The all-embracing theme and purpose of the Bible is human salvation. Not only Christianity, but practically all other systems of religion claim for their main object the saving of souls. The idea of two unlike conditions, one beneficent, constructive, and harmonious, and the other the reverse, thereby making an essential dualism in life and destiny, has been almost universal. Even monism — the doctrine of one — whether in ancient or modern philosophic form, has its positive and negative aspects and sharp contrasts. The power of choice by the individual, and the results depending thereupon, form the vital issue of religion, ethics, and, in a great degree, of philosophy. Even pure science, if defined as exact truth, might postulate salvation as attained harmony with environment.
"What shall I do to be saved," has been the cry of the soul through all the ages, and an intense quest for its true answer is universal. Its transcendent importance always has and will force it to the front. Not only in the problem of ultimate human destiny, but in a thousand subordinate forms it is always present. Men crave not only final salvation but they want to be saved every day.
The popular idea of being saved, no less in ancient than in modern times, is an escape from, or avoidance of punishment. At the most, this is only a negative aspect. To save the soul, implies not only deliverance from the bondage of sin and error, but a conservation and development of positive good.
As the result of biblical literalism, the theology of reward and punishment has been arbitrary and unnatural. But at the present time, owing to the decay of a belief in a future dramatic judgment, a formal verdict, and a localized heaven and hell, the whole subject has lost most of its seriousness and is lightly regarded. A few decades ago when these dogmas were firmly held, and imposed by undoubted authority, the community was often definitely divided into two classes — the saved and the lost. But with the general modern prevalence of a belief in universal salvation, or at least of continued progression, to which the orthodox bodies take little exception, the reaction has been great. One extreme has been followed by the other. The former anxious solicitation about making one's "calling and election sure," has been succeeded by a careless indifference and a feeling that judgment will be only favorable. Ideas of grave responsibility are lightly dismissed, and the descriptive terms in former use regarding retribution, often call out sarcasm if not derision. Reward and punishment, as literally taught and imposed are gone, and their place is not yet filled by any realization of the depth and seriousness of a truer psychological and subjective view. But every discarded dogma, even if literally untrue, has, hidden back of it, some inner law or truth, often of startling importance. The transfer of what has seemed literal and objective to the inner consciousness, really deepens its significance.
Theology without the light of related psychological laws and principles is radically incomplete. The present philosophy of the sub-conscious mind — that great lifelong accumulation which is below the ordinary cognizance of consciousness — resolves many arbitrary doctrines of the past. Day by day everyone is making up his own record, providing for his own judgment, and fastening within himself conditions of specific moral quality. In the light of a greater awakening, men will be brought face to face with their stored-up inquisition, and the exposure will be searching and complete. Heavenly and hellish products are psychologically and scientifically engraved.
There is an occasional experience in this life which throws much light upon the coming judgment, when the sub-conscious realm is lighted up and stands out before us. At rare times, perhaps most often made known by a resuscitated person after a drowning experience, the inner curtain is drawn back, and the conscious mind gets a quick panoramic view of the thoughts and conduct of a lifetime. This phenomenon though rare is very significant. It proves that no thought-image or mental impression has been obliterated, but is only temporarily out of sight. The dramatic symbolism of Revelation which portrays the general judgment, the great white throne, the spectacular gathering of all tribes and peoples and tongues, the opening of the seals of the Book, the sounding of the angels, the golden streets and precious stones, the pit of the abyss, and the smoke from it, as the smoke of a great furnace, and the great wealth of other imagery, find their solution and interpretation in the unappreciated human sub-conscious domain. Doubtless few theologians would now be found who literalize the Book of Revelation, which is nearly all made up of striking delineations in the nature of the few examples above quoted. But they have a meaning, and the only possible interpretation, must be found in the mysteries of the chambers of the soul.
In the light of the subtle principles which pervade the microcrosmic mind of man, what a responsibility is wrapped up in simple thinking! Every mental image is like a photographic negative which stamps its impress — not upon paper, stone, or steel — but upon infinitely more durable material. There is a continuous creation, and its products are ever living and growing. Nothing has been so lightly regarded as a thought, but think of each volition making history. The "every idle word" for which men shall be judged, when interpreted, is a startling psychological truth. The judgment, from being a great formal gathering, arbitrary in character, located in the distant future, and in some unknown part of the cosmos, comes home, and is close fitting and virtually continuous. Every one, or rather the divine element in him, is rendering a continuous and unending verdict, even though not yet opened up to consciousness. The sheep are passing to the right hand, and the goats to the left. Every man contains and retains all he has been with growing emphasis. When fleshly coverings and limitations are removed, we shall be like a ship which has its manifest nailed up, plainly showing the composition of its cargo.
Since Professor Drummond, as a pioneer among modern theologians, gave to the world his "Natural Law in the Spiritual World," the progress of religious opinion has been rapid. That concept of the Deity which likened him to an Oriental Sovereign— capricious and ruling from without — is fading. The spiritual realm is within man, and this is where God's beautiful and orderly economy manifests its activity and finds its expression. Any scheme, consisting of a purchased release, or an artificial severing of cause and effect, is plainly against reason and justice. Were God's original plans unexpectedly defeated? Though greatly modified in the present view, such a "plan of salvation " remains of life size in the creeds.
