Chapter 5 – The Atonement

THE ATONEMENT

W. John Murray
New Thoughts on Old Doctrines
Divine Science Publishing Co.
New York, N.Y., 1918

[97]

“I and my Father are one.
“If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
“That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.
“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.
“For in him we live, and move, and have our being.
“Christ in you the hope of glory.
“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. “Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.
“And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.
“He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me, ye can do nothing.”

[98] BLANK

[99] THE ATONEMENT

“Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his spirit.”-l JOHN 4.13.

This subject of the Atonement is one of such general belief, and yet one so poorly understood, especially in the world of denominational Christianity, that when one comes to study what the world calls the New Thought, or Divine Science, or Primitive, or Apostolic, or Applied Christianity, at once there arises the question: What of the atonement? So profoundly does the old thought hold to the atonement that the seeker hesitates very frequently to take advantage of the healing efficacy of Divine Science and kindred philosophies, because some one has said that these do not believe in the atonement.

I want to make it as clear as possible that we not only believe in the atonement, but [100] through our studies we have come to a more glorified consciousness of what the atonement means. We not only believe in it, we understand it, in some degree and to some extent. If our views have changed concerning it, they have not changed for the worse, but rather for the better. We have, I believe, a more satisfying concept of what the atonement really is.

The belief in the atonement did not originate with Jesus. When we begin to investigate the doctrine we find it as old as the human mind itself. Go back as far as we can in the history of the race, and we find a belief in a necessary atonement. Far back in the Dark Ages, when man had innumerable gods, more or less vicious, more or less wrathful, angry, and jealous, there arose the necessity of atonement. The very earliest record we have is that which is set forth in the older Scriptures. In the Christian Bible, or the Hebrew Testament, we find the rites and rituals of a particular day, called the Day of Atonement, amplified and set forth with unerring accuracy. In a changed form [101]the ceremony still exists among the Hebrew people.

In order to arrive at a more satisfying idea of what atonement means, it might be well for us to look back and see what it has meant to the race in the past. It has passed through many stages; and various and almost innumerable concepts have been held by the mind of man, beginning, I think, with that definition of atonement set forth in our lexicons as appeasement.

Atonement originally meant a method, a ceremony, or a means by which Deity was placated. The means by which the race at that time sought to appease the wrath of the Infinite, was to offer up innocent bulls, rams, goats, pigeons, and other living creatures. The earliest description we find of the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament, tells of the ceremonial use of two goats; the blood of one was offered up as the first appeasement of the wrath of God: this was the slain goat. The other was the scapegoat, over which the hands of the priest were held, and upon whose back was placed all the sins of [102] the children of Israel; the goat was driven off into the wilderness, away from the haunts of men, and its own kind, either to live or die in solitude, as the case might be. It had done all that was required of it. The scapegoat had borne away upon its inoffensive and innocent back the sins of the children of Israel.

As we come down through the Old Testament we find a gradually changing concept of the atonement. We find the major and minor prophets alike declaring that the nostrils of God are offended by the odours of the burnt offerings that the children of Israel are offering up to him on their mounts of sacrifice. We find the minor prophets, especially men like Hosea, Micah, and Amos, upbraiding the children of Israel because of their belief that they can appease the wrath of the Infinite by any such method or procedure. But we find the Hebrews still clinging to rite and ceremony, to the old-established order of things, from which they cannot seem to get away. Even when our intellects become [103] persuaded of the error and foolishness of any practice, we still continue observing the old rite and ceremony with our customary annual regularity, so tightly does habit hold the soul. The new dispensation changed nothing.

When Jesus came, he found the Jewish thought of ceremonies still obtaining even in the minds of those who came to him for his teaching. They still believed in the wrath of God; they still believed in the necessity of appeasement.

So, we find our New Testament writers placing an emphasis on the atonement which it should not have received: it is merely the Interpretation born of their own preconceived theories. If at one time the wrath of God could be appeased only by the offering.up of animal sacrifices, now nothing short of the innocent blood of his own beloved Son would suffice.

