The Ascension and Mediation of the Lord
|The Lord came into this world to save men. He left it for the same purpose, and His departure was as necessary to the further progress of His work, as His coming. He came into this world in the only way that it is possible for a spiritual or a Divine Being to come into a material world and meet men, face to face; and that is by clothing Himself in the same garment of flesh they wear. “He came out from the Father, and came into this world,” not as a son leaves a father in one place, and goes to another; but as a man’s material body comes out from his spiritual body, is formed by it, is its image and likeness in clay; as every act of the material body comes out from the affections and thoughts. The Father did not send the Son, as one person sends another, but as the soul sends forth its acts, as the sun sends forth planets from his glowing heart. Neither did the Father become the son; the Divine was not changed into the natural. It clothed itself with a natural body, but still remained entirely, though not personally, distinct from it. We must keep our thought fixed upon one person, and only one, whatever changes and actions may be described.
Neither must we admit the idea that the Lord left one place and went to another, when He came into this world. He came down from heaven, but it is not said that He left heaven. As a Divine Being, He filled all the heavens and all worlds with the same or a much greater fullness after the assumption of a human nature, than before. Owing to the imperfection of human language, it is impossible to express these Divine and spiritual truths fully; but science and our own observation teach us many things which very clearly illustrate them. Many persons find it difficult to understand how Jehovah Himself could come into the world by clothing His Divine with a human nature. They think He must have been shut up in that nature—that He must have left heaven. This could not be, for He is, and always has been, Omnipresent. The real object of the incarnation was, to make Him more sensibly present upon the earth.
Science teaches us that the planets were created from the sun. They are the pure substances of the sun come down to earth, or changed into gas and rock. But the sun has left no place in the process of creation. It is the same source of heat and light, and shines with undiminished splendor. When our affections come down into thoughts, words, and deeds, they leave no place; they remain where they were before. They have not lost their character or form as affections; they have clothed themselves with material garments, but they still remain the same. In an analogous way, the Divine was not changed into the human, but clothed itself with it. It lost none of its proper power, but, by clothing itself with a human nature, it could act with more power in the lower planes of existence.
As the Lord came into the world by taking upon Himself our nature, so He departed from it by discarding all that he received from Mary. As He was in the world before the incarnation, as truly as He was after it, though not in a form appreciable by the human senses, so He was in the world after His ascension, and is now, more fully than before it, though we cannot see His face or hear His voice; yet, as I shall show hereafter, He can now operate more powerfully upon men than He could if He had remained bodily present among them.
Before we can gain a true idea of the nature of His ascension, it is necessary also, to know what is meant by “’descent” and “ascent” when applied to the Lord. They do not mean any change in space, but a change in state. From the will to the understanding, from the thought to speech and deed, is down; from spirit to matter is down. And conversely from matter to spirit; from the body to the soul, is up. The Lord’s ascension, then, was not through space to some region above us in the sky. It consisted in the glorification of His human nature, or making it Divine. When men pass from this into the spiritual world, they leave the material body behind them. But suppose it was gradually dissipated, and a spiritual body substituted in its place. In that case, we as material beings might be said to have ascended to the spiritual world or to a spiritual state.
The Lord’s return to His father, was effected by putting off all the maternal human; all that was material and not homogeneous with His Divine and essential being; and substituting in its place Divine substances and forms from Himself. Thus He made His human nature Divine; the merely human natural became a Divine natural. When this change was fully effected it was impossible to manifest Himself to the natural senses of men.
The Lord was never seen, after His resurrection, with the natural eye. A careful examination of all the instances recorded of His manifestation to His disciples and others, before His final ascension, will show conclusively, that they saw Him with the spiritual and not with the natural eye. He really left the earth and the natural presence of men, when He was laid in the sepulchre. Afterwards He was seen only with the spiritual eye, in the spiritual world, as the prophets saw Him, as the angel of Jehovah before His coming. Finally, He passed out of the spiritual world in the same way that He had passed from the material world, “up to where He was before,” above the heavens to perfect union with the Father. The assumed nature became Divine, became one with the essential Divine that assumed it. We do not mean by this, that the Divine humanity became the same as the infinite essence, that it was merged into Jehovah and became identical with Him. On the contrary, the glorified humanity remains as distinct from the Divine essence called Jehovah, as man’s body is distinct from his soul, and yet it was perfectly homogeneous with it; acted in perfect harmony with it; was capable of receiving, and possessing in itself all the infinite perfections of the Divine essence. And thus it became the perfect medium of communicating the Divine truth to men.
The change that took place in the Lord by the glorification of His humanity was perfectly analogous to that which would take place in man, if the material body should become so purged of its earthiness; so refined, purified, exalted, that it acted in full harmony with the spirit; that it became one with it; moved spontaneously and fully to every desire of the will and thought; was the Perfect medium of every affection, and accurately executed every demand of the soul. What such a body would be to man’s spirit, the Divine humanity is to the Father, the Divine essence. By putting off all that was not at one with the inmost Divine, the Lord necessarily put Himself out of the world; He ascended to His Father.
Now we can see why He said to His disciples, “It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” The Holy Spirit, which our Lord declares is the spirit of truth or the Divine truth, could not flow freely from the humanity until those changes had taken place in it, which would render it invisible to men and even to angels. It must become so purged of every material dross, so purified and exalted, that it could not be cognizable by the natural senses; that it could become the perfect embodiment of that Divine life which is the fountain of all life, and the medium, the instrument of conducting that life down to earth; the Mediator between God, the essential Divine, and man. When the human nature became Divine, and consequently one with the essential Divine as it existed before the incarnation, the spirit of truth flowed through it, without any obstruction, and operated directly upon the spiritual natures of men to guide them into the way of truth. “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” “He shall receive of mine and show it unto you.”
One great difficulty we all have in gaining a clear knowledge of this most profound subject, consists in keeping out of our minds the idea of a personal distinction between the Father and Son. We are prone to place them side by side, as they are not, rather than one within the other, as they are. Most persons do not find it so hard to avoid thinking of the Holy Spirit as a distinct person, because they do not attach much idea to the spirit. It is, however, absolutely necessary to a true knowledge of the Lord, and of our relations to him, to hold fast to the idea of His personal unity; and we shall not have so much difficulty in doing this, if we think of the Father as dwelling within the Son—as the Lord says He does—as the soul dwells in the body.
Having stated the doctrine that the Humanity glorified, became the Mediator between God and man, let us glance back a moment at some of the steps by which we have reached our present position.
Our Heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being, finding that His children had departed so far from Him, and had done such violence to their own natures that they had excluded Him from all the higher planes of their life, had rendered themselves incapable of receiving life from the Divine as it is in itself, and were on the point of breaking entirely away from Him, and thus of perishing as natural beings even, determined, from His great love for them, to clothe Himself with a nature similar to their own.
He made them, originally, in His own image and likeness, and now that they had lost it, He puts on their image, perverted as it is, that He may draw near to them without destroying them; that he may reach them, and by the action of His own Divine and infinitely perfect life upon that fallen nature, restore it to its original perfection; nay more, make it Divine, and through it, thus exalted to perfect union with Himself, and so modified and adapted to man’s condition that it could operate directly upon him, pour the full tide of His regenerating and life-giving power into man’s soul. This work He accomplished, and this poor fallen nature is now a Divine humanity, having life in itself, and capable of acting in perfect union with His essential nature before the incarnation. And the life which flows through it—call that life by whatever name you please—the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the bread and water of life, or the Lord’s flesh and blood—becomes modified by the humanity, partakes of its Divine and human nature, and, as it falls upon and penetrates man’s soul, spends its whole efficacy in putting off from his nature all that is not homogeneous with itself. It regenerates, recreates us in its own image and likeness, and, consequently, in the likeness of the Divine humanity, and restores to us our lost perfection.
This spirit is not a mere abstract influence. It is substance and form. The glorified humanity says, “He shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you;” that is, He shall receive of my nature, of my character. It is the blood of the Lamb that cleanses us from all sin. “When He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.” It is the water of life, which becomes a well of water, springing up into eternal life in every heart which receives it. It is the bread of life which cometh down from heaven, that man may eat thereof and not die. It is the Divine truth which sanctifies us and fills the understanding with heavenly light. When it has once gained a lodgement in our hearts and begun its work, it is the Lord dwelling in us and we in Him. It is a heavenly, a Divine life, germinating within us. By its instrumentality the Divine life made human dwells in us, as the Father dwells in the humanity which He assumed and glorified. And when its work is fully completed in us, when, by its assistance constantly given, we have laid down our natural evil life, as the Lord laid down His; when we have been born again by the regenerating influences of this Holy Spirit; when we have been created anew into His image and likeness, then we shall become the sons of God; then the Divine humanity will dwell in us as the Father dwells in the humanity. “I in them and thou in Me,” and we shall “all be made perfect in one.”
Now our heavenly Father has once more reached us, and begins to draw us towards Himself. He disperses our enemies. He surrounds us with the sphere of His own life. He lifts us out of the pit, and out of hell itself. He throws wide the prison doors. He opens our eyes; He unstops our ears; He bids us stretch forth our palsied arms. “He makes the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing.”
Is not this redemption by His blood? Is not this reconciliation and salvation? Is not this an atonement? A real coming together, a real unity? It is no mere moral influence theory; it is no satisfaction or governmental theory; it is no disentanglement of merely legal difficulties; it is no contract between three parties who are yet but one; it involves no verbal quibbles, calling men good when they have only been saved from the just desserts of their sins by the punishment of the innocent. The sin itself is forgiven, that is, given up; it is remitted, that is, rejected, cast out from the soul. Man is purged of the corruption of sin by the blood of Christ; for the spirit of truth is that blood which He has shed, is now shedding, and ever will shed for the regeneration and life of men. The Lord’s merits are not transferred to our account, as the merchant transfers accounts in his ledger, but His life is transferred into our souls and becomes our life, not by a legal fiction or any metaphysical subtilty, but by its reception into our wills and understandings, into our thoughts and deeds. It becomes our life, as the bread we eat and the water we drink become the bone and muscle, the flesh and blood, the substance and strength of our material bodies when they are incorporated into our forms.
Having thus endeavored to follow our Lord and Savior in His ascent from the conscious natural presence of men, we are prepared to consider more fully His subsequent relations to the human race.
It is said in the Gospel according to Mark, “So, then, after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” Connecting this statement with another made by the Apostle to the Hebrews, where it is declared of Jesus that “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them,” theologians have drawn the conclusion that the Savior is literally seated on a throne at the right hand of God the Father, where He acts as our advocate with the Father, interceding with Him for sinners, and endeavoring to persuade Him to spare them and forgive them their sins; by which they mean, to remit the penalty due to their sins. There has been a difference of opinion upon the subject, whether He supplicates the Father in words or not, some contending that He does, and others that He does not. Some have held that His mere presence before the Father was sufficient, because it perpetually reminded Him of the sacrifices He had made, and of the rights He had acquired by virtue of them. Some argue that His wounds perpetually bleed, and at the sight of them the Father’s wrath is mitigated.
