Chapter XIX: The God of Men
Looking back from the heights and after-light of Paradise, all the earthscenes and connections are viewed and read in the light of a new interpretation, especially when one like Eilele undertakes to direct the vision. Her loyal soul had patiently learned how to trace the sequences in the confidence that springs from close communion with Him whom she had loved so well and long. I knew Him at present only by the hearing of the ear; she had been with and learned by Him, had caught something of His spirit, tasted of His tenderness, leaned upon His bosom, and could speak as she had heard Him speak. From such a vantage-ground all the past was seen to be flooded with a divine light, a divine compassion, a paternal consideration for and estimate of our weaknesses, and from this was reflected confidence and assurance for the future.
There had been moments in my recent experiences when the thought of the responsibilities of my chosen service made me pause and almost wish I had made some other choice, but with Eilele I viewed my mission with a confidence I had never felt before. Under the influence of her inspiration I ceased to think of the long period of probation I must necessarily serve to equip me for my duty, and recalled Cushna’s early assurance that time did not exist in Paradise. I no longer dwelt upon the desirability of going apart to reflect upon all I had seen and heard lest I should lose the lesson each incident was designed to teach, but discovered that every detail had been indelibly written upon my memory and stored away for use whenever an appropriate occasion should arise. Then the searchlight of recollection swept for an instant across the mass of information I had already garnered, and as I beheld I was astonished at the unsuspected resources available for my use.
Still, however much knowledge I had acquired, the one great subject of religion had never been definitely discussed with anyone with the fullness it deserved and needed before I could confidently enter upon my new work. Who was there in all the hosts of Paradise to whom I could appeal for assistance in this matter as to my present companion? When we were yet unknown to each other, and I was sitting in the darkness and desolation of the lower life, her poems came to me with a strange inspiration of consolation. She seemed to speak to me as no other could or did speak; she understood me even better than I understood myself; comforted me with songs no other voice could sing. Was she conscious of her power to stir my soul to depths no other influence had ever reached? It might be so, since on both occasions of our meeting she had voluntarily touched upon that one great subject I so desired to hear her explain. If she would but reach out her hand and lead me in the paths wherein she delighted to wander, allow me to follow where she could lead, assist me to climb to the heights of her own exaltation, what truths might I behold, what visions might I not see?
I was thus dreamily, hopefully meditating in the wake of what had already passed between us, but she, as usual, had taken flight into those regions I could not gain without assistance. I may have reached the outer portal of the shrine I fain would enter, but she had passed within and was worshipping in the inner presence where God was. I looked into her eyes, as she sat beside me, bright with the glory of the sight upon which she gazed; I saw her ears which I knew were ravished with the exquisite music of holy voices, but I could not see, I could not hear; my eyes and ears were not attuned to such vibrations. Yet it was good to be with her.
Presently her eyes lost their fixity, the lids drooped, she drew her hand automatically across her face, and breathed a soft sigh like a halfexpressed and reverent ‘Amen,’ then smiled as if in apology for her forgetfulness.
“I have been away,” she said, “travelling in distant but surpassingly lovely scenes.”
“More beautiful than these?” I inquired, looking about me on the enchanting surroundings of her house.
“As this transcends the earth,” she replied, “so also does it fail to suggest what I have seen. Ah, Aphraar, we can never know in looking forward or around, it is only in the looking back that we are able to understand. Life, love and God can only be known in the light of the afterglow, the soul will never be strong enough in the present to comprehend the overflow of that which surrounds us. God ever drops over us the half-obscuring veil of love when He is near; it hides Him from our sight while we inspire strength to move to heights of comprehension on which we turn to find that He has passed, then only can we see and understand.”
“You speak of heights I have not climbed; but I long to reach them if you will point out to me the way by which I may do so.”
“Yes, I will speak—will go with you, and together we will climb this sacred hill of the Lord.”
“Tell me of Him, for I know so little though I desire so much. If I do not know how can I speak of Him to earth?”
“I understand,” she answered softly, thoughtfully. “You wish to be fed that you may be able to return and feed others. I was only thinking of yourself. I can speak with you, but I cannot speak through you to others.”
“Wherein lies the difference?”
“I cannot explain, but the difference certainly exists. Did I not tell you my experience would not qualify you for your work? The request you now make brings me practically face to face with my own incompetence. I can speak to you as soul to soul, but to speak to others through you is quite another matter. Still, there are many friends who are able and ready to do so, and Omra will be pleased to send someone for the purpose.”
