Section IX

[I objected to this statement, which did not by any means commend itself to me in my then state of opinion, that it was incompatible with the received teaching of orthodox churches, and that, as a matter of fact, it traversed some cardinal dogmas of the Christian faith. I suggested that the message might have been adulterated in passage: and that much was omitted that I regarded as essential. If it were pretended that such a code was complete as a rule of life I was prepared to argue against it. It was said in reply:--]

That which has been told to you in its outline is so far correct; but it does not pretend to be a perfect delineation of truth. It is but a faint outline, blurred and blotted in many ways, but substantially truthful. Doubtless it contravenes much which you have been taught to believe as necessary to salvation. No doubt it seems to the unprepared spirit to be new, and destructive of older forms of faith. But it is not so. In its broad outlines the spirit-creed would be accepted by all who have thought at all on theological subjects without trammel of preconceived ideas, and without fear of the consequences of seeking into the truth. It would be commendable to all who are not hampered by old prejudices. We said that we must clear away much rubbish; that the work of destruction must precede the work of construction; that the old and unserviceable must first give place; that, in short, we must clear before we can build.

Yes: but the rubbish which you seem to me to be clearing away is precisely what Christians have agreed in all ages to consider cardinal doctrines of the faith.

No, friend; not quite so. You exaggerate there. If you will read the records which so imperfectly record the earth life of Jesus, you will not find that He claimed for Himself any such position as the Christian Church has since forced upon Him. He was more such as we preach Him than such as the Church called by His name has made Him.

I cannot think so. And the Atonement: What do you make of that?

It is in some sense true. We do not deny it; we do but fight against the crude human view which renders God contemptible, and makes Him a cruel tyrant who needed to be propitiated by His Son's death. We do not detract from Jesus' work when we disavow the false and dishonouring fables which have gathered round His name, and have obscured the simple grandeur of His life, the moral purpose of His sacrifice. We shall have somewhat to say to you hereafter on the growth of dogma until an assumption becomes established as de fide, and its rejection or denial passes for mortal sin. Were God to leave man to his own ends it would be held to be a mortal heresy, deserving of eternal burnings, to deny that the Supreme has delegated to a man one of His own inalienable prerogatives. One great section of the Christian Church would claim infallible knowledge for its head, and persecute in life, and condemn in death, even to everlasting shame and torment, those who receive it or not. This is a dogma of late growth in your very midst; but so all dogmas have grown up. So it has become difficult, nay, impossible, for unaided human reason to distinguish God's truth from man's glosses upon it. So all who have had the boldness to clear away the rubbish have been held accursed. It has been the story of all time. And we are not justly chargeable with wrong- doing if from our superior standpoint of knowledge we point out to you human figments of error, and endeavour to sweep them away.

Yes; that may be. But the belief in the Divinity of Christ and in His Atonement can scarcely be called dogmas which are human growth. You always prefix to your name the sign of the Cross [+IMPERATOR]. I presume, therefore, that in your lifetime on earth you must have held these dogmas. + Rector--another communication spirit, who also uses the sign of the Cross--must almost if not altogether have died for them. Here, then, seems to me to be a contradiction.

Suppose the dogmas to be unnecessary or mistaken truths--suppose them even to be false--what am I to conclude? Have you changed your opinions? Or were you a Christian while you lived on earth? or were you not? If not, why the Cross? If you were, why the change of sentiment? The whole question intimately concerns your identity. I cannot see how your teaching coincides with your belief when you lived on earth. It is pure and beautiful, but surely it is not Christian. Nor is it the teaching which one who uses the sign of the Cross would reasonable be expected to promulgate. So it seems to me. If I speak in ignorance, enlighten my ignorance. If I seem to be too curious, I must be excused, seeing that I have no means of judging you but by your words and deeds. So far as I am able to judge, your words and deeds are alike noble and elevated, pure and rational, but not Christian. I only desire such reasonable ground for forming an opinion as may satisfy my present doubts and difficulties.

It shall be given in due course. Cease now.

[The writing, though I earnestly desired and strove to obtain it, did not come until 20th June. The previous message was written on the 16th.]