And today, after two thousand years of Christianity, we find, to a greater or less degree, this peculiar theory concerning the atonement still holding the mind. Men still [104] believe that the innocent blood of Jesus was shed for the remission of sins. To these it seems as if the belief were based upon Scriptural truth. But we must remember that those who came to Jesus were men whose minds still held the old idea of the sacrificial atonement, for which at one time an animal sufficed. And since they thought God must be appeased in some way, we find them naturally using their old theories for present purposes.

Here we find that greatest of all sacrifices, the innocent Jesus, suffering for the sins of his people, not only those of his time, but yours and mine. There are those who believe that he died in order to save them from the consequences of their own sins; that all they have to do is to profess to believe in the sacred name of Jesus, to believe that they are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and all their past errors and mistakes and sins will be wiped out by this vicarious atonement.

Divine Science does not uphold this theory. It does not believe that the glorious sacrifice of Jesus’ self was a personal sacrifice [105] by the way of atonement for your sins or mine. We alone can do this–none can do it for us.

If we have taken the atonement out of the category of appeasement and brought it into the category of reconciliation, we have made little progress indeed. The idea which obtains largely among modern theologians, is that the purpose of Jesus’ great sacrifice was to reconcile God to man. If, in the beginning of the history of the race, we merely sought to appease the wrath of God through the offering up of animal sacrifices, and now through the death of his well-beloved Son we seek to reconcile God to the race, we still have not made much progress.

The whole teaching of Jesus was the exact reverse of this. The whole burden of his song was that man should become reconciled to the law of God. The reconciliation was not on the part of God, but on the part of man: this was his whole teaching.

He came not to make atonement, but to interpret it. He came not to go through a certain bloody sacrifice in order that this [106] atonement might be brought about, but to acquaint us intelligently with the definition and the possibilities of atonement.

We have three definitions given of the word atonement. The first is appeasement; the second is reconciliation; and the third is unification or unity or at-one-ment. It is this last interpretation which Divine Science prefers to use. Separate the word atonement and you find at-one-ment, which means being at one, not atoning for.

The whole purpose of Jesus was not to die or to atone, but to make clear, to exemplify, man’s at-one-ment with God; this was the real atonement of Jesus.

Perhaps, you argue, it was the purpose of his Father to offer up his beloved Son as a sufficient expiation for our sins and all the sins of the race. It might seem so; just so long as we regard God in the light of a sympathizing, loving, human parent, and no more, just so long we shall hold this idea.

Let us suppose that a mutiny breaks out aboard a battleship in war-time. Let us suppose this mutiny threatens to hamper the [107] fleet and destroy the particular ship on which it takes place; let us suppose, in addition, that the mutineers are arrested and tried. We all know that the usual sentence pronounced under such conditions is the sentence of death.

Suppose that aboard this battleship is the Captain’s only child. This son goes to his father and says: “I realize, Father, the dastardly conduct of these sailors; I realize the evil consequences that may follow if such outbreaks are not stopped. But I also realize their ignorance, and that therefore they ought not pay the penalty of their offenses; I offer myself in their place. I offer myself as a sufficient appeasement of your wrath. I offer myself as a sufficient substitute for their bodies.” When you look at it from the point of personal sacrifice it is wonderful, marvelous, glorious. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

But, suppose the father accepts the son’s offer! No matter what we think of this son, no matter how gloriously we conceive of his [108] character, no matter how we magnify his love and self-sacrifice: what shall we think of the father?

What should we think of the human parent who accepted as a sufficient substitute for mutinous sailors his own inoffensive child? Yet, is not this the thing we have understood of the atonement: that God sent his only begotten Son into the world to die in order that we might live?

What we want to do is to take the atonement out of the category of dispensations, and to relieve our minds of the thought that it was a providential occurrence. If it had been a providential occurrence, if he were predestined to it, Jesus would not be entitled to quite so much credit as we have been in the habit of bestowing upon him; because, if a man does what he is destined to do, and is given the strength and the grace to go through with it, there is not so much that is praiseworthy: he could not do anything else.

