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literature, these views were all quite clearly defined, and generally
believed among all the Jews, except the party of the Sadducees,
relatively a very small party. Whence came these beliefs? If they had
come by some divine revelation they would certainly have been recorded
in some of their sacred books. But they were not. The only rational
answer is that they learned all these things from their Eastern masters
during the captivity, where all these beliefs are now known to have
been current centuries before the captivity, and brought them back on
their return; and with some modifications incorporated them into their
own system. Yet there is no indication in the New Testament, nor any
contemporary literature now extant, that the atoning sacrifice that was
continually offered in the temple, even down to the destruction of
Jerusalem, was ever offered with any view, or reference to a future
life; much less as a means of escaping hell.

We turn now to the Christ. It has already been said that he nowhere
makes the least reference to a vicarious atonement to be made by
himself for the sins of world. True, he warns his disciples that he
must needs go up to Jerusalem, there to suffer and be put to death; but
nowhere does he say that this death is to _redeem back_ mankind from
the devil; nor appease the wrath of God against mankind by the sight of
his blood; nor to vindicate the majesty of a broken law, for the
benefit of mankind. It is all but universally acknowledged that his
disciples had no such conception of his mission, but followed him up to
Jerusalem expecting to see him made King, sit on the "throne of David"
and restore Israel to her pristine glory, according to the universal
interpretation of the Messianic prophecies. After his tragic death,
and alleged resurrection and ascension, - in which his disciples
certainly implicitly believed, no matter what the actual facts may
be, - we still hear not a word about his death being a vicarious
atonement for sin. When Peter preached that great sermon on the day of
Pentecost he says not one word about a vicarious atonement in the death
of Christ, but lays the whole emphasis on his resurrection and
ascension. Let the reader turn here to that sermon in the second
chapter of Acts and read it; and he will find that the whole burden of
Peter's sermon is to the effect, that since the Jews had put Jesus to
death, he had broken the bonds of death and hades, they being powerless
to hold him, and had ascended to the right hand of God, whereby he had
conquered both death and hades, and for which "God hath made him both
Lord and Christ." Note, that because of this resurrection and
ascension he had _been made_ both Lord and Christ, - and not by any
virtue in his death itself. Not the remotest hint of vicarious
atonement! The natural inference is - tho Peter is not quoted as saying
so in so many words, - that men are to be saved from death and hades
hereafter, because Jesus had escaped from both, and thus not only paved
the way, but himself thereby became able to save others also.

As is well known, for half a century or more, the followers of the new
faith, who for fifteen years were all Jews, or Jewish proselytes,
looked with anxious expectancy for the return of this Jesus, with the
power and glory of heaven, to set up his earthly kingdom on the throne
of David in Jerusalem. Not a word yet about saving men's soul's from
hell thru vicarious atonement. No need for a vicarious atonement to
save men from hell hereafter, if they were soon to live on this earth
forever - those who died before his return to be raised from the dead as
he was, while those that remained were to be "caught up in the clouds
to meet him in the air and live forever," - under the benign reign of
the Messiah of God.

But we are approaching its development. There appears upon the scene
one Saul of Tarsus, afterwards known as Paul the Apostle. It is
generally conceded that he never saw Jesus in his lifetime; in fact
knew nothing of him while he lived. He early became a violent
persecutor of the new sect, which for years was only another Jewish
sect, as exclusively Jewish in its views and outlook as were the
priests and Rabbis. But Paul was a well educated man, a scholar in his
day, - and a philosopher. He was a Jew to the core, and lived and died
one. We need not consider the story of his trip to Damascus, the
supposed miracle on the way, and his conversion to the new faith. He
soon became the greatest leader and exponent it had thus far produced;
and he put a new interpretation on it, _entirely unchristian_, if we
are to take the recorded teachings of the Christ himself as our
standard for Christianity. And the Christianity of the world today is
much more Pauline than Christian, judged by this standard.

