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The Spiritual Man—His Powers and Privileges

When entering upon a consideration of human nature, it is essentially necessary to consider, first, exactly what we mean to convey by the special terms we are intending to employ. The title of this chapter provokes inquiry, as the adjective Spiritual qualifies the substantive Man. The reader will naturally ask, are there then in your estimation two or more distinct kinds of human nature of which that variety entitled Spiritual is the highest, or do you simply mean that human nature is in essence Spiritual? As just such a question has frequently been put to the writer of these pages, the following reply seems an appropriate introduction to all that is to follow:

Human nature is distinctly what we mean when we speak of spiritual nature, for by human we signify humane as distinguished from brutal, which we designate inhuman. When the word humanity is employed it at once suggests two meanings. First, it is a designation applied to the human race as distinct from and superior to all other types of animate existence on earth. Second, it is the synonym of kindliness, gentleness and all the mild and gracious attributes which the purest and most elevated friends of religious thought ascribe to Deity. The much-contested first chapter of Genesis, when read with unprejudiced candor, suggests the beautiful idea of human divinity and of equally divine humanity. Theomorphism and anthropomorphism unite in the sublime declaration that human nature is in the image of Divine Being; for to no less august a cause than Deity is the origin of human life attributed. Chronology and geography cannot be called into court to testify concerning what lies entirely beyond their province, nor can astronomy and geology bear testimony to what lies far beyond their ken. All the varied stages and kinds of biblical criticism from the highest to the lowest unitedly fail to touch in one way or the other the primal conviction imbedded in the deepest consciousness of the most gifted of Israel's ancient seers—the divinity of human nature and it is this doctrine and this alone which glorifies the commencement of the Pentateuch and constitutes it in a sense unique. This consciousness of God as the author of human life is far too deeply rooted in human reason to be eradicated by any assaults which may be directed against it. Man conceives of himself as divine offspring and presumes in consequence to call the Almighty Power which sustains the universe his parent, not simply his Creator and Sovereign. If it be contended, as it often is, that today's thought of God differs widely from that current some thousands of years ago, supposing it does, it is surely not a lower but a vastly higher idea of Deity which is taking the place of earlier conceptions; and by so much as the God-idea rises does the Man-idea rise also, for if we still claim that our origin is divine, our views of the Divine Original cannot improve or advance without our thought of the dignity and splendor of human nature advancing equally.

The theomorphic view of Man blends with the anthropomorphic view of God. The statement put forcibly, and to some minds perhaps shockingly, reads thus: God is Human, Man is Divine; and reverse wise, Man is Divine, God is Human. This statement which is an extremely bold one, is by no means irreverent, and unless we are prepared to stand by it we cannot teach the Fatherhood of God and the Sonship of
Mankind.

If God be the author and cause of humanity then the child and effect must resemble the source whence it proceeded, and it is impossible for us to sustain the relation of children to a Divine Parent unless we are possessed of kindred Divine attributes; we must not hesitate, therefore, to claim our birthright and enter upon our inheritance. Faith, so greatly extolled by name, is often seriously objected to, directly an attempt is made to translate it out of the realm of vague abstractions into a domain of practical application. Have faith in God as your Father, means, have faith in yourself as divine offspring; and so strongly imbued was the apostle Paul with this assurance that Man is one with his Source that he uttered the startling prayer that we might be filled with all the fullness of God. Though this is an age of transition somewhat overshadowed with doubt and tainted with pessimistic theories of existence, optimistic conclusions are steadily gaining ground, as evidenced by the self-evident fact that the brighter the view a writer or speaker takes of men and things in general, the wider does his or her influence extend, and the larger the number of really thoughtful people found ready to pay tribute to what Matthew Arnold might have called the "sweet reasonableness" of so encouraging a set of propositions. The truth of it all is, we are beginning to realize how totally absurd a philosophy must be which is found self-contradictory and which leads to the exaction of tasks which cannot be fulfilled. Everything depends upon the view taken of human nature at the outset of any topical inquiry into the scope of human duties, responsibilities, and privileges; therefore, we propose to base all we have to suggest concerning practical methods for the improvement of human conditions on a radical foundation properly impregnable. It stands to reason that no such reconstruction of a human individual as would necessitate an entire change in the essential constitution of said individual can be looked upon as feasible, and surely no thoughtful or intelligent reformer would ever attempt the self-evidently impossible task of converting a man, woman or child into a sort of being other than human even though the ideal being were of a much higher type than the present actual human. At this point it is well to pause and remark upon the impossibility of our conceiving of superhuman entities in any other than a human manner or regarding them in any other than a human light, seeing that we ourselves are human and by the very limitations of our humanity necessarily circumscribed to a human view of the universe. This thought is an immense help in the direction of our ascertaining how far we can reasonably pursue our studies and carry our reflections Godward.

