Esoteric Christianity, or The Lesser Mysteries Part 5

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This is the descent of the Logos into matter, described as the birth of the Christ of a Virgin, and this, in the Solar Myth, becomes the birth of the Sun-G.o.d as the sign Virgo rises.

Then come the early workings of the Logos in matter, aptly typified by the infancy of the myth. To all the feebleness of infancy His majestic powers bow themselves, letting but little play forth on the tender forms they ensoul. Matter imprisons, seems as though threatening to slay, its infant King, whose glory is veiled by the limitations He has a.s.sumed.

Slowly He shapes it towards high ends, and lifts it into manhood, and then stretches Himself on the cross of matter that He may pour forth from that cross all the powers of His surrendered life. This is the Logos of whom Plato said that He was in the figure of a cross on the universe; this is the Heavenly Man, standing in s.p.a.ce, with arms outstretched in blessing; this is the Christ crucified, whose death on the cross of matter fills all matter with His life. Dead He seems and buried out of sight, but He rises again clothed in the very matter in which He seemed to perish, and carries up His body of now radiant matter into heaven, where it receives the downpouring life of the Father, and becomes the vehicle of man's immortal life. For it is the life of the Logos which forms the garment of the Soul in man, and He gives it that men may live through the ages and grow to the measure of His own stature. Truly are we clothed in Him, first materially and then spiritually. He sacrificed Himself to bring many sons into glory, and He is with us always, even to the end of the age.

The crucifixion of Christ, then, is part of the great kosmic sacrifice, and the allegorical representation of this in the physical Mysteries, and the sacred symbol of the crucified man in s.p.a.ce, became materialised into an actual death by crucifixion, and a crucifix bearing a dying human form; then this story, now the story of a man, was attached to the Divine Teacher, Jesus, and became the story of His physical death, while the birth from a Virgin, the danger-encircled infancy, the resurrection and ascension, became also incidents in His human life. The Mysteries disappeared, but their grandiose and graphic representations of the kosmic work of the Logos encircled and uplifted the beloved figure of the Teacher of Judaea, and the kosmic Christ of the Mysteries, with the lineaments of the Jesus of history, thus became the central Figure of the Christian Church.

But even this was not all; the last touch of fascination is added to the Christ-story by the fact that there is another Christ of the Mysteries, close and dear to the human heart--the Christ of the human Spirit, the Christ who is in every one of us, is born and lives, is crucified, rises from the dead, and ascends into heaven, in every suffering and triumphant "Son of Man."

The life-story of every Initiate into the true, the heavenly Mysteries, is told in its salient features in the Gospel biography. For this reason, S. Paul speaks as we have seen[211] of the birth of the Christ in the disciple, and of His evolution and His full stature therein.

Every man is a potential Christ, and the unfolding of the Christ-life in a man follows the outline of the Gospel story in its striking incidents, which we have seen to be universal, and not particular.

There are five great Initiations in the life of a Christ, each one marking a stage in the unfolding of the Life of Love. They are given now, as of old, and the last marks the final triumph of the Man who has developed into Divinity, who has transcended humanity, and has become a Saviour of the world.

Let us trace this life-story, ever newly repeated in spiritual experience, and see the Initiate living out the life of the Christ.

At the first great Initiation the Christ is born in the disciple; it is then that he realises for the first time _in himself_ the outpouring of the divine Love, and experiences that marvellous change which makes him feel himself to be one with all that lives. This is the "Second Birth,"

and at that birth the heavenly ones rejoice, for he is born into "the kingdom of heaven," as one of the "little ones," as "a little child"--the names ever given to the new Initiates. Such is the meaning of the words of Jesus, that a man must become a little child to enter into the Kingdom.[212] It is significantly said in some of the early Christian writers that Jesus was "born in a cave"--the "stable" of the gospel narrative; the "Cave of Initiation" is a well-known ancient phrase, and the Initiate is ever born therein; over that cave "where the young child" is burns the "Star of Initiation," the Star that ever s.h.i.+nes forth in the East when a Child-Christ is born. Every such child is surrounded by perils and menaces, strange dangers that befall not other babes; for he is anointed with the chrism of the second birth and the Dark Powers of the unseen world ever seek his undoing. Despite all trials, however, he grows into manhood, for the Christ once born can never perish, the Christ once beginning to develop can never fail in his evolution; his fair life expands and grows, ever-increasing in wisdom and in spiritual stature, until the time comes for the second great Initiation, the Baptism of the Christ by Water and the Spirit, that gives him the powers necessary for the Teacher, who is to go forth and labour in the world as "the beloved Son."