This Paul operated independent of the other Apostles. He was a "free
lance" and launched forth, both in a field, and with a doctrine all his
own. He was thoroly familiar with the whole Jewish system. He knew
all about the meaning and purpose of the sacrifice of atonement. Yet
he was too wise not to know that there was no _intrinsic merit_ in the
blood of bulls and goats to cleanse from sin, or appease the divine
wrath. Yet as a loyal Jew he certainly _believed_ these to be of
divine origin, - and that they must have a meaning deeper than the
physical fact itself. He was a believer in the coming of the
long-promised Messiah - to restore Israel. A man of his knowledge and
foresight might well be able to read "the signs of the times," and see
that the Jewish nation could but little longer maintain its separate
identity against the overwhelming power of the growing Roman Empire.
It must soon be swallowed up and its separate identity lost in the
greater whole. No power in Israel seemed to be able to stem the tide
of events. Remember that this was now some years after the
crucifixion; and after Paul had changed his course towards the new
sect, because of the events about Damascus, - no matter what they may
have been. At any rate, it is quite clear, no matter what the reasons
may have been that induced him to do so, that he had accepted in good
faith, as a veritable truth, the belief in the physical resurrection of
the crucified Jesus. Paul tells us himself that after his escape from
Damascus he went into Arabia for three years, - perhaps to try to think
out some rational interpretation of the meaning of the events that he
had felt himself forced to accept as true.

After this we find him passing thru Jerusalem, stopping a few weeks
with Peter and the other Apostles to learn from them all he could; and
then going on to his native city, Tarsus, where we lose sight of him
for several years before we find him starting on his first great
missionary journey from Antioch, in which we begin to get our first
glimpses of the doctrine of vicarious atonement made for the sins of
the world by the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

During these years of Paul's obscurity, both in Arabia and at Tarsus,
what was he probably doing? We do not know. But is it unreasonable to
conjecture that he must have spent at least a good portion of his time
in profound study, to try to reconcile these new views with the past
history, traditions and beliefs of his own people? If this new
teaching meant only a new ethical standard of life; that men are saved
by what they _are_ and _do_, without any reference to _belief_, then
the whole Jewish system of sacrifices had no meaning at all, and never
did have. We can hardly conceive of Paul, educated as he was in all
the lore and traditions of his people, accepting such a view as this.
To him all the traditions and practices of his people were at least of
divine origin; and hence must have a meaning of eternal significance.
Yet, it must have been plain to him that in the natural course of
events, as they were then clearly tending, it could not be long until
the elaborate temple ritual, with _all_ its sacrifices, oblation,
burning bullocks and incense, must soon cease forever!

And now for the interpretation. All the ceremonial of Israel had a
meaning; but it was symbolic, typical of some reality to come. The
blood of bulls and lambs and goats could not in themselves atone for
sin; but they could _point_ to the "Lamb of Calvary," slain for the
sins of the world. He that was without sin, - "the lamb without spot or
blemish," - was offered as a sacrifice for the sins of others. The law
had its purpose, but it was now fulfilled, all its symbolic meaning was
consummated in the death of Jesus, and now it must go. It was only a
school master, to keep us in the way until the Christ should come.
When this "lamb" was slain, God saw his shed blood, and was satisfied.
His anger relented, his wrath cooled and the hand of mercy was
extended, on the simple condition, - _of faith_. What was the meaning,
intent and purpose of this vicarious atonement? According to the
belief of the time, that Jesus would soon return in the power and glory
of heaven to set up his everlasting kingdom here on earth, it was to
prepare a people for this kingdom. This kingdom was to be composed
only of those who had been thus prepared for it, by the remission of
their sins, thru this blood atonement. The earliest Christians, all of
whom were Jews, led by Peter, held that this new kingdom was to be
forever limited to Jews and Jewish proselytes. If any Gentile wanted
to have any part or lot in this new kingdom, he must first become a
Jew. But Paul took a broader view. To him the whole Jewish system was
purely preliminary to a greater dispensation, which was now fulfilled;
symbolic and typical of a greater reality which was now here; and had
therefore fulfilled its purpose and was ended. All symbolic ceremonial
was now past forever. There was no longer any distinction between Jew
and Gentile as far as God's grace was concerned. The New Kingdom was
open to all upon the same terms, - faith in Jesus as the Messiah of God,
and this particular interpretation of his mission.

