« AnteriorContinuar »
the relation of the substance to the persons and each person to the other, and could steer clear of the various heresies into which, one after another, the church fell and which, one after another, were anathematized, are extremely few. I would say as much about unitarians of the old time, who thought of God as a being inhabiting the distant sky, and whose knowledge of him was largely confined to the assertions that he is not three and that he never has had anything in particular to do with any one human individual. Indeed unitarians and trinitarians of these kinds seem to me to belong to species which are now practically extinct. Modern theistic thought seems to have cut the ground from under trinitarianism and unitarianism alike. It is no use to argue that God is one after you have admitted that he is all, nor to prove that he is in three persons if he is more or less in every person. And as to his essence, or his substance, or whatever you wish to call it, aside from and beyond its revelations in nature and in human life, we do not know anything and are not in any position to know. We know God only as he has revealed himself. What he was (if it is not too absurd to put it that way for the moment) before he revealed himself, is a vain speculation, and, if we were to make any such speculation today, it is safe to say that the terms of the doctrine of the Trinity are precisely such as we should not employ. They belong to a world of thought absolutely foreign to us.
I am under the impression that something similar has happened recently to the doctrine of the Atonement. The article on "Expiation and Atonement” in the "Encyclopedia of Religion” traces the prevalence of these ideas in the American, Babylonian, Buddhist,
Celtic, Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, Hindu, Moslem, Parsi, Roman, Teutonic, and Vedic religion, as well as in Christianity. The presence of some doctrine of Atonement in all these religions as well as its persistence one form after another in our own, indicates its origin in some deep-seated convictions of devout men. But in Christendom this conviction has certainly expressed itself in many changing forms. First, a ransom paid by God to the devil for the rescue of men; then a satisfaction due to the offended honor of God or his law; then a penalty demanded by his justice; sometimes "mystical as in the Greek theology of the sacrament; sometimes legal as in the Protestant formula of imputation,”—sometimes moral as with Bushnell; sometimes the center of the entire Christian system and sometimes sub-sumed under the idea of incarnation,—whoever acquaints himself with the history of this doctrine, will allow himself ample liberty in his own interpretation of it. Certain great ideas that underlie it are not only obvious but profitable. That suffering is a part of life, and of the divine as of the human life; that God will not spare himself any pain or any heart-break to bring men back to righteousness, nobody disputes,—and this idea lies like a golden treasure at the bottom of every theory of the Atonement, however crude, that has ever been held. Certain other ideas, once prominently connected with the doctrine, we have definitely laid aside or outgrown,such as that God needed anything done to induce him to a change of heart toward man, or that the death of Jesus can be separated from his life, or that it was a part of the plan of God in a different sense from the unjust death of any man, or that it is right, or worthy, or possible, for salvation to be bought for us,
instead of being worked out and attained by us; these ideas, if I understand correctly, are practically no longer held. They do not seem longer reasonable or helpful. I suppose William Hayes Ward meant something like this when he said that in his judgment the doctrine of the Atonement had been much overworked. But while I believe that certain great ideas which underlie the doctrine continue in full force and good standing with us, I also believe that if you could take a cross section of the Christian mind today, you would find the interpretation of the life of Jesus in terms of atonement occupies the smallest place it has held since the days of Paul. ... We now think of Jesus, most of us,-rightly or wrongly,—as the great revealer of the spirit and purpose of God, as the great companion, leader, spiritual guide and inspirer of the world. Whether we shall ever swing back from this view of him to the older one that his life and death were an atonement, nobody can say. All we can say is that the doctrine of Atonement does not fit the modern Christian mind as well as it fitted the Christian mind of the past. Books on the Atonement are not written, or if they are still written, they are not widely read; nobody is anathematized for the errors in them, nor tried for heresy on account of them, they are not hailed as a new door opened into the knowledge of God. It seems to me fair to say that we think as much of and about Christ as our fathers did, but that every age has to do its thinking in its own categories—and that the category of atonement is not the most natural one for us to use.
I must leave many things unsaid; but there is one idea intertwined with this idea of atonement, that may even be said to be more fundamental in Christian
thought,-of which I must say a few words. It is the idea of salvation. Everyone knows how salvation was at first understood,-and still is, I dare say, in some parts of the Christian world, as a release from the punishment in the world to come due us for our sins. The salvation we crave today, most of us, I suppose, is a salvation right here and now from our sins; we long to be saved from meanness and from narrowness, to usefulness and character. And we are not under any illusion that this can be done for us by anyone else;that anyone, either God or man, can buy it for us, or work it out for us and present us with it. Nobody can present you with knowledge, you must dig for it. Though a thousand wise men should stand with wisdom in their outstretched hands at your door, you could take none of theirs from them,--you have to acquire your own by the experiences of life. Nobody can give you heroism, or patience. And isn't salvation at least as great a prize as these? Is it a thing so small, so impersonal, so external to us, that it can be given to us as a present even by God? Salvation is, in the nature of the case, something in which we have a part to do for and in ourselves. Not by ourselves, for there is nothing that we do by ourselves. Our friends and neighbors help us, our fathers and mothers, all good men and women who have ever lived and left the record of their lives to be a guide and inspiration to us; Jesus Christ helps us more than anyone else, and God works in us and with us in the whole process. But salvation is character. The man who is safe, who can be trusted anywhere, is the saved man. No man can be good for another, or can make another good. Character is not a gift, but an attainment. Here we are quite in accord with Paul who exhorted
his followers to "work out their own salvation” adding that God too was at work at the same task in and with them.
Immortality it is not necessary to discuss at length. Time was when men had not yet achieved so great and wonderful a hope. To the Psalmist, the reward of God for righteousness, was a long life in this world, not life in another. But this sublime hope of immortality has now become a permanent part of the spiritual equipment of the human race. Occasionally a man here and there may lose his grip on it, usually he regains it later on. But about heaven and hell, and exactly what will happen to good people and to bad people in another world, we have largely lost our assurance. We do not care to have anyone draw us a map of these celestial religions,_much less of the infernal. We believe we were not born to die but we do not dogmatize. We are not sure that many persons do not make too much of a belief in a future life in their religion. We do not want the hope of heaven or the fear of hell to be a determining motive of our religious life. We feel that we ought to be more occupied in bringing the kingdom of God into this world than in seeking our own safety in the next. But there are legitimate ways in which immortality can be a great and wonderful and consoling hope and I see nothing in current forms of thought that threatens to undermine it.
This completes our survey of the chief doctrines of Christian theology, as these present themselves in the light of modern thought. The reader must have noticed the number of things I have had to leave out. But many things can be left out of such a treatment today, which could not have been omitted thirty or