. If the pattern of the universe, both physical and moral, is LOVE, then an “unsocial” God--a Being Who exists alone in the unitariness of One Person—is an absurdity.
One who seemed to have drunk deeply at the Behmenistic fountain, Dr. Ernest Sartorius, one time Lutheran divine, of Konigsberg, leaves us this masterly statement: “Abstract theism which accepts an extra-mundane God, lost in the silent emptiness of His solitary self-existence, a merely, so to speak, slumbering monad, who first arrives at a waking state, that is, attains to the thought, will and action of objective existence at the creation of the world in time, is a notion utterly irreconcilable with the consciousness of the living God.”
There must, in other words, be “society” within the Godhead; there must be the primal Love, the object of that Love, and the participating principle in which the tension of Love works--these three, no more, no less. These we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, co-eternal, self-existent, self-generative, self-sufficient, and personal.
The tri-unity of God is clearly a philosophical necessity once the Godhead is conceived of as pure and perfect Love. Love without subject, object, or participation is unthinkable.
As in grammar, the verb can only exist in three persons, so the Godhead can exist only in Three, else it would be eternally incomplete--a nonentity.
Likewise, the universe is not so much a contingency as inevitability. There could never have been a time when God “began” to make Himself intelligible, or to “utter” Himself and make Himself articulate. Eternal Nature, as the projection or image of the Eternal Mind, must be essentially spiritual, existing in the dimensions of Desire, or Divine Love, therefore without limit of space or time.
What Behmen discovered was really himself, for every particle, every petal, every creature, above all, every man, is the universe in microcosm.
It was in a similar fine flash of inspiration that the Lady Julian, the 14th century anchoress of Norwich, holding in her hand a hazelnut, and perceiving the frail and fugitive character of its existence And the strong reality which held it in being, exclaimed, “I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall, for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the being, by the love of God.”
But this is not the end of Behmen’s system, only the beginning. In the rays of his illumination the universe has suddenly sprung to life. It is Mind at work. It is love in a tension of eternal activity. It is eternal and infinite Being giving itself birth and comprehensibility and form in the admiration and the happiness of an endless order of sentient beings all like their. Original Cause, all held together in the mysterious bond of love.
Here is the denial of that pernicious egoism, that arrogant assertion of “independence” which is the only cause of the evil which disrupts the harmony of Being and which it is the discipline of our present probation to overcome.
Here, in place of that tragic egoism, we see what has been called “Tuism” or “Thou-ism”--that divine principle which expresses itself in terms of “Thou, not I; let me fulfill and find myself in the giving of myself for thee.”
But here is the mystery. Whence come pain, anguish, despair, tears, selfishness, the totality of evil which our world discloses? Whence come the frown, the tortured lines of suffering and sorrow; on the troubled face of universal existence? How does this consist with Love?
Here again Behmen comes to our relief. The field of the divine activity was invaded by a contrary will which, like the disruptive principle in atomic fission, wrought havoc and chaos in the primeval harmony. Behmen was no Manichee fleeing for false relief to the idea of an independent principle of evil eternally existing alongside a God of Love. There is nothing outside of God. Evil is simply the turning in of nature upon itself, to seek in its ego its primary end and purpose. Nothing changes in principle. There is no alteration of powers or properties in the individual--only a change of center. Evil is only the privation of good. Adulterous “love” is the selfish claiming as an end in itself. Of the effects and rewards of a pure, desire, to the ignoring of the service and interest of others. Theft, hate, murder, cruelty--what are these but the selfish turning in of nature upon itself? The power which is given to defend the weak and bear the burdens of the helpless is arrogated to the self to promote self-interest in disregard of the law which unites us in eternal interest to others. Nor is there any exception in the moral world; there is none whom we may find to whom we do not owe the service of our whole being. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength, AND THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF.”
When nature thus turns upon its own ego, it becomes not a harmony but an abyss—THE abyss--a whirling, anguished, bottomless tempest of being, in which love becomes wrath. And this is Hell!
When the Bible speaks of the wrath of God, this is what is meant. God remains love, for He cannot be other than what he is. But so long as the soul is turned in upon itself, forming its own orbit and seeking within itself that which can only be realized by the pouring out of itself, the consuming fire of love becomes the soul’s own torment. It labors in vain to satisfy itself and is on the way to self-destruction. This is the true and only hell. The abyss has no location except within restless, distempered, eccentric being. Likewise the Kingdom of God is within us--righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Another voice peals down the ages. It is that of Augustine. He says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and we are without rest till we find rest in thee.”
But does this only push the problem of evil one step further back? What can we say of a Love which is prepared to tolerate evil, though but as a temporary phase?
We, see in part only, peering as through a glass darkly. Faith and hope are relevant only in the darkness.
