The conclusions we have arrived at thus far we have arrived at independently of any authority outside of our own reason and insight. It is always of interest as well as of greater or less value to compare our own conclusions with those of others whose opinions we value. It would indeed be a matter of exceeding great interest to compare those we have reached with those of a number whose opinions come with greater or less authority to all the world. Space does not permit this, however, and I propose that we give the balance of our time to the consideration, though necessarily brief consideration, of two such; one universally-regarded as one of the most highly illumined teachers, if not the most highly illumined, the world has ever known, the Christ Jesus; the other universally regarded as one of the most highly illumined philosophers the world has ever known, the philosopher Fichte. And in these two we have the advantage of the life and teachings of one who lived and taught nearly nineteen hundred years ago, and one who lived and taught a trifle less than a hundred years ago. By selecting these, let it also be said, we have the advantage of two whose lives fully manifested the truth of that which they taught.
In considering the life and teachings of Jesus, let us consider them not as dull expositors interpret and represent them, but as he himself gave them to the world. Certainly Jesus was Divine; but he was Divine, as he himself clearly taught, in just the same sense that you and I and every human soul is Divine. He differed from us, however, in that he had come into a far clearer and fuller realization of his divinity than we have come into, as indeed his life so clearly indicates. Jesus was God manifest in the flesh, as indeed every one must be who comes into the full realization of his oneness with God, as Jesus himself again so clearly taught.
In the thoroughly absurd, illogical, and positively demoralizing doctrine of " vicarious atonement," as given us by early ecclesiastical bodies by perverting the real teachings of Jesus even to the extent of calling interpolations in the New Testament to their aid, I certainly cannot believe. I do, however, believe that it has done more harm to the real teachings of Jesus, has been more productive of skepticism and infidelity, than all other causes combined. It is a doctrine that can be formulated only by those who have no spiritual insight themselves, and who therefore drag the teachings of the Master down to a purely material interpretation because of their inability to give them the spiritual interpretation that he intended they should have.
If his mission was not that of vicarious atonement, not for the purpose of appeasing the wrath and indignation of an angry God and thus reconciling Him to His children, what then was it? Clearly his mission was that of a Redeemer as he gave himself out to be—a Redeemer to bring the children of men back to their Father. And how did he purpose to do this? Clearly by having them consciously unite their lives with the Father's life, even as he had united his. The kingdom of God and His righteousness is not only what he came to teach, but what he clearly and unmistakably taught.
That he plainly and unequivocally taught his disciples that this was his mission is evidenced by numerous sentences such as the following, occurring all through the gospels: Matt, IV., 23, "Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom," etc... Luke VIII., 1, "He went about through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good tidings of the kingdom of God."...Luke IV., 43, "But he said unto them: I must preach the good tidings of the kingdom of God to other cities also, for therefore was I sent."... Luke IX., 2, "And he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick."...Matt, XXIV., 14, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony unto all nations," etc...In more than thirty places in the first three gospels do we find Jesus thoroughly explaining to his disciples his especial mission—to preach the glad tidings of the coming of the kingdom of God; and even before he entered upon his public work, we hear John the Baptist going before him and saying, "Repent ye; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
What did Jesus mean by the kingdom of God, or, as he sometimes expressed it, the kingdom of Heaven? As an answer, and an answer better than any speculations in regard to it, let us again take his own words: "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." He taught only what he himself had found, the conscious union with the Father's life as the-one-and-all-inclusive thing. With Jesus from the very first, only in union with God was there reality. And this life in the Father's life seemed nothing at all marvelous to him; it was perfectly natural, and the only life he knew. Hence he could not say otherwise than that he and the Father were one. His vision was so clear and his already realized Divine life was so full and complete, that he knew that it was utterly impossible for his life to be without the Father's life, as we indeed shall know when our vision becomes clear and we enter into the same fully realized union with it.
This great knowledge came to Jesus not through intellectual speculation and still less through any communication from without; it came to him through his own interior consciousness; to all appearances he was born with it. He was born with a peculiar aptitude for discerning things of the Spirit, the same as among us some are born with a peculiar aptitude for one thing and others for other things. But so great was this power naturally in Jesus that in it we may justly say he had a great advantage over most people born into the world, and for this reason was he all the more able and all the greater reason was there for him to be one of the great world Teachers and hence Redeemers. He was indeed Immanuel—God with us.
Jesus, I repeat, never speaks of his life in any other connection than as one with the Father's life.
In reply to a question from Thomas in the fourteenth chapter of John, he says, "If ye had known me, ye would have* known my Father also: from henceforth ye know him and have seen him." Philip, who was standing near, unable to comprehend the interior meaning of the Master's words, said unto him: "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." Jesus, somewhat surprised that lie had not made himself clear to them, replied: "Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words I speak unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth His work. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me: or believe me for the very works' sake."
