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Chapter 8

If it be admitted that the doctrine of Jesus is perfectly reasonable, and that it alone can give to men true happiness, what would be the condition of a single follower of that doctrine in the midst of a world that did not practise it at all? If all men would decide at the same time to obey, its practice would then be possible. But one man alone cannot act in defiance of the whole world; and so we hear continually this plea: "If, among men who do not practise the doctrine of Jesus, I alone obey it; if I give away all that I possess; if I turn the other cheek; if I refuse to take an oath or to go to war, I should find myself in profound isolation; if I did not die of hunger, I should be beaten; if I survived that, I should be cast into prison; I should be shot, and all the happiness of my life—my life itself—would be sacrificed in vain."

This plea is founded upon the doctrine of quid pro quo, which is the basis of all arguments against the possibility of practising the doctrine of Jesus. It is the current objection, and I sympathized with it in common with all the rest of the world, until I finally broke entirely away from the dogmas of the Church which prevented me from understanding the true significance of the doctrine of Jesus. Jesus prepared his doctrine as a means of salvation from the life of perdition organized by men contrary to his precepts; and I declared that I should be very glad to follow this doctrine if it were not for fear of this very perdition. Jesus offered me the true remedy against a life of perdition, and I clung to the life of perdition! from which it was plain that I did not consider this life as a life of perdition, but as something good, something real. The conviction that my personal, worldly life was something real and good constituted the misunderstanding, the obstacle, that prevented me from comprehending Jesus' doctrine. Jesus knew the disposition of men to regard their personal, worldly life as real and good, and so, in a series of apothegms and parables, he taught them that they had no right to life, and that they were given life only that they might assure themselves of the true life by renouncing their worldly and fantastic organization of existence.

To understand what is meant by "saving" one's life, according to the doctrine of Jesus, we must first understand what the prophets, what Solomon, what Buddha, what all the wise men of the world have said about the personal life of man. But, as Pascal says, we cannot endure to think upon this theme, and so we carry always before us a screen to conceal the abyss of death, toward which we are constantly moving. It suffices to reflect on the isolation of the personal life of man, to be convinced that this life, in so far as it is personal, is not only of no account to each separately, but that it is a cruel jest to heart and reason. To understand the doctrine of Jesus, we must, before all, return to ourselves, reflect soberly, undergo the μετάνοια of which John the Baptist, the precursor of Jesus, speaks, when addressing himself to men of clouded judgment. "Repent" (such was his preaching); "repent, have another mind, or you shall all perish. The axe is laid unto the root of the trees. Death and perdition await each one of you. Be warned, turn back, repent." And Jesus declared, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." When Jesus was told of the death of the Galileans massacred by Pilate, he said:—

"Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you. Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (Luke xiii. 1-5.)

If he had lived in our day, in Russia, he would have said: "Think you that those who perished in the circus at Berditchef or on the slopes of Koukouyef were sinners above all others? I tell you, No; but you, if you do not repent, if you do not arouse yourselves, if you do not find in your life that which is imperishable, you also shall perish. You are horrified by the death of those crushed by the tower, burned in the circus; but your death, equally as frightful and as inevitable, is here, before you. You are wrong to conceal it or to forget it; unlocked for, it is only more hideous."

To the people of his own time he said:—

"When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?" (Luke xii. 54-57.)

We know how to interpret the signs of the weather; why, then, do we not see what is before us? It is in vain that we fly from danger, and guard our material life by all imaginable means; in spite of all, death is before us, if not in one way, then in another; if not by massacre, or the falling of a tower, then in our beds, amidst much greater suffering.

Make a simple calculation, as those do who undertake any worldly project, any enterprise whatever, such as the construction of a house, or the purchase of an estate, such as those make who labor with the hope of seeing their calculations realized.

"For which of you intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?" (Luke xiv. 28-31.)

Is it not the act of a madman to labor at what, under any circumstances, one can never finish? Death will always come before the edifice of worldly prosperity can be completed. And if we knew beforehand that, however we may struggle with death, it is not we, but death, that will triumph; is it not an indication that we ought not to struggle with death, or to set our hearts upon that which will surely perish, but to seek to perform the task whose results cannot be destroyed by our inevitable departure?

