[Page 1] BEFORE turning to the direct consideration of the subject of this paper, it will be useful to touch upon some more general questions with relation to the Christian religion.
Theosophy brings to us a conception of religion widely at variance with those commonly held, either by the supporter of any special creed, or by the sceptic. The claim of the orthodox Christian is that a personal God gave a revelation of his nature and of mysteries, not otherwise to be known by man, through prophets and finally through his own Son who incarnated in the form of a man. The claims of the followers of other religions are of much the same order, each having a special Divine revelation, taught generally by an incarnation or incarnations of the Deity. The sceptic laughs at the whole as the result of the primitive beliefs of savage tribes, with their marvellous explanations of the phenomena of nature, calling in Deities and Spirits of all descriptions to explain natural things, otherwise to them incomprehensible. The belief in the immortality of the soul probably originated, according to this view, in the uncivilised man's interpretation of dreams of dead friends as the real return of the friends, and for most of the religious beliefs of the world are similar explanations forthcoming. They are all traced to the small origin of the uncultivated man's interpretation of the common facts of nature elaborated by the more advanced races and so built into the complex beliefs now covering the world.
There are all degrees of opinion ranging between these two extremes, and one much in fashion is to look upon all religions with a good-natured equanimity, as more or less ingenious poetical expressions of the hopes and dreams of humanity. All have some germ of truth in their simple foundations, but the supernatural and marvellous in their composition are mere excrescences covering the true body. They are thus reduced mainly to different methods of rendering the same broad ethical teachings, and the said ethics are considered to be the only valuable portion. They are various roundabout ways of telling naughty children to be good. They all have their interest, it is said, for the student of human progress, but for the modern man, with his science and his instruments for exploring nature, they can hardly have the same importance as they had for the more innocent and confiding being of olden days. They are all good, very good, and have much value as expressions of that beautiful faculty of imagination which attributes life to natural processes, and stimulates those feelings of devoutness and wonder, which everyone must recognise as [Page 2] admirable — in their own way. Thus does the modern cultivated man look with benignant and excusing eye on the little frolics and fancies of his forefathers. It is a fine sign of the growth of benevolence. Now the conception Theosophy gives is, so far as I understand it, clearly distinct from all these, and one which appears to me to cover the whole ground more fully.
If we look back over the history of religions, we find they almost all had their beginnings in the appearance of a man or of men claiming to possess direct knowledge of things unknown to ordinary men. These beings came claiming a perception of the inner or spiritual workings of man and nature, and bringing some of the knowledge they had gained, that mankind might learn of the realities of spiritual things, of which otherwise they would have remained ignorant. If we look at the characters of the great religious teachers, so far as history will permit us, we find according to the testimony of those in contact with them, that they represented a high ideal of truth and wisdom in their lives, so that man has always recognised their claim to a divine knowledge, and has recognised that reverence is due to them. Scepticism and materialism may prove to reason that the things they told were dreams, and that they spoke falsely and ignorantly, but the heart of humanity will always receive them as messengers of wisdom, who speak with authority and tell of true things.
In the Theosophical conception, man has the power within himself of obtaining knowledge of the hidden or inner workings of his own, and of surrounding nature. The instruments of knowledge we are acquainted with, the five senses, are not the only ones which may be developed, and men have lived who could investigate nature on other planes, with as much certainty as we can do on this. From uncounted ages of such experience recorded by the sages of the world, who have aroused this inner nature, there has grown a body of knowledge from which those spiritually awakened may draw. The records have not been merely those of individuals working independently, but it is said, that those who have reached a certain stage are united into some sort of organic whole, acting with more or less definite aims. From this great body of knowledge acquired by these and other means, it is said that the various great religions of the world have sprung, and thus they have a common source.
Along with this conception, we have the further one of a double side to the creeds and stories of every form of religion, the Christian included. 'There is a religion that is public and is open to all, for it is of a nature suited to the unthinking, and to those whose spiritual perceptions are not awakened, and also an inner or esoteric religion, the real meaning underlying the forms of which the outer is built. These are not two [Page 3] contradictory beliefs, but are, so to speak, the body and the soul. The inner meaning is hidden because, for the mass of the people, the outer is more than sufficient, but for the earnest and the devoted, who seek for the truth, the hidden things are revealed in the very tales and creeds accepted in their dead letter sense by the greater portion of believers.
Most men can sense something of the divine when brought to them in an external form. A great figure, such as almost every religion has as its founder, stands out as an ideal in which they may see some glimpses of a nature other than they know, and this is one great source of power in the sacred beliefs of the world. But when the man begins to perceive the spiritual or the divine within, and sees his ideal lying in the deeper recesses of his own being, he moves from the exoteric creed to the esoteric wisdom. And then the sacred stories mean something more than tales of history revealing an external God through some special man or divine incarnation. They mean the revelation of his own inner nature, the mysteries hidden from the outer eye and the perceptions of the outer mind.
