Charles Allen Dinsmore.

Atonement in literature and life online

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In adding a volume toth^ ever ihcrea^iu^ flood
of books issued froiii clie press of to-day. -it be-
comes a writer to state'his reasons for challenging
the attention of a surfeited and much-enduring
public. Especially is- -this true when the 'SulDJeet
is so apparently outworn -and rejected-, as -the
atonement. For this theme, once so -command-
ing and of conceded importance, has been quite
generally neglected, even by religious people,
and fails to arouse more than a languid interest.
The venerated interpretations now seem anti-
quated, and the dogma itself is in many pulpits
discredited. But a doctrine which has entered so
vitally into spiritual thought and experience, and
which every age has explained in its own language
and according to its prevailing philosophy, must
contain a residuum of truth which will ever abide
and reclothe itself in a fashion suited to each

The word " atonement," as I shall use it, is em-
ployed to explain the method by which reconcili-


ation with God, with life, and with one's past
is achieved. My purpose is not to elaborate a
dogma. This would be a thankless task. " It is
not summation of doctrine that we want/' says
Bushnell, " we have enough of that. What we
want a great deal more is something to give us
greater breadth of standing and greater vitality
of ide^." In attempting to satisfy this need I
have' Bought to take the gospel of reconciliation
out of the stiff forms of theology and to find its
essential truths as they appear in life, and life as
the best minds have seen it. As this theme holds
as prorainent a place in literature as in religion,
it has seemed, to me that atonement might pro-
fitably be studied in the pages of the great seers
who have been recognized by the generations as
portraying most truthfully the guilt, the woe, the
peace of the heart. I have no knowledge that
any one has preceded me in thus approaching
one of Christianity's supreme verities. This jour-
ney over an untried way has brought to view two
aspects of reconciliation which are clearly revealed
in literature, but which have been either sadly
neglected by theology, or not given their proper
place in our systems of religious thought. One
becomes convinced, as he walks with those master
minds who " saw life steadily and saw it whole,"


that the legend of Lethe with its magical waters
has a deep spiritual value ; and that a trust in
" some soul of goodness in things evil " exercises
a most important part in reconciliation. In the
second section of this volume these two truths
have been interpreted in their religious signifi-
cance, and have been given the prominent posi-
tion which belongs to them in a doctrine of re-
conciliation. Whatever worth there may be in
these truths, and the intrinsic interest of the
method pursued, constitute the writer's claim to
a patient reading. I have also endeavored to in-
dicate the distinction between the work of the
historical Jesus and the Eternal Christ, although
the difficulties of drawing the line of demarcation
are obvious. Some confusion would have been
avoided by using the phrase " indwelling God "
rather than the designation " Eternal Christ."
But both the Scriptures and Christian experience
apply the name " Christ " to the immanent Spirit,
and I have felt at liberty to follow their exam-
ple in order to enforce the truth of the eternal
atonement wrought by the Son of God.

To have developed the thoughts contained in
this volume into a treatise, by refining definitions,
by refuting critics, and by formulating a closely
articulated dogma, would have been contrary to


my inclinations and beyond my ability. It
would also have narrowed the circle of readers
to a select company of theological experts, and
have made the book unattractive to that ever
increasing number of readers who are interested
in the deep things of the spirit, but care little
for the technical language of religious science.
I have therefore chosen the simpler method of
sketching in broad outline truths which seem to
me of superlative importance.

The following pages may be criticised for be-
ing too repetitious in statement. The fault, if it
be such, arises partly from the large number of
witnesses called, and partly from my desire to
strongly emphasize one or two elemental truths.
I have preferred to err on the side of repeated
statement, rather than to fail of making the
meaning perfectly clear.

I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to
Professor Edward Y. Hincks, D. D., for pertinent
criticisms which have led me to express with
greater accuracy and fullness the subject matter
under consideration, and to the Kev. Joseph An-
derson, D. D., and the Rev. Charles H. Oliphant
for giving me the benefit of their trained literary
tastes and their fine sense of the fitness of words
and phrases in the revision of the book. These


friends have put their disciplined judgments so
freely at my disposal that I must take upon my-
self the responsibility for what is unfinished in
form or erroneous in doctrine.

