god, creator, and lord of all.
By samuel harris, D.D., LL.D. Professor of Systematic Theology in Yale University.
New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1896. 2 vols.
dr. harris is the well-known author of two other works, each a goodly octavo, the first The Philosophical Basis of Theism, published in 1883, the other The Self-Revelation of God, published in 1886. These two works may be regarded as the blade and the ear, and we now have, in two octavo volumes, if not the full corn in the ear, at least a sheaf of the first fruit of the harvest. In fact, not a little of the matter contained in the former works finds fitting place in this. The present work is evidently a treatise on theology in the strict sense of the term ; for he defines theology as "the intellectual apprehension and expression of what God really is in his relations to the universe, and especially to man." The study of theology is then the search for all attainable knowledge of God. He justifies the study of theology against current misconceptions of it on the ground that it is in accord with the spirit and teaching of the Bible; that it is essential to the preservation and purity of Christian belief, and to Christian character and life; and to the effective preaching of the gospel.
The plan of the work is suggested by his definition of theology. Since God's self-revelation is made in his relations to the universe, and especially to man, these relations suggest and furnish the main divisions. Accordingly we have: Part 1, "God the One Only Absolute Spirit;" Part 2, "God the Creator;" Part 3, "God the Lord of All in Providential Government; Part 4, " God the Lord of All in Moral Government." Part i has eleven chapters; Part 2, two; Part 3, five, and Part 4, eleven ; twenty-nine in all.
In a brief review of so extended a work the reviewer can do no more than select here and there such topics as will serve to indicate the general course of the author's thought, and at the same time present his views on certain important doctrines.
In Part 1, which treats of God as absolute spirit, he says that the knowledge of God originates in spontaneous belief which comes to man the moment he awakens to consciousness of the outer world and of himself. This knowledge is at first obscure and defective, and mixed with error — a mere germ—but, being by subsequent investigation progressively enlarged, clarified, and classified, it becomes a real knowledge of God as the absolute spirit—absolute as unconditioned and unlimited by any being, power, or environment independent of himself and spirit as possessing reason, free will, and feeling. Confirmatory proof that God is the absolute spirit is found in consciousness ; in the constitution, order, and evolution of the universe ; in the history of man and of his redemption ; in individual experience; and preeminently in Christ and the Holy Spirit as revealed to men. Of course, there can be but one absolute spirit. Dr. Harris defines the natural and the supernatural thus : " Nature denotes the physical universe, including all irrational and impersonal beings. The supernatural embraces God and all finite rational or spiritual persons." Man is on the same side of the dividing line between the natural and the supernatural with God. God is spirit in the form of the infinite; man is spirit in the form of the finite. The fundamental reality in the universe is the supernatural, not the natural. The energy in the universe is put forth by spirit. Matter and its forces are manifestations of the spiritual or supernatural, that is, of self-determining, self-exerting spirit. The action of a supernatural power on nature is of the essence of miracle. It is not a violation of any law of nature, but in accordance with the laws of nature, and the result such as could not have been produced except for this action of spirit upon nature; though we are accustomed to call that only miraculous which results from the action upon nature of a spirit superior to man. God as absolute spirit is immanent in nature, but transcends nature.
Dr. Harris' method leads him to a treatment of the subject of the divine attributes somewhat unlike that of most theologians. Instead of making the usual classification of natural and moral, he makes the classification rest on the two aspects of his nature as absolute being and as absolute spirit. As absolute being, unconditioned and unlimited, his attributes are negative. They are self-existence (uncreated), omnipresence (unlimited in space), eternity (unlimited in time), plenitude (unlimited in quantity). As absolute spirit his attributes are reason (or intelligence), will (power, freedom, and love), and feeling. Our space will not allow us to follow him in this discussion, which occupies four chapters.
Under the heading of theodicy he discusses the supremacy of reason in God; sorrow and suffering in the universe; the existence of sin; the manifestation of God's love in the mission of Christ; and mystery, showing that mystery furnishes no ground of doubt of God's love.
Four chapters are given to the subject of the trinity and the incarnation. From the fact that divine attributes are ascribed to Christ and to the Holy Spirit by the Scriptures, and that they uniformly and emphatically declare that God is one, the only possible conclusion is that Father, Word, and Holy Spirit are one God. A very full discussion of the philosophical and practical significance of the trinity and of the incarnation follows, in the course of which the author treats very fully and candidly the theories of Unitarianism.
Part 2 consists of one chapter on creation and one on God's end in creation. Whatever interpretation be given to the first three chapters of Genesis, they reveal important truths respecting God and creation, which cannot be found in the literature or traditions of any nation except the Hebrews. The Scriptures uniformly represent God's end in creation to be his own glory in the revelation of himself. This end is worthy of God, because he is what he is, and because the highest blessedness of a rational being consists in knowing God. This doctrine of the end of God in creation is the basis for the doctrine of God's government of the universe. His providential government must reveal him as he is, the absolute reason and love. Sovereignty, though absolute, is under the law of righteousness and love, a law not exterior to nor above God, but in his own nature, and so not limiting him. Divine sovereignty, thus understood, is universal, and is both providential and moral, the providential being subordinate to the moral. It is favorable to holiness both in restraining from sin and in reclaiming the sinner, though it never trenches upon moral freedom. Election is an exercise of divine sovereignty in human redemption. The significance of it lies in the fact that it is God who seeks to save the sinner and not the sinner who seeks salvation. A being who is absolute reason and love cannot act unreasonably or unrighteously, and, knowing the end from the beginning, cannot divorce his foreknowledge from his foreordination.
