Henry Wood.

Life more abundant; Scriptural truth in modern application online

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individual. As standards of all that is highest in
human life enlarge and move forward, the general


concept of Christ is ever expanding in correspon-
dence. The synoptic gospels and all other records
of the visible Personality, as if by a subtle spiri-
tual intuition of what was fitting, cast a veil of
silence and mystery over the supreme incarnation,
and thus the divine light in each soul sheds its
own brightest beams upon it. Then, as now, the
materialistic inclination is strong to worship the
seen form rather than the larger spiritual Pres-
ence, so that Jesus plainly said to his disciples,
"It is expedient for you that I go away." The
homage was bestowed upon the embodiment in-
stead of that which was embodied.

The most inspiring consciousness which is pos-
sible to the human soul is God within, for this is
"the Son." Its absence means separateness,

" Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be
If he's not born in thee thy soul is all forlorn.

" Could but thy soul, O man, become a silent night,
God would be born in thee, and set all things

God's immanence in man as exemplified in the
Personality is rightly called the Christ. This does
not predicate an outward individuality, but de-


fines that divinity within, which is dynamic in
quality. Every man is inmostly divine, but no
one is deific. God embodied a sample of himself
in the man of Nazareth, and such an indwelling is
a law which runs through all human life. The
" plan of salvation " is not a formal scheme to
repair the unexpected failure of some original pur-
pose, but redemption, as demonstrated in the
specific Example, is an evolutionary spiritual ac-
complishment. But it is never quite finished in
man. Even at the loftiest point supposable, there
is no stop, no stagnation. As a procedure, it will
never become, but is eternally becoming. The
Exemplar was not a spiritual process, but the first-
fruit of one. In him was the articulation of an
eternal, orderly law. The divine indwelling never
had a beginning and will have no end. Incarnation
is in the nature of things. Moral indirection is not
the result of "a fall," but rather the frictional and
gradual elimination of animalism. It includes the
growing pains of spiritual enlargement.

The humanity of God is too large to be con-
tained within or confined to a single life, however
exalted. The sonship which was incarnated was
full but not exclusive. The essence of moral and
spiritual beauty is diffusive, and ever increasingly


so. The stream of divinity man-ward is broad
enough to fill every human craving and capacity
so far as they are opened. If the Model of the
gospels were more than human, men are normally
barred from the powers and privileges which he
manifested. The passing of the dogma of a lim-
ited atonement must logically be followed by
its twin misapprehension of a limited sonship.
Divinity and humanity are but two sides of a

" More near than aught thou calPst thy own ,
Draw if thou canst the mystic line,
Severing rightly His from thine,
Which is human, which divine ? "

It is usually assumed that certain familiar say-
ings and sympathetic acts of the Master attest his
humanity, while his miracles form the evidence of
his divinity. But the real proof of his spiritual
sonship is not contained in a theoretical miraculous
birth, resurrection, and ascension, and in " works "
which to dull materialistic vision seemed wonderful,
but in his unbounded love, pure spirituality, and di-
vine self recognition. He claimed the birthright
so universally unrecognized by other men. The
foundation of the living gospel is too broad to stand


upon such a narrow and uncertain basis as a few
unusual occurrences.

Christianity is a free universal force playing
through man's nature, independent of time, cir-
cumstances, or ecclesiastical limitation. It found
beautiful and full expression in the Pattern of the
gospels and is ever seeking new forms of outward
blossoming and fruitage. It is no finished depos-
itory of a body of truth, once for all handed down,
but a living and abounding assertion of the divine
image. If the Absolute could descend and fully
contain itself in one concrete form, the gospel
narrative would be finished. Christianity, as a
term, has come to signify many things to many
men. Its simple proportions have been buried
beneath a great mass of accretions with which it
has no vital relation. Why should it be burdened
with some peculiar form of baptism, sacrament,
ordinance, theory of nativity, or unique church
polity ? The wine of modern thought and scholar-
ship regarding the divine indwelling cannot be put
in "old bottles."

