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New Testament Symbolisms

by Prof. S. P. Wait

1891

Although the many doctrines built up about the personality of Jesus attribute to him in some peculiar sense the relation of sonship with God, he does not so say of himself, but by every word and work declares a common spiritual fatherhood and human brotherhood. When Nicodemus testified to his superior power, Jesus did not trace its origin to a special interposition of Providence in his birth or life, but he made of general application the law that governed his conception by the emphatic assertion that all men must realize themselves as begotten and born from above before they can understand the forces of the unseen universe within and without. He affirmed the kingdom of God and of heaven to be latent in the life of man, and promised no peace for the soul here or hereafter until its innate capabilities for wisdom, love, and power for good are developed and exercised. His precepts and example would be foolishness and a stumbling-block, his character an unattainable ideal, were it other than the first fruit ripened on the tree of life, the promise of a perfected race.

We only apprehend its vital value, as we can trace in our own experience and that of others, the growth and fruition of that seed-principle of Truth around which the New Testament story has been crystallized. This re-conception of the Christ is, like the first one, essentially of the soul and intrinsically immaculate. It then matters little when or by whom the Gospels and Epistles were originally written; for the book as a whole is lifted forever above the level of legend and myth, on the one hand, and that of a merely historical narrative on the other, because the persons and events mentioned and described represent laws and principles permanent in operation, and reveal faculties whose reality and value we are daily called upon to demonstrate. We can, when we so will it, verify, each in his own subjective consciousness, all that the wondrous story of nineteen centuries ago relates as having taken place in the outward objective world of form and phenomena. For unto every “excellent Theophilus,” every lover of the good and true, the gospel of the Christ is, through the conscience, reconveyed, even as delivered by those who from the first have been its messengers.

The faith of Abraham and law of Moses, the line of patriarch, priest, and prophet, that linked the life of Jesus with that of primitive man, we find repictured in the working of those evolutionary forces that constitute each one of us an epitome of the past, a miniature of society. As children of earth we give due credit to each factor in heredity and environment that makes us what we are as we pass through planes of physical, intellectual, and moral development. But a still higher kingdom of consciousness is at hand, which forces us to feel that as brethren of the Son of Man we are also sons of God.

In every wilderness of human life that stands instead of the oncoming paradise, a voice of preparation loudly calls. It is the self-same cry which of old the Baptist first sent forth, and which the Nazarene with emphasis took up. This watchword, Repent ye, repent ye! means, as metanoia always meant, newness and rightness of thought, and consequently a thorough and abiding betterment of motive, character, disposition and habit, in every department and relation of individual and social human life. To effect this transformation from ignorance to knowledge, from selfishness to its opposite, is eternally the mission of that principle of truth personified as Jesus. We recognize its saving power only as it is set up within us as a rule of thought and action. When we pattern after it, we then realize all sin to be just what the Hebrew chattah and the Greek amartia indicate, i. e., a missing of the mark, a lack of conformity to type, the type being man finished in his creation, harmoniously developed, physically, intellectually, morally, spiritually. And we learn that sins are not forgiven by the setting aside of any law, or the amelioration of the consequences of the violation of law, knowingly, or unknowingly; but by the ordination in the nature of things of those agencies that tend, even though it be through the penalty of pain, to bring us to the knowledge of, and obedience to, every law written in the body and mind of man and governing his environment seen or unseen. Sin is incompletion, immaturity, unwholeness, ignorance, as well as the violation of some understood and accepted moral code. As the green fruit on the tree is forgiven for its unripeness by the baptism of sunlight, moisture, and all other forces needed to mature it, so man forgives and is forgiven by the impartation of strength where weakness is in body or in mind, by the diffusion of science to take the place of superstition, and by every other sure though slow, as we count time, redemptive evolutionary trend. The only sin unpardonable in this æon or the next is non-receptivity to the spirit that in every age impels to righteousness. So long as man keeps his eyes closed, he cannot be forgiven for being in a state of darkness. But it is an utterly unthinkable as well as unscriptural idea that there be any so perverse as to refuse throughout an endless time, to look upon the glory of a world of light and color, when by opening the windows of the soul they can exchange their trouble and unrest for peace that will not pass away.

As for the babe of Bethlehem there was no other birthplace than a manger, so when the universal Christ is cradled in our souls, its resting place is in the midst of a well-nurtured animalism. The Herod of a ruling selfishness seeks to obliterate the loftier ideal. But while he summons all his strength to prevent the embodiment of the new thought, there are other faculties that perceive the star of promise and follow it as a harbinger of truth.

The years of Jesus’ life of which we have no record, save the one instance of his questioning and answering the wise ones in the temple, represent the time of preparation, discipline, study, culture, contemplation, necessary to fit us to give to others the benefit of our experience and attainment. For no one can lift another to a higher round of the ladder of life than that upon which he stands himself.