"And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: How much more are ye better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." (Luke xii. 22-27.)

Whatever pains we may take for our nourishment, for the care of the body, we cannot prolong life by a single hour.[14] Is it not folly to trouble ourselves about a thing that we cannot possibly accomplish? We know perfectly well that our material life will end with death, and we give ourselves up to evil to procure riches. Life cannot be measured by what we possess; if we think so, we only delude ourselves. Jesus tells us that the meaning of life does not lie in what we possess or in what we can accumulate, but in something entirely different. He says:—

"The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods lead up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (Luke xii. 16-21.)

Death threatens us every moment; Jesus says:—

"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching; ...And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not." (Luke xii. 35-40.)

The parable of the virgins waiting for the bridegroom, that of the consummation of the age and the last judgment, as the commentators all agree, are designed to teach that death awaits us at every moment. Death awaits us at every moment. Life is passed in sight of death. If we labor for ourselves alone, for our personal future, we know that what awaits us in the future is death. And death will destroy all the fruits of our labor. Consequently, a life for self can have no meaning. The reasonable life is different; it has another aim than the poor desires of a single individual. The reasonable life consists in living in such a way that life cannot be destroyed by death. We are troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary.

From the moment of his birth, man is menaced by an inevitable peril, that is, by a life deprived of meaning, and a wretched death, if he does not discover the thing essential to the true life. Now it is precisely this one thing which insures the true life that Jesus reveals to men. He invents nothing, he promises nothing through divine power; side by side with this personal life, which is a delusion, he simply reveals to men the truth.

In the parable of the husbandmen (Matt. xxi. 33-42), Jesus explains the cause of that blindness in men which conceals the truth from them, and which impels them to take the apparent for the real, their personal life for the true life. Certain men, having leased a vineyard, imagined that they were its masters. And this delusion leads them into a series of foolish and cruel actions, which ends in their exile. So each one of us imagines that life is his personal property, and that he has a right to enjoy it in such a way as may seem to him good, without recognizing any obligation to others. And the inevitable consequence of this delusion is a series of foolish and cruel actions followed by exclusion from life. And as the husbandmen killed the servants and at last the son of the householder, thinking that the more cruel they were, the better able they would be to gain their ends, so we imagine that we shall obtain the greatest security by means of violence.

Expulsion, the inevitable sentence visited upon the husbandmen for having taken to themselves the fruits of the vineyard, awaits also all men who imagine that the personal life is the true life. Death expels them from life; they are replaced by others, as a consequence of the error which led them to misconceive the meaning of life. As the husbandmen forgot, or did not wish to remember, that they had received a vineyard already hedged about and provided with winepress and tower, that some one had labored for them and expected them to labor in their turn for others;—so the men who would live for themselves forget, or do not wish to remember, all that has been done for them during their life; they forget that they are under an obligation to labor in their turn, and that all the blessings of life which they enjoy are fruits that they ought to divide with others.

This new manner of looking at life, this μετάνοια, or repentance, is the corner-stone of the doctrine of Jesus. According to this doctrine, men ought to understand and feel that they are insolvent, as the husbandmen should have understood and felt that they were insolvent to the householder, unable to pay the debt contracted by generations past, present, and to come, with the overruling power. They ought to feel that every hour of their existence is only a mortgage upon this debt, and that every man who, by a selfish life, rejects this obligation, separates himself from the principle of life, and so forfeits life. Each one should remember that in striving to save his own life, his personal life, he loses the true life, as Jesus so many times said. The true life is the life which adds something to the store of happiness accumulated by past generations, which increases this heritage in the present, and hands it down to the future. To take part in this true life, man should renounce his personal will for the will of the Father, who gives this life to man. In John viii. 35, we read:—

"And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the son abideth forever."

That is, only the son who observes the will of the father shall have eternal life. Now, the will of the Father of Life is not the personal, selfish life, but the filial life of the son of man; and so a man saves his life when he considers it as a pledge, as something confided to him by the Father for the profit of all, as something with which to live the life of the son of man.