The Master receives his true glorification through
the race. Were he superhuman in his being and
essence his example would be beyond our aspira-
tion. Theologically, if the crucial point of the gos-


pel be the cross, suffering, and death, instead of the
life, it is plain that he could not have proclaimed
it during his earthly embodiment. Only an invali-
dated Christianity would rest upon such a basis.
The ecclesiastical and Nicene interpretation of
the son of Man, as a definable part of a Trinity,
puts him outside the human family, and from its
very nature must ever remain an abstraction in the
minds of men. But the Christ or Son will ever
be Immanuel. The miracles recorded in the Bible,
wherever they have not been colored or enlarged
by tradition, show that man, as a normal repository
of spiritual forces, is a far greater and diviner being
than we have thought possible. With the shadow
of a theoretical native depravity before our eyes,
the vision of ideal humanity has been distorted.
Unusual works which cause wonder need not be
regarded as beyond the realm of orderly law, but
possible to human accomplishment through the
divinity which may work in man in ways rarely
appreciated. It is God within, and not outside,
who doeth the works. The older view of miracles,
which interpreted them as examples of suspended
or violated law does not honor God or his estab-
lished methods. He is neither disorderly nor


The Christ mind did not first begin in Bethle-
hem, though there was its first complete manifes-
tation. The Master gave utterance to truth that
was eternally true, but he laid no claim to origi-
nality. Says Professor Benjamin Jowett, former
master of Balliol College, and eminent interpreter
of the Bible :

"An ideal necessarily mingles with all conceptions
of Christ : why should we object to a Christ who is
necessarily ideal ? Do persons really suppose that they
know Christ as they know a living friend ? Is not
Christ in the Sacrament, Christ at the right hand of
God, Christ in you the hope of Glory, an ideal ? Have
not the disciples of Christ, from the age of St. Paul on-
wards, been always idealizing his memory ?

" Each age may add something to the perfection and
balance of the whole. Did not St. Paul idealize Christ ?
Do we suppose that all which he says of him is simply
matter of fact, or known to St. Paul as such ? It might
have been that the character would have been less uni-
versal if we had been able to trace more defined fea-
tures. What would have happened to the world if
Christ had not come ? What would happen if he
were to come again ? What would have happened if
we had perfectly known the words and teaching of
Christ ? How far can we individualize Christ, or is he
only the perfect image of humanity ? "

The evident lack of vital power in the intellec-
tual concept of the Christ of the confessions and


creeds is giving rise to a modern cry : "Back to
Jesus I " Is this conventional and ecclesiastical
son of God like the real inner quality which was so
perfectly demonstrated ? It were well if an ideal
of Christly embodiment might take the place of
the theological speculations concerning him and
his unique powers. Each of the world's great
religions has had its great exponent who has been
divinely idealized by his followers. It does not
dishonor the Demonstrator of Christianity to say
that we could hardly expect him to be an excep-
tion to the rule. When he speaks from the
depths of Sonship, he says : " I am the Way and
the Truth and the Life." (John xiv, 6) Joseph
may have been his natural father, but no less the
eternal Spirit was in him. What was embodied
was universal and spiritual, while the embodiment
was material and historic. If Jesus was not the
son of Joseph, and descended from Abraham in
the genealogical line given in Matthew, what is its
historic significance ?

The current concepts of the personality of the
son of Man, which have prevailed through the
ages, have varied with the temper of environment
and the theological media through which it has
been observed. Among the Hebrews his lack of


material power and leadership was an early disap-
pointment. But he also was the centre of con-
verging expectation and later of apostolic devotion.
Upon his name has been built a vast structure of
theological speculation, ecclesiastical authority, and
much asceticism as well as idealism. He remains
the grand focal point of moral, religious, and spiri-
tual life. With but a limited knowledge of the
Demonstrator, it remains that that which was
demonstrated is the ever expanding and inspira-
tional Pattern of mankind. Upon him we are
ever lavishing our "gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
A diviner unfoldment of son ship will be the un-
ceasing aspiration of generations yet unborn.

" Not further off, but further on,
Such is the nature of thy guest ;
They heaven find who heaven win,
The one true Christ is in thy breast."

