We are living in a mortal dream. Our material environment appears to be substantial, but at intervals we are jostled and partially awakened from our sensuous vision. Our eyes are closed to the Real until something startles us, which, from its intensity, penetrates our consciousness, and discloses other relations and environments than those to which we have yielded our allegiance. Every man possesses a spiritual equipment; but if it has been hidden beneath the opaque shadows of material sense, so that its rightful owner is unaware of his glorious possession, to him it is as though it were not. Divine revelation signifies subjective spiritual unfoldment. It has been said that God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves; but if we are unconscious of the Presence, it has no meaning.
The method of spiritual revelation to the human consciousness is not so much by gradual development as by glimpses and flashes. The influx of truth comes by means of new standpoints suddenly reached, quick turns made, and grand summits gained, which open up glorious and unexpected vistas. Step by step we make a long and toilsome ascent up a steep mountain-pass, and when at length the summit is gained, as if by enchantment our eyes behold a vast expanse of sea or landscape, which before was all unrevealed. How quickly the weariness of the ascent fades out amidst the glory of the final achievement! When the morning sun gradually approaches the horizon, the forms, colors, and relations of things are disclosed by imperceptible degrees; but the intuitive perception of truth, through our deeper nature, comes more like lightning in the midst of murky darkness. New relations and realities are photographed upon our spiritual consciousness so sharply that their impress is lasting.
On the upward path,
Just so do we receive in-pourings
Of immortal faith.
The law of revelation presupposes gradual preparatory development, after which spiritual transitions are made in bounds. The experiences of Paul and Luther are good examples of the intensity of spiritual illumination when the conditions have become ripened. We do not grow into a consciousness of the divine communication, but we awaken to the Presence already within.
Divine truth is ever seeking to reveal and express itself. Upon this point Dr. Phillips Brooks, in one of his Yale lectures, says, "Oh, the souls which have been made skeptical by the mere clamoring of new truth to add itself to that which they have been taught to think finished and final." Truth is eternal; therefore any change in our relations with it must take place in our own consciousness. Its positive presence awaits our receptivity. If the soul be exposed to celestial rays, they will photograph their beautiful and divine features upon the sensitive higher nature. If we intently look up, in order to catch a glimpse of Truth's harmonious outlines, they will stand out in high relief to our wistful gaze.
As God is waiting to reveal Himself to man, there is no bar to reconciliation and unison but man's unreadiness. Humanity is unqualified for such Deific intimacy because of ignorance and blindness. The sun is not limited nor partial with his rays; and so God is waiting to fill every vacancy in the soul which we will make for Him. He will not force Himself into the human consciousness, but wait to be made welcome, because man's spiritual freedom is sacred. A coerced development would not be growth, for all growth must be voluntary and from within.
The fundamental law of trinity or tri-unity is seen in the zones of man's nature. He has three worlds at his disposal, even in the present material form of existence. Though all are related, their distinct boundary lines run through the nature of every human being. The higher domain we denominate the spiritual, the next the intellectual, and the third and lower, the animal or material. The spiritual world has solid proportions, here and now. When mistakenly located in the life to come, the human ego is content, for the present, to make its abode in the lower realms of its nature. Thus the normal order is inverted, and by constant habitation in the basement of its being, it clothes that part with a delusive and abnormal realism. Man's animal nature is of the earth earthy; and when his consciousness constantly dwells face to face with materiality, it takes on the quality of its sensuous environment. The sensualist dwells in a self-made world of his own color, because to him everything has a sensual hue. The human ego must turn away from sentient materialism and fit up its domicile in the nobler apartments of its nature, else it will gather its inspiration from the delusive realism of the lower plane, and come into correspondence with surrounding sliminess and debasement. Even in the intellectual realm, he who rarely, or never, mounts into the grander domain above, is "cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd." Education, as generally defined, accompanied with all the present broad scale of material comforts and luxuries, when unassociated with spiritual development, only adds intensity to human unrest and abnormity. God makes His dwelling-place in the higher zone of man's complex nature, and the human ego may there cultivate divine intimacy. This is the common meeting-ground between the Father and His children, face to face. Here is the serene refuge from the tempests which continually surge over the murky depths below. As man rapidly grows into correspondence with his mental environment, a homelike abode in the supreme zone of his being transmutes him into God-likeness and thus brings into manifestation the divine human type.
