THE OBLIGATIOS OF THE DEITY.

BY ALFRED WILLIAMS MOMMEEIE
" Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt Thou also destroy the right-
eous with the wicked ? . . . That be far from Thee to do after
this manner. . . . Shall not the Judge of all the earth do
right ? "GEESIS xviii. 23-25.
A BEAHAM here assumes, you see, that the
k*- same principles of morality which apply
to human beings apply equally to the divine.
If God were to do certain things, they would
be wrong, even though He did them. He has
no more right, for example, according to Abra-
ham, to slay the righteous with the wicked, than
a human judge would have to condemn an inno-
cent man to the gallows. Abraham's faith was
such that he felt assured the Almighty would
do nothing; which an enlightened conscience must
The Obligations of the Deity. 261
condemn. This passage will serve us to-day as
a suggestive motto.
"VVe have been engaged now for two Sundays
upon the subject of Immortality. 1 You remem-
ber, I tried to show you that a belief in immor-
tality was the only basis the only rational basis
for real religion. We saw that such a belief
was necessary hi the first place, because the
denial of immortality inevitably amounts to the
denial of God. This world of ours bears unmis-
takable witness to a supremely powerful Being ;
but apart from the hypothesis of a future life,
it gives no evidence of His benevolence or jus-
tice. On the contrary, the inequalities and
miseries and unsatisfied longings of the race
would suggest that He was cruel and capricious.
If this life be our only life, the supreme Power
in the universe is not good that is, is not God.
And we saw further, in the second place, that
without a belief in immortality there could be
no religion, because nothing can be more depress-
ing than the thought that in a few short years
nay, at any moment we may pass into nothing-
ness ; whereas the essential characteristic of re-
ligion, the characteristic which distinguishes it
from superstition, is the fact that it is inspir-
1 See my ' Basis of Religion. '
262 Our Right to Immortality.
ing and stimulating, that it nerves us for the
moral conflict of life.
After preaching these sermons I received the
following interesting letter. The writer says:
" I am an unwilling agnostic, conscious that my
energies are sapped by lack of faith. Still I can-
not see in this depression, nor in the inequality
of human lives, any proof of the fact of immor-
tality. Is it proved that we have any right to
happiness ? May not a higher morality than
any we have yet attained enable us to ask for no-
thing for our individual selves ? ' If God would
give us the best and greatest gift that which,
above all others, we might long for and aspire
after it is this, that He might give us to be
used and sacrificed for the best and greatest
end.' May not the hope of immortality be only
a moral luxury ? There is an immortality the
recognition of which is perhaps sufficient to
stimulate the energies of purely moral people
namely, the fact that we have influence enough
to set rolling good or evil through countless
generations ; that every action and thought is in
this way immortal, and that in the results of our
lives we may live for ever."
My correspondent, you will notice, admits that
disbelief in a future life is essentially depressing,
The Obligations of the Deity. 263
that it does sap the moral energies. But she
says, and justly, that this depression is no proof
of immortality. I did not, of course, offer it as
such. What it does establish, however, is one
or other of two alternatives, either immortality
or atheism. Without believing in immortality
it is impossible to believe in a Being properly
called God. But my correspondent, as I gather,
would not admit that I had proved even this.
And many others in my congregation perhaps
would agree with her. Therefore let us look
once more at the matter from a somewhat differ-
ent point of view to that which we formerly
occupied. The subject is of the greatest import-
ance especially in the present day.
Immortality is not only denied by materialists.
who for the most part are destitute of any
strong religious feelings, but it is sometimes
doubted by persons in whom the religious senti-
ments are singularly strong as, for example, by
Amiel. It is doubted for one or more of the
following reasons, all of which are expressed or
implied in the letter I have just read: (I.) It
is said, God is under no obligation to give us
immortality. (II.) The question of His good-
ness is not affected by anything He may do or
may not do. Our notions of right and wrong
264 Our Right to Immortality.
are inapplicable to the Deity. (III.) Our ex-
tinction may be necessary for the accomplish-
ment of some great scheme which, though we
cannot comprehend it, is really glorious and
divine. ow let us examine these views.
I. " God is under no obligation to give us
immortality ; " or, as my correspondent puts it,
" What right have we to happiness ? " ow
this is the expression of an opinion which, curi-
ously enough, is often held in common by the
most thoughtless and the most thoughtful per-
sons. Those who hold it evidently assume that
as regards God we can have no rights that upon
Him we have no legitimate claims. We are to
call Him God, not because His acts are good,
but simply and solely because He has made us.
The fact of His having created us would entitle
Him to act towards us in any way He might
happen to please, without for a moment forfeit-
ing His right to be called God. There is no
reciprocity of obligation between us and Him.
He has all the rights ; we have all the duties.
Though the creature is bound to act well by
the Creator, the Creator is not bound to act well
by the creature. Because He has created us,
therefore He may do with us anything, or every-
thing, or nothing.