It is the nature and purpose of the inmost to
seek expression. The " Word " must become
flesh, for that is its normal tendency. It is the
unending purpose of the world to conceive the
Christ. The higher or historic criticism is useful
in removing obstructions so that the divinity in
man may grow brighter. If intellectual specula-


tion interposes itself between the Ideal and its
concrete manifestation it must be cast aside.

Mistaking the material Personality for the Son,
men are looking backward and outward for him
instead of within. Objective pictures, ideals, and
descriptions of that which was visible are ever
variant, and will be uncertain guides until every
one finally recognizes his image as the highest
within himself. Each at length must come to his
own. Theological dogma clothes the central
figure with unreal and misleading aspects. These
appearances promote agnosticism and scepticism.
The image presented from the outside being un-
true does not attract, while the highest subjective in
every man draws him and calls out his aspiration.

Some one has well said that the " Light of the
World " comes modified by stained-glass windows,
and that the prevailing pigments were Roman law
and Hebrew sacrifice. The office of Christ is
biological, and not that of legal formalism. The
real Son sits serene at the centre of the being of
man, while dogmatic opinions about him tell of
expiation and substitution.

The general search for Christ — in the highest
degree laudable — is too closely confined to the
details of the robe of flesh. Unbounded effort has


been put forth to reproduce every circumstance
and accessory. The seeker for truth becomes
hopelessly involved in uncertain and complex cita-
tion and is lost in by-paths. The clinging tendrils
of anxious souls which need support are pushed
back and bewildered. It is not an embalmed body
or a tragic death which is needed in this unbeliev-
ing age but life more abundant.

It is true that the seen Exemplar, as a unit of
the human race, had a definite personal history,
and so far as it can be truly set forth it is of great
interest. To be a way-shower he must have had
the same powers, emotions, and faculties as are
common to mankind. But in him the New Man
was fully awakened. On the Godward side he was
open for a full and free influx of the Spirit. His
was no life of asceticism, but of contact with the
world, including all its exposure and reactions.
But beyond its incidental surroundings it was so far
involved in a larger environment, that it must of
necessity be largely misunderstood even by his
most intimate disciples.

After what we call death by crucifixion, and
following the resurrection, the recorded appear-
ances of Jesus are few, fleeting, and apparently
not subject to the laws of the plane upon which he


had previously lived, and which pertain to the
physical career. Paul says : " It is sown a natural
(material) body and raised a spiritual body." Pas-
sing through closed doors, partial and uncertain
recognition, and appearance in unexpected places,
indicate a more refined and immaterial organization
than that which would have resulted from a preser-
vation of the form of clay. No speculative consid-
eration of these appearances need here be entered
upon or comparison made with similar manifesta-
tions numerously claimed now and through the past
ages. But we may well ask, why should Jesus,
even if of supreme spiritual attainment, have an
experience outside of universal and beneficent laws,
and thus be put beyond the pale of mankind?
Whatever the character of the post-resurrection
appearances, we may infer that they were normal
and not beyond the possibility which is the privi-
lege of spiritually developed humanity. The higher
life includes capabilities for its own satisfactory
demonstration. There is an unappreciated potency
and true mysticism in spiritual things which is
beautiful and orderly, and it may be kept clear of
superstition and fanaticism. The higher conscious-
ness is divinely natural.

God is love, and love, theref ore, must be the sub*.


stance of sonship. Love was the vital flame of the
Primitive Church. It is the length, breadth, and
height of ideal Christianity, for it includes all the
subordinate virtues. It is a developed relation and
temper toward all environment, far and near.
" For love is of God, and every one that loveth is
begotten of God. He that loveth not knoweth
not God. And the witness is this, that God
gave unto us the eternal life, and this life is in
his Son. He that hath the Son hath the life ; he
that hath not the Son hath not the life. These
things have I written unto you that ye might know
that ye have the eternal life."

If the New Man be a vital outgrowth in human
nature, he is not a matter of time and place.
What of Moses and Daniel and Isaiah ? The God
of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not the God of
the dead but of the living. Life can become
neither confined nor inert, else it is no longer life.