I salute you, good friend. We would now give you more information, touching points which have perplexed and distressed you. You would know how far the sign of the Cross may legitimately be associated with our teaching. We will show you this.

Friend, the sign which is emblematic of the life and work of Jesus the Christ is one that cannot fairly be prefixed to much that now passes current for His teaching. The tendency of all classes of religionists has ever been to make much of the letter and to neglect the spirit: to dwell at large on expressions drawn from individual writers, and to neglect the general drift of teaching. Men have gone with preconceived notions to search for the truth, and have found that which they expected. Single words and expressions have been drawn out of their context by those who have professed to comment on the texts of your sacred books until they have been made to bear a meaning which their writers never intended. Others have gone to the authors solely to find words to prop up a theory without even the poor pretence of seeking after truth; and they, too, have been able to dig out something which has served their purpose. And so, by slow degrees, the edifice has grown, built up laboriously by men who delight to dwell on peculiarities of language and expression, and by men who, having evolved for themselves an idea, strive only that it may be confirmed. Neither class has any idea beyond the text of the sacred records which lies before it.

We said before that much of what we should have to say to you would turn on what you understand by Divine inspiration.

Those who are known to you as the orthodox defenders of the Christian creed tell you that a mysterious person--one of the three individual persons who compose the Undivided Trinity--took possession of the minds of certain men, and through their organisms gave to your world a body of truth, which was whole, complete, and of eternal force: a system of Divine philosophy from which nothing might be removed under the direst ban; to which nothing would ever be added; and which was the immediate word, the very utterance, the mind and will of God, containing within it the whole body of truth, actual and potential, contained in divinely worded phrases and expressions. Not only are the sentiments of David and Paul, Moses and John, consonant with the will of the Supreme, but they are the very thoughts of Deity. Not only are the words divinely approved, but they are the very diction of the Supreme. In short, the Bible is the very Word of God, both in matter and form: every word is Divine, and fit to be studied and expounded as such, even in that version of it which is translated into your language by men who, to complete the marvel, are again supposed to be in their turn the recepients of Divine truth and guidance in their work of translation.

Hence, you will see that doctrines the most tremendous, and conclusions the most far-reaching may be founded upon mere words and expressions, for is not every word and turn of phrase the revelation of God divinely preserved from admixture of human error? These are they who have grounded a number of dogmas on phrases picked out at their pleasure, neglecting and passing over all that pleases them not. To such the Bible is the direct utterance of the Supreme.

Those who have abandoned this view have entered upon a process of destructive handling of the Bible, the only termination of which is the view which we shall put for your acceptance. They revere the sacred records which compose your Bible as being the records of God's truth revealed to man from age to age, even as it is still being revealed. They study the records as showing man's progressive grasp of knowledge of God and of the destiny of the spirit. They watch the gradual unfolding of this revelation from times of ignorance and brutal barbarism when He was known as the friend of Abraham, who ate and conversed at the tent door, or the Judge who governed His people, or the King who fought at the head of the armies of Israel, or the Tyrant revealed through the medium of some seers, down to the time when He became known in His truer character of tenderness, and love, and fatherly kindness and compassion. In all this they see growth, and they will believe, if they pursue their investigations to the end, that such growth has never ceased; that such progressive revelations has never been closed; and that man's knowledge of his God is far from complete, though his capacity for receiving that knowledge is ever enlarging his means of satisfying the craving that is within him. And so the seeker after truth will be prepared to receive our teaching on this head at least. To such we address ourselves. To those who fondly fancy that they possess a perfect knowledge we say nothing. Before we can deal with them they must learn to know their ignorance of all that concerns God and Revelation. Anything that we could say would glide off the impenetrable defence of ignorance, self-conceit, and dogmatism in which they are encased. They must be left to unlearn hereafter in pain and sorrow that which has so retarded their spiritual growth, and will be so dire a barrier to future progress. If you have rightly understood what we have previously put before you, we may now proceed to add further some words on the nature of revelation and the character of inspiration.