The scriptures of every religion show this double side, the outer and the inner, the open and the secret, and the records of Christianity as clearly as any, notwithstanding the boast of the Simple Gospel, free and open to all. Such claims can only be made by those ignorant of their own Scriptures and the history of their Church, or else disregarding the plain statements of their own authoritative writers.
Turning first to, the inspired source itself, the New Testament, let us see what we can find to uphold this claim.
Jesus says to his disciples in Matt. xiii. 11-13: "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away, even that which he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand".
This is not quite the free and open gospel of the Churches, but it is a true saying. For to him that has the power of understanding the spiritual truths will be given, while he that has it not, cannot retain even the few crumbs of knowledge he may have gathered, for they do not belong to him. Parables are all that he is fitted for.
But the disciples themselves can receive but a little more. Only a slightly deeper layer of the shell is broken for them. The inner substance is yet hidden. Jesus tells them in John xvi. 25. "These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs (parables); — the hour cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but shall tell you plainly of the Father". [Page 4]
It is significant to note that Jesus has previously been speaking of his own nature and works, and of the coming of the Comforter after his death, and his language is of the most mystical kind. If such teaching is only parable or symbol, how much more must the far cruder teachings in the other Gospels be symbolical, and be, in their literal meaning, but the gross body of the spiritual doctrine.
That the apostles, or some of them, also taught this inner doctrine and guarded it from profanation, we find many evidences, especially in Paul's writings. He says in I Cor. ii. 6-7: "Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect (or full grown); yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, which are coming to nought; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden". And in Chap. iii. 1-3: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for ye were not yet able to bear it; nay, not even now are ye able; for ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and walk after the manner of men ? " If this is to be taken as a test of the power to receive the greater teaching, the Holy Church can scarcely be looked upon as an authority on the subject.
But it is in the writings of the early Christian Fathers that we find the clearest statements on this point. Perhaps the most unmistakable utterance is to be found in Origen, in a celebrated work written in defence of Christianity against an Epicurean philosopher, Celsus. Celsus brings the startling accusation against Christianity that it is a secret system, showing clearly that such must have been a not uncommon conception in his time, and one that must have had some justification. The reply of Origen is still more startling. Contra Celsum, Book I, Chapter 7, . . . " to speak of the Christian doctrine as a secret system is altogether absurd. But that there should be certain doctrines not made known to the multitude, which are (revealed) after the exoteric ones have been taught, is not a peculiarity of Christianity alone, but also of philosophic systems, in which certain truths are exoteric and others esoteric. Some of the hearers of Pythagoras were content with his ipse dixit, while others were taught in secret those doctrines which were not deemed fit to be communicated to profane and insufficiently prepared ears. Moreover, all the mysteries that are celebrated everywhere throughout Greece and barbarous countries, although held in secret, have no discredit thrown upon them, so that it is in vain that he endeavours to calumniate the secret doctrines of Christianity, seeing he does not correctly understand its nature".
Truly a charming defence against the calumny of secrecy, and one well worthy of consideration by the Church and its fold.
To consider further the method of interpretation of the various stories [Page 5] and teachings found in the published writings, we have the Theosophical conception that each tale and incident in the Sacred Scriptures of the world has a meaning or meanings not on the surface, but to be sought out with the light of intuition and of any knowledge the student may have obtained.
The true inner meaning of all the great religions is the same. They all teach each other's doctrines in their own special forms, and what is real in them is not the form which makes them Christian, or Buddhistic, or Brahmanical, but the universal truths of which they are all peculiar expressions.
The esoteric meaning is the same in every one, and the true student of the great beliefs which have guided humanity should seek diligently for that truth behind the many monstrous shapes which hide it.
Almost all religions have the same tales and traditions told in varied language. The birth of the Divine Saviour from a Virgin Mother and the Holy Spirit, was a story hoary with age when the Christ-child Jesus was born, and is found repeated time after time in the sacred traditions of many nations. And so with the other Bible narratives. The Annunciation, the worship of the Magi or the Shepherds, the temptation by the Evil One, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. All are things as old as is Humanity itself, and are echoes of the Primeval Tradition, which is the fountain head of the sacred stories of the world.
And they are not merely stories or traditions of the past. Not alone the fancies and the wild imaginations of our ancient fathers, told to pass away a pleasant hour. They are revelations which are not of time, but belong to the Inner Man, that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour shall never strike".
They tell of the mysteries of the Man within the man. They put before us in symbols, often beautiful in themselves, the great things contained in us, and picture in vivid lights the spiritual progress of this inner man. They belong not only to the past, but to our life in the present and in the future, and to that for which there is no past, no present, and no future, but which remains the True and the Permanent.