But this silent presence and obvious evidence of His sufferings are not sufficiently dramatic and effective to satisfy many minds, and he is sometimes represented as standing before the Father, and holding up His hands, and pointing to the wound in His side, and uttering the most moving appeals to induce Him to spare the sinner. This gross conception of the Lord’s mediation has, doubtless, become much modified by the most intelligent minds; but the belief is, no doubt, general in the Christian Church that the Savior does intercede for us with the Father, as a person intercedes with a king or an executive officer for some favor. But this idea of our Lord’s mediation involves many difficulties, not to say absurdities.
It brings before the mind two distinct persons of remarkably diverse character, who are still the same in essence and substance; both have the same ends, and must be actuated by the same motives—are, indeed, one; and yet this intercession and exhibition of suffering are necessary to move the Father to do what He had promised to do, what He desired to do, what He had graciously given His own Son to enable Him to do, and still preserve his consistency of character. Surely it would seem as though there could be no need for mediation or intercession in such a case as this. And, doubtless, it is only the theory that demands it; for what would be the use of a mediator and intercessor if he had no occasion to exercise the functions of his office?
Again: If our Lord ascended to heaven with a material body, heaven must be a material place, for a material body cannot go into a spiritual world. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;” and it would not he a fitting abode for angels and pure spirits, much less for the Father Himself.
Furthermore, how could a being with a material body sit down at the right hand of a spiritual, or of a Divine Being? The doctrines which teach the necessity for this gross, legal mediation, and which declare that all our hopes of salvation rest upon it, even after satisfaction has been fully made, declare, also, that God has neither body, passions, nor parts; and those who accept them consider it derogatory to His infinite nature to attribute to Him any form, much more the human form. How then could the Savior sit at His right hand, if He has no right hand? The literal meaning, then, cannot be the true one, according to the common ideas of it.
Indeed, the prevalent doctrine of our Lord’s present mediatorial work is encumbered with innumerable difficulties, and after all, according to the theory which demands it, there can be no necessity for it. For, according to this theory, a full satisfaction has been made; the demands of the law have been satisfied, and all that the sinner has to do, is to accept pardon on the terms offered. Where is the need of any further intercession? The whole question, so far as regards the Father and Son, is settled. Surely a being of infinite love and wisdom cannot forget His promise; He could need no urging to do what He had formally contracted to do. The very implication that He does, is derogatory to His character. An honest man needs no urging to comply with his contract, even when it is not in his favor; much less, when it is carrying out the very ends he desires to accomplish. How then can it be possible that the Lord needs urging to do what He has entered into the most solemn obligations to do; what He has even given His only Son to enable Him to accomplish, without violating His justice, and still maintain the consistency of His character. Surely there can be no greater absurdity than this. Indeed, I do not see how it can be shown, according to the common doctrine of the atonement, that there was any necessity for a mediator after the demands of the law had been satisfied. And it is generally admitted that the mediatorial office will cease after the judgment, and all human accounts have been settled. The Savior will cease to be our advocate, and become our unrelenting and terrible judge. If He sits at the right hand of the Father, it will only be as an associate judge to receive homage, and award dessert.
But it may be replied, the Bible says, “He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God,” and afterwards Stephen says, “he saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,” and we must believe it. I admit that we ought to believe the Bible; but we ought to know what it means, before we assent to it. We must be sure that we have a correct idea of what is meant by “the right hand of God,” before we draw any doctrines from it, which involve such important consequences, as the one we are now considering.
If we look to other parts of the Word, we shall find that the “right hand” is used as the symbol of power. “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion.” “Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power; thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.” “O God, thou givest me the shield of thy salvation, and thy right hand hath holden me up.” “O God, thy right hand sustaineth me, thou hast a mighty arm; strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.” “The Lord hath sworn by his right hand and by the arm of his strength.” Our Lord Himself said, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power.” “Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit at the right hand of the power of God.” In these and many other passages, the right hand is evidently used as the emblem and instrument of power. All our power over matter is exerted by means of our hands. How perfectly helpless is even the wisest man without hands.
How did the Lord bring His Divine power to bear upon men’s enemies? How did He reach man himself, and lift him up from death? By the humanity He assumed. That became the “arm of His strength.” That was the instrument He used. And having made it Divine, it is now and must be for ever, the “right hand” of His power. The Divine humanity has become the perfect and permanent instrument of His love and wisdom; the instrument with which He brings all His saving power to bear upon men. It is “the arm of His strength.” It is “His right hand.” And when by the Savior we mean the Divine humanity, we can see that the declaration, “He ever liveth to make intercession for us,” is a plain statement of a literal fact, and involves no inconsistencies with the Divine character. It is merely carrying the great purposes of our heavenly Father in assuming our nature into successful accomplishment.
This interpretation of the “right hand,” is also perfectly consistent with the Divine unity. For the Father is not one person and the Son another. The Son is the Divine humanity which invests the Divine essence called the Father as the body invests the soul in man.
It does not involve the necessity of making heaven a material place, or the impossibility of taking a material body into a spiritual world. For, according to the doctrine I have aimed to set forth, all that was material in the human nature was put off. This is evident from the fact that the Lord appeared to the disciples, in a room, when the door was shut, and vanished from their sight, without leaving them in the ordinary way. This shows that material substances formed no obstruction to His passage. His body, even to His flesh and bones, was made Divine. It possessed all the infinite perfections of His essential being before the incarnation. The same analogous change was wrought in the human nature derived from Mary, that would be wrought in the material body of any man, if it could be so purified and perfected in every respect that it acted spontaneously and in perfect harmony with the soul; offering no obstruction to it, and fully carrying out into ultimate effect every desire. In such a state of perfection the body and soul would be one, as the Father and Son are one.
The idea of mediations and intercession, as involved in this doctrine, is not that which exists between one person and another, but that of an instrumentality provided for the accomplishment of some purpose which could not be effected without it. The principle can be illustrated by innumerable things in nature and human life. The magnetic telegraph is perhaps as good as any. Men living remote from each other desire to communicate their thoughts and affections. They cannot do it by the ordinary methods. But there is a messenger which travels almost as swift as thought. It must, however, have a peculiar path. It cannot travel every road. From studying the nature of this magnetic element, men discover that it passes freely through iron, and they stretch threads of it from city to city, and from one side of the continent to the other; and by accumulating this element and concentrating it in powerful forms, it flies with their messages swift as light. The wire is the nerve, the magnetic element the soul, and both together are the mediator, the intercessor, between men remote from each other in space.
So the Divine Humanity is the mediator between God and man. It has restored the connection between the Divine Life and the human soul. Truth is the spiritual nervous thread, and when it is planted in the understanding a station is established in the soul and the Lord begins to send his messages of love and life to it. There is no idea of praying, or pleading, or persuading, or propitiating the Lord to do what He desires to do. The whole plan consists in simply providing the means, a mediation, by which He can accomplish the benign purposes of His infinite love. The Divine humanity is that medium. It intercedes, that is, it goes between the sinner and God—for this is the true meaning of intercede—as the wire intercedes between city and city. Thus it is literally true that Jesus Christ the Divine Humanity “ever liveth to make intercession for us.”
In the light of this truth we can see, also, that the mediator’s office will never cease. The Lord has sat down at the right hand of the power of God. He has become that power, and as a perfect mediator of it, He will for ever transmit it to the angels in heaven, to men upon earth. We have nothing, we never can have any power to think, to love, to enjoy, or to exist, which does not come by His mediation and intercession. Not our salvation only, but our very existence depends upon it. So much farther do the doctrines of the New Church go beyond all other, in what they teach us of the necessity of the Atonement, that they declare we receive not only our salvation from sin, but all the benefits we enjoy, even those of existence itself.
You cannot fail, also, to see the bearings which this doctrine of the Intercession and Mediation of the Lord has upon His relations to man since His ascension, and will have through all coming time. The Divine humanity is the medium by which the Divine life flows down to all below it in the heavens and upon all the earths, in far greater power, and in more specific adaptation to their states, than ever before. All men have come more directly and fully under the power of the Lord than before the Incarnation. The Holy Spirit now flows in fuller tides, and in forms specifically adapted to all human states. Humanity is once more and forever anchored fast to the eternal throne; and no ignorance of men, no storms of human passions, no floods of falsity from hell, can ever overwhelm it in their waves, or cause the bark of human hope to drive from her anchorage. Humanity has begun the assent, and henceforth its path is to grow higher and brighter towards the perfect day.
Salvation through Christ’s death, not by it.
|The death of Christ is the central idea in all the prevalent theories of man’s salvation. It is generally regarded as not only the crowning act of His great work of Redemption, but as the essential thing in it. To the Catholic, the cross has become the emblem of Religion and Salvation, and the Protestant points to Calvary as the place where the full price was paid for his ransom from death. The burden of all religious teaching is the cross of Christ. Those who are inquiring the way to eternal life, are told that they can find it only in the suffering and death of Christ. If they can believe that Christ died for them and thus paid the debt due to Divine justice, and are willing to accept pardon from the Father for the sake of Jesus Christ, it is freely granted them, and their salvation is secured. Thus Christians generally place their hope, and their only hope, of salvation in His death. They look to that; they rest upon that; that is their plea for mercy, and the only plea, they think, that will have any avail with Divine justice. They perpetually remind the Father that the debt, due His justice for their sins, is paid; that they accept the payment as due from them. They claim the promise of acquittal; and they beseech Him, not for their sakes, but for the sake of His suffering, dying Son, to have mercy upon them, and save them from eternal death. And the Savior himself is represented as joining with them in their plea as their great advocate. He holds up His hands pierced with the cruel nails, and points to His wounded side, to move implacable justice to compassion, by a vivid exhibition of His suffering and the greatness of the price He has paid for human souls. If the plea is successful, the Father accepts the satisfaction made by the sufferings and death of the Savior, and freely pardons the sinner.
The idea of suffering and death is the central principle of this whole theory. According to it, our salvation is entirely due to them. They constitute the Lord’s merits and righteousness, which He transfers to our account, and the grounds on which He claims our release from punishment. The Father would not or could not forgive men, until the amount of suffering due to a violated law had been inflicted. The sacrifice must be made. Some victim must be offered. The debt must be paid to the uttermost farthing.
If we acknowledge this theory to be true, which we by no means do, and that it accomplishes the results claimed for it, it still fails in -one essential particular. It only saves men from the penalty of sin; it does not touch the sin itself. It is in no way applicable to it. The Bible everywhere declares, that the Lord came to save men from their sins. Sin is one thing, and its penalties quite a different thing. The distinction is the same as that between disease and the pain it causes. The pain is not anything in itself; it is only an indication of the disease, and is caused by the obstruction the disease opposes to the orderly activities of the soul. The wise physician so regards it. He does not seek to operate directly upon the pain. He looks for the disease and seeks to remove that, knowing the pain will cease with its cause.