Then there descends upon him in rich measure the divine Spirit, and the glory of the unseen Father pours down its pure radiance on him; but from that scene of blessing is he led by the Spirit into the wilderness and is once more exposed to the ordeal of fierce temptations. For now the powers of the Spirit are unfolding themselves in him, and the Dark Ones strive to lure him from his path by these very powers, bidding him use them for his own helping instead of resting on his Father in patient trust. In the swift, sudden transitions which test his strength and faith, the whisper of the embodied Tempter follows the voice of the Father, and the burning sands of the wilderness scorch the feet erstwhile laved in the cool waters of the holy river. Conqueror over these temptations he pa.s.ses into the world of men to use for their helping the powers he would not put forth for his own needs, and he who would not turn one stone to bread for the stilling of his own cravings feeds "five thousand men, besides women and children," with a few loaves.

Into his life of ceaseless service comes another brief period of glory, when he ascends "a high mountain apart"--the sacred Mount of Initiation.

There he is transfigured and there meets some of his great Forerunners, the Mighty Ones of old who trod where he now is treading. He pa.s.ses thus the third great Initiation, and then the shadow of his coming Pa.s.sion falls on him, and he steadfastly sets his face to go to Jerusalem--repelling the tempting words of one of his disciples--Jerusalem, where awaits him the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of Fire. After the Birth, the attack by Herod; after the Baptism, the temptation in the wilderness; after the Transfiguration, the setting forth towards the last stage of the Way of the Cross. Thus is triumph ever followed by ordeal, until the goal is reached.

Still grows the life of love, ever fuller and more perfect, the Son of Man s.h.i.+ning forth more clearly as the Son of G.o.d, until the time draws near for his final battle; and the fourth great Initiation leads him in triumph into Jerusalem, into sight of Gethsemane and Calvary. He is now the Christ ready to be offered, ready for the sacrifice on the cross. He is now to face the bitter agony in the Garden, where even his chosen ones sleep while he wrestles with his mortal anguish, and for a moment prays that the cup may pa.s.s from his lips; but the strong will triumphs and he stretches out his hand to take and drink, and in his loneliness an angel comes to him and strengthens him, as angels are wont to do when they see a Son of Man bending beneath his load of agony. The drinking of the bitter cup of betrayal, of desertion, of denial, meets him as he goes forth, and alone amid his jeering foes he pa.s.ses to his last fierce trial. Scourged by physical pain, pierced by cruel thorns of suspicion, stripped of his fair garments of purity in the eyes of the world, left in the hands of his foes, deserted apparently by G.o.d and man, he endures patiently all that befalls him, wistfully looking in his last extremity for aid. Left still to suffer, crucified, to die to the life of form, to surrender all life that belongs to the lower world, surrounded by triumphant foes who mock him, the last horror of great darkness envelopes him, and in the darkness he meets all the forces of evil; his inner vision is blinded, he finds himself alone, utterly alone, till the strong heart, sinking in despair, cries out to the Father who seems to have abandoned him, and the human soul faces, in uttermost loneliness, the crus.h.i.+ng agony of apparent defeat. Yet, summoning all the strength of the "unconquerable spirit," the lower life is yielded up, its death is willingly embraced, the body of desire is abandoned, and the Initiate "descends into h.e.l.l," that no region of the universe he is to help may remain untrodden by him, that none may be too outcast to be reached by his all-embracing love. And then springing upwards from the darkness, he sees the light once more, feels himself again as the Son, inseparable from the Father whose he is, rises to the life that knows no ending, radiant in the consciousness of death faced and overcome, strong to help to the uttermost every child of man, able to pour out his life into every struggling soul. Among his disciples he remains awhile to teach, unveiling to them the mysteries of the spiritual worlds, preparing them also to tread the path he has trodden, until, the earth-life over, he ascends to the Father, and, in the fifth great Initiation, becomes the Master triumphant, the link between G.o.d and man.

