‘WHOSE real should coincide with the ideal.’ That, say you in your charming and appreciative letter, would be an union of the finite and the infinite, of man and God. And you go on to suggest that surely humanity cannot have fallen far if it is able to rise to such contact.
Every word you write to this effect is good and true, but you have not allowed your perceptions to attain their furthest reach. Had you done so, you would not have stopped short until you had arrived at the doctrine of the Atonement, developing it out of your own intuitions, and without any revelation save that of reason applied to your own faculty of idealisation.
And not without revelation only, but without aught historical or concrete; but, given solely your own consciousness of the abstract, and supposing only the existence of the two elements – the real and the ideal – you will find your thought, when allowed to go forward, reaching successively the stages of
original incarnation (or creation), fall, new incarnation (or second creation), and atonement.
It is not, however, in the meaning popularly ascribed to it, and for which you express such strong aversion, that this doctrine is true.
For, in the first place, no doctrine respecting the Divine Nature that is repulsive to the human intuitions, or sense of perfection, can be true. Startling as this may appear, it is a simple truism. By the divine we mean only the ideal perfection of which the soul alone is cognisant. That perfection personified is God. If repulsive to our sense of perfection, it is not God.
In the second place it is not logical, and therefore cannot conduct us to that higher esoteric doctrine which the Church reserves for a chosen few.
The atonement signifies simply the mutual reconciliation between the Maker and his work, first through that work proving equal to its Maker’s intention, and so winning his approbation; and, secondly, through the work, no longer conscious of failure, and of cause for alienation, becoming reconciled to its Maker.
This last may be otherwise elucidated. Taking God for the ideal, and nature or humanity for the real, the union of the two in one person constitutes in itself a reconciliation or atonement. It is the longing of humanity thus to find itself in harmony with the object of its highest conceptions, that has ever
and again prompted it to select from the race some individual preeminent for his goodness, and to ascribe to him a divine origin and character. Thus it has come that wherever a man has appeared whom his fellows deemed so far above themselves in any direction as to indicate the possession of an element of infinity, they have straightway held him as inspired by the divine spirit, and as being, in a greater or less degree, God as well as man.
That the last member of the race thus deified by any considerable section of
mankind, should have been the Jesus of the New Testament, is not surprising when
we take into account the character and history of him which have been presented
to us. We may seek in vain among other deified men for so many and so lofty
elements of infinity. In him the religious genius seems to have culminated to
such an extent as in a great measure to obliterate his local and national
characteristics. His sense of ideal perfection raised him above the limitations
of his deified predecessors. Especially as drawn by John and Paul, was there in
him an universality that entitled him to the
appellation of Son, not of
And this brings me to a point of vast importance in determining how it came that such a character should have emanated from a race so intensely bigoted and exclusive as the Jews.
The quality which made them emphatically a peculiar people was that of spirituality, or appreciation of the personal and divine in Deity. In them God was above all things the Moral Governor of the universe, so far as they comprehended morality, and it was through men’s hearts and minds that he made his presence specially felt. Of course there is much in their earlier history and literature that conflicts with this high conception of Deity. Many and many a time is the portraiture coarse and revolting, and such as only a people whose ideal scarcely transcended their own lowest real, could have devised. In fact, so various are their delineations of him, that it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that they worshipped two distinct divinities under the same name. I will in my next dwell a little on this, as it will explain much that perplexes honest enquirers, and account for many a theological contradiction.
In the present I will content myself with remarking that even in their earliest compositions there are gleams of a pure and lofty ideal, gleams which grow and brighten as misfortunes thicken on their race, showing them to be no exception to the rule that all products of nature, whether human or material,
require to be
wrought with toil and trial in order to attain their highest value. And so, when
place and power were lost, and servitude had become their inheritance,
THE TWO JEHOVAHS
THE two Gods of the Bible, of whom I promised to give you some account, must be referred to the antagonistic influences of the real and the ideal in man’s nature. Though existing side by side throughout the whole of the sacred literature, and passing under the same name, there is no difficulty in discerning between them. In one we have a Being of amazing selfishness and ferocity, owning responsibility to no moral law, and absolutely revelling in blood.
The other is a just judge and ruler over all, yet pitiful and of tender mercy, a hearer of prayer, and one that doth not willingly afflict the children of men. It is to the coexistence in the Bible of these two presentments of Deity, and the failure of the worshippers of the letter to distinguish between them, that the theological troubles of Christendom and the comparative failure of Christianity are in great measure due. For, so far from referring the existence of the inferior Jehovah to the propensity of undeveloped
man to make his God after the image of his own lower nature, the Church, rather than weaken the authority of the letter of Scripture, has sought to sanctify even the most revolting doctrines by ascribing to them a spiritual signification.
The truth is that so long as the gross and brutal predominate in the character of man, they will predominate in that of the God recognised by man. Only as the things of sense give place to the things of the spirit, and the ideal assumes its proper supremacy over the real, does the Deity emerge from his low estate, and shedding the grosser nature with which he has hitherto been invested, shine forth as the sun in his glory, the absolute realisation of man’s developed moral conceptions.