It is possible to remove the pain in many cases, by the aid of chloroform and morphine, without removing the disease; but it is only a mere temporary expedient. The disease is not affected by it, and the pain soon returns with increased power. There can be no permanent relief, except by the cure of the disease. So it is with man’s spiritual diseases, his sins. It would be of no permanent service to man to remit the penalty of his sins, while the sin remained. It would not save him from spiritual death. Death is not punishment; it is loss of life. If our Lord, by His sufferings and death, had made the most ample satisfaction to Divine Justice for man’s disobedience, so that, according to the theory, God could be just and remit the penalty due to sin, it would not have removed a single obstacle in his way to heaven; it would not have communicated to him a single truth, or heavenly affection; it would not have contributed in the least to his salvation. He would have remained as dead in trespasses and sins, as he was before the pardon was offered. It would do no more to make angels of men than it would make good honest citizens of all the thieves, robbers, and murderers in our country, to open the prison doors and bid them go free.
Men have fallen into a fatal error, in confounding sin with its penalty. They have mistaken the shadow for the substance, and have constructed theories of the Divine government and of human salvation upon it. Every one desires to be saved from suffering. But how few desire to be saved from sin! Men implore the Divine mercy to save them from the torments of hell; but how few pray to be delivered from the sins which cause the torments. The sins they love. They roll them as sweet morsels under their tongues. To give them up is to give up their life. It is cutting off the right hand, and plucking out the right eye. It is forsaking all, to become His disciples. How many persons, do you think, sincerely and earnestly pray the Lord to forgive their sins, not the penalty, but the sin itself; that is, to assist them in overcoming and removing every selfish and worldly and impure desire? I fear not many. It is so easy to deceive ourselves, and to think we are really desiring to be good, when we are only seeking to escape punishment, and to be happy.
The Lord’s mission upon the earth, His life, and sufferings, and death, had no special and direct reference to saving man from punishment. He did not come to abrogate or evade His own law; he came to fulfill it. In His infinite wisdom He has so formed man, as a spiritual and a material being, that he cannot violate a single law of his organization without suffering the penalty. The penalty is good; it serves a useful purpose, so long as the sin remains. It is just as useful now as it ever was, and it will be just as useful in the spiritual world as it is in this world. He came to save us from sin and death.
This mistaking the penalty of sin for the sin itself has been one of the most mischievous and destructive errors in theology. It has diverted the minds of men from the true object of their attention, and fastened them upon a mere abstraction; upon the shadow instead of the substance. It has led men to fear punishment rather than sin, pain more than disease, and to implore the Lord to save them from imprisonment and death rather than the sins which lead to them. It has taken the whole subject of man’s relations to the Lord out of the established order and harmony of the Divine methods, and substituted a mere legal fiction for it; an abstruse and artificial technicality, which bewilders the mind, outrages the reason, and changes the plain and simple precepts of the Gospel into abstruse and groundless abstractions, and ends by representing the Lord as practically evading His own law, under the pretence of fulfilling it.
If any man will take his Bible, and while reading it keep in mind, that when the Lord says sin, He means sin, and not punishment, and that sin is the inversion and total derangement of his spiritual organization, and not merely evil desires, false opinions and wicked acts; that it is a disease involving the whole spiritual form; a disease which must be cured, or it will result in spiritual death, and forever exclude him from all the delights and joys of spiritual health, which are heavenly peace and blessedness, he will have no difficulty in understanding what he must do to be saved, and why it was necessary to his salvation that the Lord should come into the world, and suffer, and die. The reason is as plain as it is for calling a surgeon when you have broken your bones. Keep your thoughts fixed on sin as sin; as impure, selfish, and worldly affections brought into action, or longing for opportunity to gratify their lusts; and remember that our Lord came to save men from these evil affections, and you will have no more difficulty in understanding what relation His sufferings and death have to your salvation, than you have in understanding what relation the weariness, the painful, and often repulsive labor of those who watch over and minister to you in sickness, have to your recovery.
The Lord could not come into this world and reach humanity without assuming a human nature and a material body. Whenever he had appeared to men before, their spiritual sight was opened, and they saw Him in the spiritual world. That revelation of Himself answered His purpose, at that time, in that state of humanity; but when man had fallen so low that he could not be reached in that way, the Lord could gain no access to him except through the material body; and then He assumed that. And He did it according to His own laws. He came into this world as every soul or spiritual being comes into it. The nature He assumed, however, was imperfect, full of hereditary evils. There were no human natures in this world, at that time, that were not full of evil. Consequently, the humanity assumed from Mary was not a perfect medium between the Divine within and man, and He immediately set about the work of making it a perfect medium.
This human was subject to all the laws that every merely human being is subject to. It needed the same attention and tender care that every infant needs. It learned truth as every child learns it. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” He violated no laws of physical or mental growth. Every step, from His conception to His resurrection, was ordered by infinite wisdom, and taken with direct reference to its bearings upon the great work of redemption. He was always “about His Father’s business.” The assumed nature was always controlled and directed in every particular in the best way to make it a perfect medium of accomplishing the Divine purposes of love to man; to prepare it to become a perfect mediator between God and man.
The life He laid down was not merely the death of the material body for three days. It was the death of every evil tendency in the nature assumed. It was a gradual, and sometimes a most painful, work. It was laid down for us because the Divine could not fully and effectually reach us without it. But it was not the laying down of His life that saved us, though we could not have been saved without it. Our Lord declares the real truth when He says, “Because I live ye shall live also.” His sufferings and death are the merely negative side of His work. They were necessary though incidental effects. They are the most conspicuous and striking part of the work, as the flash and thunder of a cannon are the most conspicuous effects of its discharge, and are so necessary to it, that it cannot be fired without them; and yet they contribute nothing whatever to the effect of the ball. The Lord saved us by coming to us, by ministering to us, by bringing His divine life so near to us that by touching, as it were, the hem of His garment, the garment of flesh, virtue could flow out of Him and heal us. The human nature, when glorified, became the Mediator; it opened up the way by which the only saving power in the universe could reach us.
Now, keeping the real work He accomplished for us, distinctly before us, we can further see in what sense He became a sacrifice for us; how His blood was shed for us, and cleanses us from sin.
The word sacrifice has two meanings. Its original and true meaning is, to make sacred or holy; its common meaning, is the surrender of something that is dear to us, for the good of others, as we sacrifice our time, money, strength, comfort, and life, for others, or for some ideal or real good; our Lord was a sacrifice for us in both these senses. His sufferings and death were a sacrifice for man. Every privation He accepted, every temptation He endured, every pang He suffered, was a sacrifice for us, in the same sense that everything we suffer for others, is a sacrifice for them. He laid down His life for us, or what is the same thing, He sacrificed His life for us. It is also in perfect accordance with the fact, to say that God sacrificed His Son for us, if by God we understand the Divine Being who assumed a human nature, and not a distinct person; and by His Son, the nature assumed. The Divine, the Father, did sacrifice the Human, derived from and born of Mary. He put off, He offered up, He laid down, or utterly destroyed, this merely human and evil life, as the priest sacrificed the animals upon the altar.
But He was not sacrificed instead of us. We were dead already. Humanity had lost all truly spiritual life. It was not for the purpose of making any satisfaction to offended justice, and bearing a penalty due to man, but to do a work necessary to his salvation.
He was also a sacrifice for us in the true sense of the word. It is generally supposed, “that when a person brought an animal to be sacrificed, it implied an acknowledgment that he deserved to be treated as the animal was about to be; that as the animal was to suffer death, so the offerer deserved to suffer damnation. And as he was required by the law to lay his hands upon the head of the victim, this was supposed to imply the transfer of his guilt from himself to the animal; which, therefore, was accepted in his place to appease by its death the anger of God.” As, however, it is palpably evident that the death of an animal is a trifling substitute for the damnation of a human being, it is supposed, after all, that the sacrifice of the animal had nothing to do with the deliverance of the sinner, except as symbolizing the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is regarded as the great victim to whom were transferred, though innocent Himself, the iniquities of the whole human race, or at least of such of them as are saved, and who, in His sufferings on the cross, bore all the punishment which was due to them.
But this is a total misconception of the nature and meaning of the sacrifice in the ceremonial worship of the Jews. The animals sacrificed, represented the affections of the one who offered them, or of the people for whom they were offered. Killing the animal was no part of the sacrifice, but simply a necessary preparation for it. The sacrifice itself is repeatedly declared to be “most holy.” The burnt-offerings and sacrifices represented the entire devotion and consecration of all our affections and thoughts to the Lord. They were offered to him to represent the constant truth, that we ought to love the Lord with all the heart; that we ought to present our affections and thoughts, and as the apostle says, our bodies, as a living sacrifice to the Lord. They implied also the acknowledgment that all our good affections and true thoughts come from the Lord. In a word, they were intended to represent and constantly set forth the eternal truth, that all we have and are, that is good and true, is the Lord’s free gift, and that every spiritual and natural faculty ought to be consecrated to His service, by employing it in the service of humanity; and that we ought to put away and shun, as a sin against God, every evil affection and false principle and wrong act, which in any way hinders this offering of acceptable worship.
In this highest and true sense of the term, our Lord was a sacrifice for us. He declared of His disciples, for their sakes, “I sanctify myself that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” He purged the nature He assumed of every hereditary defilement. He dedicated and consecrated it to the purposes of the Divine law—to the salvation of man. He made it the perfectly pure and fit medium of communicating His Divine life to men. He made it Divine, so that it became the perfect embodiment of His infinite perfections—became one with His essential nature before He came into the world. And now this Divine Humanity ever liveth to make intercession for us. From it we now receive all our power to shun evil and to do good.
It is impossible for us adequately to conceive how entire and perfect this sacrifice was. But we can form a true idea of its nature from an analogous work in ourselves. When we have learned the truth and begin to act from heavenly motives, we find much in ourselves that lies in the way of fully carrying out our principles in every relation of life. There is much in bodily appetites, and natural passions, and evil habits; many things in our relations to others, that tend to obstruct and thwart our purposes. To overcome these evils and falsities, and put them away, requires much labor and painful struggle. But we are determined to make every power and possession sacred to the attainment of the one end. We strive to put away all that opposes it, to train and discipline and bring under perfect control, every faculty, and make it contribute its share of service to the general result.