Charles Allen Dinsmore.



Dominant Ideas in Literature and Religion

Sin, retribution, and reconciliation are the controlling ideas of
both religion and literature. No religion can permanently win
the assent of men which does not have a clear and sane teaching
regarding the reconciliation of God and man. This reconcilia-
tion is to be studied through poets rather than through theolo-
gians. Such a method offers a new point of view, and promotes
clarity of thought. As reconciliation takes place between per-
sons, it may well be studied from life. Dante chose poets for
his guides. Literature is life at its best expression. An objec-
tion answered and a limitation stated. Divine and human for-
giveness analogous 3


Some Definitions and Assertions

Inattention to definition causes confusion. Reconciliation and
atonement defined. Relation of the incarnation to the atone-
ment. Phillips Brooks quoted. A fact like the atonement
inseparable from theory. A doctrine of the atonement neces-
sary 19



The theme of the Iliad is sin, retribution, reconciliation.
Quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles. Reconciled by a


realization of the consequences, by repentance, by public con-
fession, and an endeavor to make amends. Reconciliation
between deity and the offender. Sin not conceived in its Chris-
tian meaning. Defilement of sin. Honor paid to the divine
majesty 29



The Greek theatre at its best was the pulpit of the day. Plot
of the " Oresteia." ^schylus' conception of God. The law of
heredity. The retributive justice of God in history. Curse is
stayed when it falls upon Orestes, a righteous man. The Furies
honored. Hereditary evil checked by the moral will of a good
man. The vicarious sufferer in " Prometheus Bound " . .39



The Shakespeare of the ancient stage. Story of " (Edipus."
The inexorable divine order. What will satisfy the divine jus-
tice ? Suffering endured submissively until the heart is purified
and the will subdued. (Edipus is partially reconciled because
evil has worked good 69



Latin literature omitted because conspicuously lacking in
ethical and spiritual originality. The " Divina Commedia "
outlined. Sin personified in Lucifer. Dante centres his theo-
logy in the love of God. Christ's death satisfies the divine
justice, and remits the eternal penalties of sin for all who accept
it by baptism. Man's part is performed by confession, contri-
tion, and satisfactory deeds which expiate and purify. A Lethe
for the memory. Dante is reconciled to life and its disciplines
because he sees all things in God 69




Compared with Dante and Sophocles. The moral framework
of the world powerfully disclosed. Macbeth. Richard III.
Place of death in tragedy. Shakespeare could not permanently
be satisfied with the conception of life portrayed in the trage-
dies. Reconciliation in " The Winter's Tale." " The Tempest "
expresses Shakespeare's reconciliation with life. There is a
Good Will working in all and over all. Goodness victorious
over calamities. Queen Katharine. Cardinal Wolsey. Peace
for the memory 89



Differs from Dante and Shakespeare in his treatment of sin.
Emphasizes its lawlessness. Gives prominence to a neglected
truth. The mind is at peace only when the results of evil are
intrusted to an all-sufficient grace. Adam's agony. Michael's
revelation of Christ's victory. "Paradise Regained" is based
on the victory of Christ, and not on his sufferings . . . 107


George Eliot

Only special phases of reconciliation hereafter to be consid-
ered. Reconciliation in " Adam Bede." The story. An incom-
plete and shadowed reconciliation. Contrition, confession, and
partial satisfaction. Propitiation, but unalterable loss. Differs
from Milton and Tennyson 119



"The Scarlet Letter." Resemblance to Dante's "Purgato-
rio." Need of confession in reconciliation. Propitiation of just
indignation. A greater measure of reconciliation in " The Scar-
let Letter " than in " Adam Bede." 125