That the Christian traditions were familiar long before the Christian era we have perfect proof, even to the details, and this was well known to the early Christian writers. Their explanations of this fact are delightful, Justin Martyr, the earliest of the authentic Christian Fathers, writing in the early part of the second century, speaks thus, "It having reached the Devil's ears that the prophets had foretold the coming of Christ, he set the heathen poets to bring forward a great many who should be called the sons of Jove. The Devil laying his scheme in this to get men to imagine that the true history of Christ was of the same character as the prodigious fables related of the sons of Jove”. [Page 6]
The dark and learned Sovereign of the lower regions might be well taken by the reverend Fathers of the Church, as an excellent example of a thorough workman, understanding his business.
As examples of the interpretation we are justified in making, according to the Christian teachings, we can turn to a few passages from the New Testament. In Matt. xiii. 37-39, Jesus expounds the parable of the sower to his disciples, "He that soweth the seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom; the tares are the sons of the Evil One; and the enemy that sowed them is the Devil; and the harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels".
This of course is an interpretation of a story confessedly allegorical, but for instances of symbolical interpretations of Bible tales we may turn to Paul. In Gal. iv. 22-26, he expounds one from the Old Testament, "For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaiden, and one by the freewoman. Howbeit the son by the handmaid is born after the flesh; but the son by the freewoman is born through promise. Which things contain an allegory; for these women are two covenants, one from Mount Sinai, bearing children unto bondage, which is Hagar. Now, this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to the Jerusalem that now is; for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem that, is above is free, which is our mother".
Again, in I Cor. x. 1-4, St. Paul expounds allegorically the passage of the Jews through the wilderness, "I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, how that our fathers were all, under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and were all baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them; and the rock was Christ". .
That this method of interpretation was in vogue in the early days of the Church, is shown by several of the early Fathers. Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho says that Christ was symbolised in the Old Testament by the Tree of Life and the rods of Moses, Jacob and others. The stretched hands of Moses in the battle in which Jesus (Joshua) led the fight symbolised the cross. The blessings of Jacob in which he speaks of the horns of the Unicorn, also, Justin tells us, show the cross. And he repeats the interpretation of the serpent held up to cure the bitten people given in the New Testament, in which the serpent is taken to symbolize Christ. But it is in Origen that we find this most strongly affirmed. In his work, The Apostolic Teaching, is found the following: "The Scriptures were written by the Spirit of God, and have a meaning, not such only as is apparent at first sight, but also another, which escapes [Page 7] notice of most. For these words which are written are the forms of certain mysteries, and the images of divine things. Respecting which there is one opinion throughout the whole Church, that the whole law is spiritual, but that the spiritual meaning which the law conveys is not known to all, but to those only on whom the grace of the whole spirit is bestowed in the word of Wisdom and Knowledge."
In De Principiis, Book iv. Chapter 1, he deals more specifically with the Christian Scriptures.
"It was not only, however, with the (Scriptures composed) before the Advent (of Christ) that the Spirit thus dealt, but as being the same Spirit and (proceeding) from one God, He did the same thing both with the Evangelists and with the Apostles, as even these do not contain throughout a pure history of events, which are interwoven, indeed, according to the letter, but which did not actually occur". He mentions examples in the Old and New Testaments of what he considers absurdities if accepted literally, among them being the tale of Eden, and the temptation of Christ by the Devil.
So in considering the Christian Scriptures we are at liberty, according to their own teaching, and that of their most authoritative expounders, to interpret them in a symbolical manner. And when we do so, we will, I think, discover many things that throw light on the mysteries hidden in all religions.
Turning to the doctrine of the Resurrection, as presented in the Christian Scriptures and in later writings, we find it divides itself into two distinct aspects, the Physical, or the resurrection of the body, and the Spiritual, dealing with the inner man.
The former or Physical conception, is the distinctly Jewish one, and has been brought into the Christian faith through its connection with Judaism. The Jews themselves obtained it only after the Captivity, so we may presume it to be a remnant from some of the Eastern teachings, in which we find it in different forms. Possibly some form of this idea was the cause of mummifying the body in Egypt, the soul remaining in connection with the same body and returning to it.
It is difficult to find this doctrine in any unmistakable manner in the New Testament. It seems nowhere to be clearly brought forward, and any passages in which such a conception is indicated can with reason be taken as .symbolical. For instance, in Thessalonians, St. Paul says, ch. iv. 16, 17, "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord". If St. Paul meant this [Page 8] literally, he was a bad prophet, for there is no record of any such event in profane history. The mere statement also that the dead shall rise is not at all precise.
The authority from the Christian Scriptures for such a doctrine seems to rest almost completely on the analogy drawn between the resurrection of Christ and that of man, but even the verses relating to this are of a distinctly mystical description.