In this sense our Lord became a sacrifice for us. His sole object in the creation of man, was to make him happy by communicating His own life to him. He had consecrated everything in the universe to this end. Sin interposed and threatened to defeat His purpose of love. Now He sacrifices or makes sacred everything to the removal of sin. He provides Himself with all the means necessary to accomplish His ends, and He sacrifices or makes them sacred to their attainment. He lays down His life, that He may take it again in a form perfectly adapted to defeat the powers of evil, and pour a new tide of life into the dying soul of man. This is the true and perfect sacrifice; and in this as in all other respects, He is our perfect exemplar. He does this to help us to overcome and put away our sins. We must cooperate with Him in His efforts to do this great work in ourselves and in others. He makes all His infinite faculties sacred to our good in the same way, that we must make ours sacred to the good of others and to His GOOD.
But it may be asked, how does this view of the subject agree with the declaration that we are saved by the blood of Christ? that He purchased us with His own blood? that we are “justified,” “propitiated,” “redeemed,” “brought nigh,” and “saved” by His blood ? I answer, that it perfectly harmonizes with it in whatever sense the term “blood” is used.
By the blood of Christ, the apostles generally mean His sufferings and death; and this is doubtless the meaning generally attached to the word by Christians. If we understand it in this sense, we have already explained how we are saved by it. The work He came to do could not be effected without the shedding of His blood. The infirmities or evil tendencies in the humanity He assumed, could not be perfectly put off, and the human nature made Divine, without the entire dissipation of everything that was not perfectly homogeneous with His Divine nature, and this great change could not be effected without His sufferings and death, without the shedding of His blood.
We must understand it in the same sense that we use the words when we say that it is sometimes necessary to die for our country. When enemies attack us with weapons destructive to natural life, we must meet them with the same weapons; and in such a conflict it is impossible to avoid wounds and death; and it is common to say that the country is saved by the blood and death of those who fall in battle. But every one can see that it is not their blood and death that saves their country, but their victory. The country is saved by the wounds and death of their enemies.
Theologians have seen that this is the inevitable result of this reasoning, and some have accepted it, and have held that God regarded Christ as His enemy, and poured upon His innocent head the full measure of the indignation and wrath that was due to the sinner. But, that a Being of infinite love, and wisdom, and truth, could pretend that His son was guilty when He knew He was not; and punish Him as though He were really an infernal rebel against His righteous government, and guilty of all the foul crimes of a perverted and corrupt humanity, when He knew that He was as innocent and spotless from any stain of guilt as Himself, is a doctrine so repugnant to reason, so contrary to every principle of justice, and derogatory to the Divine character, that it would seem to be only necessary to state it, to cause a prompt and indignant rejection.
But the Lord’s blood has another and more important meaning than His sufferings and death, a meaning which avoids all these difficulties, and explains many passages of the Word which otherwise have only a remote and doubtful signification. A comparison between the effects attributed, in the Bible, to the Lord’s blood and to the Divine Truth, will show them to be identical.
I. Blood and truth are both declared to be the instruments of life. Blood bears the same relation to the body, and performs the same offices for it, that truth does for the soul. The Lord says, “the blood is the life of the body.” “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” “Be sure thou eat not the blood, for the blood is the soul or life.” So the Lord says in John, “The words I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” When the young man asked him what he should do to be saved, he replied, “If thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments,” attributing to the commandments or Divine truth the power of giving life. And, again, He declares, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.” Many more passages might be given to the same effect. But these are sufficient to establish the general principle, that blood and truth both refer to life, and in relation to it have the same meaning.
II. Again: Both blood and truth are declared to be the means of conjunction with the Lord. We become united to the Lord, one with Him, by keeping His words, having His words abide in us, by doing His commandments. The same effects are attributed to eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Inasmuch as blood means the same as the Divine truth proceeding from the Lord, and by its reception by man conjunction with the Lord is effected, therefore blood was used to represent and sanction both the old and new covenant, and it is called the blood of the covenant. Covenant means coming together, agreement, conjunction. All covenants between man and man, and between man and the Lord, are effected by truths. The conditions of the covenant are statements of fact or truths, to which both parties assent. When the Lord instituted the Holy Supper He used wine, which has the same representative meaning as blood. “He took the cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood of the New Testament (or covenant) which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Blood is also called the blood of the covenant in Exodus and in many other places. When solemn covenants were made between the Lord and His people, blood in some form was used. And it was used because it represented the truths by which the covenant was made.
III. Many other points might be mentioned in which blood and truth mean the same thing; but I have time to refer to but one, which has a more special bearing upon our subject. Blood and truth are both said to cleanse and sanctify. It was from this signification of blood that it was used in sanctifying those persons and things which related to Divine worship among the Jews. The blood of Jesus Christ, it is said, cleanseth from all sin. The robes of the redeemed, whom John saw, were washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. He also calls upon the seven churches “to give glory and dominion to Him who hath loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.”
Precisely the same effects are attributed to the truth. “Thy word,” says the Psalmist, “is very pure.” The Lord, addressing His disciples, says “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” “Sanctify them through Thy truth. Thy word is truth.” The office of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier, he declares to be to guide men into all truth, thus plainly declaring that blood and truth have the same cleansing and purifying power.
Now, no one supposes that the material blood shed upon the cross cleanses from sin. All persons, whatever may be their doctrine, agree that it is not the blood itself, but what it represents, that saves us. But we are saved by being cleansed from sin; by being cured of our spiritual diseases, and by the application of the Divine life to the dying soul. To have a true knowledge of God, and to live according to His commandments, is eternal life. And our Lord declares that He came to give us this knowledge, and that He is the way, the truth, and the life. If the Lord’s blood represent the Divine truth, you can see how perfectly all that is said concerning it harmonizes with all He says concerning His own mission, and with a rational and Scriptural view of the real work He came to perform, and the means by which that work is effected. The shedding of His blood is not, therefore, an awful penalty rendered to a vengeful justice; it is the pouring out of His truth and life into the understandings of men. It is shedding it, as the sun sheds his light and heat. We can also understand what is meant by drinking His blood, and why we must do it, or we can have no life in us; how we are washed from our sins in His blood, for it is the same declaration that is made in another form when he says, “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.”
There is not a single sentence in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, that is not in perfect harmony with the doctrine of the Lord’s sufferings and death which I have attempted to set forth to you. It implies no contract, no implacable and enraged Deity, no legal technicalities, no division of the Personal Unity of God, no sacrifice of the innocent for the guilty, and consequently no offence against reason; no impossible transfer of righteousness, no vicarious suffering, and no vicarious goodness. Our Father Himself comes down upon the earth, as the Good Shepherd in search of his lost sheep, and He comes in the only way He could come; He endures all the labors that the work demands; He suffers all the temptations and agonies that inhere in the work; He subdues all the enemies that oppose Him; He finds His lost children blind, naked, starved, in prison, diseased, dying, and He opens their eyes; He clothes them, He feeds them with His own flesh and blood—His love and truth; He throws open the prison doors; as the Great Physician, He heals their diseases; the only source of life, He gives them life. Could infinite love do less? Could infinite power do more? How beautiful, harmonious, complete, is this view of the Lord’s sufferings and death; how consistent with itself, with infinite love and wisdom, with human reason, with the wisest and purest love in human hearts, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.”
Salvation through Suffering, Not by It.
|In my last lecture I endeavored to show that Jehovah himself came into the world, and assumed a human nature, for the purpose of saving mankind, that He clothed His Divine with a human nature in order to draw near to man without destroying him; to meet him face to face on the same plane; and that He clothed His Divine arm with an arm of flesh, and thus reached man, and raised him up from the grave of spiritual death to immortal life. I endeavored also to show that He did not come to pay a debt due to inflexible justice, but to do a necessary work; the same in kind he commands us to do for others, though infinitely beyond it in extent and importance. He came to be a light unto the world; to be the way, the truth, and the life of men; to sanctify them through the truth; to save them from their sins, and to give them eternal life.
You will see at once that this view of the Lord’s work of redemption has a most important bearing upon the origin, nature, and necessity of his sufferings. If He came simply to do a work and not to pay a debt, which many suppose could only be paid in the coin of suffering, why did He suffer? If there was no anger to appease, no penalty to pay, where was the necessity for the manger, the obscure and humble life, the opposition and scorn, the trial, the mockings, the scourgings, the crown of thorns, the agony of Gethsemane, the cross, and the sepulchre?
If we can get a true idea of the work He really accomplished, we can hardly fail to see that there was no possible way of avoiding the sorrow, though, strictly speaking, it contributed nothing to our salvation. Let us try to understand what He actually did.
A Being of infinite love, wisdom, order, and purity, assumed a human nature that was utterly perverted. He assumed our fallen nature, as it existed in Mary, and according to our doctrines it was that which is called by the apostles, and in our own writings, the natural man. It was full of hereditary evils. It contained in it the germ of every evil. It was utterly opposite and hostile to the Divine life within, in every respect. It was repugnant to every principle and every form of Divine activity.
This is directly the reverse of the Romanist doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and it may be supposed to imply the belief that the Lord sinned. But it does not. We distinguish carefully between evil and sin. Evil is the tendency only; sin is the voluntary carrying out of the tendency into act. Evil is the germ; sin the ripe fruit. We are all full of hereditary evils, physical, moral, and spiritual. But we are no more to blame for our hereditary moral tendencies than we are for resembling our parents physically; for having blue eyes or a narrow chest, and a tendency to consumption. Our Lord assumed a human, not a Divine nature, and that nature was full of evils.
There is a simple and unanswerable argument in favor of this truth. The apostle says, that “Our Lord was in all points tempted, like as we are, yet without sin.” Now it is impossible for any one to be tempted, unless there is some evil in his nature to appeal to. The Divine could not be tempted, because no evil could seem desirable in any way to Him who has love, order, wisdom, and infinite perfection. If both the taste and effect of intoxicating liquors are repulsive to me, I cannot be tempted to drink them. If I have no love for power and the honor of office, what temptation would there be to me in the offer of all the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them? None whatever. Thus we can see that the Lord could not have been tempted, if there had not been something in the nature which He assumed, some tendencies to evil, which made that, which is evil and false, seem desirable. But there is no sin in being tempted. The sin consists in yielding. That our Lord never did. He always said to the tempter: “Get thee behind me, Satan.” “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” There are other and more interior reasons for belief in the truth, that our Lord assumed a fallen nature, but this is sufficient for our present purpose.
Admitting, then, that the human derived from Mary was infirm, and full of hereditary evil, the origin and real cause of His sufferings become plain. They originated in the conflict between the Divine and the human natures. It was necessary for the Lord to assume a human nature, for there was no other mode of access to man. But this nature was perverted, and through it, all infernal influences gained access to Him, and He gained access to them. They flowed in, and excited all the evil propensities in the nature assumed from Mary, and He combated them from the Divine. The conflict was within Him. It was of the same nature as that which takes place within us, between good and evil principles, only it was immeasurably greater. Every person who sincerely and earnestly endeavors to live a good life, knows that his most terrible sufferings originate in this conflict. His evil desires cry aloud for gratification. But conscience lifts its warning voice, and truth reveals the terrible consequences which must result from their indulgence, and the good struggles against them. Hence the pain. It is not inflicted as a punishment. It is not suffered in payment of a debt, but it follows as a necessary consequence of the effort to put away the evil. The Creator Himself, for the purpose of gaining access to His children, clothes Himself with a nature similar to their own, and thus exposes Himself to the direst conflicts with evil, and suffers all the terrible pangs of the conflict, and He does it solely because the work of redemption can be accomplished in no other way. The suffering is unavoidable, from the nature of the work, and yet it is no part of the work, as I shall show.