A man, about to travel into a far country, called his servants together and divided among them his goods. Although receiving no precise instructions as to the manner in which they were to use these goods, some of the servants understood that the goods still belonged to the master, and that they ought to employ them for the master's gain. And the servants who had labored for the good of the master were rewarded, while the others, who had not so labored, were despoiled even of what they had received. (Matt. xxv. 14-46.)

The life of the son of man has been given to all men, and they know not why. Some of them understand that life is not for their personal use, but that they must use it for the good of the son of man; others, feigning not to understand the true object of life, refuse to labor for the son of man; and those that labor for the true life will be united with the source of life; those that do not so labor, will lose the life they already have. Jesus tells us in what the service of the son of man consists and what will be the recompense of that service. The son of man, endowed with kingly authority, will call upon the faithful to inherit the true life; they have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed and consoled the wretched, and in so doing they have ministered to the son of man, who is the same in all men; they have not lived the personal life, but the life of the son of man, and they are given the life eternal.

According to all the Gospels, the object of Jesus' teaching was the life eternal. And, strange as it may seem, Jesus, who is supposed to have been raised in person, and to have promised a general resurrection,—Jesus not only said nothing in affirmation of individual resurrection and individual immortality beyond the grave, but on the contrary, every time that he met with this superstition (introduced at this period into the Talmud, and of which there is not a trace in the records of the Hebrew prophets), he did not fail to deny its truth. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were constantly discussing the subject of the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, in angels, and in spirits (Acts xxiii. 8), but the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, or angel, or spirit. We do not know the source of the difference in belief, but it is certain that it was one of the polemical subjects among the secondary questions of the Hebraic doctrine that were constantly under discussion in the Synagogues. And Jesus not only did not recognize the resurrection, but denied it every time he met with the idea. When the Sadducees demanded of Jesus, supposing that he believed with the Pharisees in the resurrection, to which of the seven brethren the woman should belong, he refuted with clearness and precision the idea of individual resurrection, saying that on this subject they erred, knowing neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. Those who are worthy of resurrection, he said, will remain like the angels of heaven (Mark xii. 21-24); and with regard to the dead:—

"Have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?[15] He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye, therefore, do greatly err." (Mark xii. 26, 27.)

Jesus' meaning was that the dead are living in God. God said to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob." To God, all those who have lived the life of the son of man, are living. Jesus affirmed only this, that whoever lives in God, will be united to God; and he admitted no other idea of the resurrection. As to personal resurrection, strange as it may appear to those who have never carefully studied the Gospels for themselves, Jesus said nothing about it whatever.

If, as the theologians teach, the foundation of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus, is it not strange that Jesus, knowing of his own resurrection, knowing that in this consisted the principal dogma of faith in him—is it not strange that Jesus did not speak of the matter at least once, in clear and precise terms? Now, according to the canonical Gospels, he not only did not speak of it in clear and precise terms; he did not speak of it at all, not once, not a single word.

The doctrine of Jesus consisted in the elevation of the son of man, that is, in the recognition on the part of man, that he, man, was the son of God. In his own individuality Jesus personified the man who has recognized the filial relation with God. He asked his disciples whom men said that he was—the son of man? His disciples replied that some took him for John the Baptist, and some for Elijah. Then came the question, "But whom say ye that I am?" And Peter answered, "Thou art the Messiah, the son of the living God." Jesus responded, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven;" meaning that Peter understood, not through faith in human explanations, but because, feeling himself to be the son of God, he understood that Jesus was also the son of God. And after having explained to Peter that the true faith is founded upon the perception of the filial relation to God, Jesus charged his other disciples that they should tell no man that he was the Messiah. After this, Jesus told them that although he might suffer many things and be put to death, he, that is his doctrine, would be triumphantly re-established. And these words are interpreted as a prophecy of the resurrection (Matt. xvi. 13-21).