The universe as seen through human eyes is necessarily a human universe and the conception of Deity inherent in human nature is perforce a human concept. Of abstract Deity we know nothing; of absolute unconditioned Being we can form no idea. It is through ourselves that we view all things; therefore from lowest to highest, from crudest to most sublime, our interpretations of universal life mark stages in our own growth or evolutionary development.

It is in this connection that the differing theories of revelation bearing upon natural and revealed religion come into play, and around this focal centre all theologies and philosophies revolve. We are told by surface students of the career of religious ideas that natural and revealed religion are diametrically opposed, and many a fierce battle of words has been waged over the question. How far is natural religion reconcilable with revealed truth?

In the first place it is absolutely necessary to determine exactly what is meant by the respective terms, for without precise definition of terms employed there can be no clear understanding of what is aimed at.

By natural religion we mean all those conceptions of a spiritual order which have seemingly arisen out of the natural consciousness of human beings, without supposing there to have been any extraneous pressure brought to bear or any tidings furnished from without.

Animism, ancestor worship and all so-called primitive forms of worship are catalogued as natural by those who are sticklers for the widest possible discrimination between natural and revealed, while everything contained in what people are pleased to term the Bible is included in the revealed category. This arbitrary separation has brought about an immense amount of belligerence manifested toward the very book thus over-highly extolled as well as against all institutions and persons committed to its support. The simple Deism of Voltaire, Thomas Paine and other "Radicals" or “Liberals" of the eighteenth century, as well as nearly all the opposition to so-called revealed religion expressed in the writings of Renan and other scholars of the nineteenth century, has largely taken rise in this foolish separation of religious instincts into two diametrically opposed camps; the one inspired and the other not inspired from Heaven.

Though what has borne the name of Secularism is now waning and the professed leaders in the avowed "Liberal" camp are confessing the necessity of devoting more energy to constructive philanthropy and far less than formerly to destructive onslaught upon ecclesiastical institutions, it cannot fairly be said that the failure of simple iconoclasm as a basis for permanent union among thinkers and reformers indicates a return to an old order of thought which popular modern authors do not hesitate to call "that wicked old Calvinistic Theology." Present signs clearly point to reconstruction along new lines; lines far broader and in every way more comprehensive than the old. Old theological positions have been abandoned, and what is more, they never were the positions occupied by the best thinkers in the days of our forefathers.

The best type of orthodoxy is the very oldest and the newest heterodoxy is often more largely a revival of the best statements in the old orthodoxy than anything else. The divinity of human nature is declared in the first chapter of Genesis, and primal statements are often the work of greater intellects serving as instruments for more unfolded consciences than are any of those superstructures which are built partly of valuables and partly of rubbish upon the first foundation which is immovable.

Paul, the farsighted apostle, saw that wisely and clearly enough many a time as recorded in his epistles, especially when he referred to there being but one abiding foundation upon which people could build whatever they choose, whatever wisdom in one case and folly in another case may prompt. There will surely come a time of judgment, and when that day of disclosure breaks there will be a perfectly impartial sifting out of refuse, while honor will be paid to every fraction of what is worthy to be preserved.