How great these sufferings were, we can never know. They surpassed all human comprehension, and all finite power to endure. They did not consist in His humiliation, or in the indignities offered to His person, and the pain inflicted upon him by the Jews. Thousands of men have been treated with more physical cruelty than He was. They have been put upon the rack, and when every fibre had been stretched, every joint wrenched, every nerve tortured to the extreme limit of physical power to bear, medical science has been taxed to keep up the failing powers that the agony might be prolonged as much as possible. Multitudes have endured poverty and privation; have been deserted by every friend; have been mocked, scourged, and crucified, and yet their suffering bore no comparison to the Lord’s.
What the Jews did to his body typified and represented what the whole infernal host strove to do to the Divine itself. He was assaulted with the same fierceness and malignity by all the infernal powers, that the Jews heaped upon His innocent head, and with inconceivably greater strength and fury. Every avenue to the Divine within was thronged with evil forces; every evil desire in the assumed humanity was aroused and excited to the most intense activity, as the Divine flowed down into the infirm human, and sought to put it off and substitute itself in its place.
There is but little said in the gospels concerning our Lord from His infancy until His entrance upon His public ministry. Do you suppose He was idle all this time? That cannot be. Our doctrines teach us that He “was about His Father’s business.” He was subduing all things unto Himself; He was undergoing the most cruel temptations. Every false principle and every evil affection that ever existed in a fallen humanity was awakened and passed through all its stages of progress from its rise to its entire subjection and expulsion. As Jehovah, He was infinite, and He must, therefore, have experienced every state that is possible to all finite beings. He saw every evil and every false principle in all its naked and hideous deformity and fearful consequences, and every evil left its sting. His human nature was subject to all the illusions of a fallacious good; to all the weariness, the doubt, the darkness, the disappointment, the despair that the whole body of humanity has suffered. You never suffered a pang which He did not. All generations, past and future, never did, and never will taste a sorrow which was not concentrated in the bitter cup He drained to the dregs. “He tasted death, for every man.”
When he came into the world the power of sin had culminated and was in the ascendant. Hell had risen up with the infernal hope of destroying heaven and dethroning the Lord Himself, and all its fiery billows dashed against Him. Infernal ingenuity exhausted its illusions and its strength in the attempt to make Him yield. Every natural evil was excited and made to hunger for its indulgence, its bread, and then the fallacious good was offered. Every lust for glory and dominion that ever burned in the heart of men or devils was aroused to its utmost strength, and its gratification promised. “The devil took Him up into an exceeding high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and said, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” But he rejected them all. He fought against them all. He overcame them all. What awful conflicts must have raged within him? What sharp and terrible agonies must have rent His soul! What an inconceivable amount of the intensest pain must have been crowded into the few years He dwelt upon the earth. “Truly He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” In the light of this truth we can see whence originated the bloody sweat and awful agony of Gethsemane, and the despairing cry from Calvary. The death of the material body was nothing. That was not the life He gave for men. The life He laid down was the life of the infirm humanity He assumed from Mary. It was the death of all falsity. It was the utter despair of every evil desire. It was the same death that we must die before we can really begin to live. The glorification of His humanity is the perfect pattern of our regeneration, and renders it possible.
But this view of the Lord’s sufferings not only sets forth His love in the strongest manner, but it magnifies the law, and shows that the difficulty in the way of man’s salvation was not a merely technical or legal difficulty, but a real one, originating in the Divine order, and inhering in the essential nature of man. The common doctrine of vicarious suffering is, practically, only a scheme to evade the penalties of a Divine law while seeming to obey it. It assumes that no law can be maintained without penalties, and that it is of no essential consequence whether the penalty falls upon the transgressor or not, if only the full tale of suffering is inflicted. This implies that the relation between sin and its penalties is entirely arbitrary; but if it is, the supposition is absurd that it was necessary for the Lord to come into the world and endure such extreme suffering to effect man’s salvation. The same arbitrary power that affixed the penalty could have set it aside. But, according to our doctrine, the penalty grows out of the violation, in the same way that pain follows the violation of physical laws. There was, therefore, no way of saving man from the penalty but by saving him from sin; and there was no way of saving him from sin but by bringing the Divine life in direct contact with his diseased nature, and Infinite Wisdom saw no other way of doing that than the one revealed to us in the Gospel. The law, therefore, cannot be set aside or compromised by any substitution or evasion. The original declaration stands as immutable as God Himself. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Sin is death. The Lord came to save us from sin, and therefore from death; and His life, as it is recorded in the gospels, shows us, as clear as the sun in the heavens, that there is no escape from spiritual death but in escaping from sin, in overcoming evil in ourselves. Our path to heaven, like His, lies through self-denial, through a life of devotion to others, through Gethsemane and Calvary.
The doctrines of the New Church also show far more clearly than any others that the Lord suffered for us. According to the prevalent doctrines He suffered for the Father as much, if not more, than He did for us, and there is often added the consideration of His own glory. He suffered, it is said, to satisfy the demands of the law; but, according to our view, he suffered solely for us, not by way of substitution, not because there must he so much suffering for so much sin, but because the Work He had to do involved the suffering. The principle is exactly the same as we see exemplified in human life every day. We suffer for others, not because God has decreed that there shall be so much suffering in the world to indemnify Him for a violated law, and if one endures it another escapes it, but because we cannot help others without it. We labor for them and grow weary; we think for them, we watch over them, and try to protect them from evil with much painful interest. So far as we succeed in lifting their burdens from them, in keeping them in the way of truth and duty, our labor and weariness are not in vain. How much we suffer for our children; how much our parents suffered for us.
If you had been shipwrecked, and were lying upon a desolate shore, dying of hunger and cold, and some dear friend should reach you after incredible labor and pain, bringing you food and clothing; if he should carry you to his own home, and wait upon you with untiring assiduity until you regained your health, you could say with perfect truth that he had suffered for you, and that if he had not suffered, your life could not have been saved. So Christ suffered for us; and if he had not suffered and died no sinner could have been. saved.
And yet His sufferings did not save us. They, contributed nothing essential to our salvation; and those who place their hopes of heaven upon that ground alone will be sorely disappointed. It may seem like a direct contradiction to say that Christ suffered for us; that if he had not suffered no sinner could have been saved, and yet that his sufferings contributed nothing essential to our salvation.
But it is not.
Take another illustration, for I wish to make the principle clear: Suppose, as sometimes happened in the early history of our country, your children had been captured by savages, and carried to some remote place, and enslaved by them. Your parental love leads you to follow them and strive to rescue them. You leave your comfortable and pleasant home; you convert, it may be, all your property into money, that you may not want the means to purchase or bribe every necessary power to aid you; you travel over steep and rugged mountains, and through pathless woods; you cross dangerous streams; you endure hunger and cold; you sink down, exhausted with the fatigue of the search; you rise up again and brave every danger; you fight many battles with wild beasts and more ferocious savages; you sacrifice everything you possess, and, in the end, your labors and sacrifices are crowned with success. You find your children, and with desperate energy you smite their captors and rescue them from their power, and return with them to your home. But your strength is wasted, your constitution is broken, and you never recover from the diseases caused by your exposure and fatigue. Now, what saved your children? Was it the fatigue, and hunger, and cold, and the terrible suffering of that long march, and your many furious conflicts with the savage captors of your children? Not in the least. Suppose you could have made the journey without any fatigue; suppose you could have overcome every obstacle and every enemy without any exposure or pain. Would you not have saved your children as effectually, as you did with so much suffering? But man is so constituted that he cannot undergo such hardships and unnatural exposure without pain and terrible suffering. The suffering is therefore necessary. The children cannot be saved without it, and yet you can see that it contributes nothing to their rescue.
So it was with our Heavenly Father; His children had been seized by a savage foe, and carried into a hopeless bondage. Their eyes had been put out, and all their spiritual powers had been paralyzed, and they were on the verge of death. He had made every effort to save them; He had sent letters and messengers to tell them how they might escape and find their way home, but all His efforts were of no avail. Finally, he goes Himself. He employs the only possible means of reaching them. He endures inconceivable agonies; lays down his life for them, and thus effects their ransom. Was it His sufferings, or His reaching them with His omnipotent arm, clothed with flesh, that saved them? There can be but one answer. His sufferings did not conduce in the least to the effect, but salvation was not possible without them.
It is very natural to say that we are assisted or saved by the sufferings of those who give their strength and lives for us. They are the first and most prominent things that strike us, but it is only an apparent truth; and when we construct theories of the Divine character and motives and methods of operation upon these appearances, they lead us as far astray as it would to form our theories of the universe upon the appearances of the heavenly bodies. The constant and eternal truth is, that we are helped or saved by others only by what they do for us; the assistance and life they bring to us.
The doctrines of the New Church do not therefore diminish, in the least, the merits of the Lord in effecting our salvation, but rather magnify and place them in a clearer light, and trace them to their true cause. They teach as explicitly as words can express a truth, that the Lord became a sacrifice for us, and they teach how He became one. He was not sacrificed by the Father, as a substituted offering. He sacrificed Himself. “I lay down my life for the sheep,” He says; “No man taketh it from Me. I lay it down of myself.” The sacrifice did not save -us, but He never could have reached us without making it. While our doctrines admit, to the fullest extent, all that the scriptures teach concerning the greatness of His sufferings and the absolute necessity for them, and the effect a true knowledge of their nature and cause must have upon the heart, when they are correctly understood, they avoid all the difficulties which attend the theory of vicarious sufferings; of a transfer of character, and a substituted righteousness. They preserve intact the Divine unity. God Himself came; the nature He assumed was called the Son. He glorified it, at the expense of inconceivable agonies; His love, His Divine, infinite, all-pitying love for man, moved Him to do it. He rescued us from inevitable death; He poured His life into the heart of humanity, and now He heals all our spiritual diseases, when we obey His prescriptions. His life becomes our life when we voluntarily receive it. He saves us from our sins, and consequently from their penalty. His righteousness becomes our righteousness, when we receive His truth into our understandings and life, as the sun’s light becomes our light when we open our eyes to its reception. He dwells in us, and we become one with Him, and partakers of His own peace and blessedness, so far, and only so far as we love Him. Thus we have a doctrine of salvation in perfect harmony with the Divine Unity, the Divine love and wisdom, with inflexible justice, with the whole tenor of Scripture, and with the demands of enlightened reason; a doctrine which reconciles all contradictions, and justifies the ways of God to man.
