The Idea Of God In The Soul Of Man -- By: Francis Bowen

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 033:132 (Oct 1876)
Article: The Idea Of God In The Soul Of Man
Author: Francis Bowen


The Idea Of God In The Soul Of Man

Prof. Francis Bowen

The subject which I propose to discuss—the Idea of God in the Soul of Man—belongs at least as much to philosophy as to theology. Every student of philosophy knows that the systems of Descartes, Spinoza, and Malebranche are based upon this idea as their point of departure, and are colored throughout by the interpretation given to it; and nearly as much may be said of Leibnitz and the later German metaphysicians, as well as the most eminent speculatists of our own day; though they often veil his ineffable being and essence under the names of “the Absolute,” “the Universal Will,” “the Unconscious,” and “the Unknowable.” All alike bear testimony to the fact that this idea, in some one of its forms, is primitive in the mind, and upon our conception of it must depend any theory which we may form concerning the nature of pure being, the origin of existence, the source and certainty of knowledge, and the relations of man to the universe. Let us endeavor, then, to bring together and compare with each other the various interpretations which have been given to it, and the manner in which philosophy and theology will be affected by adopting either one of them to the exclusion of the others.

There are, I think, three leading forms of this idea, with which all who have given much thought to the subject are already more or less conversant, and to which all the less prominent varieties of it may easily be reduced. Let me enumerate these briefly at the outset, in order to prepare the way for a subsequent fuller consideration of them.

First, there is the primitive idea of God, which is innate in the human mind, which lies far down and indistinct in

the depths of man’s primitive consciousness, which we all at first see, though without looking at it, and which as such is “the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Of course, this is the germ of all the theories which may subsequently be formed upon the subject. Like our other innate ideas, — like those of space and time, for instance, — it may, sooner or later, more or less, or even not at all, be developed by reflection, instruction, or revelation, though these all presuppose it, virtually appeal to it, never entirely efface its original characteristics, and. could no more have first imparted it to man than they could have taught geometry to a brute.

Secondly, this germ is often developed (as we have too often seen), by reflective and deductive reasoning, into what may be called the metaphysician’s or philosopher’s idea of God, as the Infinite and the Absolute, First Cause and Causa sui,— as such, necessarily exi...

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