Abolish the travail, and Love can never prove or display herself. Faith and Hope are the Nursemaids of Love as she labors to bring forth in the night of her agony. Love will be yet more lovely when she has been perfected through suffering.
Never yet have we arrived at a full assessment of what the world owes to sorrow and suffering and pain--those veiled ministers whose charge it is to bring to the light the highest, purest, holiest expressions of Love. The rainbow can only appear in the storm cloud. When the last word has been spoken, it will be found that love has turned all evil into advantage, giving birth thereby to a greater good than the universe could otherwise have known.
LOVE’S GREATEST PRICE
And let us never forget that the payment of the greatest price of all Eternal Love has reserved for herself. God makes no demands which are not infinitely exceeded by those which He stoops to meet Himself. Not in the coin of human life alone, but in the measureless worth of the Divine, has the price of ultimate and perfect bliss been paid.
Hence the center of the Universe is a Cross on which the Son of God--the Son of Man--is impaled. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.”
The curse which rests upon fallen creation is a necessary effect of the divine wisdom to confine the ravages of the evil until Love, poured out in its highest act of self-giving and self-surrender at Calvary, has had time to, work out the deliverance of man and the restoration of the harmony of existence.
This divine act, distinct from the primal creative act which projected Eternal Nature into the realm of sensibility, is the act of Redemption. It is the descent of infinite and perfect Love into the realm of the human and the finite. It is the daring descent of Deity, without stint or reserve, in the totality of the Godhead, into the realm of the created, that by assuming the curse, the pain, the sadness, the accumulated strife and anguish of the tortured ages, He might raise from the abyss of fallen nature into which He descended, a more glorious creation.
The new order to which we are traveling is beyond measure more glorious in its moral significance than ever it could have been without the evil, the pain, the shame, the thorns, the cross the anguish, the dying. Deity has become intimate. God has become Man. Created being has become rapturous and royal. There was no other way by which Eternal Love could realize itself and promote the final, highest, good of the moral creation. The process by which this has been achieved we know as Incarnation, Humiliation, Descent, Resurrection, and Ascension.
In this thought we are carried back beyond Behmen and beyond Augustine to that prince among men, the Apostle Paul, who by an absolute inspiration transcending their dependent and derivative illumination made the reconciliation of the world by suffering and sacrificing love his one unceasing theme. The resurrection is the realization of the primal purpose in creation. Mortality, pain, death are but an interlude in the divine drama of love. Not only is Creation traveling on to that destiny where mortality must be swallowed up of life and where corruption must put on incorruption„but universal nature will break forth into song that day, like a giant issuing forth from his dark cavern when the light of the new day awakens him:
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body (Romans 3:19-23).
All contrary rule and authority and power must be put down. And when the last enemy, death, shall have been destroyed and the Kingdom subdued by the Son and rendered up to the Father, God shall be all in all.
Behmen sought to express this and to show the inner meaning of it all and how all things visible and invisible have their unity in LOVE. There can be no reconciliation save on the ground of that atonement, where God and Man meet and where the physical and finite, time and space, lose themselves in the spiritual and the eternal. Nor is there another way, and we are happily arriving at the point where true science, with its hunger for knowledge and with the nobility of its achievement, is not only prepared to say this is so, but wistfully, earnestly, longs for it to be so.
Here are the watchwords which Behmen loved so much, as marking the triumph of Love: prayer, self-denial, repentance, faith, consecration, hope. By these we conquer; by these the soul finds itself and returns to its divine center.
The last moments of this illuminated man were a fitting climax to his life. He raised himself on his bed and called to his much-loved son who waited upon him, “The music! The music! Open the door wide, and let in more of that music!”
AN ETERNAL THOUGHT
Let us now gather up the thought which has been raised within us by the pious speculation or illumination (call it what we will) of those who have gone before us.
Created matter is not eternal. Only God is eternal, but as that which is created takes its being and form by the Word of God--that Word who was ever with God and who was God--so we conclude that the created world is the expression and the projection of divine wisdom into the realm of perception. The thought by which the world came into being was eternal, and all things were patterned in their perfection thereupon. The light which God IS (for God is Light) has its perceptive reality in the first principle of nature—“God said, Let there be light and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good: And the evening and the morning were the first day.”
The divine attributes of life, light, truth and love are expressed in visible creation and as all things visible are therefore the effects of the divine activity and patterns of the divine life, so they have their sustained existence through immense periods of time only by the ceaseless exercise of that same wisdom and power which summed them into being:
“Upholding all things by the word of His power;”
“My Father worketh hitherto and I work.”
All things were truly made out of nothing, in that before them nothing visible or natural existed; but the ceaseless divine energy by which all things are made and sustained is eternal. When the world and all it contains vanishes away in the Day of Judgment, it may be said to have been abolished as to its material form, yet the divine energy stored within it lives on, and will continue, taking other forms in continuity. The resurrection of Christ’s body is the pattern of that continuity in the overcoming of the evil of death. The tomb was empty. No body was found therein. Christ had risen with the same body in substance as that which was mournfully carried to the tomb.