Sonship is an inspiring and beautiful mystery.
Can the infinite Father occupy the human form ?
A transcendent truth, ancient, yet ever new.
Thou art wrapped in our fleshly mantle and we feel
thee as our very self. Jesus was the " Elder
Brother" of the spiritual family of man. The di-
vine lineaments within are to shine through our



own hard features and transform them. We will
not be abashed at the glory of sonship. The " star
of Bethlehem " is ever rising in human hearts and
its light dispels the darkness from receptive souls.

" The dayspring from on high shall visit us,
To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the

shadow of death ;
To guide our feet into the way of peace."



The moral and spiritual progress of mankind
comes through sacrifice. Atonement is a uni-
versal law, and the one great historic fact to which
the term generally has been limited, is but a
single, though supreme concrete expression of the
common principle. The moral order, as it applies
to humanity, provides that the best and purest
lives must suffer or be sacrificed for the good of
the race. The Cross is not limited to Calvary.
Rather it overshadows the world. Human atten-
tion is prone to be fixed upon some unusual trans-
action, because the principle of which it is only a
manifestation is so broad and universal, that the
outward eye looks through and beyond it. This
great law, so deeply rooted in the constitution of
man, has had multiform articulation in all known
systems of religion. Says Trumbull in his " Blood
Covenant " :

"In an inscription from the Egyptian monuments,
the original of which dates back to the early days of



Moses, there is reference to the then ancient legend of
the rebellion of mankind against the gods ; of an edict
of destruction against the human race ; and of a divine
interposition for the rescue of the doomed people. In
that legend a prominent place is given to human blood,
which was mingled with the juice of mandrakes, and
offered as a drink to the gods, and afterward poured
out to overflow and revivify the earth. And the ancient
text affirms that it was in conjunction with these events
that sacrifices began in the world."

Since the time when man crossed the mystic
line between animalhood and manhood — sym-
bolized by " the Fall " in Eden, and the acquire-
ment of a " knowledge of good and evil " — he has
had some innate sense of right and wrong. Then
began the first perception of a moral law. Re-
sponsibility to something or somebody higher, and
a feeling of guilt as a consequence of the lack of
conformity to some standard became universal.
Fear of penalty was present as the result of an
intuitive perception. When men chose the lower
instead of the higher, it required no dogma to
teach them that penalty was due. But their de-
velopment was not sufficiently advanced to show
them that it was both inherent and corrective, for
it seemed to be imposed by some Power outside.
Apparently, it was vindictive in spirit, and came


from beings or gods, higher and more powerful
than themselves. As these forces or deities were
mysterious and unseen, superstitious dread was
awakened, and their placation became of the ut-
most importance. The abandonment of sin, for
the prevention of penalty was yet too high and
distant an ideal to seem practical, so there was
naturally a strong desire to propitiate or buy off
the powers which threatened. Sacrifice in innu-
merable forms thus became universal. But low
and mistaken as it was, it was a faint foreshadow-
ing of a true sacrificial law which was not made
fully intelligible before the time of Jesus. Pre-
vious to his advent, evolutionary unripeness had
not permitted any general interpretation of the
higher and unselfish principle of renunciation.

Various messiahs, holy men, and prophets, like
Gautama Buddha and some of the Old Testament
seers discerned the truer ideal of self-sacrifice, but
Jesus both lived and taught it in far more definite
terms. The prevailing desire was to get rid of
penalty, but not by an abandonment of the offense.
To give something was the first impulse. The
offering must have worth, and cost the giver dearly.
Added to its pecuniary value, there was real or
implied mental or physical suffering, or both, in


order to render it more acceptable. Among poly-
theistic races, where there were both good and bad
deities, the good were praised and flattered, while
the sacrificial offerings were made to the powers
of evil. In early monotheism the same principle
existed but the good and evil, or the favor and dis-
favor, were centered in one deity instead of being
divided among several.