For instance, we find Paul in the Epistle to the Romans speaking thus in ch. vi. 5, 6, and 7, "For if we have become united with him by the likeness (or united with the likeness) of his death, we shall be also by (or with) the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin: for he that hath died is justified from sin". If we are to take the resurrection literally we must also take the death literally, and so we should have to be crucified in order to be resurrected.
Now if we attempt to trace the origin of the doctrine of the resurrection
of the body among the Jews, we come to a very interesting fact. We are told by Josephus that the Pharisees
believed in the doctrine of metempsychosis. The relation between such a conception and that of physical resurrection
must be obvious to any student, and the writer of the article on Eschatology in the Encyclopedia Britannica considers
it probable that the idea of bodily resurrection had its origin in the old belief in reincarnation or the passage
of the soul from body to body.
So we are able to trace, with some degree of probability, and indeed, if we take a wider view and include a consideration of the Eastern sources of many Jewish beliefs, with almost certainty, the source of this doctrine to that most ancient one of Metempsychosis.
If this is so we should be able to find in the earlier writings some traces of the connection, and we can easily find them in the analogies and similes employed to illustrate the doctrine.
In the Ist Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, one of the earliest of writings not included in the Sacred Scriptures, and attributed to the latter end of the first century, the resurrection is considered to be proved by the things of this world, the night changing into day, the seed rising up in grain, and so on. But a much more striking simile is given in the Phoenix. This, Clement says, is an emblem of the resurrection, and he proceeds to describe minutely the fable as a symbol of the doctrine. The Phoenix lives 500 years and then dies, and a certain bird being nourished by the flesh, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it carries the dead bones of its parent to the city of Heliopolis, to the altar of the Sun, places them there and afterwards returns to its abode, and the Phoenix [Page 9] is reborn. Clement is careful to add that this occurs every 500 years.
Theophilus in his letter to Autolycus, Book i, Chapter 13, also says that the resurrection is proved by natural examples, such as the resurrection of the seeds, the dying of seasons, and the resurrection of the moon every month.
The conception at the root of this belief is that the soul apart from the body cannot be judged for deeds done in the body. As the actions were the result of both body and soul working together, punishment could only be justly meted out to the combined body and soul, and one without the other would be incomplete. This, again, is the Theosophical conception of reincarnation, for Karma brings man back to the same plane to reap the fruits of his former action on that plane.
So we find that behind the crude exoteric belief in the raising of the same physical body for future judgment, stands the ancient doctrine of reincarnation which has suffered many changes and deformities in the course of ages. If we take, in place of the physical atoms, the real body which is its model and the inner principles of the personal man as the body spoken of, we shall find that the belief is not so far from the truth. For on the return of the Ego from its rest in Devachan, it takes up again the substance of the body it had left, and gathers around itself the forces generated on the psychic plane in its past birth.
All this, however, relates only to one aspect of the doctrine, and that the lower. There is another far more profound, and dealing with the greater mysteries. This is the Spiritual doctrine, the Christian as distinguished from the Jewish. It is the resurrection in Christ.
"I am the resurrection and the life", says Jesus, and this is no rising of the body from the earthly grave. It is the second birth through which alone can man see the "Kingdom of God".
Jesus says to Nicodemus, in the Gospel of St. John, ch. iii. 3-8, "Except a man be born anew (or, from above), he cannot see the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old ? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew (or from above). The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit". This is to become free in Christ, as said in other parts of the Book. No longer under the chain of earthly life bound on the wheel of rebirth, but free to move at will, no man knowing the path, the whence or the whither. [Page 10]
What is this Christ, this central figure around which has gathered so much of good and evil, this pivot of the sacred writings of Western races ? We can find many answers if we turn to Christian authorities. The Word or Logos, through whom and by whom the world was built, is the highest conception attached to Christ, and this is a universal spiritual principle, according to the early teachings of the Church Fathers. It was not confined to one man or body of men, but was the guiding Spirit, the creative Word.
As Justin Martyr says in his Apology, Christ is the Word which was in every man both before and after his time of coming, and among others of the great Pagan thinkers and writers, he affirms that the Word was in Socrates. It was the source of all knowledge and spiritual power overshadowing all men.
This Logos or spiritual power became man, entering into the flesh, and in the orthodox teaching the Logos itself is the man Jesus, and is a personal entity which could incarnate fully in a single body. Are we justified by the Scriptures themselves to limit it thus ? I think not, nor even are we justified in taking it as the universal belief of the Church, for we find in the early writings that a very much more philosophical and spiritual conception was prevalent.
In early Church history we may read of the many struggles of the orthodox Church body against the heretics,
whose general tendency was to uphold this wider view, and one after another, the various sects were cut off or
frightened into becoming outwardly submerged into the main body, which always endeavoured to uphold a cruder
creed. This does not, of course, refer to the Gnostics, who could not properly be called Christians, but to those
sects led by men high in station within the Church, bishops frequently, who thought themselves Orthodox interpreters
of the Scriptures, and based their beliefs upon them. But that the Church could not stamp out such heresies even
in itself, with all its machinery, we can easily perceive.