The Obligations of the Deity. 265
ow let me venture to point out that this is
neither the doctrine of the Bible nor of common-
sense. The Bible speaks of the Creator as being
the Father of His creatures ; and manifestly, in
the case of a father and his children the obliga-
tions are not all on one side they are mutual.
It is true that even this human relationship is
often very much misunderstood. People some-
times exaggerate the duties of children, while
they completely ignore the duties of parents.
They speak as if all the obligations were on the
children's side, as if the claims of the parents
were everything, and the claims of the children
nothing. But surely the obligations of the
father to his child are as great and as serious
nay, far greater and far more serious than
those of the child to his father. The duties of a
parent are not diminished by the fact of parent-
age : on the contrary, they are thereby increased.
Is a father, forsooth, at liberty to neglect, to
starve, to degrade, to torture a child, simply be-
cause it is his own ? "Why, it is just this just
the fact of the child's being his which would
render such conduct pre-eminently heinous. Since
he is responsible for the child's existence, he is
under the most solemn obligation to do every-
266 Our Right to Immortality.
thing he can to make that existence a success.
And indeed he has no right to be a father at
all, unless there is some reasonable prospect of
his being able to provide satisfactorily for the
comfort and wellbeing of his offspring. Many
human beings have refused to marry, for fear
they should bring into existence children who
would be inevitably diseased, and whose lives
would therefore be inevitably wretched. And
do you think that an infinite and omnipotent
Creator is under less obligation than a weak and
finite man ? On the contrary, the higher you
rise in the scale of being, the more do you find
that the sphere of obligation is enlarged. And
therefore the obligations of the Deity must be
no less infinite than His rights. Do you think
that the Creator, if He were so disposed, would
be justified in creating men for the express pur-
pose of their being tortured ? Do you think that
He would be at liberty to create them with yearn-
ings for happiness that could never be gratified,
with a longing for perfection that would never
be realised ? Surely a being who could do so
would not be God. To be a Creator is a proof
of power; but, unless might is right, it is in
itself no proof of goodness. Whether the Creator
is, or is not, to be called good, will depend upon
The Obligations of the Deity. 267
the manner in which He deals with His crea-
tures. By the very fact of creation, He has
laid Himself under an obligation to deal kindly
and justly with the beings He has made. He is
bound to respect the yearnings and hopes of
which He Himself is the author. Our right to
happiness, therefore, lies in the fact that we de-
sire it. He who made us, and implanted this
desire within us, must sooner or later fulfil it,
or else He would forfeit His right to the title
of God.
But (II.) it has been maintained by eminently
thoughtful and eminently religious persons, that
we cannot argue in this way from ourselves to
God. Conduct which would be wrong for us,
they say, may be right for Him. Our idea of
goodness is not a standard which can be fittingly
applied to the Deity. Actions which, judged by
our moral principles, must be called wrong, might,
if looked at from a higher point of view, prove to
be the very best. The goodness of the Creator is
one thing, the goodness of the creature another.
The divine character is infinite, and therefore can
never be comprehended by finite man. This is
the view which was expounded at length by Dean
Mansel in his Bampton Lectures on the " Limits
of Eeligious Thought."
268 Our Right to Immortality.
The answer to it seems to me very simple.
The word infinite, when used as an adjective, does
not change the nature of that to which it is ap-
plied, but merely expresses its quantity or in
tensity. For example, when we speak of infinite
space, we do not mean to say that there are two
kinds of space one finite and the other infinite
but only that the one, space exists everywhere, that
there are no limits to its extension. Similarly,
when we speak of the infinite goodness of God,
we should not think of two different kinds of
goodness, but only that the same quality, which is
to be found in a measurable degree amongst our-
selves, exists in an immeasurable degree in the
Deity. It follows, therefore, that infinite space
and infinite goodness are not things of which we
are ignorant. So far as infinite space is space, we
are acquainted with it, for it exists all around us.
So far as infinite goodness is goodness, we know it,
for it is to be found amongst many of our neigh-
bours and acquaintances. It is only the infinity
of space, the infinity of goodness that is to say,
their maximum of quantity or intensity which
it is beyond the reach of our. faculties to grasp.
This is most certainly the Scriptural view of the
matter. The Bible delights in attributing to God
the best human characteristics, and in represent-
The Obligations of the Deity. 269
ing them as differing from ours only in degree :
as, for example, in the passage, " Can a woman
forget her child ? Yea, she may forget ; yet will
I not forget thee."
But at any rate, if you still think that the
divine and human goodness must be totally dif-
ferent in kind as well as in degree, then I ask,
why do you still persist in calling them by the
same name ? According to Dean Mansel, words
like personality, love, justice, goodness, when
applied to God, must be understood in a different
sense from that which they bear in relation to
man. In what sense they are applicable to God
he does not explain. All he tells us is that they
may mean exactly the opposite of what is gener-
ally understood by them. If so, we have arrived
by another route at the Unknowable of Mr Her-
bert Spencer. Little as Mansel suspected it, his
premises in the Bampton Lectures were precisely
identical with the premises of Mr Spencer in
'The First Principles.' Their conclusions are
different because Mr Spencer's is logical, Dean
MansePs is not. They are quite agreed that the
divine character must be totally different from
ours. Yet Mansel would have us, after all intel-
ligible meaning has been eliminated from the
words, still speak of God as good and kind and
270 Our Rig/if to Immortality.
just. Spencer, more wisely, advises us to confess
our ignorance and say nothing.