Of the thirteen passages[16] which are interpreted as prophecies of Jesus in regard to his own resurrection, two refer to Jonah in the whale's belly, another to the rebuilding of the temple. The others affirm that the son of man shall not be destroyed; but there is not a word about the resurrection of Jesus. In none of these passages is the word "resurrection" found in the original text. Ask any one who is ignorant of theological interpretations, but who knows Greek, to translate them, and he will never agree with the received versions. In the original we find two different words, ἀνίστημι and ἐγείρω, which are rendered in the sense of resurrection; one of these words means to "re-establish"; the other means "to awaken, to rise up, to arouse one's self." But neither the one nor the other can ever, in any case, mean to "resuscitate"—to raise from the dead. With regard to these Greek words and the corresponding Hebrew word, qum, we have only to examine the scriptural passages where these words are employed, as they are very frequently, to see that in no case is the meaning "to resuscitate" admissible. The word voskresnovit, auferstehn, resusciter—"to resuscitate"—did not exist in the Greek or Hebrew tongues, for the reason that the conception corresponding to this word did not exist. To express the idea of resurrection in Greek or in Hebrew, it is necessary to employ a periphrasis, meaning, "is arisen, has awakened among the dead." Thus, in the Gospel of Matthew (xiv. 2) where reference is made to Herod's belief that John the Baptist had been resuscitated, we read, αὐτὸς ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, "has awakened among the dead." In the same manner, in Luke (xvi. 31), at the close of the parable of Lazarus, where it said that if men believe not the prophets, they would not believe even though one be resuscitated, we find the periphrasis, ἐάν τις ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῆ, "if one arose among the dead." But, if in these passages the words "among the dead" were not added to the words "arose or awakened," the last two could never signify resuscitation. When Jesus spoke of himself, he did not once use the words "among the dead" in any of the passages quoted in support of the affirmation that Jesus foretold his own resurrection.

Our conception of the resurrection is so entirely foreign to any idea that the Hebrews possessed with regard to life, that we cannot even imagine how Jesus would have been able to talk to them of the resurrection, and of an eternal, individual life, which should be the lot of every man. The idea of a future eternal life comes neither from Jewish doctrine nor from the doctrine of Jesus, but from an entirely different source. We are obliged to believe that belief in a future life is a primitive and crude conception based upon a confused idea of the resemblance between death and sleep,—an idea common to all savage races.

The Hebraic doctrine (and much more the Christian doctrine) was far above this conception. But we are so convinced of the elevated character of this superstition, that we use it as a proof of the superiority of our doctrine to that of the Chinese or the Hindus, who do not believe in it at all. Not the theologians only, but the free-thinkers, the learned historians of religions, such as Tiele, and Max Müller, make use of the same argument. In their classification of religions, they give the first place to those which recognize the superstition of the resurrection, and declare them to be far superior to those not professing that belief. Schopenhauer boldly denounced the Hebraic religion as the most despicable of all religions because it contains not a trace of this belief. Not only the idea itself, but all means of expressing it, were wanting to the Hebraic religion. Eternal life is in Hebrew hayail eolam. By olam is meant the infinite, that which is permanent in the limits of time; olam also means "world" or "cosmos." Universal life, and much more hayai leolam, "eternal life," is, according to the Jewish doctrine, the attribute of God alone. God is the God of life, the living God. Man, according to the Hebraic idea, is always mortal. God alone is always living. In the Pentateuch, the expression "eternal life" is twice met with; once in Deuteronomy and once in Genesis. God is represented as saying:—

"See now that I, even I, am he
And there is no god with me:
I kill, and I make alive;
I have wounded, and I heal:
And there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
For I lift up my hand to heaven,
And say, As I live forever.

--(Deuteronomy. xxxii. 39, 40.)

"And Jehovah said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also the tree of life, and live forever." (Gen. iii. 22.)