I saw a thought-flash take flight as she spoke, but as yet I was not accustomed to think that a decision and action thereon are synonymous, until we were joined by a stranger Omra had already deputed to instruct me as desired.
Rhamya is another of those youthful ancients upon whose shoulders the mystery of ages seems to rest as an invisible mantle of wisdom. Tall, calm and majestic in appearance, the first impression he made upon me was that of a magnificent mountain rising in stately grandeur from the bosom of a troubled sea. But a second glance speedily declared that in addition to granite walls and scarpings here was to be found assistance, refuge, shelter, and brotherly compassion.
Before he spoke I understood the wisdom of Eilele’s action. Our new friend was undeniably a teacher, my companion but a pupil in the school wherein I was desirous of studying for a time.
“Aphraar is joining Myhanene’s mission, Rhamya, and asks for such help as you can give far better than I am able.”
“So Omra tells me, and I am glad to be of service. Let us speak together in the light of God.”
“You are more than kind,” I replied, “and I can only hope that my future work will show how deeply I appreciate your effort.”
“Let us say pleasure and profit rather than effort,” he returned, “since in what we are about to do we shall be constrained to work under that fundamental law laid down by Christ—‘Give and it shall be given unto you.’ This at once changes the venue of obligation, and rather makes me to be the debtor for the privilege you have afforded me.”
“Experience teaches me the futility of discussion,” I answered, “therefore I will at once concede the point, though I shall insist on adding my own gratitude as a personal acknowledgement.”
Being thus placed upon the most affable terms Rhamya immediately addressed himself to the purpose of his visit.
“Now let this be my first word of counsel to you in relation to your forthcoming mission; whenever you are consulted as to any thought, action or opinion, be careful before replying to place yourself as far as possible on the same ground in relation to the question as Christ Himself occupied; and where you have no clear statement of His to guide you, be sure your interpretation of the general law He has laid down is natural, consistent and reasonably clear. There are other teachers, but none of such authority as He who was ‘God’—i.e., as much of God as it is possible to be—‘manifest in the flesh.’ Whatever adds to or takes from the fundamental basis of His teaching, no matter under what circumstances or by what authority, is not of truth. Do you understand what I mean?”
“We have then to discover what was the true position of Jesus Christ towards authority, for this one question will be the one pivot upon which the strength of your own position will rest. Fortunately He has left no possible doubt upon this point. His command is to ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.’ There can be no two opinions as to His meaning here—in all things temporal submit to temporal authority; in all things spiritual to God alone. This law of Christ is far more drastic, when fully applied, than appears at first sight. It allows no shred of divine authority to any purely human foundation—no ecclesiastical or religious corporation exists as a Christian institution. This Paul understood when he declared to Timothy, ‘There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’; there is no room for any human foundation here and this teaching is quite harmonious with that of the Master to the woman at Sychar—‘Ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father . . . God is a spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.’ Hence the true church of Christ is a spiritual communion, not a visible assembly governed by a human authority. Still the attitude of Christ towards the existing systems of His day was rather one of tolerance than denunciation. If He offered no sacrifice at the Temple—which as a prophet he could not do, as we shall see presently—He did not rail against its services, but occasionally was to be found within its precincts. He was always glad to recognize any tendency towards the betterment of men, and, as shown in His parable of the Tares, never in undue haste to destroy the evil lest He might also bring the good associated with it to naught. At the same time His opposition to the unspiritual leaders of the Temple was never for a moment in doubt. Such is the Christ attitude towards ecclesiastical institutions of every kind, and such of necessity must be that of His church.”
“Can you assign any definite reason for this necessity?”
“There is a very cogent and all-important reason for it, which I shall be glad to set before you. Unassisted humanity in its best, noblest and highest aspect is always imperfect, limited and absolutely unable to conceive a condition of being beyond the cognizance of the five senses. Its highest conception of God is bounded by these limitations, and never rises beyond the magnified proportions of a man with a moral nature leaving much to be desired. For this reason, if for no other, it would be impossible for God to submit Himself to the authority of any foundation of men. The religious faculty is the divinest endowment of the soul, and is it credible that when physical science is already marching with conquering strides across the plains of the invisible, that while intrepid pioneers are scaling the heights of the intangible, God should commit the welfare of the soul to the hands of men who would clip its wings and hold it imprisoned in the grip of so-called Fathers, who forged its fetters long, long centuries ago? All this God and Christ foreknew and wisely ordained the nonauthority of any human institution in spiritual matters.”
“Do you forget the existence of inspiration?”