HosEA AND Tennyson

Story of Gomer's desertion. Hosea's unfailing affection.
Principles of reconciliation: suffering love, repentance in view
of consequences, maintenance of moral distinctions by expiatory
sufferings, propitiation of holy indignation. " Idylls of the King."
Arthur's holy love is checked in its passion for reconciliation
by an instinctive revulsion from evil, which cannot be ignored,
but must be allayed 135


Job, The Suffering Servant, Psalm xvn,
Symonds, Whitman, and Whittier

Job's problem is to be reconciled to the providential ordering
of his life. The plot of the story. The realization of God's
presence and goodness is sufficient for reconciliation. An in-
sight into results compensates the Servant for his sufferings.
The beatific vision reconciles the Psalmist to life's losses.
Symonds' spiritual doubts. Comte's advice. His religion of
"cosmic enthusiasm." Whitman found his reconciliation with
life in the faith "that a kelson of the creation is love." Whit-
tiers' trust in an Eternal Goodness 143



a. Sin, retribution, forgiveness. Different characterizations of
sin : its defilement, devastation, moral blindness, lawlessness.
Certainty of retribution. Conscience aroused by the knowledge
of the results of sin, not by the revelation of love. Conditions
to be met in reconciliation: repentance, confession, satisfaction.
Sanctity of moral obligations must suffer no diminution in for-
giveness 165

6. Reconciliation — a larger question than forgiveness. Mem-


orj needs a Lethe. The triumph of goodness, either realized or
believed in by faith, is the ground of reconciliation . . . 164


Poets and Theologians

Over against every prominent expounder of the atonement is
a poet or novelist who caught the same vision and proclaimed
the same essential truth, ^schylus and Anselm. Aquinas and
Dante. Duns Scotus and Sophocles. Grotius and the Greek
dramatists. McLeod Campbell and Hawthorne. Bushnell,
Hugo, Shakespeare. Propitiation emphasized by Hosea, George
Eliot, Tennyson. The ever-recurring idea that forgiveness must
be righteous. Reconciliation with life the aspect of the atone-
ment most interesting to the modem mind. Attained through
a belief in Goodness in all and over all 173


What did Jesus of Nazareth do for the Forgiveness
OF our Sins ?

Recapitulation. A well-attested fact that Jesus does save men
from their sins. He arouses and deepens men's consciousness of
God's moral character. He quickens and intensifies men's sense
of sin by his words, actions, and consciousness. By entering
into the consciousness of Jesus man realizes both the nature of
sin and the holiness and love of God. Coming into the circle of
the influence of Jesus, man grows into oneness with God. The
cross is the focus of all the truths and forces disclosed in the
life of Jesus 191


What does the Eternal Christ do for our
Reconciliation ?

What forgiveness cannot do. Omission of modern writers to
study the atonement in the light of man's relationship to his


fellows. The brother of the prodigal son. Jacob and his sons.
The horror of sin is its contagion. Atonement for the memory.
There can be no reconciliation with one's past without either a
knowledge of how the effects of sin subserve a good purpose, or
a faith that God will make human wrath to praise him. Karma.
There can be no reconciliation with life without the recognition of
the presence of goodness overcoming evil. Dante, Job, Milton,
Whittier, Brooks. There can be no reconciliation on the part of
the offended unless evil works a compensating good. God's re-
conciliation based on the accomplishment of his purpose. The
Eternal Christ is Christianity's solution of cosmic evil. The
early tendency to regard Jesus as incarnating the humanity of
God. The Trinity. The perpetual sacrifice and suffering of
Christ. It is a process toward victory. Promises of Christ's ulti-
mate triumph. All things are to be put under his feet. Sin will
be so dealt with that every living creature will be satisfied. This
an essential part of the atonement. That God must be satisfied
is the note of every great theory of the atonement. He is sat-
isfied by the glorious accomplishment of his purposes in creation
and redemption. Christ's victory is the Lethe for the memory.
The indwelling Christ is literally taking our sins upon himself.
His triumph is as essential a part of the atonement as his suffer-
ings. That a Power not ourselves is working for righteousness
is an observable fact. Gives a motive for action. Nature of
evil. Summary 213