If this is true concerning Jesus, is it not equally true concerning Judas, who betrayed him? If it was a predestined tragedy [109] or drama, intended to work out for the good of the race, why consider Judas the villain in the play, with hissing and execrations? Why should we go on down the centuries hissing one who was selected by the Great Playwright himself for the part, for a part that no other man in the universe could play? Why should we go on perpetually applauding another for playing the character that was destined for him originally? Why should we applaud if the words he speaks were put in his lips and mouth, if the strength were put in his limbs, and the courage put in his heart? What credit is it to him, or what discredit to the other? These are questions for the thoughtful mind to ponder.

We believe in the atonement as the most necessary thing in the universe, but we cannot believe in it as we used to. So we take the third definition of the word, “to make at-one with.” May I say that Jesus did not die quite so much to appease the wrath of God concerning the other children of God, as to appease the wrath of men? May I [110] say that he did not die quite so much upon a demand on the part of God, as upon the part of men? According to our old teachings, we believed that God handed Jesus over to the world and said to the people of that time, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” But, if you study the New Testament carefully, you will find that it was the Pharisees who said “Crucify him!”

Why did they demand the blood of the innocent Jesus? Because he.had proclaimed a great truth which was so contradictory and in such direct and utter opposition to anything they had ever believed before, that they at once proclaimed him a blasphemer. He declared the truth of the atonement. He never participated in a sacrificial ceremony, but he sought to make clear what the atonement was, and to define it as the atonement of man with God. So he said, in the words of our text: “I am in the Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” The moment he voiced this beautiful thought, the Pharisees said: “Crucify him! He maketh himself to be one with God, equal with God! Crucify [111] him!” This was the first thing that disturbed and angered, or irritated them, this conviction that since he assumed more than any other man in the world had yet assumed, he was declaring himself to be equal with God!

Since that day we have gone on believing that the thing had to be done, the crucifixion gone through, and that according to divine dispensation. Perhaps it was necessary for it to take place, but not according to divine dispensation quite so much as according to human ignorance and human anger.

We are told it was his own Heavenly Father and not the Pharisees who pre-ordained Jesus to the crucifix. It was the Pharisees who were agitated into a state of mind which demanded the blood of this innocent man.

Then his own disciples, who had just enough of the Jew left in them, just enough of the old order of thought left to make the idea a natural one, conceived of his death as an atonement. Instead, it was the manifestation of his atonement with the great Infinite [112] Life. He was too great to kill, but in order that other men might know the truth, he laid down his life.

The idea of the at-one-ment of Jesus is the idea of a tremendous love. All of the glory goes to Jesus because he did what he did not actually have to do, though some of us feel that he was obliged to do it; but in his own words, he said, “I have power to lay down my life, and power to take it again.”

He might have avoided the crucifixion if he had wished. He might have avoided all the harrowing and harassing conditions that preceded his crucifixion. It was not an incumbent necessity that he should die for you and me. He merely assumed the responsibility of proclaiming a great truth at the cost of angering others, at the cost of being misunderstood, at the cost of being misrepresented and crucified.

Always you will find Jesus speaking of his Heavenly Father as Love, Infinite Love. You will find him illustrating the great love of God in a speech to a few Pharisees standing about: “What man is there of you, [113] whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” Will God answer your prayers by giving you the very opposite thing to that for which you cry?

To the mind of Jesus, God was Love. If he prophesied his crucifixion and death, he also prophesied his own resurrection and ascension. But his prophecies of suffering were based, not so much upon the actions of a divine Providence, as upon the actions of men who did not understand him.

If any one were to bring a new idea to the world today, he would be perfectly justified in proclaiming the fact, though the idea would not be adopted at once. Perhaps men would so misunderstand his motive that they would persecute him; they might hand him over to the authorities, or regard him simply as a harmless lunatic. Because he realized that man would not understand his mission, knowing also the nature of the men of his day, Jesus was able to prophesy his own destruction, his own crucifixion.