Such was the story lived through in the true Mysteries of old and now, and dramatically pourtrayed in symbols in the physical plane Mysteries, half veiled, half shown. Such is the Christ of the Mysteries in His dual aspect, Logos and man, kosmic and individual. Is it any wonder that this story, dimly felt, even when unknown, by the mystic, has woven itself into the heart, and served as an inspiration to all n.o.ble living? The Christ of the human heart is, for the most part, Jesus seen as the mystic human Christ, struggling, suffering, dying, finally triumphant, the Man in whom humanity is seen crucified and risen, whose victory is the promise of victory to every one who, like Him, is faithful through death and beyond--the Christ who can never be forgotten while He is born again and again in humanity, while the world needs Saviours, and Saviours give themselves for men.

CHAPTER VII.

THE ATONEMENT.

We will now proceed to study certain aspects of the Christ-Life, as they appear among the doctrines of Christianity. In the exoteric teachings they appear as attached only to the Person of the Christ; in the esoteric they are seen as belonging indeed to Him, since in their primary, their fullest and deepest meaning they form part of the activities of the Logos, but as being only secondarily reflected in the Christ, and therefore also in every Christ-Soul that treads the way of the Cross. Thus studied they will be seen to be profoundly true, while in their exoteric form they often bewilder the intelligence and jar the emotions.

Among these stands prominently forward the doctrine of the Atonement; not only has it been a point of bitter attack from those outside the pale of Christianity, but it has wrung many sensitive consciences within that pale. Some of the most deeply Christian thinkers of the last half of the nineteenth century have been tortured with doubts as to the teaching of the churches on this matter, and have striven to see, and to present it, in a way that softens or explains away the cruder notions based on an unintelligent reading of a few profoundly mystical texts.

Nowhere, perhaps, more than in connection with these should the warning of S. Peter be borne in mind: "Our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you--as also in all his epistles--speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto own destruction."[213] For the texts that tell of the ident.i.ty of the Christ with His brother-men have been wrested into a legal subst.i.tution of Himself for them, and have thus been used as an escape from the results of sin, instead of as an inspiration to righteousness.

The general teaching in the Early Church on the doctrine of the Atonement was that Christ, as the Representative of Humanity, faced and conquered Satan, the representative of the Dark Powers, who held humanity in bondage, wrested his captive from him, and set him free.

Slowly, as Christian teachers lost touch with spiritual truths, and they reflected their own increasing intolerance and harshness on the pure and loving Father of the teachings of the Christ, they represented Him as angry with man, and the Christ was made to save man from the wrath of G.o.d instead of from the bondage of evil. Then legal phrases intruded, still further materialising the once spiritual idea, and the "scheme of redemption" was forensically outlined. "The seal was set on the 'redemption scheme' by Anselm in his great work, _Cur Deus h.o.m.o_, and the doctrine which had been slowly growing into the theology of Christendom was thenceforward stamped with the signet of the Church.

Roman Catholics and Protestants, at the time of the Reformation, alike believed in the vicarious and subst.i.tutionary character of the atonement wrought by Christ. There is no dispute between them on this point. I prefer to allow the Christian divines to speak for themselves as to the character of the atonement.... Luther teaches that 'Christ did truly and effectually feel for all mankind the wrath of G.o.d, malediction, and death.' Flavel says that 'to wrath, to the wrath of an infinite G.o.d without mixture, to the very torments of h.e.l.l, was Christ delivered, and that by the hand of his own father.' The Anglican homily preaches that 'sin did pluck G.o.d out of heaven to make him feel the horrors and pains of death,' and that man, being a firebrand of h.e.l.l and a bondsman of the devil, 'was ransomed by the death of his only and well-beloved son'; the 'heat of his wrath,' 'his burning wrath,' could only be 'pacified' by Jesus, 'so pleasant was the sacrifice and oblation of his son's death.'

