Henry Wood.

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children we are, and in whose likeness we are
made, could have satisfaction in the shedding of
innocent blood, would be revolting to us, had it not
been enshrined and poetized in sacred rhetoric,
hymn, dogma, and religious association. During
the earthly ministry of Jesus, and for a long time
before and after, the world was full of slaves and
captives. Generally they were prisoners who had
been taken in war, or persons condemned for crime
or debt. Often they were set at liberty through
the payment of a sum of money which was called
a ransom, and the act was one of redemption. As
men are, and were the slaves of sin, and as they
could become free through being ransomed by the
higher, or Christ life the common fact became a
natural figure or correspondence. But it was a
redemption from evil, and not from the anger of
God. Repentance and the abandonment of wrong-
doing frees men from bondage to their lower selves,
but there is no bondage which is of God. So long
as evil was commonly personified, it was a captivity
to the Devil.

Only through perversion, or a misleading literal-
ism, does the Bible seem to teach that Jesus was
punished for the guilt of man, or in man's place.


If a legal debt due from man to God were paid
by the death of Jesus, there would be no place for
the divine forgiveness or love. The cold, formal,
and technical view of the Atonement — now hap-
pily passing — has long burdened the Church and
the world. It is foreign to the beneficent prin-
ciple in its unperverted integrity. The exact
term was at-one-ment, and it meant full reconcil-
iation. The change implied was on the human
and not the divine side. While the detached
"letter" seems to express a divine satisfaction
through a purchase, by the shedding of physical
blood, Jesus taught no such dishonoring doctrine ;
neither was it literally held by the Primitive
Church nor for some time later. It is evident
that if redemption and salvation are conditioned
upon his death, he could not have brought them
to light during his life and ministry, nor could
they have been made known at any time previous.
His mission was not to appease the Father, but to
express and demonstrate him in the flesh. This
was necessary because the consciousness of un-
developed man is material. Spiritual lessons
must be brought down to his own level, and

It is interesting to note how a perverted view


of the Atonement grew up. As the Church un-
der Constantine became identified with the State,
and lost its pristine spiritual power and beauty,
the quality of hard Roman legalism was dominant.
God became a distant and unfamiliar "dread
Sovereign." The slavish fear with which the
surrounding nations regarded their deities was
measurably absorbed and it displaced the earlier
apostolic and more distinctively Greek ideal of
the indwelling God. From a formal, austere, and
unlovable Deity men demand some shield. They
cry out for something to interpose between their
own repulsive concept of God and themselves.
Nothing could be more natural than such a de-
mand. They were told that they must love God,
but it was morally impossible. Rather they would
shrink from him and demand that his face be
hidden. Hence the dogma of an interposition.
"God is love." Love warms and spontaneously
attracts and brings at-one-ment. Did Jesus or
anything else need to interpose between Love and
love? It is not the true God, but a God made
by their own imagination that men want to be
delivered from. Rightly interpreted, blood sym-
bolizes the inmost quality, not the death but the
life. The blood of a race, a dynasty, or a family


signifies the strain, the hereditary character.
Nothing should hide God.

Except through a misleading literalism, the
Bible does not teach that Jesus was punished as
a substitute for man, nor that the wrath of God
was visited upon him in our place. But, as before
intimated, when he came sacrifice covered the
whole religious horizon of the Hebrew nation.
As a rite it was perpetual, and the blood of
slaughtered animals ran in streams from the
great altar, and the smoke of burnt offerings was
thick in the temple. Men did not know how
to worship without the altar and its victim.
When Christianity superseded Judaism, what more
natural than that the idea of sacrifice should
continue in some form. The best of everything
was to be offered. Though a purer and better
thought existed among a few in Israel, in gen-
eral the idea of victims in the old religion was
transferred to a great victim for the new.
He was the typical lamb and he the perpetual

But Jesus was not slain by God, nor by friends,
but by enemies out of hatred. His murderers had
no idea of worship through their criminal act. All
the true sacrificial quality was spiritual and typical


and resulted from a devotion to the truth, and was
a lesson in human service.