He knew the men of his time were so [114] grossly ignorant as to be terribly vindictive. He realized if he said anything contrary to their fixed beliefs, anything that angered them, they would immediately rise against him and clamour for his blood.

A man may proclaim almost any kind of a belief today and no one would think of crying “Crucify him!” But the customs of that far-off day were different, and Jesus knew, when he came and overturned one of their most cherished institutions; when he proclaimed an atonement that did away with blood sacrifice altogether, and made it a process of growth rather than a sacrificial offering; he was going to incur the vengeance of the priests, because he was going against the established order of over two thousand years. He knew he was going to incur the anger, the hostility, the antagonism, the hatred of the Pharisees; though we are told that the common people heard him gladly. But those who cherished as their lives the rites and customs and ceremonies; to whom the sending of the scapegoat to the [115] wilderness and the offering up of a bloody sacrifice was necessary, were aroused.

Let us study the meaning of the atonement, and note its effect on the people of that day, with regard to its resulting in making them better men. When the memory of the atonement, the ritual and the ceremonies were over, they went back to their fields and stores, to their false balances and usury and crookedness, only waiting another Day of Atonement to wipe it all out; only waiting another poor scapegoat to be sent into the wilderness to atone for their offenses, century after century wiping out their misdeeds once a year. What wonder the minor prophets pleaded: “Of what value are your bloody sacrifices? They are a stench in the nostrils of God.”

Now, let us take the atonement of Jesus. Does each man, who believes in the atonement of Jesus feel that the offering up of the blood of our Saviour has made sufficient recompense to Almighty God for his particular sins? Has it? Does the Christian belief in the atonement, the offering up of [116] the innocent blood of Jesus, save us from the penalty of our own wrongdoing? If it does, then the atonement is right as the theologians put it. If the blood of Jesus was offered up for the remission of your sins and of mine, then the penalty due our sins has been remitted through this wonderful, marvelous, and most inexplicable sacrifice.

But, even when we believe in this interpretation most perfectly, we go on our peculiar ways, living our peculiar lives, standing up today and falling down tomorrow; therefore, nothing has been altered or remitted. It must mean vastly more than this–, hence we take the third definition of the word: to unify, to make at-one-with; to establish connection between the individual and the Universal; to reveal to man his unity with the great Deific Principle.

This was the only idea of atonement in the mind of Jesus. I do not think that it ever occurred to him that his dying on the crucifix was going to relieve you and me from the penalties of our own Sins, or that we could be washed in “the blood of the [117] Lamb,” as we have used this phrase, if we meant to go on living a life of recklessness and sinfulness, then at the last, could say– “I believe in Jesus, I am washed in his redeeming blood.”

That would not put us in the kingdom; mere belief will not do us any good. It must be more than that. Jesus said: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” He might have gone further and added: “Believe in yourselves; believe that you, too, are the sons of God, and believe it so thoroughly that you will act according to your belief; this will bring about the atonement.”

We do not believe that God will be angry with his own children. We do not believe that he has to be reconciled to us. We know he has no grudge against us. If we realize the fact that we are spiritual beings and not material, that we are now the children of God, gradually we are brought into at-one-ment in consciousness, and we become consciously at-one with the All-Good, the Perfect, the Permanent.

This is the idea of atonement that Divine [118] Science is bringing to all men. This is taking it out of the sacrificial, out of the low, the vulgar, the gross, and bringing it up into the beautiful and the holy.

It does not do away with the atonement; it beautifies it; it makes it a spiritual state to you and to me.