Edwards, being logical, saw that there was a gross injustice in sin being twice punished, and in the pains of h.e.l.l, the penalty of sin, being twice inflicted, first on Jesus, the subst.i.tute of mankind, and then on the lost, a portion of mankind; so he, in common with most Calvinists, finds himself compelled to restrict the atonement to the elect, and declared that Christ bore the sins, not of the world, but of the chosen out of the world; he suffers 'not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me.' But Edwards adheres firmly to the belief in subst.i.tution, and rejects the universal atonement for the very reason that 'to believe Christ died for all is the surest way of proving that he died for none in the sense Christians have hitherto believed.' He declares that 'Christ suffered the wrath of G.o.d for men's sins'; that 'G.o.d imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of h.e.l.l for,' sin. Owen regards Christ's sufferings as 'a full valuable compensation to the justice of G.o.d for all the sins' of the elect, and says that he underwent 'that same punishment which ... they themselves were bound to undergo.'"[214]

To show that these views were still authoritatively taught in the churches, I wrote further: "Stroud makes Christ drink 'the cup of the wrath of G.o.d.' Jenkyn says 'He suffered as one disowned and reprobated and forsaken of G.o.d.' Dwight considers that he endured G.o.d's 'hatred and contempt.' Bishop Jeune tells us that 'after man had done his worst, worse remained for Christ to bear. He had fallen into his father's hands.' Archbishop Thomson preaches that 'the clouds of G.o.d's wrath gathered thick over the whole human race: they discharged themselves on Jesus only.' He 'becomes a curse for us and a vessel of wrath.' Liddon echoes the same sentiment: 'The apostles teach that mankind are slaves, and that Christ on the cross is paying their ransom. Christ crucified is voluntarily devoted and accursed'; he even speaks of 'the precise amount of ignominy and pain needed for the redemption,' and says that the 'divine victim' paid more than was absolutely necessary."[215]

These are the views against which the learned and deeply religious Dr.

McLeod Campbell wrote his well-known work, _On the Atonement_, a volume containing many true and beautiful thoughts; F. D. Maurice and many other Christian men have also striven to lift from Christianity the burden of a doctrine so destructive of all true ideas as to the relations between G.o.d and man.

None the less, as we look backwards over the effects produced by this doctrine, we find that belief in it, even in its legal--and to us crude exoteric--form, is connected with some of the very highest developments of Christian conduct, and that some of the n.o.blest examples of Christian manhood and womanhood have drawn from it their strength, their inspiration, and their comfort. It would be unjust not to recognise this fact. And whenever we come upon a fact that seems to us startling and incongruous, we do well to pause upon that fact, and to endeavour to understand it. For if this doctrine contained nothing more than is seen in it by its a.s.sailants inside and outside the churches, if it were in its true meaning as repellent to the conscience and the intellect as it is found to be by many thoughtful Christians, then it could not possibly have exercised over the minds and hearts of men a compelling fascination, nor could it have been the root of heroic self-surrenders, of touching and pathetic examples of self-sacrifice in the service of man. Something more there must be in it than lies on the surface, some hidden kernel of life which has nourished those who have drawn from it their inspiration. In studying it as one of the Lesser Mysteries we shall find the hidden life which these n.o.ble ones have unconsciously absorbed, these souls which were so at one with that life that the form in which it was veiled could not repel them.

When we come to study it as one of the Lesser Mysteries, we shall feel that for its understanding some spiritual development is needed, some opening of the inner eyes. To grasp it requires that its spirit should be partly evolved in the life, and only those who know practically something of the meaning of self-surrender will be able to catch a glimpse of what is implied in the esoteric teaching on this doctrine, as the typical manifestation of the Law of Sacrifice. We can only understand it as applied to the Christ, when we see it as a special manifestation of the universal law, a reflection below of the Pattern above, showing us in a concrete human life what sacrifice means.

The Law of Sacrifice underlies our system and all systems, and on it all universes are builded. It lies at the root of evolution, and alone makes it intelligible. In the doctrine of the Atonement it takes a concrete form in connection with men who have reached a certain stage in spiritual development, the stage that enables them to realise their oneness with humanity, and to become, in very deed and truth, Saviours of men.

All the great religions of the world have declared that the universe begins by an act of sacrifice, and have incorporated the idea of sacrifice into their most solemn rites. In Hinduism, the dawn of manifestation is said to be by sacrifice,[216] mankind is emanated with sacrifice,[217] and it is Deity who sacrifices Himself;[218] the object of the sacrifice is manifestation; He cannot become manifest unless an act of sacrifice be performed, and inasmuch as nothing can be manifest until He manifests,[219] the act of sacrifice is called "the dawn" of creation.