Poet and prophet differ greatly in our loose modern notions of them.
In some old languages, again, the titles are synonymous ; Vates means
both prophet and poet : and indeed at all times, prophet and poet, well
understood, have much kindred of meaning. Fundamentally they are
the same ; in this most important respect especially, that they have
penetrated, both of them, into the sacred mystery of the universe. . . .
This divine mystery is in all times and in all places ; veritably is. In
most times and places it is greatly overlooked ; . . . but now, I say, who-
ever may forget this divine mystery, the Vates, whether prophet or
poet, has penetrated into it ; is a man, sent hither to make it more im-
pressively known to us. While others forget it, he knows it ; — I might
say, he has been driven to know it ; without consent asked of Aim, he
finds himself living in it. Once more, here is no hearsay, but a direct
insight and belief ; this man, too, could not help being a sincere man !
Whoever may live in the show of things, it is for him a necessity of
nature to live in the fact of things. —Thomas Carlyle.

If there were no witness in the world's deeper literature to the
fact of an Atonement, the Atonement would be useless, since the for-
mula expressing it would be unintelligible. — W. Robertson Nicoll.


AT0NE3ii;Ny:^ IN litMatuse




The central theme of the Bible -is Sin, Retri-
bution, and Reconciliation. It is stated imme-
diately in the first chapters o£ Genesis, which
describe the fall of man, announce the fearful
consequences of his transgression, and promise
that the seed of the woman shall bruise the ser-
pent's head. Sin, Retribution, Reconciliation, —
these three words give interest to every story in
the Scriptures, interpret every psalm, form the
burden of every prophecy, and explain the pro-
gressive development of God's purpose in the
history of Israel and in the person of Christ.

But these great words are not the exclusive
property of the Bible. They lie at the heart of
all religions. Under all discrepancies of creed,
every faith bears this testimony : that there is in
man an uneasiness growing out of the sense of
something wrong within him, and that he is to
be saved from this wrongness by making proper
connections with the higher powers. Along with


the wrong part, man is aware of a better part
within him^ evsn though this be but a helpless
germ. In^ seeking delireranr.e from the wrong
" he becomes conscious that this higher part is
conterminous and continuous with a More of the
same quality, which is operative in the universe
outside of him, and which he can keep in work-
ing touch \yith, and in a fAshion get on board of
and save himself when all his lower being has
gone to* pie^eff id the wreck." ^

All religions agree that the " More " exists
and acts. They differ chiefly in their interpreta-
tion of what this " More" is and how it operates.
But Sin, Retribution, Reconciliation are the
foundation stones upon which every faith builds
its worship and its creed.

These three words are also the strands of the
crimson thread running through all the world's
great literature. They constitute the plot of the
human drama as it has unfolded itself before the
eyes of the supreme poets and novelists. They
form the theme which has engrossed the thoughts
of the immortals in the world of letters, from
Homer to George Eliot. No other subjects are
broad enough to embrace all humanity, or deep
enough to defy exhaustion, or commanding
enough to absorb the attention of the incompar-
able minds of the race.

^ William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, p.


Assuming the awful fact of sin, laying tre-
mendous emphasis on the certainty of retribution,
the ever-recurrent and developing thought of the
Bible is reconciliation. It is promised in the Gar-
den of Eden ; it explains the election of a unique
people, its achievement is the glory of Christ,
and the power of the New Testament message.
The gospel is "that God was in Christ recon-
ciling the world unto himself." Christianity does
not differ from other religions in its fundamental
problems, but in its more consistent and satisfy-
ing method of bringing men into harmony with
God. No religion can permanently win the assent
of the reason and captivate the hearts of men
without having a clear, well-digested, and sane
teaching of the method by which God and man
are reconciled.