But if his especial mission was to preach the good tidings of the kingdom of God, why, I hear it asked, did he claim that only through him can we come unto the kingdom, as he indeed says in his conversation with Philip and Thomas immediately preceding the part just quoted: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one cometh unto the Father but by me." Simply because it was the living truth that he brought, which was and evermore is to redeem men by uniting them in mind and heart with the Father. His realized oneness with the Father's life was the way, the truth, and the life, and only by going over the same path that he himself had trod can anyone be truly united with the Father. He found this great vital and redeeming truth nowhere else in the world; he had to speak as one standing alone, and in this sense he spoke most truly and most literally when he said, "No one cometh unto the Father but by me." And in order to point out his life, his realized oneness with the Father's life, as the way, the truth, and the life, he spoke and indeed had to speak as he did, even at the risk of being misunderstood and having his words taken in a purely material sense, as was the tendency of the spiritual poverty of the age, and indeed as his very disciples so often interpreted his words, as we have but recently seen. In order to give forth the spiritual teachings which he gave, he had to use the language and the illustrations that their material minds could grasp, and in this way make his teachings doubly liable to a purely material interpretation.
"I am the bread of life," said he to those assembled about him; "your fathers did eat the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which cometh down out of heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: yea, and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world." The Jews taking his words in a material sense argued one with another and said: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus simply reaffirmed his statement, saying: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves...For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." Literally, "My flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he that eateth me, he also shall live because of me."
And many of his disciples, even, when they heard him speaking in this way, said among themselves, "This is a hard saying; who can hear him?"—who can understand him? Jesus, quickly perceiving that they were again dragging his words down to a material interpretation, asked them if what he had just said caused them to stumble, and then, in order that they get his real meaning, he said, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life." And so all except those who are wholly spiritually, not to say even mentally, blind can readily see that what Jesus meant to say, and what he actually did say, was, the words that he spoke to them of his oneness with the Father's life were the true meat and the true drink, of which, unless a man ate and drank, he had not life in himself, but that these were able to give him life and life eternal.
"He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me, and I in him." Or, reversing the expression, He that dwelleth in me and I in him, he it is that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood. "The words that I have spoken unto you, (they) are spirit and (they) are life." "As the living Father hath sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he that eateth me, he also shall live because of me." In the words of another, "To eat his flesh and drink his blood means to become wholly and entirely he himself; to become altogether changed into his person without reserve or limitation; to be a faithful repetition of him in another personality; to be transubstantiated with him, i.e., as he is the Eternal Word made flesh and blood, to become his flesh and blood, and what follows from that, and indeed is the same thing, to become the very Eternal Word made flesh and blood itself; to think wholly and entirely like him, and so as if he himself thought and not we; to live wholly and entirely like him, and so as if he himself lived in our life. As surely as you do not now attempt to drag down my own words, and reduce them to the narrow meaning that Jesus is only to be imitated, as an unattainable pattern, partially and at a distance, as far as human weakness will allow, but accept them in the sense in which I have spoken them, that we must be transformed into Christ himself, so surely will it become evident to you that Jesus could not well have expressed himself otherwise, and that he actually did express himself excellently well. Jesus was very far from representing himself as that unattainable ideal into which he was first transformed by the spiritual poverty of the after ages; nor did his apostles so regard him."
To live in Christ is to live the life he lived, by living in the truth in which he lived and which he taught. The one great truth in which he continually lived was, as we have seen, that only in conscious union with God is there any real life, and therefore we can readily see why he continually gave out, as the Gospel writers tell us so many times he did, that his especial mission was to preach the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. Were it not possible for us to live the same life that he lived, he certainly would not have taught what he taught. This wonderful life of fully realized Divine life Jesus claims not for himself alone, but for all who actually live in the truth that he taught.
It was not to establish any material institution, as the church, that Jesus made his mission, but that the kingdom of God and His righteousness should become actualized and hold sway in the minds and hearts of men—this was his mission, an entirely different thing from the founding of a material organization. Paul and his party, sharing the then prevailing ideas that a material kingdom was to be established, were the originators of the church, not Jesus. We find the word "church" mentioned in the four Gospels by Jesus only once or twice, and then only in an incidental way, while we find the kingdom mentioned over thirty times in the first three Gospels alone.
As we have already pointed out, had it been his purpose to establish a material organization, then he certainly would not have given it out that something else was his especial purpose. But when the material organization, the church, purely a man made institution, was established, the early church fathers bringing even interpolations of the Holy Word to their aid in establishing it and some of its various observations—as modern scholarship has already so clearly discovered, and as it is continually discovering—the following ages, thinking that they had an institution to keep up, gradually lost, to a greater or less extent, the real spiritual teachings of the Master in their zeal to keep up the form of an institution with which he had nothing to do. And those long and bitter persecutions of the church in the early and middle ages, as well as the long list of crimes sanctioned and committed directly by the church of the middle ages, show that they had not the real truth; for those who live in the truth and have it uppermost in their minds and hearts never persecute—only those who are on either uncertain or false ground, and whose endeavor it is to keep up the form of an institution which they feel would otherwise fall to the ground.