One of the most satisfactory chapters is the one entitled " Moral Character Defined Psychologically." Referring to his work, The Philosophical Basis of Theism, for his doctrine of the will and its freedom, he bases on it this definition of moral character: " Primarily it is the choice of the supreme object of trust and service of which the subordinate choices and volitions are the expression and manifestation ; secondarily, it is the state of the intellect and sensibilities, and the habits of action, so far as formed or modified by previous voluntary action." Moral character, then, is possible only as determined by choice. Now there are two spheres within which to exercise choice : the one, objects to be acquired, possessed, and used ; the other, persons to be trusted and served. The former cannot be objects of supreme choice, for at once the question arises, for whom do we seek to acquire these objects, for self or for another or others ? So the object of supreme choice must be a person or persons, self, or God and our neighbor. The choice between these determines moral character. This harmonizes with the great commandment : Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself. From this it follows that the root of all sin is the supreme choice of self as the object of trust and service. Such was the nature of the first sin in Eden, and man is said by theologians to be totally depraved, in that he totally rejects God as the supreme object of trust and service. The choice of God is faith, and so all right character begins in faith, and regeneration is the change wrought in the soul under the agency of the Holy Spirit, when self is renounced and God and our neighbor are chosen as the supreme object of trust and service.
Passing by the author's very able presentation of the working of love in service to God and men, we have space only for a brief reference to the chapter on the sanction of law. There can be no law without a sanction. This sanction is punishment inflicted on the transgressor in the form of deprivation or suffering. It is not vindictive, but vindicatory, because indispensable to the maintenance of righteous government. It must be inflicted by the government whose law has been transgressed, for, if inflicted by any other (as a lawless mob), however deserved by the criminal, it does not maintain, but undermines government. Punishment is not discipline, though it may answer this end. Thus the necessity for punishment is grounded in the constitution of the universe, which is itself grounded in the eternal reason which dwells in the bosom of God. Punishment usually comes as the result or fruit of sin, in accordance with the law of cause and effect, but this does not make the punishment less the act of God, since it is he who established the constitution of nature and is himself immanent and energetic in it.
Dr. Harris' chair in Yale University is that of "systematic theology," but it is not to be assumed that we have here the entire body of teaching given from that chair. But even as the first installment of a " system of theology " it indicates a method markedly different from that of most of the masters of theology. Believing that God is immanent in the universe and reveals himself in all his relations to it, he studies these revealments in order to gain the fullest knowledge of God possible. The completest knowledge of God possible for man, rather than the most perfect system of religious doctrine, is the object of search. We are made to feel that we are dealing directly with God rather than with a " body of divinity." We have a growth rather than a structure. A growing tree may never be perfectly symmetrical, or, however symmetrical, it is not complete. Dr. Harris' book is evidently not complete as a "system of theology." Not only do several topics which usually have prominent place in systems of theology, such as depravity, atonement, regeneration, justification, etc., receive only incidental mention in this work, but others more closely related to theology proper are but briefly touched. There is, for example, in the chapter on the incarnation no full discussion of the doctrine of the atonement, but only such references to it as the following : "The atoning significance of the work of Christ is only a peculiar application of principles in accordance with which God always acts." And again: "In the assertion, maintenance, and vindication of God's law is the atoning significance of Christ's humiliation, obedience, suffering, and death." And again: "The doctrine that God in Christ asserts, maintains, and vindicates his law .... means that God's action in doing so is the spontaneous expression of his essential character as God." Similar references are made to other doctrines which are not discussed at length in these volumes. Though we find in them no intimation that another or other volumes are to follow, those who have been privileged to be his pupils confidently expect that this will be the case. If then his readers miss some things where they expected to find them, they will suspend judgment till Dr. Harris has had time to carry out fully his entire plan. If still we wish these volumes had contained some things which we fail to find in them, we are glad to recognize the many and great excellencies of this able work. The spirit is reverent towards God and the Scriptures; the tone is that of one who knows what he believes and the grounds of his faith, who is earnest and candid in his advocacy of the truth as he sees it; the discussions are full and thorough, leaving nothing obscure and omitting nothing essential; the style is a model for clearness and directness, making his meaning unmistakable. There is no trace of bitterness in his frank dissent from the opinions and views of other theologians, and his reconcilement of views supposed to be irreconcilable is usually exceedingly satisfactory. The work is a good exponent of the progress made by evangelical theology during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It may be studied with profit by pastors and teachers of every age who can appreciate clear thinking and intelligent faith.
N G BURTON
ann arbor, mich.