Self-Consciousness and the Infinite: Part 2, Indefinite and Infinite

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Mansel at the end of Lecture 3 happily contradicts himself. He is not exact. Thus, when he says we can conceive such attributes at the utmost only indefinitely but we cannot conceive them as infinite, how can he make the distinction if he cannot tell what infinite is? That one word proves the fallacy of his whole statement. But infinite, I have already said, does not mean material in infinitude; and attributes (i.e., predicates) spoken of God are always false when taken as the truth.
To say that things may not be what their appearances are is nonsense. What is a thing? what an appearance? I know nothing of a thing save its appearance, i.e., its relation to me. I have no other thing as a thing than that. The only other thing to mark it is its resistance to will, its contrast with the “I;” so that will goes where I cannot. It hinders the change of the relationship of “I.” That is, I know its existence in contrast with “I” active in its absoluity, or “I” as a spirit. This we call matter: why not? Hyle, if you please (a spiritual body not so; but this is faith; it confirms the other).
Indefinite and infinite are not the same. Indefinite does not know whether a thing stops or where. We are so constituted as to believe necessarily in the infinite (finite implying it), but the reason of that precludes my knowing it. Finite is some apparent, or possibly apparent, being in what is the object of perception; but because that is finite as perceptible existence, I speak of its ending. Being limited, I must and do therein suppose and mean that beyond a limit there is what is beyond limit, illimitable. My idea of limit supposes this: I limit knowable existence, but its being a limit is in my mind in every case in spite of me. A thought that its being stopped or limited is a possibility of prolongation. It might go farther (i.e., I have an idea of what is beyond limit). Finite instead of excluding is founded on the idea of infinity. I have the idea that it is, must be, in idea; for stopping gives (or is identical with) as an idea, not stopping, but proves that the sense that there must be is identical with the sense of. The thought that it stops is founded on being stopped somewhere, i.e., that it might go on. It is merely saying, I am constituted with the sense that there is space (i.e., where a thing may stop or not stop) and duration (i.e., where it may or may not cease). I cannot but think infinite must be, but never think of it as the object of human power of thinking, for when, as to a clear conception of what is I think of what is, I think of what stops so far as any object of thought can go. I deny that mere infinitude in the sense of space has anything to do with God. Endless time onward is more accessible to me because I can have the idea of continuance when I have existence.
In space the object of thought becomes itself extended, whereas a thing only exists in time or eternity.
It is no part of itself. It may always exist, does not need to stop, a parte ante (as they say) cannot in se be thought of, because I have no known existence to go on with but in time or now. Taking now, however, I can conceive continuance; but the thought is more imperfect though certain in its nature.
We feel no need to suppose God infinite in space (on the contrary, it shocks us); but in time we do. The reason is simple. Infinitude in space is gross, material, not a moral central will and action. I do not judge of God as finite in space, because I do not materialize Him; but if He ceases in duration, and that is finite as to it, He ceases to be, because to endure when anything exists is not to cease to be. I fully believe there is an instinctive sense of God as supreme, i. e., supreme as to us, and reasoning on what He is consequent on this. It is a blunder to suppose that not being the author of evil limits Him. He can, as to power, do anything; but limiting means a stop being put to something in the direction in which it tends or might continue; whereas no evil is in God to be stopped. Power does not create evil. Were God the author of evil (save physical evil or punishment), it would be a limit to what He is—good. Mansel has not kept clear of the material idea of infinity. His adversaries are on that ground; but his great defect is not seizing consequences, at least in his reasonings, for he does state the thing in Lecture 4.
But I deny the sense of responsibility and a law to be the same thing, or either of them the knowledge of good and evil. A law may be the rule according to which we are responsible to One who has authority over us, but it is not the responsibility itself. Man was responsible before he had the knowledge of good and evil; and he had a law which implied no such knowledge. Responsibility is to a person: a law may be its measure. The knowledge of good and evil is a capacity of nature to discern right and wrong where there is no law. “So the man is become as one of us, knowing good and evil.” A law may give me God's measure of it as to me, and so the divine law did as to man. But obedience always and in everything is what we are responsible for, if the One above us is supreme—has such claims over us—to keep the law, if He has given one, and every commandment He gives. But this is only what the responsibility is shown in. The knowledge of right and wrong is in itself a contrast with law, because it is in us, and there is no one to whom (if that be all) we are responsible. We may be also responsible to another; and he, if a moral governor—not otherwise, holds us responsible according to that knowledge.