The Incarnation; Its Nature and Necessity
|“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke ii. 10, 11.)
In these few and simple words, the angel of the Lord announced to the shepherds upon the plains of Bethlehem, the most important event in the history of humanity. It marks the lowest depth of the descent of the human race from the innocence of its infancy, and the point where its ascent began. By the coming of the Lord, a new element of life was infused into the hearts of men; a new truth was introduced and became established in human history, which was to be a sun in the spiritual night, growing brighter and brighter unto the perfect day; a central truth which was to be the source of all truth; the standard of all genuine excellence, and the sure guide to its attainment. A fountain of living waters was opened in the scorched and blasted heart of humanity, which was to become a well of water springing up unto eternal life.
The first question that naturally arises is: Who was incarnated?—who came into the world? The angel said, He was “Christ the Lord.” Our doctrines declare that the Being who is called in the Old Testament, Jehovah, The I Am, The Holy One of Israel, The God of Jacob, was the person who was incarnated. This is affirmed in so many passages in the Bible, both directly in the most explicit terms, and indirectly by necessary inference, that it would occupy the whole time of my lecture to repeat them. I can do but little more than refer to the various classes of texts, which declare this.
1. The declaration is repeatedly made in the most solemn manner, that there is only one God. “The first of all the commandments is, The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Mark xii. 29, 30.) “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” (Deut. vi. 4, 5.) “I am Jehovah, and there is None Else; there is no God beside Me.” (Isaiah xlv. 5, 6.) “Is there a God beside Me? Yea there is no God. I know not any.” (Isaiah xliv. 8.) “Who is God save Jehovah, or who is a Rock save our God?” (Psalm xviii. 31.)
2. The same Being is repeatedly declared to be the only Redeemer and Savior. “I am Jehovah, thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior.” (Isaiah xliii. 1, 3.) “And all flesh shall know that I, Jehovah, am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Isaiah lx. 16.) “As for our Redeemer, Jehovah of Hosts is His name, the Holy One of Israel. I am Jehovah, and besides Me there is no Savior. I am Jehovah thy God; there is no Savior besides Me.” (Hosea xiii. 4.) These are only a few passages of the same import. Language cannot affirm a truth in plainer and more forcible terms than is affirmed in these passages, that the Being called Jehovah is the only Savior, that there is none beside Him.
3. In other places, as if to avoid all possible grounds for mistake, Jehovah is declared to be the person who was to come, and who did come to save men. “And it shall be said in that day: Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is Jehovah: we have waited for Him; we will be glad, and rejoice in His salvation.” (Isaiah xxv. 9.) “The voice of Him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. And the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. Behold the Lord Jehovah will come with a strong hand, and his arm shall rule for Him.” (Isaiah xlix. 3, 5.). “Jehovah shall go forth and fight against those nations, and His feet shall stand, in that day, upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem.” (Zech. xiv. 3, 4.) In other places the Savior is called Jehovah our Righteousness, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, who is and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. There is no more difficulty in identifying Jehovah of the Old Testament and Jesus Christ of the New as the same person, the same Being, than there is in proving that a man who has held various offices and sustained various relations to others is the same man through all his changes.
The person or Being, then, who is called Jehovah, God, the Holy One of Israel, is the only Redeemer, the only Savior. There is no other. He promises to come into this world. He declares that His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives; and, after His coming, He declares that He has come, that He was before Abraham; that He came down from heaven; that He was the Creator of all things; that He came to be a Savior, and was a Savior, and the only Savior. To the question: Who came into the world?—who was incarnated? the Bible answers, Jehovah, the only God of heaven and earth.
Our next question naturally is, Why was it necessary for him, that he might become a Savior, to come into this world and suffer and die?
There have been various answers to this question. The one commonly given is, in substance, this: Man had sinned and exposed himself to the penalties of a violated law. God had declared that He would punish sin, and He must do it, to maintain His own integrity and the honor of his government. But if the punishment was actually inflicted upon the sinner, he must be subject to eternal torment. Here, then, was a conflict between the Divine Mercy and justice. In this exigency the Son of God, the Second Person in the Trinity, offered to take upon Himself the punishment due to man. Thus, the demands of justice could be satisfied, the law could be sustained, and yet man could be saved. This offer was accepted by the Father. But in order to receive the full measure of the punishment due to the sinner, it was necessary that he should undergo the humiliation of coming into this world, of suffering every indignity, and, finally, that He should be condemned and crucified. Thus He bore the punishment of our sins; “He was wounded for our transgression, and by His stripes we are healed.” Now the demands of the law are satisfied. God can be just, and yet forgive the sinner. By giving up His only Son to an ignominious and cruel death, He shows His inflexible determination to inflict upon some one the penalty due to sin, and sets forth His love for man in making so great a sacrifice for him. Now, too, the sinner can be saved by accepting the sacrifice Christ has made for him. Consequently, he prays the Father to forgive him for Christ’s sake, and if he sincerely repents, and heartily believes in the Savior, His merits are imputed to him and he is saved.
There have always been, in the minds of intelligent and sincere Christians, many difficulties resulting from this doctrine, and thousands of volumes have been written to explain them away. In considering the subject at the present time, it seems proper for us to mention some of them, that we may see more clearly, that while the doctrines of the New Church teach the absolute necessity of the Lord’s coming into the world, to human salvation, they obviate many of the difficulties and contradictions involved in the doctrine commonly received.
1. It is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile this doctrine with the Divine Unity. Two distinct beings are necessarily implied—beings of quite different if not opposite characters. If they are the same, and have the same character, the Son ought to demand justice as well as the Father. Both are creators, both are lawgivers, both have been offended, and if the justice of the one demands satisfaction, why does not the justice of the other? If one was willing to suffer, why was not the other also? Or, if it was necessary for one to suffer, why was it not just as necessary for the other? While, therefore, the theory necessitates two persons to give it any color of truth, and thus destroys the unity of God, it avoids no difficulties, but rather increases them.
2. Again: According to this doctrine the being called Jehovah, in the Old Testament, did not come into the world. He sent his Son. It was the Second Person in the Trinity, therefore, who came, and who is the Savior and Redeemer, and the only Savior. But this is directly contrary to the most explicit and oft-repeated declarations of Scripture. Jehovah declares that He is the only Savior, that there is no other beside Him. Neither does He fulfill His promise, that He will come and save men. He does not come; He sends some one else.
3. But waiving all these objections, and supposing the plan to be carried out according to the doctrine, does it really accomplish the end for which it was instituted? Does it satisfy the demands of justice? Is it just that the innocent should suffer for the guilty, even if, from their compassionate nature, they are willing to do it? You would not admit the doctrine for a moment in the government of your own family, or in the administration of justice in the state. You make a law for the government of your children, and affix a penalty to it. Let it be a certain number of stripes, for example. A rude, thoughtless, headstrong boy violates it, and when you are about to inflict the punishment, your beautiful and innocent daughter begs you to spare the offender and lay the blows upon her. Would you do it? Would there be any justice in the substitution? Or suppose a man has been guilty of murder, and when he is about to suffer the penalty some innocent and compassionate person steps forward and offers to be hung in the murderer’s place. If you were a judge or an executive officer, would you accept the substitute and let the guilty go free? If it was a debt in which only a certain sum of money was involved, such substitution would be accepted, though there might be no justice in it. All that is really demanded is paid.
This idea of debt seems to be such a happy solution of this whole question, that many persons have accepted it as an illustration of the relation of the sinner to the Lord. By sin man had incurred a debt which he could never pay. He had sinned against an infinite Being, and had thereby incurred an infinite debt, and he was about to be cast into the great prison-house of the universe, with no hope of release until he had paid the uttermost farthing. In this critical juncture the Savior steps in and says, “I will pay the debt; you demand an infinite price, and I will pay it,” and He gives Himself. He suffers all that the whole world of sinners would have suffered, and thus he purchases their pardon. Now God can freely forgive them, since the demands of His justice are satisfied.
But this scheme only avoids one difficulty to meet many greater ones. Think for a moment of the light in which it represents the Divine character. The Lord demands so much suffering for so much sin. It is no matter who suffers, so that the exact amount is inflicted. When the penalty is paid He will be merciful and forgive the debt. What mercy or generosity is there in that? When I am paid to the uttermost farthing all that is due to me, I will freely forego my claim! What kind of compassion, what kind of generosity does this show?
But the illustration does not apply. The law is; “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” In all offences against government, civil or moral, the debtor must pay the debt. The relation is not one of contract, according to which one party is paid an equivalent for some good, or receives damages for some loss. The law not only requires the penalty, but the whole force and intent of the law is evaded unless the one who breaks the law pays the penalty.
The Lord’s justice is not, therefore, eminently set forth in this way. But on the contrary, it makes him the most unjust Being in the universe. It represents him as violating the first principles of justice in His efforts to obtain it—of violating His own law for the purpose of maintaining its sanctions.
But this doctrine involves a still greater difficulty than this. It implies the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. The Lord consents to regard sinners as holy on the Savior’s account, for His sake. Now, if we know anything, we know that there can be no such transfer of character; no transfer whatever. It is impossible in the nature of things; it is a violation of all the laws of the human mind. A man’s character is the total result of his will and understanding; of his affections and thoughts. It is really the man himself; that which constitutes his identity and distinguishes him from all others. It is as impossible to give our character to others, as it is to give our strength or health, our complexion and features. We can assist others with our strength, our knowledge, our affections. But when we do it, the merit is not theirs; it is ours. We can love others with a sincere, devoted affection. We can suffer for them, and save them from much suffering, but not in the way of penalty for their sins. The Savior is infinitely perfect and powerful; but He can make no legal transfer of His perfection. The Lord might as well regard us as infinitely wise and perfect for Christ’s sake, as regard us as holy and righteous. The principle strikes at the foundation of all righteousness; levels all moral distinctions; dissolves all the inherent connection between sin and its penalty, and makes the Divine laws the dictates of a merely arbitrary power, without any essential order, and thus destroys all necessity for an atonement; for the same arbitrary power could as easily forgive the penalty without any satisfaction as with it. The whole theory is encumbered with innumerable difficulties, and when carried out to its legitimate conclusions, it destroys all justice, all relation between right and wrong, renders the real unity of God impossible, and so arrays scripture against scripture, that there is no possibility of reconciling its various declarations; and does not, after all, show the real necessity for the coming of the Lord.
There is another view, held by many Unitarians, which regards our Lord as a teacher and an example only. He was, indeed, so thoroughly penetrated and imbued with the Divine life, that He is God’s representative and image, and stands before men as their highest idea of the Divine. This doctrine necessarily implies that our relations to God are external, the same in principle as those of one man to another. Man’s salvation, according to this theory, was effected by giving him a more perfect example, and a better teacher.