To quote again from Origen, here is an exposition of the nature of Christ worth pondering over, by those who accept the literal interpretation of Biblical teaching. For Origen writes as a defender of what he and others considered to be the true orthodox teaching, found in the Biblical writings, and he opposes the heresies of his time as a recognised champion of the Church. This is his understanding of the great mystery of the incarnation, and of the personal Saviour, as given in the second book of his work against Celsus, Ch. ix. The Jew (a character into whose mouth Celsus put his objections to the Christian religion) argues that Christ could not have been God from his inability to protect himself, and from his trying to hide and escape in a disgraceful manner. Origen proceeds, "To [Page 11] this we reply, that even we do not suppose the body of Jesus, which was then an object of sight and perception, to have been God. And why do I say his body ? Nay, not even his soul, of which it is related, 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death', but as according to the Jewish manner of speaking, ' I am the Lord, the God of all flesh', and 'before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me', God is believed to be He who employs the soul and the body of the prophet as an instrument, and as according to the Greeks, he who says, 'I know both the number of the sand and the measures of the sea, and I understand a dumb man, and hear him who does not speak', is considered to be a god when speaking and making himself heard through the Pythian priestess; so according to our view, it was the Logos God, and the Son of the God of all things who spake in Jesus these words, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life', and these, 'I am the Door', and these, 'I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven', and other expressions similar to these. . . . . That the gospels do not consider him who in Jesus said these words, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life', to have been of so circumscribed a nature, as to have an existence nowhere out of the soul and body of Jesus, is evident from many considerations, and from a few instances of the following kind which we shall quote".
He quotes John i. 26, Matt, xviii. 20, and xxviii. 20. "We quote
these passages, making no distinction between the Son of God and Jesus. For the soul and body of Jesus formed
after the co-ordination, one being with the Logos of God. How, if according to Paul's teaching, 'He that is
joined unto the Lord is one Spirit', every one, who understands what being joined to the Lord is, and who has
been actually joined to him, is one in spirit with the Lord; how should not that being be one in a far, greater
and more divine degree, which was once united with the Logos of God”.
The Christos is thus in its highest sense the Universal Spirit, the Self of the World with which the Self of man may be united. It has the same meaning in the smaller unit, the individual, as it has in the Cosmos. It is the spiritual light within each man, the divine Ego that overshadows rather than enters the physical man; to which indeed the physical man may aspire and may be finally united, having his whole nature under control. In such a sense it is frequently if not generally used by St. Paul, who expresses the idea very clearly in one or two passages of his Epistles. He says in 2 Cor. xiii. 5. "Know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you, unless, indeed, ye be reprobate"; and in Gal. iv. 19, "My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you”.
The latter verse is most precise. Christ is to be "formed" in us. It [Page 12] is not a person external to us, in another bodily shape, that is here indicated, but the inner man that has to be formed or built up within us, if we are to reach to spiritual life.
There is thus a double meaning to all Scripture narrative and doctrine, an external or literal one, in which the events are regarded merely as historical happenings; beautiful and inspiring they may be, but still, these are events belonging to a special time; and an inner meaning, in which the events, whether historical or not, and the characters of whom the record is given, are types to represent spiritual things. In the latter interpretation there are many keys which may be applied, some of which are given in the Apocryphal books and the mystical Scriptures of both Jewish and Christian origin. But the one most important is that which relates these tales and teachings to the inner nature of man, and with such a conception we can turn to those universal traditions which have been repeated in the Christian Scriptures and extract a new and living meaning from them.
They come not as new inventions but as the echoes of the great tradition that has been handed down from age to age, having concealed in it many things to instruct man if he can receive them. And each time this root tradition has reappeared with some fresh aspect, so that it brings new light to those unable to receive it in its older form, which had lost its power through age.
The Christ or Christos presented to us in Theosophical literature is the true Ego, the real man which passes from incarnation to incarnation on this earth, acting in one body after another, without being wholly limited to that body. The personality or the earthly man we know and recognise is but a shadow of the true being, the temporary mind, the result of the Ego working in a body of gross matter with a brain unfitted to receive fully the knowledge that has been gathered during the course of ages. This personal or brain mind is the result of the higher, but is its expression through an imperfect instrument.
