There can be no absolute knowledge in man by his own reason, but only relative. God only is absolute; all other existences can be only relative, because there is only God absolute.
There is that which is next to it - the "I," which is out of time and space, and by its nature as such precludes relation; but it does not make the "I" absolute. First, there is no consciousness of absoluteness in it, though it helps one to the idea from the negation of relationship, while a negation is not a notion of the thing contradictory of that denied. But, further, consciousness (or the "I") is corrected by perception; for I perceive other things - not the "I." Be they ideas or things, it is all one, they are not the "I"; and the "I" becomes relative, is not absolute, existing in itself or infinite. The "I" is not "I am." "Am" is affirming something about "I": and as man I get into relativeness at once. When one says "I," infiniteness is excluded as time; but when the "I" reflects on itself, there is (I do not doubt) the consciousness that it is not absolute but dependent, has a source or cause, cannot say "being," though it can say "am" - not "becoming" (that is false) but "am." If I say "being" in any other sense than "am," I make myself God, as "I am." But, not being, I have to inquire what I am becoming, because what is not absolute has possibility of change: and what has possibility of change in becoming has necessity of becoming to be, that is, though existing, is not absolute, but flows from and depends on an absolute Being.
If it be inquired, if my relationship even with perceived things denies my absoluteness, has God not relationship with what exists, with me? None but what is the fruit of His own will. I am necessarily in relationship with what has caused me to be, by reason of which I have become, or with things which exist without my will. I am in relationship according to my being; I exist in that condition: God does not. He may form such relationships; but they are the fruit of His will; and His being remains in its own absoluteness. I have no doubt that man has an intuitive consciousness of relationship, and of relationship to a superior Being, independent of himself, with whom he is in relationship, though his ideas of that Being may be utterly false and corrupted; but that which is false and corrupted is in his natural intuition. Mind cannot know God, because relative cannot know absolute. But if imagination works, it corrupts the intuition mythologically. If mind works, it shews by its efforts its incapacity to reach what it is; but both the mythology and the efforts shew that there is the intuitive idea which sets the imagination and mind respectively in movement. But there is more than this. The immensely wider extent and preponderance of superstition, the rareness and shortlivedness of mental rejection of God theoretically, prove the power and strength of the intuition above mere mind. This may despise in its pretentiousness the intuition of a Being above us on which we are dependent; but the intuition is master of it always. Indeed, in detail the strongest minds are therefore grossly superstitious, because the want of the soul has not through the mind its natural pabulum.
19 Hence Renan and Scherer are perfectly right when they say, "all is relative"; and perhaps even when they say, "all [save the 'I'] is relation." Even what the "I" is, is entirely relative. But it is because they are wholly ignorant of God, who alone is absolute.
That science is become history is true, because thought has run itself out to the conviction of its incompetency, and can only relate what it has been thinking with a partial point of truth in it, but not the truth, of which the mind is incapable and owns itself such by making history of science. That this is all that can be, it is incompetent to say. It can only say and does admit that this is all it is competent for; because it cannot go beyond itself, and, being only itself cannot say of itself that there is nothing else which is competent, or that in some other way it cannot be arrived at or received. I admit and accept of its confession of incompetency.
Scherer reduces man to the lowest estimate of judgment of God and good. "Le vrai n'est plus vrai en soi" (the true is no more true in itself): a ridiculous sentence, because "le vrai" then cannot be. "Le vrai, le beau, le juste meme se font perpetueilement … ils ne sont autre chose que l'esprit humain." (The true, the beautiful, the just reproduce themselves perpetually: they are nothing but the mind of man). - (Revue des deux M., Feb. 15, 1861.) Now this is a statement that no nature can be, in apprehension or being, above man; or else "le vrai, le beau, le juste," may be "vrai, beau, juste en soi." Nor is this all. As to man they are relative, because he is so; yet, if there be a superior relation to One who is absolute, there is a fixed "vrai, beau, juste" morally in relation to Him, because He is the Absolute. It is simply a total denial of God or anything beyond the changing states or apprehensions of man; and makes man the end and beginning of himself; for if there be another thing or being to which he is in relation as end or beginning, there is as regards man a fixed measure of true, beautiful, just. So that this is merely the declaration that there is no relation beyond self; for if man is the measure and changes, it is simply self. This is philosophy.