These two sole instances of the use of the expression "eternal life" in the Old Testament (with the exception of another instance in the apocryphal book of Daniel) determine clearly the Hebraic conception of the life of man and the life eternal. Life itself, according to the Hebrews, is eternal, is in God; but man is always mortal: it is his nature to be so. According to the Jewish doctrine, man as man, is mortal. He has life only as it passes from one generation to another, and is so perpetuated in a race. According to the Jewish doctrine, the faculty of life exists in the people. When God said, "Ye may live, and not die," he addressed these words to the people. The life that God breathed into man is mortal for each separate human being; this life is perpetuated from generation to generation, if men fulfil the union with God, that is, obey the conditions imposed by God. After having propounded the Law, and having told them that this Law was to be found not in heaven, but in their own hearts, Moses said to the people:—

"See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love the Eternal, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments, that thou mayest live.... I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed: to love the Eternal, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days." (Deut. xxx. 15-19.)

The principal difference between our conception of human life and that possessed by the Jews is, that while we believe that our mortal life, transmitted from generation to generation, is not the true life, but a fallen life, a life temporarily depraved,—the Jews, on the contrary, believed this life to be the true and supreme good, given to man on condition that he obey the will of God. From our point of view, the transmission of the fallen life from generation to generation is the transmission of a curse; from the Jewish point of view, it is the supreme good to which man can attain, on condition that he accomplish the will of God. It is precisely upon the Hebraic conception of life that Jesus founded his doctrine of the true or eternal life, which he contrasted with the personal and mortal life. Jesus said to the Jews:—

"Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (John v. 39.)

To the young man who asked what he must do to have eternal life, Jesus said in reply, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." He did not say "the eternal life," but simply "the life" (Matt. xix. 17). To the same question propounded by the scribe, the answer was, "This do, and thou shalt live" (Luke x. 28), once more promising life, but saying nothing of eternal life. From these two instances, we know what Jesus meant by eternal life; whenever he made use of the phrase in speaking to the Jews, he employed it in exactly the same sense in which it was expressed in their own law,—the accomplishment of the will of God. In contrast with the life that is temporary, isolated, and personal, Jesus taught of the eternal life promised by God to Israel—with this difference, that while the Jews believed the eternal life was to be perpetuated solely by their chosen people, and that whoever wished to possess this life must follow the exceptional laws given by God to Israel,—the doctrine of Jesus holds that the eternal life is perpetuated in the son of man, and that to obtain it we must practise the commandments of Jesus, who summed up the will of God for all humanity.

As opposed to the personal life, Jesus taught us, not of a life beyond the grave, but of that universal life which comprises within itself the life of humanity, past, present, and to come. According to the Jewish doctrine, the personal life could be saved from death only by accomplishing the will of God as propounded in the Mosaic law. On this condition only the life of the Jewish race would not perish, but would pass from generation to generation of the chosen people of God. According to the doctrine of Jesus, the personal life is saved from death by the accomplishment of the will of God as propounded in the commandments of Jesus. On this condition alone the personal life does not perish, but becomes eternal and immutable, in union with the son of man. The difference is, that while the religion given by Moses was that of a people for a national God, the religion of Jesus is the expression of the aspirations of all humanity. The perpetuity of life in the posterity of a people is doubtful, because the people itself may disappear, and perpetuity depends upon a posterity in the flesh. Perpetuity of life, according to the doctrine of Jesus, is indubitable, because life, according to his doctrine, is an attribute of all humanity in the son of man who lives in harmony with the will of God.

If we believe that Jesus' words concerning the last judgment and the consummation of the age, and other words reported in the Gospel of John, are a promise of a life beyond the grave for the souls of men,—if we believe this, it is none the less true that his teachings in regard to the light of life and the kingdom of God have the same meaning for us that they had for his hearers eighteen centuries ago; that is, that the only real life is the life of the son of man conformable to the will of the Giver of Life. It is easier to admit this than to admit that the doctrine of the true life, conformable to the will of the Giver of Life, contains the promise of the immortality of life beyond the grave.