The personal man comes into direct contact with this greater mind within him only in rare moments when, exalted above his normal state by some effort, he receives a sudden flash of intuition clearing up perhaps many an obscure problem. Such occurrences may be rare with most men, but they show that there exists a state in which the ordinary mental processes are thrown aside and an activity of a higher order takes their place. The records of the famous writers and thinkers of the world show us that such flashes are the source of most of the great thoughts that have influenced humanity. Many show a knowledge not obtained by the man himself in his normal state, but still a knowledge that must have been the result of experience. With the conception of re-incarnation before us, we may find [Page 13] some clue to many of the problems set us in cases of genius and even in the exceptional experiences of ordinary men. At times this great storehouse of the real experience of life, that is, the great lessons learnt deeply, so as to be built into the very nature of the man, may be opened and some of its contents reached. This is the source of real intuition, which is not the vague guessing so often called by that name, but a perception of truth that is clearer than any that can be afforded by reason, because it is the result of past knowledge gained by real work. The true intuition, while it seems but a flash giving knowledge of things the man has never learnt, may really be the bringing back of some glimpses of knowledge he has himself acquired by the only means known to us, that of experience.
The complete man is the one in whom the Higher Self or Ego has become one with the lower, that is, the man whose brain can register the thoughts and activities of the higher mind, so that he has in his reach the wisdom he has gathered from his great past, and can come into the world with knowledge, instead of ignorantly as now. Such men have been the great saviours of humanity, who enter earth with a consciousness of purpose, not blindly, having to learn each step with care, but recognising their past, and knowing the path they are to tread.
How far are we justified in taking the Christ of the New Testament and applying to it such an impersonal meaning ? We should find such an interpretation from the Book itself if it is a true one. I think there is little difficulty in doing this. "There was the true light", says the Gospel of John, in the first chapter, "which lighteth every man coming into the world. He came unto His own, and they that were His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God". This light, which lighteth every man coming into the world, is surely the heritage of all and not a person who could live on earth as a man. It cannot be confined to one section of humanity, to the Holy Church, however catholic it may profess itself to be, while it refuses to include the great mass of mankind because it cannot or does not. worship under the same forms. That Christ is the light of each individual man, potential in all, and which may be aroused or received according to the will of the earthly man. And this light in Theosophy is called the Higher Ego, which every man may awaken within himself. It can take no note of verbal quibblings over the nature of the Trinity, as to whether the three persons are of one substance, or of different substances, or are equal in power or unequal, or of the profound speculations of its shadow, the brain-mind, on the nature and attributes of the God who rules the Universe, while the nature and attributes of an atom are as yet unknown to it. If [Page 14] it is the true light within each man it must be approached by other means than those, and a blind belief in a dogma or even an historical event will help but little while the mind is not open to the light proceeding from within.
Jesus, in expounding his nature and speaking, as Origen says, in the person of the Logos and not as an individual man, says, according to John xv., "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh it away ; and every branch that beareth fruit, he cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, so neither can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for apart from me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned".
It is significant that Christ speaks of every one as having his origin in him, whether failure or not. It is the true Ego speaking of the false personality which does not recognise its real nature, and is but a mask of the true man, a temporary character which he assumes. Each Ego, we are told in almost every Eastern teaching, assumes the form of many personalities with qualities according to the circumstances in which they work, and to the records of the past deeds of the Ego, each life forming a bead on the thread, according to one familiar simile, the thread passing on unbroken from life to life. Unless the bead can recognise the thread on which it is formed, it can penetrate neither into the past nor the future, and for it there is no immortality, save as a slight memory of the true Ego. And there is also another possibility for the personal man which is clearly taught in this passage. The personal man may bear no fruit at all, and may be cut off from its higher nature, as the branch is cut from the vine, and may be cast aside as unworthy of a part in the memory of the man, having lost every glimpse of the light which was its source.
In connection with this we have also the utterance of the Apostle Paul already quoted, "Know ye; not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you, unless, indeed, ye be reprobate". The same idea is expressed in other words.
There is a doctrine among orthodox Christians that has perhaps not been so popular as it deserves, for it is, when properly understood, one of the most esoteric of orthodox doctrines. I refer to that of conditional immortality, in which the man obtains eternal life only by receiving Jesus Christ. He is not, according to this teaching, damned to an eternity of torment, but simply ceases to exist when his body dies, or if raised again is raised only to be finally destroyed. Only those who have accepted Christ [Page 15] are raised again in order that they may live the life eternal. Immortality, whether of happiness or of misery, is not a thing belonging to the nature of man, but a gift from God, or from Christ, which is obtained by believers alone.
This is a belief that recommends itself for its mercy in comparison with the perpetual fire of the more common creeds, but the feeling that a mental belief could scarcely make the difference between immortality and destruction has probably prevented it becoming more widely spread. It has, however, a close connection with this spiritual aspect of the Resurrection, and it will be worth while to consider it with regard to its scriptural authority. Its Theosophical equivalent has already been roughly considered in the relation of the Ego and the personality.
The conception given in the New Testament is that the Divine alone
is permanent, all else is transitory. The Divine alone can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. As expressed in the
most mystical of language by Jesus in John iii. 13-15, "No man hath ascended into heaven but he that descended
out of heaven, even the Son of man, which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life".