We say, then, to you that the sacred books which make up your Bible, together with many others which are not included in it, are the records of that gradual growth in knowledge of Himself which the great and good God has given to man. The principle which pervades all these utterances is one and the same: identical with that which governs our intercourse with you. So much of truth is given as man can grasp; no more under any circumstances, but just so much as he can grasp, so much as suffices for his present craving. That truth is revealed through the instrumentality of a man, and is always more or less mixed with the thoughts and opinions of the medium. Nay, the communicating spirits are perforce obliged to use the material which is found in the medium's mind, moulding and fashioning it for their purpose: erasing fallacies, inspiring new views of truth, but working on the material which is already gathered. The purity of the spirit message depends much on the passivity of the medium and on the conditions under which the message is communicated. Hence, in your Bible there are traces here and there of the individuality of the medium; of errors caused by imperfect control; of the colour of his opinions; as well as of special peculiarities addressed to the special needs of the people to whom the message was first given, and for whose case it was primarily adapted.

You may see for yourself numerous cases of this. If Isaiah spoke to the people the words of the message with which he was charged, he impressed upon that message the individuality of his own mind, and adapted it to the peculiar needs of the people to whom he spoke. He told, indeed, of the one Supreme God, but he told of Him in strains of poesy and ecstatic imagery far different from the metaphorical and characteristic imagery of Ezekiel. Daniel had his visions of glory; Jeremiah, his burdens of the Lord who spoke through him; Hosea, his mystic symbolism: each in his individual fashion told of the same Jehovah, as he knew Him, but each told his message in his own style, as it had been revealed to him. Similarly, in later days, the characteristic nature of individual communications was preserved. If Paul and Peter found occasion to speak of the same truth, they almost necessarily viewed it from different sides. The truth was not less true because two men of varying minds viewed it from different points, and dealt with it in his own way. The individuality of the medium is palpable in the manner if not in the matter of the communication. The inspiration is Divine, but the medium is human.

Hence it is that man may find in the Bible the reflex of his own mind, whatever the tone of that mind may be. The knowledge of God is so small: that which man has grasped of His nature is so little, that each person who lives on past revelations, and cannot or will not extend them, must find in the Bible the reflex of his mind. He goes to find his own ideal, and lo! it is mirrored for him in the utterances of those who spoke for persons on his mental plane. If no one seer can satisfy his ideal, he selects from many the points which please him, rejects the remainder, and manufactures his own revelation piecemeal. So it is with all sects. Each frame its own ideal, and proves it by revelations taken from the Bible. None can accept the whole, because the whole is not homogeneous. But each picks out its suitable pieces, and from them frames its revelation. When they are brought face to face with others who have picked out other passages, then comes the twisting and distorting of words, the explanation (so they call it) and the commenting on text: the darkening of plain meaning: the interpreting of sayings in a sense never meant either by the communicating spirit or by the prophet or teacher. By this means inspiration becomes a vehicle for sectarian opinions; the Bible, an armoury from which each disputant may draw his favourite weapon; and theology, a matter of private notion, backed up by false and misleading interpretation.

With a theology so framed, we are accused of being at variance. It is true. We have no commerce with it. It is of the earth, earthy; base and low in its conception of God; degrading in its influence on the soul; insulting to the Deity whom it professes to reveal. We have no part in it. We do indeed contract and disown it. It is our mission to reverse its teaching, to substitute for it truer and nobler views of God and of the Spirit.

Another reason why much that is false with respect to God is current among you, as derived from the Bible, is, that the assumption of infallible inspiration leads men not only to lay too much stress on words and phrases, but also to fall into the error of interpreting too literally that which was intended to be spiritual and typical interpretation. In communicating to your mental plane ideas which are to you inconceivable, we are obliged to use expressions which are borrowed from your ways of thought. We ourselves are very frequently at fault in misusing such expressions; or they are themselves inadequate to convey our meaning. Almost all spirit utterances are typical. Especially when spirits have endeavoured to convey to men ideas of the great God of whom they themselves know so little, the language used is necessarily very imperfect, inadequate, and frequently ill-chosen. But it is always typical, and must be so understood. To press to the end of literal accuracy any spirit-teaching about God is mere folly.