In the Zoroastrian religion it was taught that in the Existence that is boundless, unknowable, unnameable, sacrifice was performed and manifest Deity appeared; Ahura-mazdao was born of an act of sacrifice.[220]

In the Christian religion the same idea is indicated in the phrase: "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,"[221] slain at the origin of things. These words can but refer to the important truth that there can be no founding of a world until the Deity has made an act of sacrifice. This act is explained as limiting Himself in order to become manifest. "The Law of Sacrifice might perhaps more truly be called The Law of Manifestation, or the Law of Love and of Life, for throughout the universe, from the highest to the lowest, it is the cause of manifestation and life."[222]

"Now, if we study this physical world, as being the most available material, we find that all life in it, all growth, all progress, alike for units and for aggregates, depend on continual sacrifice and the endurance of pain. Mineral is sacrificed to vegetable, vegetable to animal, both to man, men to men, and all the higher forms again break up, and reinforce again with their separated const.i.tuents the lowest kingdom. It is a continual sequence of sacrifices from the lowest to the highest, and the very mark of progress is that the sacrifice from being involuntary and imposed becomes voluntary and self-chosen, and those who are recognised as greatest by man's intellect and loved most by man's heart are the supreme sufferers, those heroic souls who wrought, endured, and died that the race might profit by their pain. If the world be the work of the Logos, and the law of the world's progress in the whole and the parts is sacrifice, then the Law of Sacrifice must point to something in the very nature of the Logos; it must have its root in the Divine Nature itself. A little further thought shows us that if there is to be a world, a universe at all, this can only be by the One Existence conditioning Itself and thus making manifestation possible, and that the very Logos is the Self-limited G.o.d; limited to become manifest; manifested to bring a universe into being; such self-limitation and manifestation can only be a supreme act of sacrifice, and what wonder that on every hand the world should show its birth-mark, and that the Law of Sacrifice should be the law of being, the law of the derived lives.

"Further, as it is an act of sacrifice in order that individuals may come into existence to share the Divine bliss, it is very truly a vicarious act--an act done for the sake of others; hence the fact already noted, that progress is marked by sacrifice becoming voluntary and self-chosen, and we realise that humanity reaches its perfection in the man who gives himself for men, and by his own suffering purchases for the race some lofty good.

"Here, in the highest regions, is the inmost verity of vicarious sacrifice, and however it may be degraded and distorted, this inner spiritual truth makes it indestructible, eternal, and the fount whence flows the spiritual energy which, in manifold forms and ways, redeems the world from evil and draws it home to G.o.d."[223]

When the Logos comes forth from "the bosom of the Father" in that "Day"

when He is said to be "begotten,"[224] the dawn of the Day of Creation, of Manifestation, when by Him G.o.d "made the worlds,"[225] He by His own will limits Himself, making as it were a sphere enclosing the Divine Life, coming forth as a radiant orb of Deity, the Divine Substance, Spirit within and limitation, or Matter, without. This is the veil of matter which makes possible the birth of the Logos, Mary, the World-Mother, necessary for the manifestation in time of the Eternal, that Deity may manifest for the building of the worlds.

That circ.u.mscription, that self-limitation, is the act of sacrifice, a voluntary action done for love's sake, that other lives may be born from Him. Such a manifestation has been regarded as a death, for, in comparison with the unimaginable life of G.o.d in Himself, such circ.u.mscription in matter may truly be called death. It has been regarded, as we have seen, as a crucifixion in matter, and has been thus figured, the true origin of the symbol of the cross, whether in its so-called Greek form, wherein the vivifying of matter by the Holy Ghost is signified, or in its so-called Latin, whereby the Heavenly Man is figured, the supernal Christ.[226]

"In tracing the symbolism of the Latin cross, or rather of the crucifix, back into the night of time, the investigators had expected to find the figure disappear, leaving behind what they supposed to be the earlier cross-emblem. As a matter of fact exactly the reverse took place, and they were startled to find that eventually the cross drops away, leaving only the figure with uplifted arms. No longer is there any thought of pain or sorrow connected with that figure, though still it tells of sacrifice; rather is it now the symbol of the purest joy the world can hold--the joy of freely giving--for it typifies the Divine Man standing in s.p.a.ce with arms upraised in blessing, casting abroad His gifts to all humanity, pouring forth freely of Himself in all directions, descending into that 'dense sea' of matter, to be cribbed, cabined, and confined therein, in order that through that descent _we_ may come into being."[227]