Perhaps it is right to think that man, after this terrestrial life passed in the satisfaction of personal desires, will enter upon the possession of an eternal personal life in paradise, there to taste all imaginable enjoyments; but to believe that this is so, to endeavor to persuade ourselves that for our good actions we shall be recompensed with eternal felicity, and for our bad actions punished with eternal torments,—to believe this, does not aid us in understanding the doctrine of Jesus, but, on the contrary, takes away the principal foundation of that doctrine. The entire doctrine of Jesus inculcates renunciation of the personal, imaginary life, and a merging of this personal life in the universal life of humanity, in the life of the son of man. Now the doctrine of the individual immortality of the soul does not impel us to renounce the personal life; on the contrary, it affirms the continuance of individuality forever.

The Jews, the Chinese, the Hindus, all men who do not believe in the dogma of the fall and the redemption, conceive of life as it is. A man lives, is united with a woman, engenders children, cares for them, grows old, and dies. His life continues in his children, and so passes on from one generation to another, like everything else in the world,—stones, metals, earth, plants, animals, stars. Life is life, and we must make the best of it.

To live for self alone, for the animal life, is not reasonable. And so men, from their earliest existence, have sought for some reason for living aside from the gratification of their own desires; they live for their children, for their families, for their nation, for humanity, for all that does not die with the personal life.

But according to the doctrine of the Church, human life, the supreme good that we possess, is but a very small portion of another life of which we are deprived for a season. Our life is not the life that God intended to give us or such as is our due. Our life is degenerate and fallen, a mere fragment, a mockery, compared with the real life to which we think ourselves entitled. The principal object of life is not to try to live this mortal life conformably to the will of the Giver of Life; or to render it eternal in the generations, as the Hebrews believed; or to identify ourselves with the will of God, as Jesus taught; no, it is to believe that after this unreal life the true life will begin.

Jesus did not speak of the imaginary life that we believe to be our due, and that God did not give to us for some unexplained reason. The theory of the fall of Adam, of eternal life in paradise, of an immortal soul breathed by God into Adam, was unknown to Jesus; he never spoke of it, never made the slightest allusion to its existence. Jesus spoke of life as it is, as it must be for all men; we speak of an imaginary life that has never existed. How, then, can we understand the doctrine of Jesus?

Jesus did not anticipate such a singular change of view in his disciples. He supposed that all men understood that the destruction of the personal life is inevitable, and he revealed to them an imperishable life. He offers true peace to them that suffer; but to those who believe that they are certain to possess more than Jesus gives, his doctrine can be of no value. How shall I persuade a man to toil in return for food and clothing if this man is persuaded that he already possesses great riches? Evidently he will pay no attention to my exhortations. So it is with regard to the doctrine of Jesus. Why should I toil for bread when I can be rich without labor? Why should I trouble myself to live this life according to the will of God when I am sure of a personal life for all eternity?

That Jesus Christ, as the second person of the Trinity, as God made manifest in the flesh, was the salvation of men; that he took upon himself the penalty for the sin of Adam and the sins of all men; that he atoned to the first person of the Trinity for the sins of humanity; that he instituted the Church and the sacraments for our salvation—believing this, we are saved, and shall enter into the possession of personal, eternal life beyond the grave. But meanwhile we cannot deny that he has saved and still saves men by revealing to them their inevitable loss, showing them that he is the way, the truth, and the life, the true way to life instead of the false way to the personal life that men had heretofore followed.

If there are any who doubt the life beyond the grave and salvation based upon redemption, no one can doubt the salvation of all men, and of each individual man, if they will accept the evidence of the destruction of the personal life, and follow the true way to safety by bringing their personal wills into harmony with the will of God. Let each man endowed with reason ask himself, What is life? and What is death? and let him try to give to life and death any other meaning than that revealed by Jesus, and he will find that any attempt to find in life a meaning not based upon the renunciation of self, the service of humanity, of the son of man, is utterly futile. It cannot be doubted that the personal life is condemned to destruction, and that a life conformable to the will of God alone gives the possibility of salvation. It is not much in comparison with the sublime belief in the future life! It is not much, but it is sure.