Moreover, the revelations of God have been made in language suited to the capacities of those to whom they were originally given, and are to be so interpreted. But they who have framed for themselves the idea of an infallible revelation applicable through all time interpret every word literally, and so deduce erroneous conclusions. The hyperbole which was intelligible in the mouth of the impulsive seer who uttered it to an imaginative and enthusiastic Eastern hearer becomes overstrained, untrue, and misguiding when coldly interpreted in the light of comment and verbal exactness to those whose habits of thought and language are widely different or even totally dissimilar.

It is this cause that we must attribute many views of the Supreme which are alike false and dishonouring to Him. The original language was inadequate enough; it has become coloured more or less by the medium through whom it has passed, and is then less adequate than before. But interpreted as we have pointed out, it becomes positively false; and is in no sense the revelation of God. Rather it is man's notion about a Deity whom he has framed for himself--framed as really as the image which the savage forms for his fetish.

With such views, again, we have no accord. Them, too, we denounce, and our mission is to substitute for them a truer and nobler knowledge. Moreover, in dealing with you, spirits always proceed in one uniform manner. They are sent to communicate through a human medium some portion of Divine truth. In the medium's mind they find a growth of opinions, some false, some partly true, some distorted and befogged by early prejudice and training. Are these to be eradicated before the truer ideas are suggested? Is the mind to be completely cleared of all preconceived ideas? By no means. It is not so we act. Were we to do so the work of eradication would be so tedious that we should risk leaving the mind bare of teaching altogether, and should have destroyed without being able to create. No; we take the opinions already existent, and mould them into closer semblance of truth. All have in some sort the germ of truth, or we destroy them. With such as contain truth, we strive to grapple, and to mould and form them to progress and advancement in knowledge. We know of how little worth are the theological notions to which men attach so much importance; and we are content to leave them to die in the brighter light to which we lead the soul, while we supply the needed information on important topics. Only we must eradicate dogmatism. That is all-important. Opinion, when harmless, we do not meddle with.

Hence it is that theological notions may remain very much what they were, only toned down and softened in their asperities. So men falsely say that spirits always teach that which a man has previously believed. It is far from being so. What we now teach you is sufficient proof of that. The spirit-guides do indeed work on that which they find already in the mind; but they mould and temper it, and imperceptibly change and adapt it to their ends. It is only when the views held are such as they cannot work upon, or of a positive and dogmatic type, that the change wrought becomes plain to your eyes. You find a man who has denied the existence of God and of spirit, who has believed only what he can see and feel and handle; such a materialist you see converted to a belief in God and a future existence, and you wonder at the change. But the spirit that has been tempered, and chastened, and softened: that has been purified, and refined, and elevated: whose rude and rough beliefs have been toned and softened, of this change you make no note, because it is too gradual and subtle to be perceptible to your senses. Yet such are the glorious results of our daily work. The crude is softened; the hard, and cold, and cheerless are warmed into loving life; the pure is refined; the noble ennobled; the good made better; the yearning soul satisfied with richer views of its God and of its future happiness.

The opinions have not been suppressed, but they have been modified and changed. This is the real existent spirit influence all around of which ye know nothing as yet: the most real and blessed part of spirit ministry.

When, therefore, men say that spirits speak only the medium's preconceived opinions, they are partly right. The opinions, in so far as they are harmless, are the previous ones, only moulded in a way not perceptible to your gaze as yet. When the opinions are hurtful, they are eradicated and destroyed.

When we deal with special forms of theological creed, we strive, in so far as we can, to spiritualise previous opinion rather than eradicate it. We know--as you cannot know--of how trifling moment are forms of faith, provided the faith be alive and spiritual: and we strive, therefore, to build on the foundation already laid. To this end, however, whilst the broad outlines, which are in themselves partially truthful, or which embody as much of truth as the intelligence can grasp, are preserved, much that is false and delusive must be cleared away. So the work of destruction precedes the work of construction. The soul is purged of gross error, and the truth is refined and purified as far as may be. Hence it is that we do usually teach a modification of the views of truth held by those to whom we speak.