How low and rudimentary humanity still is, even among peoples we regard as highly civilised, is demonstrated by the reception still widely accorded to the grosser interpretations of the doctrine of atonement by blood. The term carnivorous is in no way too strong to express the character thus ascribed to the Deity himself. As if expressly to illustrate the inveterate coordination subsisting between man and his gods, the Bible exhibits in strong relief the continuity of both natures. The carnal God of the Old Testament survives in the carnal God of the New; and the spiritual God of the Old Testament survives in the spiritual God of the New.
Let us glance shortly at their respective careers. Throughout the Old Testament we find the lower Jehovah depicted as abandoned to falsehood and cruelty, and ever ready for a bribe of blood to aid the foulest cause. For his consent to offer up his only son as a burnt offering, Abraham is repeatedly lauded as the father of the faithful and friend of God. For a promise which involves a like fate to his daughter, Jepthah obtains the desired victory. And even the Moabite King Mesha gains a victory over the Jews in virtue of his offering up his son as a sacrifice. David, on a mere surmise, hanged the seven sons and grandsons of Saul ‘in the hill before the Lord,’ ‘and after that God was entreated for the land.’ He puts a lying spirit into the mouth of his prophets, and threatens to destroy those who are deceived by them. He denounces the most tremendous penalties for the lightest offences. Nothing can satiate his propensity for blood, and the idea of the sanctity of life is utterly scouted. Blood of animals innumerable; blood of peoples hostile to his own people; blood of offenders among his own people; blood of unoffending men, women, and children even, also among his own chosen people. Because some of them look into the ark, he smites fifty thousand three score and ten men. By the mouth of one of his prophets he declares, ‘I also will deal in fury; mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity. And though they
cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them.’ To another he says, ‘Go through the city and smite; let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity; slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children and women, and begin at my sanctuary.’
Passing to the New Testament, its continuity with the Old in respect of this deity is indisputable, and the propensity is carried to a height previously unimaginable. No Jew in Old Testament times thought of God as a possible parent, except in a general way of the human race. But the Dualism veiled under the name that was too sacred to be uttered, had in the interval borne its fruit; and after glutting himself with the blood of the firstborn sons of mere men, this deity found himself at length in a position to require the blood of his own ‘only-begotten beloved Son.’ The plea on which this stupendous sacrifice was demanded was the pardon of mankind. But so far from their condition being ameliorated, no sooner was it consummated than the bulk of the human race found themselves in a worse plight than before. The Old Testament consigns no one to eternal punishment, nor does it make penal the honest conclusions of the understanding. The New Testament, on the contrary, abounds in dire menaces not only against evildoers but against independent thinkers. Here the deity appears as
inflicting torture for torture’s sake, without any pretence of reforming the offender or promoting the security of society. ‘The unbelieving and the abominable’ are placed in the same category, and both ‘have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone,’ ‘where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,’ and where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
It is the love of blood evinced by this the lower deity of the Jews that Christians recognise and sanction when they receive in the gross material sense the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
Far different is the character of the Jehovah who has won for the Jews the credit of being endowed with a transcendant genius for religion. In him all the noblest attributes of humanity reach their highest expression. For he is ‘a God of truth, and without iniquity,’ whose ‘ways are equal,’ and who is ‘no respecter of persons:’ a ‘God of peace’ and hater of violence, who takes no delight in the blood of animals, but ‘whose name is holy,’ who ‘dwells in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the contrite, and to revive the heart of the humble.’ A God, moreover, who so loved the world that he sent his Son to save it; a God whom that Son called Love, and of whom he declared, ‘If a man love me and keep my words, my Father will love him, and
we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.’
There is a sense, however, in which the shedding of blood is necessary to procure a full reconciliation between the soul and its absolute ideal. For how can humanity justify itself to the Supreme Perfection, save by showing itself capable of attaining the loftiest reaches of moral heroism? And how can such heroism be shown but by being ‘faithful unto death?’
GOD-MAN AND MAN-GOD
THERE was a manifest consistency in the destiny that assigned to the Jewish race the honour of producing him who has filled for mankind the part of ideal man. Its character, its history, its literature, all combined to make it fitting that, as the Hebrew mind had attained a conception of spirituality and righteousness far beyond that of any other people, so the Hebrew race should produce the individual in whom spirituality and righteousness culminated to such a degree as to make mankind see in him the realisation of its highest ideal.
Let us proceed to trace the lineaments of the ideal man, not according to any supposed historic outline, but as evolved necessarily from our consciousness when once the notion of such a being has occurred to us.
The ideal, as you already understand, being in the imagination the equivalent of the infinite, the ideal man must have his origin and habitat in that region; and on all sides of his nature he must appear
divested of the limitations of the real, and endowed with the element of infinity. In every particular of his history he must show himself superior to the race of ordinary men. His very coming into existence must be by no vulgar method; for of him the supernatural alone is worthy. Yet, proceeding immediately from the supreme personified ideal whom we call God, and therefore himself God, he must, to be man also, derive one half of his being from a human source. So palpable is the necessity for this, that the legends of all religions recognise it, and many of them agree in representing their divine men as born of virgin mothers. For the ideal man postulates the ideal woman; the woman who, like her ideal spouse the Holy Spirit, and ideal son, surpasses the limitations of the real, and without human assistance produces her ideal babe.