The immersion in the Jordan shows a willingness to conform to existing customs, when no principle is sacrificed thereby and a point of contact with the masses can thus be established, so that the truth symbolized by the rite of baptism can be shown forth through the action of those formative, purifying, spiritual forces that sustain to the psychical realm the same relation that water bears to the physical world.

The temptation of Jesus is typical of the time of testing that comes to every one who takes a step in advance of the age in which he lives. The principle of resistance called Satan confronts such an one at the very outset of his mission, and seemingly insuperable obstacles arise as foes to his progress. But he who first meets and masters all inward opposition, through knowledge of the law and allegiance thereto, can conquer every outward phase of hybrid beast and human, whose selfish pride and cruel greed have been well imaged as a devil with cloven foot and fiendish face.

The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of spiritual axioms. It lays before us the law of love for the neighbor, as the very instinct of self-preservation. Not to do for others as we would be done by, is to fail to furnish food, raiment, and shelter for our own souls. Physical and intellectual man gains worldly strength and honor as he takes to himself and retains riches and knowledge regardless of the rights of others. In contradistinction to this, the spiritual man gets treasure and wisdom imperishable, as he serves his fellow men, and freely gives of whatsoever he may have, of which his neighbor stands in need.

The beatitudes, with which the speech begins, such as man never spake before, tell, in a symbolism that is self-evidently true, the way by which alone, real happiness is won. We are blessed or cursed of God, through the working of His laws immutable, according as our relation to those laws is one of knowledge and obedience, or of ignorance and perversity. As, in the Hebrew tongue the words we render, “to curse,” and “to bless,” run back to the same root idea, so in point of fact, the very suffering which, sooner or later, comes to us when we are out of touch with the divine order of love to God and love to man, is the means appointed to bring us to that harmony which all must gain.

The lowest things are often seen to signify the things most high. A parable, paraballo, is that which “throws before” us such concrete imagery as best serves to foreshadow and to fit the mind to understand a certain abstract principle. As we become disciples, “learners” of the Truth, we find it speaks to us only through such emblems as enable us to reason from the things we do already know to those concerning which we wish to be informed. The words of Jesus went forth full-freighted with vitality. They were truly spirit and life, because charged with a virtue that can only come from a soul in submission to the law by his lips enunciated. Hence we see why, in the mystical language with which the Gospel of St. John begins, he is called the Logos, Reason or Word of God, from God and one with God, because he reveals the divine thought concerning man, inherently perfect from the first, but requiring time and space for its outworking. That human individuality may be maintained, man is uplifted only over the fulcrum of his own will. This volitional power is the ray in us of that Creative Energy whose name Jehovah signifies, I will be what I will to be. Thus, then, oneness with God is not sameness with God, nor the absorption of human personality in the Infinite Being. It is simply a state to be reached in our progressive creation where we will come to a knowledge of the laws of life, and will consciously co-operate with those divine decrees governing the origin, nature, and destiny of the soul. To illustrate the possibility of such achievement and exemplify the way of its attainment, was the mission of the Christ. But it has been so much easier to idolatrously worship his person than to embody his principles, that ceremonials and doctrines have been substituted for the life he lived. This is a sufficient reason for the manifestly unsaved condition that the so-called Christian world still exhibits in all manner of bigotry and disease, social unrest and iniquity.

The name Jesus signifies “that which makes whole.” So we find the one who bore it, true to his title, healing the bodies of men and giving to their souls a cure for sorrow. Yet, even he was made to feel that of himself he could do nothing, so keenly was he conscious of the fact that every self-denying sympathetic soul becomes a mediator, through whom the reconstructive forces of the universe make their impress felt upon the race. He speaks of prayer and faith, as mental states to be entered into and maintained, if we would be and do the best we can. His injunctions in reference to prayer correspond well with the meaning of the Greek verb euchomai which we render “to pray,” and which signifies to put forth effort rightly, i. e., along the lines of laws understood. He said that true prayer is not the repetition of any words, nor the asking for that which we may think it best that we should have. For the spiritual man knows that his labor for others insures of himself the results that are best. So the discourse of Jesus in this connection defines prayer, in its highest sense, as an inward, not an outward attitude; a state of mental receptivity to the guidance of truth and desire for the good of others, always to be observed, not the mere utterance of terms of petition or praise. He tells us to withdraw into the soul’s most secret place, where God already sits enthroned, and there commune with Him.