But from the evolutionary and psychological point of view, we must concede to past conventional thought a necessary place and time, as a stage of progress toward something higher. It must be passed through, and therefore has a kind of negative, disciplinary, and educational goodness. Nothing is finished, because there is a continuous becoming. The "Judgment Day" never began and never will end. Every principle, opinion, belief, and theory is being tested, measured, and given its award. The scene may not be so sensuously dramatic as that which literalism has accepted in prose, enshrined in poetry, and spread in glowing color upon canvas, but it has a deeper truth. The realism and literalism depicted by the art of the old masters of the mediaeval period, and the profound impression made by the Miltonian literature are wonderfully expressive of an era of human thought, literal, severe, and intense. Such a judgment is now utterly discredited, but it had a meaning, and in the evolutionary order, formed a zone which had to be traversed before the goal of a higher and purer ideal could be reached. The Bar of God is set up in man. "The Kingdom of God is within you.”; How then shall we be "saved "? Saved from what? From a low false consciousness; from the Adamic concept that we are bodies; from a slavery to conditions, limitations, and negations; from mental pictures of evil and its power; from beliefs in antagonisms, weaknesses, diseases, and adversities; from selfishness, hate, grief, and fear; from pessimism and materialism. These are thought-creations which if allowed to ripen bring forth self-made hellish conditions. The immutable divine economy has placed the judge, judgment, and executioner within. Nothing in the whole universe of God can bring real harm from the outside. The God-voice in the soul of man, though still and small is a judicial utterance, distinct in its teaching, and to listen, is to discover the self and its bearings.
While nothing inherently good can be destroyed, man can lose that which to him seems to be himself. If one builds up a consciousness, or creates a thought-world, wherein he links the ego to the perishable and unreal (the "wood, hay, and stubble") he loses his seeming soul. Through a vital connection he builds these things into his personality, and when they are swept away he has little by which to recognize himself. The inmost self is saved "as by fire," but the selfhood which he has created with all his familiar environment is lost. He has not brought the deeper individuality into recognition. For an age-long period, or until a new consciousness is developed, such a one is in a denuded condition. He has built a structure upon the sand of negation, and it is swept away. Does such a judicial discipline seem severe? When its origin is truly discerned, severe though it be, its processes may be reversed and its educational beneficence made plain. Then the soul will return from its mistaken by-way, and with dearly bought experience be drawn toward the Father's House. God is love and imposes arbitrary sentence upon no man. Man passes it upon himself and so finally makes the great discovery that retribution is in his very nature. Penalty, though of vital moment, is radically different from the arbitrary, vindictive, and lawless hell of former dogma. Life is conserved but will be entered with conditions of partial blindness, lameness, and deafness, self-imposed through ignorance or carelessness. But limitations will be finally outgrown.
The stuff of which character is made is tested and fused, but the pure metal will remain unconsumed and unharmed. The biblical warnings, which are too numerous for present quotation, will be found, in their summing up, to be in harmony with these conclusions. They warn us, in effect, that if through a disregard of spiritual law we hold back until a sensuous consciousness has solidified around us, its removal will strip us bare. It is possible now to build an environment of the Real. Working with the law we no longer "kick against the pricks." More than this, we gain a backing of its supernal energy because salvation is normal. It is a harmonious fitting of our own constitution into the universal constitution.
The characteristic of the present era is intellectual activity and development. This, though well in its place, is not a savior, but such an opinion prevails. Falling into the great world current, even religion has largely been brought down to that plane. It has been rendered into a system of belief, or an assent to certain approved statements. But vastly more than that, salvation consists of the unfoldment of the higher part of man, or rather of the real self. Even theology, in the ordinary sense is secondary. To be saved completely, involves the emergence of the divine selfhood from latency into self-recognition and manifestation. It requires more than an intellectual belief in the personal Jesus, or an acceptance of his merits vicariously. It must include the normal development of the intrinsic and eternal Christ-mind or quality. While this was most fully expressed through the personality of Jesus, it knows no limitation, local or historic.
An intellectual giant may be a spiritual weakling. He requires "saving" no less than his more ignorant brother who seems to be so much below him. "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." Whatever is idolized, or stands in the place of that which is supreme, is a perversion. There is a normal proportion, good in itself, but its inversion transforms it into evil. Everyone needs to be saved from an undue dominance of what is subordinate in moral and spiritual grade. The business man needs to be saved from his business, the lawyer from his law, and the capitalist from his capital. Even the scientist, the naturalist, or the philosopher must not give himself to his profession. The soul should not take firm root in anything less than the Eternal. It is not enough to send one's theories, his philosophy, his beliefs, his theology, or even his religion, higher; he must go there himself. Full salvation involves the evolution of the spiritual self-consciousness, the building of a soul structure of imperishable material. The ego must form an organic union with eternal and living verities.
In the "judgment day" those things which pass to the "left hand" in the last analysis are composed of negation and lack the divine basis of reality. It represents the objective nothingness of that which relatively is evil. It is the educational background where we subjectively build up appearances, specters, and imaginings, only finally to learn that they are men of straw. It is the darkness through which by contrast we distinguish and finally appreciate the light.
We may then welcome the "day of judgment" and even retribution, for it, with all its pains, will come only as we need its purification. This knowledge of its ultimatum will measurably strip it of its terrors. The pains of the fiery furnace will be bearable when we are persuaded that their age long outcome and purpose is good. Thus we at length find that God, as Love, is All in All.