We believe also in sacrifice, but not in blood atonement. We believe that if we sacrifice our evil habits on the altar of Infinite Love; if we sacrifice our lusts, our anger, our jealousies, our wrath, our indolence; that we shall then be more alive to the great fact that God is not a wrathful God, not a jealous God; that He does not require appeasement, nor to be reconciled to us, because God has no grudges and holds none against us. Does it shock some of you to know that it is impossible to offend God? It might, considering the fact that you as children were taught that whenever you committed a sin you did offend God, considering the fact that perhaps you are now teaching your own children that whenever they commit a sin they are offending God. [119] It is just as impossible for man to offend God by sin as it is for man to offend the principle of mathematics by creating mathematical errors–just as impossible. Our mistakes could not offend God in the slightest, any more than the errors of a musician affect the great principle of musical harmony. It goes on the same, yesterday, today, and forever, and is never affected by any deviation whatsoever on the part of the musician. The principle of mathematics is never changed in the slightest degree as a result of the errors which children make in schoolrooms, accountants make in banks or other places. So it is that your sins, your errors of thought and conduct, have never and can never offend God. That is the great beauty of the thought of God as impersonal Divine Principle.

We do not have to reconcile the sun to let its rays shine upon us. We do not have to reconcile the sun to an object in a dark alley; all we have to do is to move the object, and place it in the sun’s beneficent rays. All we have to do is to move out of [120] the darkness, out of our spiritual ignorance, to be taken out, if you prefer, from this belief in the necessity of any one man in the universe atoning for any other man’s sins.

Perhaps you are wondering what I am thinking of the wonderful sacrifice of Jesus? Perhaps you are wondering if in my own mind I am belittling it? Only a few pages back I said that he did not have to do it; it was not an incumbent necessity placed upon him by his Heavenly Father. He did it voluntarily, and herein, to my mind, lies the great grandeur of the character of Jesus, that he did that voluntarily which perhaps you and I could not be dragged into doing. He did it by the exercise of a tremendous love, which you and I are trying to cultivate, and, I trust, with some small measure of success. He realized that there was no other way out of it. To withhold the truth from the race to save his own life would have been cowardly. To proclaim the truth and take all the terrible risk of so doing in order that you and I might know the truth, was [121] heroic, but from the standpoint of a providential dispensation, not necessary.

Some one has said that responsibilities gravitate in the direction of the man who is willing to assume them. I want you to bear that thought in mind. It is a good thought. You cannot have lived long nor had much experience if you have not seen the truth of the statement. The big men in the world are the men who have been willing to assume responsibilities. The little men in the world are the men who never wanted to assume responsibility.

Jesus was one of the greatest men in the world and he assumed the greatest and biggest responsibility, the responsibility of proclaiming the atonement of man with God, and at the very real risk of being accused of blasphemy, a death-penalty crime in his day.

The people of the time were not so generous to contrary views as they are today. They did not try him for heresy, though they proclaimed him to be a heretic; –they demanded his blood, and their demand was heeded.

[122] But what to them was the finish of a man, was to him the beginning of a principle. What to them was the destruction of his life, was to him the opportunity for the exercise of his constructive faculty. He took an opportunity to prove the supremacy of life over death, of love over hate, of truth over error. And so he has handed down to you and to me the possibility of one man, though falsely accused, doing something by which all men might be benefited and blessed.

You see, I am reverently trying to take the atonement out of the category of complacent necessity and put it where it belongs, on the plane of individual responsibility voluntarily assumed. He took it up as his part in the great play of life and carried it out like the man he was. This is, to me, the great glory of the character of Jesus. He manifested all the godly qualities in the fullness of their beauty, grandeur, might, and power, because he did what he was not required, but what he thought was right; he did it to establish the fact that you and I and the man down the street are at one with God. [123] Jesus established the new dispensation and the new idea of the atonement; infinitely greater than offering up his own body on the crucifix was the offering up of himself, and when I say himself, I mean his human self, his human appetites and pleasures, in order that he might take on divine attributes and joys. Atonement means just this to you and me.

We have always been one with God. If we are not conscious of it, it is our misfortune. If we do not realize our atonement, it is a pity. But once we do begin to realize it, in the degree of our realization, we begin to live, in accordance with our one-ness. We begin to live like God, in the godly, higher nature.