This sacrifice is perpetual, for in every form in this universe of infinite diversity this life is enfolded, and is its very heart, the "Heart of Silence" of the Egyptian ritual, the "Hidden G.o.d." This sacrifice is the secret of evolution. The Divine Life, cabined within a form, ever presses outwards in order that the form may expand, but presses gently, lest the form should break ere yet it had reached its utmost limit of expansion. With infinite patience and tact and discretion, the divine One keeps up the constant pressure that expands, without loosing a force that would disrupt. In every form, in mineral, in vegetable, in animal, in man, this expansive energy of the Logos is ceaselessly working. That is the evolutionary force, the lifting life within the forms, the rising energy that science glimpses, but knows not whence it comes. The botanist tells of an energy within the plant, that pulls ever upwards; he knows not how, he knows not why, but he gives it a name--the _vis a fronte_--because he finds it there, or rather finds its results. Just as it is in plant life, so is it in other forms as well, making them more and more expressive of the life within them. When the limit of any form is reached, and it can grow no further, so that nothing more can be gained through it by the soul of it--that germ of Himself, which the Logos is brooding over--then He draws away His energy, and the form disintegrates--we call it death and decay. But the soul is with Him, and He shapes for it a new form, and the death of the form is the birth of the soul into fuller life. If we saw with the eyes of the Spirit instead of with the eyes of the flesh, we should not weep over a form, which is a corpse giving back the materials out of which it was builded, but we should joy over the life pa.s.sing onwards into n.o.bler form, to expand under the unchanging process the powers still latent within.

Through that perpetual sacrifice of the Logos all lives exist; it is the life by which the universe is ever becoming. This life is One, but it embodies itself in myriad forms, ever drawing them together and gently overcoming their resistance. Thus it is an At-one-ment, a unifying force, by which the separated lives are gradually made conscious of their unity, labouring to develop in each a self-consciousness, which shall at last know itself to be one with all others, and its root One and divine.

This is the primary and ever-continued sacrifice, and it will be seen that it is an outpouring of Life directed by Love, a voluntary and glad pouring forth of Self for the making of other Selves. This is "the joy of thy Lord"[228] into which the faithful servant enters, significantly followed by the statement that He was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, a stranger and in prison, in the helped or neglected children of men. To the free Spirit to give itself is joy, and it feels its life the more keenly, the more it pours itself forth. And the more it gives, the more it grows, for the law of the growth of life is that it increases by pouring itself forth and not by drawing from without--by giving, not by taking. Sacrifice, then, in its primary meaning, is a thing of joy; the Logos pours Himself out to make a world, and, seeing the travail of His soul, is satisfied.[229]

But the word has come to be a.s.sociated with suffering, and in all religious rites of sacrifice some suffering, if only that of a trivial loss to the sacrificer, is present. It is well to understand how this change has come about, so that when the word "sacrifice" is used the instinctive connotation is one of pain.

The explanation is seen when we turn from the manifesting Life to the forms in which it is embodied, and look at the question of sacrifice from the side of the forms. While the life of Life is in giving, the life, or persistence, of form is in taking, for the form is wasted as it is exercised, it is diminished as it is exerted. If the form is to continue, it must draw fresh material from outside itself in order to repair its losses, else will it waste and vanish away. The form must grasp, keep, build into itself what it has grasped, else it cannot persist; and the law of growth of the form is to take and a.s.similate that which the wider universe supplies. As the consciousness identifies itself with the form, regarding the form as itself, sacrifice takes on a painful aspect; to give, to surrender, to lose what has been acquired, is felt to undermine the persistence of the form, and thus the Law of Sacrifice becomes a law of pain instead of a law of joy.

Man had to learn by the constant breaking up of forms, and the pain involved in the breaking, that he must not identify himself with the wasting and changing forms, but with the growing persistent life, and he was taught his lesson not only by external nature, but by the deliberate lessons of the Teachers who gave him religions.

We can trace in the religions of the world four great stages of instruction in the Law of Sacrifice. First, man was taught to sacrifice part of his material possession in order to gain increased material prosperity, and sacrifices were made in charity to men and in offerings to Deities, as we may read in the scriptures of the Hindus, the Zoroastrians, the Hebrews, indeed all the world over. The man gave up something he valued to insure future prosperity to himself, his family, his community, his nation. He sacrificed in the present to gain in the future. Secondly, came a lesson a little harder to learn; instead of physical prosperity and worldly good, the fruit to be gained by sacrifice was celestial bliss. Heaven was to be won, happiness was to be enjoyed on the other side of death--such was the reward for sacrifices made during the life led on earth.