Formulated theology with all its accompaniments, including a literalized Bible and an authoritative sectarian standard of belief, has largely concealed the divine audience-chamber which exists in every "image of God." Current theology has put the Father far away, and usurped the place and authority of the Spirit, which is the agency that is able to "lead you into all truth." A myriad of scriptural texts which plainly teach the positive indwelling of the Spirit, are practically ignored in scholastic systems which have their foundation in external and strained interpretations, not in harmony with the great truth of the Divine Presence in the soul of man. Dogmatic teaching has made it appear that the Spirit was a gracious influence sent occasionally from a distant God, in answer to earnest importunity, but has failed to recognize its ever-present companionship, and also that it is a "Teacher." Is not such a non-recognition "the sin against the Holy Ghost"? "That He may abide with you forever," are the words used by Jesus, but such a basal principle finds scanty recognition in conventional systems.
God is Spirit; and God is everywhere. "If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there; if I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me." How shall we know that we are taught and led by the Divine Mind? The evidence will be conclusive whenever we surrender the mind of self, and trustfully turn to the Infinite Will for guidance. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul told them that they had the Holy Spirit, and therefore did not need any human teacher. Has the Church lost confidence in the ability of God to lead humanity, so that it must put up fences and bars to turn men into prescribed paths of its own?
All truth is divine. The Spirit leads men not only into religious and sacred truth, but into "all truth." Because all truth is divine, it is mighty. Overcoming all obstacles, it is constantly pressing its way toward the front for manifestation. Its self-attesting quality fortifies it with positive evidence. It is seen to be so inseparable from God, that it clothes itself with Deific authority. Pure truth is but a synonym for the Divine Mind. From the standpoint of the Real it is all there is.
If one calls our attention to a new material invention, theory in physics, form of government, or proposed legislation, we bring our intellectual forces to test it; but when there comes a new influx of love, faith, or spiritual aspiration from the Infinite Mind, it is sealed with the divine signet. Our deeper intuition sees at a glance the transcendent perfection of eternal principles, and feels no uncertainty regarding their acceptance. When spiritual truth flashes its pure and gentle light into the chambers of the soul, there is no mistaking its quality. Its features and vestments sparkle with original and eternal transparency.
When that which assumes to be truth is received at second-hand, cast into the fixed forms of human language, it lacks that original luster and self-attesting quality with which it shines when poured fresh from the Father's heart into the affectionate souls of his children. From whatever outward source it may come, in the last analysis before its assimilation, it must receive the approval of the divine tribunal which is set up in the recesses of the immaterial man.
It does not follow that one is unstable in his principles, or that he yields to every new "wind of doctrine," because he keeps himself plastic to the Spirit-breathings, and responsive to its gentle leading. That which comes from within is sanctified by the divine endorsement, while from without is heard an uncertain and discordant chorus of voices.
Turning to the Fatherly communion; what inspiring influences! what delightful glimpses and surprises! what a current of paternal love! what fresh breezes! what a health-giving balm, and what a "well of pure water springing up into everlasting life"!
And folded far within the inmost heart,
And deep below the deeps of conscious being,
Thy splendor shineth: there, O God! thou art.
Truth is not a code of moral legislation, handed down to us on tablets and parchments, nor is it a formulated consensus of ecclesiastical wisdom; but it is a disclosing of God's features and methods within the human consciousness.
