Draw if thou canst the mystic line,
Severing rightly His from thine,
Which is human, which divine.
What is the normal relation between God and Man? Can there be any distinct boundary line between them? Is there a divine side to man which opens out into the unfathomable deeps of the deific nature? These are the most important questions which can occupy the human consciousness.
History is largely composed of the records of the attempts of humanity to build walls of separation. Men have been continually putting up bars around themselves, leaving God outside. To a great degree they have also shut out Nature and their fellow men. They have drawn sharp lines between their own souls and the Universal Soul. They have been like pieces of chain disconnected by severed links from anything substantial, or like sections of water pipe parted from the reservoir. Man's nature, when walled in, becomes a dry and barren desert. There is no freshness, no verdure, no growth. The building of division walls has been so general and so long continued that disunion has become the rule. Not only is divinity excluded, but humanity itself is shattered into fragments.
In the more infantile condition of the race, there seems to have been a divine nearness and intimacy which has been lost. As wealth, power, material improvement, and civilization increased, they usurped the whole mental horizon of mankind. Man has never been destitute of so-called religions, but they gradually became formal and devitalized. To the patriarchs of simple and devout life, God—the Great Unseen—was a present and all-important factor. While their concept of the divine character was limited and low, it was near and real. In ages of Arcadian simplicity, and among the primitive Aryans, Nature was the great revelator, and an intimate sympathy with her harmonies and mysteries freshened and vitalized humanity. Even the pantheism and paganism of the Greeks contained so much of the intuitive element, that Paul declared that God was not far from everyone of them. "As certain even of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." We owe them perhaps more than we are aware for many high ideals of beauty, purity, and spirituality. God revealed himself through his Son to the Hebrew, and so to the world; but he had always been revealing himself through Nature and the intuition, and this revelation was distinct in the Greek consciousness.
But later, a material artificial civilization sprang up, and formal systems and institutions began to multiply, and increasingly they grew out of touch with the divine and unseen. The intellectual faculty became more highly developed, and it overshadowed the inner perception. The primitive church, pure and spiritual at first, gradually became theological, institutional, and polemic. Scholasticism, always intellectually capricious, formulated system upon system; and each raised a wall of exclusiveness, and shut itself out, not only from divine involution, but from human sympathy and oneness. Divisions and subdivisions, sects and schools, multiplied, each contracting its own domain, and each seeing only a fragment of the universal unity of truth in its field of vision.
Now, for the first time in ages, the process seems to be reversed. Ancient walls are slowly crumbling, and the sweet sunshine of larger truth is dispelling darkness and narrowness, and a unifying charity is dissolving all barriers. The beautiful outlines of God the Father, and Man the Brother, are seen to be not only bright, but near—nay, within. Men are "feeling after God," and finding him. Religion—the binding of man to God—is assuming its vital and original significance; and the binding is waxing stronger on man's part by his growing consciousness of the transcendent beauty and attractiveness of the divine nature, not only in general, but within himself.
The apparent retrograde since the days of Greek idealism and of primitive Christianity, when the human spiritual perception was relatively in a state of high development, is only a swing of the pendulum, the grander and wider progress being always upward. Spiritual evolution comes unevenly, and through apparent wide vibrations. A seeming suspended development, or even a temporary retrograde, stores up energy to give a new and unprecedented impulse to the pendulum of progress. Times of apparent rest or declension furnish the soil in which new and more luxuriant crops of human attainment mature in the divine sunlight.
The Dispensation of the Spirit comes on apace. That increasing God-consciousness which forms the basis of, and has outward attestation in mental and physical healing, is also manifesting itself in the broadening of theological systems, and in the spiritualizing of science itself. The church is awakening to the fact that she has been deficient in that living experience of spiritual vitality which alone can lift her out of a barren intellectual formalism. Literature is being enriched by a warm influx of lofty idealism which brings out in high relief the deific features of man's inner nature. Science is emerging from its cold, earthy materialism, where it has hibernated, into a marked appreciation, not only of immaterial orderly force, but of unity, design, beneficence, and divine substance. It is now as "scientific" to study the nature and destiny of the human soul as to spend a lifetime in the investigation of bugs, fishes, animals, geology, or astronomy. Man is finding that to know himself is at least as valuable an accomplishment as a knowledge of molecules and bacteria. Poetry, which always has had much of the divine sparkle in its melodies, glows with an increasing inspiration. Even fiction is being lifted out of the base realism which, by a false standard, has been rated as "artistic," and is moving like a smooth running vehicle to convey higher ideals into the living domain of human consciousness.
The disjointed fragments of truth are being gathered up and fitted, each in its place, "without the sound of hammer," into the universal temple. The harmony, inter-relation, and goodness of All Things are disclosed, and, by a living attraction, they are cemented and unified. The world, by a super-sensuous perception, is feeling God within and around it; and while the Bible is no longer regarded as the only channel for revelation, its testimony is confirmed and its spiritual foundations broadened.
The brightened glow of Immanuel carries with it everything that man has lacked for the rounding out of his complex nature. As he discovers the universal beneficent trend pervading both the macrocosm and the microcosm, he finds the manifested God.