Calvinism In the Sphere of PhilosophyPosted: August 19, 2010
Written by Francis Beattie,
Philosophy is reflection, the thinking consideration of things. It is the search for causes, the inquiry after reasons. Each age has its own peculiar philosophical tendency. The pendulum of speculation swings from one system to another through the ages. It may be safely said that the tendency of the noblest philosophical thinking of the day is toward a unitary system. This means a system with a single principle by which all things are to be explained. Hence the drift in modern thought toward some type of monism is natural. In the past, this tendency has appeared in materialism, which seeks to explain all things from the atom and physical force; and in pantheism, which holds to an impersonal first principle of all existence. But in our own day a nobler trend appears in connection with modern thought. This tendency is toward a spiritual and ethical monism, which explains all things from the postulate of a personal God. The universe is to be construed in terms of personal spirit. This may be termed theistic monism or monistic theism, which gives a place alike for the personality of the infinite and for the dependent and derived reality of finite things. The reality of the source of all being must be one, and that one reality is the personal God. From him, in some way, all things come; on him, in some relation, all things depend; and for his glory, in the end, all things are. The very best types of modern thought which to-day hold the attention of philosophical minds tend distinctly in this direction. The intense interest concerning theistic speculations in many thoughtful circles fully confirms this statement.
This tendency is in harmony with the fundamental principles of generic Calvinism. According to this system, God is the one source of all finite things. From him, and for him, all things have their being and meaning. In harmony with theistic monism, God is the alone source of all being. He alone is independent and self-existent. His omnipotent agency lies at the root of all that comes to pass in the universe. His will, guided by infinite intelligence, directed according to absolute righteousness, and moved by boundless love, is the supreme fact in Calvinism. This may be regarded as the sovereignty of God in the sphere of philosophy.
In modern philosophic thought thus viewed there are at least three particulars in which Calvinism is in accord with it. These particulars may be denoted by the terms, unity, immanence, and finality.
It is evident that the idea of unity in modern philosophy has its counterpart in Calvinism. If modern thought demands a unitary and rational spiritual principle to explain the universe, Calvinism provides this in its doctrine of God and his decrees or eternal purpose. Neïther materialism nor pantheism meet the requirements of philosophy or theology, for the one denies spirit and the other personality. And dualism is also defective, for it announces two eternal principles, which entirely oppose and exclude each other. Of all types of theology Calvinism best meets the demand of modern thought for unity. Calvinism, therefore, and monistic theism have a natural affinity with each other. The one gives the principle of unity in the realm of philosophy, and the other a similar principle in the sphere of theology. Both agree in holding to the absoluteness of this unitary postulate, and both give to all finite things their proper dependent reality.
The term immanence is one much used by modern thought; and sometimes, perhaps, it may be pushed too far at the present day. Yet what is sound and true in the meaning of this term is a great gain for philosophy. It expresses the intimate relation subsisting between God and the world, between the unitary principle of theistic monism and the multiplicity of finite things in the universe. Two generations ago, a form of dualism in philosophy and of deism in theology prevailed. By this view God was removed far from his works, and seldom, if ever, came in contact with them. But now it is firmly held, by the best types of modern thought, that God is immanent in some sense, while also transcendent, in his relations with the universe. This means that his relation to his works is inward and abiding, and not merely external. He is always in contact with his works, and hence does not come merely occasionally into vital relations with his creatures. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” In this way theistic monism avoids pantheism, which denies the transcendence of God, and escapes deism, which ignores his immanence, touching the relation of God to his creatures of every grade.
This aspect of modern thought also finds its counterpart in generic Calvinism. God is in all things, and through all things, and over all things. His purpose and his power are constantly expressed in the progress and processes of the universe. Thus Calvinism avoids the abyss of pantheism and escapes the mechanism of deism. It puts God into such relations with his creatures that he may fittingly execute his decrees in the works of creation and providence. Thus there is no event in the universe wherein God’s presence and potency, directly or indirectly exercised, are not to be found. This is Calvinism, where God is in all, through all, and over all. Here, again, the kinship between Calvinism and modern thought is evident.
The term finality is one much used by modern thought, although what it means is not entirely new. It denotes end, or purpose, or design, or goal; and modern thought, in its better aspects in philosophy, is more and more bringing out the view that the universe exists for a purpose. The cosmos has some end. It is ever more and more clearly seen that the universe is not a chaos of separate, independent things, but a cosmos of related, interdependent things. It is consequently rational at its root, and intelligible, and thereby capable of being construed by intelligence. Only on this ground is science itself possible. The universe is moving on toward some definite goal. Even Herbert Spencer, with his idea of the rhythmic movement of the universe in great cycles, is an unwilling witness to this conclusion; and philosophic evolution, if ever clearly proved to be true, will but further confirm the conclusion that the universe is moving on toward some distant and lofty goal. As in human history there is the rational as well as the natural bond of connection, so in the cosmos there is the rational bond binding it together also. There are plan and purpose in the cosmos, and movement in it toward their realization. There is something other than the cosmos, and above it yet in it, which regulates its onward progress toward its end. This is finality as seen in the universe. The cosmos has a meaning and an end.
With no type of theology does this so well agree as with the Calvinistic. God’s eternal purpose, which has reference to his glory, is the final end of the whole cosmos, and his comprehensive plan determines the history of the entire universe. Thus this profound feature of modern thought is in full accord with Calvinism in its essential principles. Immanence provides the basis for the attainment of this end, in the execution of the decrees.
We may therefore safely conclude that in the realm of philosophy Calvinism is not out of date, but quite up to the times. The facts of unity, of immanence, and of finality, all are profound aspects of modern thought with which Calvinism has the fullest sympathy, and for which it may have a ready welcome.