And now, friend, you will see the bearing of this on your difficulty. We have endeavoured, not to uproot from your mind the views which you have entertained of theology, but to modify them. If you will recall the past, you will see how your creed has gradually widened from a very narrow basis to a comprehensive and rational one. You have, under our guidance, been made acquainted with the theological tenets of many churches and sects. You have been led to see, in each, the germ of truth, more or less developed, but clouded with human error. You have studied, for yourself, the writings of the teachers of religion among the Christian world, and your own creed has been toned down and softened in its asperities by the divergent views of truth so let in upon it. The process has been long and gradual from the days when you were influenced to the study of ancient philosophies to later days, when systems of theology filtered through it, and left behind them that which you were able to assimilate.

The fixed and changeless creed of the Eastern branch of the Christian Church, with its crystallised dogmas no longer living and breathing truths; the destructive criticism of German scholars who have dealt a much-needed blow to blind belief in the verbal exactitude of human utterances; the speculations of advanced thought in your own country and Church; the ideas of those external to it, and even to the creed of Christendom--of all these have you learned, and have retained from the several systems that which was serviceable to you. It has been a long and very gradual work, and now we wish to carry you further, and to show you the ideal truth, spiritual, impalpable, but most real, which underlies all with which you are familiar. We would strip off the earthly body, and show you the real, vital truth in its spiritual significance.

We would have you know that the spiritual ideal of Jesus the Christ is no more like the human notion, with its accessories of atonement and redemption, as men have grasped them, than was the calf ignorantly carved by the ancient Hebrews like the God who strove to reveal Himself to them. We wish to show you, as you can grasp it, the spiritual truths which underlie the life of Him who is known to you as the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Son of God. We would tell you of the true significance of the life of the Christ, and show you, as we can, how low and mean are the views of Him which we are striving to do away with.

You ask how the sign of the Cross can be prefixed to such teaching. Friend, the spiritual truth of which that sign is typical is the very cardinal truth which it is our special mission to declare. The self- denying love which would benefit humanity even at the sacrifice of life and home and earthly happiness--the pure spirit of Christ, this is what we would declare to you as the godlike spirit. This is the true salvation from meanness and self-aggrandisement, and self-pleasing and luxurious sloth, which can redeem humanity, and make of men the children of God. This self-abnegation and incarnate love is that which can atone for sin, and make man like to God. This is the true atonement! Not, indeed, a reconciliation of sin-stained humanity to an angry and holy God, purchased by the sacrifice of His sinless son, but a higher and truer atonement in the ennobling of the nature, the purifying of the spirit; the making of the human and the divine, ONE in aim and purpose:--the drawing of man's spirit, even whilst incarned, up nearer and nearer to the Divine.

This was the mission of Christ. In this He was a manifestation of God: the son of God: the Saviour of man: the Reconciler: the Atoner: and herein we perpetuate His work, we carry on His mission, we work under His symbol, we fight against the enemies of His faith, against all who ignorantly or wilfully dishonour Him, even though it be under the banner of orthodoxy and under the protection of His Name.

Much that we teach must still be new and strange even to those who have progressed in knowledge; but the days shall come when men shall recognise the oneness of Christ's teaching on earth with ours; and the human garb, gross and material, in which it has been shrouded, shall be rent asunder, and men shall see the true grandeur of the life and teaching of Him whom they ignorantly worship. In those days they shall worship with no less reality, but with a more perfect knowledge; and they shall know that the sign under which we speak is the symbol of purity and self-sacrificing love to them and to their brethren for all time. This end it is our earnest endeavour to attain. Judge of our mission by this standard, and it is of God, godlike: noble as He is noble: pure as He is pure: truthgiving as He is true: elevating, and saving, and purifying the spirit from the grossness of earthly conceptions and raising it to the very atmosphere and neighbourhood of the spiritual and the divine.

Ponder our words: and seek for guidance, if not through us, then through Him who sent us, even as, in earlier days, He sent that exalted spirit of purity, charity, and self-sacrifice, whom men called Jesus, and who was the Christ.

Him we adore even now. His Name we reverence.
His words we echo. His teaching lives again in ours.
He and we are of God: and in His Name we come.

+IMPERATOR.