Before in spirit and with understanding we can in thought, and word, and deed, articulate Our Father! we must pass back in review through all the cycles that have rolled around, since this old earth of ours first turned in space. We then behold the most attenuate form of matter of which we can conceive, as a condensation of creative energy, yet but a matrix fitted for the reception of a planet seed or soul. We recognize a divine involution as the antecedent and causation of all so-called natural evolution. We see each link in the chain of being, from least to greatest, from the simplest to the most complex; grass, herb, and tree, fish, reptile, bird, and beast, as multiple yet orderly expressions of the immanence and permanence of the fatherhood of God. We view the creation of man as His highest handiwork, in which the seed of human life, bearing latent within it every high attribute and potency possessed by its celestial source, is placed or planted in a prepared material environment. We look back through the ages upon the travail of this our soul, and are satisfied as we see it gradually rising to the mastery and reformation of the physical form and animal soul, in which and with which it has been tabernacled to gain a necessary experience. From savagery to civilization, through planes of physical, intellectual, and moral consciousness we pass, borne upward by the overshadowing power of God to realize the omnipresence of its fatherhood. From this right starting-point there follows of necessity a conception of that vital fraternity of man which makes us members of one body, and which precludes the possibility of the gaining of a lasting good by any individual part thereof without a benefit to all.

Each other portion of the prayer of prayers is seen to have a correspondingly deep significance, when carefully analyzed, although formulated as an object lesson in our spiritual kindergarten, the church. The name of God we hallow, but not as did the ancient Israelites, by refusing even to mention the sacredly incommunicable Yahweh. For we have learned that the right name is what expresses the nature of that which is named. So that the only way in which we can reverence the name of God or Christ is by the consecration of our time and talent to the expression of all the God-like, Christ-like qualities with which, as human beings, we are gifted.

What foolishness, if not blasphemy, it would be for us to ask that the will of God should be obeyed in the world about us, when His laws of gravitation and chemical affinity, crystallization and cell-growth, rule supremely in each of earth’s kingdoms. But the constant aspiration of our hearts should be that the elements of earthiness within us, that militate against the expression of our highest ideals, shall hear and heed a juster rule than that of selfishness. For no outward act of legislation can usher in heaven’s kingdom on the earth, in human institutions, until many individuals have by its inward presence been guided and illumined.

For a sufficiency of material food from day to day, we rightly ask by the proper use of each faculty and member God has given us, to compel the earth to yield up its resources for our sustenance, which it would do in ample abundance for all, were it not for the inordinate greed and lust, or the gross lethargy, of that many-phased, still unhumanized beast that man has to conquer in himself. But happy is he who hungers for the manna of law and the bread of truth, whose prayer is a sincere desire to be so fed thereon that there shall be such strength in the muscles of his soul as shall make of him a power for good to all with whom he comes in contact.

As to our enemies, we can no longer cherish feelings of resentment toward anyone, however they may misconstrue our purest motive, or malign our best intent. We see that every one must show, when tested, the exact degree of growth he has attained. Hence, the slander and persecution, the “all manner of evil” falsely arrayed against us, we apprehend as the necessary means to determine our fidelity to the truth to which we have pledged allegiance, and to prove that what is of good cannot come to naught though all the powers of earth and hell be set against it. To forgive, aphiemi, is to cause advancement, to bear away burdens. Thus we see it as an axiom that only as we aid the weak, instruct the ignorant, develop the undeveloped, can we receive in turn what we most need to carry us farther forward on the upward path.

Lead us not into temptation, is what we silently say when our thought and action show that we have well learned the lessons that were for us in past trial and tribulation, and so order our course that the leading of His laws, by which alone God ever guides, brings to us joy instead of pain. Then, whatsoever may betide, as men count weal or woe, we see the gold pass from the fire freed from its base alloy. Then all the prayer is answered as with the eye of the prophet to whom the future is as now, we see the soul delivered from, born out of evil, poneros, which well represents the six days or epochs of labor, strife, and friction, of gestation in materiality, that precede and prepare the way for the Sabbath day to dawn.

The word “amen” is a Hebrew term for faith, which it defines as a firm prop or support, a foundation that abides. It pictures to us faith, not as emotion or credulity, nor the mere belief in, or acceptance of, some formulated creed; but as that clear assurance of what the present will produce or what the future has in store, which can only come as we perceive how God, by laws immutable, has ruled throughout the past. And faithful prayer is oneness of the will of man with that of God, through knowledge of His laws and glad obedience thereto. Thus, this word, as a symbol, stands for that which is the first and last of all true prayer.

The works of Jesus, like his words, were all of a symbolic character, in that each so-called miracle foreshadowed a result to be realized as a common heritage of men through the age-lasting evolution of the same intelligence that then produced the transient tokens of its presence. In the New Testament there are four words used, in the original Greek, which have been translated as descriptive of miraculous occurrences.

Their basic meaning is as follows: 1, dunamis, power, energy, a faculty or ability to do; 2, ergon, a work, an arrangement in order, with purpose and skill; 3, teras, to turn, to resolve, to excite wonder or fear; 4, semeion, the word most frequently employed, indicates a sign, mark, or token by which a thing is shown, something used to represent something else. Our word “miracle” is often and erroneously used for a phenomenon supposed to have occurred outside the realm of law. Yet, in the strictest sense, the bursting of a blade of grass from out the ground, the conception and birth of any form of life, are as stupendous miracles, marks of creative power, as the mind of man can ever contemplate.