When a potentate of the East was feared by his
subjects, or even by his enemies, or when he was
offended, gifts were presented to pacify him. To
the common people of Israel, Jehovah was much
like a greater Monarch, and in their view of his
character efforts toward appeasement were per-
fectly logical. The real work of the " Son of
Man" was to bring the soul into contact with
God and such is the present Christian ideal. All
formal sacrifices, as a rite, are survivals from

The death of Jesus was not unique in kind. He
was a martyr of unexampled divinity and dignity,
but only one among untold thousands who have
given their lives for the truth. The true Atone-
ment was the supreme expression of love for
humanity. In the attempt to take the terms, "re-
demption " and " ransom " in a literal and physical
sense, there was a theory extant for several cen-
turies in the Christian Catholic Church, that the
ransom which was paid by the Crucifixion was
given to the Devil because he was the enemy who
holds sinners captive. The claims of Satan had to
be met and a fair equivalent paid for freedom.


This exactly corresponded to the prevailing custom
of ransom which was given to Oriental despots for
the liberation of slaves. Just debts must be dis-
charged, for sinners had virtually sold themselves
to the arch-enemy of mankind. Such a dogma,
which for so long a time was orthodox, demon-
strates the terrible bondage which comes from a
concept of the letter as the reality.

God is eternally reconciled to man, and this
gospel, or good news, was the fundamental message
of Jesus. Only a few highly developed souls be-
lieved it before that time, and the conviction is
yet by no means universal. As men had to buy
the favor of the despotic and selfish earthly mon-
arch, so they thought it necessary to win the favor
of the heavenly Father. Dr. James Freeman
Clarke called this " the warlike view of the Atone-
ment." This was succeeded by one based upon
the rigid rules of Roman jurisprudence, and this
has been termed the legal theory of the Atone-
ment. Hugo Grotius proclaimed still another
hypothesis, which has been termed the govern-
mental theory of the Atonement. In effect, it
was that God punished human sin through the
death of Jesus as a necessary warning against
future sin. The Crucifixion was therefore re-


quired on account of its deterrent influence as a
moral regulation.

It has even been maintained that the total
guilt of the race was so concentrated and intensi-
fied that "Jesus bore it all." What fear and woe
have been brought into human life by hard and re-
pulsive dogmas like these ! The true " expiation "
for sin consists in putting it away. There may be
voluntary vicarious suffering, but not involuntary
vicarious punishment where it is not due. The
moral order is not arbitrary but reasonable and
just. Transgression provides for its own punish-
ment through inherent sequence and this is not
vindictive but remedial. Such results turn men
away from sin and are therefore truly beneficent in
their operation. The utility, and even goodness of
those human experiences which are seemingly un-
pleasant, is aptly expressed by Browning :

" Then welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand, but go !
Be our joys three-parts pain !
Strive, and hold cheap the strain ;
Learn, nor account the pang ; dare, never grudge the
throe 1 "

The great controversy which raged so long be-
tween the advocates of "a limited Atonement,"


and one which was general has well nigh ceased.
Whatever the differing opinions as to the quality
of the work of Jesus, few, at present, question its
general availability. It is unwise and uncalled for
to revive any old controversy which is virtually
settled. Almost the same might be said about the
substitutionary theory, so far as actual current
thought is concerned, but the official statements of
the dogma still stand and thereby challenge honest
criticism. If the "confessions" of a Church are
not to be taken as authoritative, who shall define
its position ? Says the Westminster Confession,
which for so long has been a standard : " The Lord
Jesus by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of him-
self hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father,
and hath purchased reconciliation and entrance
into the Kingdom of Heaven for all whom his
Father hath given him." The great Roman and
Greek churches state the dogma yet more strongly.
Behold how rapidly such unworthy ideals of God
are vanishing ! But for psychological reasons the
concentrated imagination of ages cannot be dis-
solved in a moment. Spiritual evolution is not true
to its name unless it be gradual.