He is a dull learner who believes that Divine revealment is in any manner limited to the Bible, or that the writers of the Sacred Word received divine truth in any different manner, or through any more exclusive channel, than other devout and transparent souls. They were mountain-peaks among a wilderness of foothills. In degree they were pre-eminent, but their indwelling wisdom came from the same primal Source from which all other receptive ones gather their inspiration. The theory that the Bible is "the only divine rule of faith and practice," as dogmatically set forth in creeds and confessions, is not only dishonoring to the ever-present "Teacher," but is out of accord with the Scriptures themselves. They nowhere make such an unfounded claim, which, in itself, must be accounted a grave abuse of their beautiful and sacred office. Things may be revealed to babes which remain hid to trained intellects, who measure all truth by textual statement or legal definition.
Systematic theology has missed much of the divine overflowing in the soul of man, because of its rigid mechanical theories, which practically bury all revelation in the Bible, taking it for granted that the scriptural channel is the only one. Thus the Book has been seriously misinterpreted by its zealous but injudicious defenders. It lays no claim to a self-limited inspiration, but proclaims its office as the "Word which quickeneth; as the great auxiliary influence to guide the world to direct inspiration. It points out the road to divine munificence, but makes no claim to a monopoly of its possession. It leads to the living Christ, who is the unfolding revealment of the Father, and in whom are hid treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge.
There is much concern at present in some branches of the Church because of heresy, which is defined as being a divergence from formulated confessions; but the great and real heresy of the present age is the non-recognition of the "Comforter." Such an offence is directly against the indwelling Spirit. The rejection of the Holy Spirit makes forgiveness impossible while such an attitude continues, because the question is one of condition, and not of punishment from without. Forgiveness is not a remission of penalty, but a change of character; a substitution of the Christ Mind for the mind of the flesh. Real forgiveness has none of the aspects of a debit and credit transaction, and does not merely signify an escape from natural consequences. By the vital operation of a new life, which we call regeneration, salvation—which is forgiveness—comes as an invariable result. The overcoming power of the divine influx frees from the power of sin, and the resultant forgiveness consists in that very fact, so there is nothing supernatural in the process.
The Spirit never goes or comes except to human consciousness. "He shall ahide with you forever:" but without our co-operation there is no fruitful vitality. Unrecognized, there is a sense in which He is absent. Christ told His disciples that He must go away, in order that the Comforter might come. The Incarnation so covered the field of their sensuous vision, that they were unable to behold the greater spiritual Presence while the outward embodiment remained before them. The Christ Himself recognized this tendency as a real limitation belonging to His material expression, and His plain statement of this fact is deeply significant. "It is expedient for you that I go away." The Incarnate saw the strong inclination of the human mind to fasten itself to material forms, instead of looking beyond such expressions, and grasping the grander unexpressed Presence. The eyes of the world have been focused upon the historic Jesus, rather than upon the indwelling immaterial Christ who is God (Spirit) with us. While Jesus was present His disciples gained no spiritual self-reliance: they forsook Him in the hour of danger; they often failed in their attempts at healing; and they depended upon kingly and material power, because their eyes were holden to the essential Savior. Even the naturally brave and impetuous Peter denied his present Lord; and when ecclesiastical bitterness ripened into persecution and arrest, His disciples deserted him in the most cowardly manner. After the Resurrection they rapidly caught the spiritual import of His mission. When bodily limitations were removed they became boldly conscious of the unlimited spiritual Presence. They who had been weak, cowardly, vacillating, became teachers, leaders, and heroes. No disease was too deadly for them to heal; no danger too great for them to face; no persecution daunted them; and no obstacle was insurmountable. Paul, in referring to past material limitations, expressed this vital principle: "Therefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more." The world and the theologies are still strongly inclined to know Christ after the flesh. The cross and the death receive that emphasis which belongs to the imparted life. Jesus was not the Christ, except as He was His embodiment. It is the living Christ of to-day which the world needs, rather than His material expression of eighteen centuries ago. This great substitution in the world consciousness has been a sad mistake; and it presents the most notable example of resting in the letter and form, and missing the Spirit and Reality. The great Spiritual Vision is intended for all races and generations as much as for the immediate disciples. "These works shall follow them that believe," and them that believe are not limited by time nor condition. Healing was one of the "works," but it has not "followed" since the times of the primitive Church. The "greater things than I have done" which Christ promised, have been signally lacking in their realization. There can be no valid reason given why all the "works" ought not to abound in the church of to-day. The decadence of spirituality, and the materialism and scholasticism which made religion more of a system than an inner life, account for the loss of the healing power. When worldliness and ecclesiastical pomp and authority crept into the church, her practical vitality faded out.