No, true religion has never been known either to persecute or to show intolerance of any kind. Throughout the whole history of the churches' heresies and persecutions, the persecuted party has ever occupied a correspondingly higher and the persecuting party a lower position, the persecuting party continually fighting as it were for life. But the real truth which Jesus taught Trill not cause nor will it even permit persecutions—hence we find the latter only where there is the lack of the former.
And again, the real truth which Jesus taught will not admit of divisions, much less of intolerance, for all real truth is exact truth, and in regard to it there can be no differences, and our modern theologians and our churches of today, which get their form and life from the speculations and theories of the former, certainly have not the real truth that Jesus taught, for they are divided in various directions on practically every dogma that they seek to promulgate. And strange as it may seem, heresy trials, with all their absurd attendant features, are not entirely unknown even yet, today. But in Jesus' own words, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." And so if the church of today wants to stand as a real power in the world, or if indeed it wants to stand at all, it must either get back to, or it must come up, as the case may be, to the real living truth that Jesus lived and taught. Unless it does this it will inevitably lose its hold on the people even more rapidly than it is losing it today. And certainly the younger ones whom it does not yet hold will not be drawn to it, when they can turn to that which has a thousand-fold more of truth and hence of life-giving power than it has to offer.
That this is not a mere sentiment on our part is evidenced by the wonderful rapidity with which the "New Thought" movement—would that we could designate what we mean without using any term—which has its underlying truth, this conscious union with the Divine Life and the actualized powers attendant upon it as Jesus taught—hence not a new discovery, but a recovery—is growing in America, in England, to be brief, in practically every civilized country in the world. Thousands every year in our own and in other countries are finding in it the joys of the realized Divine Life, and are turning to it from that which but poorly feeds them; and that this also is no mere sentiment on our part is evidenced by the contents of a letter recently sent by a noted divine in high official standing in the church in England to a noted American preacher, in which he said, in substance, that the church in England is literally honeycombed by the "New Thought" movement, and asked that he be sent a list of the best books that had already appeared in America along the lines indicated.
And so what we need today is the same as what the world is eagerly calling for, the life-giving power of the great central truth that the Master taught, and not the various theories and speculations in regard to his origin, his birth, his life, and the meaning of his teachings. And still less, the fabrications of the early fathers in regard to inherited sin, original sin, vicarious atonement, and their believe-and-be-saved doctrine, and the alternative doctrine, fail to believe that which is opposed to all reason, all common sense, all real mercy, as well as all true justice, and be damned, be forever and eternally lost.
Jesus is indeed a Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world, but he takes them away by bringing to the world the truth that shall make men free. Hence it is through his life and the truth that he lived and taught, not through his death and the observance of the various ceremonies and forms that have grown up around it. Those who are aided by symbols—and I am aware of the fact that for some many hallowed associations are connected with them—may do well to make use of them until they outgrow the need for them. But symbols are of value only where the real thing is not, and those who have the real thing no longer have need for symbols. "But the hour cometh," said Jesus, "and now is" (since I have brought you the real spirit of truth), "when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such doth the Father seek to be His worshipers. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
Jesus, according to his own words, did not propose to rest satisfied with the mere historical belief that he was the Eternal Word made flesh, and much less, as some phases of theology teach, that reconciliation with the Father, as ordinarily understood, was his purpose. God would adopt no methods in connection with His children that are opposed to their own reason. Nor would He adopt any partial, limited, or tribal methods.
And if, as various theologians would have us believe, that reconciliation with the Father can come about only by a belief in the shedding of the material, physical blood of Jesus, that through it the Father may receive satisfaction for His favor, how, then, in regard to the great company of those who cannot accept a theory so absurd, so illogical, and so opposed to the nature of the living God whom they know, and whom they no longer have to speculate and theorize in regard to, to say nothing of the millions upon millions of those who never have heard, and other millions who never can hear, of the man Jesus and the story of his blood " shed for the sins of the world," nine-tenths of whom, for good reasons, would not believe it if they did hear it? No, these fabrications cannot be true, for "in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him." And so one may be without connection with any church, and even without connection with any established religion, and yet be in spirit, hence in reality* a much truer Christian than hosts of those who profess to be his most ardent followers, as indeed Jesus himself so many times says. "By their fruits ye shall know them," said he. "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
That which calls itself Christianity must prove itself, and only that that shows forth in its life the works, the power, the influence—the truth that Jesus' life showed forth—is the real. "He that believeth on me," said Jesus,—and shows it by living my life—" the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do because I go unto the Father." And he who would know by what authority Jesus spoke, let him live the life that he lived and he will then know of the doctrine. Thus and thus only can it be known. We may speculate and theorize in regard to it, but only by living the life can we know it.
More from Ralph Waldo Trine
- Lived from September 6th, 1866 to February, 22nd 1958
- Born in Mt. Morris, Illinois
- Most popular book is In Tune With the Infinite
- Was an early leader in the New Thought movement.