All as to law, moral obligations, man a law to himself by reflecting God's law, is false. Conscience is not pleasure, because there is lust; and conscience and sin came in together. Will and lust combine, and conscience is against them. But moral obligation is only rightly known at all when God's claim of obedience is allowed; for mere conscience is mere misery, or combines with pride and self-approbation.
To say that the knowledge of good and evil is necessarily implanted as a law by a lawgiver is utterly false. For this knowledge is in God; and what higher spiritual being has implanted it in Him, as a lawgiver? It can therefore be otherwise. We have it by sin.
The absolute claim of obedience is the highest obligation, moral obligation, if you please. Now that I have got a knowledge of good and evil, I shall surely attribute that to God and own His judgment. But only when Christ is revealed can it be said that the nature of the Deity is the absolute standard; for requirements from, are not necessarily conformity to, His will, which cannot be dissociated from His nature as a requirer. But duty does not flow from the nature of the superior, but in all cases (superior is not) from the relation in which the obliged person stands to the superior or any other person. No doubt, if the relation be with a divine Being or formed by Him, it will be right, and from some higher motive be right, though the relation be evil as a Christian slave. But obedience is right to God, though there be no law (it may be tested by a law) and no knowledge of good and evil in itself. Then a knowledge of good and evil enters by disobedience. We become as to this as God. (Genesis 3) Hence there is the knowledge of right and wrong without reference to a superior, though reference may exist, and, I doubt not the least, has been perfected with it. Lastly, a law may be given, testing the obedience, not in innocence, but with a perfect measure of right and wrong, including all moral relationships. Christ is more than all this. He is the manifestation of the divine nature in man, and, when we are partakers of it, becomes the model and example, as well as the source of our walk and duty.
It is obedience as His was, because He was a man, to His Father in the place in which He stood, and so our mold of obedience, not to a claiming law, but having no will but God's—perfect in moral estimate; but it is also love as Christ's was, because it is the divine nature. Being holy too (that is, with a knowledge of good and evil), it has a horror of evil and is separated from it, but in us it is separated to God, which alone can be the separation from evil in us—in a creature which must have an object.
This gives a special character to Christ though He ever looked to His Father, and, as man, lived in dependence on Him, and, as man too, rejoiced in the joy that was before Him. Yet He was an object, instead of having one.
As regards personality, the conscious “I” is personality, though it cannot explain by reason in what it consists; but absolute dependence on God destroying personal freedom is all confusion. Dependence is equivocal. It means that I must derive existence and all here—more, have all from Him, or that I feel dependent on Him—look to Him. All this leaves out will, as contrasted with the obligation of obedience. Most of what is called personal freedom is simple sanction of sin. I ought always to obey—
“Lo, I come to do thy will” was Christ's uniform and sole motive. If freedom means that God does not purpose evil or hinder good, it is quite true; but if it means a right to have a will of one's own, it is sin—atheism. A man being really set to choose between evil and good (he may be, for trial to show him what he is) is alike horrible and absurd; because it supposes the good and evil to be outside, and himself neither. If he is one or other in disposition, the choice is there. To have a fair choice, he must be personally indifferent; but to be in a state of indifference to good and evil is perfectly horrible. If a man has an inclination, his choice is not free: a free will is rank nonsense morally; because, if he have a will, he wills something. God can will to create. But will in moral things means either self-will, which is sin (for we ought to obey); or an inclination to something, which is really a choice made as far as will goes. In truth it is never so. Man was set in good, though not externally forced to remain so. He first exercised his will—free-will, morally speaking—in eating the forbidden fruit, and was therein and thereby lost, and since then he has been inclined to evil. Dependence lies in this—that a creature must depend on God. He does so joyfully in perfect good, and on whom it comes has the claim when he knows God. Independence in will (there cannot be in fact), and disobedience, its fruit, is the condition of the old man. Dependence and obedience are the characteristics of the new man—of Christ. Save what grace works, God does leave the will free; but it tends in its nature away from God; because it is will. And the not looking to God must have an object below man. That wretched freedom man has, and perseveres in it but for grace, and resists the motives of grace, because it calls to God, to dependence and obedience of heart. And will wills itself: only one can be born of God, and have a new nature—Christ as our life, and so be a new creature.
(Continued from page 268.)