Thus to reach this exalted condition it is necessary that the personal consciousness identifies itself with the higher: otherwise there is nothing that is permanent, the thoughts are only flitting changes of the mind and are not rooted in the deeper nature.
In so far as we have awakened within us this higher nature, we are taught both by the Esoteric Philosophy and by the Christian Scriptures, we become immortal, for the only personal memory which can remain is linked with those thoughts that receive their life from above.
The conception is beautifully expressed by St. Paul in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, Chap, iii: — "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire". The purifying fire that is met in almost all the sacred books of the world is the fire that proceeds from above, the fire of knowledge which burns up the great rubbish heap whereon man has cast his dead thoughts.
If the man does not build, on that foundation, he is judged and condemned, and what is the judgment ? Eternal torment because of failure and of ignorance? Christ himself, can answer — "For God sent not the [Page 16] Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. He that believeth on him is not judged; he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For everyone that doeth ill hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved".
Thus the tales and the doctrines of Christianity, as of all other religions, teach us of our own inner nature, and tell under many different symbols of the light within, which may be received or rejected. Its first rays come as the voice of conscience guiding man along the path, and as that is strengthened by the growth of man, it becomes not the mere prompting of his sense of justice depending for its action on the intellect, but a true guide which perceives the truth without veil, an instrument of knowledge which can be used at will. And finally there comes the new birth, which is the true resurrection.
There is another view of the spiritual aspect of the resurrection given in the Bible, and it would not do to leave it out of account, as it is perhaps clearer than the one just considered. This view is given by Paul in the famous passage in I Corinthians, chap, xv., on the natural and spiritual bodies. "There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption: it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body".
Perhaps in the forty-first verse we get a hint of the nature of the two bodies which may help us in understanding the true meaning. Paul says, "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon", and if we bear in mind the Eastern conception of the sun as representing the spiritual nature, and the moon the psychic, we shall probably come to the conclusion that Paul is speaking of the spiritual and the psychic or subtle bodies that man is said to possess. The one is the sun, the giver of life to man, the vehicle of his great pilgrimage through the cycle of rebirth, passing from birth to birth, and receiving and recording the great lessons that have been learned by the soul in its pilgrimage. It is the storehouse of all the greater forces which govern us through life, which belong to the nature of the Ego itself. In it are the germs, which are unfolded in earth life, and which force the growth of the personal man, and thus in the [Page 17] Eastern teaching it is called the Karana or causal body. The other body is born from below. It belongs to the personal man, and is rebuilt at each incarnation. It is corruptible, and may decay, while the other is relatively incorruptible.
It is worth noticing that the resurrection is said to be sown in this
natural body, and thus the first germ of the resurrection that is to give life, is the birth in the purified
psychic body, or that which proceeds from it and the overshadowing spiritual body. It is the process of which
Jesus speaks when he says to Nicodemus, "Verily,
verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God".
But the complete resurrection is the full entering into that spiritual vehicle which persists from the beginning
of the great life cycle to the end.
This Spiritual or causal body is the true Christ body, when all germs of evil are thrown out from it. It remains potential in every man, as the Christ is said to do, unless he be "reprobate", and it can be made active. Into it, according to Theosophical teachings, man passes after his earth life, and just so far as his personal actions and thoughts have aroused this inner mind, will he retain the personal link of consciousness. But this birth into the spiritual nature between the embodiments on earth, is not the resurrection that is taught here. The latter only comes when this inner mind and body are aroused so that the man can act with full self consciousness in an objective life on the spiritual plane, having awakened the spiritual senses so that they may perceive the objects of that plane.
Paul goes on "So also it is written, The first man Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life giving spirit. Howbeit that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; then that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is of heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption".
The first seeds of the resurrection are sown in the first Adam, the earthly, the corruptible, but the last Adam is he who descends "out of heaven, even the Son of man, which is in heaven", and then is the raising of the dead complete.
This conception is widely different from the orthodox doctrine of the resurrection of every man in his earthly body, or even of the little considered spiritual resurrection which, if it is paid any attention to, is thought to mean the going to heaven of all who believe. All who have faith according to the creed of the Church and die believing their crimes to have been [Page 18] forgiven because of that faith, are ensured a life of joy everlasting. But that this is the teaching neither of Jesus nor his apostles we can see by a very elementary study of the New Testament. It is no easy going creed we learn of Paul, whereby a man may gain eternal life if he accept a thing as true which he cannot understand. The salvation is to be won by effort, to be worked out by each man, and unless he chooses to awaken the higher life within him, he has refused the light.
It is a stern creed that Paul teaches though a hopeful one, and the first step to be made by an aspirant to the greater knowledge is the stilling of the lower nature, the conquering of the passions and the "flesh". In the Epistle to the Romans it is said in chap. viii: "Brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh: for if ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the spirit ye make to die the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God".