I am lost with my companions in a snow-storm. One of them assures me with the utmost sincerity that he sees a light in the distance, but it is only a mirage which deceives us both; we strive to reach this light, but we never can find it. Another resolutely brushes away the snow; he seeks and finds the road, and he cries to us, "Go not that way, the light you see is false, you will wander to destruction; here is the road, I feel it beneath my feet; we are saved." It is very little, we say. We had faith in that light that gleamed in our deluded eyes, that told us of a refuge, a warm shelter, rest, deliverance,—and now in exchange for it we have nothing but the road. Ah, but if we continue to travel toward the imaginary light, we shall perish; if we follow the road, we shall surely arrive at a haven of safety.

What, then, must I do if I alone understand the doctrine of Jesus, and I alone have trust in it among a people who neither understand it nor obey it? What ought I to do, to live like the rest of the world, or to live according to the doctrine of Jesus? I understood the doctrine of Jesus as expressed in his commandments, and I believed that the practice of these commandments would bring happiness to me and to all men. I understood that the fulfilment of these commandments is the will of God, the source of life. More than this, I saw that I should die like a brute after a farcical existence if I did not fulfil the will of God, and that the only chance of salvation lay in the fulfilment of His will. In following the example of the world about me, I should unquestionably act contrary to the welfare of all men, and, above all, contrary to the will of the Giver of Life; I should surely forfeit the sole possibility of bettering my desperate condition. In following the doctrine of Jesus, I should continue the work common to all men who had lived before me; I should contribute to the welfare of my fellows, and of those who were to live after me; I should obey the command of the Giver of Life; I should seize upon the only hope of salvation.

The circus at Berditchef[17] is in flames. A crowd of people are struggling before the only place of exit,—a door that opens inward. Suddenly, in the midst of the crowd, a voice rings out: "Back, stand back from the door; the closer you press against it, the less the chance of escape; stand back; that is your only chance of safety!" Whether I am alone in understanding this command, or whether others with me also hear and understand, I have but one duty, and that is, from the moment I have heard and understood, to fall back from the door and to call upon every one to obey the voice of the saviour. I may be suffocated, I may be crushed beneath the feet of the multitude, I may perish; my sole chance of safety is to do the one thing necessary to gain an exit. And I can do nothing else. A saviour should be a saviour, that is, one who saves. And the salvation of Jesus is the true salvation. He came, he preached his doctrine, and humanity is saved.

The circus may burn in an hour, and those penned up in it may have no time to escape. But the world has been burning for eighteen hundred years; it has burned ever since Jesus said, "I am come to send fire on the earth;" and I suffer as it burns, and it will continue to burn until humanity is saved. Was not this fire kindled that men might have the felicity of salvation? Understanding this, I understood and believed that Jesus is not only the Messiah, that is, the Anointed One, the Christ, but that he is in truth the Saviour of the world. I know that he is the only way, that there is no other way for me or for those who are tormented with me in this life. I know, that for me as for all, there is no other safety than the fulfilment of the commandments of Jesus, who gave to all humanity the greatest conceivable sum of benefits.

Would there be great trials to endure? Should I die in following the doctrine of Jesus? This question did not alarm me. It might seem frightful to any one who does not realize the nothingness and absurdity of an isolated personal life, and who believes that he will never die. But I know that my life, considered in relation to my individual happiness, is, taken by itself, a stupendous farce, and that this meaningless existence will end in a stupid death. Knowing this, I have nothing to fear. I shall die as others die who do not observe the doctrine of Jesus; but my life and my death will have a meaning for myself and for others. My life and my death will have added something to the life and salvation of others, and this will be in accordance with the doctrine of Jesus.


[14] The words of verse 25 are incorrectly translated; the word ἡλικίαν means age, age of life: consequently the whole phrase should be rendered: can add one hour to his life.

[15] Exod. iii. 6.

[16] John xi. 19-22; Matt. xii. 40; Luke xi. 30; Matt. xvi. 21; Mark viii. 31; Luke ix. 22; Matt. xvii. 23; Mark ix. 31; Matt. xx. 19; Mark x. 34; Luke xviii. 33; Matt. xxvi. 32; Mark xiv. 25.

[17] A city in Russia become famous by a recent catastrophe.

Leo Tolstoy

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