Spiritual harmony should find outward demonstration and expression in physical and mental wholeness. "Ye therefore shall he perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Revised version.) The "fall" from a spiritual to a ruling material consciousness imposes upon us the limitations and disorders of the unspiritual realm. In proportion as we yield controlling allegiance to the material body and its environment, we build our own prison walls and pass into a condition of servitude.
There is One Spirit, but it has a variety of manifestations. The world is gradually making the discovery that pure and unselfish love is the essence of vital religion. It has taken almost nineteen hundred years for it to find out the depth of Jesus' declaration, that the whole law is fulfilled in Love; and the lesson is not yet fully learned.
The day of Pentecost was a period of wonderful divine revelations, not because of any unusual willingness on the God-ward side, but on account of a greatly ripened receptivity. The disciples had thought deeply upon the spiritual meaning of Christ's mission since the human embodiment was withdrawn; and with many predictions fresh in mind, they were in a condition of intense expectancy. The oneness of their burning desire brought them together without any plan or appointment. They were inspired with that joyous harmony which binds Divinity and Humanity together, and with "one accord "they gave expression, in various forms, to the spiritual illumination which filled them to overflowing. They were aflame with the "Consuming Fire" of Love, and this bound them more closely together than the ties of any outward organization could have done. It was a day of first fruits; the earliest ripening of that great spiritual harvest which is being gathered among all the nations. There is no hint of any constitution, confession, or ritual, but there was a grand kindling and influx of new life. The quickened vitality was so unselfish in its manifestations, that they, without any feeling of sacrifice, and as a matter of privilege, give up their life-long accumulations for the common weal. There was no forced communism, nor legislative socialism from without, but a repletion of love, without any element of self or self-seeking. The scene presented a localized millennium; a prophetic object-lesson of that time "when all shall know the Lord"—or be conscious of His presence in them, "from the least even unto the greatest."
But to thyself repair;
Wait thou within the silence dim,
And thou shalt find Him there.
—Frederick Lucian Hosmer
But a small part of the historical evidence of the truth of the gospel is in dusty tomes or ancient parchments; but it is contained in the human experience of divine companionship. There is no other proof comparable to demonstration.
The spiritual world is often inseparably connected with the future state, and that is the main reason why so many regard it as incomprehensible. Rather, it is here and now a world of reality and substance. It is the material world which is the realm of shadows and unreality. If our faculties are attuned, it is our privilege to live in the spiritual world under present conditions,—to enjoy its fellowships, learn its lessons, and bask in its sunshine. The inward ministry of the Spirit is the vital nourishment which feeds to its full fruition the whole complex human nature. Inspiration is a force, a divine motive-power behind human expressiveness; and it imparts its quality without in the least encroaching upon man's freedom and spontaneity. The sensuous personality contends against the abiding divine Presence, and persistently claims an independent selfhood of its own. It would displace the true ego of the divine image, and install its false and material self. What slime of animalism and selfish materialism clings to us unless we earnestly draw a sharp line of demarcation, and absolutely deny the power of all that is below it!
Conventional theology has practically made the Holy Spirit a rare and unfamiliar visitor. Can we have the divine companionship upon easy terms and under every-day circumstances? Yea, verily, if we expect and welcome it. We must feel it as a present Companion and Guest. When the noise of the outer world is hushed, and its cares and ambitions barred out, if we listen we may hear the "still, small voice."