If the shadow of a broken law rested upon men,
the lawmaker must be appeased. Oblations and
immolations were thus universal, no less among
the Hebrews, than with the surrounding ethnic or
pagan nations. The asceticism, extreme rigor, and
flagellation of the mediaeval ages were outcroppings
of the same deep desire of men to set themselves
right, and to gain some credit which should offset
sin. Any universal sentiment which has a deep
root in human nature will find expression, in some
form, in every religious system. Men felt that
the smoke of burnt offerings had a sweet savor in
the nostrils of the Deity, and that the shedding of
blood was more efficacious than precious gifts in
buying off penalty. But during various periods
the rites lost their vitality and became mere

The strong impulse of Abraham to take the life


of his son Isaac, to please God, was superseded by
a higher thought before the deed was consummated.
Such an intention was just as contrary to the will
of the beneficent God of love — the eternal Father
— as that of the prophets of Baal, who cried aloud
to their deity, and "cut themselves after their
manner with knives and lances " to gain favor, as
related in the book of First Kings. Both wished
to please the overruling Power, and the mistaken
idea of the character of God, or the gods, does not
seem to have been very different.

In all ages, and under all religions, the low and
humanized concept of God has been the basis of
sacrificial systems. He was but a magnified man, or
king, vain, passionate, cruel, and even corruptible.
The story of man, as he emerges from brutehood
and passes by slow degrees through superstition
toward the light, might almost be summed up in
the one word sacrifice. As a rite it was like an
acrid and unripe fruit, but the idea was of potential
purification and goodness. Truly the spiritual
growth of the race comes through educational fric-
tion and tribulation. The worship, service, and
almost the totality of the ancient religious systems,
that of the Hebrew not excepted, consisted of a
perpetual effort to court favor with a ruling Power


which was only their own unlovely concept. Much
of this feeling still remains, and even the Christian
religion is not free from its shadow to this day.

Every people, and perhaps it is not too much to
say, every soul, on the way toward an approximate
knowledge of the true God, passes through a stage
when God, as seen by him, must be propitiated.
The reflection of human passions and conditions
upon the supreme Power clothes it with an aspect
where presents, suffering, and even an abject atti-
tude are thought to be available for favor.

Perhaps the most forbidding feature of the great
world-wide superstition is the idea that God is
pleased and conciliated by the literal shedding of
blood — innocent blood. Oh, the cruel butchery
which supplied the ancient altars with their victims!
Read a description of the place of sacrifice in the
ancient temple ! The cooing turtle dove, the gen-
tle firstling of the flock, the goat and ram and
bullock all poured out their life blood to fill the
demand of this heathenish instinct. But the tak-
ing of life was not limited to animals. Even among
the Hebrews, human sacrifices were not infrequent.
The daughter of Jephthah, one of the leaders of
Israel, a man who judged the Chosen People for
six years, was a victim. That the horrid custom


was probably borrowed from the Ammonites only
shows its general prevalence. Moloch is the title
of the divinity which the men of Judah, in the later
ages of the kingdom, were wont to appease by the
sacrifice of their own children. Jeremiah and
Ezekiel make frequent and bitter reference to the
" high places " for the sacrifice of children by their
parents. Such a place was built beneath the very
walls of the temple at Jerusalem on the slope of
the gloomy valley of Hinnon, or Tophet. Though
these offerings were devoted to Moloch, the cruel
ritual was so closely associated with Jehovah wor-
ship that Jeremiah repeatedly found it necessary
to protest that it was not of Jehovah's institution.
Even among the intellectual Athenians, there was
an annual human sacrifice. A man and a woman
were hurled from the brink of the Acropolis, as sin
bearers. The Romans threw their victims from
the Tarpeian Rock. But illustrations need not be
multiplied of a barbarous rite which for ages was
like a pall over the most righteous nations of the
ancient time.

The universality of a superstitious fear of an
unseen and uninterpreted Absolute, with an intui-
tive sense of inward demerit, naturally found its
climax in an unworthy view of the Atonement



made by Jesus. That the God of all love, whose

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Online LibraryHenry WoodLife more abundant; Scriptural truth in modern application → online text (page 9 of 16)