Nevertheless Christ’s risen body was that same body changed, no longer subject to mortality but capable of bearing the highest glory. That which was of the earth, earthy, by the power of God passed from mortality to immortality, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. During the forty days twixt resurrection and ascension, it is true that the Saviour’s risen body presented all the normal “accidents” of mortality, but this was effected by those immortal powers by which at will the resurrection body of Christ was accommodated to temporal necessity. The vanishing and reappearing were at the exercise of a holy will to which bodily form was henceforth subordinate. Even angels were permitted to assume human form and to eat and drink with men in Old Testament times, though their borrowed form had naught to do with death and resurrection, but was only a necessary convenience for the transmission of divine truth directly from heaven.
He who rose from the dead will in one great moment also change our vile (of the earth) body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body according to that mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.
So at least that part of natural creation represented by the glorified body of Christ and the innumerable bodies of His saints of all ages will be eternal. Though the visible creation itself will be abolished as to time and space, it will certainly survive in the glorified bodies of saints raised from the mortality of the grave, incorruptible.
Put not the saints only will be raised. The wicked shall also leave their ancient graves, for there is a resurrection both of the just and of the unjust (John 5:29). To this extent, likewise, a significant part of the old creation will survive as to its substance in the resurrected and henceforth undying bodies of saint and sinner alike. All Adam’s race must appear before the eternal throne, for in and through Christ all are made alive who died in Adam. Some shall be raised to honor and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Yet the resurrection as such shall apply to all. The substance of the natural creation will survive in them, whatever their final fate. That which is quickened at the resurrection is the same as that which died and returned to the ground from which it was taken, but the same only in substance, not in form. As the glorious blooms of springtime are the same in substance as the seed planted in the autumn of the year’s decay, so that which comes forth from the tomb when time shall be no longer is the substance of what was there laid to rest. The graves will be empty. But in the case of those whom divine grace raises to participation in the heavenly summerland, their bodies will be glorious in immortality and will flourish in exquisite beauty after the pattern of Emmanuel, Him who is both God and Man, who will reign over them for ever and ever.
But if this be true of that portion of earth’s created substance which once formed the mortal bodies of saints and sinners, there can be no difficulty in accepting that it is also mysteriously true of the entire visible creation, once confined in the prison of time and space, but now released as to those eternal powers which formed it originally, so that in its eternal form it may fitly be described as “new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
We repudiate with all our heart the idea that the eternal state will have burdens and boundaries of time and space such as imprison the world as it now is. But if in fact all that we see around us are only the visible “accidents” or expressions of invisible forces which in themselves are irrelevant as to form and time, may it not be that in the eternal state these creative powers latent in universal nature will reappear in glorified form, no longer as a prison to confine its glorious inhabitants within the restraints of time and space, but as the limitless field of divine energy in which the new and glorified powers of the souls of the righteous shall find expression as the kings and priests of God, reigning over all things in their capacity as regents of Omnipotence? The created energies will be subject to them, according to the Divine Purpose in their glorified state.
What activities the soul may have in that heaven of heavens are not revealed, but at least we may expect that, released from the encumbrance of mortality with all its load of weariness and care and failing strength, the soul will find in the paradise above a sphere of activity so ceaseless and intense, so satisfying and full of joy and light, that its finest exercises down here below, the noblest efforts of intellect, the grandest achievements of human art and skill, will compare merely as the flickering and dwindling flame of the dying candle, against the fiery orb of the midday sun.
THE TRAVAIL OF CREATION
Paul writes, “The earnest expectation of the creature (i.e., the Creation) waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of -God (that is, the glory and deliverance of the resurrection day). For the creature was made subject to vanity not willingly, but by reason of him who bath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:19-22).
Writes Dr. Chalmers, “The evangelical Paul, he who was determined to know nothing; save Jesus Christ and Him crucified, he who gloried to preach the gospel in the face of oppositions of vain philosophy and of science falsely so-called--you find that he casts a widely speculative eye over the whole creation, which in this verse he represents as groaning and travailing in pain.... He counts not this passing, but sublime and comprehensive regard unworthy of a place in the page of inspiration, set and shrined as it were in an epistle the most replete of them all with the very strictest peculiarities of the theological creed. He takes in the whole compass of nature in all its varieties--the creation in a state of big and general distress, giving token of some pregnant but yet undisclosed mystery wherewith it is charged, and heaving throughout all its borders with the pains and the portents of its coming regeneration.