“No. On the contrary, I am ever willing to admit that the origin of most religious systems is to be found in inspiration of a certain kind, but the admission does not affect the conclusion. Inspiration is not a vision granted to Moses, Isaiah, Paul or even Jesus with an infallible authority binding upon all who come after the revelation. Christ was very definite upon this point: ‘I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth.’ Inspiration, then, is rather a river following humanity, an evolution with a succession of revelation after revelation, a heritage to be entered into as humanity is able to bear them. Hence by another inference no inspiration is perfect in itself, but each, if rightly apprehended, leads on to something better until the last, whenever that may be attained, shall lead us into the presence of Him who alone is perfect—our Father God. Let me make myself clearly understood here in saying that no perfect inspiration has ever reached earth through man, nor can it possibly do so, since man himself is imperfect. I make no exception in this respect. Christ acknowledged this when He said there were things which were known, ‘not to the angels which are in Heaven, neither the Son, but the Father’ only; and where He makes such an admission as to His own limitations, we may well content ourselves not to claim more for less favoured individuals or institutions. I point this out that you may see how I keep Christ first.”
“I am carefully following all you say,” I replied, anxious not to disturb or turn him aside from the argument I could well see he had not yet concluded.
“This question now leads me to another fatal objection against the authority of ecclesiastical religion. God has from the first chosen that this stream of inspiration, ever flowing in broadening, deepening and increasing capacity of service to humanity, shall be His channel of communication with the evolving soul of man; but the recognition of this arrangement would be destructive of any hierarchal pretensions, and for that reason there has always been a deadly feud waged against the prophets by the priests, a thought which brings me back to my statement that Jesus, as a prophet, could not join in the sacrificial service of the Temple.”
“How, then, could the sacrifices be a foreshadowing of His own great work?”
“They were not. Neither the Levitical Code nor the Rabbinical interpretation of it bore any trace of such a suggestion. The Messiah expected by the Temple was an all-conquering monarch, who was to restore the glories of the reign of David and himself sit for ever on the throne set up by the Shepherd-psalmist. The opposition the priests and rulers offered to the Christ, which was carried to every possible extreme until the crucifixion was accomplished, sprang from the fact that the character He assumed was so contrary to all their claims, expectations, teachings and interests. The relative positions occupied by Christ and the Temple were as far apart as those which were assigned to Dives and Lazarus in the suggestive parable, and all attempts at reconciliation were impossible unless the cult of the Temple was spiritually advanced and lost in the new birth of the eternal kingdom. Nothing can more clearly show this division than the utterance of the Christ: ‘It is written My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.’ You can commit no greater error in this respect than to imagine that the priests of Israel considered their cult and service to be anticipatory of the sacrificial work of Christ; the Levitical Code abounds in assurances that the priesthood shall be an everlasting institution, while all the prophets are equally emphatic in declaring that the cult was a purely human one and lacked divine authority. Jesus was neither Priest nor Levite. He came of neither of the sacerdotal clans, nor was He one with the spirit of the fraternity. He was through and through a prophet, and upon Him rested the undeniable mantle of prophetic inspiration.”
“But did not the prophets also offer sacrifices?”
“No!” was the laconic but emphatic reply.
“Have you forgotten Elijah on Carmel?” I asked.
“That was not a sacrifice, but rather a test to prove whether the God of the prophet or the god of the priests was the true God. It was a demonstration to Israel in a time of national danger that organized religion, however punctiliously its ceremonial may be carried out by a united people and a hierarchy of priests, has not the influence of a single consecrated life in an appeal to Heaven. It was a declaration once and for all, such as Paul afterwards put into words on Mars Hill when he said, ‘God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of Heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands as though He needed anything.’ What more need I say to prove that the God men have fashioned and moulded into the creeds of systematized theology is not the God the world has so long been stretching out its hands to find? The God of Christ is the God the world is waiting for. He who has been put forward as a god by the priests—a god subject to all kinds of petty caprice, who can be bribed into imputing a righteousness which is not attained, who is manipulated by the will of man, and governs his kingdom according to the decisions of church councils—is but a poor substitute for the great Father of the human race, has become an insult to intelligence, and men turn away from the ecclesiastical pupper in loathing disgust. Let your first endeavour in your new mission be to give them back the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; speaking a living gospel through the inspired lips of living men, and calling to a newness of life which shall prove its divinity by the fruit it bears. This is the only spiritual authority the world will accept, radiating the power and glory of God, and so safeguarded that the gates of error shall not prevail against it.”