There is no Vicarious Atonement here, nor Salvation by Blind Faith, though it is but another form of the teaching to be found in the Gospels, for the Faith that is spoken of there is the calling down of the power of the Spirit to conquer the earthly man. If the "making to die of the deeds of the body" is necessary to salvation, how many of the believers, even of the devout, are able to reach this "life" that is promised them. Surely we must see that it is no light thing on which a man may count, if he behaves himself moderately well and piously accepts his Church's creed. It is thought by Paul to be a thing needing a great struggle, which few may win, a narrow path in which only the highest of the earth can walk.
That something of this sort was recognised in the early Church, we have the authority of Origen, who tells us that only the purified were allowed even to be told the true doctrines of Christianity, which were never made public to the ordinary believers. He says in the 3rd book of his work against Celsus in chap, lx.: "Whoever is pure not only from all defilement, but from what are regarded as lesser transgressions, let him be boldly initiated in the mysteries of Jesus, which properly are made known only to the whole and the pure. . . . He who acts as initiator, according to the precepts of Jesus, will say to those who have been purified in heart, “He whose soul has for a long time been conscious of no evil, and especially since he yielded himself to the healing of the word, let such an one hear the doctrines which were spoken in private by Jesus to his genuine disciples".
Origen draws a clear line between the two sides of the Christian propaganda, that of the "Sinner, repent", and that of the teaching of true doctrines, and the initiation into spiritual life. He admits both as the purpose [Page 19] of Christianity, and says in chapter Ixii: “God the Word was sent, indeed, as a physician to sinners, but as a teacher of divine mysteries to those who are already pure, and who sin no more". No blind faith this, but the true creed of every religion, that he alone who has conquered the earthly man can reach the heavenly.
But far beyond all such initiations into the secret Christian mysteries is the resurrection, which can be attained only by the perfected man, and even the greatest of the Apostles cannot claim to have reached it. For Paul says in his Epistle to the Philippians, chap. iii. "Yea, verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord . . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded".
There are two kinds of perfection here mentioned, for Paul speaks as one that is perfect in the latter part of the quotation, and as not yet made perfect in the former portion. He was one of the perfect, in the sense used by Origen as a person sufficiently governor of his lower nature to be admitted into the mysteries, but the other perfection is the glorified man, the union with the Heavenly Man descending from above.
There are many meanings to be sought for in the doctrine of the Resurrection of Man. Some two or three of the most obvious and elementary have been indicated, and these can be obtained from a mere cursory comparison of the Canonical and other more or less orthodox writings. Even in relation to the individual man this doctrine may be found to refer to a higher stage than that mentioned here, the birth into the spiritual body, but speculations on that further stage, spoken of as the Day of Judgment, and described in Oriental magnificence of imagery in the Book of the Revelation, would mean little more than verbal jugglings.
In conclusion, I repeat there is one thing to be remembered, and that is, that this resurrection, this re-birth through which we must pass before entering the "Kingdom of Heaven", is no slight thing to be obtained by all men who believe, as they term it, in Salvation by Christ. For the belief that is to give life is, as Paul says, the crucifying of the old man with Christ, dying as he died, and rising as he rose, and all belief that is less than that can never lead the believer to his goal. And it is the few that can thus [Page 20] attain, the chosen only of the earth, for us this thing can stand but as an ideal, as yet far before, though still attainable in the ages to come. It is the great Path that has stretched before man since he became man, but has hardly yet been worn into a highway by the passing feet. Every great teacher that the world has had has trodden this same path, and has pointed out its direction to those who cannot see it: and thus has made it a real thing to many who would otherwise have remained in darkness.
For this Path is not the path of the good man, of the moral man, of virtue alone, but of Wisdom, which is beyond all those things, including them as the greater does the less. It is the path of the Conqueror, proceeding towards a recognised goal, having the light within him which shines upon the road, directing him. It is in this recognition of a greater life, of a sacred land within the heart that true religions differs from Ethics and Moral Philosophies. They may show us the Good, even the noble, but beyond these is that subtle nature that mankind, while unable to understand, has recognised in its heart when it sees it shining through some great soul it worships as a hero or a god. And such a man is called good and pure, but there are other names given that cannot be truly applied to the merely good and pure, and these are holy, sacred, divine. And till the possibility of such conceptions has utterly vanished, men will not rest with ethics and morality as guides, but from the artificial regulations of all such systems, will turn in their higher moments to the spring of pure life within their hearts to find there an unfailing guide.
And to the Conqueror is promised the great Resurrection, the triumph of his victory, the life which is complete. Hear the words of promise of that one "like unto a son of man", who held the seven stars in his right hand, speaking to his Churches, " To him that overcometh, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life. He that overcometh shall be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that overcometh I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out thence no more". Thus, and in many other ways, have the great sacred books of the world spoken, with awe, of the great mystery, the Man become God.
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