This opening of the gates to all the world on equal terms produced a
bitter controversy between Peter and Paul and led to a sharp and well
defined division in the early church, which continues to this day. The
Roman Church is Petrine, narrow, exclusive and given to much elaborate
ceremonial, as were the ancient Jews; while Protestantism is generally
Pauline, much broader, generally freer from ceremonial, and as a rule
much more truly Catholic; yet often narrow enough.

As time went on, and Jesus did not return as expected, faith in his
early coming waned; and the idea began to grow that his real Kingdom
was not for this world at all, but a heavenly one hereafter. By this
time the Apostle Paul was dead and the Fourth Gospel had appeared,
supposed to be written by the Apostle John, in which the Master was
quoted as saying, "My kingdom is not of this world." Thus the idea
took form, grew and developed that the real mission of the Messiah,
after all, was not the establishment of a kingdom here on earth, but a
heavenly kingdom hereafter; and hence that his death was a vicarious
atonement made by the shedding of his blood, to satisfy the divine
vengeance against sin, and save souls from hell hereafter; and thus fit
them for this heavenly kingdom.

And ever since this doctrine became thus established, by the middle of
the second century, almost the whole emphasis and entire energies of
the church, Catholic and Protestant, have been directed, not towards
making this a better world by making mankind better, building up,
developing, purifying and uplifting human character; but toward saving
them from a hell hereafter. And what little energy the church had left
after this, has been spent, and is still being spent, in never-ending
controversy among themselves over _just how to do it_.

Thus the doctrine of vicarious atonement, thru blood, and blood alone,
had its origin in the lowest paganism, away back in the infancy of the
human race, was transmitted down thru Judaism, and transplanted from it
into Christianity.

But I cannot leave this subject without a few remarks on the various
meanings that have been attached to the idea of vicarious atonement,
since it became an integral part of the Christian system. We have
already seen that the original pagan meaning of blood atonement was
based upon the idea that the gods were angry and out for vengeance, and
nothing but blood would appease them; but that the blood of a proper
substitute would answer this purpose. But the earliest Christian
doctrine of the atonement made by Christ was in the nature of
redemption. In fact the term became so deeply rooted and grounded in
early Christian nomenclature that it has never been fully eliminated.
But its use is much less now than formerly. The theory was based upon
tradition, partly scriptural and partly not, that in the affair of Eden
the devil fairly outwitted God and became rightfully entitled to the
souls of all mankind forever; but that on account of the great war in
heaven, in which the devil and his angels were cast out by the "Eternal
Son" of God (see Milton's "Paradise Lost"), the devil held a bitter
grudge against this son, and offered to bargain with God and give him
back all the souls of mankind for the soul of this son. So God,
knowing the power of his son to break the bands of death and
hell, - which the devil did not know, - accepted the bargain; and in due
time, as agreed upon, the Son of God came into the world, died on the
cross and went to hell, in fulfillment of this contract; and thus
liberated all the souls already there, and obtained a conditional
release of all the balance of mankind, - -the condition of faith, - and
then suddenly broke the bands of death and hell and escaped back to
heaven. But he literally fulfilled his contract as originally made.
Thus we find the old church creeds reciting - and still reciting - that
"he was crucified, dead, buried and descended into hell, and the third
day rose," etc. This idea may look strange to present day Christians;
but all they have to do is to consult the early church literature to
find that it was almost the universal belief as to the meaning of the
atonement during the first few centuries of Christianity.

