« НазадПродовжити »
They have all their sufferings past,
In these days, when religious persecution, as it was practised in the middle ages, is regarded with equal abhorrence by all denominations of Christians, it is no wonder that hell should be deprived of its corporeal tortures, and that not many should be willing to accept these in their literal interpretation. Still there is a considerable number of worshippers who stand in dread of a somewhat indistinctly defined material hell, which at times assumes the form of complete annihilation, merciful indeed, as compared with the torments of a suffering eternity:
If the work of sketching the picture of the Deity as it
was present in the minds of men in ages long gone by, has been undertaken with doubt and hesitation, how much more anxiously must we apply ourselves to the task of delineating Him as He exists in the conception of our friends and kinsmen of to-day. Many there are, to whose minds the summary about to be attempted will be foreign, indeed; thousands who would infinitely prefer the modern Parsee doctrine that there is only One God, the Creator of all things," who has neither face nor form, colour nor shape, nor fixed place, who has no peer, and is himself such a glory that we cannot praise or describe him, nor our mind comprehend him ”—who consider that the whole duty of man is comprised in "pure thoughts, pure words, pure deeds”; who believe in “the punishment of vice, the reward of virtue, but in no mediator but the mercy of God."*
But as the preceding illustrations have shown, that is not the popular conception of the God of the universe. To millions of human beings such a theological doctrine would convey no idea or meaning whatever, and those must have a personal friend in heaven, with whose nature they are conversant and whom they are able to approach in the hour of suffering; they need a Ruler and Judge of whom they stand in constant awe; the prospect of a final rest where their highest desires will be attained ; and some require a place of physical torture to deter them from committing sins for which human justice fails to provide an adequate punishment. The general impression made upon a reflecting and impartial observer by the picture of the Trinity, is that although it is a relapse from the pure
* The Parsee Religion,' by Dadabhai Naoroji.
monotheism which the great Teacher professed, still it should not be set side by side with the ancient idolatries, and the very horror with which the orthodox view the materialism of certain men of science, or perhaps it would be fairer to say, their proneness to attach the term atheism to any exalted estimate of the natural forces, arises from an apprehension of, and is a protest against a return to that worship of Nature, which, as we have seen, probably preceded the original belief in one spiritual God. The Father and Son as they sit enthroned on high, represent Man's conception of what he himself should be; but whilst a vastly increased proportion of the human race is striving after perfection, as compared with the few who dwelt in Palestine, it is probable that the ideal has degenerated rather than risen since the handful of earnest men who hung upon the words of Jesus of Nazareth, were told by him that they must seek to be perfect even as their “Father in heaven is perfect.”
The dual nature of the Godhead (for as we said, the Holy Ghost takes an inferior rank) adapts Him to the great diversity of human wants and thoughts; encouraging appeals for his assistance in all the shifting scenes of life. To the afflicted He appears a bleeding, suffering saint, whose agonies cry shame upon their trivial sorrows. Their grief becomes a blessing when compared with his atoning sacrifice, and any faint resemblance which suggests itself between their case and his, raises their hopes of heaven, calms their fears of future punishment for unrepented sins, and gives reality to faith, till then profession only. The affluent, and those who are at ease, find ready methods of explaining inconvenient references to wealth and poverty; whilst his example causes them to give
less sparingly than otherwise they might. They see Him throned on high, surrounded by a choir of angels ready to obey his nod; a King, no longer poor, but robed in majesty; and so they hope, by wisely using all the blessings He has showered upon them, to join the heavenly aristocracy. The kings of earth who still regard themselves as crowned by Him, address him as of old. To them he is “the Lord of Hosts," who, visiting their camp, gives victory to their arms; whilst to the gentle lady who perhaps would give her crown and all that she possesses in exchange for that retirement which her meanest subject may enjoy, finds consolation in the thought that in celestial realms she will secure the blessing which his wisdom has denied her in her own dominions.
Associated power and gentleness, justice and mercy, grandeur divine, and human condescension, the Trinity holds out his arms to all believers; is ready to assist the vilest wretch to scale his heaven. But are the terms of pardon those which Jesus stipulated ? Must the right hand be severed if it give offence? The eye plucked out for violating chastity ? Must worldly goods be sacrificed for heavenly treasures, and death itself be courted, to attain eternal life? No, here it is that human dogma and device step in, to point a royal road to heaven, supplanting the divine commands and gilding present sins with a vicarious atonement, a cruel sacrifice which, over eighteen hundred years ago, a mob of priests and fanatics, under the ægis of the heathen law, sent up to heaven to satisfy the anger of the "jealous God." And what is now demanded of the sinner? True repentance, be it but an hour before eternity, along with a profession of belief in God as three in one and
one in three, in Christ the only Mediator betwixt God and Man; and then the gates are opened and the angelic choir is there, prepared to welcome the repentant and believing sinner to his home in heaven.
But these conditions not complied with, these preliminaries omitted or rejected, perhaps by one for whose dread crime society is as responsible as the criminal himself; a man, it may be, from whose poor soul “the law” has crushed all human sympathy; or an infanticide whose seducer walks at large, courting and courted by fair and virtuous dames; if such as these refuse to acknowledge the divinity of Christ and his atonement, then even the “gentle Jesus” comes with holy anger to pronounce the sentence of eternal torture, he then is the "jealous God.”
In the same human form in which he visited the earth of old, he will descend again, but this time robed in white and crowned with glory, preceded by the archangel who, with trumpet sound, will herald Man's approaching doom !
The heaven of the Christian multitude has been described. It is not carnal, though it is decidedly material: eternal songs of praise and thanksgiving are its favourite employments; its chief reward to see the Son and Father face to face. Is this the heaven of Christ; the home of many mansions, where the spirit will expand; the ruler over few, become the ruler over many things; and where the human soul, no longer fettered by the flesh, or tempted by the senses, shall rise and rise, until it reaches nigh to God's perfection ? These are the questions every worshipper must answer for himself.