In the past, theological speculation has often in-
terpreted the cruel sacrificial rites of ancient Israel


as foreshadowings, or perhaps of shadows thrown
backward of the great sacrifice on Calvary. But
there is no proof of any such relation, and their
moral unlikeness is pronounced. The change
was rather a great step in the upward march of
humanity. The whole system of placation through
gifts, bribes, and blood was one in common with
heathenish ideas and practices. It did not origi-
nate with Moses, and he put limits upon the com-
mon tendency so far as was practicable. It was
discountenanced by the long line of Hebrew pro-
phets which came after him. But for several
centuries before the advent of Jesus it was very
prevalent and the moral decline in Judaism was
marked. Religion became a hollow shell and
righteousness an empty ceremony. The " Son of
Man " condemned such formalism in the strongest
terms. In modern times the dogma of the divine
appeasement which has occupied such a prominent
place in the Christian system has been a great
obstacle to spiritual progress.

Punishment, as the sequence of guilt, is not
bought or sold, and in the nature of the case is not
commercially transferable. The sacrifices which
lie in the pathway of a noble and unselfish life are
not made by bargain or legal technicality. The


martyrs of all ages have endured their trials because
of their love of truth, principle, and righteousness.
There was nothing in them of official obligation or
imposition. There was always a dear object that
was supreme which well-nigh transformed their
pain into pleasure. Often they passed out of the
body singing hymns of praise and rejoicing. But
how different the victims which have been forced,
and with the innocent animals whose blood has
been poured out because it was thought that it
pleased God ! Said the divine perception of Isaiah,
the greatest of Hebrew prophets : " To what pur-
pose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me ?
saith the Lord : I am full of the burnt offerings of
rams, and the fat of fed beasts ; and I delight not
in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats.
When ye come to appear before me, who hath re-
quired this at your hand, to trample my courts?
Bring no more vain oblations ; incense is an abomi-
nation unto me ; new moon and sabbath, the call-
ing of assemblies — I cannot away with iniquity
and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and
your appointed feasts my soul hateth : they are a
trouble unto me ; I am weary to bear them." The
"word of the Lord" through Isaiah bears the
stamp of greater purity and a higher inspiration


than that of a majority of the early writers of Holy

It is plain that Jesus did not regard himself as a
propitiatory sacrifice or a divine credit for debt.
He was rather the Bread of Life, the great Healer,
the Door, or the Vine. But there are two or three
passages which seem to carry the sacrificial idea,
the most significant one of which, is : " And as
they were eating, he took bread, and when he had
blessed, he brake it, and gave to them, and said,
Take ye : this is my body. And he took a cup,
and when he had given thanks, he gave to them :
and they all drank of it. And he said unto them,
This is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for
many." (Mark xiv, 22-24) This is so out of har-
mony with his general teaching, that if taken liter-
ally, it would seem to be a subsequent interpolation.
Any single passage of Scripture should be inter-
preted, not only in the light of the context, but of
the general tenor and spirit of the subject as a
whole. The letter of the passage forms the basis
for the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantia-
tion, or it may suggest ideas yet more abnormal.
But if its genuineness be unquestioned, in accord
with the usages of Oriental imagery, it would signify
that the flesh and blood, as symbolic of inmost


moral quality, would remit or put away sin. The
riddance of sin depends upon a likeness in character
to that of Jesus.

Regarding the various statements of St. Paul,
which seem to bear the stamp of the propitiatory
principle, it should not be forgotten that though he
is called the Apostle to the Gentiles he was " a
Hebrew of Hebrews," and that he endeavored to
adapt the gospel to Jewish ideas and to win his
countrymen. He was the product of, and steeped
in, racial thought. Figures and symbols were
carried over and made serviceable, so far as possible,
in the enforcement of the reformed religion. Sac-
rifice and offering for centuries had been stratified
in Jewish thought, and much would survive the
transition. The great ceremonial of their religion
could not immediately vanish, and, at the least,
sought some invisible correspondence.