The wise and great in any department of progress have always towered like gods above their fellowmen. The natural product of their lives has been a constant miracle to those about them. In spiritualizing the story of the prodigies performed by Jesus, we would not question the psychic power, transforming virtue of such an one as he, who was fitted to convey a re-creative influence to the world. But we would wish to show how far those phenomenal evidences of power and intelligence transcended the domain of mediumistic wonder-working or spiritistic occultism. This is easily accomplished as we continue to apply the same principle of interpretation that has already shown us that the supposed miraculous conception and birth of the Christ was but a consummation of the plan, and in obedience to the same laws by which the heavens were made, the earth begotten and born, mineral and vegetable kingdoms formed and sustained, animal life brought forth and evolved, and, finally, man progressively created in the image, according to the likeness of his God. Because the same spiritual nature that the typical man so perfectly embodied has been begotten in our souls and is seeking to express itself along the lines he pointed out, the truth, of which his so-called miracles were illustrative and prophetical, is made apparent. His walking on the sea of Galilee, or bidding its tempestuous waves be still, was not so marvelous a proof of power as has been the advancement of the principle he represented upon the seething ocean of humanity, causing the tumultuous tides of lust and passion, sin and ignorance to subside. The literal narrative of the miraculous draught of fishes vouchsafed to the disciples affords but a feeble symbol of the abundant life that has come to men and nations who have cast their nets, put forth their efforts, in obedience to the injunctions of the Law-giver of the New Testament.

The wonder of the marriage-feast is re-performed as Christ attends the wedding of our souls to truth, that union which cannot by man be put asunder. As this takes place the water turns to wine; that within our mental make-up which before was unformed, unstable, in a condition of flux and change, becomes vivified with creative power, and bubbles and sparkles with newness of life and inspiration, refreshing and stimulating the soul with higher emotions and desires, imparting to the very cells and tissues of the body a reconstructive tendency to health.

By the breaking of the bread of life, the hidden manna of the Word, the reality behind appearance, the multitude of faculties is fed and that unseen assembly nourished whose lives are linked with ours at this Lord’s Supper of the soul. Blinded perceptions are restored to sight from day to day, and gifted with a constantly enlarging field of vision in the realm of truth and law. The understanding that was deaf vibrates with joy in response to the call of a salvatory science. The antitypes of palsied arm and crippled foot, which are the lack of power to do and of ability to advance in a higher, mental life, are healed by the transforming touch that makes its impress on the soul when first made conscious, that by its own free will its highest ideals are to become realities. Even those who have been so earth-bound and selfish as to be lifeless, cold, and dead to the knowledge of God and love to the neighbor are commencing to arise in answer to the spirit of the approaching altruistic age. Accompanying this present resurrection, the veil is being rent that for so long has intervened between this life and the next. And although no outward cloud is sundered for a personal Messiah to descend to rule as temporal prince, the denser fogs of a gross materialism are parting fast before the rising glory of that day whose dawn we see afar on the horizon. For the signs are many and are strikingly apparent that those splendid souls, the wisely great ones of the past, the saviors and educators of the race, are to co-operate with us in the formation of that kingdom and republic which their prophetic vision saw and fervent words foretold. Then, as a spiritual reality, will we understand the truth symbolized by the doctrines of the church concerning the resurrection of the dead and communion with the saints, as the first fruits of them that slept appear to us. And what is now prefigured by the phenomena and personations of modern spiritualism, will then become a blessed fact as our missing loved ones labor with us for our and their redemption and the good of all mankind. Had they been permitted, or were they able, to return for any other purpose, the result would be the furtherance of selfishness and materiality. Spiritualism, with its convincing tests of an unseen intelligence, and its crude communications, sustains the same relation to the angelic intercourse which it simulates, that the symbolic conversion, baptism, and bread and wine of the church bear to the organic experiences of a true life. They are all, alike, signs and forms, shadows cast before the substance drawing nigh, the Christ that is to be.

Our present space will not permit us now to even touch upon, much less delineate, the all-important principles symbolized by the recorded martyrdom of Jesus, and the doctrine of atonement. But they, and all the eschatology of the Gospels, and with which the apocalyptic book of riddles is filled, will be readily unravelled as we still farther trace the working of those laws already seen, that are not restricted in their operation by relations of time and space, but govern through the ages the travail of the embodied or disembodied soul. Suffice it then to say that hell and heaven are not the names of places to which the wicked or the good are called upon to go. Sheol, Gehenna, Hades, Tartarus, and the opposite Kingdom of God, are terms expressing symbolically the experiences and conditions of undeveloped and developed souls here as well as hereafter.