20 Now I admit the partial truth (with a cloud of thoughts about it in philosophising), of which modern philosophy can only give a history, being, even as to this partial truth, past the power of conceiving truth. But progress is questionable. One man reasons from perceptions and sensation to prove God, another from final causes, another from intuitions, another from an innate perception of the absolute. All are true as a subjective, intuitive, or intellectual necessity; but they never reach objective knowledge either way: and man vacillates between all of them and arrives at - concludes - nothing! But the want and the craving do prove the truth, not of what the object is, but that there is an object - an unknown one. It is the "unknown God." You cannot know, but you cannot dispersuade that there is something to know. Hunger is not food, or the knowledge of food as possessed; but it is an undeniable proof to the hungry (take it as reasoning or want) that there is food to be known. And this moral condition is because man, in whose nostrils was breathed the breath of life from God, is thus in nature formed for God, and has not God.
Thus, when men have made the Logos the human mind or the human reason - the impersonal reason - with a vast system of philosophy to give it a body, there is a germ of truth; for there is that spirit in man which comes from the inbreathing of God originally. Yea, in wretched Pantheism there is a germ of truth; for God is above all and through all. All too live and move and have their being in Him. By Him all things consist. But where God is not known objectively, this centres in self: "Ils ne sont autre chose que l'esprit humain" (the most degraded of sentences); and centring in self is the perfection of degradation. But all these germs of truth, the truth (the word of God) gives us as certain truth in two words without the cobweb spinning of philosophy which proves its incompetency, the mind of man vacillating between systems formed from their germs without the true object of them; for that is philosophy.
21 But the truth does more; it gives us their true object as beginning, present fulness, and end, with the assurance of knowing as we are known, knowledge being now in part. And it takes us out of self by an object. And now see the divine wisdom with which this is done. I want the absolute but cannot have it, because I am in a relative condition; yet, if I have it not, I am reduced to what "n'est qu'humain" - self occupied with self. In Christ I have the absolute become relative, giving me the absolute goodness in coming into relation, perfect love and perfect light. But I have it more fully. I have the truth as to everything from the supreme God to sin, the world, the devil its prince, death itself and the dust of death with triumph over it. If I can see, I have the perfect "vrai, beau, juste"; and if not, I have it relatively to me - to man. But now I have it maintained to my soul in God, in Christ's life as perfect man relatively to God, and to the whole character of God in the atonement on the cross. I get absolute moral attributes glorified in God at the cost of abnegation of self in man (that is, in man who was the Son of God), love, righteousness, majesty, and truth. God was glorified in Him.
Thus I have the absolute in qualities maintained for my mind - my moral mind - in the cross, and self absolutely gone in man; I have the absolute in good become relative, so that my heart can and does know and delight in it. Could God's ways be more perfect or more wise?
Wise philosophy objects to this display of God's absolute character at Christ's expense, not seeing that it is the additional beauty and moral excellence of His giving Himself - the moral perfection of man, as absolute as what is relative can be, and absolute in Christ because He could give Himself. "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again," yet this, that it might be perfect in man, obedience to His Father - "this commandment have I received of my Father." But how can philosophy understand this? "Ils ne sont autre chose que l'esprit humain"; that is, self varied in its hopeless efforts to enlarge but never getting out of self. We cannot but in a subordinate sense give ourselves, because we are relative: we are not our own; for what is relative is bound to conformity to that relation. But, God having revealed Himself in Christ in grace to us, the discovery of this supreme relationship in absolute claim does free us from all others and lead us to give up self in all things in which it is sought, while sanctioning the relationships in which God had originally placed man, or to which he is rightly subjected as being of God Himself, such as magistracy, etc. Yet these may be given up (I mean natural relationships as connected with self) by a superior motive, the divine object taking possession of the soul in active love to others.
22 How admirable and divine the whole scheme is! The very wants suit, taking man out of self by the absolute become relative and perfection in the relative toward God and toward man, while the absolute is maintained to our souls in every sense by the sacrifice of Christ and man's perfect abnegation of self in the same to glorify God. The result is man dwelling in God (and God in him) and that in glory; this last known only in hope through positive revelation, yet felt to be necessary because of the preparation laid for it (see beginning of John 17), the rest enjoyed now, though this could only have been by divine actings (and we have it by divine communication as to truth and power, which is another subject), but when known, enjoyed as known truth in itself. He that believes not has made God a liar; he has not believed the record or testimony; but he that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself.
