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RECONCILIATION OF THE SOUL AND GOD.
To investigate the doctrine of reconciliation, in the sense of the theological schools, would require a much broader basis than the materials which belong to our proper subject afford. That subject deals only with the personal teaching of Jesus Christ, and with the bearings of his teachings as he himself exhibited them, on the wants of human nature and on the state of the world. It does not reach the later expositions of the Christian faith by the Apostles; and still less, that classification of its articles, which was not accomplished till long after their times; and least of all that elaborated system, the boast of modern theology, so minute in its details and marked by such rigorous regard to logical order. Two subjects were prominent in the personal teaching of Christ—the soul and God. But there was an obvious design in the selection of these subjects, besides their intrinsic importance. In interpreting the soul and in revealing God, Jesus aimed at more than simply communicating new 145and ennobling knowledge to the world. What humanity needed was not merely to understand the soul and to understand God, it needed still more to learn how the soul might be restored to God, and how God might again dwell in the soul. The world knew and felt to its core that its spiritual relations were awfully deranged, but the source and cause of the evil it knew not. Jesus declared that the grand and sole cause was to be found in willful departure from God, departure in conscience, in affection, in thought. The two beings most nearly related to each other in the universe, man and God, the son and the Father, had become estranged and almost unknown to one another. On the part of God, indeed, there had been nothing but anxious love, agencies, messages, influences of love, from age to age, in order to overcome and subdue his children. He had never but seen and known them well in their wanderings and darkness; but they had almost ceased to know or think of him. The first deliberate act of separation from God proved not only itself an evil thing; it was a spreading evil, a self-perpetuating, self propagating disease in the soul. Divergence, once commenced, increased rapidly, and separated man from God by an ever-widening gulf. The process of alienation was extensive as it was swift, just as when an inconsiderable speck spreads and deepens into a thick, black cloud, and at last clothes the whole heavens with 146darkness. The true God was driven out from the spirit ho had created, and man gradually lost almost all knowledge and all faith. The evidence of history, secular and sacred, as to the condition of the ancient world, is uniform and decisive. The uncertainty that hung around even the being of God, the profound ignorance of his nature and character, the multiplication of objects of worship, the conversion of the glorious One into an “image made like to corruptible man and to four-footed beasts and creeping things”—these all utter a language not to be misunderstood. The son of God had almost ceased to know that he had a Father, or who was his Father.
This ever-widening separation, again, between man and God, contained within itself manifold spiritual calamities. God is the Fountain of infinite rectitude, purity, wisdom, truth, and love; and the entire system of things created by him in all its parts, and especially the moral nature of his children, as he formed them, was an expression and embodiment of these principles. It belonged to the moral nature of man as constituted by God, it was its positive destiny to move in harmony with the Eternal Reason, and the Eternal Will, and thus moving, to be as surely blessed in its degree as God himself is. The act of willful departure from God, therefore, was not simply a violation of filial duty on the part of God’s children; it was direct 147separation from rectitude and wisdom and all moral excellence, and, in another form, as certainly, from happiness, from peace, from life as God had constituted life to man. Thenceforward there were two wills and two courses—the will of God and his infinitely wise, right and good system; the human will, and its course of folly, of moral evil, of necessary suffering.
But the secondary and remoter consequences of departure from God were not less lamentable, than its primary effects. The laws of spiritual providence possess an almighty, retributive energy. Never a wrong can be done to God without its recoiling on the wrong-doer, with direful violence. Men were faithless to God, and ere long they were false to themselves; they abandoned God, and ere long they became strangers to themselves; first they dishonored God, and then they degraded their own nature. In a world from which the true God had been banished the human soul was trodden in the dust, and its holier powers and its immortal destinies were shrouded in thick darkness. The first and highest relation, the relation to God, being violated, all other relations were in their turn overthrown, and the spiritual nature. itself became a disorder and a ruin. Separation from God is not a partial, but a universal and unmitigated evil, it is death. The stream cut off from the fountain must be dried up, the branch severed from the tree must 148wither, the plant torn up from the soil must die. The root, not only of our animal, but of our intellectual and moral life, is in God. We are branches of the mighty Tree of universal spiritual existence, we are streams from that Fountain, which alone supplies the water of life in whatsoever channels it flows. To be in God—that is, to think, feel and choose in harmony with rectitude, purity? wisdom, truth and love—is the original constitution, the life of the Soul; it is its destiny, its freedom also, its glory, its very being. To depart from God, on the other hand, is to unite with folly, with wrong, with suffering. This is intellectual and moral ruin; it is truly death, such death as is possible to a rational and moral nature.