But Christianity has lived and will survive as an
inner life, even though its technical theology be
somewhat colored by pagan ideas. There is a
true sacrificial philosophy, vitalized by love and
unselfishness, in the sublime non-resistance which
Jesus taught in plain terms. The world is full of
voluntary self-sacrifice. But it is transformed by
the beauty of its mission and becomes joyous in-


stead of grievous. The greatest gift or tribute
which can be presented to God or man is service,
something of one's own self. The sacrifices made
by devotion to paternal, filial, and other relations
of wider range, become privileges and blessings.
They are not legal purchases, or destructive in
their working, for they conserve life and character.
And now the supreme problem in the beneficent
moral order which at first seems insoluble, is the
universal mystic principle by which the innocent
suffer, for, in, and with the guilty. The wife suf-
fers for the sins of the husband, and the friend for
those of the friend. The innocent members of the
community suffer for its collective transgressions,
and so through all the relations of complex life.
Even nations suffer for each other's wrong-doing,
in which they have no part. How can such a fun-
damental and universal principle be reconciled with
the goodness of God ? Only from the deeper and
truer standpoint of racial solidarity. If each one
suffered only and exactly for his own misdeeds, it
might at first sight seem more just, but it would pro-
mote selfishness. His motive for obedience soon
would become narrowed to his own personality.
He would care little for the course of others, pro-
vided his own conduct were correct. But his


peculiar interests are really bound up in a great
bundle, and that must be covered by his care.
Whether we will or not, we are our "brother's
keeper." Nothing less than this law of inter-
change and inclusion could educate us to human
unity. The affairs of all are woven into one web,
and cannot be disentangled. No man can afford
to disregard the principle of vicarious love, and
service, for its multiform lines cross each other like
a net-work. Nothing less powerful and ubiquitous
could ever stem the tide of selfishness. But com-
paratively few yet fully realize the tremendous
sweep of this divine ordinance.

But true self-sacrifice is not the blotting out of
self ; rather it consists of making the most of the
individual. If there is to be bestowment, it should
be rich and vital. A true self-love is not selfish-
ness, and it is entirely consonant with love for
others. Such an affection is only the overflow of
the growing stock which is in store. Not only is
the world helped by doing, but also by being.
Every man should make the most of himself be-
cause he is the means, as well as the end. The
rounded moral and spiritual character of every
man swells the intrinsic assets of the human


A serious obstacle to the progress of religion,
or Christianity in its broad sense, is the assump-
tion of an official authority from the outside. Not
merely in religion, but in civil affairs, in science,
ethics, and every department of life, there is a
growing idea and ideal of freedom in the modern
consciousness. The divine right of government
by kings was an evolutionary stage of the past.
Men are coming to decline allegiance to edicts
which come from over their heads, but increas-
ingly respect the promptings of conscience and
the higher intuitions from within. The force of
all authority, which may be termed arbitrary in its
nature, is visibly weakening. Evidence and rea-
sonableness are demanded. Credentials must be
exhibited and imposition is giving place to free

The ideal of civil and political government, is,

that it shall be in and of the people, and that its

proper origin is neither above nor outside of them.



Official exponents of the law are more truly ser-
vants than masters. Their apparent domination
is really but the instrumental channel for the self-
expression of the freedom of the community.
Back of the official, of whatever grade, stands
the whole body politic. The ideal of a normal
and inborn democracy is the distinguishing feature
of the new time. It runs through every zone of
life, spiritual, moral, ethical, political, and social.
The arbitrary quality among the few remaining in-
stitutions which have a monarchical spirit, is rapidly
being shorn away.