The next view that gradually developed as the older one waned, was the
old Jewish idea of _substituted suffering_ and to which was added that
of imputed righteousness. That is to say, that in order to save
mankind and yet appease the divine wrath, and satisfy the vengeance of
an offended God, God sent his son into the world to bear the brunt of
his wrath instead of mankind, and tho innocent, to suffer as tho
guilty; and finally to die as a malefactor, tho innocent of sin; and
because of the dignity and character of the victim and the intensity of
his sufferings in both life and death, they were sufficient in both
quality and quantity to satisfy the divine vengeance against all
mankind; _provided_ man would avail himself of these provisions for his
release by accepting by faith the Son of God as his suffering
substitute; whereupon, God would forgive the sins of the faithful and
_impute_ to them the benefits of the righteousness of Christ. This
doctrine of the atonement dominated the Middle Ages. Upon it was based
the doctrine of supererogation, whereby the surplus stock of good works
of the holy saints might be laid up for the benefit of the less worthy,
who might receive the benefits of them thru the process of indulgences,
sold by the church for a money consideration. It is still held in a
somewhat modified form in a large part of Christendom to this day.

The more modern doctrine of the atonement is that called the
Governmental Theory. That is to say, that God was not so mad with
mankind after all; but having once ordained the law that "the soul that
sinneth, it shall die," the law could neither be abrogated nor
suspended, but must have its penalty. As no mortal man could fulfill
it for any one but himself, and that only by his eternal death, only
the Son of God could satisfy it for mankind. Therefore the Eternal Son
of God became incarnate in human flesh, but still remained "Very God of
Very God," in order that he might meet the demands of this divine law
for all mankind, by not being amenable to it himself, being without
sin; and yet by his sufferings and death paying its penalty in full for
the whole human race; subject, however, to the appropriation of its
benefits by the individual, thru faith. In a measure this is the same
as that of the substitution theory; but it does not go to the extent of
the doctrine of imputed righteousness.

The only exception to it is in the Roman church, and here the exception
is apparent rather than real. In the Roman church salvation is _by
faith in the church_, the benefits of which are transmitted to the
individual thru the sacraments of the church; but in the ancient
church, and in practically all modern Protestant churches, saving faith
is held to be individual and personal; and must be not only faith in
the atoning sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on the cross for all
mankind; but it must be faith _in the correct view of the atonement_.
Hence, no matter which of the views I have herein outlined may be
correct, those who have held to either of the others are all lost.
This is the only logical conclusion any one can reach who insists that
salvation is impossible except by accepting any prescribed creed. Only
those who possess and accept the _right creed_ can be saved. All the
balance of mankind must be lost forever. To take either of these views
of the atonement, or all of them together, as the only means by which
mankind can be saved from hell is to make God a complete failure from
beginning to end. As we have already seen, the orthodox view of
creation makes God either a failure or a monster. The attempt to
reform man thru the process of elimination by the flood proved a
failure. And now if the success of God's last attempt to save mankind
thru the death of his son, is limited to any interpretation orthodox
Christianity has ever placed upon it, it is the most stupendous failure
of all.

There is but one rational interpretation of any doctrine of salvation
by vicarious atonement; and that is that the atonement must be
automatically as far-reaching and comprehensive in its results as the
sin it is designed to remedy. If sin entered into the world because of
the offence of Adam, the head of the race, and thus passed upon all
men, without their knowledge or consent, simply because they were
descendants of Adam, any scheme of redemption, atonement, or salvation
that purports in any way to remedy, or obviate the consequences of this
original sin, in order to be just must be equally as broad and
comprehensive, and operate as automatically and unconditionally in its
remedial effects, as did Adam's sin in its consequences.

I have thus gone at some length into this doctrine of atonement and
redemption. Perhaps I have wearied the reader. But as it is the most
fundamental doctrine of the whole orthodox Christian system, and has
been such a bone of contention in all the ages of the Christian church,
and was such a stumbling block to me for so long a time, I felt that my
"Confession of Faith" would be incomplete if I did not go into it in
some detail.

My final conclusion is, that man never fell, but always has been and
still is imperfect and incomplete, but ever striving upward. As man
was never lost or stolen from God, he needed no redeemer to buy him
back. As he was never an enemy to God, but always his child, God was
never angry with him; hence he needed neither mediator, nor any one to
make any atonement for him.