“The world is not at ease. The element in which it floats is far from being of a tranquil or a rejoicing character. It has somehow gone out of adjustment; and is evidently off the poise or the balance of those equable movements in which we should desire that it persisted for ever. Like the stray member of' a serene and blissful family, it has turned into a wayward, comfortless, ill-conditioned thing, that still teems however with the recollection of its high original, and wildly gleams and gladdens in the hope of its future restoration. It hath all the character now of being in a transition state: and with all those symptoms of restlessness about it which the brooding insect undergoes, ere it passes into the deathlike chrysalis, and comes forth again in some gay and beauteous expansion of the fields of our illumined atmosphere.
"Meanwhile it is in sore labour; and the tempest’s sigh, and the meteor’s flash, and not more the elemental war than the conflict and the agony that are upon all spirits--the vexing care, and the heated enterprise, and the fierce emulation, and the battle cry both that rings among the inferior tribes throughout the amplitude of unpeopled nature and that breaks as loudly on the ear from the shock of civilized men--above everything the death, the sweeping irresistible death which makes havoc among all ranks of animated nature, and carries off as with a flood its successive generations--these are the now overhanging evils of a world that has departed from its God.”
CALVARY IS THE KEY
Scientific investigation must always fall short of its goal so long as it fails to take into account the truth so eloquently stated in the passage just quoted, that creation is not in its original state, but is confined under the duress of its present evil because of sin. Its deliverance is not in the capability of man, either as to his ingenuity or his policies. It lies in one great word--REDEMPTION. The task at which the great Creator is employed is one of moral regeneration. The limits of this great work are mysteriously prescribed in the atonement which only the Creator and Lawgiver Himself was qualified to undertake. The history of the universe clusters around a cross and a thorn-crowned Man, a scene of blood and anguish, and a tomb that is empty. These may not be scientific subjects properly so called, but science is impossible without their consideration, for there are no answers, no reasons, no meaning or purpose, except there at the meeting place of time and eternity; of God and man, at the place called Calvary.
It is there that the problem of evil is solved. Evil has no concrete existence save in its activity and consequences. It is a negation of good. No need is there to inquire whence it came. It is not a created thing with a concrete existence independent in itself. It is the revolt of a contrary will to that will which willeth good alone. Evil in a moral universe may not be prevented except at the cost of creation’s worth. Creation has no value unless it be a moral thing whose laws can he broken. The breaking of its moral code has spread devastation on a scale as vast and as consequential as would the sudden suspension or breach of natural law cause all creation suddenly to rush in upon itself in universal chaos. If God were to suspend the operation of moral law, the same disaster would overtake the realm of moral being. The throne of God Himself would lose its Tenant and evil would enthrone itself in the room of righteous omnipotence and tyrannize over the entire realm of intelligent being.
Only by God Himself becoming man and entering His own creation so as to bear its sorrows and burdens, to take its curse and condemnation, and by suffering and death to magnify the law and make it honorable--only by this means could the safety of the universe be guaranteed. From the tomb of death arises with Him who died on the Cross, a new creation which a great moral judgment has underwritten and guaranteed as to its eternal stability. Thereafter there can no more be a fall or a curse. “There shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads...and they shall reign for ever and ever”
Augustine tells us that for long he was severely exercised as to the origin of evil. Hear him as he thus relates somewhat of the agony of soul through which he passed:
“What torments did my travailing heart then endure. What sighs, O my God. Yet even there, were Thine ears open, and I knew it not; and when in stillness I sought earnestly, these silent contritions of my soul were strong cries unto thy mercy. No man knoweth but only thou; what I endured....
“And I discerned and found it no marvel, that bread which is distasteful to an unhealthy palate is pleasant to a healthy one; and that the light which is painful to sore eyes is delightful to sound ones.... And I inquired what iniquity was, and ascertained it not to be a substance, but a perversion of the will, bent aside from thee O God, the Supreme Substance, towards these lower things, and casting out its bowels and swelling outwardly.”
In another place Augustine explains that while the soul’s happiness is in God, the defection of the soul to outward things is as it were to cast out its inward parts, that is, to place itself far from God--not by distance of place, but by the affections of the mind.
In short, the nature of evil is to turn in upon itself and place itself apart from God. This is possible only in a moral creation, and no other kind of creation would have been worth the making.
If there are questions beyond these answers, piety must resolve to leave the issues with God. He who believes God is, and that God is good and only good, will be content to await the revealing of the great day. But there can be no satisfying any soul which does not (as Augustine) approach this sacred territory with repentance, humility and reverence, for these are the tokens of a soul returning to its true center in God.
All theologies have been too prone to reach conclusions on speculative ground. Augustine stands out as one of the greatest of all, who by a total conversion from sin learned to inquire into the deepest things in language clothed with penitential supplication. He advanced upon his knees. So did Behmen. So did Luther. So do all who really desire to enter, into the holy secrets of the divine Presence.
Paul, who was privileged to penetrate further than them all, cried, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen”
(Romans 11:33, 36).
END OF PART 1