As evolutionary wheels do not turn backward,
there is no probability that the general principle
of absolutism will ever resume its sway. The
human mind, as it advances in the search for
truth, and in fuller self-manifestation, exults in
its new-found freedom and overturns precedents,
breaks over limitations, and questions traditional
assumptions. If religion be a divine force in the
soul, and the spiritual life an inward experience, it
follows here, even more than elsewhere, that au-
thoritative dictation is illogical. But a persistent
conviction yet remains that a corresponding liberty
should not supplant official Christianity. Man,
instead of being a source, is expected to receive


an alien application which has been prepared out-
side. He is to submit to a system which is im-
posed, and needs professional treatment. If he
exercise his God-given quest for Reality and steps
outside of certain fixed ecclesiastical limits, he is
liable to be called a sceptic, or perhaps, even a
"free thinker." To think without trammels may
be noble and profitable, but in the past it meant
opprobrium. Would it be strange if in due time
it should be significant of honor ?

Official Christianity is doubtless sincere in as-
serting the authority of Dogma. It may be even
admitted that as a stage of growth it naturally
precedes the consciousness of inner light and
freedom. In the evolutionary order the higher
development and spontaneous expression come
later. Whatever is "under authority" must be
immature. The fact that the thraldom of eccle-
siastical sovereignty is in decay speaks volumes for
genuine spiritual advancement. No longer hedged
in by intermediate formalities, man may come face
to face with the direct divine guidance, the in-
dwelling God. That, and that alone constitutes
pure democracy in the spiritual zone.

During the childish consciousness and crudity
of human unfoldment, there is a place for gentle


dictation. In its order it has been useful in the
former time, and no contempt need be cast upon
it. As a preparatory discipline it has done a
work. But if the spirit of the present era seem
unduly iconoclastic, it is but a natural reaction, a
full swing of the pendulum. Reactions often go
too far, temporarily, but the intrinsic elements of
self -regulation from the subjective side, in due
time, assert themselves. Reaction then reacts
upon itself. Were it not for this compensatory
law, it would seem desirable that dogmatic au-
thority should not decline any more rapidly than
the inner and truer guidance comes into evidence.
A seething confusion caused by the mingling of
these two counter currents characterizes the
present period of transition.

In the ethical, civil, and political domain, it is
also plain that the reaction from formal and in-
stituted authority may have proceeded too rapidly.
Here is the same disorderly transition. A true
democratic self-assertion can come only from more
lofty ideals, moral education, and a development of
individual righteousness which shall bring up the
collective average. Democracy is good, but when
forced in advance of its evolutionary ripeness it
may fruit in license, and a disregard of inner as


well as external law and wholesome authority.
New tyrannies introduce and install themselves in
the name of liberty.

The ideal utility of every institution in its time
and place, forbids blame upon the Church for
holding on to its authority so long as possible. Its
replacement not as an educational institution, but
as a ruling Authority, will quietly be accomplished
as rapidly as the nature of things will allow. Far
better, belief tinctured with error, and even super-
stition, than no belief. Nothing is so doleful and
barren as empty negation and indifference. The
very activity of a strong dogmatic faith will tend
to purify and broaden it.

Thoughtful men often look askance at religious
institutions, and avoid the Church, because Chris-
tianity is presented as a coercive system, and as an
element which is not native in their nature. Its
appeals come in the light of an unwelcome neces-
sity. It does not seem to be the emancipator
which is ideal, and has not the aspect of "good
news." In this era, when men are saturated with
the spirit of democracy, whatever is arbitrary is
received with suspicion. The distrust of the work-
ingmen as well as the more highly educated part
of the community is symptomatic. Whether or


not this feeling is well founded, it exists. In view
of prevailing conditions, shall Dogma continue its
assertiveness ? In this connection it seems fitting
to trace, briefly, something of the tendency of
Authority, as shown in some of the broad ecclesi-
astical movements of the past. Whether tested
upon an extensive or limited scale, principles and
systems measure themselves upon humanity.

The Eastern, or so-called Orthodox Church most
perfectly represents the spirit of absolutism. The
dominant and all-embracing idea is Dogma. The
grand purpose is to preserve intact, and impose
certain forms and statements which are assumed
to be final. The system, complex and fitting in
every detail, has been closed and sealed, once for
all. There is no room for growth or improvement.
The natural outcome is moral paralysis and spiri-

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Online LibraryHenry WoodLife more abundant; Scriptural truth in modern application → online text (page 10 of 16)