Simple natural religion may be too small a term to use in order to convey the full meaning which today's best thinkers are seeking to make plain, because the word nature has been downgraded very considerably through many successive centuries, and the process of its legitimate upgrading is of course gradual and by no means finished yet. Natural means that which is born; it is therefore quite as exact to speak of that which is born of God as natural as to use the word in connection with that which claims an origin lower than essential Deity. Revealed religion may be quite as natural as any other
variety of religion, for on close inspection we find that revelation and discovery are so closely allied that we can scarcely dissever them; they may almost be compared to Siamese twins; they grow together; one can hardly exist without the other. Discovery of truth is the human, or objective, aspect of the situation. Revelation of truth is the divine, subjective side of the question.

What constitutes revelation? Revelation necessitates not only a revealer and something to be revealed, but a third factor also, viz.: someone to whom the revelation can be made or by whom the revelation can be understood. If this latter be lacking there is no revelation, for the picture presented requires an observer to behold it; therefore it is, as we may say, uselessly presented to space when no human eye beholds it and no human reason comprehends it. God cannot be revealed to the cattle in the fields as to the reverent human observer of the celestial galaxies, yet sun by day and stars by night are as visible in the field where the cattle are grazing as in an adjoining field where a company of students of astronomy are discussing the glories of the Milky Way or the possibilities of human existence on Sirius or Aldebaran.

"The heavens declare the glory of God," to whom? To whom does the star-bespangled firmament declare God's glory? Verily hath the foolish man even while contemplating the skies said, "There is no God." To Plato, God geometrizes; to John the Evangelist, God is Love; and both are right: one approaching the divine through reason and the other through affection. If, as Swedenborg has told us, Divine Love and Wisdom constitute the totality of real Being, and if as Greek bards, quoted by Paul at Athens, have assured us, we are ourselves Divine offspring, there can be no other basis for the idea of divine revelation except in the consciousness of man responsive to the breath of God.

We cannot reasonably or humanely contend that revelation is arbitrary, nor will we ever be justified in teaching that the God who is "no respecter of persons" does respect certain persons and show marked disrespect to others after the manner of a tyrannical autocrat who as a Sovereign dispenses favors on the one hand and metes out cruelty on the other. We may well rejoice that the eclipse has nearly ended, that pessimistic views of divine government are in their death struggle, while the birth cry of a glorious optimism already finds the air tremulous with promise of better, brighter days to come. Let not the reaction against the dying misbelief blind any of us to the verity which underlies it, for the worst features of time-honored error were only incrustations, and excrescences are never integral parts of an anatomy.

We might easily picture to ourselves some ignorant students of anatomy and physiology, dissecting a body and finding an unnatural growth therein, straightway proceeding to speculate upon the place in the structure of that supposed "organ." How the learned doctors would laugh if such well-meaning tyros were to publish a new work on Structural Anatomy or Comparative Physiology in which place was given to a large tumor in the breast, mentioning it as though it were one of the natural parts of the human mechanism with functions difficult to determine, as, for example, the spleen, which is really a useful organ though not very clearly comprehended.

The excrescences which we find depending upon religious systems are exactly like the faults we detect in others and in ourselves likewise; they exist at the present moment but they are no necessary or even legitimate portions of human character, and, like all parasites, they can be exterminated. We do not in artistic circles confound dust and candle smoke with a rare old painting, though a priceless Murillo found somewhere in Italy may have been brought home to a modern studio in so blackened a condition that the original features of the picture were scarcely discernible.

Restoration removes the dirt and shows up again the original beauty of the painting as it came fresh from the hand of the marvelous artist. How often in religious meetings do we hear the words Redeemer and redemption. And what do they mean when all glosses and subtleties are removed from them? To redeem is to buy back or to restore, and that was the original thought when the word entered the ecclesiastical vocabulary. The orthodox Jew addressing the Eternal Being with no thought of mediator or intercessor in his mind says in words of ancient song, "Thou art our Redeemer." How shall we apply such a phrase directly to our present subject? If God is the original Creator of humankind and we are the makers, shapers, or fashioners of our ulterior existence, then we have turned away from the divine pattern in the soul and made an outward semblance which instead of being a true resemblance is a non-semblance. It behooves us to acknowledge our mistake, confess our error and turn willingly, gladly and submissively to the fountainhead of all wisdom in a spirit of voluntary co-operation with divine activity as expressed in the words of the great Teacher of humanity, "My Father worketh hitherto and I work." There is no apparent limit to the conflicting views expressed at present concerning the need of reliance upon God and the necessity of self-reliance. Like all other extremists, those to whom we now refer are on either side making the fatal blunder of looking only upon one side of the two-sided shield; and like the Knights of old they are prepared to fight each other to the death for the honor of one inscription, heedless of the fact that there are two inscriptions upon the same shield though upon opposite sides of it.