We act the dictates of His mighty mind;
Though priests are mute and temples still,
God never wants a voice to speak His will.
If we earnestly invite spiritual illumination, it will come in and flood the soul-chambers with its golden light as surely as air inclines to a vacuum. We can link ourselves to the living Christ: He in us and we in Him, and such a tie is most natural. The unfolding of the Presence within touches our threefold being in its entire breadth. If friends desert, "there is One who sticketh closer than a brother." There can be no loneliness; it is only a seeming. He is our completeness; for apart from Him there is a radical deficiency. St. Paul says, "Ye are complete in Him." What a glorious assurance! Not shall be, but are. Have we discovered it? MacDonald beautifully expresses such a sentiment: "He who has the Spirit of God, God Himself in him, has the Life in him, possesses the final cure of all ill, and has in himself the answer to all possible prayer." To be in Him, He must be enthroned in our consciousness. When physically or mentally disordered we are not "complete." But we turn to outward and material things for help, instead of looking inward to the Great Restorer. When we might have emancipation, we prefer to wear the galling yoke of material servitude. "The last must be first," and the material become immaterial. So long as the pleasures and pains of our lower or physical organism occupy the "chief seats" in our consciousness, we are captives, even if the clanking of our chains be unheard.
For man,—made as he is in "the image of God,"—spiritual rule is normal, logical, and scientific. The reverse condition is inverted and abnormal, and its penalties inherent.
"The secret place of the Most High" is not a poetic fiction, but a veritable retreat where the Divine and the Human meet in loving embrace. The haze of theological complication is passing away, and we need no longer confine our search for the Father to ordinances and sacraments. "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." Material wealth is not to be had for the asking, but immaterial treasures are waiting for room to bestow themselves.
"God is Spirit," and His revealment to man must be made through the medium of Spirit. If He were possessed of a material form, the way of recognition would be through the sensuous faculties. Spirit can only be spiritually discerned. God cannot be seen in the Bible, nor in Nature, except through the exercise of the spiritual vision. There may be various approaches, but there is but one highway of communication, and that is where God and man touch and become one, and thus bridge the chasm. Man can aspire to nothing more lofty than a distinct and ruling God-consciousness.
The modern Church in its anxiety to be practical has become external. The Occidental races and religions, though holding Oriental forms of thought in light esteem, have much to learn from them regarding the paramount importance of spiritual introspection. Christ taught that it was the sinful thought which constituted the offence as much as the act which gave it expression. The recognized presence of God is the antidote for sin and sinful thinking. They cannot abide the divine fellowship.
"The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation." The disciples looked for outward signs, and likewise the modern world judges by external appearances. The supreme forces of the Universe are unseen. Multitudes are unconsciously led by the Spirit, who do not realize that its gentle guidance is deeper than their conscious personality. The strings of their spiritual nature vibrate responsively to the breath of God, bringing out tones which have unearthly sweetness, even though their harmony cannot be fully realized without human co-operation. If we would reap the golden harvest of Spirit, we must sow and cultivate in accordance with its laws. Conforming to divine methods, Infinite Power is enlisted in our service, but disregarding them, we "fight against God."
The world is moving steadily up to a condition when the spiritual or real man will overcome and hold under control that seeming man, the sensuous counterpart. There is a desperate struggle going on between the lower and higher types, in which the former are being vanquished, for all life is being lifted toward God. The whole creation is groaning and travailing, and the day of complete emancipation will at length be ushered in with great rejoicing. The signs of a more general spiritual interpretation of God, Nature, and the Bible, are multiplying on every hand. The spirit of unity is disintegrating sectarian barriers. The great altruistic current is gaining volume, and Love is broadening its channels, and growing more divine and impersonal. We are under the "Dispensation of the spirit," and modern progress and upliftment indicate the more general recognition of the fact, that all laws and all truth are divine. The time comes on apace "when all shall know the Lord," not merely in a restricted theological sense, but as the Omnipresent Inspirer of Humanity.