The union of minds, whether of the created with each other or of the created with the uncreated, can consist only in knowledge, love, confidence, and sympathy. For the real union of any two souls it is essential, first, that they understand, and then that they appreciate and esteem one another; that they cherish a mutual confidence and a sympathy in each others’ pursuits, tastes, and aims. Ignorance, dislike, distrust, and want of sympathy, it is seen in a moment, must be death to their union; and, on the other hand, that union is obviously more living and more real as their knowledge and esteem of each other are increased, and as their mutual confidence, sympathy, and love are deepened. 149The death of the human soul, in relation to God, is ignorance or false views of his character, indifference, or dislike, distrust, and want of sympathy. The life opposed to this death is right views of God. The source of peace, of holiness, of all that constitutes in the truest sense being to the soul in its relation to God, is right views of him, of his purity and his goodness, and of his merciful intentions toward his fallen children. It is a new and loving recognition of the character of God, it is recovered childlike trust in him, it is intelligent sympathy with his gracious procedure and plans. By knowledge, love, confidence and sympathy the untreated and the created mind are reunited, and no other union than this is possible to them. This is the righting again of the first and highest of all our relations, our relation to God; the only righting again which is needed or is possible; and this is grounded in the free surrender of the understanding, conscience, and heart to that Eternal Will which is rectitude, purity, wisdom, truth and love. This is life, re-newed life. The stream is connected again with the living Fountain, the branch is grafted in again into the Tree, the plant is rooted again in the parent Soil. The prodigal son returns again to his Father’s house and his Father’s heart. The two beings the most nearly related to each other in the whole universe—God and man—who 150were so awfully estranged are brought together, reconciled.
The reconciliation of the soul and God was the highest end of the personal ministry of Jesus. He often spoke of this as connected with his life, and as still more mysteriously related to his death. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”6363 John, iii. 16. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”6464 Matt., xx. 28. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”6565 John, x. 11. “I lay down my life for the sheep.”6666 John, x. 16. “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”6767 John, x. 17. “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the Scribes, and they shall condemn him to death.”6868 Matthew, xx. 18. “All ye shall be offended because of me this night for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.”6969 Matthew, xxvi. 31. In the reconciliation of men to God, 151Jesus expected and was prepared to sacrifice his life; and in point of fact he did sacrifice his life for this end. No devout examiner of the Christian books can doubt that the wonderful passages which have been quoted most distinctly teach that the death of Christ not only marks an era of the most solemn interest in the development of his religion, but fills an extraordinary place, and exerts an extraordinary power among the active forces of Christianity. Whatever other connections it may have, its relation to Jesus himself, as the highest expression of his love, and the strongest evidence of his invincible moral courage, and its relation to men as a mighty spiritual power acting upon the heart of the world, are beyond debate. But the whole of the ministry of Christ, and not the tragical close of it only, was a ministry of reconciliation. His life as well as his death was sacrificial and atoning. The soul and God at once, no longer divided by sin, by ignorance, enmity, distrust, but re-united and reconciled; for this Jesus both lived and died. The soul and God, as doctrines, constituted the chief theme of his teaching; but the doctrines were proclaimed because they contained the seed of life, of everlasting life to a dying world, and were fitted to originate a deep and vital change in men’s consciences and hearts. In dealing with these doctrines, Christ’s methods were various, but his aim was uniform; it was that men might recognize 152God and be reconciled to Him. Sometimes he revealed the soul to itself, its greatness and responsibility, its condition and its danger, and thus prompted it to rise to its own lofty sphere of thought and of action. Again, he revealed God to the soul as its Father, from whom it ought never to have been separated, and in reconciliation with whom only it could have peace and life. On the one hand, a deep and living faith in the destiny, the wants, and the claims of their own spiritual nature; on the other hand, a deep and living faith in the Father of their souls—these constituted the grand, the pressing necessity of human beings in that age; they do so not less at this moment. Jesus sought, therefore, first to place within men a perpetual spiritual presence, and then to surround men with a perpetual Divine presence. By his life and by his death, he sought to restore God to man, and man to God. The spiritual restoration and regeneration of the world, in other words, the establishment of a reign of God in the human soul, forms the true idea of the personal ministry of Christ, the true idea of his life, the true idea of his death.153
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