Son at once of humanity and deity, he must possess in perfection the characteristics of both natures, and these so balanced that none can say which predominates in him. Animated with the divine enthusiasm of the perfection from which he is sprung, he will go forth to do battle against all the powers of evil, or man’s lower nature, by stimulating the growth of the ideal, and so reducing the real to its proper level. Not, however, by dint of physical force; that itself would constitute an appeal to and alliance with the very power he desires to subdue;
but by setting forth the rule of perfection, and exhibiting it in himself in so winning a guise as to draw perforce unto himself all who are amenable to such sweet and spiritual influences.
As his mission must be the highest imaginable by man, he must for its accomplishment be invested with powers transcending those attainable by man. At his command must be all the elements of physical nature. Earth, sea, air, and fire, heaven and hell, must obey him. The very demons must acknowledge his supremacy; disease and death must flee his approach.
God though he be, he is still man, and as man he must suffer and die. But it is by his death that his divinity is most triumphantly demonstrated. For it is by his death that he crowns his life, and exhibits in supreme degree the love of perfection as his ruling passion. Mighty as has been his enthusiasm of humanity in the real, his enthusiasm of ideal perfection far exceeds it. For the ideal perfection, caught up and resumed in an infinite personality, is no other than his Father, God.
Yes, it is for love of God even more than for love of man, that the Man-God suffers and dies. So vivid is his sense of the personality and presence of the Divine Perfection, and of his own intimate relationship thereto, that he speaks ever of him in the most endearing terms, aspiring ever to his presence,
and so shapes his speech as to imply identity of being with him – ‘My Father and I are one;’ ‘No man cometh to the Father but by me;’ ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life;’ ‘He that has seen me hath seen the Father also.’
As the ideal Son must have existed, either actually or potentially, in the bosom of the ideal Father, he must be coeternal with him and coequal, and the same divine disposition or spirit that animates them must proceed alike from both.
But while eternal in his ideal nature, he must be subject to death in his real. And inasmuch as by his death he reconciles the real to its Creator, his blood is for the healing of the nations, his suffering for their salvation.
For his death is the crowning proof of his thoroughness. Infinite would be the loss to mankind were he to shrink from such consummation. For then would humanity exhibit itself as incapable of attaining perfection even in its ideal. Unable to imagine such unselfish devotion as possible, it would have shown itself to belong to but a low degree in the scale of moral existence. The capacity to imagine and appreciate self-sacrifice involves the capacity for self-sacrifice. Our whole real is elevated by the exaltation of our ideal; and the supreme ideal is reconciled and propitiated thereby. Humanity, in virtue of the perfect ideal it has produced, takes its
seat at the right hand of the Absolute Perfection, and claims the enthusiastic greeting, ‘My beloved Son! in whom I am well pleased!’ For it has attained perfection, and the divine work of creation is ‘finished.’
God though we may be disposed to deem him, it is as man and man alone, though man perfect, that the ideal Son achieves for us his victory. His triumph is the triumph of humanity. For he represents man’s ideal side rising superior to his real, inasmuch as he accomplishes the sacrifice of sense to spirit, of body to soul, the lower to the higher, the phenomenal to the eternal, the limited to the infinite.
To comprehend the nature of the Son of Man, you must comprehend the nature of man. Two elements go to the making up of this, the real and the ideal. Discard the notion that either of them is in the popular sense supernatural. This done, the divine man readily appears as he in whom both these sides of humanity are perfect; but in whom also the real occupies its proper place of subordination to the ideal, or sense to spirit.
It is only in respect of its transcending sense, or the ‘natural,’ that the ideal can be regarded as supernatural. We have no warrant for regarding any part of existence, real or ideal, as lying outside of nature. No possible redeemer can the ideal man be for us unless he be identical with that which he comes to redeem, one of ourselves, – save without defect.
For, otherwise, his very perfection would but enhance the disfavour with which the Creator regarded his work. The demonstration that other elements than those contained in humanity are necessary to produce a perfect man, would involve a confession of impotence in the original creation. And so far from the divine work being finished in him, and he being greeted as the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased, and suffered to ascend on high, and, crowned with honour and glory, to take his place at the right hand of God, he would be to the Father a constant source of mortification, as a reminder of his failure in the first creation.
No Saviour or Redeemer in such case would he be for us; no maker of peace by his blood; no reconciler with God.
It is, then, not at the incarnation as an isolated or historical event, or as restricted to any one period of time, that we arrive in our process of constructing God in our own image, and in following the theology that naturally evolves itself there from. But we arrive at the incarnation as a perpetual demonstration of the capacity of nature for attaining perfection on its ideal side. The existence of perfection anywhere in nature, whether in you or in me, demonstrates the divinity of creation, and so ‘saves’ the world. And he who is most perfect does this in greatest degree.