But if all be relative and relation, according to logic by the doctrine of excluded middle there must be an absolute. Not that this makes us know anything but that there must be the thing. For the truth of excluded middle is, I suspect, always simply that the term is really a negative or involves one - that is, proves that there is an intuitive consciousness that there is the thing negatived, not that we know it, and I suspect is never true but in the case of the absolute. Thus, if I say, It is good or bad, it is only if I view the term absolutely that I can say so. It is a colour, therefore not white or black, both which negative absolutely all colour. It is when a term implies that it embraces in its nature all but its opposite. Both need not (indeed cannot) be absolute, but one must be; and the reasoning is always from the non-absolute to the absolute, which can exist without anything else existing. Nothing else can; for a thing, not being absolute, is in relation. It is simply therefore the proof of the intuition of the existence of the absolute.
23 It is a mistake to suppose that metaphysical scepticism denies the certainty of knowledge within the sphere of knowledge. It only affirms that the finite cannot know the infinite - that no conclusion is the truth, because it is not the knowledge of God. Truth is what is told, not what is concluded; and hence, as to what is beyond physical fact, it must be a revelation. Once God is admitted, certain abstract general conclusions can be drawn because they are involved in the meaning of the word; they are merely the expression of the relation. But they are not the truth, because this speaks of fact. Now it is not necessarily a fact that the relation subsists intact, and that man has not denied it: Christianity teaches that he has. At any rate, it is not proved he has not - yea, it may be proved he has. For fatalism and the moral immutability of man are absurdities. Our will is at work. Nor does the unchangeableness of general laws as to facts or results touch the question of will. If it proves motives, it proves a will to be moved: of this I have spoken elsewhere. Until a will be denied, it cannot be denied that a given state in relationship may be departed from. Hence even right conclusions as to the relationship are not necessarily the truth, though they be right. Indeed all the effort to insist on general laws is the revolt of man's heart against the relation with God being according to what we are, and the unwillingness to admit we have broken it.
I do not enter on the proofs of general laws from without, because physical general laws do not touch the question. That man acts by a will, without contradicting them, is evident; yet as to him all depends on what his will was. He builds or does not build a house: gravity and every other law remains the same. But he may have been selfish, or unjust, or generous in doing it, whether they be or not. I think my nature as ideally abstract as most philosophers'; but this does not affect the question whether there are divine facts which meet these ideas, and whether they are not the just idea for which God formed as so having them. Thus, supposing man God's image in his constitution, the ideas flowing from this would not be the source or end. But God (or the revelation of God as being the truth) the cravings of a dependent creature sought after, but heeded not. Yet it is equally true, whenever he pretended to have anything to meet the wants or to form a system by them without God, he was in open rebellion by independency. And this is what shews the fulness of simple Christianity (which totally rejected, as evil, heathenism and philosophy), and yet the measure of truth but real departure from God of the Clements and Origens, [that is, the so called "fathers,"] who accepted these cravings as part of the truth. They were not, though the truth met them when not simply lusts. Christ alone is the truth; His word is, because He is as He said, "altogether that which I also say to you," John 8:25.
24 I do not lose sight of the absolute in speaking of absolute qualities: if I have one, I have the other; and what is relative is, if simple, absolute as a quality. In common use it is found by negation of what is or of variety. Some words or qualities are only relative. Still, when truly known, they become absolute. Thus "heavy" is simply relative; but when I know it, it is attraction: if there were none, it is absolutely negative in respect of weight; and as weight is relative, I can conceive its absence, because its presence is not necessary; for it is a relative quality. Absolute Being is God alone. But, taking man as a centre, we may speak practically of certain things as absolute when they are negative.
The great blunder of Schleiermacher, and the source of the worst infidelity now, is that he has taken the Holy Ghost's work in us - very likely in himself - for intuition, or specially collective Christian consciousness. He made divine teaching, in which case it is real, to be a title of human judgment on what the Holy Ghost gave. This is, I suspect, the key to the whole system, itself probably the fruit of Kantian philosophy and its offsets. The whole hangs on the church's not believing in the positive operation of the Holy Ghost. For all that Scherer and Bunsen, etc., pretend on their best side is simply Schleiermacher. Thus the Bible is Christian consciousness then: we judge it by Christian consciousness now. Hence it is, as Scherer says, the mere history of partial apprehension of truth; and of course, as every philosopher trusts himself, we judge scripture. That is, there is no revelation; for revelation must have authority or is false. Be it that the church was before the New Testament and the latter written for believers; yet the question is not thereby touched, whether it was not written by the power and direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost to give certainty and a divine record of those things in which they had been instructed. If the consciousness of believers was there, it was not to reproduce this but something else. It was to confirm and correct theirs by a divine statement of it, and give a sure record of that divinely-taught truth. Thus its being given to believers is, as far as it goes, a proof that it was not merely the expression of religious consciousness as then developed.