But all the results, demanded by both of these theories, could have been accomplished without the incarnation of a Divine being. If a certain amount of suffering was the essential thing, that could have been inflicted in the spiritual world as well, and according to common ideas, much better, than in this world. If a teacher and example were all that man’s lost condition required, that want could surely have been supplied without such a stupendous miracle, as the clothing of a Divine or even a celestial being with a human nature.
But whether the Incarnation was necessary to secure the requisite degree of humiliation and suffering to satisfy the demands of justice, or to provide an example and teacher sufficiently perfect or not, the radical question of sin, of man’s lost and dying condition, is not touched by either doctrine. If your child, contrary to your commands, has rushed into danger, led away by some illusion or passion, and has broken his bones, the question of how much punishment he deserves, or how it shall be inflicted, or what better example and instruction he needs, will not mend his bones; nor would breaking the bones of another child heal his. The question is a very simple and practical one. The child must be taken up and carried to his home, a surgeon must be procured, and he must do his work. It is not a question of law, but of surgical skill and practical help. So it is with man. When all the legal questions are settled and the perfect examples provided, man still lies as dead in trespasses and sins as before. The real difficulty is not reached; and it cannot be shown that either theory has any necessary relation to it. They do not touch the essential question, but are, themselves, encumbered with innumerable difficulties and contradictions.
The doctrines of the New Church place the necessity for the Lord’s descent upon earth upon entirely different grounds. We cannot understand the subject, however, unless we can gain a correct idea of the actual relation that exists between man and the Lord. For if we do not know that, we do not know what we are talking about; our theories have relation to nothing, and it is as absurd to theorize, as it would be for a pretended physician to prescribe for a disease when he knew nothing about the nature of physical life. Our first step, then, must consist in learning the true relations of man to the Lord.
Our doctrines set out with the central truth, that all life and power emanate from the Lord, as a perpetual and constant cause. The creation of the material universe or of human beings is not a fiat, the effect of a spoken word. They are a perpetual emanation; a birth; a flowing forth. The Lord creates all things from Himself. All substances material, spiritual, and Divine, flow from Him as a perpetual cause. The universe was not once created and assigned over to the keeping of certain laws, and then essentially disconnected from the Lord. The cause perpetually operates. The power that makes a rock or metal to be what it is, continually operates upon it. If it should cease for a moment, the rock would lose its form. We know this from our own observation. We can destroy the attraction of cohesion in a metal, by the application of heat, and dissipate it. Material bodies have no more power in themselves to maintain their form than they had to create it. All spiritual and natural life is a continual gift from the Lord. We have no inherent independent power to will or think, to feel or act, or exist. All our power, in every plane of life, is an everflowing gift from the Lord. Your power to come here this evening, mine to speak and yours to listen, is as much the Lord’s gift to us as though it was given now for the first time. All power of existence and action is the Lord’s power in us. “In Him we live and move, and have our being.”
Our life comes from the Lord, relatively the same as light and heat from the sun. They are not once created, and then remain. They are continually created. If the lights that now illuminate this room were put out, the light that is in it would not remain. It is a perpetual creation. If the sun was destroyed, the light that is now in the universe would not remain in it; and all the planets would not only be involved in darkness, but would perish; for those magnetic and other subtile forces and substances, which mediately create and hold in existence the various material forms, have their constant source in the sun, and would cease to operate; and as a material object has no more power to retain its form and existence than it has to create itself, the material universe must cease to exist with the cause which produces it.
In the same way, the mind and the body also are a perpetual creation from the Lord. Man is an organic form, created by the Lord to receive life from him, and to be made happy by its reception and according to it. The will is an organic form, and the inflow of the Divine life into it causes love and the affections in their various degrees and forms. The understanding is also an organic form, and the inflow of the Divine wisdom into it gives us the power to reason, to know, and to think; gives us all our intellectual faculties. Our spiritual, moral, and intellectual powers are given to us in the same way, and according to the same law, that all our powers of natural sensation are.
The eye is an organic form, and when the light flows into it we can see. This is the method Infinite Wisdom has adopted to give us light. The ear is an organic form, but very different in its nature from the eye, because it is to be operated upon by a different element from the light. The ether is the form of life which flows from without into the eye; the air is the form it assumes when it flows into the ear and the lungs; the odor of flowers, and the savor of fruits and meats, are the forms it assumes when it flows into the senses of smell and taste.
If you will lay aside all theories and doctrines for a moment, and look at the material body as it is, you will see that it is an organic form, perfectly fitted to be operated upon by the soul within and the material world without, to receive life from the Lord through them, in various ways and degrees. It has no life which it does not continually receive. The moment the light ceases to flow into the eye all power of seeing is lost. The sound dies away in the ear when the air ceases to vibrate and fall upon it. The whole body loses all its life as soon as the spirit leaves it. In the same way the soul, which is a spiritual organism, has no life in itself, and receives it as an everflowing gift from the Lord.
Man was so created by The Lord that he could receive life from Him in a great variety of forms, spiritual and natural, and act in perfect harmony with the inflowing life. When His life flowed into the will, it caused the emotion of love to the Lord and to man. When the Divine wisdom flowed into the understanding, as light flows into the eye, it gave him a perfect knowledge; a perception of the significance of the true relations to himself and to the Lord, of everything which was the object of his observation and thought. Before the fall, all knowledge was gained by intuition, as the knowledge of the whole animal kingdom now is. As the Lord’s love flowed into man’s will, and His wisdom into his understanding, and thence down into his affections and thoughts, and thence into his outward senses and acts, it communicated to every organ its appropriate delight, and man’s whole being and form, in every plane and degree, and least organ, from his inmost will to his lowest senses, was an embodied joy. Every special form received its own delight; all forms vibrated in unison, and like a vast instrument, flowed together in perfect harmony. Man lived, and loved, and thought, and acted according to the truth; according to the Divine laws; for those laws were embodied in his form and organization, and in his relations to the Lord. They were not written on parchment or tables of stone, but in his members, in his book of life. Man stood midway between the Lord and the lowest material forms, and all things, from all worlds, flowed towards him, and found their centre in him; and he found delight and peace in receiving from all and giving to all.
From this state of perfection, which consisted in a loving obedience to all Divine laws, man fell. In what did this fall consist? In the violation of an external and arbitrary law? In eating an apple which the Lord had forbidden him to eat? No, that cannot be. The eating of forbidden fruit may symbolize the real process of his decline from perfection; but the mere outward act could not constitute it. His sin consisted in the violation of the Divine laws written in his spiritual organization. The principle is the same as that which is involved in the violation of the laws of physical life written in the body.
When a man eats too much of any food, however wholesome it may be, he eats forbidden fruit; when he violates any law of health he eats fruit forbidden by those laws, which are Divine laws, written in his organization; and he cannot violate them without dying to the exact extent of their violation. Man’s sin consisted in departing from the laws of spiritual life, and consequently he began to die. Death followed as an inevitable consequence, and not from an arbitrary infliction of the Divine vengeance. The Lord did not change. His love did not turn to hatred. Man changed, and because he began to suffer pain, he attributed it to the Lord. He knew he had received all his joys from the Lord, and he could not be made to understand that he did not receive the pain which was caused by his sins, from Him also. This is the reason the Lord is represented as angry, in the Bible. It was an apparent truth, and is the highest man could then be made to understand. But the real truth is, that the Lord did not change from love to hate; the only change was in man.
The fall was not a sudden one, caused by one act; it was a gradual declension, and according to the doctrines of the New Church, was not fully completed until the Lord came into the world. No one becomes suddenly evil from a state of perfect goodness; the movements of the race are slow, and extend through many generations. Man continued to decline, and an organic change was gradually effected in his spiritual nature. He could no longer receive the Divine Life in its true order. It tormented him instead of giving him delight, and his nature closed against it, as the inflamed eye closes against the light, or an excited nerve shrinks from the slightest contact.
The Lord never deserted man in his descent. He followed him every step of the way, and did for him all He could according to his state. When man had departed so far from the Lord, that he could not be restrained and led to heaven by influences operating from within, the Lord gave him an external law, written upon tables of stone, and permitted him to have a sacrificial worship, which only represented a spiritual and genuine worship, because this was the highest idea of the Divine character of which man was capable. But still man continued to have less and less of spiritual life. “He killed the prophets and stoned those that were sent unto him.” And he had made even “the Divine commandments of none effect by his traditions.” The Lord declares that He had done all He could for His vineyard.
While this process of declension had been going on, another difficulty in the way of man’s salvation had been continually increasing. As generation after generation passed into the spiritual world, there was a vast accumulation of spiritual beings, who were constantly operating upon the minds of those who were living in this world. Spirits of a character similar to man’s had therefore so entirely surrounded him, on the spiritual side of his nature, that they had interposed between him and the Lord, like clouds between the earth and sun, and the Lord could not reach him. These evil spirits had begun to take bodily possession of men, many instances of which are given in the New Testament, and to drive them about at their will; and if the same influences had been allowed to increase much longer, they would have destroyed man from the face of the earth.
Man was in this fearful condition, then. He had so closed all the most interior and spiritual forms of his mind by sin, by willing and acting against the laws of his own being, that he could no longer receive life immediately from the Lord. Evil spirits had so accumulated around him that he could not receive anything good and true directly from the
In perfect accordance with this view, we find our Lord repeatedly declaring that He came into this world to bring light and life down to men; to show the Father, or to manifest the Divine life to them; to seek and save the lost; to save men from their sins. There is much also said in the Bible about His tenderness and care to adapt His truth and power to men’s capacities. “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench.” “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd. He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” Our Lord also declared to His disciples, “I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” The Scriptures abound in testimony to the same truth, which is also in perfect accordance with reason. For if the Lord is a being of infinite love and wisdom, and made man to be a recipient of His life, how could He fail to adapt that life to him in all states, the lowest as well as the highest? Both scripture and reason, therefore, lead us to the same conclusion as the doctrines of the New Church. They all declare that the Lord assumed a human nature, because His relations to man, as the perpetual source of his life, were such that He could reach him and save him in no other way.
Before the Fall, when man was perfect, the Lord governed him from within. The higher faculties always controlled the lower. The human will was in perfect harmony with the Divine will, and obedient to it. The will controlled the reason, and the reason the thoughts, speech, and actions. Thus the whole man, from his most interior volitions to the lowest sense, was under the perfect control and guidance of the Lord; and human life flowed in perfect harmony with the Divine life. Man had no more necessity for any outward law to teach him his duty, than the fish has to teach it how to swim, or the bird to fly, and what food is wholesome and good for it. He was a law unto himself. All his faculties flowed in the currents of the Divine order. It was not necessary that the Lord should act directly upon the senses and the lowest degrees of life. Every impulse communicated to the will was conveyed to every faculty. And now, if we can control a man’s will, we can control his thoughts and actions. Hit a man in the heart, and you hit him all over.