To trust in God, to place reliance in boundless goodness, to repose confidence in eternal wisdom, is to prepare ourselves for the actual work we are called upon to do. Instead of trust in God weakening men and making them less self-reliant, it invariably makes them more so, and this is abundantly proved by history and confirmed by the experiences of daily life. "God and I constitute a majority," but one alone constitutes a wretchedly feeble minority. One alone may be a stubborn egotist, but he is no healthy egoist, and there is a vast difference between these two words, though in literal construction there is but the consonant "t" to distinguish them. To place one's self in a receptive attitude toward Divine influx is to harmonize with the Infinite Life all about us, above, below, around, within; and only as we harmonize with our environment are we safe, happy, strong, or free.

The Western world is learning much today from Oriental visitors, and at no point are the Indian teachers more helpful than where they insist that the truly spiritualized man could walk safely through the jungles and not be molested by lion, tiger or any other ferocious beast.

The Apocalyptic book of Daniel is familiar to all Bible readers. In its opening chapters that book informs us of four young Hebrews at the court of Babylon who were superior to all things because they had subdued entirely their own animal propensities. Here looms up in gigantic proportions the mountain of limitation which is yet to be cast down and driven into the sea by the power of omnipotent faith. By beginning at the wrong end we are constantly informing others of our failures, and depressing ourselves at sight of our lack of achievement in directions where our energies have been earnestly and at first enthusiastically put forward. We should never fail or grow discouraged or suffer from a sense of disappointment did we but realize that all development must be from within outward, never in reverse order. Why is it that we trust ourselves so little? Is it not because we have so poor a conception of ourselves, a conception based not on the thought of spirituality, but materiality? What are we? Who are we? Why are we here? What is our mission? These are searching questions, and on the answers to such questions as these our hopes must necessarily depend. If we really are God's image, if we are truly of the same nature with Deity, if we do truly partake of all Divine attributes, and these are infinite, then the "Don't Worry" people have eternal right on their side, or, to phrase it better, they are in harmony with eternal right when they declare God to be infinite and every human individual a part of God's infinite plan.

All outward achievements are gradually evolved; therefore, the Eastern sages who tell us of modern Daniels now alive in Asia must explain step by step to their Western audiences how the heights of attainment of which they speak may progressively be scaled. It is always line by line that we advance in knowledge.

It is ever best to hold steadily before us the highest of all the high ideals of which we can conceive, and declare that these ideals of ours are verily ours^ not merely some one's else. We can outwork in action all that we feel we inwardly possess. We must do justice in thought to our own containment and not let false humility figure as a virtue when it is a vice in any right esteem.

There is a proper pride and there is an improper humility; therefore, though the former is generally considered a fault and the latter a virtue, their relative values are by no means thus easily determinable. "Be temperate in all things” is the most salutary counsel. Think no more highly of yourself than of your neighbor. Love your neighbor as you love yourself, neither more nor less. This is the golden path of equity, for we are so indissolubly connected one with others that there can be no safe deflection from the exact road of absolute impartiality.

Let us neither condemn in ourselves what we praise in others nor condone in self what we blame in others, but, ever seeking honorably to discriminate between the real human nature which often lies concealed and the surface appearances which when unlovely are entirely parasitic, learn to summon forth the divine in the humanity we encounter anywhere, through practical application of that truly ideal philosophy which, while never confounding changeless being with varying existence, takes for its motto the brave, true words of Pope, "Whatever is, is right." All that is, is right, furnishes food for endlessly profitable meditation; then, having defined to ourselves wherein we conceive existence to be but an expression of being, we are ready to set bravely and intelligently to work to make our external operations conform in all respects with the Divine ideal.

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William Juvenal Colville

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