A considerable step forward was made when a man learned to give up the things for which his body craved for the sake of a distant good which he could not see nor demonstrate. He learned to surrender the visible for the invisible, and in so doing rose in the scale of being; for so great is the fascination of the visible and the tangible, that if a man be able to surrender them for the sake of an unseen world in which he believes, he has acquired much strength and has made a long step towards the realisation of that unseen world. Over and over again martyrdom has been endured, obloquy has been faced, man has learned to stand alone, bearing all that his race could pour upon him of pain, misery, and shame, looking to that which is beyond the grave. True, there still remains in this a longing for celestial glory, but it is no small thing to be able to stand alone on earth and rest on spiritual companions.h.i.+p, to cling firmly to the inner life when the outer is all torture.

The third lesson came when a man, seeing himself as part of a greater life, was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the whole, and so became strong enough to recognise that sacrifice was right, that a part, a fragment, a unit in the sum total of life, should subordinate the part to the whole, the fragment to the totality. Then he learned to do right, without being affected by the outcome to his own person, to do duty, without wis.h.i.+ng for result to himself, to endure because endurance was right not because it would be crowned, to give because gifts were due to humanity not because they would be repaid by the Lord. The hero-soul thus trained was ready for the fourth lesson: that sacrifice of all the separated fragment possesses is to be offered because the Spirit is not really separate but is part of the divine Life, and knowing no difference, feeling no separation, the man pours himself forth as part of the Life Universal, and in the expression of that Life he shares the joy of his Lord.

It is in the three earlier stages that the pain-aspect of sacrifice is seen. The first meets but small sufferings; in the second the physical life and all that earth has to give may be sacrificed; the third is the great time of testing, of trying, of the growth and evolution of the human soul. For in that stage duty may demand all in which life seems to consist, and the man, still identified in _feeling_ with the form, though _knowing_ himself theoretically to transcend it, finds that all he feels as life is demanded of him, and questions: "If I let this go, what then will remain?" It seems as though consciousness itself would cease with this surrender, for it must loose its hold on all it realises, and it sees nothing to grasp on the other side. An over-mastering conviction, an imperious voice, call on him to surrender his very life. If he shrinks back, he must go on in the life of sensation, the life of the intellect, the life of the world, and as he has the joys he dared not resign, he finds a constant dissatisfaction, a constant craving, a constant regret and lack of pleasure in the world, and he realises the truth of the saying of the Christ that "he that will save his life shall lose it,"[230] and that the life that was loved and clung to is only lost at last. Whereas if he risks all in obedience to the voice that summons, if he throws away his life, then in losing it, he finds it unto life eternal,[231] and he discovers that the life he surrendered was only death in life, that all he gave up was illusion, and that he found reality. In that choice the metal of the soul is proved, and only the pure gold comes forth from the fiery furnace, where life seemed to be surrendered but where life was won. And then follows the joyous discovery that the life thus won is won for all, not for the separated self, that the abandoning of the separated self has meant the realising of the Self in man, and that the resignation of the limit which alone seemed to make life possible has meant the pouring out into myriad forms, an undreamed vividness and fulness, "the power of an endless life."[232]

Such is an outline of the Law of Sacrifice, based on the primary Sacrifice of the Logos, that Sacrifice of which all other sacrifices are reflexions.

We have seen how the man Jesus, the Hebrew disciple, laid down His body in glad surrender that a higher Life might descend and become embodied in the form He thus willingly sacrificed, and how by that act He became a Christ of full stature, to be the Guardian of Christianity, and to pour out His life into the great religion founded by the Mighty One with whom the sacrifice had identified Him. We have seen the Christ-Soul pa.s.sing through the great Initiations--born as a little child, stepping down into the river of the world's sorrows, with the waters of which he must be baptised into his active ministry, transfigured on the Mount, led to the scene of his last combat, and triumphing over death. We have now to see in what sense he is an atonement, how in the Christ-life the Law of Sacrifice finds a perfect expression.

Esoteric Christianity, or The Lesser Mysteries Part 5

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Esoteric Christianity, or The Lesser Mysteries Part 5 summary

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