That is the only possible proof of at-one- ment. A mere belief in the atonement does not help us. A million can believe for one who can prove it, even in the smallest degree. Jesus not only believed it, he exemplified it. In every act and thought of his life, in everything he did, he showed his unity with God. In laying down his own [124] mortal life, while proclaiming immortality through the resurrection of Lazarus, he not only lived the Life, but demonstrated it. It was not merely a beautiful life, it was a powerful life. It was Creative Life.

It not only healed the sin-sick soul, if you believe the Gospels, but it healed the suffering soul of its bodily infirmities. Because the power of God was with him, it not only brought comfort to the sorrowful, but strength to the weak, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf. He did, not what he was ordained to do, but what he assumed as his part: the proclamation of the truth.

This, perhaps, changes the colour of the atonement, but it is far more satisfying to us in Divine Science than the old belief that the blood of bulls and goats appeased the wrath of a far-away God. It is far more satisfying than the idea that the innocent Son of God offered up his own life on the accursed cross in order that we might avoid the consequence and punishment of our sins. It becomes beautiful the moment we think of it as the proclamation for every man [125] in the universe, that consciously or unconsciously, he is the son of God.

The great change that is necessary is the change in consciousness. Of what avail is it to be free and not to know it? Of what avail is it for a man to be in a prison cell with the doors unlocked so that he could walk out, if he is not conscious of the fact that the doors are unlocked? After years of imprisonment, labouring under the continual belief that the door is locked and utterly impassable, he will conclude that it is his home for the rest of his life, and will never make an attempt to leave it. If, in the secrecy of the night, some one had turned the lock and suggested to the prisoner that he come out, and the prisoner should walk up and down his cell, just as he had always done, hearing but not accepting the suggestion, labouring under the belief that the door was still locked, would he not be free and captive at the same time? And would not his captivity be the captivity of his ignorance? The race, for the most part, is stalking up and down in the cage of [126] spiritual ignorance. The lock was turned some centuries ago by Jesus; but, through misinterpretation, we have come to feel that we are just as much prisoners to the senses, just as much captives to the body, just as much slaves to sensation, as the race ever was at any time in the world’s history. We go up and down performing the same tired, weary walk, century in and century out, never knowing that we are free, never realizing that we can come out into the great broad daylight and sunlight of the presence of God, because we do not know that we are at-one with God. We feel that we must atone for our past, and so we must; but not to God.

At first it may seem blasphemous for a self-confessed sinner to proclaim his unity with God. But is this self-confessed sinner ever going to be anything other than a sinner so long as we proclaim his separateness from God?

If because of evil habits and poverty he has allowed himself to be held away from God, when he begins to consciously feel he [127] is one with the Infinite he knows that he is not a sot, but a spiritual being, that he is not a drunkard, but a manifestation of divinity. Does not this consciousness circulate through him, strengthening him and mending every nerve of his body, and does it not show in his face? Is it not from this and through this that he begins to lift himself above his past, getting away from his dead self, to arise and go to his Father?

Just so long as a man believes himself at odds with God, just so long as he feels he can never become one with the Infinite, just so long he will continue to be a drunkard, and poor and sick and diseased. It cannot be otherwise.

At-one-ment with Life and Truth and Power and Peace comes through the realizing sense of our atonement with the Infinite, and not through a belief that some one else has paid the penalty for our crimes.

Your reformation and my reformation depend upon the realizing sense of our spirituality, followed by the determination to [128] put that spirituality foremost and prove it, demonstrate it. To do this we must feel consciously at one with the Deific Power.

This is the atonement. The only sacrifice that is necessary is the sacrifice of our preconceived theories, our mistakes, our errors of judgment, and our ignorances. These things, which are not necessary to our well being, to our happiness, to our health, we are to offer up on the altar of Love. Thus we shall find our true sense of atonement.

Chapter 6

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New Thoughts on Old Doctrines
Table of Contents

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