It now remains to show what are the special features of that religion with which the readers of these pages will be most familiar–namely, the Christian religion. A religion such as the Christian religion is both a teaching and a life. It both shows to people what is the plan of life, as God has designed it, and extends to them the necessary help or grace to live their lives in accordance with that plan. In this chapter we will attempt to show in summary form how in the Christian religion the plan of God is unfolded, and in what doctrinal formulæ it is presented to the human mind. Also presented will be the various means by which grace or spiritual power is brought down from higher to lower levels, and extended far and wide over the levels at which human beings in the incarnate state live their lives.
For our present purpose we may leave on one side the great doctrines which describe the being of God and the nature of Christ, for these have already been considered earlier. It is sufficient to say that in the Christian religion the doctrine of the Trinity is distinctly taught; that the idea of God which finds most favor amongst Christians of all varieties, both now and in the past, is the idea which has been described as Theism; and that Christians of all ages and of all shades of opinion are at one in the belief that Christ is “very God of very God” and “of one substance with the Father.” We do not suppose that any who are able to accept the teaching so incompletely–because so briefly–outlined in the earlier sections as substantially true will have any difficulty in giving their assent to the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ–at any rate, in the simple form in which they are here expressed, though they may not be at all prepared to accept the teaching of Theism as the truest possible definition of the being of God. But we must now consider the application of those teachings in the Christian form to the life and progress of humankind, for it is in this application that their interest for us chiefly consists.
There are two main doctrines which sum up the whole of the teaching of the Christian Faith concerning God’s dealings with man and man’s relation to Christ and to God. These are the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Redemption. We will consider these separately for the sake of greater clearness, though it will be seen as we proceed that there must be some overlapping and interlocking.
The term “Incarnation” is almost invariably used for the coming of God the Son in the flesh in the form of Jesus Christ. The word, as we have already seen, is a Latin word which means “taking flesh” or “coming in flesh.” But to use the term as referring exclusively to the coming of Christ in the body of Jesus of Nazareth is to narrow the natural meaning of the term quite unnecessarily. Yet those whose idea of God is the Theistic idea–the idea, namely, that God is quite distinct from His creatures, could not conceive of the Incarnation of the Son of God in any other way or as applying to more than one human person. That narrowing of the idea of Incarnation to a single person, even though that Person be so great a One as our Lord Jesus Christ, is an instance of a great truth being deprived of its full value by the inability of western man to visualize God except through left-brain spectacles. If, however, our idea of God is that He is in all and that all is in Him–the idea which is usually described as Pan-entheism, and which has been presupposed in the preceding chapters–the term Incarnation as applied to the Son of God will have a fuller meaning than it has for our exoteric Christian brethren.
The Incarnation in this theory applies to all that long process of the descent of the divine life into matter, deeper and deeper into plane below plane of the seven planes of matter, till it becomes almost completely lost or dead within the densest form of matter, as we know it in the mineral kingdom. Then it begins to rise, on the opposite side of the ellipse of evolution, and passes through the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom, and so reaches the human level. All that vast process of involution and evolution is the process of the Incarnation of God the Son. That mass of spiritual life, undifferentiated on the second plane of nature, becomes differentiated in his descent into matter and so into human flesh. That, and not just the birth of a single individual in a physical body, is the Incarnation of God. Thus the Incarnation in this larger sense involves the gradual self-limitation of God, and that is His eternal sacrifice whereby the worlds in His creation are formed and are continually sustained. His is the life outpoured, which is the sustaining life immanent in every atom of the universe.
At this point the idea of Incarnation shades off into the idea of Redemption. Redemption to the majority of Christians means a certain transaction whereby Christ has rescued human beings from a condition of sorrow here and suffering, both here and hereafter, which has been caused, in this theory, by sin–both the hereditary taint of sin and the repeated transgression by every man of the moral law. This transaction was effected by Christ’s sinless life, by His willingness to die, by His crucifixion and resurrection, literally conceived, by His ascension to oneness with God the Father, and by the distribution from that exalted level of spiritual gifts and graces to His followers of any and every generation and of all ages. But redemption, like incarnation, has a larger and fuller meaning than this. In the larger sense it refers to the continual lifting up or reclaiming of the lower self to the level of the higher self, a process which continues, as we have seen, throughout the human stage of evolution and to some extent through the subhuman stages, until man “ascends” from the human kingdom to take his true place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Throughout this process the Christ principle in man is at work within every man.
The Dual Meaning Of Christ
It must be remembered that the term “Christ” is used in the Christian Scriptures and constantly in Christian literature in two senses. It is used to describe the Second Person of the Trinity in His creative activity. In this sense esoteric Christian teachers constantly speak of “the Christ principle” in the universe, of “the cosmic Christ” and of “Christ in us.” The term is also used to describe the great Being, the Messiah (“Christ” being the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”), the World Teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, who founded the Christian religion. In both senses it is true that Christ is our Redeemer or Savior. Christ as God in the wider of these two senses is the Spirit within us, our true Self, the life within the human spirit. As such He is always, throughout the period of evolution, influencing that portion of Himself which is the human soul; and that soul is always influencing that portion of himself which is the conscious self in every man’s waking life. It is in this sense that Christ dies to save those fragments of Himself which are ourselves. His incarnation deep down into physical matter or flesh is truly His continual death, crucifixion, and burial. But as man gradually evolves and emerges from his earlier condition of ignorance, material selfishness and sin, it is the Christ in him who rises from this death of sin and limitation.
So, too, Christ in the other sense, Christ the Messiah, our great Elder Brother (See Hebrews 2:17 and Romans 8:17.), is also our Redeemer. For by his tremendous achievement in rising to his present level, being always one with us, he lifts us with him, though we do not feel that he is lifting us. And by his power and grace, which he sends to us in the manner to be described in the next chapter, He also attaches us closely to himself at all levels, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual, and so reclaims us from our bondage to earthly conditions. So he redeems and saves us from our bondage to sin and selfishness, which in some degree is the condition of all human beings until they reach the point in which the soul is drawn up to the level of the spirit, with which it then becomes one, and can sin no more. (See I John 3:9, and 5:18.) That ascension marks man’s complete salvation or redemption from the relatively lower life, which he has lived before then, both as a soul and as but a fragment of a soul in material embodiment. The idea of salvation from punishment and the “wrath of God” need never be entertained, nor even considered.
The Essence Of Christianity
Incarnation, Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Redemption–the ideas connoted by these familiar terms constitute the Christian “deposit of faith;” upon this “deposit” Christian teachers and believers for the first thousand years (more or less) of Christianity built an elaborate system of theology which has influenced the thought of practically all the people of European origin during the past thousand years. We are all familiar with it. It is taught in the exoteric churches and at Sunday schools, and it is expounded in the hymns with which we have been familiar since childhood. But the substratum of it all is the Truth of involution and evolution, which, in the earlier chapters of this book, we have tried to make plain. The “deposit of faith,” as defined by exoteric Christianity, is found to break down at many points in the light of higher knowledge, and to be unsatisfactory from many standpoints. Well, let it go. It does not matter. All that matters is that God is working a great purpose out, that His purpose is evolution, and that He cannot fail. That is the essence of the Christian Faith considered as a Faith. But Christianity is also a life, and it is to its life that we must now turn our attention.
Read Chapter Thirteen of Religion for Awakening: The Sacraments