CHAPTER VII

A NEW INTERPRETATION OF RELIGION

What is religion? This over which men have waged the fiercest
controversies known to human history; that has been the source of more
strife and bloodshed than any other single cause known to mankind; and
perhaps, in one way or another, more than all other causes combined,
previous to the recent World War. It will be remembered that I said
after finishing my special course of study on the origin, authorship,
history and character of the Bible and the processes of reasoning which
it inspired, "that I gave the whole thing up, inspiration, revelation,
church and religion, as a farce and a delusion, as 'sounding brass and
tinkling cymbals'; and cast it all into the scrap-heap of superstition,
legend, fable and mythology." But after several years of study and
observation I changed my mind again. I found that what I had always
been taught and understood to be religion was not religion at all, but
only a _form of religious expression_. Creeds and beliefs I found were
not religion, but the products of religion. That subtle emotional
experience which I had always been taught was religion, I found was
itself but a form of religious expression. I learned that religion was
not something one could "get," by repentance, faith, prayer, etc., as I
had been taught and taught myself for years; but something every normal
human being on earth had by nature, and could not get rid of.

Then what is religion? While it is the simplest thing on earth, it is
yet perhaps the hardest to define; especially by one person for
another. Its very simplicity eludes definition. In trying to define
it I shall use in part the definitions given by others, as these are
more expressive than any words of my own that I can frame: "Religion
essentially consists of man's apprehension of his relation to an
invisible power or powers, able to influence his destiny, to which he
is necessarily subject; together with the feelings, desires and actions
which this apprehension calls forth." Another definition that is
perhaps more direct and simple than the above is this: "Religion is an
impulse imbedded in the heart of man which compels him to strive
upward. It is a yearning of the soul in man to transcend its own
narrow limits, and to soar to the heights of supreme excellence, where
it may become identified with the noble, the lofty, the divine."
Another has said that "Religion is simply the zest of life." To these
I will add that I understand religion to be that _inner urge_ in all
humanity that pushes it onward and upward; that inspires in man the
desire to rise above his present station and attainments, and improve
his condition; that spirit within man that has lifted him from the
lowest savagery to the highest attainments in civilization, refinement
and culture that man has yet reached; and will still lead him on to
heights yet invisible and undreamed of.

This _inner urge_ is common to all humanity, different only in degree,
and not in kind. It is possessed by the lowest savage, tho often in
latent form, yet capable of being touched and aroused into life and
action, as thousands of modern examples attest, as a result of some
form of missionary effort. From the time that man first emerged above
the brute, stood erect, looked up, beheld the phenomena of nature about
him, thought, and recognized that _somehow_ and _somewhere_ there was a
Power above, beyond and greater than himself; and conceived in his own
mind, however crude, the first faint spark of an aspiration to improve
and better his condition, man became a religious being, and has been
such ever since, varying only in degree, not in kind.

All religion is therefore one and the same. There may be many
religions. But back of all these is religion. Religion is one in its
origin. It is a part of the fundamental essence of human character.
It is inseparable from the faculties of thought, reason and will. It
is one and the same with these. Man without these faculties of
thought, reason and will would not be man at all, but a brute. So
without this _inner urge_, and the faculty of _aspiration upward_,
which I have defined as the very fundamental essence of religion, man
would still only be a brute. He would not be man at all. Religion is
one in its origin because it is an essential characteristic of all
human nature.

All religion is one in that it recognizes SOMETHING above man. I use
this word advisedly. If I had said, "Because all men recognize the
existence of God, or a Supreme Being," I would have been misunderstood
and the statement challenged. Men have become so habituated to calling
all other men atheists who do not accept their particular definition of
God, that I omit the word entirely until I can further define my
meaning. Because Voltaire did not believe in the God of Moses and the


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Online LibraryGeorge T. (George Thomas) AshleyFrom Bondage to Liberty in Religion: A Spiritual Autobiography → online text (page 8 of 11)