Especially I began yesterday to call attention to the view which is associated with the philosophical position of Hegel. Being a philosopher he was great upon the idea. The whole world, he said, was a movement or process of the grand, divine idea; but it was a process. Now please to put down and make much use of this fundamental distinction between a process and an act. A process had nothing moral in it. We are simply carried along on the crest of a wave. An act, on the other hand, can only be done by a moral personality. The act involves the notion of will and responsibility, and, indeed, the whole existence of a moral world. The process destroys that notion. Now the general tendency of philosophy is to devote itself to the idea and to the process. Science, for example, which is the ground floor, not to say the basement, of philosophy – science knows nothing about acts, it only knows about processes. The chemist knows only about processes. The biologist knows only about processes. The psychologist treats even acts as processes. But the theologian, and, indeed, religion altogether, stands or falls with the idea of an act. For him an infinite process is at bottom an eternal act. The philosophical thinker says the world is the process of an evolving idea, which may be treated as personal or may not. But for Christianity the world is the action of the eternal, divine act, a moral act, an act of will and of conscience.
Let us see how this applies to our thoughts about reconciliation. I have already indicated to you that the grand goal of the divine reconciliation is communion with God, not simply that we should be in tune with the Infinite, as an attractive but thin book has it. The object of the divine atonement is something much more than bringing us into time with God. It is more than raising our pitch and defining our note. It means that we are brought into actual, reciprocal communion with God out of guilt. We have personal intercourse with the Holy, we exchange thoughts and feelings. But this Christian idea of reconciliation, the idea of communion with the living and holy God, is replaced in philosophic theology by another idea, that, namely, of adjustment to rational Godhead, our adjustment to that mighty idea, that mighty rational process, which is moving on throughout the world. Sometimes the Godhead is conceived as personal, sometimes as impersonal; but in any case reconciliation would be rather a resigned adjustment to this great and overwhelming idea, which, having issued everything, is perpetually recalling, or exalting, everything into fusion with itself. But fusion, however organic and concrete, is one thing, communion is another thing. An individual might be lost in the great sum of being as a drop of water is lost in the ocean. That is fusion. Or it might be taken up as a cell in the body’s organic process. That is a certain kind of reconciliation or absorption. But moral, spiritual reconciliation, where we have personal beings to deal with, is much more than fusion; more than absorption; it is communion. It is more than placing us in our niche. When we think in the philosophic way it practically means that reconciliation is understood almost entirely from man’s side, without realizing the divine initiative as an act. But such divine initiative is everything. It is in the mercy of our God that all our hopes begin. Nothing that confuses that gets at the root of our Christian reconciliation. Or, sometimes, those philosophic ideas are carried so far that God’s concern for the individual is ignored. These great processes work according to general laws; and general laws, like Acts of Parliament, are bound to do some injustice to individuals. You cannot possibly get complete justice by Act of Parliament. It is bound to hit somebody very hard. And it has often been doubted by exponents of philosophical theology such as I describe whether the individual as an individual was really present to God’s mind and affection at all. And they think prayer is unreasonable except for its reflex effect on us. Thus the whole stress comes to be put upon our attitude to God, and not upon a reciprocal relationship. That is to say, religion becomes, as I described yesterday, a subjectivity, a resignation. In others it becomes a sense of dependence. People are invited to become preoccupied with their own attitude, their own relation, their own feelings toward the unchangeable, but absorbing, and even unfeeling God. Attention is directed upon the human side instead of insight cultivated into the divine side. The result of that practically is that religion comes to consist far too much in working up a certain frame of feeling instead of dwelling upon the objective reality of the act of God. Resignation is, then, my act; but it is not resignation to a sympathetic act of approach in God, but only to His onward movement. But, as I have said before, if we are to produce the real Christian faith we must dwell upon, we must preach and press, that objective act and gift of God which in itself produces that faith. We cannot produce it. Many try. There are some people who actually work at holiness. It is a dangerous thing to do, to work at your own holiness. The way to cultivate the holiness of the New Testament is to cultivate the New Testament Christ, the interpretation of Christ in His Cross, by His Spirit, which cannot but produce holiness, and holiness of a far profounder order than anything we may make by taking ourselves to pieces and putting ourselves together in the best way we can, or by adjusting ourselves with huge effort to a universal process. Religious subjectivity is truly a most valuable phase; and at some periods in the Church’s history it is urgently called for. In the seventeenth century it was so called for because Protestantism had degenerated into a mere theological orthodoxy, a very hard-shell kind of Christianity. It was necessary that the great Pietistic movement should arise and correct it. But this is itself a danger in turn; and we have to rise up in the name of the gospel, of the New Testament, and demand a more objective religion; and we have to declare that if ever divine holiness is to be produced in man it can only be produced by God’s act through Christ in the Holy Spirit.