Theology's usual and appropriate approach to
this great doctrine of the at-one-ment of human-
ity with Deity has been along the lines of Scrip-
ture. All the rites and ceremonies of the Hebrew
faith have been searched diligently to find adum-
brations of the meaning of the cross. Every text
has been scanned for some hint to a solution of
the great problem. Each word, sentence, meta-
phor, sacrifice, and institution has been placed
upon the rack and tortured again and again in
the hope that it would give up some unuttered se-
cret. But biblical texts have been made to teach
so many divergent views that it is no easy task


to study them without prepossessions. They have
formed the ground of so many fierce theological
battles that little wheat is left to be gleaned from
the trampled soil.

While disclaiming any thought of casting
reproach upon the accepted method of studying
our gospel of reconciliation^ we shall approach
Calvary by a new path. Poets, rather than theo-
logians, will be our guides ; dramatists will take
the place of schoolmen. Again we repeat that
we do not forsake the ancient way to discredit it.
We shall understand prophets, apostles, theolo-
gians better when we comprehend how the deep-
est problems of life have been interpreted by
their spiritual kindred, — the supreme seers of

The advantages of this way of approach are
obvious. It will ofPer a new point of view. Old
truths become wondrously impressive when seen
from an unwonted angle, fresh relationships are
discerned, and unsuspected meanings are re-
vealed. An unusual method promotes clearness
of thought. Christianity cannot have escaped all
distortion in its translation into the terms of
Occidental speech. Metaphors which, to one bred
in the temper of the East and accustomed to a
rich coloring of thought, are replete with spir-
itual significance, are, to the more prosaic West-
erner, crass and misleading. Symbols which once
fitted living truths with perfect adjustment are


to US but lifeless shells^ archseological curiosi-
ties, whose purpose we vainly try to comprehend.
The approach to the cross through the Jewish
sacrificial system, with its altar forms and the
" faded metaphors " of theological thought, has
grave disadvantages. While it is a true and
indispensable way, yet it affords many oppor-
tunities for a mind trained in other habits of
thought to be led astray. Observations taken
from a different point may serve to correct many
errors in the ancient survey. Moreover, recon-
ciliation takes place between persons, and may
well be studied from life, — life in its richly varied
aspects as seen by the most penetrating observers.
We cannot understand anything when it is in
isolation. Arms from a man, legs from a horse,
lungs from a squirrel, skin from an elephant, a
spinal column from a giraffe, made into a creature,
would form an animal hideous beyond thought.
Yet this has been the method of many theo-
logians who have written upon the atonement.
They have taken a verse of Oriental poetry, a
metaphor from a prophetic writer, a link from
one of Paul's arguments, a ceremonial from
Hebrew ritual, and have attempted to fit them
together into a living truth. The results have
not always been edifying. Literature, on the
other hand, is an interpreter of Hfe. It is per-
manent only as it is true to the basal facts and
sentiments of humanity. A genuinely great writer


does not even control his own characters after he
has created them. Having once been born, they
become living beings, acting according to the
inner laws of their natures. ^^I had more fun
with Sam Weller," Dickens once said to a friend,
" than any of my readers ever had. I did not
know what Sam was going to say, but he would
talk and I would write, and he said and did so
many funny things that I was in constant merri-
ment." This is characteristic of men of genius.
They are servants to the forces of nature which
work through them. A " daimon " possesses
them, a god speaks through them. The eviden-
tial value of their teaching is very great, for
they are sure witnesses of the elemental laws of

The validity of this method of inquiry is appar-
ent. Milton affirms that a good book is the "pre-
cious life blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and
treasured ; " but a great book is even more : it is the
distillation of an epoch, the nectar of a civilization.
Homer is the essential spirit of prehistoric Greece,
Dante is the " voice of ten silent centuries," Ten-
nyson the interpreter of the struggle of faith
with science. When we study the problems of
sin and reconciliation in their deathless pages we
are getting the testimony of an era, we are learn-
ing what has seemed true to many generations.
Their affirmations therefore come clothed with
august authority. They throw on old truths new


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Online LibraryCharles Allen DinsmoreAtonement in literature and life → online text (page 1 of 13)