But when the higher degrees of the mind were closed against the Lord, and the lower began to rule over the higher, as they now do, the Lord could only reach man by an outward way; He must operate upon the senses and the natural mind, and open the way to his understanding and heart through them. But mere will and thought cannot act directly upon the senses. The affection and thought must come down to the level of the senses, and clothe themselves in sensuous and material forms. We are compelled to do that in our intercourse with each other; must not the Lord do it, also? Observe, it is not any lack of power in the Lord to give, but in us to receive. The Lord lost no power by our declension.
That man was in this condition when the Lord came into the world, observation, history, reason, and the Bible abundantly testify. Man was spiritually blind, deaf, lame, palsied, dead to the truth. To reach him, the Lord must adapt Himself to man’s state. You cannot instruct or guide a blind man by the eye or gesture. You cannot teach a deaf man by sound; you cannot warn him of any danger or direct him to any good by voice. You can only control and guide him by the sense of touch. You must come close to him; you must take him by the hand and lead him, and if he will not be led, but bursts away from you, he must go to destruction. Is there any other way of reaching him? Is there any other hope for him?
Now, if man was spiritually blind and deaf, as the Bible says he was, how could the Lord save him in any other way than by coming to him, in a form adapted to his state. To say that He has omnipotence, does not remove the difficulty. It is not the want of sufficient power, but of power adapted to the end for which it is to be exerted. A man may have sufficient power of will and intellect to accomplish the most important results, but his material body may be so feeble that he cannot even raise his hand. His mental power, therefore, is of no avail for that specific purpose, because it cannot be applied to it.
The whole subject is capable of illustration, by many things in nature and in human life. It is a well-known fact, that it is intensely cold on the tops of high mountains, and that the cold increases as we ascend. The reason is not that there is less heat, or less of those activities which cause heat, whatever they may be, but it is owing to the rarity of the atmosphere. The calorific element is so subtile, that it flows through gross material objects without affecting them, for it meets with no obstruction. It must be clothed with a denser medium like the atmosphere, and the atmosphere itself must be dense as it is near the surface of the earth, before it can sensibly affect the human body, or other material objects. Unless the pure element of heat was so clothed with a grosser form, the earth would be desolate and bare of all vegetable and animal life, though revolving in the ocean of pure solar fire and light.
Now suppose this to be the state of the earth, and the question arises, how can it be made habitable for plant, animal, and man? Must the sun give forth an intenser heat and a more brilliant light? No. It must clothe its heat, which is the life of all material things, in a grosser element; it must come down from its essential purity, and adapt itself to the nature of the objects it desires to act upon. Is it not so? In the same analogous manner the Lord veiled the brightness of His glory, and the intense ardor of His love, in a natural and even material form, that He might adapt them to the end He desired to accomplish. It was no lack of Divine love or Divine power; it was human power, the power to act directly upon man’s senses, that was needed. The Lord did not need propitiating. Man had become separated from the Lord, and he needed reconciling, atoning, to be at one with Him again; and to accomplish this end, a medium or a mediator was necessary, a bridge to span this gulf between man and the Lord; and that medium must be a human nature investing the Divine, touching the Divine Life on one side, and human life in its most sensuous and material forms, on the other side. Such a nature Jehovah assumed, and by means of it, reestablished a direct communication between Himself and man, and brought His saving, life-giving power to bear upon him.
Such, briefly, were the real relations of man to the Lord, and out of them grew the necessity for the incarnation. With a correct knowledge of these relations, the whole process of redemption and salvation lies clear before us. Man was like a branch severed from a vine, or united to it only by a mere external, by some filaments of bark, as it were. By the assumption of a human nature, the Lord formed a medium by which the connection between the branch and the true vine could be restored; by which the branch could abide in the vine and the vine in the branch, and the vital forces of the root and trunk could flow into the branch, purge it of its death—its sins—and cause it to bring forth more fruit.
Having ascertained the real relations of man to the Lord, and found what man really needed, we are prepared to see the essential difference between the doctrines of the New Church, on the subject of the Incarnation, and those which are generally received in the, so-called, Evangelical Churches.
I. The doctrines of the New Church teach us, that Jehovah Himself came into the world, moved by His own infinite love, and in the way provided by His infinite wisdom, for the sole purpose of saving His children. His human nature was begotten by His divine nature, and, therefore, they bear the relation to each other of Father and son. But yet they are one being, one person, and one Lord. In the motives which led to the incarnation, and in every step taken in its accomplishment, we see unity of purpose, unity of method, and unity of person. Our doctrines demand but one Lord, and one name.
The common doctrine begins by dividing the Divine being into two persons, one of whom is the embodiment of inflexible justice, and demands punishment for man’s disobedience to the uttermost farthing; the other is all mercy, and is willing to endure any indignity or any suffering to save man from the punishment due to his sins. This doctrine, practically, makes two distinct beings of equal power, dignity, and substance, who are really unlike in character, office, and ends, and yet they are only one; teaching the lips to say one when the mind conceives two. It confuses and distracts the mind, and runs into contradictions against the plain teachings of the Bible and reason; and, when carried out to its legitimate conclusions, contradicts itself. It requires the most skilful and agile metaphysician to defend it, and the greatest ability to say one thing and mean another, and the most remarkable facility in forgetting one side of the question while the other is advocated. The inevitable result is an acknowledgment that it is a great mystery, and must be received as a matter of faith.
II. The prevalent doctrine teaches that the Lord suffered in our stead to satisfy the demands of Divine justice. One person in the Trinity suffered to satisfy the demands of another, and the sufferings of the Son were accepted by the Father as a substitution for the punishment of the sinner. The Father lets the sinner go free on certain conditions, not because he is free from sin, but because someone else has paid his debt. This involves a principle directly contrary to all our ideas of justice. It would not be admitted in any court or civil government in the world. It is also directly contrary to what the Lord declares to be just. “The son,” He says, “shall not bear the iniquities of the father. The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” The motives, also, which these doctrines attribute to the Lord in claiming so much suffering for so much sin, and His unrelenting demand for punishment because we have broken His law, are directly contrary to what he teaches us, to be just and good. He commands us to return good for evil; to forgive those who offend us “seventy times seven;” not if they make a full equivalent for the injury, but simply upon their saying, “I repent.” The doctrine of an inflexible demand for punishment, or that justice which consists in giving “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” is contrary to reason, to the general tenor of scripture, and the explicit declarations of the Lord.
III. Our doctrines teach us that the Lord came to take away our sins. They direct us to fasten our whole thought and attention upon the sin, and never confound it with the punishment. They teach us to shun all evils, as sins against God, and not because they entail punishment; to pray to be saved from the penalty while we cherish the sin is hypocrisy, and can have no avail with the Lord.
On the contrary, the doctrine of the Christian Church looks primarily to the penalty; when it says sin it means punishment. This is the legitimate result of the whole theory; and it is a most fatal mistake, for it leads men to believe that they can be saved from mere mercy, and that salvation consists, essentially, in the Lord’s consent to remit the penalty of sin; that repentance consists really in being sorry that we are going to be damned, rather than that we have acted against so much goodness.
IV. Finally, the doctrines of the New Church show clearly what relation the Lord’s coming into the world has to man’s salvation, and how it effects it; while the other, according to the confession of its most celebrated expounders, does not give us any clear light upon the central truth, which is the key to the whole scheme. After all its reasonings and learning, and the efforts of its learned men, extending over many generations, to construct a logical and rational scheme of salvation, the result is irreconcilable contradictions, and the mournful confession that we cannot see how it effects its object.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Lord has given us a perfect picture of his relations to the sinner. The “certain man” represents the Lord; the younger son, the sinner. See how entirely opposite the whole spirit and scope of the common doctrine of the Atonement is to the plain meaning of this parable. If that doctrine were true, the Father ought to stand aloof from his repentant son; He ought to demand compensation for his wasted estate; He ought to visit him with condign punishment for his ingratitude and sins, and refuse to see him until some one had given him full satisfaction. The elder son, who was indignant because his father would heap blessings upon the young prodigal, who had wasted his father’s living with harlots, was a more correct representation of the Lord, according to the common doctrine, than the father. But how different is the actual fact! The parental heart, overflowing with love and pity for his lost son, yearns to embrace him. He does not wait for satisfaction; it is satisfaction enough that he has seen the error of his ways, and is willing to come back. He does not hesitate for fear that all parental authority will be destroyed if he forgives him. No. “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” He would not listen to his erring but penitent son’s request, to be made as one of his hired servants. His reply was, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
The Lord teaches us the same truth in other parables. Indeed he seems to exhaust every method of expressing His love for us, and of showing us how ready he is to forgive, and bless us, if we will only permit Him to do it. He does what he commands us to do. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father, which is in heaven; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Time would fail me to quote the passages in which he plainly declares that He came to reveal the Divine truth to men, to bring the Divine life down to them, and to open their eyes to see it. He says nothing about satisfaction, about the payment of debt. He is the good Shepherd, the great Physician, the perfect Teacher, the faithful Exemplar in every work. He did come to make an atonement, to make us at one with Him and the Father who dwells within Him. He assumed a human Nature because He could not come to man in any other way. He did what a just, wise, and loving father would do. If one of your children had wandered from home, had spent all his living, was sick and dying, would you not do all in your power to save him? Would you not spend time, money, labor; would you not provide yourself with all the instrumentalities in your power that were necessary to reach him? And do you suppose that infinite love, compared with which your love is not so much as a drop of water to ,the ocean, would refuse to be reconciled to His lost and dying children until he had received full compensation for their sin; until there had been measured to Him, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe,” or an exact equivalent? It cannot be. Reason, Scripture, the perceptions of justice and mercy which the Lord has given us, and the deep, spontaneous yearnings of our own hearts, declare it to be impossible. No, the Lord did not come into the world to satisfy the demands of an inflexible and arbitrary justice. He came rather to satisfy the demands of infinite love; not to pay a debt, but to reach the dying soul, to cleanse it from its impurities; to heal its diseases; to mould it into His own image and likeness, and fill it with His own peace and blessedness.
This doctrine, concerning this vital subject, does not militate against the Divine Unity. Jehovah Himself came into the world by clothing His Divine with a human nature—the only way in which He could come; the nature he assumed was called the Son. Thus he fulfilled His promise, that He would come and be a Savior. The Father and Son are the same Being, the same person, as the soul and body are one man.
This central truth harmonizes all the apparently opposite declarations of the Sacred Scriptures into one consistent and beautiful whole. It involves none of the difficulties inseparable from the theory of an inflexible demand of so much suffering for so much sin, of vicarious suffering, and a transfer of character. It is in perfect harmony with all we know of the Divine Love, or of the nature of any pure, unselfish love; and when fully understood, it satisfies all the requirements of the Bible, the demands of the enlightened reason, and the aspirations of the heart.