The untenableness of Hansel's position was
once and for ever shown by John Stuart Mill, in
his examination of Sir AVilliam Hamilton's Phil-
osophy. "I take my stand,'.' says Mill, "upon
the acknowledged principle of logic and morality,
that when we mean different things we have no
right to call them by the same name. Language
has no meaning for the terms just, merciful, be-
nevolent, good, save that in which we predicate
them of our fellow-creatures ; and unless that is
what we intend to express by them, we have no
business to employ them. If, in ascribing good-
ness to God, I do not mean the goodness of which
I have some knowledge, but an incomprehensible
attribute of an incomprehensible substance, which,
for aught I know, may be a totally different qual-
ity from that which I love and venerate and
even must, if Mr Mansel is to be believed, be in
some important particulars opposed to this what
do I mean by calling it goodness ? and what
reason have I for venerating it ? If I know
nothing about what the attribute is, I cannot tell
that it is a proper object for veneration. To say
that God's goodness may be different in kind from
man's goodness what is it but saying, with a
The Obligations of the Deity. 271
slight change of phraseology, that God may pos-
sibly not be good ? To assert in words what we
do not think in meaning, is as suitable a defini-
tion as can be given of a moral falsehood. . . .
either is this to set up my own limited intellect
as a criterion of divine or of any other wisdom.
If a person is wiser and better than myself, not
in some unknown and unknowable meaning of
the terms, but in their known human acceptation,
I am ready to believe that what this person thinks
may be true, and that what he does may be right,
when, but for the opinion I have of him, I should
think otherwise. But this is because I believe
that he and I have at bottom the same standard
of truth and rule of right, and that he probably
understands better than I the facts of the partic-
ular case. If I thought it not improbable that
his notion of right was my notion of wrong, I
should not defer to his judgment. Similarly in
regard to God, if I feel He is really good, in the
ordinary meaning of that word though to an
extraordinary degree, I can believe that His
actions are right even when I do not understand
them. But if, instead of the glad tidings that
there exists a Being in whom all the excellences
which the human mind can conceive exist in a
degree inconceivable to us, I am informed that
272 Our Right to Immortality.
the world is ruled by a being whose attributes are
infinite, but what they are we cannot learn, nor
what are the principles of his government, except
that the highest human morality which we are
capable of conceiving does not sanction them,
convince me of it, and I will bear my fate as I
may. But when I am told that I must believe this,
and at the same time call this being by the names
which express the highest human morality, I say
in plain terms that I will not. Whatever power
such a being may have over me, there is one thing
which he shall not do he shall not compel me to
worship hun. I will call no being good who is
not what I mean when I apply that epithet to
my fellow-creatures. And if such a being can
sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell
I will go."
Throughout this passage there breathes the
true spirit of religion. For religion is only an-
other name for the worship of goodness. The
same sentiments were uttered long ago by the
prophet Isaiah : " Woe unto them that put light
for darkness, and darkness for light; woe unto
them that call evil good, and good evil ! " Eeligion
does not consist in escaping hell, but in adoring
supremely that which supremely deserves adora-
tion. It is not religion, it is blasphemy, to assert
The Obligations of the Deity. 273
that God is capable of conduct which in a man
would be universally condemned. What would
you say of a father who instilled into his child's
heart desires which could not be realised, who
trained him to expect what he would never receive,
who gave him such false impressions as to his
future prospects and position that when he awoke
from his delusion he would be driven to despair ?
What would you say of such a father ? Why, you
would say he was a monster of iniquity, unworthy
of the name of man, unworthy even of the name
of brute. And yet it is a being like that whom
some have not hesitated to call God !
By these remarks I hope I have partially jus-
tified what I said the other day, and what I now
repeat : God and immortality stand or fall together.
If death made an end of us for ever, humanity
would be a contemptible failure, and its creator
would not deserve the name of God. " If we are
to have a religion, it is necessary for us to believe
that the Power which checks and thwarts us
intends to give us in the end not less than we had
hoped for, but rather infinitely more." 1 Is it
giving us infinitely more, when we have such a
passionate longing for immortality, to answer it
by annihilation ? Is it giving us infinitely more,
1 These are the words of the author of ' atural Religion.'
S
2 74 Our Right to Immortality.
when we have yearned and struggled for per-
fection, to cut us off before it can possibly be
achieved ? Is it giving us infinitely more to
turn to destruction the whole human race, when
so many of them have never tasted the cup of
happiness, when so many of them could not but
be vile ?
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