Names of the Infinite.
When I said that all these names had been from the beginning names of the Infinite I hardly expected that I could have been so far misunderstood as if I supposed that the name and concept of the Infinite had been fully elaborated before it was called Sky and Earth Sun and Moon Day and Night Lord Maker Ruler Friend and Father. I have actually boon told as something I ought to have known that when the prehistoric Semite built altars to and called on the name of Shaddai Jehovah or Baal the object of his worship was not at first conceived as Infinite but as very local and limited and finite indeed. The Himalayan mountain range has different names in different dialects and in different parts of its long extent. We who know its unbroken continuity from east to west speak of the whole as the Himalayan range; but the inhabitants of every small valley by whatever name they call their own hills mean likewise the Himalayan range though they have as yet no name for it. It is in that sense that the people who spoke of their own gods as Zeus or Apollo or Athene meant the Infinite that was behind or in these names though as yet they had no name for it. When I speak of the Infinite I simply use the widest generalisation within my reach wider even than what is comprehended by the name of the Unknowable. To suppose that such generalisations had been realised in the minds of the earliest observers of thunder and lightning would be to invert the whole historical growth of the human mind. But as soon as an altar was built to Shaddai as the giver of rain as soon as such a name was formed something more was meant than the visible cloud or the finite sky something which by the most general term I shall continue to call the Non-Finite and the Infinite.
There are indeed misapprehensions against which it is almost degrading to defend oneself.
I Am that I Am.
When we find in the old Testament such names as Elohim Adonai Jehovah or Jah we never doubt that they were all meant for the same Being. But when as we are told in the book of Exodus iii. 14 Moses asked the God of his fathers what was His true name is it not wonderful that that name contains no predicate whatever ‘no manner of similitude’ but is simply ‘I Am that I Am’?
To a student of the history of religion such unexpected rays of light are quite dazzling. I call them unexpected because the language in which Jehovah is spoken of in the Old Testament is often as you know not very different from the language applied to the deity in other ancient religions. It is human language full of metaphor; it is what is called anthropomorphic; and what else could it be?
It is true that in India also we meet with the same or a very similar name. We read in one of the Upanishads7 ‘He looking round saw nothing but himself. He first said: “This is I;” and therefore ho became “I” by name.’
But in India we can see how the way was slowly prepared for so abstract so unmetaphorical and in no sense anthropomorphic a name as ‘I am I.’ We can see there a class of philosophic theologians working hard to free their thoughts from the inevitable leading-strings of language. But among the Jews at the time of Moses (placing ourselves on the ordinary standpoint of readers of the Old Testament) so sudden a burst of the purest light so transcendent a name of the deity as ‘I am’ comes upon us indeed like a revelation in the truest sense of the word.
And what is more marvellous still we find joined with this the most abstract conception of the deity that truly human feeling for God which is expressed in such words as: ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might’ (Deuter. vi. 4). I doubt whether we can find anything like this anywhere else. When God has once been conceived without ‘any manner of similitude’ He may be meditated on revered and adored but that fervent passion of the human breast that love with all our heart and all our soul and all our might seems to become hushed before that solemn presence. We may love our father and mother with all our heart we may cling to our children with all our soul we may be devoted to our wives and husbands and friends with all our might but to throw all these feelings in their concentrated force and truth on the deity has been given to very few elect souls only the true Saints of the world. Others must rest content with the hope that true love shown to any human being to father and mother to husband and wife to sons and daughters aye to the stranger also if there is a stranger may take the place of that love of God which Moses demanded and that ‘what ye have done unto one of the least of these My brethren ye have done it unto Me’ (Matth. xxv. 40).